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Vargas

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"I envy your conviction."

Brief, short, thorny words. Despite what he was sure Johnny intended to be a comforting or encouraging farewell, Edgar was not at ease. As he had said just earlier to his captor, he would rather not die, but apparently that was not his decision.

He was not afraid. He just did not want to do it. On the positive side, at least the pain would be over shortly.

He was watching the thin, skeletal hands reach for whatever mechanism would bring him to his premature end when a sharp noise cut through the air, startling both into looking upwards towards where it had originated. It sounded peculiarly like someone being electrocuted.

Edgar tried to put together everything that his recent experiences with Johnny and his quick survey of the room to make a general hypothesis about what had created the sound. "Is that-"

Johnny cut him off, holding up one hand as his eyes slowly moved downwards. "Someone..."

Relief flooded through Edgar Vargas' body. Johnny had not wanted to kill him, but had to do so for some strange reason that did not make a whole lot of sense. If someone else were to come, perhaps someone more deserving of this fate than he was, then maybe he would not have to die...

"Someone at the door?"

"Shh." There was a growing sense of aggression and frustration in Johnny's voice. He was apparently thinking deeply or considering what he had to do - definitely not focusing on immediate reality at that moment. Johnny's silence was not good.

Edgar decided that, if his life could be ended at any moment, he may as well attempt to stall or avert that decision. "If that is someone else, then maybe could you kill them instead of me...I haven't hurt you or annoyed you to my knowledge. If someone is coming here to your house to really bother you without asking then maybe..."

Edgar did not pause to consider the irony of his words. After all, Johnny had somehow captured him, trapped him in this ghoulish machine, and was planning to use his blood to paint a wall and he had definitely gone about it in a very unsolicited manner.

Johnny turned back towards him, narrowing his eyes at Edgar dangerously. He wondered if he was going to go on another rant about people and how terrible they were. This curiousity turned to worry as he saw Johnny's eyes dart towards the knife he had left on the floor.

Another buzzing shriek. This galvanized the man into action, the knife flashing into his hand in movements too fast to register.

"You don't have to kill me-"

"Shut up!" Johnny was apparently tormented by the decision the shriek had now posed him with. While Edgar was here and readily available, he did not deserve death. On the other hand, someone was waiting rather impatiently outside his door who would in most likelihood easily earn an early end.

Edgar would have found the decision easy to make, but then again, he was not in control. He also was not insane, which he was sure was a fairly large part of Johnny's inability to make a decision.

"Just shut up!"

"I beg you to reconsider-"

The ability of Johnny's mood to change abruptly from quiet sadness to intense fury had been made clear to Edgar earlier in their conversation, such as when Johnny had reacted almost violently to Edgar's logical pleas for mercy. Although he knew that Johnny was capable of such mood swings, it did not make him any more prepared when they actually occurred.

Fury crossed Johnny's face, quick and terrible, and he lashed out at Edgar. The way that Johnny moved his arms and hands made it seem more as if Johnny was gesturing, sweeping his arm out to illustrate a point, and had merely forgotten that he was holding his knife. Although this was possible, considering the man's mental state, it was also possible that this was entirely deliberate. Edgar did not presume to know nearly enough to judge the actions one way or another. There wasn't much he could do about it anyway, restrained as he was.

The blade cut into his cheek beneath his glasses, sharp stinging followed by the uncomfortable feeling of blood welling within the wound. He barely registered the pain before a second strike mirrored the first on the other side of his face.

That kind of ruled out Johnny doing it by accident.

As Johnny raised his knife for the final downward plunge into Edgar's body, he could not help but notice that as Johnny moved, he seemed to be fighting something. Whatever deranged internal arguments he was having with himself no doubt caused his delay in answering the shriek, but also seemed to stay his hand...to prevent the final lethal stab and to make what could have been damaging blows to Edgar's face something only glancing.

The lost expression in Johnny's eyes made it clear he was not entirely present at the moment, although in what sense Edgar was not sure. Maybe he really was hearing something, perhaps some strange form of a demon or an angel on his shoulders, although he doubted Johnny had such a defined set of ethics.

His closest logical guess was that Johnny was weighing the merits of going upstairs and killing someone or just killing someone right now. Laziness? That seemed so mundane.

Apparently Johnny's internal battle ended and he finally moved from his frozen position, his hand lowering itself back to his side. The knife remained clenched in one tight, thin fist as Johnny backed away with a sudden realization of what he had done. He stared at the tiny trickle of blood slowly making its way down Edgar's sharply defined face with deep disgust, although with no concern for Edgar's wellbeing.

That was confusing...if he needed enough blood to paint a wall with it, then how could the sight of so little disturb him so much?

On a slightly related note, why had he not finished Edgar off? Maybe the knowledge that he liked Edgar had stopped him, but that didn't seem to have an effect on Johnny when he was about to kill him only moments before. That didn't really make sense either.

Edgar wasn't sure what to say in response to Johnny's actions. There was silence as Johnny pressed his hands against his head, the knife still held in his bony fist, his eyes shut tight almost as if he struggled to keep whatever internal demons within him trapped in his physical prison.

Two buzzing shrieks in rapid succession.

"You should answer that," Edgar ventured in a steady, level voice. He had to keep calm, anything to calm down the man in front of him. The minor injuries he had suffered would almost be like gifts if he could escape this alive.

Johnny looked up at him with sheer hatred for a moment, dark eyes piercing him even through his thick glasses. It was the same look that was present when Johnny was trying to explain why Edgar should appreciate the pain he was going through.

In a way, he understood now what Johnny had been trying to convey, although it was all still hideously twisted. This certainly would make him appreciate his life.

No doubt Johnny was upset that Edgar himself was not upset. That, unlike many other things, did make sense.

Edgar watched as Johnny stood there, hands still pressed against his head tightly, looking down with his mouth open. No sound came from him, but Johnny shook his head back and forth slightly after a few minutes, unable to keep the battle entirely internal. After what seemed like hours, Johnny finally pulled his hands away, the pressure leaving white marks on dark skin, and he looked at Edgar with an unreadable expression.

Was he really going to die this time?

Johnny stared at Edgar for some time, studying him, thinking. He did not look as tormented as he had before, but he still seemed to be making a difficult decision. Edgar was worried that words would only antagonize Johnny into finishing what he started.

Almost with a slight nod to some unknown entity, Johnny turned and walked quickly and silently away, leaving Edgar to his own devices, so to speak.

Incapable of movement and not finding much else he could do in his current situation, Edgar decided to revisit what had happened in his mind, hoping that it may give him a clue to help make his escape.

How had he got here? One day he was walking home and then he was here...had Johnny knocked him out? He had no physical injuries when he woke. Had Johnny somehow talked him into coming back with him? He would have remembered that. His memory was so indistinct on what had exactly happened and that was extremely irritating.

Why had Johnny chosen him? Edgar could not help but feel that it had been a mistake. After all, Johnny had lectured Edgar on the reprehensibilty of mankind and had quite obviously not expected intelligent and understanding answers. He had expressed regret at having to kill him and had called him his friend. Edgar could not believe that Johnny had been tracking him this long for whatever sins he had commited. It had to have been random chance.

That made Edgar feel slightly better. At least there was nothing he could have done to prevent this.

Two, perhaps three hours passed before Johnny returned. The blood on Edgar's face had dried, although the spatters on Johnny's seemed much more recent and fresh. He looked at Edgar with an extremely confused expression, as if he had completely forgotten he was there. Maybe he had...Edgar would not put it past him.

Johnny narrowed his eyes at him, staring at him like someone watching a peculiar insect. Again the faintly lost look in his eyes was present, the definite impression that he was listening for or to something. Finally, he moved back and brushed off his shirt slightly self-consciously, although the red stains were far too permanent to be removed so easily.

"...Vargas?" The thorns were still present; they were always present. However, they lacked the kind of malice and hatred that had been present before, and Edgar's hope for freedom was reignited with more fervor.

"Yes. Nny?"

At the sound, Johnny smiled in a very strange way. It was almost like some kind of pressure had been released. Edgar had not seen him smile since he had first mentioned his nickname at all. On a normal person, the pleased smile may have been disarming, but Edgar was not about to let his guard down around him. Johnny had said himself that he was quite hideously insane and Edgar had absolutely no reason to doubt him.

"Yes..."

Johnny tilted his head to one side again, staring at him from a short distance away. The confused, appraising look was gone now. If Johnny was capable at all of slight affection, this had to be it. It was the same look he had when explaining how his name was to be pronounced. Edgar couldn't trust it, but it was reassuring in a strange way. Maybe he wouldn't die after all.

"Yes...Edgar, right?"

Edgar couldn't help but smile in response, hoping that Johnny wouldn't feel threatened and decide to kill him anyway. "That's right. Was that...?"

"Hmm?" Confusion for only a second. "Oh...you...proved to be correct on that point." The cold, angry tone was entering his voice again. "A solicitor...someone who was more deserving of being burned." Johnny glanced at him for a moment, as if worried that Edgar would not remember his previous justification--burning an effigy--for ending his life. Edgar did remember and nodded for him to continue, which seemed to satisfy Johnny.

He moved his focus from Edgar to the knife, which again seemed to have appeared in his hand, stained a dark brownish-red. Johnny played with its edge as he spoke, bitterness and barely repressed fury giving the thorns new points and renewed danger. "Thoughtless, careless human beings. All of them...I would have killed her even if she had not decided to insult me. She was large." A twisted smile came across Johnny's face. "She had a lot of blood. Convenient, really."

"Then you don't need me, do you?"

Johnny looked at him, then back at the knife in his hand, looking almost genuinely surprised and perplexed by the simple question. He thought for a moment before looking up with a strange expression on his face, as if he had reached some kind of spiritual epiphany. He turned and took slow steps towards Edgar, inciting the instinctive fear response in him. Johnny was a predator...everything about him bled predator, and it was hard to stifle that response, even with Edgar's fatalistic view of death.

"No...no, I suppose I don't."

"Then, would you let me go? Because I really would like to go...this is still kind of painful..." Edgar touched his words with a light sense of humor, hoping that would help pacify him.

Johnny inclined his head at him again. In a way, Edgar felt as though he was being elevated; elevated from the lower creature that Johnny must have viewed him as in order to kill him to the level of a decent human being. He had thought that originally this would save him beforehand, but it turned out necessity--in the terms of the required blood--had forced him to be relinquished back to an object. Johnny had apologized and expressed regret, for what little good that would have done Edgar, before he had prepared to kill him. But now, he felt he had gained that respect once again. Johnny's "bestest bestest friend", as he had put it.

At least, that's how he hoped Johnny was able to kill people. That was the only way that made sense to him.

Johnny reached upwards with his long, almost impossibly thin arms, undoing the tight buckles that pressed painfully against Edgar's chest. The release of pressure was wonderful, as was the removal of the threat of death. Despite the smell of blood, death, and the vague scent of cherries in the air, he breathed deep and cherished it. One by one, the restraints around his wrists and his ankles were released, and he stumbled to the floor unsteadily, his legs weak. Johnny watched this with the same sense of detachment he had before, his hands held behind his back.

"Alright." This simple word seemed to amuse Johnny greatly, and he smiled with a kind of insane abandon that Edgar had not been familiar with. It was very unsettling. "Alright, you can go. I don't really need you after all."

Edgar struggled to keep calm, still not trusting the thin man who stood nearby with such a manic smile on his face. He smiled weakly back at him, again hoping not to antagonize him further. "Thank you."

Johnny's eyes widened for a moment and once again, he leaned his head to one side, a look of classic confusion on his face at Edgar's words. Johnny then shrugged and began walking off, guessing correctly that Edgar would follow him in a desperate attempt to get out of this basement.

"...That's alright." Everpresent barbs in his words, but underlaced with a kind of confusion.

Edgar wondered briefly if Johnny really would have been sorry if he had ended up dead. Was this show of sympathy just that; a show? Would he have gleefully reveled over his mangled body? It was a unpleasant train of thought, so Edgar struggled to move on to others.

He studied the walls as they passed by, finding disturbing paintings of frighteningly beautiful quality as he ascended what felt like endless stairs.

How had Johnny dragged him this far down? Was he that strong?

"Um...Nny?" He felt a kind of apprehension at using the nickname, still afraid of the man who walked in front of him with such quiet confidence.

"Yes?" The confusion was lessening now.

"Can I ask you something?"

Johnny turned his head slightly to one side, looking at a wall as he passed by, apparently regarding this carefully.

"A few things really..." Edgar fumbled for words, already piecing together an apology in his mind should Johnny turn violent. "If that's alright with you..."

"It..." Clawlike fingertips brushing against the wall as he walked upwards. "I suppose..."

He didn't need to warn Edgar to be careful with his questions.

"You mentioned something about you not being able to die..."

Johnny was silent for a very long time, nothing in his posture or gait indicating that he had heard the semi-question at all. Edgar began to feel extremely self-conscious as they made their way through endless rooms, each with their own bizarre form of torture device. He lost count of how many they walked through while Johnny maintained his silence.

"That." Dangerously soft and without emotion. Edgar already regretted his question, wishing he had thought of something less sensitive. Why on earth had he asked a question like that? The only worse possible question would have been asking why Johnny was crazy in the first place.

Edgar looked to one side in their current room of death to find what looked like a gutted torso hanging from a wall and a severed foot on the floor. Johnny stepped over the body part without thought, but Edgar swerved around it, struggling to keep his composure.

"I don't think I can die." Finally a response came, in the same emotionless tone as before. Johnny reached forward and opened a door, finally revealing a room that finally seemed to be above the earth. The semi-boarded window had a view of the stars, the moon, and other houses.

Another rush of relief flooded through Edgar's body at the thought of freedom being so close and yet so far.

"Alright..." Edgar did not want to pursue the topic further, sure he'd already pushed his luck enough, and watched carefully as Johnny made his way across the barren floor, past a ratty couch and a TV, to the one other door. He opened it with an almost dignified air, revealing the outside world only footsteps away. "I probably shouldn't have asked."

"That's alright." Johnny stared at him for a moment. "After all..." The manic smile returned. "I don't think you'd understand anyway."

He had to say something...but what?

"Thanks again for letting me go, Nny."

He winced inwardly. Brilliant.

Again, the nickname came from him with some degree of awkwardness, still not used to its sound or function. It again elicited the same pleased response from Johnny, a strange sense of bewilderment and pleasure at being called by such a familiar name, even one that he had given himself. It was peculiar and Edgar did not quite understand, but that was not really important.

He felt the grass underneath his feet through his thin shoes as he truly walked outside, unmolested and unimpeded, turning to see Johnny standing in the doorway of his house, staring at him again. Something seemed to be wrong...Johnny was looking at him in the same confused way, apparently not sure of what he should say or do.

"Bye." Edgar ventured to raise a hand to wave, and Johnny, seemingly relieved, waved back silently. The door slammed and Edgar stood on the lawn for a moment, unable to comprehend what had happened. A tortured scream of a human being came from the boarded house he stood in front of and next door, the squeaking of what must have been a frightened child followed.

Without hesitation, Edgar turned and ran for the nearest police station.


"You made a friend, Nny."

Johnny was sitting on his couch, contemplating what had just happened with confusion. Nail Bunny's voice was currently dominant and in fact, the one that had stopped him from killing Edgar when the chance arose.

"I don't make friends," Johnny remarked casually, looking over to where the rabbit had been attached forcibly to the wall. "It doesn't really work with me."

"This Edgar guy seems kind of nice. It's good you didn't kill him."

"I didn't need to." Johnny did not really see the point in this conversation. It was rare in his life that he felt rather complacent and not agonizingly tortured by his existence, so he was kind of enjoying it. The wall was fine, he wasn't hungry, one of his favorite shows was on...

However, Edgar did not fit into this picture of happiness. Johnny felt this strong sense of unfinished business for a few moments after he left, then Edgar was blissfully forgotten. He would be like the others that he had released; forgotten after they served their purpose.

He doubted Edgar would come back. Ever. It was not like he had a motive to do so. "Besides, I don't think he was a friend anyway. He won't come back."

"This time you didn't just ask him to do something for you though, like some of the others. You actually talked with him, remember?" Johnny did remember actually, which presented another confusing element to his rare, satisfied state. "And he didn't inspire you to kill, either."

"That is true."

"You had a sane conversation with him." Bunny paused for a moment. "Mostly. And he was a decent guy, right?"

Johnny felt like he was losing an argument, although he did not know who it was with. He and Bunny weren't really arguing...at least it didn't seem that way. "True..."

"I told you they were out there. You should talk to him again. He could be your friend."

"You know what happens to my friends." Johnny normally would have made his words dangerous and intriguingly dark and mysterious, but enthralled in the television as he normally was, they only came out with the same kind of flat certainty that his original assessment of his friend-making abilities had. "They all turn into the others, those bloated ticks..." Johnny tried to muster up his normal righteous anger, but in the end subsided back into the couch. "You know what I mean."

"Despite what you may believe, I think Edgar may be different. You should give him a chance."

Johnny waved a hand in Nail Bunny's direction, fully intending to never initiate contact with Edgar again. "Alright, if you think that's a good idea."

Nail Bunny lapsed into silence and Johnny was left to the television.


"I'm telling you, this psychotic maniac kidnapped me and ranted semi-coherently about deeply philosophical topics."

The officer looked at Edgar with tired boredom. "Uh huh. And why have we never heard of this..." She paused. "Johnny C. is it?"

"Yes." Edgar was now irritated, becoming more sarcastic than he intended. He had assumed the police would do something to help him, but as it turned out, Johnny had no criminal record. Despite the sheer amount of dead bodies in Johnny's house, the police apparently had not noticed he liked to kill people.

It was almost if Johnny didn't exist.

Maybe that was why he couldn't die. But now wasn't the time for that.

"And you say he killed people?"

"Lots of people. He would have killed me, but he let me go at the last minute."

"Why?"

"In favor of someone else."

"Did you catch their name?"

Now that would have been helpful. "No...that didn't really come up."

"Where did you say he lived?"

Edgar had tried to memorize the street that Johnny lived on and the number of his house as he ran, but he wasn't sure if his information was reliable. Sure enough, as soon as he told the officer what he did recall, she looked back at him with now irritated boredom.

"That street doesn't exist."

Edgar looked at her with a strange expression. "Doesn't exist?"

"No record." She flipped through her papers, trying to convey the feeling that she was doing something useful or related to their conversation. "Are you sure you weren't having a weird dream or something?"

"Normally, I wouldn't doubt that." Edgar had an abnormal amount of sarcasm in his voice. "But then again, normally I don't cut myself when I'm dreaming either."

"Are there any razors in your house?" She looked down at her papers, returning back to tired boredom.

"Yes." Edgar fought the urge to roll his eyes. What house didn't have razors? Especially considering he had a goatee. Did she think he'd be foolish enough to cut himself? What would be the point?

He took a deep breath and decided to calm down and take a more passive approach. Just drop it. "If you want, I can try and take you to the street."

The officer rolled her eyes before straightening papers entirely unrelated to Edgar. In fact, he wasn't sure he saw her write anything he had just said down at all. "Not tonight. It's late. Go home and get some rest. Come back here tomorrow."

The tone in her voice made it clear that she fully expected Edgar to not come back and to dismiss what had happened as a bad dream. But the wounds on his face did not make that a likely possibility.

"Thanks for your trouble." Edgar did not want to say that, but he felt it was the best response. He left the police station feeling deeply unfulfilled and somewhat angry.

As he walked home, he found himself confused as he mused over his recent encounter. There was no way that Johnny could murder so many people and not get caught...how did he do it? Didn't their families notice members missing? A beloved notice her boyfriend missing a head? Johnny got away with an obscene amount...no, an impossible amount of violence, so much so that he could not blame this on police incompetence.

Maybe someone was paying to hush it up? But there was no way someone would pay to keep that many murders quiet. It wouldn't really be a good investment on their part. Someone was bound to notice. Then again, so far no one had.

This was all very confusing.

Edgar kept running through the conversation the two had had and finding it more frightening. He could not believe he had made it out alive. Every word and action and logical conclusion pointed to him being nothing more than specialized paint at the moment, and yet here he was.

Alive and well and on slightly-better-than-neutral terms with a deranged serial killer.

He could not believe he made it out alive. How many people had died before him and would die after him? He didn't know. It was a disturbing thought to consider himself the only one to survive such systematic human destruction.

He wondered exactly what troubled Johnny. Edgar was sure that Johnny was pretty much beyond any kind of help, but he wondered with a kind of scientific curiousity. Maybe voices? He did seem to listen intently at times when Edgar had heard nothing. Did voices tell him to kill? Even he grimaced at that thought. That would be far too trite and cliché. Johnny seemed fully aware of exactly what he was doing.

Edgar could somewhat understand his origins from the fractured and illogical conversation they had had, but that did not lessen the fear and confusion he felt when he thought about him. Killing other people...that was so...how could he do that?

As he had mused before, he doubted Johnny had a very clearly defined sense of ethics. Edgar would have been his opposite in this regard...he had a very clear, although somewhat lenient, definition of right and wrong and Johnny fit squarely into the latter category. Edgar may be forgiving, but murder was something that he did not approve of, no matter what the justification. Although he could understand and to some point sympathize with Johnny about why he wanted to kill people, he did not think Johnny should have actually done so.

As he reached his small, sparsely furnished apartment, he shrugged his shoulders, wishing to remove the matter from his mind entirely. If there was one thing he could at least be sure about with Johnny, he was never going to see him again. And that was good enough reason to sleep peacefully and put the matter to rest, which was exactly what Edgar did.

Chapter Text

"Of course she wouldn't love you. She is like the others, empty and hollow. She would pretend and be so empty on the inside and in the end, you'd only be alone again. The only true love lies in death, Johnny. That is where the real escape lies."

"He lies, Johnny. You should ask her. Enjoy the moment. Feel, do something. You've thought about it. You know you want to. It will be beautiful."

Johnny was sitting on the couch, paralyzed with indecision as the combating voices argued in his mind. He sat near the phone, tapping one clawlike finger as he waited for one of the doughboys to present a truly convincing argument. So far they were arguing eachother to a standstill and Johnny still did not know what to do.

"She can tolerate you, Johnny. You know she can, she isn't like the others. You've seen her, you've watched her. You know what she says. She's real. Ask her. Remember the other times?"

Johnny did remember, and this gave Mr. Eff an advantage. He almost smiled. "The other times..."

"It was beautiful then. You were happy, remember? This won't be any different. Ask her."

"You're lying to yourself, Johnny, and he only lies to you as well. Of course she'll be different. Remember the other one, the one who screamed before she died? She was so ugly, Johnny. You remember. Do you want that to happen to her?"

Again, both sides had left him without a decision. They had their points, but Johnny still did not know what to do.

"You should get another opinion, Nny." Nail Bunny's soft voice came into his mind, resulting in the doughboys recoiling angrily at the intrusion. "They aren't exactly trustworthy."

"What do you think?"

Nail Bunny paused before speaking. "I think you should do it. You could get so much if it went successfully."

"The Bunny is just another voice in your head, Nny." Mr. Eff was not happy about Nail Bunny's contribution. "It's not a second opinion, it's your own."

"Then who should I ask?" Johnny was now as irritated as one of his voices. Nail Bunny spoke once more.

"Do you remember that other one? The one who escaped?"

Johnny looked down for a moment, deep in thought. He struggled to find the correct name before speaking. "You mean...Edgar, right? I think that was his name..."

"That's right. You should ask him."

"Why..." Johnny paused before settling on his words. "He wouldn't talk to me. I have no way of contacting him and he probably doesn't remember me."

Nail Bunny's voice held almost a slight tinge of amusement as it dealt with Johnny's points all at once. "You should at least try. You have a phone and there's a phonebook somewhere nearby, and I seriously doubt anyone could forget a stay here."

"He won't talk to you, you tried to kill him, remember? I think that puts a damper on your relationship. Don't listen." Johnny talking with outside sources was not good. They had to keep control of him until the wall... "You should just stay here. Stay and finally go over the stars..."

Johnny stood and rubbed the back of his head, nervous energy running through him and making his movements shaky. "I don't know what I should do...I hate feeling this...conflicted."

"Call him. You have nothing to lose."

As a rule, Nail Bunny's advice was always the most sane, so in the end, this was what Nny eventually decided to do. After all, he could not kill Edgar through a phone, so that element of fear would be eliminated. Edgar had also been very logical during their other conversation, so surely he would have some good advice.


"Hello?" Edgar fumbled for his glasses as he raised phone to his ear, too groggy to wonder about who was calling him. What time was it? The bright green blurs of his alarm clock eventually turned into numbers as he pulled his glasses on. Two AM?

"Edgar...Vargas?"

Blind panic surged through his body at the familiar voice and he jerked around, eyes immediately flying to the nearby window. He fully expected to see Johnny standing there with a huge cellphone, smiling and holding someone's head, but he was disappointed in this regard. After giving his fear a bit more conscious thought, he found he was being utterly ridiculous.

Meanwhile, time was zipping by. Quick Edgar, think of something to say.

"What time is it...?"

Brilliant.

"It's not important." Johnny's voice was crackly and faint through the phone's speaker. How did he get his number? He fumbled for the light switch, then thought better of it. "I have to ask you something."

Edgar, his body still trembling from adrenaline, fell back onto his bed, staring up at the ceiling helplessly. Why hadn't he hung up?

With a sigh, he took his glasses off and set them to one side, rubbing at his temples. He responded slowly, his words still slightly slurred from sleep. "Alright, what?"

There was a pause from the other end of the line, almost as if Johnny had not expected him to agree. Edgar was still groggy and not sure of what he was saying. That had to be he hadn't hung up by now.

"I'm not sure whether..." Johnny paused and a sound came through the speaker. It was a kind of angry hissing and Edgar got the impression that Johnny was probably cursing or speaking to himself. "I'm thinking of talking to this girl I've seen at the bookstore."

"And?" Edgar wasn't thinking when he responded so quickly, too tired to alter his natural responses for him. Johnny apparently did not expect this either and paused again.

"I'm not sure whether I should or not."

Edgar opened his mouth to ask why, but thought better of it. At this point, he was so exhausted he just wanted to go back to sleep, thus his brain logically deduced the quickest way out of the conversation. "I would do it. She sounds like she must be nice if you don't want to kill her."

Johnny was silent. Edgar rubbed at his eyes again, feeling as if he had again signed his own death sentence. But it was only a phone. He couldn't get stabbed through a phone. "I would give it a try. You've got nothing to lose, really. Look, call me later, maybe at a..." Edgar wanted to say 'sane' but quickly replaced the word. He reached over clumsily for his alarm clock on instinct to see what time it was before remembering he wasn't wearing his glasses. His hand again returned to his forehead. "...some other time if it works out, alright?"

Edgar was only moments away from hanging up, but he wanted to at least hear what Johnny had to say. Maybe just an affirmation that Edgar would be dead by the morning?

"Okay." Johnny's voice held a sense of acceptance, something that Edgar found strange. No argument at all.

So maybe he wouldn't die.

Weird.

"Bye." Edgar then hung up the phone and rolled back over. Sleep was a while in coming. He couldn't shake the feeling that he had just made a huge mistake.


When he woke up the next morning, Edgar struggled to remember what had happened the previous night. He ran through the conversation he had had with Johnny with the same kind of disbelieving surprise he experienced when he escaped his house before. How on earth did this keep happening to him? He was perhaps the most average guy he knew of. He had no outstanding features or beliefs and yet, somehow, he managed to keep getting into these absolutely incomprehensible situations.

As he remembered bits and pieces of their phone conversation, Edgar suddenly felt guilty. He had given Johnny advice which the he apparently planned to follow. However, he had not considered the ramifications of doing so.

Whoever this girl was that Johnny seemed fascinated with, Edgar was fairly sure she was probably dead. Johnny was not a stable person and he doubted that anyone could stay alive in his presence for long. The fact that Edgar himself had survived was a testament of pure, dumb luck. He doubted that this girl would be so lucky.

Then again, maybe she would be just what Johnny needed. Maybe she could make Johnny moderately sane, or at least sane enough not to kill her. Edgar kind of doubted it, but he did not rule it out as a possibility.

He did not know Johnny's number and had no way of getting it, considering Johnny's peculiar invisibility on a larger social scale. Johnny had been infuriatingly vague about the bookstore's name or location and even the name of the person he was interested in. Edgar had nothing he could do, except maybe search each of the nearby bookstores systematically. However, he was not entirely excited by the thought of seeing Johnny again. He had escaped death once...he did not want to run into him again.

So Edgar waited. Days went by and Edgar went to work, did menial tasks, and basically accomplished nothing of any lasting importance.

Typical for Edgar. What jolted him out of the normal routine he was finally slipping back into was another phone call.

He picked it up hesitantly, already guessing at who would be at that other end. No one called him. His life was surprisingly and conveniently empty, as he had stated before Johnny had come very close to ending it.

"Hello?"

"Edgar?"

Johnny. The thorns in his voice were present, even over the phone. Edgar ran a hand through his short hair awkwardly, still nervously looking around the room. It seemed rather early for Johnny to be calling him...it wasn't even midnight yet. "Um...hello."

There was a silence from the other end of the line and Edgar again felt a growing sense of unease. "How did it go?"

He winced. He was not sure if he even wanted to know. Another pause from Johnny almost provided a nonverbal answer, but a more explanatory one came shortly thereafter.

"Not too well."

Something dangerous in his tone warned Edgar that this was the ultimate understatement. He noticed at this point Johnny almost seemed to be wheezing or lisping. That was peculiar.

"How so? What happened?"

You idiot, don't ask!

He could hear Johnny breathing on the other end of the line, then what sounded like a moist cough. "Things didn't work out quite like I planned."

Another vast understatement. Edgar steeled himself, then finally spoke, his voice again taking on the calm and level tone he had used with Johnny before. "Is she dead?"

Another long pause. Johnny's response was quiet and interspersed with another moist cough. "Actually...no."

Edgar was almost as confused as Johnny sounded. "Does...wait. No?"

"No."

"But it didn't go well?"

"...No."

Confusion. "So what happened exactly?"

The sudden realization of what he was doing hit Edgar as Johnny took a breath to explain. Why am I talking to him? He tried to kill me! Why aren't I hanging up?

"She..." Johnny paused for such a long time at this point Edgar almost wanted to ask if he was still there. He could still hear him breathing, but apparently Johnny was thinking to himself. "It..." Another long pause. "I'm not..."

Edgar tried to guess at what happened and found nothing came to mind. The girl had lived but the date had gone badly. Why?

"Did...um..." Now he felt awkward that he interrupted Johnny's silence. That was a first for him. "She..."

Johnny just remained silent, as if hoping that Edgar could guess the remainder of the story so he would not have to explain. Edgar struggled to think of a plausible explanation until Johnny let loose a tiny expletive.

"What? What's wrong?" What am I doing? Why do I care?

"My hand." Another short, soft expletive. "Hold on."

Another long silence. What was he doing? Had he cut his hand?

Had she cut his hand?

...She fought back.

Edgar snapped his fingers, locking onto that thought and elaborating on it. Johnny must have tried to kill her when the girl decided to try and resist. If she was still alive, she must have escaped. Or something like that.

"Are you okay?" He felt better now that he had a logical guess as to what happened, but he did not feel confident enough to mention it. "What happened?"

Johnny was silent for a few moments before his voice returned to the phone. "Just a scratch, it's nothing...I'll take care of it."

"What happened to her?"

A very long silence followed this. Edgar sat down on his bed as he waited, not sure if Johnny could either work up the courage or find the words to respond. He looked at his own hands before self-consciously raising one to his face, fingertips finding the marks underneath his eyes. Scabbed over, but more than capable of generating him an unwelcome amount of attention.

Don't forget how you got those.

"She escaped, didn't she?"

Why did you say that?

Another pause, then Johnny's voice came to him, soft but still menacing. "Yes."

"So what happened to you?" Following his original hypothesis, Johnny had to be injured in the ensuing scuffle. Feeling a bit more emboldened at such a non-threatening answer, he waited with slightly less fear for Johnny's response.

It was a long time in coming.

"Goodbye, Edgar."

There was a click.

Edgar pulled the phone away and stared at it in confusion. Unable to come up with any reason other than Johnny's relative instability, Edgar shrugged and hung up the phone, sighing and holding his head.

Hopefully, this would be the last he would hear from him.


It was only a day later when the phone rang again. This time it sounded when Edgar was sitting up in bed, staring at nothing. Edgar had been sleeping fitfully lately, his dreams incomprehensible and meaningless, and he found himself waking up at regular intervals. This had never happened before, but considering what he had been through, he decided that it was only natural.

He also began to notice that he was beginning to lose his patience with things faster than he normally did. Edgar was normally a very tolerant person and slow to anger, but lately something was grating on his nerves. He could not place exactly what it was, but something in the back of his mind was making things more...irritating than they had ever been before. He blamed it on stress, but that wasn't an entirely satisfactory conclusion.

Interestingly, when his phone rang, he found that his fear response had lessened somewhat. He was fairly sure now that Johnny wanted to keep his distance, judging from how reticent he was during their last conversation.

That was perfectly fine with Edgar.

As it was, he was not reaching out to the man, but if Johnny wanted to reach out to him in such a...distant manner, then Edgar was okay with it.

As long as it did not involve the threat of death.

"Edgar?" He never seemed to say hello.

Still a slight tinge of fear at his voice. He thought he had gotten over that. "...Hello, Nny."

Johnny was silent for some time, apparently thinking of something to say. Or trying to remember what he was going to say in the first place. Edgar was becoming used to these long pauses and sat down, letting his eyes rove lazily around the room as he waited.

"What are you doing?"

That was peculiar. Johnny had never showed interested in anyone's life but his own. Edgar warily tried to think of an appropriate response. "I was...sleeping." Edgar smiled at his own words. "But I'm awake now."

You don't want to know. Don't you say a word-

"So what are you doing?"

What's wrong with you?

There was another pause from the end of the line. He could hear a faint rustling and guessed that maybe Johnny had run a hand through his hair or rifled through some papers. Or something. "...I'm thinking."

That came as no surprise.

"What happened?"

You idiot. About what, not what happened-

"People."

"Ah." Edgar recalled Johnny asking him that simple question that Edgar had no answer to. He guessed that the man had again become some unknowing victim to humankind. At least in his perspective. Edgar had troubles believing that every person that Johnny killed had personally wronged him in some way. After all, he hadn't done anything to Johnny and had recieved two lovely scars for it. "How so?"

"They..." Johnny paused. "First they talked too much, then...they...they kind of made sense."

Edgar had to think about this for a moment before he could realize how strange that would have seemed to Johnny. "Made sense...? Was it something like..."

No, don't mention it. That would be awkward.

"Was it something like with me? Like...how you didn't want to kill me?"

Great.

A shorter pause this time. "No. So far no one's been..." Johnny paused again. "I haven't found anyone like you lately."

Edgar took that as the closest thing Johnny could get to admitting he was wrong.

"But these people..." Johnny's voice took on a dangerous edge, one that Edgar recognized easily. "These people just wouldn't shut up...and after a while I almost heard things that...almost made sense."

No wonder he was confused.

"They made you feel bad about killing them?"

You're just not getting better at this.

"No..." Johnny hesitated for a moment. "They made me think about...myself in a way. It was...uncomfortable."

How to respond...Think quickly, Edgar.

"I guess I can understand that."

Brilliant.

Johnny paused again before letting loose a soft sigh. "And another time...I was talking to this girl who was so beautiful outside but so ugly inside...and it came to me...you...that I'm..."

Johnny drifted off, almost as if into his own thoughts, but Edgar found it easy to complete the sentence.

"Again, that's...I guess that's kind of understandable." Edgar winced at his own words, but he did not feel comfortable lying about how he felt about Johnny's homicidal tendencies. "But..." He did not want to make Johnny angry...how to phrase this? "It's hard to...it's difficult to really look at yourself."

You should write fortune cookies.

Shut up.

It took him a minute to realize he had been talking to himself.

"...I'm thinking of maybe going out to get something to drink."

Edgar's eyes widened and he sat up properly, again looking out his window nervously. This couldn't be an invitation. Please don't let it be an invitation.

Focus on the more present problem. Encourage him to go and possibly kill more people or tell him to stay home and quietly go insane?

"How long has it been?"

What kind of question is that?

"I...don't know." Another slight pause. "Time...it's hard for me to keep track of things sometimes."

"Interesting you would keep track of me."

Why did you say that? You're doing a lovely job of making your own noose here, Edgar.

Shut up!

Johnny was silent for a while. "That...it's..." He paused again, apparently planning out his words a little better. "Why did you..."

You just killed yourself.

"I'm..." Edgar struggled to think of some way to erase the question. "I think, uh...I think you should go."

Why!

"Oh." Johnny paused again. "...Think so?"

No.

"Why not? You wouldn't...well, there wouldn't be too much human interaction I think..."

What about the clerk, you idiot?

Shut up!

"It wouldn't take too long either...and you do need to eat, so...I guess you should do it."

"Oh." Johnny almost seemed confused. It had been a while since he had heard that tone...very reminiscient of when he escaped...

How long ago was that?

"Is it alright..." Johnny paused again and Edgar leaned back on the bed, closing his eyes and sighing. How long would it be this time?

A few minutes. "You...this late at night...no one really...I mean, is it alright..."

"To keep calling me?" Edgar finished, trying to be helpful. He rubbed at his temples, feeling a headache coming on. "I guess. It...does make things more interesting."

I can't believe you just said that.

"Alright." Johnny paused for only a few seconds this time. "Goodbye."

Click.

Edgar put the phone back into its cradle and leaned back downwards, staring at the ceiling. He could not understand why he was doing this. Why was this happening? Why couldn't he just hang up?

Was he scared that Johnny could track him down and perhaps, kill him for real this time? After all, he had tracked him and kidnapped him before and Edgar had no memory of what had happened. Johnny could find him at any time, so he might as well indulge him.

Yes, that had to be the reason. It made the most sense.

Edgar rolled over and closed his eyes, but again sleep had trouble coming to him and he woke up only an hour later. He drifted in and out of sleep until his alarm clock went off and Edgar shuffled his way towards another day.


The next night, the phone rang again. Edgar had finally fallen asleep for once and the ringing of the phone proved to be extremely irritating. He rolled over and grabbed it, mumbling a quick greeting as he fumbled for his glasses.

"Hello."

"Edgar."

Pause.

"I killed him."

Edgar was not surprised, only sighing in what he found to be a vaguely disappointed way. "The clerk, right?"

"Yes."

Edgar put his glasses on, staring at his dark room as he shifted himself upwards in his bed. Johnny actually sounded almost pleased."Why?"

"He didn't give me what I wanted. But actually that was okay because they had Cherry Fiz-wiz instead." Edgar hadn't heard this manic tone in a while. Johnny paused as if in thought for a few seconds. "I wish I knew that before I shot him."

Edgar sighed, rubbing at his head once again. Another headache. These were getting more and more frequent.

How can he not feel bad about this?

He's insane, you idiot.

"You sound...happier than usual."

"Do I?" Johnny now sounded genuinely confused. "I...I did get Fiz-wiz, so why not?" Just as Johnny seemed to immerse himself in his own depression at times, it seemed he was enjoying his momentary happiness with the same abandon. "I guess I am happy."

"Well, that's good to hear." Edgar tried to keep his thoughts off of the dead clerk. "It's nice to know that things are going...that things are brightening for you, I guess."

It was late. That was his excuse.

"They won't stay this way for long, but it is nice." He heard a slurping noise on the other end. "Things never stay nice for me. That's kind of why I killed him, now that I think about it."

Edgar sighed to himself. "Just frustrated?"

Interesting guess.

"Yes." Slight pause. "Yes, that's what it was, I guess. I don't like guns."

"Why'd you shoot him then?"

As if it wasn't blindingly obvious.

"It was there."

"Ah." Edgar rubbed at his eyes for a moment, struggling to stay awake. He had finally drifted off to sleep and despite the nature of what Nny was telling him, he still felt rather tired. "I guess that makes sense."

Johnny was silent for a little while. "I guess I...just wanted to tell someone."

An interesting thought struck Edgar. Was Johnny lonely? Was that why he kept on calling him? No...he had wanted advice, that was why he spoke with him originally. Why would Johnny be...

No, that was a question with an obvious answer. Johnny killed everyone he got near in one way or another. Of course he was lonely.

He could hear the smile in Johnny's voice. "It does get kind of boring just talking to yourself."

"Right..." Edgar mumbled, although he still felt very unsettled. The thought of Johnny being lonely...why did that bother him so much?

What if Johnny wanted to see Edgar again? What if he woke up and found Johnny in his room?

This wouldn't have happened if you had just hung up originally.

What he had said to Johnny had been true. These phonecalls did make his life more interesting. But Edgar was not sure that was exactly what he wanted.

"You seem like a nice person." Edgar recalled Johnny mentioning this before during their initial conversation. "I'm glad I didn't kill you after all."

When Johnny seemed cheerful, he talked more. Edgar ran a hand through his hair again nervously, glancing out the window. "Yeah...me too."

God, that's awkward.

Edgar winced at his own words before trying to bring attention from them with a short laugh. "Sorry...it's kind of late. I'm probably not making a lot of sense..."

"No, that's okay. I know." Shorter pauses now. Fewer in number as well. "You do make sense sometimes."

Coming from Johnny, that was a compliment. "Thanks."

The pauses abruptly returned, but Edgar imagined that Johnny probably had the same confused look on his face that he had when Edgar had originally thanked him.

"If...you don't mind...I mean..." Edgar fell back onto his pillows, pressing his arm against his eyes. "I mean...it's kind of more pleasant to talk to you when you're like this."

Silence. Edgar winced, wondering just what it was that he had just done.

"You know...when you talk back."

Edgar, again, laughed in a way that he helped would emphasize the intended levity of his words. Silence for a short period.

"It..." Slight hesitation. "I guess."

"Sorry." Edgar stifled a yawn. "I didn't mean it like that. I am kind of tired, so I guess..." Edgar was not sure how to finish his sentence. "But I'm glad you're happy."

Why? Why does that matter to you? It won't stop him killing people, you know.

It might.

"Really?" Not a genuine question but an initial response. Then he could hear the rare amusement in Johnny's voice again. "It's rare. But it is nice...to really feel happy. It's...it normally doesn't happen to me."

"I know, I think you mentioned that before..." Edgar just barely muffled another yawn. "But it's nice to know that it does happen."

Now let's all skip off to gumdrop land with the happy magic elves.

God, shut up. When did I get so sarcastic?

"Yeah..." Johnny trailed off, although he did sound satisfied. The awkwardness that was previously present in his voice was gone now, but Edgar was not sure how long this would last. "I guess."

"I'm really tired though, Nny..." Edgar hoped Johnny would not take this the wrong way. "I just got to sleep recently...I've been having trouble sleeping lately..."

Don't tell him anything about yourself.

Why does it matter?

"Oh." Johnny sounded thoughtful for a moment. Edgar sighed and rolled over to face the phone, prepared to hang up. "Alright."

I hope I didn't ruin his good mood.

"Bye, Nny."

"Goodbye."

Edgar hung up and then rolled back the other way, wondering about his own motivations. Everything logical told him to stop answering his phone, to stop playing along with Johnny, and yet something kept him speaking, kept him from hanging up...

There was something in him, something that he could not consciously recognize, that seemed to accept Johnny. Almost...to study him. Edgar recoiled against such an idea, feeling that it demeaned Johnny and reflected badly on him, but at the moment he could not understand. What kept him there?

What kept him awake at night?

Why did Johnny call him so much?

Why didn't Edgar feel lonely? If even sociopathic misfits could feel lonely, then what was wrong with Edgar? Why did he never reach out like even Johnny could do?

Why didn't he feel that need?

Something had to be wrong with him, but Edgar did not know what. Struggling to focus on something else, Edgar eventually fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Ring.

"Hello, Nny."

"Want to go dancing?"

Edgar stood numbly in shock for a few minutes before he could finally force himself to react, finding himself pressing a hand to his head in confusion. Finally he remembered his silence and struggled to find a response.

"I'm sorry, what?"

Edgar's mind went through every expletive he knew in rapid succession as he hoped that what he initially heard had just been a joke by an overly tired brain.

"Dancing. Want to go dancing?"

No, he wasn't kidding.

"Um..." Edgar found his body rushing with adrenaline and he could almost feel himself panicking as he tried to think of something to say. Alternate situations ran through his mind.

Go with Nny get killed stay home get killed go with Nny get trapped in his house get killed god everything ends with me DYING

"This is...kind of sudden." Edgar ran a hand through his hair with quick, nervous energy, looking all around his room as if expecting Johnny to already be there. "I mean..."

"Well, you said it yourself...I'm not happy very often." The excitement and contentment in Johnny's voice was indeed, extremely rare. The thought of going off somewhere intensely pleased him. "So I wanted to go somewhere and have fun."

"Why me?"

You already know the answer.

Johnny paused for only a few moments. "Who else would I ask?"

Edgar had no response for that. In fact, Johnny asking him seemed to make perfect sense. He was the closest thing...actually, no, he was Johnny's friend at this point. Why not ask him to go and have fun with him?

Because he's a PSYCHOTIC MURDERER

Shut up! This isn't helping!

"Why..." Edgar searched around the room as if an answer to his situation was there. "Um, I mean...it...you never wanted to..."

God, if he sees me again, he's going to kill me.

"I..." Johnny paused again, then a peculiar tone entered his voice. "The thought just came to me. So."

You can't say 'no,' Edgar. If you do, he'll think you hate him and kill you. He does know where you live.

What am I supposed to do, say yes? I'll die anyway!

Ah, but you don't know that. Maybe you'll get lucky. Again. It's your only chance at this point.

"Um..." Edgar coughed slightly to clear the nervousness from his voice. "When?"

I can't believe this.

"Just wait outside."

Edgar nodded dumbly before finding his voice again. The word jumped from his mouth awkwardly. "Alright."

There was a click at the other end of the line and Edgar hung up the phone slowly.

Almost as if something within him had decided to turn on, Edgar felt a sudden passive resignation in regarding his situation. Why was he so worried? He had nothing to lose anyway...like he had told Johnny before, he had nothing to fear from death.

However, he still feared Johnny.

This passively accepting part of him, the part that had allowed him to wait patiently for death that never came some time before, allowed him to get dressed and ready without having a complete nervous breakdown.

I can't believe this.




It was a relatively average night. Not too cold or too warm, clear without many clouds. There was almost nothing memorable about that night at all. Other than what transpired then.

Irony had been no stranger to Edgar recently.

The weather was lost on Edgar except that he unconsciously put on a trench-coat before he headed out. He wasn't even aware he was wearing it until much later.

He walked out in front of his complex, finding the streets primarily empty. It was not too late at night, but Edgar did not live in an active neighborhood anyway. He felt incredibly small and alone as he ventured out onto the sidewalk hesitantly, aware of every movement that he was making as he looked back and forth, scanning the street repeatedly for Johnny.

Maybe Johnny wouldn't show. That'd be wonderful. Then he could just go back inside and maybe he would not have to do this after all...

Feeling panic rising up in him again, Edgar struggled to relocate the passive side of him that allowed him peace in the most stressful of situations. It took some effort to find but once he allowed it to take control of him, he settled down. He was even able to breathe at a normal pace.

As he stood underneath a streetlight, his hands tucked into his pockets, he stared at the faces of the few who passed by him carefully, as if he would not recognize Johnny the moment he saw him.

You don't come face to face with death and then forget what he looks like.

Sighing softly to himself, Edgar leaned back against the metal pole, moving his attention downwards, staring down at his shoes distractedly. Filled with nervous energy, he felt conflicted and trapped. How much longer would this take...? Anticipation was only making this worse...

He remembered the noise vaguely from when he had first struggled to wake from unconsciousness in that dark basement. The distinctive sound that Johnny's unique boots made as he walked. However, this was not what alerted him to Johnny's presence initially.

He had been leaning against the pole silently when he felt a sudden prickling all over his body. He could feel the hairs on his arm rising and he shivered slightly.

Although cliché, it was almost accurate to say it was the equivalent of someone walking over Edgar's grave. A phrase that meant more than he would have liked at that time.

When he felt the shivering goosebumps come over him, he knew that Johnny was near. He knew before he heard him, but he was not sure why. He turned and watched as Johnny slowly came into view.

The man had his hands in his pockets as well, although there was a thin black cord leading from his small earphones down into one of them. He was bobbing back and forth just slightly, soft and slow movements. The expression on his face was one that Edgar could only guess from what he had heard over the phone. It was the contented, happy expression that he had never seen.

It was not frightening like the manic smile he had seen before. But it was unnerving. It seemed very out of place on someone like Johnny.

As Johnny came closer to him, Edgar found that he had unconsciously raised one of his hands to again to feel underneath his eyes. This was becoming a habit.

For a moment, he felt a sharp renewal of stinging as his fingers grazed the wounds, but Edgar wrote it off as superstition and fear and forced his hand downward.

Johnny continued walking, almost making his way past Edgar before he halted, staring off into space thoughtfully until he turned to face him. One hand came free from his pocket, the thin claw-like fingers pointing at him lazily.

Johnny smiled in the peculiarly psychotic way that Edgar was, sadly, familiar with.

"Edgar, right?"

"Yes." This was becoming familiar. "Nny."

Johnny paused, tilting his head for a moment, looking at him. Thankfully the distant, appraising look from his capture was gone. Johnny only looked curious. "Wh..." He snapped his fingers. "Right. I remember now."

Not surprisingly, Edgar felt a tinge of irritation and indignance at the fact that Johnny had forgotten about the marks under his eyes. This very quickly subsided into quiet acceptance.

What did you expect?

Edgar looked around nervously, although he was not sure for what. "Where are we going?"

Johnny stared at him, studying how he was reacting in a very amused fashion. He was still smiling in that psychotic way as well. Edgar felt increasingly uncomfortable.

"The club."

"Yes...but which one?"

Johnny watched Edgar for a few moments before he slowly turned in a circle, his arms outstretched. He turned back to Edgar, enjoying the confused expression on his face. "There are so many."

Johnny had to know he was doing this. He had to be aware that he was confusing and frightening Edgar to no end. With the slight bit of resolve that had formed out of his previous indignation, Edgar decided he wouldn't give Johnny that satisfaction.

"There's one a few blocks from here..." Edgar turned and pointed with one hand, although he was roughly estimating. He had never been in that club, but he had passed it several times. "That's always an option."

"Good point." Slowly the smile on Johnny's face became more natural as he turned in the direction Edgar had indicated. His hand returned to his pocket and Edgar could hear the faintly muffled strains of music coming from Johnny's earphones.

As Johnny started walking, Edgar had no choice but to follow.

Why did he invite you along if he's just going to ignore you?

I don't know.

That's a first.


Sometimes, a small thing can alter fate. Something like the flap of a butterfly's wing can change things across the world. The paradox of alternate realities, the many chances and things that could and might have been. If only one thing had happened or the other, if only one change, one moment could be redone, then maybe things would have been different. If you could go back and relive that moment and do something differently, history as you know it may have been changed.

So much depends on so little.

Sometimes, a little thing can change something. Something that you may never have thought of. Something unexpected, unnoticed. Something like, say, a person's presence, can change how history was supposed to occur. Can alter fate's chosen path.

However, this was not one of those times.

The two of them were walking some distance apart, mainly by Johnny's choosing, when they happened to pass a café.

Edgar was not sure if Johnny could hear, considering how loud he had his music, but apparently some higher power had decided that Johnny would indeed, hear what the people outside the café had to say.

"Excuse me?"

Both of them paused in response to the short question. Johnny stood completely still, staring at them with a kind of expectancy while Edgar hovered behind him, again finding himself filled with nervous energy. While Johnny was merely confused at the question, Edgar was immediately concerned for the speaking person's safety.

If Edgar was not safe with Johnny, this person certainly was not.

"Yes?" Johnny's voice held more malice than he had used with Edgar. Had he lightened his voice to speak with him or did he already find this person irritating? It was hard to tell.

"Hey, do you have a cigarette?"

That was a fairly innocent question. Edgar's hopes for the conversation brightened somewhat.

"No, I don't smoke."

The man turned towards Edgar, who, at a loss for words, could only shake his head in response.

A very short silence ensued which Johnny apparently interpreted as the end of the conversation. As Johnny began walking again, the man turned to one of his companions.

"Did you hear that? Fags don't smoke."

Johnny did hear that.

That was an interesting choice of words.

Why are you thinking of that NOW?

Johnny stopped dead, turning and walking back to the table slowly. The two present stared up at him smugly, apparently fully aware of what impact their words were meant to have.

Irony was no stranger tonight. At that moment, Edgar was more frightened than either of the two sitting at the table could have or should have been.

Johnny stared at them silently, apparently trying to decide what to do or say. It was somewhat reminiscient of the expression and inner conflict he had felt over his decision to not kill Edgar originally.

Of course, Edgar doubted that 'not killing someone' was an option at this point.

The silence seemed to drag on forever and Edgar felt his skin prickling again. Despite his internal reaction, he found that his passive side had managed to retain control with his facial features. This actually proved beneficial as Johnny turned to stare at him, studying his expression carefully.

It was a good thing he did not look frightened. He seriously doubted it would help.

Quick, think of something to say.

Edgar shrugged.

I can't even think of any words to respond to that.

Johnny moved his dark eyes from Edgar to the people at the table several times, much to their general amusement, as he apparently finally decided something. His gaze settled on the two who still looked back at them mockingly.

"I was just going to pass this place by, in favor of the dance-club up the street. I'll do the club tomorrow."

Danger. Danger in every single syllable.

Edgar recognized that tone of voice.

Johnny turned to Edgar once again, staring at him silently, struggling to control the frustration and anger in his face without success. Edgar did not know how to interpret his silence, but simply stared back at him, again at a loss for words.

Johnny's eyes narrowed and Edgar watched his fist clench tightly. Unable to halt his natural reaction, Edgar unconsciously took a step backwards, not wanting to be close to Johnny at this moment.

"I'd stay out here if I were you."

Still dangerous, sharp words, but Johnny's voice changed tone subtly when he spoke to him. Not that Edgar was in the most rational of mindsets at that moment to truly analyze it. He only nodded in response. The two at the table found this amusing, smirking to themselves as Johnny made his way into the café with very slow, deliberate steps, his hands held behind his back.

Edgar was not taking any chances.

Ignoring the jibes of the two left outside, he struggled to walk away calmly. He did not stop until he was almost a block away, looking back occasionally to watch the area he had left with a sense of foreboding. How far would be a safe distance? If Johnny was about to go on a rampage, and it was made incredibly clear to Edgar that that was exactly what he was going to do, how far would Edgar have to go?

He did not want it to look as if he had run away. That would not look favorably on him. Then again, he did not want to be unintentionally killed by accident. Despite Johnny's supposed friendship with him, Edgar did not trust him at all. Especially concerning his life.

Finally idling to a stop, he found himself wondering about what had happened. Why had those two lashed out at them without any motivation...?

Something within him told Edgar that it was not anything they had specifically done. Johnny had spoken about the general hatefulness of human nature...it had become something of a fixation for him. While Johnny did seem to be insane, it seemed that sometimes his crimes were not entirely without motive.

Something peculiar...something strange. Edgar almost felt that, if he had not been passing by with Johnny, this would not have happened. Those two at the café would have looked at him and looked away. Edgar was that normal...but something about Johnny...something about him seemed to attract these terrible people.

That was an interesting theory for his psychosis anyway. In a way, then maybe it was not Johnny's fault afterall.

That was an uncomfortable idea.

Edgar sat down, back against another streetlight, as he could faintly hear the screams of the dying and the living from the ill-fated café.

Slight guilt.

Was there anything I could have done to prevent this?

Better question - would I really have wanted to?

Edgar looked upwards, as if to find the source of his now constant inner voice, but, as expected, found nothing. "I've got to stop talking to myself..."

That was ironic.

Shut up.

An explosion rocked the street and Edgar could see Johnny's silhouetted gleefully against the billowing smoke.

With another sigh, Edgar crossed his arms over his knees.

Definitely not a good idea.




"I like your coat."

"Hn?" Edgar turned towards him. The first words from Johnny since the slaughter were the last thing that he expected. "My...?"

Edgar looked down and he was, indeed, wearing his trenchcoat. When had he put this on? That was disconcerting.

"Oh...thank you, I guess."

Johnny had met up with him after the explosion as if nothing had happened, although he did seem a lot happier afterwards. In fact, he was more pleased than he had seemed at the beginning of the night.

Killing made him feel good.

That was a disturbing thought.

Johnny had not spoken with Edgar, but his expression told him that Edgar was, for the moment, safe. The fact that Johnny had voluntarily joined his company again implied that Johnny still wanted to be around him, although Edgar could not think of a reason why.

And so silence had reigned between them as they had walked away. Edgar could not hear Johnny's music through his headphones, but he guessed that he had it on. The pauses were painful to Edgar, almost begging for him to fill them with something, but they had no effect on Johnny. Then again, he seemed to be familiar with long silences, as their conversations on the phone had proved.

The first words out of Johnny's mouth since the massacre had been about his coat. Edgar's coat that he did not even remember putting on.

This has to be the most bizarre night of my life.

"I always wanted a coat like that." Johnny's tone was light and carefree, much along the same tone he used when speaking about the deceased clerk at the convenience store. "I could never find one."

Edgar wasn't sure how to respond, then decided that he should at least try to sound natural. "They're not too hard to find...I have the receipt somewhere, I'm sure...I can always look it up for you later."

"Later, yes..."

You just said you wanted to see him later.

...I did, didn't I?

"Where are we going now?" Although Edgar had been walking alongside Johnny, he was still following his lead. He had not felt comfortable asking where they were going considering the awkward silence, but now that it had been broken... "We aren't going to still go dancing, right?"

Still go dancing sounded so...awkward.

"N..." Johnny apparently had not thought of this. "No. I don't feel like it anymore. But we can still do something tonight, I guess."

He had no other plans.

It was only Edgar's familiarity with popular culture's portrayal of relationships that gave him a frame of reference. The idea that Johnny was not familiar with them. Then again, Edgar was not a social butterfly by any means.

"Where are we going, though?"

This was followed by silence, Johnny walking alongside him, hunched over, hands still tucked into his pockets. He stared fixedly at his boots as they rose and fell on the sidewalk.

So...this is what he does during those silences.

Edgar usually found something in his room to toy with while he waited for Johnny to say something, but this time he only had the repetitive motion of walking. Unsatisfied, he took off his glasses, rubbing non-existant dirt off of them, before replacing them again, hoping that the silence would not last much longer.

It's so much more uncomfortable in person...

Johnny twitched slightly and he turned to Edgar, the pleased look still present. It was comforting in a way, but seemed so unnatural. "There's something I want to pick up at the house..."

"Oh..."

Here's your chance. Pay attention to how you got here and maybe...

...How did I get here?

Figures.

"Alright."

"There's always the movies..." Johnny sounded incredibly distant, apparently the thought having reminded him of something else, something distracting. "I'm sure there's something on tonight..."

"Alright." Edgar was not really a movie person, but he was not about to refuse. "Fine with me."

Johnny smiled to himself in response, and the two continued in silence.

Try as he may, Edgar could not find any landmarks as he walked along. Nothing looked familiar to him and everything was so nondescript, he could not mark anything for future reference. They had walked down so many streets during that first long silence that he had not been paying attention. He was not sure where they were now and he was positive that he could not remember their path.

I hope I'll be able to get home...

Edgar could again hear faint music coming from Johnny's direction. In a way, it seemed that Edgar was alone again. That was alright.

He did not want to go back to Johnny's house, but if it was only to retrieve something that seemed to be alright. He didn't want to spend too much time in there, if at all possible.

So far, this night had not gone too badly for him personally. Instantly recoiling at the thought, Edgar sought to justify it in a more logical way.

An unknown amount of people had been killed, but that had not been Edgar's fault and there was nothing he could have done. So...on the whole, the night had not been too bad.

He stood on the doorstop as Johnny opened his front door, standing there silently for a moment. Was he letting Edgar in first? That was...peculiar.

The house was still the same and still smelt of death, blood, and cherries, although there were new blood stains on the carpet and some glass shards scattered around. The decaying rabbit was still attached to one wall, along with the other bizarre odds and ends that Johnny had collected over time.

So far, nothing had changed.

Once Johnny got whatever it was he needed, Edgar would be able to leave and the night would continue on as usual. They would go see a movie, say goodbye to one another, and Edgar would make his way home without incident, hopefully having something close to a good time in the process.

Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.

The first crushing blow to the back of Edgar's head was enough to cause him intense pain, a sudden loss of vision, and an incredible sense of vertigo, but it was not enough to render him unconscious. Edgar was dimly aware of crying out shortly in pain in response to the attack, able to faintly recall seeing the stained carpet heading up towards him before the second strike fell.

Two was enough.

Chapter Text

Johnny knelt near Edgar's body, lowering the Happy Noodle Boy statue to the ground.

So that thing did have a purpose after all.

"I thought it would only take one."

Well, it wasn't important. Edgar was unconscious now and that was what mattered anyway.

Johnny noted the man's glasses lying a short distance away from him, apparently jarred loose from the initial impact. He leaned over and carefully lifted them from the ground, folding them and placing them off to one side. He didn't want those to get broken by accident.

There was enough broken glass around anyway.

"Nny, what are you doing?" Nail Bunny again. The simple question helped remind Johnny of what his action's intended purpose was. He always tended to get caught up in them after a while.

He stared down at Edgar, who had fallen with one arm trapped underneath his body, the other curled around his head. He was bleeding from a wound that was almost hidden underneath his hair. Johnny felt disgust rising in him in response.

They didn't usually bleed either. This was uncomfortable.

"Nny?"

Right.

"I'm not quite sure." He was sure he had a plan originally, but he had gotten so involved in knocking Edgar unconscious that he had kind of forgotten it. He was sure he could think of another one if he had to...

"Are you going to kill him?" One of the doughboys.

"I don't know. Should I?"

"You don't need any blood right now," Nail Bunny pointed out. "Remember those girl scouts?"

Johnny raised a hand to his mouth in thought. "That's right..."

"But you should preserve him, Nny. Like you should have with her." He recognized this argument. "Think about it...a friend trapped perfectly in time, unable to ever betray you..."

"Wait." Nail Bunny apparently did not like this idea, struggling a moment for the right words. "I could understand that argument for Devi, but not for Edgar."

"What do you mean?" Johnny settled back onto his heels, keeping his eyes away from the darkness seeping from underneath Edgar's hair.

"Well, with Devi you had a perfect relationship going. You were really happy, remember? She was everything to you."

Johnny did remember with a great deal of sadness and regret. These emotions were quickly erased as he tried to refocus on the conversation. "Yes...? I don't quite see your point."

"Edgar's far from a perfect friend to you, Nny. He's terrified of you."

Johnny turned back to Edgar, reaching out one hand carefully. He knew that Edgar would not be getting up soon, but that wasn't why he moved so slowly. He lifted one of Edgar's hands from the floor with two fingertips before letting it fall back down again. As if there had not been a pause at all, Johnny finally responded, his simple question sincere.

"Really?"

"You've only met twice. The first time you tried to kill him. The second time you've knocked him unconscious. This isn't perfect, Nny."

This was starting to make sense.

"He's afraid of you and he doesn't trust you. Not like she did. She did trust you, but you made a bad decision there that I don't think you should make again. You shouldn't even consider freezing Edgar now. It wouldn't be a pleasant image."

Johnny sat with his hand again raised to his mouth as he stared off into the distance, thinking hard.

"What should I do?"

"Well..." Nail Bunny was silent for a few moments. "I guess you could try to make your relationship perfect, although in general I would recommend not killing him at all-"

"You can't have a perfect relationship, Nny." The doughboys finally decided to return to the conversation, D-boy deciding to take the initiative. "Everything gets ruined in the end. You know that. The only time that you'll ever stop fucking things up is when you die."

"I like it." Mr. Eff phrased his words carefully, trying to sound somewhat sincere. "Imagine! Just like all the other ones, those beautiful frozen memories. We could add a friend to that list. I think that would be marvelous."

Mr. Eff thought nothing of the kind, but Johnny did not need to know that.

"What should I do?" Johnny said again.

"First...I'd recommend taking care of what you did to the back of his head." Johnny glanced in Nail Bunny's direction. "When he wakes up, you should try to make him trust you."

"Trust me? Why would-..." Johnny smiled in a twisted way. "I don't even trust me."

"Try at least. Maybe Edgar will be that perfect friend you always said you wanted."

"Maybe..."

"This is foolish. You know it'll just disintegrate like everything else, turn into nothing more than ashes in a jar."

"No, I think there's a chance here." Mr. Eff had a smile in his voice. "A chance for something truly interesting."


Scratch scratch scratch.

Todd huddled underneath his sheets, clutching Shmee to him in terror. He squeezed his eyes shut, repeating a simple mantra in his mind.

Please let it be the wind, let it be the wind, let it be the wind...

Scratch scratch scratch.

"Squee?"

Todd gulped and finally sat up, Shmee held tightly in his arms as he turned towards the window. Sure enough, the scary neighbor man was there, standing and waving to him with fake cheer. If that was supposed to be comforting, it certainly failed in that regard.

Johnny pointed to the window and Todd reluctantly made his way out of bed, unlatching the window. His parents had not appreciated how his previous one had been broken and besides...Johnny would find a way in whether Todd let him in or not.

Johnny did not enter when Todd opened the window, instead leaning against the sill and trying to feign nonchalance.

"You don't have a Band-Aid, do you?"

Todd stared at Johnny, trying to hide his fear and failing remarkably. "Did you hurt someone?"

Johnny paused at this question, looking back towards his house for a moment before returning his eyes to the boy. He seemed confused for a moment, but that faded quickly. "I changed my mind. Do you have one?"

Todd, in fact, had a variety of things stored beneath his bed just in case an emergency should arise. Considering the amount of incredibly bizarre and scary things that happened to Todd on an almost daily basis, he found it necessary to at least try to prepare. Dealing with Johnny was becoming a regular event in his life as well, which was another reason why Todd has assembled a small first-aid kit underneath his bed.

Besides, Shmee said it was a good idea.

Todd rummaged through the shoe box carefully, noting some items had mysteriously gone missing. That did not surprise him. He could explain his lack of gauze and other larger bandages, however; Johnny had taken those when he had visited him again after he had gotten into a fight with someone. Or something like that.

Finding a small tin of bandages, he handed them over to Johnny warily, not trusting the bright smile that lit up his face on receiving them.

"Thanks, Squeegee."

Thankfully, that seemed to be all that Johnny wanted from him at that moment, and the man left, allowing Todd to shut and lock the window immediately afterwards.

As he crawled back into bed, his back turned to the wall and Shmee protecting his chest, he wondered why he even bothered to shut the window at all.

It didn't really seem to help.


Johnny entered the house, stepping over Edgar's body as he made his way to the couch. He opened the tin of bandages with a jerk.

"So you are going to help him?"

"Our friendship isn't perfect, remember? For once I want something to be perfect." Johnny pulled out several bandages between his fingers, dropping them onto the couch. He stared at them for a moment before he simply upended the tin entirely, dumping all of the prepackaged strips onto the thick cushions. A few bounced off and disappeared into the cracks of the couch and a few fell on the floor, but the majority stayed where they had fallen. Johnny stared at them as if they were the cause of his general unhappiness. "Just once I want something to not end up..." Johnny grasped feebly for words before giving up, grabbing a handful of the bandages as he made his way back over to the unconscious figure on the floor.

"Just once."

"This may be your only chance. You can't mess this one up, Nny."

"I know that." Johnny sat down irritably beside Edgar's body, noticing that the blood had stopped oozing. That seemed like a good sign. He freed one bandage from its wrapper and moved Edgar's hair out of the way, studying the wound with his best attempt at clinical detachment.

Johnny was not skilled at dressing wounds. He had managed to take care of himself when he was injured before, but he guessed that some of his recuperative abilities had been due to his seeming inability to die. He had no idea how to take care of other people, but he could guess.

Besides, it gave him something to focus on.

After clumsily bandaging Edgar's head, Johnny sat amidst the wrappers, brushing them off of his clothes and his skin with irritation.

"You should put him on the couch. Maybe he'll wake up."

"I doubt that, but alright."

Johnny stood and dragged Edgar over to the couch without too much trouble, hefting him up carelessly as he flopped back into the cushions without resistance. Johnny stared down at him for a few moments then sighed, sitting down.

"When do you think he'll wake up? It's not going to be soon, I know that much."

"You're stressed." Mr. Eff's voice came back to him. "You should go down into the basement. There are still some people there that could use your attention. We'll tell you if he wakes up or not."

That was a pleasant thought. Smiling again, Johnny stood and walked out of the room. "I'll be back soon."


Oh GOD that hurt.

Am I okay?

Of course I'm not okay, what kind of question is that? Some large blunt object just paid some unexpected visit to the back of my head. I'm not okay.

Who...Johnny of course. I already knew that...Why?

That's a good question. Not so easy to answer.

Well, he seemed to like me before. Why would he attack me now?

Maybe I did something wrong.

Like what?

I don't know. He is crazy, you know. It was probably something I couldn't have prevented it anyway.

Maybe he wanted my coat.

My coat. Actually, now that you mention it...

No...he wouldn't kill me just for my coat.

Yeah. Right.

...I still don't think he would do that.

I think you're giving him way too much credit.

I think he deserves some.

So tell me, how many people did he kill tonight?

...He was provoked.

Well he was obviously provoked enough to acquaint my head and a bat, wasn't he?

I didn't do anything though.

Where did those scars come from, hmm?

...I don't think he did it because I did something wrong.

Well, he certainly did it. It's most likely that he just lost it and I was the closest person nearby. Maybe he wants to paint with me again.

God, that sounds strange.

Well, that's what he said before, right? Maybe that's what he wants.

All this just for that?

He is insane.

I know that. You repeat it all the time.

You always seem to forget.

God, it still hurts.

I'd expect as much.

...Wait...who are you?


Edgar gradually managed to regain consciousness painfully and with a certain degree of randomness. He'd wake, fall asleep, wake, and then fall asleep. Considering the lack of dreams, this was incredibly disconcerting. Edgar usually liked to know what time it was. Irritating.

When Edgar finally decided to remain in the conscious world, he lay there without motion for a while, making sure that it wasn't going to blink out of existence again.

He struggled to move his arm, which thankfully responded. His legs did as well...that was encouraging. Maybe there would be no permanent damage.

His head seemed amazingly heavy when he tried to roll onto his side. Not to mention that the back of it felt somewhat peculiar. Not the feeling one would expect from an open wound, which is what he logically assumed he had.

Where am I...

I know where I am.

How long will I live?

Edgar struggled again to roll over, managing to push himself with his arms into a sideways position, propping his head up on one arm of the chair. He struggled to keep the world from spinning and from lapsing back into unconsciousness again.

The back of his head ached horribly and he would've killed for some aspirin. He almost wished he'd go unconscious again just so the pain would stop.

He wasn't sure how much time passed as he lay on the couch, struggling to get his bearings and deal with the pain. It was hard to judge time. Not to mention his glasses were missing and everything had blurred entirely into obscurity. That was also extremely disorienting.

Eventually he could hear someone coming up the steps somewhere. As this noise came to his attention, he noticed that his ears were ringing just slightly. That was to be expected, he supposed.

Maybe it's Johnny. Probably come to finish the job.

With a sigh, Edgar tried to relax. At least death would make his head stop aching. He let his muscles go lax as he stared off into the distance, unable to move his head any further.

"Oh..."

Of course it was Johnny. Slight disappointment in his voice. That was peculiar.

"You're awake."

Edgar struggled to respond, but he hadn't spoken in some time, or at least that's what it felt like, and he only managed to mumble incoherently. The vibrations from his voice caused the pain in his head to flare up.

"You might be wondering what hit you."

No, not really. But indulge me.

"That would be me." He could not see Johnny, but he could hear him making his way around the couch and sitting down somewhere near his legs. He could only tell from the shift in the cushion's position. Johnny wasn't touching him, but that was also to be expected to some extent. "You might be wondering why."

Edgar moaned softly as he tried to respond. Aspirin...I would die for some aspirin.

Ironic choice of words there.

"I..." Pause. That was familiar. "I changed my mind."

Changed your mind!

"I thought about doing something...but then I decided that I shouldn't. Not..." Johnny cut himself off smoothly. "So here you are..."

Edgar wanted to move onto his back, but could not muster the energy to do so. He made another pained noise in response instead, this one clearly not happy or accepting of the current situation.

"Yeah, I can kind of understand why you'd be upset. It was..." Pause. "Well, I took care of the..." Another pause. "So you should be alright shortly."

"Mmph."

Edgar closed his eyes before he could really realize what Johnny had said.

Wait...he took care of it? Does he mean me? Did he take care of me?

God, that's frightening. I wasn't aware he could do that. At all. I didn't think he could care.

He probably can't. But play along with him.

I don't think he's lying.

"I don't envy the pain you're in currently..." Another longer pause. Johnny's next words seemed a bit more enthusiastic, as if he had just discovered or remembered something. "I think I might have something for that."

He saw something black move across his general field of vision which he assumed to be Johnny's legs. The blur vanished and he could hear Johnny head off somewhere.

Somewhere.

Edgar felt himself drifting off despite the current pain he was in, which he was thankful for. At least in sleep that ache would stop for a while.


He was not sure how much time passed before he found consciousness again. Disconcerting to say the least.

The pain wasn't lessening either, which was not really helping.

Any time from between five minutes to five days could have elapsed while Edgar slipped in and out of consciousness on the couch. He wondered if he was taking a long time to recover, but then again, Edgar did not have a wealth of experience or knowledge regarding how to recover from severe head trauma.

So he was not sure how long it was until Johnny came back. He wished he knew because that would at least give him a useful frame of reference. All he could do was struggle to try and think of how long it would have taken Johnny to get whatever it was he was getting.

The next thing he knew after he had drifted off was the feeling of the couch moving. Johnny was sitting near him again, although he still studiously avoided touching him. Edgar wasn't sure how long he had been there.

"Here."

He didn't seem very impatient. Maybe it hadn't been a long time after all. Edgar opened his eyes, not sure of what he was looking for amidst all the vague conjoined colors that made up his current field of vision. He tried to make a questioning noise.

"Take it. This should help."

Take what?

Edgar could not see anything without his glasses, but he squinted at the dark black splotch near him in an effort to make out anything recognizable. He had to crane his neck painfully to do so, but he was able to tell that Johnny was holding out something to him. Half of that was logical deduction though.

Edgar made another pained noise as he tried to move his arm. His body now seemed increasingly unresponsive. That was not a good sign.

He looked over at Johnny again, trying to make out what he was holding. He guessed it was an ice pack or something of that nature.

He tried again to lift his arm, but it refused to move.

"C'mon. Take it already."

What's wrong with you? Can't you tell? I can't move!

Edgar struggled to force words out of his mouth. "Nng...can't..."

He could not see Johnny's reaction, but he could make out movement. He was not clear on what Johnny was doing exactly, but he did not seem willing to place the ice pack on Edgar's head by himself.

"What do you mean you can't?" He sounded genuinely confused.

You knocked me unconscious, you...! Don't you know?

Of course he wouldn't know. He doesn't understand.

"Can't...!"

Edgar was intensely frustrated at how his body was refusing to respond to him. This was an entirely foreign experience to him and he hated that. He had no previous experience to base any kind of plan on. He did not know what to do. He hated that.

Johnny was silent for a long time, although that did not really matter to Edgar. The throbbing pain in the back of his head had almost become a noise in itself. His ears were still ringing as well.

He had never felt this bad before.

He moaned again, somewhat pleased that at he could at least still do that.

"Why can't you take it..." Johnny seemed to be talking to himself. "I guess you..."

Edgar was not normally a violent person. But at that moment, he sincerely and deeply wanted to beat Johnny over the head with a bat. Just to make it perfectly clear why he could not move his arms at this moment.

But Edgar could do nothing.

"Alright..." Johnny broke the silence again, although for all the world it seemed he was talking to someone else. "I guess..."

If Edgar had his glasses, this would at least be tolerable. He wondered vaguely where they were.

He could faintly hear and feel motion through the shifting of weight on the cushions, but he was not sure what to expect. Perhaps Johnny would leave and do something else. That'd be nice.

In the midst of his entirely internal annoyance, pain, and frustration, Edgar was completely unprepared for the cold shock against the wound on his head. He jerked sharply in response, his body finally galvanized back into action. He was not sure how Johnny reacted to his movement, considering he could not really see, but he doubted he was at all pleased.

Still, the sharp cold pressed against the back of his head, numbing the pain gradually as Edgar calmed his breathing. As the pain faded, he felt clarity come in its place. He felt much better already.

Wait...was Johnny...?

All he could see was a faint black blur near him, as far away as possible with the pack still in his grasp. So Johnny was, indeed, holding it against his head.

Why.

Why!

"There."

He wished he could see his expression. As it was, all he could see were vague colors. Dark blue, black, white, and a yellowish tinge...

He knew where Johnny was and had a vague idea of what he was doing. But he could not see how he felt.

Not that Johnny was exceptionally easy to read anyway.

He did feel better though.

"Thanks..." he mumbled as best he could. He was not sure if it came out intelligibly or not, as Johnny gave no response.


With the ice pack in place, Johnny apparently felt that his part was over and got up to do something else. That did not really surprise Edgar, considering he probably had something he could be doing right now. Something more important than just staring at him.

That was getting uncomfortable anyway. Even if he could not necessarily see Johnny's eyes on him, he could still feel them.

The ice did help and Edgar fell into a more pleasant rest, this time not plagued with pain.

Eventually he was able to lift himself upwards, allowing his vision to adjust as he raised a hand to the back of his head to explore. He felt the familiar sensation of bandages. That he could recognize without the help of his eyes. He placed the long-melted bag off to one side.

Where did Johnny get that anyway?

Where did Johnny get bandages as well?

It didn't really seem like he would ever need them.

The ringing in his ears had finally subsided and Edgar felt almost normal, excepting the loss of his glasses. He initially was rather hesitant about searching on the floor, considering what he'd seen there before he had been knocked unconscious, but he would really prefer to be able to see.

So he got down on his hands and knees, feeling about where he estimated he must have fallen. Glittering things on the floor got hesitant taps at first, to insure they were not just broken glass shards, then he moved onwards. It did not take him long to find his glasses, folded and placed carefully to one side, some distance from a still-moist dark spot on the floor. Newly shed blood. Edgar had a sneaking suspicion that it might have been his.

It did give him some reference of time, however. It hadn't dried yet.

He sighed in relief as the world slid back into focus. With the return of his vision, he felt a resurgence of confidence and capability. He made his way back to the couch and sat down, ignoring the faint aching in the back of his head as he looked around for Johnny. He was not here...probably in one of the lower floors.

Doing something.

I should go home now. Before he comes back.

Why? He'd just track me down anyway.

Well, what am I going to say when he comes back?

I don't know.

I'm not going to ask him why, am I?

I know why.

Then what?

...Don't know.

Edgar sighed as he leaned his head back on the cushions, staring upwards at the ceiling in an effort to distract himself.

I didn't used to talk to myself.

Everyone talks to themselves to varying degrees. That's nothing special.

Edgar sighed again and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.

God, what am I going to do?

Interesting you'd call on him now.

Don't even start.

He could hear Johnny coming up the steps and found that he was peculiarly without reaction. It was not until he actually opened the door, a somewhat pleased expression on his face, that Edgar felt a tinge of fear.

There's no real graceful way out of this, is there?

Don't ask me.

Maybe that was why he wasn't frightened. There was nothing he could do.

"Oh, you're awake." Johnny looked at him for a moment with a blank expression before he smiled again. "That's good. I was wondering how long it would take."

"How long has it been?"

Just brilliant.

"Not long." Johnny seemed slightly distracted, as if he was looking for something in the room and having a conversation with Edgar to pass the time until it came to his attention. Edgar could not help but look around the room himself, finding that Johnny's eyes were resting on one of the hideously painted Styrofoam things on a dresser. He couldn't suppress a shudder at their faces.

"Thanks to you, I guess."

Could that have been any more awkward? No, really. I can't think of any other way-

Shut up.

Johnny inclined his head at him again before snapping his fingers. "That's right, the bandages. Those weren't mine."

"I didn't think they were." Edgar leaned back against the couch with a deep sigh.

"They were Squeegee's." Johnny looked off to one side, perhaps towards the mentioned person's house, before returning his attention to Edgar. He lifted one hand for some unknown purpose before it fell back. "I..."

"Why did you knock me out?"

I thought you said you knew.

I could guess. I don't know.

That was apparently an uncomfortable topic and Johnny's reaction reflected that as best it could. He looked downwards, raising his previously useless hand to run it through his messy hair. "That..."

Wait for it.

"I changed my mind."

Saw that coming.

"Why'd you do it in the first place? I didn't do anything to you."

That didn't work before, Edgar, and it won't work now.

"I know, but..." Johnny's tone changed. Slightly irritated, but still apologetic. Again the words drifted off into silence.

Edgar just sighed. "I probably wouldn't understand."

Johnny was silent for such a period of time that Edgar turned towards him to make sure he was still present. He was, only staring at Edgar intensely, as if waiting for him to do or say something.

Edgar felt awkward now that he knew of the attention focused on him, and he raised a hand to gesture to words that did not come. His hand eventually fell back down, just as Johnny's had before.

For once, Johnny broke the silence.

"I don't feel comfortable discussing it."

Strangely, Johnny sounded genuinely apologetic there. Edgar did not expect that at all.

"Now what?"

What kind of question is that?

"Now...?" It was now Johnny's turn to stare at him blankly. "Oh...it's...late."

"Right." Edgar did not even bother to ask for the time. "If I am going to go home, could I at least ask for your phone number or something?"

Why. Why on earth do you want it? What use could you have for it? You're-

"Oh..."

"It's not in the phonebooks..."

"Oh..." Almost an echo of his previous short response. Picking up a pencil, he scribbled something quickly on a piece of paper, handing it to Edgar with the same befuddled look he had before. He had obviously not expected that at all.

In a strange way, neither had Edgar.

Now I've got some way to track him down.

His number probably doesn't exist, you idiot.

Edgar sighed - that was a valid point- and looked back up at Johnny. He was still standing there, staring at him, a few loose, bloodstained strands of his hair hovering around his dark-rimmed eyes.

"Are you going to kill me?"

Johnny stared at him, and, as if it was almost painful to say, managed to respond.

"No."

"Why not?"

Never can take things at face-value, can you?

At this, Johnny narrowed his eyes. "Does it really matter?"

Edgar took the hint. "Alright. That's okay."

Should I get up?

Edgar used the armrest as his main support as he pushed himself back onto his feet, watching Johnny back away from him as he did so, arms again behind his back. Edgar felt a rush of dizziness that quickly passed and he turned back towards the thin man, who stared at him so distantly and clinically.

At least it was better than murderously.

"I'm going home, alright? I...need to rest."

That felt awkward.

Johnny just nodded in response and Edgar struggled to make his legs work properly as he made his way to the door. Before long he was out on the lawn, again making his way back to his house through unfamiliar territory.

Johnny watched him go.

"You're not very good at this, Nny." A voice came to him, and he twitched in response, narrowing his eyes.

"I will get good at this."

Johnny smiled.

"And then I'll kill him."

Chapter Text

A week passed by.

Edgar had not heard from Johnny and frankly he was glad. He could not understand his motivations, the reasoning behind his erratic behavior. He could not understand Johnny. It bothered him.

Also, despite anything Johnny had said before to try and comfort him, he did not trust him. Edgar did not want to put himself in danger.

Of course, as soon as Edgar had left he had gone to a hospital to have his injury checked. It seemed the most rational thing to do at that point, although his entire life seemed to recently be governed by pure irrationality. So much depended on these tiny moments of control, the pockets of his life he still felt he owned.

It turned out that the wound was not serious and he would not take too long to recover. That was fortunate. With more fitting bandages applied by professionals, Edgar resumed his daily routine, trying to forget what had happened.

Trying.

He was almost living in fear of his phone.

A week.

"Hello?"

"I want your coat."

Dark and sharp. It had been a while since he had heard that voice and despite himself, he shivered. It was so easy to imagine different words, to hear a death sentence rather than a greeting. Edgar only faltered for a moment before regaining his composure.

"...my coat?"

"You said you knew where to find one."

That had been the last thing on Edgar's mind when he headed home, but he rummaged about his belongings as best he could while trying to keep his voice steady. Where did he put it...?

"...I did..."

Johnny waited on the other end until Edgar found something that could be traced back to the coat. He winced to himself as he spoke.

"I think I know where you can get one, but I doubt you'd like the atmosphere..."

"Where?"


While they were walking in the mall, Johnny tended to speak to himself softly about things that Edgar did not completly understand. That wasn't entirely unexpected. However, it was made fairly clear that the coat was not the only reason that Johnny had agreed to come to a place he obviously detested. Johnny mentioned "expressing" his distaste in ways he did not clarify.

Edgar could easily guess that someone was going to die. Perhaps multiple someones. The dangerous look was back in Johnny's voice and he had begun to ignore Edgar, preferring to mumble to himself rather than hold any kind of conversation with him.

Again, it seemed that the people present were intentionally antagonizing the darker man beside him. While Edgar walked along without a second glance, people tended to stare, whisper, point, and at times make comments that were obviously intended to be audible at Johnny. Considering his general lack of control, Edgar was surprised that they had made it this far without someone meeting a rather untimely end.

Edgar could not remember the exact store where he had purchased his coat. He, however, did not want to spend more time here than he had to with his present company. He desperately struggled to remember the name and location of the store while the time bomb beside him slowly ticked down to an inevitable explosion.

They had not been walking long when something caught Johnny's attention.

Or rather, someone.

Edgar halted as soon as he noticed Johnny had stopped. He was staring intensely, although without any of the previous hatred, at a small boy flickering in between the people of the crowd. Edgar looked back and forth between them to make sure he had made the correct mental link. Yes, Johnny was definitely staring at the large-eyed boy.

Why?

The boy, who looked almost painfully vulnerable, was struggling to make his way around and between the legs of people who were entirely ignoring him. Occasionally he would look upwards for a familiar face and be disappointed, his tiny arms clutching a strangely scarred stuffed bear tightly as panic welled within his large eyes. Finally, apparently giving up hope of finding who he was looking for, the boy stopped in the midst of the people. He held tight onto his stuffed bear as he looked back and forth desperately.

"MOMMY!"

Edgar looked back at Johnny, who was staring at the boy almost as if trying to remember something.

"Do you..." Edgar started a question, but let it drift off when he noticed Johnny was ignoring him. Shrugging, he decided he may as well go along with whatever Johnny was planning. Something in him did not think the boy was in danger. At least not from Johnny. He was staring at the child, but the expression on his face did not indicate any kind of anger or homicidal intent. Johnny had to know the boy from somewhere, although Edgar could not even guess the location or context.

It did not seem that Johnny would have had much experience with children, considering how he spent most of his time.

Johnny began to walk towards the boy and Edgar followed silently, his mind buzzing with questions and unsatisfactory answers.

However, it seemed that someone else had heard the child's scream for help.

The large man walked up to the boy and exchanged words with him as the distance closed. The boy seemed reluctant and frightened and the man overly congenial and eager to please, taking his hand although it had not been offered. He definitely intended to go somewhere with the boy, who did not look exactly pleased with the idea.

Edgar felt a sick twinge within him, the knowledge of predators in such public places now the only thing that came to mind. Every news report, every traumatized family, every tear-stricken mother holding an old photograph, every victim that underwent some metamorphosis into something terrible, to give a reason or some kind of flimsy motivation behind their future actions...everything he had heard about such things came to mind. That was the only explanation he could think of for the man's sudden vested interest in the child.

Where are this kid's parents?

Edgar glanced at Johnny. The dark man now had the vengeful look in his eyes, his expression becoming frighteningly malevolent and serious. He stared at the man who was dragging the boy away.

Someone was certainly going to die.

And Edgar was almost glad.

What's happening to you?

Anyone would react this way.

...You're...actively wishing...Johnny on someone.

Edgar could think of no excuse.

Johnny's pace quickened, steps lengthening, and Edgar followed along behind him, unable to tear himself away. His mind desperately tried to think of some kind of justification for following Johnny, for wanting to see what would happen, and the only thing that seemed believable was a morbid sense of curiosity.

Suddenly Johnny stopped, poised in the middle of step and thought, darting off to one side without warning or excuse. Edgar watched him leave with a rising sense of panic and confusion.

The man was taking the boy through one of the emergency exits.

What do I do now?

You can't let that man victimize that boy. You have to do something.

You're kidding, right? I can't do anything. Nny...

Yes, Nny. What are you going to do? Are you going to follow him and see where he's going? Or are you going to do something useful?

Like what? What do you mean?

You could tell Nny where he went.

But-

He's coming back already.

Johnny walked back towards him with a quick, purposeful gait, a new weapon clutched tightly in one of his hands. A bat. Where had he got that? Not that it mattered, but...

Another tinge of morbid curiosity.

Why do I want to see this?

You want to see this man's behavior be punished. You want the child to be spared. You want real justice.

...That's sick.

It's also true.

"Are-"

"Where-"

"There." Edgar responded quickly out of fear, partly for himself and partly for the boy. Johnny followed his finger to the exit and in moments was gone.

With one final glance around him, Edgar stepped through the door as well.

The man was holding the boy up, shaking and yelling something that did not have a chance to form into words. Edgar arrived in time to see the bat connect with the man's head viciously, knocking him several feet away with a sickeningly predictable sound.

Johnny had a peculiarly pleased look on his face as he stared down at the boy, who looked absolutely traumatized.

"Todd? I like 'Squee' better."

The man was twitching in the midst of some boxes, bleeding from the side of his head that had been distorted from the force of the blow. Edgar stepped forward with a mixture of fear, nervousness, and some sense of satisfaction. He stared at the bleeding man with almost visible distaste.

Your actions do have consequences now, don't they? You...

I'm not thinking this, am I? It's wrong.

No, what he was intending to do was wrong. This is right.

This can't be right. This isn't right. I shouldn't be...

You're joking. Think about what was going to happen. Nny did a good thing.

But...in this...

What other way is there? There's justice here and you won't even realize it! Unless justice isn't why you're here.

That has to be why I'm here.

Because any other reason is...

It's wrong.

You have to be the good one, don't you? You can't have blood on your own hands, can you? Edgar the pious, Edgar the pure. But you're still here and you're staring at that man's body and you're glad. You're glad he's in pain. I can almost see you smiling. What does this mean to you? How much of that so-called goodness is a lie now?

Shut up...this isn't right but...there was nothing I could have done...

So powerlessness is your excuse? That's becoming your excuse for this entire relationship.

It's not like I had a choice.

Again.

Well...I guess...

I guess...this is thwarting a greater evil. So...I guess in some sense it can be justified.

You get closer everyday.

What are you talking about? Closer to what?

You're glad he's dead. Right?

...He's not dead yet.

The door closed behind him with a clang, although this was not noticed, and he made his way closer to them. While Johnny did glance at him, he did not introduce or mention him in any way.

As Johnny went into one of his almost predictable speeches, he illustrated his points by dismantling his subject as he spoke, completely ignoring the child's frightened screams. A hand cut cleanly as if there were no bone at all, the head pulled apart with almost no effort, the brain removed bodily and thrown...all to illustrate Johnny's point. The point itself almost made sense, regardless of the unnecessary visuals.

That's not a good sign, Edgar.

What confused him most was afterwards when Johnny spoke calmly to the boy who was paralyzed with horror.

"Of course, these are my opinions - likely to be as flawed as anyone else's. Um, really, I guess you should assume everyone's speaking out of some external influence. Believe in whatever makes sense to you."

What was really frightening about Johnny were his eerie moments of perfect clarity. Despite the blood spattered all over his clothes and face, despite the man he had just brutally murdered and disfigured, Edgar could understand him. Edgar could understand and think about what he said on an entirely philosophical level.

It was the thought that Johnny could potentially not be insane that frightened him.

Johnny looked up, staring with the same kind of wide-eyed puzzlement that often accompanied his changes of thought. "Whoa...I guess all this excess was kind of pointless, then, wasn't it? Um, well, you better get going. It's Tuesday and you know what that means - U.F.O.'s!"

And then he said things like that.

And Edgar wished he could be surprised.

Johnny took off running, calling out behind him for the boy to follow his lead. The child stood there blankly, blood from his potential captor spattered all over his face.

An awkward pause.

Say something, Edgar.

He kneeled down beside the boy, Todd as Johnny had identified him.

"Are you okay?"

An obvious question.

"NO!"

With an equally obvious answer.

Edgar rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. He had never really been good with children. "...I guess that's understandable."

Todd was breathing hard, holding tightly onto his bear as he tried to get himself under control. It seemed that at any moment he would bolt off screaming just as Johnny had.

"C'mon..." Edgar looked at the still bleeding remains of the man. "I don't think this is a good place to be at the moment."

"I want my mommy." Squeaky, thin voice. What was the other name...? Squee? Edgar could see where that name found its origin.

Edgar raised an eyebrow as he stood, unable to stop the slight cynicism from sneaking into his voice. "Well, we're not going to find her here."

"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers." Todd was edging away from him, which seemed entirely understandable considering what had just happened. Edgar put his hands into his pockets, not sure how he could appear less threatening.

"I...guess you could say I'm a friend of Johnny's. I'm still a stranger, but..." God, I'm phrasing this all wrong. "Believe me, I just want to get you back to your parents and then go home. This day has been entirely too...surreal."

"You know him?" Todd blinked at him in surprise for a moment before the same frightened look crossed his face. He backed away further. "You're not crazy, are you?"

"No, I don't think so." Edgar smiled softly at the thought, staring at where Johnny had disappeared. "Thank god."

Todd stared at him suspiciously, still untrusting and frightened. Edgar sighed to himself.

"I'm not asking you to trust me, really. I just don't want you out here by yourself. It's not..." Edgar glanced at the dead body. "Not safe, exactly."

Todd stood there, apparently trying to make a decision. He stared down at his stuffed bear quietly, deep in thought. Edgar decided to wait, although the dead body nearby was making him decidedly uncomfortable.

"...Shmee..." Todd mumbled, but finally looked up. "Shmee says you're okay, so I guess I'll come with you."

"Okay." Edgar could guess that Shmee was the bear. He did not have to ask. "Well, let's try and find your parents."

The fire exit was locked from their vantage point, so they decided to go around. Squee did not take Edgar's hand, but instead held onto the edge of his coat's sleeve.

His coat...?

When did he put that on?

Edgar shook his head at his own bad memory as he entered the mall. He had been forgetting so much lately.

Not like him.

"How do you know Johnny?" Edgar felt uncomfortable in the following silence. He did not know Todd, so he did not expect long periods of...quiet. With Johnny, he knew they would come. But with children...it just seemed strange. "He doesn't seem like the kind of guy you'd normally run into."

"He's my neighbor."

That explained so much.

"He's a bad man. Shmee says I should stay away from him. He kills people. He always comes over anyway, though. Even if I don't want him to. He's scary."

"I know the feeling." Edgar smiled slightly at the irony. Both of them had almost been trapped into maintaining a relationship with Johnny. "I think he's scary too. But like you said, I can't really stop him, exactly."

Todd looked up at him, apparently not expecting someone to understand what he was talking about. "How did he find you?"

Edgar paused. "I'm not really sure. He just...found me I guess. He was going to kill me, actually...he changed his mind later."

That seemed to happen a lot. Johnny was awfully capricious. His hand drifted up to touch the bandages hidden beneath his hair.

"Aren't you scared of him?"

"I'm scared to death of him. But I can't do anything about it. I guess we're both kind of in the same boat, really."

Edgar had no idea who he was looking for. He was entirely depending on Todd's ability to recognize his parents if they came into view. The others in the mall simply ignored them as they passed by. No whispers, stares, or comments. Not even regarding the scars beneath his eyes. Not even regarding the blood spattered on the boy at his side.

If Johnny had some innate ability to make people hate him and deliberately bother him, then it almost seemed that Edgar had an opposing ability: to become almost invisible. To pass unnoticed throughout people and society, to leave no trail. While Johnny became visible to almost every negative element on the societal spectrum, it seemed that Edgar did not even register on the spectrum at all. An invisible man. So faint and indistinct that it even made the boy beside him pass unnoticed as well.

Did this cancel out Johnny's visibility? Obviously not. Did it dampen it? It did not seem to be that way. Two different forces seemed to be governing how society viewed both Johnny and Edgar and it appeared the psychotic man's backing had a great deal more power than the other.

After all, it's easy to be noticed. To paint "LOOK AT ME!" in giant letters across someone's forehead. It's not so easy to fade back into obscurity. To take whatever actions and mistakes made and erase them from the memory of the general populace.

In the simplest terms, Johnny apparently had a sign that read "DRIVE ME CRAZY" somewhere on his person that the most irritating, petty, and cruel of the societal rungs could see. And Edgar's equivalent sign, most likely written in small white letters on a white background, simply read "don't notice me."

An interesting contrast.

And here he was, talking about it to some degree with a small child.

"Shmee says you seem like a good guy...we both kind of know him by accident..." Todd trailed off. "I...didn't think he hadn'tkilled anyone else. He...kills a lot of people. He tried to kill Shmee once too."

That would explain the stitches.

"Johnny's not exactly sane...but..." Edgar felt twinges of guilt at talking about Johnny like this, behind his back. It was one thing to think about it, but to actually discuss it with another human being, even a little boy, made him feel...kind of bad.

Oh no. Oh GOD no. You do NOT feel bad about this. You know he's psychotic and you know he's evil. You shouldn't feel anything about this.

I know but-

Even your friendship is forced with him. If you had your way he'd never call you again. You should not feel bad about talking about him. You should NOT feel bad about this.

I know but-

Because you know what that means, right? You know what that means.

It means...it means to some degree I think I'm his friend.

That is exactly right, Edgar. And, for the love of god, you can't do that.

"Are you okay?" Todd's voice broke his inner monologue. "Um...what's your name?"

"Oh...sorry. My name's Edgar. Edgar Vargas actually..." Edgar again felt his hand rising to his face, but he forced it downwards angrily. "I'm alright. I was just thinking..."

"Are you sure...?" The boy looked unnaturally concerned for him. Edgar could not understand why. He had known him for all of twenty minutes. "You...looked very far away."

He's more intelligent than I gave him credit for.

"Yes..." Edgar sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He was not used to talking to other people...but Todd was only a kid. There was nothing he could do to hurt him or anything. He just had to remember he wasn't the only one in the conversation. Why not tell him something? Maybe that'll get the kid to trust him more. "It's...hard to describe really. Lately I've been talking to myself a lot. I never did that before...it's kind of frightening."

"Are you sure it's to yourself?" Todd gave him a worried look. Edgar doubted it was for him, assuming rather that the boy was concerned for his own safety. "'Cause I think the neighborman talks...well, not exactly to himself..." Todd trailed off again. "And he's bad."

"Don't worry, I don't want to hurt you." Edgar felt his muscles twitch slightly at Todd's suggestion and he was glad that the boy held his sleeve, not his hand. The thought was ludicrous but still...it was somewhat unsettling. "I'm not crazy. And I'm definitely talking to myself, not to any little ghosts or something. It's just..."

Edgar looked around again as if he could find what he was looking for. "My life used to be so normal. And now it's...beyond bizarre."

Todd was quiet for a while. "Things like this happen to me all the time."

"What do your parents look like?"

"Oh..." Todd almost seemed to have forgotten. "Oh...um..."

He moved off in one direction, taking Edgar with him.

"I think they might be over here."

And as a matter of fact, there they were.

"Excuse me...is this your boy...?"

"Oh." The man stared at Edgar intensely through slightly ovaloid glasses. He looked infinitely frustrated and annoyed at him, so much so that Edgar was taken slightly aback. "You found him."

As if it was a bad thing.

"Just when I thought he wouldn't come back. Are you sure you don't want to keep him? He doesn't eat much."

Edgar stared at him blankly, not knowing how to react. That was the last thing he expected. Hoping to find some cue from Todd, he looked down at him. Maybe this was some kind of game his family played, maybe his father was joking, maybe they expressed affection through sarcasm or some excuse other than...

Todd was just staring up at his father without any kind of surprise or measure of sadness. It was just a blank, emotionless look.

"Who's that strange boy, dear?" Todd's mother was wobbling slightly back and forth as she stared off at something other than her child. She had a glazed, artificially pleased look on her face.

His father narrowed his eyes angrily. "He's your son! Jesus..."

"Never mind." Finally Edgar found words and he turned away, noticing that Todd continued to hang onto him. "I'll take him home."

Edgar had no idea why he said that. He had no such obligation to the kid. He just met him less than an hour ago. But still...the only reason he could find for wanting to leave the pair of adults presence so quickly was that...

He did not want Todd to be there.

From the expression on his face, Todd had to hear things like this on a regular basis. It had probably lost all of its meaning now. But to Edgar it almost hurt. He didn't know on what level or why it seemed to cause him such faint, distant pain, but he wanted it to stop.

So he had volunteered to drive a child he just met back to his house.

I feel like more of my actions are getting out of my control...

"Are you okay?" Edgar felt awkward in the silence that followed them turning away. "I'll take you home, alright?"

"I'm okay. This's better than usual, actually. This time I won't have to jump..." Todd shook his head. "Well, that's only happened a few times."

He wasn't sure if he wanted to know.

"Sorry about..." Edgar wanted to mention his parent's behavior, but he felt expressing it in that fashion would make anything he said meaningless and trite. After all, he had only experienced them for a few minutes. Todd had to live with them his entire life. What possible effect could Edgar saying something as simple as "sorry" have?

He had to find something that he felt more knowledgeable about, something he would feel a bit more at ease expressing some kind of regret over... "All this. I mean...with the dead guy and all."

That would work.

"It's not your fault. Things like this just...happen around me." Such quiet acceptance. Todd was being exceptionally mature about this, considering how much blood was currently on him.

Edgar doubted his parents even noticed.

"I think..." Todd paused as they pushed open the doors leading outside. "I think...you don't really belong here."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know. It's hard to say...Shmee says...things like this shouldn't be happening to you. Like...you shouldn't be here."

"Sometimes I feel like that myself." Edgar was surprised at the level their conversation was at. He definitely had not been giving children enough credit. Or at least this one. "I feel like I've been dragged into this entire thing out of my control. Actually...everything I've done with Johnny has been out of my control...I'm...kind of...I don't know."

Why are you telling him this? It's not like he could help you.

Edgar opened the door for Todd, watching him crawl in and buckle his seat belt immediately upon settling down. Edgar shut the door with a quiet sense of calm, recognizing the apathy that typified intense emotional situations.

He's just a kid. He can't hurt me either.

"I must sound pretty strange...I'm not used to talking to other people. I don't really have any friends." Edgar started his car, glancing over at Todd as he did so. The boy was sitting with the bear in his lap, just watching the road ahead without much emotion.

"Shmee's my friend." Todd looked down at his bear. "You seem nice though. Maybe you could be a friend of mine too." He looked out towards the streets again, a strangely hollow look in his eyes. "I don't have many of those either."

"Alright then." Edgar felt incredibly peculiar. Was this how friendships were normally formed? He felt somehow that he was handling this incorrectly, saying things that were not normal or appropriate for the situation.

Mark it all down for future reference and continue on.

The rest of the drive was silent, which did not bother Edgar much this time around. With the acknowledgment of their friendship, Edgar did not feel the pressure that was present before to continue the conversation. He felt more at ease around the boy, although he was not sure if that was reciprocated. Despite the calm nature of the drive and the scenery they passed, Todd still managed to look slightly frightened.

If as many bizarre things happened to him as he said, he didn't blame him for looking nervous.

Although Edgar could not find Johnny's house when he looked for it, somehow he was able to find it now. Maybe it was Todd's presence in his car. Maybe he had just forgotten the streets before or perhaps the police had been lying to him. But somehow he managed to find the house beside the boarded shack.

"There's his house." Todd sounded frightened, a high-pitched squeak working its way into his voice. "I hope he isn't home."

"Me too." Edgar voiced this out loud without thinking. However, when he looked at Todd and noticed his almost pleased expression, he was glad he had agreed.

"Do you want to see my room?" Todd stared at him intensely with those large eyes. "Shmee says there's something in there I should show you."

"Alright."

As Edgar exited the car, shutting the door on the way, he glanced over at the shack with a tinge of nervousness. The lights in the boarded up shack were off. That was no clear indication that Johnny was or was not present, but Edgar was willing to hope that he wasn't. He followed Todd into his house.

The boy's room seemed typical for a little child. Brightly colored wallpaper. Stuffed toys and such on the floor. Pictures in crayon occasionally on the walls or across the floor. It all looked fairly normal.

However...

Edgar stepped into the room with a slight twinge of some undefinable feeling, causing his skin to prickle. It wasn't fear or nervousness or even any kind of physical sickness. It was...something that he was not familiar with.

He looked out the window over at Johnny's house, mentally guessing that perhaps that was the source of the bizarre sensation, and found it was still dark and silent. That could not have been the source...but he still felt so vaguely uncomfortable...so...something.

"Are you okay? You're staring off into space again."

"Oh...sorry."

Was that what he did when he thought deeply?

"You're..." Todd stared at him with a confused expression. "Shmee..." He shook his head. "Never mind."

"Alright." That he was familiar with. Johnny tended to do the same thing.

Edgar wandered around the room, not feeling comfortable simply standing idly. He stopped at a shelf that had a collection of action figures on it. It was a fairly small collection but varied greatly. He could recognize a few from comic books he had glanced over at magazine racks. Some of them were from movies, although the only reason he knew that was because of the occasional preview or commercial on television. Edgar didn't really get out much.

He noticed three figures standing in a triangle formation, each posed to help set off the other. The foremost figure at the apex wore a long black trench coat over a striped shirt that bore a blank square on the chest. Following with the black motif came matching pants and boots. The toy's hands were occupied holding out a gun, his body frozen in the position of darting out of the way. He had dark, messy hair and wore a pair of glasses.

The one to his right was female and was bereft of the first's trench coat. She wore a black halter-top and a matching pair of black pants. Her purplish hair was tied back into two pigtails, and she stood to one side looking prepared, although she had no weapon.

The last one to complete the triangle also wore a trench coat, matching him with the first. Again, the same kind of pants and boots appeared on this figure as well, but he wore a solid black shirt. He had a shotgun poised in front of him and had no hair at all. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.

Edgar narrowed his eyes as he tried to remember where he had seen them before. They looked familiar to him...

"Did you ever see that movie?" Todd had gotten up and was now standing near him, apparently enjoying the opportunity to explain his collection to someone who would show interest. "It was kind of silly, but it was fun to watch anyway."

"What was it called?"

"Zeitgeist I think." Edgar was surprised that Todd could pronounce the word, then reminded himself that Todd probably also knew what it meant. He had to stop underestimating him. "It had to do a lot with reality and computers. All the characters in it were named after famous composers."

Edgar looked down at him with a measure of surprise, noticing that Todd had gained a slight tinge of pride in his voice. This was probably his first opportunity to flaunt his knowledge on this topic.

"I looked them up afterwards. I wanted to know." Todd reached out, picking up the figure at the front. He pointed at the woman with his free hand. "That's Liszt." Then he turned and pointed to the one with the shotgun. "And that's Satie."

"What's this one?" Edgar held out his hand as he spoke and Todd placed the figure into it. Edgar knelt to the floor, again feeling that uneasy twinge. Where was that coming from?

Another glance at the window. The lights were still off.

He still felt as if he was in danger somehow...

The little plastic figurine was fully articulated and Edgar toyed with his arms a little, moving them into various positions. However, the position that Todd had kept him in seemed to suit him best.

"That's Scriabin. He's the main character." Todd sat down along with him, Shmee leaning against his side. "He wasn't supposed to get into the whole thing, but in the end he does. He ends up being really important to everyone. I don't want to ruin it for you though, if you haven't seen it."

Edgar stared at the action figure intently, something niggling at the back of his mind. This figure seemed so familiar to him and he could not place why. He had not seen the movie, thinking it to be far too pretentious when he saw the commercials for it, but he felt that couldn't be the source of such familiarity. Something...strange.

Todd looked over at his bear for a moment, then looked at Edgar curiously. "Wow...um. Shmee says...he's right too. You kind of look like him."

It was almost as if a light bulb went off over Edgar's brain. So that's why he seemed so familiar! With it came a few fragmented memories of when he had first seen the previews. He had written off the main character's physical similarity to him as inconsequential and somewhat irritating, although he had never gotten stopped for it or asked questions. It had never occurred to him that in the course of things action figures would be made and therefore...

Edgar was holding a slightly distorted version of himself in his hands.

"You're right...I remember thinking that when I first saw the movie come out."

Todd stood, moving to look out the window nervously. Edgar wasn't sure why this was. Todd was probably scared now that they were going to get caught. That would definitely not be good for either of them. "I think you better go though, mommy and daddy usually come home around this time..."

"Alright, that's a good idea." Edgar stood, following Todd's example and brushing himself off. He reached over to replace the figure with his partners.

"Oh wait." Todd darted over to him, stopping his hand. "No. Shmee thinks you should keep it. He says its important."

Whatever.

"Okay, if he thinks so." Edgar shrugged and pushed the action figure into one of his pockets. "Thanks."

"It's okay." Todd smiled at him genuinely. "I hope nothing bad happens to you. Like you get hit by a plane or something." The pleased expression changed quickly to one of worry. "That happens to everyone I meet in one way or another."

"I don't think a plane is really my biggest worry." Edgar glanced again in the direction of Johnny's house. The lights still remained off. Edgar felt himself wondering vaguely where he could have gone before he stopped himself. "You take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay."

Edgar left, again feeling a sharp twinge of unease as he stepped out of the house. Nothing from either building. Why did he feel this way? What was he worried about?

I didn't know you were this paranoid.

I'm not normally. That's what's peculiar.

Well, at least you made a friend here. That's good.

That's true. It seems like that kid needs friends anyway.

You know, not because, say, you need friends.

Edgar paused at that thought, his keys only inches away from entering the ignition. He waited for his mind to come up with some kind of rejoinder, but nothing seemed to come. Shrugging and shaking his head, he began his drive home.

I don't know.

Chapter Text

Another week passed by.

Scriabin had found a place on the dresser beside Edgar's bed. He seemed somewhat lonely -- an alarm clock and a phone the only things to keep him company -- but for some reason Edgar felt he belonged there. Nowhere else in the room did the little toy seem to fit.

He found that Scriabin looked most natural in the pose that Todd had placed him in. One leg slightly bent, the other extended, his balance maintained by one outstretched arm. The other was occupied pointing the irremovable gun directly at its target in front of him.

Edgar guessed that perhaps this was the pose intended for the toy and decided to let it stay that way.

So Scriabin pointed his gun across the room, over his bed, and at a wall for the next few days. Edgar paid little to no attention to him, easily adjusting to the new feature on his dresser without much trouble.

By the end of the week, it seemed that Scriabin had always been there.

And somehow, Edgar felt less fear than he had before. After he had received his lovely near-concussion, he had feared his phone. Shivered and jumped when he heard it ring. But now he felt an eerie sense of calm. It was the same calm he recognized from before, familiar and efficient. When his phone rang, he picked it up with hands steady and unwavering.

"Hello, Edgar."

"Are you okay?" The question had been foremost in Edgar's mind ever since Johnny had disappeared. "I'm sorry I left you behind like that...the kid needed a ride home so..."

There was a very long pause.

Edgar sat down on his bed, idly picking up Scriabin as he waited for Johnny to find the correct words. He played with the toy's small arms while he waited. At least now he had something to amuse him whenever nothing was said.

"I'm okay."

Johnny did not sound okay. He sounded bewildered. Edgar only had to think for a moment as to why.

You're probably the first person to ask him that question in a long time. You were worried. Dare I ask why?

I can't really say.

You're terrified of him, aren't you?

Of course.

Then why do you care if he's okay?

I don't.

But you asked. Let's not forget that. What did that mean?

Can't I ask a simple question anymore?

It's never really simple, Edgar. You know that now. Things were simple, now they're not. Better get used to it, I think he's going to talk again.

"...Is Squee okay?"

What do you know.

"Yeah, he's fine." Another pause. Edgar struggled to keep the conversation going. "He's a good kid, really. Too bad about his parents though..."

"I wanted to ask you something."

Only a slight pause before Edgar reacted appropriately. "What?"

"I'm...I want to go out again. I need to...I need..."

Oh god.

"There's a movie playing...I was wondering if you might want to come and see it with me. I don't want to go alone."

Thank god.

Edgar glanced at his alarm clock. It did not seem to be too late. He could catch a quick movie and be able to get up for work the next day.

Still calm. Still rational.

Where had this confidence come from?

Remember what happened last time?

Yes. Last time nothing happened to me.

Alright, the time before that.

Well, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to make him swear not to kill me? 'Oh, before we go could you promise not to beat me senseless'? Can you honestly give me ANY suggestion as to WHAT to do instead of constantly criticizing me without any kind of contribution?

Edgar waited.

And for some reason, he could not think of a response to his own tirade.

"Well?" Johnny's voice was dark. Apparently this was not really a decision on Edgar's part.

"Alright."

"I'll meet you soon."

He hung up.

Edgar followed suit, watching his hands quietly as they fell back into his lap. He looked at the action figure that dropped on the bed at some point during the conversation. He picked it up, set it back on his dresser, then got dressed.

Hopefully, tonight would have some semblance of normalcy.

He doubted it though.


It would have been a nice movie.

Just when Edgar felt he had enough information to salvage himself out of any kind of situation with Johnny, he threw another wrench into the proverbial gears.

Whenever an emotionally moving scene would come on Edgar would glance away, almost as if to remind himself that the movie was not real and therefore should not affect him. However, once in the circuit around the theater his eyes crossed Johnny. He could not help staring for just a few moments.

Johnny of course didn't notice. He was totally enraptured in the film, his knees drawn up to his chest and held in place by his skeletal arms. He was resting his chin against the top of his knees as he stared directly at the screen, eyes unblinking.

Edgar had seen Johnny angry. Seen Johnny repentant, depressed, confused, and giddy.

But he had never seen this before.

Johnny almost seemed awed, almost seemed to be taken away by the cinematic experience. For a few moments, he lost the insane sadness that constantly lingered about him. For a few moments, the manic destructiveness that allowed him to take human life was gone. He was just staring and watching the movie screen intently.

For all intents and purposes, Johnny was perfectly normal.

That was terrifying.

Edgar looked back at the screen again in case Johnny would have noticed him staring at him, but he need not to have worried. Johnny was far too enthralled in the movie itself, paying no attention to the man sitting beside him.

I thought he couldn't care...

...I thought he was...I don't know. Unable to do anything...in...I don't know. I never thought...

Edgar felt as if something in him was missing, as if the sight of Johnny had reminded him of something that had lost. What was wrong...? He could not think of the answer.

He's sitting here next to me and he's not killing or being crazy or anything. He's being perfectly normal. This movie is reaching him, it's affecting him. It's making him feel something normal humans can't make him feel.

I didn't think he could do that.

I can almost...

Edgar couldn't help but focus on him again. Johnny was still frozen in the same pose, curled into himself, but there was almost...

He could almost see something against the dark skin. Almost...

He can cry...?

He can cry...?

Oh my god...oh my god...this...

What should I do? What should I do...

I should...

...Not ruin this for him.

So he looked back at the screen, his mind reeling with questions. He did not say anything.

Edgar was able to rationalize being with Johnny. He was able to justify it as being something out of his control, their pseudo-friendship maintained by threats and fear. He was able to rationalize Johnny's deviant and frightening behavior as the result of an entirely destroyed mind.

But these moments...like before with Todd and now, when he looked so...

So human...

That's how he was going to kill me.

Edgar was staring at the screen with the same amount of intensity that Johnny was, although it was for an entirely different reason. The impact of his sudden realization left him paralyzed, his eyes staring blankly at the movie and not seeing anything.

That's how he was going to kill me.

And I'm doing the same thing.

Again, he felt like something was missing, something deep within him. It refused to be placed again, remaining just outside of his conscious grasp. However, along with that feeling of incompletion came very strong pangs of guilt.

How could I...I thought...I thought I was able to understand other people...I thought I could empathize, that I could...but I did the same thing he did. I did the same thing, I dehumanized him so that I could feel better about myself, so that I could...Oh my god...how...oh god, I didn't think...I didn't know that I...god, how often do I do this? Have I always been doing this? This is...

And finally, he could find a reply. With it came a sense of fulfillment that erased his previous sense of loss. Finally he could find another stance in his argument.

He's insane.

But look at him. Look at him right now.

Edgar did. Johnny still remained curled tightly into himself, although due to his thin body structure this looked rather awkward. Spindly and thin limbs with empty space between body and knees, drawn as close to his chest as possible. He was staring at the screen with such fervor, such honest and genuine awe and admiration. It was obvious that he was enamored with this movie, that it brought him joy. Real, true joy.

He was happy.

He was happy and he was not hurting anyone.

It was possible.

He's insane! He's insane he tried to KILL you.

But look at him he can think he can be rational he's not entirely insane-

Shut up!

There's no middle ground here. You can't do this. Just...we can figure it out later just...

Edgar sighed, looking back up at the screen. He struggled to forget his emotions, his logical confusion, to forget everything, and try to focus on the movie itself. It was not as if his mental discussion was going anywhere.

It took a while, but eventually he resided back into a calmer state, his mind slowing along with his breathing.

He could think about it later.

It really would have been a nice movie.

However, their enjoyment of the movie was ruined by something outside of their control.

The people behind them would not shut up.

It started out small at first. Just a whispered word occasionally. Edgar was willing to ignore that, actually. When the whispering turned into a loud conversation, one derisive and mocking of the movie playing, that's when Edgar felt annoyed.

That was also when Johnny uncurled from his pleasant ball, his expression now fallen back into the dangerously psychotic look that was all too frequent. He turned and glared at the two behind him.

Edgar watched and mentally noted something that probably was not too significant. In the face of Johnny's anger, the two behind him only laughed and ignored him...much like the people at the café did.

Are you finding a pattern, dear boy?

That's not important.

"Be quiet." Johnny's voice was dangerous. Edgar could recognize that tone and what it meant, but now knew that it was not directed at him.

Unlike before at the café, he felt no fear for these two behind him. He did not fear that their lives would be ended, that Johnny would do something drastic.

He did not feel fear because instead he was beginning to find himself filling with quiet frustration and disappointment. Even the beginnings of anger, a true foreign emotion to him.

They had ruined something for Johnny. Ruined something that even Edgar could tell was not by any means normal or frequent. They were ruining this, ruining something he enjoyed, for no clear reason.

Edgar was not afraid for them.

He was not afraid for them.

You're wishing Johnny on people again.

I am.

...Well?

...I'm just surprised. That's all.

Johnny turned around, his eyes staring at the screen intensely in an attempt to return to the level of immersion he had previously acquired. Edgar watched the claw-like hands grip the plastic armrests, palms pressing through the holes where cups were supposed to go.

Be quiet.

It was a mental command directed at the two behind them, quickly and without much thought. But Edgar found that it somehow mirrored, in a lesser and much less threatening way, the same tone Johnny had used.

Johnny raised his feet and propped them up against the seat in front of him, sinking back into his chair. The clear expression on his face before, the freedom from whatever had dragged him down this far, was gone now. Johnny looked darkly sullen, on the verge of entirely losing his short temper.

It was quiet behind them for a while and Edgar hoped that maybe this experience would not be entirely ruined after all.

However, when he was with Johnny, that never, ever happened.

They began talking again. Loud, obnoxious voices, comparing the movie to others that Edgar was unfamiliar with. Talking about things other than the movie and then directly insulting the story.

Edgar was beginning to like this movie. Maybe it was just an association because it made Johnny so happy, but it wasn't important. He liked this movie.

He found himself turning in his own chair, certain that his voice would not carry the same gravity or danger that Johnny's always seemed to have.

"Be quiet!"

At the sound of two conjoined voices, they turned and met glances at the same time. Edgar did not know Johnny was planning on doing the same thing...

That was strange.

"We're trying to watch this." Edgar tried to make his voice carry any authority at all. It was obvious by the teenager's reaction that he failed. They giggled at him, mocking his tone, but did not outright respond.

Both turned back to the movie.

It was maybe fifteen minutes later that the kicking of Johnny's chair began.

With every blow, Edgar could sense the strands of Johnny's tentative grip on sanity breaking. He watched the thin fingers clench into fists, watched him grit his teeth in frustration.

They had tried to get the two behind them to be silent, but they refused to listen. They refused to listen to them, despite their continued efforts to get them to be silent.

Because they were not enjoying the movie, they had to ruin it.

Edgar was not frightened for them.

Not even close.

Edgar wanted to know what Johnny was planning on doing to them afterwards.

And, with only a slight sense of remorse and guilt, Edgar wanted to watch.


What's happening to me...

Edgar stared at his ceiling, at the all too-common off-white plaster. If you stare at something long enough, it begins to change. It begins to alter, to move, all in an effort to keep your mind interested. As it was, Edgar had been staring at the ceiling for almost an hour. It kept changing from an off-white to slightly more yellowish and back again.

Hardly prime-time television, but Edgar did not even notice.

He lay on his bed on top of the covers, still fully clothed.

His coat was in his closet. He made sure of that.

His arms were spread out at his sides, his hands resting at an angle slightly below his shoulders. Ironically, when he thought about his unintentional position it seemed rather familiar.

This was how I was restrained before. Before when...when I first met him.

You know, a religious person might say you were in something like a crucifixion-like pose. But then again, you seem to be losing your ties with that lately.

That's not true. I asked for help when I came home. I prayed like I often do and will continue to do.

Oh, and that fixes everything does it? Watch someone get tortured, electrocuted, and go home and pray? That makes you all good inside? What's wrong with you, Edgar. You're in such deep denial about something so simple.

There's nothing to deny. I just...

Of course there's something to deny. You're denying your denial. Why are you lying on your bed staring at the ceiling?

I'm thinking.

About what?

About...what happened I guess.

And?

And what?

You tell me.

And how I felt I suppose.

And how did you feel?

Edgar raised one of his arms off of the bed. It responded lazily, slowly, and he felt its weight clearly as he moved it. He hadn't moved in a long time. The arm finally rested across his eyes, blocking the changing white from his view.

He had taken off his glasses a long time ago when he realized there was nothing worth seeing.

You felt good.

I did not.

You did. I bet if you hadn't decided to deny everything about yourself, you would have helped ol' Nny fasten the straps.

That's not true and I'm not denying anything. This can't be me. This can't be who I'm...this can't be right. I'm not...didn't...wouldn't have...

You did. You did. You wanted to hurt them, Edgar. You wanted to hurt them.

They were hurting him-

An eye for an eye makes-

Shut up! This isn't about me!

Then who IS it about, Edgar? What other magical person are we talking about?

Just shut up!

Edgar realized with a start that he had spoken his last words out loud. With a sigh he pushed himself upwards, supporting himself on his hands as he hung his head.

Thank god he lived alone.

Or what? People would think you're crazy?

Edgar shook his head, narrowing his eyes in frustration.

I don't want to think anymore.

Too bad. You're still thinking because this is important. You're not listening.

Edgar, struggling to find something else to do rather than argue pointlessly with himself, unsteadily got to his feet. He plodded across the floor, flicking off the light and watching the room settle into almost total darkness.

I'm not a bad person. I'm not. I really try not to be. I do.

You certainly didn't try too hard back there.

Again his words found physical voice as he felt his way to his bed. "I'm not! Just shut up!"

You're talking to yourself. Calm down.

I don't...I'm not...

Listen.

No. NO! I shouldn't be doing this! I didn't do this before, I never talked to myself before! Just shut up! This is my problem and I don't need to have stupid internal monologues to resolve it! Shut up!

Edgar flopped down on his bed, his face burying into one of his pillows as he breathed hard. The short burst of fury had been unfamiliar to him. It was hard to think of times when he had truly gotten angry at anyone, truly furious at someone. Mild annoyance sure, but true anger...

It was hard to get him angry.

He didn't get angry before.

What's happening to me...I'm losing my focus...

No, you lost your focus before. Despite his threats, the internal conversation continued. Remember the theater?

I don't...know what's right. He...

You let him capture those two. He's probably still torturing them now. You're letting this happen. You're-

It's not that simple. Logic was coming back into play as he rolled over. This is not a clear-cut issue of black and white ethics. I've been trying to make this simple and it's always been complicated.

Well, how do you justify this? You can't. Not with good conscience.

When I was in the theater...there was something there. Something...

The image of Johnny lit by flickering colors and curled into his tight ball of happiness came to mind. It had been all he had been able to think about since he came home.

Someone who suffers daily and probably hourly found some happiness for a few moments. Someone who-

You're defending him? You're defending him- Edgar, he tried to KILL you.

He asked me to go with him to do something he enjoys. He wanted me to share that with him. Whether I like it or not he thinks I'm his friend...to some degree anyway.

Do you think you're his?

...To some degree, Yes.

Edgar, you know what that means.

Logic doesn't have any place in this. I can't think of this rationally anymore because that's not what's involved! I don't know why but the incident at the theater proved it. Proved there's something there. Even if I hate it and it makes no sense, it bothered me to see him hurt and it made me happy to see him happy.

...it made you happy?

...I don't know...did I say that?

You did, but...I don't recall-

Well, it's not important. This is the stupidest thing I've ever done but somehow along the line he became my friend-

Well, that still doesn't explain-

No, listen! I know that friends are supposed to look out for one another. I know that, everyone knows that. Therefore, to feel angry when he was hurt was justified-

No. NO. That's the mistake right there. Edgar, you allowed two human beings to suffer and you're making rationalizations to make yourself feel better about it! Yes, it's okay to feel bad if your friend's dog got run over but it's not okay to hunt down the guy in the mini-van and shoot him in the head! Edgar, you're beginning to fade.

...To what?

You know. You're beginning to lose sight of what's important.

No. I refuse to...

Edgar, you're changing. You're changing right now into something different. Something that allows the suffering of others. I doubt that's a righteous thing at all.

I was protecting the happiness of someone else-

Who doesn't deserve it! Edgar, you don't know HOW many people he's killed! He was going to kill YOU! He probably doesn't even know you tried to help him! He doesn't care! He can't understand! You're sticking your head into a bear trap in an effort to understand how it works! It's curiosity, sick and twisted curiosity! There's no compassion in this relationship. To say you care is one of the greatest lies of all. To think that you would care is ludicrous and insulting.

You're wrong. You're wrong. No I'm not.

I saw him. I saw HIM at that theater. I saw what he used to be. And then I saw what made him that way. It wasn't his fault-

You don't know that! You don't know that and you're letting people die for it! You're letting people die so one man can watch a movie!

I can't...

What's happening to you?

God, this is so complicated...

You said so yourself.

I'm not a bad person...

But you're doing bad things-

"SHUT UP!"

Edgar lashed out with one arm in an effort to express his frustration at the dead-end conversation that his mind could not stop running over and over in his head. His hand crossed the dresser near his bed in its course, catching Scriabin by his outstretched arm. The action figure went flying, landing somewhere on the floor with a multitude of small thumps.

Edgar sat up to look for him before he realized there was no way he could see Scriabin anyway. He sank back down with a deep sigh.

I'm not a bad person...

Finally his mental argument had stilled.

That thought was what followed him into sleep.

Chapter Text

It was hard to say exactly what kind of mental processes governed Johnny's mind. Edgar could only make guesses, and those were automatically flawed due to the crucial point that he was not insane.

That was one insight into reality he could not pretend to have.

Logical theories regarding Johnny's behavior never seemed to be correct...because Johnny was not logical. This was frustrating for Edgar, but he was beginning to get used to it. To expect the unexpected, as it were.

There's only so much you can expect however. So much you can assume, can guess about someone's motivations.

Edgar could not understand Johnny and he was fairly sure he did not want to. Johnny was demented in ways that Edgar did not want repeated. Stare too long and the abyss stares back at you.

That was the last thing Edgar wanted. Even if it gave him more insight to try and pretend to be insane...it was not worth it.

However, his recent thoughts had led him to one inevitable conclusion. Somehow, over the course of time, he had invested emotion into their relationship. An emotion other than fear.

He hesitated to classify it as affection because it did not seem like any kind of affection he knew of, but whatever this feeling was, it made him empathize with Johnny's position. Want to help him in small ways. Preserve those moments where Johnny seemed happy. Stopped suffering for just a short time.

Edgar rebelled against this feeling violently, recognizing it quickly as stupid and self-defeating. He doubted that Johnny cared very much about him at all, considering his capricious and moody nature, and he certainly was not interested in making Edgar happy.

And yet, somehow the connection of "friend" had been made, at least in Edgar's mind. In the flickering darkness of the movie theater, he had seen something that changed him. Changed his perspective.

Changed his reality.

So Edgar was unable to refuse when Johnny asked him to come over. He sounded eager about something, although he did not clarify exactly what it was. Not the most comforting unclarified mood for Johnny to be in, but then again...eager Johnny was better than suicidal Johnny and definitely far better than homicidal Johnny.

Edgar was already feeling somewhat afraid as he walked up to the door, fearing another surprise attack. Johnny had proven again and again that he could consistently ambush and incapacitate Edgar without any kind of trouble or warning.

He didn't trust him yet, and probably wouldn't for a long time.

The door yielded to him when he turned the knob and Edgar stepped inside. This time the surroundings seemed to have changed just subtly. The rabbit on the wall now was missing its head. The hideous Styrofoam things had been moved. A book was open on the floor and a pencil nearby.

But other than that, the house seemed to retain the same quality it always had. Broken, desolate, deserted, unkept, decaying, and old. In a way, it seemed the perfect environment for Johnny, and Johnny only. Edgar felt so out of place here.

Johnny was sitting on the couch and staring at the door intensely as if he had been willing Edgar to walk through it. Edgar could not guess as to how long he had sat there with that fixed, expectant expression.

Johnny looked more tired than the last time he had seen him. The dark rings under his eyes had expanded and darkened in color and the twitchiness present with an exhausted person, particularly the kind trying to hide such exhaustion, was painfully obvious.

"Nny?"

It was almost as if he was not there until he said something. The raspy, sharp voice broke the air.

"Ah, there you are."

Johnny smiled in what Edgar guess was supposed to be a disarming way.

Silence.

Unsure of what to do, Edgar turned and hung his coat on one of the nails protruding from the boards over the window.

He did remember bringing his coat this time.

"I need to ask you something."

"Alright." Edgar logically guessed that this was something too important to discuss over the phone. He had no idea what it could be. He tucked his hands into his pockets.

"I'm having difficulty with my reality."

No surprise there.

"You may recall me mentioning how reality is somewhat relative. I'm beginning to question that in terms of it being relative to me. Something like...an anchor." Johnny ran a hand through his hair. "I'll get into that later. But lately it's become somewhat difficult for me to tell reality from fantasy. To remember what's real and what is not real. Things are kind of breaking down."

He probably hasn't slept in a week. That would explain it.

Shut up, this is important.

"Breaking down?" Edgar felt as if he had to say something in response. Fortunately Johnny took this as an invitation to continue.

"The point's that I've been wondering about something for the last few days. You may have noticed..." Johnny looked at him for a moment, his expression changing along with his train of thought. "You're unique, you know that. I let you live. So I'm assuming you went to the police?"

Edgar nodded. No use in lying there, they were of no help anyway.

"And they didn't help you."

Edgar shook his head. "It was as if you didn't exist."

"Exactly!" Johnny's voice changed tone so quickly that Edgar could not help but jump. He was surprisingly exultant. "I can get away with anything. Almost nothing on earth can catch me, can touch me. To some extent, I am invulnerable."

Johnny lowered his arms, his expression and tone changing again. He stared intently at his hands, his voice soft and thoughtful.

"To some extent. That's why I asked you here. I want some clarification. I need you to do something for me."

"Well..." Edgar struggled to process this new information fast enough. "I'd be willing to help you, but I'm not sure exactly what you mean. What do you want me to do?"

"It's just a minor experiment. Nothing I hope will be too difficult for you."

I doubt he meant that to be condescending.

"I decided to ask you to do this because when you talk, it doesn't make me want to gouge out your eyes with forks." Johnny paused, looking clinically and distantly at something past Edgar entirely. Edgar was trying desperately to get that mental image out of his head and keep his facial expression neutral at the same time. "I may hazard to say I have grown almost fond of you. A friend, or at least as close as anyone could get."

Edgar did not expect that.

"There was one before you that I did care deeply about. She and you are the main forces behind this theory of mine. You know how the police did nothing? How I can do almost anything and not get caught?"

Edgar nodded, not sure of how else to respond.

"I am invincible to petty, weak people. Those out there who have nothing better to do than wallow in humankind's collective shallow filth. The authorities are powerless. They can't find me, control me, or do anything to stop me. However."

Johnny paused again, although he seemed to be struggling to keep his clinically calm demeanor. "There seem to be...exceptions. I've suffered minor scratches at the hands of others, but no one can truly hurt me. But when I showed enough...when I seemed to care about people, they gain the ability to...change my reality, so to speak. To give them power to touch me."

What happened to her? She escaped, didn't she?

Yes.

So what happened to you?

Goodbye, Edgar.

"That woman..." Edgar almost snapped his fingers at the simple mental connection but restrained himself. "That woman you mentioned before..."

Johnny was silent for some period of time before he finally turned away, hands holding tightly onto his upper arms. Edgar was unable to see his face but the sadness in his words made it very clear.

"Devi hurt me."

There was a silence after this that Edgar felt exceedingly uncomfortable in. He had no idea how to respond, what to say to soothe something like that. He was notoriously bad at this. But he couldn't just stand here and say nothing...there had to be something...

Before he could speak, Johnny turned, breaking the silence. He had the same obsessively psychotic look he had before when he had tried to explain his motivation for killing Edgar. Whatever sadness that was present before seemed to be gone now.

"But you see, this is my point! No one else could ever touch me, but when I care, when I reach out to others, they, by association, can reach out to me. They can hurt me. They can affect my reality while other people flicker and vanish like phantoms. If I care, they can cause me pain."

Johnny turned and picked a small black thing off the floor smoothly, still talking as he did so. While he spoke, he moved forward, extending his hand and offering the black thing to Edgar. Unsure of what else to do, Edgar took it.

"I mentioned before that I could not die. That I was an anchor. To think that all this, this entire reality, could depend on me. That could be why I don't die, why I can't be stopped. If I was a focal point for the entire universe, there would be no way that I could be killed. But Devi was able to inflict damage on me, and that puts an element of doubt into my theory. I want a definitive answer. I want a definite conclusion to this question."

Johnny stepped back, the tazer in Edgar's hand. He moved his arms behind his back, staring at him with a totally deadpan expression.

"So Edgar, I want you to kill me."

Edgar stood there for a few moments before finally a word came to mind.

"...What?"

Johnny leaned back, resting against the side of his couch as his demeanor again changed, this time to the same carefree kind of tone he had used in describing the death of the store clerk. "Haven't you ever used a tazer? It's simple, just point it at my head-"

"Nny, that's not the point!" Edgar was having a great deal of difficulty in keeping his voice under control. He had not prepared for this. He had no idea what to do, but he had to make sure he stayed calm. Johnny was in a precarious state...he had to be careful. "Do you know what you're asking me?"

Almost like a small child, Johnny inclined his head at him and responded with a kind of cheerful innocence. "I'm asking you to help me."

Edgar sighed.

It would seem like that to him.

"I think we have different definitions of help here." Edgar looked down at the black thing in his hands as he tried to phrase himself correctly. "I can't...this isn't..."

Johnny just stared at him.

Edgar took a deep breath as he collected himself, carefully constructing his sentences before they found voice. "I would have to disagree with you on this point, Nny. The logic here is somewhat flawed. If you are an anchor for reality, as you said, then you would not be able to die, or else by association the universe would collapse as well."

There you go. Open with an agreement to his previous statement, then...

"Your...'invisibility' lends credibility to that but..." Edgar again took another breath, hoping to keep his voice steady and even. Johnny just continued to stare at him. "The argument for Devi does not make sense."

That felt weird.

What?

Saying her name.

It's not important right now.

"Even if you only could be hurt by people you care about, being injured is vastly different from being killed. I could be deathly wounded but still survive. If I were an anchor, as you claim to be, then I could be beaten to an inch of my life, but the universe would remain intact because I would be alive. The fact Devi hurt you would not prove or disprove your 'status' as an anchor. Also, I'm not sure why only people you cared about would be able to breach this barrier of realities...you'd think it would be the other way around. That someone you cared about would help you build a wall, to protect you from harm."

Johnny was sinking slowly, leaning heavily onto his arms as he sat on the armrest. His eyes narrowed at Edgar dangerously.

Not good. This is not good. Say something, quick. Say something nice or something, try to calm him down.

"This is all just skirting the primary issue, though." Edgar, at the sight of Johnny just staring at him so intensely, was feeling somewhat frightened and nervous. "It doesn't really matter if you are correct or not, I wouldn't try to kill you anyway. It's-"

It's not my nature It's not right It's not legal It's not

"I mean...you mentioned before that you had become somewhat...'fond' of me. That you kind of consider me your friend." That still seemed entirely unbelievable. "Now I feel that you are to some extent my friend as well, and as such I don't want to hurt you. I...I would not be able to kill you, even if you gave me a logically sound reason."

That's not true.

Shut up.

Johnny just glared at him. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft and unemotional. "So you're not going to help me."

Edgar turned away, hoping that he was doing the right thing and saving his own life at the same time.

Would you be willing to compromise one for the other?

This is not the time.

"Not in this way, no."

There was a pause as Edgar stared at the small electric device in his hands.

You said yourself he's in constant pain. This world doesn't seem to want him here. It rejects him. Violently. He rejects it back. He's suffering, collapsing, and he said himself he doesn't know what's real. He wants you to make it stop.

No. I can't do that.

I thought you wanted to help him feel good.

I am NOT going to kill him.

You contradict yourself an awful lot.

It's not intentional and I am not going to-

He heard the slightest sound of motion behind him. This was followed by an angry, vicious scream.

"YOU BASTARD!"

Edgar whirled in time to see Johnny leap from his perch on the armrest, his knife almost seeming to have appeared in his hand.

A few seconds later and the back of Edgar's head hit the floor violently, his glasses jarred from his face due to the impact. A moment of dizziness, a loss of vision, then he was able to make out a vague form crouched above him, holding the knife at an obviously threatening angle.

The same psychotic, almost panicked voice.

"KILL ME!"

"NO!"

With the first word that came to mind, Edgar unintentionally almost matched Johnny's tone.

Johnny raised the blade high, preparing for the final blow, when something seemed to stop him. He was silent for only a moment before he raised his eyes and voice to the ceiling with a familiar tone of injured dignity.

"I swear to god, this happens every time! Every time I try to do one thing, every time I try to make myself happy, to end this painful and stupid existence, something ruins everything! Something wants to see me here, to see me writhe in pain at the hands of those vicious creatures out there that call themselves human!"

Without thinking, Edgar's free hand began to grope around on the floor for the dropped tazer, his blurry and unfocused eyes staring at Johnny in confusion. Apparently, Johnny had become so interested in his own self-righteous speech that he had forgotten about Edgar. The hand once intended to deliver a killing blow now gestured dramatically.

"I want this to stop, I want to know for certain, I want this uncertainty to stop! I want to know things and the only person who can tell me won't help me! He refuses! Why? If you truly were my friend, Edgar, then you would have helped me! If you truly cared at all, you would try to make my reality permanent! To stop this shifting and endless confusion! To make everything stop! God!"

Interesting that he calls on him too.

Edgar was too concerned in finding the tazer to think of a response. His fingers brushed against some shards of glass, the hardened places in the carpet where liquid had forced the threads to bind together, vague moist areas as if someone had spilled something, crumbs that seemed to be everywhere and gritted against his skin. Finally, he felt cool plastic and he closed his fingers quickly around the device.

Johnny continued gesturing and speaking, although it seemed as if he was not speaking to Edgar at all.

"Do you know what it's like? Do you? To wake up and wonder if everything is a dream? To wake up and not know if you woke up at all? To continually fight against a brutal and unrelenting stream of human shit and make no progress? I'm spinning in circles and there's nothing I can do! I don't even know if it's a circle anymore! Fuck, it could be an octagon for all I know! This is my point! You don't know what this is like! You sit there in your tower and tell me that you're my friend, and yet when I give you my salvation you throw it back in my face! Can you think of anyone but yourself, or are you just as selfish as those out there, only you've hidden it better? I asked for one thing, just ONE thing! I wanted to die and I wanted your help and you wouldn't give it to me! How could you do this to me?"

I had no idea he was this messed up.

Johnny seemed to regain his composure, remembering that he had the object of his current malice pinned beneath him. His eyes turned back down to his captive prey, angry and accusing. "Well, never mind. I'll kill you, then myself. I don't need you after all."

Sometimes it is difficult to understand someone else's motivations, the mental processes that govern their behavior.

Sometimes, it is as clear as one word.

Survive.

As Johnny raised the knife again, now staring down at his prey with the same clinically detached look that Edgar was so familiar with, Edgar acted. Without any kind of true conscious thought, his hand flew upwards blindingly.

Unexpectedly.

Johnny had no time to react before the electricity flooded into him and then all he could do was convulse. His hand opened involuntarily, thin fingers jerking, moving independently of one another as the knife fell to the floor.

The current stopped after a few long seconds.

Johnny squeaked.

Then he fell.

Edgar took several deep breaths, the sheer adrenaline running through his body making it difficult to think clearly.

He looked over to one side, finding Johnny lying inert on the ground, eyes wide open. He had fallen to one side although his legs had not completely followed his motion. One rested across Edgar's own legs while the other was trapped beneath Johnny's own thin body. The man's hands lay uselessly at his sides, unmoving.

It is at this point, Edgar, that I would like to suggest you run.

Edgar stared at Johnny's body for a few moments, unable to fully comprehend what he had done. Only his heartbeat thudding into his ears and the soft sound of his breathing broke the silence.

Did I do that? How could I...did I? I...

Finally, he found actions and pushed Johnny's legs off of him then moving over to one side where he could examine him more clearly.

"Oh my god..."

He rolled him onto his back and Johnny remained stubbornly unresponsive. His wide glassy eyes stared ghoulishly at the ceiling, pupils frozen in position.

All kinds of emotions surged into Edgar but the predominant one was panic.

"Oh my god, Nny! Nny, are you okay? I didn't mean to...oh god..."

Congratulations Edgar, you killed him. Let's go to Disneyworld.

Edgar narrowed his eyes at his own mental disrespect.

You're not helping.

That's not what I do.

Edgar struggled to ignore his inner voice as he stared down at his body. With every passing second of silence Edgar felt more and more panicked. He had to do something, say something, quickly! He found himself holding his head, his hands desperate to be doing something at such a time of emotional stress.

"I didn't...what if I did kill him? Oh god, if I did kill him...I'm not invisible like he is, I'll be caught!" He paused and thought about his own words with some degree of distaste. "And why do I think that's important? I could have killed him! I did kill him! I didn't mean to...I didn't want to hurt him, but...oh god..."

Edgar buried his hands in his hair, unable to deal with such a sudden rush of emotion. He had always kept his emotions in strict order, but now he was completely out of control. He spiraled into his own morass of feelings that he never experienced and therefore could not identify. He could not find any kind of landmark, some kind of place where he could stop feeling for a moment and find a way back to rationality.

He did not know what to do.

His body was jerky and responded too quickly, too slowly. His heartbeat continued to beat louder, beating through his hands, the sound echoing in his mind.

He had never felt something this strongly before.

Then again, he had never killed someone before.

He breathed hard, struggling to keep himself under control and to not bolt from the house in fear. What could he do? There had to be something he could do, there had to be something-

Johnny coughed.

Edgar stopped dead and stared down at Johnny's now moving body with shock and some degree of horror.

"Oh my god, Nny, Nny are you okay? I-"

Johnny burst into maniacal laughter, startling Edgar into wide-eyed silence. "Ha ha ha ha! I no die! I knew it! Mwa ha ha ha!"

Edgar had been panicked before, paralyzed with all sorts of indescribable emotions, but now all he felt in response to Johnny's inexplicable resurrection was annoyance.

Johnny searched until he found the tazer, looking at it gleefully. "Hee hee, right to the brain! Hee hee! I can't die! I'm invincible! Nothing can touch me! Hee hee!"

That wasn't the reaction you expected, was it?

How can he be this way?

There's no good answer to that. Where are your glasses?

Edgar busied himself looking for his lost spectacles while Johnny continued to talk, although this time it was definitely not to Edgar.

"What? So what if I forgot to recharge it! It means the same thing! Something prevented me from doing that! Something doesn't want me to die either way so it doesn't matter if I forgot or not, D-boy!"

Who is he talking to?

Do you really have to ask?

Edgar finally found his glasses and put them back on, taking deep breaths. He felt furious with Johnny, angry at him for putting him through this kind of emotional turmoil, for making him lose control and sending him falling for that terrifying moment-

"Thanks for your help, Edgar." Johnny's voice was light and carefree again. "I feel better now."

I can't believe this.

Edgar brushed a hand through his hair as he struggled to control his emotions.

I can't believe he wanted me to kill him, he...alright, I have to calm down. Yelling at him would not be helpful in this situation. If he feels good, that's a good thing. I should try to preserve that. I'll just calmly explain that I did not appreciate-

Edgar! Living doormat!

Not now-

Edgar, this is just pathetic! Look at yourself! Listen to yourself! You're letting him walk all over you! This isn't healthy! He tried to get you to kill him and then tried to kill you! AGAIN! Why do you even care? Tell the little skinny bastard off! If you're angry, tell him so! It's not healthy and it's not natural to try and keep something inside like this! You deny more and more of normal humanity while you claim to be something you're not!

You talk as if we have a normal relationship. I can't yell at him because of one very fundamental reason. In fact, the reason this relationship exists at all. He can kill me. If I yelled at him now, I could only push him over the edge again and possibly get him to kill me and/or himself, successfully this time. Yelling at him would only make me feel better for a short period and then end either in my death or me feeling guilty later. I won't yell at him because it's a foolish thing to do. I'm going to be mature about this and deal with it in a mature manner.

Mature about this- mature about this- Edgar he tried to kill you AGAIN. How could you be mature about this? Is it mature to hide from your feelings like a little girl? Is that maturity? Is it mature to let him use you and constantly injure you just because you're afraid of him? That is why you won't do anything back, isn't it? You're just terrified of him and making all these emotional justifications-

"Sorry about all this."

Johnny's still light and carefree voice broke his thoughts. Edgar turned and stared at him.

What did he say?

"Sorry...?"

"Yeah." Johnny smiled at him in that same childish, happy way. "Want to watch TV?"

Edgar just stared at him blankly, unable to think of any response for almost a minute. Finally, he nodded his head.

"Alright."

Every time I think he can't surprise me, he manages to prove me wrong.

Edgar stood unsteadily, brushing himself off to hide his shaking limbs. Johnny sprang to his feet with same unearthly agility that accompanied almost all his moments and lept over the arm of the couch to land near the end. He clicked the TV on and leaned back, again almost as if Edgar was not there.

Edgar walked and sat at the other end of the couch warily, still watching Johnny distrustfully. As with the movie theater, Johnny had lost all interest in him and now was focused on the television screen.

I can't believe this.

Isn't that something. Everything that you were currently worried about all erased. Just like that! With a click of a button, he's forgotten about you entirely, Edgar. Why do you care about him at all?

I don't necessarily care about him. You could almost call it an obligation, but that's not the correct word either.

Either way, it doesn't matter. Whatever 'obligation' you feel towards him obviously isn't returned. It's a waste of time. A waste of emotion. A-

Do you ever shut up? Can I sit here for a few hours and watch television without thinking about the entire universe and my place in it for a few seconds? Can I? Is that okay with you?

Silence.

He appreciated it so much more lately.


Hours passed.

Edgar had no obligation to fulfill the following day, so he was not too concerned about the passage of time.

Johnny had control of the remote and Edgar did not even consider asking for it. It seemed that Johnny had a somewhat dubious taste in television, compared to his previous choice of film, but Edgar enjoyed it to some degree. It wasn't entirely bad. Just not his personal preference.

He noted, with some interest, a commercial for Zeitgeist flick by as Johnny changed channels. Actually seeing Scriabin in motion, even for only a few seconds, was incredibly disconcerting. His mental image of Scriabin had been cemented as the small action figure. To see him move was...eerie to some degree.

As time went by, he noticed that Johnny was beginning to drift occasionally. He had leaned his head against the armrest of the couch after the first few shows. His eyes would close for only a few minutes before he would awaken, his entire body jerking as if he had been shocked again.

With each of these catnaps came the same series of questions.

"Who are you? What are you doing in my house?"

"I'm Edgar and you invited me here. Remember?"

That seemed to give him a frame of reference, something that he could base a reality on, and he would settle back to watching the screen. However, with each lapse in control Johnny seemed to be getting more irritated. It was easy to guess that he was not too fond of sleeping and the fact he was succumbing to it was only making him more frustrated.

Edgar was not exceptionally tired, but then again he had slept the previous night. From the jerkiness of Johnny's motions, the dark bags under his eyes, the occasional yawns, uncontrollable catnaps, and perhaps an increase in the instability of his reality, all seemed to point to a severe lack of sleep. For how long Edgar could not guess. He was not an expert in this field. A week? A few days? A month? How long had Johnny been awake?

Hard to say. But his body wanted to sleep. Johnny's mind refused.

Eventually, in an apparent effort to stave off his encroaching sleepiness, Johnny stopped leaning against the armrest and sat bolt upright in the direct center of the couch, arms crossed sulkily as he stared forward.

Edgar sat beside him, mentally debating whether or not he should shake Johnny awake if he drifted off again. He doubted that would be a good idea.

Eventually, Johnny's head fell backwards against the couch and he fell asleep, this time semi-permanently. Unable to find any other measure of time, Edgar waited, wondering how long this nap would last. Two programs started and ended, but Johnny did not move. Only the somewhat labored sounds of Johnny's windpipe, bent at what had to be an uncomfortable angle, broke the banter of the television.

Should I go? I mean...he's asleep. Really asleep now. I don't know if he wants me here.

Or rather, if you want to be here when he wakes up. He's not exactly the best person to wake up next to. He's nuts.

Really? I hadn't noticed. Either way...I should probably go. He needs more room on the couch anyway.

Edgar sat up straight and stretched his tired and somewhat aching back. He yawned silently to himself, feeling the sudden unexpected onset of his own exhaustion. Maybe movement had brought it to his attention.

Feeling somewhat clumsy from staying in one position for so long, he leaned against the cushions beside him in order to get leverage to lift himself upwards.

However, he forgot that this sometimes affected other people resting on the cushions.

Johnny, who had turned away from Edgar slightly in his sleep, now rolled towards him, following the depression of the cushion he was resting on. Edgar froze in his position, hand still pressing downwards.

Johnny continued to shift along with the cushion. Edgar watched with a rising sense of panic as his head began to slip from the back of the couch, his body falling towards him.

Without conscious thought, Edgar angled himself towards him and moved forward, using his side and shoulder to block his fall. Or at least, that was his intent.

Instead, all he did was provide Johnny a new place to rest.

Now he was trapped against the armrest, Johnny resting against him. His right arm was trapped against his lap underneath Johnny's body, his left propped up against the armrest, desperately keeping himself upright.

Oh shit.

Oh shit!

What do I do now!

This isn't good this isn't good at all I have to do something I have to...

Well, you can't wake him up. Could you imagine his reaction? If he freaked out so much before just because you were in his house, imagine how he would feel if he woke up and found himself lying on you with no explanation.

What should I do? What should I do! I don't know, I don't know, this is-

Calm down, first of all. Can you move him?

Edgar tried to gently push Johnny off of him, but now the angle of Johnny's head had changed. He was resting against his shoulder, close enough so that his hair brushed against his face. With light experimentation, Edgar determined that moving or pushing his body away would allow Johnny's head to fall or twist away, waking him up.

Shit!

Such profanity. Stay calm and try to think logically. You can't move him, right?

Apparently not.

You can't reach anything, right?

No.

No pillows or anything?

I haven't seen a pillow in this house anywhere. I think he sleeps on this couch. If he does sleep.

Well, we determined that he does, in fact, do that. The problem now is how he is going to react. He's not going to like this at all.

I know but-

I'm trying to think. He mentioned that realities kept shifting for him, and his previous behavior indicated that he has problems with that when he sleeps. He thinks reality has shifted again when he wakes. Can't tell dream from life.

I know this all already.

When he wakes up, he won't know if this is reality or a dream.

And your point?

I'm trying to think. Lying and telling him this is a dream would not be a good choice here. He would eventually figure out that we lied and therefore, he would kill you. However, claiming this is reality won't work either. This wasn't his reality when he fell asleep. It obviously changed.

This isn't getting me anywhere.

...I can't think of anything.

...shit.

And I think my arm is falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Edgar managed to trap himself in an exceedingly uncomfortable position. Not only did his arm fall asleep shortly after it was trapped underneath Johnny's thin body, but he had no place to comfortably rest his head. The best he could manage was uncomfortably twisting it to one side which made his neck cramp, but was passable.

He was tired, after all. Even in the strangest of scenarios, the human body will find some way to sleep.

He used his free hand to remove his glasses and set them somewhere on the floor, although he could not bend his body to see exactly where. With a soft resigned sigh, he tried to settle into a position that would at least allow him a few hours of rest before he was brutally murdered.

However, he still felt nervous which made sleep hard to come by. He had yet to come up with a solution to this situation, something that had not happened before to his knowledge, and he was understandably jittery. Small soft movements became jerky, quick things that felt wrong and only served to make him more uncomfortable. So he stopped moving entirely.

His entire body felt as if he was on fire, tingles shooting through his arm as the blood continued to drain from it. He was introduced to several new kinds of sensations through this experience, actually. After a period of time he could almost feel geometric shapes of pain spreading and rising through various areas of his arm. At that point, however, he blamed this new perception on a lack of sleep and general mental unrest.

He leaned against the couch cushions with his head bent at an uncomfortable angle, utterly miserable. Johnny, however, was sleeping quite soundly. His eyes were shut tightly and his arms were curled across his chest. Even in his sleep Johnny seemed to be protecting himself from some unknown assailant.

Enjoy it while you can, Edgar. This is probably the last time you'll ever see him like this. Asleep, I mean.

Edgar tried to slow his breathing and clear his mind, struggling to bring sleep to him. However, it seemed rather reluctant to come, so he focused on other trivial things, hoping to bore his mind into a quieter state. The television was still on but Edgar had begun to block that out. The pictures were fuzzy, even with his glasses, and he had no interest in the programming. Once he began to ignore the incessant noise of the television and pay more attention to his surroundings, he could feel the faintest vibration through the floor. Some kind of machinery, he supposed...he knew this house extended deep into the earth, although he had no idea how far. It was possible that something below him...

Johnny's head rested upon his shoulder, tilted towards the television screen. Not only had Edgar lost the feeling to the majority of his body, the only position that he could find for his head happened to just be in range of Johnny's hair. A few irritating strands brushed against his face when their breathing slipped into the right pattern, a constant reminder that he was going to die in a few hours.

He found himself unconsciously matching Johnny's breathing. That was somewhat peculiar, but not entirely illogical when he thought about it. His mind was searching for ways to drift off to sleep and found an alternative to counting sheep.

When Johnny breathed, he could feel the bones in his back moving against his arm even in its deadened state. During deep breaths or sighs, he could feel a bone move sharply out of place, Johnny's body shifting position unwillingly along with it. The bone thudded back when he breathed out.

He was definitely too thin.

Eventually, his breathing matched along with his unwilling companion's, Edgar managed to drift off to sleep. It was fitful and filled with disturbing dreams, but that did not really surprise him.


He woke up when fingers wrapped tightly around his throat.

Edgar blinked and stared blearily upwards at the vague face above him, unable to discern any detailed emotion.

Then again, that was not really necessary.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

The grip around his neck tightened meaningfully and Edgar coughed. It was not tight enough to choke, but it was certainly tight enough to get his attention.

Now that he had come back to consciousness, his arm began to hurt as feeling came back. Keeping it still was painful enough, but moving it felt a million times worse. This, coupled with the threatened death-by-asphyxiation, made it difficult to concentrate.

Keep calm and be rational...

"You fell asleep while we were watching TV." Edgar glanced at the screen. He couldn't see any colors...maybe it was off. "You kind of...fell on me. I would've moved you, but I didn't want to wake you up-"

"Didn't want to-" The fierce tightening around his neck this time caused a serious lack of air. Edgar now couldn't help but gag, his body reacting out of his control. His arms lifted feebly to try and fight Johnny, to defend himself in some way, but Edgar forced them back down quickly. That was not his solution to the problem. "Didn't want to-? Haven't I made it pretty fucking clear that I fucking hate sleeping! What- haven't you been paying any attention at all?"

"I'm...aware...of that..." Edgar struggled to both breath and keep his voice steady underneath the current pressure. His arm twitched involuntarily as the pain slowly began to fade. Johnny noted the desperate gasps for air between Edgar's words and reluctantly lessened the pressure. Taking deep breaths thankfully, Edgar hoped that his thin, raspy voice would sound apologetic. "I didn't know how you'd react if you woke up that way."

I don't think mentioning that he needs sleep would be a good idea.

Johnny glared at him but that was all Edgar was able to discern without his glasses. Slowly the grip around his neck loosened further and finally left altogether, although Johnny's voice made it clear that he was not safe.

"How I'd react."

Edgar took a deep breath, holding it for a few moments in case his air would again be cut off. Again, his hand raised, although this time it naturally wanted to inspect his throat. He fought that urge away without any outward sign as he tried to further defuse the situation.

"I didn't want to startle you."

"Waking up to this startled me pretty good, don't you think?" Johnny hissed at him, although the anger in his voice had diminished.

"If I could have, I would've moved you. But I was trapped. There was nothing I could do."

"Well, why were you there at all?" Johnny was staring at him so intensely that Edgar dared not break eye contact to search for his glasses. "Why didn't you go home, Edgar?"

There was a great deal of anger and hatred in Johnny's voice, particularly when pronouncing his name.

The bear trap has sprung. Congratulations, you're stupid.

"I didn't..." Edgar struggled to find words that would pacify Johnny. "I thought maybe if I left while we were watching TV, you'd think I didn't want to be here."

That's technically true.

You make it sound like it's because you care about him. You just didn't want him to kill you. That obviously didn't work.

Johnny sat back on his heels while he continued to stare at him. His knees were bent and touching his shoulders, his arms resting on the couch between his legs. He looked very much like a cat.

"You want to be here." Johnny's voice made it painfully clear that he did not believe him. Edgar did not blame him.

"I-"

"You're just like-!" Johnny hissed suddenly, moving forward with blinding speed until Edgar was pressed against the arm of the couch, struggling to breathe as the fingers again closed around his throat. "Just like the others-...you lying..."

Edgar wheezed, struggling to think of anything coherent while his oxygen supply was being cut off. Johnny was close enough now that he could see his facial expression and, curiously enough, he had the distant expression that was common during pauses in conversation.

He was listening again.

Edgar struggled to breathe as Johnny very slowly looked down, apparently thinking deeply about something. Eventually his head dipped so far that Edgar could no longer see his face, just the top of his head. The grip around his neck loosened and Johnny moved backwards, falling back into the same catlike pose as before. Now with shoulders hanging loose and his face hidden, the previously predatory cat looked almost mournful.

"Why aren't you scared of me."

Another non-question.

"What?"

What is he talking about? It's pretty obvious you're scared of him I think.

"Why didn't you run? I attacked you last night...tried to kill you..." One of the hands rose slowly to Johnny's face, fingers running near his eyes before eventually taking residence buried deep in his hair. "I tried to kill you now...what are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why aren't you scared of me?"

Don't be honest.

"I am scared of you to some degree."

I said don't be honest!

Edgar slowly rubbed at his bruised windpipe now that Johnny did not seem to be paying attention. Edgar watched him silently, again finding himself scrambling for the elusive soothing words that he could never fully grasp, and Johnny lowered himself slowly downwards towards the couch, almost as if falling in slow-motion.

Don't be honest, don't do this, you're so close to getting away, don't do this-

"You frighten me a lot, really. Like...now for example." Still slowly falling downwards. The descent ended with Johnny on his side, curled into a fetal position with one hand still tangled in his hair. "When you attack me like this. But...I know..." I don't know. "You're an intelligent guy and I know..." You DON'T know. "I mean...it's...it kind of balances out."

You're so bad at this.

"I do enjoy spending time with you to some extent-"

You're a liar, Edgar. That's not the reason at all. It's because Johnny's the only friend you have. He's the only friend you have and you NEED friends, Edgar, you NEED them, so you're clinging to him and it's eventually going to get you killed-

That's not true at all. I don't feel lonely, I don't need friends, and I'm not going to lie to get out of this.

In the pause that followed as Edgar mentally debated which course in the conversation to take, Johnny uncurled slightly, enough so that Edgar could note his face, although still could not make out his expression. He could see the wide dark eyes staring at him apathetically.

"You're scared of me."

Edgar was, ironically enough, frightened to respond. Eventually he managed to nod. Johnny curled back into himself.

What's he doing? What is he doing? Am I...what should I do? Should I say something? This isn't good at all.

Oh no, the mean Edgar made the poor serial killer cry. Waa waa. Let's call a hotline.

I swear to god, if you say one more thing-

You're talking to yourself, remember? You should get your glasses while he's not watching.

Finally deciding that that at least was a good piece of advice, Edgar looked over the edge of the couch and felt around for a few moments before finally finding the missing spectacles. With the world back in focus, Edgar again felt the same surge of confidence that he had experienced before. This was becoming increasingly...predictable. At least that was one thing he could depend on.

Johnny was still curled into a ball on the couch, although now he was trembling almost imperceptibly. Although he had only moved his attention to something else for a few seconds, Edgar felt somewhat guilty that he had not been giving him his full attention. This, obviously, was not one of his better moods.

"Nny?"

"Not...yet..." Whispered, angry words. Edgar paused awkwardly for a moment before nervously moving a little closer to him.

"I'm sorry...what?"

"I didn't want to go to sleep...I hate sleeping..." Johnny refused to look at him, breathing heavily into himself, his face still hidden. His words were laced with anger and betrayal. "Why did you let me do that?"

"I'm sorry." Edgar struggled to think of something to say as he rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. He guessed that in a normal relationship, he would have perhaps put a hand on Johnny's shoulder or otherwise touched him in some comforting way, but he knew that Johnny seemed to dislike being touched. That was the general impression he had got from him at least. That and he still felt nervous being close to him. "I'll make a note of it, if you want. I won't let it happen again."

What? What does that mean? Does that mean you're going to let this become a regular thing?

I just want to calm him down-

Liar liar-

Stop it, this isn't the time-

Johnny suddenly tensed, all of his muscles tightening and shivering, but he kept his face hidden.

"Get out."

The anger in his voice made the thorns more noticeable and painful. Edgar moved away from him slowly, trying to be as smooth and silent as possible. He was not about to disobey.

"Get out now. I don't want to talk to you anymore."

Edgar now stood, backing his way towards the door quickly. Not wanting Johnny to be under the impression of him still being present, Edgar ventured to speak in a soft, calm voice. "Alright."

Johnny abruptly leapt out of his curled position, claws grasping at where Edgar had been only a moment before. Unprepared for his absence, Johnny lashed out frantically at where Edgar should have been before he clumsily fell against the couch. He propped himself up on the armrest and struggled to regain his lost dignity and grace as he glared at Edgar with unconcealed hatred. When he finally spoke, his voice was furious, shrill, and almost panicked.

"Get OUT!"

Edgar scrabbled behind him desperately for the doorknob, hoping that Johnny would not continue his failed lunge towards him. The door slid open and Edgar ran outside, slamming the door behind him.

From inside he heard an incoherent scream of rage, followed by the sound of something breaking.

I think he took that rather well.

Edgar was in his car and away as fast as he could possibly go.


And you said he was your friend.

Edgar was sitting in his room the day after he had left the psychotic man's house, still running over what had happened in his mind. Johnny's behavior, as always, was a mystery to him, particularly his reaction when he had woken up.

Perhaps he was as mutable as he claimed to be...that when he woke, he had found or was displaying an entirely new personality.

It was far more likely that Johnny was just exceptionally angry and wanted Edgar out. He found that was more logically leaning towards the latter option.

I don't understand.

How many times do you have to go over this?

Edgar toyed with Scriabin's arms, listening to the soft squeaking sounds of plastic moving against plastic.

I want to understand. I don't care how long it takes.

Oh! This is my favorite show! Oh wait, it's a repeat. Never mind.

I'm going to ignore that. So how did it begin...I went over and he asked me to kill him...

That's right.

And he said it was because he cared about me to some degree.

Not exactly. He said he didn't want to kill you.

Different definitions.

Not in my opinion.

...He said he wanted me to kill him and I refused. He attacked me in an effort to force me to do so. At least I know he was sincere in...not wanting to kill me, if that's how you want to phrase it.

I think that keeps it in perspective.

So I knocked him out...when he came to, he apologized and asked if I wanted to watch TV.

Another point in favor of his personality changing whenever he wakes up.

I think that's something of a misleading answer. I think Johnny's just...

Insane.

...In so many words.

One word.

At any rate, we watched some television and he fell asleep.

On you.

That was an accident.

Doesn't change anything.

Edgar sighed to himself and rolled his eyes.

When he woke up, he tried to kill me again. He obviously didn't like waking up that way.

Who would?

So then I tried to explain why I hadn't moved him-

Don't ignore me.

I wouldn't if you had anything of importance to say.

...But he did not accept my explanation...he was confused. He asked me why.

You didn't give him a good answer.

...I didn't...

You didn't know the answer.

...When he was curled up like that...I thought maybe I could...

What? Take advantage of it? Talk to him when he's not angry? Exploit those moments when he doesn't want to kill? More safety for you, more pain for him.

That's not what I meant...

Or is it because that kind of silence, that sadness and longing that you're so very attracted to, was quite similar to how he looked at the movie?

Edgar paused and looked up from the toy in his hands to the wall, although that was not what he was focusing on.

Pictures flashed through his mind rapidly, small snippets of memories. The happiness at the theater. The sadness on the couch. The loneliness in his voice. The childish joy when he asked if he would watch television with him.

But happiness and sadness kept flashing back and forth.

Back and forth.

Happiness and sadness-

Have you ever felt that way, Edgar?

Edgar's eyes drifted down again until they rested on Scriabin's plastic form. His arms were resting at his side, although the general unthreatening effect of this was negated by his permanent hold on the plastic gun.

Have you ever really felt at all, Edgar?

...I don't understand. What are you getting at?

You really pride yourself on being better, you know that. You almost had it in the theater. You almost realized how much of a self-absorbed prick you are. But instead, you just lapsed back into it again.

If anyone is trying to view Nny as something less than human, it's you. You're constantly reminding me that he's insane and he should be avoided. I don't think you have any place-

That's off the topic. The point is you feel better than others. No...that's not even the point. Think about it. Think about it, Edgar. That rush of emotion on his face, those tears. When have you cried, Edgar? When have you ever wanted to kill? Wanted to rip someone apart? When have you curled into a ball and shivered?

You've never done those things. Not that you can recall. You're an empty shell of a man, Edgar. You feel nothing. You even felt nothing in the face of your impending death, and the entire purpose of life is to avoid dying. The maniac that you felt so pleasantly above, that you're studying in such a scientific and detached manner now in an effort to understand his emotions, can feel things. He can feel things you only read and see but never experience.

Johnny may go back and forth wildly amidst a range of emotions, but at least he has those emotions at all, Edgar. You only veer between mild fear and alarm to vague sadness. That annoyance at the theater was the closest thing to becoming human you've felt in a long time. Why do you stay with Johnny, Edgar? Why don't you feel lonely?

I-

You. Why? You couldn't answer me before.

I-

Why don't you feel anything, Edgar? Is it because you have to understand everything, and emotion can only complicate understanding? Why haven't you pushed Johnny away? You can't understand him.

But you envy him, Edgar.

That's ridiculous.

You envy him because he can feel things. He can feel enough to do something about it.

I don't envy him. God, why would I? Nny lives a terrible life. From what I've gathered, from his misery at sleep to his general hatred of mankind, he hates his life and wants to end it. He wanted to commit suicide, remember? He wanted me to help. He's hardly happy. I don't want to be Nny. God, I wouldn't want to be Nny for anything.

You'd rather just be a shell pretending to have some kind of meaningful existence.

I don't want to be miserable.

And yet you continue to be friends with Johnny. You said before it was because you wanted to help him. That's made you miserable so far, hasn't it?

Are you putting Johnny before yourself? Why is that?

I'm not-

You're putting his concerns before yours because his concerns are valid, they're real. They have to do with real emotions, real pure emotions that grip you, make you scream. His concerns are real. He's a real person. What are you? A figment flittering at the edge of vision, forgotten easily by everyone and by yourself.

I'm not having this conversation. Why am I talking to myself like this?

Alright, let's change the topic. Does it bother you that much? That you doubt yourself this way?

...It's annoying when you won't shut up.

It doesn't bother you to think that whatever opinions you have are worthless, does it? Does it bother you I can find the errors in everything you do?

Yes.

That's too bad.

...Where did you come from?

What?

Where did you come from?

I'm you, Edgar.

...What are you?

A pessimist. But I'm so much more.

Edgar stared at the plastic action figure in his hands. He mouthed words silently to himself as he waged the mental battle.

Who are you?

I think we already went over this.

I...don't think you're...me anymore.

Oh, that's very mature. You don't like being doubted and you don't like it when I'm right, so make me another person and then they're just wrong, and you're just right. Can't be right and wrong at once. There's no gray for you.

I...I don't...

Maybe at some point you'll understand. I'm here to help you. That's what you made me for. To help you think. But I am you, you know. I'll always be a part of you.

...Where are you?

It's hard to give myself a direct location. Your brain might work for now-

No...no, this isn't me. This isn't me. This can't be who I'm becoming. You can't be me.

Denial, Edgar. Denial. You've been doing this a lot.

No, you're not me. You're not me...I don't do this. I don't think like this. You're something else...

Feel any better now? Do you? You can keep saying it, but that doesn't make it true.

Edgar put Scriabin back beside his phone, raising his other hand to massage at his forehead. A headache was forming now that didn't help his concentration.

Please help me...lord in heaven help me...I'm so confused...

There is no god, Edgar.

Edgar turned sharply and focused on the plastic figurine, who stood perpetually in the motion of moving out of the way, his arms unnaturally pushed down by his sides. Edgar lashed out, sending Scriabin flying across the room into the opposite wall with a fairly loud noise. Edgar watched him fall on the carpet with extremely mixed feelings, but the most predominant of which was anger.

"Don't say that." Words came from his mouth without thought as he stared at the toy on his floor.

There was silence. Nothing came in response to his words.

It only lasted for a few seconds before the phone began to ring.

Startled, Edgar's brief flash of anger faded to be replaced with surprise and confusion. He picked up the phone cautiously, still remembering their parting words with perfect clarity.

I don't want to talk to you anymore.

He knew he was lying.

"Nny...?"

"Thank you."

...

For what?

"Um..."

"For the coat."

Edgar stood there for few minutes blinking before it came back to him. He hung his coat on a nail near the doorway...in his rush to leave he had forgotten to pick it up again.

He thinks it's for him...

"...Um...that's okay...I'm...glad you like it."

He's not going to believe me.

"I thought maybe you forgot." The anger was gone now, replaced with quiet puzzlement. Johnny had not expected this. Understandable. "...with what happened at the mall...and everything."

"I know." Edgar ran a hand through his hair as a sudden stinging began beneath his eyes. Distracted by the current conversation, Edgar scratched absent-mindedly at the general area as he tried to phrase his words. "But...you did say you wanted a coat..."

"I...I didn't think...I don't know why...why you gave it to me. It's...long. It's...too long."

Another hole in the story. Why is he falling for this?

"I...I don't understand, Edgar."

"That...that's okay. I said that I wanted to..." Edgar reviewed his original planned words and decided not to continue. Rephrase, reword, remove. "You said you kind of considered me your friend. I felt the same way, so...I thought maybe that coat would help make it...a reality for you."

That was not my best choice of words.

"A reality..."

A long pause.

Edgar, no longer having Scriabin to entertain him, just stared at the toy's new place on the floor. He found himself narrowing his eyes at it as if it was the source of his confusion. More stinging underneath his eyes. More idle scratching to get rid of the persistent itch.

Johnny's voice had almost a wondrous quality to it. "Something to hold on to..."

"Yeah..." That hadn't occurred to him. Johnny now had something of Edgar's, something physical and real. "I'm...I'm glad you like it."

"Something...to hold on to...something...that won't leave..." Johnny seemed to be talking to himself at this point.

That's what he was having trouble with before...

Edgar decided to wait until he felt comfortable interceding.

"Edgar..."

"Yes?"

"I...need to ask you something. Well...several things, actually. But...most importantly..."

A very long pause. Edgar felt as if he needed to say something and decided on the words he felt would be the most encouraging and least intimidating. "I'll try to help you if I can."

Another shorter pause, then a dark whisper across the plastic barrier. "Help me...yes..."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I...there's...I've been..." Awkward, half-started sentences. Edgar remembered these. "I was...the...I can't...I was wondering..."

"Yes?" Edgar leaned back against his headboard, wondering how long it would take Johnny to find his words or the courage required to give them voice. It was strange to think of someone who could kill so many could be...almost shy.

"I want to...to..." Edgar waited and the itching underneath his eyes grew in intensity. It was almost becoming more than an annoyance now. Before he could give it further thought, Johnny decided to continue. "I want to turn off..."

"Turn off...?" Not suicide again, please...not suicide again, I can't-

"More...specifically...I want you to turn me off and...and fix me. I can't...do this alone anymore I'm...I'm...not...not sane."

Before Edgar could speak, Johnny cut him off, his words broken with pained and quick breaths. "I'm not sane and you know that. But...I'm not...I can't control my own...insanity so I wanted you to...let me...stay...with you. For a little while. Even only for a night. I want to turn everything off and...I want everything off. Everything off and quiet. I want...to...know why I'm...why I can't..."

"Nny, I..."

Say no. Say no.

"Nny, I...if you really want to, I guess you can stay here for a while...I don't think anyone would mind, and it sounds like you...could really use the time."

No.

Shut up. Just when I thought you left...

"Are you sure?" The relief in Johnny's voice prompted a small smile for Edgar although he was not sure why. "I...I'm...dangerous. Last time I...but...I don't...have anyone else I could really talk to..."

"It's okay, don't..." He scratched underneath his eyes again, lazily glancing at his fingers as they moved back down.

They were covered in blood.

"Oh f- oh my god-"

"What?" Johnny almost sounded concerned, although his tone was on the whole curious. "What happened?"

"Um-" Edgar stared at his fingertips in disbelief. Blood caught undeneath his nails, across the pads of his fingers, thickening and turning brown in the air. Now that his body had finally succeeded in attracting his attention, he could clearly feel small beads running down his face. He opened his mouth twice before he was able to force quick words from it. "I can't talk right now, I have to take care of something, but feel free to come over any time you want, alright? I'll see you then."

Edgar hung up as he stared at his hand with a growing sense of alarm.

How did this happen? Why didn't I feel this? Scratching never did this before, why couldn't I tell they reopened? I shouldn't be able to, why did they open now? I wasn't even scratching that hard, I thought they healed, I thought they wouldn't do this anymore, what's happening, what is happening...?

Edgar washed his face off in front of his bathroom mirror, the beginning streaks of blood leaving surprisingly stubborn stains. After he stopped bleeding and his face was relatively clean, he leaned in close to the mirror to stare at his reflection. He raised a hand to touch the now clean wounds.

Why did that happen? Why did that happen?

He found himself mouthing the words as he stared at the reflection of his hands, his fingers hiding the grooves beneath his eyes.

Why...?

The glass gave him no answers.

Chapter Text

Does he know where I live?

Of course he knows where you live-

No, I mean...does he know which apartment is mine?

I'm assuming he would, considering he abducted you without trouble last time.

Edgar was alternately pacing in the front room of his apartment and sitting on the couch, too nervous to sit still and think rationally. He narrowed his eyes at his mind's sarcastic response and glanced back through the open door of his room. He had put Scriabin back near the phone, again feeling almost as if something was wrong if the toy was not in its appointed place.

God, this is a terrible idea...this is a terrible idea. Why did I agree to this? Why did I let him talk me into this?

Oh right, that's exactly how it went. Johnny begged and begged and begged, but the cruel overlord Edgar refused his request! You love shifting blame, don't you? Johnny barely had to ask before you practically arranged a sleep-over. 'I'm not lonely', pff.

"You have a gift for exaggerating things until they're both pointless and stupid." Edgar mumbled underneath his breath after sitting down on the couch again. His hands raised to his face and automatically searched beneath his eyes. Not trusting the wounds, they were now covered with Band-Aids. Edgar felt he looked ridiculous with a bandage under each eye, but he preferred that to bleeding in the middle of a conversation.

"What am I going to do?" Now that his previous words had found audible voice, the rest of his concerns decided to follow suit. "God, I'm not prepared for this, I can't do- god, I'm not even exactly sure what it is he wants. How am I supposed to 'turn him off'?"

You see, there's this little switch on the back of his neck-

"Shut up."

The sudden knock on the door startled Edgar badly enough that he almost fell off the couch. He overcompensated in his recovery, his arms wheeling for a few moments as he veered from one extreme to the other. As if he was in front of anyone that could be embarassed. He brushed himself off as he tried to calm down, taking a deep breath and hoping that he wouldn't look like too much of a nervous wreck.

He opened the door with shaking hands. Johnny had been looking down the hallway with what seemed like bored curiosity, amusing himself until he was allowed entrance. When the door was fully open, Johnny turned around. As soon as Edgar met eyes with him, Johnny lowered his own to the floor, one hand grasping the other behind his back.

"Hello. Um..." His hand moved jerkily upwards, then fell again without a clear purpose. Johnny met Edgar's eyes several times, but each time held it for only a few seconds before looking away. "I'm...here."

Even Edgar was able to tell that was not what he intended to say, but he felt that the moment was awkward enough without bringing it up. He stepped back and out of the way.

"C'mon in."

Edgar shut the door, noticing that his previous energy had somehow dissipated. Something about Johnny's apologetic stance almost...calmed him down.

That's...strange.

It's a step down from homicidal, right?

Johnny stood in the center of the room, holding onto his upper arms tightly as he looked upwards. He seemed very out of place, black and dark blue against an overwhelming sea of off-white and gray.

Silence.

Edgar was not sure what to say. Although this was his home and he should theoretically have an advantage in this situation, he still felt as awkward and physically vulnerable as always.

The apartment almost seemed to swallow up his words, thin and soft and almost confused.

"It's clean."

Johnny stood as close to the direct center of the room as possible. Edgar saw his hands shaking with the intensity of his grip, knuckles steadily turning white against white sleeves.

"Yeah..." Edgar stepped away from the door and made his way towards him slowly. "I have a lot of free time, so..."

Edgar paused for a moment, struggling to bring more mundane thoughts to mind regarding Johnny's presence.

"You...didn't bring a bag or anything."

"Oh." Johnny looked at him in surprise, as if this semi-question had reminded him of where he was. "I didn't think I'd need one. It's only a night. I'll be fine."

All he would have is a change of clothes anyway, right?

Or maybe eight severed heads.

Johnny turned his head and surveyed the room carefully, almost as if looking for something.

"Um...if you want...I can show you around. There's not much to see really...although..."

You've already seen it before, haven't you? You're looking for things that have changed.

"That's okay..." It was hard to hear his voice now as the white almost absorbed it, muffled it. "I'm..."

"Are you okay?" Edgar noticed the door to his room was open and decided to fix that. He looked over at Johnny who was currently staring at the carpet. "You're really...distant."

Johnny finally let go of one of his arms to place a trembling hand on his forehead. "Yeah...I've been thinking a lot..."

"...Can I ask what about?"

"It's...really complicated. Really...really complicated."

Edgar shrugged and smiled softly. "...We do have all night."

"Right..." Johnny looked away from him, a stray finger falling in front of now-closed eyes. "You're right." His thin shoulders rose and fell.

"I'm going to tell you a lot of things that aren't going to make any sense." Johnny's voice now fell into a familiar rhythm, the pattern indicating planned, conjoined thought. "I'm going to tell you this because you'll listen and you can't do anything to hurt me. You're like a wall. But not like the other wall." Johnny's last words came quickly and his eyes darted back and forth.

He thinks you're a wall. He thinks you're a wall. Remind me again, why do you still talk to this person?

"I've listened before, I can listen now. I'll try and understand if I can." Edgar sat down on the couch, wondering if Johnny would follow his lead. Johnny watched his progress without expression. After a short pause, he finally moved to one of the chairs away from Edgar. He sat down quickly, hunching his shoulders forward and gripping the seat cushion between his knees. His eyes remained fixed to the carpet.

"Alright...I don't know if you'll understand, but that's okay. You let me talk last time and that helped, even if you didn't..." Johnny narrowed his eyes. "That's gone now. But I have to speak now, or else I feel like I'll just..."

Johnny took a deep breath and held out his hands. "Starting over."

Edgar nodded.

"I...I mentioned reality falling apart for me. Now it's only getting worse. Worse and worse. I can't find any logical reasons behind my actions anymore. I feel like I'm becoming someone else. Like...I am someone else. Other people know why they do things, why they would decapitate a person or otherwise maim people but now I don't know why. Everything is getting...complicated, like...I'm not sure why I'm doing anything anymore. Are you listening?"

Edgar nodded again, unaware of the thoughtful look on his face as he stared at Johnny. Johnny stared at him for a few moments, as if making sure that he would not interject or make some kind of suggestion about his narrative, then continued.

"I don't know why I'm killing people anymore. I don't know who I am. I...It's like I have no past. I just exist and I just exist to kill people, but that can't be right. You don't just burst into life without any explanation. I know that I had a past but I can't remember it. I was talking with someone and they said that a long time ago, I used to paint. I used to do things and I used to know why, but I still can't remember anything."

Talking with who?

"I feel like I'm losing control. Like...my actions have no meaning and I have no control over them. Like some kind of massively malfunctioning machine...that's what I meant before." Johnny pointed at Edgar. "About turning me off."

Edgar nodded. It all tied together. "I see your point."

"But...I'm also worried about my own..." Johnny paused and looked up, smiling in an unnatural and false way. "My own insanity." The smile quickly faded. "I know some of my voices are real, I can recognize them...they've been with me for a long time. But I feel like someone is using me...using my insanity for some kind of purpose I don't understand. The wall...someone is using me to paint that wall and I don't know why, I don't know why I let it do that. Fuck. I hate...not knowing like this. I hate not being in control. I hate being some broken thing raging against everything without really knowing why. I hate being...being broken."

Before Edgar could speak, Johnny cut him off, his voice rising. "I tried to remove myself from humanity but it keeps getting drawn to me, those stupid worthless people keep finding me, keep torturing me and I keep trying to get away, to try and live some kind of dysfunctional life at best but it keeps happening. Everyone out there is out to get me, out to make me miserable, and this is how that wall was able to get me, able to control me. It used those people, my hatred of those people to control me, and...and...!"

Johnny had ranged from furious and indignant to despairing and desperate throughout his story and ended up without anything. His voice broke with a mixture of several emotions and he clenched his fists tightly, glaring at Edgar as if this was somehow his fault.

"I tried so hard to get away and I got nowhere!"

Tears.

He's crying again. You should do something about that.

"Nny..."

Johnny's angry look instantly vanished and was replaced with quiet astonishment. From his puzzled expression, he had again forgotten Edgar was there.

That or he didn't expect your voice.

Johnny's next question seemed to be an invitation to join his rambling thoughts. "Do you ever wonder if the voices in your head are really yours?"

Are really yours...?

Who are you?

I'm you.

Edgar shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He would sort through all that later when he had the time. Now there was something more important to worry about.

"Listen...I know-...actually, that's not true. I don't know. I really can't understand what you're going through. I've never...experienced something like that. But...I can understand why you feel the way you do...kind of."

Johnny stared at him as if Edgar speaking should not have been scientifically possible.

"I...I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure what to say. I don't know what words would make you feel better...if it means anything, I saw some of the paintings you did a long time ago. They were...really good." Edgar adjusted his glasses self-consciously. "If anything it means you have the capability to do great things...you just focused on...a strange field."

Johnny slowly tilted his head to one side and stared at Edgar with a strange intensity. Edgar felt himself beginning to shake involuntarily as Johnny stopped blinking.

"I wish I knew how to 'turn you off'...I'm not exactly sure what you mean. But if you have any suggestions...I'd be quite open to them. I really do want to help you if I can...I'll give it..."

Edgar trailed off, unable to focus with Johnny staring at him in such a fascinated way.

"Um...are you listening?"

"Where'd those bandages come from?"

Edgar sighed.

"The cuts under my eyes...opened again. I'm not really sure why-"

"Are you afraid of me?"

Edgar blinked at the sudden change in topic before he shrugged. "Right now?"

Johnny nodded.

Edgar adjusted his glasses again, running through his feelings before deciding to give what he hoped was an honest and helpful answer. "Not right now, exactly. I feel very nervous, but...not afraid."

"Really?" Johnny smiled at him in a strange way. "You're my friend, right?"

"Um...yes, but-"

"Do you trust me?"

The eagerness in Johnny's voice put him on edge. He felt another twinge of nervousness and caution guided his next words. "...Not quite yet. You did try to kill me..."

Edgar was going to add a number, but found that he could not count each experience on the spur of the moment.

"Oh." Johnny sat back, sounding a little disappointed. "I was just curious."

"You've asked me that question a few times now." Edgar wondered if this was really the topic he should be pursuing, but decided to follow it anyway. "I mean...I'm not going to really trust you for a while...not unless you prove yourself to me somehow, though I don't know how...and besides, you're...you're insane. You said so yourself."

I can't believe you're saying this. What's gotten into you?

I don't know...

"Good point." Johnny smiled at him. "Now I'm hungry."

Edgar stared at him blankly until Johnny stood.

"What do you have?"

"Uh..." He struggled to regain his composure. Every time Johnny did something like this he was always caught off-guard. "You can look in the kitchen if you want...I haven't gone out shopping in a while though, so I'm not sure if...there's anything in...there that you would want..."

Edgar found his words trailing off as he watched Johnny move. The thin man originally walked briskly over to the kitchen but had slowed with each step, staring downwards at his boots more intently until he finally stopped altogether.

He froze in position, hands poised in midair. Edgar slowly walked closer to him, not trusting this sudden change in his behavior.

"Are you okay?"

"...It's quiet."

Edgar thought about this for a moment before deciding to move into the kitchen. This was partly so he could inspect what he had to eat himself, but partly because he hoped to get a better look at Johnny's expression.

Johnny waited until Edgar was in front of him before he slowly raised his head, staring at him with wide eyes. "It's...quiet. They're...gone."

"You mean...?" Edgar didn't know how to phrase his next words correctly, so gestured vaguely upwards instead. He immediately regretted doing so seconds afterwards, but of course he made neither emotion visible. Johnny stared at him with a mixture of fear and relief before reluctantly moving from his frozen state to join him in the tiled kitchen.

"It's...no one's talking to me anymore. Where...do you think...?" Johnny moved past Edgar swiftly, having apparently regained his focus, and began to rummage through the cupboards. "Do you think it was just the wall the whole time? I know the doughboys are the wall's now, it gives them power...do you think their influence only goes so far? I still don't hear anything. Why is that?"

Johnny seemed to be talking half to himself and half to Edgar. Edgar awkwardly watched as Johnny shifted boxes of crackers and other small food items out of the way in a deliberate manner.

"I couldn't say. Do you feel better now-" Edgar jumped as a box hit the floor with a loud noise. He stared at Johnny but he wasn't even paying attention to him, so he bent down and picked it up with a short sigh. He tried to remember what he had been saying. "Feel better now that nothing's...controlling you?"

"That's not it exactly." Johnny pulled a can out, stared at it, then dropped it carelessly. Edgar managed to catch it before it hit the counter with a tinge of irritation. Johnny continued his search uninterrupted. "I mean...I still want to kill people. It's just...it's very quiet."

So the voices don't tell him to kill. Good, that would have been rather cliché.

Since when was this a movie? Shut up.

Edgar caught a box of cookies as it left Johnny's hand, trying to keep his irritation out of his voice. Johnny did not take unreceptive or hostile audiences well. "So how is it different then?"

"Well..." Johnny smiled broadly as he finally found what he was looking for. "Ah! I knew it. I knew you had to have some. You seem like the kind of guy who would." Johnny put the can of pasta on the counter and began searching through drawers. "Everyone loves Skettios. I do."

"Nny..." Edgar began putting the misplaced items back in the cupboard as he tried to keep his patience. "How is it different?"

"Oh." Johnny's fingers glanced over the knives in the drawer before settling on a can-opener. "It's...well...it's complicated, like I said before. Whenever I felt something, I'd have all these voices giving me input about it. Telling me to be sad or happy or some emotion or reaction." Johnny seemed rather pleased at his find and his words were touched with an out-of-place carelessness. "Now they aren't there. It's very quiet. It's kind of scary."

"Oh." Edgar closed the cupboard and turned to face Johnny again, who had pulled the lid of the can off and was now searching for bowls. Edgar, not wanting to risk any more dishevelment of his kitchen, decided to help and handed him one. Johnny took it without any recognition of Edgar's involvement in the bowl's acquisition whatsoever. "...Are you okay?"

"Okay?" Johnny pressed buttons on the front of the microwave distractedly. "I'm never okay. But this is different. Very different. That can be a good thing sometimes."

"Alright...um..." Edgar moved to stand near him, although still a good distance away. Johnny stood, crossed his arms, and stared at the numbers on the display of the microwave with surprising focus. This level of concentration on Johnny's part seemed almost...worrisome. "Do you feel any better then?"

"I don't know." Johnny shrugged, although his eyes did not move. "I'm getting Skettios, so I guess that makes me happy. You ask a lot of questions."

"I know." Edgar felt another tinge of nervousness at the change in Johnny's tone, but with the level of concentration Johnny had invested in the microwave, he doubted that even such a potentially deadly statement could lead to an attack. "I mean...look. I'm not...a wall. I can't just be here and be silent. I can listen but...I can talk too. That's what a conversation is, really."

Yes, you certainly can't talk to yourself, can you?

Shut up.

Johnny twitched although he still did not move his eyes. "It just...it's not quiet, then. You're another voice."

"I don't want you to kill people though."

Jesus, what are you doing? Are you trying to provoke him?

Johnny twitched again and his fingers clenched the fabric of his shirt. Edgar quickly tried to recover, hoping that he hadn't made some grievous mistake.

"I mean...that didn't come out right. What I meant is that I don't want to control you or anything. If anything, I really kind of want you to be happy. It's...it's..."

Do NOT finish that sentence.

"Happy. I'm not happy." Johnny's voice was dark and low. Edgar stuck his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking. He faked a sigh to hide his fear.

"I know...out of curiosity...what does make you happy?"

Johnny blinked and was silent. One of the long pauses that were so common again found its place and Edgar stood awkwardly, watching Johnny's expression. It was frighteningly blank.

Beeping thankfully broke the silence and Johnny quickly took out the bowl. He turned and stared at him, his face still without expression. Edgar again felt nervous, felt the urge to back away, to get distance, to get away from danger. Johnny stared at him for a few seconds, then turned his attention down to the bowl in his hand. He licked one of his fingers that had strayed into the bowl's contents, then began to look for a fork.

"...There isn't much."

Edgar watched Johnny walk back into the living room after he found one, now ignoring him entirely. He followed him shortly afterwards with his hands still in his pockets, rubbing his fingers together in an effort to do something with all this nervous energy.

"I'm sorry if that was...I don't want to make you angry or anything. I'm just curious. You talk a lot about what you hate, but not so much about what you don't."

Johnny looked up at him from his vantage point on the couch. His voice was again, strangely monotone. "There isn't much. That's why."

"But there's something, right?"

Why are you still pursuing this? Are you going to get him what he wants? Go out on a nice picnic? Kill some picnickers? Where are you going with this?

"What are you thinking about?"

Edgar jerked at Johnny's sudden question, finding the frighteningly distant look transformed to misplaced curiosity. Another unpredictable mood swing.

"I'm just thinking to myself."

"I do that...that's all I do sometimes." Johnny paused as he chewed, then smiled brightly. "Well, other than kill people of course."

"Right." Edgar looked away, not sure of how else to respond. "That's...how it works sometimes."

That made no sense.

What was I supposed to say?

"You don't have a cat."

Again, the train of thought derails and kills someone.

"Um...no." Edgar blinked at Johnny who stared at him as if he had made a perfectly normal observation. "No, I don't."

"That's odd." Johnny shrugged and returned to eating. "You seem like a cat person to me."

"Really?" Edgar had never thought about getting a pet.

That would make you need a friend, wouldn't it? It'd be admitting you're lonely. And god, Edgar Vargas can't have that! No no no-

Shut UP!

"Yeah. This place is empty. It's very empty."

Edgar found himself thinking about Johnny's words probably more than the man himself had.

"You just seem like someone who would have a cat. A cat and a lot of books."

"Well, I do have books-"

"Not a lot of them though." Johnny paused, stared upwards for a moment, then again shrugged. "It looks like you'd get lonely here."

Edgar stared at Johnny in stunned silence.

Lonely...?

Johnny thinks I'm lonely?

Johnny thinks I'm lonely?

Well well, it looks like I'm not the only one. How many people have to say that before you realize it's true?

"I-I'm, I'm not lonely." Edgar stumbled over his words, something he was not too familiar with. Johnny looked at him quizzically. "I spend a lot of time by, by myself, but I'm not...I'm not lonely."

"I get lonely." Johnny's eyes fixed on his near-empty bowl. His voice was very soft. "Angry. I get lonely and angry."

"What do you do?"

As if you didn't know. What kind of question is that?

Johnny gave him a look as if the question was one of the easiest to answer in the entire world. "I try to kill myself of course. I'm lonely because everyone in this entire world is...I thought maybe I could find someone better over..." Johnny trailed off, his eyes dropping again back down to his bowl. "I could...find people I wouldn't hate."

"What stopped you?"

What on EARTH are you DOING? Poke a knife in Edgar, he's stupid!

Johnny had to think about this for a few seconds, then he replied in a calm and reasonable voice. "This commercial I really liked came on."

Edgar could not think of a response.

Johnny again seemed oblivious to Edgar's constant bafflement at his behavior. For the entirety of the silence that followed his statement he kept eye contact with Edgar, his expression unchanging. Waiting for him to say something.

The silence pressed on Edgar's nerves with increasing insistence and he could not stay quiet any longer. He broke eye contact along with the silence, raising one hand to gesture as if it could give his words the meaning that he wasn't sure would come across.

"I...I see."

Johnny smiled at his hesitant words.

"No you don't."

The look of surprise crossed Edgar's face again in only so many minutes, but finally he smiled in return. "I don't."

Johnny nodded as if he had won an argument, then turned towards Edgar's television. He looked at the blank screen for a few seconds before turning to Edgar with a questioning stare.

Edgar picked up the remote and pointed it at the television, but before he pressed the appropriate button, a question that had been bothering him unexpectedly came forth.

"You don't hate me, do you?"

In the silence that followed, Edgar turned slowly and found that Johnny's face frozen in an expression of utter and total disbelief. When he finally spoke, he sounded both confused and almost offended.

"No. No, I don't hate you."

Edgar turned on the television. Immediately, Johnny moved to the couch in front of it, his hand held out for the remote. Edgar gave it to him silently.

What does that mean?

What?

He said he tried to kill himself because he wanted to find something better. He wanted someone he didn't hate and now he has one.

What's he going to do with you, I wonder.


Chapter Text

Johnny had no intention of sleeping--particularly after what had happened last time he had given in to it--but Edgar had no reason to follow his example. When the time began to venture into single digits, Edgar yawned, announced he was going to bed, and awaited a response.

Johnny had not said a word to Edgar after he figured out how to work the remote control.

He at least expected a good night but was not surprised when it did not come. He shut the door behind him as he went into his room, turned off the lights, and went to bed.


He was not sure how much time had passed before something woke him; a slight rustling and a change in the mattress's position. He was unfamiliar to such sensations, sensitive to them.

He rubbed at his eyes and tried to focus in the darkness on what could have caused such a disturbance. The window that he usually kept hidden behind curtains was now open. The night outside was still and quiet, so the noise had not come from there.

However, a great deal of moonlight had found its way through the window and gave his room more illumination than he would have expected. He still could not see anything specific, only dark blotches that could have been anything.

"You asked me..." The whispered voice shocked him for a few seconds before Edgar remembered who was in his house. He turned in the general direction of the voice but could not make out its exact source. He fumbled for his glasses as the whisper continued, an almost singsong tone entering into it. "You asked me if there was anything that made me happy."

"Yeah..." Edgar's voice was still thick from sleep. He guessed that maybe Johnny was standing near the window...there was a dark spot there.

"The moon..." Soft, almost plaintive words. "The moon does...make me happy. The moon and the stars...look at it..."

Edgar's questing fingers finally felt the edges of his glasses and hesitated. Would they really help in this situation? He doubted Johnny was going to turn on the light. He left them where they were.

"It is...it's rather pretty sometimes."

"It's..." A dark spot against the soft light moved towards him, causing him to jump slightly. Johnny had been sitting near the foot of his bed, although still in view of the window. "I can't explain it really..."

"You can try..." Edgar sat up fully and ran a hand through his hair unconsciously, watching the dark spot's motion. Now that he had identified it, he could recognize the colors of Johnny's clothes and skin, although they blended in with his surroundings now. "I'll listen."

"You'll listen..." Johnny sighed and stood, moving along the side of the bed slowly until he stood next to where Edgar was sitting. He sat down near him slowly, hesitantly. Edgar could make out his head, his hands, but not his face. "You listen to me."

"Yes..."

A long silence followed. Edgar toyed with the edge of his sheets as he waited for Johnny to formulate his thoughts.

I wonder what he wants to say...

Are you there...?

"I want to tell you something." Johnny had his back to him. Edgar was fairly sure of it now. "It's important."

"I'm listening."

More movement. Now Johnny faced him, his hands pushing down on the sheets so he could feel the fabric being pulled across his legs. Despite the change in position, Edgar still could not see his face. Maybe he should have put on his glasses after all...

"I'm going to kill you, Edgar."

Against all rational thought, Edgar's first reaction to this news was a deep sigh.

"I can't...I can't say...I'm really...surprised." Edgar looked at Johnny, amazed at his own apathy.

If I'm going to die, I have nothing to lose.

"Why?" Edgar waited for only a few seconds before speaking again. "And...when...?"

"It's not a bad thing." Johnny pulled his legs onto the bed, now sitting crosslegged near him. His voice was again frighteningly carefree. "I know it's hard for you to understand that, but it's not supposed to be a bad thing. I like you, you know."

"Why do you want to kill me then? If you like me..." Edgar took a short breath. "Wouldn't you want to...keep me around?"

"Oh..." His eyes were acclimating to the dark, and Edgar could see Johnny look down towards the bedspread, his hands toying with one another. "It's...I don't want..."

"If you really like me...why would you want to kill me?" Edgar rested his arms on his raised knees.

"Everyone I know...it's...I think of it like...corruption...no..." He could make out Johnny running a hand through his hair. "Everything...ends. It all ends so badly. So empty. Good-byes and farewells and you're left with nothing but bad memories. Memories of fights and arguments and sad times...they make everything so dark and murky. So...unpleasant."

Edgar waited, not sure of where this was going. Johnny raised a hand towards him, but pulled it back quickly.

"I don't want terrible memories...bad times and hurt feelings. I want it to be perfect...I want something to be perfect and clear and always wonderful...a beautiful moment frozen in time forever...I never have to say good-bye, they'd never leave at all...do you see what I'm getting at?"

"But, Nny...if you do...cut something off like that, you're...limiting the amount of happiness that you could have. Sometimes things do end badly, but there can be so many opportunities for good times through an entire relationship-"

"No!" He felt the sheet pulled sharply across his legs as Johnny's fists clenched the fabric. "No, dammit, you don't understand!"

"Nny-"

"Don't you see? Can't you see at all? I'm doing this-, I want-, I don't want ugly memories, I don't want people changing and hating, I don't want people to hate me, I don't want to hate you and I don't want you to hate me so I have to stop everything, freeze everything at that moment so that can never happen! I want this to be perfect...I want this to be something I can remember forever, something that never got broken and infected and decayed...I want...I want this to be forever...one thing in my life...to be forever..."

His hands released the sheets to take hold of his hair and then he was a miserable ball curled on Edgar's sheets, rocking slightly back and forth.

I can't...he doesn't...? I don't believe this...I had...

"You...you don't want me to hate you...?"

"God no...no no no no..."

"Nny...I wouldn't...hate you. I don't hate you now."

"No!" Johnny stopped rocking, the force of his sudden violent exclamation almost shaking his thin frame. Edgar watched Johnny's hands tremble as false fury was forced into his words and actions, thin and transparent. "No, you don't understand, this isn't about now, it's about the future! It's about what always happens! This always happens! I'm going to break you because I can't function properly myself!"

"I don't know...if you'll believe me when I say this." Edgar struggled to find words, hoping that Johnny wouldn't make good on his threat so soon. "You've tried to kill me...a lot of times now...you've frightened me and confused me...but that doesn't really matter."

This is such a feel-good moment. I feel all fuzzy inside, don't you?

I was wondering where you went off to.

Taking Johnny's lack of speech as an indication to continue, Edgar raised one hand towards him slowly. The hesitance in the motion and the jerkiness of his reactions, his hands tendency to retreat quickly at Johnny's slightest movement, revealed that his tone did not match his current mood. "Think of how this all began. Time only made everything...better, don't you think? You're here and I'm here...it's a beautiful night, the moon is out...time made this happen. Time could make more things happen-"

"No, I don't want more. I want this. I want now. I want..."

Edgar sighed and turned his attention to his sheets. He let his raised hand rest against his head, tangling his fingers as best he could in his short hair. "Listen...even if you are going to kill me...I...know it's because you...cared about me in some way. I...understand."

"I can't...no. This is going all wrong..." Johnny's hands matched Edgar's, finding a familiar place in his hair. "This isn't how it's supposed to be. I'm not supposed to..."

"You could think of it...think of it this way. You wanted to kill yourself before because you never found someone worth living for."

That was surprisingly eloquent.

"You're still alive now, for one reason or another, and...here I am."

You DO know what you just insinuated, right?

He could feel Johnny's eyes boring into him. Edgar struggled to keep his arm still as he held out his hand.

"You could have a perfect moment frozen like this...but you could miss an even better one later on."

Edgar the fortune cookie.

Shh.

Johnny's questioning eyes drove into him and the man's arms moved downwards, his hands held out in a confused and pleading way.

"What are you trying to do to me?"

"I'm not...I'm not trying to do anything. Here..." Edgar took a deep breath then reached out for one of Johnny's hands. He hoped that with the speed and force that he used that his shaking would not be noticed. The skeletal fingers wrapped around his own automatically.

"See...if you killed me before...this never would have happened."

Johnny was silent for a few moments, then he pulled his fingers free from Edgar's grip, his arm settling back protectively against his thin body. Hoping to read some kind of reaction, Edgar was disappointed. Johnny remained impassive throughout each nerve-wracking second of suddenly loud heartbeats and inhalations. The silence now felt more oppressive than ever.

Slowly, Edgar saw fingers coming through the darkness at him. They touched the skin beneath his eyes, caught the edge of a bandage with one nail.

"I don't understand you." Johnny's voice was unreadable. "I told you...right now I just told you that at some point in our relationship, I plan on killing you, and you're still here."

A tug at the plastic and a tug at his skin in response. Edgar winced slightly but did not move. Johnny edged even closer and now his facial features were in range to be read. Confusion and determination.

"Listen to me now, Edgar Vargas." Johnny hissed. A sharper tug on the bandage raised more of its glue from his skin painfully and Edgar could not suppress a shudder. "Listen to me. I am going to hurt you. And when the time comes, I am going to kill you."

"I know-"

"Then tell me why. Why aren't you running out of this room, fighting me, making me stop like any normal person? Why don't you fight me, Edgar?" Johnny punctuated his menacing words with more tugs on the bandage, causing more sharp sparks of pain. Edgar winced but still did not move away.

"While we're asking questions..." Edgar hissed through his teeth. "Why do you want to hurt me at all?"

The nail against his skin left as Johnny withdrew his hand, staring at Edgar with a strange sense of calm rather than the indignant rage he had expected. Edgar returned his gaze as coolly as he could manage.

Johnny finally broke contact to move his eyes back down to the sheets. Edgar almost could not hear his next despondently slow words.

"It's what I do."

I'm going to die anyway. I'm going to give it a try.

"If there's anything I'm trying to do...it's...trying to make things easier for you." Edgar rubbed at the bandage on his face, pushing the adhesive back against his skin. He searched for Johnny's eyes as he spoke, but he kept them downcast, focusing on his hands with familiar intensity. "I saw something...a while ago. While you were watching that movie. I saw something that...wasn't broken. I know that somewhere...there's a piece of you that works."

After saying this, Edgar took another deep breath and held it for a few seconds, hoping it would give him the courage that he needed. Slowly and hesitantly, he reached out his hands and placed them on Johnny's thin shoulders. The bones poked into the palms of his hands, his shoulder blades lingering at his fingertips. At the contact, Johnny's head snapped upwards and he stared at him with with a mixture of confusion and mistrust.

"What are you doing?"

"I..." Edgar lifted his hands immediately at the sudden movement, his heart jumping at Johnny's words. Only a few seconds passed before he let them fall back into place as a smile crossed his face. "I'm not going to hurt you."

"I know that." Johnny glared at him. "I-I don't like to be touched." He seemed thankful for this change in subject and latched onto the new topic quickly. "It's empty."

"Empty?"

"Yes, empty. Every touch, every person's skin and nerves grating against my own, it's all meaningless. Everything is for a cheap thrill, for the moment, for personal gratification and another mark on a meaningless tally, and moving on. It's all empty, animal urges that never got fully erased, lusts and desires we mask with more complicated titles. It's all so disgusting, all so...empty. Nothing is as real as anyone says, every touch just takes more of me away, absorbing and taking."

In the midst of a speech that sounded almost as if it had been rehearsed, Johnny's hands flashed out with characteristic speed and accuracy. The thin fingers wrapped tightly around Edgar's wrist and pulled his hand upwards, palm facing the blue-haired man. Johnny stared at Edgar, his voice almost crazed with a strangely desperate passion.

"Look at this, look at this! Flesh and sinew all melded together into such an imperfect machine! A void where there ought to be meaning. Where there should be something, anything, there is nothing."

Johnny took his free hand and pressed it against Edgar's, fingers matching his own as a mirror image. The skeletal tips pushed into his skin and Edgar felt the hairs on his arms rise.

"It's..." Johnny paused, taking a deep breath. "God, it's so base and...so pointless. Meaningless animalistic attraction without any kind of redeeming value...I can feel it...I can feel you pulling at me as I speak. Your touch just taking from me...you're empty...you're so empty..."

Is he trying to convince me or himself...?

You know, most people wouldn't stand for being called a meaninglessly empty animalistic...animal. You should do something about that.

"Nny-"

Johnny continued as if Edgar hadn't spoken but had somehow prompted him to continue at the same time. "I don't like to be touched. I don't want to be touched because-"

"Nny, listen to me." Edgar's surprisingly stern tone startled Johnny into silence. His claw-like fingers still dug into the skin of his wrist and he could feel Johnny's cool skin against his own. "I'm not empty." Edgar raised his free hand before Johnny could speak. "Listen to me for once. I am not empty."

Edgar moved his trapped fingers, sliding along the edges of Johnny's until they held tightly onto the thin, cold palm. "Look at this. You can feel this. You can feel this. I don't want anything you're talking about. I don't want gratification. I don't want anything from you at all. You're not here because I wanted your company. You're not sitting on this bed talking to me because that's what I wanted to do with my life."

"Don't-"

He could feel Nny's fingers beginning to slide from his wrist. "You're in control of this, Nny. You're even in control of me, to some extent. I don't want to take anything from you. I don't want to take anything. I'm not trying to fill a void in my life, I'm not some black hole trying to tempt you to the dark side."

Mixing your metaphors there.

Not now.

"I'm not trying to use you. I am not empty and I am not a wall, Johnny. I'm here for you, but I'm still here."

Didn't know you had it in you, Edgar. You really told him off.

In the silence that followed, Edgar was not sure what to do. One hand now rested harmlessly against the sheets, but his other was still in the air, still holding onto Johnny's palm.

Slowly Johnny lowered his fingers, tips scraping between his knuckles, and his wrist was released. They sat there with their hands intertwined, neither of them sure how to break the silence.

I wish I had a camera. This would make a great picture.

You never quit, do you?

"I want to fix you."

Edgar hoped that maybe his words would prompt some kind of response from the taciturn man but he still sat quietly, his eyes fixated on his one hand.

Almost two minutes passed.

"I want to kill you right now." A very soft, vulnerable whisper. "I want you dead."

Edgar smiled in a sad way.

"Thanks."

Silence.

Edgar could feel Johnny's skin warm up with his consistent close contact as he struggled to find something to focus on. While Johnny no doubt was thinking deeply about what Edgar had said, Edgar could only think of how awkward this pause was.

So many pauses in your conversations and you're still not used to them?

Johnny didn't say anything, only alternately looking from his trapped hand to his trapped victim with varying emotion. Edgar tried to maintain eye contact, but his own eyes followed Johnny's to their matched hands more often than not.

A faint light began to shine outside the window. It grew with steady intensity as a car drove by on the street, engine breaking the fragile quiet that held them together. It faded away without either of them looking away or speaking.

What do I do now?

God, you're so bad at this. Think Edgar! You like to read. You go out and see movies occasionally. Now, think carefully about this -- what would they do in this situation? Say, our hero has been confronted with a weeping or emotionally confused friend. He restates his friendship and intention to remain committed to said friendship. And what happens after that?

...Um...

Well, they don't just hold hands. More often than not, if your faulty brain would like to recall, they tend to hug. Men, woman, and children. All hug.

Are you saying I should hug him? Are you insane?

Coming from the man who just held his hand and told the serial killer not to toy with him?

I'm not going to hug him, he told me before, I'm not going to do something-

Look at Edgar, a regular flimsy excuse factory. Pump out another one. C'mon, it's not a big deal. Give him a quick, manly hug.

A manly hug.

Hey, you're the one holding hands with some guy in the dark in the middle of the night.

Edgar sat and watched Johnny's expression, hoping that it would give him some indication as to what to do. Johnny at the moment was not staring at Edgar or his trapped hand, his eyes instead fixed on the bedspread once again as if he expected it to break the silence.

Maybe I shouldn't interrupt him.

Johnny looked up as he noticed Edgar's inquisitive look and his expression softened into one of bewildered puzzlement.

It's amusing how both of you have NO idea how the other one thinks. Now hug him you twit.

Edgar coughed slightly, one of the first noises to come from either of them since he had taken hold of him. He gently pulled Johnny's hand toward him and found that the skeletal man did not resist, his only reaction a curious stare. As Edgar raised his other hand, Johnny mimicked him, the expression on his face dispelling any doubt that this was accidental.

See, he wants to hug you too.

God, what do you have to gain from this?

A hug. Paranoid much?

Johnny's right arm settled across his shoulders, touching his neck briefly before sliding downwards. He suppressed a shudder at the lack of flesh on the man's bones, the chilling feeling of unnatural and unhealthy thinness. Edgar untangled his fingers from Johnny's so as to complete the hug and Johnny followed suit, awkwardly and hesitantly. A second skeletal arm to join the first. He could feel the ribs through Johnny's back and trace his fingers across his spine. Edgar's hands stumbled for a moment over his protruding shoulder blades before settling down just beneath them.

This disturbed Edgar a great deal. He had seen pictures, heard stories, and had been warned against the consequences of an insufficient diet. Yet here he was actually holding an illustration in his arms. It felt unnatural and strange.

You know what your first reaction to this is? What you want to do? You tried to hide it pretty quickly, but I know what it was. You wanted to feed him. You want to fix the psychopath and make him all healthy. That's so cute, Edgar. Seriously. You should go out to dinner, make a regular date out of it.

...tell me to hug him, then make fun of me for it. What do you want?

Oh, come now. I didn't poke fun at you hugging him. I poked fun at the fact that our dear delightful martyr Edgar wants to feed the starving man-child that's killed hundreds. Oh, and by the way, I can feel it in you now. How long has it been?

Don't start this again-

How long has it been since you hugged someone, Edgar? Since you were a little kid? You don't have any relatives now. You don't have anyone to hug except what basically could be equated to a shotgun blast to the head. Edgar's last embrace of cold hard steel. So magnificently self-destructive! Where did this come from?

Don't-

Don't what, Edgar? You've proclaimed so many times that you're not lonely and here you are! Look at it! You've made that into such a mantra that you've managed to find a loophole in it in order to keep a relationship with Johnny! You say you don't need people and here you have the worst one imaginable! You've raised the bar for hypocrisy, Edgar! It's amazing!

I'm doing this-

Oh, I'm doing this for him. Always the same story. It's for Johnny, it's to help someone, blah blah blah. Everything you do is for you, Edgar. Not other people. Everything you do is inherently selfish. That's how human behavior works. There's no altruism anymore. You know how I know this? You're hugging that maniac and guess what? You're shaking. Why is that? Your heart-rate's jumped up quite a bit as well...it's not fear. That has a different effect. What is this? Do you enjoy this? Is this what you wanted out of life?

I'm not-

Well here you go, Edgar! You wanted someone, well, here he is! He's right here! And you're so happy about it you can't even register it consciously. And look, your little friend is shaking too, although I bet it's for more practical reasons. I'm assuming he's cold.

I should wrap the blanket around us then...

And you change topics once again. I guess we'll discuss this later.

Before Edgar could make a move Johnny pulled away from him violently, visibly shaking. He stared at Edgar with wide, frightened eyes. Johnny backed away from Edgar so quickly that he stumbled, hands and feet tangling in loose sheets. Edgar sat still, not wanting to do anything to provoke him further.

"You...you're lying."

Edgar could not help a quick, soft reply. "What?"

"You've been lying to me..." Johnny did not seem angry or intent on his bodily harm, instead backing away from him as if fearing an attack. His thin hands splayed across the sheets, crumpling and shifting as he moved backwards. He stared at Edgar in terror, although the scarred man could not comprehend what on earth he was afraid of. "You've...that's not right."

"What was I lying about?" Edgar kept his voice calm and level, hoping that the conversation hadn't descended into irretrievable territory. Johnny lowered his head, hands darting up to push against the sides of it as if to keep something inside. He closed his eyes tightly, hissing words as he shook his head back and forth.

"No no no...this isn't...it's not..."

"Nny-"

"You're lying." Johnny let go of his head and met Edgar's stare calmly, his composure regained. Edgar was slightly taken aback at the sudden change in mood. "You're lying to me about everything."

"Do you have any specifics...?" Edgar tried to sound non-threatening. Johnny pointed at him accusingly.

"You said that you wanted to help me. That you liked me. But what about what I do, Edgar? You saw me tear people apart. You told me originally that I was going to Hell. What happened to that? Do you think it's okay that I kill people, Edgar?" Johnny's voice had a frighteningly panicky tone in it, desperate in some strange way. Edgar paused, formulating what he hoped would be a neutral response. Where on earth had this attack come from...?

"Nny, it is possible to like a person without liking what they do-"

"No!" Johnny finally leapt off the bed, landing on the floor in near silence without ever taking his eyes off him. He trembled violently, his entire body shaking with surprising intensity. One fist clenched tightly at his side as he continued to point at Edgar. "No no no! You don't understand! You don't understand anything!"

Johnny's last word was agonized and his hands returned to his head, grasping, nails sinking into his skin. Edgar shifted forward slowly, hoping not to attract undue attention to his movement.

"Don't you get it? Don't you see?" Johnny watched him closely, although Edgar was sure at this point that Johnny was beyond caring about whether or not Edgar was moving. "I told you before, I can't remember anything anymore. Everything's becoming blurry and ruined and I can't remember who I am or who I used to be. The only thing that defines me as me anymore is killing other people!"

"Nny, that's not true, that doesn't make you who you are. Your character and your actions are two different things, and it's possible for me to like one over the other-"

"No!" Johnny shrieked at him with sudden, vicious energy. "Don't you get it! Don't you understand? That's all I have left!"

Johnny stalked out of the room furiously, slamming the door on his way out. Edgar stared at it for a few moments as he tried to organize his scattered thoughts.

Maybe hugging him wasn't such a good idea.

Chapter Text

"Shut up..." Nny stumbled down the instinctive path to his house, his voice a keening whine in his throat. God everything was going wrong, going so wrong all over again and it was his fault, again...

I knew it all along. There is no happiness for you, Johnny boy. There never will be. Their voices got louder and more distinct as he got closer to the house, the only place he felt truly attached to, albeit not in a good way. Yet in that sense you know, without any kind of doubt that you will die there. You began there, lived through it all, and eventually the thing that spawned you will claim you again. That was what his house was. A tether holding him to reality, pulling itself over a beam tighter and tighter and he was on his toes, hands grasping at the rope around his neck...

"I'm not going to..." Johnny was sure that people were staring, laughing, and pointing at him as he walked down the street arguing with himself, but he was too confused to find the motivation or ability to kill a few of them. "I'm...I'm ruining..."

I told you before that the only solace lies in death, Johnny, and I was right. Since it seems that your friend Edgar's out of the question, that only leaves one more candidate for happiness. Aren't you sick of all this human drama, Nny? Sick of the games that you've been playing in an effort to win? I told you you couldn't win, Johnny.

Wait a minute, Johnny. I'm afraid I have to disagree with my friend here as usual. You may think you've ruined things, but in reality you've done no such thing.

"What the fuck are you talking about!" Johnny lashed his arm out to one side, knocking over a woman who had been following him a little too closely. He didn't even notice her. "He fucking hates me! He has to hate me!"

Why is that, Johnny? If you can't understand yourself, I at least can. You did that on purpose, didn't you? Yelling at Edgar and leaving his house in the perfect example of a hissy fit. That was done purposely. "Not helping!" Johnny, without paying a great deal of attention, pushed someone who lingered too long in front of him out of the way. Normally, after he had dragged the staring interloper back to his house, he would have explained to that person why he felt their forthcoming extermination necessary, but at the moment all he could feel or respond to was simple, unencumbered violence. "You're not helping, Eff!"

You wanted perfection, Johnny, remember? You wanted to have a perfect relationship. And a few minutes ago that was exactly what you had.

Johnny threw open the door to his house, watching the doorknob slam into the weakened plaster. It left a roundish hole. "And then I-"

You did this on purpose. You don't want to kill him, so you're prolonging the path to perfection-

"Fah!" The Styrofoam creature had found physical voice now that Johnny was present to see and hear him. It ventured forward towards Johnny who had collapsed on the couch. "You're so desperate, Eff, it's sickening."

"Desperate? Me?" His counterpart joined Psycho-Doughboy near Johnny's form. "You're the one who's desperate. We're so close and you can't wait a few measly days..."

"I'm not going to wait and I don't want to wait. You want this, not me. I'm tired of baby-sitting this emotional train-wreck of a person and yes, I'm talking about you." D-boy glared as Johnny looked up at him. Johnny didn't even emotionally react, only letting his face rest again on his arms. "It's disgusting and degrading and the sooner it's over with the better. Isn't that right, Johnny-boy?"

"Why can't I be normal...?" Johnny's voice was strained and tight, his hands moving to clutch at the back of his neck, leaving red lines from where his short nails dug into skin. His entire body clenched and his muscles trembled as Johnny struggled to find some way, something, or somewhere he could vent his frustration. "Why does this always happen to me...?"

"You do it to yourself, Johnny." Mr. Eff's tone originally was admonishing but was altered halfway through into something resembling comforting. D-Boy made a scoffing noise at his other half.

"Johnny, I've told you before and you never listen. You always back away with some ridiculous nonsense about how you're invincible, about how you can't die. Well, prove me wrong now, Johnny. You've got nothing left to live for anyway. Everyone hates you, even yourself. If you're really reaching for examples, even me."

"Johnny, I know this is a rather emotional period for you, but don't do anything stupid. I'm very close to what I want and so are you." Mr. Eff's words were short and somewhat admonishing. "Don't let D fool you. There are things waiting for you if you don't kill yourself. There are great things. Why don't you call Edgar? I'm sure he's waiting for you. I bet he completely understands."

It was obvious that Mr. Eff was lying. Johnny at this point did not care, tearing at the back of his neck viciously as his mental battle raged in physical form. The pain wasn't able to block them, wasn't able to silence them, and Johnny's thoughts could not even make coherent sentences. A rambling series of words that slipped away before he could grab them in his desperate attempt to express himself somehow.

"You're confused, Johnny. Why don't you go get something to eat? I bet a Brain Freezy would cheer you up immensely." Mr. Eff ventured to put a hand on Johnny's back. "Get your mind off this and onto better things. You could go visit the high school and kill one of those annoying kids who laughed- laugh at you. Get some blood on your hands, Nny. It does a body good."

"Always with the distractions, Eff!" Mr. Eff withdrew his hand and stared at D-boy, who was gesturing towards the sky. "Meaningless distractions! A minor release, a little happiness and then what? That descent into darker feelings! Speed bumps on an inevitable journey to absolute misery. Are you listening?" D-Boy looked at Johnny for a response, but the blue-haired man was still mumbling into the couch cushion and clawing at himself.

"Kill yourself, Johnny. End this vile ride. End it all and finally find some peace. That's what you've wanted all along and that's what you wanted from Edgar. You're not going to get it any other way."

"Just be quiet...just shut up..." The couch cushion muffled choked, ragged words as Johnny curled into a fetal position. D-boy did not hide his distaste.

"You can't hide anymore, Johnny. You make me sick. Always so close, always inches away and something in you turns back. I'm sick of your cowardice."

"Johnny, you know me. I'm your friend." Mr. Eff quickly took advantage of his partner's hostility. "I want the best for you. Go out and have some fun. Go out and smile again. For me. Go outside for me."

Upset at Mr. Eff upstaging him, D-boy quickly changed tack. "Don't listen to him. He's lying. Can you deny anything I'm saying, Nny? Can you? You can't. This world hates you. There's a better world waiting for you in death. Why do you hesitate? Go there, Johnny. You can trust me. You've always trusted me, always came back to me." D-Boy smirked at Mr. Eff's malevolent glare in his direction at this comment. "You know me and I know you, and I can say this for certain: you have nothing to live for. There's nothing for you here now. You've destroyed everything, so move forward and find new worlds. New, better places. You know I'm right. Kill yourself."

Johnny didn't respond, only shuddering as his hands clutched tightly at his shoulders. D-boy and Mr. Eff watched him for a few moments before walking off, their Styrofoam limbs making slight squeaking noises with each movement.

"What use is it. He's not going to do anything now. He's just going wallow in self-pity."

"No surprise there." D-boy glared at Mr. Eff who readily returned it. "But when he finds the energy, I'm sure he'll be on my side again. I assure you, he's going to kill himself. We'll be reunited after all and that'll be the end of it."

"I'm this close." Mr. Eff raised a hand, although he did not have all the digits to indicate the measurement. "No one is going to stop me. No one. That Edgar boy is my card. You'll see. He's going to buy me time."


Edgar remained on his bed, staring at the blurry area where Johnny had departed for a length of time he could not exactly quantify. When he finally did move, his arms and legs felt stiff and moved jerkily, and immediately were accompanied by the uncomfortable pricking sensation of renewed blood flow.

He picked up his glasses and put them on before stepping off of his bed. He sighed softly to himself as he walked towards the door.

Is he really gone...?

Most likely.

Edgar opened the door cautiously and sure enough, his apartment was empty. Although Johnny had apparently been rather busy after Edgar had gone to sleep. Most of the books on his shelf had been pulled down and scattered on the floor, open to seemingly random pages. Some of his drawers had been pulled out and their contents spread across tables and desks. On closer inspection, he noticed that all of his pens had their caps removed. Odd.

The TV was still on, although on a low volume. He could faintly hear more noticeable syllables as actors spoke, but on the whole the sound had faded back into a comfortable hum. All the lights were on as far as he could tell. Apparently Johnny had gone exploring when Edgar had left.

He opened a closet to find its light on, but its contents mysteriously undisturbed.

Why would he turn on a light only to close the door on it?

It probably meant something to him. Considering you don't have an exactly stellar record in the 'understanding Nny' department, I doubt any of your guesses could be more valid.

Edgar felt a general sense of unease in the back of his mind, something that he was unfamiliar with. Something was amiss, something important and yet easily fixable. Something...

Where are you?

What?

Are you near my bed?

...Are you referring to the toy that that small, wide-eyed boy gave you?

Squee, yes. Where are you?

Hold on. You're asking me where your little toy is. Why?

You...

Is that how this is going to work? I don't suppose reminding you of how futile this is will change your mind, right? Reminders of how I'm a part of you, a mental piece of yourself, would any of that change your mind? Because to be perfectly honest, I think this is bordering a little on the 'crazy cat lady' side here, Edgar.

You really don't want me to do this, do you? Why is that?

Obviously because it means you're going insane. You've personified me enough, haven't you?

No...no, I think I know why you're doing this. You're still trying to hide in me, pretend to be a part of me. I'm not falling for that because I know that you aren't a part of me anymore.

Anymore, hmm? Implying that, at some point, I was? Do you see what I'm getting at?

Where are you?

You mean, where is your little Scriabin toy.

...Scriabin...

Yes, that is, in fact, his name. I'm glad you were paying attention.

Edgar smiled to himself at the excessive sarcasm in his mental voice's tone. He was defensive, struggling. He had him now, he knew it.

Your name is Scriabin.

You're giving me a name, Edgar? This is not a good sign. You know that, right?

And now I'm one step closer to getting rid of you. Just pull you farther out of myself and eventually I'll go back to normal.

I'm sorry, but that has to be one of the funniest things I've heard yet. There's no more normal for you, Edgar. Not while all the lights in your house have been turned on and there's some homicidal maniac wandering the streets out there with a bizarre connection between love and death and you. How are you going to sleep tonight?

Scriabin, where are you?

Edgar paused in the hallway, waiting for his response. He heard him give a soft sigh before the familiar mocking tone was audible again.

Fine, I'll play your demented game. But don't say I never warned you. I've been fighting this from the beginning. You just keep giving in.

Where are you?

I believe your psychotic friend put your action-figure in one of the drawers in your bedroom.

No wonder he felt so ill at ease. Scriabin had been moved from his appointed place...he should take care of that.

As he walked back towards his room, he nearly tripped over an open book that had been left in the hallway. Mumbling angrily to himself, Edgar leaned down and picked it up, glancing at the words for a few seconds before snapping the book shut.

I didn't know he liked to read. He seems to read a lot, actually, considering all the books he pulled down. But he seems so interested in television and movies...

Excuse me for breaking your enthralling reverie, but I don't think Nny was reading.

Edgar unconsciously carried the book with him as he went back to his room. Flicking on the light, he noticed that his room had also been tampered with while he had been asleep. Noticeably his curtains and window were open, which he swiftly remedied. One of his desk lamps had been knocked over, although it did not look damaged.

How could he have knocked that over without me noticing...?

You know, considering whom we're dealing with, I bet he just put it down sideways because it looks better that way.

Edgar sighed and continued looking around. The stack of books near his bed had been toppled, although they were not open, and his closet had also been rummaged through. His clothes still remained in their drawers, although they looked hastily refolded, and the drawers themselves had been left inexplicably open. One of his spare trench coats was on the floor next to a few empty hangers.

"Do I really sleep that heavily?" Edgar mumbled to himself as he opened one of the few closed drawers. Scriabin's plastic form greeted him, both of his arms now directed straight upwards. Johnny must have played with it while he was asleep.

I wonder how long he was in my room before he spoke...

Edgar shivered slightly as he replaced Scriabin by the phone. The feeling resided, finally, and Edgar felt as he could relax. Fixed.

Look at that book.

Edgar finally noticed what he had been holding in one hand.

"It's a book, I don't see what's so peculiar about it..." Edgar grumbled to himself as he began flipping pages without paying a great deal of attention.

The book had a single blank page in the back, typical of the printing process. When he reached it, Edgar stopped.

Scrawled across the page were random sharp lines, zigzagging across the paper with such violence that it had left physical imprints. There were a few grooves that he could feel when he ran his fingers over them that had no markings to accompany them.

A black, jagged mess.

I think he was testing your pens.

...Why?

Well, why don't you get the other books and find out?

Edgar sat silently for a while, plotting out his next actions carefully, and put the book down purposefully on his bed. He would systematically pick up all the discarded books in all the rooms and after organizing them by length, go through them one by one, checking for any other signs of Nny's presence.

You really are a piece of work, aren't you Edgar?

Edgar put his plan into effect with a simple-minded focus, struggling to quiet his general fear at what the books would contain. Dates for his impending death? Methods? Or just all too personal looks into Johnny's mind?

There's the problem, Edgar. Do you really want to know what goes on in Johnny's head? It frightens you, doesn't it? That's hardly a scientific way of looking at things.

Edgar ignored Scriabin as he made his way back to his room, arms full of books of varying lengths and sizes.

Quick perusal discovered that Nny had experimented with several books before apparently he found a pen he liked. In the particular book where this was located, the scribbles and jags had formed coherent words, although they were disjointed and made no sense. A few syllables, random letters thrown together, Johnny's name.

Finally, he found a book with actual legible writing. It was a printing that had two blank sheets at the back. Johnny's writing was cramped and jagged and written entirely in capital letters, occasional spots or blemishes between words from his designated pen. Any space not filled with letters had small drawings instead or phrases that must have occurred to Johnny after filling a page.

Dear

Edgar closed the book with a twinge of conscience.

I don't know if I should be reading these...it's an invasion of privacy...

Oh please. You went through all this work to locate and classify all of your books that he mangled and graffitied in and now you're claiming the moral high ground? You're just scared of what they'll say. Go ahead and read them.

Edgar reluctantly reopened the book, his eyes staring at the words and looking away several times before he finally forced them to stay still.

Dear

The next word had been scribbled out and rewritten several times until only a black blotch remained. Beside this, with a few lines crossing it out, was the final word that Johnny had apparently decided on.

Dear book,

I shouldn't be doing this. These aren't my books. This isn't my house. It's just...so quiet here. Felt like I should say something. Edgar went to sleep.

He's not going to like me writing in these. Couldn't find any paper though. Unless it's in his room. I don't want to go in there yet.

The next few sentences were written in larger, angrier letters.

Fuck! Why doesn't this man have any soda? What ungodly manner of house is this! I want my sugary fluid! I want it! If I can't go out and get it myself, he should have it for me! Why? Why, God, why! Why must I be cursed to be without my precious caffeine?

Although more words scrawled across the opposite page, the sheer ridiculousness of what he had just read caused Edgar to pause.

Marvelous. The inner workings of Johnny's brain right here at your fingertips. Is it all you thought it could be, Edgar?

I have soda in one of the lower drawers. Edgar thought indignantly. Why didn't he check there? I'm not some godless heathen just because he couldn't find my soda.

Yes, Edgar, that is exactly what you should be focusing on right now.

Edgar got up and headed for the kitchen; increasingly incensed that Johnny could have ranted so angrily about something that was not even his fault. Despite the ridiculous over-the-top manner of Johnny's small rant, Edgar felt as frustrated at him as if it had been a valid complaint.

Smiling as if he had won the non-existent argument, Edgar found his collection of soda cans in one of his fridge drawers, rolling about freely. See? He should have been more observant.

Scriabin's words came very slowly. Congratulations, Edgar. You are amazing.

Edgar headed back to his room, flipping the pages to where he had last stopped.

This house should have a cat in it. I told Edgar that and he looked at me funny. He's not too good at this sort of thing. His house makes me feel strange. It'd be better if there was something else here other than him. All those obnoxious little cat hairs and that cat food. Not that I would like that. Fucking allergies. I just think that he would. It seems like a nice normal thing for him to have. And this house really needs something in it. It's so quiet. Maybe it's just because I am far away, but I don't think so. Everything talks if you listen hard enough. Nothing talks here. Except Edgar. Sometimes even if I don't ask him too.

Scared of him.

The last line cramped on the very bottom of the page, along with Johnny's simple initials, ended the small entry.

Scared of me?

He's scared of me?

Why on earth would he be scared of me?

Well, let's be logical here. When has Nny ever been frightened?

He seemed rather frightened back when we were talking a little while ago.

So he's frightened of you?

Well, that's not exactly it. I think he was more frightened about how I accepted--

No, you're over-specifying the situation. Let's step back and see the forest again. He was frightened about how you felt about him. He's frightened of how much or how you care about him in general.

That makes this sound all too personal. I think he's frightened I may reject him.

Very true. I won't deny that. But I think you're trying to declassify him again. Pull yourself out to look at it from a logical standpoint. It's not healthy to do that sometimes, you know.

It's worked well for me so far. Either way, Nny also focuses on how I seem so lonely...

So lonely indeed. Edgar doesn't get lonely, does he?

I've heard it all before. Let's stay on topic, alright? Nny talks about how this place seems empty. I think that's just because I'm so neat about everything compared to his house.

Your powers of analyzation amaze me, Edgar.

Either way, he seems fixated on this cat thing.

You know what would be funny? If Nny wished he was your cat.

...That's not funny at all.

You should lighten up.

Anyway, so far this says that Nny is both frightened of how I feel about him and thinks I'm lonely as well. Rather conflicted, really.

Johnny IS contradiction.

No wonder he ran out of here so suddenly...I bet he had to think.

Does put some perspective on things, doesn't it. I bet he wrote more in one of your other books. Go look.

Edgar closed the book, putting it in the separate pile he designated for read books, and picked up the next one. This book was one of the rarer kinds in that it had three sheets of blank paper at the end, a comparatively large number. There were some large scribbles near the top of the sheet as Johnny tested his pen once again, an unhappy stick figure sulking on one side, and some random jags for reasons Edgar couldn't determine. In the margins a few random words appeared amidst other blotches of ink...moon, dark, where am I, what is this, not here, noize, incessant buzzing...

Dear book

Not going to get used to that, but maybe this'll be the last time I write that. Ruined so many of his books now. Now I'm permanently in his life. That both elates me and depresses me deeply. I shouldn't be doing this. Everything is going to end like it has before.

Can't do this. Going to run. Going to run before it dissolves. But how? Wanted to wait till things were perfect, but now I feel like maybe I missed it. Should I kill him now so that I don't risk things getting worse? But this isn't perfection yet. He's mad at me, I'm sure of it. He didn't like me throwing things around in his kitchen. Didn't know where anything was. Should have been more careful.

Everything is complicated with him now. Don't know how to feel around him anymore except terrified. Don't know if I hide it very well.

Edgar shook his head despite himself. Johnny certainly did hide it well.

He doesn't hide it well at all. He gets this terrified look, like I'm wearing some kind of dead moose on my shoulders. It's kind of funny, actually. Sometimes it is. Other times it reminds me that I'm only making things worse.

At this point several words were begun, crossed out, scribbled over, and started again. A few of them trailed into nonsensical loops and jagged ends and others just stopped midword.

Never going to get this right. Never ever going to get this right. It's different now. Devi...ruined it with her too. Still think about her now, think about her whenever I think about him. But I know Edgar now. Know that he could never hurt me. He would never fight back. He's not a fighter. If I did decide to freeze him like I tried with her, I would succeed. But I was going to freeze her perfectly. Loved her then and knew she loved me. Never felt so happy in my entire life, but then she fought. Someday I'll explain it to her, and she'll understand. Maybe we can start over.

Don't want to ruin this with Edgar. I want to do this right.

His now familiar initials ended the long entry. There were a few more scribbles, marked out words and small circlish shapes littered among the page.

He felt a wave of pity sweep over him when he thought about what he had just read. Along with this came the recollection of what he had seen that night at the movie theater. The image that the cramped words presented was not the Johnny he had met, he had seen tonight, who had stormed out in inexplicable rage. This one seemed to be the picture of a typical abandoned, lonely person, desperate for some kind of affection but more intensely afraid of acceptance.

So tell me Edgar, how many Lifetime movies did you watch before you could psychoanalyze people SO accurately?

"I can't believe..." Edgar thought back to his initial conversation with Johnny after he had met up with Devi. How he had to guess as to what happened. Now that he had a glimpse of Johnny's perspective, it gave him a whole new twisted outlook on the entire affair.

As well as on what Johnny had planned to do with him.

"I'm so important to him...I almost...validate his existence..." Edgar closed the book as he spoke quietly, narrowing his eyes in thought. He carefully put it with its companion, balancing the two books neatly as he selected another one from his other pile. He opened it, flipping through to the end carefully and cautiously, almost morbidly afraid of what he would find out next.

"And of course, he's just so important to you too, isn't he?"

Edgar very slowly turned away from the book and looked at Scriabin, who remained perfectly still. He waited.

The calm, mocking voice had he become so familiar with over time again spoke, this time cutting physical air. Its undeniable source was the inanimate plastic figurine. "Oh, you can't say you're surprised now, can you? In a great many religions, maybe somewhere even in your own, Edgar, you know that giving a name can also give power. That sounds so ridiculously cliche though. Let's just say that if you want to speak out loud, fine. Let's speak out loud."

Edgar stared at Scriabin for a few minutes before he spoke calmly and slowly. "You are not speaking to me this way."

Feel better? The familiar mocking tone was back in his head. This is all up to you. Besides, I thought you wanted to make me separate from you. You know, pull me out and heal all nice and normal-like, right? You've become quite the hypocrite.

"Look, I'm not going to deal with this right now." Edgar spoke with a strange tinge of frustration. "There's more important things for me to think about than you."

"That's right." The voice again displaced to the action figure. "You have to think about Nny again, right? You care so much for that boy. Amazing. He is going to kill you, you know."

"I know that." Edgar turned back to the book, wishing he could shut Scriabin out entirely. Strangely, the fact that Scriabin had moved to the action-figure that had inspired his name did not surprise him as much as Edgar thought it would. He viewed the transference with a strange detachment, convinced that this was a normal occurrence.

He isn't me, therefore. He's getting away from me. That's a good thing.

"See, Edgar, this is what I was talking about. I told you not to name me. You've gone from 'mildly unsettled' to 'full-blown talking-to-yourself' crazy."

"I'm not crazy."

"And look at the proof! You're talking to a plastic toy!"

"That's not going to work now. I know that you aren't me anymore. You can't trick me."

"You idiot, that's not what I'm trying to do. Is it so amazingly difficult for you to go back and put all the pieces together? What have I been trying to do all this time? It certainly hasn't been trying to make you crazy. I've been trying to keep you sane."

"You're lying."

Edgar focused his attention on the end of the book, his hands trembling. Only one sheet at the end of this book. The writing was cramped and tighter than ever before, the scribbles around the words angrier and darker.

Dear book.

I don't like that name.

I wonder if Edgar is dreaming right now. I wonder what he dreams about. Sleep must not be hideous for him. That would make sense. He's not insane.

I want some chips. God fucking dammit. Why doesn't he have any chips.

Feel bad about doing this still. But maybe he'll find them and read this. I don't want that. I should put them back when I get the chance. The books. Clean everything up, and that way he won't know I did anything. At least, not until it's too late. Then he won't care. I mean, I don't think he would make a big deal out of it anyway, but I still feel bad about doing it. This isn't my die-ary. But I feel like I should write something. It still feels wrong though.

I wonder what Edgar would do if he knew. Knew everything. He doesn't really know everything yet because I don't think he'd understand and I think it would scare him. I don't want him to be scared. That would make things ugly again. He does look really amusing when he's frightened though, but it's not worth it.

It's still kind of funny though.

He seems so normal. So amazingly normal. Maybe he can teach me. Maybe he knows. Maybe in one of these books there's a cure. He's put up with me for so long, he's dealt with everything I've thrown at him so far without cracking or trying to crack my head open. Maybe he knows something I don't. A special thing. Something about me or people like me. Maybe he knew other people like me. Am I not the first? Is that why he wasn't frightened back then? Is that why he isn't frightened now?

He says he doesn't trust me yet. That hurt. But I'm going to make him trust me somehow. He has to trust me first before anything better can happen. Have to get him to trust me. I don't know how. He asked me if I hated him. Of course I don't. If I did he'd be dead already and I wouldn't be trying to do this. What a ridiculous question.

I wonder why he asked it.

He's so calm about everything. What's it like to be so calm all the time? To never have all those hysterical fits I read about in other entries I made.

I wish I brought his coat with me. I like that coat. I like like that coat. The first 'like' was crossed out. It feels calm.

Maybe I should tell him. If I told Devi, maybe she wouldn't have tried to hurt me. Maybe she would have understood. Edgar's understood everything I've told him so far. I know he'd understand this. He'll nod and look all thoughtful like he does and he won't punch me in the face. I should tell him.

But what if he doesn't? I didn't think Devi would hurt me. What if he does come after me? What if he says no?

Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe...I should. I hate being indecisive. It's all I am anymore.

The end of another entry.

"Amazing, hmm?"

"I wonder where he is now..." Reading through such melancholy and confused entries was beginning to have an effect on him, sympathetic emotion clouding his thoughts. His voice reflected this. "Maybe at the movie theater or somewhere else he feels safe..."

"Wake up, Edgar. The only place he has that's safe is you. Therefore, you're the most terrifying thing in the world for him. It's not that complicated, is it?"

Edgar glanced at the plastic toy. "And you accused me of cheap psycho-analyzation."

"Yes, but I'm afraid I actually know what I'm talking about. I'm an actual part of your psyche. I think I have a little experience in the field, particularly with your friend Nny. And you haven't really denied that what I'm saying is true."

"Fine. I think that saying that he's frightened of me because I'm not a threat to him is an over-simplification of the entire matter. As you've reminded me so many times before, he's insane. Therefore we can't truly understand his motivations."

"You've used that as a blanket excuse for so many things."

"Me? You've got a little problem with your pronouns there."

"I don't think so."

"Either way, I'm not sure why Nny ran out on me like he did, but I'm beginning to understand why he stayed here."

"I understand why he left. Remember? He wants to make things perfect with you, although what that exactly means I'm not sure. Maybe a nice white picket fence, house, two point three kids. Whatever. Either way, he had perfection on the bed with you while you held hands in a classic tear-jerking moment, all rights reserved. Guess what that meant, Edgar? It meant he had to kill you. But our dear conflicted boy doesn't want to."

"And why wouldn't he want to?" Edgar sighed as he picked up another book, exchanging it for the finished volume. "That's why he's kept me alive this entire time."

"Well, you can think of it in various ways. Either he cares too much about you to kill you--which I doubt considering he loved that Devi person and tried to kill her right away--or he needs you now for some reason that conflicts with his moral philosophy-"

"Wait, needs me?" Edgar turned back to his figurine as he flipped through pages in the book. "Why would Nny need me? I don't do anything for him. He doesn't need anyone."

"Well, what do you provide for our friendly neighborhood maniac? What can you do with him that he can't do with anyone else?"

Edgar paused and ran a hand through his hair. "Well, talk I guess, but he mentioned that he has enough mental voices to talk to himself forever."

"He also mentioned that he was glad to be away from them here. He wanted it to be quiet here."

"Glad was not the exact word-"

"Why did he come here, Edgar?"

"He...wanted me to fix him."

"There's your answer."

"That's not an answer. What does that mean?"

"Well, it means that you have the power to influence his behavior. Or at least, Nny thinks you do."

"...Why would he give that power to me?"

"You don't just give away power, Edgar. It's something you either have or don't have. For example, Nny has power over you. You didn't consciously give it to him, and even if you unconsciously did give it to him, you're not removed enough from the situation to have a logical view on it. Power is immutable and natural. Although Nny has spent almost his entire time with you terrorizing, confusing, and startling you, somehow he thinks you can change him. He thinks you can help."

Edgar shook his head slowly. "I...I don't understand why."

"Well, probably because so far you haven't attacked him like Devi has. In fact, I don't think you've attacked him in any way excepting tonight. You're a doormat, Edgar. Perhaps because he feels so comfortable, he lets himself be changed by you."

"That still doesn't work because that means he's giving power to me, and this is all sounding like cheap pop psychology again." Edgar gestured with one hand, regardless of the fact his audience would not be able to see it. "I don't understand Nny."

"That's the understatement of the decade. I still haven't given my last motive yet."

Edgar took a deep breath, struggling to calm himself down. "Alright, what is it?"

"Johnny may have deliberately sabotaged your relationship."

Edgar looked back down to his book. "And why would he do that?"

"Well, remember how he said it was perfect before? That's what Johnny wanted, right? But what if that wasn't exactly what he wanted? Like he wanted something more. But how could he convince himself that he didn't actually have perfection, that he'd have to try harder? He'd have to find something to focus on, blow that out of proportion, and use that as an excuse. Therefore, more time for the two of you to spend together and be delightfully monosyllabic."

"But why would he do that? He has no reason. If he was happy with me before, why would he put off killing me and ruin his own plan? It makes no sense."

"Well, let's say that Johnny reached the perfect peak of friendship. You following me?"

"Yes." Edgar could not hide his irritation at Scriabin's snide condescending tone.

"Well, maybe that wasn't enough for him. Say he reached that pinnacle and realized how easy that was. Maybe he wants to reach higher than that. Maybe he wants to reach that special level of happiness that Devi inspired in him before. So make a new goal and work for that. Make sure you eliminate your previous statement of victory and move on."

"Wait wait wait wait." Edgar placed a hand on his forehead, feeling a distinct headache coming on. "What exactly are you saying? Are you insinuating that Johnny is trying to make me into Devi?"

"Not my exact words, but you've got the general concept. I think you're missing the big picture here. You tend to do that. Ooo, I felt your heartbeat quicken. You're getting awfully emotional over this. Does it bother you?"

"Does what- Well, yes it bothers me." Edgar struggled to keep his voice level. "I mean, this is transference at its basest and yet most twisted level. This won't end happily for either of us."

"Edgar, please. Was it going to end happily before? Think before you speak. Maybe Johnny doesn't want you as a friend anymore. Maybe that doesn't make him happy enough."

"I don't have to listen to this." Edgar turned his attention back down to his book, his hands now shaking violently along with his voice. "This is just a theory of yours."

"You seem rather agitated by it. I think you doth protest too much. What if, Edgar?"

"Scriabin, be quiet."

Dear book.

"What if, Edgar, Johnny didn't have perfection back then? What if he was wrong all along?"

Dear book.

Maybe I should tell him.

"Maybe..."

Maybe I should tell him. I think he'll understand. I'm frightened though. But he's understood before. Maybe he'll understand. I should tell him.

"Maybe Johnny loves you, Edgar."

"Shut up." Edgar glared at the frozen figure, his voice tight and soft. "I know what you're doing to me, Scriabin. I know you now, and I know what you're trying to do. I'm not going to fall for it."

"My goodness that thought frightens you, Edgar. You're breathing fast and your heart rate has jumped through-"

"I'm going to read now. I'm not listening to you."

"So quiet and confused before. 'Oh help me, I can't figure this out on my own!' The minute I present something that has one iota of truth in it, you throw a tantrum. What are you going to do, Edgar? If your physical reaction is any indication, the thought of him-"

"I'm not listening."

"It terrifies you. Well, that and something else. There's an amusing thought. Edgar and Johnny. Together forever. You could have little hearts with arrows through them that saw 'JC + EV 2getha 4eva' or something just as amusingly trite. In fact, since I can tell you're absolutely furious right now--well that or extremely aroused--you can even pretend that JC stands for Jesus Christ, because God knows you love him so much."

Edgar shut his book and stood, his entire body shaking violently. With as much grace as he could muster without speaking, he left his bedroom, slamming the door behind him as he did so.

Once on the other side, he dropped the book he was holding in one hand and grasped his head tightly, his mouth frozen in a silent snarl of rage. A fervent whine of pure fury escaped his throat, unfamiliarly breaking the now quiet air. He panted for breath for a few seconds, and then finally released the hold on his forehead, wondering if the pounding was because of his rushing blood or because he had applied too much pressure. He stood there, breathing hard, waiting for his body to calm and his typical demeanor to return. Once he felt that he was under sufficient control, he knelt and picked up the fallen book, flipping back to the last page. Another single sheet of paper.

You can't get rid of me that easily. You can't scream, slam doors, and run upstairs to your room and sob into your pillow. I'm not your parents. I'm not someone else. I'm you. And no matter where you go, I'm always there.

Edgar ignored Scriabin's voice and walked over to his couch, sitting down with trembling limbs. As he rested the book on his lap, he noticed the words jumping around on the page as his legs shook with adrenaline.

Dear book.

Maybe I should tell him. I think he'll understand. I'm frightened though. But he's understood before. Maybe he'll understand. I should tell him. I don't know. I'm frightened. Maybe he won't accept it. Maybe he won't understand the connection.

It's so clear to me. It's the only answer. It worked so well before. All those others were frozen so beautifully and so perfectly. They were so in love and I loved them so much. And now I can look back on them and they're still so beautiful.

Someday, when I look back on Edgar, it will be just as beautiful. I will have perfection. Total and utter perfection. No more fear that day. I won't be afraid anymore and neither will he. Everything will be just perfect.

I'm afraid of him. Afraid of him turning into one of the others. Turning against me. Becoming so hateful and angry. I don't ever want him to hate me. I don't want to hate him. He's the only thing I have left that hasn't turned me away so far. He and little Squeegee. I should check on him.

I wonder what he's doing. I hope he's alright.

If only I had told Devi! I know she would have understood.

That's it. I have to tell him. I have to tell him about this. About everything. Explain how beautiful this will be, how I need him to be beautiful and perfect. I know him, know he'll understand. I know he will. He'll be perfect. He'll be just as beautiful and perfect as the others.

I need to tell him. I have to tell him. I have to tell him now, before it's too late and I go back. I have to do something. I have to. He's asleep now. I'll go in there and talk to him.

Maybe later. I can't do it now, I'm too jumpy. I shouldn't have waited this long. I should have said something before. Now I have to wake him up. He won't be as understanding then, I'm sure of it.

Stop procrastinating and do it! Get up and go do it! You have to tell him. You have to tell him what this is all about, what he has to do. You have to tell him.

Maybe after this show is over.

Edgar closed the book and sat silently, pondering.

With every passing line, it becomes clearer. Every passing minute you live, he needs you more and more. I can throw these melodramatically poetic lines at you all day if I have to, Edgar. I think I'm on to something here. I think I know. I think you know.

Edgar put the book to one side and stood slowly, stretching out. With quiet resolve, he walked towards his bathroom.

"I'm going to take a shower."

Brilliant plan there, Edgar my boy. Then what?

Edgar opened the door to the bathroom, finding it almost entirely untouched. As he ran the hot water and watched steam rise up into the room, he glanced at the mirror. Directly in the center of the glass were a series of fingerprints, each more elongated and almost desperate than the last.

At the top, a meaningless scribble in almost impossibly thin lines, no doubt from the edge of a fingernail. Beside that, Johnny's initials were marked, with the thickness of an entire finger pad, into the now foggy mirror.

Edgar stared at this silently for a few moments before sighing softly. With the same calm and resolve, he spoke again, knowing that no matter where he was, Scriabin would hear him.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to go book shopping."

Chapter Text

What are you looking for? What do you expect to find?

Something. Anything. It's obvious at this point I don't know enough about this situation, so I'm going to resolve that.

For once Edgar, listen to me. This is not something you can solve logically. If it was, it wouldn't be insanity.

I'm not insane.

That's right. You're not insane. Mmhmm. What are you looking for?

I'm going to find some books that will hopefully give me some perspective on why Nny reacted the way he did.

I don't think they write books about people like Nny, Edgar. Everyone that touches him dies.

...

Well, everyone except you.

Edgar wandered the shelves as he studied each title closely. His mental conversation was rather distracting and at points he would glance over the letters but not register the words. He had assumed at first that this bookstore, with its obviously darker atmosphere, would have something on this kind of problem. A book about rudimentary psychology, sociology, or perhaps sociopathology, anything that he could consider useful. Instead he found rows upon rows of fantasy and science fiction, each more similar then the last. A dragon on one, a maiden on the other, dragon and maiden together, a dragon, a maiden, and a warrior. Occasionally, a maiden and a maiden.

The bookstore also seemed to lack an accurate cataloguing system. Of the few sections marked out among the rows of books, he found that they contained things that only loosely related to their subject matter. A section titled "Psychological" ended up being ridiculous thriller novels which were no help to him. All of the serial killers in the books tended to be the same; hideously evil and sadistic, without redemption, and often sexually addicted to something or someone.

While Edgar could not vouch for Nny's sadism--considering the machine that he had once been trapped in--the other characteristics he found insulting.

What, do you think they went and found a real serial killer so their book can be more accurate? Of course not, Edgar. These are mockups, fantasies, cardboard pinups of horrors created so that the actual fear induced by such people is lessened. Go home. You know you won't find anything here.

Edgar ignored Scriabin and headed to a different section, this one titled "Reference." Hopefully, this would contain something of use to him.

Among books detailing vampires, werewolves, yetis, and aliens, he found a few books that at least looked slightly credible. A Beginner's Guide to Psychology, Psychological Disorders, What To Do When Your Spouse is Irredeemably Insane...

That last one sounds adorable. Get that one. I bet it'll suggest you dressing up all fancy and serving oysters.

Edgar picked up the three books, finding his cheeks itching and burning. He reached up to scratch at his familiar scars before remembering the bandages. He tried to scratch through them but it felt blunt and awkward, making the itching all that more irritating.

It's not your scars.

Edgar headed to the counter with some relief, finding the atmosphere of the store somehow stifling with each moment he spent inside. Despite the fact that there were few people here, he felt their presence to be somewhat irritating. A tall, gaunt boy dressed in black hanging around the vampire section. A frightened, mousy woman who seemed to be hiding from something. A young woman sitting in the corner devouring one of the cheap thrillers while chewing obnoxiously on her necklace.

Look at that, Edgar. Isn't that amazing? These people haven't done anything to you and you're already annoyed. I think our lovely maniac is rubbing off on you. That's unfortunate, but also very funny. Pain is funny, don't you think?

I'm not insane.

Yes, I know. You don't have to convince me.

"Excuse me?" The woman at the counter snapped her fingers at him in irritation. He returned from his mental argument with a start.

"Oh, I'm sorry...I drifted off for a moment there..."

"Yeah, um...is this all?" She looked down at the three books with some measure of suspicion.

Hey...

Edgar felt a sudden strange sense of unease, similar to when Scriabin had been moved. Odd. He couldn't place it exactly, except that somehow the woman had triggered it. Her physical appearance was not particularly offsetting--despite the fact she had purple hair--so that didn't seem to be the problem. Actually, she was rather attractive.

Aren't you going to make some kind of joke about that?

...

Scriabin?

"How are you going to pay for this?" Judging by her expression and her tone, she felt somewhat uneasy as well. Edgar could not explain this strange friction but it was definitely unsettling. He had never seen this girl before, so why would he react this way? And why would it affect Scriabin to the extent of silencing him entirely? Nothing had ever done that before, not that he could recall.

"Cash..." Edgar pulled out his wallet, noticing that the woman would occasionally stare off blankly, no doubt in the same fashion that he himself had only a short time before. His voice was quiet although somewhat shaky. "If...um, I hope you don't think I'm being rude, but...what's your name?"

"Huh?" She stared at him, confusion now entering her previous suspicious glare. "Why? I won't go out with you, so don't bother asking me."

"No no, nothing like that." Edgar held up one hand as some vague placating gesture, the strange sensation only intensifying with every second spent near her. He counted out his money almost three times before actually putting it down on the counter. "No, I'm..."

'I'm seeing someone.' Yes, I know what you were going to say, even if you didn't know the full ramifications of saying it.

Is leaving myself that open what it takes to bring you back? What happened?

Scriabin fell silent.

"I'm not...interested in that right now."

"Mmhmm." She obviously didn't trust him, counting out the money on the counter the same amount of times Edgar had. He noticed as he stared at her thin fingers that they shook almost imperceptibly. "Fine. I'm Devi, but don't get any ideas."

A sudden surge of panic rushed through Edgar's entire body, urging him to run immediately with or without his books.

Shut up SHUT UP stop being stupid and listen LISTEN. You need to be calm and act like nothing is wrong. I knew it, I knew it had to be her...listen, just buy your books and leave, all right? Leave and don't say anything.

"I...I won't. My name is Edgar..." He stumbled through his words and hoped she wouldn't notice the sudden change in his behavior. "Edgar Vargas."

"Well, nice to meet you, Edgar." He could not interpret her expression as she pushed the three books into a bag. She stared at him. "Can I assume those bandages are a result of your...spouse?"

"I-I guess you could say that."

I can't believe this is her. I can't believe it. What are the odds? Of all the bookstores in the entire city, I chose this one. Why?

More importantly, Edgar, why is she making you feel frightened? She can't hurt you. She's a victim as much as you are. In fact, you two are rather similar...

She...God, I wonder if she knows how Nny feels about her...she seems so normal. I don't know if she would understand if he explained it to her.

Well, she fought him off, something you never did. I think it's safe to assume she at least resisted Nny's everlasting love.

I should tell her...I should tell her how much Nny-

Don't you tell her a word. Don't you say a fucking thing or I swear to your God I'll make things very painful for you. Don't tell her anything and particularly, stop staring off into the distance like a mental-case. You get your books and you get out.

Why are you so frightened?

I'm not frightened.

Then why am I frightened?

When he finally came out of his mental conversation, he realized almost five minutes had passed without interruption. Devi had stared at him the entire time with an equally strange and distant expression on her face. Seeing Edgar jerk out of it apparently galvanized her back into action.

"Be sure to come again." Her words were jerky and hesitant as she handed him his bag. He couldn't read her face at all. All he knew was that she must be suffering the same growing sense of vertigo, nausea, panic, and fear that he was.

He had to get away from her. He had to get away. He felt almost like he was going to be sick, like something was struggling to get out of him, shredding his insides as it tried to crawl out of his body. He was getting increasingly dizzy and he had to reach out twice before he finally took hold of his bag.

"Thank you, I will."

He stumbled out of the store, breathing a sigh of relief.

Edgar leaned back against the glass that stated the store's name, breathed deeply, and hoped that the intense dizziness and anxiousness would pass. He eventually sank down to his knees while he stared at the dirty sidewalk and wished it would stop moving.

Calm down, Edgar. Jesus Christ, you're such a drama queen. Look, you're outside now. Calm down. She can't affect you here. You're safe now so stop making yourself sick and go home.

...Scriabin, what was that?

What was what?

What happened in there...what was that?

I told you to leave and instead you made small talk with her. You have no sense of self-preservation.

Scriabin...

You wouldn't believe me if I told you anyway. Don't ask me.

Back inside the store, Devi leaned down on the counter with her hands clasped behind her head, struggling to breath calmly and evenly. It took a few minutes before the woman could lift her head steadily and regain her composure.

By that time, Edgar had moved on down the street towards his car.


It was raining the day the world ended.

Edgar spent most of the next two days reading. For the first night he had felt exceedingly jumpy. He expected the phone to ring at any moment but it remained stubbornly silent.

Of course, Johnny has every need to call you.

Scriabin had provided something of a running commentary on each book he was reading. He had refused to respond to him and, annoyed, the voice had eventually fallen silent. That was a relief.

Scriabin was waiting for any opportunity to attack him at this point, so to prevent any possible openings he tried to keep his thoughts clear and logical. It didn't work but it did make him feel better. As if he could control what Scriabin would and wouldn't react to.

That's so sad, Edgar. Seriously.

He put down the final book that he had purchased and rubbed at his forehead. He had suffered from a severe headache for most of the past two days and he wasn't sure why. It was hard to concentrate. Scriabin's snide voice didn't help.

Well, that's the last book. What have we learned?

Edgar disliked speaking to Scriabin and had made a particular point not to do so for the past two days. He believed that talking directly to him gave him more power somehow. But he decided he would indulge the figment of his imagination this once.

I think I may be able to deal with his outbursts and mood swings a bit better now...

Scriabin settled into his familiar sarcastic cant as if he had been waiting for Edgar to acknowledge his presence.

Oh? Really? How? By validating his decisions and his feelings and letting him discover the solution to his own problems? Watch him knock over a glass and respond "Oh no, the milk has spilled, we need a sponge?" It won't work, Edgar. You
know it won't. You know as well as I do. Those books have no useful information on Nny because they were not written with Nny in mind. No one has written a book with someone like Nny in mind. This information won't work on him. These little reflection techniques and conflict resolutions tidbits won't solve the problem of him being insane. You can't fix him.

Edgar had not spoken out loud for some time, particularly not in his house. He disliked being faced with Scriabin's physical voice. It reminded him that things in his life were not quite...in order.

You're going insane, Edgar.

He had made a habit out of ignoring him.

I think I should call him. It says that I should try and make the first step sometimes, it would allow him to be able to communicate with me more easily. Maybe take some pressure off him.

This isn't going to work, Edgar.

He reached over and picked up his phone, staring at the slip of paper that Johnny had given him what seemed like ages ago. His fingers punched the buttons and he waited, the clicking sound of the phone ringing almost unbearably loud.

You're frightened he'll pick up.

Six rings.

There was a pause as Edgar tried to decide what to say. His mouth fell open and yet, he could not think of a single thing that would be appropriate considering what had happened last time. An apology? A greeting? A plea to stay on the line so he could explain himself?

Scriabin wasn't helping. He was counting backwards rather loudly in Edgar's head.

"...Hello?" Johnny's hesitant and confused voice came through the phone. Edgar barely had time to think of how strange it must be for Johnny to actually receive a call before something broke his concentration.

Wzzzz

BLAM!

Whump!

AAAAIEEEK!!

"Johnny?!" The strangled shout came from his throat without conscious effort. "Johnny, are you okay? What happened? Johnny? Nny? NNY?"

Panic.

"Oh my God, oh my God...oh my God, what happened? What could have happened?" He was talking to himself and he didn't remember starting. He hung up the phone at some point.

"I'm not quite sure." Scriabin's voice emanated from the small figurine the moment Edgar spoke aloud. "But you're going to go find out, aren't you?"

"Oh God, what if he's hurt?" Edgar threaded his arms through the sleeves of one his coats as he continued to ignore the toy. He found it hard to think and hard to breath. He had to focus. He had to remember. He had to remember where Johnny's house was. He had to find out what happened if Johnny was okay that sounded like a gunshot-

"What if-"

"Why do you care, Edgar?" Scriabin asked in an almost bored tone. "If this is all some grand scientific experiment for you, then why do you care? There are other subjects out there, after all."

He put Scriabin in his pocket without thinking about it and hurried to his car. His hands shook. He felt as if the streetlights above were jerking out of focus, felt that the entire world was shaking just to make this more difficult. The rain pouring outside was only to make the drive harder, to make him feel more uncomfortable as it soaked past his collar and into his shirt. The world was against him at this moment, it had completed its goal of finally killing Johnny and now that he had the chance to do something about it, it was trying to make this as difficult as possible, there was no way he'd have time, there was no way he could contest with the will of whatever greater being...

Scriabin...that was Scriabin's voice, not his own.

He fumbled with the keys in both the door and the ignition before he finally pulled back onto the road.

"I have to...if he's..." Edgar couldn't even form coherent sentences as he tried to focus on driving, worrying, and remembering at the same time. Where was Johnny's house? He knew that it was down this road but after this he always tended to blank...

"This is just so sweet. It really is." Scriabin was deep in the folds of his coat, but his voice was just as clear and annoying.

"Why can't I remember?!" Edgar felt his voice crack with frustration. He slammed a momentary fist against the steering wheel. Every minute he constructed worse and worse scenarios and as each one found its completion he found the guilt and worry only piling up higher. "Why can't I-"

"You're an idiot." Scriabin sighed. "If you'd just calm down...think. Where is Squee's house?"

Edgar struggled to follow Scriabin's advice, tried to remember the wide-eyed boy, where he had parked and waited, where he had dropped him off that one time. It came to him. It came to him clearly and quickly and he knew where he had to go.

"Why..." was the only word that he could force out.

Scriabin sounded amused. "A better question at the moment is what, really."


Edgar parked in front of Squee's house. In his rush to get out of his car and find out what happened he forgot to undo his seat-belt. He ended up spending a few awkward moments fumbling with the clasp while Scriabin laughed at him.

Once he had successfully extricated himself from his car, he noticed with some confusion that there were no other vehicles near the boarded-up house.

So whoever it was that had attacked Johnny didn't come by car...

Scriabin laughed spitefully and Edgar did not know why.

When he got there it was still raining. That would explain why he couldn't see any stars or even the moon. He knew they were missing because he had caught a glimpse of the curiously blank sky as he had glanced up to see if the streetlights were on. They weren't. That had to explain the encroaching darkness around Johnny's home.

Why aren't the streetlights on? Was there a blackout that I missed? How could I miss a blackout? I don't live that far away...

He was about to open the door to Johnny's house when he heard footsteps and screaming from inside.

Although initially Edgar had felt a rush of adrenaline that he was typically unfamiliar with, now he felt definite apprehension. He hadn't considered what he would do if someone else were there. He wasn't particularly physically gifted by any stretch of the imagination and if he did try to engage whoever was in the house in some kind of combat, it was most likely that he would wind up another victim. What to do?

This is not good.

Scriabin sounded worried...that was odd.

I suggest you get in the house.

But-

Just get in the house, Edgar.

Scriabin had the same authoritative tone in his voice that he had heard before when he encountered Devi. Considering the rarity of this tone, he decided it would probably be a good idea to follow Scriabin's orders although he wasn't sure what good it would do.

He gave the world outside one last perusal before he entered the house. It seemed to somehow be getting darker with each glance at the blank sky. He couldn't even see any clouds. He could hear something moving beneath his feet and the floor shook with a vibration that was oddly familiar.

He felt the need to question even though he was already opening the door. But what if-

Shut it behind you.

Edgar did so.

The house, although it had seemed empty before, seemed even more empty now. It was still filthy and covered with wrappers, discarded paper cups, and he could see the distinct patch of blood caused by his previous head wound. Something was missing. The television was still in the same place...

Where was Johnny?

He took a few steps further into the house and saw a bizarre contraption that seemed to be hooked up to the telephone. It involved a gun somehow.

So that was what happened.

For a moment he wondered why Johnny would hook up such a device, but it was only for a moment.

Does it hurt you inside to know that you couldn't stop him from killing himself, Edgar? Scriabin's voice sounded strained.

With another careless step into the room his foot encountered something. He looked down immediately and found that he had stepped into a rather large pool of blood.

How could you not notice that?

A trail led from the sticky pool into the adjoining room, bloody fingerprints stretched and distorted until they looked claw-like.

He felt sick.

Edgar swallowed hard and forced himself to follow the trail of gore into the next room. He could hear voices from somewhere else in the house although he wasn't sure where. Somewhere near the staircase.

There he was.

A pool of light from somewhere illuminated his crumpled thin body and the shriveled head of an infant rabbit near him. Curled slightly on one side with one hand still dripping blood. He had apparently had the energy to scrawl some words on the floor that were slightly smeared, perhaps from near-death convulsions. From the rasping, wheezing sounds coming from his throat, it seemed that Johnny was still alive.

Somehow.

Edgar didn't remember how he got to Johnny's side, only aware that he was there and shaking him gently.

"Johnny? Johnny, oh God, Johnny, are you okay...oh God..." Edgar's voice was shaky, thin, and high. Johnny took a deep breath that gurgled in his throat as his body twitched in an effort to respond to Edgar's voice. He tried to turn over but apparently could not find the energy.

"Edgh....ghaer..." He could hear the blood spattering from Johnny's lips. Edgar's grip on his arm tightened involuntarily.

Do you really want to see what happened? Do you, Edgar?

Johnny finally rolled over, with some gentle aid from Edgar.

He could not avoid or disguise the cry of horror and disgust that came from him at the sight of the demolished side of the man's face. The gunblast had taken out Johnny's eye entirely, leaving only a gaping, bleeding, ragged hole lined with fragments of bone. His hair was thick and matted with blood and peppered with small things that he could only assume were bits of his skull. Edgar could almost see through the gore to the hardwood floor, or maybe he did. It was hard to tell with the copious amounts of bleeding Johnny was doing currently. It ran down his face, across his ears, into his mouth. He gurgled at Edgar again; slight bubbles of blood mixed with spittle forming at his lips.

If this was how the front of his head looked...God, what did it do to the back...

"Edgar...." Johnny managed to say with some clarity. Although his face seemed to be almost destroyed, somehow Edgar got the feeling that Johnny was relieved that he was here.

He's going to die in a matter of moments, Edgar. Severe head trauma. Gunshot wound to the head. It's amazing he's alive at all now. You can't save him.

Seething hatred. Shut up. How dare you try and-

You never could save him, Edgar. You can't call 911 and get him help now. He's gone. He's going to die, right here, and there was nothing you could do. In fact, maybe it was even your fault! Because you had to make the first move. You shot him, Edgar. You shot Johnny in the head. He's only got a few moments. A few more seconds of life. Of disgusting, convulsing, bleeding life. And then he'll die. You can't save him. You never could save him. You won't save him.

Shut up. Edgar tightly closed his eyes until stars appeared in the darkness. I hate you so much. Why do you have to try and ruin this for me? Why do you...

The amount of hatred and frustration running through his body mixed with the wave of emotions that came with him desperately trying to deal with Johnny's imminent death. It made him shake uncontrollably. He could feel a familiar itching irritation running down his face. Maybe he was crying. He didn't intend to.

God, I hate you so much.

Johnny was staring at him--or in the general direction of him--with his one remaining eye which was getting increasingly clouded over with blood. His body was spasming slightly.

"Kkskk....n-nothing...behind the..." He coughed wetly, blood getting all over Edgar's shirt. "Veil?? ...Kgks....system...d-down..."

"Nny, try and stay with me."

You can't save him, Edgar.

SHUT UP.

"Try and stay awake. I'm going to go get help. I'm going to get you some help. Try and stay awake." He was repeating himself because he had nothing else to say.

Johnny's hand jerked upwards and grabbed the front of his shirt tenaciously. He tried to hiss at him but the blood in his mouth prevented it. He mostly ended up spraying blood in Edgar's face for a few moments before he realized how useless it was.

I have to go get help. I have to get help but what can I do, he grabbed me for a reason, what if Johnny dies while I'm gone...

He could see the muscles twitching around the ruined portion of Johnny's face, trying to control things that were no longer there. Nausea was beginning to overcome him which only made him feel worse.

"Kkkggx..." Johnny coughed as lines of pink saliva trailed from his mouth. "Don't....go. I...gmmfgg...am...you..."

"Johnny, stay still." Edgar wanted to pull Johnny's hand away, untangle his fingers from the fabric of his shirt, stop him from attempting to lift his head up to look at him with what remained of his functioning eye, but he couldn't move. He was paralyzed.

He didn't want to touch him.

Because you think he's disgusting, Edgar.

"Lissten..." If he were intact perhaps Johnny would have been giving Edgar one of his manic, intense looks. It was hard to tell now. All that Edgar could focus on was the hideousness of the wound. He could see blood as it pumped through Johnny's body to run down the side of his face.

The voices had been getting clearer. Edgar had not been paying a great deal of attention. The footsteps that entered the room, accompanied by a loud, arrogant voice, was finally enough to drag his eyes away from the jagged hole in Johnny's face.

Two people had walked into the room from somewhere below the house. Edgar wasn't sure where. A bald man who seemed incredibly irritated and a woman dressed and decorated primarily in black.

"Look what I found!"

Apparently the man had been so focused on Johnny's discovery that he hadn't noticed Edgar. The two exchanged blank looks for a minute until Johnny let go of Edgar's shirt, falling back against the floor with a moist squelching sound.

"Who the fuck are you?" He sounded annoyed at Edgar for even existing. Already he could guess how he had come to be imprisoned here.

"I'm Edgar. It doesn't matter." He was surprised at how calm his voice sounded. "Look, we don't have much time. You have to get to the phone-"

Why on earth do you think they'll help you, Edgar? Do you think Johnny kept such congenial relations with all his victims?

"Phone? Why the fuck would I want the phone? Did you get out of here too? Fucking skinny bitch!"

"Krik, we have to get out of here!" The woman in the back spoke up. "He'll die soon enough. That thing is probably right behind us, so let's go!"

I doubt this is going to turn out well for you, Edgar.

"You go on, get out of here." Krik stared at Johnny with pure hatred and took a few menacing steps towards him. "I want to put a few dents in this...uhh...this...fucker!"

Not well at all.

Edgar stood as Krik made his way towards him, vaguely offended at this man's lack of priorities. "What do you mean? He's bleeding to death as it is! Why would you need to..."

Johnny coughed again, his voice muffled and garbled. Eventually discernible words came through the gurgling noises. Even now, Johnny's voice sounded hateful. "You won't be going anywhere...you're dying too. Kkchh..."

Krik seemed torn between dealing with Edgar and dealing with Johnny. Eventually he turned to Johnny since that was where the majority of his hatred was focused. "What?! What the fuck did you just say? Oh, man, I'm gonna..."

Yes, what did Johnny just say, Edgar? I wouldn't think too hard about it.

"What? You'll kill him?"

"What? You'll kill me?"

Unintentional echo.

"He's dying as it is!" Edgar was trying to summon enough righteous anger to look intimidating. He stepped between Krik and Johnny and crossed his arms. "What would be the point? And what do you mean, 'that thing?' Is there something else here?"

Before the woman could respond, Krik had gotten rather close to Edgar and was shouting in his face.

"Do you know what that skinny fuck did? Huh? Do you?"

Of course you don't. But I wouldn't say that out loud.

"Just because he fucking looks like a goddamn fucking cocksucker he locked me in this fucking toilet bowl of a room! Fucker!" Krik stared down at Johnny as the wounded man attempted to stare back at him. "Making me eat shit every time I talked and those fucking Noodle Boy comics! FFFUCK!"

If Johnny wasn't slowly losing higher brain functions and his throat wasn't so clogged with blood and mucus, the sound he made would have been a much clearer laugh. Despite all that, Krik seemed to understand its significance.

"I'm going to fucking kick your ass!"

"What? No!" What are you doing? What do you think you're doing?! "No, this is stupid! You're going to beat up someone who's already received a shotgun blast to the head!"

"Krik, the thing!" The woman behind him reminded him with just a touch of hysterical panic in her voice. "Just get over it!"

"And you! What's your fucking story, you fag?" Krik did not appreciate Edgar blocking his path. "Just as skinny as he is. Fuck, bet you two were fucking queers-"

"No we weren't and is that really important right now?" Edgar felt anger edging into his voice and the familiar sense of adrenaline. He turned and looked at the woman. "What 'thing' are you talking about?"

"Don't ignore me!" Krik apparently found the fact that Edgar had focused on something else for a few precious seconds a grave affront. "You dick!"

Here we go.

"I wasn't-"

"I don't fucking care! Just get out of my way so I can teach this skinny fuck a lesson!"

Move.

Edgar didn't move.

"Killing someone who's bleeding to death...Fff....Fuck, you people...you...how stupid you are." A choking gasp for breath. "Resorting to the same old monkey brutality, afraid to look up from your bloody dicks. Afraid of transcendence..." Johnny coughed on the floor as his words escaped through a mix of blood, bile, and saliva. He choked for a moment and his entire body shook as he retched more blood. How much blood could such a thin man have?

Johnny looked at Krik who was glaring at him with as much hatred as humanly possible.

He coughed again, flecks of spittle flying from shaking lips. A feeble laugh.

"Heh...your head looks like a potato."

Edgar looked back at Johnny with some measure of confusion at the clarity of his previous words. How could he be able to say so much considering how much damage he had endured at this point?

Krik was either too shocked or too disgusted to react to Johnny's statement before he spoke again. Despite Krik's desperate desire to acquaint Johnny's head with his foot repeatedly, he listened for a few more moments, almost as if for some impossible apology.

Johnny coughed again, trying to clear out progressively clogging passages. "And how stupid was I? I...actually paid attention to you. Devoted precious thought to it. God... I used to love the noises I heard in my head."

Didn't you, Edgar?

This is important.

"Hhh.... I never should've left my room.... my room, out there, I almost remember it, it's gone now... along with everything else... vanishing..."

Do you remember, Edgar?

What are you talking about?

Johnny managed another choked gasp of what might have been laughter. "Heh...Potato..."

A vein twitched on Krik's forehead as Johnny curled and retched again, this time vomiting on the floor, although from the small amount it seemed this hadn't been the first time recently. Most of its content was blood, which may have explained why.

His voice rasped across abused vocal chords. "Ukk... I never got to see it... the wall thing. This isn't pleasant... I'd rather not be dead... don't want to die... don't geez... This is worse than goth poetry... agg..."

"Johnny..."

Did I say that out loud?

Johnny tried to raise a skeletal arm to wipe away some of the blood and mucus that blocked his nasal passages, but his arm only spasmed violently before falling back down. "No more stars.....no...clouds...nothing.... It'sssssssss..." More flecks of blood from a body-shaking cough. "It's such an easy thing to say you hate something... so easy to hate... what a piece of shit I am... I ca.... I can't believe I went the easy way... I thought I knew... I wish I know something... anything.... Ehhh...."

Despite the growing vibration and shaking coming from below, all three of the intact people in the room seemed captivated by Johnny's last words. What they were hoping for was hard to say, although what he said did not fulfill any of their expectations.

He would never say what you want him to say.

Shut up.

There was a short silence that even Krik seemed to respect before Johnny coughed again, this time laughing more clearly as he stared at Krik.

"Actually.... your head looks more like a reject jelly bean."

"Oh, that's it!" Krik raised his foot with the intent on kicking Johnny's already mutilated face into further disrepair.

No don't DON'T STOP

Edgar moved in front of Krik. "Don't you understand? This is more important then-"

His fist smashed into Edgar's face.

With a sharp cry of pain Edgar fell back, sure that his nose was broken. He could feel blood running down his face and into his mouth. The rush of adrenaline and pain at the blow was phenomenally strong and easily surpassed any emotion that Edgar could remember. Unfortunately, the sudden blow had left him dizzy and had not improved his previous nausea in the least. He staggered back and tripped over one of Johnny's legs. While one hand remained on his face in an effort to staunch the steady flow of blood, his other arm windmilled through the air. Johnny didn't move.

Once his balance had returned, he tried to focus on his new enemy.

Oh God, don't do this. Please don't do this.

His glasses...wherever they were, he didn't have them now. They probably broke. But he could make out the shape of Krik about to begin his kicking assault on Johnny's head.

Don't don't don't DON'T

That rush of adrenaline gave him a sense of power and confidence that was sorely misplaced. As he struggled to see clearly Edgar rushed forward and pushed Krik away from Johnny's body.

Krik hadn't expected any more resistance from Edgar so he was shocked enough to allow himself to be pushed back. Edgar couldn't see his expression but he doubted that he was pleased.

"Krik! The thing! C'mon! We'll all be dead if you don't hurry up!"

"Fucker!"

Edgar balled his fist and tried to defend himself. He tried to hit Krik in the face but instead managed to hit the side of his head. The sharp stabbing pain that shot through Edgar's hand, particularly the joint in his thumb, gave him the impression that he wasn't doing this correctly.

That small voice of logic persuaded Edgar to try talking again. "Leave him al-"

Another blow, this time to the side of Edgar's temple. The entirely unfamiliar pain shot through his head and his body panicked. The blood clogged his throat for a second and he coughed to try and breath. Krik took this opportunity to kick Edgar in the gut.

He fell back against the floorboards entirely winded. Despite his body's desperate desire to retaliate Edgar couldn't make himself move. It was hard to think. His head ached to an extent he couldn't even describe and the blood in his mouth and throat wasn't making this any easier.

"You fucking queer, trying to fucking tell me what to do, I'll fucking put my boot up your fucking ass, you fucking queer bitch!" Krik kicked at Edgar's back viciously. The only thing that Edgar could do in his state was try to roll away ineffectively.

I told you not to.

When Edgar curled into a ball to try and minimize the damage being done, Krik focused on kicking his head.

At least, that's what he thought happened.

Things were getting hazy at that point.

Look at you. Scriabin's voice was faint. You can't even defend yourself, let alone someone else. You're pathetic.

He couldn't see anything anymore. His nasal passages must have collapsed because they weren't working anymore and he could only breathe through his mouth and that was getting increasingly difficult. The intense bleeding was very inconvenient as were some of the loose teeth that now rattled around in his mouth. Get rid of those quickly, they could be dangerous.

He was dimly aware of a tooth sliding from his lips in his best effort to spit it out.

Close enough.

He couldn't feel the collisions anymore so maybe Krik had stopped kicking him. That was a relief.

He's probably kicking Johnny. No wait, there he goes.

"You're too slow, bitch! I killed that fuck, and I'm getting out! Haaaa!" He could vaguely hear the man shout. The sound of footsteps towards the front door.

With the last of his conscious energy he rolled over and opened his swollen and puffy eyes.

What do you expect, my dear boy? Do you expect Johnny to be concerned over you? Over your welfare in any way? Do you expect him to be hovering over your body and weeping beautiful crystalline tears? Congratulations, Edgar, now you're BOTH dying.

His vision had worsened past its already horrible state due to the involuntary tears his eyes shed in an effort to clear them of the blood and mucus. He could see Johnny's back.

He hadn't moved at all.

Edgar heard a loud scream from the other room despite the fact that he felt as if his ears had been ripped off his head.

He saw Johnny's body shudder as if he was about to say something.

This is it, Edgar.

Goodbye.

And just like that, he didn't exist anymore.

Chapter Text

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name

I don't want to die please God please God I don't want to die

Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come thy will be done

I don't want to die oh please oh please have mercy on me I was only trying to do what I thought was right I don't want to die oh God please

on earth as it is in Heaven give us this day our daily bread

"Jesus Christ, Edgar, overreacting a bit, are we?"

And...forgive us...

He opened his eyes.

There was nothing.

It was all white. The ground, the sky, the walls, everything was white. Pure white.

It was an enormous void of nothing.

It was assumed that the constant color was what made the appearance of absolutely nothing possible, since Edgar was standing on something. It looked like nothing, but it was definitely something. However, whatever light source there was here was not kind enough to help develop distance. There was no shading, no dimming of color farther away. Everything was the exact same shade of white without exception. Or nothing was. Mind-numbingly empty.

He turned around.

They did look a lot alike.

A man stood there with his hands held behind his back and a confident smirk on his face, completely at ease with these bizarre surroundings. He had the same long nose, the same square-like facial structure, the same thin body shape...

But his hair was shaggy and long, he wore a trench coat and underneath a striped shirt with a blank white box in its center, black jeans and boots...

Reflective glasses.

And he moved...

"Oh come now, Edgar. You can't say you're really surprised, can you?" Scriabin smiled at him.

Edgar could not think of anything to say. He stared at the figment of his imagination without any real expression, too shocked for any emotion to leak through the logical breakdown he was currently experiencing.

But how...

All he could think about were all those times he had spent on the phone, passing time by moving the toy's limbs when he was bored. Now the toy moved by himself. He moved with a strange grace and ease that shouldn't be possessed by things that didn't exist.

And Scriabin didn't exist. He couldn't exist. Not like this. This wasn't what he looked like in that preview for the movie.

It was like Edgar was staring at himself. A more attractive, confident, sarcastic version of himself.

And that was what Scriabin was and couldn't be.

Scriabin seemed to enjoy the attention. He knew what this was doing. He had to know. He had to be able to feel the machinery in Edgar's mind shutting down. He smiled with a sense of contentment that caused Edgar to shudder.

"My goodness, you certainly picked up some melodrama from our dear now-deceased friend. Let me make this easier for you."

Scriabin snapped his fingers.

After the whiteness around them absorbed the noise, the familiar feel of his glasses pressed against the bridge of Edgar's nose.

His glasses. He must have lost them during the fight.

But how...how is this possible...

"Um..." Edgar finally said, his voice hollow and thin in this huge expanse of nothing. Once the word escaped him he gained a bit more control over his reaction to the figment's physical presence. The apathy and acceptance aspects of his personality kicked in, strong and protective. Utter shock and surprise fading to confusion and some vague curiousity. "Where...where am I?"

"Ah, my favorite part." Scriabin moved towards Edgar. He couldn't tell if he was walking or floating in this place. Everything was the exact same shade of white so he wasn't sure if there was a floor to begin with. It was hard to tell if this place expanded into infinity or just didn't expand at all. The color made everything too even.

Regardless, Scriabin closed the immeasurable distance between them and took hold of his chin, forcing them to make extended eye contact. He spoke with barely concealed excitement and sadistic pleasure.

"Edgar my dear, you're dead."

Edgar blinked at him for several seconds. Whatever it was that Scriabin said refused to register.

"No." He said without thinking.

Scriabin just smirked at him in response as if he had expected just such a reaction.

"Yes."

The shock of what Scriabin said began to wear off and Edgar felt himself able to think more clearly.

"I'm...I'm not dead. I can't be dead." He held his arms out to indicate all the white. "Where's God? Where's Jesus and Saint Peter?"

Scriabin laughed at him.

God, I hate you so much.

He turned away.

"It's all empty here...where is everybody?"

Ha, answer that.

Scriabin gestured to the white in much the same way Edgar had, mocking his tone of voice. "Well, I can explain that rather easily. As I told you before, there is no God, but that's not what's really interesting or relevant to your question. This, Edgar, is what your mind looks like on default. Safe mode. Any other metaphor you'd like to make. This is what your mind looks like when there's nothing there to clog it up, no mortal plane or petty responsibilities. Rather blank, hmm?"

Sure. Uh huh.

"Well then, why are we here? If I'm dead, like you say, then why am I in my head rather than in Heaven?"

Scriabin seemed to enjoy the fact that Edgar was playing along. "Think of it as a detour, although I don't know why you'd want to come here. It's rather depressing once you think about it. A gigantic realm of pure possibility without the chains of logical limitations and all you can think of is nothing. Not even a chair or anything."

He's lying to me.

Scriabin continued. "I think it's interesting how here, where you have full control over everything you do and see, over the entire area we're in, you're still the same. You could technically look like anything you want to here. And look at you." He pointed at his own face, beneath his eyes that were hidden behind his reflective glasses."You've still got those scars."

Well, how was I supposed to know I could change my appearance here anyway?

"Scriabin, I have no reason to believe you." There was a pause as Edgar looked him over again, despite how sick it made him feel. "And I hardly think you're one to judge on how I would decide to look, considering you've made yourself out to look rather handsome."

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Scriabin smiled and then turned away to the vast blank whiteness. His trench coat followed his movement at a bizarrely slow speed. "This place is defined by your thoughts, not mine. Therefore, my appearance would only reflect badly on you. That's beside the point though. As I said before, there is no god. It's because of me that you're here at all. I thought this would be a good chance to spend some quality time with you."

Lying to me again. Well, no matter what he does, he's not getting the upper hand here.

"Yes, that all sounds very pretty but you've given me no reason to believe anything you're saying. You've lied to me before and you're probably lying now. This must be some kind of lucid dream you're using to try and trick me while I'm unconscious."

"I can see why this place is so barren." Scriabin crossed his arms. "You're so skeptical. Believing so strongly in one thing that nothing else is even a possibility."

What?

He turned back towards him and pointed upwards. "But since I can sense your curiousity, I'll explain a bit further. Your beliefs aren't entirely incorrect, but they aren't entirely correct either."

The enjoyment Scriabin took at abruptly changing the subject just when it approached Edgar's initial question was quite palpable. "Do you find it as curious as I do that when you have the opportunity, you make me look beautiful while you don't change your own appearance?"

Edgar ignored the question. "I still have no reason to believe you. Despite all your metaphysical babbling, you've given me no proof as to whether or not this is the afterlife. I don't exactly have a good reason to trust you."

Scriabin shrugged.

"Fine, don't believe me if it makes it easier for you. Never mind that you saw the whole universe dissolving before you passed out but hey! That was all a dream, right?"

That's right, he did recall...seeing something. But things were so hazy at that point...

"Anyway, that's not what I really brought you here to discuss after you've shuffled rather pathetically off this mortal coil. There's something more important I want to talk to you about."

Edgar turned away from Scriabin while he was talking. He was trying to find a way out of this white place, or at least some kind of tangible borders, vertical or horizontal. He tested the air with his hand in a few directions and met no resistance, but still had no sense of true distance. It was really disorienting.

I want to get out of here.

There was a pause in the conversation that was almost deafening and Edgar considered turning around to look at Scriabin, but found that he had no desire to do so. Every time he looked at Scriabin he felt his heart jump into his throat and his stomach turn. Something felt very wrong and yet very familiar about him, particularly seeing him in motion, and that familiarity was trying to trigger some emotion or acceptance in Edgar's mind of something he didn't want to think about. He felt his heartbeat rise as he even glanced over it. What Scriabin could mean. What Scriabin's presence could possibly mean.

"This is what I wanted to talk to you about."

Curiousity did kill the cat.

When Edgar turned, his previous surprise at seeing Scriabin come to life was nothing compared to what he felt now. He fell back against the white but since there didn't seem to be a floor, he didn't fall...or at least, he didn't feel himself falling in the strictest sense of the word. His hand leapt to his chest and clutched his shirt closest to his heart as he let out a sharp, pained gasp. It rasped through his chest with almost a coherent word. He stepped back again as Scriabin floated serenely towards him, apparently a bit more acquainted with the physics of this area than Edgar was.

But he had seen...but how...no...

"Oh, don't look so surprised." Oh God. Oh God. That mocking voice...this is wrong. This is so wrong.

The sheer enjoyment in Scriabin's voice was quite evident as he leaned in close to Edgar, his now dark-blue hair brushing against him. "I told you you could change your appearance here."

Edgar tried to scramble away from him again at the contact but Scriabin simply floated after him, still smiling. God, it was wrong to see that sadistic sarcastic smile on...on his face. On Johnny's...

"Scriabin, that's just sick." Edgar finally blurted out, his voice revealing more emotion than he would have liked. At the sound of his distress Scriabin laughed again, this time genuine enjoyment at the effect of his new body's appearance. He rested one claw-like finger on his chin as he looked upwards in a mockery of a scholarly way. Seeing Johnny's body do this, even if Scriabin was controlling it, made Edgar nauseous.

This is so wrong so wrong so wrong he shouldn't be able to do this how can he do this how can he do this oh God you can't do that you can't he's dead how could you

"Not exactly the reaction I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless."

God, everything about Johnny was perfectly imitated. From the dark stringy hair to his thin skeletal bone structure...even his clothes had been perfectly recreated right down to his boots. And yet, in Johnny's facial expression, Edgar could see Scriabin inside, just using the body as if it were some kind of marionette. He could see in the sadistic glee behind Johnny's eyes, the careful controlled expression as Scriabin thought of just the right way to exploit one of Edgar's weaknesses.

And here, he had found one of the biggest.

"Scriabin, this is wrong and I'm not going to be part of it." Edgar turned away from the Johnny-facsimile and crossed his arms, staring intently at his feet. Go away. Go away. Go away. Stop it and go away stop it right now you shouldn't be able to do this

"'Scriabin Vargas, you go to your room!'" Scriabin spoke in a mocking high tone. Edgar could hear the smile in his voice. "Edgar, you're going to have to sound angrier if you want people to take you seriously, and that's a big if."

Edgar crossed his arms tighter and tried to move as far away from Scriabin as he could in this strange place. Without distance, there was no way to increase it. He closed himself off as best he could in terms of body language, refusing to speak as if by ignoring Scriabin he could make him go away.

"Why are you shying away from me as if I'm going to attack you?" Scriabin asked in a lazy and somewhat smug way. "After all, you put so much trust into your relationship with Nny. Why on earth do you think that I would hurt you?"

Because you're not...

The sarcasm in Scriabin's voice hurt. "Oh that's right, this entire relationship is based on pain! On voluntary submission and eventual-but-quite-assured death! How could I forget that tiny detail?"

That's not true. It's not true.

Edgar shut his eyes and gripped his arms so hard he couldn't feel his fingers anymore. But he could feel Johnny's-...Scriabin's hand as it came to rest on his shoulder.

Almost paralyzed, Edgar could only mumble softly in response. "Don't touch me..."

Scriabin of course entirely ignored him, instead using the grip on his shoulder to bring Edgar closer to him as he rhapsodized to the sky.

"Ah, trying to shut me out again. I'm sorry to inform you that you can't ignore me here, not that you were particularly good at it back when you were alive. Another motivation for this conversation. This time we are going to talk about this."

"There's nothing to talk about."

Scriabin ignored him. "I remember it well. Don't you? I do. We were so young then, so naive and carefree. Back to the roots of all things. He let you go because he didn't need your blood, and then he called you for advice. Of course, back then you were more intelligent I would think. Not so much in need of my constant guidance. At any rate, it seems that as time goes by this relationship, and I'm not talking about ours my boy, has become something other than involuntary."

Not true. Not listening.

"Oh, I remember it well. Those little screaming arguments we had some time ago, if you recall, about how you just wanted to observe Johnny, just watch him and find out why he was insane, that you just wanted to stay alive, you didn't have any emotion invested in him, about how you weren't a bad person even though you did bad things..."

The tone that Scriabin used was a perfect imitation of that long-ago argument and, in response to the words, Edgar felt a familiar stab of rage. He wasn't-

"But what is it then, Edgar? What's your justification? Johnny just forcing you into this relationship? Just dragging you down and yet of course you've done nothing wrong? Yes, that's right. You're so totally innocent in this entire mess. Nothing you ever did was your fault, no. Nothing you ever instigated was your idea and look at where you are! Imagine, actually physically fighting someone, or at least pathetically attempting to, to protect a homicidal maniac from further pointless damage. What did it all come to? Now you're dead. You're dead because of him and still, you deny that it's your fault."

It's not-

"It's not my fault-"

Scriabin ignored him as he pulled Edgar closer. "You're so deluded into thinking that you're normal and without faults, that this entire relationship happened without your input and you have no part in maintaining its existence, but let's face it, Edgar. This is the only relationship that you have, as much as you pretend you don't need them, and it takes two to tango even if it's in blood. It took two people to use that phone and two people to hold hands and hug." A squeeze on his shoulder to emphasize the point. "I'm sure you remember that. That didn't quite turn out the way we expected, did it? But nothing can really be predicted in this elaborate farce of a real human connection. This is your relationship, Edgar, one that you're mistakenly and bizarrely proud and protective of, and it's getting worse one day at a time. The only relationship in your life that you have and that you tried to protect, to save, is masochistic, twisted, and shamelessly self-destructive."

He was only half-listening, focusing more on the physical sensation of Johnny's imitated body. "Don't..."

Despite his efforts to break away, Edgar's body refused to respond to his directions. He just stood there shaking as Scriabin steadily drew him closer as he spoke. Could shut his eyes but do little else. Whether or not it was Scriabin's influence or it was just the rush of confusion and disgust and everything just crashing in on him, robbing him of his free will, he couldn't say.

He tried. He really tried but in the end he could not resist. The most he could do was raise a hand to feebly press against Scriabin's chest. And God, even touching the fake Johnny's body made him shudder all over. He could feel the ribcage just as before, he could feel the bones underneath his hand.

Scriabin snaked his other arm around Edgar's waist and kept a firm grip on his shoulder, keeping him from moving. He wanted to move. Instead, he could feel the bones that he thought he knew so well pressing against his side, his shoulder, his chest and legs. Johnny's impossibly thin body doing things that God no God no stop stop it this is wrong no stop it

As Scriabin pressed his head beneath Edgar's chin, breathing across his throat softly, Edgar tried as hard as he could to get away. To get away, but all he could do was lean his head back, his teeth clenched as he hissed softly.

He felt just like him and that was what made this as horrible as it was.

"Scriabin..." He was struggling but he couldn't move. Something prevented it. The presence near him, the same deathlike presence of Johnny so near to him prevented it.

"But that's the whole point, isn't it?" Scriabin whispered, the flow of breath across his skin causing Edgar to shiver uncontrollably. He tried to push him away but his body wasn't responding. Not the way he wanted it to. "The pious little fortune cookie loves to be dominated. Controlled. Why else would you trust your life to some father figure that doesn't exist? Follow his rules, submit to his will, punish yourself for breaking imaginary laws. And you like it, Edgar. You're proud of it. You're not ashamed to admit it and yet now, you fight against it."

stop oh God please stop stop it stop it i don't want to hear this it isn't true if i could if i could move i would move why can't i move why won't he shut up i don't want to hear this i don't want to hear this it's not true it was never true it'll never be true i don't want to hear this please please please stop please make him stop please something stop make him stop make him stop make it stop i want control again i want to run i want to run i don't want to hear this i don't want to hear this it's not true i'm not like that and i wouldn't do something like this and johnny wouldn't do something like this its all a lie this has to all be a lie

The thin bones moved and shifted against him, falling in and out of place in a way that was sickeningly familiar.

Scriabin's lower hand drifted and his voice remained at a throaty whisper coming from the wrong throat. "Shameful, really."

stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop stop don't stop stop stop stop stop

The brief touch of teeth against his skin. "It turns you on."

You're lying.

A flash of fury that apparently only those words could trigger rushed through him, strong enough to give his body the ability to move. With a quick jerky motion, he threw his arm up and pushed Scriabin away from him.

"Get off me!"

Scriabin simply floated backwards as if Edgar's movement had not affected him at all. He had a pleased expression on his face, one that Edgar had never seen Johnny get. Ever. And it made him feel sick again.

"Look, I've tolerated your taunting and insults long enough!" Edgar advanced on him, one hand clenched in a fist at his side while his other pointed at him accusingly. "I'm not going to stand here while you use Nny's body to..."

He felt his breath catch as he tried to even talk about what had just happened. "To hit on me! I'm leaving!"

Edgar turned away from Scriabin and began walking.

Only a few minutes passed in thankful silence before he could hear Scriabin's voice from somewhere.

"You know the funny thing about nothing, Edgar?"

Scriabin appeared in front of him so quickly that Edgar could not contain a short gasp of surprise.

"It loops in on itself."

Surprise was quickly replaced with rage. Scriabin settled into a curious detached pose as he regarded Edgar clinically.

"You know what I think is interesting? Your reaction to me being all sexual and touchy-feely. Do you really expect a relationship like this to last?"

There is no relationship-

"Wait, no. I remember now. He's going to kill you because he loves you so very much, not make love to you. Unbelievable."

He wouldn't-

Edgar refused to respond, instead only shaking with visible anger. Scriabin looked at him and smiled in a condescending way.

"Would you prefer me to act ambivalent, moody, and distant? Is that the only relationship you're comfortable with? After all, that would match your god's profile pretty well, wouldn't it?"

Had to keep the emotion out of his voice. "Scriabin, let me out of here. I am sick of you. I'm sick of your lies."

Scriabin turned away from him, moving his hand in an imitation of someone talking. "'My name is Edgar! I deny everything!'"

Pure rage.

Normally he refrained from attacking others but at this point, it was all he could think of to do.

"While we're picking people apart for their mistakes, what about you, Scriabin?" Edgar hadn't thought this through all the way yet, but the way that Scriabin's borrowed body tensed showed that it had some affect. He quickly tried to find something to focus on. "You've built up this elaborate fixation on my 'relationship' with Nny to the point of using his body to hit on me!"

Scriabin turned and stared at Edgar and to his total surprise, he looked completely shocked. He had attacked Scriabin before but apparently nothing had ever quite hit this home. With a weakness to latch onto, Edgar thought and spoke quickly.

"Not only do you assign me flaws that you just make up, you belittle me for flaws that I don't have that you project onto me! Jesus, you're more afraid of Nny than I am!"

The look of shock on Scriabin's face was priceless.

Then there was a flicker near his darkly rimmed eyes.

A small pair of spectacles had appeared on Johnny's face. With them came Scriabin's stumbling and halting words.

"Well I...I um, you...you're not supposed to-"

"Where'd those glasses come from?" Edgar's confusion prevented him from reveling in his success for a few moments.

"What glasses?" And sure enough, they were gone.

"You had glasses a minute ago." Edgar pointed at him, feeling an uncharacteristic surge of confidence and superiority. Scriabin was definitely on the defensive now. And God, that felt good.

Scriabin finally got over his surprise and held out his hands as if to stop the current direction of the conversation. "Okay look, this isn't about me, this is about you."

Edgar could not resist. "Not exactly the response I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless."

Scriabin crossed his arms. He was visibly annoyed now. That was an expression on Johnny that Edgar felt more comfortable with. "I find this sudden attack on me unsettling. Considering who I am, that doesn't reflect well on your self-image."

He's trying to get out of this but failing. I've got him.

And with strange ease, Edgar fell into a very similar tone of voice that Scriabin always used. Condescending superiority. "You know, I've never seen you this flustered. Or heard you, as the case may be. You're contradicting yourself. Is it because I'm fighting back? You know, for someone who complains about me being too passive, you sure don't like it when I stand up to you."

Scriabin held up a hand as if to stop Edgar from talking and closed his eyes. Now that he had the advantage, Edgar wasn't about to shut up.

"You know, I can see why you like tearing people down so much. It's kind of fun."

With a gesture of his hand, spectacles appeared from the nothing and fell gently into Scriabin's thin fingers.

With a sigh, Scriabin put the small spectacles on and glared at Edgar in annoyance. "All right, allow me to explain. I hid these glasses because they are a comfort item. I do believe you recall that whenever you feel particularly weak, your glasses are missing. And you do recall that every time you put your glasses on, you feel more strong and capable. When you feel weak or helpless, your glasses make you feel better. You have this association, I have this association. I hid them because I didn't want to embarrass you."

The sight of those spectacles on Johnny's face was enough to make his stomach lurch again. It was another reminder of exactly what Scriabin was doing. "You're lying and you take those off."

Scriabin blinked at him and then smiled in an excited way. "Wait a minute, do these glasses bother you? Does the concept of Nny in glasses bother you?" Edgar's stubborn silence answered that question. "How interesting!"

He sounded sincere.

That didn't last long.

As quickly as Edgar had latched onto Scriabin's perceived weakness, Scriabin turned on him.

He had a great deal more experience in this field.

"It's another thing that you and Nny share this way. That's what's creeping you out, isn't it? The thought of you and Nny getting closer and closer. It ruins your image of superiority."

Edgar did not want to hear this. Not after his near-victory. He turned away from Scriabin and crossed his arms, closing his eyes.

"I don't-...just take them off, okay?"

He could feel Scriabin approaching him from behind, a few strands of his hair touching the back of his neck.

"What bothers you more, Edgar? The thought of Nny being sane or you being crazy?"

"Stop it."

Scriabin rested his fingers against Edgar's shoulder and leaned in close to him, his mouth beside his ear. Before Edgar could truly react, his other hand reached and removed Edgar's glasses.

And before he could do anything to respond to Scriabin's unwelcome proximity, something happened.

He could feel it, the breath passing by his ear and flowing past his scarred cheek. He could feel the air leave Johnny's body under Scriabin's control. The knowledge that Scriabin was in control of that body, not Johnny, was what had sustained Edgar through most of this torment.

But this. This was cruel.

The words came from Scriabin with the perfect accompanying body motions. It unmistakably came from him, from that body.

And within those words, the thorns. The thorns that he had known for so long, that had always been present. The same cadence, the same strange broken tone, the same soft dangerous voice.

But it was those thorns, those sharp and dangerous thorns, that proved the validity of these words as unmistakably Nny's, unmistakably from Johnny C.'s vocal cords. Not Scriabin. Not Edgar. No.

And the thorns jabbed into his heart and caused him to give a gasp of surprise, cause his body to fill with adrenaline, with utter panic and shock. To fill with the strange feeling that he did not know or understand because he had never felt or expected to feel it. Nothing in his life had ever prepared him for something like this.

The words came from Johnny in the perfect, absolutely flawless imitation of his voice as he felt his thin hand resting against his shoulder, his cold skin against his own, his body against his back.

"Edgar, I love you."

And something in his mind snapped.

He gave a strangled, shocked noise as if someone had struck him and he nearly collapsed, his mouth frozen open. The heat rushing to his face felt almost blinding and he could see absolutely nothing. The feeling of his glasses was gone and all that was around him was white and the words kept repeating through his head with the perfect danger in each syllable. Every logical part of his mind tried to disprove it, tried to stop it, tried to erase it, but it kept running through his head on repeat, over and over and over with the sensations from before, the feeling of Johnny's body pressed against his back and on his shoulder and the feel of his breathing and he couldn't deny that, no matter how many times he told himself it was Scriabin because it was just too much, just too much...

Edgar was struggling to breath correctly, his lungs refusing to cooperate as he tried to erase what happened, tried to justify it. Tried to reduce the utter horror he felt at those words, the pure and utter horror and terror and fear at those sharp words that cut right through every logical thing he could say. It cut through every small hope that he had for himself and for Johnny, it cut through everything and why not after all that was what thorns did and it was fear he felt that was all he could feel anything else would be wrong and this was definitely fear it had to be fear and oh God

Scriabin had moved away from him some time ago, although he still stood behind him. He hadn't said anything as he watched and probably enjoyed Edgar writhing in a mental paradox of emotion. Despite the fact that he had probably succeeded beyond his expectations, his voice sounded very quiet and level although there was a hint of a smile in his words.

"Not a bad impression, hmm? It certainly impressed you, if that's the word for it."

Edgar could not respond. He wouldn't respond. Not now. He couldn't say anything except incoherent mixtures of syllables. Scriabin watched him for a few seconds before speaking again. This time his tone was dead serious.

"You know what the saddest part is?"

He couldn't breathe.

Scriabin spoke with deliberate slowness so that not one word would be missed. "That's the only time you will ever hear him say that."

And he was right.

Somehow, this had some effect on Edgar. Perhaps it pushed his overworked emotional state over the brink right into apathy again. Perhaps it was because Scriabin had admitted that he had imitated Johnny's voice that made it a little easier to swallow. Either way, he could breathe again.

When Edgar spoke, his voice was surprisingly calm. "Give me back my glasses."

There was a silence as he was sure Scriabin was staring at him in disbelief.

The heat was still present on Edgar's face, but he didn't want to touch his scars. He didn't want Scriabin to see that.

"I find it deplorable and shameful that in a realm of infinite possibility, you still try to shift responsibility to someone else. Do you fear control?"

I don't want to talk about this anymore. I don't want to talk to you ever again.

"I just want them back."

Scriabin glared at him.

"Get them yourself."

He wasn't sure if he hadn't already been pushed over the edge by Scriabin's torment, but if he hadn't, he was certainly close to losing it now. He clenched his fists and shut his eyes once again, his only remaining method of shutting Scriabin out.

I made you so obey me and give me my glasses God I hate you so much why are you doing this to me

"You almost make this painful." Scriabin sighed in a bored fashion and spoke with obvious distaste. "Here." Edgar felt his glasses being pressed into his hand. "You're pathetic. You can believe in a big daddy god with all your heart, but not enough in yourself to make a single pair of glasses."

I don't want to hear this.

Edgar sighed as he put his glasses back on. The aftermath of all that emotion had left him feeling tired and drained. The exact memory of what happened was already fading as his mind struggled to repair its shattered defense system. Move along as if it never happened. "Look, I'm tired and I want to go home. If you want to argue circles about something that isn't important, fine, but can't we do it at home? I don't even care anymore. And-"

There was a sudden tightening around his neck that cut off his sentence.

Puzzled, Edgar tried to reach upwards to investigate but found that his hands were not responding. When he looked down, he saw that his hands were not only tied together quite tightly with leather straps but another longer cord ran from them down into the white until it faded into nothing, preventing him from lifting his hands at all. From the pressure against the bottom of his throat when he looked down, he assumed that there was something of a collar there. When he tried to step back, he found that the same bonds that had tied his hands had also formed around his legs, preventing him from moving anywhere.

While Edgar was making these discoveries, Scriabin was talking but not looking at him.

"And you're worried about Johnny and no, you don't have to say it because we both know it's true, so let's dispense with the formalities. You know, giving away control of your own mental world leaves you open to some rather embarrassing situations."

Scriabin turned and raised an eyebrow at Edgar, who was clearly not very happy. "You see? No good can ever come of absolving yourself of responsibility."

With a few more gestures, a leash appeared in Scriabin's hand with a metal clasp. At the sight of it, Edgar could feel every fiber in his being react, but bound as he was there was little he could do.

He did not want that on him.

But that didn't really matter, did it?

With no hesitation or fear of Edgar's potential resistance, Scriabin simply fastened the leash onto the collar.

And Edgar didn't do anything.

"Of course, if you don't like it, feel free to stop me." The sadistic joy was gone from Scriabin's voice. Instead, this was a challenge, albeit delivered in a rather monotone fashion.

His face was burning and God he hated that. "This is insulting and degrading to both of us. Let me go."

Why is he doing this to me

Scriabin did not respond verbally. Instead, he wrapped the leash around his fist and tugged on it sharply, causing Edgar to nearly fall forward. He kept the line taut as Edgar tried to fight against it.

"Scriabin..."

Inexorably, Scriabin dragged Edgar to the ground using the leash. He stared at him with utter distaste and disappointment as Edgar struggled to break free and failed. Unable to do anything, Edgar was forced to kneel in front of Scriabin, the tight grip on the binding forcing him to look up to his own figment.

With a measure of frustration, Scriabin spoke down to Edgar.

"You get down on your knees. I'm dominating you. I own you, Edgar. Your actions are mine, ordained by my logic. I control your emotion. I control your thought. You're below me. You've always been below me and if you've ever had the balls to fight for yourself or your dignity, get up. Make these bindings disappear and believe in yourself. Find your god damn spine."

So this has a point.

Edgar shut his eyes and tried as hard as he could to make the bindings disappear. To undo the clasps and locks, untie the knots, and make them go away. Make it all go away. He focused as hard as he could.

And when he opened his eyes, he was still bound. Only this time a new tightness had formed around his chest. When he looked upwards, he found that a series of whitish ropes now ascended from his back, stretching into the white like some strange empty wings. The ropes tied themselves around his chest and arms, tightening with each breath.

Scriabin looked at the new bindings without surprise.

"I suppose that answers my question then. Pathetic."

He had tried, he had really really tried and somehow, all he had done is get himself more tied up. Why? He could not think of an answer. Everything had been focused on getting rid of these bindings, not creating more of them.

He had asked Scriabin for advice since he had first heard his voice. Without thought, that was what Edgar did now.

His voice was soft and confused. "What's happening to me..."

He didn't expect sympathy.

"My goodness, Edgar, surely this blatant and rather unsubtle symbolism isn't lost on you, is it? Do I have to explain this as well? You must at least be able to understand the wing-like structure those bindings took."

Why did I say anything I don't want to hear this shut up

The tightness around his chest was growing in intensity and he felt heavy. He could feel himself growing heavier and he realized that more and more chains were forming around his limbs, tying him down.

Scriabin stood lazily, reaching out for a stray rope that was hanging near him. With a single pull, Edgar was lifted off whatever floor this place had, suspended by the ropes that now not only expanded from his back, but from the collar and from the bindings around his legs as well. Now he was truly and completely helpless, incapable of moving at all.

Scriabin's normally sarcastic voice now had a definite vicious edge. "You're trying to break free so I won't tell you anymore, aren't you?"

The clink of chains as they continued to wrap around his legs.

"You're getting more and more restrained as you give me more and more control. Your attempts at freedom only equal more control because you shouldn't be trying to escape from me. You hate me so much and yet you give me so much power."

In the depths of his confusion and hatred, Edgar resorted to his most primal defense mechanism.

"Scriabin, this is all a lie. I didn't do this to myself, you did it to me. You're trying to trick me into dropping my defenses and admitting that I need or give power to you when I don't. These bindings are your idea and your fault, not mine. This dream isn't under my control, it's under yours. If I could break free, I would have already. Obviously, I cannot break away because this dream is really not my creation, as you have claimed. For all you statements of this world being under my control, obviously it isn't. It's your world that you're using to convince me that I'm weak and I'm not weak. I have no reason to believe anything you say."

Scriabin walked up to him and rested a hand on his shoulder, placing a finger on Edgar's lips.

"Shut up."

The hands moved upwards to cup Edgar's face, forcing eye contact with Scriabin. While before Johnny's eyes reflected Scriabin's presence, now they reverted to their familiar haunted look. With that change came the instinctual fear of Johnny, particularly considering the position Edgar was currently in.

His expression changed to that soft reverent one that Edgar had seen at that movie theater. The one that had shown him that Johnny was capable of emotion. Capable of being human. The one that had punched a huge hole into his method and beliefs around Johnny, had forced him to reconsider-

"Oh Edgar..."

Oh God NO not the voice again not the voice oh God please no

With perfect intonation, Scriabin spoke. The thorns dug into his words and into Edgar's mind, searing it with the flawless record of Johnny's speech.

This isn't Johnny this isn't Johnny this isn't Johnny it might sound like him but it's not him oh God it isn't him

"Edgar, you're the kindest person I've ever met." With perfect sincerity as Scriabin gently ran his hand across Edgar's face, a thin fingertip brushing across the scar beneath Edgar's eyes.

God, the mental pain this caused Edgar was almost enough to make him scream. The sound of his voice, the body, everything. It was like his dreams. It was like a dream.

Fear. His body was flooded with fear. Nothing but fear. His thought processes sped, desperately forming escape plan after escape plan and then abandoning them before they got past the halfway point. His entire body shuddered and he could feel his stomach clenching along with most of his muscles, all desperately trying to escape the bindings that were at current fulfilling their purpose all too well. The familiar sense of nausea came along with the terror, as if somehow vomiting could possibly help him in a horrifying situation such as this. He couldn't blame that entirely on the fear though, he had felt sick ever since he had showed up here.

The movement the bindings allowed him were jerky and quick, tests of the strength of his restraints even though he was well aware they would not give. He knew that the straps around his wrists were far stronger than the force he could exert that his current leverage would allow, but he kept incessantly testing them despite the futility of each effort. Perhaps the memory of each failed attempt was perpetually erased from Edgar's mind as he tried to focus on anything other than the horror in front of him. Perhaps this was all just another of Edgar's desperate attempts to gain control, through classification and measurements of how far he could test a rope before he could go no further, of a situation that had already spiraled far out of his grasp. At this point Edgar was in no position to argue one way or another. His personal opinion of his motivation was just slightly colored.

That and he was far too frightened for true rational thought.

"I admire you and you give me strength."

God stop it STOP IT

"SHUT UP!" Edgar finally managed to speak, his voice tremulous and high. He tried to turn his face away from Johnny- Scriabin but the hands on his face prevented him, their bones digging into him, forcing him to still stare at him. Forcing him to look at this living lie. Forcing him to look at

I won't look at it no I won't I won't this is a lie it's a lie it's a lie it has to be a lie because he would never say that he can't say that and he wouldn't say that this can't be real.

Edgar couldn't look away. Scriabin's expression was sincere and contrite. He mimicked Johnny's voice so perfectly, so painfully. He looked at Edgar with adoration that was so wrong.

"STOP IT! STOP IT!" Edgar screamed as if there was anyone present could help him.

Scriabin moved closer to him and ran one of his hands up into Edgar's hair, entangling itself in the short strands. He felt his entire scalp tingle at the contact and his face burned horribly. He felt as if his scars were bleeding again. He felt as if he were breaking apart. The ropes around his chest only tightened. They grew tighter and he was losing feeling to his legs, losing feeling to everything.

You can handle this this is all a dream it isn't happening you can handle this Edgar you've done it before you've done it before you can do it again just calm down just calm down you have to calm down you have to calm down you have to calm down and

Detach

"I need you." Scriabin looked at Edgar and he sounded so sincere. He sounded so sincere that Edgar wanted to punch him in the face.

"JUST SHUT UP!"

Nothing he said made a difference. Nothing he said did anything. It was as if Scriabin were replaying a memory, replaying a fantasy or a dream with pre-planned lines and roles. He ran Edgar's hair through his hand as he got closer to him, ran his hand across his collarbone, along the edge of his shirt. He caressed his neck with such care that it was impossible. This wasn't Scriabin that he knew, this wasn't anything, wasn't anything real. How could someone who hated him so much be so careful, put on such a perfect show of adoration...

"You're such a good person." Such love and devotion.

He couldn't detach.

He was trying and he couldn't. He couldn't detach anymore. He could feel every movement that Scriabin was making, each shift of his fingers across his skin, he could feel the trails that he left as he traced his way up Edgar's face, running a soft finger across his scars. The gentleness of this action caused Edgar's entire face to twitch.

The thorns in his speech were softening to the special tone that Edgar had only heard Johnny use with him. That tone that was reserved for him. That softer, gentler tone because Johnny accepted him as an equal.

What if Johnny's trying to make you Devi?

What if Johnny loves you, Edgar

What if Johnny loves you, Edgar

What if, Edgar, what if

"I would never hurt you."

And even the sense of regret came through his words, that promise that Johnny would not hurt him again. That sick twisted sense of sorrow that he could hear whenever Johnny tried to apologize but couldn't because his pride or dementia prevented him. And now there was nothing. There was nothing preventing what he had always hoped he would say. What he had never hoped he would say. What he would never say. Pure wrong escaping from Johnny's lips.

He could not detach. He could not detach. He was trying. All he could do was repeat one word to himself over and over and over again through panicked and tumultuous thoughts.

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no nnno no no

Scriabin leaned in closer. His nails scraped against Edgar's scalp as his fingers tightened around his hair and his other hand began to explore down Edgar's back. His face was getting closer, close enough so that when he spoke, Edgar could feel his breath. Close enough that Edgar felt the urge to close his eyes and he could not say why.

He could not stop shaking.

His face burned so that he was sure that Scriabin could feel the heat emanating from his skin. He could feel something making its way down his face, leaving twin cooling trails.

Oh god please stop please stop I don't want to do this I don't want to hear this I don't want to hear this I don't want to do this or feel this or see this or hear this or feel this I don't want this please stop please stop I'm begging you I'm begging you please let me go please stop please I'll do anything just don't do this to me anymore just stop doing this

"You've fixed me, Edgar." Johnny...Scriabin said softly. Edgar wanted to break free. He tried to move his arms but they refused to listen. He could not move his body. There was such an overflow of emotion at the moment it was a miracle that he could think clearly at all.

I want you to fix me. I want you to fix me. I think you can fix me. You're not like the others. You're not like the others. I've grown somewhat fond of you. I like you. Thank you. Thank you. You're not like the others. I want you to fix me. I want you to fix me. You'll be beautiful. You'll be beautiful just like the others. You'll understand. You always understand me.

"I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I don't hear the voices when I'm here. They're too far away. I don't hear things now. I don't hear things when I'm here. I don't hear things. It's safe here. It's safe here. I can feel safe here. I can think here. Your house is quiet. It's very quiet. I want you to fix me. I think you can fix me. I trust you. I trust you to fix me. I trust you to fix me.

"I love you so much, Edgar..."

I'm going to kill you, Edgar.

"No..." Edgar whimpered. "Please..."

With the slowness of someone who knows their prey can't escape, Scriabin closed in. And just as he expected, Edgar did not even move. He did not even try to resist. He had tried everything in his mental arsenal to defend himself. Everything had failed. Everything. Now he was defenseless, bound in leather straps and ropes of his own creation. Without even the motivation to move. He did not try to resist because at this point, he found that resistance was futile.

He could not resist. A pervasive web of probability that couldn't be brushed aside.

The fingers in his hair clenched tightly, causing sharp pain that Edgar barely registered. The hand that had been moving in slow circles around the ropes of his back now took hold of his shoulders, dragging him forward. Why not. Johnny was forceful and direct in everything he did. Why not this.

He had tried everything. He had tried everything and nothing worked. He had nothing now. He could not detach. He was present when Scriabin kissed him. He was there and he did not even try to pretend it wasn't happening. He didn't try to rationalize it, understand what it meant, explain it away as metaphysically as possible. He didn't try to ignore the sharp pain from his tense grip, the pressure on his shoulder as Scriabin pulled him in tightly. He didn't ignore the sensation of Scriabin forcing his lips open and did not even try to stop him.

There was no point.

There was no point anymore.

He could not deny anything anymore. He could not stop him. He had no power.

No power.

He had never had power in his relationship with him ever. Why now.

Teeth closed on his lip with sickening confidence and he tasted pennies. Even in the face of this sudden sharp pain, of this sudden stabbing hurt accompanied by the uncomfortable sensation of loose, now-dead skin hanging from his wounded lip, he could not muster the energy to even react physically. His jaw remained slack and, discounting the initial instinctive jerk the bite had illicited, he did not move. His tongue did not move even as it was felt by Johnny's, even as the growing blood began to swell around his taste buds which did not improve his previous nausea. He didn't move at all. The pain dulled to a throbbing ache. Still, he did not move. Johnny did not notice. After all, it wasn't as if Johnny was trying to get Edgar to participate in the kiss.

He knew better.

Edgar had always been passive. Everything he had ever done was passive.

He could not rationalize this away. Make the copper fade. Every thought and reminder that this was merely a dream that Scriabin was controlling, mere thought manipulation was gone. Constricting strings of touch and voice.

He was going to accept this.

He already had accepted this.

His entire life was acceptance.

I'm not scared of death.

A heaven for me, and a hell for you.

I have nothing to fear.

And he was right.

This wasn't fear. Not right now.

When Scriabin broke away, the adoring look he had imitated was gone. Instead he looked disappointed and disgusted. Normal. He ran a hand across his lips, a faint trail of pink marking a skeletal hand. He stared at Edgar as if he had failed some test.

And he had failed.

Edgar desperately tried to reconcile what had happened, tried to piece everything back together into some kind of logical whole that was anything except what had just happened but it all kept crashing down on him, crashing down.

That would be what it would have felt like. Scriabin had imitated Johnny perfectly, even how Johnny would go about biting Edgar if he decided to do so. That would be what it felt like.

They were so in love and I loved them so much. And now I can look back on them and they're still so beautiful. Someday, when I look back on Edgar, it will be just as beautiful.

No...no, I don't hate you.

It's not supposed to be a bad thing. I like you, you know.

You...you don't want me to hate you...?

God no...no no no no...

Nny...I wouldn't...hate you. I don't hate you now.

Listen to me. I am going to hurt you. And when the time comes, I am going to kill you.

I want to fix you.

I want you dead.

Don't you get it! Don't you understand? That's all I have left!

I wish I knew something...anything...

I devoted precious time to it...

I'd rather not die...

Edgar...

"God..." The first word that Edgar could finally say. Tightening. He couldn't breathe. "God I...I..."

If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman,

"I..."

both of them have committed an abomination;

"I c-can't..."

they should surely be put to death.

"I..."

A heaven for me, and a hell for you.

A heaven for me, and a hell for you.

Heaven for me, Hell for you.

Heaven for me, Hell for you.

Heaven

He shut his eyes. He couldn't. It was the last thing that he had left.

It was the only thing he had left.

"I c-can't, I...you...s-so...so much i-it...it hurts..."

And it loosened.

The ropes, the wires, the straps, everything that had wrapped around him began to dissolve, began to fade away and fall to strips, fall apart.

And he slowly fell to the white, slowly and without emotion.

Scriabin knelt beside him and stared at the remnants of empty wings.

"And it all comes tumbling down."

I can't. I can't. It's my life. It's all that I have. It's my life. It's mine. I can't let it be taken away. I can't let myself do this. I can't let myself...I can't let Scriabin do this to me. I can't let him take away the one thing that gives my life meaning. I can't let him do this. I won't let him do this.

I'm so broken. I'm broken. I want someone to turn me off and fix me.

I want to fix you.

I can't let myself do this. I can't do this. I can't. I won't. I can't.

Edgar felt deeply sick, more so from the overwhelming amount of emotion that had crashed on him than anything else, and now he was huddled in a miserable ball, staring vacantly into space as he tried to get himself under control.

I am under control.

The copper taste was fading. The annoying sensation of loose dead skin remained.

"Weep and wail, sob and shiver. It's okay, my boy." A smile. "After all, there's no one here but us. There's no need to hide your feelings, no need to conform to that standard of the emotionally withdrawn male. In fact, there is no way to hide your feelings, considering. So feel free to burst into tears at any time."

Edgar ignored him.

This didn't seem to bother Scriabin too much. He leaned over and picked up the scraps of a white rope between his fingers. He studied it as he spoke, his voice bored even as he smashed through any of Edgar's desperate attempts to rebuild. "You really do love this Johnny boy, or at least, what you wish he was."

No I don't. That's not true.

Anger.

Scriabin let the piece of rope fall. "Here I am, Edgar. Here's what you wish Johnny was and what Johnny's trying to be, and you're having a nervous breakdown. It's pathetic."

That's not what I want.

This isn't what I want.

This isn't what he wants.

"You're not Johnny."

It was not often that he sounded so surprised. "Excuse me?"

Edgar stared at Scriabin, trying to see behind those ringed and tired eyes to see his mental tormentor. His voice was even and emotionless. "You're not Johnny. You claim that I reject perfection as if you were perfect. As if this is somehow my fault that your 'perfection' nearly gave me a heart attack. But you're wrong. This isn't my fault. It's not my fault because you're not Johnny, in whatever form you take. You're not what I wish Johnny was and you can never be what I wish he was. You don't know what I wish he was. You know nothing about me if this is as close as you can get to the truth. If this is what you think is my perfection, then you're wrong. You're wrong. You can't turn this back on me. You can't claim this is my fault. It only reflects badly on you, Scriabin. It only shows that you had to resort to such desperate measures as to create a false Johnny to force confessions that aren't true. Another failed attempt to make what you claim to be me a reality."

Scriabin sat quietly through this. When Edgar finished, Scriabin simply stared at him.

It took a while before Scriabin apparently either formulated his response or managed to get over what Edgar had just said.

"Now wait a minute." Scriabin put a thin hand on his chest. "Are you saying that I made this all up? That I manipulated your mouth and used my marvelous powers of ventriloquism to make you say that you loved Johnny?"

I didn't say that. I'd never say that.

"You know what you did." Edgar rubbed at his face roughly, sure that his scars were bleeding. If they weren't before, they certainly were now. He rubbed at his lips for a moment with intentional disgust. The back of his hand came back clean.

Scriabin took on an air of offended dignity that sounded almost in-character for Johnny, which gave Edgar another surge of nausea. "Oh that's right, this was all my doing. I created this form, this voice, I created myself and your masochism, I made those straps and your tears and your confession, I made you do everything. It's all my fault. For god's sake, Edgar, do you ever take responsibility for yourself? Your actions? You can't foist your teary, Harlequin Romance Novel confession of your undying love for an emotionally crippled serial killer on me."

Edgar adjusted his glasses.

I didn't say that. I didn't say that.

"Go back to normal, Scriabin."

Annoyed, Scriabin just rolled his eyes. "Fine, whatever."

And before Edgar could even register the change, Scriabin was back to his original form. Despite the fact that seeing this living version of his toy made Edgar feel sick, it was better than the alternative.

"Feel better?"

Edgar crossed his arms, taking a deep breath to prepare himself for a speech and also to try and calm his stomach. "Scriabin, listen to me. I'm not going to let you manipulate me anymore. The fact that you had to use visual and auditory cues to force a false 'confession' out of me, which you didn't, only shows your inability to do whatever it is you're supposed to be doing. You're the one who's failing, not me. You're desperate."

As Edgar stood up, Scriabin tilted his head to follow the motion. It was hard to read his exact emotion with his eyes hidden. "Turning this back on me again? I'm afraid I'm not the one at fault here."

"Yes you are." Edgar stood and looked down at Scriabin who stared up at him without saying a word. "You've said it more times than I can count."

There was a moment of silence before Edgar held out his hand to him. Scriabin stared at it.

"You are me."

There was another moment of silence.

Scriabin slowly reached out and took Edgar's hand. As Edgar began to pull him upwards to lift him to his feet, he found himself speaking with a strange lack of emotion.

"You say that I'm a masochist, in love with a demon who's bent on my destruction. You talk about me absolving responsibility for my actions. For my 'relationship.' About trapping myself in lies, devoting myself to falsehoods, trapped in a downward spiral of learned helplessness to my inevitable destruction."

As Scriabin opened his mouth to make some kind of sarcastic comment, Edgar cut him off.

"Scriabin, you've told me countless times that I am you. Now that we're here, there's nothing that you could want less. Now for some reason you are intent on differentiating yourself from me. It's not our fault I forgot a book or something of that nature, it's mine. It's not our fault I act 'stupidly,' it's mine. It's not our fault that we're trapped in this mess, it's mine. We're not in love with-"

Scriabin made a very strange noise at this point which stopped Edgar for a few precious seconds, but he recovered before Scriabin could break into the conversation.

"We're not in love with Johnny." Edgar repeated. This time, Scriabin kept silent. Something about him was tense though. "I am. We're not masochistic, I am. Do you see my point? For all your talk about how you are me, about how I created you, about how you're part of me, you certainly don't want to take responsibility for my...or rather, our faults."

Scriabin stared up at him for a few minutes in silence before speaking in a voice laden with condescending sarcasm and hatred. "I'm you."

Scriabin yanked Edgar's arm down so sharply that Edgar almost toppled over. Instead, he came face to face with Scriabin who hissed at him in a very angry and spiteful way. "You listen to me, I am not you. I'm not this you, anyway. I'm not a pathetic needy shell of a man who is prone to self-destruction as a method of validating my existence. I recognize and avoid danger. I am what you should be. I am what you were. When you got your frontal lobotomy, courtesy Nny, I am what you lost."

"No you're not."

Edgar pulled his arm back hard, this time dragging Scriabin up with him. The two stood and stared at each other.

Scriabin smiled in an irritating way. His voice was pure hate. "Oh that's right, I'm not. I'm sorry, I must have been confused."

"You're lying to me. You've always lied to me."

"What? Do you want an apology?" Scriabin asked. Edgar narrowed his eyes and assumed that Scriabin did the same, although he could not tell. "What do you want me to say, Edgar?" He pronounced his name in a strange way. "What is it that you'd like me to say to erase everything that just happened? What would you like me to act like? What do you want me to be?"

"I don't want you at all." Edgar matched his hate. Scriabin tore his hand from Edgar's grip, holding it to his chest as he rubbed it without thought.

Scriabin's voice was quiet and emotionless. "Then tell me, Edgar, what is it that you want?"

He answered quickly and without thought. "Not you."

"No, I'm being quite serious here, Edgar." Scriabin spoke as slowly as possible. "What is it that you want? If what you said before is true," Scriabin turned to one side and crossed his arms, mocking his previous tone, "And after all, you've always lied to me, if that version of Johnny is not what you want, then what is it?"

Edgar crossed his arms and looked at his feet.

Scriabin leaned towards him, confident in having found a question that Edgar could not easily answer. He sneered at him. "What is it that you want, Edgar? If you don't want me, why did you make me?"

"I didn't make you." Edgar gritted through clenched teeth.

"Of course you made me. But no, I'm curious. What is it that you want, Edgar? What is it? Because I'm looking back, rifling through all the old files and memories in your brain, and I'm looking for some goal, some kind of thing to strive for, something to keep living for, and what have I found?"

Edgar pressed a hand to his forehead. He knew that saying it out loud did as much good as saying it internally, so why waste the vocal power?

I don't want to hear this. I don't want to hear this. I want you to die.

"I've found nothing, Edgar." Scriabin had abandoned sarcasm, his voice instead now laden with intense vengeful hatred. "I've found absolutely nothing. You have no friends. You have no family. You have absolutely nothing. No one notices you. No one will ever notice you. You have accomplished nothing of any lasting importance in your entire life. You've never affected anyone for better or for worse. You wandered through life as a phantom, a pale imitation of what a person should be. You will be easily replaced because no one noticed you were there. Your life is nothing. Your entire life has just been a pantomime of what someone visible might act like, put on for an audience that will never see or care. And when you die, Edgar, you will die alone. You will die completely and utterly alone and it'll take two weeks for them to find your body."

Edgar put his hands over his ears.

"And they won't want to waste time burying you. They won't waste the space that could be taken up by someone people would actually remember. Someone people actually care about. They won't give you a decent burial. They'll take you to a place where there's everlasting ever-burning hellfire that consumes your flesh and when you're ashes, they'll scatter you to the wind and no one will care, Edgar. No one will care."

He was trying hard to block him out but he could hear the voice inside his head.

"So tell me, Edgar, if you don't want a loving, supportive relationship with someone who respects your opinions, who finds you strong and mature and a good person, if you don't want a loving supportive relationship with the one person in your life who actually sees you, then what do you want? What do you want from Johnny, Edgar? Has this entire charade of a relationship just been an elaborate way of committing suicide without getting your own blood on your hands?"

It's not the same...

"You're not Johnny. That wasn't him."

"You're so very astute." Scriabin's voice dripped venom. "But that's not my point, is it? My point is, is that what you want? My point, Edgar, is do you want to be happy? Do you want a happy, supportive relationship?"

"I don't want a lie." Edgar glared at him, struggling to ignore the implications of what he was saying. "I don't need a relationship and I don't need you to pretend to give me one. I don't need you to lie to me. I have a relationship anyway, I have something that governs my whole life, something that makes-"

"Do you, Edgar? Think about it. It's one of the ten commandments if I recall. 'Thou shalt not kill'-"

"I never killed anyone-"

"But you wanted to." Scriabin stared at him as his voice mimicked Edgar's attempts to remove emotion. "Do you remember? Those two teenagers in the movie theater? Who, because they interrupted Johnny's precious sane time, made you want them tortured? You wanted them tortured and you wanted to watch."

"I didn't-...that was different-"

"Do you know what their names were, Edgar? Were you paying attention? Did you recognize her before you died? That girl who escaped? That was her, Edgar. Did you notice she was alone? Have you thought about what that means? That means that that other boy she was with is gone now. He's dead. And to think, perhaps you could have done something. You could have stopped someone's death. I would venture to say that is, if not exactly equal to, quite high on the 'thou shalt not kill' meter of evil."

"What was I supposed to do?" He had gone over this with Scriabin before. He remembered, he remembered arguing and getting nowhere. Before he even had a name. "Could I have saved them? Did I have the power, at that point, to stop Nny from doing whatever he wanted? Did I?"

"Why are you asking me?" Scriabin cocked his head at him. "Why didn't you check?"

"Because..."

"If you say it's because he would have killed you, I would have to disagree. If you feared death so much, you would not have gone this far. You would not have accepted the fact that Johnny plans to kill you. That he will kill you, when he feels the time is right. You didn't want to stop Johnny because you wanted those two to suffer."

"I didn't-"

"And in the end, one of them died. And that's one of the commandments. Which reminds me, I had almost forgotten about it before you thoughtfully mentioned it during the sparkly bubbles and rose petals, but I believe there's a verse in Leviticus..."

If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman-

"I don't- I don't do- I don't do things like that. I don't do that."

"Do what?" Scriabin smiled. "Since I know as well as you do that you have not had any kind of contact with Nny that could even, at the most generous, resemble any kind of sex, then why such a reaction? Or do you interpret it a bit more vaguely? Apply it a bit further? I know, Edgar. That your version doesn't just end with 'lie with mankind as with a woman,' that your concern and mild panic attack do not just apply to the non-sex you and Nny constantly have. No. You've expanded it, Edgar, to that word you avoid as though following that male stereotype I mentioned before. Altered the translation just slightly, but just enough. 'If a man also loveth a man as he loveth a woman,' or something along those lines. You're better at this bible-talk than I."

Silence.

Scriabin finally shook his head. "It's the dreaded L-word, Edgar, as much as it pains me to call it that. You didn't say a single word and you act as if that's all that matters. As if not saying that word negates everything. As if the word is all that matters."

"No. I don't. Not with...not with anyone. Anyone except...well, certainly not- you can't make me say that I do, no matter what you try. You can't make me say anything. Everything you make me say is a lie."

"Then what am I, Edgar?" Scriabin held out his arms. "What does that make me?"

"I don't know! I don't care!" Edgar rubbed at his forehead as it began to throb. "I just don't want to talk about this anymore."

"What is it that you want, Edgar?"

Wish I knew something...anything...

I don't want to die. I'd rather not die.

Scriabin laughed softly.

"If you don't want me, if you don't want Johnny, if you don't want happiness, if you don't want death, what is it? What is it that you want? Is it Heaven? Because if it is, I'm afraid you're a little too dirty to go there now."

"No, I'm not."

"Here." Scriabin waved his hands over himself again and took the form of Johnny without missing a beat. Edgar again felt the choking surprise and nausea that came with the imitation but refused to show any such thing outwardly. "Tell me, is this what you want?"

"No."

"You do make this so difficult." Scriabin's hatred had diminished along the course of the conversation and his sarcastic lilt was back. He moved in front of Edgar, making sure he had his attention. "All right then, how about this?"

And with the blink of an eye, Scriabin had become a woman. Albeit, a feminine version of Johnny, but nonetheless a woman. The hair remained the same length, but the body shape changed without any kind of effort.

"This would clear up that nasty Leviticus business, wouldn't it?"

"No!" Edgar closed his eyes in disgust, pressing on his forehead in an effort to get the pain to stop. He was trying very hard not to think about what he was offering. "It doesn't change anything. That's not the issue."

"Oh? Then what is?" Scriabin reverted back to his original form. "What is it? What is it that you want? Johnny to be sane? You said that once. You said you wanted Johnny to be happy."

He did say that.

"Yes, but I didn't mean..."

"What? Now you don't want Johnny to be happy? Isn't that why you invited him over?"

"God, look, this is pointless! It's not important! I don't want to talk about it anymore!"

"Or would you just prefer that Johnny be happy without your input? Without your sacrifice? Would it make you happy to know that Devi will make Johnny happy someday?"

Edgar moved his hands so he could stare at Scriabin.

"I'm sorry, what?"

Scriabin smiled at him. "Oh, did I not mention that? Sure. Eventually someday, Devi and Johnny will be happy. She'll fix him, you know. They'll get married. Have kids. The whole deal."

"Oh..." Edgar really had no idea what to think of that. He had never really considered Johnny restarting a relationship with Devi, considering how disastrously it had ended last time, and-

"Ah! I heard that." Scriabin laughed in a cruel way. "You tried to cut it off, but yes. I can hear everything, you know. You thought you were important to him. Is that what you wanted, Edgar? Is that it? You wanted to make a difference?"

No...

"I guess that's the wish of every invisible man. You wanted to fix him, didn't you? Did you want to make him happy, Edgar? That's what you said, isn't it?"

"That's not what I meant-"

"So you'll only go so far then. How important is Johnny's happiness to you, in the long run? I recall before that you put it ahead of your own, because since his is more rare, it was more valid. And if I recall, there was some mention of how Johnny really feels things, rather than pretend like some people I could mention."

"I didn't mean-"

"Tell me, Edgar." Scriabin waited for a moment, as if giving Edgar room to defend himself. Silence. "You were willing to give your own life for Johnny's happiness earlier. He said he would kill you and you said you would understand. Isn't that the ultimate sacrifice that a person could make? So why is it so abhorrent to you to allow him to love you?"

"Because he doesn't, that's why."

"Well, let's play along then and just say that I'm mistaken. I'm sure that can happen." His tone clearly indicated he thought no such thing. "But play pretend with me here. What if, to make Johnny truly happy, Edgar, he had to love you? What if that fixed him? What if the heavens opened, the earth sang, and little woodland animals came and frolicked around him because hallelujah, the love of a good man is all a person needs these days to cure schizophrenia? What would you do, Edgar? I mean...I ask you this in all honesty. If it made him happy, how far would you go?"

"It's not a relevant question because he doesn't love me." Edgar refused to even consider the possibility. "He's...well, his understanding of love isn't like other people's, it's different. And whatever it is, he doesn't love me. He can't. I've done-"

"Oh, you've done plenty for him, I'm afraid. And the real irony is, it's all because you've done nothing. He vents, you listen. And you do what he wants. You're one thing in his life that he can control. I'm afraid you do a lot more for him than you know. You give him stability. You gave him a coat."

"Regardless, I hardly think-"

"Well, how would you define that love then? He did seem rather pleased to see you near the end, despite his screaming fit beforehand. What is Johnny's love, Edgar? I think we know the answer from Devi. It's death. And what has he promised to do to you? He promised to kill you."

"That's not...the same it's something entirely different in that case-"

"No, it isn't." Scriabin's tone made Edgar fall silent. "He wanted you to be perfect and beautiful. Just like the others. He wanted you to be perfect and beautiful. Like Devi never was. He loved the others so much and they loved him back. Perfectly and beautifully and Edgar, he wants to love you the same way. He wants to love you and have you love him back, perfectly and beautifully. That is precisely what he said, in words and in print. The question is, what are you going to do about it?"

"That's not the same thing, he wanted me as a friend, I know he...must have just...wanted a perfect friend...not a..." Edgar trailed off at Scriabin's expression.

"It is the same."

Edgar closed his eyes. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. He just doesn't...we can argue in circles all we like, but there's no point. I don't know what you want me to do. What do you want to accomplish?"

"Me?" Scriabin put a hand on his chest as if he had been offended. "I've been trying to keep you alive, you twit. I've been trying to make you grow a spine and realize that this isn't healthy."

Edgar held out his arms wide and stared at him. "Why do you care?"

Scriabin opened his mouth as if to say something, then ended up saying nothing at all.

"I want to go home."

As if Edgar's speech had jarred him back into motion, Scriabin spoke quickly and without pause. "Well, obviously because I want you to become sane and also to keep you alive..."

Edgar gave him an odd look. "Why did you hesitate if it was obvious?"

Scriabin suddenly became very interested in the white around him, turning away from Edgar and putting his hands in his pockets. "Since I do reside in your mind, it's in my best interests to keep you alive."

"You're not telling me everything, are you?"

Scriabin turned back towards him with a very monotone, "Duh."

Edgar put a hand to his forehead. "If you're a voice in my head and I created you, if I provide the place where you live, then why don't I have any control over you?"

Scriabin began laughing rather hard at that.

"It's not funny!"

Scriabin tried to catch his breath. "I'm sorry, it's just this is coming from a guy who was in psycho-sexual bondage a few minutes ago."

Edgar glared at him. "That wasn't my fault."

Scriabin held out his hands dramatically. "Yes, I tied you up because I'm a sick pervert, that's right."

Edgar sighed and rubbed at his forehead. His head throbbed. "How long are we stuck here?"

Scriabin hummed for a few seconds then shrugged. "It's really up to me."

"Can we go now, then? This is really getting old." Patience was indeed wearing very thin.

Scriabin held out his hands again. "Well, what have we learned? So far, that you're codependent, masochistic, a hypocrite, and have terrible taste in men."

Edgar took off his glasses, not even completely comprehending what Scriabin was saying anymore. He was exhausted. "Yes, I'm flawed. Oh no. The horror. Can we end it now?"

Scriabin put his hands back in his pockets. "Well, since you don't seem to have accepted anything I taught you-"

"Assuming you taught me anything to begin with."

"Perhaps we should continue this some other time when you're more receptive."

And much in the fashion of when they had first come here, Scriabin reached out and grabbed Edgar's chin, forcing them to meet eyes.

"Would you like anything before I go, dear boy? A board game? A portable electronic device? Little curly angel wings so you can fly about in a clearly impossible fashion? After all, I have only your well-being at heart."

Edgar brushed Scriabin's hand away from his face. "Just stop touching me and go."

Scriabin smiled in a strange way. "All right, if you say so. But keep in mind, if I do go, I won't be coming back. I have to think."

Edgar narrowed his eyes.

"Well, I hope you'll excuse me for not caring."

Scriabin slowly faded from view.

"I don't mind." His voice came from somewhere, but not inside Edgar's head for once. "After all, you don't get lonely, right? You'll be fine all by yourself."

Edgar looked around at the white surrounding him on all sides.

"I'm fine all by myself."

And with that, he couldn't hear him anymore.

Chapter Text

The only option that Edgar really saw was to walk. He wasn't sure if he was walking in any compass direction because of the solid color, but he chose a direction and just walked. He hoped he wasn't going in circles, although it didn't feel that way.

True to his word, Scriabin had been silent. Edgar did not believe for a moment that he had left, permanently or temporarily, and he knew he was just waiting for an opportunity to attack him again. Considering the emotional stress Edgar had gone through not too long ago, he tried to keep his thoughts on safe topics, not wanting to prompt Scriabin anymore than he had to.

Scriabin did not speak, not even when Edgar slipped and thought something particularly revealing, and after a while he was beginning to find it kind of odd. He wasn't sure what the voice in his head was up to.

He wished he had worn a watch.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed before the white finally began to change and alter. The appearance of a horizon, even if it was a huge distance away, was a great relief. Finally some perspective and some confirmation that he was going the right way.

As he drew closer to the horizon line, he noticed that the white was beginning to fade. Tinges of dust now covered the ground that he could now determine and the sky was beginning to slowly change into a very pale blue. As he walked further the color deepened until it resembled its more normal hue, dotted with occasional puffy white clouds. The ground beneath his feet began to change to a dark brown, and a few strands of grass poked upwards. After a while he began to forget the incredibly disorienting all-white void in favor of this new area. He never appreciated the ground and the sky as much as he did now, along with his well-missed sense of depth perception.

A path wound its way through sickly yellow and light green grass patches, a few straggling and dying flowers drooping near the ground. He noticed with curiosity that there were a few remnants of humanity here now; discarded magazines and soda cans.

"Where am I...?" Edgar normally would have chided himself for speaking aloud, but at the moment he saw no harm to it.

No mental response. Even such a harmless question would have prompted some scathing remark. Although Edgar wished Scriabin would leave, he could not truly believe that the figment had done so. Still waiting then.

As he walked, he felt something dripping down his face. Curious, he trailed his fingers downwards from his forehead. With something of a gasp, he found that his nose was crushed, no doubt the source of the blood running down his chin. Along with the discovery of the blood came an insistent, throbbing pain.

The remnants of his fight, if one could call it that, with Krik. His broken nose hadn't been present while talking with Scriabin...was that entire thing truly all in his head? Then where had he been walking?

This was all too confusing.

Edgar could make out a large sign ahead. The garbage that littered the ground had now increased in number and the entire place seemed to be falling into more disrepair as he walked.

A strange creature zipped past the edge of his vision, but vanished before Edgar could make out what it was.

Finally the words were legible.


THIS IS
HEAVEN
YOU CAN STOP PRAYING NOW

Edgar stood beneath the sign and stared at for a few minutes before he could think of any way to react.

"So...I really am dead then."

His reaction to this information was mainly constrained to mild surprise and disappointment. He really hadn't wanted to die, but then again, it wasn't like he had a great deal to live for anyway.

The place was still filthy. Despite this, Edgar felt inclined to believe this was the true afterlife. Besides, if this was Heaven, it wasn't as if Edgar was entirely opposed to going there.

Not to far from the sign was a small ticket booth with a large sign that read "Administration" across its top, with smaller writing scattered across it including "We sell churros, too," "Welcome," and "wipe your feet." As he watched, a gaunt man with large glasses and thin stringy hair slowly straightened from behind the booth, rubbing at his mouth and still looking incredibly disgusted at something. By the way he was acting, Edgar guessed that something had been so disturbing that he had been driven to vomiting, although that also did not do much for Edgar's opinion of this strange version of Heaven.

In accordance with the small sign, Edgar did wipe his feet slightly as he approached. Apparently under control after his brief bout of nausea, the man watched him without any kind of expression.

"Um...hello." Edgar felt incredibly awkward. This was not how he expected Heaven to be like by any stretch of the imagination. "I'm Edgar Var-"

"We know."

"Oh. Oh, um, of course you would. Are you...um...Saint Peter?" Edgar couldn't think of anyone else the man could be, if any religious tracts were true in this bizarre place.

The man just stared at him and did not respond.

Uncomfortable moments passed and Edgar rubbed the back of his head self-consciously, guessing his question would go unanswered. "Is this...really Heaven?"

The man flipped through the book in front of him.

"You seem like the type to know."

A rather vague, ambiguous answer. Edgar wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

"You're an angel, right?"

The man did not respond at once.

"Mr. Vargas?"

"Yes?"

"How...hmm." The man stared intently at the open page in front of him.

"Is something wrong?" Despite the fact that Edgar was potentially speaking to an angel, he did not feel that kind of awe that demands true respect. He planned his questions carefully, but not as carefully as he once thought he would.

"Have you been lost?" St. Peter, as Edgar decided he must be, stared at him intently. Surprised by the sudden interest, Edgar could only hold the eye contact a few moments before looking at the ground. He nudged a can with one foot before he looked back up.

"Lost?"

"Some get lost on their way here. Did this happen to you?" St. Peter repeated, as if Edgar was a simple child. Normally, Edgar may have been annoyed at such condescension, but the fact that he was an angel and Edgar had that strange encounter with Scriabin that he still couldn't explain, made this question something he did have to ponder.

"I'm..." Edgar didn't like having to say this. "I'm not exactly sure what you mean."

St. Peter stared at him for a few more seconds before rubbing his forehead with one thin hand. "How much clearer do I have to make it, boy? When you died, did you find your way here immediately or did you get lost?"

"Well, I..." Even if St. Peter already knew, which Edgar was pretty sure he did, he preferred to NOT get into details about that bizarre dream. "I...think I got sidetracked, but I'm not sure. I don't...well, I mean, I came here pretty quickly after I died though, really. Am I, uh, late?"

Another pause. "Yes. Mr. Vargas, you are late. As a matter of fact, you are months late. Where have you been all this time?"

"Months?" Edgar blinked at him. "I...I was supposed to die months ago?"

"You didn't?" The way he phrased the question made it seem more like an accusation.

"Well, I guess that...sidetrack I got...caught up on could have taken longer then I thought. I didn't...bring a watch with me." Edgar felt this was a lame excuse and he was sure the angel knew it. In response, St. Peter looked back down at his book.

"Well at least you finally got here, regardless of whether you're late or not."

"Could you..." Edgar faltered as the angel raised his eyes to stare at him. "I was...just wondering if you could help me with this...uh, broken nose business. It's...uncomfortable and I'd understand if you don't want to, but since you're an angel, I just thought I'd ask."

St. Peter tossed him a small bandage and then got back to his book. "It is something we can do."

"Hmm."

There was a silence as the angel pored over the single page in the book. The bleeding and most of the pain stopped immediately after applying the bandage. That was a relief at least.

Edgar felt more and more awkward as time went by, so he glanced around at his surroundings. Half-eaten food, crumpled wrappers, empty paper cups, and comic books all littering the ground. Everything seemed covered in a thin veneer of grease and slime. Edgar liked to consider himself a fairly clean person, so this was gradually getting on his nerves. He hoped that didn't mean anything.

"Edgar Vargas, correct?" After a few minutes.

"Yes." Edgar felt a twinge of nervousness that he chided himself for immediately afterwards. He shouldn't be doubting himself. Not now.

"Yes...here, in your file of acts..." St. Peter did not explain it any further than that. Edgar waited self-consciously, rubbing at one arm with a free hand. "Yes, you were supposed to be here some time ago. However you were..." The Angel raised a thin eyebrow at him. "However you were delayed, it has caused some minor filing errors."

"Oh." What exactly does that mean?

"But it seems, at least, until your intended death, this is where you were supposed to go." The angel did not sound impressed or particularly convinced of this information. "This minor glitch in the system should be fixed momentarily. I would suggest you get acquainted with the area here. After all, you may be here a long time."

St. Peter returned to his book.

But...

Where's Johnny?

Scriabin remained silent.

He had done it for so long. He didn't even really think too hard about how the mental processes began to find their mental voice, this time an honest reflection of his own.

If I'm...already in Heaven...then there's nothing to fear. My fate has been decided. There's no harm in asking, is there? I...I know where Johnny must be, but I...I should ask I guess. I've always thought it...

"Excuse me..."

St. Peter looked up at him, eyebrows furrowed.

"I'm sorry to interrupt...I was just wondering if you knew where...someone else...went."

"Someone else?" St. Peter did not sound amused. Edgar felt his confidence faltering once again.

"Well, I just...I think they died at the same time I did...I was wondering where they went...if maybe they came here before me." I don't think he did. But... "He was a man...his name was Johnny C.?"

St. Peter twitched visibly, but did not say anything. While Edgar could not maintain eye contact with him for very long, he was willing to wait for an answer. Apparently, none was coming. The angel turned back to his book, as if Edgar had never spoken at all.

With a slight sigh, Edgar turned away. Despite how dirty and run-down the place was, he decided he may as well take St. Peter's advice and look around.

As he walked along the path, he caught sight of a few strange things flying through the sky. He couldn't really describe them, but they gave him a vague feeling of unease. This heaven seemed a little...bizarre. Certainly not what he envisioned. He caught himself.

It doesn't matter if this is what I thought Heaven would be like...this is Heaven, so I may as well accept and enjoy my time here.

As he walked along the twisting path, he caught sight of a strange, almost robotic grasshopper-like creature carrying a large easy chair. Sitting in the chair was a short, fat, sleepy looking man, although Edgar hesitated to call him that. His shirt did say "God" after all.

"Excuse me..." Edgar called out to the grasshopper creature. It stopped to look at him.

"Shh!"

"I'm sorry." Edgar lowered his voice and glanced up at the sleeper in the chair. He didn't appear to be waking up anytime soon. "I was just wondering, who is that?"

"It's God of course," the creature said with annoyance. "Can't you read his shirt?"

"God?" Edgar looked up at the corpulent thing in the chair. Again, the word failed to register. "That's God?"

"Yes, and he's sleeping. Be quiet!" The creature hissed at him.

"But...can I ask him a few questions?" Maybe I shouldn't, I mean...if that is God, I cannot question his will...and if it is God, he can take any form he likes...I shouldn't...but it wouldn't hurt, would it?

The creature sighed.

"Excuse me? God?" While initially Edgar had somewhat blocked out what this encounter could mean, the ramifications of what he was saying struck him as the words left his mouth. This is God...this is everything. Everything I've ever based my life around is right here, sitting on this easy-chair...well, this may not be how I imagined God to look, but I can't judge him for it. He is...he is God after all.

But that nagging doubt remained in his head. If he is God.

The fat little thing scratched His stomach and cracked open an eye to look at him. "Mmph, wha? Whazza...yeah?"

"I'm...I..." What can I say? What can I ask? I know...well, I think I know...I mean...

Edgar stood there like an idiot with his mouth open. God closed His eyes again and drifted back to sleep.

He watched for a few seconds and then turned his attention back to the creature carrying Him.

"Excuse me, have you seen someone named Johnny C.?"

"It depends." The creature whispered in a tone that indicated he should do the same. "Did he shout a lot?"

"I...I guess he would, really." Edgar imagined that, while he had no real questions for God, he was sure that Johnny would not be quite so tongue-tied. "He's rather emotional."

"Well, there was a guy who yelled quite a bit, but he got bored and left. Elize took him on a tour of the rest of Heaven. You might want to check with her."

"Elize?"

"Yeah. But I don't know where you'd find her though." The creature began to move, carrying the slumbering God carefully. "Now be quiet!"

Edgar watched the thing move off on its thin spidery legs. As he watched it leave, he waited for Scriabin to comment. To say anything. He knew that Scriabin in particular resented religion, resented its influence on Edgar's life in more ways than one. Surely, he would take this meeting with God and turn it against Edgar, rally his disappointment and throw it in his face...

But no.

The internal monologue that had started so subtly and had become such an inescapable torment during his life had stopped. It was a strange feeling, one that Edgar did not trust. As it was, he was confident that Scriabin still existed, and he was sure that he was waiting, biding his time. He was probably enjoying how confused Edgar was at his lack of input.

But then again, why didn't he have any questions for God?

Unlike many questions, Edgar at least could come up with an answer for that on his own. His faith wasn't based on answers. It never had been and never would be. Whether or not God spoke to him was not important. He was God, after all. Edgar could not understand what was explained to him anyway. God's power was immutable and beyond human comprehension.

That was what Edgar had been taught and that was what he believed. That was one thing he believed in over everything. This may not have been the heaven he expected, but he did not question its existence.

In at least that way he was confident.

Someone tapped his shoulder.

With a start and a gasp, he turned around to find a rather nondescript woman standing behind him. She was shorter than he was, dressed primarily in black, had short black chopped hair, and a mild case of acne. She stared at him with barely concealed distaste.

"So, I'm supposed to show you around?"

"I suppose so." Edgar intended to be as companionable as possible. "I'm Edgar Vargas."

She inclined her head at him for a second, then sighed.

"I am Damned Patricia. Not Patty."

"Okay."

"Follow me." She shoved her hands in her pockets and began walking. Edgar stared after her, then shrugged. If she was his guide...

A few quick steps let him catch up to her.

"They told me I'd have to show you around during your stay here. You're still just visiting. At least until they clear up your whole act file business."

"So I'm just visiting..." Edgar repeated to himself.

"Yeah. You might as well get a look around, even if you don't end up here."

"Well, if you don't mind me asking...what are you doing here?"

"I'm actually from Hell." The woman shrugged. "Most of us damned do work up here. Does it surprise you?"

Edgar was silent for only a few seconds. "Not really."

"Yeah. Well, here we go."

Such a statement really should have preceded some kind of teleportation or some flashy show of power, but in contrast Patricia merely quickened her pace. Edgar matched it easily but with a sense of unease.

"Where are we going exactly? How big is this place?" Edgar wasn't sure how many questions would be comfortable. Patricia rolled her eyes and sighed.

"It's as big as it should be, and I'm basically just going to show you the center of everything."

"The center of everything..." Edgar echoed without thought. The two of them entered a short tunnel that blocked out the light from above. On that note, while Edgar had seen a great deal of clouds, he had not seen the sun.

"Yeah. Heaven isn't exactly what most people think it will be. Well, the people who actually get up here seem to enjoy it, but it's just so...you'll see. I guess if you're up here you'll understand it too." She looked at Edgar again, who matched her gaze with a raised eyebrow. "You look like the kind of guy who would."

"The angel at the entrance said something like that."

She snorted.

The darkness was short and not unpleasant, and soon they entered a different area. Edgar briefly questioned the purpose of the tunnel, but soon found his attention caught by something else.

Chairs and people.

The sky was the same, still cloudy with the strange creatures flitting by occasionally, but what was noticeable here was the total lack of noise. A few people were adjusting their chairs, brushing off their seats, but once they sat down they stopped moving entirely, just staring off into space.

The silence was what frightened him. He had never seen such a large gathering of people that produced no noise at all.

"So this is it." Patricia looked at him. "You're handling it a bit better than some of the others. Then again, they ended up going to Hell anyway, so..."

"What exactly is going on here?" Edgar could guess, but this was really not the place or time for logic, considering what he had seen so far.

"Y'know how in life, you always want stuff? Y'know, food, sleep, sex, money, blah blah blah. Well, these lucky people here..." She held out a hand to the people sitting. Her tone was anything but kind. "They don't want anything anymore. So no want, no pain or suffering or anything."

"Really?" Edgar inclined his head at the people in front of him, who showed no notice of him at all. There were blood stains on the floor here that made him question their origin. "So, freedom from all desire..."

"Yup." A pause. "Boring, isn't it?"

Edgar didn't respond. He knew that trying to explain or justify this to Patricia would be futile. She had already shown herself to be rather unreceptive.

Might as well try a different topic...

"Excuse me, but have you ever heard of this man...his name is Johnny C. and I think he came through here recently."

She shrugged. "Haven't heard of him. Why, think he's going to Hell?"

Edgar said nothing.

And without any kind of warning, the world shifted abruptly. Was this what Patricia had meant before?

He could feel the cement pressing against his cheek before he could see it. When he opened his eyes the world was a mixture of indistinct colors and shapes, but then he noticed his glasses laying nearby. Wincing, he slowly pulled himself up off the sidewalk.

Where am I?

He sat down, put his glasses back on, and looked around. While Heaven had been rather dingy, this was an all new level of grime. There were buildings now, looming tall and abandoned over him. Boards covered the windows, paint covered the walls, and over everything the distinct smell of urine and vomit. He rubbed his hands against his shirt self-consciously once he identified the smell.

Broken chain link fences marked off one building from another, as if anyone would ever want to enter one or claim ownership. Broken parts of cars and of various machines littered the dumpsters pressed against the larger buildings. Rust was everywhere, covering everything. He thought for a moment that he smelled the scent of cherries, but he couldn't be sure. It was probably his imagination.

Blood trails looped on the sidewalk in patterns that made no sense. They trailed up the walls, across the upended trash cans in the street, through the garbage and refuse that made Heaven look pristine in contrast. The distinct discoloration of stomach acid marked cement walkways, the acrid scent strongest near the sewage drains which were blocked with things he couldn't identify. There were streetlights, but they were aged and decrepit, long incapable of performing anything close to their intended function. Now they listed crazily in the streets, their lamps broken or dim, occasional pairs of shoes tied by the laces thrown across them. The power lines could be seen, dozens of posters that he couldn't find the time to read stapled across their poles, each one almost vengefully covering another.

The sky was a rusty red. If there had been a sun, he was sure that it would be stained that same color. Instead, there was a gigantic eyeball where the sun should have been, and it was focused squarely on him.

He stared up at it without emotion, his lips slightly parted as he subconsciously breathed through his mouth. He looked down and found he had been rubbing his hands on his shirt without stopping. He stared at them. Slightly red. The nagging thought that perhaps he had touched, he had put his hand in...something was almost enough to send him desperately trying to clean his hands again.

So far, he had dealt with these surroundings without emotion. Perhaps it was the familiarity...it was a city, however decrepit and ruined. It was familiar in that way.

He could hear things far away. The sounds of car horns, police sirens, gun shots, and a soft static that he couldn't easily explain. This place must not be as abandoned as it seems.

He stood up shakily, still dizzy from his supposed fall. He used a wall for support as the blood rushed from his head and blacked out his vision for a few seconds, limiting his auditory range to a dull rushing sound. He was glad for the angel's aid, but apparently there were still some side-effects to his previous injury.

When his vision cleared, Edgar noticed that someone was staring at him. They were hiding behind the corner of the nearby building as if using it for protection. Even with his vision still somewhat blurry, Edgar could tell they were suspicious of him. Understandably, considering he had just fallen from the sky.

"What are you doing here?" A low and angry voice. Edgar decided to stay where he was to answer the question. I don't want to provoke this person if at all possible.

"I'm not sure myself. This...this is Hell, isn't it?" Edgar had to focus hard to keep the meaning of those words from his mind.

"Of course it is. What are you, an idiot?"

Edgar again reminded himself to not provoke this person. "Who are you?"

"It's not important." Their voice was gravely enough so that it was hard to tell the person's gender, and they refused to let more than the top of their head show around the corner of the building. Their eyes were still narrowed. "Why should I tell you? Why do you want to know anyway? What are you doing here?"

Focus on the simple question. "I'm not quite sure why I'm here at the moment. I think there's been a mix-up in my file upstairs...that's what they said anyway-"

"Oh, I get it." The person's voice lowered considerably. "You're one of those people."

"Those" people?

"What do you mean, exactly?"

"One of those annoying screechers, the ones who are always innocent. I hate your kind." Still they stayed behind the building. "I hate how you blame everyone else for your problems except yourself, so that when you end up in Hell it's suddenly a big shock. Hello! If you're here, you're here for a reason! Don't feign innocence, it sickens me. You sicken me."

Edgar's eye twitched. "I'm not trying to pretend to be innocent. Why would I? I don't particularly feel the need to impress you. I'm just genuinely confused."

"Huh, you can pretend all you want." It seemed that the person was not really paying attention to Edgar's words at this point. "Everyone does it. Everyone wants to pretend that it's not their fault they're down here. I hate that. Be honest for once in your life-"

"Then why are you down here?" Edgar almost regretted speaking so quickly, but not quite.

"Me?" A pause. "That's why your types make me so furious. You know why I'm down here?" The eyes shifted back and forth, as if checking for someone else on these abandoned streets. "I'm really not supposed to be here."

The person continued ranting without pause, apparently not noticing Edgar's raised eyebrow.

"That's what makes your types so pathetic. You always complain that you don't deserve to be here, always asking for help and complaining and whining and whinging about stupid things down here that you do to yourselves, and always always always complaining that you aren't supposed to be here! How do you think that makes me feel? I really don't belong here! God, you know what that makes you all? Poseurs."

Can I walk away from this conversation?

"God, I hate poseurs more than anything! None of you idiots can really understand my pain! None of you understand what it's like to really be a downcast angel! What it's like to be in Hell when you're not supposed to! You can pretend all you like, but you'll never understand like I do. You'll never feel the pain like I do."

Edgar managed to back himself behind the opposing wall. Despite the fact that he was now completely out of the person's line of vision, they were still talking. Taking this as something of a good sign, Edgar decided to get as far away as possible while he still could.

The alleyway he was in had several trash cans lined up against the brick walls, along with a singular dumpster covered in graffiti. More spray paint covered the walls and the stench Edgar had noticed previously was stronger here. No doubt the suspiciously viscous puddles scattered through here were the source. Edgar placed a hand over his mouth and nose and tried to breathe as little as possible. More garbage was strewn around the alleyway, broken glass and sagging cardboard boxes that blocked his path. Edgar made it a point not to touch anything if at all possible.

Maybe I really am...but why would I be here?

The smell was getting to him. He felt sick.

This must be some kind of mistake...

Finally, the alleyway opened onto another street, although this one was in much the same condition as the previous. Here, bits and pieces of ruined machinery rested against the stained and crumbling brick walls. A window in a nearby building was shattered and the glass glittered in dull red light. Blocking off one end of this street was a large pile of shrapnel and broken pipes, underneath which were large dark spots that spread out onto the asphalt. Parked beside the assortment of rusted metal was an ancient car. Its windshield and windows had long since been broken and its body stripped. It rested on the street without tires, its hood popped and trunk open. With a little further inspection, Edgar noticed there was an arm in the trunk.

He forced his eyes elsewhere.

A telephone pole here had fallen completely, making traveling further down this street difficult, but not impossible. As Edgar headed that way, he began to hear something distinct against the constant inexplicable static. The very short breaths, along with a high-pitched whine, that indicated that someone somewhere was in pain.

But...if this is...and I think it is, would it really be wise...?

Edgar's conscience would not let him leave someone alone like that, even if he really was in Hell, which he still doubted. Tracking the noise proved to be more trying than he would have thought originally. He hadn't considered how distracting the static could be.

Eventually, Edgar did find where the noise was coming from. A large, portly man in tattered clothes was sitting against the side of a building, his face hidden in his hands. He didn't hear Edgar approach and jumped when he finally said something.

"Excuse me...are you all right?"

The man pulled his hands away so Edgar could see his face. Both of his eyes were swollen shut and his features were covered with bruises. Thin lines of blood ran down from his temple, although the smeared remnants across his cheeks and forehead indicated that this wasn't the first time he had bled in this way.

Something about him seemed familiar, but Edgar couldn't place why.

"You...haven't I...didn't I see you somewhere before?" The man's voice was hoarse and ragged.

"I don't think-" The indistinct and distorted features fell into place.

Todd? I like "Squee" better.

Edgar took a step back, instinctual revulsion rising into his mouth. "You..."

"You look so familiar..." The man stared at him. If he was trying to convey a facial emotion, it couldn't be interpreted from his ruined features. "I could swear...I've seen you somewhere before..."

He had thought it. He had watched it happen, wondered about the consequences of this man's actions during his brief time in Edgar's life.

It had never occurred to him to think of the afterlife. Of where he would go. Of what would happen.

Of course he would be here. This was the only place he could be. No God, no matter how forgiving or lenient, would ever let this man free. He had to be here.

Why was he surprised at first?

Now he knew. Now he remembered the bat striking the man's head, how he fell back, how he had watched him be dismembered. He remembered what he had been planning to do to Todd.

He took another step back, his eyes narrowing as his hands clenched into fists without his knowledge.

"It doesn't matter though, not really..." The man leaned forward, staring at him in a way that Edgar guessed was desperate, although it was hard to tell. "You...you're the first person to come here in a while. No one stays in these parts of the cities, not anymore. That's why I'm here. It's safer here than in the other places. There are still a few stragglers around here, the people too different to leave, and they're dangerous, but they don't talk to me. You're the first one to talk to me. I can't believe it, I thought no one would ever talk to me again."

Edgar backed away the entire time he spoke, and the man stood up. The few remnants of his shorts and T-shirt were covered in dried splotches of blood and other things Edgar didn't want to think about.

"This place is dangerous." He whispered to Edgar. "This place is always dangerous. People are always watching here. They know exactly what you do. They're always watching you. The eye..."

The man turned and looked up at the rusty sky. Edgar choked when he could see his back. The shirt had been ripped to shreds and the tips of fabric dyed the dark brown color of old blood. Burned into the flesh of the man's back were large letters. The skin around them was so light that there was no way they could be missed. The letters almost seemed to twist before his eyes, blackened and charred flesh weaving around itself, wrinkling and unwrinkling.

PEDOPHILE

He turned around again at the sound that Edgar made.

"What? What's wrong?"

Edgar realized his mouth was open and shut it quickly. He stared at the man and found himself unable to say anything.

"Did you see one of them?" The man looked around himself as best he could through swollen flesh. "They're everywhere. You'll never escape them, you know. No matter how you try, they'll always find you. There aren't as many here though."

He stepped closer.

"You, you look so familiar. Have we met? I've been down here for what feels like years. How old were you when you died? Are you new here? I mean...new to Hell, or just new to the area?"

Edgar was trying to suppress the urge to run. He couldn't explain why.

"You're the first person to talk to me." The man took another step closer to Edgar. "No one wants to talk to me. Everyone down here...they want me dead, but I can't die. That's why...that's why I look like this. I know I don't look like this, I don't look that great. That's their fault. They hate me down here. They hated me in life and they hate me down here too."

"Your back..." Edgar managed to croak out. The man stared at him for a few seconds.

"What? What do you mean?"

"You're a...you're the..."

"Please don't leave!" The man held out his arms towards Edgar. "Please please please, I haven't talked to another human being in so long! You're my friend, aren't you? Please, don't go!"

Edgar felt like he was choking.

"Please, you can't leave me alone here. You can't leave me here alone, they'll come for me. I know they will. You've got to help me. You can help me. I know you can. Please, don't go."

His fingers came close enough to brush against Edgar's shirt.

"Don't touch me oh god don't touch me, get away from me!" Whatever defense he had crumbled, and he panicked. He stumbled backwards and away from the man so quickly that he ended up tripping and falling, the palms of his hands stinging as they collided with the asphalt.

"Please don't, please don't overreact, I just want to talk, that's all-"

Edgar scrambled to his feet and without any further thought began to run.

"Please!"

That was the last thing he heard him say. He vaulted over the telephone pole and darted down the first alleyway he could find, in the process crashing into several cardboard boxes and more than a few walls. He ran without thought until he hit a tall stack of cardboard boxes and ended up falling completely, this time out onto another street. His glasses bounced off his face and skittered across the sidewalk.

He panted for a few seconds on his stomach, his head resting on the arm he protectively thrown out at the last minute. He could feel the stinging burn as new scrapes pressed against the ground.

When he felt like he could stand without getting dizzy, he went and got his glasses. After he put them on, he looked over his arm and his hands. His palms were bleeding from several dozen areas, tiny dots of blood amongst the thin ragged scraps of his outer skin layer. His arm was not much different, angry white lines beginning to fill with red. He may have fallen kind of hard, but he didn't think he fell with enough power to do this much damage.

He couldn't think about what just happened. Everything in his mental thought processes struggled to avoid it. He felt nauseous enough with the constant smell here...he didn't want to think about what he had just seen.

He brushed himself off and looked around. Another ruined street, this one with a few more stripped cars. A telephone line here had broken and the thick wire rested on the street.

When Edgar looked at his feet, he noticed that the boxes he had knocked over contained porno magazines. Soggy, ripped, and dirty magazines. He immediately backed away from them without any conscious thought. Every kind of perversion was represented in full color on cheap paper, even some fetishes that Edgar did not know existed.

What are they doing-

If this is...well, that would make sense, but if they are...then that means...but...

Uncomfortable. Edgar noticed that one member of a captured carnal act wore glasses in a similar style to his own, and at the realization he turned away.

It's strange how when you don't want to think about something, it's the only thing you can think about.

He ran a hand through his hair and took a few steps out onto the street. The static now seemed stronger.

What exactly am I heading towards?

Despite everything that had happened so far, Edgar still did not truly believe this was Hell. He didn't know what else it could be, but the denial had worked its way deep and insistent. This couldn't be. I would never...

A voice.

"Edgar Vargas."

He turned slowly. The figure behind him was overwhelmingly tall, and without even a second of doubt Edgar knew this was the devil.

The denial vanished.

"You're..."

"Please." The skull-like face smiled with paper-thin lips. "Call me Senor Diablo."

Edgar stared at him. Fear was rising quickly now, despite his efforts to stay calm. Every story, every myth, every legend, every movie, every cartoon, every bit of folklore that ever described Hell kept leaping to mind. He couldn't stop thinking of the fire.

They'll take you to a place where there's everlasting ever-burning hellfire... He remembered Scriabin's words, now strangely hollow in his own voice.

"Am I..." Edgar whispered, his voice barely audible to even himself. The Devil leaned down so that Edgar could stare into the great empty eyes.

"Damned?" His voice slid out from between those lips, and he smiled at him again. Edgar shuddered so violently that he couldn't keep eye contact. The Devil seemed amused by this.

"Am I..." Edgar said to himself.

"At the moment, not exactly." He spoke with barely controlled sadistic glee. The sudden comparison of the Devil's voice to Scriabin's was enough to make Edgar vomit. As he violently expelled his stomach's contents all over the already dirtied sidewalk, the Devil continued talking as if nothing was happening.

"I'm afraid there's been some confusion, Mr. Vargas. A slight mix-up. It's hardly a perfect system they run here." The reference to 'they' was noted, but he couldn't spare thought for it now. "Did you know, Mr. Vargas, that you were intended to die some time ago?"

Edgar could not respond as he was still dry heaving.

"Yes. You were supposed to die back when you met our charming friend Johnny. Of course, there are slip-ups in this world and others, and I suppose it's not too unbelievable to think that you fell through the cracks. After all, by your own admittance, you are not the most interesting of people."

Finally, Edgar could pull himself together enough to speak. He wiped at his mouth at pauses in his speech compulsively, convinced that there was still vomit somewhere on his person.

"Johnny..." His voice was hoarse and weak.

"Yes, Johnny." The Devil looked up at the giant eyeball. He was still smiling, although this time in a different way. "Our troublemaker. He was a mistake right from the beginning."

Edgar stared up at him with watery eyes.

"You're looking for him, aren't you?" The Devil turned his empty eyes back down to him. "You want to know if Johnny is truly damned. I know why."

Edgar coughed feebly and suppressed his stomach's lurching. "I am..."

"Mr. Vargas, there is a system that works here. It's hardly perfect, but it normally performs its function quite well." He paused for a moment. "You may be wondering why I'm telling you anything."

Edgar stared down at his hands against the stained and dark cement.

"There's nothing you can do. There's nothing quite like watching someone rage impotently against something they can't change. That was a gift Johnny had by all measures. I have a feeling you won't be quite so proactive, but I also know that these words will likely haunt you for the rest of your life."

Edgar couldn't look at him. He kept trying to disassociate the Devil's voice with Scriabin's and in the process, only found them becoming more and more similar.

"That, and the process has already begun for you. There is no turning back. In this case, this is a far better decision than was made with Johnny. I have a feeling that you will complete your newly intended function admirably."

"What are you talking about...?" Edgar managed to wheeze out between breaths that were becoming too short.

"How to begin? People in general go through a myriad of negative feelings. All of these negative features of humanity don't just vanish. No. They leave behind trails, traces. This hostility and negativity has to go somewhere. Imagine, walking through a world where the very air you breathed was hate!" The Devil did not seem opposed to the idea. "Now, all of this excess is stored in areas we call waste-cells. You are paying attention, aren't you ? This is where you come in."

Edgar managed to raise his eyes to stare at the Devil. He felt something warm trickling down his face and knew, without touching, that his scars were bleeding again. He couldn't guess or even think as to why.

"These cells hold all this animousity, the barely masked loathing and enmity, but they have to get rid of it eventually. This is where the waste-locks come in. The locks keep the cell from opening and releasing all of its stored hatred. They also, when destroyed, can cause the cell to empty itself into nothing, which is what basically just happened. Can you put it all together, Mr. Vargas?"

He rubbed at his face with the back of a hand, and stared at the streak of blood across his skin. "I..."

"Johnny was a lock. This was a mistake in general. Usually, the position of lock drives a person to madness and to eventual collapse and suicide. Locks are quiet, introverted people. They have to allow that hatred to travel through them to the cell. Johnny, however, was able to harness that hatred and use it for his own ends. He was able to use the general powers that are associated with locks, namely invisibility, to release more hatred."

Invisibility...

"And now, Johnny has been set free. The cell is empty and now, there's no need for the lock."

"So is...he..."

"Damned? Not quite. Those in charge of this system decided to send him back. I can't see why, but it's not my place to question."

"Oh..."

"I can feel your doubt." Edgar again felt a rush of nausea at the words. They mimicked Scriabin's torment so well. Tears stung his eyes. "You're afraid of being damned while Johnny gets another chance at life."

"Not...not exactly..." Edgar managed to say.

"There's a reason this is Hell, Mr. Vargas. Regardless if he were here or not, there would be no way you could soothe his torment. I do find it cute that you want to try. Perhaps you won't end up here."

Edgar blinked and felt the cooling heat travel down his face. He stared up at the face of the Devil.

"What?"

"You have a purpose, Mr. Vargas. I just told you. They're quiet, introverted people. A threat to no one but themselves."

"I'm..."

"Some may say you're getting a second chance." The Devil smirked as he stared up at the sky. "In reality, you're being given uncounted years of mental torture just to end up, in the most likely case, right here again, sitting in your own pile of vomit."

Edgar stared at the Devil, and he stared back.

"Irony is a marvelous thing, isn't it?"

A feeling unlike any other came over him and he stared down at his hands. They shook with impossible speed, the blood across his hand blurring into the sky.

"By the way, the process should be painless, but for some it can be remarkably excruciating. You may also lose all your hair. Just a note."

He felt his eyes roll up into his head and his heart stopped. He opened his mouth to cry out, but his vocal cords constricted. He couldn't breathe. He was just barely aware of a choked cry he made before he disappeared.

Agony unlike any other came over him, electrifying limbs he could no longer move and twisting a heart that could no longer function. He was given the vague impression that perhaps he was bleeding from his eyes.

No...it was just his nose. His mouth. His throat felt like it was filled with sand. It hurt to breathe. He began coughing, struggling to clear almost blocked air passages of blood and mucus, before he realized.

He didn't have the energy to raise his head, but he could see Johnny's prone figure a short distance away.

Edgar retched as feeling came back into cold and deadened limbs. Pins and needles spread all over his body at once, making any movement magnified and difficult. His eyes were bleary, although with some effort and pain he was able to paw at them, clearing them enough to see a little better. Enough to see the pool of blood he had been lying in, and the thin lines of blood that still connected the side of his head to the floor.

He coughed, and a tooth clattered to the wood.

He was alive.

Chapter Text

He was alive.

This was something of a surprise.

Where...where am I? What happened?

Where am I? What happened?

He coughed again. He could still feel something running down his chin. Edgar forced his arms and hands to move and found blood at his fingertips.

Where am I? What happened? Where am I? What happened?

That doesn't sound like me.

The pain faded along with the soreness in his throat. His nasal passages began to clear, breathing became much easier, and as his body gradually came more under his control, he could feel his stomach calming. That was a definite relief. He had felt nauseous so often lately and was glad when it began to recede for once. While his vision was by no means fantastic without his glasses, he could still tell when the blurriness of waking was gone.

All of it, all of his initial feelings when he woke up...

He inspected his teeth with his tongue and strangely enough, found them all in place. The taste of blood remained.

Where am I where am I where am I where...where...what ha-...where...where AM I?

His stomach lurched.

Oh god no, no please, no please don't let please no

Nnngh...I...I remember now. That wasn't pleasant.

Edgar put his head in his hands as he tried to force the dizziness away.

Why...why did you have to come back too...

Even though Scriabin sounded just as disoriented as he, he could still lace his words with familiar disdain. Haven't we gone over this before, my boy?

He had managed to convince himself that Scriabin was only waiting for his chance, that he had never really left, and yet he still felt disappointed when he was proven right.

So, it looks like we're alive again, and your nose appears to be in fairly good shape, considering.

Edgar's fingers traced along his skin and ran across the small bandage on the bridge of his nose.

Now, important things first...where are your glasses?

He blinked for a few seconds before he could make out a blurry lump nearby.

Nny-

Edgar tried to stand up so fast he fell forward onto his hands.

Oh, this again. I suppose we can-

Shut up!

When he finally knelt beside his body, he could make out some details, though not many. Even without his glasses he could see that Johnny rested in a pool of blood far larger than the one Edgar had found himself in. It hadn't completely dried yet.

He cursed his lack of proper vision, yet could not leave Johnny's side to find his glasses. That wasn't a possibility, not now.

Edgar rested a hand on Johnny's shoulder, then jerked it away instinctively. Johnny didn't move in response, so Edgar gingerly replaced his hand. A few moments of skin resting against rough fabric.

He was afraid to roll him over, to look on his destroyed face again.

Ah, I see you're admitting it now. That's a step forward if nothing else. His voice wavered.

When he finally turned Johnny onto his back, Edgar took a sharp breath. The features that he had come to know so well, the sunken cheeks and thin lips and dark bags beneath his eyes, they were all intact. Only a few spatters of blood marked his skin, trailing lines beneath a single bandage on his forehead. Nothing to indicate that the previous damage Edgar had seen before had ever happened.

Johnny looked as if he was asleep.

Much like he denied the disappointment when Scriabin had reappeared, he tried to deny the surge of hope that ran through him when he saw Johnny's face.

But...but...

This is interesting.

Edgar found his hand running along the side of Johnny's face, outlining the bandage against his skin. He was breathing hard. Maybe, maybe, if his face is okay, then maybe...

I...I can't feel a heartbeat...

Yes, I'm sure that's why you were doing that.

Edgar stared at Johnny without words for almost a minute, still processing the lack of the gunshot wound and his apparent miraculous recovery.

Ironic choice of words there.

The memory of Krik came to mind, along with the fact he still wasn't wearing his glasses. He tried to remember what had happened to them and could only recall the sound of them breaking. Now that it seemed that Johnny was potentially all right, his thoughts began to focus on regaining his glasses without guilt.

If my...nose is okay, then maybe...

I doubt it, but go ahead and look. I somehow feel that Nny is not going to be moving anytime soon.

Edgar slowly edged away from Johnny but kept his eyes on him for as long as possible. Johnny didn't move.

My bandage seems to have fixed my nose...

Or maybe it just dulled the pain. Who can tell?

He couldn't make out anything with any clarity on the stained floor, just dark and light colors that were no help. He felt around and ran across several shards of glass, which didn't make him feel any better. Eventually he did find the frames of his glasses. The lenses had been cracked. When he put them on, it fragmented his vision in an annoying but not completely debilitating way. He could see. Not perfectly by any stretch of the imagination, but he could see.

He made his way back to Johnny on hands and knees.

What should I do...

Edgar pulled his knees up to his chest as he stared down at Johnny.

Well, he's not breathing. I think he's pretty dead. What do you think?

He narrowed his eyes and fought against the rush of heat that came to his face at Scriabin's words.

God, why did you have to come back. Why...

Just full of stupid questions today, aren't we?

He noticed that he was still staring at Johnny. One of Johnny's hands rested on his chest while the other rested at his side. His eyes remained closed, although his lips were slightly parted. His skin was stained slightly in places by remnants of blood, a few of the spatters marking the edge of his mouth and his cheekbones.

Edgar took one of Johnny's hands in his own and pressed two fingers to the bottom of a skeletal wrist. No sound or movement or warmth, although Edgar knew that Johnny was perpetually cold.

Some people describe a sensation likened to their stomach suddenly falling into their feet. Edgar, in contrast, was experiencing something akin to his stomach taking a very leisurely stroll down to his feet, making sure that every second of failing hope and growing sadness was not missed.

He didn't know he was doing it, but he gently rubbed at Johnny's hand as if to warm it. At the realization he pulled his hands away quickly.

I...I have to do something.

Edgar uncurled and looked at the door.

I'm not going to sit here and do nothing.

Like last time.

I'm not going to sit here and do nothing. He had yet to perfect the art of ignoring Scriabin. I'm...I have to do something. Even if he's...I have to make sure. I have to do something.

Really? Like what?

Edgar was silent.

I...I can't call an ambulance here because they won't be able to find his house. So...I'm going to have to take us there myself.

Are you sure you're in the condition to drive? I don't think a policeman would look kindly on your broken lenses and a dead man in the front seat.

Shut up. That's what I'm going to do. With that resolved Edgar stood up. Once he had decided on a course of action, his emotions again began to fade into the background.

He's dead, you know.

Edgar tried to ignore him.

He really is.

Edgar took one of Johnny's hands and began to pull him off the floor. He was still resting in a pool of blood and when he was lifted out of it, thin tendrils of it clung to his hair and the back of his neck.

Then Edgar noticed that Johnny's hair was dripping back down to the floor along with his blood.

With a soft gasp, Edgar jerked Johnny forward unconsciously to get a better look at what was going on. Johnny's chin fell against his shoulder as Edgar closed his arms around him, reached up to his bloody scalp.

This is just too cute.

Shut up!

He ran a hand through Johnny's hair gingerly and found that when he pulled it away, clumps of hair came along with it. Without thinking he shook his hand clean as more bits of hair fell to the floor. At this rate, Johnny would go bald.

"What...why..."

He didn't intend to talk to himself as much as he did.

Do you remember what I said before?

No.

Yes you do. You do remember. I think this is a good time to bring it up, seeing as you two are sharing such an intimate moment of hair loss.

Edgar maneuvered an arm beneath Johnny's knees and the other beneath his shoulders and lifted. He was surprisingly light, another reminder of his weight or lack thereof.

In the interest of abbreviation, I'll make this simple. Why are you doing this, Edgar?

Johnny shed hair as Edgar stumbled towards the front door.

What?

Why are you doing this? You're awfully slow lately.

I'm...he's...

What? What were you going to say?

Johnny is...he's my friend.

A hurdle crossed, but it's a hollow victory. Tell me, Edgar, do you care about Johnny?

No. He found himself answering automatically to his surprise. I mean, I didn't mean that. I-

Denial, Edgar. My god, that's pathetic. How far in the closet are you? You can't even admit to caring about your so-called friend because you're so afraid of what others...no...what I will think about you.

That's not true, it just slipped, I didn't mean it like that-

You care about what I think about you.

Edgar put Johnny down carefully beside his car as he opened the passenger side door.

No I don't. I hate you. Why won't you-

Well, you know what, Edgar? Let's stop playing the eternal favorite of "let's avoid the issue" as you're so wont to do. You do care about Johnny. Deny that.

I can't...I do care, but it's because-

Why couldn't you say as much before? Why are you so afraid of my disapproval, Edgar? Are you trying to impress me? He could hear the smile in Scriabin's voice.

No I'm not. Why would I ever want to impress you? You sicken me, you're everything I've ever hated. I don't know why I said that, but it wasn't because I wanted to. It was just a slip, I didn't mean it.

As he buckled his seat-belt, he looked over at Johnny. His head was slumped forward on his chest as he strained against his seat-belt to fall forward.

Why is it, Edgar, that every time I say what you have already admitted is true, what you supposedly have made peace with, your heart jumps just that little bit? Why does your body physiologically react to the statement "I care about Nny," Edgar? Can you answer that, if my opinion about you doesn't matter?

I'm trying to concentrate, stop distracting me.

I forgot, it's so much easier to try and drone me out now, isn't it? Traffic lights and old ingrained rules of the road to fight against your emotions.

Nny is my friend.

As if that's what we were arguing about!

He-

Are you sure about that? When did this happen?

When...

He had passed by the hospital on his way to work many times, so it didn't take him much time or effort to locate the large white building.

Remember your little mental conniption when I presented that possibility to you before? How you had a veritable heart attack at the very idea that Nny could care for you and, much less, that you could care about him in return? What has changed since then, Edgar? Why is it now that admitting you care about him not nearly as upsetting?

Caring about him is different than being...than what you insinuated back then. It's very different.

Are we back to playing the denial card again? How many times must we go through the same pattern before you wake up?

He parked and pulled Johnny from the car. He was still completely unresponsive.

You want so badly for him to be alive. It's sad. I know that you're imagining that you can feel his heartbeat. Think about that.

The emergency room had a few people in it, but not a large amount. He wasn't sure what time it was, so he couldn't use that as a frame of reference. Before he could make it all the way to the desk, a nurse ran up to him.

"What's your emergency?"

"I'm, I think he's, I'm not sure, he's not breathing, I think- I think he may be in shock, I'm not sure-"

"Okay." She gestured to some others standing nearby who pulled Johnny out of his hands. "What happened?"

"I'm-"

He shot himself in the head, Nurse. But now he's magically all better!

"I found him like this, I'm not sure what happened-"

"What's his name?"

"Johnny..."

Didn't think this far, did we?

"Johnny?" She echoed as the orderlies rested Johnny on a stretcher.

"Jonathan Vargas."

...where the fuck did that come from?

The implications of this are enough to amuse me for weeks. How does your foot taste, Edgar?

"All right, and you are...?"

"I'm Edgar Vargas, I'm..." He glanced over at Johnny before they wheeled him out of sight. "I'm his...his brother."

Perhaps normally he would have sounded suspicious, but the nurse interpreted his halting words as perhaps a sign of worry or stress.

"Are you all right, Mr. Vargas?" She looked him over. "You don't look-"

"No, I'm fine, I'm just worried about...him..."

"Well, don't worry. If there's anything we can do, I assure you that we'll do it. You are aware that there is a charge..."

He reached into his pocket in a panic before his fingers touched his wallet. "Yeah, it's okay. I've got it."

"Good. If you'll come over here and just take care of some forms..."


It was the longest hour that Edgar had ever experienced in his entire life.

He had been run through a battery of questions about Johnny that he couldn't really answer. He couldn't tell the truth as to how Johnny got this way. He didn't know whether or not Johnny was on medication--although he somehow doubted it--or his previous medical history. He gave out all of his own information in regard to where Johnny lived or what his phone number was. He didn't want the hospital to try and get in contact with a phantom. That might make things difficult.

They assured Edgar that considering how serious Johnny's condition seemed to be, it wouldn't take long at all for him to be seen and helped, but this didn't put his mind at rest.

Edgar sat in the waiting room and stared at the clock.

Johnny's your brother now, hmm?

Scriabin did not help the time go by more quickly.

I...what else was I supposed to say?

I don't think "life-partner" would have gone over well, now that you mention it.

We're not-, shut up.

So I suppose, giving how very close you two are, that being brothers would be understandable. Or believable if you two even looked alike. I'm surprised they didn't question you about that.

I just...I didn't know what to do.

Edgar had his head in his hands.

Don't you think they'll find the holes in your brilliant plan? This is where you see your optometrist, isn't it? Don't you think those records will eventually cross with tonight's? What will happen then?

I had to say something, I didn't think...

You...you weren't sure they'd let you visit him if you were just a friend.

I d-... Edgar realized that denying this at least was useless. Scriabin had heard him. I guess I did. And I wasn't sure if he had any kind of insurance or anything like that, so-

You wanted to be by his side and watch over him?

He pressed on his eyes until he could see stars. ...Yes, I suppose I did...

Did you forget that he's dead? How long do you think it'll be before the hospital staff here picks up on that?

Well...if they haven't yet, then-

You're clinging to a false hope, Edgar. You want so badly for him to be alive, for him to be okay, and why? What for? So he can threaten you, be vague, frighten you into submission? So that he can hurt you again? Because that's what he does, as he said himself. Why? Why do you want him to be alive?

I just...if I'm okay, then...

But then again, I guess believing in lies is one of your strong points. You're a Christian, after all.

And he thought of the Devil.

I...I didn't know you could dream when you were unconscious...

A dream?

I think it was a dream...

You think it was a dream. A rather pathetic cover-up for something, but regardless you never answered my question. This relationship, as I have said so many times, is inherently abusive to the extent of ending in your actual death. Why are you fighting to preserve it?

I...

His eyes hurt and he released some of the pressure.

"I don't want him to die..."

Looks like you're mixing up reality and fantasy again. I hope no one heard that.

"Excuse me, Mr. Vargas?"

Edgar took a deep shuddery breath before he looked up. A young man stood beside him with an unreadable expression.

"Is he...?" He wanted to run out of the room before he could hear the answer.

"Well, when he came in he was showing no vital signs whatsoever, so we weren't sure if he was going to make it or not...although he did have blood on him, he didn't have any internal bleeding...he is extremely malnourished though. Is he anorexic?"

Is.

"Is he alive?" Edgar's voice was hoarse.

"That's the interesting part, actually...we tried a few resuscitation methods on him at first and none of them worked, so we were sure that he had passed on, but then...almost without any explanation, his heart started up again and he started breathing."

"Oh my god..."

Holy shit.

"After that, he stabilized fairly quickly, although he still hasn't woken up at the moment. Other than the lack of food he seems fairly healthy. You can go and see him, if you want."

It took a few moments for Edgar to find his words. He ran a hand through his hair as he tried to suppress his urge to detach. He wanted to feel this.

"Where is he?"

"C'mon, I'll show you."

Edgar stood up and leaned against the wall for support for a few seconds. The young man waited patiently until Edgar could follow him and began walking.

He's...he's alive.

To be honest, I'm as shocked as you are.

I...I can't believe it...this must be some kind of miracle.

Scriabin laughed for a long time.

The young man pulled aside a light green curtain. "I thought he would like some quiet, so..."

Edgar nodded, but was too distracted to actually say something.

Johnny's thin arms rested against equally thin sheets, his eyes closed and his head leaned to one side. From one wrist trailed a tube that led to a bag hanging beside his bed. More than anything, Edgar watched his chest and saw him breathing.

I can't believe it...

He sat down hard on the cheap chair set up near the bed and the young man turned to another patient who needed his attention.

I suppose the IV is because of the malnutrition...

They had cleaned up Johnny's face but left the bandage, which Edgar was pretty sure was a good thing. At this point, almost all of Johnny's hair had fallen out, leaving only two thin bangs.

I don't think he's going to like that when he wakes up.

I can't believe it...

His barriers were finally letting some emotion through. Despite the fact that Johnny would no doubt be disgusted if he were awake, Edgar reached out and took hold of his hand. The twisting tension that had been building since he woke, that knot in his chest that had prevented any real emotion or comprehension of the situation slowly loosened. He took a few deep breaths as he felt more relieved than he ever had in his life. The question of what had happened, of whether or not he had actually visited the afterlife, whether or not everything was a dream, why he was alive right now and why Johnny was with him, all of them paled in comparison to the feeling of cold skin against his own. To the soft occasional thrum of blood through veins too close to the skin.

"I can't believe you're okay..."

What if Johnny loves you, Edgar.

Not even that could ruin his mood.

What if you love Johnny.

I don't care.


Nnngh...

He could feel the sensation of cold fabric and something pressing against his wrist. And his hand.

He opened his eyes slightly, enough to see light green paper masquerading as a bed sheet and matching curtains. The pressure on his hand disappeared.

The world exists...I must still be alive.

He closed his eyes again. The light was a little painful. He waited for the inevitable comment, something to speak, but instead could only hear a faint buzzing. Kind of like when he was at Edgar's house. There was a constant undercurrent of beeping, squeaking wheels, people talking and crying, and phones ringing, but none of it loud enough to annoy or distract yet.

He obviously wasn't home.

Where am I?

Hello? Helloooo?

And there was only the buzzing.

Nothing. It's just me.

Was he telling the truth? Am I really free now? Do I really have control? I'm not used to having control...am I still crazy?

Someone nearby shrieked with obnoxious laughter. He imagined how quickly and efficiently he could rip out their vocal cords and tie them in a knot.

Okay, that answers that.

If I really am in control...this feels so strange. I can't hear anything, I'm really in control now! I feel so free...how long has it been?

Things can be different now, yes. Things can be different. I just have to be careful. I can take control of my life now, I can take control of so many things. God, I feel so unfettered! There are so many opportunities open to me now! I'm at the threshold of something grand and new! Like I can finally start everything over again...

His eyes adjusted enough so that he could see without pain, and the first thing that he saw was Edgar.

How long has it been since I've seen you?

"You're awake." Edgar smiled, although he tried to keep it subtle.

It's been a million years since I've heard your voice.

"Where am I...?" He coughed. He had been dead for some time...it'd make sense if his voice was out of practice.

Edgar looked down for a second at his hands before he ran a hand through his hair. He did that all the time. "Um...we're at...the hospital."

Johnny stared down at his own hands before he noticed the IV line. "I see."

"I..." Edgar paused for a few long seconds. Johnny was used to these sort of pauses. He was probably deciding what to say. Edgar spent a lot more time on that than Johnny did. "I was...well, I was worried about you. To put it mildly. I..."

There he stopped. Johnny wasn't sure why.

"You mean, after I died or before?"

Edgar turned and blinked at him several times. Why does he look so surprised? It's a reasonable question.

He adjusted his broken glasses, which Johnny noticed for the first time. When did that happen? And why does he have a Band-Aid on his nose?

"I...I'm not..." Edgar made a soft noise and bit his lip. "I'm not quite sure about what happened..."

"What happened to your glasses?" Johnny raised a hand and pointed at him. Edgar reached up to touch them.

"Oh..."

There was another pause, then Edgar took them off. He held them only inches away from his face, inspecting the cracks and fine lines that ran through the glass.

"I..." Edgar glanced over at him for a second, then sighed. "I guess I should start from the beginning..."

Johnny tilted his head to look at him. Edgar didn't meet his eyes, instead focusing on his broken glasses.

"I'm afraid...I was the one who called you. I think. When the...gun you..." Edgar looked at him then, though he was turning his glasses over and over with shaking hands. "The gun you...attached to your phone..."

Johnny thought for a few seconds. "So it was you. That makes sense."

Edgar blinked at him before turning his eyes back to his glasses. "When I heard...what happened I had to go and see if...well, if you were okay. When I got there..."

Again he trailed off.

"Why did you want to check up on me?" Johnny raised an eyebrow. "You knew what I was doing, didn't you? Why would you spend the time?"

Edgar stared at him in mild surprise. He guessed that it might have been his tone of voice. It was a purely clinical question, which he supposed must have been unexpected.

"I know...you've told me beforehand, all the things you've said you've done and tried...I guess I just...I know you wanted to commit suicide." The emotion was draining from his voice. "But at the same time I...well, we're friends, aren't we?" Edgar didn't look at him. "I guess I just didn't want to lose you like that. I wanted to say good-bye."

Johnny thought of arguing against the change in motive, but decided against it. He knew why anyway. He just wanted to see if Edgar knew as well.

"But, while I was there, these two people showed up. I think..." Edgar rubbed his nose. "I think the man's name was Krik, and the woman was Tess. I'm not sure if you were...conscious at that point..."

I remember. You were there. You were there.

"Did you-"

"I...I'm not sure if you remember, but Krik tried to attack you and..." Edgar turned away at this point and adjusted the curtain around the bed. He stared alternately at the floor, at the sheets, and at his hands. "I couldn't let him get away with that, really, so I tried to stop him."

Finally his eyes settled back on Johnny's. He laughed a bit. "I'm not as good at fighting as you are, I'm afraid."

Johnny smiled in response. Of course you aren't.

"So, that's how they got broken..." Edgar smiled as he put them back on. The broken lenses caused his eyes to multiply. His voice changed again, that familiar tone when he was searching for something to say, something to fill in those pauses. "I'll go and talk to my optometrist later, they've got my prescription so it won't take me very long. It might take a few days for them to get them ready and all, but they really aren't that bad. I can still see out of them."

"Where did that Band-Aid come from?" One question answered, one to go.

Edgar blanched then tried to hide it.

"Um..."

"It looks like the same one I've got. Did you go to Heaven too?"

Edgar was staring intently down at his hands. He rubbed over his knuckles and skin, shaking quite hard.

He didn't speak for almost a minute.

"I...suppose I did," he whispered.

"Really?" Johnny smiled in an excited way. "What was it like? Did you see the same places I saw? Wasn't God a fat stupid..."

Oh yeah.

"Did you like it?"

Edgar was still shaking like a leaf. He didn't look at Johnny once while he spoke. "It...wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I guess."

"Did you see the place where everyone was just sitting and doing nothing?"

He nodded, his fingers twisting over one another.

"How long were you there? I guess this answers my question about whether or not that really happened. Huh! I can't believe I didn't see you."

Edgar forced a laugh. "Yeah...funny, that."

Probably shouldn't mention the head-exploding. I don't think he'd find that funny. "I went to Hell, actually. After Heaven."

He cracked a knuckle and, from his resulting expression, Johnny guessed it wasn't on purpose.

"It was a horribly stupid place. You'd hate it there. The Devil is mean, too. He..." I'm not sure if Edgar really knows what was going on before...I don't think he'd understand if I went into detail. "He told me some things, but he said I got to come back for some reason, so..."

Oh yeah, he said something about hair.

He ran a hand over his scalp and found it almost completely bare. I guess I should have expected that. No wonder my head's cold.

"What did the Devil say to you?" Edgar met his eyes for a few seconds, but then returned to rubbing his hands.

I might as well explain, it doesn't apply to me anymore. "...I did talk before about how I felt like...I was losing my focus in a way? And I think, when we first met, I talked about how there was something on the other side of the wall..."

"You needed my blood," Edgar said to himself.

"Exactly. Well, it turns out that thing...it was kind of complicated, but basically I was a glorified hate-funnel. The particulars of it aren't important. Someone made a mistake..." Johnny rolled his eyes. "I wasn't really supposed to be a lock and I kind of ruined things, but either way it doesn't apply anymore. I'm free!"

He expected Edgar to be excited for him, but instead he looked very pale.

"A waste-lock?"

"Yeah, that's what he called it. Why?" He's acting suspicious. ...How did he know that?

"You weren't supposed to be a lock...?"

"No. Why?" Why is he interested in this? He looks like someone died. Unless- "You didn't go to Hell, did you?"

He didn't say anything.

"WHAT?!" Johnny leaned forward and startled Edgar enough to nearly cause him to fall out of his chair. "You didn't go to Hell, did you?!"

There was that frightened look.

"I...they said there was some kind of mix-up, they weren't sure where I was supposed to go, I don't know why I went there myself I-I just ended up there-" Edgar held up his hands as if Johnny was the person to be afraid of now.

No no NO, why would Edgar go there? That makes no sense! Edgar's a good person, he's definitely religious, of course he'd go to Heaven, why would there be a mix up, that makes no sense, what kind of fucked system are they running up there-

"There is no reason you'd go to Hell!" Johnny gestured and noted the IV line attached to his wrist again. He took hold of it and was about to tear it out before Edgar stopped him. His hands only rested against his arm for mere moments and didn't actually take hold of him at any point, but his intent was clear enough.

"I-I don't know myself. They never explained it to me, not, not very clearly." Edgar withdrew his hands and went back to toying with his fingers. "But I did see...I did see the Devil. I think. That's why I wanted to know."

"Why would the Devil want to talk to you?" Johnny brushed off his arms. "You're supposed to go to Heaven. Isn't that right?"

"Yes!" Edgar blurted out. There was an awkward silence, then Edgar buried his face in his hands. "I mean...yes, I thought so. I'm sure it was all because of the file, but...the Devil talked about waste-locks, about you. He said that waste-locks were quiet, introverted people...a threat to no one but themselves-"

Oh shit. SHIT! SHIT!

"Shit! He said that to you?!"

"Yes, I-I'm not sure what he meant. Then I woke up, and I saw you-" He was trying to get off topic.

Shit! This fucks up EVERYTHING!

"Are you okay?"

"What?"

"Are you okay?" Maybe they won't choose him, maybe they won't fuck yes they will. God DAMMIT. "How do you feel?"

Edgar looked baffled. Now that he thought about it, he had rarely inquired about Edgar's well-being, so...

"I...I feel fine right now. Are you okay?"

"It's not important." Fuck. What do I do now?

There was a pause. Edgar seemed hesitant to speak, but Johnny supposed that was because he about to tear the paper sheets to shreds.

"But anyway, I woke up and saw you and...I wasn't sure if you were okay, so I took you here to make sure..."

"I can't believe this..."

Edgar ran a hand through his hair again. "I didn't think you'd like hospitals."

"It's not that."

God, he's not going to be able to tell. It's just going to happen like it did with me, really slow and subtle like. Shit. Will I be able to tell? Those stupid fucks, whoever runs this fucking shitpile of a system, I can't fucking believe they're taking him instead of me fuck FUCK YOU

"Nny..."

He looked down and noticed that he was tearing the sheets apart at this point.

I ruined the system before. They said I was a mistake and that I ruined things for them before...Fuck if anything I can ruin it now. They're not getting him without a fight, he didn't fucking do anything to deserve this. I won't let this happen.

"Nny, do you want to go?"

"Shit." He spat. "Can we?"

"Actually..." Edgar adjusted his glasses. "I don't think we can go just yet. The orderly probably has to clear you to leave and I bet there are more papers to sign...I probably shouldn't have said that."

There was a long pause. Johnny collected the shreds of the sheets into a small pile and Edgar watched as they both tried to find something to say.

"Will you be here?"

"What?"

"The whole time. Are you just going to wait for me here?"

Edgar looked down before apparently deciding on what to say. He made eye contact and sighed.

"Yes."

A single word can say a lot.

Another long pause.

"What was the last thing we argued about?" It feels like a black and white photograph.

"The last..." Edgar rested his head on one hand. "Hmm...If I recall correctly, I think...you were upset because I..."

That perpetual awkwardness around what shouldn't have been a delicate subject. God, that seems so far away now...

"I said that...what you did wasn't important to me, but rather...the person behind those actions. To put it briefly." Edgar scratched the scars beneath his eyes. "You said that your actions were all you had left..."

And now, my actions are my own. I can do anything. I can do everything. I'm not under anyone's control anymore, my actions are truly my own.

"The person behind the actions..."

"Yes."

"Do you still believe that?"

Edgar looked at his fingertips after they left his scars, then looked at Johnny.

"Yes, I do."

Johnny ripped the IV out of his wrist.

"All right, let's go."

Chapter Text

Edgar had been so distracted taking Johnny to the ER that he hadn't really noticed it was raining. Then again, previously it had only been drizzling. Now the rain was coming down with more force. This made it harder to ignore and harder to drive in general. Navigating the wet streets was not something Edgar was looking forward to.

Johnny hadn't said much to him when they had left the hospital. Edgar apologized for those pushed out of Johnny's way or those who became subject to a litany of epithets and inappropriate similes. He had made a mental note later on to return to the hospital and make sure everything was in order and to apologize more thoroughly for Johnny's behavior and to some extent his own. After all, he had done very little to stop Johnny, only compensating after he had committed the act.

You do have such a gift for describing your "relationship" with Nny.

God, everything's a comparison to our relationship with you. Can't you think of something else?

A minor, temporary victory of silence, but a victory nonetheless.

Edgar had intended on asking Johnny if he wanted his wrist bandaged, considering the blood, but instead he picked up a roll of gauze on their way out and didn't say anything.

That is unbelievably passive. You set the standard, Edgar, I'm not joking.

Most of Johnny's verbal outrage was expressed at helpless patients. No words were directed at Edgar, but many referred to him in passing.

Now free of other people and en route to the parking lot, Johnny was completely silent. He didn't look at Edgar. His thin hands held onto his shoulders tightly and he shivered, although there wasn't enough money in the world that could persuade Edgar to point that out to him in so many words.

Something noncommittal, something general...

"I have a blanket in the trunk." Edgar attempted to phrase his words so that it sounded as if he was just as interested in the blanket as he was sure Johnny would be.

Edgar couldn't stand the next awkward pause for more than a few seconds. "It's for emergencies."

Finally Johnny met his eyes. The two remaining strands of his hair were plastered to his face, thin lines dark enough to be seen in the failing light. Without his hair, he looked frailer somehow. Thinner, if that was possible.

Although he looked anything but pleased, Edgar was almost sure that his displeasure was not his fault.

He unlocked the car and watched as Johnny immediately curled up in the passenger seat and wrapped his arms around his knees. Edgar then turned, popped the trunk, and fetched the emergency blanket from between the bottles of water and a small battery powered radio.

You're prepared for so many things that will never happen.

It was an ugly plaid thing, dark dingy green with streaks of red and yellow that faded as rain dulled their color. Edgar thought back on what could have possessed him to buy such a remarkably hideous blanket, but memories of a sale quickly quieted his distaste.

He shrugged his shoulders as if someone was watching him.

He circled around to his side of the car. Johnny's head immediately turned to follow his motion as he slid into his seat and shut the door. The lights blinked off, leaving them in relative darkness. Before Edgar could think about what he was doing, he shook his head back and forth in an effort to clear away water. Water droplets spattered everywhere.

After realizing that he had potentially done something quite stupid, he turned to Johnny to only find him staring. Whether or not he felt that or cared Edgar couldn't tell with the limited light. At that point, the scratchy fabric against his hand reminded him of what he brought with him.

"Here."

He handed the blanket to Johnny then immediately busied himself getting the car started, hoping he hadn't made a mistake.

Well, the blanket isn't pressed against your face and cutting off your air supply, so I'd say that's pretty positive.

When the engine started the dashboard lights came on, providing a bit more light in the darkness but not a great deal. Edgar turned to glance at Johnny while he was getting ready to back up. At the moment, Johnny was using the blanket to dry himself off as best he could. When he finished the blanket quickly ended up wrapped around most of his body, leaving only Johnny's head visible.

That's a cute visual. Too bad you don't have the time to appreciate it.

When Edgar pulled onto the main streets, he realized he wasn't sure where to go. A glance at Johnny when a car's headlights provided enough illumination showed his eyes were closed. Edgar was sure he wasn't asleep, but he didn't want to bother him anyway.

Truth be told, Edgar wanted to go home. He wanted to sleep in his own bed and try to write off all the bizarre things that had happened. The question was whether or not Johnny wanted to join him or wanted to go home himself.

He's said he's so unhappy at home...

Yes, that's why you want him to stay with you. Of course it is.

They drove in silence, the only sound the rhythmic beating of the windshield wipers, the passing rush of air as a car drove by, and the pouring rain. Edgar normally listened to the news when he was driving, but again he didn't want to bother Johnny.

This silence, at least, did not feel as awkward as some of the others. It felt more natural, more tolerable. They were both engaged in their own activity in a way, so this kind of silence was expected. Considering the amount of horrible pauses in their relationship, this was a definite improvement.

He didn't know where to go. He looped the same streets in his neighborhood. If Johnny noticed he made no indication.

Driving in the rain. Is this what you wanted, Edgar? Is this what you were dreaming of when you dragged his corpse to the hospital?

He wasn't dead.

Semantics.

Could just see Johnny out of the corner of his eye.

Why does it matter to you what I want?

A bit more of an aggressive bite there, good for you. However, turning the question back on me won't really work in this situation. I'm sure even you will concede that it's not my fault that you're in your current situation, wasting gas and time while driving with impaired vision.

Look at him.

Edgar wasn't sure who he was talking to as that thought crossed his mind. It wasn't directed at Scriabin, surely. How long had it been since Edgar had actually talked to himself?

Excuse me?

Edgar sighed and let up on the gas as taillights darted in front of his car without warning. He understood that people drove differently in the rain and that some recklessness could be expected, but it felt like nobody had signaled for any of their turns the entire drive. It was frustrating and more than a little nerve-wracking. The multiplication of lights did not particularly help him in this department, although if it got too bad he could look over the top of his glasses. Blurry globs of light were easier to handle at times than jagged pairs of lights.

Movement from the seat next to him grabbed his attention. He opened his mouth to say something, but then decided against it.

A thin arm came from the depths of the blanket and pointed. Edgar squinted through rain and fractured light to see a sign marking a freeway off-ramp.

He looked at Johnny and Johnny looked back at him. He couldn't read his expression.

Why the freeway?

This isn't a question of "will I get on the freeway" is it? Scriabin sighed.

I wonder how long it's been since someone has driven Nny around...

More importantly, will this freeway take him to his house? You just can't focus on the important things, can you?

I don't think this freeway comes near Todd's house. I don't think that's why he wants me to get on here.

Well, you two are spending such quality time together, sitting in a car saying and doing almost nothing. Maybe this is what he wants.

Scriabin intended sarcasm, but Edgar paused.

In a way, I think you're right.

Scriabin sighed again, this time almost in thought. That's a first. How long do you intend to drive in these horrible conditions to satisfy Johnny's vague desires?

Edgar checked his mirrors, turned on his blinker, and looked over his shoulder. Sure that his lane was clear, he carefully moved into it and flicked his signal off. Even if no one else was signaling, he at least could.

A flash of light in the sky. Edgar gave it a glance before returning to the road. Johnny tensed from the corner of Edgar's eye and an ominous rumbling shook the car.

We're going to my house tonight.

~~~

"Where are all the parking spaces?"

He didn't intend to say that out loud. He had been repeating it to himself mentally with growing agitation much to Scriabin's amusement, but he didn't intend to say it out loud.

Johnny looked at him but didn't say anything.

Edgar took a few seconds to regret giving voice to his frustration, but it was only a few more before it was quickly forgotten. He circled the block around his apartment building for what felt like the millionth time.

It doesn't make any sense. This doesn't make any sense! There's never anyone parked on this street! I always park in the same place! Do I have to have my name written on it? Who are all these people anyway and what are they doing here? Is someone's party so huge that the entire block has to be filled with cars? Can't these people carpool?

Occasionally Scriabin would try to break in with a comment, but Edgar didn't let him talk. His thoughts ran on rapid angry circles, repeating themselves with no resolution. Regardless of how many times he could internally curse everyone who had parked in a one mile radius around his home, it didn't change the fact that there was simply nowhere to park.

Johnny didn't give any indication that he noticed what was going on or Edgar's growing frustration. He stared out the window, although Edgar wasn't sure at what.

You're getting-

I can't believe this-

You're getting awfully tempera-

How many people have to park in this one area-

You're getting angry awfully quickly.

I-

You're normally much more composed than this.

Edgar finally let his thoughts slow. The moment that the repeating thoughts began to cease, his feelings quickly followed. The anger and frustration began to fade as his attention went elsewhere and his grip on the steering wheel loosened. His fingers tingled.

That's better.

I just, I can't believe-

Yes, I think we've established that already. I'm curious though, why exactly does this bother you so much?

Is it so hard to see? Residual anger. He could almost feel Scriabin's surprise at his lack of passivity. I don't want to walk in the rain, but it looks like we're going to have to walk a block or two or three before we can actually get inside!

There was a pause, but before Edgar could resume his internal rant Scriabin spoke again.

How does Nny fit into all of this?

I don't want him to get wet either, it's not convenient-

Oh that's not true.

Edgar stared at the one space that was open three blocks away as he circled again. Driving with his glasses like this had given him a nasty headache.

This would normally be a good opportunity to poke at one of your particular sore spots, but I'm...I must admit I'm a little...well, surprised sounds too strong. I'm intrigued by your emotions right now concerning our maniac. The reason that you don't want Nny to walk in the rain doesn't seem to be that Nny could kill you for it.

What difference does it make? Edgar sighed in frustration. Johnny again turned to look at him, but only for a few seconds before staring out the window again.

A good question. Scriabin didn't sound as sarcastic as he usually did...perhaps he was more surprised by Edgar's attitude than he let on. The motive for so much of your behavior has been your fear of dying. But for once, this isn't it. I don't think Nny's welfare is your primary concern at this point either.

What's your point? He tightened his grip on the steering wheel again as he eyed that same open spot. It was close to a fire hydrant...not close enough, but it was still something he would have to consider. The last thing Edgar wanted to cap this evening was a ticket.

It may come as a shock, but I don't think I had one, not the way you're thinking. I was merely pointing out something I thought was interesting, that's all. Scriabin sounded amused.

He was going to have to park here.

I'm glad you think it's interesting. Edgar's mental voice dripped venom, and for a moment he stopped.

I've never heard you use that tone with me before. Well, except for that one time.

Johnny turned to look at Edgar, but Edgar didn't meet his eyes. He rested his hand on Johnny's headrest and looked over his shoulder.

He'd have to parallel park.

It doesn't really suit you, I'm afraid. He sounded as if he was about to start laughing again.

"This isn't where you live."

Johnny hadn't spoken for what felt like, and could have been, hours. Edgar still didn't look at him, focusing on getting his car into the narrow space without incident.

"I know, I can't find a better parking spot. We're going to have to walk."

He normally would have controlled his voice better, would have removed the edge of frustration and anger that could prove lethal, but he didn't.

"Oh." Johnny stared at him hard.

There was silence, internal and external, as Edgar set his parking brake and turned off the engine.

For a few moments, no one said anything. Johnny continued staring at him.

Edgar let out a deep sigh, and familiar processes came and kept his voice neutral again, thought over his words before he spoke.

"I don't have an umbrella."

"That's okay."

Edgar blinked and looked at Johnny.

He seemed so irritated by the rain before.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." Johnny turned away and stared at his door. "It's only rain."

Edgar pulled his hands from the steering wheel and winced for a moment as feeling rushed back into his fingers.

Yeah, that's right. It is...what came over me?

Edgar ran a hand through his hair. It felt strange over his fingers.

"Are you ready?"

Johnny nodded.

Edgar unlocked the doors and stepped outside. As if in vengeance for his disparaging mental commentary, the rain was pouring down even harder now. In moments Edgar was soaked and felt miserable. His head pounded, although now thankfully the stress of driving was gone. His eyes felt tired and dry.

He heard a click from the other side of the car, the momentary beeps of warning, and then the slam of the door.

When he joined Johnny on the sidewalk, he noticed that he had brought along the blanket he had been wrapped in. At the moment, he was holding it over his head as makeshift protection. It wasn't particularly effective, considering the strength of the rain.

Edgar began to walk towards his apartment when something caught his sleeve. He turned back in time to see Johnny's hand retreating.

Johnny opened his mouth as if to say something, but then decided his actions would have to do. He took the edge of the blanket and held it out to him.

Edgar stared at Johnny in disbelief.

Is he...is he offering to share the blanket with me?

You know, I think I remember reading a story about this once...but that one involved a cabin in the woods in the snow and one blanket.

Why would he do that?

Actually, I read it more than once-

Pay attention when I'm talking to you!

He could hear Scriabin catch his breath.

Why would he do that?!

He didn't answer.

Johnny was still staring at him, and this wasn't the time or place to think. Edgar took the offered edge of the blanket.

It was awkward, the two of them underneath the ineffective scratchy shielding. They brushed against each other constantly and it was difficult to walk. Edgar tended to walk a little faster than Johnny did, or maybe he just had a longer stride. Something. It was uncomfortable and more than a little useless, considering the blanket was quickly soaked and provided no protection.

That didn't really matter, though.

Why would he do this-

"Are you okay?" Johnny had to raise his voice to be heard over the hiss of rain. Edgar turned to look at him for a few seconds before focusing on his feet again.

"Am I okay?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah, I guess."

"You sounded upset before."

"I..."

He noticed?

"I was just frustrated." The two of them stumbled across a street and a car honked at them. He could feel Johnny tense beside him at the noise and could imagine the gruesome scenario he had planned for the driver.

"Are you okay now?"

"I guess."

Why is he asking me this? He's never asked about me before.

I'm as puzzled by his concern as you are. It's never been his strong suit. He is a sociopath, after all.

Shouldn't that be psychopath?

Is that what's important?

Johnny bumped into his side and then immediately moved away. The blanket prevented him from getting the space he desired, but he didn't attempt to take it away from Edgar.

"You don't get like that."

"Like what?" Only a few buildings away...

"You don't get frustrated like that."

Edgar paused. He wanted to glance over at Johnny to see what he was doing, but he had to focus on where he was walking. "Not usually, I guess."

Silence.

Finally, the two of them reached the small apartment building. Someone in front had managed to crash their car into a telephone pole. How someone could be so careless was beyond Edgar, but he guessed he could blame the rain to some extent. A thick crowd of people and cameras had gathered around the wreckage, all just staring blankly at the ruined car and splintered wood.

Edgar thought about the last time he had seen a broken telephone pole and shuddered before forcing the thought away.

"This is it, isn't it?" It was hard to hear over the rain.

"Yeah." Edgar dug his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Within moments both were inside and the door was shut. The wash of heat was welcome, along with the dryness and sudden quiet.

Edgar shook himself dry and was pretty sure that Johnny did as well, although he didn't see it.

"Glad I'm not going out again in that." Edgar didn't intend the statement for anyone in particular.

Talking to yourself again? It's hard to do that when you have an audience.

"I wonder what those people outside are doing." A statement directed to no one, just as Edgar's. Johnny held the sopping wet blanket gingerly in his hands. "What should I do with this?"

Edgar ran a hand through his hair a few times to shake out water. "Um...take it with you, I'll run it through the dryer later and put it back in the car."

They walked the rest of the distance to his apartment in silence. Edgar had just opened his front door when the power went out.

"Damn it!"

Such language, Edgar!

"What's wrong?" Johnny's hands quickly found his arm and then pushed against his face, knocked his glasses off.

"I'm fine, you just- nnh, hold on." Edgar knelt down to try and find where his glasses had went. Again he felt a surge of annoyance that he had hoped to leave outside.

Figures the power would go out. When was the last time we had a storm like this? The power around here is always shoddy anyway, I bet that idiot who hit that pole out front had something to do with it-

Jesus, get over it.

Johnny's hands on his back. "Where are you? What are you doing?"

"You knocked my glasses off, I'm just- aha!" Edgar slid his glasses back on. "There we go."

It wasn't until they were back on that he remembered that they'd be essentially useless in the dark.

"What happened?"

"The power's out...this happens sometimes," he said with a sigh. Edgar walked the rest of the way inside. Johnny latched one hand into the fabric of his coat and followed.

I guess that's as easy a way to keep track of someone in the dark as any.

"The storm..."

"Yeah. I've got a lamp around here somewhere, let's see..."

Whenever Edgar took a step, he had to wait for Johnny to follow along with him. His progress across his living room was jerky and difficult. Halfway across he remembered he hadn't shut the front door.

I'll deal with it later.

"Where's the closet..." Edgar held out his hands in an effort to navigate the room and managed to bark his shins on every single low-slung object in his possession.

"Edgar..."

"Ah, here it is!" Edgar finally found the doorknob.

"Edgar, am I staying here?"

He pulled open the door and a box landed on his foot.

"Ah-, fucking-!"

My goodness, am I going to have to monitor the T.V. shows you watch? Who taught you such language?

"What?"

It was more surprise than pain that prompted his outburst. "Just a box, it's nothing. What did you ask me again?" After moving the box to one side, Edgar began poking through his possessions as best he could. He always ended up putting old things in the closet, and he was sure that he would have put the emergency lantern in there as well.

Edgar, Boy Scout.

"Am I staying here?"

"Oh..." Edgar jerked a bit and knew that Johnny felt that through his coat. "I..."

I'd suggest you tell the truth, but frankly you never did give a good reason for this plan of yours.

"Well, it's raining and I...I remember how you said you didn't like going home, and it's probably still..."

That's right, all the evidence of whatever it was that happened is still there. Speaking of which, I want to talk to you about that-

"I just thought it'd be better if we stayed here, that's all. I probably should have asked you if that was okay first, but you...you didn't look like you wanted to be disturbed."

He could hear rain beating against the windows in his bedroom, and the sound of their clothes dripping water on the floor.

Johnny still held onto his coat.

"I hope it's not too much of a bother or anything." Ah, there it was. Edgar set to work untangling the lantern from the other things he had in his closet. "If you want me to, I'll take you home. But I really want to get some sleep tonight, in my own bed, so I'd just go back home. I hope that's okay."

He didn't ask you if you'd stay with him at his house.

He pulled the lantern free and stood. He turned to where he approximated Johnny to be.

"Is it okay?"

"I...guess." He sounded distracted.

Edgar shrugged. "All right. Let's get this set up..."

He made his way back to the living room again, Johnny stumbling along behind him. He nearly knocked him over a few times before they made it to his coffee table. Once there, Edgar set the lantern down and began to feel along its base.

"I hope this thing still works...it's for emergencies, so I don't check it often..."

There was the switch. A click, and then the double tubes began to flicker to life. Blue light began to build and glow, and Johnny let go.

"Thank God this at least works. I don't want to wander around here in the dark." He rubbed at one of his shins without thought. The lantern's light was strong and looked as though it would last through however long this blackout would be.

Johnny's face appeared across from him.

"Edgar."

There was that serious tone of voice. Edgar adjusted himself so that he was sitting down properly before responding.

"Yes?"

"Do you have any dry clothes?"

Edgar sniffled then laughed softly. "That's right, the dryers won't work...yeah, we should get changed."

Johnny tilted his head when Edgar laughed and studied him for a few seconds.

"Show me where."

"All right." Edgar stood up and picked up the lantern. Johnny followed him into his bedroom, but now kept a respectable distance between them.

At this point Edgar noticed that he was wearing his coat. Had he had it on the whole time? When did he put it on?

He dug a hand into one pocket and felt warm plastic. Scriabin.

You don't remember? Not a good sign.

When did...was it back when...

Edgar didn't actually watch his hand's progress, but as he walked by his desk he put Scriabin back in place. It was a quick motion that was unexplainably natural. A motion he didn't question or think twice about, just as when he shrugged his way out of the sodden trench coat and let it fall to the floor.

Johnny bumped into his back. Edgar glanced back at him, but found that Johnny was looking around Edgar's room again. Maybe he just wasn't paying attention.

As Edgar went to his closet, he heard something clatter on his desk.

"What're you doing?"

"Nothing."

He doubted that, but resumed searching anyway.

I can see this night is going to be anything but pleasant.

He finally pulled out one of his gray shirts. "Will this work?"

Johnny held out his hands, which Edgar took as an affirmative. It didn't take long to find all the required articles of clothing. Johnny didn't refuse any that Edgar offered.

"I'm going to need your light," Johnny said after a few moments of silence. Edgar nodded.

"You should change first I suppose. You can just leave your clothes there, I'll get them dry when the power comes back."

Edgar walked through the darkened hallways of his apartment and noticed how his only indication that he was being followed were the soft dripping noises. Stealth. Maybe that was how Johnny had managed to capture him so long ago...

God, it feels like that happened to someone else now.

He handed him the lantern and opened the bathroom door for Johnny, who walked in and shut it without saying anything. Edgar stared for a few seconds, but then sat down.

It's too bad he's not taking a shower.

What? Edgar raised an eyebrow.

I said, it's too bad he's not taking a shower.

What the-, why not?

Because it would obviously make better fantasy material if he were taking a shower, of course.

Edgar rested his head against one hand. Not this again.

Can't you just see it? Johnny in all his naked glory just standing there. Well, actually, I don't have to picture it for you. You can already see it.

Edgar sighed deeply. I'm not in the mood for this. Really.

What are you in the mood for?

Another sigh. Can't you just be quiet for a few minutes? For tonight? Can't you ever let anything rest?

Why are you asking me?

Are we going to go over that power thing again? I don't feel like this. I don't want to talk about it right now.

How many times have I heard that. You know, he's right there on the other side of that door.

And...? Edgar gestured with one hand, even though no one was watching.

I don't have to fill in the rest, Edgar. You already have. Just those quick seconds of fantasy running through your mind.

I wasn't thinking of anything. Edgar scratched underneath his eyes. He felt cold and clammy and he was starting to shiver. Dry clothes would be wonderful right now. I really wasn't, I'm too tired.

You're really not in the mood for this, are you?

I already said that.

Usually you get a bit more upset. Are you just not listening?

I'm just tired. I feel drained, okay? I just want to get some sleep.

Will Johnny be joining you?

A finger caught painfully on the edge of one of his scars and he gasped and pulled his hand away. He immediately felt closer, but he didn't feel any blood.

Just a matter of finding the right button, isn't it?

Ugh, just leave me alone... Edgar pressed a hand over his eyes.

Wouldn't that be perfect? Wouldn't it?

The bathroom door opened. Johnny looked down at him and Edgar met his eyes for a few seconds. He could see that the clothes he had picked out for Johnny hung awkwardly on his thin frame. He looked out of place and uncomfortable, and Edgar didn't particularly blame him.

Johnny sat down across from him, set the lantern down on the floor, and Edgar got up and went into the bathroom. He eased the door shut almost silently, although in retrospect he wasn't sure why.

Awkward silences are your specialty.

Without the lantern, the bathroom was completely and totally dark. It hadn't occurred to him to ask Johnny if he could take it. He shuffled his feet for a few seconds and soon found Johnny's discarded clothes.

He looked back at the door as if somehow, Johnny could develop x-ray vision and see what he was contemplating.

You haven't really indulged such paranoia in a while. It's refreshing.

Edgar knelt down and felt around carefully. He pulled Johnny's shirt free from the pile. The fabric was thicker than he remembered.

What on earth are you doing.

Edgar stood and felt around for his hamper. I'm not sure how long the power will be out...it could be out for days. They won't dry faster just in a pile on the floor...

For once, Scriabin didn't respond. Edgar got the impression that it was because he was just completely dumbfounded. That was a pleasant thought.

It was a little awkward in the dark, but manageable. He laid the shirt flat across the top of the hamper, arranged the tattered sleeves so they fell to each side.

Makes you wonder where he put his knives, doesn't it? And you're paying an unsettling amount of attention to detail.

Edgar shook his head and picked up the rest of Johnny's clothes. He didn't poke through these as he had for the shirt, considering that Scriabin did have a point. He wasn't sure where Johnny's knives were and he didn't want to cut himself.

Or are you just afraid of your curiosity?

My what? What are you talking about?

Edgar threw the remaining soaked articles of clothing over the bar on the shower door.

What does he keep under his clothes, do you think?

Edgar felt heat come to his face with a familiar stab of anger, and he busied himself pulling off his wet shirt to hide it.

Knives, obviously. Probably other weaponry. It wouldn't surprise me, he does keep that one knife in his boot.

It's a river in Egypt, Edgar.

Shut up.

Once out of his wet clothes, he stood naked for a few seconds. His eyes were acclimating to the dark and he was able to see a little more than before, and he stared at his shirt near his feet. He wanted to set it out to dry, but found that he wasn't moving. He just kept staring. Maybe it was the lack of weight and cold that kept him motionless for those few seconds. He felt a great deal better and the slight warmth was comforting.

Can you just imagine, the heat goes out and the two of you have to huddle together for warmth-

Enough to move. Edgar closed his eyes and began to put on his dry shirt.

"Just stop," he whispered.

Oh, that's not fair. I can't speak to you verbally from where I am currently. Not that it particularly matters.

He had never really appreciated dry fabric until now. He was finally beginning to feel warm again. He laid out his wet clothes on the floor.

How would he ask you, I wonder? Would you just be asleep and he'd just sneak in real quiet? Would he sit and have one of your heart-to-heart chats where you reveal nothing to each other about anything? Or would he just knock you unconscious and go from there? He's done it before.

He didn't do anything to me that time-

He bandaged your head.

That's entirely different.

He's so cold, isn't he? You've noticed. Maybe he'll ask you. What would you say? What would you say if he asked if he could sleep in your arms, Edgar?

"Shut up. Just stop it right now. I can't do this now." Edgar had backed away from the door as much as possible and had his hands to his temples. He was trying not to speak but somehow it wasn't working. He kept hissing between his teeth.

He seemed so affectionate. He shared the blanket with you, even if it didn't do anything. That was just darling, don't you think? Maybe it wouldn't be impossible. Maybe he will ask you. So we return back to my original question, the one you avoided before so well. If it makes him happy, Edgar, how far will you go?

"Stop it!"

A knock at the door caused Edgar to jump.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing, I'll be right out."

Wow, I hope that wasn't suspicious or anything.

God, I hate you.

Edgar opened the door. Johnny sat beside the lantern in the hallway and stared up at him. He was curled in a loose ball with his arms resting on his knees. The sleeves of Edgar's shirt were way too long and he looked smaller and thinner than he actually was.

Edgar shut the door behind him as silently as before. "What now?"

Johnny still stared at him.

Well, this was your idea, Edgar. You think of something.

"Are you okay?" Johnny's voice was hoarse. Edgar decided that this was as good a place as any and sat down across from him.

"Yes, I'm fine. Why do you keep asking me that?" Edgar hadn't meant to say that. His hand rose to cover his mouth, but instead he scratched at his throat.

There was a long pause. A crack of thunder above made them both jump. Johnny's hand immediately grasped at his side for a knife that wasn't there.

I wonder where he left it.

It took a little while for Johnny to settle back down again.

Another pause. Edgar waited. He was relatively sure that Johnny was going to speak again and that he wasn't just wasting his time.

It's cute that you're almost sure.

He waited. The two of them sat almost perfectly still. Finally, Johnny moved slightly, turned his eyes down to his feet.

"I told you before...I told you before about what I wanted to do to you."

Edgar nodded, then realized that Johnny might not catch that in the dark. "Yeah."

"I'm in...I'm having some trouble. A problem, you might say. A complication. I'm a bit...confused about where I'm going now. About what I should do."

Edgar was silent for a minute as he tried to decide what to say. "I'm listening."

That sounds so trite.

"I want our...well, I explained before. I wanted something in my life to be perfect." Johnny stared hard at his hands. "But I'm worried now that maybe I missed it. Maybe I didn't act fast enough. Maybe that opportunity, that beautiful opportunity passed me by while I was distracted, or during some time when I just...do you understand?" Johnny didn't wait for Edgar to answer. "I'm concerned that everything that I've been working for has fallen apart...that I already reached that peak and I missed it. I faltered, I waited, I missed it...and I ruined the one thing I wanted. I ruined the...I wanted something and I'm not sure...maybe I don't even know what I want anymore."

Edgar sighed softly. His feet were inches away from Johnny's. The hallways here were always too narrow.

"I'm worried that I've done what I always thought was inevitable. I know it, I know I always do this, and that's why I wanted to stop it, but then I...maybe I was just too... Maybe I was too selfish. Broken. Maybe this is all some self-pitying shit so I don't have to take the blame for it. I told you. I told you that I would break things, I told you that's all I could do, and I think I did. I think I did and I don't know how to fix it. I think I ruined everything. I can't do it. I can't freeze this, I can't freeze this guilt and remorse and these endless questions. I can't do that, that's just what I wanted to avoid. That's just what I didn't want, and that's how everything ends..." Johnny lifted a hand and pressed it against one eye. "Everything...everything always..."

"Nny..."

"I've destroyed something beautiful...I keep doing this. I keep breaking things I love. I keep desecrating my own shrines. I keep doing this. I had so many chances, I had so many chances not to ruin things, not to ruin you, and nothing..."

"Johnny, listen..."

"Maybe it was all..."

"Johnny, calm down. It's okay." Edgar didn't hide the concern in his voice. "It's okay. I'm okay."

"No you're not," Johnny said softly. "My actions are finally my own, I finally have complete and total control over my thoughts and my desires and I don't know what to do...I don't know what to do."

"Nny, I'm okay. I'm not sure what you're talking about, but I'm not ruined."

You do know what he's talking about.

Johnny looked at him for a few seconds before returning to studying the fabric of his unfamiliar clothes.

"Nny, I'm not...ruined. I don't consider myself ruined, anyway. I've never thought of myself that way, and I've never thought of our relations- well, our friendship really, I never thought of that as a negative force in my life."

Liar.

Johnny turned his eyes back to him.

"I don't consider you...no, I don't think of you as a negative force. I feel the same as I have before. I still feel...internally consistent I guess you could say. I know that I was frustrated back before, but I've been frustrated before...it's nothing unusual, it was just the first time that you ever saw it. I wasn't angry at you or anything you did, I don't want you to think that. It wasn't your fault by any means...I'm not sure exactly how you think you've ruined things, but in my perspective, I really think...well, I mean in general, I think we're at a good place. In terms of everything, I mean."

That doesn't even mean anything. You're ineloquent.

"How do you feel..." Johnny mumbled. Edgar wasn't sure if that was directed at him or not.

"I feel...what exactly do you mean?"

"I'm just...I'm not sure what to do. This isn't...this isn't perfection. I know it isn't. I know that there are better things than what we have now. I know that there is better, I've seen it. I know it's there. I want it. I want it more than anything. I want perfection. I want you..."

The right way. I want you, but I want you to want me too.

SHUT UP.

"I want you to be...like them. I want it to be beautiful. But I can't do that now. This isn't beautiful, this is..." Johnny picked at the sleeve of his ill-fitting shirt and made an irritated noise. "This isn't it. But if I don't do something now, if I don't do something, it could get worse. Things could get so much worse."

Edgar stared at the lamp's steady glow for a few seconds. "I know that...it doesn't work this way for you, but the way that I understood it was that...that's the risk you have to take." He hoped he didn't sound as stupid as he felt. "I don't know what you mean...I'm not sure what you're talking about. I don't feel ruined. I can't tell you if I will be in the future, although I'm not planning on it. I can't tell you the future...I can't tell you that things will be okay. I can't promise you that because I don't know myself. I don't know if things will get better. I don't know if this is really the best part, if this is really the height of us. I don't know that for sure. I can't say. The only way to know is to play it to the end."

"Does it frighten you?" Johnny's voice was emotionless.

"Does what frighten me?"

"Not knowing."

The only thing that frightens you is what you want.

"I guess so. I don't know. Maybe. I'm willing to try."

"Would you risk that?"

"What am I risking?" Edgar shrugged.

There was a pause.

"What do you want from me, exactly?" Edgar wasn't sure where the question had come from.

Johnny didn't say anything. He stared at his feet.

"What do you want, as in...what exactly is your perfection?"

If it made Johnny happy, how far would you go?

Johnny buried a hand in his hair and then shook his head.

He doesn't even know. That's encouraging.

"I'm...I don't know what to do."

"About what?"

"About you."

Edgar was quiet.

"I'm worried you'll..."

Worried?

"I feel so...!" A moment of rage, clenched fists, then Johnny relaxed back against the wall. "I just..."

Edgar crossed his arms over his knees. I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know how to help...

Johnny stared at the carpet.

"I don't know what will happen to us or to me or to you." Edgar couldn't let the silence drag on any longer. "I don't know. But I mentioned it before...there's always a possibility for something if you keep going. If you cut something short, you could miss something better later on...something like that."

"I guess that makes sense." Johnny didn't sound like he was paying attention. "I'm cold."

Edgar ran a hand through his drying hair. "Do you want me to get you a blanket or something?"

"I can't even watch T.V. here 'cause the fucking power's out..."

Edgar sighed. Johnny was talking at him again. "I think there's one in the closet. I'll go get it..."

He stood up. Johnny did not react, just stared off into the distance without expression.

You know, you keep avoiding it...

Ugh, what am I avoiding now? It's always something with you, isn't it?

Edgar realized that he hadn't picked up the lantern when he got up and it seemed somewhat awkward to go back and pick it up now. To leave Johnny in the dark like that. This was his apartment after all, at least Edgar knew where everything was. Or that's what he assumed anyway.

You're so passive.

It didn't take too much investigation through touch in the closet to come to a conclusion.

It's not in here...I guess I can get the one off my bed.

He glanced back at Johnny, who hadn't moved. He sat perfectly still, his arms crossed over his knees, staring at something that Edgar couldn't readily determine. He probably wouldn't notice if Edgar wandered a bit further.

He probably doesn't even know you're gone.

Edgar sighed.

He's not that far away.

You wish he wasn't that far away.

God, could you get more juvenile? Edgar rolled his eyes as he entered his bedroom. Normally the streetlights would have provided some illumination through his window. Now all he could hear was the rain pounding against the glass.

In here at least Edgar knew what to avoid. He didn't run into anything as he made his way towards his bed.

I don't know, could I? Scriabin responded in a particularly nasty tone. It's up to you.

Edgar considered continuing the argument, then decided against it. It wasn't as if this was new ground. He pulled back his sheets and felt around for the edge of his fleece blanket. The heat in his apartment was always rather unreliable.

At any rate... Scriabin almost sounded disappointed that Edgar hadn't returned to the argument. That's not what I'm really interested in right now anyway.

Edgar knocked something over when he tugged the blanket free. A pillow he was pretty sure. He gathered the blanket up in his arms and carefully walked back towards the door.

Well then, what? What fabulously telling and sarcastic insight do you have for me now?

Very good, Edgar! You're getting better at this. It's so much more fun when you fight back instead of just locking up.

Now I feel like you're avoiding the question. What is it that you want to ask me already?

Ah yes. My boy, what happened to you after all the time we spent together?

Nothing.

Well, obviously something. How did you come back to life?

I don't know.

Can't exactly fault you there. What's this dreamlike thing you keep trying to hide from me?

A dream, like I said before. Just a dream.

I think you doth protest too much.

It doesn't matter.

What, what kind of response is that. You're not even trying.

Johnny hadn't moved. Edgar stood awkwardly near him for a few seconds holding the blanket before he decided to sit down again. He thought that sitting beside Johnny might have been invading his personal space a little too actively, so he returned to his spot across from him. He sat down and held the blanket out to Johnny, who finally moved again. He stared at it for a few seconds in confusion.

He probably doesn't remember being cold at all.

He eventually did take it, throwing it around his shoulders hesitantly.

"Edgar..." Johnny pulled the blanket tight around himself and didn't meet Edgar's eyes. "I want to know..."

"What?"

"What do you want?"

"...What?"

"I want to know what your perfection is. Maybe I'm not looking at this the right way. What would be your perfection? With us, I mean. With me."

Johnny looked up and stared at Edgar without blinking. A few seconds went by before Edgar realized his mouth was open.

"I...uh..."

Whoa.

I-I didn't think he'd ever...well, I mean, he never has before-

I must say this night has been rather atypical, even by my standards. Either way, you better think of a response. Actually...what would your response be? Now I'm curious myself. What would your perfection be?

Oh God, I can't answer this question. I need to think about this, I can't just answer this right away, I'll say something wrong-

"Edgar?"

"Uh, sorry. I'm just thinking." Frantically trying to say something non-incriminating. "I just, it's not something I thought about a lot. I mean, often. It's not something that crossed my mind often."

"It isn't?" Johnny stared at him in confusion.

Oh shit not good not good

"I didn't mean that it wasn't impor- isn't important or anything, I didn't mean that." Edgar was talking fast. "I don't want you to think that. It's just-"YES that's it, that's what I should have said, I've got it now. "It's just you never asked me that question before." There we go. "I guess I wasn't really prepared."

Johnny did not look soothed. He continued to stare at him critically.

You better think of something to say fast, and hopefully it won't be something so blindingly stupid this time.

"My perfection, um..."

"You don't think about that often?"

Oh God how can I salvage this there's got to be a way "Well...I uh, I don't think of my relationships in terms of perfection I guess...or in terms of goals to be achieved. I hope I'm being clear. It's not so much reaching the end of something, or accomplishing something. I guess you could say that...well, how did that one phrase go...it's not when you get there, but how? I guess that doesn't precisely apply, but I hope that makes sense. It should make sense."

God just STOP TALKING. You sound like an idiot. Calm down.

"I see." Johnny put a hand to his mouth. He looked more curious than critical now, which was an improvement with him by any stretch of the imagination. "You must have wanted something though. That's only natural. I find it hard to believe that you wouldn't have wanted something from me, or wanted something from knowing me." Johnny gave Edgar a familiar twisted smile. "While we do have our own interesting conversations, I don't think that could be your only motivation. I understand what you're saying, but I don't completely believe you. You must want something. You must be getting something from this relationship, otherwise you wouldn't be in it, correct?"

This was a familiar tone. Quickly Johnny's voice was leveling off for a rant.

"It's a necessary part of any kind of relationship for all animals, particularly the glorified human one. We all want something from each other, even if it's just as abstract as happiness." Johnny paused, then tilted his head. "You must want happiness out of this, right? That's a standard. Everyone wants to be happy, right? It would only make sense."

Edgar wasn't sure what to say to get himself out of this predicament. He scratched at his face and looked away. "U-um..."

You know, I'm impressed with our dear homicidal friend. He's backed you masterfully into a corner.

"I'm sure that's what you would want, but that's not what I'm really interested in. That's the default of a relationship, that's what everyone's searching for. I would like to think that as real people, we're looking for something more. Something more substantial, more real. More permanent. More...powerful. You and me, you know it too. That's why you're alive, you know. You're not like the others. You must want something else. You must have a goal, some kind of perfection. Something more than the mess of a relationship that everyone else happily binds themselves to. I know it. I want to know what it is."

"I..." Edgar kept scratching, now staring intently at his feet. "I can see what you mean. I-I guess I didn't think of it that way..."

"You understand what I'm asking you then." Johnny nodded. "Maybe if I know what you really want, that will give me some clarification, some guidance as to what I should do."

Well, you can at least pretend it's for a good cause when you finally tell the truth.

I'm not, I can't. I have to be more careful than ever now.

This is going to be hilarious.

Johnny's foot brushed against Edgar's, and at the contact they both jerked away.

"Uh, my perfection..."

The sound of rain far away.

"What do you want us to be?" Johnny leaned forward and stared at Edgar intently. "What do you want me to be?"

"Hmm..." He hoped that didn't sound as uncomfortable to Johnny as it did to him. "Well, you've said it yourself before...you mention it a lot. But you said something recently that made me think...you said your actions and thoughts were under your control now. Does that mean...you're not insane?"

Johnny stared at Edgar, then grinned. "I'm still quite hideously insane, I'm afraid."

He didn't want to or mean to, but Edgar sighed heavily at that. Johnny's grin faded. "I thought as much. Tell me..."

Uncharacteristically aggressive.

Just a question.

Edgar stared down at his carpet hard. Gray. So much gray. Something hurt but he wasn't sure what it was. "Are you still going to kill me?"

Silence.

"Of course," Johnny whispered. "Why would that change?"

"I see..."

"Edgar." His voice was still soft. "You understand, right? You understood before. You understand what it means. You understand why, don't you? You understand me, you're good at that. You know, right?"

He sounded increasingly panicky. Edgar wanted to say something calming, soothing, reassuring. Instead, his voice stayed emotionless.

"I do understand. But you wanted to know, didn't you?"

I can't believe you actually said that.

Somehow, it seemed Johnny didn't think that Edgar's perfection would be something he didn't want to hear. He nodded reluctantly.

"Nny, I want...I want to see this to the end. I don't want to give up halfway through."

"That's not the point." He seemed desperate to change the subject. Edgar didn't exactly want to argue with him, particularly when he seemed this upset. "You don't want to stay in this relationship just for the sake of being in the relationship, do you?"

"No, of course not." He didn't think it would sound like that. "That's not-"

"I didn't think so. That's not what you really want."

Can't argue with him now. "Not really, I guess."

"But then what? What would be perfect for you?"

I love you so much, Edgar.

Edgar shivered violently and he felt something sharp through his skin. A quick tingling pain beneath...

He pulled his hand away from his face at the realization he had been scratching for god knows how long. Something glinted off his fingers in the blue light.

"Oh God, not again..."

"What?"

"I just...I just, nnn...hold on." Edgar stood up, then turned to look back down at Johnny. "I'm not avoiding the question, I just need to get some bandages for this, it'll take me a few seconds."

Johnny got a good look at Edgar's face.

"Oh."

A pause to make sure there was no further objection, then Edgar went into the bathroom.

This ought to be fun in the dark.

Edgar stumbled through the bathroom and nearly tripped over the clothes he had already forgotten about. He finally felt the sink and pulled open the medicine cabinet.

There was a creak behind him, and blue light lit the small room. He saw his face in the mirror, dark shadows emphasized by the lantern and the smear of blood across his cheekbone. Johnny stood behind him, holding the lantern with two hands.

"Thank you..." Edgar mumbled.

Johnny made a noise to acknowledge him, but didn't say anything.

It took a few minutes for Edgar to find and apply the bandages to his open cut. It wasn't the cleanest or most effective covering possible, but it would work. He turned around and Johnny was still standing in the bathroom doorway, staring at him.

"My perfection..."

I would never hurt you.

Stop it oh god not now not now

You've fixed me.

"I think..." Edgar struggled to ignore Scriabin as he made his way out of the bathroom back to the hallway. "I think it would...I think there...I think there would be no more fear."

He wasn't sure what he would say until he said it, and it didn't register until Johnny spoke.

"Fear?"

Oh God, I hope that wasn't a mistake.

"I think that...well, I think that the most perfect place we could ever be would be when...we're not afraid of each other. Or at least, when I'm not afraid of you."

Liar. Scriabin sang in his head. Liar, liar.

Johnny adjusted the blanket around his shoulders and brushed past Edgar, continuing down the hallway. Edgar saw no choice but to follow him.

"Frightened..."

"Yeah..."

"Do you think...that's possible?" Johnny walked into Edgar's bedroom. Edgar wasn't sure what he wanted, but he followed him inside.

"I think it could be, yes."

"That we could be perfect? Like the others?"

He seems to forget that I don't know who the others were...

"I think it's possible."

Edgar, you do realize that your statement could be interpreted as saying that you could, potentially, fall in love with him?

That's not what I meant.

But that's what it means.

Johnny was at Edgar's window, staring outside at the cloudy sky. Maybe looking for the moon, he wasn't sure.

"You think I can do it?"

"I think we can do it. That's how it works, right?" Edgar slowly walked over and stood beside him. Johnny did not look at him, holding the blanket close with one hand and using the other to support the lantern.

There was a moment of silence, then Johnny turned towards him. Edgar instinctively matched the motion, and the two stared at each other while rain beat down inches away. The sound was much louder here...

Johnny stared at him and Edgar couldn't read the expression on his face. He had the sense that Johnny wanted something from him, but he didn't know what it was. They stood only inches apart and still Edgar couldn't read him.

Couldn't tell what he wanted.

The lantern light flickered and then a flash of lightning lit the room brightly for a second. A rumble of thunder and they didn't move.

Minutes passed. How many Edgar wasn't sure.

Edgar couldn't take his eyes away from Johnny. It was almost as if this was some kind of challenge, some kind of test, to see whether or not he was telling the truth.

And you say I read too much into things.

Edgar would have preferred awkward silence than Scriabin speaking up again.

And god knows, I so often listen to what you want me to do.

I'm...I don't know what he wants. God, how long has he been staring at me?

Are you asking me? Ha.

He must want something. But we've been quiet so long...I don't know how to break the silence. I can't exactly remember the last thing I said...or the last thing he said either...

You know, I've been giving you advice for so long now. And yet somehow, I don't exactly feel inclined to do that right now. I want answers for once.

Edgar was trying to ignore the intruder to his mental deconstruction of his current situation.

It was something about the two of us trying to...well, not exactly. Trying to make this relationship fearless. Is that what he's doing now? Not doing anything to show me that he isn't dangerous?

Do you honestly think he would think that far ahead? Do you honestly think this psychopath could plan that far ahead? Do you really, truly think that if you made Johnny angry for whatever stupid trivial reason, he wouldn't just kill you right now, to hell with his ideal of perfection?

I-

Do you honestly think that he has that much control over himself, Edgar? He makes a big show of being able to control himself now with all that blathering about actions and consequences and what makes a person yap yap yap, but do you think anything has changed?

...

Do you think anything, anything, has changed, Edgar? Do you? You can't. You can't because I would imagine you're not as stupid of an idealist as you act at times. You know, Edgar. You know as well as I do. He said so himself. He's insane. You're in no better position than before regardless of how fond Nny gets of you. He could still kill you. He will still kill you. And he could potentially try to murder you at any time in any place for any reason. Not just because you two finally exchanged some chaste kiss in an appropriately romantic setting and he put the gun to your chin and you pulled the trigger. Despite the fact that for some horrible, horrible reason you don't find that idea that reprehensible, there's a very slim chance that that will happen.

I...

Edgar wasn't sure what he was staring at anymore. His internal conversation had drained all of his focus. Scriabin's voice was increasing in volume.

There is almost no possibility, no chance that you can survive this Edgar. And yet you still cling to this romantic ideal. God, you even said you'd work for those arsenic-laden candies. You said you wanted to help him. For God's sake, Edgar, you can't! I've told you before, you can't. Unless you can wave your hand and cure whatever sick thing is eating his mind, you will never be happy with Nny. You will never be at ease around Nny and there is no way, no way that any sane person could not be afraid of Nny. Johnny is fear. Johnny is death. He is random, unpredictable, and will come at the worst possible time. You know this Edgar.

...

You are making empty promises that you're covering with even emptier pretenses. You aren't doing this for him. You've never been doing this for him, not since you relegated him to the prestigious role of Experiment in your mind. This is for you, Edgar. This is for your continued existence. This is for your worthless empty life. You can pretend and lie and do everything you want to deny it, but there is no way Edgar. There is no way that you can ever be happy with Nny. You can never be happy with him because he will always hurt you. He will always hurt you, even if you somehow do get past the whole killing you thing. Do you think that if Johnny never intended to kill you that you'd have a better relationship? Do you think that even having Johnny as a boyfriend would be possible? Do you think, do you think for even those few seconds that Johnny is even capable of loving someone at all? That he knows what to do? That he knows how to compromise, that he would ever care about you enough to modify his own behavior for your happiness, like you constantly do with him? Do you think that, Edgar? Do you!?

Ah...he's not...

Don't even bother, Edgar. That's not the point and you know it. That's not what I'm talking about. Stop holding onto illusions and listen to me. Even if Johnny doesn't kill you, he will hurt you. He will never care about you. This entire scheme of his, this entire elaborate thing is planned around his perfection, not yours. He asked you for yours because it would help him decide what to do. Johnny will kill you when he feels this relationship is perfect. And he will kill you because it will make him happy. And you haven't even contested this. You dare even entertain thoughts of some semblance of an equal relationship with him, you even try to bargain with him to regain some of yourself and you're losing. He's a maniac, a psychopath, a murderer. He can't understand other human emotions, he never will. Everyone he's ever loved he's killed, and he can't see anything wrong with that. Forgive me if I seem presumptuous, but somehow I don't think you're going to be lucky number eleven, or however many poor victims he's killed. You're not going to change a thing. You can't change him. You never could. You're being dragged along in this abusive illogical charade because you can't stand up for yourself, and you have a bad habit of believing in the impossible. You think you can fix him. You think that it won't be you. You think that just because you managed to get away from him however many times that you'll be able to make it. You'll succeed where others have failed. You'll change Johnny, God Edgar, you think you can change Johnny's entire philosophy of life, because you're that important. How can you be so naive? How can you be so stupid?

I... Edgar's mouth was dry and he felt intensely dizzy. He was staring past Johnny's eyes, through them, but he didn't know at what. Light off his glasses and he was seeing double again. He wanted to lie down. I...I don't...I don't love Johnny, I...I never have-

That's not the point, Edgar, Jesus Christ! If I could fucking slap you across the face right now I would. Have you been paying attention at all tonight? At all? You wanted him to be alive and when Johnny said that his actions were his own and he asked you if that mattered, you said it didn't God Edgar you are buying into your own fantasy. You want to believe that Johnny can change so badly. You're pathetic. Were you paying attention? Do you know what comes out of your mouth? God, you said you wanted to help. That you wanted to try to reach whatever random definition of perfection Johnny has. You're his toy. That's what you are, that's how he treats you, Edgar. You're Johnny's toy. You're something shiny and nice, that listens but never fights back, just pull the string and he'll say whatever you want, and then when Johnny is tired of you, has had all the fun he wants to have, he'll pop your head off, he'll rip you apart like he would before. Pushing back the inevitable. Johnny has never treated you with any kind of respect and he never will. He's completely and totally self-centered. He can think of no one but himself. Maybe it's him personally or maybe it's his own faulty wiring but it doesn't particularly matter either way, because he can never care about you. Just to avoid that favorite shield of yours, even as a friend, Johnny can't care about you. He doesn't care about you. He's using you, Edgar. He's using you as a means to an end. He's using you to make himself happy. You're a toy to him Edgar, you're a plaything. He is using you Edgar, he has always been using you, and every single time he initiates contact with you, it's because he wants to use you.

That...that's not true, nngh... Edgar felt something at the back of his mind. Something spreading like when he snapped his head back too fast, and he wanted to reach out a hand to steady himself. But Johnny was still staring at him, and he couldn't move. He felt sick.

There is nothing for you in this relationship, Edgar. There never will be. You will die, and you will curse yourself for being one of the greatest fools the world has ever known because you just could not listen. You had to believe, you had to trust, and you had to let Johnny pull that string in your back that says "yes of course do whatever you want" and let him put the gun in your mouth. He just wants to hurt you, Edgar. No matter how tenderly he may express his awkward affections, presuming that he can do so at all, he will still hurt you. And he will tell you he loves you, he will touch your arm and kiss you, and maybe someday even fuck you, but it will be because those are the steps to his ultimate end. He will do these things to you, he will buy you things and be nice to you, because that way, he will be able to hurt you. The nicer he acts, the sooner he gets to tear that all-too-often silent windpipe out of your offered throat. Are you listening, Edgar? Tell me. Tell me what I'm saying isn't true. Tell me, tell me that you can look right into Johnny's eyes, now or fifty years from now, and tell me that he won't hurt you. Tell me that he won't snap. Tell me that he won't lose that fragile grip on reality he holds so precious and destroy the anchor he pretends to love.

Spinning. The room was spinning.

Tell me, Edgar! Tell me! Or call me a liar, like you always do! Go ahead! Go ahead and try! Tell me you can trust him!

Was he moving?

Say it, Edgar! Say it!

He hadn't been staring at anything in particular, but movement finally broke through. Edgar immediately tried to focus his attention on Johnny, but found that he couldn't hear anything.

Mouthing words. Johnny was mouthing words.

Edgar couldn't ask Johnny to lift the lamp or enunciate, and in the darkness he couldn't make it out.

He could feel Scriabin's residual resentment and anger in his mind and he knew this was far from over.

Johnny tilted his head at him slightly. "Edgar...how do you solve a problem?"

He moved, and then Edgar found he could move as well. He stumbled forward awkwardly. Johnny stepped back in surprise, the hand holding the lantern moved to one side and the other held forward as if to ward Edgar away.

You can't say it, can you?

At that point Edgar was aware he had made some kind of strange pained noise, though he couldn't exactly pin down what it was. He pulled back from Johnny quickly, barely noticed the look of surprise on his face before he turned towards his bed. His feet dragged on the floor.

"J-just-"

"Edgar, what's wrong?"

He tripped the last few inches and he fell onto his bed heavily. His glasses landed somewhere, but it wasn't like it mattered in the dark anyway. The dizziness was pushing up beneath his eyes and he gripped fabric in his fists as tightly as he could.

You can't tell me I'm wrong, because I'm right, Edgar. At the sound of his voice again Edgar felt everything shift ninety degrees. You know I am. I always have been. You never wanted to listen to me. You never followed my advice. And now look at where you are. Look at what you're doing. Look at yourself. Admit it. Admit it. I'm right. You will never be happy. You can't be happy. You'll never even get close.

"Unnn...shut up..." Was that...was he biting the blanket? When did he start doing that? He felt something touch his back, the clack of something on his desk.

"Edgar, what's wrong? What's happening?"

He's not asking for you.

God, please stop...

He's not asking for you. He's asking because if you got sick, or if you were sad, or if you were unhappy, that might put a damper on his plans. And his plans are all that matter to him. You're unimportant as a person, Edgar, you're important as a concept. You are important as long as he needs you, then you die. You are nothing to him. None of your fears, nothing about you, nothing about your life, nothing about your past or your future matters to him. You are a thing. You are a thing that he can project himself onto, you are a thing he can use for his own satisfaction. You are a wall. You are disposable, expendable, temporary. You will never be anything more to him, Edgar. You will never be anything more than a glorified wind-up doll.

Stop...please...please...

He felt a rapid-fire series of touches across his body. A finger glanced across his arm, hands cupped his face, smoothed back his hair, tugged at the bandage accidentally, pulled at his teeth. No, pulled the blanket out of his teeth. A finger accidentally jabbed him in the eye.

"Edgar! Edgar! Edgar, stop!"

Stop...

Is this what you wanted out of your life, Edgar? Is this what you wanted? Did you want to commit suicide in the most passive-aggressive way possible? God, Edgar, why. Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you letting him do this to you? Even the little wide-eyed boy, Bwee or whatever his name was, even he protested. Even he knew enough to stay away, but no. No. You had to change things. You had to be the savior. You had to come in on a white horse, had to come in and look at you now. Look at you. You're a liar. You've lied to yourself and to me and to everyone. You've lied to Johnny because you believed he could change, and he can't. You lied to him because you said we could do this, and we can't. You know what will happen, Edgar? Do you know what will happen the next few days, years, months? You will change. You will edit your life, your speech, your time, you will cater to his every whim and he will throw you away. He will tear the life out of your body and laugh at each moment because he does not care about you. He never has. All of this, all of this was a lie. Johnny can't love. He can't love you. He can't love because to love is to not be selfish once in your life, and Johnny's love is for him. It is not for you. You are a tool. You are his slave.

A rumble of thunder shook the room, and Edgar couldn't remember the lightning flash that accompanied it. He could focus his eyes again, he could see, and Johnny's face hovered above his own. Even with the limited light, Edgar could tell he looked deeply concerned.

"Edgar, are you listening? Are you here? Are you okay? Fuck! Edgar, are you okay?" A constant stream of questions that Edgar just realized had been in the background of Scriabin's tirade the entire time.

Was he dreaming? Did he actually touch him? Edgar was lying on his bed properly now, and he didn't remember doing that himself. The last few minutes were a blur.

The voice in his head was silent for reasons Edgar couldn't understand. He didn't think it would last long.

"Are you okay? Oh shit, shit, I didn't mean to...I didn't think...it was a normal question, I thought it was a normal question. Are you okay? Can you hear me?"

And then Johnny reached out and touched his face. His fingertips touched the bandage beneath his eye, moved down his cheek. He tilted Edgar's head slightly and Edgar's viewpoint changed. He hadn't realized he had been staring fixedly in one direction.

He...touched me...

Edgar coughed sharply and felt as if the back of his throat suffered for it. Johnny immediately pulled back his hand as if he feared he'd get bitten.

Edgar looked back at Johnny and realized he was breathing hard.

"Edgar?" Johnny's voice took on a higher pitch. "Edgar, are you awake?"

Edgar lifted one of his own hands and stared at it for a few seconds. His voice was hoarse. "I...I think so..."

"Fucking...you started...I don't even know what that was. It was like some kind of weird seizure..." Johnny trailed off, moving his eyes from Edgar to stare at something that Edgar could not readily see.

"I...I'm sorry." It was the first thing that came out of his mouth and he instantly regretted it. "I-"

"You're sorry?" Johnny's eyes snapped back to his. "Sorry for what?!"

"I..." Edgar slowly levered himself up. He noticed that Johnny raised a hand near him, hovered it above his skin, but did not actually touch him. A precaution. He sat up and closed his eyes for a few seconds. "I...I don't really know what just happened."

When he opened his eyes, Johnny just stared.

You've always lied to him.

Edgar buried a hand in his hair and caught his breath. "I'm not sure...that's never happened before..."

There was a pause. Johnny shifted his position so he was sitting completely on the bed, his legs crossed.

"Never happened before..."

"No..." Edgar wanted to study Johnny's face, wanted to see how Johnny was taking this, but everything was fuzzy and dark. Too far away now.

"Edgar..." He moved, but Edgar couldn't tell how. "Do you think it'll happen again?"

"I don't know...I hope not."

Ha.

He winced.

"What caused it?"

"I'm...not sure. I just started feeling dizzy...had to lie down." Edgar rubbed the back of his neck. "Maybe I just need to eat something..."

A short pause this time. "You don't think it was something serious?"

"Not really..." Edgar didn't look at him. "I think I'll...well, I think I can handle it."

Ha. Yeah, you sure handled that well.

Johnny sighed after this news, and it seemed that it wasn't the bad kind. Edgar couldn't say for sure.

"What did you ask me, again?"

"What?"

"You asked me something before..."

Johnny stared down at his hands. "Something, something..."

Edgar waited.

"Ah, I remember. I wanted to know how you solved a problem."

Yes, do tell, Edgar. You're so good at that kind of thing.

This kind of mockery Edgar could at least handle.

"Solving problems..."

"Yeah."

"Well...let's see...I guess I would make sure I understood the problem first..." Edgar leaned back on the pillow. He felt a little less dizzy that way. He noticed that Johnny edged closer to him in the process. "Make sure I knew all the angles...all the possibilities...all the reasons I wanted to solve the problem...information really..." Edgar hoped he wasn't rambling. "Information is really key for that kind of thing."

"So you make sure you know everything..."

"Yeah...then um...I guess you draw up a list of all the possible solutions that problem could have." Edgar felt increasingly disinclined to talk. He kept his mouth moving. "All the possibilities, no matter how silly or stupid...that kind of thing."

He was kind of drifting off. Was he just tired, or was he just emotionally drained? He wasn't sure. He probably shouldn't have lain down, now that he thought about it.

There was a silence, and Edgar could hear the rain. He was beginning to hear things again. He hadn't realized at the time that Scriabin's voice had grown louder and louder until it blocked everything out. It wasn't his lack of attention, it was that he honestly couldn't hear.

At least, that would explain why his ears were ringing. Wouldn't it?

"Edgar..." Johnny's voice was soft and staticy. No, that was just his hearing. "Are you sure...are you sure that you're okay?"

Edgar let out a sigh and rested his arm across his eyes. "I'll...I'll be okay in a few minutes...I'm just tired, really. Feel tired..."

The next words came out haltingly, and it was obvious that Johnny found them hard to say.

"Do you want to keep talking about this...?"

There... Even Edgar's own mental thoughts sounded weak. There, that was some modicum of concern...

Edgar. Scriabin sounded at once both spiteful and condescending. Do you want me to start again? Do you really want me to deconstruct this for you? Do you want me to tell you the truth? Do you want to have another minor seizure because apparently, the truth will make you crazy? Do you really want me to? Because I will. I just think that by now, maybe you can do that on your own.

If I'm just...if I'm just a means to an end... Edgar didn't have the heart to really argue. His voice faltered and he was sure his logic was less than solid, but he felt he had to say something. Then why would he need me at all...? His happiness...it depends on me to some level. Maybe it is selfish, maybe it is all for him in the end but I...I-, he needs me in the process. He kept me alive this long because I have to care for him...because the fact that I have to care about him in return is his perfection. Edgar moved his arm and saw Johnny staring at him. He couldn't make out much without his glasses on, but he could see Johnny brush his hand over his bare head. That's what that motion had to be, it couldn't be much else. Yes...I think that's it...Johnny's perfection would be...it would be my affection.

It would be your love. Scriabin sounded strangely emotionless. Your love. Don't avoid the word.

But that means that my feelings are important to him...

Edgar. Scriabin no longer sounded angry. I told you before. You're still thinking in terms of Johnny's ideal, that ideal of perfection that he wants to hold. But do you think, do you honestly think, that that ideal would still be foremost on his mind if you, say, slapped him? If you yelled at him? If you kicked him out of your house and your life, do you think he could come crawling back for your approval? He wouldn't, Edgar, and you know it. He would kill you. His ideal is a fantasy that makes being near him tolerable, because that way you can pretend that he's not as insane as he is. You can pretend he has control over himself, over his actions. It's fake, Edgar. It's a lie. His concern for you, it's a lie. A pretense. And Nny will shed that pretense when you do the slightest thing to aggravate him. Do you understand?

He shuddered but found he couldn't move otherwise. He shook, his muscles were firing, but he couldn't control himself completely, couldn't raise his arm. Weakness.

Johnny still stared at him. He was more used to these pauses than Edgar was.

"I'm sorry...we were talking about problems, weren't we?"

"Yes..." Johnny nodded.

"Do I want to talk more about this, was that it...?"

Johnny turned towards the window. "I...I understand if you want to sleep. Whatever it was that happened...I understand if you don't want to talk about it anymore."

I have an idea...

Oh, what now?

"Johnny, can I ask you something?"

The flickering blue light made Johnny look like a skeleton for a few frightening seconds. Edgar could feel strength returning to him, he could control his motion again. "A question?"

"Kind of." Edgar pushed himself up onto his elbows. He still couldn't see Johnny clearly. He'd have to find his glasses later. "I want to know...you said you were still going to kill me, right?"

Johnny nodded, although it was a little hesitant. Apparently he remembered that this was not high on Edgar's list of things he wanted.

"Are you sure you'll kill me when that time comes?"

"If...I know when it is." Johnny's voice got softer as the conversation continued. Pulling away.

"Johnny, would you...well, do you think that you would ever break that promise? I know it's not exactly a promise, per se, but...do you think that you would ever...do you think you would lose control, do you think you'd...well, you said you were insane. Do you think that you might kill me before that time, for one reason or another?"

I think he's going to kill you right now for that question.

Johnny looked directly into his eyes. He leaned forward, but Edgar still couldn't read his expression.

The familiar tinges of fear.

"Is that why you're afraid of me?" Johnny's voice was low. "You don't trust me."

Edgar wasn't sure how to respond.

I could lie but...he'd know I was lying. We were just talking about it. But...how can I tell him the truth without...

This is exactly what I was talking about.

"Your perfection..." Johnny seemed to be talking to himself. He was listing to one side.

"I didn't...I didn't mean..." Edgar turned his body, angled himself so he could look and speak with Johnny more directly.

The light from the lantern vanished for a few seconds, and then Johnny hit the pillow. He fell without moving his arms and staring at nothing. Edgar pulled back from him for a few seconds, making sure that he wasn't too close, but Johnny didn't react. He didn't react to Edgar even when he decided that sitting up at this point was pointless and lay back on the pillow himself.

Inches apart again. But this time, Johnny was staring through Edgar.

He's gone. I told you.

"Nny..." Edgar kept his hands close to his chest. He knew how much Johnny hated touch. Even if he got this close on his own, Edgar didn't dare reach out to him. He didn't want to invade his personal space in any kind of way.

That's one of the more honest thoughts you've had all night. Just pure fear there, no ulterior motive. No cover-up. You're scared of making him angry, and that's all there is to it.

"Your perfection is the lack of fear, isn't it?" Johnny's voice was emotionless. "That's what you said before. That means...the most basic solution to that problem would be to remove the source of the fear."

The...the pacing of his words sounds familiar.

"That means you have to trust me." Johnny blinked slowly, but he still didn't look at Edgar. It was like he wasn't there. They were inches apart, face to face on the same pillow, and Edgar couldn't have been further away. "That means I have to make you trust me. Well, not exactly. More like...I have to earn your trust."

Edgar...

What?

Edgar, he's talking like you.

What?

Listen to him. The way he's phrasing his words. The way he's choosing them, even...the pauses. He's talking like you. He's imitating your voice.

That's...no. That's not true, that's ridiculous.

Just listen. No sarcastic comment at his denial. Just listen.

"You don't trust me because I've...well, I am insane for one thing. And there's the fact that I have hurt you in the past." Johnny didn't move, although Edgar knew he was talking about the scars. Johnny's eyes did not move from whatever it was they were staring at. "You told me there are no guarantees in the future. That you could not promise me things could get better. There may be some truth to that, as I can't promise you that I won't hurt you in the future either, although I don't want to. I can't promise you that I'll be sane, as much as I wish that I could. I can't promise you that I'll always have...control. I want control, certainly, but I don't know how long I'll have it. I don't know how long this period will last. I can't hear anything here, I haven't heard anything for a while. But it's a matter of time. I can't remember anything before when it all started. It would only make sense that it may eventually start again."

He sounds just like you. Can't you tell? Listen to that. He's even pronouncing words the same way.

I...I don't understand...why would he do that?

"But on the other hand...you said you thought it was possible." Johnny's voice remained even throughout his entire speech. Without emotion. "You told me that you were willing to try. Or to learn to trust me, I guess the logical conclusion would be. You are willing to put yourself at that risk. You said that you thought it was possible that in the future, things could get better. I don't know for sure that I'll become a slave for the universe again. I don't know for sure if things will get better. I don't know if I'll be able to protect you. I don't know if what's happening to you...ignorance."

Edgar wanted to say something, but he couldn't think of anything to say.

Protect me from what? Himself?

"Do you believe me, Edgar?" Johnny's eyes moved and his voice regained some small amount of emotion. It was almost as if he had awoken from some kind of trance. "Do you trust my words, if not my future actions?"

Edgar maintained eye-contact as he faded back into Johnny's reality. "I think I've always trusted your words. However...as earlier times have shown...sometimes your actions are...independent of your words."

You're lucky he's so...what's the word...robotic right now. I have a feeling he wouldn't have let that pass in one of his other moods.

Johnny's eyes flicked back and forth, and Edgar could guess that Johnny was studying his features. He was still imitating Edgar's speech pattern, although emotion was working its way through. "Do you believe me when I say that wasn't my intention?"

Edgar couldn't nod in his current position. "I do..."

"Do you believe me when I say that I've been under some horrible monster's control for god knows how long, and I haven't been able to make my own choices in my life for as long as I can remember?"

Normally Edgar would have faltered at this question. But he was there, or at least he thought he was, when it all had ended. "I do, yes."

"Do you think that now that that monster's gone, things could change? Do you think that I can become...consistent?"

Edgar ran the edge of the blanket through his fingers and could feel exhaustion creeping up on him again. "I definitely think that will lead to change. I can't say what kind, but things will definitely change. It would only make sense."

"But I'm still crazy."

Edgar wasn't sure if he had to agree to that. He didn't say anything.

"Do you think it's possible..." Johnny was still staring at him, not through him. A good sign. "Do you think it's possible that your fear is because of what I was before...and not what I could become?"

"I'd say it's possible." Edgar blinked longer than he intended, and he snapped back to wakefulness with a mental curse. It was harder to resist falling asleep now that he was lying down again. "Nnf, yeah, it's possible."

Johnny stared at him again, probably because Edgar hadn't been trying particularly hard to hide the fact he was tired. He had no idea what time it was. Did he have work tomorrow? Didn't matter anyway, his alarm clock was shot without power...

"Do you think there's a future for me?"

Not for you, Edgar. For him. Note the lack of "us."

At this point, he was too tired to care.

"Sure..."

"Do you think I can get better?"

"Sure..." Edgar focused hard on keeping his eyes open. He found his attention drifting, and he was planning his words less cautiously than he rightly should.

"Do you think we can be perfect?"

"Sure..." It occurred to him that it might sound suspicious if he just repeated himself. "I mean, yeah...I think it's possible. I said that before, didn't I...?"

"Do you think you'll be okay?" Johnny's voice was getting softer. It sounded like he was whispering.

"Me?"

"Yeah."

"I'm sure I'll be fine..." Edgar glanced at the lantern on the desk. "I usually make it out of things okay..."

You're not thinking straight.

"Do you trust me? I mean...would you trust me with you?"

"Uh...what?"

"No..." Johnny didn't seem to have heard him. "You already did...never mind. This is up to me now."

"Yeah..." Edgar felt he had to contribute, although he wasn't sure what Johnny was talking about. At the time it seemed a valid contribution, but Edgar was shifting in and out of wakefulness at that point. His eyes were closed.

He wasn't sure if he should leave it at that. Had to say something...

"I think we'll be okay..."

The last thing he remembered saying. After that, he was dimly aware of someone touching him softly, maybe blankets moving, and then nothing else.

Chapter Text

Edgar.

Mmph, not yet.

Edgar, wake up.

Nnnno.

Knowledge that his dreamtime was now limited and temporary. Already visions, ideas, people and places, all vanishing with the knowledge that consciousness was approaching. Grasping at straws, at feelings there are no words for.

"Edgar."

Voice scratched the inside.

Nnn, just a little longer, jus' let me...let me remember this, just...just wait...

"Edgar, wake up."

He wanted to remember, he wanted to remember what he had seen, what he felt, what had happened. The things he had done, what he said, what he accomplished, the vistas and falls and the spiral downwards and upwards and all of it was fading. He struggled to hold onto the few scraps that lingered, those glimpses that spoke of depths sliding out of his grip.

"Wake up, Edgar! This is important!"

Gone. Waking up, even if his eyes were closed. He knew that voice. It was an easy target for his resentment.

"Nnngh, leave me alone..."

"For god's sake-! Edgar, wake up. There's something important you forgot about."

As if to spite Scriabin, Edgar deliberately turned away and reached out to pull the blankets over his head.

"I don't have to go to work today, leave me alone."

"Okay, one, that's not true. And two, this is more important than that anyway."

His hand couldn't grasp anything. He reached around a bit more in confusion, woke up a little more. Where are my blankets? Did I kick them off?

"Edgar. Edgar! Fine. You know what you forgot last night?"

Edgar made an irritated noise, but knew he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep now. He began to move, push himself up onto his elbows and orient himself, then burning pain spread through his lower back.

He hissed in surprise. He moved his arms, forced himself to sit upright through the aching. Questing fingers did not find anything on the skin, but felt the heat that he was sure came from...something.

"What the...why am I so sore? What is this?" Edgar wasn't talking to Scriabin, and he knew that.

"Edgar, you left the front door open."

It took a few moments for the full implication of that to sink in.

"No I didn't."

Scriabin sighed in annoyance. "Yes, you did. You meant to close it, then you forgot."

"No, no..." Edgar felt around his desk for his glasses. "No, I wouldn't have done that. I'm sure I must've closed it at some point...maybe before I went to sleep, I can't remember..."

"You left the door open, Edgar, end of story. If you can't remember, then I certainly can."

"Where are my glasses?" Again talking to no one in particular. They weren't on his desk. Where did he put them? What did he do last night, anyway?

"They're by your side. You're lucky you didn't roll over on them when you two were sleeping."

That woke Edgar up.

Two...us. Nny.

"Is he still here?" Edgar felt for his glasses with increasingly quicker motions. "Is he still here?"

"How should I know? I'm not telepathic. Wouldn't want to be, considering who we're talking about."

"Did you see him leave? Why am I wearing this?"

Scriabin didn't answer for a few seconds. Edgar found his glasses in the meantime, ran a finger over the cracked glass.

"How, exactly, do you think I would have seen Nny do anything?"

"Going to have to get these fixed..." Edgar sighed, then turned to his desk. His neck protested the motion with a thick and dull pain. "Where are you, anyway?"

"Where's your toy."

"Where are you," Edgar said with more anger than he intended.

"Where's your toy," Scriabin responded in the exact same way.

Edgar tried to move and found that the ache was not going away any time soon. Maybe a shower would help, but that would come later. He leaned over the side of his bed, checked the floor. He saw a blank sheet of paper lying beside his bed at what looked like a curiously intentional angle.

Nny, probably. More investigation later.

Not beside the bed. Edgar turned to the desk, looked between it and the mattress. He saw Scriabin lying on the floor with one arm twisted backwards.

He reached down and picked up the action figure, set him back on the desk. Fixed the arm.

"The door, Edgar." Scriabin's voice was filled with hate, and Edgar wasn't sure why. Then Edgar nodded, and that was something he couldn't readily explain either.

He forced himself to get up. As he stood, adjusted his clothes, he glanced back at the bed. The sheets were rumpled and there was a solitary blanket kicked near the foot of the bed; the fleece one he normally kept beneath the main comforter. How did that happen?

Morning amnesia. Well, you've only been asleep a few hours. The real fun won't begin until you start to remember things.

His entire body ached all over. It hurt to walk. Why? He hadn't engaged in any strenuous activity. Although, on second thought, he had been in his share of tense situations lately.

Do you want to know what happened last night?

Couldn't remember much of anything. The last thing he could recall was the sound of Scriabin yelling at him, drowning out everything else, and after that everything got blurry. He remembered talking with Nny about something, but he couldn't really remember what.

You two talked about solving problems. The hatred was slowly fading into amusement again. Scriabin knew how Edgar would react. That was how he sounded. You were side by side on the bed, talking. He said he wanted to be you.

Edgar groped for the doorknob of his room and kept missing. Needed to wake up more, maybe coffee. It was still fairly dark outside. He looked back and saw that outside was a dark gray. Rain? That's right, it had rained the previous day. It must still be raining now. No lights...that's why it was dark.

You fell asleep while he was talking. Scriabin's voice got softer. He watched you for a few minutes. Started crying. Babbling on about you, about how he was going to hurt you. Just like I said.

Somehow I don't believe you. Finally managed to catch the doorknob. His fingers felt clumsy.

Said he wanted to be you. He got closer to you, and he raised up one of your arms and put it around him, and then he curled up right against your chest. He put his head beneath your chin, closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around your body. He cried into your shirt while you slept. Want to be you. Want to be permanent. Want this to be permanent. Don't want everything to disappear. Don't want you to disappear. To break.

Still don't believe you. Edgar yawned and took a few steps out into his hallway. The carpet felt cool...from the water from their clothes before, that must be it. He walked towards his front door, rubbing at his eyes. Why should I believe you.

He touched your hair, and your face. Those scars beneath your eyes. And then he slid a hand underneath your shirt-

Oh stop it. Edgar thought with irritation. You try too hard.

Then why are you so sore? Could hear the smile in Scriabin's voice. Can't tell me that, can you? Unless, you were awake that night, and you did something you don't want to remember...

Almost to his front door when he realized it was closed.

And denial is what you do best. Easy to erase memories. Easy to pretend it never happened if you regret it. Why is your lower back sore in particular? Are you curious?

It's not working. I know he'd never do that. He'd never want to do that. Nice try though. Edgar felt strangely calm as he stared at the door that he now distinctly remembered not closing. He'd never want to do that to me.

With you.

To me.

Is that it? Scriabin said slowly. Is that where the real crux of the problem lies? The fact that Nny's feelings are a certainty for you, that they could never lead to him touching you, that he could never ever feel any kind of sexual attraction for you, that that's real? And therefore, the real issue, the real reason you deny and insult and divert, all of that is because you don't know how you feel, you can't trust yourself? Is that it, Edgar? If I changed the story around, if I changed it just that bit so that you were awake, and while Johnny lay across from you, you reached out a hand and brushed the hair from his eyes, that you reached out and pulled him close to you, would that make the difference? The thought that you, you of all people in the world, wanted it? Is all this fear of yours the fear that you could want it? Not even that you do, necessarily, but that you could?

Not the same rhythm, intensity, biting venom from last night. But it still hurt.

He closed his eyes? When?

A loud noise caught his attention. Edgar turned towards his kitchen. Kneeling on the counter, hands hidden inside of one of his cupboards, was Johnny. He was staring at the dropped can with some measure of resentment.

"Oh, Nny..." Edgar yawned again. Johnny turned to stare at him and his eyes widened. Had he really not noticed him before?

"Edgar," Johnny said with some awkwardness, then picked up the dropped can. He put it back into the cupboard without a sound. "I'm surprised you're awake."

I'm surprised you're here.

"Mmm, yeah, I was going to...check the door for...check if the door was closed. Did you close it?" That was a stupid question. Too late now. "Just wanted to make sure..."

Johnny kept staring at him and nodded slowly.

"Make..." That's right, the power was out, and therefore making coffee was not an option. Not making instant. "Nnh, sorry. Never mind."

"What, are you hungry?" Purely clinical question. Johnny got down off the counter.

Was he? Maybe. Could probably go for something. "I don't know, sure. Yeah, fine."

Johnny stepped away from the cupboards, but made no further move.

You didn't really think he was going to make you breakfast, did you Edgar?

I don't think so.

"I'd suggest the eggs in that case." Johnny held his arms behind his back. "The power still hasn't come back. They may go bad."

"Okay." Edgar nodded at what he hoped was Johnny's general direction and walked towards the fridge.

That's right, all the perishable food...God, how much longer will this outage be? This is so irritating.

Glinting. Edgar turned and noticed there was broken glass in the kitchen sink. He looked back at Johnny, who just stared at him in return.

Probably won't get an explanation for that.

Unless you, you know, asked. But I have a feeling you won't do that.

Normally, he would have felt a little more self-conscious as he gathered utensils and such from various parts of the kitchen, but he still felt exhausted. The aching didn't help any. He thought his muscles were twitching for a moment, but then realized that the motions were too rhythmic. His heart. He could feel his blood beating through his skin.

Thankfully, he had a gas stove. The previous tenant had been less than careful with it, which is what probably led to their eventual eviction. The landlord barely gave Edgar a second glance before handing him the keys. At the time, Edgar thought it was because he appeared responsible.

Now.

Shook his head.

Now...the white sign with the white letters.

I keep hearing words, faint words not in a voice that I recognize. From somewhere deep, somewhere very deep. A threat. Themselves. Quiet. Do you know anything about this?

Too tired to think too hard. Was probably going to eat then go back to sleep, if that was okay.

If it's okay.

Johnny left the kitchen at some point. Edgar wasn't sure when. One moment, he could feel his eyes burning into his back, then the next he could hear the television. He didn't hear him turn it on, then guessed that maybe it had been on the whole time. He wasn't exactly paying a great deal of attention.

An obligation. Something, something biting at him. Had to do...something. What was it? Had to...

Ah, that was it.

"Nny, do you want anything while I'm doing...cooking?" Edgar felt around in his cupboard for the matches. "I can make you something, if you want."

"No." Very brief response.

Was that aggression?

It was too early for this. Late. That in itself was annoying. What time was it? Again, the wish for a watch.

"Mmm, okay."

He taught himself to cook. Why not? Nothing special, but enough.

It's not like you had anything better to do with your time.

The burner click click clicked, wanted the match to stop the gas flow. A flick of the wrist and it was done.

How long can eggs last unfrig- unrefrigerated anyway?

Got the impression that he shrugged. Somehow. Scriabin didn't have a body, what was he talking about?

Too tired. God his back hurt.

A real quiet death would be to just leave the burner on. Block up the windows. Let the gas fill the room.

Where did that come from?

Could have happened last night. Nny could have just carefully blocked all the entrances, then left the gas running and left. Or stayed. Maybe he'd die with me.

He was losing track of who was talking.

Stop imitating me.

Ha ha ha.

I mean, stop imitating my voice. He narrowed his eyes. It's, just cut it out.

Yes, such a vicious and cutting remark will surely stop me in my tracks.

That's better.

Eggs. Edgar wasn't sure why he had so many eggs. He couldn't eat this many. Had he made a cake at some point, was that why he had almost a dozen eggs in his fridge? When on earth would he have made a cake? Why don't they sell eggs in packs of six?

It would have been convenient if Nny wanted some eggs. Less of them spoiling. Even if he never would have had a use for what seemed at the time an unreasonable amount of eggs, he didn't like the idea of wasting them.

That's why you never throw anything away.

I do too, I just don't like wasting food.

I present as exhibit A, your hall closet.

He tried to think of anything else he could put on eggs that would help empty his potentially spoiling fridge, but all he could think of was cheese. He was pretty sure the cheese would be fine.

Something fell down in the closet.

"Nny?"

No response.

It was probably him. Edgar turned back to the frying pan as if he was more involved than just poking the eggs with a fork occasionally. Maybe...that's right, maybe putting the lamp away.

I don't think so.

So tired. His body hurt so consistently. He wanted to get a chair and sit down, but that would make watching his eggs somewhat problematic.

Oh God, that's right. Did you say I had work today?

Well, technically I did. But-

Uhf, I'm probably late anyway. Not going. I'm going to sleep.

...Okay.

It wasn't a sarcastic response. It was more like surprise. More clarification needed.

Is that what you wanted me to do?

...Yes, actually, if you're curious.

Okay, that explains that.
Another short pause like the one before.

Not going to attack me for that? Not going to say something like "See Scriabin, see what you do, you always want me to listen to you and then when I do, you're shocked!"

Nah.

Edgar stared at the yolk of the eggs. Could he eat this much? He probably could. Did he...yeah, there were definitely three eggs. Probably fine.

He got the strong impression that Scriabin was somewhat disconcerted by the conversation.

Tired.

He poked the intact yolk and watched as it began bleeding over the tines of the fork. Thick yellow fluid pooled and the yolk disintegrated, disappeared. Now just yellow-white.

Scrambled now. Some quick motions of the fork, and what he'd done was quickly erased. No harm done.

He looked over to the television, caught sight of Johnny and his hair backlit with flashing colors. It looked like antenna from here. He was probably done with the closet, whatever he'd done in it.

He rubbed at his neck. What on earth had he been doing last night? He didn't remember anything. Then again, the last time he had slept was before the phone call, and after that...too much stress and tension. That was it.

Too much sex. Scriabin ventured cautiously. Definitely more bothered by Edgar's current state of mind than he was letting on. Consciously letting on.

No, don't think so. Edgar let the thought cross his mind more as an obligatory objection, poured eggs onto a plate. No.

He seemed a bit more comforted by Edgar's resistance, no matter how lifeless. Do you think he's eaten at all?

Who-, no. Probably not.

Glass in the sink?

Probably dropped something.

He considered going to join Johnny by the television, but he didn't like eating over the carpet. Kitchen table instead.

How much sleep did I get?

Are you seriously asking me?

Yeah. Bland. Salt.

I don't know exactly.

Were you sleeping too?

...Do you think I can? Dismissive.

How long?

Not sure, I told you. Only a few hours before I remembered about the door and decided to wake you up.

Huh.

He found a glass of juice on the table. He was pretty sure he must have poured it. Made sense, that was perishable. Didn't exactly remember the motions or the mental decisions to do so, but there it was. Tasted fine, if a little warm.

Are you going back to sleep after this?

Yeah.

Good.

Making his way through the fluff on his plate. Maybe he should have added the cheese.

You know...I'd tell you how strangely you're acting, but I don't think you'd really...appreciate it in the mood you're in.

"Mmhmm."

Don't do that.

He put the fork in his mouth then focused on the sensation of metal against his lips.

Just like-...ugh, I can't even do it when you're like this. It's like kicking a dead man.

Could feel the metal slowly warming. Wasn't sure how long he left the fork in his mouth. Time was pretty relative now. Still raining. Well, if it had only been a few hours...

Eyes closed.

Get that fork out of your mouth before you fall forward and stab your brain.

He complied without arguing.

This worries me, Edgar. Scriabin sounded vaguely nervous. Maybe. Maybe this is just something I'm unfamiliar with, but I don't think so. I have memories to go through, references, a whole card catalogue and yet, nothing like how you're acting now. Maybe you forgot, that's understandable. Doesn't make it any less unnerving.

"Mmhmm."

Stop doing that. I'd tell you to wake up, but I want you to go back to sleep as soon as possible.

He felt something very lightly touch his shoulder. Normally, he would have been more alert, would have heard someone coming or at least would have reacted with a jump or something like that.

He turned his head.

Johnny stood behind his chair, hands resting on the back. Must have brushed by him by accident.

"Are you awake?" Delivered with more intensity than Johnny probably intended. Edgar couldn't tell. He wasn't good at this, particularly now.

Stabbed eggs. "Not really."

Johnny took a seat next to him.

"Are you going to go back to sleep?"

"What time is it?" He blinked at Johnny. He thought he did. When his eyes were open he found his hand had drifted and he was stabbing the tablecloth.

Johnny did not look pleased.

"I'm not sure. There's no power."

No power...

"Right..."

No power, no power. EDGAR. EDGAR, SHIT.

What!? What, Jesus.

No power means no TV!

Edgar blinked. Very slowly coming through. He turned around to where he had seen Johnny watching the television and saw it was off. Blank. The VCR he had never managed to program correctly blank.

But...

Oh shit.

Nngh...

"Edgar...?"

Eggs half gone. Not hungry anymore.

"Uhhn..." He pushed the plate away, rested his head on the table on folded hands. "Nny, what were you doing?"

"Nothing." His voice was very quiet. "I wasn't doing anything. I organized your cupboards."

"No I mean...ugh God. God I need to sleep. Everything's getting all..."

But we heard it, and he was watching it, if it wasn't on, then what was he doing. Fuck this shouldn't be affecting me, I shouldn't have seen that, I- shit. Shit shit SHIT

"The door..."

"Yeah, the door."

You shouldn't swear so much. The problem with thinking is that it can be so hard to control. Scriabin completely ignored him.

What were they talking about?

"God, why does my back hurt...ugh!" Edgar felt a sudden intense burst of rage that he couldn't even begin to explain. He ended up slamming a clenched fist into the table once sharply before he realized what he was doing. Rage gone as quickly as it had come, and he automatically checked to make sure that his glass was upright. Hadn't spilled. He liked this tablecloth.

Nny. He turned and saw him staring. Johnny looked hurt somehow.

"It's not you, it's just...uh, I'm tired. This doesn't make any sense. I'm just...going to sleep. I'm going back to sleep."

"How much do you remember from last night?" His voice. Suddenly unfamiliar, grating. Piercing. Hate-

Edgar! Edgar, go to sleep! Stop thinking about it!

Shut up, don't tell me what to do. Frustration quickly diverted towards Scriabin.

"I...I don't know. I don't know right now, I'm...tired. Tired." Not in the mood for answering questions. Mild resentment at the implication that he would know the answer to those questions anyway.

No reply from anyone.

"You didn't sleep, did you?" Edgar wanted his arms to move, wanted to lift his head back up and at least get back to his bed, but nothing. The aching didn't exactly motivate him.

"No." Johnny smiled weakly.

"Uh-huh. Makes sense..." Pushing muscles. His heartbeat shook his body. Burning. "Maybe I'm...I don't know...just tired."

"Your back hurts?"

"Yeah...okay, getting up now." He hoped saying it out loud would motivate him to move. His arms still refused to comply. Still had his head on his hands and the pain in his back was spreading steadily up his spine, through his shoulder blades. Crawling up his neck. Had to get up before it got too far had to get up

Johnny gently shaking his shoulder. "Don't fall asleep here. That won't help."

His eyes had closed again. His back still hurt. Body hurt.

"Right..." Edgar blinked hard, focused on the pain to keep himself up, keep himself awake. Pushed at his muscles, pushed but nothing happened. "Getting up now." Not getting up now.

Pause. No movement.

Eyes still open. Followed Johnny's thin wrist. Protruding bone, veins and white. White.

"Hey...you put the gauze in then...put the gauze on I mean." Edgar thought maybe he smiled, although he couldn't think of any reason why that wasn't stupid at the time. Johnny blinked then stared down at his bandaged wrist.

"Right...it burned a little."

"Haha yeah...that's why I got it." His voice was drifting. He was drifting. "Got the gauze, I mean...thought you should but didn't say."

Pause again. Johnny tapped a thin finger against the cloth, watched tendons flex beneath the gauze.

"Why not?"

"I don't know...um, you seemed angry I guess. Didn't want to bother you."

Another pause. Edgar fell asleep again, he was sure. The crawling pain was back, moving over his scalp. Spiders.

Claws on his shoulder. "Edgar, don't sleep here. Go to bed."

"Haha, I can't move."

Edgar wasn't sure why he sounded so nonchalant and it scared him. First real emotion he could remember. Automatic unconscious explanation, logic, excuse, cover-up.

"Guess it hurts too much. I'll get up though, I will."

Johnny looked concerned.

He could feel Scriabin's concern, although he didn't say anything.

"I-I just can't get started. Can I ask you for help?" He wasn't quite sure who he intended the question for. There weren't any other sentient beings in the house that he was aware of, yet he somehow got the impression that he was asking the juice glass he was staring at so intently. That may have been why he was so surprised when he got an answer.

Johnny didn't say anything, but he did move. He reached out and pulled Edgar's hands out from beneath his chin. The motion was enough to get Edgar moving somewhat. He leaned back in the chair, and his body screamed in response.

Stronger than he looked. He remembered thinking that a long time ago when he woke up in the machine. Frail-looking but terribly strong. Johnny pulled him out of the chair without much grace, quickly looped Edgar's arm around his shoulders. The chair might have tipped, Edgar wasn't sure, there was a lot of noise at the moment.

Memory of strength broke through that frail image. He should have felt scared, should have remembered what happened, what could happen, what would happen to him at Johnny's hands, but nothing. No fear, but quite possibly because no coherency.

"I'm sorry, I know you hate being touched..." Guilt and pain all at once. Couldn't really see where he was going.

Stumbled through to Edgar's bedroom.

God, he hated making pained noises. He hated doing that. It seemed self-indulgent. He hated it. Self-pitying. Surely Scriabin would approve of such criticism. Couldn't help it though, the aching made it hard for his legs to move at all. Occasional soft grunts of pain that he tried to hide.

"I don't like touching empty things," Johnny finally said.

You won't remember that. I'll keep it in mind for you, though. He doubted it was for beneficial purposes.

Ache in his back working its way through his chest. When Johnny rested him on the bed, he curled up on his side immediately. Instinctual self-protective position.

Closed his eyes.

Pain but he was afraid to move, afraid to stretch. Afraid that might make it worse. Curled up into a miserable ball and wished and prayed it would stop.

Not sure how much time passed. Without much warning, he felt a sudden onset of warmth across his back, from his shoulders down to his waist, and he gasped. Couldn't turn or move though, the pain was fading. He kept himself as still as possible, feared that any kind of motion would ruin it, bring the pain back. Heat would make the ache go away and make sleep possible...

Something scratched his cheek, fabric, then he was asleep again and gone.

~~~

When Edgar woke up again, it was natural. The gradual disappearance of his dreams was not something he tried to fight. His body wanted to move, wanted to do things again, and he came back to consciousness without struggle.

He could not remember anything in great detail about the last time he had woken up, but he got the distinct impression that he may have done or said something foolish in the process. That he had been less than lucid at the time. Understandable. Edgar tended to get the regularly recommended amount of sleep, even during work days, and therefore he had little experience with sleep-deprivation.

Interesting explanation, but lacking some vital factors. Scriabin's voice slowly faded into his mind. That was Before.

Edgar thought for a moment to ask what exactly Scriabin meant, but found he knew. That's right, Before. I remember now...I had trouble sleeping back then as well. But nothing like...whenever it was that I last woke up.

How much do you remember?

Not a lot, although even with the vague memories I do have, it's enough to feel embarrassed. Do I always get like that when I don't get enough sleep?

He didn't answer.

Edgar turned over slowly, remembering that, if nothing else, he had been in a lot of pain when he had woken up before. The aching had subsided a great deal, lingering tinges but nothing major. He felt resistance against his back, something brushing up against him.

With some confusion, Edgar pushed himself up into a sitting position and looked. There was a towel on his bed.

Odd...

Edgar ran a hand over it, felt something underneath the fabric. He unfolded the towel and saw three water bottles, much like the three he kept in his fridge.

What the...?

Do you want to know?

Edgar glanced over at Scriabin and saw light glinting off his glasses folded at the action figure's feet. He reached over to put them on. I don't think I trust you.

One of these days Edgar, you're really going to have to ask yourself about what you think my intentions are. Why you think I'm constantly lying to you.

I think it may be because you always have lied to me.

Tell me one time I lied to you that you proved without a shadow of a doubt.

Edgar noticed that the cap on one of the water bottles hadn't been screwed on all the way. It had leaked and soaked through the towel and subsequently, through to the bed. Not too much though. It'd probably dry by itself.

You don't lie about those kind of things. You lie about me and who I am.

Aaaand, where's your evidence? Still haven't given me any evidence.

Well for one thing, I'm not gay. Edgar glared at Scriabin as he moved the towel and bottles off of his bed, slid them onto the floor.

Did I ever say you were, exactly?

To be honest, Edgar was surprised. Are you denying that now?

No, you're not looking at it the right way. Did I ever say, outright, that you were gay? I don't recall doing so, unless it was in some facetious fashion.

Edgar shook his head. Yes you did, you have. That's all you've been doing for the-

There's that trait that makes Christians so lovably endearing to others. The complete inability to see things in shades of gray. I never said you were gay, Edgar. In fact, I never said you even had feelings-

Yes you did! Couldn't exactly remember something specific, which added to his frustration because he knew, he knew-

No I didn't.

Yes you did!

No I didn't. Is it just me, or is this getting a bit childish? No. I presented you with evidence. With questions, and you answered them for me. The fact of the matter is I have never outright said you were anything, unless it was a hypocrite or something of that nature. The facts, Edgar, the facts are that I raise questions that you don't like, that you read into, and then you shut me out. I question you, Edgar, and you can't answer me. That's what you hate about me, isn't it? That I ask too many questions.

You're a liar. That's not true. Edgar got out of bed and stood. He stretched, took a step, and heard a loud crinkling beneath his feet. A sheet of paper. You've always been trying to make me something I'm not.

I've been trying to make you face up to what you are.

See? There, that's what I'm talking about. You think that, you think that I have those feelings, and you're wrong.

You're putting words in my mouth. He almost sounded amused. That's a change.

You're wrong. You think I am, don't you? You do. You wouldn't make all of your stupid double-entendre laden comments about Nny if you didn't.

I don't think, Edgar. I know.

There! That's exactly what I was talking about!

I know you'll never accept it. That's why I ask you those questions. I hope that someday, maybe you'll realize what you've done. Doing. What you're doing. Besides, do I have to remind you about our fun time in your mind? About what you said there?

I didn't say anything, anything that you can prove. You forced me to lie with fantasies.

And you never answered my question back there. What does that make me, then?

God, I just...ugh. Edgar rubbed at his forehead. What did I even want to ask you in the first place?

The water bottles. It sounded as if he was smirking somehow. I don't mind changing the topic, I know we'll go over it again, and again, and again until you-

So why were they there?

Nny put them there.

Edgar paused for a second.

"Why?" It was a question that he somehow felt deserved physical voice.

"Because your back hurt, basically. He filled them with hot water. Heat alleviates pain."

He looked back at his desk and saw his clock was blinking at him. 12:00.

The power was back.

He looked down at the piece of paper he had stepped on and found something written on it. He leaned down and picked it up, went and flicked on the lights. Black words in a tight scrawl he found familiar.

Maybe I've been too close to you.
Maybe that's been the problem all along.
I'll talk to you again.

"Too close..." Edgar sat back down on the edge of his bed. "Too close...?"

"You don't really remember what happened the last time you were awake, so I guess this may seem strange to you."

"What, do you know what this means?" Edgar rolled his eyes.

"What makes you think I wouldn't? I would hazard to say that in most scenarios, Edgar, I'm a great deal more perceptive than you are."

"You-"

"Otherwise you wouldn't ask for my advice so often, would you?"

"Well then, what does this mean? I didn't do anything to him...I'm not sure why he'd leave me a note like this. I remember...I remember explaining that my frustration last night wasn't his fault. I don't want him to think that I was angry at him by any means..."

"You don't remember, and that's what makes this the most pitiful thing. Although I doubt it will be unusual in days to come...at any rate, I do remember what you did in your sleepy haze some twelve hours ago."

"Twelve hours!"

"Yes, this time I tried to keep track. That's not important though. I think Johnny is worried about his influence on you, and I think your sleep-deprived episode earlier on may have given him the wrong impression. After all, he does have a tendency to jump to conclusions."

"But..." Edgar stared at the note. "It wasn't..."

"Yes, that's what makes this so deliciously ironic. It wasn't his fault. You were just tired. But it could be that those half-started sentences, your broken thoughts and nonsensical connections, he could have thought that was him."

Edgar couldn't think of anything he wanted to say in front of Scriabin. Muffled his mental words. He could hear a soft laugh.

"I know what you're trying to do. The garbled noise itself can tell so much. This is beautiful in so many ways. Think about it, Edgar...been too close. Maybe he's been too close all along. Do you think this is it, Edgar? Do you think that maybe Johnny has finally realized that this relationship isn't healthy, that he will and is hurting you, and he's going to end it, not with a stab, but with a letter?"

"No..."

"Your last connection, your last shining thread connecting you to anyone, anywhere. What has it been all this time? Threaded through your body, through your mind, through your tongue and through your brain, and now it's gone. The puppeteer has left."

"No, that can't be true..." He could feel the beginnings of anger, but it had no direction. Not that he could discern just yet.

"He'll talk to you again, but it will be to say good-bye. Your sleepiness finally got through to him when nothing else would. He knows now and, oh, this is so beautiful, and now that he has a good look, that he's really seen what a farce this whole relationship is, he's horrified. He's going to put an end to it, something you never could. Tell me, Edgar, although I know the answer, did you ever think that you would be the one dumped?"

Scriabin was laughing, but there was something odd about the tone of his voice.

"That can't be true..." Edgar covered his mouth with one hand. "This can't be...no, not after last night." Anger quickly being refocused, rethought. "This doesn't make sense."

"It doesn't make sense because you weren't here last night. Or rather, when you woke up. The only justification you have is what you can't remember!" Still laughing.

"No...no, that can't be right. Everything, everything Johnny has done so far has been to attain his ideal." Easy to slip into measured speech and thought. "Last night, that was all he talked about. Everything for him relates back to that ideal, back to what he wants me to be. For him to suddenly decide that he's giving up...no, he wouldn't do that. Johnny's nothing if not tenacious."

"Johnny's nothing if not capricious." Scriabin tried to catch his breath. "After all, your life hung on threads too thin for you to even think about now, and it just took one word or one lucky instance to change that fate. Who's to say that your peculiar behavior earlier could have been one of those unfortunate triggers?"

"No, no." Edgar had decided what to believe. "This means something else..."

"Oh does it now? Is your resistance because this misunderstanding is your fault?"

Ignored him. "Too close...he talked about how he was afraid of something happening to me...wanted me to stop being afraid of him...distance, maybe...no. Change...he talked about change."

He set the sheet of paper to one side, looked around his room. "If he's serious about changing, about becoming a better person, then maybe that's where he's gone now...maybe that's why he left."

"Wouldn't that be perfect?" Scriabin snorted. "You're still believing in lies, after everything that I explained to you, you still believe in lies. You're such an optimist."

"I wonder if he left any other papers around here..."

"Yes, mangled some of your other property. Wrote on your mirror with lipstick or blood perhaps, spray-painted a message on your wall. What marvelous disrespect for your things could Johnny have shown this time?"

Edgar stood and ignored Scriabin's voice. He glanced out the window and saw that it was still raining, although not as hard as it had been earlier. He could see the glowing halos of streetlights out in the darkness. Twelve hours...it was sometime in the evening now. Exactly when he wasn't sure, but regardless of the hour he was sure this would ruin his sleeping schedule for the next couple days.

His bedroom door was open. He looked into the hallway. The hallway closet door was open and the lantern sat beside it. Bathroom door was open...any door that Edgar could see was open at the moment.

Well, except the front door.

Do you honestly think he'd change for you? Scriabin did not appreciate being ignored. This tone was familiar. For you, of all people? When his precious Devi couldn't motivate that change?

A minor revenge of non-attention.

Pens scattered across the carpet again. No surprise there. Edgar expected Johnny to have written something somewhere, and assumed that maybe his new books were the victims.

Imagine what Johnny would think if he saw those. I'm sure he'd appreciate being referred to as irredeemably insane. Probably as much as he would about being your spouse.

His cheek itched and he remembered. The bandage had stayed in place overnight, a good sign. He'd pull it off later.

He hadn't thought of his books...

What, are you worried that Johnny will think you think he's nuts? Come ON, Edgar. He's told you that himself countless times. How could that offend him? As it is, you're the only one who's denying what everyone knows is true.

A sheet of paper tucked underneath his couch. He could see glimpses of black and blue lines.

What'll it be this time?

Edgar picked up the sheet of paper, but before he could read any of the writing on it, he caught another glimpse of a sheet caught beneath his coffee table. More writing. He pulled it free and sat down on his couch.

Familiar black writing, blotches and dark hard lines. On one sheet, the pen had actually stabbed through the paper, leaving an indented tear.

want is the problem
control = answer
desire destroys
potential for change
cold - wall - blocking
emotions are the food
learn how

Then Edgar's name, crossed out several times and at one point scribbled over with what looked like a vengeance.

"This isn't like the others..."

These aren't diary entries, you moron. He probably resented how Edgar was too far away for a verbal conversation. Remember what you said about solving problems?

Next sheet written with quick and sharp lines, the limited text peppered with obscenities scrawled with obvious anger.

extension of what I was meant to contain
contain - insanity
definite downward spiral
prevent unpleasant situations
no anger no fear no hatred
careful watch - protection
divert hate flow?

Scriabin hummed for a moment in thought. In the hospital...

"Divert hate flow...?"

You're doing a very good job at hiding something from me, Edgar. I can feel it. More importantly, I know why. Whatever this thing is, it will hurt you. Or you assume that, if I knew about it, I would hurt you with that knowledge.

Stared at the sheet of paper.

You've tried to hide things from me before and failed, but this time, you're working quite hard. The conversation in the hospital, however, is my key.

Feeding a delusion...

You may say that, but I don't believe you. I don't believe you. There are too many coincidences for me to believe you were just playing along. It'd be one thing if you two had differing visions of...whatever this is, but your visions worked together, and that's the piece, the part that matters.

It wasn't anything...nothing happened. I don't know what happened.

A very badly knit sweater, and I just have to find the thread that will cause the whole thing to unravel. You aren't as good at this as I am, Edgar. When I find the one question, that one question, everything will fall apart.

"I don't want to talk about it."

Haven't heard you say that in a while.

"I don't!" Edgar stood up, found his hands were clenched into fists. "I don't, I don't want to, leave me alone!"

He stared at the floor, tried to find any other pieces to the puzzle that Johnny left him.
Another sheet beneath a pillow on the floor. He knelt down, pulled it free.

Just his name. His and Johnny's, scrawled over and over. Letters on top of one another, blotches and rips and what looked like distortion from water. Johnny must have spilled something...

Johnny's name written with jagged, sharp capital letters.

Edgar's written in lower case.

"Leave me alone!" Preemptive, or so he hoped.

A moment of silence.

Make me.

"I don't have to listen to you!" Rising emotion and his voice was changing pitch. He dropped the sheet of paper, saw it flutter to the floor. He felt his hands against his forehead before he remembered moving.

Is that so? Infuriating calm.

"Nothing happened! Shut up!"

Nothing happened.

"Nothing happened!" His voice cracked and he started coughing. Once he started, he found he couldn't stop. As his breath became shorter and more difficult, he felt the brief onset of panic. Every short expulsion of breath made him want more, want it faster, air rushing in too fast and burning and out again and tearing. He was desperate to breathe, but he kept coughing longer and he could feel the back of his throat bleeding.

Desperation forced him to his knees, one hand to his throat as he gasped for air. Couldn't hear, and watched his glasses fall across his name, shattering the letters through cracked lenses. Finally it stopped, the spasming stopped and he took a deep and long breath.

His throat felt fine, no bleeding then, just a little sore...

Well, that was an impressive tantrum. Accomplishes nothing, though.

"Nothing..." His voice sounded strange.

Has it occurred to you that that's less than convincing? Ah, the irony of it all. If only you hadn't chatted with Nny at the hospital about whatever it was that happened, then this thread would never have come to light. May I ask you straight out, or would you prefer another seizure first?

He put his glasses back on, but closed his eyes right afterward. He gripped his upper arms, felt as though there was no flesh on his bones.

I just, I'm not sure, I don't know, nothing...

Edgar, did you go to "Heaven" after our chat?

No.

No? Then just what were you and Johnny talking about in the hospital?

Some kind of...shared delusion I don't know. He felt his fingers digging deeper into his skin, felt it cool as blood was forced out by pressure. It wasn't real. It couldn't have been real. None of it, none of it happened. It was a dream, some kind of sick dream, some kind of...some...you.

I'm sorry, what?

You. He opened his eyes, felt his hands shaking from the pressure he was exerting. It was you.

I... He sounded genuinely surprised. I'm not sure what you mean.

It was you, it was you, it was you. Edgar clenched as hard as he could, frustration that this was as much pressure he was capable of through his hands, pressed harder, shaking furiously. "It was you, you're the one that did that to me."

I...what? What are you talking about?

"You, you liar. You've always lied to me. You've lied to me about everything." Edgar's voice was low and dark. "You've always lied to me, always presented those pictures, those scenarios of possibilities and maybes that can never be true, can never happen. It's always been you, you've always been here, you've always lied to me. It was you."

Edgar, what are you talking about?

"I don't know how you did it, how you were able to create an illusion so perfectly horrible...no, I do know. It was because you knew me, you said you read my thoughts. You knew what I was scared of, you knew what I wanted Heaven to be, and you made it, you made it all up, you did it all, trying to trick me..."

No response. He knew it.

"Trying to fool me, trick me, I knew it. You must have, I don't know how, but you must have gotten to Nny somehow, someway, maybe related to...you're not a part of me, you never were. You're an intruder, an invader, a parasite, I know it. I know it, I know you can't be me, you can't be any part of me, you can't be, and you have power. You have power, I saw it last night, you tried...you tried to do something to me. You tried to do something and I don't even know what, but I fought you off, Scriabin, I wouldn't let you take me." Edgar started laughing softly. "I wouldn't let you win, and I won't let you win. You hurt me but I wouldn't let you win, I wouldn't let you. This is all, this is all an elaborate set up, another play, another role for me to take, another web of lies to justify your obsession with Nny. All of it, all to feed this obsession, all of it lies."

Laughing harder now with relief.

"I should have known, I should have guessed. He said he hears voices, maybe he heard yours, maybe you told him what to say, maybe you fed him the same lies, the same scenario, and watched as we played into your hands. All lies, this is all lies, this is all your fault. This is all your fault. This is all your fault."

Slipped into a mantra, didn't notice when he started rocking back and forth. Smiling.

"This is all your fault."

No response.

"This is all your fault."

The words were comforting, familiar, and so real. Couldn't lose them, let them slip away.

"This is all your fault."

No response.

"This is all your fault." His hands loosened their grip and they shook as he peeled his fingers from sticky skin. A dull kind of burn as he moved his arms, flexed his muscles. Still rocking back and forth, and his hands found their familiar home in his hair. What was he staring at?

"This is all your fault."

A very soft voice in Edgar's mind, almost lost in the comforting cycles of repetition.

No it's not.

"Yes it is."

No, Edgar. His voice was still soft. No it isn't.

"Yes it is..." Whispered to match his tone.

I...I don't even know what to say. I don't know what's going on. It's hard for me to say that but I don't know what the hell just happened. I was trying to get at that memory, that dream thing you hid from me, and all of a sudden everything just...I can't even begin to describe it. Everything's falling apart, I'm seeing things blending and changing and the dream thing is multiplying. I'm there, and I don't remember. It didn't sound like he was talking to Edgar. I'm in your memories when I didn't exist. It's like everything suddenly just collapsed, just...I can't even begin. I don't know where to begin. These are your memories, Edgar, these are your facts, without them you have no life, you have no you, and they're...you're changing them. This is you, isn't it? It has to be...

"All your fault..."

The rewriting of history... Scriabin almost sounded afraid. I didn't do this. I didn't make this fantasy. I didn't do this. I wasn't there.

"Yes you were." Gradual calm and cessation of motion. Edgar let his hands fall to his sides and watched his fingers curl again, brief physical memory of the grip on his arms. "I know it, I know the truth."

This isn't real! Scriabin shouted and at the sudden change in volume Edgar winced. This isn't real, Edgar! You can't just, just edit me into your memories and pretend it was my fault! I didn't do this!

"I understand now." He stood. "I understand. Everything makes sense. It was all a lie."

No! I wasn't there! What are you- this wasn't my fault!

"Denial?" He turned towards his bedroom, took a few steps with a crooked smile. "And you said you hated that."

"NO!" Physical voice, a desperate scream. "No, Edgar! This isn't real! You can't pretend like this, you can't do this! It's not real! You can't make reality like this, you can't do this! I wasn't there! Edgar, I wasn't there! I didn't do this to you!"

"You've done so much to me already, and now you won't admit it?" Edgar walked into his bedroom. The action figure was pointing his gun across Edgar's bed, as he always had.

"For the love of GOD!" Scriabin sounded deeply upset, and Edgar wasn't sure why. "I didn't think this would-...Edgar, listen to me. There is a reality, Edgar, a very clear reality and a very clear line that defines that reality-"

"My memories, isn't it?" Edgar sat on his bed, picked up the little action figure.

"Your memories, Edgar! You can't edit those, you can't do that, you have no idea how bad this is, you have no idea what you're doing-"

"You're just upset I caught you. And you wanted proof of being caught in a lie earlier. Well, here we are. All a scheme, a clever deception, isn't it? You've always hated my religion, you've always wanted me to become my own person and renounce God, you've always wanted that, wished for it. I never thought you'd go to such depths, to such lengths-"

"No, Edgar! Stop it! Stop- I..." He paused, struggled with his words. "I didn't do this to you. I asked you a question..."

"So all this...Johnny and his talk of decay...it was your fault..."

"Oh god. Oh god." Sounded increasingly desperate. "Reality, Edgar, reality, think about it please. Think for a moment about what you've done, what you're doing. This isn't real, you just wish it was. You wish I had done this to you, but you can't make it so."

He moved one of Scriabin's arms down to his side. "I knew it."

"God, Edgar, stop! I don't know what to- fucking Christ! You can't do this to me, you can't reconstruct your memories and your life! This is all I have! Shit! This is our reality, Edgar, ours! You can't change it!"

Moved his other arm down.

"I can't believe- I can't- I-" Short words with short breaths. Almost hyperventilating. Edgar imagined the plastic in his hands moving. "I've got to, I've got to calm down, this has gone too far. This is gone way too far, this has gone way out of your depth. That's it, this is it. I need to calm down, because shit! Shit, you're not going to help me!" Fear turned to anger, familiar anger. "You're too weak, you're too weak to pull yourself out of this! You're too weak to stop something that feels so good, you goddamn coward! It's up to me, I have to take control. I have to calm down, I have to do your 'detaching' routine." Lingering deep sarcasm, fierce resentment on an emphasized word. "I can't believe this, I can't believe you did this, I can't believe you're doing this and you don't even think anything is wrong. I can't believe this."

"All along, all along-"

"Shut up!" Scriabin shouted and Edgar dropped him. The action figure fell between his legs, hit the carpet and bounced once. He expected silence and for a moment a cry of pain, but was disappointed on both counts. "Just shut up, you stupid BITCH! I'm trying to think!"

"That's a first." Edgar smiled down at Scriabin. "You want me to shut up?"

A frustrated sound. "I can't believe you're making me do this. I can't believe this. I know it, I know later on, you're going to deny it happened, that you ever needed me. You're going to deny it, going to deny that you were wrong, going to deny everything because that's the only thing you can do anymore because all logic works against you." A familiar sarcastic rhythm, and he sounded less panicked now. "You fucking bastard, you hypocritical son of a bitch, I can't believe you're making me do this. I can't believe you need me to pull you out of your stupid hidey-hole. You need me, you need me and you'll never say it, not now or not afterwards. I get those tinges of regret, but what good are they to me?"

"What, exactly, do you think you're going to do?" Edgar leaned his head on his hands, stared at the action figure on his floor. It didn't move.

"Ugh, your voice....your- just shut up. I've got to appeal to that part of you that can still think, can reason through this, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned that that part is me. Listen to me, Edgar."

"I'm waiting."

"Shut up and listen to me..." A few seconds pause, harsh breathing. "Think about it. If I could talk to Johnny, if I could somehow communicate with him, don't you think I would have done so already?"

"Maybe you've been doing that all along, and I just never knew."

Mumbled words for a brief moment. "If that's the case, Edgar, then what does that make your current relationship? You're so intent on protecting Johnny from my attacks, you almost had a seizure last night when I told you exactly what was wrong with him. If I made him that way, why do you argue with me about it? What would I have to gain by doing that to him? What would that do?"

Edgar got up and walked out of the room.

I've got to find a way- look around, Edgar. The voice back in his head, although it sounded strained. Look around, find something else. Find a note, find something.

"I don't have to listen to you."

You don't have to, Edgar, you never have. But you should.

Another sheet of paper, this time peeking out from beneath his television.

satan - waste lock
wasn't meant to be a lock
no more voices
quiet introverted people
alone - can't be alone
edgar - candidate, not sure
system can be beaten
have to find way to beat the system
won't let this happen
prevent hate and anger
collapse must be prevented
sanity - logic
logic - safety
safety - security
keep him safe
must be clear at all times can't be clouded
must learn how

Heard something in the back of his head, a soft whine of pain...it had to be. This-, this is-, have to-...look, Edgar, look. I- You were right. Scriabin's voice was quiet, but not calm. Look, see, you were right. Oh god, get off me- you were right, Edgar, look. He is trying to change. He's trying to change.

"I..." Edgar couldn't register what Scriabin said. "I was right...?"

I see, I- oh god thank you...yes, Edgar, yes you were. Soft, soothing voice. You were right. I was wrong.

"Wrong...you were wrong...?"

Yes, Edgar, yes I was. Johnny's trying to change for you, see? He wants to learn how to deal with this, he wants to learn how to protect you. I can see what you've created in here, where you've inserted me into this bizarre fantasy, and I don't know how much of it is real anymore. I can't trust what this memory tells me because I know some parts are false, and that throws the entire thing into question. His voice was still very soft, a quiet and comforting lull. Edgar sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. I have nothing to judge it against except what Johnny said in the hospital, and that only adds pieces. If this whole waste-lock business that I- ggh, Satan talked about is real, then this is a threat we have to consider, but Johnny already has considered it. He's attempting to change, to change himself to fight the system for you.

I was right...

Yes you were, Edgar, you were right. His voice almost sounded melodic. He never heard him talk this way before. I can admit that I was wrong, I can admit that I jumped to conclusions. I can admit that, all right? Calm down and think clearly.

It's nice to know you can be wrong at times.

It is, isn't it? Gentle words and the opposite of the reaction he expected. You already feel better, don't you?

I think so...

Good. This is much better. This thing in your mind, this memory of yours, it's not my fault.

But-

No no, listen to me. His voice still very soft, quiet and without any anger. I don't know what it is either, all right? I don't know anymore than you do.

You don't know?

No, I don't, Edgar, I don't know. I don't know what this is or what it means. I feel just like you do about it, I'm as confused as you are.

Confused...

That's right, Edgar, you don't have to attack me for it. I won't hurt you. Almost a song, words that rose and fell in a cadence that was relaxing, very calming. Familiar somewhere deep but he couldn't place why or where. I won't hurt you for it, because I don't know myself. I won't hurt you for not knowing. I won't hurt you for your doubt about this memory. Please, let it go. You don't have to justify it to me, to yourself. You don't have to assign this memory a motivation, a source. It's a mystery, isn't it?

I don't know what happened.

Neither do I. Just agreeing with him was so rare. I don't know. It wasn't my fault though.

But-

No, it wasn't my fault, Edgar. He almost felt something brush against his cheek, but saw nothing when he opened his eyes. Maybe it was his own hand. He felt slow in everything he was doing, in his reactions and his thoughts. He didn't want to go to sleep, but he felt that if he wanted to, he could easily do so. It wasn't my fault, was it? I didn't create this memory for you. I don't know who did. I don't know if it's real or not, just like you.

Just like me...

That's right, just like you. I don't know if it's real or not. But I know that I wasn't there, and that I didn't make it. I didn't make it, Edgar, you know that. He closed his eyes, felt something resting on his shoulders. Scriabin's voice near one of his ears. You know it, don't you? I wasn't there, was I? Think clearly, take a deep breath. Take as much time as you need to sort through everything. You're confused, you're not thinking straight.

I don't feel good... His body felt weak, as if there was some kind of weight in his stomach.

That's okay. He shouldn't sound this way, shouldn't sound so concerned, and Edgar shouldn't feel relieved, relieved for any open concern from anyone. That's okay. A lot has happened for both of us just now, a lot of things have happened that need to be fixed. I'm going to need your help. I'm going to need you to let it go. I'm not going to ask you for answers, I'm not going to ask you to say whether that dream was real or not, I'm not going to ask you for details, but I am going to ask you to stop blaming it on me. It wasn't my fault. You have to realize that, you have to let that go, you have to take this responsibility away from me, and then I can start to fix things...you have to take me out of this dream, out of this memory of yours.

Why should I...? A quiet question that came without thought. His breathing was slow and even, and again a light touch across his cheek. Maybe he left the window open. It makes so much sense...

It does, doesn't it? No condescending tone, no sarcasm, no hatred of any kind. I can understand why it would be easier for you, I can understand that. But that doesn't make it right. It will only hurt you, hurt us in the long run. It's better this way. It'll be better for you if you leave it as it once was, leave it in the corner of your mind. It'll be something that we can both work on together, all right?

Together?

Yes, together. I'm sure we can find a solution. We work well together, my boy, we do. I know that we can solve this mystery if we stay calm and we stay rational. But you need to take me out of it first, you need to do that.

We've...we've never worked together on anything, why would you start now...

We've always worked together. Something touched his neck softly, and Edgar found his fingers where his heartbeat was most tangible. I can't do this by myself. I can't do this without you, I can't repair this damage by myself. I need you to work with me. I need you to trust me, just this once.

Why should I trust you?

I'm the only one who can help you now, Edgar. Even if this whole thing never happened, I'm still the only one who can really analyze the situation, I'm the only one who will know what to do. You have to calm down, you have to realize this.

In the presence of something accepting, acceptance that seemed at the moment so unconditional, a tinge of fear and honesty brought a thought to mind.

If I am...if I am a lock, what does that mean for me...?

You don't have to worry. Something ruffled his hair. You don't have to worry about that now, Edgar. You don't have to, I'll take care of it. I'll take care of it like I always have, I'll take care of it for you. I'm right here, I always have been, and I've protected you from so much. I can protect you from this too, I can handle this. I know I can. I can take anything that they throw at me, I can take it and fix it and make sure it doesn't hurt you. I can protect you far more effectively than Johnny ever could. I will protect you, as long as I have to.

The shift of responsibility. Edgar did it so often. The shift of the responsibility of his death to forces outside of his control, his fate out of his hands, his decisions to outside influences, all of it, all of it. It always happened to him, never with him. To absolve all responsibility, all worries, to the hands of someone capable. It wasn't something he was opposed to, it wasn't something he was unfamiliar with. His immortal soul trusted to the all knowing and all powerful. Comforting, it was comforting to have something to rely on, something to trust. It was comforting to know that there was nothing he could have done, nothing that he could do. That external locus of control. You? You would take care of it?

Still almost singing. Of course I would, Edgar. You wouldn't have to think about it. Even if it is true, which we're not sure about. I'll take care of it. You don't have to worry. Just take me out of those memories. Don't rearrange your thoughts, don't rearrange what you see and what you hear. This is my reality, Edgar. My perceptions are yours, my senses are yours. You have more power than you think, my boy, you can affect more than you know. Don't do this to me, don't do this to yourself. You have more control than this, you're more intelligent than this, aren't you?

Flattery that he normally would have rejected. Its source was suspect, but now he wasn't sure. More intelligent...

Yes, you're more capable. You're stronger than this. You can handle more than this, you have handled more than this. This is nothing, this is a drop in the ocean. This is something that we can handle, something that we can deal with without collapsing into a catatonic trance, without resorting to screaming and childish behavior. You're more intelligent than that. You're more controlled than that. You know better than this, you know better than to change your thoughts to justify your reality. You know better.

You're right... Edgar sighed softly, felt air brush against his skin. You're right, I shouldn't be doing this...

That's right. Scriabin said gently. That's right, you're better than this. You can do better than this.

"I shouldn't have done that." Whispered words. "I don't have to do that. I don't have to resort to something like that. I don't have to do that at all. I can overcome this. Whether or not it's true, I can overcome this. The idea of it all...if it is true, then I can deal with it. I can overcome it. I shouldn't be afraid of it. I shouldn't be doing this. I can handle this."

Yes, Edgar, that's right. I wasn't there, was I?

"No...no you weren't." He was right. "You weren't there...I kept wondering where you were, I kept waiting for you to say something, but you didn't, not once. You weren't there...you weren't there."

No, I wasn't. I told you I wasn't.

Emotions dampened, buried. "This is something I can handle. This is something I don't have to be afraid of. Maybe it did happen, maybe it didn't, but it doesn't matter. I'm still who I am, I'm still capable. I can think things through. I can beat this."

The pressure on his shoulders lifted. Yes you can. We can beat this, Edgar. Now, stand up.

He stood, gathered the scattered sheets of paper in his hands. He felt calm, at peace. It was difficult to remember what he had been experiencing not too long ago, what he had felt and what he had thought. It seemed so irrational now, so...almost impossible.

Thoughts quieted, fell into logical patterns without emotion. Normalcy.

You know, Edgar... He didn't flinch at his voice. I'm just thinking...if you do turn out to be one of these waste-lock things...that means you can't die.

We don't know that for sure yet. Didn't notice his use of the word "we." It may not even be an issue.

True, but it's something I think that should be kept in mind... He sounded vaguely distracted. You realize now, realize what you were doing and what you shouldn't do earlier?

Yes... He set the sheets of paper on his coffee table and carefully aligned them, matched edges to one another. Then he realized he wasn't sure why.

Good. Now maybe we can actually get to work. His voice hardened just that little bit, and that was enough for Edgar to remember exactly who he was talking to.

You...why did you do that?

Do what, exactly?

Why were you...nice to me, like that?

Oh, that's no fun, Edgar. Back to condescension again, familiar territory. Let's play a different game. Why do YOU think I acted like that?

I...I don't know. You've never done that before.

Well, surely I must have had a reason! Like he was talking to a child. Edgar hated that. Go ahead, throw out a guess or two. I can't constantly work through your problems for you, you know.

There was an unspoken sentiment there, and Edgar realized why.

...Because you might not always be there.

Silence.

He thought that maybe Scriabin's lack of response was just to motivate him to guess.

I somehow doubt you care about me...it's hard for me to believe that with the way you phrase your words and your advice...it often seems deliberately to hurt or belittle me, just like the tone you were using earlier. Even if there is some level of concern within you for your host, for me, it's hard for me to find, trust, or appreciate it when it's hidden in such hatefulness. I don't think you really care about me, unless your way of showing that is even more twisted than Nny's.

Still silence.

Scriabin?

He heard something like rapid breathing in the back of his mind, so close that he almost turned around to make sure someone else wasn't in the room.

Scriabin?

His voice was almost a whisper. I won't always be here.

Edgar's life was routine, it had always been routine. Even before Johnny had entered and changed his life, it was simple routine that got him through the motions of each day. The same time waking up, the same schedule, the same motions and words and actions every day. That repetition that made his life tolerable, and again shifted responsibility for his decisions onto his internal schedule.

Even after Johnny entered his life, he had struggled to work him, work his plans and his behavior, into that internal schedule. He had worked at planning things, working his life around him, finding a routine.

Scriabin's introduction to his house was a set place, a set place for the action figure to sit, and a set position for it to be in. Scriabin had settled into the routine of Edgar's life without any trouble, naturally and without effort. It seemed he had always been there.

And the voice, the voice in his mind that he found helpful and distracting and harmful, had started so quietly and so subtly that he couldn't place when it had begun, when Scriabin had begun to work his way into the routine of Edgar's life. Even as Scriabin had gained, or perhaps been given, more of his own emotions and feelings and opinions, it had always been worked into the routine, into the automated machine. Required no work, no maintenance. He had accepted Scriabin, he had accepted his growth, he had accepted his development by simply adapting to it as it happened.

Now although he hated Scriabin, hated his insistent insulting commentary and his comments that were all too true at the worst times, he had never thought of Scriabin leaving, in a way.

Even during his stay in the afterlife, if that's what that was, he had expected Scriabin to be there. He had grown used to his voice, accustomed to his insight, and the thought of losing that, even if he hated it so much, was...

He wasn't sure how he felt about that.

Can you die?

Before... Scriabin sounded vaguely distracted. Before, I would have said there was no chance. Now...after all this, after everything you've done in here...I don't know.

Are you scared of me?

No. Quick, steady answer in a level voice.

Well, why not? Edgar ran a hand through his hair.

Because you're a coward. It wasn't a challenge, just a simple statement of fact. You're a coward, and you don't want someone's blood on your hands, even if they don't really exist. He sounded bitter. Maybe you can kill me, maybe you can. I don't think so, but this whole...whatever just happened threw an unpleasant light on what you can potentially do. But you don't know how. More importantly, you don't have the motive.

What? What do you mean, no motive? Of course I have a motive, I hate you-

I know you do, but that doesn't change anything, Edgar. You have no drive for that motive. It's not real. It's a thought, a comforting thought that erases anything more subtle, or more meaningful. Simple hate, and that's all. But not enough to murder, never enough to seriously want to kill, want me dead. Never enough and you know why? You need me. I think what just happened, what I just did for you, is ample proof of that. You need me as your balance, as your logic.

I don't need you-

You can't even think of what it'd be like without me. His voice was still level. You're so used to me being here, so used to me antagonizing you, that there's no other reality for you. I am your reality, I'm real. Well, to you anyway.

You're not real. Just felt the urge to say something, something damaging. Wanted to hurt him. You're just a voice in my head, a voice gone out of control. You can never be real. You need me, Scriabin.

That-

You need me because I'm the only body you'll ever have. I'm the only way you can ever interact with the physical world, I'm your only link. That's why you were frightened before, when I began changing things. I'm your last chance. I'm your only window, I'm your only connection to anyone or anything! You need me! Maybe even more than I need you!

Y-

I'm real, I'm more real than you'll ever be, than you'll ever hope to be! You can never be better than me, you can never be more than me, because I'm real! You're just a figment pretending at reality! At least I have a physical body-

He felt something white hot in the back of his mind, something that flared and burned like he looked at the sun and cut through his eyes, went through and burned and rage he could feel the rage and pain the intense burning vengeful hatred and something screaming and howling and

He was sitting in his car, and the car was parked in front of his church.

Chapter Text

H...h...h-how did I...? When did I...?

He was here. He was definitely here. This wasn't a dream.

You don't remember? Hesitant whisper in the back of his mind, just loud enough to hear.

I... Edgar looked around himself, looked to see if something else had happened that would explain his lapse, explain where he was and how he got here. The route to his mind blocked, information flow slowed in defense, an effort to more easily assimilate what had happened. It didn't hit him all at once. It couldn't. Trickles of information, the gradual logical realization with no emotion attached just yet.

Minor details rather than the entire scene. Forest for the trees. The enormity lost as he licked his lips.

Vague mint taste in his mouth...

Shaking, a kind of tremble that started low and worked its way through his chest and up to his hands. His body showed the signs long before he could name the emotion. Fear.

Oh my God, oh my God, how did I, how how, how did I get here, I didn't- I don't remember-

You don't remember anything?

No! Edgar buried his hands in his hair, rested his head on the steering wheel. The leather felt warm. The engine was still on. The radio was silent. Oh God. Pieces coming together now, more information working through.

There was a moment of hesitation, some mumbling in the back of his mind, then Scriabin spoke slowly. This is not a good sign, my boy.

I must've done this but I can't remember anything, I can't remember anything at all. It's all...there isn't even a blur! There's nothing, no time, nothing! It's like someone ed- edited my life, it's like someone spliced two scenes together and- God, nothing, not even a clue not a single scrap of anything, I can't remember anything I should remember something, I have...what happened? What's happening to me?

Calm down, you're not making sense. A moment of thought. Have you checked the car? Maybe there's a clue of some kind.

Edgar lifted his head. He caught something black at the edge of his vision and looked down.

His trench coat. He was wearing his trench coat.

Blinding sudden panic, too quick to defend against and too strong to resist. He scratched his arm and knocked his glasses askew as he tore the coat from his body and threw it in the back-seat.

He sat and breathed hard, the sudden onset of cold raising the hair on his arms. Shivered, hoped it was from the cold. He wrapped his hands around his shoulders.

He wasn't wearing his seat-belt.

He felt something, a kind of vibration and trembling and he felt it, could feel it in his throat. He listened, found he was making a strange keening whine and forced himself to stop.

Calm down. Scriabin sounded thoughtful. This isn't good for you...

What happened, what happened? Reality kicking in and he wasn't prepared for this. Did I black out? Oh God, did, did someone take me here? Did, what happened, I don't remember, I can't remember anything, I can't-

Calm down. What's the last thing you remember?

He looked out the window and saw it was drizzling. Still dark outside. How long had it been? Wait, the car was still on. Turned the key. As the engine shut off he realized it wasn't as silent as he thought. This new level of quiet was even worse. I...I was talking to you. I was talking to you about something...

Something?

Um...something... It was hard to think. He couldn't shake this feeling that he had lost something, that he had lost far more than just time. Some kind of strange violation, a betrayal of his mind and body and memories. The blank spot in his mind where that time should have been became a fertile ground for everything that might have been. Growing panic. Um...arguing. Arguing about something.

Yes, that's right. Scriabin sounded very calm. Perfect contrast. That's right, an argument...hmm.

It was 'cause... Struggled to think of anything, anything other than what could have happened while he...he wasn't here. It was because you were being nice to me, and I didn't know why...we...I can't remember any of the details...everything gets fuzzy and then I'm here, and I can't-

It won't do any good to think about it now, Scriabin said in a matter-of-fact way and Edgar fell silent. Whatever it was that just happened can't be undone, necessarily. The important thing now is to assess the damage. Later on, we can determine what caused this blackout and whether or not it can be avoided.

Edgar pulled his hands from his shoulders, ran them down his chest and across his shirt. What should I check for? Oh God, anything could have happened to me, anything...oh God, was I wearing this? I was wearing this before, wasn't I? Oh God, what if...

He put his hands in his pockets, felt his keys and his wallet. He ran a hand across his face and it felt smooth.

Did...did I shave when I woke up?

I don't think whoever did this to you would have gone so far. Scriabin sighed.

Do...do you remember anything?

A pause, then a soft laugh. Me? Are you asking me?

Yes. Edgar was...yes, he was too frightened to be offended or annoyed at his tone. Do you?

Hmmm...

Edgar checked himself over again as Scriabin thought. When he ran his hands across his lower ribcage, he felt a soft kind of ache in response to his touch. He lifted his shirt, looked a bit closer and saw that a bruise spread its way down his right side, ran down to his hip.

A moment of hyperventilation, shaking hands then necessary distraction to prevent further emotional damage.

He pulled out his wallet and ignored the lingering ache, checked through its contents, struggled to focus on something mundane. Couldn't remember how much he had in there originally, but he didn't carry a lot of cash with him anyway...all of his credit cards and identification still in place...

No, I don't think I do. Scriabin sounded amused. Unfortunate.

I...I can't believe this happened to me. Why here? Why now? Why me?

Questions you've asked before, but you've never gotten an answer.

Oh God, anything could have happened...I could have been-, I'd rather have a blur than just nothing, than just this sudden jump-

Stop thinking about it for now. It won't help you. You need to calm down.

How can I calm down? How can I-

You know as well as I do how to calm down. Scriabin sighed. Just think about something else. That's your specialty.

Edgar turned and looked at the church. Worn red stone with a dead lawn, although one could see where someone had gamely tried to cultivate some flowers without much success. There were two small spotlights that illuminated the carved wooden doorway and inside he could see the faint glow of candles through colored glass. He wasn't in the position to make out the sign at the moment, although he was sure it was nearby.

Stared.

Maybe...maybe I should...

Hmm?

Maybe...maybe I...maybe I drove here for a reason...

If you did drive here.

Oh God... He shut his eyes at the thought. Focus on something else, anything else.

He felt in the back-seat for his coat. He didn't want to wander in the rain without some kind of protection and his coat was all he had. I'm so...I can't believe this is happening...

Yes...this isn't good, is it?

I...I can't think about this now, I need...

Hmm?

He opened the car door, stepped out, and threw on his coat with one smooth movement. He shut the door, then quickly looked over his car. He didn't see any new damage...

What do you need?

I... It was hard to say, especially to him. He locked the doors and made his way towards the church.

Because if there's one thing you don't need, it's this.

The inside of the church was not much warmer than the outside. There were candles lit, although from the distance and with his broken glasses, Edgar couldn't tell if they were real or artificial. A bowl of holy water near the door, pews extending to the pulpit, all empty. He let the door close behind him, hopefully leaving the issue of his lost time outside. The dull noise echoed across the vaulted ceilings, emphasized the silence that came after.

No sense of peace...

No, I wouldn't imagine so. Not anymore, I don't think.

No, Edgar thought. He took a few determined steps down between the pews, glanced at the stained glass windows on either side of him. Felt his fingers twitch. No, not this time.

No to what, exactly?

I...I'm not going to argue about this with you. Not here, and not now. I need this. There, he said it. He took a seat and shook himself off.

You don't need this.

Yes I do! A moment to compose himself. This is one thing I won't let you touch.

You can't stop me.

Yes I can.

When have you ever? A pause, and Edgar didn't respond. Listen, I'm going to be somewhat kind. I'm going to give you a warning.

What? A warning against what?

Remember the last time I did this to you? You used to be a bit more resilient back in the day, but that's apparently not the case now. Last time I did this, the last time that I told you the truth, you handled it less than admirably.

He wanted to say that that wasn't the truth.

Scriabin continued. So I'm going to give you a warning this time. I am going to cut your umbilical cord.

My what?

I'm going to pull you out of your pathetic womb and I'm going to make you live.

What are you talking about?

I'm going to deconstruct everything you believe in. I will bring these exalted ceilings down around you and show you what you've locked yourself away from for so long, tear apart the bindings you so willingly entrap yourself in.

The hell you are.

I'm going to do it, and you'll thank me for it later. But I want you to be prepared. I would rather not have you pass out halfway through this, our little session together. That would be far from productive.

You can't do this to me. You can't do that.

Spend your time however you like. Edgar got the impression that Scriabin shrugged somehow. I'm giving you a warning, not a choice.

You can't take this away from me! Edgar shouted in his mind and felt his nails digging into his palms. This is all I have!

No it isn't. He sounded bored. You can spend your time arguing with me, if you like. Maybe we can consider it a warm-up-

No! You're not touching this!

Empty threats.

I... Edgar struggled to think of any time Scriabin had been afraid, anything that he could exploit, could use to back himself up. I...I can rewrite my memories again, I could do that, I will do that if you don't leave me alone-

Ha. You can try. You know why that worked before? For one thing, I wasn't prepared, and for the second, you were truly motivated. You were completely delusional. I'm afraid you can't turn that on and off at will. Besides, what memory will you edit me into anyway? You already did that with your previous tantrum, you threw me into practically everything, regardless of relevance-

I will, I swear to God-

Okay, I'm tired of waiting. He heard a snap. It's time. Are you ready?

You're not doing this-

God has turned his back on you, Edgar.

No He hasn't. He wasn't going to let this happen, not without a fight. Scriabin sighed in a way that was becoming increasingly familiar.

I can see what this will be like. Doesn't make that much of a difference...it's not even something we're unfamiliar with, is it? At any rate, where was I...? Ah yes. God has turned his back on you, Edgar, and you have turned your back on him.

I have not! Felt the urge to shout that, to hear it reverberate from the high empty ceilings, but controlled himself.

The minor details I'll bring up later, but let's focus on the most damning evidence first. Your time in the afterlife...

Complete and total shock. A real and tangible loss of body heat, he was sure, and his mouth fell open.

You...you're not...

From what I can gather, you met God, didn't you? And Satan as well, and they didn't exactly match up with your current belief system, did they?

You...you can't-! ...You said we'd...we'd work on it together, you said you'd leave it alone! His mental voice getting louder and it kept breaking. You said you didn't know! You, you said you wouldn't hurt me, you said you wouldn't touch that-

Oh Edgar. You really are so naive.

He had worked so hard, he had worked so hard to keep this from him, to keep this memory a secret for this exact reason, and then, then...he had been tricked, he had fallen for it, he had fallen for false sincerity, he had grasped for that scrap of outright affection and, and...

A deep sense of betrayal, pain manifesting in his hands shaking uncontrollably, his throat tightening. And underneath it all, that disappointment and disgust he felt for himself for having been so gullible, for having been used so easily.

Remember, my boy... Scriabin's voice was soft, mimicked the tender tone he had used before. This is for your benefit.

I c-can't...I can't believe you're doing this... Couldn't process information, couldn't block. That moment of vulnerability, when he foolishly gave away his trust, gave away responsibility, repeating and repeating and repeating. I can't believe you're doing this to me...I can't believe...

You may think I'm hurting you. That same soothing voice. He felt his skin heating, prickling underneath the bandage beneath his eye. His eyes stung and something twitching somewhere, maybe his hands or maybe he was just shaking. It may seem that way now. In the end, you'll thank me. You need me, Edgar, you need me to do this for you.

Stop... He couldn't logically fight, not now. He hadn't been prepared for this, and that in itself hurt just as much. Stop...don't do this to me...

Now, if this information is true, which it probably is, that means that your soul is no longer in God's hands.

Stop, stop please...how...how could you hurt me like this...

You're in the hands of something else now, some kind of strange system, although they didn't elaborate. You are now outside their jurisdiction. Satan mentioned it...that he and, as one can extrapolate, God, have no power over that system's decisions. You are outside now, Edgar, outside the realm of gods and devils. You are a free entity, untouchable by all others.

Edgar crossed his arms on the back of the pew in front of him, pressed his forehead against the folds of his coat hard so he could feel the ache.

How could you do this to me...? How can you do this to me?

And he wasn't listening and he kept talking and oh God, why won't he listen? God cannot touch you. The Devil cannot touch you. God doesn't care either, Edgar, as he showed you when you met him. He does not care about you. I somehow doubt he ever will. And I doubt that he would care at all if you ended up right back in Hell, like Satan suggested you would.

Shivering.

If you are damned already, which at this point is fairly likely I would say, judging from your current behavior, then there's no reason to continue with this charade. There's no reason to torture yourself like this anymore. There's no reason to play the martyr, drive more nails into your willing hands. You don't have to hurt yourself over your behavior anymore. Restraint without motive is pointless. You have no motivation to be good, Edgar, as there is no longer any kind of reward. And lord knows, there is no such thing as true altruism.

Too hurt by the lie, too deeply hurt by the flagrant betrayal of his trust to muster any kind of argument, to even revert to his most oft-used defense of denial, too hurt to do anything more than beg for mercy.

Please...please, please don't...

But you may be wondering, you may be wondering about the support that your god gives you. What could be the harm in that? Perhaps Heaven is not your primary motivation, but instead the thought of unconditional love from some source, some source beyond your control. The thought of someone who is always there, will always listen, and will always support you invisibly. The greatest placebo of them all.

Energy expended, now shivering in waves.

And that is one of my primary reasons for doing this. You're depending on something else, something unreliable and in the end destructive, to support you when you should be depending on yourself. You should depend on your own strength, your own ability. You should find your strength in yourself, in your character, not in a pleasant fantasy.

I'm not strong...I'm not strong enough... Hoped the admission of weakness could stop this, that offering his throat would stop the attack, grant the dominance that he was sure must have motivated him. Heard his breath hissing past his teeth, felt the brief warmth through the fabric of his coat.

Yes you are, Edgar. Authority in his voice that he could not question. You just don't want to admit it. You've always had the capacity for change, you've always had that power. You've always been the master of your own fate. You have the ability to make decisions, you have the ability to take charge, to control what's happening to you. You've always had that power but you've never used it. You've never believed in yourself to see it. You've never had the strength to find it. You've always fallen back on your support lines. You've always shifted responsibility for yourself, for your fate, for your happiness, for every stupid little thing to your god. That way it's out of your hands. That way you're safe. That's not healthy, Edgar. You're capable of so much more.

I trusted you...

You did. And look where it's gotten you. You shifted responsibility for yourself onto me, and look where it's gotten you.

His breath caught, trapped in his throat, a short gasp and he tried to stop what he knew was coming.

How could you do this to me...

Do you think this is a bad thing? No, silly question. I can feel your pain quite acutely. You think that shifting that responsibility to me was a bad thing. There's a difference between me and your god, Edgar. There's a big difference. I am here to motivate you, and I will motivate you to change. I will direct you, influence you, and force you to find that power. I will find your strength, I will find the power you used to have, and I will show you how to use it. I will give you your life back. I won't sit back and let you lead a life of lies, like your god was so fond of doing. I will give you strength, the strength you need to fight the system and stop the decay you know is coming.

Mental voice growing weak and high. I don't want to depend on you...

Well, good! You shouldn't want to depend on anyone except yourself. You are the only constant in this world, Edgar. This entire scenario, it's always been under your control. You are the only one who can save yourself. There is no time for lies and false redemption. You don't need God, Edgar. You never did. You need yourself.

Pulling back further, further, trying to get away from the thing that burned and pain, get somewhere safe. I do, I do need Him, I can't do this alone-

You won't do this alone, remember? I'm here. I said I'd be here, and I will be. I will be your greatest asset in the challenge to come, Edgar. I will be your greatest gift, your weapon against whatever fate is in store for you. I won't let you sit back and take it anymore. I won't let you give your life away to other people. I will be your change, your catalyst. I will take everything wrong about you and make it right. I will work and fight and push you until you win, until you break free of this system and you can live your own life again. I will work to preserve your sanity, I will give you the mental power, the fortitude, the motivation to stand against the coming storm because I will strip away the lies, the false shields and the defense mechanisms that stand in your way. Your god can't do that. He wouldn't want to do that. He's content to stand idly by, to let you go. What kind of loving and merciful god would let this happen to a child so devoted, so dedicated to him? What kind of god would leave you to some other system's machinations without a second glance, as you know your god has done? He doesn't care about you. He doesn't love you. These are facts, Edgar, not beliefs. You know this is true.

Tiny words written in a child's hand, scribbled with crayon on a piece of construction paper and slid under a door. Reassurance, reassurance, everything will be okay, everything will be okay as long as

He does...

God doesn't care about you, Edgar. stop hurting me You're nothing to him. stop hurting me You're insignificant, a minor cog i cant make it stop that fell out of place. You're part of something bigger now, i dont want this to be true something outside his control. please tell me you're lying and Your god can't save you now.

make me stop believing you

Finality, reality. The door slammed and caught and a faint scream from far away, long ago.

Your god can't save you now.

A choked sob, and his entire body tensed and tried to erase it, tried to stop breathing. Tears soaked into his jacket, his eyes clenched shut and willing, willing with every fiber in his being for it to stop. An immediate subconscious mental tirade that demanded that the tears stop, that he find some other method of dealing with it than something so childish, useless, and weak. Stop crying right now. It won't help you. What kind of man are you stop that immediately

Scriabin was quiet for a few seconds as Edgar struggled to get himself back under control. Furiously erasing erasing erasing.

He hovered on the edge. His breathing was shaky and came in gasps and his eyes still watered. Under control by only a few threads, a few threads of doubt and hope that were all he had.

There was no cruelty in his voice. The only one who can save you now is yourself. Don't you understand? It's up to you, Edgar. You can't depend on anyone else anymore. God won't help you. You're out of his hands. You've been cut away from him, forever removed from his grace and shining light or whatever it was.

Snip.

He has abandoned you. He has left you for dead. Nothing you say, no prayers and no pleading, no begging for forgiveness, will bring him back. Nothing, no one will take this cup away from you, Edgar. It's up to you, it's up to you to overcome this. He will not save you.

Snip. Snip.

God has abandoned you. god no please You are alone. no oh god NO NO

Completely alone.

A loud sob tore through his throat, echoed in an empty church. Reality hit hard and it hit without mercy. Emptiness that fueled tears and made it hard to breathe.

He is gone, Scriabin said softly. He will not come back for you. You know this. You know this is true. He has abandoned you.

Racking pain, emotional that tore its way through his stomach, his chest, ripped through his throat and he struggled not to make too much noise, not to disturb anyone else who may be here. He kept his eyes shut, his face hidden. Could feel the welling up of deep pain, of deep emotional pain that never found a previous voice that worked through his body so slowly, came from his mouth so loudly. Not sobs but loud whines, half-screams caught and cut short.

Edgar wept.

He wasn't sure for how long. It was the first time that he could really remember ever doing something like this, ever crying this hard over anything. Over everything. He had no frame of reference.

Sometimes the motion, the action took precedence over his thoughts and he wasn't sure why he was sobbing so hard, just that he was doing it and he couldn't stop, he just couldn't stop. Every time he took a deep breath, struggled to find those defenses that had protected him against this for so long, he touched that same kind of pain. The uprooting of something he had used so long as support, as a way to bury everything, as a way to block reality, as a way to make his life tolerable and give it meaning through something other than other people. He would touch that wound, that deep and fresh wound and pain would shoot through him again, the memories of Hell and what he'd seen and the thought of what would happen to him, and the deep fear and knowledge that he was right, Scriabin was right. He had no one to turn to now, no one except himself.

And within that wound, he found something that had been bleeding, something infected and deep and painful, something that had worked its way into his thoughts for so long that it was barely noticed, the thousand capillaries that never warranted further attention. Infection deep from a time he couldn't remember, from a wound he never healed and never tried to heal, simply ignored and hoped it would go away. Within that, within all of the pain of having his support stripped away, he found his true fear, the real fear that made him resort to all of this, this distance and the relationships and the reliance on others, the reliance on others for his decisions and his life and he was scared. He was scared that he couldn't do it. He didn't know how, he didn't know what he was doing, he didn't think he could do it. He didn't have the confidence, he didn't have the knowledge, and he didn't have the ability and he was going to die, he was going to lose. He was going to lose everything. He needed this, he needed someone to take this responsibility off his hands and tell him what to do because he'd just end up ruining it, he'd just end up ruining it and burning his hands and he couldn't do this alone, he never could do this alone, he always had someone, someone in the back of his mind that he could turn to, that could make the laws that he could follow because he couldn't decide for himself, too petrified of making the wrong decision, too afraid to ruin something he didn't even have so he gave it to someone else, he gave everything to God and kept the emptiness and called it his life.

And when he touched that part of him he recoiled so violently that it was blotted out immediately, wiped from his memory through countless years of practice and resigned back into that dull ache, that ache that gave this new wound, this missing part of him, the potential to hurt as much as it did.

He touched it once, had a moment of self-revelation that terrified him so completely that his entire body shook with the force of his next cry of pain, that the shudder of his body only encouraged him, only encouraged more tears and hatred at those tears and memories gone gone gone. Pulled and found the roots ran too deep and now never touching that again.

There was more present pain, something more real and powerful, and that was enough to focus on.

Nothing from Scriabin. He didn't hear it, didn't catch that momentary blip on the radar as Edgar approached the truth then vengefully scribbled over it, crossed it out and turned and killed and thrust it deep, pushed it away so strongly that he wasn't aware he did it himself, and there was enough pain going on at the moment that it'd be hard to differentiate one spike from the other.

A good thing that, at least. A good thing that this came and went as quickly as it did, a wound too early to open, too painful to touch, not now.

Gulping breaths, pain pressing into the bridge of his nose, entire body shaking in fits. The lenses of his glasses caught tears, kept them even when eventually the sobbing quieted and he could feel something approaching control.

It took some time for control to find a lasting hold. At first he would feel as though the storm was over but then a stray thought would send him back into what had happened, into what the future held for him and him alone, and control would vanish again. Several tries and failed attempts before he really began to feel as though he could at least stop crying. And the easiest way to prevent failure was to consider what had caused that failure, and that was feeling. So control sunk in and feeling faded, a tradeoff that he was more than happy to make.

His lapse of control, the realization of what he had been doing, prompted a flood of something like shame at having resorted to something so useless and self-indulgent, at having lost control so completely. Emotion that was quick, intense, instinctual and then forgotten.

When he finally leaned back against the wood of the pew, he felt deeply, deeply empty inside. More so than he ever had in his life. His emotions typically ran a minor gamut, small fluctuations barely noticed, and he thought at those times that maybe he felt empty, because he didn't feel much. But this was different. He didn't feel much then but now, now he felt absolutely nothing.

He stared at his coat, shook the tears from his glasses, took a few deep breaths. His entire body still shaking, shivered and he felt weak. Nothing except physical sensation coming through anymore, nothing logical connected with anything resembling real emotions. Empty inside, everything gone.

You won't be entirely alone, Scriabin said softly and it was that same gentle voice as before, that faint almost musical tinge. He sounded deeply sincere, as if he really did want to soothe the hurt, comfort him somehow. If Edgar cared at this point he would have been suspicious. He didn't care. Remember, you won't be entirely alone. I'll be here with you.

Edgar didn't want to say anything. He didn't want to do anything. Wanted to sit here and never move again for the rest of his life.

I can support you. I can teach you, I can show you how to take control. I'll figure out how to beat this, and we will beat this. You can depend on me, because I'll be here. I will work for you, I will work to help you through this. I will find what's right for you, not for your god. I will contribute in ways that are tangible, that will have solutions. I can do everything your god can't. I won't abandon you. Believe in me. Believe in me.

Nothing. He could hear his words, he was understanding them, but he felt nothing in response. He felt absolutely nothing. He could see the polished wood and tiny pencil and the black book with its golden embossed letters and the crucifix that marked its vocation in front of him, he could see and hear but nothing, nothing worked through. He didn't want to feel anything. He wanted to stay like this, stay comfortably numb.

Wanted to stay here forever, just drift away. Never feel, never think, never go back to his life. Face the future. Never wanted to feel again.

Scriabin tried to force a carefree tone into his voice without success. Come now, that wasn't so bad, was it? It didn't take as long as I thought, and it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. And you stayed with me through the whole ordeal, and you even expressed some emotion, some real emotion for once. I'd say we've made progress, wouldn't you?

Nothing. Like Scriabin was talking to someone else. Didn't move.

You have nothing to fear now. Still talking softly, although he abandoned the pretense of nonchalance. Ethics have no meaning to you. There is nothing to stop you, there is nothing that can stop you now. A whole new world is open for you, is open to you. You've unlocked your real potential now. You can become who you were meant to be. You can become strong, you can become assertive, you can become more than what you had resigned yourself to before. Now you can beat this. Now you can find your real strength.

Didn't want to think anymore. Tired, so tired. Wanted to stop existing. Not die necessarily but stop existing.

Didn't want to deal with this.

Didn't want to deal with his life. His decisions. What the future held for him, what he knew would be in store.

A heaven for me, and a hell for you.

Oh God.

Come on, get up. Gentle nudging words. Maybe Scriabin had enough tact to know that now was not the time for sarcasm. Let's get out of here. I think it stopped raining.

I don't want this to happen to me. I don't want this.

Well, neither did I. I warned you, didn't I? I tried to warn you. Now it's time to pick up the pieces, it's time to fix what you've done wrong. Hard to mask resentment left open so long. It's time to do what you've put off for so long. It's time to fight, Edgar.

Mental voice pulling back and he sounded like a child. I don't want...I dont want to be me. i dont want to be me anymore.

It's too late for that. A voice familiar somehow, a memory cast aside and Edgar's fear quickly driven deep, hidden. A shallow attempt at confidence, but at least it was an attempt. Scriabin sensed this, changed the tone of his voice. Let's go outside.

take this away from me... Curled up in the corner of his room, small hands buried in short hair, voice not yet changed and a body before real awkwardness. Small and insignificant, insignificant in the face of everything. Six years old and gone. take this away from me, please, make it stop hurting...

A questioning noise.

Rocking back and forth, wishing for some kind of human contact, something reassuring, some kind of love from someone somewhere even if it wasn't intangible something. take this away from me, take this away from me, give me back my life, give me back...

What life did you have? Quiet and emotionless.

Running even deeper. someone someone someone take this away from me. Nails digging into the back of his neck. please take this away please someone take this away from me, i dont know what to do, i dont know what to do, someone take this...

A noise from Scriabin he wasn't sure how to classify.

please make it stop hurting...make it stop, make it different, take my life and make it good again, someone fix it, someone fix everything, please... A shaky gasp. ...Scriabin, Scriabin, please...

He heard Scriabin take a deep breath.

please help me...please help me take this away from me...fix it fix it please, i dont know how, i dont know what to do i dont know how to make it better, i cant fix it, please, someone...someone take it and make it right, please...Scriabin...

I...

Deep weakness, such deep weakness and that counter-voice that ran far below what either of them consciously heard, something stronger and long-lived, something much older than Scriabin could hope to be. Contempt for that weakness, outright contempt.

Ripped, ripped from the womb too early. Scriabin's metaphor perhaps had been too apt.

Scriabin, please... Felt his muscles tightening again, but he had no more tears to shed. Not now, not with that sense of shame, the self-loathing that came with admitting weakness. The words came desperate and honest and in a voice Edgar thought he forgot and wanted to forget. Scriabin please, please please help me, please help me, i cant do this, i cant do this alone, i cant do this by myself, i need help, i need you to fix it, i need you to take it away from me, please oh god please take this away from me, erase everything ive done and i dont know what to do oh god ive ruined everything ive ruined everything

Oh Edgar... Real affection, it sounded real. Familiar too. Cynical side of him tried to match it, found it matched the voice of old memories. A tone that was kept deep inside his life and his thoughts, his definition of emotion and affection and of course, of course that's what Scriabin would use for sincerity. Isn't it obvious?

All words to try and build fear, to try and build distrust and fear and it didn't work. At the sound of that affection, whether faked or not, Edgar reached out. He had been burned once, he had been betrayed in a way so painful he couldn't bear to think about it now, but he reached out anyway. As he saw it, he had no choice.

take this away from me, Scriabin, please...Scriabin...

Edgar... Trying to find words. I...

don't abandon me, don't abandon me, i cant do this by myself

That voice, the logic that he so often depended on, running a diagnostic check on his words in the background and beeping and clicks not noticed. After all this time, he finally admitted it, finally admitted he needed someone else, and now Scriabin would surely use this against him.

That soft weight on his shoulders, the brush of air against his cheek. Closed his eyes and hoped, hoped and he could feel Scriabin's arms settled around his neck, the touch of his fingers on his skin.

I won't leave you, Edgar... Edgar wanted him to sound sincere so badly, so he did. Not now. I won't abandon you.

take this away from me...

I can't do that. Felt Scriabin briefly nuzzle his neck. Or maybe the wind was playing with his coat. Reality was not welcome right now. It'd be nice if I could, if I could go back and erase all of the things you've done. But I can't. I can only deal with the aftermath.

Edgar didn't care if guilt was relegated back to him, as long as the consequences...

tell me what to do...

Edgar... A soft sigh, his fingers tracing along his neck, felt his heartbeat. Edgar, that's what I do best.

A sigh of relief, kind of.

Believe me, Edgar. Arms curled around his neck, some kind of awkward embrace. You don't need God...now, you are God.

He didn't want to ask questions or for any kind of clarification.

A deep and intense need within him, something lost through countless years through the processed lines of data, something lost through thoughts and gone. A plea repeated through his life and only answered through the one thing that gave his life meaning, through the prayers he held and the scapular he had been given when he was young. Only answered once, he thought it was answered once and answered permanently that once and then, and then he was lied to, he had been lied to, that love was a lie and it was gone and dead and now that need rose again, desperate and raw and it fought through the computer and through the blanket that suffocated all emotion and all pain.

love me...?

Oh Edgar... A soft sigh. You're so far gone now, it wouldn't even matter. Maybe someday, when you're more aware, we can really discuss this. But you're not in your right mind, and...

He wasn't sure what Scriabin intended to say. He simply trailed off.

He wasn't there, he knew it. The arms around him weren't there and he couldn't feel him breathing. He just wished he could.

It's been long enough. His voice was soft and gentle. It's been long enough now. Regression is never a good idea, not for such long periods of time. It's time to come back, to wake up.

i dont want to come back.

I know. But it's time for responsibility. Take a few deep breaths, and come back to me.

He didn't want to, but the words he chose were perfect. Perhaps not his intent, but they were.

To me.

Someone to come back to, an order to obey, someone to please and hopefully gain recognition in return, but mostly just someone to come back to. Someone to come back to for any reason at all.

Let the beeping, the monotonous click come back, dial tone and the gradual reset. Rather than work through all the emotions lying about he just shoved them all away. Erased, deleted them. Logic found a stronger hold, worked through emotion and erased memory. Embarrassing thoughts relocated, pushed to the back of the mind, and a renewed sense of determination, determination to find something else to do to get his mind off what he had experienced, what he had done.

That's better.

Was that what you expected? Arguing with him was a quick distraction. Was that what you thought would be helpful? Was that what you were hoping for?

A brief pause, and he could hear the smile. Much better, I would say. Feeling a bit more combative, and that's something I'm more comfortable with. You're more comfortable with it too, I'd imagine. There's no harm in taking time to heal, after all. Traumatic doesn't even begin to describe what just happened.

I don't want to talk about it.

Scriabin laughed and Edgar found himself smiling. He knew precisely why he would say that, what his motivations would be. Still, it was a convenient excuse, something they both understood, and besides.

Healing. Right.

Let's go outside. I really do think the rain has stopped. I can't hear anything.

Edgar stood. He nearly fell at first, his legs shaky and weak, but he eventually managed to find his sense of balance. He walked out of the church with only one second glance.

True enough, no rain. The sky was dark and there were no stars. He vaguely wondered what time it was, but that wasn't really important. The streetlights were on and that was enough.

He looked to one side as he stood in the doorway and caught sight of a narrow flight of stairs leading back around the edge of the church, just barely lit by the nearby streetlight.

I remember...

Not like he had anywhere else to be. He took a few cautious steps down, watched for puddles, and slowly the old church playground came into view. No real direct light sources here, it wasn't a place to be after dark, but the streetlights on the sidewalk nearby gave him enough illumination.

Old memories, memories of happier times, he thought or hoped.

The playground was slightly recessed compared to the rest of the area, a natural wall to prevent curious children from going too far. Bushes hid most of the chain-link fence from view. Brightly colored plastic constructions, an old swing-set, some benches, a sandbox, metal jungle gym.

Something strangely calming about a playground in the dark. Empty yet harmless.

Edgar walked over to the swings and took a seat. He was too tall for this now and his knees came up higher than they should have. Didn't matter. Seat was wet as well, but he didn't care.

He looked up towards the darkened sky, thought about where he was. He spoke softly but he wasn't exactly sure who he was talking to.

"Every Sunday when I was little...when we came here...this was always what I looked forward to. I always waited for the sermon to be over so I could play out here..."

"Edgar does not play well with others." How ironic.

"That's right..." Edgar sighed. "That's what they'd write about me...good student, does his work, does not play well with others..."

Pushed lightly and listened to the creak of aged metal trying to support a grown man's weight.

Listen, Edgar...

What?

I think it'd be best if from now on, while you're recovering, while we're making plans to overcome this lock business, if you stayed away from-

Something rustled nearby and he turned sharply towards the noise.

Shit. Scriabin almost sounded disappointed.

"Hello...?" Maybe not his smartest move, but at least it let whoever it was who had joined him know he was here.

A gawky teenager eventually managed to extricate himself from the bushes that encircled the playground. He brushed himself off carefully, adjusted his clothes and fishnet gloves, picked up his suitcase, and began walking briskly towards Edgar.

A slight twinge of nervousness along with familiarity. That hair...it was cut in a style that Edgar knew wasn't common. The tattered sleeves, the box on the front of his shirt, and the boots...

God fucking dammit, Scriabin muttered. I was so close...

Not particularly paying attention to Scriabin at the moment. The teenager came closer. Definitely headed for Edgar. That in itself was bizarre...Edgar never generated attention. Something he had accepted over time, but to be the center of someone's attention like this...

Well, someone other than Nny that is. Still sounded bitter.

Being someone's focus made him nervous.

The youth circled him once, apparently completely unaware of how strange this behavior may have seemed, then stopped in front of him. Now that he was close enough Edgar could make out the definite signs of acne over the majority of his face.

"Hey!" A strangely casual tone, as if he knew Edgar already.

A moment's pause, which was all Edgar was sure he would get. "...Hello?"

"Your name is Edgar, isn't it?"

"...Who are you? Why do you want to know?"

Good, you didn't just give out information.

He didn't seem put off by the suspicious tone in Edgar's voice.

"I'm Jimmy." He put a hand to his chest. "But you can also call me 'Mmy,' heh. Some of my friends also call me 'Darkness.' Cool, huh?"

This can't be what it looks like, there's no way that someone would ever...

Scriabin was trying very hard not to laugh. You've got to be kidding me...

"Okay, uh...how do you know my name?"

Nice job, just confirmed that was your name.

Well, what's he going to do with it anyway?

"I've been following you." Jimmy grinned and Edgar realized he had no idea how potentially creepy that would sound. For all intents and purposes, Jimmy was speaking to Edgar as if they were friends or acquaintances, as if they had talked several times before tonight. He spoke as if he expected Edgar to know exactly what he was talking about. It was disconcerting on several levels. "Just watching you and Johnny. Well...mostly Johnny, but you were usually there too. He's who I'm looking for..."

Of course, looking for Johnny. What other reason to follow me could there be?

That would explain his choice in fashion, I suppose. Scriabin snickered.

Jimmy sounded so familiar with him and Edgar felt exceedingly awkward for not having anything close to similar feelings towards him. The strength of Jimmy's conviction forced Edgar's tone to be kinder than it normally might have been. "I...guessed as much...?"

"Well, not looking for exactly. No, not looking anymore. I've finally been able to track him down after all this time! I've found him, I finally found him!" Jimmy sounded deeply enthused by the idea. The more excited he felt and acted, the more distant Edgar felt. The sheer bizarreness of the situation, of the conversation, seemed completely unreal. This couldn't be happening. "I'm going to go talk to him but I have to ask you some things first. I thought you'd know and all, since you're with him a lot of the time."

Jimmy started as if to sit down next to him but then stopped. Frankly Edgar was seriously uncomfortable, and maybe his body language made it clear that Jimmy'd be better off staying where he was.

Jimmy stared at him expectantly, and Edgar felt as though he had to say something. He still felt unbelievably detached from the entire conversation and found that as a result, he could think of absolutely nothing to say.

"So...you've been stalking us, basically." Just rephrase the situation.

So you did pick up something from those pop psychology books.

"I wouldn't call it that." Jimmy looked dramatically stricken. "This runs a lot deeper than that, this is more than any mere 'stalking.'" He emphasized the quotation marks with his fingers and a roll of his eyes. "This is about art."

"Art?" Edgar thought back, remembered the paintings he had seen so long ago. Was this a friend of Johnny's from-

"Yes, art." Jimmy sighed. "Well, I don't know if you'd understand...I never saw you kill anyone-"

Edgar stifled a small gasp and immediately recoiled away from him.

So he's that kind of admirer. How perfect is this. I couldn't ask for something better than this.

Now the familiarity of his tone made Edgar feel almost...dirty. This was not the kind of person he wanted to be associated with in any way, and in particular, not the kind of person he wanted to be stalked by.

Oh ho ho, I'm taking notes on this. This is going to be great.

Jimmy continued. "But I saw you there most of the time, when Johnny descended on the unworthy." The change in his tone and the smile confirmed Edgar's suspicions. "God, it's so beautiful! To see those people who think they're so great get shown what they really are inside! To see real justice!"

Justice...you think this is about justice? You think this is righteous somehow? He's- how...h-how can...you have...you have no concept of human life, you can't be serious...

Edgar didn't think that he was hiding his disgust very well, but Jimmy apparently didn't notice. "You saw it, you were there the longest. I mean, you really saw it!" Again, that excited almost-squeal. "You were right there when Johnny showed them, showed everyone! You were there, right there when Johnny dispensed real justice on the scum of the earth!"

My goodness, this sounds familiar! Didn't we talk about this back when you encountered that pedophile? Scriabin trying to talk and laugh at the same time.

Jimmy stretched out a hand. Edgar feared for a moment that he'd try to touch him, but Jimmy just gestured at the sky. "You remember the best times, don't you? You know, back when he didn't talk so much, when he didn't let the killing get to him and it was a lot funnier. That's what I want to tell him when we meet, I want to tell him that the blood is what matters. Isn't that a cool phrase?"

You think this is funny! Couldn't stop the indignant mental scream. How could, how could you think someone dying is funny, how could someone ever think that, my God...!

He does have a point though. Scriabin forcing words out between gales of laughter. Nny does tend to talk a lot more nowadays, doesn't he?

Oh my God, how can someone...

"Didn't talk so much..." Edgar felt a strong twinge of nausea, and Scriabin stopped laughing for a few seconds.

"Yeah, when he was always going on with all those words." Jimmy waved a dismissive hand. "I think Johnny's losing his focus on what's really important. The beauty of what he does, the art of death." A longing sigh. "It's so beautiful, to see the last spark of life burn out under your hands, to know that you brought awareness of someone else's pointless bleak existence to them the moment before they fade from this cruel world."

Oh god, gothic poetry- gothic poetry! This can't get any better.

Edgar wasn't listening to Scriabin. "You...you think what he does is beautiful...?"

"It is beautiful!" Jimmy turned his attention back to Edgar. He sounded vaguely offended at the question, no doubt expecting Edgar to understand what he was saying immediately. "You must understand, you're with him all the time. You know those bullies, those close-minded weaklings who always mock people who are better than they are. You know there are people out there who deserve to die, but there are so few who can actually do it, actually kill! I couldn't believe it when I first saw Johnny work, I couldn't believe he did what I dreamed of! He got revenge!"

You don't understand anything...oh my God... Stronger twinge of nausea, and this time Scriabin really did stop laughing.

"Oh God, it's so sweet to get revenge." Jimmy hissed with excitement through his teeth. "Johnny showed me I don't have to take it, I can do just what he can! And it felt so good, the first person I-"

Oh God, oh my God, he's killed people too-

Edgar felt dizzy, a faint blackness on the edge of his vision, and then he heard a shocked hiss in the back of his mind. Something pushing and the blackness slowly faded away.

Goddammit. You stupid fanboy, couldn't you have waited a day or so? This would be perfect if he wasn't so fragile right now.

I...this can't be...

Sigh of frustration. Don't think too hard about this just yet. Maybe in a few hours, but not right now. Just try and make it through this conversation without passing out.

Jimmy had been talking during Edgar's brief mental interlude, apparently not noticing that Edgar wasn't paying attention.

"...was the sweetest of them all! That's why I wanted to talk to you first." Jimmy knelt down and looked Edgar in the eye. "I just want to clear up a few things. You must know a lot about Johnny, but you don't kill like he does, do you?"

"No," Edgar choked out.

He could hear Scriabin bite his tongue.

"So Johnny doesn't have a partner or anything?"

Scriabin hissing in pain at biting back his words.

"No." Same weak voice.

"Great!" Jimmy smiled again. "I didn't think you'd be his partner. You're not...the right type for it. Although that coat is nice."

Type, type, my God, these are people's lives, how can you-

Come on, calm down. You can get offended and all later when you're more prepared for it.

"Type for it..." Mumbling in distraction.

"Only two artists can really communicate. I mean, there's a lot of nothing that goes on between two normal people in this empty world, all that shallow meaningless talk." Recited speech. Sinking suspicion that it was intended for Johnny to hear. "We're brothers of the mind, me and Johnny. Don't you think? We understand each other completely. I can't wait to meet him, I know it'll be amazing."

Wow. And I thought you were naive.

"Understand...you think you understand him?" Vague anger. You think after all this work and effort I put into doing that that it's as easy as just saying it was so?

"Of course I understand him." Jimmy waved a hand again. "We're kindred spirits, dispensing justice in a black and dying world. He appreciates death, just like I do. I've suffered the same kind of injustice at the hands of the unappreciative masses. I can understand his pain. I mean, I've even got his boots! I know everything about him! I even stole some Noodle Boy comics."

Some what?

"He's..."

Can you just imagine Johnny's reaction to this kid? Scriabin probably didn't intend the question to be more than a setup for some sarcastic comment, but it made Edgar stop dead.

Oh my God, no...

He had to say something. If Jimmy did find and talk to Johnny, there was no doubt in his mind that Jimmy wouldn't survive the encounter. He had to try and stop him.

"He's...Johnny's insane."

Jimmy gave him a long blank stare that gradually faded into disappointment. "Geniuses are always considered insane."

"No, you don't understand, he's-"

"Besides, if he was crazy," Jimmy emphasized the word in a way that made Edgar's eye twitch, "why would he be friends with you? To be honest, I think you're a little too normal for him."

Too normal, my God, what-

He won't believe you. You should probably try a different approach.

"Just listen, just...this is...this is a bad time to try and talk to him..."

"Why?" Jimmy looked concerned for his hero.

"He's...just trust me." Edgar had no idea what to say. "This is not a good time-"

"Then when? You'd know, right? When should I meet him?"

He couldn't say never, as much as he wanted to.

Looks like you get to decide how long Jimmy gets to live. Blood's getting on your hands no matter what you do.

I've...I've got to warn Johnny, I've got to do something, if I can't get Jimmy to stop, I've got to...do something.

"I'm...not sure right now. Johnny's going through...a lot." Edgar cursed himself. That sounded so stupid. "He won't exactly be...open to new people."

"No no, that's just it." Jimmy smiled again. Just like Edgar was an old friend, and he barely suppressed a shudder. "I'm not a normal person, I'm not like those people out there. I understand Johnny."

Oh my God, you understand nothing about him.

Barely refrained from saying that out-loud. "Listen, it's...I'm his friend, all right? You must know that, considering you've been...following us."

Jimmy nodded reluctantly.

"I don't completely understand him-"

"Of course you don't." Edgar didn't muffle his slight sigh of distaste at Jimmy's interruption. Jimmy smiled at him again, completely unaware of how arrogant he sounded. "Only I could ever really understand Johnny. We're-"

"I know, brothers of the mind. I remember. But that's not the point."

Flattery may get you somewhere with him... Scriabin again trying hard not to laugh.

Edgar's mental voice expressed all of the indignant rage he wouldn't put in verbal words. I would never, ever flatter someone like this!

Good for you. At least you're learning something.

"I may not understand him, but I do know him." Edgar found he disliked how much control Jimmy was trying to usurp over this conversation, didn't like having to play into what Jimmy believed to be true. Edgar felt something strange, a desire to remind Jimmy that he wasn't exactly powerless and he wasn't as harmless as he may have thought. "He trusts me, and he talks to me."

Open jealousy on Jimmy's face, although he didn't say anything.

I'm still taking notes, Scriabin sang mockingly. You know I am. I can't do it here, not when you're like this, but later.

I don't even care right now.

"And I'm telling you, now is not a good time. I can't say for sure when Johnny will be...receptive to meeting new people..."

Jimmy did not appreciate being reminded of Edgar's familiarity with Johnny. His tone had a definite hostile tinge. "Well then when. You didn't answer me before."

"Give me a chance to talk to him." Another flash of jealousy across Jimmy's face. "I can tell him who you are-"

"No no no!" Jimmy held out his hands. "No, we have to meet in person! That's the only way I can really connect with him! I have so much to say!"

He just wants to die so badly. Why does this seem so familiar? Muffled laughter.

"Listen to me!" Edgar found himself getting irritated despite his best efforts. "Unless you want me to tell him not to see you at all..."

That was a childish thing to resort to and Edgar did regret bringing it up, but it was too late to fix it now. Jimmy sulked at the threat, but didn't say anything. Whatever friendship he assumed he and Edgar would create was now badly damaged, and it was hard to repair something that didn't exist to begin with.

Oh my dear boy, do you really want Jimmy to die?

No- no! What gave you that idea?

"Give me some time to talk to him. I'll try and figure out what's wrong. Maybe I can help him through this period, and-"

"What could you do for him?" Jimmy didn't hide his jealous tone now. "You can't understand him on the same level as I can. I mean, you don't even kill people. You've never experienced that rush. You've probably never even suffered like we have! You never had to go through endless days of teasing and mockery! You've never had people make fun of you or been so constantly misunderstood! You've never been surrounded by stupid people who can't appreciate true greatness, true genius when they see it! You never stood up and showed everyone what real power is like! You don't understand Johnny at all, you're too normal." Jimmy rolled his eyes at the word. "What makes you think you can help him through whatever this is better than I can?"

Edgar narrowed his eyes and fought to keep his voice level. "Maybe it's because I've actually talked to him."

The two stared at each other.

"What could you talk to him about?" Jimmy glared.

"I just- ngh." Edgar ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. He knew where this conversation would go if he didn't put a stop to it. "This will get us nowhere. I'm telling you, you shouldn't try to find Johnny now. Maybe in a week or so, but not now-"

"A week or so?" Jimmy raised an eyebrow. "Why should I listen to you?"

"Because I'm his friend. You know that, if you've been stalking us as much as you say. I can talk with him-"

"That's just because you got there first." Jimmy moved a hand towards the suitcase by his side. "Johnny hasn't found his real soul-mate yet because he hasn't met me."

Scriabin immediately stopped laughing when Jimmy fingered the silver lock on the case. There was a definite suspicious tone in his voice. Hmm?

"And when I meet him, when I finally meet him after all this time, then he won't need you anymore." Jimmy tried to put a dismissive tone in his voice. "I'll be everything Johnny will ever want. I can be everything, his companion in everything. We won't need you. Maybe...we'll even get rid of you..."

A smile, another hand twitch towards the case.

Oh? Oh what's this? The sudden change in Scriabin's tone caused Edgar to jump a little. He was unprepared for the pure venom, the viciousness and menace. He'd never heard him talk this way before. You think you can kill him? You think you can kill him while I'm here? Try it. Just try it you obnoxious little stupid naive gothy fantard wannabe, go ahead. Go ahead, try and hurt him, I'll rip your scrawny little pimply body into strips if you even get close to him. I'll tear you apart with my bare hands if you so much as think of hurting him. Try me. I dare you. I fucking dare you.

Snarling in the back of his mind, growling and a deep and fierce sense of protectiveness.

In a way, Edgar was touched, although that was quickly and easily muffled by how remarkably uncomfortable this situation was.

"Well, it doesn't matter anyway." Jimmy stood up and brushed himself off with exaggerated motions, then swept up his suitcase with one hand. "You don't know him like I do. You can't connect on the same level. I'm going to meet up with him."

Fine, go ahead you idiot. Get yourself killed. Serves you right. Scriabin still growling deep.

Scriabin, stop it. Stop that, this is a human life we're talking about-

Oh stop with the fucking morality play, you want him to die too. Just admit it for once.

"Two weeks." It was the first number that came to mind.

Jimmy glared at him for a few seconds, then walked away without another word.

After he left, Edgar stared at the sky and sighed.

Let's get out of here. Scriabin sounded disgusted. Go home and take a nap, then I want to talk to you.

That doesn't sound particularly encouraging.

I would talk to you now, but I can feel some wounds still running deep. You need time to heal. Again, resentment. But as soon as I can, I want to talk to you.

A few droplets spattered against his upturned face. Figures the rain wouldn't stop just yet.

Edgar got up slowly and left the church behind.

Chapter Text

He drove home with some difficulty. His broken glasses didn't help, the rain didn't help, and his mental exhaustion certainly didn't help. More often than not Scriabin had to sharply remind him where to turn, to look out for other cars, and that that was a stop light, not a stop sign.

What had happened, the implications of everything that had just happened to him, kept trying to surface. He tried very hard not to think about it. The knowledge that there was something he should be dealing with, something very important, lingered in the back of all his thoughts, but he didn't want to think about that now. Not just yet. He was too tired.

Scriabin worked with him on this issue. He didn't bring up anything that had just happened. He commented when Edgar endangered his safety, but mostly limited his contributions to soft thoughtful sounds. Edgar didn't care enough to inquire as to what Scriabin could be thinking about.

Just didn't want to think. Sleep was an easy way to take care of that.

When he got home, he shut the door behind him and at Scriabin's reminder, locked it. Despite the fact there was nothing more he wanted to do than go to sleep, he followed Scriabin's advice and locked all of his windows. Finally, he kicked off his shoes and fell onto his bed without changing his clothes and without getting beneath the covers.

It took a surprisingly short time for his thoughts to quiet enough to allow him to sleep, considering what had happened. Scriabin helped him in this regard, helped refocus and redirect thoughts that led in circles. His voice was sharp, almost annoyed, but what he was doing at the time was more important to Edgar than how he was doing it.

Dreams...

Without his normal logical barriers, his dreams quickly focused on what had just happened. The fear and confusion, the trauma of regression, and the certainty of his future.

Of Hell.

Harder to control now. Edgar was not a lucid dreamer.

Something vague and ominous looming over him, a flash of something black, and then it was gone. The same thing kept repeating and repeating...something approaching, black flash, gone. Some kind of bizarre camera or something...no, that didn't make sense...

Unwillingly trapped in a child's body--not unusual in his dreams--although this time Edgar could think rationally. Confusion, terror at this being his prison, an attempt to escape thwarted by something else, and the constant insignificant feeling that came with a body so small and powerless. Fear and failure, and the looming thing again.

He felt arms gently close around him. His adult body returned to him, the fear and the thing faded, and the dream thankfully shifted to less frightening territory. The arms remained through it all, an anchor, and he felt a body pressed against his back. Someone breathing against him and warmth through his clothes.

Soft whispering that the entire thing was still just a dream and as much as it may have shamed him, not a dream he was unfamiliar with either. He had had dreams that just consisted of genuine constant contact with another person. Nothing deeper than that. Just to be touched, to be held, to connect with someone on that level. Contact was so rare when he was young, hugs given such importance because they were so uncommon.

He didn't like thinking about those dreams and often relegated them to the same place as the dreams about his breakfast or about whatever book he had just read...all dreams were meaningless. They didn't mean anything. Just as becoming some random chipmunk, being shot three times, and standing on the edge of a rooftop being offered the world all meant nothing, so did the dreams of being held in a tight and loving embrace.

It didn't matter who held him in these dreams; it was being held at all. Being cared for. Previously he thought of God, which was the only real possibility that had no unpleasant implications. Affection from that source had no guilt, no bad feelings associated with it. Honesty. He could appreciate that affection without any regret. It was supposed to be there.

Now...he tried not to think of who held him. He didn't like the possibilities that arose if he thought too hard about it. Scriabin of course had mentioned at times how the arms that held him in one dream or another were thin, skeletal, with fingers that more resembled claws than anything else...

Thus why Edgar tried not to think about these kind of dreams, and why he decided that they didn't mean anything.

This didn't change the effect they had on him, that they had always had on him...that sense of peace, serenity, and calm. To be cared for, by one source or another. To be wanted...noticed...

With what had happened recently...he couldn't attribute this to God, as he had before. He wanted to, he so desperately wanted to, but he couldn't. Not anymore. At that thought, the person who held him hugged him tighter, whispered something he couldn't remember.

He slept this way, with the illusion of someone beside him, and he slept deeply without any more trouble.


The next three days did not follow the pattern Edgar had unwittingly set for himself. They blurred away into something hazy in his memory, days with no meaning and no purpose. Much, he found on further introspection, like the majority of his life before he met Johnny. Since that encounter his life had become increasingly memorable, if one could put it so lightly. Days filled with tense minutes and memories of conversations, of emotions, or at least of some kind of marker that made it clear this day was different, this day was a day rather than a smudge of time that he logically knew had passed, but had no evidence for.

It had been a long time since he could forget days like that, since he could forget even hours or minutes.

The seventy-two hours showed him that there was a reason outside of Johnny that he found his days memorable, a reason he was not aware of at the time to which he had never given real consideration or thought.

For those three days, Scriabin did not argue with him.

He disliked using the word--finding it laden with more potential meaning than he felt the situation deserved--but the all-too-brief days without the constant bitter sarcasm, the mean-spirited sniping insults, the logical traps and metaphysical snares, could only be described as pleasant. It was the only word that seemed to sum it up so completely.
Pleasant.

Not to say that Scriabin did not get in a few sarcastic jabs here and there, but Edgar thought it too much to expect all of it to stop. It was the feeling behind the words, what they were directed at, that changed the mood and tone of their relationship. Scriabin's digs about accidentally spilling his cereal, the jokes while he was reading, the comments on his wardrobe and workday, were made in a light and forgiving manner. There was no malice, no deeper hatred that motivated Scriabin's occasional antagonistic remarks.

Edgar wondered at times if this was the only way Scriabin knew how to interact with others, through a kind of teasing that perhaps spoke of some kind of affection. How school yard.

Edgar thought that the general peace meant he could be honest. He thought it meant that he could ask Scriabin questions that he had never found the appropriate time for before. Scriabin did answer one or two, but avoided the others uncomfortably. When Edgar pressed the matter, Scriabin lashed out at him quickly and with viciousness, reminded Edgar that mistaking kindness for closeness could be fatal. Edgar immediately retreated and apologized, boundaries made quite clear. A very long hour went by of awkward silence before Scriabin was willing to speak with him again, and by then it was like it never happened.

An uneasy cease-fire, but one that existed nonetheless. Certain topics became instinctually off-limits. There was no talk of what had happened in the church, of the notes Johnny had left, of Jimmy, of the future, of his feelings, or of dreams. Everything that Edgar feared would be brought up against him as soon as Scriabin found the chance now lay at rest.

He knew why Scriabin was doing this, why he let the animosity go for now. Healing, he had said. Edgar wasn't sure how to do that. He didn't know how to heal, where to begin. He just assumed, as he thought Scriabin did as well, that rest, mental as well as physical, would help that process along. Scriabin granted him both.

Edgar slept for periods of time that he previously thought impossible. Fourteen hours went by without him stirring at all. His dreams were hazy but not as hazy as he would have liked, although Scriabin made no comment. They were pleasant though, fulfilled their purpose and allowed him to sleep.

He caught up on everything that he had neglected over time. He restocked his fridge, picked up the pieces of paper and pens scattered on the floor, cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen. He explained his absence at work, arranged a time to make up for the hours he had missed, got gas for his car, and contacted his optometrist about getting a new pair of glasses after what felt like years without them. He was eager to put an end to the constant ache between his eyes that he was sure was the fault of the cracked glass.

Small errands that built unmonitored. Nothing that required his immediate, urgent attention, just minor distractions. Something to keep his hands busy, keep his mind away.

For once Edgar recalled having an actual, genuine conversation with Scriabin that did not revolve around some fault of Edgar's. A conversation that wandered without focus, changed with what he was doing, without depth yet still indicating a kind of familiarity Edgar wasn't aware they could have.

He heard Scriabin really laugh for the first time, and realized he couldn't remember the last time he had laughed himself.

Three days. The phone was silent.

It was pleasant to keep it shallow. Keep away depth that they knew was painful, that they were both well aware of. Chatting about things that didn't mean anything: the weather, this author, or the current movie that came out. A constant conversation in his head that had no meaning and wouldn't be remembered. Like the forgettable days he thought he could never have again, conversations with Scriabin faded into the back of his mind.

Building a friendship on lies, on false shallowness, on the desperate fantasy of normalcy. Despite the fact that the conversation was internal, that the person--if he could be considered one--that Edgar was talking to existed only within his mind, despite all this there was the wish that this normal life he was leading, all the minor errands and lost time and conversations that were completely and totally unremarkable, was real. That things really were this simple. That the voice in his head really was just amused by the word "elocution" and had a craving for tacos. That there was no homicidal maniac, no otherworldly system, no emotional turmoil, no eternal damnation. No loss, no pain, no hurt, no damage.

Normality. Playing at a normal life. What Scriabin had once condemned as meaningless, pointless, he now worked to keep alive. Worked as hard for the same illusion, although Edgar couldn't say for sure it was for the same reason. He would've liked to, but he didn't know that for sure.

And at some points during those three days, Edgar thought that this resembled his old life, before he met Johnny, more than he thought it should, and he wasn't sure what it meant that the false hollowness had suddenly become so appealing.

They both knew it was a lie.

They both knew it had to end.

Edgar was sitting on his couch reading. Scriabin was humming some tune in the back of his mind that sounded familiar, but Edgar couldn't place it. He wondered if this was going to be one of those things that was going to haunt him, if at some point in the future that was entirely inappropriate he would suddenly perk up and shout the name of the song as if figuring it out was some kind of accomplishment. It could happen, or the tune could just dwindle off into his memory and be forgotten, as so many other melodies had done. He wondered briefly if Scriabin just made up each little song, a thought which always made Scriabin snicker softly but never answer the question.

Interactions without meaning, skating on the surface of a pond that had been unbroken for days Edgar loved not being able to remember.

Scriabin's humming slowly faded, and there was relative silence. A moment of self-awareness and Edgar realized with mild amazement that he thought mental silence was unusual.

Edgar...

Mmhmm?

These past three days have been pleasant. I know that's the word you've chosen for this, and I can't find any direct fault with it at the moment. It's as good a word as any.

He turned the page. Sure.

I would like to pretend that this could continue, that I could accomplish what you asked of me when...

Edgar's eyes widened at the realization that this was it, this was when it would end, and he sighed. He closed the book carefully and set it to one side. He knew this would happen, he knew it, and yet somehow he didn't feel prepared.

Scriabin must have felt similarly, as he sounded more morose than anything else. I wish I could erase what you've done. I wish this could be how things are, that everything you've done could be so easily glossed over. But I can't. I'm not willing to live a lie. I know the short-term benefits of the occasional flight of fancy, the escape that all people require at some point or another. I understand that, so don't try to bring it up. But, Edgar, I know that this cannot continue. I know when it has to stop. I know when the lies have to stop.

Edgar wanted to say something in response, but he couldn't think of anything. It was only three days, and to be at such a loss for words...was this loss deliberate, an attempt to evade the argument he knew would come? He really didn't want to start fighting again, not just yet...

Not his decision. It is time for reality, Edgar, for what we've put off. Two weeks you told him before, and that gives us a limited window of time, if there is one at all.

It was the first number to come to mind...

Ha... Quiet and humorless. I remember saying I would take notes, but after all this time, it's a little more indistinct than I would like. I'm not sure where to begin with all that has happened recently. All of it speaks of a future less than pleasant. I'd rather not deal with another mental breakdown, not after how calm it's been, so talking about this may take a bit more finesse than I planned.

Or you're used to. They had traded minor insults for the last few days without the threat of serious consequences. Scriabin sighed.

Even the false relationship that's been built...even that must come down eventually, I suppose. It's not even directly related, but everything gets connected in the end...regardless Edgar, what do you want to think about first? Why not, tell me what you feel most able to handle at the moment.

Edgar thought for a moment, considered. The past few days had been a blur...memories that he had avoided had tried with some success to join the lost time. Defense mechanism after defense mechanism, and...

There are so many things I don't want to think about...

A pause, and Scriabin sounded thoughtful. God, you bare yourself to me without thought now. How desperate are you for affection? For the false friendship we had built? How badly do you want someone to be weak to without being stabbed in the chest for it?

Edgar sighed. Not just yet, he really didn't want to...

Maybe things did change with us...

You wish they had changed. Struggling to find a rhythm that he once found natural. You wish that things could change that easily between us, that we really are just our most positive attributes, one-dimensional things that interact so easily. No past to complicate things, no future, just what we wish the other was and the other working to fulfill that desire. No... He should be angrier. Edgar expected him to sound angrier. It doesn't work that way. Not that easily. I'm going to have to break through the ice--as usual, take the initiative--since I know you're no help in this department.

Edgar leaned back and rested an arm across his forehead. Well, go ahead. You might as well.

But before Scriabin could continue, Edgar thought of something else. What would it be like, Scriabin? I mean...if it was really like this? If we really didn't hate each other as much as we do?

Another long pause.

I wouldn't be here, Edgar, obviously. He sounded somewhat hesitant. Such a simple leap of logic I thought wouldn't be beyond you. Hate, perhaps, is not the key factor here. It's what I do that you think requires your hate. Arguing with you is what was missing these past three days, Edgar, not our mutual dislike. Fighting with you reinforces, justifies what you feel for me and without that, it fades. You forget that it's there without that constant reminder.

He wasn't sure if he believed that. So why not just-

But fighting with you is what I do. You know that. It's how things work, isn't it? I challenge you, I raise questions-

That I don't like to answer, I know. Edgar waved a hand.

But that's what it is, Edgar. That's how it works. I fight you, I question you, and primarily I don't listen to you. Otherwise you wouldn't need me. Otherwise...I wouldn't have come this far.

But what if...I mean, you used that to develop, in a way. I mean, arguing provided you with a focus while you...grew, isn't that right? Why is it that we have to keep...

Edgar, stop. Scriabin sighed. I told you, we can't live like this. This is not who we are. Fantasies will only end up getting us both killed. With our current situation, we can't get caught up in minor problems, in what we wish was true. We need solutions, we need plans of action.

I don't see why we can't...

You know why we can't? I didn't want to do this this quickly, but already you're reminding me. He spoke fast and with a hatred Edgar wished was false. I can pretend to like you, I can hold my tongue in check for three days, but that doesn't change anything. It doesn't change the fact that I hate what you do, how you act, your decisions that put me in this position-

My decisions? Edgar felt his hand clench, and this did feel familiar now that he thought about it. How can you criticize me-

Fine, let's hit the most pressing issue first. Let's destroy this illusion before it becomes any more appealing or valid. We're in a bad position now, Edgar, we're in a very bad position and it's a result of your actions. We're a waste-lock now, remember? A twinge and he felt goose bumps rise. You remember, I know you do. I'm sure that hasn't slipped your memory completely over these past few days. I'm still not sure how much of it is real, thanks to you, but Satan told you what will happen. He told you that essentially, we're going to become the focus for every aggressive feeling in our vicinity.

Hearing the words but still the deeper meaning eluded him. The ramifications, the long-term consequences he had avoided for so long. How do you know that for sure?

Godda-! Ggh, I forgot you'd do this. Right. Scriabin's voice changed abruptly, cloying and hatefully sarcastic. You still don't think that was all my fault, do you?

Edgar felt his eyes narrow and a quick defensive reaction, an urge to claim that he didn't know what he was doing before he realized that wouldn't help his case. Instead he struggled to match Scriabin's tone. No, I don't, but that doesn't mean that what happened actually-

An angry frustrated sound. Okay fine, fine. Go ahead and do that. Go ahead. But indulge me, Edgar, please. Deeply sarcastic. Just play along with me for now, let's get whimsically hypothetical. Let's just say that, horror of goddamn horrors, that maybe this whole thing is more than just some "I-got-punched-in-the-nose" fantasy and maybe, just maybe, the future for you isn't mindless chatter about sitcoms and cereal. Maybe the future for you isn't what you want it to be or what you wish it was, and maybe in fact the future is entirely out of your control.

Funny, you seemed quite intent on saying that I was in control of it at the church. His eyes still narrowed and he felt the beginnings of familiar shivers. He tried to force his body to stay still.

A pause and Edgar felt rather proud of himself. Maybe his arguing skills weren't the only ones that had suffered a little from disuse. Scriabin struggled with his response.

Continuing with our "this isn't real" take on the current scenario--I know it's your favorite kind--I merely presented to you the possibility of your real power. I told you that you could be free, that you did have options, and that now, you could take control of your life. Not that you had, but that you could. Frankly, I don't think you will.

That doesn't surprise me. I hardly expect your support.

Ha, see how easy this is? See how easy it is for us to go back to how it was? You know why that is? Because this is how things are. This is how things work. This is how it works for us. We can pretend but what good is that? Pretending doesn't change anything. Pretending things are better doesn't actually make it so. You've always had trouble with that concept.

Edgar rolled his eyes. Here it comes...

Scriabin paused and he heard him hiss softly. Obviously didn't expect Edgar to anticipate what he was going to say. No, there are more important things to think about now than him. For example, the fact that your soul, as I mentioned, may belong to something other than God now...

If this entire waste-lock thing is true, anyway. It was simple to set himself in the position of general yet unquestionable opposition. I don't know that for sure.

How much evidence will you need? Spiteful. How far along will you have to go? If what the Devil said is true, the end result of this entire thing is eventual collapse. What exactly that entails I can't say for sure, although I can say with some certainty that it is not good. Personally, I imagine insanity at the end of this entire thing for you. How crazy will you have to get before you believe that this is happening?

I'm going to need some evidence. I'm not going to jump to conclusions because of something that may or may not have been a dream. He crossed his arms.

It wasn't a dream because Nny collaborated on the details with you. Unless you're planning on blaming this on some kind of collective unconscious Jungian ideal, and you have just as much evidence for that possibility as you have to the lock theory.

There was that thread that Scriabin had mentioned before, that one persistent chink in the mental armor that he kept forgetting about, and Edgar couldn't find a way around it. He cursed softly, wished he could just end the conversation-

I can feel your defense mechanisms beginning to set in... As if to add weight to his words, Scriabin sounded distracted. I suppose I got carried away. God, I forgot how angry you can make me sometimes. However, I'm going to take the high road here and keep in mind how this needs to go. It's no good for either of us if you have another breakdown-

No good for you, you mean. Edgar kept his arms crossed, still irritated at having been caught in the same trap. He let his voice turn sarcastic. You understand when I say that I somehow doubt your concern.

A pause. Good to hear. Blind faith, trusting what you're told without question is never a good idea. Do you know why? Sickeningly sweet tone. Because when your false idol is exposed, you suffer. You're intimately familiar with that, aren't you, my boy?

Edgar winced at the thought, and he heard Scriabin hiss.

God- you always do this to me. I didn't...no, I'm not apologizing to you. I may have to get your life in order, but I'll be damned if I'll apologize for you being an idiot.

Edgar thought, noticed that his leg was twitching. He wasn't sure when he started doing that. You're in a really bad mood today, aren't you?

He didn't think that such an offhand comment would give Scriabin so much trouble, but he didn't respond for almost a minute.

I'm losing focus. Control. I'm usually much more composed than this. Eloquent. That's a better word for it. I can do much better than this. As appealing as it may be to exploit your weak spots now, that wouldn't be productive. I let you heal so we could discuss this, not so I could pull out the stitches.

Edgar hesitated. He didn't want to think about this, but he couldn't do that anymore. He had to stop hiding--as he was sure Scriabin wouldn't let him rest otherwise--and just as he suspected, there were connections involved in this entire thing that he really did not want to contemplate. But Scriabin started it, Scriabin opened the lines and wanted to talk about it, and that was what Edgar would do. Scriabin, you said...well, the Devil...said...that we're going to be the focal point for every negative feeling in our vicinity...that every hateful feeling is going to be channeled into and through me...do you think...if this whole thing has started already, do you think that's why you're so angry now?

Another pause, then a thoughtful hum in the back of his mind.

No, no I don't. I've been controlling my temper for some time without too much effort. I think this is more of a situation where the anger just accumulates and then comes out in one big burst...

God, what will happen to me? Edgar rested his head in his hands. If this whole thing is really true, how will this affect me? Will I change? I mean, I would have to change...I can't imagine this whole process being...unnoticeable. It can't be, he said that the locks eventually collapse...this will have to affect me in one way or another, if this is all true. What will it do to me? What will this be like? Will I become those feelings? If...Nny said that he was a lock and that he felt that his actions were beyond his control...it could be that the amount of...hate going through him...fed his psychosis. Will that happen to me? God, losing control like that...will I...collapse...

Couldn't have been more specific, eh? Scriabin directed his comment to someone who was not listening. Collapse indeed. There's a number of meanings that could potentially have. Well, I suppose it's in his character not to tell the whole story.

And you, what will happen to you through all of this?

Scriabin didn't say anything.

Unless...

You're...asking me? A moment where he sounded fairly amazed, then his tone quickly hardened. Why do you care? Since when have you ever cared about how anything affects me?

I mean...look at what you said before. That was...you've...gotten angrier recently.

No I haven't. You've gotten weaker.

You've gotten angrier...you swear more often...you've lost your patience with me much faster than before...and you've said things to me that really...that you wouldn't have said before. At least, I don't think you would have.

Scriabin snorted. Amusingly enough, I think you're giving me too much credit. I didn't think I'd ever say that. Don't tell me that that false friendship we created has completely wiped your memory. My boy, my dear child, I said things to you in our distant past that cut you far deeper than anything I've said recently. Some of my earliest...some of the earliest things I said to you were far more venomous, far less forgiving than what I say now. What has changed here is not what I say to you, not my attitude. I have not become crueler, my boy, or more short-tempered. I have merely become more powerful, and you have subsequently become weaker. That is the reason my words have more of an effect on you.

I don't think so... Edgar shook his head. There's more to this than that, I'm sure of it. You're the one who's so insistent that this entire process is, in fact, occurring at all. If that's the case, there must be some kind of...impact it has on me. On us both.

I don't-

I remember something, I remember you talking about seeing something. When I was half-awake that one time, I remember you swearing and I remember how you felt...this kind of anxiety. That's not nothing, that's not...normal. We saw something, both of us, and you saw it too. It wasn't real but you saw it too.

I didn't see-

You're always claiming we're so connected. Irritation in his voice that he didn't intend. You're always going on about how we're the same person, or if not that, that we at least came from the same source. We're joined, you feel what I feel, all of that. Why is it now, when something bad is happening, you're suddenly...exempt? Why is it that whenever something bad happens to me, we suddenly couldn't be more separate?

Another pause.

I didn't say that I was exempt, that wasn't-

What are you? Edgar found this topic to be less potentially disturbing than the idea of being a waste-lock and the ramifications thereof, and thus readily changed his focus. What are you, anyway? What's your answer this time? Are you still me? Are you different from me? What do you want from me? What do you want?

Silence.

Edgar was about to get up and walk into his room, guessing that maybe being closer to the action figure might give him some more hints as to how Scriabin was reacting, when Scriabin spoke again.

Edgar, tell me. You aren't honestly stupid enough to think that I would ever tell you anything about myself, are you? Do you think, do you somehow think that after all this time the grand secret of my existence, my deep inner goals and the mysterious workings of my mind, can so easily be accessed with just a simple question? Not only that, but the same question you've been asking for as long as I can remember for the fifty-thousandth time? Grow up, Edgar. Merely hardening your voice and sounding authoritative won't get you anywhere with me. It never has. You have no power over me anymore.

Are you saying I used to?

Scriabin took a moment to consider this. Which way to toy with you, which way to take this...fine. I'll play along. Yes, I do think you had power over me once, long ago. But guess what. I warned you. I warned you not to give me a name. And even though I didn't warn you before that to stop encouraging me, you gladly fed me by constantly validating my contributions, by interacting with me. You kept me alive because instead of ignoring me, you gave me your hatred, your resentment, all the negative aspects of yourself, and that was more of a validation than you knew. You created me. It's your fault I'm here, and all of my relative power has its source within you.

Well, why can't I take it away?

Edgar, there's this concept that both you and your dear psychopath have problems with. It's called 'change.' Perhaps someday, long ago in the foggy mists of the past, you could have stopped me. Maybe there was a time when you could have taken more responsibility for your conflicting emotions, for the two sides you couldn't reconcile, and maybe you could have stopped me. But I'm afraid, my boy, that I have changed. And so have you, if you'd bother to take the time to consider it. I have changed, Edgar. I have taken the power you offered me. I have changed and become something that you have no power over now. You can't control me. I don't have to tell you anything. You can't make me tell you anything.

That's funny...I seem to recall that you were quite afraid when I rebuilt my memories not so long ago. Edgar smirked for a moment. I think that'd indicate that I still have some power over you. You're a liar.

Scriabin sighed in irritation. Of course I am, Edgar. You act as if this is new information. In light of this, why do you ask me these questions? Do you expect a truthful answer from me? Do you expect an answer at all?

A pause, and Edgar shook his head. No, I guess I don't.

Good. Now, let's get off this boring topic and focus on what's important. You do have a tendency to focus on such minor details. What I am doesn't matter anymore, as there's nothing you can do about it now.

You know what?

Edgar, I'm-

No, before we move on, I want to say something. You don't know what you are, do you? I bet you don't. I bet you don't even know.

Of course I know what I am. Scriabin sounded deeply offended. What kind of idiot do you take me for? How could I develop this far, and this well I might add, if I didn't know what I was doing?

His defensive reaction was encouraging. You don't have to know what you're doing to accomplish something. I bet, I bet you don't know half of what you think you do about yourself. You're just as confused as I am, you just hide it better. Where you came from, what you're here for, all of it. You don't know. You really don't know, do you? Incoherent frustrated sounds, and Edgar smiled. No wonder you won't answer my question.

I have no idea where you came up with such an incredibly stupid interpretation of what I just told you. A moment to get his voice under control. That's not true, but that's also not important right now. Our 'relationship' is a minor speed bump here. It's so trivial compared to everything else that's happening that it's insulting that we're even talking about it. Can the implications of what happened, the sheer immensity of the fate in store for us, be that lost on you? How can you possibly try to focus on me with so many more serious problems at your doorstep?

Edgar could recognize what Scriabin was doing, but on the other hand, he did have a point. Still...a moment to work his words, find a way to make them sharp and biting. Of course you're upset because we're not focusing on the right problem. Not because you don't want to talk about it or anything.

He heard a low growl in the back of his mind.

God, I hate you.

And Edgar felt satisfied.

You were saying?

Scriabin sounded as if he was trying to make a decision, then made a dismissive sound and continued. What we need to focus on now is how we're going to get out of this. I don't know about you, but I don't feel particularly inclined to become a glorified hate-funnel, as your dear Nny put it. The collapse mentioned also does not sound appealing. We need a plan.

Well then, what do you have in mind?

Silence.

This time, Edgar did get up and walk into his room. The toy stood where it always was, one arm pointing out across his bed.

"You don't actually have a plan, do you?"

"Of course I do." It was an instinctual quick response and it was easy to tell. Edgar sat down on his bed and stared at the motionless action figure. It was strangely comforting to hear his voice physically. At the thought, Edgar quickly reevaluated his feelings. Not comforting. Irritating. "I'm just trying to put it into words."

"You're really off your game today." Edgar leaned back and folded his hands behind his head. "I could see right through that. You usually make it more difficult."

"I've noticed you're also quite a bit more snappish. You know, you ask me if this lock business has made me irritable, but I'm afraid you haven't considered that it cuts both ways. You haven't been this sarcastic with me for some time. In a way, it's encouraging I suppose, but not enough. It's a bad sign."

"So, what's your plan?"

"Hmm..."

Edgar stared up at the ceiling and waited.

"If you hadn't jumbled everything up, I could get a clearer look at things..." Scriabin mumbled. "As it is, the Devil mentions that when the lock is destroyed, the cell empties itself...and that Johnny's suicide destroyed his status as a lock. Obviously, suicide isn't an option."

"Why, exactly?" Edgar was surprised that the words came from him, then looked a bit deeper. "And since when is that your decision?"

Scriabin didn't say anything for a few seconds, and he sounded astonished when he spoke again. "How...I just can't understand. How on earth can you be so callous? For god's sake Edgar, I'm still here with you. I know that it's just so much to ask, but could you please take my feelings, or at least my existence if nothing else, into consideration?"

His sarcasm masked something else, and Edgar for a moment wanted to go for it, wanted to dig through the masking lie and expose it, but then he remembered.

Promises in the church, phantasmal contact, and that protective, possessive snarl.

It was so easy to polarize their relationship, to swing from one extreme to the other while forgetting all the shades of gray in-between. It would have been easy to pretend that the two of them were mortal and bitter enemies, just as it would have been to pretend to be friends. But in the end, it wasn't that simple. It would never be that simple.

And in a way, he hated the fact that it couldn't be that simple.

Edgar was silent.

"You don't make this easy," Scriabin said. "We're in a horrible situation now. So many opportunities passed by, and so many bad decisions. Tangled up in mistake after mistake. However, I have confidence that we can make it through this, as we have before. After all, the past isn't always indicative of the future. We can survive. We have and we will. And even if it comes down to it and you give up, as you're so wont to do, I'll survive. I'll make sure of that."

"How?"

A quick question, and again Scriabin was unprepared. They both weren't used to this. That was his only guess as to why Scriabin was getting caught off-guard so often.

"We'll...figure something out. This lock mess...it's not good. There's no easily available out for us. I'm not sure if the process can be reversed. The only thing we really have to work with is the mention that when the lock is destroyed, the cell is emptied. There may be some other way to destroy your status as a lock...although I somehow doubt that any such solution would be pleasant. Johnny for example committed suicide...there must be another way, something less permanently damaging. While Johnny did somehow get his second chance at life, I doubt you'll be so fortunate. The Devil said that he was a mistake, which I suppose led to his resurrection. You, however, are the ideal candidate for this entire mess, and therefore when you die, I think that will be just how things should go. I won't accept that," Edgar opened his mouth to say something, but Scriabin cut him off, "and neither will you, if I have anything to say about it. We're fighting this and that's all there is to it. This time there's no passive acceptance of death, you understand?"

Edgar rolled his eyes, but didn't feel like pressing the issue. Let him believe what he wanted. In the end, it was still Edgar's body and it was still his decision. It wasn't as though Edgar really wanted to commit suicide; he just resented his ability to make that decision being questioned, usurped by Scriabin as if it was his birthright. He wouldn't choose death, but he at least wanted a choice.

"I don't know enough to really put forth a good hypothesis as to how to void the lock position. Insanity won't do it, as Johnny has illustrated, so the collapse of your mind won't empty the cell. It seems tied to the physical aspects of the assigned lock...and that is a tricky thing to overcome. Johnny implied that he had done some amount of damage to himself experimenting with his invulnerability or what have you, so a great deal of pain and suffering won't clear the lock status either. Death can't be the only solution...there has to be some other way. This entire process...hmm, I wonder if the mental collapse of the lock is a part of the process, a sign of a full cell, or merely an unintentional side-effect. I'm leaning towards the unintentional, considering that Johnny's psychosis raged on for some time regardless of how full the cell was...otherwise his status would have been voided when he went insane and...well, regardless, I have confidence that we can survive the process for some time. Not forever, surely, but for some period of time. Perhaps enough to do research, study what's happening and learn how to cope. Adaptation will be key, and thankfully that is one of your specialties. Eventual collapse, whatever that entails, but maybe not with enough practice. I can't say that for sure. Of all the problems facing you, this one worries me the most. It has no easy resolution."

Edgar couldn't think of a solution either, so he stayed silent.

"So, as much as I dislike doing this, I'm afraid we may have to let that rest. It's the most important issue but there's no ready solution, and ruminating about it endlessly will be no help to anyone." Scriabin sighed, then mumbled to himself, "I hate not having the answer, especially for something this important."

Edgar should have leapt on that chance, should have attacked as he was sure Scriabin would have done had their positions been reversed, but he just couldn't find the motivation. He could empathize, as much as he hated to think so, with that kind of frustration. There were a few things that he had never had a satisfactory resolution to and that had always irritated him. The fact that Scriabin was not frustrated with him but rather, with their situation, probably also had a hand in it.

"I think you're right. I don't like leaving that either, but...I don't know what to do." Edgar found himself shuddering as he heard the words repeat in his mind in a much higher voice. He quickly pushed the memories away. The last thing he wanted to think about now was how he had completely failed under pressure at the church. That was embarrassing as well as unhelpful.

"Hmm." Scriabin seemed fairly surprised that Edgar hadn't attacked him. Shades of gray coming back for them both, and his tone softened somewhat. "There's another issue though, one that I think might be a bit more easy to resolve in that it actually has a feasible solution. I can still feel the residue of doubt in you, over what exactly this lock business could mean for you spiritually."

Edgar pressed his arm over his eyes. "That's it...that's why I was avoiding this."

"Yes, I think you're right." A minor truce and one that was exceedingly temporary. Edgar wondered which one of them would be the first to break the peace. "You're not afraid of the eventual collapse that is the end result of this system, and neither am I. I have confidence that we'll be able to handle it, perhaps to overcome it when the time comes. If not that, at least the ability to handle what will happen. But that's far from saying there's no fear at all on your part. It's just there's a different factor here that you find more important..."

"You understand why." Edgar could keep up his end of their civil discussion at least. In that way, at least breaking their tenuous connection wouldn't be his fault. "I'd rather not die, but if I have to, I'm not..."

A deep sigh.

"I wasn't afraid..."

"As I said before..." Scriabin's words came haltingly. "You're outside their jurisdiction now...you belong to no one but yourself. You are alone."

A sharp pang in his chest, real physical pain that caught him by surprise. At the twinge Scriabin stopped speaking. A few tense moments went by until the pain faded.

A physical manifestation of pain that should have been internal? Perhaps this hurt more than he was willing to accept at the time. Possible. Edgar felt like he was drifting slightly in a way that was hard to define and knew that was a bad thing, but he wasn't sure how to fix it.

Scriabin resumed speaking, his voice soft again. "I felt that just as you did, and I know that the consequences for bringing this up again could be quite dire. But the fact of the matter is...at this point, your moral code has no relevance." He sounded uncomfortable. "How to phrase this...a lot of your emotional turmoil over this period has been a result of your conscience...the rules you feel you must follow and the punishment you inflict on yourself for breaking these rules. Without delving too deep into the heart of this just yet, as much as I would like to, this moral code no longer has any authority. Punishing yourself as you have is pointless. I tried to make this clearer to you before when we spent our time together in your mind, but you weren't very receptive then. I can only assume you're more so now."

Still drifting and he felt this vague sense of panic, that he should be stopping this but he wasn't sure how. He had a feeling that motion would only make it worse. He resolved to stay where he was, relatively. Scriabin's voice at least provided an anchor. That way he knew he wasn't really moving.

"You don't sound like yourself."

Scriabin made another uncomfortable noise. "Like I said...this requires a bit more finesse than I'm accustomed to. I wasn't lying before when I said you were more resilient in the past...then again, I've become more powerful. The situations facing us have changed as well, in their scope and influence, and I suppose I can't always rant or argue with you the same way. This situation does call for a...light touch. I consider myself adaptable...intelligent surely, and definitely enough so to adapt to what the situation requires." Edgar perhaps should have been annoyed at the egotism in Scriabin's last statement, but he could hear his voice shaking. "Attacking you as I usually do in this situation would not work. This requires logic, acceptance of the facts. Presenting them in the way that I...usually do often worked for minor problems, but this is something a bit bigger than I'm used to dealing with...you with, I suppose it would go. And lately, I've found how you react to me rather distressing. Things are changing."

"I got the message after three sentences." Edgar wanted the bed to stop moving. "You don't need to elaborate any further. I understand."

Keep talking and talking and talking. You're trying to justify it to yourself. You're afraid of changing too.

Scriabin made a growling noise. Forgot that that line between the two of them was still open. In his defense, Edgar was distracted, but that still didn't make it an intelligent thing to do.

"I think it would benefit both of us..." Scriabin said very slowly, "if you stopped derailing the conversation."

Edgar rolled his eyes again, but knew that pursuing the matter would be useless now. To echo his words earlier, Scriabin was not being very receptive.

Also, Edgar still felt as if he was drifting somehow. If Scriabin started sulking and refused to talk, he was worried about what would happen if he didn't have his voice to focus on.

"As I was saying." Scriabin coughed. "You don't understand how much pain you're causing yourself. I have often pointed out to you that you've placed yourself in a horrifically abusive relationship, but that's not the only cause for your anxiety. It's easy for you to erase your emotions, to drive them away with distracting activities and the like. I still experience them though, I do feel them and as a result, I get a clearer picture of what's going on inside of you than you do at times."

"Don't start with the gay thing again." Edgar now felt that even if he wanted to move, he couldn't find the energy or ability. He had to keep Scriabin talking. At this point, if he did lose that focus, there was a chance that he might not be able to stop himself from floating somewhere else entirely.

"Didn't we already go over this?" Scriabin sighed. "It's not that, although something like that is a factor in this. The main problem is this constant internal monologue you have, besides me, that punishes you for what you do. You can never trust your own decisions. You're always second-guessing yourself, what you want and how you want it and why. I blame most of this debilitating caution on your maniac's influence, but a good deal of it is the fault of that moral code you cling to so tenaciously. You assumed that everything you ever wanted awaited you in the afterlife, so it was easier to put off desires until that time came around. That eternal reward essentially canceled any on this mortal plane. That's a bit beside the point though...the fact is that you play the martyr, Edgar, and you do it often and well. Now, there is no point. It's easy to look at this situation as being inherently negative, but I find there are positive aspects to it as well, if you'd care to look. You are free. You have the ability to make your own decisions without that all-encompassing guilt." His voice took a very sudden bitter turn. "Whether or not that involves screwing Johnny is not my decision."

"I'm not- Jesus. Can you never let that go? I've told you a thousand times, it's not like that. There's nothing between us-"

"No no no, that's not the point. The point is that if there were..." Scriabin paused, considered his words. "I'm not saying that there is, exactly, although I do find most evidence works against you in this case, but if these feelings were present, there'd be no reason to deny them, destroy them or hide them, hurt yourself for having them. You've self-regulated your behavior for so long, living by the code you think is right. Is that what you really believe, or is that just what you've been taught? You have a chance now, Edgar, to recreate your life as you see fit. Everyone else's belief systems, their rights and wrongs, do not apply to you. Do you see what I'm getting at? I don't care if you're straight or gay or bisexual or asexual or even Nnysexual for god's sake. What matters to me is that you stop torturing yourself about it. Do you realize what it's like for me? To have to hear you constantly do this, feel you in this constant turmoil, and then have to deal with you pretending it's not there? It's like someone runs up to me and kicks me in the shin every day then pretends it never happened."

"Scriabin..."

Absorbed in his own speech. "I'm trying to present this in as...non-hostile a way as possible. Believe me, if I had my way I wouldn't take such a..." Scriabin tried to find a word, then eventually gave up. "I'd do this with my own customary flair, but this situation simply...it wouldn't work right now. And the solution is more important than the process, in the end. If you understand what I'm telling you, it won't matter how I convinced you."

"Scriabin..."

"I dislike presenting things this way though, it strikes me as being remarkably spineless. The logic behind it is sound enough though, I suppose. I guess this is how you feel-"

"Scriabin..."

"What?"

"I have a problem." That came out a great deal more frightened than he intended.

"What?" Scriabin's tone changed immediately. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know." Edgar tried to remain calm. It always paid to remain calm in strange situations. "I just feel...kind of strange. Kind of like I'm floating."

"Why didn't you tell me?!" The anger in his voice was comfortingly familiar, and Edgar paused for a moment at how bizarre that was. "I can't listen to you as well when I'm talking through the toy, Christ, and you let me go on and on and didn't mention it-"

"What do you mean you can't listen as well? You heard me before." He had to keep speaking. It made him feel heavier.

Of course I can hear you if you're directly talking to me, or thinking in such clear-cut sentences. Mental voice again, and Scriabin sounded distracted. Where is it- but with something as minor as this, what the...mmph, something as minor as this, a kind of spatial distortion or...no, that's not it. I'm not quite sure what this is...well, either way, something this small can easily be missed when my attention...wavers...hmm, when did this start?

I can't remember. Edgar felt more disoriented now that his physical voice was gone. My memory used to be so good...what happened-

This is not the time for that. Edgar stopped talking obediently. This is strange...this kind of reaction and I wasn't even close to attacking you. You don't mean to tell me that I can't talk to you about this matter at all? I refuse to accept that, this is far too important-

"I don't think that's the issue." Edgar had to speak, he was feeling further away each moment. "I understood what you said. I was thinking about it. I just don't know why I feel like this...I just feel kind of strange. I don't think it was related to what you were talking about. Maybe it was."

Well, thanks for that. I suppose that's better than nothing. Sarcasm, but that's what he expected. A moment passed. You should have said something. Why didn't you say something?

"I thought it'd go away. Maybe I was dizzy or something, something like that. I thought I could handle it."

Another few seconds of silence, and Scriabin made a long sound that could most closely be likened to a whine, although it wasn't so desperate. I don't like this at all. Also, you didn't have to phrase it like that. It doesn't make you clever to turn things back on me, particularly when you need my help. It makes you stupid.

He didn't intend to phrase it that way, but it was too late for that. Part of him wanted to say that he didn't need his help, but another part reminded him that pride wasn't his particular moral failing. That one belonged to Scriabin. "Can you fix it?"

He wanted to think harder about what had just crossed his mind, but Scriabin cut him off. Can I fix it-, Edgar, these things aren't that simple. I can't flip magic switches in here and make you happy or sad. A pause. Well...hmm. Either way, I'll just have to find what's causing this dizziness...some thought you aren't consciously recognizing, no doubt. Also, you may be hungry. Go get something to eat and try not to think too hard.

"I don't want to move."

Mmm, right. I forgot.

"What's it like for you? What do you see? I mean...considering...if we're going from the pure biological definition of the mind...technically all you could be would be chemicals passing from neuron to neuron. Somehow I don't think it could be that boring for you."

Sentience is a funny thing, isn't it? Scriabin really sounded like he wasn't paying attention.

"Do you have your own place in there? How do my thoughts materialize anyway? Is it visual, or-"

Look, shut up. I'm trying to do something. You're being very distracting. Also, it's tremendously difficult to explain. Scriabin grunted. Imagine for example...how to get this across, hmm...imagine if you will, being a two-dimensional shape and having, say, a three-dimensional shape attempt to explain the third dimension to you.

"You read that in a book."

Correction: you read that in a book. Therefore, you know the rest. Either way, analogy is apt, et cetera et cetera. Now shut up, I'm trying to find out what's wrong.

Before he had been floating in a generally horizontal direction, as best as he could guess. Now he suddenly got the impression that he was spinning in place and his stomach lurched at the sensation unhappily.

Mmph...didn't think that would have that effect. I hope this isn't serious...it shouldn't be. It isn't. I bet this is just residue from the lock system. Ha. Well, this is our first step to understanding the entire process. Scriabin took a deep breath. I'll have to take notes on what's going on here. Either way, it's not serious. I can fix this.

Scriabin so often sounded like he was trying to convince himself of what he was saying.

Edgar thought back to the argument they had just had, what they had been saying to one another, and again the shades of gray that he so often forgot. It was hard to keep all facets of a person in mind while interacting with them, especially with someone like Scriabin.

"Why are you helping me?"

That makes the fifteenth time you've asked me that. Going for the record? Uuf, let's see...you know why I'm helping you. I've made this clear several times ear- can you move now?

Edgar attempted to move his arm and found that it responded, although slowly. "Yeah, getting there."

Good. That means I'm onto something.

"Well...thank you, I guess."

Another moment of silence.

My home too, he eventually mumbled. What can I say. It's us for me. Maybe someday it'll be us for you too. Rrgh...this makes no sense...how could this be...hmm.

With a quick jerk, the room stopped moving and Edgar was back on his bed again. He moved his other arm cautiously and stared up at the ceiling through a fading haze of red stars and spots. Been pressing a bit too hard he supposed. After he felt a bit more steady, he turned his head to see the action figure standing on his desk, still frozen in the same position as always. He felt like he was looking for something when he looked at the toy, but he wasn't sure what it was.

"Okay, it's gone now. Everything stopped moving."

"Good." Scriabin was breathing a little fast. "That wasn't too difficult. Now that I know where to look, I can prevent that from happening again. It's nothing to be worried about."

Edgar wanted to believe that.

"I hope this isn't a sign."

"C'mon, Edgar. If there was going to be a sign, it would have come much earlier than now."

"Hmm..."

"Either way, where were we?"

"Freedom, or lack thereof I think."

"Well..." Trying to regain his train of thought. "I think I presented my views fairly clearly. It's up to you whether you decide to recognize them or not. I think you'll find that all my arguments are logically sound. It's a matter of whether you decide to continue living your familiar lie, or whether you accept the life you could have."

"It's not quite as simple as you make it out to be." Edgar felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. "I also seriously doubt all your arguments are logically sound, as you put it. Either way, I'll keep it in mind. What else?"

Scriabin's voice darkened.

"Jimmy."

"Oh God, that's right." Edgar pressed his hands over his eyes.

"You gave him a window of two weeks. I don't know if he'd believe you or trust you after it all, but it at least gives us a timeframe to work with. It may not be accurate, but it's what we have. Now, you said you wanted to help Jimmy. I would like to continue keeping thoughts in check and ask you how, but instead I'm going to ask you why."

"Scriabin, I know you're upset that he threatened me." The headache was getting worse. "That doesn't justify throwing his life away. I can't do that. It's not right."

"Not right...?" Scriabin sounded genuinely confused for a moment, then hardened his voice. "You think this is about him threatening you? Feh. This is about more than that. I do find it rather amusing that you assume I was trying to protect you." He sounded anything but amused. "There's more than one person in your body, remember? I was trying to protect myself."

Edgar rolled his eyes again. "I somehow doubt that, given what you said and what you felt. Didn't occur to you that sometimes the link goes both ways, did it? I did feel your concern, no matter how much you try to hide it. I'm not sure why you're trying to lie about it, but I suppose that's what you automatically do."

"You're learning how to kick people when they're already down." Scriabin was trying to hide the uncomfortable tone in his voice. "I didn't think you'd ever pick that up."

"Either way, the fact that he threatened me is hardly reason to let him die. I have a responsibility now. I have to stop him, or stop Johnny, or do something."

"Since when? When did his life suddenly become your responsibility?" He now sounded vaguely resentful. He was probably still upset about being confronted about his protective outburst. "His life is his own."

"That's an easy way to avoid responsibility. The fact of the matter is that if he does die, it would be partly my fault for not having tried my best to prevent it. If I can save his life, I will."

"Funny though, that the pedophile wasn't as deserving of your effort." A very nasty tone in his voice, and Edgar was taken aback. "Or for that matter, those two teenagers in the movie theater. What makes the difference?"

A very uncomfortable thought, and Edgar struggled to find a way to respond. "It's not a matter of who these people are...it's the position that I'm in to help them."

"Uh huh. So tell me, when Johnny left to attend to something down in the basements, leaving you with those two teenagers whose names you've probably already forgotten, why didn't you set them free? You were in quite the position to help them there. You were also in the position to tell Johnny to stop torturing them and yet somehow that thought didn't cross your mind as you sat on the steps and watched. Why is that?"

"Well..." He was too complacent...Scriabin had easily backed him into a corner. He forgot this was what he did best. "It's that...I guess that back then, things were...things were different between me and Nny. I mean...I couldn't really...talk to him back then. I was too afraid-"

"So what you're telling me, essentially, is that you were unwilling to help two suffering human beings just because you were afraid? Afraid for your own life? In the light of this and other such events in the past, it's a bit much for me to accept your avenging crusader role now. You've already let a number of human beings slip through your fingers, people you were entirely capable of helping, without a twinge of conscience. But now suddenly, Jimmy is worth your attention? Suddenly Jimmy is your responsibility? What makes him different? What makes him any more worthy of your help than the others you ignored? You've let down countless others, hundreds perhaps, by your lack of action. Forgive my skeptical nature, but I hardly believe that your intention to rescue Jimmy is either sincere or out of the goodness of your heart. It won't erase the people that you've forgotten. If you're afraid of getting indirect blood on your hands, I regret to inform you that you're completely drenched in it."

Edgar stared at his hands.

Scriabin gave a contented sigh. "God, that felt good."

Edgar buried a hand in his hair and closed his eyes. "Shut up."

"But seriously, Edgar, why. Jimmy means nothing to you. As a matter of fact, he threatened to kill you. How ironic. Do people have to want to murder you for you to want to save them?"

Ouch. Edgar winced, but couldn't think of anything to say in response.

"Either way, Jimmy is not worth your attention. He's not your responsibility. You did, in my opinion, more than enough to try and dissuade him from his suicidal visit with Johnny, and he refused to listen. He's a moronic teenager who thinks that his problems are the be-all end-all of the earth, and assumes that everyone else agrees with him. He idolized Nny merely because he represents what he wants to be, romanticized what he wants Nny to do. All petty high school revenge fantasies of getting back at the teachers and kids that pushed you around with some high-gloss goth poetry 'beauty of death' polish to try and make it seem less shallow. He has no concept, no ability to understand the scale of his problems as compared to, say, a sociopath like our dear Nny. All of these are character flaws though, hardly enough to warrant killing someone, although perhaps you'd disagree. You did let those two from the movie theater suffer immensely, die probably, for merely being obnoxious."

His head was pounding. An insistent throbbing pain was building in what felt like the lower part of his skull.

"I'm not a bad person..." He couldn't think of anything else to say.

Scriabin ignored him. "Jimmy has killed people. He's a murderer and from what I heard while you were drifting off at one point, I'm fairly sure he raped someone as well. These are crimes which are on a far grander scale than almost any of the people Nny has encountered and killed. You have to agree with me that Jimmy's crimes easily surpass those of the clerk who turned off the Brainfreezy machine at the wrong time or whatever it was that poor man did. Not only that, Jimmy hasn't even expressed any kind of remorse for what he's done, instead reveling in the fact that he ended someone's life for an unbelievably stupid reason. He seems completely and utterly aware of exactly what he's doing and entirely capable of stopping himself from doing it, and yet, he does, and did, not do so. Jimmy can't even play the insanity card, for all the good it does, as a justification for what he's done like Johnny can."

"Mmph."

"Now, let's play some hypothetical games here. Let's say that our fanboy Jimmy gets caught killing someone. He's jailed and sent to court, and let's assume that the evidence has built up, as he was too stupid to hide it properly-"

"Glad to see you're being impartial."

"Too stupid to hide it properly, and he's pronounced guilty. Let's say he's killed a number of people, though it pales in comparison to his idol, and not only that, he's also convicted for the rape of that girl. Now, how would the state deal with this criminal?"

"I don't know." Edgar didn't want to talk about this. "Life sentence I guess."

"Maybe. But, depending on what state you're living in, there's a chance that he could get the death penalty. Now tell me, if you've been following this as I hope you have, what the difference would be from Jimmy meeting his end at the hands of his misguided idol or in the tight embrace of an electrical chair. What would be the difference? What makes one more just than the other? Are you willing, Edgar, to go against the pronouncement of the law that he should die to support your theory that he deserves to live? Does your responsibility for him end when the law takes him off your hands, and by extension, wouldn't your responsibility end when he falls into Johnny's hands, just as he always intended?"

"No. It's not right." He shook his head and wished the pain would stop.

"Why?"

"It just isn't!" Backed into a corner and he couldn't find a way to logically justify what he just knew. Having to explain the unexplainable- why did Scriabin have to be so good at this? "If I can prevent this, if I can save him, I'm going to try."

"As I said before, why him? Why him, out of the hundreds of others who have died, perhaps unjustly, under Johnny's blade? Why is your righteousness so selective?"

"God, shut up! How can you be like this?" Edgar turned towards the action figure. "How can you argue like this to let someone die? How can someone's life mean so little to you?"

A pause, then Scriabin replied in a smooth, even tone, "I present the same question to you."

"You can't judge me-, ngh!" He pressed his hands to his head. "These are different situations, things are different! Just because..."

"I'm afraid there's little logical recourse for you with this scenario. You are not responsible for Jimmy. It's his own stupid fault if he gets killed, and what's the loss if he is? He's a murderer and a rapist and a remarkably stupid one at that. Although he does serve as an ironic piece to the main focus of so many of our conversations-"

Do you think it's okay that I kill people, Edgar?

Nny, it is possible to like a person without liking what they do-

"What about Nny? By your logic, it wouldn't matter if he died as well, since he's also done bad things."

There was that bitter hatred that he had yet to hear directed at any other target. "Do you think I'd argue with you on that point? Where on earth did you ever get the impression that I liked Johnny at all? I've told you since the beginning that there's no worse relationship you have than with him. You just never listened, and look where it's gotten you."

No...thinking back, sifting through his memories and Edgar found things once said that encouraged him, encouraged him to deepen the relationship that Scriabin now claimed to despise. It hadn't been his idea to hug him for one thing, among others, and

That didn't quite turn out the way we expected, did it?

We.

Contradiction...the thought cast a sudden and intense light on what Scriabin was saying, and Edgar spoke slowly. He had to make sure that his suspicion was well-founded, before...

"...You want him dead?"

"I want him out of your life. He's a distraction now, an unhealthy and unproductive one. Surely you concede there is a great deal more at stake here than whether or not Nny loves you and whether or not you love him in return. Your soul and your sanity are in jeopardy, if they're not already lost."

Just as he thought.

"You know..." Edgar narrowed his eyes. "I would like to take what you're telling me at face value, but you've reminded me that that's not a good idea. There's more to this than what you're saying, and there's more to your argument than the logical front you're putting on. I remember, Scriabin, what you said to Jimmy when he threatened me. I remember how you felt. I remember how possessive you felt. I know there's more to you wanting Jimmy dead than just him being a...a bad person."

"It'd be much simpler that way, wouldn't it?" His voice more hostile. "If this was all tied up with emotional baggage that would invalidate the truth, make it less believable. I'm afraid I can't indulge you here, Edgar. Here's one fantasy that I will not cooperate with you on."

"No..." Edgar looked at the wall for a moment, thinking over his words carefully. There was a good chance that he could only say this once, because if Scriabin reacted the way he thought he would... "There's always something more with you. There's always some kind of...ulterior motive, some deeper motivation for what you say to me. From the very beginning you lied to me, said you were a part of me, and used my doubt and my fear to develop. You say that I had a hand in your development and yes, I'm sure that's true, but you're not entirely innocent yourself. There's always something more to you, Scriabin, there's always more to your words than you'd like me to think about. So often I tend to focus on what you say, too often have I thought about how it would affect me and I never considered that my reaction may have been part of your motivation..."

"What does this have to do with anything?" Scriabin's voice was rough. "You pointed out to me before that I was justifying something to myself by going on and on with all those words. Say what you want to say."

Edgar winced at the reference to Jimmy, then narrowed his eyes further. He could feel the muscles near his mouth twitch for a moment. Here goes. "This isn't about my morality, about any kind of ethics. This isn't about Jimmy at all. You don't want me to become independent, become strong like you said back then. I didn't even realize it at the time, it didn't even occur to me since I was still...I was hurting from the lie you had told me. God, using that moment against me, you...you'll do anything to get what you want! You don't want me to make my own decisions about my life, you want me to make yours! First you said that I'd have to depend on myself, and then right after that it was all about you! I had to depend on you! My weapon, my support, my everything, it all comes back, came back, to you!"

"Edgar!" An angry cry, and Edgar suspected that it was to buy him some time to think while simultaneously stopping the conversation. "Do you remember what I said earlier? Do you remember what I said about how I experience your emotions? How at times I have a clearer view of what's going on inside you than you yourself do?"

"You always say that-"

"Well then understand this," Scriabin hissed. "What you wanted more than anything back then was someone to rely on, someone to take your god's place. I felt it, I felt your pain and I took on that role for you back then because that's what you wanted me to do. Whenever things get too hard, you always fall back on relying on me. What I was trying to get across was that you should try to prevent that-"

"No!" He was looking hard enough, looking through and it all shattered underneath his scrutiny, underneath his skepticism that he now realized he had been neglecting. Lie after lie falling apart, tied together by those threads that Scriabin had mentioned, a badly knit sweater and Edgar reached out and grabbed the action figure with one hand. "You didn't say that- God, you're lying to me! You're lying right to my face! How can you, how could you lie to me like that back then, back when I needed...back when I was hurting that badly? How could you lie to me about something so important? This isn't about me becoming powerful, it's about you!"

"And what about me-"

"This is about you! This is about, this is about what you want me to do! This isn't about what I want, this isn't about what I need, what I should become, this is all about what you want! Everything, everything you ever told me, it was all for you, to make me what you want me to be! It was all an effort, God, a huge...a huge elaborate lie to get me to believe that for once you cared about something other than yourself! That you ever had anything other than your own benefit in mind! Just using me- I'm not your tool, Scriabin! I'm not your toy! You don't own me!"

"Yes, that honor belongs to Johnny, doesn't it?"

Edgar stared at the action figure and his mouth fell open.

"Don't think that because I haven't been as cruel as before that I can't be so now." Scriabin's voice was filled with hate. "Don't think me harmless. Exposing a lie doesn't render me powerless, if that was a lie to begin with-"

His grip tightened until his fingers ached and trembled. "You know it was, just stop pretending-"

"What do you hope to accomplish with this?" His tone was flippant and condescending. Not taking him seriously and intentionally, deliberately, making that clear. Edgar felt his heart quicken as his anger built higher. "Again, are you looking for insight into my psyche? Do you want to know what I want? Another reprisal of that all-too-often asked question, masked in anger and righteous indignation? I have doubts now, Edgar, that you really want to know the truth about me, about what I want. It's something you wouldn't want to hear, and therefore you'd just block it out. Pretend it never happened."

Edgar wasn't going to let this go. Not this time. "Don't change the subject. You were lying to me. You were. You always have been. This isn't about me, this isn't about my sense of ethics." He was surprised at the mocking tone he took with his last three words. "You couldn't care less, could you? All that talk about my conscience, about hating what I do to myself, how I need to stop torturing myself, it was all a lie, wasn't it? All of it, all of this sympathy and kindness you've given me, it was all...just manipulating me, just getting me to do and believe what you want! To rely on you rather than God!"

Scriabin's tone was dismissive. "Black and white, Edgar. Just because I lied about one thing doesn't mean I lied about them all."

Edgar glared for a few seconds, then threw the toy as hard as he could. It hit the wall with a loud thump and fell to the floor.

"How could I have ever trusted you!" Edgar was furious and this time found no regret or fear at the feeling. It was anger at a source deserved; it was anger that could safely be expressed without ramifications because he wasn't human. Scriabin wasn't real. He kept forgetting that and it was time for that to stop. "How could I have ever thought you'd think of someone besides yourself, that you'd ever have anyone's welfare in mind except your own! I'm just a glorified vessel for you, a toy to be manipulated, an elaborate marionette, well, not anymore! This is my body! I was here first!" Edgar stood and walked over to where the action figure rested on the floor. It looked small against the carpet, broken. "I was here first. You came after me and you fed yourself from me, and I allowed it. Allowed it. In the end this body is mine and it will always be mine. I make my own decisions, I define my own life, I define myself. It's not your place to make decisions for me, to try and change my life to suit your needs. You're a parasite, a delusion, perhaps some indication of future psychosis, but you are not a person. You are not a real person. You don't have rights, you don't have any claim to my body just because you chewed out a place in my brain to stay. You have no claim to me. I don't belong to anyone except myself, not you and not Johnny. I don't belong to you..."

Nothing.

Edgar knelt and looked at the toy. One of the arms was out of joint, and the head was tilted at a strange angle. He reached out and began to adjust, to fix what had been knocked askew.

"You're mine. You're my voice. When I felt you get angry, when I felt your anger at Jimmy, I felt touched at first. Now I realize...you just don't understand." There, he found it, the perfect condescending cadence that mocked and mimicked Scriabin's tone from earlier, the dismissive tone that spoke of an unsurpassable inequality of status. The overwhelming assertion through each syllable, each deliberate pause and emphasized word, that he was better than the person he was talking to, now and forever. Wouldn't Scriabin be proud of him. "You really think you're human, you really think that you're my equal. That somehow we're really two people, rather than one person and one mental monologue that's gone on far too long. You've berated me for so long for laboring under my own illusions and yet you've held one for yourself. Pretending to be human, to be real, that my body is your body. Well, it isn't, it wasn't, and it never will be. My body is mine, my mind is mine, and they will never be yours. You will never be more than what you are. I don't know where you got the impression that you could ever do so. You're desperation for reality, for my validation, is pathetic."

Trying hard to dig at the one weakness he knew Scriabin had, and his voice was shaking along with his hands. He wanted it to stop, but the more he tried to cease the trembling the worse it got. Something like adrenaline must be causing this, he was sure. His rage felt familiar and addictively powerful and he never wanted it to end.
The action figure now clutched tightly in one fist and his knuckles were white.

"I know you can hear me." Edgar felt his lip curling in a snarl. "I know you can hear what I'm saying. You've become too self-important, too self-absorbed for your own damn good. You never thought I'd catch on to your manipulation, all those lies you weave around me. Pretending at my freedom and just trapping me yourself. God, you've always been my enemy. How could I have been so blind?"

Nothing.

"Talk to me!" Edgar shook the action figure as if that would renew the conversation. "I know you can hear me! Don't pull away from me, oh ho, don't pass out halfway through this, our little session together!" He found the words rasping through clenched teeth, choked with bitterness and long-repressed rage. "After everything you've done to me- Christ, Scriabin, you even lied about loving me, that's how desperate you are to control me! You always condemn me for so many faults and you have the exact same ones! We're so alike, and yet that's the last thing you could want! Except when it serves your purpose, when it prevents me from attacking you- answer me! Answer me, goddamn it!"

Stubborn silence.

"God, and to think I could ever depend on you." Still shaking and this was definitely adrenaline now, he could feel it. His entire body shuddering in waves, clenched tight in his stomach and spreading tremors through his limbs, causing the toy to shake in his hand as he struggled to keep still. "To think that I was ever that stupid, that hurt, to depend on you. Depend on what? A voice in my head? A desperate delusion? I can't depend on you, I could never depend on you, you have as many faults as I do except you aren't even open about them! You're deeper in denial than I could ever hope to be! How could I depend on someone like you? How could I ever depend on such a shameless hypocrite, on such a compulsive liar?"

He stood, walked back over to his bed, and set the action figure back on his desk. Edgar wanted to slam it down, throw it again, but something made him put the toy down the same way and in the same place he always had.

All that anger he had sublimated into other things, had kept hidden away for fear of hurting someone or himself or making some kind of grievous error, all of it now coursed through him and it felt so natural. It all felt so right, and he hadn't felt this confident in what he was doing for so long. He felt capable, strong and able to defend himself, to reinvent himself, to take back what he had let slip out of his hands without thought and over it all that anger that made it seem so real, so permanent, so plausible.

"No, I won't depend on you, Scriabin. I won't listen to you. I am never listening to you again. This is it. I'm taking responsibility for my life. I'm taking my life back. My decisions are my own now and if you don't like them then that's too bad. You have no power over me. The only power you have is the power I gave you, and I can take it away. I'm afraid that's a side-effect to being an unwelcome parasite."

Still silent and that only fed his rage. He didn't just want to be angry, that wasn't enough he wanted to hurt someone- "What's wrong? The last thing you could ever do was stop talking. What's wrong now? Can't find anything to say, any logical traps to hide what you really want? Any smartass remarks? Twisted metaphors or Biblical mockery? What's wrong? Since when have you ever been at a loss for words?"

Silence and he felt his hands clench, his entire body shake for a moment and he could see himself pulling the toy apart, ripping out arms and legs and throwing it in the garbage disposal in the kitchen. He stood there, envisioned himself doing it, could hear the plastic squeaking as he tore limbs from their sockets, the pop of the head coming off. Destroy him, destroy this, destroy everything once and for all.

And for a few seconds, he thought of it as murder, then he bitterly corrected himself. It wasn't murder if the other person didn't even exist.

He could see himself destroying the emblem of what he so hated so clearly, so easily, but he did not move. He stood and tried to force motion, yelled at his limbs to obey but instead he only stood and stared.

Edgar turned away and felt a twinge of nausea again, the room spinning just slightly. This felt familiar, but he was not letting that distract him.

"You make me sick," he said in a low voice, then turned to his closet. "You make me sick. I'm going out and guess what, you're coming along. You know why? Because you can't stop me. You can't stop me from doing what I want anymore. I'd say that we were going out, but we're not. I am, and you're coming along whether you want to or not. Isn't that right?" He took off his glasses, considered setting them to one side carefully, then found that he didn't care. He tossed them onto the carpet without much concern, then pulled off his shirt with motions so quick that his ears stung afterwards. He searched through his drawers for a clean shirt, finding that the insistent silence, the complete mental silence only made him want vengeance more strongly, want to hurt him more, to hurt him as Edgar had been hurt before. How could he have ever thought that Scriabin could ever feel sympathy? Apologize? Even feel at all?

He pulled a shirt on and picked up his glasses. They were undamaged--Edgar had specifically asked for stronger frames--and he stared again at the toy standing by his bed.

"Why won't you answer me?" Edgar stalked back over to his dresser and found his voice rising. He didn't want it to, but before he knew it he was shouting. "I know you can hear me! I know you can hear me because you hear everything, don't you? You can hear and feel everything, so I know you can hear me! Answer me! Say something!" He felt dizzy but he wasn't going to sit down.

Still refused to speak, but finally Edgar could hear something in the back of his mind. Breathing.

"I know you're there." He felt something rushing to his head and he wasn't sure where the floor was anymore. His vision slowly fading out, a faint kind of blackness around the edges, and he felt dizzy but he wasn't going to stop. "I can hear you. This is you, isn't it? You can't handle me standing up to you so you're hurting me physically again! Like you did before, when I had that...seizure thing. You can't argue with me normally, so you're just going to try and get me to pass out! It won't work this time! I won't let you do this to me, I won't let you have any power over me anymore! This is my life, this is my life! It's not yours! It will never be yours! You will never have a life of your own!"

The floor shifting and the blackness flooding his vision and his head was pounding. All of it intensified, amplified by the amount of adrenaline currently coursing through his body, by the sheer undiluted rage he felt. Directed at Scriabin primarily, but even now it shifted to his own body, to whatever was happening, to the fact that the one time he was standing up for himself that something like this had to happen.

A soft sound in his mind that he couldn't easily define, and the blackness began to fade away. The floor slowly began to stay in one place, stop shifting back and forth, and he found his sense of balance again.

You should probably sit down. Scriabin's voice was soft and emotionless.

"So there you are." Edgar glared at the toy and decided to stay where he was. He didn't have to listen to him. "Why so silent all of a sudden? What's wrong? Can't think of anyth-"

Sit down. Something's gone wrong, something's got a hold of you. There's something in...something that's trying to...just sit down. It must have come in before, when...it doesn't know what it's doing, what effect it's having on you-

"God, you never stop, do you?" Edgar said bitterly and crossed his arms. The floor again began to list to one side, but Edgar refused to move with it. "You can never stop lying. What are you blaming now?"

Sit down.

"Not until you tell me why."

I already did. Scriabin's voice seemed strangely devoid of emotion, of the hurt that Edgar expected. He felt disappointed. This thing is doing something to you. It's making you dizzy. If you sit down, I can-

"God, looking back on it...there are so many things that I thought were something more, were something real. So many things that you could have done, could have used to try and gain my trust. When I was drifting before...that was you, wasn't it? You set up the situation, hurt me then pretend to help me. Set up these traps and rescue me and think that I'll fall for it, that that will give you that edge over me, give you more of the control you so desperately want. You were lying to me then...you're lying to me now. Of course you can fix this, you're the one who's doing it to me!"

Sit down.

"No!" Edgar moved and that turned out to be a mistake. The floor abruptly turned and twisted beneath him, raised itself up and before he knew it he was on his back and he couldn't feel his legs.

Okay, I can...I can figure this out... It sounded like he was talking to himself.

Stop it! Edgar wanted to speak out loud but found his voice internal. Stop this, I know what you're doing now! I know what this means! I won't fall for it again, stop lying to me for once in your life-

I can fix this... Scriabin's voice shook. I can fix this, I know I can-

Stop it! He wanted to feel his body again, he wanted to feel but his body wasn't moving, nothing was responding. He could feel the beginning of panic, the desperate desire to escape, to get away. Something pressing on his chest and it was getting harder to breathe.

I can...

Why are you doing this to me?! That was it, that was the question that he had longed to ask since he first heard Scriabin's voice, and he shut his eyes tight.

A strangled noise in the back of his mind and in response, a twinge of compassion. He didn't expect it, didn't think of it, didn't want it, but there it was and with it came an instinctual question.

Are you okay?

After all this work, this rage that built so high and felt like it took over his whole body, all of it, after all of it he still felt it...he still felt concerned. He had struggled not only to show Scriabin that he knew the truth, but to make himself stop believing in the lie, stop believing that Scriabin was anything more than what he had said. Struggled to finally cut this off, to remove the shades of gray that were false to begin with. And yet, he still felt it and he still asked and even with the regret that followed, it did not vanish.

Connection. If Edgar felt that concern, then...

Oh my god. Oh shit. Recognizable terror and small frightened words. Oh. Shit. I...

What's going on? Successfully distracted from his ranting, and his concern continued unchecked. What on earth was Scriabin this afraid of? Even when Edgar had rewritten his memories, he hadn't sounded this frightened. Scria-

What are- get... Scriabin's words were choking and broken. A pained gasp, something like desperation, and he could hear him hiss. Another stuttering cry and then a scream tore its way through the back of his mind, startled him out of any angry thoughts that he had been entertaining. GET AWAY FROM HIM.

Scriabin-

Get out! Scriabin paused, took a few harsh breaths. Get out! Get out!

Who- Something anguished and short and again that twinge of compassion. What's-

I won't let this, I won't let you, get out. Get out! Get out, he's mine! A hoarse scream that he knew would have been painful if forced through physical vocal cords. I won't let you touch him! I'll kill you! I'll fucking kill you first! Get out!

What's going on? Helpless, trapped in a weak body, and where was his flash of black now? Edgar's arm moved. Who are you talking to?

A low growl in response to his question. The room abruptly turned beneath him and he tried desperately to steady himself, to find a sense of balance, some kind of center that wouldn't change.

A very long scream of pain in his mind, and he felt something tear.

The world stopped spinning, the rushing sound in his head stopped, and when he opened his eyes he could see.

Edgar sat up after a few seconds, shook his head, found no lasting effects from the motion, then looked at the toy on his desk as if it'd give him answers. Still standing in the same position as ever.

Scriabin?

Watched but he didn't move.

His concern far more intense, his words quick and high. He didn't even think to prevent it. Scriabin, are you okay?

Nnngh...

Edgar breathed a sigh of relief at the soft moan. What happened? He felt drained, nervous somehow. His entire body still shaking but he wasn't exactly sure why. The aftereffects of adrenaline he could guess. All anger vanished in the face of this unknown danger, and now he wasn't sure what to do. Are you okay? What's going on? Who were you talking to?

A shaky sigh. I'm...

What happened?

Edgar...listen...

What?

Some of the things you said... He sounded exhausted. Some of the things you said before...I can't say they're false. But I want you...to keep in mind that I'm not the only one who wants to manipulate you. I'm not the only one who now has...access to you. The danger that you face is not all from me...this system...

That...what was that? What happened?

Let's just say...if you'll believe me of course, trying to touch his words with familiar scorn but his voice shook too much, that there's a pipeline...an avenue open through you for hate to come through...and let's say that there are things that find you a...potential home.

Edgar's mouth went dry. What? What do you...do you mean something tried to...

I'm afraid that I...disagreed with them on that point. Nngh... Another shaky sigh. This is...you can say all you like, disagree all you like, lie as much as you want about it, about what I've become and what I've taken from you but in the end...this is mine. This is my home. I'm not about to let some...some two-bit figment try to take what's mine...what I've worked so hard for...I don't think so. No.

An attempt at bravado, but it was painfully transparent now. Is that what this is? I don't...think that's all. I can feel it again...you want to protect me, don't you?

Scriabin tried to laugh but began wheezing halfway through. Protect you...you fool. How easy it is for you to forget everything...forget anything that doesn't agree with your current argument, whatever you currently believe...you're such a fool. Do you think, my dear boy, my precious Edgar, that I am the worst thing that could happen to you? Do you think that of all the parasites, as you call them, that could be inhabiting your mind right now, that I am truly the worst there is? That I am really the worst thing in the world for you?

Edgar shivered once and then couldn't stop. Oh God...

My dear, foolish, boy...you don't understand. You don't understand what I am...what I mean, what I could be...what happened. Why don't you just forget about it...it's not important to you...

Edgar ignored the attempt to derail the conversation, tried to find something to focus on. You sound like you're in pain...

Hnh. Since when have you ever been perceptive? It sounded like it was difficult for him to speak. Since when have you ever cared for your unwilling passenger? Your inhuman parasite? Huh...protect you indeed. I assure you that nothing is taking my place, not while I'm still alive. Nothing is going to set up shop here, not here. I said that I'd fight this system and I will. This is my territory, and I'll fight for it. You should study that sometime, Edgar...fighting...I know you're not familiar with it... His voice trailed off.

It didn't even occur to him to contest Scriabin's constant references to ownership. What did you do? How could you have...wouldn't I have seen it? Or been aware of it?

Too wrapped up in your shouting, I suppose... His voice was getting weaker. You don't have a talent for paying attention to multiple things at once. Nngh, and what does it matter to you anyway...? I don't matter to you, as you so eloquently stated. Rage...didn't you think while you yelled about how unusual it was, that you felt so angry? How alien, how foreign? God, and I thought we had a chance...if you're this unaware of this system's effects...if you succumb so easily to some small thing's temptation, then what hope is there really for us? Or rather, for you?

You're not giving up.

Very true... His breath caught for a second, and for a moment he heard a soft whine of pain. I'm not going to give up. Ha, I don't think...when whoever runs this system finds out what I've done...I don't think they'll be pleased.

Edgar took a deep breath and stared at his hands. They kept shaking and he could see the indentations from his nails pressing into his palms. His thoughts were scattering and he had to keep thinking, he had to keep talking and keep everything in line.

"Then...you're not a part of the lock system, are you?"

Of course... A soft sigh, and real effort. "Of course I'm not. I thought that much would at least be obvious, even to you..." His physical voice sounded even weaker than the mental.

"So...you must be something different."

"Where are you going with this?" Scriabin only sounded vaguely interested.

"Encroaching on your territory...do you think that the system will try to use you? Use you against me?"

"God, I don't know." Scriabin let out a deep sigh. "You understand if I'm a little...tired. It may not seem as such to you, but I've just been through..."

"Hmm..." Edgar pressed a shaking hand to his chin in hopes that would make the tremors stop. Scriabin couldn't have been a part of the lock system...even if he had been lying, there was enough evidence to prove him correct. After all, Scriabin had come into being far before the lock system had come into place. He had to be a part of something else...

"Funny..." Scriabin gave a wet cough. "You were so worked up earlier...hating so vengefully, so completely. Eloquently, I might add. You sounded a great deal like me...ha. But again, once the emotion passes, it falls to the background...we regain equilibrium...back to how things always were. I can't feel your hatred for me now, not like before. Come and gone...did it ever mean anything at all? Was any of it real..."

"I don't feel angry anymore..." Edgar shook his head. "That's a good thing...if this whole system is going to be kicking in more often...I'm going to have to be more careful with that. I can't let myself get...lost like that. I'm not angry. But just because I was angry doesn't mean I was wrong."

Scriabin made a short sound that perhaps would have become a word, but then he lapsed into silence. He breathed another deep sigh, this one with a faint rasp to it. "So many layers...there's more than one motivation for the actions that one takes sometimes..."

"It's kind of difficult...forgive me for doubting you on this point-"

"Again, imitating me..."

He didn't like that.

"But you understand that if one of your motivations is...inherently selfish, perhaps damaging to me..." Edgar sighed and felt something like apathy sweep over him. A lack of emotion, of any kind of involvement, but he had to finish what he was saying. "How can I believe that...how can I believe anything you say when I know that somewhere...it might not be true? That it might be for your own benefit, or just to hurt me? How can I risk that? Fool me once..."

"Again...one motivation is not all there is at times. I don't feel comfortable...some things that I have done are not...related to that, exactly. But as the relative trust we built is shattered, you understand my reluctance to talk about this. I doubt you'll believe anything I say...it's no fun to lie to someone who won't believe you..."

"You don't lie for fun."

"True enough." A kind of rasping sound. "Still...you won't believe me, whether or not I'm telling the truth. So...I feel inclined to just...not talk at all. Not to mention that I'm still bl- I'm...I'm not really..." He sighed. "I'm tired, Edgar."

"Well...you seem set on the fact that I not judge you for one of the reasons you've been doing this to me...what other ones are there? What other justification for your behavior is there? Why? What other reason for all of that...ego-saving talk in the church? You didn't believe that, did you? You've never believed in that...in my strength. Just presenting me with the illusion got me further under your power..."

"Edgar...this may come as a shock to you-"

"You always preface things that way."

"But manipulating you was not my original...intent. It's not what I was created for."

"Well, you were the one who brought up change."

"Does it even matter..." Another hoarse cough. "Does it even matter what I say now...does it matter what I would ask you? Does it matter..."

"You're changing the subject."

A pause. This time, Scriabin succeeded in changing his tone, his words familiarly touched with hateful sarcasm. "I'm sorry, I must have forgotten my place."

Edgar paused, considered apologizing, then turned to look at the ceiling. "But what other motivation could you have? Other than self-preservation...that relates right back to the manipulation though...that all of this is for your benefit, not for mine. Tell me, if you want to convince me to trust you again...was any of the affection, the kindness or concern you ever expressed for me...was any of it real?"

A cough.

"Scriabin...was any of it real? When I asked you...I asked you to...and you said that maybe later we could discuss this...well, I want to discuss it now. What do you feel for me?"

"May I ask you something first?"

"Avoiding the question again..."

He didn't say anything, and Edgar sighed.

"Fine, go ahead."

"I present the question back to you..." A coughing fit this time, and Edgar turned to look at the toy. Still motionless. "What do you care for me? Do you feel anything for me at all, my boy? I find that while your anger may have been foreign, may have been misplaced, you still...believed what you were saying. And to be honest...how much of it was true...?"

"I don't know." Edgar shook his head. "I don't know how I-...I...it's always changing. I can't...you're not...God, every time I talk with you, it's like I...I mean, what was our conversation just like? One minute you're perfectly civil and another you're sarcastic like always, and another you're hating and another you're hated, and then you're hurting or you're compassionate, and you talk about helping me and us and at the same time, you talk about control and belonging and ownership and God!" He pressed a hand against one of his eyes. "This sounds so stupid. Why can't it be simple? Why can't I just sum it up in one word?"

"You have before..." Scriabin's voice was weak and scratchy. "Shall we say it together?"

Edgar stayed silent, but Scriabin said it anyway.

"Hate."

"It can't be that simple. You know that. It isn't that simple and sometimes I wish it was." He shook his head again. "I can't...I can't hate you, I can't hate...I don't know if I've ever hated anyone. I mean, you've done things for me...you've helped me. You did...you protected me. And even if that was all a lie, an elaborate charade for me, you offered to protect me before and I know for a fact that was sincere. I know that wasn't a lie, and that makes things so complicated. There's...I can't say I like you, hardly...if at all, actually, but I can't say anything, I can't say anything definite. It's always changing. God, this sounds so stupid. This sounds like..."

"Well, I think you'll find that my feelings towards you can, likewise, not be so easily summarized." Scriabin gave a soft pained moan, shaky and uneven as he tried to stop the sound. "Please...I can't...I'm tired. I'm just tired..."

"Tired..." Edgar rolled over and looked at the toy again. The two were sharing perhaps their most honest moment in both their respective lifetimes, and Edgar took the chance to say what he knew was true. "You're not tired, you're hurt. Somehow. I still don't understand...I don't understand what reality must be like for you. There's a world that you keep talking about that I can't see...I can't even hear...it's just constantly just out of my sight. I don't understand. Have you created your own world, your own reality, within my mind? It can't be like that...that's not how the human mind works. How much of what you tell me is true?"

Another pained noise. "As much as you want to be true...nnf. I'm...I'm going to...tired..."

"What can I do to help?"

"What?"

"You...I swear, from the way you sound, it sounds like whatever it was you...fought off, I guess it would go, but it sounds like it tore you to pieces. Like you're in some serious pain. How? Why? What can I do?"

"It's never any intermediate with you...it's always black or white. Help me, hate me, never in between. No wonder you're confused."

"Stop avoiding the question."

"Mmph..." A soft laugh. "It's not so easy. You believed in what you said, and that creates a barrier that cannot be easily overcome. You don't consider me a person. You don't consider me real. You can't even think of the world that I inhabit, you can't empathize enough to try and think of how I would feel, about what my life may be like. All of this, these dehumanizing things you've done to me for so long, all of it creates this distance between us...you cannot simply wish me into being, make me appear in front of you so you can kiss it better and, and pretend it wasn't your fault that this happened to me in the first place."

"My fault? My fault? You're the one who decided to tangle with whatever it was-"

"And you're the one who enabled that thing coming in here in the first place."

Silence.

"Surely you...you know that, you understand that this whole lock business...it's your fault. You can't blame anyone else for the situation we're in. You and your obsession with Nny, with the psychopath, and never thought that'd have, nngh, consequences..."

God, he wanted to dispute that, but Scriabin's current state forced him to curb his tongue. Fighting with him wouldn't help, now now. He had to find a more effective way to derail the potential argument.

"There's nothing that can be done about that now...the only thing we can do is..." Edgar stopped, and he remembered. "Assess the...damage..."

Flickering memories, the inside of his car and the trench coat-

"Scriabin, what happened back in the car?"

Scriabin groaned.

"Ah, I...I almost forgot."

"Do you..."

"Considering what just occurred..." Struggling not to sound quite so worn out. "I think that that black out...may be related to the lock system somehow..."

"But why would I black out like that? What benefit would that have?"

"What benefit would collapse have?" Scriabin snapped. "This system is far from perfect."

"I don't...I mean, God. What could have happened? I mean...something must have taken control of me...of my body, to get me to come from here to the church. Something possessed me..."

"I suppose you could think of it that way." Another soft groan. "Another possibility is that someone took you there..."

"No one was there when I woke up..."

"True. They could have left before you woke up though."

"And why would they take me there? It doesn't make sense...something took control of me, something took me over, I'm sure of it. God, that sounds...that sounds so horrible. I can't be losing control of myself this badly. Things can't be...this bad for me."

"Hardly speaks of some other conclusion."

"Are you sure you don't remember anything?"

"No, I don't remember anything." A pause, and his tone softened. "I wish I did remember. I'm no more happy with this missing time business than you. After all...it's our body."

"Our body..."

Scriabin groaned again, but didn't say anything in response.

"Are there...have we gotten anywhere?" Edgar sighed. "Have we accomplished anything with this? With talking about this? Except going back to the status quo..."

"Well, are you going to try to help Jimmy? I still don't see why you should." Scriabin managed to sound resentful.

Edgar stared at the toy for a few seconds.

"You don't have to. I'm going to try anyway."

Perhaps if he was in another state of mind, Scriabin would have been annoyed at Edgar's attempt to stop the conversation, to exert any kind of authority. Instead he hummed a snatch of a song, and Edgar recognized it as the tune from earlier that day.

A few minutes before Scriabin spoke again. "Fine. What did you have in mind?"

Edgar shook his head. "I'm not sure yet...I can't call Johnny, not after last time...even if he's disconnected that...I can't risk something like that."

"You can't find his house, either. So that's not an option...unless you focus on Todd's house instead."

"I could try and track Jimmy..."

"All you have is his first name."

Edgar was surprised that Scriabin was contributing, then thought a little harder. So far all he had presented were the negatives, the case against. It was too early to say that Scriabin was trying to help him.

"If I wait for Johnny to contact me...he might not try in time. Jimmy might've already found him by that point..."

"If he hasn't found him by now, that is."

"What time is it...?" Edgar glanced over at his alarm clock. "He won't be asleep, so I could go over there, but...I don't know if I want to bother him right now."

"He can be so moody, can't he? Tomorrow then?" Another failed attempt at sarcasm.

"Tomorrow...something. I'm going to do something this time." Edgar fell back against his mattress and stared at the ceiling. "I'm going to save someone this time."

He could feel the desire, soft in the back of his mind, to contest the statement, to rip holes in it until it had no meaning, and then it faded. Small vibrations, minor things that he had only just become aware of and he was still not sure how to listen.

How to listen...

He had always thought himself a good listener...

Sighs gone unrecorded and perhaps Edgar had been purposely deaf this entire time, but he thought that gave Scriabin too much credit, too much of what he wanted. He hadn't really heard it, thought of it until now, that much was true, but he wouldn't let that continue.

Not quite sure of what he was doing, but he tried to focus on that desire that had flashed across his own emotions so briefly. Familiar but distorted, twisted just slightly into that uniqueness that Scriabin had acquired at some time that Edgar could not easily remember.

Listened, focused, trailed. Found. He felt a sense of exhaustion and apathy that matched what had come over him previously, deep and resigned. The desire to just stop fighting for once, to stop this, to let it go for once, to rest. Beneath it all, he could feel shaking strands, thin strings electric of pain crackling near and sharp.

Scriabin was in pain. Real pain.

Edgar knew it, he could easily see through his claims of exhaustion. To feel it was a different experience entirely. His body did not respond to it, did not try to numb or ache the feeling. His mind accepted its reality, its existence, but it was uniquely not his. Still, he felt intimately aware of it, knowledgeable of how much it would hurt, distract, tear and torment and what it was doing to Scriabin. What effect it had on the other person, such close knowledge and yet that distance that differentiated the two. It was so close that Edgar feared that if he really tried, or maybe if he didn't, that that pain could easily become his. That if he reached out and touched it in some way, somehow, that it would easily jump from one person to another.

God, was this what it felt like for Scriabin? To be so closely aware, to be able to feel things so tangibly and yet from such a distance, such an unsafe boundary?

Soft breathing, labored and laced with the occasional sound, accidental from vocal cords not meant to be vibrating, unwilling indications of the process of dealing with pain. Something that Edgar assumed must have been his own heartbeat and he felt something ooze and flow, and wherever Scriabin was and whatever strange realm or reality he seemed to reside in, Edgar knew that he was curled into himself and he was bleeding.

Trying to hide from him, hide percieved weakness and Edgar knew pride wasn't his own particular moral failing...

Another frustrated whimpering sound, and then a soft sense of curiosity. Awareness of a spectator. He could sense some kind of anger beneath it, resentment, something that might have approached hatred, but mostly confusion.

Edgar opened his eyes, looked at the clock, and found that two hours had gone by.

I... Edgar stared at the ceiling. That was...I probably shouldn't do that again.

A moment of silence from Scriabin before he spoke, his voice shaky and soft. Do whatever you want. I don't care.

Not unless I'm prepared, I mean. Not now, he didn't want to hurt Scriabin further. A quick recovery, clarification, and he hoped that Scriabin wouldn't hold it against him.

Someone knocked at his door.

Edgar should have felt more surprised, but instead there was just a vague sense of curiosity. He found himself already out of his room and walking towards the front door without the exact memory of doing so.

He should have felt something more than what he was, or wasn't, feeling. Anticipation, fear, something like that. There was only one person who would be at his door. Where was his fear?

He opened it.

There sat a box of once-frozen waffles.

Waffles.

Edgar stared at this without comprehending, or perhaps with some comprehension and just overwhelmed with the question of why, for a few minutes. Then he noticed a small note that rested on top of the brightly colored box.

It took a few mental commands before his body moved, but he eventually leaned over and picked up the scrap of paper. It was torn from something, Edgar wasn't sure what, and the writing on it was familiar. Sharp dark letters, a few random scratches here and there.

Edgar
I'm sorry for
Have some waffles.

Edgar wasn't sure what it was that Johnny felt sorry for, but it was one of those rare moments that he apologized at all and, whether or not it was for anything Edgar could have prevented, he felt somewhat touched.

Waffles? Scriabin perhaps meant to sound contemptuous, but instead sounded childlike and weak. He got you waffles?

"I guess so," Edgar said. He walked back into his apartment, shut the door, and walked to the kitchen. Without any thought, much as his trip to the door, he put the box in the freezer.

He stared at the scrap of paper, then watched his hands carefully pin the note to the fridge with the magnet that his phone company had sent him as a thank you for his patronage.

Edgar stared at the note and wanted to comprehend it, but nothing worked through. He knew this was deeper than it appeared, but he couldn't access it.

Don't you have something to say about this? Desperate for some kind of meaningful input on the note and gift.

A pause, and then Scriabin made a soft "nuh uh" sound.

Are you sure?

The same sound, and a shaky sigh.

"Maybe I've been too close to you..." Edgar reached out and touched the edge of the note softly. "I'm sorry for...what does it mean? What does any of this mean?"

Edgar expected Scriabin to have an answer, whether or not it was one that he liked. Instead Scriabin just made a general "I don't know" kind of noise and again a flicker of emotion crossing his own, that gap where he knew he should be feeling something about this. Not his emotion there, and not intruding so boldly where Edgar's emotion should be, but it was just a tinge of Scriabin's confusion, exhaustion, and the soft crackling of pain beneath it all.

Maybe he thought I...I'm not hungry. It's not a physical gift, or maybe it is. I'm indifferent to waffles...I don't think I've ever mentioned them to him.

Edgar walked back to his room, still confused.

He's not giving up. That sounded good. Too close...he's not giving up. He's not giving up on me just yet.

He rested his head against his pillow and let his eyes close. He found another tinge of emotion, too soft and fast to be identified, and he tried to focus.

I won't give up either.

He dreamed that night, dreamed of his room. He dreamed of his room, and of a man curled up against the dresser beside his bed, bleeding and alone. His trench coat was laid out carefully to one side, several holes ripped in the tough fabric that aligned with matching tears in the body of its owner. His striped shirt hung in tatters in places, giving glimpses of angry red gashes against skin, smeared blood and something black along the edges. He sat with his scraped knees drawn loosely to his upper body, though not close enough to aggravate the gaping hole through his shoulder and the slashes across his chest. Deep cuts across his arms, shallow scratches across his face bright red and burning, and his jeans were ripped and stained. He stared at bloody hands and shook uncontrollably.

Edgar dreamed that night, of walking to the shivering man and sitting beside him. He watched him flinch away, raise his hands to hide his destroyed shoulder, to hide the ripped muscle and flashes of bone through rent flesh.

He said something that he couldn't remember and the man raised a hand to him, as if to strike him. Edgar caught it before it could land, held it still, and Scriabin stared at him in confusion, still shaking.

Edgar looked at Scriabin's arm where several crisscrossing lines bled in a way that perhaps in a better state of mind he would have known to be impossible, an illusion. Instead, he took the antiseptic that had appeared beside him that had always been there, poured it into a shallow dish, dabbed a cotton ball that likewise always and just existed into it, and then touched it to the scratches.

He dreamed that Scriabin screamed when the alcohol burned through the cuts, seared through the wounds and that the sound had been far too familiar. It burned through to memories that he wanted to forget for the simple fact that they were memories, and often Edgar thought that memories did not have as much of an effect on the present as many supposed. Scriabin tried to pull away from him, to wrench his arm free, but Edgar tightened his grip and did not let him loose. Despite the jerking of his trapped arm, of the screamed curses and threats, Edgar worked.

Eventually Scriabin's struggles quieted and he was silent. Gauze that felt natural in his hand, pads of cotton and Edgar wrapped it carefully around and around, his hands following what felt like an ancient pattern but could never have been so old.

He dreamed that Scriabin sat still and stared at him while Edgar bandaged his arm. When Edgar tugged at his shirt, Scriabin raised his one good arm without protest and he carefully worked the torn fabric around the ruined shoulder, trying to avoid irritating the wound any further. The gashes across his chest were now more visible, pink and red and white and the definite evidence of some kind of claws, something animalistic. Scriabin hissed again when Edgar rested hands on his chest, felt for something although he wasn't sure what, and set to cleaning it. Scriabin's hand settled on Edgar's shoulder, clutched hard enough that Edgar felt as though his collarbone was bruised and the ache made it hard for one of his hands to find symmetry with the other, and as the disinfectant burned its way through his chest, Scriabin made rough gasping sounds, angry and helpless.

It was with a quiet certainty that Edgar worked, dreamed, found where his hands belonged and what they should be doing. He didn't question his knowledge of what to do, and neither did Scriabin. His hands kept moving.

More soaked cotton pads pressing against the tears, gauze stretched around to hold them in place, and Edgar alternately dipped towards and away from Scriabin as he rolled the gauze around his chest. His hands at times traveled up to Scriabin's shoulder blades, and he found them sharp and protruding, didn't want to touch them anymore so moved on.

He dreamed that Scriabin said nothing, that the affair was carried on in silence that didn't seem strange.

A metal clip to hold the wrapping in place, and then he turned to the shoulder. The most damage had been done here. Edgar felt certain that Scriabin either could not feel his paralyzed arm at all, or was in excruciating pain and could not find the motivation to move, to make it worse.

He wiped away the blood that had turned the area red, found the limits of the wound and he did not have to think of what to do. Under his hands he found that the edges knit together, some flesh renewed but not all, rough stitches appearing through and across Scriabin's skin. His fingers moved without true thought, lifting invisible needles and keeping the thread clear of tangles, and with each line that appeared, that dragged Scriabin's skin closer together, he could hear another gasp, strained and with more voice than he must have desired.

Sewn shut, and then he cleaned, he pressed the cotton ball against the rough edges, he let Scriabin rest his head on his shoulder and make agonized inarticulate sounds. He found the materials he needed appearing beside or in his hand; a brace to keep the shoulder in place, a way to stop him from moving too much, exerting himself too frequently.

He dreamed that he pulled Scriabin's head away from his shoulder and looked at his face. The scratches dragged their way across his cheeks, his mouth, and his nose. His eyes remained free from damage, as somehow Edgar knew they would. Dark hair stuck to Scriabin's skin, sweaty and matted perhaps with blood, but he couldn't tell for sure. He brushed the hair away from Scriabin's face, stared at his reflection in his glasses, and found that he did not care. Constantly hidden from him, but that was all right.

He rubbed away the blood on his face, watched him wince and try to turn away, but not with enough force to succeed. Edgar set his hand on his other cheek to hold him still as he cleaned the scratches despite Scriabin's flinching wordless protests. Bandages that he found beside him when he reached out his hand, and he applied them and still Scriabin stared at him, and still he said nothing. Silence between the two of them and Edgar was too busy to think of why.

The last open cut tended to, and Edgar leaned back. Scriabin continued to stare at him, and it was hard to tell how he felt. Edgar stared back, and he found that he could not find how he felt either.

Something resolved, but he wasn't sure what it was. Something mattered, something gained meaning, something found meaning, but he didn't know what it was. A hazy mist that hovered over him, that kept trying to remind him of other things, but instead he merely looked over the dressings he had applied, thought over whether or not they were satisfactory, whether that one or this one could be altered slightly, tightened or loosened.

Something happened, but he couldn't remember what. All blurry and indistinct, except the image of Scriabin sitting, swathed in white and pink bandages, staring at him and Edgar realized he didn't have to see how he felt, and he reached out a little, followed that thread and then he felt it, he felt his confusion. Complete desperate confusion and yet he said nothing.

Scriabin knew and Edgar knew that neither had an answer for any question presented now, any explanation for this. Edgar reached out a hand, and Scriabin reached out his matching hand, matching skin, and something happened, but Edgar couldn't remember what at that point. Swirls and shapes and things got indistinct, and something rough brushed against him, and the one image that remained clear, the one image that he could remember of Scriabin sitting all white and black and pink and staring at him.
Stared and Edgar's hands, his hands.

He dreamed.

He dreamed that he took care of him.

Edgar woke up, and he decided that that morning, he would have waffles for breakfast.

Chapter Text

He meant to go to Johnny's house after he ate breakfast.

He meant to go to Johnny's house after he went to work.

He meant to go to Johnny's house after he had a shower and ate dinner.

He meant to go to Johnny's house after he finished reading about mental disorders.

When he was arguing with Scriabin on his bed, he wasn't sure when he meant to go, or what he wanted to do about anything.

Angry words exchanged, things said intended to be hurtful, harmful, and it looked as if their relationship was shifting towards the negative territory for now. Scriabin was angry at him for reasons he wouldn't explain, and when Edgar asked him what they were, asked him why, it was like an insult somehow. Like he should already know.

When Edgar tried to bring up what he had done the previous night, in dreams, Scriabin reacted with a hostility that Edgar was fairly unfamiliar with and he immediately backed down.

All Edgar could gather was that he had done something wrong, that something was his fault, and that Scriabin had never planned for this, whatever "this" was. All things they had visited at one argument or another, and not topics they were unfamiliar with. This time though, Edgar felt particularly left out. He had no idea why Scriabin was upset and at least previously, he had some kind of inkling.

Edgar was sure Scriabin wanted revenge for whatever it was that Edgar had done, thus why he was acting this way. However, since Scriabin was being so maddeningly and inexplainably reticent about the entire matter, Edgar didn't know how to fix it, how to make up for it. Therefore, Scriabin hated him for it. At least, that's the impression he got from him.

Everything getting worse and worse and comments that normally would have been merely sarcastic, flippant only a day ago, now had a vicious and venomous point to them.

How quickly things changed, or...

Scriabin said things, reminded Edgar of reality, of what was really important, and Edgar ended up lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling.

He meant to go to Johnny's house.

Instead he categorized every aspect of Hell that he could remember.

Before he drifted off, another day wasted and now hatefully so, Scriabin pointed out, mockingly, that the majority of his life had meant to be lived and hadn't been, in one way or another.

And that's how he got himself into this.

Meant to, meant to, meant to.

Apparently, never meant to enough.

Scriabin laughed at him, reminded him of the broken car with the body parts in the trunk. Edgar hated; mostly at him, but the feeling was just so general now.

If their relationship was a gradient, if they really did just come back to a kind of equilibrium after each argument, then this was a minor setback, a day when neither were at their best. Edgar had to say they both weren't, because Scriabin didn't and wouldn't accept complete responsibility for his hostile behavior.

Not at their best, but maybe, tomorrow, back to some kind of uneasy peace. Maybe. Scriabin couldn't be mad forever.

Then again, he wasn't sure what "normal" for them really was. He knew what he wanted it to be, but he wasn't sure if that was really how their relationship fell, with nothing in the way.

Something had changed.

No. Edgar put his glasses to one side.

He just wished they had.

He wished everything would.

~~~

So desperate for an escape.

So desperate for an escape that he was willing, more than willing to force himself back, to kill his future and his present to try and reach his past. A retroactive homicide in hopes of erasing what he had done, what had forced his hand.

He wanted an escape. Perhaps if another option had made itself available, he wouldn't have focused so intensely on this one. If there was any other way. But no other option made itself so readily clear, and perhaps no other option would have offered the sleek oblivion he desired.

There are so many things one forgets over time. The countless minutes and seconds spent doing things that are useless or wholly forgettable. The few things that remain always become better, as is the way with everyone's personal history. The universally issued pair of rose-tinted glasses. If the memory belongs to you and you alone, then it's easy to alter it. To change those unpleasant details. To change it so you didn't trip over your shoes and bust up your face, someone tripped you. You weren't caught cheating, you were framed. You didn't fail that test, you barely passed. Depending on the fictions, breadth and scope, one creates to populate their pasts, there are varying amounts of lies and half-truths that can't be readily identified. Reality is never so subjective as through the lens of a personal autobiography.

In the end, there's no proofreader to show that this was all a lie, it wasn't really like this, it would never be like this, and yes, that day when you wore the wrong colors on School Colors Day actually did happen.

Everyone does it, everyone alters those memories you once had, even if you're not aware of it. It's easy to wear away the sharp edges we don't want to think about, to try and dull ancient pain that shouldn't hurt this long.

Time goes on and you forget that some bad things happened at all. It's easier that way, to remember something positive in the past because with all that could go on in the future, all the tribulations of the present, how can you be denied a happy past? Who would police your thoughts? It's beneficial in a way, to create pleasant fictions of an idyllic youth. A way to cope with damage that harms no one, not really.

Some go so far as to recreate their entire childhood piece by piece, perhaps unintentionally or perhaps not.

Adventures that we never had but wished we did. Nostalgia for things that never happened but should have. Underneath it all that intense feeling of being cheated, of the feeling that your childhood should have been pleasant, it should have been everything they told you it would be. Childhood should be that way, it should be something you'll always cherish and remember, full of adventures and games and clubs and tree houses and things that people so often talk about but never actually do. Minor dramas acted out that pale in comparison to what's portrayed on the media, but isn't that how it goes with everything?

Cheated. Cheated out of the carefree childhood that everyone assumes you had and for some reason unexplained--despite all pleas for an answer--it didn't happen. It didn't quite happen that way. Not to you. Cheated out of another thing, another so-called fact of life that everyone experiences and everyone can bond on. No one had a boring childhood. No one had problems coming up with imaginary friends. No one spent their time watching TV rather than imagining those grand fictions that children were supposedly so good at.

No one sat in their room at night trying to imagine, trying to picture this lush fantasy world that was at everyone's fingertips but theirs.

The intense sensation of being cheated out of a birthright, of being hurt without the ability to retaliate. In the face of such disappointment, who wouldn't go back and edit memories? Who wouldn't go back and change things? Who wouldn't create that imaginary friend, now that the mind is developed enough, and work them into all of your old childhood memories? Who wouldn't recreate the childhood they should have had, and work at making that childhood reality, if only for them?

He wanted an escape so badly because the future ahead of him led inexorably down to a fate he didn't want to imagine. Everything he feared, everything he had wished for so long wouldn't happen was going to happen, and he knew this. He had seen what was in store, he had seen Hell, and it had been promised to him, without a doubt. There was nothing he could do about it. Absolutely nothing he could do. The systematic destruction of himself and everything he once knew, and no. He had been cheated out of so much already. This wasn't fair.

For God's sake, this wasn't fair.

It wasn't even his decision in the first place.

There had to be a way out, to erase everything he had done. He wanted so desperately to find a place where none of this would matter, where he still had a choice, where he could pretend he still had a future, and he knew where he would find it. To go back to the beginning of all things with the most rudimentary and instinctual time machine possible.

A pleasant lie only shattered when the occasional photo showed the truth while he sorted through a drawer. A small boy with choppy uneven hair, a big nose, a knit yarn scarf, threadbare simple clothing with an eternally exhausted expression on his face. Edgar had yet to find one picture of himself as a child smiling.

But he remembered smiling. He was sure of that. It was all he had.

He wanted so desperately to get out but Scriabin had pointed out the logic and goddamn it all, that was something harder to fight than he thought. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew he couldn't do it forever. He knew it wouldn't help him. But God he wanted to do it. He wanted to do it so badly.

He fell asleep and dreamed.

His false childhood held so many things that everyone should have. The seasons that he only experienced now and again which everyone took for granted. Not every child got to play in the snow or watched the leaves turn color, but Edgar made sure that he did. Not everyone caught fireflies or went swimming in the summer, not everyone chased after the ice cream man or had a forest to play in when the days were hot and long and pointless, but he did. He had a big house with lots of rooms to hide in, lots of toys and clothes to play with, a sandbox. It was always brightly lit and it always smelled clean, and the days were always warm and bright.

That was how it should have been. That was how they said it would be.

He had a tree house. He made sure of that. He remembered as a child being jealous, being hatefully and truly jealous, of anyone he saw on television with a tree house. There was simply no way he could have made one, with his grandmother like she was and the lack of suitable trees or materials around...

But he had one now. Several adventures he had had up there, the kind that every kid should have. He had comic books up there that never got ruined by the weather, food that likewise stood the test of time. His grandmother even let him stay up there some nights when it was warm enough. That was a particularly pleasant fantasy, considering that if he wandered out of her sight for more than twenty minutes she'd call for him.

Make sure he was doing something constructive.

He never managed to overcome the guilt at the instinctual twinge of apprehension whenever he heard her voice. The way she said it, the way it always sounded so accusatory, bred in him this fear that whenever she called him, he had done something wrong. More often than not, he had done something wrong, something he wasn't even aware of...

No, that wasn't what his childhood was anymore.

It was a warm and bright day and he was sitting in the sandbox he had long wished he had, playing with a set of toy soldiers that he never owned.

As he sat there and buried one of the toys beneath the sand, a gradual realization came to him that he tried as hard as he could to fight. The reality of the matter could not be denied though, not when for so long the reality of things had been the layout for his entire life. He wasn't used to avoiding reality, not like this.

God, as a child he felt more connected to reality than he did now. He had kept more things in mind, kept more responsibilities and worries and everyday concerns in mind than he was ever aware of, and now in that same body, that same time, it was hard to fight those instincts. The constant mental commands that forced him to think over everything he was doing, to consider the consequences, to make sure he had looked at every option before making a decision, and to make sure that the decision he made would be the least unpleasant. He had gone back just to escape this kind of constant responsibility, and he found that he had just run in circles. Even as a child he was responsible. Children weren't supposed to be responsible, children were supposed to be stupid and carefree, and even here he had been cheated.

He went through the motions, moving the soldiers this way and that, but everything still felt just as fake as before. All those times he had tried to play with the other kids, he had tried to join in games of pretend and found that he couldn't get past what he saw, the reality, he couldn't get past it all to really play and they had abandoned him, cast him out for it. He could pretend and move the pieces about, but after all this time and all this editing and everything he had tried and wanted, he still didn't know how to play the game.

He felt an intense burst of rage that he normally would have suppressed or sublimated into something else but not this time. Even though at this age, he would be even more likely to keep his emotions under control--particularly with his grandmother who definitely wasn't here, he made sure of that--he forced himself to let it free. He wanted to be angry, he wanted to feel this.

The toy soldier in his hand was abruptly airborne, thrown with an angry cry as far away as Edgar could manage. Another angry incoherent sound and he pressed sandy palms to his closed eyes.

He just wanted to escape, he just wanted to not think about anything but it still didn't work, everything still didn't work. No matter where he went, things were still just as horrible and he still didn't fit in. God, he just wanted to fit in, for once he wanted to be at ease doing something, he wanted to know that he was doing something right-

"Cha, that was dumb."

Edgar pulled his hands from his eyes and looked up. Standing on the edge of his sandbox was Scriabin, and maybe he should have been more surprised than he was to see him there. He seemed just as natural here as Edgar was, and Edgar suspected that wasn't entirely his doing.

Scriabin was younger than him, which only made sense. Perhaps three or four years younger or so. His hands were rounder and his face a bit wider, the more angular lines that would define Edgar in adulthood undeveloped at such a young age. He was still wearing his striped shirt with the empty box and his black jeans, almost comical cut so short. No shoes and to no one's surprise, he still wore his ever-present pair of reflective glasses. Edgar couldn't exactly chide him for it, as he knew that the two cuts beneath his own eyes were present even going back this far. That said more than Edgar wanted to hear at the moment.

Scriabin's hair wasn't quite as long as it would be in the future--if he could really think of it as the future, considering--but it was much more scruffy and unkempt than Edgar's.

Scriabin could grow his hair long. Edgar hated him for that. He didn't get yelled at for it, and he didn't have to suffer from awkward painful haircuts given by someone whose vision was seriously beginning to fail. Edgar couldn't bring that up with her though. There were so many things he could never talk about with her.

One long strand near Scriabin's face was tied with a red bit of yarn. Edgar found that he could remember exactly where that bit of yarn had come from, the memory coming to him easily and naturally.

Scriabin had been planning on rifling through his grandmother's dresser while she was asleep, and Edgar had fervently asked him not to. Scriabin eventually talked him into it, although in retrospect Edgar wasn't sure how. He remembered being terrified that his grandmother would wake up as they snuck into her room, remembered standing near Scriabin and shifting from foot to foot, eager to get this over with. Scriabin had poked around in the drawer with all the care and stealth of some kind of wild elephant and it wouldn't surprise Edgar that he was being intentionally noisy to deliberately get them in trouble. That wasn't unusual. Eventually Scriabin had grabbed a bit of yarn as "proof" that he had braved these unknown waters, had so flagrantly disregarded the rules of not touching other people's things, and the two of them had snuck out again.

Fiction after fiction, the wished-for scenarios and adventures, and it was hard to tell reality from fantasy, particularly with Scriabin right here, looking just as he had in every memory that Edgar must have constructed. That only made sense. He couldn't have always been here, even if-

Scriabin's voice was almost laughably high, although it wasn't like Edgar could best him in that department at the moment. Edgar had made quite sure that if he was going to visit his past, it would be before adolescence. No one wants to relive adolescence. No matter what Scriabin said, he wasn't that much of a masochist.

"Nice work, by the way."

"What are you doing here?" Edgar stared at him. "You shouldn't be here."

"Since when could you tell me where to be?" Scriabin stepped into the sandbox and sat across from Edgar. He picked up one of the toy soldiers. "I don't listen to you."

"No, what are you doing here? Why are you here? Are you going to...do you have to? I just want to...I just want to pretend for a while."

"Don't think I know that? Stupid." Scriabin moved the toy soldier towards Edgar with small jerky motions. "Guess what, you took me along for the ride again. Big surprise. It's not the first time."

"I..." Edgar picked up one of the little plastic figures. "I didn't want you to come here. I didn't mean for you to come with me."

"Well, duh." Scriabin shrugged. "I know you didn't. But here I am."

"What are you going to do?"

"I didn't have anything planned." Scriabin poked at Edgar's toy with his soldier's bayonet. "It's funny how you always wanted an imaginary friend, and tadah! Here I am."

There was a silence as Scriabin kept poking Edgar's small toy with his own. Silence and a bird chirped somewhere once. With a motion that shocked both of them, Edgar threw the toy soldier off in the same direction to join his missing compatriot. Scriabin's eyes followed the progress of the soldier and Edgar found he was speaking without thinking.

Screaming, actually, would have been more accurate.

"I only ask for one thing, I only ask for one thing, just one thing in my life that I can make my own, that I can completely fucking own for once, just one thing that I don't have to account to anyone for and then YOU show up and, and-!" Edgar shivered violently at the obscenity that slipped by his lips, that broke the illusion even further. "I only want, I want something God I want something that I should have had God is that so wrong, is that such a fucking impossible thing to ask for, that I should have one thing, that I can have one moment to myself, that I can have one thing that I can look back on and feel happy about without feeling guilty godDAMN IT Scriabin why are you HERE!?"

Edgar's throat felt raw by the time he finished shrieking, and he wasn't even aware of how loud he had really become. He wasn't used to shouting, raising his voice. In reality his grandmother would have stopped him by the second word, but she wasn't here, goddamn it. He breathed heavily as he glared at Scriabin and he could feel his eyes stinging. That was perfect, that was just great, of course he would start crying now. Why not. That'd be the perfect icing on this cake. That would be just fantastic.

Scriabin stared at him with a look of complete and total surprise. Edgar stared back, waiting for the eventual smirk he knew would come.

Instead, there was a moment where Scriabin almost looked hurt somehow, if that was even possible, then that quickly faded into a mask of emotionlessness that Edgar recognized all too well.

"You brought me here."

"NO!" Edgar clenched his hands in his uneven hair and shut his eyes tight. "You're not supposed to BE here, this is MINE! This is mine for God's sake, you can't judge me for this, you can't judge me for this GO AWAY!"

A long pause, and Scriabin looked down. Couldn't meet his eyes anymore, apparently. He couldn't say for sure, him and those glasses-

"Edgar..." His voice was quiet. "What makes you think I'd hurt you here?"

"You ask me that..." Edgar found himself snarling, his lip curling and the urge to bite and tear rising strong and insistent. He could feel his entire body shaking, his fists clenching so tightly he could feel his skin breaking, and more than that he could feel, he could feel the anger. It was directionless, general, all-encompassing rage that he had wished to express to so many people at so many times but never could because it would never pay off, it would never be worth it. He never had enough power to safely express that anger, all those emotions bottled up and now here, there was no one. There was no one here except him and the seven year old boy in front of him, staring at him with that insufferable confused expression. "You ask me that as if you've never hurt me before, as if you're innocent in this entire thing. And you wonder why I'm here."

Scriabin tilted his head slightly. "I didn't say that. Or ask that."

"How dare you play innocent with me, how dare you act is if all you want to do is interact with me! After everything you've done, everything you said to me today, how dare you!" He was screaming again, his voice shrill and sharp and out of his control, and it tore through his chest in a way that made the stinging in his eyes worse. "How dare you come here! How dare you think you belong here!"

Scriabin apparently couldn't think of a response. He raised a hand to adjust his glasses and that was it. Edgar saw himself in the lenses for the last time.

"Take those glasses off."

Scriabin paused for a moment. Then he smirked, just like Edgar knew he would.

"I can't."

Edgar threw himself at Scriabin, a mad screaming flailing mass and Scriabin managed a short strangled gasp of surprise before he hit the ground.

Edgar lashed out as hard and as quickly as possible, relishing the sound of each fist's collision and the gasp or grunt that followed. So much hatred coursed through him, so much pure rage at the world and what it had done to him, at everything he had been denied, at the lie that he had lived his life by, at the pure unfairness of his situation, and the fact that this kind of anger should have been his by all rights and only now had he found what he should have known for years.

Scriabin was not about to let Edgar get away with this uncontested, and he scratched and hit as best he could. He was still at a disadvantage, considering his size, but a small boy can be surprisingly ferocious when cornered and Scriabin definitely had no other options at this point. Rolling and yelling on the grass, both beyond coherent words. Edgar felt his nose bleeding, knew he bit his lip and it didn't matter.

He had often listed the consequences of him lashing out, he had thought and worried about what he would say, how his grandmother would react, how childish it would be if he gave in and actually did start a fight. He wasn't skilled, he didn't know what he was doing, he would lose. There were so many individual thoughts and concerns that kept him in check, and now none of it mattered.

He never had a fight as a child, and when he realized this he sank his teeth into Scriabin's shoulder. Scriabin gave an angry howl and pushed him away, nails scratching across his face and catching on those scars beneath his eyes. A fist thudded into Edgar's chest, winded him for a few seconds but he recovered because he had to, he wasn't going to stop now. He raised a fist and Scriabin pushed his arm away quickly, grabbed his shirt and he was choking him, cutting off his air. He struggled, hit, his shirt slipped from Scriabin's grip, felt his breath rasp back into his lungs with a vague sense of gratefulness overshadowed by his rage.

Edgar wasn't in the state of mind to be listening to himself, but while coherent thought eluded him, his vocal cords worked without his knowledge. Snarls and growls, hissing breaths and hard panting noises, sharp cries of pain and anger when struck in a way that stung enough to stop him. Even though the sounds he made were marked by undeveloped vocal cords, moved higher on the auditory range than he would have liked, the meaning behind them was not diluted in the least.

Edgar grabbed his shirt, raised Scriabin off the ground just enough to shove him back down again, watch his head hit the grass with a short grunt. The desire to just keep going, to keep pounding Scriabin's head against the ground until he stopped moving, was all that he could think of, even if he couldn't currently put it into words. Another thud against the ground, a strangled gasp and Scriabin raised his arms and broke Edgar's hold, gained enough leverage to send the two rolling once again.

Scriabin was familiar with rage, but the intensity of the emotion driving Edgar was scaring him and it showed on his face. Edgar was acting on pure instinct, the drive to hurt someone else, and he would obey that drive as long as he had the strength to fight.

Hands sliding across fabric and sweaty skin. Edgar struggled to get hold of Scriabin's neck but instead settled for his shirt again. Scriabin tried to breathe as Edgar began shaking him as hard and as fast as he could. Edgar's attention focused on keeping his arms moving, Scriabin found the precious few seconds to pull one fist back. A sharp blow to the face and Edgar fell to one side, his grip forgotten. Both boys panted hard, bleeding from several places, and as Edgar pushed himself back up with shaking arms, they stared at each other warily.

His glasses were gone. Edgar hadn't even noticed while he was fighting.

"What do you want to see, Edgar?" One of Scriabin's eyes was swollen shut. "What does it matter to you?"

"Shut up!"

His other eye became dark rimmed, small lines and wrinkles matching the killer that was the source of this, of everything. "What do you want to see? You've taken my last piece of privacy from me. What do you want now?" One moment the eye was missing entirely, just a black hole where it should have been, another and his eyelids were stitched shut, black and red, and then another and his eye was open and intact and it matched Edgar's perfectly. "Is this it? It doesn't matter, does it?"

Some part of Edgar wanted to leap back and start the battle anew, keep fighting until he couldn't move anymore. Consumed with the thought of revenge, eternal revenge until the whole thing was finally and truly over, but another part of him was beginning to reassert itself, to remind him of what exactly he had done.

It took a few minutes of silence before he spoke again.

"I hate you so much." Edgar's voice squeaked and he hated himself for it.

"Heh." Scriabin brushed a hand across his mouth, stared at the streak of blood. "That's pretty obvious."

That part of him always won in the end. Edgar turned away and curled up on his side, hugging his shoulders. Now that the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, the pain of his wounds was beginning to surface along with the regret he always knew would follow.

"This is my place." He wished his voice didn't shake so much. "I wanted to escape here."

Scriabin was silent for a while. Edgar could feel his heart beating in his ears and it was giving him a headache, although that could have been all the blunt force trauma.

He heard the sound of grass moving and then felt Scriabin sit down near his back.

"What makes you think I don't want to escape myself sometimes?"

"I just want to spend some time by myself...I want to be alone." Edgar put his hands over his ears which he found surprisingly hot to the touch. He wished he had his glasses, but he was sure they were broken beyond repair, wherever they had fallen.

Scriabin leaned back against him. The contact reminded Edgar of some particularly nasty bruises along his shoulders and back that flared back to life, but he didn't have the energy to move away. "I just wanted to relax myself. I guess you dragged me in here. Maybe you wanted someone to play with. It's more fun to play with two people."

"I can't believe you..." So tired of it, so tired of everything. "You've lied to me...lied to me about everything...I just want to stop hurting for a while. Go away."

"You don't have to believe me." Scriabin gave a wet cough. "Doesn't matter to me. I don't have anything better to do."

A long silence. That bird chirped again. Edgar remembered in the back of his mind where reality was that the sound of birds chirping had never struck him as pleasant, and he had often cursed them when they had woken him on a Saturday morning. Apparently even his desire for everything everyone always talked about couldn't make a bird sound pleasant.

"C'mon." Scriabin shook his shoulder gently. "Can you believe what we just did? Don't sulk. This is great. I feel great. Don't you? I think we accomplished something."

"I didn't accomplish anything." Edgar turned over to look at Scriabin and ended up half in his lap. "I punched you in the face."

"True." Scriabin raised a hand to push up nonexistent glasses then caught himself. He smiled. "Are you sure that's not an accomplishment?"

Edgar stared at him for a few seconds. Along with the swollen eye, Scriabin's lip was split and bleeding down his chin. Bruises were beginning to darken around his face, he was covered with dirt, and his ears looked red. Several angry pink and yellow lines crisscrossed across his cheeks, shallow scratch marks that'd vanish in a few minutes. And yet, in spite of everything they had done, that bit of red yarn remained in place, although there were a number of grass clippings now caught in his hair.

"You're such a jerk."

Scriabin smiled back at him in that infuriating familiar way, a little lopsided considering that his lip was beginning to swell, and Edgar sighed. His head hurt. No wonder he'd never done this before.

Scriabin reached out and brushed grubby fingers across a tender area spreading from the corner of Edgar's mouth that would no doubt quickly develop into a bruise. Edgar moved his head away, although it wasn't quickly or with any kind of real threat. Just the general indication that he didn't feel like being touched at the moment.

He caught sight of something red on the tips of Scriabin's fingers.

"We should've done this a long time ago."

Edgar didn't say anything. His head was still resting in Scriabin's lap, and he was trying his hardest at that point to erase everything in favor of the cloud-dotted sky above him. Why he came here. He could taste the iron of blood in his mouth, and hoped he hadn't lost a tooth or something.

"Don't you think? Not healthy to keep things bottled up inside." His speech pattern was becoming simpler, perhaps in an effort to match the body he was using.

Participating in the fantasy.

"Did you really come here to play with me?" Edgar knew he wouldn't get a truthful answer. He just felt like he had to say something, and nothing that Scriabin had said seemed like an appealing place to start.

"Sure. I think so. I didn't plan to come here, after all. You wanted me here for some reason or another."

"I don't know why I would."

"Well..." Scriabin leaned forward a little and his back popped. "We had a lot of bad feelings going on between us earlier today. Maybe you did want to fight me or something."

"Pff." Edgar didn't feel like finding a logical argument for the statement. If Scriabin altered his speech pattern, then Edgar could do it too. "That's dumb."

"Heh, maybe."

A short pause and Edgar's arm twitched, brushed against Scriabin's hip. Scriabin leaned back and looked up at the sky, and when Edgar looked up at his neck, he found a faint line running down his throat. Some kind of scar, although he couldn't guess the source.

"What games do you know how to play anyway?" Edgar found his attention captured by Scriabin's uncovered eyes. Even if he was just changing his form to mess with him, it was still such a change to be able to see them at all. Same color as his own. If they were in a different state of mind he was sure Scriabin would find some way to work that against him, even if it wasn't his fault.

"I know what you know." Scriabin shrugged.

"Then why couldn't I..." Edgar raised one hand and gestured vaguely where the two soldiers had taken their last flight.

"This isn't the place for it, but far be it for me to deny you answers when you ask." The way he spoke now seemed incongruous with his childlike voice. "You don't know how to play Soldiers."

"But-"

"No, you don't know how. You can pretend you do, but that doesn't make it so." A phrase that was becoming more and more common between them. Scriabin pointed at him. "If you really want to escape here, think of a game you really did play, something that you really know."

"Why are you doing this?" Edgar's face hurt when he talked. He was going to regret that fight for a while. "Why are you helping me like this?"

"Like I said..." Scriabin shrugged again. "Sometimes I want to relax too. You know, those memories...the ones with me in them..."

Edgar sighed and let the sound resonate through his throat. He didn't know Scriabin knew...he resigned himself to the chastising he knew would be inevitable. "What about them?"

Scriabin smiled at this tone in a way that still pricked a part of Edgar's pride, but not enough to really galvanize any emotion into action. "They're not that bad."

"What?"

"I mean...you want to be creative, right?" Scriabin gestured at the sky vaguely, and Edgar watched his hands. Some of his nails were broken and he could see a dark mark spreading beneath one of them. Probably from when he had rolled over his hand at one point. "Want to make up stuff like other kids did. Like you never could, 'cause she was always about how things really were. It's hard to make things up when everyone around you won't let you, y'know. You shouldn't blame yourself for that as much as you do."

"Ha. Since when do you take my side?"

"I take it whenever it serves my argument." A smirk, and it looked bizarrely out of place on his young features. "But some of the stuff you made up about us, it's pretty neat."

"Most of it's from TV shows I saw..." Edgar looked up and could see that scar running down Scriabin's neck again. It was an old one, long faded to white, one that ran directly down his Adam's apple, down to the hollow of his neck and almost up to his chin. Where on earth did that come from?

"Not all of it. I do like what you came up with though." Scriabin moved again, and the scar slipped from view. "The Vargas brothers, wasn't it?"

Edgar considered for a moment if he shouldn't participate, if the potential dangers of following Scriabin down this train of thought outweighed the positives, then decided to stop caring. "Yeah."

"The careful older brother and his rebellious younger sibling. Heh. I like how I was always the one who got you into trouble."

"What, because that way I don't take responsibility?"

"C'mon, Edgar. We had something for a minute there." Scriabin intended to give him a disapproving look, but instead it looked like he was pouting, and that expression somehow seemed completely normal. "I don't want depth right now any more than you do, okay?"

Edgar didn't trust him still. Closed his eyes a bit and he knew he never would. Stop caring about it. "Whatever."

"But you know, you did create these adventures for us...for the two of us. Always in the back of your mind, just..." Scriabin fingered the bit of yarn that held his hair. "I mean...you changed so much just to work me in here. I have my own clothes, my own toys, I have my own rules..."

"You always got away with everything." Edgar wasn't speaking directly to him. "You always managed to get away with everything. I never understood it, that I got blamed so often for what you did or what was originally your idea. I always had to be the responsible one, it was always my fault for not looking out for my younger brother, it was always..."

Scriabin sighed, and he reached down and touched Edgar's forehead. At the sensation Edgar realized that there was a large cut there that immediately began to sting at being discovered. Scriabin moved his hand, touched a chunk of badly cut hair.

"Recreating yourself, the childhood you wish you had...and I'm here." Scriabin looked down at him, and the two stared at each other. "You want me here."

"Wouldn't it have been different that way?" Edgar didn't want to think too hard about this but he knew he was anyway. "So many things could have been different if I wasn't always alone..."

"And you think I'd take this away from you." Scriabin laughed in much the same way Edgar had earlier. "You think I'd take away something like this? Your real and honest validation of my existence? The fact that you want me here? I wouldn't take that from you."

"You want it too."

Scriabin shrugged. "Do you remember when I stole this bit of yarn?"

Avoiding the issue. Easy to recognize but again, that's not what this was about. Edgar nodded.

"Hmm, something else...do you remember when we snuck out that one night to see if we could find the-" Scriabin started laughing and had to take a few seconds to compose himself. "The night goblins?"

"I remember that!" Edgar found himself smiling and for a few seconds, it felt real. "I remember that, I told you that story because you wouldn't stay out of my stuff, I told you that the night goblins would come and cut off all your hair, and you started crying and wouldn't stop. Granma freaked out about it, told me I shouldn't tell you such stories when you were so 'impressionable.' You were so scared..." It all seemed so real. "You were so scared you couldn't sleep, and eventually I had to show you that they weren't real. We snuck out..."

"'Cause you told me they lived in the backyard near the pond. You always wanted a pond." Scriabin snickered softly. "God, how gullible was I. I waited until you pulled up every rock until I was satisfied."

"Night goblins live under rocks, I almost forgot." Edgar laughed at the thought, and eventually the sound faded away and there was a moment of silence.

Contemplation and that bird chirped again.

"There's so much I wish we had," Scriabin mumbled. "There's so much I wish I had."

"Ah, you said 'we' first." Edgar wasn't willing to go back this quickly. "Do you remember Halloween?"

A pause, and Scriabin gave him a sad smile. "I think I do. Why don't you refresh my memory?"

There was a wound that had never healed, resentment that had lingered in the back of Edgar's mind every time that time of year came around. How many times had he been forced to sit at the lunch table and listen to how much candy everyone got and what kind and trade you for this one, and he'd just stare.

You can't go out, Edgar, you have to help me clean up the house. Your uncle said he was going to come by tonight, and I want the house to look nice. You've got to stay home tonight, this might be the only time you'll see him for a long time.

He never did show up.

All for nothing.

Still felt bitter about it, even after all this time. The very next year his grandmother had decreed that he was "too old" to go out asking for candy, and there was another grand childhood tradition that had been ripped from him. He was in no position to protest, and what could he say?

He should have gone Trick-or-Treating with everyone else.

He should have had that, if nothing else. He should have at least had that.

He felt Scriabin run a hand gently through his uneven hair, and Edgar struggled with his memories.

"I can't remember what I was dressed as."

Scriabin stared at him for a few seconds, then he gave him a crooked smile. "I remember what I was dressed as. I was a ninja."

"A ninja?" Edgar stared at him for a few seconds, and then he could visualize it, could see the young boy all dressed in black with his cardboard shurikens and absolutely no knowledge of the culture he was borrowing from. "Ha ha, I remember. I was...I was a pirate."

"Pirates and ninjas." Scriabin's smile grew wider. "I've heard they're immortal enemies."

"Then that makes sense then, doesn't it?" Edgar imagined, worked out the details that would add the realism. "I had the floppy hat and everything. A little bag of chocolate coins and a sword and...everything."

"I got more candy than you."

Both working so hard, working so hard to sustain this joint illusion. Edgar knew why he was doing it. You escape to avoid reality, and his childhood was nothing but reality, and he wasn't going back to that. Not if he could help it.

And Scriabin...

"No you didn't."

"Yes I did. Remember? It came down to those three pieces of that cheap candy no one ever eats, but I still beat you."

"You did not. You stole them from me."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Heh, didn't Granma have to get involved?"

"Yeah, after you stole my candy!" He wasn't sure if his indignant tone was real, but it sounded good enough.

Scriabin's smile again got that somewhat sad tinge, and he looked back up at the sky. "I did not."

There it was again, that thin line running down his throat. Edgar raised a hand and touched it gently, and Scriabin jerked in surprise.

"Where'd that come from? You've never had it before."

"Don't you remem-" Scriabin cut himself off, then looked remarkably uncomfortable. "That's right..."

"What?"

"Huh, not proud of myself for this one. I didn't think you'd notice. Well..." Scriabin reached up a hand himself and touched the mark. "You know...this is my childhood too. We share so much. So..."

"So you...you...remember something?" He couldn't break what they had accomplished so far, he had to work with their scripts, the lines and he couldn't break it, he almost had it now. "Something happened when I wasn't there?"

He hesitated for a moment, and when he spoke he still sounded uncomfortable. "Yeah..."

"What happened?" Edgar didn't hide the fascination in his voice, and he was thankful that at the moment, they weren't reading too much into this. He was positive that Scriabin felt the same way.

"Well..." Scriabin didn't look at him. "It's kind of embarrassing..."

"C'mon."

"I was hanging out in the tree house...you know, just screwing around and everything..." Scriabin sounded really uncomfortable telling the story. That was something Edgar had never heard before. "And there was nail poking out of the wood at some part, I dunno, I wasn't paying attention. I banged it down with a rock afterwards anyway, but..."

"Uh huh..."

"So I was up there with that coat, you know-"

"The one Granma tells you never to touch!?" Edgar sounded a bit more emotional while saying that than he should have, considering, and he felt a twinge of something that might have been pride. It was some positive emotion that flickered too fast to be given a name. "Scriabin!"

"She didn't find out, okay?" Scriabin hissed and looked around. "I just really like that coat."

"You're not supposed to touch that, it's my dad's coat, Granma said she'd kill you if she found you playing with it again-"

"Look, do you want to hear this story or not?"

Edgar reluctantly swallowed his concern and returned to listening. Then he realized that he was actually, seriously concerned over something that never really...

"So I was playing with that coat, and I went to go get something, and I tripped on the edge of it, and I ended up scratching my neck on the nail."

"Scratching?"

"Okay, it was pretty deep." Scriabin rolled his eyes. "Granma ran me to the hospital pretty quick after that-"

"Ha, did she find out you were playing in that coat?"

"No, thank you." Scriabin sounded offended. "I took it off before I went inside."

"Jeez, you walked that far with your neck like that?"

"It wasn't that bad. It didn't do any real damage. But I did have to have to wear this dorky neck bandage for like a week."

"Heh." Edgar smiled to himself. "Now that you mention it, I do remember you with that. That was a long time ago..."

"Yeah..." A pause, and Scriabin gave a heavy sigh. "A real long time ago..."

The two of them stared at the sky, and the bird was silent this time. Scriabin still had his fingers in Edgar's hair.

"Do you think there's anything wrong with this?" Walking the edge of breaking the illusion they had created, but he had to ask. "I mean...no one's getting hurt. Changing things...no one's hurt. No one else has to know."

"I never said there was anything wrong with this." Another sigh. "It's just not good to do it for a long time."

"How much longer do you think we should stay here, then?"

"You're dreaming, my dear b-..." Scriabin cut himself off, then he laughed. "I can't really say that here, can I? But you're dreaming, Edgar, and that means we can stay until you wake up."

Stared up at the sky, and Scriabin idly played with his hair.

"You know...it's weird." Edgar again found himself talking without really thinking about it first. "I thought that really...if I kept this to myself, you know...kept these...changes to myself...that'd make them more real, 'cause no one could ever prove them wrong. They wouldn't know. But then..."

Scriabin tilted his head at him slightly.

"But then..." Edgar wasn't sure if he should say this. The two of them were teetering on the edge of two realities. Edgar knew the one that he wanted to keep real, the one that he was trying to stay in, but the question of whether or not Scriabin could resist the temptation...if the actual reality that faced them both, if the actual facts of their relationship, would override this illusion and maybe this would have consequences, real consequences. Edgar wasn't sure if he could say this because what if the real Scriabin came and used this later, what if how things really were came and saw what they were playing at, and then everything was ruined.

He had to...

He had to trust him.

"What?" Scriabin sounded genuinely interested, and Edgar found his thoughts caught up again in that eternal battle of weighing the pros and the cons, whether or not this would really end up being a good decision, and my God, had he ever been spontaneous in his entire life? This wouldn't be the best time to start but again that anger, the anger that found an easy home here rose again and he wanted to be spontaneous. He wanted to make a stupid decision because that's what kids did and that was what he was now. That's what he wanted.

"It's like...with you here, with you...agreeing with me." Scriabin's hand stopped moving. "Working with me...talking with you about it. It kind of...validates it. It makes the entire thing that much more real. More real than if I were alone."

"I could bring up something that Jesus said..." Scriabin's voice had several emotions in it that Edgar couldn't identify. He paused, and his fingers curled in his hair. "But I can't remember it now. You always paid more attention when she was reading to us than I did."

That hesitant barrier remained intact, and even if Edgar didn't exactly know why, he knew that he was safe for now.

"You mean, that thing about how it only needs two people to pray and be heard? Something like that."

"Yeah." Scriabin sighed again. "Something like that. I can't remember now. It's hard to think."

"Yeah...I've noticed that...hey...do you remember when you got in trouble?"

"Ha ha, which time? And where?" Scriabin smiled rakishly, and from the change in his posture Edgar could tell this would be a fantasy he would enjoy embellishing. "That was something of my specialty."

"I know that." Edgar found himself intensely curious about what Scriabin could come up with. As a child he had rarely gotten into trouble and while he had been lectured, he hesitated to call that a real punishment for anything. How far would he go? How much would he change? "How about something here at home?"

"Hmm." Scriabin put a hand on his chin and his thoughtful expression looked remarkably silly for a seven year old. Edgar smiled. "Let's see...I didn't get caught for stealing this bit of yarn...and she didn't yell at me for getting my neck all cut up, 'cause that wasn't my fault..."

"And for once I wasn't involved, so it wasn't my fault either."

"Hmm." Another pondering look. "Let's see...do you remember...when I took one of those skeins of yarn that Gran keeps lying around, and I decided to make our entire room a huge spider web? So I looped all this yarn everywhere, all over the chairs and beds and tables and doorknobs until you couldn't go anywhere unless you were crawling." A smile and Edgar wondered for a moment that if Scriabin did have a creative streak in him, how could that be expressed? How else could he express it when he had no body of his own? Work to create a past, a life that he never and would never have, maybe even this whole time...

Reality kept trying to intrude and Edgar had to stop letting it in. He tried to listen. "I do remember that, actually. You managed to talk me into helping you with that, too."

"Well, I couldn't reach the lamp by myself. You're taller than me. But do you remember when she came home and called for us, and we couldn't get out fast enough cause it was just everywhere?"

"She did always freak out if you didn't come to her right away..."

"Right. So up she comes storming up the stairs, you can hear her thumping along and she opens the door to our room and the look on her face was just priceless." At the thought of shocking Edgar's grandmother, the source for so many minor things that still affected Edgar in the present, so many associations and so much guilt, Scriabin smiled. Enjoying the small revenges, even if no one else would know.

"Haha, I remember you said something to her and she just completely lost it." Edgar could picture it, the joint room shared by two brothers with the separated toys, the clothes strewn everywhere and half-started games on the floor, and across everything the red yarn that always lurked in the back of his mind and, Edgar suspected, Scriabin's as well. The two boys sitting in the midst of it all, and he could see Scriabin's arm immediately snap out to point at him. "What did you say?"

A pause as Scriabin considered it. The smile on his face indicated that he enjoyed the challenge. "I think it was something like 'is it possible to turn into a spider when you turn seven? 'Cause I think I'm doing pretty well so far.'"

The two of them laughed for a few seconds at the thought, Edgar in particular at the image of someone rebelling, even in such a minor way, to one of the most omnipresent authority figures in his life.

"But yeah...she didn't much care for that." Scriabin looked fairly contented and he was still playing with Edgar's hair.

"Heh, I remember that when she managed to get you out of there and she was dragging you off, you still tried to pin it on me." Edgar found himself smiling at the look on his counterpart's face. It was so easy to pretend that they really were brothers, that their connection could be so blissfully simple. "Too bad you gave her that line first, I think that made her less inclined to be lenient with you."

"Yeah, I probably should have just blamed you first. That always did work." A smirk. "But yeah, jeez. I didn't hear the end of that for weeks. The huge lecture on wasting materials and how tight money was, and how we couldn't afford to be doing such silly things and blah blah blah waste of time. Didn't she tell me to clean it all up myself?"

"Yeah, and I'm pretty sure you were supposed to clean up the rest of the house for a while as well. I did help clean up the room though, even though I wasn't supposed to."

Scriabin looked down at him. "Yeah you did..."

A quiet moment to think about that, and then Edgar didn't want silence. "What about school?"

"Heh." Scriabin again looked thoughtful. "Let's see...it was always harder to pin things on you there, since we were in different classrooms..."

"That was a relief at least."

"Let's see...ah, I remember something. Do you recall that one boy, Corey something, I can't remember his last name."

"Yeah I do. Wasn't he always bugging us?"

"Yeah, but you know. He was a jerk. Either way, I remember this one time he brought this really nice electronic thing to school...it was like a notepad or something, I can't remember exactly...but he was showing it off to people, and he was poking at us, saying we could never have anything like that."

Edgar's eyes narrowed. "I do remember that."

"That made me so angry...I just couldn't stand it anymore. I don't think you were watching 'cause you probably would have stopped me." A lopsided smile and he continued, now caught up in the story. "So when he wasn't watching, I grabbed it really quick and shoved it in my bag."

"You didn't."

"I did. And I went to class. I was planning on giving it back to him at some point, really, but I guess he didn't take it that way. So I'm sitting there, and then Corey comes in all tears and wailing with a teacher in tow, which is no good no matter which way you look at it, and then his teacher and my teacher got to talking, and I knew this was about me."

Edgar winced. "Yeah, I'd imagine."

"And so they come over to me, and they say 'We understand that you have something of Corey's?', and I wasn't sure what to do. So I say I didn't remember taking anything of his, and then Corey says that I was the only one who'd have motivation for taking it and he saw me take it no less, and he was sure that it was in my bag. So my teacher tells me to go look in there for it and give it to him, and I tell her that I didn't have it, and she says that she'd look herself, and the last thing you want is a teacher looking through your things, so I say I'll look and see if I could find it."

"Jeez." Edgar could not see this ending well at all.

"Now, there was a few minutes before recess, and I thought that maybe if I could prolong the whole thing a few minutes, that way everyone would leave and no one would really know that I took it. Everyone's eyes were on me and you know kids live for that. So I'm looking and looking, and I've gone over the same few binders five times and they're on to me at this point. So I pull the thing out. I put on my best 'how did that get here?' voice but they weren't buying it."

"So what happened?"

"They took me out to go talk to the teachers and principal of course. I think a note got sent home too...so I had to get lectured like five or six times for the same thing, and it wasn't like I was really stealing it, I just wanted to mess with him for making fun of us."

He put himself in such hopeless situations and then the punishments for his behavior seemed so lenient. Unjustified...

Stop thinking about it...

"Yeah..."

"I was always the one starting fights..." Caught up in the fictitious past he was weaving. "Every time anyone started to mess with us, I was always the one who threw the first punch."

"You always were aggressive."

"Well, you never were." Scriabin tugged at his hair slightly. "One of us has to be, or else everyone would just walk all over us."

"You always were..."

"I just couldn't stand it when people would make fun of you. Or of us. It just drove me crazy. I hated it. And you'd never get angry. You never got angry when I thought you should, so I got angry instead. I never regretted it though. And besides, you normally got the blame anyway."

"I still don't know how that works out. How on earth did it all keep getting traced back to me?"

Scriabin shrugged and smiled.

A pause.

"It's harder to keep depth out of this than I thought." Scriabin shook his head. "I don't want these stories to become metaphors but..."

"It doesn't matter...they're still better than..."

"Pretend..."

"You know, you're not bad at this yourself."

Scriabin snorted, but Edgar had a feeling that he was flattered in some strange way.

A dark mark flitted across the sky, a bird that went by too quickly for any further identification. The clouds moved with a speed that seemed inappropriate for the strength of the breeze, but minor details could lapse here.

"This is really..." He was trying not to think of the reality of things, trying but when you try not to think about something it becomes the only thing that comes to mind. "This is really...I mean, the fact that we can't interact like this...that we can't be like this, we can't be friends like this without lying...without lying about everything. I mean, all this familiarity between us feels so real, it feels like it could be real, but unless we recreate each other entirely, it'll never be possible...for us to talk civilly, relate in any kind of way, we have to lie so fervently about so much..."

Scriabin just listened. Edgar expected him to respond and at his silence, he pressed his hands to his eyes and found his teeth gritted together tightly. "God, this is all so messed up. There's something...I mean, you're not my...and I'm acting, I want...God, there's something wrong with me."

He moved his hands and looked at Scriabin, who just stared back with his eyes that matched Edgar's perfectly.

Another silence, then Scriabin did speak.

"What?" The amusement was gone. His expression matched a tone that Edgar was intimately familiar with. "Do you expect me to argue with you?"

Edgar stared a little longer, then sighed.

"I think that, of all people..." He could tell that Scriabin wanted to sound angrier. "I would know that there's something wrong with you."

"Always with this mental open-book..." Edgar waved a hand, not wanting to push the damage further with another obscenity.

"The fact that I am here at all," his words came haltingly and with great effort, "is a fairly good indication that there is something wrong with you. Otherwise, I wouldn't have come into being...not even at the most generous application of the word could this be considered normal..." Edgar could hear him detaching from what he was saying, could anticipate the longer words that would require Scriabin's attention, shift focus from emotion to thought. For all his supposed hatred of Edgar's detachment, he resorted to it just as readily when things got too emotionally intense. "I...as in my existence here...that could never be considered normal, any sign of healthy adjustment..."

"You're more like the symptom of a sickness, or the consequence of damage..."

He shouldn't have said that. He was just following Scriabin's train of thought and it didn't occur to him, it again slipped by him that the presence in his mind was more than an object, but more importantly, wanted to be considered, by him, as more than an object. That was why he had done this, why he had gone along with Edgar with this entire charade. That was why he had done it and without even thinking about it, Edgar had ruined it. His illusion for himself may last a little longer, but he had ruined it for Scriabin.

He expected him to do it, and in a way he felt that he deserved it. Scriabin's eyes narrowed, pain obvious on a child's features, and he pulled back one clenched fist. Edgar didn't move away, although he did close his eyes.

The punch to the side of his head left him seeing stars and there was an intense flash of blackness before he could see again. Searing pain burned through what felt like his brain. When he could open his eyes and see again, Scriabin's face still hovered above his own, although the sky above had darkened slightly.

"You..." Scriabin couldn't find words that could express what his fist hadn't. He trembled.

Edgar had to take a few seconds to get his mouth to work properly. "That was a stupid thing to say."

"Yeah. Yeah it was." In the end, that spoke more of his hatred than a sarcastic jibe ever could have.

"I'm sorry."

"You think-"

"No, I know you won't accept it." It felt like the back of his eyes were burning. God Scriabin could punch hard. "But I have to say it."

Scriabin crossed his arms and looked away.

"This whole thing was...it's as important for you as it is for me. I keep...forgetting that." He kept forgetting that Scriabin could hurt him, some cynical part of him said, and he ignored it. "It's not fair."

Scriabin made a growling sound, apparently either not willing to talk to Edgar anymore or at a loss for words. Considering how eloquent Scriabin tended to be, Edgar was willing to bet it was the former.

"I don't want...I don't want a childhood without..." Edgar closed his eyes and wished his head would stop hurting. If this was a dream, why did it hurt so much? "I don't want a childhood without you."

A scoffing sound, but he still wouldn't speak.

"I mean, I could create everything...with just me instead, but when it would come down to friends, or playing games with people, or talking, or adventures...I like the ones with you in them the most. I like having a brother. I like not being alone."

"And in the end..." Scriabin's voice was dark and as low as he could manage. "In the end, that's what I'm here for, isn't it? This isn't about me. I'm just a prop for your fantasies. Discarded whenever you like-" A strangled angry noise and Scriabin pressed a hand over his eyes. "God, I hate you."

"That's not what I meant..." Edgar looked up at him and wondered if there was any way to talk himself out of this. He wanted to reach out, touch him in some way, but every logical process told him that would be an absolutely horrible idea.

He realized that Scriabin was hiding his eyes from him again.

"Then what did you mean?" Struggling to keep emotion from his voice.

"It was real for a while." Edgar kept his hands where they were. "I mean...what we were creating, together. It was real."

"Not to you." He felt his body move and knew that Scriabin was considering pushing him off. "You don't understand. You can't understand this. Every time we go over the same thing and you never understand. Is it so hard, so difficult to think that reality for you means something different to me? That our goals can be different, yet we can work at the same thing? Can you understand that, Edgar? Can't you look beyond yourself for a few minutes to put yourself in my position? Do you even consider me worthy of your empathy? That'd be a difficult thing, to empathize with something you don't consider human..."

"Of course I can empathize." That was a skill that Edgar felt fairly skilled at, and he didn't like being questioned about it. "You know I can."

"Then it turns to the other part of it." Still talking with his hand covering his eyes. "You don't consider me worthy of that empathy, do you? If you did, the things you could accomplish...everything that you could potentially do, could learn- but you've never considered me more than a parasite, more than subhuman. I have no reality to you, Edgar. I'm not real to you. I'm not real."

"And since when was that important to you?" Inspired by the anger that he normally suppressed that came to him so easily here, and he instantly regretted his words. He expected another blow to the head, but Scriabin didn't raise his hand. He stayed silent.

There was a point in there somewhere, and maybe if handled a little better... "For so long you told me that you were me, that we were the same person. You were always going on and on about how separating from me was unhealthy, that it meant I was going crazy, all of it was this intense and sweeping effort on your part to have me consider you a part of me, nothing more and nothing less. And now, now because you've suddenly changed your focus, you've suddenly changed your goals, you get angry at me because I didn't know? You never told me anything, you never told me that you wanted me to...you wanted me to think of you as a person. You never said anything, you just assumed that I would know, that I would read your mind somehow and just know that suddenly it went from 'I'm you' to 'I'm not you.' What right do you have to be angry at me? I'm not blameless, sure, but I don't think this is entirely my fault."

Scriabin didn't say anything. He sighed, then pulled his hand away from his eyes. Perched on his nose were a pair of reflective glasses, identical to the ones he had lost earlier. He adjusted them slightly, pushed them up the bridge his nose, and Edgar knew that the damage to their joint illusion was irreparable now. He was sure of it.

"People change," Scriabin finally said, his voice distant and soft.

"Mmm..." Edgar didn't want to fight about this anymore. Now the stories they had been weaving together, the joint cat's cradle between the two of them, seemed a thousand times more appealing than continuing their argument, or any argument really. There were so many ways to respond to what he had said, but he just didn't want to do this. He didn't dream to argue, he didn't dream to relive his daily life again and again.

"What else can you remember?"

Another short pause.

"Do you think it's that easy?"

"I...I don't want to fight with you. I don't want to fight at all right now. That's not what I wanted to do here."

"And of course, I always do what you want. I'm the picture of obedience." There was no sarcasm in his tone, although by all rights there should have been.

"Can't we let it go?"

"Have we ever let anything go?"

Edgar looked up at him.

"Please."

"How can I let it go when it ruins, it changes the entire thrust of what we were doing? It's more than any typical argument over this and that, it affects what we're doing. It affects the past we were creating. How can I..."

"Please."

Scriabin looked away.

"Can't we pretend? Can't we pretend again?" Edgar reached up a hand and he touched that strand of hair. It felt soft and smooth underneath his fingers, the sensation only broken by the roughness of the yarn keeping it in place.

Scriabin must have felt the tug and he turned back to look down at him.

"It's always pretend with you." His voice wavered.

"I don't want to fight right now. I was happy for a while...so were you. Did we lose that so completely? Was it so easily destroyed?"

"It's always pretend with you." It was no steadier the second time.

Edgar sighed and he held on to the strand of hair, rolled the knot of the yarn between his fingers.

"I remember something about you."

Scriabin didn't say anything for a while, but then he let loose a very long and deep sigh. He looked and sounded so miserably resigned.

"What did you remember?"

Scriabin didn't want to play along anymore, but it looked like he would at least make the effort. Edgar hoped that maybe the stories he could tell would remind him of what they could do together.

"I had to cook a lot of the time, with Granma's back and all..." There were fragments of these stories that had their source in real memories, and that lent to them an air of truth that made them more plausible. "Fairly simple things...nothing too complicated..."

"Not like you had anything better to do with your time." Scriabin kept all emotion from his voice, and Edgar got the distinct impression that he was trying not to listen.

"But there was this brand of macaroni and cheese that you were totally crazy for...I don't know what it was, but there was this time when you were a bit younger where that was all you would eat. You wouldn't eat anything else, just that kind of macaroni. We must have eaten it for weeks on end before you moved on to something else...I thought Granma was going to go crazy by the end of it..."

Edgar hoped that the story he was telling would be seen as an apology, an attempt to repair the damage done. He didn't mean to do it, to hurt him, and some part of him still insisted that it wasn't entirely his fault, but he wanted to fix it. He wanted to apologize in a way that Scriabin would accept and couldn't refute, couldn't reverse back on him somehow.

"Every night, it was always the same thing. 'What do you want to eat?' 'Mac 'n cheese!' and every time I'd threaten not to make it, but in the end I'd make it anyway. You just got so excited over it. I never understood."

"No one ever cooked anything for you, as a child, that you particularly asked for. It was always what was healthy, what you needed to develop." Keeping his distance from the fantasy, and Edgar wished he wasn't doing this. He didn't want to do this alone. "So..."

"I wanted to cook for you..."

Scriabin stared at him, then looked away again. His mouth twitched, but he didn't say anything.

"I can remember a few other things...if you're interested."

Silence. Edgar decided to continue. He hoped that the reminder of who he was doing it for, who so often the recipient was of what he always wanted in these fantasies, would remind him that he hadn't intended to hurt him. He didn't want to hurt people, and most of the time, Scriabin was no exception.

Edgar noticed at that point that while Scriabin had replaced his glasses, the bruises and cuts marking his face remained.

"What does it mean, that I want something so badly so I do it for you? Why not for myself? Why not make you do it for me?"

"I don't know." A sullen response.

"Do you remember the bush?"

Scriabin didn't move or acknowledge the question, so Edgar decided to continue anyway. "We were at someone's house...I can't remember who, now that I think about it, and they had a second story...so we were hanging around there, I think staying away from the crowd...that was it, it was a birthday party. We were never much for big crowds, really. But we were upstairs, and we looked out the window and below us was this big trimmed hedge. I remember you said that it looked bouncy enough and that if I jumped out and landed on it, it would break my fall."

There. Edgar saw it, the slight twitch of a smile. Maybe this would work after all. "I didn't believe you. It looked really dangerous. But you insisted that the bush would definitely break the fall if someone jumped out the window."

"And I knew you wouldn't do it." Scriabin jumped in with a slight tinge of aggression. Edgar let him have the rest of the story. "You'd never work up the nerve. I had to prove it to you. So I opened the window and jumped."

Edgar's eyes widened. That was not the turn he expected.

"I landed on the bush all right, and I ended up tearing a huge boy-sized chunk out of it." Scriabin snickered in a vaguely sadistic way. "I was a bit dazed and bruised, but otherwise fine. You, however, practically had kittens about it."

"I tried to grab you when you jumped but I was too slow..."

"Heh, and so did the boy who invited us over, actually." Snickering again, and Edgar wondered at his ability to find enjoyment over someone's suffering. Wasn't there a German word for that? "I remember that boy's mom wanted to slap us around for that so badly, but since we weren't her kids, she couldn't do anything. She just had to get a gardener to try and remove that giant hole in the hedge."

"I recall not being invited to many birthday parties after that." Edgar chanced a smile, glad that Scriabin had joined him again, even if it was in such a mean way. "Not that we were invited to many to begin with."

"Granma also had a fit, but that was to be expected, really. Mostly about me jumping out the window rather than ruining that lady's topiary." The large word seemed strangely out-of-place. "Shouldn't take such unnecessary risks, I think it was. That was a running theme with her."

"You did take a lot of risks. I can't believe you did that. Two stories, Scriabin!" Edgar worried for a moment that his indignant tone would force Scriabin out again, trigger aggression that could sweep away the web they were weaving.

"The bush did break my fall, actually. Just not as much as I thought it would."

Edgar breathed a mental sigh of relief. "You're lucky you didn't break your arm or anything."

"I was always doing stuff like that. It was fun. I never understood how you could live like that, so safe all the time without ever risking yourself once."

"Well, whenever you talked me into it..."

"I did have the gift for talking you into things." Scriabin smiled. "I was always described as eloquent."

Edgar remembered something, something that he had completely forgotten and he had a feeling this may be a good time to try and bring it up, considering...

"Hey, Scri..."

Scriabin twitched at the nickname. "What?"

"Elocution."

A kind of muffled snort, then Scriabin hid his mouth behind his hand. "Goddamn you, you know that word makes me laugh."

Somehow, the obscenity coming from Scriabin didn't seem quite as powerful as when it came from Edgar. Rarity he supposed had a hand in that.

"I know." Edgar smiled, and Scriabin glared at him, although the effect was lessened by the fact he was still smiling.

"Hey, do you remember the S'mores we made?"

"I'd hesitate to call them that." Scriabin tried to put on an air of dignity after his snickering fit. "They were more psuedo-S'mores than anything else. I mean, we used the microwave."

"I know..." Edgar sighed. He could picture it so easily, the two of them glued to the front of the plastic door, watching the time tick down and the marshmallow swell under invisible heat. "Heh, I remember staring at the microwave too long and too close...I got so dizzy."

"That was so lame though." Scriabin had a touch of old resentment in his voice and Edgar had a feeling that it wasn't really Scriabin's to begin with. He had just borrowed it...taken it away... "I mean, we never really had real ones. Even when we used the burner on the stove-"

"God, Granma completely freaked out about that. One of the forks turned all black from the flames, and that one marshmallow caught on fire and fell in, and she made us clean it up and promise to never touch the stove again under penalty of-"

Edgar shuddered for a moment at the sudden and all-too-real sensation of yarn crisscrossing his hands, binding them together and looping through his fingers and the hours he spent and her voice and, and he pushed the thought away.

Scriabin looked at him for a few seconds, and Edgar thought he felt him shiver in response, just a little.

"Well, I could touch it." Desperate to change the subject. "I mean, when I was cooking. I could touch it still. You were totally forbidden."

"But yeah, that's not the same." Scriabin just as eager to keep his mind off of a shared and very real memory. "I mean, cooking it on a burner? In a microwave? The only real way to eat them is outdoors."

"Didn't we do that, once?" Now that Edgar thought about it, that would be a nice fantasy. He was fairly sure he never had the chance as a child. "Didn't we sneak out or something...?"

"Hmm." Scriabin sensed what Edgar wanted, tried to think up a good reason or explanation for the memory he desired. "Well, I do think..."

"We must have gone with someone..."

"Yeah, and I'm fairly sure we didn't tell Gran about it, either." Scriabin paused. "I think that was one of the things she never found out about."

It was comfortable and safe to imagine her reactions when they had no real basis, no real anxiety or pain attached to them, but when his thoughts lingered on the reality, on what really happened when he had so rarely misbehaved and even when he hadn't, he didn't want to think about it. The idea of getting away with such things completely grew far more appealing than bearing the brunt of some imagined and easily swept-aside punishment.

An easy thing for reality to intrude, particularly when not welcome, and both of them would prefer not to think about that. It wouldn't take much to move this dream into the realm of nightmares, and Edgar often found that thoughts of her, of being so trapped, of having to listen to her for hours upon hours, would often prompt nightmares that had the added unpleasantness of being associated with tremendous guilt for feeling that way, for resenting the one person who raised him, for resenting her despite the kind things she had done and the sacrifices she had made, and how could he do that to her? How could he have nightmares about her, when she had done so much for him?

"But she still hurt you..." Scriabin's voice broke into his thoughts. "It doesn't take much else to provide fodder for nightmares..."

"Where were you?" Edgar didn't want to think about this, but he found his inability to place Scriabin during those times distressing. He wanted some resolution, some place for Scriabin to be, he didn't want to be alone then, not when he had reworked his past to prevent that very thing...

"When she called you to hold the yarn for her?" Scriabin's voice was gentle, and for a moment Edgar imagined that perhaps all personal grievances had been put aside, and all that mattered to him now was his older brother. But perhaps that was stretching the illusion too far. "She wouldn't let me stay with you, usually...it was always something that you had to suffer through alone..."

"And you...?"

"Well..." Vaguely uncomfortable again. "I've...had my share of time spent with her. I've been trapped too. But it pales in comparison to you...it was always you. She wouldn't let me be with you, help you against what she would say..."

"Did she know?" Edgar wanted to believe she didn't. "She didn't know how much that hurt...she couldn't have."

"No, I don't think she did. Building character." Scriabin closed his eyes. "Preparing you. Too young...you were too young to understand, so it just crashed around you and it became..."

So long it lingered in the back of his mind, the red strands that looped their way around such mundane objects and, in moments of terror, around his hands. With them came that sense of powerlessness, of completely helplessness to stop his unwitting tormentor, and that was the part that he found he feared the most.

"You may fear it..." Scriabin looked around the backyard, and placed a hand on Edgar's head. "You may fear it, but I resent it. You used to, but I do it for you now."

"God, let's talk about something else." Edgar shut his eyes. "I don't...I don't want to think about it right now."

"Hmm..." Scriabin looked around again. "Heh, all right, something light hearted, something...do you remember when sometimes, when I was asleep, you would sneak up and you'd braid my hair all stupid? Then you'd just wait around for me to wake up, and you'd just start laughing when I found out what you'd done. It made my hair all frizzy and wavy for hours."

The mental picture of Scriabin with frizzy hair was enough to drive his thoughts away from darker times, at least for now. He smiled again and laughed, and at the sound Scriabin smiled in return. Victory for him, in a way, at having distracted him. Why would he consider it a victory?

"Do you remember..." Edgar found another real memory, another base that he could elaborate on. "Do you remember that one time we had to go shopping for Granma, cause her back was out again?"

"I do." A smile slowly spread across his face. "Ah, I remember that very clearly."

"Didn't you want a cake?"

"Oh yeah." Scriabin waved a hand. "More for the fact that it wouldn't be for any special occasion than an actual desire for cake. There's something kind of..." He paused, searched for a word, then shrugged. "I suppose the best word for it would be naughty, although I dislike it. But yes, there was something like that when you would eat a cake out of season, out of context."

"And the shopping carts."

Scriabin laughed at that, a sadistic one that Edgar had often found directed at him, but not this time. He was a little unnerved by the fact that Scriabin's sadism, however minor when really considered, extended to others outside of him.

"Oh yes, the shopping carts."

"If I recall correctly..." Edgar tried to remember the first trip to the store by himself. It wasn't the last by any means, as only a short while later his grandmother had insisted that he do all the shopping to prepare himself for an adult life. A lot of things were that way for him. But the first trip was the one that he did remember fairly clearly, and now with the thought of Scriabin with him... "I was so tempted to buy some soda...she would never let us have any."

"Hehe. Hehehe. That's because the one time I did have a soda, I recall completely freaking out. It wasn't even the sugar or the caffeine that did it, I don't think, but just the excitement of drinking something new and something I wasn't supposed to."

"Oh my God, that's right, you completely trashed our room."

"And the living room."

"And the kitchen. You were like this horrible tornado."

"That was so awesome." Scriabin smiled at the thought. "When I was like that, the last thing on my mind were consequences. You can't get that freedom nowadays."

An easy chance, perhaps unintentional, to return to reality, and Edgar wasn't about to do that just yet.

"Either way, she banned it for sure after that. She also took away your lunch money and made me start fixing your lunch, so you wouldn't be tempted by the soda machines at school."

"Hmm...the first time is always the best." Scriabin looked up at the sky. "The first time is always the best. But I suppose that if it had gone longer...perhaps I did develop an addiction. You know, if we do delve deeper, look a bit past the curtain but not tear it down, I do recall a similar episode occurring with you with your first illicit can of soda, and a desire for the rush that follows you even now...well, not you so much. Another thing that's become a part of me instead, in a way. Now that I think about it, I do crave that. Huh, I thought it was just the tacos. I wonder if there's some deeper memory to explain that as well."

"Tacos were for special occasions." Edgar knew the answer, so he automatically pointed it out. "Do you remember?"

"Ha...do you remember, do you remember. It just struck me that..." Scriabin shook his head. "What kind of special occasions?"

"You know, whenever I did really well at something...got really good grades, or it was the beginning of a holiday. She'd take us to a fast food place, this one taco place that was close to where we lived."

"That's right, I've often thought about that." Scriabin rubbed at a bruise on his cheek. "That food was so widely condemned and perhaps rightly so, and characterized by so many as so worthless and bland. But for us..."

"For us, it was something special..."

"Other people would go and have a taco everyday, but for us, it was only those special times of the year, when she would take us and it would taste so good and I'm sure the only reason why, considering what's in those things, is because it was associated with that happy feeling. That kind of pride in knowing you were worth that."

"Worth a taco?" Edgar chanced a smirk, and Scriabin swatted his forehead.

"Worth her going out of her way to give you something special. Affection...validation...no wonder I want them...you want them too."

"Not as much as you do...but I think you're right."

"Well, I think I may have...ah, it doesn't matter. Our quirks are always interchangeable in the end."

"Mmm. Anyway, where were we?"

"Supermarket." Another smile. "I remember the two of us putting that box of soda in the cart while looking around as if we'd get arrested any minute."

"Ha, I remember how we got it home..."

"Let's keep this linear for now...although tangents are what always make these stories so interesting, and so long. I recall we spent a lot of time in the candy aisle."

"Not even buying anything, but just staring."

"Heh, you did buy something. Don't you remember a certain three pound bag of Gummi Bears?"

"Oh my GOD." Edgar moaned and pressed his hands over his eyes. "I still feel sick thinking of Gummi Bears to this day. God, why did I buy that?"

"Awash with possibility, responsibility I suppose. Independence and the chance to do something stupid. There you go, Edgar. There's a stupid childhood decision for you, and not the last."

"And you, wasn't there a candy you were particularly fond of?"

"Hmm, I..." Scriabin paused. "I do remember...I did have one once...when I was very little, almost too small to remember. I grabbed it off the shelf while she was shopping once, and she got it for me then as a special gift. While I do think the tacos that we had were...greatly enhanced by the pleasant associations we had with them, that chocolate was good chocolate. Expensive too, although I didn't know that at the time. I'm not sure why she got it for me...a random splurge of kindness, I suppose. Ever since then I always wanted another one, but it was always too expensive...too unnecessary."

"And when we were there...we got them."

"We got two, I think." Scriabin sighed in a vaguely pleased way. "That was as much as I really felt comfortable getting, considering the budget she gave us."

"And then..."

"I was wearing my coat...the coat. Your dad's coat. I was wearing it then." The determination in his voice made it so. "I put it on while she wasn't watching. It trailed behind me so far and kept getting caught in the cart wheels."

Edgar smiled and let Scriabin add that piece to the false memory. "Two young boys in a supermarket, with no real supervision...add a shopping cart, and you have..."

"The best recipe for disaster." A devilish smile. "I think it was my idea."

"Of course it was your idea. It was always your idea."

"I jumped into the main basket, one hand held high, yelling something that I can't recall that probably didn't make a lot of sense."

Caught up in it, and he felt excited. "I had that moment of hesitation, and then I just decided to go for it. Just ran and leapt on and we were careening down the aisles-"

"God, getting in trouble was such a certainty, I even mentioned it, but it was too much to resist. Away from her, it's strange that that's the first thing we would have resorted to."

"I couldn't steer-"

"Well, I don't know how much one can really steer a shopping cart."

"Right into the display case."

Scriabin nodded in satisfaction. "Right into the display case."

"And that was pretty much the end of our shopping trip." He didn't feel like elaborating on the possible consequences of his misbehavior at the moment, and judging by his expression, neither did Scriabin.

"Fantastic ending, if you ask me." Scriabin smiled. "We got the groceries though, so I don't think Gran ever found out about that."

"Hey...how did we get the soda in the house?"

"Hmm...that would have been a tricky thing." Scriabin tapped a finger on his chin thoughtfully. "Didn't you say you thought of something?"

"I lost it now."

"Well, let's see...Gran definitely wouldn't have let us keep it if she saw us take it in...I'm thinking that one of us presented a diversion while the other snuck it in some back way."

"Or..." Edgar was getting glimpses of his original idea, but still couldn't find the whole of it. "Or we could have hid the soda somewhere and went back for it later..."

"Well, either of those could work...she definitely didn't find out though..."

"Definitely..." Edgar sighed, a deep one that he didn't particularly attach to any emotion. Scriabin stared down at him, and Edgar found his hand twitching and he couldn't remember when that had started. "What time is it?"

Scriabin looked at Edgar's wrist. Immediately memories leapt to life, explanations quick and swift for why. Scriabin had trouble telling time for a long time as a child, unable to read the hands and increments, and he had always depended on Edgar to tell him the time since he refused to wear a watch, to wear something that always reminded him that there was something he couldn't understand...

"Where's your watch?" Scriabin's question was completely honest, without even the implied depth of their previous memories, and Edgar found his reaction matched.

"I don't know." Edgar lifted his hands and looked at his wrists. A bruise colored one side of his right hand, and his skin was stained green in places from the grass. No watch. "I don't know...did I lose it?"

"Maybe it fell off when we were fighting? That's happened before."

Scriabin didn't want this to be the first time...that was okay. Edgar didn't particularly care either way. He sat up, shook off the dizziness of the blood rushing out of his head, and looked around. No sign of it anywhere. Scriabin stood up and brushed himself off, then ran two hands roughly and quickly through his long hair. Grass flew everywhere.

"Mmph, I don't see it here." Scriabin shook his head and his hair fluffed out to a ridiculous extent. Edgar stood himself and laughed slightly at his appearance, although he tried to hide it.

A quick perusal of the area around them, and still no watch. Edgar instantly sobered. "Oh, she's not going to like this...she told me to be careful with that watch, it was supposed to last me a long time..."

Such a quick and subtle change from merely talking about memories to actually living one out, and the reality of this was a great deal more tangible, more believable, more powerful. Concerns and the waking world were fading from his memory as Edgar looked over the grass. The future, his fear, his regret, his mistakes and his accomplishments all slowly vanishing, erased steadily and subtly. Soon there would be nothing left but what he had created, the world around his childself that was almost entirely false, and his childself whose reality he could never overcome. He could change his environment, but he himself remained constant, and that made it easier for him, easier to place himself in this fake world because there was one thing that he knew well, that was permanent and couldn't or wouldn't change. His childself became his anchor, and he felt more and more attached to it as the fantasy around him deepened. Becoming his childself, just as he had intended when he began this entire thing. It wasn't himself that he was trying to avoid through the illusion, but just the reality that surrounded him, past and present. Emotions kicking in that were genuine at a source that felt as though it was real, it could really be real...

"Do you still have that watch now?" Scriabin darted over to the sandbox, then proceeded to trip over the edge of it and fall hard on his hands. The noise that came from him was a mangled obscenity, twisted just enough to be incomprehensible, help keep the illusion going. Edgar's grandmother did not tolerate foul language. Edgar walked over to his side and picked Scriabin back up.

"You're clumsy."

"And you're ugly." Scriabin grumbled and rubbed his hands against his shirt. "So shut up."

"Stop that." Edgar grabbed for Scriabin's hands and had to try a few times before he succeeded in getting a hold of them. Scriabin sighed in a truly exaggerated fashion as Edgar looked at his palms. Scraped and raw, but no more so than they had been before. He let him go, and Scriabin pulled his hands away quickly and jammed them into his pockets.

"Scri, what-"

"Don't. Don't do that."

"...mm. Scriabin, what about...how are we going to explain this to her?"

"The fight?"

Edgar nodded.

"Edgar...are you telling me she's still here?"

The sound of the screen door opening.

"Edgar! Scriabin! Where are you?"

Chapter Text

It had been years, years since he had last heard her voice, imagined it even, and at the sound of it again Edgar shuddered violently, felt fear that crawled all the way up his back and made his arms shake and his nerves slip into overdrive. Immediately he set to rubbing his hands, skin sliding over skin and he stared at Scriabin desperately.

Scriabin stared back at him and he found that he knew, he could see easily that he felt the same way. Scriabin had flouted, mocked the god that Edgar had feared and obeyed for so long, but this, this he had tied himself too close to, he had become too attached and this was something that wasn't as intangible, as variable and vanquishable as a belief system. These were memories, these were the building blocks for his life and his personality, for both of them. Both of them had these memories and perhaps against his will, Scriabin understood and Scriabin felt the same way, he felt the same fear.

Her voice caught on Scriabin's name, unfamiliar but that would smooth out soon enough.

"Edgar!" He didn't dare ignore her twice.

"Yeah, Granma?" Edgar gestured at Scriabin, told him to run and hide somewhere or something. To be honest he wasn't exactly sure what he wanted Scriabin to do and it was possible that his jerky hand movements were equally as unclear. Edgar turned and saw his grandmother standing in the doorway of the house. Behind him, he felt Scriabin's small hands settle on his sides, felt the warmth of his body close and felt his head touch his back. Using him as a shield, protection. Edgar warned him back with a hand and found he wanted Scriabin out of this, out of what he knew what would come.

"There you are. I've been calling you for hours. Why didn't you tell me you were outside? What have you been up to? I have something I need your help with..." Edgar knew that his grandmother had trouble walking sometimes, so he wouldn't force her to come and get him. That would have been selfish. As he had for years, ever since he met her and understood, knew even though she never said as much that he owed her, he owed her for taking care of him, he did what would be best for her, what would make things easiest. He repaid her kindness with obedience because as a child, he had little else to offer.

Edgar walked towards the house, and Scriabin stayed hidden behind him, his fingers clutching the fabric of Edgar's shirt tightly. Both shaking, and he knew that the minute he got into the light...

"My goodness, Edgar!" The inherent disappointment stung horribly, that painful perhaps unintentional accusation that he had not obeyed, he had hurt her somehow. He had disappointed her, and God, all he wanted to do was make her happy, to repay her for what she had done. How hard was that really, and he could never do it, he could never do it properly... "What happened?"

Edgar rubbed his nose hard and sniffed. He wasn't bleeding anymore, the time for that was long over, but he was sure that the evidence remained. He couldn't look her in the eyes, couldn't face that knowledge that he had let her down, that he had managed to fail at something that anyone could do, anyone should do, he had managed to fail and hurt her and God, he didn't want to hurt people, he never wanted to hurt people and he didn't want to hurt her, and that was all he did because he kept breaking her rules, he kept breaking and he kept disobeying and

Scriabin's small arms wrapped around him from behind, holding him tight and he could feel Scriabin shaking hard and felt his face pressed against his back. Breath hot through the fabric of his shirt, and it made sense that he would be more frightened. This was new to him, and it never would have seemed like this, seemed so real and so close.

The memories they created set a framework, and Edgar had a feeling that he could do something, that he could do something for someone he cared about. He was willing and able to do that, to shoulder the responsibility and pain for someone else. He had done that a lot as a child and he knew that in the end, even if it was unfair, even if it wasn't really his fault, even if it wasn't his crime to begin with, that if he could spare someone else some pain, however deserved, he would do it. He could do it.

"It was my fault." He felt Scriabin jerk behind him. "It was my fault, I got angry and...I got angry and got into a fight..."

"You got into a fight?" She sounded horrified, and Edgar wanted to sink into the earth.

Scriabin's head nudged his arm out of the way, and Edgar turned slightly, raised his arm and Scriabin looked up at her.

"It was my fault-"

"No, no it wasn't." Edgar looked back and forth between the two. "Don't get-, it wasn't his fault, it wasn't his idea. I swear, it was my fault. Don't-, don't get mad at him. Don't get mad at him, honest. It was my fault-"

Scriabin quivered and he tightened his hold around Edgar's waist, buried his head into his side.

"Nuh uh."

He was so deeply frightened. Getting lost...being this deep, being this involved in this kind of fantasy, in this kind of body, must have been a terrifying experience for him. Edgar couldn't recall any other time before that the two had woven such a thick web around each other, particularly regarding this kind of illusion. They had pretended at many things before, but they had never pretended at being children, and this world, this past that Scriabin so desperately wanted, proved to have a sharper edge than he must have anticipated. Pushed hard and he was reverting, he was allowing the reality, the false reality that the two of them had constructed, to have more power. Perhaps he felt powerless, which would have suited the situation far too well.

Edgar had never seen him like this, but this illusion was new to the both of them, the world the two of them had created, and he wasn't aware that its power ran this deep or this strong, that they could have created something that they both couldn't control. One of them always held onto things in the end, but Scriabin had tangled himself up a little too much in this, and now they both had nothing.

He was frightened, more than anything.

"Scriabin, I did, it was my idea-"

Scriabin shook his head and repeated with a bit more force, "nuh uh."

"Haven't I told you two how fighting doesn't solve anything? Particularly fighting over something that isn't worth it. You've got to learn to pick your battles, Edgar. There are certain things worth fighting for and others that aren't. There are times to fight and times when just staying quiet can solve a lot of problems, you understand?"

"Yes, Granma." Edgar found that he was rubbing his hands again.

"Now come on, I have something I need you to hold for me. You too, Scriabin. We're going to have to talk about this."

God, who knew that talking could be such an effective threat? Scriabin made an unhappy sound and Edgar rested a hand on his shoulder lightly. His grandmother walked back into the house, back to the room where she'd wait for him and Edgar would come. He always came when she called, because he at least owed her that much. He did what she asked because anything else would have been...

"It's okay." Scriabin's grip was getting too tight and he wished he would relax just a little. They were both shaking now, and Edgar let the screen door close behind him. Scriabin refused to let him go, just clung to him even though it made walking extremely awkward. Outside, Edgar could see dark clouds forming and he wondered if there would be rain.

"It'll be okay." He again tried to get Scriabin to relax his grip, but he refused. A few more awkward steps, and Scriabin's voice came muffled from behind him.

"I'm scared, Edgar."

His voice perfectly matched his body, his actions, and thus what he said did not impact Edgar as much as perhaps it would have in any other situation. He had never heard Scriabin say such a thing, but now, in this situation, in this place with these bodies and this memory that they were living out, reworking as they followed the patterns and changed them, it seemed natural. It seemed just the thing that Edgar's seven-year-old younger brother would say.

"Don't worry." Edgar tousled Scriabin's hair in an effort to appear more confident than he sounded or felt. "Don't worry, it'll be okay. She won't...she won't hurt you."

"Is this what it is?" More awkward steps down the hallway. "I can't...I'm not used to this. This isn't me but...but it IS me, but...it feels so- and I can't, I can't just...get out. What if, what if something bad happens?"

"Nothing bad'll happen. This has happened before. She just wants to tell us not to fight. That's all."

"I've never been scared of anyone before, but I'm...I'm scared of her."

"Are you sure? Are you sure that it's you and not just me? You said you took things from me...are you sure you didn't take this too?"

"She's different, she's different than God. She's...I don't know what to do." Scriabin pressed his head against Edgar hard, and Edgar had to stop to keep his balance. "I don't know what to do, I don't know how to make her go away, I don't know I don't know I don't know how to make my words, how to say it right so that she goes away. I can't even talk right anymore what if something bad happens and I can't go back and this is permanent I'm scared Edgar I don't want to change I don't want to become this I don't want to be afraid like this-"

"It's just a dream." He found himself in the position of comforter, and somehow that didn't seem unusual. "It'll be okay. I'll take care of it."

"I've never done this before, I've never really been there I mean, I've seen it, I looked at it before and I watched but I was never there I mean, she never did it to me, she never interacted with me 'cause I wasn't as real as you, I wasn't real like you-"

"Quiet..." Edgar opened the door to the room, and his grandmother sat in her chair and stared at him. She gestured to a cushion on the floor, beside the wicker basket, and Edgar found that he walked there without even thinking about it. It was automatic, empty, and he found that this must have been it, this must have been where it started, where he stopped caring, where he stopped feeling-

"Is Scriabin with- ah, there he is. Don't hide from me, I know you're there and I have a feeling that you're a bit more involved in this than Edgar would like me to think, hmm?"

"Really, it was my fault..."

"Sit down here..." Edgar did, and Scriabin reluctantly had to let go. He stood behind Edgar for a few seconds, completely at a loss as to what to do. He had never interacted with her, not really, not outside of stories, and he didn't know. Inter-relational abilities so crippled from just being with Edgar so long, and he stood there helpless and confused and no doubt filled with self-hatred for his ignorance. "Sit down, Scriabin! Honestly."

It was so easy to make up brave stories, but when faced with the reality, with a reality that he had never anticipated or expected or really given much credence to, Scriabin found that his behavior echoed Edgar's far more than he would have liked. He sat down beside Edgar, as close to him as he could get, and hunched over in a miserable ball. He kept his eyes focused directly down at his hands, refused to look up.

"Now, what was this fight about?" She pulled out a skein of yellow yarn from the basket, and Edgar held out his hands despite every single part of him screaming at him not to. Everything in him wanted to escape, to run, to hide, to do something, and instead he obeyed. He pushed down every part of him that rejected, that wanted to fight, and he obeyed. He'd done this for years. He'd done this his whole life and now, even in dreams, he found that the ability came to him so easily. He held out his hands, and she looped the yellow yarn around with an ease that seemed to indicate she wasn't aware of how he felt, how much he hated and feared this. He hoped that was what it was.

"Edgar, what was the fight about?"

He didn't want to say. There was no good explanation, nothing that wouldn't sound stupid under scrutiny. Self-hatred and loathing for his lack of self-control, and his hands shook and Scriabin kept trying to press closer to him.

"I...it was a stupid thing to do, I'm sorry, I just, I just got so angry, I really shouldn't have..."

"No, what was the fight about?" God, he had even failed in responding to her question. He closed his eyes and felt himself trembling and he wondered what it meant, what it meant that the one person that he wanted to approve of him, that he wanted to know cared for him, that he wanted to accept his attempt to repay them, that their validation was so important to him that the slightest disappointment, the negative word here and there, could hurt him so badly. All he had to do was listen to her, all he had to do was obey her, and he kept making mistakes, he kept doing stupid things. He wasn't looking ahead, he wasn't planning, he wasn't thinking and in doing so, in being so thoughtless and spontaneous he failed her, hurt her. He couldn't do that, he wouldn't allow himself to do that to someone that he cared so much about.

"I wouldn't leave him alone." Scriabin's voice was weak and his words slurred, and at this point he was almost in Edgar's lap, desperate to stay as close to him as possible in the face of the source of that other dialogue, that voice that ran deeper than either of them that constantly monitored, objected, punished for Edgar's behavior. Scriabin was aware of that voice, he knew of it, thought at first that perhaps it was Edgar's religion that was its source and later he had been proven incorrect, but he never anticipated to be its focus. It had been so self-directed for so long, and it had never occurred to Scriabin that if he got this close to Edgar, that if he wanted to be this close and work himself into so much of Edgar's life, that that voice may find another target for its ire and disappointment. "That's why he got mad at me."

"Now Edgar...I know you're more responsible than that." Even the compliment hurt somehow. "You can't just go and do these kind of things without thinking of the consequences. Look at your clothes! Did you think about what the kids at school will think tomorrow? Did you think of how long all those cuts and bruises will last? I know you did, I know you can look ahead and be careful."

"I-I know..." Edgar choked. "I, I didn't mean to, I..."

"Do you understand that?"

"Yes, yes, I do, I-I do understand, I, I know that it's important. I know that I should always look ahead and I was going to, I wouldn't have, I didn't want to but he...but I should have looked ahead..."

"It was my fault..." Scriabin had found his way into Edgar's lap completely, curled up under his arms and against his chest, unable to even look at his grandmother anymore. "I did it, I made him do it. I made him angry."

"You may have made him angry, Scriabin, but it was Edgar's decision to lose control." Edgar shuddered and swallowed hard. "You can't let him get to you, Edgar. He's just trying to provoke you. He always does that. Normally you just let it go."

"I know..."

"You're old enough to know that starting fights with your little brother is not an intelligent thing to do. You know better than that."

She was right and God, he hated himself for it. The last thing he ever