fearlessfan: (Leslie Ann Icon)
[personal profile] fearlessfan
Title: Flying Solo
Fandom/Pairing: Parks and Recreation, Ann/Leslie
Rating: PG
Summary: Ann figures out why things never worked out with Mark.
Spoilers: Takes place after the second season finale.
Length: 10,200 words
Notes: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lavender_basil for the awesome beta!


"Ann, what's up?" Andy says, and it's not what he says but how he says it. The tone of his voice, the set of his shoulders - all of it radiates the same disappointed wariness Ann felt every time he showed up unexpectedly after their breakup.

"Hey, Andy." More than anything Ann wants to keep walking, all the way to the courtyard outside Leslie's office where she's supposed to meet her for lunch. She stops by the shoeshine stand because Pawnee is a smallish city, she's known Andy for years, and eventually they're going to have to get to the other side of this awkwardness. She nods toward his foot. "How are you feeling? That was a pretty bad fall you took the other day."

"I'm fine, just a little banged up." Andy shifts his weight in the shoeshine chair, leaning on his right elbow, away from her. Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but it sure seems like he's afraid she's going to lean over and plant one on him again. "Thought I'd come in, see if I could see . . . you know, people. It's been pretty quiet, though."

Ann gives Andy a long look. "That's probably because the government is shut down."

"Yeah, but I didn't think it would mean no one would show up to work. Leslie's here."

"Leslie's not your average Pawnee city employee," Ann says, but Andy isn't really listening. He's watching the door Ann walked through a minute ago, which has opened and shut again at the end of the hall, but apparently hasn't revealed what Andy was hoping to see. "Are you waiting for someone?"

"Waiting for someone? No. Definitely not." Andy scratches the side of his face. "Well. Maybe."

"What's going on, Andy?"

Andy looks up at her, then away again. He wants to tell her something, but feels like he shouldn't. She remembers the routine well, from incidents like the time he let an old bandmate with body lice take a nap in their bed while she was at work. "I don't know if I can talk about this with you."

"I know we had a-" Ann can't figure out how to describe it - mortifying? Embarrassing? Humiliating? "-weird moment the other day, but I hope you know that you can trust me."

"I know that." Andy says it like it's a common-sense, of-course thing. "It's just that I'm not sure if it would be cool for me to talk about this with you. Since, you know. You're into me."

Ann closes her eyes. Her mortification could not be more complete. "Andy-"

"It's okay, Ann, I understand," Andy says. "I've been there. Whoa-ho-ho, have I ever been there!"

"Andy, really-"

"I don't want to put you in an awkward position, or make you feel bad, or any of that stuff," Andy says.

Ann knows that he means it. Andy can be selfish, and oblivious, and immature, but he's not capable of deliberately hurting someone. It's part of what made him so easy to love and hard to leave.

"What happened in the hospital, it was just - I've been going through some stuff lately and seeing you hurt was kind of scary, it brought some feelings back momentarily." Ann puts a lot of emphasis on the last word. "I'm not pining away for you or anything."

"Are you sure? Because pining sucks," Andy says, with the vehemence of one who's spent a lot of time doing it.

"I'm positive. What's going on?"

Andy tells her. He begins with, "I think I did something stupid," which Ann's heard many times before, and ends with, "So April won't call me back or see me or anything, so I guess I pretty much ruined it. Or whatever.”

Ann tries to figure out what to say, but before she can, Andy's head snaps up at the sound of the City Hall door opening again. Ann doesn't have to look over her shoulder to check to see if April walked through them; Andy's disappointed face says it all.

- - -

Ann ends up with a rotten-feeling hangover from her run-in with Andy. It's the only explanation for the irritation she feels when she sees Ben Wyatt sitting in Leslie's office, because Leslie doesn't seem bothered. She's going on about something in that energized way that always accompanies a new idea.

Ben sits in the chair across from Leslie shaking his head, but Leslie isn't deterred. As Ann gets closer, she hears Leslie say, "Come on, Ben, admit it. It's a great idea."

"It is a great idea," Ben says. "If the city had any money."

"I have a plan for that." Leslie turns to dig into one of her drawers. Tom's apparently the one who keeps their office organized; in the days since the shutdown, Leslie's office has started to accumulate piles of papers and folders and newspapers on every available surface. It looks alarmingly like Leslie's living room. "I had it just a second ago - hold on -"

Ben raises an eyebrow, but he doesn't say anything rude about how long it's taking Leslie to find what she's looking for. Ann realizes that the quirk of his mouth as he watches Leslie move one precariously-balanced stack of folders from her desk onto the floor isn't a smirk of judgment, but something closer to affection. It should make Ann's irritation go away, but it doesn't. Instead it makes Ann feel funny about standing there unnoticed, and so she knocks on the doorjamb.

Ben looks over sharply, "Hey, Ann."

Leslie's head pops up. "Ann!"

"Hey," Ann says, holding up the bag from Archer's Deli. "I've got lunch."

"Can we pick this up later?" Leslie asks Ben, but she's already shutting the drawers to her desk. "I can pull that stuff together and bring it over this afternoon."

"Sure." Ben gets up and turns to Ann with a sigh. "Listen, Chris made me promise that if I saw you, I would ask -"

Ann knows where this is going. "He's wondering if I got his messages."

"Yes," Ben says, clearly relieved to be spared saying the rest.

"The last few days have been really crazy," Ann says. "Lots going on, really, just - stuff happening. You know how it is. Tell him I'm sorry."

"Okay." Ben nods and makes his way to the door. He stops at the last second to look back at Leslie. "Let me know when you find that folder."

"Will do," Leslie says, turning to Ann with a big smile. "Salad time?"

It takes Leslie less than two minutes to ask Ann about the Chris thing, just enough time for them to make their way to the courtyard and unpack, mix, and spread dressing on their salads. "What's going on with Chris?"

There are a lot of answers Ann could give to this: She's worked the equivalent of four and a half shifts in the last three days; she still hasn't recovered from the embarrassment of whatever happened between her and Chris in the club; she's been trying to decide whether to buy a new car. Lots on her mind.

What she says is, "I kissed Andy. And kind of ruined his life."

"You what?" Leslie's fork stops mid-way to her mouth, a pile of greens and dressing and thinly-sliced almonds balancing precariously on its plastic tines.

"I did." Ann pushes her salad aside so she can put her head on the picnic table, grateful that the courtyard is empty except for them. "I can't believe it, but I totally did."

"Oh my God." Leslie takes a sharp breath. "Do you have feelings for him? Is that why you and Mark broke up?"

"No." Ann opens her eyes. The wood of the picnic table is evenly-stained, well-maintained. Leslie probably weatherproofed it before the winter. "Andy and I were a disaster by the end. I don't know why I did it. I think there's something wrong with me."

"Ann," Leslie says, and there's something comforting just in the way Leslie says her name, so much concern and affection in one syllable. Even better is the pressure of Leslie's hand in the middle of her back a moment later, sure and steady between her shoulder blades. Before Ann can get used to it, Leslie's hand falls away. "There's nothing wrong with you."

"No, seriously." Ann sits up. Her head feels funny; she's pretty sure the grain of the table left an imprint in her forehead, but Leslie doesn't break eye contact to look at it. "There's something going on with me. As a general rule, I don't go around kissing random guys."

"Andy isn't random."

"But Chris?"

"Okay, Chris kind of is," Leslie says. "But he's also insanely good-looking, like a cartoon prince or something. That's a mitigating factor. So is the fact that you've been working constantly, and you just broke up with Mark. You need to cut yourself some slack."

Ann rubs her fingers across her forehead. She wants to believe what Leslie is saying, but she knows it isn't true. She's not sure when the strange restlessness at the core of her showed up, but she knows it's there, knows it's at the root of all the weird stuff she's been doing. What she can't do is explain it.

"What happened with Andy? Why do you think you ruined his life?"

"Andy told April about what happened, and now she won't talk to him, and so he's all heartbroken." Ann remembers Andy's face when he looked away from the door to City Hall. "Really heartbroken."

"Oh, Andy," Leslie says, in a tone that's disappointed, but unsurprised. "She's been crazy about him for ages."

"I know," Ann says. "Which makes what I did so much worse."

Leslie doesn't say anything in response. In fact, it's like she hasn't really heard Ann; she's looking off into the distance. The wind blows her hair around, leaving a lock of her hair parted to the wrong side, sticking up funny. Ann should tell her to fix it - Leslie doesn't get touchy about things like that - but what she really wants to do is reach over and put it back into place herself.

Leslie snaps back to attention before Ann can indulge another embarrassing impulse, pushing her hair back in place herself. "Don't worry, Ann. We are going to fix this."

"I don't know if we can."

"Oh, we can. And we will." Leslie picks up her fork again, shovels a mouthful of salad in her mouth and chews thoughtfully. "And we're going to get you back on track."


Leslie stabs her fork in Ann's direction. "No dissent. Normally I'm in favor of dissent - it's part of what makes America great - but this picnic table, this friendship, is not a democracy. I'm declaring a dictatorship here - until further notice, this friendship is under my sole direction."

Ann can't help smiling. "Is it now?"

"Don't doubt my authority because I just made it up. Edict One is for you to eat your salad," Leslie says, pointing at Ann's mostly-untouched lunch. "Speaking of the salad, was Louise on at Archer's today? Because this is awesome."

"Louise was there." Ann picks up her fork and takes a bite. "What is it with her? It's just salad, but it's somehow better whenever she makes it."

"I know, right? I feel like I should tell her to go on Top Chef or something, but then what would we do for lunch?" Leslie takes another bite, looks up into the bright sunlight, then back at Ann. "Hey, did I tell you what happened with Jerry the other day? The Terri Toner thing?"

Ann shakes her head, and Leslie launches into a story involving Jerry and a delivery of supportive undergarments to the office just before the shutdown. The story itself is nothing special, just Typical Jerry, but Leslie tells it like it's the greatest story she's ever heard: really selling the big moments with expansive hand gestures and an impressive approximation of Jerry's voice when he discovered why the toner he'd ordered had asked for a size instead of a copier model number.

Ann is laughing by the end of it, which leaves Leslie with a satisfied expression as she packs her lunch stuff up. "I feel like my taking the helm of this friendship is working out already. You seem like you're in a better mood."

"Yeah," Ann says. "You're good at that."

- - - -

Leslie's not kidding about taking charge; Ann gets a text from Leslie twenty minutes after they leave the courtyard, just as she's walking into her house. It reads, check your email. A second text comes a few seconds after that: if you're not busy, that is.

Ann texts back, Dictators don't consult the schedules of their subjects.

Leslie responds, good point.

Leslie has forwarded her a website called Flying Solo, which has an image of a woman standing at the top of a cliff wearing a serene smile. A tag line floats in beneath her in blue text that reads, Letting go of the past. Soaring into the future.

It's exactly the kind of thing Ann would usually roll her eyes at, and exactly the kind of thing she knows Leslie would legitimately love, as her e-mail proves.


You know I'm kidding about the dictatorship thing, but I really think looking at this could be helpful. I know breaking up with Mark was really hard, and this website really helped me earlier this year.

I was thinking tonight could be a movie night. You busy?


P.S. There's nothing wrong with you.

Ann reads the e-mail more than once, because some parts of it are easy to answer (Movie sounds great, come over whenever), other parts less so. She starts typing out the truth, a whole mess of things, like:

I think there is something wrong with me. Or something different. Or something weird. I don't know. I mean, I haven't missed Mark much at all, and I think that's pretty messed up.


You know that feeling when you go into another room and forget why you went in there? My whole life feels like that lately, has for a while, and I don't know why.

She can't even let herself type the rest of that thought: The only time it goes away is when I'm with you.

She erases all of that and decides to go with just the stuff about the movie and a thank you for the website, which sits open in another browser window. Ann hovers over the Start the Journey entrance link for a few seconds, because she knows a lot of earnest ridiculousness will follow. But she also knows that Leslie will ask her if she's checked it out when she comes over later, and if Ann had to make a list of her least favorite things, Leslie's disappointed face would be near the top of it. And so she clicks on the link, starts the journey.

- - - -

Leslie shows up at six with a couple of DVDs and two bags of food, Chinese takeout in one and ice cream in the other.

"I could have made something," Ann says, taking the bags. "You didn't have to pick this up."

"Who's in charge here?" Leslie walks toward the kitchen, where she starts to pull down plates from the cupboard and silverware out of the drawers. "Hey, did you check out that thing I sent you?"

"I did," Ann says, lining up the cardboard containers on the table. "You know, I didn't realize that it's a two-week program."

"Give or take. I got really into it and finished it in one," Leslie says, handing Ann a plate. "You know how I went on that poetry-reading kick a few months ago? It came out of that website, by the end of it I realized that I didn't spend enough time engaging with the arts. Did you figure out your goals? That's the first thing, right?"

"It is, and I did. First is to stop kissing random guys."

"Nice, concrete goal. Totally doable. Anything else?"

"Just figure out what's going on with me, I guess." Ann shrugs and starts spooning things onto her plate. "What movies did you bring? Or do I only get to find out once the credits start rolling?"

"Funny story about the movies: I wanted to bring over some empowering movies for two strong, independent women like ourselves to appreciate, but you know what? It's really hard to find one where all of the ladies make it out alive."

"Is it?" Ann starts running through the list of possibilities in her head. "You're totally right. It is hard."

"Beaches, Fried Green Tomatoes, Thelma and Louise," Leslie lists, adding more food to her plate with every movie name. "How weird is that? Anyway, I found a couple that are empowering with a low body count."

That night they watch Legally Blonde, sitting side-by-side on the couch, both of them with their feet up on the coffee table. Ann changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt after she got home, but Leslie is wearing dressy pants and a button-down blouse because she came to Ann's house straight from work. After the movie ends and the credits are rolling, Ann bumps Leslie's foot with hers. "Still dressing up even though everything's shut down?"

Leslie shrugs. "It feels weird to be at work in anything else."

"How long do you think this will last?"

Leslie reaches over for the Redi-Whip Ann placed on the coffee table when they shifted from dinner to dessert, sprays some extra onto her bowl of mostly-melted ice cream. "It could be a while. It's a pretty big mess."

"I'm sure you'll figure it out," Ann says. "You always do."

Ann waits for Leslie's usual cheerful agreement, but it doesn't come. When Ann looks over, Leslie is stirring the whipped cream into her melted ice cream, creating a disgusting, odd-colored mess. Finally Leslie sighs, and looks up. "The thing with Freddy Spaghetti, that went really well, right?"

"It was fantastic," Ann says. "You should be really proud."

Leslie spoons some of the melted mess into her mouth and Ann tries not to grimace; Leslie seems to like it well enough, has another spoonful before she says, "I have some ideas for other stuff we could do, even with the government shut down, but the more I look at things, the more it looks like people might lose their jobs. And that really stinks. I mean, what's Jerry going to do if he loses his job? Who's ever going to hire him? He can't even order toner."

Ann wants to say that she knows it'll be okay, that it'll all work out, that it won't be that bad, but she's not sure about any of that. But there is one thing she's sure of, and she decides to go with that. "It's true that things are really bad right now. But I also know that you're crazy smart and creative and if anyone can figure a way out of this, it's you."

Leslie looks over at Ann. "Aww, Ann."

"No, it's true! You're, like, the Elle Woods of Pawnee. Running around making things better for everyone, never giving up, coming up with solutions no one else would ever think of." Ann catches Leslie rolling her eyes and reaches over to grab her arm. "Leslie, I'm serious. If anyone can do this, you can. And if things don't work out the way you want them to, it won't be your fault."

Leslie stirs the gross mixture some more. "So I'm Elle Woods, huh?"

"Totally Elle Woods," Ann says. "Though I don't think Elle would ever eat that gross concoction."

"What?" Leslie says, eating another spoonful. "It's good!"

Ann makes an inarticulate noise of disgust, since no word appears powerful enough to express how disgusting she finds what Leslie's eating, which makes Leslie laugh. Ann points to the kitchen. "You are aware that there's more ice cream, right? You don't have to eat that. In fact, please don't."

"I like it," Leslie says. "Do you know what else I like? You."

It's not exactly breaking news; if Ann had been asked point-blank by anyone, does Leslie like you? She would have said yes, of course; they're friends, probably best friends. But for some reason hearing Leslie say it out loud right now feels different, like the words somehow mean something different, have more weight. When she looks over, Leslie isn't looking at her. She's stirring her bowl again, and her hair has fallen forward so Ann can't see her face.

Ann sits for a moment, waits for Leslie to look over, but she doesn't. Finally Ann bumps shoulders with her, uses the distraction to reach over and grab the bowl out of Leslie's hands, and just before she gets up, she says, "I like you too."

- - - -

The next section on the Flying Solo website asks Ann about her most recent relationship, mostly questions Ann's spent a lot of time considering already. She knows the answers to most of them without thinking too much, others are more difficult. She spends ten minutes staring at a blinking cursor considering:

Why do you think your most recent relationship failed?

She wants to call Leslie to figure out the answer, which is ridiculous, but calling Leslie is always her first potential solution to a problem, the first thing she does when almost anything happens. When she was up for a promotion a few months ago - one she didn't get - the conversation she had with Mark about it went like this:

"Hey, so I got the list of people they're considering for the nurse manager position, and guess who's on it?"

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's Ms. Ann Perkins," Mark said, in that easy way he had. It was quiet on his end of the line, nothing like the hum of activity surrounding Ann where she sat in the hospital's break room. "That's so great, Ann."

"It's still a longshot, but it's pretty - hang on." Ann took the phone away from her ear, saw Leslie's grinning face on the display. "That's Leslie beeping in."

"Go, we can talk about this later," Mark said. "She'll be so excited to hear about it, you know how she gets."

Ann did know, because she'd already told her; Leslie was the first person she called when she got the news. "I can just-"

"We'll talk later," Mark said, and hung up before Ann could say anything back.

Six weeks later, Ann sits at her computer, stares at the blinking cursor, types, He was never my first phone call.

- - - -

A few days after watching Legally Blonde, Ann gets paged to the nurse's station for a phone call.

"This is Ann Perkins," she says, bracing herself. She doesn't get a lot of calls at work.

"Ann? It's Leslie. I'm sorry to call you at work, it's just - I need a favor."

"What do you need?" Ann says, and steps away from the nurse's station, pulling the cord so that she can half-hide in an alcove. "What's going on? Are you okay?"

"I can't get into the Parks Department." Ann hears jangling keys on the other end of the line, and then a frustrated huff from Leslie. "They changed the locks! Can you believe it?"

"They didn't give you any notice?"

There's a pause during which Ann can hear Leslie jostling the doorknob. "They kind of told us that we shouldn't come into work anymore. And maybe there was a memo. But I'm not hurting anyone by being here! Why would they shut me out? I'm just trying to help the city."

"I know you are." Ann hears the jostling-doorknob sound again, a little louder this time. "Leslie, you know I'd do just about anything for you, but I don't think breaking into a government building falls into the category of just-about-anything."

"The situation isn't that desperate yet," Leslie says, which isn't a completely reassuring answer. "I was actually wondering if we could have a Parks Department gathering at your house sometime this week. I was going to have it here at the office, but now I can't get in, and now that I think about it, all the stuff I've put together about it is in there and I'll have to re-do all of that too-"

"I'll help you," Ann interrupts, because the anxious note in Leslie's voice makes her worry that she's about to suggest actually busting into her office. "Come over tonight and we'll work on the stuff you've already done, and we can have everyone else over later this week. What are you working on, anyway?"

"A couple things at the same time, actually," Leslie says, and there's no more jangling of keys or rattling of doorknobs. Either she's walking away from the office, or she's actually broken in. Ann's almost positive it's the former. "I have an idea for an event we could do at Lot 48."

"That's great!" Ann says, and turns further into the alcove when a nurse walking by gives her a curious look.

"Yeah, I hope so," Leslie says. "There's also a secret secondary objective."

"What's the secret secondary objective?" Ann asks.

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret secondary objective, would it?" Leslie says.


"Okay, fine," Leslie says. "I was going to tell you tonight. It's about our favorite shoeshine guy and sullen former intern. I'll tell you more later, I have to drive now."

"Okay, talk to you later," Ann says, relieved when she hears the beeping chimes that accompany Leslie's car door opening. Definitely didn't break in, then. "And relax, okay? This shutdown stuff will get figured out soon."

"Thanks, Ann," Leslie says. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Same here," Ann says, and keeps the phone to her ear until she hears the click and the dial tone.

- - - -

Leslie comes over that night and lays out the plan: a Flag Day celebration.

"Do people really celebrate Flag Day?"

"It is kind of an overlooked holiday," Leslie says, not looking up from the legal pad she's been making lists and notes on for the past forty-five minutes. "But I thought it would be good, since it's not like the fourth of July, when people would be expecting fireworks and other crazy stuff that would cost tons of money. This should be pretty easy to pull together."

Ann watches Leslie add to the list, which seems to grow exponentially. Ann's task had been to get phone numbers for the vendors Leslie identified as likely participants, and she finished a few minutes ago. Now she's waiting for her next assignment. "Can I look at some of this stuff?"

"Sure," Leslie says. "See if I've forgotten anything."

"I doubt it," Ann says, looking over the spread of papers in front of her. One of them is a mock-up of Lot 48, drawn pretty well to scale, with booths scattered around with potential vendors attached to each of them. Another sheet of paper has Supplies - Have at the top of it; another has Supplies - Need. They're pretty equal in length.

"Who's going to pay for all of this stuff?" Ann asks, looking over the list of things they need.

Leslie shrugs. "Hopefully we'll get some donations. Other stuff, I don't know, I can-"

"Leslie, you can't pay for all of this. That's crazy."

"I'll figure it out," Leslie says, and keeps adding to whatever list she's working on now. Her handwriting is messy enough right-side-up; it's almost impossible to read upside-down, especially when she's writing as fast as she has been. Leslie has always been quick and efficient when it comes to most things, especially work, but there's something extra in it now, an almost desperate edge. It reminds Ann of the fact that the government being shut down doesn't just mean that Leslie can't go to work, it also means Leslie doesn't get paid. She ran into Tom the other day at the mall; he was working at Macy's.

"Here for the discount, you know?" he'd said, pointing at his ensemble. "Until Pawnee gets a legit retailer for high-end men's fashion, this is what a man after a decent wardrobe has to do."

Ann knows he was there for more than the discount. She knows she should tell Leslie that the event is kind of a crazy idea, too much to take on given all that's going on, but she looks over at Leslie starting another list, and knows she can't. And so she takes the Supplies-Need list off of the top and says, "You know, I think I might have some of this stuff in the basement, let me go check."

"Really?" Leslie looks relieved, and a little suspicious.

"There's a lot of stuff down there, just give me a second."

Ann makes her way to the basement. When she gets to the bottom of the stairs, she doesn't even look around; Ann's pretty handy, but doesn't have a lot of supplies lying around, just enough to fit into a small toolbox she keeps upstairs. The only stuff she has in her basement is out-of-season clothes, old decorations, and boxed up stuff she took from her parents' house when they downsized into a condo. She sits down on the bottom step and looks over the list, makes checks next to the ones that she thinks she'd be able to identify at Home Depot, pulls out the second sheet of paper she'd carried down with her and copies down the list of things she supposedly found.

When she comes upstairs, Leslie is watching the basement door thoughtfully, like she'd been waiting. Ann smiles. "Found a bunch of stuff!"


"No arguments, Leslie," Ann says, and puts the list down in front of Leslie. "I think we should pass this around at the meeting this weekend, I'm sure other people will have stuff, too. Who's coming, by the way?"

"Looks like everyone can make it."

"April will come even though it's here? I know she disliked me before, now she probably full-on hates me."

"I'm sure she doesn't - well," Leslie says, considering. "Hate is a really strong word. She probably won't be super-friendly to you, but she'll get over it eventually. I think she'll come. She'll want to see Andy, and she'll want to see you with Andy, to see if anything is happening there."

"Which it totally isn't."

"Right. She needs to see Andy choose her over you." Leslie stops talking, but it's clear she's got something else to say but is having a hard time saying it. "That's something I wanted to talk to you about, actually. I was wondering - are you sure, Ann? There aren't any lingering feelings for Andy? Because I can abandon the super secret secondary objective and make this a plain Flag Day event."

Ann considers. "I'm sure. That's all in the past. I just had been thinking about him a lot back then, remembering the way I felt when Andy and I first got together. That rush, that feeling that you can't get enough of that person, how you want to be with them all the time. I never had that stuff with Mark, and I couldn't figure out why. Part of me wondered if it had to do with Andy, but it didn't. It's me. Something about me."

Ann stares down at the list of supplies she'd checked off, not really seeing it, and it isn't until she feels the warm pressure of Leslie's hand over her own that she realizes she'd been drumming her fingers nervously. Leslie has done this before - touched her hand, held it - but it feels different. It's like she can feel the warm pressure of it all the way down to the core of her, to the very center of her, and all she can think about is how much she wants Leslie's hand to stay right where it is, warm and gentle and sure on top of her own.

Ann looks up to see Leslie watching her. They've been sitting in the kitchen long enough for the sun to start setting, and something about the light, the shadows, the stillness of Leslie's face, which is usually so animated, makes her look different, somehow new. "You'll figure it out, Ann."

"I hope so," Ann says. "I feel like I'm reaching the limit of your patience with me, dealing with whatever it is that's going on with me."

"There's no limit," Leslie says, gently squeezing her hand, and then letting go. Ann tries not to let her disappointment show. "Not with me."

- - - -

The impromptu gathering of the Parks Department is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Ann spends the morning before getting the house ready and then finds herself with two hours to fill before Leslie's supposed to be there. She decides to fill the time with the stupid Flying Solo website, because she's been ignoring it the last few days, and Leslie asked her about it when they talked the night before.

"Did you finish it?" she'd asked.

"Just about," Ann had said, which was pretty much a lie. She'd petered out after her last completed exercise, which was a downer. It asked about her biggest personal failing in relationships, and she'd spent a long time sitting there thinking about it. She remembered how long she'd lived with Andy past being done with him, the months she'd stayed with Mark even after she realized what they had wasn't going to grow into anything more than what it was: comfortable, safe, fundamentally unsatisfying. Finally, she typed:

I let things go. Even when things are bad, I don't do anything about it. But I'm trying to be better.

When she logs in on Saturday, there's a message from Denise, the site volunteer who had been assigned as her mentor. Ann thinks Denise is probably a computer program designed to analyze and categorize her answers, but there is something comforting about the possibility of a message from a theoretical person, whose cartoon avatar is a red-headed lady wearing a purple headband.


I hope you are finding this journey as enlightening and challenging as I did when I first embarked upon it. I noticed that you haven't visited us in a few days, so I looked over your responses so far to see if I could direct you in a more helpful way. I think the issues you're dealing with can be best addressed at the following section of our site.

Best wishes,


There's a link beneath Denise's signature, the text of which reads, Are you on autopilot?

"I am not," Ann answers out loud, but some part of her thinks maybe, and so she clicks on the link. The page that's brought up has the same kind of thoughtful-looking lady Ann's seen on all of the pages so far, except this time she's sitting sadly on a bus, staring out the window. The text below her reads, Are you letting life pass you by?

By the time Ann gets to the end of the ten multiple-choice questions on the page, she wants to call Leslie and ask her why she thought this website was so awesome. All it seems to do is remind Ann of all the bad decisions - or non-decisions - she's made. The whole non-decision thing is a big part of her unhappiness, the discussion questions at the bottom seem to indicate. Coasting, letting things slide, not taking a chance.

I take plenty of chances, Ann types into one of the discussion boxes. I try new things. Just this year I went hunting for the first time. I threw a party by myself. I also made out with a random guy and kissed my ex-boyfriend in one week, which is pretty chance-y behavior, and neither of those panned out very well, so what does that tell you about 'taking a chance'?

Ann erases the last sentence, but leaves the rest there. She feels a little pathetic reading it over, because they aren't exactly the stirring moments people make movie montages of. The small part of herself that thought maybe a few minutes earlier has grown more certain, is now thinking definitely about the whole life-passing-her-by thing, but what's frustrating is that she doesn't know how, or why, or what to do about it.

It reminds her of the last few months of her relationship with Mark, when she knew something was wrong but didn't know what, or why. It's a close cousin to the feeling she gets when a patient comes in with symptoms that should be easy to treat but aren't; the back pain that doesn't respond to treatment, the stomach ache that fails to fall into any traditional diagnosis. The feeling that the answer is there, that it exists somewhere close by, just out of reach. But Ann can't quite get it.

Ann clicks on the Completed link at the bottom of the page, which is the cue for the website to give her some kind of assignment to allow her to better complete the journey, or whatever. The first time it asked her to write down five things she liked about herself. The other day it asked her to list five things she was grateful for. This time, it reads,

Pay attention to the world around you. See what's really there.

- - -

"Okay, guys, we're gathered here together because while the government of Pawnee has been shut down, the summer hasn't, and summer is when the Pawnee Parks Department really shines. We want to remind Pawnee of all the good we do," Leslie says, standing in the center of the gathering in Ann's living room. "Which is why-"

"Wouldn't it make more sense to do nothing?" April asks, picking at some chipped-off dark polish on her thumbnail. "How can they miss us if we're not really gone?"

"That's a good point," Andy says, nodding in agreement even though Ann knows he hasn't been listening to anything Leslie has said.

"These events are important, they help build a strong community," Leslie says. "Freddy Spaghetti went so well that I think we can do it again, except this time we'll be celebrating Flag Day!"

Leslie finishes her speech by holding up a mock-up of the flyer she's planning on hanging up all over town, which Ann helped her put together the other night. Ann thinks it's pretty cute, and tries not to be disappointed by the lack of reaction around her.

"What the heck is Flag Day?" Donna asks. "Is that a made up holiday?"

"It is not a made up holiday," Leslie says. "It is very real. I've already come up with some activities we could have at our celebration, and I'm sure you guys can come up with plenty of others. We're also looking for ideas for potential vendors beyond the ones I've listed on Attachment C of the packet I gave you when you came in."

"There was actual content in that? I've been using it as a plate," Tom says, taking a bite out of a cracker-and-cheese sandwich. "Killer apps, by the way, Ann."

"Thanks." Ann rolls her eyes and goes into the kitchen to get a paper plate for Tom, listens to the sound of Leslie fielding complaints and questions from everyone. She thinks of Leslie sitting at her kitchen table earlier that week, desperately putting all of this together, and wants to go out there and tell everyone to appreciate Leslie more, treat her better, recognize all the work she does. Instead, she walks back into the living room and hands Tom the plate, just in time to hear Ben pipe in.

"Who's going to pay for all of this?" he asks. He's the only one actually looking at the packet Leslie provided, scanning over one of the last pages, probably the supply list. Even though it's the same question Ann asked a few days ago, it bothers her to hear it coming from him.

"We're working on that," Leslie says. "I'm hoping that everyone here will have a few of the items on the Still Needed list - which is Appendix F - and the other stuff, well, we'll figure it out. Right now I think we'll break up into groups to talk about specific aspects of the event. First, April and Andy, as the youngest members of our team, I want you two to work on the social networking side of things."

"Hold up, what about me?" Tom says, holding up a hand. "I'm not young? Compared to the rest of you, I'm practically pubescent."

"Tom, I thought your insight and fine taste would be more valuable on the Arts committee, given your passion during the mural project last year. You'll be working on that with Ann."

Ann looks up, surprised; she'd assumed that she and Leslie would be working together, because they always do on things like this. But now Leslie is saying something about how she and Ron would tackle logistics, while Donna and Jerry handled advertising. "And Ben, I wasn't sure how involved you wanted to be, so I figured you could just decide for yourself."

"I'll work with you and Ron, I guess."

"All right, then," Leslie says. "Come on, everyone. Group up!"

Ann's already standing next to Tom, so it's easy enough to pull a chair over and sit down. She watches everyone else move around, mostly April and Andy, who are awkwardly trying to find a place to sit. Andy's been attentive to April all afternoon in a way that's sweetly familiar to Ann, reminding her of the days he used to sidle up next to her in the dining hall, cajoling her into doing something with him. She can tell that April's trying to ignore it, ignore him; she can also tell from the way April shoots glances Andy's way when he's not looking that it's not going to work for long.

Donna and Jerry are already bickering over something from where they're sitting on opposite sides of the couch - Ann catches Donna saying, "No one reads the Pennysaver, Jerry!"

"Well, I do," Jerry says.

"Of course you do," Donna says, rolling her eyes.

Leslie, Ron, and Ben set up around the kitchen table. It feels like they're the grown-ups and the rest of them unruly kids, Ann included. She looks over and sees that Tom is still making his way through the last of his cracker sandwiches. "How's it going, Tom?"

"Things are excellent," Tom says, finally flipping open the packet he'd been using as a plate before. "How about you, Ann Perkins? You seem a little down."

"I do?" Ann shakes her head. "I'm fine."

"If you say so," Tom says. "Now, what does Leslie have us working on?"

"Arts and Crafts, I guess. Come up with decorations, ideas for booths, things like that."

"All right, all right," Tom says, looking over the packet. "Well, first you've got your classics, the face-painting, the balloon-making, the caricature guy. I've got contacts for most of those, except the face-painting girl I used to know was a waitress at the Snakehole, and I remember her saying she was going on a summer program abroad or something, so we’ll have to figure out something else for that. What?"

Ann shakes her head. "I don't know, I guess I just - you're good at this."

"Did you doubt me?" Tom shakes his head. "Do you think they pay me to sit there and look pretty? I do that for free. I am actually good at my job, you know."

"Clearly," Ann says, making notes on her packet. "I could do the face painting, if you can't find anyone else. We do that sometimes for the kids in Pediatrics."

"Ann Perkins, coming through for the team. Nice, I like it," Tom says, writing it down. "I also think we should have an art contest, or something. Maybe for the kids, have them create a version of the flag or something. What the flag means to them. I don't know. Something corny like that, people eat that stuff up."

"That's a good idea," Ann says, and looks into the kitchen. Leslie, Ron, and Ben are all leaning in toward the center of the table, where Leslie has laid something out for them to look at. She points at something on the paper, and Ron leans in more closely, but Ben looks up instead, at Leslie. Ann finds herself twirling her pen in her fingers.

"Something going on there?" Tom asks.

Ann looks over; Tom's looking into the kitchen now, watching the conversation. Now they're all sitting up, talking to each other. Something about liability issues, Ann can't catch anything more distinct than that. "What do you mean?"

Tom shrugs. "It's kind of weird that Ben came. I know he kind of saved the day with the Freddy Spaghetti thing, but it's not like this is actually his town. Is something going on with him and Leslie? Come on, Ann! I know you're the source for all quality Leslie Knope intel, spill the beans."

Ann shakes her head. "There's nothing to spill. And if there was, I probably wouldn't tell you."

"That hurts, Ann," Tom says, a hand clasped over his heart. "It doesn't surprise me, but it hurts."

Ann shakes her head, thwacks Tom's packet with her pen. "Let's figure out the details of this art contest. I don't think 'Something Corny' will garner a lot of entries as a guideline."

- - - -

By the time the meeting wraps up, Ann catches April smiling at Andy twice, and hears her agree to meet with him at the diner the next day to talk about setting up a Facebook group for the event. Every glance April sends in Ann's direction is varying degrees of sour, but Ann had been expecting that, and to be honest, she kind of feels like she deserves it.

Leslie stays after to clean up, but she spends the first twenty minutes after the last of the group leaves sitting at the kitchen table running over how well everything went. "I'm really excited, you know? I feel like it's all coming together."

"I think so too," Ann says, putting cut-up vegetables into plastic bags. "You know, Tom had a lot of good ideas."

"How did he seem to you?" Leslie asks, biting into a cracker. "It's so weird, when he got here he asked if Ron was going to be here, and he seemed annoyed when I said yes. I got this really bad feeling, so I switched up the groups and put you with him instead of Ron."

Ann's so relieved by this that she can't help smiling, and is grateful to have her back to Leslie, because she can't explain her reaction to herself, let alone Leslie. "That's so weird. They usually get along, right?"

"Yeah, usually. I don't know. Hey, did you notice anything with April and Andy?"

"I saw definite progress," Ann says, putting the bags of vegetables into the fridge. She sits down at the kitchen table across from Leslie, takes a cracker from her plate. "I think they're getting together at the diner tomorrow to talk some more."

"Seriously?" Leslie grins. "That's so great. I think they're adorable."

"Me too," Ann says, spinning the Ritz cracker in her hand like a poker chip. "So, Tom was kind of surprised that Ben came."

"I was a little surprised too," Leslie says. "I mentioned it to him because this was one of the proposals we talked about a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't really expect him to show up. I can't really get a read on that guy. Do you think he's spying on us or something?"

Ann watches Leslie arrange the crackers on her plate so that they're a pyramid. Ann knows what she has to say next, but she doesn't want to. She wants to stay just like this, just the two of them in the kitchen, eating leftover crackers, no boys allowed. "Tom was wondering if he was interested in you."

Leslie's head snaps up from her examination of the cracker pyramid. "Shut up! Seriously?"

Ann nods. "Seriously. And I thought I detected a few glances your way when you weren't looking."

"No," Leslie says, in a drawn-out way. "No way! I'm sure you were seeing things."

Ann shrugs. "It wasn't just me. Tom, too. I didn't take a survey of the rest of the group, but if you'd like me to-"

"Stop it!" Leslie says, grinning. "Really, you think he might be-"

"I think he might be," Ann says, nodding. She tries to ignore how much effort it takes to keep the smile on her face. "What about you?"

"What about me? Oh, you mean - what about me, with him?" Leslie looks back at her crackers, rearranges them so that now they're in two side-by-side lines. “I mean, it's flattering, but."

Leslie doesn't finish her sentence, and after a few seconds Ann realizes she's not going to, even though she's looking at Ann with this uncertain look on her face, like she wants to say something, but can't quite make up her mind to. Almost like she's scared.

Ann waits, but Leslie doesn't say anything. Leslie looks back at her plate, and Ann knows the next part of the conversation they're having; she knows how to be a good friend. Usually it's easy to be a good friend to Leslie. Leslie is sweet and good and appreciative of the tiniest of kind gestures, but for some reason tonight Ann is finding it hard, harder than almost anything she can think of, to say what she knows she should say next. "He seems like a good guy. He came through on the Freddy Spaghetti thing."

"He did." Leslie's crackers are now in two towering piles, uneven at the top, and she's staring down at them like she expects them to tell her something. Ann reaches over and takes one off of the taller tower, making them even. Leslie looks up with a smile that twists something up inside Ann, makes her think of the stupid website from earlier, remember the assignment: See what's really there.

In that moment, Ann does. It should be a relief, finally figuring out why she's been acting so weird, and in some ways it is - some part of her sits up, says, duh, of course that's it, you're in love with your best friend, it's totally obvious. But in other ways, it isn't a relief. In other ways, it makes her throat close up, makes her have to get up and walk to the sink for some water, makes it take a few seconds to be able to answer when Leslie says, "Ann, you okay?"

"I'm fine," she says, finishing the glass. "Just a little thirsty."

- - - -

Ann goes back to the website that night after Leslie goes home, and every night after that. She keeps hoping that she'll come across some exercise that will explain what's going on inside her - after all, there was a page devoted to how housewares revealed a person's true self - but it doesn't happen. No matter how many assignments she finishes, she never comes across a page with the heading, So you're in love with your best friend.

The thing is, this is exactly the kind of thing she'd call Leslie about, but she can't, and so she finds herself composing a message to her site mentor, Denise. She writes:

Hi Denise,

I'm not even sure you're a real person - no offense, but part of me wonders if you're just a sophisticated computer algorithm with a cartoon avatar - but I'm struggling here. I think I'm in love with my best friend. I don't know how to deal with this. What to do with this. What do I do?


Ann sends the message without giving herself time to think it over, and gets a reply back within seconds. It reads:


I hope you are finding this journey as enlightening and challenging as I did when I first embarked upon it. I appreciate your feedback but I have found that it's best to discover the answers for yourself through the program's exercises.

Best wishes,


Ann stares at the message for a long time. The link at the bottom reads Have you lost your way? and even though the answer is most definitely yes, Ann doesn't click on the link. Instead she closes the window, erases the program from her browser history, and tries not to cry.

- - - -

The morning of the Flag Day festival is overcast but dry, and the response from vendors and volunteers has left the lot looking pretty great. On the short walk from Ann's house, Leslie practically bounces out of her shoes, which are white Keds with a flag painted on it. Ann's wearing a matching pair, which Leslie made the night before out of excitement for the event.

"These shoes are pretty excellent," Ann says, staring down at the red-and-white stripes running down the sides.

"Thanks, I'm glad you like them. Thought they would get us in the spirit," she says, bumping shoulders with her.

Ann bumps her shoulder back, smiling. She's been doing her best to be her usual self, but can tell it's not really working. Ever since the meeting at her house, she's caught Leslie looking at her at odd moments, asking more than once if she's okay. She knows Leslie is going to ask again now, but before she can, Ann sees something across the lot. "Hey, look!"

Leslie follows Ann's nod toward April and Andy huddled together by the social networking booth. Andy is saying something that makes April laugh, and there's almost none of the awkward distance between them Ann remembers from the other day. Leslie smiles. "That's so great."

"It really is," Ann says. "Do you think they realize that having a social networking booth at something like this is kind of ridiculous?"

"They're too happy just being together. It's sweet." When Leslie smiles at Ann, Ann feels that familiar twisting feeling inside, the one she said she missed when she was with Mark. She'd forgotten how wretched it can be when it's not reciprocated.

"I'd better get to the face painting," Ann says, even though there's still plenty of time before people arrive.

"All right." Leslie's still smiling, but Ann can tell she's surprised by Ann's abruptness.

Kids line up for Ann's booth all day, along with some teenagers and a few adults. Ann gets pretty into it; the only bad parts of the day come when she happens to catch Leslie walking by outside with Ben. They're walking close together, talking about something. Ben says something that makes Leslie laugh and Ann feels like the worst person in the world for hating him in that moment. She's glad when the next kid who comes in asks for a spider, a super-gross spider. She names it Ben in her head while she paints it on his cheek.

It starts sprinkling late in the day, and some of the vendors start packing up, but Ann sticks around. She lives close enough to make it worthwhile to stay around until the last of Pawnee leaves and it's just Parks Department people picking up. She's putting the caps on the face paint when Leslie pokes her head into the little alcove Ann had set up so that potential customers could get out of the rain.

"Time for one more?" she asks.

"Of course," Ann says. "Any requests?"

Leslie shrugs. "You pick."

Ann looks over her paint, tries to figure out what would best. She decides on a blue flower, because flowers are cheerful-looking, just like Leslie, and because the blue brings out the color of Leslie's eyes. Ann has to lean in close to outline the flower, and so she can smell the perfume Leslie always wears, light and flowery, see the places where her makeup has been rubbed off from her swiping at her face during the day.

"So how'd it go today?"

"Good, we had a lot of takers," Ann says. It's hard to keep her hand steady, but she manages it. Mostly. "How did everything else go?"

"Pretty great, actually," Leslie says. Ann can tell Leslie is watching her, but painting something on Leslie's face gives Ann a good excuse to avoid her eyes. "Andy and April went off together at the end."

"That's great." Ann leans back and smiles at Leslie. "Looks like the secret secondary objective was achieved."

"Looks like," Leslie says. "And it's crazy, Jerry's ad in the Pennysaver brought in a ton of people. Who'd have thought it?"

"It's nice for Jerry to have a win. He's due." Ann thinks this is nice too, almost like the way things used to be. She takes a deep breath, settles in, knows what she has to ask if she wants to get herself back in the habit of being a good friend. "I saw you walking with Ben earlier."

"Yeah, he came," Leslie says. "He seemed impressed by what we put together."

Leslie doesn't offer anything more, and so Ann forces herself to ask. "Anything going on there?"

"Between him and me? No," Leslie says. "He did ask me to get dinner with him sometime, though. I said no."

It takes a second for the entirety of that to compute. "I thought - I thought maybe you liked him."

"He's fine. I'm just not interested in him, you know? Not that way," Leslie says.

"Oh," Ann says, focusing on filling in the color of one of the petals. Leslie's skin is soft and warm and Ann is careful about how she paints the flower, more careful than she needs to be or was with any other customer today. It's too good an excuse to have Leslie this close.

"Ann," Leslie says, quietly, but still it startles Ann into jostling her brush.

"Oh, I messed up-"

"It's fine," Leslie says, grabbing Ann's hand when she goes to reach for a wet cloth. "What's going on, Ann? Did I make you uncomfortable the other day?"

"No! Of course not. Why would you say that?"

Leslie shrugs, but it's clear that she's nervous. "It feels like you've been avoiding me. I wasn't sure if you thought you picked up on something, if I weirded you out, or something."

Ann feels like she's on the wrong side of the conversation. "You weird me out? What do you mean?"

"The other night, when we were talking about Ben, and you asked if I was interested, and I didn't really answer. I thought maybe you read something into that, and it made you uncomfortable."

"What would I read into that?"

Leslie looks at Ann for a long moment, and Ann knows Leslie well enough to recognize what she sees in her face: Leslie is trying to work up the courage to do something, but can't, quite. "Nothing. Nevermind. I think I'll just-"

"No, Leslie," Ann says, standing up when Leslie does, not quite blocking her exit but coming pretty close. It feels like there's something in the air between them, something with an expiration date, like if she lets this moment pass, another won't come for a while. Maybe ever. "What are you saying? I promise, it's okay."

"I thought maybe - I thought maybe you thought I was going to tell you that I wasn't interested in Ben because I liked someone else. You. That I liked you."

Leslie looks nervous, scared, all sorts of awful things Ann would never want Leslie to feel, least of all because of her. "Leslie-"

"Listen, I'm sorry, okay? I can deal with this, I won't make you feel all awkward and uncomfortable and -"

Whatever else Leslie is going to say gets lost because Ann leans over and does the only thing she can think of to explain everything, all of this, the quickest way possible: she takes Leslie's face in her hands and kisses her. Leslie's mouth is soft and surprised, unmoving at first, and the moment feels endless, like a hundred years, before she feels Leslie start to kiss her back, feels Leslie's hands on her forearms, there not to push her away but to keep her close.

When Ann does pull away, Leslie's cheek is covered in blue paint and so is Ann's hand, but she doesn't care. All she sees is the smile on Leslie's face, knows there's an equally goofy-looking one on her own. "You like me back?"

"I love you back," Ann says, and kisses her again.

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January 2013


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