When Jesse opens his front door, the last thing he expects to see is Andrew’s friend Rob Pattinson, standing in his hallway, looking hungover and clutching a small child.
“Um,” is pretty much all Jesse manages.
Rob winces, shoving back his knitted hat enough to scratch at his hair. “Hi, Jesse,” he says, “You okay?”
“Sure,” Jesse agrees, nodding dubiously. He doesn’t really know Rob, has just sort of nodded at him awkwardly at award ceremonies and secretly, meanly, wished he’d go away so Jesse could get back to talking to Andrew.
The kid in Rob’s arms sounds really cranky and miserable and Jesse has just enough time to think that he didn’t even know Rob had kids before it’s suddenly shoved at him.
“No, thank you, I’m trying to give up,” Jesse says automatically, stepping back.
“Dude,” Rob says, voice low and rough and urgent. “Dude, seriously, you have to take him, I can’t do this anymore. He won’t stop crying.”
He sounds kind of wild, which Jesse is pretty sure is unusual for him; he usually seems fairly affable. “I, um, I’m sure there are people who can... Hang on, I’ll get you a phone, you can call his mom or - .”
“Jesse,” Rob says, leaning all the way into Jesse’s personal space and making crazy eyes at him. “I can’t call anyone. This is Andrew.”
Jesse’s first instinct is to laugh. His second is to explain very carefully just how much he hates practical jokes. Then the little boy in Rob’s arms turns around and Jesse’s third instinct is to hyperventilate.
Actually, that might not be an instinct; he might be doing that one, he realises, and sits down hard in the middle of his doorway. After a couple of seconds, Rob and the kid step over him into his apartment then sit join him down there.
“Yeah,” Rob says, shrugging. “It’s a mindfuck, isn’t it?”
Now Jesse does laugh. It’s kind of hysterical. “You are joking, right?” he asks, just in case. He’s an automatically wary and suspicious person by nature; there’s no way he should believe this. But the kid looks so much like Andrew that his logic seems to have been overruled by the part of his heart that saw an upturned, tearstained face and huge, familiar brown eyes and threatened to break on him.
“Oh my god, I wish,” Rob says. He reaches past Jesse’s shoulder and pushes the door shut. Good thought.
The kid - Andrew, Andrew, Jesse isn’t thinking of him as Andrew - seems to be falling asleep, curled into a tight little ball against Rob’s chest, eyes scrunched up like he wants the world to go away.
“Why would that be Andrew?” Jesse asks, hearing his voice rise. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Rob makes a one-handed flaily gesture which Jesse is pretty sure means fucked if I know. Andrew has one just like it. The real Andrew, grown-up Andrew. Not this one.
“We went out last night, right?” Rob says. Jesse nods. Andrew felt bad about using up one of the few nights he was in New York meeting up with Rob but Jesse made him go. “We had a few drinks.” He coughs. “Okay, we got pissed then Andrew started to feel weird so we went back to my hotel and, god, I don’t know. I thought he just passed out so I did too but then I wake up this morning to a tiny, Andrew-a-like in Andrew’s bed, wearing Andrew’s clothes and making Andrew’s tragic eyes at me.”
Jesse shakes his head. “It has to be a practical joke.” Not that Andrew is big on practical jokes; he worries about hurting people’s feelings too much for that.
“Yeah.” Rob looks down at the fitfully sleeping kid, not looking convinced. “I thought so too, but if it is, Andrew left his mobile and his wallet and his keys and everything with this kid. But, still, I thought it must be, right? So I packed him up and brought him here because, because I thought if it was a joke then he’d stop me. Jesse, dude, there is no way Andrew would let you get involved if it really was a joke. You know?”
He’s looking like he wants Jesse to start laughing or something, announce the world’s latest April’s fools. But Jesse can’t because, because... holy fuck.
Jesse bangs his head against the wall and groans. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen to other people.”
Rob almost-grins at him. “Nope,” he agrees. He prods at the kid... Fuck, who is Jesse kidding? He prods at Andrew until he stirs, tiny fist gripping the edge of Rob’s jacket and buries his face into Rob’s chest.
He’s got to be three years old, maybe four at a pinch if Andrew was a particularly short kid, which doesn’t seem likely. Jesse just stares at him in horror. He has no idea what to do in this situation.
“Can you take him?” Rob asks, looking down at Andrew and making a painfully guilty face. “You know I love him, right? But I can’t take care of a kid and you’re his, uh. You know.”
Jesse does know but, “I can’t take care of a kid either,” he says, appalled. “God, no, definitely not. I’d break him or maim him or something.”
But Rob isn’t listening. Rob is, in fact, standing up.
“What are you doing?” Jesse asks, scrambling up after him, which turns out to be a tactical error when baby Andrew gets shoved into Jesse’s arms. Jesse takes him automatically, clutching him far too tight so he won’t fall, and accidentally waking him up in the process.
Andrew starts to scream, squirming in Jesse’s arms like he thinks Jesse wants to murder him, hands reaching desperately for Rob who backs up so fast that it would be funny on any other occasion.
“Andrew, mate, come on,” Rob says, sounding upset. “This is Jesse. Jesse is like, your most favourite person in the whole world. Don’t cry.”
Jesse bounces Andrew around, trying to get a good hold on him and managing, somehow, to flip him around so he’s mostly sitting on Jesse’s hip. That’s definitely better; Jesse doesn’t think he’s going to drop him now, but apparently that’s no comfort to Andrew who just keeps on crying.
Jesse can feel his brain schedule itself time for a breakdown, but Rob is starting to look just as upset as Andrew and Jesse cannot have an apartment full of brokenhearted British boys; he just won’t do it.
“Okay,” he says, nodding at the door when he finds he doesn’t want to let go of Andrew long enough to open it. “Let yourself out. I’ll handle this. You retrace whatever the fu- whatever the hell you did last night and fix it.”
“What?” Rob’s hands find the door-handle, clutching at it like Jesse has given him a death row reprieve. “Right, yes, I’ll do that. I’ll... Andrew, little man, c’mon, I’ll be back.”
“Just go,” Jesse advises because he knows from experience that it’s nearly impossible to leave Andrew when he’s upset and that’s when he’s twenty-eight.
Andrew’s sobs start to echo, getting so loud that Jesse’s head throbs in time. He has literally no idea what to do, which is weird for him, he usually at least knows what to do, even if he doesn’t want to do it.
“Andrew?” he says, resting his chin on Andrew’s fluffy nest of uncombed hair. “I know this is scary and weird and new and you don’t know where you are, but I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”
He hopes he’s not lying. He’s definitely not going to hurt him deliberately, anyway.
Andrew’s breath hitches, like they’ve hit the eye of the storm and Jesse has to talk fast before it comes crashing right back over them. His legs feel shaky from all this responsibility so he sits them down on the couch, weirdly happy when Andrew doesn’t immediately renew his bid to escape.
“Okay,” Jesse says. He doesn’t know how to touch Andrew like this so he settles on petting the top of his head until Andrew leans his head back, tipping his tear and snot-wet face up at Jesse curiously.
“You’re a mess,” Jesse tells him, reaching over and grabbing a couple of kleenex. Andrew squirms when Jesse tries to mop up his face but Jesse perseveres until he’s at least vaguely presentable.
Jesse isn’t sure who he’s going to need to present him to, hopefully no one, ever, but it’s the principle of the thing. “There,” he says. “That’s better.”
Andrew sniffs a couple of times, blinking up at Jesse. “Who are you?” he asks. It should be cute, Andrew’s clipped, British accent coming from this tiny kid, but his voice is so tear-logged and scratchy that it’s mostly just horrible. Jesse kind of wants to hit someone. He doesn’t know who, but his money’s on Rob.
“I’m Jesse,” Jesse says, “I’m... We’re... You’re...” There’s no good place to go with that sentence. You don’t tell a three-year-old that you’re dating their future self; that’s just creepy. “I’m going to look after you for a little while, just until you’re - ” older - “just for a while.”
Andrew is gnawing on his bottom lip. He does that when he’s worried but Jesse hadn’t realised he’d done it all his life. “Where’s Mummy?” he asks eventually.
Jesse is so busy telling himself not to say three thousand miles away on a whole other continent, that he finds himself saying, “I don’t know,” automatically before he realises that that’s even worse.
Unsurprisingly, fresh tears spring up in Andrew’s eyes, spilling down his cheeks while he stutters, “But, but, but,” and doesn’t seem able to find a question he’s not scared to ask.
“Shit,” Jesse swears at himself. “God, no, Andrew, I didn’t mean that. Of course I know where your mom is. I’ll, I can, we can call her later, if you’d like? Would you like to talk to her?” Hopefully, by the time later comes, Andrew will have forgotten or Jesse will have come up with a brilliant way to explain all this to Mrs Garfield. Neither seems very likely.
Andrew nods. “Yes,” he says firmly. He’s not sobbing like he was to start with, but the tears are still rolling and Jesse feels like the most useless person ever to be presented with a toddler.
This shouldn’t be this hard, Jesse’s sure. Adult Andrew is easy-going and sunny so a three-year-old version of him should be more so. Except, even as Jesse’s thinking that, he knows it’s bullshit. Andrew - his Andrew - is at his most relentlessly cheerful when he’s miserable inside; baby Andrew clearly just hasn’t learned to pretend yet.
“Um,” Jesse says, “I’m going to try to cuddle you now, but if I squash you and you can’t breathe, please say.”
Andrew doesn’t say anything at all so Jesse awkwardly sort of scoops him up, patting his back and trying to rock him even though he’s pretty sure that’s something you do with tiny babies, not toddlers.
Andrew turns his face on Jesse’s shoulder, so his hair brushes Jesse’s neck and okay, that’s okay, he’s relaxing a bit, they’re both relaxing a bit. Maybe Andrew will fall asleep and then Jesse can have a nice, quiet breakdown.
Except, obviously, that doesn’t work. No sooner has Jesse started counting his chickens than Andrew starts to wriggle again, pulling away from Jesse’s arms.
“Kitty!” he says, smacking Jesse’s in the cheek with one flailing arm and Jesse turns toward where he’s looking and sees that, yep, the new kitten has escaped from the bathroom.
“Yes,” Jesse agrees slowly, torn about what to do. Adult Andrew had been pretty excited about the new kitten too and at least this Andrew seems to have been distracted from his tears. Jesse will happily bribe him with a lot more than a kitten to keep up that state of affairs.
He sits Andrew down on the sofa, shaking his head when Andrew tries immediately to throw himself over the arm to get to the kitten. “No, you stay here. I’ll bring her to you.” Hopefully, that’ll cause the least damage.
The kitten is a longhaired grey and she doesn’t have a name yet though Andrew has suggested everything from Smokey to Rapscallion. She’s pretty docile, mewing happily when Jesse picks her up, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worried that she’ll try to bite Andrew. Jesse pretty much always worries about that, even when Andrew is big enough to take care of himself. When Jesse’s cats bite people, Jesse feels like a horrible for days.
“Careful,” he says, pouring the kitten into Andrew’s lap. She’s only nine weeks old, but Andrew is tiny enough that she still manages to look full-sized. The kitten walks around in a lazy half-circle before plopping her bottom down on Andrew’s left leg and looking set to stay.
Andrew looks like he isn’t breathing. His eyes shine, unhappiness apparently completely forgotten, at least for now, and he reaches down, touching her fur with the most careful fingers Jesse has ever seen.
“It’s okay,” Jesse says, wondering distantly why his heart is squeezing so tight and really hoping he isn’t having a heart attack. “Here, pet her between the ears, she likes that.”
Once he’s sure that Andrew isn’t going to accidentally pull any fur in his excitement and that the kitten probably isn’t going to turn into a whirling dervish and eat Andrew’s face off, Jesse allows himself exactly thirty seconds to drop his head down on the sofa cushion and quietly, methodically freak the fuck out.
He makes it to twenty-nine seconds, before he feels tiny fingers touch his scalp and looks up to find Andrew sucking thoughtfully on his lower lip, still gently petting the kitten with one hand, but all five fingers from the other hand now tangled in Jesse’s curls.
“Stop laughing,” Jesse sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose and starting to regret making this call.
Emma doesn’t stop.
“Emma,” Jesse says and something in his voice must sound close to as desperate as he feels because she manages to hiccup her way to silence.
“Sorry,” she says, voice wobbling with suppressed giggles. “I’m sorry. It’s just... he’s three? Really?”
“I can send you a picture if you want,” Jesse says tiredly. Something goes bump in the general vicinity of Andrew, but when Jesse whips his head up to check, Andrew – and the kitten – look totally innocent. He decides he’ll worry about it later.
“Oh my god, yes please,” Emma says. “All the pictures. Every last one. Is he adorable? I bet he’s adorable.”
“He’s always adorable,” Jesse snaps, “Just right now, he’s adorable and three years old and I don’t know what to do.”
“Cuddles,” Emma says wisely, like she’s any better with children than he is. “Also crayons and lots of kid-appropriate TV.”
“I don’t have a TV,” Jesse says automatically. Then the full force of that hits him. “I don’t have a TV. Oh god, Emma.” He remembers being Andrew’s age, back when just the idea of television didn’t threaten to bring on a migraine; he would have cried the place down if he’d been separated from his cartoons.
“That’s okay,” Emma says quickly. “Just don’t mention it to him and maybe he won’t think of it. Is he... is he like, Andrew regressed? So is it, what, 1986 to him right now or what?”
“I don’t know,” Jesse says, irrationally exasperated even though it’s a perfectly good question. “We haven’t exactly discussed world affairs or who he thinks the President is yet.”
Emma sighs back at him. She’s good at that; seeing his annoyance and raising it so he calms the hell down. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll be there in an hour.”
Jesse grips the phone tight, suddenly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it’s only a pinprick and his tunnel is more a panic attack. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Emma says and hangs up.
“Jesse,” Andrew says, pulling on Jesse’s pantleg ten minutes later. Worryingly, Jesse doesn’t think he’s moved since he finished talking to Emma. “Jesse.”
Instinctively, Jesse scoops him up and onto his lap. Andrew might not be Andrew, but he’s still somehow reassuring. “Yes?” Jesse asks.
Andrew holds up one little hand. “Kitty scratched me,” he says and Jesse’s heart actually stops for the length of time it takes to find the tiny (tiny, oh thank god, tiny) scratch on the side of Andrew’s index finger. It’s barely a mark at all, hasn’t even drawn blood but Jesse still lifts him up immediately, carrying him into the bathroom.
“Does it hurt?” Jesse asks, sitting him down on the side of the sink and rooting around for antiseptic. “Are you okay?”
Andrew shrugs, shoulders going all the way up to his ears before dropping back down. “I wanted to shake hands. Kitty didn’t want to.”
“Her name isn’t actually Kitty,” Jesse points out but Andrew ignores him, reaching for the box of band-aids that Jesse has just found.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Andrew says, carefully selecting the smallest band-aid and holding it out to Jesse. “Don’t be cross with her?”
Jesse has no idea what to do with his life right now. “I won’t,” he promises. He wasn’t going to anyway; he’s the one who left a three-year-old unattended with a just-weaned kitten. If anyone needs locking in a closet, it’s him. “Give me your hand.”
Andrew bites his lip when Jesse pours half a bottle of antiseptic over his fingers, but he doesn’t fuss. He’s actually much better about it than adult Andrew would be – adult Andrew would be making exaggerated hurt faces and asking Jesse to kiss it better, which... Jesse is just not going to think about right now.
“Okay?” Jesse asks, once he’s dried off Andrew’s hand and stuck the band-aid on. “Still hurt?”
Andrew shakes his head, smiling. “Thank you, Jesse,” he says, and holds his finger up toward Jesse’s face.
Jesse has four seconds of not knowing what he wants before it hits him. “Oh,” he says. “Really?” He grabs Andrew’s hand and kisses the band-aid quickly, feeling like a sham and like he really wants his mom, let alone Andrew’s.
Andrew laughs and kicks his feet against the sink. “I’m hungry,” he announces.
Jesse heart sinks. “Really?” he says again, meaning oh god, something else? this time. “We, um. We probably have some leftover Chinese food.”
Andrew makes a face. “Fish fingers and chips, please,” he says.
Shit. “Chips like, um, potato chips?” Jesse asks hopefully. He probably has some stale Doritos somewhere.
Andrew looks at him like he’s very strange. “No,” he says. “Chips.”
Right. Of course. There’s no way that Jesse is going to the store with a miniature Andrew Garfield in tow so he’s just going to have to hope that the food fairy chooses now to exist.
“Come on, then,” he says, picking Andrew up and carrying him into the kitchen. Andrew kicks his feet against Jesse’s hip like he wants to get down but Jesse ignores him.
Predictably, when Jesse opens his cupboards, there’s nothing there that Andrew’s interested in eating, and pretty soon his fingers are clutching Jesse’s shirt too tight, head turning to hide in Jesse’s collar bone.
“Shi... Shoot, no, don’t get upset,” Jesse says, trying to think about what to do. The internet; the internet will bring him food, he’s pretty sure.
“I’m hungry,” Andrew says, heartbreaking in how serious he sounds. “Mummy will give me food. Where’s Mummy?”
At that moment the doorbell rings.
“Mummy?” Andrew asks, perking up.
“No,” Jesse says quickly, because he can’t stand the idea of Andrew being disappointed. Then he remembers that thing called tact, when Andrew’s lower lip wobbles. “No, hey, it’s... It’s probably our friend Emma. Do you remember Emma? No, obviously, you don’t. But she’s great, you’ll like her.”
He’s reached the door by this point and checks through the peephole that it actually is Emma before opening the door.
“See,” he says, still talking to Andrew. “Emma is really cool.”
Andrew is definitely crying again, just little wet sniffles but it’s still enough to make Jesse want to shove him at Emma and run away. He doesn’t.
“Holy shit,” Emma says then covers her mouth with the hand not clutching a million bags. “Holy shit, Jesse.”
“Language,” Jesse hisses and she makes a guilty face.
“Sorry. Andrew, uh, Andrew?” Andrew turns his face into Jesse’s neck and ignores her. “Hi, Andrew, I’m Emma. Don’t repeat anything I say, okay?”
Andrew doesn’t look up.
“I think he’s shy?” Jesse tries, even though he wasn’t shy with Rob and hasn’t been with Jesse so far.
“I think he’s having a bad day,” Emma decides after peering at the top of Andrew’s head for a minute. “I mean, anyone who wakes up with Robert Pattinson staring down at them is going to be kind of traumatised, right?” She waves some of the bags she’s brought with her. “I bought food on the way in. Do you think he likes mac and cheese?”
Andrew’s head pops up at the word food. “Fish fingers?” he asks Jesse doubtfully.
“Pasta,” Emma tells him, leading the way into the kitchen. “And cheese. Dude, you love pasta and cheese.”
Andrew keeps looking up at Jesse and Jesse feels kind of weird about the way he only smiles when Jesse nods.
“Okay,” Andrew says. He reaches out and touches Emma’s long ponytail, which is swinging around just in front of him. “Thank you.”
Emma looks over her shoulder and makes a face at Jesse like oh my god, my heart. Jesse can only nod; he completely agrees.
While Andrew digs into his mac and cheese, Jesse and Emma clutch coffee mugs and stare at each other. Emma had wanted to break open the wine and so had Jesse, so much, but he’s not going to be drunk in charge of a toddler, no way.
“Okay, so I think I’ve hit the part where this stops being hilarious and is now kind of scary?” Emma says at last.
Jesse nods. “I’ve been there all along,” he assures her.
“What if we can’t find a way to make him older?” she asks, hands clenching around her mug. “What if he gets stuck like this and you, and we...?”
“Stop it,” Jesse says quickly because he’s not thinking about that. He can’t. Three-year-old Andrew is cute, sure, but he’s not the guy Jesse’s in love with. Jesse misses his Andrew.
“Sorry.” Emma’s hand covers Jesse’s, hot from the mug and squeezing. “Shit, I’m sorry. Of course we’ll find a way to age him up again. And then we’ll blackmail him forever with the photographs, right?”
Jesse manages to nod. “Right.” He turns his cell phone around on the table again, just in case that might make Rob call him. “What will we blackmail him for?”
Emma shrugs. “Backrubs, footrubs, blowjobs for you.”
Jesse shoots a quick, guilty look at Andrew. “I can’t think about that right now,” he says tightly and Emma squeezes his hand again. He’s kind of scared, actually, that even when Andrew’s an adult again (and he will be, he has to be), Jesse might never be able to look at him and think sexy thoughts again.
Andrew drops his fork onto the plate with a clatter. “Finished,” he says, looking up at them with cheese all around his mouth and, somehow, on the end of his nose. “Can I get down, please?”
“Yeah, just a second,” Jesse says absently, and reaches over to wipe off Andrew’s face with a Kleenex.
Andrew wrinkles his nose but holds still, flashing Jesse a smile and then turning a smaller one on Emma before sliding off his chair. “Kitty,” he calls, wandering away, “Kitty.”
Jesse sighs and drops his head onto table. “I can’t keep up with his moods,” he says. “One minute, he’s crying for his mom, the next he’s content with a kitten and a TV dinner.”
“He’s three,” Emma says. “I don’t think he needs to make sense.”
“Why not?” Jesse groans then nearly brains himself on the tabletop when his cell phone rings.
“Yeah, so, funny thing,” Rob says once Jesse’s finished falling over himself asking if he’s found the solution yet.
Jesse feels a sort of grey, creeping dread steal over him. “What?” he asks. Emma gets up and comes around the table, looking worried, so Jesse clicks the phone onto speaker and sets it down on the table.
“I went back to the bar and there were no, like, secret mystical vibes or anything so I gave up and called Andrew’s parents.”
“Oh god,” Jesse says, immediately imagining how much badly Andrew’s parents must be judging him right now. They let their son visit Jesse rather than come home to see them in his week’s break from filming and he now he’s turned into a three-year-old.
“See, I was totally expecting them to freak out,” Rob says slowly, “but instead they just kind of went quiet? And then his dad said, oh Christ, not again.”
“What?” Emma explodes into the silence. “How many other times has Andrew randomly become a kitten-loving, fish sticks-craving three-year-old?”
“Um, hi, whoever that is?” Rob says, not giving Emma a chance to introduce herself before he carries on. “Apparently, it happened to Ben - you know, Andrew’s brother? - this one time and their parents have basically been sitting around, hoping that it wasn’t genetic ever since.”
“Wait,” Jesse says. “They have a genetic deaging condition? That makes no fucking sense.”
Rob blows out a breath, static crossing the line and making Jesse wince. “Don’t ask me, dude. I didn’t make the rules.”
Emma pats Jesse’s shoulder. “So what did Andrew’s parents say we’re supposed to do?” she asks.
Rob sighs. “Apparently with Ben they just like, they waited and it wore off. Hello again, by the way.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Hi,” she says, pretty patiently for her. “Did they give you any clue how long it takes to wear off? Like, Ben isn’t preparing to celebrate his fifth birthday or anything, is he?”
Jesse puts his head back down on the table and just listens. Emma has questions, Rob has answers; he doesn’t really need to be part of this conversation.
“They said a week. But, okay, is Andrew stressed about something? Because they said it happened to Ben just before he got engaged when he was freaking out about the future and shit.”
There’s silence and oh, okay, apparently this is a question only Jesse can answer, then.
“I don’t think so,” he says, racking his brain and automatically worrying his way through a million different possibilities. “Well, only about world peace, the state of the economy, the environment. The usual sort of thing.”
“Jesse,” Emma says quietly.
“No,” Jesse says, shaking his head. He can’t think of anything. It makes his insides feel awful that Andrew was apparently stressed enough to bring on a spontaneous impossible metamorphosis and Jesse didn’t know.
“Hey, Rob?” Emma says, squeezing Jesse’s shoulder and leaning over toward the phone. “Thanks for the update. We’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” Rob echoes. “What did you say your name...”
Emma ends the call.
Jesse stands up as soon as it’s quiet, dodging Emma’s hand when it reaches for him and moving quickly through the apartment. He finds Andrew stretched out on the floor next to the kitten, both of them looking more asleep than awake.
“Hey,” Jesse says, folding himself down onto the carpet and touching Andrew’s narrow back.
Andrew makes a sleepy noise and rubs his face into carpet. Great, he already has dried cheese on the end of his nose; now he probably has fleas.
“What were you worried about?” Jesse asks him softly, wishing Andrew would go back to being twenty-eight, even if only for a second, just so he could answer. “You’d have told me if you were really worried about something, right?”
Andrew rolls onto his back and blinks up at Jesse. “I’m tired,” he announces, like Jesse might not have noticed.
“Yeah,” Jesse agrees and picks him up. Andrew wraps his arms around Jesse’s arms like it’s instinctive or something, forehead pressed against Jesse’s chin.
“Kitty’s tired too,” Andrew tells him, stretching his eyes wide open like he thinks that’ll help him stay awake.
“Yeah,” Jesse says again, carrying him out of the room quick before he can get any ideas about the kitten sleeping in with him. “Kittens sleep twenty hours a day. You can’t do that; you’d never keep still long enough.”
Andrew ignores him, which is good since Jesse is babbling. “Is it bath time?” Andrew asks, which brings Jesse up short.
“Um.” He swallows. “I don’t...” He’s not giving the three-year-old version of his boyfriend a bath, no way. “Emma!”
Emma leans back in her chair and grins at them from the doorway. “Hey, there. Someone looks all tuckered out. And Andrew, you look pretty tired, too.”
“Funny,” Jesse says because he can’t tell her to fuck off when Andrew can hear him. “Look, can you do me a favour? Please? And before you say no, please note that I’m saying pleeeease with at least three extra e’s.”
“Wow,” Emma says, deadpan. “Must be serious.” She gets up, kicking her chair back under the table. “How can I help you, Mr Three E’s in Please?”
Andrew giggles, either because he likes the rhyming sound or because people making Jesse beg is just so intrinsically funny that even a three-year-old gets it.
Jesse tries to paste on his most winning smile. He doesn’t need anyone else to tell him that that just makes him look constipated. “Give Andrew his bath for me? Please?” She raises her eyebrows. “I mean, pleeeease.”
“Why?” Emma asks, lowering her voice and frowning.
It’s clearly a seriously asked question, which is why Jesse can’t answer it how it deserves to be answered. “Because I’m scared of the monsters down the drain,” he tells her. “Obviously.”
“Monsters?” Andrew asks, perking up and yeah, Jesse should have guessed he’d like that.
“Okay,” Emma says slowly, still frowning like Jesse is a particularly difficult Sudoku puzzle. She reaches out to take Andrew, who pulls back, kicking his feet into Jesse’s stomach. Jesse figures he deserves any resultant internal bleeding.
“Come on,” Jesse says, carrying Andrew to the bathroom. “Emma’s going to give you a bath while I find you somewhere to sleep.” (Jesse has nowhere suitable for Andrew to sleep but he’s worrying about so many things that he just doesn’t have capacity to worry about that, not right now.)
“But Emma’s a girl,” Andrew says in the loudest whisper ever.
Emma makes a badly concealed choking/laughing sound.
“Emma’s a woman,” Jesse says automatically. “And she’s a way better choice than me, seriously. If I get near you with a washcloth, I might clean you until all your skin falls off.”
Andrew laughs. “You’re silly,” he says, which no one has ever accused Jesse of being - not even his Andrew, who usually manages to come up with at least one new adjective for Jesse every week.
“He’s totally silly,” Emma says. “He also doesn’t seem to realise that you can walk. Jesse, dude, put him down. We’ll be fine.”
Jesse wants to explain to her that as long as he’s carrying Andrew, any of the nine million things that might try to hurt him will have to go through Jesse first - which might at least slow them down. He doesn’t want to panic Andrew though so he just puts Andrew down, petting his hair automatically and ignoring any pangs he gets when Andrew shyly tucks his hand into Emma’s.
“Excuse us,” Emma says primly and shuts the bathroom door.
Jesse stares at it until he hears bathwater start running then he shakes himself. Right, okay, he needs to move. Andrew needs somewhere to sleep and just staring into space isn’t going to magically turn Jesse’s one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom apartment. He’s not sure that anything else will either, but at least it gives him something concrete to concentrate on.
Half an hour later, Emma presents him with a clean, if slightly damp, Andrew, dressed in one of Jesse’s t-shirts because the clothes he was wearing might have shrunk with him, but nothing else has.
Emma, herself, is soaked from chin to waist in slowly drying bubbles.
“Next time, you’re doing it,” she says, hands on her hips. She doesn’t look even slightly intimidating right now, not with what looks like clumps of soap in her bangs.
Jesse bites his lip. “But you look like you had so much fun,” he says, clutching Andrew to his chest like a protective shield when Emma advances on him.
“Whatever,” she says, shaking her dress out with as much dignity as possible. Which is fairly little. “I’m going home now and I’m going to drink all the wine and pretend this day never happened. Which is something you can’t do, Nanny McEisenberg.”
Suddenly, things don’t seem half as amusing. “No, what, you can’t leave,” Jesse says, panic gripping his insides. “Emma.” He lowers his voice, not that Andrew is listening since he’s half-asleep and singing what sounds like Frere Jacques to himself. “I’m not the sort of person you leave a baby with all night. I’ll accidentally emotionally scar him in some farcical yet horrific way.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “You haven’t broken him as an adult, you won’t break him as a kid. Also, he’s not a baby. He’s like, three, Jesse; he’ll tell you if you do anything too shitty.”
Jesse stares at her balefully. “... Thanks,” he manages eventually. “With pep talks like that, you should be the next Miss World.”
“Fuck you,” Emma says cheerfully and picks up her coat from the back of the sofa, leaning over to kiss the top of Andrew’s head. “Bye, Andrew. Call me if Jesse tries to stay up past his bedtime or has any bad dreams, okay?”
She says that last bit with her eyes turned up to Jesse’s through her bangs and he nods, breathing out in relief. She’ll come if he needs her, he knows that, but it’s good to have it confirmed.
The apartment is far too quiet after Emma leaves, even though Andrew has now moved on to Ba Ba Black Sheep for some reason. Jesse carries him into Jesse’s own bedroom, because he hasn’t been able to think up a better plan, laying him down right in the centre where there’s least chance of him tumbling tragically to his doom. Or the floor. Whichever is closest.
Andrew curls onto his side, hand lifting to his mouth then curling into a fist by his chin instead, like he wanted to suck his thumb but someone’s trained him out of it.
Jesse pulls out his phone and snaps a picture; he doesn’t exactly want this time immortalised in pixels but, just this once, he just can’t help himself.
“Jesse?” Andrew asks, reaching out a hand for him. The bed is seriously far too big for him – or he’s far too small for the bed – and Jesse feels a tug just below his ribcage, telling him to climb in beside Andrew and make sure he’s safe.
Jesse thinks he’ll probably go mad if he doesn’t at least try to keep the two Andrews in his head separate though, so he just sits down on top of the comforter instead, automatically brushing Andrew’s floppy hair out of his face.
“I thought you were asleep,” he says, surprising himself by how fond he sounds. He’s not growing attached to this Andrew; he wants his version back too much.
“No,” Andrew decides after a moment, shaking his head. He clutches Jesse’s fingers hard, small, blunt fingernails digging into the back of Jesse’s hand. “Can’t sleep.”
Jesse casts his mind back desperately to when Hallie Kate was a baby. He’s pretty sure he was reading her Robert Louis Stephenson by the time she was three, but Hallie is a lot more excited by books that Andrew has ever been.
“Once upon a time,” Jesse says gamely, hoping something will occur to him while he talks.
Andrew smiles softly, shifting closer and pressing his face into Jesse’s knee.
Jesse isn’t exactly a tall person, but his couch must have been built for a hobbit because when he wakes up at two in the morning, there’s a hideous crick in his neck. At first, he thinks that’s what woke him but then his ears come back online and he makes out damp, wet snuffling sounds coming through the dark.
“Andrew?” Jesse asks blearily, dragging himself upright and fumbling for the lamp beside the couch.
Andrew is sitting in the middle of the living room, bare knees poking out from under the bottom of his over-sized t-shirt. He’s pulled the kitten into his lap and his face is buried into the back of her neck, sniffling quietly into her fur.
“Andrew,” Jesse says again, falling off the couch and putting one arm around Andrew’s heaving back all at the same time.
Andrew keeps one arm tight around the kitten - she just looks placidly confused; thank god, she’s so easy going - but grabs hold of Jesse’s t-shirt with the other.
“We couldn’t find you,” he mumbles. “Kitty didn’t know where you were.”
Jesse feels so guilty he could die. “I’m here,” he says uselessly, lifting both Andrew and the kitten up and onto his lap.
The kitten finally has enough, mewing crossly and twisting away, stumbling off Andrew’s legs and sitting down next to them. Predictably, this does nothing to cheer Andrew up.
“Shh, shh,” Jesse says helplessly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m here.” He definitely should have slept in with Andrew, he thinks, angry with himself for putting his own feelings over Andrew’s.
Andrew clings to him. “Don’t go,” he says, like Jesse is showing any sign of ever leaving. Jesse is never leaving him, he thinks crazily, no matter how long it takes things to go back to normal, not even if they never do.
“I won’t,” he promises. He hesitates then kisses Andrew’s temple. “See? It’s okay. You’re okay.”
Andrew sniffs and wipes his nose on his wrist, which is disgusting but Jesse’s kind of buried under kid and cat so he can’t do anything about it. “Is Mummy coming home tomorrow?” he asks.
“We can call her tomorrow,” Jesse promises, calculating the time difference in his head and wondering if they could just call her now. Probably not. “Would you like that?”
Andrew tips his head back, smile watery and upside down. “Yes, please.” He yawns suddenly, and it seems like a good idea, so Jesse does too.
“Ugh,” Jesse says. “Come on, you need to go back to bed.”
“No,” Andrew says immediately, pulling hard on Jesse’s shirt. “No, no, no.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Jesse tells him, lifting him up. Then - because he will always be a soft touch for Andrew - he picks the kitten up too.
Andrew tugs on Jesse’s collar, almost strangling him. “My bed’s too big,” he says quietly. “I got lost.”
Jesse pushes open his bedroom door, flicking on the lights and oh, right, okay, that’s one way of describing it. There are pillows all over the floor, the sheet is kicked half onto the floor and the comforter is twisted around into a spiral as if Andrew either decided to hide in there like it was a cocoon or it tried to swallow him whole.
“Wow,” Jesse says, stopping short. “Was there some kind of nuclear catastrophe I didn’t hear about? Were you trying to build yourself a shelter?”
“It tried to eat me,” Andrew tells him solemnly. “Like the bad wolf in the story.”
Okay, maybe Jesse shouldn’t have told him Little Red Riding Hood as a bedtime story. He puts Andrew down on one of the pillows, handing him the kitten to distract him.
“Wolves and beds are different,” Jesse assures him, bending down and straightening out the comforter. “Totally different. Wolves don’t live in little boys’ bedrooms and they’re scared of cats; it’s a well known fact.”
“Kitty’s going to save us?” Andrew asks, looking at the kitten with new-found appreciation.
“Her name really isn’t Kitty,” Jesse tries again, just in case there’s any chance left that that’s not going to stick.
Andrew drags his palm all along the kitten’s fur, from the top of her head to the tip of her tail. “You said I could name her.”
Jesse freezes. “I did,” he agrees slowly, “Do you remember that?”
Andrew shrugs, not looking up.
“Okay,” Jesse tells himself. “Stay calm.” He did tell Andrew he could name the kitten, sure. Only, he told him that a couple of days ago, before the de-aging metamorphosis of doom. He’s not sure what it means if Andrew remembers that, and maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all, but Jesse can’t help feeling just a little jolt of hope.
By the time Jesse’s gotten the room straightened out, Andrew is nearly all the way asleep again, his eyelids blinking sluggishly when Jesse tucks him under the comforter.
“Stay?” Andrew asks and Jesse groans quietly.
“Obviously,” he says, sighing to himself before picking up the kitten and putting her at the end of the bed. He’s not sure why he decided to make rules for tonight, since he’s breaking all of them.
Andrew rolls over, half disappearing between the two pillows. Jesse stretches out along the bed, trying not to laugh, and scoops Andrew out, putting him back on his own side.
“The bed wants to eat me,” Andrew complains again sleepily.
“I’ll protect you,” Jesse promises, which is a stupid promise – he didn’t manage to protect Andrew from this happening – but it’s warm in the bedroom and he feels calmer, one hand on Andrew’s back, and he lets himself be lulled into sleep by the gentle rise and fall of Andrew’s breathing.
Jesse wakes the next morning to the smell of coffee wafting through the apartment. He groans and rolls over, squinting at the clock and then staring in horror when it tells him that it’s nearly ten a.m.
He can’t remember the last time he slept this late, but he thinks that there was probably marathon sex preceding it.
Andrew is gone from the bed, but Jesse refuses to hope. He doesn’t think that Andrew would wake up after twenty-four hours as a three-year-old and celebrate by making a pot of coffee. (He’d be more likely to make tea and then bring it to Jesse in bed, because Jesse has somehow ended up with someone who is that sort of guy.)
Jesse rolls out of bed and winces at the gritty feeling of having slept in his clothes. He catches sight of his general face area in the mirror hanging by the window - the compromise mirror, half way between the full length that Andrew wanted and the absolutely nothing that Jesse would have been happiest with - and winces at the state of his hair. Hopefully whoever’s out there making coffee has seen him looking worse than this.
“Hello?” Jesse calls as soon as he’s pushed open the bedroom door. He needs as much time to brace himself as possible; it might be his mother.
“In the kitchen,” is the answer and oh, thank god, it’s only Emma.
“I’ll be two minutes,” Jesse tells her and darts into the bathroom to splash water on his face, brush his teeth and generally prepare himself for being awake. He wasn’t going to be the guy who left a three-year-old with a coffee-making axe murderer, but he’s fairly certain that Andrew’s safe with Emma.
“Hey,” Emma says when Jesse finally makes it to the kitchen. She’s wearing a yellow sundress and she looks completely out of place, sparkling and fresh in the disaster that his apartment has turned into after only one day. “Sleep well?”
“Yeah,” Jesse decides after thinking about it. He must have crashed out for eight hours after Andrew finally went back to sleep; that’s pretty miraculous. Although, speaking of, “Where’s Andrew?”
Emma puts a plate of scrambled eggs on the table in front of him, followed by a mug of black coffee. “Decaf,” she says, nodding at it. Jesse shoots her a grateful smile, sitting down when she glares pointedly at the nearest chair. His anxiety levels definitely don’t need any caffeine today.
“Andrew?” he prompts.
“Eh,” Emma shrugs, sitting down opposite him and staring at him until he picks up his fork. “I don’t know. I sent him out to play in traffic or something.”
Obviously, Jesse doesn’t believe her but his heart clearly doesn’t know that, because it starts to pound. “Emma?”
She laughs, waving him away. “He’s fine. He’s getting dressed. Now eat your breakfast, okay? I cooked for you, Eisenberg, you better fucking appreciate it.”
“He’s getting dressed by himself?” Jesse asks doubtfully. That’s not usually a good idea even when Andrew’s an adult.
Emma makes a complicated sort of face. “Not exactly?” she says slowly then, brightly, “Keep eating!”
“What have you done?” Jesse asks suspiciously, but the eggs are good and he’s not sure he remembered to eat yesterday so he keeps chewing.
“Something which we’re totally going to laugh about in years to come,” Emma tells him firmly. “And nothing at all that you need to - ” There’s a bang from the direction of the living room. “ - worry about.”
Jesse jumps to his feet. “What the fuck?” he demands just as Andrew comes running in giggling, closely followed by - oh god - Justin. (Not Bartha, Jesse’s nice, reassuring Justin, but the Timberlake variety.)
“Jesse!” Andrew says happily, wrapping his arms around Jesse’s knee. Jesse looks down at him, feeling confused and helpless and then confused all over again.
“Good morning?” he tries. Then he gets a better look at him. “Oh my god, what are you wearing?”
“Right?” Justin says, leaning against the breakfast bar. “Awesome, huh?”
Andrew jumps back, holding out his arms and doing a lopsided half-twirl. “I’m Spiderman!”
“Yeah.” Jesse nods slowly. “Yeah, you are.” Jesse doesn’t want to know if Justin went out and bought the Spiderman suit Andrew’s wearing or if he just had it lying around the house. Nothing would surprise him, really. He looks up and raises his eyebrows. “Hi, Justin?”
“Hey.” Justin swipes Jesse’s coffee, takes a swig then winces. “Jesus, that’s gross. Em, help, I need sugar.”
Emma rolls her eyes, chucking a sugar packet at Justin’s head and then pouring another mug for Jesse, which she passes to him over Andrew’s head. “Look after that one,” she warns.
“Justin gave me toys,” Andrew says, tugging on Jesse’s hand. “Play with me?”
“Um,” Jesse says. “Later?”
Andrew pouts, which Jesse can never stand so Jesse turns him around and points him at Justin. “Justin will play with you.”
“Hell yeah, I will,” Justin agrees, sounding way too excited.
Jesse opens his mouth to tell him not to say hell in front of Andrew then decides not to bother; Andrew swears like a trooper normally. A really cheerful trooper. Who always covers his mouth and looks horrified when he swears in front of Jesse’s mom.
“Thanks,” Jesse says instead. “Andrew, is that okay with you?”
Andrew nods quickly, reaching out and snagging Justin’s hand. Justin tries to look cool about it but Jesse doesn’t miss the way his whole face lights up for a moment.
“Come on,” Andrew says, tugging Justin along.
They get to the doorway then Andrew suddenly lets go of Justin and darts back to Jesse, throwing his arms around Jesse’s neck when Jesse automatically bends down to catch him.
“I still love you best,” he whispers loudly in Jesse’s ear before jumping down and running off toward the living room.
Justin smirks at Jesse for a second. “He loves you best,” he echoes. Jesse flips him off and he goes away, laughing.
Jesse doesn’t bother standing up after Justin’s gone, just sags down against the wall and groans. “Why is he here?” he asks Emma, who’s laughing at him from the corner.
Emma grabs a chair and straddles it, leaning down to tweak Jesse’s curls affectionately. “He called me, all pouty because Andrew wasn’t answering his phone. You know how he gets when he thinks one of you isn’t paying enough attention to him. So, I don’t know, it was moment of weakness or something, but I told him.” She wrinkles her nose. “Sorry.”
Jesse waves her off. “Did you take him toy shopping or... ?”
Emma laughs. “Nope, I met him here.” She leans her chin on the back of her chair, grinning down at Jesse. “Fuck, can you imagine how hilarious he must have been at the toy store? I hope there are creepy internet pictures already.”
Jesse rarely wishes the trauma of paparazzi photographs on anyone, but Emma’s right, he would kill to see that.
There’s another bang but Emma tightens her hand in Jesse’s hair before he can jump up to investigate.
“They’re fine,” she promises him. “Justin might act like a five year old, but he loves Andrew and he’s weirdly good with kids so he’s not going to let anything happen to him.” She stands up and comes to sit next to Jesse, stretching her skirt down over her knees. “Now, forget about Andrew for ten seconds and tell me how you’re doing.”
Jesse closes his eyes and doesn’t answer. Impressively, Emma waits a full thirty seconds before elbowing him.
“I’m fine,” Jesse lies because he has to start out with a stoic facade even though he knows Emma is going to knock her way through it.
Emma puts her head on Jesse’s shoulder. “Of course,” she says. “Personally, I’d be deliriously happy if my boyfriend was so stressed about something, he turned into a toddler to escape and I had no idea how to fix it.”
Jesse’s stomach turns heavy, his chest tightening. “Wow, Emma, thanks for sugarcoating it.”
Emma kisses his cheek. “That’s me,” she agrees, “Little Miss Subtlety.”
Jesse keeps his eyes closed, which makes it easier to say. “I’m pretty much terrified.”
Emma hums, shifting closer. “I figured,” she says, which is probably Jesse’s favourite thing about Emma. She never tries to tell him that what he’s feeling is too much or wrong or self-indulgent.
Jesse turns his head and looks at her helplessly. “What if he doesn’t grow up again? What if he does and it turns out the thing he was freaking out about was the kindest way of breaking up with me? What if - ?”
“Okay,” Emma says, cutting across his panic. “I totally get where you’re coming from, but the chances of that are so freaking slim, I’m not even going to let you talk about it.”
“But,” Jesse tries. Emma shakes her head sharply, glaring. Jesse sighs. “Fine. What else could it be, though?”
Emma shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s pregnant.”
Jesse elbows her, giving her his most unimpressed look.
She laughs, twisting away. “Dude, he turned into a three-year-old, who knows what other freaky things his body can do?”
“Yeah, okay, I’m not listening to you any more.” Jesse climbs to his feet, holding out a hand to pull her up and making sure he looks grudging about it.
Emma leans into him once she’s on her feet, giving him a swift, hard hug. “It’ll be okay,” she promises him, before stepping back and clearing her throat. “Okay, then. I know you’re just itching to rescue him from Justin, so off you go.”
Jesse goes. It’s not that he thinks Justin is actually going to kill a kid in his charge; he’s more worried about the things Justin might be telling Andrew. Justin’s a good guy, but he’s probably not that good an influence, really.
“You’re the princess,” Andrew is telling Justin imperiously when Jesse gets to the doorway. “I rescue you.”
“Nah,” Justin says, rolling onto his knees. He’s got a sparkly purple crown perched on top of his head, which he must have brought along, so Jesse thinks he only has himself to blame. “Why’d you want to rescue girls? You should be rescuing Jesse, man.”
Andrew frowns. “I don’t want to rescue girls, I want to rescue princesses. You’re the princess.” He puffs out his chest. “I’m Spiderman.”
Justin shakes his head, flopping onto his back and draping a hand tragically over his face. “Help,” he says, expressionlessly, “Help. I’m a princess. Spiderman, save me from the, uh... The Green Goblin.”
“The what?” Andrew asks, stopping in the middle of the living room, fists on his hips. His hair is a sweaty mess, shoved back from his face, and Jesse thinks they’re probably going to have to try brushing it at some point.
Justin lifts his arm long enough to look at Andrew mock-seriously. “Come here,” he whispers.
Andrew scrambles over, twisting his hands together and leaning down with his lip caught between his teeth.
“The Green Goblin is Spiderman’s mortal enemy,” Justin tells him, putting a melodramatic spin on the last two words.
Andrew’s eyes widen. “I’ll protect you,” he says grandly.
“What about Jesse?” Justin asks. Jesse leans forward, wondering what he’s getting at.
“I always protect Jesse,” Andrew says, sounding annoyed that it’s even being questioned. “He’s my...” He trails off, making a confused face, which isn’t funny or adorable, just sad. He sits down hard on the carpet. “He’s important.”
Justin rolls onto his side. “What d’you remember about Jesse? Have you known him long?”
“Always,” Andrew says, but he still looks distressed and right, okay, whatever Justin’s trying, it isn’t working.
“Hey,” Jesse says, stepping into the room. “Justin, you’ve never looked lovelier.”
Justin sketches him a sideways salute while Andrew jumps up, holding out his arms like he wants to be picked up. Jesse obeys, sitting down with Andrew on his lap. Andrew burrows into his chest, hands tight on the front of his hoodie.
Jesse raises his eyebrows at Justin, who shrugs, making a semi-apologetic face back. “I thought maybe if we could like, jog his memories or something, he might, I don’t know - ”
“Spontaneously grow three feet and twenty-five years?” Jesse asks archly, rearranging Andrew on his lap so Andrew’s pointy knee is less dangerously close to his groin.
Justin shrugs. “Worth a shot, wasn’t it? I don’t exactly see you rushing to find a solution, dude.”
“That’s not true,” Jesse argues, even though it is, sort of. “I, um, I sent Rob out to see what he could find.”
Justin snorts which is probably fair. Mean, but fair.
At that moment, Andrew leans back, flopping over backwards like he trusts Jesse to be there with a hand against his back so he doesn’t fall and crack his skull on the carpet. Luckily, Jesse’s hand is there.
“You said we could phone Mummy,” he says, twisting around. “Where’s the phone?”
Shit. Jesse was really hoping he’d forget that. “It, uh.” Jesse picks the landline off the coffee table while doing the math in his head. It’s about four p.m. in London; he has no excuse not to let Andrew call home. “Okay, sure, but let me talk to her first, okay?”
Andrew nods, sitting up on Jesse’s legs with his head tipped back against Jesse’s chest, looking up expectantly while Jesse presses the phone to his ear and tries to match his breathing to the rate of the rings.
“Hello?” It always startles Jesse, just for a second, how much like Andrew his mom sounds.
“Hi, um, hi. It’s Jesse.” Jesse is physically incapable of calling people’s mothers by their first names, even Andrew’s, who calls him more often than Andrew does some weeks when Andrew’s in LA.
“Oh, hi, love, how is he?” Jesse also gets thrown each and every time Mrs Garfield calls him an affectionate pet name. Really, talking to her is a minefield of stress. Which makes him feel more guilty, because she’s an awesome lady.
“Still three,” Jesse tells her bluntly. Andrew makes a grab for the phone but Jesse keeps hold of it, doing his best to smile down at him reassuringly.
“Oh dear,” Mrs Garfield says, which is the understatement of the century. “It was the same with Ben a few years ago, did Robert tell you? Really, I blame their father; there’s no way such ridiculous genes come from my side of the family.”
Jesse laughs, because he knows he’s supposed to.
“Jesse,” Mrs Garfield scolds, “I can hear you worrying from here. He’s okay, isn’t he? He’s with you so I’m assuming he’s healthy and happy and clean.”
“Um, mostly?” Jesse tries. There’s a smear of whatever Andrew had for breakfast across his cheek and bits of carpet in his hair. “He could probably be cleaner.”
It’s Mrs Garfield’s turn to laugh. “That was always the case. Not to worry, it’ll wear off soon and then you can make him bathe himself. Which I’m assuming he does occasionally?”
Jesse considers reminding her that her son is a dirty hipster, but that’s only funny when Andrew’s there to get offended and splutter incoherent denials. “Any tips for how to make it wear off sooner?” he asks hopefully.
There’s a long, regretful silence. “Sorry, dear, I don’t.”
Jesse swallows. “Right. No. That’s fine. Um, Andrew wants to talk to you, if that’s okay?”
Andrew, who’s been bouncing impatiently on Jesse’s thighs, goes still, hand shaking slightly when he reaches for the phone.
“Mummy?” he asks, clutching the phone tight in both hands. “Mummy, where are you?”
Jesse wishes he were leaning against a wall so he could pound his head through it. Instead, he has to settle for tipping his head back and mouthing curses up at the ceiling. This is by no means the hardest thing anyone has had to face - it’s nowhere near even the hardest thing Jesse has faced - but it’s all feeling a bit much now, the hope he hadn’t known he’d had that Andrew’s mom would fix this, melting off into nothing.
“Hey, man,” Justin says quietly, crouching down next to Jesse. “When this is over, you and me are gonna split this awesome bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue I’ve been saving. You look like you need it.”
“God, yes,” Jesse says with feeling. “You’re maybe going to need to fight me for it, if you want any though.”
Justin nods down at Andrew, who’s flushed and bright-eyed the way Jesse is learning he gets when he’s about to start crying. He’s listening intently to whatever his mom’s telling him, bottom lip wobbling while he nods even though she can’t see him.
“Pretty sure Andrew deserves the first swig though,” Justin says.
“He’s three!” Jesse says, scandalised, then groans, beating his head against air, because he deserves a concussion that much right now.
Justin slaps Jesse on the shoulder and laughs and laughs at him.
By the end of the week, Jesse knows two things: Andrew is showing no sign of being anything other than stubbornly three years old and, if they don’t get out of the apartment soon, they’re probably both going to get cabin fever. Or scurvy. Maybe both.
“Now, remember what I told you?” Jesse asks, pulling Andrew’s hood up again and tightening the strings so it’ll stay up this time.
“Don’t run off,” Andrew parrots. “Don’t tell anyone my name.”
“And?” Jesse asks, starting to rethink this whole going outside plan all over again. He isn’t sure if he’s more worried about Andrew being kidnapped or about someone taking one look at him and realising who he is.
Andrew holds his arm out, rolling his sleeve up obediently. Jesse has printed his cell phone number clearly on Andrew’s arm; there’s no way he’s losing him.
“Okay,” Jesse says, nodding. “Okay? Oh god, are you sure you want to go out? We could, um. We could get Justin to bring his Wii over instead. That’s almost like real exercise, right?”
Andrew rolls his eyes dramatically. “I want to go to the park,” he says, like he’s been saying every three minutes since Jesse stupidly raised the idea.
“Fine,” Jesse sighs. “If you get abducted and sold to slave traders, don’t blame me.”
Andrew giggles, bumping up against Jesse’s legs, which is a new thing he’s started doing. It’s a little too heartbreakingly reminiscent of the way that, as an adult, Andrew likes to bump their shoulders together when they’re somewhere too public to hold hands.
Which isn’t a problem now, Jesse thinks bitterly, gripping Andrew’s hand tightly before opening the front door.
They don’t pass anyone on the journey from Jesse apartment to the street outside but then they’re standing on the sidewalk and a middle-aged woman’s eyes flick from Jesse down to Andrew and back up and Jesse wants to grab Andrew and drag him back inside.
Unfortunately, Andrew is already skipping in the other direction, tugging Jesse along.
“Come on, come on, we’re going to the park,” he chants which makes the woman smile, looking at Jesse like she expects him to share the aww, cute moment with her. He tries, he really does, but he probably looks like he’s grimacing.
“Are you sure?” Jesse asks, pulling Andrew up short. “Because that’s not the right way.”
“Oh.” Andrew stops, shuffling back to Jesse’s side and looking up at him beseechingly. “Where’s the park?” he asks, like he thinks there’s any chance that Jesse isn’t going to take him there.
Jesse sighs. “There’s an awesome park near where my parents live,” he tells Andrew, leading him down the block. “Which we’re not going anywhere near. I just thought you should know what a lucky escape you’re having; my mom would pinch your cheeks so hard they’d get stuck in permanent points.”
Andrew frowns, rubbing one cheek with his fingertips. “Why?” he asks.
Jesse shrugs. “Because you’re cute.”
“I’m not!” Andrew says, clearly affronted.
They stop at a crossing and Andrew hops from foot to foot, impatient. His hood’s already fallen away again and his hair is being blown around by the wind like some kind of self-contained sandstorm.
“No, right,” Jesse tells him seriously. “You’re, um. You’re repulsive and at no point make old ladies smile just by existing.”
Andrew’s quiet for a second then, “Do I make you smile?” he asks, once they’ve reached the other side of the road.
Fuck, Jesse walked right into that one. “It’s been known to happen,” he says, as casually as he can rather than no one’s ever made me smile harder.
“Yay,” Andrew cheers and then, apparently satisfied, he starts to tell Jesse about the cutthroat game of Jenga he and Justin played yesterday afternoon.
The playground is busy for a Friday in September, kids much bigger than Andrew monopolising the jungle gym and some of the swings.
Andrew pulls back, hand tightening around Jesse’s.
“Hey,” Jesse asks. “You okay?”
Andrew nods but he also doesn’t race toward the swings the way Jesse had been expecting. He’s vibrating with excitement but something’s keeping it in check. And Jesse’s pretty sure he knows what it is.
“Okay,” Jesse says, swallowing down his natural inclination to never, ever be where there are strangers, “Want to go make friends?”
Andrew sticks close to Jesse’s heels for the first couple of steps, making Jesse worry about tripping over him and accidentally breaking his own neck or something - which might prompt Andrew to spontaneously re-age but would otherwise be heinously embarrassing - but by the time they reach the swings, his natural friendliness is winning out.
He waves at one of the bigger kids, who’s standing by the other end of the swings. She grins and waves back, which makes Jesse less wary of her and, hilariously, makes Andrew blush and duck his head.
“She’s too old for you,” Jesse tells him, lifting him up so he can sit on the swing.
Andrew frowns like he has no idea what Jesse’s talking about. Which he probably doesn’t. “She’s a big girl,” Andrew agrees, still frowning.
Jesse tries to hide his smile. The girl is all of seven, although from where Andrew’s sitting, that probably is pretty grown-up. Jesse puts his hand on Andrew’s back and pushes him gently, the swing barely moving.
“Jesse,” Andrew complains, tipping his head all the way back to make faces at Jesse. “I want to fly.”
“You’re too little for flying,” Jesse tells him sternly. Or as sternly as Jesse ever gets with Andrew, which isn’t very.
Andrew sticks his tongue out. “Jesseeee.”
Jesse rolls his eyes. “Fine. Oh my god, fine. But you have to sit up properly, okay? No more wriggling around.”
“Daddy says I have ants in my pants,” Andrew tells him, still upside-down. “Ben says that means I have nits on my bum but it doesn’t.” He sighs, looking over at the bigger kids again. “I miss Ben.”
Jesse grimaces. It’s predictable, he supposes, that he’s a better substitute mom than he is substitute big brother. “Hey, so how high do you want to go?” he asks quickly.
Andrew bounces, apparently distracted. It’s amazing, how easy three-year-olds are to distract; Jesse wishes he could take his own mind off things that quickly. “All the way!” he says, which, well, oh hey, now Jesse has something else to worry about.
“Let’s start with a couple of feet, okay?” Jesse hedges. “Hold on really, really tight.” He puts his hand on Andrew’s shoulder, stopping him so he can see his hands. “Are you holding on tight?”
Andrew is, knuckles white and chubby wrists dimpled with effort. “Yes,” he says.
“Good boy,” Jesse says automatically then cringes. He’s going to need so much more therapy when all this is over. Speaking of, he should probably call his therapist at some point. Or maybe not, it’d be hard to explain why he’s missed this week’s appointments.
“Come on,” Andrew says, kicking his legs. “Higher.”
“Oh god, fine,” Jesse groans and gives him a push.
By the time Andrew’s bored of the swings, Jesse is pretty sure his arms have never had such a good workout. If Andrew stays a kid much longer, Jesse’ll probably develop arm muscles.
God, he hopes Andrew doesn’t stay a kid much longer.
“What now?” Andrew asks. He’s standing on the swing now and Jesse has one hand clamped around his arm and the other clutching the swing chain so it won’t suddenly shift and hurl Andrew to his doom.
“Aren’t you tired?” Jesse asks hopefully.
Andrew shakes his head hard. “Nope,” he says although his eyes are bright with what Jesse suspects is encroaching exhaustion and probably some kind of brewing tantrum. Andrew’s a pretty happy kid, but he hates being too tired to do all the things he wants to do. “I want to play in the water.”
There’s a fountain kind of thing in the middle of the playground - Jesse doesn’t know why, maybe it’s that little kids are dirty an unsurprising amount of the time and this is cheaper than vats of antibacterial gel. Or maybe the city just really likes to be sued when kids fall over. Either way, he’s not sure he wants Andrew running around in it.
“Your hair will go super-fluffy if you get it wet,” he warns.
Andrew beams at him like that was a promise then goes tearing off into the spray.
“Andrew!” Jesse yells then remembers his own rule about not using Andrew’s name in public and groans. Parenting is really hard.
“He’ll be okay,” says someone from behind him and Jesse turns to find that one of the women sitting on the benches along the edge of the park is smiling at him.
“Yeah, um, maybe,” Jesse agrees awkwardly. “Unless it turns out that his mom really is the Wicked Witch of the West and then he might melt.”
The woman laughs softly and pats the bench beside her. Jesse casts another worried look toward Andrew, but he looks happy, soaking wet but happy.
“Is he yours?” she asks once Jesse’s sat down.
“God no,” Jesse says automatically then wonders if he should have lied. Probably not. He doesn’t know why or how but apparently there are people on the internet who write columns and sometimes feature pictures of him living his life. He doesn’t want to give them any more things to write about. “I’m just, um. I’m watching him for a while.” Not too long a while, hopefully, but Jesse manages not to say that.
“He’s very sociable,” she tells him, nodding over at where Andrew is chattering happily with a little girl about his age. Jesse wonders what three-year-olds talk to each other about; the best flavours of crayon, presumably.
“He always is,” Jesse agrees. “Well, sometimes he likes to have a beer and swear at Jeopardy, but don’t we all?”
She laughs again, like she thinks he’s joking. Jesse manages to smile back.
They sit and chat for a while. The woman’s name is Shannon and her daughter is the little girl Andrew has apparently made best friends with within the past five minutes. She’s friendly and Jesse keeps accidentally making her laugh and he’s just trying to work out the best way of turning down her suggestion of arranging a playdate soon when they’re interrupted by Andrew, racing across the playground and throwing himself at Jesse.
Since he’s dripping wet from the fountains, that’s no fun at all.
“Jesse, Jesse, Jesse,” he says, squirming up onto Jesse’s lap and accidentally kneeling on Jesse’s hand, grinding all the bones together. “That man took my picture.”
He points over at a balding guy with a digital camera skulking just past the boundary of the park. Jesse takes in the slightly shabby jacket, the sneakers, the general air of suspicion rolling off him and thinks paparazzi.
Shannon, who obviously lives a normal kind of life where the press doesn’t stalk her to the playground, jumps to a whole other conclusion.
“Oh my god,” she says, springing to her feet. “What an asshole. I’m going to call the cops.”
“Yes,” Jesse agrees, sensing a chance to escape. “Good idea. Maybe go kick his ass too.”
“I will,” Shannon decides and goes striding off, waving her phone menacingly at the photographer whose eyes are suddenly wide and locked on her, giving Jesse just enough time to pick Andrew up and hustle them both as far away as possible.
“That was fun,” Andrew declares once they’re three blocks away and Jesse is pretty sure no one’s followed them. “Can we go again tomorrow?”
“Let’s talk about that later?” begs Jesse, whose heart is still pounding against his ribs, a dawning sense of dread starting to rise inside him because he can’t do this; he can’t expose Andrew to paparazzi all the fucking time. He clutches Andrew tighter, barely feeling the damp slide of his wet hair against Jesse’s jaw.
“What’s the matter?” Andrew asks, biting his lip and looking worried.
“Nothing,” Jesse promises him, forcing himself to relax his grip a little and not even letting himself think about saying, if you stay like this much longer, I’m going to have to send you back to England.
“You want to what?” Emma snaps, standing up from the couch and glaring down at Jesse.
“Shh,” Jesse hisses, looking pointedly toward the bathroom where Andrew is splashing around in the bath and harmonising (badly) with Justin to Part of Your World. He tugs Emma back down and whispers, “It’s the best thing for him.”
“The best thing for him is not shipping him off to England,” Emma tells him, glaring dangerously.
Jesse spreads his hands, helpless. “How can it not be?” he asks seriously. “His parents are there; they’re the ones who know how to look after him. I can’t keep a kid here indefinitely, Emma.” He feels sick just saying it, helpless and sort of empty in the pit of his stomach, but he also knows he’s right.
Emma looks mutinous. “He’s not a kid, he’s Andrew. Your Andrew. The love of your life Andrew.”
Jesse looks away so she won’t see how much he kind of wants to cry. Sometimes, he wonders if it’d be easier to be Andrew, with all his big feelings and demonstrativeness.
“God, Jesse,” Emma sighs and puts her arms around him.
They sit like that until the singing and the splashing comes to an end. Normally, Jesse isn’t comfortable with being hugged for this long, but he feels sort of numb and Emma’s warm, even if she’s not quite warm enough to unfreeze his insides.
“Don’t tell him tonight,” Emma begs. “You’ll only upset him.”
“What’s the point of putting if off?” Jesse asks. “He’s going to be upset either way. And then I’ll distract him with a colouring book or playtime with the kitten and he’ll forget all about it.”
Emma’s arms drop away. “Well that’s not true,” she says, starting to sound cross again. “Like Andrew’s going to forget about you, no matter how far away he goes.”
Jesse’s tired of this but he’s also too tired not to argue. “Of course he will! He’s going to be with his family, he’s not even going to remember me. Fuck, it’s probably my fault this happened in the first place. Andrew was here, visiting me, when he got stressed enough to – ”
“Jesse,” Emma snaps, cutting through his panic. Her eyes flick over his shoulder and he turns, heart sinking, to find Andrew standing in the doorway, eyes wide and rapidly filling with tears.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Andrew says, voice tiny and thick. Justin who’s standing just behind him tries to put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder but Andrew ducks around him, running into Jesse’s bedroom.
Jesse drops his head into his hands. “God,” he moans. “See, this is why he can’t stay here.”
Justin frowns. “Dude, what is this? You can’t send him away. You should hear him talk about you, man, it’s like... hell, it’s like how regular Andrew talks about you but with less embarrassing asides about how like, sparkly your eyes are and shit.”
“Exactly.” Emma pokes Jesse in the side. “And whatever you decide, you need to go give him a hug right now, and make sure he knows you’re not mad at him.”
“I know,” Jesse tells her because he does. Then he shakes his head. “Sorry, shit, I don’t mean to be this snappy. I’m just, I’m so tired.”
Emma pats him on the back and he stands up. Justin, weirdly, gives him a quick hug. Jesse doesn’t understand anyone he loves lately.
He finds Andrew curled up in a tiny, protective knot in Jesse’s bed, his whole body hidden by the comforter.
“Oh no,” Jesse says loudly, “I can’t find Andrew.”
A sob greets him, not a giggle, so he abandons that attempt at making it all into a game and pulls the comforter back instead. Andrew is flushed and tear-streaked and Jesse wants to punch himself in the head.
“I’m sorry,” Andrew chokes out before Jesse can say exactly the same thing. “I didn’t mean to be bad. I’m sorry.”
Maybe punching himself in the head wouldn’t be good enough, maybe the groin instead. Jesse picks him up and squeezes him, Andrew hiding his face immediately in the curve of Jesse’s neck.
“You weren’t bad,” Jesse tells him. “I promise. You haven’t done anything wrong. It’s me, I’m really, really bad at this.”
Andrew shakes his head, apparently not listening. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “Don’t, I don’t, I don’t want to go away.”
There’s a sharp, sick pain in Jesse’s chest. Either his heart just broke or he’s having a coronary. “I thought you’d want to see your mom and dad?”
Andrew sobs hard. “Not without you.”
“Okay,” Jesse hears himself say. “Okay, it was a stupid idea, I’m sorry.” He has no idea why he’s saying that. He was right when he decided New York was the wrong place for Andrew, but he can’t stand having hurt Andrew this badly.
Andrew sniffs. “I can stay?” he asks, looking up at Jesse with his eyes all red and filled with hope.
Oh, god. “Yes, you can stay.” Jesse kisses the top of his head. The familiar bushy, unmanageable top of his head. “We’ll work this out somehow.”
They end up falling asleep together, which is possibly the best idea Jesse’s had all week. Napping is a definite advantage to being three years old – or having a three-year-old around the place.
He only wakes up because he needs to pee and, when he does, he finds the apartment in darkness. There’s a note from Emma taped to the front door: Blackmail material for life! it says and, underneath, she’s stuck a polaroid of Jesse, fast asleep with his mouth open, Andrew curled up with his head tucked under Jesse’s collarbone and all the rest of his body on Jesse’s chest. The picture’s slightly blurry but it’s still obvious how tight Jesse’s holding onto him.
Jesse smiles. He knows he should be embarrassed, but maybe he’s too tired right now, maybe Andrew isn’t the only one he managed to calm down tonight.
“Hey,” he says softly to Andrew when he’s back in the bedroom. “Come on, let’s get you under the covers.”
Andrew shakes his head, batting at Jesse’s hands. “Feel funny,” he mumbles and Jesse automatically checks his forehead. He doesn’t feel warm but Jesse still makes sure to tuck the comforter tight around his shoulders, hoping that he’s just stuffed up from crying rather than sick from playing in the fountain this afternoon.
“Okay?” Jesse asks when they’re both in bed. He’s abandoned the idea of sleeping on top of the comforter for once, still feeling too guilty to put even that much space between them.
Andrew mutters something Jesse doesn’t catch and presses in closer. Jesse feels a damp, sticky kiss against his neck. “Love you,” Andrew mumbles, arms coming up and holding on tight.
“Yes,” Jesse agrees, because that’s one thing he’s definitely sure of.
Three things happen very quickly the next morning: someone swears loudly, there’s a crash like a person just fell out of bed and Jesse sits up straight, heart hammering.
“Andrew?” he calls, scrambling quickly to look over the other side of the bed and then stops. It is Andrew. Andrew did just fall out of bed. But it’s not three-year-old Andrew, it’s his Andrew, looking dishevelled and confused and wearing nothing but a t-shirt which is no longer too big for him.
They blink at each other for a full half-minute and then Jesse hiccups out a hysterical laugh, dropping his head onto the bed and laughing until he can’t breathe.
“Jesse?” Andrew asks cautiously. His fingers slide into Jesse’s hair and it feels exactly the same as when baby Andrew had done that, except this Andrew’s hands are bigger, his touch more genuinely reassuring.
Jesse waves a hand weakly. “Don’t mind me; it’s a relieved sort of breakdown.”
Andrew’s quiet for a couple of seconds then he seems to sort of burst out with, “Okay, maybe it was just the weirdest dream ever, but was I three for a while there?”
Jesse can’t help himself, just laughs harder. There’s a rustling from the floor and then the mattress dips beside him. Andrew throws an arm around his back and rests the pointy tip of his chin between Jesse’s shoulder blades.
“Let me know if it gets to the point where I should slap you, okay?” he asks.
Jesse nods and tries to focus on breathing.
Eventually, he manages to tone his hysteria down to the occasional swallowed giggle and then he rolls onto his side, almost laughing again when he takes in how ridiculous Andrew looks. He doesn’t though, because Andrew doesn’t just look ridiculous: he looks familiar and gorgeous and dear.
“I missed you,” Jesse tells him and touches Andrew’s face, tracing the hard curve of his jaw, the slight edges of stubble, all so different from baby-soft skin.
Andrew just shakes his head. “I really was three?” When Jesse doesn’t deny it, he groans, dropping his head down onto the top of Jesse’s arm. Jesse hugs him immediately, trained by a week with a very hands-on toddler. “Shit. Shit. God, I’m so sorry.”
Jesse shakes his head even though Andrew can’t see him. “It’s all right,” he tells the ceiling. “You were pretty cute. I think the kitten may be permanently traumatised though.”
Andrew groans again. “Oh god, poor Kitty,” he says, which Jesse takes as a sign that the kitten is never getting a real name now. He’s strangely okay with that. He’s strangely okay with everything right now.
“Andrew?” he says, nudging Andrew in the side until he looks up. When he does, Jesse almost loses his nerve. “I talked to your mom.” Andrew nods and blushes, maybe remembering that he did too. “She said that the whole, um, spontaneous de-aging thing happens when you’re stressed.”
Andrew shakes his head quickly. “Not to me. It happened, it happened to Ben when he was stressed. I, I don’t, I don’t know why it happened to me.” He’s stuttering and he’s not quite looking at Jesse. Which means he’s lying.
Some of Jesse’s euphoria at getting Andrew back starts to drain away. He swallows. “Don’t,” he says. “Just, if it was me, if – ” If you want to break up with me. “Can you just tell me?”
Andrew’s eyes go wide and he licks his bottom lip nervously. “It’s not you,” he says, like that’s out of the question. Andrew is a brilliant actor though, so Jesse isn’t necessarily reassured. He leans down like he’s going to kiss Jesse but Jesse can’t have that. If they kiss, Jesse will forget that they need to talk about this, and he thinks it might be really important.
Or relationship-ending. Oh god, not relationship-ending, please.
He turns his head before Andrew can make contact, Andrew’s lips brushing gently against his cheek instead. It would have been a nice kiss, Jesse thinks sadly.
“Sorry, but you were three,” he lies. “It’s going to take a bit of adjusting.” That maybe should actually be a problem for him, he realises belatedly. Maybe it will be in a minute, when everything else is worked out.
Andrew sits back, scratching the back of his neck. “Right,” he agrees, eyes tight like he doesn’t quite believe Jesse. Or maybe he does believe Jesse and he’s worried about that. Jesse doesn’t know; he doesn’t know Andrew as well as he thought he did apparently, which is a shitty thing to realise.
“Would you like some breakfast?” Jesse asks awkwardly.
Andrew just looks more upset. “Okay,” he agrees. “I’ll, um. I’m going to shower first though.” He tugs at the end of his t-shirt, laughing slightly. “And maybe find something to wear.”
Jesse sits up when Andrew stands. “I don’t know,” he says, watching the long line of Andrew’s hairy legs disappear under the barely-there cover of his t-shirt, “I’m sure that’s someone’s kink.”
Andrew makes a face at him. “I don’t care about someone’s kinks,” he says, like Jesse should know that. “Only yours.”
It’s such a normal thing for Andrew to say that it probably shouldn’t be as reassuring as it is. “I don’t, um. I don’t care about anyone else’s either,” Jesse says, even though that wasn’t really what he meant. It’s true, but he meant more please tell me what’s wrong? And please don’t let it be me.
“I know,” Andrew says, smiling now but looking at Jesse like he’s still kind of confusing.
As soon as the shower starts running, Jesse finds his cell phone and texts Emma: Andrew is back to being Andrew.
Two minutes later, he gets back: Yaaaaay!!! then, Jstn says what did u do? Was it magic?
Jesse considers, then dismisses, asking why Justin and Emma are in the same place at eight thirty in the morning. Very high level magic, yes. Fear me and my cat familiar.
Emma doesn’t reply which Jesse takes to mean she thinks everything’s okay now. He hopes she’s right.
Jesse’s making pancakes when Andrew gets out of the shower. He probably shouldn’t jump as hard as he does when Andrew drops his hands onto Jesse’s hips and kisses the back of his neck – it’s usual Andrew behaviour, but Jesse must have stopped being used to it or something because he says, “Ack!” and almost hits Andrew in the face with a wooden spoon.
Andrew steps back, laughing. “Sorry,” he says, darting in and kissing Jesse’s cheek. “In case you’re still worried about the tiny child thing,” he explains when Jesse can’t help lifting his hand to touch the place he kissed.
“I’m... less worried,” Jesse decides, which makes Andrew smile at him. Jesse waves him away. “Shut up. Now sit down and eat your breakfast.”
Andrew sits. “Are you going to feed me?” he asks, blinking innocently.
Jesse scowls. “You didn’t need feeding when you were three,” he says. “I’ve never seen anyone that small put away that much food.”
Andrew grins – like this is funny, like now that he’s gotten used to the idea, this all feels like a big joke to him. “I was a growing boy,” he says primly. Then ruins it by snatching up his fork and shovelling down half a pancake in three bites.
Jesse watches him, thinking too many thoughts at once to successfully put into words.
Andrew pauses with a fourth forkful hovering between the plate and his mouth. “Jesse?” he asks, putting it back down on his plate and looking concerned. “Why aren’t you eating?”
Jesse clings tightly to his coffee mug like he can caffeinate his way out of this question. “I’m detoxing,” he says, unblinking, “I think I OD’d on fish sticks and fries this week.”
Andrew smiles, reaching across the table and squeezing Jesse’s hand. “Thank you for looking after me,” he says seriously. He tightens his grip when Jesse tries to pull his hand away. “I know it must have been weird, but thank you for not just shipping me back home or something.”
Jesse winces. “How much do you remember?” he asks.
“Not that much,” Andrew says, shrugging. “Bits, maybe. I remember you and - .” He blinks. “Oh my god, did Emma give me a bath? Wait, did Justin?”
The look on his face is too appalled for Jesse to completely hold back a laugh. “I know,” he says, holding up the hand Andrew isn’t still clinging to. “Sorry about that, but I just couldn’t. There is a line when it comes to these things and seeing your boyfriend naked when he’s three years old definitely crosses it.”
Andrew’s eyes light up the way they always do when Jesse calls himself Andrew’s boyfriend. “They’re going to tease me forever,” he says sadly, but doesn’t really sound like he minds.
“Probably.” Jesse nods toward the counter where he left Emma’s polaroid of the two of them sleeping. “Me too though.”
Andrew stands up and walks over to the counter, picking up the photograph. He stares at it for so long that Jesse begins to doubt himself. He’d thought Andrew would find it funny, maybe even sweet, but Andrew is staring at it with far more concentration than one tiny picture needs.
Just when Jesse’s starting to get really fidgety, Andrew looks up. His eyes are bright. “Jesse,” he says, holding out his hand and Jesse’s programmed by now to have to go to him when he looks and sounds like that.
“Just,” Andrew says helplessly, putting the photo down and framing Jesse’s face in his hands instead. “God, I love you.”
Before Jesse can ask why now, particularly, or even say it back, Andrew’s kissing him, soft but definite kisses that Jesse can’t waste time second guessing before he starts to return. Andrew is warm and pliable in Jesse’s arms, letting Jesse back him against the counter and kiss him with a whole week’s worth of having missed him.
It’s not strange. Jesse can remember Andrew aged three, playing with a kitten or asking for ice cream, but that wasn’t his Andrew; this is his Andrew, licking his away into Jesse’s mouth, curling the tips of their tongues together.
“Why?” Jesse has to ask eventually, pulling back just far enough to speak. Andrew opens his mouth to answer but Jesse shakes his head, quickly. “Not, why do you love me, though we can talk about that later, if you’d like. There are probably some pills you can take. I meant, um, I meant why did this last week happen? What were you worrying about?”
He holds his breath, not sure he wants to know, but sure he can’t go on not knowing. Not when there’s a chance it was due to something he did wrong.
Andrew groans, resting the side of his head against the side of Jesse’s, their temples slightly sweaty together. “It really was nothing,” he says. “Just me overthinking things.”
Jesse rolls his eyes. “You do remember you’re talking to the king of overthinking here, don’t you?”
Andrew leans back and kisses Jesse quickly. “I, okay. Okay, I’m going to tell you what I was worrying about, but that’s not the same as me actually asking you the, uh, the thing. So, so don’t, don’t answer me. All right?”
“All right,” Jesse agrees, confused but game.
Andrew looks firmly at Jesse’s collarbones rather than his face. “I was going to suggest that I moved to New York,” he says quickly. “Here, uh, here especially. Specifically. Specifically not especially.”
“Wait,” Jesse says, some invisible weight he’s been carrying for the past week lifting off his chest all at once and leaving him lightheaded. “Was that all?”
Andrew looks up, eyebrows drawn together. “That’s not an all,” he says. “That’s huge. I want to live with you all the time and I think I might die if I don’t get to. What if you’d said no? No part of that is an all.”
Jesse just stares at him. “I’m not going to say no,” he says incredulously. “I mean, obviously you’re going to change your mind after about two days of trying to live with me, and you’ll eventually hate me for making you leave LA but, but...” He trails off. He’s too relieved even to give into the full force of his neuroses right now. “But, yes.” He smacks Andrew – lightly – on the hip. “I thought it was going to be something huge. Your mom said it happened to Ben just before he proposed.”
For some reason, Andrew doesn’t return Jesse’s smile. Andrew always returns Jesse’s smiles; it’s something he couldn’t help letting himself get used to. “Yeah, well,” he mutters and looks down.
It takes Jesse two seconds, then his heart stops. “Wait. Wait, is that - ? That’s not the thing you’re not asking me yet, is it?”
Andrew toes the floor. “I told you, I’m not asking yet,” he says, but the corners of his lips are starting to turn up.
Jesse laughs. They can’t get married, not without coming out and going through hell and being in every paper ever for the rest of their lives. But Andrew’s smiling and, at the very least, he’s going to move to New York and, “Of course you’re not asking yet,” Jesse says, dizzy.
Andrew smiles, biting his bottom lip nervously. “If I did ask?” he prompts.
Jesse shakes his head. He can’t think about that; it’s too vast as thought. Not bad, just big and he needs some time to process it. “Move to New York first,” he says. “We’ll see if you can stay one age for a whole year before we think about anything else.”
Andrew ducks his head and kisses Jesse hard. “I’m not three anymore,” he says. He grips Jesse’s hips and tugs him forward, pressing them together from their knees to their chests. “If I were, I couldn’t do this.”
“I certainly hope not,” Jesse agrees. He tips his head up for Andrew’s next kiss, letting Andrew walk him back against the wall and deciding that it’s definitely Andrew’s turn to take charge.