Leslie was no stranger to having crushes on people at work. There was Mark, of course. And before Mark, there was Michael from payroll. It could be kind of exciting - the way her heart would race every time they walked past the Parks Department, or how she couldn’t stop smiling when she bumped into them in the courtyard. She was almost guaranteed to see them everyday, and yet it still felt like a wonderful surprise.
Ben was different.
Ben was a very concentrated, hard-to-breathe type of crush, which made meetings like this one - when it was just the two of them - extremely difficult to focus in. When there was a group of them, it was easier, because she could distract herself with Jerry’s mumbling or Tom’s extravagant ideas. She could lean into the agenda and focus on the words tumbling from her mouth as she explained budget plans and park maintenance schedules. She didn’t even have to look at him, if she didn’t want to. She always did, of course, but it wasn’t so bad when she was aware that the room was full of people listening to her.
Ben had called Leslie and asked her to come into his office to go over some numbers. He hadn’t specified what numbers exactly, but he didn’t have to: she’d stopped typing the proposal she was working on and found her way to his desk within ten minutes.
He was wearing her favourite of his shirts. It was deep blue, and checkered, of course. His jaw was collecting a shadow already. Leslie wondered what it would be like to run her fingertips over that stubble, have it scratching her neck - see? She was hopeless when it was just the two of them.
“Leslie. Hey.” Ben looked up from his computer. He looked a little stressed, but his eyes softened upon seeing her.
She slid into the chair across from his desk, “Hey. You said you needed to see me about some numbers?”
“Yeah.” He said, his voice deep as he started shifting papers on his desk. “Hang on…”
She watched him flick through binders and shuffle through large stacks of paper. He was usually pretty organised - things must be getting pretty hectic for him and Chris. She wanted to offer to help, but the selfish part of her heart was relishing this moment to just see him. To see his furrowed brow, the small parting of his lips as he said sorry, the creeping annoyance behind his eyes as he couldn’t find what he was looking for.
“Finally.” He handed her a green binder, one that she had dropped on his desk a few days earlier. “I just wanted to check the amount you listed under the budget for… rubber ducks?”
He looked at her with a questioning look, but it was mixed in with some sort of affection.
“Well, you can’t have a Rubber Duck River Race without rubber ducks.”
“Right.” Ben looked down at the budget in Leslie’s hands, reading upside-down. “$4000 worth of rubber ducks, though?”
“Yes, it’s so all of the kids can decorate their own duck.” She said, as if that should be obvious.
This was her one solace from her crush - when he was trying to take something away from her. Usually money. Then, and only then, did she forget the affect he had on her and become her usual, non-compromised Leslie.
“Ben. You said that I could hold the duck race if I got a couple of companies to sponsor us, which I did. As you can see here -” She turned the page, finding the sheet where she had detailed all of the companies who had offered up craft tables and decorations. She’d even gotten a few lifeguards to volunteer for the event. She twisted the book so it was facing the right way for Ben and held it up, defiantly.
“Sure.” He nodded, “But none of those sponsors have offered to help with buying the rubber ducks - let alone the cost of setting up nets in the river - and we just can’t afford to be spending money on non-essential stuff at the moment. I’m really sorry.”
“Non-essential?” She huffed, and she flicked through the pages again, knowing she’d added one titled, ‘Why This is Essential’ somewhere.
“Leslie.” Ben said, his voice soft but final. He reached out his hand to stop hers, which he did, but he also made one of the mid-flip pages slice Leslie’s index finger.
“Crap on a -” She whispered, pulling her hand back in shock as a drop of blood formed on her finger. The binder fell to the floor, clattering in a dramatic fashion. She clamped her spare hand around her finger, trying to stop the blood and hoping it would stop the throbbing. It didn’t.
“Shit, Leslie, I’m sorry.” Ben stood up, panicked, even though rationally he knew it was only a paper cut. “I’ve got plasters in here somewhere.”
Leslie watched him rummaging through the cupboards behind his desk. He sounded frantic, and even though she was still mad at him about the ducks and now the sliced finger, it was nice to see him worried about her.
“Here.” Ben had joined her on the other side of the desk. He sat in the chair next to hers, adjusting it so he was facing her. Leslie couldn’t help but be acutely aware of how close his legs were to hers. She wondered if he was aware too, if he cared. “May I?”
He motioned towards her hand, so she nodded. He took her hands in his and placed them in his lap. He grabbed a wipe from the first aid kit and smoothed it across her finger. Leslie couldn’t keep her eyes off Ben’s face - it was softened and focused on his work. His touch was light and he was being so careful with her. Leslie could almost cry just from the loveliness of it. And also the stinging.
“Ugh, why does it hurt so much?” She winced.
“I’m so sorry, I’m an idiot.”
“No, no, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal, just stings.”
He wrapped a plaster around the cut and inspected his attempt. “That should do it.”
Ben met her eyes, and perhaps it was how close they were, or how intimate this moment felt, but something sparked between them. Ben picked up her hand again, taking far too much care with it for a mere paper cut, and lifted it to his lips. They were soft and the kiss was quick but it was sweet. Ben held her gaze the entire time, almost shyly, and every part of Leslie’s skin was buzzing.
His hand was lingering on hers, but they’d both dropped their eyes like teenagers holding hands for the first time when Chris walked in. Ben dropped her hand quickly and stood up.
“Leslie Knope, is everything okay?” Chris looked between the pair.
Leslie smiled at Chris, trying to ignore the burning in her cheeks. “Yes, I just got a paper cut and Ben was giving me a plaster.” She held up her finger as proof.
“I see. Paper cuts are particularly frustrating.”
Ben and Leslie nodded, and Chris disappeared into his office. The moment was well and truly over, so Ben retreated back behind his desk. Leslie squared her shoulders.
“The rubber ducks?”
Ben sighed, “The rubber ducks.”