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.