I wanna request Edgar-- well, not forcing himself on Johnny, but, you know, trying to help him work through some of those personal boundary issues he's got. Like maybe they planned this, and it's just him and Johnny slowly working up to having Edgar's arm around his shoulders or being lightly kissed or something.
Doesn't have to end in sex-- actually, I'd prefer it not to. It'd be kind of cool to keep this as much in the realm of this-could-actually-happen as possible, if you know what I mean. XD)
“How long have you been here?”
“A few hours, I think.”
“Is that all?”
“We’re better than this.”
“Than this show? Yeah.”
“Heh, yeah. That puppet is pretty obvious. But I mean… than all of this.”
“Maybe. I don’t think it’s something you need to be better or worse than.”
“God, just look outside. Turn on the television or open a magazine and try not to see this filth everywhere. How much inane bullshit do we have to look at before the planet fucks and botoxes itself to death?”
Edgar laughed. “This seems sort of like a step in the other direction from yesterday.”
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah, well, I slept a little last night. Stuff always looks different on the other side.”
“Well, you’re not wearing a tube top or ass-less chaps or anything. Do you think it’s different if you’re going about things differently? Or with a different purpose in mind?”
“It doesn’t matter if I pick up a paintbrush or a fucking crayon, the result is still a shitty stick figure.”
“That’s not really the same thing.”
“Isn’t it? I’m fairly sure you won’t find anyone wearing a tube top while fucking like rabbits. The end result is the same, in a tube top or in crayon.”
“Do you ever mean to make a stick figure?”
Johnny looked out the window at the sky, trying to watch a light blink somewhere above his house. “I guess so, when I particularly hate myself.”
“Then I think the crayon or the paint would make a difference.”
“Kind of a negligible one.”
“But it’s there.”
“And not everyone is how you say they are. I’ve seen some okay people. They were dressed and everything!”
“Heh. Still. Everyone’s like that on some level. They all boil down to the same disgusting parts.”
“I’m beginning to wonder.”
“I’m not planning on wearing any tube tops, if that helps any.”
“I know that! You’d look horrific in one, everything else that is wrong with that aside.”
“Why did this even start?”
“I don’t know. I thought it would make sense the more I looked at it. But it doesn’t. It never fucking does.”
“You said there had been people before…”
“Just because there might have been people doesn’t make you one of them.”
“I wasn’t really asking to be.”
“There were… people.”
“Why didn’t you feel about them the way you feel about everyone now?”
“You learn things. Enough shit happens that the non-shit stops being worth pretending over.”
“Other people… keep going after things like that.”
“And other people are wearing tube tops.”
Johnny crossed his arms, still staring out the window, or into his reflection. “What magic were you going to work today, hm?”
“Why am I still here?”
“You’re going to need to be more specific.”
“Why am I not dead?”
“Beats me. I’m pretty sure I remember you ending quite messily.”
“Then why am I still here talking to you? Asking you all of this? Why did you even want me to ask any of it?”
“You feel real enough. Sometimes I just want the voice to come from something I can pinpoint and be reasonably sure is not being powered by my head. You could be speaking Chinese for all I care. Fuck, that might actually be better.”
“You seem to be listening, Chinese or not.”
“You seem not like a bastard, even without Chinese.”
“Pleased you think so.”
“So what was it today? The lesson in not being me anymore that you had planned?”
“I don’t really plan, I just kind of go with it.”
“Then what were you ‘going with’?”
“You kept me alive. We both know that’s on the unusual side.”
“So what? You want a cookie?”
“Can I see your hand?”
Johnny made a face and waved his hand wildly at Edgar. “Look at it, woooo!”
“Hysterical. Truly I can’t take a moment more of your wit. Seriously.” He reached out, though kept himself firmly on Johnny’s couch – Johnny would have to make the final move.
“It’s fine. There’s nothing on it,” Johnny said. He turned again to the window, hands tucked into the bends of his elbows.
“I know that, I just want to see it.”
“It’s a hand, it has fingers.”
Edgar let out an amused breath and dropped his hand. “When was the last time?”
“I don’t know.”
“And why won’t you?”
“I don’t want it. You, or that sliding, and crawling and that selfish all locked up and keeping it all in and...”
“It feels good to most people.”
“I am not most people, and most people are disgusting. We’ve been over this, let’s not do it again.”
“What would make it okay?”
“You could perhaps be made of cheese. That would improve my quality of life considerably.”
“That would mean you were talking to cheese, Nny.”
“I can’t eat Styrofoam,” Johnny muttered.
“I would like to.”
“No, your hand.”
“You want to eat my hand? Are you sure you don’t want to start with that Chinese soon?”
“I mean I still want to see it,” Edgar said. He was smiling, almost laughing.
“You just want to feel like some kind of good Samaritan and steal some touchy feely shit from me.”
“There’s touchy feely in there to steal?”
“I don’t know what you want from me if-”
“If you can’t be all gratified by touching me? Is that it? Is it all about poor not-dead Edgar and he needs to cuddle? Huh?”
“No. I’m still trying to figure out what you want.”
“You want me here for nothing. Okay then.”
“You’ve gotten awfully cocky.”
Edgar shrugged. “I feel okay about you.”
“What the fuck for? Maybe you’ve looked around lately? Seen the blood and the bones and the bodies?”
“Yeah, but since I’ve never worn a tube top…”
Johnny smirked, took another long look out the window and slowly offered his hand.
“It’s okay, really,” Edgar tried to reassure him. “You said yourself we’re better than all this.”
Johnny’s face wrinkled in poorly-concealed revulsion when Edgar touched his hand. His hand was bony and tight and lacked even the warmth one could expect out of a handshake.
“I don’t like this,” Johnny said, though the announcement was entirely unneeded.
“We can stop, if you want.”
“What, you think I’m so broken I can’t handle some guy’s hand?”
“I was just making sure.”
“I just said I didn’t like it, not that I couldn’t do it.”
“I am fucking relaxed!” Johnny’s grip tightened on Edgar’s hand – not for emphasis, it felt, but to do damage. Like he imagined that he had claws and not mangled fingernails.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Edgar asked.
“It wasn’t quite this quaint and shrink-like.”
“Maybe you need to stop thinking of me as your quaint shrink then.”
“Do you still think I’m going to Hell?”
“For holding my hand? Probably not. For everything else in here?” Edgar glanced quickly around the stained and bloodied room. “Odds are pretty good.”
“Are you coming with me then, Mister Touchy Feely With A Murderer?” Johnny asked mockingly.
Edgar smiled sheepishly. “It depends.”
“On what? If you just walk out of here and tell your god that you didn’t mean it? That it was compassion for the pathetic monster you found and didn’t mean anything at all?” Johnny squeezed Edgar’s hand – again as a threat.
“It depends on you. And how far this goes.” Edgar nodded toward their joined hands, and Johnny’s hand relaxed.
“So if we frolic through the proverbial daisies holding hands, you’re going to Hell. That’s what you’re telling me.”
“You wanted me to stay. If I keep staying, then… probably.”
“Willingly marching into Hell for an extended handshake? I suspect you’ve had smarter ideas.”
“You’re doing okay with this.”
Johnny looked down at their hands and clenched his jaw. Looking back at Edgar, he said, “I guess.”
Edgar grabbed Johnny’s wrist with his free hand and pulled their joined hands apart.
“I think we can be done now.”
Johnny regarded his hand as though he’d never seen it before. He tried to shake the touch from his skin like water or the sting of a burn. Edgar watched him flex his fingers – testing to see if they still worked.
“How long have you been here?”
“A few hours, I think.”
“Is that all?”
“You’re still here?”
Johnny walked into the room, his hands dabbing at his shirt trying to remove the splatters of someone who had cut in line. Edgar watched him, and shrugged.
“I guess so.”
“Is it time for more of your therapy?”
“I’ve already told you I’m not your shrink.”
“This guy told me I needed one,” Johnny said, pointing to the blood still staining the hem of his shirt. “It was terribly cute. He even recommended a few.”
“Any of them any good?”
“If that guy had one and was still cutting in line, his shrinks obviously weren’t very good at their professed occupation.” Johnny sat down on the tattered couch, tossing the bloody rags he’d carried with him casually off to the side. One of them managed to land on a table, the others fell to the floor and scattered few empty bags of Cheese Doodles at Edgar’s feet.
“You’ve got some still up…” Edgar pointed to a spot on his own head. Johnny tried to mimic his movements and smeared the stray gore across his forehead.
“Ugh, he got all over me, the bastard. He’s doing this just to ruin my afternoon.”
“Here,” Edgar offered, waving one of Johnny’s discarded rags. “You mind?”
It should have been a simple question, but Johnny struggled to process it. Edgar watched Johnny’s eyelids twitch, considering the offer until he managed, “Okay,” quickly and quietly, as though he didn’t want himself to know he’d said it.
Edgar pressed the rag against Johnny’s skin and swore he heard a hiss. He flinched, anticipating some lash back from Johnny, but tried to go on as though he hadn’t heard it and wiped the smear of blood from Johnny’s face.
“There,” he said as he pulled back, “not bad.”
“Did you get it all?”
“I think so. It’s a little hard to tell in this light.”
“I’ll take care of it later. Are you going home sometime or what?”
“Yeah, you want me to?”
“Do whatever you want,” Johnny answered. His reply seemed to surprise him, but he made no amendments to it.
“What about this?” Edgar asked, taking Johnny’s hand.
A gear or a crucial connection in Johnny’s head seemed to snap and his expression bordered on shock and disgust, but was still something unreadable.
“I wasn’t ready,” Johnny said. He made no effort to tear his hand away.
“You okay, though?”
“Yeah. This isn’t going to fix anything in me, is it?”
“And you’re still here?”
“I guess so.”
Touch became easier. He was flinching still, but Johnny was okay with being touched in small quantities, even if he didn’t expect it. Once, he even touched Edgar in order to get his attention. He made grandiose excuses for it immediately afterwards, but Edgar considered it a success.
“Are we friends?” Edgar asked one day.
“Present company considered, yes.”
“You have to consider all the dead people to figure this out?”
“I’ll let you think that’s what I meant.”
“You’re the only person who can see me, did you know that?”
“No, but it’s not an unfamiliar experience. There are lots of people only I can see.”
“Do any of those people move on their own?” Edgar asked, smirking.
“It’s kind of inconveniently disorienting.”
“Is this bad? I mean, I can promise that I existed before you ran into me, but…”
“Yeah, that doesn’t exactly restore my faith in you.”
“I still want-”
“Don’t. The shit you things want is the last thing I want to hear about. If you’re one of them then I’ve got no fucking grounding now. No control subject… just my mind pretending I had one. Fan-fucking-tastic.” Johnny sighed, his elbows on his knees and his face partly in his hands, contemplating.
“Nny, if I’m not real, it means your subconscious has been trying to hold hands with itself for a while.”
“It’s holding hands now. Not a handshake. I see.”
“I think it always was.”
“Where does it go now?” Johnny asked. He had focused on a spot on the wall across the room early in the conversation, and still hadn’t looked away from it.
“Where do you want it to?”
“It goes where we take it.”
“Are you made of Styrofoam?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you reanimate?”
“I don’t think I ever died to start with, so… pretty sure that’s a no.”
“Tell me what I’m thinking,” Johnny challenged.
“Um, I can’t. I have no idea, I can’t even read your face.”
“Tell me, go ahead.” Johnny turned to Edgar and leaned close, inspecting him or perhaps offering his face for reading. Daring him. “Tell me what to do and what to think and how it will benefit me to live or die by a staple gun tonight.”
“I can’t,” Edgar replied. “I don’t think you should do anything with a staple gun, but-”
“So you’re another one who wants me to live,” Johnny muttered to himself. “At least there seems to be some kind of democratic force at work here.”
Edgar took Johnny’s hand, something they’d both grown to find almost familiar, and tried to prove his real-ness.
“Can you feel this?”
“Yes. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“So you think I’m a particularly solid manifestation of your own head?”
“That’s the current winning theory.”
“So then this,” he nodded to their hands, “isn’t a problem. It’s not all selfish and self-gratifying of me, because I’m not here, right?”
Edgar tugged gently on Johnny’s hand, pulling him closer. Johnny didn’t come as close as Edgar would have liked, but it was a start. “It’s still okay,” Edgar said. “I’m still real, and this is still okay.”
He thought he’d made some kind of breakthrough as he tried to read Johnny’s expression. Johnny wasn’t pulling away, or panicking, and his grip wasn’t threatening to cut off any of Edgar’s circulation.
“This...,” Johnny said slowly.
“This would be so much easier if you were a zombie.”
Edgar stayed because Johnny had to become a little more broken for every thing in him that was fixed. He stayed because Johnny terrified him. He stayed because Johnny had let him go and asked him to stay. He stayed because many of his other choices seemed dull or stupid in comparison.
He stayed because Johnny.
Johnny spent a lot of time alone with the television. Edgar found openings to slip into Johnny’s perceptions during quiet commercials, slow news hours, and the endless scrolling of the program listing channel. This time the channels were crawling even more slowly than usual.
“Once,” Johnny said suddenly, “I watched this station when we were supposed to turn the clocks back. I wanted to see what the time would do.”
“I don’t remember. I want to say I stayed up for hours and it was anticlimactic and not worth it, but I can’t. Because I would have been up anyway. Because I’m always awake. And I can’t remember what fucking happened.”
“That’s not tonight, is it?”
“No. But wouldn’t that be really fucking fictional of us? Then we could go stargazing and get a root beer float together because it’s also the anniversary of the last time you saw your mother alive or something.”
Edgar laughed. “You’d be the person I’d take, too.”
“Who else do I know?”
“That’s pathetic, Edgar. We’d just sit around holding hands, is that it?”
“We could do something else.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. It wasn’t a sign to make any kind of move, but Edgar made one anyway. It was almost traditional by now, taking Johnny’s hand.
“This isn’t ‘something else,’” Johnny said.
“But it could be.” Edgar placed his other hand on Johnny’s upper arm, not entirely sure what he was going to do with it once he was sure he could keep it there.
Johnny was obviously not sure he was going to let that happen and shrunk away from Edgar’s hand on his arm.
“Hey,” Edgar said gently. “Relax, okay? Just for a minute.”
“What are you doing?”
“Just… relax. Have I done anything horrible to you yet?”
“That’s what they all say,” Johnny replied, flinching against Edgar’s continued contact. “Things always go wrong. Why do you think all the others are past-tense? Something always ruins things.”
“I’m not going to. Not right now. Relax, just a little.” Edgar pulled gently on Johnny’s arm, trying to draw him closer and gauge how much Johnny had frozen up. Johnny resisted the tug, locking his elbow.
“What are you doing?” he asked angrily.
“What are you letting me do?”
“I should probably just skin you alive and solve this whole thing.”
“I’m not sure how that would solve this particular issue.”
“What are you after?”
“I want... I want you to trust me.”
“Then that can be a larger goal, that’s fine.” He pulled once more and, this time, Johnny let him. Edgar didn’t think too hard about what he was doing, and the action resulted in an awkward sort of one-armed hug. Johnny’s body shivered away from the contact but he didn’t make a unified effort to pull away. Hugs in Johnny’s world were apparently dealt the same treatment as tubs full of hot bath water – gradual and twitchy descents into total submersion.
“You okay?” Edgar asked.
Noises that were definitely not words.
“Nny?” Edgar pushed against Johnny’s shoulder and released his hand, ceasing any contact between then. Johnny’s eyes were wide and unfocused, and then suddenly snapped their attention to Edgar’s face.
“Was that your ‘something else’?” Johnny asked. He sounded out of breath, or maybe injured.
“Not quite, but it was getting there.”
“Fuck, what else would you have- No. Shit, no. Really?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Look who’s talking.”
“What is it?!” Johnny screamed. “What is in that head of yours that any of this makes sense to you?!”
“Does anything make sense to you?!”
“Then what difference do I make?!”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Johnny’s continued volume continued only because Johnny seemed used to screaming, and not that the outburst needed that much emotion at all.
“I told you I wouldn’t hurt you, and I didn’t. Did I?”
“No,” Johnny admitted quickly.
“And was it horrible?”
“No. I just wanted to kill everything within three blocks of here.”
“So no significant change then.”
“I think the hour just vanished.”
“On the guide channel. When we turned the clocks… the extra hour just vanished.”
“Will you let me hug you again?”
“This is dangerously direct of you.”
“I know, but I don’t know if I want to risk building up to it, so…”
“Because I think it might help.”
“You might want to think back to how much it ‘helped’ last time.”
“I mean it. It really could.”
“I think I’m done with your help.” Despite what he said, Johnny’s fingers curled against the cushion – and Edgar’s hand. He not only didn’t mind Edgar taking his hand, he silently demanded it.
“I won’t help anymore, then,” Edgar said softly.
Johnny gave him a look that indicated that this was an entirely unacceptable suggestion.
“Alright, then what do you want?” Edgar asked. He squeezed Johnny’s hand for some kind of emphasis.
“Why do you want to help?”
“The same reason you asked me to stay and help.”
“You’re planning on going somewhere with this.”
“I think you might be too.”
Johnny was probably the saddest and most uncomfortable person to hug on Earth. He was bony in places that Edgar only distantly knew that people possessed boney bits. His skin was thin and had a tinge to it that Edgar couldn’t identify. Dirt? Blood? Jaundice? Corn syrup? Johnny’s hair was rough and split and frayed at the ends and carried a very distinct smell of some generic shampoo and blood.
He could feel Johnny’s heart rate jumping. Spiking here, practically vanishing there.
“You alright?” Edgar asked.
“I can’t decide.”
“Do you ever really know?”
“I wasn’t being philosophical, I was being serious.”
“I don’t,” Johnny’s chin rested on Edgar’s shoulder and the bone of his jaw dug into Edgar when he spoke. “I have no idea what alright is like. Or whether I can be or ever was anywhere near being it.”
“But this isn’t horrible, right?”
“You asked me to stay here. To keep you company. To talk. To be here.”
“I know that.”
“It’s kind of obvious at this point isn’t it?”
Johnny leaned back, not enough to escape the hug, but enough to eye Edgar suspiciously.
“Where we’re going,” Edgar clarified.
“Look at this. At us, whatever.”
“Nny? Would it be alright if-”
“I already told you I have no idea what ‘alright’ is.”
“That’s okay. That might save both of us some questions later.”
The kiss was very quick, and very light. Edgar might have been able to construe it as an accident if things blew up. It was only for a second, but he liked the way Johnny’s lip had stuck to his. He even liked Johnny’s momentary attempt to crush his hand.
They sat for what felt like hours afterward. Partly holding hands, partly in a hug, all in front of the guide channel, and not at all alright.