Author's Note: Set in the Vargas continuity, around Punish or Gradient. Sooo you probably should read up to that point first. Won't make a lot of sense otherwise, I'm afraid. Well, I guess it could, if you try.


Notice Me
(By "Darn it, I had a better title back at the theater and now I can't remember what it was." Zarla)
(Warning: I'm not responsible for any mental damage caused by reading this fic.)

Sitting at the edge of the bar and having a drink, alone. The song that was playing currently detailed just such a scenario, although Edgar wasn't much in the state of mind to appreciate irony.

When Scriabin dedicated himself to one goal, instead of merely arguing for whatever his thoughts wandered to, he could be very persuasive, even if it was mostly due to Edgar wanting some mental silence for once. Scriabin's goal this time had been the relatively inoffensive "go out and interact with sane human beings." In the face of his surprisingly focused attempts to get Edgar to do this, Edgar decided that it wasn't worth the headache and drove to the nearest place that involved other people.

A bar.

He'd never frequented this particular one before, and he didn't exactly think he'd do so again.

His relative invisibility had not diminished in any way throughout his experiences with Johnny, with the lock system, with anything. He was still fairly unnoticeable, except now that when he was noticed, it wasn't always positive. Compared to Johnny though, Edgar still registered far below the radar for negative human interaction.

Or really, any human interaction.

Edgar wasn't sure if Scriabin really had a point to this attempted socialization. He didn't make it very clear. Scriabin had argued for this with whatever reason he thought was the most compelling. He could have wanted this for all the reasons he said or for none, or for reasons he would never say out loud. Who knew. Edgar didn't want to think about it at the moment. The last thing he wanted was to get Scriabin started again.

It took Edgar real effort to get the bartender to notice him, and more to get him to actually fix him a drink. When people noticed him, their reactions now tended towards annoyance, a tinge of disappointment rather than the blank curiosity Edgar received before. It was no longer a matter of "oh I'm sorry, I didn't see you" but more "oh, someone's bothering me."

Edgar learned some time ago that filtering out other people's reactions made things easier, and he was swiftly adapting to this new hostility as well. There was still irritation that Scriabin felt more strongly than Edgar did, perhaps because each incident of deliberate ignorance pricked his misplaced pride. Who knew.

He nursed his drink and knew some people resented him for it, for not spending more or not moving. He tried to watch the television above the bar, but could hear almost nothing over the general din of the other patrons and gave up.

Now, he sat with his arms crossed on the bar in front of him, staring down into his drink with no expression. Scriabin had insisted that Edgar wear that coat he liked so much and Edgar did it just to shut him up.

Not the first drink he'd had, but he wasn't planning on having more. He had to get home, after all. He'd had enough to take the harsh edge off of things, gain that vague pleasant buzz that made things feel better than they were. Denial was something that Edgar was so familiar with, and the pleasant soft haze that came with this only helped. Careful moderation of course, but still, enough to facilitate his desire for happiness.

Happiness, he thought.

The invisible man sat and took a sip.

Someone nudged his elbow. Another person asking for another drink and he kept his eyes down. Scriabin made an unhappy noise in his mind at the sudden contact, annoyed at the disregard for Edgar's personal space. His voice sounded light and strangely uneven. People can't mind their own stupid business.

He'd put on this voice for a while now.

Since when can you get drunk? Another sip.

Exaggerated indignation. Since when do you care?

Edgar sighed. Scriabin seemed to be in the same kind of general good mood, a state of uneasy self-ness, as he himself was, but Edgar wasn't sure why. They hadn't been this connected before. Then again, waste lock.

God, had that fucked things up. Fucked things up for everyone, really, Scriabin included. Hadn't heard from Johnny in a week, and now Scriabin-

"Hey, you."

Edgar assumed it wasn't directed at him. Someone pushed through the hands holding money for drinks, found a seat beside him somehow.

"You, staring at your drink like it's going to punch you in the face." Poked his shoulder. Someone really talking to him? Probably not, but he might as well look.

He turned his head. A young man, blond with a goatee and more piercings than Edgar thought wise or attractive.

Edgar stared for a moment to see if the man's attention was really focused on him. He expected him to turn away at any minute, to look at the person on his other side or someone else.

"Yeah, you." He smiled at Edgar, and Edgar didn't smile back.

"Me?" Edgar would have preferred to have Scriabin's smooth confidence, that vague sarcastic tinge when he said that, but instead he just sounded confused.

"Yeah, jeez. I know it's hard to hear in here, but come on." The man didn't seem put off by his tone. In fact, he seemed encouraged. He gestured at the ceiling for some reason. "What're you doing here?"

Was this how conversations normally started? Was he that out of practice that he couldn't tell? Edgar stared at him for a little while longer, then turned back to his drink. "I'm just..."

You're supposed to be talking to people. Scriabin was trying to be sarcastic but his words were awkward, although whether by choice or outside influence Edgar couldn't say. C'mon, don't lock up. Talk to him.

What am I supposed to say?

Shit, don't talk to me, he'll think you're nuts. Say something.

"I'm just here."

The man nodded. "Uh huh..."

An encouragement to clarify. Good thing, as Edgar thought his initial answer rather stupid in retrospect. "I'm trying to...I haven't been out in a while. I just needed to...well. It's..." No, it's not complicated. Not everything is complicated. God. "I just needed to get out."

"Lonely?" Edgar turned back to him again, and the man raised an eyebrow. "Or just tired of work?"

He had his eyebrow pierced. Edgar found no sense in that. He stumbled for words. "Not lonely, exactly. I just haven't talked to someone else in a while. I don't get out much. That doesn't mean I'm lonely though." That seemed like a very important thing to say at the time. "I just wanted to talk to other people for a while." That wasn't true, exactly. That really was too complicated for him at the moment.

Still a general fuzziness around the sharp edges, the warnings that told him not to talk, not to do this, to be more cautious. And Scriabin, his backup warning system in an unfamiliar situation who pointed out missing razor edges, now felt just as complacent. Emptily pleased, Edgar realized, and he sighed.

"I didn't mean you were lonely. I was just asking. No offense, right?" The man smiled at him again. "I'm just curious. I'm Jake, by the way."

"Edgar." He felt the instinctual need to add his last name, but then again, Jake hadn't done it. Why not go with it. "I'm not offended or anything."

"Well, that's good to hear. Usual for me, Kev." The bartender nodded and moved off. Edgar wondered briefly at how easy it was for people who could be seen.

"Hey, why are you..." Edgar thought for a second, although he didn't want to. "I don't want to sound...rude or anything, but why are you talking to me?"

Jake looked thoughtful in a way that seemed theatrical. Probably an actor, Scriabin mumbled, although he didn't sound very confident.

"You just seemed interesting I guess." He smiled at Edgar in a way that he wasn't familiar with. "You give off this kind of...vibe. You might not believe in that shit though, but," held a hand to his chest, "swear to God. Just had to talk to you. Besides, if you wanted a drink you could've had one at home. You wanted someone to talk to you, right?"

Edgar blinked at him, took another sip of his drink. A vibe? What's that supposed to mean? He's assuming a lot-

C'mon, relax. Keep talking. Just keep talking to him. Just talk to someone else for once, even if he does assume things. Scriabin speaking rather fast and his words slurred together. Keep talking.

"Sure, that's why I came here, I guess."

"Heh, you seem like the type." Another one of those smiles. "A wallflower, right?"

"Yeah..." Not exactly by choice. Keep the conversation going. "Still, why me?"

"Kind of guy I am." Jake took a drink from the glass the bartender had left while they were talking. "You know, forceful. Direct." He didn't sound very serious, and he smiled and laughed a little while speaking. Edgar laughed slightly with him, to acknowledge. It would be easy to just let the conversation die and for Jake to move on to others, but-

I want to know more, keep talking to him. I want to know more about this.

"You seem like an interesting person, too. I mean..." Jake squinted at him in the dim light. "Look at you."

"Look at me?" Edgar stared at him in disbelief. "I'm possibly the most average person here...except maybe for this." Edgar gestured in the general direction of his large nose. "It doesn't even make that much of a difference."

"No no, I mean..." Jake looked at him more intently. "Those marks under your eyes..."

Edgar blinked for a few seconds.

"O-oh...oh, those..."

"I've never seen anyone with scars like that before. Those are scars, right? They've got to be. Can I touch them?"

Edgar had no idea how to respond to that question, and Scriabin matched his baffled silence. Jake stared then laughed for a few seconds at what must have been Edgar's expression.

"God, sorry, I just realized how weird that sounds. 'Can I touch them', shit. What the hell was I thinking. Sorry, sometimes I do that."

In another state of mind, Edgar would have been slower to let that kind of thing pass, but now the edges blurred and it seemed safe enough, his explanation and apology truthful enough. "That's okay. I've...it's just, no one's ever asked me that before."

"But I can ask, right? I'm curious. How'd you do them? I've seen some people who do that kind of art, but I've never really understood it."

The piercings, Scriabin said with the same satisfaction associated with solving some grand puzzle. I mean, self-mutilation under another name, it makes sense he'd be interested. "Art", the hell.

God, you pronounced that all wrong. Edgar couldn't help a smile at the mangled syllables that were supposed to be "mutilation." I don't even feel that buzzed.

"I didn't do them, actually." A moment of honesty he didn't expect or intend, but he found it easier to speak now than it had been in a long time. Why not, he might as well tell him. He doubted there was anything that Jake would do. "Someone else did."

"Someone else did?" Jake lost his cheerful demeanor and now looked at Edgar with what looked like serious concern. Edgar didn't expect that, that kind of emotion from a stranger, and he felt surprised and uncomfortable. "Someone else did that to you? Who? Did you want them to?"

"Why would I want them to?" Another quick question that he normally would have suppressed. The urge to justify, to fix, to clarify. "No, it wasn't because I wanted them to. I don't like that kind of thing. I mean, being hurt that way. Pain is not something I'm particularly fond of." He was very careful to pronounce "particularly" correctly. "And in this case, someone else did this to me and it's still here. I mean, the scars are still here. But I definitely didn't want them to. To do that to me, I mean."

Man, you are so babbling. Scriabin laughed harder than he normally would have.

"Who did that to you?" Jake looked interested, and that was another thing that Edgar wasn't used to. Now another complicated something had reared its head and Edgar was sure that if he couldn't explain his relationship with Johnny while completely lucid, he certainly couldn't do it now. "Who would do that kind of thing to you? I mean, it looks like they're deep. They must be deep, to have lasted this long. How old are they?"

Hahaha, is this a real conversation? Are you actually talking with another human being? Strangely giddy, and Edgar wasn't sure if he should finish his drink at this point.

"Not too old, but yeah, fairly deep. No real damage or anything. They're just superficial more than anything else." He was mildly proud of himself for using "superficial" correctly at the moment. "They probably would have healed earlier, but, um...they keep reopening for whatever reason, so..."

"Who did that to you?"

Edgar realized this must have been the fifth time he asked this question.

"I'm sorry, um...it's complicated. The whole thing is very complicated. I'm not sure you'd be interested."

Jack leaned forward. "Try me."

He sounds so challenging. Sincere. It's so different from how Johnny sounds. Keep talking with him.

You're just curious, that's all. You don't care.

Never said I did.

"No, really...it's very complicated. I can't even sort it out when I'm not...like this." Edgar took a sip of his drink to emphasize the point and noticed he was running low. "But to make things simple, he...the person who did this...is just a little unstable."

"Did he mean to do it?"

A pause, and Edgar sighed again.

"Maybe."

Jake stared at him, then gestured to the bartender. Edgar caught a finger pointing at him.

"Listen..." Jake leaned in closer to him and he still looked concerned. It made Edgar a little nervous. He wasn't used to this much attention, not even from Johnny. "I've been there, man. In that kind of position. It's not good. You're out now though, right? Tell me you're out now. You're too nice to have to deal with that shit."

A sudden compliment, and Edgar smiled instead of withdrew with some conscious effort. "Well, thanks I guess. In a way...I guess I'm past that. It's hard to say, exactly. Like I said, it's complicated. But it won't happen again now...I'm almost sure."

"So whoever this guy is who did that to you, was he sorry?"

Edgar remembered when Johnny's fingers had brushed across those grooves.

"Well, he was later."

A glass set beside the one in Edgar's hand. He turned to look at Jake quizzically, who merely held up his own glass in response.

"C'mon, drink's on me."

"I don't know..."

"C'moooon." Jake nudged Edgar with his elbow, and Edgar laughed in a way that he felt was too nervous for the situation. He wasn't sure how to react, what to do.

I shouldn't...

Just keep with it, keep with it. Scriabin had that intense focus on one idea again. I've never really talked with someone else before.

Oh, you're not talking.

Bastard. Scriabin brushed him off, his curiosity apparently overrunning his normal indignation. Look at him. I want to see more.

I'm not your...looky...toy.

Eloquent.

He knew that Scriabin would never forgive him or leave him alone if he tried to get away, so he picked up the new glass. Jake smiled at him.

"There we go."

Edgar smiled weakly back at him in response, and Jake seemed very satisfied by it. There, that was encouraging. At least Edgar felt he was doing this correctly. Besides, he really didn't feel that out of it. One more wouldn't hurt.

"So are you still with this guy?" Jake said after Edgar took a sip of his new drink. It was sweeter than the one he had ordered himself, weaker.

"Who did that?"

"Yeah."

"We're friends." And that's all.

Hey, I didn't say anything.

Jake nodded again. "Friends? Well...good to hear, I guess. Feel free to tell me to fuck off if I'm saying too much, but you don't look like a guy with lots of friends."

Again, the vague knowledge that maybe he should have been offended, but he or Scriabin wanted this to work, and he swallowed his indignation.

"No, not really. People don't notice me."

"That's a shame. You seem like a nice guy. Smart too."

"Heh." Edgar swirled the ice in his drink. "I'm invisible, that's what I am."

I don't know if I should have said that, I don't want to get too personal-

No, come on. Come ON, Edgar, just try it. With someone else just try it. There's so much we could learn.

"Invisible?"

"Hmmm..." He took another sip, and he could feel Scriabin's desperate need to know. Scriabin had never felt this way before, not that Edgar could recall, and he was sure he'd get no peace if he didn't do what Scriabin wanted. Besides, there didn't seem to be any harm in it at the moment, so... "Yeah, basically. No one notices me. It's like I don't exist. I had to ask for some twenty minutes before I got my drink here. It's like I'm not even a person, just a shadow of a person."

Hey, I said something like that once. Scriabin sounded vaguely amazed.

"Man, that's harsh." Jake leaned his head against one hand. "Not being noticed...you want to be noticed, right?"

These seemed like weird questions. Maybe he really was just socially inept, to think this was strange. "I guess...I don't know. I want to be noticed by the right people, I guess. There are a lot of people out there I'd rather avoid..." Considering what had happened to Johnny after being exposed to too many people...

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Jake stared at his own glass for a few seconds, then turned back to look at Edgar again. "Well, I still think you're interesting, even if you don't think so."

"It's not me that thinks that, it's everyone else."

"Well, in that case...what do you think is interesting about yourself?"

Scriabin burst out with a sudden word in his mind exactly like an enthusiastic student who knew the answer to an obvious question.

Me!

Oh, quiet. He would have been angrier perhaps, but Scriabin just sounded childishly pleased with his answer rather than sarcastic, and Edgar decided not to read into it any further than he assumed Scriabin intended.

"Well...not much, actually. I guess that doesn't really help me get noticed, does it?" Edgar smiled at Jake again, who always returned the gesture. Encouraging him, he vaguely realized.

Jake shifted positions again, now leaning on his crossed arms. "Tell me about yourself."

"Hmm..." Edgar scratched his chin and took another drink. "I like reading, I guess...no family, really. Live alone...I've got an apartment...I'm not sure what you want to know, really. I guess I'm bad at this. Most of the time it's people talking to me rather than the other way around..."

"Usually on the passive side, huh?" Jake smirked. "Heh, I know how that feels."

Edgar shrugged. "Mostly, I guess. There's so much in my life that's just...happened to me recently. The scars, for example. Everything just...happens to me."

"And now I've happened to you." Jake laughed in an encouraging way, the same kind of lightheartedness from before, and Edgar laughed with him. "What do you think so far?"

"You seem..." Edgar didn't like the word he came up with at first. "You seem friendly."

"Sure, I try to be."

"And you're the first person to try to talk to me in ages."

"It doesn't really show." Edgar gave him a doubting look, but Jake seemed serious. "You can talk to people real easy, even if they're kind of weird like me. You have this kind of calmness around you, you know? You're good with words."

"Really?" Exactly what Edgar had been doubting himself about. "I've always worried that I sound..."

"You need more confidence, Edgar." Jake rested a hand on his shoulder, and Edgar jumped at the contact. He noticed at this point his glass was empty. "Really, that friend of yours...are those scars all they did? I know that's a bit personal and if you don't want to tell me, I'm cool with that, but I'm just concerned, man."

Edgar made an uncomfortable noise and stared down at his hands. He could feel Jake's hand through his coat and he hadn't been touched this way -- without the threat of death somewhere involved -- for as long as he could remember.

Johnny isn't here. He'll never know. C'mon, tell someone. See how he reacts.

"Not really..."

"I knew it. What else? Did they..."

"He never...well, I mean." He couldn't get into the physical threats. That would just make things more difficult to explain. "He has a way of making me very...self-conscious. That I always have to be careful around him not to say the wrong thing or be the wrong person or else I'll pay for it."

Oh, he hadn't intended to say the end of that sentence. Jake frowned and leaned in close.

"Pay for it?"

"He can...get angry." Found himself worrying, nervous and he tried to to soothe, work his way around it. There was no danger here, none that he could see. Wondered if it was more Scriabin's effort than his own to keep him from locking up again, keeping typical caution from finding its common hold. It was hard to tell who was doing what now. Keep talking, see how he reacts. "It's easy for him. He has a very short temper, and I never know what will...set him off. When he gets angry, he just loses himself in a way, and he does things that he regrets later. It's just easier for me if I don't make him angry, that's all. I've just become very careful about what I say."

"And you're still friends?"

"Just friends." Edgar nodded as if this was a sage observation. "We're just friends."

"Still..." Jake looked as if he was going to say something, then shook his head. "No, your life, man. It's your life. You can be friends with him if you want and everything...but you're really jumpy, you know that? Very skittish."

"Am I?" Edgar noticed another new full glass beside his empty one without any real emotion. "I didn't used to be. I don't think about it a lot. I guess I am."

"Do people like that make you nervous? I mean, forceful people? I don't want to make you nervous." Another laugh, and Edgar shook his head with a smile.

"No, you don't make me nervous. It's not you, you're different, it's just...you know, I don't know many other people. For a long time it's just been him, and you begin to think that everything works that way. That all relationships go that way, that they need that kind of, of self...self-monitoring, that's it. It's always kind of strange to remember that that's not true."

"Well, you don't have to worry about that with me. I'm very easy-going." Jake gave him a thumbs up with one hand. "Hey, what kind of people are you looking for here anyway?" Jake pulled away from him, but kept his hand on his shoulder.

"I don't know..."

"C'mon, think about it. What kind of people do you like?"

"Well, you seem pretty good right now."

Whoops.

Oh, I wonder what he'll say to that...

Edgar didn't intend to give Jake the opportunity before he could better explain himself. "I mean, you seem pretty nice. Funny, right, and you know what you're doing. You're confident. Mostly though, you saw me...I guess I'll just settle for anyone who can see me."

"You shouldn't just settle for people." Jake squeezed his shoulder, and Edgar noticed his glass half-empty. "But confidence, huh?"

"The kind that doesn't hurt, or won't hurt. Mmph." Edgar put a hand to his head. "I'm sorry, I don't normally talk like this. I'm not like this. I talk too much when I drink."

"Man, don't apologize. You had something there, I want to know."

"Ah..." Edgar tried to find his train of thought. "Confidence, right? Yeah, confidence...confident people are nice to be with sometimes. The ones I've met, I mean. They always know what to do. It's comforting. I'm always wondering about what to do and if I'm doing it right. Ever since I met him, it's just...it's nice to just let someone else take charge for a while."

"Hmm." Another squeeze to his shoulder.

"I got this problem, this thing where I always overanalyze things." Edgar took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "I'm always doing that. I mean, thinking about what to say and what not to say, if this or that will make him angry or ruin this or make things worse, all that all the time. I just can't stop no matter what 'cause he makes it so dangerous, and when I'm with someone who knows what they're doing, it's like that can stop, you know? It can be a relief. Ugh, I'm not making any sense..."

"No no, it makes perfect sense."

You, what do you think?

Hmm...? A very lazy response.

What are you doing? Are you listening?

Have you looked at this guy? Look at what he's wearing. He's so different from everything I've seen before.

Goddamn it Scriabin, can you focus? This is important.

I can't predict his reactions... Scriabin said in strangely drawn-out tone. I can't predict him, not yet. Keep talking to him.

Edgar saw Jake raise his hand again, and this time he reached out and pushed it back down.

"No no no, I, I got to drive home. I can't have any more."

Jake didn't move his trapped hand, but he turned to Edgar with a smile.

"Drive home, huh?"

"Yeah, I got to get home at some point. Um..." Edgar closed his eyes and for a moment was distracted by the sensation of his vocal cords vibrating before he remembered what he was saying. "I've got to get home. I can't drive drunk, people get killed that way, I couldn't do that."

"No, you don't seem like the guy who would-"

"I don't do that, I don't let people get hurt that way." Edgar found deep frustration rising up, familiar and old. "I don't do that, okay? I mean, I try. I try really hard not to hurt people. I'm a good person, I really try to be. I really try to be. I don't hurt people, I don't want to hurt people, I don't do that, so that's why I can't have any more. You understand, right? I can't have any more, I don't like hurting people. I couldn't do that, I'm a good person. I don't do that, I wouldn't. I won't do that."

"Whoa, calm down." Jake smiled at him gently. "Look, I'll drive you home, okay?"

He dug through his pocket, found his car keys and nearly dropped them in an effort to give them to Jake. "You know, right, you know I don't do that?" Edgar stared at him hard. "I don't like hurting people. I don't want people to get hurt."

"I know, I know. Don't worry." Jake slid an arm around Edgar and lifted him off the stool carefully. This proved to be a good thing, as when Edgar found himself in motion the world shifted and moved in a way far too exaggerated. He was glad for the support.

He's shorter than you, but he's stronger. I can feel through, I can feel it. Hmm, he must work out or something, do something... Scriabin still fascinated. Did you hear that, he said he knew, not to worry, he's being considerate, this is all so strange. An excited laugh. This is all deliciously strange and so different, and so unpredictable. I mean, I mean Nny's unpredictable, but with this guy, with this Jake guy, he won't stab you for it.

No threat of death, and that made this entire thing feel so blissfully safe. So simple. Simplicity was something that Edgar felt was lacking from his life for far too long.

"Take me home." Edgar felt dizzy and Jake's hand tightened its grip around him. "Take me home, take me..."

"Take you...?"

"I'm a good person, I don't want to-"

"Don't worry about it, I'll get you back safe, okay?" Jake laughed. "You just got to stop weaving around."

"I don't hurt people, I don't. I don't do that, not on purpose."

"I know, man. You wouldn't do that."

In his current state, Edgar felt intensely relieved that Jake had agreed, validated, and he felt a surge of gratitude, of acceptance.

"You're very kind." Edgar tripped but Jake caught him before he fell, pulled him back up. "You're very kind."

"Heh, thank you."

God, he makes it so simple! He makes this so simple! Everything accepted as it is, he says what he feels, what he thinks, and it's all unclouded, all not through this insanity filter, this is so strange-

"No one's ever done this for me before." Edgar wanted to express that gratitude somehow. "Ever paid this much attention."

"Well, I'll just have to make up for it then, hmm?" Jake laughed again, lightly, and squeezed Edgar's side. "After all, you're not a bad person. Just kind of...under appreciated."

"Yes, yes, that's it." He leaned against the side of the car for support as Jake unlocked the doors. "That's how I feel sometimes, even if it makes me feel guilty I think it's true, I think I am."

"Guilty?" Jake pulled Edgar away from the car and set him in the front seat, lingered for a few moments above him with that concerned expression that Edgar realized that he was beginning to crave. The reminder of its rarity, of the fact that it was possible for him, made it so desirable.

"Like I shouldn't ask for more than I have. Greed, right? I've got, I've got a good life going on, I mean, compared to other people. It's not like my life is hard, it's just kind of empty. I can't complain, I shouldn't complain, but I still do about something so stupid as not being noticed, not having people talk to me. Invisibility really isn't that bad, I mean I bet a lot of people would love to be invisible like me, but sometimes it's not what I want, and I feel bad that I would be that...that um..."

Jake shut the door, circled around and settled in the front seat. "Shallow?"

Edgar looked at him and for a moment felt worried, felt as though he would be rejected, forgotten or misplaced or ignored, and this one tenuous connection he had made would snap. Did Jake think he was shallow? Did Jake-

"Don't feel so bad about it." Jake looked over at him as he navigated the roads. "Seriously, you need to stop blaming yourself for things. You've got all this guilt that doesn't even sound like it's yours."

It sounded so understanding at the time, so knowledgeable.

Empathy, real empathy! I wasn't, I mean, I knew of it, but to see it like this, employed so easily...

"That's it..." Edgar rested his head against the window. "That's it, that's what, that's what I've been, I've thought, for a long time, you know, I mean, I thought that maybe someone would say that, look into it, you know, think about it. Think about what I feel for once. I've always done things for other people, I've always done all these things for other people and I've done a lot of nothing for myself and devoted myself to doing what's best for others and just once I'd like someone to think about me, about what I feel and I don't mean forever, I don't want it forever but just for a while, just for a little while. I was kind of nervous at first, about the whole being noticed and you noticing me and being noticed because I never had been before, not by someone like you, someone normal and not crazy or me and I wasn't used to it, but it's not a bad thing, it's not always a bad thing, I don't think." Edgar took a few seconds to breathe. "There's nothing wrong about wanting to be the center of someone's attention for a little while, right? I mean, not forever, nothing like that, but just for a little while. To really be there with someone, and not be for them or be a tool or being used or being a concept and it's so rare, it's rare and it almost never happens. I want it more, I want it whenever I get glimpses of it sometimes, but not enough. I don't know enough people, and the people I do know make me feel guilty about it, for being selfish. I'm not selfish."

Edgar didn't even think of his rambling as being directed towards anyone in particular. He was just talking and it seemed like a perfectly fine thing to do at the time. After all, he often organized his thoughts by talking them through, so why not?

"I don't want to be selfish, I'm not a bad person. Just want to be noticed for a while, for a night. It doesn't make me a bad person to want that, does it?"

He looked at Jake, and when Jake could spare his eyes from the road, he looked back at him. There was that concern that he desired.

"No, no Edgar, there's nothing wrong with that. Seriously. There's nothing wrong with that at all."

This is amazing. Scriabin could barely speak, his words flowing into and through one another.

Are you letting yourself get drunk, is that it?

This is all really amazing.

Or are we just more connected than before?

"I just need to hear that sometimes." He would have preferred to say "want" rather than "need," but he was talking more than he dimly wondered he should.

"Considering, yeah. You seem like the kind of guy who's just been beat down a lot. I mean, just from those scars on your face...God, did he even have a good reason? Jesus..."

"Um, turn right here." Jake nodded and did so. Edgar didn't like where Jake was going with the conversation, so he went back to a somewhat more comfortable topic. "Beat down a lot..."

Jake paused a little, looked at him for a few seconds. Apparently guessed at why Edgar went back to an earlier statement, and he didn't press the issue. "Like...you want someone to stand up...help you out. Be on your side for once."

Hey, I'm on his side. There, that twinge of jealousy that Edgar had felt once before. Possessiveness.

"Yeah..." But not all the time.

Scriabin wasn't in the state of mind to really give coherent argument. He made an angry sound.

The conversation consisted of slurred directions for the remainder of the drive. Thankfully Edgar was not so incapacitated that he lost his way home. He wasn't far away, and he knew the area very well. Only a few minutes, really, or it seemed that way.

When they had parked, Jake got out and circled to Edgar's side, pulled him out of the car and again settled his arm around him, to keep him on his feet.

"Can we park here- you going to be okay?"

"I'll be okay..." Edgar found a choking bitterness rise into his throat. "I'll always be okay."

Jake made an uncertain noise, and he nudged Edgar gently.

"So, you want me to just-"

"C'mon, I'll show you, I'll show you where I live." This seemed like a great idea at the time, mostly because then Edgar could sit down on his couch, and he felt entirely too dizzy standing up. Jake looked at him for a few seconds, raised an eyebrow.

"You want me to come up with you?"

"Yeah, yeah of course." Edgar became intensely worried that he had maybe somehow insulted Jake by not asking or by not making this clearer, and he tried to put a hand on Jake's shoulder and ended up groping the air instead. "Of course you can come up, I want you to come up, I want you to see where I live and everything. I like you, you know, I do, I think it'll be good and, and I think I want to sit down for a little while, and maybe you can sit down too maybe."

Jake didn't say anything, although he looked rather amused. Edgar took this to mean he hadn't adequately explained himself yet.

"You know? You know, I mean, I don't want you to think I'm, I'm ungrateful or something because I'm not, I'm really not, and I'm not the kind of person that would be ungrateful to someone after they were so nice to me, you know, talking to me and everything and taking me home thank you by the way, thank you so much." Edgar wasn't sure if he had offended Jake or not and it was of the utmost importance to make sure that he hadn't. That was the last thing he wanted, and as his thoughts scrambled to connect to one another in logical ways, he wondered if maybe Scriabin didn't want to offend Jake either, and was just adding his emotion on top of Edgar's. There was a thought, how powerful could an emotion be if Scriabin backed it up?

I don't know, I've never tried it.

You were listening?

I'm always listening. Scriabin sounded a little awkward though. He probably didn't intend to speak and give himself away. You know that. That shouldn't be...um, that shouldn't be...be...um...I'm sorry, I forgot what we were talking about. Uh, is Jake okay?

"Uh, but yeah, yeah, I want you to come with me. I want to spend more time with you. Oh God, I'm not scaring you, am I? I sound like some kind of crazy stalker, I must sound really stupid, shit."

Jake blinked in surprise at the obscenity, and kept his voice gentle when he spoke again.

"No Edgar, no, it's fine. I just wanted to make sure, that's all. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to, or anything. You don't owe me anything for taking you home."

"God..." Edgar slumped and he felt Jake's grip tighten around him, keep him upright. He ended up leaning his head on Jake's shoulder and he closed his eyes to try and keep his balance. "I wish I knew more people like you. I don't know anyone, I don't know anyone who'd let me do this kind of thing. You're so nice and there aren't enough nice people and I like you, I really like you a lot. I'm really happy I met you."

This all seemed vastly important information that Jake needed to know immediately, and therefore Edgar had no qualms about saying so out loud. Scriabin raised no objection, and Edgar was pretty sure that he agreed.

I told you to go out and meet people. See? I was right, Scriabin said with a distinctly gloating tone and Edgar couldn't bear to fight with him now, not when he felt this good and this loved. It felt totally and completely unconditional at the time and certain, definite. He knew it, he knew that he felt that way and he knew that Jake must have felt the same, and he wasn't sure how else to convey that because all his words didn't seem adequate, so he kept trying to find the right ones.

"Are you happy you met me? I'm really glad you talked to me," Edgar mumbled, and he was vaguely aware of Jake shifting his arms a bit so that he could hold Edgar upright a bit more comfortably. "I haven't talked to anyone in so long, I think I was starting to go crazy."

Jake took a deep breath, but Edgar wasn't sure what his expression was since he still had his eyes closed. "Sure I'm glad I met you, Edgar. You're a really neat guy. Heh, I'm glad you like me so much, 'cause I like you too."

To hear it like that was almost too much for Edgar in his current state, and he gave a long contented sigh. "God, I feel happy. I really feel happy."

I do, I really do...thank you, Scriabin. You were right.

He could feel that little shock of surprise from Scriabin, caught completely off-guard by such open gratitude and affection, the willing admittance that Edgar was wrong. He wasn't exactly sure how Scriabin felt after his surprise faded, as emotions in general were tangled deeper between them than ever, but maybe that was because Scriabin felt just as pleased, just as loved.

And the fact that Scriabin felt that good, that nice, made Edgar feel good as well. Nothing could go wrong, nothing could go wrong now, he was at complete peace with everything, with everything and everyone he knew, and his world only consisted of warmth and Jake and the reassuring knowledge that he was right, he had done everything right. Everyone was happy with him, with his decisions, and he was safe for once. He was really safe.

"I feel so good, I haven't felt like this...holy shit, I'm totally smashed, aren't I?"

Jake laughed honestly and loudly, and he squeezed Edgar's side again.

"Just a little bit, man, maybe just a little. C'mon, we should go in. It's getting cold out here, and you said you wanted to sit down for a few minutes."

"Right right." Edgar waved a hand clumsily. "You don't know where it is. I'll show you, it's not far."

The two of them stumbled their way up the stairs, Edgar laughing at their missteps more than he really should have, and Jake laughed with him. Laughing felt good. He had little cause to do so lately.

It took a few tries before he could get the key into the door successfully, and when it opened under his hands, he fell forward a little unexpectedly. Jake managed to catch him before he hit the ground. Edgar laughed breathlessly in his arms, not even sure of what it was that was making him laugh like this, and that thought somehow made it harder to stop.

Jake shut the door with one foot and pulled the keys from Edgar's hand gently.

"You feelin' okay?"

Edgar struggled to stand up straight. He looked down at him.

"Woo, I feel great." Jake turned and tossed the keys onto a nearby table, and Edgar found himself talking again. "I mean it, I mean, I feel great. I feel really safe, you know. I don't feel safe very often, because of him 'cause he could do anything at any time, but I know you won't do that. You wouldn't do that, right?" Jake shook his head in assent although Edgar didn't stop talking. "I knew you wouldn't. I can trust you, trust you at least not to stab me or anything, nothing like that. Everything feels very simple. My life isn't simple enough. I feel great."

"I do too." Jake turned Edgar to face him, placed both arms around him. Edgar wavered for a moment on his feet. He could hear the slight blurring of Jake's words, a light intoxication that helped promote honesty, Edgar thought. "You're really amazing, you know."

He just says it, he just says it straight out! Just compliments you, like that, on something so simple, and he doesn't hide it behind anything!

"God, everything is, is so simple. I can stop worrying. I can stop worrying about what I do and who I am and everything, and I, I can trust you, really trust someone for once..."

"You trust me, huh? And you trust me enough..." Jake looked a little thoughtful, then he reached out and touched Edgar's cheek. "And that's what you want, isn't it? What you've wanted, right?"

At the contact Edgar blinked several times. If he hadn't already been flushed from the alcohol, he definitely would have done so now. "U-um..." Jake smiled at his stammering, and Edgar struggled to think. "Um, what do you mean? Do you mean did I want someone to trust? 'Cause I did, or do...did, I did for a long time. I know you won't hurt me." And he did know this, with a certainty he normally only reserved for scientific facts.

Jake kept his hand where it was, let it linger for those few seconds. It felt cool against his skin, which Edgar now noticed was really rather warm. Jake shook his head, smiled again. "God, you're so...I haven't met anyone like you in a long time. I've missed that, you know. There aren't many people like you anymore around here. They get all bitter and jaded after a while, and there's no honesty anymore. That's what I like about you, you know. You're really honest."

Edgar nodded, flattered. "I try to be honest with people, mostly."

And you expect people to be honest to you right back.

"But yeah...uh..." A pause where Jake expected him to do something, but Edgar didn't know what it was, so he just stood there. Jake eventually raised an eyebrow, spoke with the slightest hint of awkwardness. "Do you just want me to take over from here?"

Take over? What does he mean?

Cool knuckles across his skin, and Scriabin let loose a long sigh, soft and thoughtful. There was something within the emotions that were twisting between the two of them, something that Edgar wasn't very familiar with, and certainly didn't want to think about right now.

I think I know what he means. Scriabin tried to make his comment sarcastic, but there was a kind of longing there that he couldn't erase, not when he was like this.

You're such a... Edgar's cheeks tingled, and he tried not to focus on this foreign thing that had intruded on his previously euphoric mood. This isn't...I'm not. He just wants to talk to me. Stop twisting all my rela...relationships.

Scriabin just laughed.

"Edgar? You there?"

Edgar paused for a second, then nodded. "I-I'm sorry, I uh...I do that sometimes."

"I've noticed." Another smile. Edgar wondered how painful it would have been to get one's lip pierced. "Well...how about it? Want me to make the first move?"

"U-um..." Still confused. Jake seemed so pleased at his hesitance. The way his words stumbled. Edgar wasn't sure why, he had always thought that was a bad thing.

Desperate to keep his pleasant mood -- which had been so rare lately -- he tried to find a way to hang on to it, to ward away negative feelings and doubts and keep what he wanted to hold on to as long as this high lasted.

I, I won't die for it now, for trusting someone else, for trusting him, I won't. I mean, he wouldn't do that. They're so different. I feel safe, I shouldn't feel nervous this time. I don't want to feel nervous anymore.

He wasn't talking to Scriabin, and in a way, Scriabin wasn't talking to him at first. I want to talk to him.

You can't. Go away.

Focus regained on each other. I want to talk to him! I want to ask him some things. I want to ask him things.

You can't talk to him.

I want to do things to him and see what happens.

"I told you you gave off a vibe." Jake smiled in that strange way. "You do. You make it look so natural, and it's not a front either, it's really there. I'm just worried about you though, I mean, the way...you could get so easily fucked over that way, you know? I mean, with those scars, already...I don't want to do that kind of thing. I just want to make sure it's okay with you, I want to make sure you know what you want."

"What do you mean? I...I don't know what you're talking about." Edgar felt as if he was disappointing him somehow. He wished he did know.

Let me talk to him.

No! I don't even know how to let you anyway.

I know how. I could, if I wanted to.

You say that about everything.

"But, um, but I know what I want now." He could answer that question at least. "I do know that, so you don't have to worry about that, or anything. I know what's going on, I do. I don't want you to worry about that."

Words slightly misemphasized, a side-effect that reminded Edgar that he hadn't been the only one drinking. Edgar noticed a glint of silver in his mouth. Tongue piercing. He hadn't noticed that before. "That's good, that's good, okay. You know, it's been a long time for you, hasn't it? I bet he was the last, and fuck, what he could've done..." Jake shook his head. "But I mean...I wouldn't- won't do that, and it's like, it's kind of like you need it, just for a while. Not forever, like you said. But for a while. That's fine with me. I just want to make sure, you know?"

"I-I'm still..."

Jake curled his hand around Edgar's neck, pulled him down enough so that their lips could meet. Even in his fairly altered state, the first reaction to this was surprise and a tinge of fear. But his body did not respond quickly or to his specifications, and when the shock did wear off a few seconds had already gone by, before he found a voice and made a muffled sound.

Is this what he wanted! Oh my God, I-I'm not-

His emotions fluttered and frantic, warnings and sirens all going off at once and a rush of adrenaline, and Edgar was now entirely at a loss as to what to do. He could feel something solid, familiar through his own panicked morass, and he could recognize it as Scriabin's emotions, filtering through his own. Remnants from before...his previous trusting mood, that same kind of strange need, intense curiosity and vague affection. The longing stronger now, a need that Edgar tried to ignore but Scriabin was working hard, working harder at this and he had a goal again, he had a focus and Edgar didn't know what to feel, and his defenses were scattered.

Oh, oh. I felt, I felt...like I was there, like...like I was almost there, like it was almost...almost me and-...oh, we really are close now. I mean, tangled closer. I didn't know getting drunk would do that.

"Ah, I-I'm..." Edgar broke away, utterly confused. All his neglected logical arguments and reservations tried to rise but were slow to wake. Nothing could be pinned down, no solution could find a hold and a thousand buzzing questions, and he wasn't sure how to begin to even understand them, much less answer them.

Jake took slow steps and led Edgar backwards until his back was against the wall. It didn't occur to Edgar to stop him until he was already there. He tilted his head at him, spoke in the same gentle way as before. "Just let me take care of it, okay? Don't worry."

Something kicked in, something real and definite, and it involved pushing Jake away, it involved stating and making clear that this wasn't who he was, what he wanted, what he thought he would get, what he was after. As the thought coalesced in his mind he found Scriabin's anger, his frustration immediately overpowered it so his body remained motionless. Scriabin sounded desperate, angry and in a way almost afraid. No! No, not this time! You don't know how to enjoy this, you won't enjoy this, you'll ruin everything! You'll think too hard! Goddamn it Edgar, do you know how rare this is? This is for us? This may never happen again! How can you give this up?

No, no, I-I don't want this, I don't want this, I'm not like this-

God, you're doing it already! Do you have any idea-

Edgar raised his hands but they moved slowly, and Jake caught them with very deliberate movements. His grip was gentle enough, but not easy to break.

"Don't be frightened." Jake sounded very sincere. It would only take a word, just a word and he trusted Jake, trusted him enough to stop. Whether or not his trust was misplaced he had no idea, but it was there, strong and insistent. "I won't hurt you. I know that guy did things to you, but I won't do that. You can trust me, I promise. If you want me to, I'll stop. Anytime, I swear."

The decision was in his hands. It was his choice.

This was up to him.

I want it. And God, did Scriabin want it. That desire was foreign to Edgar, strong and overpowering and it was struggling over his own reservations, his reluctance. I want to see what it's like.

Edgar knew at this point that he was going to lose.

Scriabin, no, no I'm not-

Maybe you're not, but I don't care. I'm not a coward. I'm not afraid. I'm not going to cower in the corner like you and, and pretend something's not happening whenever it gets a little intense.

More to himself, more to make it real than to convince Scriabin or make him stop.

I'm not like this-!

Fine, you don't have to come along. I'll just go myself. You can go nap or sulk or withdraw or block or whatever. I want to feel this, I want to feel everything-

A rush of static deep in his mind that built in volume so sudden it blinded, caused his eyes to shut. Slowly drifting, losing control and focus and Edgar caught a flash of Scriabin's emotions during the shift, hot and strong.

Curiosity, the desire to learn, to see, to understand.

Please... Before Scriabin would block him out. Please don't do this-

I'm not afraid.

He woke up aching.

Consciousness, full consciousness, came slowly to Edgar, and his head pounded. His entire body ached, protested every movement no matter how small. He almost didn't want to wake up, not to this.

Unh...what did I do last night...?

No response. Scriabin perhaps was still sleeping it off. Lucky bastard.

He remembered meeting someone, meeting someone at a bar. Vague memories of a face, of minor details. Name started with a "J"...

Janet?

Julie?

Didn't they come over...

The threat, fear that something happened, but he was not awake enough for the real meaning to hit him yet.

What did YOU do last night?

Just breathing in the back of his mind.

Edgar struggled to remember, but found that nothing came to mind. In a way he was thankful. His eyes felt swollen and sore, and he felt around his desk for his glasses. Nothing. He wasn't sure where they were. He was not awake enough to feel concerned about them just yet, and just let his eyes close.

Drifted in and out of painful consciousness, and then he could hear Scriabin slowly come awake.

Mmph...

What did you do last night?

Christ, have you got a headache...nnn, do you really want to know? Maybe I'll tell you what he-, what we did in pieces later, when you can handle it better...

Edgar sighed and wished he didn't hurt so much. God, he hurt everywhere. What on earth had he done last night, run a marathon? His legs burned.

Edgar thought a bit harder, a bit deeper, and remembered. A friend. That's what Scriabin had mocked him about before, what felt like untold centuries ago. He did make a friend this time. Only one to add to his meager supply, but still. That was something. Someone else to talk to, someone to talk to at all. What would it be like to talk and have someone else really listen to him for once? He had so rarely been on that side of a conversation.

Hmm, where is he...?

J...Jake, that was his name.

Edgar opened his eyes again, glanced around his room. It was morning now. Nobody in the room, not that he could make out. He turned over and found his bed empty.

Where is he? A more plaintive tone from Scriabin now. He wondered for a moment about what Jake and Scriabin could have talked about while he wasn't there. Edgar was fairly sure that Scriabin wouldn't tell him everything, but maybe enough to satisfy his curiosity. What kind of reassurances would Scriabin ask for from someone else, when Edgar wasn't listening? From the tone in Scriabin's voice when asking for him, Edgar felt that his relative attachment to Jake was not unshared.

It didn't occur to Edgar, it didn't occur to Edgar how strange it would have seemed to someone else that Scriabin existed at all...

Jake... Edgar again felt for his glasses before he remembered they weren't on the table. I never did get his last name...

Where is he?

Edgar slowly pulled himself out of bed, a long and painful process. Every muscle protested as he stood up.

Aaaand where were his clothes?

Scriabin, what did you do? A little more panicked now, and Edgar frantically looked for something to cover himself.

I can't tell you straight out, you'll have a fit. Smug. I think you know.

You didn't! Edgar found a bathrobe on the floor and threw it on, cinched the waist shut tight. Please God, please tell me you didn't!

What's wrong with it? A touch of confusion. Do you know what it feels like? My god, do you know what it was like? How could you NOT want that? I'd-

You didn't, you didn't do that to him! Oh my God, he's going to-, he's going to think that I-, that I'm like that- I'm not like that!

You've got to try it, Edgar. It was the most amazing experience I've ever had. I didn't know that you could even do that, that you could feel that way. And you've been hiding from it, from that kind of feeling so long. What other things have you been hiding from me?

How dare you ask me questions! How dare you ask me questions after what you did! I'm not-, I'm not your-, your personal-, I'm not- how dare you do that to me!

Oh, you let me.

I did not! I would never-, I would never have done that-

Well, why don't you find him and tell him so. Scriabin seemed put out by the fact that Edgar wasn't interested, was diminishing the importance of his experience last night with Jake, and he sounded sulky and resentful. Go ahead. Ruin it like you always do. You have no idea what it was like. God, I could do that over and over-

Shut up! How could you-, I can't believe it, Jake is going to think I'm-, that I just brought him here to-, oh my God, I didn't. I didn't do that, I didn't mean to do that. I didn't say things like that, did I? I just wanted to be friends. I'm not, I'm not-

Let me finish it for you. He could imagine Scriabin rolling his eyes. You're not easy, and you're not desperate, and you can't be bought for howsoever many glasses of alcohol you had. He wouldn't think that. You know, we got to talking, just the two of us, when you were gone.

Oh my God, oh my God, no no no no no. Edgar felt real and fierce twinges of despair and fear. Please tell me you didn't, please tell me you didn't tell him anything, oh my God, how could you do this, how could you ruin this for me?

I didn't ruin anything! Scriabin snapped. You're overreacting. We just talked, that's all. It was so easy to talk to him, after what we did. I've never felt like that before. God, that was-...but we did talk, just the two of us, before we went to sleep.

Did you talk about me? Please tell me you didn't...

Scriabin put on a dismissive tone. Oh, I might have. Maybe I did.

No! No no, no. That was it, Edgar was sure that Jake was lost now. Not for the fact that to Jake, Edgar would have seemed somewhat psychotic in referring to himself as two different people, with two different styles of speech, two different sets of desires, and a relationship that was entirely too complex.

No, it was the thought that Scriabin would have said something about him, about his failings, point out something that he had done wrong or would do wrong in the future given his past behavior, and Jake would find him not worth the trouble and he would be ignored again.

It's when you stop thinking it's weird, that's when things are really wrong.

Don't worry, he doesn't hate you. He doesn't hate us. He liked me. He could hear the gloating tone in his voice. He really liked me.

Where is he? I've got to tell him, I've got to tell him not to listen to you. I've got to tell him that-, that I'm not like that.

He was so quiet when I told him all about you too. Still gloating. He didn't say a single word. I think he was rather surprised at the things you've done.

Scriabin! Edgar found his mental voice desperate and hurt. Tell me you didn't-

I didn't tell him everything. Scriabin apparently sensed his pain and backed off a little. I didn't tell him anything about Johnny, anything more than what you already said. So no worries about your morality problems, nothing like that. Do you know what a tongue piercing is for?

God, shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up! I never want to talk to you again! How could you, how could you ruin this for me?

I didn't ruin anything! God, get over it. Where is he, anyway?

He walked out into the hallway, glanced into the open bathroom. He expected the sounds of someone in his apartment, moving or doing something. The television to be on, or the shower running, or something.

Nothing.

Looked into the living room. Maybe Jake had slept on the couch. Please let him have slept on the couch.

Nothing.

He felt twinges of emotion coming from deep within him, from Scriabin.

No one in the kitchen. Everything shut and closed, as he had left it. The burner was off, although he did notice a single plate in the sink, clean.

His front door was shut.

He looked, found his eyes seeking out something, some sign of something. He looked by the phone, by where he kept his notepads. He even checked the bathroom, remembering that once Johnny had written things on his mirror, and nothing.

Nothing.

He's not here. He said it, but didn't understand. Scriabin did.

Where is he!

He's not here.

Edgar walked back to his room and found that he felt increasingly numb. It provided a sharp contrast to the furious shriek that emanated from the Scriabin toy on the floor as soon as Edgar was close enough to hear.

"How could he leave! How could he just leave like that? Nothing, no sign anywhere, didn't even leave his goddamn phone-number, the 'I'll call you' bullshit- SHIT!" Completely furious and at a frustrating loss for more eloquent words. "Shit, you know what we were, Edgar? You know what we were, we were a fucking one-night fuck, a pity fuck for the wretched! FUCK!"

God, his screaming made Edgar's headache worse. Edgar didn't even know what exactly it was Scriabin and Jake had done, but he had a feeling that Scriabin's hurt was justified. Enough so for him to ignore the throbbing pain in his head at the volume, and he was sure enough so for Scriabin to ignore the pain he must have been causing himself.

Scriabin made a strangled growling sound, helpless and frustrated, and Edgar walked over and picked him up. He set the figure back in his designated place on the desk, in a way wondering if that would help calm him down. It didn't, not really, but at least Edgar felt a bit better afterwards. "I can't believe it, I can't believe he used me like this, I can't fucking believe this, after everything he said, what a goddamn fucking liar, I swear to god I'll fucking get him for this, he can't just do that and get away with it-"

"He left." Edgar found his glasses, thrown to one side near a pile of his clothes. He put them back on and felt something very cold in the pit of his stomach. For a moment he thought of what he had said, then he sat down hard on the floor and clutched his arms. "He left me."

Scriabin stopped yelling and in the silence Edgar held himself tighter.

"I said so much. I said too much. I made a mistake." His voice was clear and calm, although his body shook. "He left. He...lied to me."

The numbness was fading into pain, a sadly familiar sense of betrayal, one that made him shake harder and shut his eyes. That unspoken promise that came with interacting with Jake, with sharing with Jake, that understanding that Edgar had assumed that they wouldn't hurt each other with their new knowledge, their new proximity, and that trust had been so quickly broken.

"I'll kill him." Scriabin spoke with no emotion. "I'll kill him for doing this to you."

"This was my fault." Edgar wasn't listening. It was his instinctual reaction, to take responsibility for the both of them. It was natural and he didn't even think of it as he did it. "I should have known better. What was I thinking? I should have known better, I shouldn't have let this happen at all. I mean, look at me...look at what I've done to myself. Look at us. After all this time, what was I thinking? I should have known better."

"God, Edgar, what have I...I almost, I mean, you...if you were...it would have been worse, because then you'd have the memories rather than me, but I forgot, forgot that before he lied to me he lied to you-"

"I shouldn't have believed him." Edgar shook his head and he felt dark and deep disappointment, disgust at himself. "How gullible am I? How fucking desperate am I?"

"Stop it, Edgar. Stop it."

He did stop speaking, although that didn't stop the growing sense of cold and isolation.

"Goddamn it, I can feel...how, how dare someone do this to you, hurt you like this." Trying very hard to sound indignant on his behalf. Edgar wasn't sure why it was giving him trouble. It was Edgar's fault that this had happened, simple as that. That was how it worked with them. Why would Scriabin be hesitant? "God, I'm supposed to...how could I have been so careless, to let you get hurt this way? Associate with, with such people, after all my threats and promises and I still-...well, believe me now." Edgar sniffed. "Believe me when I say I am not going to forget this. Believe me when I say that I will not let him get away with this. He'll pay for this. He'll pay for what he did to you."

"Not for what he did to you?" Edgar sniffed again and his voice was hollow. He felt cold.

"He'll pay for what he did to you." Scriabin's voice was dark. "I understand now, I understand what this feels like. I know what this rage allows me to do, what I can accomplish, I know what it does. That power, that rush, no wonder-..."

"God..." Edgar pressed his head against his arms. "God, all I wanted, I just wanted someone to listen, I just wanted someone to listen, to not...not fucking hurt me for once..."

"Shh. Shh, don't think about it now." Scriabin's voice softened, that comforting tone with that melody that worked through unpleasant thoughts. "Don't do this to yourself. I'm still here, remember? I'll always be here, when everyone else turns you down. You know I'll always be here for you. Oh Edgar, listen to me. It wasn't our fault. You know it wasn't our fault. Your anger and hurt is misplaced, but I know where it should go, what to do. You may have no inclination, but I fulfill it for you. Revenge, Edgar, revenge. I won't let this happen to you, I won't let him hurt you like this and not suffer in return. No one will hurt you like this and get away with it, not if I can do something about it. I'll rip out his throat with my bare hands for this, for your revenge. I will give you your revenge."

"I don't want...didn't even want to...I just wanted someone to talk to. I didn't even want it to go this far...I just wanted someone who...someone who wouldn't...and then everything...everything...oh God..."

"Edgar, I'm...I'm sorry."

And in the end, Edgar let go, let Scriabin have what he wanted, what he promised. Let him try at his own apology, let him take control because he was so insistent that he could fix it, could fix this.

He found Scriabin waiting for him that night when he fell asleep. Held tenderly, reassured, and every fervent attempt that Scriabin could devise to try and dissolve the damage, to prevent scars from forming. Always to prevent and manage damage, but it had never been like this. It had never cut this sharply both ways, and Scriabin cursed himself as much as he cursed at Jake for having been fooled. Scriabin had always thought of himself as better than that, far above ever being deceived in such a way, and to find himself brought down, brought down with Edgar and to know it was his fault, this was all his fault...

They found comfort in one another -- although Scriabin did not admit as such -- and in the fact that they at least seemed permanent.

This wasn't the kind of pain that Scriabin was familiar with, that he had grown accustomed to healing in his various ways, from distracting to compassion. He wasn't sure what to do, and found that in the face of his relative ignorance that he just resorted to the reaction that seemed the strongest and most natural: anger. Maybe some time ago, maybe before this entire mess had really gone too far, he would have been able to separate himself from Edgar, what happened to him, the entire incident, and kept the simple and dispassionate place as an amused observer, but this time he was involved. He was more than just involved, he was responsible, and Scriabin could not handle that. What he had said, what he had done, the trust he had so flippantly gave and what if this really was his fault? What if Jake hadn't really done anything wrong at all, and...and...

He never had to take responsibility for this actions like this. He never had to before. All he could feel, all he wanted to feel, was rage. Scriabin held onto Edgar tightly as if he feared he would vanish, and Edgar didn't feel motivated enough to point out that his grip ached.

I swear he'll pay for this...you trust me, don't you? I swear to you, he'll pay for doing this to you.

Why are you doing this?

To know what to say, to provide the safe haven that perhaps would allow Edgar to work through this, through having another of his rare moments of weakness exploited, used to hurt. Desperate to not have this change either of them, to overcome this incident as they had others. Prove relative strength over the pain by showing no scars. That was what Scriabin was hoping for, and he would say anything to achieve that goal, regardless of its truth or lack there of.

I do this for you because you don't deserve this. This is my home, this is my world, and you are my home, and you are my world, and I will protect you. I will be your protector from mental and physical enemies that would harm us, that would hurt you. Trust me, let me take care of it. I'll make it mine so you don't suffer the guilt, make it mine and let you rest. Have your pleasant dreams. The simple kind I offer, of the affection that you crave. We both made a mistake, we both reached for the wrong source, but it won't happen again. I've learned now. No one will hurt us again and get away with it. We're not going take it anymore.

As time went on, as Scriabin developed, he found that there were times when he wanted to do more, wanted to wreak vengeance for this pain he always felt, always had to handle. He wanted to do more, and then he found that he could do more.

The part of him that identified as Edgar was held and comforted, lulled to sleep with perhaps false promises of affection, while the part that knew himself as Scriabin had his revenge on Jake, as he had promised, with his bare hands.

The End
(Author's Note: Moral of the Story: One-night stand Edgar and DIE.
I feel bad for Jake. He never saw it coming. I never realized how insane Edgar would seem to other people until now. It's weird how you forget that when he doesn't interact with them much. I don't blame Jake for skipping out in the morning after hearing Scriabin rant about how much Edgar sucks. Bad decision though on his part.
I wonder, if Scriabin hadn't messed everything up, if Edgar and Jake coulda had something. At least been friends, if nothing else. Too bad everything always ends in MURDER with these people. Wow, this has weird parallels to the original Nny Edgar story in JtHM.
Weird semi-tie-ins to the diaryfic here. I wonder...)