History my Dear Benjamin
(A/N: What if Ben Wyatt never had political ambitions? What if he never ran for mayor back in Partridge? What if he became a high school history teacher instead and was a college friend/roommate of Chris's?)
Ben groans as the phone rings. Three days into his summer vacation (and this is why he became a high school teacher, not an accountant- although the extra pay would have been nice) and already, his plan of re-watching his Firefly dvd set has been interrupted. He casts a longing glance at the tv as he gets out of his lazy boy and ambles over to the kitchen bench in his pyjamas.
And that's when Ben finds out that he's still Chris' emergency contact.
90 miles later and Ben's in the town- no, city as it proclaimed on the welcome board- of Pawnee.
He wearily rubs a hand over his face as he drives into the local hospital's car-park. It's a Monday afternoon, and Ben shivers to think what's wrong with Chris. Not much- not anything, actually- gets Chris down, but Ben knows that he was a sick kid, and that Chris doesn't cope well with illness ("I'm locking you out of our dormitory for your own good, Ben Wyatt!" "Flu shot, Ben Wyatt? They literally work wonders.").
"Oh! You're Ben!" A pretty nurse says as he enquires about Chris with the receptionist, reaching out a hand like she wants to comfort him.
"...Yeah." He says cautiously.
"I'm Ann," She tells him, "I'm sort of... I'm Chris' girlfriend."
Ben scoffs quietly to himself. How long's Chris been here, a month? Ben's lived in Indianapolis for sixteen years and he's had... Three serious girlfriends. (Rachel through almost all of college, Sarah when he got his first teaching job and then Ella for three years- he turned 30 and all of a sudden just flat out panicked).
"Nice to meet you," Ben says cordially, if not wearily. "Do you- Chris- is he-"
"Of course," Ann says, walking out from behind the desk and leading him away. "He's had a range of tests done, but we're still waiting on results. But he's awake now, finally."
"He passed out at work and just... Wouldn't wake up, according to the EMTs." She tells him quietly. Ben supposes that this is affecting her perhaps even more than him.
"But he's awake." Ben says cautiously.
"He is," Ann smiles, opening the door to room 210. "Chris is doing-."
"Ben Wyatt! You're here! In Pawnee! The greatest city in America!"
"Fine." Ann finishes amusedly.
Ben can't help but close his eyes for a second and laugh. Because Chris is most certainly awake. (In fact, Ben's so relieved that he doesn't mention how Chris has said that- "I'm in the best place in America, Ben!"- about all of the towns that he's audited).
Ben must have fallen asleep at one point, because suddenly he finds himself sitting in a room with not Chris, but someone else.
"Hello." He murmurs, his voice cracking unattractively. Oh well, Ben thinks sarcastically, there's always the sweatpants he wore to bed and the Star Wars t-shirt that he's wearing with the toothpaste stains on it to make up for that.
Good lord he's wearing a Star Wars shirt out in public.
Acceptable for teenage boys, not so hot at 36.
"Oh! Hi!" It's a woman, a very pretty blonde woman, who is sitting in Chris' bed.
"Oh right," She says. "Chris has gone to get some scans or something- medical jargon, yuck- but he didn't want to leave you here alone, so he left me here to wait with you!"
Ben's still staring.
"...And you're friends with Chris?"
"Well Chris is friends with everyone-"
"Very true." Ben smiles.
"But we work together at the council," She tells him, fiddling with the buttons on the bed to make it sit up.
"Uh, cool. I- I'm Ben, by the way." He tells her, holding out a hand for her to shake.
She probably won't want to take it. He wouldn't want to actually- he's disgusting at the moment, and needs a shower, and-
But Leslie doesn't have the same hesitations as him. "Nice to meet you, 'Ben Wyatt'!" She says, imitating Chris' way of saying his- and everyone's- name. She does it quite well, actually.
"I'm Leslie Knope, deputy director of the Parks and Recreation department."
Ben smiles a little bemusedly.
"...I'm just Ben."
"Oh no!" Leslie says, shaking her head fervently, "You're Ben Wyatt! Chris' roommate in college, best friend since then and history teacher in Indianapolis! Although, I mean, really, Pawnee has schools to teach at too, and it's a way better city than Indianapolis."
Ben laughs a little bit. "Best city in the world, right?"
"Well, definitely in America." Leslie says seriously.
Ben just smiles lazily and snuggles a little bit further down into the chair he's outstretched in, his feet extended onto Chris's bed.
"Tired?" She asks him.
"Hmm," He replies softly, his eyes fluttering closed.
"Didn't get a solid three hours sleep?"
Ben's eyes snap open, because she's not being sarcastic about that 'solid three hours'.
"Three hours? Is that- do you only sleep three hours a night?" He asks her incredulously.
Leslie shrugs. "Three to four."
"Nobody sleeps three hours a night, every night and is still functioning properly," Ben says, shaking his head.
"Well why don't you tell an insomniac that, then!" She snaps back defensively.
"You are an insomniac!"
"I get three hours sleep a night, Ben!"
"That's what an insomniac gets!"
"...Insomniac's have trouble getting to sleep. I just... Have other things to do." Leslie shrugs.
"What, like getting sick and dying young?"
"Well- I-" She splutters, "You know what, you're a jerkface!" She tells him loudly. "Chris was totally wrong about you, Ben Wyatt!"
"Well Chris has a tendency to exaggerate, Leslie. Like when he said that Pawnee- and every other town he's ever been to, might I add- is the best city in the world!"
"Not the world!" She yells back at him, "Just America!"
"Oh, ok," Ben says, his eyes widening sarcastically. "As long as it's just in America, Pawnee totally wins, then."
They're both glaring at each other when Ann comes in, wheeling Chris over to the bed Leslie's now abandoned.
"Leslie Knope!" Chris says happily, if not a little tiredly. "How are you and Ben getting on? I knew as soon as I met you that you and Ben would literally be best friends."
"Leslie's very nice." Ben says tensely, shooting her a look.
"...Yes, Ben is also... Very un-nice."
"You said un-nice." Chris states.
"What? No I didn't, Chris!" Leslie says laughing sort of hysterically. "I said nice. I said Ben is very... Very... Nice." She seems to have trouble forcing the words out of her mouth.
Ben rolls his eyes, because Leslie's just another government nut that has attached herself to Chris in yet another small, bankrupt town.
And then Ann, who's been silent since she came in, tells them something that Chris failed to mention.
"Chris has a brain tumour."
Cancer. His best friend has cancer.
"...It's not cancer, Ben. It's benign. It's not... It's not going to hurt him any more than he already has been hurt." Leslie says quietly.
He must have been talking aloud.
"Oh god," He groans, putting his head in his hands. He's shaking. He's shaking, and can't think properly, and just-
"It's going to be fine." Leslie soothes, and suddenly she's beside him as they sit in the hallway, rubbing his back. "He's going to have surgery, and they'll get the cells out, and then he'll be back to running around and saying people's full names in an overly cheerful way in no time!"
"I'm sorry I snapped at you before." He tells her. "I'm just stressed, and I need a shower and Chris... He's been telling you all about me, and I haven't seen him in months. So... I'm sorry."
Leslie smiles. "I'm sorry too. For, you know, calling you a jerkface. You don't seem so bad out here, I suppose."
Ben calms down when he's in Leslie and Chris' presence. Leslie's so optimistic that she makes the surgery sound like it's going to be a routine trip to the doctors, and Chris is just brushing the whole thing aside. ("How are you, Ben Wyatt?").
Which actually does cause a little bit of worry in the back of his mind, because when will Chris snap?
But that's not the point.
"So I'm going to go home, grab a bag and I'll be back here in a couple of hours, plenty of time before you have to go into theat-"
"Ben, go home and sleep, I don't go in until-"
"Yeah Chris, I'm going to go home and sleep while you're here, having your head cut open. That sounds like a great plan."
Leslie and Chris fall silent.
"Sorry." Ben says staring resolutely at the ground. "I know that it's you who should be freaking out, Chris, but I'm just better at it, really." He laughs weakly.
"Ben," Chris says, "I am going to be excellent. I am excellent. And when I am, you can help me with budgets!"
"...Budgets?" Leslie asks from the chair opposite Ben.
"Ben thoroughly enjoys math based activities, Leslie."
"Math based activities?" Leslie mouths at him.
"I was going to be an accountant." He shrugs.
"At the time, I really thought so."
When Ann finishes her shift and joins them in Chris' room, Ben leaves for the night.
"Hey!" Leslie calls, jogging after him in the carpark. "Ben, wait!"
He turns around and waits for her to catch up, leaning on his car.
"...Did I forget something?" He asks her.
"Oh no," Leslie says, "I'm sure you're far too organized for that,"
"But I was just thinking... You're going on a long drive... I don't sleep..."
"You want to come with me on a road trip to my house?"
"Oh, are you inviting me along, Ben? Why- what a surprise! I would love to come!"
Amused, and a little amazed, Ben just watches as Leslie snatches his keys and unlocks his car, sliding into the passenger seat.
"Are you coming?"
"You had to move the penguins?"
"I had to move the penguins." Leslie nods. "My arranging of the gay marriage apparently showed how government supports the issue. Which, of course, we're not allowed to do."
"Ugh," Ben says, "That's why Chris never could convince me to work with him."
Leslie snaps her head around. "You were going to work in government?"
"Well, I had the right sort of degree. Chris offered me the job to work with him going around and fixing cities budgets, but... I don't know. Government work just always seemed sort of... Painful to me in some respects. I like messing around with figures, but the people seem tough." He shrugs.
"Well, you're right, I guess. But I love people."
Ben smiles. "So does Chris. He just doesn't have the heart to cut the things that need to be cut."
"Which is where you would have come in."
"Mean Ben." He nods.
"I- mean Ben?" She splutters.
"It's what the students call me- the ones that I give detention to, anyway."
"Yeah, it really makes sense that you became a teacher. You hate people, so you go and work with teenagers."
"Hey, I get holidays." Ben tells her, mockingly defending his position.
"I bet they try to distract you by talking about star trek in class."
He groans. "It was so bad when the last Harry Potter book came out, you have no idea. I ended up reading to my classes instead of teaching."
Leslie laughs delightedly. "Well Harry Potter is great."
"It's right up there with Lord of the Rings."
"Never got into that."
"As long as you haven't read Twilight instead, I think we'll be fine."
"Oh, ew," Leslie says, and to his amusement sounds like a petulant little girl. "Harry Potter is way better than that drudge."
"And here I was, thinking that you'd be in love with vampires." He smirks.
"You're so well read." He drawls.
"Apart from those two; the majority of the other books I've read in my life are political biographies."
"Ok then," Ben dares her on a whim, "List them."
"You want me to list all of the political biographies I've ever read, Benjamin?" She asks him- and he can tell by her tone that it's not really a question, because she's already accepted the challenge.
"Do it." He dares her, taking his eyes off of the road to raise his eyebrows in her direction.
They're both laughing as Ben unlocks the door to his apartment.
"Did Chris really do that?"
Ben's head falls against the door as his shoulders shake. "So many times that it's hard to remember individual attempts."
"I never thought about Chris living with someone." Leslie muses.
"You shouldn't," Ben tells her, opening his door. "I try to forget about it."
"Oh wow," Leslie says as she walks in. "Great apartment."
"It's not Pawnee, but..."
"Yeah, yeah," Ben says, throwing his jacket over a couch. "Um- do you mind if-"
"Go have a shower and get changed into some real clothes, Han Solo. I'm just going to rifle through your things and judge you based on your DVD collection."
"...That doesn't make me worry about leaving you alone downstairs at all."
"It shouldn't. I have great taste." She smiles.
He can't help but smile back.
An hour and a half later, after some dinner and the episode of Friends that was on, Leslie and Ben leave again, Ben carrying a large travelling bag out to his car.
"I'll drive," Leslie says, holding her hand out for the keys.
"It's fine, I can-"
"Give me the keys before you drive us into a platoon of racoons."
Well, he can't argue with that logic.
He's woken up by loud clapping that seems to be right in front of his face.
...Probably because it is.
"Ben! Benji! Benjamin! Benifer-"
"You're up!" She says with a wide grin. "Good! I tried to wake you the nice way, but that whole shoulder shake thing didn't really work."
"Deep sleeper," He shrugs, still slightly out of it as he wrestles with his seat belt.
"What's the time?" He yawns.
"Will we still be able to get in?"
"Of course!" Leslie says, "We have Ann!"
...They don't have Ann.
"You're not allowed in, Ben. I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over. You can come back in the morning before he goes into surgery."
"Can't you just-"
"No. Everyone will see you," She says, and Ben realizes that this isn't Ann, Chris'-girlfriend-Ann, but Nurse-Perkins-Ann.
"Alright." He says, grabbing Leslie's arm as she starts to argue back. "We'll go."
"We will not back down without a fight!" Leslie yells as Ben tries to drag her away. "Ann, I love you, but this is unforgivable behaviour and I refuse to speak to you for the rest of my life, sweet, strict, Ann!"
"You're crazy," He says with a fond, familiar sort of grin already wrapping its way around his lips.
"You haven't heard my plan yet, Ben."
"What do you mean 'no'? This is the best idea ever!"
"It's quite possibly the worst, Leslie."
"It's easy! I go back to Ann's, take a pair of her scrubs, put you in a wheelchair and pyjamas, and then we're in!"
"You're actually serious." He deadpans, leaning against his car in the hospital's parking space.
"Of course I am! This is going to work perfectly!"
"The only way it could work, is horribly."
"Well what do you suggest then?"
"I suggest that you go home and maybe sleep for the first time in weeks."
"Awfully sorry, Mean Ben."
He just smiles. "All of the kids who call me that deserve detentions, Leslie."
"I feel like you're trying to make a metaphor out of that."
"Do or do not... There is no try."
"Oh my god, you just quoted Yoda in everyday life."
"I would hardly class this as a day part of everyday life."
Leslie's silent for a minute, because, well, he's right.
"...You're still a total nerd."
He ends up spending the night at Leslie's house.
(And he tries so, so hard not to comment on the state of the place).
"...This is totally unlivable. My stress levels are rising just from standing in your lounge."
(...It doesn't work).
"I said your apartment was nice!"
"Yeah, because it is! This is a mess!"
Leslie bristles. "You don't have to be rude about it!"
"My god," he says, ignoring her and walking about the small bit of space he can manage to find. "Where did you find all of this crap?"
"...Your mother!" Leslie says again. "Your mother gave me this stuff because it's crap and your mother is crap if my stuff is crap!"
Ben stares in utter disbelief.
He opens and closes his mouth, before sinking down into Leslie's couch.
"This is nice."
"I'm sure your mother is too." Leslie says quietly. "I didn't mean to insult her. But honestly, Ben- manners!"
"Don't know what they are." He laughs. "Awfully sorry."
She smiles too and sits down next to him.
"You're alarmingly good at getting under my skin." She muses.
"I'll be better tomorrow, I promise." He says softly, leaning back and looking at her through lidded eyes.
Leslie's face softens. "Hopefully we'll all be better tomorrow," She says, rubbing his arm and getting him some blankets for the couch before she goes off to her own bed.
They're up bright and early- Ben doubts that Leslie's ever not been up bright and early- and on the way to the hospital at half past five.
"Stop for coffee?" She asks him as they near a dinner.
He replies yes in a sort of groan.
"I'll be back in a second. No, a minute. No, a few minutes." She corrects herself again, slamming the door on Ben and the stereo that's playing sweet old sixties songs.
Ben leans his head back against the back of the passenger seat and watches the empty road in front of him.
There are still a few street lights on; it's that dark.
Suddenly (did he fall asleep?) the song has changed and Leslie's opening the door with two drinks in hand.
Be my, be my- be my little baby. Say you'll be my darling. Be my baby now.
"It's got milk and one sugar."
"Perfect," Ben smiles, taking the takeaway cups out of Leslie's hand as she starts the car again.
Since the day I saw you, I have been waiting for you.
"I love this song." Leslie says, as if in a daze of chocolate coffee and the lyrics that are being played.
"It's a classic," Ben agrees, watching as Leslie hits repeat on her CD player.
The night we met I knew I, needed you so.
In no time at all they're at the hospital, and as they walk through the big double doors ("You can come early, but only because he's going into theatre at 6.30."), he can't help but hear Be My Baby over and over in his head.
God it's annoying.
"Ben Wyatt!" Chris says as soon as they walk in.
"Hi, Ch-" Ben stops midsentence. Because Chris' head is completely free of hair.
"...They shaved your whole head?" He whispers.
"Oh no," Chris says, equally as quiet. "I asked them to."
Ben takes in a deep breath.
"Well I think you look good, Chris." Leslie says, walking further into the room beside Ben. "Very Vin Diesel. No, Brad Pitt. No! David Be-"
"Thank-you, Leslie Knope!" Chris says, somewhat more happily. But he's still quiet, Ben can't help but note.
He sighs and walks right up to Chris' bed, placing his hand on the guard rail by his pillow.
"...I..." Leslie slips out of the room while Ben finds his words. "...I know that this isn't a big deal- I mean it is, but it's not like- you'll be fine, I know that, but..."
"I know what you mean, Ben." Chris says quietly, placing his left hand over Ben's.
Ben lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"I honestly think that I would feel better about this if I was the one going into surgery." Ben laughs. "How stupid is that?"
"It's not stupid, Ben. I know how you think. You're always trying to help me. You're my best friend, and I'm positive that standing here helplessly while I fight myself is very hard for you."
Ben's breathing shudders and he falters.
"...I... That's got to be hard for you too, Chris." He says slowly- cautiously. "Please. Just... Tell me the truth."
Chris smiles sort of sadly. "You, out of everybody, already knows."
Ben does. He knows, he knows, that Chris is scared. Leslie doesn't see it and Ann probably doesn't either, but Ben... For him it's written all over Chris' face.
("I was sick as a child, Ben. I nearly died. And if I'm there again I want to be sure that I've lived my life fully." "Four kids. No five. No four. Yes, I want four kids, Ben Wyatt." "I haven't been to South America yet. That's definitely on my list." "I would very, very much like to be married. To someone I can enter marathons with." "And you, Ben Wyatt! You can never be too healthy!")
"If you promise to come out of here fine, I'll go jogging with you." Ben says, laughing hollowly to try and pull his words off as a joke.
They sound more like a plea.
"When I get out of here fine." Chris corrects him, and just like that, they're back to normal.
Ben's worrying and no one suspects that Chris is too.
When they wheel Chris into one of Pawnee Central's operating theatres, Ben smiles.
And when Chris has gone through the doors, he turns to Leslie and slumps against her, his head falling onto her shoulder as he deflates. Ann managed to pull some strings for herself and is watching from the side. But Ben and Leslie have to wait out in the hall.
It's going to be a long day.
"Your best memory of Chris," Leslie prompts him.
Ben pauses, thinking. "There's a wealth of things." He says with a fond sort of smile.
"Well, mine would have to be when he approved our harvest festival idea. When the parks department presented it he actually cried."
"I can imagine," Ben smiles.
"Can you?" Leslie asks him. "Because I'm talking full on sobs here. Tears fell onto the floor that the janitor had to clean up."
Ben grins. "Ok, well when I graduated, the rest of my family stayed in Minnesota because my sister was having her baby-"
Leslie makes a scandalized sort of sound.
"Which was fair enough- but anyway. Chris- my degree took a year longer than his- sat in the middle of the three seats that my parents had reserved and played instrumental clapping tapes on two different tape decks so that when I walked across the stage it sounded like I had family cheering for me."
"That is brilliant." Leslie says, looking like she's going to remember this idea for her own use.
"It was certainly something." Ben agrees.
"I would have just hired lookalikes of your parents-" Just? "-But he actually went out and bought tapes with clapping on them!"
"He recorded tapes with clapping on them." Ben corrects her. "Which really, is the best part of the whole thing, I think."
"Oh that is good," Leslie says, leaning her head back against the chair she's sitting in. They're in the cafeteria, an untouched chicken sandwich sitting in front of Ben.
"Yeah. Chris has just... Always been like that."
"He wouldn't record tapes of himself clapping for just anybody, Ben."
Ben wrinkles his nose. "Yeah, but I never quite understood why he made them for me. I mean, I never do anything extraordinary for him."
"...You're kidding me, right?"
"Ben," Leslie says in a sort of breathless, disbelieving laugh, "Ben, he talks about you all the time. Have you not ever thought that maybe just being Chris' friend is the extraordinary thing that you do for him?"
"...I mean, I guess, but he's always made friends easily. Everywhere he goes, in fact."
"And how many of those people is he still close with?"
"You're his constant." Leslie tells him with absolutely certainty. (Although, to be fair, that's how she sounds even when she's wrong). "You're his best friend, Ben. And that's the only reason he needs to do things for you."
There's a pause as Ben ponders this, looking off out into the rest of the hospital as a teenage girl opens the double doors that separate the cafeteria from the hallways outside.
"You should really eat that," Leslie tells him, pointing at his sandwich.
He smiles wearily at her and pulls open the plastic wrappings, giving her half.
"It would do better with some whipped cream, but I suppose-"
Ben rolls his eyes and without much thought, grabs Leslie's half of the sandwich and stuffs it in her open mouth.
She squawks before swallowing and then, because honestly he just can't help it, he bursts into laughter.
She tries to glare at him, but soon Leslie's laughing too. And as they sit, waiting for news, Ben wishes somehow simultaneously that this was and wasn't happening.
An hour and a half later, Ann finds them.
"He's fine." She smiles. "They removed the tumour, and now all he has to do is recover. Chris is totally fine."
"No tumour?" Ben asks, just to be totally sure that he's not imagining this.
He shuts his eyes and whispers "Thank God," even though he doesn't believe in that.
"Now, you won't be able to see him for a couple more hours while he's in a surgical recovery room, but when he moves into the intensive care unit, I'll come and get you, alright? You should be able to visit, Ben, since you're his emergency contact and because he hasn't got any immediate family."
"...Would then be a good time for me to dress up in some of your scrubs?" Leslie asks Ann.
"You're not sneaking into Chris' room, so stop thinking about it." Ann glares.
"You're as big of a killjoy as Ben," Leslie mutters under her breath, purposely loud enough so that both Ben and Ann can hear her insult.
"...And depending on how well Chris responds, he should be in a normal hospital room in 2-3 days, and you'll be able to visit him then too, Leslie."
"...If I had your scrubs-"
"And he'll be able to leave at the end of the week?" Ben interrupts.
"If everything is on track, then yes." Ann smiles. "But," She says with a more sober tone, "There may be some partial paralysis or some other complication. I just want you to be prepared."
"Is that likely?"
"Not highly, but it is a possibility. But even if it does happen, it'll most likely be a short term effect."
Ok, Ben thinks, ok. Chris is fine. Chris is fine.
"So two more hours? Then I can go and see him?"
Ann nods. "I'll come and get you."
Ben leans his head back against his chair and just breathes. There's been tension underlying everything for the past few days, and now, now Ben can just about let it go.
"Ben Wyatt." Chris slurs lazily, his eyes halfway open. "How are you, Benjamin? Because I'm rather swell," He says with the same slow drawl that makes him sound anything but.
"I'm- doesn't matter." Ben says, shaking his head. "How are you?"
Chris holds up two fingers a little way apart. "I'm a bit- jus' a bit- woozy. And my face doesn't feel quite right." He says, snuggling down into his pillow, looking like he's going to fall asleep on Ben any minute now.
"Yeah," Ben says, smiling at the sight of little-boy-Chris despite himself. "Ann said that you might have some short term effects like that."
"Hmm mmm mmm," Chris murmurs, closing his eyes.
"I'm really glad you're alright." Ben tells him quietly, touching Chris' arm before being escorted back out of the icu.
And Chris, Chris really is alright. A week passes and he leaves the hospital, staying at Ann's house while Ben takes over his flat in Pawnee. (Although he feels like that would have happened even if he wasn't there.)
Another week passes, and Ben's still there, tentatively going for runs with Chris in the morning and nearly passing out on Ann's couch when they're done as she sneaks him biscuits that she's hidden around the house.
And then, just as he's thinking that maybe he should start to think about going back home, Chris asks him something.
"Will you stay in Pawnee for a little bit longer?"
Sure, he'd said to Chris with a faint hint of surprise. It'll be nice to hang out, and it's not as if I've got anything to do at home-
No, Chris had told him, I want you to take over for me. I want to take Ann Perkins to South America. I nearly died Ben, and although I live my life to the fullest, it occurred to me that I haven't actually lived my life to the fullest.
...You want me to be the assistant city manager?
Just for a month.
Am I even qualified-
I trust you, Ben.
And that's how he ends up staying in Pawnee, living, well, Chris' life for a little bit.
He tails Chris around the Pawnee government for the week before he goes to Lima, and somehow, he ends up spending most of his time in the Parks department.
"Why don't you spend the money on the empty lot behind my house?" Ann suggests one day as she drops in for lunch.
"Yeah, but you wouldn't be creating any revenue from that," Ben tells her as he picks at a salad. "That's why something like the observatory at Ramset Park would be a good idea to use the cash from the harvest festival for."
"How do you know about my observatory?" Leslie asks him, dropping her fork.
"I read the file on the harvest festival," Ben shrugs, "And I thought it was a great idea."
Leslie beams, and that's the moment where they really begin, he thinks.
Chris and Ann leave on a Tuesday. He and Leslie drive them to the airport, Ben awkwardly patting Chris on the back as he cries a little bit.
"You'll see me in a month, Chris."
"I know, Ben Wyatt, and I'm sure that you will literally be the greatest interim assistant city manager in Pawnee while I am gone, but-"
Ben just stops him with a hug.
"Have a great trip, Chris."
He pretends that he doesn't see Leslie crying on the car ride back, but when she really starts to go for it- "I know it's just a month, but it's Ann!"- he turns around and heads over to J.J's.
They eat waffles and drink hot chocolates, and Leslie tells him more about the pit/park behind Ann's house.
And just like that, they're friends.
It's weird, but since he's been staying in Pawnee, his memories have started to become split into two categories: Before Leslie and After Leslie.
But they're just friends. Friends who do lots of stuff together, and who are both reasonably attractive (Leslie certainly is, he thinks) and who are both single.
Like he said- just friends.
Before he knows it, Ben's been living in Pawnee for two months. And it's time, he knows it's time. He has to make lesson plans, and go to teacher only meetings and jump through bureaucratic hurdles for a couple of weeks before school restarts. And all of this has to take place in Indianapolis. Not in Pawnee where he sits in Chris' office and pretends to have his job.
And it's not- it's not the job that he'll miss. Sure, managing Pawnee's council is fun and different and a nice switch, but it's not something that compels him to change his life. It's... It's his life in Pawnee that he'll miss. He's happy and he doesn't really even know why, because nothing's even changed that much. Chris has been on holiday with Ann for a month, so it's not as if he's been here, and Ben's not in a relationship and hasn't been forming any majorly close friendships...
But then again, there is that unfortunate distraction whose name is Leslie Knope to consider. And as Chris will later tell him, she's a little bit more than a distraction.
"Ben Wyatt! You're just the person that I wanted to talk to! How's Pawnee? I'm sure it's great with you running it, but Tuscany is simply- amazing."
"Hi, Chris." He says, amused.
"What can I do for you, Ben?"
"...Well... I was thinking about maybe... Staying in Pawnee. What do you think?"
"Why are you staying?" Chris asks, and the phone goes tensely silent.
"Well you're here, and there are good schools to work at-"
"Please don't lie to yourself, Ben."
"...I don't know what you mean."
"I think you do, Ben. I think you know why you don't want to leave."
"Leslie." Chris says. And then for the first time in Ben's life, Chris hangs up on him.
It certainly makes him think.
Almost guiltily- he can't help but look back over his shoulder in his office with about ten other tabs open when he does it- he begins to look at Pawnee's high schools and potential jobs there. He sends some emails and gets some back.
...And nothing. Pawnee doesn't need any new history teachers. And really, really, Ben knew this.
He just wanted them to.
And so, with no other feasible option that he can see, he begins to pack. Chris comes back about a week later with Ann (my fiancée Ann, Ben, she said yes!) in tow.
And that's it. It really, actually is. He goes back to Indianapolis. He plans his classes, meets with the head of the department, and just...
He mopes, and looks at the Lil' Sebastian toy that Leslie gave him when he left- were those tears in her eyes? – For the month until school starts.
And then he takes him to class with him.
"Right," Ben says, walking into his first class of the year- it's nine o'clock on a Monday and he's actually happy to be here- happy to have something to do. "Welcome to sophomore history. Especially to those of you that have been here before," He quips, smiling a little bit at Miles, who's been in this class for three years now. ("I got the unionists and the colonialists confused, Mr. Wyatt!" "Well I wouldn't have taken it again if I knew you were going to change the years we studied, Mr. Wyatt!")
"I'm totally going to pass this year, Mr. Wyatt." He says, and Ben is suddenly struck by how much Miles reminds him of Andy, and by extension, Pawnee.
He shakes himself. "Well I hope you all had a good break-"
"What did you do?" A girl asks him in the front, and he falters.
"I- I spent the summer in a town called Pawnee." He says, making his way around the room as he hands course outlines out.
"That's near Eagleton, right?"
"Pawnee's better," he says without thinking about it, and it must be sort of vicious, because the class stares.
"...Force of habit." He explains awkwardly. "Pawnee and Eagleton have a sort of... rivalry going on."
The class doesn't say a word, and Ben thinks to himself that he wouldn't need to explain this if he were teaching Pawnee kids.
The day passes, and then a week's gone, and then a month. He's been here in Indianapolis for a month.
Chris calls him to say that he and Ann are staying in Pawnee for the foreseeable future- "They need a full time City Manager in Pawnee, Ben, and I've been offered the job permanently,"- but no one else calls.
Well no one else would except for Leslie, anyway.
But Leslie doesn't.
(But then again, it's not like he calls her, either. He just sits and stares at the Lil Sebastian that's on his desk.)
"Fuck," He mutters to himself late after school as he's marking some essays. He puts his head in his hands and sinks down low into his desk chair. Because this is the moment that he thinks that he might love her.
...And what the hell is he supposed to do about that, huh?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He continues with his routine. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth he goes.
And then it happens.
Halfway into the semester, he gets an email. One of Pawnee Central's history teachers is taking an early retirement after a heart attack, and there's a position open on their staff if he'd like to come down for an interview.
But Ben just sags, because he can't leave. He's under contract for the year in Indianapolis. And it's not just that, either. He has an obligation here. He can't leave his students in the lurch like that so he can run off with a girl who might not even like him.
So he emails back sombrely.
Thank you for the email. I am interested in the position, but unfortunately I'm under contract for the rest of the year here in Indianapolis. Thanks again, Ben Wyatt.
He hovers over the send button for a long, long time.
The thing that Ben doesn't ever consider in his plan- and it's a matter composed of self-doubt and being away from her for so long- is that Leslie might be feeling the same way that he is.
That she might too be looking at maps that show the commute between their workplaces and later their homes. And that she might've also been keeping an eye on job opportunities here for him.
He certainly doesn't consider the fact that she might ever see his email.
Don't underestimate your enemies, they say. Well, sometimes Ben is his own worst enemy.
And he grossly underestimates himself.
Which is how Ben ends up being utterly surprised on Monday morning when he walks into class.
"Hi," He throws the greeting at his first period sophomores as he walks into his second-floor classroom, a coffee in one hand, laptop in the other. "Has anyone found the remote for the projector yet?" He asks.
The class ignore him.
"Who's the chick sitting at your desk?" One of the boys- George- asks instead.
"What?" He says, flicking his head around to look in the left corner of the room that he hasn't reached yet.
"Hi," She says, a smile clearly trying to break through her pursed lips, her eyes wide and bright, just like they always are.
He shakes his head, his mouth open a little bit. "I...Leslie," He says breathlessly. "What- What are you..."
"You." She tells him simply, staring at him in the same way that he's staring at her, he's sure. "I missed you," She tells him with a shrug and a little nervous laugh.
A smile breaks over his face, and he closes his eyes for a second, taking all of this in, letting the feeling of happiness settle into his bones.
"I-" And then he remembers that there are 28 teenager staring at him and Leslie.
"I should probably send you outside for disturbing my class," He says.
"Alright then, Mean Ben," She sighs jokingly, standing up to walk out of the room. "I'll be outside."
"Right," He says breathlessly. "Right." He says again, this time quietly, to himself.
He stumbles, frantically putting down his things before rushing towards the door that Leslie's just closed.
"Uh... Chapter five in your text book," he says. "Read that." He tells his class as he grasps the door knob and pulls.
She's waiting for him across the hallway, and he feels like he's sixteen again, awkward and desperate and ridiculously nervous.
"It's weird being back at school," She tells him, sliding down a row of lockers so she's sitting on the floor.
He joins her. "Well, I'm here every day, so..."
She laughs a little bit.
He opens his mouth to talk, and they're so close that she can hear him inhale sharply, and then falter because he's nervous.
"...You're here." He finally says, settling on words.
"I am," she murmurs, the both of them turning slightly so they're angled towards each other.
"...Not that I'm not the happiest I've been for a month," He says, "But... why are you her?"
At this, Leslie's face grows a little bit guarded. "Well," She says in a happy sort of tone, "I just... I just..."
She stops. She stops talking and simply looks at him, her mask falling and tears forming in her eyes.
"You applied for a job at Central Pawnee?" She asks him quietly.
"I asked around before I left," He desperately tries to explain, "But there was nothing there, Leslie. I didn't- I didn't want to leave, I didn't want to leave you, but-"
He doesn't get to finish, because instead, Leslie slams into him, her arms snaking around his neck, her lips finding his.
He gasps a little bit before kissing her back, his hands finding her waist, his lips pressing harder and harder against hers, until-
"...Oh my god!"
Frantically Leslie and Ben snap apart, standing up guiltily.
"Kate," He says, coughing and running his hand through his mused up hair. "Um... What..."
"...I slept through my alarm this morning." She whispers at her teacher, holding out a late slip with a very red face.
Ben imagines he looks rather the same.
"Right," He says, taking it from her awkwardly. "Inside we're just... reading." Ben tells her, and Kate scuttles off, grateful to have an excuse to leave.
As soon as she's inside, Ben groans, hitting his head against the back of the lockers. But then he looks at Leslie and they both start to laugh.
"This is your fault." He tells her.
"How do you figure that, Benji?" She asks him with a smirk.
"Who kissed who here?"
She just scoffs. "Like you weren't going to go there if I didn't."
"Maybe I wouldn't have," He breathes, stepping closer so that their foreheads are nearly touching.
"Yeah?" She murmurs.
"No." He admits, before kissing her again.
The smile on her face when they break apart makes him feel invincible. Like together they can work out anything.
...And maybe they can.
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