A/N: New head-canon, after watching this movie for the second time, mostly for the Ruffalo factor. It's a gorgeous movie, even though the clearly-telegraphed plot points kind of irritated me first time round. I liked it better this time. And Stephen and Bang Bang are pretty adorable.

When she explodes into the run-down abomination of a theatre, tugging at his shirt collar and hands on his neck, he sits still for a moment before he revives enough to resist. She's pulling at him. He flaps one hand weakly in her direction, and his swollen lips move enough to tell her something, if she'll only pay attention.

It's not I'm dying, it's not Go after Bloom, tell him— it's no last message or rite, it's I'm dead. Leave me alone.

She drops her eyelids to half mast and gives him this look. This look she's so good at giving, it's deserves a standing ovation all it's own. This look of Give me a break, Stephen, you total and complete jackass, is what she uses instead of a catchphrase.

No, I'm dead, he doesn't say, voice indiscernible and near non-existent, breath stuck somewhere in his throat. I'm dead, stop helping me.

The wound is nothing more than necessary zipper assistance, to her, the gunshot an open fly on his lower back, and she folds him forwards like a handkerchief to do him up, kindly. Her hands are unexpectedly warm on his skin, and she strips him to the waist professionally. She knows him too well, more than likely, knows him inside and out, and she greets his blood and the grotesque exposure of his wounds like old friends.

Woman, he tries to tell her with as much irritation as he can muster, you shouldn't get in the way of a man and his destiny. This is the way it's meant—

She cuts him off mid-inaudible-protest, slips to her knees in front of him and puts a hand on either side of his face, roughly, not paying the slightest attention to the cuts and bruises and his left eye, swollen nearly shut. She holds him there and she holds him still till he looks at her and is quiet, for once.

She could have an eloquent face; she doesn't need eloquence. She could sing to him in a karaoke bar, and she could tell him good night as they tangle in bed, and she could whisper his name and the truth of himself in confession. If she went to confession. She doesn't need any of it.

He reads the words reflected back at him, right way round, mouthing things silently and meaning them all the same.

There is no destiny, she manages to make him tell himself. No one dies just because they said they would. No one writes their own soul. No one like you, anyway, Stephen Bloom.

And then he smiles, even though it hurts, because the words on her face say this, too:

There is no one like you, Stephen Bloom.

It dawns on him then that maybe he's not the only one with this awesome awestruck incredible power. Maybe she's been telling a story or two of her own. The thought is enchanting. He'd like to meet it in the middle of a crowded ballroom and ask it to dance.

She unfolds him, half-naked and covered in his own blood, and he finds she has wrapped him in an incongruous cotton sundress, a yellow background dotted with cornflowers. She stands him up, and takes all his weight, and he floats midair like a ghost with her strong arms around him.

I'm dead, he protests weakly, once more, no, really; but it's more for the look of the thing, and he lacks conviction. Conviction, which is not normally a problem for him. It's false conviction, sure, but it carries the ring of truth, and that's all that really matters. It gets him by.

It's getting him by, now. Okay, so he's not dead.

He grins weakly at her, and this time manages to force his voice past his lips.

"What gave me away?"

She tugs at his sleeve, lifting his arm, then slides two fingers in along his wrist to remove the card he's hidden there. She twirls it at him, eyebrows raised. Everything's staged, even Stephen himself, staged on the stage, which is a dual layer of meta meaning that he doesn't quite feel up to, just yet, but which they will undoubtedly discuss later over whiskey and maybe some pretzels. He could really use some salt, right about now.

Staged. Staged, Stephen Bloom, you faker.

One day he's going to tell this story, the story of how he died, and he will actually get it right, and it will be the greatest trick in the world. He'll keep on predicting, and making fate up as he goes along, and one day he'll get it in one. The arrow into the bull's eye, the round peg into the round hole. One day, she'll have to believe him.

He capitulates. He admits defeat. She helps him hobble out into the sunshine, the dusty sunshine with life on its breath, and the wind cools his wounds, and his feet hit the path with a vengeance.