Title: May, She Will Stay
Fandom: Parks and Recreation
Summary: After escaping from Orin, the party continues.
Notes: Ep addition for 3.09 Fancy Party. 4500 words. Fluff levels moderate to high. Title comes from Simon and Garfunkel's 'April Come She Will'.
They hid out in the kitchen, giggling like idiots as they tried to catch their breath. Leslie looked over at Ben as she laughed. She just felt really happy all of a sudden. Probably because now the matter of whether Ben was staying or leaving for Indianapolis had been settled. He was going to be such an asset to the local council team. It made her heart glad just thinking about it.
"Hey," she said, "we should get a drink - some champagne. You brought champagne, didn't you?"
"It was that or buy a new TV, yeah. Uh, let's have a look, see what's around," he agreed easily.
They started a search amongst the various bottles scattered all over the place.
Empty. Empty. Half-empty beer - no good. Half-empty bottle of wine with used kleenex stuffed in the neck - ew. "I just think," she added over her shoulder, "I mean, it's a celebration, right?"
"Sure, yeah. Hey, here we go." Ben held an open champagne bottle aloft, and grabbed a pair of plastic cups from a handy stack on his way back over to her side. She held them while he poured. "Just enough for two. So, to April and Andy."
"The happy couple." She tapped his cup with her own, smiling as she drank.
Ben smiled back at her over the rim of his cup and the happy warmth in her heart spread. It was probably, almost definitely, the alcohol. She'd hadn't had much to drink yet over the course of the evening, too busy with panicked plans for wedding ruination, but this was really good champagne.
Ben was staying and he was her good, close friend; she was allowed to be glad.
Really she was just happy on Pawnee's behalf.
She quickly and silently reminded herself not to say that aloud.
But she needed to say something to mark the occasion. "Oh, and um, to... your new job! Wow, talk about celebrating, it's kind of a big step. I mean. In your career, a big step. A big change. Cutting old ties... Forging new paths. So you basically altered your entire career path, huh? Irrevocably, probably in ways you haven't even considered yet."
They stared at each other, unblinking, for a second. Neither bothered with the clinking glasses part, they just chugged, draining the last of the champagne with ease.
"Another drink, maybe?" she said.
"You still think it was a bad idea?" Ben said. "Those two, I mean?"
So turned out drinking was the way to go. It had really helped a lot. Great big glass of wine - so many problems solved. She was feeling really mellow now, just really happy, and he'd caught her watching April and Andy huddled together on the sofa, fingers laced together, off in their own little newlywed world. It was, frankly, adorable.
Leslie's hands flapped out from her sides. "Yes," she said flatly. She flapped again. "But what do I know? I have many years of repeated experience with failed relationships - maybe that's how it's supposed to look."
Andy and April were - were they spitting tic-tacs at each other? Where were they getting those tic-tacs? There was no food at this party. She was starving.
"I mean, maybe they'll still be doing... that when they've been married for sixty years," she continued. "Thinking they're idiots doesn't mean I don't want them to be happy forever."
"There's your guestbook message right there."
"Okay, and yours will be something in Klingon. And no one will be able to read it. Except for other nerds and Klingons."
"You know what, that's not even Star Wars, that's Star Trek, and I don't even -"
"Hang on, there's not really a guestbook, is there?" she spoke over the top of him. "I haven't seen one."
"- And frankly the Jedi would kick the Klingons' asses. What? Uh, there's a Pawnee City Council notepad over by the plastic cups, people have been writing stuff on there."
"Damn, now I do have to think of something to say."
"Not usually a problem for you."
"Still sore about the Kingon crack, huh?"
"Again, that's Star Trek, not Star Wars and it's not like I go to conventions dressed as a stormtrooper!"
"Come on, indoor voice. People are looking." She patted his arm in a calming gesture. "Why don't we get you something eat, it's probably just low blood sugar or something."
"Yeah, okay. Have you seen any food at this party?"
She grabbed him suddenly. "No, why, have you?"
"I dare you," Ben said.
Leslie, arms folded resolutely over her chest, shook her head firmly. "No, I can't hear you."
"Come on, you've said you're starving like eight times. You know what, I triple dog dare you."
"Well, that's great, but I don't care. And I still can't hear you."
"I think, uh, yep, I think you might be a big chicken."
"I'm not! I'm just being a good guest. What if I projectile vomit highly disturbing vegetable crap all over Andy and April's special party, did you think of that Ben? They're my friends, and I respect them too much for that."
"No you don't."
"Shut up I don't want to eat it!"
"I know," he said with a smirk.
She frowned. "You eat it. You eat Satan's veggie log and then I'll - I'll watch you. From a safe distance."
"Do it. Do it! Oh my god you're doing it." She flung her hands up to cover her face. "Oh I can't watch. Please don't puke on me."
"Mmm. Hey, it's not bad."
She uncovered her eyes and stared at him in horrified yet grudging admiration.
"Tastes kind of like a... mushroomy... apple pie. No, more like... Hawaiian punch compost?"
"Urgh that is so wrong," she whined, hating everything. But then she noticed he was smiling. Was in fact way too happy for compost. "Wait, you didn't eat any, did you?"
It would have been funny, except it wasn't. "Ew, I feel like I can taste it."
"It's okay, come on." He started to lead her away.
"I think I'm traumatised."
"So ridiculous food items aside, there is seriously nothing to eat at this party."
Ben gestured over his shoulder. "I saw a bowl of dip over there. I think it was dip; there aren't any chips anywhere, so I'm just taking a shot in the dark."
"Come on, let's see what we can scrounge up."
They hit the kitchen, Ben opening cabinets while she explored the fridge.
"Oh hey, jello shots. Someone's been hiding these." She drew the tray out from behind a collection of ancient take-out boxes, kicking the fridge door shut before setting the tray down on the counter.
"Wow, yeah this is not a good idea," Ben said, coming to stand beside her.
"Come on, we're hungry, it's food."
"That's not food."
"Sure it is, there's always room for jello." She did a shot. "Blue is the best. Want one?" There were two blue ones left, a red one, and a bunch of green. No one liked green jello, she honestly didn't know why it even existed. Ben could have the green ones.
Ben took a red one. He eyed it briefly before shrugging and throwing it back. "Yeah okay, that's basically vodka and food colouring," he said, returning the empty cup to the tray.
"And a buttload of gelatin. You know, otherwise the alcohol won't set at all. What? I know jello shots, I went to college." She did another shot. "Wow these are great."
Ben attempted to surreptitiously move the tray out of reach, but this only made her smile. "Boy, college was a great time, wasn't it? I was so... free and open to new things."
"The party girl hasn't been completely left behind, clearly," he told her with an amused smile.
She grabbed his arm, because suddenly this was really important. "Tell me you had fun in college. A little fun? I know you were newly traumatised by mayoral failure, but you weren't one of those kids who did nothing but study, and no one even got to know you at all?"
He just looked at her a moment, an odd smile on his face. "I had a little fun. Sometimes."
"Here." She reached across him to grab the last blue shot and held it under his nose. "You need this more than I do." He took it, giving her a slightly dubious look, but she just waited and he gave in like a second later. "Fun, right?" she said, laughing at his face as he winced.
"Now this one."
"I know, it's green, but just do it real fast. Like an oyster. No! Pretend it's vegetable cake!"
He was laughing, but managed to get it down, at which point she cheered. One handed. She cheered one-handed, because apparently she was still clinging onto his arm, and why was she doing that? Oh, of course. Two shots of blue-tinted vodka on an empty stomach.
She let go.
There'd been shots, and wine before that, and champagne before than. There might have been beer at some point. This meant only one thing.
"Where are we going?"
"Just in here."
"Why are we in here?"
"My purse is in here somewhere."
She flipped on the light and moved to the bed on which coats were piled up and started to dig through them.
"What's in here again?" Ben said after a pause, sounding highly confused.
"What is wrong with you?"
"Uh, I don't know, someone stuffed me into a time machine, transported me to a finals week floor party, and made me do a bunch of jello shots."
"Sit down, you sound like a lunatic."
He slumped down onto the edge of the bed beside her. His face was all screwed up. "My mouth... tastes like... green."
"Oh! Found it!" She lunged across the bed and rescued her purse from under a pillow, where she now remembered hiding it back at the start of the evening. Andy and April had a lot of friends and she didn't like any of them. Clumsily, she righted herself, scooting back over to sit next to Ben. "Okay," she squinted at the card she managed to produce from her bag, "well, we are not in great shape, I can tell you that much. Basically nobody at this party is going anywhere for hours."
"That's what your card says?"
"Well this is terrible, this is a huge disaster in the making right here, all these hungry, intoxicated people, and we can't even leave because the card says no. What if everybody figures it out at the same time and there's a riot? Oh my god, Tom would be killed. And then we'd be forced to eat him to survive."
She rubbed his shoulder. "It's okay, it's a confusing time. I can't believe we still haven't eaten, I'm starving, this is the worst dinner party."
"But we just had all that jello."
"Come on, jello isn't food."
"Oh, now jello isn't food?"
"And it was mostly vodka, anyway. That's it, I'm ordering pizza."
"That's... okay that's an incredible idea. Much better than the descent into cannibalistic chaos thing going on for a minute there. You always have the best ideas." He smiled at her, a big, dopey smile.
"Yeah yeah, shut up." She already had her phone out. "Carl? Hello, it's Leslie Knope, from the Parks and Recreation Department? Hi, I am at a party, and I am starving, so I need four - no, five large pizzas, with sausage, onion, and peppers. Hold on, Carl." She covered the phone with her hand and looked at Ben seriously. "Do you want a calzone?"
He laughed, ducking his head. "No, I'm good, thanks."
"Are you sure? I'll get you one."
"Really, it's okay."
Honestly, she was relieved, she would have felt so stupid ordering that. She spoke back into the phone. "That's it, Carl, thanks." She gave the address and dropped the phone back in her purse.
She sighed. Food. The party was saved. It could be April and Andy's wedding gift; a stupid gift for the stupidest wedding ever. Was Ben's arm around her waist? Oh, no, he was just leaning his hand on the mattress behind her. She was slouched back a little and resting against it, which was totally different.
It was quieter in here, away from everyone and the loud music. She sighed again, and realised she was staring at the side of Ben's face. Ben was looking down, and this was because, apparently, he was looking at her hand on his leg.
She wasn't groping his leg, okay? It's just, they were sitting close together - there were a lot of coats on this bed, they were conserving space - and her hand was just sort of resting there, against the side of his leg.
Except just thinking about what her hand was doing made her fingers move. Sort of flex. Almost like she was groping his leg. And he looked up at her finally and oh god she was groping Ben's leg and now they were going to kiss. Right? Of course they were. They had to, she'd been in situations like this before and people always kissed, it was practically required of them. In fact she was probably going to kiss him even if he didn't want to, that's how necessary it was.
Ben cleared his throat and swallowed hard.
She groped his leg some more.
Any second now someone was going to lean.
The door shuddered as it swung fully open and banged against the wall.
"Oh, I'm sorry you two, am I interrupting something in here?"
"Yes," she said, glaring, while Ben jumped out of his skin and said, "no! Wait, yes?"
'I'm in the middle of a very important phone call, Jerry, what do you want?"
"My jacket - it's getting late, so I'm heading home."
"I don't have your jacket, Jerry."
"Uh," Ben said, looking behind them.
"What? Oh." She sighed and got up.
Man, she hated Jerry.
So things had gotten a little weird back there. But no, she wasn't going to let Jerry bring down the whole night - that would be like letting the terrorists win. And hey, she was pretty buzzed, and there was pizza on the way so she was basically everyone's hero although they didn't know it yet, and so she was psyched about that, and once they were back out with the rest of the party the solution presented itself.
She jumped up and down. "Oh, let's dance!" So technically, it should be noted, she was already dancing. It happened. She wasn't asking so much as demonstrating.
Ben just watched her with a weird look on his face for a moment and, predictably, failed to move at all.
"Not much of a dancer," he said.
"Lame! Come on, it's not that hard, even for nerdy white guys."
"You know what, I'm good, I'll just - I'll watch."
Well it would be too weird staying there dancing with him when he wasn't even moving a little. She threw up her hands and turned away.
"Leslie Knope!" greeted her, and she bounced over to join Chris who, it should also be noted, was an amazing dancer. He probably, like, took professional lessons or something, she was seriously impressed.
Tom was there dancing too, and a few other people. She was tipsy enough to just enjoy herself, while sober enough to strategically keep Chris in between her and Jean Ralphio whom experience had taught her did not understand how personal space worked. The flailing was a perfect obstacle.
She also wasn't too drunk to notice that Ben... was watching like he said. Even when he started talking to April's dad, and then some other people, when she glanced over he always caught her eye before she had to duck to avoid one of Chris's outflung limbs.
Come to think of it, Ben could never have handled this, it was no place for a beginner.
She was ready. She had a back-up slice of pizza on hand, and a handy beverage, she was all set. Super psyched.
"We'll go on three," Ben said. "One..."
"Wait, I'm not ready!"
"No, no, we have to, this is one of those things that will haunt us the rest of our lives. You'll always wonder... what if?"
"Okay, I'm ready."
"One, two, three... go!"
They each lifted a chunk of the dense brown slab to their mouths and took a big bite.
"Urghhh," Leslie groaned.
"Aw mah - eurrgh," Ben gagged, reaching frantically for his beer.
"Hey guys!" They turned, horrified to see Chris standing there with wide, enthusiastic eyes. "I see you're enjoying the vegetable loaf. Please, I'd love to hear your feedback."
"Um." Ben's eyes were watering as he swallowed and tried to speak.
Leslie coughed, patting her chest. God, it felt like it was lodged there something good. "Well, you can really taste the -"
"Fruit reduction," Ben jumped in.
"Y-yummy. Is it - are there apples in it?"
Chris beamed. "Close! Blueberries. One of nature's super foods."
Ben shifted, clearing his throat, having trouble keeping a straight face. "What - uh, what kind of mushrooms did you use? There - it has an interesting, uh, texture."
At that she couldn't take it and burst into giggles, which she quickly tried to hide in her wine glass.
This was an awesome idea, because when she was drinking the wine she couldn't taste the spinach so much. She finished the glass far too quickly; Chris wasn't even done describing the shitakes yet.
Meanwhile neither of them had made any sign of taking another bite. Sooner or later Chris has going to realise they were standing there with half-eaten veggie loaf in their hands and expect them to enjoy more of it.
"Hey Chris, so I think that guy Orin was looking for you just a little while ago - oh see, there he is, lurking in that corner over there. With the eyes."
"Yeah, he seemed like he really wanted to get to know you better," Ben added.
"You should take him some loaf."
"I had noticed," Chris said, "and don't take this as a criticism of anybody, or anything, especially not a young man full of potential and so many great ideas and feelings. But I honestly think Orin might be in need of some nutritional advice. He seems pale."
"Yeah, he really does." Leslie nodded.
"You go advise the hell out of him, Chris," Ben said. He turned back to Leslie once Chris was across the room with a paper plateful of nutritious non-cake. "You're kind of a genius."
"Oh, no. I just really don't like that Orin kid. Not a big fan of Chris right now, either."
"I hate my mouth right now."
"Okay, that's sweet." She smiled as she watched Andy and April swaying together in the middle of the room, a few other couples around them taking advantage of the slow song. April's parents were out there. "I'll be so sorry when they break up, probably in about two days." She shook her head. "I'll be right, but I'll be sorry."
"Hey, uh," shifting at her side, Ben cleared his throat. "Would you want, um, I don't know," he rubbed his forehead, "if you feel like it," he gestured vaguely, "with me?" He paused. "Wow. Sorry. Was that even a sentence?" His brows were drawn together in deep consternation. "I think I was asking if you wanted to -"
"Swim?" she offered.
"Make chili? Go to the park? For the record, I always want to go to the park."
He was starting to smile. "...Dance?"
"Oooh. Yeah, I did not get that."
"Thanks for the mocking, that always helps."
"So, now you want to dance, huh?"
"Well, it's slow dancing, anyone can slow dance. Even a nerdy white guy."
"Hey, you admitted it. First step to recovery."
They both laughed. But it was awkward laughter.
She was stalling. Of course she wanted to dance with him. She loved dancing and he probably wouldn't even be that bad at it. But at the same time she didn't want to.
Everything was going so well, and she'd really stretched herself today - she'd just watched while April and Andy got married, and she'd eaten vegetable loaf, and she'd told Ben how she really felt about the job thing, and she'd kept it together and barely freaked out at all.
She was a lot more sober now, though, and she was remembering how 'slow dance with handsome co-worker' wasn't on any of her to-do lists in either the short or long term. Neither was 'get drunk and make out with handsome co-worker on a pile of coats' for that matter and look how narrowly she'd avoided that situation.
"So," Ben prompted.
No, it was for the best. If she just went around changing the plan at the drop of a hat, anarchy would reign.
"Um, actually, do you mind, if...?"
His face fell but he covered it quickly. "Oh, okay. That's..." He couldn't seem to come up with a word for what that was.
And seriously, what was wrong with her, it was just a dance. Now she felt like the worst person on the face of the planet. "I just, I think I need some air? I'm going to step outside for a minute." And maybe call Ann. Or hyperventilate. Both at the same time seemed really appealing right now.
He followed her outside before she even had a chance to start breathing funny. "Are you okay? Did I do something wrong here or -?"
"No, no," she waved a hand, "of course not, you're fine, you're perfect."
"You're... not fine," he ventured.
She looked around. Someone was starting their car across the street but other than that they were alone out here. It was funny, she thought, how there was a whole house full of people and she'd barely talked to anyone but Ben for like the last two hours.
"I don't want to ruin things," she said. "We've been having a good time, this is a really good party. This is definitely the best party I've been to in a really long time."
She stopped talking abruptly. Ben didn't say anything, though, just listened, waiting as if he knew there was more.
There was definitely more.
She could feel it all building up inside her like... something scary that involved a lot of pressure.
A volcano! That's what it was called.
"I," she started, "am never going to be that person who can get married tomorrow. Not unless tomorrow is preceded by four months of careful planning. Two if I'm really motivated and Ann does my hair and makeup. Which isn't the point. I think that there is a time and a place for taking risks, and I admire people who take them, and I know it feels really good when you do. I just think that all sides of a matter should be considered and you should be sure that it's the right risk you're taking! What is so wrong with that?"
Silence. She could literally hear crickets chirping.
It felt like a really long time before Ben spoke. "So, I have something to say."
"Yes. I... here's the thing, I do like Pawnee. It's a pretty great place -"
"It's the greatest."
"Right? And you know what, I want to not be moving around all the time, live like a normal person, get to know people and let them get to know me. Maybe I'll join a gym, or a soccer league or something."
"Oh my god, you play soccer? Sorry, that's probably not the point."
"It's the number one sport in the entire wor - okay focus, Leslie, because you know what I do have a point."
"The point is there are lots of good reasons why taking this job was a good choice for me. They were all on my list."
"You made a pros and cons list?" Just the thought made her suddenly feel warm all over.
"I did, and look, yes, okay, yes there was something else on that list, another really good reason to stay... But you know, I'm uh, I'm not exactly Mr Spontaneous Guy, myself. I thought it all through. I uh, I just thought you should know that."
A slow smile crossed her face. "You made a list."
"I made a list."
She nodded once. "Okay."
"Come on, come back inside." She took him by the wrist - not the hand, that would have been... skin would have been touching, fingers would be involved, they weren't there yet - and pulled him after her as they went back in.
The party was winding down, but there were still people standing - in some cases lying - here and there, talking and finishing off the pizza. She manoeuvred around and stepped over them, Ben trailing after her through the room.
It was the easiest thing in the world then to step into the middle of the small group of couples still making use of the makeshift dance floor, turn and put her arms up around Ben's neck. He took it in stride, smiling a small, reserved smile that seemed to tell her he was as happy to just be here with her as she was to be here with him.
There was maybe a hint of smugness to that smile, too, she noted.
Yes, she'd been in severe danger of hyperventilating possibly, and he'd talked her down pretty well, and now she was dancing with him just like he wanted - still.
"Soccer is boring and pointless. It's like the calzone of the sporting world. I just thought you should know that," she said quietly.
They continued to sway slowly to the music, turning in a lazy circle, and Ben's smile didn't budge.
"Soccer is awesome, and three billion people have my back on that. You know what else is awesome? Sci-fi movies, and pizza alternatives of all kinds."
She grinned up at him. "Really?"
"Yep, and I do know several phrases in Klingon, none of them suitable for a wedding book, though. But I'm not even ashamed of it, you know why?"
"Because geeks are cool. And I'm here to stay, Pawnee can just deal with it."
"I'd keep the Klingon thing to yourself, maybe."
"Yeah, don't tell anyone about that, please."
She was laughing by now, and rested her forehead on his shoulder for a moment, letting herself enjoy that small thrill as he tightened his arms around her and drew her a little closer. It was late and she was tired, still a tiny bit drunk, and he was tall and his shoulder made a really good pillow, and he made a list, so she stayed right where she was.
"My middle name's Barbara," she said.
"Um, that's pretty."
"Tell me yours."
"That's pretty, too."
She felt more than heard his answering laugh, a rumble in his chest under her cheek. She closed her eyes and they danced until the music stopped.