Pairing: Leslie/Ben (AU)
Word Count: ~5,000 (this part)
Rating: PG-13 this part (R over all)
Timeline/Summary: Alt!Universe with Leslie as President of the USA and Ben is one of her secret service agents. (p.s. Everything I know about the Whitehouse or the Secret Service I learned from watching the West Wing and some minimal internet research. And of course it's still Parks and Leslie. A certain suspension of disbelief is warranted.)
Author's Note: Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated . . . I know, I know I owe you guys an update to Patchwork (and Hand Me Downs for those reading that), and I promise they will come. I had absolutely no intention of starting a new fic with those two still hanging out there, but I have had the longest two months at work of my life and that seemed to precipitate an unfortunate case of writers block, so when I saw this prompt and it wormed it's way into my head I was just grateful for something flowing for me. And I thought I'd do my part to help the hiatus withdrawal. Mea culpa
[This is in response to this prompt over at the leslie_ben ficathon which wanted a fic based on the lovely presidential!au graphic you see below]
image by marycrawley (tumblr)
i. march 2012
He’s reassigned to head-up her detail after her surprise wins in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. After she’s catapulted from a novelty (the small-town girl, the Midwest Governor with old-school idealism and new-school thinking) to a legitimate frontrunner, and his arrival coincides with an onslaught of new rules and less freedom. Suddenly there are a dozen people telling her how to think and how to act, to say this or watch how she says that.
But none of them are worse than Agent Wyatt.
Stupid fascist, hard-ass . . .
He’s there less than twenty-four hours before he’s reworking her entire security detail and redoing background checks on all of her staffers. (’What can you tell me about Jerry Gergich?’ Really? Really? Like Jerry’s going to turn out to be some kind of nut-job. Though now that she thinks of it . . . Whatever that’s not the point.)
The point is she can just tell that he is the enemy of all things fun and spontaneous and possibly even the American way.
“You’re a jackass!” She yells at him one afternoon when she’s finally had enough. Enough of debate prep, and modulating her answers, and quotes being taken out of context. And she can’t snap at the media or her campaign staff, but she can snap a little at him, dogging his heels as he’s running the preliminary security checks for a campaign stop.
“Ma’am, you need to be back on the bus.”
“And you need to listen to me. These are all my friends. They’ve been with me forever, and I don’t know you. You can’t just come in here treating them like criminals. These are real people on a real campaign with real feelings!”
He doesn’t even look at her, just keeps scanning the perimeter. “Your campaign has feelings?”
Because she can’t think of an adequately pithy response at the moment, she glares up at him through narrowed eyes and snaps, “Is that earpiece even real?”
“Sorry?” he asks, arching one skeptical eyebrow just above the rim of his aviator sunglasses that must be standard issue when he gets out of Secret Service school or wherever it is they grow dark-suited stick in the muds.
And if she had to make a list of all the things she dislikes about Agent ‘No-First-Name-Given’ Wyatt (and it would be a long extensive list trust her on this) number one, right at the top, would be the fact she’s never once seen his eyes.
She couldn’t explain to you why that bothers her so much.
“I bet you just wear it to look impressive so that we all jump whenever you say jump. I bet there’s not even anyone on the other end of that thing.” Without thinking she reaches up to grab his earbud, and—
Holy shit his reflexes are fast.
There’s nothing threatening about his grip on her wrist. It’s not even hard, not really. If anything it’s surprisingly gentle, but there’s a thread of steel underneath and the whole effect is startling enough that when he pulls her over to side of the bus, she follows with minimal protest.
He positions them with her back to the bus and his body between hers and the outside world in a way that’s automatic, reflexive. Whether or not he’s conscious of the fact it also has the effect of making her feel like she’s a school child about to be scolded, she doesn’t know but she’s not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Governor Knope, whatever you think, I didn’t ask for this assignment and I’m not creating these security problems. You are. Your campaign is.”
“My campaign-” she splutters indignant now, but he just rolls right over her.
“Yes your campaign. You know you may be one of the most brilliant political minds I’ve ever seen, but security-wise you and your staff might as well be running for student-council. You have no regard for your personal safety. You can’t have an open door policy on a campaign trail. You can’t suddenly decide to stop for waffles and not expect us to clear the restaurant. And you can’t and I really cannot emphasize this enough, you can’t keep inviting protesters who try to handcuff themselves to your bus to ‘ride along for a few stops.’”
“He was a sweet man, and you know we convinced him--”
“Governor!” he cuts her off in exasperation, “You’re the first true single female presidential candidate this country has ever had, that alone makes you an increased security target. This is before we get to your politics or your late husband’s military record. To expect us not to treat you like you’re a special case? I’m sorry ma’am but that’s just naïve.”
She swallows a little at that because honestly it’s been awhile since anyone not on her staff has spoken to her quite so bluntly, and even then that’s really only Ann and Ron. It occurs to her that Dave would have liked him. Would have probably even agreed with him. But then Dave always did worry about her first and everything else second. That’s what made them such a great team. She worried about the world and he worried about her. And even though it’s been two years since Dave was killed in action, she’s still not in the habit of doing his part for herself again.
But she doesn’t say any of that of course. Instead what she says is, “Well maybe I just have more faith in the American people that you do. You know some people still believe there’s good in this country.”
That makes his mouth tighten in a thin hard line and absurdly she thinks she might have hurt his feelings, until she remember he’s a robot. Robots don’t have feelings.
With a small curt nod of his head he takes half a step back. “Have all the faith you want ma’am. Just don’t expect me to let faith alone protect you.”
Before she can even come up with a good response, he holds up a hand, gestures over to one of the other agents, and steps away. Leaving her to be shadowed for the rest of the afternoon by a lithe, dark-haired young agent, with a face even blanker than Agent Turd-boy. And god, she can’t possibly even be out of college yet.
“Are you actually old enough to drink?”
“I can’t believe they issued you a firearm.”
“I stole it.”
“Are you really going to take a bullet for me?”
“I’m still deciding.”
She adds this to the list of things she’s holding against Agent Wyatt. And no the fact that he called her ‘one of the most brilliant political minds I’ve ever seen’ does not in any way help his standing.
Particularly since she spills her coffee all over her favorite red suit when that part of his tirade finally sinks in.
Just for that, she asks him to pick up her dry-cleaning on principle.
And even though she never intended him to take it seriously, the fact he doesn’t even miss a beat in scanning the crowd as he’s refusing, kind of irks her.
It is possible she lets herself get a little bit carried away in expressing her dislike for Agent Wyatt. But he’s coming to represent all of the parts of this campaign she doesn’t enjoy, and maybe there’s a piece of her that looks at him standing there everyday and sees her life for the next four years if she wins. Not her own, not ever again. And maybe there’s a piece of her that finds that terrifying.
But really it’s mostly his fault. Come on, those sunglasses alone are irritating and his face is terrible, and don’t even get her started on his lack of a first name--
“Just let the man do his job, Leslie.” Ron, her chief of staff tells her a dozen times a day. “There’s no reason to fight him. All he wants is to ensure your safety.”
“You just like him because he carries a gun.”
“There is something very trustworthy about a man who both carries a gun and can use it with impressive and deadly force.”
“You’ve seen him shoot?”
“In Chicago, he took me with him to one of the ranges they have there.”
Dangit, she can tell just by the look on Ron’s face that Agent Wyatt has won him over with the cheap thrill of target practice at a Secret Service shooting range. Help will no longer be coming from that quarter. Damn Ron Swanson and his childish weakness for firearms.
She sighs anticipating where this is going. “Tell me you didn’t ask him to go camping after the campaign.”
Ron frowns. “He said he didn’t like sleeping on the floor.”
Leslie has to laugh at that, a momentary glimmer of hope that the agent’s obvious distaste for the outdoors will outweigh his proficiency with firearms in Ron Swanson’s estimation. But in the end she fails to anticipate Wyatt’s trump card –her safety.
“Look it’s pointless to fight him, and while I would be more than happy if you let this convince you to withdraw your name tomorrow so that we no longer have to engage in this pointless spectacle and I could go fishing, you’d likely accompany me and scare all the fish away with your discontent. So just go do what you always do. Count backwards from a thousand by sevens and think of warm brownies.”
In the end Leslie does exactly that. Draws herself a warm bath and pours half a glass of red wine and counts. But when she’s on three hundred and fourteen, she hears Agent Wyatt’s voice low and soft, just outside the door as he finishes his sweep of her hotel room. “Diaphena’s in for the night.”
And she loses count.
Even though this isn’t a new procedure, for some reason tonight she is suddenly acutely aware of it. Of him. Of the peculiar and unfamiliar sensation of man’s presence not more than ten feet away as she lies naked in the bath tub . . .
Okay, she’s obviously crossed over into the celibacy induced hysteria that Ann keeps warning her about.
Closing her eyes she exhales a little letting the warmth of the bath relax her muscles, as she tries to focus instead on reviewing her morning speech to the teacher’s union.
But her mind keeps wandering back to the man outside her door and what little she knows about Diaphena in mythology.
As codenames go it’s wonderfully flattering.
Obviously someone other than Agent Wyatt came up with it.
ii. july 2012
It's not until a month before the convention that everything changes.
It starts with Ann getting another phone call from her ex.
Ann Perkins is, by the way, the world’s best and most beautiful press secretary and Leslie’s very favorite person, but honestly her taste in men leaves something to be desired. This is call number ninety-three from Mark, and really what part of ‘national campaign’ and ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ was so hard to understand the first ninety-two times?
Leslie being the awesome best-friend that she is, just wants to do what any good girlfriend would and take Ann out for a night on the town.
Of course Agent Hard-Ass screws everything up and insists on clearing the bar.
In case you’re wondering, the only thing more depressing than not going out and having fun after your ex calls, it is trying to go out and have fun after your ex calls only to be stuck in a completely empty bar . . .
And may it’s not the smartest idea, but getting drunk is pretty much the only option they’re left with.
After all it’s not like there’s anyone around to see.
“You know, no one wants you here!” Leslie yells at him between her second and third shot, kneeling up on the couch just in case he didn’t hear her the first time. “Nobody here likes you. I know I just talked to everyone in this bar.
Agent Wyatt doesn’t even blink at the onslaught (at least she assumes he doesn’t, stupid sunglasses) just casts his gaze around the vacant space. “That must have taken quite awhile, ma’am.”
He says it as flatly as he says everything else without a trace of irony, but there’s maybe the twitch of what might be a smile at the corner of his mouth.
Ann sniggers under her breath.
Leslie gapes and then takes another shot before deciding it was probably a trick of the light.
Now, Leslie is many things—she is ambitious and dedicated and politically savvy. She is the first female Governor of Indiana with an impressive track record on economic development and education.
She is not however a particularly pleasant drunk.
“Your face is awful.”
“Yes ma’am.” Agent Wyatt responds automatically, and it’s obvious he isn’t even paying attention as he maneuvers her out of the hotel staff elevator and down the hallway to her room.
It’s infuriating being dismissed like this, and it’s made even more so by the fact that every once in awhile she gets the distinct impression he might actually be amused by her. Except she can’t tell because of those ridiculous sunglasses! And really who wears sunglasses indoors anyway? It seems incredibly pretentious, like central casting's idea of a Secret Service Agent (Except he is decidedly not anyone's idea of a Secret Service Agent. Seriously he's like what? Barely 150 pounds soaking wet.)
Spinning around in front of her hotel room door, she plants her feet firmly (or as firmly as she can manage anything right now which granted isn’t all that firmly), and stares him down. “Those sunglasses make you look stupid, you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he murmurs, reaching past her to open the door.
The sudden absence of physical support makes her stumble backwards into the room and it’s only Agent Wyatt’s hand materializing on the small of her back that keeps her from falling flat on her ass.
And for a moment she can’t for the life of her remember what she was going to say.
He recovers first, and before she can find her voice again steps away with a cough. “Perhaps you should get to bed, ma’am.”
“You go to bed,” she retorts, dazzling him with her wit. Take that Agent Smart-ass. Just to seal the deal she spins away on her heel with a flourish.
This proves to be a mistake.
“Oh, watch out.”
“The floor and the wall just switched.”
“Okay.” His hand returns to the small of her back. “Why don’t we just--”
But by this point she remembers what she’d intended to say at the door before he made everything go squishy, and turns in his grip to face him. “You know I’m not entirely convinced you have eyes.”
“Sorry ma’am,” she mimics back, “Eyes I don’t think you have them. I mean I’ve never seen them. For all I know they’re scaly or cats eyes, or you’re like that guy from that movie with the team of superheroes . . .”
“No that’s not it. There’s lots of them and he shoots laser beams out of his eyes so he always has to wear sunglasses, and he can’t look at you--”
“No, hold on I’ll think of it,” she gnaws at her lip thinking, then shakes her head when it won’t come to her. “Whatever, the point is I’ve never seen your eyes and I don’t think you have them and I can’t trust someone who doesn’t have eyes. I mean for all I know you’re blind and what kind of protection are you offering me then? Hmmmm?”
“You know the Secret Service has a very stringent minimum visual acuity requirement.”
“Well I’m still not entirely sure I trust them yet either, so I’m going to need to--” she reaches up to his sunglasses, only remembering at the last minute what happened when she tried to remove his earbud.
But this time he makes no move to stop her, just stays preternaturally still while her fingers fumble clumsily at his temples, and weirdly she finds herself holding her breath as she slips the glasses off his face, and—
“Oh,” she exhales softly, “Oh they’re nice.”
They are. His eyes are very nice. They’re soft and brown and surprisingly kind. And for some reason she finds this ten-times more shocking than if they actually did shoot laser beams.
He’s younger than she first thought, early forties, maybe even late-thirties, with a boyish, slightly self-conscious quality that she never expected, and the whole effect is hard to reconcile with the man who’s been making her life so difficult. His mouth quirks again, and without his glasses she can see the way it becomes a full-fledged smile in his eyes, transforming his entire face. “No scales?”
“No, no scales,” she replies, licking her lips self-consciously.
His gaze flicks briefly down to her mouth, then back up. “No laser beams.”
She laughs a little, thready and breathless. “No laser beams.”
“Good,” he murmurs softly, then seems to recall himself and removes his hand from her waist with a slight frown. The way she feels the absence of it is almost more confusing than its presence.
“I suppose it’s still too much to hope that you’ll trust me now?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Okay, I guess we’ll have to call that progress.” Gently he reaches out to pluck the sunglasses from her hands. But he doesn’t immediately slip them back on and when he steps away, he’s still this strange new creature she wasn’t prepared for, and something about it pulls her forward half a step.
“That was the name of the movie, the X-men.”
That makes his mouth quirk again. She likes it. “Yes ma’am.” He slips his glasses back on and steps to the door. “Good night ma’am.”
“Good night Agent Cyclops.”
Leslie wakes the next morning with a small hangover, and no little embarrassment at her behavior. Makes a mental note to add ‘girls nights out’ to the ever-growing list of things she’s going to have to give up if she wins this election.
And then because she needs to do it, needs to remind herself why all the sacrifice is worth it, she sits down at her desk and pulls out the box filled with scraps of paper covered in Dave’s big loopy handwriting.
He was always doing that from the very first time they met (an altercation between the campus woman’s group she was leading and his ROTC unit over something she can barely remember now). Scribbling things down on whatever spare piece of paper happened to be available—taking notes on things she said, people she mentioned or ideas she had. Admitted once in that sweetly self-effacing way he had that he did it in an effort to impress her. That he’d take them to the library and do research on whatever she had talked about at their last date, so he could make an intelligent comment about it at their next.
It became their thing. Their habit. Moments of their life together documented scraps of paper. And when Leslie was trying to decide if a run for the governor’s mansion was really worth it, it was Dave who pulled out the box and showed her, in her own words, all the reasons it was. Every issue and injustice and idea that riled her up, got her going.
Slowly she goes through it, bit by bit, problem by problem, idea by idea. Until she remembers why she wants to do this. Why she needs to. Until she can see herself once again through the lens of Dave’s unfaltering admiration, so much smarter and stronger and braver than she feels right now.
And then for some reason it makes her think of Agent Wyatt. How he somehow always makes her feel the exact opposite just by the simple fact of his existence. Logically she knows it’s unfair, but there’s something about his determination to protect her that makes her feel like she needs the protection, makes her feel delicate and fragile and easily broken, until she’s fighting him tooth and nail just in an effort to prove him wrong.
She thinks of her behavior last night, and how disappointed Dave would have been in her for it and feels slightly ashamed.
Shutting the box she tucks it back in her desk and resolves to apologize first thing.
Of course he has to go and make that difficult, too. She even makes an effort to seek him out. Has young female agent (whose first name is apparently April. See how hard was that?), take her over to the hotel room they’re using as a base of operations for the moment.
But he just brushes off her attempts with a brusque, “Don’t worry about it,” and a perfunctory “If that’s all ma’am,” before turning his attention back to a stack of reports. And his attitude is such a hairpin turn from last night that it feels like a slap in the face.
Because granted her memory may be a little fuzzy, but she thought they’d come to at least a kind of understanding. This feels like someone pressed the reset button. Hard.
Still she takes a deep breath and tries to rise above, to think of this as an exercise in diplomacy, of him as some upstart little despot just flexing his muscles.
“Look, obviously you saw a less than flattering side of me, and maybe I was just a little worked up because you’re taking away every last bit of normalcy I have.”
“With all due-respect ma’am, you’re running for President. You gave up the possibility of a normal life the moment you announced. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“You know I don’t appreciate your tone or your attitude.”
“Well, you’re free to request a new detail.”
And he sounds so flippant about it that, she completely loses it. “You know just because you hold my life in your hands like a tiny baby bird, doesn’t mean you have the right to act like a superior ass. I’m sorry if I don’t have this all figured out yet. But you know nobody gave me training on how to be protected. You just show up and change everything and expect me to be fine with it. But I’m not. I’m not fine with it at all. It’s a huge change. Because I’m sorry, but I miss being able to talk to strangers on the street that’s who I am. I like to talk to strangers and eat waffles in an all night diner with real people, and coffee, I miss being able to get coffee!!”
Okay, so maybe diplomacy is one of those things they’re going to need to keep working on.
For a moment Agent Wyatt just looks at her, like he’s not quite sure she’s real. Like he’s still a little bit convinced this assignment is some elaborate practical joke and he just can’t find the hidden camera. Then without saying a word, he gets up and goes over to the coffee machine they have set up on the dresser. Pours two mugs and brings one back over to her.
“This isn’t what I meant when I said I miss being able to get coffee.”
“I know. You just looked like you could use some.” He murmurs, pulling his chair out from the table he’d been using as a desk and brings it around.
For some reason it isn’t until he sits back down directly across from her that she realizes he isn’t wearing his aviators. The sight of his eyes feels strangely intimate all of the sudden and before she can stop herself she’s babbling all over again. “I mean, of course I can get coffee. People bring me coffee all the time. I just mean--”
“Governor,” he cuts her off, “I understood what you meant.”
She forces herself to take a sip and then another, just to forestall her words until she can reign them in. Finally, after a long moment she asks the question that’s been bugging her for awhile. “Do you really think I’m naïve?”
Agent Wyatt looks down at the mug in his hands for long moment, circling his thumb around the rim contemplatively. Finally he says, “I think you are a woman who wants to believe the best in everyone, it's incredibly rare in someone who has risen as high as you have, and when I first met you . . . Yes, I thought there was something a little naïve about that.”
“Now. Well, now I think you believe the best in people because you bring that out in those around you. It’s not naiveté if it’s empirically valid in your experience. But-” he sighs and stops.
“But what?” she presses.
“Ma’am, my job isn’t to protect you from those people. It’s my job to protect you from people who will have never met you. Who will hate you irrationally and without cause. Who will hate you not for who you are but what you stand for. For the simple fact you exist. Who will hate for reasons which only make sense to them or no sense at all. Now maybe I’ve been a little insensitive to how difficult this shift in thinking must be for you, but please believe me when I say I am doing my best not to restrict your life any more than is necessary.”
His words send a chill through her. Leslie has never been comfortable with the idea of hate. It’s not something that comes naturally to her, and as a consequence she has a hard time grasping its existence in others. But there’s a sharp-edged intensity in Wyatt’s voice that says he’s seen it, up close and personal, that seems to conjure it from thin air, until it’s an unseen presence in the room with them, and her only choice is fear or derision.
So she chooses derision.
“Yeah, but that bar last night. Come on you have to admit that was a little excessive.”
He sighs and drops his head in exasperation. “Governor . . . “
“I mean have you ever even been in a situation where you had to draw your weapon.”
His face tightens in a way that telegraphs his response even before he gives it. “I have actually.”
That makes her blink in surprise, because she feels like she would have remembered an assassination attempt. “When? Where?”
“About twelve years ago. Partridge, Minnesota.”
It takes her minute to place the reference, and then she does. The Ice Town shooting. It wasn’t the President, but the President’s youngest son, away at college. He hadn’t even been the target, just at the wrong club, at the wrong time while on spring break with his girlfriend.
“You were there?”
Wyatt nods. “I was. I was about a year out of training. They assigned me to his detail because I looked young and was from the area, so I could blend. The idea was to give him as normal a college experience as possible, so there was a lot of adjustment to standard protocol. Still . . .”
“There was something wrong there. It was a feeling more than anything, but-”
“You blame yourself.”
“They train us to pay attention to our instincts. I ignored mine that night because I was young and new and didn’t want to ruin my protectee’s evening on a hunch.”
“But he’s fine. He’s running for congress,” she protests. Something dark flickers through Agent Wyatt’s eyes, and she swallows hard.
“How close was it?”
“Closer than the media reported. Closer than it should have been.” He finishes off his coffee in one long draw and stands. “I’m sorry if your protection detail feels restrictive, but I’d very much like to never have to write a report like that again.”
She forces herself to sit with that awhile, to absorb the reality of it and not brush it off before she finally speaks.
“I understand, really I do. But I need you to understand that I just can’t live my life feeling like I’m in hiding. There’s got to be a balance somewhere. I’ll do my best to try to accept this all with more grace and curb the spontaneity, but I need to be able to interact with the world.”
He looks at her as if deciding how much he believes her, then nods. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you,” she stands and starts to make her way out then turns back. “Listen about last night. I’m not usually like- I would appreciate it if--”
“Governor. I said don’t worry about it earlier because I meant it. My only concern is keeping you safe. There’s no reason for you to feel like you need to be on your best behavior around me. In fact there’s very little reason for you to think about me at all. I’m nothing more than shadow. Whatever I see or hear will never be talked about or remarked upon and I assure you my opinion means next to nothing particularly since I’m the only who will ever know it.”
“It means something to me.”
For some reason that makes him drop his head almost as if in embarrassment, and he fumbles a little with the pen on his desk before looking up again. “Well, I appreciate that ma’am.”
“So, you’ve probably seen a lot of this. How am I doing, so far?”
His smile is brief and small, but it’s a beautiful thing all the same.
“You’re doing fine ma’am. You’re doing just fine.”