He seems always so calm, and that is what bothers him. It does not matter how he may behave, storm and rain or not, Andy Barclay is always calm.

Perhaps calm is not quite the right word. Numb would be more accurate. The more Chucky thinks about it, the more he knows that calm is not exactly the word to describe Andy. Calm is when he has smoked so much his lungs are full and his head is leaned back against the couch, grinning to himself and finding everything funny. He has been calm before. Save for some terrible nights or clouded days, he has been more calm here than he has been in a long time.

No, it is not quite calm. But it is something.

Even as a child, Chucky had noticed when normal human emotions had drained out of Andy's aura. The second time he had run into him, he could see it in his eyes. A lack of something. He hadn't been quite sure what it was, and at the time, he hadn't cared. Every day, the guilt about it eats him alive. Everyday that he still sees that numbness in Andy's eyes, the guilt grows.

It had always bothered him, under the surface, how easily Andy had let him back into his life. Not that it had been entirely easy. But he is finding himself constantly battling growing conflicts within him, making him anxious and sick. The days this is worse, he and Andy fight horribly, saying things out of anger, screaming and slamming doors.

Looking back though, Chucky realizes that it has only ever been himself screaming and slamming the doors. Andy had only ever stood there, watching. Nothing but static. It drives him insane, wondering what is going on inside Andy's mind, day in and day out.

He wonders if it is him and him alone, who killed Andy inside, or if there were other things that kept him so drawn away from the world and tangible feelings. Outside of when he was attempting to track him down, Chucky had never really read into what Andy's life had been like, growing up when he was not around. Again, he had never really cared before.

But things have changed now, and he does.

Andy is at work, when he sits at Andy's laptop and begins his own personal investigation. He types furiously into the search bar for hours, clicking between articles. Nothing. Not enough to tell him much. He knew that Andy had been in foster homes, but outside of a couple of foster programs, he was not told much else. He searched for awhile longer, only to eventually become frustrated.

He cannot bring himself to ask Andy about it. Something tells him that this will not end well. He deletes his search history instead, and smokes and sketches at the window, perturbed. He draws Pitya , but with sad eyes. He gets frustrated and tears them up, throwing the shredded pages in the garbage.

When Andy comes home, there is a strong tension in the air. Andy seems to feel it, but again, does nothing about it. The numbness is almost irritating.

"Have you been here all day?" Andy asks. There is no accusatory tone about it, but Chucky gets defensive anyways, guilty. Knowing what he has done - or tried to do, anyways. Andy is taking off his shoes at the door, unaware of the seething anger Chucky is battling inside.

"You gotta fuckin' problem with that?" Chucky snaps. Andy looks up, but chooses not to respond. For some reason, this only irritates Chucky more. He watches, anger seething just underneath his skin, growling and settling as Andy makes his way into the living room, cracking open a beer as if nothing was wrong.

"Move over, I don't want you touching me," Chucky growls. Still, nothing. Andy simply sighs and rummages through his things on the coffee table, smoking. It is not enough. He is annoyed that Andy seems so unbothered, that he is always so flat-line. He wants a fire.

He snatches the joint out of Andy's hand. "You're a completely irritating little bitch, you know that?" he asks, snarling right in Andy's ear. He is disappointed to see Andy doesn't even flinch. He should have known by now, and yet he is still let down.

For a minute, he sees Andy's hand clench and unclench, and he thinks he may have sprung a leak. But Andy simply stands from the couch, leaving him.

"Get some sleep," Andy says, and it is not condescending, but oh god , it makes Chucky want to fly after him in rage. Andy disappears into his bedroom, shutting the door just before Chucky picks up the empty beer bottle and chucks it after him. It clatters against the door, cracking into pieces.

He knows he shouldn't take this out on Andy. Truthfully, he is painfully aware of the true source of his irritation. He has always been the competitive kind, and in his mind, Andy is winning. Ever since he had gone through his horrible transition from doll to human, Andy has seen some of the most vulnerable and weaker parts of him, and it is an outright injustice that he has not gotten to see the soft underbelly of Andy in any way, shape or form.

And even more truthfully still, he wants to know just what kind of pain his actions caused Andy to go through. His slowly growing conscience needs to know what he has to pay penance for. He owes Andy a life debt, and unless he knows how to pay it, he will stay in debt, which is unacceptable if he ever wants to be someone significant to Andy. He exhales bitterly, eyes stinging from the weed or from the pent-up frustration, he isn't sure which.

He ends up cleaning the bottle pieces from the floor. The door stays shut.

He continues to try and pry on his own, but each time, it comes to no fruition. After a week of attempting and failing to gather any dirty details on Andy's muddled past - and a week of annoying Tiffany with it to the point where she threatened to block his number again - he finally swallows the hard and painful pill. He will either have to talk to someone who knows Andy, or he will have to have a conversation with Andy himself.

The latter makes him want to die. He knows he will never get the answers anyways. If anyone is as hard-shelled and contemptible about revealing themselves as he is, it is Andy Barclay. He thinks Andy may have him beat in this department as well. And on the small chance that he does, he would never let Chucky live it down, that he showed he cared. He is sure of this.

He wants to pick him apart, but he has no ammunition. He would ask Karen Barclay, but knowing how Tiffany is with their children, he has the sneaking suspicion Karen will not tell him anything. She will probably challenge him to ask Andy. He is backed against the wall with no other choice. And he hates the conclusion he has come to.

He gives offerings to Ayida in the backlot behind the apartment complex, nestling three white eggs, a paquet congo , and rice in blue cloth. Around it, he paints the colors of the rainbow in rapid and desperate strokes.

" Please ," is all he says. His hands are shaking. He hates how easily he feels fear for a simple woman. A woman younger than him, and yet she frightens him so much that he runs to the Lwa for protection. He is not even sure they will help.

He shows up at Kristen's apartment anyways, nerves threatening to jump out of him. He almost does not knock on the door. But he does, and he hates how timid it sounds. Standing at her door triggers memories, ones that he wishes he could forget, and ones that do not make sense.

The door swings open, and she is there, and Kristen towers over him, as she had last time, and he despises how close is to wetting himself. She scowls immediately upon recognizing him, crossing her arms. He can smell food in the background.

"What do you want?" she prods. It is electric, how he can feel she desperately wants to tear him to pieces. He can hear the hissing in her voice. He grits his teeth, biting his tongue for the sake of his head.

"Can I come in?" he asks, instead of saying anything he actually wants to say. He owes her as well, whether he likes it or not. She had a hand in bringing him back into Andy's life, despite her better judgment. And he is well aware of her judgment.

And again, by some mercy of the gods, she passes over her better judgment yet again, granting him passage into her apartment with a passive-aggressive wave of her hand. She stalks toward the kitchen, stirring her pot. He hates how the smell makes his stomach growl lowly.

"So," he coughs, awkwardly. He can feel his palms sweating. "You making dinner?"

"Yes, actually ," Kristen snaps. The anger is evident in her voice. "I was planning a nice evening with my girlfriend before you came and ruined my aura. I'm going to have to smoke my whole apartment after you leave."

Chucky swallows. It is not going well, although it is better than he had thought it might have been. At least she had let him in. He knows it is because he is with Andy. If it were not for Andy, she would probably kill him. Something about her tells him that she probably could .

She's cooking rice. He can smell it, and he can tell by the way she covers the pot. Something else, too. He sees chicken on the cutting board, and a variety of spices. He clears his throat, and then musters the gumption to slide one of the counter chairs next to her, clambering up gracelessly.

She glares at him. He's huffing from the climb.

"Let me help," he says, despite his pride. "I can cook pretty well now; I've been finding it something to do to keep my hands busy. I'll deal with the chicken."

Kristen puts a hand on her hip. An eyebrow raises. "What do you want?" she asks again, but the anger has subsided to make way for her uncontrollable curiosity. The storm he felt earlier seems to calm, at least for now. "And it's not just cooking the chicken; I'm making feijoada . We need beans and sausage and beef as well."

"I can help with that too," Chucky replies, voice hoarse suddenly. This is the most Kristen has ever spoken to him, and because she is Andy's friend, it means more to him than he'd expected. He gets caught in a wave of realization, and he has to shake it away before it drowns him. "Just… just tell me what to do."

Kristen looks absolutely taken aback, but she hums, seemingly pleased even though she does not smile. He takes that as a small victory. There's silence, outside of the sizzling of meats cooking over the next hour or so. When the lid finally covers the pot of the feijoada , Kristen turns to him again, cocking her head.

"Okay, seriously, what's going on?" she questions, and now she sounds worried. He is worried too.

He wrings his hands nervously. "It… it's about Andy," he starts, and immediately holds up his hands in surrender. "I haven't hurt him! I promise. I kept my promise to you, I…" he stops, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat. He coughs, and Kristen pretends she does not notice.

"It's the onions," she comments casually. Her voice is flat, but it seems gentler, in its own way. "I didn't keep them in the freezer."

She gestures for him to sit at the counter, and he does, careful with his words and actions. Somehow, he has gained her favor, at least for now. He will not abuse this. He whispers a silent thank you to Ayida. Kristen is unscrewing a bottle of gin, icing two glasses.

"I assume you like gin and tonic?"

"You'd be assuming correct."

She mixes the drinks and then slides one cup to him. He takes it gratefully. She sits next to him crossing her legs on the stool, swirling her cup before taking a drink. "So what's going on with Andy that's got you so worried you're coming to me?" she asks. There's a small dimple in the very corner of her mouth, as if she is amused. "I know I'm the last person you'd come to."

"Not really," Chucky manages, between sips. She is an amazing bartender, or he is eager to please, but the drink is perfectly mixed. "You are his closest friend. If anyone would have the intel I need, it would be you."

"Over Mrs. Barclay?" Kristen interjects. She laughs. "I doubt it, but the flattery is working. Ask away."

Chucky takes another drink. "Listen… I'm just… shit... I'm gonna come clean here, okay?" he says. His voice cracks just a bit. "I'm worried about him, mentally. It's been bothering me for a while, more than I'd like."

"So, he's an inconvenience for you." Kristen states. There's a growl in her throat. He blanches. This is going wrong.

"No, no, not like that ," he placates. "I mean… you don't understand, this is hard for me, okay? I…" he is not going to cry. He is not . Not over this. He contemplates when he has become so pathetic. He takes a deep breath, his whole body jittering. His foot taps restlessly against one of the stool bars. Kristen seems to be losing her patience; she probably suspects his tears are a ruse. He does not blame her. His pride needs to go, or he will never have peace.

"Look, I know I fucked up with him, okay? I do . And I know you probably don't believe me, and I won't blame you. Let's just get that out of the way. But... I'm fuckin' worried. I know shit I did messed with his mind, and I know he shut down, but… something more than that has been weighing on me. I want to know what happened to him after me. In between our... rendezvous ."

He downs the rest of the drink. He holds the cup out beseechingly. Kristen huffs, but fills it again, and it tastes just as good as the last time. He can smell the food now, rich and warm. He hangs his head, just taking everything in.

"I just… I need to know how much I need to make it up to him. I know it's a debt I can never repay, but I want to spend my time with him trying."

There is a long and pregnant pause. He feels as if time has frozen for a moment, and only he is fluid. Kristen is staring deeply into her drink. If it were not for her stirring the small straw and the tinkling of the ice, he would truly believe time had frozen. For a moment, he is afraid he has made the wrong choice. He has asked for too much from her. In her defense, this is her closest friend, as he had said. To betray anything of Andy's confidence in her was a large bargaining, and he knows he has nothing to offer her.

Nothing that is, except his immense guilt and need to settle things. He is not sure if he has the humility to admit this to her. What he does know is that it may be what he needs to sacrifice if he is to accomplish this.

"Why don't you just ask Mrs. Barclay?" Kristen asks, her voice deep. Murky. Her eyes are clouded over, perhaps from the drink, or perhaps more from his request, he isn't entirely sure.

"There's no way she'd tell me."

"What makes you so sure that I'd tell you then?"

Chucky gulps. His heart is pounding in his head. It is the alcohol, but it is also the price. She is asking for the sacrifice of his dignity and pride, as he had suspected and feared. She is only a step below asking Karen Barclay, but even though she asks for a such a simple price, it still makes him quiver inside uncomfortably.

"Because, as much as you despise me, I know you know that I'll do anything for him. To the point that there's no point in me trying to lie about it. And you care about him just as much as I do, if not more."

Her eyes scan over him, brooding.

" Please ."

His imploring seems to melt her guard, if even just a bit. She shifts in her seat, taking another drink. Her lips are pursed, as if running every possible pro and con that should follow depending on her choice. He does not blame her. He finds that he cannot.

"I just want to be good for him. It's the least I can do, to try for that."

Her lips curl. She swirls her drink in the glass. "Let the records show, I hate you. I could blackmail you for that heartfelt confession, you know," she teases, and something about her voice painfully reminds him of Tiffany. But there is a real threat behind it. He freezes, but only for a moment, nodding in acceptance.

"I know . I've said this already. It's worth it. Just... help me. You know you want things to be better for him anyways."

She seems to relent at this, knowing he is right. He can see her almost shriveling at the fact they have to agree on something, and there is something about this that reminds him of himself. He almost smiles about it, the fact that he and she may have something in common.

"Listen, you can't…" she starts, and the doorknob rattles. They both curse under their breath. She gives him a pointed stare, and then runs to the door, greeting who Chucky supposes is Jess, her girlfriend. He supposes accurately, and the chopped-haired ginger appears around the corner, stopping short in her tracks.

"Well, if it isn't the red-headed Farquad," she announces. Chucky does not understand the reference, but Kristen apparently does, snorting and shoving her playfully, whispering stop into her neck. "What're you doing around here, anyways?"

"We're trying to have a serious conversation, Jeevie, have some self-control," Kristen responds, tugging her arm. Jess rolls her eyes but complies, nodding her head towards the drinks.

"Only if you hit me up with one of those," she replies. "I'm practically jealous. He's getting drinks from you before me."

Kristen huffs, pouring a glass. There is still an air of playfulness though. Chucky finds himself relieved that Jess is here. She seems to be embalming Kristen's dark and unexplainable intimidation. Her aptitude changes almost instantly, chattering more, body movement more fluid and relaxed. Friendly in a way he has not gotten a chance to see her in before.

"Smells good in here," Jess comments.

"It's the feijoada ," Kristen replies, shrugging an elbow in Chucky's direction. "Believe it or not, he's not the completely talentless hack he seems to be."

"Ah, so it might be poisoned. I'll watch my bites," Jess says, antagonizing him. He cannot help the flush that comes over him, and his mouth is too dry to defend himself. She grins though, and the stuttering in his chest slowly releases.

"So, do I need to leave for this conversation, or…?" Jess trails off, glancing between the two of them. Kristen shakes her head, sighing heavily.

"No, I'd rather you stay… actually," she pleads, intertwining her fingers with Jess'. Chucky feels as if his hands are empty, and finds himself fiddling with his drink again, trying to numb himself. He's overwhelmed and anxious to begin this conversation, or cut the idea of it out. Something soon. He does not like where his mind is beginning to wander. Kristen is still fighting within herself, now looking to Jess for guidance. "He… he wants to know about Andy. Like… everything."

Jess makes a face, but she doesn't say anything.

Kristen tosses her hair over her shoulder, free hand in messy curls. "He trusts me with a lot," she continues, and she is speaking to both of them now. "And it took years for him to even tell me these types of things. I really don't even know how much Mrs. Barclay knows. Most of it came out in small spurts here and there, when he was drunk. You know how the mouth runs when you're drinking."

She raises a brow at Chucky. "So you better slow down, or I'll get another nice confession out of you, too," she warns. He pales, putting the glass down.

"Please," he says again, as he had before. "I need to know." He stares at Kristen, trying not to shrink away from her eyes, intense and curious. "I didn't let you down last time you trusted me. Mostly . Just give me this fuckin' chance."

She relents, finally, shoulders sagging. "I'm really going to regret this," she sighs.

"Let me start from what I think is the earliest memory he's told me. I think . Like I said, I've only gathered up bits and pieces from when he's been a little under the influence. After you so nicely got his mother locked up, he was sent into the ever-corrupted foster system. Like many other kids, he was, you know, passed around from house to house. But from what I gather, he didn't last very long at all in any of them."

She frowns in thought. "Not at all, if I remember. He had horrible anger issues and fits of violence. Or so he says. He cried a lot too, for hours. And loud . Nobody could handle it well. At best, he was given up pretty early. At worse… well…"

She trails off, swallowing. "He tells me he hurts himself sometimes, just to cover up the scars that he didn't give to himself," she whispers. She sounds shattered. Something about this scares Chucky more than he had thought it would. He is afraid of how she may retaliate. "He likes the relief he feels, when he mutilates himself. He thinks it makes him feel more in control of his own body again. "

Maybe it is the alcohol. He feels heavy.

You never finished your strange little ritual, Chucky. You don't own me. You never did.

Andy had been hurting himself then, right in front of him. He wants to puke. He had never thought of it in this way before. In the past, he had been selfish. He had only been thinking of his own personal gain, and unfortunately, Andy had been the ticket out of his own personal hell. He hadn't liked the situation either, but he had also not realized just how truly it had morphed Andy's mind. Truthfully, and shamefully, he hadn't cared. And now he is paying the price.

"I mean, I could go on for a long time about how he was treated," Kristen murmurs, hoarsely. Jess is holding her hand, squeezing it. "The things he'd told me, so casually, I - I wished I'd known him back then, before Kent. He was like dirt to some of these families. If he wasn't passed around like unwanted garbage, well, he has scars to show just what they did to him."

She stops, voice stuttering, "He shouldn't have even been at Kent. He… he …"

Jess hushes her suddenly, eyes careful. "You don't have to share all of it, Kristen," she stops her, slowly edging her drink away from her hands. "I think he understands enough as is."

She gives Chucky a look, one he does not really understand, but tries to. "Some things aren't meant to be shared by us."

Which means it would be up to Andy to decide. Chucky has a feeling this means he'll never really know. But he has a better idea

"To be honest, I know Jeevie and I have triggered it too," she continues, and now her eyes are bright. Too bright. They are both many drinks in. They've lost count. Time has passed. He knows this, and only this, is why she is intimate with him. She has been carrying her own guilt for a while now. "We're too loud. I know it. He is so timid when it comes to these things. He'll never say it. But I - we both - know it. He's mentioned how much he'd been screamed at, or had objects thrown loudly at him or around him. I've seen him flinch from me when I try to hug him too tight, or call his name too loudly."

She is definitely sniffling now. She wipes at her eyes, clearing her throat.

Loud noises just bother me, that's all , Andy had said once. He cannot remember quite when. Kind of like you .

He feels a weight in his chest. He puts his glass down. Perhaps he should stop drinking. He looks at Kristen. He knows she sees the guilt in his eyes. Her brows furrow.

"And you want to know why he doesn't like being around you, mister megamouth. He's told me how you shout a lot."

Chucky stares at her. "I… I didn't know… I…" he's choking. He wants to snarl. He wants to deny. Fuck you, this isn't my fault, he wants to say. But her righteous wrath is devastating. Intimidating. He cannot play pretense with her. Jess puts a hand on her arm, almost as if it is a silent plea for her to have mercy. His offerings must have been sufficient, as she does not lunge towards him the way he knows she wants and he deserves.

"We all did," Jess interrupts. "We all did unintentionally, Krissy."

Nevertheless, Kristen's hand tightens into a fist.

"But I knew…" she starts. "I know better and I still…"

He is uncomfortable. He has never been good at comforting others, and Kristen is clearly uncomfortable too, wiping away at her eyes angrily. There is an awkward pause. She sniffs, crossing her arms, and stands, moving away from Jess. He feels a strong wall beginning to form in between them again, as she turns away, stirring the pot on the stove. If she begins to cry, it is not obvious.

Jess gives him a wry smile. When Kristen doesn't make a move to turn back, she nudges him, ducking her head towards the patio door.

"Wanna go smoke?" she whispers softly. He feels a huge breath of relief wash through him. His legs are shaking when he climbs down from the stool, nearly tripping over his own feet after Jess. She slides the door open, and he looks back at Kristen one more time before going out. Her back is still towards them, somber.

For a while, they don't say anything, silently passing the joint. Chucky inhales heavily, breath shaking.

" Fuck …" he finally grunts, wiping his hands on his jeans. He runs his hands through his hair, scratching the back of his neck.

"You alright?" Jess asks. She's grinning, but the concern is in her eyes nonetheless. She sniffs. "That was intense, huh?"

At this, Chucky snorts wryly. "You're telling me ," he says. There is another pause. Jess shifts in her spot, leaning from one foot to another.

"She really cares about him, you know," she continues, finally. Her voice is stiff. "She's so intense because she's fiercely protective of him. You're a threat to his safety in her eyes. You understand, right? If you did anything to him, she would never forgive herself for allowing that to happen, and there's no telling what she'd do to you."

Chucky swallows. "I know," he responds heavily. "I'm not… I don't hate her for it… shit , I get it." He kicks at the ground, passing the blunt back over. "I get it… it makes sense."

He pulls at his hair, frustrated. Jess smokes silently, patiently waiting on him to finish.

"I know that I'm the last person in the world who deserves to be around him. I don't like it either, trust me. It was the last fuckin' thing I and now."

He feels heat crawling up the inside of his neck. He has never openly said it aloud to anyone, and now he is about to, in front of someone he barely knows. A practical stranger. Someone he is sure he cannot trust. Jess passes the blunt back to him though, and she is not responding. The silence hangs. Only the sounds of the city below them cut through the tension.

"But…" he pushes out, coughing through the smoke in his lungs. "But it is what it is… and whether I like it or not… I…" he flushes. He doesn't look at her when he says it. His hands tremble and he drops the roach. Jess stomps it out.

I care about him too .

"You know," Jess interjects, while he's blushing and stammering, akin to a teenager having their crush found out, "There is one thing that I thought you might find interesting."

She leans back against the railing, studying him. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you, but I don't know, I feel like it's the right thing to do anyways. Since you've exposed yourself so much to me just now, I guess it's safe for you to hear it. Maybe."

His face is hot. But she continues before he can take a breath to attempt a threat.

"He told us that the worst part of everything, and I mean everything he'd been through, was the fact that through it all, he always thought of you."

His mouth grows dry. Everything he'd wanted to say stops in between them, frozen. Instead, he coughs, trying not to show too much interest. " Really ."

Jess rolls her eyes, which either means that his attempt to hide his interest completely failed, or he succeeded and she finds his disinterest immature. Somehow, he regrets the childish choice of feigning indifference. He is too old to be behaving like this, much too old, and he knows this. Jess only makes it more obvious with her reaction.

"Anyways," she emphasizes. "First of all - don't you dare tell anyone I told you, or I'll release Kristen's wrath on you - but, when I say he thought of you, I mean he had very, very vivid fantasies of being rescued from them. Because you would come in and kill them."

He can feel his heart in his throat. It reverberates through his ears.

"The people who were hurting him, you mean."

It is not necessary for him to say it, but he did nonetheless. The clarification from Jess knocks the wind out of him, and there is only the smoke in the air for him to inhale. He is silent with her, while they look over the balcony, and neither say anything more about it. The thoughts stay in his mind though, and it rests heavier than he'd thought it would. He almost wonders if perhaps it was a mistake, for him to know this. For some reason, he feels guiltier than ever, knowing that he wasn't there when Andy needed him most.

They stand there, hushed, until the air grows cold, and he can see his breath in front of him. He can hear clattering in the apartment, presumably Kristen. He shivers and shoves his hands in his pockets. Jess shakes herself, seemingly satisfied that he's said everything he is going to say. She slides the door open.

"Come on," she says, holding a hand out. "I think we've all cooled down. Let's eat, hmm?"

He almost turns it down, tries to leave quietly. But Kristen, with suspiciously red eyes, insists, muttering something along the lines of it being against her nature to not let him eat when he helped cook. They don't talk much though, the only sounds being the clanking of silverware against plates. Every once in a while, Jess tries to begin small talk, and every time, it dies down. Chucky offers to help wash dishes, but Kristen refuses.

"I think you should go home," is what she says. "Go to him."

She looks exhausted. He feels exhausted. Jess stays silent, clearing the table. She gives Chucky a look before nudging Kristen gently, passing the dishes over to her. They don't say anything to each other, but he can see that their eyes connect about something. Kristen takes the dishes and goes to the sink. Jess looks after her for a moment before walking him to the door, scratching the back of her neck.

"I guess I've overstayed my welcome, huh?" he jokes, just trying to kill the silence. Jess cracks a smile.

"You know," she says, her voice quiet. Her head ducks back, glancing in the direction of the kitchen, before turning back to him. "Kristen will never admit it, but we'd like you to come around more often. With Andy. She won't say it, but she actually does like you.

"Besides, we both know. We've known ."

Chucky feels himself heat up again despite the cold of the stairs. "Call it woman's intuition or a gut feeling or whatever, but we've known for a bit. Kristen has known since she gave you the Blue Label."

She winks, and he wants to sink into the floor. "Yeah, she told me about that. She tells me everything."

She puts a hand on his shoulder. He doesn't know how to respond to it. She's bent over, and it reminds him of his short stature, and he hates it, but he is too overwhelmed by everything that has happened in the last few hours he cannot find it in himself to do anything about it.

"Just… take care of him, alright? We might be smart enough to pick up on it, but he's a little more obtuse. If you want to end up inside him, you might want to stop giving him reasons to keep building up walls."

At this, Chucky scowls. His heart is pounding. "I never said…" he starts, but Jess laughs, nudging him out the door. "Alright, sure, okay. Good luck with that. I can practically see your nose growing, Pinnochio."

Chucky growls at her. He can't seem to clamber down the stairs fast enough. He can hear her laughter echoing in the stairwell.

Andy does not ask where he's been. He knows he wouldn't, but the guilt of him knowing information that had been privy prior to his unwarranted snooping leaves him nervous nonetheless.

Now that he knows what he knows, he couldn't bring himself to stalk up on him, as he normally would. Andy never responds when he does, but still, suddenly, it doesn't feel right. Instead, he had opened the door, taking his time to take his shoes off before walking into the living room and then to Andy's bedroom when he'd found it empty.

Andy was bent over at the table, scribbling in books that Chucky had read before, but had never gotten much information from. Chucky had knocked on the door frame, and it was the quietest sound, but he noticed that for the first time in a long while, he might have made Andy jump.

"Did you just get here?" is what Andy asks, his voice as calm as ever.

Chucky leans against the door frame, just looking. It is hard for his mind not to wander. If anything, his guilt seems larger now than before. He supposes it should have been expected, but it stings, nonetheless.

"Yeah," he responds. He doesn't mean for his voice to be so soft. He blames it on Jess and Kristen They had unnerved him, is all, as women have always done to him. There is no other reason for it. "H-how was work?"

There is utter confusion on Andy's face. Chucky can see his pupils dilate, just a bit. He realizes that this is the first time he's asked Andy anything or shown any interest in general. The thought makes him want to crush his skull against the doorframe. He doesn't.

"Fine," is all Andy says. But his eyes don't leave him. If anything, Chucky feels as if Andy is more suspicious of him now than he usually is. Understandably so. He's never been this kind before, so naturally Andy must assume he wants something.

He clears his throat. "Good, good," he replies. The awkward shuffle of conversation between them is difficult. He finally stands straight again, thoughts lingering and pushing at him. He ignores them. "I'm gonna get a drink - want anything?"

Andy's jaw looks like it may fall off. He hesitates in his response.

"Sure." He says it slowly, as if he is waiting for something to happen. Anything . Now that Chucky is paying attention, it hurts to know that Andy may always constantly be waiting for his betrayal. It puts up another so called wall between them, damn Jess and her accuracy.

He shuffles to the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge, frustrated and confused.

"What the hell am I doing?" he asks aloud to no one. He wants to imagine Damballa is listening. If he's lucky, maybe someone else. In these matters, he needs to appeal to Lwa Erzulie, but he has never prayed to her before, and does not know her temperance.

It crosses his mind to ask Tiffany, but the thought alone makes him shrivel inside. More than likely she wouldn't say a word, but a part of him is afraid she would. It is his guilt that drives this. He knows that he was a poor husband and father, and she has every motive to bring him to ruin.

He's burned so many bridges. Too many bridges. Sometimes, it's exhausting to think about. He finds two glass bottles and searches through the kitchen for a bottle opener, mulling over his thoughts while he cracks them open. When he brings them to Andy, they don't talk. He is a little let down by this, especially in himself, but the fact that this is the first night they have not fought in months is a small victory.

Andy goes to bed soon after, and Chucky does not sleep. He sits by Andy's door and waits for something. Anything . A sign of trauma. A moment to prove himself. But Andy must have drank enough to sleep through the night, as he most likely has done for years now, and Chucky finds himself watching the sunrise alone, eyes bloodshot and heart heavy.

When he hears Andy up and about the apartment, getting ready for work, he stays on the patio, touching the dying leaves of a potted plant. He sighs, plucking it, watching brown, shriveled leaves flutter to the ground. Andy calls out a goodbye, and while he sounds calm as ever, now that Chucky is aware of it all, he thinks he might almost hear it in his voice. That desperate sadness.

Or maybe he just wants to hear it.

By afternoon, the shock has worn off, and the emotions come and go in waves. He is numb, sitting in front of the television, fantasizing up the most fantastic ways to lower Andy's guard. Then he is irate and full of fire, on the deck smashing the pot of the dead plant, feeling reckless and satisfied as he watches its destruction.

Then he is remorseful, and overthinks it, and compares Andy to the stem and the roots, and rubs dirt stained hands across his eyes, frustrated.

"I'm sorry, you poor fucker," he sniffs out to the plant, which of course, does not respond. He chuckles heartlessly, scooping up the pieces. "I really only know how to make a mess of things, don't I?"

He stares over the balcony. He can see the pedestrian traffic below. "I wonder how you get to the part where you're good at fixing things, you know?"

He sweeps up the rest of the pot, grumbling about the height of the broom and the amount of work it is to clean it all up. When he's finally satisfied, he lights a joint and stays out, feeling the wind and the sun, numb again. Lost in thought, and more than often, his mind stops on Andy.

How did he not pick up on anything? No signs, no clues. He wants to chalk it up to the fact that he just wasn't trying to discover anything about Andy before, because he hadn't cared. But even then, he should have seen something , at some point. Anything. But he cannot think of a thing. He sits long on the balcony, carding his fingers through the left over dirt from the spilled pottery, and he can not find one single thing. His mind crowds with hypotheticals, the various what ifs .

What if, indeed. There are a million ways it could go. He knows he will go mad with them.

He decides to go downstairs, just to see him. Just to be near him. The echoing of too late, too late runs through his chest. Nothing else can happen. Nothing. He cannot take anymore what ifs .

Andy looks at him as if he has lost his mind, the way he always looks at him when he visits his place of work. He sneers before he can stop himself, and it only wrenches his heart as a result. Making a mess already, and he has hardly walked through the door.

"What are you doing here?" Andy questions him, and he can see it now. That same spark of excitement when presented with a challenge, but there is something in his face. It makes him want to stick around. He thinks - no, he knows , and now he owes Jess as well - that Andy is a bit delighted to see him.

No, perhaps it is too much. He may only be content. But Chucky really cannot tell. He has only now become privy to some of Andy's secrets, and he is still learning to read him. But the idea of Andy even being just content with his company is intoxicating.

"You act like I've never come down here before," he retorts, despite the rush he's feeling. He leans his head and cocks an eyebrow up at him. "You know I had to come see my favorite boy."

Andy makes some kind of choking sound, and turns to the shelves for refuge. If the current customers milling through are entertained by their small fiasco, they do not make a sign of it.

Chucky trots over next to him, heart pounding. He hates it. Before he realizes it, he's stocking the shelves with Andy, huffing when things are too high above him. Andy is making the steadfast choice of pretending he is not there at all, giving small talk to customers and other absolute strangers instead.

Chucky watches them, eyes slant. He observes their every move, their body language. Everywhere Andy moves, he moves with him, a tiny shadow. When his patience runs thin, he curbstomps Andy's left shin, causing Andy to hiss in pain. For a moment, he feels guilty again. He is hurting Andy once more. Another mess. He is cultivating it rather than dealing with it.

"You remember we agreed you won't ever get rid of me, right ?" he asks, rather pointedly, when Andy finally turns sullen eyes on him. Andy exhales, a resigned sigh, and rolls his eyes.

"I didn't think it meant you had to follow me around everywhere ," he grunts in response. He stacks boxes of ball ammo on the shelf. There is a heavy silence.

" Eh- it's in the fine print," Chucky jokes dryly. This time, he manages to swallow the natural malice in his throat before it seeps out of his mouth. There is an awkwardness about it. He shifts his feet.

Andy stares at him incredulously once more, before sinking again into his work. Disgruntled, Chucky stays at his heels - just not too close. They begin an awkward dance of avoiding each other, and yet not. It feels wrong, to not quip or bite at each other as they normally do.

Chucky realizes now more than ever, as Andy leaves him well alone, that he is the one who starts it. As he has always been the one that had started it. It leaves him only more discouraged. Cleaning this mess is going to be much more grueling than he had anticipated. And he had anticipated it to be quite strenuous.

But if he does not start it, Andy does not pay the slightest of attention to him. This starts a panic, one he never realized he'd had. This concept is new, and frightening, and worse than the other various conglomerations of things he has felt before when it comes to Andy Barclay. The dependency. The need .

It is a flaw he had had with Tiffany, and Eddie Caputo. Need . Clinginess . The mood swings had come as a result of this. The aggression, the compulsiveness, the selfishness. The things that had drove them away as well. He is lucky Andy is still around.

Despite the knowledge of this, he grapples with the counter's edge, straddling it to sit on top. He kicks at Andy, who is mid-thought counting cash in the register drawer. The bell rings with the final straggling customers. A young couple.

"Chucky, please ," Andy hisses, under his breath. "Not at work. That can't be in your so called fine print too. Be mature for once."

Chucky scoffs. "Mature? Never heard of him," he replies, cheekily, before kicking at him again. He gets him pretty hard, as Andy sucks in a breath. His shoes are heavy, there is no doubt he may be leaving a bruise. He pales.

"Sorry…" he starts, and catches himself. He does not apologize. It is not in his nature. But he doesn't want to take it back. Not if he wants to tear down the supposed walls Andy has that Jess seems to know about, and he does not.

He lowers his eyes, scowling. " Sorry ."

He stops swinging his feet. He can feel Andy's eyes on him, and he's heating up. Clean the mess, clean the mess. He has to talk to Andy. He has to say something. He has to make some things clear. He can feel bile rising in his throat, anxiety pulsing at the base of his neck, threatening to projectile out of him. He's dizzy. Just imagining saying the things he knows he needs to say makes his entire body ache.

"Andy, I…" he starts, despite feeling as if he might keel over. But the customer is at the register, and Andy is slamming the drawer, striking up a conversation, and the opportunity is gone. Chucky can't help but hope the sudden light in his eyes is all counterfeit.

He slides off the counter reluctantly, after it being obvious that Andy is not going to talk to him anytime soon. There are boxes of things Andy has unpacked, lying in front of him, torn open and empty. He takes one last withering glance at Andy, who has either not noticed or does not care to show he noticed his leave.

He rolls his sleeves up, gathering as much of the ruined cardboard as his stout arms can possibly carry. He starts with this, one trip at a time, feeling the guilt weigh him down more than the boxes. When he grabs the broom, he swears he hears a snort, but despite the blood boiling, and despite his judgement, he does not whip around and exact revenge on the culprit. He wants to think that Andy has noticed this. That maybe that's enough.

He knows better. It will take much more than that. But it does not stop the humiliating fantasy that plagues him, of Andy showing approval and the entire mess gone, gone, gone .

The only mess gone is when he gathers the dust and the particles of paper and dirt into the dustpan, grunting the entire time. The curse of his stature never leaves him, and now that he is fully human, he cannot escape it. At least, not without a long and meticulous ritual, and even then, he is unsure it would work. He is not sure it would be worth the work.

Then the bell rings again, and it is Brett Shelton of all people, and when he embraces Andy over the counter, Chucky thinks to himself begrudgingly - and in jealousy, but he manages to swallow it down - that it just might be.

He's never cared for Brett, for many reasons, but now he has become a bit more of an annoyance. Chucky has never spared a word on him, but he has watched from the shadows, and he does this again now, feeling the predatorial growl inside him growing. Possessive. He does not like the way that Andy smiles when he sees him, or the way he explodes into life. He does not like the dusting of pink on his cheekbones, or the way he rubs the back of his neck, shy and demure.

Brett softly knuckles Andy's cheek, rolling his eyes with an aggravating side-smile, and Chucky does not like this either. The way he has casually walked back into Andy's life and is casually touching him, as if they had never been enemies. As if he had never hurt Andy. And he especially does not like the way Andy returns the affections.

"Yeah, because I can only ever think of you , Brett," Andy is responding, sarcasm in his voice, but Chucky sees the way he swallows, sees his pupils dilate, and something inside him crumples , much like the paper wads he's just dumped into the metal bin. Brett is closer than he will ever be, and he thinks he does not like this most of all.

It would be easy to follow him home, get rid of the threat. Brett does not know you have your eye on him, and would never see it coming. A little powder to help him sleep, a few crucial cuts to help him bleed, and no one would be the wiser.

Except Andy. Chucky sighs hotly, breath blowing at strands of hair falling over his eyes. Andy would know, and it really is not worth it. He is so tired of being the thing that takes Andy's joy away. Now that things are different between them, it hurts . It hurts and he is sore from the aching. And he knows that killing Brett would only add to it.

It goes like this for a week or so more, him being so dangerously close and having many opportunities to show him that he could be enough . That he could be good to him. And each time, he gets flustered and insults him instead, afraid. He is a coward, and he has not seen himself as a coward, not for a long time. It is not something he would have labeled himself as in his recent years.

" Coward ," Tiffany says, immediately, as he'd been afraid she would. This is why he had put off telling her about it at all. They're sitting at a small diner and she's crossing her arms, berating him with a smouldering gaze just above her shades. "You got jealous and you're just letting some other prince come in and swoop your little damsel off his feet away from you."

She flicks ash from her cigarette into the grass. "I've never seen you so scared to tell someone you want something from them. In fact, I'd say you were more brazen when you were chasing him for soul-swapping and revenge then you are now, and for something so much more simple and good-natured."

"Have you ever thought that it's because I'm not good-natured, you cow?" he asks, and she stamps the cigarette into his arm, just long enough for his skin to sizzle and for him to whimper.

"Don't take it out on me , you shit," she argues, and he finds himself very proud and in awe of her, despite his anger and sore arm. She has grown, and her confidence since they've split has been very good for her. He can see it in her eyes. They would have destroyed each other, had they continued forcing it. He thinks to himself that he very much likes being her friend, despite how she just quite literally burned him.

He says this, coughing on her second-hand, and she stares at him, pink and a shocked grin on her face.

"You see?" she says, a breathless laugh escaping her. "Look at you. You just said something nice . You're very capable, Charles. Let your balls drop and talk to him."

"You know I don't like being called Charles," he growls, but he's smiling despite himself. He finishes his beer, wiping the foam from the corners of his mouth, and leans back in his chair, sighing heavily.

"All I'm saying is," Tiffany continues, her fork playing with the leftover syrup from her dessert, "you managed to get back into his apartment and his life, even with all your bad history that you complain is such an obstacle. You haven't killed each other yet. That's progress. If anything, I'd say it's a sign."

She leans in. "Just be fucking honest ."

"I'm ugly when I'm honest," he says, but he doesn't dismiss her advice. It is the same advice that Jess had given him. He knows what he has to do. He just needs someone to push him.

"If you don't, I'll let Glenda show him those mortifying sketches you've done of him, and I'll be sure to describe your feelings for him in the most pathetic, humiliating way I can think of," she threatens, and there is the push. He panics. She's leering at him, in her wicked way, and he knows she means it. "I've seen enough soap operas and disgustingly heartfelt romances to word it just right."

"How did Glenda get her slimy little hands on my stuff?" he screeches.

"You mean, how did Glenda get their slimy little hands on your stuff?" Tiffany asks, brow cocked. "The twins have gotten very fluid in their identity. But I think you've known that would come. And they got their hands on it when you were sick in bed, crying for Andy's sweet, tender mercy and strong, loving arms while you were so very weak and helpless …"

" Alright , I get it, you'll ruin me," Chucky growls, voice shaking. Tiffany is howling, hand dramatically pressed against her forehead, and he can feel eyes moving in their direction. "Pipe down, will you? Give me some time. I'll find a way."

"You'd better," Tiffany responds, after a few minutes of attempting to compose herself. The waiter drops off their check. She's still grinning coyly. "Jade and I have the most entertaining conversations about you, you know. It'd make both of our day if I could embarrass you."

He huffs at this.

Minutes later, starting to head on home, his hands are shoved in his pockets, and his mind is already wandering. Wondering if it is as easy as Tiffany and Jess seem to think it is. He's not sure what Kristen thinks. He's not sure why he cares what anyone thinks. Ultimately, he knows that he does care what Andy thinks, like it or not, and he is desperately trying to use their opinions as a gauge to what Andy's thoughts will be. Which is entirely in poor thinking, as Andy is his own person, and he knows this too.

"Oh, Dr. Barclay, I am just so love-sick, and I can't seem to find the cure! Won't you help me doctor? I'm burning up!" Tiffany is sing-songing by the diner gate at the top of her lungs, a drunk Marilyn Monroe. He turns and flips her off, picking up his pace as he walks off from the diner. He doesn't want to see any casual observer's faces. He can hear her laughter echoing in his ears, beautiful despite it embarrassing the entire hell out of him.

He's still thinking about what Tiffany said, days later, when Andy comes stumbling in, drunk already. He's been out, and he knows he's been out with Kristen by the way his eyes are lively and dancing. He's always worried when this happens. Kristen frightens him, and if Andy says anything that she finds unacceptable, he has a feeling her patient benevolence for him would end. He has seen when she has only been anticipating the warpath. He does not want to know what it looks like when she actually begins to pave it.

He feels the jealous prickling anyways, despite the underlying fear. And stronger still, the harrowing reminder of how much ground he has to cover.

Rome wasn't built in a day , Tiffany loved to say. He briefly wonders how frustrating it was, for the people of Rome. Didn't they ever get impatient? Or were they complacent in their day to day struggle, knowing that they would be great one day? How did they know? Or did they not know, and simply believe ?

" Hey , stranger," Andy is slurring to him, plopping down on the couch next to him. His tone is overly friendly, and he drags out the vowels in his words. His breath reeks of alcohol, and Chucky can tell he is drunker than usual just from his intimate proximity. Andy, even when drinking, usually does not choose to be close to him. The last time they were this close, Andy had told him to come home , and had opened his door to him for the first time since they'd first met. He still gets warm when he thinks about it, and he can feel his face heat up now.

"You're drunk," he states, to try and stop himself from doing or saying anything embarrassing. Andy grins at him, and he can see a dimple in his left cheek. He tries not to think too much on it. He fails. It's goddamn cute . He wishes he had the courage to say it.

He doesn't.

" Yes ," Andy responds, and he's leaning against him, and his head is on his shoulder , and there are so many ways he could fuck this up right now. Andy has a bottle still in his hand, and he leans over and slowly slips it away from him. He does not say anything, not right away. He tries to steady his shaking heart first, and let his body physically settle under Andy's weight, and tries not to chide himself for being so shaken by it.

He wants to tease Andy about it, but he's afraid that will chase Andy away. And he has a lot of things on his mind to talk to him about. He has for quite a while now. So instead, he bites his tongue, and slides his arm out from behind Andy's head and lets him fall into his lap, leaning back against the couch. He sighs.

"You know," he finally gulps out, heart in his throat, "I'm the only one that's allowed to hurt you."

He wants to drown himself. Of all of the things to say Andy looks up at him. By the mercy of the Lwa, Andy laughs.

"You're so fucking weird ," he says, giggling, and he's really cute like this. For a minute, Chucky finds himself angry and envious of the fact that Kristen - and probably Brett - get to see this side of Andy all the time. Andy hiccups, and covers his mouth, and Chucky exhales heavily in relief. This could have gone an entirely different route, and a very disappointing one at that. Andy could have gotten up and left him, and then this conversation would be a lot more difficult.

"Let me try that again," he says, softly, and Andy starts to sit up, and he lays him back down again. Too late, he thinks about how strange that must be for Andy. It is the first time he has ever touched Andy in any gentle or caring way. Andy's gaze has zeroed in on him now, a bit frazzled and confused.

" Huh ?" Andy asks.

"You heard me," Chucky replies, quickly. Nervously. Maybe he feels safer because Andy is drunk, but they have been drunk many times before. This is different. He chuckles under his breath, tucking stray hairs behind Andy's ear. His hair has gotten long again, and it's softer than he imagined it would be. He'd thought about it more than he likes to admit.

"I was trying to say, I… I want to take care of you, kid."

"Chucky, what's going on?" Andy interjects, voice small, and something about the way he says his name sends a welcoming shiver down his spine. Andy's eyes are wide. His pupils are dilated. Chucky can see him swallow. "You've been acting really strange lately."

He means acting really nice , which for him to do, is strange. The truth of it hurts.

"You wish ," Chucky stutters out, caught off guard. He's starting to think that if Andy had gotten angry, this would have been easier. The vulnerability he's receiving instead is unnerving. He shuts down, sliding out from under Andy's head. "Go to sleep. You're drunk. Really drunk. And your breath reeks ."

He stumbles onto the floor, muttering, "I'm gonna get a drink," and he hates himself for turning back, because Andy looks so lost, it well near breaks his heart. But he isn't able to try and make up for it, because Andy is already getting up, stretching and sighing, and padding off to his room.

"Andy, wait ," Chucky says. But the door is already closed, and he can hear the click of Andy locking it. Another wall. He punches the island in frustration, hissing when it only smarts his knuckles.

He is sure he'd heard Andy crying last night, and he hadn't had the courage to knock on the door. Or maybe it was just his desperate mind playing tricks on him. Either way, somehow, he feels he's only made things worse. They hadn't exchanged even two words in the morning, and they'd finally gotten to the point where they'd at least greet each other. The silence had been deafening.

He turns the faucet of the tub on, brooding.

He feels a little strange, sneaking into Andy's bathroom to use the tub. But the guest bathroom only has a shower, and he needs to find counseling, again . He had a chance, and he'd ruined it. A repetitive story by now, but he is going to ask for yet another opportunity, pride be damned.

He plugs the tub, squirting bubble solution into it. Apricot and fresh bergamot fill his nose, and he inhales deeply, already feeling a little calmer. He takes vanilla beans and orange blossom out of their small packages and scatters them over the slowly climbing water. Then he plucks off one rose from the flowers on the patio, separating the petals and watching flutter down into the tub.

Then he finds the phone, and dials Tiffany's number.

"Well, congratulations, Tiff," he says, as soon as she picks up. "I did what you told me to and it didn't work."

He hears the huff of disapproval and impatience over the phone. "You're saying that as if you didn't fuck up in the situation in anyway whatsoever," Tiffany replies. He can faintly hear music in the background from her side of the telephone, and another voice, laughing.

"Who is that?" he asks, a crawling suspicion under his skin. He lights sandalwood candles, and lines them up along the edge of the tub. Something about the combined scents makes him think of Andy, and he isn't sure what to make of this. He dips his free hand into the water, stirring the solution so it begins to bubble up. When one floats in the air, he pops it.

"Jade," Tiffany responds, and it is exactly as he had feared. He knows she's probably already confided in her, as she's become close with the other woman over the last couple of months. How she managed to do it when she is just as guilty as he is in terrorizing others , he does not know. But then again, Tiffany has always had a charm that came more naturally. He blames it on his lack of estrogen.

"Listen, I really did try, I just…" he pauses, unsure if he should say. The tub is nearly full now, the water warm and the bubbles inviting. "... I didn't know what to do when he looked at me like, I don't know. Almost like he was a little afraid. Like he needed me. Or something."

He rolls his eyes. He is never eloquent when he needs to be. He turns off the faucet and puts the phone down, undressing.

"So be there for him, like he needs," Tiffany smarts off at him. "God knows that's why I had to leave you." There is a long pause, and he feels himself color from shame and guilt. "No offense, sweet cheeks. I am just trying to help."

"I know," he says, voice low. His cheeks burn. "Listen, I… I gotta go. I have to prepare myself for the next time I see him."

He hangs up before he can hear her biting response, more than likely a lewd joke at his expense. He climbs over the side of the tub, careful not to tip over the candles. Erzulie Freda is one for finery, and if he screws anything up, she will notice, and she may not be as inclined to help him. The bottle of champagne is waiting where he'd left it earlier, along with a small glass.

"Listen, Maistresse Dahomey, I stressed out over this damn glass for you for a lot longer than I care to tell you," he starts, popping the cork and pouring himself a glass. "So… please . Won't you help me? I think you and I both know what's going on here."

He downs the glass, despite his paranoia wondering if perhaps he should have sipped it. Setting the glass back on the edge of the tub, he lets himself sink a little lower into the water, sighing heavily.

"I… I love him, Erzulie," he whispers, even though no one is there. He does not know why he feels safe telling her this. Perhaps because he knows without a doubt that Erzulie Freda will not judge him for it. If anyone, she knows and understands the strange matters of the heart. "I keep doing the wrong thing, and I'm hurting him. I don't want to hurt him anymore. Please . How can I get him to open up to me? And how can I be able to give him what he needs ?"

He collects bubbles in his hands, watching how they grow or pop. "I want to be what he needs," he admits. "You know I'm not good at being gentle. I never have been. That's why I really need your help right now."

He laughs. "You're good at that right? Being gentle. Romantic . Tiff would love you, if you met her."

There is no response, but the water feels suddenly warmer, and he breathes in the mixed scents and rests his head against the wall of the tub, and stays there conversing and drinking with what he intrinsically knows is the presence of Erzulie Freda. He is there until his fingers and toes prune, and he knows why the water is still warm when he drains the tub. He cleans everything up once he's redressed, but he leaves a glass of champagne on the edge of the tub, even if just to say thank you .

He thinks he hears a giggle, but when he turns to look, there is no one there.

There isn't a sudden moment when he feels different, but there is never really a strong and obvious sign. He just knows that he is not quite as disheartened by the way things had gone last night. He had made an attempt, and failed. But he could try again, and he will try again. He just needs to figure out how .

He rattles his brain over this at the kitchen island, the same one he'd punched the night before. Andy has never really shown much interest in anything, outside of alcohol and writing, and he is not about to pour his heart out over a written poem. He hopes he doesn't have to, anyways. The more he thinks about it though, the more he's sure that this would only make Andy more uncomfortable. It can't be forthright. It has to be subtle.

But subtle is also a problem. Andy would never pick it up. His weird out of the box confession last night didn't work either. He groans and drags his hands across his face.

"And you called us, because…?"

Kristen doesn't seem all that pleased. And honestly, neither is he, but they're here, and he is desperate, and his shrine to Ayida is still burning in the back alley. He hopes it's worth it.

She has her hands on her hips, and they're standing in the middle of a Jewel-Osco. Surely a sight to others - a small scratched up cave-goblin with two more than averagely attractive women. The women are polar opposites too; Kristen has the style of a fashion designer, and Jess dresses like she just left a skate park. To be honest, while Chucky does not know much about her, he would not be surprised if she had . She has a boyish charm about her. Even now, she pops gum and winks at him, as if she has a joke she's dying to share.

"You know him the best! And it's not as if Tiffany lives close," he admits, although he had called her. "Besides, she has the twins, and she has work."

"Have you ever... offered to watch them for her?" Kristen asks, and her tone is a little accusatory. Or maybe it's just his own guilt because he's always had the underlying thought that he should have asked her. But that only leads to the reminder that Glen does not like him at all, and Glenda tolerates him at best (and scares the shit out of him at worst). "They are your kids too, you know."

He inhales and stops himself from snapping at her. They may be in public, but he does not doubt she would take his tiny body and smash it into the fruit display. She looks as if she's contemplating it now, her dark eyes sizing him up. He just grinds his teeth, and musters up a weak, " Yeah, I know ."

"So, you're trying to win your way into his heart through his stomach, huh? The age old trick," Jess interjects, if only to destroy the tension. She purses her lips, perusing through a stack of oranges - a little carelessly, much to Kristen's disdain. She drops one with an oops , and then proceeds to knock more down while bent over to pick it up.

"Meu deus, por favor me da patiência ," Kristen mutters. She rubs at her temples. "Let's just get this over with."

"I mean, it doesn't have to be too fancy, does it?" Jess asks, having finally collected herself. "Andy has never struck me as a wine and dine kinda guy."

Kristen's face twists. "I don't need the image, thanks," she grouses, leading them into the baking isle. She stops in thought, crossing her arms and letting her gaze fall across the shelves before shaking her head, dissatisfied. Chucky follows at a distance, uncomfortable and sullen. He has no idea what he's doing, but he does know that Andy has a poor diet, and it's an easy way for him to try to show some affection without completely humiliating himself or scaring Andy away.

Hopefully. He's crossing his fingers on that one.

"What exactly are you trying to get out of it, anyways?" Jess presses, and while her eyebrows wriggle and he almost shoves her for it, she continues, perfectly serious. "I mean, like are you going for a sexy vibe? Or a hey, I'm not a total asshole vibe ?"

"I'm very tempted to kill you right now, you know that? You know how easy it would be for me to gut you and leave your entrails all on this aisle for some poor schmuck to clean up?" Chucky growls, and then panics for a moment, glancing at Kristen, but she doesn't move towards him. Jess laughs, but her eyes stay on him, waiting for an answer. His jaw drops in disbelief, before scoffing:

"The second one, obviously !"

He's flushing and scuffing his shoes on the floor, Jess howling in self-amusement. Kristen is ahead of them, pushing the cart and pausing every once in awhile to scroll through her phone, looking at menu ideas. She wrestles internally about what to pick for quite a while before turning to realize that Jess has done nothing except antagonize Chucky for the past few minutes, the most recent being stopping right in front of him so he crashes into her, cursing angrily.

" Jeevie ," she warns, but it's hard for her not to smile when she sees the light of total wicked joy in her girlfriend's eyes. She holds up a pack of kabob skewers, shaking it to get their attention.

"Does Andy still have that old grill out on the patio?" she asks. Chucky gathers himself, trying to envision the patio and what's out there. Dying plants, mostly. He's had an itch to touch them lately, to do something with them. There's a lot of dust, and old broken wood.

"Yes," he says, finally. He can see it, hidden under a lot of cobwebs and debris. "I don't think he's touched it - at least as long as I've been there, he hasn't."

Kristen is tapping into her phone again, scoffing. "I don't know why I didn't think of it," she says, rolling her eyes, "but why don't we just ask his mom ? She used to cook for him."

She says used to in a very insinuating tone, and he feels it again. The guilt. He doesn't respond to it, because there's not telling what will happen in the middle of a supermart if he does. Luckily, Kristen is already engrossed in her digital conversation to push the conversation on that topic much further, her face lighting up as the ping of responses come in. Jess and Chucky wait on her to speak again, but she doesn't enlighten them right away, just intently staring at her screen. She finally breaks, a small laugh escaping her.

" Andy, " she exhales, a deep fondness in her voice.

"Well?" Jess asks. "The suspense is killing Quasimoto here. What's he gotta do, huh?"

Chucky knows who Quasimoto is from reading about it in a book somewhere once, and he wants to retort something back at her, but Kristen is responding, and his ears perk up, despite old habits making him want to pretend he could care less.

"Chicken and waffles," Kristen says, shaking her head. "Of course . Honestly, I should have guessed."

Chucky doesn't know why his heart starts thumping really quickly, and really loudly. But he hates it. He takes a peek at the women to make sure they aren't hearing what he's hearing in his ears but if they did, they're no longer paying attention to it, distracted on finding the ingredients for homemade waffles and chicken. They're arguing over what syrup and toppings to get.

"Why don't we," he interrupts, and immediately feels his face heating up when they turn to look at him, but he pushes forward anyways. Thank Maistresse Dahomey. He feels as if he's been drinking champagne now, the warmth is undeniable. It has to be her. "Why don't we just keep it simple ? Andy's not an over-the-top kinda guy. I think he'll like it just because it's his favorite."

Their stares make him squirm uncomfortably. "And I don't care to do too much for the bastard anyways," he adds hastily. It's too late. Both of the women have wide smirks.

"Yeah," Jess says, leering. "Wouldn't want you to get yourself killed over Andy Barclay, now would we?"

"It isn't as if you've done it before , many times ," Kristen adds, and he has to turn and walk down the aisle away from him, his vision turns so brutally red.

They're back with ample time to prepare the dinner before Andy is near even closing the shop to come home. Kristen is thawing the chicken out, and Jess is mixing the batch for the waffles. She hands the bowl and mixing spoon to Chucky, patting his shoulder.

"Work those muscles, lover boy," she says, stretching out. "This is your candlelight dinner."

Chucky rolls his eyes, but settles with taking the bowl anyways. She is right, despite being completely infuriating about it. It isn't right that they helped him at all , let alone that they are here now, assisting him in the one thing he knows he is good at.

Second only to murder. He's hoping it will make its way to first place.

"Listen," he starts. The women both pause their amicable small talk to look at him, questioning. He feels a lump in his throat.

"Thanks, but it's time for you two to get the fuck out. There's been too much estrogen for my liking. Goodbye," he says in a quick change of tune, before things can spiral downward. He swallows the lump. Kristen scoffs and rolls her eyes. Jess chuckles.

"Ah, and there he is," she says, putting a hand on Kristen's arm. She rubs it gently, nudging her towards the door. "For a minute we thought you'd gone completely soft."

"Never," Chucky grouses. But he can't help the small smile that breaks his face anyways, just as they close the door behind them.

The cooking, he finds, is the most relaxing part.

The waiting, he is not surprised by, is the worst part.

He shouldn't overthink this, and he hates himself for being so anxious about it. He cannot remember the last time he was so nervous about anything. Normally, he is quite in control of the situation, and he can see the variables and manipulate things so that he gets what he wants. He sits at the counter, just staring at the plates, the food slowly cooling down to room temperature, and for a moment, imagines what it must have been like when Karen brought this out for Andy to eat. He can remember Andy's smile, when he was young. He remembers the glow in his eyes, golden and trusting. His eyes are darker now.

He has never been in control with Andy. He knows this. He's accepted this. It doesn't make the anxiety of it all go away. If anything, it makes it worse. At least, when he pretended, he had confidence, even if it had never been genuine. Now he doesn't even have that.

Andy is later than normal, but this has happened before. He could be taking stock, or organizing something in the back supply closet. He might have gone to the bar to drink as well. Things between them have been tense, more so than usual. A part of him wants to blame it all on his decision to try and prove himself for messing this up, but he knows that things weren't really getting any better otherwise. They'd only stagnated.

Still, it's easier to point fingers elsewhere.

When he hears the doorknob rattle, he nearly jumps out of his own skin, and curses under his breath. His hands are shaking. He could really use a drink right about now, but he doesn't want alcohol messing with his head. He's tried that already, and it didn't work out the way he'd wanted. His frustration had gotten the better of him and he'd started to yell at Andy, who had given a half-assed excuse about forgetting something at work, and then he hadn't come home the entire night. Chucky still wonders where he'd gone. He hasn't mustered up the gumption to ask.

"Andy," he says, and Andy, for the second time recently, jumps at his name. He turns at looks at him, questions already filling his eyes, and then his eyes land on the food. Chucky watches a myriad of expressions flit across his face, and it's palpable . Chucky can practically taste Andy's panic.

"You're late from work," he starts with, and he doesn't know if perhaps it was too accusatory or not, but he just wants to tear Andy's eyes away from the food before he has what looks to be a meltdown. "You had those assholes who come in five minutes before, didn't you? You know, the kind that run in saying just in time when really they're a fucking inconvenience, and then take their time while they're in there…"

"Stop," Andy says, suddenly, and he says it in such a rush, with an intensity that throws Chucky off his entire game. "Just stop. "

Chucky feels his jaw drop, just a little. But he's looking at Andy, afraid of what is happening. He isn't sure what it is. He can't pinpoint what he's done wrong. Andy is staring at him as if he is angry with him.

No. As if he's just been hurt by him. And he cannot figure out why. Everything he's done lately has been the opposite of things that would be to hurt someone, and yet here they are, and he feels as if they've just met all over again, and Andy has seen who he really is for the first time, and is betrayed. That look in Andy's eyes, he remembers. He's dreamed about it more than he wants to. It's haunted him for so long.

"What do you mean?" he asks, and he's frustrated. He's angry . He has put himself in so many compromising positions, humiliated and humbled himself beyond his comfort level, stooped himself into a vulnerability that he fears . He feels dangerously close to punching Andy right now for not realizing this sacrifice, and he does not realize how selfish this is, and he does not care . In this moment, he does not care . "What the fuck are you saying right now? Why ?"

"Why? Why ?" Andy retaliates, lightning quick. A dry, brittle laugh escapes from him. "That's rich , coming from you. You're asking me why ? I should be asking you !"

"So spit it out then!" Chucky shouts. If he wasn't sitting on the tall island chair, he would have stood up. "What have I done that's so fucked up this time? How could I have possibly failed so badly that you're ready to throw hands with me right now?"

His voice is loud. Andy's voice is loud. Things have escalated in all the wrong ways, and this , he quickly realizes, is much much worse than the waiting. He feels a huge sinking regret settle in the pit of his stomach, and the humiliation of it all leaves him sick. He is angrier at Andy than he has been in a long time.

"Cut the bullshit , Chucky, I'm not six anymore," Andy spits, and Chucky can feel his heart pounding so heavily. "You can't fool anyone, and you definitely can't fool me . You know that. So why ," and his voice cracks, and for a minute, Chucky thinks he might see tears, but when he looks closer, there's nothing. Andy is empty.

" Why are you playing this game with me right now?"

Tunnel vision has never been more painfully real. The amount of hurt Chucky is feeling stings. He is nothing short of furious. Everything he has done seems to be for nothing. He's embarrassed. Chucky is enraged, and he knows why . He is so angry . He doesn't know why it's so much easier to talk to a deity he cannot see, to tell a woman he barely knew, than it is to face Andy. He feels as if he is going to vomit, and Andy is still shouting, louder than he has ever been for as long as Chucky has known him. For the first time, Andy Barclay is not calm . At all .

And he hates it.

"You think this is a game?" he finally interrupts. "You honestly think I'd waste all of this time and effort for a fucking game ? After all this time we've had here, together ? You said it yourself, I know I can't fool you!"

"So then what's the point ? Why are you treating me so differently all of a sudden? What do you want from me?"

Everything hurts. Everything aches .

"I don't want anything!"

"So then why ?"

" Because I fucking love you, you asshole !"

Andy pales. The food is long forgotten. Chucky feels himself in overload. He claps a hand over his mouth, cursing under his breath. He tears his eyes away from Andy, instead staring at the floor, zeroing in his focus on the wood pattern. He cannot breathe, he cannot breathe .

" Shit ," he says.

" No ," Andy says, quietly. " No ."

This isn't how he'd wanted to say it. It wasn't supposed to be this way. He wants to look up, to try and reach out again, to fix this. But when he looks up, Andy is gone, the door just closing behind him, and he's left with yet another mess. He has no idea how he is going to clean this one up, either. Chasing after him will only make things worse. But he isn't certain that letting him go is right.

He throws the food in the garbage, suddenly not hungry. He cannot even look at it. The smell, the sight - it all makes him physically ill. He's angry about the waste of it all, but deeper than that, he's worn down and hurt. He's filled with a harrowing sorrow, one that he is not familiar with. He sees some of the rose petals from when he'd appealed to Erzulie Freda, and for some unfathomable reason, this is what makes him burst, sitting against the wall next to the garbage can, head in his knees.

This is everything he deserves, but it still hurts.

"Fuck! " he howls, slamming a fist against the floor.

"You should be proud of me. I didn't kill anyone over it."

"Truly a milestone."

He glances up at Tiffany, trying to see if she is being sarcastic, but her eyes are genuine. Sad, even. He is surprised she had even agreed to let him come see her. Looking around, he takes in that this is the first time he's been to her home. She let him know her address over the phone, when he asked. She had had to prepare the kids, and she let him know ahead of time that if Glen was uncomfortable in anyway, she would have to tell him to leave. He understood.

She pours him a cup of coffee, and he smiles up at her gratefully.

"I don't know what I did to deserve you, Tiff."

She snorts at this. "Neither do I, to be honest," she replies. She tosses her hair and flutters her eyelashes playfully. "I like to think that it is because I am just so full of benevolence."

He rolls his eyes, a small grin on his face.

He'd taken the first flight he could to Toledo, which she'd revealed was where she'd taken the kids. For the first time, he was happy he'd become human. People really only looked at him because he was short. He supposed other little people like him got the same amount of stares.

That, and his scars. He forgets about them a lot, and then he goes in public, or looks in a mirror.

Other than this, though, there wasn't much of an inconvenience to get on the plane and just ride over. There is less of a reason to hide now.

He doesn't know where Andy had gone, the night he'd run off. The night he'd had word vomit. He groans thinking about it, shoving his face in his hands. He's less proud to say he'd immediately lost ahold of himself again when Tiffany opened the door, and his inconsolable sobbing had alarmed Tiffany just a little bit.

"It's so fucking humiliating, Tiff," he grumbles. She's trying very hard not to laugh, but she's failing. He can see the grin behind her hand, and her eyes crumpling up, holding back everything inside her. She turns to pour herself some coffee, and he can hear her breathing heavily.

"It's not funny, you maniac !" he argues, feeling a bit stung, but this only breaks her completely, and she's leaning against the counter, holding her side as she laughs aloud.

"I'm sorry," she finally manages between breaths, and he can't help but think she doesn't mean it at all. "I'm just… you've never had a hard time with words. You were always so… confident… I'm sorry …" she's cackling too hard to finish any sentence completely.

"Just imagining you fucking up like that… I'm so sorry, I know it must have been painful for you, I'll be supportive in a minute, I promise, love."

He drowns himself in his coffee, waiting for her to gather herself. It does make the pain a little more bearable, to hear her laugh about it. He feels as if maybe things are alright, or at least, that things will be. Still, he replays the events over and over, and can't help feeling a little sick. When the jokes are over, he'll still be stuck with the aftermath of it all. At best, Andy just doesn't feel the same way. And that hurts all on its own. He doesn't want to think of what it could be at worst .

Andy could hold this over his head for a long time. He'd never be able to escape that. He swallows heavily, panicking at the thought. Perhaps he'd immediately gone to Kristen and Jess, to gloat. That must have been why they were so eager to help. Somehow, Andy had set a trap and captured his feelings, hidden under his soft voice and sweet eyes and cute dimples.

His heart stutters. He wants to cry. And this makes him angry all over again, because he hates feeling this way.

Tiffany, just in time, seems to have finally calmed down. She puts a hand on his shoulder, and sighs heavily. "Okay, I'm with you now," she says, and sits next to him. She sips at her mug, silently ruminating over everything he's said. He watches her face, and genuine pain crosses it for a moment, and he feels guilty .

He shouldn't be talking to his ex about a new fascination. Especially when he treated her so horribly in their time together. She's stronger than he's realized, and he's reminded of it now. She is taking this very well.

"Listen, Tiff, I…" he pauses, waiting for her to look at him. She has to know he means this. He finally catches her eyes, bright. Emeralds. He catches his breath for a minute. "I don't say it enough. I'm sorry ."

"This isn't one of those things where you're trying to run back to me because things aren't working out for you, is it?" she asks, an eyebrow raised, and suddenly Andy's anger and disbelief make much more sense to him. It hits him, hard .

Of course Andy felt that way. Even Tiffany is suspecting him of manipulation, and he likes to think she knows him better than anyone. He is a con-artist, and it is coming back to bite him, now that he's trying to be genuine.

"No, Tiff, I…" and his eyes are watering again. He wipes at them, angrily, cursing. "I fucking hate this. I'm too old to be doing all of this."

He takes her free hand. She's staring at him, surprise crossing her face. For once, she's speechless.

"I really am sorry. If there's anything I can ever do to make up the way I treated you, and the kids, I'd… I'd fucking do it, Tiff. I really would . I know me saying it probably means nothing, but… just say the word. I'll do anything ."

"My god …" Tiffany gasps, and there's a long pause. She looks blown away. Then she finally exhales, "he really turned you into such a pussy , huh?""

"Shut up! I take it back, you're a bitch ," he snaps, but she's laughing, and he can't help but laugh with her.

"It's true, isn't it," he finally mutters aloud, finishing his coffee off. He muses on this for a minute. "Charles Lee Ray, Lakeshore Strangler, Pussy ."

"I like this new look on you. It's sweet," Tiffany says. She straightens stray hair from his face, a loving grin on hers. They sit there for a moment, just enjoying the simple silence of each other's company. Tiffany continues to sip at her own coffee, humming to herself thoughtfully.

"What am I going to do ?" he asks. This all started because he'd wanted to know how to make things up to Andy. He'd had good intentions. Andy just couldn't see this. And he can't blame him for it, either. And now that he knows what he knows, he only feels guiltier. Andy would have grown up in a much different home if they'd never met. He set off a chain reaction as a result of his own selfish actions.

But for some reason, Andy had wanted him around. And he's afraid he might have ruined even that for himself now.

"Should I just not have pursued it?" he asks, finally. Tiffany gives him a questioning glance. "Should I just have left things the way they were?"

"If you'd held it in, you would have exploded worse, I think," she responds, quickly. "You've never been very in control of your emotions."

He hates that she's right. It doesn't change that she is . He has always just acted without thinking. The fact that he'd thought as much as he had to do what he had in the past couple of weeks is nothing short of a miracle. If he'd followed his status quo, he would have simply hunted Andy down, trapped him in a corner, and given him no option but to say yes , yes I'll be yours …!

The idea is tempting. He's definitely fantasized about it before. But Andy Barclay has never been his, and has never been able to be forced to choose to be his. Besides, at this point, he knows the repercussions of forcing anyone to do anything. It simply is not worth it, he's learned. He gets what he gives.

Tiffany looks as if she wants to say something, but when she speaks, it isn't what she wanted to say. He can tell by the change of expressions on her face.

"Want to come pick up the kids with me when they get off school?" is what she asks instead, and even though a part of him is dying to figure out what she'd really meant to say, he nods, following her out the door.

He finds himself overwhelmingly nervous, now that he is who he is in this point of his life. He sees Glenda first, wild hair and torn jeans, and a dirty shirt, flipping a student off. He snorts to himself as Tiffany curses under her breath, rolling the window down and shouting at her to hurry on into the car. He sits up, just to see her response, and when he sees Glen, tall and awkward and lanky, trotting just behind her, his heart stops just a little bit. It is bizarre how he can see his highschool self in him. Despite the vastly different choice in clothing style, he can see himself in the way Glen walks, in his quieter demeanor. More so than this, he is taken aback at how much time has passed, and how much time he has wasted, missing out on both of their growth and maturity.

"Dad!" Glenda immediately shouts, as she throws the door open. She jumps in and throws her backpack to the floor of the car. Glen does not say a word, quietly sliding in and closing the door. He immediately turns his face to the window, and Chucky can feel the tension emitting off of him in thick waves.

"Hey," he says, trying to breathe. Glenda does not share the sentiment, already blabbering to him and Tiffany as if they had always been this way, and he listens, but he cannot tear himself away from glancing towards Glen, just to see if he turns even once. Glenda overpowers the conversation, sharing art pieces she is working on from class, and the very logical reason why she should not be suspended for breaking someone's nose.

"Your teacher does not get a shit paycheck for you to keep starting fights, Glenda," Tiffany says, sighing in exasperation. "She's there for you to learn ."

"Well, then she needs to kick Dawson out. He's an annoying distraction and he needs to be eliminated, to further my education," Glenda replies smoothly, cracking her knuckles with no remorse. Tiffany gives Chucky a look.

"She gets that from you ," she says. Chucky gawks at her.

Spending time with the twins turns out to be a lot more eye opening than he'd thought it would be. Glen and Glenda, he discovers, trade clothes and accessories all the time. He finally understands what Tiffany had meant by fluid . They truly trade everything, and while Glenda tends to lean more towards boyish clothing and Glen the opposite, they do occasionally wear the clothes that are stereotypical for their biological makeup. The first time he admits to Glen that pink is very becoming, he swears he sees a small smile cross Glen's face.

"Glen does like you," Tiffany tells him, when he shares this intimate moment with her. "They're just scared. But like any child, they want their dad . They'll warm up to you. Just be a father, for fuck's sake."

Chucky sees this, in the way Glen interacts around him. Glenda is the same as always, infuriating and wild, and reminds him a lot of himself. Glen does too, but Glen reminds him of the softer parts of himself, the parts he's ashamed of. He realizes now that he shouldn't be, and that his embarrassment in himself has only caused him to treat Glen unfairly. Things fall into place, and he suddenly realizes why Tiffany was so on guard about him knowing where she lived. It was to protect Glen, more than anything.

He does what he can, even the smallest things, and it's encouraging. The first time he asks Glen if he can sit and watch T.V. with them, the look on their face is to die for. He hates himself for being stupid, moreso than ever. His own flesh and blood, and he still couldn't figure himself out enough for them.

"You don't really have to," Glen stutters out, and they bite their nails. Nervous. Seeking approval, even now. "I don't really watch things you'd be interested in."

"Surprise me," is all he says, and with a noncommittal shrug of trembling shoulders, Glen turns to the television, clicking through with a remote until they're satisfied, settling against the couch. Chucky notices that Glen puts a fair amount of space between them, holding a throw pillow tightly in front of their chest. He swallows his pride, and tries not to let that sting too much.

He notices that Glen does not look at him almost the entire time, not even to see if he approves. He wonders if it is perhaps they're afraid of the mockery more than they need the approval. He finds himself more distracted with the color scheme and the soundtrack of the film after a time, and almost forgets Glen is even there, just falling into what he now knows is a peek into Glen's life. A slice of knowledge he'd never had before.

He wonders when Andy will willingly show him his own slices, or if he will have to always sneak his way around into them.

He wants to tell Glen that they shouldn't be ashamed of themselves, or anything that they love. He wishes someone had said those things to him, when he was younger. But he can't seem to find the right way to say it without making it something he does not want it to be, and the last thing he wants is to scare someone else away. Especially not his own child.

"I can see why you like it," is all he says. But he doesn't miss the small smile that crosses Glen's face, and he doesn't miss the warmth he feels growing inside him.

He stays for a week, and it is a nice escape. He spends time with Glenda showing different watercolor techniques and how to sketch perspectives, and also listening to music that Glen shows him, which he finds a personal honor. Glen is still a little jumpy around him, but he knows that this will take time to go away. He has to be patient. He helps Tiffany cook, and he tells her it is because she hates dishes. She doesn't say anything when she catches him helping with those too. They stay up later, after the kids have pretended to go to bed, and they drink, and they talk. More than ever, it seems so easy, if he would just stay and try it all with her again.

"But that's how you know, really," Tiffany says, after another sip of wine. She props her legs up underneath her on the couch. "Love should never be an escape route from life. It's work . Well, that , and as much as I love you, we can't ever go back. It just won't be the same."

She winks at him, " And I am a sucker for the what could have been romances. Those were always the most heart-wrenching movies, with the most beautiful soundtracks, you know, with the strings and all. And you know I love those. Everyone likes a tragic romance."

Chucky laughs under his breath, but he's leaned against the couch on his elbow, staring up at her. The light of the window is catching her hair, and she's as elegant as ever. Gorgeous beyond compare, even after all of this time. He smiles at her and holds her hand, and he isn't even ashamed of how gentle he feels.

"Tiffany Valentine, my what could have been ," he says, softly. He can hear the imaginary strings now, swelling inside him.

"It's time to go back to your what can be ," she replies, softer still.

Sick does not begin to describe how he feels. It isn't as if he has a phone, he finds a cellphone a waste of time, but he is a little anxious about the fact that Andy has not seemed to wonder where he's gone at all. Tiffany certainly hadn't gotten any phone calls, and he knows Andy has her number. It isn't as if he had no way to try to find out. It's merely the fact that he hasn't tried . And something about this hurts. He can't say he's surprised. But he's disappointed, nonetheless.

He doesn't want to stop by the shop at all, but he isn't sure that Andy wants to be drop kicked into his return either. He is coming to the conclusion that with Andy Barclay, it's just going to be a mess no matter what. It is an overwhelmingly frightening discovery, as he'd always seen Andy as some sort of brick wall, some impenetrable mystery. It was easy for him to forget that just like anyone - himself included - underneath, Andy still hides raw humanity and fears of his own. There's a soft middle, pure and forbidden to the rest of the world.

He'll do anything to be allowed a taste.

It is strange, that at the end of it all, this is where he is at. He is craving Andy Barclay, of all people. He has accepted the fact that his life has never been conventional, and been proud of it sometimes. But sitting in the apartment, looking around for some sort of sign that Andy had missed him in anyway, and feeling heavy when he finds none, he finds himself wondering if he's lost his mind entirely. Still doubting himself.

The apartment phone rings, and it shakes him out from wallowing in his self-pity. It isn't often that someone calls the apartment, unless it is a scam call, or one of he and Andy's few friends. He does not know what possesses him to pick up, especially when he sees the name flash across the screen, but he does so anyways, wondering if he is only brazen because of the shrine outside. It has to have decayed by now, he is sure of it.

"Hey," he starts, bracing himself.

"You… mother- filho da puta , I am absolutely going to fucking demolish you when I see you next, that's an entire promise !" Kristen screams into the phone. He backs away from it, staring at it as if maybe she can see him through it, and calm down just a bit. He still feels the threat in her voice, despite being a good several miles from her.

"Do you have any idea …" she stops herself, shouting to presumably Jess. He can hear loud muffled voices, holding their own independent conversation for quite a long time. There is a shuffling, and then she's back on the phone, and he feels himself shrinking from her tone. "What the hell were you thinking, disappearing for no reason? Listen…"

He is at his wit's end. He cannot handle the anxiety build up anymore.

"No, you listen! Please ! Stop painting me as this asshole - I know you allowed to, you don't have to bitch at me to remind me about it - but please . Just stop , for the love of everything unholy! I'm fucking falling apart here, and maybe Andy didn't tell you, but he left me alone!"

There is silence on the other end of the phone. He is a little intimidated by this, but it is not enough for him to stop. He just wants her to understand. He just wants everyone to understand. He just wants Andy to understand.

"I left because he didn't give me a choice! But I'm back, okay ? And I'm not leaving this time, not unless he tells me to. And even then, I'll stick around, just in case. So for god's sakes, stop trying to crucify me on some self-righteous warpath for once!"

Still silence. He swallows. He can feel his pulse so strong it beats in his neck.

"If you ever ," Kristen hisses, voice low, "talk to me like that again, I will end your miserable existence. That being said," she continues, before he can start to spiral out of control again. Her voice is gentler. "I'm glad that you seem to be dedicated enough to stick around, even when it seemed you didn't."

"Did he even care?" Chucky asks hoarsely, despite himself. He can't help it anymore. "Did he… did he even… miss me at all?"

" Did he even … I, meu deus , the both of you are going to make me die prematurely. I already have white hair," Kristen grumbles on the other end of the receiver. He wants to pursue the question, ask her again and get the answer, but she hangs up, and all of his anxious courage is gone with the dial tone.

The pent up energy is driving him to the brink of insanity. He needs an answer, he needs a game plan. Andy did not tell him, nor did Kristen. Tiffany seems to believe there is a significant connection of some sort, but she has always been the romantic type. He has not. It has never been his strong suit. He has been good at pretending, but Andy will not fall for games. It has to be genuine, or nothing at all.

He lights a candle, a rose sandalwood. One more time, he whispers. Don't leave me alone in this.

He will give Maistresse Erzulie fried bananas and sugar, if she helps him. He'll do it for the rest of his life.

He finds that it will be best if he is at the door, waiting. Not hiding in his guest room, or even on the couch, with the television to put a barrier between the unfettered conversation that must be heard. He wants to find something to do until then, but even smoking on the patio irritates him, and his sketches are complicated and scattered. It reflects his state of mind. He ends up pacing back and forth by the door, lighting a cigarette and putting it out halfway, over and over. His hands are shaking. He's cursing. He is just nauseous enough to feel miserable, and not enough to expel anything.

He is unsure of how he will respond, if he is declined. He has to prepare himself for it though, so he says it to himself repeatedly, in different ways. If he is ready, he will not react irrationally. No, I don't want you like that. How could you ever think I would? If that's how you feel, get out I feel sick looking at you, knowing this. I only see you as a friend. I barely even see you as a friend. You hurt me. You are a monster. You are not enough. You are not enough.


He snaps to reality. Andy is half in, half out, a hand on the key hook, a hand on the door knob. He's frozen, but Chucky can feel him wavering, unsure if he wants to stay or leave. He looks breathless, eyes wide and bright. Surprised and frightened all at the same time. It is now or never, and he cannot pounce. He cannot scare Andy away.

"Don't fuckin' run from me this time. Please ," he says, hands up. His voice is cracked, rough, but Andy does not move, which is a good enough sign for him to swallow hope. Maybe this time, he can do this right. And if not, he will do it over and over again, until he does. The repetition of pain will be worth it.

"I thought you'd left," Andy whispers. His voice is shaking. Chucky notices how he grips the handle. He has not seen Andy this unnerved by him in a very long time. He hates that a part of him still likes this, still wants this. But he just wants to know that he affects Andy in any way, negative or not. He watches Andy's face fall, and hears his voice waver, "I thought… I thought you were gone for good ."

"You've been without me for longer," Chucky reminds him, softly. He holds a hand out, a silent plea. Andy looks at him for an eternity of time.

"This time is different," Andy responds, and when Chucky hears that crack of pain in his voice, he feels it. For once, he doesn't care. He isn't embarrassed about this anymore. He can't even feel the rush of humiliation in his blood. He sees Andy struggling with it though, fighting back a backload of emotion. "You know it is."

"I do. I'm sorry."

Andy lets out a stuttering breath. The simple acknowledgment and apology threw him off guard, Chucky can tell. It is highly uncharacteristic. He doesn't care. Andy whimpers, and Chucky sees him trying to catch himself, scrambling to put his wall up again, to block him out. He knows. He understands this. It is so much easier to hide. Especially in their situation.

Fuck. Especially in Andy's situation.

"I can't …" Andy says. He's closing the door, fully inside, but he's inching around him, trying to find a solace. Chucky knows better than to chase him. He's going to have to coax him. Something. Anything . He racks his mind, dismissing every immediate and instinctual thought, which resides in the cursing, derogatory and bribery department. It worked with Tiffany once. It will never work with Andy.

" Andy ," he murmurs. "I mean it. I meant what I'd said before. I just didn't say it the way I'd wanted to."

Andy shakes his head. He backs away into the hallway. Chucky sighs. He knows why it is taking this long, but the anxiety is the same, rising in his throat. He gathers himself, despite hearing the door of Andy's bedroom close and shut. Despite knowing that Andy is trying to shut him out, again , and run away and ignore the problem. They are both weak in this regard; he tries to kill his problems, and Andy tries to run from them. Neither is a strong choice.

He makes his way to the door. He isn't surprised that it's locked. He knocks, and then sits against the wall. "Andy," he says again. "You can't run forever. You gotta tell me something . Tell me I'm repulsive, tell me you don't want me around. But…"

He ignores the lump in his throat. Now is not the time to be selfish, although it's easy to do.

"Don't ignore me. Don't leave me hanging here. Say something ."

There is a shuffling at the door. When Chucky looks at the space between it and the floor, he thinks he can see Andy's shadow. It might be wishful thinking. He slides his hand under it, just in case.

"I can't ," he hears Andy say, again. There is no doubt about it now. The cadence, the tone. Andy Barclay is crying. As much as he is trying to remain calm and calculative, assess the situation, and be rid of it, he is not calm . He's falling apart. "I'm…"

"Just say it, Andy," Chucky coaxes, when Andy stops and does not speak for a long while. "I put my heart on a platter for you! I've got nothing to hide. You shouldn't either. You have blackmail against me already, you have the upper hand! I'm giving you the power here, man."

"... I'm scared !"

Chucky feels his heart fall. "I know, kid," he murmurs quietly, wiggling his fingers in the space between them. He can hear Andy sobbing, plain as day now. He can feel Andy's heart bleeding, and a long time ago, it would have been the one thing that brought him joy. Now, it's devastating. "I know . It's my fault. I'm sorry. I'll say it for the rest of my damned life. I'm sorry . I'm sorry ."

Andy doesn't respond. It's time to face the music. "If you don't feel the same, just tell me. I'll be angrier if you leave me in the dark. That would be what sets me off right now," he says, and for a minute, he wonders if that was the wrong thing to say. Perhaps now he's only made things worse. But he cannot pretend he's not harboring anything inside of him right now.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I can't. I never could. You should know this by now."

He feels the warmth of Andy's hand bumping against his underneath the door. Andy's hand is trembling - he can feel the nervous energy thrumming out of him. Slowly, he interlocks his fingers with him, silently screaming when Andy pulls away.

" Andy …" he starts, but there's footsteps, a rattling of what he knows is Andy messing with his desk. He hears what sounds like paper ripping, and then the shuffle of clothes rubbing against the door again, and Andy shoving a slip of paper under his hand. He can hear Andy cursing on the other side, almost as if he immediately regrets what he's done. He takes the paper, before Andy can even attempt to take it back, and unfurls it slowly. His eyes scan the tiny scratched penmanship, already knowing how to decipher each and every word. The anxiety he'd been feeling for so long, the nervousness and preparation for the worst, evaporates.

"Andy, I swear to Satan if you don't open this door right now, I'm going to lose my fucking mind ," he blurts out, hurriedly, and he doesn't care how desperate and aggressive he sounds. He hears the click of the door, and when it slides back, Andy is in front of him, on his knees, tears streaming down flushed cheeks.

"... Chucky… " he's stuttering, and he's blubbering like a child. Chucky doesn't know where to zero his focus in on, and promptly decides that it does not matter.

He slams into Andy, who inhales sharply and falls back on his hands, probably registering this as an attack more than anything. Chucky tugs at his shirt, hands scrambling for his hair, soft soft hair that he's been plagued by ever since he finally touched it. He can smell apricot and vanilla, and he isn't sure if it's from Andy or just Erzulie making her presence and handiwork known, but he doesn't care much. He's more concerned with pulling Andy sobbing face close to his, finally, finally , getting to kiss him in the way he used to be ashamed of dreaming about.

"You have no idea how long …" Andy gasps, still crying.

"Shut up. Shut up. Shut up and let me kiss you before I kill you," Chucky starts and then pales, backing away, eyes wide. He cups Andy's face and shakes his head.

"I… I didn't… god damn it, this is so hard."

Andy, despite still beside himself, laughs.

I' ve been in love with you since I saw you at the park, but I always thought that was stupid and dangerous of me. If this is all some sick joke of yours, just kill me. Otherwise, please take care of me. I'm so tired of all this it hurts.

"Would you stop reading that? It's embarrassing ," Andy gripes at him, still somewhat sniffling from his earlier episode.

They're sitting on the couch, much like they had the first night Chucky had completely and utterly made a mess of himself. This time, however, they were strangely silent for different reasons, outside of Andy's sudden outburst. There was too much ruminating in the mind. Over the course of several weeks, a lot had happened, considering their case and who they were, history to present. For one, there is little to no discomfort around the fact that Andy has made himself quite comfortable lying his head against Chucky's plush stomach, except for Chucky dramatically exclaiming that his head was much too heavy .

"Fuck off, you gave it to me, it's mine now. I can do as I please," is what Chucky huffs back, grinning cheekily. He pockets the slip of paper, for later. It still makes him grin madly. "Besides, it makes up for when I busted my ass in the kitchen for you just to have you run off on me. Fuckin' pussy."

" Whatever, " Andy grumbles, blushing. He doesn't move from his position, however, instead nestling further into him. Chucky leans back against the couch arm and wonders when it suddenly became so easy to just touch him. He doesn't feel any of the status quo defensiveness or trepidation about it either, slipping his fingers back into dark curls.

"Your hair used to be lighter," he states. Andy doesn't respond to this, but he can see the tips of his ears pinken. It's entertaining. Had he known it was going to be so entertaining, he would have invested in it awhile ago.

"Kristen told me you were with her and Jeeves," Andy tells him, and he immediately feels the twinge of guilt. Andy is still using a defense mechanism by changing the subject, but it's working. He knows he shouldn't have gone snooping behind Andy's back. Andy doesn't sound too upset though, and continues, "After you left, I went to her apartment and she apologized to me for telling you everything she did. And I'm not going to pretend it didn't feel a little violating."

He leans his head a bit to look up at him. "Why didn't you just ask me?"

"Oh, and then you were just going to tell me, huh? That easy?" Chucky smarts, but relents quickly at Andy's shriveling expression. "Besides, I was being a jackass, and I didn't want to come clean and tell you how I felt either. It's my fault. I pushed her."

Andy snorts at this. "Pushing Kristen to do anything? She's about as stubborn as you are."

Chucky stops mid stroke to tug harshly at some of the hair just at the nape of Andy's neck, trying not to feel too satisfied at the small ow under Andy's breath. "That's why I managed, asshole," he gripes, pushing hair back from Andy's forehead, watching it settle when he lets it go. The silence that rests between them, for the first time, is not tense. A little shy maybe, but not tense.

"Does it…" Chucky starts, despite not wanting to ruin the moment they have now. But if he doesn't ask while he feels on top, he won't ever do it again. He knows this. Andy's eyes are on him, wide and waiting. "Doesn't it bother you, that I'm here with you now? You know, after all of this shit behind us and between us."

He waves a hand, trying to be noncommittal. It's not working. Perhaps it's a good thing.

"Just… are you sure you're ready to sleep with your worst nightmare?"

Andy colors at this, burying his face in his shirt. It's nice being on the receiving end of this, Chucky decides, chuckling under his breath at the groan of embarrassment vibrating against his chest. "You're such a pervert," Andy grumbles, or at least, that's what it sounds like he says, and Chucky laughs aloud.

"That's not how I meant it, but sure, if you're that eager to jump aboard the Chuck-train…"

"If you ever say that phrase again, I'll gouge my eardrums out," Andy whines, frustrated. He chews his bottom lip, thinking. "Besides, I wouldn't say you're my worst nightmare."

Chucky scoffs. "After all of my efforts? I'm offended ," he says. But in truth, he feels extremely warm, and the smile that stays glued to his face is making his jaw ache . He remembers smoking with Jess on their patio, and what she'd said to him. He wants to bring it up, but decides perhaps it's best if Andy comes to terms with telling him this on his own. He has a feeling that those days will come sooner than he'd originally believed they would.

He starts to sit upwards, sliding out from under Andy. He's only moved to reach the lighter and the blunt lying on the coffee table, but Andy's immediate reaction is to pin him down, snapping his eyes up towards him.

"Wait," Andy blurts, and it wasn't something he'd meant to say, Chucky can tell. He looks disgruntled, and awkward, and Chucky is trying to find something else in the room to look at so he doesn't laugh at him and ruin this entire thing. Andy, in this moment, reminds him of himself, whenever he was about to say something that he finds particularly mortifying. Andy is holding onto him, his weight crushing him against the couch.

"Well?" Chucky asks, after a pause. He lights the blunt, taking a hit. "You going to tell me what's on your mind, or am I going to have to do some pushing again?"

Andy tears his eyes away, pouting. "I…" he starts, and then shakes his head, screwing his eyes shut. He's red , and now Chucky really is curious. "Never mind."

"I'll just text Kristen then, and ask her, since you want to be so stubborn."

"And I'll just text Tiffany and tell her that you're being manipulative!"

Chucky gawks at him. "You little shit," he gasps, a bit impressed. But he shrugs instead, pushing at Andy's weight to usher him off of him, blowing smoke rings. "Well, since you don't care to tell me, I guess I'll just never know, huh?"

He squeezes Andy's face in his palms. "Such a shame, I only want to give you everything you've ever wanted, puppy ," he teases, his tone similar to how parents talk to their babies.

Andy's jaw might have become unhinged, face burning. It's a good look on him, Chucky's decided, now that he's seen it more than once. There's the hint of a scowl growing on his face, and Chucky feels that for once, the tables have finally turned in his favor. Being nice is a lot easier than he'd anticipated. And a lot more fun. He's going to have to go back to Tiffany, tail-tucked, and admit she was right in yet another aspect. It's almost cruel, the way he's delighting in the power he has to play with Andy's emotions. Andy is lucky he actually does like him.

"I just wanted to stay here like this a little longer, that's all," Andy admits sheepishly, voice almost a whisper, and oh , if he had known it was going to be this easy, he would have done this so long ago. He really does owe Erzulie Freda fried bananas and sugar, for helping this become so unearthly clear to him so suddenly. He's been granted entrance to the pure and forbidden of Andy Barclay, and it's delicious . It's only fair that he gives her something sweet in return.

"Well, all you had to do was ask," Chucky replies, even gentler now. "I said I wanted to take care of you. I meant it." He's settling, and Andy falls down with him, releasing a long held-in whimper of relief. His arms find their way around him again, and it's almost dizzying, just how calm things are for the first time. Truly calm. Not numb, not dull. Purely calm . He puffs at the blunt, thoughtful, a free hand in Andy's hair again, as if they'd never been awkward about being even five feet near each other. Andy hums, content. He can feel it.

Chucky looks down to see Andy's soft grin, dimple in his cheek, and he feels his heart race. For a minute, he hopes that Andy does not notice, and then, he doesn't care much at all if he knows. He can feel Andy's pulse beating against him as well, and there'd be no point in either of them pointing fingers. There is no aha moment, no fear of showing weakness when they are both in the very same sort of circumstances.

"Andy Barclay, my what can be ," he murmurs in amusement.

"What?" Andy asks, without opening his eyes. There's something immensely heart wrenching about this, that Andy can feel so safe and secure, right where he is, so much so that he doesn't even feel the need to see what is happening around him.

"Nothing," Chucky responds, ignoring the lump in his throat. He smokes silently, just enjoying the calmness of the moment.