Word Count: 2200
Setting: Seasons 4 and 5, but there are definite spoilers for “Emergency Response.”
Summary: “The first time Leslie ever thought about spending her life with Ben Wyatt, she was lost in a breathless pause.”
Author’s Note: There were just too many feelings after last night’s episode. It had to come out somehow. This is a very loose companion piece to this fic.
The first time Leslie ever thought about spending her life with Ben Wyatt, she was lost in a breathless pause.
In all of the excruciating months of their breakup, Leslie hadn’t been living in a fairy tale world of happily ever afters. As tenuous as her grasp on their situation had been, her thoughts about Ben had been firmly grounded in the present. Every thought she spared for him was skewered by the frank reality that she was losing him, and she’d been solely focused on how to keep that from happening. There’d been no castles in the sky, no fantasies about someday down the road, no happy ending.
Until that pause.
The moment stretched out endlessly, as time only can when you’ve made a life-changing decision. Standing there, she was aware that she’d possibly just handed Ben the noose with which to hang her; that he might not agree that it was worth risking everything for the sake of being them again and instead walk away from her forever. Yet it was in that moment that Leslie finally saw the future she’d never dared to dream about before.
To have Ben, all of his best and worst parts, and never feel that clawing fear of loss again.
To love him forever because she wanted to—god, how she wanted to spend the rest of her life loving him.
To have a future she could believe in as surely as her dream of becoming an elected official, so long as he chose to believe too.
In that pause, she glimpsed the potential of an entire lifetime with him.
When he kissed her, that future spread out in front of her, bright and endless.
It was around Valentine’s Day that Leslie inadvertently stumbled upon Ben’s plans for their future. Not that forever was unclear—not in the way Ben looked at her or kissed her or touched her, and definitely not in the way he talked—but it was still slightly startling to realize he was researching engagement rings online.
Her own visions of the future never relied heavily on the journey. Fantasy was conclusion: being in the White House, Ben alongside her; occasionally they had a dog (and in one of her wilder thoughts, a less-than-clearly-imagined child). She’d never spent much time dreaming of the steps along the way: thinking of proposals and engagements and weddings. Now, for the first time, his browsing history had made her pause on those crucial steps. How exactly would he propose? Would he actually manage to catch her by surprise? Did she even want a big, white wedding? What did he want?
“Do you ever think about getting married?” she asked that night. Ben was already in bed, one arm crooked above his head as he flicked through the television channels. His eyes flitted to hers, caught off guard but calm.
“Yeah. I do. I mean, I have.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “Well my other girlfriend has been pushing for a commitment lately…”
Leslie crossed the room and sank down on the edge of the bed, placing one hand on his thigh and pinching him. He winced in mock pain, the teasing evident in all of his features, but Leslie’s returning smile was a bit forced. Slowly, his face tightened, the slightest hint of worry pressed into his forehead. “Do you—Is that not something you want?”
“I want to be with you forever.” The words, as many times as she’d thought them, felt more terrifying when said out loud. Not in a way that made her want to take them back; the feeling was born instead in how much she meant it. In how gargantuan it was to admit it to him for the first time. Judging by the look on Ben’s face, he felt it too.
And really, she thought as she leaned in to kiss him, as he pulled her body toward his and his hands began to wander everywhere, don’t marriage and forever go hand-in-hand?
The fantasies came after the realization. He wanted to marry her and she wanted to marry him, and it opened up a new world of possibilities.
So maybe once or twice she fell asleep imagining the different ways Ben might propose one day. Maybe there were a few occasions where she got lost picturing what she’d promise in her vows. They were daydreamed moments that she held to when she had a bad day or missed him too much.
Not one of them compared to the moment he got down on one knee.
There was one second between when she said yes and when he slipped the ring onto her finger that Leslie thought she simply couldn’t wait. One second where she wanted to be like Andy and April: to say screw it and get married right this minute.
But that one second’s thought was eclipsed by the ring on her finger and the knowledge of what an engagement was meant to be. It wasn’t the moment before I do; it was the road that led them there. It was the planning and the anticipation and the excitement.
And after all, what was the difference between now and later anyway?
Ben suggested May, and she agreed because there was a romance in the month that had to do with many of her best memories—graduating from college and kissing Ben for the first time and winning the election. Why not add another? They bought wedding magazines and made appointments and threw themselves into planning the best wedding ever.
In all the hubbub, Leslie couldn’t pinpoint the exact point the engagement began to feel long instead of exciting.
It was funny, really, how she’d known forever with Ben began the moment he kissed her in the smallest park. Nothing had changed that certainty, not a conversation or a ring or planning a wedding, because she’d known it then as assuredly as she knew her own name. Marrying him should have felt like a formality.
But it didn’t.
How could it be a formality when every time they discussed the wedding, her stomach flip-flopped? When she felt breathless whenever he talked about her being his wife? How could it possibly be a formality when the thought of putting a ring on his finger made something inside of her burst in excitement?
So no, she couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment she wanted to stop waiting and planning, and instead act. It was as simple as waking up one day to see him lying next to her in bed and recognizing how much she wanted him to be her husband.
“Planning a wedding is supposed to be fun.”
Ann reminded Leslie of this fact frequently. In any stressful moment, whenever Leslie got lost in the pressure, Ann breathed these words like a calming mantra. Standing in the middle of David’s Bridal, lost in a sea of tulle, definitely qualified as one of those times. Unfortunately, Ann’s de-stressing tactics weren’t living up to their usual standards. Frustrated, Leslie collapsed to the floor and hugged her knees to her chest. She could feel the saleswoman’s glare from across the room, but didn’t care. “This isn’t fun,” she argued petulantly. “I hate these dresses.”
Ann crossed her arms, giving Leslie that look she wore when she wasn’t going to put up with any bullshit. “Okay. What’s wrong?”
“I just told you. These dresses are hideous and not me and how am I supposed to marry Ben if I don’t even feel like myself?”
“We’ll find the right dress,” said Ann, showing more faith and patience than Leslie thought this process deserved. “That’s not the problem. Leslie, you’ve been calling this the wedding of the millennium. You get the dreamiest look on your face when you talk about marrying Ben. So I don’t get why you’re not having more fun doing all of this wedding stuff. I think Ben’s been more into it than you have.”
Leslie flinched, visibly enough that Ann noticed, even if she was unaware of that gut-wrenching feeling that twisted through Leslie’s whole body. Slowly, Ann sank down next to her, sitting on the ridiculous train of the wedding dress as Leslie lowered her head to rest on Ann’s shoulder. “Is that the problem?” asked Ann, hooking her arm through Leslie’s and giving her hand a firm squeeze. “Do you not want to have a wedding?”
“No, I do. I want all of our family and friends there. I want a wedding dress and a cake and a first dance. But mostly I just want to be married to Ben, and everything else seems less important compared to that.”
“Everything else is less important than that, Les. That’s why planning it shouldn’t be this stressful.”
“I just…” She trailed off, uncertain of what to say—that she wanted to get married now; that she was tired of waiting; that despite all of that, she still wanted the perfect wedding for everything it signified. To show everyone—to show Ben—that she cared as much about this marriage as anything else; that she was going to put forth the same time and energy and passion that she had with the Harvest Festival or the campaign or her park. “I want the wedding to be perfect.”
Ann shifted a bit, forcing Leslie to raise her head and meet her gaze. “Okay, first of all, it will be perfect. I can guarantee it.”
“But more importantly,” said Ann, cutting her off with a stern look, “you need to remember that it’s just a celebration. What you just said about marrying Ben—that’s the goal. Everything else is just an added bonus.”
Leslie frowned. Ann’s words rattled in her mind like a hundred disjointed puzzle pieces coming together, slowly forming a complete picture. In all of her other projects, everything else she’d worked toward, the planning and work and sleepless nights were all purposeful steps necessary to accomplish her goal. There had been little exasperation because each step brought her closer to the end result. But wedding planning was as superfluous as Ann said; it wasn’t the means to an end.
Except for a marriage license, Leslie had everything she’d ever needed to marry Ben right now.
And it was in that fact, she realized, that all of her impatience lay.
The words always slipped out of her mouth without thinking.
They came in inconsequential moments. When he kissed her in the morning or hung a picture on the wall of their new house or made her waffles for dinner.
And they came in the bigger moments, too. After successes at work or when he called her from his bachelor party.
“I wish we were getting married today.”
He’d smile—that exuberant smile that made her heart happy—and remind her it was only six, five, four months away. “I can’t wait either,” he’d say without wavering.
But if she was honest, she meant it every time.
In the pause between when Ben first proposed that they get married that night and her emphatic agreement, a thousand thoughts ran through Leslie’s mind. Fleeting anxieties over how many deposits they’d already put down and how none of his family was here and how they wouldn’t have the five hundred butterflies to be released when they kissed: infinite little reasons why she should strive for practicality. A litany of excuses for why what he suggested was too rash.
But louder and more forceful was the thought that this was everything she really wanted. This was what she’d been secretly wishing for in every impatient flicker she’d not-so-successfully repressed.
After every agonizing minute she’d ever had to wait to be with him, this was one time that she wanted to leap forward without hesitation.
Because she’d meant what she said.
She was so very tired of not being his wife.
None of those things prompted her agreement, though. It wasn’t the certainty of her own thoughts and feelings, her impatience or her desire. It wasn’t the perfection of this night or the even romance of impulsivity.
It was the look on Ben’s face.
It blossomed gradually, surpassing logic and whim and growing into a beautiful hope that lit him up from the inside. In one look, he told her that he wanted this every bit as much as she did. That he was just as ready to make official what they’d silently committed to the night they kissed in the smallest park.
And really, that was all she'd ever needed.
The word yes was scarcely out of her mouth when his lips found hers, hands cupping her cheeks as he kissed her so deeply she could feel it in her toes. In the back of her mind lay the fleeting thought that the next time he kissed her, he'd be her husband, and that knowledge was enough to make her feel like she was free-falling.
This was it. Finally.
The step forward in that long pause before forever.