“Are you ready?”
Allison waited for a response, eyes flicking between her boss (lost in the painting) and The Governor - whose eyes were fixed solely on his wife.
“Ma’am,” she spoke again, this time taking a step forward. Ben looked to her and gently shook his head before lifting a finger and gesturing for her to give them a moment. Allison turned to leave, letting the door click softly behind her.
Ben moved closer to his wife’s side, not wanting to disturb whatever thoughts were no doubt racing through her mind.
Leslie was completely captivated by the woman staring back at her. She recalled the moment she’d chosen Elizabeth Cady Stanton to fill this spot of reverence. All the men who’d held this title before had hung portraits of other men here; men who’d either pioneered the way or represented ideals that they themselves endeavored to uphold.
She felt duty bound to do the same – however there were no women before her. She was the first, and she knew, as the first, she could not look to any man for inspiration. How could she? When this job was so vital and so meaningful…
Leslie knew she had to pave her own way.
She may have been the first, but she knew she would not be the last.
“You know why I picked her, right?” Leslie spoke softly – knowing her husband would be standing there, waiting patiently.
“Because she was the first,” he said solemnly.
Ben had known, the moment Leslie decided to run for office, who she would select to hang in this sacred spot. He’d known there would have been a back and forth about it because Susan B. Anthony was just as important, but in the end – it was always going to be Stanton.
His heart swelled with love for this complicated, strong woman.
She felt his gaze on her and finally turned to look at him. His easy smile helped to lessen some of the nerves bubbling beneath her skin; she turned her body towards his and stepped closer – wrapping her arms around his lithe frame, not once dropping his gaze.
They were both considerably older now than they’d been when the dream of this job had been jokingly thrown out into the universe.
They stood in front of this ancient house on Pennsylvania Avenue and agreed that she would take the west wing and he could take the east.
“You can be the first gentleman,” she’d said; not entirely knowing how accurate her prediction would be.
As she stood there, arms around her husband and feeling every bit as proud to be his wife as she was to have this job, she admired his quiet strength.
Ben’s pristine brown hair now held a few significant lanes of grey and his disgustingly handsome face now had a few more worry lines than before, but the liquid brandy of his eyes were just as steadfast as always.
Leslie’s focus drifted over his cheeks, where there seemed to be a permanent five o’clock-shadow, to the smirk on his lick-able lips. He’d caught onto her train of thought before her eyes landed on his mouth. Her breath had slowed slightly and her grip around him had tightened.
Ben was always turned on when he was able to catch his wife’s errant desire – especially when it was about him. He, who thought his self somewhat boring and fastidious, somehow turned this dynamic woman wild with passion.
“We can’t do that right now…” he murmured as her face split into a mischievous grin.
“And why not, Governor Wyatt?” Her fingers dug into the soft part of his lower back before trailing further down. His eyes widened in surprise and she giggled as he exhaled forcefully – his breath pushing the light blond curls framed around her face.
He couldn’t help but smile at her as the giggling quieted slightly; her eyes slowly shifting from flirtatious to knowing.
There would never be enough hours in a day for him to truly express how much he adored her. And similarly, Leslie knew there would never be enough time for her to show this man just how deeply she loved him.
“How do you feel?” Ben had avoided asking her this question since the end of the election.
He’d known there would be too many emotions swirling within her for her to simply feel only one. And just as he’d avoided asking her, she’d avoided telling him. There was no specific definition to give her emotions. Not since the swearing in had everything become somewhat calm.
For the second time in her life she’d felt perfectly at ease – as if she were made for that moment.
But now, preparing to address her fellow Americans, her country, her people – as their leader…?
“Scared,” she said firmly.
Ben’s head tilted slightly at the odd word coming from his wife’s puckered lips – not sure he heard her correctly.
She nodded, lowering her gaze to the Windsor knot she’d helped him tie that same morning. The over and under of her hands on the silk material had been calming; soothing almost.
“What if…” she swallowed against the urge to bury the vulnerability pushing to the surface. If there was one person in the world she could trust with her insecurities, it was the man whose arms were wrapped tight around her.
“No,” his voice calm as he halted whatever else Leslie had been about to say. “Leslie Knope,” Ben waited for her to lift her gaze back to his, and the moment their eyes locked his hands gripped her hips a little tighter. “You formidable, mesmerizing, innocent penguin…”
She snorted, dropping her forehead to his firm chest, then looked back up to him with laughter in her eyes.
“You liked that, didn't you?” A chuckle reverberated deep in his chest. “Thought you were the only one who could master the metaphor, huh?” Ben beamed at the laughing blond in his arms.
Leslie’s subtle snorts, which Ben adored beyond words, began to subside, and she saw within his face a soft edge of patience mixed with love.
“There is no ‘what if’ where you’re concerned,” he remarked intensely, “you are the very definition of ‘I will’.” Ben smiled as Leslie’s eyes filled lightly with tears. “Failure is not possible.” Leslie squeezed her eyes closed against those words.
“Susan B. Anthony said that before she died…” she whispered.
“Yea, I know,” Ben grinned as his wife looked back up to him, “she must have had a premonition about this moment; about you. Cause there is no one else that looks at the impossible and knows they can make it possible.” Ben lifted his hands to cup her cheeks, sliding his thumb across the smooth curve of her skin to catch a stray tear.
Leslie’s fingers lifted to grip his elbows as Ben moved his face closer to hers. His lips crushed against hers slowly and possessively.
He tasted of confidence and surety – both things she’d always had in abundance, and somehow lacked in that single moment.
As Leslie drank from Her husband’s unending faith in her, she tightened her grip around him, adamant that she’d never be able to let this man go. This beautiful, nerdy man who’d stood next to her through campaigns, elections, triplets and so many other things too fantastic and terrifying and amazing to name… This man, her husband, was once again standing by her side to remind her that yes, she can do this, too.
Ben’s lips slowed, raining small, sweet kisses across her mouth before angling her face away. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and her lips were slightly swollen. Her pupils were dilated, which somehow made the brilliant blue in them shine brighter.
"And just so you know," he pulled back further, allowing his voice to take on his normal matter-of-factness, "anytime you're the least bit nervous, I'll always be down to make out with you, in the oval," he finished with a devious grin. Leslie leaned back and let out another laugh.
"Only you, Ben Wyatt..." she whispered.
A quick knock sounded at the door behind them, and Leslie turned to see Allison poking her head back through – a flurry of voices and cameras clicking behind her. “Madam President,” she called softly.
Leslie turned again to her husband, gripping him through the stiff material of his suit once more.
“You ready, babe?” He tilted his head down, pulling her eyes to his. A gentle grin played across her lips – knowing because she had him, she always would be.
She turned out of his arms but kept one of his hands thoughtfully wrapped in hers. She faced Allison’s expectant gaze, and with her husband’s chest firm against her back she took a deep breath and replied.
“Yes, I’m ready.”