Actions

Work Header

Getting Here is Only the Beginning

Chapter Text

“Go for Leslie!” Leslie Knope says brightly into her surveillance microphone, already on her feet and out of the cramped Assistant Director's office. Weaving through C-stands and walking along the soundstage's fire lane, she is by the stage door in record time, greeting the actors arriving for the day's shoot. Leslie hands them contracts, instructs the background actors to hang tight in the holding area, and looks out of the door toward the Hollywood sign beyond.

This is her life as a Key 2nd Assistant Director.

The job is an amalgamation of two worlds, that of an office – managing paperwork and giving people their call times to set – and that of hands-on, standing on her feet action – keeping an eye on actors going through hair and makeup, directing the background actors, and inviting the cast from their trailers to set. Leslie loves every minute of it.

Though she has a habit of claiming any show she currently works on is her favorite to date, this show has topped all others since arriving on her first day. Pawnee is a children's show about a fictional small town in Indiana inhabited by both puppets and humans. It teaches children life lessons about sharing and contributing to the community, and in its ninth season, the ratings are still strong. The children in Leslie's neighborhood cannot believe that she gets to work with the likes of their favorite puppets Yachter Otter, Li'l Sebastian, and Fairway Frank. Truthfully, Leslie can't believe it either.

She supports the 1st Assistant Director, Ron Swanson, who, beyond breaking down scripts and creating a shooting schedule, is married to the soundstage and instructs when people are needed, when to roll sound and camera, and when the day is wrapped. While he stands still, she runs around on his team's behalf.

Ron hired Leslie four years ago to work as a 2nd 2nd Assistant Director under the Key 2nd Lindsay Carlisle Shay. Whereas Lindsay abused her seniority over Leslie, turning down perfectly good ideas because she didn't believe Leslie was experienced enough or had the right tough attitude to work in production, Ron noticed that Leslie did the work of both positions with a smile on her face that made the entire crew happier to come in early or stay late. He fired Lindsay before Leslie's second season on the show and promoted Leslie who had more than enough days and gumption to become the Key 2nd. His only caveat was to cut the fat in his department and to end superfluous spending, so there would be no 2nd 2nd hired. It would be up to him, Leslie, and their production assistant to carry the production.

Leslie took on the challenge with energy, embracing being the first one on the set often before the sun even came up and the last one to leave, lit by the studio lot's overhead lights as she walked to the parking lot. And years later, she still parks her car and beams at everyone from guards to interns as she swipes her card through the reader at security. She knows all of her crew members by name and never resents her job, even with the difficulties that come with it.

For instance, April Ludgate, the production assistant, often forgets her job title and refuses to assist the production by appeasing certain guest stars. Leslie has had to apologize profusely when April yells, “Get your own coffee, craft service is right there!” April also hasn't mastered the correct way to invite actors to set, mumbling “Get out of your trailer, or don't. Whatever,” instead of politely informing them that the production is ready for them. Leslie thinks that April lacks direction, not knowing a position she'd like to work down the line or what department she's interested in.

From the get-go, Leslie has wanted to become the president of a network she'll create to educate children. While the most direct route to work for a network is to be an assistant to an executive, that's not the active approach Leslie enjoys taking. Instead, she has jumped from children's show to children's show since her mother, a retired Unit Production Manager now on the union's board, got her her first production assistant job over a decade ago. Leslie hasn't asked for any assistance in finding a job since, moving her way up based on her work ethic alone.

Marlene Griggs-Knope did teach her daughter one thing, however: Balance the line between keeping your crew in check and being their friends. That way, it's easier to say no and get what you want. Leslie hates manipulating people, though, and has found that she's naturally fostered real friendships with the department heads, even when she has to say no to their expensive, excessive ideas.

Tom Haverford, the show's costume designer, insists on approaching famous clothing designers to create tiny outfits for the show's puppets even though Leslie tells him repeatedly that children don't know who the designers are and most of the puppets don't wear clothes to begin with. Donna Meagle, the show's craft service person in charge of catering and feeding the crew, wants to treat them to luxury comfort foods and coffee drinks despite the limited budget she has. She also hates background actors and tries to swat them away from her breakfast spreads, leading Leslie to intervene and insist that everyone be fed. Jerry Gergich is the production coordinator up in the production office, and without fail, he manages to misplace contracts or hand April the wrong documents to be signed.

Even the director, who is normally the easiest person for Leslie to cater to while still being honest with on set, has larger-than-life ideas for their small program. Andy Dwyer is a full-on creative type, taking every aspect of the show, every action line in the script, and makes it explode on screen (figuratively, thank goodness). His hiring as director is one of the main reasons Pawnee avoided cancelation after its third season, and Leslie came on two seasons later with Andy's implementations in full swing. A-list actors have since begged to come on the show at their kids' insistence, and while Leslie rolls her eyes at some of Andy's requests for flashier lights and on-the-spot wardrobe changes into brighter colors, she's thankful that he has kept the show afloat.

The only crew member who can do no wrong is set decorator Ann Perkins, Leslie's best friend and declared most beautiful person. While Leslie doesn't have much time to spend on the weekends, trying to accumulate sleep for the week and get ahead on her work, she makes time to spend with Ann and talk about anything but work. It's sometimes hard as Ann is dating Mark Brendanawicz, the show's construction coordinator and who Leslie had a one night stand with after her last show's wrap party. But she doesn't think about that often; her schedule doesn't allow for dating, especially outside of the entertainment industry.

Pervious boyfriends like police officer Dave Sanderson could never accept that Leslie works for over twelve hours every day and comes home to talk to the crew about their call times over the phone, eat a quick bite, and sleep before starting the whole process over. Ann introduced her to Justin, a location scout on an hour-long procedural television show, but his work of taking the production to different places never meshed well with Leslie's of working on shows that crafted sets from blank canvases on soundstages. She's been single ever since, and it's fine, really.

“April?” Leslie asks, adjusting her walkie talkie where it sits on her hip, covered in pink tape and labeled with her name in perfect, blocked letters.

“Yeah?” April responds.

Leslie really needs to get April in the habit of saying her own name when using the walkie. “Can you check in hair and makeup to see if they're ready for Perd?”

“Copy.”

Stealthily, Leslie wanders over to Perd's trailer to standby. He's a local reporter who's playing a similar role on the show, interviewing the children of Pawnee after they end the feud with the children of Eagleton who didn't want to play with them.

“Send him in,” April's static voice rings in Leslie's ear.

“Copy that, sending him over!” Leslie says while knocking on Perd's door.

He opens the trailer with the same expression Leslie sees on her evening newscasts. “The story of this reporter is that he is opening the door and receiving direction.”

“Hi Perd,” Leslie greets him sweetly, trying to let go of any annoyance at the way he talks. “We're ready for you to go to hair and makeup. Let me walk you over.”

Once he's set in the chair, Leslie walks a safe distance away before calling Ron on the walkie.

“Go for Ron,” he says with the same straight, no-nonsense voice he uses for all of his correspondence.

“Perd will be camera ready in thirty minutes. That gives us enough time to camera block with stand-ins and roll,” she checks her watch, “ten minutes ahead of schedule.”

“Good girl.”

Leslie takes the time to warn Paul Iaresco, their Unit Production Manager, regarding sending down the showrunners and letting the executives know. Paul is a decent UPM, if a little too forgoing of the reigns in the way of letting the AD department run the show and just keep him in the loop. He manages the show's budget and is technically the crew's boss; Paul stays under the radar, has very few altercations with Ron, and wraps each episode under budget. The only thing he splurges on will be certain guest stars and the crew's wrap party, with a nice treat like an ice cream truck here or there.

California's lack of tax incentives to keep the little production it has means remaining under budget is the only way to keep shooting Pawnee there. Other states offer tax cuts to entice shows to be shot there, and often, shows will just pack their bags and move from Los Angeles to another city. While Leslie would gladly travel wherever, as she is more attached to Pawnee than she is to LA, the incentives' stipulation is that the production creates jobs for the people of that state. They can't bring Leslie or other crew members over. She hopes it never comes to that, taking extra care to hire just enough background actors and working to keep the production ahead of schedule to avoid meal penalties. Anything to do her part and keep her job.

Unbeknownst to her, the fate of Pawnee is at stake with the arrival of two network representatives.

Chapter Text

Monday marks the start of every new episode, beginning early with the crew for a production meeting. Ron leads the meeting, giving a bland read of the action lines in the script that dictate instruction to certain departments.

“Li'l Sebastian's barn needs to be decorated with photos of him from the Harvest Festival. Post will grab screenshots from the festival episode, and you'll put it together Perkins,” Ron says, briefly looking up from his script to Ann.

“Yes, sir,” she replies quickly, Ron already onto the next line.

Whereas Ron reads straight from his script, Leslie has a binder in front of her at the long table, checking off every note that Ron gives to match her own. She restrains herself from groaning each time Andy interrupts, having to correct him often with the exact term he's thinking of.

“The one where the camera's on that big crane machine! You know, it looks like it's flying by and looking over everything?” Andy's wild arm flailing doesn't actually clarify anything.

“You mean a camera jib?” Leslie asks.

Andy nods excitedly, repeating the word “jib” to himself, humored by the word.

“Son, we are not getting a camera jib,” Ron begins firmly. “We'd need a jib tech, and the set's not big enough to house it.”

Paul has a look on his face like he's considering shelling out the extra money. “Actually--”

“What if we got risers? We could put risers on one of the cameras and we'll get that overhead shot you want,” Leslie suggests. Risers would also be a fraction of the cost and wouldn't require an extra crew member, but she leaves that unsaid.

“That's cool, too,” Andy responds, and Ron pats Leslie on the back as he powers through the rest of the script.

Proud, Leslie smiles and looks around the table. Ann gives her a small thumbs up, but Leslie's too distracted to return it. Behind Ann in the row of chairs for extra crew are two men she's never seen before.

One has a tall, fit build with perfect posture and a very nice suit. He's reading the script with a grin on his face, turning each page only after its thoroughly read. The man beside him is smaller in stature, his script rolled in his hand and his expression reading unimpressed. He's wearing a plaid shirt rolled up nearly to his elbows with a nice jacket and tie. The silver watch on his wrist is impressive too. Leslie guesses they're guest cast, though they look entirely too official and clean-cut to play the role of Li'l Sebastian's farmer friend and the park ranger.

When the smaller man catches her eye, she looks away quickly, hoping that in doing so, her hair will block her face. For the rest of the production meeting, Leslie steals glances over to the men, mulling over who they might be. Ron wraps it up by hitting his hands to the table and starting the journey over to the table read. As she is about to walk over and introduce herself to the mysterious guests, Tom asks her how many background they're going to have for the birthday party scene. Sidetracked, Leslie opens her binder to give him numbers, looking up once to see the men head over to the read too.

The table read is held in a nicer room two buildings down from their soundstage. The cast of Pawnee, additional guest stars for the week, the writers, network executives, and some essential crew all find their seats. The cast sits around an oblong table with their name cards displayed before them and reads the table draft of the script while Andy reads action lines excitedly. The writers take note of what jokes and lines work as well as the ones that fall short.

Leslie sits further back in the room to make note of cues she or April will give to the actors when they start rehearsing. One row in front and a few seats to the left sit the two men from the production meeting. If they're not sitting at the table, they can't be cast. That leaves few options.

The tall one laughs hugely when Fairway Frank tricks one of the children into thinking Li'l Sebastian wants clothes for his birthday, and the child exclaims she eventually found clothes at Old Neigh-vy. To be fair, the joke makes Leslie giggle too, but the smaller man just nods when the taller one jabs him with his elbow.

Following the table read, the writers and executives stay in the room to discuss the script while the actors and crew head back to stage to prepare for rehearsal. Judging by the two men staying put, Leslie believes they're just a couple of extra executives who want to observe production. Once back on stage with that mystery solved, she dons her walkie along with Ron and April and eats a quick bite while she still can.

Donna knows Leslie well enough to put out waffles on a Monday, and sneaking into Donna's office (really, a small kitchen), Leslie reaches into the fridge and squirts enough whipped cream to cover her waffle and then some. Once the sugary breakfast is downed, she emerges to watch the starting rehearsal. The puppeteers grab their respective puppets and wait for Andy to give them stage directions, each situated behind a well-placed counter or table to not be seen.

The process can be long at the start of every scene's rehearsal, so Leslie takes the time to fill in a blank call sheet with all of tomorrow's call times. The loud squeak of the stage door opening draws her attention away, and she watches as the two men from earlier walk in toward the classroom set. Taking her initiative to make everyone feel welcome on the stage, Leslie strides toward them while they're still far away so as to not disturb the cast.

“Hi there,” she holds out her hand to the taller man, “I'm Leslie Knope, 2nd AD.”

With a bright smile that could light the room, he shakes her hand firmly. “Chris Trager, President of Live-Action Production at Jolly TV. And this,” he motions to his partner, “is Ben Wyatt, Vice President.” The name sounds familiar, but Leslie attributes it to probably reading it in some article about Pawnee.

Ben shakes her hand, his grip slightly less firm, but the corner of his mouth turns up. “Nice to meet you,” he says quietly.

Leslie nods, looking between the two. “I guess this is no small trip for you two with Jolly TV's headquarters in New York. No one told me you were coming, or I would have suggested a more interesting production day. Say, a run-through day or--”

“Actually Ms. Knope,” Ben cuts in, “we're here to see the entire production, all the day-to-day aspects. We spoke to Jerry Gergich about our interest in coming out, and he gave us the appropriate call time for today.”

Holding in her damning of Jerry for neglecting to inform her that two very important individuals from the network that produces and holds the fate of their show were coming to visit, Leslie simply inclines her head. “Well, feel free to watch the rehearsal. Monday rehearsals end early in the day to allow the children to complete their school hours with the studio teacher. And frankly, half the script changes after the table read, so why spend too much time on it? Am I right?”

Neither Chris nor Ben share her joking enthusiasm, though Chris at least tries to smile, and she regrets her careless blunder of words. Leslie supposes they don't have a lot of set experience, traveling from production to production to watch from the monitors before returning to their offices and green-lighting another script to production while canceling another show without a care for the hundreds of people it employs. To her, executives hold power in their hands that they don't quite fathom themselves.

But the president and vice president of production coming to set? Her hands are sweating with nerves. From their lack of conversation with others, they're trying to stay under the radar. What's going on?

At the end of rehearsal, Leslie asks April to escort the children to school. Greg Pikitis is the only real worry, always trying to flirt with April and the other young women on set to avoid another boring lesson, but once April nearly drags him out, the rest of the crew is left to clean up.

“Excuse me, everyone,” Chris calls from the middle of the set, Ben awkwardly moving to fall by his side. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves: I'm Chris Traeger and this is Ben Wyatt. We're here from Jolly TV to observe your production for the next couple of weeks. I have literally never been so excited in my life to visit as set such a Pawnee. All of us at Jolly love the show, so how about a nice round of applause for all of your hard work?”

The crew claps, the sound resonating off the soundstage walls. A weird feeling settles in Leslie's stomach, a weight not unlike dread making her question Chris and Ben's presence while the rest of the crew seems enthusiastic to have their work recognized. The network has sent them muffin baskets and food truck catering as thanks in the past, so these two showing up out of the blue strikes Leslie as unnecessary and odd... unless there's something else at play.

Once the crew starts to dissipate, leaving the Grip and Electric departments to start lighting the sets and Ron to gather his things so Leslie and April can finish up the day, Chris and Ben no longer hold the spotlight.

“I'm going off walkie for ten. Text me if you need me,” Leslie says into her surveillance while approaching the two men. She powers off the walkie, pulling the earpiece out so that it dangles against where it's clipped on her shirt. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” She asks them.

Chris shakes his head in a somehow still-pleasant manner. “I'm sorry, Ms. Knope. I have a meeting with some of the local executives to attend. Surely Ben can be of assistance, though.” With just a few steps of his long legs, Chris is already halfway to the door.

“Mr. Wyatt--”

“You can call me Ben,” he interrupts.

“Ben, I'm sure you don't know exactly what my job entails, but let me tell you that the last thing I want at the end of the day is someone to feed me crap,” Leslie starts.

Before she can continue, Ben gestures to the door. “I think this is a conversation we should have with coffee.”

Bewildered, Leslie follows him without protest. Maybe she's desperate for answers, maybe she's remembering that she only drank half of her coffee during the production meeting before April threw it out to clean off the table, but she's right by Ben's side as they walk to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on the studio lot.

There's an ounce of Leslie that's happy to show off to him that the baristas know her and her usual: a coffee with added vanilla, steamed milk, and plenty of whipped cream. It feels like she matters, like she makes an impact as she drops money in their tip jar while Ben looks on. She can't resent network executives entirely as she wants to run a network, but she can wish they were less aloof to the individuals who work so hard to make their shows enjoyable to the audiences they try to reach.

If the network wants a show to look nice beside just telling a story, they need the workers in Grip and Electric, they need the Director of Photography, and they need the camera operators. Sets need to be dressed just as much as the actors do; Leslie's call sheet is full of names of people who matter as much as she does. She carries the thought along with her coffee to a table outside with Ben.

“To argue your first point, I know what your job entails, Ms. Knope” he says, pausing to sip from his iced coffee. “I used to work in production.”

Then it clicks. “You're Benji Wyatt! You were the showrunner of Ice Town!” Her exclamation makes Ben duck, clearly embarrassed by the title.

“Yep,” he responds, popping the 'p' with his lips. “I definitely was the showrunner. I ran that show... into the ground. It wasn't enough that the characters alluded to the winter sports complex; I needed to see it. Money was spent on building the set, the network tried to market it as a big televised event, but it fell flat. The ratings didn't meet expectations, and Ice Town was canceled. So, I decided to work my way up the network ladder to give shows a chance and have a say in the matter.”

His story is uplifting to Leslie. Perhaps Ben's here to do something good after all and keep Pawnee going. She takes a moment to really look at him. Squinting against the sun, Ben is undeniably cute. He clearly doesn't take his image too seriously, settling for plaid shirts and slightly unruly hair that's slicked with just a little product. The point of his nose makes him look youthful – a perfect image for a children's network vice president.

“So...” Leslie trails off, licking the whipped cream off of her coffee's lid, “why are you two here, then? Or is that confidential? You can call me Leslie, by the way.”

“Well Leslie, Jolly TV is, as you previously mentioned, located in New York, so it's costly for us to maintain a Los Angeles office and keep executives local to accommodate the one production that shoots out here. There has been talk to potentially end Pawnee after one more season, but I don't see that as a plausible solution,” Ben says, gesturing with his hands opened.

Leslie bites her lip. “Well that's good, right? It sounds good to me. Why come all the way out here, though, if you're so intent on saving money?”

“That's the thing. It would save a lot to move Pawnee to New York. We already edit there and get a nice tax break. But the entire production? You want to work for a network, right? You can see that's thousands of dollars saved per episode and allows for crossovers with our other shows along with--”

“No,” Leslie cuts in, disregarding his correct guess that she wants to work for a network, “crossover episodes are not going to win me over, Benji or Ben or Mr. Vice President. Because if you move production to New York, real people are going to lose their jobs out here. Real people who made your network a hit show on a soundstage with real feelings--”

“The soundstage has feelings?”

“They've shot a lot of great TV and movies there and there are rumors that it's haunted, but that's not the point! You want to justify having your offices out here? Shoot more shows out here and create new jobs for people in need. But if you take this show away, you're ruining the livelihood of all of these people.” Leslie drops her folded up call sheet for the day on the table for him to see their names and shoves her earpiece back into place while switching on the walkie and clicking the mic to talk. “I'm back, guys. On my way to stage.”

Looking pointedly back to Ben who looks like a casualty in her one-sided war of words, she stomps back to stage. Leslie realizes halfway there that she left her coffee at the table. She's lost her appetite for its sweetness anyway.

April bombards her the second she steps foot into the AD office on stage, asking, “What was that all about? You never go off walkie,” before Leslie can even sit down.

“Don't worry about it, April,” she deflects, opening up the call sheet document to start working so they can get out in a timely manner.

Per usual, April is avoiding work, turning around in her office chair in between plugging walkies in to charge. Leslie finishes a call sheet and moves on to the production report, asking April to read off the hours of the crew for the day.

“Tom didn't actually work, so I don't think we should put anything in.”

“April.”

“Fine. He worked 8 to 5 with a half hour lunch from 1-1:30pm,” she reads.

Typing in the information, Leslie sighs. “The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can yell at Jerry.”

As if those are the magic words, April springs into action, locking up trailers and gathering all the time sheets she can. After every completed task, she looks back to Leslie. “Can I watch?”

“For the last time, no April,” Leslie bites out, at her wit's end.

Grunting, April relents. “I'll just get Brandi in the production office to record it on her phone.” She takes the finished call sheet up to the office for distribution, leaving Leslie alone with her thoughts.

Perhaps it wasn't the wisest idea to yell at the man who holds her fate in his hand like a tiny bird, but Ben just waltzed in with Chris without a care. Over the years she's worked in production, Leslie has dealt with numerous executives who did the same, ruining takes by walking in while the red light above the stage door was burning – an indication that they're rolling. One such executive, Jeremy Jamm, had the nerve to tell young, production assistant Leslie Knope that he knows they're rolling but they wouldn't be rolling without him anyway.

She's since hardened some, acknowledging that while she can't yell at the higher-ups at the network, she can teach them. But Leslie didn't exactly teach Ben; she rather argued that he would ruin lives with his decision. It's true, but not exactly tactful.

Finished with as much as she can get done that evening, Leslie lets April go home and grabs her bag to head to the office. There she sees Jerry in his office, typing away with just his two index fingers.

“Hi there, Leslie,” he says welcomingly.

Leslie puts her bag down; this is going to be a while. “Jerry, how long would you say I'm up in the production office at the end of the day?”

“Oh gosh,” Jerry begins, thinking, “maybe 15--”

“One hour,” she interrupts sharply. “15 minutes with Paul maybe, but another 45 with you, helping you do your job. I go over who needs a drive-on parking pass. Your job. I go over the people who still don't have the call sheet emailed to them. Your job. And yet, despite all that I help you, you couldn't give me a single heads up that the president and vice president of the network were coming to observe the set and the crew?”

Jerry sinks into his chair. “I'm-- I didn't-- Oh jeez...”

“Leslie,” Paul calls from his office before walking through to Jerry's and standing before her, “I told him not to tell anyone. I can't have the crew panicking about their next paycheck before a decision is even made. I'm sorry that it caught you off-guard, but I want you to know that this isn't about you or anyone not performing well. Heck, even my job's at stake. If they take production elsewhere, you know I'll keep my AD team on for my next show.”

He pats her shoulder and returns to his office. Paul's promise means little to Leslie, as promises are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. The last thing she should do, however, is debate or fight his word if she wants to work again let alone finish what could be her limited time left with Pawnee. So she apologizes to Jerry, goes over her notes with him, and heads home.

Seated on her couch with a glass of wine, Leslie is startled out of repeating her conversation with Ben over in her head by the loud ringtone of her cell phone. She scrambles to find it, suddenly nervous to see it's Ron calling.

“Ron? You never call me unless it's--”

“I know this is an emergency for you Leslie, and that's why I'm calling.” Leslie pauses at that, turning his words over. Ron doesn't wait for her to speak. “Paul told me what's happening and that you know. Look, the best course of action is for us to do our jobs well. No gimmicks, no pleading, just hard work that keeps them happy.”

Leslie runs her hand through her hair, not caring that she's fluffing it out. “Okay, Ron.”

“Good. See you tomorrow,” he tells her before hanging up.

Resolving to do just that, to do her job and make her time at Pawnee resonate, isn't easy. Every fiber of Leslie's being wants her to pull out an empty binder and fill it with ideas. But Ron is right. If she can't convince Ben and Chris to keep the show in Los Angeles, she's going to do her best to convince them that no one can work harder, more efficiently, and with as much passion than she and her crew can.

Chapter Text

Leslie wakes up Tuesday morning several minutes before her alarm rings, the light blue of morning visible through her window. While she would usually take the opportunity to hop out of bed and savor the extra minutes in the shower or catching up on the entertainment trades, she instead remains under the covers and stares at the ceiling. Blinking away each idea to prove to a leading children's network's highest ranking individuals that the production should stay in Los Angeles, Leslie feels hopeless.

Working on a show that hasn't been picked up for another season isn't foreign to her. Dejected crews and dour, cynical actors nevertheless have to keep going until the final episode wraps. Leslie's experience in those situations has never been positive, and imagining Pawnee to be another one of those shows doesn't inspire her to get out of bed.

The shrilling alarm on her phone sounds from across the room. Reminding herself that for now the show is still in Los Angeles on the same studio lot and in the same soundstage she came to work in it on her first, exhilarating day, Leslie does what she does best – persevere.

The stage isn't empty when Leslie enters: Ann is shuffling the hay around Li'l Sebastian's barn set and clashing sounds near the back indicate that Donna must be in. The two head back to craft service to grab some coffee, the sound of DJ Roomba cleaning the nearby wardrobe closets announcing Tom's presence.

“So what do you think those two network guys are here about?” Ann asks as she stirs in some milk.

Leslie contemplates telling Ann the truth but Donna steps in with a box of donuts and a great sense of perception.

“They're either here to cancel us or 'cause they've gotta give the harassment classes. Either way, that Chris guy can get it,” she emphasizes with a donut in hand.

“I advise you don't say he can 'get it' if we have the classes,” Ann suggests.

Tom slides into crafty to give his two cents. “I saw him jogging on the lot and grinning at everyone. I'm telling you, all network execs are weirdos.”

“They also are here to observe us for a while, so I'd keep the negative talk to more private settings,” Leslie says pointedly. “While they're here, just work hard, okay guys? Execs can be up their own butts, and I don't want them to make any decisions because of a poorly timed joke or inappropriate behavior. This is a kid's show; let's be examples of hardworking crew members who can act maturely.”

She leaves the confused bunch to get started on her work before rehearsal starts, slightly guilty for abandoning her friends and their conversation abruptly. Technically, Leslie didn't reveal Chris and Ben's real intentions, so she didn't go against Paul's instructions to avoid causing a panic. Ben was up his own butt the previous day too, disregarding Leslie's position on the crew and freelance employment situation when carelessly talking about moving the production to New York. Who cares if he made valid points? You don't dangle the possibility of unemployment in front of people's faces.

April and Ron are already in the AD office when Leslie walks in. Ron nods to her in silent acknowledgement of their brief conversation the night before, and she boggles down to finishing the production report for Monday. There's a desire to add Chris and Ben's arrival to the notes section, wording it specifically as “The President and Vice President of Jolly TV arrived on set yesterday. Might cause a threat to production, definitely causes a threat to crew's patience.” However, the PR's are sent to the network to overlook production, so Leslie wipes the thought away.

Once her work is finished and printed, she and Ron sign it, and April begrudgingly delivers it to the production office. Meanwhile, Leslie reads the new draft of the script, makes note of significant changes, and announces them to Ron. She wants to breech him for a reaction to all of this, to a future without Pawnee, but his stoic face more than indicates he'll say that shows come and go.

They do, just not so many as important as this one.

Without having a reason to stay with an unresponsive Ron, Leslie wanders back to the camera aisle to monitor who's arriving. Almost the entire cast is present, though Pikitis is cutting it close as usual. Andy is leaning on his rolling podium while flirting with April, trying to hit her with his strip of bacon.

That's just the sort of unprofessional behavior that scares Leslie, so she whispers into her walkie mic, “April, not out in the open where the execs can see.”

“Copy that,” April answers, annoyance dripping through her voice, and she tells Andy that she has to pass out scripts.

Speaking of the two executives in question, Chris and Ben wander in just at 8:30am, the general call time for the crew to prepare for the 9am rehearsal. Their timeliness impresses Leslie, considering they could show up whenever they want to but are at least respecting her given call. Chris doesn't look like he's taken a jog at all, which possibly impresses Leslie more. He looks well put together in another fine suit. Beside him, Ben looks nice in his own way, another plaid shirt and skinny tie, his jacket hanging over his arm that's holding two coffee drinks in a cardboard holder. It seems a little subservient that he would hold Chris' coffee, but Leslie doesn't dwell on it long, walking over in a welcoming, amicable gesture.

“Good morning,” she says, looking between the two. “Rehearsal starts in half an hour, and the producer run-through of the episode with the writers and showrunners present will begin when we finish up, probably around 2:30 or 3pm.” Leslie smiles softly, repeating to herself Ron's words of just proving herself as a worthy member of the crew.

“Leslie Knope!” Chris exclaims, pointing to her with shotgun fingers before moving past and greeting the rest of the crew by name.

She turns to Ben questioningly. “He's good at memorizing names,” he says, shrugging, before taking a beat. “Look, Leslie, I'm sorry. It wasn't fair for me to--”

“No, it wasn't,” she chimes in. “But I also don't want you to say anything else, because I'm sorry for yelling at you. You deserved it; you of all people should know how it feels to have your job ripped from underneath you. You were an insensitive jerk.”

Ben winces. “Are you done?”

“Almost. I haven't told the others about what you're here for. If you do, remember that taking Pawnee from us jeopardizes the security we have had with this job and the ability for people to provide for their families, so try to be a little considerate.” Leslie watches him take her words in, waiting for a response, some indication that he's heard her. “I'm done now,” she clarifies.

“You're relentless,” Ben laughs, his eyes wide and arms up in surrender. “Here, since you left yours yesterday,” he adds, handing her one of the coffees in the cup holder and taking the other for himself.

The cup has her name written on it in sharpie, and one sip is all it takes for her to know it's her usual. “Thank you,” Leslie says, and Ben pushes his lips together in a fine line while walking toward Chris.

“REHEARSAL'S UP!” Ron's strong voice calls, gathering the cast into the first scene's set.

April stalks around. “You heard the man! Let's rehearse this sucker and get out in a solid ten minutes!”

“No, no,” Leslie reassures, “we'll get out when we're done.”

“Solid ten!” Tom exclaims, high-fiving April, and Leslie sighs dramatically, leaning on Ann for support.

While not lasting a mere ten minutes, the rehearsal runs smoothly. Leslie has to control her laughter when Chris walks around the unused sets and tries to rearrange items.

“I'm trying to help the flow of positive energy through this set, Ann Perkins.”

“While I appreciate that... Chris Traeger, this set has been featured in many episodes and switching it around would cause a continuity error,” Ann points out, trying to control her whisper from escalating.

Chris' eyes wander the set. “Could the character have decided to redecorate?”

“The character's a puppet, dude,” she says firmly, crossing her arms. Chris seems to accept that, and pats Ann on the back for a job well done.

When she catches Leslie's eyes, Ann appears ruffled by the experience. Ben seems to be taking a less invasive approach to observing everyone, standing with one leg crossed over the other and perusing a script while occasionally looking up at the commotion Andy causes when he either vehemently dislikes or absolutely loves something.

“Moving on to Scene R – page 34: Li'l Sebastian's party scene! Leslie, can we get some party-goers to stand in?” Ron asks while the crew shuffles down to the park set.

“Tom and Donna! Over there at the bench. April, you will join Ethel by the cake,” Leslie announces. Ethel Beavers, the script supervisor, looks displeased but shuffles over anyway. “Who else?”

Chris raises his arm up. “Ben and I will join!” That news startles Ben from his thoughts in the corner, but he walks over hesitantly without argument.

“Good! Chris, let's put you here,” Leslie says, guiding him by the tree with some of the Pawnee children, and Ben, you and... Oh there's no one left. You and I will sit at this table.” She gestures to a table in the back with a bench on either side.

Ben joins her, taking the seat opposite that faces the back of the set. Leslie wonders if he's shy in front of an audience, if you can constitute Andy, Ron, and the remaining crew wandering around an audience. He must have gone through press interviews with Ice Town, it being his show and the media pandering to showrunners and their vision. She doesn't linger on the thought long, though, reaching for one of her many writing utensils in her pocket to map out the scene.

With quick strokes, Leslie draws a crude outline of the set, marking X's where she wants to place background actors. O's represent the principle cast, and the arrows coming off of them are their movements. Soon, the back of her script is a scribbled mess that she understands fully but looks like the jumbled mess of a madwoman to anyone else. Leslie looks up to see the direction Andy is giving now and finds Ben fixated on her page. When he glances up to her, he looks like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar and quickly turns his head to watch Andy too.

“C'mon guys! This is a party,” Andy says to the room, disappointed, “talk among yourselves! Mingle! Walk around like you're scouting the room but really just looking for chips and the bathroom.”

Pushing away from the table, Leslie gets up first. “Well?” She asks Ben, who's still planted on the bench.

He follows, giving a small wave as they walk together past Chris. While every other group is talking, even April and Ethel as they discuss the latter's raunchy sexual exploit from the night before, Leslie and Ben are silent. Awkwardly so.

“You, uh...” He starts saying, sidestepping to avoid walking into Yachter Otter's puppeteer. “Do you enjoy setting background actors?”

Tucking a stay hair behind her ear, Leslie hums affirmatively. “It's really the only creative part of my job. Working with kids isn't always easy, especially trying to get them to stay still, but it beats just making call sheets and chasing after actors to sign out all day.”

“Yeah, I guess I never thought about how managerial your job is,” he says casually.

“I think of it as adult babysitting,” Leslie jokes, and it put the first real smile on Ben's face that she's seen since he arrived. His smile is nice, brightening his eyes and raising his chin. The motion makes his adams apple more prominent, and it takes Leslie a moment to stop staring at his neck. Damn attractive executives. “Hey, how did you know I wanted to work for a network?” She asks finally, taking her thoughts off of Ben's neck and lean shoulders.

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Ben stops, hanging out by one of the fake trees. “During the production meeting yesterday, you had ideas that didn't just benefit you; they benefitted the production. That's what working on the network level means – making decisions that make money, sure, but also that impact an audience positively.”

“So tell me,” Leslie challenges, her stance strong, “how does moving Pawnee impact an audience positively?”

“All right, that's good everyone!” Ron announces. “Take a half-hour lunch break and then we're back for producer run-through!”

Their conversation ends, not because Leslie wants it to or because Ben doesn't have an answer, as his eyes size her up and his mouth opens with an argument on his tongue. But Leslie has responsibilities. She excuses herself, telling Ben that they'll resume this talk later, and goes to tell Marcia, the studio teacher, that the kids are on lunch.

“They'll be on lunch when it's on their plates and sitting down to eat it,” Marcia says in her competitive know-it-all voice.

Sighing, Leslie watches as each child and their parent goes through the line and grabs food. Once they're all seated, Leslie gestures to Marcia with mocking exaggeration that they're all present before getting in line for her own lunch. There's no sign of Chris or Ben, probably because the commissary on the lot is fancier than Donna's catered lunch and filled with more pronounced diners than a bunch of crew members. It seems as if Leslie and Ben's conversation won't resume until much later.

While Leslie's piling on mashed potatoes, Donna watches over her spread in the corner. “What dirt did y'all get on the execs?” She asks. Leslie has half a mind to shut down the gossip, but she's vaguely interested.

“Chris can get it,” Ann says, impressed, even as Mark protests while grabbing a soda.

“Should I be worried?” He asks.

“Definitely,” Donna answers, but Ann negates it by kissing Mark on the cheek and whispering sweetly in his ear. Leslie mentally notes to investigate that development with Ann later.

Tom dances into crafty, sliding straight to the chicken. “The short one's a nerd!”

“Ben? Really?” Leslie asks, trying not to look too amused or attentive for that matter. Not that she is.

Tom's signature laugh is his answer. “I counted two Star Wars references and his ringtone is 'Beam me up, Scotty.'”

“God, sounds like a total loser,” April groans. “Let's tease him about it until he cries.”

The small room dissolves into chatter about their visitors, hushing only when Ron walks in to grab a second plate of food.

“Chris' behavior toward me is verging on friendly. It's weird, and I don't like it,” his deep voice rumbles. That's enough of a sign for the talk to continue.

Leslie, however, has work to do with April to set up the run-through. April sets up director's chairs as Leslie stands by outside, looking intently at her watch, until there's only five minutes to go. She knocks on trailers to invite actors to set and keeps a look out for the writers and producers to make their way onto stage. Holding open the door for the stampede of people, Chris and Ben slip in too, thanking her for acting as a human doorstop.

The second everyone is on stage, Ron calls the start of run-through. Had he waited, people would flock over to craft service for Donna's post-run-through cookies prematurely, and it would be a disaster. She is not forgiving when it comes to her dessert spread.

“Welcome, everyone! Let's get this show on the road!” Andy yells. “Aaaand, action!”

Producer run-through allows the writers and producers to see the script visually for the first time. Though not completely organized, some actors still reading from their scripts and the sets and props not finalized, it gives an idea of which scenes run too long and what visual jokes need elucidating. Most importantly to Leslie, it provides a feeling of camaraderie for the crew. The production office staff, the writers, and nearly the entire stage crew are present to watch and see their work come together.

When it's time for the party scene, Leslie steps into the set and the rest of the crew that was present for rehearsal follows. Even Chris and Ben step in, the former proudly and the latter nervously. Though she recalls Andy's direction for chatter, now's not the time to discuss the fate of their television show, so when Leslie and Ben take a stroll around the set, they say general statements about the weather quietly.

“And I hear tomorrow's forecast will bring unadulterated cheer from Chris,” Ben mutters under his breath.

“Really? I heard there was a 70% chance of a nerdy Star Trek reference from you,” Leslie counters. Ben tries to stammer out a defense regarding how mainstream the movies are, but Leslie shushes him. “Don't worry, it's cute.” Her word choice startles her. Finding Ben attractive is one thing, vocalizing it another, but she can't just forget who he is and what he represents just because he has a nice smile. She knows better; she has morals after all, and flirting with the enemy is not one of them. For someone who is quick on her feet, Leslie can't think of a way to come back from that comment.

“And we fade to black! That's it everybody!” Andy cheers, racing to be the first to grab a handful of cookies.

Leslie clears her throat. “There are notes up in the showrunner's office for Andy, Paul, and the producers. Otherwise, you're wrapped for the day.”

“Okay,” Ben says calmly, not appearing affected by her earlier compliment but loosening his tie in a way that makes Leslie zero in on his hands. “What's the call time for tomorrow, or do I have to wait for the call sheet?”

“Nah, I'll give you the coveted information. Same as today, with a network run-through at 2pm sharp. See you tomorrow!” Leslie turns away quickly, needing to busy herself with work. She can't get distracted like this, not with a job to do, a job at stake thanks to the man she called “cute” earlier, and the reality that even if he didn't threaten her job, there's no use wasting her breath when he lives in New York and could have any attractive woman instead of a tired-looking, constantly-working woman such as herself.

People like Ben Wyatt, the vice president of a network who get trips to Los Angeles paid for and flashy rental cars, don't fall for the women who slave away on productions. Executives like flashy things, like Ben's fancy watch and women who try hard to look like it's effortless. Leslie's income is more than adequate, but she barely has enough time to put on makeup in the morning. She's certainly not going to work 12 hours in a slinky dress and heels to impress guys, nor does she feel like she has to.

They're simply not meant to be. 

Chapter Text

Waiting for notes with the producers to finish can be torturous. Between the showrunners suggesting new gags that will take time to rehearse and Andy insisting that they have to make the episode bigger, Leslie's always left hanging to make possible adjustments on her end. Does she need to hire more background actors? Does she need to bring the crew in earlier for adjustments?

Thankfully, Ann is on stage to arrange for Greensmen to bring in some real foliage for the park set, and she keeps Leslie company.

“So, what was that whole thing with Chris about?” Leslie asks while nibbling around the crispy corners of a cookie.

Ann looks up from where she's marking the ground for each tree to go. “What? Oh... He's sweet, if a little eccentric. I mean, things are going okay with Mark, but he's not... surprising anymore, you know? The phase of learning new things about each other is over, and it leaves things a little bland.”

“Oh Ann, you beautiful honey suckle,” Leslie exhales, pulling her best friend into a tight embrace, “you lead an exciting life and just need someone who does too. I would say Chris isn't a bad choice, but he's only here for a limited time.”

Ann dismissed the idea, shaking her head and furrowing her eyebrows. “It's not like I'm about to dump Mark, but even so, I don't let things like limited opportunities stop me anymore. Donna taught me once to let go of all those notions that guilt you into working toward relationships instead of having a good time or a fun night. Just because we're in our 30's doesn't mean we can't casually date, Leslie.”

“I know that,” Leslie scoffs, trying to hide that the idea of casually dating terrifies her. Meeting new guys, explaining her job, and staying out until just about midnight because otherwise she'll fall asleep at the bar doesn't exactly instill the notion of fun.

“So... What about you and Chris?” Ann asks suggestively.

“Not my type,” Leslie says. Chris is too active for one. Sure, Leslie is on her feet most of the day, but she wouldn't be caught dead jogging around the lot or doing anything but laying on her or Ann's couch over the weekend. He's also too optimistic, if that's possible, striking her as the guy who has a positive response and spin to every situation. Thinking about potential romantic interests exhausts Leslie with all of the limitations she puts on herself and all the specifics she looks for in men. “Maybe we should focus more on your love life.”

“What about Ben?”

“What about Ben? He's not your type at all, Ann. He's lanky and quiet, kind of a smart ass too. Plus, Ben gives off that comforting vibe, you know the one that makes you want to stay in with him? You love going out,” Leslie says in absolute rebuttal. The idea of Ann and Ben together is absurd, but now Leslie can't stop thinking about the two of them kissing and holding hands. It doesn't sit well in her stomach.

Ann stares Leslie down, nodding at last with satisfaction at Leslie's rushed reply. “Right. Because I was thinking of him for you. You basically described your type.”

Did she? Leslie thinks over the rendition she's painted of Ben in her head. Smart asses annoy her, but confident, intelligent men entice Leslie to no end. Ben seemed to be in his zone when mulling over his network decision during their brief time alone, and though she didn't agree with the direction it was going in regard to her job, there was truth to his blather.

“I don't casually date, Ann, especially not with guys who can just make a call and suddenly we're all unemployed,” she says with finality.

The subject is dropped, much to Leslie's relief, when Andy throws open the stage door.

“Nothing huge has changed, but we might be getting a confetti cannon!” Andy runs past Leslie and Ann, shouting his news into every room.

Hands firmly on her hips, Ann groans at the thought. “I'm going to be pulling confetti out of all the set dressings.”

“And I'm going to have to deal with little snot-nosed kids throwing it around,” Leslie complains, joining in Ann's misery. “Let's hit the Snakehole Lounge Friday night.”

“Let's.”

Because Leslie can't let anything go, especially comments made by a trusted confidant such as Ann Perkins, she drives home that night thinking intently about Ben. The traffic is conveniently heavy that evening through Hollywood, so red brake lights illuminate her as she ponders a night out with him. Would he drop his platinum credit card at a club and order bottle service? Most importantly, would he tip well?

Regardless, Ben still has to give her his full interpretation of the Pawnee situation. Leslie promises herself not to storm off again but to listen... and then rebuke his claims. She can't deny that she's a little impressed by Ben recognizing her contributions to the show. Sure, she doesn't need pats on the back and gold stars for her work, but it's nice to have someone higher up on the proverbial ladder to notice.

Finally at her home in West Hollywood, Leslie heats up a frozen dinner in the microwave and opens her laptop. IMDB is one of her bookmarked tabs, and she can't resist clicking on it and typing in Ice Town. The promotional pictures and cast list show up, along with the show's premise. It's a simple one – An 18-year-old is elected mayor and tries to help the town that's down on its luck. He opts to create a winter sports complex, and the show follows his ups and downs as he does so.

The first season finale marked the completion of the complex, and like Ben told Leslie the previous day, the second season showed off the immense set that cost production thousands of dollars to build. With the loss of major cast members over money disputes and the lack of direction for the mayor and the town to go in the second season, the show could never recover from its irresponsible budget spending and was canceled.

Intrigued, Leslie clicks on Ben's name. Not too much is listed, some credits that begin with writer's production assistant, then writer's assistant, script coordinator, and eventually writer. Ice Town is his first and only credit as executive producer/showrunner, not to mention his last overall credit on the website. From knowing the studio system like the back of her hand, Leslie determines that Ice Town and the other shows he worked on were all shot in Los Angeles. Did working for Jolly TV lead him out of the city, or did he leave Los Angeles for another reason?

The dates catch her attention. Ben's first credit is dated in 1989, making him 18 and presumably fresh out of high school. Ice Town premiered in 1992, indicating that in three short years, he worked his way from the bottom of the writers' category on the call sheet straight to the top. He must have been extremely talented to be given the reigns of a show at the age of 21, but his youthfulness shows in spades when the trailer for the show's opening credits blasts "Whoomp! (There It Is)." The years since were most likely dedicated to working his way up in the network world; it's a shame that he didn't continue writing if he had such a knack for it.

The microwave chimes, and Leslie closes her internet browser swiftly, guilty for having looked too far into Ben's life. It's always good to stay aware of your co-workers' connections, but Leslie feels like she's snooped and somehow invaded his privacy. Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean she should have sought it out.

She burns her tongue on her lasagna. Serves her right.

Wednesday morning is monotonous to say the least. The similar structure of rehearsal to be followed by a run-through of the episode, albeit a network run-through with a handful of network executives and associates all squeezing to see the sets, drags the day along slowly. On the plus side, the revised script has shortened two scenes remarkably, but there in final scene in capital letters reads: “THE CONFETTI CANNON ERUPTS.”

Oh boy.

Whereas Leslie hopes to have Ron's support in her disdain for a giant, explosive mess-maker, he's giddy. There's no wonder a man like Ron Swanson enjoys working on a children show – the gags reach absurd levels of crazy.

Throughout her morning duties of getting the child actors to school, Leslie doesn't see Chris or Ben wandering around the stage. Even at the 8:30am call time, they're absent. It strikes her as odd, especially after Ben requested his call the day before, but Leslie has an entire crew to look after, so the thought doesn't preoccupy her mind for long.

Definitely not when Mark treads heavily on the concrete stage floor straight to crafty.

“What's his problem?” Tom inquires quietly with his hands full of child-sized birthday suits.

Leslie has a vague idea when Ann walks in moments later looking, well, like she's just broken up with someone. Wanting to avoid a shouting match in front of the crew, Leslie quickly grabs Ann by the elbow and pulls her outside. “What happened, Ann? When you brought up your Mark issues yesterday, I didn't know you two were at catastrophic levels of done-ness.”

“I dunno, Leslie,” Ann says, putting her face in her hands. She looks so defeated. “I saw him and he just had this big, beaming smile on his face because of me. I thought about our conversation and how I feel about him, and Mark didn't feel like the end game. All I could do is grimace back at him. Grimace! I couldn't let it drag on any further.”

Hugging Ann with all her might, Leslie tries to pass her strength onto her friend. “I'm so sorry, Ann.”

Wednesdays are the worst. This one might just take the cake.

Mark stays clear of the stage all day, and Ann runs on autopilot, filling Andy's requests for the set furniture to move and eating her lunch without uttering a single word to Leslie. While rehearing the final scene, Ann's facial expression doesn't change once, and without Chris and Ben, it looks more like a gloomy funeral for Li'l Sebastian than a birthday party.

With the network run-through looming, Leslie claps to gather everyone's attention.

“Listen up, guys!” The room silences. “This is Li'l Sebastian's birthday party! That little guy wants to be surrounded by people who love and care about him. You only have to act it out one more time, but if we can't be lively, people who are seeing this for the first time are going to think the scene isn't reading well and they'll cut it. The confetti cannon, too.” Andy groans in protest at the last point in particular.

“That's the spirit, Leslie Knope!” Chris rejoices while walking in from outside. Ben trails closely behind him. “Sorry we missed the rehearsal. We had the most outstanding meeting with our local team and advertisers.”

Donna looks Chris over before glancing at Leslie. “Mm, I bet you did.”

“I did,” Chris responds cheerfully, missing Donna's skeptical tone. “Did we miss anything?”

“Uh yeah,” Tom gushes, saddling closer to Ann, “Ann broke up with Mark. It's amazing 'cause now, she's back on the market.”

Leslie hits Tom on the back of the head, ignoring his whining yelp of pain. “It's not amazing and she's not back on the market, nor is she to be the topic of your gossip.” Turning back to Chris and Ben, Leslie gestures around to the now silent and partially threatened group of crew members. “See? Didn't miss much. Network run-through is in fifteen minutes. I'd love to have you both in the party scene again, and... yep. Crew rally adjourned.”

Leslie rubs Ann's back before leaving the table. It's hard for the crew to jumpstart their conversation with the company of Chris and Ben, not mention with Leslie frustratingly arranging a line of director's chairs in front of each set, pausing to glare at Tom every once in a while. The sound of footsteps approaches her, and she has to take a breath to control herself from verbally attacking whoever wants to put another crack in her resolve.

“Need any help?” It's Ben, his sleeves rolled up and each of his arms gripping a director's chair. The veins on his forearms protrude.

Leslie swallows. “Y-Yeah. Five for each set, thanks.”

Ben carries them over while Leslie slides them across the floor. “Your day sounded great just then,” he deadpans, watching her for a reaction.

“I bet. And your day? Full of lists dictating why Pawnee should move?” Perhaps a full-on attack isn't the right course to take, but the words have left Leslie's mouth. All she can do is stop herself from digging a bigger grave.

“I wasn't privy to the knowledge that you've actually sat in a network meeting, Leslie. We like to present the facts. I personally prefer a pros and cons list,” Ben says matter-of-factly.

“And?” She asks. “Did it weigh heavy on either side? You still owe me an answer as to why moving production across the country will impact an audience positively.”

Placing the last chair down with more force than necessary, Ben eyes Leslie with disbelief. “You still treat this like it's so simple. I didn't cause this, Leslie, your state did by refusing to compete for the film industry. If you want to know the truth, yes – the pros outweigh the cons, but not because of you or because I have some stick up my ass. I need you to separate yourself from this decision or you'll never come to terms with the fact that it's out of your hands.”

“Is that what you've done? Ignored the fact that an amazing, hard-working crew is going to be unemployed because it's out of your hands? Because I don't know if I can,” Leslie admits, looking around the stage like it's already fleeting.

“If money were no object, I would obviously keep production here in Los Angeles. Chris and I won't put an answer down until we return to New York at the end of next week. But I'd hate for this hostility to continue between the two of us,” Ben says, squaring his shoulders back. “Can we just have a truce, please?” His tone is almost pleading. Leslie has to tear her eyes away from where she's been looking staring at the floor so she can meet his. 

There's nothing to be gained by Ben in being friendly with her, at least from a monetary or political standpoint. He won't earn brownie points, and their working relationship doesn't even have to exist – Ben could very well get the call sheet from Jerry and never give her the time of day. Despite the urge to attack his reasoning for being here, an inkling of Leslie reminds her that he makes important, impacting decisions for the good of a network whose aim is to educate children. How can she fault him completely with that reasoning? If he wants to genuinely interact with her, then who is Leslie to stop him? Besides, he likes making pros and cons lists, so there are assuredly good qualities in Ben Wyatt.

“Truce,” she says solidly, extending her hand. Ben shakes it firmly. “Ready to be party pals?”

“Surprisingly, it's going to be the highlight of my day.”


 

Leslie waits until Ben's just taking a sip of water to give him a call time of 6:30am for the following morning's shoot day. He nearly does a spit-take, allowing her a great feeling of accomplishment before she apologizes for her mistake.

“Whoops, sorry, that's my call time. Crew call is 8am for 9am camera blocking.”

Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Ben inclines his head. “That's better, it-- Wait, you have to be here at 6:30 in the morning? Not getting up out of bed and listening to the birds, but be present, here, on this stage?”

“Welcome to production!” Leslie says with mocking delight while patting him on the back. “See you bright and early!”

The early hour she has to wake up at doesn't phase Leslie this point in her career. She's worked shows that didn't wrap until the sun was shining the following day. But it's not going to be easy to wake up at all with the hours dwindling away during her condolence call to Ann.

Apparently, Mark asked Ann out to dinner to talk about why they broke up, insisting that it had something to do with Chris' arrival.

“It didn't, right?” Leslie asks, just to be sure. “Those two execs are stirring up a lot of trouble.”

“No, of course not,” Ann replies, dismissing the idea. “He's hot and all, but I barely know him. I wouldn't break up with anyone because someone attractive stepped into the room. But when we go out Friday, you've gotta have my back. I'm terrible when it comes to rebounding; I make bad decisions.”

After reassuring Ann, Leslie tries to recover the conversation a little to make up for the late hour. “So about next week's script... Are you in charge of Yachter Otter's boat? Because I have a few ideas for the--”

“Yes I'm in charge of the boat, no we're not putting a weird volleyball on board as some homage to how he was lost at sea. That's not even his scripted backstory – you made it up!”

“We'll talk more about it later. I'll take your answer as a solid maybe.”

That night, Leslie dreams that her adaptation of Yachter Otter as a playboy lost at sea looks a little similar to Ben. When she rescues him, he vows to never let his eye stray away from her beauty, and his whiskered mouth presses a ticklish kiss against her cheek.

Leslie almost wishes she has a moment to dwell on that dream Thursday morning, but production days are by far the most stressful. She checks in the background actors – all young children who look tired and cranky to her chagrin – and escorts them to a holding area for Marcia to go over their minor work permits. Meanwhile, Leslie pushes actors through hair and makeup and then to wardrobe, tapping her foot impatiently against the floor when Tom flirts with the women and slows down her system.

The camera crew arrives, and April helps them set up video village for Andy, Ron, Ethel, and the showrunners and executives to watch the taping. Pawnee is shot with four cameras, but due to all of the puppets and sight gags, there is no studio audience. Instead, Thursday and Friday are spent shooting all day, the schedule carefully laid out by Ron.

Though he disdains most work, Ron carves the script for scheduling like a fine steak... often while eating one too. The schedule has to allow for the limited time children can work on set and the various penalties the crew can go into. They must break for a meal every six hours, and working through even one minute after six hours constitutes a costly penalty. As is such, staying ahead of schedule is what Ron dubs “on-schedule.”

Once the cameras each fall into place and their operators fall out to grab some breakfast, Ben wanders onto stage, trying to avoid bumping into the hustle and bustle around him. Leslie sees him and waves him over to her.

“Do you want to hang out by video village or in the greenroom with Chris to watch?” She asks, ready to give April an exact number of chairs needed by the monitors.

“Video village is fine if we won't be in the way. Chris is going to be a few minutes late; he ran out of chia seed or something for his morning shake and went out to get some,” Ben says, perplexed himself by Chris' ways.

Leslie adjusts her surveillance mic clip on her blouse, not sure what to think when Ben's eyes follow her hands. “You know, you two don't really dispel the rumors about Hollywood executives being high maintenance,” she points out.

“Chris, maybe, but I've known him since he was an assistant, getting coffee for the rudest guy I've ever met in my life. He's always been that cheerful, though, and always had the same, damn smoothie for breakfast. That's who he is. But me? How am I high maintenance?” Ben asks incredulously, nearly insulted.

Leslie guffaws. “Look at you, Mr. Fancy Watch with your stylishly disheveled hair and your proclivity for numbers.” That seems to rile Ben up, so she decides to fish for a little information while she's at it. “I'm sure your girlfriend loves when you try to find the slope of her tan lines or however trigonometry works.”

He claps his hands slowly, actually amused. “Firstly, I'll give you one point, and one point only, for your math joke. Secondly, no girlfriend but maybe I'll steal that line--”

“Probably best if you don't--”

“Thirdly, this watch was a gift for myself after the success of Ice Town season one, so technically, yes, it is a fancy watch but it's not a new fancy watch. And lastly, I'm glad you think my hair is stylish because I'm distracted by it 87% of the time when I feel it move with a slight delay every time I turn my head.”

“You are a nerd,” Leslie giggles, “a nerd with real struggles. Stay stylish and get comfy in any of these chairs, but don't expect me or April to get you guys coffee. That might work to impress people in your world, but I don't do with the whole beseeching thing.”

Ben does as he's told and sits in one of the director's chairs. Periodically throughout the day, he gets up to grab food or use the restroom, even making his own coffee. When video village has to shift to accommodate the move into a different set, Leslie notices Ben looking adorably lost in the shuffle. It makes her stomach feel light and warmth flood over her face.

Ron's precise scheduling ensures that background actors are only needed on Thursday. Although genius in the way of saving the production over one-hundred dollars per child, it also makes Leslie's life a living hell in trying to set them into place scene after scene. She has to separate two kids who are fighting and literally run with one who suddenly has to pee even though Leslie has given multiple opportunities for bathroom breaks. But the shooting day ends with a literal bang – that of the confetti cannon blasting at the culmination of Li'l Sebastian's party.

Four cameras have the added bonus of being an insurance policy to shooting the cannon only once but capturing it through different angles. Shooting only one take for the pick-up of the cannon is lovingly referred to as a “oner,” and Ron shouts the word like praise to the heavens as he calls the wrap of the day. The crew cheers, and Leslie signs out all of the principle actors and the background actors (before they make too much of a mess) before rushing in to help clean the confetti from the ground.

Andy jumps into the confetti, rolling around in the multi-colored pieces of tissue paper and tossing them at April. There's no expectation to hand-pick every single scrap, but gathering piles to throw away before it's swept up makes the process more efficient. Leslie wonders aloud if the children playing in it will lead a confetti trail to the parking lot. Ann replies by throwing her handful at a shrieking Leslie and tells her to “find out.”

The fun must come to an end as Leslie has a lot of work to do before she can go home, so she leaves her friends and runs through craft service to grab a seltzer water. Narrowly avoiding bumping into Ben who's hovering by the leftovers of the mini-calzones and nearly salivating, Leslie blushes, her heart still racing from the confetti fight.

“Sorry, we work hard and play hard, I suppose. It's the only way to get through at 14 hour day,” she pants.

Gently tugging away a stray piece of paper from her hair, Ben holds onto it and his mouth turns upward. “Good luck with the rest of it. Same time tomorrow?”

“Actually, you get to sleep in an extra hour tomorrow. Call time is 9am for 10am camera blocking.”

“You really know how to give a guy good news,” he jokes. “Hopefully you get to sleep in too. You deserve it.”

Her bashfulness kicks it. “Well, I mean we all... No, you're right. I've earned it - it's hard work babysitting a cast, crew, and you two. See ya later, Mr. Fancy Watch!”

And Leslie truly looks forward to it.

 

Chapter Text

Leslie knows she's getting in too deep with Ben when she invites the crew to join her and Ann at the Snakehole Lounge after they wrap that evening – a usual end of the week/end of the episode ritual. She's extending the invite to Ron when she sees Ben in her periphery. There's something about him, a catalyzing effect after setting her eyes on him for even half a second that makes her need more – more time with him, more hilarious conversation, just generally more of Ben Wyatt – so she blurts an invite out to him as well.

“If you're interested, it's north of here on Sunset, and we usually go straight from work.” Is that too forward? She should make it sound more open. “Uh, Chris is invited too. It's super casual, come and go whenever, no pressure.”

Ben quirks his eyebrow while shrugging his shoulders. “Yeah, why not? Should be fun.”

Not two minutes later, after she's turned from him and carrying on with her work to grab stand-ins for camera blocking, Tom approaches.

“Can we speak to you in private?”

Leslie looks around; only Tom is before her. “We?” But he's already marching to the main wardrobe room, and Leslie clamors in to find Donna and April there too. “What's this about?”

“This is an intervention,” Donna tells her, crossing her arms. “That boy and his fit friend are thinking about moving production over to New York, and you're inviting them to hang with us? They're not our friends!”

Sputtering, Leslie looks around at all of them. “Who told you? That info is supposed to be under wraps.”

“Jerry did,” April says, pointing out the door to where the production coordinator in question is in crafty, struggling to grab a piece of bacon with a pair of tongs.

“Damn it, Jerry!”

Jerry approaches after hearing his name. “Yeah, Leslie? What can I do ya for?”

“I said 'Damn it, Jerry!' You weren't supposed to tell the whole crew that our network visitors are endangering their jobs. Get outta here!” Leslie huffs, ringing her hands with worry while Jerry leaves dejected, apologizing behind him. “I still think there's a solution to this, guys. We haven't lost the fight yet.”

“So you're befriending them to infiltrate their minds and give them reason to keep the show in LA? That's so evil. I love it,” April says flatly, betraying her true opinion as she purses her lips with delight.

Before Leslie can object that, Tom pats her on the back. “Good call, Leslie. We'll booze 'em up, you schmooze 'em up.”

“No, no, no... You're getting it all wrong. Don't booze either of them up. Just let me handle things, okay? No dirty business or we're going to be in deeper trouble.”

“All right, Knope,” Donna agrees, “we'll stay out of your hair. We got you.”

This can't end well, Leslie thinks, but she hurries out of the room to get back to work and not think too hard about her expectations during what's supposed to be a fun night to relax and help Ann forget her break-up.

It doesn't help that this Friday is lasting particularly long, each scene dragging with Andy's endless notes. “I guess what they say is true,” he begins after a frustrating bout of camera resets to get the exact shot he wants, “the show must go wrong.”

“That's not what they say, son,” Ron informs him, but Andy's already rushing back into the set to move a child one step to the right.

“From the top!” He calls.

It's 9pm by the time Leslie calls security to close the soundstage behind her. Had it been any earlier, she would have rushed home to change out of her jeans, sneakers, and teeshirt, but the rest of the crew is already occupying a corner in the club according to a text message from Ann. Leslie drops off her paperwork in the accounting department's inbox and heads over to the Snakehole Lounge to join her friends.

As she pushes open the black entrance door, loud music that she can vaguely recognize from DJ Roomba's playlist is blasting. The blue lights are flashing, making it difficult to spot anyone, but Ann emerges from around the dancing bodies to lead her over to everyone else. There's no sign of Chris or Ben by the table, just Donna, Tom, Andy, and April.

Before Leslie can lean into Ann's ear to inquire about the executives, Tom gestures to Leslie to come closer.

“They're by the bar,” he near-shouts to be heard.

“Why don't we invite them over?” Leslie asks, confused as to why they're so far away.

Donna wags her finger. “Don't bring them over here. You go over there and pretend to be interested. That's when you strike.”

Rolling her eyes, Leslie takes Ann aside near the restrooms. “This is night is supposed to be about you, my precious, gorgeous Ann. I'm not going to leave you.”

“Go,” Ann insists. “We both know you're into Ben, and I won't tell Donna and Tom a word about it. Just rescue me if I get out of hand. For a second earlier, I almost thought Andy was cute. I don't want to revisit that train wreck of a relationship.”

“I'll be there in a flash. You're the reason best friends were invented,” Leslie says, heartfelt, as she hugs Ann. “Come over with me?”

The two walk side by side, Leslie rushing to comb her hair with her fingers and wipe under her eyes to remove any smudged makeup. How did it end up like this, with her racing to look presentable – attractive, even – for the man who holds her fate in his rather large hands? Is the show even salvageable at this point?

Chris sees them approaching first. Though Leslie can't hear him, from reading his lips she's sure he's reciting her and Ann's names. Ben turns at that, his eyes lighting up to see Leslie. For a moment, she thinks her pulse is matching the thumping bass line of the music, her breath catching in her throat as he stands up and she goes in to hug him, forgetting that they're really not at the hugging point of whatever their relationship is. His arms wrap around her lower back, and all regrets fade away.

“I was starting to think you wouldn't show,” Ben says when they pull apart, both of their arms staunchly at their sides when they remember their present company.

There's awkward silence between all of them after that. Chris opens his mouth to speak, but Ann jumps in first. “Hey Chris, why don't we discuss that feng shui stuff you were telling me about earlier? It'd be nice to keep it in mind for next week's new sets.” She leads him away, turning back to wave at Leslie.

Then it's just Ben and Leslie at the bar, both uncertain where to go next. She takes the seat previously occupied by Chris and he joins her, still working on his first beer when she orders one of her own and takes a long pull from it, downing half the bottle. “It's been a long week,” Leslie says to justify herself when Ben's eyes go wide. “It's not the norm for me to be told my future is hazy. I was never one for Magic 8 Balls.”

“Fair enough. Let me ask you something, though.” Leslie nods for him to continue, sipping again from her bottle and enjoying the feeling the alcohol starts to induce. “You kick ass at your job. You handled a ton of snotty little kids and regularly keep order on what should be a nightmare of a production. I'm sure you'll get an inordinate amount of job offers if Pawnee leaves, so why are you so intent that it stays? Don't take that as me insulting the show or anything... I just can't figure you out, Leslie Knope.”

Leslie blinks, taken back by his question. Ben's interest in her perspective warms her belly. She turns over an answer while swishing a sip of beer around on her tongue. “You know what I hate most about directing background actors? And I know this isn't what you asked but it's an analogy and probably a good one so listen up.” Ben straightens up and puts his head on his hand, feigning having undivided attention. But despite the mocking position, Leslie knows he's listening. “I hate not being able to walk in to fix things all the time. Andy can jump in to move an actor, or come in to tell the kids to act more excited or disappointed. I might have a slight chance to run in and give a direction to the dozens I'm in charge of, but most of the time, Andy's in his zone and I can't interrupt that. I have to leave it be.

“Sometimes there are mistakes – a kid messes up crossing in the background or one looks into the camera. It's not going to be perfect. Pawnee isn't perfect either and no show will be. But by the time we've finished taping a scene, I can accept that despite the flaws, the background actors still blended in and looked nice. Likewise, despite how hard the work can be and how drained I feel by the end of a season, I still hold Pawnee as this renowned show with an exceptional crew. I've never gotten along with so many people who want to make something great and educational. It's where I was given a chance. That doesn't happen every show around.”

Throat parched and nerves kicking in, Leslie downs the rest of her drink, ignoring the thought that she hasn't eaten in a couple of hours and should slow down. Ben doesn't laugh at her, though, or tell her that she's insane for holding Pawnee so highly. He merely takes a swig of his beer and asks, “Isn't it the show you were promoted on?”

“You looked me up?”

Ben turns his face, embarrassed. “Maybe.”

Leslie's stomach bubbles not just from her hoppy beer, and she hums. “Speaking of which, maybe you can answer a question for me because I looked you up.” The words are pouring out of her mouth too quickly. What did her mother tell her once? Loose lips sink ships. Well, the ship's already sinking, so Leslie might as well enjoy the rest of the ride. A beer is placed in front of her after Ben holds up two fingers to the bartender. “Thank you. Where was I?”

“You had a question for me," he says endearingly.

“Right! What happened to Benji Wyatt? Shows get canceled all the time, so why did you just disappear after Ice Town? Surely you had other offers...” Leslie goes to drink from her beer as Ben lifts his, but he thinks twice and places his bottle back on the bar. Did she go too far?

He turns to her, and it feels private, intimate, like he's telling her a secret. Leslie leans in a fraction to listen closely. “I was lucky, 'given a chance,' as you were. But not just with that show. I'm from a small town called Partridge in Minnesota. Ever since I watched Star Wars and had it explained to me by my dad that someone had to write the movies before they were filmed, I wanted to be that someone. When I got older, I started writing spec scripts and sending them out to writer's offices in LA. One show was interested but didn't have any positions open for their writer's room, so they hired me to be the writer's production assistant, to get lunches and coffees, and promised to help me kick-start my career.”

“That's pretty amazing,” Leslie notes, noticing acutely that she's on the edge of her barstool to hear him. Their knees are almost touching.

“Mm. What's more amazing was leaving that small town. Not a lot of people do, so I became this success story. And I kept working my way up, writing every waking second until I joined the team of writers on a show. I pitched Ice Town to a broadcast network, based the kid-mayor idea on myself because I felt like this kid in an adult's world, and when the person who was supposed to showrun it with me backed out, the network trusted me to do it alone. In the press, I told everyone how it's based around my town and how much I love my roots. Was heralded as the hero of Partridge. After the show did well the first season, I went to visit my parents. They hated each other, they still do, but they bonded over how successful I was and cut out all the articles about me.”

Ben pauses to drink and peels away at the bottle's label while contemplating his next words. “Then I went to visit my friends, and they thought I abandoned them. That I had gone off to be some big shot as a big fuck-you to the town. I knew some of the cast was leaving because of the money issues, so I thought that I had to make the show even bigger to shove it in the faces of all the assholes in Partridge. I felt invincible – better than they were or ever could be. Never write out of spite, Leslie. Nothing good comes of it.” By his long silence that follows, Ben is presumed to be finished speaking.

Leslie shakes her head. “So what happened then? Why didn't you write anymore if you're so good?”

“I went back home to hide in shame for a couple of weeks, and everyone hated me for making the town synonymous with a failed show. A few shows offered me writing jobs, but Los Angeles seemed like the epitome of where my dreams went to die. I went to college in New York to learn the business of filmmaking because it's rooted in numbers and things that can be measured and decided to go the network route. Dropped the '-ji' on my resume and submitted for assistant jobs as Ben Wyatt. I still write scripts, pilots here and there, but mostly to do something creative for myself.” Ben's shoulders are slumped, and he looks... exhausted, like he just relived his failure in front of her and wants to crawl into a hole and hide.

There's a consoling speech on the tip of Leslie's tongue. Something that she's used to telling a lot of production assistants who are down on their luck and crew members who are tired of being stepped on by the Hollywood system that praises the talent and ignores the rest of the hard-working individuals who make up the industry. It's earned her hugs and wet shoulders from heaving sobs. She's ready to give it to Ben when an idea passes through her mind.

“Oh my god.” It's brilliant, just risky and different enough to work. “Oh my god, Ben, stop drinking.”

He nearly throws his bottle down. “What's wrong? Did you poison my drink?”

“I have an idea and we can't get anymore drunk because it's perfect,” she tells him, grabbing his shoulders and shaking them. “Tell me: Do you have any kid show pilots? Or anything that you can turn into a kid's show?”

Ben thinks hard, the activity strenuous now after two beers. “Uh, I wrote one about child actors from around the country who move to LA for pilot season with their stage moms and dads. It's kind of dark, though.”

“That's perfect! Lighten it up, and use it,” Leslie says excitedly, reaching into her bag for some paper and pen to jot her ideas down. As she's on the third line of information, Ben's hand tops hers so that she stops.

“Wait a minute, Leslie, I have no idea what's going on,” he tells her, looking into her eyes for an answer.

She pats his hand. “Ben, can't you see? We're about to save Pawnee! You're going to develop that script with your company and do as I said the day we met – begin production on another show out here to justify having Jolly TV offices and executives in LA! It's perfect!”

“Developing shows takes time. Even if I wanted showrun another show, which I really don't, it could be another few months before the pieces fall into place to shoot a pilot. Then that has to get green-lit, and... It's not going to happen just like that,” Ben sighs, shutting down the idea. Leslie's exasperated and just wants him to listen to the facts.

“You don't have to be the showrunner, Ben. Network executives come up with shows all the time and get other people to write them. You're already one step ahead by having the pilot done; let someone else be the showrunner, and just oversee it like you would any other show. Your pilot idea especially qualifies as something to shoot in LA. There's an opportunity here – you said you would keep Pawnee in Los Angeles if it made sense. I'm talking to you about making sense of it. You have a chance to really build something here, something to be proud of. A new show, a real West Coast network office instead of your dinky one, and a future for my crew and a whole other crew for something you thought up in your free time.” Leslie knows she's begging at this point, reasoning with a pleading tone and big eyes. She's so close to reaching Ben she can taste it.

His hand goes up, ordering two more beers. Leslie's about to protest his defeat when he turns to her, smiling. “I'll consider it. But even if I bring it up and that show goes into development, I can't guarantee Pawnee will be safe. I can just buy you more time until a decision is finalized.” The bartender places two beers in front of them. Ben and Leslie each pick up a bottle, and he clinks hers. “To you, Leslie Knope. If there were more people fighting for shows like you, including myself, maybe Ice Town would have lasted a few more years.”

Clinking his bottle in return, Leslie raises hers. “But then you'd probably be a jaded writer, and we never would have met. Who knows how many other terrible 90s songs we'd have to endure in the opening credits of your shows? Sorry, but whoomp, there it is!”

She drinks from her beer, and the next one, feeling so light-headed from the booze and from that minor victory of earning Ben's consideration that when they finally say goodbye at the end of the night, Leslie comes dangerously close to doing something out of character. His number is in her phone (“So I can call you tomorrow to make sure you haven't forgotten about this historical conversation!”), and Ben walks her to her car, hugging her before she opens the door.

“I'm serious about what I said," Leslie says, her voice gruff from cheering at the bar and at the sight of Ann singing karaoke. "I'm sorry that your show failed, even though it's probably your fault--”

“Wow, why would you say something like that--”

“But I'm glad it's brought you here.” Her words are whispered, even normal-volumed talking seeming too loud once they've left the roaring club. What she doesn't say is that she's glad it's brought him here to her, but perhaps it doesn't need saying.

Ben's body is close to hers as he hasn't completely separated from her since the hug. Her attention drops from his eyes to his lips, and Leslie licks hers, tempted. “Me too,” he says, almost too quiet for her to hear. His voice is so soft, the wind could have carried his words away, and they're drifting out into the night sky.

Leslie feels like she's walking on fine thread. Although she's sober enough to drive, she's not comfortable taking the plunge and kissing Ben for fear that she'll regret it or he'll think it's some drunken decision. When she leans in, she can hear him suck in a breath and let it out as she presses a soft kiss to his cheek. They say goodnight and go their separate ways.

The drive home for Leslie is silent save for the sound of her engine and the rise and fall of the music blasting from the occasional club she passes. Once her car is parked and she's safe inside her home, she rushes to bed, transcribing her notes from the Snakehole Lounge onto a notebook that isn't so damp with beer. With that out of the way, she turns out the lights and lays on top of her bedspread, looking up.

She's tired and yet so awake, her mind twisting and turning with all of the thoughts and possibilities of this plan and of her night with Ben. Would he have let her kiss him? He lingered just as long as she did... Maybe he couldn't move, he was so paralyzed by thoughts of pressing his lips onto hers.

Her teeth bite her lower lip in thought. She thinks Ben would kiss softly and then let each kiss grow harder, rougher, and more passionate. Too warm, Leslie pulls off her shirt and throws it to the floor. Her hands lay on the top of her chest, fingers running along the top of her bra but never dipping under the fabric. She closes her eyes, imagining Ben pulling her flush against him as he kisses her, his hands moving from her shoulders down to her ass, and around up to her breasts.

Eyes opening, Leslie snaps out of it, short of breath. No use thinking about what would be. Ben isn't in this room to kiss her or touch her, he isn't laying beside her. A wicked thought penetrates her mind: Perhaps he would tell her to go ahead and touch herself, that if he can't do it, she shouldn't deny herself ecstasy. With a fearless mindset, Leslie's eyes flutter closed. Her fingers tentatively move under the cup of her bra to rub her nipples slowly. She removes the garment to toy with herself more, turning her hands over so that her knuckles brush over the nipples just barely.

Leslie feels herself stirring, a distant throbbing sensation between her legs, and repeats the motion slowly. As venturous as it is to picture Ben instructing her how to touch herself, a part of her thinks he'd be nervous and quiet, watching and begging her to vocalize what makes her arch her back and curl her toes. She licks both of her index fingers and uses them to play with her nipples, letting the air chill the moist buds before she pinches them.

Trailing her hands lower, she turns her head, visualizing Ben right beside her nodding for her to remove her jeans. Leslie rises on her elbows to unbutton them and pull them off, her panties and socks too. Easing back down, her hands run up and down her thighs. She exhales, both hands moving straight to her mound. With spread open legs, she uses her left hand to separate her lips and her right, middle finger to trail deftly over her slit.

She's wet. Telling Ben would probably make him groan, restless. If he can't be there to touch her now, she is determined that he can't touch her in her fantasy either. Dipping her finger inside her, moving around her walls so that its covered in her slick juices, she slides it up so slowly toward her clit. Her finger circles the nub, her hips bucking as her walls throb again. She teases herself once more with the same motion before getting down to business and rubbing her finger up and down over the clit with a moderate pace.

Warmth builds from within. She pushes her finger inside her again, feeling herself getting wetter the more she touches herself. As the pleasure simultaneously grounds her into the bed and raises her up, she rubs her clit with less precision, the strokes increasing with speed and moving even lower toward her opening. Leslie wants to feel Ben inside her, though. She imagines lowering herself onto him but not allowing him to move, even as he pleads with her, her muscles clenching around him torturously. His eyes would squeeze tight with pleasure, and for the sake of it, Leslie would let him thrust up very slowly. Leslie cries out, the fantasy bringing her closer to the edge. She'd suddenly tell him to stop moving, just to have control over him. It might drive him insane.

Feeling so close, her hips nearly off the bed, she pictures herself nodding to Ben for him to move inside her again, still slowly as she rolls her hips. Grunting, he'd lean in toward her to run his tongue over her nipple. Leslie's legs shaking and hips bucking, she feels herself tighten before releasing, wave upon wave of pleasure rolling over her as her finger continues to rub her clit wildly until she's too sensitive and falls back into the bed.

There's no Ben to cover her cooling body with her blankets. No Ben to kiss her sweat-dampened brow and tell her how amazingly sexy she is. Before Leslie drifts off to sleep, she reckons the real Ben would be infinitely better than anything her mind could conjure. And if what she's just imagined vividly is anything to go by, then she needs the real, nerdy, and adorable Ben.

Chapter Text

The sun shines through Leslie's bedroom window, waking her gently. Her eyes are heavy, her lips dry, and her body surprisingly naked until she recalls the reasoning behind her sound sleep.

Right. She masturbated to the thought of Ben Wyatt... or more accurately to the thought of Ben Wyatt watching her. Not Leslie's typical Friday evening per se, but not an unwelcome change either.

Turning to her bedside table, she sees the notebook containing her and Ben's plan to save Pawnee. Leslie nearly leaps from the bed, scrambling to put on her pajamas (it's still too early for real clothing), and takes the notebook and her cell phone to the living room. Her phone flashes with an unread text from Ann, timestamped before dawn, checking in with misspelled letters to make sure Leslie made it home all right. Confirming that she went home and slept like a rock, she doesn't give herself a chance to second guess anything – Leslie immediately searches for Ben's name in her contact list and calls him.

After three rings, she hears a groggy “Hello?”

“Ben? It's Leslie Knope, Key 2nd AD on Pawnee. Just calling to check in and make sure you didn't forget anything regarding our conversation last night,” she says briskly, pacing around her home. Her hands are sweating.

Ben clears his throat. “Um, yeah. I know who you are, and I remember stuff.” His words are slurred with sleep.

Leslie's a little guilty for waking him but decides to power through. After all, the more time she lets him sit, or rather sleep, on the idea as is, the more likely he is to doubt it. “Great, so I was thinking--”

“Good lord. Leslie, I just woke up. I haven't even had coffee yet,” Ben complains, yawning.

She taps her fingernail contemplatively against the notebook. “Where are you staying?”

“The W Hotel.”

“Meet me outside in an hour – I'm taking you out to breakfast,” Leslie says firmly, holding her breath for an answer.

There's a moment of silence on his end, then a shifting noise that sounds like he's getting out of bed. “Yeah, okay.”

An hour is generous, considering early Saturday morning isn't primetime for traffic. But the hour allows her time to prepare both physically with a nice shower and plenty of time to put on makeup and choose a blouse and skirt and research-wise to gather more notes and facts. Ben only agreed to consider her proposal; there's still a ways to go.

Pulling up outside the W Hotel in Hollywood, Leslie rolls down her window. She's still three minutes early, so she waits by the valet area until Ben emerges from the lobby doors. He's clad in skinny jeans and another plaid shirt, his signature watch clasped onto his left wrist, and enters her car one leg at a time. Safely inside, he buckles his seatbelt and turns to her. Leslie notices that without his usual tie, the top button of his shirt is undone, exposing his neck.

“You know I could have met you for breakfast.”

Checking her mirrors, she drives around to the driveway, pulling out once she's clear. “But then you would have argued that it's too far away.”

That catches him off-guard. “Where are you taking me?”

“JJ's Diner.” The diner isn't necessarily a long drive, but it is over the hill and in the San Fernando Valley. Leslie explains that it's the diner she went to after her first overnight shoot when she could barely keep her eyes open and wanted to quit the industry. The waffles gave her the energy to make it home and not give up her Hollywood dream based on a whim.

The drive lasts a mere fifteen minutes, and the two are seated inside instantly. The waitress assumes they're ready to order the moment the two are in their chairs, already pouring coffee into their cups.

“I've actually never been here before,” Ben says, opening up the menu. Off the waitress' pointed look to Leslie who never delays an order, he closes it. “But since Leslie raved about this place on the ride over, I'll just go ahead and order a spinach omelet.”

Once they're alone, Leslie feels her nerves creeping up again, and she looks down. This is different from talking to him on set or even at the club. There are no other crew members, nothing bringing them together but their own accord. Adding copious amounts of cream and sugar to her coffee, Leslie finally glances up at Ben. “Last night was fun, right?”

“Yeah,” Ben says, sipping his black coffee slowly, “your friend Ann seemed to be getting on with Chris. I forgot my jacket and ran in to see them kissing... ferociously.”

Leslie drops the sugar packet into her cup. “What?! Oh no, I was supposed to make sure she didn't do anything terrible!” Ben furrows his eyebrows, insulted on Chris' behalf. “No, I mean she didn't want to rebound or do anything crazy.” She reaches into her purse for her phone to call Ann.

“Chris has mentioned her more than a couple of times to me. I'm sure it was a mutual thing and totally fine,” he reassures her. Accepting his rational explanation, Leslie puts her phone away.

The thought of Chris and Ben talking about the crew, particularly in a less-than-professional manner sparks Leslie's interests but she forgoes teasing him for more information. They're here to work, firstly, and eat. Or eat and then work. Work is definitely part of the equation.

Their plates are placed before them, and with one bite, Ben is convinced that it was worth the trip. “But anything's better than hotel food at this point. I miss having a place out here to just cook.”

“I've been living on craft service food for so long that cooking is a rarity saved for weekends and hiatuses,” Leslie jokes, plopping a piece of whipped cream-covered waffle into her mouth. For a moment, she imagines him cooking for her in the morning in his boxers but blinks the thought away.

She has the decency to wait until they're finished eating to pull out her notebook and a pen. Opening it to her detailed notes from the night before and this morning, Leslie is ready to begin. Various advantages to starting up production on Ben's show idea locally are laid out on the table, from having the Los Angeles locations for shooting to giving a solid reason to keep the Jolly TV West Coast offices open and functioning. Leslie even brings up the internship program the office began two summers ago as cause not to close it down.

“You're nothing if not well-researched,” Ben acknowledges, looking down at her notes. “Assuming my pilot goes over well with the network, there's still months of work ahead, Leslie. As I said last night, I'm buying you time but not guaranteeing you or your crew anything until the show is in production. Pawnee is still at risk.”

“I know, but it's still something. I'm willing to fight for that.” Leslie holds her shoulders back, looking Ben straight in the eye. “Are you?”

His hand covers hers. “Yeah, I am.”

The gesture doesn't go unnoticed. In fact, it's where all of Leslie's attention goes to. Ben's large hand dwarfs hers, and the way his thumb tenderly caresses her wrist shortens her breath. Leslie's thoughts trail to the night before, the fantasy of Ben kissing her, being inside her, flooding her mind. She wants to lean in and kiss him, divulge exactly what her hand was doing last night, but the waitress drops their check on the table. As if touching fire, they pull back suddenly. Ben reaches into his back pocket for his wallet.

“No, I said I was taking you out,” Leslie insists, “but when you get executive producer credit on your new show and get an extra paycheck, you can treat me to the next meal.”

During the car ride back, she inquires about the idea of his show. Ben explains that his many pilots range from science fiction to fantasy, one for instance about a land called Dunshire, but occasionally inspiration hits him. The idea of a show following multiple child actors trying to catch a break in Hollywood comes from all of the painful auditions he sat through when casting minor roles in Ice Town.

“The kids were bad enough, and you couldn't just tell them to go home and find a new dream. But the parents? Leslie, this one mom barged into the room after her kid tanked the audition and made us see him again while she watched and coached him. I'm still traumatized!” Leslie laughs, begging him to stop unless he wants her to start swerving the car. “Maybe in a few years I'll write about visiting Pawnee and having my world turned upside down by a furious, little Assistant Director.”

She gasps, swatting his arm. “Furious? Little?! I'm about to turn your face upside down.” Her empty threat only humors him further.

The car ride ends too soon, Ben still chuckling as he gets out and leans on her door, peering in through the window. “I guess I'll see you Monday, then.” He sounds saddened by that; Leslie realizes Monday is a day and a half away.

“If you get bored, text me. Weekends are pretty slow for me, and I'm usually free.” She winces, just barely, concerned that she invited herself to spend more time with him. “I'll let you know the call time for Monday when I get it from Ron. There's some conflict or another with actor availability...” Ben walks around the car to her window while she's still babbling on about times, silencing her when his face is mere inches from hers. “What are you doing?” Leslie whispers, eyes transfixed by the tiny details on his face – his smooth skin, the small wrinkles by his eyes, and his mouth opened just a fraction.

“It's not just me, right?”

There's no need to ask Ben to clarify what he means. So she doesn't. “No, it's not just you.”

He leans in and closes the space between them like its the most natural thing in the world. Ben's lips cover hers with a feather-light touch. Leslie's heart is pounding, she can hear each beat louder than her own breathing, and with shaky hands, she pulls his shoulders closer. His hands reach out to cradle her face, the kiss still soft and sweet despite the seconds of it passing into minutes. Ben pulls away too soon, and his head hits the top of the car door. He hisses in pain, rubbing the spot.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Leslie asks, reaching to open her door.

Ben holds out a hand to stop her. “I'm fine, I'm fine. It was worth it,” he teases, and Leslie's cheeks redden. Though she assumes he's going to say goodbye then and walk away, Ben kneels down to her. “I don't want to wait until I get an executive producer credit. I want to take you out tomorrow night.”

Leslie feels a little ridiculous still sitting in her car after sharing that kiss and now being asked out on a date, but she hoists herself up to lean out of the window. “I'll be there,” she says, hugging him tightly. Before she lower herself back in the car, Ben steals a chaste kiss.

He waves as she drives away, but before she can go home, Leslie has to rush over to Ann's place to apologize profusely and discuss this development.

The moment Ann opens the door, squinting at the sunlight, Leslie plows her way in.“You kissed Chris last night, and it's all my fault!”

“Ohhh,” Ann says while leaning on the door, “that makes sense.”

Dumbfounded, Leslie leads Ann to the couch. “You didn't remember?”

“I remembered kissing someone, and it makes sense that it was Chris because my memory only goes from karaoke to him saying sweet things while pushing me into a cab.”

“I should have intervened,” Leslie says, disappointed in herself. “I let you down, and I'm sorry.”

Ann rubs Leslie's back. “Don't apologize. But you can make it up to me by telling me everything that happened last night. You and Ben were all sorts of close and flirty.”

Leslie recalls all of the events (leaving out what she did when she got home, of course), finishing off with her morning breakfast and kiss from Ben.

“Dude! You should have led with that!” Ann exclaims. “And you're going out with him tomorrow? That sounds promising!”

“Yeah, and I'm gonna make out with his face some more.” Leslie's eyes widen with the idea. The kiss earlier was a nice sample, but she wants to be unrestricted. No car, no awkward barriers, and hopefully, somewhere private.

Ann's face goes from joyous to serious, drawing Leslie's attention from the dirty thoughts that overtook her mind. “But what happens when he goes back to New York?” Reality crashes around Leslie. What will happen? “Don't worry about stuff like that,” Ann presses after seeing Leslie's stricken face, trying to bring back the mood. “Let him wine and dine you, and take it from there.” It takes Leslie a second to regain her positive attitude, but she carries on, accepting that there's no use thinking too hard about what will be with Ben when she isn't certain what everything with Ben currently is.

Tearing apart Ann's closet for an outfit Leslie needs to “make Ben forget he has to leave in a week,” they settle on a black dress that falls above Leslie's knees. Paired with black pumps and her hair in a tight bun to expose her neck and bare shoulders, it should do the trick.

Sadly, there's no time machine in Ann's closet to make Sunday evening come quicker, but the day starts to pick up when Leslie goes home and receives a text from Ben asking if she likes Italian food. Answering affirmatively, she paves the way for them to text back and forth well into the evening. When Leslie falls asleep waiting for his response, she wakes up the next morning to see it and his goodnight message sent a few minutes afterward.

Leslie isn't paid for the work she does on the weekends, but that doesn't mean she's exempt from it. Ron eventually gets back to her with the news that Monday's production meeting has been pushed forward half an hour, and she has the most splendid job ahead of telling the entire crew that their call has been pushed to accommodate it. It takes two hours to call and text everyone, and she then has to read through the latest copy of the script to break it down for the meeting. It's a full day.

By early afternoon, Leslie declares herself off the clock. She even pointedly calls Ron to tell him so, saying that she won't be by her phone all evening. He merely raises his proverbial scotch at her in cheers of taking her attitude of the job to the same extent he does, and Leslie gives him thanks before hanging up and exhaling. There's plenty to do before Ben picks her up.

A shower and shave later, she's wrapped up in a robe while applying more makeup than the nude look Leslie goes for on workdays. Smokey eyeshadow and some blush later, she's pleased to appear like she gives a damn. In reality, Leslie does. She gives many damns about this date.

Ben Wyatt may have come into her life with the intention of unintentionally uprooting everything, but he's become the person she looks forward to seeing the most and someone who's willing to listen to her and make a positive change for so many people. He makes her stomach feel like it's lodged in her throat and her tongue loosen so that every thought slides out to lay on the table before them. Not many men make Leslie feel this way.

The dress slips on easily, and her hair is pulled back in a bun, short wisps of it left flowing to curtain her face. The style compliments her long neck, and she trails a finger down from her earlobe to where the top of her cleavage is exposed. This is a new feeling accompanying Leslie's date – this is confidence. Stepping into her black pumps, she's ready to leave when Ben pulls up in a sleek, black rental car. Leslie locks up the house and meets him halfway by her mailbox.

They hug, Ben transitioning smoothly to kiss her cheek. “You look amazing.”

“You don't look bad yourself,” Leslie says admiringly. His black suit looks dashing and form-fitting, complimenting his butt, the shoes even appearing new. Ben's hair is combed to the side with a bit more product to look especially dignified. As he walks her to the car, his hand finds the small of her back. He opens the door for her and closes it once she's in fully.

All of the fancy dials for the radio and stereo system confuse her. When Ben sits in the car, however, he masterfully fires up the engine with the press of a button and presses a few more on the dashboard. Music starts playing. “I hope you don't mind movie soundtracks,” he says, putting the car into drive.

“Not at all. I wondered what type of music you were into, and I guess that's the only one that makes sense.”

A corner of his mouth turns up. “Should I be insulted?”

“Hm, I'll leave that up to you.”

While they drive out of West Hollywood and toward the ocean, Ben recounts his first apartment in LA. “It wasn't too far from where you live, but was right next to this gay bar called The Bulge. At least I didn't know it was a gay bar at first... I thought they were all just trying to steal my wallet from my back pocket.”

Leslie cackles, bending over and gripping onto her thighs for support. “They were just copping a feel!”

Finally, Ben turns down Westwood and parks, guiding Leslie into a quaint Italian restaurant. The warm smell of bread wafts through the air, and her stomach rumbles as he pulls out her chair for her. A waiter asks for their drink order; Ben orders water so Leslie follows suit.

“You're welcome to order wine or whatever,” he offers, “but the bar in my hotel has a drink that's right up your alley.”

Heat courses through Leslie's body. Drinks at his hotel sounds just presumptuous enough for her to smile coyly and toy with him despite her allure to the prospect. “After dinner cocktails? How do you know I'm that kind of lady?”

Two waters are placed on the table. Ben lifts his glass up. “I can only hope.” His eyes are as dark as his tone of voice, his eyelids lowered just a fraction as his gentle-natured persona shifts to a lascivious one. The second he breaks eye contact to look over the menu, Leslie feels as if a fist is unclenching from around her lungs. There's really no polite way to request they skip dinner and head straight to the hotel, so she drinks heartily from her water and focuses on her entree selection. As enticing as his look was, Leslie's thankful when he returns to his casual demeanor so they can at least continue dinner without her rubbing her thighs together the entire meal.

Conversation flows throughout the courses, delving into memories of growing up. Leslie details her life in Los Angeles, having a mother who was a force to be reckoned with on sets and who, as a result, wasn't home as often. Ben briefly touches on his parents before going into the adventures he'd get into with his brother and sister, sneaking downstairs in the early hours of the morning to watch old cartoons and shooting home movies in the backyard. That's the degree to which they talk about the industry, reveling in the opportunity to be free to discuss anything.

Ben insists on the tiramisu, and because they're both full of incredibly delicious food, they share the dessert. With a devious look on her face, Leslie hits his fork to shoo him away from the more tempting-looking bites. He doesn't seem to take too much offense at it but resorts to gently grabbing her wrist so he can reclaim his chunk off of her fork. When the waiter comes by with the check, Ben just hands him a credit card without looking at the receipt. Although Leslie's preconceived notions about executives and their lavish spending consumed her thoughts when trying to figure Ben out earlier in the week, the sight of him flash his card and spend the money on her behalf without hesitation is sexy.

During the drive to the hotel, Ben's hand finds her knee. He doesn't slide it up or try anything salacious, choosing to simply rest it there intimately. Leslie places her hand on top of his to indicate it's a welcomed gesture, and they talk about Beverly Hills landmarks while zooming eastward to Hollywood. The car pulls into the hotel's driveway, and Ben pulls his hand away to put the car in park and hand the keys to Valet.

Leslie's never been inside the W Hotel; living in Los Angeles never gave her reason to. It's genuine surprise on her face when she walks up the white and red stairs and into the grandiose lobby. Ben leads her past the jet black leather couches while Leslie stares in awe at the chandelier and the winding staircase. An electric gold bar awaits them, though, so she lets him guide her to a seat in front of a spread of liquor bottles.

“The network sure put you up nicely,” Leslie says under her breath so as to not sound too much like a fish out of water in front of the bartender and other guests.

“I can't complain,” Ben shrugs, grabbing a drinks menu for her. “Turn to the dessert drinks page and tell me the one you'd like most. I think I know what it is.”

Turning to the back, she scrolls down the fancy-named drinks. They all consist of alcohols she's never even tried, so Leslie focuses more on the flavors. Halfway down is something called a Whipped Scream with vanilla flavored alcohols, a splash of milk, and a dollop of whipped cream. The name's embarrassing, so she points to the menu item, and Ben pumps his fist victoriously.

Drinks ordered, Leslie thinks it's a little unfair that she's drinking the most ridiculous cocktail on the menu (even if it does taste like a thin milkshake) while he's enjoying a simple gin and tonic. She turns her barstool toward his, wanting to kickstart more conversation and learn more about him. “So what do you normally do in LA? I can't imagine going straight from work to a hotel room. There's no comfort in it.”

“I have some friends out here that I like to visit, and Chris isn't bad company when he's not guilting me into using the hotel gym with him. But I wish it were simpler to keep up a place here while living in New York,” Ben admits.

Leslie's unable to resist – she scoops some whipped cream from her drink up with her finger and sucks it off. With the homemade creamy goodness coating her tongue, she asks, “Does that mean you come out here often? Or do you still hate it from when you were younger?”

Ben's eyes looked glazed over, staring at her mouth and her finger. Leslie realizes her enjoyment could have been interpreted as something sexual and is unapologetic about it. She does snap her fingers for him to answer, though. Blinking back to reality, he chooses not to respond to her amused look.

“I come here a few times a year. The winter's nicer here than in New York or back home in Partridge for that matter. And if this whole production thing we're working on goes through, I'll probably have to be out here more often.”

The recognition that they're both working on getting his new show picked up for the sake of Pawnee makes Leslie beam. Not many people, let alone executives with a lot at stake with every decision, would give another person credit. Ben's not many people. He's an anomaly - a lean, sexy anomaly. “Good,” is all Leslie responds with. The promise of Ben visiting again makes her stomach flutter.

“Yeah,” he agrees, finishing off his drink.

Leslie follows suit, licking the cream off her lips in what she hopes is a purposeful seductive move. “Tell me, Mr. Vice President,” she begins while silently wondering if she has a thing for vice presidents, “what does one of these hotel rooms look like?”

The laughing smile that lights up his face goes to show how bad Leslie is at flirting. “Smooth,” Ben teases, dropping some bills and placing them under his glass. He gets up to leave the bar nonetheless and Leslie follows.

“I bet you didn't know I'm capable of such smoothness,” she says as they make their way to the elevator. Leslie needs to joke or else she'll try to think of a thousand reasons against going up to his room.

Ben's fingers interlace with hers, and he presses the elevator call button. The door opens and they enter, looking at each other like they're about to pounce into a kissing frenzy. However, another couple steps in, so Ben and Leslie resort to just holding hands during the long ride up. Finally, the elevator rings, announcing that they're on his floor, and they step around the couple to exit. His room is a short walk down the hall. As he pushes his key card into the slot, Leslie realizes she's not sure what to do. Does she go straight to the bed? Do they talk about what's happening, what this means?

There's not much time to contemplate when they step inside, because Ben kisses her into the closed hotel room door. Gone is the sweetness from the day before, replaced with hot, open-mouthed kisses that make her knees week. Leslie reaches for the back of his neck, keeping his face close to hers and running her fingers through his hair. Ben's hands rest on her hips, pressing them against his. The closeness and friction as his hips thrust up right there makes her moan into his mouth.

Pulling away, Ben leads her wordlessly by the hand to his bed. The bright, Hollywood lights illuminate the grey, simplistic room. His desk is littered with notes, the settee covered by his opened suitcase. Leslie sits at the foot of the bed, and as Ben's mouth covers hers in an onslaught of kisses that trail down her neck, he leads her to lay back by the pillows. She quickly kicks off her heels, hearing the thumps as they hit the carpeted floor followed by his shoes.

“One week,” Ben murmurs against her ear while his hands trace the curves of her body from her torso down to her hips.

“Hm?” Leslie can't form a coherent thought, let alone follow his.

“One week was all it took for you to drive me crazy. Fuck, Leslie, do you know how much I want you?”

Her back arches, colliding their hips again. Leslie can feel his erection through his pants. “I'm getting an idea,” she whispers.

Ben growls, pinning her arms above her head. His teeth graze her earlobe, and his free hand cups her breast over the dress. She mewls, simultaneously turned on by lack of power and desperate for control. Turning her head, Leslie stretches to kiss Ben's cheek, earning his turning toward her for a kiss on the lips. Using it to her advantage, she gently bites his lower lip as he curses against her mouth.

His hold on her loosens, and Leslie turns him over so that she's sitting on top of him, straddling his hips and uncaring that her dress has ridden up and her black panties are exposed. Ben glances down, reaching a hand to touch her, but she grabs it, shaking her head. “Wait your turn,” she says sternly. Ben's eyes go wide before narrowing stubbornly, but his hand returns to his side submissively.

That's new. Leslie's not accustomed to such playing and power control during her sexual encounters. It's intoxicating. With shaking fingers, she unbuttons Ben's suit jacket. He leans up to allow her to push it off his shoulders. Leslie throws it toward a chair unceremoniously and works on his shirt buttons. Ben settles on running his hands up and down her legs once he notices she isn't protesting that. Soon, his shirt joins his jacket, and his bare chest is before her.

It's all lean muscle lightly covered in dark hair. She runs her hands over the newly exposed skin, leaning down to kiss Ben's neck, his chest, and down his stomach to the top of his pants. He inhales a shuttering breath as Leslie, still leaning over, removes his belt and makes quick work of his pants fastenings. Pulling the pants down, the outline of his cock protrudes against his briefs.

Leslie looks up, holding eye contact with Ben, as she pulls the briefs down to join his pants at his knees. Scooting a little lower down on the bed, hands planted into the mattress on either side of the bed and her shoulder blades pronouncing with her bending over, Leslie takes him into her mouth.

“Jesus Christ, Leslie,” Ben groans, his hips thrusting up. She holds him down with one hand, her thumb tracing his hipbone.

The saltiness of his precum hits her tongue as she swirls it over the head, moving to take the length of him down to the back of her throat. Leslie hums in satisfaction when he fists the bedding, the vibration eliciting a moan from Ben. His fingers go to her hair, but instead of tugging or pushing down on her head, they search through her bun. She realizes he's removing the bobby pins.

Rising and removing her mouth from him with a pop of her lips, Leslie sits up to take her hair out of the bun and shake it out so that the tendrils fall against her shoulders. Ben reaches toward her, pulling her flush against him for a hungry kiss. His tongue traces the tip of hers, tasting himself, while he tangles his fingers in her hair. Hands moving lower, he shoves the dress down, further and further, until it pools where she's leaning on her knees. Leslie pulls the dress off and lets it fall to the floor.

Ben sits up to pull the rest of his clothing off too. He's completely naked while she's still covered by her bra and panties, and that's unacceptable to him. Leslie sighs as he kisses where her shoulders meet her neck and reaches around to unclasp her bra. There's definitely some difficulty with the process, so she brushes his hands aside to remove it herself, giggling softly.

“Your bra had something against me. It's a conspiracy,” he claims, rubbing the red indents the fabric made in her skin. The sensation makes her gasp, the sensitive skin being traced by his fingers and kissed so softly. What's offensive is where his hands and lips aren't, and it takes a few pointed arches of her back for Ben to relent while smirking deviously, finally taking her nipple into his mouth.

But he doesn't suck on the bud or run his tongue over it. Instead, his lower lip runs over the bud, the slight moisture there and his hot breath driving Leslie insane. Ben teases just the same with the other nipple, taking Leslie's fantasy from two nights earlier and turning it over into something immensely more frustrating and hot.

Ben leans to kiss her ribs, laying her down, her head by the foot of the bed. With her body below him, he's tantalized, looking at every inch of her with awe and desire. Leslie wiggles her fingers and toes in anticipation of his next touch. While Ben's lips move to kiss the valley between her breasts, his hands trace the rise and fall of every part of her body.

She can hardly keep track as his fingers travel over her hips to her belly and back down to the inside of her thighs. He's unfaltering in his thorough exploration, and Leslie's drawn between begging for him to get on with it and laying in wonder that Ben could find her worthy of such detailed and slow surveying.

At long last, he pulls down her panties. They're discarded somewhere in the room, his hand careless in its toss as Ben is too preoccupied taking in Leslie's naked body. There's no stalling afterward; Ben rushes straight in and pulls her legs over his shoulders for easy access to her wet opening. His tongue dips in, swirling around inside of her while she cries out, “Crap on a spatula!”

Leslie's hands scramble toward his head, pulling gently at his hair. Ben's mouth moves upward to her clit, his tongue dancing along the sensitive nerve endings, making her legs tremble against him. Lips cover it and suck gently, and she becomes putty, succumbing fully to him. There's no shame in her verbal supplication, Leslie urging Ben on by squeezing her thighs against his neck without pressure.

The heat coils deep in her core, her walls throbbing intermittently as she is dangled over the edge by Ben. His arms are wrapped around her, holding her legs tightly. Ben's fingers absentmindedly rub her inner thighs.

Fuck, Ben, don't stop” Leslie begs. He takes that as a sign to use his fingers to separate her further. Ben runs his tongue from her opening to her clit in a smooth motion before pushing hard against her clit with each lap. Bucking her hips against his mouth, Leslie moans against the tight clenching of her orgasm, crying out as he continues to pleasure her to the very end until her legs quake and she pushes against his shoulders.

Letting her down into the bed softly, Ben climbs up to kiss Leslie. She's panting, her mind turned to mush, and all she wants to do for the next few minutes is make out with him and not move. He's very accommodating, perhaps even a bit proud of himself (rightfully so). Leslie can barely even remember her fantasy now, it safely blown away by his thorough pleasuring.

The more Ben kisses her, the more she can notice his soft thrusts against her hip and the more she wants those thrusts inside her. “Please, Ben,” she implores, pulling his hips toward her. He climbs back to the nightstand, rummaging through a bag Leslie hasn't noticed until just now, and pulls out an unopened box of condoms. Leslie quirks an eyebrow up at him.

“What? I'm prepared!” He says defensively. “This evening is going just the way I wanted.”

“No, I'm just as pleased with this turn of events as you are. It's just... hard to believe you're not constantly surrounded by hoards of beautiful women,” Leslie says, mostly to herself, turning her head to the side.

The condom on at last, Ben's back on top but doesn't immediately enter her. Turning back questioningly, she sees the question on his face. “Why would I want that? I'd rather have the one smart, fiery, sexy as hell woman in front of me who's allowed me the privilege of her company.” With a sweet kiss, he nuzzles himself between her legs.

Nodding deftly, surprised yet again by Ben, Leslie gives him permission to proceed. She gasps at the feeling of him filling her, Ben mirroring her as he nearly collapses into her shoulder at the sensation. He starts moving slowly once she urges him on by wrapping her legs around him. One arm steading him by her shoulder, his free hand grasps her breast, the thumb rubbing her nipple. By his pleasure-stricken face, Leslie can tell it's just as much for him as it is for her.

His eyes are unfocused, and Leslie interprets that to mean he's close. This night is something magical, foreignly so, and for the hell of it, she moves a hand down to pleasure herself. Ben's thrusts already feel incredible, so why not bring herself to the edge again? Ben looks down to her movement.

“God yes,” he grunts, thrusting harder and wildly, “I want to feel you come around me.”

The build to her second orgasm is quicker, yet no less powerful. It hits her in the gut suddenly, her clenching tight around him, and Leslie's head pushes back into the pillows. Ben groans, his body pressing against hers as he pants against her neck, the last thrusts before his own orgasm pleasurable exertions. As he comes, Leslie pulls his head to hers for a kiss, pulling the cry from his lips. The thrusts slow until they stop, Ben blowing out a breath when he rises to extract himself from her and clean up.

Leslie pushes up with her arms to get out of bed herself, her legs feeling like jelly as they take her to the bathroom. In the mirror, her reflection shows disheveled hair and smudged eye makeup. Her lips are swollen, her cheeks and the top of her chest pink from her vigorous activity. While she tries to comb out her hair with her fingers, Ben wraps around her to kiss her neck tenderly.

“What time is it?” She asks, and he pokes his head out to check.

“11:34,” he replies. “Early call time tomorrow?”

Looking at him through the mirror, Leslie nods. “The production meeting's been pushed to 9am, but I still need to be in by 8.”

“I'll grab you a cab,” Ben offers, and just to make sure it doesn't seem like she's leaving him for any other reason than necessity, she grabs him before he can make it to the room phone for a sound kiss. It's tempting to lead them back to the bed, but Leslie does have to still get home and ready for bed if she wants to be any sort of useful the next day.

Reluctantly, they put on their clothing, and Leslie gathers her discarded bobby pins into her purse, opting to just tie her hair back with her elastic hairband so as to not look too debauched to the cab driver. She and Ben travel down to the lobby while holding hands, the hotel's clientele still occupying the bar and couches despite the late hour. Sleepiness tugs on her, but the night's chill keeps her alert.

A cab is waiting for her down the stairs, and Ben hands the driver more than enough for the trip and tip, kissing her softly before opening the door.

“Tonight was amazing,” Leslie tells him.

“It was,” he agrees earnestly. “Goodnight, Leslie.” When he closes the door for her once she's safely inside, he says, “Text me when you get home.”

The trip isn't long, and after the cab pulls up to her driveway, Leslie thanks the driver and pulls out the keys to her house. She kicks off her heels the second she steps through the door and pulls out her phone to text him that she's made it home and had a wonderful evening. The words don't feel like enough to describe how much she enjoyed her night with Ben, but his text in return that it's going to be difficult seeing her tomorrow and not thinking about what they've done sums it up nicely.

Shooting Ann a quick text that reads, “We will talk tomorrow!!!! ;),” Leslie gets ready for bed before she loses all the energy to do so. Her alarm set and her phone charging, she crawls into her cool, empty sheets and falls asleep quickly to the comforting thought of Ben cuddled around her.

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning is... well, it's a rough one for Leslie. She's survived, even had great days, on less than four hours of sleep, but all she wants to do this morning is hit snooze on her alarm well into the late morning and feel two arms around her. However, she's alone; all of the tossing and turning she does throughout the night reminds her of that harsh reality. Leslie doesn't wake up before the shrilling alarm. Instead, the sound rouses her into consciousness. Her eyes are heavy, her body resistant to being vertical so early. But there's work to be done.

As she walks toward the soundstage, just barely ten minutes early (which might as well be late in her opinion), Leslie makes out a figure coming toward her from the Coffee Bean on the studio lot. It's Ben, looking no more weighed down with exhaustion than she, but with a small smile on his lips that are pushed together in a fine line. The closer he gets, the more she regrets what she has to tell him. His presentation of her regular coffee doesn't help the situation any further.

“You're here early,” Leslie says, accepting her dink graciously. If only she could hand him a Hallmark card that says, “I like you, but I'm afraid if people at work see us together, they'll think I'm sleeping with you to get my way.” Who knows? Maybe that card exists. Maybe she should have checked on her way to work.

“I wanted to catch you before you went into work... I feel bad for ushering you out last night.” Ben looks around after saying it, but it's still early according to Hollywood's standards and there's not much life on the lot yet.

She wonders if perhaps she would have woken up on the right side of the bed this morning with Ben to share the bed with. There's an urge to vocalize that thought, but Leslie can't beat around the bush any longer. “You can't say things like that here.” He looks taken aback by her bluntness. “No, I just... Look, Ben, I had a wonderful time last night and I want to do it again. Please don't take this the wrong way, but--”

“You don't want anyone to know about our-- us. I completely agree, Leslie.” Leaning in, Ben presses a quick kiss to her cheek. “That was professional,” he argues, and as they walk toward the stage, Leslie pushes him gently with her shoulder, her mood infinitely better.

What was he going to say? 'Our relationship'? She's afraid to even tease him about it, scared to push away the possibility of it. Leslie can see herself with Ben, a flourishing relationship between two equals with similar interests and apparently equal sexual appetites. Life just hasn't dealt them a chance to explore it.

As she reaches to pull the stage door open, Ben maneuvers to get to it first. He merely holds onto the handle, though, blocking the way with his body. “Chris and I are going to leave after the table read. I have a meeting in the office with the other execs to discuss the potential of more production out here and making my pilot. I already briefed Chris on the idea, and he loved it. Then again, I'm desensitized at this point by how many times he says something is 'outstanding' or 'literally the greatest idea in the history of mankind.' So we'll see.”

Leslie has to stop herself from physically jumping with joy. “Great,” she says, but her voice cracks with barely contained emotion. Quirking an eyebrow, Ben relinquishes his stronghold on the door and lets her through, opting to give the crew their space to set up for the meeting.

His brief whisper into her ear that he'll see her later makes Leslie shiver, the warm breath making her spine straighten. She can't speak without making her arousal obvious, so she nods once and rushes inside.

Ann looks up from her decorating of Yachter Otter's yacht, and Leslie makes a beeline for her. In hushed tones on their way to grab breakfast, she details her date with Ben, nearly voicing her proclamation that they hooked up loud enough for others to hear.

“Oh my god, Leslie,” Ann gushes, shaking her friend's arm, “that's huge!”

“I know!”

Ron walks with his usual briskness toward the AD office, so Leslie breaks the conversation to get to work, promising to update Ann with further developments. In his typical manner, Ron doesn't ask about Leslie's night or why she was away from her phone. While this is a comfort to her, there's still an ounce of Leslie that wants to shout to the world that she had an amazing date. Settling for sipping her coffee, she puts together contracts for actors and powers on her computer for work. April enters the office ten minutes late, but that's not enough to lessen Leslie's spirit.

While helping April put the tables together for the production meeting, Leslie is bombarded by Tom and Donna.

“We saw you and Benihana talking all night Friday,” Tom says. “Did you get him to change his mind?”

“Yeah, Knope,” Donna starts, “he seemed to be warming up to you.”

Spilling over the cup of pens, Leslie messily puts them back in. “I think we've... I've made progress in the right direction. He and Chris have a meeting later. We'll just have to wait and see.” She busies herself more than necessary, taking over April's jobs to avoid further questioning. The two seem satisfied, however, at least enough to leave Leslie alone.

The moment Ben and Chris walk on stage with the other crew and writers, she makes a point not to greet them. Instead, she powers through the meeting, talking about the number of background actors needed with a surprisingly strong voice given the circumstance. Leslie falters a few times, looking up at Ben and locking eyes with him only to miss bits of Ron's script breakdown. Somehow, she's turned into a 13 year old girl with a secret crush. It's not conducive to her work.

During the table read, Ben texts her, asking about making plans during the week. As Monday is typically the day of the week Leslie can get out off work the earliest, they opt for a date this evening. She offers use of her kitchen for a home cooked meal, and he volunteers to bring the ingredients and cook for her. The plan already approaching perfection, Leslie hovers over the send button for a final text:

“If you bring clothes for tomorrow, you can spend the night. Up to you.”

It seems open-ended enough. But there's an undertone of being too forward, too brazen, that makes Leslie pause. Ben's sitting so close and yet so far, a row ahead of her and beside Chris. The seating in table reads is unassigned, yet they could never just sit next to one another casually. Their worlds don't mix in the work setting like that.

Obstacles. All surmountable obstacles. If she wants to be with Ben, she can be. They can try and make something great work between them no matter the distance, be it a row of chairs or across the country. The only thing standing between their unfaltering happiness is her excuses. Leslie hits send.

Almost instantly, her phone vibrates with a response. “Good to know. I was just going to borrow something of yours otherwise for tomorrow.”

Covering her mouth firmly with her hand, Leslie holds in a bubbling laugh, half from humor and half from giddy thrill. The surrounding writers give her a questioning look, so she coughs quietly, holding up a hand in apology. Ben deftly turns his head toward her, and Leslie glares at him. He merely looks pleased in response.

Ben is cute, infuriatingly so.

He and Chris linger behind with the other executives for notes, and twenty minutes later as Leslie gathers actors for the rehearsal, she can see the flock of them head toward the parking lot. Desperate to know how their meeting will go, Leslie keeps a hand in her pocket to feel her phone for any updates from Ben. Hours pass slowly, many spent with Andy trying to rock the yacht so the boat appears to be moving in the ocean while Leslie protests the safety of it, yet there's no text messages.

Evening approaches. Leslie makes the mistake of checking her phone too many times while typing up the production report, and April snatches it off the table.

“Hey! Give that back!” Leslie lunges toward April to no avail.

April eyes her suspiciously. “What are you waiting for? Why are you acting so strangely?”

“Nothing! I'm not acting strangely!”

“Is this about that Ben guy? What's going on between you two? Did you blackmail him?” April looks smug at Leslie's flustered expression, indicating she's at least partially right.

Leslie tackles April to the ground and grabs the phone successfully. “Aha!”

“God, you're so weird! Whatever weird sexcipades you two are getting into, I don't want to know about them,” April groans, pushing Leslie off of her. “You guys are the least subtle people in the world.”

“I'll remember that the next time I see you and Andy talking,” Leslie insinuates, returning back to work and smirking when April tries to sulk in the corner but smiles reluctantly.

Finally, the phone vibrates. Waiting a moment with forced casualness, Leslie reaches for the phone, ignoring April's scoff. It's Ben texting her to say he's out of the meeting and resisting the purchase of calzone ingredients.

“Keep resisting,” Leslie sends back before returning to her production report, skimming through time sheets and notes from throughout the day. It's past 5pm when she's satisfied that she has completed her work for the day – date or no date, she'll never leave work early for her own gain. She's paid a weekly rate instead of an hourly one, but Leslie prides herself on her work ethic.

It's strange to expect a date at her own house, even stranger to see Ben waiting by her front door, arms laden with grocery bags. He seems to make his way through her hallways nicely, stepping over and around any clutter or mess that's laying around. It isn't until the bags are safely placed on her kitchen counter that he pulls her in for a slow kiss, his mouth working all of the stress out of her.

The moment he pulls away, Ben turns around to get to work, chopping up pieces of onion to saute.

Leslie watches him, the whole situation feeling domestic and serene. “Am I allowed to ask how the meeting went?”

“Oh yeah, sorry. I didn't want to just come in and talk shop.” He dumps the onions into a pot, making quick work of some chicken afterward. “It went well, but I'm not surprised. The alternative of moving Pawnee to New York involved some layoffs in the company.”

“And the script?”

“Well received,” he says off-handedly, as if talking about someone else's work. “The team in Development are going to look at it and see what they can do, get a showrunner involved, yadda yadda.”

Leslie wraps her arms around him from behind, hugging him intimately and tucking her head on his shoulder. “This isn't a 'yadda yadda' moment, Ben. This is... big. Huge, even!”

“Well,” he says, turning his neck to kiss her nose, “it's a step. When I go back next week, I have a big talk with the network president. Chris and I run Live-Action TV Production, so we can only make so many decisions alone. Keeping our West Coast offices open after coming out here to close them down? That's a big decision to account for.”

“But it's a good one,” Leslie reasons.

“To you and me maybe, but it's going to take some convincing to the higher-ups. We're talking about millions of dollars.”

They could talk it over for hours, but the meeting is out of Leslie's hands. It's out of her realm of understanding, really, having only a jaded view of most network executives and not much knowledge or what goes on behind the closed doors of their conferences. There are arguments on her tongue, notepads near her phone practically begging her to start making lists, but Ben knows these people more than she does. It's time she clean her hands of the ordeal and stick to her production knowledge. It's also time that she sit back and enjoy the evening.

Ben ends up cooking an amazing stir fry, and they enjoy it while watching Game of Thrones at his insistence. It's not necessarily going at the top of her viewing queue, but Leslie enjoys his commentary regardless. Once she's cleared the dishes, his commentary is mumbled against her neck. Leslie can't pay attention to it anyway, her eyes fluttering closed while he lifts her shirt to gain more access to her skin.

The end credits to the show roll, and he turns off the TV swiftly. “Bedroom?”

“Yes. God yes.”

They would make it faster if not for Leslie stopping to kiss Ben every few feet. When she opens the door at last, he turns her to face him, leading them both to the bed while running his hands over her body. Leslie falls into the bed with a bounce but refuses to lay idly on the bottom. Using her legs, she turns him into the mattress, not even bothering with his shirt but going straight for his pants.

She removes his belt and removes it along with his pants and briefs, pulling them all down and over the edge of the bed. Leslie gets out of the bed herself, quickly removing her jeans and underwear, before hop-stepping over to the bedside table and grabbing a condom. Quickly climbing back in and hovering just over his erection, she unwraps the condom and discards the wrapper. Ben sucks in a breath as she grips him, rolling the latex over every inch.

Feeling shameless, Leslie pumps him a few times, taking pride in the sight of his eyes squeezing tightly shut and his mouth opening in a soundless cry. Before Ben can tell her to stop teasing him, the protest already forming on his lips, she sinks down onto him slowly. It takes a moment for Leslie to adjust, so she pulls off her shirt and bra and leans down for a dirty kiss, her tongue swiping along his lips and his jaw.

After an experimental roll of her hips, Leslie knows her body is ready. She rides him using her thighs for leverage, balancing herself by pressing her hands into his chest. When her torso is low enough, Ben captures her breasts in his mouth, his tongue and lips licking and sucking her nipples. And when he can't reach them, his hands grab her ass, grinding her harder onto him.

It's hard work to keep moving on top of him, sweat moistening her neck and back, the underside of her knees nearly sticking together. With every word of encouragement from Ben, however, every plead for her to keep going or her personal favorite, “You're so fucking hot, Leslie. I love how you feel around me,” Leslie regains the energy to continue.

Ben's hand slipping between them to rub her clit is also a great energy booster.

Her knees are quivering, her muscles begging to give in, so Leslie leans toward Ben only for him to sit upward. She clutches onto his back, joining him in a rocking position. Fingers slipping against his skin wet with perspiration, Leslie wraps her arms around his neck. Ben kisses her roughly, their teeth clashing and lips swollen.

By his one hand's grip on her hip tightening, she can tell that he's very close. Dirty talk has never been her forte, but Leslie experiments: "Ben, I want to feel you come. I want you to let go and come so hard."

With a shout, Ben obeys, pulsing inside her and cursing into her ear. He doesn't pull out, though, working his fingers on her clit as her toes clench, her back arches, and her breath is caught in her throat. Leslie orgasms, moaning as she presses her head into the crook of Ben's neck.

Once she can move again, the throbbing slow and distant as time passes, she slides back. He moves the rest of the way, sliding out of her with a sigh. They're both practically dripping with sweat, the sheets are damp too, so Leslie rolls out of the bed without a lot of dignity and heads to the bathroom.

“I am not sleeping until a shower. Interested?” She asks, already reaching for the water dial.

From the mirror's reflection, she can see Ben enter, stretching as he pulls off his shirt. “Mind if I borrow your soap?”

“Only if you give what you use back to me,” Leslie teases, pulling the shower door open for him.

They don't have the energy to get into any shenanigans into the shower, but by his kisses and touches, his turning of her body to scrub over her tummy and breasts, there's promise that at a different time, it could be amazing. Leslie only stays in long enough to clean her body, opting to wash her hair the next morning. She grabs him a towel from under the counter, and they dry off in silence.

Feet padding against the floor, Ben goes out with his towel wrapped around his waist for his toothbrush. Leslie takes the opportunity to strip her bed, putting on fresh sheets. He helps her with the blanket, and they go to brush their teeth before she dons a pair of pajamas and he puts on his underwear to sleep in.

All that's left is to double check her alarm and turn off the lights before Leslie can join Ben in bed. He's inviting, having turned down a corner of the fresh blanket. As she crawls in, Ben puts an arm out. Leslie moves into it, placing her head against his chest while the arm curls around her. It's the epitome of contentment for her, his warmth and a smell that's distinctly his along her soap filling her senses.

Leslie's eyes droop closed, and she sleeps better than night than she has in years.

Her body is laden down when she awakens. It takes Leslie a few moments to realize it's the weight of the blankets on her body, layers and layers of them. Turning over takes some effort, and once she does, she notices the other half of the bed is empty and that side of the blanket has been folded over to cover her.

Panic immediately settles in Leslie's chest. Did Ben leave in the middle of the night? Did he have second thoughts about staying the night or worse... the two of them being together? Lifting off the covers, she gets out of bed and steps out into the hallway. There she hears a muffled voice.

Leslie follows the voice to the living room where, by his bag, Ben has his laptop open and his cellphone pressed to his ear with his shoulder. Relief floods over her before guilt for thinking the worst makes its way through her bloodstream, icy cold and uncomfortable.

It's abundantly clear in that moment - Leslie has developed an attachment to Ben Wyatt.

Had the thought crossed her mind that any other guy left in the middle of the night, Leslie would have been incensed. Mark had done that to her, left her before she woke up after a drunken tryst, and it angered her enough to be thankful she had weeks before her next job just so she wouldn't have to see him before then. But the idea of Ben leaving makes her feel worthless and frightened, like the floor is being ripped out from underneath her even though she can see him clearly occupying space in her home.

Ben mouths “I'm sorry” when he sees her watching him, and Leslie nods, softly saying she's going to take a shower. The warm water calms her, and she shakes her head at her initial reaction, water hitting the glass shower door with the motion. Once her hair is washed, she's about to step out when Ben opens the bathroom door, moving to join her under the water jets.

“I had to take a call from New York.”

“Anything bad?”

He kisses her cheek. “No, just arranging the big network meeting for next week. Did I wake you?”

“Nah, I slept right through it,” she says reassuringly, nervous to tell him that waking up alone was what truly wiped her sleepiness away.

They step out together and get ready in their own ways. Leslie blow dries her hair before brushing it and applying a light layer of makeup. Ben, meanwhile, pulls out a suit bag and lays out his wardrobe, the pants pristine and unwrinkled. It makes Leslie self-conscious as she pulls on her jeans and belt, an old, faded Phantom of the Opera teeshirt to pair. When she tries to make light of it, commenting that she and he are the most mismatched pair she's ever seen, Ben looks up from where he's snapping his watch on.

“I wish I could work in my jeans. You look like you're having way more fun than I am every day,” he says.

Leslie beams, stepping in front of him to straighten his tie. “That's because I am! Now let's get moving, I have puppets and free food and a fun crew to get to.” She pats Ben's tie against his chest with finality.

In true Leslie Knope spirit, she strides quickly out of the house with her work bag in hand, holding the door open with mocking impatience. Once Ben finally makes it out with his overnight bag and all of his belongings, she presses a firm kiss against his lips.

“See you at work,” she tells him after breaking away but still standing within his personal space, wiping lipstick from his mouth tenderly with her thumb.

“Are we not allowed to walk in together?”

“Considering you park in the fancy executive and above-the-line lot, and I park in the lowly crew member lot a block away, it's going to be a bit difficult.”

Ben looks at her questioningly. “Your lot doesn't have the coffee guy and golf cart service?”

“I've seen your lot, so I know you're lying!” Leslie hits his arm playfully and gets in her car, pulling out of her driveway and looking into her rearview mirror to see him behind her the entire ride until the separate turns for parking. It's a lovely ritual; one she can get used to.

If only it wasn't ending in a few days.

While Leslie wishes the rest of the week will go by painfully slow, if only to have more precious moments with Ben, it speeds on through. Ben and Chris are still hanging around, more welcomed now that they've brought the crew up to date on their progress with the network in keeping Pawnee safe. There are multiple complications, though, involving the yacht set, schooling the children while they're in most of the scenes (with Marcia breathing down Leslie's neck every second the kids aren't in class), and the press coming in for show promotions with the cast.

If press weren't already bad enough, demanding the actors be hair and makeup ready at any moment per their convenience, Joan Callamezzo proves to be Leslie's biggest stress factor of the week. Upon setting her eyes on Chris Traeger, who she did a piece on after Jolly TV canceled every show shot in Los Angeles but Pawnee, Joan starts asking him and Ben about their presence on set. Chris is able to say with confidence, enthusiasm, and honesty that he's visiting one of his favorite shows on television. His colleague is another story.

Ben flounders in front of the camera and Joan's questioning. “I'm... We're here to... You know, production isn't cheap, and... Pawnee is a great show with a great cast and hardworking crew. No ultimate decisions have been made in regard to--”

“Excuse me,” Leslie butts in, fuming at Joan's disturbance, “the interviews are for the approved cast members only. If you cannot abide by the rule your company provided, I'll have to call security.” Pulling out her cellphone threateningly, she stares down Joan until the other woman backs down, heading back to her pre-lit corner.

With his hand on her lower back, Ben whispers his thanks to her. Leslie can't linger on the moment too long, her name being called into the walkie.

“Go for Leslie.”

“Marcia's asking when she can get Greg back in school. He was late or something,” April drones in a toneless voice.

Leslie groans. “Pikitis!”

She's on the run again, the memory of Ben's hand ghosting on her back. One last night, Friday evening, remains for the two of them. Beyond that, their future is uncertain. All Leslie can do is keep working to ignore the negative connotations of that.

 

Chapter Text

It's startling how exhausting the workday on Friday is for Leslie. While the shooting call is pushed with only a handful of scenes left on the schedule and a mere ten adult background actors, her later call time means she's stuck parking her car on the roof of the parking structure. The unforgiving California sun beats down on Leslie as she makes the trek down four flights of stairs, through security, and down to the stage. As soon as she sees April, she flags her down.

“Call to turn the AC on to 100%.”

April groans. “Then everyone's going to complain it's freezing, and I'm going to have to call to have the AC guy lower it and raise it again when everyone's too hot.”

“Please just do as I ask today. I'm not in the mood to argue,” Leslie says, guilt-ridden the second the words leave her mouth. There's no worse feeling to her than the one she gets when talking down to people or being talked down to, but with the shooting day to finish and the imminent ache of Ben's departure looming, Leslie is at her wit's end.

Nodding deftly, April relents and puts the call in. The crew is already filtering in for the day, and there's still a production report from yesterday and Monday's call sheet to do. Leslie grabs a bagel and a coffee from craft service, murmuring her hellos to Donna and even Jerry while weaving in and out to hastily hole herself into the AD office. It's well into camera blocking when she finally emerges, eyes bleary from staring at her computer screen, and Leslie takes the opportunity to bring the paperwork up into the production office herself.

A walk across the lot and a steep staircase later, she huffs while dropping off everything in Jerry's inbox and stepping into Paul's office.

“Hey Paul, I was thinking for background actors next week we do 50% minors, 30% 18-to-look-younger extras, and 20% adults so we don't have to bring in additional studio teachers. Holiday episodes are always more difficult on all of the departments with the costumes and decorations, so expect requests for additionals everywhere--” Leslie blinks, paying attention to the office for the first time to see that Chris and Ben are also occupying it. “Oh my god, I'm so sorry for interrupting!”

Chris stands up immediately to bring Leslie into a crushing embrace. “I'm going to miss that outstanding, innovative mind of yours, Leslie Knope! Don't worry about a thing, Ben and I were just about to head to stage. We'll leave you to it.” He heads out first, wandering through the winding halls of the office to admire the fun pictures of the crew on the wall.

In silence, Ben gets up to follow, touching Leslie on the arm as he moves around her through the doorway. It's a touch that speaks volumes between them, something close and personal while seemingly casual to any onlookers. Leslie is so transfixed by it and admiring Ben's butt as he walks down the hall that it takes Paul's throat clearing to remove her from her daze. Right. She's here to work and get her mind off of Ben Wyatt.

Something tells Leslie that even when he's not physically at work, she'll be seeing him in all of the details of her life.

The hours that follow are just as jam-packed with work and stress as those that proceeded them. Andy gets so involved in trying to literally rock the boat that he hits his head on the side. Though it's nothing serious, Leslie demands that he be taken to the medic, so April drives him there in a golf cart. Shooting can't be postponed, thus a natural promotion occurs in the absence of the director: Ron takes over directing while Leslie becomes the 1st AD.

Whereas she pictures herself panicking at the thought of her sitting in the director's chair, Ron merely situates himself in Andy's chair, stares at the monitor before him displaying all four camera's shots, and calls out the changes he wants made. Once everything is to his liking, he gestures to Leslie.

“Let's roll.”

Grinning, Leslie clicks on her surveillance mic to communicate with the sound utilities. “On a bell please, and roll cameras.”

A bell rings, signaling to all that sound is rolling, recording onto a hard drive. The red lights inside and outside of the soundtage are burning – indicating to all not to exit or enter the stage. All four cameras are in position, and Leslie stands close to Ron for further direction. Once the chatter quiets, Ron squints at the monitor, looking over every last detail with scrutiny.

“Action!” He calls, and all of the actors begin, orchestrating the scene with precision.

Leslie looks between the monitor and the set, catching Ben in video village with Chris among the company of Ethel Beavers, who's timing the scene and making notes on her script with a sour look on her face, and the show's executives. Ben glances over at Leslie, shooting her a wry smile and a thumbs up at her sudden rise to 1st AD. She tries not too become too flustered by his attention, her cheeks turning rosy pink, and puts her focus on the scene.

Ron's mustache twitches when the scene is finished, and he calls “Cut!” Rather than run in energetically to physically make the changes he would like as Andy would, Ron never removes himself from the director's chair, giving notes to each camera with a loud bark. Leslie darts in to adjust background actors and to deliver some of Ron's smaller notes to the cast and camera operators before rolling cameras again and going for another take.

By the time they've moved on to the next scene and are almost done shooting for the entire day, Andy returns, his head bandaged and his fingers fully entwined with April's. No one seems to notice but Leslie, who gives a quick smile but tilts her head toward their hands. April separates them, and Andy runs ahead to grab hold of the reigns again, immediately redirecting the camera positions and micromanaging the actors' wardrobes and the set decoration much to Ann's frustration. The two are spared any acknowledgement. When April finally nears Leslie, she gives her production assistant and small hug (that is returned only by April with an awkward pat), and the two go back to their work.

Late into the evening, Leslie lets April go out with Andy, only after all of the walkies are charging, the time cards are dropped off with accounting, and the actors' trailers are locked up. After sending a text to Ben detailing that she's the last one in the office and her work is almost done, Leslie makes her final revisions to the production report. As she proofs it, there's a knock on the AD office door.

She jumps in her seat. “Uh, come in?”

Ben emerges, taking April's seat. “I hope you don't mind me hanging around here. The network asked me to make a few revisions with my pilot script, and since I knew you'd be a while, I stayed on the lot and just sent them in.”

“I'm almost done with my work for the day,” Leslie says, enamored by his proficiency in writing to get everything done so quickly and nonchalantly. “Give me five minutes to add Andy's trip to the medic to the PR, and I'll be good to go.”

In the small office, Leslie can hear along the clicking of her typing Ben's sigh. Out of the corner of her eye, he pockets his phone and looks back to her, smiling sadly. Once the production report is printing, she finally swivels her chair toward him but keeps one hand close to the printer to grab the papers and go.

“What's wrong?”

“I'm leaving,” he says, as if it's a foreign concept to him. Leslie nods, hoping he will continue. “It's just... Every time I've left Los Angeles, it's with finality and closure, knowing my job is done and that I'll return. I'm probably just being stupid - I know I'll return, but I'm leaving tomorrow not knowing what's going to happen with Jolly or with you, Leslie.”

Her hand pauses, hovering over the printer's tray where two, warm pages await her grasp. Leslie retracts her arm, using the momentum of her feet to push her closer and closer to him until their chairs are almost touching and their legs are intertwined. She hugs him from where he sits before her, inhaling his scent and rubbing the soft fabric of the shirt on his back.

Swallowing down any joke or light-making of the situation, she finally pulls back to look him in the eye. “You've promised so much to me and to us here at Pawnee, that even if it all crumbles, I couldn't find it in me to hate you. So thank you, Ben.”

Half of his mouth turns up, but his reluctance to smile fully dissuades Leslie from ignoring the other half of his concern.

“And I...” she begins, “I will always be here. If-- When you come back... We can always hang out if you want to?” It comes out as a question, her uncertainty genuine. Leslie's never been in this position before. Boyfriends have literally fled her, using their mothers or injuries or even skywriters to deliver the message. But rekindling a relationship has never been the norm for her.

“What if I want to do more than just hang out?” Ben asks, his hand on her knee.

She licks her dry lips. “I'm always here for that too.”

With haste, Leslie delivers the production report to the abandoned production office, and she and Ben make the drive over to his hotel in their separate cars. Once both of their cars are safe with Valet, they walk into the lush lobby, skipping the bar and moving straight to his hotel room. It's early enough that the elevator is empty, and late enough that the hallway is too, free of any guests out hunting to fill their ice buckets or going out for the evening.

Their hands reach out for either other, arms lacing around hips and hands making less-than-modest stroking among bodies, even while out in the open. The moment they're in Ben's room, all calls are off. Clothes are yanked down, strewn over the chairs and floor. As they kiss, mouths and hands fighting for dominance, Ben manages to take control.

With his body flush against her back, he drops Leslie stomach-down onto the bed. Running the length of his cock from her lower back down over her ass, Ben leans down so that his elbows rest on either side of her arms. His right arm reaches between her legs, rubbing her clit and pushing one, then two, and then three fingers gently inside her.

Leslie doesn't need his deep growl in her ear to know that she's wet and ready for him, so she impatiently arches her ass up against his erection, teasing him. Ben groans, reaching to the box of condoms that's on the floor by the bed. He slips one on and slowly enters her, filling Leslie and holding her down with his weight.

Relinquishing her power to him feels less demeaning that she ever imagined; in fact, it feels trusting and intimate. More than what Leslie would expect from a quick fling.

Ben has the opportunity to choose the pace, the type of thrusts, how deep he goes... and every choice of his is a winner to Leslie. He fucks her frantically at first, never uttering a word. His gasping breaths are all she has to go on that Ben's enjoying it at all. Once he notices she's clutched the sheets with white knuckles, he guides both of her arms over her head and holds them together with his left hand.

His right hand brushes the sweat-damp hair from the back of her neck aside so he can press hot, open mouthed kisses from her neck to her shoulders and every inch of skin he can reach. The thrusting slows during this period, and as if the change of pace gives Ben more mental clarity, he begins whispering hot nonsense into her ear.

“God Leslie, you feel incredible.”

“I'm going to miss this... you under me and on top of me and all around me.”

“Do you know how affected I am knowing that you're this wet because of me?”

She whimpers at that one, and while kissing the back of her neck, which is a hypersensitive area of Leslie's, he slips his hand back between her tummy and the mattress. It takes some wiggling to get his fingers just there, and though it tickles her along the way, making her a shaking, laughing, mess, once Ben begins his ministrations, the only sounds that escape her are breathy moans.

He tries to slow down to match the build of her orgasm. “No. Faster, harder,” Leslie commands.

“But I don't think--”

Please, Ben.”

Ben complies, his thrusts quick and deep, rough as they push her into the pillow. His fingers are rubbing her with no order, no pattern or rhythm, and the wild movement causes the warmth within her to turn from kindling ambers to a hot fire.

Every ounce of Leslie wants this to last. Not just the dirty sex and hot kisses in their respective bedrooms or in isolated corners at work, but the two of them. Together. When she comes hard around him, the pulsing pushing him over the edge as well, an unwelcome thought joins the whirlwind of her spinning consciousness.

What if this is the last time they do something together?

With Ben leaving tomorrow morning until who knows when, the results of his meeting with the network president holding the fate of whether or not he has cause to come back to LA, there's no telling when Leslie will see him next. And if Jolly TV's West Coast division shuts down, even if Ben visits her city, would he feel to ashamed to see her? As he slides out of her and walks to the bathroom to clean up, she crawls to situate herself under the covers.

“Leslie?”

Her eyes get glassy. She can feel the sting of tears and her throat closing up. No. Don't do this.

“Are you okay?”

Leslie nods, not trusting her voice to speak.

Ben swiftly gets in beside her but doesn't touch her. His respect of her space does nothing but remind Leslie how wonderful he is.

“You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to,” he says reassuringly.

So she doesn't. For minutes that feel like hours, Leslie doesn't say a thing; she just stares at her hands, running the pads of her fingers over her nails. Then, the words fall out of her: “It hasn't even been two weeks, and still the idea of acting like this is... casual depresses me. I don't want to go on and be conveniently available for you when – if – you come back and pretend like our time together didn't mean more than just sex.”

He chuckles, and the audacity of it startles Leslie into finally looking right at him. “I'm not laughing at you, it's just... Leslie, the second I met you, you were down to business, telling me how I was wrong and what you wanted. You just ordered me around in bed. Tell me what you want from us.”

“I...” Leslie's eyes dart between both of his, unable to focus. “I want there to be an us, Ben. I can't tell you what to do, I can't make you stay celibate for god's sake, but I also can't act let you leave without fighting for more than just us being fuck buddies when you're out here. The thought of that is too crappy for me to handle.”

Ben's hands reach for her fidgeting ones, holding them softly. He rests his forehead against hers, not moving in for a kiss, but just reveling in their closeness. Leslie can barely breathe through the whole ordeal, unsure of what he's going to say.

“I've never met anyone like you, Leslie Knope. Anyone who's made me want to be in Los Angeles for longer than a couple of weeks. If you think I can go on with my life after you've come in and thrown everything around figuratively and literally,” he says, gesturing to the mess of clothing around his hotel room, “then you're not the incredibly intelligent woman I thought you were. I'm more than will to try and make this work if you are.”

Leslie answers him with a kiss. It's soft and languid, her fingers racking through his hair sweetly. Pulling away, she smiles, and his returning grin drives all of the dark, doubting thoughts away.

They can do this.

Over breakfast in the hotel's restaurant in her emergency back-up clothing because she didn't have a chance to pack a bag for her overnight stay, Leslie is surrounded by Ben's suitcases in the booth. They sip their too-strong coffee and eat their bland, unseasoned eggs with brief conversation. Truthfully, no matter their plan to attempt a long distance relationship and their bond built on more than just physical attraction, she can't ignore the three-thousand mile distance that will soon separate them.

He lays out his schedule, including prime times to talk to her, like after he lands that evening and after the important network meeting. With deliberately slow steps, they make their way to the valet parking area. Ben still has to return his rental car before he goes to the airport, but Leslie gives him the space to take care of his business instead of lingering and offering to drive him to the airport. If this is going to work, if verbal communication is going to have to suffice. She can't be overbearing.

Before they hand their cards in to have their cars retrieved, they look at each other like the valet guys, the hotel guests, and the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Boulevard doesn't exist. Only Leslie and Ben remain. He brushes a curl off her shoulder and cups her face with his palm.

“Leslie Knope.”

“Ben Wyatt.”

They both laugh airily. Pursing her lips together, Leslie takes a step closer to him. Ben's arms encircle her waist, pulling her tightly against him.

“Thank you for helping me see reason for once. I'll be happy if I can save Pawnee because it means helping so many people. I would have never cared were it not for you,” Ben whispers into her hair.

She has to fight back tears. “Mr. Vice President, it has been an honor to be graced by your presence,” she teases, and he pats her butt playfully. Leslie sobers up. “In all seriousness, thank you for taking a small show and its ridiculous crew and making it a priority. And thank you for our time together. Come back soon.”

With a final, chaste kiss, Ben nods, taking a step back. “I will.”

 

Chapter Text

Leslie decides the best course of action is to not spend Sunday alone. She doesn't waste her late-morning shower crying, beads of water sitting on her eyelashes standing in for the tears she refuses to shed. Closing the door to her empty home with solemnness, she drives straight to Ann's house with her work folder, even ignoring the call of JJ's Diner – which she last visited with Ben.

The fierce hug Ann gives Leslie the moment the front door is open warms her. Once they're settled inside with coffees Ann has laced with Bailey's and doused with whipped cream, Leslie delivers the news of her and Ben's attempt at a long distance relationship. Every word is delivered with tenderness, like the relationship is a gentle flower needing great care and attention. However, she never once uses the B-word, afraid to label Ben too soon.

“So after I left the hotel yesterday morning, he went off and flew back. He called to say he made it home safely, and I'm giving him some space to unpack and get ready for work tomorrow,” Leslie says, ignoring how difficult it is to swallow.

“You were at the hotel Saturday, too? We must have just missed each other,” Ann comments casually.

That catches Leslie off-guard. “What were you doing at the hotel on-- Oh Ann! You sultry minx! You slept with Chris?!”

“Don't act so surprised, Leslie,” Ann says, laughing. “We all went to the Snakehole Lounge Friday night. Chris paid for everyone's drink to thank us for our hospitality during his visit, and then we talked the whole night. April and Andy were all over each other, and I was tired of denying myself happiness for fear of... looking like I'm rebounding or looking like I'm desperate. I just want to look like Ann Perkins.”

Sipping from her sugary, boozy coffee, Leslie's eyes crinkle. “I'm sure Chris liked more than how Ann Perkins looks.”

While Ann leafs through decorating catalogues and makes note of what she still needs for the new sets, Leslie preps call sheets for the week before going through the script. They're about to embark on episode 16 of their 20 episode order, and in five short weeks, a hiatus will be upon them.

Whereas most television shows go on a hiatus during the summer, children's television shows take a hiatus through fall/winter so episodes will be edited and ready to air for all of the kids bored during their summer vacations. Not that it necessarily matters, with California's fall and winter feeling more like a chilly spring and better rates on planes and hotels available during that time for any crew members who want to go far, far away. Leslie typically spends her hiatuses day playing on other projects, from pilots to donating her time on student and low-budget films.

It is a lonely time for her, though. Work days are few and far between during those four months of hiatus, and beside an outing once a month with the Pawnee crew, she can be alone for days at a time. The prospect of Ben coming out to visit or even her flying to New York has crossed her mind multiple times, but with the length of time before his availability for a visit unknown, Leslie tries not to get her hopes up too high.

Until then, phone calls, texting, and even Skype will have to suffice.

During the car ride back home that evening, Leslie's phone pings with text messages. She counts four in all, but waits until she's safely pulled into her driveway to check.

Ben Wyatt (7:05pm): Still on Pacific time. This should be interesting tomorrow morning.

Ben Wyatt (7:05pm): Regardless, it's always harder to get up without you beside me.

Ben Wyatt (7:06pm): That was so cheesy you could taste it.

Ben Wyatt (7:08pm): Good cheesy or bad cheesy?

Giggling, Leslie rapidly texts back, “Good cheesy. Now drink some sleepy time tea and hit the pillows!”

Of course, the time difference does nothing to help their fledgling relationship. A solid three hours in the morning for him and at night for her are lost. As Leslie lounges on the couch and enjoys catching up on shows on her DVR, she pictures Ben sleeping soundly. Without her. There won't be many complaints surrounding his rest until after Tuesday's conference, though. A quick search online gives her all she needs to know about the man Ben will be meeting with to determine the fate of Pawnee and the jobs of dozens.

Hugh Trumple founded Jolly TV just over twelve years ago to compete with other children's networks that became too concerned with pushing out starlets and less concerned with educating the youth. Combining shows not unlike those on public broadcasting networks with educational series and how-to programs, the network garnered support off the bat. Pawnee was a breakout show for Jolly, and has since become its longest lasting and most highly distributed show, reaching households across the world.

Trumple, however, appears to be more of a money man. His interviews reflect heavy discussions of ratings and profits – though much is donated to children's charities – while lacking on details of the shows themselves. When Leslie brings up the topic Monday night over the phone with Ben, he informs her that Trumple had great intentions, but most importantly thanks to a lawsuit at his previous network – he had the money to act them out.

“That's the problem with most of these network heads. They're in it for the profits and just sit in the office all day, checking in to make sure they're still in the black. It's harder to reason with them.”

“But he has... had... the idea to make a network solely for educating kids. How could that have changed?” Leslie asks, her paperwork slipping from her lap as she talks.

There's a ruffling noise on the other end and then what sounds like a computer starting up. “Trumple still stands for that, but networks need money. If he wanted to do something completely selfless and out of his control, he'd fund shows for public broadcasting. But by choosing to make his own network, he needs to fund it somehow. I'm not happy about it. Hell, the guy scares the shit out of me, which is why I'm wondering if can you go over my notes for the meeting with me?”

Leslie throws her script aside, knowing she'll have a chance to read through it tomorrow. “It'd be my pleasure.”

The next day, Leslie has to literally hide her phone in a desk drawer to stop herself from checking it. Ben has assured her that the conference will be recorded like all big meetings for the ease of sending it to investors, and he would send her a link to it... depending on how it goes. But that means nothing to Leslie at work, who's fidgeting and pacing along the floor because she's stuck across the country and not in the room herself.

“Whatever is bothering you, I don't care,” Ron offers with his usual cool demeanor. “Just walk it off; you're making people nervous.”

With a sigh that sounds melodramatic even to her, she pushes open the stage door and walks along the row of actor's trailers stationed outside. Early October is cardigan weather at most in Los Angeles, some of the executives moving through the studio lot still in dresses and skirts. Leslie pulls the loose sweater closer to her, more for the sake of playing with the fabric and buttons to ease her mind than for actual warmth.

There's a pull to go into Ann's office and vent to her, but upon seeing the ridiculous sight of Tom practically dancing onto stage while carrying enough heavy bags of clothing to suffocate him, Leslie grounds her feet. Her crew is happy at work, despite knowing that this season of Pawnee could be their last.

How could she have gotten so distracted?

The answer is simple – Ben's involvement in the entire situation and her idea to start up additional productions in LA rather than stifle all of them makes it all more personal than any other show she's worked on, let alone any project she's taken on.

No other executives have come to watch the crew with as much interest as Ben and Chris, and not a single one would have given her the time of day, let alone repeatedly put up with her fury and constant badgering. Most importantly, however, when any other production was at risk for cancelation, never once did Leslie have a stake in the matter. It always came down to ratings or the cast's monetary negotiations; never a lowly Assistant Director and her lofty ideas.

A part of Leslie will blame herself if Trumple declines Ben's (and her) idea. She'll think it wasn't good enough, that they spent too much time in bed and not enough brainstorming. The idea of watching the crew file out of the stage that has housed Pawnee for all nine seasons for the last time sends an icy chill through her bloodstream.

Leslie can't do this. She can't hold the weight of a beloved children's show on her shoulders. The weight of people's livelihood. The ability for her crew to provide for their families.

The stage door opens sharply, Andy stepping out with brisk energy. “Oh hey, Leslie. Is your head getting all fuzzy from the fog machine, too?”

“Fog machine? Oh, I didn't know we were already on Scene M. I'm just...” She steps closer to Andy. “Does it ever bother you that your choices with the show impact so many people? That if you do the wrong thing, it could affect everyone negatively?”

“Not really,” Andy says, scratching the back of his head. “I trust that I'm here because people like me or at least like the show the way it is. No one is one-hundred-percent happy with anything I do here. It bugs Ron or you, some moms send me letters that they're afraid their kids are going to do dangerous stuff like accept their friends for who they are because they see someone do it on TV. But if it means that I taught at least one kid that it's okay to be gay or to get rid of the mean people in your life or to eat that cake because it makes your happy and not care what everyone else says, then if I get fired tomorrow, I'll be happy. Ya know?”

Warm relief settles over Leslie. “Yeah, I think I do.” She leaves Andy to breathe in the fresh air while stepping back on stage.

The crew takes a five minute break to air out the stage, so Leslie takes the opportunity to run up to the AD office. Firstly, she must call the extras casting line to make sure her background actors for the week are okay with the fog machine. While she talks on the phone, her free hand opens up the drawer and collects her cell.

There are no missed calls, only an email notification. There, from sender Ben Wyatt, is the recording of the meeting. However, there's no text in the subject line or body of the email, so Leslie is left to guess what could have occurred. Rather than dwell on it, she pockets the phone and continues her conversation, resolving to keep the two worlds – that of Ben Wyatt and the fate of Pawnee and that of the daily reality of her work on the production – separate.

Well past eight in the evening, Leslie sits at her dinner table and picks at the salad Donna packed for her from their leftover catering. With little hope that she'll get two bites down, she sighs and comes to terms with the fact that there's no hiding from this. Leslie grabs her laptop from the counter and opens it. Once it connects to her wifi, she dives into her bountiful emails, scrolling down through promotions until Ben's message stands out.

Her finger hovers over her mousepad. The sound of a car speeding down the street startles Leslie into finally pressing the play button. She scrambles to get comfortable in her seat with shaky legs while the video player opens, and after two seconds of a silent, black display, a fuzzy beige conference room fills the screen. As the recording was probably taken with a web cam on a monitor mounted on the wall, Ben, Chris, Hugh Trumple, and assorted young people – presumably note-taking assistants – look far away, as if Leslie is watching from a small hill.

The audio isn't much better than the picture, but the sound of Trumple clearing his throat to begin drops all wandering thoughts from Leslie's mind.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. I trust your trip to Los Angeles came with many... revelations,” he says with a tone that invites small talk.

While Leslie knows better than to fall for that bait, Chris chimes in: “You will not believe the amazing work Ben and I saw being done on Pawnee. In fact, it invited a very interesting and progressive conversation among us and your West Coast office.”

“Let's cut to the chase, Chris,” Trumple cuts in, all kindness lost in his voice. “I was shocked, to say the least, when my assistant dropped the new itinerary for today's meeting on my desk. Ben,” he says, turning to the man in question, “we haven't heard from you yet. I seem to recall you telling me that you intended to 'cut the fat' off this company's spending. Those were your words exactly. Now you're green-lighting your own script to shoot in LA with the plan to—”

“If I may...” Ben interrupts, and while Trumple nods and holds out his hands in a mocking gesture to say Ben has the floor, Leslie is shouting her protests at his risky move to her empty living room. “I didn't green-light my script; the team in Development that you trust with all of Jolly's programming did, and I have no intentions to run the show or hold anything more than a creator/executive producer title.”

Trumple scoffs. “Yes, let's not forget what happened the last time you were trusted as showrunner.”

“What a dick!” Leslie yells to her screen, stabbing a piece of lettuce with such force that it nearly knocks her salad's plastic container to the floor.

Ben, however, doesn't let his temper get ahead of him. “More to the point of spending, while I will be the first to admit I had every intention of moving Pawnee to New York and subsequently shutting down our West Coast office, I see the risks of doing so. That office, while new and still growing, can prosper in Los Angeles. Each of our competitive networks has an office on both coasts, and beside our internship program in Los Angeles catering to its many film schools, Chris has initiated talks to begin an apprenticeship program as well to attract recent graduates to our many departments.”

“You're a numbers man like me, Wyatt, not a theoretical dreamer. Give me something I can quantify, or else that office is closing by the end of the year,” Trumple threatens with startling calmness, folding his hands before him.

Leslie feels her heartbeat quicken. She and Ben never really discussed numbers beside increasing employment, but that just entails Jolly to spend more money, even if it returns on advertisements and viewership. From the fuzzy shape she makes out to be Ben with his skinny tie and plaid shirt, she can see him look down at the table before leaning back in his chair – victory in his stance.

“If you close that office, your stockholders are going to wonder why you couldn't keep up in California no matter the odds. You can kiss the brands with West Coast headquarters goodbye in regard to advertisements. Most importantly, you'll project to the world that you're just another guy at the top who couldn't care less about the economy of a city if it doesn't help you prosper.

“Our employees stretch beyond the walls of the office – they make up the very special crew of Pawnee, and all of those people use our Jolly paychecks to buy food in Los Angeles, gasoline, housing - basic necessities that we take for granted. They help that economy, and that economy will help us when advertisers want bigger contracts and when, not if, that production tax incentive comes back to California. I hope you can quantify that, sir.”

There's a loud screech as Leslie pushes her chair away from the table, not even bothering to pause the video. Her hand reaches for her phone, and she calls Ben without caring about the three hour time difference.

He picks up on the third ring. “Hey, how's it--”

“I don't know whether I want to make out with you or hit you! That was... You were... God, Ben, you might have really screwed things up by being an ass to your boss,” Leslie says, taking deep breaths to calm herself.

He hums, and Leslie can hear him turn off a television set or computer video before he walks somewhere. She hasn't given much thought to her idea of his living situation, if it would be lush like his Hollywood hotel room or small and modest, and this anticipation of his reaction to her words, to his meeting, to anything, doesn't incite her imagination. “You're right,” Ben tells her quietly.

“What?”

“I could have really screwed things up. But I didn't.”

His voice is smug. Why does he sound so smug? “Ben, what are you saying?”

We did it. Jolly is staying in LA. Pawnee is staying in LA!” Ben continues to excitedly detail the rest of the meeting, but Leslie doesn't hear a word of it.

All that rings in her ears is the triumphant thought that at the end of all this insanity, she has her job and her attractive, daring boyfriend.

 

Chapter Text

Weeks pass, but not like a film fading out assuredly back in when it's convenient for Leslie. If they did, she'd be right at the moment when she can see Ben next, at ease now that her show is safe (for the moment at least, as ratings will always be a factor). Instead, Leslie struggles with hectic episodes with dozens of background actors, April even less inclined to work now that she's infatuated with Andy and unable to do anything that doesn't benefit him directly, and Greg Pikitis making it his mission to spray Silly String and throw tiny scraps of confetti in a different department's office every night.

He hasn't admitted it's him – in fact, he steadfastly denies it – but Leslie has her suspicions.

Nonetheless, she puts a call into Ben every evening to check in. When she texts her concerns regarding calling him after a long shoot day at what would be after midnight on the East Coast, Ben calls her just as she's getting out of the car and starts the conversation with a guffaw.

“I'm a big boy; I think I can manage a missed hour or two of sleep if it means talking to you. Besides, studies show I'm less grumpy after conversing with you no matter the circumstance.” As he speaks, Leslie can make out the sound of a door opening and a sudden onslaught of New York ambience from car horns to drunken yelling on the streets.

“Hm, I think I'd be less grumpy if I could see you. It's been four weeks.” She doesn't vocalize the rest of that sentence, that it's been four weeks (and five days) since she's seen him, felt his arms around her or his lips against hers.

Ben is quiet, not making a peep more than a sigh and a hum of acknowledgement. There's not much Leslie can expect him to say or do. In a perfect world, they wouldn't be apart ever again. In the real world, however, she can't begrudge him his work in New York, especially as his show is moving into the casting phase. Things are still delicate at Jolly TV, too, with Ben walking on eggshells so as to not make Trumple regret his decision to keep the West Coast offices open and more busy than ever.

Leslie lets the background noise fill her ear as she readies for bed, forgoing dinner for sleep. Not only is tomorrow the last day of filming for the season – it's also the wrap party, and she needs rest to manage a crew restless for their hitatus. As she peels off her clothes and tosses them into her hamper, Ben clears his throat.

“Are you getting naked?”

Giggling, Leslie pulls on her pajama bottoms with a sultry wiggle of her hips. Even if Ben can't see it, she still feels powerful having a hold over him and the exaggerated movement does wonders for her self-confidence. “I'm putting on pajamas with donuts on them. I assumed by your silence that you had forgotten entirely that I was still here.” So what if she's tired? There's always time to flirt with Ben Wyatt.

“How can I forget about you when you're partially naked and it's been over a month since I have been graced by your partially naked presence?”

“Saying 'partially naked' so many times doesn't enhance the mood, per se.”

“Kinda hard to get in the mood in the first place when we're so damn far away from each other,” Ben snaps, and the moment is vanquished. With the sound of a door slamming shut, the background noise is gone.

It's just Leslie and Ben.

Hastily pulling her shirt on with her cell phone held between her legs, Leslie takes the moment to let out a long breath and keep herself from being too affected by his words. “I know,” she whispers, her throat tight and her mouth dry.

“I'm sorry... I'm not mad at you, Les. I'm just stressed with casting and this shitty situation our relationship has turned into with both of us working on everything but us.”

She walks into the bathroom and quietly pulls from drawers and cupboards all she needs to finish getting ready to go to sleep. Leslie pushes her free palm into the counter to ground herself. “The thing about this 'situation,' Ben, is that it doesn't get that much easier. We're still on opposite ends of the country, and a visit here or there won't alleviate the struggle as much as we may want it to.”

The words slip from her mouth without much thought, her mind too exhausted to craft a delicate way of putting things. That doesn't bother Leslie so much as the truth in her statement. If they can't keep this up when they should still be in the perfect bubble of their relationship, reveling in each other rather than what's in their way, how can they stand the possibility of another month or so until production starts on Ben's show? Or the inevitable time apart following that?

“You're... We're...” Ben's voice sounds shaky, just like how Leslie's resolve is starting to felt. Her palm aches from the pressure she's putting on it to keep herself from breaking down. “We're going to be all right. It's just late, and it's been a long day. More so for you. You have another day of shooting tomorrow, so you should get to bed. Don't let me keep you up.” He sounds so distant, like he's turned off the conflict-resolution part of his brain and is just running on auto-pilot.

It tears her apart.

“After we finish taping tomorrow we're having a little wrap party,” Leslie says, aiming for normalcy in her tone. “It shouldn't go late, but I'll text to make sure you're up and free before calling or anything, okay?”

“Sounds good. Sweet dreams,” Ben tells her softly, kindness at last reaching those words after so many of them were devoid of emotion.

“Goodnight.” Hanging up the phone, Leslie drops it lightly on the counter and wipes the makeup off her face in silence. The mascara smudges under her eyes, so she splashes water on her face again and again to feel the icy cold water awaking her senses. As she brushes her teeth, she stares at her reflection with penetrating eyes.

Even as Leslie drifts off, the sight of her so desperate is engraved in her mind.

While exhaustion clings to her eyelids Friday morning, she keeps moving. Ron thankfully accommodated the wrap party well with his schedule: there are only three short scenes to shoot before production is done with episode 20 and thusly season nine. They're poised to wrap at lunch, and there's a grilled cheese truck and a few buckets of beers awaiting the crew. It serves as great motivation for everyone to stay focused, and Leslie is relieved to have less ushering to do with her actors and crew.

During the camera move for the last scene, April takes a call from the stage phone regarding a delivery and steps outside. When she comes back in, everyone's eyes follow her. Leslie is too preoccupied with signing out actors who are done for the day to notice when her production assistant is standing before her, annoyed expression on her face, with a giant vase filled with red roses.

“Can you take these? Everyone's starting to think I bought or received them, and it makes me look nice. Gross,” April spits out, shoving the flowers into Leslie's arms.

With sputtering thanks, Leslie accepts the offering, walking away to read the small white card that sits among the beautiful flowers. Tom and Donna ambush her though, steering her into craft services and placing the vase on the coffee table.

“Hey! These are mine!” Leslie argues, but Donna's already plucking the card from the bouquet and opening the small envelope.

From the corner of her eye, Leslie can see Andy and April rush in to see the latest drama. Donna holds up a hand to stop them from commenting while she reads the card aloud:

“My Dearest Leslie,

It only made sense to send flowers to work, lest they wilt on your doorstep until you make it home. Words cannot express how sorry I am for the way I spoke to you last night. I hold you in the highest regard, and I will do everything in my power to make this work.

Yours Truly,

The Phantom of the Soundstage”

A deep flush falls on Leslie's cheeks, the heat radiating. Of course expressing her love for The Phantom of the Opera to Ben offhandedly a month ago wouldn't go underutilized. The red roses, the Phantom's signature flower, is a nice touch as well. While confusion marks the faces of everyone but April who looks completely disgusted by the affection in the card despite the small smile tugging on her lips, Andy looks positively... haunted.

“Do we really have a phantom here? Is it safe? Leslie, have you fallen under his or her spell?” To make his point, Andy waves a hand in front of her eyes and shakes her shoulders slightly.

Pushing him off, Leslie waves a hand to shrug everything off. “We're not haunted.”

“Mm, but you're definitely under someone's spell,” Donna says, innuendo underlining her words.

“Who would send you flowers and sign with a fictional character's name?” Tom asks, and just as revelation starts to spark, Leslie grabs the card from Donna's hands and the heavy vase, running to the AD office.

She places the flowers down gently, watching carefully from the window to see her antagonizers laughing, Donna even exclaiming, “I knew those two were up to something!” Ducking into her chair, Leslie extracts her phone.

It's still early enough in the afternoon in New York for Ben to be in the office, so calling him might not be the best way to reach him. Regardless, she dials his number and it goes to voicemail. “Hey, the strangest thing happened today,” Leslie begins. “I got some flowers from someone who claims to be The Phantom of the Soundstage. They sound mysterious and romantic... In fact, I think it was a great gesture. If I get the chance to talk to them, I'll give my sincere thanks and say I forgive them. Just thought you should know. Have a good day! I'll call you later!”

Shoving her phone in her pocket and turning off the office lights behind her, Leslie cautiously makes her way back to set, knowing eyes and soft snickers from those who were just in crafty following her. Perhaps she should hole herself up in the office and get the production report started or even the call sheets for the following week's wrapping of the sets sorted, but the end of the season saddens Leslie too much to miss it. So instead she watches the taping, enjoying the laughs among the crew and the positive attitude radiating from a multitude of people all working for a common good.

When cameras wrap, the crew that needs to immediately move their equipment gets to work while a mass exodus of people exit the stage into the October afternoon. The sun is shining despite the cool breeze, and the line for food is buzzing with well wishes for everyone’s hiatus. Leslie grabs a beer to sip while waiting, wind blowing wisps of her hair to the side. Donna and Tom back-cut her to tease her relentlessly about dating Ben, but she takes it all with stride, taking a pull from her hoppy drink.

“You know we're kidding, right Knope?” Donna asks when Leslie doesn't respond.

“Yeah, Benihana is a pretty cool guy. The long distance thing doesn't work for a lot of people, but you two like stuff, like a lot. He's got his nerdy stuff, and you're all about the production life. You don't lose interest easily, so it should work out for you,” Tom assures her, cheering as the line moves and they're one step closer to delicious grilled cheese delicacies.

Leslie adopts his enthusiasm, genuinely at that.

Perspective suits her.

Knowing to only have one beer so that she's still able to tackle paperwork, Leslie takes her sandwich to the office and bangs out all of her work in an hour flat. Assistant Directors aren't called in for the wrap week when sets are brought into storage to free up the soundstage for other productions, so her work ends today. Though she protests, Andy drops three bottles of beer into her bag, and with her hands filled with the vase, Leslie can't stop him. It doesn't disappoint her too much.

She climbs the stairs to the production office to hand in her work and say her goodbyes to everyone. Jerry is very receptive and disheartened to have so many people gone for four months, but he and the other office workers will still get paid and carry on through wrap week and post production. Were the work not tedious and slow during the hiatus, Leslie would be jealous.

Placing her flowers down on Jerry's desk despite his quiet protest, she pokes her head into Paul's office to wish him well. He's on the phone, but he waves and mouths an apology and promise to keep in touch over the break. Leslie sees that as her cue to leave, and she stops by Ann's office to walk out with her, only regretting it slightly when Ann reads Ben's card loud enough for the tourists they pass to judge.

“You're wearing fanny packs! Who are you to look at me that way?” Leslie yells playfully, picking up speed when one of the tourist looks like he's going to give her a piece of his mind.

“It's cute, Leslie. Really. Chris just sends me raw vegan recipes and motivational pictures of cats.”

With a quick kiss on Ann's cheek and some reassurance that Chris is gifting her the only way he knows how, Leslie carefully gets into her car and drives home slowly. Ben texts her during the drive that he's on an important business call but will call her back as soon as possible, so she takes her time when she gets home in the early afternoon to place the flowers on her dining room table. As she puts her bag down, the sound of bottles clanging together reminds her of the beers, so she opens a bottle and drinks heartily, thirstier than she realized.

Well into her third beer when she's on the couch with the TV on but not actually processing the images before her, Leslie gets up on wobbly legs to the sound of her phone ringing.

“Beeeeeeen!”

“Hey! I'm sorry it took so long, but I was on a really productive call with Paul today,” he says, words shaking in time with his footsteps, indicating he's pacing. Leslie knows by now that he only paces when something important is happening.

Her thoughts spin with ideas of what's going on, and she blinks to hone in on it. “That's weird; when I was leaving the production office an hour ago, he was on the phone.”

“Yeah, I told you - it was really productive. We're getting a team ready for production on my pilot, and we need production designers, the art team, and ADs for the show--”

“Hm, I can recommend s'm people besides who Paul knows,” Leslie slurs.

Ben lets out a frustrated laugh. It sounds curt and less inviting than his usual laugh. “Are you drunk?”

“Maaaaybe.”

“Okay, well do me a favor and just let me finish because my news is big.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Vice President,” she says sarcastically, feeling scolded. So what if she's drunk? Being drunk is nice. She's just finished 20 long weeks of production. She deserves a drink, particularly a drink with him, and if that's not possible, then she'll have to get more drunk in the meanwhile as soon as he's done being Mean Ben.

She yawns. Leslie knows she should be paying more attention, but beer makes her eyes heavy, and after last night, she could use some catching up on sleep. Her legs drag her over to the couch, and she lays down, his voice droning on. With a slight moan, Leslie succumbs to slumber to Ben's mentioning of Paul and production.

When she wakes up with a sore neck in the early hours of the morning, the red light in the corner of her phone flashes.

Ben Wyatt (5:37pm): Haha. Never had anyone literally fall asleep as I talked business with them. We'll talk in the morning. :)

Leslie, embarrassed beyond belief, sinks into the couch cushions, hoping they'll swallow her whole.

 

Chapter Text

The temptation to call Ben at just past 6am Eastern Standard Time is strong, but Leslie crushes it, knowing it's not his fault that she dozed off into a drunken slumber as he tried to give her some big news. Deciding it's only fair to wait three more hours before calling him, she walks with slumped shoulders up to her comfortable bed, her body protesting nearly ten hours of sleep on the couch. As she wipes her eyes, Leslie feels the indent of her throw pillow on the skin of her cheek.

“God, I'm a mess,” she voices aloud, sighing as the warmth of her comforter engulfs her.

Reaching for the scarcely touched remote control to her tiny television, Leslie presses the power button and leisurely spends the next three hours slipping in and out of consciousness and watching informercials. By the time 6am Pacific Standard Time roles around, though, she's at least somewhat put together in sweat pants, her hair back in a messy ponytail, and a hot, sugary coffee by her side. After texting Ben to ask if he's up yet, he suggests they talk on Skype.

Seeing Ben might be more exciting for Leslie if their previous Skype conversation two weeks ago hadn't left a bad taste in her mouth as far as the entire telecommunication application is concerned.

It started out innocent enough, with light laughter and the elation of seeing each other's faces and Leslie seeing Ben's butt. When it escalated to something more sexual, that something being Leslie casually removing her bra for “comfort,” as she would cite, things heated up and the Skype conversation became more of a mutual masturbation meeting. The sight of Ben stroking his cock in time with the impossibly-light strokes of her clit were maddening, but then the screen buffered, delaying the picture from the sound. Her phone chimed with a text regarding work, his video went dark until he restarted it, and the culmination of every distraction reminded the two of them of their distance from one another. They ended the call almost immediately and never suggested the app since.

Slicking back any flyaway strands of hair back, Leslie pushes a breath out through her teeth, simultaneously pushing the thought of their unsatisfying Skype conversation from her mind. The start-up tone of the application and near-instantaneous ring of Ben's call wipes everything but unmitigated joy from her disposition. She clicks to accept the call and shifts in her seat to adjust the webcam's shot of her.

Ben's image pops up, albeit not as crystal clear as Leslie would like, but it's a welcome sight nonetheless. “Hello,” he says with a small wave, his hair messy from sleep and stubble adorning his jaw.

Leslie beams. “I've been up for three hours! Did you just get out of bed, Lazybones?”

“Maybe,” Ben laughs, sipping from his coffee. Leslie remembers her cooling drink and takes a long swig of it while waiting for him to continue. “After you fell asleep in possibly the cutest way a drunk person can, I decided my announcement deserves more than just some lame phone conversation. It deserves this.” He pulls out a piece of paper and holds it against his camera.

The image focuses slowly, and Leslie only needs to make out “JFK” and “LAX” to know Ben has a plane ticket to visit her. Squealing with delight, she shakes her hands in front of her in lieu of dancing about. Leslie doesn't know what to do with her body – this feels like a hugging situation, but Ben's not there (yet) to be on the receiving end of her tight embrace. She pulls her knees up to the chair and hugs them instead.

“When?” She asks, not needing to specify more.

“Next week, actually.”

Her eyes shoot to look right into the lens. “Really? I mean, not that I'm not over the moon, but buying a ticket on such short notice must have been--”

“I didn't pay for it; Jolly TV did. Maybe this will clear things up,” Ben says, focusing on his keyboard for a moment.

Leslie's eyebrows are furrowed. Taking a speculative sip of her coffee, she lets the clicking of his keys sound alone rather than talk and distract him. It's obvious that he's coming out for work by his company's covering of his transportation costs, the work likely related to his show, but why doesn't Ben just say this? Why all the pop and circumstance?

Her computer makes the sound of a bell ringing, indicative of an incoming email. Ben has stopped typing and looks at her expectantly. “Well come on, open it.”

In an email from Ben with the subject “For your records” is an attachment. Leslie clicks to open it, and before her is a deal-memo from her union for a 1st Assistant Director. Though the majority of the columns are blank, the production title space reads, “L.A.nd of Stars.”

“You picked a name,” Leslie wheezes, her unblinking eyes burning. It takes her a few moments to realize they're burning with unshed tears.

“That's not all I picked,” Ben says, answering her suspicions.

When a tear threatens to escape, Leslie quickly brushes it away with her thumb. “Yeah... I can see that.” She lets out a breathy giggle as her eyes don't seem to let up and her shoulders shake.

Ben's voice cracks, and he clutches the edges of his desk to remain composure. “I want you to be my 1st AD, and I want to use the Pawnee crew. The show brought me you, so I figure it'll do wonders for my production. I'm coming in next week to start my department meetings, and we'll use the majority of the Pawnee hiatus to build the sets and shoot.”

“But what about Ron?” Leslie asks. She might have enough days as a Key 2nd AD to be able to promote herself, but Ron guided her for years and has been nothing but good to her. To just drop him like this feels like betrayal, even if she has to step out from under his shadow one day.

Humming through the last gulp of his coffee, Ben seems less affected. “Paul tried to talk to him about it yesterday, offering him a promotion as the pilot's Line Producer, but Ron refused to do anything during his hiatus aside from remain holed up in his cabin, so I don't think it's an issue.”

With that out of the way and relief flowing through her veins, Leslie leans back in the office chair before her laptop, staring up at the ceiling. “Not an issue at all.”

The real issue comes moments after the Skype call, considering Leslie insists that Ben stay with her during his visit. Two months of Ben Wyatt sounds too promising to dismiss the idea, and the final image of his adorable face brimming with delightful anticipation of his stay before they hang up is burned into Leslie's retinas. If only her house could magically situate itself into accommodating another person.

Leslie has lived in the same home for five years, using her increased income from Pawnee as reason to finally make the move from her apartment. The fact that it's a modest-sized house helped, and while the bed is large enough for two – as she and Ben tested previously – the closet is packed with old scripts and paperwork beyond just clothing and shoes. The problem in truth lies with Leslie's inability to create efficient filing systems in the rare amount of time she has off. While she already turned in the paperwork with her union years ago to make her eligible for promotion to 1st AD, her house is flooded with every call sheet, production report, and pay stub she's ever received.

Ever.

She's a bit of a hoarder.

When Ann is finished wrapping her set decorations during the week, she flings the door open to Leslie's house, magazines and brochures in hand. “I'm ready to make your house look amazing!”

“Ann, you energetic lemur, we've only got four days until Ben's here!” Leslie groans, flopping onto her couch face-first. “On second thought,” she begins, sitting up, “forget that you're here to help me clean up. Let's just hang out! Ben didn't mind the mess the first time.” Not a lie necessarily, but the time Ben spent in her home was limited overall, and when scrutinizing that time, it can be argued that he was too preoccupied by the prospect of a good meal and sexy times to really notice.

“Leslie, I'm going to say this because I love you and I think you really want this place to feel like a home for Ben while he's here... Laying down and stressing out about everything isn't going to help you. Putting on this fake, 'I don't really care' act isn't going to either. I know you're nervous so you're trying to shrug everything off. The place is a mess, but we're going to organize your crap and throw out what you don't need. Then you're going to treat yourself to some sexy lingerie and nice groceries to feed the two of you. Mmkay?” Ann places her hand atop Leslie's.

Letting out a heavy breath, Leslie hoists herself up and nods. “Let's do it.”

Once she lets go off the tension, the actual cleaning isn't terribly difficult. Ann designates piles for filing and garbage and leaves Leslie to sort and organize while she makes a list of things to have in the fridge and pantry. Both are relatively bare of anything but dry staples and some frozen meals, so when Leslie leaves the grocery store the next day, it's after a game of Tetris with her bundles and boxes of goods. The day before Ben's flight, Ann stops by one last time under the pretense that she's making sure her advisement paid off. Leslie is 99% sure it's to make sure she hasn't relapsed and turned her home into another crazy hoarder's nest.

Ann ducks into every corner of the house, peering into closets, cupboards, and spaces under Leslie's couch and bed – to find that everything is up to her standard.

“My work here is done.” Hugging Leslie tightly, Ann leans into her ear. “I trust you procured the lingerie goods as well.”

Laughing awkwardly, Leslie pushes Ann gently toward the door. “What happens in my improved house stays in my improved house.” Quirking an eyebrow suggestively, she adds from the corner of her mouth, “But you know I'm going to rock that lean elf's world.”

Ben's flight is due to land at midnight on the dot, a decision he made to avoid wasting a day traveling. Though she wants nothing more than to make a cute sign and wait by baggage claim for him, Leslie can't leave her car at the curb and subsequently leans against her door as she waits for him to retrieve his bag. At half-past 12am, she worries and jots a quick text asking if everything's okay, but Ben emerges before she can hit send.

He looks utterly exhausted, his body clock still three hours ahead, but he runs to her with bags in tow and drops them to hold her face in his hands as he kisses her soundly. Leslie can taste sharp mint on his lips and doesn't regret brushing her own teeth before she left to pick him up. Neither of them want to separate, their kisses shifting from furiously passionate to slow and sweet. It's a traffic control guard who breaks them up, yelling for them to get a move on and do “the reunion nasty” elsewhere. Giddy, Leslie grabs his luggage and nearly throws it into the trunk of her car before getting in.

Seat belts fastened, she drives them home. Ben seems more alert as he answers his questions about the flight. First class doesn't appear to be so extravagant without a person to share it with, as he tells her that he didn't drink more than the first glass of champagne and boggled down to watch auditions for his show.

“I always pictured it to be more lavish,” she says as she merges into the left lane. The red light above them shines on Ben's face; Leslie can see it clearly when she turns to him after he lets out a confused noise.

“You've never flown first class?”

“Nope, never really justified spending all that money for a better seat when I'm going to be uncomfortable flying for so long regardless.”

As she turns her wheel in coordination with the green arrow, Ben stretches, sighing when his back cracks. “Hm, maybe that'll be our relationship goal.”

“Relationship goal?” Despite her confusion, a smile pulls on her lips.

“You know how most people think toward moving in together or some big milestone as a marker that they've 'made it' as a couple? Ours can be flying together first class,” Ben says softly.

Although Leslie follows up with casual conversation for the rest of the drive, she can't stop thinking about that goal. The worry of her and Ben just surviving as a couple prevented her from ever thinking those fanciful thoughts, dreaming of moving in together permanently in a place that's theirs or even getting married. Maybe now that they'll be living together for the better part of two months, she can let go of her reservations and just revel in the simplicity of their togetherness.

They pull up to her home, and she grabs one of his bags to help him inside. Ben heads straight to the bedroom, his intentions clear. While they're not unwelcome to Leslie who has placed a box of condoms handily in her bedside table drawer and worn a lacy bra just in case, she ushers him along to the bathroom.

“If you get ready for bed now, then we can let things lead to one another and then just go to sleep after.”

“Mm, I love it when you're efficient in our sex lives,” Ben deadpans sweetly. He digs in his bags regardless for his toiletries and gets to work.

Her bathroom only has one sink, so she leaves him alone inside while she changes into her pajamas. When he's done, Ben literally hops into bed, letting his skinny legs reach the end of the mattress while his head hits the pillow. Rather than take his clothes off from a vertical position, Ben just lifts his hips to unbutton his jeans and leans forward to pull off his teeshirt. Biting her lip to keep herself from laughing at the sight, Leslie slides into the bathroom.

Face washed and teeth flossed, rinsed, and brushed, she turns off the light behind her and heads back in to jump Ben. To no surprise, he's already asleep, breathing softly from pursed lips. Leslie's feet pad against the floor as she walks lightly to turn off the bedroom light. Once she slides into bed, she turns toward Ben and looks at him with the help of the moonlight shining through her window. She can trace the path of every wild hair on his head, count the light freckles high on his cheeks, and monitor each exhale from how close she finally is to him.

Feeling like a tension deep within has been loosened, Leslie falls asleep quickly and dreams of soaring through the clouds with Ben.

 

Chapter Text

A dip in the bed wakes Leslie sharply. From slanted eyelids she can see Ben roll out from under the covers. Closing her eyes, Leslie feigns sleep so as to not guilt him for waking her. Ben's footsteps don't trail off to the bathroom, however, but rather around the other side of the bed. Under his weight, the mattress sinks again and the covers shift.

There isn't much room; Ben doesn't seem to mind, though. He rests an arm gently over her waist and sighs against her hair once his body is curled around hers to his perfection. It's perfection for her as well, the dead weight of his arm of little importance to her when it means being close to Ben Wyatt once more. Opening her eyes slowly, Leslie can see from her bedroom window that it's just past dawn – the pale blue sky still holds stars and the sun struggles to rise above the trees. Ben seems to have settled back into slumber behind her, and that's all the knowledge she needs to slip back into unconsciousness.

When Leslie wakes next, it's with drool dribbling down her lip. Were she not so embarrassed and glad to not have that witnessed, she would mind Ben's absence immediately. Furiously wiping her face with her pajama top's sleeve, she sits up and looks around for him. The light under the bathroom door is on, and the sound of the shower starts. Leslie hums at the prospect of hot water raining down upon her and the small space of her shower stall being occupied by the two of them. Naked.

With no attempt at subtlety, she walks in nude, playing with her hair seductively. The shower has begun to fog the mirrors and glass shower walls, so Ben has to wipe at the door to see her enter. Shampoo drips from his tilting hand, his flabbergasted expression and firm eye contact on her body indicating that there's little else on his mind but her. Leslie's going to use that to her advantage.

She waltzes into the shower, tiptoeing around him to wet her hair while Ben continues to stare. It's not until she's lathered a healthy amount of shampoo into her scalp and washed her hands of the bubbly gel that Leslie gestures to his stillness.

“Well? Can I at least get a grope or something? I mean, I'm all--”

Ben doesn't let her finish. Her words have sparked something within him because she's being pushed against the cool tile of the shower while sudsy hands roam all around her back, breasts, and ass. He's right against her, his erection pressing against her belly while his lips press open-mouthed kisses from her neck all the way up to her lips.

The kiss causes a pulse deep within Leslie, a burning fire that urges her to pull him closer. She writhes against him, and Ben groans against her mouth, her name muffled against her lips.

Pulling away, Leslie nods, turning toward the glass. “Here, now.”

There's a small ledge about a foot high that she usually uses as a step to give her leg leverage for shaving. Now, she has a completely different intention as her foot finds purchase on it. Ben hesitates as he approaches and presses his torso against her back.

“I don't-- I don't know. I mean, god Leslie, I want to. But I don't think this is going to work in here. The condom's going to get all wet and uncomfortable for you,” he murmurs against her ear, his words strained as she wiggles her waist and rubs his hardness against her butt cheeks. His hand finds her hip for support. “That's not fair.”

“Mm, I'm not concerned with fair after all this time, Mr. Vice President.” The nickname makes his grip on her tighten. “I'm on birth control. I'm clean, and if you are too, I trust you. I want this, Ben. I want you.” For emphasis, she guides the hand that's on her waist around. Taking one of his fingers, she gently runs it from her clit downward, sighing as he finds his way and pushes the finger inside her. It slides in easily, she's so wet.

Fuck, Leslie,” Ben groans. “Yes, I'm clean. Good lord, I want you right fucking now.”

His hands land on her hips, holding her tightly. Leslie reaches to the top of the shower wall to grip the metal frame. It's tall enough for her back to be stretched taught, but not so tall that she's uncomfortable. Being stretched and turned away makes her feel more exposed, more at Ben's will. She presses her forehead against the glass, just feeling rather than worrying about what she can't see.

Ben's hips move away from her until his cock is right at her opening. He doesn't push in roughly but takes his time to brush her damp hair over her shoulder, gaining access to the back of her neck. Once his hands return to her hips, his fingers draw little circles and shapes on her skin while he kisses her exposed back from the top of her spine to the sensitive curve of her ear.

It's when she cries out from his mouth sucking gently on her earlobe that he finally pushes inside her. Leslie's cheeks feel hot, her body shaking with pleasure from the heat of the steam and the direct feeling of his slow thrusts inside her. While it's hard to piece together any form of coherent thought, she realizes that this is the first time she's been with a man without a condom. Leslie has never been so literally close with anyone before.

When she tries to speak, her voice cracks. Swallowing, Leslie grinds out, “Fuck me, Ben. I want it fast and rough.” Not words that have left her mouth before per se, but there's only lustful truth in them.

Adding to her list of firsts, Leslie has also never been away from someone she's been romantically and physically attracted to for so long, and while there's a desire to revel in him inside her, to arch her back into a bed as he moves inside her luxuriously, it's dwarfed by the need to feel him and the hot friction their bodies make when Ben doesn't hold back and takes her, standing, from behind.

“I'll try, but I'm... everything is more sensitive without the condom, Leslie,” he forces out against her ear as he quickens his thrusts.

“Don't worry about anything; just enjoy it.”

There's not a care in the world if she orgasms in the shower. She's sure she'll have her time, that Ben will take care of her eventually. When his right hand slides from her hip to rub her clit without pattern or pacing, Leslie is so shocked by the sensation that she nearly loses her footing. Ben saves her by pushing her harder into the glass as gently as he can, whispering apologies as she whimpers from banging her shoulder. The pain doesn't matter to her. In a way that's foreign to Leslie, the sparks of soreness enhance the experience.

One such spark coincides with a tight pulse within her, a deep clenching that catches Ben off guard as well. It takes her a second to realize that she's not breathing even after the lightening fast pulse is gone, so Leslie is gasping for air with her eyes tightly closed. Pleasure has overcome her. It's different than just coming – it's a constant state of being. It's craving orgasm and avoiding it for fear that this glorious build will end. She squeezes her hands tighter, a white-knuckled death grip on the shower frame, but there's no resisting it.

The orgasm tears through her, her body succumbing to it while she shakes, clenching around Ben. Through the white noise in her ears and what may be her own loud cry, Leslie can hear Ben's shout. His body tenses behind her and he thrusts three more times before he slumps against her.

“Sorry,” Ben mumbles, sliding out of her carefully.

After a quick rinse under the cooling water, he holds onto her waist. It takes Leslie a second to realize his aim is helping her down. Her hands unclench the metal - harsh, pink indents an inch wide temporarily mare her palms. The hiked up leg shakily finds its way to the shower floor, and with Ben still holding her for support, Leslie rinses the shampoo from her hair and quickly soaps her body.

Laughing at the absurdity of precising cleaning after the roughest sex she's ever had, Leslie stands under the shower jet for ten seconds before turning it off.

“Fluffy towel?” She asks after stepping outside onto the bath mat.

Ben reaches out for one and steps close to Leslie before wrapping it around the two of them. Their damp torsos meet, but neither one cares as they hold each other close.

“You're insane,” Ben says. “Sexy as fuck and amazing but absolutely insane, Leslie Knope, with your fluffy towels and giggles after ordering me to fuck you senseless.”

“I think that's the problem – I have no sense of what to do after that,” she sighs joyously, resting her head against the wet curls on his chest. “Besides maybe take some painkillers, because I'm really sore.”

Though she begs him not to apologize, Ben does so profusely. On the plus side, his apology comes with an order to stay in bed while he hands her the pills and some water and goes to make coffee and breakfast. When he returns, it's with toast covered with jam and plates of fluffy scrambled eggs. They eat in bed and doze off and on between each of their recounts of this or that that happened in each other's absence.

“You're telling me that Tom and Donna know about us?” Ben asks incredulously. Sinking his head back into his pillow dramatically, he looks slightly exasperated. Serves him right for being sweet and sending Leslie flowers at work.

“Which essentially means the whole crew knows, though I haven't gotten any mass emails or texts from the two of them mocking us yet. By this time next week, guaranteed, we'll be invited to some gathering celebrating us working on your pilot and there will be some snarky remark about you and I dating. You just wait.”

In that week, Ben sits through meetings regarding casting, art design, and production costs while Leslie has the luxury of reading through the script at home, breaking down the scenes for props, costumes, hair and make-up notes, special effects and visual effects. There's a definite lack of paperwork, and though Leslie enjoys her promotion, she worries about the job being done right. A woman named Jennifer Barkley has been hired by Paul to be the Key 2nd AD, but despite her sparkling reputation, Leslie likes judging people for herself – especially when the integrity of the production and her team is involved. Jennifer won't start work until just a week before production begins, giving Leslie plenty of time to worry.

However long the meetings are, Ben doesn't seem to be feeling Leslie's level of concern about... anything. He rents a car to travel around the city on Jolly TV's dime, and though he insists that it be sensible, the car is decked out to the nines with a fancy navigation system. Putting it to good use, Ben takes her to all of the spots he loved in his youth in the city.

Leslie protests at the luxury of it all, stealing a glance at the restaurant bill when she can, but Ben will have none of it. When they come home one evening after Ben raided a pricey liquor store seen in, according to his calculations, a good tenth of every film shot in LA, she gestures wildly at the expensive wine bottles.

“I honestly can't taste the difference between the fancy stuff and the cheap stuff! It all tastes like boozy juice to me,” Leslie argues, sinking down into the couch while Ben rummages through her cabinets for the wine glasses. Tired of hearing him fumble around, she decides to help: “First one to the right of the fridge.”

“Thanks,” he says before joining her, glasses held between his fingers along with a bottle opener and the offensive bottle of wine. “Let's enjoy our time together for a little bit, and then we'll settle in when we're both working all day to quiet dinners at home. You've lived in this city your whole life, Leslie, but I don't think you've actually lived in it!”

When all is said and done and she sips from her glass, the wine doesn't taste any fancier than the bottles she'll buy in bulk when a girl's night in with Ann is in order. There's no use faking it, as Ben kisses her cheek sadly. “I'm sorry,” he whispers, and Leslie leans in to give him a dry-slightly-earthy-with-fruity-undertones kiss.

“Don't be. You were robbed of this twenty years ago, Ben, when you had the pressure of running your show but none of the fun. I don't blame you for making the most of it now. It's just not the lifestyle of an Assistant Director. Maybe at a wrap party when I've had too many cheap glasses of wine and the prospect of a break... But I've conditioned myself to be frugal as part of the job. I can't tell the production to cut corners while I'm out at fancy dinners and buying expensive handbags.” Leslie lets that sit in the room as she takes two hardy gulps in.

Settling in closer beside her, their legs touching while they alternate leaning on each other, Ben places his hand atop hers, stroking her fingers with his thumb. “You know I'm not normally a big money-spender. I had to go from making a showrunner's paycheck to going back to school and being an assistant. Even as I make network executive money, I let most of it sit in an account. I guess I just wanted to try being domestic and treating you. You work so hard, Leslie.”

“Fancy things don't make me feel spoiled. They mostly make me feel nervous. Just being with you and taking baths or laying in bed all day makes me feel like all my work has paid off.”

With wine glasses in tow, they head to the bedroom. As Ben makes love to her slowly, her mind hazy from the wine, Leslie feels absolutely loved and pampered. And with only three more days before the real work on Ben's show begins, she's going to enjoy every moment.

As predicted a week earlier to the day, an invitation goes out from Tom for the crew of Pawnee and L.A.nd of Stars to have their own get together at the Snakehole Lounge the following evening. While it doesn't necessarily call out Ben and Leslie, the invitation promises an introduction of the “guests of honor.” It doesn't take Leslie's careful eye or Ben's ability to dissect plot points in most films before they get through watching the first act for them to RSVP with caution.

Walking through the reserved area of the club and bracing themselves, the two are met with cheers and congratulations enough to deafen them. Ben graciously heads straight to get them some stiff drinks, only to return with two fancy glasses and the news that drinks for the two of them will be paid for on Donna's tab.

“I got you,” Donna says, slapping each of them simultaneously on the back. “And let's be real, this love boat got us all jobs on what could be a hit show. Drinks are on me for life.”

Wanting to get out of the spotlight, Leslie drags Ben over to a table where Andy and April are enjoying quiet conversation and their own drinks. Andy beams at them immediately. “Hey! I hear you're going to be second-in-command to me! Even though technically you're the first-in-command of your AD team... Hm... I just hope you don't yell at me as much as Ron does. He's an angry man.” His words trail off as he takes a swig of his beer with bleak eyes, but once April whispers something about Ron's vacation in his ear, his happy demeanor returns.

“If you two are so close and happy together, why aren't you getting harassed by Tom and Donna?” Ben asks.

“Yeah, you two are adorable together,” Leslie chimes in, rubbing April's shoulder in a motherly fashion.

Shrugging away, April groans, “Stop,” but a small smile lingers nonetheless.

“I get the feeling they tried but April just glared at them the whole time,” Ben whispers into Leslie's ear, setting her off into a frenzy of giggles.

With Andy and April so engrossed in each other and making no move to get up, Ben and Leslie leave their bags and coats with them to dance for a bit. It's uncoordinated and fueled by alcohol and the need to let off their embarrassed steam, but soon Tom joins with Ann close by.

“Ann Perkins, you gorgeous fox, it's a real party now!” Leslie shouts over the music, pulling Ann as close as she can for a side hug.

Tom slides in close. “I can get you on Donna's tab too, boo. I've got connections.”

But Ann playfully swats him away, only relenting to one dance. “Hands above the waist,” she specifies, moving deeper into the dance floor.

“Do you think we should have warned her what above the waist could entail?” Leslie asks, turning to help.

On cue, they can hear the faint sounds of Tom's “Ow! Okay, I'll behave.”

“I think Ann can handle herself,” Ben says, distracting Leslie with kisses and his own wandering hands.

It's around an hour into the party that they realize they've done little actual drinking. They're drunk on each other, their togetherness, and it's enough to make them feel like they're dancing on air.

 

Chapter Text

Leslie buttons up the blazer of her pantsuit with unadulterated joy. Were she not beyond prepared, nerves would wrack her fingers and quicken her breathing... but she's calm. Cool as a cucumber. Ben, on the other hand, is fumbling over his tie under the collar of a dress shirt that's buttons are out of alignment. With a laughing smile, she bats his hands away and fixes his attire.

“Nervous?” She asks after he's exhaled a shaky, minty-fresh breath onto her face for the fifth time.

“Can you tell?” There's a bite to his response despite the light chuckle Ben tries to press out. She brushes it off as just his way of coping with the stress of laying out his show to be broken down by multiple production departments for the first time in twenty years.

Once he's back in array, Leslie straightens up her jacket and looks in the mirror. For the first time, she's going to lead the production meeting; she's going to be at every meeting from the beginning, moving everyone else along and providing her insight – not as an after thought – but as an integral member of the team. The weight of this accomplishment presses down on her heart before it's released and adrenaline flows through her veins.

She rushes to the door, holding it open for Ben who's all but dragging his feet. Once they're in her car, he sighs, refusing to look at her. “I'm going in there blind, Les. Why can't you just brief me on your notes or tell me what your calls to Paul were about? I thought we were in this together.”

“We are in this together, Ben. But you heard what Donna and Tom think – what they all know: I'm only doing this show because we're dating. We can't sully our own reputations by consulting with each other before the whole production team meets. It'll look like you or I have compromised our ideas and concerns for the sake of each other and not for the sake of the show and the budget.” Leslie chances a glance to him, and Ben finally turns his head, their eyes meeting for a millisecond before she turns back to the road.

Though the look was brief, she could clearly see his eyes were warm, comforting. Everything she's grateful to have. “You have some integrity, Leslie Knope.” Ben covers the hand she's resting on her thigh, grabbing her fingers to hold in his larger hand. “To be fair, though, while I'm happy to have you on as the 1st AD, I didn't call Paul to ask him to promote you. I asked the likelihood of getting the entire crew to carry on to the pilot, and he said the only person who wouldn't is Ron. That man copes with working with children and puppets for nine months by holing himself up in a cabin; you taking over the job isn't directly because of my influence. It just sorta worked out this way.”

Blowing air from her pursed lips, Leslie has to bite her lip to stop herself from laughing like a maniac. “How weird is it that that actually calms me?”

“It's a good thing I like how weird you are.”

Car parked safely in the fancy lot close to the studio gate (this promotion does have its perks), they walk toward the familiar sound stage. There's no hand holding or anything beyond professional discussion at this point, yet as Donna, Tom, Andy, and even Jerry walk past them to find their seats at the table inside, they're met with smirks and looks dripping with innuendo. Leslie has half a mind to speak up, at least to tell Jerry to mind his own business, but Ben brushes his hand quickly against her lower back as they separate to take seats opposite each other at the table. It's a touch that grounds her into withholding comments and to keep her mind on the meeting ahead.

The first thing that captures her attention, though, is the lavish setting. A card with her name and new job title sits before her, and Leslie makes a silent vow to snatch it for herself once the meeting is over. The table with coffee rings and weird sticky spots that production meetings for Pawnee are usually held on is gone, replaced with a nicer, long table with a black tablecloth draped upon it. Waters line the center of the table along with various breakfast muffins, coffee canisters, notepads, and pens. Leslie eyes a blueberry streusel muffin for later but grabs a water in the meantime before opening up her binder.

Before her is Ben's script, laden with post-it notes. When he asked the week before why she would rather go through a whole packet of post-its instead of just writing directly on the script with pencil (his question coming from a place of anxiety regarding the number of notes rather than a place of simple curiosity, she's sure), Leslie smiled softly at him. “Each post-it is a question or a concern. The goal is to start off with dozens, ask or problem-solve my way through, and by the time the cameras are ready to roll, end up with none.” The answer seemed to suffice then, and with the cover page turned, exposing the first page covered with three yellow notes, Ben nods from across the table.

Paul takes the seat to Leslie's right and Andy takes the seat to Ben's left, leaving just the seat at the head of the table empty once the rest of the department heads have found their chairs. There's no name card in front of the empty spot, and as her watch indicates that it's 10am on the dot, she forgoes questioning the mystery behind the chair in exchange for starting her meeting on time.

“Good morning, everyone. I'm Leslie Knope, First Assistant Director, and welcome to the pre-production meeting for L.A.nd of Stars, written by Ben Wyatt, our executive in charge of production. This is my first time leading one of these meetings, but in my years of experience sitting through them, I can tell you that the best way to go about this is to go through the script, read the stage directions, and we can all ask questions as we go along. Feel free to interrupt – this is all informal. If there's nothing else to be addressed, let's begin.”

Taking a moment to breathe, she flicks her eyes up once at Ben and across the table to the familiar, supportive faces. Ann shoots her a thumbs up while Tom scoots in closer to Ann to throw an adorning thumbs up and wrap his arm around her. Ann pushes him away, and Leslie takes her cue to begin.

The script itself has changed since Ben first gave her the summary all those weeks ago – whereas an earlier draft followed multiple families all coming out to Los Angeles so that their children could make it big in Hollywood, this one focuses mainly on a female protagonist.

Nancy Lopez, a fifteen year old girl from Texas, comes out to LA with her flamboyant yet supportive brother George using the dregs of her family's income for the one-time opportunity. After finally settling in to a less-than-savory apartment building notorious for housing wannabe actors during pilot season, they go out together, bouncing from audition to audition. At a callback for a role in a promising sitcom, the casting director walks out of the room and comes across George. He decides on the spot that George is fit for the role, and off Nancy's determination to find her break in Hollywood and George's eagerness to accept the job, the episode ends.

Seeing no other departments' questions or concerns, Leslie lets out a tiny breath of relief. The first meeting she's held is a success! “Okay, guys! That was a very productive meeting. Once we have a person from special effects here to go over the bed recoiling back into the wall and the rest of the apartment stunts, we'll clarify those scenes and the necessity for stunt doubles. Until then--”

“Sorry I'm late, everyone!” A man comes storming towards the table in a frenzy of fancy coat and bag, the script in his hands wrinkled and covered in various stains. He finally takes his seat noisily and looks expectantly at the table. “So, how does this work? Do I read the script, or...?”

Looking around to assess if anyone is as confused as she is, Leslie finds most of her crew flummoxed and humored by the situation. Only Ben and Paul look annoyed, though they hide it well. That gives her the hint that she mustn't be rude to this extremely late and confused man, no matter how obnoxious he is. Maybe he's an executive?

“Actually, we were just wrapping up the meeting.” Extending her hand, she adds succinctly, “Leslie Knope, First Assistant Director.”

“Oh! I'm Bobby Newport, showrunner in training. I'm basically just watching what Ben does and taking over if the show gets picked up. Is there way we can go over the whole script again?” Despite the quiet scoffs heard throughout the room, Bobby looks earnest, like he thinks the process is as simple as reading through the pages for every department to be satisfied and ready to put the pieces together.

Leslie is about to protest the absurd idea when Ben cuts in. “I'll go over it with you once the meeting disperses.”

Dismissing the rest of the group, Leslie grabs the muffin she ogled earlier, throws her name tag into her bag, and covers each of the side-bared discussions from the meeting. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches Ben go over everything with Bobby with restraint, Ben's fist clenching or head turning slightly in indication of annoyance. They're going to have to talk about this later.

Once she's spoken with Andy and reassured him that she'll be as calm and cool as possible while working under pressure, unlike Ron's tendencies to roll cameras while Andy's still giving notes to actors to rush the director along, Leslie spots Ann and pulls her toward the AD office for a chat.

“How's the love nest?” Ann asks in the safety of the room as Leslie looks out the window to see Ben still going over things with Bobby. It's then that she realizes she hasn't seen her best friend since they worked on getting the house in order.

“Oh, I'm sorry I haven't spent more time with you, Ann. I'm just getting so caught up in what's happening between me and Ben. We're figuring out so much – what bugs each other, what makes each other feel better... Things we couldn't just casually ask on Skype. I'm just taking it all in. You know, it's funny, Ben and I have only been together as a couple on the same coast for just over two weeks now. At that rate, things are probably moving too fast.” Finally pushing away from the window, Leslie sinks into a seat opposite Ann.

Awkwardly scooting closer using the momentum of her feet to propel her rolling chair over, Ann sits before Leslie, waiting until their eyes are locked. “Hey, whatever you and Ben consider to be your time 'together' is your business. It's been weeks of you talking and texting, sending gifts and cards... You've put more effort into your relationship than Mark and I ever put in ours.”

“How is Mark, by the way?” Leslie asks. “I know he's building the sets for this show, but have you seen him?”

“I haven't, no. Donna said something about him considering getting out of the entertainment industry and working as a private construction worker, maybe even a contractor. I can't think too much about it or else I'll blame myself for his crisis or whatever this is, even though I know it's not my fault.” Turning to play with the pens on the desk, Ann's jaw shifts.

Leslie knows from years of friendship with this glorious butterfly that Ann's trying to control her face from outwardly frowning and push down any guilt she may feel for Mark's doubt. “Friday night you're coming over. We can hang out; you and Ben can get better acquainted, and we won't talk about Mark. It'll be fun.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Les.”

“Maybe there'll be waffles. In fact, there will definitely be waffles.”

Patting her on the back, Ann nods in placating agreement. “Whatever you say, Les.”

After they share a hug, Ann leaves the office to talk to Paul about budgeting concerns. With the office to herself, Leslie breaths it in. There's no impulse to use Ron's desk, especially as hers is conveniently decorated with pictures of her with Ann, her with her mother, and some inspiring women in the film and TV industry – Kathleen Kennedy and Sherry Lansing to name a couple. But there is a surge of empowerment that courses through Leslie's veins.

She's made it one step closer to her goal.

Even if Ben's pilot doesn't get picked up, even if she's back to being the Key 2nd AD on Pawnee, there will be a 1st AD credit on her resume. And her IMDB page. Most importantly, though, she'll know she's accomplished something great. That's enough for Leslie.

Moment of basking over, she turns off the light and locks the office behind her. Thankfully as she approaches the table, she can see that Bobby is gone, and Ben is collecting his script pages into his binder. Leslie finally feels at ease enough to dig into her blueberry muffin without further interruption, so she sits next to Ben and takes off the paper wrapper before going straight in for a bite.

Crumbs scatter on the table before her, but she doesn't give them a second thought. She pointedly doesn't say anything to Ben, waiting for him to break the silence with a few answers pertaining to Bobby Newport's presence.

It's when Leslie's halfway through the moist pastry that Ben finally sighs. “I know. This blows.”

“Blows? That's putting it mildly. Where did this Newport guy come from?”

“From his father – Bobby Newport, Sr. The guy runs Sweetums,” Ben says.

Mouth full of muffin, Leslie squeaks. “The candy company? I love their stuff!” Ben cracks a smile at her look of bliss from the breakfast pastry and thought of more sugar, so she sheepishly swallows her mouthful and lets him continue.

“A few years back, Sweetums was going to pay a lot of money to advertise on Jolly TV. Parents protested the idea of tempting their children with commercials selling pure sugar, but our dear network president Trumple relented and said it was up to the parents to exercise moderation with their kids. Newport then donated to all of Jolly's fundraisers, with no strings attached, but asked one small favor – give his son a job at Jolly.

“So Trumple shrugged him off on a writing staff because he didn't want the guy anywhere near the network offices. Bobby Jr. is basically a big kid anyway, so some of his ideas made it to the scripts, he got writing credit, and since he wants to make something of himself to show his father, he's decided to become a showrunner. Trumple stuck him with me – with us,” Ben adds off Leslie's cold look, “and now we're going to have to train him and deal with him for at least the pilot, if not the duration of the show.”

Leslie stands suddenly, grabbing her bag and motioning for Ben to follow. “You're going to have to train him, Ben. I'm just going to tolerate him. But the second he messes with my scheduling and my ability to make the production day, I'll get rid of him. One way or another.”

“Good lord, Leslie. You're not going to kill him are you?” Ben asks, trying to keep up.

Her modest heels click on the floor of the soundstage satisfyingly. Turning her head to smirk at Ben, Leslie leads him back to her car without giving him a solid answer. Of course she won't kill Bobby Newport, but that doesn't mean she won't forcibly remove him from the set if need be. And Ben is at the right combination of fear, awe, and revere that just fuels the flames of power coursing through Leslie's veins.

That's how she gets Ben stripped naked on the bed half an hour later while she approaches, wearing nothing but her heels. He's hard, stroking himself slowly at the sight of her, and Leslie has never felt so sexy.

With all the flexibility she can muster, she climbs in on her hands and knees and straddles him around the waist. Leslie's wet (she's been wet since the car ride home), so when she grinds her hips, Ben's eyes close in bliss at the feeling of her on his cock. Her heels brush against him around his knees. She worries it hurts him, but he seems to groan at the scratch of the leather against his skin rather than cry out in pain.

There are two ways this can go. Sweet with a slowness that brings them both to orgasm after gentle caresses and shared breaths... or rough with fast strokes and love bites that make arousal surge through them until they're drowning in it and begging for release. Leslie doesn't have a chance to decide, because Ben grabs her around the waist and turns her into the bed, her face pressed against the pillow.

“What are you--” But she's silenced as his hand slides down from where it's tracing the roundness of her ass to press a finger inside her.

“Jesus Christ, Leslie. You're dripping,” he says with a strained voice. Using his soaked finger, he rubs her clit.

Crying out, Leslie writhes against the sheets for more friction. Ben's other hand sneaks around to squeeze her breasts and pinch her nipples roughly. The painful pleasure of it all makes her press down onto his hand harder.

“C'mon Ben, don't stop,” she all but begs, her voice whiny and foreign. “Just think, when you're done with me, I can-- Fuck!” Her promise is interrupted when Ben presses three fingers inside her, moving them in and out at such a pace and such an angle, that Leslie thinks she might reach her peak from that alone. She moans, feeling herself so close to orgasm when Ben pulls his fingers out.

He doesn't return to finger fuck her or slide his slick fingers over her clit until she can't think anymore. Ben's absence causes Leslie to turn her neck as far as she can to see what's delaying him. The wait is unbearable.

Before she sees him, she feels him, his mouth hot against her. Tongue pressing inside her, Ben's hands grasp at her thighs to hold her still, the sensation making Leslie's legs quiver.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” she murmurs, pressing her face into the pillow.

Ben adjusts to press his tongue against her clit, licking her without any pattern or method to the madness. All she knows is that she's close, so very, very close.

One hand grasping the pillow case and the other clinging onto the bed frame, Leslie can't brace herself accordingly for the orgasm that strikes through her. Her voice reaches a whole new decibel as she spasms, Ben's hold on her tight but not enough to still her. As she rides it out, his tongue still lapping at her sensitive nub, Leslie can barely put together a coherent thought.

From below, Ben finally rises, but not before dipping his tongue in for a last taste. He kisses her, letting Leslie taste herself on his lips. It's musky and all over his mouth, which just makes her want to kiss him until she's not sure if the flavor is on his lips or hers. She does just that, passing the time for her to be a less sensitive and quivering bundle of nerves.

After a short while of making out, Leslie arranges so that she's on top again – without the heels this time. Grabbing a condom to slide onto his still-hard cock (despite the ability to have sex without one, the condom makes life so much easier for clean-up), Leslie takes her time unwrapping it and then stroking him once it's on. It's not until Ben pulls her hands away under the pretense of lasting more than a couple of thrusts that she finally sinks down onto him.

Leslie's still a little jittery from her orgasm, but the feeling of Ben's hands tightening on her waist in pleasure gives her the will to go on. Hands pressed into his chest, she rides him slowly at first. His hands travel around from her breasts to her ass, lost in the feeling of her around him. She experiments with speeding up and then slowing down again, enjoying the power she has over him.

“That's right, Ben. I'm the boss.”

He pulls her down close to his chest at that, thrusting quickly into her of his own accord. “Fuck yeah, you are.”

Lips pressing kisses on his neck and chest, she senses he's close by his hard breathing. “Then do as I say, and come,” Leslie demands.

Groaning in response to her dirty talk, Ben obeys after a few last thrusts, kissing her roughly.

By the time he's cleaning up in the bathroom, Leslie's tying a robe around her and feeling her swollen lips, though she's a thousand worlds away. “So lunch and then some work on those script revisions?” She asks when Ben emerges.

“Whatever you say, boss.”

After a day and a half of Ben editing the script, printing it, and frantically asking her opinion before editing again despite her praise, the table draft goes out Tuesday night to the cast and crew via email – just in time for Wednesday's table read. The large affair is held in a much fancier room than Pawnee's weekly table reads, and everyone audibly notes it as they enter the fancy, windowed conference room.

“That pilot money is baller,” Tom says excitedly as he begins an intricate handshake with one of the stars of the show, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein. Playing George, the protagonist's older brother, he fits the flamboyant and over-the-top aspects of the character perfectly. His grace and tact, however, leave something to be desired by Leslie.

After the handshake is done, Jean-Ralphio makes his rounds. But rather than graciously introduce himself to the producers and crew members, he seeks out every woman, sliding up next to her before giving off some lame line.

Saddling up next to Leslie, Jean-Ralphio guides her to her seat, even pulling it out for her as he looks her up and down. “Look at you, girl! All business style with your pantsuit... You must be an agent, and let me just tell you, I'd give you more than just 10-percent.”

“Ew, no. I'm Leslie Knope, the First Assistant Director. Pleasure to meet you,” she adds to be nice, knowing that staying on actors' good sides is the best way to get them to cooperate with her.

He eventually sees that she's not interested and unaffectedly seeks his next prey, but as he heads toward Ann, Tom pushes him in a different direction. Everyone starts settling into their seats – the actors at the table with name cards indicating their names and characters, in addition Andy who's looking thrilled to direct a new show, while the rest of the crew and network representative sit in rows of chairs facing them.

Paul sits next to Leslie while Ben sits with the rest of the Jolly TV team, his feet tapping nervously against the floor. A production meeting is one thing; going over the logistics of the script and looking at each beat can be daunting but doesn't affect the heart of the story. A table read, however, is the first real unveiling of the script. With the carefully chosen cast and Andy at the helm, the room is about to truly experience the story for the first time.

There's reason for Ben to be nervous. Not that the script's not good – it's excellent in Leslie's opinion, highlighting the problem in Hollywood of roles that could go to women being given to men while actually starring a young woman. If the cast doesn't put their energy in it, though, and the network doesn't fully support this show from the table read on, the show won't find its legs. For that reason, Leslie doesn't have the heart to tell Ben not to be nervous. Instead, she sends him a smiley face text followed by one that reads, “They're going to love it.”

Ben glances to her as Andy introduces the cast. While she and Ben applaud with the room, he holds eye contact with her. It feels like it's just the two of them in the moment, the two of them ready to conquer. Even as they turn to look forward and watch, the feeling never leaves.

Within moments, the room laughs at a joke on the first page of the script, the atmosphere electric with enthusiasm. Beaming, Leslie puts down the script she's been following along with and just watches.

If Ben's too nervous to see this, the start of something great, of him making something amazing, new, and different out of nothing, then she's going to remember it forever for the two of them.

 

Chapter Text

It's a whirlwind after the table read. The network gives the show it's blessing, having only a few notes to offer for the production draft. Ben makes quick work of the revisions, and the white draft is sent out.

“I have a feeling after rehearsals we'll be shooting a double white draft,” he jokes, referring to each subsequent draft of a production document being printed on a different color of paper. After white comes blue, pink, yellow, green, goldenrod, buff, salmon, cherry, tan, ivory, and finally, when all other colors are exhausted, white again, dubbed 'double white.'

Smacking his arm for his self-deprecating humor, Leslie returns to whisking one of three different waffle batters. She has been up since 6am despite only having one meeting the entire day, working to get as much done as possible before Ann arrives. Leslie's least favorite gatherings involve bring two separate groups together – in this case her boyfriend and her best friend.

There's no concern that Ann will be catty or Ben will be rude, but these are the two most important people in Leslie's life. If there's any sort of clash, she'll be devastated. Her whisking becomes frantic with the thought of having to completely separate the two, of Ann refusing to come to birthday parties and Ben groaning at the mention of Ann's name.

The feeling of two large hands on Leslie's shoulders makes her jump. Ben eases the bowl and whisk away from her, placing the dessert waffle batter in the fridge with the others.

“Are you anxious-mixing again?” He asks, baffled by her flustered face and behavior.

Truth be told, Leslie is afraid to tell him the source of her anxiety. She fears that telling Ben will only make him look for faults in Ann, so she shakes her head. “Just trying to get out the lumps,” she lies, hiding her face in shame as she turns around to refill his cup of coffee.

Lying doesn't sit well with her, but Leslie promises to tell him the truth... Just after the night is over. She's probably overreacting, anyway.

Pressing a chaste kiss to his cheek, she removes her apron and grabs her bag and car keys. The one meeting of the day thankfully isn't as far as the studio but a mere two miles away at the local coffee shop. Leslie leaves a half hour before the meeting, content to arrive early and get a very large and sugary drink covered in whipped cream to calm her nerves for tonight. The meeting itself should be a piece of cake.

Once her drink is in hand, she turns to claim an empty table but instead is greeted by a tall brunette woman with sharp eyes and perfectly applied makeup. “Hi Leslie, I'm Jennifer Barkley,” she says, leading Leslie to her table.

The table is arranged precisely with Jennifer's coffee on one side, a tablet with Deadline's homepage displayed in the middle, and her work bag hanging on the chair. Leslie sits opposite her Key 2nd AD and pulls out her binder.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” Leslie starts, smiling, “I just wanted you to get a feel for who I am as a person before we're thrown into the stresses of work.” She pulls out a few packets for Jennifer, gently pushing them across the table. “Here's a staff and crew list to reach anyone, a cast list with their contact information, my prelim production schedule, a background breakdown, and the production draft of the script.”

“Yeah... Look, Leslie, I appreciate all this, but I already received digital copies of all this from Paul. I'm not big on carrying around all this information on anything bigger than my tablet.” Jennifer looks disinterested already.

“Okay, I understand that,” Leslie says, taking back all of the paperwork. She can hardly blame Jennifer for being efficient, but her attitude leaves something to be desired.

Humming, Jennifer looks Leslie over. “I should also tell you since you seem like the go-getter, soccer mom type, I'll be at all the meetings and available during our production week, but until then, I'll work out of my own office. You can call me or text me with concerns, but I hate the claustrophobic AD offices they give you on the sound stages, and I'm not going to set up the office to my liking just to have to pack it up in two weeks.”

Leslie takes a long pull on her drink, nearly giving herself a cold headache in the process. “Have I done something to upset you? We just met and I feel like you're already trying to get space from me.” For a brief second, she wishes she had Ron Swanson again to work with, just to avoid the awkwardness of being some stranger's boss, let alone a stranger with a better-than-thou attitude.

“That's just how I work, Leslie. I've been Keying for years on movies and single-cam shows. I know you multi-cam types are all buddy-buddy, but I'm just here to get the job done. I hop from one show to the next, and I've had no difficulty finding work. Maybe when you've been doing this as long as I have, you'll understand. But, hey, I've gotta run. Great chat!” Jennifer ends cheerfully, as if her whole rant before hadn't been completely condescending to Leslie.

Scarcely having the chance to shake Jennifer's hand, Leslie sits in a daze while her new colleague leaves the coffee shop and gets into her sleek black car across the street.

Within an hour of the meeting, as Leslie sits at home staring at her notes without taking anything in, her phone dings with a text from Jennifer.

Now who's being clingy?” Leslie mutters, but is shocked to read that Jennifer has already spoken with extras casting and is getting pictures of options for all of the categories sent to Andy and Ben directly.

“You okay?” Ben asks off her dumbfounded look.

Leslie shakes her head. “I have never been so simultaneously impressed and turned off by a person at the same time.”

Though she puts a happy face on for the rest of the day as they clear the living room of all their work clutter, Leslie's still in a daze. Ann's knock on the door makes her heart jump so much that she yelps, covering it by pretending to bang her knee on the cabinet.

“Happy Friday!” Ann exclaims as she enters the home. The sight of her best friend's face does make Leslie forget her nervousness, and when she turns around from closing to door to see Ann and Ben hug in greeting, the dread begins to fade away.

While Ben hangs up Ann's heavy coat and makes a comment about the cooling weather rivaling New York's, Leslie makes quick work of the appetizers. The waffle iron sizzles as she sprays a thin layer of oil onto it and pours the thick batter. It takes a mere five minutes to cook the waffles and top them before she hands a plate to Ben and Ann, following with two glasses of wine.

Scurrying back into the kitchen for her own waffle and wine, she joins them. There's room on the couch for her, as her guests are sitting on the first and third cushions, but she chooses the adjacent armchair so as to not literally be in the middle of their conversation.

Ann takes a whiff of the plate in her lap. “Mm, what is this? It smells amazing!”

“That's a cornmeal waffle topped with fresh guacamole, salsa, and sour cream - otherwise known as the first of three waffle dishes on tonight's menu,” Leslie says, digging into her plate. Forget politeness; there are waffles to be devoured.

“I didn't think you were serious about the waffles when you invited me,” Ann mumbles half to herself.

Ben laughs, the sound muffled by his mouthful. “Leslie not serious about waffles? Granted, I haven't known her as long as you have, but she once dragged me out of bed to work at a diner known for its waffles.”

“Oh, JJ's?” Ann asks. She takes her first sip of wine, but her cheeks are already red from merriment. “Leslie has created an anniversary for us, signifying the first time she took me to JJ's Diner. To celebrate, we go to, you guessed it, JJ's Diner!”

Though their joking is mostly at Leslie's expense, she takes no offense. How can she when everything is going so well?

When they're halfway through their glasses of wine, Ben asks how Leslie and Ann first met. “This is Leslie's story to tell,” Ann says, gesturing to her. “I can't embellish it as well.”

“There's no embellishment!” Leslie gasps mockingly, taking a large gulp of wine and feeling her face growing hot with intoxication. “Back when I started working on Pawnee, we never really chatted. There was no reason to since she was shopping for the sets all day and an on-call employee rather than one who's in and out times concerned me. But this is back when she and Andy dated, so--”

“You and Andy dated? Andy Dwyer and you? What? How?” Ben, frazzled by this discovery, keeps squinting at Ann.

“Yes they dated, now back to the story,” Leslie says with mock-annoyance, swatting at Ben. “One day, Andy was running back and forth through the sets, trying to choreograph a scene, when he tripped over a wire and fell on his knee. He wasn't seriously hurt, just a bit bruised, but Ann came marching up to me, declaring that the set wasn't safe.”

Ann holds up her glass in protest. “I didn't declare anything. I simply stated that the wires should have be covered or at least taped to the floor, and I thought that since safety is part of Leslie's job, she'd be a good person to approach about it.”

“And she thought right! I was so amazed by this magnificent butterfly of a human being that I instantly clicked with her, and we've been friends ever since.” Leslie's downing of the rest of her wine marks the end of her story. She tuns to see Ben's reaction, a simple nod, as if the origin story has matched what he assumed in his head. “I'm going to make the main course.”

Each step to the kitchen is heavily concentrated upon. Leslie hates wobbling like a drunk person, but it takes little alcohol for her to feel as if her limbs could just float away. Ben has followed her into the kitchen with the plates and places them in the sink. He watches her pour the second batter in and leans in close, glancing up first. She catches on that he's checking to see if Ann's watching them, but she's faced the opposite way, flipping through his Star Wars storyboard coffee table book.

“You're drunk,” he whispers in Leslie's ear. It's not accusingly, but she turns to him suddenly in defense.

“Noooo,” she replies, but the breathy whisper betrays her. “Not drunk, at least. Maybe buzzed, but I'm fine now that there's going to be more food in me. Promise.” Holding her fingers up in scout's honor tradition, Leslie waits for Ben to accept this and walk back to Ann. He does at last, walking back with the bottle of wine, but pointedly looks at her as he pours slightly less in her glass than everyone else's.

She wants to be frustrated, but she is working with a waffle iron. Not being able to walk in a straight line or carefully extract the waffle from its hot encasement could be detrimental. And this particular dish takes more concentration.

Ann is handed the first plate and instructed to go ahead and eat because each dish needs to be cooked separately and enjoyed while hot. She responds with a small sound of surprise. “Waffle grilled cheese?”

Leslie scoffs. “More like a thin waffle seasoned with paprika cooked to crispy perfection folded in half to seal in the sharp cheddar and honey mustard within.”

A loud, crunchy bite followed by a moaning, “Wow,” sends her back into the kitchen proudly.

Only once the dessert waffles (chocolate chip, of course) are cooked does Ben fill up Leslie's wine glass again. The diners are full to capacity, their empty dessert dishes scattered along the coffee table. Ann's shoes have been kicked off so she can sit on her feet, leaning forward with captivation as Ben recounts driving in the snow for the first time.

“That's why the west coast is the best coast,” Leslie says smugly once he's finished.

“You know Chris said that this summer because it was warm enough for him to go on a run at 7am? He sounded just as dorky then as you sound now.” While Ben shakes his head jokingly in memory of his colleague, Leslie catches Ann stiffen in surprise. She hides in her wine glass the second their eyes meet.

Clearing her throat, Leslie looks at Ben nonchalantly. “Didn't you get a text from Chris today?”

“Hm? Oh, yeah, he wanted me to see his regards to you, Ann. I think he phrased it,” Ben looks at the text in question, “'Ann Perkins is literally one of the nicest, most intelligent people I met in Los Angeles.'”

“Aww, that's so sweet! Tell him I say hello and that I'd love to see him when he comes out here again,” Ann says, blushing.

She looks pleased, so Leslie withholds the fact that she told Ben to text Chris about their gathering that evening. After all, there's little in gain in bragging about being cupid. Let romance take its course – it seems to be working out for her and Ben.

It's not until Ann's gone home and Leslie and Ben are finding solace in the heaviest comforter in the cold house that it feels safe to be honest with him. “I was afraid you two wouldn't get on and things would be awkward for the three of us,” Leslie whispers though there's no need to. Nighttime always makes her want to hush her voice.

“If you think someone's worthy of being your best friend, then she can't be bad. Ann's very nice and funny. It's kinda nice to interact with her for once; after hearing you and Chris wax poetic about her, it seemed like she was this perfect being.” Ben's finger dances along Leslie's arm, tracing the goosebumps that start to rise.

Making a humph sound, Leslie eyes him from the corner of her eye. “Ann is perfect.”

They're laying on their backs next to each other, just staring at the ceiling. While the position isn't conducive to cuddling, it eases their backs after being hunched over their notes and laptops all day. It also eases the churning in Leslie's stomach from all the wine, but that's not the nice bed talk she wants to have at the moment.

Discussing this and that makes their eyes heavy, and Ben drifts off first, his hand still resting on her arm. A question hangs in her mind, not because he fell asleep before she could ask, but rather because she couldn't gather the courage to ask it.

What happens after the pilot is finished?

There's not an overabundance of time to worry about that question. The following week is filled with meetings that occupying both Leslie and Ben's days. While they're together in the literal sense of the word for the meetings, sitting across from each other and sending a glance of annoyance or relief when appropriate, they scarcely have the opportunity to pause for coffee or lunch alone.

The dwindling number of post-it notes in her script is a relief, and for once, she doesn't have to spend the last prep week stressing over organizing actors. Jennifer instead has the pleasure of scheduling wardrobe fittings and hair and makeup tests for all the actors in addition to promotional photos and cast physicals. The latter seems to catch the freshman actors off guard, as they never considered that a production's insurance plan wouldn't cover actors with preexisting medical conditions. Just another quirk of Leslie's world, but thankfully not one she has to explain to overprotective parents on this show.

Allison Gliffert, who plays the role of Nancy's friend Amy, is beet red as her parents protest a random doctor examining their teenage daughter. Leslie winces as Jennifer's face tightens with annoyance but looks on to her schedule, trying to disassociate from a job that's not hers at the moment.

Instead, Leslie has a whole new hell to endure: live tapings. Some of her production assistant experience has been on shows with live tapings in front of a studio audience, but besides the rush to get an actor to set in a hurry so as to not bore the people who are supposed to laugh and clap for you, there wasn't much pressure. Scheduling the shooting to be split among two days – one pre-shoot day without two hundred people watching and one day with – is actually turning out to be the biggest challenge.

Scheduling is common sense; it makes sense, for instance, to pre-shoot all of the scenes that take place in the apartment set. After all, there are many stunts and the set is built adjacent to the studio audience seating section, so the scene will take a long time to shoot and would be boring if the audience can't see much besides what's projected on the overhead monitors. The audience is there to see the hustle and bustle of a production, not what they could see in the comfort of their homes.

But combining logical decisions with those to make the audience's time more entertaining is making Leslie lose sleep at night. Her ideas are argued by Andy and Paul, even occasionally Ben, who keep trying to push more scenes onto the live tape day. Despite explaining with wild hand movements that the final scene of the script should be shot ahead of time considering the number of background actors in the scene and vast amount of scenes that Jessica, who plays Nancy, is in, Leslie's concerns go unheard.

Jessica can legally only work for nine and a half hours, and even if they school her extra during the rehearsal days, she must be schooled for a minimum of one hour of the shoot day. That's why many productions hire actors over 18 to play younger roles, but Jolly TV has a firm policy against that sort of fraudulent casting. As it is, they're cutting it close with Jessica's work time on Friday. Adding the final scene to the schedule could really mean they don't make the day. If that's how Andy, Paul, and Ben want to play it though, Leslie believes she'll just have to absolve herself of the guilt and responsibility.

She's certain, however, that she can't do that.

“We'll play it by ear,” she tells Ben in the safety of her car that evening when they finally drive home. “If we're ahead of schedule on Thursday and have the time, I'm going to push to pre-shoot the last scene. You've just got to trust me that we're going to drag Friday and get screwed over.”

It takes a moment for Ben to respond, and Leslie's too concerned with the tricky turn out of the parking lot to look at him. Finally, he says “All right, but the audience would love to see the last scene live. It's a performance for them, like theater. You have to keep that in mind.”

You have to keep in mind that the audience means nothing when it comes to delivering the final product to the network, Ben! We won't have a last scene if Andy and Paul keep getting caught up in the idea that they're shooting for the first time in years in front of people. Big whoop.” Leslie expects Ben to say something, to agree or even argue, but he's completely silent. “Are you going to say anything?”

“What's the point? Arguing with you is like arguing with the sun, Leslie. I said you can push for the scene if we have the time, but if we don't or if the performance isn't good enough, we'll just shoot to the last minute we have with Jessica,” Ben says curtly.

A twinge of something, guilt perhaps, makes Leslie's heart beat faster and her blood run cold. “You're angry with me.” It's not a question.

“I'm...frustrated.”

“At me.”

“Yes at you, Leslie,” Ben bites, exasperated. “I don't appreciate being undermined. I may not have been a showrunner for twenty years, but it doesn't mean I'm not capable of making sound decisions. You have a problem with the word 'no' being applied to you for once.”

His words sit in the car with them. Even as Leslie pulls into the driveway, they make no movements to leave or get out of the car. The windows begin to fog as they sit in silence.

“You're right,” Leslie sighs. “I'm sorry, Ben. I just don't want to mess this up.”

“And you think I do?” He asks, shaking his head.

Leslie turns to him, her blood now running hot. “Obviously not! I don't want to mess this up because it will mean disappointing you and ruining your show! Ruining something you did for me, to help my show and my crew. You put yourself out there, put yourself in front of Trumple and your network, have worked hard for months for this show because I made you. I yelled at you in front of a Coffee Bean months ago and now we're here, living together with whatever our relationship is, and I can't help but wonder what will happen if this show goes wrong in any way, shape, or form.”

She requests space after that, going in for a bath and telling Ben to do as he pleases, but allowing her some time to breathe. Her bathroom music speakers blast Sarah McLachlan; Leslie lets it drown out her tears. Her confession makes her feel hollow, and the incessant worrying about her job doesn't cease, even at this drastic time.

While Leslie may have lauded her bubbling personality and work ethics before as being unique and different in the best possible way, now she just wishes she could have a normal life and could have met and started a relationship with Ben under normal circumstances.

As the water starts to cool, she finally steps out and dries herself, tying a warm robe around her. Leslie opens the door timidly, afraid Ben will be waiting for her in the bedroom, but it's empty. There's no sound outside either, but a dim light shines under her door crack. Sheathing her cold feet in slippers, she steps outside, scolding herself for being afraid of her own home.

Past the hallway, she can see Ben sitting at the dinner table. He gets up instantly upon sight of her, and gestures to the seat across from his. Before them are two steaming hot bowls of macaroni and cheese, one of her favorite comfort foods. Leslie expected confrontation tonight, but not like this. When she sits down, Ben reaches his hand out to grasp hers gently. His eyes look animated with unspoken words, like he's full to the brim with them.

She doesn't dare speak or interrupt.

“You said you wonder what will happen if things go wrong with the pilot. Firstly, I'll blame myself and not you because I could have offered the network to pick up any other pilot from any other person. I'm a grown man; I can make my own decisions. Even if you helped me make them, I had every opportunity to disagree. But a petty argument of who's right or wrong isn't entirely the line of thought you're having. You're afraid that if this thing that we're making together fails, we'll fail.”

Ben's been watching her the entire time, and the blunt honesty in his last sentence is enough to make Leslie's eyes well up again. He gives her a moment to wipe her eyes, and Leslie nods for him to go on.

“I never thought I'd say this, Leslie Knope, but you're stupid. You're a real dummy,” Ben laughs shakily, his eyes glassy as his own emotions shine through, “because I will never stop loving you. No matter what happens, I will fight for us just as hard as you fight every day. I respect you so much for that, Leslie. You deserve so much, and even if they call us tomorrow and say the show's off, I will do anything and everything I can, day after day, to show you that I love you.”

The tears fall at an unprecedented rate on both their ends, Leslie feeling like a blubbering whale as she wipes at her face with her robe sleeve. She gets up and walks around to Ben, bending down to kiss him. He pulls her onto his lap instead and kisses her thoroughly, their faces wet and their noses sniffling from his confession.

Leslie pulls away quickly to say “Oh! I love you, too.” They laugh before he pulls her in for another kiss, their chuckles muffled against each other's lips.

The air is full of relief in addition to the smell of warm, melted cheeses. When they finally break apart and get to the meal, it's nearly cold, but neither of them mind.

Leslie thinks that night that they're making love for the first time. The sex is slow and deliberate, Ben's thrusts more sensual than quick. He's on top, his head bent close to Leslie's so they can whisper “I love you” to one another. The phrase echos through the room, though it never feels overused.

Content is how Leslie describes herself in that moment, feeling no rush, or even necessity, to reach orgasm. She's lost in the feeling of Ben. But his hand guides hers over her chest and down to her ribs, then her stomach, and finally to where their two bodies meet. Her fingers move slowly; her breathing turns short gasps at the sensation.

The pace of her strokes shouldn't bring her to her peak, it wouldn't normally, but he's declaring his love right against her ear. His hot breath is driving her mad, and orgasm builds like a wildfire inside. Leslie's cry catches in her throat as she falls over the edge, Ben following her with a groan.

“I love you, I love you...” She repeats desperately as she rides out the waves.

Ben's shaky arms hold him up, preventing him from collapsing on top of her. Though exhaustion starts to claim Leslie, she fights it off until he returns from the bathroom and wraps his arms around her.

“Wanna know something?” He asks against the back of her neck.

Leslie hums in response, his warmth the greatest protection she could feel.

“I love you,” Ben says, squeezing her tightly in a hug.

“That's funny, 'cause I love you too,” Leslie says, the latter half of her sentence turning into a sleepy mumble.

 

Chapter Text

Even as the rain pours down, puddles forming in the dips of asphalt outside of the soundstage Leslie normally refers to as her second home, she remains steadfast in her decision to savor every second away from the stage and all of its inhabitants. Her hand tightens on the Pawnee umbrella – a wrap gift from her second season with the show – as she recalls every hinderance to her day, each instance that her weeks of planning, scheduling, premeditating and careful calculations went to waste.

Leslie knows she's mumbling like a mad woman as she takes another lap around the east portion of the studio lot, arguments and curses to a select few of her colleagues spewing out of her mouth in a quiet grumble. “Screw them,” she says more clearly with no worry of someone hearing. It's a ghost town outside in the downpour; the perfect refuge for her.

She is decidedly done with people. More precisely, people in the industry. If she's being fair, people in the industry who work on L.A.nd of Stars. This day couldn't have gone worse.


It started with the production meeting: the last time the crew would be able to discuss the shooting of the pilot together as a team and get every last question and concern out on the table. Fortunately, everyone was present for the meeting (thanks to Ben reminding Bobby Newport about it a dozen times per Leslie's insistence), but that's about where the good fortune ended. As Leslie began reading the action lines in the script to go through all of the props, set design, and further elements, she didn't anticipate being stopped short two seconds in.

“The bags Nancy is carrying, shouldn't there be like, a bunch?” Bobby asked, looking around the table for confirmation.

“No man,” Andy said, “she's the prepared one. She wouldn't be like, 'Let me pack all my stuff on this trip.' She'd be more like, 'Let me think it through and take what I really need.' You know?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, more bags are funny. Right, Ben?”

“Well, you're not wrong, Bobby,” Ben gently replied, trying to not be rude to the man who would hold most creative decisions on the show if it were to be picked up. “But Andy's right – Nancy has been getting ready for this trip for months and has been thinking about it even longer. She wouldn't over-pack, but George would.”

Andy hit the table with barely contained enthusiasm. “Yeah! All of those weirdly shaped designer bags that don't hold enough. George would come down the stairs with tons of them on his arms.”

While this was normally the sort of conversation Leslie would sidebar for later, there wasn't a lot of time for the props department to get dozens of bags. This had to be decided then and there. She resisted the urge to question aloud the worth of all this discussion for a visual joke that would last all of five seconds, and let it continue. Only it didn't end with bags.

Every beat and joke that relied on something physical or visual was laid out on the table and beaten to death by so much debate between Bobby, Andy, and Ben that Leslie felt like she was having an out of body experience. The script was no longer funny, the job no longer as desirable, and the idea of a vacation was almost too enticing.

A buzz in her lap snapped Leslie out of it. As she looked down to her phone, she scolded herself. Keep it together, Knope. You can get through this; you're just stressed. The buzz was from her alarm set ten minutes before the call time for rehearsal. As the crew had just gotten through half of the script, rehearsal would have to be pushed.

Reaching for her surveillance microphone clipped to her jacket, Leslie looked to find her production assistant. “April,” she whispered into the small plastic rectangle. The girl in question, however, was looking at the arguing trio with a small smile. That expression might as well have been a grin for how exhilarating April found their bickering. Checking to make sure her walkie talkie was in fact on (which it was), Leslie tried again. “April,” she repeated, this time sternly.

Jumping, April looked up in recognition. “Yeah?” she asked into her mic, sighing.

“Do me a favor and go outside. Tell Marcia that rehearsal is pushed and the kids can stay in school until we pull them out. Then knock on trailers and let the actors know; I want a head count of who's here.”

“Fine.” April shoved herself out of her seat and sulked outside, pulling her jacket tightly around her. The forecast called for rain, but it was merely cloudy when Leslie and Ben came in that morning.

A few minutes later, equating to discussion of half a script page, April got back to Leslie. “I told Marcia, and everyone's here but that Jean-Ralphio guy.”

“If it's not raining, hang out there and let me know when he arrives. I have a feeling he's going to be late,” Leslie said, resigned.

April's groan was her only response.

Leslie glanced to her left where Jennifer Barkley was sitting beside her. Holding up her hand, Jen signaled that she would handle it. While progressing to the next page of the script, Leslie looked to see her scrolling through the cast contact information for Jean-Ralphio's number and sending him a text that they would be ready to rehearse in a few minutes.

It was a lie; it would likely be twenty minutes, maybe thirty, before they would get to a rehearsal, but that fact wouldn't inspire speed in anyone. Leslie never lied to her actors before, but if this brought results, she wouldn't complain.

It ended up being forty minutes before the stage was cleared of the production meeting table, and Jean-Ralphio was still absent.

“I'll call the little bastard,” Jen growled, stepping away.

Wringing her hands, Leslie leaned on the audience bleachers before opening her binder. She would have to rearrange her entire rehearsal schedule. It took hours to perfect, as she determined which sets to start in and where to go next depending on the actors in the scenes and how it would affect when the kids would need to break for lunch and could go back to school. All the work would be for naught thanks to an obnoxious, self-entitled actor.

As the cast filtered in, Leslie hurriedly scribbled the scene letters down on her script and announced the first one all while welcoming the actors with a warm smile and hiding the anxiety within. As everyone took their place, Andy at Jessica and Allison's toes like a puppy dog herding them to their marks, Jen saddled up next to Leslie, bending to reach her ear.

“No answer,” she whispered. “He confirmed the call time I gave him on Friday with a text that said, 'C u then, bb doll' and had three too many winky faces.”

Smirking, Leslie asked, “How many is too many winky faces?”

“One. And you know, you don't have to have your walkie on. Most 1st ADs don't even touch theirs until it's a shooting day.” Jen's look was very familiar to Leslie – the firm look she would give to Ron when she thought he didn't trust her to do the job right.

Once assured that the rehearsal won't stop abruptly in her absence, Leslie took Jen aside. “I know, and I know you're great at your job and capable of communicating with April to get things done. I just hate the notion of hiding things from and sneaking around your 1st because you're afraid they're going to get all angry if so-and-so isn't on set immediately or something falls through the cracks. I'd rather know and be of some assistance if something goes wrong than find out about it once it's escalated too far.”

“Ugh, you're the sappiest 1st I've ever worked with,” Jen said without malice as she turned and walked away.

As the rehearsal of the scene was just about wrapping up, Jean-Ralphio sauntered in with no remorse. So as to not make a big deal out of it with the crew and other cast members, Leslie hastily changed her schedule again so that they move on to a scene that included him. When he passed her to head to craft service, she expected an apology at least, if not an explanation. What Leslie received, though, was something of a whole new caliber.

“Yo, I thought you were ready to rehearse with me,” he said in a voice that's loud enough to disturb the working crew.

She rushed to catch up with him, if only to lower his volume. “We were ready over half an hour ago.” Leslie hated that her words had to come out calm as if she weren't completely irked.

“Hey girl, no need to apologize; I get it. Showbiz, right?” Jean-Ralphio started pouring a bowl of cereal from Donna's spread, slamming the fridge door after he pulled out the milk and banging around the drawer for a plastic spoon. Leslie winced at the noise.

Right. We're just about ready for you now in the living room set.” And with that, Leslie walked out as quickly as she could to avoid blowing up at him. Either he's ignorant or just didn't give a crap about how many people a stunt like that could affect, but no matter which category Jean-Ralphio fit under, she didn't want his tardiness to hinder them further. Leslie prayed it would be a one day only type of instance.

Her bad luck didn't end there, however. As rehearsal continued with the entire cast (at last), Leslie kept a close eye at the clock to keep track of the hours Jessica, Allison, and the other kids still needed for school and when they would have to break for lunch. Calling them in early and the delay thanks to the never-ending production meeting gave them over two and a half hours of schooling but also meant that they would have to eat earlier than the crew. The only way around that was to stagger their meals.

That was easily accomplished with the kids with minor roles in the episode and even Allison who had a break during all the scenes that took place in the house or apartment. Jessica's lunch break proved to be difficult, however. There was only a small window of two scenes that she wasn't in, so Leslie pulled the plug and broke her, hoping that Andy would take his sweet time per usual and try to perfect every detail. Jessica just sneaked in thirty minutes to eat by the time they were ready for her to step in, and Marcia made it her mission to let Leslie know how close the call was.

“They're still children. They need time to eat and have a break,” the studio teacher snapped, crossing her arms after pulling Leslie aside with nothing more than a glare.

“Which is why they've all eaten and are getting school time when they can between scenes,” Leslie countered, nowhere near in the mood to have this conversation.

Marcia pushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, the gold cross around her neck moving back and forth in reaction. “My job is to take care of these kids. Don't think I'm not keeping a close eye on my watch to make sure they get the time they deserve. I let you know when they're done with lunch and school for the day, Leslie Knope.”

And Marcia did, even going so far as to hurt Leslie's estimates by using her watch instead of the time on Leslie's phone to count the kids' schooling hours for the rest of the day. While she normally enjoyed being kept on her toes with challenges, the constant defiance, delays, and change in the hard work she put in to prove to herself and the crew that she could be a great 1st Assistant Director brought her over the edge and drove her to find solace in the rain immediately after she called lunch for the crew.


Now Leslie's shivering, her nose is dripping, and her stomach is growling in protest of her forgoing food to pace around in the pouring rain. Smoke billows from a catering tent nearby; a film is shooting a few stages down. Its crew lines up behind the pasta station, a few conversations held between line neighbors, but each person is otherwise straight-faced.

So that's what Jen was talking about: Crews working together for a common goal, to make a good project, make their day, and make their paychecks, but otherwise being unfamiliar to each other. After today, Leslie is starting to yearn for that. It's not uncommon to work with one or two people from a previous production (Pawnee's hair and makeup artists were on Leslie's first show back in the day), but it's rare to encounter more than a handful of familiar faces on a project. Freelancing more often with strangers, be it in film or jumping from season to season of a TV show, would be a breath of fresh air from the crew she's gotten too comfortable, too complacent, with.

As the rain starts to come down heavier in giant drops that shake her umbrella, Leslie's phone buzzes with a text. It's from Ann. “Missed you at lunch. Gotta go pick up two new options for the apartment set. Catch you later! xx”

This is silly. Having second thoughts about coming back to Pawnee and working with the most goodhearted people in the industry? Leslie hates herself for letting high pilot tensions get in the way of her love for the work and the crew. Hurriedly leaping around puddles and flooded corners, she makes it to the stage door and hastily shakes out her umbrella before stepping in.

The stage is warm, welcoming. As she passes by Andy and April finishing up their meal, the former grins at her while the latter looks expectantly, like she's ready to take on a task. How could she leave April, who despite her outward annoyance at every little assignment is really learning awareness and responsibility in the job?

“Enjoy your lunch, April,” Leslie says in passing while brushing her fingers through her slightly damp hair. She's not even sure where's she headed (to seek a warm hug from Ben, perhaps), but when she sets eyes on Jean-Ralphio in Tom's wardrobe closet, her legs pick up speed. “Hey,” she calls while stepping in, interrupting them.

“What's up, Les? Need some dry clothes?” Tom asks genuinely, going through his copious racks of blouses for her.

Leslie waves him off. “No, I'm fine, thanks. I was hoping to speak to you, Mr. Saperstein.”

At that, Jean-Ralphio leans in, waggling his eyebrows. “Mm, yes boss lady?”

“Right,” Leslie says, trying to hold in the shiver of discomfort the man-child gives her. “You're... You've been around the business a bit.”

“You've seen my stuff? I could sign one of the DVDs I have in my car,” he offers, his fingers wiggling in delight.

Jean-Ralphio's “stuff” is really a couple of B-movies in the early 2000s followed by late-night cable commercials and the occasional guest-star role on a show, but she isn't going to burst his bubble. Pressing her lips together in thought, Leslie lifts her head, finally knowing how to go about this. “What I'm trying to say is that you're experienced, and that's rare on a kid's show. This is Jessica's first show; Allison's done a role here or there, but the two of them are essentially newbies. I want you to set a good example for them - show them that actors can be respectful and get the job done without being divas.”

“You got it. I'll kick 'em into shape and get you that DVD, too.” Winking, he makes his exit, leaving Leslie to watch his retreating body with uneasiness.

“Yo, Les, good luck with that,” Tom tells her while blotting her jacket with a rag.

Leslie sighs. “Yeah, thanks...”

Ben finally emerges from the makeshift network office/greenroom on stage after Andy ends rehearsals for the day. Taking the hint that Leslie still needs to go over some things with Jen and April before they can go home, he pulls Andy aside and the two have an engaging talk. Leslie's is less engaging; April is holed up in a corner with a heavy coat and hood on while Jen is sitting at her desk, her fingers clicking incessantly on her laptop.

“Good work today, guys. Jen, give Jean-Ralphio the same call as the other others even though I'm not rehearsing with him first. I think he'll be on time tomorrow after I had a heart-to-heart with him earlier... or the closest thing to a heart-to-heart that he's capable of.” Leslie pulls her bag onto her shoulder. “Tell Paul I give the verbal okay to your call sheet, but email it to me when you're done.”

“I'm already finished,” Jen says, and the printer spits out the paper in exhibition.

Eying it closely with an air of casualness, Leslie scribbles her neat initials on the bottom, signifying 1st AD approval. “Email me a copy anyway,” she adds while stepping out, keen on compiling a neat show binder for herself.

At home in her closet are color-coded binders for each season of Pawnee. Inside are call sheets, production reports, crew lists, and any important documents. Leslie rarely has to go digging through one, but on the off day that she needs the name of some dayplaying actor or the note of a crew member's injury on set, she is assured to have it.

She calls “Goodnight” behind her, shocked to see from the open stage door that it is, in fact, evening. So late as they are in autumn, it gets dark in the late afternoon. A hardworking crew on stage may never see the light of day. Ben gets up from the school table as she passes, hastily grabbing his briefcase and phone to meet her pace.

“Good talk with Andy?” She asks nonchalantly.

He reaches out a hand to squeeze hers. “Yeah, actually. We talked about how to work out notes with Bobby to help you out.”

Leslie's eyebrows rise. “Really?” Were she not so desperate to get home and into her pajamas, she would have stopped dead in her tracks. As it is, Ben's struggling to keep up with her, even with his long legs.

“Yeah. I think you're gonna like it.”

She does.

In fact, she likes it so much that that night, Leslie sleeps pretty soundly until 4am when her pillow vibrates from her silent phone alarm. So as to not wake Ben up at an ungodly hour, she set it in the stealthiest way possible. He shifts beside her, turning over but never waking, so she considers it a success.

Tiptoeing out to the kitchen, Leslie gets the coffee machine brewing before heading back to her bathroom. A hot shower is exactly what she needs, preferably a hot shower alone. Not that showering with Ben isn't lovely; they've had sex in the shower a handful of times after their first experiment, and she's enjoyed him sensually lathering her body in suds when they have the time. But showering with him comes with talking about nothing and maneuvering around each other to rinse out hair and grab their respective shampoos and body washes.

What Leslie needs this morning is a place to think in private without crew members bombarding her with questions and concerns and, sadly, without Ben. Ben's presence during the production week blurs some lines for her. There was never so much weight on her during pre-production a few short weeks ago, but now that they're due to shoot in just two days, every problem comes with the added stress of needing to be solved as soon as humanly possible.

With Ben in the mix, it's harder to stay at once objective and subjective when the time calls. Watching him pick apart every detail in the production meeting the day before was torture. At a time like that, Leslie would have taken the executive aside and try to hone him or her in to make the meeting more efficient. But because it was Ben, Leslie didn't have it in her heart to bring it up with him when they went home. The solution he found with Andy shows that he's at least self-aware to the level of disruption he was a part of, but it still happened.

And because it happened, the whole crew suffered. If any other showrunner or executive elongated a simple production meeting, Tom, Donna, and even Ann would call for an impromptu coffee meeting at lunch or at the end of the day and rip him a new one. For all she knows, that meeting happened without her because now she's close to their executive and a risk. No one can confide their issues with Ben in her because they're afraid she'll tell him.

It's just another issue on her plate, only Leslie can't solve it. Or at least she can't solve it while either working on the show or dating Ben. Her heart tells her the crew will just have to deal with it. All pilots are rough. Today's a new day, Leslie thinks, and it should run smoothly (or at the very least smoother than yesterday).

The sun is shining when she and Ben get to the studio. He has to take network meetings regarding opening credits for the show and won't see her until the producers' run-through in the afternoon. After a quick peck on the cheek, he's gone. Leslie watches his butt as he walks away, letting the sun warm her despite the freezing breeze that blows her hair onto her glossed lips.

Jean-Ralphio is ten minutes late. Though it doesn't affect them with Leslie's rehearsal schedule, it's the principle of the matter that really pisses her off early on. Factor in Marcia docking minutes of Jessica's precious school time because she was caught texting instead of just taking the phone away, and Leslie's on the brink of a meltdown.

Not being experienced is one thing – Leslie would never fault a young actress for not having enough credits and know-how just as she wouldn't fault a PA for being inexperienced when never having stepped on set. But Jessica is... a teenage girl. She takes the time to fix her hair and makeup when Leslie calls her to set, wasting minutes when they're not even going to shoot this performance and the crew couldn't care less what she looks like. Furthering the aggravation is Jessica's mother who just reads in the corner, never chastises her daughter for misbehaving, and is all too ready to go at the end of the day, seemingly inconvenienced by the law stating she must be present as Jessica's legal guardian.

Allison is the only saving grace left. Very mature for her age, she is always ready on her mark and even politely tells Jean-Ralphio to pay attention when he gets distracted as Andy gives notes. When she's on her break, she watches the crew work, from Ethel's note scribbling and timing of each scene to Leslie's time calculations in regard to Thursday's shooting schedule.

“You have a lot on your plate,” Allison whispers to Leslie.

Smiling, Leslie turns her head away from her notes. “It's not the easiest job, but it keeps the wheels turning in my head. There's always a problem to solve.”

“Like what?” Allison asks, leaning in over her shoulder to get a better look.

Leslie goes through her binder with Allison, detailing the paperwork, how she breaks down a script, and her schedule. Allison inquires about the scene order for the shooting days, and Leslie points out wardrobe, makeup, and hair changes for each person that influence her decisions.

“That actually sounds like fun, like an equation to solve,” Allison says, genuinely interested. “It's something to keep in mind when I'm done acting.”

“Well, if you're still interested down the road, call me. I'll help you get your start.” Leslie's heart is warmed by the moment between them, reminded by her own excitement at the prospect of being an Assistant Director when she was a teenager.

Their aside is ruined by Marcia, who pulls Allison back for more break time. “A break is supposed to be relaxing, Leslie, not time for you to vent to the kids.” Though Allison defends her, Leslie is still portrayed as the villain and counts down the minutes until the producers' run-through.

The best part about run-through is the silence. Bobby, Ben and Andy are all present in the same room, but they can't get into it during the showing of the episode. The entire crew is there as well, from the editors to the production office, to see how the pilot is going. There are a few hiccups (Jean-Ralphio talking to people loudly during the scenes he's not in among them), but they get through it with plenty of laughs and a huge round of applause.

Ben and Andy's plan then kicks into motion as Leslie jumps into their powwow with Paul. The plan is simple: All of Bobby's notes need to go through Ben first in a private conversation. That way, he can either shoot them down before anyone else is present or convey them concisely to others. This in turn makes the talk go smoothly. They discuss what's working and not working for them, possible rewrites for the script, and any schedule changes that make sense.

“We're running six minutes long,” Leslie offers. “There's no way we're going to make it through with Jessica on Friday. As it is, we'll be cutting it very close with her on Thursday without shooting that final scene. If you think something's not working, cut it.”

She honestly expects the men, even Ben, to look to Paul for the go-ahead. Not that it isn't demeaning to have people look to your superior for confirmation of your suggestion, but Leslie is used to having people believe she's too rash.

However, everyone looks to Ben to see his move. There's no hesitation. He nods slightly and simply says, “Okay. I'll get a new draft out tonight.”

“Great,” Leslie replies, her voice sounding choked. The mixture of relief and trust Ben has in her opinion is almost too overwhelming. Seeing that the conversation is diluting to small talk about tweaking jokes, Leslie makes her leave to the AD office to let Jen know about the new draft.

“Oh joy,” is Jennifer's lackluster response as she types away. “Hey, I'm prepping Thursday's callsheet in advance based on your schedule. Since our favorite nuisance keeps showing up late, should we pull his call back and hope that that gets him in on time?”

Staring at the wall in thought, Leslie narrows her eyes. “Not yet. I'll give him tomorrow to redeem himself.”

“For someone who puts up with as much shit as you do, you're really forgiving, Leslie. You might want to watch yourself before you let your cast and crew walk all over you,” Jen warns.

Leslie disregards that comment for now, just humming in acknowledgement that she heard it. “You good here?” Jen flicks her hand in response and takes a call on her cell, so Leslie grabs her bag and leaves the office.

April is arranging chairs and crew work stations to leave the floor clear for cleaning. It takes a deep breath and a lot of self-control for Leslie to hold back a comment regarding the way April's moving things around, meaning her flinging of chairs and shoving of podiums, but she manages and simply wishes her goodnight.

“Where are you going? Don't you and Ben carpool?” April asks while brushing her hands together to wipe off the dust.

“Yeah,” Leslie says, wondering how many people are privy to that information.

Tilting her head as if it's obvious, April waits for Leslie to understand. It's a lost cause. “He's working on the script that needs to be copied here. God, do I have to explain everything to you?”

“Crap on a stick,” Leslie breathes out, taking fast strides toward the door. “Thanks, April! You're a blossoming flower and I love you,” she calls. The sound of April's groan follows as Leslie opens the stage door and heads up to the Pawnee writers' offices where Ben and Bobby have rooms for the duration of the pilot.

The building she steps into is the haven of the writing staff. During Pawnee's pre-production and production periods, Leslie could wander into the building and hear anything from scattered music selections playing from laptop speakers to arguments with startlingly bad language in regard to child character choices. Right now, though, it's silent.

Ben's office is labeled with his name and title, but inside, he looks less like an executive in charge of production and more like a frazzled young man trying to make his show work; exactly how Leslie pictures him running Ice Town.

“Shit,” he bites out upon seeing her, “we drove here in the same car.” Running a hand through his already disheveled hair, he shakes his head. “You can go home, and I'll get a cab. It's going to be a while.” Ben then goes immediately back to his computer, hitting the backspace key with more force than necessary and mumbling jokes to himself.

This won't do.

Without saying anything, not that he would notice if she did, Leslie heads up the stairs to the small kitchen. The perishables have been thrown out for Pawnee's hiatus, but there's a frozen personal pizza in the freezer along with a loaf of bread down in one of the icy drawers. Rolling up her sleeves, she gets to work.

When Leslie steps into Ben's office again, she closes the door behind her with her foot and sets the precariously balanced objects on his desk. “One small pepperoni pizza for you folded up like a calzone with a cup of calming tea and one PB&J for me with a hot chocolate because I'm worth it. Now you're going to take a 30 minute break, which I will be timing, and we're going to enjoy our little meal.”

They talk about nothing of significance, but that in and of itself is significant. For the last couple of weeks, their conversations have only been of the show. It got so bad that Leslie put sex on hiatus, as she couldn't stop thinking about work and didn't find it fair to Ben to be preoccupied. Now that they're in this room with the door closed and the blinds down, she's almost tempted to suggest something salacious. Almost.

Who knows where the small couch they're sitting on has been?

But the sentiment of the thought still stands – their sex life isn't over.

Even after the almost comical meal is over, Leslie remains. Ben doesn't notice until he announces he's shortening the last scene that needs work. “And then we can-- You were supposed to leave hours ago! I'm so sorry, Les.”

“Hey, I elected to stay,” she argues happily. “I got some personal stuff done, updated my resume and the like. Take your time; it's not like I would be able to sleep without you.”

“Nor I without you,” Ben coos. He works for another half hour before declaring his work for the night finished. “We'll just have to see how it goes during the network run-through tomorrow. I'm crossing all of my appendages.”

Giggling, Leslie packs her bag. “Hopefully not all of them. I'm looking forward to a relaxing release after all of this is done.” She waggles her eyebrows in emphasis. Ben looks at her like she's the craziest person he could have fallen in love with. “I would plan on Friday night, but we're not exactly spring chickens and I might sleep for twelve hours after the live taping.”

“I'll arrange something nice then, to thank you for putting up with me this week.” With that, Ben goes to deliver the script to the production office while Leslie heats up the car. There's no use in displaying their relationship by going up with him, and it's too cold for her to wait outside.

When Ben rejoins her after sprinting to the car, all long legs and flailing arms, he kisses her through her cackling laughs. “I love you, Leslie Knope.”

“I love you, ya big nerd. Now hurry and buckle up; I wanna get home and cuddle before bed.”


By Wednesday, Leslie's had enough. Jean-Ralphio is twenty minutes late and comes without reading the script revisions. Jessica isn't fairing much better either, having to have her lines read to her during every scene.

If Leslie has to hear Ethel Beaver's monotoned voice recite the lines of a teenage girl one more time, she's going to blow. She nearly does, actually, when she sees Marcia pull the script away from one of the kids and offer a magazine instead.

With firm steps, Leslie marches over to the table. “Why can't they read the script? Please enlighten me.”

“They are on their rest and relaxation time, so they are not obligated to work,” Marcia offers cooly.

“Only they're at work and they clearly need to do their jobs and memorize their lines. Now's the perfect time when it's quiet and there are few distractions. I have actors who don't know their lines and we're filming tomorrow, let alone showing this to the network in a few hours.”

As Leslie walks away, Marcia clicks her tongue. “I don't like that tone, Leslie Knope. You stick to your job, and I'll stick to mine.”

Laughing softly, Leslie turns back around to let the crew continue unbeknownst to the storm she's about to unleash. “I don't give a crap, Marcia Langman. You think my job just revolves around getting the shots? You're wrong. It's about making sure the entire crew pulls their weight to get the shots, and you're not pulling yours. I called Local 884 last night to talk to your union representative to make sure my Employment of Minors in the Entertainment Industry book was still up-to-date. And guess what? It is.

“Children can do as they wish during break time, including reading the script, as your job is to manage the welfare of minor employees. They're here to work, Marcia. When your rep inquired as to why I was so curious about the rules if I had them in front of me, I mentioned that I was having difficulties with my studio teacher. He said that if these difficulties continue, he could arrange for someone else to fill in as soon as tomorrow. Feel free to bring this up with Paul or anyone else; after all, I'm just sticking to my job.”

She pushes the script back towards the kid who looks up at her with awe and walks back to her work podium without waiting for Marcia's response. It's decided, then. No more walking all over Leslie Knope, 1st Assistant Director.

Once Jessica and Jean-Ralphio get a break from rehearsals, Leslie tells them to look over their scripts for the run-through. “Let's do our parts and show the network execs the best version of the show.”

They look slightly taken aback but each nod. A few moments later, Leslie glances behind her to see them both sitting in their chairs, scripts open and eyes fixed in concentration.

That's more like it.

But she doesn't leave it there. After a successful run-through that has impressed the network, Leslie can see the actors heading toward the door, desperate to go home, with Jessica's mother in the lead. She sprints to reach the door first and then ushers them into an empty set. “All actors: Come meet me in the casting set. I'm having a quick meeting.”

They start shuffling in, Jean-Ralphio and some of the kids' parents looking inconvenienced. “I'll keep it short,” Leslie starts. “We start filming tomorrow, and honestly, we're going to need some sort of miracle to get all this work done in the short amount of time we've be allotted. That being said, we are going to pull off this miracle together. So no more coming in late. Your call time is when you start work. If you're just walking into your trailer at your call time, you're late. And if you're late, you're not just being rude to me and your fellow actors, you're being rude to all of the hardworking people who wrote the script, built the sets, and are making this show happen.

“Tomorrow, you're all going to show up on time and prepared. There might be a new script coming out tonight, so I'll leave it to you to decide when you can best go over it and memorize it. I know some of you are new to this; you're young and trying your best. But I'm not looking at you as children or teenagers. I'm looking at you as professional actors. You're here to work; you're here to get paid. Most of all, you're here to make magic happen. Now... Bring it in for a group hug.”

Holding her arms open, Leslie waits for the group to come in. There's hesitation, but Allison joins in first, whispering, “That was so inspiring!”

The rest follow, Jean-Ralphio coming in last to wrap his long arms around everyone, bellowing in a sing-song voice, “Laaaaand of Stars!” Leslie's shaking with laughter by the time the hug breaks, though the tremors that continue to pass through her body resonate as shock.

She's never taken charge like that before, at least not twice in one day. And if Jean-Ralphio or anyone else shows up late and/or unprepared tomorrow, Leslie will be pissed but know she's done all she can do.

With the actors gone home to mull over her words (and hopefully memorize their scripts verbatim), she remains in the empty set. Leslie's not the religious type, but a prayer forms in her head. The prayer could be to anyone, to God or to the soundstage rafters for all she cares, so long as it's answered. Make the shoot go well. Let all of the scenes be shot, and may no huge complications occur.

Ben walks past, peering around the set corners, satisfied when he's found her. “No revisions! Just a few alternate lines here and there, but I don't have to rewrite anything. We can go home and rest for tomorrow.”

“Just a sec.”

The “sec” turns into twenty minutes of Jen and April ushering her out of the office as she asks if every possible thing is done. “Are hair and make-up tables set up? Has extras casting been giving the right information? Are the camera crew confirmed for tomorrow?”

“Leave!” April yells, and Jen pats her on the back.

“Really, Leslie, get the hell out. And you're not coming in first thing tomorrow, either. You'll show up an hour before shooting at crew call and not a minute sooner or I'll tell Donna to hide her breakfast spread until the time you're supposed to come in.” Jen smirks, having found Leslie's true weakness.

With a gasp, Leslie turns to April. “You told her about my breakfast obsession?”

“I told her you love waffles, no need to get all weird about it. Go home. You're going to work from there anyway, so the sooner you leave, the sooner you can file paperwork or whatever,” April says with disinterest.

She does have a point, so Leslie relents. “Goodbye my wonderful lady team. See you bright an early!”

For the first time that week, she and Ben get home at a reasonable hour. He turns on the TV to get her mind off of things and turns to the kitchen where he's making burgers. By the time he returns, Leslie's checking and rechecking all of her work, making sure her timing is correct in every regard.

His fingers start to massage her shoulders from behind the couch. “You're going to be fine. In fact, you're going to do such a great job that you'll never have to work as a 2nd AD again.”

“We'll see. If I'm this stressed after a week, I might not be cut out for it.” She groans as he works into a knot in her shoulder.

“Doesn't the saying go, 'Don't work with kids'? Ice Town never seemed this crazy, even when it was going downhill. You probably just need a change of pace and a change of age in your actors,” Ben offers before turning back away to their cooking meal.

He's right in that the kids are the problematic factor here. They (typically) mean well, but they're not mature enough to hold a job and the professionalism that comes with it. They shouldn't be texting during school, especially when the minutes are so precious. Nor should they come in without having their lines memorized. Adult actors aren't always that much better, even when excluding Jean-Ralphio who might as well be treated like a minor.

At the end of the day, though, Leslie loves that she plays a role in telling stories for kids. She loves that generations are growing up watching and being influenced by something that she is helping to make. She wouldn't trade that for anything, even if the dark circles under her eyes become permanent.

It takes her a good while to fall asleep. It's not that Leslie isn't trying; she's counted hundreds of sheep and shaken away thoughts of the show, but she's nervous. Not the kind of nervous that goes away after a pep talk to oneself, but the kind of nervous that makes legs restless and blankets too warm. When she does sleep, Leslie dreams of trying to reach the stage door so she can warn the crew about something, but her dream legs are wobbly and don't take her there fast enough.


Her cellphone buzzes her awake before dawn. She showers, just standing under the hot spray to wash the gummy feeling from her eyes and the exhaustion from her bones. While rinsing her hair, she sees Ben walk in the bathroom and smiles lazily.

“Couldn't sleep?” She asks as he opens the glass shower door and steps in.

Ben sighs as the water hits his chest. “Not really. Trying to sleep has become more stressful than what I'm stressing out over. Besides, it'll be nice to get some quiet time with you before the craziness starts.”

Their quiet time is too short. After some coffee (Leslie's leaving room for the highly anticipated breakfast spread at work), they get dressed leisurely. She fastens a belt through the loopholes in her jeans, and Ben puts on a blazer over his plaid shirt. Leslie refuses to leave the house until she's made sure she has everything with her, from her binder to her studio lot ID badge.

Once they make it to her car, Leslie drops her walkie talkie into the cup holder before starting the engine and pulling out of the driveway. Arriving at crew call has many disadvantages in her opinion, rush hour traffic near the top of her list. The drive is nice, though, warm with the heat on and soothing as she's forced to sit still rather than pace around as she thinks. As they near the lot, static cracks through her walkie.

“Aha!” Leslie turns up the device and listens as the words start to become more clear.

Ben peers at her. “What's that for?”

“It's a trick an old AD taught me; keep your walkie on in the car so you know what's happening as you come into work and so you can answer in case you're stuck in traffic nearby.” She can make out some words about Jessica stepping out of hair and makeup and heading back to school. “Nothing too dramatic so far.”

Finding a parking space is even more difficult at this later hour, but they manage. Leslie's plugging her headset in as she walks, as Ben matches her stride. “You're still ten minutes early.”

Dismissing him with a wave of her hand, Leslie wanders with direction until they reach the trailers. “Then I'll work from outside. I can tell that every actor is here, including that demon spawn, Jean-Ralphio.” She can see that Ben's about to ask how, so she answers before the words leave his mouth. “His trailer light is on. I taught April to set up the rooms with script and heat or air conditioning but never lights so we'll know if someone's arrived without having to knock on their trailer and bother them.”

“Did an old AD teach you that?” Ben asks, impressed.

“Nah, I came up with it myself. You go ahead. I'm gonna spy on the school session.” And Leslie takes off before he can answer, determined to make sure Marcia isn't screwing her over. Rather than barge into the classroom and disrupt them, Leslie heads to the production office which is directly above the school room to pry Jerry for answers.

Satisfied with his vague answers (“I guess I heard them go in downstairs, but I was busy enjoying the tea Gayle made for me this morning so I... Gosh, I must have missed it.”), she finally heads to stage. Having killed time efficiently, Leslie feels safe to walk straight to craft service. There she finds fluffy eggs, bacon, and most importantly, waffles.

The waffle spread is particularly extravagant: waffles, thick whipped cream, and berries. Placing her masterpiece in a bowl to avoid dropping it, Leslie heads straight to the AD office. Jen passes her to check in the background artists, and April dodges in and out to distribute walkies and check on the status of the actors in hair and makeup. Leslie makes quick work of her breakfast before rummaging around for an additional walkie to sit on her hip.

With no headset plugged in and the volume at an inaudible low, the second walkie is her sidearm. She hasn't used one since her production assistant days, but it's the most efficient way to make sure her words are transmitting. All she has to do is speak through the open walkie and hear the words through her earpiece, but Leslie practices the move of grabbing her walkie from her belt a few times before writing on April's walkie inventory list the device's number and her name.

That arranged, Leslie sees that her schedules have been printed and copied, one sitting on her desk. Jen and April truly are a well-oiled machine, Leslie thinks to herself, blessed to have such a wonderful team to support her. She then heads down and prepares her podium by placing her binder on top, opened to the first scene, and puts some coffee in her thermos. To feel useful, she announces into the walkie a thirty minute, fifteen minute, and five minute warning before camera blocking.

The moment cameras are pushed into the first set and the stand-ins step in, it feels like it's really happening, like everything was just practice up until this moment. Leslie makes her way into the set to give a safety meeting to the crew, welcoming the familiar faces back and introducing herself to the new faces. “We have two scenes with stunts today, but they're self-contained. Otherwise, let's work safely and quickly so we can go home tonight!” Cheers follow her out of the set, and blocking begins.

Andy makes extremely quick work of the blocking, as there's only an hour to get through over half of the script's scenes for the camera department, and in no time, the actors are stepping in. Leslie's heart is racing. Ben and Bobby find their seats among the podiums, sitting closely behind her, and with a sweaty palm, she pulls her walkie from her waist. “Are we ready to shoot?” She asks Andy, looking to Ben, Bobby, and even Ethel for confirmation.

There are no objections. “Let's run one,” Ben says confidently. As if his tone is absorbed by her body, Leslie calls into walkie, “Let's go on a bell and roll.” A red light turns on by the door to stop people from opening and closing it, and the sound department rings a bell to signify that they're rolling. The four-screened monitors with each camera's shot have big red letters that read REC.

“Quiet, please!” Leslie calls. “We're rolling!”

She settles in her seat followed by Andy who bellows, “And... Action!”

To say it is a whirlwind for the rest of the day would be an understatement. Lunch time arrives at the blink of an eye, and Leslie takes the time to go over the day's work with a hearty plate of lunch. Ben lounges in her chair beside her, sharing her podium for his plate. He eyes her schedule and raises an eyebrow, clearly impressed with what he sees.

“We're actually right on schedule to the dot but not for the last scene,” Leslie says. The scene in question that she had argued with Ben and Paul over before is listed at the bottom of the distributed daily schedules, with the bolded words Time Allowing beside it. “To make that scene, I would have liked us to break half an hour ago.”

Considering this with a huge bite of taco, Ben chews methodically. Leslie's not sure how he can eat so much and still keep his taut, wiry frame. Today alone he made an impressive breakfast sandwich on a toasted everything bagel that made the entire watching area smell of onions, washed it down with a coffee and donut, then ate a cup of soup from Donna's mid-morning snack spread, and loaded his plate with plenty of rice and beans besides his three tacos. She has to remind herself to eat sometimes, she's so distracted with work, but Ben doesn't seem to have that problem.

“We've got the stunts done,” he points out once his mouth is clear, “so all that's left are talking scenes, really.”

Leslie shakes her head. “Don't forget that we have extras in some of those scenes – kid extras.” But Jen has kept those kids in check so far. When one is too rowdy, she simply has to throw him a look, and he stills instantly. “We'll just have to see how this goes, honestly. If we can get enough school time for Jessica today, then I can push her call a little bit tomorrow and give us some extra time.”

Even Marcia has been behaving all day. During stunt rehearsals for a bit in which Jessica jumped on a bed that folded back into the wall of the shoddy apartment before being replaced by a stunt double, Leslie invited Marcia to watch to make sure it was safe enough. “Thank you for bringing me over,” Marcia mumbled before giving the stunt the go-ahead. Perhaps they could make up the time tomorrow at the very least.

Ben disappears shortly afterward once he's devoured his meal. Leslie has little time to think over where he's gone with their lunch hour quickly ending. “Are actors heading in for touch-ups?” She asks into her sidearm.

“Jean-Ralphio just stepped in, but he's quick. Everyone else is touched up and in their correct wardrobe,” Jen answers.

“Copy that,” Leslie responds enthusiastically. “Let's invite them a couple of minutes before the crew is back. I don't want anyone waiting on us.”

The cast is on their marks when the crew returns, along with the background actors. Leslie and her staff keep up the level of efficiency through the second half of the day. It takes her a moment to realize once they're in the second scene after lunch that they're nearly 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Figuring that it can't just be from having actors ready, she watches her surroundings even closer than she has been all day.

Communication – that's what's moving things along. Not communication among her staff or the people on walkie but among the creatives, Andy, Ben, and Bobby.

Ben is leading this movement after the first take of the scene. He mulls it over in his chair, talks privately to Bobby, and then conveys their notes to Andy directly. The notes take a moment longer than they usually would if he would to just say them offhandedly. These are thoughts deliberately passed on and providing immediate results. It cuts the number of takes nearly in half, and they move on to the next scene in no time.

“Yes, yes, yes!” Leslie cheers to herself as she pushes her podium to the next set. With this pacing, they can give the last scene of the script a good run and see if they've got it in the can.

The last scene is up with just under an hour before Jessica has to be off the clock. Luckily that hard-out time doesn't include the time it takes for her to change her wardrobe but only the minute she steps off set. Not wanting to take any chances, Leslie takes a deep breath and gets to work.

“Let's work quietly, people! We've got to get through one last scene, and then you can all go home!” That boosts morale, and all the departments work while murmuring, pushing cameras into place, adjusting the lighting grid, and distributing props to all of the background actors as they step into set. With that set in motion, Leslie wildly looks around for Ben.

He's chatting with one of the grips but excuses himself after catching her look. She leads him behind the camera cart to talk privately while still remaining in sight in case she's needed. “Whatever you need for this scene, whatever you want, let's arrange it. I know that I told you we'd try it tomorrow if it didn't work, but I want us to make this work now together. So, Mr. Vice President, how can I be of assistance?”

She can nearly see the gears turning in his head. “Get me all the actors as soon as you can; I've got notes. Then see if you can clear the crew out for a rehearsal. Don't do it until their done working, but if they're finished, clear the set,” Ben says, practically leaping to work. He quickly turns around and adds, “Please, Ms. 1st Assistant Director, ma'am,” before making a getaway to avoid her playful swat.

“All right, guys,” Leslie says into her walkie, “let's get moving. I've got some requests from our exec...”

Perhaps she's tired from not getting enough sleep over the last week or lethargic from indulging in a huge slice of chocolate cake that Donna brought to her personally, but Leslie's not quite sure how they have managed it. One second, she's nervously watching the seconds tick by on her watch while shoveling cake into her mouth. The next, she hears Ben say, “I think we've got it.”

“Nice!” Bobby yells, high-fiving everyone in his vicinity, even Ethel Beavers, despite their obvious disinterest.

“Nothing else?” Leslie asks Ben and Andy to be sure. They still have ten more minutes with Jessica to get another take in, but she looks exhausted and as ready to go home as her mother who's already hovering close by with their bags. Rather than stretch it, Leslie grabs her walkie from her waist and says, “That's a wrap on day one of production, everybody!”

The rest is a blur as she cheers excitedly with the crew, downs another slice of cake, and somehow makes it home and to her bed. Ben is kissing her softly, whispering “Just one more day” as she succumbs to sleep.


Church bells chime, intermingling with Leslie's dream. She's walking with Ben, hand in hand, outside toward a crowd of cheering people. By his tux and, more obviously, her poofy wedding dress, they've just gotten married. Leslie comes out of the dream slowly, blinking awake before looking for the source of sound. Ben's phone is sitting on the bedside table near his side of the bed, the chime alarm going off after having not been successful dismissed earlier. The man himself is showering, giving Leslie a moment to deconstruct her dream.

Marriage.

Regardless of the fact that they've only been dating a handful of months and the idea is premature, Leslie has never burdened herself with the thought of finding Mr. Right and getting married. While growing up, she didn't plan a dream wedding but rather a dream career path. Even as she watched her friends getting married over the last decade, a pang of sadness might have flashed through her heart, but Leslie didn't set everything else aside to start dating and rush to the alter.

The idea of getting married, let along getting married to Ben Wyatt, isn't altogether a scary one. It's just very complicated. He has his life in New York to think of. No matter the sacrifices Leslie's willing to make, having a long-distance marriage for more than the occasional short period isn't one of them. And if he were to move to Los Angeles with her, would they have to get a new home? Start fresh? Repackage their separate lives to create one with each other?

Again, complicated.

Seeing the time, Leslie hops out of bed to get ready even though she has another twenty minutes to sleep. Ben is awake ahead of time because he has to spend the majority of the day in the editing suites on the lot so they can edit a rough cut of the scenes shot yesterday to play in front of the studio audience tonight. She jumps into the shower with him for a quick rinse and they get ready together.

When Ben asks how she slept, Leslie hastily says, “Fine,” purposefully leaving out the part about her dream.

“You sound all jittery,” Ben says, concerned. “You'll sleep better tonight, and it'll all feel like some weird, crazy dream.”

Leslie just laughs, not knowing how to respond to that. Luckily, his mind is on cutting scenes together, so he doesn't inquire further. Once they're on the lot and he's on his way to edit, she groans aloud. The sound makes some people passing by glace wearily towards her, but she doesn't mind them. What she needs is coffee.

On her way to the coffee pot in Donna's office, she sees Ann fiddling with one of the sets, and it's determined that she really just needed her best friend all along. “I haven't seen you for more than ten seconds all week!” Leslie complains as they lounge on one of the set couches.

“That means I'm doing my job,” Ann points out. “It's pre-production work, really. I've been here before dawn every day, putting in all the touches Andy or whoever asks for, and then I get to hide away in my office and avoid all the shooting craziness.”

“The craziness would be my job,” Leslie laughs. There's a moment of comfortable silence before she brings up the dream with Ann.

Humming, Ann shakes her head. “No, it's nothing to worry about. I had dozens of dreams about marrying Andy, even some about marrying Mark. Unless you felt extremely anxious in the 'Oh thank God I woke up' sort of way, you're behaving normally. We're not completely responsible for our dreams. Don't take on any more responsibilities, Leslie; you've got too many as it is.”

On that note, Jen walks by. “Let's go over that schedule,” she calls, not stopping for Leslie to catch up.

Trailing after her, Leslie waves goodbye to Ann. “If I don't make it out alive, remember me, Ann Perkins!”

Their schedule talk is the most Leslie has ever spoken to Jennifer Barkley. It begins with a comprehensive scroll through of the camera blocking order, when the kids are in school, and when they get through hair and makeup. But it quickly deteriorates into a stressful reality check of how long the actors will take during the live taping to change and have their hair and makeup touched up.

“I've got to get my background through a change, too, and even when we show the two scenes in between from yesterday, that'll be maybe five minutes. You better hope our audience warmer is on his game tonight,” Jen says before flinging a schedule to April for copying.

The audience warmer, whose sole job is to entertain an audience along with a DJ to help pass the time during lulls in the taping, can be hit or miss. Some can keep an audience happy even during five-hour tapings; others have people squirming in their seats with impatience thirty minutes in. Neither Leslie nor Jen know who the MC of the evening will be, so they hold hope that Paul hired a good one.

Before Leslie leaves to walk around the sets and make sure that they're ready for camera blocking, she looks over Jen's outfit. “Thanks for remembering to wear black today. I wasn't sure if people would read my memo.”

It's traditional for the crew to wear black, particularly dressy, clothing during a live taping for the same reasons that the crew of a play or other live production do – to not distract the audience from the performance. While they're out in the open for the onlookers to observe, the production crew should not be the center of attention. Leslie didn't have to worry about April who normally dons black to work, nor did she need to twist Ben's arm. In fact, he put on his nicest black suit and tie, tempting her this morning with her favorite look in men: formal.

“I didn't read your memo,” Jen says bluntly. “I have a date tonight and didn't feel like bringing a change of clothes.”

Leslie glaces at her colleague with a joking scoff. “It's going to be pretty late tonight. Not much is going to be open by the time we're out of the office.”

“I know.” Without further explantation, Jen turns back to her work, adding in information to the night's production report.

As she steps out, Leslie realizes just what kind of date Jen's going on and blushes for being so intrusive. Right. Well, if all goes well and she's not too exhausted, there might just be a similar date in the Knope household this evening.

Something crashes to the floor, interrupting Leslie's inappropriate train of thought. “Is everyone okay?” She asks loudly while hurriedly looking to find it.

“Yeah!” Tom yells back. “DJ Roomba knocked down one of my racks,” he whines.

So much for all going well. If that's the worst today throws at Leslie, though, she could get by unscathed.

There's a long “lunch” break between camera blocking with stand-ins and the taping. While the crew takes this time to walk off the lot for food and change into their nice, black outfits, Leslie uses the time to take everything in. The stage will be empty for a few more precious, silent moments before the audience starts trailing in, so she wanders through the sets. Only the sound of Donna clinging and clanging in her craft service room to set up food and Leslie's footsteps on the concrete floor can be heard.

It's peaceful, certainly a change from the normal ruckus that comes with her job. Her podium stands ready by the first set, her binder neatly opened to the first page of the script that caused so much trouble during the production meeting on Monday. It seems so long ago to her, this week and her duration of being the 1st AD feeling more like a whole season's worth of work rather than just a month. In two months when Pawnee starts production on its tenth season, this podium won't belong to her anymore. She'll have to go back to the longer, thankless hours that she kept before, staying way past rehearsal and when the camera stops rolling to manage the paperwork.

Of course, Leslie won't have to do any of that. She could try to find work as a 1st AD elsewhere, but she'd rather stay with the crew she loves and let her longterm promotion happen at its own pace.

Handing the reigns back to Ron won't be the only change in two months either. The network is slated to have the L.A.nd of Stars pilot complete and delivered by then. By that point, Ben will have to clear out his office in the editing suite and clear out of the city depending on where Trumple wants him. Steadfast in not wanting to discuss the future until the pilot is at least shot, Ben has kept Leslie at the edge of her seat with more and more questions forming on the tip of her lips.

If only so many damn things didn't depend on this pilot.

Leslie feels her face redden with embarrassment at forgetting briefly that she's the reason this pilot is even being shot. The stage door opens and brings in a long line of audience members, so she sidesteps into craft service, thinking as she does so that she can't have her cake and eat it too. She can, however, have a slice of this berries and cream cake.


It's been years since Leslie's last live tapping, but with the music thumping in between takes and everyone honed in on their tasks to get through the night unscathed and within Jessica's working limits, she's brought back to her days as a PA. It was fun to run around and get things done, taking shortcuts under the audience bleachers and squirming in between people loitering by the snack tables. Even now as she's in the set listening to Ben, Bobby, and Andy work with the actors to give notes, everyone in their formal wear as an audience of over 200 watches the process of making a sitcom, it's the best Friday night she's had in a while.

Her favorite thing to do, now that she's in a position in which she can take a moment and watch the audience, is roll cameras and see the progression of silence. After the bell rings and the light goes on, the DJ fades out his pop songs and the audience murmurs their hushed excitement, shushing each other and pointing to certain elements. It feels like being a part of something big, even if she turns her head down when their attention is drawn to her.

Sure, she makes announcements on set and it's not hard to trace who's asking to rolling the cameras and requesting silence, but this isn't her show.

And yet it is.

It's her's in the same way Pawnee belongs to her and the crew – the people who help bring it to life. The people who are bringing Ben's old, forgotten script to life to see the light of day in front of people who are eating up every second of it.

“I think it's going to be a hit,” Leslie whispers to Ben as the audience bellows with laughter while watching playback of yesterday's scenes.

He shrugs it off, eying the monitors with a perfectionist's disapproval (some set piece isn't exactly to his liking), but she knows he's just trying to stifle his optimism. “Think the worst, and either your expectations will be met or something better will happen,” he told her weeks ago when she pictured him going up to win an Emmy. Ben laughed and offered winning a Razzie instead, but Leslie knew then as she knows now: Ben Wyatt is a talent to be reckoned with.

And he's wasting his time as an executive. Maybe if the show gets picked up, he'll realize that a past failure twenty years ago can't be held over him anymore. Showbiz sees the rise and fall of many people, and ones who last are those who don't see a canceled show or poor box office earnings as a gravestone marker.

Uproarious applause fills the soundstage, shaking Leslie out of her thoughts. There's just one more scene to shoot and the final scene to show the audience, and with the night having gone swimmingly so far, she can't feel any better than she already does.

“While they set up for this next scene, I'd like to fill you guys in on something great,” the audience warmer, who Leslie recognizes as The Douche from a morning radio show, begins. “How many parents do we have in the audience?”

Nearly half of the crowd raises their hands, their children looking around with interest. The guy calls himself Tuttles for this appearance with DJ China Joe, clearly knowing parents of such a young audience wouldn't approve of his other stage name. But having heard that radio show, Leslie is weary of where this guy could take a joke.

“Anyone remember a show called Ice Town?”

As a good bunch of the parents nod, Ben immediately looks up from where he's making adjustments on set. He excuses himself and steps out, seeking Leslie. She locks worried eyes with him, and the two step forward to watch where Tuttles is taking this.

Pointing to Ben, Tuttles smiles with glee. “Benji Wyatt here created and ran that show. What was the theme song, DJ China Joe?”

Instantly, Whoomp! (There It Is) starts playing, and Ben watches with horror as the audience starts laughing and singing along.

The aptly named Douche steps down to the lowest bleacher closest to Ben. “Anything you want to say to your, uh, fans?”

For a second, Leslie is sure Ben is going to storm off and let the bully have his fun. She can practically see him make a decision right then and there, but it's not to be mocked for his past. Ben holds out his hand for the mic and takes it, clearing his throat.

“Uh hi, hey everyone. It's true; Ice Town was my show a long time ago, and it didn't go as well as I wanted. But we're not here for Ice Town, are we? We're here to watch a new, family show film its first episode. Have you enjoyed it so far?” Ben asks, finding his confidence.

The crowd cheers, everyone from kids to adults clapping.

He actually beams, the sight so refreshing to Leslie. “Good!” Ben turns to her. “How much time do we have?” He asks away from the mic. She confirms that he has five minutes. “While the hardworking crew of L.A.nd of Stars gets their last touches done, how about I answer your questions about the show?” The audience claps in agreement, hands shooting up. “Tuttles, you've got this, right?”

Peeved that his mocking bit has been taken away, Tuttles grabs his extra mic and heads to the first raised hand, that of a young girl, and lets her ask her question.

The Q&A eventually ends, much to the audience's sadness, when they're ready to shoot. Ben hands back the mic with a smug smile, but when he turns away, he's nearly shaking.

“You okay?” Leslie asks as they find their seats, the lights dimming.

He nods wearily. “I'm not much of a public speaker.”

“They ate it up! You really made their day with that, and those kids looked like they met a celebrity. When you told one to follow her dreams to become a writer and let mistakes and failures fuel her instead of stop her... Everyone loved you.” Leslie swallows down the lump in her throat. “I love you so much,” she whispers, giving him a firm kiss on the cheek and a hand squeeze before they separate.

As they shoot their last live scene, as Andy yells “Cut!” on the last take, and as the audience gives the cast and the crew a standing ovation when they see the end of the episode, Leslie knows that no matter the job she holds, no matter the future for her and Ben, there's no place she'd rather be than making great, inspirational children's television with the people who inspire her.

Chapter Text

Tremendous shaking followed by a screeching noise jolts Leslie awake. “What? Where--”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a tin voice begins as if hearing her question, “on behalf of myself and the crew, I would like to welcome you to New York City. Skies are cloudy, and it is a brisk 27 degrees this fine morning. Although it's not currently snowing, there is snow on the ground so watch your step out there, and thank you for flying with us.”

She's not sure if she's ever felt this elated. Leslie and her mother visited New York years ago when touring perspective colleges, but work and not wanting to travel alone has kept her from visiting the city that never sleeps again despite her love for its food, its musicals, and its eclectic people. Seeing the Empire State Building, even from a distance, is enough to rouse her from her sleep-deprived haze.

Red-eye flights are not high on Leslie Knope's recommendation list.

But she didn't dare waste any precious daytime with Ben, not after his trip was cut short by a call from Hugh Trumple. They spent the holidays together, cuddling and relaxing sufficiently for the first time in over a month. After the New Year, however, he packed his bags and went off without a clue as to why he couldn't stay and edit the pilot in Los Angeles for the next two months as previously arranged.

She worried that he was going to be fired, that the network didn't love the pilot after he approved a rough cut to be sent, but Trumple didn't elaborate.

“He would have told me over the phone that I was fired,” Ben offered. “Trumple doesn't beat around the bush.” Even though he smiled as he spoke, Leslie found no comfort in his words then and can't find any now.

Hell, even as she hoists her carry-ons over her shoulders and makes her way to baggage claim, there isn't a lot of comfort to find in the ambiguity of this trip. In the month since she has seen Ben, they've spoken every day but not about his work situation.

“You can't even tell me over the phone?” She asked when feeling especially desperate and lonely, pacing around her home aimlessly.

Ben sighed. “I wish there was something I could tell you. Nothing is solidified right now, and I don't want to bring your hopes up or crush whatever insane scenario I'm sure you're cooking up as we speak. Just know I'm not fired; we're financially sound.”

Leslie rolled the word “we're” around her mouth for days since, going to far as to shout it at Ann in their corner booth at the Snakehole Lounge one Friday night whilst drunk on sugary drinks. The fact that he considers them a unit doesn't frighten her in the slightest; the uncertainty of how they're going to work as a unit does.

As she descends the escalator to the ground level, she meets a driver holding a name tag with “LESLIE KNOPE” written on it. Shaking his hand, she tells him that she just needs to pick up her checked luggage before they can go. The driver follows her, asking which of the suitcases on the turnstile is hers.

“Don't worry, I can manage-- THERE IT IS!” Spotting her huge black bag with an ostentatious giraffe-print ribbon tied to the handle, she shrugs her handbag off to the driver and yanks the suitcase out with a grunt loud enough to clear the space for the momentum her swinging bag necessitates. “All right, we're done here.”

Her suitcase is laden down with layers, as a Southern Californian has no need for a heavy winter jacket or snow boots. Leslie tried to suss out the reason for Ben's sudden insistence that she visit him by asking if she should buy a winter coat. He merely offered that she wouldn't have much use for it after the trip, so it wouldn't be worth the expense. That crossed him offering her to move in with him off of her list of guesses.

Of course that did nothing to ebb her curiosity (her guess-list is still five pages long) but plenty to excite her into packing sweaters, warm socks, and hats with bobbles. Leslie can't deny there's some relief in him not suggesting her to move to New York. Her classification in the Director's Guild allows her to work anywhere in the US or on any American production, and production has picked up in NYC over recent years. But the weather is almost as cold as the crew members, and there's a lack of multi-camera productions. Working under those harsh conditions for 14 hours a day every day doesn't appeal to her in the slightest.

A mere taste of real winter is all she wants, and just past the automatic sliding doors, she can see the dirty slush of old snow along the sidewalk and white puffs from the talking mouths of reuniting couples and families. Stepping out into the cold is a shock. Even with her gloves, layered shirt and sweater ensemble with jeans and boots, and the bright orange hat covering her ears, this is below freezing weather.

The gust of air that hits her face makes her eyes water and diminishes the idea of New York being a Winter Wonderland. Leslie nearly throws her suitcase at the driver then, shuffling to jump into the backseat of the SUV that's going to take her to Ben's office. He arranged the company car for her against her protests, reassuring her that the car is rarely used and the driver is paid for a short shift unless he's given runs.

Leslie reaches her gloved hand for the handle of the door and quickly jumps in, throwing her smaller bags with a swing of her arm.

She hears a loud “Ow!” and looks up through her wind-blown hair to see Ben sitting by the opposite window.

A loud, high-pitched noise emerges from Leslie's throat as she crawls across the seat and kisses him fully, not caring that her mouth probably tastes of stale, airplane coffee and her body has the unavoidable musk of sitting still for hours in an enclosed space. They break only when the driver settles into the front seat, their warm, panting breath intermingling even as they abashedly pull away from each other.

Blushing, Leslie returns to her seat and buckles the seatbelt. “Are we going to your place, then?” She could use a nap, some fortifying food, and attention from her boyfriend.

“No, we're still going to my office. You can drop your things off there and we can enjoy the sites as we make our way from Uptown to Downtown,” Ben says. Without any knowledge of where he plans to lead her, Leslie is nonetheless eager to follow her adorable tour guide.

The drive through New York City traffic, with snow on the road and pedestrians sluggish with cold (who still run cross the street narrowly avoiding oncoming traffic, much to Leslie's heart racing shock), is slow. Slow enough to want to lull her into a quick nap, but she blinks her eyes open every time they start to get heavy. Their driver asks questions about their relationship and proves to be a romantic at heart, sharing his own story of his home in New Jersey with his wife and three kids. Ben's thumb rubs over Leslie's gloves lovingly the entire time, warming her hands and reminding her that it's been some time since they've last touched each other.

When the car pulls at last over to a curb, the driver putting it into Park, she looks out the window thinking this can't be the place. A building towering over Time Square surrounded by tourists, street performers, and people in costume?

“I know, right?” Ben says, able to read her expression. “Viacom's offices are just two blocks down, and Trumple spared no expense to make Jolly TV appear to be the children's media powerhouse it is,” Ben says before opening his door.

She gets out and stares at the sight before her. Even in the late-morning light of day, the videos playing on unimaginably big screens and the huge figures and billboards attached to skyscrapers make the iconic stretch come alive.

A poor attempt at a Li'l Sebastian costumer strolls by, stopping before her when he notices her staring. “You wanna picture, sweetheart?” The deep voice within the suit is nothing like Li'l Sebastian's jolly whiny.

“Uh, no thanks,” Leslie says gently, putting as much space between her and the filthy costume as possible. Ben grabs the crook her her elbow and pulls her toward the building. It isn't until they're inside and Ben is waving to the security guard that she notices he has her suitcase, she has her bags, and the SUV is pulling away. “This isn't all Jolly, is it?” She asks once she's regained her senses. Even one of the major networks couldn't fill a building of this size alone.

Ben presses the elevator call button, smiling as he takes in her presence in the light of the lobby. It's a subtle racking of his eyes over her, from her toes to her wind-disheveled hair, but it still makes her heart flutter and her breath quicken. Though time apart is beyond difficult, Leslie has missed them missing each other. It adds a sort of desperation to their time together.

“No, we just have the top five floors.” The elevator arrives with a ping! and the doors open. Ushering her with his hand, Ben waits for her to enter and then makes no sounds of shock at the lavish elevator... unlike Leslie.

There's a monitor that displays the weather forecast, a touchscreen directory, and the most polite female voice that says, “Going up” as they travel to the top floor – floor 32.

Somehow they make it into Ben's office. Leslie's not quite sure how it happens, she's so dazed by the sleek, modern offices, the attractive receptionist who greets Ben warmly as they pass and hands Leslie a coffee perfectly prepared to her liking without having sharing said preference with the young woman, and the huge kitchen with an immense breakfast spread and fancy machines to make the most intricate coffees and snacks. But when she sits across from his desk while he tucks her bags into his closet (Why does he have a closet in his office? Is that normal?), Leslie finds herself nibbling on a bagel she must have picked up along the way and looking at the expansive view of what must be Uptown.

The bagel is demolished in minutes, and she's licking cream cheese off her fingers when Ben sits before her on the edge of his desk. He points out Central Park, the Director's Guild of America offices, and numerous stores she'll want to visit. Nodding over her coffee cup, Leslie finishes her drink and hopes it gives her the courage to formulate coherent sentences.

“Why?” is all she manages, much to her embarrassment, but Ben doesn't mock her so much as look very confused and a little worried.

“Why what? Why do you want to shop at those stores? You don't have to--”

“No,” Leslie cuts him off. “I'm just wondering – even though I know the answer will just piss me off – why do crews like mine have to worry about losing their jobs and being unemployed until they can find another show to work on while the network that pretends to care about us has a thousand-dollar coffee maker and fancy, whipped cream cheese to pair with their dozens of bagels that will be thrown out by lunch?”

Before Ben can respond, she holds up her hand. “Again, I know why. There's no show without the network, and the executives have to maintain the image of being ahead of every trend so people want to work with them, yadda yadda. I just... I look at this,” she says, gesturing at the amazing view, “and I get just plain sad for all the people I know who worked on canceled shows for networks that have larger budgets than this one and had to live off unemployment checks until pilot season came around.”

They sit in silence then. He tries to find the right words to say, and she touches his thigh to signify that it's all right and not about him; she just needed to let off some stream. That's all. She's not bitter about how much she hates the intricacies of the network world she wants to work in one day.

Chris Traeger ends up saving them both from awkward conversation as he busts into the room. “Ben Wyatt! Oh, and Leslie Knope! Two of my favorite people in one room! I heard you were the 1st AD on Ben's pilot. You did a bang-up job; everyone here literally loved it! We can't stop talking about it and how it's going to make waves.”

“Well that's certainly great but not thanks to me. Ben wrote it,” she says, smiling and gesturing to him. Ben shrugs modestly, but his lips turn up and his cheeks start to have a pink hue.

Chris pats them both on the shoulder fiercely, not noticing their winces. “He did, and we can't wait to see what else he'll write.”

The sentence catches her off-guard, but she continues with the pleasantries. Ben never mentioned sharing any other scripts with Jolly, or that he had any kid-centric scripts on hand. He acknowledges her confusion by furrowing his eyebrows in apologetic awkwardness briefly and looks about to end the conversation when his glass office door opens again. This time, it's a man Leslie hasn't had the pleasure, or lack thereof, of meeting: Hugh Trumple.

“Traeger, Wyatt, good you're both in the same room so I don't have to have the same conversation twice. I... Oh,” he trails off, noticing Leslie for the first time, “I didn't know you were having a meeting.”

She gets up immediately, as if the chair were melting underneath her. “I can leave,” she offers, throwing her purse over her shoulder.

“Mr. Trumple, this is Leslie Knope, our hardest working AD on Pawnee and L.A.nd of Stars,” Ben says confidently, moving his eyes sharply to her hands to remind her to shake Trumple's outstretched one.

Leslie does, watching the older man's face turn from showing disinterest to fake regard effortlessly. “It's very nice to meet you, sir,” she says politely. Just a few steps from the door, she could make her escape out of the claustrophobic office and into the not-so-fresh air of Times Square below easily. It's very tempting.

“And you as well,” he replies. “There would be no hit shows without our hardworking crew!”

She laughs at that sweetly, barely concealing the bubbling ironic laughter beneath, and excuses herself to the restroom so that the men can talk. When she's halfway out the door, Ben says he'll meet her in the lobby in a few minutes, and she flicks a hand in response. It's not until she's winding around the accounting offices that Leslie realizes much to her chagrin that she doesn't know where the restroom is, so she asks into the cubicle of a friendly looking woman and is pointed in the right direction.

Fortunately, it's a single-stall bathroom. Locking the door behind her, she relieves herself and then goes to wash her hands. The sink is adorned with various soaps, lotions, and even free feminine hygiene products. Part of Leslie wants to fill her bag with the goodies, if only to take from a company that has so much – too much – wealth, but she only rubs the fancy lotion into her hands and leaves to wait in the lobby.

There, the receptionist flashes her a quick smile before returning to stare at her computer. Fake. Everything is so fake.

When Ben finally meets her, she leads the way to the elevator wordlessly. Once they're inside and the doors close them in brief privacy, she finally asks, “Did your meeting go well?”

“I suppose so, yeah. We were just making sure we're all on the same page for the next couple of weeks,” he replies. “Are you okay?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “I'm just... tired.” He squeezes her hand with understanding, a fortifying gesture that assures her no apology is needed. “I'll be better when I'm outside in the cold, and when you buy me the hot chocolate from that place you told me about over the phone last week.”

Ben leads the way happily, taking her to Rockefeller Plaza to get the drink that is thick enough to be just melted chocolate in a cup. Leslie lets him pull her by the hand with the childish glee of someone showing their favorite places to play. Eventually as their feet crunch on the snow at Central Park and their laughter mingles together as one when a clump of snow falls from a tree branch onto Ben's head, the frustration – really just a coping mechanism for Leslie's worries – dissipates into the cold air.

After exploring the fancy blocks of designer stores Uptown, he leads her to his favorite pizza place and his favorite bar. The alcohol warms her full stomach and lessens the blow of the frosty wind. It's late afternoon when they return to the office for her things and take the subway Downtown to his apartment. She doesn't question when he offers to quickly drop them off inside while she contemplates what type of food they should have for dinner.

“Shouldn't we have decided that earlier? What if the restaurant is in a different part of the city?” She asks, concerned.

Ben laughs as he takes the bags from her. “This is New York, Les. Every type of food is everywhere!”

As he disappears, she looks around the neighborhood. His apartment is in the Financial District near the water. While the streets are busy, they're not as bad as the more touristy spots they wandered through. She expressed worry that they were skipping through things, but Ben assured her that with a week to spend in the city, they could get through all the major landmarks easily and still have time to explore the hidden gems a New Yorker finds while living in the city.

They end up eating by the water, sitting in a dark, warm restaurant with a candle and a bottle of wine between them. There's a gorgeous view of the boats and the lights of Staten Island beyond but an even more breathtaking view of Ben's eyes, his tiny smile, his Adam's apple moving slightly with every sip of wine.

This. This is what she's been missing. Connecting over seemingly nothing – conversations of what they've been watching on TV, the weird encounter he had on the street the other day, the awed look a barista gave her when she ordered an already sweet drink with more syrups – instead of stressing over work or constantly standing on each other's toes over what the future will bring them.

Ron once told her that the best thing to do in life is to live it, to let it just happen and wash over you. Damn if he wasn't right and it's taken Leslie this long to appreciate it.

A post-dinner stroll is in order after all they've eaten and drunk. Ben's playfully mad at her for slipping the waiter her credit card to pay for the meal, but it's of little consequence beside kisses in the cold. They walk all the way back to his apartment, a fair stretch of quieting streets, even the most ambitious of New York socialites and partiers seeking their shelter inside rather than gathering in the streets.

Snow begins to fall, and while Ben is eager to quicken his pace to get out of it, Leslie relishes the moment of watching the flakes fall into his hair and melt on her nose. If she blocks out the sounds of car horns and blaring stereo systems, she can hear the small crackle of the snow falling onto the sidewalks still covered from the previous day.

Even the exhale from her nose comes out as a foggy cloud. Leslie stands completely still, breathing in the city, the snow, and Ben as he leans in close. His cold, bare hand tilts her chin up for a sweet kiss. He tastes of wine and the whipped cream that topped their dessert, of his own smoky flavor and the promise of more kisses – and not just this evening.

The crescendo of her giggles is the soundtrack to their remaining journey. Leslie's heart is so light that she might fly up to the sky and join the clouds. His hand entwined with hers, however, keeps her on the ground and leads her to his apartment. The guard pays them little mind as they nearly rush to the elevator. It has no fancy screens or voices, but Leslie doesn't notice, as she's too consumed in kissing the lips off Ben Wyatt.

His door is down a hallway that seems to wrap around the building. The day's exhaustion and the wine are starting to catch up with her, but the idea of imminent warmth and sanctuary in Ben's bed is enough to keep her legs from locking up in place. He unlocks the door and leads her through the dark space.

The contrast from the bright hallway keeps her from taking in the entirety of the apartment. Leslie makes the mental note that it's as spacious as she imagined. There's no time for a tour, though, as he pulls her against him at the frame of his bedroom door for a very thorough kiss.

Despite the dark in this room as well, Leslie can make out the bed, and that's enough for her. She drags him by the collar to the edge of the mattress, falling back as it hits the back of her knees and bringing him down with her. They land gracelessly, and through their laughs and untangling of their limbs, clothing is thrown haphazardly. Once naked, Ben looks her up and down.

“Starting to remember what I look like?” Leslie asks, her joke coming out seductively with her voice so hoarse from the cold air.

He shakes his head. “No, just wondering how I got so lucky.” And before she can aww or blush at his words, he's worshiping her body.

Open-mouthed kisses against her neck, his hot breath driving away any thoughts of being chilled, make her writhe against him. Ben doesn't relent, instead moving to her breasts where he takes each nipple between his lips and rolls his tongue over them.

Jesus, Ben,” she breathes out in ecstasy, her legs wrapping around his waist. Even a month has been too long to be separated from his touch, his inviting embrace.

Rather than release the hold her legs have on him, he guides them to rest on his shoulders while he kisses and affectionally touches his way down until he reaches her core. Breathing in her musk with a hunger that surprises her, Ben slides a finger up from her opening to her clit. Leslie shivers at the sensation, his fingers still a little cold, but sinks into the mattress when his mouth takes over.

Alternating flicks of his tongue over the sensitive bud and dipping inside her to taste, he works her until she tightens like a coil, legs shaking and hands clenching the pillow cases. Leslie doesn't need to announce how close she is, hanging onto the edge of a deep plunge. It's torture. Sweet, heart-tightening torture. Pressing a hand onto her belly to hold her down, Ben laps hard and quick over her clitoris, knowing as if by second-nature that that's enough for orgasm to claim her.

Leslie's aim, as determined pre-orgasm, is to quickly lean forward on her arms and work on his pleasure, but she notices post-orgasm that she can't move and might have been a bit ambitious with her original goal. Her breaths come out as panting gasps, her legs limp against his shoulders. When Ben eases his way up to her, she smiles lazily at him, blinking slowly.

“Mmm, that was... something,” Leslie murmurs, nodding.

Ben's sputtering laugh fills the room. “Something?” His tone is happy rather than insulted, so she doesn't bother to correct herself.

“Yeah. And you could have something too,” she says with innuendo coating her words, her hands gesturing down between them to his obvious state of arousal.

Something happens suddenly: a quick sliding thrust that pushes him inside of her. Though she's long-past the quivering sensitivity that initially follows orgasm, the feeling of Ben stretching and filling her is enough to make Leslie moan and squeeze her eyes shut.

“God, I love you so much,” Ben mutters against her ear, pulling on the lobe gently with his teeth. “I love the way you taste, the way you feel around me, the way you make me never want to leave your side again.”

Leslie's hips rise, meeting his thrusts. Her throat is too tight with emotion to respond more than, “I love you, too,” but her words are fierce, laced with passionate truth. He pulls her closer in answer, grabbing her ass and moving her legs to hit against his chest. The motion pushes him deeper inside her, and she squeaks, arousal flooding through her veins.

His hands are holding steadfast to her thighs against him, each thrust shaking them together as one, so Leslie reaches a finger down to work between them, surprising herself with how desperate she is for another release. Ben locks eyes with her once he realizes what she's up to, pleading her wordlessly to come so he can as well. Her orgasm is fierce and quick, her inner walls clenching around him so that Ben groans loudly, thrusting a last few times to stretch out the bliss of his own climax.

It takes all the energy Leslie has left to muster to rummage around the suitcase in his room for her toiletries and brush her teeth. He's beside her, sharing the sink with equally bleary eyes regardless of the cold water splashed on their faces. They literally collapse into bed, immediately cuddling into their favorite spooning position before sleep claims them together.

A full bladder rouses Leslie from her sleep gradually. The warm blankets entice her to stay in bed. No matter the apartment's central heating, just the knowledge that it's cold outside makes leaving the warmth of her blanket cocoon dreadful. In their satiated exhaustion, neither Ben nor Leslie put on pajamas, so she's stepping onto the cool hardwood floor of his bedroom with bare feet and only yesterday's sweater and panties to cover her.

Bladder emptied, she returns to the bedroom. No wonder she woke up after only a few hours' sleep: the bright light shining through the windows from the sun reflecting the white snow on the ground could wake even a hibernating bear. Ben seems nonplussed by it, simply turned away from the window with the blanket over his face. Even if sleep is unobtainable, the bed is enticing enough. But Ben spent his weeks as her guest making her breakfast in the morning and thanking her for her hospitality by cleaning, even if he only angrily washed the windows when a bout of writer's block overtook him. It's only fair to return the favor.

Finding solace in a fuzzy robe and warm socks from her suitcase, Leslie tiptoes out of the bedroom into the hallway beyond. When she reaches the living room, she's certain there must be some mistake. The reason she couldn't definitively make out the shape or scope of his apartment the night before was because it seemed so spacious in the dark without the outlines of furnishings. In the light of day, she wonders if she's been transported into some other apartment or accidentally wandered into some neighbor's space.

There's nothing here.

No couch, no tables or bookshelves. No television or racks of DVDs or anything indication that this space is lived in beyond some boxes stacked in a corner.

Leslie wanders into the kitchen and quietly opens cupboards, looking for pots and pans, a coffee maker, anything. They're all empty save for some dry goods. Even the fridge is bare except for some half-eaten takeout containers and a few bottles of beer and water.

“What the fuck?” she whispers, her mind racing and a headache forming at her temples. Feeling unabashed, she takes one of the water bottles, drinks deeply from it, and brings it back into the bedroom.

Looking closely in the light, it's evident that this space has been cleared out too. There's no dresser or bedside tables. Leslie's hands are shaking with... confusion? Fury? Betrayal? She knows Ben's apartment wasn't always this empty; over numerous phone calls she could hear his TV, the sizzling of cooking food, and the creaky sliding of a dresser drawer. Is he moving? Selling all of his belongings and becoming some sort of monk?

She places the closed bottle on the floor and slides into the bed wearily. Ben's still fast asleep, but he clings to her the second she's settled in. Her body is still with conflicting emotions, wound tight with stress. Breath escapes her open mouth through her teeth with a whistle. Slowly, her legs become restless and jittery with thought. Leslie wants to pace, wants to shake Ben awake and ask him just what the hell is going on. How else does she mention it? Oh hey, I was just looking around your place to see if you had coffee or eggs or anything, and it looks like you're out. Out of everything. Maybe we could go to the store later and restock your entire apartment. Is there a furniture store nearby?

“Do you have to go to the bathroom? You're shaking, Les,” Ben says with sleep lacing his voice. He loosens his hold on her body, and she shoots out of Ben immediately.

She grunts, unsure of where to start or what to say. “What? Where?” A particularly loud, incomprehensible shout helps her clear her mind while scaring the shit, or at least the tiredness, out of him. “Ben... what aren't you telling me besides everything apparently?!” Leslie can't control her volume anymore than she can control her trembling hands or her reddening face. Ben sits up in bed, watching her with a guilty look on his face. “No, no, no, Ben Wyatt. It's too late for that cutsie bullshit. We talk for hours each day and yet you neglect to tell me that you've packed up your apartment? Or that you're giving Jolly more scripts? What's wrong with you?”

“Leslie, if you calm down I can--”

“Calm down? Don't turn this around so that there's something wrong with me. Or... Or maybe there is! The entire time you were in LA I wondered what was going to happen with us. Would we go back to long-distance? Would we figure it out? And then you suddenly go back to New York, saying that something's changing with at work, but you can't tell me yet. A normal person would think that weird and refuse to do anything without an explanation. But I trusted you. You asked me to come so I did, but not to move in with you, because that's clearly not going to happen from the state of your place! So what is it Ben? What's going on? Because I'm so damn tired of waiting for you to give me a straight answer.”

The fact that tears are starting to stream down her face only makes Leslie want to cry more. She wants to be strong about this, but she feels like her heart's been cracked like an egg and no tape or glue can put her back together again.

Ben gets out of bed and wraps his arms around her, rubbing her back soothingly and making cooing noises. “It's okay,” he says gently, and it bothers her that her sobs turn into teary hiccups as though his mere existence is enough to make it okay. It is, damn him. He says something, but she's too involved in berating herself for falling victim to his Ben Wyatt-ness so easily. “I wanted to surprise you,” he repeats, “though I clearly fucked up because you're way better at surprises than I am.”

“The first rule to surprising someone is to keep it light and fun,” she says petulantly. Even though she's calmed down some and less likely to blow up at him again, his eyes still look at her in supplication to just listen. Leslie can't find it in her heart to do anything but close her mouth and hear what he has to say.

He sighs, the sound a mixture of relief and dread to lay everything out on the figurative (as there is no literal) table. “Yeah, I figured that's where I went wrong by your, uh, explanation just now.” Rant or explosion might be better words for it, so Leslie internally congratulates him for taking the high road. “Look,” he says, leading her back to the empty living room, “here's how it was supposed to go. I'd show you the apartment and you'd ask calmly, 'Oh Ben, where has everything vanished to?'” His impression of her comes out as robotic, so she hits his arm softly.

“Hey, I'm a writer, not an actor. So anyway, I'd explain that I'm moving to Los Angeles because I've quasi-quit my job.”

Leslie looks at him wildly. “You what?!”

“I'm no longer Vice President of Production at Jolly TV,” he elaborates. “I'm a freelance writer/showrunner with a first-look deal with the company. Over the next week, I'm going to help find my replacement in between showing you around the city, and then we'll go back to Los Angeles. Together. For good.”

With no couch to sink into, Leslie settles for leaning against his kitchen counter. “I had no idea,” she says mostly to herself.

“Hence the surprise,” he jokes, but his smile doesn't reach his eyes or have much of an affect on her. Seeing the lost cause, he continues talking. “I didn't know either, not really at least. I could't tell you before because it wasn't a done-deal. Trumple waited until we had a final cut of the pilot to say that he liked my work and thought I was 'wasting talent' at my desk job.” Ben goes on to explain that yesterday's meeting regarding the next couple of weeks was to go over recommended people for the job. “It's a pretty straight-forward list, and you're on it.” He says it nonchalantly, as if mentioning the weather.

Leslie makes a noise that could be defined as a guffaw. “Me?” She's thankful to be leaning against something, so as to avoid falling into a heap on the ground. “But I don't have any experience in the network world!”

But you want to run a children's network; you said it yourself when we first met. And you know union rules like the back of your hand, you can manage people, hell, you're more fit for it than I ever was! Trumple's not even adverse to the idea, so long as someone with half a brain and an interest in the work takes the position.” Ben watches her, waiting for a response.

“You said we'd both be going back to LA,” she says weakly, trying to find any fault in his offer to lean away from it.

He nods reassuringly. “And Trumple is open to the position being bi-coastal. Look, Leslie, it's not a done deal and you can mull it over, but I just wanted you to--”

“No,” she interrupts, momentum, adrenaline, and some insane courage pushing her to say, “I don't want it.”

After a moment, Ben simply says okay in a plain-as-day voice and moves back to the bedroom.

“You're not going to ask me why?” She's stunned, almost wanting to argue with him about it, wanting him to convince her otherwise.

Ben shrugs, throwing off his clothes and heading to the shower. “If I've learned anything, it's that when Leslie Knope makes a decision, it's a sound one. And who am I to judge? I'm leaving the job and going off into the unknown world of freelance. They can still choose not to buy my scripts or not to pick up my pilots, so it's not like I'll be getting a weekly paycheck anymore. Money doesn't seem to be a big factor in your choice, either, so I'm sure you have your mind set on a different path.”

It's then that Leslie knows they're going to be okay because she's found someone to completely understands her, completely trusts her, even when she turns down life changing offers. “You're right. I can't just leave Pawnee. I want to work with the tangible part of our industry – the actual shows getting made, being shot, and employing hard workers. Not the sitting around, suggesting ideas of actors and wining and dining them just so they can decline the project due to the pay alone. That's what I want to do when I'm old and grumpy and need to support my family, so I can outweigh that over the guilt of working for a selfish, life-sucking corporation. It could be our family I'm supporting, if you're willing to put up with my arguments.”

“I better hope so, because I'm planning to move back in with you until we can find a bigger place. Maybe one with a little more room so you can have your cluttered space and I can have my... less-cluttered space, and--” He narrowly dodges the splash of water Leslie throws at him once they're inside the shower. “And our family can have it's space too, if you're willing to put up with my lackluster attempts at surprises.”

She kisses him, not caring that there's water spraying them in the face, not caring that the future's still a little uncertain, and not caring that she's going to have to help him lift boxes during her vacation. “I am willing,” she says with all the confidence in the world. After all, it takes a little risk here and there to make certain that Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt take Hollywood by storm.