There once was a man named Edgar Vargas. He lived by himself, except when he didn't.

Sometimes he lived by himself, and sometimes he kkzkxk It was mid-day, warm but not hot, he had lunch if he got hungry, and he had the entire day ahead of him, and if he wanted to spend it pouring sand on his foot then that was exactly what he would do, and who would stop him?

zkk They all lived together in a small apartment, or sometimes only he lived there, but most of the time they all lived there. They all needed a place to stay, shelter. They all worked together, or some of them worked together, or worked hard because the others needed him to, and that was how things worked and they lived, or some of them did.

kkxxxzk He felt safe, enclosed, protected. This whole area, this world was so uniquely under his control. All negatives and positives were controlled by him, to some extent, and it was a comfort to know. It was a choice, these false childhood memories were always a choice. He had had so few choices recently.

He was safe and warm and this was what he wanted, and this was what he had always wanted.

He dumped the sand over his foot again, let his thoughts wander. Scriabin wasn't here, although Edgar was sure he'd be along shortly. He liked it here too, he knew he did. Probably lurking somewhere with a squirt gun or something like that.

Something brushed across the back of his neck.

bkkkzck Things had gotten kind of strange for the man named Edgar Vargas lately. It was something he could handle, of course, or parts of him could handle, but they were strange nonetheless. Usually he was pretty good at telling reality from zxx and he caught a flash of the blue sky he had been familiar with before it turned completely black.

kxxzzzz Sometimes he saw things that didn't make any sense, things that did not add up. But that wasn't something he couldn't handle, that they couldn't handle. One of them always knew it wasn't real, one of them could tell the difference. He wasn't sure which one of them all the time but bzzk was black, solid lacquer black, and he looked back at his house and it shifted. The change was gradual in the same way that a television channel faded to static in bursts, still considered a gradual progression. His house stood there, same as always, hue slowly darkening and then there would be the onset of that static noise, some kind of rushing in his ears and the edges of the house blurred, sharpened, became somehow pixelated and shifted into something else entirely, then switched back to his house too fast to be seen and he had the strong impression that this was literally falling apart, being ripped apart KKKKZXKk he could always tell when things weren't real, when something wasn't really happening. One of them could.

Sometimes it was Edgar, but over time a lot of the time it wasn't his time anymore. It wasn't him.

Days blurred together, time passing, and things surely weren't getting worse, things weren't getting worse. He found that boy, that poor boy Todd and gave him a place to stay, and Todd knew what was happening. He knew what was real or not, and sometimes that was a real relief and other times it was gzzk Something rattled in the darkness, the clack of something hard against something smooth, the small shifting sound and a squeaking like a wheel that needed grease bzzzk and that was what really mattered. As long as that happened, then things would be okay.

It got hard to remember what mattered sometimes. Things were getting blurry, getting staticy, the lines between them both drawn thinner and thinner. Things were crossing over, they were crossing over thin lines and boundaries and they were increasingly becoming gyyyqagckkkz You've given us a lot of trouble... The thing tilted its head at him, its eyes so unnaturally stretched and shaped and Edgar's hands and feet burned and it was hard to move. We intend to return the favor...

"Scriabin!" Edgar called, hoped that that might ward the thing off, and instead it set its spade down closer.

We're very good at what we do.

Edgar turned and KZXXXKK


It wasn't the kind of thing that should have been unimportant, changeable. Permeable. That wasn't how reality worked. That wasn't how everything worked. The world worked in a very certain way and this wasn't it, and he asked Todd just to make sure and Todd confirmed it with him, told him that no he hadn't seen that, or heard that, or known that, or was that, and that maybe he was having some troubles, maybe he should get some sleep. Have some dreams. Have lots of dreams.

bzrt "Scriabin!" Where was he where was he WHERE WAS HE

We have rightful claim to this place...

"Scriabin! Scriabin!" He was always here, why hadn't he seen this yet? Why hadn't he done something?! kzkxxxkk

Dreams were good for you.

He lived in an apartment by himself. Most of the time. Sometimes he wasn't himself, and sometimes there was no Todd, and sometimes there were long stretches of nothing where he wasn't sure he was at all. That he blamed on Scriabin, of course, when he could piece things together enough to realize that time was missing. Either Scriabin liked his privacy or there was something different happening between them when they switched places, some inequality, some imbalance where Scriabin was always there but Edgar wasn't, sometimes he wasn't there, and Scriabin told him sometimes when he was angry and frightened that it was better that way, when Edgar wasn't there. Things were so much better when he wasn't there, when it was just Scriabin living his own amazing life properly and correctly, and he didn't see things like Edgar did, it was all his fault. It was always his fault.

zkkkxkkk "Scriabin!" Weak and strained and he couldn't find the power or time to give it more voice. "Scriabin, where are you?!"

Frantic and unable to think of anything, unable to find what had been so omnipresent for so long, he dug deep, tried to find him somewhere, somehow. He couldn't be gone. He was never gone. There was no way that now, that now he would have left him, when Edgar needed him the most. No, he wouldn't do that. Edgar had more faith in him than that. He had to be here, he had to be here somewhere, he had to

Edgar had to find him, had to tell him. Maybe he'd been hurt or put to sleep, or just wasn't hearing, he had to be here and he would tell Scriabin what was going on, and Scriabin would know what to do and he would fix it somehow, and the two of them would survive just like Scriabin always said they would. These were outsiders, invaders, and Edgar did not know what to do, how to stop them, how to fight but Scriabin did, he had to know, and if Edgar could just find him, if he could just find him everything would be okay he would fix everythiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnng


He had a dream, at some point. He could no longer remember when it was. Time had no meaning anymore, no point, no purpose. He couldn't keep track of it anymore, not when he wasn't there half of the time, and there didn't seem to be much point either way. He had a dream. He remembered that much. And Scriabin, he wasn't sure

Cages of bone or plastic from the walls, shiny and black, and Edgar saw something in the midst of the strange cacophony of lacquer and organic. Long, dark hair, and something against the wall, and beside it a computer monitor, held in place by clawing fingers that melded and merged with one another and the screen and the wall that held it in place.

It had to be him.

"Scriabin! Please!" he screamed and his throat burned for it, and the thing on the wall looked up.

if he remembered or not.

He didn't talk about it.

Maybe because he wasn't there.

Scriabin told him, he kept telling him that he was going to fix things. That he was going to take care of things. Not him, specifically, because Scriabin didn't care about him, but of them both. He had to take care of them both, because they were the same. To an extent. Taking care of one took care of the other. Scriabin would take care of it. Scriabin would find a way out of this, he knew what to do. Scriabin wasn't going to let this happen, wasn't going to let them die this way, wasn't going to let reality lie to them and trick them. He knew what was real, and what wasn't. Most of the time. Scriabin could do this, even if Edgar couldn't. Even if Edgar was going crazy, Scriabin wasn't. He told him that. He told him he would fix it.

The skeleton of a man embedded in the wall and held by several of the long cords that whipped their way around the room, pulsing and breathing. Arms with little more than skin, a ribcage that bled unnaturally into the wall, hips pronounced and locked into place, a thick cord leading directly into his throat as if to grant him speech. Scriabin. Or at least, some kind of facsimile of him. Perched on the same large nose of Edgar's was a pair of glasses that matched Edgar's perfectly, clear and cracked, and through them Edgar could see that there were no eyes to be hidden. Gaping holes where they should have been, and behind and through those holes Edgar saw constant flickers of light, green and white.

The monitor entrapped beside this skeletal form of Scriabin had a constant stream of letters across its surface, scrolling down endlessly in variants of cream and green on black.

He wasn't there. He didn't know. While fighting with Scriabin daily was something that he couldn't avoid, something that came naturally to them without thinking, the subject of their fights was more controllable, and Scriabin did not want to talk about the dream. What happened. Where he was. He did not want to talk about it. Subsequently Edgar didn't bring it up. He'd proved that he could hurt him in several ways, after all. Scriabin had come home at night more than once after abusing their mutual home in dangerous ways, sometimes just to prove that he could. Edgar didn't want to make this worse. Could this get worse?

Sometimes he lived in an apartment by himself, and sometimes he didn't. Either way his home was never his.

Sometimes there were things there that weren't anyone.

"Edgar..." the skeleton of Scriabin said in a voice that matched Edgar's perfectly. "I'm n-n-n-n ah kg kg kg." Spasms, the sharpening and blurring and that strange effect of pixelation so impossible. The rush of static again. "Zzkr Edgar, not not h-h-hegh-hegh-heghre."

Edgar stared at it for a few seconds, trying to process what it had just said. "You're not here?"

"Kzzk." The head jerked back and the tube connected to its throat undulated. "Kzzk, not h-here kzzk not s-speak-eak-eak."

"How can you not be here?!" Edgar shouted, and he turned to the computer monitor in hopes that would give him some answers.

ceedwithpreviousprogramconti nuewithoriginalpl
anmustcontinuedamageassessme ntpreparefor
recoveryperiodprepareforhost priorityoverridemu
stpriorityoverridemuststayon presentcoursecan
notaccomplishpriorityerrorer rorerrorhostisinviol

He didn't know what to do about those.

Edgar couldn't tell when he'd actually done anything. If he'd done anything, sometimes, but most of the time when. When did he go out? When did he get that phone call? Who called him and why? Where was he for the past few days? When things moved, was it a dream, or had someone moved them? Had he moved them? When?

When had he seen that thing slithering through the hallway?

Without a solid sense of time, it was difficult to put anything in any kind of logical order. Nny called him, sometimes frequently and sometimes almost never, and Scriabin hated him for it. Hated Nny for calling and Edgar for being called, and things always seemed to fall apart more quickly while he was speaking to him. Talking to him made unreal things more real, the strangeness of things more apparent. Had he been more lucid, able to think more clearly, it might have seemed ironic in a way, that each phone call with Nny seemed to indicate his mental state descending one more notch down into total insanity. Scriabin always told him that would happen.

Nny was trying to help him, although he didn't do a very good job. Sometimes Edgar was aware enough to know that he was trying - that his clumsy attempts at empathy, so foreign to him, meant he was trying to help. Other times it was not obvious and it just hurt him, and he snapped back at him, and Scriabin applauded him for it each time. Sometimes Scriabin took over that part for him, and he was too tired to fight him very hard for it.

kkkxkkzk "You're Scriabin, aren't you? You have to be- why won't you help me? Why aren't you helping me? Please!"

The body in the wall spasmed, but said nothing further, and the computer monitor continued its neverending loop of commands and data, all filed away.

Ah, I see you've found your little friend. He can watch.


There were so few people in his life. He wasn't sure how often they were actually there.

Sometimes Todd was there. Sometimes his bear was there, Shmee, who Scriabin did not seem to like. Sometimes Scriabin would be mumbling to himself about something and he'd catch the bear's name, and Edgar would ask him and Scriabin would tell him it was none of his business. There was something there, something important, but his ability to tell what it was had eroded over the long days. It was hard enough trying to keep track of when he was awake, and Scriabin's patience for questions had grown very short. His anger was palpable, frequent, foreign at times, and he didn't seem to notice. To care, to question it. To think about what it meant, and Edgar brought that up to him once. Once.

There was Devi, sometimes. Edgar talked to her because Scriabin didn't harrass him for it, and in fact almost encouraged him to spend more time with her; it was an easy enough way to keep him happy. Scriabin was becoming more and more unpredictable and volatile, unwillingly mirroring the chaos of the shifting reality around him, and anything that calmed either down was precious. Anything that made it stop Edgar clung on to, even as it burnt his hands. Scriabin had very few outlets for his anger, and he was so tired of hurting. Tired of screaming, of yelling, of fighting. The endless stress, buzzing and insistent over his thoughts, jumbling them, making it impossible to focus, to think, to do anything, and Scriabin yelled at him for that too, and he was so desperate for anything that'd make it stop, make it all stop. Edgar didn't need any more stress in his life.

kzzkczzx "What are you? What are you talking about?" He had no voice anymore, but he was sure it would hear him anyway.


"I... I didn't, I-" Tried for those few seconds to sound threatening. "You don't belong here, he does-" zkkzxxx

He didn't need any more stress in his life.

He spoke to Devi over the phone, talked about what was happening, what Scriabin was doing, what he wanted, his plans, what had happened with her voice, how she'd taken care of it, what she'd done to stop it, and Scriabin seemed oddly conflicted about the resolution to that story.

He unnecessarily told him not to get any ideas. Edgar knew it was too late now anyway.

She suggested things to him that he could do, ways he could try to keep track, confirmed things to try and comfort him but often just made him feel all the more anxious when they didn't match up with what he thought happened. Sometimes Scriabin would report back to him later with things she had supposedly said, but he could never remember any of the conversations Scriabin had had with her, and his stories were inconsistent.

He lost so much time lately, some of it like it had been conspicuously edited. He asked Scriabin about it, and he told him he had nothing to do with it, and Edgar wondered why he even bothered, it wasn't like Scriabin ever gave him a straight answer about anything anyway.

He talked to Devi but didn't see her too much otherwise. Sometimes things would start getting bad and he'd scare her, a little, or she just didn't want to deal with him or Scriabin. He could understand that. Things were getting difficult for him in so many ways and Scriabin told him that that'd affect him. Todd told him that sometimes. It was hard to tell what was real and what wasn't, and sometimes it made him behave inappropriately. Devi understood that that wasn't necessarily under his control, but she still wasn't too enthused to spend time with him when things were really bad.

Besides, she liked to spend time by herself, she had things to do, and he could understand that. That made sense. But talking with her was calming, at least.

Something was.

He lived by himself, sometimes, and sometimes not. Nny called him, too much, and Scriabin hated him for it. Things happened at night, or at least he thought they did. Sleep was dangerous but ultimately unavoidable, no matter what Scriabin did.

Some things were just unavoidable.

In a whirling mass of broken time and days and thoughts, trying to find a path through the remnants of what he knew was real, a thought occurred to him that wouldn't be shaken. To him or Scriabin, it didn't matter. They should go somewhere. A place. Some other place, in the car, and stay there, and see. That helped Johnny that one time, didn't it? He couldn't remember anymore. All of it was whirled together into a nonsensical mass of regrets and pain and unreal spikes of what was that

He wanted to stay home and watch TV.

Scriabin wanted to go for a drive.

He wanted to stay home.

In the end, it didn't matter what he wanted.

Consciousness came back to him very, very slowly.

He was lying on something hard, and something was on top of him. After an exorbitant amount of effort, he opened his eyes and then shut them almost immediately again. The light was blinding... had he fallen asleep? After all this time had he finally managed to fall asleep again?

...What was the last thing that had happened to him anyway?

Edgar lay there with his eyes closed as he tried to sort it out. He thought back, expecting the same kind of buzzing, furious tension over his thoughts as usual, the constant overlay of static and noise that made everything indistinct, the unexplained gaps and holes that shifted when he didn't pay attention, the hideous, grinding uncertainty about what was real, and instead he found his thoughts... clear. Memories in place. Sentences completing, trains of thought leading to actual conclusions, clean logic, emotions under control. No interruptions. No noise. Thinking was... easy. He'd forgotten this was what it was like, what it should have been like.

How long had it been since he could think clearly?

The clarity was sudden, unfamiliar, almost unpleasant. Like when he changed the prescription on his glasses, and his vision became too clear for those first few days. He wasn't used to being able to think like this, to be able to finish his thoughts, to not have that stress screaming over him, demanding his attention, wanting answers he couldn't give for what was happening and what he'd seen. He tried to remember what he'd done before waking up here, tentatively thinking back, and he couldn't quite get a clear image. Even with this new blissful silence, he knew his memory had not been the best lately. It was still hard to know what was real or not, the things he'd been seeing all seemed so completely real in spite of their impossibility, and Scriabin hadn't really helped him in that department. He saw them too, after all, even though he tried to deny it, even when he raged at them impotently like that could fix it, screamed at Edgar to stop like it was his fault. Scriabin tended to promote whatever reality he wanted as the real one, and in their decaying state he didn't have much defense against that. And it wasn't like he could trust him after...


He didn't hear anything. He hadn't noticed at first, so stunned was he at the concept of mental silence after months of nonstop cacophonous noise, that Scriabin hadn't said anything. He hadn't expressed wonderment, hadn't acknowledged the change, hadn't said a word, hadn't even made a sound indicating he was awake. Perfectly quiet. That wasn't normal, and he told himself that maybe Scriabin was just asleep somewhere, or whatever approximated for sleep for him.

Edgar hadn't done it in ages - there generally hadn't been a need with how closely their lives and feelings and memories had intertwined in their last days, with how poor Scriabin had become at hiding his constant, often unjustified rage - but he took a deep breath (and it ached) and he reached inside himself as he had before, trying to find him. Searching for traces of his emotions, his presence, his self, and while Scriabin could hide from him if he wanted to, there was still a sound to it. A sort of presence; evidence that he was there, even if he wasn't acknowledging him. The feeling that he knew Scriabin was there somewhere, when he looked, and this time... he dug into himself, through clear thoughts now that should have made things easier, and there was nothing. There was no sound, no feelings, no other presence, no other person, no Scriabin. Nothing.

This didn't happen. This never happened, something had to be wrong, and he felt a stab of adrenaline go through him, his mouth drying. Where was he? Scriabin couldn't-... well no, he'd found out rather unpleasantly that Scriabin could leave him, in a fashion, even though he'd only done it once, but even when he'd done that, when he'd gone wherever it was, he'd left something of himself behind. He left evidence of his presence, a reminder, a remainder. He couldn't separate from Edgar entirely. He couldn't, and he was there. He was always, always there, somewhere. Even when it was just the barest bones of him, he was there. But now, he didn't feel anything. Not the slightest hint, the faintest noise, the smallest indication that he was still with him. Scriabin couldn't leave him like this, he wouldn't, otherwise he would have done so long ago, he'd told him that. He couldn't leave him. He never left entirely. After Scriabin took root, he'd always been there, listening, existing.


The realization came to him suddenly, the memory crystal clear.

Scriabin had vanished completely once before.

When he had died.

That thought was enough to spur him to motion. Edgar opened his eyes, blinking against blinding whiteness, and he tried to sit up, figure out where he was and what was happening. Whatever it was that was pinning him down was sprawled across his chest and stomach, and it took him a few tries to prop himself up on his elbows to get a good look.

A thin, lanky man with long, unkempt dark hair and reflective glasses. He looked much smaller without his coat.

"Scriabin...?" Hopefully Scriabin didn't feel the flooding surge of relief when he saw him. It may have been because if Scriabin was here, that meant he wasn't dead, but that moment where he wasn't there, where he was just gone without warning... he'd imagined it at times, spitefully maybe, but he hadn't been prepared for how empty he felt. Alone. Again he hoped that Scriabin hadn't heard any of that... he was sure he would have a field day with it, and he really wasn't in the mood to fight with him right now. Not that that often mattered.

Edgar tried to focus on their current situation rather than his somewhat embarassing emotions. If Scriabin was here, then that meant he couldn't be dead. When he'd died before, Scriabin had been distinctly gone for the entire ordeal, only returning to him afterwards when he was alive again. The most logical explanation would be that this was a dream then, as that was the only place where Scriabin could manifest a physical body like this. A look at his surroundings seemed to confirm his hypothesis... white below and above and all around him, just like most of the other dreams they shared together.

Why his thoughts were so clear, however, didn't have quite as simple an explanation, and he was equally at a loss as to why Scriabin was not wearing his coat. Scriabin never took off that coat, especially if he was an adult. There had to be a reason, and he had a feeling that he wasn't going to like it, whatever it was. He couldn't shake this feeling of foreboding. Even in dreams, there was some connection between the two of them. Something. The line between them as it was remained worryingly dead.

"Scriabin, what's going on?" Maybe Scriabin had some elaborate lecture planned for him, although again, he'd never delivered one without his coat...

Scriabin groaned, long and pained, and he moved slowly. It took what felt like ages for him to push himself up on his arms, muscles quaking, and he shook his head and hissed through bared teeth, wincing... had he ever seen Scriabin with a headache? Still, a strange, unfamiliar distance lay between them.

Scriabin moved enough so that Edgar could sit up properly, and he noticed for the first time something dangling from his neck, what looked like a quartz crystal on a red string. Where, or when, had he gotten that? Scriabin pressed a trembling hand to his forehead. "Ugh, my head..."

Edgar kept reaching out, trying to feel him, trying to find him subconsciously, reopen their lines of communication because he just wasn't used to this silence. Still nothing, and he looked around like the blank whiteness around him would give him answers. "What happened? Are we asleep? What are you doing?" An explanation would be great right now, even if it was just that Scriabin wanted to verbally tear him apart for the rest of the night. At least he'd know. This nagging doubt was rapidly dissolving into an unpleasant cold fear.

"What are you talking about..." Sleepy and mildly annoyed, like he'd just woken up, and he ran a hand through his hair. Edgar didn't have much time to give the gesture much thought as Scriabin sat back, took a deep breath, rubbed his hand over his face to try and wake himself up further, then froze.

It was hard to say with his eyes hidden like that, but Edgar guessed he'd gotten his first look at where they were. That reaction was not encouraging.

"Oh shit," Scriabin said quietly. That was even worse.

"What's going on?" Edgar said, trying very hard not to let his growing anxiety over the situation show in his voice, then after a few more moments of thought... "What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything." Scriabin didn't sound as defensive as he normally might have, and everything was adding up in a way that Edgar did not like. He resolved firmly not to freak out about this, that was probably what Scriabin wanted him to do or something. This had to be some plot of Scriabin's, some thing or another he had planned that hadn't turned out right, but whatever it was, it was fixable. Under control. That he had to be sure of, because otherwise...

Scriabin sat back, brushed his hair away from his eyes, and he looked around them, at the blank world surrounding them slowly, like he was studying it. Like it was unfamiliar, like he didn't know what was going on, and Edgar could feel his heartbeat picking up in spite of his best efforts. "I didn't... I didn't do anything." Quieter than usual for him.

"Then where are we?" Edgar didn't want to hear any other possibilities. "This is your world, isn't it?"


"If you're here and I can see you, I must be dreaming," Edgar pointed out, pleased at how calmly he'd said it. Simple, easy, logical. Where else could they be? What else could this mean? Nothing, there was nothing else this could mean. They had to be in that weird white dreamspace, because... "What are you trying to do this time?"

"I didn't... do anything. I'm not trying to do anything. I don't know what happened..." Faintly, like he was distracted. He glanced back at him for a moment. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"You're asking me?" Which meant that Scriabin didn't know, and that was not good. That couldn't be what was happening. He had to salvage this, put it back on recognizable ground. "You're the one who decided to take me over for the fiftieth time this week. God forbid you tell me what you do when you do that." That was an easy and perfectly reasonable explanation for why Edgar couldn't remember how he'd gotten here.

"That's right, I did do that..." That wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting. A sarcastic comment, a condescending smirk, a dismissive wave of the hand, those things were familiar, he knew what those things meant. Scriabin seemed to be talking to himself, softly, like Edgar had simply reminded him of something he'd forgotten, like there was something more important he was thinking about. "I think Johnny called..." He shook his head back and forth slowly. "I..."

How could he not remember? If Scriabin was in charge of his body, there was no telling what he could have done to get them in this mess. Wherever they were. He wasn't sure how they got here or how his control would have led them here, but he had to be responsible somehow. It was the only thing that made sense. "What did you do?" More accusatory now. Give me an explanation!

"I didn't do anything-"

"If by 'didn't do anything' you mean 'plowed your car into a lamp post and killed yourself instantly', then yes, you didn't do anything." A sharp, curt female voice from behind them. "And yes, you are dead."

Edgar was almost too startled by the sudden foreign voice to pay attention to what it was that she said, but Scriabin didn't seem nearly so lost. He stiffened at the sound and even before she'd finished speaking, he'd pressed his hands to his forehead, tangled his fingers in his hair. He shook his head back and forth, shouting angrily at no one in particular.

"Shit shit SHIT, I felt it coming but I thought- I was trying to pull over-"

Now there was time for it to sink in, and absurdly his primary concern was that that would explain why he couldn't hear Scriabin anymore, why their connection was gone, why his mind was so silent now.

Although, back then, he'd died and ended up in the afterlife alone, and this time... this time...

"You killed us?!" Edgar shouted at him, trying for furious but instead getting incredulous and indignant, and Scriabin lowered his head further, still shaking it back and forth like that would make this stop being true.

"It wasn't my fault!"

Someone snapped their fingers. "Over here please, thank you."

The two turned around. A woman with long, curly auburn hair in an untamed mess down her back and piercing blue eyes stood behind them. She was wearing a lab coat and a severe, unamused expression that made Edgar feel uncomfortable, like he'd done something wrong. She certainly didn't look the least bit pleased by any of this, and she was definitely not happy.

"Yes, you two are dead. As I mentioned, you crashed your car and died instantly." In the same short, irritated tone.

The ramifications of it all sinking deeper now, going beyond numb minutiae into frantic desperation, disbelief. This couldn't be real. This couldn't be real, this couldn't have happened, he couldn't have- this couldn't- of all the things-

"I can't believe you-" Edgar buried his face in his hands, shaking and struggling to find words. "I can't believe you did this, Scriabin, I can't believe you did this-" I can't believe this is happening, this can't be real, this can't be real

"It wasn't my fault!" Scriabin shouted back at him, and he could feel anger and fear radiating off him, wild emotion as he clenched his fists. "I was in control! It was their fault," and his words came quicker, "they were doing that thing, you know, where everything gets black and heavy and you have to stop because something's coming-"

Edgar hadn't experienced "that thing". Scriabin had though, or so he had told him. Given the current situation Edgar wasn't going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Fear, regret, denial, and a voice begging in the back of his mind in an endless litany for this not to be true, for this to be a dream. It hadn't even been his fault.

"God, you've killed us, we're dead again, I can't believe you did this!" Lashing out at Scriabin only made sense. This was his fault, he did something reckless and stupid like he usually did when he took over his body, he was probably drunk, for Christ's sake- "I can't believe this, I can't believe this! How could you do something like this? How could you do this?! We got a second chance and you fucked it up, oh God-"

"I didn't do anything! " Scriabin mirrored him, emotions running just as high because he felt unfairly accused, and it was so easy for the two of them to feed off of each other, to escalate. He was still shouting, struggling to explain. "It was that goddamn thing, that thing in your dream, it was trying to- I had to fight it or else-"

"Why?!" Edgar turned to look at him, stricken, his voice cracking. "Why did you do this to us?!"

"It wasn't- I wouldn't! I wouldn't- you think I want to die? You think I'd do something like this on purpose?"

"Are you two done?" the woman said. Edgar had almost forgotten she was there in the midst of it. They looked back to her, puzzled that she'd interrupted them, too much so to think about it at first. "This is extremely irrelevant."

While Scriabin's brow furrowed, frowning at her, anger clearly building, Edgar struggled to find some logical thing to hold on to, some thread to explain this, something other than just getting lost in the despair and fear of what faced him now. What this really meant for him.

"Who are you?" Edgar asked sharply. Something about her was making him nervous, anxious...

She ignored him and instead made a note on her clipboard. "You were intended to die months ago. And according to this, this isn't the first time you've managed to avoid your intended death, either. You have an irritating talent for it, Mr. Vargas."

"This is your fault-" Scriabin hissed at her, and Edgar held out an arm between them. He wasn't sure if Scriabin would actually attack her or not. "You did this-"

"Who are you?" Edgar cut him off firmly.

"I'm a representative. Call me K, if you must." She clicked her pen. "Hopefully this will be settled before it comes to that."

That sounded ominous, and yet something about her phrasing stuck out to him. "Comes to what, names?" A tinge of sarcasm worked its way in there that he hadn't intended. Scriabin looked at him.

"We don't have much use for them. K is just what works best for now." Staring at her clipboard, but the irritation in her voice made it clear that she did not appreciate Edgar's questions. "I'd like to keep idle chitchat to a minimum, thank you."

A representative for what, exactly? And why? There was a heavy sinking feeling in his stomach.

Another pause. K seemed busy with her clipboard, and apparently wasn't going to start talking unless prompted.

"Alright then..." Edgar nearly asked 'what happened' before he remembered that he already knew. Scriabin had killed them. Scriabin killed them both. After all the time he spent torturing Edgar about it, about how Nny was dangerous, about how he should take his feelings into consideration, how important it was to remember he was two people in one body, after all of that, it was Scriabin who had been the one who had killed them. Scriabin had done it, no doubt in one of his wild, irresponsible moods, and now they were dead. They were dead because of him. In a way, it was a shame that he wasn't in the right place to appreciate the irony of all this.

"What's going on? This isn't Heaven or Hell."

Almost automatically, although without his normal venom. "They don't exist."

"Quiet." Distracted, and he didn't look away from her. "Why am I back here again? In... nowhere?"

"You died," K said.

"But...I thought a waste lock couldn't die-"

"Let's just say that there have been some complications," she said, and her voice made it perfectly clear how little she cared for said complications or any of the people involved in them. She gave Scriabin a pointed look.

"What... him?" Edgar looked back at Scriabin, who looked likewise puzzled by her sudden attention.

It took a moment for his confidence to return. "Fuck you- if you hadn't been trying to fuck with us this never would have happened-"

"Why here?" Edgar cut him off, sure that Scriabin would just make whatever the situation was worse. He needed to stay focused. "Why not Heaven or Hell?"

"These things shouldn't take place in Their jurisdiction, that's why," she spoke to Edgar like he was an idiot. He felt vaguely offended at her tone. How was he supposed to know? "This is neutral territory. That's going to be important in a moment."


"They're not happy about how this has been handled."

"No, I would say we're not." A new voice, and Edgar turned to look to see its source. An overweight man with white hair and a beard had appeared nearby, and he was also wearing a lab coat. Apparently they were standard issue here for... whoever it was these people represented. He was wearing spectacles and had an expression of tired irritation, and Edgar got the general impression that the two people knew each other. "And we're not the only ones displeased, by the way."

That sinking feeling hadn't left him, and now it was getting worse. Even though he hadn't been responsible, even though Scriabin had been the one to kill them both this time, even though responsibility lay firmly on Scriabin's shoulders, Edgar couldn't help but feel that he had done something wrong and he was going to pay for it, one way or another. Whether or not it was Scriabin's doing, it was going to be Edgar's fault. It was always his fault.

It was an unpleasant apprehension and anxiety he was familiar with, and it wasn't helping in his attempt to stay calm. He struggled to remain focused, to try and keep his breathing in check, to act like nothing was wrong, to be an adult and handle things like an adult.

There was no way this would end well for him.

Scriabin said something under his breath, low and serious and he couldn't quite catch what it was, and Edgar felt him grab onto the hem of his shirt. Did he feel the same way? The line between them was still cut, he couldn't reach out and see for himself... it was disorienting, being detached from him like this, and no doubt Scriabin probably felt equally lost. Probably more so, considering how much closer Scriabin was to Edgar's emotions and thoughts most of the time.

Why were they apart here?

"Who are you?" Edgar asked the man. Maybe he'd be more forthcoming than his compatriot, although he doubted it. They both shared a level of general dislike that seemed directed at him.

"As with K, call me D." The man gestured to himself, almost rolling his eyes at the apparent idea of names, then put his hands in his pockets. "We represent different... organizations."


"Yes, you could call it that."

"There's been a conflict of interests," K hissed, and she glared at D who didn't seem intimidated by her anger. Not that he seemed to be in a better mood in general. "Another one."

"Only you would call it that." D let out a long-suffering sigh. "If you'd just stayed out of the way and let us do our business, then this wouldn't have happened."

"Why should we have stayed out of your way when we were there first? We were there. You knew that. You know the rules. You had no right to try and take him from us, and you know it. And now you've gotten him killed of all things; do you realize the mess you've made of this entire business?"

Edgar looked between the two of them; K animated and gesturing with her clipboard and pen, anger clearer on her face, and D staring at her with tired boredom, his eye occasionally twitching.

He should at least know what it was he'd done.

"Excuse me..." Edgar said, hesitantly, and he raised a hand. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh please, you don't want us to explain the entire thing to you, do you? How tedious." K rolled her eyes. "You're not entitled to an explanation. Just sit there and shut up."

He forced himself to keep speaking, to try and keep his voice courteous. If these two did represent forces greater than God Himself, and he suspected that was the case, then he probably shouldn't make them any angrier with him than they already were. He wanted to know, he felt that he was entitled to know something, but that didn't mean he couldn't be careful. "I'm just curious. This does involve me, after all..."

"It involves you, but you're not significant. You're more like territory that's being disputed at the moment. In fact, that's exactly what this is." K was sounding more annoyed by the minute.

"If he'd been significant, none of this would have happened in the first place." D rolled his eyes.

"Well he's significant now because you killed him in a stupid, stupid way. I can't believe you couldn't let this go! This is all your fault!" K snapped, waving one arm. D just sighed, which apparently only provoked K further. "You decided that our claim was not legitimate, and now look at where we are. Look at what we have to deal with." She gestured to Edgar with a touch of disgust.

He thought back to his conversations with Devi, his suspicions with Nny, the things Scriabin had told him, and it was starting to come together. He swallowed and pointed to K. He hoped he wouldn't make this worse. "You... you're not from the lock system, are you?"

She clicked her pen and frowned at him, but she didn't deny it. He thought back, his hand to his mouth. He'd thought, he'd suspected that Scriabin was different, that he wasn't the same as the other voices that Johnny had had, or even Devi had had, he'd suspected but he'd never had any real proof, and Scriabin had lied to him about so much for so many reasons that he wasn't sure if he could believe it simply because Scriabin had suggested it, and now...

"So... there were two systems involved..."

Scriabin had stayed silent behind him throughout the conversation. Now, however, something had moved him to speak, and he probably shouldn't have been surprised at what it was.

"You see? I told you," Scriabin said quietly, without his normal gloating tone but still, he knew that was the sentiment he intended. "I told you but you never listen-"

Now, right now Scriabin wanted to bring this up? Scriabin wanted to score points on him for reasonably doubting his claims? Now? Like he'd never done anything wrong, like he'd never done anything wrong and it was his fault that they were dead-

"I never listen to you because you're a compulsive liar!" Why did Scriabin never get this? How stupid did he think Edgar was?

Scriabin whirled on him and leapt into it. "It's not compulsive-"

"You lie about everything- you lie about things for no reason! You lied about how much milk we had left in the fridge this morning! Why would someone even do that?"

"Because I knew you'd just bitch at me about it, that's why!" Scriabin leaned away from him, holding out his arms. "I don't know if you've noticed, Edgar, but you've gotten a bit hard to live with lately-"

"Me? ME?!"

"You," K said, and again, their conversation quickly died despite its intensity. She was pointing at Scriabin. "Stand up."

It was the first time she'd addressed Scriabin instead of Edgar, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. Scriabin apparently seemed equally nonplussed, staring at her for a few moments before settling back into his customary glare. Defying her. Edgar still didn't know anything about who she represented, or what powers she could have had, but something told him that making her angrier was not a good idea. Scriabin's rebellious streak could cost them here, not that he hadn't already cost them their lives.

Edgar sighed and pushed him. Scriabin whipped around to face him, affronted and surprised.

"Stand up, for God's sake." What do you think she's going to do? You're not scared, are you?

He forgot that Scriabin couldn't hear his thoughts now, and the silence at his question instead of confident posturing somehow made him feel bad for asking it.

Grumbling theatrically and making it as clear as possible that he was doing this under protest, Scriabin eventually stood. He crossed his arms and frowned at K in what was, without his coat, more of a petulant fashion than anything else. In a way Edgar was somewhat impressed with his audacity; then again, it was possible that Scriabin actually knew what was going on and just hadn't told him. As usual. Maybe he knew exactly who these people were and what they wanted and what he'd done, and as usual, he wasn't sorry about it. That sounded like him.

K took a few steps forward towards him, and Edgar felt his body tense, his heartbeat spike as she approached. In a quick, sudden movement, K flung out one hand to gesture at him. Despite the foot or so between her hand and his body, Scriabin actually flinched away from her for a moment before catching himself. Huh. "You see? Look at this, this is our work. You can't interfere with our work! You know that. It invalidates the entire pact between all of us if you do something like this! He wasn't even done-"

"He should have been ours to begin with." D pointed at Edgar, and the attention made him feel very uncomfortable. "And, by the way, your fragment wasn't even there when we decided on him. You can't claim ownership on him if you're not there."

"That is such a pathetic excuse. You know how this works. You know how our process works. You knew and you just took advantage of a loophole. Just because he was dead at the time-"

"I do know how your 'process' works, and if he was dead, then he was no longer yours."

"The entire thing reset! Were you not paying any attention at all?" She waved her clipboard, barely reigning in her fury. D kept his bored expression, tired of the conversation but his eye kept twitching. "Universe resets, everything goes back to normal, and he's put back into place-"

"Are you following this?" Edgar stood up beside Scriabin, feeling awkward being the only one sitting and he felt better being close to him anyway. Scriabin gave him an unamused look.

D paid no attention to them. "Our claim to him is legitimate because you didn't have him when we made it-"

"Our claim predates yours, and we were already well underway when he died the first time, you can't say that that's not valid."

"It's not valid when he's dead-"

"He was only dead temporarily."

"He was still dead. And I don't even know why you're so dead-set on having him, you don't even do anything useful! Our process actually has some practical value-"

"You'd think a system as 'valuable' as yours would know how to follow the rules. May I remind you this is not the first time you've screwed up in so many months?"

"The last one was just a bad choice-"

"And so was this one! Because he was ours first."

"What exactly is it that you do?" Edgar asked K, cutting in before D could speak again. She looked at him, irritated at being interrupted, and brushed her hair back from her shoulders.

"Are you still here?" She glared at him and he felt the urge to back away from her, to get away. She looked between him and Scriabin, her eyes narrowed in scrutiny. "Ugh, look at you both." She turned back to D. "Look at this, look at them! The whole thing's been perverted, no doubt thanks to your funneling-"

"Don't blame us for the shortcomings in your design." D adjusted his glasses. "Personally I think your programming is shoddy to begin with. It's your own fault if errors happen. Frankly you should thank us for saving you the trouble of dealing with this one, he's obviously flawed."

Edgar felt a tinge of indignation at the insult, and Scriabin moved forward with an irritated "Hey!", his fists clenched. Edgar held out his arm again to keep him back and Scriabin pressed against it, but didn't push past him. Aware of his limits perhaps, but without that connection, all Edgar could do was guess. Scriabin had been in his head for so long, the two of them so closely connected, and still, he couldn't predict him.

D and K ignored them.

"Well, clearly," K said, and Edgar felt another tinge of indignation, almost disappointment. He thought K was on their side. "But he still developed enough, so it's technically still a success. Even if he's tainted. And it doesn't change the fact that he's still ours. Both of them."

"Why does this even matter to you at this point?" D crossed his arms, huffing under his breath. "The cell's been flushed, he's dead, he's achieved his purpose."

"It matters because They don't consider this transaction valid because you broke protocol. Like we're not supposed to do to each other. They're saying this doesn't count."

"What, exactly, is it that doesn't count?" As if he was tired of the entire conversation.

"You know as well as I do how it works, and there can be no interference. You interfered knowingly and persistently I might add, and even if we did end up with something that might be workable," she indicated Scriabin, "you left a huge mess behind. He died while he was in control, even! I don't know if you could have made this worse if you planned it this way. The schedule-!" K shook her head in apparent despair before regaining her focus, her eyes narrowed. "I'd think you'd know what They want after the last time you-"

"The point please." D shook his head, looking upwards. "And may I remind you, we weren't the only ones interfering with someone else's business. We would have been on schedule if someone-"

She cut him off sharply. "They're not happy with either of us. Things need to be cleaned up."

"So what is it that They want this time?"

"The entire thing's been declared invalid. They want it all wiped clean."

"Another reset?" D sighed. "Are you serious?"

"That's what They told me."

Edgar spoke up again. "A reset? Like before, when I woke up?" A flash of hope that was almost blinding in its unfamiliarity. He'd expected this to go badly for him, as so many things did, what other conclusion was there for Edgar Vargas, but if there was another reset...

"Yes, like before, you nit," K snapped at him. "This wouldn't have been necessary if some people could leave well enough alone-"

D held out his arms. "You weren't there when we decided on him! He was completely fair game, and you must admit, a perfect choice for what we do! It would have been outrageous for us not to pick him."

"And not only that, you actually had the audacity to try and meddle with our work!" K shouted back at him. "We know what you tried to do, those little toys of yours you sent in there to try and mess with our design-"

"I knew it!" Scriabin leapt forward, pointing at D in triumph so suddenly that Edgar started somewhat. "I knew it came from you! Do you know what that thing did to me? What it did to him?"

The dream, that dream that lurked in the back of his subconscious...

Edgar reached out to him, held up a hand to try and calm him down. Scriabin was frenzied with satisfaction at having identified the thing that had plagued them for so long, that he finally had proof, a chance for revenge, and he could see it in his face. "Scriabin, shh-"

"I knew it-"

"By the way, boy, it wouldn't have done anything to him if you'd just stayed put like you're supposed to." K turned on Scriabin, her movements unnatural and unexpected, and both of them jumped. Scriabin's triumphant look faltered, shifted to hesitant confusion. K kept pointing at him, jabbing her finger every now and then to emphasis what she was saying. "You're not even supposed to be able to leave him like that! Do you know how dangerous that is? And at this stage! Frankly I'm surprised you both didn't end up dead." She turned back to D. "You see what your tampering has done? At least a reset will tear out all this garbage."

Scriabin didn't say anything, still apparently in shock that she'd turned on him so quickly. Edgar looked at him, wondering what he should say, before he looked back to D and K.

"So that thing that attacked me in that dream..." Edgar said softly. "That was... yours?"

D nodded, looking distinctly bored.

Scriabin galvanized, his fists raised, ready to rush at him. Edgar kept his arm out and Scriabin didn't push past him, shouting at D instead. "That thing nearly killed us-"

"Do I need to say it again?" K pointed at Scriabin, her voice sharp and commanding, and he reluctantly lowered his fists. "Frankly your programming is so distorted at this point that this is practically a blessing."

A moment to think about what she said, and something about it sent a chill through him, of staring into the abyss.

"Programming?" Edgar said, eventually, and Scriabin elbowed him in the ribs. He turned to look at him, annoyed, about to tell him to let her answer but Scriabin cut him off.

"So that thing that's been chasing us the last few months... that was you, wasn't it?" If Scriabin expected D to do something in response to his accusation, to gloat or to apologize or deny or at least react, he was disappointed. D only kept staring at him with that same bored expression, condescending and uninterested. "All the hallucinations, the nightmares, the blackouts, pushing me into the toy, that was all you?"

"You were in your toy?" Edgar grabbed his arm. What the fuck? "When did that happen?"

"Shut up, Edgar." Distracted.

"You were ours to begin with," D said, his hands in his pockets. "It's all part of how it works. We laid claim to you after you died the first time. There was no fragment there to stop us. Unfortunately, when the reset completed, it seems like you were included in the process... whatever your name is."

"It doesn't matter," K said before Scriabin could break in. She crossed her arms. "Either way, once you realized we were there, you should have stopped."

"He was more suited to our purposes than yours, and it's not an easy process to stop either, you know that." D rolled his eyes and adjusted his glasses. "And like I said earlier, at least we do something constructive."

"He was perfect for our process, and you know it. Before you came in, everything was going smoothly. There were some minor glitches early on, but he was developing quickly and efficiently, and his host was none the wiser until it was too late." K made several check marks in the air to mark her points. "You know how rare that is. You could find any loner to work for yours."

"But we found him, and he was perfect."

Edgar was trying to piece together what they were saying, but Scriabin was focused on only one thing.

"So it was you that tried to move in on me in the car when we crashed?" Scriabin still glared at D, shaking a little, and Edgar was sure he was missing his coat fiercely right about now. His arms looked thin and weak this way, even with his fists clenched. He noticed, on closer inspection, that they bore scars. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

"Do you honestly think I have that kind of time?" D looked at Scriabin over the top of his glasses. "What do you think it is we do up here? Some other operative within our system probably had his own agenda. Possibly someone who might have a personal vendetta against you for some reason. Sound familiar?"

Scriabin didn't say anything, his knuckles white, and his silence, the focus in his hateful stare was unnerving. His own agenda... with how shoddily the systems seemed to be run, it did make sense that they wouldn't keep track of every thing involved in them, and from what happened with Johnny, they didn't seem that concerned with how well locks were doing either. Who would notice what a single monster was doing to a single lock? And if D didn't send it...

He looked back into his memories and it was easier now that he could think, that things made sense and stayed in place. He could remember, he could remember what happened, the first breach.

"A while ago, you said... something attacked me, didn't you? When I got so angry that one time? It tore you up..." Edgar said, somewhat to himself as he sorted through what had happened, added what he knew now.

Scriabin didn't turn to look at him.

"And I found you in that dream and helped you. You said you fought it off. That they wouldn't like what you did." And Scriabin had certainly looked hurt then, like something had attacked him. He looked at Scriabin more carefully, tracing his arms with his eyes. Those scars, the wounds he'd bandaged, they ran upwards across his skin just like they had that night, and under his shirt, his shoulder was out of view, but no doubt...

"And... then I had that nightmare..." Edgar's hands rose unconsciously to take hold of his arms as the memories of it came back to him. "That thing, it must have been that thing that came back for me when you weren't there..." And still, Scriabin had never told him what it was he was doing. What was so important that he had to leave, what grand scheme of his that necessitated leaving him defenseless. He felt lightheaded, and he buried one hand in his hair. "So that was it, it wanted revenge... that's why it kept coming after us..."

Scriabin didn't say anything for a few seconds, the silence palpable and telling, and then he gritted out between clenched teeth, "This isn't my fault."

"It sure sounds like it is." For the first time, K smiled. It wasn't pleasant looking. "I do commend you on protecting your territory though. They shouldn't have even been there. It belonged to us."

Describing Edgar as his territory... something about it made his stomach knot up. He was reminded, again, of Scriabin's tone when he'd woken up in the car in front of the church that first time after he'd possessed him. How he'd told him he was just as confused as Edgar was, how he didn't know what happened. He'd said it all so sincerely, so convincingly, and it was all to keep Edgar from suspecting how powerful he'd grown, from building defenses, from doing something about it. He lied to him so he could do it again, he'd said that, and what was this?

"Scriabin, how much of this did you know?" Edgar shook his arm, urgently, and Scriabin gave him an irritated look. He didn't know what he was thinking, and Edgar wasn't used to that, and it didn't seem right. "How much of this did you know and never tell me?"

"You wouldn't believe me even if I told you," he said, spitefully. Of course. How else would he react? What else did Scriabin ever do when caught in a lie? This whole time... this whole time, he'd never told him, he'd lied to him again, he'd lied to him again.

He kept his grip on his arm tight. "Try me."

What else was there for Scriabin to even lie about now? What did Edgar have left?

"His data was corrupted almost from the start, it seems," K interjected, her voice clinical and uninvolved. She flipped through the papers on her clipboard. "It looks like someone tampered with his programming at a very early stage, although this doesn't mention who it was. His feedback routines were damaged. I suspect that's why he's flawed now."

Programming, feedback routines-

"I'm not flawed-"

"How much did you know?" Edgar squeezed his arm, his voice strained and Scriabin struggled to pull away from him.

"What does it matter now, Edgar?" Dismissive and angry, his basest defense of redirection to avoid the question. "We're dead, aren't we?"

"He didn't know anything, really," K said, and Scriabin turned towards her with a hiss. They'd never argued with another participant involved, and Scriabin did not like having attention taken from him, answers taken from him. Control taken from him. "Well, not as much as he'd like you to believe. None of them do. Most of our work 'phones home' without their knowledge. It just seems that his feedback routine didn't work as well as our others, although he was no more aware of it than they were."

He couldn't recall the last time he'd gotten a straight answer about anything involving Scriabin. No mirrors, no tricks, no lies, no metaphors. She just stated information on him straight out, and he could feel Scriabin's fury radiating off of him, that she would take something like that away from him. The countless secrets he taunted Edgar with.

In a way, what she said came as a relief... a growing knot of anger and hurt fading. Scriabin hadn't known anything either...

But that still didn't explain what it was Scriabin was supposed to do. Maybe he didn't know he was damaged, maybe he didn't know how he was born, but what was he supposed to do?

He loosened his grip on Scriabin's arm, and he could see dark marks where his fingers had pressed into his skin. He tried to soften his voice, a wordless apology. "Did you know what system you belonged to?"

It was directed at him, but he knew if Scriabin wouldn't answer...

"Fuck you."

"No, he didn't. Not exactly."

"And fuck you too! Fuck both of you, this is all your fault! We wouldn't even be here if you couldn't leave us the hell alone-"

"It's because of us that you exist in the first place, you ungrateful son of a bitch. We put you there. If it weren't for us, you wouldn't even be alive, if you can even call it that." K again pointed her pen at him, her voice ice cold. "And believe me, reversing our process is easier than with theirs." A wave at D. "My patience with you is already growing short."

Reversing the process, and that reminded him all too sharply that the two of them were separate beings now, unconnected by their usual emotional threads. How hard would it be, now that he was here outside of him, to just simply erase him entirely?

"Scriabin, stop, okay?" Edgar tried to ease him a few steps away. Scriabin was still furious, and when Edgar entered his vision he easily transferred his hatred to him, but he was used to it. "It's not going to help us now. It's already over."

"Shoddy work," D said, dismissively, and K sighed in irritation.

"I'll have to make a note to check the source code later when I have the time." She made a few more notes on her clipboard. "I still think this is your system's fault. Ours isn't designed to be a filter."

"If you'd just moved him to a different person-"

"Do you know how much paperwork that takes? We had him first."

"How did you find me in the first place?"

They both turned to look at him. Scriabin now stood behind him with his arms crossed, glaring daggers at both D and K, so Edgar decided he might as well try and get back into the conversation while he had the chance. "You said that you already, uh... found me before I died that one time." He hoped he was following this right. "How did you find me?"

"Generally, we're in contact with one another." D gestured in K's direction. "Information is useful since a lot of us are very specialized."

How many systems are there?

"I'm sure you remember the person who killed you the first time, don't you?" K said, now more bored than annoyed, then she paused and looked back at her notes. "No wait, he didn't kill you that time, that's right. He should have, but he didn't. Well, you died eventually either way, so it doesn't matter."

"You mean Nny."

"Yes, that's him," D said. "We found out about you when you came into contact with him. Same with the woman, what was her name..."

"Devi something." K flipped through the sheets on her clipboard.

"That's right. She was a bit more resilient than we'd thought."

It made sense... both he and Devi had their voices start after they meet up with Nny, after all. This revelation didn't come as much of a shock to him.

"So... you're not responsible for Sickness?" Edgar pointed at K. There was no harm in asking, and if things did reset and he had a chance to go back, maybe he could tell her what he knew.

K gave him a deeply unamused stare.

So much for that.

"Let me see if I've got this straight..." After an awkward pause. Restating what he knew would help him get his thoughts in order, and give them a chance to point out where he was wrong or add something. Nothing wrong with that.

And he waited, he waited for that voice in his mind, that presence, to appear and say something to him about what he was doing, about being logical and detaching or something, he wasn't good at it from Scriabin's point of view, but he waited for it. Expected it, and there was nothing. Only Scriabin standing behind him, huffing indignantly every now and then in his own body, so far away from him now.

"I met up with Nny, and then you found out about me," pointing at K, "and decided to, uh... put Scriabin in me."

"If you want to grossly oversimplify things in a somewhat misleading way." K curled her lip.

"Then later on I died, and Scriabin didn't come with me 'cause... he can't with how it works with you?" Looking at K, although her withering stare made it difficult to hold her gaze for very long. "And then you saw me," looking at D now, "and decided I should be a lock. Is that right?"

"You would have made a perfect waste lock." D put his hands in his pockets. "You nearly did, if some people hadn't made the business unnecessarily difficult."

"Then... since then, you've been fighting over me?" This explained a lot of what had been happening to him over the past couple months.

"In a manner of speaking. He was probably instinctually doing a lot of it without even knowing why." She pointed at Scriabin, who glared back at her. "A lot of it was on the minor scale for a time. It was only when things began to get serious that we started to get more involved." K clicked her pen, bored. "When they began encroaching on our territory, we had to do something."

That sounded ominous. "What did you do?"

"When you work in this field, it's foolish to not have some precautions against attack." Casually. "Simple self-defense protocols that he probably didn't even know he was running-"

He didn't have time to feel indignant on Scriabin's behalf. He felt his fingers tight against his collarbones, shouting across his shoulder at them and Edgar winced at the volume of it. "I'm not a robot!"

D continued speaking to K like nothing had interrupted them. Like Scriabin wasn't there, and Edgar knew that wasn't helping. "When he died, your claim to him ended. You shouldn't have been defending territory that wasn't yours."

His grip tightened, painful, and Scriabin shouted, louder this time. "Everything I did was my decision!" His voice cracked and he was getting out of control, he was going to make them angry and they would do something terrible to him, erase him or delete him or something, and Edgar wasn't going to let that happen. It was up to him to be responsible, to be calm, to be thoughtful, to be rational and he broke his grip on his shoulders so he could turn to face him. He held up his hands to try and quiet him, and even with his eyes hidden, it was easy to see the rage on Scriabin's face. He'd insisted so adamantly that he could fix things, that he could save them, that he knew what to do. Everything was under his control, his master plan, his elaborate webs of lies to build his power over Edgar.

To hear this, to hear that it was all the result of programming, subconscious routines, to hear that he had been under someone else's control the entire time and he'd never even known...

That monitor he'd seen in the dream beside his skeletal form...

"Everything I did I did for me!" Scriabin pressed a hand to his chest, and he could see his face darkening. "Not for you, not for anyone else! I was the one who figured out what was going on, I was the one who protected him, I never needed you or anyone, if it weren't for me, he'd be dead right now-"

"Scriabin, be quiet." Edgar tried to keep his voice calm in contrast. He was going to make them angry, he was going to make them angry and the two of them were already in a dangerous enough position as it was. He couldn't let him do that to himself, not now. Someone had to think ahead. "It's okay, alright? Just stop shouting, we don't want to make this worse-"

"It was my decision! I decided to come this far! I was in control! I had everything figured out from the start! This is exactly what I wanted to happen!"

He'd heard that from him so many times, but back then, he'd always sounded a lot more confident.

"Scriabin, calm down! Jesus." Edgar shook him a little, trying to redirect his attention. "This isn't the time, okay? Later. Just stop."

"And this is what you were trying so hard to save?" D said to K, with the same dismissive tone as before.

"He was trying to save himself." Like a minor correction. "Self-preservation is the first building block in the process. It's very strongly encoded."

"If it weren't-" Scriabin started again, and Edgar shook him enough so he refocused. His voice dropped with the intent of only Edgar hearing him, and he grabbed Edgar's arms, meaningfully, as if he could lock Edgar's attention on him alone. "If it wasn't for me, if it wasn't for me, Edgar, you have no idea what would have happened to you, if I hadn't- all of this relied on my hard work and effort, on my planning-"

"Fine, okay, it did, alright? I know it did, and it was all up to you, all of it, fine. Just calm down already." He spoke quickly, urgently. Emotional highs like this were uncomfortable and dangerous and the pleading beneath his words, that craving for validation from him, all of that was too familiar. He thought of their joint delusions, the life they'd built together, and this wasn't the time. They couldn't do this right now. It was going to get them worse than killed.

Scriabin turned away from him, angry and frustrated, and when his hair whipped him in the face, he caught a glimpse of red tangled somewhere within.

They were definitely getting too close, even when they couldn't hear each other. What did that mean?

He set the metaphysical questions aside for another time when he and Scriabin could work it out. "So what happens now?" Edgar looked back to D and K, who had been talking quietly to one another. They didn't look pleased at the interruption.

"I told you before. They want a reset. They aren't happy at all with how this happened."

"I expect there will be talks further up eventually, but this is the first step for now."

So he hadn't just imagined it, hoped that that was what they'd said. The mention of later talks vaguely concerned him, but he could leave that for when they happened for now. What was important was that he wasn't going to stay dead after all.

But it wouldn't hurt to confirm a few things.

"So... that means that both the waste lock system and... your system will leave me alone, right?" God knows that Edgar had had enough dealings with the supernatural to last him four lifetimes. He wasn't sure if he could handle some other bizarre, inexplicable thing happening to him for no reason. Christ, what if he came back and he just got another new mental voice along with Scriabin? He shuddered at the thought. He didn't even know what the other systems even did.

"Essentially, yes." K clicked her pen. "They both want a clean slate. Everyone has gotten very tired of you up there, Mr. Vargas. The sooner we can get you out of our hair and properly alive then dead again without any red tape the better."

At least the feeling was mutual. Edgar breathed a sigh of relief at the thought. God, what would it be like to have a normal life again? It had been so long, he almost couldn't remember what it was like.

Although, on that note...

"So... what happens to him?" Edgar gestured back at Scriabin. His presence had become so commonplace, so accepted, that when he thought of his life there was always Scriabin. He assumed that he'd be coming back with him.

But they had conspicuously avoided talking to him, or mentioning what would happen to him. Their attention focused on Edgar alone, and he was starting to wonder if they'd just forgotten to consider Scriabin... or if they had another plan for him entirely.

From the look on Scriabin's face, apparently he had also assumed he'd be coming back with him. He did not look ready to consider any other possibility, and Edgar could feel him toying with the hem of his shirt again.

K tilted her head, one eyebrow raised. She seemed genuinely bemused by the question.

"Hmm. Thought we'd just scrap him, really. He is somewhat broken."

"It'd save you some work, certainly," D said from one side.

Scriabin shifted a little, moving just behind Edgar, his fingers twisting harder into his shirt. Edgar noticed this, but didn't give any outward sign that he did. He struggled to match the clinical tone D and K had had through so much of the conversation. "You mean, you're just going to... not put him back?"

"Like I said, we want nothing more to do with you." K pointed at him. "I wouldn't be surprised if they put in a specific rule that none of us are to touch you from this point on. You make a mess of everything."

The reality wasn't sinking in, and just as before, when the conversation started, when it all started, that familiar litany began in the back of his head. This can't be right, this can't be happening...

"So you can't put him back in me then?" It probably said something about his life up to this point that the sentence didn't even strike him as strange anymore.

"No," K said.

"You could always strip most the code and see if you can find the fragment again. Find a new host that isn't taken by someone else," D said with a distinctly passive aggressive tone to his voice.

They weren't going to put him back. They were going to... whatever it was they were going to do with him, but they weren't going to put him back. They were just going to leave him, dismantle him, they didn't care and it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair, he didn't have to die. He shouldn't have to die.

Having the both of them be dead was a different thing entirely from having only one. He could feel Scriabin close behind him, his grip tight on his shirt, the trembling in his arms, his quick breathing. He was frightened, frightened but trying to hide it. Maybe he knew what this meant, what this would exactly entail for him. Maybe it was worse than death, maybe he'd just be reborn in a different body, reincarnated, but he wouldn't be the same and...

And Scriabin was his, he belonged with him. He'd created him, he'd nurtured him, they'd grown together and it wasn't, this wasn't, this couldn't be how it ended. So suddenly and he'd never thought...

He had to do something, he had to say something. Convince them to save him, convince him he was worthwhile, that he was important to him. Something, he had to say something to stop this, to save him. Scriabin was a smug bastard who tortured him relentlessly for all of his mistakes but he was still his, he was still his... he was still a part of him. His life. His brother. In spite of everything he'd done, all the hurtful things he'd said, he was Edgar's responsibility... he'd given birth to him, one way or another, and he was his responsibility. He couldn't just let them take him away like this. He couldn't let them just have him without saying something.

And while he knew he couldn't let this happen, that he had to do something, that he must do something, he found the words were hard in coming. He struggled for the right phrasing, for knowledge of what would appeal to the two representatives in front of him. Pleading his- Scriabin's case would require eloquence, some kind of understanding of these forces out of his control, words carefully thought out...

"I don't... really want him to die, though."

And that was all he could come up with. He felt Scriabin press his head into the back of his neck, and he was still breathing quickly. That may have been enough for the two of them, but it wasn't going to be enough for D or K, he knew it.

"He won't die since he's never been alive," K said, as if she was talking about a piece of paper. "He's essentially still a parasite at this stage."

There were numerous things he wanted to say to that... that of course Scriabin was alive and could die, he was aware, wasn't he? And a parasite... maybe, but he'd done so much work to protect him...

And again, that nagging doubt resurfaced, that question he'd never had a real answer to. Something that had haunted him for so long. A parasite... but what exactly did Scriabin do? Apparently he had multiple stages... what were they for?

He felt Scriabin press up tighter to his back, close to hyper-ventilating, and he wasn't saying anything. The one time he really could have used his abilities, his skill with words, his deconstructions, and he was silent.

"This stage... what's the final stage?" He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer, he felt that deep apprehension again, but he had always wondered. He had always wondered what it was Scriabin was supposed to do, what it was underneath all the varying motivations and inconsistent behavior. What was he meant for? Why was he here?

"You're somewhat close to it, actually. It seems he's been speeding it along since he was under unwarranted and unjustified attack." K glanced over at D, who yawned. "It involves him taking over your body and mind permanently."

Edgar froze in shock, and Scriabin made a faint sound behind him.

"Take... take me over?" He said it but it didn't make the words seem any more real, the initial impact before the pain took over.

"Yes, that's how it works." Casually, and she rolled her pen between her fingers.

It was hard to force out the words through a constricting throat, through the heartbeat thudding in his ears. It was starting to sink in, the ramifications spreading like a water droplet across a hard surface.

"What about... me?" Edgar touched his chest. Scriabin still had yet to say anything.

K looked up from her clipboard, then rested a hand on her hip. She tilted her head, giving him a bored look. "Honestly Mr. Vargas, were you even using your life?"

Edgar opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

"No family, no friends, no connections, nothing. A perfect blank slate to make an actual person. A shame that the programming got corrupted so early. Instead of a replacement, you just split in half." K shook her head and sighed. "This has just been one long nightmare from start to finish."

And all that Edgar could think of was how, so early on, from the very beginning, Scriabin had always been telling him how lonely he was, how pointless his life was, how invisible he was, how worthless he was...

Not a real person, just... a place for a real person to grow.

"I... need to sit down." He felt dizzy and sick, and he fell to his knees. It hurt, but at this point he was beyond caring. It kept echoing in his head, kept echoing around and around, a place for a real person to grow, a place for a real person to grow, and someday, someday, this whole time, this whole time and... and Scriabin had never told him...

He could feel Scriabin following him downwards, kneeling behind him, letting go of his shirt to try and rest a hand on his shoulder. It was hesitant, fearful, and his voice was unsteady and weak.


Reaching out to him, reaching out to him after everything, after all this, how could he, all this time he'd used him, he'd gained his trust so he could grow, so he could develop, and now he was reaching out to him like they were friends, like they were still connected, anything more than a host and a parasite, and Edgar felt sick. His eyes watered, the back of his throat itched, Scriabin was touching, someday Scriabin was just going to be him, and he was reaching out to him, and some part of him, some part of him still wanted to believe it wasn't true, that Scriabin wouldn't do this to him, and how many times would that part of him have to get kicked in the gut before it stayed down?

"Just don't." He shoved Scriabin's hand away from him, trying to keep his stomach under control, and Scriabin didn't attempt to replace it. He stayed behind him, near enough so he could feel his presence, but not touching him.

If he could feel his emotions now... if they could hear each other now... would this go any differently?

Everything we went through... all of it, all of it so you...

"I thought that should have been obvious from the beginning," K said, as close as she came to sounding puzzled as well as annoyed. "You weren't even afraid to die. Everyone is afraid to die unless they have nothing to live for."

Edgar shuddered and pressed his hands to his head, trying to keep himself under control. A headache was developing, a bad one, and his stomach still wasn't doing him any favors. He didn't know what to say to that, and Scriabin wasn't with him anymore.

How could every betrayal of Scriabin's be worse than the last? He felt him stand up from behind him, still close enough to feel his presence. Edgar was done with the conversation... from this point on, it was up to Scriabin to keep going.

"So what happens to me then?"

"I could not care less, boy. Frankly you're an embarrassment. I can see where the errors twisted your reasoning, it's disgusting. Particularly that need for validation you have, that's way too high." Edgar heard scritching noises, like a pen against paper. That stupid part of him thought about what she said, that he was supposed to be replaced and instead he'd just split in half... "You aren't supposed to be codependent, you know."

Codependent... the word stuck in his head.

Scriabin persisted, in spite of the fear working itself into his voice. "What happens to me?"

"Edgar is going to get an entirely undeserved third chance at life, and with the company he keeps I expect it will be short and unpleasant. As for you, I have no idea."

"You should scrap him."

"Fuck you! This is all your fault anyway!"

Edgar took some deep breaths, and thinking back through his memories, struggling to separate the fiction from the truth, all he could think about were all the things that Scriabin had said to him from the very beginning, the first times he'd heard his voice, the first things he'd said, the first and oldest weaknesses and defense mechanisms he exploited and used to develop. That lingering doubt, that question of why he was so alone, why his life was so empty, why. And now it made sense, it made sense that Scriabin had focused on that aspect of his life, had drawn strength from it, had raised the question. That was his source, his destination, his destiny. To fill that void, to replace that emptiness, to give an empty life meaning. That was what he was meant to do, and that was where he'd started and where he'd eventually end, and he couldn't believe it. After all this time he'd never noticed and now it all added up. He'd thought at times that maybe Scriabin was just meant to drive him insane, some variant on the psychoses that plagued Johnny, an unintentional infection caused by coming into contact with Johnny, but he'd never thought that Scriabin was meant to replace him... God, his final few months, how many days had he actually spent awake? Was that why Scriabin could hear his thoughts and his words when he was in Edgar's mind, and yet when Scriabin took control, Edgar blacked out completely? Like there was nothing, a gap until he woke up again, and one day he was just intended to never wake up...

"Why don't you... don't you have any... something..." Scriabin searching for words, which was rare for him. He could hear the panicky tone in his voice, knew that he was terrified, that he knew what was going to happen to him, that this could really be the end. He'd always been so adamant about trying to keep him away from deadly situations. His fear of death... was that meant to protect him, to make him fight when Edgar tried to cast him out? To give him the fortitude to survive in his host's body until he was strong enough to take it over completely? Accomplish his objectives? Edgar's stomach hurt. "Can't you give me a body or something?"

"Give you a body?" K snorted. "Why the hell should we do that?"

Scriabin was desperate, and her lack of a straight-out refusal had encouraged him. He clung to the possibility like a drowning man. "If you can't put me back in him, then... put me somewhere else. Then we can..." He didn't finish his thought.

"It'd be far easier to just scrap you entirely, boy. You're more trouble intact than you are in pieces at this point. Getting rid of you wouldn't take much work at all."

He heard Scriabin swallow hard - he was struggling to be confident, his voice straining, but it was a shallow cover, and it was clear that what she was saying was affecting him. He hung onto the possibility, to the one idea he had left, the one way out of this he could think of.

"And how much work for a body?"

"Why the hell should I even give you one? What makes you think I even can?" She was unmoved by the fear in his voice, the pleading tone. The only reason he could think of that she was still talking was that she found something about the conversation curious in some way, but by her tone he didn't think Scriabin had much longer to convince her. The ultimate test of his abilities, and really, he'd only honed his skills on Edgar and Edgar alone...

"There's got to be something," Scriabin said, his voice lowering and quavering. He coughed and tried to smooth it out without success. "There's got to be some way to get out of this." That tone Edgar knew well, the one that wished that saying something could make it true.

"For you to get out of this, you mean," K said. "That's your self-preservation instinct talking. You just don't want to die."

Scriabin didn't say anything.

"You haven't even thought it through all the way, you just don't want to stop existing. Have you even thought about what having a body would entail? You've never even breathed. Even if I did give you a body, you'd probably have a heart attack and die during your first five minutes from overstimulation."

'If I did'... so she could...

"Are we done here?" D said, distinctly bored.

"Yes, I think so." Edgar heard her turn away. "We can just get rid of him when the reset happens."

His final test, and Scriabin had failed. He couldn't convince them to save his life, and now he was going to die, and there was nothing he could do or say to stop it. And for once, he could not blame Edgar for it.

There was a brief moment of silence, and he felt Scriabin's hands grip his shoulders like claws, digging in hard again as he leaned over him. His weight was unexpected, and he felt the tip of that quartz crystal he was wearing scrape the top of his head. He hadn't gotten the chance to ask him about that...

"FUCK YOU!" He felt it reverberate through his hands. Scriabin's voice was breaking, tearing in places. "I never asked for this to happen to me! You can't do this to me! After everything that's happened-"

"Have you ever heard the story of Job?" K said conversationally to her companion. "It's one of God's little stories about suffering."

"Ah yes, I think I have," D said. "That was the one where God didn't have to answer for why suffering happened, wasn't it?"

"That's right, because He's God. He's beyond mortal questions or their understanding," K said. "It's an interesting story."

Edgar could feel Scriabin trembling with rage, a few stuttering sounds as he tried to think of something to say in response and failed, and he felt something wet hit the top of his head. There was a brief moment of silence, then Scriabin took in a sharp, ragged breath, trying his hardest to hold it in quietly. His fingers dug in deeper in Edgar's skin, holding on to him for dear life.

Rage was an inept cover for fear. Scriabin didn't want to die.

As long as he'd known him, he didn't want to die. Now he knew why.

Meant to replace him, take over his life, protecting himself so he could fulfill his final purpose. Everything he'd done to serve that purpose, everything he'd said to him just a trick, a lie to convince him to give away his life. To let Scriabin take it away from him, and he'd believed him. He'd believed him for so long, the two of them, they'd...

They'd... formed a relationship together, they'd talked to one another, grown alongside each other. He grew more and more powerful, waiting for that final stage when he'd take him over for good and he'd simply be gone, and that was what he was working for... this whole time, that was what he'd wanted. Edgar couldn't believe he hadn't seen it until now, and he tried to think back and remember more, more evidence of Scriabin's deception, the lies he'd used to further his goals. He thought back and remembered, remembered Scriabin saying that if they had to share a life together, he at least wanted it to not be complete shit. He was lying, he was lying just to make him complacent so he could grow, but his mind stuck on the words. Sharing a life together.

Sharing a life together. He tried to remember other things that Scriabin had said, other hints that he had overlooked, other lies he'd foolishly believed, and instead, the image of a small boy, crumpled at the bottom of a ravine came to him, a perfect pool of blood spreading from his skull.

That wasn't what he was looking for but he couldn't shake it away. His mind focused on it, refused to let it go, and he couldn't blame Scriabin on his fixation now with how they'd been pulled apart. This was him, this was all him now, and he wanted to think of how Scriabin had tricked him, lied to him, hurt him, and instead he thought back to the story he'd made up about him that night of fervent delusions. He thought of that body in the ravine, and how it felt to skid down the side, to want more than anything for it not to be real and yet knowing somewhere, at the same time, that it was. That the illusion was precious, and that illusion involved both of them with their own place.

Beside one another as individuals, Scriabin augmenting his memories instead of replacing him. Each with their own place, self-defined, tailored to them, each of them with their own place they decided to have, they consciously decided was theirs, and they both made that decision. They both made that decision, and Scriabin didn't fight him. He stood beside him, stayed with him. Together. He didn't replace him, he didn't decide to replace him, he didn't decide to take his past as his own, one step at a time. The two of them had worked at it, had defined it, and they defined it as two people. Two separate people, equally legitimate. Equally real. It was a conscious decision on both their parts, and somehow that was all he could think of.

The hundreds of times Scriabin had lied to him, the abuse Scriabin had put him through, the fights they'd had, the painful struggle over their shared body, he thought of all of it and he thought of that connection in their shared dream, those moments where they shared a tenuous understanding and Scriabin was his own person with Edgar, Edgar thought he was his own person, and that was all that they needed.

His personal parasite, slowly devouring his mind, and his younger brother, who longed to share his life.

Running out the door, and if he'd gone to look for him, if he'd gone to look for him, if he'd done something, if he hadn't given up, then he would have survived. If he hadn't given up, he would have survived.

Equally real.

"What if I asked you?"

"Hmm?" K and D turned around to look at Edgar, who was still kneeling on the floor. He swallowed, trying to steel himself for what he knew was coming, and this probably wouldn't work and even if it did, he was probably going to regret it, but the words had come out of him and he couldn't stop now. If Scriabin had been with him, inside of him, as he normally was, he probably would never let him forget it, and at that thought he found himself talking again.

"What if I asked you to... give him a body of his own?" Edgar said, trying hard to keep back the tears that were rising to his eyes for no apparent reason.

"We're already giving you another chance at life, Mr. Vargas," K said, frowning. "Do you really think it's wise to ask for more?"

They were right, phrased that way it seemed ridiculous, dangerous, they didn't even need to let him live right now as it was, and here he was making irrational demands of them, all because he...

He couldn't...

Scriabin had yet to say anything, frozen behind him, his fingers still resting on his shoulder. Like he was afraid that moving might shatter whatever it was that was happening.

Edgar didn't know what to say to them, to convince them to help someone who had already caused them so much grief. How could he ask them something like this, to save something that was more trouble than it was worth for his benefit? How could he ask them for something like that? What could he say to convince them to do something they had absolutely no reason to do?

"It doesn't feel right to have someone die so I could live..." It was all he could think of, and Edgar said it quietly, his eyes closing. His breath hitched, and he felt like there was more he could say, should say, but nothing came. If Scriabin had been with him, inside of him, he would have-

"Picture perfect to the end, aren't you?" A familiar voice behind him, his eyes snapped open and he could see tendrils of black smoke curling up near the edges of his vision. He turned around, hoping he was wrong, and there was the tall, skeletal form of Satan, something that he'd hoped he'd never see again. All at once it brought back memories of the last time he'd seen him, what he'd experienced, what he was told, where he was apparently destined to go, and his stomach lurched. "And of course, we all know that's a blatant lie. Christians do make the best hypocrites. Did I miss everything?"

"I'm afraid so," D said. "He seems to have at least a loose grasp on what happened now."

"What a pity. I wanted to watch the realization strike home. It's a beautiful moment." Senor Diablo raised a thin hand to his chin. "Your kind tends to do it better than anyone else."

"Why are you here?" Edgar said weakly.

"I enjoy suffering, of course." Senor Diablo smiled at him, and Edgar felt Scriabin's fingers tighten around his shoulders. He was behind him again, keeping Edgar between him and this new apparent threat. "But no, They thought it might be best to have someone from our side of things present when things get reset. Make sure everything goes back into its proper place."

Its proper place...

"What about... what's going to happen to Scriabin?"

"Ah yes, you." Senor Diablo leaned over, slowly, snakelike, and came very close to Scriabin, whose hands were beginning to shake. "I'd say that you present a problem, but you don't. I think a solution has already been reached."

He should have expected an answer like that from Satan, and still it hit him hard.

"They're not... they can't just kill him like that," Edgar said, unable to think of anything more eloquent or powerful to say, and he could still feel Scriabin trembling behind him.

"They can do whatever They like, I'm afraid." Senor Diablo was smiling, fully aware of the emotional turmoil before him. "What you have to say has very little impact on anything that's about to happen."

And a thought occurred to Edgar, quick and absurd and it wasn't an argument, wasn't a defense, wasn't something he could say to them or have anyone understand, wasn't something that would change anything, but still it came to him, and he couldn't force it away.

But he's not theirs, he's mine.

"Besides, something needs to be alive to die," Senor Diablo said, still smiling. He leaned in closer towards Scriabin. "Tell me, do you think you have a soul?"

"What?" Scriabin said, quietly.

"A soul, dear boy." And Edgar shuddered. "Do you think you have a soul? Or perhaps you think that you both share one, as impossible as that is. Although my guess is that the thought hasn't occurred to you seriously until now, has it?"

Scriabin didn't say anything.

"You do strike me as an atheist." Senor Diablo straightened. "Ah, they're setting it in motion. You remember this from last time, don't you?" Looking at Edgar with his wide, empty eyes.

They were running out of time, and he'd run out of ideas.

"What's going to happen to him?" Edgar said, a bit choked despite his best efforts.

"He'll probably just disappear. It'd be amusing if you could watch him fall apart in front of you, but you'll most likely just wake up truly alone again. I wonder, have you really missed it as much as you might think?"

"Edgar-" Scriabin had been standing behind him, leaning over him, and now he knelt down. He finally let go of Edgar's shoulders to instead wrap his arms tightly around his neck, press himself against his back. It wasn't a hug, an embrace; Scriabin was trying to hold on to him. Like physical contact would make a difference, like a tight enough grip could reverse the inevitable.

Edgar had to say something, do something. There had to be something he could do. He couldn't just let this happen, there had to be something...

"Isn't there anything I can do? Anything I can say? Something, anything, I'll... there has to be something I can say that'll let him stay alive, isn't there?"

"Life isn't really my department, exactly." Still quietly amused with them both, giving them a heavy-lidded stare. "You may be asking the wrong person."

Edgar opened and closed his mouth for a second, about to ask who it was before the answer struck him, clear and immediate, and he shut his eyes. He didn't have time to doubt it, to question it, to think about it. He clasped his hands together as tightly as he could, and he could feel Scriabin trembling against his back, his grasp tight enough to make breathing difficult.

He didn't speak out loud. He did recognize this feeling, just as he'd been warned. A kind of blurring sensation, things moving too fast and not at all at the same time, and he focused as hard as he could because he didn't have much time left and he had to act quickly. There were thousands of reasons he shouldn't do this, thousands of reasons why it wouldn't be answered, thousands of reasons he'd regret this, but with only seconds left, he relied on what he believed in deep down. There was no time for doubt, for questioning, for second-guessing. Only for that constant that had been the bedrock of his life, something that he knew, even after everything that had happened, and the fact that as tested as it was, he still came back to it, perhaps proved its strength.

Please God, oh Holy Father, show him mercy, let him live. Scriabin's grip on his throat kept tightening, and he was choking. We don't deserve your mercy but please give it to us anyway, let him come with-

Edgar jerked awake, a bolt of pain like lightning running down his spine. His head throbbed and there was an unpleasant metallic taste in his mouth. He blinked and his vision was cloudy, he couldn't see anything. There was a loud honking sound, like someone was leaning on a car horn, and an acrid smell like something burning. Something was tight across his neck.

A car crash... that's how they said he'd died. Edgar lifted his arms, found them heavy and awkward, and pushed himself off of the steering wheel. His chest ached and his shirt felt wet. He touched it clumsily with his fingers and they came back red.

Steering column possibly punctured his chest originally... but it felt intact now. Although some of his ribs felt like they might be broken. Figured that the airbag hadn't gone off.

He could see his glasses on the crushed hood of his car, and vaguely he felt a twinge of irritation. He'd just gotten a new pair.

Still groggy and dizzy, Edgar clumsily fumbled with the seatbelt. It looked like Scriabin hadn't fastened the bottom part when he'd gotten in the car... he slid out from beneath the shoulder guard and managed to get the door open. He fell out onto the asphalt, retching for a few seconds in the aftermath of adrenaline and fear and pain.

He was alive.


No answer.

Not even static.



He was gone.

Edgar panted for a few seconds, trying to catch his breath and he spat out a mouthful of blood. He felt something over the back of his hands... he hadn't noticed until now that he was wearing his coat. The ground glistened with water and oil caught by the remaining streetlights... looking hazily upwards towards the cloudy sky, he saw what he was relatively sure was his apartment building without his glasses.

Scriabin had barely gotten out the door... or had he just looped around too many times?

"Scriabin?" Scratchy and faint. He never realized that Scriabin had made a distinct background "sound" while in his mind until he couldn't hear it anymore. Everything was quiet, silent, nothing. Empty.


He heard something thud against the car door behind him.

Had Scriabin had passengers during his ill-fated trip? Feeling numb and distant, like he was watching himself go through the motions, Edgar turned around and reached out to open the rear door. It took a try or two before his fingers hooked into the door handle.

Pulled it open, and there was a man in the backseat.

He wasn't breathing.

Author's Note: I haven't forgotten about this fic just yet. Thank you for your patience. Still a little ways to go.