A/N: So I started writing this over a week ago to get rid of my writer's block and it turned into this huge monsterous thing that's a little bit all over the place. It's my first venture into this fandom and this couple, so you'll have to forgive me. I might have made it a tad too angsty for it to really be in character, but I'm still trying to get used to writing them. Hope you enjoy!
Ben couldn’t argue that he wasn’t all about the numbers. Frankly, for the past 17 years of his life he was obsessed with them.
18; the number of days until he could escape his parent’s disappointment.
656; the miles between Partridge and St. Louis University (to be honest he sometimes wishes he had gone farther).
15; the number of towns he’d been to with Chris before finally coming to Pawnee.
43; the average number of days he’d spend in any given destination.
It was some time past that last number when he simply stopped counting, but some time before that that he found the reason why he should.
He can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but he’s pretty sure he’s fallen for Leslie Knope. And for so many stupid reasons, he’s starting to forget why that’s a problem.
Somewhere between daily budget meetings and late night dinners talking about her dream park in Lot 48, she became essential, and not just because of the title on her badge. In the back of his mind while pouring over spreadsheets and legal documents, he couldn’t help but imagine what it’d feel like to kiss her or to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. He wanted to know what it was like here in the spring -imagined picnics in a park, her hair radiating in the sunlight.
And that was the thing - when did he suddenly became the parks guy? The guy who actually wanted to spend time outdoors, who cared about youth basketball leagues and whether or not the soccer fields would be open for practice. He never used to be that guy, and he’s struggling to find the reasons why he wasn’t. Somewhere deep down he has the feeling that he used to be.
He was changing – he was very conscious of that fact – but none of the things that used to matter seemed to matter anymore. His image, his responsibilities, his hard exterior, they all just seemed to gradually fall away until there was nothing but her and her dreams and her Harvest Festival. He wasn’t sure what his plan was past that point, didn’t even want to think past that point. He’d gotten so used to not counting that by the time the Harvest Festival finally rolled around, he could hardly believe he had no time left.
Before he knows it, the festival is almost over. He’d wanted to spend the day with her, maybe enjoy some of the hard work that they all put in, but he should have known better with Leslie. She spent the whole day running around trying to make sure everything was perfect. And to be honest, it was. It really truly was. For the first time in a long time, he felt proud. Proud to be a part of something that wasn’t just about being fiscally responsible or doing the job. And he was pretty sure, without even going over the numbers, that the day was a success.
But he still wanted to take just one moment with her. He wanted one memory from this night, one thing he could hold on to, because tomorrow he’d be back to the books and then a few days later back on the road. At least that was the plan, the plan that had been set in place several weeks before (that damn plan that an angrier younger version of himself wanted to throw out of the window and smash to smithereens).
At the moment, she was across the field from him, laughing at something Ann had just said. He smirked at the chunk of blue cotton candy in her hand posed to enter her mouth. Leslie really couldn’t get enough sugar. It was nearly dusk, and there was a light breeze chilling the air. Winter would soon be upon Indiana. Before Ben could stop himself, he imagined her and him sitting on a couch in front of a warm fireplace. Maybe they’re watching television, maybe she’s reading, but her body rests against his, her head on his chest. Both of them are tucked under blankets and there’s a warm cup of cocoa in her hands, piled with whip cream.
“Quit it, Ben,” he muttered to himself.
It was stupid to think that way when he was leaving (to be honest he’d find any way to stay). Plus, there really was no hope for them considering their professional relationship (unless they kept it a secret, but that never really worked, especially in small towns where everyone knew everyone else’s business and the local news circuit was particularly gossip-ridden). And who was to say she was even interested in the first place? Ben had never been good at reading women; with Leslie, it was possibly even worse. He didn’t know if he was blinded by his own feelings or if it was just her naturally sunny disposition, but at times he thought it was possible. That maybe there was something. Then there were others when he wouldn’t be surprised if she never wanted to see him again. Although…. after his media meltdown there had been that night at the bar when they took turns sharing their most embarrassing moments and she may or may not have been sitting closer than necessary. He vividly remembers the feel of her hand on his arm as she laughed at one of his jokes, and their hug at the end of the night lingered longer than it probably should have. Not to mention the article that came out right before the festival that referred to them as “colleagues with benefits”. But that was nothing, right? It couldn’t mean anything.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Tom beside him until he spoke. “You’ve got to tell her, man.”
“What?” Ben said casually, trying to feign ignorance. But he’d never been much of a liar, and Tom was strangely perceptive. Even in their short friendship, Ben had been able to pick up on that.
“Look, I know you have feelings for Leslie. I mean a blind man could practically see it by now. But I also know you’re a big dork, and you’ll probably never get the nerve to say anything, so I’m going to give you some of my signature Tom Haverford relationship advice. Tell her, or you’re going to regret it,” Tom said, looking Ben dead in the eye. He had never seen Tom this serious in all the time he had known him, and suddenly it was making Ben incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe he had revealed too much of himself while he was here. Maybe he had let his feelings overrule everything else. As much as he wanted to stay, as happy as he was in this crazy yet wonderful town called Pawnee with Leslie and even his friends like Tom, he couldn’t just throw his whole life away. Could he?
“I was told to never take relationship advice from you,” Ben teased, his lips curving up into the hint of a smile in an attempt to detract this conversation from what he knew was the truth.
“Leslie Knope gave me that advice,” Tom said simply. Surprised, Ben turned away from Tom, fixing his eyes on Leslie instead. He must have looked lost in thought at that point because as Tom turned to leave, he gave Ben a light pat on the back. “I’ll see you, man.”
It would be fair to say he was conflicted. In so many ways, he felt like a coward, and not because he couldn’t tell her how he felt, but because he wasn’t sure he could branch out from the life he was currently leading. There was comfort in the numbers; they didn’t judge or condescend. They were honest, got straight to the facts. And there was power and safety in not feeling, in just sticking to the job and slashing and cutting and not caring what people thought. But things had changed and he knew he couldn’t go back to being that person even if he wanted to try. It was like opening your eyes for the first time after being temporarily blinded. He couldn’t believe all that he had missed.
She caught his eye then, giving him a soft smile before wrapping Ann in a hug and heading in his direction. Her eyes were alight, most likely from the magic and splendor of the festival, and her cheeks were naturally rosy from the wind brushing her face. She looked absolutely gorgeous, and he felt his heart begin to hammer as each step brought her closer. He was nervous beyond all hell, but with her walking towards him like that on this night, there was nothing else. Screw the plans. He’d come to a decision. A rash one, possibly a stupid one, but what was life without a few risks? Seventeen year old ghosts shouldn’t always dictate the future.
“You look amazing,” he said as soon as she reached him. He could tell she was a little bit flustered by his compliment, but she played it off quickly. “You don’t look so bad yourself, Ben Wyatt.” Tom had helped him shop a few days earlier, and despite not really having the money to spend on a new wardrobe, he’d actually liked a few things Tom had picked out (he’d adamantly turned down the pink polo though; that was going too far). He’d wanted to at least look a little bit professional since he was one of the key hands in this project, so he finally settled for a simple white button up dress shirt without the tie, and had ditched his old windbreaker for the black suit that Tom had forced him into wearing for the media. It had also crossed his mind that he wanted to look nice for her, but he felt a bit stupid even admitting that to himself, though subconsciously he knew that some part of him was perhaps hoping for something to happen tonight.
She placed her hand on his arm, and despite the chill in the air, the warmth from her palm spread through his jacket and up his arm, making his heart pound even more than before. He felt like a teenager again, and he knew if he opened his mouth, he’d be a bundle of nerves, full of awkward pauses and stammering over his words. He was staring openly at her now, unsure of what to say, but perhaps finally certain that he wanted her, that he wanted to stay. He placed his hand over hers then, anchoring her to the spot, and began to lean in towards her. And there must have been something that shone in his eyes, something that told her just what was on his mind because he was certain he saw a little bit of fear in her eyes, and maybe finally a realization. Just not the one he was hoping and dreaming for.
She pulled away and her hand dropped slowly from his arm, and she gave him a smile, but it was just a tad too bright and all the more strained, and he wasn’t even sure what she said next, just that it had to do with the festival. And he tried his best to keep it together, assured her that she’d most likely succeeded in saving Pawnee, and that she should be proud. She murmured a thank you and told him good job, and then she was gone.
And suddenly he had his answer. His heart was in his throat, and his head was spinning, and he wanted more than anything at that moment to disappear. And that, right there, that feeling. That was why he’d stopped taking risks.
Ben couldn’t argue that he wasn’t all about the numbers. Frankly, for the past 17 years of his life (minus the last five or so months) he was obsessed with them.
19; the number of hours before he was leaving Pawnee.
6; the number of beers he drank in his empty hotel room on the night of the Harvest Festival.
1; the number of times he’d been to City Hall in the past few days (he only went to collect his things).
0; the number of times he’d seen Leslie Knope since she left him abruptly in that field.
And he lied to himself and said that it didn’t matter, that he was leaving, and that was always the plan anyway, and what was he without a plan and numbers and a red pen? But he honestly didn’t know the answer to that question anymore, and he wondered when losing her also meant losing himself.
He’d spent the last week working out of his hotel room, crunching the numbers. Unsurprisingly, the Harvest Festival was an immense success, greater than he had imagined (Leslie most likely anticipated this with all her faith and gumption and pride, but he tried not to think about her too much in the early morning hours when he was pouring over spreadsheets and his eyes were so weary that Excel started to blur).
On his last night there, after the numbers had been forwarded to Ron with a congratulatory message, Ben was getting shit-faced. He knew he had to drive back to Indianapolis in the morning, but with a mini-fridge full of Miller Lite and no one in the world to share it with, no one there to say goodbye, it only seemed sensible to drown himself in his own misery, and maybe just pass out long enough to forget. If he got drunk enough, he wouldn’t even dream (sadly that was the most pleasant thought he had all week).
However, he was only on his second beer, not even enough to get a really good buzz, when there was a knock on his door. Moaning, he rolled off the bed, beer still in hand, and trudged to the door.
He wasn’t prepared for her.
“Leslie, what…” he began, but her lips were on his before he could even finish the thought.
To say he was surprised would have been an understatement at this point, but it wasn’t even a second before he was kissing her back. It was all and more than he had imagined; her hand against his neck, and then in his hair, her lips soft and electrifying against his own. He felt her tongue dart between his lips, and allowed her access, eliciting a moan as it entered his mouth. She tasted like sugar and coffee and syrup, and smelled so uniquely like Leslie, that his heart was practically aching from the physical contact. When she began to suck on his lip, painstakingly slow and equally agonizing, his stomach bottomed out from the sheer pleasure, and he could no longer take it anymore. The beer in his hand dropped to the floor as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her inside his room, kicking the door behind him.
She was wearing a dress, and as he pulled her tiny frame up towards him, he could feel the cloth underneath his palms beginning to ride up, causing her breath to come in ragged bursts as their lips parted for air. And maybe if he had had a few more drinks, he wouldn’t have questioned this, but he hadn’t, so he would.
“Leslie,” he said, pulling away. Her lips were swollen and red, and he wanted more than anything to dive back in again, but as she cleared her throat a bit, looking just a bit shy, he couldn’t help but wonder what had made her change her mind.
“What are you doing here?” He finally said, and he thought for a moment he saw a flash of anger beneath her eyes before she asked, “where you even going to say goodbye?”
For a moment, Ben struggled for an answer or an explanation, but in the end all he could muster was to look guilty because he had never planned on any parting words; there were so many reasons why, but he felt like Mean Ben again just for considering them.
“Because of what happened at the Harvest Festival?” She asked, though it came out much more like a statement, like she knew all along the reason why he was avoiding her and that he was an idiot for not seeing her because of that.
“Yes, Leslie. Because of what happened at the Harvest Festival,” he countered in frustration. Did she really think it didn’t bother him that she had pulled away?
Her eyes softened a bit then, and she sighed. “I know you know this. But Pawnee is my whole life. My job, my friends, my family, they’re all here. But you won’t be. You’re leaving, and I don’t think I realized until the festival just how much I wanted you to stay. And that’s why I couldn’t let anything happen. The long distance thing, I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. How can I be with someone who doesn’t see what I see every day when I walk into City Hall? Sure the murals are a bit offensive, and the fourth floor is just horrifying, but Pawnee is special, Ben.”
“After five months with you, you think I don’t know that?” He asked quietly and almost tenderly. “If you believe all of that, why are you here? Why did you kiss me?”
“People shouldn’t live their life with regrets. And I missed you,” she said, shrugging her shoulders slightly. And with those words, he couldn’t hold back his grin any longer.
There was a bit of awkwardness in the air between them, but it was charged with all these newly declared feelings, and he wanted so badly to kiss her again, except he knew there was one more important thing that he had yet to tell her.
“So I quit my job yesterday.”
“What? Why?!” She exclaimed. She looked concerned which was silly because she hated his job and the whole long distance situation, and wouldn’t everything be so much easier if he was suddenly off the hook? But that was Leslie Knope for you. Always conscious of others, and not of herself.
“I got tired of providing cuts, instead of services,” he quipped, giving her a knowing look.
“Benji Wyatt,” she beamed, punching him lightly in the arm.
And that was it. There was nothing stopping them now, so Ben leaned down once again and captured her lips with his own. It was slow and sweet and perfect, and the most well paid off risk of all time.
Ben couldn’t argue that he wasn’t all about the numbers. Frankly, for the past 17 years of his life he was obsessed with them.
But he was having a hard time focusing on counting at the moment….
With Leslie Knope on his hotel bed, resting against his chest, the two of them watching The History Channel, and downing some Miller Lite….well, let’s just say his mind was otherwise occupied.