Ann doesn't like seeing them together.
She thought she might've gotten over it— really, she did. She was dating Mark and they had a long talk about the issues of putting someone on hold. She had been selfish, in wanting Justin to stay single just on the off chance that they could one day be together, and that wasn't fair to Mark or to Leslie. So Ann set them up. And she said it would be fine.
So why does her blood boil when she sees Justin holding Leslie's hand? Why does a chill run down her spine when they smile at each other like that? Why does she feel the need to sprint in the other direction when Justin leans down to kiss her?
Ann has a boyfriend, she shouldn't be feeling like this about another guy. And he is making Leslie happier…
“You are happier, aren't you?” Ann asks her one day in Leslie’s office, just for confirmation. “With Justin.”
Leslie smiles automatically. “I am, actually. I really didn't think I'd be able to get over Dave for a while, but… Justin, he's just so… cool, you know?”
“He is.” Ann picks at her salad, stabbing it with her fork a little harder than necessary. “He's got lots of… great stories.” She winces at the words, if only because she's heard them all before. She's stayed up all night with him while he's recounted all his stories, using the same ones over and over again. “You really like him?”
Leslie stops eating to smile at her, and something in her stomach twists. “Oh, Ann, you're so beautiful and amazing and smart and totally selfless.”
“Is… is that a yes?”
“It is a yes. I do think I really like him. And we wouldn't be dating now if it wasn't for you, so… thank you.”
And something about those words turns the twist in Ann’s stomach into more of an ache, swallowing down her food before she feels the urge to vomit. Ann did this. Justin and Leslie wouldn't be together if it wasn't for Ann.
She just had to go meddling, didn't she? She just had to make this harder on herself, and now she has to see Justin and Leslie together far too often for her liking. No, she's not okay with it. She doesn't know what to do about it, but she's definitely not okay with it.
As she packs up her lunch and waves goodbye to Leslie, she's already resolved here and now that she has to break up with Mark.
Mark doesn't take it well.
He starts off in disbelief, and then just pure anger and accusation. She's done it too soon, maybe, because they had their conversation about Justin too recently. Mark is all pointing fingers and raised voices and he accuses her of being in love with Justin.
And Ann’s very first thought?
It's not about Justin.
She wants to scream it from the rooftops, scream it in his face, but it doesn't make any sense at all. Her jealousy is white hot and consumes her to the point where she lies awake at night imagining Justin and Leslie in bed together, torturing her until her sleep schedule is nothing more than a joke.
She wants to be mad at Mark, she so desperately wants to turn this around on him and accuse him of insecurity, tell him he was a dull boyfriend anyway, confess that they've never been sexually compatible— but she does none of that. Because while true, it would only be in the name of saving face. Because he's right. She is jealous, and that is why their relationship is ending.
Maybe Ann is still in love with Justin.
Leslie cancelled on their girls night last night.
Ann says it's not a big deal, because it shouldn't be. She's a little sad, sure, because she was looking forward to drinking trashy wine with Leslie while arguing over Friday Night Lights, and maybe she really needed it after her pretty intense breakup with Mark.
But it's not a big deal. It's just girls night. She's having lunch with Leslie anyway, so it doesn't matter. She's sitting in her office now, just waiting for her to show up, grinning softly at Leslie’s graduation photo on her desk.
And then Leslie walks in with Justin, and the smile is instantly wiped off Ann’s face.
How am I supposed to tell my best friend I might be in love with her boyfriend?
Justin isn't here for Ann, doesn't even see her, really. He wraps his arm around Leslie in the doorway and pulls her to him, leaning over to press a kiss to her lips that she smiles into.
Oh god. Oh, no.
And Ann kind of wants to hurt Justin. She kind of really wants to pull him by his ugly tie and smack him, just for kissing Leslie. His hand is under her chin and pulling her in for more and Ann wants to smash his ugly hairline into the desk, because Leslie is too soft and beautiful and too genuine and kind to be with someone like him.
Leslie outshines everyone. She is fiery and bright and full of optimism and sugar and Justin is nothing more than a lawyer chasing a story and stringing girls along to keep on his bench, to keep on hold.
He kept Ann on hold. He kept her on hold for a long, long time.
Maybe it's her jealousy hitting her so violently now, but Ann knows nothing about this is right. Their bodies don't fit naturally together and she is so ridiculously out of his league, watching him kiss her goodbye is like watching two actors try to force chemistry on a television screen. And she wonders how, how can he not look at Leslie and see the entire world in a much brighter way? Ann’s life used to be dull and gray, full of dead-end boyfriends and late night hospital shifts and an empty heart, staring out at a dirty pit in her backyard. And now, because of that pit, because of Leslie…
You totally changed me. I don't know what I would do without you.
And it's only now, as Justin leaves and Leslie takes her seat across from her, that Ann realizes she might have been wrong before.
It might not be Justin that she's fallen in love with.
As soon as Ann Perkins comes to the conclusion that she is helplessly and ridiculously in love with Leslie Knope, it becomes all-consuming, the only thing she can think about.
She pays closer attention to the way Leslie talks, the way her lips move, what makes her smile. She watches her interactions with others, takes note of the way she makes other people happy, spreads joy everywhere she goes— and Ann is lucky enough to be the number one person in Leslie’s life. She has that on record.
It's Valentine's Day and they're both about to be very single women. Leslie sits with her head in her hands, staring at the pink tablecloth, and Ann knows exactly what happened without her needing to say anything.
“I'm sorry,” she tells her, because there's nothing worse than seeing her like this. “He's selfish, Leslie. He's selfish and he's only in it for the stories and you can do so, so much better than him.”
Leslie sniffles and wipes her eyes. “You sound like Ron,” she laughs shakily. “I thought you and Justin were close?”
Ann shifts awkwardly in her seat. “I… not anymore. Not— not for a while. Honestly, I really do think you can do better. And I'll tell you what you told me after I broke up with Andy and Mark: men are dogs.”
Men are absolutely dogs, Ann thinks.
Leslie laughs, looking up at her, and there's that smile again, the one that's reserved just for Ann. “Ann, you’re beautiful and you're right. Maybe I should just… take a break from guys for a while.”
Ann nearly chokes, grabbing a glass of water to push it down, trying to look inconspicuous. “I… yeah? That's… that's what you want?”
“Yeah!” That classic Leslie Knope energy is back, and she's standing up and grabbing Ann's hand. “You know what, less man time, more Ann time.”
“Yeah!” Ann choruses, trying desperately to ignore the way her whole body shivers just at their hand to hand contact. They've touched so many times before, but now it's all so much deeper, to her. “Wait, where are we going?”
“The bathroom! I look like I've been crying, Ann, you have to help me with my makeup.”
And Ann didn't plan on kissing Leslie that night, she really didn't.
But she's fixing her face in front of a mirror and wiping under her eyes and she's so beautiful, so ridiculously beautiful, how is it that only crappy guys have noticed this? How has she not been swept off her feet by some hot nerdy guy that will love her forever? How has she not realized just how beautiful she is?
And Ann can't stop thinking about Leslie's hand in hers. Men are dogs. Less man time, more Ann time. Everytime Leslie calls Ann beautiful. Everytime Leslie shows her just how much she means to her… it drives Ann wild.
“You really do mean the most to me, you know,” Leslie tells her, turning from the mirror to look her in the eye. She's nothing less than completely genuine, like she always is. “No matter who I might be dating. You're always the number one person in my life, Ann.”
So, really, how can Ann stop herself?
As if driven by some outside force, Ann pushes forward and pulls Leslie’s face to hers, not satisfied until she can feel the softness of her lips on hers. It's all powerful and overwhelming and for a short, sweet moment, it's just bliss, just the feeling of kissing Leslie and actually having her kiss her back — before it all falls to pieces.
Leslie freezes in Ann’s arms, and just as suddenly she's pushing herself away, stumbling backwards until her back hits the opposite wall. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair a little messy from where Ann held her, her mouth popping open into a tiny oh.
“What…” Leslie gasps, hand on her heart, trying to find her breath, “what did you do that for?”
Some terrible feeling floods Ann’s system, but it's not quite regret. She's fearful, terrified, and so, so vulnerable. She drops her head into her hands and grabs at her hair, suddenly feeling too foolish to even look at Leslie. “Oh my god, I'm so sorry. I… I guess I must've… misread things, or… or I wasn't thinking, and I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable—”
“Ann, I haven't even broken up with Justin yet—”
“I know, I know, I'm so sorry—”
“And I've never— I mean, tragically heterosexual, you know?”
Ann’s stomach twists, and she wants to throw up. There's no chance, there's no chance. There's absolutely no way Ann has just fallen in love with a straight woman who may never love her back. “I'm so sorry,” she chokes.
“You know I love you, Ann.”
Ann nods, but it still hurts. She knows Leslie loves her. Just not like Ann loves Leslie. Not in the same way. Not like this.
It's for that reason Ann can no longer choke out those simple few words. I love you, too.
Ann goes a week without hearing from Leslie.
It's the longest they've ever gone without speaking, breaking their previous record of eight hours (while Ann was sleeping). And it's the emptiest Ann has felt since the day she met Leslie.
She's slacking at her job and she knows it. She wanders around City Hall when she has no reason to be there, as if hoping she might catch a glimpse of Leslie and feign surprise in seeing her as a way to bait her into conversation. She spends hours staring at graphic murals she doesn't care about, reading and rereading their histories while not taking in a single word, because all she hears is Leslie's voice anyway, from their first day together as friends when she showed her around City Hall and they found out they were approved for a committee to build a park.
That was the day Ann truly realized Leslie was different. She wasn't some careless and cruel bureaucrat who put off hard work, but someone who did the work herself, someone who cared deeply enough to get right into the heart of that awful pit, even if it meant falling into it.
Ann stares at Lot 48 a lot, that week, thinking of that day. How Leslie cared enough about Ann only a day after meeting her that she fell into a pit for her— and Ann only wishes she could do something so brave. She'd fall into a million pits for Leslie, if she had to.
“You come here to think, too?”
Ann spins around at the voice, and finds Leslie strolling across Lot 48 to get to her, her hands deep in her coat pockets. Ann doesn't question why Leslie is here when it's already dark and the stars are out, because she knows full well she doesn't sleep anyway. She just smiles gently and scoots on the tiny bench to make room for her.
“Yeah,” she admits. “At least… I have been very recently. Just, uh… just this week, really.”
Leslie pauses, and she's close enough that Ann can feel her breathe. “I'm sorry about that, by the way. It wasn't nice of me, leaving you hanging for so long.”
“Oh.” Ann swallows hard. “It's okay. Don't worry about it—”
“Don't you lie to me, Ann Perkins,” Leslie grins, turning her head to look at her. There's something a little sad in her eyes. “It's not okay. I was mean, and selfish, and I was acting unreasonably. You didn't deserve that.”
“It's okay, really. Because what I did… it was out of line. I realize that now.” But I still wish I could do it again.
They're both silent for a long time, either staring down at their hands or the stars above them. The lot is empty, and it's cold, and they could very easily go sit on Ann’s couch and talk this through, but really, there's something about this bench, this night, these stars. How Leslie shudders gently next to her and how it has nothing to do with the weather.
“Did I ever tell you I kissed a girl in college once?” Leslie says suddenly, raising a brow. There's a hint of a smile on her lips.
“Oh— no, you never mentioned that.” And maybe it's good Leslie never mentioned that, because it would've given her far too much hope, too much heartbreak. “Um… did you like it?”
“It was pretty great,” she admits, as if it's nothing. “I dunno. This woman named Ann kissed me once, I think I liked that time better.”
There's a sharp pang in Ann’s chest. “Leslie…”
“Ann.” Her voice is clear, assured. “I'm being one hundred percent honest with you. And right now, it's one of the hardest things in the world, because you mean so much to me and the idea of losing you, it kills me.”
“Then… then why did you… this whole week…?”
“I was scared. I was being a coward, Ann, that's all there is to it. Because I'm new to this, and I'm so inexperienced, and I don't… I'm not entirely sure what I am, in terms of sexuality. And I couldn't bear the thought of making one wrong move with you and losing you forever.”
They're edging into very dangerous territory, and Ann can feel that bit of hope start to creep into her heart again, the hope that will destroy her and leave her alone on a bench in Lot 48.
But she gives in. She says it anyway. “You won't lose me,” she gasps. “I just… I want you. I always want you with me.”
And this time, it's Leslie that kisses Ann.
Where in day-to-day operations, Leslie is a firecracker and a symbol of strength, a force to be reckoned with, when she kisses, she is all careful gentleness and soft fingers. Her touch is featherlight on Ann’s cheek, her lips fitting perfectly to hers, and there's something so personal and intimate about it that Ann almost wants to cry.
Leslie holds her tighter and presses her closer, and Ann takes it as permission to wrap around her and cling to her waist and refuse to let go. She is the only spot of sunshine in this lot in the middle of the night, and if she breaks away now, she’ll lose her sight and she’ll be lost. Ann needs Leslie, she needs her. And Leslie kisses her like she needs her, too.
Ann wants so badly to say those three words that will mean something so different now, so badly wants Leslie to know the extent of her feelings.
But she doesn't.
“Come home with me,” Ann whispers, when really, she means to say stay with me. I love you.
Leslie smiles, and starts pulling Ann inside.
Only three months later, Ann Perkins meets Ben Wyatt.
She thinks nothing of him, at first, except that she doesn't like him. Because according to Leslie, he's Mean Ben. He's a jerk. And anyone who could hurt Leslie like this is no friend of Ann’s.
Leslie… Leslie is a work in progress. She begs for patience and Ann gives it, gives too much of it. She gives so much patience that the topic of their relationship is no longer discussed, until it's practically nonexistent. Leslie has sunk completely back into work and their night together after sitting on that bench in Lot 48, it's nothing more than a memory.
Ann is still in love with her. She always has been. She doesn't think she can stop.
Even as the months go by, Ann can't stop loving her. It's futile to hope, at this point, but there's still some spark left in her, that one day Leslie will wake up and love Ann in the same way, that she’ll go back to how she felt that night and they can live the life Ann has dreamed of.
Just a tiny bit of hope. Like a candle flame.
But also like a candle flame, it can be too easily extinguished.
Do you know that wildflower mural up on the second floor?
Of course Leslie does. It's her favorite place in City Hall. Ann knows this very well.
Leslie and Ben sit in front of that mural eating burgers and laughing, and finally, Ann sees exactly what she’s been pointedly looking away from for months— the love in their eyes.
They share something together that Ann and Leslie might never have, not again, not after that night. It's over, and it's done. Ann is no longer the only one that can see just how incredible Leslie is, as she watches Ben Wyatt fall for her in front of her very eyes.
Ann wipes away her tears and stands up straight, promising herself she won't spiral, she won't dye a part of her hair red, she won't lose herself in her emotions. Leslie is still her best friend. And Ann is far too in love with Leslie to do something like leave her now.
It's fine, Ann tells herself, walking away from the pair. They can have the wildflower mural, because Ann and Leslie will always have that bench in Lot 48.