Actions

Work Header

Nowhere Else On Earth That I Would Rather Be

Work Text:

“Come on, come on, come on,” Andrew begs the tumble dryer, watching the clothes inside roll around, placid and slow.  “Please?” he adds hopefully.

It doesn’t do any good.  The tumble dryer seems immune to his charms and the extra quarter, which he jingles at it like a promise, goes ignored.  

The laundry room is in the basement and it’s fucking freezing.  It’s also dark, creepy and probably haunted.  Andrew would really like to get out of here.

“I think it prefers interpretive dance,” says a voice out of the darkness behind him and Andrew yelps, jumping a mile in the air and spinning around.

There’s a boy about Andrew’s age sitting on top of one of the silent washing machines, reading a book.

“Holy shit,” Andrew breathes, pressing his hand over his pounding heart.  “Are you a ghost?”

The boy looks down at himself like he’s considering it then shakes his head.  “No,” he says.  “I’m waiting for my laundry to finish.”

All the machines but Andrew’s are silent.  “I think it’s finished,” Andrew says, trying to be helpful.  He can still feel his pulse beating in his throat and he wonders how long the guy’s been down here.  Considering Andrew was practicing his latest audition piece while he was putting his washing on earlier, he hopes not too long.  

“Oh.” The guy hops down from the washing machine.  He’s a little shorter than Andrew and more sensibly dressed - well, he has shoes on, at least.  Andrew wishes he’d thought of that.  He bends down and starts to unload clothes from the dryer next to Andrew’s.  “I was reading.  I, um.  It.  It was a good chapter.”

Andrew can’t imagine getting so sucked into a story that he’d spend more time that necessary down here but, well, each to his own and all that.  He shuffles a bit on the cold floor, trying to get feeling back into the tips of his toes.

Book Guy straightens up, laundry bag clutched in both hands and his book tucked under his elbow.  “Your toes are purple,” he observes.

Andrew hops a little, lifting one foot to rub the gritty sole against the top of his other foot.  Book Guy is watching, frowning, so Andrew feels the need to explain.  “I was wearing socks but they were my last pair so I thought I’d better bung them in with the rest of the washing.”

Book Guy just frowns harder.  Andrew fidgets; he didn’t think it was that weird.  In fact, he’d been quite proud of his practicality.  “You only have one pair of socks?”

Andrew shrugs.  “I did have more but I think the washing machine eats them, so.”  He waggles his bare toes in demonstration.  

Book Guy shakes his head again.  “That’s not right,” he says and whether he means Andrew’s feet, Andrew in general or the sock-eating washing machine, Andrew doesn’t get a chance to find out because his tumble dryer picks that moment to start juddering alarmingly.  By the time Andrew has convinced it not to blow up, Book Guy is gone.

***

Andrew’s flat is one of three on the fifth floor of a slightly rundown building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  When his mum phones, he tells her things like the amazing view (of a brick wall) and the friendly neighbours (a guy called Joe lives on one side; he always seems to be so full of energy that Andrew wonders if he’s on something though he seems nice enough.  Andrew isn’t sure anyone lives in the flat on the other side, but if they do, they’re nocturnal).  He never tells her about the four a.m. fire alarms or the haunted laundry room.  

He also doesn’t tell her about the nine million auditions he’s gone to in the past three months or the measly three call backs.  Well, he tells her about the callbacks, but not what proportion they make of the whole.  It’s bad enough trying to convince her that no, he shouldn’t give up and come home, without telling her that he’s barely working out here.

Andrew wakes up early three mornings after the tumble dryer incident, stumbling blearily around his flat and scalding his mouth when he tries to down a cup of coffee straight after making it.  He doesn’t have time to wait for it to cool, he’s already late and he needs to catch a train.

He lets himself out of his flat and nearly falls over a small, brown paper bag which slides down from his door handle and skids under his feet.  

“Okay,” Andrew says to himself, bending and picking it up.  He pokes it a little dubiously but nothing squeaks or squelches and Andrew is curious by nature so he pulls the handles apart and peers inside.

There’s a balled up mess of lumpy-looking green fabric which, when Andrew takes it out and unballs it, turns out to be a pair of slightly uneven socks.  Huh.

“Thank you?” Andrew says, confused, to the empty corridor.  He looks around but no one is lying in wait watching him and he is horribly late so he just stuffs the socks into his bag and carries on out of the building at a run.

***

That evening, after another long and probably unsuccessful day of running the same lines over and over again, Andrew sprawls out on his creaky old sofa and holds the socks above his head, examining them.  

He thinks they might be homemade.  One is definitely a little longer in the toe than the other and there are a few stray ends trailing out of the heel.  But when he pulls them on, they’re soft and warm and he wiggles his toes happily.

Andrew isn’t stupid, he’s sure he knows where the socks came from.  It would be really weird to tell the Book Guy in the laundry room his sock-related woes one day and for a new pair of socks to arrive on his doorstep a couple of days later and have that not be connected.

What he doesn’t know is why.

After quickly calculating the time difference - and then deciding to call anyway - Andrew digs his phone out of his pocket and scrolls through his recent call log.

“What if I’d been sleeping?” Matt answers, sounding curious rather than annoyed.

“Were you?” Andrew asks.

Matt hums.  “Well, no.  There’s a rather fascinating documentary on the Belfast Blitz being repeated on the telly in half an hour so I slept the day away instead.”  

There’s the clatter of a spoon against a cup.  He’s probably drinking coffee.  When they lived together, Andrew was always getting up mid-morning to find that Matt had started reading the dictionary in the middle of the night and hadn’t gone to bed yet.

“So, young Andrew,” Matt says.  “How’s the Big Apple?”

“I think my neighbour knitted me some socks,” Andrew says.  It sounds ridiculous when he says it, but Andrew never really minds sounding ridiculous.

“Is that a euphemism?” Matt asks.  “You could have told me.  I’m sure Isherwood knitted a lot of socks, if you know what I mean.”

Andrew laughs.  “No, it’s not a euphemism.”  

Matt is the most successful of Andrew’s group of friends.  Well, Matt is the Doctor, successful is something of an understatement.  While he was filming the Christopher Isherwood biopic, he kept phoning Andrew and his other queer friends, trying to get an inside scoop.

“So,” Matt says, dragging it out.  “Your neighbour actually knitted you some socks?  Is she a ninety-year-old grandmother?”

“No, he’s um.  He’s about my age, I think.  I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t him, but I was telling him how I didn’t have any socks left and now I have socks, so.”

Matt hums.  “That’s an interesting courtship ritual,” he says.  “In some cultures, that may even mean you’re married.”

“Oh shut up,” Andrew says.  “I don’t think he fancies me or anything, I think he just thinks I’m a crazy person.”

“You are a crazy person,” Matt assures him, in what Andrew is fairly sure is a fond way.  “What are you going to get him?”

Andrew’s been pondering this.  It’s horribly bad manners to leave a present unreciprocated.  “The problem is that I don’t know where he lives.  It’s a big building.”  He pauses, thinking.  “Actually, I don’t know how he knew where I live either.”

Matt chuckles cheerfully.  “Oh, fantastic, you have a stalker.  Which I’d love to stop and talk to you about, of course, but I have to make myself a sandwich before my programme starts and this call is probably costing you a fortune, so with that cheery thought, I’ll say good night.”

“Wait,” Andrew says because he needs someone to help him work this out, but Matt’s already gone.  “Bye,” Andrew says sadly.

He brings his feet together, peeling the socks back from his ankles in the hope that some kind of clue is stitched into the hem, like the name tags his mum used to sew into his school uniform.  No such luck.  

“Where did you come from?” Andrew asks them.  Weirdly, the socks don’t answer.

***

He has nothing to do the next day but wait for a call from the people he auditioned for yesterday.  Since they probably aren’t going to call him at all, this leaves him with a lot of time on his hands.

After lunch, he ventures downstairs to the ground floor and the flat where the building owners’ granddaughter lives and cautiously knocks on the door.

“Hello, number 412!” she says, pulling the door open and beaming at him.  She’s wearing a white silk dressing gown and a goopy green face mask.  

“Um,” Andrew says, “Shall I come back later?”

“No, no, dude.” She waves him in.  There’s a bottle of wine unopened on her living room table and a worrying amount of bunny ears, cat tails and handcuffs spread across the sofa.

“Really, I could come back,” Andrew tells her.  “It’s okay.  It isn’t urgent.”

She folds her arms across her chest.  “412, you’ve lived here three months and you haven’t come to see me once.  Of course it’s urgent.”

“Well, I suppose,” Andrew says, sitting on the corner of the sofa.  “Miss Stone...”

“Emma,” she interrupts him.  “Really, 412, there’s no need to be so formal.”

“It’s Andrew,” he tells her, even though he’s pretty sure she knows that.  “I was just wondering if you could help me identify one of the other tenants?”

Emma scratches at the tip of her nose, revealing a patch of pink skin under her face mask.  “Has Justin broken into your apartment?” she asks (worryingly).  “He does that sometimes.  It doesn’t mean he wants to eat your spleen or anything.”

“Um, no,” Andrew says, making a mental note to avoid anyone who looks like they might be called Justin.  He really hopes Book Guy isn’t Justin.  “I met a boy in the laundry room and he” knitted me some socks “lent me some washing powder but I didn’t get his name to pay him back.”

“All right.” She sits down next to him, body turned toward him like she’s really paying attention.  “Tell me about your mystery boy.”

Andrew does.  When he gets to the part with the book, she claps her hands, grinning.  “Oh that’s Jesse,” she says, then frowns.  “Wait, how do you not already know Jesse?”

“Should I?” Andrew asks, confused.  He wonders if Jesse really is the laundry room ghost.

“Well,” Emma says slowly.  “Yeah, 412, you really should.  Since he lives in 411.”

Andrew blinks at her.  411 is the flat next door to his.  The one that isn’t Hyper Joe’s.  The one that Andrew has never seen anyone go in or out of.  “I thought that flat was empty?”

“‘Flat’,” she mimics quietly in a semi-decent impression of Andrew’s accent, and, “Yeah, Jesse gets that a lot.”  She bounces to her feet, scratching the edge of her face mask again.  “Now, I have people coming around in a couple of hours, so you should go see Jesse, now, okay? Okay. Bye.”

“Okay,” Andrew agrees.  He really wants to ask what sort of party involves bunny ears and handcuffs, but that’s none of his business, so he doesn’t.  “Thank you for the help.”

Emma waves him away.  “That’s what I’m here for, baby,” she tells him.  “Come back whenever.  Well, not tomorrow morning.  Maybe call first.  But you’re totally always welcome otherwise.”

Back out in the hallway, Andrew blinks a couple of times and then makes his way to the stairwell.  Jesse, he thinks.  Jesse’s a good name.  And apparently Andrew has been sharing a living room wall with him for months.  That has to be significant somehow.

No one answers when Andrew knocks on Jesse’s front door.  The 411 on the door is a little dusty but the spyglass is clean and polished.  Andrew waves, just in case Jesse is watching him.  Disappointed, because it would be nice to be better friends with his neighbours, Andrew goes back to his own flat.  

A little while later, soft music starts playing from next door, drifting through Andrew’s balcony windows, the first time that Andrew has heard any sound from 411.  The song is On The Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady.  Andrew has no idea if it’s a message to him - almost definitely not - but he finds himself grinning anyway.

***

The next day, Andrew still hasn’t heard back about his audition so he decides to drown his sorrows by going food shopping.  He likes going to the supermarket; he likes being around people and he likes picking the grumpiest-looking cashier and seeing if he can make them smile.  

He wanders down the home baking aisle looking for sugar and instead stumbles upon an idea.  At the end of the aisle are cards with baking recipes; he rakes through until he finds something both easy and delicious-sounding and pulls out a recipe for chocolate brownies.

Buoyed by having something to do beyond being depressed by his lack of career, Andrew gathers up the ingredients, finishes his shopping and pays.  (The kid behind the counter is giggling by the time Andrew finishes checking out; Andrew smiles all the way home.)

It turns out that baking is much harder than it looks - it reminds Andrew of chemistry lessons back at school and he was always a disaster at chemistry - but eventually he manages to produce something vaguely brownie-like, and he shuts it away gratefully in the oven for half an hour.

While he’s waiting, he starts to make himself a cup of coffee then nearly scalds himself when his phone rings.  It’s the casting director from yesterday.  Andrew nods and hums in the right places while she rattles through the usual platitudes of ‘not quite what we’re looking for’ and ‘obviously very talented’ and ‘sure you’ll find work soon’.

Andrew thanks her, hangs up and throws the phone across the room (making sure that it hits the carpet in the hall since he can’t afford to replace it).  He sits down hard on the kitchen floor, leaning back against the oven.

“Gah!” he snaps, loud and frustrated and thumps his head back against the warm oven door.

***

By the time the brownies are done, Andrew has forced himself to get over his disappointment.  He does comfort himself by stealing one square of brownie though - well, it’s half to comfort himself and half to make sure that they’re not completely disgusting.

They’re not.  Actually, they taste really nice.  Andrew is unbelievably pleased with himself.  Maybe if no one ever hires him for another acting role, he can pack it all in and open a bakery.

Once he’s finished cutting the brownies into squares, he slides them carefully into a box and hunts around for a piece of paper to scribble a note.   

Hi, Jesse :)

Thank you so much for the socks! You didn’t have to do that but my toasty-warm toes thank you.  

Here are some brownies, baked by my own fair hand. You don’t have to eat them, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile, so it would be nice if you did.  

Andrew (#412)

***

Three days later, Andrew finds the box he used for the brownies waiting for him on his doorstep.  It’s been washed clean and another pair of socks - red this time - is folded up inside.

Andrew picks it up and smiles.  He turns toward Jesse’s door, fingers tingling with the urge to knock, but before he can, he hears a shuffle-thump sound, like someone has suddenly jumped away from where they were standing and are now pressed against the wall.

“Thank you,” Andrew says instead, speaking to Jesse’s closed front door.  He waves just in case Jesse is still watching through his spyglass.

***

Andrew has four auditions on four different mornings that week - one a call back, even - so he doesn’t get much of a chance to think about what to buy for Jesse.

On Friday evening, he drags himself home, barely making it up the stairs in his exhaustion.  He can no longer tell how any of the auditions have gone; all he knows is that they have gone and he’s pleased about that. Andrew’s natural demeanour is fairly positive and he always makes sure to ramp that up to genuinely enthusiastic when meeting new people.  An entire week of that and getting nothing in return is dispiriting.

There’s something sitting on Andrew’s mat.  It’s not his turn and that’s not very fair but he still grabs it up greedily, turning it in his hands.  

It’s a travel mug.  One of those fancy ceramic ones with the screw-on metal lids.  It’s cool and sleek and it’s ridiculous but he cannot stop grinning as he turns it around in his hands.  There’s even a silly slogan on the front: don’t trust gravity, it’ll only bring you down.

Andrew is charmed.  

Curious, he unscrews the lid and - yes! - there’s a note this time.

You look tired when you leave for work.  This might help you stay awake on the subway? JE.

“J E,” Andrew reads, touching his fingertip to the initials.  “Thank you, J E.”

He unlocks his front door quickly and dashes across his flat, looking for a pen.  Turning Jesse’s note over, he quickly scribbles:

Thank you.  You have no idea how much I needed a smile today.  This is now my face: :D
Andrew x

He contemplates sticking it to Jesse’s door, but he’d hate it if someone else were to read it before Jesse could.  It’s a silly note, but it’s for Jesse, no one else, and Andrew for some reason feels the need to guard him jealously.  

He bends down and slides the note under the door.  He feels very bold, like he’s breaching Jesse’s private space and hopes Jesse won’t mind. He taps lightly on the door as he straightens up, just so that Jesse will know the note’s there.  From inside, he hears a cat meow, quickly joined by another.

Grinning, Andrew meanders back to his own flat.  Now he knows two more things about Jesse: he’s awake in the mornings to watch Andrew leave, and he owns cats.  Those are habits Andrew can support.

***

The next present choice is obvious.  Andrew spends over an hour in the cat aisle at his local pet shop, trying out all the cat toys they offer.  It’s great fun; if acting doesn’t work out, Andrew may contemplate life as a cat.

“That one’s great,” says a girl from down the other end of the aisle.  She’s wearing a checked shirt over a tiny summer dress and heavy ankle boots, holding a black dog collar in her hands.  

“I’m sorry?” Andrew says automatically, even though he heard her.

She clomps down the aisle toward him.  “That toy,” she says, pointing to the motorised paper bag he’s holding.  “It’s great.  Makes cats crazy.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Andrew says, putting it back.  

The girl laughs.  “That was supposed to be a selling point.”

“Oh, I know,” Andrew says quickly.  “But I’m looking for something for my - ” It feels weird to say friend, but if Jesse’s not his friend, Andrew doesn’t know what he is.  “For my neighbour’s cats and he probably wouldn’t appreciate me making them crazy.”

“Right,” she says, nodding and starting to move away.  “I’ll stop making unhelpful suggestions then.”

“Wait,” Andrew says.  “Sorry.  I’m really at a loss here.”  He puts down the bag toy and holds up a little felt mouse, making it bounce-bounce on its little elastic string.  He gets a whiff of what he thinks might be catnip and tries not to sneeze.  He widens his eyes, trying to look helpless and lost and, after a minute, she laughs and shakes her head.  

“Okay,” she says.  “But if this scores you a date with your neighbour, then I expect you to track me down and give me flowers.”

“Oh, I - ” Andrew hesitates.  He should say that he’s not looking to score a date with Jesse, he should definitely say that.  It would be wrong to presume anything from this strange present-giving ritual they’re involved in.  But he hesitates too long and then all he says is, “Deal.”

***

In the end, Andrew buys an embarrassing number of cute, fluffy toys, some on strings, some on poles, but all of them wearing adorable cartoon expressions that he simply couldn’t resist.  He probably shouldn’t have spent so much money to be honest, not when he’s already subsisting on instant noodles, but they’re cute toys for (potentially) cute cats belonging to a (certainly) cute boy.  Andrew can scrimp and save a little for that.

Andrew spends a troubling amount of time lurking around on the landing between his door and Jesse’s, wondering if he should just leave the toys there or write another note or maybe even brave knocking and see if Jesse will answer this time.  

Eventually, he hears a soft sigh and the shifting of floorboards and realises that he’s not the only one waiting for him to make up his mind.  He hangs the bag over Jesse’s doorknob then presses his hand to the slightly scratched wood.  

“It would be lovely to see your face again, one day,” he says, tapping the door lightly.  “No pressure or anything.  Just, if your face were ever passing my door, it would be welcome to stop and say hi.”

There’s silence.  Andrew wasn’t really expecting an answer, but he still waits for one, just in case.  

Just when he’s about to give up, Jesse clears his throat, the sound travelling easily through the door.  “Brace yourself, then,” he says.  

Nothing happens for long enough that Andrew starts to wonder if maybe that was it.  “Um, Jesse?  I’m braced.”

“Well, I’m not,” Jesse says but he opens the door.  He’s wearing a dark blue hoodie and big-framed glasses and, together, they do fantastic things to his bright blue eyes.

“Oh,” Andrew says.  “Hello.”

Jesse tucks his hands into the front pockets of his hoodie and nods, jerkily.  “Yes, hi. Hello.  You, um.  You were lurking.”

Andrew’s face wants to break into the widest grin the world has ever known.  He doesn’t even know why, really.  Just... Jesse is here, talking to him face to face, and after a week of notes and presents, that feels like a huge step.

“I was lurking,” Andrew agrees.  “I do that.  Shocking habit.  You should report me to security.”

Jesse ducks his head.  “I’m not sure where you think you live,” he says. “The most security this building has is Emma with a rolling pin.”

Copying Jesse’s example, Andrew sticks his hands in his back pockets hoping that that way he won’t spontaneously reach out and grab Jesse’s arm.  He does that when he’s enjoying someone but Jesse’s only half out of his flat, he’d probably dart straight back inside if Andrew engaged in unauthorised touching.

“Yes, but Emma’s fucking scary,” Andrew says, widening his eyes in faux-horror.

Jesse smiles slightly, a soft upward sweep of closed lips.  “She’s great,” he says and there’s obviously a whole load of stuff there that Andrew knows nothing about.  Jesse starts to shuffle.  “Um, you’ve.  You’ve hung a bag from Pet Smart on my door.  Why do I get a feeling this is not for me?”

“It’s for your cats,” Andrew says, feeling a little bit foolish for the first time.  “And now I’m really hoping that you do have cats.  If you don’t, that’s going to be embarrassing.”

Jesse’s eyes are wide.  “I do have cats,” he agrees.  “They don’t usually get gifts though.  Well, from me they do, but not from handsome British strangers; you’ll spoil them.”

“You think I’m handsome?” Andrew asks.  He knows he shouldn’t, that it’ll probably make Jesse clam up, but he’s pleased so he can’t stop himself.

Jesse shakes his head.  “I said my cats would think you were handsome.  And there’s no accounting for feline taste, so.”  He’s blushing, his cheeks and the bridge of his nose turning a dark, fascinating pink.  He fumbles the bag off the door handle and holds it between them like a shield he’s considering raising.  “I’m going to go give it to them, then.  Okay?  So, I’ll... go?”

Stay, Andrew thinks.  “Okay,” he says.  “Tell them that I hope they like it.  And that I’d love to meet them someday.”

“Oh, um.” Jesse takes a step back.  “My cats never leave my apartment so, um.  But maybe they’ll write you a note.” He frowns.  “Or not.  But thank you.”  He’s still talking when he closes the door.

“You’re welcome!” Andrew calls, not even a little bit sarcastic, and goes back to his flat, humming happily.

***

“So,” Matt says on the phone that night. “When I joked that you’d found yourself a stalker, what I should have been worried about was that you’d become a stalker.”

Andrew wrinkles his nose and tucks his toes under the sofa cushions.  He’s wearing the red socks Jesse gave him, but he’s still freezing.  New York is cold and apparently trying to save money by turning the heating off is a bad idea.

“I’m not stalking him,” Andrew protests.  “How can I be stalking him?  He lives next door.  Plus he’s only opened his door once; I don’t even think he likes me.”

Matt hums.  Andrew hates it when he does that.  “Did you ask him why he hides in his flat?” he asks. “That might help you get into his flat.”

“I don’t want...” Andrew does want to get into Jesse’s flat.  Obviously.  Andrew is apparently setting himself up for life of being embarrassingly happy every time he gets to interact with Jesse at all.  “I don’t want to trick my way in,” he finally settles on.  

He shivers hard and goes into the kitchen to turn on the kettle for tea.  He feels like his grandmother who never turned her central heating on and always offered him a nice cup of tea instead, even when he was on the brink of hypothermia.  

Matt makes a cross noise in Andrew’s ear but Andrew doesn’t think it’s directed at him.  He turns out to be right when Matt mutters, “The damn mice have got into the Alpen again.”

Andrew doesn’t ask why Matt is eating cereal in the middle of the night.  “You have mice?” he asks, shuddering automatically.  Andrew isn’t a fan of tiny, crawly things.  “Matt, you know you’re a big star now, right?  You can probably move out of the hovel.”

Matt still lives in the house Andrew used to share with him.  It’s the kind of house that even students would run from in terror, but Matt likes it and, well, Andrew misses it rather a lot at the moment.

Matt sniffs.  “Now where would be the fun in that?” he asks.  “The mice and I are having a battle of wills, but I’ll rise supreme in the end.  After all, I’m the Doctor.”

Andrew laughs.  “You need a doctor,” he says then stops, muttering, “Shh,” into the phone when Matt tries to protest.  He can hear someone talking outside his door or, not talking, shouting. Andrew turns the kettle off to hear better and moves over to the front door.  “I’ll call you back,” he says and hangs up.

He unlocks his door quickly and sticks his head out into the hall.  Jesse is standing in the middle of the landing, ringing his hands and looking miserable.  He jumps and bites his lip when he sees Andrew watching him but doesn’t dart back into his flat at least.

“One of my cats got out,” he says before Andrew can ask.  “I’ve called him and called him but I can’t find him.”

“Oh no,” Andrew says, closing his door behind himself and coming to stand next to Jesse.  “Can I help?”

Jesse looks torn but apparently his cats take priority over hiding from his neighbours so, “Yes, please,” he says.  He points at the stairwell where the door is always propped open.  “I was going to check the roof.  Could you, would you mind checking to see if he went downstairs?”

“Of course,” Andrew says immediately.  “What’s his name?”

“Orwell,” Jesse tells him.  “I haven’t had him very long and I’m pretty sure he hates me.  He’s probably been formulating his escape plan since he arrived.”

He looks so genuinely miserable that Andrew reaches out and squeezes his shoulder before he can stop himself.  “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll find him,” and bounds down into the stairwell.  

Andrew maybe has a few frustrated super-hero tendencies.

It doesn’t take long to find Orwell, much to Andrew’s surprise.  He’s pressed into a corner between the third and second floor staircases, eyes flashing a creepy, haunted gold in the semi-dark.

“Hi, kitty,” Andrew coos, kneeling down in front of him and holding out a hand.  

Orwell swishes his long brown tail and ducks his head down low.

“Jesse!” Andrew calls up the stairs, but there’s no answer.  Jesse must still be checking out the roof.  He turns his attention back to Orwell.  “Okay, it’s okay.  We’ll have you home in no time.”

He shuffles closer, trying to keep up a steady stream of reassuring nonsense.  He doesn’t have a lot of experience with cats but people tend to like Andrew so hopefully animals will too.  It’s all going surprisingly well and Andrew gets one hand on Orwell’s head, stroking the soft fur between his ears.  He leans forward, trying to slide his other hand under Orwell’s belly to pick him up and...
Orwell somehow manages to whip his head around so fast that Andrew can’t react, sinking his teeth into Andrew’s palm and claws into his wrist.

“Ow, fuck,” Andrew snaps, taken completely by surprise but he holds on; he’s not losing Jesse’s cat now he’s found him.  He lifts the hissing, flailing bundle of claws and starts to carry him upstairs, holding him away from his body, like Johnny Wilkinson about to take a try. “That’s not nice at all.  I bought you presents, you know.  And I mean, you may think that they were just a way to get on Jesse’s good side - ” The cat spits. “All right, they were mostly a way to get on Jesse’s good side, but it’s not like you didn’t still benefit.”

They’ve reached their floor and Andrew turns awkwardly, shouldering through the half-open door.  Jesse is back now, talking to a tall shaven-headed guy who Andrew doesn’t recognise.  Andrew can’t hear what they’re saying but he hears Jesse say, “Andrew,” and it makes the embarrassing parts of his heart turn over.

“Hey, look what I’ve found,” he calls and Jesse swings around.

“Orwell,” Jesse cries and shuffles over quickly, lips quirking when he sees how Andrew is carrying the cat before taking him out of Andrew’s hands and cuddling him close - the cat, not Andrew. Sadly.  “I told you he’d find him,” Jesse calls happily to the guy he was talking to and Andrew tries not to looks too pleased.

The guy nods solemnly and throws Andrew a salute before disappearing up the stairs in the direction of the roof.

“That’s Justin,” Jesse says.  “He was telling me how the ancient Egyptians believed that cats were protected by the goddess Bast because they guarded the sun at night.” He shrugs. “I think he was trying to be reassuring.”

“That’s very reassuring,” Andrew agrees, just glad that he’s no longer the one holding this particular sun protector.  “Does the goddess Bast spend much time in New York city?”

“Oh yeah, tons,” Jesse says, “I see her in the deli on Brooklyn Avenue all the time.”  Orwell meows and Jesse shushes him, putting his cheek down against the top of the cat’s head.  He squirms, clearly confused about the fuss but Jesse holds on tight.  “Thank you for finding him.  He, um.  He’s not good with people.”

“Obviously,” Andrew says, holding up his scratched hand.  It’s actually bleeding quite a lot, which he hadn’t realised until now.

Jesse goes abruptly pale.  “Oh my god,” he says faintly.  “Orwell, you’re a terrible cat.  Hang on.” Andrew isn’t sure if Jesse’s telling him to hang on or Orwell, but he does anyway, watching as Jesse turns and pushes his door open, dropping Orwell inside before closing if firmly behind him and turning back to Andrew.  “Do you have gauze and bandaids and things?”

“I have plasters,” Andrew offers.  “But I’m fine.  It’s fine.  Barely a scratch, see?” He waggles his fingers quickly at Jesse, noticing as he does so that Orwell has also ripped a decent-sized hole in Andrew’s fingerless gloves.  Damn.

Jesse frowns.  “I would die of guilt if you developed cat-scratch fever after rescuing my evil monster.”  He hovers uncertainly in front of Andrew’s door.  “Please?”

Predictably, Andrew caves immediately.  It’s not as if he doesn’t want to leap at the chance to have Jesse in his flat, but it’s not exactly butch and heroic to make a fuss about a couple of cat scratches. Andrew would really like Jesse to look on him as someone he can rely on, someone who can protect him from whatever it is he’s scared of when he hides behind his front door, not coming out.

Andrew lets Jesse in and resists the urge to wish he’d cleaned up a little.  Andrew is naturally rather messy; if they’re going to be friends, Jesse will probably discover that eventually anyway.  Andrew really hopes they’re going to be friends.

“So why does your cat hate humanity?” he asks, ducking into the bathroom to wash the blood off his hands.

“He had a traumatic kittenhood,” Jesse tells him, much closer than Andrew was expecting.  He’s followed Andrew into the bathroom and is standing awkwardly against the doorframe, looking back over his shoulder every couple of seconds like he wants to check that his escape route is still clear.  Still, he’s here and that will do Andrew.

“Oh no, what happened?” Andrew cautiously peels off his gloves and makes a face at the three tiny, bleeding punctures in his palm.  

“Some kids put him in a plastic bag and left him dangling off the fire escape.  Let me see that.” Jesse steps forward and reaches for Andrew’s hand, dropping his hand before he makes contact and hiding it behind his back like it was acting without authorisation.

Andrew holds his hand up for inspection.  “What do you think, Doctor Jesse?  Will I live?”

Jesse smiles faintly.  “Hmm, it’s touch and go,” he says.  He looks around the bathroom.  “Do you have antiseptic?”

What Andrew has is an ancient, nearly full bottle of TCP which his mum hid in his suitcase when he was packing to move.  It’s tricky to pull it out of the cupboard with blood gummy fingers but he manages it.  After that though, Jesse has to take over, taking the bottle out of Andrew’s hand and unscrewing the lid.  He takes a cautious sniff and makes a face.

“Oh my god, that’s smells illegal.”

Andrew laughs.  “Well, I wouldn’t advise drinking it,” he says, watching unashamedly the way Jesse’s long fingers work quickly and deftly to splash TCP onto some toilet paper and then curl around Andrew’s hand, holding him still while he dabs carefully at the scratches.

Andrew bites his lips closed, determined not to hiss.  “See,” he says, concentrating on the warm press of Jesse’s fingertips against the back of his hand.  “Barely a scratch.”

Jesse hums. “Yes, you’re being very brave,” he says, distracted.  “I’ll make sure you get a reward after.”  Andrew can’t help the laugh that escapes, even though he tries to turn it into a cough, and Jesse goes bright red.  “Oh god, no.  I meant, like.  I meant, like candies or a sticker or something like they give kids in the ER.”

Andrew takes a deep breath and manages to stop laughing. “It’s okay,” he promises.  “Really.  I didn’t think you were propositioning me over the bathroom sink.”

Jesse is still flushed, but more pink than red now and he manages half a smile.  “This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk to people,” he mutters.  “Bandaids?”

Andrew shows him where the box is then holds still while Jesse wraps long plasters around his fingers and sticks a big, square one over the centre of his palm.

“Thank you.” Andrew flexes his fingers, thankful that he doesn’t have the sort of job where he needs to type.  “I feel all looked after now.”

Jesse drags his teeth along his bottom lip.  “That’s, um.  Good.”  He lets go of Andrew’s hand, backing up.  “I should go.  I need to make sure Orwell hasn’t dug his way out again or staged a coup or something.”

“Wait,” Andrew says, following Jesse out of the bathroom.  “Will you let me take you out for a coffee to say thank you?”

“No,” Jesse says, sounding horrified and turning to stare at Andrew.  His eyes are huge.

Okay then, Andrew thinks, so he read that one completely wrong.  “It’s okay,” he says quickly, trying not to show how disappointed he is.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean...”

Jesse shakes his head.  “I meant.  I just meant.  I meant you don’t need to thank me.  I was thanking you for finding the devil cat.”  Jesse has his hands shoved in his pocket and he’s backed up against the door like he thinks he has to escape now or Andrew will ask him out again.  

Andrew is not actually a masochist though, so he just says, “In that case, you’re welcome,” and lets Jesse out.  He stays in the doorway until Jesse disappears into his own flat and he hears him start to scold Orwell again.

“Ugh,” Andrew groans.   God, he has such a crush, and apparently it’s completely one-sided. He throws himself down onto the sofa and tries to smother himself in the ancient, probably flea-ridden cushions.

***

Andrew manages to spend the next week behaving like a proper grown-up human being.  He goes to two auditions and a call back, he sells his old X-Box so he can pay his phone bill, and he drops his CV in at the Starbucks down the road to see if he can get some part-time work.

It’s a cliche maybe, but it would be nice to have some money again.

Then, eight days after the Orwell Incident, Andrew finds a small, brown paper-wrapped parcel taped to his front door.  There’s a new pair of fingerless gloves inside, clearly knitted by Jesse because they don’t match: one is grey and one is blue.  There’s also a note:

Dear Andrew,

I’m very sorry that I was a bad cat.  Jesse says I’m not allowed to do that again because you’re nice and I’ll scare you off.  Jesse also says that he probably should have said yes when you asked him out for coffee... but don’t tell him I told you that, because he’s embarrassed.  

I’m sorry I ripped your gloves.  I asked Jesse to make you some new ones but he ran out of wool half way through.  Hopefully odd colors are cool in the human world.

Yours,
Orwell The Devil Cat

“Oh my god,” Andrew says, and pulls the gloves on straight away.  They’re a bit scratchy, but they’re warm and Jesse thinks he should have said yes when Andrew asked him out, so Andrew wouldn’t actually care if the gloves had switchblades sewn into them.

He spends all of ten seconds second-guessing himself then turns away from his door and knocks on Jesse’s.  Jesse actually opens the door this time and Andrew beams at him.  “Hello,” he says, “I came to see Orwell.”

“He’s napping right now,” Jesse tells him seriously.  “But I could tell him you came by?”  There’s a soft meow from behind him and Jesse laughs.  “And that’s Wednesday, making me look like a liar.” He pulls the door a little further open and picks up a tiny tortoiseshell kitten which starts to purr as soon as it’s in his arms.  “She’s the angel to Orwell’s devil.”

“Aw,” Andrew says, automatically reaching out.  “Can I stroke her?  I still have a few undamaged fingers to sacrifice.”

“She won’t bite you,” Jesse says and he actually turns toward Andrew, offering the kitten for petting.  

“I wanted to thank Orwell for the gloves,” Andrew tells Jesse, brushing his fingers under Wednesday’s chin.  “They’re very stylish.”

Jesse looks at Wednesday rather than at Andrew.  “I’ll tell him,” he promises.  “Did, um.  Did he leave you a note?”

Andrew’s heart soars.  He wasn’t actually going to bring up the date thing yet, not wanting to scare Jesse back into the flat.  “He did, actually.  But I’m not supposed to tell you what he said.”

Jesse’s quiet for long enough that Andrew starts to wonder if maybe he should say something more specific after all.  Then, “Andrew,” he says softly.  “I would like to have coffee with you.”

Andrew senses a but there, but he still can’t help the way his head snaps up and he starts to smile.  “But?” he asks, just to check.

Jesse’s curls are flopping into his eyes and he looks up at Andrew through them.  “But I, um.  I don’t really go outside much?  Or at all really, if I can help it.”

Fuck, Andrew wants to wrap Jesse up in cotton wool and hug him forever.  Jesse probably wouldn’t appreciate that though.  “Why not?” he asks.  “Is it something I can help with?”  Not that he thinks he can magically cure Jesse’s agoraphobia or whatever the problem is, but there must be something he can do.  

Jesse shrugs tightly.  “Probably not,” he says.  He smiles slightly, the tip of his tongue just poking between his teeth.  “Thank you, though.  I’d like... Maybe we could have coffee here one day?”

“Here?” Andrew asks and watches Jesse’s face close down.  “No, sorry, I didn’t mean to sound doubtful.  I was just confirming. Honestly.”

“Never mind,” Jesse shakes his head.  “I’m glad you like the gloves.”  He steps back, starting to close the door.  Andrew puts his hand out before he can.

“Wait,” he says, mind whirring.  “I have an idea.  Will you meet me on the balcony in ten minutes?”

“My balcony?” Jesse asks, frowning.

“Yes.” Andrew nods enthusiastically, holding up a finger.  “Ten minutes.  Don’t be late.”  He dashes back into his flat, leaving Jesse watching after him with a confused, but not unhappy expression on his face.

***

Nine minutes later, Andrew stands at the back of his flat and leans over the waist high railing that separates his balcony from Jesse’s.  

“Here,” he says, handing Jesse his best and least cracked mug, smiling encouragingly when Jesse takes it and wraps his hands around it.  

Jesse looks dubious but he takes a sip of the coffee, his eyes widening.  “Oh,” he says, “That’s.  What’s that?”

Andrew grins, leaning against the railing and cradling his own mug.  “That’s a honey latte,” he says.  “Good?”

Jesse nods enthusiastically. “Really good.  Thank you.”

Andrew tries to hide his smile in his mug so that he doesn’t look too unforgivably smug.  “Good,” he says.  “I’ve applied for a job at Starbucks, so can I put you down as a reference?”

Jesse frowns.  “Don’t you have a job?  You always seem to be going to work.” He coughs.  “Not that I’m watching.”

“I really don’t mind you watching,” Andrew admits.  “And, I’m not really going to work.  I’m going to find work.”  He doesn’t normally feel embarrassed about this, but for some reason he does in front of Jesse.  “I’m an actor.  Or I’m trying to be.”

“Oh,” Jesse says slowly.  “Cool.”  The way he says it sounds almost like a question, like he’s trying to give Andrew the response he wants.  Andrew laughs.

“Very cool,” he agrees.  “Or it would be, if anyone would ever hire me.”

Jesse’s quiet for long enough that Andrew considers changing the subject because it’s not like he wants to spend too long dwelling on his failing career.  But then, Jesse says, “Someone will.  You’re too, um.”

“Pushy?” Andrew suggests.

Jesse smiles.  “Charmingly pushy,” he says.  “You’re the sort of person who’ll do really well soon.”

It’s ridiculous, it’s not like Jesse really knows; he’s just trying to make Andrew feel better but Andrew still finds himself returning his smile, believing him.

***

They fall into a pattern after that.  Most afternoons, they meet on their balconies around tea time.  Sometimes Andrew makes them both coffee and occasionally, Jesse tries different types of tea out on him, but mostly they bring their own drinks and just meet in the middle.  

“How do you buy all your weird teas and things if you never leave your flat?” Andrew asks curiously.  Jesse has started spending longer and longer out here with him and Andrew doesn’t think it would be presumptuous to call them friends now.  Hopefully that means he can ask questions like that.

“I do leave my apartment,” Jesse protests.  He waves.  “See, here I am.” He’s sitting on a pillow on his side of the balcony, a book in his lap but he’s twisted toward Andrew, his attention on him.

“Oh yes, how silly of me.  You’re miles from home.”

Jesse gives him the finger which makes Andrew laugh, delighted.  “Shut up.  Don’t you have an audition to get ready for instead of mocking me?”

“I’m not mocking you,” Andrew protests, reaching through the railings between them and waggling his fingers at Jesse.

Jesse reaches up over and squeezes Andrew’s fingers quickly before letting go.  “I know you’re not,” he says seriously, then clears his throat, “You could, um.  Do you have a script?  I could help you prepare?”

Andrew waves a hand lazily.  He’s too comfortable, stretched out on the floor of his balcony, the late autumn sunlight on his back.  “No, you’d be bored, don’t worry about it.”

“Andrew,” Jesse says, sounding stern enough that Andrew actually looks up.  “Go get your script.”

Groaning, Andrew rolls over and crawls over to the open balcony door where his script is sitting, just inside the flat.  He really wants this role but he’s trying not to get his hopes up any more.  He sits back down and waves the script at Jesse.  

“All right,” he says, mock-solemnly, “Prepare to be blown away.”

Jesse laughs.  Holding out his hand.  “Give me the script,” he says and Andrew carefully squeezes it through the bars of the railings, watching the way Jesse’s fingers sweep over the open pages.  Jesse is the sort of person who appreciates words, Andrew has learnt.  

“Oh, Arthur Miller,” Jesse says, checking the cover, and sounding interested.  “Okay, go.”

Andrew clears his throat, strangely nervous all of a sudden, which is stupid because this is only Jesse; Jesse is the least judgemental person Andrew knows.  

He’s also the person Andrew most wants to impress, but that’s a whole other issue.

Andrew takes a deep breath and gives Jesse his best Biff Loman.  It’s not bad, he doesn’t think, but Jesse’s quiet enough afterward that Andrew starts to doubt himself.

“What?” he asks at last, unable to help it.  “Was I terrible?”

Jesse hums softly.  “You were great,” he says, “You’re really good.  But I, um.  I have notes.  If you want them?”

“God yes,” Andrew says, leaning forward.  “Please?”

By the time it’s grown dark, Andrew has learnt two things.  One, he really, really wants this part and two, Jesse is shockingly good at suggesting helpful, clever things that Andrew can do to improve his chances of getting it.

“How do you know about all this?” Andrew asks, even more in crush with Jesse than ever now.

Jesse shrugs, looking away.  “I have friends,” he says, “They talk.”  He still isn’t quite looking at Andrew so Andrew isn’t totally sure he believes him.  He doesn’t push though.

“Well thank god for your friends, Jesse Eisenberg,” he says, earnestly.  “And thank everything for you.”

Jesse grins, sliding Andrew’s script back to him.  “Good luck,” he says.  “Tell me how it goes?”

Andrew rolls his eyes.  “Oh as if you’re ever getting rid of me now,” he says cheerfully, picking up his script and bouncing to his feet.  “See you tomorrow.”

***

Andrew almost doesn’t see Jesse the next day.  The audition takes up most of the day and then Andrew finds himself dragged out for drinks by some people who he’s met so many times at so many auditions that they’ve accidentally become friends.

He’s a little drunk and it’s nearly midnight by the time he gets home, which means he has no reason at all to be leaning against Jesse front door rather than his own, knocking softly on the off-chance that he’s awake.

Jesse opens the door wearing pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt and looking rumpled like Andrew got him out of bed.

“Oh god,” Andrew says, shifting to lean heavily against the doorframe because standing is a problem right now.  “I’m sorry.  I woke you up.”

Jesse blinks at him then slides some glasses on.  Andrew’s poor, alcohol-soaked brain short-circuits.  “What’s wrong?” Jesse whispers.  “Are you drunk?”

“I like it when you wear glasses,” Andrew says then hiccups, giggling helplessly at himself.  “And fuck, yes, I’m horribly drunk.”

Jesse folds his arms across his chest and Andrew can’t be sure because his eyes aren’t really focusing right now, but he thinks he looks amused.  “Did the audition not go well?”

“No!” Andrew tries to express with his arms how well it went but finds that he really does need to hold onto the doorframe rather pressingly.  “No,” he repeats, quieter.  “It went well.  Really well.  Because you’re amazing and you helped me.  Have I told you that you’re amazing?”

Jesse is definitely laughing, which means that he’s definitely amused.  That’s nice.  “You’re so drunk,” he says.  He puts his hand on Andrew’s arm (initiating contact! the Jesse Sensors in Andrew’s brain point out) and steers him across the hall to his own front door.  “Do you have your keys?”

“If I didn’t, would you finally let me into your flat?” Andrew asks then shakes his head.  “Sorry.  I’m not...” He pulls out his keys and hands them to Jesse, deciding that that will be quicker and less embarrassing for everyone.

Jesse fits the key in the lock but doesn’t turn it.  “You’re not what?” he asks, doing that thing where he almost looks at Andrew but doesn’t quite.  

“I don’t want to rush you,” Andrew tells him, horribly drunk and horribly honest.  “I like you so much.”

Jesse freezes.  “Andrew,” he starts.

Andrew shakes his head.  “No, don’t.  I’m drunk and it’s mean to break a man’s heart when he’s drunk.”  He’s not really sure what he’s saying and he thinks that he should probably stop but Jesse just unlocks the door and gently nudges Andrew inside.  

“Go to sleep,” he says, giving Andrew’s upper arm a careful squeeze.  Andrew stumbles over to the sofa and curls up there, feeling the phantom press of Jesse’s fingers all the way into sleep.

***

Andrew wakes up with a pounding headache and a ridiculously dry mouth.  He squints his eyes open, making out the sun-bright inside of his living room.  His coffee table seems closer to the couch than normal and there’s a tall glass of water and a couple of white pills sitting at the edge of it.  

It’s not until Andrew has taken the pills and downed half the water that he wakes up enough to notice there’s a note sitting on the table next to the glass.

Good morning,

Yes, I broke into your apartment but that’s only because Emma loves me more than you and I was worried you might be dead.

If you’re not dead, there’s tea waiting on the balcony.

Jesse

Blurry memories of last night start to seep through the fog.  Andrew has a sneaking feeling that he said things that he should be embarrassed about, but he’s hungover and Jesse cared enough to break into his flat and offer him tea and those are really all the thoughts he can cope with for now.

***

Andrew takes a shower and changes into clothes that don’t smell like he slept in them before he goes out onto the balcony, and by then he’s feeling a lot more human.  He doesn’t really get hangovers and even when he does, he likes to pretend that he’s fine, so he beams at Jesse as soon as he sees him.

“Hello, good morning.  You broke into my flat!”

Jesse is sitting on a deck chair with a laptop on his lap; he shields his eyes from the sun and squints at Andrew.  “You look much less dead than expected,” he says, sounding pleased.  “And I didn’t really break in.  Emma has a key.”

Andrew shrugs easily and comes to sit in his usual spot, right up against the railings between their balconies.  “What are you writing?”

Jesse looks down at his laptop for a minute then shakes his head.  “Nothing, it’s not important.  I think I threatened you with tea?”

Andrew uncurls his legs, stretching his bare feet out into the sunlight.  “You did!  Can it be one with caffeine, please?”

Jesse tsks.  “Well, obviously,” he says.  “I saw you last night, remember?”

Andrew winces, leaning back against the brickwork.  He watches Jesse get up and disappear inside his flat for a moment before coming back out, holding a mug and a tiny teapot.  It takes some manoeuvring to safely take everything from him but eventually Andrew is sighing over some life-giving assam.

“Thank you,” he says, “You’re amazing.” He blinks, remembering having said that recently and much less flippantly.  “Oh god, I made a fool of myself last night, didn’t I?”

Jesse sits back down in his chair.  He says, “No, of course not,” but he doesn’t actually look at Andrew, which means yes.  Fuck.

Andrew puts down his cup and starts to stand up, not really sure how he’s going to erase last night from Jesse’s memory, but sure that he can if he just gets closer to him.  His mobile starts to ring before he comes up with an actual plan though and he stops, pulling it out and frowning down at the unknown number.

“You should get that,” Jesse says, offering him a little smile.

So Andrew does.  “Hello?” he says, “Hi.”  He knows that he says some other things to the person on the other end of the line and he hopes that they even make sense, but by the time he’s hung up, he honestly can’t remember what.  There’s a strong, hysterical buzzing in his ears.

“Andrew?” Jesse’s leaning over the balcony, waving his hand in front of Andrew’s face.  “What’s wrong?”

Andrew shakes his head.  “Oh my god,” he breathes, feeling the smile break across his face.  “Nothing is wrong.  I got the part.”  He got the part.  He can’t believe it.

“Wait,” Jesse says, “Death of a Salesman?  That part?”  He starts to move forward, only to bump into the railing and frowns.  “I was going to hug you but, um.” He steps back, grinning at Andrew and bouncing a little on his heels. “Congratulations.”

Andrew physically cannot stop smiling.  “Holy shit,” he says, sinking down onto the floor again.  He starts to laugh.  “How did that happen?  I think I’d stopped believing that was ever going to happen.”

“No, you didn’t,” Jesse says.  When Andrew looks up, he sees Jesse leaning over the railings, looking down at him.  “When do you start?”

Andrew shakes his head, trying to clear it.  “Um, Saturday, I think?  Yes, Saturday.” He laughs at himself this time.  “Sorry, I”m all.” He makes a rocking motion with his hand, trying to convey the crazy floopy elation going on in his brain right now.  

“Yeah,” Jesse says softly.  His eyes are soft too and maybe sort of sad, though Andrew can’t work out why that would be.  “You should call your mom and tell her the good news.” He bends and picks up his laptop.  “Congratulations, again.”

“Jesse,” Andrew calls, confused, but Jesse disappears inside his flat without turning around.

Andrew frowns, some of the elation starting to ebb.  He has an unwritten contract with himself that he won’t ever push Jesse too far though, so he doesn’t do what he’s itching to do and vault the balcony to follow Jesse inside.  Instead, he does what Jesse suggested and calls his mum.  Her happiness and relief are enough to remind him that oh yeah, today is a damn good day.

***

Andrew doesn’t see Jesse for the rest of the day and he doesn’t come out for tea the day after either.  It’s worrying but Andrew is busy learning lines and fielding congratulatory calls from everyone he knows back in England so he can’t spend as long as he’d like trying to fix whatever he did wrong.  

On the Friday, the day before he has to go down to the theatre and meet with the producer and directors for the first time, there’s a knock on the door and he finds a girl in a white uniform holding out a white panelled box and a clipboard.

“Andrew Garfield?” she says and then, “Sign here,” when Andrew nods.

Frowning, Andrew takes the box back into his flat and sits down on the sofa.  He can honestly say that no one has ever sent him flowers before.  Although, when he rips the box open, it turns out that no one has quite sent him flowers this time either.  It’s a squat green plant with narrow waxy leaves in a simple terracotta pot.  

A rectangle of cardboard floats down out of the box and Andrew picks it up, turning it over to find a message neatly printed in handwriting he doesn’t recognise; the florist’s probably:

This is a Pachira Aquatica - it’s meant to bring good luck, which obviously you don’t need now, but they don’t have congratulations on getting a job plants, apparently.  

Anyway, congratulations!
Jesse x

Andrew grins down at the plant.  It no longer looks little and waxy and confusing; now it’s making his heart perk up with renewed hope.  

Dropping his script onto the sofa - because, well, he must know it by now and, if he doesn’t, he can blag his way through for one day - Andrew bounces to his feet and turns the card over.

Finding a pen, he draws some swirls and stars in the corners then writes across the centre in his neatest possible handwriting:

Dear Mr Eisenberg,

You are cordially invited to dinner at Chez Garfield at 7 pm this evening.  Please be on your balcony at 6.45 pm for pre-dinner drinks.  

Please RSVP ASAP: I will/will not able to attend.

He slides it under Jesse’s front door, stopping to say hello to the cats through the door when they meow at him, then he grabs his wallet and runs down to the shops, because he’s an optimist and if he keeps acting like there’s no way that Jesse will turn him down then maybe he can make it true.

Hopefully.

When Andrew gets back, the invitation is stuck to his door.  Jesse has crossed out the will not option and scribbled underneath, dress code?

Andrew finds a pen in his trouser pocket and writes back: I’m sure whatever you’re wearing now is lovely.  See you soon. xxx

***

Andrew is really not that great a cook - as evidenced by the amount of effort it took him to whip up those brownies - but he is an expert at ordering take away and then arranging it nicely on a china plate.

When he gets out onto the balcony, he finds that Jesse has pushed his patio table up to the side of his balcony and that’s a great idea so Andrew does the same thing then pops back inside, picks up enough cutlery for the two of them and leans over the railing so he can set Jesse’s table with the fancy napkins and the glasses that he bought this afternoon.

Jesse comes back outside when Andrew is just setting down a wine glass so Andrew adds a little flourish and a grin.

“You do know that we share a hallway so I watched the takeout guy come, right?” Jesse asks.  He’s wearing a nice, dark blue shirt that brings out his eyes and black jeans that do amazing things for his legs.  Andrew knew that Jesse was attractive, but he hadn’t actually realised that he was hot before.

Andrew clears his throat.  “Sorry, what?” he asks, not his smoothest moment, then catches up with what Jesse said.  “Yes, I was going to come clean about that, honestly.  I think it’ll be better for both our stomachs if I’m not the one cooking.”

Jesse nods.  He hesitates, hovering rather than sitting.  “Is there anything I can do to help?” he asks.

“No, no,” Andrew says quickly, waving at Jesse’s seat and wishing he was over on Jesse’s balcony so he could pull out his chair for him.  “Have a seat.  I’ll just grab the plates.  Oh and wine.  Do you drink wine?”

Jesse sits.  He picks up his knife and fork and starts toying with them for a moment before he visibly forces himself to stop and puts them down.  “I do drink wine,” he says, nodding quickly.  “But just beer’s fine.  I don’t want, um.  Please don’t go to any trouble.”

“Jesse,” Andrew chides gently.  “Nothing is too much trouble for you.” Jesse is blushing and Andrew feels like maybe he should be too, so he adds, “Besides, as you so expertly pointed out, the most effort I did with the food was pick up the phone to order.”

“Okay,” Jesse says, so quietly that Andrew almost doesn’t hear him.  “Thank you.”

It should probably feel stranger than it does to sit down to eat dinner with Jesse at separate tables with the balcony railing in between them, but Andrew is used to spending time with Jesse like this now and if it’s what Jesse needs to feel comfortable then he’s fine with it.  It’s a little tricky to have to lean over so far to top up Jesse’s wine glass every now and then, but they manage it and the dinner is... it's lovely.  

Andrew feels like just ‘lovely’ is selling it short, that he should be imagining fireworks exploding overhead while they talk, but it isn’t like that; everything with Jesse feels quiet and easy and this is no exception.  

They talk about Andrew’s play and all the auditions that he didn’t get, but for the first time, Andrew doesn’t feel bad about all that wasted time.  Jesse doesn’t look like he’s judging him, like he thinks a twenty-seven year old should have given up on these silly dreams by now; Jesse just sips his wine and nods in the right places and eventually starts to tell Andrew things in return.  By the time they finish eating the ice cream that Andrew conveniently found in his freezer, he knows about Jesse’s parents and his sister and most of the cats that he’s ever owned.

It’s one of the best and least stressful dates Andrew has ever had.  He hopes that Jesse feels the same, since he gets the feeling that Jesse gets stressed by general everyday living most of the time.

“Would you like the last of the wine?” Andrew asks, lifting the bottle.  Somehow they’ve managed to drink the whole thing between them and Andrew hadn’t noticed.  

“No, no.” Jesse puts his hand over the top of his glass then frowns suddenly.  “Actually, yes.  Do you mind?”

Jesse has a smudge of colour across his cheeks, and he’s been talking more and more, getting his hands involved in the process.  Andrew doesn’t mind at all.  “I’m working tomorrow; I really shouldn’t be hung over for it,” Andrew tells him, leaning over and pouring the last few drops from the bottle into Jesse’s glass.

Jesse picks up his glass and blinks at Andrew slowly.  “What was I saying?”

Andrew smiles and reaches between the railings, straightening the wine glass in Jesse’s hand before his sleepy fingers drop it.  “You were telling me about the time your very first cat got locked in the wardrobe.”

Jesse frowns.  (It’s an adorable frown.  Andrew is allowed to think so as long as he keeps those thoughts to himself.)  “Why on Earth was I telling you that?”

Andrew has no idea, but he still wants to know.  He wants to know everything about Jesse.  “It was relevant at the time,” he lies. “And I was fascinated, so.”

Jesse makes a face, sucking his cheeks in and looking down. “Don’t make fun of me,” he says quietly.

Andrew sits up so fast that the whole balcony feels like it’s tilting.  “Jesse,” he says, grabbing Jesse’s hand where it rests on the railing between them.  “Jesse, I would never.”

“No?” Jesse asks slowly, looking up at Andrew from under his eyelashes.

Andrew can’t form words right now due to how lovely Jesse looks so he just shakes his head.   

“Okay.” Jesse pushes his chair back, wincing at the scrape.  “Okay, I’ve got to, um.  Bed.  This was great, but I should go to bed.” He stands up then sways, catching himself on the wall.  “Oh, I’m kind of tipsy.”  He sounds surprised.

Andrew watches him, trying not to smile too widely.  It’s hard though, because he’s a little tipsy himself.  “Can you manage?” he asks.

Jesse raises his eyebrows.  “Are you offering to put me to bed?” he asks.

Andrew hadn’t been.  Well, only in the purest form.  He has every hope of getting into Jesse’s bed one day – or Jesse into his, he’s not fussy – but it’s not going to be a day when either of them have had too much to drink.

“I had only the best intentions,” he says, pressing a hand to his chest.  Somehow, and he doesn’t know how because usually he has much better balance than this, he sends his chair rocking backwards into the wall.  The brickwork huffs in protest, sending a cloud of orange dust Andrew’s way and, “Oops,” Andrew says, feeling himself flush.

Jesse is laughing.  Not just the soft little smiles that Andrew has been collecting like he used to collect pogs, but genuine laughing.  His cheeks curl up toward his eyes and he has actual dimples.  There’s really nothing else for it.

“Stand aside,” Andrew instructs, planting both hands on the railing keeping them apart.

“Oh my god, Andrew, you’re going to fall to your – ” Andrew vaults and lands (fairly) neatly in front of him.  “Death,” Jesse finishes faintly.

Andrew straightens up.  “So this is what the other side looks like?” he says, looking around.  Jesse is looking at him with big eyes, but he doesn’t seem scared or intimidated, just curious.  “The grass is certainly greener.”

“Are you being metaphorical?” Jesse asks. “Because I have no grass. I barely even have gra.”  He points at the lone potting tub that leans against the wall by his balcony door.  Whatever plant was supposed to be in there appears to have shrivelled into some odd-looking single-petalled mutant.  Andrew is charmed.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” he says.  “What is it?”

Jesse shrugs.  “I have no idea.  My therapist suggested that I get a plant, so I did.  But then it turned into that and gave me nightmares so now it lives out here.”

Andrew bites his lip so he won’t just give in and fucking beam.  “You could throw it away?” he suggests, but Jesse shakes his head straight away.

“No, no,” he says. “Have you seen it? It’ll come back and eat me in the night.”

Andrew has no idea if this is an appropriate moment to fall in love, but he thinks he might be doing it anyway.  “How about we move it over to my balcony?” he asks.  “I promise not to let it climb back over and get you.”

Jesse pauses, apparently considering.  “Okay,” he says.  “If you’re prepared to risk it.”

“I am,” Andrew tells him seriously.  He tries to focus on the plant but it does look a little vicious.  “Although maybe not right now.”

“No,” Jesse agrees, shaking his head.  “Not right now.”

When Andrew looks up at him, Jesse is looking straight back.  He blinks when he catches Andrew’s eye but doesn’t look away.

“Um,” Jesse says, licking his lip.  “Thank you, thank you for dinner.”

Andrew’s fingers itch to reach up and push Jesse’s curls back, kiss him for the first time.  If this were a conventional date, he’d definitely try it, but he’s terrified of fucking up with Jesse; he feels like he’s teased and tricked Jesse into letting him in a little and he doesn’t want to do anything to make him regret it.

“You’re welcome,” Andrew assures him.  “I’d like to do it again, if you’re interested?”

“Yes,” Jesse says slowly. “I am, I’m.” He swallows. “Interested.”

Andrew takes a deep breath and refuses to let his hopes grow too high.  “Any time,” he says seriously, “Whenever you want.”

Jesse reaches out and curls his fingers in Andrew’s sleeve.  Don’t jump to conclusions, Andrew scolds himself, just stay calm.

“I want to see you all the time,” Jesse says, “It’s terrible.  I don’t know how to deal with it at all.”

Calm.  “Why is it terrible?” Andrew asks.  “If you’re interested in my opinion, I think that’s fantastic.”

“But I don’t know what to do,” Jesse says, eyes a little wide.  He pulls on Andrew’s sleeve and Andrew steps closer automatically.  He can feel the heat of Jesse’s body now.  He’s very warm.  

It’s hard, but Andrew manages to say, “You don’t have to do anything, if you’re not comfortable.  I’m happy to wait.”  If he had the promise of someday, Andrew’s not embarrassed to admit that he’d probably wait forever.

Jesse shakes his head.  “No, you should kiss me.”

Andrew swallows convulsively.  “Really?” he asks, hearing his voice edge toward squeaking.  “I mean.  That wasn’t what dinner was about, I promise.”

“I know.” Jesse shifts closer then sways back a little like he can’t decide where to put himself.  “But, um, kissing.  Now.  If you’d like.”

Andrew reaches out and tucks Jesse’s curls back behind his ear, just like he told himself not to.  “Of course I’d like,” he says, “but you’ve been drinking and I don’t want to do anything you wouldn’t do sober.”

Jesse’s cheeks flush dark.  “Well I’d never have to guts to suggest it sober, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to do it,” he confesses.  “But you don’t want to and that, that’s fine.  I’ll just - ”

Jesse,” Andrew says quickly, “Don’t be silly, of course I want to.”  It’s just a kiss, he tells himself, Jesse wants to and Andrew would love to.  He cups the back of Jesse’s head and moves in quickly, brushing his lips against Jesse’s.

Jesse freezes and Andrew’s hands turn cold with worry, but then Jesse pushes into the kiss, parting his lips and leaning up on his toes.  Andrew curls his hands around the backs of Jesse’s upper arms, holding him close but not too tight while they kiss, warm and wet, lips slightly parted until Andrew can’t control his smile.  He feels Jesse’s mouth start to echo the shape until kissing doesn’t work any more and they have to pull back.

“That was nice,” Andrew says, still grinning and Jesse laughs, ducking his head.

“You’re nice,” he mumbles.  

Andrew wants to reel him back in and kiss him all night.  Instead, he makes himself step back.  “I should go,” he says, “Or I’m going to ask to kiss you again and you might get fed up with me.”

“I wouldn’t,” Jesse says, smiling shyly, “but I’m not going to stop you from going home.  You have to be wide awake tomorrow so you can dazzle the directors.”

Andrew presses close once more, kissing the corner of Jesse’s mouth and the place where his dimple sometimes appears.  “I’ll come and see you tomorrow,” he promises.  “Shall I meet you on the balcony or am I allowed to knock on your door?”

Jesse nudges his toes against the floor of the balcony and then, again, this time against Andrew’s socked feet.  “Knock on the door,” he says and it sounds like a promise.

***

The next morning, Andrew feels full of happy, fluttering anticipation and just a little bit of panic.  He’s excited to start working on the play for real and he’s already looking forward to seeing Jesse tonight.  They’ve had one whole date now; hopefully it’s not too soon to wake up missing him.

Andrew has to be at the theatre for eleven so he rolls out of bed, takes a long shower, eats a good breakfast and tries to resist doing backflips down the street to work off some of his excess energy.  There’s a billboard advertising Doctor Who on the building above the subway station so Andrew snaps a quick picture of it, texting it to Matt.  Matt always turns a particular flustered mix of flattered and bemused when he gets any kind of recognition and, if Andrew can’t be there to see it, he’s at least going to cause it as often as possible.

The theatre is down a side street off Broadway; a squat little red-bricked building with a wide, green double front door and a semi-circular white awning jutting out from the front.  

Andrew doesn’t often get nervous but he is right now.  Back in England, he never second guessed himself; he had a couple of guest spots on TV programmes and never doubted that that was only the beginning, but getting turned down so many times since moving here has apparently put a dent in his confidence or something.

He bops a little on his toes, trying to psych himself up, add a little swing to his step.  He’s good at this, he reminds himself, he can do it.  

One half of the front door swings open when Andrew approaches it and Deborah, the assistant director who Andrew met at his second audition, pokes her head out.  “Andrew?”

Right, show time.  “Hi,” Andrew says brightly, bouncing forward and holding out his hand for her to shake.  “Lovely to see you again.”

She takes his hand, shaking it firmly and that’s when Andrew remembers that he’s still wearing the gloves that Jesse knitted for him.  A little thrill of warmth travels through him, topping up his faked confidence with some of the real kind.  He really can do this.

***

The morning passes quickly.  Andrew meets the rest of the cast and they settle into groups for early read-throughs while Deborah walks around between them, hmm-ing and making notes on her clipboard.

The woman playing Andrew’s mother, an older lady called Sally, seems to take a shine to Andrew immediately, exclaiming over his accent and admiring his mismatched gloves.

Andrew can’t say that his boyfriend made them for him, because that would be horribly presumptuous and even though Andrew is often lucky enough to get what he wants, he doesn’t want to count his Jesses until they’re officially his.  Or something.

“Thanks,” he says instead. “My friend made them.” He can’t stop the stupid smile that spreads across his face but he tries to tone it down a little.

He probably doesn’t succeed because Sally laughs at him, wrapping an arm around his waist.  “I’m going to adopt you,” she says.  “I hope you don’t mind?”

Andrew beams at her.  “Not at all,” he says.  “I’d love that.”

When they break at midday, Sally offers to take him out for lunch.  Andrew has an instinctual urge to always be a gentleman and to be the one paying, but he forces himself to say, “Thank you,” instead.  

He stops her before they leave the stage.  “Do you mind if we go through the theatre?  I haven’t really seen it yet.”  She doesn’t mind and they take the long way out of the building, through the costume rails and make-up tables filling backstage and down a corridor lined with posters from previous shows.

“Oh, this is amazing,” Andrew says, stopping in front of a 1973 poster for The Crucible, framed but still faded at the edges.  Sally’s name is printed proudly across the bottom.

“I bet that feels like the Middle Ages to you,” Sally says.

“Not at all,” Andrew demurs then drifts on to the next poster.  There’s Rocky Horror and Sweet Charity and Andrew’s grinning by the time he reaches a much more modern poster for something called The Squid and The Whale.  He’s never heard of it and he’s about to move on when his eye is caught by the words printed along the bottom.

Starring: Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney and Jesse Eisenberg!

Andrew blinks, stares, but that’s still what it says.

“Andrew, honey?” Sally asks, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “Are you okay?”

Andrew reaches up and traces the name, Jesse’s name, printed clearly across the poster for anyone to see.  It could be someone else, obviously, but it isn’t a common name.  “Who - ?” he tries to ask.

Sally leans in, reading where Andrew’s pointing.  “Jesse Eisenberg? Oh he was great.  Do you know him?”

“I, um. Maybe?” Andrew says faintly.  “My age?  Curly hair?  Lovely blue eyes?”

Sally looks curiously at him after that last one, but all she says is, “That sounds like him.  He was a really nice kid.  He and I did a couple of plays together back in the day.  You seen him at auditions or something?  I thought he didn’t act any more.”

“No,” Andrew tells her.  “Not at auditions.  What, what happened?” He feels like he’s betraying Jesse, like he should ask him himself, but he can’t wait to know.  If something terrible happened to stop Jesse acting then he has to know right now.

Sally sighs sadly.  “I wish I knew.  He was such a talented kid.  Everyone thought he’d go far, he even made a couple of movies and then he just quit.  I heard he writes plays or something now.”

“That’s a shame,” Andrew says quietly.  His mind is reeling.

“It is,” she says, sounding genuinely sad.  She gives Andrew a long look.  “But if you do know him, you tell him he’s always welcome down here.  We all miss him.”

“Yes,” Andrew agrees.  “I will.”  He’s not sure if he will at all.  “Um, lunch?”

“Oh, sure, sure.” Sally puts a hand in the centre of Andrew’s back, guiding him past the rest of the posters, stopping now and then to point out her particular favourites.  

Andrew takes a deep breath and forces himself to concentrate on what she’s saying rather than thinking about Jesse.  It’s pretty much impossible.  Jesse made it as an actor, just like Andrew is desperate to do, and now he sits at home knitting random strangers socks and locked in epic struggles with his devil cat.  Andrew isn’t sure how he’s going to wait until the end of the day to find out why.

***

Jesse opens the door as soon as Andrew knocks.  He’s smiling and he even lets Wednesday poke her head out from between his ankles and sniff at Andrew’s feet.

“Hi,” he says, twisting his hands in the hem of his t-shirt.  He looks pleased to see Andrew and Andrew doesn’t know how to start the conversation they need to have.  

“Hello.” Andrew tries to smile at Jesse like he always does, but Jesse still frowns, drawing the door a little closer to himself.

“Is something wrong?” Jesse absently pets Wednesday when she jumps up at his leg but his eyes don’t leave Andrew’s face.

“Can I come in?” Andrew asks.

Jesse steps back a little but doesn’t give Andrew room to follow him.  “That depends,” he says. “If you’re about to tell me that you didn’t mean to kiss me last night and that you never want to see me again then, no, I’d rather we did that in the hallway.”

Now Andrew can smile and mean it.  “Jesse,” he says, putting his hand on the door, which is closing millimetre by millimetre as he watches.  “I definitely meant to kiss you last night and I want to see you every minute of every day.”

The door stops closing.  “So, what’s wrong?”

Andrew bites his lip.  “Let me in?”

Jesse doesn’t exactly fling the door open in welcome, but he steps back, picking Wednesday up and watching silently as Andrew squeezes past.  Like Andrew’s flat, the front door leads straight into living room, but unlike Andrew’s flat, the living room is tidy and neat and well-furnished.  

There are bookcases along every wall except one where an old-fashioned record player sits next to a computer table holding a surprisingly modern-looking Mac and a pile of books and papers.  One corner of the room has obviously been given over to the cats - well, that or Jesse secretly enjoys sleeping in rolls of blankets and playing with the toys Andrew bought which are scattered all over.  

“I like your flat,” Andrew says, honestly, more pleased than is probably appropriate to get to see inside.  

“Would you like some tea?” Jesse asks.  He’s holding Wednesday like a shield in front of his chest and Andrew suspects that if he lets Jesse go to the kitchen to make tea, he’ll never get him back.

“No, I’m fine,” he says.  “Come and sit down?”

Jesse does, but he sticks firmly to the far corner of his sofa.  Andrew sighs and doesn’t try to crowd him, just strokes Wednesday’s sleek back when she wriggles out of Jesse’s arms and pads across the sofa cushions to Andrew.

Jesse pulls his feet up onto the sofa and wraps his arms around his legs.  Andrew feels awful for making him worry; he could probably be handling this better, but he’s still too thrown to be able to think clearly.

“I started rehearsals today,” he says, watching Jesse nod.  “Do you, um.  I don’t know that I mentioned which theatre company I was joining?” Jesse shakes his head so Andrew tells him and watches all the colour drain out of Jesse’s face.

“Oh,” Jesse says softly.  “I’m guessing they still have those posters up?”  At Andrew’s nod, he presses his cheek against the top of his knees for a moment before gathering himself up and looking Andrew in the eye.  “I was going to tell you.”

“When?” Andrew asks, rougher than he intends.  He shakes his head quickly, holding out a hand.  “No, sorry, I didn’t mean that.  It’s none of my business; you didn’t have to tell me at all.”

Jesse smiles, faint and humourless.  “But I should have.  You were auditioning and you talk about acting all the time, it’s not like it wasn’t relevant.”

Andrew’s hand is still extended into the space between so he touches the top of Jesse’s knee, stroking the soft fabric of his pyjama bottoms.  “Did something horrible happen?” he asks, softly.  He honestly can’t think of anything bad enough to make him turn his back on acting, and the idea that something happened to Jesse makes him feel a little sick.

Jesse shrugs, a jerky wobble.  “I’m going to make that tea,” he says and jumps up.

Andrew sighs and follows him into the kitchen.  “Jesse,” he says patiently.  “Just tell me to mind my own business, if you want.”

Jesse turns around from the kettle.  He has one of those old-fashioned ones that you put on the hob; everyone in New York seems to, except Andrew who’s sure he’d scald himself irreparably if he tried.

“It was terrible,” Jesse says, leaning back against the counter and looking across the kitchen, eyes locked on the floor just in front of Andrew’s feet.  “The plays were okay, but then I started making movies and everyone, everyone started to recognise me.  They wanted me to do interviews and tell them stuff about myself and people stopped me on the streets and took my picture when I was in line in Starbucks and - ” Jesse folds his arm tight across his chest.  “You can laugh at me if you want.  I know it’s not normal to be freaked out by all that stuff.”

He looks miserable.  Andrew doesn’t even stop to think, just crosses the room and wraps his arms around him, resting his head on Jesse’s shoulder.  Jesse stays stiff and embarrassed in his arms for so long that Andrew almost lets go, then he shudders and presses close, pulling Andrew against him.

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” he asks.

“No!” Andrew says immediately.  “No, of course not.” He strokes Jesse’s back.  “But is it, just - ?  You didn’t like being recognised, so you stopped acting?”  It’s nothing like the traumas Andrew has been imagining and he tries to wrap his mind around how much it must have bothered Jesse.

Jesse pulls back but stays within Andrew’s reach.  “I have an anxiety disorder,” he says.  “You may have noticed.”

Andrew scratches the back of his neck.  “And that’s why you don’t go outside?  Because if freaks you out that badly if people recognise you?”

Jesse smiles faintly.  “I do go outside,” he says, “I keep telling you that.  Just, um.  Usually early in the morning or on rainy Sundays?”

“God, Jesse,” Andrew mutters.

“Don’t.” Jesse holds up a hand.  “I’m happy like this, I’m fine.  I started acting because I was crazy bad at being me in front of other people, but I didn’t love it or anything, not like you do.”

“I just - ” Andrew tries helplessly.

Don’t,” Jesse repeats, starting to sound cross.  “You’re going to offer to fix me or something.  I don’t need fixing.”

Andrew holds up both hands, mirroring Jesse.  “Of course you don’t,” he says quickly.  “I’m sorry.  I’m getting this all wrong, aren’t I?”

Jesse shakes his head, but he looks sad.  “It’s okay.  It’s okay, but.  Please don’t look at me like I’m broken.”  His voice sounds shaky and all Andrew’s wanted to do since he discovered Jesse existed was try to make him happier.  He’d thought he was getting good at it, but apparently he really wasn’t.

“I don’t think you’re broken,” Andrew promises.  “I think you’re incredible.”

Jesse laughs quietly.  “Can we have that tea now?” he asks.  “I’m trying to use it as an excuse to avoid this conversation and you won’t let me.”

“Sorry,” Andrew says quickly.  “How about I go back into the living room and commune with your cats and we pretend I never mentioned any of this?”  It’s not what Andrew wants to do, but it’s obviously what Jesse wants so Andrew will give it to him.

Jesse exhales, looking relieved.  “Yes,” he says, “Thank you.”

***

Jesse doesn’t ask Andrew to leave so Andrew ends up staying to dinner. It’s not until after they’ve eaten and Andrew has Wednesday curled up on one side of him, Orwell trying to eat his feet, and Jesse resting against his other side that Andrew looks across the room and realises, “You don’t have a TV.”

Jesse laughs softly.  “No,” he agrees.  He turns a little, propping his chin on Andrew’s shoulder and pressing his evening-stubbled jaw against Andrew’s cheek.  It makes Andrew feel soft and shivery.  

“What, what do you do instead?” Andrew asks, tipping his head a little, rasping their cheeks together.

“I knit socks for strangers with cold toes,” Jesse says, “And read books and play with my cats and I spend a lot of my time writing.” His voice turns teasing in a way Andrew’s never heard before.  “Oh and sometimes I work at seducing the cute British boy next door.”

Oh god, Andrew wants to be seduced right now.  “Really?” he manages.  “How’s that working out for you?”

Jesse puts his hand on Andrew’s jaw.  “Well, I hope?”

“Fuck, yes,” Andrew says and turns toward him, leaning in for a kiss.  Jesse kisses him harder than he did last night, more urgency behind it and Andrew wonders if he caused that, if by bringing up Jesse’s past, he’s somehow scared Jesse in to thinking this might not last.  He really hopes not; he wants this to last forever.

“Shh,” Andrew whispers against Jesse’s mouth, trying to gentle the kiss.  He lies back, pulling Jesse down with him.  Wednesday mews and leaps out of the way and they both stop to apologise to her before Jesse rests his weight against Andrew’s chest, legs slotting together.

Jesse pulls away, kissing the side of Andrew’s face, the skin behind his ear.  “I don’t know why you... It makes no sense for you to want me.”

There are so many things Andrew wants to say to that that he’s temporarily speechless.  “Because you’re gorgeous,” he finally manages, “And clever and funny and amazing.” He squeezes his hands between them, toying with the hem of Jesse’s shirt.  “Can I take your jumper off?”

“Yes,” Jesse says, sitting up and helping Andrew to pull it up over his head.  He’s flushed and dishevelled when he emerges.  “And I wasn’t actually fishing for complements, you know.”

“I know.” Jesse’s skin is right in front of him now and Andrew can’t look away.  He slides his palms up Jesse’s chest, thumbs his nipples and grins when Jesse shivers.  Jesse’s chest is smooth, his skin soft and he tastes clean and lightly salty when Andrew licks a nipple into his mouth.

“Andrew,” Jesse groans, carding his hands through Andrew’s hair like he really wants to pull it.  “Okay, you need to take some clothes off, too.”

“Gladly,” Andrew tells him. “How many of them?”

Jesse’s eyes are dark, wicked in a way Andrew wouldn’t have expected of him.  “All of them?”

Andrew goes from half- to fully hard in the time it takes Jesse to suck his bottom lip into his mouth.  “All right,” he says, voice coming out thick.  “But do you think your cats will mind if we move to the bedroom?”

Jesse glances down at the cats; they’re looking up at him, tails swishing.  Endearingly, he blushes.  “Yeah, I think they’d be pretty relieved to be honest.  They’ve never seen - ”  He cuts himself off and Andrew tries hard not to react to the implication that Jesse hasn’t brought anyone home with him for at least as long as he’s had these particular cats.

Andrew pulls him down into another kiss then pushes against his shoulder.  “Come on, then.  Take me to bed.”

***

Jesse’s bedroom is almost as neat as his living room.  There are more books on the floor but less cat toys in the corners, which Andrew takes about three seconds to notice before they’re pushing each out of their clothes and tumbling down onto the bed.

Andrew wants to kiss every part of Jesse he can reach, wants to pull the duvet over them both and promise Jesse’s that he’s safe, that he can talk to Andrew about anything that’s ever worrying him and Andrew will never judge him.

He can’t though, not right now; he doesn’t want to see Jesse shut down again.

“What’s wrong?” Jesse asks.  He’s curled against Andrew’s side, kissing his hip and the top of his thigh.

Andrew shakes himself.  This isn’t something he wants to miss.  “Nothing,” he says.  He bends his knee, giving Jesse better access when Jesse crawls between his legs and starts to kiss the inside of his thighs.  “That feels fantastic.”

Jesse kisses down to Andrew’s calf, then back up the other leg.  “Your legs go on for miles,” he says, “it’s ridiculous.”

Part of Andrew thinks that this is the wrong way around: he wants to be the one exploring all of Jesse’s body, learning how he tastes and what makes him groan, but this feels too good to ask Jesse to stop.  Andrew will take his turn soon, he reassures himself, then closes his eyes, moaning when Jesse sucks the tip of his cock into his mouth.

“Jesse,” Andrew chokes, curling his knees up toward his chest because it feels so good.  Jesse puts his hand on Andrew’s ankle bone, stroking consolingly while his other hand cups Andrew’s balls, thumb sliding down to rub carefully at his perineum.  It’s too good, too much and Andrew can’t help the noises he’s making, the way he’s trying and failing not to writhe around the bed.  

Jesse pulls back with a slow, gut-wrenching drag, thumb still rubbing behind Andrew’s balls.  “Jeez, you’re hot,” he breathes, sliding forward for a quick, hard kiss before ducking back between Andrew’s legs and licking wetly down his cock, sucking Andrew’s balls into his mouth, one then the other.

“Oh, shit,” Andrew forces out brokenly and starts to shake, grabbing blindly for any part of Jesse in reach, finding his hand and clinging tight while he comes hard.

Andrew feels weak after, boneless and sleepy.  He laughs breathlessly while Jesse licks his stomach clean.  His skin feels sharp and oversensitive, tingling under every touch.  “I think you killed me,” he mumbles, amused by the way his words slur, out of his control.

Jesse crawls into his line of sight.  He’s laughing at him, but Andrew doesn’t care.  Jesse’s lips are flushed dark and swollen, and Andrew’s cock tries to react to that.  It’s too soon and he half-laughs, half-whimpers, pulling Jesse close enough to kiss and press himself full-length against.  

“So you really like blowjobs?” Jesse asks, stroking a hand down Andrew’s side and curling around his hip.  

Andrew shudders, pushing closer still.  There’s no closer to go, but that doesn’t stop him.  “Mostly I really like you,” he confesses, not really a confession at all because Jesse must know that by now.  

Jesse kisses him quickly.  “You too,” he says, barely a whisper and Andrew wonders if he wasn’t supposed to hear.  Jesse presses his thumb into the tender skin behind Andrew’s hipbone, reeling him in.  He brushes his mouth against Andrew’s ear and Andrew has the feeling that he wants to whisper something dirty to him but can’t bring himself to.

“What?” Andrew asks, rolling onto his back and pulling Jesse with him.  

Jesse’s face goes hot against Andrew’s throat and his shakes his head, but he still says, “I wanted to ask, if you like blowjobs that much, how do you feel about fucking, but it’s not... It’s too soon for that.  I’m not ready.”

He stares up at Andrew with huge eyes like Andrew is going to tease him or something.  Andrew is categorically not going to tease him.  

“No?” Andrew says.  Jesse shakes his head.  “Maybe some other time?”  He reaches down between them, curling his hand around Jesse’s erection, which jumps in his hand.

“Yeah,” Jesse breathes. “Another time definitely.  Shit.  Andrew.”

Andrew rolls them onto their sides, pumping his hand slowly up and down Jesse’s cock, just trying to learn what he likes.  Jesse’s eyes go wide and vacant for a second before he screws them closed, pressing his forehead against Andrew’s shoulder.  Andrew pulls him close, holding him tightly and murmuring, “It’s okay, I’ve got you,” in his ear.

“Oh shit, oh god,” Jesse swears, mouth open and hot against Andrew’s bare shoulder.  He trails off into a stream of mumbled words, but Andrew can pick out his name every so often and it makes  his stomach roll over, slow and happy.  

Andrew kisses his temple, the corner of his eye.  “Yeah, it’s okay, come on,” he whispers and, a couple of strokes later, Jesse does, spilling hot and wet over Andrew’s hand.  

Jesse lets all of his breath out in a rush, collapsing deeper into Andrew’s arms and Andrew just holds him, ignoring the way the cooling sweat on his skin is making him shiver or the stickiness of the come between his fingers.  I love you, he thinks.  It comes as a little bit of a surprise but it’s not exactly a massive shock.  

Jesse is warm and solid and real right now, more than he’s ever been to Andrew before.  He started off as a mystery Andrew wanted to solve and then a boy Andrew really liked but never got to touch.  This is much better but it’s also much scarier because now Andrew has something tangible to lose.

“Andrew?” Jesse asks softly, rolling his head against Andrew’s chest.  “You went tense.”  He starts to tense up too.  “What’s wrong, do you need to leave?”

“What? No.” Andrew hesitates.  “Unless you want me to?”

Jesse seems to think about it carefully.  “No,” he says at last.  “I don’t want that.” He sounds confused, like he wasn’t expecting it.  He sits up, wincing at the way their sweat chests try to stick together, and reaches down to pull the duvet up the bed.  Andrew takes it from him, straightening out his side and waiting until Jesse’s done the same to pull him close again.

“We’re sticky,” Jesse protests, but he puts his head on the pillow beside Andrew’s anyway, kissing the corner of Andrew’s mouth quickly.

Andrew shrugs, unconcerned.  “We could be stickier,” he says.  He tries not to be too unforgivably codependent, but he really doesn’t want to stop touching Jesse yet.  “Will you judge me forever if I admit I like to spoon?” he asks.

Jesse laughs, kissing Andrew again.  “A bit,” he says.  He strokes his hand down Andrew’s chest.  “You’re clingy.”  

He doesn’t sound like he really minds, but Andrew still wrinkles his nose.  “Yes,” he admits.  “Sorry.”

Jesse shifts onto his side, pushing at Andrew’s shoulder until Andrew does the same.  Jesse settles against his back, arm around Andrew’s waist.  “It’s okay,” he mumbles into Andrew’s hair, sounding sleepy.  “It’s nice not to be the only neurotic one.”

Andrew laughs, putting his hand over Jesse’s and turning his face into the pillow, exhausted all of a sudden.  He’s half-asleep when he feels fingers on his face, brushing his hair out of his eyes.

“Good night,” Jesse whispers, obviously thinking Andrew’s already asleep. “Don’t worry about me.”

I can’t help it, Andrew wants to say but he doesn’t manage to stay conscious long enough.

***

When Andrew wakes up, the room’s barely light and he groans, wanting to roll over and go back to sleep.  Jesse’s gone though and that’s just not acceptable so he rolls out of bed, shivering in the early morning cold, pulling on a pair of boxers and wrapping the duvet around himself like a cape.

“Jesse?” he calls softly, padding through the flat.  “Jesse, I know you didn’t run out on me.”

“I could have,” Jesse’s voice comes from the kitchen.  He’s standing against the counter, holding a mug and he laughs when he sees Andrew.  “I’m glad I didn’t though.  I’d hate to miss the sight of you in the morning.”

Andrew mock-pouts at him.  “Are you saying I’m not stunningly attractive at eight in the morning?”

Jesse just looks at him, steam from his tea drifting up over his glasses.  “No, I’m not saying that,” he says, softly enough that Andrew has to drop the duvet and kiss him.

“Mm,” Jesse breathes, putting his mug down blindly and wrapping his arms around Andrew, pulling him in tight.  

Andrew puts his hands on Jesse’s chest, fisting them in Jesse’s jumper which, wait.  He pulls back.  “You’re dressed,” he says, “Why are you dressed?”

Jesse tips his head.  “Because it’s the morning?  I can’t just wander around naked.”

Actually, Andrew doesn’t see why; he really likes the idea of that.  “But it’s your flat,” he says. “That’s one of the rules of having your own flat.”

“Is that what you do in yours?” Jesse asks, arching an eyebrow.

Andrew grins at him, slow and wicked.  “You should stay over one night,” he says, “Find out.”

Jesse doesn’t stop smiling at him, but something still shifts.  He turns around, reaching for another mug from the cupboard.  “I made coffee too, just for you.”

“Thank you,” Andrew says, taking it from him.  “Did I say something wrong?  I wasn’t trying to...  Just because we - ” He waves a hand between them. “I’m not assuming anything.”

Jesse shakes his head.  “Please assume,” he says quickly.  “But I just, I don’t do too well sleeping places other than my own bed?”  He bites his lip, looking up at Andrew with his crazily lovely blue eyes.  “You’re welcome to sleep here though, whenever you like.  Or not.  I’m not, I’m not assuming anything either.”

Yes, there’s really no doubt about it now: Andrew is horribly in love.  “How about we both agree to assume a little?” he asks once he’s kissed Jesse slowly, thoroughly, tasting warm tea on Jesse’s tongue.

Once they manage to pull away from each other, ten or so minutes later, Andrew sits down at the kitchen table and curls his hands around a fresh cup of coffee.  “Why are you up so early?” he asks.  He nods his chin at the kitchen counter where Orwell and Wednesday are curled up together like an incredibly fluffy dinner service.  “Even the cats are still asleep.”

Jesse sits down opposite him, bare feet brushing Andrew’s. "I wasn't sure what time you needed to wake up,” he says.  “I called the theatre to find out what time they wanted you but I, I didn't want them to recognise my voice so I tried to put on a British accent only I'm not sure how well that worked, so, um. If they ask, pretend I'm your weird cousin Burt or someone?”

“Weird cousin Burt?” Andrew echoes, laughing.  “I’m shocked and appalled that you think I only have one weird cousin.”  He stops laughing, realising the implications of what Jesse just said.  “So if you don’t even want to talk to the guys at the theatre, I suppose the chances of you coming to see me in the play are quite low?”

Jesse winces.  “Andrew.”

“No, no, it's okay I was just checking.”  It's not really okay, it's actually incredibly disappointing.  Andrew may have to be a grown-up about it, though.  Unless.  “Have you tried, I don’t know, seeing someone about your anxiety or something?”

Jesse sighs.  “Andrew,” he says slowly.  “Listen.  I have two psychiatrists and a weekend therapist already.  And I’m fine.  I function, I look after my cats, I have a job I love which some people even think I'm fairly good at...  I just - ” He waves a hand jerkily.  “I need you to stop worrying about this, please.”

Andrew bites his lip.  “Sorry, I'm sorry.” Jesse’s foot is no longer resting against Andrew’s and Andrew’s feet feel cold.  “I've annoyed you, I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Jesse says quietly.  “It’s okay.” He stands up, taking their mugs to the sink.  “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?”

I don’t want to, Andrew thinks.  “Okay,” he says softly.  “Will I - .  Can I see you tonight?”

Jesse doesn’t turn from the sink.  “If you want.”

***

Andrew spends all day at rehearsals feeling horrible and guilty.  It wasn’t exactly a big fight, but he knows he hurt Jesse’s feelings and he’s sad that Jesse has potentially spent all day being mad at him.

“What’s the matter with you?” Armie, the guy playing Andrew’s brother, asks at the end of the day, slinging a friendly arm around Andrew’s shoulder.  “It’s going great.  You’ve got the accent down.”

Andrew manages a smile, although Armie is so fucking tall though that Andrew’s facial features probably look like dots on the surface of the moon anyway.  “It’s nothing,” he says.  “Just had a bit of a row with someone important.”

Armie hisses between his teeth.  “Well, that sucks,” he says.  “Have you tried flowers?”

Andrew shakes his head.  “I don’t know if he likes flowers,” he says, but that gives him an idea and he takes the long way home, wandering down backstreets, looking in secondhand bookshops and hoping the perfect apology present will jump out at him.  He and Jesse have a history of buying each other things, that’s how this whole thing began, maybe it will work.

It doesn’t and he slumps against the outside of another bookshop, knocking his head against the brickwork.  There’s a bric-a-brac sort of shop across the street and Andrew lets his eyes travel over the window display, feeling a bit bric-y and brac-y himself.  

Then he sees it, the absolute perfect present and he springs up from the wall, hurrying inside.

***

“Wait,” Jesse says when he opens the door and Andrew immediately starts apologising.  “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Andrew says again.  “I didn’t mean to overstep or make you feel bad or anything.  It’s your life and of course you know what’s best and, oh, here, I bought you something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the lopsided, blue and white knitted tea cosy that called to him from the bric-a-brac shop.  “It’s for your teapot.  You make a lot of tea and you knit things and...” He decides to stop talking right now.  He’s normally much better at things like this.

“Did we have a fight?  Was that a fight?” Jesse asks, his eyebrows drawing together in a frown.  “Did I miss an entire day of freaking out about us having had a fight?”

Abruptly, it feels like Andrew is a million stone lighter.  It’s not like he thought Jesse was never going to speak to him again or anything, but it’s so much better to know that Jesse was never cross with him at all.

“No,” Andrew says quickly.  “No, there was absolutely, definitely no fight.”  He reaches for the tea cosy.  “Let me just take that back...”

“No.” Jesse snatches it out of Andrew’s reach, holding it up and smiling at it.  “No, I love it.  And I...” He bites his lip, blushing.  “And it’s far too soon to say the rest of that sentence, so I, um, won’t.”

Andrew’s stomach burns pleasantly.  “Okay,” he says.  He puts his hands on Jesse’s hips.  “Can we say that was our first fight and agree to never have one again?”

Jesse kisses the corner of Andrew’s mouth, making Andrew’s lips tingle.  “Works for me,” he agrees.  He stops before kissing Andrew properly.  “But you’re not mad either, right?  About me not coming to see your play?”

“No,” Andrew says quickly.  “No, honestly.  I was thinking actually, Justin has a video camera.  He showed it to me randomly in the hall the other day.”

“I really can’t say I’m surprised.” Jesse sighs affectionately.  “Did he try to get you to star in one of his special movies?”

Andrew makes a face. “No, it was something to do with a documentary about squirrel mating rituals? I don’t know. The point is, maybe I could borrow it or maybe he could come.” He kisses Jesse since Jesse isn’t kissing him.  “Would you like to see a really shitty home video version of my play, Jesse?”

Jesse takes a deep breath.  “Yes,” he says, sounding relieved and Andrew wonders if he was actually worried about it. “Yes, that would be perfect.”

***

When Andrew gets home a couple of weeks later, Jesse is waiting for him on the front steps.  He’s so unused to seeing Jesse outside of their building that he almost walks past him.

“Oh, hi, hello,” Andrew says, pulling up short and automatically wrapping his arms around Jesse’s waist.

Jesse laughs and leans into him, kissing his lips lightly.  “Hi.  Look at me, I’m outside in daylight.”

“You are,” Andrew agrees, happily.  Jesse is wrapped up in a hoodie and a coat and gloves and scarf but Andrew isn’t that easily put off; he squirms his hands under the hem of Jesse’s coat, flattening them against his back.  “You look lovely in daylight.”

Jesse shivers, pulling away from Andrew’s hands then pushing back into them.  “You’re freezing,” he scolds, “Do I need to knit you more gloves?”

“I’m already wearing the gloves you made me,” Andrew tells him.  “But feel free to make my a hat or a scarf or something.  I’ve never seen you knit; I bet you’re super hot with a pair of knitting needles.”

“Hot like an arthritic grandmother,” Jesse agrees, nodding.  The early winter sun is bright in Jesse’s hair, haloing his curls and Andrew reaches up automatically, stroking his fingers over the top of Jesse’s head, trying to see if it’s warm.

“What?” Jesse asks, ducking his head.  “Do I have a bee in my hair?”

“Why would you have a bee in your hair?” Andrew frowns.  Then realises he could have said something much better there.  “I mean, if you had a bee in your hair, I would save you!”

Jesse laughs, rolling his eyes upward, trying to see what Andrew is doing to his hair.  “You’re very strange,” he says.  

Andrew shrugs.  “You knew that.  The first time you met me, I was arguing with a tumble dryer.”

Jesse’s smile was already affectionate, but somehow it gets fonder still.  “The first time I met you, I wanted to bring you a blanket and wrap you up because you just looked so cold.”

“I would have been fine with that,” Andrew tells him, and then he can’t help himself, he has to kiss Jesse again.  “Now, Mr Escaping Eisenberg, tell me what you’re doing out here?”

Jesse’s expression turns, not quite shy but something closer to it, closer than Andrew has seen for a while.  “I wanted to show you something,” he says.  

Andrew looks around.  “What something?”

“Not here,” Jesse says.  He drags his hand down Andrew’s arm and slides his fingers in between Andrew’s.  “We need to take a walk.”

The idea of a walk probably shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is, but Andrew has never been outside with Jesse; he’s excited by the prospect.

“Okay,” he says, swinging their joined hands.  “Lead on.”

Jesse walks with his shoulders hunched up a little toward his ears and he tenses when cars pass by, but his hand stays firm in Andrew’s, warm through his gloves and he hums, listening, while Andrew tells him about his day.

“Sally’s the one who taught me to knit,” Jesse says suddenly out of nowhere and in the middle of Andrew’s anecdote about the fight Sally got into with the producer about mice in the auditorium.  (She thinks that should be encouraged; David really doesn’t.)

Andrew doesn’t mind being interrupted; he much prefers listening to Jesse than to himself.  “Cool, that’s very cool.  Sally doesn’t strike me as a knitter.”

Jesse laughs.  “She’s not, she’s terrible at it.  It was while we were rehearsing for the last play I did.  I was promoting some movie at the same time and I was freaking out all the time, so she sat me down and pulled out this ball of yarn that her grandkids had given her and it, I don’t know, it calmed me down.”

Andrew squeezes Jesse’s fingers.  Sometimes, Jesse just blurts out things like that and Andrew never knows what to say.  He’s not allowed to worry about Jesse, so he mostly settles for hugging him.  Which he probably shouldn’t do on the pavement.  

“I’m hugging you in my head, right now,” he says.

They stop at a crossroads and Jesse shoots Andrew a quick, sly look under his eyelashes.  “That’s cool,” he says deadpan, “I’m blowing you in mine.”

Andrew chokes and trips over his feet, but it’s okay, Jesse’s holding his hand and just uses Andrew’s forward momentum to drag him across the road between two zig-zagging taxis.  Maybe this is why Jesse doesn’t go outside; he doesn’t actually know the Highway Code.  

“Where are we going?” Andrew asks when they’re safely on the other side of the road.  “Is it exciting?”

Jesse wrinkles his nose.  “Not really.  I mean, um.  It’s probably not going to be exciting for you at all actually.  Sorry, I don’t know, I just wanted you to be here, but...”

“Jesse,” Andrew tells him seriously, “Whatever it is, I want to be there.”  He’s starting to worry, just a little, about what it might be, so he’s completely derailed when Jesse suddenly veers off and drags him into a large, multi-floored bookshop.  

“It’s, um, it’s just.” Jesse hasn’t let go of Andrew’s hand so it’s hard to miss the way his fingertips have gone cold and his palm is sweaty.

He leads Andrew over to the New Releases shelves along the righthand side of the shop and then sort of hovers awkwardly.

“What am I - ?” Andrew asks, eyes scanning the books, looking for a clue.  His gaze glides over one set of books, black with silver writing then screeches to a halt and jumps back.  “Jesse,” he breathes, picking up the nearest copy and staring.  30 Minutes or Less it says on the cover then, underneath but not much smaller, J A Eisenberg.

“It’s, um.” In Andrew’s peripheral vision, he’s aware of Jesse shifting from foot to foot.  “I’ve sold plays before, obviously, but I always thought people were just being nice?  Then I got bored last winter and sort of accidentally wrote a novel and Emma made me show it to my agent and, yeah.  Published.”

The book feels thick and heavy in Andrew’s hands.  He’s amazed and stunned and stupidly proud because this is his boyfriend; his boyfriend wrote a book.

“Andrew?” Jesse asks uncertainly.  “You don’t have to say anything or, uh, anything.  I just, they lifted the embargo today and I wanted you to see...”

Andrew whirls around on the spot and kisses Jesse right there in the middle of the shop, one hand on Jesse’s shoulder, the other carefully holding the book against his back.

“Mmph,” Jesse says, pulling back and looking some mix between scandalised and turned-on.  “We’re in a bookstore, you can’t do that here.”

Andrew kisses him again, but just quickly this time.  “You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” he says, meaning it.

Jesse blushes.  “It’s just a book,” he mutters.

Andrew rolls his eyes.  “Right, because just anyone could write a book.”  He grabs Jesse’s hand again.  “Come on, where do I go to pay?”

“Pay?” Jesse asks, digging his heels in.  “What, no, you don’t have to buy it.  I just wanted you to see it.”

“And now I’ve seen it,” Andrew tells him patiently, “do you think there’s any chance I’m going to put it down?” He lowers his voice, conspiratorially.  “I know the author, you know.  I’m hoping for a private signing.”

“I’m both distressed and impressed by how dirty you managed to make that sound,” Jesse tells him but stops resisting, following Andrew around the shop, looking for the cash desk.  “Andrew, seriously, they’ve sent me copies to give out to my friends and, um, you know, other important people.  I will give you a copy if you really want to own it.”

“I don’t want to own it, I want to read it,” Andrew says, ignoring the rest of Jesse’s protests.

“Oh god,” Jesse says faintly.  Andrew flashes a grin at him and then passes the book to the cashier.  He feels Jesse tensing beside him, like he thinks Andrew’s going to tell the girl that Jesse’s the author.  To be fair, that is the sort of thing that Andrew might do, but not to Jesse, not when he knows how much Jesse hates recognition.

“We just got this in today,” the girl tells him while they’re waiting for the machine to accept his card.  

“I know,” Andrew says happily. “Have you read it?”

She shakes her head.  “Not yet.  My manager has though and he said it’s awesome.”

Andrew does his best not to look at Jesse but he can’t help grinning.  “Awesome,” he echoes taking his card and the book from her.

When they’re walking out of the shop, he leans into Jesse and whispers, “Apparently you’re awesome.”

“Shut up,” Jesse mutters, but he’s smiling widely enough that Andrew can’t see anything but dimples.

***

Two Months Later

“Oh my god,” Jesse says, coming out onto the balcony and shielding his eyes.  “Come down from there, are you insane?”

Andrew kicks his feet against the balcony bars and stays where he is, sitting on the railings with his back against the wall of their building.  “I’m method acting; one day I may need to be a pigeon.”

Jesse shakes his head and grabs Andrew’s hand like he’s trying to stop him plummeting to his doom.  “‘And aspiring young actor Andrew Garfield falls to his death just hours before making his off-Broadway debut...’” He makes a face. “Ugh, actually, pretend I didn’t say that, that’s too horrific to think about.”

Squeezing Jesse’s hand, Andrew hops down onto the balcony and pulls on Jesse’s collar, tugging him into a kiss.  “I have to leave in a minute,” he says regretfully.  It’s opening night and he should be at the theatre right now but he begged and pleaded to be allowed home for lunch since Jesse won’t be there tonight.

“Are you nervous?” Jesse asks, fingers curled tightly around Andrew’s hips.

Andrew tips his head, considering.  “Not really?” When Jesse makes a disbelieving face at him, he laughs and holds up his hands.  “I’m really not.  Mostly I’m excited and a little bit relieved that we finally get to stop rehearsing.  And I know that even if it’s a disaster and the absolute end of my career, I’ll still get to come home to you after, which would make up for a lot.”

Jesse shakes his head slowly, looking at Andrew like he thinks he’s crazy, but loves him anyway.  It’s really all Andrew needs, honestly. “It’s not going to be a disaster,” he says. “I mean, seriously, I did okay as an actor and you’re way better than me.”

Andrew opens his mouth to argue then closes it again.  He’s managed to get hold of the films Jesse did way back when and Jesse is amazing in them, even better than Andrew could have imagined and Andrew is thoroughly besotted so he’d already imagined him being pretty good.  Jesse knows Andrew has seen them, but prefers it when Andrew pretends he hasn’t.

“But if it is a disaster, will you run away to London with me?” Andrew presses.

“Yes,” Jesse says straight away which is surprising since Andrew had expected a don’t be so silly type of non-answer.

“Ugh,” Andrew groans, “Well now I want to stay here and kiss you forever.  Why did I decide that being employed was a good thing?”

“Because when you’re unemployed you form ill-advised attachments to your weird neighbours,” Jesse tells him.  He glances down at his watch and frowns.  “Damn, do you have to go right now?  I, um. I got you a break-a-leg gift but it’s not here yet.”

As if on cue, Andrew’s mobile starts to ring.  “If this is the theatre, I’m going to have to go,” he says apologetically then looks down.  It’s Emma’s number on the display, which is weird since normally she just stands at the bottom of the fire escape and yells for whichever tenant she wants to speak to.

“Andrew, sweetie, are you dressed?” Emma says.  “Unless you’re having sex at this exact moment, you need to come down here right now.  The Doctor is on the sidewalk with a couple of companions.  I asked if he wanted help parking his TARDIS but I think he thought I was hitting on him.”

“The doctor...” Andrew starts to echo then trails off. He glances at Jesse’s who’s looking a little overly innocent then leans over the balcony, looking down at the street.

“Fall to your death,” Jesse mutters sadly, curling his hand in the back of Andrew’s belt.  

Andrew shoots a smile over his shoulder at Jesse but doesn’t stop leaning out further, searching. Matt’s pretty easy to spot: standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to Andrew’s building, wearing what looks like a green-checked knee-length coat and a tartan trilby.

“Matt!” Andrew yells, waving frantically.

He remembers he’s still holding the phone only when Emma mutters, “Ow, loud.”

“Sorry,” Andrew says, quickly. “Don’t let him go anywhere, I’ll be down in two seconds.” He hangs up and lets the pressure of Jesse’s steady grip on his belt pull him back and turns around, waving his hands excitedly at Jesse. “My best friend’s downstairs!”

There’s a complete lack of surprise on Jesse’s face which Andrew will examine later, but right now all he does in concentrate on what Jesse’s saying, which is, “What are you waiting for? Go see him.”

Andrew goes to run through Jesse’s flat but hesitates. “Will you - ”

Jesse waves him on. “I’ll be right behind you,” he promises.

Andrew takes the stairs so quickly that it’s a miracle he doesn’t break his neck and he’s out of breath by the time he reaches the bottom. Which doesn’t stop him at all from stumbling into Matt and exchanging laughing, backslapping, bone-crushing hugs.

“I can’t believe you’re here.” Andrew beams, squeezing Matt’s shoulders. “I thought you had to work.”

“Yes, well.” Matt clears his throat, looking down at his Converse. “That may have been a tincy-wincy lie. Oh! But.” He wafts his hands at Andrew. “I’m not actually your surprise. Your actual surprises are standing right behind you.”

“Right behind - ?” Andrew whirls around. His parents are leaning against a car, sharing a fondly exasperated look with each other, presumably because he didn’t notice them right away. Andrew doesn’t even waste time on words, just makes a strangled sound and throws himself at them.

He catches his dad around the chest and his mum around the waist, clutching them both and pressing his face into the merged space where their shoulders press together. “Oh my god,” Andrew breathes, greedily inhaling the scent of his dad’s aftershave because he hasn’t seen them for months and he’s been mutedly homesick the whole time.

“You didn’t think we were going to let you have your Broadway debut without us, did you?” his dad asks, laughing in his ear.

“Off-Broadway,” Andrew feels like he should point out. He pulls back, still greedily drinking them in. “But, but the cost?” They’d looked into flights but it had just been too much money to justify both his parents flying all that way.

“Yeah, um.” Andrew hears from the top of the front steps followed by the sound of Jesse clearing his throat.

Andrew finally manages to wrench himself away from his parents and turns around. Jesse’s standing in the doorway behind him, hands shoved in his pockets and a private smile playing around his lips.  “Did you do this?” Andrew asks, bounding up the steps and grabbing his hands.  “You did, didn’t you?”

Jesse shrugs, but he’s a terrible liar so Andrew knows that he did. He doesn’t know why and it’s far, far too much, but he’s too happy to say any of that.

“Thank you,” he manages, feeling choked.

Jesse wriggles one hand out of Andrew’s grip and splays it out over his chest. “You should have people who love you there to watch you be brilliant.”

Matt awws, turning it into a cough, which reminds Andrew that he’s going to get to introduce Jesse to his family. He’s been looking forward to that but he wasn’t sure when he’d ever get a chance.

“Parents,” he says, spinning around on one heel and dragging Jesse around with him. “You should meet Jesse. Jesse is amazing.”

His mum laughs while his dad looks like Andrew’s enthusiasm is just too much after a long flight. Andrew isn’t worried though; his dad is going to love Jesse.

“We’ve spoken on the phone a few times,” Andrew’s mum says. “Jesse called us out of the blue to arrange for us to come.” She comes up to them, holding her hand out for Jesse to shake. “It really was incredibly generous of you.”

Jesse starts to look uncomfortable. “Yeah. No. I mean. Um, they gave me a stupidly huge advance for my book and it was do this or donate it all to the ASPCA and they already think I’m using them as some kind of tax relief.”

Andrew’s mum gets a look on her face like she’s planning to adopt Jesse on the spot and Andrew physically cannot stop his face stretching into the widest smile ever. This is the best day.

Andrew’s dad shakes Jesse’s hand too, clapping him on the arm and saying, “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other before we head down to the theatre, son.”

Jesse goes a blotchy sort of pink like he wants to blush over being called ‘son’ and wants to blanch at the idea of spending the afternoon getting to know Andrew’s parents. Andrew hugs him sideways, just because.

“Oh,” Matt says, leaning close and peering at Jesse, “I can absolutely see why Andrew is so smitten with you.”

“Um,” Jesse says in return. “Did you know your face is all over the subway?”

Matt laughs, stepping back and rubbing the back of his neck. “Actually, yes,” he says, “Frightfully embarrassing, really.”

Jesse looks intrigued, like he wants to rank Matt on the sliding scale of exactly how embarrassing he finds notoriety, but before anyone can say anything else, Andrew’s phone buzzes.

He glances down at the text and swears, apologises to his parents, and swears again. “I am apparently very late and my director is contemplating chopping me up into little pieces and serving me as a snack in the interval.” He looks helplessly at Matt and his parents. “I have to go. I really don’t want to go.”

His mum pats him on the arm. “We’ll see you at the theatre tonight and we’re here for a few days, so there’ll be plenty of time to spend together. Jesse helped us find a lovely little hotel around the corner.”

Andrew really wants to tell her to check that her lovely little hotel has bars on the windows, but he’s too busy thinking wow because Jesse went to so much effort for him. He hugs Matt and his parents quickly, promising to save them seats near the front then he grabs Jesse’s hand and makes him walk him down the steps, a little way away from the others.

“I’m sorry you’re going to be stuck with my parents,” he whispers. “They’re very chatty; will you be okay?”

“What?” Jesse asks. “I mean sure, sure, I cope with you, don’t I?” He’s teasing but he still sounds distracted.

“What’s wrong?” Andrew asks, concerned.

Jesse takes a deep breath then says, all in a rush, “I’ll, um.  I’ll.  If you really, really want me there, I’ll come.  I’m sure Emma has some prozac or something somewhere or - ”

Andrew shakes his head.  Jesse’s hands are trembling and he’s shifting on his feet like he wants to run up to his flat and bolt the door.  “Maybe some other time?” he says, because he appreciates the gesture but he knows he’d never be able to concentrate if he was busy worrying about Jesse having a panic attack in the third row.  “How about when I do one of your plays?”

Jesse laughs, looking so relieved that Andrew knows he gave the right answer. “I think I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than see my own plays performed but maybe... Maybe if it was you. Maybe.”

Andrew kisses him, ignoring the fact that Matt whistles and his parents laugh.  He presses into Jesse, pulling him close quickly then reluctantly uncurling their hands. “I’ll see you tonight?”

Jesse nods quickly. “You should definitely come over; the cats will want to hear all about the play.”

Andrew beams at him. “Well, we can’t disappoint the cats.”  He takes a couple of steps backwards down the street, keeping his eyes on Jesse as long as he can before accidentally walking into someone. Then he turns around, thinking fuck it, today's a good day, he's allowed to grin stupidly all the way to the theatre.

/End