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“Yes, yes, yes, I am the one that’s been killing all those people,” her captor said, sounding both bored and annoyed, as if this was something he had had to say repeatedly and was getting tired of it, “but I’m also the creative force behind Happy Noodle Boy, so forgive me and shut up.”

Her heart sank at the words, and she felt a little sick to her stomach. He didn’t even seem to care. “All those people… why ? To paint a wall ? That old woman… the ice cream man, the.. the cheerleading squad…” She stopped as a horrifying thought occurred to her, “On the news , that girl. They found her dead, and… she was raped... That was you…”

“ I WOULD NEVER!!!”  He shrieked, and in a sudden blur of motion he was right in her face and stealing her glasses. “You stupid, blind thing!! I spend enough time trying not to touch or be touched! The mere thought of such repugnance!!”

And then all at once his anger seemed to just disappear, leaving only disgust. “I would have nothing to do with the submission to physical longing,” he said with a shudder and shake of his hand like a cat that had just stepped in water. He didn’t seem to notice when that caused her glasses to fall, and she winced as they hit the ground.

As he walked away he continued, “All seek to enslave you, and I’ve already got this ravenous beast of plaster to contend with. Flesh does not motivate me. No, mine is a penetration beyond the veil of the flesh.”

It was a quote from The Fly, she knew, but halfway through opening her mouth to comment on it her mind caught up to what his words actually meant . In her shock at realizing she had something in common with a fucking serial killer she accidentally blurted out, “Wait so you’re telling me you’re ace?

He froze for just a second before he whipped around and stalked back to her, screaming, “What is that?! An insult?  What does it mean? What does it mean!?

His voice was back up at that high strained decimal, enraged again, and she couldn’t help but flinch away as he got close enough to come into focus. His face was livid, his body hunched in defensively against the mere thought that she might be insulting him again.

“N-no!” She stuttered out, “It’s just short for asexual!”

He twitched at the word, his lips pulling back into a snarl as he hissed, “You dull creature, what did I just tell you?! I want nothing to do with the sexual; the very thought is revolting .”

“No, but that’s what it means: non-sexual,” she said. A tiny thread of panic was starting to worm its way through the apathy that had settled over her throughout the last week(? probably) of being trapped, and she hurried to explain before he could get too worked up and actually hurt her for once over a misunderstanding. “Or, well, okay so some ace people do have sex, because it feels good or they like the intimacy with their partners, but- but they’re not actually sexually attracted to anyone, see?”

“What?” He snapped, but his face softened a little in confusion.

She took that as a sign to continue making her case and said, “Okay so- so most people, when they look at certain types of people they feel aroused; sexual interest or whatever, right? I mean, I guess that’s what happens. I can’t actually explain that part, I’ve never personally felt it, but it’s apparently a thing.”

At that, he put his hands on his hips and leaned forward to give her a hard stare that made her realize she was babbling. “But!” She said, trying to get back on track, “But for asexual people, that doesn’t happen. They feel no sexual attraction to people ever. People can look pretty or handsome- I forget what it’s called, but basically they’re easy on the eyes--”

“Aesthetically pleasing,” he interrupted her.

She stumbled over her words as she tried to transition from what she had wanted to say next into, “Uh, um, what?”

He cocked his head and squinted at her, “You mean aesthetically pleasing. As in, pleasant to look at?”

“Yeah!” She said, weirdly relieved that he actually seemed interested in what she was saying, or if not interested then at least was paying enough attention to comment. It made the next part come out more enthusiastically than she had intended, “But they’re not sexy , you know? There’s no desire at all to have sex with any of them.”

It probably would have been best to stop it there, but something in her hesitated and felt the need to include, “Well, that’s not entirely true sometimes; asexuality is kind of a spectrum all it’s own. Most people fall under the ‘no, never interested’ category, but it also covers people who only ever feel any sexual attraction at all once a deep bond has been established with a person, or people who experience it very, very rarely and usually completely randomly.”

His squint looked more like a glare to her now, and when he said nothing despite her clearly being done she realized that she may have made a grave error. “Or ,” she started, feeling her gut clench at the thought that she may have been reading things wrong, “maybe you’re just sex repulsed! Lots of ace people are sex repulsed too, but the umbrella also covers people who do experience sexual attraction but are sex repulsed, if they want to be included.”

“Sex repulsed,” he repeated, still glaring at her.

“Y- eah,” she stuttered, feeling flustered despite the fact that he didn’t actually seem like he was going to lash out at her at the moment. She hadn’t talked so much in a long, long time; usually she just let other people talk and agreed with them. So, when combined with the fact that she was saying all this to a serial killer, the whole thing felt kind of surreal and out of her depth. “It means... it means you find sex to be gross I guess is the best way to say it. Some people are fine with seeing it, but feel sick at the thought of actually participating in anything sexual with another person; some people are grossed out just seeing it happen, like in porn or whatever; and some people are disgusted even by the idea of, um, masturbating, and can’t stand being part of anything sexual at all even if it’s by themselves.”

He rocked back on his heels, drawing his arms up to hug himself as his glare fell and gave way to a soft, confused look. “That...” he said after a pause, “that does… make sense.” He bit his lip and looked around like he was lost or unsure how he got into the room. He looked very small in that moment, and it made her heart ache; she was pretty sure that she had looked exactly the same way when she had first found out.

“And you,” he said, finally looking back at her, “You said… that you had never felt it either…”

It wasn’t phrased like a question, but she answered it anyway. “Yeah,” she said. “I still date people, but…”

“And do you also…?” He couldn’t even finish the question without his face twisting up a little into the beginnings of a sneer.

She hesitated. She hated having to admit to being such a doormat, but she didn’t want to risk him getting mad again for not answering. “Yeah… I don’t… I don’t really like it, exactly, but they do, so I… just kind of let myself get talked into it, I guess.”

There was a beat of silence before he snarled, “That is vile .” Her head whipped back around to look at him, suddenly afraid again, but he was glaring at Dillon, not her. His face was a picture of rage the likes she had never seen before. He was almost incandescent with it, his whole body curled up tight like a spring and shaking. “I should have made it much more painful for him, but now he’s not even in any state to appreciate anything else I could inflict.”

“Wha--” she sputtered in shock, “But, but why? He didn’t even, he didn’t do anything wrong . I mean, I agreed to do it, he didn’t force me or anything...”

He did not turn to look at her as he said, “But you didn’t like it. You didn’t want to. He ‘talked you into it’.”

She faltered, “Well, yes, but I still agreed to it.”

“But you didn’t . Want to .”

“I…” she sighed, her body sagging against the restraints as she looked away again. “Yeah. I didn’t want to. It wasn’t… it wasn’t bad , exactly, but I didn’t want to.”

He let out an infuriated noise, and a second later she heard him throwing down the switch. Dillon screamed, high and pained and desperate, just like he always did, but her captor let it go on for much longer than normal.

She watched with wide eyes as his snarling face suddenly went slack, before he blinked in what looked like surprise and gazed around the room in a daze. He absently flipped off the switch, abruptly ending Dillon’s screaming, and cocked his head like a dog when he spotted her again. He seemed… unsure and upset for some reason, and as he looked around again she got the feeling that he really was unaware of how he had gotten in the room this time.

Then he shrugged and turned to leave, shouting back at her, “I’ll be back in an hour to do that again.”

Stunned, she let him go without a word. She wondered if he even remembered the conversation that they’d had at all, or if that too had been forgotten. The thought was somehow more upsetting than Dillon being tortured had been, which in turn just upset her more.

Had she really, honestly, just gotten attached to someone shitty over only one shared trait again ? But she thought she had learned her lesson! It seemed so unfair that this was happening all over again so soon after she had told herself that she wouldn’t be like that anymore.

She didn’t even know why she was so invested in this anyway. She didn’t know why he was so invested in her ; why he had taken her but never hurt her and why he had seemed to want her to agree that Dillon deserved to be punished like this. Maybe they were both just lonely and looking too hard for themselves in other people.

The thought made her sigh and hang her head, suddenly incredibly exhausted and disappointed in herself. At least this one didn’t seem to have any interest in hurting or having sex with her, she supposed.

oOo

“Okayyyy...” she said, taking a step back from the decapitated head of one of the demonic Pillsbury Doughboys that had landed at her feet, “this just got, somehow, more disturbing.” She took another step back before turning and fleeing into the dark hallway those creepy little fuckers had come from. She hoped there wouldn’t be more of them, but she’d take her chances with them over the giant, horrific tentacle monster anytime.

A scream came from behind her and made her falter. It had sounded like Krik, but it was too dark to see if he was actually near her or if he had stayed back in that room like the idiot he was.

Hey! Krik!! Where the hell did you go?! Helloooo!! Did you get killed? ” she called warily. She regretted it instantly; despite how loud they had been before, here in the dark it suddenly felt wrong to speak up lest she call its attention to her.

A mumble from up ahead of her made her jump, and she wondered if Krik had somehow gotten in front of her. She spared one last nervous glance behind her before making her way towards it, keeping her hand on one wall to guide her.

She eventually stepped into what looked like a livingroom, where her eye was immediately drawn to the light being cast out by the far room and in turn the prone figure laying in it. The sight made her flinch back reflexively, before she realized it was only her captor and relaxed.

What she had told Krik before was true, she wasn’t about to be a fan of his any time soon, but… well he had had her for quite a while and had never once tried to hurt her. And then there was the thing from before… She definitely should have gotten over that, but that lost look he had had when she had finally given him a…

Well no, she hadn’t exactly given him name for himself, had she. He had never actually said that it fit, he had just said that it made sense, implicating through that and his body language that it had resonated with him, that those were words he could have used for himself. So she had no idea what she had given him exactly, but the way he had said it and the way he had looked when he had said it had struck a chord in her.

It was so dumb to have gotten so attached to that look, but it was the memory of it that made her step closer when she noticed the pool of blood under his head. She knew she should run, her rattled nerves were screaming at her to run out the front door and never look back, but she pressed forward anyway.

“Hello?” she asked softly as she crept towards him, wishing she knew his name. He had been speaking before, so she was pretty sure he wasn’t dead, but she had no idea if he could actually hear her. He apparently could though, because he turned his head to look at her with a groan, allowing her to see the hole now in his forehead. It was not nearly the grisliest sight she had seen all day, but she cringed at the sight anyway.

“Oh…” he wheezed, “It’s you… how unfortunate… Or maybe it is fortunate… I had hoped to see you again…”

She stopped, suddenly hesitant, and asked, “What do you mean?”

He ignored her. “I assume you’re trying to escape hssss… but you won’t be going anywhere… you’re dying too. Kkchh...”

“What the fuck does that mean?” she demanded. A muscle in her thigh twitched as she stood her ground rather than running like she wanted to.

Once again he ignored her though. “Sh… shit… Don’t you just hate when you can’t feel your legs? ...Then there’s that pesky onset blindness.... You’re lucky. Death will be quick for you.”

“Listen, asshole--,” she started, only to be cut off as he talked over her.

“I never should’ve left my room… my room, out there, I almost remember it. It’s gone now… along with everything else… Vanishing. Nkk… I never even got to see it… the wall thing. This isn’t pleasant… I’d rather not be dead… don’t want to die… don’t geez... This is worse than goth poetry… Agg...”

Frustrated at his lack of coherence, she gave him up as a lost cause and turned away. She fumed, angry at herself for wasting time and emotions over one more self-absorbed asshole, but she hadn’t taken more than two steps before he said, “I was hoping…”

She paused as he groaned before continuing, “It’s stupid… but I can almost remember… you.”

Me? ” she asked, turning back to face him.

“I think...” he said, rolling over to look at her better, “I think that you are different… like me… but nnkk… but better. A good person… but familiar… similar… I don’t know why… can’t remember really… but I like you… and I was stupidly… irrationally… wanting to be friends.”

“Friends…” she said softly, moved despite herself. She had been right, he hadn’t remembered their conversation, but he apparently still felt that same lonely sense of kinship she had accidentally fostered within herself.

“It’s such an easy thing to say you hate something…” he said nonsensically, “So easy to hate...What a piece of shit I am… I ca… can’t believe I went the easy way… I thought I knew… I wish I knew something… I wish I knew why I think you’re so... important.”

“We had,” she said, and then paused, unsure if she should continue when she should be running away. The monster had to be close, but still she stayed. She had never been able to leave the shitty people she hung out with, and that might have been out of a fear of isolation while this was something more akin to (stupidly) not wanting to leave him behind, but the result was the same.

She sighed and continued, “We had a conversation. I think I gave you a name for a part of yourself that you hadn’t known had one. To me, when I learned it for myself, I felt relieved to finally be recognized and shown that I wasn’t alone in it. And I don’t know for sure what you felt when I told you, but I think maybe I gave that to you too, that connection to someone who shared that life experience with you.”

He smiled, and his teeth were covered in blood but it looked almost sweet. Soft and happy. She was so stupid; he was a serial killer .

“Thank you,” he said, right before the monster ripped through the ground next to them and flung itself out the front door.

“Ohh... shit,” she gasped, scrambling towards the now empty doorway. She had expected to see carnage as the monster tore towards another house, but there were no other houses to destroy. There was nothing but black void all around them.

As she stared, dumbfounded and panicked, a buzzing started shaking through the house and into her bones. It was gentle at first but rapidly grew violent, and in less than a minute the walls and floor were splintering apart. She was a curiously numb sort of terrified, and she couldn’t move at all except to say, “Oh, this isn’t good,” until she shook apart into nothing.

 

oOo

 

With his apology to Devi taken care of - or as taken care of as it could be, given the circumstances - and his goodbyes to Squee said, he had thought that he would feel ready to undertake his journey towards complete emotionlessness. No wait, that was a stupid word. Complete impassiveness then.

But he didn’t, and he wasn’t sure why , because he couldn’t think of anyone else he could possibly want to contact. Because it did feel like a someone that was unfinished business rather than a something , and he was loathe to leave without getting all his affairs in order.

Still, this left him with something of a dilemma; he knew he needed to talk to someone but was unsure who, and even looking through his die-ary entries did not help him in the matter. So as a last resort he took to walking through the city each night, hoping that he’d stumble across them.

It was boring though, and often left him frustrated, so sometimes he’d take a break and go watch a movie or try to coax a stray cat out of an alley. This time as he was approaching the movie theatre though, he saw a woman leaving who made him stop short.

She looked familiar, he supposed, and it took him a second to place her before realizing that she was from that time he was still pretty sure was a dream. Perhaps he had just seen her around the city before and that was how she had ended up in the probably-a-dream, but that did not really explain why he felt so moved by the sight of her. It didn’t feel like what he had had with Devi either, so it probably wasn’t another failed love attempt.

He ended up veering towards her as she walked back towards the nearby parking garage, and took note of the fact that she was alone. That would make things easier at least.

In an effort to not be a giant creep who followed lone women around in the dark though, he sped up and called, “Hey! You with the badass long coat!”

The woman, and a few other people on the street, jumped and turned to look at him, so he waved his arm high and said, “Hi, yes, you, hold on a minute!”

She did, looking wary, and when he got close said, “Yes?”

“Hi!” he said again. He felt kind of stupid doing it, but honestly he was at a loss as to what she should say now that he was in front of her. For lack of anything better to say, he asked, “Do you know if I know you?”

“Um,” she said, looking towards the garage and then back at him before adding, “No?”

“Oh,” he said, feeling his mood fall, “I had thought you might. You seem really familiar, but I have… memory problems, so if you don’t know then I guess I don’t know you after all?” That was confusing; why would he feel so sure that she was his unfinished business if they didn’t know each other?

She studied him for a minute, briefly looked back towards the garage again, and then sighed and asked, “What do you mean I seem familiar?”

He chewed on one of his nails as he floundered for a response, unsure how to put the feeling into words. After a second he just shook his head and went with, “I don’t know exactly. Just… like you were important to me at some point.”

“Important?” she asked, clearly taken aback.

He nodded, chewing fretfully on his nail again. “Yes. Or maybe like you did something big for me. Oh I wish I could remember!”

She frowned, looking worried. “I’m sorry, I don’t think you’ve got the right person…”

He sighed, folding his arms around himself and feeling miserable, “You’re probably right, it’s just, it feels like it’s you who I’m remembering. Even the necklace is right…”

Movement made him look up again, and he watched her hand delicately touch her necklace as she stared at him with wide eyes. “Oh,” she breathed, looking confused and upset, “I think… I think maybe you’re right....”

He perked up, “So you remember something then?”

She shook her head slowly, “No, I don’t think so. Nothing exact anyway. The way you looked just now though…”

He cocked his head to the side as she trailed off, which made her blink owlishly at him. “This is… very confusing,” he said as they shared uncertain looks.

That made her let out a short bark of laughter, and she grinned as she said, “It sure is.”

“I’m supposed to be going away soon,” he said suddenly, although he was unsure why he was even telling her, “but I stuck around because it felt like there was something I still needed to do. And I don’t know why, or even who you are, but I feel like somehow you had something to do with it. But since you don’t know either, I’m unsure how to get past this feeling that I’m leaving something unfinished.”

“This isn’t some weird way of trying to pick me up, is it?” she asked, taking a hesitant step back.

“I would never!! ” he screeched, scandalized and irrationally betrayed.

She paused, staring at him intently again before nodding, seemingly to herself. “Here, I’ll tell you what,” she said as she pulled out a pen and a receipt. She wrote something on it quickly and then handed it to him. “That’s my phone number. If you remember what it is you think you need to do, or even if you don’t and just want to talk I guess, go ahead and call me.”

Warily, he plucked the paper from her grasp and read the name she had added atop the phone number. “Tess…” he whispered to himself, unsettled to find that even that sounded familiar. He looked at it for a long moment, ignoring the way she shifted uncomfortably as the silence stretched on.

His trip was supposed to be one wherein he lost all emotional ties to this mortal plane (and possibly the non-mortal ones too, if Heaven and Hell were truly anything like they had been in his dream), and he wasn’t sure how he would do that if he kept in contact with her. Still, it was tempting. As long as this thing with her remained unsettled then he didn’t think that he’d be able to move past it, and this way he’d be able to do whatever it was that he needed to long distance, rather than having to come back before he was ready.

Mind made up, he pocketed the receipt and said, “Very well. And since you have given me yours, my name is Johnny C. But you may call me ‘Nny’.”

“Nny,” she repeated, smiling again, “That’s cute.”

He blinked at her in surprise, saying, “Oh. Thank you? I’ve never thought of it as such, but I’ll take your word for it, I suppose.”

She snorted and said, “you do that,” but it sounded fond rather than derisive like it usually did when people said it.

That was weird, as was the way it actually made him happy. Actually, he was so unused to it that being happy was weird in itself. He shook himself in an effort to dispel it and decided that he needed to take his leave before he felt any more of it.

“I should go now,” he told her, “but thank you for not calling me a freak and running away before I could talk to you.”

She laughed again and said, “No problem. And seriously, feel free to call whenever, okay? You seem like a pretty cool dude; I’m interested to know where it is we know each other from.”

‘Cool’, he thought incredulously. She was clearly a terrible judge of character. He shook his head and started to walk away, waving goodbye to her over his shoulder as he went.

He didn’t get more than a few feet though before she called out, “Oh, and Nny?”

He stopped, turned to face her, and wondered what it was she could possibly want. “Yes?”

She grinned at him, wide and happier than any look being directed at him had any right to be, and said, “I like your boots.”

An unexpected wave of fondness washed through him, and he couldn’t help but grin back. “Thank you,” he said, minding his manners before firmly adding, “Now goodbye .”

With that, he turned back around, the echo of her laughter following him. It was a good way to start off his journey towards an easier, better way of living, he thought. If he was going to feel anything, he’d prefer his last feelings to be pleasant ones.

As he made his way through the city back towards his house, he realized with a jolt of surprise that he was actually looking forward to where his life was heading, for once. He paused, taking it in, and felt a smile stretch across his face. How novel.