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Parks and Recreation fic: Boxcars and Regrets 1/2

December 25th, 2014 (01:38 pm)
energetic

feeling: energetic

Title: Boxcars and Regrets

Disclaimer: I do not own Parks and Recreation.

A/N: With thanks to sendintheklowns for her beta work. This is set vaguely in later seasons with references to various elements from throughout the show. Fills my confession in a desperate situation square for hc_bingo.

Summary: It just goes to show, Ron concludes after the fact, that nothing good can come of governmental action.



-o-

To Ron, this starts the way most problems start: governmental action.

The idea that people need a government is still appalling to Ron, and though he has accepted that sometimes he must, in fact, do his job, he still considers 99.9 percent of all activities undertaken by any municipality to be a gross overreach of control and rights. The existence of a progressive government stands in stark juxtaposition to the inherent rights of the individual, and Ron is basically not okay with that.

It is his own fault, perhaps, that he agreed to this latest task at all. It is one of Leslie’s ideas, though. To be fair, in Pawnee, they’re almost all Leslie’s ideas, but this one is particularly superfluous. She wants to get an authentic train car for this year’s Harvest Festival. Why? Because Leslie believes in ridiculous notions and over the top sentimentalism. Without Little Sebastian as the centerpiece of the festival, Leslie has taken to developing a theme to better market the events.

Hence, a train car as a way to connect to Pawnee’s storied past. According to her, the early railroad serves as a symbol of expansion and growth, connecting Pawnee to the rest of the country in a way that the current government is seeking to replicate through outreach programs such as the Harvest Festival.

In all, Leslie has two binders worth of notes as to why the train car is an important symbol to anchor this year’s festival. Ron can tolerate this, but of course, it can’t stop there. Because Leslie doesn’t just want a train car. No, Leslie has found a historic boxcar that perfectly captures the spirit of the first passenger trains that went through Indiana. She wants that train car, exactly, and nothing else.

Now, Ron doesn’t care much about trains. He can appreciate their mechanical capabilities, and he would not be opposed to bringing back steam engines as a major mode of transportation. That said, he does not see the need to imbue a boxcar with sentiment. He also doesn’t care much about community festivals. Granted, he accepts that the Harvest Festival is an important part of the survival of his department, and though Ron wishes to do away with government, he would think twice about a course of action that led to hardship on people he works with.

Even so, Ron knows when things matter in his line of work.

This, he decides early on, does not matter.

And he has told Leslie so. Numerous times.

However, the boxcar is located at the end of a remote trail in one of Pawnee’s less cared for parks. This means it will require at least a half day of time in the wilderness, mostly hiking and not doing actual work.

Ron hates government work, but he likes being outside.

Indeed, given the choice between walking in God’s green earth and sitting behind his desk -- well, that’s not much of a contest. That’s not some sentimental nonsense; it’s merely part of being a man.

And in the grander scheme of things, finding a boxcar is less obtrusive than the myriad of other tasks he may be subjected to if he does stay in the office. In this case, he will opt for one course of governmental action in order to avoid another. It’s not quite a win-win, but for Ron, it’s about as good as it gets.

That is his working theory, at any rate, and Ron Swanson is very rarely wrong.

It just goes to show, Ron concludes after the fact, that nothing good can come of governmental action.

Absolutely nothing.

-o-

“So, you’re sure,” Leslie says, not for the first time as she loiters in Ron’s office.

Ron tightens the laces on his boots, offering her a sideways but meaningful gaze.

“Of course you’re sure,” Leslie says again with a half-hearted shrug. “It’s just that this is the heart of the festival this year. The coup de tat, if you will. I have the entire theme planned around Pawnee’s part of the historic expansion of the trail west.” She pauses, holding her hands out grandly as if envisioning a banner. “Pawnee: Gateway to Adventure.”

Ron stands up with a frown. This frown is not overtly critical. No, Ron is just blessed with a natural frown. “That catchphrase has no significance whatsoever.”

Leslie drops her arms. “See, this is why I should be going, too.”

Ron sighs, rolling his eyes. “I told you I could handle this.”

“But this isn’t just a walk in the park, Ron.”

He looks at her.

“Okay, literally, it is a walk in the park,” Leslie amends. “But there needs to be someone there who can appreciate the historical and cultural relevance--”

“You want an old boxcar, right?” Ron asks.

Leslie blinks, nodding. “Yes.”

“You want an old boxcar that doesn’t cost us a lot of money, correct?” Ron clarifies.

“Yes,” Leslie says.

“Then I think I am more than capable of handling it,” he concludes.

She nods. Then she tries to smile. “But it’s a two person job--”

Ron does his best not to growl outright. While he intends such things as a benign expression of frustration, he has found that it is off putting to others. Given his respect for Leslie, he would prefer not to intimidate her.

Still. He bucks himself up and looks at her levelly. “If you want me to do this job, then you need to let me do it,” he says. “Besides, you have the budget meeting.”

“Oh, we’ll be back before that,” she says.

“Yes, we will,” Ron agrees. “Because I will make good time with no distractions. And you are staying here.”

Her brow is furrowed in that way of hers, and she’s going to protest.

God help them both, she’s going to protest.

Ron stares her down unrelentingly. “If I take another parks employee, will that satisfy your obsessive need to control everything?”

Leslie brightens. “Thank you, Ron. That would help very much.”

“Good,” Ron says, stepping to the door. He glances out, considering his options. Donna and Jerry are obviously not good choices. Tom would be more annoying than he was worth. April might be a good choice, given her sullen attitude, but Ron enjoys nature too much to have it hindered by her undoubtedly slow progress.

Then, he sees his answer, leaning back in a chair, trying to balance an open black marker on his face.

“Andrew!” he says.

Andy startles, the marker falling off his nose and leaving a streak on his arm before it clatters to the floor.

Leslie looks at Ron. “That’s not exactly what I meant.”

Ron can’t stop his smile. “And yet it is exactly what you said,” he tells her as he strides out. “Come on, Andrew! We are going on a trip!”

Andy looks up, but forgets that his chair is precariously tipped back. He falls to the floor before standing up with a grin. “Nailed it,” he says.

There is no sense of what that could possibly mean, but frankly, Ron doesn’t care.

No, Ron just cares about life outside the government. He cares about a morning in nature, shared with another man.

Andy scrambles to follow him. “A trip, though? Where are we going? Can we bring snacks? Is it someplace fun? Is it someplace really fun? Is it?”

Overgrown man-child might be the more appropriate term, but Andy is enthusiastic and he is teachable. More than that, he can discuss sports and enjoys meat. Comparatively, there is no one else in the office less offensive to spend time with.

All in all, he is the best choice.

Even Ron can appreciate the irony in that.

“We are going to be outside,” he announces as they head down the hall. “It will be the two of us and the elements, the way it was intended to be.”

“Oh, hey, that sounds great,” Andy says with a nod. “But if we’re going to be too long, I should really tell April.”

“We will not be too long,” Ron says. “And besides, when you are about your business, no time is too long. You do the job, son. Until it’s done.”

“Right!” Andy says. Then he hesitates for a few paces. “But we’ll be back by lunch?”

Ron sighs. “Yes,” he says, pushing the door open to the parking lot. “We should definitely be back by lunch.”

Andy half skips past him. “Great!” he says running out down the street. “I call shotgun!”

Ron watches him go, standing on the front step. He waits.

Halfway down the street, Andy stops and turns. “Ron? Your car’s not over here, is it?”

Ron pulls his keys out of his pocket.

This is most definitely off to a fantastic start.

-o-

“So, a boxcar, huh?” Andy says, drumming his fingers absently on the seat.

“Yes,” Ron says, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel as he turns the car down the next road. “Leslie believes that it will be a great addition to the Harvest Festival since apparently people need themes to encourage them to spend more money on frivolous indulgences.”

“No, I get themes, man,” Andy says. “Like, Ladies Night.” He hesitates. “Easter. Halloween.”

Ron feels compelled to remind the younger man that those last two are holidays, but it hardly seems to matter.

Andy shrugs, entirely indifferent. “I love themes.”

Ron continues driving. Andy loves nearly everything, so again, no comment is necessary.

“Although, can I be honest?”

Ron glances at him. “Honesty is the only way to communicate like a man.”

“That’s a yes?”

Ron sighs, eyes back on the road. “What is it?”

“A boxcar theme?” he asks. “Doesn’t that sound kind of weird?”

Ron shrugs. “There are worse themes,” he says. “As far as themes go, something historically relevant is never a bad choice.”

“But it’s a car full of boxes,” Andy says. “How is that even going to be interesting?”

Ron looks at Andy again. At one point, he might have wondered if the younger man were actually serious. But, this is Andy. “You know that a boxcar is part of a train, correct?”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” he says. “A boxcar. A train car. Filled with….boxes.”

“Box refers to the shape of the car,” Ron informs him. “No the contents.”

Understanding dawns on Andy’s face. “Ohhh,” he says. “That makes so much more sense now.”

Ron makes another turn.

Andy makes a face. “But wait,” he says. “How is that any more interesting?”

Ron gives him a reassuring look. “My point exactly.”

-o-

The park is in poor repair. The parking lot is mostly deserted, and the foot trails are overgrown. It is a hideous example of what the parks department is capable of. As Pawnee’s most remote park, it is the one that receives the least funding despite being the largest by far.

In short, it is Ron’s favorite park. Every time Leslie has tried adding money to tend to it, Ron has viciously circumvented her. This park will remain a testament to how land should look when it is not being overseen by meddlesome government officials.

He takes a deep breath contentedly. “Ah,” he says. “I feel better already.”

“Whoa,” Andy says. “I never even knew this was a park.”

“I know,” Ron says. “It is a well preserved piece of land, mostly devoid of government interference.”

“Seriously,” Andy says, galloping off toward the path. He turns back around. “There’s not even a sign, and has anyone ever mowed here?”

“Not since 2006,” Ron tells him. “A fact I am quite proud of.”

“That’s crazy!” Andy says. “There are, like, no paths, even. People could totally get lost here!”

“Anyone who can’t handle themselves in the great unknown has to take whatever fate comes to them,” Ron says.

Andy laughs. “Wait,” he says. “What if we get lost?”

Ron chuckles, starting off on the closest approximation of a foot trail. “Son,” he says. “I never get lost.”

“That’s excellent!” Andy says, scampering after him. “Because I basically always get lost. Once, when I was six, I got lost for like three days. Turns out, I was just in the neighbor’s yard, but I couldn’t find my way out of their tomato plants. Seriously. They were freakishly big.”

Somehow, Ron does not find this even remotely surprising.

-o-

There are no paths.

Ron does not need a path.

He gets his bearings immediately, and he cuts through the foliage with expert precision. He is almost disappointed how easy it is, when Leslie had made it sound so hard.

At this rate, he reflects with disappointment, they will be back well before lunch.

Unless there is cause to waste time.

“Ron!” Andy calls out. “I think I found a squirrel!”

Ron pauses.

Andy yelps. “No, Ron! I think the squirrel found me!”

Ron almost smiles.

Suddenly there is no shortage of options to waste time.

-o-

After Ron saves Andy from the squirrel, he steers them toward a safer path. It is more indirect, but the squirrels are rather rabid here. Ron doesn’t doubt his own prowess against one, but he would rather not take any chances.

Besides, longer isn’t so bad in this context.

Yes, it is hot outside. The weather is unseasonably warm for September, but Ron is not one for creature comforts. True, Ron is technically doing government work, but this is money that Leslie is going to spend one way or another, and Ron does prefer the restoration of a historical object above other extraneous indulgences.

And yes, Andy is prone to accidents, but he is, of course, fully knowledgeable about the current football season, and it has been far too long since Ron had the opportunity to talk about the Colts’ current lineup. Some might find it strange that Ron could humor someone who clearly lives a life full of pointless endeavors, but it is not Ron’s business what people do in their free time. Besides, Andy was no doubt raised in a coddled environment. He’s learning, albeit slowly, and Ron can appreciate that.

Ron Swanson, after all, is not a heartless man. Some would judge his passions to be peculiar, but Ron thinks of them as simply particular. To him, longer is never worse inherently. It’s all in the nature of the task and the worth of its purpose.

Today’s venture, Ron decides, fares pretty well.

-o-

When they find the train cars, Ron is sweating. The cars are in a small valley by a creek, still attached and upright on a decrepit piece of track. They are old, no doubt, and Ron can recognize that though they have been weathered, they are relatively intact and decently accurate as far as the history goes. They are undoubtedly several generations removed from actual worth, but they are enough of an approximation to do wonders for Leslie’s Harvest Festival plans.

He thinks those plans are stupid and indulgent, of course, but Ron still appreciates a job well done.

And this is a job well done.

He takes a breath, taking in the moment.

Andy takes a breath. “That’s it?” he asks.

“We found the boxcars,” Ron announces.

Andy looks down. “I was expecting something a bit more dramatic.”

“Not everything has to be dramatic,” Ron informs him. “The best things usually aren’t.”

“Yeah, sure,” Andy says. Then his posture shifts. “But they’re so boring.

Ron guffaws lightly, starting down the incline. “This was never my idea. Leslie is the one who came up with the theme.”

Andy follows him. “Well, Leslie does have the best ideas,” he says helpfully. “Except when they’re so boring.

Ron smirks in agreement. “Here, here.”

-o-

As far as Ron’s concerned, that is that.

“But come on,” Andy whines. “Don’t you want to go inside?”

“No,” Ron says.

“But we came all this way,” Andy continues. “And they’re right there.”

“They’re boxcars,” Ron tells him.

“Exactly!” Andy says.

Ron looks at him. He looks at the boxcars. “You know they’re still not filled with boxes.”

Andy makes a face, blowing out a breath. “Yeah,” he says, as if it’s totally obvious. He falters. “But it can’t hurt to look, right?”

Ron sighs.

He looks at the cars.

He looks at his watch.

“Twenty minutes,” he says. “And then we are going to head back.”

Andy claps happily. “Awesome!” he says. “Can we get the meat tornado on our way back?”

Ron smiles with satisfaction. “That is, undoubtedly, your best idea all day.”

Andy grins stupidly before running off. “I love you, Ron Swanson!”

Ron watches him go.

He respects a man who appreciates the simple things.

Andy, as it turns out, just happens to appreciate the simplest things of all.

In Ron’s estimation, there are worse ways to be.

-o-

Over the next 20 minutes, Ron inspects each boxcar. He identifies the best one for Leslie’s needs and considers a fair estimate for restoration costs as well as an appropriate timeline for said work to be completed before Leslie’s deadline.

Andy, on the other hand, spends the time reenacting scenes from movies that involve trains. Ron doesn’t recognize any of them, but the younger man runs around yelling about getting to 88 miles per hour and, for a period, tries to climb on top without much success.

Needless to say, it is 20 minutes well spent for both of them.

-o-

With five extra minutes, Ron manages to start cleaning his first choice in boxcar. He knows it’s a bit indulgent to stay for that, but he manages to get several pieces of the interior in working condition again, and damn it, Ron can’t resist repair work. He’d stay and do more, but his pocketknife only has so many uses.

Besides, he is actually really looking forward to a meat tornado on the way home. With all this extra work, he can easily have two or three. Then again, with the hike back, four certainly doesn’t sound unreasonable to Ron.

What does sound unreasonable is the unholy racket coming from outside the boxcar. Ron turns and waits, because he has known Andy Dwyer long enough to predict the ridiculous.

Sure enough, Andy comes crashing through the door, wielding his fingers like guns. He fires them off a few times, before pretending to holster them. “Got enough dynamite there, Butch?” he asks.

Ron stares.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?” Andy asks, as if it should be entirely plain to Ron.

Ron continues staring. Even if it could be plain to Ron, he does not want to necessarily indulge…this.

“Aw, come on,” Andy says. “It’s a good movie.”

“I might be inclined to believe you, but you think every movie that you see is good,” Ron points out.

“Well, movies are, on a whole, good,” Andy says. “Besides, it’s a western! There are gun fights!”

He turns, pulling his imaginary guns again, shooting at the doors. Then he staggers back, play acting that he has been shot from what Ron can only assume is an imaginary assailant.

Ron is quite thankful that he was never cursed with imagination.

Andy, however, cannot control himself. He stumbles back, face contorted in would-be agony. “I’m hit!” he cries out, clutching his chest. “It’s the end of this legendary outlaw!”

Ron continues, in unabashed fashion, to stare.

Andy flails, stumbling into a wall and then another wall. “I’m dying, Ron! I’m dying.”

Ron sighs.

Undeterred, Andy flails again, convulsing wildly as he slams into the door, smashing it back until it’s closed as he falls unceremoniously to the ground.

Then, he twitches.

And, naturally, twitches again.

Before finally going still.

Ron stares a bit more for good measure.

In that moment, Ron decides something important.

Five meat tornadoes.

Yes, he’s definitely earned five meat tornados.

-o-

After several seconds, Andy gets up. “Did you see that?” he asks. “I totally died. Shot in the chest. Gut shot is more painful, but one to the chest is so much more dramatic. And I mean, you can’t drag it out forever.

“That would probably defeat the purpose,” Ron agrees.”

Andy laughs. “Ron, you are so awesome.”

Ron inclines his head. “I can’t say I make an effort.”

“Which is why you’re even more awesome.

The compliment is superfluous.

Somehow, Ron still enjoys it.

“Come on,” he cajoles. “Let’s head back. The meat tornados are on me.”

“Great!” Andy says with due enthusiasm. “Because I’m totally broke anyway.”

Ron pats Andy on the shoulder while the younger man turns and reaches for the door.

He stops, though, when he doesn’t find a handle. For a moment, he stands there, entirely vexed before Ron steps in front of him and realizes this is not merely Andy being completely oblivious.

There is, in fact, no handle to find.

“That’s...weird,” Andy says, a little nervous but clearly trying not to show it. “Didn’t doors have handles back a thousand years ago when this thing was made?”

“Doors, yes,” Ron says, running his hands along the paneling. The seams are still strong and secure, and he can feel air but there’s not enough of a gap to even wedge his fingers. “But this is a boxcar. It was designed to move at a high rate of speed.”

“Sure,” Andy says. “But I’ve seen like, every movie about trains ever made. These things always open so people can jump on and off. It makes for amazing high speed chases with the horses running up along side and there’s gunfire and women in big dresses hanging off the side--”

“Only an idiot would jump on and off a moving train,” Ron says, testing along the bottom and the other side.

“Or an outlaw,” Andy points out.

“Like I said,” Ron grunts, getting back on his feet and staring at the still shut door with some degree of animosity. “Idiots.”

“But it makes for such good stories!” Andy protests.

“And it’s false,” Ron says. “These doors are designed to close and stay closed. These aren’t passenger cars; they’re for cargo. And since they were made before the days of overzealous regulation, there was no need for a safety mechanism.”

Andy stands next to him in silence for a moment. “That might come in kind of handy right now.”

“Not the point,” Ron says sharply. “The point is that we are currently locked inside. And there is no way out.”

Andy is silent for another moment. “That sucks, man.”

Ron sighs. “Yes,” he agrees. “Yes, it does.”

There is another moment of silence. “Sorry,” he says. “Next time I’ll try to die less dramatically. Or, you know, with less arm motion.”

Ron can only sigh again.

-o-

Ron is not one to be needlessly idle. While it is true that he will sit in his office and stare at a wall in an effort to avoid work, that is merely a moral choice based on the illegitimacy of most project his department is in charge of handling. In his private life, Ron does many things.

All of which will remain as private as possible. Hence the term private life.

Therefore, although he is technically completing government work, he surmises that it would be more embarrassing to sit indifferently as though he is incapable of securing his own safety. Ron is no one’s victim, and he is loath to admit that he might ever need assistance.

With this motivation, he approaches the door once more. Although his initial examination confirmed that it was indeed sealed with no easy access from the inside, he thinks with some strength and ingenuity, he might be able to find an alternative means of exit.

Besides, it is something to preoccupy him while Andy does...whatever it is Andy does.

“Ron,” Andy says.

Ron shifts to the side, trying to keep his body out of the lone light source. There is a grated opening on the top left of the boxcar, which keeps them from being in the pitch dark. It does not, however, afford much assistance in his further examination.

“Ron,” Andy says again.

Ron frowns, running his fingers along the bolts on the paneling. They could be removed, but given the amount of rusting, he would need far more leverage than his pocketknife can apply.

“Ron,” Andy says, ever persistent.

He casts an exasperated gaze over his shoulder, past Andy to the grate. He wonders briefly about the amount of force it would take to remove the grate. It is clearly not as well secured and between himself and Andy, it would probably be possible to pop it free of its base, even taking rusting into consideration.

“Ron.”

However, Ron decides with a further glance, it is a bit on the small side. Someone small might be able to fit through such an opening, but since he and Andy are, in fact, grown men of some stature, it would probably not be a worthwhile experiment.

“Ron.”

Gruffly, Ron turns back to the door before looking at the walls all around. As old as the boxcar is, it is well made. Even in relative disrepair, the natural materials are sound. Real, thick wood has stood the test of time and endured. In most ways, this is a testament to all things Ron values.

In other ways, it means there is no easy exit.

“Ron.”

“Yes, Andrew?” Ron says, turning abruptly.

From his spot on the floor, Andy blinks up at him, mouth open.

Ron raises his eyebrows. “You said my name about twenty times,” he says. “And I’m not prone to exaggeration.”

“I, um,” Andy says. “You know, I said your name so many times, I think I forgot.”

Ron inhales and narrows his eyes.

Then, with no further compunction, he starts to examine the floor.

There is approximately thirty seconds of silence.

Then, Andy says, “Ron.”

Ron sees no reason to delay the inevitable. “Yes, Andrew?”

“Are we trapped in here?”

Ron is pleased that this is an actual, legitimate question. It makes his own impotency somewhat more tolerable. “If you’re referring to the fact that we have no way of getting ourselves out,” Ron says, stepping back from the wall and looking the younger man squarely in the eyes. “Then yes.”

Andy stares back. “You’re saying that like it’s not a bad thing.”

Ron shrugs. “Bad implies a judgement,” he says. “While this isn’t my first choice of situations, it certainly is better than some alternatives.”

“But we’re trapped in here!” Andy says.

Ron is entirely nonplussed. “Yes.”

Andy’s mouth falls open. “This is like the plot of a movie.”

“Then it would be a very boring movie,” Ron tells him.

Andy starts to motion his hands. “Two heroes stumble across an old car of boxes in the woods.”

“Boxcars,” Ron supplies. “And the term hero is a little strong.”

“While in the car of boxes, the fearful heroes--”

Ron narrows his gaze. “I think you mean fearless.”

Andy claps his hands. “They fear less because they’re heroes!” he says with unnecessary enthusiasm. “And it’s a good thing, too, since the car of boxes may look innocent enough, but once it gets them inside--” He flails himself back, making a loud clatter.

The clatter seems to encourage him. For several more long seconds, Andy flails and convulses before finally going limp on the ground.

Ron waits, just for another few seconds, to make sure the spectacle is, in fact, over.

“Is that it?” Ron asks, because honestly, with Andy, he can’t be sure.

Andy perks up, lifting his head off the ground enough to look at Ron through the dimness. “The car of boxes was actually an abandoned alien spacecraft with an intergalactic menace inside, lying in wait to feed.”

At least Andy is committed, Ron has to give him that. It is not Ron’s place to tell people how to mind their business, even if he himself does not understand it. As far as personalities go, Andy may be fanciful but he is actually one of the less frustrating people in the department. Jerry is a general menace to the planet. Tom is too much bluster and not enough substance. Donna is too prone to trendy indulgences. Leslie is, well, Leslie, which warrants no further explanation to anyone who has ever met her. April is the only person on par with Andy since she is purposefully obtuse.

Andy is simply obtuse by design, and Ron will not fault him for that. Rather, Ron finds it refreshing.

At least he knows how to appreciate a steak and a good game of football.

All that said, he has terrible taste in movies.

Which is to say, he likes them.

“Then it’s not abandoned,” Ron points out.

“All the smart aliens left,” Andy counters.

“And why did the other stay behind?” Ron asks.

“To eat the souls of anyone who might happen by, of course!” Andy says.

“To what end?” Ron pushes, because frankly, he’s pursued this line of thinking this far and it’s a matter of pride not to quit now.

“To get enough fuel to leave orbit and return to their homeworld,” Andy continues, eyes bright as he sits the rest of the way up. “So it’s a fight to the death, not just for the heroes, but for the fate of the entire planet.”

He says it with enough conviction that Ron wants to believe him.

Except it’s utter nonsense.

“I’m not sure that follows,” Ron says critically.

Andy laughs almost farcically. “You’re not looking at the big picture,” he says. “Sure, today it might be two souls. But tomorrow, or you know, in 45.6 light years, it’ll be an entire fleet coming to consume the entire planet.”

Ron considers this for approximately five seconds. He considers the math, the physics and the general plausibility of an alien government taking said action.

Which is exactly five seconds longer than he should.

“I don’t see movies, but that sounds completely inane,” Ron says flatly.

“Which it is,” Andy says. “Which is also why it’d be great. Best seller, blockbuster, all the way. They could get Michael Bay and there’d be all these explosions--”

To prove his point, Andy makes mock explosion noises, complete with hand gestures.

“I’ll have to pitch that one,” Andy says with a nonchalant shrug. “That is, if we don’t die in here.” He sits a little straighter. “Wait, are we going to die, Ron? Because, I mean, it’d make a great movie, but I think it’d kind of suck in real life.”

“We are not going to die,” Ron says, sitting down across from Andy.

Andy looks at him earnestly. “Are you sure?” he says. “Because people in movies say that all the time--”

“We are not in a movie.”

Andy looks confused. “I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”

“Son, I don’t believe in lying,” he says. “I also don’t believe in the color chartreuse and white chocolate, but that is neither here nor there. The point is--”

“That we should have brought chocolate?” Andy asks, a little too hopeful.

“The point is,” Ron says again, more emphatically. “That while we may be here for a while, I do not believe we are in any danger.”

Andy nods and is uncharacteristically quiet.

Ron sits, settling himself in for the task ahead of him. He reflects for this time that their situation isn’t terribly bad. At least in a boxcar, he’s only subjected to Andy’s rambling and not actual concerns from citizens who are under some deluded impression that coming to him might actually be helpful.

It is a pity, however, to think he might have to eat lunch late.

Even so, the silence isn’t so bad.

Unfortunately, this lasts for maybe ten seconds.

“Ron,” Andy says.

Ron looks at him. It is probably inevitable, but Ron is rapidly using up his reservoir for conversation in a day, and he’s not sure he wants to indulge Andy’s whims until Ron can steer the conversation back to other, less eccentric topics.

Like football or meat. Or the dangers of fascism.

“Ron,” Andy says again.

Ron keeps looking. He’s not proud that he still hasn’t come to a clear decision on whether or not to respond.

“Ro-on,” Andy almost bemoans.

Ron takes a breath, rallying his self control. “Yes, again, Andrew?”

“I’m sorry that my amazing death scene put us in danger,” he says.

“Well, I just told you, we’re not in danger.”

Andy makes a noise in his throat. “We’re trapped in a locked box in a super remote location,” he says. “And it’s, like, really hot.”

“It is a bit unseasonably warm--”

“It’s like a sauna!” Andy says. “Maybe we should get naked! That’s a thing, right? Getting naked and sweating?”

“No,” Ron says.

Andy seems heedless. “And I’m thirsty. Like, do you see my tongue? I think it’s super dry,” he says, talking around his tongue, which is protruding from his mouth. Then he lifts up his arm and gestures to his armpit. “And I feel like I’m going to sweat away all my body fat. Can you die from that?”

“That would be dehydration and heat stroke,” Ron answers.

“Wait,” Andy says, as if surprised that his own conjectures proved true. Although, Ron can’t really fault him for that, all things considered. “You really can die from that?”

“In extreme conditions, both conditions can be fatal--”

Andy’s eyes bug open. “But you said we weren’t in danger!”

“We’re not,” Ron tries to interject.

“But I’m going to sweat until I shrivel up and die!” Andy says. “It’ll really look like some alien sucked out my lifeforce and left my crusty shell behind.”

It’s not clear whether Andy thinks this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Ron blinks for the lack of something better. “That’s not going to happen.”

“But I feel it already!” Andy cries. “Maybe we could drink pee -- I just don’t know if i have a bottle, but I could maybe catch it in my hands--”

Ron shakes his head. “Leslie will be here in an hour,” he says. “When we don’t return after lunch, she will no doubt become quite frustrated. Leslie is many things, but patient is not one of them. She will want to know if we found her boxcar.”

“But how will she find us?” Andy says. “We hiked for, like, twelve years to get here.”

“It was not even two hours,” Ron reminds him.

“But we literally broke through the trees,” Andy says. He holds up his hands. “I still have thorns from the thorn bush.”

“I told you not to touch those,” Ron says.

“They don’t feel so bad,” Andy says. “I wiped the blood off with one of those neat little plants with three leaves I see on signs everywhere.”

“You mean poison ivy?” Ron asks, hoping he doesn't know the answer already.

Andy nods, pointing his finger at Ron in jubilant confirmation. “Oh, hey,” Andy says. “Maybe she’ll follow the trail of blood.”

“Or maybe she’ll just follow the railroad,” Ron says.

“Wait, you can do that?”

“Of course you can,” Ron says. “For those who are accustomed to taking the easy way out.”

Andy tilts his head, in what Ron can only assume is thought. “Is that faster?”

“And easier,” Ron supplies.

“Then it sort of seems like we should have taken that,” Andy says.

“Andrew, we are men,” he says. “Strong, capable men. We do not belong in offices or on recreational trails. We belong in nature, doing things for ourselves. Trails are made for followers. Sheep will follow all the way to the slaughterhouse without a single mewl of protest.”

“I followed you here,” Andy reminds him.

“Yes, you did,” Ron says conclusively as he settles back with renewed calm. “And look how well that ended up.”

-o-

Andy’s head must be a somewhat terrifying place. There is an odd assortment of pop culture and mainstream ideology combined with pointless trivia and poorly thought out personal opinions. He’s fairly certain, after spending enough time with the younger man, that Andy Dwyer is hopelessly optimistic, childishly self centered, and very poorly disciplined.

He is, however, very receptive.

True, he doesn’t always grasp concepts the first time he’s told. Sometimes, not even the second or the third. But he’s the type of person who benefits greatly from Ron’s bluntness and never takes a harsh insinuation as an insult.

The fact is, Ron will listen to Andy talk about movies because Andy will listen to Ron about the things that matter to him. He’s explained woodworking, household maintenance and libertarianism to the younger man, and Andy has always been an eager student.

Granted, Ron is fairly certain that Andy would cut his hand off with a saw, electrocute himself while changing a lightbulb and probably doesn’t know how the farce that is the Electoral College works, but he listens.

It is the only time Ron likes to talk.

“And that,” Ron says. “Is why the government as it operates today is essentially illegal and we should all be arrested for our involvement in perpetuating this crime against humanity.”

Andy sits on the other side of the boxcar, rapt. “That’s so awesome!” he says finally.

Ron sets his brow in consternation. “No, it’s a tragedy,” he says.

“But I always wanted to be a criminal!” Andy insists.

Ron has no response.

Andy grins, shaking his head in wonder. “What’s that saying again? Give me liberty or give me...dire consequences or something?”

“I believe you’re referring to give me liberty or give me death,” Ron says with a general nod of approval. “I am not much for sentimentality, but I will admit that that quote in particular has always seemed especially appropriate to me.”

“I completely agree,” Andy says. “I mean, right now, liberty, man. I’d take liberty in a second. Being so close to death makes me appreciate that even more.”

“You’re not close to death,” Ron says.

Andy clearly does not consider this to be a terribly important clarification. “It’s like, even if we do die a horrible and painful death and there’s nothing left of us but bones when they find us in two days,” he says seriously, “at least we’ll have died free.”

“While I agree that dying unbeholden to anything or anything is of the utmost concern to me,” Ron says, “I should point out that it would take weeks for our bodies to decay to that point.”

Andy stares at him for a moment. Then, he nods. “That’s what I love about you,” he says, energy rebounding rapidly. “You always know exactly the right thing to say to make everything so much better. Seriously, I don’t want to die with anyone else.”

Ron can only stare.

“Except April,” Andy says. “Definitely April. For the sex, you know. Death sex. Man, that sounds good. I should totally write a song!”

Ron can’t even imagine.

Literally, he can’t.

Moreover, he won’t.

“But don’t worry,” Andy says, seeming to regain his focus for whatever that may be worth. “You are a close, close -- distant -- second.”

Ron just shakes his head.

-o-

To be fair, it is hot in the boxcar. The weather is warm outside, and the boxcar conducts heat impressively. Given the lack of ventilation, the temperature has quickly become stifling, and though Ron has no need for vain comforts, he will acknowledge that it is warmer than normal.

Even so, Andy response to the heat is even more discomforting.

Namely, the younger man starts to remove his clothing.

Ron does not consider himself a prude, and to every man his own, but he has no desire to be locked in a sweltering boxcar with a half naked man.

Moreover, a half naked singing man.

“You are the love of my life,” Andy croons in a lilting rhythm. “Which is why you are worth dying for. Death sex now and forever because you bring me back to life. Oh, death sex.”

Musically, Ron finds the melody simplistic. It might be salvaged with the addition of some brass or a tonal jazz shift, but even then, it lacks a particular depth.

“You always save the best for last,” Andy half shrieks. “Climax of my life -- death sex!”

On the other hand, he thinks the lyrical content isn’t half bad. If songs must have words, Ron has certainly heard worse.

-o-

As the day approaches noon, the sun is directly overhead. This provides better illumination, but it also makes the boxcar even hotter than before. Ron finally undoes the buttons on his shirt, noting that the internal temperature is still not quite reaching deadly levels, but is Leslie doesn’t hurry up, it is possible that the heat will start to have other side effects that Ron has been hoping to avoid.

Death is not likely, but it is also not the most mortifying. Being found incapacitated would be even worse because then he’d have to live with the embarrassment.

Mostly, though, Ron is very, very hot.

It is very, very uncomfortable.

Not as uncomfortable, however, as Andy’s latest would-be hit single:

“I’ve got a ticket to ride...but no place to pee!” he all but yells. “I’d pee in the toilet, I’d pee out the window. I’d pee in a bucket, I’d pee in a cup. I’d pee on the walls here, and the floor’s looking good, because I’ve got a ticket to ride...but no place to pee!”

Indeed, there are in fact many things worse than death.

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