They toe their shoes off when they step inside Jesse's apartment. Andrew's shirt hangs against him limp and damp from the humidity, the steam boiling off the soft tar roads and threatening rain. He unhinges the top two buttons of his dress shirt and pulls it over his head, flinging it over the arm of a chair.
The phone rings like a theatre cue. Jesse organizes his clothes like there's someone at the door, shooting his cuffs and flattening his shirt down his front, taking a quick breath before answering the phone.
Andrew falls on the couch, limp and bare-chested. He lies there in a puddle of blanket and pillow, sprawled out half-naked and breathing in and out through his nose. Jesse takes the call quietly in the next room, lots of yeses and of course and assuring them he'll be here when they arrive.
"That'll be the cat, then?" Andrew says, shifting against the couch and moving so his head is hanging off the edge of the cushions and he's looking at the world upside down.
"Yeah," Jesse says, pushing his hands through his hair, letting it flop in a mess of curls back against his forehead. He dodges into the bedroom, slides opens a few drawers and finds a pale, too-often washed hoodie, balling it between his hands. "You getting changed?"
"Ah yes," Andrew says. "I must look presentable for the new cat."
"First impressions count," Jesse says, a little too seriously before he blushes into a grin, quickly turning his head away.
"What does he have?" Andrew says, doing a neat back roll off the couch and landing softly on his feet. "Chlamydia? Three-legs? Butt disease?"
"Butt disease?" Jesse laughs, tossing the hoodie at Andrew, the sweater landing in a fabric-softener puff on his chest. It's got some old New York bike race logo on it and 1998 written along the back; there are small holes under the arms, little diamonds of a tear, and the pocket and hood are frayed along the edges. "You know, where the cat smells like butt."
"What – kind of cats have you met?" Jesse says, walking back into the living room with the cats trailing around his ankles.
"Butt cats," Andrew says, stretching as he pulls the old sweater over his head. He sits back on the edge of the couch, runs his hands through his sleep-mussed hair. He bounces a little on the creaky spring cushions. "When I was seven I found this little stray Manx and I kept him in my room. He was so sweet, one of those cats that thinks it's a dog, you know? All bouncy and playful stuff. He was a stray I guess, I don't know," Andrew says, running his hands through his hair again. "But he – smelled. My parents made me get rid of him after two weeks." A beat of silence. "Uh, that was kind of out of nowhere. We got a dog a year later. I don't know." Andrew smiles in the corner of his mouth. "Unexpected cat therapy, sorry. I want him to like me," he offers with an uncertain smile. "I want to keep him. That's all."
Jesse stands there in front of him, his bare feet and his jeans too short, standing on one foot with the other scratching the skin of his Achilles' heel. "That's the only cat you've ever had?"
'Yep." Andrew shrugs. "It's no big tragedy. I just never had cats."
Jesse shrugs. "But you like them?"
"Hey, it's your house," Andrew says.
"Well," Jesse says carefully. "Not so much. Anymore."
Andrew takes a moment, looks at the cats turning figure eights between Jesse's legs, one or two of them brushing up against Andrew's calves, little pressures of attention and wide-open eyes asking for food. "They can tell I eat meat, can't they?"
Jesse smiles a little at that, gives a short nod. "I'll make sure everything's all set up."
Andrew takes the moment to hop out for a quick cigarette. It's a grey day, teasing rain with the air all cold and damp and misting against his skin, beading and dripping wet. Andrew can see Jesse through the windows, clearing some books and papers off the desks, a couple of cats following him around like a little parade before he fills their bowls, stepping into the kitchen to refill the water.
Andrew sighs on his next breath of smoke and wriggles his feet into the Astroturf, can't help but close his eyes on the next puff, keeping them closed and breathing in through his nose until that giddy rush leaves his chest. That's all it takes now, a blurry silhouette of a boy feeding cats to make Andrew feel like he's gotta shout and grin. It's pathetic in that way that he's fully prepared to accept. He's pathetic now, and happy.
Jesse makes the coffee too weak but they drink it together at the kitchen with the radio on (NPR's afternoon at the opera, something Jesse calls La Traviata even though Andrew begged and begged, stuck with some obtuse opera with shrill voices.) The rain starts fifteen minutes later, slow at first but hammering against the windows by the time Jesse is sliding the mugs into a sink full of soapy water.
"Is it insane that I'm nervous?" Andrew says all at once, his feet bumping against the table in his too-tall chair.
"Nervous?" Jesse starts to do the dishes, his motions slow and thoughtful. He wipes one dish for much too long before rinsing it and setting on the rack. "About the cat?"
"Kinda?" Andrew says. "It's just. I want him to like me. I want to be his – I want to be his." It sounds ridiculous but the feeling is sincere. He wants it to stick, for the cat to cling to him, wants to become a permanent little fixture of this tiny apartment, wants to belong here like cat sick and the smell of dander.
"Don't be, you are – don't worry," Jesse goes on, his voice calm and filled with a kind of false bravado, like he's rehearsed the way this is going to go in his head. He might be improvising a little, but Jesse's voice is steady and he continues washing dishes. Like he wants it too, wants Andrew to stick to the walls like well-cooked spaghetti.
To Andrew, Jesse's brain is all weird and archaic. Figuring him out is like operating Turing machine, a Victorian relic with these gears and motors that Andrew's never seen before, can't even begin to understand what switch or lever does what. Where he should push, when he should let go. Andrew waits a beat more, but the silence gets all honeyed and sticky-warm and endlessly comfortable, the kind of silences Andrew sees his parents have sometimes when they sit at the table and read together in silence. Andrew bites his fingernails and watches as Jesse's hair frizzes as he leans over the sink full of steaming water. All right then, and with both feet.
"You need help?" Andrew asks, sliding in next to Jesse by the sink. "I can dry."
Jesse's hands are hot and red and his fingertips wrinkled when he touches Andrew's wrist, exchanging fistfuls of cutlery and washed plates into the lazy afternoon.
It's a race to the front door between cat and television.
Jesse sets to work on writing. He flicks his pen nervously between his fingers and doesn't get much down, like he's actually nervous about meeting the new cat. Andrew takes it upon himself to help Jesse write by singing the bits he remembers from Jesus Christ Superstar, something about Nazareth's famous son and walking across swimming pools and omnipresent brains. He fills in the missing bits with improvised things that make Jesse blush and Jesus frown.
The television wins.
The box and the delivery guys are soaking wet from the downpour and Jesse stands guard at the bedroom door to make sure none of the cats make a break for it. The delivery guys bring with them the smell of rainy autumn, dead leaves and the tang of dirty water and freshly turned earth. Andrew makes sure they take off their boots before stepping into the house.
Andrew directs them to the little table they've has cleared off and stands there next to Jesse and the cats, Andrew's hands drawn into his sleeves, clenching his bare feet against the carpet. He grins at the television – nothing big or fancy, just enough to gently rot the brain – and elbows Jesse in the ribs every so often until Jesse halts him with a touch against his forearm that stays, Jesse holding onto his sleeve just a little.
"Who's signing for it?" one of the guys asks.
"Oh, me," Andrew says. He shakes his hands out of his oversized cuffs and takes the offered pen, scrambling down his signature quickly. "Thanks."
The delivery guys do up their boots again, settling the cowls of their jackets back over their heads. One of them, the signing guy, gives a quick look around the house just before he leaves, a flash of a glance really. from Jesse to Andrew to the huddle of cats behind Jesse's legs. He gives Andrew a curt nod and a "have a good one," before leaving.
Andrew breathes out slow, and then shoots Jesse an exhilarated kind of smile. "I've kind of ruined everything, haven't I?"
"Probably." Jesse takes that in for a second, breathing quickly until one of the cats finally gets the best of him and darts between his legs, shooting towards the new television and circling it curiously. "Yes, you have."
"So," Andrew says, guiding Jesse by the shoulders and pushing him down to the couch before flopping down next to him. Their sides are flush and Andrew leans against Jesse's, kissing the crown of his head roughly. "Which do you want: gangsters or Nazis?"
"Gangsters it is."
"I got some groceries while you were out," Andrew says. The Godfather is paused over a family scene, and Andrew takes the moment to dig a couple beers out of the fridge. "You want?"
"Sure," Jesse says. He decants his beer into a glass, dropping a few ice cubes into it as he does.
"No?" Jesse looks at his beer, the ice floating and the foam gathering in the corners of the glass. "is that not it?"
"Sure, why not," Andrew says, slipping a few ice cubs out of the tray and dropping them into his beer. "The Jesse way."
"Are you not supposed to?" Jesse asks, still looking at his glass sceptically.
"Not normally," Andrew says, sipping his beer. "Whatever. It's the new thing. All the kids are doing it." He sips his beer again. "I'll never drink it the same way again."
Jesse takes a slow swallow of his beer. "Sorry."
"No," Andrew says, clinking his glass against Jesse's own, making this whole thing sacred. "I like it like this. Your way."
"My way," Jesse breathes out, a lot more than simple anxiety. He draws up his shoulders and takes an evening breath the same way that Andrew now knows he's preparing himself for something big and generally unspoken. "You know, when I first met you, I was terrified."
Andrew pauses with the glass halfway to his mouth. "What? How?"
"It's my natural inclination. If it breathes, it must eventually hate me," Jesse says, so calm and smooth it must be true. It's as honest as cancer, a self-grudging smile that fades away. "It's – I guess it's just the way I see things. I can't help it." He flashes a fading smile. "I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"How?" Andrew asks. "The first time I met you, I swear I must have been dancing. I was so excited. Just meeting you was – hearing you talk. I - I was so happy I could have –" Andrew pauses to collect his breath. "Didn't you – how could you think I hated you?"
"It's just how I am," Jesse says, taking his ice-cold beer and sitting back on the couch, curling his legs up under him. "I can't help it."
"Well, you were wrong," Andrew says. He sips his beer. "You're crazy. God, I was so happy. I was so damn happy. You're my favourite thing –" Andrew smiles at Jesse, then pulls it away. "How could you think I hated you?"
Jesse shrugs. Wants to say something, but shrugs again. "Just how it is."
They're only half-way through the movie, Michael picking up the revolver to shoot McCluskey through the brain when the doorbell rings. Jesse takes the jump off the couch, straightening his shirt and brushing off the invisible crumbs of having relaxed for half an hour. Andrew pauses the movie while Jesse answers the door. Everything is half-shadowed and about to change. Andrew feels the anxiety rush through him in one single muscle-tight rush, his calves and thighs as hard as rock.
Muffled talking, a short happy laugh from Jesse and then a door closing. Andrew takes a deep breath. It's about to change, and he pushes his hair back, gets the best grin he can on his lips. It's about to change, and he goes into it smiling.
"The newest tenant," Jesse says, walking carefully into the living room with a load of dynamite perched in his arms. The cat is not a cat; it's a kitten, black as tar with shaggy, spiked fur. Like a little cactus cat, pitch dark with fur sticking up in tufts at its ears and paws. Pretty defenceless and small in Jesse's arms, but mewling loud enough all the same. Struggling to get the upper hand, pawing out his arms to look out at the world. Big yellow eyes, a little nose, a meow enough to twitch a heartstring.
"He's a Maine Coon," Jesse says. "At least mostly." He cradles the cat closer to his chest. "Say hi."
"Hi," Andrew says carefully, standing a little uneasy from the beer and the anxiety. He takes the steps towards Jesse, touches a finger to the soft fur between the kitten's eyes. "Hey. Hey kiddo."
"Sorry," Jesse starts saying, holding the kitten flush to his chest. "This is really imposing and I –"
"He's so tiny," Andrew says, stroking behind the kitten's ears, down-feather soft fur and a purr that resonates through his hand. "Oh my God, look at him."
"I was thinking of calling him Greymalkin," Jesse says, trying to get a new grip as the kitten tries to wriggle out of his hands.
"But he's – not even grey," Andrew says. "He's black." The kitten rolls over in Jesse's arms and Andrew touches his soft underbelly with the back of a finger, stroking it gently. Little cream belly of tufted fur, a mewl and the kitten pawing with tiny nails at his finger. "Seriously? Greymalkin?"
"No – not grey – Greymalkin, like from Macbeth. The witches, you know?"
Andrew pauses, lets the kit bat his finger between oversized paws. "No. The other cats will make fun of him. Not Greymalkin." Andrew touches the soft patch of fur under the kitten's chin, gets a good meow and he throws his little head back, lets Andrew scratch his throat. "Harry Potter."
"Look at his fur," Andrew says. He gets his hands under the tiny body of the cat, eases him out of Jesse's hands, holding the kitten close, close enough that the little cat gets his paws up on Andrew's shoulder, yawns and stretches out like he's looking for a way to get out. "It sticks up all over. He's totally a little Harry Potter. He's all messy. Yeah, that's it." Andrew presses a short kiss against the cat's shoulder, snuffling his puff of black fur, that smell of wet sod and unwashed sweetness. "Little Harry Potter, aren't you, kiddo? My little boy. Harry Potter, aint'cha?"
Jesse bits down on his lower lip, watches Andrew and the cat; the way Andrew presses his nose against the kitten's soft belly, snuffling a little and kissing him. Watches the way the kitten wriggles in his hands then stills, taking a moment to lift himself up in Andrew's hands to sniff curiously Andrew's face, little scratchy cat tongue wetting the corner of Andrew's nose. "No Greymalkin?"
"Nope," Andrew says. The kitten takes the opportunity, crawls with claws and paws to rest on Andrew's shoulder. He's a little precarious but finds his place. Sits there, with his wet nose digging into Andrew's neck like he's claiming a place, a person, a smell that he finds comfortable. "Harry Potter."
"Okay," Jesse says, fingers touching the tuft of the kitten's tail in Andrew's arms fleetingly. "Okay, he's yours."
"He doesn't hate you," Andrew says firmly, letting the kitten use him as a jungle gym, crawling all over, sniffing his shoulder and neck and hair like a new adventure. He looks at Jesse steadily, makes sure he's looking back. "Look at us. I can tell you that much. He's mine and yours. Look at him."
"But he likes you," Jesse says quietly.
"He's my boy," Andrew says, stroking the cat from head to tail. "He likes us. Look at that," Andrew says, as the kitten walks carefully down his arm and back into his hands. "Look, he's happy. I'm – I'm really happy right now. God, I am – Jesse. Jesse," his breath warming on the last syllable, keeping the kitten close to his chest and his friend closer still.
Jesse is close, his body near and his hands trembling-careful as he runs the back of a finger down Harry Potter's spine. "He's yours, isn't he?"
"Can he be?" Andrew asks, folding his arms together, a little nest for the kitten to find stable and comfortable enough to rest.
"Yes," Jesse says. "He's yours. He can be yours."
"Look, he loves you," Andrew says again, raising his eyebrows even as the cat digs a little into his skin, finding a careful place to rest. "Okay? He loves us."
Jesse's breathing is a little hitched, and Andrew can feel it close up, the warmth on his hands when Jesse leans down to press a fleeting kiss on the soft fur of Harry Potter's neck. "Yeah."
"Yes," Andrew says. "Look at the little kid, he loves it here. Don't you, Harry? Yeah – yeah, don't you? Don't you?"
The television is ignored after that, a half-forgotten machine so distant from what happens now, after dinner with a whole weight of a new life and an autumn cold apartment. Half a movie left to watch, but then Andrew lies down and the kitten crawls over his chest, curious about the paunch of relaxation and balancing himself on muscle and more. Jesse flicks the movie, changing shadowed scenes, but Andrew is more caught up in the way the cat moves, lingering in paw prints against his chest, ignoring the lightning-flicker of a television screen. He nuzzles against Harry Potter, feels the rough lick of a tongue on his cheek.
"What a kid," Andrew says. "He'll bury a hole in my chest." He should sound more put out, but Andrew almost relishes it. Wants the new kitten to bury a hole in his chest, just to make sure everyone knows that it's his cat, his little place in New York City. Andrew is here, and torn to shreds, and loving it.
"He really is yours, isn't he?" Jesse asks uselessly, knowing his answer in pressed paws and a mewl and a lick against the corner of Andrew's mouth. The cats are careful to come close, like they can smell a new kitten infringing on their space, taking careful steps like they're testing where they stand. Calling and nosing against calf muscles, questioning with upturned noses this new smell.
"Yep," Andrew says calmly, still flat on his back with the kitten pawing into his chest like he's looking for a good place to sleep. "I love him. I really do." He takes a moment to flash a smile at Jesse, makes sure this is all right. This is okay, isn't it? "He's my boy."
"He's yours," Jesse decides. "Though it's hardly my choice."
Andrew lies flat, lets Harry get a good claw-grip into his t-shirt, a little flinching pain as he digs in too deep, finds a spot where he's comfortable and tightens himself in a ball on Andrew's chest. "Gosh. God. This is really – man, I don't ever want to move."
Jesse keeps glancing over, careful at first and then with this dopey grin, and, yeah, the world is as sweet as sugar. Harry yawns every now and then, stretching out so his claws glance of Andrew's stomach, makes him whimper slightly. "Now, then. So."
"So, this script," Andrew says. He's careful, monitoring each breath to make them shallow as to not wake the cat up. "How's that going?"
Jesse chews a word between his lips. "It's not as great as you think."
"Come on," Andrew says. "You're amazing. It's messed up. It's heart breaking. It's inspired by a true story kind of thing."
Jesse laughs, tries to calm himself, laughs all the same. "It's not the same story it was. I mean, before you got here. It's changed. It's changing every second, to be totally honest. I thought I knew what it was, but it keeps changing. Every time you look over my shoulder, it changes.
"So, I'm a character then?"
Jesse pushes back his hair and it flops against his forehead all the same. "Kind of." Jesse gives an unsteady shrug. "You kind of dictate how it feels. That – that doesn't make sense, does it? You kind of make the atmosphere? It's not the story it was when I started. I had it all planned it out and now – and now..."
"How do I make it feel?" Andrew asks, stroking his new kitten down the back of his neck, the tingle of a purr like static electricity in his fingertips. The sound resonates in him, and Andrew drops his head back and closes his eyes, dopey smile. "Do I make it good?"
Jesse hesitates on syllables, careful to pick out the right word. "You make it feel a lot bigger than it was. I knew what the story was before you came here, had a tight plot, a good message, and now it's – bigger. It's all over the place. It's everywhere and I don't know how to make it fit. Nothing fits."
"Is that bad?" Andrew asks, scratching a finger behind his kitten's ear. His free hand slings back; he stretches away and finds Jesse's side near his on the couch. He finds his fingers in belt loops and shirt hems and then Jesse's hand, tangling together.
"Narratively, yes, it's very bad," Jesse says quietly. "Realistically, though – no. No, it's not bad. Not at all."
Andrew makes a dinner from a Nigella Lawson cookbook he has buried in the bottom of his suitcase. He bought some cheap wine that only he drinks, clinking his glass against Jesse's full of water and toasting their new kitten who twists his way around Andrew's ankles like he can't stand to be apart. Andrew spends dinner pulling off little bits of chicken from his plate and feeding his kitten, feeling the dull scrape of teeth and a rough tongue against his fingertips.
"Dog guy, huh?" Jesse says, another forkful of pasta near his lips, already red from sauce and the sips of wine. "Really?"
"Temporary convert," Andrew says, letting Harry up on his lap. "God, he's sweet, isn't he?"
Jesse smiles as he takes another bite. "Absolutely."
"Spiderman saved cats from trees," Andrew says. "I'm fulfilling a long line of tradition. Right?' He slurps his pasta; Harry Potter gets his paws on the table, crawling up. "Of course right."
"The height of heroism, rolling on the ground playfighting with a kitten. Absolutely."
Andrew laughs, pushing the last of his pasta around his plate, full already with wine and good feeling. "Oh, hey. Does your place have a gym or a pool or something?" Andrew asks, pushing his food around with a fork, pushing off his socks under the table. "In the basement, maybe?"
Jesse pauses in the hallway, his fingertips tapping against the kitchen. "I – maybe?"
"You don't know?" Andrew pushes his lank hair back and he knows it sticks up like a cockscomb. "Really? You've lived here for, like, five years –"
Jesse touches a nervous hand to his temple. "I – think we might have a pool? Maybe? There's a distinct possibility." His tongue is trapped between his teeth for a moment. "You want a towel?"
"Don't worry, I got it," Andrew grins, drains the last of his wine and pushes away from the table. Right there in the kitchen he hops from one foot to the other as he tugs his jeans down, half-stumbling in just his boxers, the seaweed tangle of pants around his ankles.
Andrew shuffles in short steps into the living room, finally wrestling his pants off and throwing them over the arm of the couch. Looking around, the place still doesn't properly feel like his own, but he can see his own t-shirt, a pair of boxers, and plaid pair of pyjama pants scattered around like flotsam. Little bruises he's left in the skin of the apartment.
"Thank you," Andrew says as Jesse follows him in, grabs a towel from the laundry basket and hands it over. "I'll have a swim and then," Andrew jerks his head to the bedroom and the clutter of papers roosting by the typewriter, their abandoned nest of words and private scribbles temporarily forgotten for kittens and televisions. "We do that, okay?"
Jesse nods, finally dropping his hands. He jerks suddenly, his body moving towards Andrew and then stopping, like he's suddenly caught himself from falling. His eyes are half-closed, lashes dark and fanned over his pale cheeks. "Sure. Okay. Go do that."
Andrew hesitates for a moment, his hand hovering in front of Jesse's chest like he's ready to break his fall. Instead of pulling away, he presses his palm to Jesse's sternum and leans forward enough to drain the space between them. Jerky, in frozen half-motions, Andrew tugs forward and smells Jesse's shampoo in the curls around his ear. Lips on his cheek, pulling away without a smack of a finished kiss, just the silent press of his lips like a rubber stamp and then away. Just a kiss, only that. "I will."
Jesse cheeks are red and he's looking down at his stocking feet. "Tell me if we have a pool. I'm curious."
Andrew nuzzles for a second against Jesse's cheek, feels the soft fuzz of a day-old scruff, hears a strangled gasp as Jesse is quick to catch his breath. Andrew draws his lips over Jesse's skin, mouth getting reddened and plump by the slight scrape of an unshaven boy and his shocked smile. "Will do."
Jesse only nods as they pull apart, biting down on his lower lip like he's trying to shut himself up.
Turns out they do have a pool.
Andrew thumbs the elevator, Lobby, then B1, and finally B2 before he smells chlorine. He ducks down dark, empty hallways, following his nose through echoing corridors until he finds a glass door notifying him that there are NO LIFEGUARDS ON DUTY and a pool beyond it. Somewhere between their late lunch cum early dinner the world has gone mostly dark and the only lights around are the ones under the water. They flood up through the pool and shine against the ceiling and walls in a lattice-work of silver and blue, shifting and trembling even though the pool is as calm and even as plate glass.
Andrew is alone, so he shucks off his boxer shorts and, pale and naked, walks carefully to the tiled lip of the deep end. He perches with his toes over the edge, curling tightly. Taking a deep breath, he points his hands over his head and then dives.
A burst of cold. He touches the bottom of the pool, his fingers brushing over the rough edges of tile, his naked body erupting in goosepimples as he dolphin kicks until he has to breathe, surfacing with a splutter with his legs egg-beating as he treads water.
"Oh, fuck," he says to himself, his voice echoing around the empty pool, to the shattered starlight of the light spiderwebbing on the ceiling. He pushes his wet flop of hair back, spits out a mouthful of chlorinated water. "Fuck. Oh Jesus. Oh shit. I'm in love with him."
Andrew stops treading water, just flips back until he's floating on his back and rests there. His hair floats around him like seaweed, his mouth full of that medicinal tang of chlorine as he drifts aimlessly in the eddies of his splashed waves, grinning until the dimples in his cheeks start to ache.
There are no dressing rooms or showers, so Andrew just tugs on his boxer shorts and wraps his towel around his shoulders. He thumbs the elevator and, dripping pool water against the dense carpet and pushing the wet tendrils of hair from his forehead, rides the lift up to Jesse's apartment alone, just him and his new ideas so close and a kitten waiting for him.
Jesse is cross-legged in the living room, the papers of their script spread out like scallop shells and fishscales against every surface. The couch, the coffee table, the floor. Their new kitten paws carefully around the pages, wandering in neat little figure-eights. Jesse's bottom lip is already dark from where he was sucking on the end of his pen. "Did you find a pool or did you just swim in the river?"
"The river," Andrew says. "That Staten Island ferry is a real bitch." He leans in against the doorframe to the living room, grinning as he drips water on the carpet and one the cats hisses and backs away from him. "I'm going to shower."
Jesse nods, only glancing up from his work, his smile a little confused but a smile nonetheless. "You should. Cholera, you know."
Andrew runs a quick, burning shower. The mirrors are all fogged up so he spends no real time drying off his hair, just leaves it a wet tangle dripping against his ears. He dodges into Jesse's bedroom and shuffles through a few drawers before finding an old, faded NYU hoodie and a clean pair of boxers. They smell like Jesse, that fabric softener unique to him and that faded, almost mothbally smell of a cramped apartment, all sweet dust and old books. It's all Jesse, wrapped up around him in soft cotton and hours.
Andrew takes a seat across from Jesse, a little island of carpet in the sea of their chopped up script. Andrew puts his hands on the knobbly ends of his knees and bounces there a little, still high and not wanting to come down. Harry slides in to brush his little, soft side against Andrew's knee before wandering off. "So, how's it going?"
"Nowhere," Jesse says, biting on the end of his pen again. "This is an honest mess."
Andrew picks up one page and then another, two completely different scenes. Half the lines are crossed out with little notes jotted in the margins, all in Jesse's handwriting, all suggesting something like REWRITE in capitalized, underlined letters. It's a bramble tangle, Andrew touching the edges of a new knot, trying to undo it with his fingers still pruned from the water.
"I think I've got something," Jesse says, twirling his pen between his fingers like a baton. "I just don't know how – I just don't know what it is." He frowns slightly. "You've really messed up this whole thing."
"Yeah?" Andrew says, laughing a little. He palms his hands over page after page of dialogue. Jewish sons telling their fathers about New York sin, characters singing in melodies about their shortcomings, half-finished songs about the high holy days. A boy unfinished, trying to find the marrow of his life. Spinning wildly under poetry and classical music, Jesse whispering hoarsely into the script until it's blood-soaked and unforgettable. And now something new, strange boys wandering in the margins of the pages, a love-soaked new idea that Andrew sees as his very own name. "This is unbelievable." Andrew makes a noise and he keeps grinning with that wild, foreign way he's been getting so often these days. "You know, sometimes I go to sleep thinking about you writing this and – it just makes me feel really – good. Happy."
Jesse blinks quickly. "Well," Jesse replies, his knees drawn up to his chest with his pen and paper in his hands. He sighs and Andrew watches every twitch of muscle in his lips, his cheeks. Jesse puts the paper down and pinches the bridge of his nose. "You stayed here to help me write something, didn't you?"
Andrew drops the pages he was half-reading, crawls forward on his knees, his hands still pruned as he touches Jesse's cheeks. "Yes?" It comes out like a question. His knees dig into pages, his hands steadying himself against the couch Jesse has nestled himself against. "I mean, at first. Yes. No, I'm here for the script. I'm helping, aren't I?" Andrew takes a deep breath, fingers tracing the edge of Jesse's jaw, his knees digging into pages with words scratched out because he's here now. "But I also really wanted to stay."
"That was rash," Jesse says in a tiny voice. His body shifts, knees bumping against Andrew's sides as Andrew settles close, a little between his legs.
"Yeah, well, I'm an idiot." Andrew grins, the dimples in his cheeks hurting a little, touching the edge of Jesse's chin. "I just found that out lately. It's amazing. I'm so stupid."
"Yes," Jesse agrees quickly, glancing down, then up, his eyes just level with Andrew's lips. "But what does that have to do with –"
"You're an idiot too," Andrew says firmly. "Just so you know. You are the stupidest person in the world apart from me. You are the stupidest person I've ever met." Lips so close to Jesse's mouth, ghosting over them with his short breathing. "It's amazing," Andrew says. "How stupid we are."
"Are we?" Jesse says quietly.
"I'm here for the script," Andrew murmurs, close enough that he only need whisper now. "I'm here for our kitten. And that means a lot, right? I figured it out. It means a lot."
"Like what?" Jesse says, shuffling his knees back to his chest.
"Like what it means that you let me read it, I guess," Andrew says, rolling a shoulder in a half-shrug. "Like watching you write it and smoking on your balcony and hearing you iron out a scene. Like having a kitten who is kind of mine stay here in your house. Like a little bit of belonging. Like sticking it out here and making something out of nothing."
"But –" Jesse hesitates in hitched breath, looking around wildly before taking a deep breath and settling back on Andrew. His voice is trembling when he says: "You too?"
Andrew nods, laughing a little around his smile. He leans forward, catches Jesse's mouth in a brush and a kiss. "I figured it out first, just so you know." He laughs against Jesse's mouth, finding the end of his chuckle in a press against Jesse's lips. And again, tilting his head and catching Jesse's next breath and holding it, breathing it back out between Jesse's lips. He's on top of Jesse now, straddling his hips so his boxers ride up a bit. "I knew first, by the way. I was first. I won."
The lip of Andrew's borrowed hoodie is bothered, risen a little as Jesse finds something to hold on to. Pushes the fabric up Andrew's body so the divot of his hips and the pucker of his belly button are bare and cold in the air, flexing as Jesse's fingers run over them carefully. He leans into Jesse's body and kisses him warm and solid, as heavy as a promise he should have made days, weeks, months ago. Andrew holds Jesse close and even as his clothes are rucked up as he wriggles, he leans into his newly-minted boy and kisses him.
"Quiet," Andrew says. "Worry about this tomorrow."
"I don't really work like that –"
Andrew sucks in a laugh. "Nah, I guess you don't."
Jesse's mouth is wet and open, the flick of his tongue careful and self-conscious, his kiss following Andrew for a few inches before he pulls away with a smack. Jesse's fingers press harder into the skin of Andrew's hips, tugging him closer until there's nowhere else to go, their hips a grind together. Andrew is on Jesse's lap and his knees aching as they dig into the couch. He arches forward until he can feel Jesse's heartbeat loud in his mouth, Andrew sucking the corner of Jesse's throat, swiping up the stubble along the edge of his chin. He finds Jesse's mouth again, a flicker of tongue, as he tilts his head and tastes toothpaste and salt and sweetness in the hollows under Jesse's tongue.
Jesse gets his hands under Andrew's hoodie, the one Andrew plucked out from tired drawers, lets Jesse pull it off him because it's only fair; he was only borrowing it in the first place.
Andrew's shoulders and arms goosepimple with cold as he settles again, his boxers already loose on his hips. Andrew traps Jesse's warm mouth, draws out another kiss, and another, and another, knowing he's catching a worry and a word on each one. Keeping Jesse from freaking out, from talking himself out of the flush of their chests and the ache of hips.
Stumbling into the bedroom, stepping out of his boxer shorts, falling back on Jesse's bed. Kissing him again, Andrew's stomach flexes as he holds himself up for one more, and just one more and they can stop after that, if Jesse wants.
Wriggling back through comforter and sheets as Jesse carefully takes off his shirt, tugging one arm through the sleeve and then the other, folding it twice before resting the shirt over the arm of a chair. Jesse's knees dig deep holes in the mattress on either side of Andrew's hips as he bends down to kiss Andrew, wet and a little bit like the smoke he's borrowed from Andrew's tongue. And again. One more. Just one more, and again. And again, Andrew getting his fingers under the lip of Jesse's boxer shorts and pulling them half down his ass, his thighs, and over his knees. One more kiss, and then another. Maybe one more, as Jesse rests his weight between Andrew's legs, carefully naked and breathing heavily. And then one more after that.
The next time Andrew opens his mouth it's to gasp, and then it turns into another kiss. And one more after that. And one more.
And again. One more, hissing out between Jesse's lips, Andrew kissing him again.
Andrew stutters from a dream. He wakes up breathing evenly, holding a pillow next to his head. It's a hangover of reality, a dark room and almost silence and it takes a second for Andrew to figure out where he is, the evening coming back to him touch by touch. He's a little bit cold, and yeah, still totally naked with blankets tangled around him like seaweed at his knees and elbows. When he turns over, he shuffles against Jesse.
"You still awake?" Andrew asks quietly, close enough that he digs his forehead into the elastic band of Jesse's boxers loose around his waist.
"Yeah," Jesse says. He's leaning up in bed, boxers and nothing more.
"What time is it?" Andrew asks, yawning and stretching, lifting his hips off the mattress and getting the blankets back in order.
"Eleven," Jesse says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, his knees temple close to his chest, huddled around a book.
Jesse nods. "You only slept a couple of hours. I should have woken you up but –" he trembles a smile, pushing his glasses up his nose again. "Sorry."
Andrew shakes his head, hoists himself up on one arm. "What you reading?"
"David Foster Wallace," Jesse says, lifting the book of his knees to show Andrew the cover, The Pale King without its dust-jacket, a few pages already dog-eared.
"Three names," Andrew says, raising an eyebrow. "Must be very good."
"I was going to write but I didn't want to get up – your legs were – and the cat came up and I was kind of stuck –" He gestures to where Harry Potter is curled up in a little ball between their bodies, fuzzy little head buried in the coil of his tail "It's a pretty good book, yeah." Jesse folds the corner of his page and closes the novel, rests it on his night table. "I think he missed you," Jesse says, brushing a finger over Harry's little head, barely even touching him.
"He's my boy," Andrew murmurs indistinctly, lulled as he plays a finger against the tufty hair of Harry's tail.
"Do you want anything?" His voice is so careful, talking like he's in a library. "A coffee or something?"
"Ooh, a cigarette," Andrew says, scratching the back of his head.
"You can in here, I don't mind," Jesse says.
"Nah, you're all right, I hate the smell," Andrew says, absently running his fingers up and over the patterns in Jesse's boxer shorts, feathering over the tense muscle of his thigh. "I think these are mine." Jesse blushes and it's all Andrew can do not to laugh and grin and God that feels good, fingering the lip of his own boxer shorts against Jesse's shadowed waist. "Keep them. Can I steal a pair?"
Jesse nods shortly, still a curly mess of hair and folded limbs, a little mistake of a boy tangled up in his own blankets.
Andrew slips carefully out of bed, making sure he doesn't upset the kitten. Andrew digs a pair of sky blue boxers out a drawer and tugs them on, grabbing an old t-shirt from the laundry basket and pulling it on inside-out and backwards, the tag tickling his chin.
Jesse's got his book again, holding it against his chest. His hair's a mess, his glasses perpetually slipping off the end of his nose, sucking in his lower lip and worrying it between his teeth. "This whole thing –" His voice is a question and a wince, and he fidgets his fingers together, picking at the skin around his nails.
Andrew is still smiling, can't stop it. "You ever get that feeling like you're so stupidly happy and it's all in your – stomach, you know? And it comes through your chest and you feel like you're going to make a big stupid noise so you try and choke it back and you get that weird little jump in your throat, like you have to control it? Like you're so happy you're going to explode, so your stomach tightens up and his make a little noise like a gasp?"
"I – no," Jesse says, pushing his reading glasses up again. "Not really."
Andrew grins, and feels his stomach tighten up all at once, and bounces on his heels. "When you really think about it, how is this any different than how we were? I mean, what's changing from last night, or months ago, or when we first met or whenever? All we're doing is kissing a bit more. Okay, a lot more. But that's about it. You know? I still get that same ridiculous gasp in my chest whenever you do something like make me a cup of coffee or talk about a writer I've never heard of or roll up the cuffs of your jeans and isn't that the stupidest thing you've ever heard?" It's all so easy in Andrew's head, as bright and clear as winter night. He bounces on his heels again, looks at Jesse's frown, his knitted brow. Andrew takes the few steps over, kisses Jesse on the corner of his mouth just once. "It's the stupidest. Think about it, okay?"
Jesse nods, touching the spot where Andrew kissed him so carefully, looking at his fingertips like he's making sure he's not bleeding. "Okay."
"You taste like toothpaste." Andrew is still smiling as he digs through his jeans for his pack of smokes, dodging around cats as he slips into the kitchen and elbows open the balcony door.
Andrew flops into Jesse's bed after two quick smokes and a healthy breath of taxi diesel and the whiff of street food strong in the air. Andrew digs his face into the pillow, wriggling to find a spot like a dog before it curls up in its basket. Andrew manages to wriggle out of his t-shirt and lays there, flat on his stomach with his head turned to Jesse, arms and legs sprawled starfish-style.
He supposes there are a lot of things to talk about. Questions to ask and worries to fold into neat little swans, but Andrew just huffs into blankets that smell a little bit like cats, wriggles his hips to get comfortable, and turns his head to watch Jesse write.
Jesse has barely moved since Andrew fell to the mattress. He's got none of their old work, just a fresh notepad and two ballpoint pens; one he's using and biting and twirling between his fingers, the other tucked behind one ear and into the growing flop of his curls. Jesse is writing, quickly and consistently, a long stream of work with barely a scratch, only once or twice pausing to cross out a line and replace it with something new, something that makes him smile a little.
After a few minutes, Harry Potter jumps into the bed against, resting in the crook behind Andrew's knees, his purring so soft and consistent that Andrew can feel it in his skin.
Andrew sort of falls asleep every now and then, half-opening his eyes to watch Jesse in the single light of his bedside lamp, back lit and caught in profile, leaning so close to the page his nose is almost brushing against the paper. Then Andrew falls asleep again and jerks awake when Jesse flips over another page. Just watching him in silence, through the falling sweep of his eyelashes, through the tufts of hair hanging over his forehead.
After a half-hour of drifting to and fro, buoyed in the waves of sleep, Andrew decides they can talk tomorrow, ask those questions about when and how and where later, when morning comes and they can watch their dumb television with their new cat balanced between their knees, the old guard of felines finding their places around them. Right now Andrew is just nodding off, and everything is good and quiet, and Jesse reaches over and strokes Andrew's hair, his fingers curling in it gently while he writes with his other hand.