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It's Debatable

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“And this is the most perfect, state of the art Forensics team center in the history of the whole entire world!”

Leslie Knope was perched on the thick stone rail of an old brick building. For a “state of the art center,” the old walls looked like they had seen better days. It was, in fact, one of the last buildings on the Indiana University campus slated for renovation, and it looked like the whole ISU board would die and be replaced three times over before that ever came to fruition.

The student film crew standing before the bubbly blonde shifted uncomfortably. The cameraman looked at the building, then to Leslie, then back at the building again. He didn’t ask any questions, but his eyes leveled the young woman with disbelieving uncertainty.

Leslie groaned. “Fine, it’s just the place where the Indiana University Speech and Debate Team practices,” she relented in a monotone voice. “But it’s the best place on campus in my opinion! We haven’t had a black mold outbreak in a whole year!”

Again, the film crew looked at her as though she was crazy, but this time Leslie didn’t care. “So,” asked the kid with the boom mic. “What even is a speech and debate team?”

Leslie beamed like this was the question she had been waiting her whole life to answer. “So, a speech and debate team is a little slice of awesomeness. A found family, if you will.” She hopped down from the ledge and sat where she once stood. The cameraman kicked the mic guy for asking what was sure to precede a long-winded response. “Everyone on the team competes in speaking events, like Informative, Impromptu, Extemp. Then there are debate events but those aren’t are awesome. Anyway, I do Impromptu, Extemp, Informative, Persuasive, Crit… I do a lot of events. And you compete against other people from other schools in rounds. But! It’s also a team sport because at the end of the day, everyone’s points and rankings get added up into sweepstakes and the winner of Sweepstakes is the team with the most points!”

“So you just… talk?” a film student ask.

“Competitively,” Leslie clarified as if that made the whole idea of it so much cooler.

“Why?” Another asked, clearly not convinced that speech and debate was the most amazing activity one could participate in.

Leslie sighed. She was sick of answering questions and was going to get in trouble if she missed practice again. “Just, nevermind! Do you want to do us for your film project or not?”

The film students glanced between themselves. The one holding the camera shrugged. None seemed super interested one way or another, but at least this would give them plenty to work with during the editing process. Besides, their teacher would be more lenient with a documentary on something academic.

“Sure, why not?” The one holding the mic replied.

At precisely 5:23, the team was gathered. Leslie got there fifteen minutes early, Ann, Jerry, and Donna were right on time, Tom was a fashionable five minutes late, Ron was an “I don’t care enough” ten minutes late, and Andy and April rolled in at 5:23. To be fair, it was one of their earlier arrivals for the weekly team meeting.

The meeting space was long and rectangular, with a light wooden table far too big for the small size of the room. Mismatched stools and chairs were pulled up with a larger, more comfortable one for Ron at the head of the table, in front of the whiteboard. On said whiteboard were just two words in Ron’s gruff, yet elegant handwriting, “Don’t Lose.” The rest of the room was lined with old desktop computers and a printer that rarely worked. The building also hosted three large classrooms which were empty by the time evening practice rolled around so the students could perform their pieces.

“Alright, what are we going to get started with?” Leslie asked excitedly, grabbing her color-coded “Speech Team Binder” from her bookbag. “Ballots from last weekend? New event announcements? Peer reviewing? Oh! How about we just practice for 30 minutes and then we show you?”

“No,” Ron, their coach, said shortly.

“We could scream and run in circles and rip our hair out,” April suggested in a voice that said she was completely serious, but a smirk that suggested otherwise.

“Better idea, but still no.”

“We have to at least go over the ballots,” Leslie pouted. Ballots were basically ranking slips. The judges not only wrote what place you got in the round but also jotted down comments for improvement. Ron never let the students see the ballots until the team meeting after the tournament, but they were Leslie’s favorite part. What was the point of the whole thing if you didn’t get any feedback?

Ron, apparently, had an answer. “Judges are idiots,” he said simply. “And they have no idea what they’re doing. You shouldn’t take what they say seriously at all.”

“But they’re the people who decide if you win or lose,” Leslie replied. She hated Ron’s “I hate judges” lecture. That usually meant waiting longer for the ballots.

“Ron’s right,” Tom grumbled. “Last week a judge told me the kickflip I put in my informative made no sense! He gave me last place in the round!”

“Why would you put a kickflip into a piece about the history of selfies?” Donna asked.

Tom popped his collar. “It looked fly as hell.”

“Alright, not all judges are completely stupid,” Ron conceded. “But no ballots tonight.” He turned and smacked the whiteboard. “We didn’t lose. That’s what matters.”

“We came in fifth in sweepstakes,” said Ann who was perched on a blue metal stool. “And most of those points came from Leslie. There were only six teams!”

“Well, maybe if someone would go back to debate, we wouldn’t suck so bad,” April glared.

“I am not the only person on this team! You and Andy are perfectly capable of winning a few rounds!”

Andy jerked his head up and looked at his team as though for the first time. “What about me?” he asked, as the pencil he’d stuck to the ceiling fell and landed on his head. “Ow!”

“Nevermind,” Ann sighed to April’s amusement.

“Alright, shut up,” Ron groaned. “Look, I don’t want to be here any more than you do--”

“I want to be here!” Leslie interrupted.

“Anyway,” Ron continued pointedly. “So I’m gonna hurry this up. New teammates are coming in…” He checked his watch. “Soon. You’re going to practice to yourselves, then meet the new kids, then go home. Got it?”

The team nodded. Leslie smiled and passed her binder over to Ron. “So I had an idea for my persuasive speech…”

“Don’t care, go put it in when you practice,” Ron said, grabbing his oversized headphones and leaning back in the chair. “If I hate it I’ll cut it.”

New teammates are the best!” Leslie grinned at the film crew after she was done practicing. “It’s like getting new family members! The whole team is like one big giant family and it’s going to be so cool to get two new siblings, you know?”

“How do you know you’ll like the new team members?” The cameraman asked.

“Speech people are a certain type of people. I’ve never met someone from the speech world I didn’t like! Well, except debaters, but they usually have some sort of redeeming quality like doing a speech event or something. Well, April’s the exception, but she’s also lost every round she’s ever been in and once argued that rather than having the government jail all drug users, suggested a new resolution where everyone is given free drugs and then everyone goes to jail.” Leslie laughed to herself. “That was kind of funny.” She frowned. “And so messed up. Anyway, I’ve got to go!”

She waved and went into the team room where everyone else was gathered. “9:32,” she announced. “Every time!” No speech could go over ten minutes, and getting into the mid 9’s was the best way to ensure you weren’t going so short it would cost you the round. Leslie’s persuasive hit 9:32 every single time.

“Don’t care,” Ron said and gestured to the two boys sitting next to him. Well, men, though one of them looked very skinny and had quite the baby face. If it wasn’t for the stubbly beard, Leslie would have sworn he was in high school. Then there was the other, who looked like he was well on his way to being a bodybuilder in his next life. Both looked glad to be there, but the bodybuilder looked far too thrilled to sit in a mold-infested speech team room at an average state university.

“This is Ben,” Ron said pointing to the skinny boy. “And this is Chris.” He gestured to the future life bodybuilder. Standing to leave, he added, “Alright, goodnight.”

“Wait, what events do you do?” Leslie asked though the question did nothing to slow Ron down from gathering his things.

“Oh, all sorts of events,” Chris said, “Impromptu, Extemp, motivational speaking.”

“Motivational speaking isn’t an event.” Donna raised an eyebrow.

“Well if it was, I’d do it!” He smiled widely. “I try to make all my impromptu speeches as motivational and uplifting as possible!”

“Gross,” April commented.

“I do debate,” the other boy answered.

“Oh, you do?” Ann asked, suddenly much more interested in the new kids. She had been out a debate partner for a while and, though she was doing just fine in her speech events, she missed doing public forum. “Do you have a partner yet?” She looked over where Ron was sitting, but he had already made his swift exit.

“Yeah, Chris and I do Parliamentary together,” Ben replied. He wasn’t quite sure why she looked sad when he said this, but he figured it was because she was looking for a partner herself, so he added, “Sorry.”

“And…?” Leslie pressed.

“And what?” Ben asked.

“What other events do you do?”

“Debate. That’s it. Maybe impromptu if there are no debate rounds?” Ben shrugged. Leslie was aghast.

She loved speech and debate, but she hated hardcore debaters. The kids who only did debate and refused to do anything else? Yeah, they were all assholes (to her). They were so mean! And when she tried debate events, she hardly got a word in edgewise. It was the only category she had ever lost every round in.

Already, Leslie was not a fan of her new speech teammate.


“Can you believe that guy?” Leslie ranted at her best friend and roommate, Ann. “He’s such an asshole!”

“Can you please explain to me again why the guy you’ve said, like, two words to, is an asshole?” the other woman sighed. She adjusted her bookbag on her shoulder again as they walked through the lush green campus. It was the middle of fall, but the campus looked as bright green as it did in the summer. The unusually warm days had caused the trees to delay their changing of colors, but it would happen.

“He’s a debater,” Leslie spoke the words like she was calling Ben a Nazi or a waffle-hater.

“Les, I’m a debater,” Ann reminded her. Or, she was a debater, but that didn’t frankly matter. She was sure she would find a new partner sooner or later.

“No, Ann, you do debate. You’re not a debater. There’s a difference,” her best friend replied as if the distinction between the two was the most obvious thing in the entire world. When Ann gave her a look which begged for more information, Leslie sighed. “Your whole personality isn’t built around doing debate. You don’t only do debate at tournaments--you never did. Even when you and Andy did PF together, you still did other stuff.”

“Well, then isn’t Andy a debater then?” Ann asked.

Leslie rolled her eyes. “Of course not, have you met the guy? The only reason he doesn’t do something else is because he doesn’t have the attention span to memorize a ten-minute speech. But! I heard Ron’s going to make him do a prose interp.”

“Oh, really?” Ann asked. “How well do you think that’s going to go?” Leslie shrugged. “Then what about April? She only does debate.”

“First, April has never won a debate round in her life, except the one time a kid got so scared of her, he forfeited,” Leslie countered. “And second, she would do Impromptu and Extemp, but she’s banned from those categories in too many tournaments, so she can only do them when we go somewhere out of state.”

Leslie was right, of course. April was an… unconventional competitor. She and Andy made an interesting duo in parliamentary debate, and she was a terror when left to her own devices in a speech round. In impromptu, a category where you analyze a quote in two minutes and then give a speech on it, she would often give the goriest and messed up examples to prop up her usually disturbing main point. And in extemp, where she had to answer a question on political policy, she usually asserted that robot overlords were going to take over the whole world.

“I still think you’re judging him too quickly,” said Ann. “You don’t know him at all.” They reached the communications building where their team met. “I’d just give him a chance. You know, for the sake of family?”

Leslie groaned. Ann was wonderful and beautiful and the best friend she had ever had, but that also meant that Ann knew everything about her. And, she knew that Leslie felt the team was like a second family, and that Leslie would do anything to make the family strong and happy. Yes, Ann knew exactly what buttons to push, and Leslie both loved and hated her for it.

“Alright,” Leslie relented as she pushed open the door to the old building. “Fine, I’ll give him one chance.” Ann smiled as they rounded the corner to the team room and walked through the open door.

Seated at the head of the oversized table was Ron, as usual, but Ben and Chris were also there. They had probably just finished either orientation or a debate practice. Perhaps both, since Ron’s orientation was usually just, “Don’t screw up or be stupid. Welcome to the team.”

“Ah, Leslie, good timing,” Ron smirked. Leslie froze in terror. Ron didn’t smirk, and when he did, it usually meant something great for him and bad for Leslie.

“Uh, hi,” Leslie stammered, completely caught off guard. She nodded to the two guys. She noted Chris looked thrilled, as usual, but Ben looked very unhappy. “What’s going on?”

“You and Ben are going to be duo partners!”


Chapter Text

Leslie was speechless. This was not normal. Leslie was always speech ful. She had thousands of things to say and spoke more words in a day than some did in a month. Her sudden silence worried Ann because there was no telling what would come out of her best friend’s mouth once she regained the ability to light into Ron. Their coach, on the other hand, was very amused and the outline of a smirk could barely be seen behind his thick mustache. He had stumped the mighty Leslie.

Ben, on the other hand, looked no more thrilled than Leslie, though he didn’t seem to wear his feelings on his face the way she did. He had just flatly said, “Okay” when Ron told him. Ben hadn’t known Leslie for very long, though, and although he’d gotten the sense that she was full of words and opinions, didn’t realize how special this moment truly was.

“You can’t be serious!” Leslie finally choked out.

Knope, you’ve known me for two years now. I don’t joke.” Ron reached behind him to the shelf where books and notes were scattered and picked up two little black binders. “Here’s your script. I want it memorized by tomorrow. We’re taking this out next weekend.”

“Next weekend?” Ben finally spoke up. “For a duo? Don’t those take weeks of blocking?”

“Yes,” Ron replied simply, as though those silly facts didn’t matter much at all.

“So…” Ben drew out the word, expecting the coach to jump in. When he didn’t, the debater added, “You’re setting us up to fail?”

“No, I want you to scout out the competition. Debate runs forever and Leslie’s always in a few final rounds, so the only chance I have of you seeing other duos is to be in one yourselves.” The man chuckled to himself. “And yes, you’re probably going to fail.”

“Why do we have to do a duo at all?” Leslie asked, her face beginning to fall as she came to the realization that this plan was already in motion.

“Because Wyatt needs a category that isn’t debate and you need an interp for triathlon,” Ron explained. Triathlon rules varied from tournament to tournament, but generally, students had to compete in all three kinds of events; limited preparation, public speaking, and interpretation; to qualify. The person with the most accumulated points across all of their events won. In many instances, Leslie would have far outpaced every entrant in triathlon, but because she didn’t have an acting event, she wasn’t considered for the award.

“I could do a prose,” Leslie reasoned, “Or a drama. So could Ben!”

“Well, I also made a little wager with the coach over at Butler who said I couldn’t coach a duo if my life depended on it. Of course, my life does not depend on it, but I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I can’t coach a simple acting event.”

Leslie threw her arm over Ann, startling the woman who had been silently taking in this whole interaction. “Then Ann and I could be partners! We’re already best friends!”

“Nope, I’ve made my decision,” Ron said beginning to get a little irritated. “Now get your scripts and go.”

“What about my practice?” Leslie asked.

“I’ve got a date with some bacon and eggs over at JJ’s.” He stood to leave. “Both of you be here tomorrow at 3.”

Ron left and the room sat in stunned silence for a long minute. Leslie had removed her arm from Ann’s shoulder and was staring at the little black binders like they had personally betrayed her. Ann shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably. She had been expecting to work with Ron on one of her pieces as well. Now she felt like she was intruding.

Jerry waited patiently on a stool in the back of the room. He was alone and completely forgotten.

Ben was the first to move. He sat up from where he was slouched in his chair and reached over to grab one of the binders. He flipped it open and began to read through the script. Leslie watched, silent, but she couldn’t read what he was thinking.

“Well?” she finally asked. “How is it?”

“It’s… Interesting,” Ben replied as he flipped a page. His face had gone from expressionless to skeptical as he skimmed the words. “Does Ron have issues with the government?”

Leslie sighed. “What’s it about?”

“I’m not entirely sure? One character is the head of a parks and rec department in a small town, and the other is the city manager who has to deal with the budgets. It’s cut down in a weird way too. It’s definitely about why the government is bad, but I feel like there’s more to the original story.”

Leslie reached over and picked up the other little binder and leafed through it. Ann watched as her friend’s face went from curiosity, to confusion, to agitation. When she finished her quick read, she threw the binder back down on the table.

“Ron would have us do something like this!” she complained. “I don’t know how anyone would be able to work with this! We’ll lose for sure!”

“We haven’t even started practicing…” Ben pointed out, a flash of hurt appearing on his face for just a brief moment. Leslie didn’t catch it.

“No judge is seriously going to give a winning score to a badly written duo about why the government should be abolished.” She crossed her arms. “Like he said, he set us up to fail.”

“Well, every interp has an introduction, right?” said Ann, who reached for the discarded binder so she could take a look herself, and also be sure Leslie brought it back to their apartment. “So write yours about why people who think like this are wrong.”

“That’s an idea,” Ben smiled. He turned to tuck his binder away in his book bag. Leslie remained silent, though her face had softened. Perhaps Ann was right. Maybe they could frame this in a way that wouldn’t get them laughed out of every round.

“Well, then we better get practicing,” Leslie said, accepting the binder from Ann. She sounded like nothing had ever happened, as though this was a completely normal meeting and a completely normal, nonoffensive duo. “Meet me here tomorrow at one?”

“Ron said to meet at three,” Ben responded as he stood and threw his backpack over his shoulder.

“Yeah, but he’ll probably just make sure we’re memorized and leave. We need to get some blocking down, characterization, and an introduction written! We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to make this duo win!”

Ben put his hand up as if he was waving off Leslie’s ideas. “I have to work with Chris on debate,” he said. “Sorry, Leslie, but debate comes first for me, not some interp Ron’s making us do to settle a bet. I’m sure you feel the same way. I mean, hasn’t your persuasive speech won every tournament it’s been to? You should be focusing on perfecting that for States.”

Leslie narrowed her eyes and felt rage growing with every work Ben spoke. Ann even took a step back, not wanting to be in the direct line of fire when Ben was finished and Leslie could say her piece.

“What do you mean?” Shel asked dangerously. “Of course we’re going to make this duo perfect. If we have to do it, we’re going to do it right! I don’t take pieces to tournaments that I’m not one hundred percent sure will at least make finals.”

Ben just shrugged as he sidestepped the large table. “Well I guess there’s a first time for everything,” he said, briefly pausing in the doorway. “See you at three tomorrow.”

“What a total and complete jerk!”

Ann sighed as she relaxed on the couch. The two had gone back to their apartment and Leslie immediately began banging around in the kitchen to do what she called “hate cooking.” Usually, this kind of stress baking took place around finals or midterms or just before really important tournaments. Ann also distinctly remembered the tournament that Leslie swore off debate forever. That evening after they’d gotten off the bus, she went right home and made about four sheets of brownies, a few dozen cookies, and waffles to last the week. On the bright side, the snack drawer in the team room was well stocked.

Leslie complained about Ben the entire walk home. Ann couldn’t blame her. While she understood Ben’s want to focus on debate, she felt he could have been a little kinder to her best friend about it.

She heard the oven door slam shut and the beeping of the timer being set. A moment later, Leslie was marching out to the living room. She threw the black binder at Ann. “Run through this with me,” Leslie demanded. Ann looked startled and Leslie’s face immediately softened. “Sorry.” She tried again. “Can you please run through this with me?”

“You have this thing memorized? Already?” Ann was bewildered but quickly reminded herself that Leslie had one hell of a memory. Once a speech was written, she could memorize it in an hour.

“Yeah, while I was getting the brownies ready. If you see brown stuff smudged on the edges, that’s what it is.” Leslie sat down on the couch next to Ann and let out a long sigh. “I just want this to be good. And that’s the worst part about doing partnered events! If the other one isn’t into it, then the whole piece suffers.” A flash of determination mixed with anger shone in her eye for a brief moment. “And I’m not going to take anything out that I’m not totally sure will do well.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Ann soothed, though she wasn’t completely convinced by her own words. Leslie already had two issues stacked against her. First, Ben was less than interested in doing much more than memorizing the piece and second, Leslie had never done an interp event. Leslie’s strengths were laid in limited preparation and public speaking. Although her personality was loud and outgoing, Ann wasn’t convinced Leslie would be the perfect actor.

They spent the next hour going through the piece which was just as bad as Ben had described. The public servant was painted in a very ditzy and unintelligent light, while the city manager tasked with gutting programs was hailed a hero. As a political science major who dreamed of going on to work for the government, Leslie was disgusted and, somehow, imagining Ben in the role of the heartless city manager made her dislike him more.

Around seven, Ann called it quits so she could study for a nursing exam and Leslie went to do her own work. It was closer to seven thirty when her phone rang.

“Tom?” she asked, having read the caller ID before answering.

“Hey!” Her friend and teammate sounded like he was in a very loud cave. Probably a bar or a house party, Leslie guessed. “What’re you and Annabel-Lee up to tonight?”

“Studying. Practicing,” Leslie replied. “I think Say Yes to the Dress comes on at eight.”

“Boring!” Tom shouted. “Come on over to my buddy Jean-Ralphio’s place tonight and par-tay!”

“Tom, it’s Wednesday.”


Leslie sighed before she could slip out the obvious answer that they had classes tomorrow. That gave her time to reconsider the negative answer she was going to give. She was stressed and aggravated and she didn’t actually have class tomorrow until ten. Maybe a little drinking would do her good.

“Wait one second.” Leslie put the phone down and went to Ann’s room. Her best friend was curled up on the bed with a book and notepad and looked totally lost in whatever awful diseases she was studying this week. A tiny tap on the doorframe from Leslie gently brought her out of her focus and she smiled at her friend.

“What’s up?” Ann asked.

“Tom wants to know if we want to go to a party,” Leslie told her as she bit the inside of her lip. Ann saw immediately that Leslie wanted to go.


“And… Do you want to?”

“I know you’re only asking me because you want to go,” Ann replied. “I have this big test coming up. I really need to study.”

“You have a big test next week ,” Leslie reasoned. “Who studies the week before the test?”

“Uh, nursing students!”

“Come on, Ann, let’s loosen up a little. Tom invited us so I bet Donna’s going to be there. And I bet April and Andy will too”

“Oh yes, perfect. A party with my ex-boyfriend and the girl my ex-boyfriend is dating.” Ann rolled her eyes and returned to her book, though she was no longer focusing on the words.

“A party with your teammate and your other teammate ,” Leslie corrected. “You know there’s no dating allowed on the team.”

Ann wanted to correct her on that because she knew that just because there was a rule in place doesn’t mean dating didn’t happen. Besides, April and Andy were on the team, but only showed up for a few tournaments and almost never went to practice. The rule was in place so a breakup would affect the team dynamic. Whatever happened with April and Andy, it certainly wouldn’t affect the team. And, Ron favored April for her bluntness and reluctance to do anything.

Ann had dated Andy, though that relationship started back in high school and before they were on the team together. By the time they both ended up on the team in the middle of their freshman year, their relationship was over. They did debate together for a year, but Andy was paired with April when she joined the team and Ann began to focus on her individual events.

But, Leslie looked like she needed a night out and Ann knew she wouldn’t go without her. Besides, she had this chapter pretty much in the bag. One more night of studying next week and she’d ace the test for sure.

“Oh, alright,” Ann relented. “But only for a little while. It’s a weeknight and some people actually have morning classes.”

“Yay!” Leslie jumped up, clasping her hands together. She ran over and gave her friend a big hug, nearly ripping Ann off the bed. “Oh, Ann. You wonderful amazing iridescent mermaid goddess! You’re the best!” She then ran off to tell Tom the good news before Ann could even respond to one of Leslie’s famously weird, but always appreciated compliments.

“Alright, Tom,” Leslie said, grabbing the phone off the counter. “We’re in!”

It didn’t take long for Ann and Leslie to throw together what they would wear. Sure, they weren’t in the perfect “night out” outfits, but with the short notice, they managed to clean up pretty well. Leslie wore a black beaded top and skinny jeans while Ann wore a dark red blouse with a flirty neckline and nice black leggings. Both wore sensible shoes, but did put on makeup and do their hair.

Before the pair had rounded the corner of the street the party was on, they heard the thumping music and the sound of people mingling. It made both Ann and Leslie grateful they had found a relatively quiet apartment complex to live in because neither could have handled nightly late-night parties on weekdays. But, it was also nice to be able to go to one when they needed a night out.

People were scattered on the front porch with red solo cups overfilled with whatever cheap alcohol the hosts bought. The two pushed through to the door, but stopped there and began looking around for Tom. It wasn’t long before he himself came over to them, his arms outstretched for a hug.

“Leslie, Ann, how are my two favorite Indiana girls?” he asked, as though he was greeting them at an exclusive nightclub rather than a run-down college student home. Ann stifled the immediate need to remind him that she was, in fact, from Michigan. “I’m so glad you could make it! The bar is over there.” He twirled around and pointed with both hands to the kitchen island that was littered with bottles, glasses, and red solo cups. April was nearby, drinking out of a red cup of her own while talking to Chris. April was also only eighteen, a freshman, unlike Chris, Ann, Leslie, and Tom, who were all juniors.

Tom excused himself to mingle at the party and Leslie turned to Ann. “I’m getting really drunk tonight,” she declared. Ann looked at her for a moment, then back to the bar, and then to her friend one more time.

“Yeah. Me too,” she sighed, resigned to the fact that she and Leslie made terrible decisions together, and getting drunk on a Wednesday night at Jean-Ralphio’s house party would be one of them.

They found themselves parked on a plush chair by the bar for much of the night. It was probably supposed to be a single-seater, but Ann and Leslie sat squished in together as they sucked down shoddily made tequila sunrises and screwdrivers. One would get up to get refills while the other guarded the precious furniture they’d managed to procure. Seating was not easy to find at a crowded party like this and the girls just wanted to drink, not socialize.

“I can’t believe Ron’s making us do the… do… oh,” Leslie slurred as the clock approached ten. She nibbled on the lip of the cup that held her newest drink. What number she was on was anyone’s guess.

“Ron’s just testing you, probably,” Ann replied as she absently placed her hand on Leslie’s shoulder. She was less drunk than her friend but definitely more than tipsy. “Probably. Probably he just wants to see what you can do.”

“I do a lot of things!” Leslie’s volume raised quite suddenly and she dropped back to a quieter voice as people glanced over. “I do informative and persuasive and impromptu and communication analysis and extemporaneous and… and… Something else?”

“After dinner speech?”

“Yes! I have that too! Why do I need a stupid duo with stupid Ben?” Leslie took a long sip of her drink. “I wish he wasn’t so cute!”

“What?” Ann asked, drawing out the vowels and giggling after like a child. “What did you just say?”

“He’s cute! Oh come on don’t you have eyes?” Leslie giggled as well, immediately feeling lighter now that they were no longer ranting. “His hair and his eyes and his… face and stuff. It’s cute. He’s a jerk but he’s a cute jerk.” She pouted. “Why do jerks get to be cute?”

“You know who’s cute?” Ann asked, leaning in as though she had quite the secret to share. “His partner.”

“Ben’s gay!?”

“No! Well, I don’t know but not that I know,” Ann laughed. “His debate partner. Chris Tree… Um, Chris Tree or whatever. He’s cute.”

“Oh my god ,” Leslie smiled wide. “You’re right he is though!”

“I know!”

They shared another laugh. Ann got up to get another round and came back declaring pointedly, “These will be our last!” Leslie just nodded. She’d said that three rounds ago.

As they sat gossiping and laughing, Leslie’s eyes drifted over the crowd of people that, despite being a weekday, showed no signs of dwindling anytime soon. Then, suddenly, she gasped and grabbed Ann’s shoulder.

“What?” Ann asked, jerking her head up to look with unfocused eyes at whatever Leslie had found.

“He’s here!”


“Him!” Leslie pointed to Ben who was uncomfortably making his way through the crowd. Chris was right behind him but looked far more happy to be there. Granted, Chris looked happy to be just about anywhere, and in contrast with Ben’s sullen face, he appeared positively delighted to be in a college student’s house that was one inspection away from being condemned.

It wasn’t difficult to find people on the little furniture that was in the living room, so Chris and Ben found Leslie and Ann very quickly. He pointed, shook Ben’s shoulder, and guided the two of them over. Leslie paled when she realized they were walking towards them and tried unsuccessfully to hide behind her cup.

“Leslie Knope! Ann Perkins!” Chris grinned as he flashed finger guns at the both of them.

“Hi, Chris. Hi, Ben,” Ann greeted. “What brings you here?”

“Tom and I had a delightful call this evening and asked if we would like to attend a little party at his friend’s house!” Chris replied in a chipper voice that suggested he hadn’t had nearly enough alcohol. “And we, of course, accepted! It’s so good to see you guys!”

“Yeah, it’s good to see you too,” Ann said and glanced over at the bar. “You might want to get something before they run out. When I went up there last, all the vodka was gone.”

“Oh, I don’t drink,” Chris replied. “But I’m drunk with the happiness of seeing our two new teammates here!”

Ann and Leslie exchanged a look but smiled back at the men politely. Ben was looking anywhere but at Leslie, though Chris didn’t seem to notice.

“So, Leslie Knope, excited for an engaging duo with Ben Wyatt over here?” Chris continued, either unaware of what happened between Ben and Leslie earlier that day or choosing to ignore it.

As Ann looked over worriedly and Ben looked at his feet, Leslie frowned. Normally, she would have made up some polite thing about how it would be a fun challenge, but she’d had far too much to drink to be polite. “No, actually, I’m not,” she replied in an icy voice. “Because someone doesn’t care about doing well and someone only cares about doing stupid debate!”

Chris looked completely taken aback, as though his upbeat personality literally couldn’t comprehend anyone’ negativity.

“I’ve been doing debate for five years,” Ben found himself responding as he leveled his gaze at the extremely unsteady Leslie. “I’m not giving that up for a duo neither of us wants to do!”

“You don’t have to give it up!” Leslie yelled, jumping up from the chair. Ann tried to tug her down, but Leslie shook her off. “You just have to try , Ben! I don’t want to do this any more than you do, but I’m not going to get up there and make a fool of myself!”

“It’s just for triathlon,” he reasoned, not raising his voice to the volume Leslie was at. “So you have one event that won’t break to finals. Oh well, you’ll do great in everything else.”

“You don’t understand at all!” Leslie was becoming frustrated, and frustrated plus drunk was not a great combination for her. “Ugh! You know, no one likes you! Yeah! No one likes you and no one wants you here! I asked everyone, they don’t want you here!”

Ben paused and knit his brows together in confusion. He glanced around at the rest of the people a the party, all of which were paying them no mind despite how loud Leslie had gotten. “That must have taken a while,” he blurted out, half sarcastically.

“Yeah! It did!” Leslie threw the empty solo cup on the ground. “Forget you, Ben Wyatt. Come on Ann!” She stomped out of the house and into the cool early fall evening.

“Uh, please excuse us.” Ann stood after a long silent pause. She offered a kind gaze to Ben and shot Chris a flirty smile. “Call me sometime,” she said, tucking her phone into his shirt pocket. Before either Chris or Ben could respond or give her phone back, she had run off after Leslie.

Chapter Text

Light poked at Leslie’s eyes in an annoying way, setting off bombs in her head as she slowly came to. It took all her strength to pry her eyes open and when she finally did, she regretted it. She immediately shut her eyes again, but the quick glimpse told her she was in her room in her apartment. She had made it back from the party alive, at least.

The party! All the memories came rushing back, making Leslie groan as her headache became worse. She remembered yelling at Ben. The details were fuzzy, but she imagined it was something to do with the duo. Guilt welled in the pit of her stomach and, even though she felt he was wrong in this instance, she knew she hadn’t been kind to him. She would have to apologize.

Slowly, she dragged herself out of her bed. Some of the blankets were already on the floor, but the rest fell off the bed as she stood and stretched. Leslie was often awake before the sun was even up, but the night of heavy drinking left her exhausted. Still, it was weird to see the sun in such a high position in her room. She was usually up and on campus by now.

After she was dressed and had her bag packed for class, she went to see if Ann was still home. It didn’t take long to search the small apartment and realize that her roommate had miraculously managed to go to her morning class. Leslie would probably owe Ann a nice dinner or some dessert after their misadventures last night.

Leslie popped a few ibuprofens and heated herself up some frozen waffles for breakfast. She spent some time doing homework, did a draft of her political science paper, and then gathered her things to go to class.

Politics in the United States was one of her favorite classes, but it was also rather dull since she’d read ahead in their textbook. Well, she’d actually read the entire textbook and was passing the class with a solid 103. Every time to professor offered extra credit for watching a movie or doing a paper, she did it, despite it being unnecessary.

When class was over, she made her way to the old communications building. Even if Ben wasn’t going to show up at one, she was going to. And, she needed to clear her head. Whenever she needed a break from life in general, she would go to the speech building and practice. When she was giving her speeches, it was like she was in an entirely different world. Everyone stopped and listened when she gave a speech. Granted, they had to if they didn’t want to be considered rude by the judge and dropped in the round rankings. But, Leslie felt important when she was speaking. Everything she talked about in all of her pieces meant so much to her and getting to share her passions with others was amazing.

Except for this stupid duo. After a half hour of running through her other pieces, Leslie sat down to come up with an introduction to the piece Ron gave her. She chewed the pencil and wrote down a few words, then stopped and scratched it out.

It was nearing 1:30 when she thought she heard the front doors of the building open and close. The door to the team room was open as were the windows, but she paid no attention to any noises she heard. She was determined to come up with an introduction before practice at three.

So, she was startled out of her focus when someone appeared in the doorway. She jumped and jerked her head up and then became incredibly confused. “Ben?”

Ben was there, shifting uncomfortably in the doorway as he gripped one strap of his backpack. He gave her a little wave and smiled and then took a hesitant step inside the room. “Hey,” he replied, but stopped there, unsure of what else there was to say.

“I thought you weren’t coming until three,” Leslie said as she watched Ben walk in and sit across from her. She set her pencil down and crossed her arms. Her face was heating up. She was embarrassed about how she had acted the night before and, though she intended to apologize, she hadn’t expected to have to deal with the apology so soon.

“Yeah, I…” He stopped and sighed and set his backpack down. Ben dug out the binder and looked across the table at his new duo partner. “I wasn’t going to come here until practice with Ron, but I thought about it and decided to come in early. I know this is important to you.”

“It is,” Leslie confirmed and looked down at the lined paper that held the meager scraps of an intro she had managed to come up with. “I’m sorry for what I said last night,” she mumbled. “I really am. That was wrong of me.”

“It’s okay.” Ben offered her a smile which she saw when she finally looked up at him. She smiled back in response, but guilt lingered on her lips. “Really. I wasn’t exactly a saint yesterday. I get it.”

Leslie’s smile widened which seemed to light her eyes a little. She stuck her hand out. “Then truce?” she asked.

Ben hesitated but reached out and shook the offered hand. “Alright, truce.”

Once they had both returned their hands to their sides, Leslie looked back at the paper. She sighed. “I can’t figure out an intro for this stupid piece.” She wanted to break the ice but felt awkward. Her words came out breathy and her mouth felt dry.

“It’s really bad!” Ben commiserated.

“I know!” Leslie laughed, confidence growing in her voice now that Ben had responded positively. “I can’t figure out an angle that doesn’t make us look like idiots or jerks!”

The two chuckled and Ben took a glance at what Leslie had started to write while Leslie leafed through her binder. Ben looked up and watched her for a moment as she thumbed the pages, lost in thought once again.

“Hey,” he started. She looked up at him, wondering to herself if he’d thought of something they could work with. “Do you want to grab a beer?”

Leslie frowned, but her eyes shone with amusement. “It’s one thirty in the afternoon.”

“Yeah. So, do you want to grab a beer? You look like you could use a beer.”

Leslie smiled and set her book down. “Alright. That sounds great.”

The Skull was an old townie bar, but the closest one to the communications building. All the bars on the outskirts were old, and all were open relatively early. Ben and Leslie were not the only students in for an early afternoon drink, especially since The Skull had a few good lunch options as well.

A plate of nachos sat on the bar between the two while they sipped their beers. It was weird for Leslie to drink this early on in the day, but some feeling in the pit of her stomach made her take Ben up on his suggestion. Perhaps it was a bit of guilt, perhaps it was a wanting to get to know her newest teammate. Whatever that feeling really was, she was glad they were both there in the dim light of the bar.

“I didn’t know you were a day drinker,” Leslie commented, breaking their comfortable silence as she took another sip of the cool crisp beer.

“I’m not usually. I just thought you could use a drink. You looked like you’d been in that room for years!” Ben laughed and Leslie smiled, chuckling at her own expense. He was right, she probably looked miserable trying to write an introduction.

“People seem to think being on the speech team is traveling and goofing off,” Leslie said, more seriously than she’d intended. “But it’s not! I mean, it is a little, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”

“You have to really enjoy it then.”

“Yeah.” Leslie looked down at her beer bottle and took another sip, this one longer than the last. She sighed as she pulled it away from her lips and looked over at her new duo partner. “Speech and Debate is the most important thing in the world to me.” Ben was amazed by how passionate she sounded, as though she was trying to convince him that speech was the most meaningful activity anyone could ever take part in.

“It’s… really important to me too,” Ben replied. He couldn’t bring himself to lie and agree that it was the most important thing in his life, but he’d been competing since high school. He loved it and he wanted to do well.

Ben knit his eyebrows together and a thoughtful look appeared on his face. Maybe he was on to something there. “Leslie, you know I love speech, right?” He asked. She nodded but seemed hesitant to do so. “We just love it in different ways. You just want to win your public speaking events. There’s nothing wrong with that; I want to win my debate rounds. And we just go about it in different ways.”

Leslie considered this for a long moment. After another swig of her drink, she said, “Maybe you’re right.” She looked at Ben. “Why did you join speech?”

Ben shrugged and stared at his beer bottle. “It was something to do,” he said. “I wasn’t very athletic, not very artistic, but I could talk. My sister’s older than me and got a lot of the attention, so when I did debate for the first time, it was the first time someone had ever actually listened to what I had to say.” He chuckled and added, “And then he ripped it to shreds because I was a freshman and my argument was shit. But hey, he listened!”

Leslie smiled and leaned in a little closer to Ben. “That’s exactly what happened with me! My dad had died, my mom was busy, and the only way anyone would listen to me was if I forced them to sit in a room for ten minutes while I talked. And then, well, speech is like having a second family. When I was having a rough day, I could go to practice and everything would be okay.”

“But it’s more than that for you, right? You want to win,” Ben asked and watched as Leslie shook her head.

“No. I mean yeah, I want to win. If I’m going to put in ten hours of practice a week, then I’d better win! But above all else, my speech team is my family. I’d trade all my trophies and titles for my family, but luckily I get to have both!”

It was in that moment that Ben realized Leslie was different than many other speech kids he knew. For many, speech and debate was either a social group or a chance to prove themselves, but for Leslie, it was both. Sure, Ben felt the same, but the teams he’d been on never called themselves ‘family.’ They were all usually good friends and spent a lot of time together, but he would hardly call them his family. He wondered if this team would be different and a little thrill bubbled up in his stomach at the idea. Ben had also never met anyone with Leslie’s dedication. All the passion and love she had for her team, she was also able to translate into winning scores and trophies at tournaments. He understood that Leslie would never want to perform a piece that she knew would do poorly. That would be an insult to the activity she knew and loved.

“Hey,” Ben said suddenly, causing Leslie to look up from the nachos. “We’re going to win the shit out of duo. Maybe not this weekend, maybe not this month, but we’re going to win it.”

Leslie pursed her lips into an amused smile before breaking into a wide grin. That was the moment Ben realized how much he loved to see Leslie smile, almost as much as he loved to see her aggravated expression when he pushed her buttons.

“Hell yeah we are!” Leslie cheered.

Maybe, just maybe, Ben thought, this whole duo idea wasn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Text

“Today we go to Bowling Green.” Ron stood at the front of the school-branded coach bus as his students watched on from their seats. Everything was ready to go for the first tournament that weekend. Bags were packed, points were written, and pieces were memorized.

“Cool, we’re going bowling!” April shouted out in a voice that sounded more dry than excited.

“No, we are not,” Ron answered. “Bowling Green has neither bowling nor is it very green.” Truthfully, Ron had no idea if Bowling Green had a bowling alley, but even if it did, the team would not be visiting it.

Andy, who was seated next to April, leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I thought you told me we were going bowling. I brought my bowling ball!” April just smiled at nothing in particular.

“What it does have is a very nice steak restaurant, which is where we will be eating at when this whole tournament is over,” the coach continued. “You will practice your speeches for the next hour. After that, I do not care but don’t bother me. End of speech.” He sat down at the front of the bus and told the driver to get a move on.

After an hour, Leslie made her way to the back of the bus where the student film crew was. “Well, that was a fun hour! I was so busy with everything that I forgot to ask Ben to run the duo with me.” She glanced behind her to where Ben and Chris were seated in the middle of the bus. “But they seem pretty busy. Anyway, I feel a lot more confident about our piece now. We practiced with Ron, wrote an intro, and everything is memorized! It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was before.”

And, it truly was. For the last two days of the week, Ben and Leslie made enough time to at least understand the piece. Leslie wished they had more time, but they were memorized and had half their blocking done, so it would have to do for this tournament.

“You know, I came down kind of hard on Ben,” she said, her gaze angled at the ground rather than at the camera. “We had a really great talk on Thursday and I think we’ll be able to make this work. He just wants to win the events he’s most interested in. I get that.”

Leslie stood and grinned at the student filmmakers. “Anyway, you’re going to love tournaments! They’re so fun! You know what the best part is? They go on all day ! Wake up at six in the morning, get ready, then go and compete for, like twelve hours! Whoo!” And with that, she flounced off to take her seat next to Ann so they could chat the rest of the ride to Ohio.

The team stopped at a restaurant called City BBQ, one of Ron’s favorite stops, for dinner. It was a quaint chain restaurant that served tons of different meat options. Thanks to the lovely taxpayers from the state of Indiana, each person on the team was allotted twenty dollars for dinner. For college students who lived on tight budgets and questionable dining hall foods, each weekend was like a feast.

They sat around the table eating and making small talk. One of the treasured team rules was no cell phones during dinner. April gladly ignored that rule, not necessarily because she was texting a lot of people or fervently searching the internet, but just because it was a rule that she could break.

Ben watched as Ron happily ate what looked to be a literal meat mountain. He had a few steaks, two burgers, what looked like at least a pound of bacon, and a few pork chops. At the register, he’d told the girl, “Whatever sides come with this, I don’t want them. Just replace it with more bacon.” Everyone else’s meals were much more modest, except for Andy, though his plate was flecked with green vegetables.

April’s eyes flickered over to Ben and then back to her phone. “Coach Ron hates paying taxes, but this is his way to get back at the government,” she said in response to a question the debater didn’t ask.

“What?” Ben asked, startled. April just glanced at him once more, shrugged, and returned to whatever was on her screen.

“The government takes my hard earned money,” Ron offered. “So the least Indiana can do is buy me a nice dinner.”

Ben and Chris exchanged a look. Noticing their continued confusion, Leslie jumped in. “Since Indiana University is a public school, a lot of our programs are subsidized by the state government. The speech team is one of them. So all of this…” She gestured to the food on everyone’s plates. “Is thanks to the great taxpayers of the state of Indiana.”

“Oh, we came from a private school,” Chris replied as the confusion ebbed off his face. “So we packed our own meals. If you don’t mind me asking, how much does our team get each year?”

“About seventy thousand dollars,” Tom interjected before taking a bite of his steak.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Ben glanced around the table, but no one else except for Chris looked shocked at the figure. Well, April and Andy were hardly paying attention, but everyone else on the team seemed to accept Tom’s word.

“Yeah, man!” Tom continued. “Ron built that shit up. Started with a couple grand and managed to prove that he needed more money!”

“I thought you hated frivolous spending?” Ben looked back at Ron who merely shrugged.

“Food this good is not frivolous, son,” the man reasoned. “And, if I’m going to pay taxes so the state can do God-knows-what with the money, I at least can take some of it back through this. Now eat, we’re boarding the bus in ten minutes.”

Ben had more questions about Ron’s relationship with the government but figured those questions would get the same response as his questions about his new duo: nothing. The team cleared up, got on the bus, and road the rest of the way to the hotel in relative silence.

It was dark when they got there, the sun had long since set over the horizon. They watched it go behind a whirlwind of trees on the nearly empty two-lane highway. Bowling Green was a typical college town in Ohio--pretty, but boring to someone who didn’t know the town the way the students who went there did. The hotel was the same as any other. This time it was a Hampton Inn, Ron’s usual hotel of choice if there was one in the area. Hamptons kept their rooms pretty similar from place to place and his reasoning was that the students would get used to staying in the same hotel chain. When you only have a few hours to sleep before an early wake-up call, you need all the help you can get.

The students exited the bus, got their bags, and received their room keys. Leslie was with Ann, April with Donna, Andy with Tom, and Ben with Chris. Ron had his own room, as did Jerry, who was also on this trip but was as silent and unobtrusive as ever.

“So how do you think your duo is going to do tomorrow?” Ann asked when she and Leslie entered their hotel room.

Leslie threw her suitcase down on one of the beds and shrugged. “Good, I hope. Depends on how big the tournament is. And if the judges are kind to us and realize we didn’t choose this for ourselves!”

Ann laughed as she hung up her suit in the closet. “I’m sure you’ll do fine. Besides, you have every other event in the world to do great at.” When she was done, she flopped on the second bed and turned to watch Leslie lay out her overnight items. “How’s Ben?”

Leslie looked startled by the question. “I don’t know! He just… is? I guess? Why?”

“I was just wondering if he warmed up to the piece.”

“It’s hard to warm up to that piece, Ann, but he is doing good with practice.” Leslie smiled and sat on the bed. “I don’t know, I guess we’ll see how the tournament goes. We can’t really do much more with the piece until we get some feedback on it.”

“Is Ben a good actor? He seems a little too… stiff to me.”

Again, Leslie looked flustered at the mention of her partner and turned to dig more stuff out of her suitcase. “Yeah, I guess. I dunno. I’ve never done an acting event before and neither has he.” Ann knit her brows together but decided that it was too late and they had to get up too early tomorrow to have a long chat.

“Alright, well, I call dibs on the bathroom,” she said, standing up. “I won’t be too long. We should probably get to bed soon.”

“Yeah, totally,” Leslie replied, her voice a little distant. Ann walked to the bathroom and shut the heavy hotel door. Leslie picked up her black binder, sat back against the pillows, and reread her blocking notes.

The buzzing of the hotel alarm clock startled Ann from a deep slumber. It was so early, the first morning light wasn’t even peeking into the room from behind the curtains. It was pitch black both outside and in the room. She groaned and rolled over, fumbling to hit the right button to turn the awful noise off. She then reached up and flipped on the light.

“Morning!” Leslie chirped from the other side of the room. Ann sat up and rubbed her eyes. It should have surprised her that Leslie was fully dressed in a smart royal blue skirt suit, black heels, and a full face of makeup, but this was Leslie Knope. And would be more shocked if she woke up to her best friend still asleep.

“I don’t know how you get ready in the dark,” Ann mumbled. “You have no right to look as good as you do this early in the morning!”

“Come on, sleepyhead,” Leslie laughed, grabbing her friend’s arm and tugging her lightly out of the bed. “You’re going to look beautiful and wonderful and amazing in just a few minutes.” She paused. “Well, more beautiful and wonderful and amazing than you do now, but judges sort of frown on wearing PJs in rounds.”

It didn’t take long for the two to finish getting ready. Leslie didn’t need much sleep and woke up early every day, and Ann was used to getting ready in a short amount of time so she had more time to sleep. In the end, Ann wore a flattering dark purple skirt suit with a flattering, but conservative neckline. Both friends donned a pearl necklace and earrings and big enough black purses to fit flats, their binders, and a water bottle.

Most everyone was in the lobby eating breakfast when Ann and Leslie came down. Immediately, Leslie noticed that everyone was dressed in their suits… except for Andy, who wore a bowling shirt. He had, in fact, thought they were going bowling all weekend and April had not bothered to correct him. Coach Ron either didn’t notice or didn’t care, likely both. He was wrapping sausages in napkins so he could take extra with him to the tournament at the college.

After everyone ate and spent time practicing their pieces, they got back on the bus and rode to the college. Some stared out the window with headphones in their ears, others mumbled their pieces to themselves to ensure they were memorized. Chris and Ben sat near the middle of the bus going over debate notes and Leslie ran her persuasive speech. It wasn’t long before the bus pulled up to a building at the college and the team made their way to an open classroom.

Ron wasn’t one for warm-ups. He claimed there was too much cheering. So, rather than lead the warm-ups himself, he had Leslie do it. It was something she loved to do and in turn, something he didn’t have to do.

The team gathered in a circle and Leslie led them through tongue twisters, chants, cheers, and start-stop exercises with their pieces. Then, they all gathered back into the circle so Leslie could give her usual tournament pep talk.

“Alright, we’re still early in the season and so is everyone else,” she told her team. “So just go out there and do the best you can, and I bet you’ll end up doing awesome! We’re the best team in the whole country and--”

“Isn’t Western Kentucky the best?” Tom interrupted. “I mean, they won last year at Nationals.”

“No. We are the best team, period, end of story. Do you know why?” Some teammates softly shook their heads, others stared blankly at her. “Because no other team in the whole world has you guys. That’s what makes us the best.” Most rolled their eyes at her sappiness, but Ann, Ben, and Chris all smiled. “So, we’re going to go out there and kick ass!” She paused, glancing at the skeptic looks on the faces of her friends. She sighed and added, “Western Kentucky isn’t here.”

Everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief and murmurs of, “Oh thank god,” could be heard around the circle. While Leslie wished her team would stop worrying about objectively better squads, she was glad to feel the mood lift a little.

“Ron, do you want to add anything?” the team captain asked as she did every tournament.

“No.” Ron’s reply was short, as it always was.

“Alright, let’s kick ass!”

The team cheered and began to mill around the room. Tom and Donna left immediately to go find friends from other schools. Ann went to a corner to practice one of her pieces one more time. April and Andy also left the room and Leslie hoped they would actually go to their rounds rather than wander the campus and find trouble. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot them in the crowd either way since Andy stuck out like a sore thumb in his blue and white striped bowling shirt amongst the dark-colored suits the competitors wore.

“Hey, Ben?” Leslie asked just before he and Chris headed out. “Do you want to run our duo real quick since we have time before rounds start?” She sounded a little bashful and she mentally kicked herself for sounding like a teenager asking her crush to prom.

Ben shifted uncomfortably. “We have to get ready for debate,” he replied in a quiet voice, not wanting to set Leslie off this early in the morning. To his surprise, Leslie looked a little sad but just nodded.

“Alright,” she replied, though her voice wavered. It wasn’t that she wanted him to focus more on duo than the actual event he signed up for, but she was feeling a little shaky about their event. “That’s alright. If you feel good about your part, I’ll just run mine again and we should be fine. It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of duos here today. We’re team 508 and you know Ron probably wanted until the last minute to register.” She offered a smile to boot and Ben nodded. As the boys left the room, Ann appeared at her side.

“You ready?” she asked and Leslie turned, startled, to face her.

“Yeah, I think so.” Her voice was uncertain, which was strange for her at the beginning of a tournament. This was usually the point in the day when she was the most confident. Ann reached out to squeeze Leslie’s arm encouragingly.

“You’re going to do fine. So what if your duo doesn’t do well? You’re going to rock everything else. And hey, now you’re finally entered in Triathlon and I know you’re going to win that!”

Ann was amazing, Leslie decided, as she decided pretty much every single day. Her best friend was, well, the best. “You’re right,” she replied as the two friends started out of the room. “It’s going to be a good day.”

Chapter Text

Leslie hustled to the room where all the extemporaneous speakers would prepare for thirty minutes before presenting the question they were given to base their speech on. After she gave her speech, she would go on to do her persuasive down the hall, and then meet up in another room for her duo with Ben. It was a busy schedule, but Leslie preferred to be constantly on the move at tournaments. Being entered in many events didn’t give her the opportunity to stop as the day went on, which meant she wouldn’t be left alone with her thoughts on how the rounds went. If she kept moving, she didn’t have the chance to psych herself out.

She sat at a desk near the front of the room, tapping her fingers on the wood surface. The one thing she was still thinking about, though, was how her duo was going to go with Ben. They had memorized and blocked, but they had never actually run through the whole thing without stopping. That was why she asked Ben to practice with her before they went off to rounds. Even if they just ran through it once, they would have some idea of whether or not it went over the allotted ten minutes.

But, there was nothing she could do about it now. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach at the thought of performing an event that had barely been practiced. Leslie Knope didn’t do half-assed. She did whole-assed. That was something Ron had taught her, but it was also Ron who made them take their unfinished duo to the tournament this weekend. She hated when he contradicted himself without realizing it.

The moderator walked into the room, and within five minutes Leslie was working on a speech about the government of Venezuela. The thirty minute prep time flew by and soon she was in front of a judge, giving her seven-minute speech about what the United Nations can do to help the Venezuelan people. It was a standard speech, complete with an introduction, three key areas of analysis, and a conclusion. All of her sources and important points were written on a single index card which she barely glanced at. Her judge smiled and nodded, jotting notes down every so often and when she was finished, he clapped politely, the hollow noise echoing in the small room. Within another minute, she had gathered her things and was excused to her next round.

Leslie walked quickly through the halls of the college, passing other competitors on their way to rounds. She rounded a corner and found herself walking straight towards Ann, who was coming her way. The other woman smiled brightly when she saw her friend.

“Hey, how was extemp?” Ann asked.

“Good,” Leslie replied. “Boring speech, I hope everyone else’s questions were equally as dull.”

“I’m sure you managed to liven it up. Where are you off to now?”

“Persuasive and then duo! What are you up to? Do you know how everyone else is doing?” Leslie was always concerned with how the rest of her teammates were doing.

Ann shook her head. “I can’t find Andy and April, so I’m looking around to see where they went off to. I don’t have anything else to do right now, so Ron sent me.” Leslie nodded knowingly. This was pretty usual for the two debaters. At least once a tournament, someone was sent out to track them down.

“Can’t Ron go find them?”

Ann rolled her eyes. “He’s worried if he goes walking around, one of the other coaches will stop and talk to him, so he’s holed up in a classroom that isn’t being used.” Leslie nodded. This was also usual.

“Alright, well, I better get moving! I have to get this persuasion done so I can head over to duo.” She started to move around Ann, who shot her an encouraging smile.

“Good luck with that. I’m sure you’ll do well enough. Remember, it is your first time ever competing in this event.”

Leslie just gave a noncommittal shrug, but also smiled back so that her friend wouldn’t worry about her. What she didn’t tell Ann was that she didn’t do “well enough,” even if the event was new to her. She was going to put her all into this and hopefully Ben would too.

For now, the duo would have to be pushed to the back of her mind because she had another speech to give. This time, when she entered the room after another competitor was done speaking, there were a few more people in the room. There seemed to be a judge and five other people there, two of whom she knew from competing the year before, and three she didn’t recognize. She assumed at least one of the new people was there to spectate the round.

Leslie was called up next since she had somewhere else to be, and she gave a riveting persuasive about expanding the Americans with Disabilities Act to include workplace minimum wage protections. She finished her speech to polite applause, this time louder with more bodies in the room.

“May I please be excused to my next round?” she asked as she gathered her purse from the desk she had briefly sat in. It was the usual line delivered to the judge when someone had to go to another round. He nodded and Leslie exited to the hall.

When Leslie turned the corner, she saw Ben waiting outside the room they would do their duo in. To her surprise, he was looking down at the miniature black binder that held his copy of their piece. Leslie held back for a moment to watch as his brown eyes gazed at each page and his lips moved silently as he internally practiced his lines.

“Hey,” she greeted when she finally decided to approach him. He glanced up and smiled, his face morphing into a soft expression as she came over. “How was your debate round?”

“Good, I think,” he answered. “It’s all up to the judge, though. Hopefully, we’ll have a few more rounds ahead of us.”

“I’m sure you and Chris will do fine. I mean, you guys are like God-level debaters, right?” Leslie asked as she leaned against the wall and set her bag down. Ben glanced over at her and she smirked back, trying to be cool. She could hear another team performing their duo in the room, so they had some time before they could go in. “It sounds like Ron has a lot of confidence in you two.”

Ben raised an eyebrow at that. “Really?” he asked, sounding as though he didn’t believe her for a minute. “How can you tell?”

Leslie just shrugged and dug out her own little binder from her bag. “When you know him longer, you’ll understand. It’s not really what he says, it’s how he says it.” She paused and added, “Or what he doesn’t say at all.”

“Well, that’s… confusing.”

Leslie grinned at him. “That’s Ron. Hey, do you know if April and Andy made it to their round?”

“Yeah, we managed to track them down. They were playing with some dogs and lost track of time.” He shook his head and looked back down at his script. “They didn’t seem too devastated at the idea of missing their round, and with Andy in a bowling shirt, they’re not going to get full points anyway.”

“And, that’s another thing you’ll have to get used to,” Leslie laughed. “Sometimes Andy does actually wear a suit, but when he’s dressed correctly, April usually manages to find some… Alternative outfit. What’s even better are the outfits Tom and Donna manage to find after their annual ‘Treat Yourself’ day.”

“You know, Ron didn’t mention any of that when I joined.”

Leslie just laughed, and as she did so, clapping could be heard from inside the room. At that, she and Ben went in to perform their duo for the very first time.

“All things considered, everything went pretty decently,” Leslie said as she lounged in an auditorium chair at the end of the day. “I mean, all my usual rounds were great, as always, but even the duo went pretty alright. Got some weird looks from judges, but nothing that screamed ‘I hate you go die!’ I consider that a win.”

She looked over to where the team was sitting. Ben and Chris were going over notes, April was on her phone, Donna, Tom, and Andy were chatting away, and Ann was studying something for her nursing class as she did between her rounds at before the awards ceremony. Ron was sitting in a chair nearby with his large headphones on and his eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. This was also something he usually did.

Ben suddenly glanced up and made eye contact with Leslie. She blushed, awkwardly waved, and turned back to the student film crew. One of the camera people looked at her expectantly.

“Ben’s great,” she blurted out. “I mean, he’s really nice and he did a great job for someone who’s never done this before. Duo, I mean. He’s done debate. Obviously.” She was obviously flustered and she wasn’t exactly sure why. She and Ben had done a very good job at least as far as presenting went. Neither forgot a single line or bit of blocking, so the judges will only focus on the choices they made.

They even made it to the final round. After the first two rounds, the team hung around in the auditorium which doubled as a gathering space for the competitors. Leslie and Ann chatted about their rounds and it wasn’t long before finals were announced. The hosting team’s coaches posted the names of the finalists in each round as the competitors inched closer.

Even though Leslie was stronger in her other events, her eyes immediately locked on where they would post the duo finalists. There were eight competitors, so they only needed to be better than two of them to make it. Ben was also inching closer to the front of the room. He and Chris made it to finals in debate and already competed in that final round.

The woman taped up the large piece of paper and stepped aside. And there, on the third line, “Knope/Wyatt” was written.

Leslie jumped and spun around, launching herself into Ben for a hug. He was equally as surprised and excited and returned the hug as Leslie jumped up and down. “We did it!” she said excitedly, careful not to shout too loudly.

“Yeah! Wow!” Ben replied, at a loss for words. Neither could have imagined they would make it to a final round so soon, even with so few people competing in the event.

Leslie stopped jumping and stepped away, but Ben’s arms were still wrapped around her. They looked at each other for a long moment, both of them grinning from ear to ear. Then, when it seemed like they had been standing there for some time, they grew embarrassed and awkwardly broke apart.

“I better check my other events,” Leslie stammered, turning to the other rolls of paper on the wall in front of them.

“Yeah,” Ben agreed and backed up the walkway. Both were a little red and both were trying to hide it. Something stirred in Leslie and she wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Even when she saw she had made it to the finals in all of her other events, her excitement was replaced by whatever was bubbling in the pit of her stomach.

A woman walked onto the stage and Leslie decided that whatever she was feeling would have to wait. For now, she would have to put that away and focus on getting her awards.

The ceremony was like every other awards ceremony at the end of a speech tournament. A few remarks were said and then they went right into event awards. Debate was first. Four teams made their way to the front of the room including Ben and Chris. They already knew who received third and fourth place and that just left the two boys and two girls from another college in Indiana.

“And in second place from Butler University, Jessica Taylor and Riley Anderson.” Applause followed. Ben and Chris grinned at each other and shook the hands of the girls who then collected their awards and returned to their seats.

“In first place, your tournament champions in Parliamentary Debate, Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger!” The audience stood and clapped and the pair received their trophies and returned to their seats. They were greeted with pats on the back and quiet congratulations as the ceremony moved on to speech events.

Leslie took first in Informative, Persuasive, and Impromptu. She was second in Extemporaneous. Ann was fourth in Informative, Tom took fifth in Persuasive, and Donna was third in Drama. April and Andy did not place in debate.

Duo was last. Ben and Leslie made their way to the front of the room with the five other teams. They stood next to each other, exchanging only a hopeful glance before they faced the audience. Before they knew it, a team from Bowling Green and one from Butler took sixth and fifth.

“In fourth place from Indiana University… Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt.” The room clapped. Ben and Leslie stepped out of line to get their trophies. They returned to their seats as the third and second place teams were called.

The fourth-place trophy was small. It was the worst Leslie had done in any event since she tried debate. But, as she looked down at the small shiny fourth-place trophy, she felt the same sense of pride she felt when she placed first or second. Sure, they didn’t place in the top half, but they did pretty darn well for a pair who had gotten their piece that week.

Leslie went on to win triathlon and Indiana University was the second overall team. Ron ran them out before the ceremony concluded. He wanted to get to the restaurant he’d picked out.

“Are you okay?” Ann asked, holding Leslie behind the group as they hustled to the bus. Leslie looked ahead at Ben who was chatting away with Chris and then back down at her tiny trophy.

She smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m great! We did amazingly!”

“You guys really did. You and Ben make a great team.”

“You think?” Leslie asked quickly, her face heating up at the earnestness in her voice. Ann raised an eyebrow at her best friend. Leslie acted strangely every time she mentioned her duo partner. Then it hit her.

She grabbed Leslie’s sleeve and pulled her to the side, a wicked grin spreading across her face. She knew Leslie’s secret before she did and that in and of itself was quite the feat. “You like Ben,” she blurted in a frantic whisper.

“What?” Leslie cried so loudly it echoed through the hall. Her cheeks heated up when she realized how loud she had been and she dropped her volume to match Ann’s. “You’re crazy, I do not! I mean, he’s nice and cool, and yeah his butt is pretty nice to look at, but he’s a good looking guy! And most importantly, he’s a jerk! He’s still a jerk debater who doesn’t care enough about our duo and is just doing stuff so I don’t yell at him.”

“Or, maybe he wants to do well in debate, but he’s making time for duo because he likes you too?” Ann suggested, a smile tugging at her lips. Her friend had really fallen for this guy. But, the team had a rule about this and her grin slipped off her face. “You can’t, though.”

“Can’t what?”

“You know, go out with him. Ron’s pretty strict about that no dating rule. So, I guess it’s a good thing you don’t actually like him.” Ann gave her a sideways look as they started down the hall. If they were late to get on the bus, Ron would gladly leave them behind.

Leslie stared at the floor. “Yeah. Exactly. I don’t like him, so the rule doesn’t even matter.” She didn’t convince herself and Ann certainly didn’t buy it. Leslie looked back at her friend who was studying her face worriedly, then focused in front of her. They got behind Chris and Ben and walked up onto the bus. Leslie stared at Ben’s butt. And good God, it was just perfect. It fit nice and snugly in his suit.

Leslie groaned. Ann was right. She usually was. “Shit.”