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Most Fridays for Ben Wyatt were pretty relaxed. At the end of the week, everyone in the office was ready for the weekend and usually decided not to tackle any new cases. Sometimes they would cater in lunch or go grab a beer after leaving work just early enough for the boss not to nice their absence. They’d laugh, they’d talk, and then Ben would hop on the bus back to his apartment. Yes, most Fridays were pretty chill.

This was not one of those Fridays.

Ben pressed himself against the wall as though the solid mass would swallow him up. His gun was pointed down, but his finger flirted with the trigger in case someone suddenly appeared around the corner. Gunshots and shouting filled the hollow concrete building he found himself in on this tense Friday night.

It would be easy to say it had started off as any Friday, and it had at first. Ben woke up, he got dressed, he hopped on the bus. Everything after that was about as abnormal as it could get. When he got to the office, he was immediately whisked away to a secure room, told to put on his bulletproof vest, and grab his gun. They would stake out that day with the hopes of going in that evening. It was a case he was familiar with, but not one that he expected to be wrapped up so quickly. There must have been a breakthrough overnight.

“Agent Wyatt!” A voice called. Ben’s head snapped up to see his friend and colleague, Chris Traeger appear around the corner. He was dressed identically and carried the same standard-issue handgun. Ben raised his eyebrow at the man who, for whatever reason, looked entirely too happy for someone in an active crime scene.

“Good?” Ben asked. Chris nodded. At that simple signal, Ben untensed. His shoulders relaxed, his chest dropped, and he felt his muscles ache at having been so highly strung for the past few hours.

“What a Friday,” Ben mumbled, rubbing his shoulder ruefully as they walked out of the abandoned warehouse. He saw flashes of blue lights and heard shouting from the cars the criminals were being led into.

Chris laughed in his good-natured way. “Want to grab a beer?”

“I want to go to bed!” Ben retorted though he smiled back at Chris to show that he would absolutely be up for getting a beer. They walked a little bit away from the area to where their dark black car was waiting. Some other agents filed over that way and got into cars. A beeping noise came from Chris’s waist and he grabbed his phone from his belt.

“Well, looks like we’ll have to wait a little bit for that,” he said, frowning over the text he had received. “Barkley wants us back at the office ASAP.” He typed a reply as he and Ben got into the back seat of the car.

“Why?” Ben asked, relaxing against the leather seat. Usually, after a stakeout and takedown, Director Barkley let the agents go home and rest, unless they needed to debrief. But, as far as Ben knew, neither he nor Chris were central to this mission, so a debriefing seemed odd when everyone else was poised to go home.

Chris just shrugged, as Ben expected. It wasn’t like Barkley to spill every detail through a text. He turned his head out the window and watched as the streetlights made shadows dance across the car. He wished it had been a usual Friday. But, nothing was usual when you worked for the FBI. 

Director Jen Barkley was a beautiful woman who always wore a smug look on her face. Whenever Ben met with her, he worried she was about to take his job and then laugh as she offered him a janitorial position. The idea that she was ever in the field seemed so absurd to Ben, but only because she likely would have scared every agent she ever worked with. She commanded the respect of everyone in a room. Her voice was deep and booming, even in close quarters with only the three of them there.

Barkley was waiting in her office when Chris and Ben got to the building. They took their seats and Barkley stood, papers in hand.

“Pack your bags, boys. You two are moving,” she told them. Ben sat a little straighter. Moving could mean anything, but he was hoping it meant a promotion. 

“Really? How exciting!” Chris replied in his usual cheery voice. “Where to?”

“We need new bodies on the Newport case, people who haven’t been directly involved,” Jen replied, handing each agent a crisp docket of paper that outlined their new job responsibilities. “Things are getting a little dicey.”

“Newport case?” Ben asked, flipping through his stack of papers. “That’s the small-town mafia one, isn’t it?” Jen nodded. “But we specialize in trafficking. Murders. Gangs.”

“We don’t think this is much different,” Jen explained as she sat back down and folded her hands over her grand wooden desk. “This whole case started out as money laundering, but we’ve found evidence of foul play that could be connected back to the estate. We’ve also received word that the youngest kid, Bobby, is planning on running for city office.”

“So he can influence the government in some way?” Chris asked.

“So his father can influence the government,” Barkley corrected. “Bobby’s dumb as a post. We don’t believe he has any idea of what happens in the family. He’s just a pawn they can use to get what they want.”

“Alright, sounds like it’s all settled, then.” Chris smiled and glanced over at Ben. They were old buddies and close partners. It was hard not to become close to the guy you spent your day job dodging bullets with. This would be an interesting change of pace. “When do we ship out?”

“Tomorrow,” Jen replied with a wicked smirk. “So pack up. You’ll be heading to Pawnee, Indiana. Little crappy town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It’s all in your briefing folder, but you’ll be the new city auditors, sent from Indianapolis to help the city with a budgeting problem. That should get you close enough to the government to monitor the Newport campaign, but keep you far enough away from the estate to keep suspicions off of you.” 

Ben nodded and glanced down at the packet once more. Pawnee, Indiana. That would be quite the change from the nation’s capital.

He looked up at his boss. “Alright, we’ll be here tomorrow ready to go.”


 

There were reasons Ben had left his Midwestern home of Minnesota: small and cold. Of course, DC could and absolutely did get cold, but it wasn’t the kind of biting chill that would have him under every blanket in the house. And, of course, DC was big. He liked the city, he loved the opportunities there. In his hometown, everyone knew who he was whether he liked it or not. In DC no one knew him nor did they care. He was another fish in the sea, a cog in the machine. He could do his job and do it well, but not have to worry about whispers and stares every time he went to the grocery store.

He imagined Pawnee was very similar to the town he grew up in. Everyone knew everyone else, there was no way of escaping judgment from every single person you met on the street. Perhaps that was what drew the Newport's to this dumpy little place in Indiana. They were able to know the town’s business while revealing what little they could about themselves and making up the rest.

Ben gazed out the window at the trees that passed him. As they whipped down the nearly empty two-lane highway at a comfortable sixty-five miles per hour, he vaguely remembered the scenes of empty highways in years past, but he was so used to the bustling four to six-lane highways that surrounded his new home city. And there was always something to look at; a monument, some houses, a mall. Here, in the middle of Indiana, there were just trees and the occasional farmhouse visible from the road.

It felt like no time at all before they were pulling up to a small hotel on what was considered the main road in Pawnee. There were no sidewalks and few buildings, but the driver insisted this was close to the center of town. The inside of the hotel was small and Ben noticed the old floral wallpaper peeling in places. But, on the bright side, the person at the front desk greeted them with the cheery midwestern charm he had anticipated. 

“Let’s get settled and then we can head over to city hall,” Chris suggested as they walked down the hallway to their rooms. They would be bunking separately, but next to each other. Of course, there was no telling how long they would be there. Hopefully, Ben thought, it wouldn’t be too long.

“Do you really think we need to go in today?” The drive had exhausted him. They’d gotten up at the crack of dawn and driven 10 hours and he would much rather go to bed and deal with everything tomorrow.

“I told you to take some power naps!” Chris replied. Ben did his best not to roll his eyes. His colleague took these ninety-second power naps that seemed to keep him as energized as anything. He couldn’t just drink coffee like the rest of the tired human race. 

“Not really able to sleep in a car,” Ben told him, and that wasn’t exactly a lie. He sighed as they reached their doors. “Alright, I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen. But I don’t want to stay long.” Chris agreed and they used their keys to enter their rooms. 

The hotel room was grey and impersonal. A king bed was the center of the room with a drab floral print comforter that clashed with the different colored, but equally as drab wallpaper. There was a TV, a desk, a chair, a small refrigerator, and a nightstand, all of the usual hotel amenities. To his right was a door which led to the bathroom and, after throwing his suitcase on the bed, he went in there to wash up.

Fifteen entirely too short minutes later, he was out in the lobby with Chris. Ben would have vastly preferred his sweatpants to the dress shirt and tie he was wearing now, but he supposed that Chris was right to get them down to the city hall. Then at least the first day of their mission wouldn’t be completely lost.

Their driver had left the car and then hitched a ride to the Indianapolis airport. Ben slipped into the passenger’s seat, allowing Chris to take the wheel since he seemed much more awake. They pulled out of the parking lot and onto the “main” street, though Ben still wasn’t entirely convinced this could be at all considered “main.” Then, they started to pass more buildings. They were not the multistory towers Ben was used to, but at least they were relatively close together. It was the typical Midwestern main road: gas stations, some city services such as a library and school, and an abundance of bars.

They pulled up to the town hall, which was far nicer than Ben had anticipated. It had at least four floors and had people milling about on the front steps. Pawnee might have been a small middle of nowhere town, but it definitely looked like the townspeople took pride in their home.

The two men were out of the car and into the building in just a few minutes. Both commented on how nice to was to not have to pay for parking. The lot next to the city hall was free, or at least appeared to be, with just a few spots reserved for the handicapped and high ranking city officials.

Pawnee’s city manager, a white-haired balding man named Paul, showed the pair to their new office. “We just are so excited to have you join the team,” he went on as they walked the marble halls. “This town needs to take a look at the budget, but I’m afraid everyone’s too invested to think objectively.” Ben glanced over at a picture of a Native American tied up awaiting execution. He quickly averted his eyes, though a puzzled expression lingered on his face. The city manager paid no mind.

“Here we are.” Paul opened a door which led to a nice looking office with two desks. “I hope this will be alright.”

“It is so perfect!” Chris exclaimed as though he had been given his dream home. “Just perfect. Ben and I will do fantastic work in this beautiful-looking office!”

A bashful smile appeared on the city manager’s face, as though he had personally built the office for the two of them. “Why thank you,” he replied.

“Paul!” They hadn’t been in the room for a whole minute before a blonde woman came bustling down the hallway and straight into the office. All three turned to look at the woman who was short but carried herself with the confidence of someone three times her height. Her face was set in a deep frown and she was waving a stack of papers around in annoyance.

“Yes, hello Leslie,” Paul greeted dryly, a shadow forming across his face. “Leslie, these fine men are our new city auditors. Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt.” Leslie did not look impressed. She opened her mouth, but Paul quickly said, “Please be kind.”

She closed it again, as though reconsidering. With a swallow, she lowered the papers and stuck out a stiff hand. “Leslie Knope,” she said. “I’m the Deputy Parks and Recreation Director and I--” 

“Leslie Knope!” Chris Traeger said immediately after she told them her name. “Chris Traeger, great to meet you.” His smile was bright and he shook her hand vigorously, taking her by such surprise she seemed to forget what she was about to say.

“Ben Wyatt,” Ben introduced awkwardly, managing to slip in and shake the woman’s hand. Leslie returned the greeting and spun to face Paul.

“I have a budget right here,” she declared, thrusting the stack of papers at him. “The Parks Department is on top, I also did the rest for fun. There.” She turned and glanced at Ben and Chris before looking back at Paul. “No need for auditors from the state.”

“I wish it were that easy, Miss Knope,” Paul replied, sighing as he reluctantly accepted the papers. “I’ll have them take a look at this, but there will likely have to be cuts.”

“You did budgeting for fun?” Ben asked. Who in the world was this woman? Ben had originally majored in finance back in college so he knew a thing or two about budgeting, but it certainly wasn’t something he thought of as a hobby.


“Yes,” Leslie shrugged. “This is important to me. What’s important to me is also fun because then I can make a difference and make sure no one loses the money they need.”

“That’s fantastic!” Chris cheered and even Leslie cracked a smile at the praise. Ben noticed that a smile suited her face much better than a frown. In fact, it looked like the woman really had to try to look displeased. Being happy seemed so natural.

“We’ll take a look,” Ben said, returning himself to his usual skepticism. “But I’ve seen the budgets and, well, we’re looking at quite a few deep cuts.” He’d looked at the paperwork in the car and even a quick glance told him just how bad things were in Pawnee. The city needed a lot of help. 

Leslie’s frown returned and Ben felt strangely bad for making her upset again. Before she could speak, however, Chris interrupted. “But don’t worry, we’ll take a good hard look at all of your suggestions!” He told her, walking sideways a little in the hopes of getting her out the door. “I’m sure everything will be just fine! We’re going to do our absolute best, after all.” 

She didn’t seem to buy the party line, but just pursed her lips and walked away without another word. Paul let out a long breath that neither Ben nor Chris knew he had been holding.

“That is Leslie Knope,” the city manager said, shaking his head. “She’s a firecracker, let me tell you. And she knows her way around a budget. She’s going to give the two of you a run for your money. Always does.”

Great, Ben thought as he took the stack of papers from Paul and sat at his desk. Now he had to solve a case and deal with an overzealous city employee. Paul left the room and he and Chris exchanged glances. Neither had ever worked on a case where they went so deeply undercover, and neither had ever dealt with a person like Leslie Knope. Between the Newport's and fighting over the budget, this was going to be a very interesting mission.

Chapter Text

Ben could not believe the budget he was reading. To be honest, he was quite surprised with himself that he was even reading a budget at all. This was not the point of the mission and after such a long day, he should have gone straight to bed, but, he was so surprised that Leslie had written her own budget for the entire city government... for fun that he just had to see what she produced.

And the weirdest part? It was actually pretty good.

And pretty unfortunate, Ben realized after he read over the other papers that Paul had given them. Pawnee's money issues ran much deeper than Leslie had anticipated. Cuts to some local events and taking out the holiday party wouldn't fix this. Still, as far as Leslie knew, this would have actually been the perfect budget to deal with the issues she thought they had. It was amazing, something Ben had never seen from someone without a finance background. He didn't even know the woman, but he was amazed by her.

These thoughts stuck with Ben all night and into the early morning. He showered and dressed and met Chris out in the lobby as he had the day before, but this time they would be spending a full day at city hall. They figured they could talk with people and find out more about the case from people who lived near the Newport's.

"Good morning, Ben Wyatt," Chris greeted before they started walking to the car. Ben nodded and mumbled a greeting in response. "Did you sleep well? I was able to take a comfortable ten mile run before it was time to head out! You know, this town is just so adorable. It's very charming and the people are so nice! I got waves and hellos!"

Ben just smiled at his friend, wondering to himself how anyone could consider a ten-mile run "comfortable." "It does seem like a nice place," Ben replied. "Still, I can't wait to get this case closed and head back home."

"How was Leslie Knope's budget proposal?" Chris asked as they got into the car. "I thought you said you'd take a look?"

"Surprisingly really good. Unfortunately, not what needs to be done. You know this town spends a hundred thousand dollars on…" He flipped through the packet Paul had given him, "Indian Evacuation Day." He frowned and looked over at Chris. "That doesn't sound very PC."

Chris just shrugged. "Every town in these parts has their quirks. Remember, we have to help solve their budget to keep our cover, but our main focus is the Newport's." Ben nodded in agreement. The more they could focus on the actual case at hand, the happier he would be.

It wasn't long before the two got settled into their office for the day and spent their time checking out the budget and looking up more information on the Newport's with a secure connection provided by their DC office.

Around noon, they heard the sharp click-clack of heels on the marble floor and then a pounding on the office door. Both looked up from their work to see Leslie Knope entering, looking as displeased as she had the day before. Ben did his best not to let out a long somber breath. There went his sanity for the day.

"Leslie Knope!" Chris greeted as though the woman was staring daggers sharp enough to pierce their hearts.

"What is this?" she asked, waving a newly printed off stack of papers and ignoring Chris's greeting.

"A new budget proposal that we're presenting at the meeting today," Ben replied factually.

"I gave you a budget! What was wrong with that?"

"It was really a wonderful budget, Leslie," Chris assured. "You did such a wonderful job!"

"But," Ben interjected, "We're running a much larger deficit than first reported, so we're going to have to cut costs even further."

"I can adjust it," Leslie told him.

"We're talking forty to fifty percent cuts across the board. And, the meeting is in 3 hours."

Leslie stopped short, staring at Ben with a range of emotions he had never seen a single person express in a few seconds. He saw disbelief first, and then confusion, and then anger that he knew was mistakenly directed at him. It wasn't his fault the city couldn't manage its money. He wasn't even there to help them! Man, he would have to ask for a raise when he got back.

"Don't worry, Leslie Knope, we'll talk about it at the meeting today," Chris smiled, as though that solved all of their problems.

"We can't cut the budget by that much!" Leslie started, her tone dropping to become much more serious. The anger had dropped out of her voice and now she just sounded worried and scared. "People will lose their jobs."

"That's not our fault," Ben replied defensively. "Blame your government, they're the ones who put you in this position in the first place."

Leslie glared again. That, apparently, was not the correct thing to say. She pursed her lips and began to turn to leave. "I will see you at the meeting, then," she said icily and walked out, slamming the door behind her.

Ben looked over at Chris and shook his head. "This budget is turning into a bigger issue than our actual case," he said, returning to his laptop. "Have you found anything?"

Chris shook his head. "No, but I did find out from Paul that Bobby Newport is expected to be at the budgeting meeting."

Ben raised an eyebrow. "He doesn't have a government position."

With a shrug, Chris leaned back in his chair and moved a pen absentmindedly between his fingers. "Paul said he was a 'good boy who is just interested in government,'" he told his colleague. "Which is weird, because isn't Bobby like thirty? They talk about him like he's fifteen."

"Sounds like the town golden boy," Ben commented. "I can see why they'd have him run for office. Generally likable, rather goofy. Just a kid, really. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with the city council race."


Leslie was upset. No, she was angry. Perhaps she was beyond angry into livid territory, but she didn't want to jump the gun. Everything had been going just fine until these auditors from Indianapolis showed up and demanded a budget meeting! And now, she sat at her desk, running numbers and making plans like some sort of accountant, though she knew it likely wouldn't mean a thing.

Deep down, she knew her anger at Chris and Ben was misplaced. Even though it hurt to hear, Ben was completely right. This wasn't their fault, the city government had failed them. And now, it seemed, people were going to lose their jobs. The thought that she could be one to go crossed her mind a few time, but she felt she was probably safe. Her friends, though, may not be so lucky. And, no it wasn't fair to take it out on the guys from Indianapolis but she couldn't help it. They were the face of the problem.

She made a few more marks and did a few more calculations. She would have to be more liberal with the cuts than she wanted, but she would do her best to move money around to save people's jobs. That's what mattered. So, they couldn't have a Christmas party or give funding for children's sports. They would find volunteers and make do.

Leslie would also have to apologize, she realized with reluctance. Ben and Chris were just here to do their jobs. They weren't personally trying to destroy their lives.

"Are you ready for the meeting?" Ron asked, appearing at her door. He stood gruffly, one foot ready to go no matter her reply. One thing that stuck her odd was the light in his eye. He seemed happy as if they were going to Disney World or to collect their lottery winnings.

"No," Leslie mumbled mournfully, though she stood with her papers. "Ron, this meeting is going to be awful!"

"This meeting is going to be wonderful," he retorted with a grin as they walked through the Parks and Rec office. "Finally, we're going to reel in all of the unnecessary spending this government seems so good at."

"But we need some of those services," Leslie reasoned. "We need to put on events to make people happy and build a community."

"Leslie, I can build community by going down to the bar and talking with people who live here. I won't do that because I hate most people who live here. But I sure as hell don't need the government coming in and spending thousands on some mediocre pop-hip-hop singer to do that."

Leslie just shook her head. There was no arguing with Ron, who would abolish the whole government if he could. It was really a wonder he worked for city hall in the first place. Though he was often able to do his part in reeling in unnecessary spending, and Leslie was great at working with next to nothing for a budget. They made a great team, as unlike a duo as they seemed.

Ben was standing outside the door to the meeting room when they approached. Leslie walked right over to him and he almost seemed to flinch, as though somehow he could make himself invisible.

"Leslie, I-"

"Here." She stopped him short and handed him another stack of papers. "Just take a look at this. I spent all morning working on it and I think it solves our budget issues without anyone losing their jobs." She paused and chewed on the inside of her cheek. "And I'm sorry. You're right, you're just here to do your job. But before you go cutting people, just take a look at this and let me know if it would work."

Ben couldn't help but be stunned by the sudden mood change, but he figured this was pretty normal for this woman. He even started scanning the papers right then and there as Leslie looked on, shifting nervously from foot to food.

"Leslie, this is… Great. I didn't even think about half of these things."

She cracked a small smile. "Sometimes it helps when you actually live and work in the town you're cutting the budget of. Not that you and Chris don't know what you're doing, but I've made my way through these budgets a ton in the past few years."

"Thank you," Ben said, looking up at Leslie. Her smile was back and radiated across her face. She was absolutely glowing. Had she been this pretty when she was reaming them out in the office a few hours before? "Let me get this over to Chris," he continued after a pause. "Do you have plans for lunch?"

The question came out of nowhere and Ben was surprised he'd even asked it. Going on a date would not be appropriate. He was on a mission. But, they weren't dating, that was absurd, it was just lunch and nothing said you couldn't grab lunch on a mission. Why was he thinking about dates? It was just a lunch with a person who worked in his office.

"Uh, no," Leslie replied, her smile softening. "Do you want to get lunch together? There's a diner down the street. I bet you haven't had the chance to check out the local offerings."

Ben shook his head. "No, I haven't. That would be great."

"They have the best waffles!" Leslie exclaimed, her grin expanding. "Alright, I better go take my seat. I'll meet you outside at one." With that, she hurried off to get her seat next to Ron. Ben watched her for a moment, then walked the papers over to Chris at their office.

It didn't take long for Chris to go over it and, after apologizing for their lateness to the budget meeting, the pair decided to cancel.

"But we were going to make cuts!" Ron retorted. Chris just shrugged.

"We had a new plan come in and we've decided we can work with it. But, we'll let you know if we need to reconvene."

It turned out that Leslie had done this part of their work for them, which would mean they could focus on watching where the money came and went in the city government and focus on their mission. That also meant Bobby Newport didn't get to peek at what was going on with the budget, which both Chris and Ben considered a win. The less the Newports knew, the better.

Ben met Leslie outside at one, just as he said he would. She was waiting for him and smiled brightly when he appeared. He liked that smile directed at him.

"We're going to head to JJ's!" Leslie declared as they walked towards her car. "It's the best place in the entire world, and the people of Pawnee get it all to ourselves! They serve breakfast all day long, which is amazing!"

Ben smiled back at her as they got into her car. "I'm sure it's great."

"Oh, it is! I bet they don't have anything like this place up in Indianapolis." She turned on the car. "So, what is your favorite place from back home?"

Ben hesitated. He didn't know any restaurants in Indianapolis. He knew plenty in DC, but he couldn't be sure they were also in Indiana's capital, besides chain restaurants. Chains! Perfect. "I love Chili's."

Leslie knit her brows together. "The chain?"

"Uh, yeah," Ben confirmed with only the slightest hesitation in his voice. "I just… really like it. No matter where you go, it's the same. Gotta love those quesadillas and Big Mouth Bites."

"Okay," Leslie started, glancing at him worriedly. Could a person really have an undying love of Chili's? Perhaps. Maybe people from the capital were just strange. "Well, if your favorite place is a chain restaurant, then you're in for a treat because JJ's is awesome." She pulled into a parking lot and found a spot easily. Ben was amazed by how far they were able to go with no traffic. It took such a short amount of time to get there, he wondered if they could have walked, but when they stepped out of the car, he couldn't see the city building. They had actually gone a good two miles in five minutes.

The diner, like many of the buildings in this town, was old. They walked inside and took seats at one of the large red booths. Ben's seat was peeling and he could see the yellow cushion underneath. This apparently didn't matter to Leslie who looked absolutely delighted to be there.

She ordered waffles, Ben got a burger. He figured any decent place could make a halfway decent burger. "So, what got you into accounting?" Leslie asked. Alright, Ben figured, he had majored in finance in college, so this should be easy.

"I've always been a numbers kind of guy," he explained. "They make sense to me."

"Not like people?" Leslie asked, a knowing smile on her face. "That's why I'm in government. People are messy and confusing and sometimes really rude. But, I love it!"

She was spot on, Ben thought. People could be just awful, and he had seen the worst of them in his line of work. He sometimes missed the comfort of neat simple numbers. "I can see. You love your job, huh?"

Leslie nodded. "It's the best job in the whole world! I get to help people every single day. I get to make my community a better place. You can't ask for anything more fulfilling than that." She took a sip of the soda that had been delivered just a moment before. "What about you? Is accounting… fun?" She seemed almost unsure of the word she used. Could accounting ever be fun?

Ben smiled and found himself laughing at her uncertainty. "It's interesting," he said. He had started out in accounting as a kid and through a series of events managed to get in with the FBI. He figured that reply worked for both jobs. Both were interesting.

Their food was delivered then. Leslie had a steaming pile of waffles and Ben had a handsome looking burger in front of him. The blonde woman grabbed the syrup and absolutely drowned her waffles in the sugary goodness. Ben wondered if she was getting more syrup than actual waffle. He just added some ketchup and mustard to his burger, which tasted pretty good for a diner in the middle of nowhere Indiana.

"I'm running for city council," Leslie said suddenly about halfway through their meal. Ben looked up.

"You're what?"

"Running for council. I haven't announced it yet, but everyone knows. I want to make a difference, but it's not going to be easy. The Newports have a lot more money than me." Ben felt his skin bristle at the mention of the family who was at the center of the mission he was on. This was an interesting development. He knew Leslie would know about the Newport's, living in the same town and all, but he had no idea how close she would get.

Then, the terrible thought hit him. This could be incredibly dangerous for her. While nothing more than tax fraud had ever been directly linked to the Newport's, he was sure they would go to any lengths to ensure they had a seat on the city council.

He realized he had been silent for a long moment and Leslie was looking at him curiously. "Oh, that's really great," Ben said as he forced a smile. "I think you'd be great for the job. You already know how this town runs. I mean, you saved the budget."

Leslie grinned. "So, what does mister Mean-Ben do when he's not at work?" she asked.

"I've been here two days and I already have a nickname?" he responded, amused.

Leslie laughed. "Well, you did come here to take money from people, so what can you expect?" She paused and grinned slyly at him. "It also might be something I came up with."

"Original," Ben smirked. "And again, not my fault!"

"I know, I know! So, what do you like to do? Maybe mean-Ben is actually fun-Ben."

And thus, Ben launched into a riveting conversation about all different kinds of board games and touched a little on his adventures as a Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master. Leslie, though she had no interest in gaming, listened intently. Ben was amazed by how she was able to listen and respond as though Ben was the most important person in the world to her. The conversation turned to Leslie and her life and Ben deflected any questions about his home, family, and job. That was pretty easy, Leslie liked to talk.

They didn't even notice two hours go by, but when Leslie's phone buzzed, she hopped up. "Oh, it's three fifteen! I've got to go!"

"Shit, me too." Ben jumped up with her. They made it back to the city building very quickly and hustled inside. At the door to Ben's office, Leslie paused and Ben opened the door.

"We should do this again," she said and Ben found himself nodding.

"Yeah, maybe next week?"

"How about we grab a drink on Saturday?" Leslie asked. "I know a place."

"I think you know every place in this town," Ben responded.

"I do," she confirmed. "So, Saturday at 7? We can meet here, or I can give you directions."

This was stupid. This was incredibly stupid. Lunch was one thing, but drinks on a day they weren't working was another. But, Ben couldn't bring himself to say no. Besides, she could prove to be valuable as she went forward with her campaign.

"Alright. Saturday at 7," he confirmed. Leslie smiled and walked off. He watched her go.

This could be a big mistake, but Ben didn't care. Leslie was an amazing woman and he was excited to get to know her. Besides, this was all just part of the mission… right?

Chapter Text

Ben knew this mission wouldn't be wrapped up quickly, but he was also surprised at how the days seemed to blur together in the sleepy Indiana town. Before he knew it, a month had flown by. They weren't too much further into the case than they had been when they started, but they had learned a lot about the Newport's influence in Pawnee by working for the city government. In general, they ran the town. Sure there was a mayor and a council, but they could throw down money and get whatever they want. Why anyone would want to take over a small town like Pawnee was anyone's guess, but Ben suspected that the low cost of living had something to do with it. They could use Sweetums, their candy company, as their front without too much out of pocket cost.

Other than that, they weren't able to draw clear lines between any other business dealing or foul play. Everything seemed so normal, but Ben and Chris knew better than to fall into a routine. And Chris did a great job of that, but Ben struggled. He and Leslie met up for lunch and drinks every now and then and it was fun, but neither actually said they were dating. Ben knew this was against everything in the FBI Code of Ethics, and Leslie, who would usually have been more forward, restrained herself out of fear of misreading signs. For now, they were just friends hanging out and that was fine. Leslie lifted Ben's mood and even Chris noticed the change, but of course, the reasons behind the upswing were kept secret. He just claimed that there was something about this Midwestern town that reminded him of the one he had left.

Leslie launched her campaign on a cool spring Saturday at JJ's Diner. Ben watched from afar as her friends surrounded her with good wishes and good lucks. Of course, he had friends too, though most were not with him on this crisp night in the small Indiana town. Chris, who was back at the hotel, was one of his best, but he had never seen someone have friends the way Leslie did. She had her circle, largely made up of co-workers and a local nurse named Ann, but every person she talked to, she greeted with such warmth that Ben didn't know if she'd known them for years or met them a minute before.

He found himself oddly jealous of the way she worked the room. How everyone in town knew who she was and was rooting for her. When he first came to the Midwest, he thought he would miss the city something terrible, but as the days went on he only missed things in the city-his bed, the local sub shop, an old bar friend. He didn't miss the actual city as much as he thought he would.

"Hey, thanks for coming!"

Ben jerked his head up, having gotten so lost in thought, he was staring intently at the carpeted floor. He smiled at Leslie who was just beaming. He could feel the energy radiating off of her and it sent a small thrill through his spine. She was elated, and what was truly amazing was that she was elated he had come.

"Of course," he said. "I mean, you did promise free food. I see you took my suggestion of getting calzones."

Leslie shook her head with a laugh, her blonde waves shadowing her cheeks for just a moment. "You and your calzones! Well, lucky for you, it's been a hit!"

"I don't think the food is what everyone is here for," Ben pointed out. "You made a great speech. I'm sure this campaign will be a walk in the park."

Leslie's face darkened for just a moment, an ounce of rare self-doubt appearing. "It's going to be tough," she replied seriously. "There's only one at-large seat available and the Bobby Newport has thrown so much money into this race already. I can't match that."

Ben placed a calming hand on her shoulder and offered her a kind smile. "Hey, you might not have the money, but you have the ideas, and those ideas are what's going to make this town better." He surprised himself with how comforting he could be, and Leslie seemed just as shocked, yet touched, at his words.

"But I need money."

"You've got plenty of that. This town is small enough, it looks like everyone knows you. You don't need to pay for name recognition. Just run a good campaign with good ideas and you'll be fine."

This seemed to comfort Leslie the most and her face lit up again as the self-doubt ebbed away. Then, her eyes widened and her head snapped up suddenly. "Ben! Oh my gosh!"

"What?" he asked, confused.

"You should be my campaign manager!"

Ben was so utterly surprised by what she had just suggested that it took a minute for him to choke out a, "What?"

"Yes! You know how to manage money since you're an accountant. And you're really good at giving advice! With you on my team, I bet I can beat even the Newport's!" She grinned and grabbed his hand tightly. He hoped his palms weren't sweating. "Please? I'll repay you with lots of lunches here at JJ's!"

Ben hesitated. If going on vague maybe-dates with someone was against FBI code, then being their campaign manager was also very, very wrong. But, her eyes dazzled with pleading hope and Ben couldn't bring himself to say no. Besides, he rationed once again, being a campaign manager put him right in the know of everything going on with the Bobby Newport. This could be a very important piece of their mission. And, as long as he didn't use government resources to actually help the campaign, like giving money or access, it wasn't totally illegal… Probably. Very against FBI Code of Conduct for sure, but not blatantly illegal.

He knew he was only nodding because he liked Leslie. He knew that when he said, "Yes! Sure, okay I can do that," he was only saying it because he wanted to make her happy. But somehow he rationalized that it was for the good of the mission.

Leslie shone with happiness and clapped her hands together. She jumped up and kissed Ben on the cheek, called out a "thank you!" and hurried out to mingle with the rest of the people who had come to see her.

Ben moved back to the outskirts of the crowd in the diner, half hoping to be a wallflower and half wondering what in the hell he had just gotten himself in to. That didn't last too long, because Leslie quickly doubled back and brought him out to officially meet her friends who were all going to help her run the campaign. He had already met many of them in the office, but now he officially was introduced to Ann, the nurse, and Andy, who worked as a shoe shiner in city hall, but who Ben hadn't made conversation with yet. They were all as friendly as could be and welcomed Ben into their little fold as though he had been in town his whole life. And, as though he hadn't been hired to potential eliminate all of their jobs.

It was getting later and Leslie brought out beer and wine so her guests could enjoy the rest of the evening. People got louder, music started the play, and, though he was starting to have a great time, Ben began to wonder when he could appropriately make his exit.

As he was just about to wish Leslie a good night and head back to the hotel, the door to the diner opened and in walked none other than Bobby Newport and a man neither Ben nor Leslie recognized.

"Bobby? What are you doing here?" Leslie asked immediately, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.

"I heard there was a party!" he responded in an upbeat tone that suggested he had no idea what kind of party this was. Leslie thought for a moment about turning him right back out the door, but something stopped her. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was not wanting to be a total jerk in front of all these people, but she just nodded and stepped aside for him.

Ben now started to think about when else would be an appropriate time to take his leave. It was getting late and he wanted to go, but this was a development he probably had to stay and watch. As he stalked along the outer wall watching as Bobby paraded around, the other man who had come in approached him. He was bulky, dark-haired, and looked like he'd never had a good day in his life.

"Ben Wyatt?" he asked in a gruff voice. His eyes searched Ben's face as though he was looking for a reason to get rough.

"Yes?" Ben asked, clutching his beer bottle tighter.

"You're the campaign manager now?"

Ben couldn't believe how fast word traveled in this town. In fact, it had traveled so fast, that it went beyond a believable coincidence. The room was bugged, he realized instantly, but let himself relax when he realized that nothing that could compromise the actual mission was said. They were probably just recording Leslie's speeches and conversations. "Uh, yeah. I guess I am."

The man nodded and leaned in closer so that Ben could smell the cigarette smoke on his breath and said, "You better tell the lady to watch her back."

He was in the mix of the crowd before Ben could have even formulated a reply. He just watched him go and then watched Leslie smiling and mingling as though nothing in the world was wrong.


 

Anyone else might have dismissed the comment as a guy acting tough. A more politically minded person would have assumed that the Newports found dirt on Leslie and were previewing what was to come. But, Ben was an FBI agent and he had a sinking feeling in his stomach that this wasn't tough talk or an anticipated smear campaign.

He barely slept that night and spent the early morning hours tossing and turning in the already uncomfortable hotel bed. Around five, he got up and began looking through his files on his laptop to figure out how he could get ahead of this, but he had no idea what exactly he was looking for.

Eventually, the dim glow of his laptop ebbed into the early morning light of a new day. He messaged Chris that they needed to talk privately before going to work and asked him to come to his hotel room around seven. His friend and colleague was prompt as he always was and, when Ben opened his hotel room door, found Chris in running shorts and a tank top.

"I hope you weren't too busy," Ben said as he stepped aside and let Chris in. The idea of someone being busy at seven in the morning would have been a joke to most, but Ben had known Chris for quite a while. His days started early and every hour was filled.

"Oh don't worry," his colleague replied as he sat down on the unmade bed. "I just cut my morning run down to eight miles, no big deal. I can make it up tomorrow. So, what's going on?"

"Well," Ben started, sitting on the chair at the desk. He wasn't actually sure how he wanted to discuss this since Chris had no idea about campaign party. "I guess I should start from the beginning. This actually involves that blonde woman from the Parks Department. Leslie Knope?"

"Oh, Ann Perkins' friend?" Chris asked and Ben nodded, a little surprised. He figured Chris would know Leslie because she was, well, Leslie and worked at city hall.

"You know Ann Perkins?" Ben questioned, his curiosity sidetracking the conversation a little. He didn't even know Ann Perkins, aside from a brief introduction at the campaign launch party. Chris suddenly let himself look a little flustered, which was strange, but his confident smile was back quickly.

"I wanted to check my resting heart rate," Chris explained. "I didn't trust the tracker I've been using since I just went for a run and it seemed way off, so I went to the hospital. Ann was my nurse."

"Thank God you have government insurance," Ben mumbled to himself as he shook his head. He turned around, grabbed his laptop, and cleared his throat. "Anyway, yes, so I don't know if you know this, but Leslie Knope is running for city council." He handed Chris a flyer he grabbed from the party the night before.

"I see," Chris said, frowning as he took the paper. He looked back at Ben, expecting more of an explanation. "I'm sure a few people are running for council. We just need to focus on the Newport's." He paused and his eyes got wider. "Wait, you don't think Miss Knope is in with the Newport's?"

"What? No, of course not!" Ben replied, more defensively than he meant to. Seeing Chris's confused face, he added in a quieter tone, "Sorry. No, I don't think so. But, anyway, the campaign launch party was last night and she asked I come, so I did. I figured I could get to know more about the political landscape here in Pawnee."

Chris nodded, believing that Ben was there for work and work alone. "Good idea," he complimented.

"Thanks. Well, while we were there, Leslie asked me to be her campaign manager. I was pretty shocked so I just told her I would." He let those words fall and studied Chris's expression. He wasn't sure how the other agent would react to that news but, to his surprise, he didn't seem to have any reaction.

"So, the party went on," Ben continued. "And around eight, Bobby Newport walks in."

This got Chris's attention. He jerked his head up and nearly fell off the bed. "What?" he half asked, half shouted at his colleague.

"Yeah, I was pretty shocked too. The kid didn't even seem bothered that he was walking into a party aimed at making sure he doesn't become a city councilor. Anyway, he came in with this bodyguard or bouncer or someone and when we were along the wall, he came over to me. He mentioned something about my appointment as campaign manager, which had only happened a half hour before when they weren't there. I'm almost certain the room was bugged, but I think they just wanted to hear Leslie's speeches and conversations. Anyway, he told me that Leslie had better watch out. That was it, then he wandered away."

Chris nodded along to the end of Ben's story and paused in thought when he was done speaking. "That does sound very serious," he finally concluded after a long moment. "Do you think Bobby has any idea?"

"No," Ben replied. "At least, I have no way of knowing based on what happened last night."

"I think it's a good idea for you to run her campaign."

Ben's eyes snapped to Chris in surprise. "Really?" he asked.

"It gets you close, kind of like being auditors for the city does," Chris reasoned. "And you'll be able to keep Leslie safe in case that threat really means something. I know we're supposed to hang in the background and take down the Newports quietly, but it looks like they might involve more people. We want to make sure no one crosses their path for their own safety."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Ben said, trying to sound a little skeptical so Chris wouldn't know how elated he was that he could continue working with Leslie.

"Well, we have to get moving," Chris stated after glancing at the clock on the nightstand. "We'll stick together today and see if we can get any info from some agents out by the Newport Estate."

Ben nodded and confirmed the plan, then let Chris out so he could get ready for fake-work that day. While he was glad to be able to keep in close contact with Leslie, the idea that this could get dangerous for her worried him. She just wanted to serve her community. She didn't deserve to be caught up in all of this. No one in Pawnee did.

He went to work with Chris and spent the day going through file after file on his laptop. Around ten, Leslie sent him an email asking him to dinner to discuss the campaign. Ben accepted after confirming with Chris. All his colleague wanted was some info and a salad brought back to him.

They sat across from each other at JJ's. Leslie was chatting amicably about all sorts of things, some having to do with the weather, others regarding her and Ann's latest movie recommendations. All the while, the threat lingered in the back of Ben's mind.

"Hey Leslie," he started. She put a piece of waffle in her mouth and nodded. "Why do you want to run for city council?"

The look on her face told him that she wasn't expecting that question. She swallowed her food and knit her brows together. "Because I love this town," she replied with uncertainty. She wasn't sure what he was getting at. "I've lived here my whole life and I want to make it better. It's always been an old boys club too and I think it's about time a woman like me had a chance to make a good change for this town."

Ben nodded. "Do you think that's the best way to do it?" he asked. "Change the town I mean."

"What other way would there be?" Leslie questioned, letting out a nervous laugh. "Even running for mayor wouldn't give me the tools I need to make the changes I want to make." She paused and leaned forward, studying Ben's face. "Do you not want to be my campaign manager? That's fine! I mean, I'll be sad, but I understand if there's a lot going on for you right now."

A lot going on right now was an understatement, Ben thought. He hated to see the sad look on Leslie's face as she tried to hide her disappointment.

"No," he shook his head. "Just spitballing. Sorry, sometimes I think out loud."

The light returned to Leslie's eyes and she grinned. "Oh. Well, that's alright. You wouldn't know too much about how the government here is made up anyway. It's crazy!"

Ben cracked a smile, unable to resist Leslie's bright expression. The threat and Chris's mention of safety kept that smile from reaching his eyes. "Maybe you shouldn't run," he blurted out. Immediately, he wished he could take the words back. They came so unexpectedly that Leslie looked like he had slapped her. That probably would have gone over better.

"What?" she asked in disbelief.

"I-" Ben started, but then his phone started to buzz. He glanced at the caller ID. "I'm sorry I have to take this." Before Leslie could respond, Ben stood and walked out the door of the diner, trying to find a quiet place.

"Wyatt," he answered in a soft voice.

"Agent Wyatt, we need backup at 7th and Stevenson on the North end of town," came a voice on the other end of the line. Ben was already jogging down the street when he heard his name.

"Got it, I'll be right there."


 

"I just don't know what to do, Ann." Leslie sat perched on a gurney the next day as she stirred her hot chocolate in the hospital takeout cup. It was very watery and didn't have much of a chocolate flavor, but she couldn't bring herself to get the gross bitter coffee they offer.

Ann was in the nurse's office, going over forms and creating her schedule for the day. She glanced over at her friend, a worried frown tugging at her face. She also wished her friend would head off to work since she really wasn't supposed to be in this part of the hospital.

"You just need to talk to him," Ann told her.

"It's just so weird," she continued, purposefully ignoring her friend's simple advice. "I thought we were really clicking. We went to lunch and even got some drinks a few Saturdays ago. He's so easy to talk to. But then he's all 'don't run for council' and ran off before he could tell me why! He didn't even come back to say goodbye. I thought he wanted to be my campaign manager."

Ann swung her chair around and placed a hand on Leslie's knee. "You need to talk to him," she repeated with more stress on each word. Leslie looked down past her and at the floor. "Leslie, you don't know what's going on with him. He's got a tough job running this city. He might have heard something or he knows something, or maybe he just didn't get a chance to finish his thought. But guess what! You'll never know if you don't talk to him."

Leslie made a face, as though that was the worst suggestion she had ever heard. Still, she knew her best friend was right. "I know," she groaned and leaned back against the wall. "I'm just worried, I guess. I mean, what if he doesn't like me? Like, actually like me the way I thought he did?"

"Well, first of all, he'd be the dumbest person in the world," Ann replied before softening her smile. "And second, so what? You ask, you get an answer, and if it's not what you're looking for then you can go find someone else. But you're going to be hung up on Ben until you talk to him."

Leslie nodded, finally beginning to heed her friend's words of advice. She sat up straighter and leaned forward, a wicked smirk suddenly appearing on her face. "So, how's Chris?"

"What?" Ann asked, her cheeks reflexively going red.

"You said he was cute."

"I can't find guys cute anymore?"

"Well, you can, but I think you like him! He comes to the hospital every day, doesn't he?"

Ann looked away towards the computer. "Yeah, but for stupid stuff. Like resting heart rate stats or cholesterol readings. I don't even know what kind of insurance would cover that many visits!"

Leslie laughed and hopped off the gurney, tossing her empty cup in the trash as she did so. "Well, I hope you get to see him again today."

Ann rolled her eyes and waved goodbye to her friend. "I bet I will," she mumbled and looked back at her computer. Now she could work on filing these reports without worrying about anyone seeing patient information. Not that she was worried Leslie would go blab about what was in the documents, but the information on the forms was private.

Around fifteen minutes later she got to the bottom of the stack. For a brief moment, she glanced at the clock to be sure she was right on time. Her floor shift began in ten minutes, plenty of time to get everyone set in the database. As she picked up the final file, she couldn't help but notice the name at the top of the paper.

"Benji Wyatt, male, 36, gunshot wound to the left shoulder."

Chapter Text

Ben groaned as the early morning sunlight started to pierce his eyelids. He slowly came to and became increasingly aware of the incessant throbbing pain in his left shoulder. He wished more than anything he could just fall back asleep and escape the pain, but he needed to get up. As much as he would like to take a sick day, Chris insisted he come in for at least half a day. If the pain was really getting to him, he could say he was ill in the middle of the day and leave, which Chris said would be more believable. Ben didn't quite follow his logic, but Chris was always more sensitive about keeping their cover. Plus, they'd discussed this while Ben had quite a bit of morphine in his system which made him a little less likely to argue.

Memories from the night came back slowly, and then all at once. After leaving Leslie at the diner, he'd met Chris two streets over and gotten in their car. They drove to the north side of town, near warehouses. A sweep a few days prior revealed a seemingly abandoned home filled with money, drugs, and guns. Further investigation revealed it to be linked to the Newport's and Chris and Ben were brought in for the raid.

It was around eleven when they finally burst into the house, after getting the all-clear from the main office back in DC. Director Barkley had been hesitant to officially let the Newports know that agents were in the vicinity, but there weren't many men out in the field nearby. They were also hoping to find documents or other information that Ben and Chris could go over.

They did find a few documents on old laptops in the back of the house. They were also engaged in a shootout that resulted only in Ben's shoulder injury. As one of the other agents went for the tackle, a gruff burly man who looked not unlike the one who had threatened Leslie at the campaign party fired his weapon randomly into the air. Ben was focused on handcuffing another man when he felt a searing pain in his shoulder. He blinked and found himself on the floor and Chris was shouting at him. Aside from the pain, which was subdued by that point, he didn't understand why Chris looked so worried or why the words "hospital" and "ambulance" were coming out of his mouth so often.

But, by the time Ben was admitted to Saint Joseph's Hospital, he understood. The adrenaline had worn off and he was left with a terrible pain that lingered even after receiving morphine. Around 1 AM he was released and Chris drove him back to the hotel. All he registered from their conversation was that he did need to go to work the next day. Everything else was lost in the fog of the night.

He wandered over to the bathroom and flipped on the harsh industrial light. Blinking away his sleep, he stared at himself in the mirror. Ben knew he was a pretty attractive guy, though he didn't like to brag. Today he looked like Hell. His face was pale, there were large purple bags under his eyes, and his face was locked in a permanent grimace. He wondered briefly if there was makeup for men after they got shot to make them look a little less… wounded.

He very slowly lifted his grey t-shirt with his right arm, gingerly trying to maneuver around his left shoulder. The sharp pain that radiated through his arm told him he was going a terrible job. He discarded the shirt on the bathroom floor and looked at the gauze that was firmly wrapped around his shoulder. There was a dull spot of red on it, but Ben had been told by the doctors not to remove the gauze for several days unless it started to swell or itch.

Ben grabbed the pill bottle on the side of the sink and took two as directed by the doctor. Then he washed his face, shaved, and tried to pretend he was a normal functioning human being. When he left the bathroom to go change, he couldn't even look at the bed for fear he would jump right back in.

With his checkered shirt and plain black tie, he did look a little better. He still looked pale and exhausted, but hopefully, he could get a few hours in and then go right back to bed.

"Hey, Ben Wyatt," Chris cheered with finger guns when Ben appeared in the lobby. He hesitated for a moment, about to say something like, 'you look great!' but he couldn't bring himself to lie. "Did you sleep well?" he decided to ask, dropping to a kind tone.

Ben nodded. "Like the dead," he replied as they started towards the car. "I don't know if I'll be able to pull a full day. I'm going to see how I feel at noon."

Chris nodded in understanding. Frankly, he was surprised to see Ben up as it was. "On the bright side, you look sick enough for that excuse to work," he commented, trying to lighten up the mood. A sharp sideways glance told him it wasn't very appreciated.

"Anyway," Chris said once they got into the car. "I went over some of those documents we found while you were in the hospital last night. I had to send the hard copies back to headquarters for filing, but we should be getting scans soon. It looks like the drug money is being funneled directly into the campaign. Everything is being done by Newport Sr. It doesn't seem like Bobby has any clue what's going on, which is consistent with what we've seen so far."

"Is there anything else about the campaign in there?" Ben asked. He averted his gaze to the floor of the car. Watching the buildings and trees go by made him nauseous. "Anything about opponents?"

"No, nothing," Chris answered, stealing a glance at his colleague. "Are you thinking about that threat?" Ben nodded. "Yeah, there's been no evidence of them trying to tamper with their opponent's campaigns. I don't want to say it was just him being tough, but I would worry about other things for now."

Ben just nodded again, falling silent for the rest of the ride. He couldn't think about other things. He was terribly worried for Leslie's safety, especially after being injured last night. The Newport's and their goons didn't mess around. If they hadn't been so outnumbered last night, they wouldn't have hesitated to kill anyone who entered that house.

Once at the city building, Ben shut himself in the office and tried to get himself to focus on either city work or real work. He actually found that working on numbers and budgets was more relaxing and helped him pass the hours more quickly. Chris just let him do his thing and soon, nearly the whole day had passed.

"How are you feeling, Ben Wyatt?" Chris asked around four that afternoon. Ben looked up from the spreadsheet he was working on.

"Good," he said. "Definitely going to need a new dose of the medicine the doctor gave me when we get back to the hotel. But I actually made it through the day, surprisingly enough, and I've knocked out the work we needed to do for Pawnee so we can focus on the mission."

Chris smiled as he grabbed a notebook. "Fantastic!" he replied with a wide grin. "Alright, I have a quick meeting and then we'll be out."

Ben mumbled an affirmative and returned to his work. Just one more formula and this should be good to go. All day, he could barely bring himself to look at actual case work, but at the very least he made himself useful.

A knock at the door brought him out of his fog. "Come in," he called, not wanting to go through the effort of getting up. The knob turned and the door opened to reveal Leslie in a pretty pink blouse and black dress pants. For a moment she almost looked surprised to see Ben, as if he wouldn't really be in his own office, but the surprise ebbed away to a soft smile.

"Hey," she greeted as she took another step inside. "I haven't seen you all day. I thought you weren't here."

"Oh," Ben replied awkwardly as he closed out the program he was working on. "Are you looking for Chris? He just stepped out for a meeting but he should be back in a little bit."

Leslie shook her head. "No, I came to talk to you. I just waited all day because I wasn't sure if you were here, but I figured I would leave a note for you in your office before I went home for the day."

"Ah." Ben frowned as Leslie came into the office and lingered by a chair across from his desk. He knew exactly what this was about, but she couldn't have picked a worse day. Still, he had to take responsibility for leaving her at the diner so suddenly. "I'm sorry for last night," he offered in a quiet voice.

Leslie frowned. It wasn't her angry frown. Instead, she seemed disappointed not in his answer, but in him. "I'm not mad," she replied. "I'm just really confused. Why did you run off like that? I thought you'd come back after taking that call but you just went off."

Ben hesitated. He couldn't tell her what had happened because of the secret nature of the mission. He also couldn't say it vaguely had to do with work because they technically worked together and she knew everything that was happening in the city. If there was something that required Ben's attention that late into the evening.

"It was my mom," Ben told her reluctantly. "My brother was in an accident." He really didn't want to use that tired excuse especially because it would likely make Leslie feel bad. But, it was the only thing he could think of that would be an easy enough lie to continue.

"Oh my God." Worry flashed across Leslie's face. "Is he alright?"

"Yeah, it was a car accident," Ben continued, figured that would also be a simple enough addition. "He's alright, but mom was hysterical. I thought something really bad had happened, so I went straight back to where I'm staying. By the time I got it all cleared up, it was so late and I forgot to call you or send you a message. I'm really sorry, Leslie. That wasn't kind of me."

"No, no." Leslie waved her hands as if to brush off the apology. "Your family comes first. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed."

"Assumed what?" Ben asked curiously before he could stop himself.

Leslie shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I thought you were running off to meet someone else."

"Oh. No."

There was a long pause that felt longer since Ben's shoulder started to throb more angrily. He hoped they were done speaking, but then Leslie looked back up at him. "Why don't you think I should run for city council?" she asked, her eyes shining mostly with curiosity, but Ben could tell there were hints of hurt in there as well.

This was another question he was unprepared for, yet he probably should have been. He didn't come across as very nice the night before and he was sure that he had inadvertently planted a seed of doubt in Leslie's head.

"I do think you should run for council," Ben insisted, even though the worry for her safety nagged at the back of his mind. "I just didn't make myself very clear. I'm really sorry, Leslie. It didn't come out right."

"Then what were you trying to say?" she asked, the hurt in her eyes beginning to ebb away.

"I…" Of course that wasn't the end of the line of questioning. "I was just thinking, you know you would be such a great politician. Not just for Pawnee, but for everyone. You could be a state representative, hell even a senator on the national stage. I guess I didn't realize how much this town means to you. It's more important you help Pawnee now. I'm not from a small town, so I guess I really wouldn't understand." Truth be told, he was and he did, but he hardly considered the small town he grew up in to be home. He certainly wouldn't do anything to help it out.

Leslie's face lit up more and more as Ben went on with his explanation. "Wow, thank you," she breathed when he was done. "That's the nicest thing I think anyone's ever said to me. And Ron just said I was 'kind of okay' last week!" Ben couldn't help but laugh, unsure if she was joking or serious. Either way, the mood in the room was much lighter. Even the pain in his shoulder subsided a little.

"I also wanted to ask something else," Leslie said, finally sitting down in the chair she had flirted behind for the better part of the conversation. Ben raised an eyebrow and nodded as he scooted his desk chair over to the side of his desk so he could see her more clearly. Leslie swallowed thickly. "I've really enjoyed getting to know you this past month or so," she started, beginning to fiddle with her hands. "You're not the mean jerk I thought you were, which is great, and I'm still really sorry I jumped to that conclusion."

"It's okay," Ben laughed, remembering the ire he'd invoked in Leslie when they first met. It brought a smile to his face thinking about how far they had come.

Leslie returned the smile. "Well, I'm still sorry. Anyway, I feel like we've been kind of going back and forth and… Like we're not on the same wavelength or… Like we're passing ships in the night…" Ben gave her a confused look. Leslie sighed, knowing she wasn't making any sense. "Ben, I really like you. And I feel like you like me too. So, do you want to go get drinks this Saturday, not just as work buddies but on an actual real-live date?"

Leslie's face was red. Ben stopped breathing. He should have expected this, yet he still found himself shocked that Leslie had actually asked him on a date. They had gotten too close so soon and Ben knew the answer he was going to have to give.

The hesitation gave away his response. Leslie's face fell. "I mean, you know. If you want to. Or we could go as friends," she said, faltering in her words.

"Leslie," Ben started.

"No, it's okay," Leslie stood, pushing back the chair harshly against the wood flooring. "I'm sorry."

Ben stood as well, ignoring the pain in his shoulder as his body moved for the first time in a few hours. "Don't be sorry," he said. "Look, it's just… not a good time. But I want to be friends and I want to be your campaign manager."

Leslie nodded, trying to force a smile, but it only looked like she had sucked on a lemon. Tightly she nodded and took a step back. "No, it's okay, I totally understand. I need to go anyway, it's getting late." She crossed to the door. "See you tomorrow," she said and then she was gone.

Ben stood there for a moment, the pain beginning to get worse before he had to sit back down. He'd just ruined everything with Leslie and, even though it wasn't something that could happen, he felt awful. He just wanted to go home and go to bed. Thankfully, Chris returned soon after and drove them to the hotel.

Once inside the room, Ben changed, took his medicine, and flopped into bed. He didn't even have time to dwell on how awful the day had ended before he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Ann could hardly listen to her friend talk about what happened the night before, both because it broke her heart and because she was afraid of spilling quite the bombshell. After she had discovered Ben's admittance to the hospital, she tried to find out as much about it as she could without raising any suspicion. For whatever reason, no one knew anything, not even the nurses who were in that night. When she went to check the record in the database, it was gone, but she swore she input the data.

Even though she had no idea what happened to the data she had handled, she couldn't tell Leslie due to patient confidentiality. Of course, she didn't believe Leslie would go all over town with the information, but if word got back to Ann's bosses, she could be fired. Pawnee was a small town and only had one hospital and a few connected clinics. She would never be able to find another job in the field without moving, and even then it would be on her record.

Leslie was sad, but a pep talk in the nurse's lounge of the hospital really cheered her up. Ann was glad she could say enough to get her off to work and back on the campaign trail. After she left, Ann started to do her rounds and checked up on the patients she had taken on the previous day.

Just after ten that morning, Ann was paged to Urgent Care. She approached the desk and grabbed a clipboard, flipping through the papers as she made her way to the examination room. She opened the door and laid eyes upon Chris who was sitting happily on the examination table.

"Ann Perkins!" He smiled, the paper crinkling underneath him as he turned to her. Ann just sighed.

"Resting heart rate test?" she asked, walking further into the room.

"That, and the inside of my ear feels a little sensitive. Could you check that out as well?" he asked. "Oh, and double check my reflexes as well. Just want to make sure everything's in good shape for my ten mile run tonight."

Ann crossed to the other side of the room the gather the needed instruments. "You're either loaded or you have the best insurance anyone could get," she commented as she turned to face him. "You know you could check these things yourself."

"My heart monitor is still acting up and I'm just an auditor," Chris replied, his smile never faltering. "I'd rather go to a professional. You're a great nurse, Ann, I trust you."

Ann couldn't help the grin that appeared on her face as she came over to check Chris's heart. "Breathe in," she told him as she slipped the flat round end of the stethoscope under his shirt. "Out." He did as he was told. "Good." She took the stethoscope off and got the otoscope for his ears.

It was then that the idea hit her. Chris might know what happened with Ben since they worked together. She would have to be careful about how she worded her questions, but she figured they were friendly enough with each other for her to ask.

"Hey, how is it going?" she asked as she worked. "The job, I mean. How are you and Ben liking Pawnee?"

"It is absolutely fantastic!" Chris replied. "I love this town. I think Ben feels the same."

"Mmhm," Ann murmured as she switched to the other ear. "How's Ben doing? He's so quiet, but Leslie loves having him as her campaign manager. She mentioned he looked a little worn out yesterday. He's not sick, is he?"

For the smallest second, Chris hesitated. He glanced at Ann and she looked back, a curious and innocent smile brushing her lips. "Oh, must be the weather," the man said after a pause. "You know, the change of seasons."

"Oh, yeah, that can be tough," Ann replied, noticing his hesitation. She wished he would give more information, but she could tell he knew something by the way he watched her with more intent as she moved around the room. He knew she knew, and she knew he knew she knew, but neither said another word until Ann finished the checkup and handed him the report.

"Perfect. Beyond perfect, as usual," she commented as she passed over the paper. "Someone at a fancy college would want to study you."

"Great," Chris replied, considerably more subdued than usual. He hopped off the table.

"I would put that somewhere safe," Ann said suddenly as Chris's hand touched the doorknob. He turned around to face her, his face showing his confusion. "It's confidential information," the nurse continued. "So it's only between you and the staff here. No one else should or will have access to that information, not even close friends."

Slowly, the confusion ebbed away and a grateful smile crossed Chris's face. He understood what she was trying to say. "Thank you, Ann Perkins," he said in a soft voice before he walked out the door.

Ann put away the tools she used and replaced the liner on the exam table. As much as she wished she had gotten information out of Chris, she was glad to have his trust. Someday, she figured, they would know what was going on.


 

Leslie sat at her desk, pouring over the details of the Spring Fling she was trying to plan. This was the crux of her budget plan. If this event could bring in more money for the town than it spent, everything would fall into place. Not to mention, if she was able to pull this off with limited resources, she could use it as a talking point for her campaign. The Little League and Softball teams were already stretched so thin, and it was looking like there would be no Youth Soccer in the fall. If they could make enough money, all of those programs would be able to thrive.

She nibbled on a light lunch and some coffee from the cafeteria. She hated how bitter the drink tasted without sweet caramel or mocha, or whipped cream that took up half the cup, but she had been awake most of the night and needed straight up caffeine. It wasn't Ben's fault, she tried to tell herself. She had read the signs wrong.

"Is that real coffee?"

Leslie looked up to see April lingering in the doorway. She was hanging half in and half out of her office and looked like she must turn away at any moment. "What?" Leslie asked, the words not registering for a moment. She glanced at her coffee and then it clicked. "Oh. Yeah."

"Are you okay?" The question seemed reluctant, as though April really didn't want to ask how someone was doing. Still, Leslie had known the girl long enough to know she was a little concerned.

"Tired. I've been working on this proposal all day." She tried to force a smile and picked up a stack of papers. "Hey, can you make sure this gets to city council by the end of the day? If it's there, they can vote on it at the next meeting."

"Ugh." April rolled her eyes dramatically and made no move to retrieve the papers.

"Please?" Leslie asked, her tone picking up into a high pitched whine. April was not usually swayed by sad looks or whining, but Leslie looked pretty exhausted and she figured she might as well do one nice thing this month.

"Fine," April replied curtly and took the papers. She walked to the door, but paused and turned around. "You look like shit, you should go home."

Leslie smiled back at her weakly. She loved it when April showed she cared. "I will soon."

She did not leave within the hour. In fact, around six, Ron stopped in to let her know he was leaving. "Are you still working on that proposal?" he asked. "Go home, they don't pay us for overtime."

"I just have to make sure this is just right," Leslie replied, stifling a yawn. "I got the budget to council and now I'm working on getting all the entertainment I want to have."

Ron shook his head, but he knew he would never be able to convince her to go. "If I find out you're here past eight, I'll put you on paid leave."

Leslie's head shot up. "You wouldn't!" she cried, as though that was the worst thing in the world. To her, it was. She rarely took vacation. In fact, it was thanks to her Pawnee had switched to only allowing employees to accrue up to 2 years of vacation. They worried if she ever left, they would have to pay her ten years of saved up vacation time.

"Just make sure you get some rest," Ron told her, a rare hint of concern showing through in his voice. "You looked wiped."

"I'll be out in a few," Leslie told him. That was enough caring for Ron, who nodded gruffly and left.

Leslie sighed and looked down at the paper she was working on. She felt so tired, but she wanted to get this done today so she could focus on other tasks tomorrow. She leaned forward and placed a hand on her forehead, brushing her hair back as she scribbled a few more notes on the paper.

A knock came at the door not five minutes later. "I'm coming Ron," Leslie snapped irritably. "Just go, I'll be out soon!"

"Uh…" When Leslie realized the voice wasn't, in fact, her boss, she snapped her head up and found herself looking right at Ben. "Hey," the man greeted, taking a tentative step into her office.

"Hi," Leslie replied politely. "Do you need something? It's late."

"I just wanted to talk about last night. Well," he clarified, "Apologize. For last night, I mean." He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and looked like he'd rather be anywhere else, but Leslie was appreciative that he came.

"Come in." She gestured to a chair by her desk. "You look better. I thought you were sick yesterday. Are you feeling alright?"

Ben nodded. "Yes, just the weather I think," he lied. "You look… tired." He couldn't help but make the observation. Leslie looked as pale as he did the day before, though that could have just been the dim light from the setting sun behind them.

Ben truly did feel better. A long night of sleep and coming in at noon that day really helped him bounce back. He Skyped with a doctor from the head office in DC who told him the wound was healing quite nicely.

"I've been working on this proposal for the Spring Fling next month," she explained. "I just want to get it done and approved so I can focus on other things." Ben leaned over across the desk and looked at what Leslie was working on. It seemed pretty complicated and looked to be written in some kind of code. He figured that it was all shorthand for what needed to be gotten for the festival.

Leslie's eyes followed his across the paper and then moved up to watch him intently study what she was working on. "I'm trying to book some entertainers," she offered as an explanation. "You wouldn't believe how hard someone with the name Freddy Spaghetti is to track down."

They shared a laugh and Ben sat back as Leslie moved the paper over to her. Her eyes drooped back over her lists and Ben watched her. "I'm really sorry about yesterday," he finally said, looking just below Leslie at the golden wood of her desk. She just shook her head.

"No, it was silly of me," she replied. "I'm a grown woman, not a high school student. I misread what was going on. That's my fault."

Ben sighed and leaned forward, rocking a bit in the chair. This was killing him. He'd made Leslie think she was in the wrong when she was actually so very right. "You weren't wrong," he told her in a quiet voice.

"I wasn't?" Leslie asked, looking up to meet his eye.

"No," he confirmed. "And I'm really sorry for that. You're really an amazing person, Leslie. I'd give anything to take you on a real date. But, right now there are things going on that I need to get sorted out first. It's not whether I like you or not, I really do. But the timing just isn't right."

Leslie nodded, her face unreadable. She looked a little relieved to know she had been right all along, but also disappointed in his response. "What's going on?" she asked. "Maybe I can help you out."

Ben couldn't help but smile at Leslie's thoughtfulness, but again he shook his head. "It's something I need to do for myself."

"Ah." Leslie's response was short and she went right back to looking at the paper. Now, the words seemed jumped together and she could barely make them out through her bleary eyes. She coughed and scooted her chair back. "I should probably go home," she said tiredly.

"Yeah," Ben agreed, standing. "Are you sure you're feeling okay? Maybe you should take the day off tomorrow." He leaned over despite himself and pressed the back of his hand to Leslie's forehead. To his surprise, it was extremely hot. Burning, in fact. "Leslie? You're really hot," he told her with concern.

She smirked up at him. "Don't tease me," she replied playfully, swatting at his hand. She stood and immediately fell forward over her desk. Her hands propped her up and she shook her head as if trying to shake off whatever she was feeling.

"No, you're burning up." Ben came over closer and put a hand on her shoulder. "You need to go home. Maybe to the hospital."

"I'm fine," she mumbled and tried to stand up straighter, but ended up tripping over herself again. Thankfully, Ben was there and she fell into him. He noted how she radiated heat and placed his hands on both of her upper arms.

"No you're not," he insisted and kicked her chair out of the way. "Come on, I'm taking you to Saint Joe's."

She didn't respond and didn't move. When Ben tried to take a small step, Leslie's eyes rolled back into her head and she slacked against him. He struggled to keep her upright and ended up sinking to the floor. "Shit, Leslie!" he called, shaking her lightly. She didn't stir. He looped one arm under her knees and the other under her neck and stood, running out of the building.

He was grateful this was a day that Chris decided to run home to get a head start on his nightly ten-mile run. Carefully, he sat Leslie in the passenger's seat and hurried around to the driver's side.

The rest of the evening was a blur. He drove Leslie to the hospital and passed her off to the doctors, but couldn't bring himself to just go home. Some terrible feeling was gnawing in the pit of his something. It was probably exhaustion coupled with worry and the adrenaline of rushing Leslie to the hospital, but he couldn't shake the feeling there was something more going on.

He sat perched on the waiting room chair, his head in his hands as he listened to the dull sounds of the hospital around him. Babies cried, people shouted, there was an incessant beeping that sounded contained but was probably emitted by many different machines.

"Ben?"

Ben lifted his head and looked up at Ann. She twisted a scrunchie in her hands and had a jacket on. It looked like she was just getting ready to leave for the day. Her face was pale and she looked exhausted. Ben couldn't tell if that was from finishing her shift or knowing what happened with Leslie.

"Hey," Ben replied weakly, sitting up a little straighter. He felt his back pop in resistance at the movement and he tried to lean his aching muscles against the uncomfortable backrest.

"Are you here for Leslie?" she asked. He nodded. Ann sat down next to him and ran her fingers through her short brown hair. She looked over at him and studied his face as if all the answers to her questions were written there.

"How is she?" Ben asked after a long pause. Ann hesitated, but she was too tired to care about confidentiality. After all, Ben was the person who brought her in.

"Not good," she admitted, leaning back against her own chair. "I can't say too much."

"I understand. Is she going to be alright?"

"I think so," she said and then clarified, "I hope so." She sat up, running her hands through her hair once more. "What happened?"

"I stopped by her office around seven," Ben explained. "We got up to leave and she just collapsed. Absolutely burning up. I have no idea where it came from."

Ann nodded and let another long moment of silence fall between them, pierced only by the shrill beeping of various machines on the floor. "You should go home, get some rest. She won't be awake until tomorrow at the earliest anyway." She really didn't have much else to say to him. She couldn't ask about the admittance for the gunshot wound and she couldn't tell him more about Leslie's condition. On top of that, he wasn't exactly her favorite person after turning down her best friend.

"Yeah," he said and stood. Ann followed and they walked to the exit nearest the parking lot. They stepped into the chilly night air and walked the path up to where it diverged towards either the employee lot or visitor parking.

Ann took a step down her path, then hesitated and turned around. "Hey, Ben?" she asked. Ben turned. "Whatever is going on with you, whatever you're up to, please. Just make sure Leslie is safe."

Ben didn't know how to respond and he had only barely nodded before Ann was walking off to her car. He turned towards his and shoved his hands in his pockets. Not a moment later his phone buzzed.

"Wyatt," he answered.

"Ben?" came Chris's voice. "You need to get back to the hotel. Leslie Knope was poisoned."

 

Chapter Text

If there were red lights or stop signs on the way to the hotel, Ben didn't notice or care. He went as fast as he could to meet up with Chris after receiving his call just moments before. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind, but the one thing he kept coming back to was Ann's plea. "Just make sure Leslie is safe."

He pulled into the parking spot in the hotel lot and angrily smacked his hand against the steering wheel. He couldn't even do that. He was Ben Fucking Wyatt, FBI Agent, field official, trained more in a year than most law enforcement did in ten. And after all of that, he couldn't even protect one woman from being poisoned right under his nose.

Ben took a shaky breath and closed his eyes. Pain shot through his arm both at his palm and from the gunshot wound he had momentarily forgotten about. He needed to get himself under control before he met with Chris. If he was this hysterical, he would never be able to think straight and that wouldn't help anyone. Leslie was in the capable hands of the doctors and nurses at Saint Joseph's who obviously had been able to find the cause of her sudden illness quickly. He needed to take his mind off of her and trust that the doctors could do their jobs so he could do his.

With another deep inhale and exhale, he exited the car and made his way inside the hotel. He tried to keep his mind on counting steps. 50, 51, 52, 53

Chris's door was next to his. He hesitated, then tried to knock softly, but his hands were shaking so much he ended up pounding on the door until it swung open.

"Where have you been?" his colleague asked as Ben stepped into the hotel room that was identical to his.

"Hospital," Ben replied, finding his voice uncertain and soft. At least he found his voice at all. Chris's eyes widened in realization.

"With Miss Knope?"

"Yes. I was there when she collapsed. I brought her to the hospital." He sat down at the desk. "They couldn't tell me much. I assume you know the details?"

Chris walked over to the bed where documents and folders were scattered about. He picked up one and studied it for a moment before putting it down. "Yeah," he finally said in answer to Ben's question. "I received a call from DC. When they diagnosed Miss Knope and realized what it was, they called the local police chief who is working with our investigation and he passed it to us."

"Are there any more details?" Ben asked. Poisoning could be anything.

"Nightshade extract," Chris replied. "I had someone go to the office and check her belongings there. It was the coffee."

The coffee. Ben vaguely remembered the half-empty coffee cup sitting on Leslie's desk when they talked. He frowned in confusion and looked at Chris. "Leslie doesn't drink coffee." The other agent glanced back, matching his confusion. "She doesn't. She hates the taste. If she drinks it, she'll dump half of it out and fill it back up with sugar."

Chris nodded and then gasped, his eyes shooting up. "Oh! That makes sense. We were all stumped as to why they would just lightly poison her rather than kill her altogether, but it's possible they had a dose measured out for a full cup of whatever she ordered and didn't expect her to toss most of it."

Ben couldn't help but flinch at the callous way Chris talked about the way all of this could have ended. "Do the doctors think she'll be alright?" he asked. "Did they say anything about that?"

Chris regarded him curiously, unsure of why Ben wasn't more focused on the facts of the case as he usually was. "Last I heard, she's recovering," he replied. "They had to pump her stomach and get the fever under control, but that didn't sound like anything they hadn't done before. She should be alright." Ben visibly relaxed and Chris walked over to sit down on the bed across from him. "Why do you ask? I didn't know you were close to her."

"Oh, no, just curious," Ben replied and looked away in a futile attempt to hide his red face.

Chris smiled as he grabbed another document to scan over. "It's probably good if you are. One of us should be on top of this new development." He peered over the top of the paper. "But keep a good distance. You know why we're here and it's not to make friends. Wouldn't want to get caught up in all this. We just want to get in and out."

Ben nodded, reaching to grab another document. "I know," he said. "Don't worry, my priority is on the investigation." At least, he figured, now that he knew Leslie would be alright, he could focus on taking down the bastards that did this to her.


 

The next day, Ben anxiously sat at his desk in his office waiting for it to be three o clock. He would have given anything to drive over to the hospital first thing in the morning, but Chris was insistent that they not raise suspicions. They had only been in Pawnee for two months and really didn't know Leslie that well. As far as anyone was concerned, they were her bosses who cared, but not as much as, say, her actual friends and family.

So, Ben decided to go in when the workday was almost over so that people could visit and get back and the office wouldn't be deserted for the better part of the day. When three finally hit, Ben was up and out quickly. He had the car going before he even pulled on his jacket all the way.

Where the hospital drive had gone by in a blur the night before, it now felt like the longest trip of his life. Finally, though, he made it and found a decent parking space. He was still amazed that parking at these prime locations in the town didn't cost an arm and a leg and it was something he definitely appreciated Pawnee for.

Ben stopped by the front desk to check in as a visitor and was given instructions on where to find Leslie's room. He walked down the long white hallways, glancing around curiously. He'd only been there himself a short while ago for his own issue, yet everything looked so different. Then again, he hardly remembered the night he was shot. He just remembered how much the damn thing hurt!

The door to Leslie's room was wooden and bare except for a whiteboard that bore her name and the nurses that would be on duty at different times. Ann's name was scrawled across the 2pm-Midnight shift and sighed with a heart. Ben hesitated for a moment before grabbing the handle and making his way inside.

The hospital room was entirely too white, Ben noticed immediately. It was nothing like Leslie's office that was filled with colors and happiness. Some balloons and flowers in the corner tried to brighten the room, but there was still something sterile and unfriendly about the environment.

"Ben!" His head snapped over to where Leslie lay on the white hospital bed. She was the brightest thing about the room, even in her exhaustion. Her blonde hair fell in ringlets around the pillow and she was grounded to and she was hooked up to quite a few IVs. She looked like she hadn't slept in ages, and not just because Ben knew about how little sleep she usually got. No, she looked like a normal human being who hadn't gotten any sleep for weeks. And, he thought, she still looked beautiful.

"Hey," he greeted as he took a step into the room. He was hesitant and wondered if maybe he shouldn't have come. However, the bright smile that turned into a beaming grin at his presence told him he was welcome. "How are you feeling?"

"As good as anyone can after the most severe case of food poisoning this hospital has ever seen," Leslie laughed. So, they weren't telling her exactly what this was. That was probably for the best. Ben couldn't think of a way to say "You were poisoned" in a non-threatening way.

"I'm just glad I was there to get you to the hospital," he replied, lingering near the seat by her bed, but he didn't sit down. "When did you wake up?"

"Sometime between Tom and Donna coming in and just before April had a chance to draw a mustache on my face," Leslie said. "Everyone stopped by today, it was exhausting! I've never been this tired in my life!"

"Oh." Ben took a step back. "I can come back some other time if you want to get some rest."

"No!" Leslie replied quickly. "It's so boring here and Ann had to go 'work.'" She finished her sentence with air quotes, as though her best friend didn't have an actual job apart from keeping her occupied. "And besides, I didn't know if you would come. I'm glad you did."

He smiled despite himself. "You are?" he asked.

"Yes, I figure you'll actually tell me where the Spring Fling proposal is right now." She looked up at him innocently, as though big sad eyes would get the information she wanted out of him. Ben shook his head. Even after narrowly escaping death, the woman was still focused on work and the town.

"Even if I did know, I would want you to get some rest," Ben told her. "You need to focus on getting better. The sooner you do that, the sooner you'll be back to work."

"I can do both!" Leslie insisted. They shared a laugh and Ben felt much more relaxed. This was how he'd always wanted it to be with Leslie. Just… easy. She was so easy to talk to and he felt better around her than he ever had around anyone in his life. He really, really liked her. The idea that he couldn't do anything about that killed him.

"And," the woman continued. "I'm sorry. I've been acting stupid. I hope we can still be friends and you will still be my campaign manager."

"I've told you before, you have nothing to apologize for. I'm the one who's sorry."

"So," Leslie started cautiously. "If the timing was better…" She trailed off and looked at Ben expectantly. He looked at the ground.

"I'd give anything to take you on a proper date," he told her. He didn't see the soft smile that crossed her face. That was all she wanted to know and she was content with that.

"I hope the timing gets better soon," she said.

He looked up at her and she gave him a look that put him so much at east, he almost melted into the floor.

And then he was angry. Angry that this was happening to her. Angry they had met like this. Angry they could never have a chance together. There were millions of other people in DC alone Ben could date and be happy with, but there was only one Leslie Knope. And then he felt scared because he'd almost lost the only Leslie Knope in the entire world.

He didn't know what guided his feet, but something made him move to the bed. Then he was hovering over Leslie who was looking up at him with a mixture of confusion and expectation. In one smooth motion, he leaned over, grabbed the sides of her head as gently as he could and pressed his lips against hers. He could feel her immediately relax into the kiss and weakly bring an IV ladened hand up through his hair.

They parted after what felt like way too short a moment. He looked back at Leslie's tired, yet excited eyes. She sat up more and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. He returned the hug, placing another final kiss on her cheek.

When they heard footsteps outside in the hall, they pulled away. It was just a nurse walking by, but they hesitated to return to the closeness they had just shared. Leslie reached over and squeezed his hand. Her eyes studied his face and she swallowed thickly before whispering, "Uh-oh."

Uh-oh indeed, Ben thought, but now wasn't the time to think about how uh-oh worthy this moment had been. Rather, he sat next to Leslie's bed for another hour, holding her hand and just talking to her. For the first time since he'd met her, and probably for the first time in her entire life, she was too tired to talk. So, he told her everything he could about himself. He talked about how much he loved tabletop board and roleplaying games and that he wanted to design his own game one day. He explained that he missed his family and wished he could visit his mom more often, but that he didn't like his hometown too much. He told her that calzones were his favorite food, but he hadn't had one for a while. She softly told him the names of a few local places that didn't have them on the menu but could make them for him.

Eventually her nods and soft murmurs to show her attention dropped off until Ben noticed she had fallen asleep. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and stood, deciding to head home for the day. He was thankful for the time he got to spend with her, but now he needed to get back to the case.

He was halfway to the door when Ann came in. She was looking at a clipboard and stopped short when she realized there were feet in front of her. Looking up, she found Ben standing there with a sheepish look on his face.

"Oh. Hi Ben," she greeted, lowering the papers. She offered him a polite smile.

"Leslie's asleep," he blurted and mentally kicked himself for going with that as opposed to normal, real greeting.

"Oh." Ann looked past Ben to the hospital bed to confirm that Leslie was, indeed, asleep. "Well, that's good. I've been trying to tell her she needs to rest all day, but she keeps trying to do work." She looked back at Ben with a suspicious glance and added, "I hope she wasn't doing any just now."

"No," Ben confirmed. "Just visiting. I don't know where any of her projects are right now anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to give her that information even if I wanted to."

"Good." Ann walked over and hung the clipboard on the end of her bed.

"So, she's doing better?" he asked, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. He knew he should have just bid her goodbye, but he wanted to hear from an actual nurse how she was, not from reading it on a cold case report.

"Yes," Ann confirmed. "Like I said, I can't say too much."

"I know," Ben replied, but there was something in the tone of his voice that caught Ann's attention. She looked up from the IV bag she was working with.

"You do?" she asked.

Ben hesitated and then nodded slowly. "I do," he confirmed. Ann swallowed thickly and took a few steps towards him until she was standing not even a foot apart.

"Who are you?"

"Ben Wyatt," he replied calmly, but she didn't look at all convinced. "Really," he insisted. "That's my real name."

"What happened a few nights ago?" Ann asked, her face not showing whether or not she believed Ben was telling the truth about his name. She figured it didn't matter, there were other questions she wanted to be answered.

"I don't know what you mean," he replied. Ann glared at him and reached out towards his shoulder. He instinctively flinched and backed away. "Okay! I didn't know you knew about that."

"I work here," Ann replied. "It's my job to know. And as Leslie's best friend, it's my job to protect her. I don't know what you're up to, but I know you're not who you say you are. Chris too. Did you even come from Indianapolis? Ever since you've gotten here, things have gotten weird and now Leslie's in the hospital. What is even going on?"

Ben reached out and placed a hand on Ann's shoulder. She was started to get loud and he wanted to match her volume out of sheer frustration at not being able to say anything, but he made himself calm down. "Listen," he said after a steadying breath. "You're right on a lot of things and going down the right path on others, but I can't tell you. You know how you can't actually tell me what really happened to Leslie because of privacy laws? It's the same with me. But I promise you, Ann, I'm a good guy. I would never do anything to put Leslie in danger. All of these things aren't happening because of us, we're here because they're happening. We're trying to solve this."

Ann pursed her lips, her eyes still narrowed in frustration and then a realization dawned on her. "Does this have to do with the campaign?" Ben didn't respond, but his silence said everything."She needs to drop out then!"

At that idea, Ben shook his head and glanced over at the sleeping woman in the bed. "I tried that. She wants this more than anything. The only thing we can do right now is keep her safe." Ann opened her mouth as though to argue, but Ben spoke first. "If you want to convince her to quit, I'm all for it, but I'm telling you, she won't."

He was right, Ann knew, but she still wasn't thrilled about Leslie being in harm's way. At this point, she would have to entrust her best friend's safety with two people she barely knew and who wouldn't tell her the full truth.

"Tell me, then," Ann pressed. "You're here under a huge lie. Everything you've been involved in so far has been a lie. How can I believe anything you say? Has anything you've said been true?"

Ben hesitated and looked back at Ann for a long minute. He didn't know what he could say that she would actually believe or if saying anything was worth it. But, he was also so sick of living this lie. He loved his job. He was a good FBI agent. But, this case was different. Something was stirring inside him and he was falling in love with this middle of nowhere town, and its people.

He looked over at Leslie, sleeping peacefully in her bed. She was snuggled up against the pillow and clutching the blanket with the hand that wasn't tied to wires and IVs. As always, she was beautiful and Ben felt a fierce protectiveness stir within him.

"Here's something that's true," Ben finally said, continuing to look at her sleeping in the bed. "I love Leslie Knope."

Chapter Text

Two days later, Leslie was released from the hospital with the belief that she had suffered a terrible bout of food poisoning. She didn't question the explanation since she was so excited about getting back to work. The Spring Fling wasn't going to plan itself after all!

A month later, it was almost ready to go. The lot where the festival would be held was decorated and rides were brought in from an Indiana carnival company. The town was buzzing with excitement. It was something to do which was already a huge win, plus it wouldn't break the bank for the families in the area. Comments were pouring in about how grateful the citizens were to the Parks Department for planning this event.

On the day of the festival, Ben stood outside Leslie's home. One foot was planted on her walkway, but the other was turned towards the sidewalk. He wasn't sure if he was actually going to go through with this, but he figured he might as well try. Neither had spoken of the kiss they shared a month before in the hospital room and it had not happened again since. Ben meant what he told Ann about loving Leslie, but he was also so focused on figuring out who had made her so sick that he didn't even think much about pursuing a relationship. Then the Spring Fling happened and everyone was talking about who would ask who. It was very high school. Even Chris decided to ask Ann. "Just as friends," he insisted, but Ben knew he was as guilty as he was when it came to falling for the Pawnee girls.

Ben swallowed and took another step, and then another before he had finally willed himself to Leslie's front door. He knocked three times and then stepped back so she could swing the door open. A moment after his knocks were heard, a muffled "Coming!" sounded from inside followed by thumping, a minor crash, and then the sound of a door clicking open.

Leslie was wearing a blue floral blouse and white dress pants with dressy but sensible shoes that would need to be worn while walking around all day. The front ends of her hair were pulled into a clip at the back of her head and her eyes sparkled when she saw who her unexpected guest was.

"Ben!" she exclaimed as she leaned her head over to fit her earrings in. Before he could return the greeting, her eyes grew wide and she shot up straight. "Oh, no am I late? Did it start? Crap! I was going over the welcome speech and lost track of time."

Before Leslie could go run off into the pit of her home, Ben grabbed her arm gently. "No, we're on time. I was just…" He stopped, catching himself before he told her god knows what about why he was there. He wanted to ask her to go to the event with him, but that felt a little silly. Still, there wasn't really any other way to broach the subject. "I was going to go too," he finished lamely.

Leslie laughed at his awkwardness. "I hope so, you told me you would!" she said. "Well, since you're here, do you want to go together?"

God, she was so smart. Ben was so grateful he fell in love with such a smart, confident woman. "Yeah, I was wondering if you would," he said, starting to gain his footing in the conversation. "I was hoping you would go with me."

"With you, with you?" Leslie asked, raising an eyebrow over her amused expression.

Ben nodded. "I mean, I know we can't really go officially together. Things are still… tricky. But I would love to go with you to the Spring Fling."

"I can't think of anything that would make this a better day," she replied. "Let me grab my bag and I'll be all set to go!"

It only took a minute for Leslie to get the last of what she needed to go and then she and Ben were off, walking along the residential sidewalk towards the lot where the festival was to be held. While they were still far away from the crowds, Leslie slipped her hand into Ben's and he gave her a little squeeze. They chatted about the events and Leslie went on about how Ben would finally get to meet Lil' Sebastian. She went on about him for nearly the entire walk and only after they saw the ferris wheel in the distance did Ben catch on that Lil Sebastian was just a miniature horse. He knew better than to express such skepticism since Leslie sounded so excited, so he just feigned enthusiasm.

For a festival planned in a little over a month with limited resources and only hesitant acceptance from city council, Leslie had done an amazing job. She had the best entertainment that Southern Indiana could offer, some great rides, and events for people of all ages. There were kid-friendly singers and attractions, teens enjoyed more exciting rides and games, there were two bar booths for adults, and there was even an old folk singer for the elderly. No one walked around without a smile on their face and frequently as Leslie and Ben walked towards the entrance, people stopped to give her thanks and praise.

"You even got a Meat and Stuff truck," Ron said with a rare smile on his face when Leslie approached. He was standing in a clear spot off the path with the rest of the Parks and Recreation Department. Half had spent the morning getting ready and were going to take their leave for the day while the other half was getting ready to start helping.

"It was the only thing you wrote on my plan proposal," she replied and turned to everyone else. "Do you guys have your assignments for the day?"

They nodded. Andy was going to help with ride tickets until he went on stage for the kids at three. April would run the teacup ride. Tom was Lil' Sebastian's manager for the day and Ron was going to be sure the food trucks had enough supplies.

"Alright! Go have fun! Let's do this!" Leslie stuck her hand out for a cheer and Andy followed immediately. April put her hand in because Andy did and the rest followed after, except for Ron, who just raised up his stick of meat. "On three. One. Two. Three!"

"Go-Yay-Pawnee-Spring!"

Leslie laughed. "Okay, next time we'll decide what we're saying before, but for now, break!" She clapped her hands together, her whole short self vibrating with excitement. The group disbanded to their stations and Leslie and Ben started walking towards the main stage. The opening ceremonies would begin soon.

"This is really amazing, Leslie," Ben told her. "How did you even do all of this?"

"It was all in the proposal," she explained. "Didn't you see it?"

"Oh, yeah. Sorry, a lot of things crossed my desk. Must have slipped my mind." Hopefully, that was a decent enough cover. He was so busy working on the actual mission that he signed off on Leslie's proposal without even reading it. He figured other people had already seen it and would have amended anything that was a glaring issue.

"Anyway, I couldn't have done all of this without everyone's help," she continued seeming to be unaffected by Ben's forgetfulness. "You too, you know. I couldn't have done this without your signature."

"Glad I could help," Ben replied, despite not feeling like a mere signature was much of anything. But, Leslie had a way of making the smallest contribution seem like the most important thing in the world to her.

They approached the stage and Leslie walked up to welcome everyone to the festival. A crowd gathered and everyone listened as she recited a great speech about friendship and community, and how glad she was that everyone could make it out that day. She gave special shout-outs to the entire Parks Department as well as Ann who helped gather volunteers for the medical tent on the far side of the lot. When she was finished, the people clapped loudly and she gracefully exited the stage before one of the many performers came on.

For the rest of the day, Ben and Leslie wandered around together, lost in the crowd of people enjoying the event. They tried their hand at a few games, which Ben lost miserably at, but Leslie managed to win a somewhat decent prize at the ring toss.

Evening fell and the lights on the rides illuminated the lot. The pair made their way to the ferris wheel and climbed aboard the slow-moving ride. "You can see all of Pawnee from here," Leslie explained. "Well, most of it, besides the part that's right behind us." Ben couldn't help but laugh at that as he sat on the plastic bench. They were strapped in and the ride started.

They rode in silence for about two minutes before Leslie turned to face Ben as much as she could with the metal bar across her lap. "So," she started. "What's up with your timing?"

Ben scrunched his eyebrows together as he turned to her, but quickly realized what she was talking about. The hospital kiss.

"I don't know," he admitted. "Things are still kind of weird."

"Ben, do you like me?" she asked.

"Of course!" He sounded defensive.

"Well, I like you too. And you know what? There's never a good time for these things. I was just about ready to get this Spring Fling rolling when I got that food poisoning. And look, we're here now and it all worked out. These things work out." She leaned back and faced forward as more of Pawnee came into view. "You're so cautious. You're afraid of what could happen instead of focusing on what's actually happening. That's great for campaigns, but not so much for life."

"I know," Ben responded quietly, not able to think of anything else to say.

"So, why don't we just try it? Try us? So what if it doesn't last and so what if you have to go back to Indianapolis at any time? We'll figure it out." Leslie reached over and grabbed his hand. "We're smart people. We'll be fine."

He glanced over and wrapped his hand around her. As the ferris wheel stopped, he leaned over and gave her a soft kiss on the lips. She returned the kiss, moving as close to him as she was able and even managing to rock the car a little.

They parted and her smile was absolutely radiant. It lit up the night sky even brighter than the bulbs that lined the ride they were on. He loved it. He never wanted to stop looking at it. At her.

"Alright," he nodded. "Let's give this thing a try." If her smile could get brighter, it did. She leaned her head against his shoulder and Ben relished the feeling of Leslie snuggling up to him. They rounded the top and started to come down, but he never wanted this ride to end.

Eventually, it did, and they were on the ground, yet Ben still felt like he was floating. Leslie walked with such a skip in her step, she actually looked like she was ten feet off the ground. "I'll walk you home," Ben offered once Leslie made sure everything was good to be shut down for the night.

They walked the darkened streets hand in hand, silently enjoying the crisp night and each other's company. "Leslie," Ben started gently when they were a few blocks from her house. "We do need to talk. About us." She looked up at him in concern and he knew she was worried he would take back what he said on the ferris wheel. "I'm a state auditor which technically makes me your boss," he explained. "We could both get in a lot of trouble if this relationship was ever found out."

"Then we'll be careful about it," Leslie replied as if that was the easiest answer she had ever given someone. "We'll be secret. I won't tell anyone, not even Ann." She paused and bit her top lip. "Maybe Ann. She doesn't work at City Hall anyway."

Ben nodded and agreed. This was what he was hoping for anyway. It wasn't that he cared about some fake city auditor job, but that he needed to be sure they were both on the same page about keeping this quiet. If his bosses in DC ever found out, he'd be canned so quickly. He couldn't even let Chris know which upset him since Chris was his partner and best friend. Maybe he could spin it that it was just a front to keep an eye on the campaign, but he knew his colleague wasn't stupid. He'd see through that excuse in a minute, given that Ben was already Leslie's campaign manager.

They made it to Leslie's house and the couple paused on her porch before she went to unlock her door. "I had a great time tonight," she told him, taking a step closer.

He wrapped his arms around her waist. "Me too," he replied. "I think it was one of the best nights I've ever had here in Pawnee."

She grinned. "Good," she murmured before lifting herself up on the tips of her toes to plant a goodbye kiss on Ben's waiting lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he pulled her closer to him. Then, all too soon, it was over and Leslie was back inside her home after promises of another date that weekend.

Ben shoved his hands in his pockets and started the walk back to the hotel. It wasn't a long walk and it was a nice night, and he also wanted the time in the cool Indiana air to clear his head. This night had been everything he'd wanted as far as dating Leslie Knope went, but it also pushed the mission completely out of his head. On one hand, that was great. He needed a break when he spent all day reading dead end reports on the Newport goons. On the other hand, he needed to protect Leslie and every other innocent person in this town and he couldn't do that if his head wasn't in the game.

"Hey!"

Ben jumped, startled, and whirled around to find himself looking at the loaner car the FBI had given him and Chris. Inside was the other agent, tapping the steering wheel. Ben found this rather strange. Chris only drove to work so he wouldn't get his outfit all sweaty and he didn't want to be weighed down by a duffle bag and briefcase. Otherwise, he was up for walking and running anywhere, especially on a nice night like this.

"Need a ride?" he asked unlocking the doors.

Ben smiled gratefully and opened the passenger's side. He slid into the car and said, "Thanks, man. Appreciate it."

Chris just nodded and drove off just as Ben shut the door. They rode in silence for a while before he spoke again. "So," Chris started in a steely voice Ben didn't recognize. Ben turned to look at him. "Enjoy your date?"

His blood went cold and he froze. "I-" he started but couldn't think of any other words to go after that. A million thoughts ran through his head but he couldn't even latch on to one of them before another thousand raced by. The only thing he knew was that he felt like he was going to puke.

"How did you know?" he finally choked out, feeling as if all the air in the car was gone.

"I saw you. I thought you were walking her home for her own safety," Chris replied.

"I was-"

"No, you weren't, Ben. You and I both know it."

"I was trying to keep her safe!"

Chris had just pulled up to a red light and he turned to Ben, his eyes narrowed in an uncharacteristic glare. He'd seen his partner look nervous, scared, sad, and disappointed, but never this angry. "Don't lie to me! We've been through too much for you to lie to me."

Ben opened his mouth, then closed it. He leaned back in the chair and looked out the window, his cheeks burning in embarrassment. "I'm sorry," he mumbled meekly.

The look on Chris's face softened as the light turned green. The car started to once again roll down the road. "Why?" he asked. "Why would you lie to me about this? I thought we were friends. You can tell me anything, Ben."

"I know," Ben replied, not able to look anywhere but directly out the car window. "But I don't want to jeopardize the mission or my involvement in it. I just… fuck, Chris, I really like her. I want to keep her safe and protect her and I want to bring down the Newport's, but I also just want to have her too. And tonight, I just decided... Fuck it! Why not? We're going to leave here one day anyway so why not make the most of it?"

"You love her?"

"I've known her for like two months," Ben replied, but he was nodding. "And yeah, I do."

There was a wave of silence that washed over the car. Ben didn't have anything else to add and Chris said nothing until they pulled up to the hotel. Neither moved, even after the car turned off and the light dimmed until the only glow was from a streetlamp nearby.

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Chris said suddenly.

"You're not?" Ben asked.

"Does she know about who we really are? About the investigation?"

"No! Of course not."

"Then I won't say anything. But, Ben you have to be careful. This whole thing could go bad really quickly and I need your head in this a hundred percent. You can date whoever you want to, that's not my place to tell you what to do. But, we're here for the people of Pawnee first and foremost, and there are more people in this town than just Leslie Knope."

"I know," Ben replied. Chris started to shift and Ben followed suit, exiting the car after him. "I know," he said again once they were walking to the lobby door. "And I'll make sure I'm ready for everything. I just… need this, Chris. I haven't felt like this in a long time. Hell, I don't think I've ever felt like this before."

Chris smiled, his charming characteristic grin suiting his face much better than the tired aggravated look he sported most of the ride back to the hotel. He placed a friendly hand on Ben's shoulder. "I'm glad. You deserve to find happiness, Ben. You have a great and exciting job, but that doesn't do it for everyone. I'm glad this town has been good to you."

"Yeah," he agreed as they walked down the hallway. "Me too."

They parted at the door to their rooms with plans to meet in the morning. After changing and washing up, Ben fell into bed and was asleep almost instantly. He dreamed of kissing Leslie all night long.

 

Chapter Text

Two months later, Leslie got her first threat in the mail. It was an unsigned, unstamped letter that had appeared in the daily stack the mailman brought over. All it said was "Drop out or else." It was such a silly note that Leslie wasn't even going to tell anyone about it until Ben dropped by and saw the strange letter on her desk. When he read it, his face went white and he took it to Chris so it could be tested for any illicit substances. He didn't remember the reason he gave to Leslie for passing it to Chris, but it didn't matter too much because she thought he was overreacting anyway.

"It was probably just some kid," she said, lounging back in her chair when Ben returned to the office. He was glad she was relaxed about this, but a little agitated that she didn't seem to care much.

"We don't know that," he replied. "It could be a real threat."

"It was probably just a prank, Ben," she replied with a frown. "School's out, kids are bored, and there aren't a lot of activities happening right now."

"Just be vigilant," Ben said and she placated him with a nod.

A month after that, Chris and Ben received word that they had a warrant for a warehouse on the other side of town. It was a warm, yet rainy night and they had a full team for backup. It was believed that there was evidence in the building of both their drug front and plans to harm other candidates for city council. If they could gather the right information, they would likely be able to move on to either the Sweetums factory or the Estate itself.

The agents burst through the door with Chris shouting, "On the floor! Hands up!" The room was populated with about five burly guys who were measuring and weighing what looked to be cocaine. All did as they were told, much to Ben's relief. He had no intention of getting shot again.

While Chris and part of the team worked on handcuffing and reading rights to the people in the room, Ben took the other agents around the warehouse to investigate each room. First, they checked to make sure there was no one else hiding and then they went back to survey each room.

Ben went through the files in a cabinet in one of the offices. Most of them were either blank or obviously fake, but they were mixed in with orders and invoices for different drugs and substances. One caught his eye and he grabbed it right out of the cabinet. The tab said, "Nightshade" and inside was a handwritten note on how to acquire the poison.

Ben's blood boiled. Also inside the file were new hire papers for the cafeteria in the Pawnee City Hall and instructions on how to apply the poison to different drinks and foods. There was nothing else there, but Ben knew this was the blueprint for the plan to poison Leslie.

He had the team get all the files so they could be sorted at a field office and left the warehouse. He took the walk to try and calm himself down, though he still couldn't look at the squad cars that held the captured men. Anger flushed through him and he struggled to contain it before he lashed out.

"Hey." Chris appeared behind him and placed a hand on Ben's shoulder. He could see when his colleague exited the building that something was wrong. Ben walked right past him and he saw the rage written on his face. "What did you find?"

"Plans," Ben bit out. "To poison Leslie. I couldn't go look through anything else or I'd be there all night. I had the others box the files up."

Chris nodded solemnly, understanding that Ben would be fired up after discovering something like that. "If we can use it, we will. And with all of this information, we'll be ahead of whatever else they're planning." Ben just nodded and glanced back at the warehouse. He wanted to go through the files himself and then take down those goons with his bare hands.

"Let's get going," Chris said, his hand squeezing Ben's shoulder more firmly as he steered him towards the car they came in.

For the next few weeks, Ben spent most of his free time going through the files they had found. While he claimed he was looking at the whole case, he really just scoured the documents that had to do with the campaign itself. He wanted to know every detail they had on Leslie so he could better protect her.

There wasn't much and Ben was both grateful as well as aggravated. He had the documents on the poisoning as well as a few notes about her campaign, but there wasn't a lot of detail about her specifically. It seemed that they were banking on an easy win for Bobby Newport.

Above all, Ben just wanted life to go back to normal for everyone, including himself. But, he reminded himself, as soon as this investigation was over, he'd be back in DC and miles away from Leslie and Pawnee. As much as he liked to think about the end of this mission and the downfall of the Newport's, he dreaded the day he would have to leave. Though, he reminded himself ruefully, Leslie may not want to see him again after learning he had lied to her all this time.

Ben was sitting in his hotel room going over these documents for what felt like the millionth time when there was a knock at the door. He knew Chris was out for a run, so he quickly packed away as many of the papers as he could before hurrying to the hotel room door. When he opened it, he found Leslie standing there with a determined look on her face.

"We're going on a date," she declared as she pushed her way into the hotel room. She walked straight to the hotel room dresser and got out a pair of jeans and a button-up for Ben. "Here," she threw the clothes which Ben bewilderedly caught.

"What?" he asked. "Les, I'm a little busy tonight."

"I've been texting you for hours and we haven't gone out in weeks," Leslie said.

"We went to JJ's last week!"

"Yeah, to talk about the campaign. But we haven't been on a real date in what feels like forever. All we've been doing is campaigning."

"That's because you have an election in two months," Ben replied.

"I also have a boyfriend I haven't been on a date with in two months and I think it's about time we went and did something," she said.

"What if someone sees us?"

"There's a huge party at the Snakehole tonight and we're going to a different bar," Leslie answered with a smirk. She thought of everything. "Come on, it will be fun. Whatever you're working on can wait, can't it?"

Ben hesitated. Technically what he was working on had everything to do with keeping her and others safe, so it really couldn't wait. Then again, he had been going over the same documents for weeks, so there probably wasn't a lot left to figure out. Leslie continued to look at him expectantly, her arms folded across her chest. Somehow, she managed to look both adorable and slightly scary.

"Alright, fine," he sighed, going into the bathroom to change. He heard Leslie squeal in delight and he couldn't help but smile to himself. He had locked himself away for the better part of a month. Leslie deserved a night out with the guy she was supposed to be dating. And, he deserved a night of normalcy.

The second he left the bathroom, Leslie launched herself at him and planted a large kiss on his lips. He tilted back, but scooped her up by the waist and kissed her back happily. He was glad to get the papers out of his mind and Leslie did a great job of making him focus only on her. "There we go," she said as she pulled away from him. "Now you're ready for a date."

It took them twenty minutes to get to the restaurant and Ben was glad to find it crowded with people he didn't recognize. Leslie looked beautiful under the dim lighting and she radiated happiness as they talked.

"So, what are we going to do when you go back to Indianapolis?" Leslie asked suddenly. They had just finished their meals, but their empty plates still sat on the table and both sipped their drinks of choice.

"Back to where?" Ben asked absentmindedly.

"Home. Back to where you live?" Leslie replied raising an eyebrow.

"Oh! Right," Ben shook his head as if trying to rid himself of the fog a full meal put him under. "I don't know, Les, I figured we can just see what happens when we get there. Are you worried?"

Leslie shrugged. "A little. I don't know." She looked away from him. "It's stupid. I feel like I know you, but I don't really know you, you know? Does that make sense? That probably doesn't make a lot of sense." Ben gave her a blank look. "I just feel like we've been together for, what? Three months? Four? But we didn't go on a date for two months and I just feel like I don't really know you the way I wish I did."

Ben nodded slowly, understanding what she was talking about but not wanting to say much about it. "There's a lot going on," he finally replied. "After it all calms down, I promise, I'll make sure you have no more questions about me."

Leslie smiled a little at that and took another sip of her beer. "I hope so. I just want things to quiet down a little." She paused and set her bottle down. "Where do you live in Indianapolis?"

"What?" Ben asked, hesitating and trying to buy time to think. He'd never been to that city in his life and had no idea where things were. "Why do you want to know?"

Leslie's face reverted to the frown she sported before. "Because I could go visit you. You know, when you go back. Oh! We could take a weekend trip. Just you and me, just say we're going out of town. You're visiting home and I could make up some conference to go to."

"I don't have a place there," Ben blurted out. Leslie shot him a confused look and he knew he would have to figure out some explanation. "Since I move so much. My bosses just find me housing depending on where I am."

"But you said you were from there. You must have a place you rent? Where is all your stuff?" Leslie asked.

"I have it with me. Don't have much stuff."

Leslie leaned back in her seat and grabbed her bottle to take another sip. She leveled a gaze at Ben that he couldn't quite read, but he was pretty certain it wasn't a positive look. "This is what I mean," she said sadly. "You're not telling me something."

Ben sighed. "I'm a private person, I guess. I'm sorry Leslie, I'm working on it." At least that wasn't a total lie. He was private even without the nature of his job. "Can I buy you dessert?" he asked, hoping to get her mind off of all the things he couldn't tell her. She just shook her head.

"Nah. I think I'm ready to go home."

Those few words crushed Ben, but he just nodded, dropping his gaze from Leslie to the table. They sat in silence until the server cleared their table. Ben paid the bill and Leslie passed him twenty dollars. He almost refused it but didn't want to get into that.

They walked out to the car and he drove Leslie home. Once in her driveway, he stopped the car but neither made a move to get out.

"I'm sorry," Ben said, staring straight ahead at her garage. Leslie looked down at her lap.

"Why don't you trust me?" she asked.

"It's not that I don't trust you," he replied. "It's just… I don't know. This is very different for me."

Leslie turned in her seat to face him, her face as serious as he'd ever seen it. "I like you a lot, Ben," she told him. "But I need to know you trust me. This isn't going to work if you can't tell me about yourself. You act like everything is top secret!"

"I know," Ben replied, not having anything else to say. He wished more than anything he could be honest with her, but that would put both her safety and his job at risk. He had to choose between his job and Leslie, and right now his job was the only thing that could keep her safe. He just wished he could tell her that.

"Leslie, there's a lot of things I wish I could tell you, but I can't," he found himself telling her. "Things that could be dangerous for the both of us. You have no idea how much I want to be open and honest with you but I just can't."

"I don't understand," she responded, digging her hand into the leather seat. "What could be so dangerous as an auditor?"

"There are other things." Ben groaned and leaned back against his own seat. This was beyond frustrating and Leslie didn't deserve any of this. He was so sick of living this lie and a reckless part of him just wanted to get it over with and tell Leslie as much as possible. That reckless side of him won over. "Let me walk you inside," he continued. "I'll tell you as much as I can. I promise. No holding back."

Leslie looked hesitant, but she nodded and reached for the passenger's side door handle. Ben exited the car and walked around to wrap Leslie in a hug. She returned it, but not with her usual enthusiasm.

"I'll make some hot chocolate when we get inside," she suggested.

They began their short walk from the driveway to the walkway. It shouldn't have taken them more than a minute at most, but Ben stopped short when he thought he heard a noise. Leslie heard it too and stopped with him.

"Probably just a raccoon," she suggested. "We have a lot of those here. It's warm enough now that they don't have to live in the high school."

"No," Ben whispered. "It wasn't a raccoon." He couldn't say he appreciated the Pawnee wildlife, but he'd gotten used to the sound of them running around outside his hotel room. What they heard was definitely not an animal.

Just as they were about to continue walking, a dark blur passed before Ben's eyes. Leslie screamed and she was suddenly gone from his side. His firearm was out in that minute, a small handgun that he was able to easily conceal under his shirts.

"Leslie!" He shouted, looking around in the dark. He backed up which triggered Leslie's porch light and finally, he could see her being held back by one of the Newport's hired men. Another was behind him.

"Ben! Help!" Leslie called before the burly man pressed a hand to her mouth.

"Let her go," Ben shouted angrily as he leveled his weapon at the men. Leslie's eyes went wide when she realized what he was carrying.

"Wouldn't that be nice, huh, Agent Wyatt?" asked the second man who also had his own gun drawn. "But that won't be happening."

"It sure as hell will be, or you'll be sorry!" Ben replied. Both hands were holding his gun and both index fingers were on the trigger, but carefully he used his thumb to move down his wrist and turn on his smartwatch. He'd done this a few times before and he knew that when he called Chris and muted him, his partner would know what to do. With the darkness of the night to shield him, the men holding Leslie had no idea what he'd just done.

"What do you want?" Ben shouted when he realized neither were backing down.

"We want your girlfriend to drop out of this council race. And we want you to get your ass back to DC and leave this town alone."

"That's not going to happen," Ben replied. "Now let her go."

"If you won't agree to our terms, we're going to have to take her with us," said the one holding onto Leslie. "Just until this whole race is over." He started to pull her back and she struggled, but the man was far too big and much stronger than she was. Ben had no idea where they were going to take her, but he wasn't about to let that happen.

"Stop!" He called, rushing forward. The second man, a noticeably shorter and younger looking gent whirled around and yelled something about not coming any closer, but Ben hardly noticed. He was too focused on getting Leslie back.

Screeching tires filled the neighborhood followed by shouting. Everything seemed to be happening in a vacuum because Ben could only hear Leslie's shouts and struggling noises. Everything else was just filler in the background.

More shouting, more screeching tires, the slamming of car doors. Flashlights perched on guns filled the yard and illuminated the scene. Chris was there, running up behind and shouting while other agents moved in closer. The noise was deafening.

Ben was almost there. He could see the glistening tears that stained Leslie's face as she tried to get away. He was so focused on Leslie that he didn't even notice the second man anymore.

Amongst the noise, there was a gunshot. Ben barely registered it. He blinked and he was looking at the night sky. It was amazing how brightly the stars shone in a place like Pawnee. The city lights of DC were pretty in their own right, but Ben had never really had the chance to appreciate the beauty of the natural night sky.

Why was he on the ground? He heard Leslie's shouts, but they were fuzzy and far away. Everything sounded far away. Chris's face filled his vision, but it was blurry and it hurt his eyes to look at. He tried to push his colleague away, but he couldn't feel his arm or any part of himself.

"Call an ambulance now!" Ben heard Chris say as he started to return to earth. Everything was chaos. There was shouting and crying and Chris was pressing really hard on his chest. He felt no pain, just incredible pressure.

"Leslie," Ben started, but found the words heavy on his tongue. Chris shushed him, probably more harshly than he meant to because a guilty look crossed his face.

"I'm right here." The voice was like cold water in the hot desert. He looked up to see Leslie sitting over him, her fingers threaded through his hair. "Stay awake." Well, that would be easy enough, Ben figured. It hadn't been too late when they left the restaurant. However, the minute she mentioned the idea of sleep, Ben suddenly felt more tired than he ever had in his entire life. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, preferably with Leslie curled up next to him. Maybe he could convince Leslie to let him stay the night.

"Ben!" Chris shouted. He realized his eyes were closed and he popped them open. A look of relief washed over Chris's face. He didn't understand why he was on the ground or why they were standing over him looking so worried. All he could feel was exhaustion.

"Leslie," he mumbled again and he felt someone squeeze his hands.

"I'm right here, Ben. Stay with us alright?"

Sirens filled the air. Ben nodded, but his eyes slipped closed and he drifted into darkness, the shouts of his friends following far behind.

Chapter Text

The gunshot shattered the night and gave Leslie the chance to get away from the man who was pulling her back. He started yelling at the accomplice, but Leslie paid no attention to what they were saying. All she could focus on was Ben. Ben standing there. Ben rocking back. And then Ben lying on the cool grass.

There was blood, she would realize later, and lots of it, but it didn't register to her in the moment. She ran to Ben's side at the same time Chris got there and shouted at his friend. He called for an ambulance as Leslie knelt to the ground and looked worriedly into Ben's half-lidded eyes. He said her name and she responded quickly, trying not to allow him to expend precious energy right now.

Sirens wailed in the distance. Leslie told Ben to just stay awake a little longer, but his eyes closed. She and Chris both tried to get his eyes back open with their pleading shouts, but he wouldn't wake.

Paramedics flooded the scene and pulled Leslie back from Ben's side. In the blur of the moment, she fought them, but they managed to calm her down and take her off to the side so others could get to Ben. They talked to her and asked her questions, but the words didn't reach her ears. If she answered them, the words didn't register on her tongue. She was focused on watching the team get Ben onto a stretcher and take him to one of the waiting ambulances. As they boarded, she moved to follow, but a short brunette woman grabbed her arm.

"There's no room," she told her sadly. "But don't worry, they're going to take good care of him." Leslie just looked at her blankly, as though she spoke to her in another language entirely. The woman kept a firm, but not uncomfortable hold on Leslie's arm as she flagged down Chris who was talking with one of the men in bulletproof vests.

"Leslie Knope," Chris greeted in an unusually somber tone. He placed a hand on her shoulder and the paramedic wrapped a scratchy yellow blanket around her.

"I-" Leslie started, and then stopped. She had no words for what had just happened. It felt like everything was running at twice the normal speed and her brain was struggling to catch up. "Ben! We need to go to Ben."

"We will," Chris replied, leading her away to his car with two firm hands on her shoulder to guide her. "Can you tell me what happened before I got here?"

Leslie hesitated, suddenly forgetting how to say every word she knew. They got to the car and Chris helped her into the passenger's seat before he walked around to the other side. He turned the car on but didn't put it into drive. He was waiting for Leslie's answer.

"We went out," she finally told him. "He drove me home. There were these men and they grabbed me and Ben had a… A gun?" She didn't trust the image in her head of Ben's enraged face pointing a weapon at the man who held her. "He went after them, trying to get me free. And then there were all of these people…" She trailed off. The next event was the gunshot which she didn't want to think about or relive now. Instead, she turned to Chris and asked, "Is he going to be alright?"

Chris said nothing for a long moment while he put the car into drive. "I don't know," he replied as they pulled off the side of the street and started towards the hospital. "He was awake until the paramedics got to him. That's a good sign." To be fair, he didn't really know if that was the case, but he had to be positive, if not for himself, then definitely for Leslie.

Leslie was silent for a few minutes. She watched the streetlights pass her by as she struggled to feel normal in her own skin again. At the same time, she felt both heavy and as though she was floating. Maybe this was all a dream. She would like to wake up soon.

The hospital popped into view as Chris rounded a curve and Leslie knew in that moment this wasn't all a terrible dream. She felt the dried tears on her cheeks and the heavy scratchy blanket that was pulled around her arms. The cool car seat wrapped her in an uncomfortable hug, but she didn't want to get out quite yet. Stepping into the hospital would make all of this too real.

"We were dating," she whispered as they pulled into a parking spot.

"Were?" Chris asked.

"Are. I don't know. We had a fight or something. No yelling. Just a lot of serious talking. I don't know how it was going to end up." She looked at the man sitting next to her and realized he hadn't questioned their relationship. "You knew?" Chris nodded. "You never said anything? Isn't that against HR rules?"

"Ben is my best friend. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his career," Chris replied. "You make him happy. I've never seen him more relaxed than after he started dating you. I can't protect him if anyone else ever found out, but I certainly wasn't going to say anything."

Leslie looked down at her lap. "Thank you," she whispered. Chris reached over and pat her on the back kindly.

"Let's head inside."

When they got into the emergency room, Chris walked right up to the nurse's desk. Leslie hung back near a chair but didn't quite move to sit down in it. She just watched the hospital activity going on around her. Everyone seemed so calm, as though a man with a gunshot wound to the chest hadn't just come barreling through the doors. The office was reset for when Chris and Leslie came in.

"He's stable," Chris said as he came back into the waiting area where Leslie was standing. "He's in the OR."

"They told you that?" Leslie asked. It took forever just to get a room number out of the nurses when Andy was sick during flu season a few years back.

"I'm his emergency contact," Chris lied. Truthfully, he had just shown his badge and gave his ID number. They looked it up and told him everything he needed to know. He also let them know that Leslie was a very special friend and should be told as much as possible about Ben's condition.

"They're also sending out a nurse for you," he continued. Leslie looked confused.

"Why?" she asked. Chris moved forward and parted the blanket she still clung to. She followed his gaze to her upper right arm, which was bleeding lightly and had a few other red scratches. "I didn't even notice."

"You're in shock," Chris explained. "I think you're starting to come out of it. You're going to feel like hell soon, so I thought you could use a checkup."

Leslie opened her mouth to protest. She didn't feel like she needed anyone to look her over when they could be helping Ben. Before she could get a word out, Ann rounded the corner and all but ran to her friend.

"Leslie! Oh my God!" she said in a breathy whisper as she wrapped her friend up in a huge hug. Leslie finally relaxed to the touch and put her hands on Ann's upper back, pulling her friend as close as humanly possible. Her muscles screamed and ached now that she was finally relaxing, but she didn't care. She was just so happy to see Ann.

"You're alright," Ann told her. "Thank God, you're alright."

"How's Ben?" Leslie asked. "Do you know?" Ann shook her head as she pulled out of the hug, but kept both her hands on Leslie's arms.

"No, I don't. I'm not working the OR tonight. I didn't even see him come in." She moved a hand to Leslie's back. "Come on, let's check you over and then I'll wait right here with you until more news comes in."

"Your shift-" Leslie started as they walked towards the back offices.

"Is over," Ann finished. "Was over. About a half hour ago, actually, but then I heard we had a gunshot victim and they had everyone stay in case they needed more hands. And then when I saw who it was, well, I knew you would be in shortly." They walked into a room and Ann shut the door.

"Everything hurts," Leslie said, sitting on the table with the crinkly paper.

"I know," Ann said as she gently removed the blanket from Leslie's shoulders and started putting disinfectant on the scrapes and scratches that littered her arms. The solution stung and Leslie flinched, but aside from the initial bite, she held herself still. "You're going to ache for a while. You probably tensed up when everything happened and now you're finally starting to relax a little. That's not going to feel too great."

Leslie just nodded, uncharacteristically quiet. When Ann was done, she sat up next to Leslie and pulled her into another long hug. Leslie laid her head on Ann's shoulders and for the first time that night actually started to cry. Her tears had spilled when Ben was first shot, but she didn't even register it then. Now she just felt anguish. Ann wrapped her arms around her friend and stroked her hair quietly, allowing her friend the moment she needed.


 

"We managed to remove the bullet and close the wound." An older doctor with a clipboard stood before Leslie, Chris, and Ann in the waiting room. "He was lucky, really. One more inch to the left and it would have pierced his heart."

"Is he going to be okay?" Leslie asked. It was the only question on her mind since the doctor confirmed that Ben was alive.

"He's in serious condition, but he's doing well as far as we can tell," he replied. "You're welcome to go and visit, but I can't promise he'll be awake tonight or even tomorrow. While he got lucky, this is no small issue and it's going to take a while to recover. He lost a lot of blood and he was already recovering from another wound. This will take a toll."

Leslie looked confused at the mention of another wound but said nothing. She was too focused on being led to Ben's hospital room. She walked the long halls, trailed by Ann and Chris who let her take the lead.

The nurse opened the door to Ben's room and Leslie took a step inside. It looked nearly identical to the room she stayed in when she had food poisoning, but it was filled with far more machines and beeping. The lights were dimmed since it was late and moonlight struggled to poke into the room at all.

There was just enough light for Leslie to make out every inch of Ben's sleeping form. Wires ran all over him, from the backs of his hands to the tubes under his nose. His lips were slightly parted as he breathed softly, his chest rising and falling in a rhythm acceptable to the many machines he was connected to. Leslie also noted just how pale he appeared and deep purple bags lined his eyes. He wore a hospital gown, but Leslie could see just the top part of bandages she assumed covered the wound in his chest. A blanket was pulled up just under his chest and one hand gripped it gently, while the other rested at his side.

"Is he in pain?" Leslie asked, whispering to the nurse who had brought her to the room.

"No," the older woman replied. "He shouldn't be at least. I'm sure he'll feel it soon, but for now, he should be resting as comfortably as he can given the circumstances."

That made Leslie smile a little and the nurse left so that she, Ann, and Chris could make their way into the room. Chris immediately offered her the chair by the bed and she accepted while Ann lingered behind her. Chris stood to the other side of the bed, looking at the machines as if he knew what they all meant. Leslie reached over and slipped her fingers into the hand that rested by his side.

They stayed there for a long while, just watching Ben sleep peacefully. Finally, Ann reached over and squeezed Leslie's shoulder. "You need to go home and sleep. You've been through a lot tonight." Leslie looked at her in shock, as though that was the most ridiculous suggestion she had ever heard before in her life. "It's two in the morning, Leslie," Ann frowned. "You're not doing anyone any good just sitting here. Ben's doing just fine. Now you need to take care of yourself."

"She's right," Chris chimed in. "Go get a few hours and come back in the morning. There will be a few people here who will want to talk to you about tonight."

Leslie glanced at Chris and Ann, as though one would relent and let her stay, but neither did. "Fine," she sighed, looking back at Ben.

"How about you come crash at my place?" Ann suggested. "I'll take you back here first thing in the morning."

Leslie liked that idea a lot better than going home to her empty house and waiting for it to finally be light outside. Ann also felt better because then she could be sure Leslie got some sleep.

The two women stood and Leslie bent over to place a kiss on Ben's forehead. She lingered over him for a minute, watching as he slept somewhat peacefully. His brows were furrowed and she could see deep stress lines, but he didn't seem to be wincing.

She wished Ben was awake so he could explain the many questions she had that constantly ran through her mind. Who were those men? Why did he have a gun? Did someone call him an agent? She wanted to try to piece everything together, but she was far too exhausted to even pursue some basic questions.

Leslie looked over at Chris. "I don't understand everything that happened tonight," she told him. "I don't really know where to begin honestly. But I have a lot of questions and I know you have the answers."

"I know," he replied, not even bothering to hide that there was something more going on. "But I think these are things you should hear from Ben when he wakes up. Plus, it's late. Get some sleep, be patient."

"Can I ask you just one thing?" Leslie asked though Ann tugged on her arm. Chris nodded slowly, a little hesitant to indulge out of fear it would spiral into an hours-long conversation.

"Ben has always been really private," Leslie started. "And I know there's something, well, probably a lot of things he's been hiding from me. But as far as you know, was all of this, was us, our relationship… was it real? Or just part of whatever you guys are doing here?"

Chris couldn't help but allow himself to smile at her question. "If there's any part of this whole thing that's real," he replied, "It's your relationship. I've never seen Ben happier than when he comes back from seeing you. We've been partners for a long time, Leslie Knope, and you're the first person who's ever made such an impact on him."

She smiled back at him and opened her mouth to ask more questions, but Ann was already steering her out of the room. She looked back at Ben one more time and watched as Chris sat next to him in her place. At least, she figured, he wouldn't be alone in the cold hospital.

Chapter Text

Although both Leslie and Ann expected not to sleep much that night, Leslie was out like a light the second her head hit Ann's couch. All the adrenaline, shock, and energy of the night had been pulled off the minute she sat in Ann's car. It took the last remaining amount of motivation she had to get herself out of the car once they reached Ann's house. In fact, for the first time that Leslie was not sick, she slept past six.

It was almost ten thirty when Leslie started to come back to reality and boy did it hurt! She groaned as she slowly awakened, her muscles aching more than they ever had before. It was as though she had taken a literal beating the night before.

"Leslie?" Ann appeared over the back of the couch and looked down at her friend who seemed to be clinging to the last few moments of sleep.

"Ann, I'm dying." Her friend couldn't help but smile. If Leslie was being dramatic, that meant she was getting back to her normal self.

"I'll grab some Advil," she said as she stepped back towards the bathroom. "Also, I made waffles for breakfast!" Leslie's favorite, she knew, with the hope that it would get the woman to pause for a moment to eat before rushing back to the hospital.

"Waffles?" Leslie's head popped up above the back of the couch, though she winced as her body protested the sudden movement. Thankfully, Ann returned with pills and water which Leslie gladly took.

Leslie all but inhaled her waffles and then dragged Ann out of the house to go back to the hospital. She wanted to be there when Ben woke up and, though she was glad she had gotten the sleep she needed, she hated being so far away.

When they got to the hospital room, Ben was still asleep and Leslie parked herself on the chair by the bed. Chris wasn't there, likely having gone home to rest and shower. Ann left after an hour so she would go home and get ready for her shift later that day.

Leslie sat there next to Ben's bed, her hand wrapped up in his as she watched nurses and doctors filter in and out. She was half expecting one of them to ask who she was or tell her she needed to go home. She didn't even know when visiting hours actually were. But, some paid her no mind while others chatted with her as if she was supposed to be there, and she wasn't going to question it.

Towards the late afternoon, Leslie diverted her gaze to the muted television that was on in the corner of the room. Nothing of interest was on, but it was something to watch during a period where the nurses were attending to other patients and Ann was busy with her own work. She had a cup of coffee filled to the brim with mocha, whipped cream, and sugar as well as a half-eaten sandwich from the hospital cafeteria. She was prepared to camp out for as long as it took for Ben to wake.


 

Pain was the first thing Ben registered. It was of a dull and throbbing nature but it was pain all the same. Then came the memories. The gunshot, the fall, watching the night stars while his friends shouted around him. In those moments he had no idea he had been shot or why Chris and Leslie begged him to stay awake.

Then, he remembered opening his eyes to pure agony while riding in what he assumed was an ambulance. Paramedics shouted back and forth while the vehicle barreled down the streets of Pawnee.

He opened his eyes once again to a brief view of the night sky before his stretcher and a team of medical professionals burst through hospital doors. He couldn't bring himself to look ahead or to the sides, so he just watched the white tiled walls go by until they reached a sterile smelling room. People popped in and out of his blurry vision until someone placed a mask over him and he drifted back into the warm embrace of nothingness.

Now that embrace was rejecting him and pushing him back to the cold world full of that damned pain. He tried to go back, begged to return to the comforting dark, but he found himself floating in limbo. At least, he realized, whatever he was laying on was soft and warm. He gently thumbed at the blanket he felt on top of him.

"Ben?"

Leslie. Wherever he was, Leslie was there too. That was reason enough for him to want to wake again. Even if he was in pain, if he could just lay eyes on her it would all be worth it. He felt her squeeze his other hand and he parted his lips in an attempt to speak to her, but nothing came out. Instead, he just sighed and struggled to make his eyes open.

"Hey, I'm right here. Please wake up." Her voice was tight. He wanted to oblige her more than anything. Slowly, he was able to open his heavy eyelids and, though his vision was blurry, he saw Leslie there next to him. She wore a worried expression that transformed into one of relief and delight when she finally saw his brown eyes once more.

"Les," he breathed, unable to say her full name. He blinked, finding it a little easier to keep his eyes open now. His whole body felt like one giant weight. He worried he would fall right through the bed at any moment. Exhaustion flowed through him, but now that he knew Leslie was there, he refused to allow himself to go back to sleep.

"Hi," was all Leslie could bring herself to say as tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill onto her cheeks. She impatiently wiped them away, though a few lingered despite her best efforts. "You're awake."

"How long?" Ben asked, thankful he was able to string those two words together. Talking took more energy than it ever had before, far more than just keeping his eyes on Leslie.

"A day," she replied. "Almost a full day. It's about six in the evening."

"'m sorry," he mumbled, taking a moment to close his eyes and just breathe before he looked back at Leslie's frustrated face.

"No," she said firmly. "Please don't be. Just… we can talk about all of that later. For right now just focus on getting better." Ben just nodded, not wanting to argue with her. She offered him a tiny smile and leaned down to gently press her lips to his. Ben relaxed into the gentle kiss and felt his whole body relax at the gesture. Leslie stood back up and brushed back some of Ben's hair.

"I should go get a doctor," Leslie said, taking a step back. He just nodded as she paged a nurse and had them send for the doctor who was working with Ben. He came in and did a full checkup, checked all of Ben's vitals, and talked briefly about what recovery would look like, though none of it really registered with him. He was exhausted and figured this was all information that he couldn't really do anything to affect, so he could figure it out later.

"You should get some more rest," Leslie said, sitting down in the chair when the doctor had left. "I'll be right here, I promise. Ann's probably going to make me leave at some point, but I'll be here tomorrow too, and the day after that."

He smiled at the thought of it and his eyes slipped closed. Leslie felt his hand slip from hers and she knew he was back asleep. This time, though, he would be sleeping much more peacefully.


 

Chris stopped by that night, just a half hour or so after Ben had fallen back asleep. Ann made Leslie leave at eight when her own shift was up and Leslie went home to her own bed. She was up at six, as usual, and made a quick breakfast before driving herself back to the hospital.

Ben slept through the night and into the late morning. He awoke just before noon to find Leslie right where she said she would be. After checkups, tests, and more information he would soon forget from the doctors, he was back and alone with her in the hospital room. He was still exhausted, as evidenced by his half-open eyelids which threatened to slip closed at any time, but Leslie's voice going on about the most mundane things kept him awake. He didn't want to stop hearing her voice any time soon.

He also knew he would have a lot of explaining to do and, though Leslie was conscious of his condition, she made quick time in getting to those questions.

"Ben," she said suddenly after finishing the lunch Ann had brought for her. "What happened that night? Why did those men come to get me?"

Ben sighed and looked up at the ceiling, as though the right answers would be written there for him to rattle off. "It's complicated," he replied. Leslie frowned at his response so he added, "I'll tell you. But it's complicated."

She nodded. "Are you a state auditor?"

Ben shook his head. "No."

"What are you, then?"

He hesitated, then replied, "I'm an FBI field agent from Washington DC."

Another question was already on Leslie's lips ready to go, but his answer shocked her, she lost it immediately. "What?" Ben just nodded. "So… So you're not really here to help our budget crisis?"

"No. Chris and I were sent here on a mission." All these questions exhausted him, but he felt he owed real answers to Leslie, given what they had all been through.

"What kind of mission?" Leslie asked, feeling as though she was floating. This was a surreal conversation and she couldn't believe she was having it.

Ben hesitated. He wasn't sure he could discuss that, not to mention he was far too tired to go into all of that. He still felt like he could instantly fall asleep at any moment. The drugs he was being given did a great job of easing his pain, but a terrible job of making him want to stay awake.

"The campaign," he told her, turning to face her once again. Leslie didn't understand, but she could see that Ben wasn't able to go into the long explanation it would probably take to grasp the issue.

"So, that's why you wanted to be my campaign manager? And why you wanted to be my friend and-" she asked, but Ben immediately shook his head.

"Leslie, I've had to hide a lot of things from you," he told her, "And I still might." He reached out shakily and Leslie met him halfway with her hand. "But my being with you has nothing to do with why I'm in Pawnee. I…" He trailed off, stopping himself from continuing, but he knew he wanted to finish his thought. Swallowing thickly, he continued, "I love you, Leslie Knope. And I also like you very much and I'm honored to be your friend. And that is the truest thing I have ever said."

Leslie listened to every word he said and broke into a bashful smile when he finished. She stood and leaned over the bed, kissing Ben and wrapping her arms around him as much as she could. He returned her half-hug by placing a hand on her back and rubbing circles between her shoulder blades.

"I love you and I like you too," she whispered back to him, planting one more kiss on his cheek. She stood, still caressing the side of his face with her palm and he leaned into the touch gratefully.

"I have so many questions. And so many things I want to say," she told him.

"I know," he replied, looking up at her.

"But you need sleep and you need to get better. And by then I'll have a few lists." She smirked and Ben rolled his eyes, but he was grateful she would let him rest for now. "I can't believe it. You really work for the FBI?"

"Sure do." He looked over at his pants which were neatly folded on the other side of the room. The shirt had been thrown out because of the bullet hole, but the jeans were in perfectly fine shape, minus some grass stains. "Go check my wallet."

Leslie walked over to the jeans and fished out Ben's wallet from the back pocket. Sure enough, a badge was there, gleaming with the golden words "Federal Bureau of Investigation - United States of America."

"Woah," Leslie breathed, weighing it in her palm.

"It's pretty cool," Ben admitted, amused by her amazement.

"And you get to live in DC! Have you ever met Obama?" she asked and Ben just laughed at that notion.

"I'm a field agent, not the guy in charge," he replied. "Once he addressed a huge room full of us, but I was in the back and he left pretty soon after."

"That's still so cool!" Leslie remarked as she stuffed the badge and wallet back into his pant pocket. She turned back to him and walked back next to his bedside. "Ben? Thank you. You saved my life."

Ben just smiled and closed his eyes. "I don't know what I'd do in a world without you anyway," he told her. She wrapped her fingers up with his and his breathing fell into even puffs until he was fast asleep once more.

Chapter Text

"You're being taken out of the field." Chris stood at the end of Ben's hospital bed with his phone in hand. It had been three days since Ben woke up and, though some of the painkillers kept him drowsy, he was able to stay awake the whole day with just a short nap in the afternoon. The doctors were impressed with his recovery and had him slated to "go home" that day, though the idea of returning to the cold impersonal hotel made him almost wish he could stay in the hospital longer.

Now, though, he was faced with the possibility of being shipped back to DC. He squeezed the blanket in his hands as he paled at the thought. "You're not serious," was all he could think to say.

"You were just shot in the chest," Chris reasoned. "And you're still in recovery. They don't want you on the ground anymore. Too risky." At Ben's indigent look, Chris added, "And I agree."

"What does this mean for me, then?" he asked, loosening his grip on the sheets. "Am I being sent back to Washington?"

At his question, a lopsided grin crossed Chris's face and Ben instantly knew he had done something. "You'll be staying here," his partner replied. "I suggested that it would be better if you didn't travel and that you should stay close to doctors who have treated both of your gunshot wounds. I also mentioned that, since you know about Leslie's campaign and the personal relationships of the townspeople, it would be critical you stay here. I wouldn't expect to be doing any more raids, though."

Ben grinned back at Chris. If he had the strength, he'd jump out of his bed and give him the biggest bro-hug of the century. For for now Ben's grateful, "Thank you" would have to suffice.

"You are going to have to answer to some questions," Chris warned, his smile turning into a serious frown. "And Director Barkley isn't going to go easy on you."

Ben leaned back against the pillows with a groan, not wanting to think about dealing with Jen. She would shoot him again herself for putting a mission this important in jeopardy by getting into a relationship with a townie.

"Wait," Ben's head shot up suddenly. "Do they know about Leslie and me?"

Chris shook his head. "They know you're good friends, and they can't fault you for living in a place for months and making nice with the people there. I also may have persuaded them that it's crucial you gain the trust of the other candidates so you can better protect them."

Ben smiled at his colleague and found himself laughing lightly. "You're the best. I really can't thank you enough for watching my back like this."

"It's what partners do." Chris reached over and dug into his briefcase that leaned against the wall. He took out a yellow folder full of papers and plopped it on Ben's legs. "Before you leave, you might want to get cracking on these reports. Jen wants them on her desk first thing tomorrow."

Ben reached over and grabbed the folder and started flipping through the drab lined questionnaires. "There's got to be fifty sheets in here." He picked out one and turned it over. "Double-sided!"

"Well, a serious gunshot wound, attempted kidnapping of a subject, and lengthy hospital stay tends to result in a lot of paperwork," Chris reasoned with a laugh. "Don't worry, Ben! I'm sure you'll do great!" And with that, he bid his partner goodbye and left the room.

Ben dramatically threw himself against his pillows with a long groan of frustration. He just wanted to get released and go, not work on all of these stupid redundant reports. After a good minute of wallowing in his misfortune, he picked himself up, grabbed a pen on his nightstand and got to work.


Ben got through about ten pages before he heard a knock at the door. Glancing up, he watched as Leslie made her way into the room and offered him a small wave. He smiled back at her and set aside the paperwork. So what if he didn't have this done today? What was Jen going to do, drive down from DC and kick his ass? Well, yes that was a possibility, but he would worry about that later.

"Hey," Leslie greeted as she crossed the room to her usual chair by his bedside. "How are you doing today? I heard they're sending you home."

"Back to the hotel," Ben corrected as Leslie sat.

"I thought you said you didn't really have a home though," Leslie replied, "That you moved around too much." Then it dawned on her. This was information Ben had shared with her before this whole thing happened and she couldn't be sure what was true and what was part of a coverup.

"I do have an apartment back in DC," Ben told her when he saw the realization on her face. "It's small, but I guess that's as close to home as it gets." Truth be told, while he loved living in the nation's capital, he hadn't done too much to make it feel like home. It was just where he lived and worked and spent most of his time.

"It must be nice living there," Leslie said as she leaned back in her chair. "I've always wanted to live there. Maybe one day when I'm a congresswoman or senator." A devilish look crossed her face. "Or president."

Ben couldn't help but laugh, though he knew how serious Leslie's intentions were. "It's a nice place to live," he agreed. "But it's big and impersonal. It's nothing like Pawnee."

"You like it here so much?" Leslie asked, her eyebrow raised. "Even better than the big city."

"I have to say getting shot has put me off a little," Ben joked. "But yes, it's a nice town. The people aren't half bad either."

Leslie was just about to respond when Ben's doctor walked in. "Alright, Mister Wyatt, you're about good to go. I just need to put down an address we can reach you at." He passed Ben a clipboard and Ben grabbed the pen on his nightstand.

"I'm just staying at the Old Pawnee Inn," he told the man. "Do you want my room number?"

The doctor didn't look too thrilled by Ben's question, but he merely shrugged. "If that's where you are going to be, then yes that would work," he replied. "It would be preferable, however, if you had someone to possibly stay with just to keep an eye on you the first week while you're continuing to heal."

"Well Chris is right down the hall," Ben said. "Other than that, I don't have an actual place here in Pawnee."

"You could stay with me," Leslie piped in suddenly. The doctor gave her an approving look while Ben appeared confused and then a little bashful.

"You don't have to do that, Leslie," he said.

"No, I have a guest room," she continued, feeling much more confident in her offer now. "Yeah, this would work out! It's a nice guest room and I know I have a nicer shower than whatever they have at that old hotel. Plus, I can make sure you get a better breakfast at my place too."

"I don't know, Leslie. That's asking a lot of you and I really don't want to impose."

"You wouldn't be imposing at all," she insisted as she reached over and grabbed the clipboard. "I can't let you go back to that old hotel all by yourself." She crossed off the beginnings of the Old Pawnee Inn's address and scribbled in her own. "There. It's happening now, for real." She passed the paper back to the doctor who just nodded approvingly.

"I'll have a nurse come with a wheelchair then. You're free to get changed and we'll wheel you back out to the world." With that, he left and Leslie followed to give Ben a chance to change. He shook his head as the door shut and he was left with a pair of jeans and a new shirt Chris had grabbed from his room. He didn't know how living with Leslie was going to go, but part of him was glad she had insisted.

Leslie came back not long after he was done changing followed by a nurse pushing a wheelchair. Had he not already experienced Saint Joseph's Hospital, he would have likely argued about having to be wheeled out. It was their policy to see their patients to the door this way. A part of him was a little grateful. They were discharging him because he was doing very well and they needed the bed, but he was still pretty tired. However, being tired wasn't reason enough to stay.

While Ben was getting into the chair and the nurse checked that he had everything he needed, Leslie went out to pull the car around. Silently, he was wheeled down the halls he was once rushed up. He hoped he would never have to experience these stark white walls and sharp sterile smell again.

The front doors opened and the warm late summer sunlight hit Ben like a breath of fresh air. He breathed in, for once grateful for the distinct smell of Pawnee. It was a beautiful smell now, filled with flowers and sunlight. He'd been in the hospital less than a week, but it felt like an eternity.

Leslie pulled up and Ben thanked the nurse before getting in the passenger's side. His leg muscles hurt from lack of use and he was glad he didn't have to walk too far before he was in Leslie's cool car.

"So we can swing by the hotel and grab your stuff," Leslie immediately began chatting away as she pulled out of the hospital parking lot. "And then we can head to my place. I'll make dinner." She paused and thought about that for a minute. "Well, I might just get takeout. But it will be good! And then we can marathon movies all night long! It will be like a sleepover! I'll make popcorn and maybe some cookies as well! What do you think? Any movie suggestions?"

"How about Star Wars?" Ben asked, amused, though he already knew he wouldn't be able to stay awake long enough for whatever she all-nighter she had planned.

"I don't think I have that," Leslie replied. "I can rent it!"

"Don't worry about it." Ben waved off the idea. "But I will get you to watch Star Wars with me eventually. It's a great series! One of the best of all time! I still can't believe you haven't seen it!"

Leslie just shrugged, but a contented smile graced her lips. As they drove through the bright town streets, she felt thankful that they were even able to have this conversation. That night last week could have turned out very differently. It was only now starting to sink in just how close she came to losing Ben.

They pulled into the hotel and Ben briefly left to gather a bag of his things. He ended up packing most of his stuff since he didn't travel with many personal items and didn't know how long he would be at Leslie's place. As he left his room, he glanced at the door to Chris's and he wondered how the rest of the investigation was going. What information had Chris gathered in his absence? Being taken out of the field meant he likely wouldn't have access to all the information he'd had before. Hopefully, Chris would keep him in the loop. After all, he was still part of this mission.

He got back in Leslie's car with a heavy huff and she stole a glance at him as she pulled away. "You okay?" she asked.

"Exhausted. I never realized how much energy it takes to walk around." Ben frowned. "It's frustrating."

"You'll be good as new in no time," Leslie replied confidently. "You're still healing, so you should take it easy." As she finished her sentence, she pulled into her driveway. Ben noted how normal it looked as if there hadn't been a serious injury and crime scene on this very yard not a week ago. However, as they exited the car, he noticed an overturned potted plant, its base cracked and broken. It was the only memorial to what happened that night. Perhaps that was for the best. He would much rather put the whole thing out of his mind.

Ben had been to Leslie's house before, but he hadn't been inside. When he did finally walk further than the front door, he raised his eyebrows at all the clutter in the home. It wasn't a dirty house at all, but the rooms were filled with boxes, papers, and all sorts of miscellaneous things that he couldn't recognize. He wasn't exactly surprised. Leslie was able to keep herself together, so there had to be some messy part of her life. She struck him as the type to be completely organized at work, but let a few things go in her own home.

"Sorry, I haven't had a chance to clean up," Leslie told him when she saw the look on his face. "It's not usually this bad, I swear!"

"As long as there's a bed somewhere upstairs, I don't care at all," Ben replied. If he could just fall into bed, he would be a very happy camper, regardless of what Leslie's dining room looked like.

"Well," Leslie smiled leading him up the stairs. "The guest room is right over here." She turned directly to the right at the top of the stairs and walked into her spare room. Stacks of notebooks and boxes lined the wall, but the room was clean and sunlight spilled in through the window at the far end of the room. Ben threw his duffle bag down by the dresser and hung up his nice suit and shirt while Leslie went to shut the blinds.

"I'm going to clear up downstairs and figure out what to order for dinner," she said as she crossed back to the doorway. "What are you in the mood for?"

Sleep was the answer Ben wanted to give, but he just shrugged. He didn't care what they ate or if they ate at all so long as he got in a good afternoon nap. Leslie pondered for a moment and then a bright grin stretched across her face. "I know! I'll have the local pizza place specially make us calzones for tonight. Sound good?"

Now that was an answer Ben could get behind. He was originally thinking about going straight to bed for the rest of the day, but this could actually get him up when the food was ready. "That sounds great," he told her, restraining himself from sounding too excited.

"Awesome!" Leslie then hesitated, as though she was waiting to ask him something else. He continued to stand there as she shifted from one foot onto the other before finally stepping back into the room. She crossed over to him, pushed herself up on her toes, and kissed Ben on the cheek. "Have a good nap!" she then said before exiting the room, shutting the door behind her.

Ben smiled at the gesture, but he didn't take too long to relish the feeling of Leslie's lips on his skin. It was only by a small miracle that he was able to even pull the blankets up over him. He was asleep the second his head touched the pillow.

 

Chapter Text

When Ben awoke to the soft tapping on the guest room door, he had to pause for a moment to remember where he was. As the light pink walls came into focus in the evening glow of the sunlight that managed to sneak past the blinds, he started to remember all that had happened that morning. It felt like he had slept for days, but it went by in such a short amount of time. He struggled with himself, wanting to cling to sleep once more but knew he needed to get up.

"Be there in a minute," he called out. He didn't really know what Leslie had said when she knocked on the door, but he assumed she was telling him dinner had arrived. No further response was given from her and he heard the pitter patter of her feet on the hardwood slowly fading as she walked down the stairs.

Reluctantly, he sat up in the bed, the sheets and blankets pooling by his knees. He rubbed at his face as if trying to rid himself of his sleepiness. When that didn't work, he just decided to get up and move to the other side of the room so he could open the blinds. Light immediately spilled into the room and Ben blinked as his eyes stung while adjusting to the change.

The room was so warm and friendly with the light filling in, something that Ben hadn't stopped to appreciate before he crashed earlier that afternoon. Just like Leslie, he thought. Inviting and comfortable. He was glad he didn't talk her out of letting him stay here.

He crossed to the door and opened it, really looking for the first time at Leslie's home. The hallway looked just as anyone's hall would, with pictures hanging from the walls. He turned and went down the stairs which led him right next to the kitchen. That was where Leslie was, bustling from counter to counter, grabbing plates and glasses. He could smell the tell-tale sign of pizza takeout and he felt his stomach rumble.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Leslie called to him from across the kitchen. She set down two plates and began to rustle in the plastic bag that held their dinner. "Did you have a nice nap?"

"I did, thanks," he replied with a smile as he walked over to help Leslie with whatever she needed. His legs still ached, but the nap did wonders for his energy. Now he was just focused on getting that calzone from the box to his mouth as quickly as possible.

"I'm all set," Leslie said, watching Ben linger awkwardly by the counter. "Go sit down and I'll be right there." For a moment, he hesitated, as though he was going to insist on helping, but he didn't actually know what he could help with. So, he did as he was told and walked over to the kitchen table. He pulled back one of the light wooden chairs and sat himself down, angling so he could watch as Leslie continued to move around the kitchen.

Finally, she came over with the plated calzones and then doubled back to grab two glasses of soda. Would Ben's doctor likely approve of such a first meal out of the hospital? Probably not, but Ben frankly didn't care. After a week of going between not feeling hungry at all to having to eat hospital food (which was probably one of the reasons he hadn't been hungry), this calzone was going to be heaven on earth.

"Thanks for this," he said, restraining himself just long enough to be polite. Leslie waved him off and then reached for her glass.

"It's nothing," she replied. "Besides, it's not like the hospital food was any good." She had her own experiences with the cafeteria at Saint Joseph's, and not just in this past week. She'd lived in Pawnee her whole life and been around for countless flu seasons, broken bones, babies, and much more. And every time she ended up in the hospital cafeteria, she hoped it would be the last.

They didn't speak much through dinner. Ben was famished and nearly inhaled the calzone. He'd finished his by the time Leslie was about halfway done with hers. If he hadn't been so hungry and didn't feel so content, he might have been embarrassed. Then again, Leslie was someone he felt very comfortable around. Though he realized as he watched Leslie cut her calzone and pop a piece on her mouth, he wasn't sure where they stood. Before the whole incident the previous week, they weren't exactly on great footing. Their date had been disastrous at best and even though Ben tried to tell her what he could in the hospital, he knew he would have to spend a large amount of time retracing the lies he had told her.

"Leslie?" he started and she looked up at him. "I'm sorry."

She frowned in response. "For what?" She looked at his empty plate and quickly said, "Oh don't worry. I know you were really hungry. I heard your stomach growling from across the room!"

"No, not for that. Just… for everything. For last week. For not being honest with you." He stood, waving down Leslie's move to clear his plate for him. "Part of it was trying to protect you, and part was trying to protect me and my job," he said as he crossed over to the sink. "But some of it was me not having any experience with this whole thing, and I'm sorry that I messed it up."

Leslie had turned in her seat to follow Ben as he walked his plate to the sink and turned the faucet on. She didn't say anything while he washed his plate off and stuck it in the dishwasher. When he turned around and leaned his back against the counter, she studied the serious look on his face and noted that he could not meet her eye.

"I understand," she finally replied. "It's not your fault. I didn't know then what you were going through or what your job really was. Now that I do, I get it."

"I still didn't treat you the way you deserve to be treated," Ben argued in a soft tone. Finally, he looked up and met her gaze. "I don't know if you want to date me anymore. If you don't, I get it. But I promise anything you ask me I'll answer as honestly as I possibly can. You at least deserve that after going this all of this."

Leslie offered him a kind smile as she stood, moving to where Ben was by the sink. Wordlessly, she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest gently, aware and respectful of the wound that was still healing. Ben didn't immediately know what to do, but after a moment's pause he returned the hug and rested his chin on Leslie's soft blonde hair. He missed her hugs, the real hugs. Not the bent over, kind of painful hospital hugs where he's sitting down and she's fumbling through the wires. The real hugs, the ones where she puts her whole self into making you feel the warmest you've ever been.

She pushed away and looked up at him, looking as serious as ever and said, "I love you and I like you." Stretching up on her toes, she planted a kiss on his lips that he gratefully returned. His shoulders relaxed, his chest dropped and he focused all of his energy on Leslie's inviting lips.

When they broke apart, he leaned down and kissed her head. "I love you and I like you," he said.

"Great," Leslie grinned as she stepped away and grabbed the rest of the dirty dishes. "Now, let's get to that movie marathon! I don't have Star Wars, but I do have Jurassic Park!"

"That'll work," Ben replied, matching her brilliant smile. He helped her finish cleaning up and then joined her on the couch to watch the movie. She grabbed a blanket and pulled it over them. He wrapped his arm around her and she rested her head against his shoulder. It was the most comfortable he'd been in weeks, perhaps ever. He never wanted to stop listening to the sound of her soft breathing.

The movie wasn't halfway over before Leslie felt Ben slack against her. His arm dropped further and his head leaned more heavily on hers. As he started to breathe more evenly, Leslie realized she was the only thing holding him up. He seemed comfortable enough, so she decided to finish out the movie and see if he would wake up by the end.

When the credits rolled, Leslie realized just how deeply asleep Ben was. There would be no waking him up, at least no way that would be kind. Her couch was comfortable enough, she figured. And if he woke up in the middle of the night, he could just walk back upstairs.

Gently, she untangled herself from him and slipped off the couch. She laid him down and pulled another blanket on top of him. She had seen him sleep more times in the past week than she had ever watched anyone sleep before, but she knew right away that this was by far the deepest and most peaceful rest he had in a long time. His mouth was parted open, but his facial features were relaxed. There were no deep stress lines and his eyes were tightly closed as he maneuvered through waves of pain. Instead, he just looked content. For the first time, Leslie truly noted the dark purple bags under his eyes and she hoped those would be gone after a few nights of sleep. She remembered being in the hospital and struggling to stay asleep for long due to all the noise and activity around her. She assumed it was similar for Ben.

Leslie leaned down and planted a kiss on his lips before turning off the light on the end table next to the couch. Darkness quickly filled the room and Leslie could only just make out Ben's sleeping form by the porch light just outside the window. She walked over to the front door to switch that light off and then paused in the entranceway of the living room as she made her way towards the stairs. Ben was still asleep, and he was still alive. And Leslie was beyond grateful for both.


Ben awoke to the feeling of leather and dampness. Coming to was a serious task now, as it had been for the past week. Every time sleep released him, he struggled with wanting to run right back into its embrace. This time, however, he was curious. This did not feel like the soft bed he had napped in. Come to think of it, past dinner, he had few memories of the night and didn't know when he had decided to go to bed.

Upon opening his eyes, he found himself staring at the dark back of the couch. Oh, well that made sense. Leslie's couch was not necessarily uncomfortable, but it did feel like a couch, so his back and side ached just a little. The wound on his chest also ached, which was pretty normal lately. He was probably due for another dose of whatever the doctor had prescribed him.

"Good morning!" sang Leslie in a voice far too chipper for early morning. She must have heard him moving around as he let go of that last little piece of sleep.

He mumbled something that hopefully sounded like a good morning and rolled over onto his back. He looked up at Leslie's ceiling and then glanced over to where she was heading over from the kitchen.

Early morning sunlight streaked through the house and yet somehow, Leslie was wide awake with her work clothes on, hair done, and makeup looking as great as it usually did. She grinned from ear to ear as she approached with a bowl of cereal and Ben's medicine.

"I hope you don't mind," she started as she set the bowl down on the coffee table and handed Ben his pill bottle. "I had to get into your bag to fish these out, but I promise I didn't, like, go through everything."

"No, that's fine. Thank you," Ben said as he sat up and took the bottle. He popped out two tablets and used a bite of cereal to wash them down. "I guess I kind of passed out last night, huh?"

"Like a rock," Leslie replied, sitting down in the armchair opposite the couch. "I didn't want to wake you up and I figured you would head upstairs at some point. Guess I was wrong on that, huh?"

Ben just smiled at her, hoping the medicine and a good breakfast would kick in soon. He still felt so foggy. Perhaps that was from sleeping on the couch. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Seven. I hope I didn't wake you. I was up at five. I'm usually up at five, by the way, but I'll try to be really quiet."

Ben just waved off her concerns. "No, you didn't wake me up at all. I probably would have slept longer if I was on an actual bed." He set the cereal bowl down and rubbed at his face. "I guess we're going to carpool to work? You start at eight too, right?"

Leslie made a face and shook her head. Ben briefly wondered if she seriously expected him to find another ride. There were no ridesharing companies in the area except for a barely reliable taxi service and, though he still didn't know the layout of the town perfectly, he was certain Leslie's house was way too far away for anyone to walk.

"You're not going to work," she told him, crossing her arms. He opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off, "Ben, you've slept for hours and you're still exhausted. You can hardly walk without getting winded. And who knows what those pills will do to you!"

Something within Ben told him that he should argue, but a larger, more exhausted part of him decided he was just too lazy to bother. "Can you at least have Chris send me home some work to get to?" he asked of her. "I need to get back to work on some stuff." At her skeptical look, he added, "Not too much, just a few important loose ends."

"Does it really matter?" she asked, dropping her voice as if she was telling him a secret. "I mean, you're not really an auditor anyway." She paused for a moment and then voiced her thought, "Is the budget crisis even real?"

"It was," Ben replied. "The city cash flow is going pretty well now, but there absolutely was a problem a few months ago. I did actually major in finance in college, so I might not be a professional, but I know my way around spreadsheets and numbers."

Leslie nodded slowly and then asked, "Were you really going to cut jobs?"

Ben sighed. This was not the conversation he wanted to have first thing in the morning. He didn't want to upset Leslie, but he'd also promised to be more honest. "Yes, if it was needed," he answered. Leslie looked stricken. "Look, we were actually, honestly hired by the mayor to help the budget crisis. It just so happens he got the recommendation from a recruiter he didn't realize was actually a member of the FBI. We couldn't blow our cover and we had to do our job. I also didn't know you or the Parks Department or even Pawnee as a whole yet. My job as an auditor was just busy work that got in the way of the actual mission."

He seemed to have succeeded in convincing Leslie that he hadn't been out to get her. She nodded solemnly and rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm never gonna understand what you've done or why you're here or what's going on, am I?"

A guilty smile crossed Ben's face and he leaned back on the couch. "If you did, you'd be the director of the whole damn FBI," he told her. "We don't understand everything either. And honestly, the lives we have to live are so steeped in lies, I don't even know where to start with undoing everything I've said to you. But, I swear, Les, I'm being totally honest with you."

She nodded, faking a smile as she stood. "I'll make sure Chris sends home some work, but not too much! You need your rest." She walked over and gave Ben a kiss. "You'll be alright all by yourself?"

"I have movies and my laptop," he replied. "I'll be just fine." She seemed to accept that answer and went to get her bag. With one more goodbye called out from the front door, Ben was left alone in Leslie's house.

He finished his cereal, cleaned up, and wandered upstairs. He was going to turn into the guest room, but curiosity got the better of him and he quickly poked his head into Leslie's room. Her house was cluttered, but there was so much stuff on the floor of her bedroom. Dirty clothes were scattered around the hamper in the corner of the room while piles of papers and folders littered the bed. There was a spot that was cleared out which Ben assumed was where Leslie slept because he couldn't imagine she'd made that mess in the two hours she'd been awake. As with the rest of the home, it was messy, but not dirty. Ben couldn't help but wonder if this was a worse state than usual. Perhaps his stint in the hospital had caused her to become even more disorganized than usual.

He turned around and went to his own bedroom. Crossing to the other side of the room, he closed the blinds, shut the curtains, and flopped into bed. A real bed. What a novel idea, Ben thought. He didn't even pull the covers up before he'd fallen back to sleep.

Leslie came home around five and Ben had taken two nice naps. When she got home, he made pasta out of what he managed to find in her cupboards, which actually wasn't much. He suspected she ordered takeout quite often.

Ben also wanted to make up for, well, for everything. So when Leslie got home to dinner on the table, she also found binders and notebooks ready to go.

"What's all this?" she asked, setting her purse down.

Ben smiled and handed her a medium-sized wooden box. She wordlessly took it and opened the top to reveal a bright red, white, and blue button that said Knope 2016 on it. Curiously, she looked at Ben, who was grinning back at her.

"It's time we really got to work on this thing," he explained. "Not because the campaign relates to my case but because, as your campaign manager and boyfriend, it's time we hit the ground running. So, let's get you elected Pawnee's next councilmember."

 

Chapter Text

A month before the election, Leslie was behind five points in the polls. Ben kept a watch on the polling every single day and would often greet Leslie with the latest poll numbers. He quite enjoyed the chance to focus on something that truly mattered to both of them. For the first time in a long time, he actually felt normal. A few days here and there, he was even able to forget why he was in Pawnee in the first place.

Chris did keep him abreast of the investigation. There were more raids and arrests, but few connections to the Newport Estate itself. If the election happened and they hadn't found anything that would allow them to obtain a warrant on the estate, they would be sent back to DC. Ben knew that they would be back in DC by the election if not sooner, but the idea of leaving Pawnee depressed him. He tried his best to put it out of his mind.

Physically, Ben also healed as he recovered from his injury. The first week at Leslie's was the hardest because he was so tired all the time, due in large part to the painkillers he was taking Once he felt he didn't need them anymore, he was able to return to work at the city building. At one point during that first week, he and Leslie were working on campaign business and ended up in her bedroom to dig out some folders they needed. They never found the folders, but Ben fell asleep on Leslie's bed and she didn't have the heart to move him. After that day, he never returned to the guest room, though he did fall asleep on the couch a few more times.

Morning sunlight drifted in from the partially open blinds one warm morning in late September. Ben felt it poking at his eyes and he knew it was about time he got up, especially since he felt the space next to him was empty, as it usually was first thing in the morning. Leslie was an early, but thankfully quiet riser. Ben almost never woke up when she slipped from the bed to get ready for her day.

He sat up as Leslie came into the room, drying her damp hair with a small towel from the bathroom. She was already dressed, though she had no makeup on. Ben thought she looked gorgeous.

"Morning!" Leslie chirped when she saw him sit up.

"If elected to city council, how will you rectify the school budgeting issue?" Ben immediately asked her with a devilish grin. She rolled her eyes back at him.

"By looking over expenditures and stepping up fundraising efforts while diverting more of the city's resources to rectifying the issue," Leslie replied in a bored monotone voice, "But no plans include cutting any jobs. Our children are our future and we value their education."

"Good, might want a little more pep in your tone," Ben critiqued. Leslie shook her head. The Pawnee City Council debate was that night and Ben had been randomly shooting questions at her for the past two weeks.

"All you ever ask me is budgeting questions. Do you really think the whole debate will be about budgets?"

"It could be," Ben answered as he got out of the bed and started to make it up. Ever since he had moved into Leslie's bedroom, he tried to at least keep the bed neat and clear of clutter. "Besides, it's what I know."

Leslie crossed over to where Ben was standing and said, "Unfortunately, not everyone in this town is as big a nerd as you are," before planting a kiss on his lips. "They really just want me to do something about the raccoon problem." She paused, thinking on this statement for a moment before she added, "Well, most people anyway. Some of them are weirdly attached to the raccoons."

Ben laughed and kissed the top of Leslie's head. "Well, I think you're going to do just fine," he said. "You've got all the budget questions down at least. Can't help you with the raccoons, though."

"No one can help us with the raccoons," Leslie retorted as she walked away to get her makeup bag. "How does fake-work look for you today?" She had gotten in the habit of defining Ben's jobs as either work, his job at the FBI, and fake work, his city auditor job. Ben wasn't sure how he felt about it, though he never said anything. It wasn't that she was wrong, but he a part of him still felt guilty about having to lie to her.

"Spreadsheet and numbers," he replied with the same answer he always gave when she asked that question. The one time he tried to explain what he actually did at work, she got this glassy-eyed look and sort of zoned out. He figured she didn't really follow.

"That sounds boring. Hey, I don't know if I told you or not, but we're having a party after the debate at the Parks office," Leslie told him as Ben changed. "April and Andy are hosting the campaign watch party, but I thought it would be nice to have a little get together for everyone who has helped me so much during this whole thing."

"Sounds great," Ben said. "What time will you be home?"

Leslie spun around with an incredulous look on her face. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You're coming!" At Ben's confused look, she shook her head. "You've helped me more than anyone I know. This party is just as much for you as it is for everyone else."

"I don't know," He replied with great uncertainty. "I don't know your friends that well." Although he had been in Pawnee for a while and even worked in the same building as most of her friends, he largely kept to himself and didn't make much small talk. That was Chris's job, and with the investigation, he didn't have time for nor did he want to risk making new friendships. As much as he loved Leslie, getting involved with her was almost a costly mistake and he didn't want something similar to happen again.

"So what?" Leslie countered. "This is a great chance to meet them all." He still didn't look convinced, so she dropped her tone and said, "It would mean a lot to me. I want you to at least know my friends."

He couldn't say no to that sad sounding voice. "You think they'd like me?" he asked, mentally kicking himself for sounding like such a little kid. Still, he really wanted to know the answer. He had no doubt her close friends knew of their rocky beginning. While he was sure they didn't know about his real job, he had also been pretty aloof.

Leslie smiled at his innocent question and nodded seriously. "Of course, Ben. They'll love you." He wasn't totally convinced that they would "love" him, but he was calmed by her enthusiasm. Going would also help him forget just how little time he had left in Pawnee. No matter how he looked at it, time was slipping away. He could be called back at any time.

Leslie noticed his sullen face and walked back over to him. "What's wrong?" she asked, gently touching him on the arm.

He thought about telling her it was nothing, but Leslie had quite the way of drawing information out of a person. "All of this," he started gesturing to the room. "You, making friends, living here. It makes me feel normal. Like all of it won't come to an end soon. I'll be going back to DC in a month or less. Then what?"

His girlfriend pursed her lips and let out a long breath. "Well," she said, "We figure it out, just like we figure everything else out. It won't be fun, but we'll make it work."

"I won't be able to visit much. We don't get a ton of vacation and if I'm sent out on a mission…" Ben replied as if trying to make the case against himself. Leslie wouldn't take the bait.

"I don't care, Ben," she told him in earnest. "We'll work with your vacation time, I'll come and stay with you even if you have work. We'll call, we'll Skype, we'll text every day. I don't know the details, but we'll make it work. It will suck, but if this is worth it, then who cares? And I think you're worth it."

Wordlessly, Ben wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a hug. She returned it as fully as she returned every hug. As sad as he was to think about the end of his time in Pawnee, he felt a little more positive about leaving.

"Now come on," Leslie smiled as she stepped away. "We've both got to get to work!"

"What will you do about the rising need for senior transportation in Pawnee?" Ben called as she exited the room.

"I don't care!" Leslie's voice drifted up from the stairs. "Just vote for me!"


 

The work day dragged on for both Leslie and Ben. The debate was heavy on everyone's mind, especially since Leslie still trailed Bobby Newport in the polls. With less than a month to go before the election, this would be their last high-profile chance to knock him to the side.

No more threats had been made against Leslie. Both Chris and Ben hypothesized it was because she was behind in the polls. The Newports probably felt confident that they could wrap up the vote within the month and it wouldn't matter if Leslie was running or not. Ben noticed that she got her first threat when she was swinging upwards in the polls and was poisoned when she was a point or two ahead of Bobby. Then, after Ben was injured, she diverted her energy to him and her poll numbers slipped as she stopped making appearances. Now she was trying to make up for that lost time.

On the bright side, this was the one time Ben would have, perhaps should have, felt guilty for affecting Leslie's campaign, but that distraction might have saved her life thus far.

"Do we have security locked down and ready for the debate tonight?" Ben asked when Chris walked into the office around four thirty that afternoon. He'd had many meetings that morning and also wanted to take time for himself to work on his actual job. This was the first time he'd stepped into the office all day.

"Yes, we are," Chris responded with his signature positivity. "Don't worry too much. We have it all covered."

Ben could only laugh at Chris's suggestion. "You're talking to a guy that was shot twice and his girlfriend poisoned over this campaign. I don't think I can ever not worry." Chris just nodded in understanding and Ben added, "But thank you for taking care of everything."

"It's weird not working directly together on this case anymore," Chris replied and Ben nodded in agreement. "But I think it's working out well. Playing to our strengths! Hopefully, we'll have everything wrapped up soon."

He knew he should have smiled at that, but Ben could only nod weakly. Chris, ever observant, noticed immediately. "I'm sure you'll be able to make your way back," he reasoned. "There's vacation days on both ends. I'm sure Leslie will love visiting DC."

"I know, but that doesn't make it much easier," Ben told him. "I don't know what it is. I spent my whole life trying to get out of Minnesota and the Midwest and get to a real city where real things happen. Now, the only thing I want is to stay in this weird little middle of nowhere town. A large part of it is Leslie, but there's something about this town too."

Chris just nodded, sitting down in the seat across from Ben's desk. "I think, sometimes, we try to get as far away from the thing we didn't know we wanted," he said. "You thought you hated the Midwest. That a city and a big important job would be the only thing that made you happy. But now you're realizing that there are other things that make you happy and those are more important than you thought they'd be."

Ben nodded slowly, maveling to himself at how good his best friend was at giving advice. Sometimes he found him to be too positive and peppy, but his serious advice was usually very sound. "I think you might be right," he said. "But what do I do? I like Washington and I like Pawnee. I don't know if Leslie's ready to leave Pawnee yet, and I don't know if we've been together long enough for her to want to uproot her life for me."

"I think you will just have to see how it goes. Everything will fall into place." Chris glanced over at the clock on the wall. "In the meantime, don't you have a debate to get to?"

"Oh! You're right!" Ben hopped up and stuffed some folders into his bag. "Thanks, Chris. I really appreciate you talking this out with me." He then rushed out of the room before Chris could even respond.

He hurried to the front doors of Pawnee City Hall where Leslie was waiting. She had changed into a smart light blue pantsuit and her hair was curled and fixed so that every strand was in place. Her makeup was also heavier so that the cameras would pick her up better and she wouldn't look so washed out under the lights. Ann had come by to help with that.

"Are you ready?" Ben asked with a huff as he stopped next to her. She nodded.

"As ready as ever!"

On the way there, Ben grilled her on a few more questions, all budgeting related. Leslie responded to each one with ease and Ben knew she had this whole thing in the bag. When they got to the high school where the debate would be held, Ben pulled into a spot and turned off the car, but he didn't make a move to get out.

"You're going to do great," Ben told her. He could see the faint smile in the dim light of the sunset just beyond the school.

"Thanks to you," she added. "I would never have been as prepared if anyone else was my campaign manager."

"What campaign manager wouldn't ask you complex debate questions in the shower?" he responded with a lopsided grin. "But it's really no problem. I'd do anything to help you win this."

Leslie reached over and gave Ben the best hug she could from inside a car. She then looked up and kissed him, threading her fingers into his hair. "I love you," she whispered and he hugged her even tighter to him.

"I love you too," he told her. "Now go kill this thing."


 

To say Leslie Knope owned the 23rd Annual Pawnee City Council Debate would be an insulting understatement. She answered every single question with ease and nailed the budgeting questions with such eloquence, even the members of the Pawnee media who moderated couldn't find fault with her. She went toe-to-toe with Bobby Newport a few times and, though he easily charmed the audience, she quickly grabbed their attention by reminding them that she had lived in this town her whole life and she knew the people best. Her closing statement, as written by Ben, noted how Bobby Newport was simply old money and likely didn't have the best interest of the town at heart, while also painting the perfect picture of how her election would help this town.

The crowd ate it up. It was difficult for Ben to get to Leslie when it was all over due to the sheer number of people who were trying to talk to her after the debate. When he finally reached her, she was surrounded by cameras and microphones, trying to navigate the questions that were called out to her.

"Thank you," Ben said, pushing his way into the crowd as he protectively wrapped an arm around Leslie. "No more questions, please forward anymore you have to Leslie's campaign email. We'll respond as soon as we can." And with that, he whisked her away from the group and started moving her towards the exit.

"Thanks for that," Leslie breathed with a winded look on her face. "They just ambushed me! Vultures!"

"I can see why, though," Ben pointed out as he opened the door of the school for her. "You did an amazing job!"

"You think?" At Ben's insistent nod, she added, "I hope so! It felt good, but I just don't know!"

"It was great," he assured her as they walked to the car. She was beaming from ear to ear, obviously so pleased at the job she had done. In her usual Leslie fashion, she started chatting away about how nervous she was, and how she couldn't believe so many people showed up, and that the lights were very hot and she felt like she lost ten pounds from sweating!

Ben listened contentedly as she went on, his heart fluttering at her excited energy. He didn't say anything the whole way to City Hall, not that he would have gotten a word in if he had tried. When they reached the parking lot, he got out so he could open Leslie's door for her and she launched herself out of the car to kiss him. He was surprised, but elated, and returned the kiss until a voice broke them apart.

"Hey, love birds," Tom called from the front steps of the city building. "Party's inside, save the kissing for later!" Leslie broke away and called that they'd be there in a minute while Ben started to laugh. She took his hand and led him up the stairs and into the building.

When Ben and Leslie entered the small Parks office, the room erupted in cheers. All of her friends held their glasses up and Leslie wore a bright, proud smile.

"Thank you," she said as she picked up a glass of champagne and handed one to Ben. "But I couldn't have done this without every single one of you." She raised her glass and clincked it against the others before taking a sip.

"To Leslie," Tom said, "The future official councilwoman of The Snakehole!"

"And more importantly," Ann corrected. "The future official councilwoman of Pawnee!"

"And future president!" Andy cheered.

"Of Mars," April added.

"And to Ben," Ron said, holding up his glass of whiskey. "A damn good manager."

Ben looked a little shocked as the room cheered, "Here! Here!" at Ron's addition, but he smiled gratefully and held his glass up. Leslie snaked her arm around his waist and the two stood close to each other.

It had been a while since Ben had moved to DC, but he couldn't say he made many meaningful connections with anyone there, aside from his friendship with Chris. Of course, Chris meant the world to him. He was his best friend after all. However, this was the first moment where Ben truly felt like he had a full group of friends. Despite him not engaging with them as he maybe should have, they welcomed him into their little family, no questions asked.

Ben always felt that his puzzle piece was broken. That no matter how much he tried, it just didn't fit into any scene he tried to work with. At that moment, he realized he was normal, but he was looking at it the wrong way. He was welcomed and he felt whole.

The group chatted and ate and celebrated Leslie's outstanding performance on the debate stage. Ben easily moved between conversations with and without Leslie and everyone welcomed him as though he had been part of the group as long as everyone else.

It was almost nine when his phone rang and he stepped away from a riveting conversation about giant attack dinosaurs with Andy, April, and Donna. Walking out into the hall, he pressed the answer button and held the phone to his ear.

"Wyatt," he said into the speaker.

"Ben?" Chris's voice came over the line. "We have a warrant for the Newport Estate. Meet me there as soon as you can."

 

Chapter Text

The second the call dropped, Ben was back in the room and grabbing Leslie by her arm. She saw the look on his face and knew something was up, but she didn't know what to ask as he pulled her into her office.

"We have a warrant for the Newport mansion," he explained. "I need to go. Don't go home, have Ann take you to her house and I'll call you when this is all over."

She swallowed thickly, searching his face in the hopes that this was a terribly executed joke. It was painfully obvious how serious he was. "Okay," she confirmed and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Please be safe."

He squeezed her and kissed her head. "I will," he promised. "Don't leave Ann's house until I call, alright?" Leslie nodded again and then he was gone.

He ran out of the city building and back to the car. In another minute, he was driving down the streets of Pawnee and back to Leslie's house to grab his bulletproof vest and more appropriate raid attire. Ben figured his dress shirt and tie wouldn't be appropriate for the night.

Ben burst through the door of Leslie's home and ran up the stairs, nearly falling over himself on the small rug that laid at the bottom of the stairwell. He hurried into her room and dug out an outfit and the vest from his bag. His concealed carry was always on him, so he just moved the gun to his waistband.

For a brief moment, he paused in the mirror and looked at himself. He was dressed in nearly all black, with a heavy FBI vest on his chest. This might be one of the last times he stood in this room, looking in this mirror, at this house belonging to the woman he loved. Their whole stint in Pawnee had led them to this moment, to the eventual raid and arrest of the Newport clan. After this was over, the case would be closed or at least passed off to other officials.

But, he couldn't think about this now. He ran out of the room, down the stairs to the front door, and then back to the car. He was gone in a flash, only the lingering feeling of a brick in the pit of his stomach to remind him of the excitement and dread he felt in the moment. He had to push the emotions away as best he could.

When he turned the corner to the private road that led to the Newport's home, he saw flashes of blue with red undertones reflect off every surface. He parked where he could, hopped out of the car, and ran towards the entrance of the driveway with his badge out so he could flash it at anyone who stopped to question him.

He approached the man standing by the gate. "Ben Wyatt, FBI," he said. The man regarded him and his badge for a moment before stepping aside. "Where is Agent Traeger?"

"By the house last I saw," he responded. Ben thanked him and jogged up the long driveway. Police and FBI as well as other law enforcement officials he didn't recognize filled the path leading from the street to the large house.

He spotted Chris near the large fountain in the center of the circular driveway. "Hey!" Ben called as he approached. Chris turned around and smiled grimly.

"Barricaded in," he explained. "I didn't want to have to call you in, but we need all hands on deck."

"No, it's fine," Ben replied. Admittedly, he was itching to get back in the field these past few months. Being taken out was a blow to his ego, however nice it was to play house with Leslie. "I'm all healed up, I wish they had put me back in sooner."

Chris smiled at that. "Alright, we're going to go inside in about five minutes. They're just now making sure there's no one outside the home or trying to get out." Ben nodded and strayed a few feet from where Chris was standing so he could get a better vantage point of the side of the house. He wasn't really looking for anyone jumping out the windows. The other agents and law enforcement officials had the place pretty covered.

Electric energy buzzed through Ben and he tried to keep his breathing under control. This was much more intense than the usual rush he got during a raid. Perhaps it was in part due to the gunshot wounds he had suffered recently on the field. He also couldn't seem to escape the nagging dread that ending this mission would also signal the end of his time in Pawnee.

"Wyatt, we're ready." Ben looked over at Chris. The other agent's fingers brushed his gun as he prepared to enter the front of the large home. Ben grabbed his own weapon and followed Chris as they walked inside.

The mansion was huge but eerie. It felt far too empty and dark for a family home. Briefly, Ben wondered what anyone in their right mind would do with all the space this home afforded them. While he often wished for a bigger place than his tiny downtown apartment, he couldn't imagine living in a house this huge.

"Come out to the front with your hands up," called an agent a few yards ahead of Ben and Chris. There was a slight echo in the expansive entryway of the house, but no noise followed. The man who spoke waved his hand to motion them forward.

It didn't take long to track down everyone in the house. They were all gathered in the living room. Newport Senior was smoking a pipe, his young wife leisurely leafing through a magazine beside him. Two big bodyguards milled about, but they didn't appear to have any weapons on them. Once the agents entered the room, the older man put out his pipe, his wife dropped her magazine, and the two other men put their hands at their sides.

The four were carted away with just their rights spoken to them as they were led outside to the waiting cop cars. "Let's secure the rest of the home," Chris said to Ben as the other agents started to do the same.

The pair moved towards the left side of the house, past a large bathroom, and over to an office. "I'll grab this room," Ben told him, stepping into the dark space. He flipped a light on and found the walls to be a dark maroon color with hardwood floors and a matching large wooden desk. Similarly styled bookshelves covered one wall while pictures and diplomas covered another. Ben moved over to the shelves and gazed at the many book titles to see if there was anything that immediately jumped out at him.

Although there might have been hollowed out books or notes smooshed between the binders, he decided to move to the desk where he was more likely to find something. He bent over the expensive grand office desk and pulled open drawer after drawer. Each one was neat and organized, which made finding a ton of incriminating evidence pretty easy.

Ben gathered papers together and tried to sort them as best he could so they could be carried out to the cars. As he bent down, he felt something rumble and beep. He wasn't even able to look up to check out the noise before he was launched back out through the glass window and into the night air. It all happened so quickly, he felt the blast before he heard it, and he was flat on his back and staring at the stars for what was the second time during this mission.

He could feel the energy and movement around him, but he felt like he was underwater himself. No sound reached his ears. It took a moment to regain the ability to move, but he was able to sit himself up and look back at the broken glass and gaping hole in the once pristine mansion. Dust and dirt floated through the air and shreds of paper filtered down like strange looking snow.

Next, Ben looked down at himself. His arms were bloody from the glass, though he didn't feel the sharp sting. His legs were attached, he could move around, though he did feel heavy, and he seemed to be in one piece. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chris running towards him, his lips moving, but Ben couldn't make out what he was saying.

"I'm okay!" Ben felt himself shout at the top of his lungs, but he could only barely hear himself. Chris seemed to say something else, but Ben wasn't great at reading lips. His colleague just helped him up and Ben suddenly found himself walking back towards the entrance of the estate.

Slowly, very slowly, his hearing started to return. Sounds swirled around him and it took a minute before he was able to pick out and note where each one was coming from.

"... in the office during the blast," Chris was explaining to someone Ben just then realized they were standing in front of. She was a young blonde woman who wore blue but had a first aid kit in her hands.

"Can you hear me?" she asked, turning to Ben. He nodded slowly, but the words wouldn't form on his lips. "He's still riding off the adrenaline," she said, turning back to Chris. "Go sit him down, get him to breathe. If he starts to go into shock, get him straight to the hospital."

Ben found himself being moved away from all the bustle of the area now. They walked across the large well-kept yard and over to the steps of a guest house on the property. Chris helped Ben sit, which he did so heavily, and he knelt in front of his partner.

"Are you okay?" he asked, looking all over Ben's face as well as glancing down at his arms. He began to disinfect and bandage them with what Ben assumed was given to him by the woman they had talked to. "That blast was out in the kitchen, but you caught the end of it."

"Was anyone hurt?" Ben found himself able to ask as he slowly pulled himself up out of the water in his head.

"You," Chris found himself almost laughing at the question.

"Seriously hurt," he corrected with a roll of his eyes. Chris nodded.

"Two agents were in the living room when it happened. They should be alright, but they're on their way to the hospital now."

Ben nodded and took a long breath to steady himself. He was beginning to feel like himself again, though he still felt a little shaky. Chris was able to patch him up and when he was done, he pat him on the shoulder and stood. As he did so, his phone buzzed and he stepped away to take it.

Ben looked out towards the main house where dust and paper still floated in the air and people still shouted back and forth to each other. He was still trying to register what had just happened, but since he was alright, he didn't dwell too much on it. A sinking feeling formed in the pit of his stomach when he realized that the papers he had found in the desk were likely gone, but at least no agents had been killed by the blast.

Chris came back with a sullen look on his face. "Just got off the phone with Barkley," he told Ben who swallowed thickly and nodded for him to go on. "They've booked them all down at the station and are turning things over to the local PD until they press any federal charges."

"So," Ben prompted, though he knew what Chris was going to say before the words left his mouth.

"We're done here. We're going to take the car to the airport in Indianapolis and get on the 10am flight to DC."

Ben nodded slowly and then shakily stood from the porch. "Alright." He walked over to Chris and tossed him the keys. "Can you drive me to Ann's house? And pick me up tomorrow at Leslie's."

"Sure thing, man," Chris replied to Ben's back, as the other had already started to walk away. "Are you sure you don't need to get checked out at the hospital?" he asked as he jogged up next to him. "You got thrown pretty far." Ben waved him off and got in the car.

The car ride over to Ann's house was silent and awkward as both men started to process what had taken place. Everything happened so quickly, and they knew it would, but neither had any idea how that speed would affect them. This was the nature of the field. Come in, do what they were brought in for, and then leave the moment their part is over.

"I'll pick you up at six," Chris told him as he pulled up to the curb outside of Ann's house. Ben nodded and got out of the car. He walked up to the door and rapped on it softly, though he peered in through the glass on the door to see Ann and Leslie jump up from the couch.

It was Leslie who opened the door. She probably saw him too as the pair of friends got closer to the entryway. When she pushed open the screen door she immediately gasped, her eyes falling to the bandages that littered Ben's arms. She took another breath to speak, but Ben grabbed her and pulled her into a tight hug before she could say anything. Leslie returned the embrace immediately.

They said goodbye to Ann and Leslie and Ben piled into her car and headed for home. Leslie's home, Ben reminded himself, not his. Never his. This was Leslie's house and Leslie's car and Leslie's town.

"What happened?" Leslie spoke the first words between the two since Ben showed up at Ann's house. They had just pulled into the driveway and she was studying Ben's dark form in the dim light that shone from the lamp over the garage.

"We have to leave tomorrow," Ben told her, ignoring all the action that happened that night. "Chris is picking me up at six tomorrow. It's over, Leslie. We're done here."

Leslie sucked a breath in and held it for a long time before finally letting it go. "Alright," she said with reluctant acceptance in her voice. "Let's head inside. I'll start a pot of coffee."

Ben glanced at the clock on the radio of the car. It was fifteen past midnight. "That sounds perfect," he told her.


 

They sat up talking nearly the entire night, but Leslie fell asleep around four. Ben found it interesting that four in the morning after an emotionally draining day and some terrible news was her limit. He watched her sleeping form as she curled up against him on the couch. His arms were wrapped around her, dreading the moment he would have to untangle himself to get ready.

Leslie spouted off ideas on how to stay in touch. Texting, nightly calls, Skype dates. She'd make plans to visit in the next month and if Ben could find the vacation time, then he'd come back to Pawnee soon too. There were internet forums for this, she said as she held up her phone for proof. People did this all the time. They would be just fine.

Ben wasn't skeptical at all, but he hated that they had to do this at all. For the first time, he actually told her about how worried he was about all of this, how he wished he could stay in Pawnee, but he'd spent his entire career and adult life in DC and he didn't know if they'd been dating long enough for him to uproot his life. Leslie understood. She always understood, and she'd wait for him, or maybe plan a move to DC herself. But the timing wasn't right, she knew, and there was the possibility she would get elected to the council. She insisted she could always quit, but Ben wouldn't even hear the suggestion.

Five thirty rolled around and Ben went to pack his things. Leslie awoke fifteen minutes before six and silently helped him. They spent their last ten minutes together on the couch, just breathing next to each other and holding on so tightly they would burn the memory of their bodies into their minds.

Finally, Ben saw Chris's car and the two made their way outside. He flashed his hand up at Chris, signaling that he needed just five minutes. He vaguely saw Chris nod.

"Have a safe flight," Leslie said quietly in a tone Ben had never heard from her before. It sounded hollow and sad.

"You should take the day off," he told her. "Get some sleep."

"I might," came the honest reply. Ben wasn't sure if Leslie agreeing to a day off worried him, but he figured there were more important things to deal with anyway. He fished a binder out of his duffle bag and handed it to her.

"I worked on this after you fell asleep," he said, flipping it open to the first page. "This is your schedule for the next month. All your appearances, media schedule, everything. It should take you up until the election. I tried to account for any possibilities, even wrote a statement if Bobby gets indicted. We don't think he will, but, hey, doesn't hurt to be prepared. I checked your schedule before making this, but feel free to move things around and reschedule."

"Ben, I don't know what to say," Leslie said as she took the binder from him and flipped through the meticulously crafted schedule on each page.

"And this," Ben pulled out a sealed envelope. Leslie started to thumb at the flap in the corner and Ben hastily interjected, "Don't open it yet! Wait until the night of the election, right after the votes have been counted and the winner is announced. Immediately after. Don't do anything else before."

"Okay," she said, regarding the envelope curiously, but agreed not to touch it until that night. She looked up at him and Ben stared back for just a moment before wrapping her into one more long hug. They shared a kiss and Leslie snuck in a butt squeeze that he hoped Chris didn't see. And then, far too shortly after their embrace, he was walking down the path to the car.

Leslie watched him get in, clutching the binder to her chest like it was the only lifeline she had. She waved as Chris drove off and stood there watching the sun rise over the sleepy town for a long while after she couldn't see their car anymore.

 

Chapter Text

Ben wandered down the long hallways of the FBI head office until he reached a wooden door that said "Director Barkley" on a thin black plaque. He knocked softly and waited until he heard someone call him in before pushing the door open.

Jennifer Barkley sat at her large desk and glanced up with a smug look when Ben came in. "You're late," she scolded, though she didn't appear as if she minded all that much.

"My apologies, Director Barkley," Ben replied politely as he sat down across from her. "I only just got your email after getting back from lunch. I came as quickly as I could."

"Whatever, not important." She waved him off. "Let's get right down to this whole thing. You really fucked up that mission in Iowa."

"Indiana-"

"Whatever."

"And if I may, the mission went very smoothly. Most of the evidence we gathered is admissible in court, we caught everyone involved, and the town is safe." Ben frowned as he folded his hands on his lap. "By all accounts, it was a successful case."

"Except the part where you started hooking up with some floozy town girl." Ben paled, though he didn't know if the knot in his stomach was the embarrassment of being caught or anger at how Jen talked about Leslie. "Oh, don't think I don't know," she continued. "For a field agent, you're pretty shit at being careful."

"I'm sorry." Ben glanced down at his lap. "It was a lapse judgment."

Jen shrugged and leaned back in her chair. "I don't care if you go bang every person in whatever crappy middle of nowhere town you visit," she shrugged. "But I'll be damned if you jeopardize a mission like that again."

"It won't happen again," Ben assured her. Because he knew he loved Leslie. They had been so good about calling each other each night. Ever since he left three weeks ago, they were always in contact. They had dinner over Skype a few nights and he was happy, though he would have given anything to kiss her or just hold her or even simply look at her in person again.

"Damn right it won't." Jen leaned forward with her hands folded on her desk. Ben's blood ran cold. He didn't like the look on her face and he was very concerned about his job.

"Director-"

"So we're promoting you."

"I…" Ben faltered. "What did you say?"

"You're getting a promotion, Wyatt. Field Supervisor," she smirked, obviously enjoying Ben's discomfort. "Big office down on the third floor, some newbie agents to report to you, meetings with some of the big leaders of this place. Make a good impression and you've got yourself quite a long list of opportunities here."

"I don't understand," Ben replied, trying to piece this all together in his mind. "You're mad that I jeopardized the mission, but you're promoting me and giving me more control over other missions? That doesn't make sense."

"Of course it does! You're out of the field so you can't fuck things up," Jen explained. "But after a review of the mission, we realized that you're the only one who really cared enough to connect with the people in that shithole town. Your ability to make nice aided the mission in many ways. We want you to train other field agents to not be shit heads in the towns they go to."

"I don't know what to say."

"How about, 'thank you, you saved my ass, I appreciate it?'" Jen rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, I guess that works," Ben smiled. Almost immediately, the realization hit and his mouth went dry. "So, I would be staying here?" he asked. "With the office. Here. In DC."

Jen raised an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah. You know, where our office is located?" she said.

"So I wouldn't be out on the field anymore?"

"No, you'd have a normal nine-to-five and an office. Why would you even want to go out on the field again? This is the opportunity of a lifetime, Wyatt. Kids your age don't get these kinds of promotions."

"I know, I know," Ben said. "Just… can I have some time to think about it?"

"Think about what?" Jen asked with obvious irritation in her tone. "I had to pull some strings to make this happen."

"I know, just a day," he begged. "I'll have my answer first thing in the morning." The director didn't seem thrilled, but she knew there was no getting through to him at that moment. She agreed and dismissed him. Ben went back to his desk and took the rest of the day off.


Leslie was buzzing with excitement as she watched the bottom corner of the television screen. It was election night and the anchor was going on about some human interest story while numbers next to two names ticked up as the minutes wore on.

The Newports had been charged with quite a few counts of various illegal behavior, but Bobby was cleared of any wrongdoing. Leslie felt that was fair. He didn't seem to have any idea what his family had been up to. He had been in Cancun for most of it anyway. While the arrest did have an impact on his poll numbers, going into election night he and Leslie were neck and neck for the one city council seat up for grabs.

She stood in the crowded JJ's diner watching along with everyone else who had ever helped or supported her campaign. Her close friends were next to her as they stared at the television. It was almost nine. The polls had closed at seven and the town was small. Results would be rolling in very soon.

Although her friends kept her heart full, there was one very obvious missing piece. She would have given anything for Ben to be at her side, holding her hand as they waited for the results to come in. Ann was great and played the role of the support partner well, but Leslie missed Ben more than she could ever say.

"I am here announcing the news that is breaking," called the news anchor. "The news that is breaking is that the election tonight is now over. Results are in and this news anchor is calling the race for…"

Leslie held her breath and closed her eyes. She felt Ann squeeze her hand.

"Leslie Knope!"

The room erupted in cheers. Leslie's eyes popped open and she found herself screaming and jumping up and down with Ann as they tried to bounce and hug at the same time. She was elated. She didn't remember ever feeling this happy before in her life. While some people tried to come over to her, Ann whisked her to the kitchen so they could calm down and let all of the media gather before she gave her acceptance speech.

"You did it!" Ann shouted once the doors had closed behind them. She hugged Leslie who was all but vibrating with excitement. "Are you ready? Do you have your speech yet?" At Leslie's faltering look, Ann waved her hands around and grabbed an order pad. "We'll write it right now! Or you can improvise! No, no, we'll write some notes down!"

"Okay, okay!" Leslie said with a wide grin. "Just get started. I need a minute, okay?" Ann nodded and Leslie wandered back towards the staff break room, her fingers brushing up against her phone. She was just about to call Ben when she realized she had the letter he had given her on the day he left tucked into the back pocket of the binder.

She'd left the binder on the coffee table in the break room after putting the finishing touches on the party. When she entered the room, she walked right over, sat down, and flipped it over so she could easily grab the envelope.

The paper tore easily and Leslie unfolded the letter. Her eyes misted over immediately when she read the header. "Leslie Knope's 2016 City Council Acceptance Speech."

In the next five minutes, she had read it over, got Ann, took a few pictures, and then found herself walking up to the podium in front of tens of her closest friends and proudest supporters. As she walked onto the stage, there were more cheers and she saw the flickering of camera lights. The only thing that could make this moment better, she thought, was if Ben were here. At least she would get to tell him all about this when the night was over and she was back at home.

"Friends," she started as she laid her speech out in front of her. "Thank you." She took a long breath while people clapped. "This is not so much a victory for me as it is for every single resident of the great city of Pawnee. We as a community stood up and decided that enough was enough. No longer are we going to be pushed around by the highest bidder. No, now we can work together to make this city as amazing as it deserves to be. There are so many amazing people who live and work here in Pawnee and they deserve to have their voices heard. I promise to do everything in my power to help the common person. I promise that we will focus on our schools and our children, not on multi-million dollar corporations."

Claps followed that statement and Leslie continued, glancing down every few sentences to read the script again. "I couldn't be more grateful to be where I am tonight, and I couldn't have done it without my friends and supporters. There are too many people to thank, but please know that I consider every single person in this room a very close friend and I appreciate all you've done for me."

More claps and cheers. Leslie looked down and then back up, sucking in a breath for the last lines of her speech. It was then that she saw him, in the corner of the room, pretending to be invisible but trying his hardest to catch the best glimpse of her. She exhaled and moved to get to him, but then remembered where she was.

"And I want to thank Ben," she said in a more deliberate tone of voice. More soft and caring, as if she was speaking to him and only him. "Ben Wyatt, the most amazing campaign manager in the entire world." Ben looked up at her, his smile so wide she could see it even past the lights and the crowd. "I just… don't even know how to describe how amazing he has been and I thank him every single day for all he has done." It was obvious it wasn't written on her paper, but Leslie didn't care. The words she needed to express exactly what she was feeling escaped her; if they even existed at all. She hoped this would be enough.

There were cheers and claps and Leslie looked down to finally finish her speech. Truthfully, she had no idea what she was saying, just that she wanted to get it said and then get over to Ben as quickly as possible. She said "Thank you" then moved off the stage and before anyone could grab her or ask questions, she was with Ben in the back of the room.

She grasped Ben's arm and pulled him into the kitchen, locking the door behind her as she launched herself at him. He grabbed her up and kissed her as passionately as he'd ever kissed anyone before in his life. When they broke apart, both were breathless, but Leslie still clung to him.

"You're here! I can't believe you're here!" she said.

"I wouldn't miss this," he told her. "Not for the world."

"What about work? It's a Tuesday. You didn't tell me you were coming."

Ben just smiled and led her to the break room where they could sit on the couch together. Leslie kept a tight hold on him. He wondered if he would ever be free. He also didn't really care if they never let go of each other.

"I quit," he told her. She gasped at that.

"What?"

Ben just nodded. "I realized that I love my job, but there are some things that are just more important than a good job at a government agency. Though," he laughed. "I'll miss the healthcare."

Leslie just smiled. "What are you going to do, then?"

"Well," Ben started with a wicked grin. "I decided to move."

"Where?"

"Here. Home."

Leslie's eyes widened and she put a hand to her mouth. "You're not serious!" she said, trying to contain her excitement.

He nodded. "I got a job as the new Pawnee Police Department Manager. Ties in law enforcement and finance, so that's exciting. And I'll be training new field agents who get sent undercover to towns like Pawnee. So, I'm not leaving the FBI for good, but I am giving myself a little distance."

"Where are you going to live?" Leslie asked.

"I was hoping you'd help with that," Ben admitted. "I don't want to be too forward, but if you don't think we're ready then it'd be great if you could help me find a realtor. I will need to stay with you for a few weeks, though."

Leslie shook her head vehemently. "No, you're staying with me," she decided, her voice firm. "Oh my God, you're staying with me!" She pulled him into another hug and he wrapped his arms around her waist. He had been wondering this whole time whether or not he was making the right decision, but at that moment he was totally sure he had.

"In that case," he started as he stood up and offered her his arm. "I think you have a few adoring fans to get to. And if you would allow me the honor, I would love to escort the newest Pawnee City Council Woman to her after party. And then promptly drive her home and tuck her into bed after she drinks more than she should because her friends pressure her into it."

Leslie laughed and hopped up to take his arm. "The newest Pawnee City Council Woman would be delighted to be escorted by the man with the most amazing butt in Indiana."

Ben's face turned red, but he laughed as they strolled out the back entrance towards his car, into the night, together.