Summary: A whimsical story about a butterfly and its accidental encounter with a man whose extraordinary powers can both give and take away. 'Spoilers' for the first few episodes, technically. Ned/Chuck, naturally!
Disclaimer: Not mine, but a girl can dream.
Note: As I've only seen a few episodes, I was confused as to the nature of Ned's gift. His reluctance to touch Olive plus the scene in the pilot where he's testing on the fireflies led me to believe that it was more proactive than it really is--turns out, the story's premise is wrong, here. Still, if you can enjoy it as it is, that'd be great!
At this moment, a rather beautiful but doomed butterfly is swooping and fluttering around a very oddly shaped building, with no idea that in a few brief minutes, its life will be snuffed out by circumstance. Despite every good intention on the part of its inadvertent killer, this delicate creature will, on a whim, land gently on a young man's exposed skin twice and shortly thereafter, drop dead of sheer bad luck.
The fact that the butterfly's life-span was reaching its apex will not prove to be much consolation to the insect once deceased, nor will it derive much comfort from being the subject of an argument between its accidental assassin and the woman he loves.
Blissfully ignorant of its fate, the butterfly floats elegantly downward, spying a particularly comfortable-looking perch not far from a very tasty-looking flower. It is five days, twenty-three minutes, and forty-six seconds old, and will grow no older.
Burdened by a surprisingly heavy bouquet of wildflowers, the Pie Maker stood nervously outside his business and tried not to fidget. Not normally the type to resort to such mundane acts as buying a woman flowers, he'd rationalized his choice by reminding himself that there were far more dangerous gifts (anything smaller, for example, would have necessitated his wearing gloves, which would undoubtedly ruin the effect of a gift such as jewelry). Given Chuck's love of bees, a present of multi-colored wildflowers couldn't fail to be both thoughtful and affectionate, Ned thought proudly. The only obstacle now was the challenge of introducing his gift in a way that wasn't pushy--and didn't include the need of a box of tissues for his employee and neighbor. Olive was allergic to wildflowers, and as she already seemed a bit put out with him lately, that was a situation that he preferred not to inflame further.
"Oh, there you are!" Chuck said graciously, having spied him through the front window a few minutes ago and been completely unsuccessful in her attempts to beckon him inside. Ned smiled broadly at her and opened his mouth to tell her about his spur-of-the-moment decision to buy her flowers, but before he could vocalize anything, he felt the brush of something soft on his hand.
"Oh, a butterfly!" she said, leaning over to look at his hand more closely. Ned's hand twitched in surprise, dislodging his surprise visitor, who unfortunately decided to reposition itself on his hand, fatally. He looked down to see a colorful bit of something tumbling end-over-end toward the ground, and assumed that the insect had flown away and that the fallen object was merely a flower petal. The Pie Maker looked back up at Chuck, smiling.
This was unfortunate, because Chuck's eyes had been caught by the butterfly before she'd seen his flowers, which made the event of the past minute much more traumatic for her than it probably should have been.
"How could you smile? You just killed a butterfly!" she exclaimed, falling to her knees to cradle the creature in complete disregard for both the hardness of the concrete sidewalk and the flimsiness of her dress bodice. The Pie Maker had to focus his attention with a severity of internal discipline to ensure that he didn't make the situation worse by staring.
"Well--" he began, frowning as he looked at the immobile insect nestled in her delicate hands. "I didn't mean to..."
"Well, touch it again!" Chuck demanded, getting to her feet and proffering the poor creature as though she expected him to have no problem in reanimating it. "You just about lured it to an untimely death, anyway," she added, nodding at the flowers he still held cradled in his arms.
Ned thought that this was a particularly frustrating turn of events, given the difficulty of procuring wildflowers in the city at this time of year. Looking up at the roof full of pigeons, the two squirrels chasing each other on the sidewalk nearby, and thinking about the wealth of wildlife just out of sight, Ned shook his head firmly at the woman in front of him.
"No way," he said, burying his hands in his sleeves and stepping back. "That one was an accident--this would be deliberate."
"Not malicious, though," Chuck said, though her voice held less enthusiasm than she'd spoken with at first. "This time, you'd just be fixing a--"
"Do you really want to complete that sentence?" he asked her, raising an eyebrow, though the look on his face was gentle.
"I kind of do, on principle--but, no, not really," she admitted, ducking her head to avoid his eyes as she brushed a fingertip against the unmoving wing of the butterfly in her hand.
"Is there a particular reason you two are loitering out here instead of in the kitchen as usual?" Olive Snook's normally bright voice was dry, as though she were talking to them after having avoided liquid all day. Ned wondered what the real reason was, as he'd noticed her using that tone of voice quite often over the past few weeks.
"Ned killed a butterfly," Chuck said to Olive, conversationally. At first, Ned thought she'd slipped up and said it by accident, but when the brown-haired woman looked over at him pointedly and followed his now outraged employee into the Pie Hole, he wasn't so sure.
Ned had been certain that the incident would blow over, but two hours later, his carefully hand-picked (well, okay, hand-picked from a variety of vases at a street vendor, he admitted silently) bouquet had been relegated to a corner of the kitchen well away from any circulating air ducts, with not even a hint of a thank you from Chuck. To add insult to... injury, the innocent insect victim of his freakish gift was now laying in state on one of his best glass pie displays. He, Olive, and Chuck were seated at the counter, each staring dolefully at the dead butterfly with matching looks of sadness. The Pie Maker was fairly certain that the two women were too distracted to realize that his motivation for looking distressed had less to do with the death of the butterfly as it had to do with their reaction to it.
"How long do butterflies live, anyway?" Olive finally asked.
"No longer than two weeks, I think," Ned said. This was apparently the wrong answer, given the reaction of the two women arrayed at his left side.
"Ohh!" the blonde exclaimed in distress. "So, chances are, you were struck down in the prime of your life!"
Both Chuck and Ned started in surprise at this, glancing at each other over Olive's head with wide eyes before looking back at their companion, who, thankfully, was hunched down at antenna level with the butterfly.
"Whodoes that?" Olive continued, rhetorically, shaking her head.
"Monkey theives," Chuck said, cheerfully.
"It could have been all manner of--" Ned said at the same exact moment, breaking off when he realized what Chuck had said.
"What?" the waitress asked, finally looking away from the dead to the (now) living.
"Never mind," the two others said quickly.
"Touch it," said a voice that sounded a lot like Chuck's, though her face was set in a very pronounced, toothy smile. Olive had already reached out to stroke the lovely insect's wing, exclaiming at the softness of it as she did so.
"Touch. It," came the voice again, and Ned realized that Chuck was giving him an order while at the same time exuding happiness and innocence. He thought it was quite unfair of her, really, as he couldn't argue over the 'virtue' of saving the life of a vital, pretty creature over a random alternative--especially not in front of Olive.
"I read once that being touched even gently by a human finger is excruciatingly painful for butterflies and sometimes even abrades their wings," he said in a breathless rush, thrusting his hands behind him in the manner of a five year old child.
"And given that he's dead, that would be cruel and unusual punishment, right?" Olive retorted. Ned shrugged helplessly, suddenly noticing that Chuck was no longer hovering at Ms. Snook's other side. He looked up for her, eyebrows furrowed, until suddenly he felt a gloved hand lifting his nerveless arm from its position behind him and dropping it toward the ornate glass pie display. He only had time to gasp before the tip of his finger had brushed the insect and his gift did its work.
"I don't think it's dead," Chuck had said, the instant she'd lifted his arm with her oven-mitt-clad hand. "See?" she crowed a second later, as the reanimated butterfly leaped to wing, shocked back to life with the same rapidity that it had lost it.
"--How amazing!" Olive said, clapping her hands. "Oh, come back!" she called out, hopping off of her stool as the undoubtedly spooked insect flew up and out of the door just as a customer walked in.
"You better hope this place isn't as clean as I want it to be, or some poor squirrel outside is going to bite it," Ned hissed at Chuck.
"You wouldn't rather choose to think of this as the world's most unique method of pest eradication?" she said, granting him a brilliant smile.
"Clever--but I nominate you to go hunting for the corpse," he told her in an undertone. "What do you want me to do, spend every minute outside with all possible bare skin covered?"
"I'm not sure I would complain," Chuck replied, squeezing his arm with her still-gloved hand.
"Well," he said, blushing slightly at the glowing look on her face, as well as the unexpected contact. "I guess it's better than a body bag."
With that, Chuck slapped at him playfully with the glove and skipped off toward the kitchen, saying something about wildflowers in an excited voice. The Pie Maker set off after her without noticing the tiny shadow cast at his feet by a colorful insect fluttering curiously just outside the window.