Note: This part contains descriptions and discussions of attempted suicide and discussions of mental illness.
[May 23, 2008. Jesse is 24, Andrew is 29]
This is how the first time happens: Jesse and Andrew are sitting on the sofa, end to end with their feet overlapping in the middle. There’s a show playing on the TV but they’re both ignoring it in favor of having a toe battle, or at least that’s what Andrew called it when he started nudging his toes against the sole of Jesse’s foot. It’s sort of like a thumb war, except without thumbs and no clear rules. It’s basically an excuse for Andrew to drag his toes along the side of Jesse’s foot, where he’s ticklish, while Jesse attempts to keep a straight face. Eventually, Andrew starts tickling Jesse for real, hands on his sides and Jesse does what he always does when Andrew has his hands on him, which is to kiss him.
Then Andrew stops abruptly, and he makes this weird, scrunched-up face. Jesse breathes for air and says, “Oh, are you—?” and Andrew manages to get out, “Can you call in sick for me if I’m not back by the morning?” and then he’s gone and Jesse stares at the space he used to be in and pulls up his knees to his chest, feet suddenly cold.
[Jesse is 15, Andrew is 29]
He’s in a bathroom—he’s in a bathroom when he opens his eyes and his entire body goes shockingly numb and the entire world ceases to exist completely and nothing else matters, nothing else except the blood-red water in the bathtub and Jesse—that’s Jesse, his Jesse, but it can’t he can’t be he can’t can’t
Because his eyes are closed and his face is pale and the water is red and how can this be Jesse when Andrew just saw him, held him in his arms
(That’s where the scars came from—Andrew had always—he’d always assumed they were cat scratches, long-faded, and that was naïve, of course, but Jesse hadn’t told him and Andrew hadn’t pried)
And before Andrew can move, before he can even breathe—he’s being pulled away and everything in him screams but nothing comes out of his mouth
no, no no nononono, not now, not now, please, oh God, oh God, please, please, no
But Time takes him away, cruel and cold, digging its claws into Andrew’s chest before he can take another step, ripping him from the boy in the blood-red water and the lines bleeding into his wrist
And Andrew has never hated himself more than in this moment.
[Jesse is 24, Andrew is 29]
It’s only been about a minute, and Jesse is pulling himself off the couch as Andrew materializes in the living room.
One glance at the wrecked, torn-open expression on his face, and Jesse goes cold all over.
Andrew stares at him before stumbling backwards, unsteady legs finally giving out, and he’s holding his hands to his mouth to hold in an anguished scream as he falls to his knees on the floor—
And Jesse is there to catch him. Jesse, with the scars on his wrist. Jesse, whole and alive.
Andrew sobs and shakes and breaks apart, face pressed into the side of Jesse’s neck to feel his pulse, loud and steady, his hand pressed to Jesse’s chest, on top of his heart, and Jesse holds him through all of it.
Jesse is silent for a long while; stroking his hands down Andrew’s back and along his arms. Andrew is quivering still as he curls himself desperately closer to Jesse. As if Jesse could even think of letting Andrew go in this moment.
Finally, Jesse says, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know that you—that you saw—“ he breaks off, choking, and he covers his face with trembling hands.
“I’m sorry,” Andrew rasps out, but Jesse doesn’t know what Andrew is apologizing for. He straightens up, eyes tired but resolute, and gently takes Jesse’s hands from his face and kisses his wrists reverently, both of them, scarred and unscarred.
“What happens after?” Andrew asks, wincing at how hoarse he sounds. He feels as if he’s been wringed out and left to dry, bones stretched and pulled apart.
“My father finds me and I spend three weeks in the hospital. My parents finally decide to separate,” Jesse says, numb and hollowed out. He doesn’t remember those three weeks very well, only in sensory details: the touch of his mother’s fingers to his forehead, Hallie Kate’s stuttered, breathless sobs, Kerri singing softly to him into the night, the bland hospital Jell-O and the smell of old books and leather armchairs in the therapist’s office.
“We never really talk about it. I knew you knew what happened, but not that you’d seen. When I came home from the hospital, you—“ And this is where Jesse shakes his head, mouth curling up into a helpless smile, “You help me paint my room.”
Andrew looks him in the eyes, searching, and Jesse leans forward to knock their foreheads together, “The other times will be better. When you were there it was always—I always felt lighter. You made me better.”
Because Jesse understands now that life is made of good parts and bad parts, and they don’t cancel each other out, each standing independent of the other. Andrew has made—he makes—Jesse happy, but he was anxious and scared and depressed as a child, and it had gone undiagnosed and unchecked for a long time.
“But you helped,” Jesse says, “A lot of the times—if it weren’t for you. I would have—Andrew. You helped.” He needs desperately for Andrew to believe it. He doesn’t want Andrew to blame himself for anything.
Jesse tells him this, all of this, and when he is finished, Andrew makes a noise, has to cup Jesse’s jaw with his hand and draw him into a desperate kiss.
Sometimes, when Andrew has been away too long, they greet each other with their bodies, because even though they are lovers of words, ink smeared indelibly into their hands, sometimes words are meager substitutes for the warmth of each other’s skin.
Jesse’s body is punctuation enough, the curve of him is every parentheses, holding Andrew close and safe, and Andrew wills his trembling fingers into sonnets that map out all the ways Jesse is the sun, Jesse is the stars and the moon, the shipwreck and the storm.
Andrew surges to kiss Jesse, drawing him to his mouth again and again and Jesse keeps his hands steady on Andrew’s shoulders. Here and now, clinging to him, wishing he could be enough to keep Andrew tethered.
“I love you,” Andrew says, because he just saw Jesse pale and dying and he’d been unable to do anything, and he has never felt so immeasurably helpless.
And Jesse says it back, because it’s true, because he loves Andrew, because both of them are mostly broken, but they’re picking each other up, shrugging each other into place.
There are parts of Jesse that will never stop aching, ragged holes in him that Andrew is slowly filling in. It’s not the same, but it’s enough.
[Jesse is 15, Andrew is 29]
There are buckets of paint by his bed and newspapers spread on the floor, Jesse’s bed and desk and bookcases pushed to the middle of the room. Andrew looks like he’s been waiting awhile but he smiles as he hands Jesse a paintbrush and his eyes do not linger on the lines on Jesse’s wrists. (His mother had offered him a jacket when they left the hospital that morning but Jesse had declined. He refuses to hide, this time.)
They paint Jesse’s room gold, and Andrew hums to himself and bumps his hips to Jesse’s and it is hard not to feel light because of it, because Andrew is here, so Jesse lets the happiness in, just a bit. He’s making progress, and the meds help. Andrew’s presence helps, too.
Andrew disappears mid-hum, eyes expressing the apology his mouth can’t say fast enough. His paintbrush falls to the floor, but Jesse just sets it aside and keeps going.
Jesse’s mother comes in after a while and she takes Andrew’s brush, one story picking up at the end of the other. Then Hallie Kate comes running in, and she flicks paint into Jesse’s hair and he streaks two lines along her forehead. Kerri comes up behind him with her hands dripping with paint and she wipes it all over his arms and he loves them.
They finish the room together, just in time to see the sunset wash everything gold.
[Jesse is 24, Andrew is 29]
In the evening, they make spaghetti in Andrew’s tiny kitchen, bumping elbows. Jesse likes Andrew’s small kitchen. It makes everything easier to reach, condiments and utensils and Andrew’s face when Jesse feels the need to kiss him.
“Did you know,” Jesse says, stirring the sauce while Andrew checks on the pasta, “that my mother named me after the boy in The Bridge to Terabithia?”
Andrew turns and smiles at him, soft and warm. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“I suppose that makes you my Leslie,” Jesse continues, and Andrew frowns, “Because I leave you?”
“No, because.” Jesse blushes and Andrew quirks an eyebrow at him. Jesse sighs and says, making hand-waving gestures as if to push the embarrassment away, “Because it takes only one person to change a life.”
Andrew’s face is like the sun breaking through the clouds. “Jesse Eisenberg, you absolute sap. Is that what your next play is about? Are you going to collaborate with Nicholas Sparks?”
Jesse swats at his arm because Nicholas Sparks is a prick.
While the pasta cooks, Andrew pushes him on the counter to kiss him deeply, hands clenched on Jesse’s hips.
Jesse thinks of externalities, the random events and acts that cannot be accounted for. He’d always thought that Andrew was the externality, the variable, but he realizes as he winds his legs around Andrew’s waist, that Andrew is the only truly constant thing in Jesse’s life.
He sighs and pulls Andrew closer, and thinks that no romance novel could ever amount to this.
[September 15, 2008. Jesse is 25, Andrew is 30]
A thud jerks Jesse out of sleep and he rolls around quickly and sees Andrew on the floor beside Jesse’s side of the bed.
It’s still mostly dark out. Jesse hadn’t noticed that Andrew had left, but he’s back now and it’s an early Saturday morning, and if there’s one thing that’s good about Andrew’s time traveling, it’s that he comes back naked. It’s convenient.
“You know you’re supposed to sleep on the bed, right?”
Andrew smiles and says, “The view from down here is lovely, though.”
Jesse rolls his eyes and yelps when Andrew jolts up to grab him by the shoulders and drag Jesse down and out of bed.
They’re a tangle of limbs and blankets and pillows for a few moments, laughing and wrestling with each other. Jesse ends up on top of Andrew because he’s got sharp elbows and he’s not afraid to use them.
“You’re,” Jesse starts, before Andrew pulls him in for a kiss; “so,” another kiss, Jesse running his fingers through Andrew’s hair; “fucking,” another kiss and Andrew keeps him there longer, licking into Jesse’s mouth, and Jesse is breathless when he says, “insufferable.”
“Fucking insufferable,” Jesse says again, looking down at Andrew.
“You were an adorable six-year-old,” Andrew says out of nowhere, lifting a hand to cup Jesse’s cheek, and Jesse goes breathless.
“You,” he squeaks, “You met—?” He can’t help it, his eyes start to water and he has to rub at them.
“Don’t cry, Jesse,” Andrew says teasingly and Jesse chokes out a laugh.
“You idiot,” Jesse mumbles, and when Andrew leans up on his elbows to kiss Jesse again, he’s crying a bit too.
It’s sort of overwhelming.
Andrew squirms until he’s sitting up properly and Jesse sits on his lap and slides his arms around Andrew’s neck.
“You’re going to be gone more often, now,” Jesse says mournfully, and then shakes his head, “I can’t believe I’m getting jealous of myself.” He bites his lip and sniffles.
“Hey, I’m still here,” Andrew says rubbing Jesse’s tears away with his thumbs, “I’m still here.”
Jesse nods. It’s true. Andrew is still here, and the sun is starting to rise, and it’s still a perfect time for morning sex.
“I love you,” Jesse says, later, when he’s got Andrew on his back and Jesse sliding deep inside him, and Andrew just whines and shudders, wordless, and their hands are clasped together and Jesse takes in all of Andrew’s noises and all of his fluid motions, ready to memorize them for the days when Andrew will be gone.
[August 31, 2009. Jesse is 25, Andrew is 31]
Sometimes, it happens quietly. They’re in a bookstore and Jesse is contemplating telling Andrew to get his hair cut as he tries to reach for a book on a high shelf.
When he turns around to ask for Andrew’s help, Andrew is gone, and Jesse tries to look as nonchalant as possible when he picks up Andrew’s clothes and stuffs them into his backpack.
[Jesse is 17]
The sunlight streaming through the curtains is insidious today. Jesse feels it pressing against him, hot and oppressive, and when his mother comes up to check on him after he’s missed the bus, he can’t even find the strength to sit up.
“Oh, baby,” she says, gentle. She puts her hands on his shoulders and squeezes.
“Sorry,” he chokes out, feeling immensely small.
She kisses his forehead wordlessly and brings him up a mug of tea later when he manages to feel like his clothes aren’t suffocating him.
He hates these days, hates that he will always have them, hates the way everything tastes bitter in his mouth and that he cringes and shies away when his mother tries to kiss him on the cheek.
It’s not that Jesse has problems believing that he deserves to be loved—it’s just.
It’s that he doesn’t believe that he deserves to be loved like this. The way Andrew loves him is not something he understands, not something he can accept wholeheartedly, because: there are facts that Jesse has built his life on, laws of physics and time and space that the entire world is built on.
And for someone to defy those laws, a hundred times over, for Jesse and for Jesse specifically—it’s not something he feels he will ever deserve.
It keeps him awake at night, is the thing.
It’s not like he can talk to anyone about it. Normal 17-year-olds don’t have these kinds of problems.
And this is something Jesse has thought about too. What if everyone had an Andrew too? What if everyone had a person who visited them from the future, the way Andrew does?
It’s crazy, yeah, but it still seems more likely than the alternative—a reality in which Andrew is the world’s only time-travelling man, and, for some inexplicable reason, he keeps landing in Jesse’s backyard.
“Are there others like you?” Jesse asks him one day, when they’re out on the grounds where the grass is still green and well maintained and Andrew is some indeterminable age. Jesse guesses Andrew must be thirty by now. He still looks ridiculously young.
Andrew’s hair is long and shaggy, like a dog’s, and he lies with his head on Jesse’s outstretched legs, close to Jesse’s feet. His hair tickles Jesse’s toes.
“No,” Andrew says, brief and clipped, and it immediately makes Jesse stiffen, sorry that he asked.
“No, don’t—it’s all right,” Andrew says, and he sits up and shrugs, Jesse’s father’s shirt too big on him, sagging at his shoulders.
“I used to think—but, no. There’s only me,” Andrew says, voice rough. When he looks up, though, the corners of his mouth are turned up in a smile.
“You’re a lucky man, Jesse Eisenberg.” Andrew places a hand on Jesse’s ankle, not really doing anything but being there, and Jesse can feel Andrew’s individual fingers wrapped around his ankle. It makes Jesse blush and turn his head to the side, into the grass.
The thing about Andrew is that he makes Jesse feel loved, like actively loved, because he is Jesse and because of that he is somehow wonderful, and not because he is a son or a brother and he has to be loved because that’s just how it goes.
Andrew settles back down, and though he can already feel his legs falling asleep, pinpricks crawling up his toes, Jesse can’t bring himself to shake Andrew off.
“I went to my therapist yesterday,” Jesse says, still mostly to the grass.
Andrew nods, and Jesse continues. “She said. She told me that. That I deserve to be happy,” he says, breathing it out. It makes his guts churn to say it, though he’s not sure why. When she’d told him yesterday, he’d been filled with relief, but he’d woken up this morning feeling like he didn’t deserve it at all. How could he possibly deserve this? It’s too much. It’s—it’s just too much.
“I don’t—I don’t feel like I deserve it—you—anything,” Jesse says, relieved when Andrew doesn’t say anything to contradict him, loves that Andrew lets him talk.
“But when I’m with you, sometimes, I feel like I could be close to. To deserving it.”
When Andrew sits up, Jesse pulls his legs up and rolls to the side, hugging himself. His cheeks burn and his chest is tight, but Andrew rubs his back and doesn’t say anything.
Later on, when Andrew is about to leave, Jesse says to him, “Be safe,” and Andrew says, “Always,” and Jesse forces their eyes to keep contact until of Andrew has shivered away, back into his own time.
The wind blows hard, and the sun is setting. Jesse picks up the clothes on the ground and hugs them tight. They’re still warm, and Jesse can imagine Andrew hugging him back.
[December 3, 2010. Jesse is 27, Andrew is 32]
Today, Jesse is in their apartment, staring out the window. It is snowing out, and he worries for Andrew, who has been gone for a bit more than a day. Andrew is the child of the sun, and Jesse hates the thought of him being out in the snow, unprotected.
Justin is sprawled on the sofa, quietly reading a script because he’d wanted to keep Jesse company. Jesse is thankful, but still sad.
It’s hard to breathe, sometimes, when Andrew is gone.
A knock on the door startles him from his thoughts, and when Jesse goes to open the door, it’s Andrew, wet and shivering. His eyes are wide open but out of focus and it scares Jesse.
“Fuck,” he breathes, “Justin go get some blankets.” He ushers Andrew in quickly and throws the afghan on him, settling him on the couch. Justin comes back with more blankets and Andrew curls up in the sofa, eyes closed, taking wheezing breaths as his entire body shakes.
“Should I call a doctor?” Justin asks, but before Jesse can say anything, Andrew shakes his head, eyes still closed, and forces out, “N-n-no I’m f-fine,” through chattering teeth.
Jesse swallows through the lump in his throat and puts his hands on Andrew’s cold cheeks, rubbing gently. Andrew leans into him and sighs.
Jesse barely notices Justin leaving, just the rustle of his hand in Jesse’s hair and the door clicking closed behind him.
Winter is always hard for them. It’s hard for Andrew because of the cold and the darkness, and because winter brings memories that he’d much rather forget. It’s hard for Jesse because he worries even more.
“Where were you?” Jesse asks, resting his head on Andrew’s shoulder.
“Home,” Andrew says, and Jesse knows that Andrew has many homes, his apartment and Jesse’s, but this time he means London.
“I’ll go and run you a bath,” Jesse says, kissing Andrew’s forehead before getting off the couch. Andrew nods, curling into the side of the sofa with a murmured, “Thank you.”
Jesse helps Andrew clamber into the bathtub and fidgets for a few moments as Andrew sinks into the water.
Andrew sighs, slits his eyes open and asks, “Join me?” so Jesse slips out of his clothes. The bathtub is small, so they have to press against each other, bumping knees and elbows. Andrew once suggested getting a bigger bathtub, but Jesse likes the way his can feel the entire length of Andrew’s body along his, the way they have to cling to each other to fit properly.
Jesse buries his face in Andrew’s neck, nuzzling gently, and Andrew’s arms slowly wrap around him.
“I don’t have to tell you, do I?” Andrew asks, voice low. Jesse shakes his head and feels Andrew slump into him, the tension leaving his body.
“It’s not your fault,” Jesse tells him, a reminder, and kisses the space between his eyes, the crook of his elbow, the dip of his collarbone.
They stay there until the water turns cold, until Andrew can open his eyes and focus on Jesse, until Jesse can be sure that Andrew is okay and here and now.
[December 19, 2001. Jesse is 18, Andrew is 35]
The curtains close and Jesse’s heart is pounding. Rooney runs up to him and hugs him, hard, and it’s like a jolt that helps him remember how to breathe again. And then there are arms all over him; he sees Patrick’s blond hair, feels Josh’s huge arm draped over his shoulders, remembers his mother and his sisters watching from the crowd, and he feels irrepressibly happy.
Rooney grabs him and laughs delightedly, hugging him and asking, over the din of everyone else around them, “You’re going to the party right?”
And Jesse would nod, except his eyes have been drawn to a person standing on the edges of the crowd and his heart suddenly sounds much too loud.
Rooney turns around and follows his eyes. “Is that…?”
And Jesse blushes furiously and nods. He feels like his tongue is too heavy. He can’t say anything, can only stare. Rooney steps away, smiling.
“He has flowers,” she teases, “And is he in a tux?”
“Rooney,” Jesse mumbles, knows that she is teasing him mostly as a revenge for him being so secretive.
“Go and have fun with your mysterious secret lover, Eisenberg,” she laughs, but not in a mean way. In an “I will actually kill him if he hurts you,” kind of way.
“Um,” he says, and she rolls her eyes, pushes him forward with one hand.
“Go, I’ll text your mom and tell her you’re with me.”
“It felt appropriate,” Andrew says, when Jesse asks him about the suit.
Andrew has flowers, which he hands to Jesse with a big, expressive gesture, and he is wearing a tux, so Jesse half expects a limousine to be waiting outside the school.
There is no limousine, but there are two bicycles and Jesse grins when he sees them.
“After you,” Andrew says, sweeping his arms to the side.
They ride, racing against each other, and Jesse soars and laughs, feeling the wind in his hair. Everything blurs around him, the Christmas lights and the decorations on the houses. Andrew follows, looking silly in his suit, always present by Jesse’s side. All he needs to is turn his head and look.
They end up in the park Jesse used to play in when he was younger and his father was around to take him there.
Andrew holds his hand and kisses his cheek, tells him, “You were brilliant, you know,” and smiles when Jesse accepts the compliment.
They sit on the swings and rock back and forth, and as the snow starts falling, Jesse asks, “Andrew, why are you always so sad in the winter?”
Andrew falters and he knows it shows in the way his hands clench on the ropes. He thinks about refusing, about brushing it off, but he remembers Justin telling him, he’s not some fucking fragile china doll, remembers the play Jesse has been writing, the one about longing and love and waiting.
“It’s not a very nice story,” Andrew says.
Jesse meets his eyes, and he is so very brave. “I’d like to know anyway.”
Andrew shakes his head. “I—there was. It was December, and the roads were icy. I was 11 and I was walking home on my way from school, and then I wasn’t.”
[Andrew is 11]
It happens in less than ten seconds.
He materializes suddenly in the middle of a road and the night is dark. He has no time to orient himself, no time to even feel the cold, and there headlights heading towards him and he swears he sees the moment the man in the car realizes there is a naked person in the middle of the road, the way his eyes widen—
—and then Andrew is gone, blown away, but in his head he will never forget the way the tires had screeched off the road, harsh and loud and finite.
“I revisit it a lot,” Andrew says. He has seen it in all the ways he possibly could. He has even been inside the car with the man as he swerved into the darkness, but Time has always pulled him away before he could die.
It’s not something he has ever told anyone. Andrew left London as soon as he could because he wanted to run away. Sometimes, he feels that is all he has ever done.
He doesn’t realize he’s crying until Jesse is kneeling in front of him and holding his hands.
“I don’t think you tell yourself this often enough,” Jesse says, softly, “But you know it’s not your fault, right?”
Andrew opens his eyes and nods, because it is Jesse (Jesse, with the scars on his wrist not quite faded yet. Jesse, who is the strongest person Andrew knows), and no matter when or where, he will always be Andrew’s most important person.
“Let’s get you home,” Andrew says, and his smile is trembling and lopsided, but Jesse doesn’t seem to mind.
[November 19, 2011. Jesse is 28, Andrew is 33]
Andrew stumbles into the hallway. It’s his apartment again, and—ah—there’s that pile of clothes he’d left earlier. It can’t have been that long, then, hopefully. He picks up a shirt and slips it on, then pulls on his boxers and pants.
He pads his way down the hall and stops at the doorway. An “oh” falls from his mouth, unbidden, and patters to the floor. His heart swells.
“Jesse,” he calls, soft, even though his lover is asleep. Andrew doesn’t want to wake him, just wants to taste that name on his tongue again. Jesse is curled up on the floor, back against the cabinet, Andrew’s favorite scarf clutched in his hands.
Andrew slides to the floor, then pulls at Jesse, at his bones and his skin, pulls him into his arms and holds him, and Jesse wakes and noses against Andrew’s neck and breathes his name, “Andrew, Andrew,” over and over, their hands slide over each other, arms finding shoulders, finding hips, fingers catching together, and they fall into place perfectly.
Andrew sighs, nestled against Jesse, and thinks, I’m home.
(Found by Jesse in the typewriter one morning, Andrew’s unfinished cup of coffee left cold on the desk.)
Sometimes I have to look at you from the corner of my eye, slyly, afraid that if I am too obvious, the universe will realize that I should not be with you. That I do not deserve to be with you.
(You cannot imagine how hard this is for me, to have to resist staring at you at all times.)
I have always believed Time to be cruel, but what it has taken away, it has given back to me.
I do not think I will ever be able to express how grateful I am for you, for your patience and your kindness and your love.
Wait for me, Jesse.
I’ll be home soon.