All of the parks in Pawnee
(A/N: An au of what might have happened if Leslie had rejected Ben on the road trip due to her work obligations- i.e. another way they would have made it work because Ben and Leslie are stupid together and inseparable.)
What are you afraid of, she asks him.
Andy and April having a child and leaving me to raise it, he jokes.
No, she says suddenly, not even smiling at the thought of Andy and April's hypothetical kid - even though it is a legitimate fear of his. I mean it, Ben. What are you afraid of?
He doesn't reply. How can he tell her, sweet, hard-working Leslie, that what he's afraid of is her?
I just want to be happy, he says softly. And I'm afraid that one day I'll wake up and won't be.
It's not as if it's a lie.
They have lunch together out in the courtyard. She talks with her mouth full and Ben tries not to laugh as he drinks his coffee.
...And then Ann said that we couldn't actually do that, because 'apparently' that's not healthy or something, she says all in one breath, shrugging as she does so.
I do hate to agree with the side of the law, Leslie, he tells her, and she just glares, but Ann's right.
Yeah, she grumbles, picking at the rest of her sandwich, I know that.
But then she smiles at him and he forgets what they were even talking about.
Chris sends them on a road trip together. And he sort of ends up telling her that he likes her.
...But she doesn't say anything back. She excuses herself to the bathroom (the wizz palace) and when she comes back her eyes are red and she's stuffing her phone back into her purse hurriedly.
He just smiles at her nervously- his lips drooping down the closer she gets to him-and resists the urge to ask if she was talking to Ann.
Ben... She starts, I really-
We should probably get going soon, shouldn't we? He asks her, pretending that she didn't just start to reject him. He can't hear that from her, not from Leslie Knope.
Not from the girl that he's that in love with.
That's when Chris shows up.
They don't have lunch together in the courtyard anymore.
He knows why he stayed in Pawnee.
But he and Leslie are awkwardly sort of avoiding each other at the moment, and Ben doesn't... He doesn't really want to be here anymore.
Chris is here, but Chris is Chris. He's fine in any situation.
And Ben's realized that while he doesn't want to stay in Pawnee any longer, he doesn't want to go on the road again, either. He wants to leave, but he doesn't want to go anywhere. Where does he have friends? Indianapolis? There are no jobs there apart from the one that he doesn't want.
And there's no way he's going back to Partridge, to his parents. There isn't-
But then his thoughts are interrupted by his brother calling him, and he realizes- Adam.
Adam lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It's a city, an actual city, not the 500 or so people that live in Partridge or even the near 80,000 that reside in Pawnee.
There's nearly 300, 000 people there. It's not Indianapolis, but... It's probably just right, he thinks, to make a life there.
To get a job, work up the public service ranks there, have a family...
Yes, he thinks. Saint Paul sounds great.
It doesn't take him long, and before he knows it, he's got a job there. He's given his notice, has broken Chris' heart, given Andy and April four months of rent, and is leaving.
He's doing it. Finally, after all these years of travelling, years of pushing himself and forcing himself to forget, running away, each time harder and faster than the last, he's finally settling down somewhere.
He hasn't told Leslie yet. But he has his final meeting with parks tomorrow.
You're leaving, she states with surprise.
I am, he says, avoiding Leslie's eye as he speaks to the entire department. So Chris will now be overseeing your department until I'm replaced. But even so, I don't think you'll have so many budgetary meetings anyway.
Ron just nods at him. And Ben realizes that Ron knows why the parks department has continued to have appointments with him that aren't strictly necessary.
You'll have to let me throw you a goodbye party at the snakehole, Tom starts.
No, Ben tells him, No- no party at the snakehole-
I'm on it, Tom just says anyway, standing up and walking out of the room talking about colour schemes.
Congratulations, Ben, Jerry tells him; it's a really good-
No it's not! Leslie shrieks, and there she is. Ben was wondering why Leslie was so quiet. You're leaving Pawnee?
Yes, He says again.
There's a silence as he looks at her. It's just him, and her...And Jerry, Donna and April.
Right... Donna says, leaving the room and taking Jerry with her.
Pawnee's less boring than Saint Paul or whatever, April adds, before taking her leave too. But thanks for the rent.
And then it really is just them.
Saint Paul? She asks.
My brother lives there, he tells her. And I'm... I don't want to be on the road all the time anymore, Leslie.
He sees her resisting the urge to say that he could settle down here. Not be on the road here.
So Saint Paul, huh?
Saint Paul, he smiles weakly at her.
That's great, Ben, she tells him, looking anything but happy for him.
Tom does end up organizing him a goodbye party.
It's supposed to be a secret, but Tom's never asked him this many personal questions before, so it's not really all that surprising when Chris drives him to the Snakehole after work on Friday.
Wow, he says sarcastically as Chris parks. What on earth are we doing here?
Chris doesn't say a word until they walk into the bar, the parks department and a few other stragglers yelling various things at him as they do so. (What exactly did Tom tell them they were celebrating?)
Thanks, he says to them all, before picking up a shot and downing it.
An hour later, Ben's sufficiently tipsy. He's not drunk-drunk- not yet, anyway- but he's well on his way to being it, and he's feeling good.
Benjamin Knope! Leslie cries, and before he really knows what's going on, she's sitting on a stool that's cosied up to his. She's drunk. She's drunker than he is, and so to compensate, he grabs a beer that's sitting on the bar in front of him and finishes it. It's his party, right?
I, She states, pointing to herself in that self assured way that she has about everything, I don't want you to go.
Ben just looks at her sort of stupidly
I don't want you to go, she says again, because I like you. Like a lot. More than a lot. I like you times a million, gazillion Lil Sebastians, Leslie giggles.
Leslie, he starts, a frown making its way onto his face, Leslie you can't- you can't say things like that to me the day before I leave, he hiccups.
Well when am I supposed to say it? She shrieks, and he can't help but notice that a few heads turn their way. I couldn't tell you when you were my boss, and I can't tell you now, and I can't tell you when you're gone...
She trails off, twisting in her seat so that she's facing him and can grab him by the shoulders. One of her hands reaches up into his hair.
I like you a lot, Ben Wyatt, she tells him solemnly.
I like you more, he whispers urgently, like it's a secret that he has to tell her before he goes off to war, or something. Like it's a matter of national security.
And for them, maybe it is.
And then it happens. Leslie slams into him, all lips and- ouch- banging teeth. He responds quickly, desperately, in disbelief, framing her face with his hands and kissing her back as hard as he can.
They're both drunk, but this... This is fantastic. It's hardly perfect, but it's passionate, just like Leslie. And it hurts, too, spurring up a bittersweet feeling in his stomach.
She breaks off with a gasp, leaving Ben sitting there to flounder.
And that's when they realize that everyone- everyone from the parks department at least- is staring at them.
Leslie slides off of her stool, mumbling I have to go, as she stumbles off.
Ben just lets his head fall into his hands. What else can he do?
He leaves the next morning. He'd already packed the night before and said his goodbyes at the party.
There's only really one person who he isn't totally finished with. (Will he ever be?)
But that doesn't-
Hi, she says as he opens up Andy and April's front door onto Leslie.
Hi, he replies.
...I... I'm so sorry, she tells him quietly, obviously ashamed. I didn't-
He just laughs a little bit. Leslie, he says, you have nothing to be sorry about, ok? I- we're just friends, and I'm moving, and...
And what? She asks him.
And nothing, he tells her, shifting the last box he's got in his hands onto the ground. We... And then he decides to just go with honesty.
You've been my best friend here, Leslie, he shrugs. And I like you a lot. I'm sorry to leave you and everyone at work, but it was going to happen sooner or later, and I need to start living my life in an actual place, rather than a suitcase for another four years.
Leslie's blinking furiously as she wraps him in a tight hug.
You're my best friend too, she tells him. Apart from Ann, she murmurs into his shoulder. And I've been with Ron and Tom for a while now. And Jerry, she teases, Jerry's a pretty big part of my life.
He can't help but smile with her, and then... And then that's that.
He cups her face and leans down so that they're almost at eye level with each other.
You're an amazing woman, Leslie Knope, he tells her earnestly, wishing that he could say more, explain how perfect he thinks she is in a more eloquent way. But he... he doesn't know how.
Don't ever forget that, he tells her. And then he gets in his car and leaves.
On Monday she goes into work, and she's fine. She's fine. Ben's gone and that is A-OK, totally, absolutely fine.
She walks into her office, throws her bag on her desk and moves to sit down. But then she sees it.
It's a JJ's waffle container.
It's probably just something I left here over the weekend, she thinks. It won't have anything in it, she tells herself as her fingers clasp the edges of the container and pull.
But it does.
She opens it, and there are quite a few things, actually.
He's glued in a green lego base to the bottom of the container with little lego trees and bushes, horses and people sitting clicked onto it.
...Ben's made her a park.
She covers her mouth with her hand, but it's not that that makes her cry out.
It's the other things in the box.
There's an envelope stuck to the inside of the lid, and when she opens it, a necklace with a waffle on it falls out into the miniature park, along with another little lego horse, this one attached to some laminated card that reads 'Lil Sebastian'.
She picks up the necklace with shaky hands, and clutches it in her palm as she takes Ben's letter out.
I don't know if I'll see you again before I leave, but I want you to know that you are the best government employee I've ever met.
You're passionate and smart, ridiculous and funny, and if you're not Mayor one day, then I don't think Pawnee is worthy of you.
You've been my best friend here, Leslie, and I just need you to know how truly good you are. I want to thank you, I guess, for my time in Pawnee- my time with you.
So... Thank you. And you know what? Consider this as a thank-you from everyone. Everyone in the parks department whose jobs you saved, the people in the community who you made the harvest festival for...
Everyone loves you, Leslie Knope. And I just thought that you should know that.
That's when she starts to cry.
April's the one that finds her, tears still running out of her eyes every time she blinks.
Ben's an idiot, she says after a moment of silence as she wheels Tom's chair over to Leslie's side of the room.
But he's not, Leslie cries. That's the problem, April; he's not an idiot- I am.
April doesn't say anything. Perhaps she knows that Leslie has more to admit.
But Leslie can't say anything else, she won't. So instead, April just picks up the little necklace Ben found her and latches it around Leslie's neck.
And she doesn't even comment on how nerdy it is.
Life goes on.
She puts his model park in the corner of her desk, wears her waffle necklace to bed most of the time, and has his stupid little letter pinned up on her fridge. But apart from that, she totally doesn't think about Ben.
She gets on with her work and later in the year is even approached by two campaign managers. They want her to run for a seat on City Council.
Her, Leslie Knope, Pawnee City Council woman.
God it sounds good.
And just like that, six months pass. Ben Wyatt's no longer an option, she thinks.
No, she ruined that a long time ago.
Every morning he gets up and tells himself that today is the day. Today is the morning where he'll wake up not in love with Leslie Knope anymore.
It's never that day.
But Saint Paul... Saint Paul is good. He likes it here. It's homely in the way that it reminds him of the nice parts of his childhood-pre ice town ice clown disaster- and Adam's here with his wife and his baby daughter, and Ben feels like yes- yes- he finally does have a place to settle down.
Just not with the person that he wants to settle down with.
They both go on like this, Leslie pretending that she doesn't miss Ben and Ben pretending that he doesn't miss Leslie, and for quite a long while, too.
But Ron Swanson is sick of Leslie staring at that miniature lego park and twirling that necklace unhappily around her neck, so when Chris offers up the position of assistant city manager to him, he says ok.
But with one condition.
Eight months after he's left Pawnee, Ben gets a phone call from Chris. This isn't unusual. What Chris is asking of him, is, however.
I want Ron Swanson to be the new permanent Assistant City Manager, Chris tells him. And he said yes. Chris pauses here and Ben can hear him breathing over the phone. ... But with a requirement.
Ben listens impassively. What does this have to do with him?
He wants you to be his replacement.
What? He asks Chris, surprise marring his features. What on earth-
That's what I said. I asked him, why would Ben want to come back? And if he did, why wouldn't he come back as assistant city manager? Why would be demote himself?
Chris's tone isn't cold... It's just sort of...
And he said that you'd want to come back to Pawnee because of Leslie Knope.
Ben freezes, holding the phone as tight as he can up to his ear. He leans on the edge of his desk at work and licks his lips.
Ron Swanson seems to be under the impression that you're in love with her.
Ron Swanson would be right.
He also seems to be under the impression that Leslie Knope is in love with you.
Ben doesn't say a word, and Chris seems to take his silence as admittance.
As the Director and Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation, technically there would be no infringement of any rules if you were to date each other.
I... Ben starts ...Wouldn't Leslie be the Director? He asks. It's not really what he wants to say, though.
Leslie's running a campaign for city council. And if she wins she won't be in any position to direct the department, Chris tells him. Think about it, Ben.
I will, he replies numbly.
The only problem with Ron Swanson's grand plan, is that how on earth is Ben supposed to believe that Leslie actually wants him?
And really, he supposes, that's the thing. He can't. He can't know unless he calls her up and discusses everything. Or, of course, until he turns up unannounced in Pawnee. There, obviously, for her.
...Almost instantly, he knows what he wants to do. He just hopes that it's what Leslie wants, too. Because if not, then this resignation letter is perhaps the worst mistake of his life.
His contract at the city council in Saint Paul means that he has to give at least six weeks notice, so Ron's going to be in charge of parks for a little bit longer, with Chris' interim assistant city manager from Indianapolis staying on for another month as well.
But soon... Soon... Ben will be back in Pawnee, standing in front of Leslie.
And it's a thought that's constantly in the back of his mind.
Going back to your girl in Pawnee, huh? His brother asks him when they're having dinner on Sunday night. Sarah's putting the baby down, and they've been left to clean the dishes.
If she'll have me, Ben says.
She will, his brother smiles, before splashing Ben with soapy water, perhaps trying to diffuse the sentimental atmosphere that their conversation has stirred up in the kitchen.
Thanks, Ben says sarcastically.
And if she doesn't want you then you'll still have your brother, Adam tells him in a mocking tone.
Ben just rolls his eyes.
We'll come down and visit sometime, Sarah tells him later as she leans in close to hug him goodbye
Good, Ben tells them, before he gets in his car and goes, hoping that the next time he comes back here, it'll only be for a visit.
Ron's leaving the parks department. He's told her this (Chris told her this actually, while Ron just sort of grunted his agreement) but he won't say anything more.
You have to tell me now! She whines at him as they stand outside of Ron's old office. Ron, he'll be here in five minutes, why can't you just-
No, woman! You can wait five minutes more, and it's not like you're going to know him anyway, he lies.
Leslie just makes a huffing sound and starts to tap her fingers on April's desk.
I don't understand why I'm being passed over for some stranger-
I've told you- everybody's told you, Leslie- that you can barely do your job as Deputy Director right now. You can't handle more work on top of that campaign.
He glares and she seems to back down, lowering her gaze.
When you were the Director you did less work, Leslie grumbles to the floor.I did the wo-
Leslie's eyes snap back to the entrance of the department.
It can't be.
"This is the bit where you like, hug him and stuff." April says from her desk.
Leslie ignores her.
"I- You're the new director? For parks? Here? In Pawnee? Like- here?"
Ben can't help but smile at her a little as he dares to walk further into the room.
"Ron apparently refused to take the assistant city manager job unless I came back."
Leslie looks towards the man in question, and he just looks sort of disgusted with himself as he holds his hands up and backs away, out of their department.
She turns back to face Ben, and within the space of a few seconds, she can't seem to breathe, tears welling up in her eyes as she runs back into her office, just too... Too...
Overwhelmed. She's overwhelmed.
"Leslie?" He calls after her, jogging through her office door. "Leslie... I..."
"I'm sorry!" She cries, trying not to look at him as she sobs helplessly. "I just- you- you're here, you're here," She says again, this time breathless and wondrous.
"I'm here." He tells her quietly, setting his satchel down on Tom's desk as he cautiously moves over to her.
"Oh my god," She says, reaching out a hand and then an arm and then her body, as she hugs him. "You're back."
"I-" And then he summons up his courage. "You." He tells her, pulling back from her shoulder to look her in the eyes. "I came back for you, Leslie. l-"
"My boss," She tells him, shaking her head back and forth wildly. "As the Director you're my boss, we can't-"
"No," He tells her, the both of them speaking before they really have time to think about what they're saying. "It's- it's different for the Director and Deputy Director of a department- they're both in charge, really, and Pawnee recognizes that. That's why there's that married couple in economic development and tourism."
He quiets and looks away from her. He's the one that's making the big, ridiculous gesture here. She's got all of the power in this situation.
"So you're saying..." She asks him, "That we could- we could be together?"
"...Well, if you- if you want."
He finds himself looking her in the eyes again without thinking about it.
And then he finds himself being thoroughly, thoroughly kissed.
"So that's a yes then?" He murmurs between kisses.
"All of the parks in Pawnee yes," She mumbles back before pressing completely up against Ben and swiping her tongue across his bottom lip.
"That's disgusting," April says- neither of them had noticed her walking into Leslie's office- before she pulls down the blinds and shuts the door on Ben and Leslie.
"Director Wyatt," Leslie says suddenly, "Is this officially your first day of work, or do you think that you could, perhaps, knock off early?"
He grins wolfishly at her. At Leslie. This is Leslie standing here, tucked into him, he realizes with a jolt.
"I think that today," He says slowly, "I need a tour of Pawnee. Specifically of the houses. Your house," He whispers in her ear, and just like that, she's grabbing his hand and pulling him away, out of the parks department.
"Leslie?" Tom asks from down the hall- he's just getting into work. "Where are you going? And is that- Ben?"
"Can't stop now, Tom!" Leslie calls down to him, still holding Ben's hand and wearing a cheeky grin as she hurries him through the hallways of Pawnee's government buildings.
"We've got official parks business to take care of!"
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