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The Proposition

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“How dare you cut the Annual Pawnee Kite Flying Competition?!” Leslie exclaims as she barges into Ben’s office.

Ben looks up at her with a hint of annoyance. He’s on the phone and looks miserable. “Yes, mom. I will bring her. I gotta go. Okay, see you soon.” He hangs up and turns his attention to Leslie Knope.

She’s standing in front of his desk, her arms crossed and her face full of fury. Ben sighs and braces himself for another round of heated argument.

“Leslie, I told you, we have to cut some of your annual events to make room for more money.” They had been at this for more than a week now. The government shutdown meant that only essential personnel were allowed in City Hall. Leslie being appointed by Ron as the official budget representative of the Parks Department was making his life a lot more challenging than he’s used to.

Ben had never encountered anyone with so much passion at saving their department. He half admired and half feared her immovable resolve.

“Then cut your budget. Why do you need so many pens, huh?” Leslie grabs all the pens from his rectangular holder and raises it to his face.

“Don’t take it out on my pens.” Ben retrieves his ballpoints from her fingers and places them back. At this moment, he was having a hard time reacting to one of Leslie’s tantrum because he’d just had a stressful call with his mother.

Ben’s mom is getting married. And she was hounding him to bring his girlfriend with him. He may have lied to her earlier that he was dating someone to get her off his back. But now it was backfiring, and he needed to find a fake girlfriend, or he’d end up spending one week at home with everyone hovering over him and talking about how sad his life had become.

Leslie snaps her finger at him, “Hey, hey, Wyatt. Are you paying attention to what I’ve said?”

Ben focuses and looks apologetic. “I’m sorry, Leslie. I’ve submitted the final list to Chris. No other changes can be made now.”

“Noooo! There must be something I can do!” Leslie looks desperate and about ready to cry.

A half-baked idea pops into Ben’s head. He needed a date and Leslie needed something from him. This was probably a really bad idea. He really shouldn't even be considering it. Ben would never in a million years abuse his power as a state auditor, but he was also desperate. His mother was the worst nagger in the world. Which is the reason he was forced to tell her that he had a girlfriend in the first place, to make her stop asking him all the time. But right now, he couldn't think past the consequences that might arise from this crazy thing he was about to propose. He just knew he needed a solution to his problem.

“I have a proposition.” He says seriously and in such a soft voice that it catches Leslie off-guard.

She stares at him for a few seconds before replying, “I wanna be clear,” Leslie says slowly. “I will do anything except have sex with you.”

Ben looks shocked at her words, “I, uh— I was not going to ask you for sexual favors.”

Leslie is relieved but also wonders if she should be insulted that he didn't find her attractive enough to warrant a sex favor. "Okay. Good. Glad we are aligned with, with, that."

"I need you to be my date to my mother's wedding."

"Okay, I can live with that. Also, congratulations to your mom."

"But you have to pretend that we've been dating for a few months now."

"Wow, okay, that's a little bit more challenging. But I can make that work."

"And you'd have to stay with me at my hometown for a week."

"Wait, what?" Leslie had been on board with this favor until they got to the part where she'd have to do it for a week.

"My mother wants me to spend the week there with my girlfriend before the wedding." Ben gives her a pleading look.

"Alright, fine. But after all this, we are going to sit down, and you will listen to my budget proposal and you are going to say yes to all of it." Leslie offers her hand to Ben so they can shake on their deal. Ben hesitates, wondering if this plan was going to blow up in his face. But just thinking about a week of his mother hounding him about his non-existent girlfriend was making him anxious, plus Leslie was really good at finding a way to make her budget work and it wasn't really like a bribe or anything, it was more of him being open to considering her ideas on how to save money.

"Do we have a deal?" Leslie asks impatiently, her hand still stretched out in front of her. Ben shakes her hand and seals the deal.

"Perfect. Now, when are we going to your hometown?" Leslie says, feeling triumphant at finding a way to save her department.

"Tomorrow. Pack your bags tonight. And I'll pick you up tomorrow morning."

"Can't wait." Leslie gives him a confident smile.  

Chapter Text

Ben knocks on Leslie's door. He hears a scuffle inside and Leslie yells out for him to wait a second. There's a few more muffled noises and what sounded like Leslie yelling out before the sound of objects crashing to the floor is heard.

The door suddenly flies open and Leslie flashes him a grin. “Sorry, there were a lot of obstacles to get through. Come in.” She steps aside and let's Ben in.

It takes a moment before Ben can react. His eyebrows are raised as he scans her living room and observes the many, many, many random things scattered all over the place. “I, uh, like your home.” Ben offers the polite compliment.

“Thank you. I'm sorry, I didn't have enough time to tidy up a bit." Leslie points out when she sees Ben bump into the craft projects her Pawnee Goddesses had made last summer.

"No, no. It's my fault that I sprung this on you in such a short notice." Ben says, standing awkwardly in the room trying not to move too much so that he won't bump into anything else. "And thanks for doing this. Really."

Ben had stayed up late last night feeling guilty about this whole scheme, just a few weeks ago he had called out Leslie for doing this to Chris and Ann and now he was allowing her do it to him. He was just counting himself lucky that Leslie was completely on board with it. He knows she wants something in return and he was willing to trade for it but he'd make sure that what he allowed her to change was still fair.

"Don't thank me yet, Wyatt. You haven't seen my new master plan that I’ve been cooking up." Leslie says with a twinkle in her eyes. Everything was falling into place. Just a few weeks ago she had made Ann go on a date with Chris to get him to reconsider the Parks Department budget.  She was greatly disappointed when Chris found out.  Leslie thought she'd never have that kind of chance again but when Ben dropped this proposal on her lap, she was beyond ecstatic.  This was her last chance to get all her requests approved.  She was going to do everything in her power to make sure she fools his family into thinking she was his real girlfriend. 

Leslie claps her hands together, "Alright, you can grab my luggage and we can head out."

Ben checks his watch, "Leslie, we still have four hours before our flight. I thought you wanted to talk about what to expect from my family."

"Yes, that's why I told you to come pick me up at this time. I like to get to the airport early. We can talk on the way there and while waiting to board the plane." She grabs her purse and two thick binders. "Oh, and this is all the information I could find about you when I searched your name in Alta-Vista." She says as she proudly presents one binder to him. Ben browses through the pages. He's surprised at all the information that she was able to gather, mostly about news article surrounding his short term as a mayor of Partridge.

"Obviously, I will need more personal information about you to survive a week of your family interrogating me." Leslie says, grabbing the binder from him. Ben starts thinking about what personal information he was willing to share with her.

Leslie hands him the other binder. This one was pink and had a very pretty title page with the words 'Everything You Need to Know about Leslie Knope' in huge bold letters and in smaller font underneath that said, 'Inspirations, Aspirations, Dreams, Quirks, Likes and Dislikes'.

"That's for you to memorize. There are short quizzes at the end of each section to test if you have internalized what you've read." Leslie continues. Ben just stares at the binder, half hoping that she was joking about having him memorize all this information about her.

"Okay! Shall we?" Leslie excitedly announces, and just now noticing that Ben is still staring at her pink binder. "Don't worry too much about it. They're pretty basic information, I'm sure you'll be able to remember them." Ben nods quickly and takes her luggage, wheeling it behind him as they head to the car.

 

**************

 

Ben is starting to realize that basic information for Leslie included the names of all her stuffed toys and her opinion on all the members of the senate. They were in their seats now, cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet, and usually Ben would take this time to read a novel or re-watch Battlestar Galactica on his laptop, but instead, he's reading about the tiniest detail of Leslie's life and answering her random questions like what his favorite ice cream flavor is.

"Vanilla?" Leslie stares at him in disbelief. "That's your favorite flavor?" Of course, that's his favorite flavor, Leslie thinks to herself. He's so uptight that trying a different flavored ice cream would probably ruin his day.

"What's wrong with Vanilla?" Ben asks defensively. "It has a consistent flavor." Leave it to Leslie to always find a way to argue with him. May it be her department budget or even the ice cream flavor that he likes. 

"Leslie, why do I need to know about your grade school transcripts?" Ben asks, when he gets to that part of the binder.

Leslie glances at him incredulously, "Ben, as your fake girlfriend, this is information I would have already told you on our third date."

Ben sighs and closes the huge folder. "Right, okay, I'm going to take a break from reading. And I'm just going to let you tell me the details of how we started dating instead."

"That's on page 70, but fine, I'll tell you the gist of how we got together." Leslie snuggles comfortably on her seat. Her shoulder touching his.

"So, of course we met when you got assigned to Pawnee to get us out of our financial crisis. You barged into our workplace ready to chop  our heads off.”

Ben tilts his head towards her, “I did not barge into the office like that.”

“Shh, don’t interrupt me, this is important stuff.” Leslie puts her finger over his lips, and Ben almost gets cross-eyed staring at it from under his nose before she puts her hand back down.

She continues her story in her bubbly tone, “Then we get into heated arguments as you tried to cut our budgets. But then at one point the tension between us turned into passion, and you fell madly in love with me.”

“Oh, I fell in love with you?” Ben asks teasingly.

“Yes, Wyatt. This is a huge favor I’m doing for you, so that is the story we are sticking to.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll agree to disagree, even though we know you would be more likely to fall in love with me.” Ben declares.

Leslie stifles a yawn, the effects of her sugar high from the five Nutri-Yum bars she had while waiting to board was wearing off, “Oh, please. You aren’t as charming as you think you are, Ben.”  Leslie jokingly mumbles. That wasn’t entirely true, and Leslie did have moments when she would pause every time Ben teased her during their budget meetings. He would flash that confident smile of his and she would summon all her will power not to smile back at him. She had to maintain her serious demeanor to show Ben she wasn't giving in to his budget cuts that easily.

Ben watches Leslie as her eyes close. She falls asleep instantly, like a baby settling down for a nap. He reaches for her head and lets it gently fall on his shoulder completely. Unable to avoid smelling her hair as the top of her head settles on the crook of his neck and a few of her curls cascade onto his chest. Her hair smelled like vanilla.

This was going to be an interesting week of him and Leslie pretending to be in a relationship with each other. He was actually looking forward to it. The truth was that he was starting to like Leslie. Sometimes, she'd get on his nerves when she sent him a million emails, voicemails and text messages. But other times he liked going toe-to-toe with her and testing her quick wit. Mostly, he liked watching when she gets so riled up over the smallest thing. She'd make this cute scrunched up face before she starts ticking off reasons how wrong his decision was.

But he reminds himself that this is all pretend. And that Leslie is just doing this to get him to reconsider the budget for her Parks Department. Whatever happens during the week would not be real and they were not really madly in love with each other. He tries to convince himself that but at the same time he can't help sneak a look at Leslie's soft pretty face on his shoulder. He suddenly had the urge to kiss the top of her head.

Good Lord, where was this coming from? He was going to have to try harder to remind himself that this is temporary. He sighs deeply, this is going to be a long week, Ben thinks to himself.  

Chapter Text

Ben parks the rented car in front of their house.  Leslie looks at the exterior from the passenger side window and admires Ben's lovely family home.  It was a huge property which lead to a lake behind the house that she glimpsed when Ben turned the corner.

He steps out of the car and jogs to Leslie's side to open the door for her.  She smiles at him as a thank you and takes his hand as he helps her out of the car.  She spies Ben's mother getting out of the house, looking very excited.

Ben sees his mom and takes one last breath of prayer, hoping this whole plan works. He receives a tight hug from her.  She then looks at him and exclaims, "Honey! I'm so happy to see you.  Why are you so thin, are you eating?" 

This is typically how his mother greets him, Ben chuckles, "Hi, mom.  Yes, I'm eating." He turns to Leslie and takes her hand as he pulls her close to his side.  "Mom, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Leslie Knope." 

Leslie smiles at Ben's mother and offers her hand.  "Mrs. Wyatt, it's so good to finally meet you.  Ben talks about you all the time." But Ben's mother takes her into a tight hug instead.  Leslie is surprised but she returns the embrace feeling all soft and warm on the inside.  Leslie loves getting hugs.

"You can call me Julia, my dear." Julia holds Leslie at arms-length and gives her a look of pure joy, "Oh my, you are more beautiful than I imagined." Julia glances at Ben with a twinkle in her eyes, "isn't she just the most beautiful girl you've ever seen, Ben?" 

"Yes, she is." Ben says in a solemn voice that it makes Leslie turn her head to him.  Ben flashes her a tight-lipped smile and his compliment settles on her like sweet wine.  She blushes and smiles back at him thinking about how he made that sound so believable.  This sweet exchange does not go unnoticed by Julia.  

They make their way into the house with their luggage in tow.  Julia introduces them to her fiancé, Michael.  Ben has only met him once before, but he knew Mike was a nice man. And Mike made his mother happy, so Ben wasn't one to complain.

Ben takes Leslie to his room and she stifles a giggle when she is greeted by a huge poster of Kathy Ireland plastered in one of the walls.  Ben's room was tidy and organized.  All his action figures were still lined perfectly on top of his desk.  Ben looks so excited seeing all his childhood stuff still neatly in place.  He goes over to his desk and starts rummaging around.  Taking a trip back to memory lane.

"Do I take the guest room?" Leslie asks, reminding Ben that she was there in the room with him.

"Oh, um, we'll be sleeping in my room." Ben says nervously and darts his eyes to the king size bed with Star Wars themed bedsheets. "It's much more believable if you sleep here." Ben adds.  He didn't want her to think he was trying to make a move on her.

Leslie blushes again for the second time when she realizes what Ben means. "Oh, I, um. Right, of course. We'll be sleeping on the same bed."  She coughs as she chokes on that last sentence.  

"I mean, I could sleep on the floor if you want."

"No, no. The bed is really big, we could, like put a pillow in between us." Leslie says, gesturing to the bed. "If your mom finds out, you slept on the floor that would ruin everything."

"Yes, of course, you're right." Ben says and goes silent as he thinks of what to say next. "I'll, uh, give you some privacy, let you unpack and freshen up." Ben mumbles as he quickly leaves the room.

Leslie grabs her phone and starts dialing Ann's number.  She drops the phone on the bed as she set it to speaker and starts unpacking her clothes.

"What happened?" Ann answers in an accusatory tone.

"Nothing happened." Leslie replies defensively.  She had told Ann about this plan and Ann had already voiced out her strong opinion about it last night.  "Ok, ok, we're going to sleep in the same bed!" Leslie exclaims unable to hold it in any longer.  She was really nervous about this and wanted to know what Ann thought.

"That's good! You might actually get laid as a bonus to this crazy idea." Leslie wasn't sure if Ann was being sarcastic.

"Ann, no! This is just like that movie, Sleeping with the Enemy. I haven't watched it yet, but the title pretty much explains the whole thing. And I'm pretty sure the leading lady dies in that movie."

"You will not die, Leslie. It's all pretend, remember? Ben won't make a move on you, when no one's looking. You'll be safe."

"I just want this week to be over so we can start working on my Parks budget!"  Leslie whines, exasperatedly.

"Leslie, take a break and enjoy yourself while you're there. The government is still shutdown, your budget can wait."

"How am I supposed to enjoy this?  I'm pretending to love a person that I hate!"

"He's not that bad.  He has a nice face."

"His cute face has no weight in the fact that he is trying to destroy everything that I worked so hard to build."

"Just keep your eyes on the finish line, Leslie.  Once this is over, you can have your budget back and, in the meantime, you get a week of Ben doing everything you want.  You get what I'm saying here?" Ann says and then emphasizes, "Everything.  You.  Want.  He's at your disposal." 

"Oh my, God. I did not think of that. Ann, you are a brilliant bumble bee!  This might actually end up being a really great week." Leslie says, her train of thought drifting to making Ben do whatever she wants for the week.  "I could drop my ideas on him now and he'll have to say yes to them, or I threaten to reveal that this is all a lie." 

"Well, I was thinking more of back rubs and maybe take you to a fancy restaurant," Ann says.  "But that works too.  Whatever floats your boat, Leslie."

  

 

*****************

 

 

Ben is at the kitchen helping his mom prepare for dinner.  He has on the apron that he had made in grade school, it has the words, 'Mom's Little Helper', written across.  

"Honey, I'm so happy for you." Julia says.  "Leslie looks like a sweet little angel." 

Ben is relieved that his mom likes Leslie.  But he's also starting to worry how crushed she'll be if she finds out that this was all just a lie.  Initially, he just wanted to eliminate the looks of pity from his family when they find out that he still hasn't had a girlfriend since his last major breakup 2 years ago.  But now he hopes to God they won't find out that he's faked a relationship just to get them off his back.

"She's a real sweetheart." Ben replies.

"I'll finish up here.  You go grab Leslie and we can start dinner." 

Ben heads to his room and knocks before entering.  He sees all of Leslie stuff around his room.  Ben doesn't want to admit it, but he suspects he is a little bit OCD.  Seeing Leslie's clutter in his room surprisingly didn't bother him as much as he thought it would, though.  It looked kind of homey to see her things mixed with his.  

"Sorry, I didn't know where to put my stuff, so... I just kind of placed them where there was space." Leslie says, sheepishly.

"No, it's fine.  Um, we're about to have dinner, if you're ready you could come down and join us." 

Leslie follows behind Ben.  When they reach the entrance to the dining room, Ben takes her hand.  The sweet gesture almost gets to Leslie until she remembers that this was for the benefit of his mom.   She reminds herself that Ben was not her friend and that she needed to squash the shivers that she gets whenever Ben touches her.  She blames all these emotions she was feeling on not having had a date for a long time since Justin.  She’d been so busy with work that she hasn’t had time to even consider her love life.

Julia and Mike greet them when they enter.  Ben pulls Leslie's chair out from the table and helps her sit.  Leslie compliments the food.  

"Ben helped make these." Julia announces with pride. 

"I didn't know you cooked." Leslie says to Ben.  And she immediately realizes she shouldn't have said it.  That was information that Ben's girlfriend should have known. "I mean, we get home so late that we usually just order take out." She hopes that they would buy that lie.

"Oh, you two are such workaholics." Julia beams.  Leslie lets out a breath of relief.  

"Well, we're trying to spend more time outside of work." Leslie starts to segue into her plan of getting Ben to say yes to her changes.  "In fact, there's this annual kite flying competition that Ben and I volunteered to host."  Leslie watches Ben's eyes widen.

"Oh honey, that sounds wonderful!" Julia says.

Ben's eyes flash a look of realization as he figures out what Leslie is trying to do.  "Yes, I can't wait." He says with a straight face.  He places his hand under the table and squeezes Leslie's elbow to tell her to stop what she's doing.  Leslie gives him a mischievous grin.  And a silent triumphant look on her face.

Everything is going according to plan, Leslie thought. This was a really good idea after all.

At the same moment that Leslie was thinking how perfect this week is going to be, Ben is thinking how everything is starting to unravel.  Leslie Knope having this kind of power over him is going to make this week a living hell.

Chapter Text

Leslie finishes the last of the plates she was wiping dry and carefully places them in the cupboard. She looks over to Julia and sees Ben's mother staring at her with a smile and the most endearing look. A wave guilt washes over Leslie. Ben’s sweet mother thinks Leslie is in love with her son. Knots form in Leslie's stomach, she hated lying to this sweet old lady.

"Thank you, sweetheart. You should head on up, Ben's probably wondering why I'm keeping you here so long." Julia gives her a quick hug. Leslie does not want to go up to Ben's room. But she was running out of reasons to stall. She volunteered to clean out their fridge except that Julia said it wasn't necessary.

Leslie shifts her feet as she stares at Ben's door. She had been standing in front of it for almost ten minutes now. Trying to talk herself into getting the night over with. She wasn't entirely sure why she was hesitating. She thought it was because she was afraid to face Ben's anger, but her mind kept going back to the bed they had to share that night. And if she was being honest with herself, images of lying in bed next to him was really what's occupying her thoughts.

He was her mortal enemy. She found herself repeating that notion in her head. And most of the time he annoyed her when he kept shooting down her ideas. But she was also a human being and Ben wasn't bad looking. It had been so long since she last slept with anyone. That came out wrong and she meant like literally sleep next to someone in bed but her mind had already pictured her body entangled with Ben's in a naked embrace and she had to suck in a deep breath to shake the image out of her head. This was not a good time to imagine these things.

Ben was her mortal enemy. This line was now becoming a mantra. Leslie needed to remind herself over and over that she could not under any circumstance let Ben think she liked him. She had to keep a strong front to save her department. Any sign of weakness would mean losing the people she cherished the most, and Jerry. And that was saying something.

Leslie finally decided that she was being unreasonable. She wasn't ten years old and standing outside a door for so long doesn't solve her problems. She knocks lightly and opens the door slowly. She sees Ben sitting in his desk all hunched up over the table, typing away on his laptop. He was already in his pajamas and he looked like he was doing some serious work with his brows furrowed. Leslie couldn't help noticing that his pajama had the words Star Wars plastered all over. She wondered if he's had that since he was in high school. It looked new though and she suddenly imagined Ben in a department store choosing between a normal pajama and the one he was wearing now.

"Hey." Leslie clears her throat; Ben didn't seem to notice that she had entered the room. He looks up a little startled like he'd forgotten that he was going to be spending the night with her.

"Oh, hey." He pauses as if thinking of something to say and then just decides to point to the bathroom, "um, you can use it to change for, uh, bed." Ben stumbled a bit when he said the last word. His mouth had gone dry and he was having a hard time continuing. "I could, uh, step outside, um, if you want some privacy."

"No, no. It's fine. You look like you're busy, so I'll just quickly change and then, um, get to the, um, the, you know," Leslie points to the object she was struggling to say, "Bed." She says, a little forcefully. Leslie wonders if she’ll ever be able to say the term again without hyperventilating.

Ben nods and quickly changes the subject. "Yeah, I had to update the spreadsheets, since I'd promised you all those stuff that you brought up during dinner."

"Well, I couldn't wait to start getting back some of the important events that you had decided to cut." She says defensively.

"That wasn't really what we had agreed on though…" Ben mumbles to himself as Leslie rummages through her bag for her pajamas.

"I don't see why you're so mad about this. You promised that you would consider all my ideas if I did this one favor." Leslie reminds him.

Ben sighs, "Yes, I know, I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I sound ungrateful, it's just that we were supposed to discuss how to rework the master plan. You were supposed to propose a new plan that wouldn't affect another department's budget. We would go through the numbers and debate on which one was agreeable."

Leslie doesn't pay attention to what Ben had just said. She was having a little panic attack as she realized she had left her safe and unflattering pajamas back in Pawnee. Instead, she had packed her favorite silk nightgown thinking she'd have a room to herself. This particular nightgown hardly provided her any covering. And she wanted to be fully covered if she was going to share the bed with Ben. She continues to dig into her bag until she found a pair of clothes that she thought would be a better alternative than wearing a baby pink next-to-nothing nightgown.

She came out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later and found Ben on the bed reading a magazine. There were two pillows lined in the middle that would protect them against each other while they slept. At least that was the plan.

Ben looks up and almost chokes on his laughter. Leslie was wearing a black long-sleeved hoodie and black yoga pants. "Are you planning on robbing a liquor store tonight?" Ben jokes, taking a stab at her all black sports attire.

Leslie sticks her tongue out at him, "ha-ha, very funny." She says sarcastically. “It was either this or a sexy nightgown that would probably drive you wild.” She slaps her mouth shut. She was so startled by what just came out of her mouth. Ben looked taken aback too.

Ben clears his throat, “Right. Um, yeah, this one is preferable.” He pretends to read his magazine again and act like whatever happened didn’t happen. Which was a really huge effort because now all he could think about was Leslie in the supposedly sexy nightgown that was allegedly going to drive him wild.

After going through a list of curse words in her mind, she makes her way to her side of the bed and slips inside the covers. Even with the pillows in between them, Leslie very much feels Ben's presence beside her. She turns to her side with her back towards Ben and turns off the room light with a flick of the switch.

"Uh, seriously? I was still reading…" Ben complains.

"Well, I can't sleep with the lights on."

Ben sighs and places the magazine on the table beside him. He twists and turns in his spot as he tries to get comfortable.

"Quit moving around, Wyatt." Leslie sounds annoyed. She was trying to forget that Ben was next to her, but his constant movement was making that hard.

"I'm sorry. I'm not used to sleeping on this side of the bed. This side doesn't have an imprint of my body yet."

Leslie snorts at this piece of information. "That is the dorkiest thing I've ever heard."

"Oh yeah? And paper boat racing at the lake in Ramsett Park is not?"

"Excuse me. Paper boat racing happens to be a well-loved family tradition among the citizens of Pawnee." She scoffs at him. "What do you know anyway? You live in a city that's too busy to care about family traditions."

Ben mumbles something that Leslie couldn't make out. Whatever it was, it was probably just him trying to contradict her, as usual. She closes her eyes and tries to get some sleep. She still had six days to go of this torture. She really hopes she'll survive this week without any incident.

****

Ben wakes up in the middle of the night with a start when Leslie's arm slams into his chest. It took the breath out of him and he tries to recover for a few seconds. He noticed that the pillow between them had somehow disappeared and that Leslie was now completely cuddling him. Her head was tucked in between his arm and side and one of her legs was sprawled over his hips. He tried to slide her leg off him, but that just made her tighten her hold.

He decides to let it be. Plus, he is starting to enjoy the feeling of Leslie clinging to him like this.  He really shouldn't enjoy it. But he did and that was his dilemma because he knew she hated him. He was quite aware that she wished he had never set foot in Pawnee. But right now, Leslie didn't seem to hate him as she slept peacefully. And he could forget about their budget wars. And just appreciate that this passionate, hard-working, sneaky, overachiever is stirring something inside of him. He hugs her back and he falls asleep with a smile on his face. 

Chapter Text

Leslie snuggles closer to Ben. She loves the warmth emanating from his body.  The sound of his steady heartbeat travels to her ear that was pressed against his chest.  She feels his chin comfortably propped on top of her head. She didn’t mind waking up to this. 

Wait what?

Like a shot of adrenaline right through her veins, Leslie jumps out of Ben’s arms, jerking him awake at the process.  They look at each other for a brief moment before Leslie stumbles out of bed and runs to the bathroom, slamming the door shut a little too loudly.

“Good morning to you too…” Ben mumbles underneath his breath.  He was guessing she was not happy that the pillow barrier did not do its job of separating them from each other while they slept.

Leslie paces back and forth inside the bathroom.  She woke up feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. She was not supposed to feel warm and fuzzy around Ben.  She was supposed to be vigilant and wary around him.  They weren’t friends. And they were definitely not lovers. 

A soft knock interrupts her fevered thoughts followed by Ben's muffled voice saying, "I'll be downstairs helping mom prepare breakfast.  You can come down when you're ready."

She breathes a sigh of relief.   His presence was starting to crowd Leslie and she was starting to feel self-conscious whenever he was around.  She takes her time showering and changing into comfortable clothes.  Today's itinerary involves Ben taking her around the town as his mom suggested last night.  Any sort of protest that they both did was vetoed and they reluctantly agreed to make a whole day activity out of it. 

"You are a strong, independent, confident woman, Leslie.  You can do this.  6 more days."  She gives herself one last pep talk in front of the mirror before heading downstairs.

A mix of delicious aroma attacks her senses once she reaches the bottom of the stairs.  She makes her way to the kitchen and sees Ben seriously hunched over the stove.  He has on a white apron with red trimmings.  Leslie clears her throat to announce her presence.  Ben promptly turns and gives her a smile.  She smiles back at the absurdity of seeing Ben looking so casual.  It was refreshing to see him in a different outfit than what he usually had on at work.  And she let out a soft chuckle when she read the words on his apron.

"Mom's Little Helper." Leslie read out loud with amusement.

Ben's eyes light up at her teasing, "It used to be 'Mom's Little Arson'.  I may have burned a few meals before I got better at cooking." 

Leslie peaks over the counter. "What are you making?" She asks.

"Waffles for my lady."  Ben announces with flair as he piles the perfectly browned waffle on two plates.  He places one of the plates in front of Leslie and pops open a can of whip cream.  "Tell me when to stop,” he says as he starts to spray the topping in a circular pattern.  He pauses after a few seconds to look at Leslie as the cream was almost as high as he thought he could possibly make it.  "Seriously?" 

"Just a tad more."  Leslie says.  Ben sprays one last twirl before Leslie gave him a satisfied thumbs up.  Ben shakes his head and laughs under his breath.

They take the plates to the dining table where Mike and Julia were already eating their breakfast.  Julia puts her book down and Mike peeks from his newspaper to greet them both good morning. 

"Ben, don't forget to take Leslie to the lake.  It's so beautiful there.  And to City Hall.  Show her where you got inaugurated."  Julia says.  "Just make sure that you come back after lunch.  And not before, okay."  Ben cringes, he was pretty sure why they were being asked to stay away all morning.  The look that his mom and Mike gave each other just confirmed it.   "And then this evening, Mike and I will be attending our friend's birthday party, so we'll be out pretty late."  She lowers her voice a bit as she says, "you have the house all to yourself."

"Got it, mom."  Ben replies quickly, before she could add more to it.  He looks over at Leslie who was blushing prettily while pretending to be busy with eating her waffles.  They gulped down the rest of their food so they could get out of the house as soon as possible.

 

*******

 

Ben and Leslie are standing in front of a sculpture near the entrance of City Hall.  He gestures to the structure as he said, "This is a bronze statue of our town mascot."

Leslie takes a second before she responds.  "It's a sled."

"Yes."  Ben replies.

"Why is it a sled?"  Leslie crosses her arms as she squints at it, thinking hard about what she was missing.

"Because it snows a lot here and for a long period of time. And kids are always dragging around sleds."  Ben explains.

"Huh."

"Yup."

They stare at the colossal monument for a few more minutes in silence.  Their concentration was broken by a man who approached them.  He was staring hard at Ben.

"Ice Town?  Is that you?"

"Hey, John."  Ben greets him as he recognized the man he went to high school with.

"Dude, what are you doing here?  Aren't you banned from returning here?"

"I wasn't banned…"  Ben's voice trailed off.

"I'm pretty sure you were."   

An older person walking past them stops and traces his steps back until he was standing beside John.  "Wait, is that Ice Town?"

Ben tucks his hands inside his pants pockets.  He looked like he wanted the ground to open and swallow him whole.

"Get out of here, Ice Town!"  The older man yells.

Leslie couldn't believe how Ben was being treated right now. "Excuse me, sir.  You are very rude."

The man turns sharply to her.  "And who are you?"

"I'm--" Leslie hesitates a bit as she's not used to saying it out-loud. "I'm his girlfriend." She raises her head high, "And frankly, you have no right to talk to him like that."

"I can talk to him any way I want to.  I lost my job because of him!"

"Well, that was a long time ago.  And Ben Wyatt has changed a lot since then!  He is a hardworking, reasonable man now."  Leslie says strongly, Ben almost believed she meant it.

"Listen, lady.  I don't give a damn what he is now.  I just want him gone.  And feel free to join him while he leaves this town for good."

Ben had had enough.  The man was starting to lash out on Leslie, and he did not like the feeling of anger that was surfacing inside him.  He had learned to bottle up these feelings a long time ago and he had become numb to the insults hurled at him.  But seeing this stranger attack Leslie was making him want to shove the guy away from her.  "Leslie, come on.  Let's just get out of here."

 

*******

 

Ben took them to a spot near the lake where there was no one around.  They had grabbed sandwiches from a deli, and they sat down a bench to eat in peace.

"Wow that was intense, are they always like that?"  Leslie asks, breaking the silence.

"Sadly, yes. That's why I hardly come visit."  Ben pauses and looks her in the eyes, "Thank you for defending my honor. "

Leslie feels a slight twitch in her stomach as she sees the sincere way Ben is looking at her.  She lightens the mood by teasing him, "Don't get any ideas, Wyatt.  I only said those things because that person was rude and annoying."

"So, you don't think I'm a hardworking, reasonable man?"

"No, Sir.  You are an evil machete wielding unreasonable budget cutter."

Ben laughs at her description.  Seeing him laugh made Leslie happy.  It might have been the beautiful scenery and the way the sun shone on Ben, but Leslie's heart skipped a beat.  And it scared her that she was starting to feel something for Ben. 

This is what Ann had warned her about.  Leslie was going to have to be stronger than this.  She reasoned that she could not under any circumstances start to like him.  This would conflict with her priorities.  She sounded like a broken record.  She's been telling herself this since yesterday.  And she was starting to feel like half of it was Ben's fault for sending her mixed signals.  She decided to confront him on this and set the boundaries again.

"Ben, I think we need to have a talk," She says a bit too loudly. Ben gives her a confused look, wondering why she suddenly sounded so serious.  "We shouldn't be doing this... Whatever you call this..."

Ben doesn't reply.  He knows Leslie was referring to the flirting that was happening between them.  He had no excuse except that he was getting comfortable with her and was starting to like the idea of having her as a girlfriend.

Leslie continues, taking Ben's silence as motivation to clear the air between them.  "I mean, we agreed that this was temporary and all for show and we should just stay within the boundaries when we're not around your family."

Ben nods.  "I completely agree."  He managed to spit out the lie with the littlest emotion he could muster.  He did not agree at all.  He wanted to tell Leslie what he was really thinking.  But he was going to have to accept that she did not reciprocate what he was feeling right now.  And as much as it pains him, he was going to have to find a way to get past it.

He looks at his watch to change the subject. "It's past noon now, it should be safe to head back to the house.  I have some work to catch up on." 

Leslie feels a tiny bit hurt that he agreed too quickly on this.  Which is ridiculous because it was her idea to draw the line in the first place.  Maybe she expected him to protest.  But then what would that mean?  Would she openly admit that she was also starting to like him?  This was all too confusing, and she was starting to hate agreeing to this proposition.  She follows behind Ben as they made their way back home, her thoughts in a swirly mess.

Chapter Text

"Benji Wyatt?"

Leslie and Ben turn to face the origin of the voice. They had been walking back to Ben's house hoping not to bump into anymore of his haters. Unfortunately, he seemed to be really famous in his hometown. Or rather, Ben was really infamous, and Leslie was not surprised that they were stopped again.

"Cindy?" Ben replies, shock written all over his face. Leslie observes the scene that's unfolding before her eyes. Ben looks like he just saw a celebrity. "Cindy Eckert?" Ben says once more, this time with a grin that reached from ear to ear.

"Oh my, God, Benji!" the tall brunette comes hopping towards Ben and she gives him a tight hug. Ben looks more than happy to be returning the hug. Leslie clears her throat as she was starting to feel awkward at not being introduced.

"Oh, uh, Cindy, this is Leslie." Ben gestures to Leslie as he pulls away from Cindy's embrace. "Leslie's, my, uh, friend." Ben stammers, remembering the little talk they had by the lake. "Cindy and I went to high school together."

"Hi, it's nice to meet you." Leslie says, shaking the girl's hand. Cindy promptly turns back to Ben. She's grinning and her paw freely touches Ben's arm. Leslie can guess that these two had a past relationship of some sort.

"What are you doing here?" Cindy asks, her hazel eyes sparkling brightly.

"My mom is getting married." Ben answers, suddenly acting all shy and self-conscious. Leslie wanted to roll her eyes. He was being really obvious.

"Well it's been too long since we last talked. You look good." Cindy boldly comments, rubbing Ben's arm. This time Leslie wanted to gag. Cindy was being really obvious too.

Ben's movements were like a schoolboy that had been dared to talk to the cutest girl in class. He was rocking back and forth with his hands in his pocket and smiling lopsidedly. "Yeah, I've been kind of busy since I moved to Indiana."

"Oh, so that's where you've been all these years." Leslie hears the flirty tone inflected in Cindy's words. "We really need to catch up. You're here until when?"

"I'm here for a week." Ben whips out his phone. "Here let me get your number so I can call you." They both exchange numbers, giggling about inside jokes that Leslie didn't understand.

"You better call me soon." Cindy smiles, her hand still glued to Ben's arm. She turns to Leslie, "It was really nice meeting you." She glances one last time and winks at Ben before heading to wherever she initially was heading to.

Ben was rooted on the ground, beaming like a giddy teenager. Leslie waves her palm in front of Ben's face. "Earth to Ben. Hello. Is anyone in there?" Ben looks sheepish when he recalls Leslie's presence.

"Sorry, I blanked out for a few seconds there."

"So, you and Cindy, huh?" Leslie tries to ignore the weird feeling that creeps up on her as she says Cindy's name.

"Oh, uh, way back in high school, we used to date. But the whole mayor thing kind of ruined my chances with her." They start walking back to the house and they walk in silence. Leslie unsure about why she was feeling abnormally annoyed. And Ben was busy going through memory lane as he tries to reminisce about his high school interactions with Cindy.

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They got back in the house and Ben immediately excuses himself to make a phone call. Leslie assumes it's a call to his newly rekindled high school love, Ms. Tall Brunette. She wasn't sure why she was feeling angry, but she half wanted to yell at Ben to go ask Cindy to be his fake girlfriend instead.

The doorbell rang and Leslie was glad to for the distraction. She frowned when she finds another tall brunette waiting outside the door. Great, Minnesota seemed to be overpopulated with brown haired women, Leslie thought bitterly.

The visitor looked confused at seeing Leslie answer the door, "Uh, hi, are mom and Mike home?"  Leslie suddenly remembers her from the internet research she had done on Ben. She gave herself an imaginary pat in the back for recognizing his sister.

"You must be Stephanie." Leslie smiles and lets her in. "I'm Leslie, Ben's girlfriend." She reaches out her hand for her to shake.

"Oh my, God." Stephanie's eyes widen and she let out a laugh. "You are actually real. I thought he just told us that to get us off his back." Stephanie astonishes Leslie with an embrace. "I'm so glad you're real."

"I'm real, alright." Leslie returns the hug. She always loved hugging and she felt like she really needed this hug today. "Also, Julia and Mike are out for the evening. And Ben is in his room." Leslie added after they had pulled apart.

"Okay, let's get comfortable." Stephanie says while dragging Leslie to the couch. "Tell me everything about yourself." Her excitement is contagious, and Leslie finds herself opening to Stephanie. Seeing in her a sister that she often dreamed of having.

When Ben finally finishes his phone call with Cindy, he steps outside the bedroom and hears Leslie's boisterous laugh from downstairs. He makes his way to the living room and is startled to see his sister and Leslie siting cozily in the couch, going over their family albums.

"Steph!" Ben calls out, "When did you get here?"

Stephanie looks up and smiles at her brother. "About an hour ago. I kept Leslie company while you were probably up in your room working." She shakes her head disapprovingly. "You work too hard, little brother..."

Leslie's eyes narrow. Had Ben been talking to Cindy for the whole hour? What could they have possibly talked about? For an hour. They didn't seem like they had much in common. Does Cindy like Star Wars too? Maybe Cindy had more in common with Ben than she did. Leslie was driving herself crazy with all these questions in her head.

"Also, Leslie and I are going shopping this afternoon." Stephanie announces. "I'm helping her pick something to wear for mom's wedding."

"Oh, well that sounds great. But I had planned on meeting up with a friend tonight."

Leslie raises her eyebrows. Does he mean, Cindy? Is he seriously going out on a date with Cindy? Leslie's starting to admit that she's feeling kind of jealous now. And she blames it on the fact that she's built such a deep backstory to her dating Ben that she feels betrayed by what was happening. As Ben's fake girlfriend of course. She added as a reminder to herself that her feelings were based on a pretense.

"Who are you meeting?" Stephanie wonders out loud. She had been observing the two and there seemed to be a weird vibe that was occurring as she read both of their body languages.

"You remember Cindy Eckert?"

"Oh my, God. You're meeting up with her? You dated her in high school, right? I'll be surprised if she doesn't try to jump your bones ten minutes in. She got this new boob job and she's been dating around a lot lately." Stephanie babbles continuously, missing the flabbergasted expression that flashed on Leslie's face. "And she's really changed since high school. She used to be this sweet girl back then, now, she's like really wild."

"Oh, did she really get a--" Ben pauses before continuing, "Boob job?" He lets out a fake sounding laugh, "I didn't notice." He averts his eyes, not meeting Leslie's. "I was going to take Leslie with me, but since you two made plans, l can cancel. I mean, unless you're fine with me going alone." He directed the last part at Leslie.

Leslie was taken aback at Ben asking her permission. She wanted to yell, no, but she knew that sounded like she wasn't comfortable with letting Ben meet up with a girl. She was supposed to portray a long-term girlfriend and Leslie thought that long term girlfriends would be a lot more chill with her boyfriend going out with high school friends. "Psh, of course I'm fine. I trust you completely. A hundred percent. Go meet up with your high school crush. While I do some retail therapy with your sister." She manages to say without choking on the bile that was accumulating at the back of her throat.

"Great." Ben replies.

"Great." Leslie answers.

"Great." Stephanie pipes in, this time she was sure there was tension in the air between the two.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Once or twice, Leslie found herself spacing out, her mind wandering to imagined make out sessions between Ben and Cindy. She understands that she's being illogical and that it shouldn't matter to her what they're doing because she's not in a real relationship with Ben. But at the same time, she couldn't help feeling the way she was feeling right now. Technically, he shouldn't be dating while he's on a fake relationship with her, right? There should be some kind of unwritten rule somewhere in the fake dating world.

Stephanie had to call her attention to bring her back to the present. They were able to pick out a beautiful green dress that flattered Leslie's body type. She complimented Leslie and told her that Ben would totally love this dress. Leslie gave her a small smile. She wasn't really feeling a lot of joy at the mention of Ben's name.

Leslie thought he'd probably love the dress more on Cindy and her fake boobs. Okay, that was mean. Even for her standards of pettiness, she wasn't usually that mean. But something about Cindy was making her feel all snarky.

They check out their purchases and Leslie adds a couple of pajamas to the pile. Stephanie drives them home and decide to ask what was bothering Leslie. The whole time they were shopping it was like she was only talking to half of Leslie.

"I don't mean to pry, but you look really worried about something."

"I'm sorry. I was just thinking about work."

"I see. So, Ben found a workaholic like himself."

"I just really love working for the Parks Department. I think I could work there until I'm a hundred years old! And I'm really worried that because of the government shutdown, we may not have a department to go back to." Leslie says, telling Ben's sister half the truth of what has been occupying her mind all day. Leslie decides to talk about how her and Ben met to throw off any doubt his sister might be having, "That's how your brother and I met. He came to town to audit our budgets and he just started hacking away. There were many times we had unending arguments. And then one day, we just made passionate love in his office after a heated debate."

Stephanie would have been happier if she didn't picture that last part about her brother having wild nights in the office. But she was relieved to hear that Ben wouldn't be lonely anymore, now that he was dating Leslie. There were days when Stephanie would talk to him and she worried that he was falling into depression without him knowing it.

"You know what, Ben was telling me about someone that he thought was really cute but very challenging to work with." Stephanie smiles at Leslie. "I think he may have been talking about you."

"Huh, so, he thought I was cute." This information made Leslie incredibly happy. She was starting to feel better. Stephanie notices the change in Leslie's mood and realizes that she was probably feeling a little jealous of Ben hanging out with an ex-girlfriend. Stephanie notes to herself to give Ben a little sermon about how he should be worshiping Leslie and not walking down memory lane with Cindy.

They get back to the house and Leslie excuses herself to put away her shopping bags and goes upstairs to Ben's room. She's taken aback that he's already in the room, hunched over his laptop, going over spreadsheets. He really was obsessed about work, Leslie remarks to herself. He looks up when he notices her and gives her a smile.

"How was shopping?"

"It was good." Leslie answers. She tries to sound casual as she asks him back, "and how was your date?"

"Well, it wasn't really a date. We kind of just talked about what we've been up to the past few years. And just going through our high school mischief."

Leslie can't explain the sudden tightness she felt in her chest. "I see. So, nothing special happened?"

"By special, do you mean, did we suddenly realize we were soulmates?" Ben jokes, not fully understanding why Leslie was asking.

"Are you?" Leslie asks, her voice small and her eyes wide, afraid of what he was about to say next.

"No. Of course not, Leslie. I mean, I don't know yet. I was just kidding." Ben glances at her, his brows furrowed. He thought she sounded weird, like she wasn't too happy about Ben hanging out with Cindy. But that contradicts what she told him this morning. They were supposed to set boundaries which to Ben meant he should stop hoping for anything to happen between them.

Leslie gives him a halfhearted laugh, "Right, right. You were joking." She pretends to get busy with unpacking her purchases and hanging her dress in the closet. She pushes Ben's plaid shirts to one side to make room.

There was a knock on the door and Stephanie peeked inside. "Oh, Ben, I didn't know you were back." Stephanie says when she sees him. "I was going to invite Leslie for some late-night scrabble downstairs since I didn't want her to be up here alone."

"Oh, well, we can still do that if you guys want." Ben says. "In fact, we can play 7 Wonders instead, I'm sure you'll both love it. I'll explain the mechanics and we can get started." Ben jumped up from his seat looking really ecstatic. Stephanie and Leslie exchange a knowing glance and smile at each other.

After a few repeat explanations, the two girls finally caught on with how to play the game. Leslie and Ben turned competitive and Stephanie had to mediate at one point before a yelling match started. When Ben won, Leslie was gracious enough to congratulate him and admitted that this was not at all boring as she thought it would be.

"Okay, you had years of practice with that game. And for first time players, we did a pretty good job." Leslie says, laughter in her voice. "Also, I promise you, next time, I'm going to win."

Ben gives her a mocking laugh, "You can try to win, next time."

"Okay, that was fun. But I have to head back home now." Stephanie hugs them both and whispers to Ben's ears.

"Don't you dare let this one go. She's good for you." Ben feels his heart constrict at his sister's words. He was starting to feel the same, but unfortunately, this was all just pretend. Leslie had spelled out clearly that she was only doing this to fulfill their agreement. And all Ben can do is look at Leslie with a longing that if Leslie had seen, she might have changed her mind and tell him to screw boundaries.

-----------------------------------------------------------

That night, Ben and Leslie once again, find themselves trying to sleep in the same bed inches apart, the silence was loud, and the air was thick with awkward tension. Ben thinking about how he was starting to really like Leslie, but her words about setting boundaries were echoing in his head. Leslie thinking about how she was starting to really like Ben, but he was the enemy and he was still obviously crazy about Cindy. Both unaware that they were thinking about each other. Both falling asleep wondering how they could even try to un-like the other.

Leslie wakes up in the middle of the night with Ben pressed up behind her. His arms wrapped around her waist and his face buried in her hair. She sleepily admits that she could get used to this. All her worries and annoyance from earlier disappeared and she pretends this is real until she finally fell back to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Leslie's alarm wakes her and she reaches for the phone to snooze it. Her movement makes Ben's arm tighten around her and he cuddles closer. Leslie grabs her phone and taps the screen to silence it. She sleepily enjoys the feel of Ben's body pressed against her back, slowly rubbing the arm that's currently sprawled across her chest. She suddenly becomes aware of something hard, poking her from behind and this jolts her awake, like a splash of cold water.

Mother fu---

In one chaotic moment, Leslie rolls off the bed as if finding a rattle snake under the covers, taking Ben with her, who still had his arms wrapped around her tightly, both of them crashing onto the carpeted floor. He lands on top and Leslie's breath gets knocked out of her. Ben is completely awake now, confused and wide-eyed at the current position they're in. There's a moment of both just staring at each other before Leslie springs into action, trying to escape from under him. Ben struggles to give her room to move as the bed covers have tangled them together during the fall.

Leslie runs to the bathroom after freeing herself and Ben slumps on the floor, his adrenaline fading. He sighs and mutters to himself, "I gotta stop waking up like this..." He reluctantly gets up, picks up the covers and fixes the bed, trying to keep his mind from thinking about how much he wanted to kiss Leslie during that nano-second when he thought he saw her give him the softest facial expression.

In the bathroom, Leslie puts the lid down on the toilet and sits, one palm on her forehead and the other hand holding the phone tightly to her ear as she waits impatiently for Ann to answer the call. "Leslie?" Ann's groggy voice is heard on the line.

"ANN!" Leslie whisper-screams on the device. "I FELT HIS PENIS!"

"What's happening?" Ann asks, her voice heavy with unsteady confusion. She was used to getting wake up calls from Leslie and it usually took a few minutes before she can understand exactly what was going on.

"I woke up and Ben was spooning me and I--" Leslie had to stop, unable to finish her sentence. She takes a lungful and continues. "And I'm afraid of what's happening right now. And I'm not supposed to feel like this when I'm around him. We fell off the bed and he was on top of me. And it looked like he wanted to kiss me. I mean, not that I know what that's supposed to look like, but I thought he was going to. And I couldn't breathe, but also he was really heavy so maybe that's the reason why I couldn't breathe."

"Leslie," Ann speaks softly. "Slow down. Start at the beginning. Whey were you spooning and how big was it?"

Leslie takes a short breath. "We keep waking up wrapped in each other's arms. And each time it happens, I panic and runaway and hide in the bathroom. There's always these two pillows between us, but they keep disappearing and we had a talk about setting boundaries yesterday, but it's like these pillows are a metaphor for boundaries and does that mean that we can't be separated from each other?"  And in a soft voice adds, "I'm not entirely sure how big because I just freaked out when I realized what it was..."

"This is starting to sound like you really have it bad for each other, Leslie."

Jumping up from the toilet, Leslie shakes her head vigorously. "That is not true, Ann. Yesterday, he met up with his old high school girlfriend. And God knows, they'll probably end up married by the end of the week." Leslie can hear the anger in her voice. Just thinking about Ben marrying someone else was getting her riled up.

"Well now it just sounds like you have it bad for him..."

"I--" Leslie was going to protest, but she had a lot of time to think about her feelings last night and she really was starting to like Ben. "What do I do, Ann?" she asks her best friend with a desperate tone.

"Tell him you like him." Ann states bluntly.

It was a simple solution. It sounded so easy and Leslie thought she'd be able to pull that off. "You're right. I need to tell him I like him." She runs that through her mind and is convinced it's the right thing to do. Then in a split second, her heart betrays her and poisons her brain with self-doubt. "What if he doesn't like me?"

"I'm sure he likes you too. Just think of it like a band aid. You rip it off really quick. And if it starts bleeding, then you stick another band aid on it."

"That's not a really good analogy..." Leslie whines.

"It's 6 am, Leslie. You can't expect anything better from me." Ann retorts, yawning loudly to prove her point.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I love you. Thank you. Go back to sleep. I'll tell you how it goes when you wake up." Leslie hangs up and takes a deep breath, excited to let Ben know how she feels. She steps out of the bathroom, in time to hear Ben saying goodbye to someone he was talking to on the phone. He sees her and he gives her an apologetic expression.

"Leslie, I'm so sorry." Ben says as he runs his fingers through his hair. "I completely respect your boundaries and that was unintentional that we woke up like that. And I'll try really hard to keep to my side of the bed, next time."

Leslie doesn't reply immediately, she's imagining ripping the band aid off and just spitting out the sentence, but her mouth refuses to say the words. "Oh, yeah. No, I-- It's not a big deal." Ben is relieved that she's not angry. He remembers how Leslie gets very feisty when she's mad and he half thought she'd be barging out of the bathroom yelling at him.

"Great." Ben says. "And listen, today, you don't have to hang out with me. I'm going on a date with Cindy, I just got off the phone with her. So, you can have the day to do whatever you want on your own." He smiles, thinking he's just delivered some good news to her. As much as it pained Ben to move on from wanting Leslie, he had to accept that she had drawn a line and that he wasn't allowed to cross it.

Leslie thought it was impossible for her to ever hate anyone who wasn't an Eagletonian. But Cindy was definitely getting added to that list. What Leslie understood from what Ben had said was that he didn't like her the way he liked Cindy. She hadn't even ripped the band aid off yet and she was already bleeding to death.

She tries not choke on her jealousy and puts on a wide smile that was hurting her cheeks. "Oh, yeah. Thanks. I guess I'll walk around town. On my own. Alone. Me, myself and I." She gives him a fake laugh. Maybe she laughed too hard, because Ben appeared a little worried.

"Are you sure you're OK?"

"I'm great! Peachy! Why wouldn't I be?"

"Alright." Ben says slowly, still giving her a questioning glance. "Call me if you need me."

Ben walks past her to use the bathroom. He doesn't see Leslie's crestfallen face as she pictures herself bleeding from the imaginary wound Ben inflicted on her poor heart. Why is this so God damn hard? Leslie dives into bed, not caring that it was already meticulously made. She hides under the covers and wishes the bed could swallow her completely.

 

**************

 

Leslie wanted to go back home to Pawnee. She'd been walking aimlessly around town for more than an hour, checking out all the shops she passed by, hoping to get her mind off the "Bendy" situation. She even made up a stupid name for Ben and Cindy. They were probably making out by now. "Oh God." Leslie moans. Why didn't she rip the band aid when she had the chance? She wanted to be back at the comfort of her own bed where she wakes up without having a heart attack.   Back in City Hall where she could start working on her projects.  She missed the smell of Pawnee, despite the alarmingly high toxic readings in the air that was due to Sweetums factories.

And because she hadn't been paying attention to where she was walking, she bumps into someone who was standing in the middle of the sidewalk. The person was as hard as a rock and didn't even budge from where he was rooted. Leslie, on the other hand, was a small bean and she went flying back, landing on her butt, on the hard ground.

"Ma'am, are you OK?" The rock is hovering over her. His eyebrows furrowed with concern.

Leslie moves a little and felt a bit of pain shoot up from her ankle. Great, she sprained her ankle. This was turning out to be such a perfectly disastrous day. "I can't move my foot." Her voice chokes back tears from the pain but mostly from having such a horrible mood. Without warning, the gigantic man swoops her in his arms and carries her to a bench nearby, softly placing her in the seat.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't see you and you just came out of nowhere."

"No, no. It's fine." Leslie sighs. "I think I just need a minute before I can move again." Without warning, Leslie suddenly bursts into tears. It was a mix of feeling homesick, missing Ann, missing Pawnee and pining for someone she can't have that caused the dam to break. The stranger looks guilt stricken, thinking that the tears were due to the pain.

"I can call an ambulance; do you want me to take you to the hospital? Maybe you broke your ankle during the fall." He sits next to her and Leslie tries to glimpse him through her tears. He appears to be an athlete, as he was wearing a jersey, maybe someone who plays football. The stranger had brown hair and hazel eyes and he was probably a 9 in Ann's hotness chart. Which adds to Leslie's misery, that she's with a 9 while she probably looked like a 3 at this very moment.

"It's not my ankle." Leslie utters between sobs. "I've just been having such a shitty day." She sobs even harder.

"Okay." The man takes Leslie's hands in his. "I know this is going to sound weird but go ahead and tell me all about your shitty day. It might make you feel better. And it's the least I can do for hurting you back there."

That encouragement is all Leslie needed and she starts pouring her heart out to this brown eyed man sitting next to her. She tells her about the proposition she made with Ben. She tells him that she's starting to like Ben but was stupid enough to tell Ben to keep his distance from her. And now he's dating someone else, and Leslie is miserably jealous, because it could have been her that he was dating. And now Cindy was going to end up boning him and they'll have cute little babies and Leslie would grow old, alone and single. She cries uncontrollably on the last part and the stranger engulfs her in his burly arms.

Leslie continues to babble, and the patient man comforts her. They talk for a while and she gets distracted from everything that's going wrong with her life. Plus, things seem to be turning up now that she didn't feel so lonely.

This scene is what stops Ben from his tracks. He spots Leslie's unmistakable blonde hair but why she was hugging someone that Ben's never seen before confused him. Cindy stops too when she notices Ben wasn't behind her and she sees him staring at a couple that looked like they were making out in the bench. She walks back and she realizes the couple was just hugging, but Ben seemed to be transfixed.

Ben didn't think he was a jealous man. Until he saw Leslie in the arms of a stranger. The emotion came out of nowhere. It was startling to have such a powerful feeling come over him. He wanted to pry Leslie away from this man. It also hurt him that she'd allow this suspicious looking person to cross the boundary that Ben couldn't set foot on. His jealousy is replaced with concern when he realizes that Leslie's eyes were puffy from crying. He moves closer to them calling out her name. "Leslie?"

Leslie freezes at the sound of Ben's voice. Crap on a spatula! She hurries to wipe the tears and snot from her face before turning to him. "Ben, what are you doing out here?"

"Uh, Cindy and I were heading back to her house." Ben announces, pointing absentmindedly to Cindy. "Hi, who are you?" He asks the man next to Leslie. Ben was clearly eyeing the way they were sitting too close to each other.

"I'm Eric." The stranger answers. "Leslie hurt her ankle, so I'm keeping her company until it feels better." He beams at Leslie and gives her a wink. Leslie laughs at their inside joke. Ben doesn't find anything funny about this.

"How did you hurt your ankle?" Ben asks, unable to mask his annoyance, but still sounded concerned for Leslie's health.

"It's a funny story. I injured it when I bumped into him." Leslie and Eric laugh again. Leslie feels a little better now that she's spilled her guts to Eric, and it was very sweet of him to listen.

"Interesting story." Ben says dryly when he realizes that Leslie isn't hurt badly. He turns to Eric and declares, "I can take Leslie home, she can rest better there."

"No, no, you go on ahead with your date with Cindy. I can take her home later." Eric replies, his eyes twinkling. "Besides, I promised to take Leslie to a diner nearby that makes the best waffles. We have a bet that these will be better than what she has back in Pawnee."

Ben wasn't sure what he was angrier about, the fact that Leslie had already told this stranger her addiction to waffles or the fact that they only met and they appeared really comfortable with each other already. "No, I can take her home and make her waffles myself." He says forcefully.

It was like watching a tennis match. Eric and Ben were arguing back and forth about who would take Leslie home. Leslie watched with her eyebrows raised. She wasn't really sure what was happening here.

Cindy, on the other hand, had her hands on her waist and was tapping her foot impatiently on the ground. She knew exactly what was happening here. These two men were fighting over Leslie and these two men were completely ignoring her. She stared hard at Leslie. Cindy had no idea what they were seeing in her. She was small and frumpy and had messy blonde hair.

"It's fine, Ben. I'll be fine with Eric." Leslie finally mediates between the two. Besides, she'd already agreed to hanging out with Eric.

 

**************

 

Ben can't concentrate. He has a pretty good inkling why Cindy brought him to her house, but he was not interested in anything she was offering him. So, he bid her good day and evaded a goodbye kiss. All he ever did since their date started was keep comparing her to Leslie. And now, all he could think about was Leslie and Eric having waffles together. When he got home, he paced back and forth in his room, checking his phone in case Leslie dropped him a message. After half an hour passed, he couldn't stand it anymore and he sent her a text message asking how her ankle was feeling.

'It's feeling better,' was the reply he got from her. He should feel good that she wasn't completely hurt but that means, Eric's not going to be taking her home anytime soon.

'Around what time are you coming back to the house?' Ben couldn't resist asking. He had to know if they were going to spend more time together.

'Eric and I are heading to the lake to hang out,' there was a pause and Ben stared at the typing icon. 'Don't wait up.' Ben squeezes his phone tightly. They were going to continue their date for the rest of the day. It took him five minutes before he decided to go to the lake too. It was a public area. Leslie can't fault him for being there. He changes into his red swim shorts and grabs a towel before he headed out with a determined expression on his face.

It was a ten-minute walk to the lake. There were a few people on the beach, but he spots Leslie and Eric immediately. Leslie is sitting on a towel with her back to Eric. She is wearing a white bikini and even from a far, Ben could see how good she looked in it. Ben wonders if she'd packed that with her and or if she bought it before going to the lake. For some irrational reason, he thought that if Leslie packed it then it was meant for Ben to see and if she just bought it then it was meant for Eric. 

Ben was really starting to hate that guy. It didn't help that Eric was just about to finish applying sunscreen on her back. There was an unexpected anger that was bubbling in the surface of Ben's emotions. The whole walk to the lake, he had planned how he was going to smoothly act like this wasn't really breaking the rules that Leslie had forced on him. But he was overcome with the urgency of getting between Eric and Leslie that he almost stumbled while running to their spot.

"Leslie!" He exclaims, a little out of breath.

Eric and Leslie glance up to find Ben hovering above them. "Ben, what are you doing here?" Leslie asks.

"Yeah, dude, what are you doing," Eric eyes him suspiciously, "here?" It was obvious that he wasn't too happy to see Ben.

"I thought it would be a nice way to end my day with a little light swim in the lake." Ben answers in a not so convincing tone.

"Come sit with us." Leslie says, patting the spot next to her.

"Okay." Ben replies happily, ignoring the daggers that Eric's eyes were shooting at him. He sits next to Leslie and removes his shirt, folds it and places it on the sand.

Leslie immediately realizes that this was a huge mistake. She's never seen Ben without his shirt before and she remembers to snap her jaw shut at the sight of what he's been hiding underneath the plaid shirts that he wore to work every day.

Ben's upper body is rippled with muscles and she counted four solid looking abs and two more softer ones below that, half hidden under his shorts. Leslie admits that she'd never in a million years think that Ben's body would be this well-toned. He must be working out during his free time. She always thought that he spent his free time at the local game shop playing dungeons and dragons with his friends. She averts her eyes when he turns to her, hoping that he didn't notice that she had been staring at his body.

She was supposed to be hanging out with Eric, and she should focus on him. He was nice enough to treat her to waffles, and since she won the bet, Eric invited her out here in the lake to relax. After pouring out all her problems about Ben, she thought Eric would run away from her. But instead, he seemed interested to spend more time with her and she thought this was a good way to keep Ben off her mind. Unfortunately, Ben had decided to crash their date. And now, she's just constantly thinking about sneaking another peek at shirtless Ben.

It was going to be impossible now for Leslie not to have images of his abs and biceps when she laid in bed next to him tonight. She fans herself with her hand, as she suddenly felt really hot. Lord help her if she can survive the third night.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The sound of tapping keys coming from where Ben is sitting, distracts Leslie. She’s on the bed pretending to concentrate on what she had written on her binder. She glances at Ben, who is at his desk, tapping away at his keyboard, she’s unable to see what he's doing on his computer. She guesses that he is probably on one of those sci-fi forums he liked to hang out in during his free time.  They had come back from the lake an hour ago and were passing the time until Ben's relatives arrived for dinner tonight.

Eric had to run back to the gym for an emergency meeting with his coach and begrudgingly let Ben take Leslie home. During their walk home, the silence between them could have been cut with a knife.  Their unspoken feelings hanging above their heads, like a dark cloud waiting to rain down on them.

Ben is editing a chapter of his fan fiction Star Wars story.  He was feeling inspired because he got to take Leslie home and managed to steal her away from that wretched Eric. Also, he lost count of how many times Leslie stole a peek at him when they were hanging out at the lake. He reminded himself to thank Chris for giving him that lifetime membership to Gyms-R-Us, a famous Indiana gym that always seemed to have a branch wherever they got assigned to, and for forcing him to go and work out. Chris had told him that exercising helped fight depression. Which was absurd, because Ben thought he wasn't the kind of person that got depressed easily. But he humored Chris' advice and it looked like it paid off greatly if Leslie couldn't take her eyes of him.

Leslie was quiet during their walk home because she was having an inner monologue with herself about her "Bensition". She was really proud of the term she coined relating to this proposition that Ben had put her in. She reminded herself to let Ann know of the new code name she made up.

Leslie could no longer deny that she was developing feelings for Ben. The whole time when they were at the lake, all she could picture was making out with him and she couldn't see herself doing that with Eric. Plus, it didn't help that she practically had to sit on her hands to stop herself from reaching out and testing how firm Ben's abs were.

Her dilemma was that she had told Ben to back off. And now, he's dating Cindy. Which was unfortunate because Cindy was everything Leslie was not. Cindy was cool, she was beautiful, and she was Ben's old flame. How can Leslie compete with that? Not to mention, Cindy was two cup sizes ahead of her. Even if Ben was a gentleman and probably did not care much about that, at least that’s what Leslie desperately hoped, he was still human. Cindy was basically a hot Rebecca. Hot Rebeccas turn heads. Plain old boring Leslies do not.

Leslie could still do what her best friend suggested and confess to Ben that she liked him. But at this point, Leslie couldn't find the courage to. She was afraid that Ben didn't feel the same way. Because if he liked her the way she liked him, why did he agree so quickly to set up boundaries and then go out multiple times with Cindy. Thinking about Ben and Cindy getting together bums her out so much that she doesn't even feel like blackmailing Ben to accept any of her other projects that were cut from the Parks budget.

The sound of the doorbell carries over to Ben's room and he glimpses his watch to confirm that it was almost dinner time. Leslie gets up from the bed and heads to the door, Ben opens it for her and they both walk down the flight of steps. He takes Leslie's hand in his when they reach the landing, startling Leslie for a quick second, before she realizes that they needed to pretend that everything was fine between them. 

 Leslie thought she had reached her all time low, but fake holding hands with Ben was a sure winner. Imagine wanting a fake relationship to be real. Imagine wishing that he was holding her hand because he wanted to share the sweet gesture with her. Leslie scolds herself for thinking about all these. It was shooting daggers through her heart. And she wasn't sure how much more of the pain she could handle. She feels a small squeeze from Ben's hand, and she turns to him.

"Are you ready?" Ben asks. Apparently, this was the night that the rest of Ben’s family outside of Minnesota had arrived. And they were all dying to meet her.

No, she was definitely not ready. But she couldn't back out now. So, instead she says, "Yes." Leslie nods her head once, quickly averts her eyes to the floor, and taking a long deep breath. Ben had the softest countenance of concern in his face and it almost unbuckled her knees. 

She fakes a smile as they step into the living room and she takes in the chaotic scene that unfolded before her. Heads turn as their presence has been detected and there is a moment of silence as the guests’ eyes focused on the couple holding hands. After a heartbeat, everybody starts talking loudly over each other again. A group of people rush to Ben as they each gave him a hug.

Ben gets a second to breathe and he rolls his eyes at Leslie and gestures to the boisterous curious relatives, "Leslie, this is the rest of my family," Ben says. He turns back to the crowd and announces, "Family, this is Leslie, my girlfriend." He bumps his shoulder with hers and Leslie smiles as she sways against him.

One by one they took turns hugging and introducing themselves to Leslie. She meets aunts and uncles and cousins, and even third cousins whose names she had already forgotten, she'd have to make sure to look at her notes later and try to recall who's who. One man, who looked like a carbon copy of Ben, hugged her tightly.

"You are real!" He laughs and Leslie laughs too because it’s contagious. It seems that no one had taken Ben seriously when he said he had a girlfriend. Granted, he was still technically lying to them...

"I am. Hi! You must be Henry," Leslie says to Ben's brother. "You look so much like Ben, but better looking." She teases.

"Well, I think you're my favorite person now." He reaches for a beautiful woman's hand and brings her next to him to meet Leslie. "This is my wife, Shannon. If you could please repeat what you just said so she can hear it. To this day, she still thinks Ben is the handsomer one."

"Hi!" Leslie exclaims as she hugs Shannon back. Shannon could pass for a goddess. Leslie couldn't help but stare at the beautiful petite red head with a wide smile that showcased her pearly white teeth. Her floral yellow sundress complimented her porcelain skin. Leslie thought that Shannon might just be comparable to Ann's beauty. And to Leslie, Ann was the most beautiful girl she's ever met.

"I see my husband found an ally," Shannon says. "How freaked out are you that Ben and Henry look so much alike?"

The reason that Ben and Henry appeared like carbon copies of each other was because they were twins. Ben had told her about his twin brother during their plane ride to Minnesota. Leslie thought that was very interesting as she's never really known anyone who had a twin before. But after seeing Henry, it was glaring how different they were from each other. 

"Actually, it's pretty easy to tell them apart," Leslie announces.

"You're kidding me,” Shannon says. “They're identical twins. Everyone has difficulty figuring them out."

"Oh," Leslie feels a little foolish for not understanding how they could be indistinguishable. "Well, they seem similar, but not completely identical..."

"You can really tell the difference between Henry and Ben?"

Everyone goes quiet upon hearing Shannon incredulously ask the last question.

"Yeah..." Leslie wonders what's so weird about that. "I mean, I can't really pinpoint the difference, but it's enough that I can tell them apart." She shrugs a little confused what the big deal was. Also, Ben looked at her differently than the way Henry did, but she wasn't about to say that out loud. Plus, she didn't want to admit that perhaps the reason she could tell them apart was because for the past few days she'd done nothing but stare at Ben's face when he wasn't aware.

Ben is giving her the weirdest expression, like he can’t accept that she was telling the truth. Which makes Leslie a little bit annoyed that he doesn't seem to believe her. She's determined that she could probably pick out Ben from a crowd just by looking at the back of his head.

Leslie’s relieved when Julia pops in to announce that that barbecue is ready, and they can move to the backyard now. Leslie was getting a bit worried that someone would ask for more details on how she knows which of the twin is Ben. Because she really didn’t know how to explain it.

There’s a lot of noise and chatter as everyone makes their way to the back of the house. Leslie feels a tug on her shirt, and she peeks down at two adorable twin boys which she assumed were Henry’s because they were like mini versions of Ben but with wild red hair.

“Kuse me, ma'am. Ah you Uncle Ben's golfwend?” The little boy peers up at her with his big brown eyes wide in disbelief. His couldn't completely pronounce the letters x and r and Leslie thought that was the cutest thing ever.

She beams at him, “Yes, I am. And you can call me Leslie.” She bends down to their level, “And what’s your name?”

“I’m Wucas,” He answers proudly. Leslie recalls Ben telling her that Henry’s sons were Lucas and Brian. “And that’s Bwy-an.” Lucas points to his identical brother.

The twins whispered loudly to each other.

“Daddy said she's not wee-yal.” Brian shyly whispers to Lucas.

“But she's wight in fwont of us, Bwy-an. That means she is vewy wee-yal,” Lucas points out.

“Ask if she knows how to pway dodge ball.”

“You ask.”

“No, you ask.”

“Fine…” Lucas huffs but you could tell he was dying to ask. “Kuse me, Weslie, do you know how to pway dodge ball?”

“Yes. I'm very good at it too,” Leslie boasts playfully.

Lucas turns to Brian in excitement, “She says she's vewy good, Bwy-an.”

“Ask her to teach us, Wucas.”

Lucas turns back to Leslie oblivious to the fact that Leslie could hear their side conversations. “Can you teach us how to pway?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Leslie holds out her hands and both boys grab one each and lead her to the backyard.

Ben watches from  a far as Leslie bonds with his family. He watches as the twins approach her. The two kids always kept to themselves and were very shy and hardly talked to any of the grownups, but they approached Leslie without hesitation. He thinks about how she says she can see the difference between him and his brother. Even their mom and Steph couldn’t. But what does that mean though? Does it even mean anything or was he overthinking again like he normally does when he's in a relationship? Also, this wasn't even a real relationship so it shouldn't mean anything.

He was so deep in his thoughts that he didn’t realize Henry had appeared at his side.

“I like her,” Henry states.

“Me too,” Ben replies. And he really meant it. He was regretting that he proposed this whole fake girlfriend plan to Leslie because now he wished he’d really just asked Leslie to be his real girlfriend. Then maybe they could have started off better and not be in this weird awkward situation. And maybe Leslie wouldn’t have set up a wall to keep him out. There was so many things he wishes he could change. And it was eating him up. Not to mention, the gnawing feeling of wanting to make out with Leslie every time she was near him.

“Should we test her?” Henry’s voice brings Ben back to the present.

Ben nods once. “It’s tradition.”

“Shannon passed the test,” Henry reminds him. “And I ended up marrying her.”

“Leslie will pass too, I can feel it,” Ben says confidently. They both nod in agreement and head upstairs to Ben’s room.

 

-------------------------------

The backyard was well lit with lampposts in a few corners and the moon shined brightly, illuminating their surroundings. Leslie now had all the kids teamed up for a mini game of dodge ball. After showing the ropes to Lucas and Brian, the rest of the children came up to them to join in. Her take-charge persona kicked in. She had formed two teams and a game was afoot. The adults watched in the background, talking among themselves, happy to have found someone to entertain their kids and freeing them from the burden. 

Once all the kids had been hit, they decide to take a break before switching sides.  Lucas’ shoelaces had gotten untied and Leslie was crouched, tying it for him when she heard Lucas’ greet Ben behind her. “Hi Uncle Ben! Weslie taught us how to pway dodge ball!” 

Leslie stiffens. She hadn’t talked much with Ben since they got in the house. She momentarily forgot about her issues when she was having so much fun with the children, but now the turmoil of emotions all come rushing back to her.

She finishes with Lucas’ shoes and he runs off to find his twin. A bottle of beer is handed to her from behind and she glances up to thank him. But it wasn't Ben though. It was Henry.

Leslie gives him a questioning look, "Why are you wearing Ben's clothes?" She took the beer from Henry’s hand.

Henry is stunned. He had made sure that he looked exactly the way Ben looked earlier in the living room. Hell, he even tricked his kid, his own flesh and blood, to think he wasn't his father. Ben double checked everything for him. But just like that, their prank didn't even last more than a second before Leslie called him out on it.

"Wow, you really were telling the truth. You can see the difference between me and my brother."

Leslie narrows her eyes. "Were you guys trying to test me?"

Henry looks sheepish as he answers, "Yes."

"Well you failed," Leslie says haughtily. "I am not easily tricked. One time, my mom told me that I was born in Eagleton. Really nasty place, you'd hate it there. But I could see right through the lie." She moves her hands to her hips, "Do you do this often?"

"Just to all the girls we've dated."  Henry says, rubbing the back of his head, and feeling guilty. "I apologize for playing this prank. It's sort of become a tradition."

"Did anyone actually pass the test?"

"It used to be just Shannon…" Henry says, "Now, there's you."

"Well I'm sorry I ruined your traditional twin trick."

"Not at all. In fact, you've proven one very important point."

"And what is that?"

"That you, Leslie Knope, are perfect for my brother."

Leslie blushes, then starts to feels guilty. When Henry finds out that this is all a sham, he's going to be super pissed at her. And she was beginning to like Henry. And everyone in Ben's family. They were all starting to feel special to Leslie. Henry's little boys calling her Auntie Leslie was so endearing she wanted to kidnap the kids and babysit them forever.

She wonders if Ben and her kids would look as cute as Lucas and Brian, maybe they’d get her blue eyes and Ben’s thick brown hair. Oh God... she slaps her palm to her face when she realizes that her imagination has gone too far. She steers her mind back to the matter at hand.

Leslie never had a twin nor a sibling, so she assumes this is normal twin behavior. She figures that if she also had a twin, she'd probably do the same thing, so she forgave Henry. But she will not let Ben off easily. Her face lights up mischievously when an idea came to her, "If you're really sorry, then you'll help me prank Ben back."

Henry's eyes widen. "What do you have in mind?" He finds Leslie really refreshing. She was different from all the other girlfriends Ben had had in the past.  

"Shannon might end up hating me after this."

"I'm sure she'll find it hilarious."

"Is Ben watching us?"

Henry peers behind him and sees Ben staring at them intensely. "Yup."

Leslie hooks her arm in his elbows and snuggles closer to Henry. She puts her head on his shoulder and lets it rest there while she takes a sip of her beer.

Watching from a distance, Ben almost chokes on his drink. This was not what he imagined would happen. He expected Leslie to figure it out the minute she laid eyes on Henry and he thought she'd come looking for him and yell at him or give him her angry scrunched up face that she usually dons whenever she was annoyed with him.

Instead, Leslie was being intimate with his brother and it did not sit well with him. Growing up with a twin, he and Henry had always shared a bond that other people couldn't understand. They never fought or argued and always had an eerie way of communicating with just their eyes.  Never once in his adult years had he ever felt jealous of his twin brother except now.

He was about to break them up when a hand on his shoulder stopped him, “Calm down before you make a scene.” Shannon says.

Ben glances at Shannon who was smirking at his side. When Henry and Shannon first dated, the brothers had played the same trick on her and Shannon had figured it out fast. So, she knew exactly what they were doing to Leslie once she noticed Ben wearing Henry's clothes.  And she was not about to let Ben embarrass Leslie in front of his family for not being able to tell them apart.

"You're right." Ben takes a breath and thanks Shannon. He doesn't fully grasp why anything that Leslie does always brings out extreme reactions from him. He's liked other girls before and his long-term relationship that ended two years ago never elicited these kinds of emotions from him.

He approached them as calmly as he could manage and that took a lot of effort because what he really wanted to do was drag Leslie away from his brother.

"Hey," Ben says, noticing the smile that was spread on Leslie's lips. That smile should have been for him and not for Henry slash fake Ben.

"Henry, glad you could join us," Leslie replies to Ben.

"Hello, brother." Henry pipes up.

"So… You and Ben are getting serious?" It was a stupid question and Ben really couldn't think of anything as his brain wasn't functioning normally upon seeing the way Leslie was clinging to Henry.

"Oh yes. In fact, we were just talking about hiding somewhere and just making out for an hour." Leslie gives Henry a sly grin.

Ben tightens his grip on the bottle of beer he was holding on to. "I'm sure he'd love that." He says with his teeth clenched.

The twin intuition was strong between Henry and Ben and Henry knew this was bothering Ben more than usual. When they played this trick with his past girlfriends, Ben never cared that they didn’t know they were being tricked. Leslie seemed special to Ben and Henry did not want to prolong his brother’s suffering.

"We're just teasing you, Ben," Henry says. Ben narrows his eyes and Henry continues to explain. "She figured it out the second she took a look at me."

Leslie puts her hands on her hips. "And I'm really angry that you would play a trick on me like that. I've already forgiven your brother because he charmed his way into it. You on the other hand are not off the hook yet." Leslie chides Ben.

Ben raises both hands in surrender and counters, "It was Henry’s idea." He is relieved to know that Leslie figured it out immediately. Even though he knew this wasn't going to lead anywhere, there was a sense of pride that she recognized the difference between him and his twin.

“Can you both just get back in the house and un-switch yourself? I feel like I’m in an episode of Parent Trap.”

Ben and Henry retreat to the house and Leslie goes back to their game of dodge ball with the kids. Shaking her head at what just happened. It makes her feel special to be one of two people that they could not trick with their game of switcheroo.

And the evening passed by quickly with Ben (the real Ben) standing beside Leslie the whole time. Refusing to leave her alone and acting like the perfect boyfriend. It was a huge effort for Leslie to constantly remind herself that it didn't mean anything. That the looks he was giving her was just for show. It was so convincing that she reacted to them so naturally before she caught herself. 

She couldn’t wait for the week to be over so she could stop stressing over these emotions she couldn’t understand. But she also didn’t want this week to be over and then Ben would be back to just being her boss in a platonic relationship with her. And they would just go back to fighting over the budget like normal colleagues. 

Finally giving up on being able to explain what she really wanted, Leslie decides to just enjoy the moment and the feel of Ben’s arm draped across her shoulders.

 

-----------------------------------

Ben wakes up in the middle of the night. He's not surprised that his face is buried in Leslie’s soft blonde hair. This is the third night that they subconsciously wake up wrapped in each other's arms. He moves slowly away from her so as not to wake her. He gets out of bed and takes a pillow with him as he makes his way to the living room. He would get more rest if he slept on the couch. Right now, it was not safe to be this close to Leslie. He was exerting  too much effort to restrain himself from ravaging her.

Leslie wakes up a few hours later and sees the empty space beside her when her eyes adjusted to the dark. She peeks at the bathroom door and doesn't see any light coming from the space under the door. She wonders where Ben is. She gets up to find him, curious what the reason could be that he was not in bed at 3 am. She heads to the kitchen first, thinking that maybe he got hungry, but the kitchen was dark and bare. She heads to the living room and sees Ben sleeping on the couch, snoring lightly. She sees a book on the floor next to him and she figures he went down to read a few chapters and didn't want to wake her with the reading light.

She goes over to him and watches his peaceful sleeping face, she drags the soft grey duvet from the corner chair and covers Ben with it. She stands still, hovering above him, unable to make herself go back to the room and sleep in the empty bed. She makes up her mind and slowly gets under the blanket with Ben. The sofa was big enough to accommodate them both, Leslie takes the liberty to scoot closer to Ben and she wrapped her arm around his chest and buried her head in the back of Ben's hair where she found the perfect spot at the nape of his neck.

 

She will tell Ben how she feels tomorrow. Tonight, she just wants to snuggle with him and feel his warmth and fall asleep to the rhythm of his breathing.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

It is still dark outside when Ben wakes from his dreamless sleep.  He is immediately confused as to why he is squished all the way into the back of the couch.  He then notices the arm around his chest and the warm breath coming from Leslie's face that is snuggled comfortably at the back of his neck.

She must have woken up in the middle of the night and followed him in the living room.  Why did she follow him downstairs and why did she choose to sleep on the couch with him?  His initial guess is that being alone in his room might have frightened her.

He very slowly turns his body to face Leslie, carefully making sure she doesn't wake up.  Ben's eyes had adjusted to the dark and he can see the outline of her peaceful face.  He slides a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.  Ben is undeniably falling for her.  He wishes there is a way for them to start over.  And he could do things right and actually ask her out for a proper date. 

He’s been staring at her for a few minutes now and Ben is very tempted to give her a kiss.  The overwhelming feeling scares him.  He shouldn't be wanting something so bad that he knows he can't have. 

Maybe he can steal one kiss from her while she is sleeping.  No, Ben thinks.  That would be really inappropriate.  He respects her too much to do that.  But damn it, he wants nothing more than to kiss her right now.  He imagines that if she woke up from it, he'd probably get slapped in the face.  As much as the idea of a feisty Leslie turns him on, he doesn’t want her angry at him.  They only had a few days left together and even if it is all just pretend, she is at least being nice to him.

He really should move away from her before she wakes up.  He promised Leslie that he'd stop waking up like this.  Like they were a real couple.  He lifts her arm and places it on her side.  He maneuvers his way out of the sofa by climbing at the back. He almost fell on the floor when he incorrectly estimated how high the back went.  But he manages to regain his balance with zero noise.

He takes one last longing glance at her before he heads to his room.  He decides to change into his jogging clothes.  Ben needed to get his mind off his fake girlfriend and the best distraction is an early morning jog.  He can stop by his sister's house too and grab coffee with her.

 

*********

 

Stephanie yawns and stretches while she fidgets with the coffee maker.  The sun had risen and as part of her normal routine, she'd get the coffee started, fill her bowl with cheerios and milk, and stare outside the kitchen window while she ate her breakfast.

She waves to one of her neighbors who is walking past her house.  From a short distance, she spots Ben jogging up to the front door.  But before he got past the fence, Cindy sneaks up out of nowhere.  Stephanie almost chokes on her mouthful of milk and cereal when she sees the busty brunette.  Ben's sister shakes her head in disappointment as she notices the sparkle in her brother's eyes while talking to Cindy.

The flirting almost makes Stephanie gag.  She gets annoyed that her brother is freely entertaining this behavior from Cindy.  She knows her brother is a sweetheart and that he isn't fully aware that the kind of charm he exudes make the girls want to take him home to their parents.  But Stephanie feels loyal to Leslie. 

Last night’s family gathering had proven to her once again that Leslie is perfect for her brother.  Stephanie saw the way Ben was hanging on to her the whole night.  Granted, there was a about a half hour when Ben was Henry and they tried to trick her.  But Leslie took it all in a smooth stride, turning the trick against them when she demonstrated that she could tell them apart.  Stephanie and Shannon had a really good laugh at that. 

The conversation finally ends, and she sees Cindy give Ben a light kiss on the cheeks before walking away.  Stephanie's eyes narrow.  She puts her bowl down on the kitchen counter so abruptly, that the sound of the ceramic bowl hitting the granite surface would have startled a cat.  She heads to the door and opens it before Ben could knock.  She smacks him on his arm really hard causing Ben to yell out.

Ben rubs the targeted area.  "What was that for?"

Stephanie rolls her eyes at him. "Why are you still hanging out with Cindy?"  she asks exasperatedly.  "Do you not care about Leslie's feelings?"

"What? Why?"  Ben says incredulously. "Leslie said it's fine."

"Dear Brother.  I am working really hard not to smack you on the head right now,” Steph sighs.  "You are the densest human being in the world. Just because a girl says it's fine doesn't mean it's fine.  Learn to read between the lines." 

She steps aside to let him in.  They head to the kitchen and she pours coffee for both of them.  She hands him one of the mugs.

"Leslie is the sweetest girlfriend you've ever had," she says.  "Of course, she'll say it's fine that you hang out with your high school fling.  She's not going to stop you.  But trust me, there's a little jealousy in there even if she won't admit it."

Ben looks thoughtful.  "So, you really think Leslie is jealous of Cindy?"

"Yes!" she exclaims.  "Remember when I took her out shopping?  She looked really distracted and I can guarantee you one hundred percent that she was probably thinking about you and Cindy hanging out together."

Ben is processing this information.  Why would Leslie tell him that she had no feelings for him but then be jealous when he went out with Cindy?  Unless...  It was like a light bulb had turned on above Ben's head.  Unless, Leslie didn't really want to put up a boundary between them.

Steph watches Ben's face, she can almost see the wheels turning inside his head.  She can't believe it takes this long for a man to realize something so obvious. "Look. I saw you guys last night, and Leslie gets you.  I know you're my brother and all and I'm supposed to tell you that you're an OK person. But not a lot of people can get with your quirks.  And boy, do you have a lot."

"I do not," he says defensively.

"Please... Does she know you’re scared of ducks and chickens?"

"They are very unpredictable creatures with natural chasing instincts," Ben explains.

Stephanie raises her eyebrow at him.  "What I'm trying to say is that Leslie is perfect for you," she emphasizes.  "And if you're hanging out with Cindy and that bothers her, then you need to stop all that nonsense.  Is that clear?"

"Okay, okay.  I get it."  Steph is always looking out for Ben.  As his older sister, he took what she said to heart and often confided in her for advice.

When the Ice Town scandal had hit, she suggested that Ben go to college in another state and start over.  If she didn't tell him to do that, Ben would probably have stayed in Partridge and would have been surrounded in the toxic hatred of the people that lived there.

If Stephanie had noticed that about Leslie, then maybe he had a chance to turn this fake girlfriend situation into a real one.  This lifts his spirt and he is suddenly very excited to get back home so he can talk to her.

"I love you, you know that, right?"  Ben smiles at his sister and gives her a hug.  He kisses her forehead and thanks her for the coffee as he quickly runs out of her house.

"I love you too," Stephanie says to the empty room.

 

*********

 

The bright sun rays peeking through the huge living room windows wakes Leslie.  She feels a little disoriented at finding herself alone on the couch, wondering where Ben is. 

She slides into a sitting position and brings her knees to her chest.  She thinks about what she wanted to say to Ben.  Ann said to just flat out tell him.  It has been proven easier said than done.  It is literally three words.  Leslie has never been known to keep her thoughts to herself, but she also never felt this way about a guy before.  She finds herself in an unknown territory.

Ben isn't going to stay in Pawnee for long.  He'll finish what he is assigned to do there and then go back to Indianapolis.  He is just a tourist, as Ron once said to her about her previous boyfriend.  Plus, Ben's main goal is to obliterate everything Leslie worked hard for.  But despite all of that, she is still feeling all these feelings for him.  She sighs deeply at her current dilemma. 

She hears the front door open and Ben appears at the archway between the hall and the living room.  Leslie can't help but stare at him.  He looked flushed from his morning run and his wind-blown hair stuck out in different places.  Leslie thinks about running her fingers through his hair to put the strands back into place.   

Why did he have to glance at her like that? She is already feeling out of sorts trying to gain the courage to tell him how she feels.  But now, the way he smiled at her, looking like he is so happy to see her, it made Leslie more nervous.

"Hey," Ben says.

"Hey," Leslie replies.

"Um, you want something to eat?" Ben asks, pointing towards the kitchen. "I can make you some pancakes."

"Yeah, sure."

Ben heads to the kitchen and Leslie follows him.  She leans her back on the counter and watches Ben grab ingredients from the cupboard.  He moves around her in the tight space, and brushes against her arm when he grabs the mixing bowl from behind her.  She feels all tingly at his slight touch.  Ben gives her a smile and a wink as he expertly throws the bowl up and catches it with ease.

Leslie takes a deep breath; it is now or never.  "Ben, I have something to tell you," she says. 

Ben turns his attention to her as he pours the ready mix and adds the rest of the ingredients into the bowl.  "What's on your mind?"

"Okay, I'm just going to rip off the band-aid and hope that I don't bleed to death," Leslie starts.  "And you can take your time to reply. In fact, you don't even have to reply," she rambles.  "I mean, unless it's positive. Then you can reply as soon as possible.  However, if your reply is negative, then I think it's best if you just keep it to yourself.  You can just pretend it never happened and then we can just move on with our lives."

Ben gives her a confused look.  "Okay…" He continues to stir the batter.

"I-- I like-- I like you!" Leslie says her voice getting higher and higher with every word she said.  The last word came out sounding like she was yelling at him.

Ben stops stirring.  He gives her a wide smile. "Oh, thank God!"  he sighs.  "I really like you too."

"You do?"  Leslie searches Ben's face to see if he is joking.

"Yes." Ben steps closer to Leslie.  He's standing in front of her and he places the bowl down next to her. "You don't know how I've been dying to tell you."  He places his palm on her cheek.  "But then you started talking about boundaries, so I just kept it to myself."

His closeness makes Leslie's heart palpitate.  His warm hand on her face gets her all flushed.  "I'm sorry.  I was just trying not to fall for you," she says in a tiny voice.  "You are after all the enemy.  All you've done is hack everything I worked hard for into obliteration and I thought--"

"Leslie," Ben replies when her voice trailed off.  His hand slides to the back of her head, his fingers course through her silky hair, and his thumb caresses her ear.

"Yes?"  Leslie leans forward, she thought her heart would beat right out of her chest.

 "I'm going to kiss you now," Ben says and he brings his face closer to hers.  His lips just inches away from her lips.

"I would like that," Leslie replies, holding her breath and anticipating his next move.

Before he could seal the deal, a loud ringing sound echoes around the room and startles the both of them.  Their moment gets interrupted by the doorbell.

"Hold that thought,” Ben says as he hurries to the front door.

Leslie melts on the counter, her energy drained.  They were so close to making out.  She softly bangs her head on the hard surface, annoyed that she didn't get to feel Ben's lips on hers.

 

*********

 

Hiding his impatience, Ben yanks the door open.  He turns white when he sees Cindy at the front porch.  He quickly steps outside, trying to prevent her from coming in and hoping Leslie wouldn't get curious and see who it is.  Now that Leslie had just told him how she feels, he did not want her to think there is something going on between him and Cindy.

"What are you doing here?" He asked in a whisper.

Cindy notices his panicked face.  "Oh, I thought I'd drop by. See if you're free for lunch later."

"I'm sorry, Cindy, but we can't hang out anymore," Ben tries to be frank with her.  But he suddenly feels bad when he sees the pained reaction on her face.

"Why?"  Cindy asks almost teary eyed.

If there is one thing that Ben did not know how to handle, it is situations that involved a weepy girl.  "It's uh, it’s a situation I have with Leslie,” he rambles without putting much thought to what he is saying.  "She's pretending to be my fake girlfriend so that my family will get off my back."

"Oh," is all she can manage to say.

"Yes, so it's, uh, not you.  It's just not the right time."

"I see,” Cindy says slowly.  This is not what she expected at all.  "Um, okay.  Call me when the situation changes, then."  Cindy wanted to say more.  But this is the first time that her advances have been rejected.  This annoys her, but it also felt like a new challenge.  She is going to have to plan this out.  She's never not gotten what she wanted, and right now, what she wanted is Ben Wyatt underneath her, naked and screaming her name in pleasure.

Ben is relieved when Cindy walks away, she glanced back at him and he stupidly waved at her because he didn't know how to react to that.  He gets back inside and heads back to the kitchen.  Leslie has the bowl in her hands and she's stirring the batter like crazy.  She somehow got a few bits of it on her hair and cheek.  Ben smiles, he thinks it's the cutest thing ever.

 "Who was it?" she asks.

 "Uh, it was Cindy."  He couldn’t lie to her and Ben notices Leslie's shoulder slump down.  Her stirring slows and she looks like she is carefully thinking about what to say next.

 "What did she want?"

 "She wanted to see if I was free for lunch."

Leslie releases the spatula to wipe something from her forehead, leaving a clump of pancake batter in one corner. "And what did you say?"

Ben moves closer to her.  He removes the bit that is stuck in her hair. "I said I can't hang out with her anymore." 

He wipes the batter that is on her right cheek. "Because I'm in a situation with you." 

He picks off the lump that is on her forehead. "And that you're my fake girlfriend."

"Right, well that is true," she says, unsure why Ben saying the words ‘fake girlfriend’ hurt her a bit.

"But what I didn't tell Cindy, because I wanted to tell you first," Ben continues.  "Is that I am hoping, that the situation will change soon."

 Leslie's face lights up.  "Is this a new proposition?" She teases.

Ben doesn't reply.  Instead, he pulls her to him, and his mouth comes down on hers with the same hunger that she is feeling.  Their tongues touch and she tilts her head as she tries to taste as much of him as she can. 

This is so much better than what she imagined.  She wants this kiss to last forever.  Her knees start to feel weak and Ben senses this, so he pulls away first.

"So, what's your answer?"

"Hmm?"  Leslie's eyes were still closed.  She is savoring their first kiss.  It is now officially her number one most favorite thing to do and she wished he didn't stop.  She opens her eyes and sees Ben smiling down at her.  "I'm sorry, what was the first question?" She asks breathlessly.

"Will you be my real girlfriend?"  Ben chuckles.

Leslie laughs. "Deal."  She kisses him again and marvels at the way his mouth tastes like mint.  She could really get used to this.

 

*********

 

Meanwhile, Cindy is back at her house and has formulated a plan.  If Ben needed a fake girlfriend, she'd do him one better, she'd offer herself to be his real girlfriend instead.  There is no way he would reject that.  No one ever says no to what she can offer. 

She checks herself in the mirror.  She had picked out one of her sexiest outfit and tried it on.  She pushes her breasts up and is pleased at the amount of cleavage it is showing.  This is the perfect outfit for her plan. 

By the end of this day, Ben Wyatt would have a real girlfriend, Cindy thought.  Not that fake tiny blonde one that Ben is forced to hang out with. Nope.  Ben would have a real girl in the form of Cindy Eckert.  The kind of woman that every man dreams of.  She blows her reflection a kiss, excited to execute her well laid plans.

 

 

Chapter Text

The cold air hitting Leslie's face feels nice as Ben holds the door open for her.  She enters the mall and waits for him a few steps ahead.  He takes her hand in his and they start walking to the dress shop at the end of the building to pick up Julia's wedding dress.  His mom is busy preparing for the rehearsal dinner tonight and asked them for this favor.

The tiny gesture of Ben taking her hand makes Leslie extremely happy.  This time it was for real and not for show like the previous times he'd done it.  And she can't help but notice that a few girls are checking out Ben as they passed.  She wanted to boast that they were staring at her boyfriend, she wondered if it was too immature if she waved their entwined hands at them.

"What's so funny?"  Ben asks her.  He'd been stealing glances at her as much as he could.

Leslie didn't notice that she was smirking until he asked. "Oh.  I was just thinking."

"About what?"

"About all those times you fake-held my hand."

"Who said I was faking it?"  Ben grins.  "Every time I held your hand, it was because I wanted to. Maybe I was taking advantage of the situation," he pauses. "I'd hold it forever if I could."

His words cause a flurry of butterflies in Leslie's gut.  "That's really cheesy, but it works."  Her laughter is music to his ears. 

Now that it was official, Ben could be more open about how he obsesses over the little things she does.  The way she blushes at his overtures, the way she grins at him when he makes a stupid joke and even the way she gets competitive with him. 

The sweet moment gets interrupted when a group of people start beelining for Ben.  Leslie recognizes the look of hatred from the onrushing crowd.  These were the Ice Town haters; she was sure of it.  She feels Ben's hand tighten its hold on hers.  She glances over to him and sees his panic-stricken face. 

Leslie tries to steer them away from the mob, but it's too late.  They are now within shouting distance and a few have already started chanting Ice Town.  Her heart feels for Ben at this very moment. He didn't deserve this much hatred.  Ok, well maybe what he did when he was 18 was atrocious, but she can't believe that they would harbor this much loathing for him even after more than a decade has passed.

"What are you doing in our mall, Ice Town?" someone yells from the group.

"I don't want any trouble," Ben says quietly. "I just need to grab something and then I'm out of here."  He raises his hand trying to calm them down.  He really hates that Leslie is witnessing this. 

"You caused us enough trouble already.  We don't want you here." One man said and the rest yell out "yeah!" in unsynchronized timing.

Leslie has had enough; she is unable to contain her emotions to the injustice that they were doing to Ben.  She stands straight and her face has that determined look she gets when she's dealing with stubborn Pawnee citizens. 

"You guys need to get over yourselves,” she says loudly like a mother chastising her children, wagging her finger at them.  "It's been more than 10 years and you're all still hung up on what happened back then.  The town has obviously recovered, look at how well it's thriving now."  She puts both her hands on her hips, and she stares them down one by one. 

There is a few seconds of silence and thoughtful looking faces fill the group.  It almost seemed like they were about to retreat, but then one person starts chanting, "Get out of Town, Ice Clown." and the rest of the unit slowly return to being an angry mob.

Leslie breathes fire and she looks like she's about to rush them and start smacking people on their heads.  Ben lifts her up and spins her around when she starts moving forward, getting in between Leslie and the horde. 

"Leslie, it's fine, just ignore them," he says in her ear.  His arms are tightly wrapped around her waist.  Leslie loses her breath, not from how tight he was holding her, but from the fact that he was holding her really close.

He was protecting her from them or maybe he was protecting them from her. Whichever it was, she thought it was sweet, but Leslie wanted to scream at the rude people some more. The individuals continue chanting, and Ben drags Leslie to the shop, holding her hand and making sure she doesn't run back to them.  He is glad that they weren't being followed.

They make it to the shop without any other incident.  Ben hands the ticket to the receptionist and she heads to the back to get the dress.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," Ben says looking embarrassed.

"Those are the worst group of people I have ever seen."

"Yeah, well, they have the right to be angry. I've just been avoiding going out when I visit."

"And I thought Pawnee has the most ungrateful bunch of people in the world."

Ben gives Leslie a closed-lip smile. He tugs at one of her curls, "You were very brave to stand up to those people."

"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't stopped me."

Ben laughs.  "Yeah, I was really afraid for them," he says.  "I've seen that face before.  You gave me that look when I told you I needed to cut your department budget up to 40%."

"Which reminds me..."

"Oh no, we are not talking about your master plan until we are done with this week."

"What? Why?" she whines.

Ben pauses because he thinks Leslie is adorable when she whines, but he shakes off the distraction. "Well, now that we are in a real relationship, I think we need to talk about how we are going to handle negotiations of work-related matters."

"Are you accusing me of possibly using this real relationship of ours to manipulate you into giving me more money?"

"I'm not accusing you of anything, Leslie."

"Well it sounds like you are." 

"I'm just saying that we need to establish some ground rules."

"Like?"

"Like, now that the favor is no longer a favor…"

“Oh, my, God! I kept my end of the bargain for three days, Wyatt.  You owe me three days’ worth of budget plan rework.”

“Fine. Ok, you win,” he says when an idea suddenly popped up in his head. “We can talk about it over the course of three dinner dates.”

Leslie smiles at the prospect of Ben taking her out to dinner, “Wonderful.  I will accept that offer,” she says.

"Good, because sometimes when you get your head wrapped around something, you can be a real pai-” he stops when she raises her eyebrows.  "-rsistent…  A real persistent person."

Leslie laughs and she kisses him instinctively.  She'd been doing it a lot since this morning.  She couldn't get enough of feeling Ben's lips on hers.

The receptionist comes back with a huge box wrapped in a beautiful pink bow.  "Here you go.  And congratulations again.  I'm sure you'll look breathtaking in this for your big day.”

Leslie blushes and her face turns crimson red, "Oh, it's not for me."

The young girl looks apologetic. "I'm sorry, I just thought.... you guys just look so..."

Ben grabs the box in a hurry.  Their real relationship was new, and he didn't need talks about marriage to complicate what they were just starting to discover.  And he wouldn’t be surprised if Leslie already had her wedding ceremony planned since she was twelve.  But from his experience, marriage talks always make things awkward.

 

*****************************************

 

When they reach the house, Julia asks Leslie to help her try the dress on.  Ben heads upstairs to check his emails.  He’d seen some from Chris that he just glanced at this morning, he wanted to catch up on work. 

The room was dim when he entered.  He could smell a hint of vanilla in the air.  There is a faint light provided by a flickering candle on the table next to his bed.  He flips the switch and almost has a heart attack. 

Lying in bed, is Cindy, in a black barely-there dress or night gown, Ben wasn’t sure.  He takes a few steps backwards until he bumps his back on the door.  He looks like a deer caught in headlights.

"Hi Ben."

“Good Lord, Cindy.  You scared me.  How'd you get in?”

Cindy sits up and stretches seductively.  Ben averts his eyes; hoping to God that Leslie doesn't walk in on this.

“Through the window.  Just like old times...”

“No, no, not like old times, Cindy.  Leslie is going to kill me if she sees you.”

“Your fake girlfriend?”

“It's no longer a fake relationship.”

“What?” How had the tables turned that quickly?  She had texted him if he had any plans this morning, and he replied that he did, but that he’d have to get back before lunch to help his mother with preparations.  That’s how she knew he’d be back around this time.  And then only to find out that her plotting was all for nothing.

“We realized that we like each other,” he impatiently answers.

“Noooo. What do you see in her anyway?”  Cindy is not happy to hear this.  She had imagined things going differently.  She really thought that if she showed up like this in his room, he wouldn’t be able to control himself.  Just like all the other men she’s done this to.

Ben crosses the room, keeping a wide berth from where Cindy was sitting.  He goes over to the window and pushes the curtains apart.  “Leslie is amazing, she’s beautiful, full of life, she cares about her friends and is super passionate about her work and her hometown.  And there’s a lot more reasons, but right now, you need to go before she finds you in my room.” 

He looks out of the window to make sure no one is around; he feels a little bad about kicking Cindy out with such a rush.  But he was panicking more about Leslie finding her in the room, looking like this.  He gestures for Cindy to climb out of the window. He doesn't recognize the crazy look in her eyes.  And he doesn't comprehend that each point he described about Leslie feels like a stake being plunged into Cindy's heart.  She bites back a scream forming in her lungs and she swallows what’s left of her pride as she grabs her coat from the floor and wraps it around herself. 

She carelessly climbs over the window, willing her tears to go away.  She accepts Ben’s hand as he helps her over.  But she swipes at it once she’s outside the window completely, standing above the rooftop.  She’s never felt so humiliated like this in her whole life.

It was a short height from the porch roof to the banister railing just below it.  She balances carefully and as she walks back to her house, holding her coat tightly closed, she vows to exact revenge on Ben.  If she can’t have him, she’s going to make sure Leslie won’t have him either.

 

*****************************************

 

Ben had managed to get rid of any evidence that there had been someone else in the room before Leslie came in.  He forgot about the fragrance from the candle though and it was the first thing she noticed.

When Leslie entered his bedroom, she raises her eyebrow at Ben, wondering why the smell of vanilla is so overpowering.  Leslie had wondered to herself if this was his way of telling her that he wanted to sleep with her.  She wasn’t going to say no, in fact she’d been thinking about it since Day 1, but he acted really weird when she pointed out the sweet scent.

Oh, God. Maybe he doesn’t want to sleep with her…  It’s happened before, she went out with a guy once who said he just liked to take her out to dinner because she paid for the meals, but he wasn’t really into her sexually. Or that time when she’d been dating someone for a week, but they’ve never really done it because, quote, “your hair is too bright and it feels like I’m kissing the sun,” end quote.

Great, now all she can think about is that Ben probably changed his mind and realized he’s not into her.  But then Ben kisses her and her toes curl, her stomach flutters, and there’s no way in hell that he doesn’t want to sleep with her if he kissed her like that.  Leslie was mostly inexperienced with dating, but she’d seen enough romantic shows to know that this meant something.

Much to their dismay, they didn’t really have the time to do anything else because Julia had called them down to join them for lunch.  They both sigh, and Ben kisses Leslie one more time to remind her that he really did want her.

 

*****************************************

 

The rest of the afternoon had both Leslie and Ben helping Julia and Mike prepare for the rehearsal dinner.  Ben had volunteered to cook a few dishes and Leslie hung around the kitchen helping him.  Mostly distracting him.  Because she couldn’t keep her hands off him, pretending to wipe flour off his hair and face.

He was showing off for her, moving around the kitchen with a flourish.  At first, she thought he was making pizza until he folded the dough in half.  “What in the world are you making?” she asks.

“I’m making a calzone,” Ben explains.  His eyes glaze over as he provides Leslie a history of the Italian dish. Leslie doesn’t want to admit to him that she “zoned” out the minute he started talking about all the possible fillings he could think of to put inside.  But she did love staring at his smile.  He obviously loves calzones; she could see it all over his face when he talked about it.

“I honestly think the ways to transform this cuisine is boundless,” he says.  She realizes that was the end of his speech and she beamed at him and tried to look like she listened to all of what he said.

He slides the pan into the oven and sets the timer, “Alright, that should need about 30 minutes or so.  I’ll go up and shower and change for tonight.”  He leans to give her a kiss and whispers in her ear, “You could join me, if you want.” 

Leslie blushes and hits him in the shoulder, “Not with your mom in the house!” It would be weird, especially when Julia could check on them anytime.

“Or I’ll just run a bath for you after I’m done.” He winks at her.

 

*****************************************

 

It took longer than Leslie estimated for her to get ready.  She wanted to look extra special tonight and video called Ann to ask her for advice.  She also took the time to catch her best friend up on what has happened the past few days.

“Leslie, that dress on you is going to make Ben crazy.”

“Do you think it’s a little too tight?”  Leslie asks.

“It’s perfect.  Plus, you need to provide a little challenge for him to try and take it off you,” Ann gives her a knowing smile.

“No, no, I can’t. We can’t do it in his mom’s house,” Leslie’s voice lowered to a whisper.

“Come on, Les.  They probably think you’ve been doing it since the day you arrived.”

“Oh, God. You’re right.  Ugh, now that’s all I’m gonna think about all night.” 

“Don’t worry too much.  Just enjoy the night. You have a boyfriend! That’s the most important part.”

“I miss home.  Tell me what’s happening there,” Leslie says.  She glances up to see the time flashing on Ben’s alarm clock.  “Oh, shit! I didn’t realize how late it is.  I have to go.  Wish me luck!”  She hangs up the phone in a hurry and grabs her stilettos from her luggage.  She struggles to put them on while walking down the stairs and almost trips.

Catching her breath before stepping outside, Leslie is taken aback when she sees the backyard.  Julia had transformed it into a backbone of what was to come on the day of her wedding.  The night sky is clear of clouds and the stars shine brightly.  The table is set up with the color combination of green and lavender.  It's a long table, enough to sit Julia's immediate family and their loved ones.  Every little detail is gorgeous.

Ben was the first to see her when she walked towards the table.  His jaw had fallen to the floor.  Leslie is stunning.  She had chosen to wear a red dress and he thought that she looked perfect in it.  He stands up and walks to her and offers his arm.  “Leslie, you look beautiful,” he whispers in her ear.

“Thank you,” she answers.  The way he said it makes her float. “And you look just like Henry,” she teases. “But way cuter,” she laughs wholeheartedly.  And Ben is seriously contemplating on just grabbing her and taking her back to their room.

Leslie smiles at Stephanie who was sitting next to a girl Leslie hasn't met yet.  After giving each other a hug, Steph introduces her partner.  “Leslie, this is Regan.  She’s my girlfriend,” she says looking a little shy, like she wasn’t used to introducing her as her girlfriend.

Regan has straight black hair that reached just above her waistline.  She looks elegant in a dark pantsuit, complimenting the long floral dress that Stephanie had on. Regan flashes Leslie a timid smile. “Hi.”

“Oh, wow. Hi! It’s nice to meet you,” Leslie says and gives her a quick hug.

Leslie sees Henry and Shannon seated on the opposite side, she gives them a smile and a small wave.  The twins jump up from their chairs to greet Leslie with a hug, one clinging on each side of her legs. She bends and embraces them in her arms and squeezes them tightly because she's missed them.

“Sit beside us, Auntie Weswey,” one of the twins begged.

“Now, now, kids.  Leslie will want to sit with your Uncle Ben,” Henry says.

They frown at Ben and Leslie laughs when Ben gives them a smug look.  She promises the disappointed kids that she'll exchange seats later after dinner.

Everyone settles down in their chairs and food gets passed around.  Leslie looks around the table at Ben’s family and she realizes that she's fallen in love with everyone. Including Ben himself.  She's aware that they've only been together for less than a week and only one day counts as them being together, but she feels so strongly about him. She is constantly reminding herself that he's not staying in Pawnee permanently and they haven't really talked about that yet.  So, all this might just break her heart in the end.

But she pushes back all the negative thoughts about the future.  She wanted to feel the happiness right here, right now.  So, she turns to Ben and gives him a quick kiss in the cheek.

"What was that for?"

"Nothing... I just wanted to check that this was real."  Leslie says, embarrassed that she did that.  She turns her head, trying to hide her blushing face from him.

Ben gives her a meaningful glance.  He lifts his hand, reaches for her chin and turns her face to him so he can kiss her on the lips.  A deep kiss that makes her knees weak.

"EWWWWW!"  the little boys said in unison. 

"NO KISSING IN FWONT OF US. PWEASE."  Lucas says loudly.

Julia could feel a few tears gather under her eyes.  Her heart is full.  Her children had grown.  Her kids had found their partners. And for herself, she found her Mike.  When she thought she'd never find someone to love again after her divorce, Mike came along and proved her wrong.  Then seeing Ben finally find his soulmate.  Julia is convinced that Leslie is his one.  They couldn’t keep their eyes off each other and the smiles they kept exchanging are just additional proof she needed. 

Ben had had rough times since he was impeached and lately, she’d been so worried that he was going to relapse back to depression.  But now, she is reassured that he’s going to be fine, with Leslie by his side.  This was one of the happiest nights in Julia's life.

 

*****************************************

 

The twins were playing with Leslie and Ben observes from his seat.  She waves at him when she looks up to see him watching her.  He waves his glass back at her.

“Dear brother, have you proposed to her yet?”

Ben chokes on his drink.  Henry had popped up at his side and just flat out asked him.  Ben almost said they just started dating and stopped himself when he remembers that his family thinks they’ve been dating for months now.  “No, I haven’t.”

“You’re obviously in love with her.  So, why haven’t you?”

Stephanie approaches them and stands at the other side of Ben. “Why haven’t you asked her to marry you yet?”

Ben sighs, sometimes he wished he was an only child.  “Because I haven’t even told her that I love her.”

“Do you want me to smack him on the head or do you want to do the honors?”  Stephanie leans forward to ask Henry. 

“These things take time,” Ben defends himself.

“This isn’t like any normal case, Ben,” his sister says. “Normally, I wouldn’t rush you.  But after meeting her and talking to her and seeing her with you. I say, just get down on your knees now and beg her not to ever leave you.”

“You guys need to have more faith in me.  I won’t mess this up, I promise.”

“Great. Fantastic. Because I really need a babysitter for date night and she’s the only one that the twins even talk to.” Henry jokes. 

 

*****************************************

 

There’s a commotion of hugs and kisses and goodbyes from everyone as they stand in the foyer.  The twins are asleep, and Henry and Shannon are carrying one of each over their shoulders.  Ben and Leslie bid goodnight to Julia and Mike as they separate ways and head to their respective bedrooms.

Leslie is nervous entering Ben’s room.  The door closes behind her and she easily accepts Ben’s arms sliding from behind and tightly wrapping around her.  He kisses her shoulder and she tilts her head to the side, providing him better access.  She leans her back against him and closes her eyes as she drowns at the feeling of his lips all over her sensitive neck.

“Leslie?” Ben’s warm breath on her skin sends chills down her spine.

“Hmmm?” she murmurs.

“Do you want me to get rid of the pillow barrier between us tonight?”

Leslie laughs, “Are you about to confess that you’ve been removing them the minute I fell asleep?”

“I didn’t think we ever needed them in the first place.”  Ben whirls her around and he gives her a hungry kiss as he fumbles with the zipper on her back.  She forgets everything else around her because all she can focus on, is Ben slowly peeling off her dress.

 

 

Chapter Text

They are naked in bed. Naked in bed. Naked. In. Bed. No matter how many times Leslie says the words in her mind, she still can't believe it happened. A smile brightens her face just thinking about it. She is comfortably snuggled in Ben's arm. He is still sleeping, and she has her head on his chest as she lays on her side.

 

Unconsciously, Leslie caresses his flat stomach, and when she realizes what she’s doing, she starts tracing her fingers on his tight abs. She determined that she is obsessed with 3 parts of Ben's body. His butt, his abs and his long-- hair.

 

Her face turns crimson red when she recalls everything that happened last night. It was amazing. In fact, amazing was such an understatement. There was an awkward struggle when the zipper of her dress got stuck midway. But he was able to get it undone and the rest was a flurry of passion that Leslie admitted was super-hot and she had no idea she had it in her to be that wild and wanton.

 

She sighs as she remembers the feel of Ben’s soft lips all over her body. She blushes again wondering how she'd be able to look into Ben's eyes without imagining the things he did to her with his hands.

 

“That tickles…” Ben’s voice startles her. She giggles but doesn’t stop running her fingers all over his abdomen.

 

"Hmmm. You’re like an Italian car. Smooth, tight and compact," she murmurs.

 

Ben gives the top of her head a glimpse as if to say that none of what she said made any sense. And the sight of her in addition to her exploring touch is starting to arouse him and he gives her fair warning, "Leslie, if you don’t stop doing that, I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself."

 

The idea of going again was tempting, but the sun is up, and she was afraid Julia might come knocking and she’d never be able to look at Ben’s mother the same way ever again. Instead, Leslie slides up to reach his lips, plants a quick morning kiss, and tries to get up, planning to hit the shower. But she gets pulled back by Ben who gives her a deeper kiss that silently begged her to stay in bed.

 

She pulls away first, breathless. "We have to get out of bed. Your mom is going to wonder why we're not downstairs yet," she says. "She's going to think we were up all night doing it."

 

"Leslie," he smiles mischievously. "We were up all night doing it." He draws her on top of him and nuzzles her neck.

 

"Ben, quit it," she says with little energy. She closes her eyes as shivers run down her spine. Her fingers grip his smooth hair tightly when he runs his tongue over a sensitive area just below her collar bone, and a moan escapes her throat. In truth, she doesn't want him to stop. But as his mouth travels lower, she snaps out of the fog and remembers where they are. She hesitantly pushes him away and laughs as he makes an exaggerated sigh. He watches her teasingly slip out of bed, not bothering to hide her nakedness from him.

 

As soon as the bathroom door shuts, he reaches for his phone. He frowns at the notifications. There are 13 missed calls and 4 messages from Cindy. He'd been ignoring them since yesterday. Clearing the notifications, he wonders what he needed to do to get Cindy off his back. Maybe Steph can help him with this. She's probably going to give him one of her 'I told you so' looks but he'd have to endure it because he had no idea what to do in this situation.

 

He gets out of bed and puts some clothes on. Eyeing the mirror and finding that his face is sporting a goofy smile, he is proud of himself for not messing up last night's events. He was nervous as hell and he thought Leslie would laugh at his face for being so anxious. But her touch relaxed his worries and another side of himself took over. He wanted her so bad that his desire scared him, he'd never felt that way with anyone before. He really hoped it was as amazing for her as it was for him. Maybe he should have asked her… Should he have asked her how it was? He thought she enjoyed it and he didn't think she was acting. Did she crave him the way he craved her? Great, now he was obsessing on how he performed last night. He gets busy with picking up the storm of clothes that they left all around the room, trying to get his mind to stop thinking about all his doubts.

 

After a few minutes of tidying up, he was finally satisfied that things were in order. The sound of water running in the bathroom reminds him that his girlfriend is currently in the shower. And he thinks of reasons why he should jump in the shower with her, like it's good for the environment to conserve water, it would save them time in getting ready and more importantly because he wanted her again. Yes, those were definitely good reasons, he thinks to himself as he slips inside the bathroom and removes his clothes. And when her eyes widen in surprise and turned into liquid fire at the sight of him, he forgets everything because it becomes clear to him that she wants him too.

 

----------------------------------

 

It took Leslie an additional half hour to get ready and Ben went ahead downstairs to help prepare breakfast. She is frantically moving around the room searching for her shoes which she recalls she had chucked under the bed. She went over to Ben's side of the bed and glanced underneath to see if she might have kicked it too far. There was nothing. Huffing as she gets up from the floor, she spies his phone that he had left on the bedside table. She glances at it and tells herself that she had no right to check the phone of her new boyfriend. But the phone buzzes and the screen come to life and she sees a series of messages from Cindy.

 

Leslie freezes as she reads the words. 'I miss you.' And not even having enough moment to recover, the next message pops up. 'I hate that we didn't have enough time yesterday.' And the last message drains the blood from her body. 'I'm glad you liked the vanilla scented candle I used in your room.'

 

She feels weak and her hands shake. Cindy was in his room yesterday. No wonder Ben acted so weird when Leslie commented on the vanilla scent.

 

She sits at the edge of the bed, her legs felt like mush and she was afraid she'd collapse on the floor. Is Ben two-timing her? She can't believe it. Ben would never do something like that. But the messages… Maybe Ben realized that he liked Cindy more than her. Leslie's hand flies to her throat, oh, God, did he sleep with Cindy too? The thought of Ben sleeping with Cindy is making Leslie hyperventilate. Maybe Cindy is obsessed with him and is trying to ruin their relationship? No, that's absurd, Leslie refutes her theory. Cindy can't possibly be that desperate, with Cindy's good looks, she could bag any guy she wanted. Including Ben… And that's probably what happened. Cindy confessed she liked Ben, but he's stuck with Leslie because of the fake girlfriend situation.

 

That final theory was the most likely scenario, Leslie concludes in her mind. And it was the one that was making her dizzy. She didn't know what emotion to settle on. She was angry because she thought there was something special between her and Ben, so why was he flirting with Cindy? Leslie also felt disheartened, she really liked Ben. And she didn’t want their relationship to end. But she jumps back to angry again when she realizes that Ben lied to her. Ok, maybe not so much as lied, but he kept this from her.

 

She breathes slowly and deeply. Willing herself not to cry. From the corner of her eyes, she sees her shoes neatly placed next to his. He must have moved it there. And the image of Ben tidying her stuff and moving it next to his was what made her burst into tears. Why would he choose Cindy over her? Last night and this morning, he really seemed like he wanted her so badly... But it appeared that she was once again clueless when it comes to dating guys. She wipes her tears away and tries to calm herself. Maybe she should give him the benefit of a doubt. She’d try to find out more today by observing Ben closely. He’s bound to give something away and then she can sort out what to do. She puts on her shoes and opens the door, bumping into Ben and almost losing her balance. But he was quick, and his arms wrap around her waist to steady her.

 

“Sorry, I was coming to get you.”

 

“Yeah, no, uh, thanks. Sorry, I took so long,”

 

Ben still has his hands around her, and he is staring at her lips. “You know, we don’t need breakfast…” his voice fades as his mouth encloses hers.

 

Leslie manages to use all her strength to pull away from the kiss. “Julia and Mike are waiting for us.”

 

He agrees and releases her with an expression of disappointment. She wonders if she’s overthinking the Cindy situation. Ben really seemed to be into their relationship. Maybe she should just ask him what is going on with Cindy… No, she wasn’t ready for this to be over.

 

“Are you ok?” he asks, his hand massages the back of her neck. “You seem really tense.”

 

Ugh, why does he always have to touch her like this. Leslie found it hard to think when he was this close. “I’m fine.”

 

Ben frowns at her. He believes somethings up, but he doesn’t want to push the topic. He figured she’d tell him when she was ready.

 

Leslie is silent throughout breakfast. Ben keeps glancing at her and trying to catch her eyes, but she didn’t once glance at his direction. She recognizes she is being really obvious that something is bothering her, but as much as she tried her hardest to forget about the text messages, the words just kept flashing into her mind, pushing everything else back.

 

After finishing her waffles, she excuses herself and quickly exits the dining area. Ben follows her and Julia and Mike give each other a worried glance.

 

“Leslie, wait,” Ben calls as he grabs her arm. She swirls around to face him, but she still would not look into his eyes. “What is going on?” he asks, sliding her disheveled curls behind her ear.

 

“It’s nothing,” she begins explaining, trying to come up with a good reason for being out of it. “It’s, uh, I miss Pawnee,” she glances up at him. After saying it out-loud, she feels like it was half true because she does miss her home and her friends.

 

Ben’s eyes turn into pools of compassion, “I’m sorry, you’ve been away too long.” He takes her into his arms and gives her a tight hug. “We’ll be home soon.” He whispers and kisses the top of her head. Smelling her hair.

 

The strong feeling of his arms wrapped around her is making her cry. She did not want to let this go and she’d fight Cindy if she had too. She was not going to give up Ben that easily.

 

“I’m just going to drop by my sister’s house really quick.” He says. “Then when I come back, we can go to the lake or whatever you want to do so I can get your mind away from being homesick.”

 

“You’re sweet.” She says and she looks up and stands on her tiptoes so she can reach his mouth.

 

Their kiss is intense. Ben can never get enough of her. And their tongues explore each other’s mouth. He almost changed his mind about heading out, when all he wanted to do was take Leslie back to their bed and make love to her again. But he feels this issue with Cindy needed to be handled before it got out of hand.

 

----------------------------------

 

Leslie trusts Ben, 100 percent. So, her following him this morning is more on her lack of trust for Cindy. For all Leslie knows, Cindy could be entrapping him or forcing him to do something he didn’t want to. So, in Leslie’s mind, she’s actually trying to save Ben. Yes, this made real sense to her.

 

There is a moment of great relief when she figures out that he really did head to Stephanie’s house. And she ducks in time before any of them sees her through the open kitchen window. She decides to get out of the lawn before the neighbors sees her and reports her for trespassing.

 

But she freezes when she hears snippets of their conversations. Stephanie saying, ‘…need to tell Cindy how you feel.’ And Ben replying, ‘… will hurt Leslie.’ And Leslie is sure that he means he has feelings for Cindy. This makes her want to melt in the grass or be buried underneath it because she’s hurting really badly.

 

And when Ben leaves his sister’s house, Leslie can’t help but follow him because she thinks that catching them in the act will somehow make it easier for her to accept that he wanted Cindy more.

 

Keeping her distance, she follows him for what felt like eternity. Hiding behind trees but maintaining him in her sights. She’s seen enough spy movies to know how these things go, and she could feel her heart pounding. But when Ben enters a flower shop, Leslie loses the fight in her and she feels her energy drain. He is buying flowers for Cindy…

 

Leslie had only had her heart broken twice in her lifetime. First was when her dad had died. Second was when she found out that Joe Biden was already married. And now she counts this as the third time her heart breaks, watching Ben buy flowers for another woman. She doesn’t have enough courage in her to watch him hand them over to Cindy.

 

Running away is the only thing that she can handle at the moment. She wants to be as far away from this as she possibly can. Half of her wanted to rush in the shop and demand that Ben give her an explanation. But the louder half of her told her to accept defeat. In two of her heart breaks, she could not do anything about them and she felt the same way in this situation. She heads back to Ben’s house so she can cry in the bathtub, preferably with a bottle of wine in her hand, and come to terms that this 2-day relationship would be added to her list of failed dates.

 

Chapter Text

At Henry Wyatt's household...

The house was quiet. That means that the twins were still asleep. Henry lazily gets out of bed and drags his feet on the carpet as he heads downstairs. The bed was empty, and he had a feeling that Shannon had woken early and was probably preparing breakfast. It was Saturday and with his work at the firm on weekdays he had gotten used to drinking coffee in the morning before he could function well. Weekends were not an exception.

The aroma coming from the kitchen is the only reason his feet were still moving. But he gains a little energy when he sees his wife busy cutting up fruits into a bowl. Her red hair shone brightly as the light from the sun penetrated through the window. Sometimes he wonders how he'd gotten so lucky marrying her. She is humming softly to herself and she jumps a little when Henry's arms slid around her from behind. He nuzzled her neck and she closes her eyes at the sweet gesture.

"Good morning, honey. Did you sleep well?" Her tone is smooth and content.

"How long will the twins remain asleep?" He asks in a husky voice.

"We have about ten minutes of peace," she says, laughing.

"Maybe we should let them sleep in."

"Honey, are you suggesting that we keep our kids asleep for this temporary quiet?"

"It's just that there's two of them, Babe."

"I am aware there's two, Henry. I gave birth to twins," she says. "I Imagine this is exactly how your mom felt when she had you and Ben."

"Speaking of Ben. Did you notice how happy he looks? Leslie is good for him. Plus, the twins love her."

"They do," she says, looking pensive. "Ben's been dating her for how many months now?" Shannon asks following her husband's train of thought.

"I think he said they've been dating for six months. I can't be sure, because honestly, when he said he was dating someone, I really didn't believe him."

"Ben moves too slow. They are perfect for each other and they should be married already and start making babies." She looked thoughtful for a minute. "I bet, if they baby-sit the boys, they'll start thinking about kids."

"Are you trying to be a matchmaker again, my dear?"

"Don't you agree with me?"

"I like Leslie. But I don't like meddling in Ben's relationships."

"It's not meddling. We're just helping the inevitable go faster," she says. "The boys need cousins to grow up with. And, don't you want the extra peace and quiet tonight?"

He conceded then. His wife made a good point, plus there was this new restaurant he was dying to take Shannon to. "Fine. But you're going to have to ask him. I want my hands clean from this as much as possible." He stopped feeling guilty then because his wife gave him the most enthusiastic kiss and he really liked making her happy.

-----------------------------------

It takes Leslie around ten minutes to speed walk back to the house. She tells herself not to cry over and over. And she manages not to until she's reached the front door. Leslie heads straight to Ben's bedroom wanting to avoid Julia or Mike seeing her.

Flinging herself on the bed, she releases her unshed tears. Her body shakes from her uncontrollable sobbing. She wills herself to stop crying because she doesn't have a ready answer if anyone walks in through the door and sees her.

What exactly was she crying about? She's only been with Ben for two days, why did she feel like she'd lost the love of her life. She decides that she's being really over-dramatic. She should be more like Ann. Her best friend would not cry like this if she broke it off with one of her tinder dates. In fact, Ann would probably just shrug it off and move on to the next contender.

Leslie nods vigorously as if agreeing to her inner conversation will make it hurt less. But her tears threaten to spill again.

Not even five minutes into her bubble of self-pity and there's a knock on the door.

"Les? Can I come in?"

It's Ben, she thinks to herself when she recognizes his voice. How did he get here so fast? She assumed it would have taken longer for him to talk to Cindy. She panics because he's going to see her red eyes. "I'm naked!" She yells hoping it would stop him from coming in.

It doesn't stop him. In fact, the door opened, and he walks in quickly, he turns to her and his eyes change from excitement to confusion. "You're not naked," he says, sounding disappointed.

Then he sees her puffy eyes and he rushes to her and he cups her chin and wipes away her tear. "You're crying," he whispers, a thousand questions floating around his head. Who made her cry, why and how much damage can he inflict on the person that hurt her, for starters.

His concern is Leslie's undoing. She bursts into tears and buries her face into his chest. Ben hugs her tightly and whispers soothing words into her ears. He waits patiently for her to explain.

"I thought you went to see Cindy." Leslie stutters in between sobs.

"Why would you think that?"

"You like her more than you like me," the last words came out sounding really high pitched and she cringes because she sounds like one of the twins when they were complaining to their dad.

With that statement, Ben gently lifts her off his chest and looks at her. "What in the world would make you think that?"

"Because she's better than me..." her voice is a whisper because she gets lost in his intense eyes.

"Leslie, there is no other woman better than you," he says with great intensity as he wipes the tears from her cheek with his thumb.

Her heart leaps when she hears his words. "Do you really mean that?"

Nodding, Ben reveals his left hand from behind her and presents her a bouquet of bright yellow sunflowers tied with beautiful blue ribbon. "I forgot that I got you these," he says. "It reminded me of this mural back in city hall. It has a field of flowers just like this."

"The wildflower mural up on the second floor..." Leslie's voice is barely heard. Out of all the paintings on the wall around the government building, that was her favorite.

"The flowers reminded me of you," he says.

"And these are the only ones you bought?"

"Yes," he answers suddenly looking unsure of himself. "Did you want a different kind?"

"No, no. These are perfect." Leslie takes the flowers from his hand and hugs them to her chest and smells them and smiles and cries at the same time. The flowers were for her. He got her flowers! All her crying and hurting was for nothing.

"Now, why in the world would you think that I liked Cindy more?"

Leslie does not want to admit that she'd seen the messages. "It's nothing."

Ben let it go for now. He hopes to prove to Leslie that she has nothing to worry about. Even if it means giving her flowers every day for the rest of his life. Her tears stopped and she's looking around the room where she can put her flowers in. He's relieved that the crisis was averted. He really liked that Leslie is unpredictable but sometimes he didn't understand what was going on in her mind.

"Oh, yeah, Shannon asked if we could baby-sit the twins tonight," he says. "I can never say no to Shannon. I hope you don't mind."

"I am absolutely thrilled to spend some time with the boys," she says out loud. And you, she thought, admiring the flowers that her sweet boyfriend bought for her and no one else but her.

-----------------------------------

She was absolutely drained spending time with the boys.

Leslie and Ben are both slouched in the middle of the couch next to each other, one boy on each of their side fast asleep. Her head leaning exhaustedly on his shoulder with his arm around her.

"Fifteen more minutes and Henry and Shannon will be home, right?" Leslie whispers softly, afraid that even the tiniest sound or movement will wake the little monsters.

"Yes, we just need to sit very still until then." Ben reminds her. He was not about to risk waking up the tiny humans responsible for the destruction of his brother's house. He wonders where in their tiny bodies were they able to store that much energy. "We can't risk having them awaken, I have no energy left in me to chase after them..."

"They are adorable though, aren't they?"

"They are," he agrees, "as long as they stay asleep."

"I can't wait to have my own," she says, dreamily. She feels Ben stiffen next to her and she realizes too late what she had just said to her new boyfriend. "I mean, not that I want children now or tomorrow or anytime soon. Maybe possibly in the not so near future," she rambles trying to save the awkward situation.

Ben's silent for a minute and Leslie worries that she's somehow just scared him like she imagined most men would probably choke when their new girlfriends starts talking about kids.

"How many kids do you want?" He asks quietly.

"Three." Leslie answers quickly. She's always wanted three kids.

"Me too."

There's a comforting silence between them. Ben holding Leslie's hand this whole time, he turns his head and kisses the top of her head. He wanted to add that he would like to have his three kids with her. But it was probably too early for that. Plus, he should really tell her that he loved her first. If only he could find the courage.

"We need to get them in their beds..." Leslie says, breaking the silence.

"And risk waking them?"

"If you want three kids, Ben, you're going have to know how to handle two."

He tries to hold his laughter, "it's not like we're going to have all three kids at the same time."

It was Leslie's turn to stiffen at his words. Ben wants three kids with her. She smiles at the thought.  

 

Chapter Text

 
There is no denying it anymore. Ben Wyatt has fallen in love with Leslie Knope. He couldn’t believe he was having these kinds of emotions with only a week of them being together. But if he was being honest, he started falling for her since she replaced Ron in the budget committee. She is full of life, passion and is stubborn to a fault. All of which appealed to him. He is however not ready to admit it out loud for fear that she doesn't reciprocate the same sentiments. He does not want another repeat of Leslie putting up boundaries whenever she felt threatened or scared.
 
On their way back to his mother's house, Ben had been providing her entertainment through stories about mischief he and his twin had been prone to doing back when they were teenagers.
 
"So, you're telling me that you pretended to be both yourself and Henry for two days so your brother could travel to the next state and attend a concert?"
 
"That is correct. No one suspected a thing. Except that when Henry came back it was the wrong timing because I was pretending to be Henry at that time. Mother was furious," Ben chuckles at the memory. "
 
"You're lucky to have siblings growing up." Leslie says quietly. She'd grown up as an only child and being headstrong and opinionated at a young age meant that she didn't grow up with a lot of friends.
 
“It has its ups and downs.” Ben remembers all the times he fought with Steph. He turns the corner and parks the car next to the curb.
 
He leans over towards Leslie and gives her a quick kiss on the lips. "You were really great with the twins today. Thanks for helping me out."
 
Although the kiss was quick, it affected her, nonetheless. It was a just a spontaneous gesture but she very much liked being surprised by them. Leslie knew she was wearing her heart on her sleeves, but she couldn’t help all her reactions whenever Ben was sweet on her.
 
"You're welcome,” she replies in what she hopes is a calm voice. “I like the boys and they seem to like me too. And I have a feeling that that is entirely the whole reason why your brother asked us to baby-sit."
 
They make their way into the house and it was dark and quiet. "I'll just take a quick shower before we head to bed." Leslie whispers, afraid to wake Julia and Mike up. Tomorrow is their big day and they needed to rest tonight. Ben nods and walks to the kitchen for a glass of water and to gather his thoughts.
 
The day after tomorrow, they'd be heading back to Pawnee in the morning. Ben had no idea what would happen once they got back to Leslie's hometown. His assignment to sort out Pawnee's budget crisis was only set for eight weeks and six had already gone by so quickly. Yesterday, he'd already sent an email to Chris asking if he could extend his stay and he worried that Chris would tell them that they were assigned to another city or needed back in Indianapolis. But he is determined that he'll find a way to stay in Pawnee. He wanted to be near Leslie. He couldn't imagine what it'd be like going back to Indianapolis without her by his side. Actually, he could. He'd be back to his old habit. Going to the gym, hitting the sci-fi forums, denying Chris' requests to set him up on blind dates, and hanging out at the gameboard cafe. That was his mundane routine back then, before he met Leslie.
 
In the weeks that he got to spend time with her, she'd completely changed his life. He was laughing and smiling again. And he was always on his toes trying to keep up with her antics. He desperately wished he could tell her how he feels without causing her to panic. The last relationship he had was ruined by moving way too fast. Granted, Leslie was not like the other girls he'd dated. But he was determined to make this work out.
 
Upstairs, Leslie is deep in her own thoughts. The hot water feels nice against her cold skin. Leslie absentmindedly lathered herself with soap. Her mind preoccupied of how to keep Ben from leaving Pawnee. It was always in the back of her head, the fact that he would finish his tasks and then get assigned to another city. Now that things are gradually falling into place, her insecurities came rushing back up. What if he asked her to move to Indianapolis? She thought she'd never be able to leave Pawnee. But if it meant being near him, she is really considering a move. And that realization meant so much to her because never in a million years would she think about leaving Pawnee behind. But now she’s entertaining the idea that she would probably do it if Ben asked her to.
 
She turns off the shower, dries herself with the towel and slips into her baby-pink nighties that she had packed. She steps into the room and finds Ben standing a few feet from the bathroom door. He looked like he has been staring at it for a few minutes now and was startled when it flew open.
 
"Sorry, I took so long. Did you want to use it?" Leslie gestures for him to step in. Ben moves towards the bathroom and she was about to step aside when he grabs her by the waist and pulls her closer to him.
 
Ben had stood out there for more than ten minutes waiting for Leslie to finish. In that time, he had decided that he would not tell her that he loved her. But he would show her. And after tonight, she would no doubt know just how much he loved her. At least, that was the plan he had formulated, in his mind, women are more intuitive, so he believes that Leslie would be able to pick up the signals.
 
They stare at each other's eyes. Leslie's hands are on his shoulders and his hand caressing her back, sends shivers down her spine. His eyes are intense, Leslie wonders what he's thinking about.
 
"Do you like Indianapolis?" She blurts out the first thing that came to mind. It was really hard to concentrate when Ben gave her his intense look.
 
"Not anymore."
 
His answer is short, and Leslie has no idea what to think about that. "Why not?"
 
"Because you're not there."
 
Her heart skips a beat. But she didn't have time to think more about it because his lips came down on hers and the kiss is soft and gentle and sensual. Very different from the hungry and fierce kisses they've shared for the past few days. Her hands circle around his neck and she goes on tiptoes as she tries to return the kiss fervently. But he would not be rushed. He takes control and calms her, sweeping his tongue on her bottom lip and nibbling on it.
 
Leslie resigns to this slow-paced make out session that Ben is enforcing. He takes a hold of her chin and forces her mouth to part, and he slides his tongue in and takes his time exploring her mouth. She lets out an uncontrollable soft moan. This was pure torture. He traces gentle kisses on her jawline, cheek and ear before sliding down her neck. Her knees buckle, and he tightens his hold on her, so she doesn't slide down the floor.
 
He sweeps her off her feet and carries her to the bed, placing her lightly in the middle. He quickly takes off his shirt before he gets on top of her and he resumes the leisurely and determined process of showing her how much he loves her.
 
"Leslie, is this the sexy nightgown that's supposed to drive me wild?" Ben pauses to ask her a question, feeling the smooth silk on his bare chest.
 
"Hmm?" The question doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense to her right now. Her eyes are closed, and she'd been enjoying every minute of whatever has gotten a hold of Ben. Their past nights of lovemaking were frantic and urgent. Tonight, he was taking his sweet time and it was drugging her mind. He had stopped though, so she opens her eyes to look at him. Trying to concentrate on his question, it dawned on her what he was asking. And she laughed then. "Yes," she answers, remembering the first night they shared the bed and she told him about the nightgown she had packed. "Although, I don't think it's doing a good job of driving you wild."
 
"Oh, trust me, Les. I've been doubling my efforts to go slow because of it." The answer pleases her immensely.
 
“Why are we going slow again?” She follows this question with a frantic effort of getting him out of his pants and he kicks the rest of it off the bed.
 
Ben holds both her wrists with one hand when she tries to reach for the most sensitive part of his body. “We are going slow,” he says, placing her arms above her head and forcing them down on the pillow. “Because I want to taste every part of your body.”
 
She gave him an impish grin. She really likes this Ben.
 
His eyes are hot on her and she looks like a glowing angel with mischief in her mind. Her curly blond hair outlines her face and the hint of vanilla scent surrounds them. Lord help him find the strength to take it slow.
 
“Will I get a turn to taste every part of you too?” She teases.
 
“Only if you still have the strength after.” Ben declares with playful arrogance and he launches his methodical activity of placing his lips on every part of her skin. He kisses her forehead, her eyes, her nose, her cheeks, her ears and her jaws.
 
Leslie’s patience is rewarded with a deep and hungry kiss on the mouth. She whimpers at the tormenting languid motions of his tongue. And when he pulls away, her head instinctively follows him up for more, but his hand on her wrists prevents her from moving further.
 
“Ben…” she pleads.
 
He continues his descent and focuses on her neck. She leans back on the bed and arches her body against his, clamping her eyes shut as the pleasure courses through her veins. He spends a little extra second on a spot below her collar bone. She wants to remind him not to leave a mark because she’ll be wearing a strapless dress tomorrow, but she couldn’t form the words and Ben’s mouth felt too good to interrupt.
 
Moving lower, he kisses her breasts through her silky nightgown, and she exerts a lot of effort in freeing her hands from his grip so she can hastily remove her top.
 
He stares at her cream-colored breasts as it raggedly rises and falls in rhythm with her breathing. Realizing that her hands are free, she snakes them around his head and brings him lower towards her chest. Snapping him out of his daze, he takes her breast into his mouth and Leslie swallows a scream because the walls are paper thin, and she is afraid Julia or Mike would come barging in.
 
Leslie’s death grip on his hair reminds Ben to slow down. He alternates between both breasts, circling his tongue around her nipples before drawing them into his mouth.
 
Her body is on fire. And progressively climbing into nirvana. She doesn’t want it to stop and at the same time she wants to reach the end as soon as possible.
 
When he begins kissing her stomach, Leslie is a little bit frustrated and wishes he’d go back to her breasts, until Ben slides her shorts and underwear off, and a new anticipation begins. He starts kissing her legs, her thighs and inner thighs, and finally when his mouth finds the most intimate part of her body, she feels like she has died and gone to heaven. Leslie grabs a pillow and slams it over her face to smother her lustful moans.
 
Ben adjusts the pressure of his tongue on the sensitive nub based on how much wild movement it got from Leslie. Her legs are hoisted on his shoulders and the heels of her feet are pushing into his back. He made uninhabited love to her with his tongue. Within minutes, Leslie is bucking uncontrollably on the bed, her orgasm hitting her in full force, he doesn’t stop until her tremors calms down.
 
In a hazy daze, Leslie isn’t even aware that Ben has flipped her over on her stomach and he pulls her lower half up towards his groin, both on their knees now. Her face pressing hard on the pillow still determined to muffle whatever sexy sound comes out of her mouth.
 
She realizes her position when Ben kisses her back. His hands slide to her hips and she hears a rustle of foil being torn open, a few seconds before she feels the tip of his sheathed arousal on her wet center. She grips the pillow and lets out a shameless groan as Ben pushes himself into her in the lengthiest possible way, inch by torturous inch.
 
If this is how she dies, she’ll gladly take it.
 
When he is fully in her, Leslie wants to scream for him to start moving. When he pushes in and pulls out, still determined to keep a rhythm that’s as slow-moving as a funeral march, Leslie wants to scream for him to move faster. She didn’t have to say anything though, because Ben is losing control. The slippery friction is causing him agonizing pleasure.

He turns Leslie around until she’s flat on her back and he can see her eyes have turned into a shade of dark blue flames. And his control snaps, he plunges into her as hard as he can and moves in and out of her frantically. She covers her mouth to stifle her hysterical chanting of ‘oh god’, reaching the climax she’s been promised throughout this exhilarating torment.
 
Ben follows a few seconds after her and reaches his own explosive fulfillment. His muscles contracting a couple of times before he collapses on top of her. Only their ragged breathing can be heard as they let their heartbeats settle down.
 
He rolls to his side, taking Leslie into his arms, her head tucked underneath his chin. She’s fast asleep after a few minutes. And Ben whispers the words he wishes she'll hear.
 
“I love you, Leslie.”

Chapter Text

It is the day of the wedding. Leslie watches from the second-floor window, envisioning the thrill of managing an event and ensuring everything goes according to plan. From above, she observes the wedding planner talking loudly on her Bluetooth earpiece as asking for status updates from her team, while she aligns the chairs in the backyard where the ceremony would be held. Leslie can see the huge white tent had been put up for the reception area, a few spaces away from where Julia and Mike would say their vows.

“Leslie, dear, can you hand me my earrings?”

She turns away from the window and gets the earrings Julia is pointing at on top of the table next to Leslie. She places them delicately in her hands and walks towards her boyfriend’s mother.

The bride is in full makeup and her hair is splashed with pearls and glitter, she glowed. And she seemed nervous, Leslie notices Julia’s shaking hands.

“It’s funny that I’m still scared even though this is not my first time getting married.” Julia laughs, hiding her nervousness behind humor.

Stephanie helps her with the earrings. “You look lovely, mom.” Her eyes are misty.

Shannon hugs her in-laws and bursts into tears, “oh my God, I’m so happy,” she cries.

Ben’s mother motions for Leslie and Regan to join the group hug. “My magnificent girls,” she whispers as they all bent down to hug her.

All blissfully unaware that the photographer had entered the room and had been taking shots of them. Leslie feels fortunate to be a part of this. She’s never been behind the scenes of a wedding before, and she never realized all the preparation needed even for a simple wedding such as this. It was like being privy to a sacred and private moment full of emotions.

“We are ruining our expensive makeups…” Julia declares with a laugh. “All right then, let’s get this show on the road.”

And with that, they all stood and fixed their mascaras and helped the bride finish her preparations. There is a great deal of posing and acting candid that the professional photographer needed from them.

Leslie is as nervous as the bride. But for an entirely different reason. She dreamt that Ben had told her he loved her. And Leslie had woken up feeling all frazzled. Last night, she felt that Ben was trying to tell her something through the way he made love to her. But she didn’t want to get her hopes up prematurely. Her past boyfriends had told her they loved her, but they still left her. Sometimes, she wonders if she’s cursed. Like maybe once the words get spoken, they get freed from some kind of spell and realize that she was not worthy of their love.

She hadn’t seen Ben all day since she woke up and found the bed empty. There was no time to search for him because Shannon had knocked and told her to get ready in half an hour for the makeup team. And from then on, Leslie had been busy helping the girls prepare for the wedding.

They all took turns telling her stories involving Ben and Leslie cherished every embarrassing, scary and sweet moment of his life. Some of which they made her promise never to tell Ben that she was told.

And finally, it was time for the ceremony to begin and Leslie and Regan went outside to take their seats. It’s the first time Leslie can appreciate the venue completely. The flowers on the aisle. The red carpet. The podium in front where the minister waited patiently. The well-dressed family and friends. The whiteness and the brightness of everything. It made her think of her future wedding. And she pictures clearly Ben’s face watching her as she walks down the aisle. She wants that future. She surprises herself with how much she wants it.

Near the back row, Leslie spots Ben standing next to Henry and Mike. The twin brothers wore identical suits and almost identical hairstyles, but she knew exactly which one was hers.

She walks up to Ben and straightens his bow tie. He is staring intensely at her and her complexion changes to a charming shade of pink when she’s reminded that that was the same intensity he displayed last night. His handsome features enhanced by the formal attire; Leslie has a sense of pride that this man belonged to her.

Ben can’t seem to remember how to breathe. Leslie is wearing a dark green strapless gown that hugged her body tightly and glittered in the light. He is tempted to run his lips on her bare shoulders. Her hair is pinned to the side and loose wavy strands framed her elegant face. He almost told her how much he loved her then and there.

“You are beautiful,” he says instead. And he’s rewarded with a smile and a blush that makes her glow radiant. And the back of his knuckles caresses the side of her face. And he wonders if she realizes yet that he is madly in love with her.

He gives her a soft kiss before she makes her way to her assigned seat at the front row. And she sits with her hands on her lap and the jittery sensation is back. And she wishes desperately to put a name to her current mood. It’s like excitement and worry and anxiety and giddiness all rolled into a ball of confusion that she swallowed and had found a home in the pit of her stomach.

But soon enough all the confusion is shoved aside when the music starts playing and Mike and Henry and then Ben march to the front one after another and the brothers stand behind Mike in front of the decorated alcove. Ben winks at her. And her breath catches.

Stephanie and Shannon are up next and both ladies have the attention of the audience, they are exquisitely beautiful in their similar lavender Grecian dresses. Stephanie’s dress was off-shouldered and her dark brown hair flowing over her bare shoulders is the opposite of Shannon’s bright red hair that was tied in a bun, complimenting her one shoulder version of the dress. They park themselves in front, at the opposite side of the groom, standing regal.

Trailing behind their mom are the twins, they are adorable in their tiny suits. Lucas holding the rings on a pillow in front of him like it was boiling pot of water and Brian hugging the Bible close to his chest. The twins sit beside Leslie in front. Brian crawling across Lucas to sit on Leslie’s lap.

The string quartet pauses, and the cello player begins the initial low notes of Canon in D before the rest join her in harmony, signaling the entrance of the bride. Everyone stands up and Leslie carries Brian on one arm and holds on to Lucas with the other hand, as he decided to stand on his chair to get a better view.

Julia enters the garden looking serene in her simple white dress, her smile wide and her eyes glazed. She makes her way in front and Mike takes her hand and everyone is dabbing their eyes because they can envision so much love between them.

 

******* ******* ******* ******* ******* *******

 

The wedding flows smoothly without any incident, everything has been packed except for the splendidly decorated garden alcove. Julia and Mike are slow dancing underneath the flower archway. Henry, Shannon and the twins have formed a small circle and spinning themselves and laughing at their silliness. Stephanie and Regan are sitting on lawn chairs, Steph’s head leaning on Regan’s shoulder.

The moon shines brightly. The music is a slow love song. Leslie’s head is resting sideways on Ben’s chest, her arms circling his waist. His chin is propped comfortably on the top of her head. His right hand caressing her neck while his left-hand rests on the small of her back.

Leslie doesn’t want the night to end. She feels so happy in his arms right now. Her heart is full and bursting like it was ready to belt out a high tune. During the whole event, Ben and Leslie kept stealing glances at each other. Their eyes twinkling when one catches the other.

There is no doubt that they like one another, but could she possibly be falling in love with him? And the scarier question is, does he love her too?

“What are you thinking about?” Ben whispers in her ear.

“You.” Leslie whispers back.

His heartbeat speeds up. He wonders if this is the right moment to tell her he loves her.

“What about me?” His hand lifts her chin up to meet his gaze. Her blue eyes mesmerize him. But he read uncertainty in them.

Leslie hesitates. “I think I lo—”

“BEN!”

Her declaration of love is interrupted by the scream. Leslie whips her head around and finds a disgruntled Cindy standing at the edge of the alcove. Disgruntled might be an understatement. She looked possessed. Her eyes are blazing with anger, hate, Leslie isn’t quite sure.

Shannon sensing that something is wrong drives the twins behind her as she takes a few steps back. Her maternal instincts kicking in. Henry stood in front of his family with arms stretched to protect them from an unknown danger.

“Cindy, what are you doing here?” Ben asks calmly. His right arm reaches out to her and his left arm pushes Leslie behind him.

“I love you, Ben! And I know you love me!” Cindy screeches, one of her arms is flailing wildly. Her other hand is concealed behind her back.

Leslie stands frozen. Ben doesn’t deny what she says.

He doesn’t deny it because his mind is reeling. He is afraid to say anything that will cause her to lash out. His whole family is there, the twins, Leslie. And Cindy has something in her hand that he thinks might be a weapon.

“Cindy let’s talk. Somewhere else, not here. Somewhere private.” He tries to persuade her.

“No!” The vehement word came from Stephanie who had her phone to her ear. “Don’t go anywhere near her.” She directs her brother. “I’m calling the police.”

Cindy resembled a caged animal ready to pounce. Leslie can sense her desperation and panic and it was like she was watching something in slow motion. Cindy shakes her head and then slowly brings the hand behind her forward. Someone screams. And from the corner of her eyes, Leslie notices Ben move. He tackles Cindy to the ground and has her wrist pressed into the grass.

It isn’t a weapon. It was a pee stick.

“I’m pregnant,” Cindy sobs and buries her head against Ben’s chest.

No, no, no, no! Something explodes inside Leslie. She thinks it might be her heart shattering into a million pieces. She feels faint and somehow, she finds enough strength in her, she’s running away. Back into the house. Back into Ben’s room.

It’s instinct. It’s self-preservation. She is protecting her heart. She wants to get away from here. She must get away. She needs to go home.

Outside, Ben stands quickly, unaware that Leslie has left. His features displayed disgust as he defends himself from the unspoken accusation. “It’s not mine.”

“It’s ours. It’s yours.”

“I never touched you!”

“You’re going to be a father.” Cindy sounds unhinged, she gets up and waves the stick around. There’s a bizarre laugh that escapes her mouth.

“Why are you doing this?” Ben is shaking her, his hands on her shoulder. “Stop it! Stop it right now!” He glances behind him to find out how Leslie is reacting to this. He panics when he doesn’t see her.

Cindy sensing that she’s about to lose his attention dives and pushes him to the ground. She’s straddling him and lashing out wildly. And Ben tries to protect himself, lifting his arms in front of his face. And Mike and Henry are trying to pull her off him. The twins are crying. Cindy is screaming.

Mike and Henry lift her up and hold her firmly. Both afraid that she’ll hurt herself trying to escape their strong grip. Ben is trying to calm her down. He can hear the faint sound of sirens. And on a normal day, the sound gives him panic attacks, but today it gave him relief, he prays they get here quicker.

The police arrive and they have an ambulance with them. The paramedics give Cindy a mild sedative and they lead her into the waiting vehicle. The police keep Ben busy with questions. He tries to answer them swiftly, he just wants to go and catch Leslie and reassure her and tell her that it’s not his baby.

An hour later, he finally runs back to his room but finds it empty. She’s not there. Leslie’s things are gone, her suitcase is missing. And he can’t locate his phone, so he runs back outside to search for it.

There’s a message from her.

‘I’m going home’

And Ben calls her, his hand shaking, and he rakes his other hand through his hair, but the call goes straight to voicemail.

“How’s Leslie?” Julia asks from behind him.

Ben turns and she identifies the heavy grief in her son’s eyes. “She’s gone,” he says in a broken whisper.

 

Chapter Text

There’s a woodpecker perched on her head. And it must have thought she was a tree because it was pecking her.

Knock, knock, knock

Knock, knock, knock

Leslie can hear the hollow sound echoing in her head.

Knock, knock, knock

“Leslie!”

She is shocked that the bird can speak. And that it knows her name.

Then she wakes up with a start. Inhaling sharply and sitting up abruptly. It takes her a few seconds to remember where she is.

Knock, knock, knock

She is at home. On the couch. Someone is knocking at the door.

“Leslie, I know you’re in there.” She recognizes April’s voice.

She kicks off the duvet and slowly gets up. Dragging her feet as she heads to the door, she opens it and peers at April. Leslie has a pounding headache and she’s not sure if she can handle April’s sarcasm this morning.

Pushing the door wide open, April steps inside and starts talking. “I need your help. I’m supposed to submit this stupid essay to talk about my experience as an intern at the Parks Department and it’s due tomorrow and I don’t have any clue what to write. And I’ve waited for you to get back from your stupid vacation and I know you probably just got home but I think this counts as an emergency because I could fail the class if I don’t submit anything.” She sighs after the last word. Leslie doesn’t say anything, she looks like she’s still processing what she was told.

“I need coffee,” Leslie finally says with hoarse voice. She walks to the kitchen and prepares a pot. April follows her and stares at her boss. Leslie is usually energetic and ready to bounce off ideas at this time of the day. And Leslie had said in an email that she’d be in Minnesota for a week and that she’d be back this morning. And to call her if an emergency comes up regarding the Parks Department, Minnesota was just a two-hour flight, Leslie looked like she was on a 24-hour flight that crash landed.

April narrows her eyes at Leslie and observes her more closely. There are dark circles under her eyes. Her blonde hair is a mess and resembled a bird’s nest. Her eyes are red and puffy. Either her boss had just taken some drugs, or she’d been crying. April decided it was the latter. April wonders if she was crying about the government being shut down. Leslie would definitely cry about that.

But her boss is wearing a green plaid shirt, buttoned unevenly, clearly belonging to a man and looked vaguely familiar to April. And what was she doing in Minnesota? Or is the correct question, who was she doing in Minnesota?

“I’ll help you murder him.” April makes a wild guess.

Leslie looks like she’s about to start sobbing. How astute of April to come close to figuring out what had happened. Leslie hadn’t even had the time yet to call Ann and tell her.

Leslie shakes her head, “It’s over. We don’t need to murder anyone.” Her voice is filled with sadness or maybe anguish. Leslie isn’t sure, but she knew her heart dropped every time she thought about him.

April hardly ever got angry. In fact, she was always proud of being able to not care about everything. But seeing Leslie’s red-rimmed eyes and hearing the pain in her voice, April wanted to punch the person that did this to her.

“Did you say you needed something for an essay?” Leslie says while pouring coffee in her mug.

April watches her suspiciously, Leslie is changing the subject. And she’ll let her because she doesn’t want Leslie to start crying again. “Yeah, for my internship experience,” she answers.

Having sipped some of the hot coffee, Leslie is starting to gain a little energy. “I have a binder of notes for when I was observing you.” She disappears in the bedroom and April assumes she went to get the binder.

Looking around to find more clues about what happened, April notices her luggage is open, and half the contents unpacked. There is a red dress strewn on the floor. She strides towards the table next to the couch where Leslie’s phone is perched precariously. She presses a button, but nothing happened. The batteries are dead.

Leslie comes out of her room with a binder in one hand and the mug in the other. She sits on the sofa and April takes a spot next to her.

“You are in luck,” Leslie says, there’s a little bit more enthusiasm in her voice, but it still sounded forced to April. “I have kept all of my notes regarding your internship. And how you’ve progressed.”

April glances at the notes. There’s an obvious phrase on the margin that said, ‘I’m so proud of her.’ And tiny hearts after. There looked to be 50 pages. Some have candid pictures of her.

“Here, have a look at it and I’ll just take a quick shower.” Leslie places the binder on April’s lap and disappears again.

“I’m gonna plug your phone!” April yells towards the bedroom, not caring if her boss heard. She wants to know who hurt Leslie and the only way is to look at her messages.

She waits for the phone to start after she plugs it in. The notifications start popping up. April doesn’t feel guilty about what she is about to do. She likes Leslie, she is more than a boss to April but probably like a super old sister or super close friend (but she’ll never admit that to anyone) and so April is going to figure out how to help.

Navigating through Leslie’s phone, April looks at the notifications from a contact with the initials BW. There were a lot of messages and missed calls from the person. April enters the passcode (0000) because Leslie never bothered to make a harder code. And April reads BW’s messages. There was a ton but mostly repeats of the following.

‘We need to talk’

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m so sorry’

‘Please don’t believe anything Cindy said’

Then there were the voicemails asking Leslie to call him back. April swears she’s heard that voice before. But regardless whoever the guy was, he was obviously an asshole. She assumes that the guy cheated on Leslie and is trying to save his butt. Ughh, all guys are dickheads. Except for Andy, April thought.

Biting her lip, she thinks about replying. Leslie is an innocent open person always ready to please when it comes to dating. And April is furious that some guy took advantage of that. She starts typing, ‘I hate you, I hope you die’ and almost hit send.

No, wait. Leslie would never say that, even in her lowest point.

She erases what she typed and started once more.

‘Please don't ever talk to me again. Goodbye.’

There. That sounded polite and very formal and reeks of hate on a Leslie level.

April hits send and then proceeds to erase his messages and what she typed. And she erases the voicemails too. Then she blocks his number and knowing how Leslie never messes with her phone settings, she’ll have no idea what April had done.

She is startled by an incessant knocking at the door and she almost dropped the phone when she thought she’d been caught red handed.

Returning the phone on the table, April hurries to the door and opens it. Ben looks surprised to see her. But not as surprised as April is to see him.

Then it clicks, like a puzzle piece sliding into place. BW. Ben Wyatt. Leslie went on a date with Ben. And Ben cheated on her. And he shut down the government. And he is an outsider. And how dare he hurt Leslie and make her cry.

“Go away.” April says deadpan but her voice holds strong.

“I’m, uh, is, uh, Leslie home?” Ben stammers. He was expecting Leslie to answer the door. Instead a young black-haired woman, who is staring daggers at him, answers it. He remembers her as Ron’s admin assistant. He thought he’d gone to the wrong house for a second.

“She doesn’t want to see you.” And then April adds, “Ever.”

“I just, I need to talk to her.” Ben says desperately. He tries to peer over her shoulders, hoping he can catch Leslie’s attention.

“She doesn’t want to talk to you.” April crosses her arms and gives him the evil eye. “Ever.”

“You’re April, right?” Ben tries to reason with her. “Can you tell her I’m here, please?”

“She wishes you were dead.”

The words hurt Ben. He can’t believe Leslie would say those things, but he hasn’t really known her that long. And if Leslie believes what Cindy said then he can understand that she is angry.

“I just need to explain.” Ben pleads.

“She says it’s over. Don’t ever come back.” And then she adds one more word before slamming the door close. “Ever.”

It’s over. The word’s hit him like a knife plunging into his chest. He doesn’t want it to be over. And he is torn. He tries calling her again, but this time he couldn’t even get her voicemail. She was shutting him out. She won’t even talk to me, he thought. His heart feels heavy. And he walks numbly back to his car and he sits there in a daze, gripping the wheel tightly until his knuckles are pale.

He wants to barge into the house and make Leslie listen to him. His anger rises, why won’t she give him the chance to explain? Was their relationship that superficial? He was ready to tell her he loved her, and he thought she might even feel the same way. But she ran away at the first sign of trouble. And she ran away believing the worst about him.

He didn’t get a minute of sleep last night because he worried about her. He had tried to get a flight back to Pawnee, but all seats were full, and he was forced to take his original morning schedule.

Anger clouds his judgement and he starts the car and he drives back to his motel and he feeds his anger because the alternative is to wallow in pain. Drown in sorrow. Pine for her like a dying man. No, he preferred anger. Frustrated at Cindy for making those accusations. Annoyed at Leslie for believing Cindy. And furious at himself for falling in love with Leslie and not telling her soon enough and not running after her immediately to explain. He would have to try harder to be angry though because when he pictured Leslie, his heart constricted, and he wishes he could hold her in his arms again.

April lets out a sigh of relief when she saw Ben drive away. Good riddance. April feels loyal to Leslie and even though she’d never tell her that he came by, she knows she’s saved Leslie from heartache. Leslie deserves better.

“Was someone at the door?” Leslie asks appearing at the other side of the living room, using a towel to dry her hair. She’s still wearing the plaid shirt, but she put on pants this time. And April recalls that the shirt is similar to something Ben had worn in the office once.

“Just some petitioner,” April shrugs.

“Oh.” And her eyes betray her, and a flash of sadness appears before being replaced with false excitement. “Well, come on, let’s get that essay started.” Leslie says, motioning for April to get back on the couch.

 

 

*************

1 Month Later

*************

 

 

The Parks Department is back in business. Leslie sits behind her desk and smiles widely but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes.

Everything is back to normal. Well, almost. They would only operate with half the budget, but everyone had been spared.

April is at her desk, sulking. Donna is at her desk reading a novel. Tom is at his desk reading a GQ magazine. Ron is at his desk doing puzzles. And Jerry is at his desk, working.

Perfectly normal.

Never mind that Leslie’s stomach is churning because any minute now, Ben would enter their department and say a few words.

Never mind that for the past four weeks she’d been in hell. She had expected him to call her. He never did. Not even once. Not even when she was on her way back to Pawnee. So, Leslie had no idea what had happened after she left.

He probably married Cindy there and then, they could have easily asked the minster to come back.

Of course, that was just one of the theories that plagued her head.

The one that really messes with her brain is the fear that Cindy probably told everyone that her relationship with Ben was fake. And Leslie would never be able to face his family ever again. Because the people she’d come to care for would then know that she had lied to them from the start.

And then she hears him. And everyone stops what they are doing to gather outside. Leslie stays at the back, hoping to avoid any interaction.

And she listens to him explain what they are expected to do to keep the budget afloat. And he doesn’t look at her. So, she stares at him. Pleading silently for him to look at her. But she also hoping he won’t, so he doesn’t see how much Leslie misses him.

He has a five o’clock shadow. Leslie hasn’t seen him like that before. It gave him a dark appeal. And she wonders how they would feel if she ran her fingers along his jaw.

Stop it, Leslie. She tells herself. Now is not the time to imagine these things. Plus, she had already taken the four weeks to forget him and move on. Ha, if she were being honest with herself, a month was not enough to forget him. And it hurt like crazy. If he didn’t care enough to straighten things out, then he didn’t care at all.

And she even tried to call him, once when she felt she had hit rock bottom and just wanted to hear his voice, but her call wouldn’t go through. And she took it as a sign that she should just forget him.

It was the same advice Ann gave her. Her brain muscle just refused to cooperate.

But damn if he didn’t look handsome standing in front with his pad-folio. Once he leaves Pawnee, then Leslie can really start to forget him. Right now, his presence in the room, even if he wasn’t looking at her, is like a thousand stab wounds to her heart. And she alternates between wanting to kiss him and wanting to strangle him. Maybe she could do both…

And then he was gone. Just said what he said and then left. Leslie felt like she could breathe again, and she goes back to her desk and tries to pretend that everything is normal.

Ben walks back to his office. It took all his strength not to run. He thought he could handle being in the same room as her. But the whole time he made his announcement, his heart was racing. His palm was sweaty. And he knew she was staring at him. He could feel her eyes. And he was a coward. He could not look at her. Because if he did, he’d lose his voice. He’d lose his train of thought. He’d lose his mind.

Four weeks of hell. He sent her messages every day. Not a single reply from her. He drove by her house almost every day, but he either had the worst timing or she was really good at avoiding him because no one was ever home when he got there, he would have filed a missing person report if he hadn’t seen her exit JJ’s Diner with Ann, but they drove off before Ben could even find a parking spot.

His family have been hounding him, asking if he’s talked to Leslie yet. Asking how they could help. Steph even announced that she wanted to go to Pawnee and talk to Leslie herself. But he reassured her that he’d fix it. Now he wasn’t sure he could.

And then finally he’s in the same room as her and he couldn’t make eye contact. Nice job, Wyatt. He thinks to himself derisively.

What he needs is to get Leslie alone so they can talk.

 

*************

 

After eight hours of trying to find Leslie, Ben is convinced that she has a secret superpower of invisibility. And she kept declining his meeting invite that he sent via email. Good Lord, the woman is a ninja.

No one could blame him if he finally resorted to waiting by her car after work. Hiding from sight so she can’t avoid him.

And so that’s how Leslie found him, sitting on the ground, legs bent, leaning on one of the tires, both his arms balanced on top of his knees. He stands up immediately when he sees her.

There is a flash of indecision in her face. Ben readies himself to give chase if she runs away.

“Leslie, please, we need to talk.” Ben rakes his hand through his hair. It’s been a long day. It’s been a long month.

“It’s a little too late for that, don’t you think?” She tilts her head to the side as she tries to be sarcastic. But her voice shakes and her hands feel clammy and she wants to go home because any second now she’s about to give in and throw herself into his arms.

“I never did anything with Cindy. I didn’t even make out with her.” His voice is heavy. Please believe me, he chants over and over in his mind.

And Leslie believes him. Because she never really doubted him. Okay, she did have doubts when she was packing her bags and heading to the airport and moving her flight. Then she realized she was being impulsive, and emotional and wasn’t thinking straight and she should have stayed, but it was too late as she was already on the plane. And the next day when Ben should have arrived in Pawnee, she expected him to sort things out with her. And every day that he never did was agonizing. So, she does believe that Ben is innocent, but she can’t forgive him for the whole month that he ignored her.

“I know,” Leslie manages to say.

And the two words make Ben’s heart pound erratically. He takes a step towards her because he wants to kiss her and never let her go. But she takes a step back.

“I can’t.” Leslie lifts her palm up, the universal sign for stop. And Ben is confused. She fidgets with the keys in her hand. Ben patiently waits for her to explain. And she takes a long breath and looks at her feet before saying, “I— I have a date.”

Paralyzed with shock, Ben stands frozen. And Leslie hurriedly walks around him and unlocks the car and drives away as fast as she can.

 

Chapter Text

She has a date. The words are like cold water poured over Ben’s head. And the momentary shock and blinding jealousy that coursed through him allowed Leslie to escape. He gathers his wits and gets in his car to follow her home.

How dare she try to move on. That look she gave him, she definitely still has feelings for him. Is she seeing someone? Has she really moved on, goddamnit it’s only been one month. And they never officially broke up. Ben had to acknowledge it was over, that’s how a breakup is supposed to work. And he would never let it be over.

Panic slowly creeps into him. What if it was too late? What if he waited too long to take drastic measures.

Parking on the curb, he runs to the front and tries the door knob first before knocking. When it opens, he barges inside and maneuvers his way to the bedroom, avoiding stacks of binders that tottered dangerously.

Leslie is unbuttoning her blouse when her bedroom door flies open, she whirls around, prepared to fight an intruder and is relieved to see Ben. Then remembers that she’s supposed to be mad at him.

“What in the world are you doing?” She frantically tries to button her shirt close. Seeing him today in the office wrecked havoc with her mind and feelings. Seeing him now in her bedroom is slowly pushing her towards the edge of a cliff.

“We are not over.” Ben declares hotly. And then he tries to calm himself because she was in the middle of undressing and he desperately wanted to finish what her small hands had started.

Leslie makes a noise from the back of her throat that sounded like a snort. “Oh wow, you couldn’t tell me that, oh let’s say, a month ago?”

“I tried!” Ben raises his arms up in exasperation.

“Well, you didn’t try hard enough,” Leslie snaps back.

“Well, you didn’t make it easy.” Ben says coldly.

Leslie is close to giving in, she can feel it. It wasn’t a good idea to be in the same room as Ben for more than five minutes. She had to make him leave. “It’s too late. I’ve— I’ve moved on.”

“No you haven’t,” Ben contradicts her. “I won’t let you. Who is it? Who are you seeing?”

“It’s none of your business,” she says, crossing her arms in front of her chest. But seeing Ben’s eyes turn dark, she adds, “Ann set me up on a blind date, ok?”

Good. It’s not serious, Ben thought, relief washing over him. “Where are you meeting him?”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” and then quickly says, “We’re meeting at the Snakehole Lounge, soon.” She glances at her watch to make a point.

“You can’t go on a date there,” Ben’s voice is low and almost growling, he takes a step closer to her. The bar was a dark seedy place, her date might take advantage of her. Her date might kiss her. And that thought makes Ben want to grab her and shake her to make her listen.

Her eyes widen, he is a foot away, if she reached out she’d be able to touch his face. Or if he touches her she might as well call it game over. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“You said you believed me, why are you doing this?” His sounds desperate. His eyes drill a hole in her heart.

“I believe you, but I haven’t forgiven you yet.” Leslie shakes her head vigorously, making her dizzy. She’s trying to shake away how much she wants to run to him. To comfort him.

“What do you want me to do?” Ben asks brokenly.

“Nothing!” Leslie gets agitated. Why is he doing this now? Why did he wait four weeks to say these things? “Do nothing. That’s what you’re good at.” She’s on the verge of crying.

“What are you talking about?”

Leslie inhales and counts to ten. She doesn’t want to open a can of worms when she had to leave in fifteen minutes or she’ll be late. “Ben, I have a date and I need to change. Please go,” she says as firmly as she can.

On impulse or instinct or maybe even desperation, Ben moves quickly. Taking two steps, he grabs her waist and roughly pulls her towards him. And Leslie only had time to react by placing her palms on his chest before his mouth descends on hers.

And it’s a deep and possessive kiss. Her heart drops and Leslie gasps causing her lips to part. Ben takes the chance to thrust his tongue inside. Her knees buckle and she grabs on to his shirt. This is what she was afraid of. Ben can melt her with just one kiss. And he doesn’t hold back. His right hand slides to the back of her head and his fingers grip her hair. His mouth slants over hers and the kiss goes deeper than she thought possible.

Time has stopped. Leslie’s hands snake around his neck and she pushes up on her tiptoes as she kisses him back, matching his hunger.

After what seemed like hours, he pulls back, both of them panting. Breathless. And his eyes are hot and her eyes are glazed. Leslie’s lips are swollen from the rough kiss and her face is flushed and tinted in a shade of red.

“Something to think about while you’re on your date.” Ben says hotly.

Leslie snaps out of her reverie. Shaken and shivering, she manages to jump back into reality and she’s frustrated because he has so much power over her. “Get out.” She tries to sound angry. But even she couldn’t deny how vulnerable she felt.

He leaves because he is satisfied that she still has feelings for him. She practically melted in his arms. Ben allows himself to feel a little hope.

Alone in her room, Leslie sits at the edge of the bed, hugging herself. She can’t let him kiss her like that again. And she takes a few minutes to breathe and remembers that she needs to prepare for her date.

 

***************

Crap on a freaking spatula. Leslie could not concentrate on her date. Sitting across from her is a good looking music teacher named Greg or George. Crap, she should have paid attention, now it would be awkward if she asked what his name was again since they’ve already had half an hour of casual conversation.

Greg/George is enthusiastically explaining to her about a trip he’s planning with his students to watch an orchestra. And she smiles through it all. And she says ‘wow’ in what she hopes are the right parts of his story. If it wasn’t for her obstinate tight-butt EX-boyfriend, she might have actually enjoyed this date with Greg. Or George. Crap.

“Greg…” She holds her breath and hopes it’s the right name. When he pauses to listen and doesn’t correct her, she exhales. “I would love to hear your students play.”

“You do? Oh, that’s wonderful. We have rehearsals tomorrow, do you want to come by around 4pm?”

“I’d love to,” she says and she smiles easy. Greg is handsome in his own way, if only Leslie would stop comparing him to Ben. Her date has dark hair and grey eyes, and Ann sure knew how to pick them. He is charming, funny and gentle and maybe someone that can make her forget a brown haired, brown eyed elf king.

But then she felt his presence. And she knew he was watching her. She moves a little to the left and is not surprised to see Ben sitting at the bar a few tables behind Greg. Ugh, she should not have told him where she was meeting her date. He is staring intensely at her and he raises his lite beer in mock toast to acknowledge her. She rolls her eyes at him.

Turning back to Greg, she tries to listen intently. He seemed to be telling her about writing songs. She tries to focus. But she notices a pretty girl with short red hair slide into the stool next to Ben. And Leslie tightens her grip on her mug.

“Will you excuse me for a minute, Greg,” she says through clenched teeth.

Walking with alarming speed, she makes it to the bar before the red-head could say hi to Ben.

“What are you doing here?” She asks venomously.

“I’m just hanging out,” Ben says, feigning innocence.

“You are doing this on purpose.”

“Doing what?” And he’s staring at her mouth as he says this. And Leslie has to bite her bottom lip to stop herself from thinking of that kiss they shared an hour or so ago.

“Ruining my date,” she says distractedly. He is still staring at her mouth and she wishes he would stop reminding her of what they had just done earlier. Because she is doing her damndest not to want an encore of it.

“You shouldn’t be going out with anyone. We are not over.”

“Stop it, Ben,” Leslie says with exasperation. “We had a wonderful week. And I won’t ever forget it. And I— And I thank you for it,” she stumbles because there’s a twinge of pain in her chest as she says this. “But it obviously doesn’t mean that much to you so I don’t know what the hell this is. Did you suddenly realize you missed me when you saw me today?”

Ben looks confused. “Why would you think our relationship doesn’t mean much to me?”

But before she can explain further, Greg appears at her side, “Leslie, is this guy bothering you?”

Feeling embarrassed, she introduces them to each other. “Greg, no, it’s all fine. Um this is Ben, someone I work with.”

“Ben.” Greg nods his head towards Ben. Leslie’s date is thoughtful. The two had looked like they were arguing. He is sure there’s more to the story.

“Greg.” Ben says curtly.

Greg assesses the situation and feels a little threatened by Ben’s rudeness. “Hope you don’t mind if I steal Leslie and ask her to dance.”

“I do mind actually.” Ben is itching for a fight.

Leslie glares at Ben, “He’s joking,” she says to Greg. Come on, let’s dance.” And she takes Greg’s hands and leads him to the dance floor.

Ben wants to chase after them. But the warning look Leslie gave him reminded him that he was being an ass. And maybe she was a little right. Seeing her today after a month had passed had made him too emotional. And he needed a better way to win her over. And he doubts if dragging her somewhere private to force himself on her would make her forgive him. For whatever reason, Leslie is blaming him for the one month they spent apart. He had sent her messages every single day. If anything, it was Leslie’s fault why they didn’t reconcile. And he had every right to be angry.

And he can’t take the torture of watching some other guy’s hands on her. So he goes home for the night, feeling angry, hurt and jealous. Tomorrow he’ll find a way to talk to her. Tomorrow she’d be reasonable.