Disclaimer: I don't own Pushing Daisies or Lee Pace… Sad but true.
Ranting: R
Summary: Ned had that look in his eyes again, as if the world start and end in Charlotte Charles.

Paring: Ned/Chuck
Dedicated to my patient and lovely Beta, thank you for the magic.
Spoilers: Everything until Corpsicle is fair game.
Title: Lately
Chapter Title: Crash (III)

By Lylou

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-You can't just touch someone's life and be done with it…

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Olive Snook entered the Pie Hole that morning wearing big and dark sunglasses.

She hadn't slept more than a couple of hours the night before, and now she had two dark circles under her eyes.

She had been too busy thinking over Lily's "vanilla" induced confession to sleep.

When she was just a little girl, Olive had learned that there were two kinds of secrets:

First: the small, usual and almost harmless kind of secret that people usually keep to themselves; for instance, her crush on Ned.

And second: the big, more unusual and destructive kind of secret that people keep from everyone else; for instance, Lily's devastating: "I'm Charlotte's mother."

Because that was exactly the kind of secret that could ruin lives; the kind of secret that blows everything away in the blink of an eye.

Olive knew that very well, she could feel it even now, while it was still safely hibernating in her mind, getting bigger and more powerful every second; as if these type of secrets were some strange kind of creature, which fed off fear and loneliness.

Olive knew that.

She had spent the whole night thinking about it, and about the girl named Chuck.

And Ned.

She thought about how the truth would affect their lives. It was easy and tempting to just avoid it, and run from the truth while you live in a bubble of love, sugar, flour and bells on the door, but Olive Snook knew that sort of truth was patient. It didn't mind to wait for years, crouched in silence in some dark corner, waiting to spring one day.

And the truth was that Charlotte Charles wasn't still that annoying, cheesy, damn perfect and inaccessible brunette she had once hated.

Now she was a real person to her; more than that, it could be said that she was her friend; Olive had seen her scared, lonely, crying, laughing, lost… Chuck was a real person and she deserved the truth. Even if it would change everything, even if it would destroy the fragile dynamic that all of them had built up. After all, she deserved to know that she wasn't as alone in the world as she thought she was.

Olive walked toward the kitchen slowly and saw Ned and Chuck, both seated on the green tiles and leaning against the same cabinet, there was a bottle of peroxide near them and Ned had that look in his eyes again, as if the world start and end in Charlotte Charles.

He'll never ever look at you in that way, but it is good to have her back… He is always much better, when she is around

"Hi Olive!"

Chuck tone was cheerful, but with Olive personal experience in crying, she could still hear the fading echo of tears in Chuck's voice; or at least, she thought she did.

Ned looked at her for the first time since she was there, without really seeing her, and smiled gently and joyfully at Chuck, still sitting next to him.

"Good morning."

Her own voice sounded almost normal when she spoke, and Olive saw, half sad and half fascinated, how Ned rose finally from the floor and how he looked, warmly and smiling shyly, at Chuck, getting up slowly and with the white bottle in her hand.

Olive saw Ned smiling in that particular and charming way of his that only showed when Chuck was around; then he walked towards the petit blonde and passed near her, so close, that the black fabric of his pants brushed her coat accidentally and Olive Snook closed her eyes involuntarily when she felt his body, his warmth and the faded scent of his after-shave floating around her during a few seconds "Is that's how she feels all the time? Is this how it feels to be Charlotte Charles?"

That thought saddened Olive a bit in spite that she was breaking, slow and painfully, the Pie Makers spell upon her a little bit every day.

Ned murmured a "Good morning" and said something to her in his habitual not-to-Chuck tone about the coffee machine while he passed at her side, but she didn't hear him.

When Olive opened her eyes again, she saw Chuck smiling sweetly at her.

And Olive Snook was sure then that she deserved the truth.

"…I'm happy to see you are here again."

Chuck smiled softly and spoke in a tone that proved she was happy to be there again, but that there was still something dark and dangerous inside her, screaming to the very sweet Charlotte Charles, to run away and never look back.

"Thank you. It's good to be back."

Both women looked each other in silence for some seconds, until Olive pointed at her wounded hand, smiling lightly, and broke the silence:

"Does it hurt?"

Chuck looked thoughtfully at her hand and spoke quietly, "No… Not as much as before."

The shorter woman looked around to see where Ned was. He was busy doing something in the bar and Olive spoke in an uneasy whisper.

"I have to talk to you."

Chuck looked at Ned, completely unaware of their small conspiracy and then looked again at the anxious blonde woman in front of her, and asked in a low voice, "About my aunts? Are they okay?"

Olive sighed, bit her lower lip and frowned delicately while her mental gears spun at full speed, and for a moment, she wasn't really going to say anything, she was really willing to live with that secret; but then she saw worry and fear in Charlotte Charles eyes mixed with something else, something that Olive couldn't indentify then; something that she would only recognize some hours later, when it would be already too late for all of them.

"Chuck…There is something I have to tell you."

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Ned kicked the right front wheel of his Mercedes again, too mad to pay attention at the snow falling quietly on his black shoe.

Frustrated, he rested his gloved hands in the roof of the car, closed his eyes and breathed again the nocturnal chilly air; it was so freezing that Ned felt his respiratory tracts aching and all his senses numbing momentary by the cold and the pain.

But only for a moment.

Because next, Ned remembered that she wasn't there.

And he was in that snowy cemetery again, looking for Charlotte Charles for second time around in less than 24 hours.

But this time, she wasnt there.

Ned finally clambered inside the car and slammed the door shut.

Chuck had left, unseen and without a word, out the kitchen door that same morning. It was almost funny: one moment he was busy looking for the sugar bowls to refill them and thinking again that life can be beautiful, and next, she was gone, leaving only a very silent Olive Snook there with a slight spark of guilt and fear in her trembling eyes that one very scared Pie Maker, didn't even see.

Chuck had left so fast that she had forgotten her coat on the rack, and Ned couldn't help but feel a rush of worry for her mixed with an overwhelming sense of predestination and inevitability that he hadn't felt the last time she went away.

"She is not going to come back this time"

That had been repeating in his mind all over again during the whole day.

Ned pressed his lips and sighed defeated in his car. Before the cemetery, he had been in their apartment, on the snowy rooftop, outside her aunts' house… he had even been in that meadow, the same one where they had a picnic the first weekend after he brought her back from death, back in the very last days of summer. Even now, Ned could still remember clearly the orange sunset light upon her and the sound of her laugh, still a bit strange to him then, surrounding them.

And that was the first time Ned knew he loved her.

He closed his eyes miserable, feeling completely lost, still remembering that far evening in a cold and lonely car with a, now useless, transparent screen.

The truth was that the Pie Maker had been happy.

It was weird and wonderful to think about it because Ned never had thought that he deserved to be happy in any way, that someday, he would be as happy as he had been with Charlotte Charles.

Because even if he had lost her forever, all the happiness, all the love and all the joy she had brought to his life, would be enough to fulfill two lifetimes.

"Maybe these months was all we were supposed to have. Maybe it is better that way"

With that and feeling terribly lost, tired and scared, the Pie Maker started the car and left.

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Ned looked mesmerized at the flames in the overwhelming empty kitchen of their –his- apartment, when he heard her keys in the door.

For a moment, he forgot the trepidation and the loneliness of the last hours and turned fast in their kitchen just when Charlotte Charles appeared in the doorsill.

She was soaked. And not in the cinematographic and romantic way. No; her hair, her clothes, her shoes…everything was drenched; she didn't look as if she would have been walking melancholically under the rain for hours, she looked more as if she was some kind of marine creature from the ocean floor.

"Hi."

Her voice sounded weak, and it trembled.

Ned took some steps towards her, feeling immediately relieved, angry, happy and tired at the same time, and stopped dead only a few meters from her, but enough to see that her lips were blue and her skin was paler than usual "God…she is cold, she looks as if she was d…"

And if everything was different, Ned would be already hugging and kissing her feverishly or pushing the both of them under the stream of the hot water until she didn't look like a beautiful corpse anymore.

But he couldn't.

And for one moment, as he stared at her, soaked, cold and guilty, the Pie Maker thought that his life would be much easier and less painful, without Charlotte Charles.

But only for a moment.

Because next he felt a consuming need to protect her; to never ever let Chuck out of his sight again, to locking the apartment door and throw away the key.

"Wow, suddenly you are the evil dragon keeping the princes in the castle, instead of the prince charming"

But he didn't care; Ned only could saw her soaked locks stuck to her beautiful features, her green drenched sweater and the small rain drops falling in the floor.

But he didn't say a word.

Suddenly, Ned felt terribly stupid and out of place, as if any word would break the spell and she would vanish under the rain, again, forever.

He didn't know what to say, or why she had run away from him again; because Ned couldn't know that some blonde waitress had said something to Chuck that had changed everything forever. That running away from him had nothing to do with them.

Ned couldn't know that.

"She is still mad at you, she has just realized that she can't forgive you and is here only to grab her things and vanish from your life as fast as she came.

And you are going to start to figure out how you are going to live without her."

Chuck, totally oblivious to his mistaken train of thoughts, walked miserably and slowly to their bedroom and Ned heard her searching in the drawers and changing her soaked clothes.

He felt tears forming slowly behind his eyes and turned to look at the filled teapot upon the flames of the stove.

"When was the last time you cried, baker boy?"

Then Ned heard very soft steps behind him and knew that Charlotte Charles was at his back.

The only thing he felt then, were her small hands upon his shirt and her slow breathing against the fabric; without a word, she moved her arms slowly from his back until she embraced his waist.

And that was the first time Chuck hugged him.

Immobile, surprised and with his hands still resting on the counter, Ned closed his eyes when he felt her cold body pressed against his back thought the black fabric of his shirt, and her grip tightening around him.

He looked down carefully and saw her arms covered by a long sleeve sweater and one her small hands wearing one of the white soft gloves that they keep in the night table drawers, exactly where she had been searching a few moments ago, and which time ago had been used to manipulate resurrected peaches, but now, since Chuck was in his life it have acquire much more dangerous and delightful uses than peaches.

"Maybe there is still hope."

But that thought, and the rest of them, flew off his head as soon as Ned felt her small gloved hand slipping under the black fabric of his shirt and "touching" delicately the skin of his stomach, to move down next, slow and dangerously, when she managed how to unbutton his belt blindly.

Ned breathing rushed and the earth stopped spinning around instantly when he felt her hand inside his pants, and he held on at border of the counter until his knuckles turned white.

"Don't move… Don't you dare move."

Ned closed his eyes slowly and felt the warmth radiating off her body leant against his back, the trace of water that her soaked hair was leaving in his shirt and all the delicious small sounds she was making while her gloved hand was dangerous and perfectly working inside his pants.

Still eyes closed, Ned swallowed hard and spoke in hushed, sexy and painful tone, as if his words were thousands of needles in his suddenly dry mouth:

"Chuck…what are you doing…?"

She loved the way he always says her nickname when he was a few seconds of losing control; low and hot, as if it was some kind of dark and consuming secret mantra known only by him.

She whispered and her words muffled by the black fabric of his shirt, "Isn't it obvious?"

"Eh… yes, absolutely. No."

Ned felt her breathing changing slightly at his back but her hand didn't stop. Because that was the way she always makes things. Time ago, Ned had discovered that something insider her was dangerously alive and free and savage, and that every time Charlotte Charles wanted something, she acted first and thought later.

She was straightforward, fast and deadly in many ways and Ned loved every one of them. And that's how he knew she wasn't going to stop, not even when the teapot began to whistle after about five minutes.

She wanted him and wanted him now.

Back in his mind, Ned couldn't help to think that maybe right now, he was the luckiest bastard in earth; the woman he loved more than anything and who drove him mad wanted to have sex with him in their apartment kitchen, even if it was their dangerous, and always imperfect kind of sex; but somehow, Ned knew that her hand inside his pants and his blood leaving his brain was related to some brutal and dark spot of guilt in her mind.

That the loneliness, the fury and the hate of the last days was what has pushed her hand inside his pants and what was making him moan her name in their kitchen; and what made her to brush her hand away just in time so neither of both would die that night.

After a few seconds, still immobile and in a broken and distant tone, Ned said, "You… you really shouldn't do that."

Chuck didn't answer and he continued whispering, half embarrassed half sad, and knowing perfectly she was still at his back

"…Because every time that you, we… you know, there is a moment where I cant help to think "would she die, if I touch her now?"

That was the first time he had said it out loud and it felt even worse than he had imagine, but he continued anyway, because it was already too late to stop and going back again to the "What if you didn't have to… be dead" part.

So, he opened his eyes and continued:

"…And it is unfair and crazy and stupid and terribly, terribly frightening."

And then, at his back, Charlotte Charles felt hot tears rolling down her frozen cheeks. Because in their private and secret language, what Ned had just said mean something like "I love you that much, that scares me to death the mere idea of knowing that I can inadvertently kill you."

So she spoke softly and pointedly, "Sometimes, when you, we…you know, I can't help to think "would be worth it to die, if he touches me now?"

Ned turned fast to look at her and spoke in a firm tone, "No. It wouldn't."

He grabbed her gloved hand, pressed it against his lips and kissed it again and again, her long fingers, the cut on the back of her hand from that same morning… The white fabric smelled slightly of him but he didn't care; he could feel her hand still cold underneath the fabric and he squeezed it lightly before leaving a way of hot kisses in her palm.

"It is okay Ned… Everything will be okay. Listen to me, there is something… something I need to do. "

He looked at her confused and she caressed his face gently before speaking, slow and a slightly tearful, "Ned… I have to go. I just came… to see you."

Not understanding what was going on, he raised his eyebrow in a typical Neds gesture that she loved, and whispered suddenly very scared:

"What?... You have to go?"

Chuck looked down for a moment and then she stared at him again.

"I'll be back."

He squeezed her hand, harder this time, and spoke against the white fabric:

"Don't… don't say that, the last person who said that to me never came back."

Chuck felt tears forming in her eyes at his scared tone and at his needy grip on her hand.

So, she spoke in the most convinced, sure and sincere tone she could and with a small smile in her lips in spite of the tears.

"I'll be back because I can't help it; it doesn't matter if I'm out for twelve hours, for two days or for twenty years, I always come back to you."

He smiled slightly relieved but didn't release her hand.

"I…I already know that, but Im afraid that this time I'll need something more than that to let you go. Sorry."

She smiled radiantly for the first time, because it wouldn't be the Ned she knew if he would have just let her go of his sight that easily and just like that, so with her free hand, she looked for something in her pocket and gave it to him.

"Then take this."

Ned looked at her father's small watch in his hand; he smiled sadly and looked at her, knowing that there wasn't anything he could do or say to stop her from whatever she was going to do.

"When I get back and then everything would be like before, or better… but I really need to do this Ned."

"By before you mean… before, when you didn't live here?"

Charlotte Charles smiled and shook her head in silence, then she pulled off the glove slowly and embraced carefully his waist.

"She embraces as a little girl would do."

Chuck leaned the side of her face against his chest and closed her eyes, letting her damp hair soak his shirt and breathing Ned, making sure that whatever happens next, she would never ever forgot his familiar scent floating in that kitchen, every muscle of his body immobile while she embraced him, his breathing against her hair… And the rest of little and wonderful things he was made of, then she left a small kiss on his chest upon the black fabric and raised her head to look at him for a few seconds before to speak:

"No, before when I didn't make you feel miserable."

And with that, Chuck got away from him slowly, and the muffled sound of the front door closing behind her and the whistle of the teapot in the kitchen, was everything Ned had left.

To be continued…

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