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Death And The Piemaker

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1. Apple Pie

"This is quite possibly the best apple pie I've ever eaten."

Ned shrugged and said, "It's just a matter of practice and good ingredients." It was also a matter of being able to bring rotten fruit back to peak ripeness with a touch, but that was not the sort of thing you told a prospective boyfriend who you had only met a few hours ago. Ned was not entirely sure how Olive had talked him into a blind date or even how she had known he would be willing to date a man in the first place, but so far his evening with the self-described refugee from academia, who had recently moved to Coeur d'Coeurs to open a microbrewery and gastropub had not been anything like the disaster he had expected.

It had gone so well, in fact, that instead of awkwardly shaking hands and parting ways at the end of their late post-movie dinner, he had invited Adam, for that was the man's name, back to the Pie Hole for dessert. And now here they were in the darkened, locked, and otherwise deserted pie shop. Adam perched on a stool at the counter, making slow and apparently blissful inroads into an extra-large slice of apple pie, while Ned stood just a few feet away behind the counter and watched with far more interest than he usually spared for anyone who actually paid for his pie. Adam ate slowly, savoring each bite with great relish, his (no pun intended) Adam's apple bobbing with each swallow in a way which should not have been nearly as enticing as it was, his long fingers wielding the fork with casual precision and making Ned wonder to what other Adam might be inclined to put that dexterity.

Another swallow, another nearly orgasmic sounding sigh. Ned very carefully resisted the urge to give a sigh of his own.

"No, really, this is amazing," Adam said. "I won't insult you by asking you for your secret recipe on the first date, but would you at least tell me where you get your apples? I've been thinking of adding small batches of hard cider to my lineup, and the apples in this pie taste like they could be perfect for that."

"Usually I just use whatever is available at the farmers' market when they're in season and the grocery store when they aren't," Ned said with another shrug. Was this date going well? He thought it was, but he didn't have all that many previous dates in his life with which to compare the experience. Adam had mentioned this being the first date. That kind of implied the possibility of a second one, right? Much to Ned's surprise, he was discovering that he really hoped there might be a second date.

"Really? I'll have to check that out sometime," Adam said, sending Ned's thoughts off on musings about whether a mutual trip to the farmers' market could be turned into a date, or if that would just be kind of pathetic. Oblivious to his companion's inner turmoil, Adam loaded another forkful of pie, but instead of sliding it into his mouth, he proffered it to Ned. "Are you sure you don't want any?"

"No, no, I'm fine," Ned said hurriedly. "By the time you've been at this for as long as I have, you'll get really tired of eating your own cooking." And that was true. The fact that he also couldn't eat his own pie without the fruit turning back into rotten mush at first touch did not render the previous statement a lie.

"If you insist." Adam put the bite of pie in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed, and this time Ned must have made some kind of small, involuntary noise, because Adam cocked his head and gave him a calculating look while his tongue swept a drop of escaped apple filling from the corner of his mouth. "How do you feel about eating other people's cooking? Maybe next time you could come over to my place, and you can eat apple pie while I watch," Adam said, grinning. "I can't promise it will be anywhere near as good as this," and here he gently tapped his fork against his remaining bit of pie, "but I'm sure I can manage something competent."

Ned was not in the habit of smiling often enough to be able to match the width of Adam's grin, but he did his best. "Sure," he said, "if you'll let me watch you cook."

"I'm sure I could be talked into it," Adam said then took another bite of pie.

And that is how, on his second date, Ned got to see that Adam's hands were even more mesmerizing while making pie than while eating it. The way he seemed to almost caress the fruit, the curve of his fingers around the knife handle, even the way he washed his hands The fact that for once Ned was able to eat pie which tasted as good as it smelled was merely a bonus. At the end of the evening, when Adam leaned in for a goodnight kiss, they both tasted like apple.

2. Herb Pie

As it turned out, a trip to the farmers' market could be used as a date, if their fourth outing together was any indication. They wandered from stall to stall, looking at onions here, smelling bundles of fresh herbs there, tasting locally made cheese here, testing the freshness of bundles of leeks there, talking almost constantly and laughing more often than Ned was used to. At some point, Adam had grabbed Ned's hand and laced their fingers together, and Ned was surprised to realize that he had not even flinched when it happened. He had grown accustomed to close proximity with Adam far more quickly than he would have expected and had come to look forward to the casual contact which he usually feared. He still needed to take precautions, of course. There had very nearly been an incident involving Adam's leather watchband, and Ned was still waiting for a moment when he could revive and then re-kill Adam's leather shoes unobserved so as to prevent any possible future unpleasantness with them, but on the whole life was good. It would be even better if he could find a graceful way to change the subject of the current conversation.

"—and then we broke up, because even though we loved each other, we knew that in the long term we were better off apart than together."

"Really? Why?" Adam asked, as he passed the required amount of money across the table to the man in the "Think Global, Eat Local" shirt and received a heap of beets in return.

Ned wisely refrained from mentioning the stress of living in constant fear of killing your girlfriend with an accidental touch. "It was a whole big, complicated 'childhood friends reunited after a long separation but with unusual extenuating circumstances' kind of a thing," he said instead. He knew talking about your exes on a date was a terrible idea, but more than half the vendors at the market knew Chuck in one capacity or another, and enough of them had mentioned her to make the subject unavoidable. "What is it you said you were making again?"

"Herb pie. I wanted to get your opinion on the recipe before trying to browbeat my chef into allowing more vegetarian options on the weekend dinner menu." Adam poked around in his various bags of produce, then announced, "It looks like I have everything."

"And all that is going in the pie?" Ned stared dubiously at Adam's purchases. Ned had never been one for savory pies, and while he could understand the beets and apples adding sweetness to the spinach, leeks, parsley, and onions, he couldn't conceive of anyone ever thinking it was a good idea to put lettuce in a pie. Even people back in the mid eighteenth century, which was when Adam claimed the recipe had come from, must have had more sense than to put lettuce in pie, didn't they?

"Don't knock it until you try it, Piemaker." Adam gathered his bags and headed for his car. Ned followed.

"I don't know. A man has to have standards. I might require bribery before I debase myself with lettuce pie."

"Might I tempt you with the offer of a back massage while the pie bakes? We could work some of that tension out of your shoulders. I've been told by some that I missed my true calling and should have been a masseuse."

Ned contemplated the proposition, weighing the prospect of pie with lettuce in it versus a chance to have Adam's hands all over him. They were very nice hands. The rest of Adam was rather appealing as well. But, lettuce pie. In the end, it was not much of a contest.

The massage was more than worth it, and Ned managed to talk Adam into taking the lettuce out of the recipe before adding the pie to the pub's menu.

3. Libum

"What exactly is this?" Ned asked, handing utensils and a pair of plates to Adam, who had apparently taken Ned's reaction to the herb pie as a challenge and started bringing out the most obscure pie recipes he could find, just to see what Ned had to say about them. And with all his years spent digging through old books in the name of acquiring various degrees he apparently had no intention of ever using for anything beyond his own amusement, Adam had apparently managed to collect a lot of old recipes for things Ned had never heard of. The thing currently sitting on the counter between them looked as much like a rustic tart as a pie. What was visible of the filling was pale, possibly some kind of ricotta mixture, and the top was decorated with bay leaves.

"Libum," Adam said. He cut a slice and handed it to Ned before taking one for himself.

"Sorry, but I have no idea what that means." Ned took a bite anyway, though, because whatever it was smelled good. The layered texture was a little odd, but the flavor was nice.

"Placenta. It's an old Roman delicacy," Adam said. "Not that kind of placenta," he hurriedly added with a note of exasperation as Ned almost choked. "The word just meant 'container' before it was applied to anything biological. It's just cheesecake with nuts, honey, and layers of dough."

"Kind of like how the word 'coffin' was used for pie crust before it started being used for a box meant to hold a dead person," Ned mused, taking another tentative bite. Emerson had hit him with that particular bit of trivia shortly after discovering Ned's secret non-culinary talent.

"Yup," Adam said and raised his fork in mock salute, "life and death, placenta and coffin, you and me: somehow it always comes back to pie."

Ned never got the chance to think of a clever reply, because right at that moment a vaguely familiar looking man with a gun kicked open the door, shouted, "I'm gonna make you pay for sending my brother to jail, Piemaker!" then tried to shoot Ned.

"Get down!" Adam's reflexes were shockingly fast, not faster than a bullet, of course, but fast enough to throw himself into the path of the bullet just as the man (Victor Vanderberg, Ned would later learn, younger brother of Vincent Vanderberg, who Ned had in fact helped send to jail on three counts of murder) pulled the trigger. The shot hit Adam square in the heart. It was the sort of injury that killed in seconds, but apparently Adam was also capable of killing in seconds, much to Ned's surprise. Two bodies hit the floor at the same time, Adam dead from the gunshot wound, and the gunman dead from a carotid artery slashed open with an expertly aimed pie-server. It had all happened so fast.

Ned scrambled out from behind the counter and crouched, hesitating with his finger a half an inch away from Adam's skin. He had brought plenty of people back from the dead, but what did you say to someone you might have been falling in love with when you only had one more minute together with them? 'Thank you for saving me'? 'I think I love you but am only brave enough to say so now that it's too late'? 'I'll miss you forever'? 'I'm sorry I never told you why I won't eat my own pie'? 'This is why things were complicated with Chuck'? He had to say something though, so he decided to just wing it.

He checked the time on his watch and then moved his finger that final half of an inch. Ned was used to the slight tingle like a static shock that happened when whatever was inside him worked its wonders and brought the dead back to life, but touching Adam was like putting his finger in an electrical socket. Adam sat up with a gasp so fast he almost knocked heads with Ned.

"I can exp--" Adam started to say, then cut himself off as a look of terror crossed his face. His hands flew to his chest, where he immediately found the hole directly over his heart. He then frantically tried, and of course failed, to find any sign of a pulse. Ned had seen that look of horror from a few living people before, but never from the dead; the dead had always seemed shockingly accepting of their condition when Ned woke them up. Not this time though. "What did you do to me!?" Adam demanded. "What did you d--" Ned thought he had moved far enough back, but Adam lunged forward, grabbed his wrist, and skin met skin, letting nature once again take its course. Adam slumped down dead again, still looking surprised.

Ned bit back a sob, then staggered to his feet and went to call the police. He was still on hold when he thought he heard another gasp, running footsteps, and the tinkle of the bell over the door. By the time Ned turned around to look, he was alone with only a single corpse on the floor.

+1. Stargazy Pie

It had been two weeks, and there had been no sign of Adam anywhere, not at the microbrewery/gastropub, not at his apartment, and not anywhere else in Coeur d'Coeurs. Then one morning the lights were already on in the Pie Hole when Ned came down to start the morning baking, and there was Adam sitting at his usual stool at the counter.

"I brought you a souvenir," Adam said and threw a plastic bag with something soft inside at Ned, who caught it reflexively. "I got as far as Cornwall before a friend tracked me down and told me what an idiot I was being because life's too short to run away from people you love when you don't really have to. I guess some explanations are in order."

"Only if you want to explain," Ned said, "because I know how some secrets complicate things." Adam was here, alive, and had said Ned was someone he loved. Ned really didn't need any more than that right now. Anything else could wait for as long as was necessary. Well, anything except for one bit of childish curiosity. He opened the bag and found a tee-shirt with a picture of a pie with fish heads sticking out of the crust, sitting on a storm drain grating and the words 'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'

"Um, this is...." Ned started to say, but Adam just laughed and dragged him into a kiss, and nobody died.

The End