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never daunted, we cannot falter

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1.

"You couldn’t argue your way out of a paper bag."

Amy rolled her eyes. “That makes zero sense.”

"Your face doesn’t make sense." Jake grimaced after that line.

"Nice one, Jakey!" Charles called.

"Try harder, man," Rosa called, boots propped up on a desk.

"In fact," Jake said, recovering. "I bet I could win more debates between now and the end of the semester than you."

"No, not taking that bet," Amy said, crossing her arms and shaking her head.

Jake raised his eyebrows and tipped his chin. “You scared?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hardly. But what do I get if you win?”

"How about your car?" Gina suggested, grinning when Jake glared at her.

"Don’t do it, man!" Charles interrupted. "That car is your superpower. Losing that car would be the worst thing that ever happens to you. Aladdin wouldn’t wager his magic carpet. Julia Child wouldn’t wager her best cooking knife."

Jake shot him a look. “Seriously, you have to stop reading that biography of Julia Child." Jake turned back to Amy. "And I’ll do it, I’ll wager the car, because I know I’m gonna win.” He smirked and leaned back on the desk, one foot braced on the ground.

"What would be the worst thing for you, Amy?" Terry asked, finally choosing to mediate the conversation. (In his defense, his Japanese Lit reading had been really interesting, an adapted fairy tale about a kappa.)

Amy scrunched her nose. “Being one of those girls in Jake’s car.” The room reacted, collectively going, “Ooooh.”

"Nice burn," Rosa said grinning.

"Then it’s settled," Terry said, "If Amy wins more debates, Jake has to give her his car. But if Jake wins, Amy has to go on a date with him—"

"To prom!" Gina called. "That’s at the end of the semester, anyway."

"Okay, to prom," Terry acquiesced. "In Jake’s car."

"Seems fair," Amy said, tossing the end of her ponytail over her shoulder. "You’re on, Peralta."

"May the best man win.” He smirked. They shook hands. “Your handshake is really firm.”

"I took a seminar."

He looked perplexed. “Where?!”

2.

"I’m up by five, Peralta," Amy smirked, changing the tally on the board with glee. "Looks like you need to step up your game."

"Shut up," he grumbled, flipping through pages and pages of research on some obscure labor law that was currently being discussed on the New York State Senate floor in two months.

"Maybe you’re in a—"

"Don’t say it," Jake said sharply, cutting Charles off.

"A slump?" Their debate teacher, Mr. Holt, appeared out of nowhere and stoically observed Jake’s messy piles of research. "Perhaps you’d do better if you had a filing system, like Miss Santiago."

Amy, hearing her name, sat up straighter and beamed, self-consciously touching her glasses.

Jake rolled his eyes. “I’m am not in a slump! In fact, I’m in the reverse of a slump. I’m in a p-muls.”

"Sure you are, pineapples."

Jake glared at Amy. "I still regret telling you that. Are you ever gonna let that go?!"

"Nope," she replied, and high-fived Rosa.

"Et tu, Rosa?"

Rosa shrugged. “I like a good burn. Burns before bros.”

Charles shook his head. “I just don’t get you.”

"I’m surprised you’ve read Julius Caesar," Amy cut in. "Aren’t you in remedial English classes?"

"Ha ha," Jake laughed sarcastically. "And no, I’m quoting that episode of Boy Meets World when Topanga goes on a date with Shawn."

Amy just stared at him in disgusted awe.

3.

"Wait, Majors Academy? The Vulture? Seriously, you’re thinking about transferring there?”

Amy shrugged and adjusted her glasses. She and Jake were sprawled out on the floor of her living room, her AP U.S. History textbook open to a page about Ogden v Saunders, and a packet about the recent TARP bill that was going through the House of Representatives, a highlighter in her hand poised just above the page. “It’s a good opportunity, and they’re offering me a scholarship for math.”

"Yeah, but for just your senior year?"

"It’d be for two years, actually," Amy muttered.

"Oh!" Jake exclaimed and sat up. "So not only would it be a whole new school with new everything, but you’d also have to repeat junior year? Ha yeah, no way you’re going to Majors." He dusted off his hands and grabbed a random print-out packet that was marked up with notes and Amy’s favorite little colored tape flags. "We’re going to make this argument airtight, win the team debate, and you’re going to remember how much you like speech — something they don’t have at Majors Academy, might I add." He shuddered. "Ugh, the Vulture’s school? Seriously."

"C’mon, Jake," Amy protested.

"Uh-uh," he cut her off. "It’s a Peralta guarantee."

She shot him a flat look. “Your last guarantee was that you could dunk a basketball. You fell off a ladder and I had to take you to your mom’s hospital to get you stitches.”

Jake smiled, pleased at the memory. “The subtext of the guarantee was that you’d be entertained. Peralta guarantee achieved!”

"No," Amy shook her head, but she was smiling. "Wrong. I spent four hours waiting with you in an emergency room, I wouldn’t call that entertained."

"Ugh, you’re no fun at all." He paused. "But still way too good for Majors."

Amy sat up, knees tucked under her, and touched her glasses. “Why do you even care if I go to Majors? Maybe I want to learn more math and to go to a school where everyone is super smart and everyone ends up at Ivy league schools. Did you think about that?”

Jake’s mouth pressed into a line. “If you really wanted that, you’d have gone there from freshman year,” he said, not looking at her. He started organizing the packets into tidy piles.

"So if I were to go to St. Mary’s or to Aulden Prep, you wouldn’t care?" She shifted closer to him, voice growing more insistent, like she was pressing for something.

"No," he said, glancing at her before turning his attention back to the piles. "Do whatever you want."

She sighed and turned back to the history textbook, idly reading the next few sentences. “Wait, Jake, read this paragraph of Chief Justice Marshall’s dissent.” She pushed the textbook at him and started flipping through the legislative document.

His eyes skimmed across the page before he looked up at her. “Nice! We can definitely use this.” He grinned at her beaming expression. “See? Now you’re feeling it.”

4.

They sat in the hallway outside of the debate hall, fidgeting.

"Stop fidgeting," Amy said sharply.

"I can think of a few ways we could work off the energy," Jake said automatically, too distracted by nerves to put any real energy behind the words.

"Ew, no," Amy replied, her own voice also distracted.

His foot tapped against the ground, and his knee jiggled. Without thinking about it, Amy pressed her hand against his leg. “Seriously, stop it, it’s driving me crazy.”

"Probably not as crazy as this tie is driving me. Seriously, I feel like I’m slowly getting choked to death by an infant."

"Colorful," Amy replied flatly. She leaned back and took in his entire look — his wild, curly hair was shorn short, and he had foregone his contacts for glasses. He was clean-shaven and wearing his only suit, a slightly-rumpled gray with a black tie and pale blue shirt underneath. "You look really good, though," she added, voice carefully neutral.

"Oh," he said, and ducked his head. "Thanks."

"It’s gonna be okay, you know. Just because Podalski hates you —"

"He hates me because I reported his kid for cheating in the written exam last semester." Jake made a frustrated sound. "Just my luck, I piss off the Region’s Forensic League rep right at the start of the season."

"Peralta, pull yourself together," came Holt’s voice. The two of them pulled apart and stood, Amy wobbling slightly in her "courtroom" heels, as she called them. "Podalski isn’t going to obviously dock you points on what is a technically flawless argument." He paused as his two best debators beamed at him, equal parts proud and embarrassed. "But he will probably nitpick everything about your speech."

Holt paused again. “Do you know why I made you two partners?”

"Because Terry had already picked the groups and it was too much work to redistribute skills?" Jake guessed. Amy elbowed him roughly in the side.

"Yes," Holt said.

They were silent for a moment, Amy’s grin faltering.

"Oh, I thought you were going to go on," Jake added dryly.

"No, I didn’t need to. You made a factually correct statement."

"We’re screwed," Jake said flatly, turning to Amy. "Sorry I ruined your chances of getting into Princeton."

Amy rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Peralta.”

5.

"Amy Santiago?"

They were in Dallas for a national tournament, hosted by the Belo Mansion, when a voice called from behind them.

Amy turned around and suddenly her entire face lit. “Teddy!” She ran up and hugged him. “Oh my god, I haven’t seen you since, what, Mock Trial two years ago?”

He laughed. “You’re still the best fake lawyer I’ve ever come across.” He pulled back to a respectable distance. “Quick: res ipsa loquitur.”

"The things speaks for itself." She tilted her head to the side and grinned. "At least make me work for it."

Jake sidled in then. “Whaaat is going on here?”

Amy blinked at Jake like she’d forgotten he was there. “Oh! Um, Jake, this is Teddy Wells, we went up against each other in Mock Trial my freshman year, but we first met at a Latin Legal Terms summer boot camp at Princeton." She grinned at Teddy. "Some long afternoons of intense memorizing." She shook off the memory. "Teddy, this is Jake, our top debater at PS 99.”

"Good to meet you, Ted." Jake shook his hand and went back to helping Charles get his notes in order. "What does she see in that guy?" he muttered, while watching Amy laugh and touch Teddy’s arm.

"Why do you care so much?" Charles asked, voice several octaves higher than usual.

"Dude, you have got to work on your ‘insinuating’ voice.”

Later, after Jake had won the timed round and beaten out Teddy's record, they all rode back to the hotel in their chartered bus.

Amy slid into the seat next to Jake’s. “Hey,” she said. “Congrats on the win. Guess that puts you ahead…..for now.” She beamed mischievously.

"Hmm? Oh yeah, the bet, right."

Her brow furrowed. “What’s up? You okay?”

In the back, Gina was harassing Charles, and Rosa was snickering. Terry was checked out, looking out the window, listening to a recording of Pagliacci and surreptitiously sniffling. At the front of the bus, Mr. Holt was quietly checking in with his husband.

"Yeah," Jake said, shaking his head and brightening. "So, Teddy, huh? You think you’ll start seeing him again?"

Amy shrugged. “No, probably not. He’s in Jersey, and I’m in Brooklyn now.”

"Oh," Jake said, nothing else coming to mind. "Well, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be."

"That’s very mature of you," Amy said, eyebrows rising.

"Well, I am a very mature guy."

"Uh-huh," she said skeptically. "Butthead."

"Fartmonster."

0.

"Jake wins—"

"Oh no," she moaned quietly, hair falling out of its elastic tie.

"Amy loses!"

The room erupted, someone turning on a stereo, and Jake flipping over the mobile white board to show the JAKE WINS! sign drawn and colored in — and Amy recognized Gina’s handwriting, the goblin.

Jake sashayed up to her and dropped to his knees, pulling out a big, satiny yellow bow that Amy knew he’d gotten from an Amazon package that had arrived gift-wrapped. “Amy Santiago, I spent one whole nickel on this crappy corsage. Will you go to prom with me? You have to say yes.”

"Yes," she muttered.

"SHE SAID YES!" He shouted, leaping to his feet. He tossed the loop of ribbon at her and moonwalked (poorly, she noted) away from her.

Of course, two days later, Amy found herself checking her outfit one last time. It was her old quinceañera dress, but with no crinoline, gloves, or tiara. Without the accessories, it looked like, well, a prom dress.

"Oh, nena, you look lovely."

Amy turned around, and saw her mom in the doorway. “Mom, it’s not a real date. Jake just…won a bet.”

"Uh-huh, sure," her mother said. "That’s why you’ve been getting ready for three hours, and why you picked your best dress? And wore your contacts?"

Amy sighed, lacking the energy to argue with her mother. “We’re just friends,” she insisted, but the words tasted false in her mouth. She ignored that — and the increasingly clichéd montage of moments her mind was bringing forward, of shared lunches arguing over debate tactics and bus rides falling asleep on one another, of rapid-fire Q&A sessions with flashcards, and of late-night phonecalls that ended with them talking about her dreams and his uncertain future.

Amy shook her head as if to clear the images. “This is all part of the bet, that’s all.”

"If you say so. Well. No matter what, just be safe, okay?"

Amy tamped down her instinct to roll her eyes. “Yes, Mom.”

Her mother kissed her forehead just as the doorbell rang downstairs.

After her mother insisted on photos, they drove off in Jake’s beat Mustang, heading towards the event space the school had rented out. At a red light, Jake stopped and tapped his hands on the wheel. The light turned green, but they were the only ones in the intersection, and Jake didn’t move. Amy opened her mouth to say something when Jake spoke suddenly.

"So, I can’t really afford prom," he said, nervously tugging at his tie. Amy had always liked how Jake looked in his debate suit. "The tickets are kind of expensive and, you know, the corsage and the limo and—"

She held up a hand, stopping him. “It’s fine,” she said, trying (and failing) to keep her smile in check. “I didn't really feel like standing around awkwardly anyway. How about we just drive around?”

Visibly relieved, Jake nodded and, at the next green, turned the car. They drove for a while, both of them speculating about what the rest of their prom group would be up to -- and what rumor Gina would start when they didn't show up. They avoided talking about Jake’s graduation, instead chatting about summer plans. Jake teased Amy for choosing SAT prep classes over beach days, and she pointed out it was better than smelling like popcorn for three months, the way Jake had after last summer.

Eventually, they pulled into a parking space, Amy having lost track of where they were. “Come on,” Jake said, and clambered out of the car, jogging around the front to open the door for her.

"Why does your car smell like old cheese?" she asked, trying not to focus on how he was holdng her hand, and how his hands were warm and just a little bigger than hers, how a lot of things about Jake were very much male.

"That’s so hurtful," he replied, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"You could at least get one of those little pine trees and hang it from the rearview mirror, like normal people."

Jake rolled his eyes and ignored her. “Come on, you’ll like this.”

He led her through some lit walking trails and Amy quickly realized they were not just in Queens, but in Flushing, on the other side of Arthur Ashe Stadium. They walked along the wide, paved paths until they were at the base of the large globe in the center of the park, lighted by floodlights embedded in the fountain.

She turned to face him. “This is where the 1939 World’s Fair was,” she said slowly.

He nodded. “Wait for it.” He pointed at the sculpture and counted down from five with his fingers.

Suddenly, the fountain turned on, and the sprays in the floodlights were kind of pretty. Or maybe it was the way Jake’s fingers tightened around her own, made her feel like her dress was too small and her skin was too hot. Gathering her courage, she looked at him again, heart in her throat.

He looked as terrified as she felt, and it made her feel more okay, made this whole situation seem less crazy because it was Jake standing next to her, just like he always was.

"Amy," he said, and his hand came up to brush her cheek, voice a little rough and a little deeper than normal. "I’m going to kiss you now."

"Yes," she said, emphatically, and curled her fingers into the lapels of his suit jacked, wrapped his tie around her hands, the way she had never let herself imagine. And when his warm, sweet mouth pressed against hers, tongue pressing against the seam of her lips, hands tangled in her hair, all she could think was, "Yes."