"Move out of the way, jerk!"

"I need more freaking caffeine."

"We still on for later?"

Among the chaos that made up Our Lady Queen of Angels High School, Brenda Leigh Johnson made her way through the crowded hallways with the ease of someone who had three years of practice doing just that. It didn't hurt that the crowd parted almost instinctively for her – that was the kind of respect due the head majorette of an award-winning marching band, no matter that the majorette in question was also, by all accounts, a complete ditz where anything except baton twirling was involved.

How those accounts missed the fact that Brenda had been in all-honors classes since her freshman year was anybody's guess.

Said batons were waiting at the back of her locker, somewhere between her spare makeup kit, practice clothes, and a half-eaten Kit Kat, but Brenda didn't have time for any of that now.

Someday, she thought crossly as she hunted down her civics book, I am going to find whoever made our passing period four minutes long and shove a baton up his –


Her thought was abruptly cut off. "Fritzy! D'you know where I left my civics book?"

"Try your bag," he said with a smirk, and Brenda groaned as she found the textbook buried under three notebooks and a pile of choreography notes.

"Ugh! Thank you. Come on, Fritzy, Pope will kill us if we're late." And with that she took off through the crowd, only glancing back once to make sure her boyfriend was keeping up with her.

They slid into their seats just as the bell rang, all but unnoticed thanks to Flynn, Provenza, and the astounding amount of noise the two were producing. How the two of them could be so coordinated and focused on the football field, and such clowns off it, was an eternal mystery to Brenda, but she supposed the stereotype about boys who played brass instruments had to come from somewhere.

The noise cut off abruptly when Mr. Pope entered the room. "All right, everyone, settle down," their teacher said. "Okay, today I'm going to be assigning this quarter's debate groups."

"Our what?" cried Provenza in dismay, and Fritz and Brenda shared a smirk.

"That's what you get when you miss the first day of classes, Louis," said Pope, and Brenda could all but hear Oooh, burn! going around the room as the teacher grinned and Provenza winced. "This quarter, you and a partner will prepare a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on the topic of your choice – don't look at me like that, you all did Lincoln-Douglas in Debate class last year. At the end of the quarter, you will present those debates in front of the class. Yes," said Pope, cutting off David Gabriel, whose hand had shot into the air, "you may debate on any topic you wish, provided it is appropriate for school. If you have questions, check with me. And no," he added as Brenda turned to Fritz to confirm that they'd be partners, "you do not get to pick your partner. I will be assigning those."

Brenda's stomach dropped.

"Flynn, you'll be with Howard. Sanchez, you'll be with Taylor. Provenza, you'll be with Gabriel. Watson, you'll be with Tao, and Johnson, you'll be with Raydor. This is not negotiable."

Fritz's hand tangled with hers under her desk, and she squeezed back, closing her eyes tight.

Sharon Raydor, the ice queen? She was stuck with the Ice Queen? The frigid, uptight, by-the-book clarinetist who insisted on correcting everyone about everything?

Brenda looked at the auburn-haired girl on the other side of the room, who was very carefully making notes and not looking at anyone. Raydor's mouth was pinched tight, and the pen in her hand was shaking.

Well, Brenda thought wryly, at least I'm not the only one unhappy with this.

On the other side of the room, Sharon Raydor did her best to make herself invisible. That blonde, bubble-brained… No doubt she'd stand up in front of the room and bubble on without saying anything of substance, and Sharon's grades would tank, and she could scratch any hope of getting into Yale and out of this blasted –



"Yes, Johnson?" she asked coolly, and realized that she'd completely missed the bell ringing to end class. Shit. Maybe Flynn would help her out, just this once.

"If we're going to be partners, we should probably sit down and talk about what we're going to do. Y'know, for our debate." Johnson's words were as sugary sweet as ever, but glancing up, Sharon could see a tightness around her eyes.

Well, at least she hates me as much as I hate her.

"You're probably right." Sharon couldn't resist mimicking the blonde's sugary sarcasm. "Friday, in the library, over lunch? Unless you'd like to stay after band practice."

"No, lunch is fine," Johnson bit out, and spun on her heel to stalk away, her skirt flaring around her.

Sharon smoothed her slacks and let her head hit the desk with an audible thump, silently blessing the independent study period she had next, before she gathered up her things and headed for the library. That Yale application wouldn't write itself.

Fifteen minutes after the last bell of the day shrilled through the corridors, Brenda was already changed and on the practice football field, which was completely empty save for a girl in Soffe shorts and a soft t-shirt throwing a silver baton against the sky.

"Irene!" Brenda called, and the junior caught her baton, shaded her eyes against the sun, and smiled, walking toward the sidelines.

"You're already a shoo-in for captain next year," Brenda informed the girl as she tucked thick black hair out of doe-soft brown eyes. "You really don't have to work yourself to death to prove it."

Irene stuck her tongue out at her blonde captain, leaving the older girl cackling. "As if you wouldn't be out here yourself if you didn't have a class last period," the junior pointed out. "And I know very well you're here three or four hours a day on the weekends. Don't you scold me about my work ethic, Brenda Leigh."

"You have a point," the blonde sighed, dropping to the artificial grass and rolling easily into a split. "And if you weren't that driven I wouldn't have hand-picked you to lead my squad to yet another championship." Sighing into the stretch, she shifted the split to a straddle and rolled through it onto her belly, then turned so she was lying flat on her back. "Can you – "

"Sure thing." With the ease of long practice, Irene caught the leg Brenda kicked to the sky, then pressed it down until Brenda's nose was tucked against her knee and her toes were curling into the grass above her head.

Ten minutes later, Brenda kicked easily through a back walkover, then stretched her shoulders and sighed. "Ready to get this show on the road?"

Grinning, Irene flung her baton as high as she could, flipped through an aerial cartwheel and straightened just in time to catch the baton as it plummeted back to earth.

Now it was Brenda who stuck her tongue out. "Showoff."

"You can call me Irene, though."

Trying desperately to hide her smile, Brenda pointed. "You. Off my field."

"Yes, ma'am!" Irene saluted and took off running for the locker room, ready to run the rest of the majorettes through their warm-ups as Brenda curled up on the bleachers and started scribbling choreography for their latest routine.

She only started to come out of her daze when Fritz settled next to her, his trombone slung over his shoulder. "Hey babe," he said absently, squeezing her shoulder. She made a pleased noise and flashed a smile at him, still mostly absorbed in choreography, as the rest of the trombone section clattered over the bleachers behind their section leader. They were followed by the rest of the band, straggling in. They'd have warmed up in the band room, she knew, before coming to join the majorettes on the field. They came in twos and threes, music in one hand, bags slung over shoulders, instruments in cases or not.

Except for one.

Brenda caught sight of Sharon Raydor, clarinet case in hand, auburn hair wound in a severe bun at the nape of her neck. Where the rest of the band carried music in messy piles, hers was a neat stack tucked under her arm. Where the rest of the band was in sweats and t-shirts, Sharon wore a navy polo and khaki slacks with pin-straight creases.

It was a sight she'd seen almost every day of the past three years without ever seeing it at all, but right now, today, she couldn't tear her eyes away.

Raydor looked up, meeting Brenda's gaze straight on. Her eyes widened slightly, almost imperceptibly, and for half a mad second Brenda swore she saw the other girl's pulse fluttering in her throat from nearly forty yards away.

Furious with herself, Brenda broke the gaze with a jerk of her head and waved Irene over. "Right," she said crisply, "this is what we're going to work on today."

Slowly, fighting the urge to throw herself through the routine in double time, she began the choreography that would win them Nationals.

Author's Notes: This is the first HSAU I've ever written, and the first plotty Closer story I've ever written. What can I say? Our ladies bring it out in me.

PS: If you're looking for Fritzy-bashing, it ain't here. Move along. I hope you enjoy! I can't promise when the next update will be, but it should be soon.