Ben tries to stay uninvolved. In every city he makes it a point not to get to know the people he's going to end up firing. Knowing them makes it harder. Ben knows what a town of people looks when they're disappointed in you. He's been carrying that with him for years.
It's easier this way.
And then he finds himself sitting in the car, on the the phone with a man who's insisting he be called "Mr. Spaghetti," trying to get him to ditch a children's concert at a library in order to get here.
"Whatever you want, just be here in thirty minutes," Ben tells him. And then Freddy Spaghetti hangs up on him. "So, that's a yes?"
He can hear Leslie ordering people around outside, telling them where to put the balloons in order to achieve a state of maximum fun. Ben catches himself in the rear-view mirror. What the fuck are you doing? he thinks.
Later, when Leslie's grinning, waving her hand in the air and trying to get Ben to sing along to "All the Hungry Ladies," he decides it was all worth it.
He honestly thought the Freddy Spaghetti concert would be the last time he saw her. And part of Ben -- the rational, professional part -- was fine with that, because apparently when he was around Leslie he made stupid decisions. He's worked hard to cultivate this new reputation. He doesn't need some kiddie folk singer to ruin it.
So when Leslie walks into her first EBTF meeting, Ben has a minor panic attack. He's not unhappy to see her, exactly, he just -- there are a lot of things that could go wrong. At least Ron Swanson wanted to cut the budget. Sure, he wanted to eviscerate it, but it's better to have someone in your corner than completely against you.
She's not so bad, though. Leslie doesn't have a gunshot as her ringtone, or SLASH IT pennants. She has just as many ridiculous ideas as Ron had, but they're ridiculous in the other direction, elaborate plans to save Pawnee through a telethon or mysterious donation from a billionaire.
Still. It's better than having her try to start the wave whenever Ben announces that a department is going to have to fire someone. And the rest of the task force seems to like Leslie. At least they did when they first walked into the meeting.
"Can I --"
"No," Ben says. They're still on the first order of business (Review: Goals for Pawnee -- What Your Budget Should Be) and already they're thirty-five minutes behind schedule. Mostly because Leslie has been trying to barter the budget cut down from 32%. If Ben didn't know know any better, he'd think she were just arguing for arguing's sake.
He does know better, though.
Leslie clears her throat. "Can I just say --"
"I'd really prefer you didn't. And so would everyone else."
The rest of the room nods. Leslie glares at Ben. He pretends he doesn't see her, front and center, her nose and mouth angrily scrunched up.
"32% is non-negotiable. I'm sorry, but that's how it is."
"Leslie, I hear what you're saying and I think you have great ideas! And Ben and I would be happy to discuss them with you later," Chris says. "But I think we can all agree that it took a lot of work to get your town into this mess, and it's going to take even more to get it out. So if we could all just work together, I think it would make the whole process a little easier and a lot more fun, okay?"
Nobody says anything, but Chris still smiles and says, "Excellent!"
Ben sighs. In the front row, Leslie looks slightly less annoyed. At least there's that.
"Okay," he says. "Let's move on. Today we'll be focusing on the Transportation Department."
When they break for lunch, Chris goes for his run and Ben sits at his desk, reviewing documents for the afternoon session while he eats the sandwich he picked up on the way in this morning. It's the same in every city. Chris runs ten miles and remembers the names of everyone he sees along the way, Ben cuts ten grand from the school system and gets called an asshole by some angry parent on the evening news.
It's the greatest job in the world.
Today Ben gets two bites of his turkey sandwich before someone's knocking on the door.
"Oh good, you're here," Leslie says. Without waiting for Ben to say anything, she pulls out the chair opposite him and starts talking about the importance of Pawnee's senior citizen bus route.
"There will be time for questions at the end," she says, pulling printed-out graphs from her padfolio and sliding them across the desk. Staring at the documents, Ben silently wishes Chris will choke on his next multivitamin.
He doesn't say anything for the entire meeting. Partly because he's really hungry, but also because it's a pretty respectable presentation.
"Any questions?" Leslie asks when she's finished.
Ben squints at her proposed schedule. They're still going to have to cut the entire route, but she made a compelling argument. He can't believe she did all this work for a different department. Sure, the bus stops at a bunch of different parks and at the rec center, so it all ultimately affects her department, but still. It's a lot of work. Good work. Then again, he doesn't know why he's surprised.
"Did you eat?" Ben asks.
Leslie blinks, confused. "I had a couple NutriYum bars on my way up here."
"Are there any questions about the proposal?"
A look of disappointment flashes over Leslie's face before she schools it back to normal. Ben ignores the guilt that creeps in. Leslie doesn't work for the Transportation Department, he tells himself. She should be more worried about what happens to Parks. It's not like anyone is going to come to her rescue like this.
"Okay." She stands. "No, that's your copy," she says when Ben tries to hand the graphs back to her. "I'll see you back in the room, then?"
Ben nods again.
The room feels too quiet once she's gone. Ben throws away the rest of his sandwich. He spends the rest of the hour looking over Leslie's proposal until Chris comes back and needs someone to stretch his hamstrings.
"You have a message!" Chris says the second Ben walks in the door in the morning. He reaches for a post-it and reads, "'Leslie Knope from the Parks Department needs to schedule an urgent meeting with you. ASAP.' She told me to underline ASAP three times."
Ben takes the note. ASAP is definitely underlined three times.
He tosses it in the trash. He doesn't make a habit of taking one-on-ones with people whose lives -- towns -- he's about to destroy. At least, that's what he tells himself.
"You're not going to answer that?" Chris asks. "Because I think the underlining made it very clear that --"
"If she has something to say, she can bring it up at the meeting," Ben says, his voice clipped.
He sits down at his desk and reviews his notes for today's agenda, for departments that don't have anything to do with Leslie Knope.
Leslie catches them in the hallway on the way to the EBTF meeting.
"Oh, look, you're here," she says pointedly.
Chris points at the first person he sees -- "FLORENCE! Good morning! How was your dinner party last night?" -- and abandons Ben faster than he can say ASAP.
Ben raises his eyebrows. "Where else would I be?"
"I don't know, sick? Took a wrong turn and ended up in Noblesville? Locked your keys in the car? Got attacked by raccoons? Held hostage by a disgruntled government employee from the last city you ruined?"
Ben blinks. "I -- what?"
"Well there has to be some reason you didn't answer my message."
All of a sudden Ben feels very, very tired.
"I got tied up," is all he says. "Come by at lunch, okay? We can talk about whatever it is then."
Leslie looks annoyed.
"It's the best I can do," he says, and she relents.
"We have a lot to cover," she says, nodding. "12 sharp. Should we synchronize our watches?"
Ben knows she's serious so he tries not to laugh. "I think we'll be okay."
The thing is, Leslie is probably the best hope Pawnee has for surviving this whole mess. She's good at what she does, determined and knowledgeable and passionate -- she's certainly Pawnee's biggest advocate.
And even though that means she's a giant pain in Ben's ass, there's something about it that's admirable.
The hotel delivers the Pawnee Journal to their rooms every day. When Ben asks if he can get a copy of the Times or the Tribune or the Indy Star, the girl working behind the desk stares blankly at him.
"Never mind," he says. "I'll just... read it online."
He begrudgingly flips through the Journal while he waits for Chris to finish his morning sun salutations. There's an article about them on page three. Ben sighs. This is exactly the reason he wanted a non-local paper.
He reads it anyway.
It's mostly about how they're the reason behind the government shut down, how they're going to take what makes Pawnee great and run it into the ground. He almost stops reading -- it's inflammatory and unnecessary and the exact same article that's been written about them since he and Chris started working together -- but a quote from Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope catches his eye: "Ben Wyatt and Chris Traeger aren't bad people. They're just doing their jobs."
It's one of the nicest things anybody has ever said about them. Well, about him. People say nice things about Chris all the time.
"Sorry I'm late. Room service had trouble finding enough wheat germ for my breakfast smoothie." Chris holds up the smoothie as evidence.
"It's fine," Ben says, folding the paper. As they walk outside he says, "Hey, I was thinking --"
Ben convinces Chris to move the Parks Department review back a few weeks.
"I think it'll make more sense if we push it back," he says, thinking about logistics and budgetary allocations and the Pawnee Journal.
Chris agrees because that's what he always does. When he announces the change to the rest of the task force, that they're switching Sewage and Parks and he hopes it isn't an inconvenience but really, it's for the best, Ben thinks he sees Leslie smile.
Ben isn't stupid. He doesn't kid himself into thinking he's moving the agenda around for unselfish reasons.
It is a problem, though. He knows that. Leslie's clouding his work-judgement and if there's one thing he prides himself on it's being level-headed.
These days, at least. But the less said about Partridge, MN, the better.
"Benjamin Franklin Wyatt."
"That's... not my middle name."
Leslie stops in her tracks. "It's not? But it sounded right. Who am I thinking of?" She thinks for a minute. Ben wishes there were someone else in the room for him to gape at because come on.
"No!" Leslie shouts, so suddenly that Ben jumps. "I will not let you distract me from my argument! Did you know --"
Ben listens while she rants about the importance of the annual field trip to DC the middle school usually sends the students on. There isn't enough money in the education budget to send the kids this year -- and why the city was paying for that in the first place was beyond him -- and the option had been to cut the music program or the field trip. It was kind of a no-brainer for everyone.
Except, apparently, Leslie, who thinks every eighth grader should get to visit the Capitol and learn how a bill becomes a law because how else are they going to be prepared to become the leaders of tomorrow?
"Don't you remember why you got into politics, Ben? Was it because of your tuba lessons?"
Ben hates when she has a point.
"I never played the tuba," is what he says, hoping to diffuse the situation. It doesn't work, though, because Leslie's so worked up that her hair is falling out of its bun and her hands are waving around and her face is flushed. It makes her eyes seem brighter than normal.
Ben looks down at his desk.
"And now you're just leaving the children behind! All of them!"
"Leslie," he says softly, looking up. It feels like he's coaxing a jumper off the bridge. "You know I don't want to do this; kids are the last people we want to suffer. But some things are more important than others. And wouldn't you rather they have band than one weekend visiting a bunch of monuments?"
"I'd rather they have both." She crosses her arms. Ben sighs.
"Look, we'd still have to get the money from somewhere," he says, looking at the clock. The afternoon session's starting in ten minutes. He never unwrapped his sandwich.
"Take it from the library," Leslie hisses. She turns on her heel and stalks out of the room.
Ben drops his head onto his desk.
He finds a NutriYum bar on his desk when he's getting ready to leave. There's a post-it note stuck on it that says Sorry. I may have overreacted. LK.
The bar turns out to be useful later that night, when Ben gets so wrapped up in budget-juggling that he forgets to eat dinner until it's too late to order anything.
He's wide awake for four hours after that because of all the sugar in the NutriYum bar, but he gets a lot of work done, too, so it all works out.
Ben doesn't realize until it's too late that Leslie showing up and having a lunchtime argument is like, a thing. It's right around the time that Leslie shows up in his office with a salad and two huge chocolate chocolate chip cookies balanced on top of her padfolio.
"I brought you a cookie," she says, handing him one. She sets the salad aside and unwraps her own cookie. "So. City Council. You can't cut a person."
"Well I don't think they're all going to agree to a twenty percent pay cut."
"Well you can't fire someone."
Ben tries not to glare at her. "Leslie --"
"It's going to be a game-changer, Ben. What happens if there's a tie? Is Pawnee going to have to change its constitution to include a tie-breaker amendment? Why don't we just change the constitution to say that stop signs are really go signs because Pawnee is a CITY WITHOUT RULES."
She takes an angry bite of her cookie and Ben has to stare at the wall behind her to keep from laughing. He didn't know it was possible to get from a downsized council to anarchy in so few steps.
"I think that's a little extreme, don't you?"
"Did deciding things by rock, paper, scissor work for you in Minnesota?"
"That's not how we're doing things and you know it."
"It's how we're going to do things with a four person council," she argues, but when Ben smirks, she loses it a little. It's not long before they're both laughing.
"Okay," Ben says, trying to calm down. "You and me, rocks, paper, scissor, right now. Winner gets to decide what to do with City Council."
He makes a fist and watches Leslie's eyes go wide. "Really?"
She leans forward and makes a fist, too, and Ben has a fleeting vision of having to explain to Chris and their boss and everyone in Pawnee that the reason they can't get the city budget under control is because paper covers rock.
"No," he says. "Not really.
Leslie slumps back in her chair.
Ben walks into JJ's to get dinner and everyone turns to look at him like they're in an old Western and he's the villain.
Nobody says anything to him, but Ben changes his mind, gets his burger and fries to go instead. He stands in front of a hostile crowd all day, every day. He shouldn't be forced to eat in front of one, too.
It's not until he's back at the hotel that he realizes they didn't give him any fries. Or ketchup. He's done this job long enough to know that it was on purpose. In Muncie a waitress once wrote "Sorry, budget cut. Can't afford chips" on his lunch receipt. In Goshen he didn't get any food at all, just trash in a bag. But that had been before Chris came along.
It could always be worse, he supposes. He eats his burger and watches Survivor and drinks the lukewarm beers he's been keeping in the mini fridge.
Maybe it's the beers. Maybe it's that Ben actually secretly kind of likes his job, breaking things down and putting them back together so they run smoother, better. Maybe it's that he's just sick of Jeff Probst's voice. But he ends up pulling out his work and rearranging the allocations like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find smarter ways to restructure the budget.
He hears Leslie's voice in his head every time he comes up with something new:
"Awww, no, not Lisa, she has three kids at home and a puppy and is the greatest deputy superintendent Pawnee has ever had!"
"What kind of monster paves over a park to build a strip mall?"
"You already took away the senior citizens' buses, and now you want to take that route, too? Now how will all the senior citizens from the west side of Pawnee get to Bingo Night? Do you want them to drive, Ben? Bingo Night goes until 8:30 and you know they have terrible night vision!"
That, he tells himself, is definitely because of the beer.
The next morning, Ben catches Leslie on the way into the EBTF meeting.
"Oh, hey, I wanted to get your opinion on something."
Leslie looks at her watch. Ben knows she likes to be early but he really doesn't think anybody's going to take the front row seat she always sits in. Even if she's five minutes late.
"It'll only take a minute," he promises.
They duck into an unused office so Ben can show her one of the things he came up with last night, a new proposal for the transportation department. It gets rid of three different bus routes. Leslie frowns.
"This cuts out everything west of --"
"I know." Ben cuts her off before she can call the Pawnee Journal and feed them a "Bingo Night Bungled!" headline. "That's what I thought you'd say. So then I came up with this."
He shows her a different map, one where the buses have longer routes and run less frequently so they can service everywhere. Leslie studies it for a few minutes and then sighs.
"Well, I can't say I love it --"
"I didn't expect you to."
"But, it makes sense."
It's a huge concession for her. Ben's just thrilled that she's happy with it. It almost makes him want to call up the Journal and tell them to write an article about the leaps of progress being made at City Hall.
"Thanks," he says, his fingers curling around her elbow. He grins and when she smiles back, he squeezes her arm.
It isn't until halfway through the meeting that he thinks maybe that was a weird thing to do.
It was stupid to postpone Parks. One of the stupidest ideas he's ever had, right up there with "running for mayor" and "no, dude, superglue holds forties better than duct tape, here, give me your hand."
He thought he'd needed time to distance himself from the Freddy Spaghetti thing, but then Leslie took over for Ron and now he's spending all day, every day with her, listening to her arguments at EBTF meetings and dealing with her trying to schedule between eight and twelve personal meetings with him and/or Chris in their downtime.
He's made it a policy to limit her to one thirty minute lunchtime meeting a day. But that's still enough time for her to get under his skin, and now he's stuck staring at legalese and spreadsheets, hoping he'll magically find eighty thousand extra dollars in the budget so Leslie can keep her full staff and maybe have enough left over to put a bench or two on Lot 48.
"You're still here?"
Ben looks up to find Leslie in the doorway.
"Hey," he says, surprised. It's late. He'd been pretty sure he was the only one left in the building. Apparently not. "Uh, yeah. Just tying up some loose ends. Busy week."
"Big day tomorrow. I was just gearing up. Getting some brain food." She holds up a ginormous brownie. "Want some?"
She breaks the brownie in half and passes the noticeably smaller one to Ben without waiting for his response.
"Thanks," he says. He hasn't eaten since lunch. He'd meant to grab something for dinner but the only thing they keep around City Hall these days are those godawful NutriYum bars. Eating one of those is like eating stuck-together sugar cubes.
Not that a brownie is much healthier, but whatever.
"So. Lots of work left?" Leslie nods at the piles of paperwork on his desk. He watches her look at the millions of notes scribbled in the margins, all in red pen. For a second her face falls and she looks completely crushed. Ben feels a little sick to his stomach.
"Uh, no, not too much," he says, hurriedly shuffling the Parks Department files so she won't have to see the red anymore. They end up in one messy, upside-down stack. Fuck. He's going to have to reorganize them all before the meeting tomorrow morning. Great. "I just need to check the overall budget once, make sure it's nailed down."
He stops staring at the papers and looks back up at Leslie. At least she looks less horrified now. He's still not sure when he became so concerned with how Leslie Knope felt, but fuck it. It's late and he's tired and he needs a drink.
It's quiet and for some reason her silence is more unnerving than anything else Ben can imagine.
"Do you want to help?"
Leslie shrugs. "Sure."
It should be quick work, but three columns in Ben's eyes start to cross. He ends up watching her work, instead. Her hair keeps falling into her face and she keeps reaching up to push it back.
When she catches him staring, he tries to make it look like he was just thinking. He's pretty sure he ends up looking like an idiot. Leslie smiles and tilts her head, looking concerned.
"You okay in there?"
"This would be easier with alcohol," he says, even though no, it wouldn't. But it would. Everything's easier with alcohol.
"I'm kidding," he says quickly. "We don't really have time to go to a bar."
"Ron keeps whiskey in his desk."
"Well it's not in his desk, it's in his office. At least I think so. It used to be. I wonder if he took it when he left. He probably took it. Except he was on the Task Force before me, so maybe he left it here just in case and then he forgot about it and --"
"Why don't we go check?" Ben suggests. He's seen Leslie get trapped in her own thoughts before. He doesn't have fifteen minutes to wait for her to find her own way out.
"What? Oh, sure. Come on."
He follows Leslie downstairs. The hallways are too bright for how quiet the building is. It's like being in a horror movie.
"This way," she whispers, pushing the door to the Parks Department open. It's darker in there.
"Why are we whispering?" Ben asks. They're the only ones around; the security guards and cleaning staff were all victims of the shut-down, too.
Leslie stops and Ben bumps into her. His hand automatically lands on her hip to steady them both, the material of her pants smooth under his palm. She moves out of his grasp, towards Ron's office.
"Come on," she says, motioning for Ben to follow her.
His office, like the rest of the department, is dark. "Oh, I should've brought my night vision goggles," Leslie says, mostly to herself.
"Or." Ben reaches over and flicks on the light. Leslie freezes. For a second Ben does too, until he remembers that no one is going to yell at them. He relaxes. After a minute, so does Leslie.
"Alright, so --"
"A ha!" Leslie cuts him off, holding the bottle aloft. Her victorious grin is contagious.
"Won't he notice that someone drank it?"
"Definitely," she says, unscrewing the cap. She pours it into a couple of cups Ben assumes she grabbed from the water cooler on the way in. "Normally Tom blames it on Jerry." She looks up at Ben. "That's probably what I'll do this time, too."
Ben laughs. "Well, cheers," he says, when Leslie slides a cup over to him.
It burns going down. Ben feels better already.
It's quiet, though. Leslie looks like she's off in her own world. Probably thinking about tomorrow. It's the last thing he wants to think about. It's the last thing he wants her to think about.
"You know, maybe this isn't such a good idea." He turns the glass. "The last time we drank together, you were mean."
He means it as a joke, but it falls flat. Leslie blushes and looks away. This time, the silence feels like it stretches out for an eternity. He's such a fucking asshole. This is why people send him hate mail and hum "Whoomp! There It Is" whenever he goes to visit his parents for the holidays.
Ben clears his throat. "I mean, uh, I kind of deserved it."
That earns him a smile. "Eh, not really" Leslie says, shrugging. "Turns out you're not so bad."
Ben touches his hand to his heart. "That," he says, faking sincerity, "is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you." He reaches out to touch Leslie's hand. "Thank you."
That cracks her up. Ben takes another drink to hide his grin.
"So, Director Knope --
Leslie knocks her knuckles on Ron's desk. Ben's pretty sure she doesn't need to ward off any jinxes. He can't think of anyone better for the job.
All he says is, "What's the first order of business?"
Leslie gets a faraway look in her eyes. "You really want to know?"
"Hang on." She leaves; Ben stares at the wall and drinks his whiskey. He tries not to think about the possibility that Leslie will hate him tomorrow.
She comes back holding a roll of drafting paper. "Ben Wyatt, prepare yourself for: The World's Greatest Park. Well, after Disneyland. No, this'll be better than Disneyland. Well..."
"Pawnee Disney?" Ben suggests, standing up so he can see the blueprint she's rolling out on Ron's desk.
"Pawneeland? No," Leslie snaps her fingers, "Walt Leslie World!"
"Not Walt Pawnee World?"
Leslie scrunches her nose, thinking about it. "Nope," she says confidently. "It just doesn't have the same ring to it."
Ben chuckles, nodding. And then he finally gets a good look at the plans. It's... it's outrageous. There are so many different things fit onto the tiny space it's impractical, but every inch of it screams Leslie Knope. She's right that if it ever gets built it would be the greatest thing since Disney. It would get shut down for violating about a million city planning codes, but it would be amazing nonetheless.
"I know, right? Did you see the petting zoo? And the castle playground? The moat is going to be a pond."
She keeps leaning into him as she explains the whole thing, her face all lit up as she points to the different attractions. It's captivating watching her talk like this, joy audible in her voice. Ben doesn't notice he's turned to face her until he realizes the desk is digging sharply into his leg.
It's at the same time that Leslie goes quiet, and then Ben isn't watching her talk, he's just watching her stare at the park longingly, her fingers tracing the air above the plans like she's afraid touching the paper will ruin it.
"So." She pulls her hand back, resting it on the edge of the desk. "That's my park."
There's something about her voice that makes Ben's gut twist a little, sharp and knife-like. Logically he knows she doesn't hate him because of his job, but still...
The moment hangs between them for a long time, until Ben says, "Well, I think it'll be amazing. All you're missing is a shark tank."
"I know!" Leslie says, her face splitting into a grin. "But Mark couldn't fit it. Plus it think it might be kind of dangerous."
"No, it doesn't sound that at all."
Leslie makes a face, like she can't decide if she thinks Ben's being mean or funny. He makes a face back and then they're both laughing.
"I was going to put it right there," she says, reaching past Ben to the far corner of the map. She over-balances and ends up tipping into him and suddenly the room goes quiet and still, the two of them stuck together like magnets.
Ben keeps waiting for her to pull away, but she doesn't.
"Ben," she says.
Her hand is pressed against his chest, right over his heart; he can feel it when she moves her thumb the tiniest bit. He wonders if he should take a step backwards. He probably he should but... He doesn't want to.
His hand is still on her waist, where it landed when she slipped and he tried to catch her. Her hair's falling in her face again -- from when she slipped or from talking so excitedly or just from the long day, Ben doesn't know. Without thinking, he tucks it behind her ear. Leslie's breath hitches, Ben can feel it and hear it, the same way he can feel the electricity in the room, just like before a storm. His brushes his thumb against her cheekbone, his fingers still in her hair.
Leslie stares up at Ben and blinks once, twice. She isn't pulling away.
Ben's brain is all static white noise when he leans in to kiss her. Leslie gasps right before she opens her mouth under Ben's; the hand she has on his chest slips, like she's looking for something to hold on to. Her mouth tastes like whiskey and chocolate. Ben feels like his entire body is buzzing.
Leslie slides her hand from his chest to the back of his neck, her nails dragging against his skin lightly enough to send a shiver down his spine. She tugs on his hair, uses that to change the angle, opens her mouth wider, pulls Ben closer, and everything is fucking amazing.
He thinks of the map rolled out on the desk when he backs her towards the wall -- she'd never forgive him if even a centimeter of it got wrinkled. When her back hits the wall, Leslie fits her leg between his and arches into him, just enough to make Ben groan. He can feel Leslie's lips curve into a smile.
"What?" He pulls back just enough to be able to look at her without going cross-eyed.
She's still smiling. "Nothing," she says, and then she's leaning up to kiss him again, catching his bottom lip between her teeth. Ben groans again and that's apparently all it takes for everything to change, because things go from slow and sweet to frantic in the time it takes for him to press Leslie back against the wall.
She makes a surprised sound and Ben almost hesitates but then her hand is scrabbling down his back, pulling at his shirt, and he does the same, slides his hand under the hem of her shirt and pushes it up, up, up so his fingers tracing along the path of her spine. He kisses along the column of her throat, her jaw, wet, open-mouthed kisses while she cards her fingers through his hair, her fingers mapping the bumps of his skull. She shifts, hitches her leg over his hip, and then they both groan. Leslie grinds her hips, her fingers digging into his shoulder when his hips jerk in response. She swallows up his answering moan.
When her phone starts buzzing, vibrating its way across Ron's desk, they both jump. For a second, before he realizes what it is, Ben thinks oh shit. He can feel his face going hot. They're still at work -- still in her boss's office, oh god -- and even though it's late and empty, they shouldn't be here. They shouldn't be doing this here. Jesus.
Leslie's breathing heavily -- they both are -- her face against Ben's neck, her breath warm against his skin, coming in quick, shallow bursts like she can't get it under control. He wants her to ignore the call, maybe come back to his place, or invite him to hers, but he knows she won't.
She presses a quick kiss to his jaw before she slips out from between him and the wall.
"Leslie Knope," she says, all business as she turns away from him. Ben leans forward, his head on his arm against the wall, and tries to get his bearings.
"I'm really sorry," she says for the fiftieth time as they walk into the parking lot. "It's just, you know, tomorrow is the big day and Ron finished this project --"
"Leslie," Ben says, reaching out to catch her hand. He tugs and then they're face-to-face. Her lips are still swollen. He tries not to focus on that. "I get it. It's okay."
She smiles softly. "Good." She twists her hand so their fingers are tangled, and then she leans forward and kisses him again, her tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip. It's enough to make Ben wish she wouldn't leave.
Leslie pulls back and smiles at him again. She squeezes his hand quickly and then she's unlocking her car and climbing inside.
"See you in the morning!" she yells out the window, waving as she drives away.
Ben sits inside his rental for a while, his head on the steering wheel. He doesn't think about tomorrow.
There's a wooden plaque at his desk in the morning. It's got a signed picture of Freddy Spaghetti lacquered onto it and PAWNEE HERO etched onto a gold plate underneath. Ben stares at it for a long time. If this was the project Ron called Leslie about --
"Like it?" Leslie asks.
Ben looks up to find her standing in the doorway. He looks back down at the plaque. "Low blow."
She looks around like she's a spy checking for surveillance before she walks over to Ben, until she's crowding him up against his desk.
"Did it work?"
"How about we discuss it over lunch later?"
"Or dinner?" Leslie tilts her head, smiling. Ben nods and she nods back. "Sounds good."
Ben looks down at the plaque again, tracing the lettering with his fingers. That's probably why he's caught off-guard when she kisses him, her tongue tracing the seam of his lips until his mouth parts and she tentatively licks her way inside. Ben drops the plaque onto his desk with a dull thunk and wraps an arm around Leslie's waist.
When they break apart, Ben coughs quietly. "You know, this could be considered bribery."
Leslie's mouth fall open and her cheeks go pink and then she realizes he's kidding and says, "Well, is it working?"
"Probably not in the way you intended."
"How did I intend it?" she asks. He stares at her and she stares back, smirking.
"Come on," he says eventually, "We're going to be late." There's a joke about shutting down the entire Parks Department on the tip of his tongue, but he bites it back.
The walk down feels like a death march, tense and quiet.
"So." He bumps Leslie's shoulder with his. "Library budget later this week. Rumor has it they're going to have to close a whole branch."
He watches Leslie's face break into a grin.