AN: Here's a hypothetical for you: suppose Johnny and Jimmy weren't the only psychopaths running around their city? Not every serial killer looks like a member of the Adams Family.
so, I promise you I'm working on finishing A Little More Comedy, but in the mean time, Jynxsbox exhorted me into writing this oneshot when we were at comicon. And I thought it might help me stay on the JTHM track. So here, have a darkfic, and thanks for the patience.
Just as Every Cop is a Criminal
(And All the Sinners, Saints)
At first, Jimmy thinks that it's another of Johnny's. Why not? How many axe wielding murderers can be running around a single city, even a city as fucked up and carnivorous as theirs? He smells the blood before he sees it, the ugly stench of a cleaved body underneath it, and his stomach flutters. His heart breaks out into a near seizure. The smell is coming from an alley just ahead, trash cans knocked over on their sides so that their glinting metal rims just barely peek out past the grime-covered brick, almost coquettish.
His fingers spasm too, nervous energy dancing from one tip to another. He breaks into a run, stupidly hoping that he'll still be there, basking in the kill, too caught up in the moment to run away. At least coattails, Jimmy would be satisfied with one glimpse of the flare of coattails as a murderer slips away into the echoing night. Just one flash—
Jimmy skids to a stop at the mouth of a perfectly motionless alley. Not even the wind stirs up dirt on the cracked cement floor.
He sighs. The body lies in a messy heap just a little ways away, and he kicks over to it determinedly. It's still something, he thinks as his heart sinks a little, it's still something. A beautiful murder laid out for just him, a canvas painted in darkness and blood—scent thick and tangy in the air—and him the first to see it. That's something. It sings deep in that part of him that knows, just knows, that this is fate and time is only drawing the two of them closer step by step. It's a beautiful thing.
A hand reaches down carefully, lifting up the chin of the subject with the press of white knuckles. A part of him is anxious to run his hands over the outlines, feel the soft edges of the seeping blood, but he knows he's in the records and he can't afford to leave hand prints all over this fantastic corpse. It's frustrating, holding back like this. He wants to touch everything, feel everything, be part of this—
He notices something weird. There's a hole in the corpse's palm, a small round hole. Johnny doesn't usually go in for the subtlety, not that he's seen, at least. Slashes and gashes and wild broad brush strokes that Jimmy usually associates with, like, fucking Van Gogh or some other crazy motherfucker who slapped paint on a canvas. Wild and relentless.
He wraps the edge of his shirt around his hand and lifts up the oozing, dead palm. The hole is methodical, careful even, perfectly round as far as Jimmy can tell in the dim lighting. Was it a bullet wound? A screw maybe? Or maybe a…
He picks up the nail, glittering black. This isn't like anything he's ever seen from Johnny before. He looks at the corpse's face again, looks at the expression of mute, resigned horror. That's different too. Your average kill is a spectacle of frozen rage, or animal terror, and there's something icy and sinister here.
Jimmy licks his lips.
Could be a fluke. Could be an off night. Could be…
He spots a flicker in the corners of his vision and whirls, metal tips on his boots nearly striking a ring of sparks on the concrete. A figure disentangles itself from the shadows—fuck, how had he not seen that, goddamnit how was he ever going to catch Johnny if he couldn't even—and looked at him. Light traced half-aborted circles around the rims of some unseen glasses.
And Jimmy could see pretty much shit in the darkness, but he had this sensation like wind sluicing down the collar of his jacket, scraping white ice fingers down his spine. This sensation of being smiled at.
And then the figure disappeared, and fuck, fuck.
Where the hell was he going to find a girl at this time of night?
Time passes, but Jimmy doesn't forget.
Maybe a month later, Jimmy goes after a hooker. Typically he tries to avoid that route—it feels like cheating, it's too easy and impersonal. It's like using cliff notes on a final. Better to hold off, wait for somebody perfect, some empty cavernous shell of an American sweetheart, all oozing smiles and makeup masks. That's the real thing, ripping back the layers to find that ugly candy center. Hookers are, in a way, something he's pretty okay with.
They wear their ugly like a stale perfume, what you see is what you get.
But tonight he's desperate for something to fill the emptiness where Johnny's shadow usually hides—he hasn't seen so much as a flutter of the murderer in weeks, and when he goes this long without a brush he starts to sober up, come down from the high, really lose his grip on the thin thread leading him out this dump of a labyrinth that passes for his life. If Johnny won't come to him, even as a specter, then he'll bring himself to Johnny. Figuratively anyways.
He gets her by the throat at the edge of an alley. Normally you have to pay first if you want to avoid the wrath of some pissed off pimp, but this one is a newbie and she's wandered off from the herd. Perfect. Jimmy indulges in a Big Bad Wolf half-fantasy as he drags her off into the darkness.
He almost doesn't notice at first, intent as he is on getting bruising fingers over every inch of soft human skin in reach, but a shadow enters the alley behind him too. Jimmy already has his knife out, below the line of sight (he prefers that his girls fight him, because it feels like a real murder that way. Can't have them getting spooked) when everything goes belly up. The figure approaches, a flicker in his peripheral vision, and by the time he realizes what's happening there's already a swift blow bearing down at his head. Jesus fuck. It's a good thing the knife is out, as it happens, because he has just barely enough time to swipe an ugly wet line up the figure's side before rolling off the girl and retreating.
Of course the girl's out of there before you can blink; no hooker's dumb enough to sit still in an alley with two armed and dangerous men.
Jimmy nearly growls, lips skinning up from his crooked teeth. The figure watches him impassively, backlit into a silhouette by the light from the street.
"You just cost me my dinner," Jimmy informs him, fingers tensing on the gritty concrete. He could take this fucker down, do something different tonight. He's mad enough that it sounds like a really tempting option.
"Dinner?" the stranger echoes, head tilting slightly. "What are you, a vampire?"
Something twists in Jimmy's expression, and he thinks he's grinning now. "In the sense that I'm draining the fuckin' diseased lifeblood out of this city, sure, yeah."
The figure steps a little closer, graceful, and light flashes off the rims of his glasses.
"Go home, little boy," he says, and the nearly helpful tone in his voice has Jimmy seeing red. "Save your wrath for someone who deserves it."
"You just cost me my mark and you wanna tell me to go home? I'll show you a fuckin' little boy, condescending mothefucker!"
"Ah," the stranger replies, shifting so that the long blade—is that a machete? Really?—that was hidden under his coat catches the light as well. "But you also cost me my mark, tonight."
And then it clicks. This is him. This is the one who got the man from last month, the one with the nails. This one is an artist too.
Something sweet and electric sizzles through his rage, and Jimmy reevaluates the moment.
"We coulda shared," he says, after a moment. Slowly, he slips to his feet. "I'm a generous kinda guy. I don't mind."
The stranger shifts closer, and what little of his face is visible seems to be curved into something like amusement. "I'm afraid that I am not," he smiles. "And I do mind."
That's like a snap from a rubber band, a nasty itching, painful surprise, and Jimmy doesn't like it one bit.
"Maybe I will kill you," Jimmy hisses, and between the step forward he takes now and the slow shift nearer that this fucker's been making all along, they're hardly an arm's length from each other. "Maybe I'll rip your throat out and take those stupid glasses home with me. Put 'em in the old trophy case."
"Maybe I'll kill you," the man says mildly. "Carve out your pretty eyes and leave you a sainthood."
Jimmy squints at the guy. Did he just get called "pretty"? What the fuck? Is this motherfucker making fun of him, after he was all gracious about extending professional courtesy here?
"I have no fucking clue what you're talking about, but I'd like to see you try."
"I'm sure you would. Go home, little sinner. Better luck next time."
Jimmy strikes. His knife catches the tip of the stranger's clavicle, metal nicking bone, and the stranger ducks aside in one smooth motion, swings up with his weapon out, and the round curve of his swing slices through the empty air where Jimmy's cheek used to be.
Like dancing, where every step is a red-black sliver blossoming across the skin of your partner, and every twirl is a wild race for footing, every swing ratcheting up the tempo until the world fades into a dizzy nothing.
"You'll make one ugly fucking corpse," Jimmy sneers, barely missing the soft skin under his opponent's eye.
"And you'll make a beautiful one," the stranger complements, light arcing across his lenses as the toothy edge of his blade makes a bid for Jimmy's left hand.
This can't last forever. A knife fight is a volatile thing, like a caged hurricane, or a wine glass full of acid. Probably, this will end with one of them dead and the other mutilated beyond repair, and in the moment of a lightening perfect strike, Jimmy figures he's actually pretty okay with that. Not a bad way to go, if it's him who goes. And it probably will be, because this asshole is better than Jimmy would prefer to give him credit for.
Jimmy misses a step, when his foot comes down on the compact mirror his mark left behind in her haste to escape, and he goes tumbling down in a twist, spine and knees and elbows all mixed up and flaring with red hot pain where they hit the ground. The stranger is on him in the same second, landing knees-first and crouched over his twisted body, toothed metal positioned perfectly for a final, neat sawblade motion over the heart of Jimmy's throat.
Neither of them moves. Except for the heavy rattles of breathing, the alley is perfectly still.
"Well," the mysterious figure hums.
"Well," Jimmy mimics.
He can see the swell in the stranger's torso as he steals thick breaths, the hard lines of his collar bone, his jaw, his nose. Lips are half-curved in something like a smile. Winds whistles past his teeth. Up close like this, Jimmy has a passing thought that he may have passed over-hasty judgment on the man's theoretical corpse.
It would be him with the sexy cadaver, not Jimmy.
"It seems we are at an impasse," the stranger says, and carefully he reaches his spare hand down to run a fingertip across the flat of Jimmy's knife, the which is currently being pressed tight against his belly.
"So what now?" he asks, pressing the knife a little harder.
The other man lifts a single eyebrow. "Introductions," he says. "My name is Edgar. Edgar Vargas."
"Jimmy. Mmy for short."
"Ah," Edgar Vargas replies, and the sound is almost a laugh. "Fancy a murder-suicide, Jimmy?"
"Who's the murder and who's the suicide?"
"Well, obviously you would be the suicide. I'm clearly at the advantage here, which makes you the party with most to lose."
"Bullshit. I've got a knife in your gut."
"And I have one to your throat."
They grin at each other. There's a blinding, crazy moment where Jimmy almost does it—almost stabs the smug fucker through the stomach—and his fingers twitch on the grip while he's struggling with the impulse. It would be a good way to go, but he's not ready to go yet.
Edgar sees that he's not going to do it, must see, because he very carefully withdraws his blade and—even though it's an empty gesture, they both know it would take him half a second to crack Jimmy open from any distance—Jimmy reciprocates, pulls back too. Warm spots are seeping through Jimmy's jeans where the taller man's legs are pressed up against his sides.
Edgar looks at him. He's got this look that's like a drill tearing Jimmy open, smearing blood and bits of bone around his deepest secrets. Jimmy stares back.
"I'm going to kill you," Edgar says, as if he's deciding right there on the spot. "But tonight I'll have to take a raincheck."
"If it's any consolation," he adds, "I'm very much looking forward to it."
"You know, you're gonna feel like a tool when it turns out I kill you first."
"I doubt it."
And then he's gone. One liquid movement and the stranger is standing over him, taking carefully calculated steps to bring him back towards the mouth of the alley.
He says nothing, no parting shots or goodbyes. He only looks at Jimmy, keeps looking even as he's stepped into the light and become nothing but a looming featureless shadow. His stare burns Jimmy's skin.
Jimmy does not go home that night, not for a long time.
Days pass. He spends the first few nights jumpy, refusing to leave his room on the third floor of the apartment building. Suppose Edgar followed him home? That's what Jimmy would have done, if he'd taken the advantage. The rain-check could come at any time, any hour, and he was determined to take the advantage his time. Show that fucker how it felt to have his back on the ground. Make him like it.
But days do pass, and nothing comes of it, and Jimmy sinks into a quiet seethe.
The following Saturday he stomps out of his apartment, ready to fuck something or someone up and not caring much who or what that might be. There's an apple waiting at his door and he nearly trips on it—he goes down like a tipped cow and nearly re-breaks his nose, Christ he really needs to sleep more, it's starting to be a real problem—and lands face-first next to it. God damn old lady Jenkins and her god damn fruit. He never asked for her charity.
He picks the thing up and takes a massive bite out of it. One of these days he's really gonna—
Holy fucking shit his mouth is bleeding what the hell is happening?
He spits out the apple, catches the chunks of yellow flesh streaked pink and red with blood in his hand. Something glitters. There's something in his apple.
Jimmy's heart flutters.
There's a razor in his apple.
It's weeks before the next time he sees Edgar.
He's at a bar. Jimmy tries not to leave his place more than necessary, because, you know, there's people out there and they just make him want to do things that would end someone like him (inexperienced, hardly more than a student, really) in a long and boring lifetime behind bars.
But tonight he feels like being social, although it'll probably end badly. It always does. He's not sure why he even bothers, maybe he just enjoys making himself miserable. He shrugs on a coat—his columbine coat, he calls it, thinks that's pretty clever—and hits the streets, wandering windbitten concrete valleys until he finds somewhere appropriately vague and dim to get himself a drink. Used to be that he went to the nearby goth venues, the ones where you sat and glared at your drink and tried to out-aloof your friends, but lately those places just make him angry. Little kids playing little kid games, ignorant of the infinite black miracles unfolding on their own streets.
Anyways, he's legal now, might as well go somewhere they'll actually card him.
Inside the bar, there's a smoky haze hanging around the rafters, and it seems like the kind of places that hasn't got a real clientele type. He settles on a stool and taps the counter, orders something cheap. If remembers to feed himself tomorrow, he'll be glad he didn't break the bank tonight.
Just as he's finishing it off, a second glass whips across the countertop towards him and he reaches out instinctively, snatches it up.
"From the guy down there," the barkeeper grunts, jerking a thumb towards the far end of the bar. "The one with the soul patch. Friend'a yours?"
A tingle shoots through Jimmy's veins, starting on the skin at the back of his neck and skating down the length of him to gather buzzing in his fingers. His mouth goes dry.
The bartender never gets an answer. Instead, Jimmy takes his drink and stands—heart is racing, he hopes he's not going to lose feeling in his knees and keel over, that would be stupid—and moves across the room to where Edgar is sitting, one lazy finger tracing the rim of the shot glass in front of him.
"Come here often?" he quips, slipping into an empty seat. "Do you buy drinks for all the guys you plan to kill?"
The man looks at him. "Only the ones who tried to kill me first."
"Next time let me have my mark, you territorial fuck."
"Next time, stay in the kiddie pool and let the adults take care of things."
"If we weren't in public right now—"
"You mean, if I didn't have a knife in your balls right now."
"Yeah, allow me to return the favor."
"I'd be insulted if you didn't."
They glare at each other.
After a moment, they both grudgingly draw back their weapons.
Jimmy turns back to the bar and takes a sip of his drink. Hell, it was free, and unless the bartender was in on this whole thing, it probably isn't poisoned. And somehow, he suspects Edgar is the kind of guy who'd rather chew off his own arm than ask someone to hand him a key.
"So," the younger man starts, "how come you wimped the fuck out on our murder-suicide, Vargas? Remember you left some cookies in the oven?"
"I didn't exactly see you jumping to get us killed, either," Edgar notes. He's got this smile like he knows something Jimmy doesn't. "As much as I would have liked to try, unfortunately I have quite a lot of unfinished business ahead of me."
"It's not the kinda business you wear a tie for, is it?"
"Not any more than yours is," Edgar responds dryly.
Something about that makes Jimmy's heartbeat stutter. They're the same. He knew it.
"What's your deal, anyways?" Jimmy asks, at last, because it's been bugging him for weeks now. "What makes you think you've got the right to waltz in on a guy's kill like you own the place?"
"I'm on a mission from Gahd," Edgar drawls, in this flat nasally accent that reminds Jimmy of Chicago, and it's probably a reference to something but he has no idea what.
The older man waves one hand at the bartender and says, "Another round for me and my business associate."
"Wait, no, seriously, give me a fuckin' answer," Jimmy demands, dropping an elbow onto the countertop. "Don't you blow me off!"
"Why not?" Edgar retorts, reaching out to take the glasses from the bartender. "You're nothing but a brat with a fetish for bloodshed, and I certainly don't owe you any answers."
"I am not a brat," Jimmy says with a scowl, snatching away his drink. He has no idea what it is.
"You are," Edgar replies, almost serenely. "You're a brat and a monster and an awfully shitty excuse for a human being."
"I'm going to cut off your limbs and sodomize your corpse."
Edgar winks. He fucking winks. "I'd like to see you try."
Jimmy is actually speechless, and that's not something that happens very often. Probably one for the record books. The amber liquid in Edgar's glass sloshes as he lifts it up, offers it like a toast.
"To sinner-saints," the murderer says, white teeth and round, white lenses. "Good men for evil work… and vice versa."
After a moment, Jimmy lifts his glass as well.
Good enough for him.
Jimmy tracks him down. It takes work, but when you know a guy's full legal name there's no way you can lose track of him permanently. And part of him is surprised that he got a real legal name, but that's just another thing about Edgar, isn't it? He doesn't lie.
He also doesn't have a lock on his door, come to find out. It's not even that he forgot to lock it. It actually has no locking mechanism.
Jimmy slips in some time around three in the morning. The weight he's dragged along is cumbersome, but he's too high on adrenaline to care. This is going to work. This is going to be perfect. He's done his research, put in the motherfucking hours so he could pick it just right and he's got this sick-wicked feeling in his gut like he's slowly scratching off the numbers to the jackpot of his life digit by painstaking digit.
He finds Edgar's bed quickly and unwraps the package, reassembling the pieces in tidy, quick motions. He has no idea how long he's got.
There. The last section hits the sheet, and Jimmy spares a moment to evaluate his work. If this one doesn't make Vargas's blood boil, he doesn't know what will.
When he leaves, he leaves the fully remastered version of Renee Montoya, Edgar's mark for tonight, lying in bits across the bed.
The night Jimmy comes home to find his walls smeared with neat red letters, he drops his ratty grocery bag and sits down in the doorway like someone cut his legs out from under him.
He doesn't get up for god knows how long.
It isn't until the words start to blur together in a crazed, last ditch attempt to escape the damaged confines of the English language that he finally makes a move, struggles to find his muscles again, and dares step closer to the oxidizing wall. Brown crumbles under his fingers, on the letters near the top, where the drips and bubbles have been sitting the longest. At the bottom, the strokes are still red as fucking fire.
He goes to sleep with lips redder than a stripper's, and sure as goddamn hell that he's not sorry.
I'll see you screaming, Edgar's written on his windowless, colorless wall. Wait for me.
Retribution is in order, and Jimmy has a hundred ideas. The world is doused in syrupy sweet redness, bright and exciting like it's never been before, full of sharp edges that make him smile for no reason when they catch him. For the first time in a long time, Jimmy thinks…
Jimmy thinks there may be room in his world for more than just him and Johnny. Johnny's still the best, Johnny is still what he wants to be, oh definitely. He's still chasing Johnny. But he wants this, too, and he's fucking well going to take it.
For a while, life is good.