A/N: As a brand spankin' new Pushing Daisies enthusiast who doesn't get TV and only just two days ago managed to view the (unfortunately few) episodes on the Net, I have forgotten exactly what I intended to say in this Authors Note. I think it had something to do with blatant fangirlishness, though, and probably some insipid commentary on Lee Pace which is better left unsaid. Anyway, this is about my big question in the first episode, which is: where did Chuck get all those clothes from?
Guided By Wire
She flopped down on the couch beside him, not as close as he would have liked but in all probability closer than she should have been, put her elbow up on the back of it, and gave him her frank look, the one that bespoke honesty in all things.
"This isn't going to work."
He had a flashing, neon moment of absolute panic, and shoved himself up straighter, affecting nonchalance but not very well. "What isn't going to work? Exactly?"
She gestured to herself, a sort of flapping grand gesture that was apparently meant to indicate her torso. He didn't need any impetus, but continued to look at her in worried confusion. She added some raised eyebrows to the frank look that bespoke honesty in all things, and clarified. "I can't just go around wearing your clothes all the time, can I? You're way too tall. And—" she squinted down at herself, going nearly crosseyed. He found himself imitating her, scrutinizing the same area. Half of the collar of his shirt was turned down, the other half turned up, her hair haphazard and floating around it. "This just isn't my color, is it?"
He shrugged laconic shoulders lightly, smiled crookedly in relief. "Well, if I'd known you were going to be wearing it—"
"Don't you have any brighter colors anyway?" she asked him, squinting at him. "You're always in dark."
He shrugged again, lifting his shoulders towards his chin, hunching over forwards. Arms on his knees, head tilted and turned towards her, it was a new perspective, a new way of looking at her, mostly at her knees. His shirt was long on her and covered them when she was standing; sitting was a different matter and sitting after flopping dramatically, prior to directing the frank look, was a different matter still. It had ridden up somewhat.
"I need to get you some pants," he said; he'd meant to just think it but it came out of his mouth anyway. She looked at him looking at her legs.
"Guess so," she said. "Can't walk around in public half-naked."
"Not without getting arrested," he allowed, and directed another half-smile into his arms.
"And if its all the same to you, I think I'd rather not put that dress on again. Just—" she shrugged and looked at the ceiling. "Seems weird, wearing the dress I was going to be buried in."
"Mmph," he said into his arms.
"Not a lot weirder than everything else, I guess. I mean, if you weigh it all together, compare one thing to another, probably— probably not anywhere near as weird as some things. Weird is getting relative. Or maybe it always has been, and I just didn't notice."
"I think so," Ned opined. He glanced up at her and the smile was back; or maybe it hadn't left; he was having trouble turning it off when she was sitting there by him, and his lips twitched with the effort. "But I might not be the best person to judge."
"No," she agreed. Then, "I wonder who picked out that dress? I always hated that dress. My aunts—?"
"Probably, I don't really know. Maybe we shouldn't talk about it." He sat up and smoothed his pant legs down over his knees. His knees, which were decently clothed and far more knobby than hers. Knobbiness of knees was as good a reason as any to be wearing pants, he told himself, and better than some.
She shrugged again, still looking at the ceiling. "I don't mind. I mean, I mind. Its not that I don't mind, I just don't— mind."
He looked at her then, like he couldn't help himself, like he was a man locked in a white room and she was the only splotch of color and he was desperate for entertainment; like he'd been let out of prison and hadn't seen a female of any species for twenty years; like he was a ditched pet in the rain and she was a friendly homeowner with a can of cat food and an opener; and she thought to herself that if it wasn't Ned, and if she wasn't Chuck, if it were any other two people who hadn't seen each other since they were kids and they had just met up again and were sitting together on the couch after he'd claimed to have brought her back from the dead and he was staring at her in that intense, half-shambled manner, it would almost be disturbing. But it was Ned, and she was Chuck, and his eyes were too light and too honest and direct, and after all it wouldn't have been anybody else, would it? It could never be anyone else, because it was them.
The pie maker's lips twitched.
It made her smile; she was finding this as uncontrollable and involuntary as he did.
He bit his lip. "Um—" He squeezed his eyes shut for a second, squinched up his face as if in thought, though he knew exactly what was going to come out his mouth when he opened it again. He rubbed his hands together, opened his eyes and his mouth at the same time. "How would you like to go shopping?"
The smile turned into a grin, and was reflected, and they sat there and grinned at each other like idiots for several minutes before he realized what was missing, and said, "Oh," suddenly.
"I really am going to have to get you some pants," he told her, and stood.
"Lets not call any attention to ourselves."
"You've told me that seven times now. Seven and a half, actually. Once you only got halfway before that taxi almost ran you over." She smirked to herself. "If you paid less attention to not calling any attention and more attention to the traffic—"
"If you would listen to me telling you not to call attention to ourselves then I wouldn't have to keep telling you not to call attention to ourselves." Ned shoved his hands in his pockets as she pirouetted at his side. "Dancing, for instance, is not the best way to keep things on the downlow."
"Say that again while I'm watching your mouth," she directed him. He hunched his shoulders and obliged.
"Down-loowww," he enunciated carefully. She grinned, and giggled.
"Your voice got so deep, when you grew up," she commented, and put her arms behind her back, changing strides to match his, lifting up on her toes with each of her steps to emulate the length of his. "And you got tall, and you're awful thin for a guy who bakes pies for a living."
He made a clicking noise out of the side of his mouth. "Don't always eat them."
He didn't really feel like telling her why not; didn't feel like telling her that buying rotten fruit was a cost-saving measure, and didn't really hurt anybody since he could bring it back to life with a touch. After the first one he had to be careful to use the vinyl gloves, which were called for by the health regulations at any rate. He hadn't figured out the exchange rate with fruit, but told himself firmly that the current citrus crisis in California was due to the weather, and was not his fault.
"I'm not really a sweet kind of guy."
She took three quick steps to his one, turned around and looked back at him, grinned. "I beg to differ."
He smiled back at her, concentrated on watching his feet, making sure there was plenty of room between her and him.
"Why do you wear those narrow ties?"
He frowned slightly. "Fashion statement."
"To go with the Converse? You're like a very tall Billy Joe Armstrong. Without the eyeshadow. And the basic punk rock ethic. And— you know what? You're really not like him at all, never mind. Its just the ties and the shoes."
"Its a style," he interjected. "You know, like— like the pigtails you used to have." He flipped a hand around his ear, to demonstrate, in case she'd forgotten where pigtails were generally located.
"I guess," she allowed, still walking backwards.
"You might fall."
She met his gaze. "I'll be careful."
He shook his head at her, murmured slightly. "Where are you planning on going, anyway, we've been walking for ten minutes. If its too far away we should have just hopped in the car, I'd have you here in a jiff—"
"I wanted to walk," she said, with the frank and honest look again. "I wanted to be with you out in the sunshine." She spread her arms wide, tossed her head back and shook her hair. One of her outspread arms smacked into an innocent passerby, who protested vociferously. "I'm sorry! I didn't see you, I really didn't—" She was having a hard time giving a convincing apology, since she was already starting to giggle. The pie maker's solemn tutting and slow shaking of the head didn't help her situation. The giggling escalated; the passerby was disgusted with humanity, and said so.
"I think," said Ned deliberately and slowly, so she would be sure to comprehend every word, "we should. Try not to. Call. Attention to. Ourselves."
Chuck shrieked with laughter.
"Don't you feel bad about yourself, now? You made that woman disgusted with humanity."
She turned, still laughing, to him, and he looked down at her, smiling, smiling, still unable to stop. His mouth was receiving messages from his brain and promptly sending them back again marked "Not Deliverable as Addressed."
"You really are too tall," she said.
"Well, nobody's perfect," he admitted, lowering his eyes to look at the ground and unburying his hands from his pockets to hover very, very briefly in the general area of her hair before they clasped themselves firmly behind his back. She reached out a hand, delicately, and took careful hold of his skinny, fashion-statement-ish tie.
"Come on, now," she said, and led him on.
"Do you like this one?"
The pie maker was slouched in the department store chair, which was strategically placed for irritable husbands and errant children, and also exceedingly uncomfortable. He had one hand over half his face; he looked at her somewhat blearily with the unhidden eye.
"I don't know why you're asking me," he said somewhat petulantly. "I've liked everything you had on, and half the time it goes in the 'get' pile and the other half it goes in the 'get it out of my sight' pile, so, clearly, you're not paying attention to my opinion anyway so why ask?"
She considered for a minute.
"I thought it would make you feel important," she offered.
"Well, it doesn't," and he curled himself up tighter in the chair, flattening his hand to his face and pushing his fingers up through his unruly hair, "it makes me feel somewhat condescended to."
"Oh." She nodded. "I didn't really do it to make you feel important."
"Good. It wouldn't work. Very little makes me feel important."
"I did it because I wanted to know what you thought. And you told me what you thought. You like everything. You're not very discriminating."
A smile appeared on his face, half hidden behind his hand, but his eyes had a soft yet definite gleam. "I guess— I'm not really reacting to the clothes."
"No?" She raised her eyebrows, put her hands on her hips.
"I'm reacting to the person wearing them."
She tilted her head slightly to one side, and smiled gently. "I guess it serves me right, asking Mr. Skinny-Tie to be a fashion critic."
He admitted the fairness of this. She went to try on another dress. He watched the space she'd just been, so recently vacated, mused on the difference between here and not-here, thought about the advent of not-really-here-yet-for-all-intents-and-purposes-here as a third state of existence, and decided that the latter was close enough to "here" to pass muster. And that, after all, was the important thing: passing muster. Making the grade.
No, what was really important, he changed his mind, was being able to breathe. Chuck marched past him in a white slip, her hair down around her shoulders, a faint blush on her cheeks though she was doing her best to pretend nonchalance, tossing off an excuse of having the wrong size and did he mind— he could almost see her skin right through it, but maybe it was just the glow. He got out of his chair with some difficulty, and went to find a small. Maybe a medium. Probably a small.
Maybe a medium.
And then he thought about mediums, and happy mediums, and compromises, and living-with-it situations. The important thing was that the living-with-it situations were worth it, for all the pain of their designation. He could live with Chuck sliding past him with no more contact than magnets with identical poles, he could live with her sliding off his back like water off a duck's— that one needed work— he could live with her in his bed while he was on the couch— last night had been particularly sleepless, for all he was so exhausted, with the end result that he was even more exhausted today, which was only to be expected— he could live with constantly feeling how close and yet how far they were, with feeling guided by wire to avoid touching her, with clenching his hands and shoving them in his pockets and putting them behind his back in order to keep himself from reaching out to her— but he would find it awfully hard to live without her at all. He detoured through Housewares on the way back, methodically unzipping the plastic cover of a blanket.
"Here," he said, when he returned, and handed her the three different sizes of the same dress, just in case. She eyed them with marked amusement and he stealthily unfolded the blanket and tossed it over her head. Other than a brief squeak of startlement she was very obedient to his command of, "Don't move," and didn't, in fact, move. He smiled at the blanket with the slip peeking out from underneath it, and took it in his arms. The blanket's arms stole around his back, and pressed him closer, tighter, and for all he was so tall, the fit was exactly right.
Behind them, a retail nazi cleared her throat. The pie maker and the blanket sprang away from each other, looking somewhat guilty.
"You're buying that," said the retail nazi, referring to the blanket.
Ned coughed, and cleared his throat. "Of course," he said, as if it was ridiculous to think of anything different, anything else, anything other. "We're taking it all," he said, grinning and not looking at Chuck as she emerged from the blanket, flushed and smiling, hair touseled, crossing her arms quickly over the slip. "We're taking all of it."
"We are?" Chuck asked, raising her eyebrows at him. He returned to her a look of absolute truth and complete honesty.
"Because we like it," he informed her. She narrowed her eyes at him and waddled back to the fitting room, the blanket wrapped around her legs and seriously impeding her movement. He watched her go, secure in the knowledge that she would come back. He slumped back in the chair. Sometime. She'd be back sometime.
"You are getting some pants, aren't you?" he called from around an enormous yawn.
When Chuck emerged, she found the exhausted pie maker asleep, regardless of how uncomfortable the chair was. She stood for a moment, buttoning his shirt back up, tightening his belt around her hips. Watched him breathe. Placed her hand, palm down, over her own heart and felt what he had done for her.
Eventually, she had to wake him up to pay. She also said thank you, without specifying for what, and he applied it to everything. Her credit was good.