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Baby Daddy

Chapter Text

Ben stared blankly at Leslie because she definitely didn’t say what he thought she just said. That’s impossible.

“What?”

She took a deep breath. “I asked if you’d be the father of my child. I know it’s a huge request and a little weird, but you know how much I’ve wanted kids, and I don’t think that I’ll ever find someone to have them with. I could go to a sperm bank, but it’s not the same. You don’t have to answer now, and if you say no, I won’t hold it against you or anything.

“It’s just–you’re my best friend. I know you better than anyone else on the planet and you are an excellent candidate. My time is running short and my doctor says that this might be my only chance. You could be as involved as you want. If you want to be this child’s father in every sense of the word, that’s great. If you want to just be the cool uncle that shows up and Christmas and birthdays, that’s great, too.”

Ben’s mouth was dry and his tongue felt like it weighed a ton. “You–you really think I’m the best choice?”

“I do. But again, please don’t feel pressured. Just think about it. You–” she sighed again, and god, if she only knew how much he loved her. “You’re the only one I trust to do this.”

“Yes.”

The word was out of his mouth before his brain could even catch up. Leslie’s eyes went wide with shock that probably mirrored what he was feeling inside.

“Wait, yes? You don’t have to answer now. If you want to think about this–”

“Yes, I want to do it. I know how much this means to you, and if I can help make that happen, I want to do it.”

Shit, what was he doing? This could ruin everything. Having a child with the women you’re too afraid to admit you love more than life itself only complicates things. Was he even ready to be a father? Did she really want him to be an active father?

But he loved her, and this was what she wanted.

He held her when she rushed into his arms and started crying happy tears against his shirt. “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I think I do,” he mumbled into her hair, pressing a light kiss there.

“Wow, okay,” she said a few seconds later, pulling away from him and wiping at her eyes. “There’s still a lot to do beforehand and stuff before they do the actual insemination. I know my doctor will want to talk to you and everything, and they’ll have to do a full medical exam.”

“No problem. Whatever it takes. Everything will work out just fine.”

Ben wasn’t sure if even he believed that, but he’d say and do anything to make her happy.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t how Leslie thought it would happen.

Whenever she thought about starting her family, she imagined being in a stable relationship. Imagined a husband and a nice big house to raise their children in.

But that didn’t seem to be in the cards for her. God, she could hardly remember her last date, let alone serious boyfriend, but for a while, that didn’t matter all that much.

She had amazing friends, a kickass job in parks and was recently elected to the City Council, and up until recently, that was all that she really needed to be happy.

But then, something just shifted. There was this desire, this pull on her heart that she couldn’t explain. Everytime she saw a pregnant woman walking down the street or a stroller being pushed past her in the grocery store, she felt this all consuming emptiness in the pit of her stomach.

There was a long period of denial where she tried to rationalize that it was nothing more than hormones, nothing more than her biological clock making itself known as it started to run out, but then that didn’t matter, either.

The why was unimportant. The fact that it was there and started consuming her every waking thought was enough.

Leslie wanted to be a mother. She wanted to be pregnant, wanted to feel the kicks of her baby in her belly. She wanted soft baby kisses and late night feedings and storytime. She wanted someone to love unconditionally and love her in return.

So, she read countless books, made more binders than even she knew what to do with, watched those documentaries on the Discovery Channel about single moms and artificial insemination. And just like with everything else, she threw herself into this project headfirst.

Operation: Impregnation.

Okay, so it wasn’t the greatest or most clever title she’d ever come up with, but it worked.

There were plenty of moments of doubt, doubting that it was the right choice, doubting that she’d be a good mother given how dedicated she was to her work, but in the end, she knew--just knew that she never wanted anything more than this.

It was weeks before she even felt comfortable enough to tell Ann. Sweet, beautiful, caring Ann who wrapped Leslie into the greatest, tightest hug and told her that she’d do anything to help Leslie’s dream come true.

It was Ann that recommended the fertility specialist, Ann that took a day off from work to go with her because she was too scared to go to her physical alone, and it was Ann sitting there right now holding her hand as the doctor laid out everything she needed to know.

“Well, Leslie,” the doctor said with a smile as she looked over her chart, “I’m happy to tell you that everything looks great. There is no reason to expect any difficulties in getting pregnant should you pursue insemination.”

Leslie let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. “Wow, that’s--that’s wonderful. Thank you.”

“Of course. Now, there are several options. We do have quite a wide variety of anonymous sperm donors should you choose, unless, of course, you have someone in mind.”

Ben.

It was always Ben. Might always be Ben, which was the reason she was here in the first place.

No man could even compare to her other best friend, and Leslie’s pretty sure that’s why she’s still single. Because every date she went on just didn’t feel right. Their hair wasn’t as lush and full as Ben’s, their eyes not nearly as warm and caring. She couldn’t talk to them about the latest documentary on the History Channel or Meet The Press. They couldn’t make her laugh in the way that Ben could.

But it wasn’t going to happen for about a billion different reasons no matter how much she wanted it to. They were friends, best friends, and taking that next step could just ruin everything.

Oh, yeah, and the fact that he definitely didn’t feel the same way about her was also a pretty big issue.

But maybe--

“Uhm, yeah, I’m honestly not sure.”

The doctor smiled again and just nodded her head. “That’s quite alright. We have an extensive list of our donors if you want to go through them. And if you decide you want to go with someone that you know, we can set up the meetings and health screening as a first step.”

Leslie nodded slowly and accepted the thick binder filled with the names and biographies of countless men whose sperm could be used to make her baby.

When they walked out of the office, it felt like all too much. Ann’s steady hand on her back was all that was keeping her grounded.

“Hey, you okay?” Ann murmured into her ear.

“Yeah. It’s just… this suddenly felt almost too overwhelming. Like this just makes what I’m about to do more real.”

Ann smiled softly and rubbed a hand across her back. “It’ll be okay. We’ll all be there for you know matter what. You know that, right?”

And she did know that. That’s honestly the only reason she knew she’d be able to do this. Because it wouldn’t be all on her own. Her baby would be the most cared for and loved child in all of Pawnee.

“I know. Just the thought of now having to choose a donor... It’s a lot.”

Ann eyed the binder with pursed lips. “Are you going to go with an anonymous donor or are you going to…”

She trailed off and Leslie knew exactly what she meant.

“I don’t know, Ann. I want to. I really do, but I’m afraid to ask. I mean we’re almost as close as you and I are, but this is so huge. This is asking him to be the father of my child. That’s--”

“Huge.”

Leslie sighed. “Yeah. And what if we just aren’t compatible as parents? Or what if he doesn’t want to be involved and that puts a strain on our relationship since he has to see our kid all of the time. What if--”

“Hey, Leslie, calm down. There are a lot of what ifs right now. But remember that you don’t have to decide right away. You can think it over. Look through the binder and see if maybe someone there jumps out at you. And if you still want to ask Ben, I know that even if he says no, he still cares about you. More than you probably realize.”

Leslie rolled her eyes. “This again, Ann? How many times do I have to tell you that we’re just friends?”

“And how many times do I have to tell you that I think you’re wrong and both too stubborn to see it?”

Leslie narrowed her eyes and scrunched her face. “Ann--”

“Okay, I’ll drop it. I’m just saying that Ben loves you in his own way and wants you to be happy. If this makes you happy, I think he’ll go for it.”

Leslie chewed on her lip. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll look through the binder just in case and then make up my mind.”

“Okay,” Ann said. “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know. But right now, I think you deserve a nice plate of waffles from JJ’s.”

Leslie couldn’t agree more.

~~~~~

With every turn of a page, Leslie knew this was more and more wrong. None of these nameless, faceless men were right.

To be fair, Leslie totally stalked the sperm bank and watched the types of men that went there. When she saw Sewage Joe there more than a few times, and she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t run the risk of getting someone like Sewage Joe’s sperm.

No, Ben was the only one she could even fathom doing this with.

Sometimes she allowed herself to imagine a little boy with his unruly hair, or a girl with his adorable smile and brown eyes, and that was it. That’s all it took to cement the decision in her mind that this was the right thing to do.

She just needed to figure out how to ask him.

~~~~~

Leslie agonized for days before finally plucking up the nerve. Everytime she saw him, she was torn between going up to him and blurting it out or running away and hiding from him forever.

But she figured now was as good a time as any. It was the first movie night they were able to have in weeks thanks to their busy schedules, and it would just be the two of them, relaxed and having fun.

Except she was the complete opposite of relaxed.

Ben greeted her with a warm smile and even warmer hug, one that she just let herself fold into.

God, he gave the best hugs.

She managed to make it through the movie without incident, leaning against Ben’s shoulder as she almost always did halfway through.

When his arm wrapped around her and pulled her close, she felt that tugging again in the pit of her stomach. That feeling that made her want to have this forever.

But it was different this time. This time she imagined a child between them-- their child. She imagined Ben rocking their baby to sleep or sitting down and playing tea party or Legos. She saw a child on his lap just so in love with their father, it made Leslie’s heart want to burst.

She imagined them being a family.

Leslie didn’t even realize that the movie was over until Ben’s arm moved from her shoulders to turn off the TV.

“Hey,” he said softly, “you okay? You seem kind of out of it.”

Leslie put on a brave smile and nodded her head. “Uh, yeah, I’m fine. I just have a lot on my mind.”

He turned on the couch and grabbed her hand. “Yeah, you’ve seemed...off the last couple of weeks. You wanna talk about it? You know you can tell me anything, right?”

Up until this moment, she knew that was true, but then again, she never asked her best friend to be the father of her child before. She had no idea what kind of stress on their relationship even asking that question would cause, let alone if they actually went through with it.

She stared at their joined hands, the sight of their threaded fingers giving her more strength than she ever thought possible.

“Uhm, so, you know how I’ve been going to a lot of those doctor’s appointments?”

Ben swallowed and his hand started to shake. “Oh, God, you’re not sick, are you?”

“No,” she said quickly, her other hand coming to rest atop his trembling one. “No, I’m fine. Better than fine, actually. But I have a really important question to ask you. It’s big. Huge. Absolutely life changing huge, and I want you to really think about it. You don’t have to give me an answer right away, so if you need time, that’s okay. I just--”

“Leslie,” Ben cut in, “you’re starting to scare me. What is it that you need to ask me?”

“The doctor I’ve been going to is a fertility specialist. I want to have a baby, and all I need right now is a sperm donor.” She took a deep, shaking breath. “Ben, will you be the father of my child?”

Chapter Text

The next several days passed in a haze. A haze of uncertainty, panic, anxiety, and fear.

He had his doubts, as he almost always did with everything, but this was different. This wasn’t a decision about whether or not he should change shampoos or cell phone carriers. This wasn’t even something like taking a new job or moving to a new city.

This was being a father to a baby. Leslie’s baby.

A baby that could have Leslie’s eyes, her hair, her passion and drive.

A baby that was half him .

It still blew his mind that Leslie wanted this from him. Out of literally anyone on earth, she chose him to be the father of her child. That alone should have reassured him about his place in her life, but it didn’t.

It just made things more… complicated.

Being here didn’t help things. This sterile waiting room with pregnancy and baby magazines on the tables. With women and couples sitting in chairs with a look of desperation and fear on their faces.

He gathered that some were like Leslie, women that for some reason or another wanted children the “non-traditional” way. But there were others, too. People who tried and tried but couldn’t make it work. People who came here as a desperate plea for help, their last chance to have a baby.  

But they were all here because this was something they wanted .

Ben ran a shaking hand over his face for what must have been the hundredth time in the last hour, and when it went to land on his lap, he found it engulfed in Leslie’s smaller, softer one.

“You okay?” she whispered to him.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Totally A-okay coolio beans.”

Leslie just smirked and shook her head. “No, you’re not, but that’s okay. You can be nervous. I was nervous for sure my first time here. Okay, I’m still nervous, but it’ll be fine. Unless, you’re having second thoughts?”

“No,” he said quickly, more out of reflex than anything else. He wasn’t sure how he felt, actually. Was he having second thoughts? Was he having second thoughts about his second thoughts?

He didn’t know. All he did know was that every time Leslie looked at him since that night he said yes, her eyes would light up even more than normal. She just had this glow about her that radiated pure joy and happiness. And it was because of him, because of what he was going to do for her.

He couldn’t be the reason that got taken away.

Her sigh of relief at his answer was all he needed to reassure him. “Okay, good. I mean, not good . I don’t want you to feel like you don’t have an out, but also yes, good, because I really want this. But not at the expense of what you want. Sorry, I’m babbling because now I’m really, really nervous and Ann told me to make sure that I didn’t feel like I was pressuring you too much and--”

“Hey, Leslie, it’s okay,” Ben said, gently grabbing her face between his hands and looking her in the eye. Gorgeous, amazingly blue eyes. Eyes that his child might have someday. “I’m here because I want to be. I want to help make this happen for you. It’s just a little nerve wracking, that’s all.”

Leslie nodded again, and he felt her relax. “Yes, you’re right. And thank you. I meant what I said the other night. You’re the only one I want to do this with.”

Ben could only nod and smile back because he felt the same way. He never really thought about it all that much, being a father. Maybe more in the abstract sense, but there was never anyone he thought he could ever have a child with.

Except for Leslie.

It wouldn’t be the way he had wanted, but if this was his only chance, he should take it.

Right?

He was all sweaty palms and shaky limbs when their names were called. Leslie led him back to the consultation room, never once letting go of his hand, probably more for her sake than his, but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless . To anyone watching, they looked just like every other couple sitting in the waiting room hoping for a miracle.

“Leslie,” the doctor said warmly when they stepped into the office, “it’s good to see you again.” She held out her hand for Ben to shake. “And you must be Ben. It’s so wonderful to finally meet you.”

“Uh, yes, hi. It’s good to meet you, too.” He sat down next to Leslie, not realizing how badly his leg was bouncing until he felt her hand settle on his thigh.

“Well,” the doctor said once they were all seated, “this is just a very informal first meeting to go over everything and answer any questions you both might have not only about the procedure but about taking this next step.”  

He and Leslie nod but stay silent.

“I’ve already gone over a lot of these with Leslie on her own, but Ben, do you have any questions about your role in the procedure?”

Ben cleared his throat. “Uhm, no, not really. I read up on all of this online.” He laughed uncomfortably. “It looks like I have the pretty easy job.”

The doctor smiled. “That’s one way to look at it. But it definitely depends on what you decide to do after. In many cases, the sperm donor is just that, and there are legal ways to forfeit parental rights should that be the route you decide to take. But I have known of several sperm donors that take an active role in the child’s life. These are all viable options available to the both of you. Now, have you discussed that?”

Ben swallowed and looked over at Leslie.

They hadn’t really, not since that night when Leslie said it was totally up to him what he wanted to do. And that night, he didn’t have an answer.

But could he give up all rights to his child? He saw Leslie all of the time. Could he really watch his child grow up before his eyes and not be a part of it? He knew that he’d love Leslie’s child no matter what, let alone if it was his child, too.

“Uhm, only briefly,” Leslie said slowly when Ben didn’t answer. “We haven’t--”

“I don’t think I would want to forfeit parental rights,” Ben cut in. “Unless Leslie wants--”

“No,” she said. “No, I don’t want you to give them up unless you want to.”

“I think...I think I’d want to be involved as much as you’d let me.”

Leslie smiled at him, and he swore that her eyes were starting to water. “Okay.”

“Good,” the doctor said after clearing her throat. “Well, that’s something that we can definitely help with if you want. I usually recommend a few tests and exercises for non-couples to try and gauge compatibility. I’ll be sending the both of you home with some informational pamphlets to read up on before we have our next appointment. That way you can make the most informed decision that you can before we move onto the next step.”

Ben wiggled in his seat. “And by next step, you mean…”

“Insemination. Well, first you’d have your physical, and we’ll go over those results. Then once you and your sperm are deemed healthy, we can set up when you will make your donation. Then the insemination process can begin.”

“Right.”

“Now, I know this can seem a little daunting which is why I usually like to take my time with patients in your unique position. So, please, feel free to ask me any questions, and the best piece of advice I can give is that you talk with one another. Raising a child can be difficult, but it’s amazing what a difference open lines of communication can make.”

After a few pleasantries, Ben left the office with an armful of pamphlets feeling no better than he did when he first walked in.

~~~~~

Ben’s coffee table was littered with brochures and binders, his laptop open to the compatibility test.

“You almost done?” Leslie asked from her spot at the dining room table, her own laptop in front of her.

“Uh, yeah, I think so. Okaaayyy, and done.”

“Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three.”

They clicked and the results of the compatibility test appeared on the screen.

“Oh, wow. 94%. That’s good, right?” Ben asked, and Leslie shrugged.

“I honestly don’t know. I guess so. I mean it’s technically an A.”

“I don’t think that’s how these things are graded.”

“True, but an A is still an A.” She hopped out of her seat and came over to give Ben a high five. “I think we nailed it. I knew we weren’t going to get 100% just based on the nutrition questions.”

“Because waffles aren’t their own food group.”

“Says you.”

“Says everyone. Our child is going to have to eat broccoli.” Before he could react, Leslie flew herself into Ben’s arms in a tight hug. Not that it was unwelcomed, but it was..sudden. “Uhm, okay. What just happened? I doubt this is broccoli related.”

“What you just said. You said our child. This is really going to happen.”

Her voice was muffled by his shirt, but it sounded like Leslie was trying her best not to cry.

And maybe he was now, too.

He hadn’t realized he had said it until Leslie pointed it out, but it just came so naturally.

They were going to have a baby.

Ben wrapped her in his arms and touched his nose to her hair. “Yeah, this is gonna happen.”

~~~~~

Ben did everything he was supposed to do. He got poked and prodded, had his sperm and just about everything else “tested” to make sure it was in tip-top working order. He read the pamphlets and Leslie’s binders, watched the documentaries and read just about every scientific article on artificial insemination that he could.  

The doctors all gave him a clean bill of health, said he had an “impressive sperm count”, and should have no reason to not expect to have a healthy baby.

So why did he still feel so unprepared?

But the facts were the facts, and soon they had a date all lined up for the first insemination attempt.

Jesus Christ.

“Hey,” a voice said from beside him and he jumped. “Whoa, calm down there, Wyatt. It’s just me.”

He looked over as Leslie sat down on the couch and let out a sigh. “Sorry, I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Nope, you were all sorts of spaced out. You okay?”

“Uh, yeah. Everything’s great. Just thinking about tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe it’s already happening. You ready to put a baby in me?” She grimaced. “Well, you wouldn’t be doing that. It’s not like we’re gonna, you know.” She made a few vaguely obscene hand gestures. “That was supposed to be sex.”

“Uh, yeah, I got that.”

“But anyway. We won’t be doing that. You’re going to...you know, into a cup and they’re gonna put your stuff all up inside of me and BOOM, hopefully it turns into a baby. But I didn’t need to tell you that since you already knew what was going to happen.”

“I do know how babies are made,” he smirked, fully prepared for the slight shove from Leslie that came soon after.

“Don’t be a smartass.”

“I can’t help it. Just one of my many desirables qualities that might be passed down to our future child.”

“They’re gonna be so lucky, you know,” Leslie said softly, looking down at the floor. “Our baby. To have you as a dad.”

Ben wasn't sure he 100% believed that was true. He had a list a mile long of shortcomings and ways he could fail. But what he did know was that Leslie believed what she was saying.

“Not nearly as lucky as they’re gonna be to have you as a mom.”

That’s what this was really all about. Leslie deserved this, deserved to be a mom, and any kid would be insanely lucky to have her.

She smiled and looked back up at him. “We’ll see. I just want to give them everything that I can, you know? Be the best mom that I can.”

Ben wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Don’t worry, you will be.”

Chapter Text

Leslie barely slept a wink last night.

Okay, so she didn’t sleep at all, but that’s besides the point. How could anyone be expected to sleep the night before they might get pregnant?

She left Ben’s house feeling even more confused than ever. Not about the procedure. No, she had never more sure that this was what she wanted, but maybe that was the confusing part.

Ben knew just what to say to make her feel better even when he was freaking out inside. She was just so relieved that he hadn’t changed his mind, she really didn’t want to focus on anything else.

Yeah, it was more than a little selfish, but she couldn’t help herself. This was what she wanted more than anything right now. She wanted a child, and she wanted Ben to be the father.

And just like everything else, Ben was always there to help her follow her dreams. It was why she wanted him to do this with her, why she wanted him to be the father of her baby. Because she knew that if her child inherited even one-tenth of Ben’s selfless and caring nature, she’d be the luckiest parent in the world.

Leslie knocked on Ben’s door more than once and was about to use her spare key when he finally opened it. God, he looked so adorable with his bed head, rumpled pajamas, and tired, squinty eyes.

“Leslie? What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean? Our appointment is today.”

“Well, yeah, but the appointment isn’t for four hours. It’s six in the morning.”

“I know.” She held out a cup of coffee and brushed past him. “Which is why I brought you coffee. Sorry, I just couldn’t sleep so I figured I’d wait here. Maybe thought we could head over to the doctor’s office early.”

His bare feet slapped against the floor as he followed her. “How early?”

“Is right now a bad time?”

“The office won’t even be open for another three hours,” he said with sigh before throwing himself on the couch.

God, he could be such a drama queen. An adorable drama queen with the world’s most perfect butt.

“So? We can wait in the car and then be the first people there and--”

“Leslie, we are not going to sit in the parking lot of a fertility clinic for three hours.”

“You’re grumpy when you’re tired.”

He just pouted before sitting up to take a sip of his coffee. If their kid inherited that pout, Leslie wouldn’t ever be able to say no to anything.

“Okay, fine. We won’t go to the clinic until they open.”

“Thank you.”

“But as a concession, you should make us waffles for breakfast. After all, I might be getting pregnant today. I’ll need all the energy that I can get.”

Ben stood, still in a zombie-like haze, and padded over to the kitchen with his coffee in hand. “Fine, but only because I have to get used to you and what I’m going to assume will be weird pregnancy related food demands.”

“Thank you,” she yelled out after him, a warm feeling filling her belly.

The comment was innocent enough, but the thing was that she knew he meant it. He was going to be with her every step of the way. From morning sickness to weird food cravings, he was all in.

It’s almost like--

No . Don’t go there, Leslie, she thought to herself. He’s your best friend and will soon be the father of your baby, but nothing more. Don’t get your hopes up.

Yeah, so he’s half asleep making waffles for his soon-to-be pregnant best friend because that’s just the kind of person he is. Yeah, he’s basically the most perfect man in the world and does love her in the “best friends” kind of way.

But that’s it.

If anything, he was guaranteed to be in her life no matter what, and that was going to have to be enough.

~~~~~

Leslie thought she’d be used to this by now given how many times she’s been strapped in this chair having some doctor look at her “down there” in the last few weeks, but she wasn’t.

Only an hour ago, she came in with Ben as he made his “deposit”.

Well, she didn’t go in with him. That would have been weird considering they’re just friends. She walked with him just outside of the small room, made an awkward comment about how he should think about Kathy Ireland doing naked aerobics, then sat down for what felt like the longest ten minutes of her life. And she definitely didn’t think about what he was doing in there.

Except she totally did.

But now it was his turn to wait while this doctor stuck Ben’s sperm all up inside of her. Not the medical term.

“Okay,” the doctor said after a few minutes, “all done. Just stay lying down here for about another twenty minutes or so, then you’ll be good to go. Would you like me to have your partner come in?”

“Oh, no, he’s not my partner. I mean, he is for things like pool or darts, but not like my life partner. He’s just a friend. That gave me his sperm.”

“Oh, well, alright then. Just sit tight, and when your time is up, a nurse will come find you and set you up to go.”

As Leslie laid there, she wondered what was happening in her body. Had her eggs been released yet? Were Ben’s little swimmers racing to be the first one there and claim victory?

Wow, Ben’s sperm was inside of her, and not in the way that she had always pictured. Oh yeah, she’s pictured doing a lot of things with Ben, and that includes activities where his, you know, stuff , ends up in her. Or on her. It varied based on the fantasy.

So, she’s had some X-rated fantasies about her best friend. Can anyone blame her? Have they seen him?

“Knock, knock,” an overly cheerful nurse said as she came inside the room. “How are we feeling?”

“Uhm, fine. I don’t feel any different.”

“That’s good. No discomfort?”

“No, not really.”

The nurse smiled again and made notes in Leslie’s chart. “That’s a good sign. Means nothing went wrong during the procedure. I know they went over everything with you beforehand, but do you have any questions?”

“Nope, I think I’m good.”

“Okay. So, in two weeks we’ll see you back here for a pregnancy test. I know the waiting period can be hard, but try not to stress or overthink.”

“I think I’ll be fine.”

And for those two weeks, she was fine. She threw herself into her work to distract her from thinking about the fact that she could be pregnant.

She noticed that Ben came to visit her at her office more often than usual, and while everyone else seemed to find that a little suspicious, they didn’t ask questions.

Which was great because she wasn’t ready to tell them yet. Not until she knew for sure that she was pregnant and the baby was good and healthy.

“Are you sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard?” Ben asked as he picked at his takeout container on the other side of her desk.

It was late, and everyone else in the office was long gone, but not Ben. He came straight over once he got done at the accounting firm with food in hand “because I knew you were probably going to work through dinner.”

“Not at all. They said I really wouldn’t have to change my routine all that much. Just be safe and not do anything that could hurt the baby. Besides, I’m supposed to keep myself occupied and not think about my upcoming pregnancy test.”

“Is it working?”

“Nope, not really, but in the meantime, I’ve written two new proposals for Parks supplies and  three new bills for the next City Council meeting. It’s made me nothing if not productive.”

“Uhm, that’s good, I guess.” He took a deep breath. “So, tomorrow, huh?”

“Yup, tomorrow. You know, you don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.”

“No, I want to. Unless you don’t want me to.”

“I do. It’s just...Ann told me that I need to be more considerate about other people’s feelings and I don’t want you to feel more pressured to do things you don’t want to just because… you know.”

“Because you might be pregnant with my baby?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I want to be there. Even if this wasn’t my baby, I’d want to be there for you. That’s what friends do.”

Leslie bit her lip and gripped her fork tight. See, these were the things that he said that drove her crazy. The little, considerate things that made her want to leap across her desk and make out with his face. Things that didn’t make “getting over him” any easier.

To be fair though, having him be the father of her child wasn’t the best “getting over him” move, either.

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Good. So I’ll be there tomorrow and any other appointments you want me to go to. I have plenty of time to use. And it’s not like Barney is gonna tell me no. They are still weirdly in love with me over there.”

“Okay, good.” Leslie tried to hide her smile behind a bite of waffle. “Thanks for dinner, by the way.”

“Of course. We both gotta eat, right?”

“Right.”

“And once we’re done here, movie night at my place? Don’t tell me you have more work to do because you’ve done enough.”

“So this was all an elaborate plan to get me to stop working?”

“What can I say, I’m an evil genius.” He winked before taking another bite of his dinner, and Leslie felt her insides flutter. Again .

How on earth was she ever going to find anyone better than him?

~~~~~

The time between her blood test and knowing the results felt like the longest hour of her life. Ben sat there beside her in the waiting room doing his best to keep her calm, but he couldn’t stop the bouncing of his leg or the slight tremor in his hands.

He was just as nervous as she was.

“Leslie,” a voice called from the doorway, and her head shot up. “You can come on back with me.”

Ben squeezed her hand once more before she stood up on trembling legs.

“How have you been feeling,” the doctor asked as she gestured for Leslie to take a seat.

“Good, I guess. I don’t feel all that different. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Just, you know, eager to find out for sure.”

The doctor smiled and folded her hands on the desk, and for some reason, Leslie just knew it wasn’t good news.

“As you know, this isn’t foolproof science. It’s not always successful on the first try.”

“I’m not pregnant, am I.”

It wasn’t a question.

“I’m sorry, no. But please don’t let this deter you. It’s actually more uncommon for someone to get pregnant on the first try. We can set up another appointment to go over everything and what we want to do next. You’re perfectly healthy, and I see now reason why we can’t get you pregnant.”

But Leslie had already stopped listening. Facts didn’t matter. Statistics didn't matter. All that mattered was that she had failed. She wasn’t pregnant.

She walked out in a daze, unable to feel anything. Not anger, not sadness, nothing.

She just felt so empty.

Ben stood as soon as she walked back into the waiting room, and God, how could she disappoint him like this?

When she stood in front of him, her lip trembled.

And he just knew.

“It didn’t take, did it?”

All it took was the slight shake of her head, and she was enveloped in his surprisingly strong arms.

And that’s when the dam broke.

Chapter Text

Ben didn’t think he’d ever seen Leslie look so broken before. Not even when she thought she had lost the City Council race to Bobby Newport.

No, this was a whole new level of sadness. Of disappointment. This was someone who felt like her entire future just got ripped away.

When she walked back into the waiting room, her face said it all. Leslie always wore her emotions on her sleeve. He never had to guess with her.

“I feel so stupid.”

Those were the first words she said since they left the office. Her head was pillowed on his lap on Leslie’s couch, and he was slowly running her fingers through her hair.

“Leslie, no--”

“I do. I thought this was going to happen. I was so sure that it was, but it didn’t. I’m so sorry.”

“No. Stop it right there. There is nothing to apologize for. We knew going into it that it might not work the first time. We’ll just try again next month.”

She sniffed, and lifted her head up from his lap. “What if it’s a sign? What if I’m doing the wrong thing? I mean, what was I thinking? I can’t be a mother. I don’t sleep, I’m obsessed with my work. I regularly eat cookie dough for dinner, for crying out loud.”

Ben reached out and cupped her face, his thumbs slowly rubbing on either side of her jaw. It was so gentle and intimate, it almost didn’t feel right. And yet, it felt more right than anything in the world.

“Leslie, I supported you on this because it was what you wanted, and if you don’t want it anymore, I will support that, too. But please, don’t think for one second that you wouldn’t be the world’s greatest mom. Sure, all of what you said was true, but you’re also caring and responsible and love harder and stronger than anyone I have ever met. You would love your child more than anything, and you won’t be doing this alone. I’ll be there, and Ann, and everyone at Parks.”

She wiped her hand across her eyes. “What if we try and try and it doesn’t happen? I don’t know how many times I can go through this.”

“We have options. And the doctors all said you were perfectly healthy. Let’s not let one failure ruin our chance to do this. I will be there for you every step of the way.”

She smiled and turned her face just a little in his hands, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

“You promise?”

He pulled her in, her face resting against his neck as she sighed again. It wasn’t the first time that he marveled at how perfectly she seemed to fit there, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

“I promise.”

~~~~~

Ben always noticed that Leslie ran warm. He often joked that she was a little furnace that was fueled by pure sugar and caffeine, but this was ridiculous. It must have barely been forty degrees outside, and the inside of her house wasn’t much warmer, but she was still sweating and uncomfortable.

“Damn fertility drugs,” she mumbled as she fanned herself. “I’m hot all of the time, nauseous, and now literally everything makes me cry. Oh, God, this is what it’ll be like when I’m pregnant, isn’t it? I don’t think I can do it.”

Ben just chuckled but quickly stopped when an arm swatted at him.

“It’s not funny,” she whined. “This sucks.”

“I’m sorry. But it’s only for a few days, and it’ll be worth it, right? They said this will make your body release more eggs so there’s a better chance that one of them will get fertilized.”

“Or all of them. Can you imagine? Having two or three babies at once?”

Ben shuddered. “Oh, God, don’t even say that. I’d have to multiply all of my spreadsheets by three, and I’m pretty sure they’d explode.”

“Aww.” Leslie looked over at him and wrapped her arm around his. “You made spreadsheets already? That’s so cute. And nerdy.”

Ben tried to hide his blush. “ We’re going to have a baby so I want to be prepared. They’re expensive, you know.”

Of course he made spreadsheets. He started working on them almost as soon as they agreed to do this. If he was going to be a father, he was going to be damned sure that his child was going to be taken care of no matter what.

He had a budget, calculated the cost of supplies and other necessities for the next several years-- accounting for inflation. He started looking into new investment opportunities, college funds and even began the process of updating his will.

He was going to be prepared for everything.

“I know, but we’ll be fine. Ugh.” Leslie threw herself back against the couch. “This better work because I don’t know how many times I can go through feeling like this without the knowledge that I’m at least creating life.”

“I think it will. I have a good feeling.”

“I hope you’re right. Also, I’m not nauseous anymore. Now, I’m insanely hungry.” She hopped up on her knees and rested her chin on his shoulder. He could feel her breath against his ear, and it gave him goosebumps. “What are you gonna make me for dinner?”

“Oh, well--wait a minute, this is your house. Since when is it my turn to cook?”

Leslie scrunched her face. “Since I said so?”

Ben stood up and grumbled. “I gotta stop accepting that as a valid reason.”

Leslie leaned back against the couch and clapped her hands in triumph. “No, you definitely don’t. What are you gonna make me?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking calzones all around?”

Ben turned around just in time to feel a pillow being hurled at the back of his head.

~~~~~

God, the waiting was always so hard. He made his second...donation to the cause two weeks ago and now they were back to waiting for the results of the pregnancy test.

Just as before, Leslie threw herself into her work, and he and Ann took it upon themselves to make sure she was taking care of herself. Which she wasn’t, but that’s why they were there.

It was somehow worse this time around. Like Leslie was trying so hard to not get her hopes up, all it did was make things worse.

He tried hard, too, but it didn’t work. He didn’t realized how much he’d wanted this until that first negative. Until it wasn’t an option anymore, until he realized how easily it couldn’t happen.

But Leslie didn’t need to know that. She didn’t need the added stress that he was feeling about this test. She just needed to focus on what was important--herself and possibly their baby.

They both jumped when the door opened and Leslie’s name got called to go back. The hand that he had been holding for the last twenty minutes squeezed his, and she slowly stood up to follow the nurse. He wanted more than anything to go with her, but she didn’t ask, so he wasn’t about to.

Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, and he didn’t know if it was a good or bad sign.

This didn’t take nearly as long last time.

Finally, the door opened and Leslie walked out, and like before, he just knew.

But this nod was a happy nod, those tears happy tears, and when he pulled her into his arms right in the middle of the waiting room, he didn’t care who could see them. It was one of the greatest moments of his life.

He was going to be a father.

~~~~~

They left the office with a chorus of congratulations from the staff and the other patients in the waiting room.

“Celebratory waffles at JJ’s,” Ben declared once they were in the car.

“Yay! Although no one can know that they are celebratory waffles. Not yet, anyway. These will just be normal, everyday waffles that we just so happen to be super excited about.”

“Which is normal for you anyway, so we’re good.”

Leslie laughed and ran her hands over her face. “God, I can’t believe this is happening.”

“I told you I had a good feeling about this one.”

“You were right. I should have trusted your instincts.”

“I’ll remind you that you said that, you know.”

“And I will deny ever claiming you were right about anything ever.”

He smiled, but it slowly faded as he started to pick at the steering wheel.

“Hey, so I know we said not to tell anyone, but since I’m pretty sure you’re going to tell Ann--”

“I might have already texted her the news.”

“Right, of course. Well, do you think I could just tell my brother? He’s the only one of us that’s been through this, and I think it would be helpful.”

“Oh, of course. I’m sorry, I didn’t even think that while I had Ann to talk to, you didn’t have anyone. Yes, of course. And when you talk to him, say hi for me.”

“Will do. Anddddd” he drew out when they pulled into the parking lot, “your waffles await you, m’dear.”

“Yay! I’m pretty sure ‘we’re going to have a baby’ waffles are going to be the best ones yet.”

Ben thought so, too.

~~~~~

It took almost a half hour before he got up the nerve to call Henry. It seemed like a good idea earlier, but what was he going to say? ‘Hey, I know we haven’t talked for a while, but my best friend was artificially inseminated using my sperm and now we’re going to be parents. What’s new with you?’

Huh, that actually wasn’t so bad…

“Benny!” Henry answered on the third ring. “How’s it going, man?”

“Uhm, good, actually. How are you guys? How’s the baby?”

“Great. Except she’s not really a baby anymore, she’s already walking around and trying to talk. It’s adorable.”

Ben could just hear it in his brother’s voice how much he loved his daughter. How much he loved being a father.

“So what’s up really, Ben? Not that I don’t want to talk to you, but you almost never call for no reason.”

“I’m that easy, huh?”

Henry chuckled. “Always were, little brother.”

“Uhm, yeah, I called to talk for a reason. And it’s pretty big news, but you can’t tell anyone, okay? I want the official news to come from us directly--”

“Us? Dude, are you getting married or something?”

“No, not that. A few steps ahead of that, actually. Well, kind of. It’s complicated and--”

“Ben!” Henry interrupted. “Just tell me.”

“Leslie’s pregnant with my baby,” Ben blurted out, and he immediately heard his brother choke.

“Dude! That was a ‘make sure you’re not drinking anything’ kind of announcement. Holy shit. I didn’t even know you guys got together. Fucking finally. That’s amazing.”

“Oh, no, it’s not like that. See, she, uhm, she really wanted to have a baby so she did artificial insemination and asked me to be the father. And I said yes. We found out today that she’s pregnant.”

“Holy fuck.” This time it was whispered, but no less powerful. “I--shit, I don’t even know what to say, man. I mean congratulations...right?”

“Yeah, we’re definitely happy about this.”

“So, you’re gonna be involved, or was this a ‘jerk off into a cup and hope Leslie and the baby have a nice life’ situation?”

“No, nothing like that. I want to be involved and so does Leslie. This will be our child in every sense of the word.”

Henry was quiet for a while, which with Henry was never a good thing.

“What?” Ben asked defensively. “Why aren’t you talking?”

“I’m just stunned, that’s all. And I’m worried for you.”

“Worried? For me? I don’t understand.”

Henry sighed. “Because this is Leslie Knope. You know, the woman you’ve been in love with since you basically moved there. And since you seem so insistent that she doesn’t have those same feelings back, isn't it going to be hard raising a kid together?”

“No,” Ben said not too convincingly. “We’ll be fine. It’ll only be hard if I make it hard, and I won’t. We’re best friends. We spend almost all of our time together anyway, and according to almost every test we’ve taken, we’re ridiculously compatible--as parents, I mean. And this might be the only chance either of us have to raise a kid, so why not?”

Henry let out another breath. “Okay, man, if you say so. It’s just my job to worry about you. What if she finds someone? What happens if you find someone?”

Fuck, he never thought of that.

“Look, that won’t be a problem, okay. We’ll work it out if that happens. It’ll be fine, I promise.”

“Okay, if you want this, then I do, too. And for real, congratulations. I know you’re going to be an amazing dad.”

“A compliment? You getting soft on me, Wyatt?”

“Not a chance,” Henry laughed. “But really, though. I’m happy for you. I’m sorry things aren’t working out with Leslie the way that you’ve wanted, but the fact that she trusts you enough to choose you must mean something.”

Ben rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Hmm,” Henry said after a brief silence, “that’s enough of that sentimental shit. Congrats again to you and Leslie and tell her I say hi. I have to go handle a bedtime meltdown. You’ll learn about those soon enough.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Alright, smartass. Good luck with everything and keep me posted, okay? Especially what happens when you tell Mom and Dad. I want front row seats to that one. Oh, and once my niece or nephew is born, be prepared for a visit.”

Ben chuckled. “You got it. Talk to you later, man. Give Tracy and Amelia kisses for me.”

“Will do.”

Ben hung up and tossed his phone aside before faceplanting onto his bed trying not to think about everything Henry said.

They’d be fine. They’ve dated other people before and it didn’t impact their friendship. Adding a baby to the mix won’t change that. They could totally do this.

Right?

~~~~~

Oh God, morning sickness was the absolute worst.

Also, who the hell called it morning sickness? She was sick at all hours of the day and night, not just the mornings. Sometimes all it would take was the whiff of something weird in the air, getting up too fast, or--existing. Yeah, sometimes it was just existing.

She wanted to sue.

There were only a few things that she could consistently keep down when she was having a bad bout of “all-freaking-day sickness”, and sadly, waffles weren’t on that short list.

Basically water, crackers, and surprisingly, Ben’s mom’s chicken soup. It worked wonders on her upset stomach, which meant that Ben kept making it without her even having to ask.

Yup, this kid was a Wyatt, alright.

“How are you feeling?” Ben asked as he walked into the room carefully carrying a bowl of soup.

“Blech,” she answered from her place curled up on Ben’s couch. “Better than I was, at least. I had to run out of two different meetings today to throw up. For now, I can lie about being sick or having food poisoning, but I don’t know how long that excuse will hold up.”

Ben set the bowl down pushed back some of her sweaty hair. “I read that morning sickness doesn’t always last too long. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones.”

“God, I hope so.”

She sat up slowly and sniffed at the soup. “Not that I don’t love your soup, and you for making it for me so often, but it’s getting real old real fast. I miss JJ. I miss waffles.”

Oh, God. She was about to cry. Damn hormones.

But if anything, JJ and waffles were totally an appropriate thing to cry over.

“I know,” he said quickly, trying to stop the onslaught of tears that they both knew were coming. “The second your morning sickness is over, I’ll get you a nice big plate of waffles. I think JJ might send out a search party for you soon if he doesn’t see you around.”

“He’s so considerate like that,” she sniffled before taking a spoonful of soup. “Oh, wow, this tastes amazing today.”

“Excuse me, it always tastes amazing. Your palate was just unrefined. Maybe carrying my baby is giving you some taste.”

Leslie snorted and soup almost came out of her nose. “If I start craving calzones, then we know I’m done for.”

Ben laughed, taking a seat next to her.

She loved this, this back and forth between them about the baby. These last few weeks have made them closer than they’ve ever been. Which, again, wasn’t surprising considering she was carrying his baby. But it was still so nice.

Good Lord, she was pregnant .

Morning sickness aside, whenever she remembered, she’d just feel this rush of happiness. That same rush that she felt whenever she finished a huge parks project or got a win in the City Council against Jamm. She would lose count of the number of times she’d just run a hand over her stomach and smile to herself.

And even though the baby was only about the size of a chocolate chip right now, she loved it more than she ever thought possible.

Oh God, she’d kill for chocolate chip waffles right now.

“You okay? You’re staring dreamily off into space. Oh, is this Colin Firth related, again?”

“No, I was just daydreaming about chocolate chip waffles. Although now I’m thinking about eating chocolate chip waffles off of Colin Firth, so thanks for that.”

“Uhm, you’re welcome? I’m uncomfortable.”

“Sorry,” Leslie shrugged, “but I’m hormonal and can’t control where this mind goes. This is what you signed up for buddy. And this is nothing. Apparently it’ll only get worse once I hit my second trimester.”

“I can’t wait,” he deadpanned.

Leslie chuckled to herself and finished off her dinner, Ben by her side rubbing her back every few minutes.

Yeah, she could definitely get used to this.

~~~~~

“Alright,” Ben said as he set down a JJ’s takeout container in front of her. “We are officially on day five of no morning sickness. As promised, your waffles.”

Leslie almost screamed in excitement “Yay! This is one of the happiest days of my life. And while I do appreciate your soup making and the fact that you would hold my hair back sometimes when I bark my guts up, I’m glad you don’t have to do that anymore.”

“Ugh, me too.” His eyes went wide, and he immediately looked over at her in a panic. “Not that I didn’t want to do those things. I did. I mean, I didn’t mind doing them. I’m just, you know, glad that I don’t have to anymore. No, I mean, I’m glad that you don’t need me to do those things anymore. Because that means that you’re feeling better.”

Awww, he was so cute when he was flustered and guilty.

“And people say that I have a tendency to babble. It’s okay. I know what you mean. And I’m glad you don’t have to do those things anymore, too. Just relax, Ben.”

“Sorry, I just don’t want to upset you because your hormones have made you kind of...you know what? I’m shutting up now.”

“Good call,” Leslie answered with narrow eyes. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m going to ignore your very existence until this waffle is completely gone.”

“Good Lord,” Ben whispered in thinly veiled horror as she ate. God, she was so hungry , and it had been far too long since she could even stomach whipped cream.

This was borderline pornographic.

“Oh God,” Leslie said with a sigh after inhaling her waffle and leaning back against the chair. “It’s probably because it’s been… a really long time since I’ve had either, but that waffle was better than sex. Like, by a mile.”

Ben was still staring at her, his eyes wide and unfocused.

“What?” she asked, snapping his fingers in front of his face until he blinked and recoiled.

“Sorry, it’s just, that was… I don’t know what that was.” He cleared his throat and began eating from his own plate. “So, first ultrasound tomorrow. You excited?”

Leslie squealed and jumped up and down in her seat. “You have no idea. I can’t wait.”

“Me neither. Are you--are you sure that it’s okay that I’m there? I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or anything.”

“Of course. Ben,” she reached out to take his hand, “this is your baby, too. I meant it when I said that you could be as involved as you wanted. And I want you there.”

His smile is crooked and hopeful. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He smiled down at his food, eating the last few bites before getting up and taking their plates. “Okay, next on the agenda for our ‘no more morning sickness’ celebration extravaganza is movie time. You can go pick it out, and I’ll be in the living room in a few, okay?”

Leslie nodded and hopped out of her seat. God, it felt so good to move without feeling like her body was trying to murder her.

Ugh, except for her neck.

She set up the movie and was waiting for Ben on the couch, rubbing her neck and shoulders.

“We all ready to go?” he asked as he walked into the living room.

“Yup. Ready when you are.”

“Awesome. We’ll--oh, hey, you okay? Does your neck hurt?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah a little. I was at my desk doing paperwork for most of today. Must not have stretched my neck enough. It’s fine.”

Ben cracked his knuckles and rubbed his hands together. “Nope, not good enough. Fire up that movie and prepare for a patented Ben Wyatt neck massage.”

The movie started playing, but she just couldn’t pay attention. Not when Ben brushed her hair aside and was touching her like that. His fingers had to be infused with pure magic, kneading at her tender muscles with such skill.

She could only imagine the other things his fingers would be magical at.

Leslie bit back a few moans, her lead lolling forward to give Ben more access.

All of the tension soon melted away, and she felt better than she had in days.

“God, you’re too good at that,” Leslie said, and Ben just bowed in appreciation.

“I try to stay useful.”

“You really are. Seriously, best baby daddy ever.”

“Baby daddy?” Ben snorted, taking a seat next to her.

“Yeah, that’s what the kids are calling it these days. You’re not my husband or boyfriend or anything, and ‘best friend that donated his sperm so that I could have a kid and now we’re gonna raise it together’ is too wordy. So, baby daddy.”

“Huh, okay. So, what, that makes you my baby mama?”

“Yup. Proud baby mama right here.”

Ben just nodded, wrapping an arm around Leslie’s shoulder so she could snuggle into his side. “I can get on board with that. Now, baby mama or not, stop talking. This is the best part of the movie.”

Leslie laughed and pinched Ben’s side before getting comfortable again, a yawn escaping her lips.

Hmm, Ben made a really great pillow, which had initially surprised her considering how bony he looked. But Ben always was full of surprises.

The rhythmic rubbing of his hand up and down her arm soon lulled her to sleep.

~~~~~

“Hey,” Leslie heard a far off voice whisper. “Leslie?”

There was a hand stroking her cheek, and when she finally opened her eyes, Ben’s face was barely inches from hers.

“Sorry to wake you, but you fell asleep during the movie.”

“What?”

That’s impossible. She never falls asleep this early.

“Yeah, I guess you were more tired than you thought. I let you sleep for a little but, but it’s getting late.”

“Oh.” She blinked a few times and wiped at her eyes. “Sorry. I should go.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s late, and making a baby is tiring work. You can just stay over. We can stop by your place on the way to the appointment in the morning.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Your spare toothbrush is still in the bathroom.” He held out his hand and helped pull her up, leading her up to his bedroom like he’s done a few times before.

She’s not sure exactly when it happened, but after so long of sleeping on uncomfortable couches, they just decided that two adult friends could totally share a bed platonically.

And they could, but damn, did it feel nice to wake up next to Ben in the mornings.

They got ready for bed side by side, and it just felt so...domestic. It didn’t get much better once Ben crawled in beside her and turned off the lights.

He said his usual goodnight to the baby, and like always, it made Leslie melt.

Just before she drifted off to sleep, she heard Ben whisper ‘I love you’, and even though she knew it was to the baby, Leslie pretended it was for her, too.

Thanks to her nap, she ended up only getting about another hour or two of sleep.

Leslie could have easily left. Gone home to get ready and maybe do some more work, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Not when she was currently the little spoon to Ben’s big spoon. Not when he was pressed up against her back and his hand was placed protectively over her stomach, when she could feel his even breaths against her neck.

Leslie wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point they must have just gravitated towards one another, seeking the other out for warmth, protection, and maybe something else.

She turned slowly to face him, and he grunted a little in his sleep until he could feel her again, his hands gripping her hips.

Leslie loved watching Ben sleep, his mouth slightly open, his forehead finally relaxed and free from worry lines. So unlike the man who always had something weighing on his mind. He just looked so innocent and handsome.

God, she couldn’t wait to have his baby.

She couldn’t wait to have moments like this with him with their baby in between them. Feeling like a real, true family.

At five, she finally left the bed.

Extracting herself from Ben’s grasp wasn’t easy. He made a very unhappy sound in his sleep, and if Leslie didn’t know any better, it looked like he searched for her once she left.

But she was finally able to go downstairs to start making breakfast and coffee. Decaf for her, unfortunately.

By six, Ben came downstairs.

“You’d think I’d be used to this by now,” he mumbled, rubbing at his eyes.

“Look at it this way, it’s preparation for late night and early morning feedings with almost no sleep in between. I’ve been preparing you for years without even knowing it.”

“If the baby has your sleep schedule, we’re both screwed.”

“Yeah, probably. Coffee? What’s in the pot now has caffeine since I’m not going to subject you to the same torture as me.”

“I appreciate it for both of our sakes. Even in the womb, our baby doesn’t need to witness me without coffee.”

Leslie chuckled to herself and took another sip from her mug. “And we both appreciate that.”

“You sleep okay?”

Leslie stilled, the mug halfway to her lips. “Uhm, yeah. Yeah, it was fine. Good. I slept good. Great. T-thanks for letting me stay over.”

“Of course. Anything for my baby mama.”

He winked, and yup, he was going to kill her. Winks and crooked smiles and sleepy time cuddling will definitely be the death of her.

And she’d die ridiculously happy.

~~~~~

So, yeah, her OB-GYN was a little on the weird side, but he was the best in Pawnee.

He just also happened to be Jean-Ralphio’s dad. It all made sense.

“So, how have you been feeling?” Dr. Saperstein asked as he lifted back Leslie’s shirt and lathered on the cold gel.

“Uhm, okay, I guess. Morning sickness was bad there for a while, but I think I’m over it now. Maybe a little more tired than usual, but nothing outrageous.”

“Good, good.” He looked over at Ben. “And you? Have you been taking good care of your lady, here?”

“Oh, well, no. I mean, yes, I’ve been trying to help out, but she’s not my...we’re not.”

“We’re not together,” Leslie cut in, and even saying it outloud kind of hurt a little. “He’s one of my best friends. I wanted to have a baby, so he donated his sperm. But we’re in this together. He’s been helping out a lot.”

Dr. Saperstein just shrugged. “Okay, whatever floats your boat. You ready to take a look.”

She and Ben nodded, Leslie taking Ben’s hand as they stared at the screen expectantly.

She had no idea what she was looking at when the screen came to life and Dr. Saperstein moved the wand across her belly, but suddenly, the doctor smiled and pointed.

“There we are. There’s your baby.”

“Oh, wow,” Leslie whispered.

Ben’s grip on her hand tightened, and she was able to glance away from the screen over at him.

She didn’t think she'd ever seen him look so happy, and if she didn’t know better, she’d swear those were tears in his eyes.

“Oh, look, there’s another one.”

Ben took in a sharp breath next to her and the circulation in her hand stopped.

“Oh, wait, no, that was just a fleck of cream cheese on the screen. Just the one.”

Both she and Ben let out a sigh of relief. Not that she wouldn’t love any and all babies she could have been pregnant with, she was perfectly content to start off with the one.

“Everything looks perfectly normal for this stage. Let’s see if we can hear a heartbeat.”

The doctor messed with a couple of buttons and soon a rapid heartbeat sound filled the room.

“Wow,” Leslie said again because really, what else was there to say? That was their baby. Their healthy, perfect baby.

“Everything looks and sound perfect. Congratulations, you two. Just keep doing what you’re doing and take your vitamins. I’ll see you in a few weeks, okay?”

Leslie nodded, and Ben cleared his throat beside her.

“Uhm,” he said, his voice still a little raspy, “Is there anyway that we could have a picture or anything--”

“Oh, of course. Of course,” Dr. Saperstein said. “I’ll print these out and have them sent up to the front desk when you make your next appointment.”

“Thank you,” they both said.

“No problem. See you in a few weeks.”

Ben let go of Leslie’s hand, and she used a towel to wipe off the gel from her belly.

“That was...that was incredible,” Ben said in a low voice, like he couldn’t believe any of what just happened was real.

Honestly, neither could she.

“I know. That’s...that’s our baby , Ben.”

“Yeah. I just--I knew it was all real, but this, seeing this, it just put everything into perspective.”

“Yeah.”

They walked to the front desk, and Leslie set a date for her next appointment. The receptionist handed Leslie a small, wallet sized photo from the ultrasound.

“And here’s one for you, Dad,” the receptionist said with a smile, and Ben took the photo with such reverence, it made Leslie’s insides feel like mush.

“Dad,” he said so softly, she almost didn’t hear it.

But she did.

He stared at the photo between his fingers, a soft smile on his face.

She could already tell how much he loved their baby, and all that did was make her love him even more.

“You ready?” she asked, and he looked up quickly from the photo.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m good to go.”

With one last look, he put the photo in the front slot of his wallet.

They were halfway to the car when he suddenly stopped and pulled Leslie into his arms.

“Thank you,” he whispered into her ear. “I had my doubts and was so worried, but after today, I just--. Thank you for giving me this.”

There were so many things that Leslie wanted to say, but nothing would come out. She just squeezed tighter and tucked her face into his neck.

If only he knew that it should be her thanking him.

Chapter Text

Ben would catch himself staring at the ultrasound photo dozens of times a day. It honestly didn’t look like anything more than a tiny blob on the paper, but it was his tiny blob. His baby that was growing more and more every single day.

Leslie was entering her second trimester, and they both felt that it was time to pop their little pregnancy bubble.

Ben didn’t know why this was the scariest announcement of them all.

They told Leslie’s mother, who despite her stern look that almost brought Ben to his knees, she was still happy to become a grandmother no matter how “unconventionally”--her words, not Ben’s.

His mom was overjoyed, then rambled for twenty minutes on how he was going to make a better father than “that no good son of a bitch that barely raised you”--again, not his words.

His dad was, well, his dad. That’s all there was to say about that . He just seemed happy that it wasn’t some unplanned one night stand. But he did seem disappointed that it wasn’t even done the old fashioned way.

Yeah, Steven Wyatt was a real charmer.

But this? This was her Parks crew. These people were her family, too, and the rate at which her stomach was expanding meant she couldn’t hide the pregnancy for much longer.

He knew all of them well enough through Leslie, through the various events he volunteered for along with them. He even considered them his friends, too, but still...These were Leslie’s people.

“Accounting nerd!” Tom called out when Ben stepped into the office. “What are you doing here?”

“I brought him here with my mind,” April said in her usual monotone. “He’s powerless against me and has to bend to my will. Now, cluck like a chicken.”

Ben smiled tightly. “Hi, April.”

“Ben!” Andy said from behind him. Why on earth was he wearing rollerblades? “Are you here for Leslie’s big announcement meeting, too?”

“Uh, yeah, actually.”

“Benjamin,” Ron said as he walked out of his office, his hands tucked into the band of his slacks. “I wish I could say that it’s a pleasure.”

“Thanks?”

Donna and Jerry walked in soon after with polite waves, followed by a very bouncy and excited Leslie.

“Hello everyone, and thank you for being here.”

“You said it was mandatory and that we didn’t have a choice,” April said crossing her arms.

“Well, I still appreciate it. I gathered you here today because I have some very exciting news.” She moved to stand next to Ben and looped her arm through his. “Actually, Ben and I have some exciting news.”

“Ugh, is it that you two are together now?” Tom whined. “Because that’s not news, and I had to cut short my mani-pedi for this meeting.

“Oh, no,” Leslie said and she and Ben exchanged looks. “No, that’s not it. We’re just friends. But friends with benefits. No, wait, I mean friends with benefits, but not those kinds of benefits. It’s just that, we, uhm--”

April sighed loudly. “Just say it already. God.”

“I’m pregnant,” Leslie said, and soon everyone in the room stared at them with wide eyes. “I wanted to have a baby so I went to a fertility clinic and Ben agreed to be the sperm donor. So, yeah, I’m having a baby!”

There’s stunned silence for another few beats before Andy smiled and laughed. “You mean there’s gonna be a mini Leslie or Ben running around? That’s awesome!”

Soon there was a round of genuine congratulations and shared excitement, albeit still very stunned and somewhat confused.

“So that’s why you kept getting sick and running from meetings,” April said. “I just thought that my ‘get us out of work’ spell was finally working.”

“Nope, just morning sickness.”

“Well, that’s cool, I guess. The getting sick part, I mean. And I guess the baby part, but I think you could have done a lot better than Ben.”

“Thanks a lot, April,” Ben muttered next to Leslie, but she just gave him a blank stare.

“It’s true. But if Ben turns into a deadbeat dad, Andy and I can help you out.”

“Yeah!” Andy chimed in. “You and mini Leslie can come live with me and April. It would be so much fun.”

“Thanks you guys,” Leslie answered with a chuckle, “but I think we’ll be good. We could use some good babysitters, though.”

“You can count on us, Leslie,” Andy said earnestly, and while Ben was more than a little worried--okay, terrified, about the thought of leaving his child with Andy and April, their genuine excitement and care that they had for Leslie and the baby touched him.

Honestly, everyone’s did. Jerry said that he had so many leftover things from when his girls were babies that he would give them, Ron volunteered to make some of the baby’s furniture, Donna and Tom assured them that they’d buy the baby only the best in high fashion baby clothes (whatever that meant), and of course, Ann had already done above and beyond, taking her role as the godmother very seriously.

It was all just so touching. Ben knew that his baby would never know what it would be like to not feel loved, but to feel that love for himself literally blew him away.

“Hey, you okay?” Leslie asked, and he felt her hand on his lower back.

“Yeah, sorry. Just overwhelmed I guess. But in a good way.”

Her hand rubbed his back soothingly before she smiled again and turned to her friends.

But until they both left the office, she never once moved from his side.

~~~~~

“What do you think about this one?” Leslie asked as she stopped to stand in front of a stroller.

Ben pursed his lips and nodded. “Yeah, that’s nice. I remember reading about that one online, too. Had a good safety rating.”

If someone would have told Ben last year that he would be wandering around a baby store with Leslie Knope shopping for their baby, he would have thought they were crazy.

But that’s how he was currently spending his Saturday.

Leslie finally “popped”, as she put it. What was once a little bump that could be easily covered up with the right amount of clothes was now a very noticeable belly.

God, he loved everything about it.

Leslie was positively glowing at all times, and everytime her hand rested against her belly, Ben felt his insides burst.

And now, as they shopped for things for their baby, it felt even more real.

“Okay, we can add that one to the list of possibilities.”

Ben pulled up the list on his phone and added the make and model number. “Got it. So that’s strollers, changing tables and car seats.”

“I didn’t realize that a baby needed so much stuff,” Leslie sighed. “I mean I did , but also… wow.”

“Yeah, which means we really have to start on some hardcore cleaning of your place. Like hardcore .”

“Come on, it’s not that bad.”

“Leslie, it’s a scary, nightmare hoarder’s nest. It’s not fit for a baby. And we have to turn one of the extra rooms into a nursery before we can even have a place to put any of this stuff. We can start next weekend. Ann already volunteered to help.”

She squinted her eyes and gave him a dirty look. “Since when have you and Ann been conspiring against me?”

“Isn’t it enough to you that we’re finally banding together?”

She crossed her arms. “Maybe. It’s just that cleaning doesn’t always go well.”

“Hopefully knowing that one day our baby might be seriously injured by a falling newspaper pile or birdhouse would make this time different. Also, it needs a place to sleep.”

Leslie threw her hands in the air. “Fine. You’ve convinced me with your logic. Next weekend we will clean out my house and start setting up the nursery. I mean it’s not like I have an idea yet of what I want or anything.”

Ben chuckled and turned to give her a look. “Really?”

“Okay, so maybe I have one or ten binders on possible looks and color combinations and schematics for furniture placement.”

“That’s more like it,” Ben said as he pushed the cart down the aisle. “Huh, I wonder if we should just get two of the same things to make it easier, or switch it up. I mean I read that babies might not like too many changes, so would it be better to just keep things consistent?”

Leslie stopped to give Ben her own confused look. “What are you talking about?”

“You know, for the baby’s room at my place.”

“Your place?”

They hadn’t talked about it, but Ben just assumed the baby would spend at least some time with him. At least, that’s what he thought when Leslie said they he was going to be involved.

Shit.

“Oh my God, I’m going way too overboard with this, aren’t I? I just thought that since you made it sound like I’d be involved, we’d have joint custody or something, and the baby would stay with me sometimes. I’m sorry, I--”

“No, it’s not that,” Leslie jumped in. “It’s that I didn’t even think of that. I mean, you’re the father. Of course the baby can stay with you. Sorry, for a second there I guess...I guess I just forgot that we weren’t all going to be in the same place raising the baby together.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I mean buy whatever you want, but you know you’re welcome at my home anytime. With us. There will always be a place for you there.”

“Thanks, and I mean it’s definitely a good idea to have the baby stay primarily at one place than moving back and forth so much. I guess I just wanted to have a place for them with me, too.”

Leslie smiled and her arms encircled his waist. “I know. And I’m fine with that. Your home will be the baby’s home, too. We don’t need to work out some weird custody arrangement or anything. We’ll...figure it out.”

Ben sighed and wrapped his arm around her to pull her closer. “There’s just so much more to everything than I would have thought.”

“Well, we only have a few more months to figure it out. But we’ll be fine. We always are.”

Ben smiled and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. “Yeah.”

“Excuse me,” and older woman said from behind them.

Yeah, they probably shouldn’t have had this heart-to-heart moment in the middle of a store blocking the aisle.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ben said with a smile as he moved their cart over to the side to let the woman pass.

“It’s alright.” The woman looked at Leslie and smiled widely. “When are you due?”

Leslie smiled, that beautiful, genuine smile whenever someone asked about the baby. “Oh not for quite a few more months. I’m not even halfway through the second trimester.”

“Well, congratulations. It’s just so nice to see lovely couples like you.” She leaned closer to Leslie and covered her mouth in a mock whisper. “And with a guy like that , that baby is going to have good genes on its side.”

Neither he nor Leslie apparently felt the need to correct her assumption that they were a couple, and if Ben didn’t know any better, he would have sworn that Leslie was blushing.

“Trust me, I know,” Leslie faux-whispered back with a wink, and now it was Ben’s turn to blush.

The woman looked back at Ben, and he could feel her eyes looking him up and down before she waved goodbye to Leslie.

Ben didn’t realize he was making a face until Leslie cackled beside him.

“I’m...a little uncomfortable now,” he said.

“You’re a looker, Wyatt,” Leslie chuckled. “You’re just gonna have to get used to that. And once the baby’s here, forget about it. Women are suckers for a cute man with an even cuter baby. Just a warning that you’re going to have to be beating them away with sticks.”

“Hmm, yup, that didn’t help the comfort level at all. And I’m not going to use my child to get dates. That’s just...weird.”

“Good to know. Now, let’s go over to the baby clothes and talk about how tiny they are again.”

Ben smiled and followed without a moment’s hesitation.

Because, really, those little onesies were literally the cutest things he’d ever seen.

~~~~~

Leslie and Ben waved goodbye as Ann drove away from the house, Leslie soon collapsing onto the couch with a groan.

“That was hard.”

“Yeah,” Ben said as he sat beside her, “but we did a lot. We cleared out most of the living room and made a big dent in the nursery. I’m very proud of you.”

Leslie sighed and rested her head against Ben’s shoulders. “Thank you for letting me keep some of my birdhouses.”

“I figured we’d have to find some kind of compromise. Can’t expect you to quit your hoarding tendencies cold turkey.”

“I prefer the term ‘enthusiastic collecting’.”

“Sure. But there will definitely be a round two once we really have to baby proof the house. Hopefully you can keep your ‘enthusiastic collecting’ to a minimum until then.”

Leslie held up three fingers. “You have my word as a Pawnee Goddess.” Her eyes go wide and she grins. “Oh, do you think the baby is gonna want to join the Goddesses when it gets older? We do accept all genders.”

“Uh, maybe, but let’s wait a few years before we worry about that.”

“Right, but what if--”

She stopped suddenly, and her one hand whipped out and grabbed onto Ben’s shoulder, the other clutching her belly.

Leslie’s eyes were wide and her breathing started to come in quick, short pants.

“Leslie? Oh, God, are you okay. What’s wrong? Do I need to call the hospital?”

For those brief, few seconds, Ben felt his heart stop. Every scenario of early contractions and deliveries-- miscarriages -- they all flashed through his mind.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she finally said, the grip of her hand loosening. “Sorry, it’s good. I think...I think I felt the baby move.” Both hands are on her belly now, and she laughs. “There, I think I felt it again. Wow,” she whispered.

Leslie took Ben’s hand and moved it where hers had been. He waited eagerly, but frowned when nothing happened.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“I guess only I can feel it now. I read it might take a while before the baby is strong enough to kick hard enough for you to feel.”

“Oh.” His face fell and he slumped back against the couch.

“Oh, wow,” Leslie cackled, “I swear, if this baby inherits your pout, I’m done for.”

“I’m not pouting,” he answered, but even he knew it wasn’t all that convincing. His pout got even more pronounced almost against his will.

Leslie’s hand patted the side of Ben’s face. “Aww, poor baby. Don’t worry, one day you’ll be able to feel the baby kick.”

“Yeah, I know. I just got really excited.” His hand stayed on Leslie’s belly, gently stroking. “What does it feel like.”

“It feels kind of weird. Good weird, though. I think I was feeling it earlier, but it felt like gas or something. Now, it’s a fluttering. Like really strong butterflies.”

Ben smiled, leaning down to quickly press his lips where his hands once were. “I can’t wait to feel it.”

“Soon enough,” she said, running a hand through his hair. It felt like heaven. “But what can’t happen soon enough is dinner. Feed your very hungry and tired baby mama, please.”

“Alright, alright.” He moved his head away from Leslie’s belly and pulled out his phone. “What are you in the mood for? Takeout from JJ’s? Chinese? Italian?”

“Uhm, what about that pizza place that has those calzones you like. I could go for that.”

“Okay, I’ll get our usual pizza and order a calzone for me, too.”

“Sounds good. Oh, and maybe order a large calzone this time. You know, just in case.”

Ben suppressed a smile. “Leslie, are you telling me that you are going to want some of my calzone?”

“What?!” Leslie burst out. “I don’t--I can’t even-- How can you even suggest anything of the sort. I am so offended that you would even say those words out loud. Calzones are pointless, Benjamin. Why would I ever choose to eat one of those when I could have a perfectly good pizza. If you think--”

“Whoa, okay, calm down. I’m sorry. I’ll order the large calzone.”

Leslie scrunched her face and pulled a pillow to her chest. “Good. You should know better by now to argue with a pregnant woman.”

“But I wasn’t--” Her scathing look look shut him up immediately. “Right, I’m sorry, I guess?”

“I forgive you. Now hurry up and order. I’m starving.”

When the food was delivered, Ben pretended not to notice Leslie sneaking most of his calzone.

Chapter Text

The second trimester was both a gift and a curse.

The first trimester sickness and queasyness was long gone, which was great, and her belly bumps was starting to show more and more.

The curse part came in the form of constant hormonal horniness.

Leslie imagined that if she had been in a relationship when she got pregnant, this part really wouldn’t be all that bad.

But she wasn’t--and it was.

Everything drove her absolutely insane, and her unattended to sexual needs just made her more frustrated. Especially when the wonderful, amazing, perfectly doting baby daddy also happened to be the person she really wanted to have sex with.

Literally, every time she started talking to him about anything, she wanted to hardcore jump his bones within five seconds.

But she couldn’t because life was cruel and unfair and everything sucked.

Like right now. Her adorably sexy best friend/father of her child had come over and surprised her with an amazing dinner, and was currently cleaning up her kitchen while she sat like a pregnant lump on the couch on freshly fluffed pillows.

She watched out of the corner of her eyes as he moved around the house like it was his home, too, cleaning and putting things exactly where she always kept them. Oh yeah, that tingling feeling was back between her legs--as if it ever went away when he was around.

“Alright,” Ben said as he walked behind the couch, “dishes are done and everything is put away.” He put his hands on her shoulders and dropped a quick kiss to the top of her head. “Did you want to watch a movie or something? Wait, let me rephrase that. Do you want me to sit next to you while you work and pretend you’re watching a movie with me?”

She laughed and nodded. “Sure, why not. That way you’ll be around for any after dinner cravings runs that need to be made.”

He sighed dramatically and sat down beside her. “A baby daddy’s work is never done.”

Leslie tried to focus on her work--she really did. But Ben was sitting so close, and his cologne just made her heart speed up. Her breathing was short and erratic, and good Lord she was literally about to explode if she didn’t run upstairs and take care of this.

“Uhm, you know what,” she said quickly. “I think that, uhm, you know maybe you should go and I’ll call it an early night. I’m not, you know, not feeling all that great right now.”

He paused the movie and turned to her with his adorable concerned face. Damn him. “You’re not? What’s wrong? Can I do anything? Should I call the doctor? I don’t want to leave you alone if you aren’t feeling well.”

“No! No, I’m fine. I mean, nothing a good night’s sleep won’t fix. Just, you know, hormones and bloating and all that other good pregnancy stuff.”

She held his concerned gaze for as long as she could before the urge to squirm became too much to bear.

Then she saw it--a flash of something in his eyes. Like recognition almost. She squirmed again, and this time, Ben’s eyes swept her up and down.

He slowly moved his pointer finger to run up and down her bare arm, a slow smile forming on his lips.

“Oh, I understand.”

“Y-you do?” Leslie was mortified, but his touch just felt so amazing.

His eyes had been watching his finger on her arm, but he slowly looked up at her through his lashes. Jesus Christ, she had never seen him look at her like that before.

“This might be my first time donating sperm and impregnating my best friend, but I’ve done my research. I know what happens during the second trimester.” He started moving his face closer and closer to hers, and Leslie’s heart nearly stopped. His nose brushed against her ear, and she could feel his breath on her skin. “I’m turning you on, aren’t I?” he whispered. “You can’t even stand to have me near you.”

She wanted to deny it, she really did, but then he started nibbling on her ear, and there really wasn’t a point.

When she moaned, she felt him laugh. A smug, stupid laugh that just made her insides turn to goo.

Leslie cleared her throat. “Y-you’re not exactly helping my situation, you know.”

“No?” he answered with mock surprise. “Then I’m more out of practice at this than I thought.” He moved from her ear down her neck, kissing and licking and biting and making Leslie feel things she didn’t think she ever had before.

Ben Fucking Wyatt was putting the moves on her.

“I want to help you,” he said. “Can I do that? Can I help you feel better?”

She felt his hand rest on her belly, just around where her pants met her shirt. He toyed with the hem, his fingers barely slipping beneath it to touch her stretching skin.

When she turned her head, Ben’s face was not even inches away. He was looking so into her eyes so intensely, it made Leslie forget how to speak. There was lust and--that look that Leslie literally had dreams about. A look that told her that he felt the same way about her that she did about him.

Leslie barely nodded back before she felt Ben’s lips on hers, his one hand curling into her hair while the other went completely beneath her shirt. His thumb stroked her belly several times while her hands gripped his hair, pulling him closer to her.

God, kissing Ben was a thousand times better than anything her wildest dreams could come up with--and there had been plenty of those. She gasped against his lips when his hand traveled higher and cupped one of her breasts. They were so much more sensitive now than ever, but his touch was light and gentle and so, so perfect.

The throbbing between her legs was now unbearable and as much as she loved kissing him, she also needed him to get this show on the road.

“God, Ben, I need--”

“What? What do you need?”

“You. I need you so badly, I can't stand it.”

Ben smirked and pressed another kiss to her lips before sliding off of the couch and kneeling in front of her.

He lifted her shirt up over her belly and had his fingers on the waist of her maternity pants.

“You know, this isn't how I imagined my body would look the first time we had sex,” she said with a nervous laugh as he slid the pants down her legs.

He rose up on his knees and kissed just above her now protruding belly button. “You’re pregnant with my baby, Leslie. How can you possibly be any sexier to me? My only regret is that this didn't all happen the old fashioned way.”

His words touched her deeply, but before she let her happy tears come, Ben’s hands were between her legs.

Sure, she could blame the almost embarrassing wetness there on her hormones, but the truth was that it was all Ben.

“Fuck, Leslie, you feel so amazing. I can't wait to taste you. I can't wait to fuck you.”

She nearly cried out when his two fingers curled inside of her, instead reaching forward to plant her hand on his shoulder. This felt a billion times better than anything she'd done to herself in the last few weeks. She never wanted it to end.

After a few minutes, Ben made a frustrated grunt and pulled his hand away.

For a split second, Leslie was terrified that he was having second thoughts, but instead, Ben lowered his head and replaced his hand with his mouth.

“So amazing,” he whispered, and Leslie had to agree. How on earth could he be so good at this?

The hand pulling at his hair only spurred him on more the tighter she squeezed, and she could feel herself getting closer and closer.

“Ben. Oh God, Ben. Ben--”

“Leslie? Leslie. Hey, Leslie--”

The hand shaking her shoulder jerked her awake, and she blinked groggily several times before the room came into focus.

She was still there on the couch, the television on in the background, and Ben sitting next to her with a concerned look on his face.

“Leslie, are you okay? You fell asleep during the movie. I think you were having a nightmare.”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Uhm, yeah,” Leslie said as she sat up and cleared the sleep from her throat. “Sorry, I’m fine.”

His brow stayed creased with worry. “You sure? You need anything?”

You face back between my legs would be nice, she almost said, but instead pursed her lips. “No, I’m fine, I promise. I’m probably just gonna go upstairs and go to bed.”

Ben nodded and stood to help her up. “Alright. Sleep well. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

She tried to walk past him, but he pulled her into their customary goodbye hug. God, that dream had felt so real. Ben felt as real to her then as he did right now, so loving and warm as he held her in his arms.

She wanted to cry.

“Bye, baby,” Ben said softly, kneeling down and with a hand to her belly. “Daddy loves you so much.”

Ok,now she definitely wanted to cry. Oh, and fuck Ben senseless. That, too.

“Bye,” he said, hugging her again and kissing her cheek. “If you need anything, you know you can call, right? Doesn’t matter how late.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll see you later.”

With one last gentle brush of his fingers on her belly, Ben left. Leslie waited until the door softly clicked behind him that she let her emotions take over.

~~~~~

Leslie felt powerful and unstoppable in her new maternity suit as she walked into the City Council Chambers.

But then again, she always felt powerful and unstoppable when she walked into that room.

“Holy crap, Knope,” her rival Jeremy Jamm said as soon as he saw her. “What the hell happened to you? You’re all fat. I told you to lay off of those sweets.”

Leslie rolled her eyes and slammed down her files. “I’m not fat. I’m pregnant. Have you not been paying attention?”

“I would like to go on record and say that baby is not mine,” Dexhart said, and it made Leslie shiver.

“Gross. Of course it’s not yours. Why would you even--”

“So, Knopey,” Jamm cut in. “You’ve been holding out on us? Who’s been scratching your itch?”

Good Lord, Leslie wanted to gag. “Ugh, what is wrong with you? That is a highly inappropriate question.”

“But are you going to answer?” Dexhart asked. “Preferably in great detail.”

“Oh my God, I can’t believe this is even happening right now. Not that it is any of your business, but I used a sperm donor, and that is all of the information that you are going to get.”

“Wait, did you go through the Pawnee fertility clinic and sperm bank?” Dexhart asked. “Then, there is a good chance that is my baby.”

“What? No! I used...someone that I know, okay? I am not pregnant with any of your babies,” Leslie practically yelled just as Councilman Howser walked in. Of course. “Councilman Howser,” Leslie said with a nod on his direction and more than a faint blush.

“Leslie,” he nodded back. “Are we ready to begin?”

Leslie took her seat and opened up one of her binders. “If I may get things started--”

“You know,” Jamm cut in, “I see now that I should have guessed. Your yabos have definitely gone up at least a cup size.”

Leslie immediately grabbed her binder and used it to cover her chest. “What the hell?”

“Whoa, are you sure you should even be here? Are you feeling okay? I’m not sure how safe it is for you or the baby to be working right now.”

“Seriously, Jamm? I’ve been pregnant for months, and now that you know, I’m all of a sudden unfit? Who do you think you’re fooling?”

“Hey, calm down there,” Jamm said with his hands up. “If you can’t get your rabid pregnancy hormones in check, we will have a problem here.”

Leslie just grunted in frustration and hit her forehead against the table.

No, Jamm wasn’t going to get under her skin. He wasn’t going to try to make her regret this, make her think she suddenly couldn’t do her job because she had a baby growing inside of her.

It wasn’t going to stop her.

“Huh, a whole cup size bigger, you say?” Dexhart asked, trying his best to catch a peek behind the binder.

This was going to be a long few months.

~~~~~

“And I swear, Dexhart kept trying to get a good look at my boobs for the whole meeting.”

Ben sat down next to her with a look of pure disgust on his face. “That guy is a pervert. All of them are just the worst. How can they possibly think it’s okay to say any of those things?”

“I don’t know! I just can’t let it get to me. They’re just doing it to get a rise out of me, but it’s not going to work. They’ll give up eventually.”

Ben didn’t look convinced, and his hands were clenched into fists. “I hope you’re right. God, it just makes me so angry.”

“It’s fine. Don’t let it upset you. It’s not worth it. They’re harmless. It’s just--crap on a turd!”

Leslie grabbed the remote and raised the volume on the television as Marcia Langman’s voice echoed through the room.

“And once again, Leslie Knope is showing all of us her true colors. She is a prime example of the debauchery and sin that is sending the citizens of this city to the deepest pits of hell, and now she’s forcing us all to accept the consequences of her sex-crazed actions. A baby that our tax dollars will now have to support.”

“Now that was one banana that she didn’t roll a condom on,” her husband Marshall chimed in with a snap of his fingers.

“Wow, and there you have it, folks,” Joan said with her usual sneer. “Councilwoman Leslie Knope, proponent of a very controversial sex education approach, is unwed and knocked up with a baby that will suck our city budget dry.”

Leslie didn’t realize she was tearing up until Ben turned off the TV and pulled her into his arms.

“I can’t believe it,” she said with a sniffle. “It had to be Jamm. How else would they know? I can’t believe they are trying to use this against me like that.”

It was almost impossible to believe, and yet it wasn’t. The greatest thing in her life--the baby growing inside of her--was being used as leverage against her. As if it was something that she needed to be ashamed of.

It didn’t matter what circumstances led to her being pregnant, it was none of their business.

“There’s nothing wrong with our baby, Ben.”

“I know. They just have been looking for a reason to go after you and are using this. It’ll all blow over. Just focus on doing what you’re doing. The big Founder’s Day parade is coming up soon. You know how much you love parades. It’ll all be over by then.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

Except that’s not what happened. Not at all.

The story did the opposite of blow over, and soon every paper and tabloid were focusing on Leslie’s expanding belly and naked ring finger.

Everything she had done for her city--the soda tax, the sex education reform, her park --it was all being thrown back in her face along with her pregnancy.

And it came to a head on Founder’s Day--at the parade of all places. Her sacred, most beloved parade.

They were trying to have her recalled from office. There was a whole committee whose number one job was to put her out of a job.

To say that it royally sucked butts would be the biggest understatement of the century.

After the parade and subsequent emotional beating, Ben took a devastated Leslie home for a much needed waffle sundae and crying session.

“I just don’t know what to do,” Leslie said tearfully, her hand absentmindedly rubbing her belly. “I’ve put everything I have into this job, into trying to make people’s lives better, but none of it matters.”

Ben grabbed her hand, and Leslie was mesmerized by the rhythmic way his thumb brushed against her wrist.

“That’s not true,” Ben said. “It does matter. You’ve made so many lives better, and that’s why this is happening. You changed things, Leslie. And when you do that, there will always be people who resent it. All that matters is that you believe that you did the right thing.”

She wiped at her eyes. “I do believe that.”

“Then screw ‘em.”

She actually laughed through her tears. Ben, her perfect, amazing best friend always knew what to say to make her feel better.

And he was right. Screw ‘em. She knew she had done right and she was going to fight this every step of the way.

“And whatever you need,” he said, “anything at all, I’m here for you.”

“I know that, and thank you. It just sucks, you know?” she sighed. “That after everything, this--” she pointed down at her belly-- “is going to be used against me. It’s not right.”

Ben was uncharacteristically quiet for a few minutes, his eyes shifting between her swollen belly and the hand he was holding. It took a while for her to realize that his thumb was now brushing against her ring finger.

“Maybe I can do something to help? Beyond just helping you fight this, I mean. What if I could make the situation a little bit better?”

“I don’t know how,” Leslie answered. “I can’t just go back in time and change things. Not like I would want to anyway.”

His hand started to shake. “We could… we could always get married.”

Whoa .

That knocked the air right out of her lungs. Did she hear him right? Did he just say married?

“What?”

“Well, they didn’t come after you until they found out you were pregnant and unmarried, right? What if… what if we can help save your job by taking care of the unwed part. It might make the recall lose some momentum.”

Wow, this was definitely not happening right now. Ben, her Ben was proposing to her.

She’d be lying if she said that she never imagined it, that she never wanted it.

She could say yes. She could say yes and have a fighting chance to win this recall election. She could say yes and marry the man of her dreams who was already the father of her child.

God, she wanted to say yes, but she just couldn’t.

She couldn’t have Ben sacrifice even more than he already had for her. Marriage? Committing himself to her legally just because he wanted to help her?

That was too much to ask of him.

“Ben, I--”

“Just think about it,” Ben interrupted. “It could save your job. I mean, we were already planning on raising the baby together. It could make everything work out.”

“But what if it doesn’t? What if we do this and I still lose. It would have been for nothing. I can’t ask you to literally sacrifice yourself for me like this.”

“You aren’t asking. I’m offering.”

God, she could feel her heart breaking. This was what she wanted almost more than anything, but she couldn’t marry Ben if he didn’t love her. Having him, being married to him knowing that he could never see her as more than a friend would ruin her more than any recall.

“I know, and that’s what makes you one of the greatest people on the face of the earth, but I can’t do that to you. You deserve more than to get married to help out a friend. We both do. We deserve to marry someone that we love more than life itself. That we can’t imagine living without. That when they aren’t around, it feels like a part of us is missing. Like they’re a part of you.”

You deserve to marry someone that you love as much as I love you.

“And I--” her voice caught in her throat and she blinked back tears, “I know that I can’t be the one that stands in the way of you finding that person. I would never forgive myself if you being with me ruined that for you. My happiness shouldn’t be any more important than yours.”

“I--” he took a deep breath and bit his lip., “I would do anything for you.”

“I know.” She took his hand and placed it over her belly. “I know that now more than ever, but you’ve already given me so much. More than I would have ever expected from anyone. And this is me returning the favor. I won’t let you do something that you might regret. I can’t ask you to commit yourself even more to me than you already have. I won’t run the risk of you someday resenting me because of this. You mean too much to me for that to happen.”

Ben stayed quiet again, refusing to look up and meet her eyes. “I just thought that maybe...for us and the baby--”

“Hey,” she took his face and forced him to meet her eyes. “You don’t have to do anything to prove yourself or cement your place in either of our lives. You will always be an important person in my life no matter what. And this baby will be yours. You will be their father. You don’t need to marry me for that to happen.” She swallowed thickly. “You can go and find someone to fall in love with. To spend the rest of your life with, and that won’t change who you are to me or the baby. You’re stuck with us.”

Leslie searched his eyes because there was just something there that she couldn’t place. He was hiding something from her, she could sense it, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what it was.

He eventually smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. No, those were still the saddest she’d ever seen.

“I’ll be okay. I always am, right?”

He sighed, dropping his gaze again and gently removing her hands from his face. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I just--” He stood abruptly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s late and we have a lot to do to fight back against this recall, so I’m gonna go.”

“Ben--”

“I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

She was stunned into silence, so she only nodded as he left with one backwards glance.

She didn’t know why Ben left so quickly, why he looked so… sad. Leslie did the right thing by turning him down. That much she was sure of.

So why did it hurt so damn much?

She curled herself on the couch clutching a throw pillow, the throw pillow that was always on “his” side of the couch and still vaguely smelled like him.  

That’s where she cried herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Ben laid down on his bed staring blankly at the ceiling.

He shouldn’t be this upset. It’s not like he should have expected Leslie to all of a sudden be okay with marrying him to help her career.

But it still hurt.

He wanted to be the one that Leslie couldn’t stand to be without, the one that she felt was a part of her. He wanted to be the one that she woke up to every morning and fell asleep with each night. He wanted them to officially be a family.

So when Leslie gave her reasons for not being able to marry him, his heart broke with every word.

Because she was all of those things to him and so much more.

But it was a stupid, impulsive question, one that he now felt so embarrassed about that he almost didn’t know how he’d ever be able to face her again.

He literally asked her to marry him, and she turned him down.

Maybe this was the wakeup call that he needed. He knew that Leslie didn’t love him quite like he loved her, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he must have still been holding onto hope that things would change. That she’d see him in a different light.

He definitely thought he had a chance now that they were having a baby together, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

He needed to move on, now more than ever. Leslie practically told him that he should, told him to find the one .

But how was he supposed to do that when he couldn’t let her go? When he had always believed that she was the one?

Ben turned onto his side and curled the blanket around him in a cocoon. A sadness cocoon. That’s what Leslie always called it.

And it was one hell of a sadness cocoon. He’d be disgusted with himself at how selfish and pathetic he was if he wasn’t so busy being... well, sad.  

Ben didn’t call her the next day or the next, nor did he answer any of her texts or phone calls. Yeah, he was being a selfish dick considering she just found out that people were trying to recall her from office and she was also carrying his baby, but he couldn’t find it in him to care.

He just wasn’t ready to face her after everything that happened.

He used his stockpiled sick days at work, and spent far too much time convincing Barney that he wasn’t dying and no, he didn’t have to drop everything and rush over with chicken soup.

He wallowed in his Letters to Cleo t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, and worn, faded jeans, never once even attempting to leave the house.

And the more he stewed in his own self hatred, the more it all seemed to make sense.

What could she possibly see in him, anyway? This was who he was, this was what he did when things got tough. He pushed everyone away.

Oh, God, what kind of father could he ever hope to be?

He was already proving himself to be the world’s worst, most selfish friend. He couldn’t even swallow his pride enough to face Leslie for the sake of their baby.

Yeah, he was a real catch. No wonder Leslie had a million reasons to turn him down.

On his third day of isolation, the doorbell rang. He thought it was the pizza guy with his dinner, so when he opened to door to find a very angry looking Ann Perkin, he was beyond shocked.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Wyatt?!” she shouted and pushed past him.

“No, come in, please,” he deadpanned, and Ann whirled around.

“Don’t start with me. I’m in no mood to play games or have you joke around taking this lightly.”

Ben frowned and crossed his arms. “So, I’m guessing Leslie told you.”

“No, she didn’t, and that’s what’s making me about ten thousand times angrier than maybe I should be. All I know is that three days ago, Leslie calls me a sobbing mess but won’t tell me what happened. But I know something did, and I have my very hormonal and pregnant best friend in tears on a very regular basis fighting a recall election and no sign of her other best friend and father of her baby. And since you look like a mess, I can only assume something happened between the two of you and that you’re being a real selfish jerk about it.”

Ben’s brow furrowed and he crosses his arms even tighter across his chest. “So you don’t even know what happened and you’re blaming me? That’s not very fair.”

“No, you know what isn’t fair? That I know Leslie has been trying to reach out to you for days and you’re ignoring her. That she’s a mess, and since you know her almost better than anyone, you must know she’s a mess, and you keep ignoring her. Your best friend that is pregnant with your baby is dealing with too much crap already, and you’re just adding to it. That’s what isn’t fair.”

Ben sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, Ann, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I just need time--”

“No, see, you don’t seem to understand. Look, I don’t even pretend to understand whatever weird relationship you and Leslie have, but I do know that you both care about each other. Whatever happened, you need to try to fix it. I don’t care if it was an argument or whose fault what was, the fact remains that she has been trying to reach out to you. She’s fighting through one of the worst things to happen to her career and carrying your baby. You don’t get “time”. You talk to her and work through it. If she hurt your feelings or something, she’s sorry about it. More than sorry. I don’t even know if she should be sorry, but she is. All you’re doing now is hurting her by ignoring her.” She looked him up and down and wrinkled her nose. “And you don’t seem to be doing yourself any favors, either.”

Ben wanted to protest, but he just didn’t have it in him. He honestly didn’t have any grounds to, either. Ann was scary, but she was also 100% right.

“I--I messed up,” Ben finally said with a sigh, slumping his shoulders. “I did something… kind of stupid and Leslie was nothing but right and understanding about it, but I couldn’t face her after that.”

“You couldn’t face her because of her or because of you? Because I can guarantee you that Leslie wants nothing more than for you to talk to her. Whatever stupid thing you did wasn’t stupid enough for her to stop caring about you. If anything, it looks like she’s upset at herself for your stupid thing. So, you should try to fix that.”

Ben groaned and put his face in his hands. Perfect. So to make matters worse, he made Leslie feel bad for what he had done. He’s a real standup guy.  

“Ugh, can you please just stop feeling even more sorry about yourself for being upset about feeling sorry for yourself? Just take a shower, put on some actual clothes, and go talk to her. Apologize and grovel at her feet for being a selfish jerk. And work out whatever stupid thing you did that even Leslie won’t tell me about. Which means that it must have been really fucking stupid.”

Ben smirked despite himself. “Yeah, it was pretty fucking stupid. I thought it was a good thing at the time, but…”

“And you’re not gonna tell me what it is either, are you?”

“Nope, not a chance.”

“Damn,” she said with a sigh, “I had to at least try. But seriously, get off your sorry ass and go talk to her. I mean it. Whatever happened, she doesn’t deserve this. And you better hurry up. I think she’s getting restless and is this close to faking a baby emergency to get you to see her again. I talked her out of doing anything drastic for now, but I don’t know how long that will last. You know how she gets when she wants something.”

“Yeah,” Ben said softly, his lips quirking. He took another deep sigh and ran his hands through his hair. “Yeah, okay, I’ll go talk to her.”

Ann pursed her lips together and nodded. “Good. Now, I have to get to work, but if I don’t hear back from Leslie today that you went over there and everything’s all patched up, you will be hearing from me again.”

Ben took a step back. “Wow, you’re, uhm, really good at the intimidation thing.”

“I’m a nurse,” she said simply, as though that magically explained why she was as good at this as someone working for a mob boss. “But I shouldn’t have to intimidate you. This should be something you want to do.”

“I do,” he said quickly. “I’ve been wanting to since the beginning, but I was just too afraid to face her.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be afraid. Leslie...cares about you. You’d have to do something pretty terrible to make her stop and not want to fix your friendship.”

“I know you’re right. I’m just--”

“A selfish asshole?”

Ben barked out a laugh that surprised even him. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Okay, so now that we agree, I have to go to work.”

Ben stepped aside as Ann walked past. “Thanks for coming and talking some sense into me. You’re a good friend.”

“Leslie deserves it. I think you know that better than anyone.”

He did know that, which was why he had to go and make things right again.

~~~~~

Ben ran a hand through his still wet hair a few times before knocking on Leslie’s door.

His hands were shaking, and his foot refused to stop tapping on her welcome mat.

The door opened almost immediately, like she had been waiting for him to come. And knowing her, she probably had been.

God, he had been such an ass.

Her one hand was placed protectively on her belly, and her eyes were red and puffy.

“Hi,” he said softly after they stared at one another.

“Hi,” she answered, but didn’t move, like she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do now that Ben was there.

“I, uh, I came to talk. And to apologize. Mostly to apologize.”

Leslie nodded and turned to walk to the couch, Ben following and sitting beside her.

Her hand went back to rubbing her belly, and Ben watched intensly. This was the longest he’d gone without seeing her since the baby was conceived. This was the longest he’d been apart from his child, and now he ached to touch her.

But he didn’t.

“You just left,” Leslie said. “You left and ignored me for three days.”

“I know, and I’m so sorry. I just felt so embarrassed and stupid after what happened. I was too afraid to face you, I guess.”

“But why? Because I wouldn’t let you do me the hugest favor in the universe? I don’t understand. You had nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“Leslie, I asked you to marry me and you said no.”

“You asked me to marry you to help my recall case. That’s insane , Ben. And not that I didn’t appreciate the gesture, but did you really think that it would be a good idea? To marry each other over something like that? What would you have done if I said yes?”

“Look, you’re right. I understand that. I don’t know, I just--”

He really had no idea what else to say. He can’t tell her that he was heartbroken without telling her how he felt, and he was certain now more than ever that it would just make things even worse.

“You what, Ben?” she asked softly. She scooted closer to him on the couch and laid her hand over his. “What is it? You can tell me anything. You know that.”

“I just had this idea in my head of how I could help, I guess. We’d have a nice fake marriage and that would help you win the recall election and then we’d raise the baby together just like we planned. Then I just felt stupid.”

Leslie sighed and started playing with Ben’s fingers. “It wasn’t stupid. It was very sweet. I know I sometimes take you for granted and it’s hard to remember that what we have isn’t more than it is. If I had said yes, I was afraid that it would be too easy to just fall into a routine until one day one of us would wake up resenting the other one. We both deserve something more than convenience, right?”

“Yeah, you do.”

When Leslie finally slipped her hand into his, Ben felt the nervous tension leave his body.

“I missed you,” she said to him in a soft voice, and Ben resisted the urge to pull her into his arms.

“I missed you, too. And I’m so sorry I just left you like that. With the recall and the baby and everything, that was the worst thing I could do.”

“Yes, it was. I was a hormonal mess for days and subjected poor Ann to all of my emotions.” She looked up from their hands and smiled. “But I forgive you. As long as you promise to never do that again. Especially not once this baby comes. I don’t think I could handle that.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

He eyed her belly for probably the fifth time since he arrived, and Leslie let out a laugh.

“Oh, God, you can touch me, you know. I know you’ve been dying to. I think this is the longest you’ve gone since I popped.” She took his hand and placed it on her belly with a smile.

It felt like a breath of fresh air, and only reaffirmed that he couldn’t ever be away from them again.

He smiled and rubbed his thumb across Leslie’s shirt, freezing when he felt something subtle against his palm.

His eyes went wide and he looked up at Leslie with a crooked smile.

“Was that…”

“Yeah,” she nodded with her own matching grin. “They’ve been getting stronger. I think they just missed their daddy.”

He bent down and pressed his lips to where he felt the kick. “I’m so sorry, little one. Daddy won’t ever do that again, I promise.”

“We both appreciate that.”

“Good. Now,” he said as he sat himself back up. “I think we have a recall to fight, don’t we?”

Leslie’s smile was nearly blinding, and she threw herself into his arms as best as she could with a pregnant belly in the way.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. That’s what I’m here for. We’re in this together, right?”

“Always. Also, I’m glad that you brought it up, because between my crying and eating my weight in ice cream, I also started working on my multi-phase plan.”

“Of course you did. I’m assuming there is a mountain of binders around here somewhere that you want me to fetch?”

Leslie cackled. “Upstairs in my office, please and thank you.”

Ben got up from the couch with an exaggerated groan and trudged up the stairs.

“You’re the best,” Leslie called out after him, and even though Ben didn’t quite believe it, he was going to his best to earn it.

~~~~~

“Hey, Les, are you almost ready?” Ben called out from the living room. “We’re gonna be late. And by late, I mean that we aren’t going to be an extra half hour early to your appointment.”

“Yeah, well you try getting ready with what feels like a watermelon permanently attached to your stomach,” Leslie grumbled as she walked slowly down her stairs. “My ankles are swollen, I’m fat and ugly, and I can’t even see my feet anymore. I’m not even fully into my third trimester yet, Ben. I still have at least 2 and a half months left of this.”

Ben immediately got up and extended his hand to help her the rest of the way down. “I know, and I’m sorry. But you’re not fat, you’re pregnant. And it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

That wasn’t even the whole of it. Ben had always thought Leslie was beautiful, but in these last months, seeing her pregnant and glowing with his baby--he’d never seen anyone look more radiant.

“You’re my best friend and the father of this ginormous child, so you have to say that. But thank you anyway. Okay, I think I’m ready.”

Ben nodded before taking a quick look down.

“What? Why are you laughing?” Leslie asked once he started chuckling and couldn’t stop.

“I’m so sorry. You’re going to hate me. I shouldn’t be laughing. It’s not funny at all--”

“What is it?!”

“You’re wearing two completely different shoes.”

Leslie lets out a noise that’s a weird cross between a yell and sob. When it started to take on more of a sob than anything else, Ben quickly stopped.

“Oh, hey, shh, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal.”

“I can’t even put on shoes anymore,” she cried, and buried her face in Ben’s shoulder.

“It’s okay. I’ll go run upstairs and grab the other shoes, alright? Not a big deal. Go rest on the couch and I’ll be right down.”

She sniffled and nodded, slowly waddling over to the couch and sitting down with a grunt.

A few minutes later, he came back down with two shoes in tow, each one matching a shoe Leslie was wearing.

“Okay,” he said, kneeling down in front of her and holding up each shoe. “Which one?”

“The black ones on the left. That’s what I thought I was putting on.”

Ben nodded and immediately reached down to take off the unmatched shoe.

“You don’t have to do that,” Leslie protested, but Ben waved her off.

“Consider this literally the least I can do right now. Besides, I’m so full of nervous energy right now, I need to do something .”

“I know. I can’t wait. You still want to know, right?”

“Definitely. I need to prepare.”

Leslie smiled and accepted Ben’s hand to help her stand back up. “Me, too. I can’t believe it. We’re gonna finally find out.”

Ben couldn’t believe it either. The ultrasound photos in his wallet kept getting better and clearer, and soon he’d be finding out if he was having a little boy or girl.

They drive to the OB-GYN in silence, Ben reaching out to take one of Leslie’s hands that she couldn’t stop fidgeting with. He still didn’t say a word, but her reassuring squeeze back as enough.

They didn’t really let go until they were called back for the ultrasound.

“Alrighty,” Doctor Saperstein said as he put the gel on Leslie’s belly, “let’s get another look at this baby, shall we?”

The screen flicked on, and even though this was becoming nothing new to him, every time Ben say his baby, his breath was taken away from him.

The sniffle coming from Leslie’s direction let him know she felt the same way.

“Everything still looks good. The baby is growing right on track, the heartbeat is still nice and steady. Doesn’t look like you have anything to worry about. Now, it looks like I can get a good view on what’s going on downstairs. Were you still wanting to know the sex?”

Leslie and Ben exchanged looks, the both of them nodding.

“Yes, please,” Leslie said eagerly. “We’ve been dying to know. I’m not very patient.”

Ben chuckled to himself and only squeezed Leslie’s hand tighter.

“Well, let’s see here…” Dr. Saperstein drew out, only heightening Ben’s feeling of suspense. “Yup, it looks like you’ve got a healthy baby girl here.”

Ben didn’t think he’d ever made the sound that came out of his mouth before, but he also doesn’t think anything in his life up until this point has been more important.

He was going to have little girl.

Leslie started crying her happy tears again, and even with a belly loaded up with gel, she turned around as best as she could, and Ben enveloped her in a hug.

“We’re gonna have a baby girl,” she whispered, and Ben just squeezed tighter.

“And she’s going to be just as wonderful and amazing as you are.”

“Congratulations, you two. I’ll let you get cleaned up and print out a few more pictures. I know how much Dad here likes to carry them around.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Leslie said as she wiped at her eyes.

Dr. Saperstein left with a small smile and wave, Ben sitting around with a goofy smile on his face as Leslie got ready. God he couldn’t wait. Couldn’t wait to have his little girl in his arms, taking care of her, loving her, watching her grow up into a woman just as beautiful and amazing as Leslie.

Although he could wait for the growing up part. That didn’t need to happen so quickly.

“I know it really doesn’t make a difference either way, but I’m excited now that we know.” She smiled and ran a hand down her belly. “Our little girl’s in here, Ben. And she’s perfect and healthy and wonderful. Even though she still makes me crave calzones sometimes.”

“You can just admit that they aren’t as terrible as you once thought.”

“I will admit no such thing. Now, let’s get out of here and show off the new ultrasound photos of our baby girl to literally everyone we see.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Chapter Text

Being pregnant was hard. Being pregnant in the third trimester was even harder.

But being pregnant in the third trimester while fighting a recall election? Quite easily the hardest thing that Leslie ever had to do.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to do any of this alone.

Her team worked harder for her than ever, helping to put her multi-phase plan into action. As best as her overly pregnant body could allow, she scraped up racoon carcases, organized community clean ups, and held innumerable town hall meetings to find all of the ways the people of Pawnee needed her help.

Had she mentioned how petty and small some of their problems were?

But she did everything that she possibly could to fight this recall and prepare for a baby at the same time.

If her team was amazing then, well, Ben was quite possibly out of this world. Not only did he help as much as he could with the recall, but he also had the job of being the most doting, perfect baby daddy in the universe.

He calmed her down when she would stress herself out, went on emergency craving runs at all hours. He massaged her feet when they would get swollen from running around, and it seemed like every day, he’d be bringing something new over for the baby.

He was so amazing, she didn’t even make him return the onesie that said Jedi in Training .

The nursery was pretty much complete now. Ben painted the room a soft yellow and assembled whatever furniture had not already been provided by Ron.

Marlene and Ann threw her the most amazing baby shower, which accounted for much of the newer additions to the baby’s room.

Leslie found herself standing at the doorway of the new room, tears threatening to fall down her face as she lovingly rubbed her belly.

It had been another tough day, and the only thing that brought her solace was standing here, reminding herself that no matter what happened, soon she’d have her baby in her arms.

She heard soft footsteps coming up the stairs behind her and two hands covered her eyes.

“Hi,” Ben said softly.

“Hi. I’m glad you aren’t gonna make me guess who. Since you’re the only person in my house and I heard you coming a mile away.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. But I do have a surprise for you.”

“Really! What is it? Gimme.”

Ben chuckled next to her ear, and it made her shiver. “Well, it’s not here , exactly. I have to take you to it.”

“Oh, okay. Then why did you cover my eyes?”

“For effect?” he said and removed his hands from over her eyes. She turned around, and his hands automatically found her belly. “How are my girls feeling today? Today was just so crazy, I really didn’t get a chance to talk to you much.”

“We’re okay. She’s been pretty restless, but I think that’s partly my fault with the running around I’ve been doing.”

“Leslie,” Ben said in his lecture voice, “we talked about this. You need to take it easy. Too much stress can lead to an early labor and--”

“I know, I know. I’m fine, I promise. Ann has been making sure I’m taking enough breaks throughout the day, and she got pretty much everyone at Parks to keep an eye on me when she’s not around. Even Ron! He pretended that he needed me to test out the stability of a chair in order to get me to sit down, but the sentiment was nice.”

“Good. I’m glad they’re looking out for you when I can’t be around.”

Leslie sighed and cocked her head. “I’m a big girl, you know. I can look after myself.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still worry about you or our little girl. I’m a nervous, expectant father that feels useless about 90% of the time. Worrying is about all I’ve got.”

God, how was it that he always made her weak at the knees when he said stuff like that?

“Fine. I will accept it but I don’t have to like it. Now, you said something about a surprise?”

“Right. The surprise is at my place, though. And I’m not above bribing you with JJ’s to get you to go.”

Leslie’s eyes went wide. “I would have gone willingly, but not you have to give it to me.”

Ben grabbed her hand with a laugh and helped her slowly down the steps.

Leslie was buzzing with excited energy on the entire car ride to Ben’s place. He had been showering her and the baby with gifts for months now, so something that he deemed worthy enough to be a “special surprise” must be out of this world.

“Ugh,” she groaned when Ben helped her out of the car, “I can’t wait for the day when I can sit up and down on my own.”

“Soon enough,” Ben said, guiding her up the driveway and through the door like she was about to fall over at any second. “Okay, the surprise is in my office and I can’t really bring it down, so one last set of stairs. I promise.”

She reached the top of the landing somewhat out of breath and made her way to Ben’s closed office door before he stopped her.

“Wait, hold on. Now I have to do this.” His hands covered her eyes, and they slowly walked forward.

Leslie tried to peek, especially once she heard the door creak open, but all she could see was the darkness behind Ben’s hand.

“Okay,” he said slowly and removed his hands. “Open your eyes.”

Leslie gasped, her hands flying to her mouth as her eyes flooded with tears.

She was in Ben’s office--except it wasn’t Ben’s office anymore. He had turned the tiny room into his own nursery. The room was painted a soft pastel green, with a crib, changing table, and small dresser tucked away in the corner.

“I know we agreed that the baby would stay primarily with you, especially at first, but I wanted to make her her own space here, too. We kind of talked about it but--”

“No, Ben, it’s perfect. Of course she should have her own place with you. I’m sorry, I’m just so emotional right now and it’s so wonderful and you’re going to be such an amazing father. I--”

She cried because she did that alot now. But how can she not be expected to be overcome with emotion at a moment like this. They were happy tears.

Well, mostly.

She was happy because Ben had done so much for her and the baby, because Ben would undoubtedly be the world’s greatest father. But also…

Seeing this room in Ben’s place reminded her of the crushing reality. She had her place and he had his. She forgot that more and more over the last few months, even after their conversation on the topic months ago.

In her brain, she knew that this was the setup they agreed upon. She knew that they had their own places.

That they weren’t going to be the family she had envisioned in her head.

Not that Ben wasn’t family. He was, in his own way, but it’s not the same.

They weren’t going to be raising this baby together , together. He’d stay and help her as much as he could, then go back to his place. They wouldn’t go to bed together every night, sometimes with their baby between them. There weren’t going to be goodnight kisses or soft professions of love as they looked down at the baby they made together.

That was what happened in romantic comedies, not real life.  

The feel of Ben pulling her into his arms to comfort her only made things worse.

But he didn’t know why--won’t know. He just held her and whispered soothing things into her ear while she calmed down.

He was getting really good at that, lately.

“I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “I’m okay, I promise. I’m just so overwhelmed and pregnant right now. It’s not always the best mix.”

His chest rumbled beneath her ear as he spoke. “It’s okay. I’m just happy that you like it. I just… I want her to know that she will always have a place with me no matter what. It’s stupid to think that far ahead, but--”

“No, it’s not stupid. I think it’s wonderful. We’re so lucky to have you.”

“I’m the lucky one.”

Ben breathed in a deep sigh, and Leslie felt... something crackling in the air. Almost like--

“Okay, no more tears,” Ben said as he pulled away. “There’s some delicious food downstairs just for you, and then we have a lamaze class to get to. You up for it?”

Leslie wanted to say no and stay wrapped in Ben’s arms forever, but her stomach rumbled at the mere mention of food.

“I guess that answers the question, huh,” Leslie joked. She swore that sometimes it felt like she was eating for four instead of two.

“I think so. Come on.” He tugged on her hand, leading her down his steps.

The rest of the night, Leslie had to keep reminding herself that no matter how domestic it all felt, it wasn’t real.

She’d still go home to an empty home and a cold bed.

~~~~~

No, this couldn’t be happening.

She ran--well, waddled as fast as she could down the hallways of City Hall with Ben hot at her heels towards the City Council chambers.

That rat bastard Jeremy Jamm. Of fucking course. She should have known that he’d pull something like this.

He called an emergency session conveniently on the same day as what was supposed to be Ben’s birthday party. She couldn’t skate in her current condition, but that wasn’t going to stop her from throwing her best friend and father of her child the best birthday celebration ever.

But no, that had to be put on the backburner as soon as she found out what that sneaky son of a bitch was up to.

They were going to vote to move the recall election up two months. Two months .

Originally, the election was scheduled for well after Leslie was set back to return from maternity leave. While there would have undoubtedly been a drop in the polls for those weeks while she stayed home to take care of a newborn, the timing worked perfectly for her to come back with a vengeance right before the election.

But now, Jamm was voting to have it moved right smack in the middle of her leave. In three weeks, to be exact. She had three weeks to have a baby and try to do everything she could right before the recall election.

“What the hell, Jamm,” Leslie shouted as she burst into the chambers. “You can’t do this.”

“Uhm, sorry Knopey, but it looks like I am, and there’s nothing you could do about it.”

Leslie swallowed, blinking quickly against the burning in her eyes.

He was right. Any other time she’d stand her ground and not yield. A good old fashioned filibuster. God, she’s always dreamed of having to filibuster.

But she was nine months pregnant. She couldn’t stand on her feet talking for the next 4 hours.

And he knew it.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Jamm snickered. “Even with you, the vote is still 3 to 2 in favor of moving up the recall election. You got Jammed.”

Jamm rang that stupid, obnoxious gong and laughed as everyone filed out of the room.

He laughed while Leslie felt her entire world crumbling around her. Oh, God, she felt sick. Her body ached, and she felt almost too weak to stand.

No this couldn’t be happening. Everything she had worked for--

A warm body pressed against her from behind, standing there to support her just like he always did.

“Leslie, I’m so sorry. But this doesn’t mean it’s the end. I know everyone will work hard to-- Leslie?”

He was worried, and he had every right to be. She could feel her pulse rushing, the sound of it flooding her ears. She almost couldn’t breathe, oxygen filling her lungs in short, harsh pants.

And there was pain. Sharp, shooting pain.

“Leslie, listen to me. Just hold my hand and breathe, okay. Everything’s going to be fine. We'll keep fighting this.”

She wanted him to be right-- needed him to be right, but at the moment, she had something else to worry about.

“Ben, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’ll be making your party.”

“No, I understand. We can go home and--”

“No, Ben, you don’t understand. I think--” she hissed and squeezed Ben’s hand as pain ripped through her abdomen. “Shit. I think I’m going into labor.”

Leslie had never heard the sound that Ben just made before, but she swore it looked like he was about to pass out right there on the floor.

“N-no, that’s not possible. You aren’t due for another week and a half. You--”

“Remember what Dr. Saperstein said about stress and premature labor? I think--” another wave of pain-- “dammit, I think this just sent me over the edge.”

“Oh my God. Uhm, right okay,” Ben babbled, “everything’s going to be fine. I’ll drive you to the hospital and call your mom to stop by your house and pick up your bag on the way.”

“Ann,” Leslie choked out as Ben led her down the hall. “Don’t forget to call Ann so she can know and tell everyone at the party.

“Right. I’ll call Ann, too.”

She was breathing in and out like she remembered from her class as Ben helped her into his car. Good Lord. This was it. She was about have her baby.

Leslie gritted her teeth as she felt a ripple through her belly, resting her shaking hands on top of it. She could do this.

Oh, God, she hoped she could do this.

~~~~~

Labor was the worst.

She thought she knew how terrible it was just based on the books and videos and classes, but no. She had no idea.

It had been hours. She was sure that Ben was somewhat hopeful that he and the baby would share the same birthday, but once the clock struck midnight and she was only halfway dilated, it was off the table.

To be fair, the first few hours at the hospital, Ben was too nervous to even notice that it was still his birthday.

He rushed them to the hospital in record time, needing two nurses to calm him down once he helped lead Leslie into the emergency room.

She was early, and even though it wasn’t by much, that still scared the both of them. Especially if the stress of the moved recall election was harming both Leslie and the baby.

Ben’s body shook as they wheeled her up to the maternity ward and hooked her up to all sorts of machines to make sure Leslie’s blood pressure wasn’t too high and that the baby wasn’t distressed.

Thankfully, the stress was most likely enough to trigger the labor, but not enough to put either of them at any significant risk.

Now, it was a waiting game.

Once Leslie was settled in her room, her mom arrived with the overnight bag in hand. Not long after, Ann and the rest of the parks crew crowded the waiting room, each taking turns to check in on her.

God , did labor suck.

A never ending cycle of pain and waiting and having a stranger look at her vagina just to tell her that she’s “getting there”.

It was hours, endless hours of walking up and down the hallway on Ben’s arm to try to speed things along. Hours of unimaginable pain that she knew was only going to get worse.

But also, only hours until she’d finally meet her baby. That was the only thing getting her through this.

And Ben.

Ben who never once let her out of his sight. Ben who allowed his poor fingers to be crushed and didn’t say a word when he was on the receiving end of Leslie’s pain-induced wrath.

The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon when the contractions were right on top of one another and the nurse lifted her head from between Leslie’s legs to let her know that she was fully dilated.

“Who’s ready to have a baby?” Dr. Saperstein said as the elastic of his gloves snapped against his skin. “So far everything still looks good, so all that’s left is to push, okay?”

Leslie nodded as best as she could given the circumstances, taking Ben’s offered hand as he stood next to her

“Alright,” Dr. Saperstein said as he watched the monitor. “It looks like you've got another contraction coming. When it hits, you’re going to do your first push, okay? Dad, you’re gonna hold her hand and let her say whatever horrible things will most likely come out of her mouth.”

“Oh, uh, r-right. Yes,” Ben stuttered, readjusting his grip on her hand.

Leslie could feel the contraction creeping up on her, and she pushed when it hit its peak.

That happened time after time, each contraction bringing on a new wave of pain. She screamed words she didn’t even know she knew. Made sounds that almost didn’t sound human. She cursed Ben’s name over and over again, upset that she couldn’t be upset at him since this was all her idea anyway.

But through it all, he never faltered. Well, for the most part. There were times when he looked almost green, but he stuck with it. He didn’t let her words deter him. He just held her hand and told her to breathe.

Like always, he was her biggest cheerleader.

“It hurts, Ben,” she said, her whole body falling back against the bed. “I can’t do it. I’m--I’m so tired. It hurts.”

“I know, Leslie. I can’t even begin to imagine, but you’re so close. You’re so brave. Do you know that? Do you have any idea how brave you are to do all of this. Everything. You’re the greatest, bravest person that I know, and I’m so happy that my baby is going to have a mother as strong as you. You can do this. And I’ll be here every step of the way.”

She nodded as he wiped some of the wet strands of hair that clung to her sweaty forehead. “Okay. Okay. I can--” she cried out again when the contraction hit.

“Push, Leslie,” the doctor said.

She did. She pushed with all of her might, squeezing Ben’s hand and gritting her teeth.

“Good. I can see the head. One or two more. I promise.”

It took three more pushes before Leslie fell back against the bed and heard the piercing cry of a baby.

Her baby.

“Oh, my God,” Ben choked out with a half laugh, half cry, his lips pressed against Leslie’s forehead. “God, Leslie, she’s beautiful. I’m so proud of you.”

She could only see the top of her baby’s head, but she knew Ben was telling the truth.

Leslie nudged him when they whisked the baby away to check her vitals, and watched with tears in her eyes as Ben cut the cord.

Her arms ached to hold her baby, and soon enough, the tiny bundle was placed on her chest.

“She’s perfectly healthy,” Dr Saperstein said. “Everything looks and sounds good. Congratulations you two.”

She gave the barest of acknowledgements to the doctor, but who could blame her. Her perfect, healthy baby was here.

And she was in love.

“She’s so tiny,” Leslie whispered, and Ben grunted beside her in agreement.

“I don’t know what to say. After everything, she’s here and she’s healthy and... ours .” Ben’s finger ran across the baby’s cheek in the lightest of touches.

“Thank you,” Leslie said, not even bothering to hide her tears. “Thank you for everything. For always being there for me and for… this. For giving her to me. I owe you--”

“No, Leslie, if anyone should be thanking anyone, it’s me. I...this is more than anything I could have ever hoped for in my life.”

Despite everything, despite it maybe not happening the way she had always envisioned, Leslie was happier than ever. She had her daughter, and she had Ben.

Her family.

Chapter Text

Ben was pretty sure he could stay here forever, sitting next to Leslie as they stared down at their baby.

Leslie was so strong, so wonderful and perfect. The baby in her arms? His baby? She made that.

There was this feeling blossoming in his chest, something he couldn’t explain. He’d never felt anything like it before.

He understood that a part of it was this new, unconditional love he had for the child in Leslie’s arms, but it was more than that.

It was for the both of them.

He loved Leslie, had loved her for longer than he cared to admit. He had tried so hard in the last months to move past it, to focus on the baby and not anything more into their relationship.

But how was that going to be possible now? After witnessing her give birth to their child, how could he possibly not love her more than ever?

Leslie and this baby were his entire world. He would move mountains for them, give up anything and everything if it meant protecting them or making sure they had all the could ever need or want.

That feeling wasn’t going to just go away because it was impractical or impossible.

In a perfect world, he’d be able to kiss Leslie breathless for what she’d done. Tell her how much he loved her, that he couldn’t wait to start their family together.

But he couldn’t.

And God did it kill him.

Throughout the labor, the number of times Ben was called Leslie’s husband was too high to count, but neither of them ever expended the energy to correct them.

It felt so perfect--so right .

But not right enough, apparently.

“I’m only a little sorry we missed your birthday party now,” Leslie whispered with a smile, pulling him from his thoughts.

“Are you kidding me? This is honestly the best birthday present I could have ever asked for. A little belated, but I’ll take it.”

Leslie giggled and used her finger to touch every inch of their baby that she could.

“Hi you three,” a nurse said as she poked her head in. “How’s everyone doing?”

“We’re good,” Leslie answered. “Tired and sore, but good.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. I’m the lactation specialist here at the hospital, so I wanted to stop by and see how things were going. See if we can try to get this beautiful girl of yours to latch.”

Oh, right, breastfeeding.

Ben felt himself turning red, the tops of his ears burning. “Oh, okay. I can just go and let everyone know--”

“If it’s alright with you, mom, he can stay. I always encourage the dads to stick around to get an idea of what’s happening, especially if they are going to be helping with the feedings.”

“Uh, yeah, Ben it’s fine. Stay.”

He gulped and sat back down, wary, but Leslie didn’t seem too fazed. She was already fiddling with the tie on her hospital gown. “I noticed that she hasn’t really been rooting yet. Is that bad?”

“Not necessarily,” the nurse answered her. “Some babies do and some don’t. That doesn’t mean she’ll have problems latching on.”

As much as he didn’t want to, Ben averted his eyes when the gown dropped and Leslie gently tried to guide the baby’s mouth to her breast.

Leslie gasped, and it quickly turned into an astonished giggle.

“Good job,” the nurse said. “She latched almost right away. You both are naturals.”

Ben couldn’t help himself. He turned and saw what was easily the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

Any thoughts he might have had about seeing Leslie’s chest for the first time were gone. It was just his child being fed from her mother’s breast. Giving her life.

Leslie was glowing now more than ever. Despite her exhaustion and sweaty hair plastered to her forehead, she never looked more beautiful to him.

“Wow,” he whispered to himself, unable to resist the urge to touch his daughter’s fine hair.

They watched until the baby had her fill and almost immediately fell back asleep.

“I think you guys have it covered for now,” the nurse said with a smile. “I’ll be back to check up on you, but have them page me if anything comes up, okay?”

The pair nodded as she slipped from the room.

“I should probably go tell everyone, right?” Ben asked softly, afraid to wake the baby. “I know everyone is dying to visit.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. We have to share her eventually.”

Ben pressed a kiss on Leslie’s forehead before doing to same on the baby’s.

He made his way to the waiting room where his friends sat there anxiously. Marlene was the first one to notice him, standing up from her chair.

“How is she? Is everything okay?”

“Perfect. We have a healthy baby girl, eight pounds, seven ounces. Leslie’s in there with her now. It’ll probably have to be quick, but you guys can come back and see them.”

The room got a little cramped as everyone piled in, but no one seemed to mind. Ben might have heard Andy mutter something to April asking if it was normal that her face was so flat, but for the most part they were too focused on the bundle in Leslie’s arms.

Marlene walked over to Leslie’s bedside, and Ben didn’t think he’d ever seen her with tears in her eyes before. “Oh, Leslie, sweetheart, she’s beautiful. I’m so proud of you.”

“She really is amazing,” Ann chimed in as everyone else nodded in agreement.

“What are you gonna call her?” Andy asked.

Ben and Leslie exchanged a quick look.

“Abigail Ann Knope-Wyatt,” Leslie said with so much pride in her voice, it made Ben’s heart want to burst.

His perfect little Abby.

~~~~~

Oh, God, why is she crying? She won’t stop crying.

He fed her and changed her and burped her. He bounced her up and down and sang stupid songs to her until he was blue in the face, but it didn’t help.

She wasn’t a fussy baby, really. Nothing compared to some of the horror stories he’d heard, so when she cried like this for no reason, it always set him on edge.

Leslie came back into the room, her hair askew, dark circles around her eyes, and a spit up stain on her pajama top.

To be fair, Ben doubted he looked any better. You don’t have time for things like sleep or bathing when you have a newborn. And any spare time they did have was spent cleaning up after said baby once she was asleep.

God, had it only been a week since she was born?

“Come on, sweetheart,” Ben begged. “Stop crying for Daddy. Please.”

He rocked her up and down almost wanting to cry himself.

He was just so tired.

“Ben, where’s her binky? That’s her cry when she wants her pacifier.”

“Huh? Wait, what? How--”

“Trust me,” she sighed. “Just… trust me.”

“Uhm, I don’t know.”

“Nevermind, found it.” Leslie crawled down on all fours and was rooting for something under the sofa. “Give me a second to clean this and I’ll be right back.”

He sure hoped Leslie was right, because he was about at his wits end.

Ben loved his daughter. Loved her more then he honestly thought possible, so hearing her cry and not being able to do anything about it broke his heart.

“I know, Abby,” Leslie cooed as she came back from the kitchen with a clean pacifier. “Mommy’s coming with your binky right now.”

Ben watched in awe as Leslie tenderly placed the pacifier in Abby’s mouth, the baby sucking on it greedily.

Soon, all tears were forgotten.

“Oh, thank God,” Ben sighed in relief. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I thought of everything else.”

“It happens. What matters now is that she’s done crying and is about to fall asleep.”

Ben nodded and gently put Abby down into her bassinet before looking down at his watch. “Good. Okay, uhm, Abby is due for another feeding in a few hours, but that definitely gives you time for a nap.”

Leslie yawned but shook her head. “I can’t. I have two weeks until my recall election and I have so much to do. You know delegating hasn’t always been my strong suit, but now I have to outline everything for--”

“Leslie, you also need sleep. You’re not going to be good for anything if you pass out from exhaustion.”

Leslie ran shaking hands through her mussed hair. “I know, but I’m fine. Despite the...circumstances and how they were trying to negatively spin my pregnancy, the baby news might actually be helping. I guess seeing me as more maternal helped? I mean it’s stupid that it even matters, but I want to not let anything slip. I need to prove that I can be a City Councillor and a mom. I can do both. It’s fine.”

Ben sighed and bit his lip. She was spreading herself too thin. They both knew that, but Leslie was too stubborn and determined to recognize it. She wanted to do the impossible.

“Leslie, I know what you’re capable of, believe me. But you had a baby a week ago. You don’t get any sleep and we’ve been running around like crazy. You expect the impossible from yourself and--”

No . It’s not impossible. I can do this. I have to do this. There is no other way to prove to these people that I am perfectly capable of doing my job even with the baby. Jamm knew what he was doing when he tried to screw me over, but I’m not going to let him win.

“It’s all planned out around your schedule. You go back to work on Monday and my mom and Ann are going to stop by and help me during the day. Then, immediately after Abby has her 5 o’clock feeding is around the time that you get home. My mom will stay with you while I run real quick to City Hall for another statement and do some quick things for the press and be back in time for when she wakes up again. I have a few other meetings and things scheduled throughout the next two weeks like that and--”

“Leslie,” Ben cut in, “are you listening to yourself? How are you possibly going to be able to fit all of that in. Did you forget that my parents and sister are coming to see the baby in a few days? Then once they leave, my brother and his family are coming. How are we--”

“Ben, just stop it, okay? I’ll figure it out. I can do it even if you think that I can’t.”

Ben sighed. “Leslie, that’s not--”

Leslie threw her hands up in front of her. “Stop. Just...stop. I’m going upstairs to work. Let me know if Abby wakes up or needs anything.”

Leslie turned on her heels and stomped upstairs, Ben pulling at his hair in frustration.

Abby woke a few hours later, but after a quick feeding and change, she was back asleep.

Thank God.

He carried her upstairs to the nursery, laying her gently in the oak crib handcrafted by Ron.

Their usual routine around this time was for the both of them to put Abby to bed, but Leslie hadn’t made so much as a peep since she went upstairs to work.

Her door was ajar when he walked by, and he caught a glimpse of her passed out in her bed surrounded by binders and loose paper.

Ben sighed to himself and quietly pushed the door open, torn between waking her up like she’d want him to or letting her rest.

The latter option won out despite the earful he’d get in the morning, and he moved aside some of her papers. She mumbled something in her sleep that he could only assume was a part of her upcoming speech before burrowing into one of her pillows.

Ben felt so hopeless and useless knowing there was nothing he could do to make her situation any better. He couldn’t put more hours in the day or make everyone in the town vote for her in the recall. All he could do was make sure she didn’t kill herself in the process.

He pushed back some of the hair off of her forehead before placing a kiss there, tucking the comforter around her before slowly tip-toeing from the room.

And just like he always did with Abby, Ben whispered that he loved her before closing the door.

~~~~~

“I swear, my house hasn’t seen so many people in it since I moved here,” Ben said as he burped Abby on his shoulder.

Leslie cocked her head and frowned. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here? I’m sure I can manage a few nights alone with her.”

“No way. I want to be with you and Abby to help out. Besides, this time it’s just Henry’s family. I won’t have to watch them like hawks like I did with my parents. They’ll be fine at my place on their own.”

Leslie groaned as she threw herself onto the couch. “Okay, good, because I’d rather you stay with us, anyway. I am excited to see Henry again, though. It’s a welcome distraction from all of this recall stuff. It’s been years since he’s last visited, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah. He’s only come a few times since I moved here. Speak of the devil,” Ben said when there was a knock on the door. “Come on, Abbs. Let’s go say hi to your Uncle Henry, Aunt Tracy, and cousin Amelia.”

Ben opened the door and was greeted by wide smiles and tight hugs. “Hey! Come on in you guys. It’s so great to see you.”

Leslie rushed past him and hugged Henry and Tracy, saying a quick hello to the toddler in Tracy’s arms.

“Oh, my God,” Henry said as he saw the baby. “She’s gorgeous, you guys. Those pictures you texted us don’t do her justice. Congratulations.”

“Yes, we’re so happy for you,” Tracy chimed in, her eyes trained on the baby.

“Baby!” Amelia yelled out.

“Excuse her,” Henry laughed. “She’s been obsessed ever since we told her she was going to be a big cousin.

“That’s okay. You want to hold her?”

Henry nodded, dropping the bags they brought to the floor and gently cradling the baby. “Oh, wow. Seriously, she’s beautiful. Although,” he smirked and looked over at Leslie, “if you wanted Wyatt genes, you could have come to me. Mine are obviously superior.”

Ben scowled, but Leslie laughed and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Thanks, but I think I did just fine.”

“I’ll say,” Tracy said as she and Amelia peered over Henry’s shoulder at the baby. “So, how’s she doing?”

“Pretty good. She’s not too fussy, which is great. Probably won’t sleep through the night for a while, though.”

“Or ever if she inherited Leslie’s sleep habits,” Ben cut in.

“Not nice.”

Henry laughed and turned to hand the baby off to an eager Tracy, Amelia having gotten restless and wiggling out of her mother’s arms.

“We’ll let you two moms talk while Ben and I talk about manly things.”

“Manly things?” Leslie smirked.

“Yeah, things like how to get baby food out of flannel and the best ways to treat diaper rash. You know, manly things.” He turned to Ben. “Wanna help me take the bags upstairs?”

“Yeah, sure.” Ben and Henry each grabbed a bag, and Henry followed Ben upstairs to the master bedroom.

“You don’t have to give up your room, man. We can--”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ben said, waving him off. “I’m gonna spend the nights with Leslie and the baby at her place.”

“Oh, okay.” Henry dropped the bags and sat on the edge of the bed. “So, you and Leslie seem awfully cozy.”

Ugh, not this again.

“Henry--”

“I know, I know. You’re just friends. I’m just saying that you two seem a lot closer. That’s all. Don’t jump down my throat for making an observation.”

“Well, going through pregnancy, birth, and raising a baby together tends to do that.”

“Fair enough,” Henry sighed. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy. I’ve got a great best friend and a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I couldn’t ask for more. Really.”

Henry laughed in that really annoying way he always did when he wanted to make Ben feel like an idiot. “Oh man, you are in so deep.”

“Look, can we drop it?”

“Fine,” Henry conceded. “Let’s go back downstairs. I want to spend more time with that adorable niece of mine.”

“That’s a plan that I can get on board with.”

They came downstairs to find Leslie and Tracy talking on the couch, Abby sleeping in Tracy’s arms and Amelia staring at the baby with rapt attention.  

Ben watched from the foot of the stairs as Henry sat down next to his wife, kissing her softly before looking back down at the baby. Amelia immediately moved to crawl into her father’s lap.

And in that moment, Ben was so jealous of his brother. That he had someone to love like that, someone that loved him back. He felt so choked by that desire, he almost couldn’t breathe.

That’s what Henry had been talking about.

But then he immediately felt guilty. He should be grateful for what he had, and he was. More than anything.

So what if he was still madly in love with said best friend and mother of his child? So what that he just kept falling more and more in love with her everyday as he watched her be an amazing mother to his daughter? He could handle this. He would handle any kind of personal heartbreak if it meant keeping Leslie and Abby in his life. If it was what was best for them.

Leslie turned around and saw him standing there. She smiled and extended her hand, wiggling her fingers until he walked over to take them.

She scooted over so he could sit comfortable on the arm of the couch, watching his brother and sister-in-law coo over his daughter.

Leaning back to rest her head against Ben’s thigh, she looked up and him with a lazy smile, her eyes soft and content.

She might not love him the way that he loved her, but she did love him. She loved and trusted him enough to share the ultimate responsibility of raising a baby together. They would be tied together for the rest of their lives through their beautiful, perfect daughter.

And if this was the best he’d ever get, Ben would still die the happiest man on earth.

Chapter Text

Leslie ran a hand through her hair. Her dirty, sticky, greasy hair that she can’t remember washing in days. And considering that there was baby spit up starting to harden on some of the strands meant that she probably should.

Was that a pen that just fell out? Well, at least that would explain where that went.

Abby was finally down for her nap, so Leslie had a few precious hours to herself to work. Hours that she desperately needed.

Between having a baby, taking care of a baby, and having relatives coming to visit said baby, Leslie had precious little time to devote to fighting this recall. Every spare second was spent pouring over binders and out campaigning. She really couldn’t go out nearly as much as she wanted to, which drove her insane. Not that she didn’t trust her team in her place, but this was her fight.

And she didn’t resent the reason why she couldn’t be out as much. She loved her daughter more than anything in the entire universe. Abby was more than worth all of the stress and sleep deprivation.

No, she resented Jamm. Stupid Jeremy Jamm taking advantage of her pregnancy and  exploiting it to kick her off the City Council. God, she hated that guy.

But he wasn’t going to win. Leslie wasn’t going to let that happen. She wasn’t giving up no matter how many hours she had to stay up or sleepless nights she would have to endure.

Leslie yawned again as she wrote in her binder, her head lolling forward a little as her eyes almost slipped shut. She jerked up, her hand slamming down at the table and she reoriented herself before she started writing again.

God, what she would give to inject caffeine straight into her bloodstream.

“Ugh, no, that’s not right either,” Leslie grumbled to herself as she scribbled a line through the speech for her next town hall meeting. What she said needed to be perfect. She needed them to realize that she wanted what was best for them—for Pawnee. That her being a mother now only strengthened her resolve and commitment, not weakened it.

She just hoped they would believe her.

Leslie blew a few stray hairs away from her face and went back to writing, not looking back up again until she heard the lock unlatch on the front door.

Ben walked into the dining room with a soft smile on his face as he undid his tie, the smile turning into a grimace when Leslie looked over at him.

It was quick, but she still saw it.

Okay, so she probably looked like a hot mess, but she had a newborn. A messy newborn. And she didn’t exactly have all that much time to take extra care of herself lately.

“Hey,” he said slowly, eyeing the stain on her shirt and the dried patch of baby spit on her hair, “tough day?”

“Why do you ask?” she shot back. “Does it look like I had a rough day? Did you think that fighting a recall election and taking care of a newborn baby would be a walk in the park?”

“Wait, no, Leslie—“

“Yes, I had a rough day, Ben. Every day that the threat of losing my job looms over me is a rough day. Every day that crappy poll numbers come in is a rough day.”

Ben pursed his lips, moving to stand behind her chair. Just as she was about to go off again, she’s stilled by his hands on her shoulders gently kneading the knots and tension from her body.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I know this is tough on you. If I need to take more time off of work—“

“No,” Leslie sighed as his fingers worked their magic. “You’ve offered a million times, but it’s fine. One of us at least has to work, and right now that makes the most sense for you to while I focus on the recall stuff from here. It just sucks.”

“I know. And since I know you won’t take a break since you never did the thousand other times I’ve asked you, how about I take Abby to my place for the night? Give you some time to focus on work.”

Leslie stiffened. Yes, he has asked her a million times to take a break, but he’s never wanted to take Abby away before. Leslie’s not spent a night away from her since she was born.

“No, I don’t think so. I’ll be fine.”

“Leslie, you’re not fine. You haven’t been fine since this whole recall mess. Not that I blame you, but if you insist on running yourself ragged, at least let me help.”

She stood up from her chair and whipped around to face Ben. “And taking my daughter away from me is your idea of help?

“What are you talking about? I’m not taking her away. I--”

“No, I get it. You don't think I'm capable of doing it all either, do you? That I can't be a good mom and still serve on the city council.”

“How can you even say that? Of course I don't believe that, but you're stressed and overworked, and I just thought that--”

“See that's the problem. You can't just think like that, and I can't either. I can't just expect you to take my daughter away when things get tough. I need to learn to balance everything on my own.”

Ben took a step back, hurt flashing in his eyes. “But you're not alone, Leslie. I've told you, I'm in 100%. Abby is my daughter too, and I'm going to be there for her and you. But you're not doing yourself or Abby any favors if you try to do it all on your own when you don't have to. You're running yourself ragged, and if Abby--”

“Don't you get it, Ben?” Leslie yelled out. “I'm doing this for Abby. All of it. I can't lose this recall. For me, and most importantly for her. She can't grow up believing that she’s the reason people think I'm unfit.” Leslie choked back and sob and sat back down in the chair, all fight and anger in her gone. “She can't have a failure for a mother. I can't let her down like that.”

Ben’s eyes softened, and he knelt down in front of her to take her hands.  “Leslie, you could never be a failure or let her down. You're the most amazing mother I've ever known, and our baby is so lucky to have someone like you that she will look up to. No matter what happens, you will still be the strongest, hardest working person in the universe. She will grow up knowing that, seeing it with her own two eyes. I might not agree with how much you're throwing yourself into this, but I respect it and just want to help. I'm not suggesting that you're weak or incapable. I just feel so helpless sometimes, and this is some way that I can help the both of you. Please, just let me help.”

Leslie closed her eyes, Ben's hand solid and warm in her own. God what had she done to deserve him in her life? To have him as the father of her child?

“I know” she whispered. “And I'm sorry for blowing up like that at you. I know you're just trying to help, and I appreciate it. You've done nothing but be helpful, and you're so great with Abby. We're both so lucky to have you. I just feel all of this pressure, and the recall election is just around the corner. I feel like if I can't prove myself now, then maybe I can't do it at all. And I'm afraid that if anyone sees me vulnerable and relying on you too much, it'll just mean that they were right. That I can’t handle it on my own.”

Ben’s lips quirked, his fingers dancing across her knuckles. “I seem to recall standing in the ballroom of the Pawnee Super Suites listening to my best friend give her victory speech on the night she beat out Bobby Newport for City Council. She said that no one achieves anything alone. That was true then, and it definitely is now. We are all here for you through this. And good Lord Leslie, we have a newborn. That's an insanely hard job on its own. Everyone knows that, and that’s why they are trying to exploit that by moving up the election. It’s okay to ask for help sometimes. No one whose opinion actually matters will fault you for that.”

Leslie fixed her eyes on the floor, her lip between her teeth as a battle waged inside of her.

Ben was right. She knew he was right deep down, but letting go, allowing herself that added bit of help made her feel so weak. But continuing on like this wasn’t sustainable. She’d crack eventually, and then it could all be so much worse.

She felt Ben’s hands move from hers and tuck under her chin, lifting her face up toward his. His thumb rubbed gently against her now tingling skin as she got lost in his eyes. They told her everything, told her that he meant every word that he said. He wasn’t going to let her lose herself to this--or to herself.

“I think that maybe,” Leslie said slowly, “just maybe , it would be a good idea to accept more help.”

“And…”

She sighed. “And maybe not run myself into the ground as much. Let other people do what I know I can’t.”

Ben smiled and tweaked her chin before pulling his hands away. “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It was pretty bad, but I think I’ll survive.”

Ben laughed and stood up, his bones cracking as he stretched. “I guess that’s as good as it can get. What about the baby? You want me to take her for the night?”

“I don’t know. And not that I don’t trust you, but I don’t know if I’m ready to spend the whole night away from her yet. How about we see how it goes, first?”

“Fair enough. So, when was the last time you’ve eaten?” At Leslie’s guilty face, Ben smirked. “Thought so. Okay, I’m going to make us some dinner, but how about you take that time for a break.” He nodded at her hair. “Maybe take a shower? Just a suggestion.”

She touched the gross strands and made a face. “Yeah, I guess I am getting a little ripe, but I have to be able to work through dinner then.”

“Leslie…”

“Just two binders. That’s all.”

Ben crossed his arms and huffed. Oh man, if that was going to be Ben’s “Dad Face”, Abby didn’t stand a chance.

“One, and that’s my final offer.”

“Deal.” Leslie turned on her heel to run upstairs, but stopped short to pull Ben in for a hug. “Thank you,” she said, her voice muffled by his chest. “Thank you for always looking out for me and wanting what’s best even if I don’t know what that is myself, yet. I’d be so lost without you.”

Ben squeezed around her middle. “I think you’d do just fine without me, but I’m glad you feel that way. I told you, I’m here for you for anything, Leslie. Anything at all, I will always be here for you.”

And Leslie knew that even though sometimes she pretended not to. Their sleeping baby upstairs was just one way that he’s proven that to her.

It hurt sometimes knowing that no one else could ever compare to him. That she didn’t think she’d ever find a man that would do for her what Ben had. That no man would love her like Ben does--even though it’s not in the way that she wanted--craved.  

One day she would have to get over it. One day he’d find the one , and Leslie would have to watch him fall in love with another women.

One day she’d have to give him up, but not today.

~~~~~

There weren’t words to describe the nervous twisting in her belly.

It was worse--a thousand times worse than the first election, which didn’t seem possible, but it definitely was.

At the crack of dawn (okay, way before the crack of dawn), Leslie gave up on sleep and started getting ready to be one of the first people at the polls. She fed, changed, and dressed Abby as quietly as possible, but Ben still stumbled in from the guest bedroom before the sun even came up.

It didn’t look like he got any sleep, either.

With Abby bundled up to combat the crisp, fall chill in the air, the trio made their way to the polling station.

That rush that Leslie had felt the first time, that overwhelming joy at seeing her name on a ballot, was long gone. This time, seeing her name wasn’t a measure of her success, just her failure.

While her team did their best to do some last minute campaigning on her behalf, Leslie went back to the Parks Department for the worst part--the waiting.

She held Abby close to her as often as she could, the weight of the baby in her arms the only thing that could even remotely keep Leslie’s hands from shaking.

 

Ben and Ann--bless their hearts. They tried their best to distract her and be supportive, but there was only so much they could do with what Leslie was facing. It was amazing of them, but the only thing that would solve her problems was knowing if she still had a job after tomorrow.

Leslie somehow kept it somewhat together by the time the polls closed. She stood in front of the TV in the office, Ben close at her side while April looked after Abby, Andy distracting the baby with his own array of funny faces.

They had all prepared themselves for a long night--but it turned out that wouldn’t be necessary.

Leslie felt numb as she stared at the screen in the Parks office.

The world sounded far off and hollow, like she was somehow underwater--drowning.

She didn’t register Ben’s hands on her shoulder or hear his voice crack as he apologized. She didn’t see the looks of disbelief and pity on the faces of her friends and colleagues. Not even Larry’s inopportune entrance with the pizza was enough to pull her out.

No, it wasn’t until Abby started to cry in April’s arms that Leslie felt the world come into focus again. April tried to calm the baby down, but once Leslie’s trance was broken, she turned her head and held out her arms for her daughter. She was the only thing that Leslie needed right now.

She pulled Abby against her chest as she cried, peppering kisses across her soft forehead and breathing in her perfect baby smell.

Leslie failed her.

“Leslie,” Ben’s voice said softly in her ear, “I can take the baby if you want.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “No,” her voice cracked, “no it’s okay. I need-- I can do it.”

She grabbed the diaper bag and excused herself to her office, closing the blinds before she sat down and started to breastfeed.

Out there she had to be strong, but now? Now, she didn’t know what she had to be. She didn’t know who she was .

She was nothing.

Leslie ran a delicate finger down her daughter's tiny nose as she ate, oblivious to everything around her.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” she whispered. “I tried so hard. I really did. But I couldn’t beat them. I just wanted to do good, you know? I wanted to be someone that my City could be proud of. That you could be proud of someday, but I failed.”

Abby just blinked lazily at her, her pace slowing until she pulled away from Leslie’s breast with a yawn.

And Leslie finally allowed herself to cry.

~~~~~

But I am Leslie Knope. I am more than a city councilor. I am an unstoppable force of energy, and I will use those days to work as hard as I can.

Leslie held the piece of paper close against her chest as she laid down her bed, Abby happily squirming next to her without a care in the world.

Oh Ann. Sweet, beautiful, poetic and noble land mermaid Ann. She always knew what to say to kick Leslie out of whatever funk she was in.

And boy, talk about a funk.

After the recall, Leslie resigned herself to a life of mediocrity and failure. The ‘frazzled mom look’ that she had cultivated while working on her campaign was back full force, along with a Paunch Burger and soda big enough to fit a large toddler.

And if she wasn’t breastfeeding, Leslie was pretty sure that she’d have somehow convinced Ben to go get wasted with her and make a few other stupid decisions.

Unfortunately, sober Ben knows better than to let Leslie get a tattoo.

He took a few days off from work to help in the aftermath, and she both loved and hated him for it. He said it was to help with the baby, but Leslie knew better. He was more concerned with her at the moment.

And she needed him. To be fair, she needed him long before Abby came along, but now it was so much more obvious.

She needed him and she hated that she needed him. She hated catching a glimpse of his pitying eyes when he thought she wasn’t looking, hated the gentleness of his voice. Hated that he thought she might crumble right before his eyes.

Leslie locked herself away from the world for days, ignoring everyone--even Ann.

But of course Ann gave her just enough time to herself before barging into Leslie’s room and giving it to her straight.

She was Leslie Knope, and she wasn’t going to waste what little time she had left. There were things left to finish, to accomplish to make Pawnee better for everyone --including her daughter.

Abby deserved it.

Abby gurgled, making Leslie smile as she pressed a palm against her belly.

There was a soft knock on the door as Ben pushed it fully open. “Hey,” he whispered. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good. I just needed to give myself a pep talk apparently.”

“I’m glad Ann was able to help.”

“You both helped,” Leslie said. “The Leslie Knope Emotional Support Task Force has once again performed its duties beautifully.”

Ben shrugged. “I didn’t do much, but I’m glad you think so. We’re both just happy that you’re feeling better. You--” Ben sighed. “You’re so much better than all of them, Leslie. You didn’t deserve this.”

“I know. I mean, I didn’t for a while there, but I know that now. And you did do so much. For the campaign, for me…” She looked down at their daughter. “And for Abby, too. We’d be lost without you.”

Ben’s eyes softened as he looked down at the baby, and Leslie’s heart wanted to explode. “I’d be lost without you guys, too. But you need some rest. I can put Abby to bed if you want.”

Leslie shook her head. “I want a little more time with her. Don’t worry about it. I can put her to bed later.” Ben nodded and was about to turn around when something made her stop him. “Wait, that doesn’t mean you have to go, too. There’s plenty of room on this bed for a three person cuddle party, isn’t that right, Abbs? Do you think Daddy should come cuddle? I think so.”

Ben laughed and kicked off his shoes before climbing in across from Leslie. It felt good--almost too good, to have him this close, lying next to her with only their baby between them.

Almost like they were a real family.

Leslie reached out to laced her fingers with Ben’s, and gesture that was becoming more and more common these days.

“I know I’ve said this before and each time you brush me off, but I mean it. Thank you. For everything. There’s no one else in the entire world that I would rather go through this with.”

Then he did something that wasn’t so common at all, bringing her hand to his lips. And while the brush of his lips against her skin sent shockwaves through her body, his eyes were sad.

“There’s no one else I’d want to go through this with either, Leslie. No one.”

She held is gaze for what felt like an eternity. It was almost too much, like she had to look away, but she didn’t want to break whatever it was they had. It crackled between them like a lightning storm.

But she had to break it. She had to before she acted on that overwhelming urge pulling her belly that would make her do something outrageously stupid.

Thankfully, Abby took that moment to squirm and scrunch her face in that adorable way that never failed to make Leslie and Ben swoon. Abby’s kind of like Li’l Sebastian that way. Everything she did was amazing.

And in this case, Ben agreed.

“She’s our little miracle,” Ben said, looking back up at Leslie with that smile that never failed to make her weak.

“She sure is.”

Chapter Text

Ben walked down the aisle of the grocery store with Abby strapped to his chest as he grabbed a few boxes of pasta for dinner that night. It was so relieving to fall back into something of a routine. During the recall, their life was a crazy, unpredictable mess, but now…

Now, things were a little more stable, at least. Leslie went back to work full time and threw herself into her few remaining City Council projects. There were “flame duck” shirts scattered all over the house, and Leslie kept referring to herself as a loose cannon--whatever that meant.

But it felt good to see Leslie becoming her old self again.

Ben turned to corner to meet Leslie back at the cart but--

Was that...Dave? Dave talking to Leslie ?

An all consuming jealousy flooded his body.

“Come on, Abby, let’s go find Mama.”

He walked up behind Leslie, deep in conversation with Dave, and touched a light hand to her back.

“Oh, hey, Ben,” she said with a smile -- his smile. “Ben, you remember Dave, right?”

He nodded, making sure Dave was watching as he put the boxes of pasta in Leslie’s cart before extending his hand, the other cradling the back of Abby’s head.

Suddenly, his fear of cops was only second to his desire to make Dave go away. “Yeah, uh, Dave, how are you? I didn’t know you were back in town.”

Dave eyed the baby warily. “Uh, yeah. I was just telling Leslie that with the Chief retiring soon, I came to apply for the job. Might be moving back.”

Well, that sucked.

“Huh, wow, that’s great.”

“Yeah. So, uh, you have a kid now? That’s great. Who’s the lucky lady?”

Ben was about to answer when Leslie cut in. “Well, actually, it’s my baby. Well, ours. Our baby. This is Abby.”

When Dave’s face fell, Ben never felt happier. If only Leslie wasn’t so quick to reassure him.

“But it’s not like that. We’re not… together . It’s a long, complicated story, but I wanted to be a mom so I asked Ben to donate his sperm, and now here’s Abby.”

Dave pointed back and forth between them. “Oh, so you two aren’t…”

“No, just best friends raising a kid together. You know how it goes.”

While everything Leslie was saying was true, each word felt like a slap to the face. No, they weren’t a couple. They just were raising a child and practically living together.

Ben kissed Abby’s head, the only thing keeping him grounded.

God, he had to get out of here. “Hey,” he leaned down to whisper in Leslie’s ear a lot closer than was necessary, “I’m gonna go and pick up a few more things. I’ll be back.”

She turned to him slightly and nodded, her hand rubbing Abby’s back before sliding down Ben’s arm.

Dave noticed, and Ben wanted so badly to laugh in his face.

He took his time wandering down the aisles, humming softly to Abby as she looked at the colorful jars and boxes with wide-eyed wonder.

“I don’t know who this Dave guy thinks he is,” Ben said to his daughter, “or what he’s doing here, but I just hope he’s long gone by the time we find Mommy again. She used to date him, you know. It was pretty serious, too. For a little while there I was scared that she might actually move to California with him.

“He’s a cop , Abbs. Can you imagine? That guy was in love with your mom, and he has a gun . I don’t know what she saw in him in the first place. I mean, he’s nice, I guess, but he’s a cop. And who the hell talks like that?”

He grabbed a few more items on their list, smiling proudly as strangers came up to compliment his “beautiful and so well behaved” baby.

Thankfully, by the time he found Leslie again, she was alone, pushing the shopping cart down the aisle in somewhat of a daze.

“Leslie?”

“Huh? What? Yeah, sorry.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It was just...weird seeing Dave again.”

“Well, he’s gone now, right? You don’t have to see him again unless you want to.”

Leslie grimaced. “Right. See, here’s the thing. He kind of...asked me to dinner. You know, to catch up.”

“Okay…”

“And I said yes. I mean, he was just so sad, and we used to be friends so I think it will be good to catch up, right?”

No. Not good. Not good at all.

“I mean, if you want to.”

“I don’t know. I can always cancel, but I should probably go, right? Yeah, I think I should. Can you watch Abby for a few hours tonight?”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Yeah, of course. We can catch up on some tummy time, can’t we Abbs?”

Ben peppered her head with tiny kisses, and he relished in the sound of her little laugh. When he looked up, Leslie was watching them with soft eyes. It’s a look he’s seen more and more these last few weeks.

“Thank you. It won’t be for long. Just dinner.”

“No, it’s...okay. We’ll be fine.”

Ben wasn’t entirely sure how true that was.

~~~~~  

God, Leslie looked gorgeous. She was definitely dressed for a date, not dinner with an old “friend”.

Not that it was really any of Ben’s business. He might be her best friend and the father of her child, but he wasn’t her boyfriend. She was technically free to go out with whomever she chose.

It just sucked because it wasn’t him.

No, it was stupid Dave. Dave the freaking cop .

“Okay,” Leslie said as she ran around the house putting things into her purse. “I pumped and there’s plenty of fresh milk in the fridge. The emergency numbers are by the phone, none of her favorite stuffed animals are missing--”

“Leslie, we’ll be fine. I am her father that is perfectly capable of watching her, as I have done since the day she was born. Why the freak out?”

She slumped her shoulders and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess because this is the first time I’ve left for something that wasn’t work related. Something that really wasn’t all that important. I guess I feel a little guilty.”

“It’s...it’s fine. Just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a life. You deserve this.”

What was he doing? He was practically pushing her out of the door and into the arms of another man.

But damnit, he loved her. He loved her and he wanted her to be happy. She didn’t need to feel even worse.

He couldn’t read the look she gave him, and that was kind of scary. He could read all of Leslie’s looks.

“Thanks. You’re right. And it’s just dinner. Nothing crazy. Just two friends catching up.”

Ben was pretty sure Dave wouldn’t see it that way, but he kept his opinions to himself.

“Yup. Me and Abby will hold down the fort, right sweetheart? I think the kiss monster might be making an appearance.”

He hauled Abby over his head and brought her back down just low enough to start kissing her belly.

“Well, I better leave before you two convince me to stay.” She walked over and kissed Abby’s cheeks. “Love you, my sweet baby. Mommy will be home soon. Be good for Daddy, okay? And if he talks to you about Star Wars, just pretend to be interested. That’s what Mommy does.”

“Wow, Leslie. That really hurts. Just for that, we’re watching The Empire Strikes Back . You will be outnumbered. Mark my words.”

“Yeah, yeah. But really, if anything comes up, call me, okay?”

“I will, now go before you’re late.”

With one last Abby kiss, Leslie was gone.

“Alright, kiddo. Let’s have some fun and try to not obsess about what your mom is doing.”

In response, Abby hiccuped and spat all over Ben’s shirt.

“Well, it looks like bath time is first on tonight’s agenda,” Ben sighed and trudged up the stairs.

~~~~~

Ben wasn’t sure how long Leslie was gone, but the movie was still playing when the sound of the front door closing woke him up. Abby stayed dozing on his chest.

“Oh, hey,” he said softly as she walked over. “Uh, how was it? How did it go?”

Leslie didn’t answer right away. She just sat down next to him and watched Abby sleep.

Oh yeah, something was very wrong.

“Hey, what’s up? You look upset. Did something happen?”

She nodded, not taking her eyes off of their daughter.

“Did he do something? I swear, I don’t care if he’s a cop, I’ll--”

“He told me that he still loved me,” she interrupted, and that shut Ben up very quickly.

“What?”

She sniffed and wiped a hand across her eyes. “He told me that he still loved me. That he never stopped. That I was the reason he wanted to move back to Pawnee if he can get the Chief’s old job.” She choked back a sob. “He said that he didn’t care that I had a baby. That he loved me and could love Abby, too. That he’d learn to be a father to her.”

Ben’s heart slammed against his chest. This was it. This was how he was going to lose everything. Leslie and Abby. On instinct, he clutched Abby closer to his chest, his nose rubbing against her head as he breathed in her baby scent. He didn’t care how many guns that man had, he wasn’t going to take his daughter away from him.

“Abby doesn’t need another father,” Leslie said with conviction. “She already has one. A great one that loves her more than anything. But at the same time, what happens if I need someone? What happens when you find the woman of your dreams? What happens if you leave us?

“But, I just can’t,” Leslie said, and this time her sobs overtook her. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m a single mother. I have a kid, and that’s already going to make finding someone even harder. Not that it matters, but here’s a guy, a great guy, who tells me that he loves me and I just can’t. I can’t because he’s not--”

Whatever she was going to say gets lost as she buried her face in her hands and cried like Ben hadn’t seen her cry since after the recall.

As best as he could, Ben balanced Abby and pulled Leslie in for a hug. She wrapped her arms around his neck and cried into his shirt.

“Hey, it’s okay. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling now, but I will never, ever leave you guys. No matter what happens, you will always be my family.”

“And I know you mean that now , but--”

“No, I mean that forever. And I don’t know what to say about Dave, but if you don’t love him, you don’t love him.”

“It would just be so much easier if I could.”

Ben stroked her hair before kissing it. “We can’t help who we love sometimes,” he said sadly. “No matter how much we want to. I just know that whoever you fall in love with someday is going to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Leslie pulled back with a sniffle. “Really?”

Even with red, puffy eyes and mascara streaking down her cheeks, she was still the most beautiful person he’d ever seen. What he wouldn’t give to be that man she chose to spend her life with.

“Yeah, really.”

She blinked a few times, staring at him with a furrowed brow. Like...like she was noticing something about him for the first time. Did he have baby powder on his cheek? That wouldn’t be a first.

No, she was staring at his lips.

“Leslie? Wha-”

Abby started to fuss and soon, she was crying at the top of her tiny yet surprisingly strong lungs. Whatever had flashed across Leslie’s face only moments ago was long gone as she took her daughter and started rocking her in her arms.

“It’s okay, Abby. I know, you’re hungry. Let’s go.”

And like that, she and Abby were gone.

With a sigh, Ben started cleaning up downstairs. It was amazing how much clutter accumulated once you had a kid. As if Leslie’s place needed even more clutter.

He was so lost in thought washing the dishes that he didn’t hear Leslie come up behind him.

“Hey,” she said, and he almost dropped the pot.

“Oh, hey. Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she was just hungry. I fed and changed her and now she’s down again. Thanks for already handling bath time.”

“Well, she threw up on both of us, so I kind of had to,” he joked. That managed to pull a small smile from her lips.

She walked up beside him and started drying. “Yeah. And sorry about earlier. I was just--”

“Look, it’s okay. You don’t have to apologize for how you feel. I just want you to believe me when I say that I’m not going anywhere. You will always be an important person in my life, and Abby...God, I can’t imagine being without her. I’m all in.”

Leslie finished drying the pot and wrapped her arms around his middle, his hands still soaking in the sink.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything. I couldn’t do this without you.”

“You’ll never have to.”

And he meant it.

Chapter Text

“I almost kissed him.”

Ann shrieked on the other end of the telephone. “You almost what?!”

“I was downstairs crying about the whole Dave thing, and he was hugging me and telling me that the man I fall in love with will be the luckiest guy ever, and when I pulled away-- I don’t know, Ann! He was looking at me and I just couldn’t stop staring at his lips. If Abby hadn’t started crying, I might have done something I’d regret forever.”

“Wow,” Ann sighed. “Well, first of all, I doubt you’d regret it at all. I’m pretty sure Ben wouldn’t, either. I know I’ve told you a million times, but you both need to get over yourselves and just get together already. You two are definitely not “just friends”. Especially not now.”

Leslie hugged the pillow that was on her lap. “You don’t know that. I mean, just because I feel that way doesn’t mean that Ben does. He didn’t try to talk me out of my date with Dave or anything like he was jealous.”

“Maybe because he loves you and just wants you to be happy? Maybe he thinks he doesn’t have a chance and gave up on trying? There could be a million reasons besides ‘he doesn’t like you’ why he’s acting that way.”

“And what if he does, Ann?” Leslie asked with a huff. “What if he does feel the same way about me? Then what? Just because we’re best friends doesn’t mean we’d be compatible. If things end badly, I could lose him forever. We’d have this terrible, strained relationship that Abby would get caught in the middle of. I don’t know if it’s worth that risk. But it’s all a moot point anyway. I can’t just ask him how he feels. Not with all that’s at stake.”

“So, you’re both just going to be miserable dancing around each other and pretending that you’re perfectly fine with how things are?”

“If I have to in order to not ruin what we have, then yeah.”

Ann sighed again. “Okay. I can’t tell you what to do. I just want you to be happy, Leslie. That’s all. I know he makes you happy and that you love him.”

“Sometimes that’s not enough. And I’d rather have him as we are now than not at all.”

“Well, I just hope something happens to change all that and you all live happily ever after because you’re my best friend and you deserve it. Now, I gotta go start my shift at the hospital. You okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Thank you for listening.”

“Anytime. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Leslie ended the call and placed her cell on the nightable, curling into the sheets and trying her best to fall asleep before Abby woke up for her next meal.

Except her brain wouldn’t stop. All she could think about was what Ann had said, about her not doing anything but things still falling apart.

She didn’t think she could survive without him--especially not now. When she saw her future, it always had him in it. She couldn’t imagine that with Dave--with anybody.

It killed her.

Oh, God, why did it feel like an elephant was sitting on her chest? Like breathing was just too much work?

She turned on her side and tried to cocoon herself under the layers of blankets like they’d save her from the crushing hopelessness.

Ben’s footsteps echoed down the hall as he got ready for bed, but just when they should have walked past her door, they stopped.

Oh, no. No no no no. He was coming in to check on her. She kept her back turned and tried to keep her breathing even. She just couldn’t talk to him right now, especially since she knew she was only seconds away from crying all over again.

She didn’t respond when he whispered her name, or when the bed dipped as he sat down.

Her cover was almost blown when he slowly stroked her hair away from her face and kissed her temple. It was so soft, like she imagined it felt when he kissed Abby goodnight.

“I’m so sorry for everything,” he whispered so quietly, she almost didn’t hear it. “I wish things turned out differently for you. For us, even, I guess. I wish--” He sighed, and it was the most defeated sound in the world. “I don’t know what I wish for anymore. I just know I wouldn’t trade you or Abby for anything in the world. I guess I just wish that I could be enough to make you happy.”

The second kiss on her forehead lingered longer than the first, and it took every ounce of self control to keep her eyes closed until the door shut behind him.

Tears she didn’t know she had come again, but stronger this time.

Because now Leslie knew how Ben felt, and she still had no fucking idea what to do about it.

~~~~~

The days stretched to weeks, and instead of things between her and Ben getting better like they should have, they just got worse.

Was it all her fault? Yes.

Was Ben doing everything he could to be the perfect friend and father while Leslie kept avoiding him or making situations weird and awkward? Hell yes.

But she just couldn’t help it. It was one thing to have feelings for your best friend but not act on them because you knew the other person didn’t feel the same way. But now? Now that she knew Ben probably wanted to be with her as much as she did?

It was hell. It shouldn’t be. If Ann knew, she’d tell Leslie to get her head out of her ass and be grateful she had the confirmation she needed to actually pursue this thing.

Instead, it made everything so much worse because she just couldn’t do it.

God, what was wrong with her? Anyone would kill for this. It wasn’t like she was interested in anyone but Ben, and Leslie’s pretty sure she’d want to gouge out the eyes of anyone that Ben dated. So, what was the problem?

She was. She was the problem, as usual. She could take risks and giant leaps of faith in almost every aspect of her life, but not this.

Leslie picked at the edges of the binder sitting at her desk. Questions about the job. As if she needed another wrench thrown into her life, here came Grant Larson with the literal opportunity of a lifetime.

The job was hers. All she had to do was tell him yes, and she’d be on her way to Chicago to run a branch of the National Parks Service.

But that would mean leaving behind everything she knew. Her jobs, her friends, her family.

Ben.

Could she do that to him? Leave him and take Abby with her?

It could be the answer she’d been looking for. A fresh start away from Ben to get over whatever feelings she had for him. A way for Ben to let her go, too.

Good Lord, what a fucking mess.

There was a soft knock on the door that startled her out of her pity party. Ben stood there with her lunch bag in his hands looking like he was trying not to spook a wild animal.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. You ran out of the house so quickly today that you forgot your lunch. Just wanted to drop it off.”

“Oh. Thanks. Sorry about that. You didn’t have to bring it to me. I could have gotten something.”

He just shrugged. “It’s not a problem. Besides, I know that if you didn’t have this, you’d either work straight through lunch or get something ridiculously unhealthy. This way I know you’re forced to eat a little better.”

Damn him. Damn him and his thoughtfulness and cute smiling face and tight butt.

She stayed silent, staring at the bag without blinking.

“Uhm, yeah, okay,” Ben said after clearing his throat. “I’ll just leave this here and get back to work.”

He walked over to her desk to drop down the lunch bag, his eye catching the binder in front of her.

Questions about the job . What’s that for?”

“Nothing,” Leslie practically shrieked as she threw herself over the binder. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing.”

“Right, cuz you you’d totally be that protective and secretive about something that was nothing. Does it have anything to do with why you’ve been so… different lately? Preoccupied and distant?”

Leslie clutched the binder to her chest. “No, I haven’t.”

“Leslie, I’m not stupid. You’ve been acting differently around me for weeks. I mean, we practically live together and hardly ever talk anymore. So, either something at work has you worried or I’ve done something. And either way, I’d really like for us to talk about it before things get worse.”

Leslie huffed. “I thought you Minnesotans never talked about your feelings and just bottled them up inside. What happened to that ?”

“I moved here and became best friends with someone that always told me it’s better to be open and honest about your feelings than keep it all inside. I watched how not communicating about things tore my parents’ marriage apart, and would really rather that not happen to us.”

“We’re not married,” Leslie said back, and God, why was she so stupid? She wasn’t wrong, but the look on Ben’s face for just a millisecond made her want to crawl into a hole and die.

But then that composed face came back. That look that said whatever he was feeling was being locked away so he could focus on the problem.

“Right. You’re right. We’re not married, and we’re not in a relationship. We’re just two friends raising a baby together and basically living together that have barely spoken in weeks. I mean, why should I care that my best friend hardly talks to me anymore, right? We used to talk about everything, Leslie. I know something’s upset you, and it’s either something at work, or it’s me. I’d like to know what it is so we can work it out and go back to how things were.”

“And what if we can’t go back to how things were? What if everything’s changing forever and things won’t ever be the same?”

Ben took another step closer to her desk. “Then we figure it out. Leslie, we’ve gone through some huge things together and survived. We have a baby together, for crying out loud. That changed everything, but only made things better, right?”

Leslie didn’t have an answer. A few months ago, she would have agreed without hesitation, but not today.

“Right?” There was no hiding the desperation in his voice this time around. “You don’t regret--”

“No, not I don’t. Not at all. It’s just. Things are more--complicated now, that’s all.” She sighed and put the binder back down on her desk. “You’re right. I haven’t been honest with you. A few weeks ago, Grant Larson came to tell me that we won’t be getting National Park status, which sucked, but then he told me he read my Pawnee River proposal and offered me a job.”

“Wait, seriously?!”

“Yeah. He wants me to run the Midwestern Branch of the National Parks Service.”

Ben’s eyes went wide. “Oh my God, Leslie, that’s amazing.”

“I mean, it’s very flattering, but that would mean giving up my job here. Leaving City Hall and the Parks Department. And Pawnee. I’d have to move to Chicago.”

It took a while for it to all catch up in Ben’s head, but once it did, he slowly lowered himself into a chair next to Leslie.

“Oh, wow. Chicago.”

“Yeah. Not exactly around the corner.”

“No, not really. But this job, do you want it?”

Leslie bit her lip. “I think so? I don’t know, there’s so many things to consider about leaving and--”

“No, Leslie, just think about the job. Forget everything else. If this job were here, would you take it?”

“In a heartbeat. It’s--it’s my dream job.”

Ben nodded slowly, like he knew the answer all along. “Then--then I think you should seriously consider it. It’s an amazing opportunity to do something you love. As for everything else, we’ll figure it out.”

“It can’t be that easy,” Leslie said. “There are so many things to consider. I mean, it’s Chicago! I’d be moving with Abby to Chicago and away from you.”

“I’m sure Chicago could use another accountant, right? Shouldn’t be too hard to find something out there.”

“You’d be willing to move?”

“Sure. I could find a job there and still be able to be close to Abby. Help you out during the job transition stuff.”

Damn him. Damn him to hell.

“I-I can’t ask you to do that.”

He sat back against the chair and gave her a confused look. “What do you mean? You’re not asking. I’m offering. I want to.”

Leslie quickly stood and started pacing around her office. “But, you can’t. No, that’s too much. You can’t leave Pawnee, your friends, your job, everything that you love for me. I don’t even know if I am willing to move for this job. But I’d be crazy not to take it, right? It’s my dream job. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. But no, you--you can’t move.”

It was Ben’s turn to stand. “So, you can move away with Abby and leave everything behind, but I can’t? That doesn’t seem very fair.”

“Ben, you don’t understand--”

“No, I really, really don’t. Please, I’ve been wanting an explanation for your behavior for weeks now.”

Leslie did her best to calm herself with a deep breath. “Look, it’s just that, uhm, I’ve been thinking that we’ve been needing some space recently and--”

“Okay, but space is me spending more time at my place, not you moving two hundred miles away.”

“But don’t you get it? I can’t be the reason that you move to Chicago and leave everything you know and love behind. We can definitely work things out when it comes to Abby, but you’ll eventually resent me for making you move and--”

“Leslie, what makes you think that I would resent you for any of that? I want to live near my daughter and I want be near you.”

Leslie slumps her hip against her desk and tries to make her voice sound a lot stronger than it is.

“You say that now, but what if you change your mind? You love Pawnee and the life you’ve built here. That’s why you stayed.”

Ben put his hands in his hair and pulled. “Dammit, Leslie. Yes, I do love it here and thought I could build a life here, but that was all because of you!

“Ben, stop-”

“No, I need to say this. It’s been killing me for so long, and I don’t have anything left to lose. Not now. I want to move to Chicago with you because I want you to be happy. I want you to have the job you deserve. Because I love my daughter and can’t imagine not seeing her every day. Because I can’t imagine not seeing you everyday. I love you, Leslie, and I can’t let you think that I would ever resent you or stop loving you if you take this job in Chicago.”

Leslie hung her head, blinking back tears. God, this is so much harder than she thought it could ever be.

“I know,” she whispered. “I know...how you feel about me. I’ve known since the night that everything happened with Dave.”

“Oh.” It took a while, but Leslie saw the moment it all clicked in his mind. “Ohhh. You-you heard all that?”

She nodded.

“And that’s why you’ve been acting weird. Even before all of this new job stuff.”

“Yeah.”

Ben let out a long, heavy sigh. “Right, okay that explains a lot. Look, Leslie, I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable or anything. Just because you don’t feel the same way doesn’t mean that have to stop being friends or that I don’t still care about you. I--”

“I didn’t say that I don’t feel the same way.” She looked up slowly and saw that faintest glimmer of hope in his eyes--like he was trying to hold back and not get too happy too soon. “It’s just, what happens next? So, we love each other, then what? What if we do this thing for real and then we end up screwing it all up? We would lose what we have and then Abby will have two parents that can’t stand each other. I can’t lose you, Ben.”

“You--you love me?”

Oh, God, more tears.

“Yeah, I think I have for a while, but I’m so scared that it isn’t enough. I thought that maybe me moving to Chicago and getting some distance would put things into perspective. Give us both a chance to move on.”

“I don’t want to move on from you.”

“But aren’t you scared? Scared about everything being ruined forever?”

Ben took a few steps closer and reached down to grab her hand. “Of course I am. I’m terrified. You aren’t the only one that has these fears and doubts, but didn’t we feel this way before Abby got here, too? And look how amazing that turned out. What if this is finally our chance?”

Leslie refused to look him in the eye, and after a few minutes, he dropped her hand with a sigh.

“Take some time to think about it. I know you have a lot on your plate right now. Just please--really think about giving us a chance. The way I see it, you can move to Chicago and we try to move on from one another, but aren’t we going to lose each other that way, anyway? I know things won’t be the same after that. At least if we give us a try, there’s a chance it could work and we get to live our happily ever after.”

He was right. Things wouldn’t be the same no matter what, anymore. Things could fail miserably for a thousand different reasons, but if it worked…

“I do need some time to think about everything, okay? It’s so much happening at once. But I will seriously think about it all, I promise.”

Ben nodded, his smile tight but not angry. Just...resigned.

“Okay. In the meantime, I’ll give you some space. I can pick up Abby from your Mom’s tonight and take her to my place, if that’s okay.”

“Uh, yeah. T-that's fine.” Ben turned to leave, but she grabbed his sleeve. “For what it’s worth, I do love you Ben. So much. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time with this. I just don’t want you to think that I don’t.”

He gave her one last sad smile before walking out of the door.