A/N: This was almost completely unintentional.
It was difficult to say at exactly what point the new case became an issue, but Chuck was willing to bet it was when someone mentioned necrophilia and Ned's eye began to twitch. Twitch, twitch, twitch, it went, with every indication that it meant to continue in the same vein. She pulled her attention from Emerson, who was busy expounding the details of the case at great and unnecessary length, and stared hard in consternation at the tic-laden Pie Maker.
"— at that point, I just reached out and turned it off," said Emerson, by no means concluding, but allowing a short commercial break for the listeners at home to rush for the beverages or, having done so previously, the restrooms. He folded his hands complacently in front of him; this being a sign that he was ready to take their questions, by rights Ned and Chuck should have leapt into the conversational fray. But the Pie Maker was too busy twitching, and Chuck directed her question to him.
"Are you alright?" She would have reached out to touch his arm, but she knew better than that, and the action was not so much stillborn as not even conceived. In her head, however, the lonely tourist embraced the Pie Maker fully, lending him support and reminders of her presence; in reality, sadly, she was forced to convey the weight of her concern with her voice and the worried twisting of her fingers.
"I'm fine!" said Ned explosively, then recovered, put a blank look on his face, and said, "Huh?" He shoved his hands in his pockets. Chuck looking at him like that made him want to embrace her fully, lending her support and reminders of his presence; in reality, unfortunately, this was never to be an option, and so he kept his hands in his pockets for fear they should, in a moment of abstraction, wander where they should not wander.
He could tell by the quirk of her eyebrows that he had not fooled her; but he had not really expected to.
"You're twitching," she pointed out.
He clapped a hand over his eye. "No I'm not," he said from behind it.
"Well, not now, you're not, no," she said, grinning a little, "but you were. And you don't twitch for no reason. I realize that's not the proper grammar—"
"Mm-hmm," rumbled Emerson, who was growing irritable at the tenor of the conversation.
"—but clearly there's something wrong and before your facial muscles spasm once too often and you get permanently stuck with a squint I think we should address it and fix it, if at all possible," finished Chuck in a rush.
"You know what I think?" said Emerson. "I think we ought to focus on the real issue here. Strange as this might seem, we've got a case. People expect us to solve it. People are waitin' on us. People are relyin' on us. And his twitchy eye and your grammar problems are gettin' in the way."
Ned faced him, hand still over half his face. "Do you realize that you drop your g's and talk to us like we're imbeciles when you're trying to drive home a point? I don't know what purpose that serves, if you're just trying to be impressive or if you really do think we're imbeciles—"
Emerson harrumphed and gave him a look that meant this was a line of thought he'd better not pursue to its logical conclusion.
"Don't try to change the subject," said Chuck. She folded her arms. "Something about this is really bothering you, and we should figure it out. I want to help." She gave him her best earnest look. "So let me."
The Pie Maker dropped his hand and returned it back to his pocket. "This lady thinks her boyfriend was a vampire, Chuck. A vampire. Someone's got issues here, and it might as well be me."
Chuck dropped her arms and swung them about as she talked. "A vampire, Ned, a bat in a human suit. Don't you find that the least bit intriguing?"
"Yes," said Ned. "I also find it frightening, disturbing, and a miscarriage of imagination." He turned to Emerson, beseechingly. "Is it really necessary that we take this case? I mean, isn't this one for the police to investigate?"
"My instincts are telling me, no," said Emerson delicately. "But the money in my pocket is telling me yes, yes, yes."
"She paid you already? You took money for us to figure out if her murdered vampire boyfriend is really murdered and a vampire? That's—" The distraught Pie Maker flailed. "— dishonest!"
"I think it's romantic," said Chuck, serenely. "I'm not talking about the money thing, I'm talking about the whole undead love situation. The idea that love goes on after you've died makes a lot of sense, I mean, love is a powerful emotion."
Ned had to walk away for a little bit. "I'm not disagreeing with that," he said once his back was turned. His shoulders hunched protectively, nearly up to his ears, though what or whom he was protecting was not immediately discernible. "There's no doubt that when love is pure—"
Emerson wished devoutly that he had not left his knitting needles in the car. "Why I always gotta be here for these conversations? You people are swimming in a vast ocean of angst, and callin' it a puddle of happiness. Even a dead vampire reminds you of yourselves."
"—but this love isn't pure," said Ned. "As far as I can tell."
"That's just it," said Chuck. "You can't."
He turned back towards her. "Necrophilia?"
She shrugged expansively. "We weren't there. Who are we to judge? She thought he was alive anyway."
"It was not," said Emerson, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut as he spoke, "actually necrophilia. The lady went to visit her boyfriend, whom she thought was a vampire, during the daytime. She thought he would be asleep. She was right. There was no heartbeat but then, hey, he's a vampire. She sits around till nightfall, and he don't wake up. Then, it's a problem. Lies about the undead only go so far."
Ned took a deep breath, and forcefully unhunched, loosing his hands from his pockets.
"So where is this so-called vampire?"
"I thought you'd never ask," said Emerson.
The so-called vampire was at present resting peacefully, if rather coldly, in the morgue. At the familiar sight of the trio coming through the door, the Coroner leaned back in his chair and drummed all five fingertips on the desk. Rent was about to come due. Tonight, he could take his momma a pie.
Emerson folded his fingers and looked as pious as he knew how. "Heard you got a live one."
"That supposed to be a joke?" It was clear from the Coroner's tone of voice and expression that, if so, it had failed miserably. Emerson unfolded his fingers and dropped his hands by his sides. Against his will, his facial muscles spasmed irritably.
"Now you're twitching," hissed Chuck. Ned leaned forward and looked sideways to check.
"Why would Emerson be twitching? There's no need to twitch."
"Maybe he twitches for no real reason. Like you." Chuck dropped the sentence airily and let it fall where it may, like conversational divining bones. Only she knew what it really meant.
"Emerson's not a reasonless twitcher." The Pie Maker was himself unreasonably distressed. A sudden change in the twitching habits of his friend the private investigator was not to be dismissed lightly. He himself knew that there was always a reason for his own tics, and had a deadly suspicion as to the reason for Emerson's. Something, he knew instinctively, was afoot.
Something was afoot, for Emerson Cod. Over the few years he had known the Pie Maker, and especially since the timely resurrection of the girl called Chuck, he had picked up and enjoyed a series of hobbies. Now proficient at knitting and pop-up-book-making, he had turned to a new pursuit: the art of stand up. The previous night had been his big debut at a pub on the other side of town, and the echoing silence of jokes stillborn and unfruitful was still with him even now. In his mind's eye he seemed to see the jeering crowd, all with the face and voice of the unimpressed Coroner, and he blushed hotly and twitched even harder.
"Now you're blushing!" hissed Chuck.
"What?" Ned was, by this point, quite alarmed. "Blushing? Why are you blushing? Why is he blushing?"
Emerson, trying to regain a measure of his composure, raised both hands and laid one each across the mouths of his companions. "Never mind them, they're being' talky. Lead us to the batman in the other room."
The Coroner eyed him with a steely gaze. "Mmm-hmmm," was all he would consent to say, till Emerson handed him the usual wad of bribery; which was also a bribe of freedom. Freedom for Emerson and his business associates to investigate the death of a certain vampire. Freedom for the Coroner to leave early in search of a celebratory dessert.
He flicked on the light switch for them. "Lock up when you're done. I've got business elsewhere."
The door closed behind them, and Ned said, "I just don't understand why you were twitching."
"And blushing," added Chuck, turning to face Emerson and scrutinizing him closely. "That's such an odd thing for you to do. I mean, since when do you get embarrassed about things?"
Emerson wished he had left his hands over their mouths. He wished, in fact, that he had brought duct tape, which, apart from its other million and one uses, is convenient for enforced quietude. He wished more than anything that they would shut up and get on with it, so he could go home.
"Will you two shut up and get on with it so we can go home," he said. Ned reflexively shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders.
"I just don't like things sprung on me," he muttered unhappily. "And anytime you get out of your zone and start doing things like twitching and— blushing, I get this sinking feeling."
"Well, bob right back up to the surface," said Emerson delicately, "and touch the dude."
Chuck pointed an accusatory finger at the Pie Maker. "Twitching! You're twitching again!"
"It was just the phrasing," said the Pie Maker lamentably. "It struck me as unfortunate." He loomed over the sheet-covered body of the erstwhile vampire, and sighed, shaking out his hand in preparation. Chuck pulled the sheet down for him.
The professed vampire was approaching middle age more rapidly than he cared to admit— at least, he had been before he went to his eternal sleep. His name was Edmund Hillary, and he had spent his entire lifetime explaining to people that, in fact, he had never gone near Mount Everest and was terrified of heights. His girlfriend, Esmerelda Hannity, had stayed goth a good ten years later than she should have, and when at thirty-five she was given the chance to date an actual vampire, had tripped over her thigh-high black leather platform lace-ups saying yes. The chance synchronicity of their initials had been to both of them a sign of the inevitability of their union, and love had blossomed among the cobwebs and coffins of Edmund's basement suite.
Now, as the Pie Maker stood poised over the body, he noted the blackened fingernails of the hands, the dark circles under the eyes, and he tipped his head curiously.
"Did somebody beat this guy up before he died?"
"It's makeup," said Chuck knowledgeably. "He was dressing the part."
"Overcompensating for his lack of vampireness, if you ask me."
"Why don't you ask him," suggested Emerson. "Or would that be too difficult for you in your obviously over-emotional state?" Ned looked at him. Their eyes twitched in sympathy: Ned was, indeed, over-emotional on account of taking this case personally, and Emerson had been, once again, trying for a joke and failing miserably.
"Okay," said Ned, sighed, and started the watch for Edmund's final minute.
The dead man woke with a start and eyed the strange faces above him with a critical gaze. "Where am I? Who are you? What happened?"
"If nothing else," muttered Emerson, "he's an original thinker. We're askin' the questions here, Dracula."
"Hi," said Chuck, giving Edmund a little wave. "We have a few questions to ask you, and not much time to do it in. We want to find out if you were killed, and find your killer, and bring him to justice."
Edmund eyed her, squinting. "Are you like avenging angels, or something?"
Chuck shrugged slightly. "More like an avenging committee. We work in tandem. And we're not very angelic."
"Forty seconds," said Ned. He glanced up from his watch. The vampire was staring at him.
"Forty seconds till what?"
"Till you— have to be dead again."
Edmund laughed. Ned twitched. Being laughed at was not something he was used to. Emerson, behind him and unseen, also twitched. Being laughed at was, equally, not something he was used to.
"Death's not a problem. I've been telling people I'm dead for years. Hasn't stopped me so far."
"I beg to differ," said the Pie Maker, making futile gestures to the morgue around them.
"But that's ridiculous, if you don't mind me saying," Chuck broke in. "I mean, being dead's not like being Catholic. You don't just get to say it's what you are and then do nothing about it."
"Twenty seconds," said Ned. "Look, were you killed by somebody? Do you know who did it?"
Edmund heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Last thing I remember I'd turned on my day-dark and was drifting off to sleep."
"Day-dark?" queried Emerson.
"Yeah, it's a special dark lantern for vampires." Edmund waved a dismissive hand. "I'm not saying I have a fear of the light, but I have to admit it does lend a certain restfulness to my rest. It plugs in right by my coffin. Also helps if I have to get up during the day to use the bathroom."
"Five seconds," said Ned.
"Can you quit with the counting? It makes me feel anxious. Hey." He stared in consternation at Ned, who stared in consternation in equal or greater amounts back at him. "Why'd you poke me?"
"— um," said Ned.
"That was really rude. You don't just go around poking people, you know? What, you never heard of invasion of personal space?"
"Um," said Ned again, "well, usually when I— poke people for the second time, they're not still around to complain—" He shook out his finger, and prodded Edmund's cheek. Edmund knocked his hand away.
"Hey! What is that, some kind of threat? You're going to have to do better. You're not even remotely scary." He widened his eyes and made twinkle fingers. "Oooooh, scary finger. I'm gonna poke you with it!"
"Um," said Ned, not for the first time and probably not for the last.
"Hasn't it been considerably more than a minute?" asked Chuck, worriedly.
"Oh no you didn't," said Emerson.
Ned flailed at Edmund, who regarded him with detached amusement. "He won't re-dead! I can't— what do I— I don't know what to do!"
"It's cold in here," said the vampire, and looked thoughtful. "I guess I should go check up on Esmerelda—" In a series of smooth movements he was up off the table, sheet wrapped around him, and ambling towards the door. The distraught Pie Maker followed after him tapping on his shoulder with absolutely no visible effect.
"I don't know what to do!" said Ned.
"Maybe some garlic," suggested Chuck, half-heartedly, in something of a panic. She looked to Emerson to see if he would at least give her a reassuring smile, but Emerson was already gone.
The Pie Maker and the lonely tourist stood and watched the reanimated vampire march from the room, trailing the sheet behind him; both of them equally at a loss, and neither of them quite willing to follow. One thing, however, they both knew, though only the Pie Maker had the guts to say it.
"This is not good," he said. "At all."