Author's Note: UGHHHH it has been way too long since I updated this story! I'm so ashamed… Sorry for the wait! I had a lot of trouble with this chapter; I couldn't get into character and I wasn't sure how closely I wanted to stick to canon. Plus, writer's block is a HUGE pain in my ass. I guess I should have thought more about the direction I wanted to take this story before I started it. I'm still not fully satisfied, but I wanted to post something, so I decided to put it up anyway. Oh well, once again, I'm sorry for the long wait! Hopefully the next chapter will be up quicker. Also, Parks and Recreation is FINALLY back! What did everyone think of the season 5 premiere?
Disclaimer: I do not own Parks and Recreation in any way; I'm just a simple fan.
Chapter Two: Childish Antics
Ben stared at the Styrofoam container for a couple of minutes, slightly dazed by the audacity of the message, before stomping over to the Deputy Director's office for a little chat. Frustration was bubbling up but he tried to control his anger; he doubted that she was trying to irritate him on purpose. Leslie didn't seem like a mean person, quite the opposite in fact, but she was now interfering with his work. He wouldn't, couldn't,tolerate that.
Ben ignored the other members of the Parks and Recreation department and purposefully stormed into Leslie's office. The blond was sitting down at her desk, working on something on her computer, but she lazily glanced up when he entered the room. She didn't seem that surprised; Ben figured that she knew her little ploy would incur some sort of reaction.
"Hi, what can I help you with?" Leslie asked politely, her big blue eyes wide and innocent, and she gestured for him to sit down.
"Waffles aren't going to fix Pawnee," Ben said bluntly and he remained standing. He wanted to be authoritative and slightly intimidating, but based on the way that she was smiling sweetly at him, he doubted that he succeeded.
She quirked an eyebrow and smirked at him, all innocence forgotten. "Well, obviously you didn't eat the waffles I gave you, because J.J's waffles fix everything," Leslie replied playfully and Ben frowned at her. The response was teasing, but he could read between the lines: you're wrong and you don't understand MY town.
"Thanks, but I don't want them," he answered stiffly. Ben held out the box but she pouted at him and purposefully crossed her arms in defiance. Why was she doing this? Was she trying to mess with him? Her behavior was irritating and childish, and it felt as if she was toying with him.
Ben decisively threw the box out and felt a small twinge of guilt when he saw pain flash across her face. He tried to shake the feeling away but it stayed with him. He wasn't normally this mean, Ben always prided himself on being able to rise above things, but something about Leslie set his teeth on edge.
"This isn't a game," Ben said coldly but Leslie ignored his tone. She was sitting straight up, her eyes bright with defiance, and he realized that throwing out the waffles had been like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
"I know it's not," she conceded. "But all you're seeing when you look at Pawnee are lists and numbers. I want you to see the real Pawnee and the people who make it a special place."
"The real Pawnee? Are you really this delusional?" Ben scoffed and Leslie's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Have you watched too many Frank Capra movies?"
"Who doesn't love Frank Capra?" she asked in an offended voice. "He was a visionary who was dedicated in instilling true American ideals and-" Leslie paused and huffed angrily.
"I'm not doing this! You're not sucking me into whatever game you're playing!" She sprang to her feet and scowled at him.
"Me?" Ben yelped. "I'm not playing a game! You're the one leaving waffles on my desk!"
"I'm only doing that to show you what Pawnee is really like, but apparently you're Voldemort and you can't emotionally connect to real people! You know what? You, sir, are an ass!" Leslie instantly bit back. "I'm not trying to mess with you! I'm trying to show you that believing in something doesn't make me an idiot! Believing in Pawnee isn't stupid! It's called faith!" Their faces were mere inches apart, brown eyes focused on blue, and the silence was overwhelming. It had been so long since he had met anyone with so much fire, strength, and fortitude.
Ben suddenly became aware of their close proximity and he instantly pulled away. His body was humming with frustration, adrenaline, and confusion, and he didn't know what to do. Leslie wasn't anything special, so why was she affecting him so much? Why was she clouding his judgment? Something must have shifted in his gaze because Leslie seemed to calm down.
"Why do you have to be so cold?" She asked him softly. Her tone was contemplative, but she didn't seem to expect an answer, and Ben remained quiet. "You seem like such a jerk, but then you get this look…What on earth happened to you?" Leslie leaned back in her chair and stared at him in puzzlement. The directness of it made his skin crawl and Ben self consciously adjusted his clothes. Normally he was calm and composed, but the tiny blond unnerved him. Ben didn't know how to talk to the aggravating woman standing in front of him, so he turned on his heel and left. He heard Leslie make a noise of protest but he continued walking away. It was a coward's move but Ben had never had so much trouble with an employee and leaving the situation seemed like the only option.
After the embarrassing incident, Ben was determined to ignore Leslie; he would simply refuse to participate in her childish antics. He thought about involving Chris in the matter but Ben decided against it. His partner was fairly useless and most likely would find Leslie's actions "charming", which was obviously ridiculous. He hoped that after a while she would get bored and give up, but Ben quickly learned that Leslie was a force to be reckoned with. The Deputy Director was stubborn, persistent, and a complete pain in the ass. She left waffles on his desk every day for two weeks, usually with a small note, and was as determined as ever to 'convert' him. Ben never ate them; he knew that if he took even one bite of them he would be encouraging her, so he usually ended up giving the food away. Leslie didn't mentioned the breakfasts, he doubted that anyone else knew what she was doing, but every once in a while he would see a knowing smile on her face. It irked him to no end, but he didn't say anything.
Leslie eventually managed to push her way in and invade his life. She popped up ALL the time and Ben couldn't keep up with her. He didn't know if she stalked him or if she just had incredibly good timing, but he saw her bright smile everywhere he went. In fact, if Ben tried to avoid her, she seemed even more determined to interfere with his day. She would pop into his office, coffee in hand, and Leslie would recount Pawnee's long and involved history. She even gave full biographies of every citizen who ever lived there; Ben was pretty sure that he knew more about Pawnee than most of the other residents. Leslie's descriptions were VERY thorough.
And so an odd pattern was formed. Leslie would aggravate Ben, he would try to ignore her, and they would squabble about work. Once in a while their conversations would stray from politics in Pawnee and they would debate who the best Senator was and who wrote the greatest American novels.
Surprisingly, he was slowly becoming accustomed to life in the small town. The more Ben learned about Pawnee, the more he realized exactly how WEIRD the town was; it was certifiably crazy. Still, it was intriguing and spirited and just...fascinating. He tried to push those dangerous thoughts out of his head and Ben pretended that he wasn't getting used to the quirky town.
"You haven't called in weeks!" His mother's tone was accusatory and Ben sighed.
"I know, I'm sorry. Work has been crazy and I haven't really had a chance. We're at this place called Pawnee and it's in really bad shape. I've had a lot of paperwork lately," he explained patiently. Ben took off his tie and settled on the bed, stretching his limbs across the mattress.
"Alright then," Jean Wyatt replied, slightly mollified by his answer, but he could tell that she was still upset. Ben felt bad for causing her to worry and he mentally reminded himself to call more often. "I'm sorry, I guess I'm being silly. You know that I worry; it's been so long since we've talked! I just want to make sure that you're doing alright."
"I'm fine," Ben responded. "Chris and I have just been really busy."
"Don't work too hard dear. After all, you know how you are when you're stressed. Are you eating enough?"
"Yes," Ben answered and he rolled his eyes; his mother tended to forgot that he was a grown man who was fully capable of taking care of himself. "Anyway, how are you and Dad?"
"We're doing okay," she sighed. "Your father has been in one of his moods but that's to be expected, considering…well, you know. He's trying and that's the important part. It's coming up in a couple of weeks. You're coming home, right? I know that he'll be glad to see you." Ben bit his lip and steeled himself for the unpleasant reaction.
"I can't Mom." The words tasted bitter in his mouth and guilt gnawed on him, making his stomach twist uncomfortably.
"I think I have to stay in Pawnee for a while; I can't make it home." The silence on the other end was deafening and Ben hated every second of it.
"Oh," Jean said in a small voice. "Oh alright, I understand Ben. Don't worry about us; you just take care of yourself." That was a lie of course. They could never handle this time of year; there were too many terrible memories, too many unresolved emotions.
"I am sorry," Ben said sincerely. "You know that I want to be with you both."
"It's alright," Jean replied. She cleared her throat and quickly switched topics, obviously desperate to talk about happier things. Ben ached to discuss their situation but he held his tongue; he didn't need that explosive conversation tonight.
"How is…what was it called? Pawnee?" Jean eventually asked.
"It's…" Ben tried to figure out how to explain the small town, but he simply couldn't. Pawnee was strange to live in and even stranger to describe. Every word choice seemed inappropriate or inaccurate. It was common yet different, intriguing but boring, a strange combination of good and bad.
"It's interesting," he settled on.
"Did you meet anyone interesting?" A brief image of Leslie flashed in his mind but he dismissed the thought.
"Pawnee is in worse condition than originally thought," Chris said seriously. Ben tiredly rubbed his eyes and nodded in agreement. He had known for a while that things were pretty serious. Ben studied Pawnee's records before they arrived, but closer examination showed just how much trouble Pawnee was in. This wasn't going to be an easy job; they would be here for at least a couple of months. The thought of being stuck in the crazy town was unpleasant, not appealing he reminded himself, but there wasn't anything he could do.
"I know," Ben replied simply. "When do you want to announce the news?"
"I believe that tomorrow would be a good opportunity," Chris noted. "It will allow us to work the rest of the summer on reestablishing the government." The next day, Chris and Ben began to quietly meet with all of the department Directors to explain the situation. Most of them were stunned but overall they handled it well. Ben knew that the Department which would take the news hardest would be Parks and Recreation; his stomach clenched in uneasiness. After Leslie's efforts to 'save' Pawnee, she would be devastated to hear that the government would be shut down. She seemed to live and breathe her job, and he knew exactly how hard she would take the news.
When it came time for the meeting with Ron and Leslie, Ben could barely look them in the eye. Chris still seemed happy, as if he was completely impervious to the tension, and motioned for Ben to deliver the unpleasant news.
"Effective tomorrow morning, the entire government will be shut down until further notice," Ben announced. Leslie's mouth dropped open and Ron's smile was so big that it threatened to split his face. Ben was afraid that the blond would faint upon hearing the news but to his surprise she handled it professionally. There were no tears or tantrums; instead, Leslie asked practical questions about the status of her department and what she had to do to prepare for the shut down. It was surprising, but he respected her for her level of control.
They met with two more departments before they called it a day. Chris had been pleased but Ben was troubled and found himself standing in front of the Parks and Recreation department. He had no idea why. He had delivered the same horrible news to dozens of other departments; why did he feel the need to check in on Leslie? Ben ignored the unanswered questions and walked towards her office. He knocked on the door twice and when Leslie noticed him, she gestured for him to enter.
"I'm sorry," he said sincerely as soon he entered the office. Ben knew that the words weren't enough to make it better, hell somehow it made everything slightly worse, but Leslie smiled anyway.
"Thanks," she replied in a small voice. She seemed lost, almost scared, and tiny. It didn't suit her. He was used to her abrasive personality and strong opinions, but all that stood before him was a defeated version. Ben couldn't help but pity her because he knew how seriously she took her job and he had seen the pain on her face when he told her about the shutdown. This was why he had visited her; no one else's heart had broken at the news.
"Leslie, I was gonna go grab a beer. Want to join?"
Okay, not too much happens, but it lays the groundwork for the rest of the story. For those who don't know, Frank Capra was an American filmmaker who was well known for his idealistic and uplifting movies, such as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "It's a Wonderful Life", and "It Happened One Night". Thanks for reading! Please review!