Good Will Towards Men

At this exact moment, little Olive Snook was five years, three months, one week, thirteen hours, and fifty-nine minutes old. As she quietly crept down the stairs, the girl's only desire was to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing beautifully wrapped packages underneath the Christmas tree. Peeking around the corner, her tiny toes scrunching into the chartreuse carpeting of the steps, she didn't notice the array of glittering presents topped with ornate bows that twisted and curled in a glittering frenzy of holiday cheer. No, what captivated Olive's heart and soul was something much different.

Standing in a living room lit solely by the glow of hundreds of rainbow colored lights that covered their tree and window frames were Mr. and Mrs. Snook. Surrounded in the heavenly multi-colored glow, the couple kissed gently as her father held a small branch bearing a few leaves and berries over her mother's head.

The facts were these… Olive Snook would soon come to find out that the sparse branch with its tiny berries and leaves was called mistletoe. She would also come to understand the magical power it possessed over people. And most importantly, Olive would come to think of it as the most romantic bit of foliage imaginable.

Twenty-three years, three months, two weeks, four hours, and twenty-three minutes later, the petite blonde was standing on the edge of a bright green booth located next to the entrance to The Pie Hole. Perched precariously on the back of the seat, the woman swayed forward and back as a customer pushed his way into the shop. Grabbing onto the door frame the blonde shot a nasty look at the inconsiderate man's back before yelling at him, "Hey mister, you better watch what door you're storming through. Someone might fall on that shiny bald head of yours."

The moment the woman's angry voice had cut through his dreams, Digby, the loyal, golden retriever, sprung to his feet barking at whomever was bothering Olive. The sight of Emerson Cod caused a low rumble to erupt from the dog's throat. As the P.I. turned to face the woman hanging onto the doorframe the loyal canine slowly sat back down. Taking in the man's disgruntled appearance, the blonde's face turned from a dirty look to an expression that could only be described as 'eeep'.

"If you fall on my head, you will suddenly find yourself a whole lot shorter than you already are." The threat hung in the air as Emerson observed Olive's position on the back of the booth with a sprig of mistletoe in one hand. "Do I wanna know what hair-brained scheme that little blonde head of yours has cooked up?"

Ignoring the threat and insult, Olive put on her most winning smile as she realized the man's height could be of some use. "No, but you know you want to help me." Waving the mistletoe at the still skeptical Emerson, she decided to try appealing to his better nature. Or… his hungry nature at least. "If you help me, I'll give you any slice of pie for today's Pie Hole special 'Pie Of the Day' price".

As Emerson Cod's eyebrows climbed to where his hairline would have been, had he any left, the blonde knew that she had him.

"How about an extra-large slice of peppermint eggnog pie then?"

Carefully jumping down from the bench, Olive nodded her head enthusiastically looking ridiculously similar to a bobbing dashboard doggie. "Uh huh."

With the promise of Christmas pie at a discount tickling his taste buds, Emerson walked back towards the door where Olive was bouncing on the balls of her tiny feet. "What do I have to do?"

Just short of jumping up and down, the blonde thrust the sprig of mistletoe at her new partner in crime. Telling the man just exactly how she wanted the branch hung, the blonde rushed behind the counter to cut the promised extra-large slice of peppermint eggnog pie.

"Since this is obviously some thinly veiled plan to get a certain stuck-on-Chuck pie-maker to kiss you why is he not here?" Walking back towards the door he'd just come through, Emerson hung the plant without bothering to reach. "And where is he while you're standing on the backs of booths and giving out extra-large slices of pie for the Pie Hole 'Pie of the Day' price when they are not the 'Pie of the Day'?"

Standing behind the counter with pie and pie slicer in hand, Olive Snook could not help but imagine a few other uses for the stainless steel blade when Emerson mentioned the mysterious, peppy apple of Ned's eye, Chuck. Pushing away the gruesome, yet satisfying images, the blonde sliced away a small portion of the extra-large piece of pie. The Christmas confection was now only almost extra-large.

"Oh, Ned ran out to the store." Carrying the treat over to Mr. Cod's normal table, the waitress set the plate down with a tiny clunk as Emerson hung the mistletoe. "Said he needed… fruit or something."

Sliding into the booth, the man's mouth began to water at the site of his peppermint eggnog pie. "This don't look extra-large…"

"I think… I hear Digby calling. Coming Digby." Quickly ducking her head, Olive scurried back behind the counter, ignoring Emerson's annoyingly astute observation.

Just as the waitress was about to slip into the kitchen, a cool breeze filled the shop as Ned the pie-maker pushed his way through the front door. Both arms clutching a brown paper bag and covered in snow, the man stopped in his very chilly tracks as Olive, Emerson, and Digby turned to look at him.

"What? Wha'd I do?" The pie-maker shrunk further into his jacket and striped scarf as he waited for someone to respond.

As if on cue, everyone, including the golden retriever, looked slowly up to a point just above the newcomer's head. Following their collective gaze, Ned looked up to find the cause of their united stare. The moment his eyes fell on the tiny sprig of mistletoe with its little green leaves and white berries, Ned jumped back towards the door so quickly that he almost left his skin behind. "Wh… Who hung that there?"

Frantically searching the faces in front of him, Ned's desperate eyes fell on Emerson sitting with an ample bite of pie before his mouth. The detective's brows drew together as the pie-makers gaze fell on him. "Don't look at me. I don't like you that much."

Satisfied that his sometimes associate hadn't hung the offending plant, Ned found the next closest suspect. Digby. The golden retriever had been watching the scene with benign amusement and while he found it interesting… He wasn't about to take the wrap for the blonde's scheming. Tilting his head to the side, the bright red dog let out a small grumble that very clearly said, "You're barking up the wrong tree, pal."

If it hadn't been Emerson, and it hadn't been Digby, there was only one other possible explanation…

Olive had hung the mistletoe.

Still blocked into the icy corner near the door, Ned shifted his shopping bags in time to see the blonde head of Olive Snook sinking below the counter top. Finally able to push himself away from the trap hanging above the door, the pie-maker all but ran to the place where he'd just seen the waitress disappear.

Not bothering to take the groceries to the kitchen, the man set them on the counter before leaning over it to look down at the top of Olive's head. As he waited patiently for her to look up, Ned couldn't help but wonder how she'd managed to hang the plant above the door considering her height. Or lack thereof.

When the blonde began scrubbing at a non-existent spot on the floor, Ned decided he'd waited long enough. "Olive?" Growing impatient as the waitress continued to ignore him, the normally quiet pie-maker raised his voiced slightly. And only slightly.

Pretending to be startled to find her favorite Ned-shaped pie-maker looking over the counter at her, Olive looked up feigning shock. "Oh Ned. Didn't see ya there." Standing up, the waitress attempted to calm the tiny sugar plum fairies that had begun dancing in her stomach at the sight of Ned bundled up in her favorite scarf.

"Why did you hang the mistletoe Olive?"

With Ned leaning over the counter and the cutest pair of heels she owned on her feet, Olive Snook was able to look Ned directly in the eye. Oh, they'd locked eyes before but never like this. This… was wonderful. She hadn't had to hop around like a jack-rabbit or scream his name to get his attention. And she didn't have to crane her neck only to be met with an un-obscured view of his nose hairs either. Right now she was merely a woman looking into the eyes of the man she loved.

Unfortunately… she didn't see a reflection of her long harbored and very obvious feelings in his own gaze. However, at this very moment, Olive Snook had the pie-maker all to herself without Chuck to spoil her plan. It was an opportunity that she was not going to waste.

Refusing to give up hope, the tenacious blonde nodded her head meekly before brightening slightly. "Isn't it romantic? Oh I know! We should try it out! You know… make sure that it isn't defective. Or… something."

She'd kissed him on Halloween and countless times in her dreams. But stolen kisses and midnight fantasies were nothing compared to the possibility of having Ned's soft lips pressed willingly and mutually against her own.

Lost in the pie-maker's gentle eyes, Olive jumped back a little as the man straightened up abruptly as if he'd been stung by her suggestion. Refusing to let him push past her, the blonde looked up at the man she loved for some sort of explanation.

Sighing, Ned placed his bags on the counter and began scrubbing at the imaginary spot that had mysteriously moved from the floor to the counter. "It's not romantic. It's a weed that thinks it can control who people kiss. Why can't people decide who they want to kiss on their own?" Beginning to work a little more viciously at the non-existent spot, the pie-maker looked up at his always faithful, doting waitress. "Plus, it's poisonous. Tell me, what's romantic about kissing under a poisonous weed?"

Throwing down the rag and abandoning the phantom mess, Ned placed both of his hands on the counter to take a good look at the blonde before him.

The facts were these; Ned the pie-maker had never ever, even for half a second, liked mistletoe. Or for that matter, anything it stood for. It had nothing to do with bringing things back from the dead and everything to do with being in control.

In the years since he'd learned about his magic touch, the pie-maker had constructed himself a small, orderly world in which he was in charge. It may not have been a very wide, exciting world, but it was one where things other than fruit rarely came back to life when they weren't supposed to. Even Emerson only called on his… services once a week or so.

And mistletoe, with its power to control who kissed who, did not fit into the pie-makers neatly ordered world. Even if he were willing to surrender control to a plant, the girl he loved was not there and was also un-kissable unless there was a role of Saran wrap present.

"I just… don't like it." With his voice begging for the waitress to leave him alone, the man was positive he'd proved his point. Or at least he had gotten out of having to go near the tiny green sprig with its glistening white berries. Grabbing his grocery bags once again, Ned headed towards the kitchen when Olive's voice stopped him in his tracks.

"But what about good will towards men?" The waitress's voice bordered on hysterical, and Ned could almost hear her bouncing around hopefully behind him.

"Good will towards men?" Thoroughly confused, the pie-maker set down his bags yet again as, not unlike Digby, he tilted his head sideways. Quickly looking towards Emerson and his faithful canine for some sort of explanation or back up, Ned's heart sank when he found that they looked just as confused as he felt. "How exactly does mistletoe promote good will towards men?"

Olive Snook took a few steps towards the gentle pie-maker, and looking up into his huge eyes, she knew that he would be the only one to stir her heart until the day she died. Twisting her tiny hands together, the petite blonde wished that Ned would just once look at her the way he looked at the girl named Chuck. "Oh you know, good will towards men… through smooching."

The look that crossed the man's face was a mixture of bemusement and exasperation that he could see mirrored on Emerson and Digby's as well. Neither of which the blonde was happy to see. Cautiously taking a few more steps towards the pie-maker, the waitress could feel the familiar sadness burn at the back of her throat whenever Ned would inadvertently crush her spirit.

Attempting to hide the melancholy filling her normally vibrant eyes, little Olive Snook began scrubbing at the same non-existent spot on the countertop as Ned before. Trying to swallow the defeat in her voice, the blonde scrubbed harder at the counter top. "I just thought, you know, since its Christmas-"

Voice thick with peppermint eggnog pie, Emerson Cod cut off the waitress's slowly fading sentence. "Oh just kiss her already. You know she won't stop until you do, and her whiny voice is giving me a headache." As Emerson raised another heaping forkful of pie to his mouth, Digby gave a loud bark that could only mean that he agreed with Mr. Cod even if he did not particularly like the man.

Tired of sitting by as the woman who petted and stroked him when his best friend could not, the golden retriever made his way towards the waitress, prepared to take matters into his own paws. Pressing his cool wet nose into the small of her back, the dog pushed a stumbling and protesting Olive towards Ned until they were pressed together. Though he wished to run, the pie-maker was now caught between Olive and the counter top. Nose still pressed into the bright green fabric covering her back, Digby let out a resounding bark that very clearly meant he wasn't about to move until they kissed.

Looking for a way out of the Olive-Digby block and frantically wondering what Chuck would say if she were to walk in at that moment, Ned looked to Emerson with a pair of pleading, pathetic, puppy dog eyes. The response he got, however, was less than helpful.

"Don' look at me." All but licking the crumbs from his fork, Emerson Cod scooped up the remaining morsels of pie from his plate. "I told you to just kiss her and get it over with."

"See if I help you with work again."

The mutinous words were not lost on the private investigator. If Ned wanted to make threats, that was fine, because Emerson had one of his own. "If you don't, I'll take you and your little girl Friday straight to the news. So you may as well pucker up."

The moment the words were spoken, Ned's jaw fell open in horrified desperation. "You wouldn't…"

"Oh wouldn't I? Maybe then I'd finally be rid of Dea-"

With Digby's wet nose still pressing into the back of her dress, and her front pressed against the man she loved who most definitely did not love her back, Olive was ready for the whole mistletoe fiasco to be over with. "Check that out, no mistletoe. Just an empty ceiling."

When Ned finally looked down at her, the waitress felt the tiny sugar plum fairies that had been dancing in her stomach earlier, begin to beat on her tortured heart. For once, Olive Snook had absolutely nothing to say. He may not love her, but she would always go mad with tenderness at the sight of his sweet face.

Deep down, she knew that he was only going to kiss her because of Emerson and Chuck and whatever secret they shared, but she didn't care. Ned was going to kiss her, even if it wasn't under the mistletoe. And for now, that was enough.

"Ned…" He didn't take her into his arms or sweep her off her feet like he did in her dreams. In fact, the pie-maker barely touched her, bending at the waist to press his lips gently against her own. Though his right hand remained rigidly as his side, the fingertips of his left hand pressed tentatively against her forearm.

Pushing up to stand on her tip-y toes, Olive leaned into the man's touch. Though his skin barely brushed over her blissfully bare arm, she could feel the touch course through her body and soul.

Their lips only connected for a fraction of a second, but it was a wonderful, fantastic, magical fraction of a second that would always cause her heart to burst into song at the slightest thought of it.

Wishing that the kiss would never end, Olive pressed her lips against Ned's in hopeful anticipation, but the shy pie-maker quickly pulled away. Refusing to do the thing that would break the spell permanently, Olive Snook kept her eyes closed, memorizing the feel of the man's soft lips pressed tentatively against her own. With her lips softly puckered, she listened to the pie-maker grab his paper bags and push through the double doors leading to the kitchen. If she'd bothered to open them, she'd have seen the look of exasperated confusion that consumed his sweet features.

It hadn't been overly voluntary or particularly romantic, but she had gotten her kiss from the pie-maker. Even if the all-important mistletoe had not been part of it. The tiny flame that burned deep within her soul for Ned and Ned alone glowed happily at the memory of the touch. He may not love her today, but there was always tomorrow.

Finally opening her eyes, Oliver Snook bustled happily over to where the peppermint eggnog pie was kept. Even though she wasn't close with the cranky investigator, she thought he deserved an extra- i extra /i large slice of pie for his efforts. On the house. And though she'd completely forgotten about Digby, and wasn't even sure when he removed his nose from her back, she decided that he deserved a little treat as well.

The facts were these… Olive Snook had gotten her kiss from the pie-maker. But if she'd had turned around and looked towards the kitchen, she would have gotten something a hundred times better. Looking at her as if seeing her for the first time, Ned was leaning through the kitchen window with a mixture of confusion, joy, and boyish thrill covering his gentle face.

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes

- For "wickednight". Merry Christmas and happy Pushing Daisies Secret Santa! I hope that this fic adds a little extra cheer to your Christmas. I had great fun writing this and I hope that you enjoy it. :)

- I must thank Katie for the idea of mistletoe being "good will towards men through smooching." It came from a late night MSN discussion where I revealed my own hatred for mistletoe. I thank her for that bit of brilliance.

- Kate – Thank you so much for your help. I wouldn't have gotten through the Secret Santa madness without your help and "Das Schedule".