By Eekz

Joan of Arcadia, post 1.05 "Just Say No."
T, PG-13; drama, general, angst… spiritual?
Oneshot. Joan, CBG.

Disclaimer: Joan of Arcadia definitely doesn't belong to me (please note how few times CBG and Goth God appear in the series) and I'm much too broke to be making money off of this.

A/N: This began as one of many feeble attempts to be productive while shirking studying for the AP English exam and, instead of committing ritual suicide like the others, it ended as the first fic I've finished since September. It's a bit different from my usual style and you might find evidence of the studying I did do for the exam, but I rather like how it turned out.

Takes place the morning after "Just Say No."

She sees him fifteen feet away, a stretch of trampled grass and a flaccid willow between them—leaning against the nearest streetlight, hands stuffed in fleece-lined pockets, right leg crossed loosely over the left, all too blasé for a teenager lurking in the Chief of Police's front yard at two-seventeen in the morning. It's funny, she muses idly, that he can wear their skin so easily but never share their inferiority, their fears.

Like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Three concrete stairs and her feet hit ground, find it frozen and solid. She'd forgotten Saturday's forecast, the one that said a cold front was closing in, and already the chill has seeped through the soft fabric of her pajamas. But it's too late to turn back, even for a coat, because he might not be there when she returns or she might wake someone while ransacking the closet and this is impossible to explain, so she moves forward, glad that she'd had sense enough to slip on her shoes before stumbling out the door. For the first time, she learns that fifteen feet is a long trek.

"Walk with me," he says demurely once she's close enough to touch him. She's exhausted, wants to tell him no, to walk alone, but he doesn't wait for a response – he takes her elbow lightly in one hand and begins to make his way down the sidewalk. He's proud of free will, she knows, but that rarely seems to keep him from disregarding it.

He steers her away from the dim glow of the streetlights, down to the corner—the one that branches off, west into the heart of town, east to the makeshift suburbs—and barely breaks stride before veering east. The streets here are quickly reduced to backwater alleys, moonlight on pavement and lines of dilapidated old houses, quaint recreations of the crime sets she sees on television, the murder scenes in movies. The pressure on her elbow relents at the next crosswalk, but she's too caught up in the eeriness to care until he wraps his heavy coat around her shoulders. A moment passes before she realizes that she was shivering.

The coat is shearling. Authentic.

"Thanks," she murmurs as he returns his hand to her arm and pulls her left at the curb. Toward the park.

"Foresight was never a strength of yours," he replies quietly, far too somber, devoid of the snippiness she's come to expect from him. Associates with him.

"You're really not here to make a 'suggestion,' are you?" she observes finally, voice as hushed as his; speaking any louder would destroy the still, eerie peace here, would end with houselights flickering on and angry fathers screaming at them to go home like good little children. But she doesn't feel so much like a child anymore, no more than she feels like an adult.

"I'm here," he says, stopping at the park gate only long enough to nudge it open – completely overlooking the white and red 'Closed' sign roped to the wires; she inspects the fence as they pass, searching for a padlock or chain and finding none, "to take a walk."

The gate clatters back into its frame behind them just as he strays from the dirt path, guiding her towards the woods. Everything between, below, above, in the trees is dark, shrouded, and every instinct she has is frantically ordering her to flee, find light, go home. Were he anyone (anything) else, she would have abided the alarms ringing in her head without hesitation; instead, she carefully dodges a raised root as she follows him into the shadows.

She stumbles three times before she stops walking—stands stationary and unyielding, folding her arms across her chest and fixing the being beside her with a frustrated glare. "This is not a walk; this is the Olympics. Look, I'm tired, so can you just get to the point already and walk me home?"

"I'm not the one who hasn't gotten to the point yet." Her eyes have adjusted well enough to the darkness that the ironic smirk does not escape her notice. Somehow she's too comforted by the normalcy of the expression to be properly indignant.

Still, it's not difficult to find him—in this form especially—spectacularly annoying. "You dragged me all the way out here just to talk?"

The slight rustling of his shirt tells her he's shrugging. "Not exactly; I dragged you all the way out here so you could talk."

"Well, what do you want me to say?" she asks, raking a hand through her hair. Her fingers snag on a tangle almost instantly. "That it's been thirty years and my mom is still hurting? That I hate your 'perfect' system? Because right now, I really do."

He doesn't respond, but she can feel the weight of his stare and knows that this is indeed what he wants.

"It doesn't make any sense; my mother is a better person than I or millions of other people will ever be, but that man—he did these awful evil things to her and no one ever caught him, no one really tried to, because what's one more rapist out on the streets? Not a big difference in the scheme of things. Is that part of your system? How many other girls has he hurt? Is he still out there, does he live in a three-story house with a wife and a dog and four cars? Why can he do that? Why does my mom have to suffer? Why doesn't he care?

"You're always telling me that your system," she continues heatedly, dimly aware that her eyes are already welling with frustrated tears, "that it's perfect—but people go around raping and hurting and killing each other every day, and kids are abandoned or orphaned or die from stupid diseases, and all these bad things happen to good people—how is that perfect? Kevin—he had everything he wanted, everything he'd worked for, but he made one tiny, stupid mistake and now he's never going to walk again! He was eighteen and his entire world caved in on him! How can that possibly be perfect?

"And you," she jabs a finger in his general direction, "you're God, all-powerful, all-knowing, 'let-there-be-light' God. You can do something about this, about all of it; get rid of evil altogether or intervene or—or… Somewhere, right now, some helpless, scared girl is being attacked or some man is being murdered or both, and you know the who's and the what's and why's and where's, but instead of stopping it or reporting it or something, you're standing in a park in Arcadia with a teenage subdefective! It's your world, so fix it!

"That's another thing—your world—why make a world? What's the point of it? Did you need entertainment to pass away eternity; are we all just some great, big game to you? What good can we possibly be if we're so small and insignificant by ourselves that there's no distinguishing between good and bad, and nice people are crushed like bugs and arson-murderers are in charge of saving people from fires? It's just—it's not right. It's backwards, all of it. See, at least Luke can explain it all with his genius and science: insanity, freak weather, the creation of the Earth, murder, hate, fear, rape, broken spinal cords. With science, it makes sense; there's no secret meaning to everything or significance buried so deep under a pile of pointless junk that you can never find it and no God telling you that his system's perfect.

"That's why people don't believe in you anymore, you know. People want a God they can trust, rely on to keep them safe, but instead they're surrounded by all this evil and pettiness and not believing in you is so much easier than blindly following an idea thousands of years old—it's less disappointing when things end badly, when your mother is attacked or your brother is crushed or a perfectly friendly rat-man tries to lure you into his bad car with a bat in the front seat and then chases after you when you run away and it's so scary because your dad's on a case that makes your skin crawl and you're pretty sure that man wants to do the same things to you and—and do you know what the worst part is? Unless I've completely misunderstood you, then I am the only person who knows for sure that you're not just some convenient character in a really long, boring book, and I was so scared because I knew that if he caught me, you wouldn't do anything; some hiker would find my body just like all the other girls and you'd find someone else to humiliate."

And… that's it; everything she's wanted to shout and scream at him since they met, since her mother opened the door to her bedroom looking broken and scared and saying that they should talk. Her shoulders heave with sobs she's been fighting to suppress and she wipes hard at her eyes with the back of her hand in a feeble, inane attempt to maintain some of her dignity. Even through the tears, she's coherent enough to stumble away when he reaches out to her.

"Joan," he says jadedly, voice heavy and tired. She shakes her head furiously, doggedly not looking at his face.

There's a crunch of brittle leaves and his arms enfold her before she can sidestep again. She splays her hands against his chest, tries to shove him back, but she doesn't have enough energy to resist and eventually she gives in, rests her head on his shoulder and lets him run a soothing hand through her hair. He smells like earth and rain.

He sighs, "You know I can't answer all of your questions."

"Try." Her voice is weak and cracked from crying, but there's a note of steel in it too.

He's silent for a long while, and she's left listening to the sounds around them—the stirring of leaves, rustling of branches, hum of crickets and insects she never wanted to know the names of. She thinks she hears an owl hooting in a distant tree and wonders how that's possible; Ms. Lischak once said that Arcadia has been void of owls for years—something to do with deforestation and gross consumerism.

"He wasn't going to catch you, Joan, I'd like you to know that," he tells her softly, interrupting her cluttered thoughts. "And if he had, there would have been no lasting damage. It was timed, all of it; he would have run that red light either way."

Then he's quiet again, either contemplating the easiest way to betray nothing while explaining as much as possible or waiting for her to realize that he has no intention of continuing. His arms are still restricting her movements, so she closes her eyes and doesn't swallow the yawn rising in her throat, realizing belatedly that the gentle tugging sensation at her scalp is him playing with her hair. The action is surprisingly human.

"It's not my place to interfere here," he says finally, startling her away from the brink of sleep. "This world may be my creation, but it's not mine; it belongs to you, to your family, to everyone you'll ever meet and everyone you won't, to the animals, the insects, the grass, the trees… When it doesn't foil the system, I keep things in order; why do you think I come to you? But I am not all-powerful."

"But you make people," she protests, pushing him just far enough away to meet her glare. "And you're omniscient, so you know what they're going to do—who they're going to hurt—don't you design that?"

"Omniscience only extends so far," he states, a sardonic note in his voice that she doesn't like at all.

"No. No, it doesn't—I looked it up; it means 'all-knowing.' There're no boundaries to that."

"Free will, Joan," he says, as if it's obvious and explains everything. He releases her from the almost-embrace only to gather one of her hands in each of his and hold them, palms facing skyward, in the eleven inches of icy air between them. "Here, look at your hands, at the lines. Do you see how different they are?"

She nods; the asymmetry has always bothered her. She doesn't particularly like her nails either.

"In palmistry—palm reading—the left hand," he lifts hers a little for emphasis, "represents what's meant to be; the type of person you're supposed to become, the life you're supposed to lead. But the right hand tells what's really happening, the personality you're shaping for yourself, the future you're carving. I know only the left in the beginning; the right, I learn as you do. Free will is independent of me; I can predict, of course, and ninety-nine percent of the time I'm correct, but people are still capable of surprising me. Make sense?"

"Mostly," she responds after a pause. "So palm reading's not a hoax?"

"Oh, it is," he answers easily, "but sometimes it has merit—and the analogy fit."

She reflexively bites down on her lower lip, winces slightly; the tissue is already sore from being worried during her mother's story and more during their walk, but the twinge of pain hardly seems to matter now. "So, the world has all of this evil and there's nothing you can do about it. Now what?"

His smile is familiar, one she's seen several times on this face. "Now you let the rain come carry you onward."

"That… that's a really bad metaphor, you know."

This smile is even more familiar and she's prepared for snark before he responds, "I'm not the one who's been comparing humanity to sheep."

. . .

She wakes the next morning with no clear memory of coming home, or walking home… or leaving the park. Her tennis shoes are nowhere in sight and she's no longer wearing shearling over her pajamas, but there are small strands of braids in the mass of hair spilling over her shoulders and through the window, she sees rain.

A/N: A few non-author notes: cold fronts are generally associated with precipitation; shearling is wool; "He" is not consistently capitalized for a reason; the palmistry is what I learned back when I studied it (out of curiosity – I've always shared "God's" opinion of its credibility); and if you caught the shameless allusion to an obscure group's even more obscure lyric, then you're an amazing person and have excellent taste in music.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Constructive criticism is always encouraged and reviews are adored but not solicited… mostly because this fandom kind of died three years ago.