Hannah Dash and Drake Mathers
"…and then we move to Phoenix and we go undercover as high school seniors. My name will be Hannah Dash, I will be captain of the gymnastics team and the math team and you will be my foxy friend, Drake Mathers, a delinquent with a heart of gold who the system has given up on…"
(A/N: Remember that deleted scene before Ben and Leslie go confess to Chris about their relationship? Well this is an AU of that. Sort of.)
Marlene Griggs-Knope has given her daughter a lot of life advice over the years. Carelessness is the root of failure. Not everyone's going to like you. People deserve second chances but not third ones.
And usually, Leslie takes notice.
But she overlooks the one that says stay away from delinquent teenage boys, Leslie.
...But in all fairness, her mother's never met Ben Wyatt.
It starts with an English project.
(Because really, isn't that fitting for a long, dramatic tale? That it all starts in a class where they tell stories?)
They're both sick on the day that the assessment is handed out (in varying degrees of being genuinely sick and genuinely sick of school), so the teacher pairs them up, thinking that actually, this might be good, this could be great, this might perhaps make Ben Wyatt come to class once in a while.
...He doesn't really consider how this could affect Leslie, though.
And oh, oh it affects her.
After class the next day, the teacher holds Leslie and Ben back.
"Is this about the reading project?" She asks Mr. Wright, not missing a beat.
"Yes," he says. "Basically, together you'll read four books and produce four reports on your chosen texts together, each putting forward two points for each report."
Ben's busy looking out the window while Leslie asks about a reading list and specifications.
He snaps his eyes away from the field outside to Mr. Wright's face. "Four books, four reports. Got it."
"And you'll be working with Leslie here."
Leslie shoots him a smile, but he doesn't look at her.
"Can't we work individually?"
Leslie makes an indignant noise in the back of her throat, and the teacher looks warily between the two of them.
And with that, everything's sealed.
Sometime in the future she'll lie back in bed, her eyes tightly closed as she wonders, what if.
What if she hadn't been sick that day in class? What if she hadn't been paired up with Ben?
And as her breathing grows laboured and her jaw wobbles, tears leaking out the sides of her eyes, she'll wonder if her heart would have hurt this much if she'd never gotten to know Ben Wyatt.
A sob will escape her- brave, fearless Leslie Knope- and she'll think no.
And that's the moment when her 'what ifs' turn into wishes.
Ben doesn't like her.
...It's not like he actively shows it (he doesn't, in fact, glare or swear like she predicted) but he's just sort of...
Cool? Is that the word she's looking for?
"Ok, so I'll pick two books and you pick two, and then-"
"And if we swap phone numbers, we can text-"
"We can just see each other in English." He interrupts.
Leslie tries not to feel slighted. "Sure, ok, great. Good."
"Ok," Ben says, standing up and leaving the empty classroom.
Not everybody's going to like you, Leslie, her mother's voice rings in her ears.
She doesn't even know why she cares. Ben's a jerk, anyway.
The funny thing is, Ben likes Leslie just fine. She's a little talkative, constantly full of energy and on the go like all of the time, but she's sweet.
She's a good person, Ben thinks. So he'll play nice and get this project out of the way for her.
And it's then, when he's spending his independent study period on the 3rd floor stairwell smoking, that he hears them.
It's a couple of idiot football players skipping class. And to be honest, Ben could care less. But he can't help but hear them as they stomp up the stairs, talking about, of all things, Leslie.
"Yeah, she's kind of nuts, but I'd still do her."
The second guy laughs and Ben exhales, moving to stand against the wall instead of sitting, stubbing out his cigarette and kicking the butt down the stairs.
"Yeah, Leslie Knope's got an awful personality, but she's got awesome tits."
Ben breathes in and out. In and out. In and out, Ben, his therapist told him.
It doesn't work.
They're on the second floor now, still climbing higher.
"And I bet she's gagging for it, too," the first one says, "Give her a couple of drinks, and then-"
Ben doesn't get to hear the end of idiot-one's sentence, because as soon as he reaches the third floor, Ben punches him in the face.
"Oh fuck," he says to himself as an afterthought just before he's tackled to the ground.
Things escalate pretty quickly.
(Ben might have anger management problems, but he's still scrawny and going up against two football players), and so before he knows it, he's being slammed into a wall, two classroom doors on either side of him.
It's a pretty stupid move, even for tweedledum and tweedledee, and Ben can't help but laugh, his nose spurting blood all the while because yeah, someone definitely heard that.
Two teachers come out, followed by curious students clamouring into the doorways.
The boys take their hands off of Ben, but the damage is already done: they've already been seen with their hands around his neck, his blood on their arms.
So to finish it all off, he spits in the first one's face, a little bit of blood mixing in as it lands on his forehead.
(His head is slammed back against the wall again, but it's worth it.)
"James and Craig are saying that you instigated the fight, Ben."
"...Ben," The school counsellor sighs, "I can't help you unless you tell me the truth."
"You can't help me if I tell you the truth," He mutters darkly.
Miss Smith just writes something down in her notebook at that.
"I threw the first punch." He admits, closing his eyes.
He hears her sigh, and knows, he just knows.
"But look! Look at me! I threw one punch and then nothing! They threw me against a wall and pummelled me!"
"...But technically they were defending themselves, Ben, you-"
"You didn't hear them," he hisses. "You didn't hear what they said, you wouldn't have just stood there either, you would've slapped them, you would've done something, I had to- I had to do something, you don't... You don't..."
He trails off, starting to feel dizzy. But it's horror that he's actually feeling. Because he looks at this woman and he hates her. He hates her. She's refusing to help him; she's placing the blame on him, yet again, and what can he do?
So he grabs his bag and he runs.
He'll be suspended anyway, so why the fuck bother?
Funnily enough, as it turns out, Ben isn't suspended.
But he has to face his daddy, so really, it's worse.
"Any more fighting and you will be suspended, Mr. Wyatt, do you understand me?" The headmistress asks him, her eyes and his father's boring into his.
Ben fixes his gaze on the clock behind the wall, trying to focusing on the ticking and not the tenseness that has settled into this conversation.
"I understand." He states blandly.
"Good." She tells him. "You don't have the best track record, Mr. Wyatt," (No, two expulsions from prestigious Phoenix schools isn't the best thing.) "But I'm sure we can change that here at Central High."
God, it sounds like a slogan.
His father stands, doing up his suit jacket and giving his prepared little speech filled with gratitude, and apology, and promises for a substantial donation for all of the school's hard work.
Ben just nods, shouldering his backpack and scuffing his way out the door.
"Benjamin," Mrs. Taylor says, calling Ben back in just as he's leaving.
His father continues walking out of the door, letting it shut behind him.
"Mr. Wyatt, In America a little thing called freedom of speech exists. So I do not care what anyone says or said- even if it's about someone, say, as lovely as Leslie Knope. You do not get into fights. You do not smoke. And you do not provoke anyone else into beating you up."
Ben feels a shiver trail down his spine.
"That will be all. I'm sending you, James and Craig home for the rest of the day."
Ben just shuts his swollen eye miserably.
He follows his father out to the car slowly, sliding into the passenger seat and cringing when his dad doesn't start up the Audi.
"No more." He tells Ben.
Ben knows better than to talk back. He just nods.
"I'm serious, Ben," He tells his son. "No more."
"I understand." Ben repeats softly.
"No, Ben," His father sighs, rubbing his temples, his gray hair falling over his forehead as he does so. "You don't."
Ben stills cautiously.
"If you get expelled again, or even suspended, I'm sending you to boarding school."
He opens the door without thinking about it, jumping out of the car and walking off.
"Ben!" His father calls out after him, jogging to catch up to his son as he ambles across the school's car park.
Ben stops, because his father participates in marathons and jogs and fucking exercises, and will be able to catch him in no time.
"I'm sorry about today, dad, but sending me to boarding school isn't going to make me obey you."
"Obey me? I'm not asking-"
"I wanted to live with mom!" Ben yells. "I wanted to move with her! I didn't want to stay here with you! I didn't want- I don't-"
"Listen," His father growls lowly, gripping Ben's arm. "You might not like me, but I'm what you're stuck with, alright? And you know what else, Benjamin? Your mom went to flit off around the world, and do you think she wanted you there for that? No."
Ben just glares, and his father's grip loosens in a sort of remorse for his words.
"I'll bus home," Ben spits, walking back towards the school- the opposite direction to where his dad is.
"...Don't be too long," His father says sort of resignedly, already knowing that Ben isn't going to catch that bus.
Not yet, at least, anyway.
He walks past the front entrance to school and ambles around the sides, until he reaches the end of the quad. He slumps down, sitting against the little wooden fence that Arizona Central have put in around the edges of the edges of the concrete hangout.
His hands are shaking as he pulls out the box of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. He finally manages to yank them out, swearing as the smokes spill out all over the concrete.
He tries to calm down, tries not to freak out, tries not to instinctively kick something or yell or-
He uncovers his eyes, his hands falling to his side. It's Leslie, wincing as she spots his now purpling eye.
Ben just sighs, leaning his head back against the fence. "Hi."
She adjusts the strap on her backpack. "...Are you alright?"
He opens his mouth to tell her 'yeah,' or 'fine,' or 'sure,' but he doesn't say anything, dropping his gaze to the ground instead.
Leslie joins him, kneeling down next to him, and does something unexpected.
She takes his hand.
"I've got independent study now; do you want a ride home?"
Ben just shuts his eyes whispering yes in a little, broken voice.
They walk to Leslie's car in silence, Ben standing a ways behind her as she leads him to a little old green civic.
She unlocks the car and he slides into the passenger seat, dropping his collapsed backpack at his feet wearily as he does so.
Leslie tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, biting her lip as she plugs the keys into the ignition.
Does she regret this already, he wonders?
Leslie laughs at that, her eyes crinkling as she smiles, and he can't help but smile a little bit too.
"Where are we going?" She asks him.
"Glen Falls Road," He tells her. "I- you know where that is?"
"Uh, yeah," Leslie says absentmindedly as she pulls out of the school parking lot. "In, uh, Syracuse?"
"Yeah," Ben nods.
He sees, out of the corner of his eye, Leslie's eyebrows raise slightly.
Ben slumps a little further down in his seat. Poor little rich boy, that's him.
They're stopped at a traffic light when she asks him.
"Ben...Why did you get into that fight today?"
Ben realizes, from her tone, that Leslie knows. And he should have known really, from the fact that she offered to drive him home in the first place, that she'd figured out what went down.
Well, not figured out as such, she just must have heard something. Much like how Mrs. Taylor must have heard something.
But Ben doesn't say anything, and so Leslie continues, obviously figuring that he's not going to say anything.
"I don't need anyone defending my 'honour', Ben."
"Oh, right, because that's why I smacked that douche in the face, because you-" Ben stops himself, scoffing loudly as he pinches the bridge of his nose.
Leslie huffs a little bit too. "You know, I don't get you, Ben. You don't even like me-"
"I like you," he mumbles under his breath.
"Could've fooled me." She mutters back in response.
"Just because I don't want to engage in small talk, Leslie, doesn't mean that I don't like you. I like you just fine, all right?"
"You see!" She says shrilly, "You say that, you say you like me just fine, but then you use that tone!"
"I'm not a woman. I don't have tones."
Leslie makes another one of those indignant noises of hers, and the car falls silent.
"Jesus Christ," he mutters to himself.
Leslie stares resolutely at the road ahead of them.
"...I'm sorry. I don't mean to put on any tone with you, alright? And I mean it when I say that I like you. Honestly. You're a good person, and that's why I punched that asshole, because he was talking shit about you, and someone needed to set him straight."
Leslie swallows, her hands twitching a little bit on her steering wheel.
"I appreciate the gallantry that you showed today Ben, but I don't need you fighting off two harmless idiots-"
"And getting yourself into trouble over a few stupid remarks that they may have made."
"Yeah, well, you should have heard them, maybe then you'd be on my side."
"I don't want to know, Ben."
"Don't you?" He snaps. "You don't care what they said about you? What they talk to their buddies about? How they talk about 'little Leslie Knope' behind your back? 'She's annoying, but I'd still do her'," he snarls, "I-"
And that's when he turns to look at her, sees that he's gone too far and notices that Leslie's crying.
His face falls, his act dropping.
"I'm sorry," He says quietly. "I'm really... I'm so sorry, Leslie."
She pulls over and wipes at her eyes. Luckily there's little traffic, it being eleven-o-clock in the morning and all.
"Goddamnit," Leslie curses, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes.
"Look, they didn't- they didn't say that, ok? They were just- I made that up- I just- I just-"
"I know what they said, Ben." She tells him wearily. "I know what they say about me, ok?"
"...What do you mean?" He asks her, twisting in his seat so that he's facing her head on.
"I mean that I know what boys talk about, alright? And I mean that you weren't the only person hiding on a stairwell during that period."
"My friend Mark," Leslie tells him. "He went to his locker on the second floor and was walking to the stairwell when he heard James and Craig. And then he heard fighting, and it got all around school that you'd punched one of them, so I assumed..."
"You assumed right." He tells her quietly.
Leslie just sighs. "Ok, well, thank-you Ben, but do you really think that that's going to stop them talking about me or any of the girls like that at school?"
"Well fine, Leslie! Next time I hear anyone degrading you I'll let them move right on past un-interrupted, then!"
Leslie rubs her forehead wearily. "I... Your intentions were really, really sweet, Ben, but you just can't do that. You can't go around punching people. Especially not people who are on the football team."
"Two people on the football team, for that matter!" She adds in a squawking sort of tone.
And then, because he just can't help it, Ben laughs.
"...Who are you?" Leslie asks him.
"I don't know," He replies, continuing to laugh.
Leslie just shakes her head at him. But when she revs up the car, clicking the turn indicator on, she's smiling.
"It's just this one here," Ben tells Leslie as she pulls up beside a long, downwards sloping driveway, turning the car off.
They sit there for a minute, unmoving, before Ben clicks off his seatbelt and gets a hold on his backpack that's sitting on the floor, his other hand reaching for the passenger door handle.
"I-thank-you for the ride, Leslie."
"I... Yeah," he just says before shooting her a smile- oh, and isn't that surprisingly genuine (and nice) - getting out of the car.
And as she drives off, she can't seem to resist watching him and is oversized plaid shirt walk away from her.
Ben Wyatt, she thinks to herself, isn't all that bad.
(Oh, oh how she'll rethink that one later.)
(Because this? This is where everything really begins.)
(And oh, what a story it becomes.)