Title: Bomb Defusing for Beginners
Word count: 2595
Spoilers/Timeline: Happens between 4x11 "The Comeback Kid" and 4x12 "Campaign Ad".
Prompt: Government Shutdown: Breaking News!
Summary: Brand-new Campaign Manager Ben Wyatt has thought of every possible thing that could go wrong at the Pawnee-Eagleton Wiffle League Fundraiser and is ready to foil the media. And Tammy Swanson, too.
Alright, so it had been an set-up. That was OK. Honestly, in this case their contingency plan actually dealt with the extreme off-chance that it might have turned out not to be an ambush. As it was, they would simply stick to plan A, codename "Lindsay Carlisle-Shay is never ever to be trusted ever", suggested by Leslie.
They had reached the place as discreetly as possible. After all, the important work had to be done inside, and Eagleton's Red Carpet coverage would be all but useless in getting Leslie's numbers up to pre-himgate status. So he had parked the Saturn around the back while waiting for the signal, and given himself a moment-- just the one-- to lean back into the driver's seat and look at her.
The light hadn't been as soft as he would have liked-- state-of-the-art LED streetlights being a staple of the harsh glittering set-town that was Eagleton-- but damn it if the view wasn't great. Leslie had leaned back, pulling up her legs and giving him a half-exhausted smile. The dark blue fabric of her gown had rustled and there had been a flash of skin he'd ignored, racing pulse be damned. This hadn't yet begun and he owed her a beat to relax. Running his fingers up her thigh would be counter-productive, Campaign Manager Ben Wyatt reminded himself in a sharp enough tone to overcome the loud demands of the All Other Ben Wyatts committee.
So he'd just tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear (so tiny-- just one nibble surely wouldn't hurt? Stop it) and touched her cheek for a second. And then-- the switch had happened. He adored the switch so much he barely minded how far away it flung him, even though the pain over that distance had been his only lifeline for a while. And there it was: (his), tired, warm, slightly insecure Leslie Knope became a thing of flame and vibrancy and radiant smiles and intelligent, heartfelt and powerful words, and there was nothing to do but follow in her trail, ignore the smell of singed hair and be sure to wait at her landing point.
The walkie had crackled on. "Eagle One, Eagle Three, Hackman set. Snakehole has ripped off second wig and thrown opera glove in Pawnee Sun lady's face. Uproar in progress. Side entrance is all clear for the next 3."
Leslie had leaned into his hand and pressed a small kiss into his palm.
"Go get them, Leslie Monster."
So yeah, the Eagleton-Pawnee Wiffle League Fundraiser was a complete set-up. Lindsay Carlisle-Shay had invited every Pawnee media representative she could think of and was taking great delight in ushering each and every one of them towards him, all the while pretending this was the first time she had met any of them in her life.
They needed to avoid the collision for 45 minutes, just until the speeches and entertainment (All the way from sunny Newport Beach!, the invitations said. Leslie had scoffed at that. "That is so Eagleton, not standing for home-grown talent and importing stuffy Orange County magicians instead.") They would make a dignified getaway afterwards. Leslie's presence and town-positive lobbying would be accounted for, more funds and participants would be secured for the upcoming season, and they would go home for bed and waffles with a feather in their cap. (Bed and waffles-- Stop it, I said.)
Team Knope was more than up to the challenge. For starters, Joan Callamezzo had yet to manage to catch him, as she kept being derailed to the open bar by an ebullient Tom who had gone full Timberlake for the occasion. She was currently wearing his fedora and toying with his vest buttons while he rap-listed the ingredients in The Callamezzo (champagne, Vanilla Galliano, ginger, orange juice and a slo-o-ow lick of Snakejuice. Christ.)
Ann had gamely struck a conversation with Perd Hapley, and if her glassy stare was any indication she was getting the extended cut of a monthly run-down of his 26 years on air, complete with pantomime hairdos. She grimace-laughed, looked his way and signalled him 1-9-8-8. Had Ann always had a twitch in her eye?
As for the Pawnee Sun, who were doggedly attempting to pursue Leslie as she sweeped around the room and talked enthusiastically to the hopeful representatives from neighbouring towns without a Wiffle League of their own, they were already showing signs of strain, as well as a glove handprint on the face of their reporter. Being trailed by the Snakehole-Hackman-ectoplasm Macklin threesome will do that to you. He could almost feel their pain. And in all honesty he was feeling charitable enough towards the tabloid since they had gone with one of Tammy Swanson's doctored pictures for their cover the previous week, one in which she had vastly overestimated the width of his torso when choosing the softcore couple to switch Leslie's head and his with. His back wasn't quite that hairy, granted, but that was probably Tammy working through unrelated issues. That cover had actually accounted for a 5 percent rise in Leslie's polling results and some disconcerting passes made at him at the supermarket.
But speaking of the devil, there she was, a vision in red and perfectly accessorized claws. How on earth had Carlisle-Shay justified inviting her, he had no idea, but there she was, strutting towards Joan Callamezzo with a folder clutched to her chest and a barely suppressed cackle on her lips. Since his quiet call into the walkie echoed under the Kobe beef vol-au-vent table, it was clear Ron had also spotted her entrance and taken appropriate measures. Which left him as the last line of defense, as Donna had entranced Ira and the Douche over by the iced cherry fountain and Jerry was thumb-wrestling Derry Murbles.
He overtook her at the banoffee millefeuille stand and stood in her path, his half-hearted wave turning into a jerky tug at his jacket when he remembered Ron's advice to keep all limbs out of her reach. Tammy stopped, eyes wide and utterly unblinking, and smiled at him. Toothily.
"Hello Benjamin!" she tittered. "I must say, this tuxedo isn't you at all, it makes you look terribly narrow."
"... Sure." He almost took a step back as she looked him up and mostly down, but held firm. "Good to see you at this Wiffle League Fundraiser, Tammy. Incidentally, what are you doing here?"
She fluttered her eyelashes and smushed the folder to her bosom. The vol-au-vents whimpered. "Well, Benjamin, this is a cause dear to my heart and the whole Pawnee Library Department. There is nothing we like more than having little boys and girls running about with their... racquets and whatnot." She looked over his shoulder at Joan Callamezzo, who was now bodily keeping a a maître from reaching Tom, who'd jumped behind the bar and was enthusiastically doing the bull on an unspecified and probably hazardous cocktail. "Now, if you'll excuse me--"
"Tammy, you and I both know there is nothing the people in your department dislike more than fresh air." He raised his eyebrows and looked her square in the eye. "Now give me that folder, please."
Her nostrils flared and he mentally marked his attempt at firm-voice-and-eye-contact whisperer dominance an unmitigated failure. "Why Benjamin, are you that desperate--" her voice scratched up an octave at the word, and more people covered their ears than turned to look, but this wasn't good, not at all-- "to relive every moment of your sleazy liaisons around the little kids here? Are Leslie Knope's frilly pink knickers off-limits to you now? Because let me tell you, buster, that prohibition hasn't been extended to the rest of the government body!" She jabbed a finger into his skinny tie. "My new photos show her enthusiastically servicing--"
And that was when he snatched the folder out of her hands. She narrowed her eyes and later he would swear her canines elongated, but for a moment the intensity of his glare threw her off-balance. His knuckles went white against the brown paper folder. "Tammy, you would do well not to forget Chris Traeger's words. The Knope Campaign hasn't." She visibly stiffened and looked around wildly. She immediately zeroed in on Chris, cheerfully waving at them from a few tables to the left. "I may not be a Government Gal myself anymore, but I can still have you shipped to manage the colourbook shelf at Marion County Jail. I may never have been liked, but let me tell you, Tammy, I am owed. And you'll get to watch me pull the trigger if you don't drop this right now."
He tipped an imaginary hat at the Ya Heard? cameraman who had finally ID'd them. "Anyway, we are on camera, Tammy. Smile." He extended a hand towards Tammy, who flashed a tight-jawed smile and dislocated at least two of his metacarpi. "A pleasure, as always. I'll see you on Monday when I return my copy of William Marshall's biography."
He wasn't surprised when a banoffee millefeuille hit the back of his head with a soft squish as he walked away with the folder.
"... Pawnee lit the fuse and Eagleton soon joined us, but that's not enough. We owe our kids the sky and bats made from harder materials. No matter where a child is from, they will be welcome in Pawnee's parks and diamonds. And we will cheer on them as if they were our own. Because if they hit that ball, if they laugh with our kids and feel the sun on their skin as they get chased by a racoon... They belong in Pawnee, and Pawnee belongs to them. Please, join us. Let's make the Pawnee-Eagleton Wiffle League the greatest and most hyphenated in America." A roar of applause forced her to stop for a moment. "Thank you. Now, enjoy the magic show!" Leslie gave a final smile and stepped away from the microphone stand as the Newport Allied Magicians took the stage.
She had the crowd in her pocket, that much was clear. He could hear the delegates from the Parents' Associations from the neighbouring towns clamouring to get to her and arrange a deal to sponsor their kids' entry into the league, and barely anyone was paying attention to Lindsay Carlisle-Shay's persistent complaints that it was actually the Eagleton-Pawnee Wiffle League they were being invited to join.
A soft voice at his side took him by surprise. "Now that is the Leslie Knope I used to know," said Shauna Malwae-Tweep.
He turned to her with a startled smile and a well-concealed stutter. "Er-- Shauna! Fancy meeting you here."
She shook his extended and slightly battered hand, eyebrows raised. "Ben Wyatt, please. I have only managed to sneak up on you because two of your bodyguards seem to be making out in the corner." Yup, she was right. April was wrapped in Andy's arms and FBI coat, and her pillhat (the fourth, if he'd kept track correctly) was about to fall off her head and into the vichysoisse.
He bowed his head, admitting defeat. If any member of the Pawnee media had to corner him, Shauna was most likely the best choice. He had never called her Malwae-Poop in a manic episode, for instance. Still, he couldn't help but wince as she clearly geared for the expected barrage of questions.
But it never came. Shauna turned again to Leslie, who was walking offstage while talking to the lead magician, and then to him with a harsh, appraising stare. He wondered if he measured up to whatever she was considering.
"You shouldn't have given me your phone number." Her voice was calm, matter-of-fact.
"You... are absolutely right." He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Shauna, I--"
She nodded and waved her hand. "It's alright. I only have one question, really. You can refuse to answer, though I would urge you to look up what off the record means if you do, and not barrel on and answer anyway." His eyebrows shot up. "Nevermind," she said, her serious composure broken for an instant. She allowed herself a small, nervous laugh before fixing him with that deeply focused look that always lurked right behind the dimples. Her eyes lit up with something quite like a hope a reasonably seasoned professional shouldn't entertain, and her voice was quiet but firm. "Ben, did Leslie cheat?"
Out of a three-sentence conversation, that was the third thing she'd said that had stumped him so far. She looked very young for an instant, and he disliked noticing it-- after all, they were all grown-ups and her question was the most perfectly straightforward demand he was going to get about the (disgraceful, gorgeous, ashaming, worth it) affair. Leslie would probably say the people of Pawnee deserved answers.
What the hell. He agreed.
"Shauna... No. Never." He tried to search for further words-- there were more than enough examples and reasons and explanations to fill several articles under the very important premise that Leslie Knope did not, would not, could not ever cheat on her town or exploit her position. But she took a deep breath and nodded once, slowly, and he understood that he wasn't talking to the media after all.
"Good." She smiled at him and turned towards the stage once more. "Um, Ben? Does Leslie know that magician?"
He turned sharply towards the stage and blinked. Leslie was holding onto her neckline and the stage-curtains for dear life while the tall magician guy tried to drag her by the back of her gown, attempting to stuff her into a sarcophagus-shaped box. "What the hell? You'll make a gorgeous assistant, blondie! Come on!" As if on cue, every camera and phone on the vicinity started clicking away. A loud whoop from the end of the room meant even Joan Callamezzo had woken up and would blearily get her reporting on as soon as she found her other shoe.
"Go ahead, by all means."
And that's when Ben loosened his tie and jumped onstage. Ann followed, only barely tripping on her skirt.
April threw him a cold can of beer, which he promptly applied onto his nose. He wondered whether he was going to get a black eye. "That was cool. What you did," she said, then snuck out of his room again. It was high praise coming from her, so he tried and failed to breathe through his nose a little more proudly than before.
Leslie emerged from the bathroom at that moment, clad in one of his t-shirts. She winced at the sight and strode towards him, settling at his side. She started stroking his hair, carefully avoiding touching anywhere on his face. "Was it very bad, you think?"
He had hoped to avoid talking, but she looked so damned cute and worried. His "well, I helped foil your kidnapping" sounded like "Vell, I helved boil yer kibnabbing", but to her credit she only half-giggled and immediately turned it into a very convicing cough.
"My hero. And that lunatic from Newport stuck you inside instead and slammed the sarcophagus door on your face." She rested her head on his shoulder, snuggling against him, and sure, he suddenly felt recovered enough to put the can down and hold her properly. He was immediately rewarded with a trail of kisses over his clavicle, his ear...
A successful night for the campaign, if he dare say it so himself.
"Oh my god, Ben, the nape of your neck tastes amazing."