I can’t believe I wrote 22k words about socks and cats and tea. Nothing happens in this story; please don’t read this thinking something is going to happen, because nothing happens. (Well, okay harriet_vane says love happens, which is true, but nothing else happens.)
This is an AU where TSN never happened and Andrew, Jesse, Justin and Emma all happen to live in the same building in New York.
Title: Nowhere Else On Earth That I Would Rather Be (also on AO3)
Pairing: Andrew Garfield/Jesse Eisenberg
Word count: 21.5k
Author’s notes: With huge, huge thanks to harriet_vane for audiencing this while I was writing it, going through it afterwards to make Jesse sound American and putting up with my aversion to question marks.
“Come on, come on, come on,” Andrew begs the tumble dryer, watching the clothes inside roll around, placid and slow. “Please?” he adds hopefully.
It doesn’t do any good. The tumble dryer seems immune to his charms and the extra quarter, which he jingles at it like a promise, goes ignored.
The laundry room is in the basement and it’s fucking freezing. It’s also dark, creepy and probably haunted. Andrew would really like to get out of here.
“I think it prefers interpretive dance,” says a voice out of the darkness behind him and Andrew yelps, jumping a mile in the air and spinning around.
There’s a boy about Andrew’s age sitting on top of one of the silent washing machines, reading a book.
“Holy shit,” Andrew breathes, pressing his hand over his pounding heart. “Are you a ghost?”
The boy looks down at himself like he’s considering it then shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I’m waiting for my laundry to finish.”
All the machines but Andrew’s are silent. “I think it’s finished,” Andrew says, trying to be helpful. He can still feel his pulse beating in his throat and he wonders how long the guy’s been down here. Considering Andrew was practicing his latest audition piece while he was putting his washing on earlier, he hopes not too long.
“Oh.” The guy hops down from the washing machine. He’s a little shorter than Andrew and more sensibly dressed - well, he has shoes on, at least. Andrew wishes he’d thought of that. He bends down and starts to unload clothes from the dryer next to Andrew’s. “I was reading. I, um. It. It was a good chapter.”
Andrew can’t imagine getting so sucked into a story that he’d spend more time that necessary down here but, well, each to his own and all that. He shuffles a bit on the cold floor, trying to get feeling back into the tips of his toes.
Book Guy straightens up, laundry bag clutched in both hands and his book tucked under his elbow. “Your toes are purple,” he observes.
Andrew hops a little, lifting one foot to rub the gritty sole against the top of his other foot. Book Guy is watching, frowning, so Andrew feels the need to explain. “I was wearing socks but they were my last pair so I thought I’d better bung them in with the rest of the washing.”
Book Guy just frowns harder. Andrew fidgets; he didn’t think it was that weird. In fact, he’d been quite proud of his practicality. “You only have one pair of socks?”
Andrew shrugs. “I did have more but I think the washing machine eats them, so.” He waggles his bare toes in demonstration.
Book Guy shakes his head again. “That’s not right,” he says and whether he means Andrew’s feet, Andrew in general or the sock-eating washing machine, Andrew doesn’t get a chance to find out because his tumble dryer picks that moment to start juddering alarmingly. By the time Andrew has convinced it not to blow up, Book Guy is gone.
Andrew’s flat is one of three on the fifth floor of a slightly rundown building in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. When his mum phones, he tells her things like the amazing view (of a brick wall) and the friendly neighbours (a guy called Joe lives on one side; he always seems to be so full of energy that Andrew wonders if he’s on something though he seems nice enough. Andrew isn’t sure anyone lives in the flat on the other side, but if they do, they’re nocturnal). He never tells her about the four a.m. fire alarms or the haunted laundry room.
He also doesn’t tell her about the nine million auditions he’s gone to in the past three months or the measly three call backs. Well, he tells her about the callbacks, but not what proportion they make of the whole. It’s bad enough trying to convince her that no, he shouldn’t give up and come home, without telling her that he’s barely working out here.
Andrew wakes up early three mornings after the tumble dryer incident, stumbling blearily around his flat and scalding his mouth when he tries to down a cup of coffee straight after making it. He doesn’t have time to wait for it to cool, he’s already late and he needs to catch a train.
He lets himself out of his flat and nearly falls over a small, brown paper bag which slides down from his door handle and skids under his feet.
“Okay,” Andrew says to himself, bending and picking it up. He pokes it a little dubiously but nothing squeaks or squelches and Andrew is curious by nature so he pulls the handles apart and peers inside.
There’s a balled up mess of lumpy-looking green fabric which, when Andrew takes it out and unballs it, turns out to be a pair of slightly uneven socks. Huh.
“Thank you?” Andrew says, confused, to the empty corridor. He looks around but no one is lying in wait watching him and he is horribly late so he just stuffs the socks into his bag and carries on out of the building at a run.
That evening, after another long and probably unsuccessful day of running the same lines over and over again, Andrew sprawls out on his creaky old sofa and holds the socks above his head, examining them.
He thinks they might be homemade. One is definitely a little longer in the toe than the other and there are a few stray ends trailing out of the heel. But when he pulls them on, they’re soft and warm and he wiggles his toes happily.
Andrew isn’t stupid, he’s sure he knows where the socks came from. It would be really weird to tell the Book Guy in the laundry room his sock-related woes one day and for a new pair of socks to arrive on his doorstep a couple of days later and have that not be connected.
What he doesn’t know is why.
After quickly calculating the time difference - and then deciding to call anyway - Andrew digs his phone out of his pocket and scrolls through his recent call log.
“What if I’d been sleeping?” Matt answers, sounding curious rather than annoyed.
“Were you?” Andrew asks.
Matt hums. “Well, no. There’s a rather fascinating documentary on the Belfast Blitz being repeated on the telly in half an hour so I slept the day away instead.”
There’s the clatter of a spoon against a cup. He’s probably drinking coffee. When they lived together, Andrew was always getting up mid-morning to find that Matt had started reading the dictionary in the middle of the night and hadn’t gone to bed yet.
“So, young Andrew,” Matt says. “How’s the Big Apple?”
“I think my neighbour knitted me some socks,” Andrew says. It sounds ridiculous when he says it, but Andrew never really minds sounding ridiculous.
“Is that a euphemism?” Matt asks. “You could have told me. I’m sure Isherwood knitted a lot of socks, if you know what I mean.”
Andrew laughs. “No, it’s not a euphemism.”
Matt is the most successful of Andrew’s group of friends. Well, Matt is the Doctor, successful is something of an understatement. While he was filming the Christopher Isherwood biopic, he kept phoning Andrew and his other queer friends, trying to get an inside scoop.
“So,” Matt says, dragging it out. “Your neighbour actually knitted you some socks? Is she a ninety-year-old grandmother?”
“No, he’s um. He’s about my age, I think. I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t him, but I was telling him how I didn’t have any socks left and now I have socks, so.”
Matt hums. “That’s an interesting courtship ritual,” he says. “In some cultures, that may even mean you’re married.”
“Oh shut up,” Andrew says. “I don’t think he fancies me or anything, I think he just thinks I’m a crazy person.”
“You are a crazy person,” Matt assures him, in what Andrew is fairly sure is a fond way. “What are you going to get him?”
Andrew’s been pondering this. It’s horribly bad manners to leave a present unreciprocated. “The problem is that I don’t know where he lives. It’s a big building.” He pauses, thinking. “Actually, I don’t know how he knew where I live either.”
Matt chuckles cheerfully. “Oh, fantastic, you have a stalker. Which I’d love to stop and talk to you about, of course, but I have to make myself a sandwich before my programme starts and this call is probably costing you a fortune, so with that cheery thought, I’ll say good night.”
“Wait,” Andrew says because he needs someone to help him work this out, but Matt’s already gone. “Bye,” Andrew says sadly.
He brings his feet together, peeling the socks back from his ankles in the hope that some kind of clue is stitched into the hem, like the name tags his mum used to sew into his school uniform. No such luck.
“Where did you come from?” Andrew asks them. Weirdly, the socks don’t answer.
He has nothing to do the next day but wait for a call from the people he auditioned for yesterday. Since they probably aren’t going to call him at all, this leaves him with a lot of time on his hands.
After lunch, he ventures downstairs to the ground floor and the flat where the building owners’ granddaughter lives and cautiously knocks on the door.
“Hello, number 412!” she says, pulling the door open and beaming at him. She’s wearing a white silk dressing gown and a goopy green face mask.
“Um,” Andrew says, “Shall I come back later?”
“No, no, dude.” She waves him in. There’s a bottle of wine unopened on her living room table and a worrying amount of bunny ears, cat tails and handcuffs spread across the sofa.
“Really, I could come back,” Andrew tells her. “It’s okay. It isn’t urgent.”
She folds her arms across her chest. “412, you’ve lived here three months and you haven’t come to see me once. Of course it’s urgent.”
“Well, I suppose,” Andrew says, sitting on the corner of the sofa. “Miss Stone...”
“Emma,” she interrupts him. “Really, 412, there’s no need to be so formal.”
“It’s Andrew,” he tells her, even though he’s pretty sure she knows that. “I was just wondering if you could help me identify one of the other tenants?”
Emma scratches at the tip of her nose, revealing a patch of pink skin under her face mask. “Has Justin broken into your apartment?” she asks (worryingly). “He does that sometimes. It doesn’t mean he wants to eat your spleen or anything.”
“Um, no,” Andrew says, making a mental note to avoid anyone who looks like they might be called Justin. He really hopes Book Guy isn’t Justin. “I met a boy in the laundry room and he” knitted me some socks “lent me some washing powder but I didn’t get his name to pay him back.”
“All right.” She sits down next to him, body turned toward him like she’s really paying attention. “Tell me about your mystery boy.”
Andrew does. When he gets to the part with the book, she claps her hands, grinning. “Oh that’s Jesse,” she says, then frowns. “Wait, how do you not already know Jesse?”
“Should I?” Andrew asks, confused. He wonders if Jesse really is the laundry room ghost.
“Well,” Emma says slowly. “Yeah, 412, you really should. Since he lives in 411.”
Andrew blinks at her. 411 is the flat next door to his. The one that isn’t Hyper Joe’s. The one that Andrew has never seen anyone go in or out of. “I thought that flat was empty?”
“‘Flat’,” she mimics quietly in a semi-decent impression of Andrew’s accent, and, “Yeah, Jesse gets that a lot.” She bounces to her feet, scratching the edge of her face mask again. “Now, I have people coming around in a couple of hours, so you should go see Jesse, now, okay? Okay. Bye.”
“Okay,” Andrew agrees. He really wants to ask what sort of party involves bunny ears and handcuffs, but that’s none of his business, so he doesn’t. “Thank you for the help.”
Emma waves him away. “That’s what I’m here for, baby,” she tells him. “Come back whenever. Well, not tomorrow morning. Maybe call first. But you’re totally always welcome otherwise.”
Back out in the hallway, Andrew blinks a couple of times and then makes his way to the stairwell. Jesse, he thinks. Jesse’s a good name. And apparently Andrew has been sharing a living room wall with him for months. That has to be significant somehow.
No one answers when Andrew knocks on Jesse’s front door. The 411 on the door is a little dusty but the spyglass is clean and polished. Andrew waves, just in case Jesse is watching him. Disappointed, because it would be nice to be better friends with his neighbours, Andrew goes back to his own flat.
A little while later, soft music starts playing from next door, drifting through Andrew’s balcony windows, the first time that Andrew has heard any sound from 411. The song is On The Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady. Andrew has no idea if it’s a message to him - almost definitely not - but he finds himself grinning anyway.
The next day, Andrew still hasn’t heard back about his audition so he decides to drown his sorrows by going food shopping. He likes going to the supermarket; he likes being around people and he likes picking the grumpiest-looking cashier and seeing if he can make them smile.
He wanders down the home baking aisle looking for sugar and instead stumbles upon an idea. At the end of the aisle are cards with baking recipes; he rakes through until he finds something both easy and delicious-sounding and pulls out a recipe for chocolate brownies.
Buoyed by having something to do beyond being depressed by his lack of career, Andrew gathers up the ingredients, finishes his shopping and pays. (The kid behind the counter is giggling by the time Andrew finishes checking out; Andrew smiles all the way home.)
It turns out that baking is much harder than it looks - it reminds Andrew of chemistry lessons back at school and he was always a disaster at chemistry - but eventually he manages to produce something vaguely brownie-like, and he shuts it away gratefully in the oven for half an hour.
While he’s waiting, he starts to make himself a cup of coffee then nearly scalds himself when his phone rings. It’s the casting director from yesterday. Andrew nods and hums in the right places while she rattles through the usual platitudes of ‘not quite what we’re looking for’ and ‘obviously very talented’ and ‘sure you’ll find work soon’.
Andrew thanks her, hangs up and throws the phone across the room (making sure that it hits the carpet in the hall since he can’t afford to replace it). He sits down hard on the kitchen floor, leaning back against the oven.
“Gah!” he snaps, loud and frustrated and thumps his head back against the warm oven door.
By the time the brownies are done, Andrew has forced himself to get over his disappointment. He does comfort himself by stealing one square of brownie though - well, it’s half to comfort himself and half to make sure that they’re not completely disgusting.
They’re not. Actually, they taste really nice. Andrew is unbelievably pleased with himself. Maybe if no one ever hires him for another acting role, he can pack it all in and open a bakery.
Once he’s finished cutting the brownies into squares, he slides them carefully into a box and hunts around for a piece of paper to scribble a note.
Thank you so much for the socks! You didn’t have to do that but my toasty-warm toes thank you.
Here are some brownies, baked by my own fair hand. You don’t have to eat them, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile, so it would be nice if you did.
Three days later, Andrew finds the box he used for the brownies waiting for him on his doorstep. It’s been washed clean and another pair of socks - red this time - is folded up inside.
Andrew picks it up and smiles. He turns toward Jesse’s door, fingers tingling with the urge to knock, but before he can, he hears a shuffle-thump sound, like someone has suddenly jumped away from where they were standing and are now pressed against the wall.
“Thank you,” Andrew says instead, speaking to Jesse’s closed front door. He waves just in case Jesse is still watching through his spyglass.
Andrew has four auditions on four different mornings that week - one a call back, even - so he doesn’t get much of a chance to think about what to buy for Jesse.
On Friday evening, he drags himself home, barely making it up the stairs in his exhaustion. He can no longer tell how any of the auditions have gone; all he knows is that they have gone and he’s pleased about that. Andrew’s natural demeanour is fairly positive and he always makes sure to ramp that up to genuinely enthusiastic when meeting new people. An entire week of that and getting nothing in return is dispiriting.
There’s something sitting on Andrew’s mat. It’s not his turn and that’s not very fair but he still grabs it up greedily, turning it in his hands.
It’s a travel mug. One of those fancy ceramic ones with the screw-on metal lids. It’s cool and sleek and it’s ridiculous but he cannot stop grinning as he turns it around in his hands. There’s even a silly slogan on the front: don’t trust gravity, it’ll only bring you down.
Andrew is charmed.
Curious, he unscrews the lid and - yes! - there’s a note this time.
“J E,” Andrew reads, touching his fingertip to the initials. “Thank you, J E.”
He unlocks his front door quickly and dashes across his flat, looking for a pen. Turning Jesse’s note over, he quickly scribbles:
He contemplates sticking it to Jesse’s door, but he’d hate it if someone else were to read it before Jesse could. It’s a silly note, but it’s for Jesse, no one else, and Andrew for some reason feels the need to guard him jealously.
He bends down and slides the note under the door. He feels very bold, like he’s breaching Jesse’s private space and hopes Jesse won’t mind. He taps lightly on the door as he straightens up, just so that Jesse will know the note’s there. From inside, he hears a cat meow, quickly joined by another.
Grinning, Andrew meanders back to his own flat. Now he knows two more things about Jesse: he’s awake in the mornings to watch Andrew leave, and he owns cats. Those are habits Andrew can support.
The next present choice is obvious. Andrew spends over an hour in the cat aisle at his local pet shop, trying out all the cat toys they offer. It’s great fun; if acting doesn’t work out, Andrew may contemplate life as a cat.
“That one’s great,” says a girl from down the other end of the aisle. She’s wearing a checked shirt over a tiny summer dress and heavy ankle boots, holding a black dog collar in her hands.
“I’m sorry?” Andrew says automatically, even though he heard her.
She clomps down the aisle toward him. “That toy,” she says, pointing to the motorised paper bag he’s holding. “It’s great. Makes cats crazy.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Andrew says, putting it back.
The girl laughs. “That was supposed to be a selling point.”
“Oh, I know,” Andrew says quickly. “But I’m looking for something for my - ” It feels weird to say friend, but if Jesse’s not his friend, Andrew doesn’t know what he is. “For my neighbour’s cats and he probably wouldn’t appreciate me making them crazy.”
“Right,” she says, nodding and starting to move away. “I’ll stop making unhelpful suggestions then.”
“Wait,” Andrew says. “Sorry. I’m really at a loss here.” He puts down the bag toy and holds up a little felt mouse, making it bounce-bounce on its little elastic string. He gets a whiff of what he thinks might be catnip and tries not to sneeze. He widens his eyes, trying to look helpless and lost and, after a minute, she laughs and shakes her head.
“Okay,” she says. “But if this scores you a date with your neighbour, then I expect you to track me down and give me flowers.”
“Oh, I - ” Andrew hesitates. He should say that he’s not looking to score a date with Jesse, he should definitely say that. It would be wrong to presume anything from this strange present-giving ritual they’re involved in. But he hesitates too long and then all he says is, “Deal.”
In the end, Andrew buys an embarrassing number of cute, fluffy toys, some on strings, some on poles, but all of them wearing adorable cartoon expressions that he simply couldn’t resist. He probably shouldn’t have spent so much money to be honest, not when he’s already subsisting on instant noodles, but they’re cute toys for (potentially) cute cats belonging to a (certainly) cute boy. Andrew can scrimp and save a little for that.
Andrew spends a troubling amount of time lurking around on the landing between his door and Jesse’s, wondering if he should just leave the toys there or write another note or maybe even brave knocking and see if Jesse will answer this time.
Eventually, he hears a soft sigh and the shifting of floorboards and realises that he’s not the only one waiting for him to make up his mind. He hangs the bag over Jesse’s doorknob then presses his hand to the slightly scratched wood.
“It would be lovely to see your face again, one day,” he says, tapping the door lightly. “No pressure or anything. Just, if your face were ever passing my door, it would be welcome to stop and say hi.”
There’s silence. Andrew wasn’t really expecting an answer, but he still waits for one, just in case.
Just when he’s about to give up, Jesse clears his throat, the sound travelling easily through the door. “Brace yourself, then,” he says.
Nothing happens for long enough that Andrew starts to wonder if maybe that was it. “Um, Jesse? I’m braced.”
“Well, I’m not,” Jesse says but he opens the door. He’s wearing a dark blue hoodie and big-framed glasses and, together, they do fantastic things to his bright blue eyes.
“Oh,” Andrew says. “Hello.”
Jesse tucks his hands into the front pockets of his hoodie and nods, jerkily. “Yes, hi. Hello. You, um. You were lurking.”
Andrew’s face wants to break into the widest grin the world has ever known. He doesn’t even know why, really. Just... Jesse is here, talking to him face to face, and after a week of notes and presents, that feels like a huge step.
“I was lurking,” Andrew agrees. “I do that. Shocking habit. You should report me to security.”
Jesse ducks his head. “I’m not sure where you think you live,” he says. “The most security this building has is Emma with a rolling pin.”
Copying Jesse’s example, Andrew sticks his hands in his back pockets hoping that that way he won’t spontaneously reach out and grab Jesse’s arm. He does that when he’s enjoying someone but Jesse’s only half out of his flat, he’d probably dart straight back inside if Andrew engaged in unauthorised touching.
“Yes, but Emma’s fucking scary,” Andrew says, widening his eyes in faux-horror.
Jesse smiles slightly, a soft upward sweep of closed lips. “She’s great,” he says and there’s obviously a whole load of stuff there that Andrew knows nothing about. Jesse starts to shuffle. “Um, you’ve. You’ve hung a bag from Pet Smart on my door. Why do I get a feeling this is not for me?”
“It’s for your cats,” Andrew says, feeling a little bit foolish for the first time. “And now I’m really hoping that you do have cats. If you don’t, that’s going to be embarrassing.”
Jesse’s eyes are wide. “I do have cats,” he agrees. “They don’t usually get gifts though. Well, from me they do, but not from handsome British strangers; you’ll spoil them.”
“You think I’m handsome?” Andrew asks. He knows he shouldn’t, that it’ll probably make Jesse clam up, but he’s pleased so he can’t stop himself.
Jesse shakes his head. “I said my cats would think you were handsome. And there’s no accounting for feline taste, so.” He’s blushing, his cheeks and the bridge of his nose turning a dark, fascinating pink. He fumbles the bag off the door handle and holds it between them like a shield he’s considering raising. “I’m going to go give it to them, then. Okay? So, I’ll... go?”
Stay, Andrew thinks. “Okay,” he says. “Tell them that I hope they like it. And that I’d love to meet them someday.”
“Oh, um.” Jesse takes a step back. “My cats never leave my apartment so, um. But maybe they’ll write you a note.” He frowns. “Or not. But thank you.” He’s still talking when he closes the door.
“You’re welcome!” Andrew calls, not even a little bit sarcastic, and goes back to his flat, humming happily.
“So,” Matt says on the phone that night. “When I joked that you’d found yourself a stalker, what I should have been worried about was that you’d become a stalker.”
Andrew wrinkles his nose and tucks his toes under the sofa cushions. He’s wearing the red socks Jesse gave him, but he’s still freezing. New York is cold and apparently trying to save money by turning the heating off is a bad idea.
“I’m not stalking him,” Andrew protests. “How can I be stalking him? He lives next door. Plus he’s only opened his door once; I don’t even think he likes me.”
Matt hums. Andrew hates it when he does that. “Did you ask him why he hides in his flat?” he asks. “That might help you get into his flat.”
“I don’t want...” Andrew does want to get into Jesse’s flat. Obviously. Andrew is apparently setting himself up for life of being embarrassingly happy every time he gets to interact with Jesse at all. “I don’t want to trick my way in,” he finally settles on.
He shivers hard and goes into the kitchen to turn on the kettle for tea. He feels like his grandmother who never turned her central heating on and always offered him a nice cup of tea instead, even when he was on the brink of hypothermia.
Matt makes a cross noise in Andrew’s ear but Andrew doesn’t think it’s directed at him. He turns out to be right when Matt mutters, “The damn mice have got into the Alpen again.”
Andrew doesn’t ask why Matt is eating cereal in the middle of the night. “You have mice?” he asks, shuddering automatically. Andrew isn’t a fan of tiny, crawly things. “Matt, you know you’re a big star now, right? You can probably move out of the hovel.”
Matt still lives in the house Andrew used to share with him. It’s the kind of house that even students would run from in terror, but Matt likes it and, well, Andrew misses it rather a lot at the moment.
Matt sniffs. “Now where would be the fun in that?” he asks. “The mice and I are having a battle of wills, but I’ll rise supreme in the end. After all, I’m the Doctor.”
Andrew laughs. “You need a doctor,” he says then stops, muttering, “Shh,” into the phone when Matt tries to protest. He can hear someone talking outside his door or, not talking, shouting. Andrew turns the kettle off to hear better and moves over to the front door. “I’ll call you back,” he says and hangs up.
He unlocks his door quickly and sticks his head out into the hall. Jesse is standing in the middle of the landing, ringing his hands and looking miserable. He jumps and bites his lip when he sees Andrew watching him but doesn’t dart back into his flat at least.
“One of my cats got out,” he says before Andrew can ask. “I’ve called him and called him but I can’t find him.”
“Oh no,” Andrew says, closing his door behind himself and coming to stand next to Jesse. “Can I help?”
Jesse looks torn but apparently his cats take priority over hiding from his neighbours so, “Yes, please,” he says. He points at the stairwell where the door is always propped open. “I was going to check the roof. Could you, would you mind checking to see if he went downstairs?”
“Of course,” Andrew says immediately. “What’s his name?”
“Orwell,” Jesse tells him. “I haven’t had him very long and I’m pretty sure he hates me. He’s probably been formulating his escape plan since he arrived.”
He looks so genuinely miserable that Andrew reaches out and squeezes his shoulder before he can stop himself. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll find him,” and bounds down into the stairwell.
Andrew maybe has a few frustrated super-hero tendencies.
It doesn’t take long to find Orwell, much to Andrew’s surprise. He’s pressed into a corner between the third and second floor staircases, eyes flashing a creepy, haunted gold in the semi-dark.
“Hi, kitty,” Andrew coos, kneeling down in front of him and holding out a hand.
Orwell swishes his long brown tail and ducks his head down low.
“Jesse!” Andrew calls up the stairs, but there’s no answer. Jesse must still be checking out the roof. He turns his attention back to Orwell. “Okay, it’s okay. We’ll have you home in no time.”
He shuffles closer, trying to keep up a steady stream of reassuring nonsense. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with cats but people tend to like Andrew so hopefully animals will too. It’s all going surprisingly well and Andrew gets one hand on Orwell’s head, stroking the soft fur between his ears. He leans forward, trying to slide his other hand under Orwell’s belly to pick him up and...
Orwell somehow manages to whip his head around so fast that Andrew can’t react, sinking his teeth into Andrew’s palm and claws into his wrist.
“Ow, fuck,” Andrew snaps, taken completely by surprise but he holds on; he’s not losing Jesse’s cat now he’s found him. He lifts the hissing, flailing bundle of claws and starts to carry him upstairs, holding him away from his body, like Johnny Wilkinson about to take a try. “That’s not nice at all. I bought you presents, you know. And I mean, you may think that they were just a way to get on Jesse’s good side - ” The cat spits. “All right, they were mostly a way to get on Jesse’s good side, but it’s not like you didn’t still benefit.”
They’ve reached their floor and Andrew turns awkwardly, shouldering through the half-open door. Jesse is back now, talking to a tall shaven-headed guy who Andrew doesn’t recognise. Andrew can’t hear what they’re saying but he hears Jesse say, “Andrew,” and it makes the embarrassing parts of his heart turn over.
“Hey, look what I’ve found,” he calls and Jesse swings around.
“Orwell,” Jesse cries and shuffles over quickly, lips quirking when he sees how Andrew is carrying the cat before taking him out of Andrew’s hands and cuddling him close - the cat, not Andrew. Sadly. “I told you he’d find him,” Jesse calls happily to the guy he was talking to and Andrew tries not to looks too pleased.
The guy nods solemnly and throws Andrew a salute before disappearing up the stairs in the direction of the roof.
“That’s Justin,” Jesse says. “He was telling me how the ancient Egyptians believed that cats were protected by the goddess Bast because they guarded the sun at night.” He shrugs. “I think he was trying to be reassuring.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Andrew agrees, just glad that he’s no longer the one holding this particular sun protector. “Does the goddess Bast spend much time in New York city?”
“Oh yeah, tons,” Jesse says, “I see her in the deli on Brooklyn Avenue all the time.” Orwell meows and Jesse shushes him, putting his cheek down against the top of the cat’s head. He squirms, clearly confused about the fuss but Jesse holds on tight. “Thank you for finding him. He, um. He’s not good with people.”
“Obviously,” Andrew says, holding up his scratched hand. It’s actually bleeding quite a lot, which he hadn’t realised until now.
Jesse goes abruptly pale. “Oh my god,” he says faintly. “Orwell, you’re a terrible cat. Hang on.” Andrew isn’t sure if Jesse’s telling him to hang on or Orwell, but he does anyway, watching as Jesse turns and pushes his door open, dropping Orwell inside before closing if firmly behind him and turning back to Andrew. “Do you have gauze and bandaids and things?”
“I have plasters,” Andrew offers. “But I’m fine. It’s fine. Barely a scratch, see?” He waggles his fingers quickly at Jesse, noticing as he does so that Orwell has also ripped a decent-sized hole in Andrew’s fingerless gloves. Damn.
Jesse frowns. “I would die of guilt if you developed cat-scratch fever after rescuing my evil monster.” He hovers uncertainly in front of Andrew’s door. “Please?”
Predictably, Andrew caves immediately. It’s not as if he doesn’t want to leap at the chance to have Jesse in his flat, but it’s not exactly butch and heroic to make a fuss about a couple of cat scratches. Andrew would really like Jesse to look on him as someone he can rely on, someone who can protect him from whatever it is he’s scared of when he hides behind his front door, not coming out.
Andrew lets Jesse in and resists the urge to wish he’d cleaned up a little. Andrew is naturally rather messy; if they’re going to be friends, Jesse will probably discover that eventually anyway. Andrew really hopes they’re going to be friends.
“So why does your cat hate humanity?” he asks, ducking into the bathroom to wash the blood off his hands.
“He had a traumatic kittenhood,” Jesse tells him, much closer than Andrew was expecting. He’s followed Andrew into the bathroom and is standing awkwardly against the doorframe, looking back over his shoulder every couple of seconds like he wants to check that his escape route is still clear. Still, he’s here and that will do Andrew.
“Oh no, what happened?” Andrew cautiously peels off his gloves and makes a face at the three tiny, bleeding punctures in his palm.
“Some kids put him in a plastic bag and left him dangling off the fire escape. Let me see that.” Jesse steps forward and reaches for Andrew’s hand, dropping his hand before he makes contact and hiding it behind his back like it was acting without authorisation.
Andrew holds his hand up for inspection. “What do you think, Doctor Jesse? Will I live?”
Jesse smiles faintly. “Hmm, it’s touch and go,” he says. He looks around the bathroom. “Do you have antiseptic?”
What Andrew has is an ancient, nearly full bottle of TCP which his mum hid in his suitcase when he was packing to move. It’s tricky to pull it out of the cupboard with blood gummy fingers but he manages it. After that though, Jesse has to take over, taking the bottle out of Andrew’s hand and unscrewing the lid. He takes a cautious sniff and makes a face.
“Oh my god, that’s smells illegal.”
Andrew laughs. “Well, I wouldn’t advise drinking it,” he says, watching unashamedly the way Jesse’s long fingers work quickly and deftly to splash TCP onto some toilet paper and then curl around Andrew’s hand, holding him still while he dabs carefully at the scratches.
Andrew bites his lips closed, determined not to hiss. “See,” he says, concentrating on the warm press of Jesse’s fingertips against the back of his hand. “Barely a scratch.”
Jesse hums. “Yes, you’re being very brave,” he says, distracted. “I’ll make sure you get a reward after.” Andrew can’t help the laugh that escapes, even though he tries to turn it into a cough, and Jesse goes bright red. “Oh god, no. I meant, like. I meant, like candies or a sticker or something like they give kids in the ER.”
Andrew takes a deep breath and manages to stop laughing. “It’s okay,” he promises. “Really. I didn’t think you were propositioning me over the bathroom sink.”
Jesse is still flushed, but more pink than red now and he manages half a smile. “This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to talk to people,” he mutters. “Bandaids?”
Andrew shows him where the box is then holds still while Jesse wraps long plasters around his fingers and sticks a big, square one over the centre of his palm.
“Thank you.” Andrew flexes his fingers, thankful that he doesn’t have the sort of job where he needs to type. “I feel all looked after now.”
Jesse drags his teeth along his bottom lip. “That’s, um. Good.” He lets go of Andrew’s hand, backing up. “I should go. I need to make sure Orwell hasn’t dug his way out again or staged a coup or something.”
“Wait,” Andrew says, following Jesse out of the bathroom. “Will you let me take you out for a coffee to say thank you?”
“No,” Jesse says, sounding horrified and turning to stare at Andrew. His eyes are huge.
Okay then, Andrew thinks, so he read that one completely wrong. “It’s okay,” he says quickly, trying not to show how disappointed he is. “Sorry. I didn’t mean...”
Jesse shakes his head. “I meant. I just meant. I meant you don’t need to thank me. I was thanking you for finding the devil cat.” Jesse has his hands shoved in his pocket and he’s backed up against the door like he thinks he has to escape now or Andrew will ask him out again.
Andrew is not actually a masochist though, so he just says, “In that case, you’re welcome,” and lets Jesse out. He stays in the doorway until Jesse disappears into his own flat and he hears him start to scold Orwell again.
“Ugh,” Andrew groans. God, he has such a crush, and apparently it’s completely one-sided. He throws himself down onto the sofa and tries to smother himself in the ancient, probably flea-ridden cushions.