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a heart that's just stopped beating (and other odes to zombie sweethearts)

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This story begins with a cat -- a black cat with three white paws and a patch of white underneath his chin like the cravat of a gentleman, who spends his time up on the awning of the pie shop in the strip mall right off of Harrison Boulevard, sitting in the neon curve of the "3" on the pie shop's sign, where he'll sometimes curl up to sleep in the afternoon sun. His tail flicks in acknowledgement every time the bells on the door jingle, and he keeps watch over the comings and goings of all the customers.

The cat's name is Heimdall, and if at any point he had nine lives, he doesn't really remember them -- he does, however, remember dying in a fairly permanent way, so he supposes he's on his tenth. He's twenty years old, and his only friend in the world is the piemaker, the owner and proprietor of the shop that Heimdall has made his home.

The piemaker is a nervous pigeon-toed thing named Jesse, coming in and out of the delivery entrance with his sleeves rolled up and his arms weighed down with crates that smell like rot. He has curly hair that makes Heimdall think of nesting birds, fingers like spider's legs, and a pathological fear of meaningful contact.

Heimdall owes a lot to Jesse, including nine (if not all ten) of his lives. So they have a foolproof system; Jesse lets Heimdall stand guard over the shop as a matter of course, and when the shop becomes just as famous for its cat as it does its pies, he even designs him into the shop logo on every take-away box. Heimdall, in turn, sleeps on the other pillow in Jesse's bed to keep him company and brings him dead birds as tokens of gratitude and an attempt to be helpful, because he knows how much Jesse likes dead things.

The birds all disappear promptly and without fuss, so Heimdall assumes Jesse really likes them.

Even though he's fairly certain he's killed the same bird more than once.

("Heimdall?" Andrew echoes, tilting his head back and just barely making out the watchful cat's-eye gleam through the glare coming from the buzzing neon sign; the bright green letters curling across the shop's facade to spell out "3.14". "As in, the gatekeeper?"

Jesse brightens, dropping his hands from where he was nervously picking flour out from under his nails and straightening up. "You know Norse mythology?" he asks, delighted.

"I ... um," Andrew scratches at the back of his neck sheepishly. "I saw the movie? You know, Thor?" he elaborates, at Jesse's blank look. "Big blockbuster, just came out -- never mind." He waves it off, and grabs the door to hold it open. "I believe I was promised a tour of your shop, piemaker."

And the piemaker smiles; a single, happy tug at the corners of his mouth, before he follows through with Andrew's gesture and walks inside, careful to keep an arm's length of distance between them.)

 

-

 

You see, this piemaker has a gift.

This gift goes beyond his extraordinarily ability to make pies that taste like the freshest fruit, or his ability to remember all starting and ending dates of every 19th century societal revolution.

This gift is that, with the single touch of his bare skin, he can bring a dead thing back to life.

He spent a very lonely, very exhausting adolescence testing the exact parameters of this gift, of what can and cannot be brought back and for how long; his parents are very nice people, but very worried about their son's fairly obvious crippling social phobias, and his sisters already think he's weird, and his friends don't care, mainly because Jesse doesn't have any.

It doesn't work on everything. Jesse can bring back people, he can bring back dead animals, he can revive wilting flowers and rotting fruit, but his gift stops at a certain point: the wooden chairs he touches don't suddenly remember how to root, microbial bacteria doesn't come screaming back to life after he scrubs his hands with hand sanitizer, and Jesse has never had the problem of explaining at family dinners why the whole roasted chicken is trying to escape his plate (although the fear that someday it will is enough to turn Jesse off meat fairly efficiently.)

There's another problem -- touch a dead thing once, and it comes back to life. Touch it again, and it goes back to being dead, and no amount of touching is going to reverse that a second time.

"Jesse, I can't believe that cat is still following you around," his parents bring up, every time they visit the shop. He slides two plates of cranberry pie across the counter for them, topped with mandarin oranges and a light honey glaze. "I don't think we've ever seen you touch it. Not even once."

"We've had a traumatic history together," says Jesse instantly. "In case you forgot. I was standing right there when Kerri crushed him flat with her trunk."

"Almost crushed him," his father says pointedly, gesturing with his fork. "The cat was fine and trying to scale the drapes when we came in, remember?"

Jesse's mouth twists, like he's enjoying a private joke. "Right," he says. "But it was still traumatic. Heimdall and I are very respectful of each other's boundaries, and we have a very healthy relationship otherwise."

"I can't believe he's still alive," his mother comments, pulling one of the pie shop's menus towards her and tapping the cat's whiskers motif on the logo with her finger. "He must be older than Hallie Kate."

"He is older than Hallie Kate," Jesse remarks. "And he always will be. That's a set variable, at no point is they suddenly going to stop being older and younger than each other, time progress in a linear fashion for both of them, unless one of them --"

"Jesse," says his father.

"Sorry," says Jesse, and disappears back into the kitchen, willing the timer on the oven to go off before they can make him more nervous with their questions about cats that were once dead and flat as a pancake until they weren't anymore.

 

-

 

The day before Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the year for Three Point One Four.

It's a nice little place, if you're into the small, homey, locally-owned thing -- between the counter and a couple Parisien-style cafe tables tucked up by the store window, the shop itself can seat about fifteen costumers at the height of rush hour, so 90% of the business comes from pre-order, take-away, and delivery, because why come in for just one slice of pie when you can buy a whole one, take it home, shiftily unwrap it, and serve it to your family and friends on your finest china tea-plates just to soak up their admiration at your so-called home cooking?

Jesse's up at four Wednesday morning, tying on his apron and rolling up his sleeves. He listens to his oven tick as it preheats and the preemptive dawn chorus of the birds outside. Heimdall leaps up onto the top of the spice rack with a soft thud, making the industrial-sized tubs of nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla shiver.

"Showtime," Jesse says, and then -- because he knows Andrew would do it if he weren't still asleep, the lucky bastard -- marks his cheeks with flour like war paint.

He sells more pies on the day before Thanksgiving than he does in the entire month of November combined; apple pie and pecan pie, pumpkin pie and mixed-berry pie, simple pies and complex pies, pies with a gingerbread crust and shepherd pies with three kinds of cheese flaked and baked on top. The pies he sells for Thanksgiving even have their own packaging, complete with a vague-looking turkey on the front of the box, wearing glasses and standing in front of a chalkboard with the Three Point One Four logo on it. He prints out a ream of instruction sheets on how to store one's pie before Thanksgiving dinner and staples them to the inside of each lid.

The whole morning is a mess of people streaming in and out, the regulars and the holiday-goers, families with children and elderly old spinsters just looking for something sweet. Jesse juggles his files of pre-order sheets and online orders, pulls pies out of the freezer and steps smartly around Justin, the barista, who chatters away to a customer and then cheerily drowns out the customer's reply with the high wail of the espresso machine.

Emma comes in around eleven, the bell on the door clanging cheerily as she holds it open for a middle-aged woman in a Christmas sweater with a prep list as long as her forearm, who smiles at her in distracted thanks.

She hikes herself up onto a stool at the counter, purse thunking solidly in front of her.

Jesse, when he sees her sitting there, chin on her hand and her red hair coiling in dark ropes against the shoulders of her peacoat, stops dead in his tracks and goes, "Uh oh."

She straightens up, jaw dropping. "Hey!" she goes, offended. "What have I done?"

"Nothing," says Jesse on automatic. "Just, I see your face and I'm instantly overwhelmed with a deep foreboding and the sudden sense that I am, in fact, going to wind up stuffed in a trunk somewhere before dinnertime." That's only happened the once, on account of an angry Irishman with a habit of murdering waitresses and consistently smelled of aloe vera for his chronic sunburns, and Emma sprung him out again before he hyperventilated, but it's the principle of the thing.

"Ha, ha," says Emma, rolling her eyes so hard they're practically cartwheeling. "A slice of plain cherry, please."

"Are you going to pay for it this time?" He counts out change for a customer, apologizing for the traces of powdered sugar he leaves on the bills. "You have quite a tab going, you know."

That affronted look is back. "And here I was, thinking you gave me pie out of the goodness of your heart," she scoffs. "I'm your boss, I shouldn't need to pay for pie!"

Jesse cuts her a slice of cherry, careful not to touch the fruit that oozes across the plate, and sets it in front of her. The plate is still piping hot from the dishwasher. "First of all," he leans on his elbows and lowers his voice so that she leans in conspiratorially. "You're not my boss, you're my partner. This is a partnership of business as much as it is a friendship, which implies equal take and give. Second of all, you're the harbinger of death," he deadpans. "Like one of the four horsemen set to bring the apocalypse of my very normal, average lifestyle with the news of dead people. Why am I awarding that with pie?"

Emma leans in closer, and takes a large, deliberate, sensuous bite of her pie, lips closing over the tines of her fork, as red as the cherries that disappear between them.

"Ow!" yelps Justin, who, distracted by the display, had burned himself on the espresso machine.

Emma swallows and says, "I don't think I'll ever stop pitying you for being unable to eat your own pies. It's like God creating heaven and then locking himself out with the only set of keys."

"I'm a piemaker, not a deity," says Jesse with a smile. And then, "thank you. I guess."

"And we have a case," she adds nonchalantly.

Jesse groans.

 

-

 

Police detective Emma Stone met the piemaker and became the sole (living) keeper of his secret at the annual nationwide convention for zombie enthusiasts downtown. It was a highly-anticipated weekend affair, with a zombie walk on Saturday, morbidly themed treats, and an open-mic night dedicated to some truly touching love poetry to the undead, because who says you can't have a heart just because it isn't beating?

Emma was there on a stake-out for an entirely unrelated case, watching people in grey face paint squawk and shamble around and claw at each other's heads for fun, when she saw one Jesse Eisenberg in full apron chasing down a big, muscular blonde guy down a secluded alleyway behind the strip mall that housed Three Point One Four, sprinting fast enough to qualify for the US Olympic team; when he tagged him, the guy face-planted right into the concrete, dead as a doornail.

And stay that way! Jesse had shouted, vehement, and gave a full-body shudder of disgust, before turning around and meeting Emma's gaze dead-on through her car window.

Huh, said Emma, and took another bite of her mushed apple-and-brains ice cream.

Because people who can make other people drop dead with a single touch ("I didn't make him drop dead," Jesse protests, "he was already dead, I just made him ... re-drop dead, like he was supposed to be!") are very interesting people to the police, Emma looks into him. He has no prior arrests, no suspicious activity, no record of being anything but a reasonably good student who makes the occasional trip to see a therapist. Or two, but that's because they're both particularly fond of the dark chocolate and raspberry pie with the hazelnut crust, and Jesse didn't particularly want to break their pie-loving hearts, so he keeps going. He lives in the apartment building on the other side of the bike trail from his work, a distance so short he doesn't even need to bike most days.

Boring.

In fact, arguably the most interesting thing he ever did was: he dropped out of college, bought out an out-of-business stationary shop (you could still see where the sign was, underneath the new one that said "3.14", because math jokes just aren't tolerable unless they're somehow combined with food,) and started a business of making and selling of pies he couldn't touch once they were baked.

"It was kind of a spontaneous decision," Jesse tells her, hands in his pockets and his toes turned in, acutely uncomfortable. "Everyone's got to make one of those sometime. I just figured, people's lives could use just a little bit more sweetness."

"Mmhmm," says Emma. "Go back to the bit where you touched that guy and he skidded, like, ten feet on his face."

"Can't I bring Justin in here and make him take off his shirt? Would that make you forget about the -- the skidding?" Jesse offers weakly.

She pulls her badge out of her inside pocket and flips it open onto the counter in front of her.

Jesse sighs, shoulders slumping, and starts from the beginning, with the bit about Kerri flattening Heimdall on accident, and everything that transpired for the next twenty years of his life. Which is how Emma Stone finds herself with a partner. She splits her paycheck, he splits his pie and lends her his touch.

After all, it's a lot easier to solve a homicide when you can wake the victim up and ask them who killed them.

 

-

 

Outside, a cold autumnal rain has started up, heavy enough to drop the leaves from the trees, and so when Andrew Garfield walks into Three Point One Four, he stops to shake the rain off of his collar before he hops up onto the bar stool next to Emma.

"Don't you work today?" he asks her perplexedly, and then steals her pie to take a bite.

"Case," she replies. "Once Jesse stops pretending that I'm not here and will actually come over here and listen to me," she lifts her voice very pointedly, and then steals her plate back. Andrew grins at her around his mouthful of stolen pastry, the creases between his teeth stained with cherry, like his gums are bleeding.

"I am working no other business today," Jesse calls back, voice lilting up like a child who's five seconds away from tattling on other children. "Today is a pie business. Today is the busiest day for pie business, I have no other business for other business besides pie business. Hi, Andrew, pie?"

"Yes, please," Andrew says cheerily. "What are our plans for Thanksgiving?"

Jesse appears in the kitchen doorway, a box of frozen pie in his hands; rhubarb, with crystallized chunks of candied ginger sprinkled on top. "What do you mean?"

"Thanksgiving," Andrew elaborates. "The ... third Thursday in November typically celebrated by consuming large amounts of turkey, then consuming large amounts of pie, then napping during an American football game, waking up, and repeating the whole process from step one?"

Emma shifts back onto her stool in order to side-eye him. "Please tell me a vegetable is included in there somewhere."

"I don't know what you do with your Thanksgivings," says Jesse, eyebrows hiked up. "But I spend it recovering. Preferably deeply asleep, or curled up with my favorite book and nothing more pressing than the occasional call from my bladder. Do you think I want to make any more food after today? Here's your change," he adds to the rhubarb-costumer, handing it over with the receipt. "Have a good day, and thanks for shopping at Three Point One Four!"

"Yeah, but that was before, when you were alone," Andrew points out, perfectly reasonably. His fingers creep towards Emma's plate again, and get viciously slapped with the flat of her fork for their trouble. A slice of triple-berry lands in front of him, and he beams up at Jesse, who promptly goes as pink as the strawberries peeking out from underneath the latticework pie crust. "This is the first American Thanksgiving I've had since I was a child," he adds to Emma.

"You," Emma points her fork at Jesse. "Are being horribly stingy with the holiday cheer."

"I don't want to cook!" Jesse spreads his hands defensively.

"Emma and I can cook!" Andrew supplies.

"I'm sure Emma has other plans for Thanksgiving, don't you, Emma?"

Emma looks unrepentant. "Actually, my parents are in Trinidad, where I sent them on a cruise using our first bonus check for solving Corpse Bride's murder here," she gestures at Andrew with the fork. "I could use the company."

Jesse opens his mouth to say something highly intelligent and possibly scathing, he doesn't really know, and finds the words stoppering up in his throat. "But it takes at least five days to defrost a whole frozen turkey, and we have less than twenty-four hours," is what actually comes out, somewhat petulantly.

Andrew spins around on his stool, arms thrown up like he's announcing a touchdown. "I officially claim the right to carve the turkey!" he goes excitedly.

"Traditionally," says Emma. "The turkey-carving is done by the man of the family, which in this context --" she looks at Jesse, blinks, and then corrects, "-- oh, who am I kidding, it's totally me."

Jesse rolls his eyes, and whisks her plate away even though there's still some crust clinging to the rim, which is about as passive-aggressive as he's capable of getting. Andrew pauses in his daydreaming about gravy long enough to prop his chin up on his hands and give Jesse his best, dewy-eyed smile.

"I would totally give you a hug right now if it didn't mean I'd fall right over like a corpsicle," he says, which makes Jesse look down at the toes of his sneakers, bottom lip dragged between his teeth.

Emma perks up noticeably. "Just a suggestion," she says, purposefully mild. "But I have two hands and two arms that are not averse to the groping of amiable piemakers."

"Deal!" returns Andrew. "Detective Stone, would you be so kind as to give a by-proxy hug to my roommate?"

"Screw by-proxy, I'm copping a feel in the name of holiday cheer," Emma swings off her stool and rounds the counter, flinging her arms around Jesse before Jesse can properly brace himself. His arms cross over her back, face disappearing momentarily into the crook of her neck, and he returns the pressure, until she blinks and pulls back with a peculiar look on her face and starts, "Is that --"

"It is," Jesse says quickly, and pulls the culprit out of the front of his apron. "It's a rolling pin. Sorry," he adds, sheepish.

 

-

 

Jesse Eisenberg, the piemaker and the dead-waker, has very specific rules for himself regarding who he brings back and for how long.

Touch a dead thing, and it comes back to life. Touch it again, it goes back to being dead. Touch it back to life and keep it alive for longer than a minute, and something else dies in its place. A long adolescence spent experimenting with the high school lab rats has taught Jesse that the exchange rate is fairly equal; human for human, small mammal for small mammal (and in his defense, the neighbor's pomeranian had been extremely old, and sudden death hadn't changed his disposition much, so Jesse's guilt over keeping Heimdall alive only comes back to haunt him during particularly depressing bank holidays,) plant for plant.

Jesse's on good terms with the local grocers, whom he meets every morning when they're tossing out their rotting, moldy fruit for new shipments. They all think he's a bit off and was maybe dropped on his head as a child, but that's okay. The cost of bringing rotting fruit back to life is a really, really, really dead lawn, which Justin chalks up to the hazards of industrial run-off, and Jesse thinks is an acceptable price to pay for his business.

Then Emma Stone comes along and Jesse Eisenberg suddenly found himself with an unexpectedly exciting life, which he definitely did not sign up for. Piemakers do not lead exciting lives.

To Emma, taking him to the morgue was practically her idea of a date.

"This is my new assistant," she tells the morgue guy, and Jesse gives a twitchy, awkward wave of greeting. "He assists me ... by doing assisting things with the things I need assistance with."

"... mmhmmm," says Fincher, the morgue guy, and he continues to eyeball them as Emma pushes Jesse through the door into cold storage.

"Are you sure he's not dead?" Jesse asks in an anxious whisper, and she pulls a face.

"I've never really asked," she goes. "But I don't think it's appropriate if you and him do any kind of touching, so please don't voodoo him and instead voodoo this girl, so we can figure out who killed her." She finds the appropriate locker, running her fingertip along the name card before she grips the handle. She spares a thoughtful look over her shoulder. "Can you voodoo somebody back to life if they've been hacked apart with a weedwhacker?"

Jesse stares at her for a long, incredulous beat, before reeling his head back on his neck, like she's just asked him something mind-blowing, like is maybe God a cat? "I've never tried," he confesses, and starts rolling up his sleeves.

But as a general rule, Jesse sticks to protocol and his own very black-and-white rules regarding the delicate balance of life and death, which the cop in Emma appreciates deeply.

So when she comes up to Jesse's apartment some six months into their new arrangement and it's Andrew Garfield who answers at her knock, his cheeks flushed rosy red and his scrawny chest covered in one of Jesse's most comfortable shirts as well as the jeans Emma may or may not routinely imagine hooking her fingers into when the piemaker wears them, she does a double-take at the sight of him and then another one for good measure. Last time she laid eyes on him, he was face-down at a crime scene, his gut sliced open and his blood trickling like sprinkler run-off into the gutter.

"It's not what it looks like!" Jesse says immediately, and uses a broom handle to maneuver Andrew out of the way so that Emma could step inside. He bolts the door behind her.

Emma stares at Andrew, and Andrew stares at Emma. Jesse stares at them both, back flat to the door. Heimdall watches them all from the top of the bookshelf, vaguely amused by the whole thing.

"Okay," Jesse confesses. "It's exactly what it looks like."

"What happened to your intestines?" is what Emma really wants to know, and she makes a grab for the hem of Andrew's shirt. "Because last I saw, they were spread from here to -- woah," she goes, and batting away Andrew's attempts to pull his shirt back down, she touches the big, broad black stitches that've sewed him shut. Unlike the fruit, when Jesse brings dead people back, they don't become lusciously ripe with life.

"It was either that or industrial-sized staples," mutters Jesse. "Or some kind of body-wrap. We couldn't just have them hanging out wherever he went; they're intestines, not pets to walk around on a leash. Someone might ask questions."

The job kind of looks like it was done by a five-year-old with his grandmother's crochet hooks. "Jesse kind of had to instruct me from a distance," Andrew explains, correctly interpreting her expression.

She blinks up at him, jaw gone slightly askew. "Oh my god, you have a British accent."

"That's actually a fallacious statement," Jesse points out helpfully. "As 'British' is a term used to refer to the people, not necessarily their qualities, so there's no such thing as a 'British' accent. You can say he has an English accent, or a Welsh accent, or an Irish accent, or --"

"Can you say my name?" Emma interrupts, still looking up at Andrew's face.

His eyes flicker over the top of her head to exchange a look with Jesse before they return to hers. "Um," he manages. "It's Emma, isn't it?"

She smiles. "Oooh, that's lovely. Do you think you could read me the phone book sometime?"

"Um," he says again. "I --"

"Maybe without your shirt?" she offers. "Or your pants? Or anything, really. Clothing is completely optional. In fact, clothing is discouraged. Clothing is very discouraged, and you can speak to me any time you --"

"Emma!" Jesse squawks, like her very vocal libido is an embarrassment to him, and somehow that snaps her right back into a frame of mind that does not include ogling the piemaker's latest zombie creation.

She takes one giant step backwards, and snatches Jesse's arm, dragging him in to hiss between her teeth, "You did not just voodoo somebody back to life and let some other person die for it!" He bites his lip guiltily, and she feels her eyes flare wide. "Jesse! I'm a cop, I can't just go ignoring this kind of behavior. Corpse Bride here is supposed to be in the morgue, and somebody else is supposed to be very alive right now and isn't! What's gotten into you?"

"Will it make you feel better if I promise you that I'll never do it again, but --"

"But what?"

"But I kind of haven't seen him since I was eleven and when I was eleven he was the love of my life in that very singular all-encompassing way you love people when you're eleven," Jesse blurts out all in a rush.

Emma blinks, and blinks again, and looks at Andrew, who's looking wide-eyed at Jesse, who's looking wide-eyed at Emma, and --

"Oh," says Emma.

 

-

 

You see, that story begins like this:

When Jesse Eisenberg was a child, he lived in a big, butterscotch-yellow house with his parents, his sisters, and a cat named Heimdall who he couldn't touch unless he wanted Heimdall to go back to being a flattened pancake of a cat. While not necessarily a bad childhood, it was a lonely one for a number of reasons, but Jesse didn't really acknowledge that fact until several years down the line, when he was flat on his back on a very comfortable couch while his therapist enjoyed her dark chocolate and raspberry pie with the hazelnut crust.

Because, you see, Jesse had a boy who lived next door, the same way everybody has a boy who lives next door or across the street or down the block, whose life just seems to be that little bit easier than their own. To Jesse, that boy's name was Andrew Garfield, and to Andrew Garfield, he attached all his inadequacies, his fears, and his burgeoning social phobias, trusting that Andrew could vanquish them in the full light of day.

They were over at each other's houses all the time, the fence gate creaking with their constant back-and-forth; children sneaking each other treats to ruin their dinners with, leaving their phonetics homework and Hebrew worksheets undone on their respective kitchen tables.

Their favorite thing to do together was reenact Disney movies, first with the help of Andrew's impressive VHS collection and then from memory alone, whole swaths of dialogue memorized and regurgitated; Jesse was often relegated to the role of princess, while Andrew galavanted around with a sword made out of a long stick, fighting monsters made out of plush animals and slaying wicked witches that came in the form of Kerri's life-sized Barbie doll, which Kerri routinely dismembered in the name of empowerment, so it wasn't a difficult leap of the imagination. He did all this swashbuckling to earn a kiss from Jesse at the end; the names and plots varied, but the ending never did, Jesse wearing a nightie stolen from Mrs. Garfield's closet and Andrew with armor made out of Dixie paper plates, kissing with tingly, closed-mouth children's kisses in somebody's backyard.

Jesse never minded being the princess. There wasn't anything bad about princesses, he figured, since he thought that movies probably caught them at a very bad point in their lives, during which they were temporarily rendered helpless, and were generally extremely competent the rest of the time. They were princesses.

Besides, he was used to playing princesses: whenever he played with Kerri, she would insist on being the hero and dressing him up in her clothes so that she could come and rescue him. But then Hallie Kate came along, and it turns out that babies are very, very good at lying there and needing to be rescued, so Jesse had to learn how to stop taking such a passive role in his own life.

And then, when they were eleven years old, Andrew's dad died in an unfortunate industrial accident, when the machine his factory used to create the water-absorbant bumps in their signature brand of paper towels crushed him like Quilted Northern.

After the funeral, Jesse and Andrew sat side-by-side in the cemetery, perched on top of a stranger's gravestone. Heels drumming, they watched the sun set over the distant mote of the city, not saying much of anything.

Next to him, Andrew shook like a leaf, trying and failing to hide his fear at the change rushing up on him very fast -- they overheard his mother telling Jesse's that they're going to return to the United Kingdom as soon as Mr. Garfield's things were taken care of (later, his therapist would tell him that under no circumstances should anyone make a major life decision like moving to another continent shortly after the death of a loved one. It was physiologically unsound.) All throughout the funeral, Jesse had thought long and hard about trying to get Andrew a minute alone with his father, so they could say their good-byes, but there were so many things that could go wrong with that that Jesse probably couldn't count them all, not even if he used all his fingers and toes, and Andrew's too.

It left him with the restless urge to do something, though, even if that something couldn't include his fledgling necromantic powers, so Jesse reached out to take his hand and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

Andrew turned inquisitively at the last second, so that their mouths met. It became a kiss when they both pressed closer together, bumbling and trembling with the want of it; chaste, reassuring, like they were just children playing in the garden still.

After that, Jesse never saw Andrew alive again.

Sixteen years later, when he sets foot on American soil for the first time since he left, Andrew throws himself in front of Lily Cole to protect her from a rogue stalker with a very sharp butcher's knife, and winds up with his guts spread half-way down the sidewalk. Very, very deliberately, Jesse makes sure that stalker-turned-killer is in suspiciously close proximity when he strokes his fingertip across Andrew's cheekbone, and just conveniently forgets that one-minute rule.

He gets his childhood knight in Dixie-plated armor back, but.

If at any point Jesse's bare skin comes in contact with Andrew's, then he goes back to being dead, and no amount of kissing will ever wake him up.

 

-

 

You don't really realize just how much two people can possibly touch each other until suddenly you're no longer allowed to.

Even Jesse, with his pathological fear of meaningful contact and a twenty-year practice run with Heimdall, isn't immune to the itch of wanting to drum his fingers against Andrew's shoulder blade while they're in line, or wanting to brush his hair up off his forehead for no good reason, or wanting to overlap each other's sandy toes at the beach. But Andrew, who's never been asked to check an affectionate impulse in his life -- it's debilitating, it's crippling, to give him his childhood sweetheart and tell him, "Don't touch."

It takes him approximately two weeks to come up with a gateway drug; early morning, while Jesse is picking at a blueberry stain on his apron, frowning, Andrew pulls the sheet of clear, plastic saran wrap off of the freshly-made pie and pastes it over Jesse's face, so that he can lean in for a kiss.

Jesse's hands twitch like they're going to go for Andrew's hips, but they remember themselves at the last second and hook behind his back, his fingers coiling around his own thin wrists as he cants the rest of his body forward. He tastes Redi-Whip and brown sugar, but he can feel the heat of Andrew's grown-up lips and his tongue, and whimpers nonetheless.

"Saran wrap, really?" says Emma curiously, when they explain it to her, because Emma's a detective and has no boundaries, and no problem telling them just how much she enjoys picturing them naked.

"Like a condom," Andrew elaborates, ever-helpful. "For our mouths."

Emma tilts her head at Jesse, her brightly-painted lips puckered coyly, but Jesse can feel his cheeks flame with her prurient interest, and he pointedly looks anywhere but them.

When he pictures the rest of his life, it goes a little something like this: he bakes pies and wakes the dead, he owns a cozy little pie shop called Three Point One Four, which has a cat mascot named Heimdall and a barista named Justin who is the closest thing Jesse has to a best friend despite his tendency to embark on spontaneous journeys across the United States to look for national treasure. He runs a side business with a police detective named Emma, and he and his zombified childhood sweetheart spend a lot of time skiing, or scuba-diving, or ice fishing; something where their intimacy comes at the cost of a hazmat suit or, at least, many many layers.

It's okay, that life; he made an impulsive decision when he brought Andrew back from the dead, and he's never going to regret it.

Live a little, you know?

 

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Emma stands between them in the morgue, the way she always does ("this is my ... other ... assistant," she explains to Fincher, who looks at them all steadily and goes, "mmhmm") because sometimes she's their by-proxy hand-holder and hugger, only today she's talking about which dish absolutely must go on the table last.

"The biscuits," she insists. "They only take ten minutes to cook; you don't even need to turn the turkey off once it's done, you can just slide the biscuits in and cook 'em while you're carving the turkey, and who doesn't like piping hot biscuits."

"The gravy, though," Andrew protests. "Gravy congeals if you turn your back for five seconds, everyone knows that. Besides, there's more showmanship in pouring gravy last. Come on."

"Jesse," says Emma, with a nod to diplomacy. "What do you think?"

"What I think doesn't matter, because while you're deciding on all your presentation, I'm going to be blissfully watching the insides of my eyelids. Now, can we?" he gestures to the freezer door.

"Oh, right," goes Emma, like she's forgotten why they're there. "Deep breath, gentlemen, because this one is going to reek," is all the warning she gives them before she grabs the handle and yanks. The body of their latest slides into view, bits of charred flesh flaking off the bones and scattering across the slab.

Andrew goes green around the gills and takes a smart step backwards, but Jesse, who has the higher threshold for gore for understandable reasons, leans over curiously. One arm has been left completely unburnt right above the elbow; a clear line of delineation marks the blackened bits from the rest. "What happened here?" he wants to know.

"They found him in a tanning bed," says Emma, matter-of-fact. "The cops on the scene told me that it looked like an accident; fell asleep, and by the time they found him, he was already --" she waves a hand.

"Extra orange and crispy?" Andrew offers dryly.

"Right," she says. "But I want to ask him if it's murder. What kind of person falls asleep in a tanning bed with their limbs all akimbo?"

"Looks like something I did to a rat when I was thirteen," Jesse comments absently, still studying the corpse. When they both turn to stare at him, he looks up after a beat, and widens his eyes. "What!" he goes. "You didn't know me at thirteen!"

"I really wish I had," Andrew replies, voice dropping like he's suddenly gone shy.

"Hey, Jesse," Emma snaps her fingers in front of his face, and with her other hand, claps a precautionary hand over Andrew's mouth, because his similar experiences with being resurrected from the dead makes him really wordy, and he has a tendency to waste their minute-long window asking about last regrets and thoughts. "Zap the guy! We've got Thanksgiving dinner to shop for, so we better hope he's just a lazy tanner, and that there's no tanning bed killer out on the loose, because murderers make for sucky holidays."

 

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Much, much, much later, when they're standing in the middle of the bike trail, surrounded by a lot of dead grass and looking at the big, gaping hole where the lobby of Jesse's apartment building used to be before the tanning bed killer blew a giant hole in it, rendering Andrew and Jesse temporarily homeless due to unsafe conditions, Emma says succinctly, "Well shit."

Andrew looks up at the smoking building, his brows pulled down to meet in the middle of his forehead, thoughtful. "I wouldn't say that. We can still have Thanksgiving. Jesse," he turns to the shell-shocked piemaker, who blinks up at him in a vague way. "Don't you have some turkey shepherd pie still in the freezer?"

Jesse sees where he's going with that immediately. "Spinach pie, too," he says. "For a vegetable."

"And we know you have about seventeen thousand kinds of desert pie," finishes Emma, her eyes widening with the prospect.

Andrew voices what they're all thinking. "An entire Thanksgiving meal, made out of pie, and waiting for us at Three Point One Four, ready to go!"

Jesse stares at him for a very, very long moment, before he says in a throaty voice, "Emma?"

"Yes, Jesse?" Emma says with a grin. She still smells like the accelerant the tanning bed killer poured all over her with the full intention of blowing her up in the apartment building.

"I really need you to kiss Andrew for me right now."

Emma punches the air in victory, letting loose some kind of undignified squeal and maybe even dancing on the spot, but whatever. "I thought you'd never ask!" she goes, giddily, and flings her arms around Andrew's neck in order to plant one on him. Andrew steadies them, arms going around Emma's waist, and he angles his head to kiss her back and kiss her deeper. The piemaker watches them without shame, his belly aching with the promise of good food and his heart full with the simple happiness of having someone to share it with.

 

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fin