It's been a long time since Ben Wyatt has had presidential fantasies. All through high school, he'd spent his days drifting into daydreams of sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, addressing the nation with awe-inspiring speeches of hope, meeting with foreign leaders, walking the grounds of the White House, changing the world. Stupid stuff. Kids stuff.
His soul crushing stint as Mayor McFailure had squashed those dreams quite horrifically and turned him into Mr. Practical. A jaded, bruised person who tried not to fantasize ever, because it was a waste of time. It would be a long, long time before he would prove himself worthy of running for office again and even when he did, it very obviously would not be for president.
But sometimes, he slipped up.
Hell, the chance to serve people again one day was the only reason he suffered this shitty job in the first place. This shitty job that forced him to close up his heart like some kind of Grinch just so he could fire good people and annihilate summer camps and still be able to sleep at night. What was it all for, if he wasn't going to one day hold office again?
So yes, he fantasized, but he worked hard to keep those fantasies grounded in reality. City council. House of representatives. Maybe congress if he was feeling extra ambitious.
But president? That was something he'd given up dreaming about long ago because it was far-fetched and pointless. Mostly.
Sometimes, he slipped up.
However, when he did slip up and think presidential thoughts, it was always with him as the actual president.
Until he got to Pawnee.
Until he met Leslie Knope.
And his elaborate fantasies started to feature him as vice president and he knew at last that he was in way too deep for his own good.
It's past eight and he's the last one left in the office because he decided to stay late to balance more numbers for her Harvest Festival. Because the thought of going home to an empty hotel room littered with take out containers when he could be here, making sure the festival went as perfectly as Leslie hoped with every last bit of her overwhelmingly optimistic heart is unbearable.
But it's late and he's tired and now he's not so much balancing numbers as he imagining a Knope-Wyatt campaign.What?
It's ridiculous. It's bizarre. And it's entirely her fault.
It's his fantasy and it's a stupid one but hey, this is his own idiotic brain and he should be able to be first on the ticket in his own fantasy.
And yet, he gets a goofier and goofier grin on his face as he imagines a bright, charming Leslie Knope wowing the entire nation with one of her dazzling speeches. He knows that he doesn't have a tenth of the charisma in his entire body that Leslie has in her pinky. Hell, her name even rhymes with Hope. That's campaign gold. What the hell does Wyatt rhyme with? Tryit? That's idiotic.
He thinks about all they've done together since he's gotten to Pawnee and there's really no getting around it. Leslie Knope has completely drawn him in with her tenacity, her optimism, her unyielding spirit, drawn him in so close that he's now imagining ridiculous things instead of doing practical, important work.
Things like playing footsie with President Knope under the table in the middle of a serious meeting with their cabinet.
Things like tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear as they look over polls in their campaign bus and hoping no one sees but everyone around them probably already knows.
Things like playing fetch with a dog that's maybe hers or maybe his or maybe theirs on the White House Lawn.
Things like reading books to school kids and taking turns to do different characters voices.
He rubs at his face and stands up from his desk abruptly, banging his knee against it. He curses and starts walking because he's been sitting too long and his mind is turning to impractical schmoopy mush and it's embarrassing even though there's no one around.
He paces back and forth, disgusted with himself, trying to talk his brain into making sense again. He's already having enough trouble just being halfway normal around her these days.
Because her smile is blindingly bright and she makes him feel a thousand times lighter every time she enters the room, unless he happens to think about the fact that he's leaving Pawnee in a week. Then it kind of feels like he's being gutted by a machete.
Every time she's anywhere near him, a million thoughts are running through his head and its hard enough to answer questions about the Harvest Festival budget when all he can think about is that he really just wants to kiss her hard. Kiss her hard and keep kissing her until the Festival because he doesn't want to waste a single second he has left.
But then another, more logical version of himself is calling that version a fucking idiot because knowing what it felt like to kiss Leslie Knope and then never being able to do it again would probably be more devastating than running his town into the ground as boy mayor.
And then yet another version of him that's just a downright ass says, 'What makes you think she even wants you to kiss her anyway, you doofus?'
There are a lot of versions of him saying really conflicting things every time she's in the room and he really doesn't need another voice piping up to say 'Hey. Remember that time you imagined having passionate sex with her on top of her desk in the oval office? What a perv! What would she say if she knew?" He's already enough of a spaz without that voice added to the mix.
Somehow, as he's pacing and mentally berating himself, he ends up in the Parks Department. He can't stand it. He needs to stop envisioning this crazy, unreasonable shit.
Just because they make an amazing team and she helped him get past his crippling incompetence at answering questions about his past and she's sometimes kind of a nutcase so he could be her anchor when she got too crazy and she could be his sail when he got too cynical does not mean there's any sense in…these ridiculous daydreams.
The clock is ticking. He's supposed to be working on getting her out of his head. Not living in his head with her.
Annoyed with himself, he picks up one of her color-coordinated idea binders to distract himself. Which in retrospect, is a really, really stupid idea.
Because he's combing through it and getting an look into her driven, enthusiastic, hopeful, beautifulbrain and some of these ideas are kind of amazing and how could he not be absolutely crazy about a woman who wants to have a Polar Animals Ice Sculpture Contest this winter to raise awareness about global warming? (with notes that say "discourage gay friends from carving gay penguins because that's almost blown over and we probably should stir those waters up again any time soon.") And how can he not wish futile wishes that he could be around to watch it happen. To watch her walking around in adorable winter clothes, telling everyone how adorable their sculptures are with her giant, sincere grin and twinkling eyes?
And even though he's just making things harder on himself by reading through these stupid binders, he's kind of a masochist and it beats going back to his hotel to watch late night television while feeling empty. So he combs through binder after binder, sometimes laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of some of them, sometimes being genuinely impressed by her genius.
He nearly jumps a foot in the air.
He hadn't heard her approach. Probably because he was too busy grinning at her impassioned short essay about the importance of sprinklers in public parks. Also, she's wearing slippers. And pajama bottoms with monkeys on them.
"What are you doing here?" she asks curiously, leaning over his shoulder to see what he's looking at. He slams the binder shut quickly and throws it back on the shelf as if it had suddenly turned scorching hot. Then feels like a complete moron because that didn't have to be weird until he made it weird.
"Oh! I uh. I…" he stammers.
"Ah. The sprinklers," she nods. "I know it's a small thing and maybe not the best use of our water but sometimes there just aren't enough ice cream trucks and it can be really hot in the summer and not all kids can afford to get ice cream every day anyway, or maybe they have mean parents and they're just really fun and-" she trails off and gives him a long, penetrating look that makes his legs feel kind of like jelly.
"What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I…I was working late. And needed a break. What are you doing here?" He asks, giving her outfit a pointed once-over and smirking. That's it, Wyatt. Turn the tables.
Even though the lighting's low, she looks down quickly at her monkey and banana covered pjs and there's definitely a hint of a blush on her cheeks. He finds it thoroughly endearing that she's embarrassed but can't resist poking a little fun.
"Those are some cute monkeys, Leslie" he grins. "Why is that one sticking out his tongue? Does he not enjoy bananas? Is that what he's trying to tell us?"
"Shut up, Ben," she says, jutting out her chin and wrinkling her nose adorably. "I bet you have stupid pajamas too. Probably have dinosaurs or little Boba Fetts on them because you're such a huge nerd."
"Multi-colored lightsabers, actually."
She looks taken aback, like she can't tell if he's joking or not.
"You'll never know," he smirks, raising an eyebrow. Then his face falls a little because he realizes would like it a whole lot if she did know. If she knew about his dorky pajamas and his favorite songs and his childhood and a whole lot of everything else. But there's just no time.
There's a silence between them, and he wonders if maybe she's thinking something kind of similar because she looks a little sad too. It's subtle, but her foreheads a little furrowed and her eyes seem a little bright.
Then she gets that glint in her eyes and he's suddenly kind of afraid.
"So," she says, arching a brow at him. "You were working late."
"And you needed a break."
"And you consider looking through my binders of parks ideas taking a break?"
She looks suspicious, curious, intrigued.
He balks. He can't…he can't reveal anything. He's already been doing a piss-poor job of hiding it. He can't blow the cover even further. Not with only six days left in Pawnee. Come on, Wyatt. Be cool.
"Yeah," he says, playfully. "There's some quality entertainment here. A shark tank next to a playground? That's not a disaster waiting to happen or anything."
He's joking, obviously, and she shakes her head, smiling, but he thinks maybe she looks a little hurt. There's that machete going through his gut again.
"I'm kidding, Leslie. Who doesn't love sharks? Shark week comes on and I'm glued to the tv 24/7," he says and she's smiling brightly again and the world is right. Good. He's glad. He wants to keep her smiling that smile. So he adds, "And seriously? Some of these ideas are really, really good."
He means it.
And maybe he's looking at her a little too lovingly as he says it because she mutters 'thanks' really quickly and looks pleased but really unsure and she breaks eye contact first. Fuck. He must seem like such a psycho. He's probably making her so uncomfortable. But it's hard not to gaze adoringly at Leslie Knope. Because she's Leslie Knope.
"Like this one," he says a little too brightly, reaching for a blue binder and flipping to a page. "'The Halloween Creepy Creature Feature'. I think maybe we should see about setting this up for the harvest festival. It's timely. We could contact the zoo and see if they'll bring us some animals. Snakes, spiders, frogs," he says, scanning her list in the binder. "Madagascar hissing cockroaches. It would probably increase zoo attendance considerably."
Her eyes light up as he talks and it makes his heart race to see her getting that Knope fire over something he suggested.
"Yes! You're so right. They have a great public outreach team. I bet they'd volunteer to help us out. Even though they had to clean up a lot of graffiti after that gay penguin thing, it really did increase attendance, so I'm sure they'd be willing. Let me give Paula Anderson a call!"
She starts to take her phone out of her jacket pocket and he puts a hand on her arm to stop her. "Leslie. It's 10:30 at night. Can't it wait til morning?"
She pauses. Takes it in. Looks defiant, then concedes, "Yeah… I guess. She did ask me not to call after eight that time I called her at one in the morning about the chimp graduation."
The mental image of some disgruntled zoo-keeper woman being awakened in the dead of night to a wide-awake, chipper, whipped-cream-high Leslie Knope's excited ramblings about primate intelligence and setting an example for kids makes him burst out in laughter.
Leslie glares at him for a moment but quickly goes back to that dazzling smile that makes him feel like king of the world.
"This is really great, Ben. I can't believe I didn't put two and two together before! I guess I've just been caught up in all the other stuff we've been doing. But it is a pretty great idea," she says, proudly. "Nothing gets kids excited like hands on experiences with animals. And I think it's important for them to learn that just because something seems really gross and slimy at first, it can be kind of cool once you give it a chance. Hey!" she says, eyes widening in sudden realization. "That's kind of like how it was with you!"
Ben ogles her, not sure whether to be offended that she called him gross and slimy or flattered that she thinks he's cool. Shaking his head, he decides to just grin, because that's so Leslie and her total lack of tact is just another thing he loves about her.
"Oh, really?" He deadpans, looking down at the list again. "So, would you say I'm more of a boa constrictor or a vampire bat?"
She pauses and looks like maybe she realizes it was kind of a terrible thing to say.
Sheepishly, she says, "Hmm…you did try to strangle our budget to death a little for a while there, but I think you had much more of an initial cute factor than either of those. You're more like one of those South American Tree Frogs with the huge eyes."
She says it so casually that he wants to slam his head into a wall. How can she really be that oblivious to her affect on him? She'll just offhandedly call him a him cool or cute and it's just so damn absent of any hints. He can never figure out if maybe she's kind of flirting with him or if she's just being matter-of-fact Leslie.
And it kills him because every minute he spends with he falls harder and harder and he has no clue if it's totally one-sided and there's always that nagging voice in his head reminding him that it doesn't matter because even if she's sweet and goofy and brave and perfect and actually into him, the end is rapidly approaching and none of it matters.
"What?" she asks, brow furrowed, curious and confused.
"'What', what?" he responds, shaken from his thoughts. He can feel his cheeks burning.
"I don't know…you just…you just looked… really intense just then. You do that a lot. I feel like I never know what's going on in your head."
Thank Godfor that, he thinks as he gets a flash of Oval Office kissing and groping and his cheeks burn even hotter.
"Oh…," he says lamely. "I don't know. I was just thinking about…frogs. Cause..cause you said that thing…about the frogs."
She gives him a look like she thinks he's nuts and he can't blame her because he kind of is.
"Well," she said. "I'm really glad I forgot to bring my laptop home or we never would have come up with this awesome plan! Thanks, Ben." She holds her hand up for a high five.
"No problem, Leslie," he says, meeting her hand. Then her huge grin melts into a softer, gentler smile and she just looks so sincere as she says,
"No, really, Ben. You've really gone above and beyond the call of duty to help us out with this Harvest Festival and…and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it. Really. You put a lot of faith in us and it's not really your job, but you care and that's…that's very…not slimy."
She's holding his gaze now and it's maybe the longest they've looked at each other the whole time he's known her and the gratitude is shining in her eyes so intensely and he can't remember the last time anyone's been so genuinely grateful for something he's done for them.
After years upon years of hateful, angry, tearful rants from people whose lives he's kind of ruined he'd almost forgotten what it's like to do something good and have someone thank you for it.
He feels full. Fuller than he's felt in a long time. He feels it in his chest. It's like his heart is swelling. Every day in Pawnee he feels more and more like the Grinch at the end when his heart grows three sizes. Except instead of wanting to return a bunch of stolen presents the growing heart makes him just really, really wants to kiss Leslie Knope.
And in a totally impulsive and un-Benish manner, he does. He steps forward to close the gap between them. A thousand different versions of Ben are yelling at him not to do it for a thousand reasons, but he ignores them all and cups a hand to her face and kisses her hard, intense, months and months of pent up adoration spilling out of him.
And she's kissing back. She is, with just as much intensity and feeling and it's more amazing than anything he's ever felt and just when he thinks he might explode from how extraordinarily right this feels, she pulls away, looking stricken.
"Ben," she says, a hand on her mouth, eyes wide and he feels like his world is crashing down and he wants to start a wave of apologies but it's a hundred times worse than Crazy Ira and the Douche or Pawnee Today and he can't even stammer because no words are coming out.
"You're…you're leaving in a week," she says, barely above a whisper and her gorgeous blue eyes are filled with hurt and pain and he feels like a complete monster.
Because as fucking awful as it would have been if she'd been disgusted or offended or angry that he'd kissed her, this is worse than he could have ever imagined.
He doesn't think he's ever gone from feeling so fucking on top of the world to feeling like complete shit in such a short period of time.
He feels sick. He wishes the floor would swallow him.
"Oh, God. Leslie. I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he stammers, barely able to meet her eyes but facing it because she deserves it. "I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."
She looks back at him silently and he's never seen this expression on her face and he wishes he'd never had to.
He's been amazed every singled day he's known her by her unyielding ability to bounce back from anything,to always have that fierce fire burning in her eyes even when the odds are stacked against her and nothing is going her way.
Even when budgets were being slashed and programs being cut, she'd only ever looked tenacious, furious, determined. Ready and willing to fight him and anyone else who stood in her way.
But now she just looks lost and confused and so utterly defeatedand his heart aches because he knows he's the cause and all he's ever wanted to do was make her smile that dazzling smile.
He wants to reach out and touch her, to take her hand to convey how sincerely sorry he is, but he thinks that would probably be worse, so he holds back.
"I'm sorry," he says again, feeling like a complete fucking failure but not knowing what else to say.
"No…It's okay," she says. "I mean. It was nice. It was really nice. Like, running-through- sprinklers-on-a-90-degree-day-nice. Or seeing-your-first-real-live-shark-nice," she says with a weak smile. Then, with a little shrug, she adds,
"Or I-really-want-to-do-it-again-even-though-it's-a-terrible-idea-nice. More-terrible-than-giving-calzones-to-cops-terrible. But…I do."
He laughs, utterly amazed because just a minute ago he'd felt like he'd never be able to laugh again but Leslie Knope has taught him a hell of a lot about laughter since he's known her and he shouldn't really be surprised.
But then he's back to overwhelmingly sad again. Sad and practical. Ben Wyatt is nothing if not practical.
"Leslie," he says, seriously. "We shouldn't. I don't know what I was thinking. It was a mistake. I shouldn't have…"
"Come on, Benjy," she says, stepping forward and tugging at his sleeve, smiling even though her eyes are a little misty. "Haven't I always told you? 'The point, is, at least you tried something.'"
He struggles with it, but she's the only person who's ever been able to convince him of that when it comes to Ice Town and she's clasping his hand in hers and now she's kind of got him convinced now that maybe he's not the most terrible human being on the planet.
Slowly, he returns her smile.
This time, she's the one who closes the gap, who guides his mouth to hers and kisses hard. He's instantly powerless to stop it even with all the furiously screaming Bens in his head ringing alarm bells and yelling at him to abort. He ignores them.
His arms wrap around her waist. He draws her close to him and kisses back like he's never kissed anyone before.
It's passionate, and filled with pain and longing and sadness and heartbreak and it's kind of tearing him apart and even though she's untucking his shirt and slipping warm arms under it and up his back he knows she's feeling everything sad and confused that he's feeling and he hates that he's causing her pain.
A part of him wishes he could backtrack an hour to when he'd been sure anything nice she'd ever said about him was offhand and meant nothing- but a bigger part of him is beyond thrilled that this beautiful, bold, hilarious, brazen woman has seen past his gross and slimy Mean Ben exterior and maybe cares about him. Kind of a lot.
Never really letting go of each other, barely breaking apart to breathe, tearing at buttons and tugging at adorable monkey pajamas, they navigate their way to her office, knocking over idea binders and Jerry's mug ("Who cares?" she says, when he pulls away to look at it with concern and forcefully draws his mouth back to hers.) and April's plant, and God, they really suck at navigating, but whatever.
When they do reach her desk, the conflicting Bens in his head unite in time for him to pull away.
"Leslie," he says, backing away from her a few steps with extreme difficulty. Gasping for breath, they stare at each other, their eyes mirroring each other's sadness, confusion, longing.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Yes," she says quickly. Then pauses. "No. Yes. I don't know. I mean…it's crazy. You're leaving. Soon. Really soon. It's definitely crazy. And not smart. I mean, really not smart."
He catches her glancing past him, up at her wall of female politicians' portraits and turning away quickly, looking extremely guilty, like she thinks they'd be ashamed of her.
He would laugh if it wasn't such a serious situation because it makes him fall for her harder than ever. He just wants so badly to cross the room and take her in his arms again. But not yet. She's blinking furiously, trying to work it out and he'll give her all the time she needs.
"But maybe it's not…not that unsmart. I mean, Tom keeps a giant box of condoms in his drawer because he actually believes he might get laid by someone in this building, so there's that," she says with a little grin. Then she goes serious again.
"And more than that, it just…it feels right? Doesn't it?"
"It really does," he nods.
"Then get over here, Calzone Boy," she winks, hopping up on her desk and beckoning him, and she looks mischievous and goofy and he's never been more adorably seduced in his entire life.
It's not the Oval Office. It's a million times better. Because it's real.
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