1 – "Clever Title"

In which Johnny Fonda is reborn. Likewise it is recounted how he encountered an old flame, and learned it was worth the pain of living.

10:34 a.m. Friday, 27th October 2006 – 3F HUNK Building, Biskind University

The average person, with both their carotid arteries and jugular veins cut open, will pass out sometime within 40 seconds of being cut, and die within a few minutes of then. For Violette Ivy, this was no less true than for any other person at Biskind University, but that kind of didn't matter; Violette had just died not because her throat was slit but because a 185-grain .45 ACP bullet had hit her in her right eye socket, going 1,142 feet per second, and then gone through her head. Chunks of skull, her brain and blood showered the wall behind her, and the bullet, which went straight through her head, cracked through the wall, too.

How could anyone die so quickly? Less than a second before then she'd been shooting back at her killer, Richard Branson, or one of his cronies, anyway.

"I told you I'd kill her, Johnny! I told you!" Richard celebrated.

Johnny, now alone, peeked out from behind the desk he'd made his cover, aiming his gun – a Springfield XD – near where Richard'd spoken from.

It'll be like Call of Duty-aiming, Johnny thought. I can do it. It won't bother me. I'll pretend it's a game until I'm safe.

"You can still join us, Johnny. I know she made you stay with her," Richard said, moving...where? "She was the only person who loved you, but she only loved you because it made her feel like she was a good person. She wasn't, Johnny."

"You know she wasn't," another of them – probably Kevin Dockery – added. They were all moving.

"You're mad at me for doing that, I know, but this isn't about that," Richard said. Still moving. "This is about being honest with yourself. You don't want to be with any of those fucks you're with. You want to be with us because we're more like you than anyone else in the world is. And you should be with us."

"We want you to be," added Billy Worth, another of Richard's gang.

Johnny stood, completely surrendering himself to whatever would happen when he did, but he wasn't sure why. His pistol must've fallen out his hand – something sure made a pretty loud clatter when it hit the floor. Kind of like when Violette hit the floor, minus some of her brain and a substantial amount of blood.

"I'm sorry I killed Violette," Richard said. He and the other few people near him advanced on Johnny, guns at-the-ready but not pointed at him. Not exactly threatening, but they were still making sure nobody was around to kill them, and unsure if Johnny would try to.

"It's okay," Johnny said. He hoped he wasn't about to cry but it felt like he would. He had this sense like Richard or one of that group was about to shoot him, and Johnny hoped above everything else that they would. It would almost be as if that explained why he was about to cry.

An arm came around him, but Johnny didn't look to see whose it was. He almost wanted to but he couldn't. "Come on, honey," its owner said, her voice amazingly perfect and soothing. So perfect and soothing Johnny almost smiled when he did what she said. The woman (or girl?) led him away from this scene, toward the nearest stairwell, or so Johnny assumed.

"We're going to a safe place we set up," she said.

Before them were two of Richard's group, looking around carefully. Both had long arms that seemed oppressive somehow – one had an M1 Garand, a WWII-era rifle – one that still looked as powerful as it was despite its age, and the other had an AKMS – not a new weapon either, but given it would fire 7.62x39mm rounds invented to kill humans at a rate of 13 a second, it hardly seemed fair against enemies armed mostly with pistols, either.

"Okay," Johnny said, once he noticed he hadn't responded.

From behind himself, Johnny heard gunfire erupt – not the execution kind, but like a firefight was approaching. He looked back, to his right so he wouldn't look at whomever was leading him. She pushed his face forward but he got a glance of Richard and two people running toward him. There were at least three other people from the group behind Richard.

"Hurry up a little," Richard said, slowing as he neared Johnny.

Johnny peeled the woman's arm off him. "Sorry," he said. "I'm fine."

"No you're not," the woman said, touching his chest as if to say "and that's okay." Johnny was looking at Richard.

"I appreciate that," Richard said. He looked to the two people in front of Johnny. "Jake."

The one with the AKMS turned around and stopped.

"Go to the safe zone. Fast." Maybe the gunshots were that close. Johnny's head wasn't clear enough to tell.

The AKMS carrier said "Okay."

Then they ran. Johnny got a look at the soft woman who'd been leading him. If his head'd been clear, he would've thought about how stupendous her body was. Instead he tried to empty his head and learn everything he could about whatever was happening to him, and what was about to happen to him.

One of Richard's men caught up with Johnny and handed him the XD, saying "here." "Thanks," Johnny said. He still had a few magazines for it in a pocket. The gun's safety was still on. I'm glad I didn't try to shoot anybody, then.

10:41 a.m. Friday, 27th October 2006 – 3F HUNK Building, Biskind University

"Come on," the woman said. Her arm wasn't around him, but she was leading him lightly with a hand that'd touch his back occasionally, as if to say "This way" or "That way" or "Keep going straight." Johnny still kind of averted his eyes from her, but that was out of shame more than whatever'd made him do it before.

"What's goin' on?" he asked. He meant Are they going to kill me now?

"We're gonna hang out someplace quiet for a while," she said.

The safe zone felt oddly safe. Like people should've been milling about with paperwork and clipboards in their hands, so focused on their work they didn't notice him. Instead, a barricade greeted him – desks piled in a semicircle around the stairwell's exit, whose window was blocked-out, and whose door was locked anyway. The people by that barricade had a hodgepodge of weapons, predominantly shotguns.

After the barricade, walking with the woman guiding him, Johnny saw a hospital with a few wounded people in it and a few people helping them out. Those helping them were med students, by how they moved.

After that the safe zone was mostly empty, like on a normal school day except Johnny heard gunshots occasionally.

He felt oddly detached from the woman even though their bodies collided pretty often, quietly, when he'd forget what he was doing and slow down, or she'd touch him again.

The quiet place was a classroom with one entrance. It seemed too unperturbed. Most classes Johnny'd been in since this morning had bodies or bloodstains and bullet shell casings in them but this one was pristine, just without many desks in it. What little light was in there seemed too blue. This was a rainy day.

The woman sat Johnny down on a couch without a word. The best thing she could've done.

"Do you wanna be alone?"

"I dunno," he said. That meant no, but he couldn't say that. Couldn't ask her to stay with him. Was he about to cry? He set his gun down next to him. He was in the middle of the couch.

"I'll stay, then," she said. She sat next to him. "Do you wanna talk?"

"I do, but...I don't know what to say."

"I'll start. My name's Elise."

He looked at her. It was hard, but he wanted to take a mental picture of something other than Violette lifeless, with a blood pool forming under her head. He already had forgotten what this caring woman's body looked like, from behind, anyway, climbing two stairs at once, going this way.

"What's your name?"

"Johnny. Fonda."

She took his hand like it was a baby, held it with both of hers.

"You were in my theater class," he added.

"Did you remember that before now? Like when you were shooting at me?" A little bitterly.

"No," he said. He inadverently left a pause between her question and his answer, somehow because his head was experiencing time's pull oddly. But he didn't have to think about it. "That wasn't me though. I was trying to think of a way out, and I was trying to get close enough to Violette to pull her down too."

"Sorry."

"I woulda thought you were shooting at me too, if...I were...you," he said. "Don't worry about it."

She grinned. Then, like any other question: "Have you shot anybody today?"

"I've killed a coupla people. I'm not really sure why."

"Did they shoot at you first?"

"Most of em. If I...remember right."

"Then it was out of defense."

With a comfort like she knew him, Elise sat next to him and slid her arm around his shoulders. He couldn't quite speak. She rubbed his shoulder quietly. He noticed, not skillfully. That pulled him out of whatever he was in a little, and her gesture did much more than that.

"I hope it was. I feel bad about it. They all had something to live for, but I don't. I shoulda just shot myself."

He felt her jerk with urgency. With concern for him. For me?!?

"Don't say that." She didn't speak loudly, but there was amazing firmness in her voice. Like what he said made her genuinely feel something, and she said the first thing she thought of.

And he couldn't respond to it.

She moved a little closer and, with her spare hand, took his closest hand and held it. Rubbed his hand with her thumb. Maybe she couldn't speak either, like it wasn't enough.

"I think I'm gonna cry," he said.

"Not before I do," she said, with a little giggle, during a sob. She scooted closer and put her head into his shoulder like she could crawl inside of him and hide. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

He wrapped his arms around her and held on. He could swear tears ran down his cheeks, but he couldn't really cry, or feel anything.

"I'm sorry I'm...acting kinda funny. I feel weird."

"It's fine. I don't care. Just don't let me go," she said, crying.

"I won't," he said, wanting to say, What the hell're you crying for? Why with me?

Elise was close to his height if not taller, but she felt tiny in his arms. He remembered she had a perfect figure, as he'd seen it in the stairwell, but all he could think about it now was how small she felt. Her spine stabbed at his fingers through her shirt as he moved his arms. She shook with her sobs.

Then he noticed he was crying too. Her hair, long and soft and black, tickled his neck.

It hit him that she felt like any other girl like this, when earlier it was like nobody else could be like her. A weird feeling. It had been like that with Violette too. Like, something about that kind of intimacy stripped away everything they added to theirself and even the reasons why they added it – veneers of whatever their insecurities added to their speech, or taste in things, and what their friends thought of them as being.

"I'm sorry I'm here. I'll get somebody else to be with you," he said, leaving "...if you'll let me go" implied.

"Don't do that," she said, her voice muffled by his body, distorted by how she was crying, but clean, like she'd been stripped of everything but her base instincts. It resonated inside Johnny's heart. "Don't."

"Why do you want me here? We've never talked before. You never, like...hang out with people like me."

"I know. I just...want you to be...with me. I feel like I know you already."

He grinned. "That's weird."

"You don't like me?"

"I don't know how I feel, but...I know what you mean."

"Then why do you wanna leave me?" she asked, like it'd hurt him.

It did. "I dunno." He said that to acknowledge her, but then he couldn't answer it. He searched for an answer in her eyes. "Maybe I'm afraid to get close to people."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"Don't worry about that. Don't think about it."

How can she just dismiss it?

"I have to. Every time I think, like, 'This time, she won't just steal some...part of me,' they do. I can't...do that."

His arm flowed off Elise and picked up his gun like he didn't have any control over it.

"What the fuck're you doing?"

He couldn't speak. Instead he pulled the slide back about 1/4 of an inch - a round was chambered, meaning the gun was already cocked. All he had to do was aim and pull the trigger. A tear ran down his cheek.

He kind of knew she might do it, but Elise's arms jerked into action faster than he thought anyone's could, and he didn't resist. She took his gun, but it wasn't as if he had a firm grip onto it. He planned to tighten his grip gradually so he could stop crying on the way to firing it. He wanted to stop crying before he died.

She tossed the gun away, onto the floor to her side, like it didn't take any effort, but she threw it so hard the couch shook from her weight shifting. Loudly, the gun hit the carpeted floor and bounced, sliding away.

"What were you gonna do, Johnny?!?" A freaked-out tone and a freaked-out look in her eyes.

He couldn't speak. It was like he'd just lost his soul, but he had to live with that – without really living. He looked down, to the side, wherever she wasn't, unable to open his eyes. A little sob escaped him.

Elise squeezed him into herself.

"Why can't I just die?" he said, sobbing into her like it would get his soul to come back. She probably wouldn't hear him, or be able to tell what he said.

"Because I love you."

"You don't know me."

"Yes I do, but if I don't I don't need to. I bet I was your queen and we were Persian rulers together in some other life. Or maybe we were Egyptian."

"I can't do this, Elise."

"You have to. For me."

"You're not even gonna...care about me soon."

"That's bullshit. Tell me what happened the last time you tried."

"I got caught crying. I was gonna kill myself one night. Violette caught me. She held me like you were doing. I was like 'I can't do this alone anymore' and she was like 'I'll be your support group.' I believed her because...I didn't really wanna die that night. But I wish I would have. I should have. It was nice for a little while – if anyone's ever loved me it was her. Then this other part of me kinda took over. Then she just quit, I guess. I scared her off, so I deserve it, but she did quit. I haven't heard from her in a while. She's not that busy. But then again I don't think she ever cared about me. I'm...babbling. Sorry."

He pushed at Elise's arms, noticing how hot his face felt as he did. He wanted to get the woman's arms off but physically couldn't. His body was quitting just like he was. "No!" she said, after he tried a few times. "No, John!" she said, after a little more struggling.

"Please don't do this to me."

"I love you."

"If you do I'm just gonna scare you off...sometime. There's hardly anything of me left. There...not hardly. Less than that. After you abandon me there'll be less, and I'll hafta live with that for however long until I get the urge again. It's too much to deal with, and I don't want anyone else to...take part of me like that so they can just feel better about theirself. Not again."

She did probably exactly what he needed – she squeezed him and shoved his head into her shoulder protectively. She wouldn't let him go. He cried. She held him.

12:36 p.m. Friday, 27th October 2006 – 5F HUNK Building, Biskind University

Johnny was different when he awoke, next to Elise. Behind her, rather. They were spooning on the couch he'd almost died on. He felt stupid for having an erection because mentally, he wasn't aroused at all. The intimacy felt nice, but it was in that healing kind of way more than any other. Then he got sensation in his body past that back – Oh, he thought, noticing his hand was cupping Elise's breast, and that he could feel her nipple poking at the palm of his hand. Letting it go, Johnny sat up a little, then adjusted himself so it at least wouldn't be poking her nether regions anymore.

He clawed sleep out his eyes, not able to think about much more than Elise's nipple. It was hard.

No it wasn't, he thought. That'd imply she was aroused, which she wouldn't be. It's been so long since I held one I can't make the distinction between hard and soft anymore. It's been way too long since I've known a breast, to phrase it oddly. How could I believe something so stupid? How could I be so stupid? Jesus Christ!

"Awake, huh?" Elise asked.

"I think."

"I believe. In more ways than one." In that this's-titillating-right? tone. He appreciated the attempt, partially because how disconcerting it was helped his erection leave.

"Very funny. I'm sorry about that."

"It doesn't bother me. I do love you, after all."

"Mentally I'm in a weird place, but sometime later I'm gonna thank you for saving my life. Make note of that."

"I will, baby," she said, again in a put-on excited voice. He wondered what she was pretending to be excited about and why she seemed to be riding on his every word. "Lay back down with me."

"I should get up. That Richard fella's gonna want me to do something. I should go volunteer, anyway."

"You should go do whatever I tell you to." She adjusted a little, then grinded her ass into Johnny's crotch, making goofy noises like "Oh yeah!" with some real emotion hidden in them.

Her nipple was hard, he thought. Then he jumped to another idea as soon as he thought of it – How'd I start believing that shit again? God dammit.

When she stopped and said "Come on, honey. Gimme somethin'," he said, "That's cruel."

"It's cruel how hot this is making me."

Johnny had no idea how to respond to that.

This is so stupid. She's not even ready for that. But I guess I was right. I feel better, he thought. Wait, how'd I make myself think I couldn't tell the difference between an erect, marbled-over nipple and a soft one? Even I have nipples. I'd know the difference if I didn't know the difference.

So she's horny. But not for me. I'm just the lonely guy from her Theater 100 class. I don't know anyone in Richard's gang here. She cried with me because she knows I won't tell anyone, or that if I do it'll be so weird to hear it from me nobody'll believe me. She won't let anyone else see her in a position of weakness. Maybe she's the tough girl at Richard's side. She's probably imagining Richard being where I am.

She's fucking with me. How could I think it's anything else?

"True as that may be, I shouldn't just sleep around," Johnny said. He gave Elise's breast closest him a playful squeeze that made his cock jump then got up. That made him nervous, because to do it he had to step over Elise, who didn't help him in the least, and onto the floor, a little over a foot below them, then move backward and off the couch.

"Don't you leave me, Johnny Fonda," she said, as he moved. "Not after the speech you gave about abandonment."

"I think people who've been abandoned a lot are inclined to abandon other people, simply because they fear abandonment. Some for revenge, but I don't like...bothering people."

She laughed, then said, "What's your point?" she asked, sitting up on her side. It was a dark, rainy day outside, and the small amount of light coming in through a nearby window cast a shadow that made her ethereally beautiful. Unfair, as Johnny thought of it, to him. Cruel, even. It was great, though, that he couldn't see her too well, because his erection was beginning to ebb away, and he had on relatively tight pants today, and he'd hate to walk around in the harshly-lit school with that.

"This," he said, picking up his XD-45 and walking away.

"You have a perfect ass," she said – her voice following him out the room.