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Parks and Recreation fic: Boxcars and Regrets 2/2

December 25th, 2014 (01:40 pm)
pleased

feeling: pleased

Split for LJ. Part one is here.



-o-

Ron thinks he should be grateful that Andy’s songs are over.

They are replaced, however, with actual whining.

“Ron, I really need to go,” he says. “Like, I don’t know if I can hold it.”

Ron levels him with a look. “Son, you are a full grown man,” he says. “You can hold it.”

“But I didn’t go before I left!” Andy protests.

“Think about something else,” Ron says.

Andy gives him a pained look.

“Anything else,” Ron orders.

Andy lets out a long suffering breath. “Okay, okay,” he says. “Um, candy. I like candy. Like Skittles. Oh, and Jolly Ranchers. Twizzlers aren’t bad, but a little chewy, but oh! Pop rocks! I haven’t had those in years!”

Ron tries to look interested. He does not, as a general rule, care a lot about candy. It is, however, better than pee. “I will happily buy you a bag of your favorite candy when we get out of here.”

Andy brightens. “Really?”

“Certainly,” Ron says.

“That’s so great!” Andy says. “I think I may go with Skittles. Or gummy worms. Or you know, maybe a bag of Doritos. But then I’d have to get a Mountain Dew.” He stops, making a face of despair. “Which would make me have to pee. Ro-on. I still really, really have to pee.”

Ron can only sigh.

NEXT



Post split for LJ. Notes in Part One.



-o-

When Andy starts to sing again, Ron gives in to his frustration. Although he does not believe in repeating tedious tasks with inevitable conclusions, he also does not believe in sitting idle while in duress.

While he is not afraid of being locked in a confined, hot space, he is somewhat concerned how Andy will fare if this goes on much longer. Not that he thinks Andy is in any danger from the heat, but if he sings another song about bodily functions, Ron may not be able to restrain himself, no matter how much he generally likes Andy.

Squinting, he tries to assess the bolts from a new direction, but the lack of light is still excessively problematic. He feels as much as he can with his fingers, but there is no replacement for a straight on view of the mechanism to truly discern just what type of leverage would be needed to dislodge them.

Frustrated, he grunts.

“Is everything okay?” Andy asks.

Ron exhales forcefully. “The light’s not very good,” he says. “I can’t see exactly what I’m dealing with.”

Andy gets up, coming closer. He’s still shirtless, but miraculously, he still has his pants on. He looks over Ron’s shoulder. “Wow, yeah,” he says. “I can’t see anything at all.”

“I’m afraid that means I’m a bit out of options,” Ron admits.

That’s when a light shines over his fingers.

Ron looks up, surprised.

Andy is still looking down at the bolts, his phone held aloft, its screen providing a pleasant glow. “Yeah, it looks pretty complicated,” the younger man says with a nod, even though Ron is quite certain he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Ron, however, knows exactly what he’s talking about.

He also knows that Andy is probably the most oblivious person in the world.

This shouldn’t be surprising.

Damn it, Ron’s slipping.

“Like maybe we could move those things there?” Andy asks, pointing to a bolt. “I’ll bet if we had some dynamite, we’d get out of here in no time.”

“We would also probably blow ourselves up,” Ron notes. “You know what would be really helpful?”

“A rocket launcher?”

“A phone,” Ron says. “So we could contact someone to get us out of here.”

Andy looks at Ron.

He looks at the phone.

“Oh!” he says. “I have my phone! Those things are super helpful in case of emergency!”

Again, Ron shouldn’t be surprised.

The heat must be affecting him more than he realized.

He waits with as much patience as he can muster. When Andy does nothing, Ron says, “Do you think you would like to use your phone to get us out of here?”

Andy pushes a button. Then, he stops. “You know, I’m just now realizing that this was probably not a good month to skip paying the wireless bill.”

Ron grits his teeth together. “So you have no service?”

“Not even a little,” Andy says. He giggles. “I can’t do anything on it.”

“Then why do you still have it?” Ron asks.

“Because,” Andy says, upbeat as he holds the glowing screen aloft again. “It’s an awesome flashlight!”

-o-

Andy spends the next ten minutes making shadow puppets

Ron finds this childish, but he will admit, Andy is fairly talented at making kangaroos.

-o-

Then, the worst possible thing occurs.

Andy gets bored.

Ron is never bored. He is always fully content with his own company, and there is no need for outside stimulation. True, he enjoys certain activities, but he has a high capacity to do nothing when it is needed.

Given his job, it is needed often.

Andy, however, does not have this skill.

Or, honestly, many other skills.

If anything, Ron is surprised it took Andy this long.

“Ugh,” Andy says, wiping the sweat off his front. “I feel like I’ve just run a marathon. On the sun. If I could run marathons. Or go to the sun.”

Ron does not comment.

Andy rolls his head back against the wall from where he’s seated. “It’s so hot,” he moans. “Why is it so hot?”

“Are you asking for a physics lesson on how heat is conducted--?”

“Ro-on,” Andy says. “I think I’m on fire.”

“You’re not on fire,” Ron replies evenly.

“Isn’t that a thing, though?” Andy asks, face scrunched in concentration. “Like, where people get so hot they just explode?”

“Spontaneous combustion is nothing more than a myth,” Ron tells him.

Andy’s eyes get wider. “I think it’s happening,” he says, his breathing starting to hitch. “I’m going to explode, Ron!”

With anyone else, Ron might attribute this behavior to an actual delusion. It would be possible, Ron decides, given the heat and the duration of time.

This is Andy, however.

To him, ridiculous trains of thought are never delusions. They are, instead, part of his nonstop stream of consciousness conversational habits. Andy is incapable of lying not out of any moral compunction but because he has no self control.

Therefore, Ron decides to tailor his response to Andy’s state of mind. “I thought you were worried about shriveling up,” he says.

“I’ll shrivel up and then explode,” Andy says. “Tiny, pruny bits everywhere. It’ll be disgusting.”

Ron probably should have known not to say anything at all.

After a moment, Andy tilts his head, smiling a little. He nods. “And kind of awesome.”


-o-

Ron has to admit: he’s hungry.

It is well past his lunch hour now, and though he is fully capable of going without food, he rarely sees the need to deprive himself of meals. He is starting to crave red meat so badly that he is considering the ways to catch a squirrel through the grated opening.

Andy is equally in need but decidedly less stoic.

“Water,” Andy says, sprawling himself against the wall. “We need water.

“Dehydration takes much longer to set in,” Ron assures him.

“Then a soda,” Andy says. “Or a beer. Why is there no beer?”

“This is an abandoned boxcar,” Ron says, hoping that is explanation enough.

“Ugggh,” Andy moans. “I need water.”

“A drink would be nice,” Ron agrees. “But not necessary at this point.”

Andy lets his head loll back. “But aren’t we, like, 140 percent water?”

“All the more reason not be concerned,” Ron says gruffly. “It’s only been two hours, and the heat is not so severe--”

Andy sits up, suddenly alert. “Wait,” he says. “Two hours?”

Ron inclines his head. “That is how long we’ve been here,” he says without explicitly acknowledging that it has felt like much, much longer.

Andy’s eyes go wide.

Again.

His mouth drops open. “But you said Leslie would find us in an hour!”

Of course, this is probably the first time that Andy has retained this level of minute knowledge. It actually serves to confirm Ron’s suspicions that Andy is not dim, at least not more so than the average person. Rather, Andy has a selective attention span, which makes him decidedly hedonistic. Ron can’t say they share all the same pleasures, but Ron believes there are worse ways to be.

Even if it is rather bad timing right now.

Gathering a breath, Ron lets it out. “It was an estimate,” he concedes.

“Two hours!” Andy repeats, as though that fact has become increasingly alarming to him. “So much can happen in two hours!”

“In our case, nothing has happened,” Ron says.

Andy flings his arms out. “Exactly! We’re still trapped!”

“And no doubt someone has noticed our absence,” Ron says. “It’s a bit slower than I anticipated, but there is no reason to panic.”

Andy does not seem to believe him. Either that, or he’s simply not listening. “But we’re trapped!” he says, voice starting to increase in speed and volume. “In a car of boxes or a train or whatever! And we’re going to die! Of dehydration and heat stroke! And Ron! Is now the time to start drinking pee?”

Ron does not hesitate. “No.”

Andy nods in sage agreement. “Because we’re doomed either way,” he says. “Pee or no pee, we’re going to die.”

Ron is entirely measured. “We are not going to die.”

“We’re totally going to die,” Andy says.

“No,” Ron tries again. “We are not going to die.”

Andy laughs incredulously. “No, no, no, I’m pretty sure--”

“Andrew,” Ron says, staring the younger man down.

Andy stares him back down. He is simply too oblivious to understand fear appropriately. “Ron,” he replies in a fair approximation of Ron’s tone, though he cannot replicate the intensity of his expression.

“Andrew.”

“Ron.”

This is inane. It’s below him. But Ron has committed this far, and he does not want to be a quitter. “Andrew,” he says, raising his voice just slightly.

It is successful.

In a way.

Andy’s face breaks, and he looks like he may cry. “Ron, I can’t feel my legs!” he moans.

Ron sighs, picking up a rock and throwing it at Andy’s legs.

Andy’s face contorts. “Ow!”

“See,” Ron says. “You can feel your legs.”

This does not appease Andy. “But I can’t feel my hands!” he says, holding up his hands and looking at them in shock as he flexes his fingers.

“Yes, you can,” Ron counters. “You’re moving them.”

“But I can’t feel myself, Ron,” Andy says, still looking at his hands as though seeing them for the first time. “I think I’m disappearing. Is that what happens when you get dehydrated? You shrivel up until you disappear?”

Ron is quizzical. “Not in the slightest.”

Andy looks at him with renewed horror. “What if it’s like Back to the Future!” he ventures. “What if I am starting to stop existing, being erased from time!”

“Dehydration is not related to time travel, which, as a matter of fact, is not real.”

“Ron!” Andy calls. “I’m losing control!”

“You’re entirely in control,” Ron says. “I can see you right now.”

“Sure, because your body is dehydrating, too,” he says. “Maybe this whole car is disappearing. All the water is being sucked out of the air until there’s not going to be anything left of any of us! Oh, my God, Ron. We’re going to be dehydrated into oblivion!”

Ron considers this.

He frowns.

He shakes his head. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

Andy’s eyes look wet. “It’s okay,” he says. “No words are necessary. Not here, at the end.”

Ron thinks that, on the whole, that doesn’t sound so bad.

-o-

Ron is pragmatic. He’s realistic. He’s essentially and wholly practical. He knows that they are very likely not going to die in this boxcar. He knows that rescue is probably minutes away. He does not panic; he is not afraid.

He needs nothing, and he is entirely self sufficient.

All that said, Ron is more than ready to get out of here.

Because he can deal with Andy’s stripping. He can tolerate Andy’s insane rantings about movies, death and dying in movies. He can humor the lack of logic. He can even find some solace in the singing.

But then, Andy starts talking about his regrets.

Ron is not completely sure how they got to this point. Something about confession in a desperate situation, which is a concept so utterly foreign to Ron that he might think it imaginary.

Until, of course, he lives it vicariously through Andrew Dwyer.

“God, Ron,” Andy says, shaking his head miserably. “I was such an idiot in school. I mean, all the classes I didn’t go to. All the tests I just failed because I didn’t try. They were opportunities, Ron, and I wasted them. I wasted every one of them.”

Ron inhales. “You did acceptably in the women’s studies course you took,” he says. “I don’t doubt you could repeat such a performance if you put your mind to it.”

“But that’s it, isn’t it?” Andy asks. “My mind is a mess. I mean, I screw everything up and I don’t even care half the time. I dated Ann for years. Ann! She was sexy and beautiful and nice and amazing, and I don’t know. I treated her like crap, man. I never actually once tried to make her happy.”

“You were a horrible boyfriend,” Ron agrees. “But then you grew up, and you married April. You are a strong, committed husband involved in one of the steadiest relationships I’ve seen.”

“But I’m pathetic!” Andy protests. “I mean, come on. I failed the police entrance exam because I’m, I don’t know, mentally unstable. Because I can’t discern fantasy from reality and I have the worst decision making skills ever.”

“It takes time and persistence,” Ron says. “You have to learn to think things through.”

“But I never think!” Andy says. “I got hurt in the pit. Twice. It was a big, giant pit! I mean, the second time, it wasn’t really my fault. Yes, I probably shouldn’t have slept in there, but I mean, it was free and I was broke, so it wasn’t that big of deal, but that first time! Ron, I fell into the pit and broke my leg because I don’t know how to make decisions.”

“True, it was rather stupid,” Ron agrees. “But you have learned from it. You still are.”

Andy simply looks miserable. “I’m just so sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry that I haven’t told April that I love her in, like, the last five minutes. Or, you know, had sex with her in the last two hours. She deserves better.”

“I think April is quite happy,” Ron says. “If April is ever happy, that is.”

Andy shakes his head. “You know what else I’m sorry for?” he asks.

Ron could only guess, but he knows he won’t have to.

“I’m sorry that I ate that bean burrito last week,” Andy continues. “It gave me the worst gas for days, and it didn’t even taste that good. I think it was expired.”

Ron makes a face.

“And you know, I’m sorry I fell asleep during the last Rambo marathon,” he says. “You can never see those movies enough.”

Ron raises his eyebrows.

Andy lifts a finger as he remembers something else. “Oh, and I’m sorry that I ate so many Skittles that I threw up and clogged the plumbing at city hall,” he says. Then he thinks. “No, scratch that, I’m not sorry for that. The rainbow vomit was amazing. Even if it did basically burn a hole in my throat. But I am sorry that I had to buy more Skittles.”

Ron takes a breath. “Andrew,” he says. “Whether or not you believe you may die, your regrets are meaningless. They accomplish nothing.”

Andy looks concerned at this. “But this may be my last chance.”

“It’s not,” Ron returns.

“But if it is--”

Ron lets out an exasperated huff. “Then you are much better served with thinking about the things you still want to accomplish,” he says. “Your dreams. Your hopes. That’s what matters. That’s what defines us. Not the things we fail at. The things we can yet succeed at.”

Andy looks heartened.

“So please,” Ron says. “Enough with the regrets.”

“Ron,” Andy says. “You are absolutely right.”

-o-

“Which is why I really want to go to Europe,” Andy says. “Because I should be refined before I die, and I hear they sell refinement in, like, stores or something. I’d probably have to save a lot of money, which, now that I think of it, I’d like to be a millionaire! Or, you know, a guy with money in my savings account.”

“Savings accounts are in banks,” Ron says. “You should never trust a bank.”

Andy laughs. “Sometimes I go into the bank, but there are all these lines and I don’t know what to do, so I go back to the car and spend my money on burgers instead.”

“Not an unwise decision,” Ron says. “Though perhaps you should let April handle the money.”

Grinning, Andy nods. “She does,” he says. Then he thinks. “I hope she does, anyway. When I pay bills, things start getting turned off.”

“Like your phone,” Ron surmises.

Andy holds up his useless phone. “Like my phone!” he agrees. “But yeah. Europe. Where they speak...Europeanese.”

Ron sets his mouth, and considers saying nothing. “You do know that you’ve been to England,” he ventures.

“Sure,” Andy says.

“And that England is a part of Europe,” Ron tells him.

Andy looks at him, like he’s expecting more.

Ron looks back.

Andy’s face brightens. “Oh!” he says. “So I have been to Europe! That’s great news!”

Ron settles back, feeling satisfied.

“That means I can totally die now,” he says. “Except for the whole savings account, millionaire thing. Oh, and I want to be a rock star. And swim in a pool of red Jello. It’s kind of a tossup which one I want more, but if I had to choose, rock star. Probably. But I mean, a pool of red Jello. Can you imagine?”

Ron, decidedly, cannot. Nor does he want to.

Andy, however, is quite smitten with the idea. He leans his head back, looking up at the ceiling fondly. “I could be a rock star who performs in red Jello. Naked.”

“I can’t imagine who that would appeal to,” Ron says.

Andy swats a hand through the air, making a dismissive noise. “This is my dream, not theirs!” he says. “And hey, if I’m going to dream big, I was thinking, it might be totally awesome to fly like a bird. Or swim like a dolphin. Or become a weird crossover bird dolphin. A birphin -- that can fly through the sky and then dive into the ocean.”

Ron chooses to say nothing.

Andy nods his head enthusiastically. “I want to be a birphin,” he sings. “Flying so high and swimming so deep. I want to be a birphin, just once I cry, before I die.”

And then, it seems, there is simply nothing that Ron could possibly say.

-o-

Andy spends another twenty minutes delineating his dreams. To his credit, he is an unabashed dreamer. Unfortunately, most of his dreams are unrealistic, unfeasible and ridiculous.

There are several, from the list of thirty or so, that may actually be doable. If Ron were inclined to care about people or their personal problems, he might be able to help Andy with some of that.

As it is, however, Ron will not admit to that.

Ever.

“Ron, I have to say, this feels really, really good,” Andy says.

Ron eyes him. “You didn’t relieve yourself in your pants, did you?”

“No, but is that an option?” Andy asks hopefully.

“No,” Ron replies. “That is never an option.”


Andy looks disappointed. “I was talking about the confessions. I mean, this whole talking about the things that matter before it’s too late. It’s, I don’t know. It’s really nice. Almost makes me feel calm about the fact that we’re dying.”

Ron sighs. “I told you, we’re not dying.”

Andy smiles. “It’s okay to be in denial,” he says. “It’s a hard truth to come to grips with.”

“I have no fear of death,” Ron says. “But we’re not dying.”

“I understand,” Andy says. “Are you sure there’s nothing you’d like to say? Just in case?”

Ron glowers, crossing his arms stiffly over his chest. “Son, I’ve lived my life the way I want, and I’ve made mistakes, but they’ve made me who I am. They’ve made me better,” he says. “I have no regrets, and I have no dreams I want to accomplish because I tackle each day doing exactly what I see fit.”

Andy’s proud facades fall. He looks a bit awed. “Man, how do you do that? How can you be so sure about everything? Have no doubts?

Ron shrugs. “It’s called fortitude.”

Andy nods. “Maybe someday, I can have fortitude like you.”

“I’m sure, in time, you can,” Ron agrees.

“It’ll be kind of hard, though,” Andy says. “No forts around here. Do you have to travel for that? Because my car overheats when it goes over 50, so, I mean, it’d have to be pretty close.”

Ron breathes out through his nose. “We’ll work on it, Andrew,” he promises. “We’ll work on it.”

-o-

There is companionable silence for several extended minutes. It is, by this point, excessively warm. Ron is sweating profusely, and he is thirsty.

Andy is drenched. He is alternating between laughing hysterically and sobbing hysterically.

Safe to say, the situation is deteriorating.

“I took so much for granted,” Andy says in a moment of quasi-sanity.

Ron does not reply. It’s not necessary.

“I mean, for years, I didn’t care where I lived. I didn’t care what I did. I ate food out of dumpsters. Which, people throw away amazing things, like once I found this entire steak with, like, two bites taken out of it, and honestly that could have been the rats--”

Ron takes a breath.

“But yeah, I slept on people’s couches. I lived in the pit for a while,” Andy says. “In a tent. With rats. There were so many rats. They used to eat my shoes. And my toes, a little bit.”

Ron furrows his brow.

“That can’t be good, can it?” Andy asks, looking somewhat concerned. “All those risks I took. Playing electric guitar in the rain. Jumping off stages to mosh when there wasn’t a crowd. And now it’s all finally come to an end. Here. In a box of cars.”

Ron sighs. “We’re not dying.”

“But,” Andy continues. “If we’re dying.”

Ron is used to being exasperated, but in the heat, this is getting somewhat stressful. “Andrew, I have told you repeatedly--”

“Please, Ron,” Andy says. “This is hard enough for me without your constant denial. Let me get through this.”

Ron swallows his protests. He doesn’t actually believe in useless causes anyway.

Andy takes a deep breath, appearing to be genuinely serious. “If we’re dying, a slow, painful and inevitable death, then I want you to tell April how much I love her,” he says. “I mean, I care about a lot of things -- the band, my job, Champion, candy -- but April. She’s the world to me. She’s everything. I haven’t done that much in my life that I’m proud of, but making her happy is basically the only thing I could ever want.”

There are numerous problems with Andy’s thinking here. First, they aren’t dying. Second, if Andy is dying, then Ron is dying, and asking Ron to pass along a message is fruitless. Third, they simply aren’t going to die.

All that in consideration, Ron can’t deny the sentiment.

He uncrosses his arms, nodding. “That’s...very poignant.”

“Also,” Andy continues. “Tell her that I’ll miss having sex with her on Saturday mornings. I mean, I’ll miss all the sex with her -- the stuff after work, the stuff before work, the stuff at three AM when we’re half awake -- but Saturday morning sex. We just take it off and do it in the backyard. It’s kind of messy, and it annoys the neighbors, and April is so sexy when she’s pissing people off.”

Ron exhales. “I’m not telling her that.”

“Ron,” Andy pleads. “Please.”

“No.”

“But we’re dying!”

“We are not dying.”

Andy looks truly distressed. “You’re going to deny a dying man’s wish?”

“You’re not dying,” Ron says again.

“Ro-on.”

Ron refuses to yield.

Andy’s expression turns abjectly sad. “Roooooooooooon.”

Ron sighs again.

He is getting soft.

So very, very soft.

“Fine,” he says. “If we die, I will pass your message on to April.”

Andy grins, immediately reinvigorated. “Thanks!” he says. “I can totally die in peace now!”

“Peace,” Ron grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest again. “Somehow, I doubt that.”

-o-

It is nearly four hours after the door locked them in that their rescue comes. Andy alternates between despair and excellent humor, and they have several lively discussions about football, taxation and jazz chords.

To balance that out, Ron listens to Andy discuss his medical history, the best horror movies and his favorite pizza places.

As it turns out, Andy is a grossly unhealthy person, mostly due to poor decision making and terrible hygiene. There is no such thing as a good horror movie, but Ron does learn the name of a pizza place that serves a five meat pizza.

It’s not been the best day.

But, Ron reflects in the scorching heat, he has had worse days.

Still, when the rescue arrives, Ron is more than ready. He hears the scuffling first -- to small and erratic to be any kind of animal, even the raccoons in Pawnee -- and then voices. When someone starts to slam on the exterior of the boxcar, Ron starts to get up with decided relief.

Andy reaches his hands out, as if to brace himself. “Whoa,” he says. “Did you feel that?”

“Yes,” Ron says. “It’s finally happening.”

Andy’s mouth drops open. “Our death!”

Ron frowns. “Our rescue,” he corrects.

Someone pounds again.

Andy makes a strangled crying sound. “Oh my God, Ron, we’re going to die!”

“No,” Ron says again. “I’m fairly certain that’s our rescue.”

“I know what I said, Ron,” Andy says, shaking his head in misery. “But I’m not ready to die!”

“Ron? Andy?” Leslie’s voice calls.

“Yes,” Ron calls back. “We somehow managed to lock ourselves inside this boxcar.”

Andy scrambles to his feet. “See, you hear it, too!”

“Yes,” Ron says. “Leslie has found us.”

Andy shakes his head. “I’m so sorry, Ron,” he says. “You’re dying, too.”

“Son,” Ron says, clapping him on the shoulder. “This is not a hallucination.”

Leslie pounds again. “It’s really jammed!”

“It’s so real!” Andy says, entirely wide-eyed.

“That’s because it is real,” Ron replies.

“Look,” Leslie says. “I think I can probably pry it open, but it’s going to take a minute.”

“It’s Leslie!” Andy says.

“Exactly,” Ron says with a nod.

“Ron, I’m having a Leslie hallucination,” Andy tells him. “Do you think she’s dead, too?”

Ron sighs. “No one is dead.”

“I found a thick branch,” Leslie calls. “I think I can pop it, but you’re going to want to stand away from the door--”

There’s a rattle, and Ron steps back, pulling Andy with him. It’s loud and obnoxious, but the bolts creak and moan. Ron can tell it’s working.

There’s a sliver of light, just a flash. And then a little more.

“Just a little more,” Leslie grunts.

“A light!” Andy says. “I think we’re supposed to go toward the light--”

It’s so ridiculous that Ron thinks Andy must be joking. In fact, he’s never entirely certain when Andy is actually being serious or how serious Andy is capable of being. It occurs to him belatedly that Andy has no common sense. More than that, he has a tenuous grasp on reality. And, Ron relents, it is possible that the heat is getting to him, given how hot it is and how much Andy perspires.

All of which is to say, Ron probably should have seen it coming.

But Ron is hot and sweaty, too. He’s not proud to admit that he misses the obvious.

“No,” he starts, reaching out. “Andy--”

“Almost there--” Leslie says.

And Andy steps forward.

Right as the door slams open.

Andy never sees it coming.

The door slams hard into him, and he crumples to the ground, rendered entirely unconscious.

Leslie, branch still in hand, rushes in. She looks down at Andy in confusion. “What?” she asks. She looks at Ron. “What happened?”

Ron sighs. “Apparently,” he says with some chagrin because it’s not often that Andrew Dwyer is right and Ron Swanson is wrong. But today, to say the least, has been a strange and unfortunate day. “Andy went into the light.”

-o-

Under normal circumstances, Ron Swanson will refuse a government service at all costs. Moreover, he will under yield to medical intervention under extreme duress. Once, as a teenager, he had cut his hand open on a saw. Instead of calling an ambulance, he walked to his car and drove to the emergency room on his own. When they tried to admit him, Ron refused and was back at home finishing his woodworking project before the end of the day.

That’s how Ron is.

As he sits holding a bandage to the gash on Andy’s head, however, his resolution wavers. The younger man hasn’t moved, and according to Leslie, the ambulance is already on its way.

Just this one, he decides, a little governmental help can’t hurt.

-o-

Ron goes with Andy.

This choice is pragmatic. Staying behind would mean explaining the situation, in great detail, to Leslie. He may also be forced to walk all the way back with her, which would lead to more conversation and undue discomfort. He might even be subjected to questions about the state of the boxcar, which Ron has already deemed perfectly adequate for Leslie’s purpose.

There is a time and a place for that.

This, he decides, is not it.

This is partially Ron’s fault. True, Andy was the one who flailed and locked the door. And yes, Andy’s strange fantasy world also led to walking head on into the door.

But this was Ron’s trip. He’s the boss. Andy is his employee.

Andy is his friend.

Pragmatic, indeed.

-o-

The trip is long. The medics at least seem competent, though Ron has fairly low expectations when it comes to medical professionals. Ron answers simple questions regarding what happened, but he refuses to answer questions about Andy’s age or medical history, despite the fact that he is far too knowledgeable of both. He could not prevent this accident, but he will prevent Andy from being worked over in a bureaucratic system as much as possible.

The medic checks Andy’s pupils and tests his reflexes. He makes a few notations on his chart, and proceeds to monitor Andy’s vitals for the rest of the trip. During this, Andy does not move. He doesn’t giggle inappropriately. He doesn’t make nonsensical, off-handed remarks. He doesn’t joke or sing or want to pee.

Andy is still and quiet.

Under some circumstances, this might be ideal.

Not under these circumstances, however, Ron decides gruffly.

-o-

At the hospital, Ron is asked the same questions. He is handed paperwork, which is promptly ignored. Instead, he waits just outside the emergency room, watching the doctors work.

This isn’t worry, Ron tells himself. This is due diligence.

Ron wants for nothing in life, but he would prefer it if Andy woke up.

Soon.

Now.

-o-

Ron trusts that Leslie will call April. He also trusts that she will contact everyone at the office and arrange for an over-the-top Get Well present. Ron has no doubt that Andy’s room will be filled in due time with balloons, stuffed animals and candy, probably with a scrapbook of his other unfortunate hospital visits.

April will come and hang on his arm, offering snide commentary and gentle kisses. Tom will visit with food from the bistro, all with the logo prominently displayed and free samples for the nurses, and Ben will undoubtedly bring some movie Ron has never heard of and a long, dwindling explanation of why it’s the best movie ever. Donna will stop by long enough to offer her well wishes, and Jerry will trip over his own feet, slamming his face into a pie or cake he’s brought from home.

Ron will do none of that.

He will, however, wait until April arrives.

Until his presence is no longer needed.

Whichever may come first.

-o-

They run some tests. They conduct some scans. The doctor stitches Andy’s head and concludes the younger man has a bad concussion.

This means essentially nothing except that Andy will probably be fine.

Ron knows this is good news.

Sitting next to Andy’s bedside, Ron finds this questionable.

He is tired; he is sweaty; he is hot. He has been in an ambulance, and he is actually holding a vigil. Andy’s face is pale and drawn, and he is uncharacteristically still.

There is nothing good about this.

“I have no regrets,” he tells Andy. “Don’t make me start now.”

-o-

It has been just short of an hour at the hospital when Andy wakes up. He takes his time with it -- this is Andy, after all -- but Ron still finds himself not frowning when the younger man groggily comes to.

Ron waits patiently while Andy seems to get his bearings. When he looks at Ron, at first he appears confused. It’s impossible to tell if this is due to the concussion or if this is simply Andy being Andy.

Finally, after several long seconds, Andy’s brow furrows under the bandage. “Did I die?”

“No,” Ron says.

Andy looks unconvinced. “It feels like I died.”

Ron has no need to argue that point. “You hit your head when you ran into the door,” he explains instead. “Surprisingly, there was damage.”

Andy seems to consider this quite seriously. “But no dying.”

Ron’s expression softens marginally. “No dying.”

Despite the good news, Andy still looks concerned. “Look, Ron,” he begins. “All that stuff I said…”

Ron inclines his head. “Think nothing of it,” he says. “Trust me when I say I already am.”

Andy’s expression turns sheepish. “I just...man, I really thought…”

“Confession in a desperate situation,” Ron supplies for him. “I understand. I may not be prone to such things, but I do understand.”

“Thanks, Ron,” Andy says, face brightening with a grin. “You’re the best. I’d die with you any day.”

“It’s a nice sentiment,” Ron says. “But I should say that I certainly hope not.”

-o-

Andy is resting again when April arrives. Before she can storm into the room, Ron catches her in the hallway.

“Let me go,” she says, yanking her arm away, looking around Ron’s shoulder. “Is he okay?”

She sounds noticeably worried. Which, for April, is something.

“He’s resting,” Ron tells her. “He has a concussion, but he’s going to be fine.”

“Leslie said he was unconscious,” she says. “Why was he unconscious?”

“It’s not a very good story,” Ron admits. “But just know that he woke up. He’s coherent. I just got done talking to him.”

“So he’s okay, right?” April asks. “I mean, he’s such a big idiot, he has to be okay, right?”

Ron smiles gently. “Yes,” he says. “He’s going to be okay.”

Before he can move, April flings herself toward him. It is so out of character, that Ron never sees it coming, and he is being hugged before he has a chance to protest and/or escape.

It’s a fast, awkward hug, and April pulls away as quickly as she launched herself at him. Face flushed, she tucks her hair behind her ear and doesn’t quite look him in the eye.

“Thank you,” she says. “I mean, for making sure he has a brain still and stuff.”

“It was nothing,” Ron says.

She lifts her head a little higher. “I’m really glad you were there,” she says with a final nod. “Really.”

With that, she walks by him and into the room. Ron stands and watches through the window as she goes to Andy, first taking his hand before curling up in the bed next to him. His eyes flutter open, and he turns his head to nestle against hers. It’s gentle, and it’s affectionate. It’s not the type of thing that most people would expect from these two, but then again, Andy was right about this much: desperate situations bring out the truth. They make you realize what matters. They show you for who you really are, for better and for worse.

In this case, Ron decides as he walks away from the hospital room, definitely for the better.

-o-

As he’s leaving, he runs into Leslie.

More accurately, she runs into him.

“Ron!” she says. “You’re okay!”

“I was always okay,” Ron says.

“Oh, yeah,” she says. “How’s Andy? I had to hike all the way back before I got cell reception again, and then I was on the phone with April and Tom and Donna and my Aunt Clara--”

“You called your aunt about Andy?” Ron interjects quizzically.

“No, it’s her birthday, and I always call her at the exact hour of her birth to commemorate the moment with a song and a recitation of a Shakespearean sonnet and--”

Ron gives her a hard look.

“But that’s not important,” Leslie says, shaking her head and getting back on track. “I was going to call you to see how things were, but then I remembered, this is you we’re talking about, and I thought I’d just come by to see you both.”

Ron nods, finding the explanation satisfactory if long winded. “Well. You’ve seen me.”

“And Andy?” Leslie asks hopefully.

“Recovering,” he says. “His head isn’t as hard as we might have thought, but I trust he’s going to be fine.”

“Oh, good,” Leslie says. “I got him this.”

She holds up a stuffed dog.

“But then I remembered Champion only has three legs, so I was going to cut this one off, but I didn’t have time to sit down and sew,” she says. “So I bought him this.”

She produces a jumbo bag of Skittles.

“But you know, if he’s got a head injury, he might have nausea so maybe I should rethink that,” she says. Then she tilts her head. “But he did love the rainbow vomit.”

“I think both gifts will be fine,” Ron says.

She looks at them both. “Maybe I should wait to make a scrapbook.”

Ron nods. “Whatever you decide, I think I’m going to go home now,” he says. “The work day officially ended an hour ago.”

“Did it?” Leslie asks. “I didn’t notice.”

“To be fair, you never notice,” Ron reminds her.

“Good point,” Leslie agrees. “But I’ll definitely be back at the office tonight. After visiting Andy, I really need to get a new lead on a possible theme for the Harvest Festival.”

At this, Ron frowns. “You have a theme, and it involves a boxcar.”

“Correction,” she says. “I had a theme. Unfortunately, when I wrenched the door open, I kind of broke it. Either that, or Andy’s head did.”

Ron surmises it’s probably a bit of both.

Leslie shrugs. “It’s okay, though. It was just months of planning, down the drain in a single day,” she says. “I can come up with something new, no problem.”

Ron pauses. “Are you saying you ruined your theme just to get us out?”

“Well, you could have been dying!” Leslie protests.

“We were never in danger of dying,” Ron tells her.

“Ron,” Leslie says. “No theme is more important than friendship. When you two didn’t come back, I feared the worst. I even broke out my emergency parks and recreation protocol, which clearly has a section for employees who go missing in the line of duty. Though I will have to add an amendment that covers warm, confined spaces.”

Ron inhales.

He exhales.

The things that really matter. Ron doesn’t see any value in government work, but he’s learned some things today. Some important things.

Some things he will never talk about for as long as he lives.

“Your theme is fine,” he says. “I can fix your boxcar.”

Leslie’s face brightens. “Really?”

“Of course,” Ron replies.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Leslie says. “We were totally screwed without it. I mean, no regrets or anything, but honestly, I would have really regretted not using it. Can you really fix it in time for the Harvest Festival?”

“Leslie,” Ron says. “It would be my pleasure.”

-o-

On his way home, Ron buys himself a few burgers. He drinks several beers.

Feeling refreshed, he continues on his journey to see his wife and children after a long and harrowing day.

Sometimes he thinks he should tell the people in his life exactly what they mean to him. It shouldn’t take a dire situation for Ron to acknowledge that these people are his friends.

But then, he’s pretty confident they already know.

There are, after all, many ways to confess the truth when it matters. It can be a rambling list of regrets and dreams. It can be a hug and a thank you. It can be a broken boxcar.

Or it can enduring all of that and still going back the next day.

Whatever works, Ron knows.

Whatever works.

-o-

When it’s over, Andy has a concussion and Leslie gets her boxcar.

Ron gets a day off work and the satisfaction of a job well done.

As a department, they can create programs and enact change. They can do a lot of things that Leslie would call important. Ron can even thwart government progress from the inside out.

But none of that compares to what actually matters.

To Ron’s mind, it all just goes to show that nothing good can come of governmental action.

Absolutely nothing.

Ron will never confess to anything else.

But then, Ron knows he’ll never have to.