His first thought was that he had to do something. Edgar didn't know exactly how long people could survive without breathing, but it seemed safe to assume that it wasn't very long. He had to do something. Echoing in the now empty spaces of his mind, waiting for a sarcastic comment that wouldn't be coming, the only thing he could think of was that he had to do something, and he had to do it now.

Details came to him in pieces, something in his mind refusing to let them come together. There were wires disconnected, something not quite right, a flashing warning somewhere but he didn't have the time to think about the hole inside him for more than a few seconds. This man's life was at stake, he had to do something.

This man was not wearing any clothes.

Edgar staggered to his feet, reached into the car and grabbed the man beneath his arms and hauled him out onto the pavement before it occurred to him that he shouldn't be moving people that could have just been traumatically injured. Something about the neck, he couldn't remember at the moment and anyway it was too late, it was done. The man lay on the ground, just as motionless and unresponsive as he'd been in the backseat, and still it was like a haze hovered over him, the reception of Edgar's brain somehow damaged because he could not see the whole picture. It didn't matter how tall he was (about Edgar's height, although perhaps an inch shorter) or how much he weighed (about Edgar's weight, with the same body type as well) or what he looked like. What mattered right now was that this man was not functioning, and if Edgar didn't do something, he was going to stay that way.

Edgar knelt beside the body, pressed a hand to the man's bare chest to listen for a heartbeat but his own was thudding too hard in his ears. It was easy enough to tell though that the man had yet to take a breath, and how long could someone last without air?

He snapped through scenarios like he was flipping through channels on a TV, trying to find a solution. If he wasn't breathing, then Edgar had to help him breathe. That would follow, wouldn't it? And to do that, you did CPR. That's how it worked on TV and books, anyway. He didn't have any other ideas, and he didn't have time to give it much more thought than that. Each second was precious.

How did people do CPR anyway? He struggled to remember, staring at a man whose many parts refused to coalesce into a solid whole. They pinched someone's nose and breathed into their mouth, didn't they? That made sense, it would get air into the man's lungs which was what he needed. That's what he had to do.

No hesitation. Not with so few seconds on the clock. Edgar pinched the man's nose, pulled his mouth open, and covered it with his own. The man's chest rose as he breathed into him, apparently completely empty beforehand, and Edgar leaned back. What did they do after this? They pushed the air out, didn't they? To simulate breathing? That seemed to make sense, so Edgar pressed the palms of his hands against the stranger's sternum, forcing the air back out as gently as possible. He didn't want to make things worse, after all.

The man's chest didn't rise again, but that was alright. They'd always done it multiple times in the shows he'd seen. He couldn't expect instant results. Edgar closed his mouth over his again, breathed into him, pushed it out, breathed into him again. Still no response, but he'd do this as long as it took. He wasn't giving up on this man.

He was sick of people dying because of him.

Another lungful of air into him, and another lungful out. Their mouths met again, and this time, he felt something. Edgar pulled back immediately and watched with wide eyes as the man's chest rose a fraction and fell.

Had he done it? Did it work?

His eyes were still closed, he still said nothing but Edgar could faintly hear air through the man's open mouth. He expected him to take a deep relieved breath now that his lungs were apparently functioning again, but the movements of his chest were too small and shallow... as if the exertion was too much.

He couldn't afford to let them slip away when they were so close to surviving. Edgar pressed the man's chest down, forced the air out again, and then this time, slower and with more deliberation, breathed into him. And this time, he definitely felt him move. Edgar leaned back, and he could feel the air leave the man's body and see his chest rise and fall. He was breathing. He was breathing, he'd done it!

"Are you alright?" Edgar said, even though he knew the man would be in no state to reply. So many connections in his mind didn't seem to be working right, no doubt the stress and adrenaline but something was missing.

Scriabin said nothing, and as he registered how odd that was, he remembered it was because Scriabin wasn't there anymore.

He'd wished for as long as he could remember for the day when Scriabin would finally just shut up, and now that it had happened, he didn't feel any of the relief or happiness or peaceful calm that he'd always expected. Instead there was a clumsy numbness, a discomforting silence; a massive, unexpected hole pulling all emotion inside in an effort to fill and explain.

How much space inside him had Scriabin taken up?

The man didn't respond to his question, although after a time he eventually groaned. Still unconscious but at least he was breathing, and when Edgar put his hand on his chest, he could feel his heart. Stable, hopefully, at least for now.

He leaned back, tried to think of what to do, and his thoughts echoed in a terrible and frightening void. He literally could not remember a time when he'd had his thoughts to himself, or when he'd ever been so uncomfortable with silence.

Where are you? Are you there? Scriabin, can you hear me?

The man was still naked, and given the cooling overcast twilight and dirty wet asphalt beneath him, he probably wasn't too happy about it. Echo echo echo in his head where Scriabin would have been, what he would have said, he could hear it almost but it wasn't the same. His thoughts reached out desperately for their counterpart and found nothing. No response, no rejoinder, nothing. Just him, only him.

Edgar shrugged his coat off, wincing at the ache that suddenly flared around his waist and back. After-effects of the crash no doubt, but it could have been far worse. He tossed the coat over the man's body like a blanket, and there, at least Edgar could give him his dignity.

Who was this man? Every now and then the thought would surface, but it was constantly being pushed down, drowned out by other concerns. That static determined to not let him listen, and how could he deny that there were more important things at hand?

What was he going to do with this guy?

"Mr. Edgar!"

He turned his head, although the pain in his neck made him regret it. Todd, of course, how could he forget? He must have heard what happened from the apartment, they were right outside after all... "Mr. Edgar, are you okay? I heard a huge crash, are you okay? You're covered in blood!"

How long had he been dead? How long had it all taken, in reality? It was like he was standing a step outside of himself - maybe that's why he felt so hollow. The buildings around him seemed hazy and indistinct; the doors Todd had come from blurry and unreal. "I'm okay, Todd." How was his voice so steady? "I think things will be okay now."

"What do you mean? Are you not really bleeding?" Todd came closer to him, a mixture of concern and confusion on his face. "Is it someone else's blood?" He looked at the broken car still wrapped tightly around the bent and sparking lamp post, the motionless man on the ground. "Who is that? He's not bleeding..."

"I don't know," Edgar said, and it echoed in the corners of his mind, waiting for the response he knew it deserved, yet it never came. Alone, alone, alone now. No more conversations, only him. "He was in the car when I... when Scriabin crashed." A moment. "It was Scriabin, wasn't it?"

Todd looked thoughtful for a few seconds, not taking his eyes off the lying figure. "The last one I talked to was Mr. Scri, yeah. He said he wanted to go for a drive, I think."

That matched with what he could remember about his most recent near-death experience.

"We should get him inside. It's cold out here," Edgar said, somehow, and he wasn't sure where the words were coming from. Something was wrong but no one would tell him what it was. "Can you help me carry him?"

"What about your car?" Todd looked back at the still smoking wreck.

"I'll deal with it when we get inside." Edgar stood up, wobbled and Todd steadied him. "If I get his shoulders, can you get his feet for me?"

Todd was eager to help and while he was only a small boy, he was certainly better than nothing. It wasn't like he didn't need the help; Edgar still felt unsteady on his feet, his breathing rasped in his chest somewhere and he ached in every muscle group he had. But he was still conscious and this man was not, and that was enough for him to push through it to make their zig-zagging way back to the apartment building, stranger in tow.

Why hadn't anyone else noticed the crash? Was that their last gift to him? Or was it a hold-out from when he'd been invisible? He was in absolutely no state of mind to answer metaphysical questions, most of them flitting across his thoughts and vanishing just as quickly without a reaction. The huge empty space within him more easily dominated his thoughts.

He called and called, but Scriabin didn't respond, gave no sign of his presence. Could he really be gone? Truly gone? Some part of him refused to believe it, kept trying even when it was pointless, but still, there was nothing. Just his own thoughts, no one else's.

They had to take a few breaks here and there to catch their breath, but the two of them eventually finally made it back to Edgar's apartment. With a joint huff of relief, they set the stranger down on the carpet by the front door a little less carefully than they'd originally intended, though hopefully he wouldn't mind. Edgar adjusted the coat so it covered the man more thoroughly again before he thought about what he was doing.

"Mr. Edgar, who is he?" Todd asked again, now clutching his bear tightly to his chest. There were something in his voice, something in the static in his thoughts, all of it pointing at something but it didn't want to come into focus, it refused to clarify, to sink in.

"I don't know. He was just there." Edgar sat back on his heels and for the first time in what felt like ages, took a few long breaths to try and calm himself down. Still detached and numb feeling, wasn't this shock? Scriabin had said something like that once, hadn't he? Scriabin, where are you? Are you there at all? If you can hear me, please, please say something...

"What happened?"

"I... I don't know." Edgar ran a hand through his hair, and the normality of that at least helped calm him down a little. "I guess Scriabin was driving and... something tried to attack him? And he ended up crashing... then I woke up in the car." Would Todd believe the story about his meeting with D and K? Did he even need to know?

With each thought a pause, expectant, waiting for his other half to take the opening and the silence was steadfast. If he wanted to question his thoughts and motives, he'd have to do it on his own from now on.

"I don't remember Mr. Scri saying he was going to pick someone up." Todd stared intently at the stranger, his eyes narrowing, and Edgar followed his gaze. Slowly things began to filter through his mind as his heart slowed - the man had a long, angular nose like his own, a square well-defined jawline, and his eyes were shut beneath dark brows. All his hair was gone, and when he looked back towards the door, Edgar could see a trail of hairs leading back the way they'd came. They were dark against his carpet.

Pieces, pieces, but no picture.

"Mr. Edgar... who is this?" Todd's voice was falling, and still he stared at the man with so much focus, his knuckles white in the bear's fur. "Edgar..."

Todd's voice was now a whisper, and it was almost like Edgar knew what he was going to say before it came out of him.

"Is... is he Mr. Scri?"

Edgar stared at the unconscious man, the words revolving in the empty part of his mind. The pieces...

"I don't know," Edgar said. Had he done it? Had his last desperate prayer to God, had it worked? After everything that had happened to him, everything he'd done, had God answered his prayer? ...Or was he just grasping at straws? "We won't know until he wakes up, I guess."

Todd frowned, eyebrows drawn, and he took a step towards the man, still holding his bear close to him. "Mr. Scriabin?" he said, in a shaky whisper. Edgar looked between the two of them, waiting for himself to change the channel and return to reality.

The man's chest moved up and down, and still he breathed.

Todd knelt down beside him, touched his shoulder with one small hand. "Mr. Scriabin, is that you?"

"We don't know it's him," Edgar said, syllables staccato. "It could be anyone." He felt his eyes narrow. "How could he get out of my head anyway?"

Yes, how could you?

But nothing.

Finally, the man stirred. First a finger tip, then a tiny nudge of his forearm, a grimace of effort slowly forming on his face. Back to the living, and an answer to all of this was so tantalizingly close. Edgar leaned over him, concern now faded into something else entirely. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" Why did he sound so accusatory?

The man groaned, opened his mouth as if for the first time, a glimpse of a tongue clumsily forming shapes. His forearm twitched again, like he was trying to lift it.

"Eh..." He swallowed, taking another breath, thought in every movement and action. "Ed..."

"Who are you?" Edgar said, quietly.

"Edgar..." With a release of breath like the two syllables had taken everything out of him, and he turned his head towards the sound of Edgar's voice.

Time slowed down, almost came to a stop as the man carefully, slowly opened his eyes. His pupils were unfocused. His eyes were hazel.

Like his own.

Forever they stayed like that when their eyes found each other, staring, he could feel his heartbeat beneath his fingertips.

"Scriabin...?" Edgar breathed.

He blinked slowly, and his eyes didn't change.

"Oh my gosh." Todd covered his mouth with one hand. "Mr. Scriabin, is that you? How did you get out of Mr. Edgar?" He clutched Shmee closer to him. "Can you all do that?"

The man was breathing a little faster now, spent from the effort of speaking one word, keeping his eyes open and focused, and Edgar couldn't look away. His eyes, he blinked but slowly and each time when they opened again, they hadn't changed. They were the same each time and for some reason, for some reason that seemed so important.

"Are you Scriabin?" Edgar said, a tinge of urgency in his voice, tension threading through his hands and he wasn't sure why. "Who are you?" A moment, and then he tried to remember what had happened, why this man was even in this state in the first place. "Can you speak at all? Are you hurt?"

"He doesn't look like he's hurt." Todd looked over the man's body at Edgar. "Maybe he's not used to being outside yet." And he looked down at his bear for a few seconds before speaking again. "Shmee says that's pretty likely, that he's not used to all this and he's trying to figure it all out."

"If he is Scriabin." Hope easily, automatically tempered with skepticism; he'd learned that lesson too well to forget it even now. He'd been hurt too many times by his lies... he was not going to get hurt by this one. Not yet. "We don't know for sure."

"Who else could he be?"

"I don't know... but how could it be him? How did he... get out?" Edgar looked to the man for answers, and the man kept staring back at him. Something about his face, his expression, his eyes, something about him kept that tension ratcheted high, and Edgar tightened his grip on his shoulder. "Tell me who you are."

The man looked at him a little longer, breathing through his mouth, then turned his head away, closing his eyes. It was a weak, sloppy movement, but the intention of it was clear. Don't tell me what to do.

Out of all the evidence he had so far, that pointed the most strongly at the man's identity.

"Do you think he's thirsty?" Todd said. "Maybe I can get him some water."

"Maybe," Edgar said without paying attention, and he fought back the urge to just shake the man until he said his name. He knew he had to know, he was doing this on purpose, he was sure of it. Todd left for the kitchen, and Edgar was left with the stranger.

If you are who I think you are... then maybe I'm going about this the wrong way.

Still, silence within him. No confident posturing, no disregard for his threat. That hole yawned ever wider the more he looked into it. How big could it get?

"If you are Scriabin..." Edgar said, his voice low, "then you owe me a thank you."

The man stiffened under his hand and his eyes snapped open. He turned to face him again, his eyebrows drawing downwards, and it was like a child's first attempt at indignance, which made sense, considering.

He made a garbled series of sounds at first, took a few deep breaths, tried again and this time managed to get something out. "Go t'Hell."

That was it, the final piece in place. The static rising, clearing, and for a moment again he hesitated, wasn't sure if he could believe it, if he wouldn't just get burned again, if this wasn't Scriabin's final cruel joke from beyond this mortal plane. But his reservations weren't strong enough, they couldn't stop his smile or the heady wash of relief.

"You are Scriabin, aren't you." Edgar felt like laughing somehow, strangely light and still so oddly distant. "You made it after all. You made it!" And he couldn't help himself, he may never have this chance again. "You owe me your life, you know that?"

The man shut his eyes and groaned, pained and unhappy, still struggling to get his tongue moving. Edgar's words, in comparison, couldn't seem to come out fast enough.

"It's true, you know it's true. I saved your life. I saved your life! Or no, even better. You're going to love this." He couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled like this. It almost hurt. "I prayed to God, and He saved your life."

"Bullshit." Finally managed to get something out, radiating frustration at his body's inability to cooperate.

Edgar couldn't stop smiling, and he couldn't slow down. "You owe Him your life now, can you imagine? After everything you said to me about Him? All the lies you told me about Him? He saved you- we saved you. I saved your life. I saved you." An excited breath, almost giddy and more than anything at that moment, he wished he could know how Scriabin felt, what must have been going through his mind right now. Edgar did it for once, Edgar said he would save someone and he did it."No, I saved your life twice, I actually helped you start breathing at first. You owe me, Scriabin."

"No." A long groan and a wincing grimace, and the man clumsily lifted his arms to set his hands over his eyes. "I refuse."

"You must be Scriabin." Edgar leaned back to give him some space, still smiling. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like to feel good, genuinely good, after all this time. "I don't know anyone else that'd react like that."

Something nudged Edgar's shoulder, and after a start, he turned and saw it was just Todd, who had a somewhat disconcerted look on his face. How much of that had he heard?

"I..." the man said, in-between breaths. "I'm alive."

"You are alive." Edgar took the glass from Todd's hand, and the boy knelt down beside him. "I don't know how you get in so much trouble and still get out of it every time."

"Mr. Scriabin?" Todd ventured, and the man moved his hands for a second to look at him.

"Oh... hey, kid," he said, vaguely puzzled.

"Are you okay?"

A moment, and he replaced his hands. Hiding his eyes from them, of course. With each pause came a deep breath. "I always thought... this'd be more dignified."

"I'd imagine. No doubt you had a flashy entrance in mind, one that'd fit right in with that movie of yours. Didn't think I'd be saving you, huh?" Edgar couldn't help a smirk, and Scriabin, it had to be him, it must have been him, it all came together, he groaned again. "Life is very cruel."

"Kick a man when he's down, why don't you..."

"No idea who I would've learned that from."

"Fuck off."

"Hey, not in front of Todd." He couldn't see his eyes but he was sure Scriabin was rolling them. "Do you think you can sit up? You should probably drink something..."

"I don't need your help." Still breathless, the act of speaking taking a great deal of attention and focus, and with a huff of effort, he managed to roll to one side, away from them. "I can take care of myself..."

"Of course you can." Edgar rolled his eyes.

"Don't need you..." His words were faltering - maybe moving as much as he had hadn't been a good idea. Edgar set the glass down and reached out, threading a hand through the gap between Scriabin's neck and the floor to pull him up.

"Come on. You're not lying here all day."

Scriabin didn't want to be moved or touched, but his command over his new body was feeble at best. It was surprisingly easy to pull him into a sitting position, although his head fell forward when he was up. His neck wasn't used to supporting the weight just yet - not entirely a surprise. After a bit of maneuvering, Edgar managed to get Scriabin's head to rest against his shoulder, so at least that'd take some stress off his new muscles. At no point during the process was Scriabin pleased with any of it, and he made that clear enough through the various sounds he made.

"How did you get out, Mr. Scriabin?" Todd asked.

"Yes, how did you?" After everything he'd done to him, he couldn't help but needle him now. A little bit of payback for the constant torment that he'd put him through. Scriabin grunted in irritation.

"I don't know," he said. "It's complicated. Who knows... why they do anything..."

"Why who does anything?"

"Everyone down there... the system people, whatever." Exhausted with each word. A moment, and his mouth twitched into a small smile. "Guess I was... too great to let go. Had to move me... somewhere else."

"Wow." Todd sounded genuinely impressed. "I didn't know anyone could do something like that."

He could feel Scriabin preening under Todd's attention. "I'm just special, I suppose."

Like you had anything to do with it. It was thanks to me you got out.

Yet, even though he had him with him right here in his arms, even though he knew exactly where he was, that he'd survived, that he was free, still, the hole within him refused to close. Sure, Scriabin had made it out of him alive, he'd survived against all odds somehow, but again Edgar wondered, how much had he taken with him when he left?

Scriabin may have still been alive, but he wasn't a part of him anymore... and he never would be, again. He'd never hear Scriabin's voice in his mind again.

And by all rights, that thought should have made him happy, should have had him jumping for joy at finally being free from him, but instead... he kept calling out for him, he kept expecting to hear his voice and with each round of silence, the loss became that much more acute.

And his new voice, in his new body... it didn't sound the same.

Todd looked to him, and his eyes widened. "Wait, Mr. Edgar, the monster can't come out of you too, can it?"

"No, no." What an awful thought, and he could feel Scriabin tense against him. "Definitely not. I don't think we have to worry about that monster any more. It's all done now."

"What's all done?"

"I was... I guess I was falling, sort of." How to explain this? He couldn't remember how much he'd told Todd before, his memories of that period were so blurry. Had Scriabin taken some of those with him as well? They were so intertwined... when they were pulled apart, where had they decided to make the incisions? At that points, along what junctures had they decided that this would be Edgar's and this would be Scriabin's? "But I landed and it's over now. Things'll be okay."

Todd looked confused by his explanation, and he didn't really blame him. It wasn't very good.

"I can tell you more about it later, when I'm... when we're both a bit more awake."

"What about Mr. Scri?"

"Don't call me that..."

"Well..." Edgar looked down at him, and he sighed. "He's got a lot to learn."

He caught the sound of a siren far away - looked like the remnants of his invisibility had finally run their course. He had a million questions to ask Scriabin, so many repercussions of this turn of events to deal with, but he forced his thoughts away, forced himself to switch gears for just a while. "Do you think you can sit up on your own?"

Scriabin made an affirmative noise and Edgar reminded himself that of course he'd do that, he'd never admit weakness about anything no matter what the circumstance. All his weight still rested against his body; he never could trust him.

"Alright, I have to go take care of what you did to my car." He meant it to be teasing but an honest touch of irritation made it into it. This wasn't going to be fun. Scriabin grumbled but didn't say anything easily discernable. "Todd, do you think you can keep an eye on him for me? It shouldn't take too long, hopefully."

"Okay." Todd nodded, then pointed at his chest. "Are you gonna take care of all the blood first?"

"What?" Edgar blinked and looked down. Dark red stained his shirt around Scriabin's bare shoulder. Right, the after-effects of the crash, when his body had been restored. The blood still remained even though the body healed? How did resets even work, anyway?

Well, it didn't matter. It was over and done with and he was here, that's what was important. No time to think about that. He pushed Scriabin off of him a little, felt him waver underneath his hands, and gestured Todd over closer with his head.

"Right, that. Here, try to keep him from falling over, alright?" Todd slipped into his place, although he was too small to support Scriabin's weight that easily. Just as Edgar thought, his comments had pricked Scriabin's pride, and he was struggling actively now to keep himself upright on his own power. Good, that should make things a little easier for Todd, at least.

His audience was gone... everything he did in his head echoed on an abandoned stage. Once he was sure Todd and Scriabin were stable, he stood up and went to his room to get changed. Had to focus on the present, had to focus on what had to be done, had to take care of things, once everything was finished then he could take the time to actually think about everything, then he could...

His thoughts dwindled and fell, empty lines cast into barren waters. He waited, even when he told himself he shouldn't, when he reminded himself, reprimanded himself, that there was nothing there anymore. He was gone, Scriabin was gone. Well, he wasn't gone, he was here, but he wasn't... here, anymore.

How could Scriabin have survived and died at the same time? He'd hated him for so long, he'd wished for this, he'd wished for this silence, this normality, and now it highlighted all of the emptiness. He'd adapted too well, how could he feel like this? Frustration at his emotions did nothing to change them, and he'd never been good at sorting or understanding them. He walked back into the living room in fresh clothes, walked past Scriabin sitting on the floor, alive and breathing on his own, and he missed him, he missed him more than he ever thought himself capable of, and he was right there.

Stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it. Do what you have to do.

Edgar went downstairs, back outside and he found a crowd of people standing around the crash, silent and staring, and something about it sent a chill through him, reminded him of something from long ago. He couldn't quite place it, his thoughts still scattered and light, but it made him feel uneasy.

He went back to the car and looked it over as the emergency vehicles came down the street. It didn't look like Scriabin had anything inside it, aside from the normal debris that had always been in his car. He'd just felt motivated to drive somewhere, and that somewhere was apparently the lamp post. Had that been his own thought, or had the monsters that plagued the lock system convinced him to do it?

Did it matter now? It was all over, he was free, he was free but the thought refused to settle. He saw his glasses resting on the hood of the car... he reached over and picked them up, and found that they were shockingly intact. For once, had his glasses survived? He put them on with a sigh of relief. Well, one less thing to worry about at least. He'd take what he could get at this point.

The police and fire department were there for the injured, and when they saw that Edgar was fine, they were a bit puzzled, particularly considering the extent of the wreck and the blood spattered across the steering wheel and ground. After that, the main concern came from the damages to the lamp post, which likely meant that there'd be another power outage again. He was starting to get used to them at this point.

Questions, questions. He answered them as best he could. The car was his, of course. He must have blacked out while driving. No, he wasn't drunk, and they could test him if they wanted to, which they did. He was clean, just as he thought, and they seemed all the more confused, but in the end, there wasn't much they could do. Tow trucks were called to cart away the wreckage, they got the information they needed for their report, and they told Edgar to call his insurance company to deal with the rest of it, which he agreed to readily enough. Off they went, and the crowd dispersed, and he stared at the dented lamp post for a few minutes, his mind curiously blank, before he reminded himself that he wasn't done yet.

Back upstairs, and Todd and Scriabin were sitting just where he left them. Todd had one hand on Scriabin's back, but it seemed that he'd gotten enough control to sit upright on his own now. That was something, Edgar thought without any emotion, as he walked past them to the phone.

"Is everything okay, Mr. Edgar?" Todd said, and Edgar didn't look back at the two of them.

"It's alright, I took care of it. I'm just going to call some people about the car."

"Okay..." Although he didn't sound exactly soothed. He heard a voice whispering, was it Scriabin's? Something about it still didn't sound right, still rang a warning in his head that this was a stranger, there was a stranger in his house, what was he doing?

Put it out of mind. The car.

The conversation took longer than he would have liked, but in the end, he couldn't complain about the results. His insurance would cover most of the cost of a new car, and they'd give him a rental car until he found a replacement, not that they seemed particularly happy about doing either of those things. In the meantime at least he wouldn't be car-less, and he glanced at the calendar on the wall as he hung up. He'd written something down on it, though he couldn't remember at all doing so. Leave of absence... had he taken a leave of absence from something? That's right, it filtered through his thoughts now... he'd asked to take a leave of absence from work for a while when things were really falling apart. It looked like it'd be up in a few days.

So... that was that. His car taken care of, his job taken care of. It was strange how ready he was to leave his life behind, he'd cut all connections to prepare for death and it didn't take very long at all to pick up where he'd left off.

Honestly, Mr. Vargas, were you even using your life?

He looked back at Todd and Scriabin on the floor. They were talking to each other quietly - he could see how frequently Scriabin was pausing to breathe, still getting used to using his lungs.

No, nothing was ever that easy. He still had a bigger problem to take care of.

"Alright, that's done for now." Edgar came back over to them, sat beside Scriabin who gave him a wary look. He'd always been annoyed before by Scriabin hiding his eyes, but now that they were completely visible and unchangeable, it just made him feel... uncomfortable. Like he was intruding, doing something wrong. "You're lucky my insurance will cover the damage, so at least we won't be out of a car for too long."

"That's good!" Todd said, smiling. "Are you sure you're not hurt? You had so much blood on you..."

"Oh... no, I'm fine." Edgar touched a hand to his chest. "I don't..." How to explain this? "I don't know how, but I'm alright. I'll just have to wash my clothes later."

Todd tilted his head, and Edgar looked at Scriabin... or the man that was supposed to be him, anyway. He could see the whole picture, he could see him but still... something was wrong. They looked similar, as one might expect, as he would have guessed they would, but not the way they used to. Not as closely as they once had. Scriabin had always made himself attractive whenever he'd seen him in his mental visualizations, but here in the real world, he was simply... average. And in that way, perhaps, he and Edgar were more closely matched to each other than they once had been. Both average, perhaps odd-looking men, even, but it didn't seem to fit him at all. He was so used to his vain posturing, and this... it didn't look like how he'd want to look.

They had the same nose, the same face shape, the same jaw, the same features, but not as mirror images anymore, they didn't quite match. They weren't twins, but... when he looked at him, he saw himself in a fuzzy way. Like... they were related. Brothers. That would have made sense, but it didn't look right. They had the same color eyes, and that didn't look right, and he didn't have any hair, and that didn't look right. Scriabin always had long hair, he always had his glasses, he always looked so calm and composed and in control and right now, he looked confused and awkward and clumsy and not at all like him, some part of him kept saying this isn't him, it can't be him in Edgar's head and he couldn't make it stop.

And his voice, Scriabin's voice didn't sound the same either, he knew it so intimately that he could never mistake it for anything else and the voice this man used, the voice this man had, it wasn't it. It wasn't right. None of the words came out right, the inflection was wrong, the tone was wrong, the pitch was wrong, it was all wrong.

Was this really him? Was all this wrongness just the result of a new body? Was this really just a stranger somehow, or was it really him? Was this what he'd have to get used to now, was this what he'd have to accept? It wasn't him but it was him, how was he supposed to resolve this?

"First..." Edgar struggled out from under his doubt and conflicting feelings to speak, and Scriabin blinked at him. "We should get you some clothes."

It took him a few seconds to decide how to react, then Scriabin huffed and tried to roll his eyes, looking away. He couldn't quite get the motion right - as clumsy as a newborn, but with an unnatural alien quality to it, an adult human body not quite working as it should. Edgar stood up and walked away, and it was easier to think when he wasn't near him, when he couldn't see him.

Endless echoing in his head, staring out at an empty audience. He felt slightly guilty for it, then afraid for feeling guilty, and yet nothing happened. Nothing happened in his head, no one yelled at him for it, no punishment forthcoming. He was free to feel whatever he wanted now, but still his thoughts came hesitantly, habits burned too deep to easily break. Scriabin...?

Of course he wouldn't respond, he wasn't in him anymore. He was no longer connected to him, they weren't connected anymore. That umbilical cord between them was cut, and Scriabin was born now, and he couldn't hear him, they'd never hear each other again. No more feelings, no more internal conversations, no more shared dreams, nothing. Only the man sitting in the living room, all wrong, all wrong.

He should be happy about this, he should be happy to be free, he should be happy. He should be beside himself that Scriabin couldn't hurt him anymore, couldn't tear him apart anymore, couldn't constantly judge him or berate him or possess him anymore, he should be happy. He should be happy, repeated it to himself over and over, he should be happy, he was free. He was free, they were both free and alive, what more could he ask for? This is what he wanted, this is what they wanted.

But he just felt empty, empty and longing for something, longing for something he didn't want to give a name, for something he didn't want to admit.

Edgar pulled out some clothes from a dresser, folded them carefully into a neat pile, knelt on the floor beside them, and his eyes drifted upwards to the toy standing by his bed, frozen in its familiar pose.

He couldn't take his eyes away from it for a few minutes, like he was waiting for it to do something, but it didn't move.

Just a toy.

He stood up, took the clothes with him, then paused. Something missing, there was something missing...

When he came back into the living room, Todd and Scriabin were talking quietly again, Scriabin holding the glass of water with both hands and taking very small, tiny sips. At least he was drinking something.

"Took you long enough," Scriabin said when Edgar sat down by them again, then coughed hoarsely. Perhaps he'd been drinking too fast. "Better be something good for all that time."

"It's better than you being naked." Was Scriabin trying to tease him, argue with him as he usually did? It didn't sound right, some part of him thought who are you, who is this guy? Who does he think he is, talking to me like that? I don't know you and he kept telling that part to shut up, it wasn't helping. This was Scriabin now, he had to accept that.

He had to accept that.

"Are you going to need help with this?" Edgar held out some underwear and pants, and Scriabin frowned at him.

"I don't need your help with anything anymore." He didn't notice as Todd took the glass away from him before he forgot he was holding it. "I got my own body now, if you haven't noticed, so I don't need your charity. Hmmph, what'll you think then, huh? What're you going to think when poor Scriabin doesn't need your, mmph, charity anymore, the goodness of your heart..."

He was struggling to put them on beneath the coat, and Edgar sighed. Scriabin would rather die than admit he needed help with anything. At least that actually felt right. He picked up the edge of the coat closest to him and looked to Todd.

"Can you hold this up for us?"

"I don't need your help!"

"Don't listen to him, can you hold it up?"

"I can do this by myself!"

"Uh... sure." Todd set his bear down and stood up, holding the coat's edges, and at least that would work as a barrier between them and him. He didn't have to see any of this.

"How long do you think it'll be before you get the hang of this body thing?" Edgar said, shifting behind him a little so he could get a better vantage point, and Scriabin didn't have the coordination or strength to push him away, although it was clear he was trying.

"I don't know! It's not like I've done this before." With clear hate, getting a bit better at emphasizing his words as he used to. "This is a little new to me." Sarcasm, that was a good sign. "Forgive me for not being an expert right away."

"Hmph, if anyone would be an expert on their first try, I'd think it'd be you. You're never bad at anything, are you?" Edgar steadfastly refused to think about what he was doing and kept his eyes firmly focused on a completely unobjectionable piece of carpet nearby, using his peripheral vision to guide his hands. Do not think about this. Do not. Do not look. Do not compare. Do not think. And nothing in his mind argued with him, so the veil stayed. When he got the underwear on he breathed a sigh of relief. It should be easier from this point on, at least. Hopefully.

"Why don't you get fucking torn out of your body and put in another one and see how good you're at it, huh?" The curse word didn't sound right, said too carefully, still exploring how his voice sounded. "So much for empathy."

"Like you'd want my empathy even if you had it." This rhythm felt a little familiar, although the emotional connection wasn't quite right. Edgar was saying the words, Edgar was engaging, he was arguing, but there wasn't any investment, it didn't feel real. Like he was going through the motions, like he was supposed to do this with him, like he was expected to, like he had to, but it wasn't real. This wasn't real, somewhere, it wasn't really him, and he wasn't really...

He wasn't really himself, not...

Not without him...

"True enough." Scriabin grunted as Edgar moved him enough to get his pants on. "Glad to see you're still a dick to me even when we aren't stuck in the same body."

"Your first words to me were 'go to Hell', and I'm the dick?" When he leaned away from him to pick up the shirt, Scriabin was able to keep his balance. Good, he was getting the hang of it. He tapped his arms, and Scriabin huffed and slowly raised them, and Edgar couldn't help a slight smile. "Oh, no, wait, your first word was my name, wasn't it?"

"Go to Hell," Scriabin growled.

He pulled the shirt down over his head, and when it hid him from view, he expected him to have his typical long, messy hair when he saw him again. But no, his scalp was still bare. Wrong wrong wrong, this is all wrong, it kept echoing inside him.

"Alright, Todd, you can lower it now." Edgar scooted back a little. It wasn't his normal outfit of course... Edgar didn't have his normal outfit, Scriabin had taken it from the action figure that had given him his name, but at least their similar body types meant that Edgar's clothes mostly fit him. The black jeans may have been a tad long, but the grey shirt fit well enough.

"Wait, there's one more thing..." Edgar picked up the last object and circled around him. Scriabin's eyes followed him, narrowed and suspicious, then widened as his hands came close. "There, that'll work for now."

Scriabin reached up, his mouth slightly open, and he touched the edges of the pair of sunglasses. He didn't say anything.

"It's a little unsettling seeing your eyes, to be honest." Edgar propped his knees up to rest his arms across them. "This is better."

He could still, if he focused, just make out Scriabin's eyes behind them, but it was enough. The dark lenses hid them mostly from view, and it helped ease the strange knot of conflicting emotion in his chest. Even if nothing else added up properly, at least Scriabin hiding his eyes felt normal. Felt right.

"You saw my...?"

"Of course. You were totally naked, after all."

"Ugh..." Scriabin lowered his head, one hand where it would have been buried in his hair, had he had any. No doubt the loss was made all the more acute for the gesture. "I never wanted you to..."

"You didn't realize it? I guess you're so used to it..."

"Get me a mirror."

"What?"

"A mirror, get me a mirror. I want to know what I look like."

"You sure?" Edgar raised an eyebrow, but Todd had already run off to fulfill his request. "Honestly, I don't think you're going to be anything but disappointed..."

"I don't care. And what do you know about what I want anyway? Maybe it'll be just what I wanted." Scriabin was shaking a little, his voice uneven. Edgar got the impression again that he'd intruded, done something wrong... having his eyes revealed perhaps had affected him more than he could guess. He'd never understood why that was so important to him, but he knew it was important.

"Maybe," Edgar said, and he took the mirror from Todd. "Here."

Scriabin reached out to take the hand mirror with shaking fingers, a weak and unfamiliar grip, and brought it up to look at himself. Edgar could actually see the realization strike home, the crushing disappointment, the betrayal as Scriabin raised his other hand and touched his cheek.

But Edgar couldn't feel it anymore, not like he used to.

"What happened to my hair?!" From his cheek over his scalp, and the emotion in his voice was raw and unhidden.

Edgar shrugged. "Satan said that sometimes all your hair falls out when you come back..."

"But I didn't come back, I got out of you-!" Choked. "This shouldn't have happened to me, it should have happened to you!" Scriabin shouted at him, throwing the mirror away and burying his face in his hands. "This is all wrong, this isn't- this is your fault, I didn't-..."

The mirror was too sturdy to break easily at least, and Edgar felt a twinge of pity for him, but it wasn't strong. "Scriabin, you're still alive. You got your own body and everything, even after all the odds were against it. I'd think you'd be a little more grateful for it."

"But it's not the right one!" Scriabin said through clenched teeth. "I wanted mine, I didn't want... I don't want this!"

"Well... yours didn't actually exist. Except in here." Edgar tapped the side of his head, and for a second the urge to draw a connection with his fingertip from there to Scriabin's chest crossed his mind, and he shook it away. Where had that come from? "Maybe they just did the best they could."

"They could've done better!" His voice was breathy and furious. "They could've... they could've at least left my hair..." Despairing, and it broke on the last few words. He shuddered and curled up tighter into himself.

"It'll grow back." Edgar sighed and moved a bit closer to him so he could pat his shoulder. The twinge of pity was getting stronger despite telling himself he should know better. "It's not gone forever, you know. Nny's came back."

"Ugh, don't talk about him. I don't want to hear it."

"It's true though. So yours'll come back. It'll just take a while."

"This isn't fair..."

"What, that you got a chance at life but it isn't exactly what you thought it'd be?" Edgar paused, then snorted. "I'd think we'd both be used to that by now."

"Mr. Scriabin..."

Scriabin looked up and over to Todd, who was holding his bear again.

"What are you going to do now?"

Edgar blinked, and looked at Scriabin, who was staring at his feet.

"You were always talking about leaving before..." Todd said, toying with his bear's ear. "You said you were going to go and never come back, if you ever got the chance... are you going to go now?"

It hadn't occurred to him until that moment that, with the two of them separated, for the first time, Scriabin actually could leave. They could actually live their own separate lives, if they wanted to. Scriabin could get up and walk out the door, and he might never see him again.

And the thought had the same unreal and frightening quality as a particularly vivid nightmare.

"Well, I don't think he's going anywhere if he doesn't know how to walk," Edgar said, trying to shake off the implications of the thought, the threat, and Scriabin blinked and came back to the conversation, perhaps as equally struck although it was hard to say. They couldn't reach each other anymore.

"I can walk."

"No you can't."

"Yes I can."

"No you can't."

"Yes I can!"

"Prove it then." Edgar stood up and moved a few steps away. "Come over here."

"Fine!" Scriabin snapped, easily baited, and he set his hands on the floor.

"Be careful, Mr. Scriabin!" Todd took a step back himself, and Scriabin growled.

"Stop being such damn babies, I don't need your help."

"Language."

"Shut up! I'm going to go over there and I'm going to punch you, we'll see who's so smug then."

Scriabin spent several seconds staring at the floor, testing his arms, his hands, where to rest his weight, adjusting himself before he managed to get his legs beneath him, straighten them slowly while keeping his hands on the floor as long as possible. His fingertips left last, and he was so focused on his work that he didn't notice or acknowledge how Todd stood by him, held out his arms as if he could catch him when he fell.

He really is a thoughtful kid, the thought briefly crossed Edgar's mind. Not that Scriabin'll appreciate it.

No response.

Scriabin straightened up fully, held his arms out to keep his balance, and waited for a few seconds until the wobbling stopped. He turned to look at Edgar, his eyes narrowed, although he couldn't tell if it was from anger or determination. Probably both.

He lifted one foot, set it down, lifted another, then the momentum caught up with him and he stumbled. Edgar thought something like that would happen, and he was already there with his arms open to catch him before he hit the ground. He could feel the hard edges of his sunglasses pressing into his chest.

"God damn it!" Scriabin's voice was muffled in his shirt. He felt strange in his arms... not like how he'd felt in the dreams they'd shared when they'd touched at all. Weight in different places, his skin felt different, his body heat, his breathing. How had he known Scriabin so well, to notice such small differences and be so disconcerted by them?

"Your first words, and now your first steps. I wish I had a camcorder." He couldn't help himself - when would he have the chance to do this to him again?

"Shut up!" Scriabin raised one fist and tried to punch his chest, but his current position gave him little leverage. "God dammit, I hate you!"

"Mr. Edgar, don't be mean," Todd said from nearby. "It's gotta be hard for him."

Edgar's smile faded, and he could feel a slight tremor through Scriabin's body at the words as well. Mean, mean, that wasn't his trait, that was Scriabin's, that was Scriabin's personality trait, not his own, why was he...

He'd only meant it as light teasing, but now he wondered. Looked back over his reactions, what he'd said, how he'd treated him and it didn't fit, didn't match, didn't... seem like him, like them. Outside of himself again, distant and confused and unsure of how he felt, and acting... was he acting like him?

Where in him - in his soul, in his mind, in his emotions, his personality, his self - had they made the cuts to take Scriabin out? What had he taken with him, and what had he left?

What would fill that hole he had left? Scriabin's traits had come from somewhere, hadn't they?

And Scriabin... what was he feeling? Edgar had a hole where Scriabin had been, but for Scriabin... he'd spent his entire life inside of Edgar, seeing the world through his eyes, filtering it through his body, involuntarily tied into every aspect of what made Edgar conscious and sentient and alive. And now... he was alone just as he was.

He hadn't thought about how separation would feel to him at all.

No doubt Scriabin would have cursed at him for forgetting about him, for ignoring him; called him selfish and self-centered and torn him apart for it, but the connection between them remained dead, he didn't say anything. He didn't know, how could he?

At least Edgar knew now that he could still feel bad about this kind of thing, even without Scriabin's help.

"You're right, Todd, I'm sorry," Edgar said, and he sighed. Scriabin hadn't moved from his arms, and he took the chance to pat his back a little. "How are you feeling, anyway?"

"Don't pity me," he said, still muffled, but he didn't move. Could he? Maybe he was still trying to get his sense of balance.

"I'm not, I'm honestly curious. This is a pretty big change for both of us, isn't it?" Edgar said, looking down at him. Still, he looked like a stranger. Nothing added up right.

He waited, but Scriabin didn't say anything. Maybe he'd have to make the first move.

"I know that I... feel strange." A bit awkwardly. How much to say? Where to even start? This was still Scriabin he was talking about, even if he was in a rather enfeebled state. It was unwise to expose any weakness to him for any reason. "Well... not how I thought I would feel if this ever happened, anyway."

Scriabin hmmphed, but didn't move away from him.

"What do you mean, Mr. Edgar?"

"It's just..." Edgar tilted his head in thought, words were so difficult to come by. "Like something's missing, even though you're still here. It's hard to explain."

"I get it." Todd nodded, and he got the impression that he probably did, somehow. "What about you, Mr. Scriabin?"

Edgar was careful about revealing weaknesses and in return, Scriabin was the same way. Mirroring each other yet again, and he couldn't exactly blame him for it. Scriabin refused to say anything, only making another irritated sound and pushing his head harder against Edgar's chest.

More than anything, at that moment Edgar wanted to reach out, to find Scriabin's emotions against his own, know he was there and gain some kind of understanding of what he was feeling, but he couldn't. He tried to remember how he'd done it before, how he'd found those lines and followed them, how he'd tracked him, and it was like trying to remember what muscles he'd used to fly in a dream. It was gone, the ability, the knowledge, all of it gone like it'd never existed. How easy was it to forget without him?

He was right here, and he'd never felt so far away.

Was this only a fraction of how Scriabin might have felt...?

Edgar sighed, his eyes closed, still trying somewhere, unconsciously, instinctually, to reach him to no avail, to hear his voice impossibly, and Scriabin didn't say anything. He just stayed where he was. And something in him tightened his arms around him, pulled him close and held him for a few seconds, and he could hear him make a short startled sound at the hug.

Didn't expect that, did you? Faintly, to no one, and he wasn't sure he could put a word on what had motivated him to do it himself, other than he thought he should do it. And if he'd expected some kind of clarity from the gesture, some understanding, some sort of connection between them, it didn't come. A body against his own, his breathing, his heartbeat picking up slightly, the twinge from the hard edge of the glasses, but that was all.

They'd never be as close as they once were.

Something stepped into the void, broke the loop, reminded him that there were other things to think about, to do. He had to accept it and move on. Accept it and move on, he'd always been good at accepting things and he needed to accept this as well. He had to do something other than just dwell. Right?

It wasn't Scriabin's voice, just a pale imitation... perhaps his own, so desperate to hear him that it played at what he might have said. No, he had to stop thinking about it. This was what they had wanted. They were free. Accept it.

Scriabin did not return the hug, and it might have been because he didn't know how, or it might have been for a thousand other reasons. It was always so hard to tell with him. He didn't try to move away from him though, and when Edgar did it himself, pulled away and kept his hands on Scriabin's arms to keep him balanced, he could see plainly that more than anything, Scriabin just looked confused.

"Well, you're here now. There's nothing anyone can do about that. So... we should probably start figuring out what to do from here, right?" In a faint echo of their previous relationship, asking him for advice.

Instead, Scriabin kept staring at him. Edgar continued anyway.

"C'mon, sit down in the kitchen and we'll start working things out. I know I'll feel better when I've worked out a plan."

You remember, don't you? You heard me do it countless times, watched me do it in memories, perhaps. You remember, don't you?

And the thought occurred to him, maybe Scriabin didn't. What memories had he taken with him? His own, or Edgar's as well? How many times had they overlapped? Would he even know if he was missing a memory?

No, he couldn't dwell on it. Move forward, move forward.

Who are you, without me?

The thought struck without warning and he winced internally, braced himself for the screaming he knew would be coming, and... nothing. The thought just hung there, waiting for him to expand on it, and Scriabin still stared at him, completely oblivious as to what had just crossed his mind.

This was going to take some getting used to, and even though Scriabin couldn't hear, couldn't say anything about it, still the thought hung in a thick miasma of guilt and fear for it even existing.

Who are you, without me?

It wouldn't leave, though.

Edgar took one of his hands with his own and set the other on his shoulder. Scriabin still looked confused, like he was unable to understand what was happening, and Edgar took a step towards the kitchen, leading him as best he could. "Come on, it's not that hard."

That seemed enough to galvanize him into action, although he spoke softly, like something was distracting him.

"I don't need your help... I can do this on my own."

"Yes, yes, of course." Although he didn't take his hands away, and Scriabin didn't try to break away from him. This wasn't like him at all, but it wasn't like anything like this had ever happened before.

What was he thinking about? What was it like for him to think without Edgar there?

They got close to the kitchen table before Scriabin finally let go of his hand, moved to walk on his own and Edgar let him go. He made it to the chair alright, went through the process of sitting down in the same unnatural, childlike way that made his chest hurt for some reason, and Edgar turned back to the living room.

"Should get something to take notes... I have a feeling we're going to need them." Mostly to himself, and he expected the mental rejoinder.

"Huh, how typical." A brief laugh, and it was sort of like when he'd spoken through the toy. Sort of. Not exactly, not quite right. "Edgar the conscientious, ever so organized and neat."

"Nothing wrong with a list," he said, and got a strange sense of deja vu. Had he said that once before? He couldn't remember. He picked up the legal pad in his living room and a pen from the bookshelf before heading back in, where he saw that Todd had hopped up onto another chair beside Scriabin. Apparently, he wanted to be included.

Well, he didn't see any harm to it, other than Todd getting bored. He had a feeling this was going to be tedious and long, but at least it was something they'd probably only have to work through once.

He sat down across from him, and Scriabin followed him with his eyes. Even his facial expressions seemed to take a few seconds to manifest, like they took conscious effort. Edgar could not get used to him without his hair at all. Still, everything about him seemed wrong. It had to be him, and still he wondered if it really was.

"Ready, schoolboy?" Scriabin said, as he carefully leaned his head against one hand. At least he was trying to act like himself... or who he once had been. Who was he now?

"You'll see, someday you'll thank me for these." Edgar tapped the pen against his lower lip. "There's a lot to go through."

"Like what?" Todd asked.

"Well..." Edgar looked up at Scriabin again, and he frowned. "This raises a lot of... practical problems."

He could just make out him rolling his eyes. "Is that what's been on your mind this whole time, all the 'practical' problems? I finally get my own body, and all you can think of is where I'm going to sleep?"

That wasn't even close to all the things that he was thinking about, and while before he'd assume that Scriabin was just mocking him, now he wasn't so sure. Did he really think that? They were so impossibly close before, that distance couldn't have made them such strangers already, right? No, he was overthinking this. He had to focus.

"You are going to have to sleep somewhere. At some point, someone has to think about it." Edgar pointed at him with the pen, trying to keep his thoughts in line. Had Scriabin helped him with that too? No, focus. "There's a lot to think about right now."

"Like what?" Todd said, again, and he realized he'd been sidetracked.

"Where to start..." Edgar turned back to the legal pad and began writing. "You just appeared out of nowhere, right?"

"I don't know, what do you think?" Scriabin raised an eyebrow, bored. "You were there."

Edgar ignored him. "Which means that you don't have any kind of identification or history." A pause, and he looked up. "A history that isn't mine, anyway."

Scriabin just stared at him.

"So if you just appeared out of thin air without any clothes or anything, and you didn't exist before, that means you don't have any ID... no driver's license, no state ID, no student ID, no nothing." Edgar kept writing. "And you don't have a history either, so you don't have a school record, or a birth certificate, or a social security number..."

He looked up, and Scriabin had one hand over his mouth, his brow furrowed in apparent thought. Had this not occurred to him?

"So... you're going to have to start completely from scratch, which isn't going to be easy." Edgar rubbed the side of his temple. Society in general did not like people that were unaccounted for like this. "But we've got to start somewhere. So... what's your name?"

"What?"

"What's your name, now?" Edgar looked up. "Technically, you could change your name to anything you want now. Nothing's going to stop you." And I was the one who gave you yours in the first place. Do you still want it?

Scriabin could not hear him, could not yell at him for thinking that he would. He only looked confused at the question. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, was silent for a few seconds. His words came slowly.

"I don't think you'd ever be able to get used to calling me anything but Scriabin."

Of course, his typical roundabout answer, although it took him longer than it normally would have. He thought he'd say something like that. "Scriabin isn't a first name, it's a last name."

"It worked in the movie," Todd said, kicking his legs.

"This is real life, not a movie." Edgar looked back across the table. "I remember reading about the composer, I think his first name was Alexander. Something like that. Want to be an Alex?"

Scriabin leaned back and crossed his arms, frowning. It wasn't as awkward a motion as some of his others, done unconsciously and perhaps a bit more smoothly than before. "Scriabin."

Edgar rolled his eyes, not that he hadn't expected that response. "Well, keep it in mind. Now, is it..." And his voice caught unexpectedly, the thought crossing his mind with the same feeling as touching the edge of a deep hole with his foot while walking. He stopped, looked down, chewed on the cap of the pen for a few seconds, tried to fight it away before he looked up again. "...Will it be Scriabin Vargas?"

A question and an offer all at once, so many implications he couldn't sort through them all, and he saw Scriabin's eyes widen through his glasses, his eyebrows raise.

He could say something, offer another name, suggest something else, clarify but instead Edgar stared at him, waited. Reached out for him, heard nothing, and he wondered if Scriabin was doing the same, reaching out to him and he just didn't know, couldn't hear.

Eventually, Scriabin spoke without much strength, looking to one side. "Your brother..."

It hung in the air between them for a time before Edgar looked back down to the legal pad; he touched the pen to the paper to loop it in meaningless circles. "There's no one else left in ou- the family who'd be able to disprove it... there's only me..."

A moment, and he darkened the lines. "And you..."

When he looked up, Scriabin was staring down at the table and Todd was looking between the two of them, increasingly antsy for a response.

"'So many things could be different if I wasn't alone'..." Scriabin said, still looking down, and his tone was familiar, even through his strange new body. The voice he used to imitate Edgar, mock him. And he remembered, he could remember when he'd said that, when the storm raged around them and they were locked into each other, when he'd made the decision that may have brought him to this point, that let him get hurt in so many ways but led him here, led them both here. Scriabin looked up and spoke without emotion. "If you insist."

Edgar hadn't insisted at all, but it didn't matter. Around in roundabout ways for his own cryptic reasons, this he knew, and this he could handle.

"Scriabin Vargas then." He knew this meant a lot, this meant so much as he wrote the name down, but he couldn't sort through it all right now. He had to stay focused, there were still so many things left to deal with. One step forward, keep going. "At least that'll be an easy explanation for why you're here."

Are you going to stay here with me? Will you actually leave?

No mental response, when was he going to get used to that? Scriabin huffed and looked to one side.

"Not having any identification or history is going to make things difficult though..." Edgar started chewing on the pen again, staring down hard at the paper. "It's going to be a nightmare finding you a job."

"A job?" Scriabin raised an eyebrow, and under other circumstances, he might have found his baffled tone amusing.

"Yes, a job." Edgar closed his eyes for a few seconds with a sigh. "I make enough to support myself, but not enough for two people." A moment, and he looked at Todd. "Well, two people and a child, for however long you want to stay here, Todd."

An awkward silence ensued, Todd staring down at the table at the thought of his parents, and Scriabin staring at him with his eyes narrowed. Now what? Even Scriabin berating him for killing the conversation would have been a welcome break from the quiet, but nothing came.

Eventually Edgar coughed and looked back to the sheet of paper, struggling to find a way to renew the discussion without success. Why was it so difficult to think clearly? This wouldn't have given him nearly so much trouble normally, and instead everything, everything felt wrong, everything felt...

What was it that K had said... that instead of a replacement, they'd just split in half? Was that it? Had taking Scriabin out of him... broken something?

"Is this really what we're going to talk about?" Scriabin said, slowly, and with a great deal of focus put into his words. Trying very hard to recreate his old rhythm. "After everything that's happened, all you care about is taking care of your car, and your job, and making sure I'm taken care of and squared away? Then what, Edgar?" His voice was smoothing, less forced now, returning to some semblance of his older self. The Scriabin he knew. "Are you going to put me in a neat little box and stack me with the rest of your things in your closet and forget everything that's happened? Filed away in your rolodex, never to be looked at again, 'taken care of', meaning 'now it's not my problem'? Is that what you're going to do?"

Edgar tilted his head slightly, brow furrowed, and the first thing that came out was "No," although it was more puzzled than annoyed as he'd intended. Where'd this attack come from? How had Scriabin come to that conclusion? That wasn't even close to... how could they be so far apart? This felt like a dream, nothing made sense. "Why would you even- that's not at all what I was trying to do, I'm just trying to sort through all the practical problems first, I said that. What do you want to discuss then?"

Scriabin again looked as if he was going to say something, then changed his mind, keeping his silence and arms crossed. Since when was he ever quiet? Edgar felt annoyed, something that kept building in a growing spiral inside him - annoyed that he felt this distant, this awkward, this disconnected from him, that Scriabin wasn't right, he was a stranger and he kept acting strangely and looking wrong and this wasn't right, this shouldn't have been happening. It shouldn't have been like this. "Fine, do you want to talk about the deeper stuff then? All the metaphysical bullshit that's been going on? Fine, let's talk about that then." Even there, he didn't know where to start, and the spiral in him pointed towards the last accusation he could remember. "How much about yourself did you know and not tell me?"

He could barely make out Scriabin's eyes narrowing behind his sunglasses, the grip on his arms tightening. "Edgar, honestly. Do you think asking me will get you answers now any more than it did before? Why should I tell you anything?"

"If you're not going to talk to me, then why did you even bring it up?!" Edgar slapped the pad back down on the table, and Todd jumped.

"I didn't bring it up, you did." Scriabin pointed out.

"You're the one who doesn't want to talk about 'practical' stuff." Edgar pointed back at him. "So what do you want to talk about then? Your feelings? Do you want to talk about how you feel right now?"

Scriabin looked away, frowning more intensely now, although Edgar didn't give him a chance to respond before continuing. He pressed a hand to his chest, anger chasing his words. "Because I feel pretty shitty right now, okay? Everything about this feels completely wrong and I don't know how to deal with that, and you're not there anymore to tell me what's going on, and-" He realized what he said and cut himself off, trying not to notice how Scriabin had snapped his head back to look at him at the words. "You're not helping, not that you ever have. I guess that should feel normal but even that doesn't, this is all really..." Frustration broke through his words, and Edgar buried his hands in his hair, staring down at the table. Finally his words slowed a little. "This is all really f-..." He glanced at Todd. "This is all really messed up."

There was an awkward silence.

"You don't feel right?" Scriabin said, a bit tentatively, and Edgar looked up. Something about him looked tense.

"No, of course I don't," Edgar snapped.

A moment as Scriabin considered this, raising one hand to his mouth in thought in what looked more like an imitation of the gesture than anything else. Everything about him looked so unnatural.

"What, does that surprise you?" Edgar said, mostly lashing out at him, but then he focused on the thought more closely, raising an eyebrow. "How did you think I'd feel about you getting out?"

Scriabin didn't say anything, staring down at the table, and Edgar wasn't sure if his silence was to deliberately antagonize him or if he really was taking this long in considering the question, and for some reason it made him angry.

"No smart comment for that? No witty comeback? No insult?" Are you really even Scriabin? The thought crossed his mind, but thankfully he had enough self-control to keep it from coming out. Still, a pulse of fear went through him, anticipation for a mental attack that wasn't coming, and he struggled to find another thought, some way to pin down all this, the right question to make things normal again. Instead... "Why is this so hard for you?" Why is this so hard for me?

Scriabin glared at him, frown deepening, and still he didn't say anything, and still he wasn't sure if it was out of spite or if he really didn't know what to say. Todd looked over to Edgar and met his eyes, and there was a measure of concern there that helped the spiral inside of him stop and coil back. "He's never had his own brain before, Mr. Edgar. It's probably hard to think with it 'cause it's so new."

Edgar blinked - the thought honestly hadn't occurred to him - and when he glanced at Scriabin, he found he was also staring at Todd with an odd expression on his face. Surprise? Confusion? Realization? His features were new to him, unfamiliar, a stranger, how could he read him?

"Is that it?" Edgar said, curious and without the edge it had before, and Scriabin looked back to him again. "Is it hard thinking..." Should he say it? There was a warning somewhere in him not to, that it wouldn't be a good idea, and still, nothing actively stopped him. "Is it hard thinking without me?"

His eyes narrowed again and this was becoming familiar, less unsettling. Still, a pause before he spoke, an answer in itself. "You really are a massive narcissist, aren't you?" Edgar blinked, and Scriabin continued. "You really think my entire existence, my entire self, completely revolves around you, don't you? Is that what's really upsetting you, making everything 'feel wrong', as you put it?" He could hear in his voice how badly Scriabin would have liked to have used finger quotes to emphasize his words, but that level of precision was beyond his new body. "That you don't think I have a self? A life outside of you? That all you see is a part of yourself dancing around at arm's length?"

"No, that's not it at all." Edgar sighed and rubbed his forehead, although feeling this defensive at least was familiar. Being attacked by him he knew, and he didn't spare a thought to what that said about their relationship. "I wasn't thinking that at all." Why would you even say something like that, you know I'm not-

"Of course, of course, deny everything. What else do you do? Whenever I hit the nail on the head, you tell me there's no hammer."

"I wasn't thinking that, or anything like that." Edgar blinked for a second, then looked up to meet his eyes. "And you can't tell." A moment as it struck him. "You can't read my thoughts anymore, you can't tell. All you can do now is guess at what I'll say. Is that why this is so hard for you? You can't cheat anymore?"

Scriabin's eyes widened for a second before glaring again, a glimpse of the words striking home. He was still somewhat breathless when he spoke, the rough edges not yet worn off the experience, but this feeling, the indignance, his reaction to his words, that made sense, that he was expecting. "Cheating? Really? It's not cheating to breathe the air, is it?"

"What, my emotions were your air? Is that why it was so hard for you to breathe at first?" That didn't make much sense, but he might as well try and follow the metaphor. Scriabin let out an irritated sigh, made some vague attempts to hold a hand to his forehead not unlike Edgar had a few moments earlier. Mirroring each other again, although Scriabin's awkward motions gave it that surreal, unnatural quality.

"I told you before, my world and my existence are outside your ability to understand. You cannot comprehend what life is like for me, what it's like being inside you. You don't understand your own feelings the same way that I do, you can't see them the same way or interact with them or..."

Scriabin trailed off, awareness coming slowly, and Edgar felt a strange tightness in his chest, like he was watching someone else fall over.

"You're not inside me anymore," Edgar said, softly. "What's life like for you now?"

Scriabin tightened his grip on his arms, his mouth twisting for a brief second as he looked down at the table, away towards the fridge. Still, it took him so long to speak, to work the words out through his foreign vocal cords. "I'm trying to figure that out."

"That's what I meant... that's what I was asking. I'm not trying to pity you or mock you or anything, I just... I know this has to be hard for you. If it's this hard for me, then I don't know what it's like for you. It's got to be worse, and..." Edgar looked down at the pad of paper and the name that stared up at him in careful neat letters. "Things are different now, everything's different and everything's going to change, and... things don't have to be the way they were before. We don't have to keep going through the same patterns anymore. All of it... doesn't matter."

"What do you mean?"

"You said you wouldn't tell me anything about yourself... well, why?" Edgar looked back up at him, adjusting his glasses. "You kept so many secrets about yourself and what you were, and what was happening, and what you could do, and now..." He held his hands out to gesture to the kitchen around them. "Why does any of it matter? You got what you wanted. You aren't in me anymore, you aren't a parasite, you have your own body, we're not a lock anymore. It's all over now, Scriabin. That part of our life is over. Why do any of those secrets matter anymore?"

Scriabin stared at him, thought clear on his face, considering his words but he wasn't attacking him yet and that kept Edgar going.

"Those secrets aren't protecting anything anymore, it's all gone. All of it, it's all gone and it's... it's never coming back." Down back to the paper again, and he traced some more circles with his pen. "It'll never be the same as it once was. We're never going to be the same again, like we were, so... why should we pretend? Why keep lying to each other? Why can't we just be honest?"

A long pause, and Todd again looked between the two of them, waiting to see who'd break the silence first. Did he even understand what they were talking about?

Scriabin's words came slowly and with effort, his mouth quirked up in a sloppy attempt at a smile. "I'm not very good at being honest."

Edgar had expected the worst, and he let out a long sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn't be completely hopeless after all, maybe they actually could get somewhere. "Well, at least we can try. Like I said, it doesn't matter anymore what I know about all the supernatural... stuff. We're both firmly banned from ever interacting with it again." A moment. "Or at least, I am." Another moment, and he looked up. "Do you think you are?"

"What, worried I might pick up my own little 'voice' like you did?" Scriabin grimaced slightly at the thought, and he got the impression that he was going for an expression a lot more subtle and hadn't quite managed it. "I'm a little more resilient than you, my boy."

"That's-" Edgar cut himself off and pressed a hand to his forehead. What was the point? Pick your battles. Still, the familiar diminutive had stirred something in him, some emotion he didn't quite know how to name. Instead it worked its way into his words, tight and quick but still no easier to read. "I don't know, I just assumed you'd be exempt, but I could be wrong." Of course, D and K hadn't said anything about that, since they'd assumed Scriabin would be dead by now, and yet, he... "You..."

When he sat across from him at the table, when he looked like any other person he might run into on the street, it was so easy to think that Scriabin had been born, had parents, that he was human just like Edgar and anyone else but below the surface...

He'd said Scriabin wasn't a parasite anymore, but how accurate was that? How much of Scriabin's self relied on being that supernatural thing, and how much depended on who was in front of him now? Did a body make him human, change him, or was the essence of him, whatever that entailed, simply using the body as a tool, just as he'd once used Edgar? How much had changed, really, what did that make him? He looked human across from him, but how human was he, really?

"Do you remember what it was like? Being a part of all that?"

A pause.

"You mean, being... what I was?" Scriabin said, carefully. Edgar nodded. "Of course."

What made someone human anyway? Edgar stared at him a little longer, his pen ticking down a few lines. He knew what Scriabin was in a vague sense, but what was that actually like? What did it actually entail to be... whatever he was? Who was he? Who was the person sitting across from him?

"...What's your first memory?"

Scriabin tilted his head, blinking, as if he'd expected a different question. It took him a few seconds to think of what to say. "That's where you want to start? That's a little complicated, isn't it?"

Is it? Edgar waited, and eventually Scriabin raised his hand to his mouth in thought again.

"Well, if you insist..." Brief glimpses of the attitude he used to know so well, shining through the foreign wrongness of his new home, and still they were braced by the obvious effort everything he did involved. An actor in a human suit, and the thought made Edgar's stomach twist a little. "Of course, my first memories are yours... when you were a toddler I believe. Mostly vague impressions that become clearer the older you get, as you'd expect."

So he had kept some of Edgar's memories... although, Edgar could still remember them himself. Could they have shared them?

"But I'm not sure if that's what you're asking me..." Scriabin's voice was fading, eye contact drifting away. "My first memory..." And he hesitated.

"What is it?" Todd prompted, and Scriabin glanced his direction, but didn't say anything. "Shmee's really interested." And a shiver went through Scriabin like he'd walked through a gust of wind. "What was it?"

Why did he react that way?

Guarded, still wary, and he spoke slowly. "The nightstand by your bed."

Edgar tilted his head, a silent question, and then it snapped into place immediately. Of course. "Your toy..." He'd always felt uneasy when it'd been moved, and why did that bring something else back to him, something dreamlike... "Didn't I find you there, once?" Slowly coming into focus. "When you were hurt, I found you there."

Scriabin said nothing for a while, staring down at the table in deep focus, an internal struggle clear on his face although Edgar could not reach out to see the details. No doubt he'd meant his earlier comment about having trouble with honesty as a joke, but this really did seem extremely difficult for him. "It's my place. When I think back... I can remember you, I remember talking to you, I remember... thinking, and saying things, but a memory, like yours... like the ones you have, ones that... involve the world outside." Each word sounded painful to get out. "The first one I can think of is... that place. I remember... that place."

And it reminded Edgar of something. "Scriabin, when we were talking to them... you said you got pushed into your toy once. What happened?"

He jerked, startled, probably having forgotten that he'd let that slip, and his expression darkened considerably. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Why not? There-"

"Because it wasn't a pleasant experience, you idiot," Scriabin snapped. "I'd think that'd be obvious."

"Why not?"

"Why not- why not?!" Scriabin looked affronted now, and his words came quickly, emotion lending them instinctual ease. "Are you seriously asking me that?"

"Did you ever go in your toy before?" Todd asked, and Scriabin always looked over at him as if he was surprised he was still there. "I've seen Shmee in my dreams sometimes, and he looks like himself." He shook the bear. "But he doesn't move in real life."

"No, absolutely not," Scriabin said, short and irritated, and he looked away. "The toy was just a toy, something you were overly fixated on, not me." With a pointed glance at Edgar.

"That is a complete lie." Edgar put his pen down, almost offended at how blatant it was. "You talked through your toy to me. You based your appearance on your toy. That was definitely you."

He could catch Scriabin rolling his eyes, and the stab of irritation at that was familiar enough to let the details blur, to see him as he once was, as he'd once seen him, instead of the stranger in front of him now. Scriabin still wouldn't look at him. "You don't understand anything, do you? I've told you before, this is all vastly outside human comprehension. You get entangled in supernatural business, you assign relevance and importance to a toy, and somehow you're surprised when it behaves in ways you don't expect."

"Like you getting shoved into it? Was that my fault? That'd be pretty impressive, considering I didn't even know it happened."

He could see his words hit, the surprise and anger, and he couldn't help a satisfied smirk. Got you. Scriabin struggled to find a response.

"You weren't the one who did it."

"Was it the monster?" Todd said before the silence could gain the weight it would have had otherwise, and Edgar tried to remember what D had said. Scriabin had accused him of a lot of things, was that one of the ones that he'd denied?

Scriabin was darkly quiet for a few seconds before speaking again, like he'd been forced to. "I'm not sure. It just happened. One second I was with you, and the next I... wasn't. I was stuck. And I tried to get back, and I couldn't." He obviously didn't want to talk about this, so it was strange that the words kept coming. "And you, you were asleep."

"I don't..." And it grew clearer. Still it lurked in the back of his mind, a nightmare that left scars only real events should have been capable of. "Scriabin, when I had that dream... where were you? Where did you go?"

"You left, Mr. Scriabin?" Todd blinked, and hugged his bear tighter to himself.

Scriabin stayed silent.

"Where were you?" And a touch of anger worked its way into his voice, betrayal. "Where were you? You said you were stuck in me, you said you couldn't leave, were you lying the whole time?"

"I didn't leave," Scriabin said, eventually. "Not entirely."

That's right, the thing in the wall, but still. "Where did you go? What were you doing?" Anger was working in a bit more clearly now, although he was trying to keep it in check. Todd didn't look very happy about his rising voice. "You knew the dangers, you knew that thing was after me, you knew that and you left anyway, what were you doing? What could've been so important?"

Another long silence.

"Scriabin, answer me!" A sharp command, and he saw Todd jump again, Scriabin twitch. "What were you doing? Why did you leave?" Why did you abandon me to those things? Why didn't you protect me like you said you would?

Still, Scriabin stayed silent, and Edgar could feel himself starting to shake. How could you, how could you do that to me? I trusted you. I never should have trusted you. And still, not enough to say it out loud, to take that risk. Still, wary of the pain Scriabin could inflict on him even now.

"I didn't leave," Scriabin said, slowly and thoughtfully, his eyes boring into the tabletop. Edgar gave him a look, about to say he'd already said that, when he continued. "I was forced."

Edgar stared at him, blinked for a few seconds. "What do you mean?"

Another long pause, Scriabin still refusing to look up, and he could see his mouth moving although no sound came out, apparently thinking to himself. Had he always put this much thought into his words? "I didn't leave you, I was taken out. Forced out. Pushed out. Whatever term you like. They're all not entirely accurate... or inaccurate."

Edgar stared at him, and still he felt wary, still there was a faint tremble along his arms. "Are you saying that when I was attacked that one time, you were somewhere else? Pushed into your toy? That's why you weren't there?"

Edgar hated these pauses, he wasn't used to these from him. With Johnny, sure, he'd come to expect them, but Scriabin had always leapt in quickly, he'd always known what to say, he'd never given him chances to recover or to think, he was relentless. This was too slow, it didn't feel right. All of this, all of it, how long would it take to get used to this?

"Yes, that's right," Scriabin said, with the same slow, thoughtful tone as before. "It happened suddenly... they trapped me somewhere else, so I couldn't protect you. But even so, you saw that I could never truly leave you, didn't you?" Finally, Scriabin looked up at him, deeply somber. "They couldn't separate us completely... some part of me was always with you."

"Is it there now?" The question just came out of him without thought, and Scriabin blinked, surprised, before again looking down. He ran a hand over his head, his fingers jumping when it didn't encounter any of the resistance he must have expected.

"You said it yourself just now, didn't you?" Scriabin said, his voice thin. "That part of our lives is over."

And just as Edgar had thought that he'd feel happy about that, he expected Scriabin to sound overjoyed at the thought. Instead they mirrored each other once again.

"So... they got rid of you, then attacked me?" It sounded plausible, even fit with what he'd just said, but still... something about it didn't seem right, something didn't quite mesh. What was it that bothered him about this? What was it that K had said to him...

"Yes... that's why I wasn't there that time," Scriabin said.

What was it she said... something about, if Scriabin had just stayed put like he was supposed to, that he wasn't supposed to be able to leave, something like that but the impression, the feeling he'd gotten was that Scriabin had made a choice...

"Are you lying to me?" Edgar said.

Scriabin blinked, then met his stare levelly. Like something had come over him, a channel flicked off as he became an impassive wall, completely unfazed. Unmoving, unchanging.

They stared for a while like that, waiting for the other to back down, before Todd spoke up. "Did you, Mr. Scriabin?"

Scriabin didn't say anything.

"Are you lying to me?" Edgar kept his stare. "I told you, you have no reason, there's no reason to lie about any of this, and you've said you don't lie for fun, there's no reason for you to lie to me about this, there's no reason we have to keep doing this to each other, there's no reason we have to keep doing this-" He stopped and calmed himself down, forced his hands to loosen and his words to untwist. "Just tell me the truth, Scriabin. It's over now, it can't hurt me anymore. There's nothing left to hide. What happened?"

Scriabin didn't break eye contact, his voice smooth. "Does it matter?"

He wasn't surprised, shouldn't that have been reassuring? Was that what twisted into the stab of anger he felt at those words, the endless redirection, he'd expected that and appreciated and resented it at the same time.

Of course Scriabin would lie to him. Even when there was no benefit. What else did he do? How far down did that run, how deep did that root go?

If that had changed, would he have still been the same?

"I don't know why I even bother asking." Edgar sighed and took his glasses off, rubbing his eyes. "I should know better by now that I'm not going to get any answers from you about any of this."

A pause, and there was something in Scriabin's voice that caught his attention. When he moved his hands away, he could barely make out that he was smiling, a little easier this time. "Didn't I already tell you that? It's a fool's errand, my boy, although you've always been fond of those."

Edgar sighed again; he wished this familiarity just stung instead of reassured him. "I can't believe this, everything's different, everything changes, it's all over and you have your own body, you're free, we're both free, and we just go right back to our old patterns, we just keep doing the same things." And his thoughts drifted further back, to the last time they'd play-acted together. "Pretending to be something we're not when everything around us tells us differently... what the hell is wrong with us, Scriabin? This isn't even the first time we've done this, is it?"

Another long pause, and Edgar went back to rubbing his eyes.

"What are you talking about?" Todd eventually said, and that's right, he wasn't there for any of it.

"It's complicated, Todd." Edgar sighed again. "It's always complicated."

"What is it that's bothering you..." Scriabin said, thoughtful when it should have been accusatory, and he could hear him thinking it through as he kept his voice going. "Pretending to be things we're not... is that how this seems to you? Who do you think I am? Surely after all the time we've spent together, you know me, don't you? You know who I am? You've said it so many times, you haven't forgotten, have you? You've always called me a liar. Why shouldn't I be one now? Isn't that who I am to you?"

"Is that who you are to you?" That wasn't very clearly phrased, and Edgar pressed his hands tighter against his eyes. "Is lying what makes you you? What else do you have?"

Scriabin didn't say anything, and Edgar didn't move his hands, and another long silence ensued.

"I don't really know what's going on, or what you're talking about..." Todd said eventually. "But you're getting stuck. That's what Shmee says." A moment. "Isn't there something else you can talk about, Mr. Edgar? Something easier?"

"Like what?" Edgar felt a wave of exhaustion and apathy at dealing with this, at dealing with the countless questions and the void, the endless void within him that just kept mocking him the more he called out. His thoughts echoed back at him, laughed at him for listening for a response, and he kept reaching out to him, kept trying to find understanding like they once had, and there was nothing. It was gone, he was gone.

"You still don't really know how to be alive, right, Mr. Scriabin?" Todd said. "Maybe you two should work on that for now and think about the big stuff later. Like you said, practical problems." In a careful imitation of Edgar's voice. "Shmee says you should do things one at a time."

"I don't have to know how to be alive, I just am alive," Scriabin said, although without much strength. "I'm just getting the hang of this body, is all."

"Is it like when you controlled me?" Edgar said, still not moving his hands. "It's just you in there, isn't it?"

This pause had an awkward tinge to it, and there was a darkness to Scriabin's tone that sounded familiar, another harsh sting that soothed somehow. "Yes, it's just me in here. They apparently aren't that sloppy. And..." Faltering for a second, and his tone changed. "It's not the same. I should think that'd be obvious." Recovered, although still not completely natural.

"How?"

"...I should think that'd be obvious," Scriabin said, although not in the same way he just had. A bit softer, somewhat disbelieving perhaps, vague irritation. He couldn't read him, feel him, now he just had to guess. He'd accused Scriabin of cheating, but what had Edgar been doing? "I grew in you, Edgar. I know you better than you know yourself, and that includes how your body works. I had it all memorized even before I had a chance to use any of it myself. Of course this isn't the same."

Which reminded him of something...

"Scriabin, when you took me over that first time..." Edgar finally took his hands away and looked up. Scriabin was staring at him, head tilted, and his hair, the lack of his hair was throwing him more than anything. "You said you lied so you could do it again, was that true?"

Scriabin stared at him again, that level stare from before that slowly broke into something considerate, thoughtful again, an internal struggle, before words finally came. "It's all over now, so it doesn't matter, you said."

Edgar sighed and again pressed a hand over his eyes. "Yes, that's right. So..."

"Then the answer is yes."

Edgar moved his hand, stared at him and Scriabin kept his gaze.

"Although, it's not as clear cut as you probably think." Another pause as he tried to gather his thoughts, and he hesitated again. That look of great difficulty, effort to even make the words come at all. "The first time was an accident."

He'd suspected that, somewhere deep and vague where Scriabin hadn't found it, dragged it out of him and torn it apart, but to hear it from him was something else entirely. "Then... what happened?"

"Believe it or not... I was probably just as confused as you were afterwards." Scriabin broke eye contact and looked away from him, as if he was speaking to himself. His voice softened slightly in thought. "At the time, you'd shown me rather... unexpectedly that my reality was impermanent... reminded me that I could die, of my own mortality and lack of control and I was... desperate." He got the impression he wanted to say frightened instead, but changed his mind. "You said something about never having my own body, and something about that... it made me furious beyond belief. I wanted to prove to you, show you you were wrong, and then... I was in control." Scriabin glanced back at him for a second. "And I fell into your coffee table."

Edgar blinked at him, still trying to digest all this, and Scriabin held up a finger, looking down at the table now, as if he was counting out his thoughts. "That's where the bruise around your ribs came from. It took me a while to get the hang of actually controlling things... but not that long."

"Why did you go to the church?"

"That's not where I was going." Scriabin tried to do something with his body, failed, tried again and this time managed it - a shrug. "Why would I go there? It holds no significance to me." And Edgar's first thought, instinctual to that, was liar, but he did not say this out loud. "I was going somewhere else. Then I felt something in the back of my mind... something strange that kept building. It seemed dangerous to keep driving, so I stopped to see what would happen. Then... you came back."

Edgar thought back to that terrifying moment, when he'd been snapped from one place to another without any warning, when he'd been desperate for an explanation, and... "You asked me if I remembered what happened..."

"That's right, I did." Scriabin nodded, carefully, and he held up a finger again. "Always gather as much information as you can before you make a decision, isn't that right? Surely you can't fault me for that, that's your tendency after all. I couldn't hear you while I was in control, of course..." And he could see a smile tugging at his lips for a second, something smug and satisfied. "My control over the body was absolute... impenetrable." And Edgar rolled his eyes, which drove away Scriabin's smile quickly enough. "But as a result, I didn't know what it was like from your perspective. I knew you were there, but I couldn't reach you, and at the time, I didn't know what that meant. And I didn't know how much you'd remember when you came back. No reason to tip my hand early, you see. And when I looked, lo and behold... I was correct in being cautious. You didn't remember a thing."

Edgar looked down at the table, his voice dropped down to a mumble. "And you lied to me about what happened."

"I did," Scriabin said. "At the time... I wasn't entirely sure I could do it again, or at least, how to do it again. Just that it was something that was within my abilities, something that I knew was possible. And I decided that was information that you didn't need to know." And the smile was back. "For your own safety, of course." Like it was a joke.

"Are you telling the truth now?"

A pause, and Scriabin tried his hand at a laugh. It was awkward, a quick huff of air, but it couldn't have been anything else. "I am, actually. You honestly can't tell the difference at all, can you? It's amazing to me, we've been together for so long and you still can't tell a lie from the truth." A moment, and something else entered his voice, something wondering and new. "I wonder, is that because I'm so good at it, or because you're so bad at it?"

Edgar thought over what he'd said, and something faint echoed, something too indistinct to identify, but somehow it guided his next words. "Did you think I'd come back the first time?"

Scriabin blinked at him, his previous light mood gone instantly, and he tilted his head. "When I took you over, you mean?"

"Did you think I'd come back?" Edgar stared down at the table.

There was a pause as Scriabin considered this, thoughtful and rubbing his chin, before he finally said something. "I think I did. It's sort of hard for me to remember now..."

"They said that you were meant to take me over completely..." Edgar mumbled, and he heard Todd jump a little.

"That's what you were supposed to do?" Todd asked, wide eyed and incredulous, and he hugged his bear tightly with a squeak. "Mr. Scriabin, that's awful! You were going to do that?"

"No," Scriabin said, in the same short and irritated way as before, and then he blinked at his own words before slumping down in his chair, grumbling.

"No? What do you mean, no? That's what you were going to do, isn't it?" Edgar said, although something in his chest was fluttering at the fact that Scriabin had denied it, some stupid part of him that just never knew when to stay down. "They said that was your true purpose."

"Shut up," Scriabin snapped, glowering, and he took a few seconds to try and find his words. "I told you, the forces at work are vastly beyond your understanding..."

"What does that have to do with anything? Was that what you were trying to do or not?" What was this feeling, why wasn't it going away? Something told him it was dumb, in a poor imitation of what Scriabin would have said had he been able to hear, in a plaintive echo to fill the void. "Every time, were you just hoping I'd never wake up again?"

"No." More in response to Edgar's offended tone than anything, and then Scriabin cursed and pressed a hand to his head, his teeth gritted. "You don't understand... you don't understand what it was like for me. You'll never understand what it was like."

"Why don't you try explaining for once instead of hiding behind your lies and your excuses?" Edgar crossed his arms. "And you're always nagging me about deflecting and avoiding."

"Were you really going to kill Mr. Edgar?" Todd said, still clutching his bear tightly. Both of them started at the question.

"Of course not!" Scriabin slapped a hand down on the table, clearly angry and Todd jumped again. "That's exactly what I've been trying not to do, despite everything you did to try and stop me." And he glared at Edgar.

"I wasn't trying to get myself killed-"

"That's all you ever tried to do!" Scriabin threw his arms out clumsily, emotion driving his actions before his body had the skill to compensate. "That's all you've ever tried to do, Edgar! When you aren't directly trying to get yourself killed, you're just passively lying there accepting death without a fight! I'm the only one who's ever bothered to try and keep you alive, you stupid asshole!"

"Don't call me that!" Edgar jabbed a finger at him, then glanced at Todd. "And watch your language. How can you possibly say you were trying to keep me alive when your entire purpose was to steal my life?" Edgar pressed a hand to his chest. "Christ, I can't believe it, in the end, you were the one who was going to kill me! After everything you said-"

"I was not!" Scriabin again slammed a fist against the table, and Todd hid further behind his stuffed bear. "The only thing I ever tried to do was keep you alive, and the fact you can't see that, you can't understand that, god damn you, god damn you, and you were chastising me for playing pretend when everything's changed? I can't believe what a goddamn asshole you are."

"Language!" Had he been in a calmer state of mind, it may have occurred to him to ask Todd to leave, but at this point the argument was so heated he could think of little else. "You were going to take me over! You were going to take me over completely, forever! You can't deny that!"

"That's not what I wanted to do!"

A brief pause helped cool down the embers, and Edgar blinked. Scriabin looked as if he hadn't wanted to say that.

"Then what did you want to do?" Warily, and Scriabin pressed his hands over his eyes.

"I was trying to keep you alive. I was trying to keep us alive. I've always been trying to do that." Lower now, strained, and he kept his head down. "I can't believe you couldn't see that, you still can't see it."

"Both of us? Or just the body for you?"

There was a faint tremble along Scriabin's arms, muscles straining and tight from pressure, and he didn't say anything for a few seconds.

"You are such an asshole." Quiet and with a faint quaver.

"Did you want to stay with Mr. Edgar?" Todd said, matching his tone. "You always said you were going to leave..."

Scriabin didn't say anything.

"When you took me over that first time... did you know I'd come back?" Edgar said, low and serious. "Did you even want me to?"

Scriabin sat there, his arms shaking, but he didn't say anything. Todd watched him for a few seconds then looked to Edgar, sympathy in his eyes.

"Mr. Edgar, of course he wanted you to come back," Todd said, with the absolute conviction that only children have. "Mr. Scriabin cares about you, you both know that, right? Otherwise he wouldn't have fought so hard to protect you when the monster came at night." He looked down at his bear. "And Mr. Scriabin said he didn't want to take you over, so maybe whoever said that was wrong. Maybe they didn't really know you two good enough to know that's not what he wanted." A moment. "And you, Mr. Edgar, you wanted him to stay alive too, right?" Todd tilted his head. "You said you saved him before, right?"

Todd looked between the two of them while Edgar stared across the table at his counterpart, and Scriabin lowered his hands to meet his eyes. Todd held one hand out to Edgar and another to Scriabin.

"You both saved each other, so you both want each other to be alive, that's what's really important, right?" Pleading a little for the argument to be over. "Even if they told you to do something else, you didn't, so you should think about that, and not everything else. You already said it was over, right, Mr. Edgar? So it's not important anymore." They didn't take his hands, so Todd leaned back in his chair, back to holding Shmee. "You got to stop getting stuck on what happened and focus on what's happening now, all the important things."

They stared at each other still, and Edgar could see his eyes behind his sunglasses, knocked askew.

"Did you really want to keep me alive?" Edgar said, softly.

Scriabin stared at him for another long moment before he could speak, something twisted in his words that he didn't know how to identify anymore. "I was trying to keep us alive."

"Because you had no choice? Or because..."

The muscles in his face twitching, fighting something, his lip raising for a brief second as if in a snarl before pulling down, and he buried his head in his hands.

"It doesn't matter why anymore," Scriabin mumbled eventually. "None of it matters. That part of our lives is over." A deep breath. "It doesn't matter."

And he'd probably never know, knowing him. Edgar looked down at the pad of paper, his eyelids feeling heavy. He kept reaching for him, kept calling, kept speaking internally and he did not respond, he would never respond. He was forever gone, forever at a distance, a barrier between them that could never be brought down. And it occurred to him that he'd been going about this the wrong way. If they could not hear each other internally, if they could not feel each other's emotions, read each other's thoughts, then... they'd have to...

"I thought that... if we ever did separate..." His words were halting, and he noticed Scriabin jolt a little at what he was saying, but he did not look up. "I always thought that if we did somehow get... away from each other, that things would be..." He tried to find the right word, but it refused to settle. "That things would be... better. For both of us. It seemed like that'd only make sense... it'd be the solution to all our problems. It'd fix everything, and now that it's happened..."

He traced a long line along the bottom of the page. "I don't know what I'm feeling right now, and I don't know if this really... fixed anything."

A long pause, and Scriabin didn't look up.

"I don't remember you thinking about us separating," Scriabin said eventually, muffled somewhat by his hands. "I remember you thinking about getting rid of me, somehow, but not us being separated."

Of course Scriabin would focus on that. Edgar doubled back on his line. "That's not what I was talking about."

"Argument based on faulty ground, where is that a place to begin...?" To himself more than anything else, without the strength that typified a true argument from him.

"What did you think it'd be like, Scriabin?" Edgar looked up from his pen. "Did you think it would fix things? Did you think this would make things better?"

Scriabin lowered his head further.

"I didn't think this would happen at all." Quiet and low.

Edgar sighed. "I don't know what to do with... all this." He gestured vaguely in the direction of his chest. "I thought..."

"What, do you want me to sort through your emotions for you? Tell you what to do? Give you your perfect solutions so you can ignore them, as you usually did? I'm here, but I'm still just a tool for your own emotional development and stability?" Scriabin's fingers were digging into his scalp, but still he kept his eyes on the table, refused to look up.

These attacks seemed so random now, so unpredictable, unconnected to Edgar's thought patterns in ways that only made him feel more and more ill at ease each time they happened.

"Then what about your feelings, Scriabin? How do you feel? Tell me how you feel, then, if you're upset that I'm not taking you into consideration. Tell me how you feel." Edgar reached a hand out to him. "Talk to me, if that's what you want."

And just like he thought, Scriabin didn't say anything.

"You were never any good at telling me about yourself before..." Edgar shook his head. "Why should that change now?"

"It's hard, Mr. Edgar," Todd said, breaking his attention away from Scriabin, who still resolutely refused to look at either of them. "It's really hard for Mr. Scriabin right now, he's got a lot of stuff to learn and deal with that he's never had before. Not without you with him to help him out, you know? Like Shmee." He held up his bear for a second. "He's trying to figure it out, it'll just take time I bet."

Scriabin was mumbling something to himself, but it was too soft to hear. Edgar stared at Todd for a few seconds longer, then looked back to the pad of paper. He set down his pen with a sigh.

"You're right... more than anything, I think we need time." And he looked back to Scriabin. "After all, we've got the rest of our lives to try and figure this out."

Challenging him to say something, to live up to his threat, to walk out as he'd said, to turn him away, cut their ties, leave him, and he wouldn't have done it if he didn't know how Scriabin would react.

And as Edgar thought, he didn't refute him. Just kept mumbling to himself, although he didn't know for what purpose.

The enormity of what had happened, of the reality of the person sitting across from him and the gaping, ragged hole he'd left inside him, refused to settle, refused to be appeased. It demanded answers, plans, explanations, the neat boxes Scriabin had mentioned. Perhaps his attack hadn't been entirely unfounded - if Edgar could take this experience, catalogue it neatly, file it away and then never think about it again, he'd feel much better. If he could feel at all like any part of this was under his control, he'd feel much better.

So much of his life had been out of his control for so long, and still, he wasn't used to it. Perhaps learned helplessness, as Scrabin had taunted him with, only went so far.

There was so much to work through, so much to sort through, so many questions to ask, and already it felt like they'd been talking for hours and they hadn't even scratched the surface. He said they'd have their whole lives but he didn't know that and it didn't feel like it. It felt like he had to get this resolved now, all of it, because for some reason or another, he was going to run out of time. Some other new calamity was going to happen, some aspect of this was going to slip from his hands and he'd have no one to blame but himself and his own lack of thoroughness.

He was so tired and still he felt like he hadn't accomplished anything. He wasn't unfamiliar with that feeling though - he remembered it from the last days, impressions lingering longer than any solid details.

He stared down at the legal pad, his idle lines and doodles, and Scriabin's name.

So, you are my brother now. Vaguely, hoping that thinking the words might make it seem real, might jump-start the part of him that took things apart and understood them, made things make sense. But no, it still didn't sound real or true, it still felt like some kind of dream, and still, no mocking response came for his confusion, no condescending laughter.

"I don't know what to do," Edgar said, eventually. When he looked up at Scriabin, he still had his head down. He could see his narrow shoulders rising and falling with his breathing... he'd gotten the hang of speaking so far, how much else was there for him to learn? Even that seemed like an insurmountable task, a mass of problems to solve without any idea of where to start. "What are we going to do?" And he emphasized the we.

Scriabin shivered once, but did not reply. As if he sensed his distress, Todd again reached a hand out to him.

"Shmee says you should start with small things first. Are all the practical problems done?" Todd pointed at the pad of paper, and Edgar looked down at it but didn't read any of the words.

"I don't know... I can't think of anything else right now." It'd probably come to him later.

"So... what else do you have to do right now?" Todd looked over at the wall with the calendar. "You have to go to work soon, right?"

"Ah, that's right..." Edgar blinked, and he adjusted his glasses and squinted. "In a few days, it looks like."

"Okay, so now you know what you got to do." Todd nodded, sounding rather pleased with himself. "Mr. Scriabin, what stuff do you need help learning?"

"I don't need anyone's help." Still muffled, and he hadn't moved his hands. "I'll figure this out by myself."

Todd stared at him for a few seconds, then shrugged. "Okay, if you say so. So, that's done too then, isn't it, Mr. Edgar?" He looked back to him.

Edgar tilted his head, and he knew it couldn't be that simple, but there was nothing in him to goad him to fight. "I suppose."

"So where is Mr. Scriabin going to sleep anyway?"

Right, that had been his first question and he hadn't even answered it. He found himself looking at the pad of paper again, his pen pressed to his lips in thought. Emotions were clearing a little at the prospect of a simple logistical question, and nothing in him told him that was wrong. "Right..." He drew an entirely pointless diagram, more to do something with his hands than anything else. "You're already on the couch... I'm not sure there's much room anywhere else." Another moment of thought. "I'll have to look into an air mattress or something like that, but in the meantime, if there are enough pillows and blankets, the floor shouldn't be unmanageable."

Saying something like that should have brought on an attack, mentally or even physically now, and when Scriabin did not say anything, Edgar looked up. Still he had his head in his hands.

"No comment? That's unusual for you." Edgar frowned, then focused a little harder. "Are you alright?"

"Leave me alone."

He stared at him for a few more seconds, then turned back to the pad of paper with a resigned sigh.

"Fine." A moment, and he reminded himself, reminded the voice that kept calling within, and the hand that kept desperately trying to reach out to Scriabin, to find how he felt and just know without having to guess. They couldn't work that way anymore, he had to find other ways, they had to do this like... normal people. No more instant knowledge, only knowledge that could be gained from actually speaking to each other. That was their only option now, because there was no going back. "...I wish I could still feel how you felt. I wish I knew what you were thinking."

And Scriabin - as he always had whenever Edgar had reached out to him, whenever Edgar had tried to connect with him, understand him - Scriabin did not respond. He'd fight against it until his dying day, even if it was what he wanted, for reasons Edgar would probably never understand.

How could he know him and not know him at all? How could he know Scriabin, know how he'd behave, predict his behavior, and then constantly be warning himself about the stranger in his house, constantly questioning and doubting if the person he stared at was even him, was even human?

What a mess this all was.

"I've had enough of this for now." He set the pad of paper down and stood up. "Todd, do you want to help me try and set up the bed?"

"Sure!" Eager to help, or just glad to do something, he didn't know. Edgar walked back towards the living room, and when he passed by Scriabin, he stopped and looked over. Still he sat with his back hunched, his head buried in his hands, apparently focused on breathing although it was hard to say. There was a faint bit of fuzz on his scalp now that he looked, a few lingering strands of hair, but nothing else.

He thought about asking if he wanted to help, then thought that if they were truly free from each other, if things really were different, then Scriabin could make his own decisions just as Edgar could, and they'd both have to live with that. Scriabin had said to leave him alone... then Edgar would leave him alone. He could do that now, they could both do that.

He walked past him, and Scriabin didn't move or say anything.

Todd followed along behind him, held out his hands as Edgar began pulling blankets out of his hall closet. It was odd - the closet had always been a mess, but there were a lot of things in there that he didn't remember, and it took him a while to find things where they should have been. Scriabin, no doubt, but still, it unnerved him a little.

"Do you think Mr. Scriabin's okay?" Todd asked as Edgar piled another blanket in his arms. He wasn't quite whispering, but he obviously only intended it for them.

"I don't know," Edgar said in the same tone of voice, and the thought struck him that for once, now, finally, he could actually have a conversation with someone that Scriabin could not hear. He could have secrets again, real ones, he could have privacy. He could talk about Scriabin to someone else and not be afraid of him overhearing. That sensation of freedom was so overwhelming and so sudden that it barely registered, a white sheet draped over it while he struggled to keep his focus. "I don't know what he's going through right now."

"Yeah... it's complicated. They're not like us," Todd said, as if he dealt with this kind of thing all the time. Edgar was never going to get used to that. "It's got to be hard."

"Well..." Edgar kneeled down and folded another blanket on top of the pile Todd was carrying, and he smiled faintly, although he wasn't sure why. "Your friend Shmee always seems to have good advice. What does he think?"

Todd beamed at him for acknowledging his bear, all too excited to tell him. "Shmee knows a lot about this stuff, though it's not everything. And sometimes it's hard to understand. But he says..." And he paused for a second, his face squinched like he was listening to something far away. "Huh, okay." With a slightly confused expression, and then he was back. "He says... there's a bunch, but he says you should remember..." Trying to find words, or hear them, or remember them, it was hard to say. "He says, Scriabin's always been inside you, right?"

"Yes."

"And he's never been outside you before, not for real like this. There was always a part of him in you, that's what he said, right?"

"He said that." And it was only the fact that Edgar had seen that part himself that meant anything. Scriabin said a lot of things.

"So..." Todd adjusted his arms a bit, and when he lost his balance Edgar steadied him. "So, he's always had you somewhere, right? He's never been alone before. And..." His eyes narrowed in concentration. "And Shmee says that might be... that'll probably be the hardest part."

"It's strange to think..." Edgar was smiling at the thought again, and he didn't know why because it wasn't pleasant or funny. "I was always so sure he hated me... I can't imagine he'd be anything but happy to get away from me."

"He's never been alone before, Mr. Edgar." Todd looked at him now, direct eye contact and this time he was speaking to him, not as an intermediary between him and his imaginary friend. "You and me and other humans, we've all been alone sometimes but he's never been alone ever. Even Shmee was alone for a while before he found me, 'cause he grew up somewhere else." And Todd nodded to himself. "But if Mr. Scriabin grew up in you, then he's never been anywhere else."

Edgar stared at the blankets in Todd's arms, and his words were slow to come. "That's true..."

"So... it's gonna be hard." Todd looked sympathetic, and Edgar wondered if he'd still feel that way if he knew all of what Scriabin had done to him over their time together. "And the new body's gonna be hard too, so..." And Todd looked down a little, this time a bit awkward, and that caught Edgar's attention. That wasn't typical for him at all. "If you guys start fighting again, try and remember that, okay?"

Edgar blinked at him, and he wasn't sure what it was he was feeling, just that it was sudden and incomprehensible, distorted by the echoes thrown in the blank void within him, the lack of clarity he'd come to expect from another source. Never good with emotions or feelings, what was this? Was he touched? Was that what this was?

"You guys fought all the time before, it was awful," Todd said, very softly, and he sounded wounded and now Edgar felt clearly and completely terrible. "Even when I couldn't hear all of it, it was awful. If everything's different now like you said, then maybe you don't have to fight anymore."

He hadn't thought about how it'd affect Todd, any child that was exposed to something like that, how selfish had he been? This feeling he could recognize very easily. Shame he'd learned early on.

"Maybe," Edgar said softly, and he looked up to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry, Todd. I shouldn't have put you through that."

"No, it's okay, Mr. Edgar," Todd said quickly, now looking upset at the idea of Edgar being upset, and there was another twinge of compassion and recognition in him that were almost startling, they were so strong. "It's not your fault, you guys were stuck and I know he started it sometimes. You're trying your best, it's okay! And I'm really glad you helped me after my parents got abducted by aliens and everything, you've been really nice to me. Don't feel bad, okay?"

He'd been so wrapped up in himself, in his own problems, his constant mental war with Scriabin, with the hallucinations and nightmares and delusions, that he'd forgotten what it was like to talk to another human being, to look them in the eyes. And unlike almost everyone else in his life, Todd had never been particularly hard to read.

The vague, strange thing echoing, rebounding where Scriabin would have been, where he would have pinned it down and brought it to light, and then something clicked, a connection made again, the first tenuous line across the gap without his help.

He saw far too much of himself as a child in Todd.

Edgar blinked several times, laughed a little to help bring himself back, and set a hand on Todd's shoulder lightly.

"I'm going to try and do a better job from now on, alright? For your sake. It's the least I can do if you're going to stay with me." Edgar tilted his head, his smile broadening just slightly, although it was the opposite of how he felt. "You deserve that much."

Todd stared at him for a few seconds, blinking, like he'd never heard that concept before, before he gave him a much more honest and genuine smile than Edgar could manage, one motivated through joy instead of sadness. "Thanks, Mr. Edgar. It's okay, really. It'd just be nice if things really could be different between you two."

"It would be, wouldn't it?" Edgar sighed a little, still smiling faintly, as he gathered up some of the pillows he'd found and stood, shutting the closet door with one foot. "I'd like it to be... I'm going to try. But I guess we won't know until..." It happens, and hadn't he said that to Johnny? That was something he didn't want to deal with right now, he had enough problems to think about without bringing him into it. Still, was this the same? Was he, if nothing else, at least being consistent? "Until some time passes." Close enough.

He looked back into the kitchen, and he saw Scriabin hadn't moved. What was he doing? What was he thinking? Had Edgar said something wrong? Was he upset, was he angry, was he sick, was he sad? He had no way of knowing, no way to tell now, he couldn't just reach out and touch him as he once had, no matter how hard he tried. He'd taken their connection for granted, and he couldn't believe he was actually saying that.

"I hope he's alright..." Edgar mumbled, very quietly, and Todd looked over to him from where he was pushing some of the couch pillows onto the floor.

"It'll be okay, Mr. Edgar," Todd whispered back. "It's just gonna be hard for a while but it'll be okay. At least there's no monster now, right?" And he smiled at him, that faint pleading look that he didn't want to look nostalgic.

"That's right..." Edgar stared down at the carpet instead, arranging pillows too carefully, putting a great deal of thought and care into where he put the blankets. "We've been through worse..."

"You both went through worse." Still whispering. "Right? So this'll be nothing, huh?"

"...I hope so." Edgar glanced over at Scriabin, wariness still burned deep, and he hadn't moved. "This isn't like anything else that's happened before."

"Yeah, I didn't know they could get out like that." Todd looked around the room nervously. "But it'll be okay. Shmee thinks it'll be okay, and he's usually right about this kind of stuff." A pause. "The axe stuff, not so much."

Edgar raised an eyebrow, but decided not to ask. Kid stuff, probably. He'd never been very good at that, and the thought sent a pang through him that made his hands shake for a second. What was it Scriabin had told him, that he didn't know how to play pretend games as a child...

He stared at Scriabin's back, the stranger, the parasite, the inhuman spiritual thing, the deeply confused and vulnerable man, his newborn brother. How did he get so good at playing them as an adult?

"Thanks for helping, Todd," Edgar said once the job was finished, the vague facsimile of a bed now by the couch. Not one Edgar'd want to sleep in himself, but it'd serve until he found something better. Todd smiled at him again, broad and honest, and Edgar smiled back at him, although it felt weak in comparison. "With everything. You're a very bright kid, you know that?"

"Thanks, Mr. Edgar." Todd grinned even more at the compliment, took it completely at face value. It was strange to interact with someone that was so relatively uncomplicated. "I know it's got to be real hard. I don't know what I'd do if Shmee got his own human body. Probably go crazy." With a faint squeak at the thought.

"Well, let's hope that never happens," Edgar said, softly, and he smoothed down the blankets for the fifth time, before he reminded himself that he had to say things now, he had to say things out loud because there were no more conversations to be had internally. "...Not sure what to do now."

Todd looked back at the table. Still Scriabin sat in the same position as before. He looked back to Edgar.

"If Mr. Scriabin doesn't want to talk or anything..." He tilted his head, and his smile was back. "Can you help me with my homework?"

[]

The silence was painful.

It wasn't Scriabin's general silence that hurt the most, although he'd said shockingly little since their conversation had dwindled off, and the longer he said nothing, the more afraid Edgar became that something terrible was going to happen, he had something truly awful in store for him. Silence from Scriabin was a warning, not a blessing, and even though the circumstances were so different, he could not shake that reaction.

But even that wasn't what ached, what never seemed to stop bleeding. Still, he called out for him, no matter how many times he reminded himself it was futile. Still, he reached out for him, even when he knew it was impossible. He found now that there was a yawning abyss where Scriabin had been that he'd touched him more often than he'd ever been aware of... he'd never realized how often he'd reached out to brush Scriabin lightly, glanced across his feelings as if to confirm he was still there, to get an idea of how he felt. Like breathing, like blinking, it had become a ritual to him to check on him subconsciously, to keep track of his moods, to think as if he was speaking to him, and he'd never realized just how much he did that until there was no one to do it for.

Alone with his thoughts, how could it hurt so much? How had he lived like this before? How had he lived without him, although when that thought crossed his mind he'd winced, eyes shut, prepared for a blow that didn't come until Todd broke his thoughts and brought him back.

He kept asking who Scriabin was, but who was he? Had taking Scriabin out of him so abruptly, had it really broken something? It felt like something was missing, so many things that he couldn't begin to list them all, how could he find one fracture in the midst of endless rubble?

But he tried, he tried to get through it the way he knew best - losing himself in practical, simple problems until he could think of nothing else. And helping Todd was a good way to do that, yet another reason he was thankful to have him here.

His first instinct was to just tell Todd the answers to his homework, but he realized soon enough that that wouldn't burn up enough time, keep him distracted long enough for the circles to stop, so Edgar tried to find ways to teach him instead. It was new to him, to be this lucid speaking to Todd, and he could tell from his expression that Todd wasn't entirely used to it either. Far more accustomed to seeing him in his frazzled, broken state before, constantly at war with himself, slipping further down into insanity with each day.

Edgar tried to remind himself when he felt guilty that it was better than Todd having nowhere to go at all, or, God forbid, being taken in by Johnny. Even if Johnny had no intentions of harming the kid, he was absolutely sure that the last thing Todd needed to see was more death, and death followed Johnny everywhere. Maybe it wasn't the best home life, maybe he hadn't been the greatest caregiver or role model, but Edgar had tried. And he could try harder now and make up for what he'd done, and that was all he could do, wasn't it?

The silence within him mocked him. How thirsty had he become for constant judgment, or had he just grown so used to it that he couldn't conceive of life without it?

By the time they were done with his homework, it was late and Edgar was hungry, and he was sure he wasn't the only one. Still, Scriabin hadn't said anything.

"Did you have anything in mind for dinner?" Edgar said as he headed to the kitchen, and Todd followed along close behind him. He looked at Scriabin as they passed, concerned, and Edgar continued to the cabinets.

"Mr. Scriabin?" He heard Todd say softly, and when he turned to look, he was tugging at Scriabin's shirt. "Do you want to eat something?"

Scriabin jerked when touched, lifted his head for a second as all muscles went rigid. When he turned and saw it was Todd, he let out a breath and relaxed a little.

"You should eat something," Edgar said, turning back to the cabinets. He stared at the food but it didn't register. "Your body's new, after all. You must be hungry."

"I know this body better than you," Scriabin said, although he sounded hoarse. Perhaps from not speaking for so long, although it was hard to say. He coughed a little. "I'll tell you when I'm hungry or not."

"Or don't tell me and just make your own food." With minor irritation that came so naturally he didn't question it. "You can take care of yourself."

"I wasn't asking you for favors," Scriabin growled.

"Good." And he reminded himself, he said he was going to try and get better at this. Try and let the anger go. "But if I'm going to make something, do you have a preference anyway?"

Was it always going to be like this now?

He could hear Todd whispering something to Scriabin, something he couldn't quite make out, and he tried to focus on the cans and boxes in the cabinet to try and decide what he himself wanted, if nothing else. Surely Scriabin would have had a field day with that thought, if he could've heard it, and how often would he keep hitting that bruise until it stopped hurting? It was never going to heal.

"Whatever you want. I don't care," Scriabin eventually said, vaguely breathless, like he didn't want to. Edgar glanced back, and Todd gave him a shrug with a faint smile. What was it he said to him? "It doesn't matter." And Scriabin was back to his previous position, his head in his hands.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Edgar pulled out a can of Skettios. "You've been so quiet."

"Shut up."

"It's not like you, that's all." Edgar didn't look behind him, tried to focus entirely on what he was doing. How hungry was he? He was going to need more than one can, although he wondered, how much would Scriabin eat, if he could figure it out? Would he be deathly hungry, or would eating make him sick? Buried in an avalanche of questions with no answers. He had to say things out loud now, he had to talk to him. Scriabin couldn't pluck it out of his head anymore. "I'm just concerned."

"Bull..." And he trailed off. Maybe Todd being so close to him had reminded him. "Since when have you cared about anyone but yourself?"

"Mr. Scriabin, stop it," Todd said. "He's trying to be nice to you."

Edgar stopped, he couldn't help himself, blinking several times, and he was sure Scriabin must have reacted the same way. This pattern with them was so long-set; the idea of someone breaking through it, getting involved, doing something... someone else rebuking Scriabin, telling him to stop, was such a surreal experience that it was difficult to clear his thoughts or his emotions enough to come back to reality. Scolded by a child no less, why couldn't Edgar do that himself? Because Scriabin wouldn't listen of course, he'd take it as ammunition and just strike harder, whenever they were locked into each other things just escalated out of control until...

"I don't need him to be nice to me," Scriabin eventually grumbled. "I don't need anyone to be nice to me. I don't need any of you anymore."

Lies, of course, although what else did he expect of him?

"It's okay to need people sometimes, Mr. Scriabin. Especially after what happened." He could hear Todd getting back on the chair he'd sat on earlier. "We all got to stick together."

"I don't need anyone." Scriabin's voice was more muffled now, like he wasn't talking to them.

"Why aren't you listening?" Todd said, and Edgar felt a twinge of conscience because Todd was what, ten years old? This was something Edgar should be doing, this shouldn't be his responsibility. Scriabin was his problem, his burden. This was his job. He had to try harder.

"Why do you keep saying that?" Edgar broke in. "That you don't need anyone, why is that so important to you?"

"You don't understand anything." With more strength now, frustration bleeding though. "I keep saying it, and you never grasp it. You don't understand anything, anything about me or what I was or what I am now."

"Like what? What is it that I don't understand? Can you explain it, or is that just an easy way to avoid the issue while still making it my fault?"

"This is your fault." Like a default response.

"Of course it's my fault, I was stupid enough to ask them to save you and they did, for reasons I still don't even understand." Edgar slammed down the spatula he was holding and rubbed his temples. "I..." knew I shouldn't have done that crossed his mind, but he thankfully bit his tongue. No, that would absolutely not help, and it wasn't even true, he was just frustrated.

"Mr. Edgar saved you," Todd said, trying to emphasize his words. "He does care about you, okay? That's proof that he does. Can't you try and listen to him?"

"Then why did you save me, Edgar?" Angry, in a strangely wounded way, like Todd hadn't spoken, and Edgar felt himself flinch, preparing for the blow. He knew this was coming, what was it he had in store? "If all I've ever done is cause you grief, if I really am a heartless monster that only ever caused you trouble, that only ever hurt you, then why did you save me? Why did you come down off your pretty little cloud and save me with your divine grace?" Familiar sarcasm tinging his words, although he wasn't entirely sure it was all directed at him. A moment, and Scriabin laughed humorlessly, a single brief effort. "Are you really that much of a masochist?"

Edgar felt himself trembling slightly, trying to sort through the dozens of responses that burst to life in his head, find the right words that wouldn't make things worse and at the same time find the words that would slam Scriabin back into the ground, that'd hurt him in return, that'd wound and win for once, and what was right? What was the right decision, he had no one to guide him anymore. No more running commentary, what had happened to his judgment? He had to think, he couldn't let him get to him. He couldn't let this keep happening, he told himself he wouldn't keep doing this.

Things had to change. They had to change, and he had to take steps to enact that change, and he had to do things differently. Scriabin wanted to run in circles but he was not going to follow him, he was not going to do this anymore. For Todd's sake if nothing else.

What was it that flitted across all the things he could say, something that tempted but vanished, instantly disregarded as a bad idea? The truth, of course, to simply say the truth, what he'd really thought at the time. He snatched onto the thought, struggled to pull it back into coherency. Never reveal emotional weakness to Scriabin, you can't trust him, he'll only hurt you, countless warnings that he'd told himself endless times to take to heart, and still, here he was. He was sure that just saying it would be a mistake, but it would be doing something differently. Scriabin was the liar - for once Edgar could just be honest.

"Fine, you want to know why?" His voice cracked, and he narrowed his eyes and focused more directly on the food he was making, refused to turn around and see how Scriabin was reacting, how anyone was reacting. Like he was saying it to an empty room, and that was how it felt to say or think anything now. "I wanted to save my brother."

He couldn't see whether or not his words had struck a nerve or not, but he didn't wait to find out. He's not theirs, he's mine. If I'd gone after you, you wouldn't have died. It doesn't feel right for someone to die so I could live. "They told me the truth about you and I should've let them just kill you, after all the lies you told me and how you hurt me so many times, I should have done it, I should have just let you go and let you die and just- just let it happen, I should have just let it go, like you- I should have but I kept thinking about that stupid dream we had, and I kept thinking about the stupid things you said to me, and I kept thinking about..." He was getting angrier, louder with each word, and his eyes were stinging and he tried to stop his hands from shaking. Why was his body acting like this? Why did this always happen when he wanted to speak his mind? "I kept thinking about the stupid things I said, and who we were and, and that was enough, that was enough to make me do it. I wanted to save my brother so I tried, and it worked, and here you are."

Silence as he let out a trembling breath, felt his heart pounding and tried to calm himself down a little. He blinked slowly, heavily, as he stared down at the pan. "The whole thing was just a... it was just a bunch of lies, just us lying to each other, you lying to me for... whatever reason you have, I'm sure you have a million of them." He waved a hand carelessly. "But I couldn't... I couldn't let it go."

And he could already imagine his voice in his head, what he'd say to that, and why not? Why not just say it? It would never leave his head otherwise, and why not? He tilted his head, raising a hand and putting on his best imitation of Scriabin's voice, something he couldn't remember ever doing before. "Of course you couldn't let it go, my boy, you can't let go of all your childish fantasies. Even after they're proven to be false, you can't let anything go. Me, God, what is it? What is it that you're clinging to?" His voice cracked again, and Edgar narrowed his eyes further, blinking rapidly to try and clear the blurriness away. His imitation had grown fierce and ragged, overpowered by other thoughts. It was so easy to dig into the heart of things when he talked like this, no matter how painful and terrible. "Are you that desperate for the illusion of love? How many times do you have to hit your hand against the glass before you realize the mirror won't let you through? It was all a lie, I was lying to you..." And he sniffed and gritted his teeth. "I can say it to your face, and you still refuse to believe me... you're that desperate to believe that someone loves you. What's wrong with you?"

More than anything he wanted to leave the room, just walk out into the night and not come back, but he couldn't leave the food half-prepared. He'd trapped himself, how fitting. He pinched the bridge of his nose hard until pain spread back through his eyes to his skull, wishing that that might do something to fill the silence.

Scriabin did not say anything.

"Is that what you'd say?" Edgar finally got tired of it, trying to regulate his voice. "All I can do is guess now."

Still, he refused to speak, and Edgar let out a long sigh, stared at the spatula in his hand, the pan on the burner, tried to think only of that. He heard Todd faintly whispering, maybe trying to talk to Scriabin again, he wasn't sure.

So, the ability to wound with words, that had been a part of him all along. Maybe that was where Scriabin had gotten it from... or perhaps he'd just learned it after being exposed to him for so long. The lines between were so blurry. His head hurt, was that true? How could he think something like that, was it true? Was he really that desperate, that stupid, to have saved his tormentor because of a delusion? Something that never even actually happened? After everything he'd done, how many times would he have to burn his hands before he learned his lesson? How many times could he do this to himself? He couldn't even blame Scriabin for any of it, it was all his doing.

"Mr. Edgar..." Todd said, timidly, and Edgar felt another pang of guilt. He'd said he was going to try harder and what was he doing right now? "Mr. Scriabin wouldn't say something like that..."

If only he knew. He probably would have said something even worse.

"Was it really something so noble?" Scriabin said, still without his normal strength, groping with each word for a thread that had always been so easy for him to find. "Was it really about saving me, or just the act of saving anyone, of earning your little golden wings, feeding your moral superiority complex? Did I even matter, or were you just opposed to the basic concept of death? Or perhaps it was something more childish, a refusal to let go of something that you thought was yours, without thinking of the consequences..." A moment, and Edgar could picture him twisting his hand in the air, as if that could keep his words coming when they faltered. "After everything I've seen you do, I'm understandably skeptical about the 'goodness' of your heart, or what it can motivate you to do."

Edgar had the ability, but Scriabin had retained his own, even as awkward as he was about it. And the wound he dug into him, the cut landed in a way that he was sure Scriabin hadn't anticipated. He wanted to argue, to refute, to prove him wrong, to doubt and refuse, and he reminded himself it was a circle, it was all a big circle, Scriabin was goading him into following again and he wasn't going to, he wasn't going to keep doing this. There had to be another way, another path, another route to take, a way out of this that he'd never seen before, had never thought enough to look for.

"Why can't you just accept it?" Edgar blinked, and his eyes kept stinging. He leaned further over the pan, letting the steam fog up his glasses. "Why are you trying to explain it away? Why is it so important to you for it not to be true, for there to be some ulterior motive? Why are you so desperate to prove I don't care about you?"

A pause as he assumed Scriabin considered his words.

"I'm not trying to prove anything," he said carefully. "I'm refusing to believe a lie. You don't care about me. You never have."

"Mr. Scriabin, that's not-"

"Why do you think that?" Edgar looked up, took a deep breath.

"Because your actions speak louder than words," Scriabin said, trying to keep his calm tone but it kept breaking, emotion pouring through, syllables fast and torn. "You've never taken me into consideration, the minute I trust you you treat me like a parasite, a thing, some inhuman monster, you ignore my feelings, you disregard my advice, you call me names, you put me in danger- my death meant nothing to you, the only thing you ever cared about was yourself, even after you told me all your fine stories about how much you cared about me, you still went back, you still refused to see me as anything but a parasite, a scourge, a villain- how am I supposed to believe you now? After everything you've done to me, after all the times I've been burned by believing things could be different, that you could care about anyone other than yourself, how am I supposed to believe you? I'm not as stupid as you, I don't keep making the same mistakes over and over. I don't hold onto scraps and lie to myself about how things are."

Edgar could see the track, the invitation, the intended path so clearly. It'd be so easy to follow him, so easy to do what he wanted, and he had to keep looking, he had to keep finding other ways, he had to stay above it, as much as his hands may have trembled, his chest aching.

"Why did I save you, Scriabin?"

"I..." Scriabin started, and he cut himself off. "I already told you, to feed your superiority complex, to earn points with God, there are a dozen reasons..."

"I care about you."

"I don't believe you."

"I saved your life because I care about you."

"You- you don't- you try to save everyone's lives, it doesn't even matter how you feel about them- you tried to save Jimmy's life, did you care about him? Was he worth it, would the world really have been worse off without him, is that what you're saying?"

"I saved your life."

"You-..." And his voice was trembling, and he could hear the chair shifting against the floor, the squeak of the wood. "You didn't think it through, you didn't want to, you did it out of obligation, for yourself, for your salvation, to feed your ego, it wasn't about me, it's never been about me, you've never cared enough about me to take me into consideration..."

"I saved your life, and brought you here. I gave you what you've always wanted, a body of your own."

"You-... you don't know that it was you, it could have been- maybe it was me, maybe I convinced them, maybe they looked inside me and saw I deserved to be saved, you don't know it was you or your god, you don't have any proof it was you, it could have... it could have been me, for all we know..."

"Scriabin..."

And the stream of words stopped. Edgar looked down, set the spatula to one side, and took in two deep breaths before he turned around. Scriabin sat in his chair, his back straight, his palms flat against the table and he could see him trembling in waves, the intensity of his emotions clearly racking through his features, everything so obvious.

"I asked you what your name was," Edgar said quietly, "and you told me you were my brother."

Scriabin stared at him, still shaking with heaving breaths, his mouth open like he wanted to think of something to say to that but couldn't.

"Scriabin, after everything you've done to me... I still care about you. I know that I shouldn't, I wish that I didn't, but I do. Everything logical in me says that I shouldn't but I still do, enough for me to ask them to save you, despite everything that told me not to. I care about you somewhere and I can't make it stop, even when I know it's stupid. I tell myself all the things you've done, all the lies you've told me, all the cruel things you said to me, everything you were meant to do to me, everything, I tell myself all these things over and over, because it makes sense for me not to care about you. I shouldn't care about you, after everything you've done. You've hurt me so badly, so many times, that there's no reason I should care about you. There's no reason I should've wanted to save you. But I did." Edgar touched a hand to his chest. "Logic and reason tried their hardest to make it go away, to put it in a box like you said and make it stop, and it didn't work. I still cared about you. No matter how stupid it was, I still cared about you. Even when I knew I'd get hurt, still... I cared about you. My brother."

He let his hand drift downwards, reach out to him, and still Scriabin said nothing, only staring at him with wide eyes, still shivering.

"I can tell myself I shouldn't all I want, I can yell at myself for being stupid all I like, but it doesn't change anything. Whatever it is... it's too deep to make go away with words. Maybe that's my own fault, for not knowing enough about this kind of thing... you used to say something like that to me, I believe. But that feeling is there, and it won't go away, and it's hard to accept something that doesn't make sense like that. And it doesn't make sense. But it made me want to save you. It was strong enough to save you." Edgar blinked as his eyes began stinging again. "It makes me want to keep you here, even though I know it will be hard."

They stared at each other, and still, Scriabin could not think of anything to say. How rarely had he ever rendered him speechless?

A thought that had flitted by before came back, previously kept away with fear and guilt, the dangers of exposing something too honest, too true, to someone who had so routinely torn him to shreds for it. He reached for it.

"It makes me want to live my life with you."

It was like he'd struck him, something raw and painful crossing his face, an emotion too deep for him to be able to understand, and Scriabin didn't give him much of a chance to analyze it. He tore himself away, a rough clumsy movement as he stood, knocking his chair over, and stumbled out of the room. He nearly collided with the wall as he tried to steady himself against it, then staggered into the living room and out of sight. Edgar watched him go, and he didn't feel his expression change. Only the stinging in his eyes.

There was silence for a time, then Todd slowly got off his chair and went to set Scriabin's upright again, moving as quietly as possible. "Mr. Edgar, do you think we should go after him?" In a faint whisper.

"No... leave him." Edgar let out a fluttering sigh, and he turned back to the food. "He'll come back on his own."

"Did you mean that?" Todd said, with a bit more strength now, and Edgar turned off the burner and went to get some bowls.

"I did," Edgar said, although there was a strange distance from the words, a return to his typical apathy after baring so much so unexpectedly. He'd exposed his throat to his most common predator, and here he was, alive and well. He should be torn to shreds right now, but instead... "I thought, we were always lying to each other... maybe things can be different if I'm just more honest."

"That's a good idea," Todd said, and he took the bowl Edgar offered him. "It's always good to be honest."

"That's what I'm hoping." Edgar glanced back at the living room. Where would Scriabin have gone? He didn't hear too much crashing around farther in the apartment. "I didn't think that's how he'd react."

"Do you think Mr. Scriabin feels the same way about you?" Todd said, in-between mouthfuls of Skettios. "That he cares about you but he doesn't want to?"

"Maybe..." Edgar said, staring down at his own food, and he didn't feel that hungry now but made himself take some bites anyway. They did mirror each other in so many ways... how much of his behavior would that explain? "It's hard to believe. He's... well, he's treated me very badly sometimes." And it was hard to make the words come out. Somehow it was difficult to say to Todd. "If he did care about me, he didn't do a very good job of showing it."

He glanced at Todd as he said it, and saw complete understanding on his face, none of the pity or confusion he might have expected admitting it to someone else, and of course. The piece slotted into place with a painful jerk, of course Todd would understand something like that... all he had to think of were his parents.

"That's what he said about you too though, right?" Todd said.

"That's true..." Inwardly he winced, still used to far more than that whenever something was pointed out to him. "Maybe he does. I don't know."

"Well..." Todd looked down at his own bowl. "Maybe he has to figure it out for himself. We should leave him some though, in case he gets hungry."

"Some what? Oh, right..." Edgar hadn't even been thinking about food. He glanced around the kitchen... with Scriabin as clumsy as he was, he didn't want him trying to cook anything at the moment. There probably wasn't enough for him... he'd make him some more and put in the fridge maybe, leave him a note...

Such mundane loops helped him calm down, close the window he'd opened into his heart, helped create the illusion of normalcy again, but it was fragile as most illusions were. What was he going to do? What was going to happen now?

There was nothing to do but try and handle it as it came. Accept and adapt. He could do that. He'd done that before. He could do that.

How long would it take for the mental silence to stop being so jarring? To stop asking internal questions that would never be answered? What would the Scriabin in his head have said, if he'd made such a confession to him? Would they have even made it that far, or would Scriabin have expertly plied him onto some other meaningless argumental diversion, controlled and directed the conversation as he saw fit to reach the conclusion that he wanted? Would Edgar have been allowed even, to refuse to engage as he had? Or would Scriabin have found some way to stop the entire thing from happening?

Why would he, if he had? So as not to hear Edgar say it, or not to think about whether or not it was another aspect of their mirror? I am you, he'd said that so many times... how far did that go, even now?

"You look like you're thinking again," Todd said, and Edgar blinked and came back to reality. "Maybe you should try to do something else. Like, relax your brainmeats, you know?"

"Maybe." Edgar wasn't sure if it was a good idea; he didn't like letting go of anything, especially when this seemed so important, but he felt so lost and drained that he wasn't sure he could accomplish much more in his current state.

"So you should watch some TV with me!" Todd smiled at him. "TV's the best for not thinking!"

He couldn't argue with that.

[]

It was strange how hard it was to focus on a leisurely activity, particularly when the whole point of it was not to think. Still, at the back of his mind, the same questions kept repeating and looping around, tracing the edges of the gap within him, a constant reminder of its presence. Where had Scriabin gone? Why had he left? Why did he react that way? How as he feeling? What was he thinking? What was he feeling? What were they going to do? How was he going to integrate Scriabin into society? And as the questions grew bigger, the greater the anxiety that came with them, the louder they became. What was he going to do about the new car? What was he going to do about his work? How long would it take Scriabin to adjust? How much would he have to learn?

What was he going to tell Johnny?

That question came at him so sharply, so painfully, the fear and cringing certainty of death giving it a blinding flash that made him shake his head, force himself to think about nothing else but the cartoon animals on the television. He couldn't do this, he couldn't do this to himself, he had to relax. His head hurt, he had to relax, and still he reached out to Scriabin inside him, his phantom other self. It was tempting to pretend he could hear him, to imagine what he'd say, but he only got a few lines into a "conversation" with him before he cut himself off firmly. No, that was not healthy. No matter what else had happened, he knew that was not healthy. He couldn't start talking to a fake Scriabin, not after all this.

He had to talk to the real one.

Todd had tucked himself beneath the blanket thrown over the couch, his bear in his arms, and after another slow rise and burn of anxious unanswered questions, culminating in Edgar shaking his head like he could get rid of them that way, he looked over at Todd and found his eyes closed.

What time was it anyway? He felt like it'd been an eternity. Edgar turned the television off, stood up as quietly as he could, and turned to go. He hesitated a moment, looked back, and then came over closer to Todd, adjusting the blanket closer up around his arms, and he didn't stir. There. Now he could go.

Edgar wanted to call out for Scriabin, just find him instantly, say his name and hear his response inside him, but that wasn't an option anymore. Todd was asleep, and Scriabin was out. Accept it, accept it, and he walked down his narrow hallway. The closet was closed, and he noticed the bathroom door was closed as well. Was that where Scriabin was hiding?

He waited a few seconds, trying to make a decision, before he thought to check his bedroom as well. He flicked on the lights and found it empty, with no sign of anyone. So, it had to be the bathroom then.

Edgar did notice, however, that the toy was missing.

He walked over to the nightstand and traced his fingertips across the spot where the toy had once stood. Edgar didn't feel anything, no deep sense of unease as before. He'd like to have it back there, sure, but it was just as if he'd misplaced his keys. The urgency, the calm it used to invoke in him, wasn't there. And that'd make sense, wouldn't it? If Scriabin was out, if he was free, then he had no connection to the toy anymore... Edgar had no connection to the toy any more through him. It was a normal, mundane thing now.

Just like everything else.

Scriabin must have been in the bathroom... he must have taken the toy when he'd come in here earlier.

What was he supposed to do now?

Scriabin had mocked him for it for so long, but now his ignorance shone plainer than any of his words had accomplished. Edgar had been so isolated, so cut off from other people, so alone that now, he didn't know what to do for him. He didn't know what he was supposed to do in a situation like this. Should he go to him? Tell him to come out? Talk through the door? Make sure he was there at all, and hadn't just left out the front door? The thought sent a cold jab through his hands. What was he supposed to do? Should he wait for Scriabin to come to him? Should he leave the apartment himself and try to figure this out somewhere else?

Edgar sat down on his bed, looking down at the floor, and he noticed after a few moments his hand groping thin air. He looked over, and saw he was reaching for where the toy would have been, to play with it idly as he had so often before.

When did habits become instinctual? He still had the capacity for change, didn't he? He'd told Johnny that, people could change... he'd changed already just coming to this point, he could change again coming out of it. Couldn't he? At the moment, it seemed impossible. The hole in him would never close. The habits would never break.

The pain would never ease. That longing would never stop.

He couldn't think like that. He couldn't do this to himself. He had to... he had to...

Edgar kicked off his shoes and lay down on his bed, his hands across his stomach, and he stared at the ceiling.

He'd told Todd they'd need time... it was more that he hoped time would make this easier, because otherwise he had no idea how he'd survive this.

After a while, he got up, shut off the lights, and went back to bed. He stared at the ceiling in the darkness before he took off his glasses and set them aside. They wouldn't do him any good.

He brought one hand up to his face, and his fingers found the well-worn grooves beneath his eyes.

This didn't undo anything that had happened to him... this didn't erase their past together, their existence together, any more than it could erase the scars that had been left across his body. Things would be different from now on, they'd have to be, and the future looked bleak and terrifying and unbearably, unbearably lonely, but nothing could take away what they'd once had. He could remember what it was like, if nothing else. It had happened.

Edgar wasn't sure why it was a soothing thought, that it had been real to the both of them once, but for some reason it let him close his eyes.

Still, he lay awake for a long time afterwards, his thoughts racing, the anxiety rising and fading like an inescapable burning heartbeat, imaginary conversations playing out in his head, imaginary arguments, memories of things they'd said and trying to pin down what it had felt like to have another person inside him. To have his being intertwined so thoroughly with someone else's that now that they were apart, he felt like half a person. He wanted to sort it into the neat boxes Scriabin had mentioned, goddamn him and his metaphors, but he couldn't. It remained elusive, taunting him with its importance and its refusal to be categorized and understood and easily dealt with. No more graspable than what it was that had motivated him to save Scriabin, that part of him he knew was stupid and would just get hurt again, the part that got routinely kicked and kicked and kicked to the ground, and somehow kept getting up again.

What was that? What was the name for that? What was it about him, what made him so stupid? What let him...

You care about people... even when they're broken.

You care about people even when it gets you hurt, Scriabin had said in response, or killed.

Scriabin had mocked him once for being unable to feel, unable to connect to other people. What was this? He couldn't understand it, he couldn't explain it.

And most importantly, he couldn't make it go away.

Finally, after a great deal of effort, he managed to get himself to focus on his routine tomorrow, what he'd have to do - iron it out to pointless exact times to get up and do things, just to think about the numbers more than anything else. Things to get at the store, to call his work, to take Todd to school, to get dressed, to call the shop about his car, to talk to his insurance again, all of it, all of it had to be done. All of it had to be done, and he planned it in his head, made an exact schedule, planned it out and went over it again and again and envisioned it in his head, imagined himself doing it, and finally his thoughts began to haze and blur, and Edgar slipped away.

[]

He wasn't sure how long he'd slept, but it couldn't have been very long. It was still dark when someone sat down on his bed.

He was never very quick when he first woke up. Bleary-eyed, Edgar groaned and thought about whether or not it'd be worth it to lift his head off the pillow. God, he was so tired. Was it worth it? Maybe it was nothing.

No, there was definitely someone sitting on his bed, and that was something that he should probably pay attention to, as much as he didn't want to.

Edgar reluctantly turned over, propped himself up on his elbows with a long-suffering sigh, and could just barely make out a blurry shape in the darkness. Too big for Todd.

"Did you mean what you said?" Scriabin said, and he couldn't read the tone of his voice.

Maybe it'd be easier when they couldn't see each other now, when Edgar couldn't be constantly reminded of his strange new body and his inhuman unfamiliarity with how it worked. He could pretend he looked as he once had, with the right glasses and the long hair and his long coat, and that might make the throbbing in his heart ease a little.

"Which part?" Edgar dragged a hand across his face, trying to wake himself up, his words muffled. Goddamn it, why did this keep happening? Why did people keep trying to talk to him when he was asleep? Johnny had come into his room just like this and wanted to have a deep philosophical conversation too, hadn't he? He could only imagine how angry Scriabin would be at the comparison.

"That you wanted to live your life with me." Still unreadable, carefully neutral. Had he been practicing on his own? His speech sounded more natural than it had before.

Edgar stared at the dark shape, and he sighed around his hand. "I think so. That's the feeling I get. I don't know if something'll happen that'll make me change my mind, but right now that seems right."

A pause, and Edgar ran a hand through his hair, still trying to get his thoughts to fall into logical order. Was it waking up, or was it a consequence of lacking Scriabin's insight, his guidance? What had he done to Edgar's thoughts while he'd been in there, could he guide them along the paths he liked? Organize them like a school of fish?

"How typical. You can never truly commit to anything. 'Maybe' isn't exactly a soothing answer to that question, Edgar." Closer to his old haughtiness, shadows of his older self leaking through.

"I didn't know that's what you wanted." Edgar rubbed his eyes, then sat up a bit more so he could lean back against the headboard. "I'm just trying to be honest."

"Hmmph." Quietly, without much force. "You still think things can change, do you?"

"They have already. We're never going to be... what we were again, so... I want things to be different." Edgar shrugged. "So... I'm going to try and be honest." Scriabin didn't say anything for a few moments, so Edgar continued. "You don't have to, though. I guess that'd be a little much to ask from you."

"As if you know anything about me." Wounded dignity and irritation, just what he'd expected, and Edgar couldn't help but smile a little. Sometimes he could still see him so easily. "And as if you were even being honest in the first place."

Edgar shrugged again. "I don't know why it's so hard for you to believe someone could lo-"

He cut himself off, a chill running through him, his heart spiking and he was awake now, that was for sure. His eyes widened, trying their best to make out more details in the dark, to see what Scriabin was doing, to prepare for what'd be coming for saying something like that, even insinuating something like that...

The dark shape by the foot of his bed stood, and he could barely track it as it moved across his room. Was he gesturing? It would make sense if he was. "You've hurt me, Edgar. More than once. Surely you haven't forgotten that, have you?"

"No." The shape blurred away and there was nothing for a few disconcerting seconds, then Edgar could see motion again, a little to the left of where it once had been. Coming back around, pacing perhaps. He closed his eyes and sighed, a sudden weight aching through his shoulders. "I know I've done that."

A pause as perhaps Scriabin considered this, or wanted to give his words more weight. How desperately Edgar wanted to reach across them and find out exactly which one it was.

"How am I supposed to trust you?" Scriabin said, eventually, from the foot of his bed again, but his voice moved. "It'd be a stupid thing to trust someone who hurts you. Haven't I told you that before, my boy?"

"It is a stupid thing. I'm not disagreeing with you." Edgar opened his eyes. Faintly, he felt a smile again, one of the ones he could never determine the source of. "And that's very much how I feel about you, most of the time."

A pause, and he could hear Scriabin taking a breath from somewhere to his right, and he shut his eyes and tensed. Would he lash out at him in one way or another? What was he going to do, how was he going to react? What was he feeling, he groped in the darkness for it, what was he feeling now? He had to finish his thought before Scriabin decided to stop listening or do something he'd hopefully regret.

"But like I said before... something like this, it doesn't make sense." Edgar touched a hand to his chest again, over his heart. "I can't explain it away, I can't make it stop with words. I just... I just feel this way about you, even though I shouldn't."

Silence, and Edgar let out a breath. He could feel his heart under his fingertips. "You said it yourself earlier, that my actions speak louder than my words... well, my actions saved you, Scriabin. I saved your life. Twice." He couldn't help but hold up two fingers. "And maybe you want to explain that away, or make it something else, or say that it's meaningless, but I don't understand why. It's your proof... your proof that despite everything I said about you, to you, after everything I've done, that I cared enough to save you. That I care about you. You have proof of that now, real, tangible proof of that. That I care." Edgar looked around the room, and he couldn't find him. He let his head fall with a long breath. "I don't know why you want to sabotage that for yourself. Isn't that what you wanted?"

There was a silence, and Edgar wondered if he should have said that, if he should have rephrased, if there was some way he could have been more careful. Avoided this silence and the threat it carried with it, the attack he knew would be coming in response because what else did Scriabin ever do?

When each second felt audible, finally he felt something pressing down on the mattress near him. He turned his head, forcing himself to do it slowly, and he could make out Scriabin's shape in the darkness beside him. His silhouette was small... perhaps he'd drawn his knees up to his chest. It was difficult for him to make out.

"I'm not sabotaging myself," Scriabin said quietly. He expected more to his voice than what he heard. "It just doesn't make sense."

Edgar waited a few seconds, and he realized he was waiting for his internal voice to kick in, and he reminded himself that his voice was sitting on the bed beside him, and he was never going to hear him again. Not the same way. Again and again and again he drove the knife into himself. It twisted his words off the path that either of them would have expected. "What if I did care about you though?"

"You don't." Quickly, without doubt.

"But what if I did?" Edgar leaned forward on his arms a little, looking over to him but Scriabin did not move, and his shape never became more clear. It was comforting in a way to see him as an outline than as a defined shape, something vaguely reminiscent of his previous unreality. How could he have felt more real as a figment of his imagination than as an actual breathing person? "Wouldn't that explain what I did for you?"

"You don't," Scriabin said, slightly louder this time, although still without his normal strength or scorn. Like a statement of fact, something strangely apathetic. "So it doesn't make sense."

"So... what do you think happened then?" Edgar scratched at his forehead, then pushed his hand through his hair and left it. "What's your hypothesis? Why do you think I did that? Do you have a better explanation?"

Scriabin said nothing.

"Do you really think it's more likely that, after everything you put me through, and after everything they told me about you and what you were meant to do to me, that after they told me I'd be coming back to life and you wouldn't come with me, after all that you really think my first thought was 'this is my big chance to score points with God'?" He was trying to speak slowly, trying to keep his voice neutral - the answer clear just from the facts without the sarcasm increasingly tinging his words, but he couldn't help himself. It was so obvious to him, how could anyone believe this? How could this be so hard to understand? "You think that after they'd already told me I'd be getting what I wanted, a second chance at life without you in it, since you're always saying I just wanted to get rid of you after all..." He felt a little bad after saying that, that was more of a personal attack than he'd intended. Try and focus, remember what the point of this was. He was trying to explain something. "After I was already going to get everything I wanted, to be safe and alive without any more supernatural bullshit, you think I'd put myself and everything on the line to ask them and God to save you, just to make myself look good? That after everything you've done to me, I'd ask them to bring you back to put me through more hell just for that? That I really am that much of a masochist? Is that really easier for you to believe? Is that really the most likely scenario to you? That I asked them to save your life as a roundabout way of saving myself?"

As the words left his mouth, it occurred to him that they ran deeper than he'd anticipated... Scriabin had always said he was Edgar, that he was a part of him, he'd said that for so long... and in a way, it was true, his roots ran down through every fiber of Edgar's being, there wasn't any aspect of him that wasn't permeated by the other in some way. Was that what had really motivated Edgar and his desperate plea to God? Some unconscious awareness that some aspect of his self was in danger, and a likewise instinctual desire to protect the self? What a perfect window for Scriabin to attack, and he hadn't even intended it...

And instead, he could feel faint tremors through the bedsprings, and without being able to make out the motion too clearly, he knew that Scriabin was shaking again.

"You've never made much sense," Scriabin said, faintly, weakly. That wasn't what he'd been expecting, what he could almost hear in his head in the thrown-back echoes of his thoughts. Where was the attack he knew was coming? Hadn't Scriabin seen that chance? That weakness? How could he have missed it, it was his primary purpose, wasn't it?

What had being pulled out of him done to him?

"Maybe not to you," Edgar said, and he sighed. "You've always had a unique perspective on things."

He waited, and Scriabin didn't say much else, again at a bizarre and unsettling loss for words. It wasn't like him at all, and again that feeling of being near a stranger, a foreign being wearing a mask, rose in him, made his heartbeat rise and his skin grow cold.

"Do you really think that's more likely?" Edgar said softly. "Do you really think it's more likely that I'd save you as a convoluted way of getting to Heaven, instead of saving you because I care about you?" And he was nearing a whisper now, his eyes stinging. "Because I didn't want to lose you? Is it that hard for you to believe?"

Again, silence, although he could still feel the mattress shaking just so. He wondered if maybe he should reach out and touch him, but somehow he didn't think it would help, and on some level he just... didn't want to.

"A good liar can tell when someone else is lying," Scriabin said, still faint. Where was his confidence, his presence? That force of personality that had made him impossible to ignore?

"Then, that only proves my point... since I could never tell when you were lying to me." Edgar smiled a little, even though no one would be able to see it. "You said that, remember?"

Scriabin's outline seemed smaller than before. Drawing in more tightly to himself, perhaps.

"It doesn't make sense," Scriabin said again. "All I've done is cause you grief... you said that, remember?" With a shadow of his former bite, although it faded quickly. "Logically, you have no reason to have done such a thing just for my benefit. I put you through hell, as you said... and unless you really are a masochist, there's no reason for you to have saved me just to put you through more. So, are you a masochist, or are you a liar?"

Edgar stared at him, or the vague shape that was him, for a few seconds, then hummed in thought. The silence in his head made everything strange, unreal, unpleasant; each thought waiting for a companion, a counterpart. His other half, sitting so close to him and so far. "I told you, it doesn't make sense... sometimes things just don't make sense, but we still do them, or believe in them. Sometimes there's more to things than whether or not they add up." And something occurred to him, and he knew Scriabin wouldn't like it but it was too perfect to ignore. "You were in me once, a part of me, so I'd think you'd know that already... faith is much the same way."

Scriabin made a faint scoffing noise, and that was a glimpse of his normal self, something better than the small and quiet figure he didn't know how to handle now. Before he could say something, Edgar kept going.

"My faith's always been there, long before you came along, so you should know what it's like to believe in something that doesn't make sense... or to know something, or believe in something, without proof. To feel something, even without an explanation. And... wow, it... it adds up, even." Edgar laughed, humorless and brief. "You tried so hard to undermine my faith, destroy it, get rid of it, replace it and... in the end, you couldn't do it. I kept it, after everything you threw at me. After everything I went through, and everything I saw, still, when it came to asking for your life, asking for mercy and forgiveness... I asked God, because I just... knew. I believed." What was it that Johnny had said before he'd stabbed in the shoulder back then...? The miracle of faith, wasn't it? What had he meant? He still didn't know. "And... this is sort of the same thing. After everything you've done, everything that's happened, it doesn't make sense but I still... I care about you. And..." He laughed again, a little longer this time. "And, it makes sense, even, because as some say, faith is love, isn't it?"

Scriabin didn't say anything, and Edgar straightened up and leaned back against the headboard, close enough to feel Scriabin's body heat, even if they weren't touching. "I remember, I remember saying, asking Johnny, asking if everything that was happening to me was a test of my faith, if I was failing and... and here I am, here we are. I can't believe it."

He felt Scriabin uncurling from beside him, and he tensed. Just as he thought, Scriabin punched his shoulder. It wasn't very hard or very coordinated, probably not even hard enough to leave a bruise, delivered at an awkward angle, but the intent of it was clear.

"Are you saying I've just been your test from God?" There was a hint of his normal outrage in his voice, indignation, energy and color and life that had been gone before, and even though that was dangerous, Edgar couldn't help smiling because it was far better than apathy from him. One he was much more familiar with.

"No, no, that's not what I meant." Edgar held up a hand, although he did file the thought away to think about more carefully later. "What I meant was... sometimes there are things in life that you just can't explain logically, but they're still there, they still exist. Faith is one of them... and feelings are another."

"...So you really ARE that much of a masochist, then." Unsteadily, after a long pause. Edgar tried to think of the best thing to say to that, and instead settled on the first thing that crossed his mind.

"Do you think masochists can't care about people?" Edgar found himself smiling a little again. "Isn't that one of the easiest ways to get hurt?"

Again, another silence, although he got the sense that he'd caught Scriabin rather off-guard. He could almost picture the puzzled look on his face.

"You're sticking with your story then?" Scriabin said, uncomfortably after a time, and he was drawing himself back into a ball. In the process, their shoulders brushed, and, Edgar noticed, after a few seconds when Scriabin had settled against the headboard, he could still feel his skin against his own. "That you decided to risk everything to save me out of the pure goodness of your heart? Without a single other thought in your perfect little head except rescuing the wicked and wretched from themselves?"

Edgar closed his eyes with a faint hum. The insult, the invitation to engage hovered around Scriabin's words, and he had to look past them, find the unseen path. No more circles, things were going to be different. Be unexpected. "I'm taking that story to the grave just to spite you. Does that make it easier for you to believe?"

"...That you'd do something like that to spite me, yes. The rest, not so much."

"Alright then. I want to spend the rest of my life with you just to spite you. How's that?"

A few moments, and he could feel slight movement through the contact of their shoulders. Scriabin shaking his head, he was almost sure.

"I still don't understand."

"If you don't want to accept the simple explanation and would rather make things more complicated than they are, then you can do that. I just don't see why you want to." Edgar shrugged a little. "So, I guess we're even."

And silence. He focused on the little contact they had, and in the darkness, it was easy to picture Scriabin as he should have been, as he really was. His body matching the action figure and the image he'd seen in his dreams so many times. Even now, he found his ability to visualize him properly felt a little weak, blurry at the edges... had Scriabin had his hand in that as well? Had he sharpened Edgar's mental camera just to make himself more real, in a sense? And with him gone, what would happen? Already, his mental landscape was barren, as Scriabin had pointed out to him before. What would happen without him? What had he dreamed about once without him?

"Where'd you put your toy?" Edgar said, wanting to break both the silence and his introspective thought loops. He felt Scriabin tense a little.

"It's not fair," Scriabin said after a pause, softly. "I don't look right."

"I know." With more sympathy than he'd intended, a mutual wound, and he could feel again a slight start through Scriabin's skin, unprepared. "I'm sorry."

Scriabin huffed, mild and without much strength, and it was quiet again for a time.

"Do you know what it was like for me to hear you imitate my voice?" When Edgar was close to drifting off into his own thoughts again, and he snapped back to attention. Scriabin was almost whispering.

"In the kitchen? That's right... I don't think I've ever done that before." For some reason, he felt a twinge of shame.

"...You don't understand what this is like for me." He wasn't sure if he could blame Scriabin's new body or his state of mind for how weak his words were, how they hovered on the edge of his breaths. "You've always... you've always been you. I was... I wasn't always myself."

"When you were..." And he tried to think of a word, but he didn't think there was one for whatever developmental cycle Scriabin had gone through. There wasn't a word for what Scriabin even was, technically. What was the closest equivalent? "When you were younger?" A moment of thought. "You said, your earliest memories, they were mine... were you me, or... you?"

He didn't say anything, and Edgar wondered if he should have even asked, if there was even an answer he could understand. His skin brushed against his own as Scriabin leaned forward a little onto his knees.

"I was you, at first." Scriabin sounded distant. "And gradually, the more we spoke to one another... it was like I was standing outside myself." And there was faint motion in the darkness, perhaps a gesture with his hand. He'd always been fond of gestures. "Like I wasn't there, and then... it wasn't me, anymore. It was you, and I was... watching. And when I went through your memories, I was outside looking in and they weren't mine anymore. Your life became... your life, and mine became..." Motion in the dark again, and he could picture him trying to find words in the air.

Edgar wasn't sure what to say in response, and he found it difficult to picture. While he may have changed details, scenarios, added or taken away things, the viewpoint of his memories had always remained the same - he'd always been himself, after all. What would something like that have been like?

"You and I, we mirror each other," Scriabin said, and there was a sense that he was almost talking to himself, sorting through his thoughts. "What you see in me, you see in you, if you would look... maybe changed, altered, improved..." And that should have had his normal egotism attached, but it didn't. "I grew in you... everything, it comes from you. What does that make me?" His voice was fading. "Your reflection? What does that make me now?"

Edgar still couldn't find any words, and he waited to see if Scriabin would continue. His voice was trembling a little.

"Who am I? Do you realize how significant this question is for me?" A moment, and he felt his hand fall to the sheets. "Do you realize how it felt to hear you imitate my voice? What I would say? When I couldn't... I couldn't even get my thoughts together to say it myself...?"

Guilt rose and burst, and without thought Edgar reached out those few inches and he took hold of Scriabin's hand himself, bleeding concern. "I'm sorry, I didn't know it'd bother you, I just..." Keep talking, he had to say it, they had to talk to each other now. "I just, I missed... I kept waiting to hear you in me and I never did and I just, I..." He couldn't think of a justification. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

Scriabin tried to tug his hand away for a few seconds, more so like he was testing his grip than anything else, but in the end he let him hold it. He took in a few trembling breaths before shaking his head. "No, you never mean to. Isn't that right?"

An admonishment and one that stung in a way very familiar, as deeply as perhaps it once would have, and Edgar hung his head and made an unconscious, unhappy sound. He felt Scriabin tighten his hold on his hand for a moment when he did, although he wasn't sure why. Again he ached to be able to hear him again, feel his feelings, just know him, if only so he could know that his remorse was sincere.

Scriabin sighed eventually, long-suffering and tired, and he pulled Edgar's hand upwards.

"Give me your wrist."

It was a pointless demand, as he already had Edgar's hand. It was enough though to shake Edgar out of his thoughts to make a curious sound, and he felt Scriabin's fingers moving from around his palm to his wrist.

"What are you doing?" A moment, and Edgar tilted his head. "Are you listening to my heartbeat?"

He'd never thought he could hear someone roll their eyes, but he was sure that was what he heard at that moment.

"Why?"

Scriabin didn't answer, and he didn't move his fingers away. Edgar got the feeling that he was planning his words, thinking of something to say, and it had always come to him so quickly before. The speed of thought, perhaps, or just the speed of thoughts aligned with Edgar's, already well-practiced. What was it like to have thoughts of his own now?

"...It's tempting to lie to you, even about something as simple as this," Scriabin said, and this time his calm detachment sounded more familiar. He'd heard him do that on occasion before, when he'd think out loud to himself about which way he wanted to toy with him. Edgar never thought a day would come when something like that would be a relief. Any flash of familiarity, of the person he'd once known, had suddenly become so precious. "But I remind myself that you can't tell the difference between lies and truth anyway, as you proved earlier tonight, so what's the point?"

Edgar rolled his eyes and sighed, but didn't say anything. Scriabin's fingers were warm on his wrist.

"...I had no heart of my own until now. Only yours." And the familiar tone was gone... back to the unsettling, quiet thoughtfulness from before. Strangely delicate. "I've heard your heartbeat all my life, and I can't even compare my familiarity with it to breathing air, since I heard you doing that as well. They were both such regular fixtures of my existence that I barely paid them any attention."

"...But when we were together, in dreams and things like that, I could've sworn..." Edgar felt disconcerted, uncomfortable in a way but he couldn't quite pin down why.

"If you felt my heart then, it was only a shadow cast by your own." Completely unfazed by his question, unnaturally detached. "Your body only has one heart, one that we shared at times." And he tightened his grip a little. "Ah, and I can feel it jumping now. Does that thought bother you?"

That question at least was familiar, even if the rest of this felt so alien. "I just never thought of it that way before."

"That we shared a heart?" Scriabin said. "We shared a mind and a body, but for some reason, your heart is what bothers you?"

"...I just never thought of it before." Edgar felt oddly like he'd been pinned down, trapped in some kind of mistake, and he looked down. "I guess we shared everything back then."

"Hmm." Like he didn't quite agree with that, and he felt Scriabin's grip tighten on him again, a faint shiver to his fingers. "Your body, certainly, at least. And all that entails."

An oddly specific answer, and with him, that had to mean something. Why would he shy from saying everything, there must have been something about that thought... faintly, something called for his attention and he struggled to grab it. What was it to share everything with a person, their mind, body and...

"My soul... that's what you're avoiding." Edgar looked back up at him. He still couldn't make out much in the darkness, and tried to fill in the outlines with his memories. "Satan asked if you thought we shared a soul."

That tremor through his fingers again, a faint quiver in the darkness. This question bothered him, it was obvious, but why?

"He did." Carefully.

"Do we? Or... did you? Did we share a soul?"

"Tell me... what is a soul?" Scriabin did not move from his position, and he could make out that he was looking down at their hands. "How would you define that?"

"Well..."

"Because I was not knit together in your mother's womb as you were. As you all were." A reminder in more than one way again that Scriabin was not human, and Edgar swallowed. "I'm not one of God's creatures. We both know that. I'm something else entirely, something from outside his influence, from a system he does not answer to or have any power over. Would something like that have a soul? Do you think I have a soul now?"

"I don't know." He really didn't know what else he could say.

"Do you think I'm human now?" He had no idea how much he'd been dreading this question until it came out of Scriabin's mouth. He swallowed again, his mouth dry.

"I don't know." Softer.

"Mm." Mild and curious, the complete opposite of the reaction he'd expected, and still he waited, tense and on edge, for the catch. "So, the question is rather pointless, isn't it?"

He didn't want to say it again, but still it came from him. "I don't know. I guess."

There was an awkward silence, and Edgar struggled to calm down his heart. It was embarrassing somehow for Scriabin to be listening to it while it beat so hard, like he'd be judging him for it. Like he could use it to determine how he was feeling, and shouldn't that have been comforting? Giving Scriabin another line into his emotional state, like the countless ones he'd had before? Instead, it left him feeling exposed.

"Why are you listening to my heartbeat, anyway?"

Scriabin shifted, perhaps in apparent thought, before he answered the question. "I wanted to compare it to my own." A bit of hesitance, like he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to say that. "See if I remembered it as clearly as I thought."

Try and remember what it was like being with me? he thought and winced, a minor spike in his heartbeat again that he was sure Scriabin would feel, and still, there was something about the thought that made it hard to let go.

"Do you miss being with me?" Edgar breathed.

"You're right here, aren't you?" Scriabin said, without strength.

"Do you miss me?"

A few moments, and Scriabin shuddered slightly, letting out a long breath. "What a stupid question."

And the urge came to him again, the words, the impulse, and the feeling, and could he take that risk? Here in the dark with him like this, he'd done it before, and what would happen if he took it now? What was the worst he could do to him now? His judgment wasn't clear, he wasn't thinking as clearly as he should have, a sudden urge to just be honest rising through him and clouding out everything else.

"I miss you."

Edgar felt him start, the hand around his wrist and his fingers tightening, the tremble through the mattress, before Scriabin fought it back down and managed to speak again, forcing scorn into his voice without effect. "What a stupid thing to say." Followed by breathy humorless laughter.

"It's true though."

"I'm sure you think that." Faintly, and it sounded as though he was smiling, although he could only picture it as a bitter one.

Edgar sighed. That hadn't exactly been the reaction he'd been hoping for. Expecting, perhaps, but hoped for, not so much. What had he been hoping for? The empty space within him mocked him with potential answers he could no longer find. "I do care about you."

"I don't believe you."

"Haven't I proved it enough already?" Edgar tilted his head. "I don't know what else I can do."

He saw motion in the dark, Scriabin perhaps shaking his head in return. "That's not my problem, is it?"

Every effort he made to reach out to him, Scriabin batted away, and how was he not used to this by now? What kept him trying when he knew what the results would be? How many times would he have to say it and be rebuffed before he finally learned his lesson? His heart had felt so bare that he was sure that would somehow make a difference, somehow Scriabin would be able to sense his sincerity, would realize he was telling the truth and he would finally just accept it, since that seemed like the appropriate reward for actually talking honestly about his feelings for once, but no. Scriabin of course refused, stubborn and contrary to the bitter end. There was always that part of Edgar that never learned, that always kept trying, that never stayed down. And to think, Scriabin had always criticized him for giving up so easily. What was this, how many times had he said the same thing to him with no result?

"Then what is it that you want? If you don't want me to care about you, if you refuse to believe it no matter how many times I say it then what is it you want from me? What is it that you want, Scriabin?" And on a whim he twisted his hand out of Scriabin's grip and grabbed his wrist, and the shadow jerked his head up to look at him, startled although he couldn't make out his expression. "What do you want me to be to you?"

And Scriabin didn't say anything, just sat there looking at him while Edgar's hand trembled around his wrist, his bones hard beneath his fingers. Finally motion in the darkness, his head turning away, downwards.

"I'm trying to figure that out." Shaky but resentful, like a trapped animal. "This is a lot to take in at once."

Of course, not an actual answer. Of course. What else did he expect? "Well, tell you what." Edgar let his wrist go, and he saw it blend back in with the dark blur as Scriabin pulled it to his chest. "Figure out what you want and tell me so I can do it and we can stop doing this shit to each other, alright? Because I for one am so sick of it I can't see straight." He pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a breath. "I'm so tired of this." A moment of awkward silence, and he wondered if he should have said it but it was true, and a sudden sweep of exhaustion. God, it was true. All of this, every single thing that had happened today, everything that had happened in his life up to this point. "I'm so tired of all of this. I'm sick of trying, I'm going back to sleep. Figure out what you want on your own."

Edgar turned away from him, slid back down beneath the covers, flopped against his pillow in a clear indication that the conversation was over, and he closed his eyes. He was so tired of this, tired of reaching out to him and hearing no response, the chasm that stood between real understanding, if such a thing had ever existed to begin with.

He waited for Scriabin to say something, and he didn't. And he waited for Scriabin to get up and leave, and he didn't do that either. He could still feel his weight on the other side of the bed, and he wondered if this was his version of a standoff, if he was going to sit there stubbornly and just wait for Edgar to get back up and finish the conversation. Stare into his back to make it impossible for him to actually fall asleep. Well, if that's what he thought, he had another thing coming. Scriabin wasn't going to keep him awake that easily.

Sure enough, eventually Edgar found his thoughts drifting, consciousness flitting in and out, vague glimpses of awareness when something disturbed him that were easily glossed over. Someone shifting on the bed beside him, but his mind shut it out quickly enough. And then someone very close to him, but his mind assured him that it was just Scriabin and there was no call for alarm, and he didn't move.

In the deepest twilight before sleep took complete hold, he felt someone's arm loop around him from behind and a hand press against his chest, and his mind told him that it was just Scriabin listening to his heart.

Nothing to worry about.