She’d never been close enough before to know what he smelled like; flour, toothpaste, and lemon-scented soap. She grinned all over again as he picked her up and spun her around, laughing.
"Let’s go back upstairs."
“Yeah. I can’t believe this is happening,” he said as they walked, arm round each other for once, back upstairs.
“No more bells, no more plastic, no more wooden hand to pet Digby with— I’ll have to get real fruit now, though,” he rambled excitedly.
She pulled away slightly, still with her arms around him, and grinned. “I’m too short to kiss you. I need to wear higher heels.” It was true, she was almost an entire foot shorter, even in the kitten heels she was wearing.
"If this is a dream, it’s a damn good one, and I hope I never wake up."
Ned grinned, leaning down to kiss her. And, finally, they shared their second real first kiss. A real, flesh-and-blood kiss. No plastic between them. And, there would never be any plastic between them ever again. Because he could touch her.
Ned hadn’t been a fan of storms, but now he couldn’t love them more.
When she felt his hand on hers, a wide grin spread on her face. Her other hand flew to her mouth, covering it in shock until she leaned forward and closed her eyes, burying her face in his chest and wrapping her arms around him as she’d wanted to do so many times before.
"Oh my God, Ned…" She was speechless. Somehow, by some miracle, he could touch her. He could touch her, and she didn’t die.
For a while, Ned just stood there in shock as Chuck hugged him. He could touch her. That’s the only thing he’d wanted for such a long time now, and…he could touch her.
He grinned like a little kid on Christmas, throwing his arms around her and spinning her around, just finally feeling the feel of her.
“We’re…we’re normal, and I can— Oh, god, I hope this isn’t a dream,” he murmured, laughing.
"Yes, you can," She insisted, a grin at her lips. “If this works, we won’t have to wait until winter to hold hands. You’ll be able to pet your dog again. Please?"
“Agh, I know, I want to, but I— I can’t, what if I—”
He stopped, letting out a big breath of air. If he refused to even try, then he’d never be able to touch her. He lifted his hand, moving ever so slowly towards hers. His fingers hovered above her hand for a long time before he toughened himself up. He swore his heart skipped a beat, if not more. He looked her in the eye, and…touched her.
"If we don’t try, we’ll never know," She said. “And if this doesn’t work, I love you, and it’s not your fault."
She swallowed hard and lifted her hand out in front of her for him to touch.
Ned took a step back, shaking his head.
“Chuck, I can’t. What if— what if it’s only with small things? What if it doesn’t work on humans and I kill you? I can’t,” he said.
She stared at him for a moment before turning and removing a slice of one of the day’s pies from the refrigerator. It was full of strawberries he’d un-deaded earlier that day. She wordlessly held the plate out so he could touch one of the strawberries.
He took a breath, and touched one of the strawberries. Still, nothing. The fruit stayed fresh and red. He poked it again, just to see. Then he poked it one last time. He raised his eyebrows, looking at Chuck with wide eyes. All this time, and he’d never touched her since that day he woke her up. And that was just a touch. Maybe now he could actually kiss her, for real. And maybe they could hold hands—
He swallowed. “D’you think?”
She grinned. “Then Emerson is going to have a lot more work to do.”
Of course that wasn’t what she was thinking, but there was no need to say it. She knew Ned was thinking it as well.
"So… Let’s go downstairs to the Pie Hole. There’s a whole room of dead fruit for you to test your magic finger on," She said, already stepping back into her kitten heels and heading out the door, eager to see if this was really happening.
Ned nodded again, walking out after her. He longed, more than ever now, to reach out and just touch her. But he refrained.
They went downstairs and ended up in front of a rotted pear that Chuck had selected from the freezer. Ned stood in front of it, staring at the shriveled fruit on the table with his hands just above it.
He poked it, very softly.
He poked it again. And again, and again. He picked it up and tossed it to his other hand. Still, nothing. He looked at Chuck.
Her eyes widened. “You mean it stayed alive when you touched it?” Her mind was racing. Save for when he brought her back to life two years ago, she hadn’t touched him since they were eight and kissing after their parents’ funeral. What if, by some crazy turn of events, this was true? What if she could suddenly touch her pie-maker? They could hold hands and kiss and remove that sheet of plastic that divided their bed in half…
They could be normal.
Ned could do nothing but nod and shrug.
“Maybe it’s just a one-time thing, or maybe not, but I— I don’t know. I just know it happened with the squirrel.”
He sighed again, glancing to make sure Digby wasn’t running around before walking through to the couch and sitting down.
“But if it isn’t a one-time thing, and I can’t…” He didn’t finish the sentence.
Chuck had been just about to start making dinner— her and Ned took turns, or sometimes did it together, since they both liked to cook, but he was still down at the restaurant, so she decided she might as well start. She had just decided what to make when she heard him coming back in the apartment, looking extremely concerned and slightly confused.
"Ned? Is everything okay?" She asked, setting down the frying pan she’d just pulled out and approaching him, though she kept a good two feet between the two if them. She valued her current status as ‘not dead’, anyway.
He set the bag down as he entered, not speaking for a moment. He looked over Chuck, the girl he’d gotten used to loving from a distance. A thought came to him…what if he could…? No, he couldn’t. He would have to try on something not-Chuck first. He didn’t want to have to live without her again.
“Uh, well, some stuff happened,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand.
“And, uh..well, I was getting the groceries, but I was walking back to the car, and— I accidentally touched a dead squirrel. I couldn’t just let it run off and live a life that wasn’t its’ own, so I went to touch it again, but when I did, I also touched the fence, and it’s storming, you know, so I got a little shocked, and then—” he sighed. “And then the squirrel ran off. I touched it, but it still ran off. Not-dead,” he finished, pursing his lips and glancing at Chuck’s face.
Ned, personally, did not enjoy storms. They were loud, and just generally not enjoyable for the Piemaker.
So it was with great reluctance that he went on his trip to the store. He really didn’t want to, but somebody hadn’t told him they were almost out of flour, and it was Saturday, and Sundays were big costumer days. He didn’t want to risk it, being very prepared most of his life. Well, as prepared as he could be, with his predicament.
He got into his car and started driving. Almost no one was out driving about the town. Ned arrived at the store shortly, picking up the flour as planned. It wasn’t a very interesting task, but he was fine with that. Or would be, if it wasn’t storming outside. Both thunder and lightning. The Piemaker noticed, as he walked to his car, that the flashes of lightning were oddly close after the thunder. He paused. Hadn’t he heard somewhere that the closer the sound and flash were together, the closer it was to where you were? He shivered, continuing walking.
But, he wasn’t watching the sidewalk, and he brushed against the body of a dead squirrel. Unfortunately, he’d been too preoccupied to wear socks for just a grocery run, and his ankle grazed the animal. He glanced down just in time to see the squirrel flash awake and hop up. He knew it would just be another small animal, like a raccoon or something, but it was still distressing.
“Oh, no—” he set the bags down quickly, reaching out to touch the squirrel again, but it ran off. He exhaled, chasing down the fluffy animal, and it ran up a fence. Ned was reaching out, his hand connecting with the once-dead squirrel, but also the fence. Just as he did so, a stroke of lightning flashed down. He felt a quick shock through his hand and up his arm and down to his feet on the ground. He looked at his hand with wide eyes, and then glanced at the squirrel, which ran away— not returned to it’s not-alive state.
He picked up the bags and drove home, his mind and heart racing. What had just happened? He shook his head, pulling into the spot and hurrying back into the building with a worried look on his face and a mumble on his lips.