Welcome to No Books of Men! We are a modern alternate history board set in a magical school nestled in the Columbiana Valley of the Rocky Mountains. Students of the Collegium Illustrata Columbiana (commonly called simply The Academy) are free to explore their wildest imaginations in learning the mystic arts, so long as it does not jeopardize the ongoing Shadow War with the Exarchs. How will you live up to the legacies of Merlin?
darkkenchild is the Head Admin here at No Books. He enjoys long walks on the beach and debating the metaphysical underpinnings of reality, so any questions about your character , the plot of No Books, and/or how magic works on the site, please do not hesitate to ask him.
Squeeji is the head of “Human Resources” here at No Books, and responsible for pretty much everything related to our contact with the outside world. Advertising, orientation, and just about anything to do with bringing in new blood is in her wheelhouse.
Things moved quickly after the dust had settled in the Hag. The headmaster of the Academy had started shouting orders almost immediately; some of the older mages had been sent to go after the crazy guy who had been waxing poetic, and pretty much everyone else was ordered to get the hell out of dodge lest he come back for a round two. A good chunk of the other Lost had looked like they were going to group up and try to figure out what had happened, but Ellis wasn't about to stick around and play detective, because he was far to busy freaking the hell out.
Everyone could see him for what he truly was, and any attempts to once again cover himself with his his mask failed. Which meant Herb could see him, and-- oh, god, Herb, looking like the cosmos themselves were pouring out of his pores... what the hell had that psycho done to them? Everyone who had been in that bar had been transformed one way or another but Ellis didn't care about them, shallow as it was, all he cared about was getting back home and making sure Herb was okay.
Which was exactly where they were headed. It wasn't so much a walk as a run, the apartment wasn't far but Ellis had no intention of taking his good sweet time when anyone who looked his way would see his blackened eyes and deformed hands and horrible, papery skin. Everyone who had bolted out of the tavern had done what they could to conceal themselves, some snatching up tablecloths or drapes to make impromptu hoods or cloaks. Ellis himself had pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears, face pointed down as he watched his shoes smack against the pavement with each hurried step.
The walk was quiet, and tense, or at least it felt that way to Ellis, which left him alone with his thoughts, none of which were doing anything to calm him down. Were they going to be like this forever? What would Herb do if he found out this is what he had really been dating the last few months? The stardust under Herb's skin had gone snaking up along Ellis' arm back in the bar, was that dangerous? What would happen to Herb if it all seeped away? Could that even happen?
A thousand racing thoughts and not a single solid answer. That was all Ellis had as they reached the apartment, and with shaking hands he managed to dig his key out and unlock the door, hurriedly darting inside before locking it behind them. The moment they were safe behind closed doors, he lifted his hands and ran them down along his face, letting out a muffled whimper behind his fingers before blurting out, "What the-- what the hell happened back there? I-- are you okay?" His hands dropped and he looked over at Herb, trying to get a read on his boyfriend's face, which was hard; half of it was peeled away and glowing.
It had been the fastest he had hoofed it home since awakening, yet somehow it felt like the longest damn walk he had ever taken in his life, though after whatever sort of near comic book villain monologue and madness that followed, he had nearly pulled his beanie over his face in some sorry attempt to hide what was obviously some sort of serious disfigurement that befell him. Just like everyone else...everyone else looked very nearly ghoulish, and he was pretty certain that his father had spewed spiders.
And Ellis...oh god, poor Ellis...
Well he just didn't have the heart to mention it after he had cried out the way he did, how embarrassing, how awful that he he had said something so hurtful instead of being helpful. Between his own panicked considerations about what had happened to him...he was more worried that more was broken up in his life then his face. Yet together they took the longest, most uncomfortably silent trek that may have ever been taken in Columbiana history. Well, probably not- but right now he could wonder, because it sure as hell felt that way.
Maybe a stupid thing to focus on, but that was a survival mechanism more then anything, sweating the little things, the insignificant things meant that he didn't start screaming about well...whatever it was that was wrong with him. Because he simply didn't have the heart to look, but if it was anything like how his hands were starting to break apart? Well fuck that. He just flicked whatever switch made him numb to stuff like this, and found himself shocked that when they made it to the apartment hallway that they were there...and well, uh, that it felt like he was welcomed to go in with Ellis, he followed doggedly. "I...I don't know?" He tucked his hands in his pockets and struggled with not snuggling up to his whimpering boyfriend...who he guessed didn't want the likes of whatever he was now touchin' on him. "Sure, I think I'm fine. I don't feel any different." A quick inventory, and yeah he felt just the same as always, sullen and kind of whispy...
"What about you?"
His legs felt shaky, nerves mostly, and Herb flopped down on the couch, to hell with whether or not any of this shit stained he needed to settle, but while he could replace the upholstery, he guessed Ellis wouldn't be so keen on him lighting up a smoke at his place.
This was the first truly fucked up thing he'd endured since crawling out of the Hedge, and Ellis wasn't taking it well. Yeah, there had been the wax mannequins, and the whole turning into a woman thing, but no one had really been hurt as a result; he wasn't so sure he could say the same this time around. Christ, he wanted a drink, so much so it was making his skin crawl, and he found himself wrapping his arms around his midsection, fingers digging into his sides in an attempt to stem the urge.
It didn't help much.
Ellis wasn't expecting Herb to have an answer for what had happened, not really, and he just made a unsure sort of noise in response. There was a part of him that knew he should be wary about being close to Herb and that swirling cosmic energy, but there was an even bigger part of him that just really wanted some comfort right about now, but his boyfriend's hands went straight for his pockets, and Ellis fidgeted awkwardly, the desire to have the floor open up and swallow him was suddenly very real.
He rounded the couch a moment after Herb took a seat, the question of how he was feeling left to hang empty in the air as his brain worked to process an answer that wasn't just a hollow, terrified whimper. Ellis sat down next to Herb, close but not too close, paranoia pressing down on him with the insistence that his newly revealed form was as off-putting to Herb as he feared it would be, and he was careful to keep his unsettling eyes locked on his own worrying hands as he finally sputtered, "I'm-- I'm--"
Ugh, god, no, no he wasn't okay, not even a little, because Herb had gone full human-shield on him back in the pub and Ellis didn't even remotely deserve that, he had done nothing but lie to Herb from the day he had met him, and now here it was, his great big fat deception out in the open for all the world to see, and it would be so, so easy to let it go, to hope that this wasn't permanent, that they'd return to what Herb thought was normal eventually but then what? Keep lying? He couldn't, not now, not after all this, not after that sacrifice play, because Ellis knew what that meant, and he couldn't let it mean that if he couldn't even be honest with Herb.
The guilt, it was just too much, and before he could really get a grip on his words Ellis opened his mouth and blurted out, "We-- we need to talk."
Hesitation made a light flicker back on in Herb's head, that little bit of a pause and lack of an answer meant that something terrible had happened, something was wrong with Ellis and suddenly Herb wasn't so very focused and self centered as he was leaning towards his now parchment sealed boyfriend, hand reaching out in exploration, but halting just before contact, just in case, just in case whatever he had was contagious or would make matters worse. "What is it? Are you hurt? Let me see...I can get the first aid kit and..."
His body tensed as though he were ready to roll up and off the couch at a moment's notice or even less so...but he waited just to see if any of his numerous questions were something that Ellis would bother to answer. If he even could, which meant he got a few more seconds before Herb made the executive decision to start really fussing, tossing aside all those things he was vaguely just ignoring by simply just replacing them. That whine tickled between his shoulders and made him flutter behind his ribcage.
But it was nothing in comparison to the fleeting feeling of care turning into horrified desperation as he could feel his heart almost breaking. It stopped him from getting up as he felt everything falling down around him. Cold and isolated, he couldn't help but think of his current feelings like a snowfield as Ellis said: 'We need to talk' Herb had heard the statement often, and it was never good what followed after, Avery leaving to go back to California, his father telling him he might never awakening with some sort of personal disappointment in his eyes, hell...even being told as a child that they were pulling him out of public school had started in that terrible, awful, no good, very bad way.
Though he had never been broken up that way, yet somehow that was the first thought that had crossed his mind. Herb's mind raced, what had he done wrong? Had he been too distant? Was his face that messed up? Really he could have gone on and on, and while his brain was going a mile a minute making theories and running scenarios for disaster, his mouth was half as smart or less, squawking with the main thesis statement for his worry:
Ellis knew he was causing Herb to worry, lord knew if their roles were reversed he'd be fretting over the silent freakout occurring next to him. And he wanted to answer Herb, no he wasn't hurt, no don't get up I really need you here next to me, but he had the entire walk home to work himself up and now Ellis wasn't sure he could get out a coherent sentence that didn't end in a sob because he was this close to just giving up and letting loose with the tears that were building up.
Because that's what Ellis did best, closed up and cried like a pussy when things got too hard to deal with. He could feel how warm his face was, sniffling as he shook his head in lieu of actually answering Herb's questions. If this was going to happen, it had to happen now, and so Ellis swallowed down the lump in his throat and blurted out what, in hindsight, was a terrible choice of words to lead into what he wanted to say.
But that was the thing about hindsight, it was twenty-twenty, a luxury you could never afford in the moment. Ellis started, head shooting up as he glanced over at Herb, whose voice sounded so horribly miserable that Ellis felt an internal gut-punch just from knowing he had been the cause.
"What?" Suddenly his hands weren't so interesting. Ellis scrambled in his seat, quickly turning to face Herb, looking panicked as he quickly added, "No! Not-- not at all." Suddenly, stardust snaking up his arms was anything but a concern, and Ellis reached out to gently settle a hand against Herb's arm. Another sniffle, and he stubbornly worked to keep his voice even as he said, "That's the last thing I'd want to do..."
But he had a feeling Herb wouldn't feel the same in a minute. Maybe, maybe he wouldn't be entirely disgusted by the fact that this was what Ellis truly looked like. But the fact was Ellis had been lying the entire time they'd known one another. Even the most forgiving person couldn't possibly just turn a blind eye to that, could they? Ellis pulled his lower lip into his mouth and breathed in through his nose, trying to work up even an ounce of courage to help get him through what was going to come next, and when he started to speak again, he chose his words far more carefully.
"What I need to talk to you about is, well..." One last pause for nerves, and then, "I haven't been entirely honest with you. About something important. And I want to tell you but... but I'm scared, like, really scared, and--" That was as far as he got before his voice cracked, and Ellis winced. God, he was pitiful.
The sort of dread that came with your world crashing down around your ankles was nothing new to Herb, which made him wonder why he hadn't gotten better at handling with some grace by now. Instead he sputtered and ran his hands over his face, trying to wipe the obvious sadness and desperation from his face...or what was left of it. HE should have never ever taken him along to that stupid party, he had a bad feeling about it from day one, and Ellis hadn't even wanted to come along. God he was just so dumb and he just hated himself for it...UGH!
And he felt even dumber when Ellis reached out and actually touched him like this and insisted that it wasn't so. Herb gasped in relief and reached out putting a hand on either side of his boyfriend...STILL boyfriend at that, who couldn't have at this moment looked more beautiful if he tried, even if he kinda reminded him a wasp nest wrapped up in an old Gideon's bible. "Oh...oh..." There was no god to really thank here, but he was grateful to say the least, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Ellis' and even go so far to venture a quick smooch before he got pushed away for well...leaking all over him with cosmic goo or whatever it was he was currently spreading around. "You...you scared the shit out of me." His voice was quiet, and almost amused- like really truly amused at what a mess this all had become, it was funny how relief made things funnier in hindsight. Things weren't good, but they were well, and he wasn't alone in all of this.
Perspective was a funny thing. see suddenly anything Ellis had to tell him as terrible as it could be couldn't have been that bad. Right? "What...what is it?" He pulled back, sliding his hands down from Ellis' cheeks to his arms, and finally and maybe even miraculously resting at his hands, twisted and gnarled as they were- they were shaking, and Herb gave them a squeeze- forgetting old hitches for the sake of...whatever this was. "I'm...I'm sure it's nothing that bad...calm down, take a deep breath and just....tell me." He blinked, and only half of it showed given that only part of his face was left.
The absolute last thing Ellis wanted to do was upset Herb, in any capacity, but it appeared he had failed mserably. Herb ran his hands over his face, the twinkling starlight of his 'skin' pulsing and swirling with the effort, which was actually sort of beautiful but only distantly, because all Ellis could focus on was the crushed expression on what was left of his boyfriend's face. Oh, lord, he had really fucked that up, horribly so, and he only hoped that hurriedly trying to backpedal would be enough to reverse the unintentional damage he'd caused.
That quick breath in was sign enough that his answer was the one Herb wanted to hear, and thank god for that. Those starry hands settled on either side of his face, and Ellis quickly laid his palm against Herb's chest, some subconcious apology to the heart underneath, closing his eyes as their foreheads met, and that peck from Herb earned a second in return, anything to quell those worried little sounds. "I am so sorry, and-- and my mouth is so stupid." There was a touch of relief in that apology, an awkward huff of laughter following the words, and Ellis added, "And I'd be an idiot to let you go. You're wonderful."
Which he meant, he really did, because yeah, Herb was absolutely some kind of wonderful. Ellis had thrown so much bullshit at him and still, here he was, impossibly unflappable in the face of some asshole's endless moaning and bitching and drinking and self-loathing and just... how? How was this boy even real? Because every other one had turned tail and run, every last one, and there had been an embarrassingly large number of them. And then there was Herb, kicking down the walls of his own hang ups and taking those horrible knobby hands into his own, and suddenly Ellis had the fool notion that maybe, just maybe, he ought to hold onto some small sliver of hope that this wouldn't go down in flames.
He nodded, pulling in a deep breath when told to, watching the stardust from Herb's hands snake up and over his own and not caring one bit that it was. "Alright, well..." Where to begin? At the start, he supposed. "So, um... I never really told you why I came to the valley before. But I'm going to tell you now." Ellis glanced up, sighing one last time before diving right in.
"I was walking home from work one night, back in New York, and something... took me, I guess, would be the right word. I can't really remember what exactly happened but I ended up somewhere that, well-- it changes people. And I was there for a long, long time, so long that I lost count of the days, hundreds of them, and--" The words came out rushed, so much so that he stumbled over them, shaking his head to try and clear it before continuing.
"But I managed to get away, and when I came out on the other side I wasn't back home. I was here. And... and I looked like this." He slipped one hand away from Herb's grip to gesture up at his own face. "And I could do things I couldn't do before, and I couldn't explain how, I-- I still can't. But... this is me. All the time. And I wanted to tell you before but I was scared that you'd leave, that you'd be afraid or-- or disgusted, or hate me for lying and I-- I don't think I could handle you hating me, because... because I love you."
That much was true, he had watched a lot of people and hadn't really lived a lot- but he could at least take heart that most human beings, had stupid mouths that said stupid things when it was best to not have that sort of thing happen. Armed with that sort of knowledge, Herb kept his mouth shut as he was called wonderful, feeling a flush of embarrassment reaching his cheeks and only half considering whether or not it would even show this time around, what with his literal starry eyed countenance right about now.
So he kept his hands busy, and they had found...somebody elses' hands, and while Herb's natural reaction was to jerk away without thinking his fingers whispy as they were, began to trace fine lines around Ellis' rough edges. He listened, he had always been good at listening, or at least he liked to think so, "Oh!" His voice shuddered as the air was pulled out of his lungs with that list little bit, it was all a lot to take in, but it was a one two punch to say...love. Herb could honestly say he wasn't sure if anyone had ever really said it to him and meant it, and maybe Ellis didn't either, but right now? He honestly believed it to be true, or maybe he needed it to be true.
It might have been the first good thing to happen to him in the year that followed his awakening, maybe since he had become an adult on his own...who knew? Of course, Ellis wasn't the only one with a stupid mouth, and Herb had found his wasn't working so well when he tried to talk, tongue feeling like lead as he tried to make it move. "I...I do too, I...uh...I love you." He offered a crooked smile that pulled his lips up over his teeth, and he meant it. At least, he thought he did? Herb was certain he felt that way, ages ago and that was the only reason he was here like this, right now. Except he had said it before and it had blown up in his face. So he couldn't help but feel horrified at saying it, halting and questioning even as he felt around with the words. Because words were just words..and they were meaningless if it meant someone was gonna crawl out of the bathroom window later because is said it.
"So...you're one of them then? One of the changelings?"
Herb grew silent for a moment, putting things together that had bothering him for so long, he had known there was been something up with Ellis, it had kept him up at night, and made him wonder about his safety with the man he had grown increasingly fond of. "I...hmmm..." There was no way of explaining what he thought was paranoia, not in a good way, not when he was right, but it explained so many things he didn't understand. "Well...that explains a lot..."
He was a man made of paper holding hands with a galaxy-turned-human, and yet the strangest thing about the situation was that Ellis had managed to say he loved someone without falling into hysterics immediately after. Which made him feel that he truly must mean it. Not that he was doubting his own sincerity, not even a little, he was damn sure about that, but he had never said it before, not like this, and he had always assumed when and if he for the chance he would have been an awkward mess about the whole thing.
But he wasn't. He was nervous, yes, but for reasons that had nothing to do with how he felt toward Herb. If it turned out that this was it, that his boyfriend couldn't handle the black eyes and the bent fingers or he didn't love him back, we'll, it would hurt, but at least Herb would know how he really felt. Maybe Ellis could take solace in that, or maybe he couldn't, but either way he found himself holding his breath even as Herb let his own out in a sudden huff, please, oh please, just this once let him get what he wanted…
And he did.
That pitchy, stammering voice had never sounded so sweet. Ellis let out a sigh that dissolved into a relieved burst of laughter, his own face mirroring the grin that had spread across Herb’s, and he gave those cracked, glowing hands in his own a tight squeeze. “Heh, gay…” Which was said with just the utmost fondness. But even a little levity couldn't keep the real talk at bay, and soon enough they were treading back into territory Ellis wasn't entirely ready to explore.
At least Herb hadn't gone running for the hills; a thought that was enough to get someone to start taking baby steps. “Yeah…” Ellis shifted in his seat, caught somewhere between elation and worry, afraid that the more he shared about his current condition, the more likely Herb would be to retract what he had said. ‘I love you but... ‘
Ugh, the mere notion was enough to make his stomach turn. A moment ago he was ready to accept defeat but now that Herb shared his sappy sentiment Ellis wasn't sure he could handle a rebuttal. Paranoia and he were hardly strange bedfellows these days, and that long pause from Herb did nothing to reassure him that this was going to go to end well. Especially not with that follow up.
“It-- it does?” Well that… could mean a lot of different things. “Like… like what?”
A chuff, and Herb rolled his eyes, because really with that? Here they were having a moment, and somebody was being a dipshit, though that had been part of the charm, which was part of why he was smirking as he put on the proper aires of false annoyance that he was well known for. But it wasn't much longer before his brain started whirring in motion again, and with it the myriad of disorders that he was also known for got him over thinking. Playing back things that had caught him as 'off' so many times.
Herb nodded, giving Ellis more of a careful look then he had before, because this time he was actually seeing his boyfriend for the first time, and while someone else was sitting on pins and needles about that appearance he was more fascinated- he was finally seeing the real Ellis, the one that had been hiding from him. There he was. "I don't know, I mean...I guess I always felt like you were hiding something. At first I thought you were like me, but it didn't feel right...I can, feel magic to some extent, and you were....but I didn't know what. Different I guess." Not like him but not bad, just it had always been a barrier to full trust. "After awhile, I ignored it, or I got real worried about it...you know, I saw that thing with the wax sculpture the day we...uh the day we met?" He shrugged, smiling as realizations finally broke away all those weird hangups he had for so long.
"I just told myself you'd tell me if wanted to tell me. And I didn't want to say something...in case you thought I was um, well, you know...crazy or you got mad."
He turned his head, feeling that way just a little bit right now, "I mean, not that you'd be wrong to think that...because you know, god...how paranoid does that sound?" Herb squeaked, those little nervous noises peeping up more and more as he tried to explain himself, and he was rambling, he knew he was rambling, he always rambled when he got worked up, and here he was very glad that his face was apparently such a booboo mess that his expression was hard to read, because he was nearly on verge of slipping into a fit. "Sorry, I'm not...not real good at this. People...uh relationships. You know? Heh..." Suddenly laughter broke out, as though for a moment a very private joke had gotten too funny to ignore, which in a way it kind of was.
"Did you ever hear about my first girl friend?"
It had been hard to get out, between the tearful snickering, but he had to wonder if Avery with his penchant to talk some shit when being protective had let that little bit slip, because the story was a good one...a real kneeslapper, and it was, between having nearly broken whatever little confidence he had as a human being. "I know, big fauxpas...exes, but I had told her I had loved her, I...didn't, I don't think...at the time, well, yeah. Prolly, but...we had sex, first time for me..." A deep breath like he was readying a punchline. "And afterwards, she crawls out the bathroom window naked and I never see her again." Herb's brows bobbed his face contorted in an attempt to not bust the fuck up laughing, though the distinction between amusement and pain were vague, he gave those hands a tight squeeze and steadied himself.
"I dunno, I guess what I mean...is....that isn't even the worse thing that's ever happened to me, but that's...kinda okay? Because you're the best thing that has ever happened to me...even if you are different."
If that made him gay, then sign him up as the mayor of Homoville. Ellis could only make out half of his boyfriend's face, but he didn't need to see the entirety to know that look of annoyance was all bluster. Still, he'd take that mock expression over the more scrutinizing one that followed, because that one? That one he couldn't decipher as easily.
Ellis flinched slightly as Herb admitted he knew something had been up. Of course he had. Herb was smart, so smart, and Ellis had been an idiot to think he wouldn't have known something strange was going on. "I-- yeah, I remember." Ellis shifted in his seat, biting at his lower lip for a moment before adding, "You asked me about it. I should have told you then, I mean, I saw you open a hole in reality, I fell through that hole, but I was still too scared to tell anybody that I was... different." Different. Weird. Whatever you wanted to call it.
It was strange, clearing the air was making him feel better and worse at the same time, worse because Herb was telling him how worried he had been, how he had been scared that Ellis would think he was crazy and oh, no, god, the crazy one here was definitely not Herb, no the crazy one was the guy made of magic hiding it from someone who could wield it himself. "Augh, I'm sorry, I-- I wouldn't have gotten mad, and I definitely wouldn't have thought you were crazy." Because Herb would have been right; nothing crazy about that.
Only it seemed the man himself didn't quite think so. Ellis listened to that confession with a slightly confused look on his face until those chirping noises stated up, and he instinctively reached up to stroke at Herb's hair, attempting to soothe the nerves away. "Hey, no, don't-- don't apologize, you don't have anything to be sorry for." That laughter was mirrored by Ellis a moment later, and he confessed, "I'm not so great at them either." You know, considering this was his first real one.
"...No? Maybe?" They hadn't really done the ex talk yet, he was aware that Herb had dated a few girls before they had met, and he himself had more or less dodged the question, but Ellis quieted down all the same, wondering where Herb was going with this. Turned out, nowhere good. Hearing about Herb sleeping with and saying he was in love with someone else only a few minutes after they had told each other the same caused an irrational spike of jealousy in Ellis that he quickly shoved aside, because that was ridiculous, and Herb was clearly getting to the point of it and--
"She what?" Ellis balked for a moment. Thing was, if that had been a scene in a movie, it might have been funny. But having it happen to Herb? Really not so very funny, and Ellis couldn't find it in himself to see the humor in it. Good lord, what a shitty thing to do. He didn't know this girl from anyone, but he decided in that moment that he greatly disliked her. But before he could get all good and huffy Herb squeezed his hands and brought him back to the present, just in time to get a one-two punch right in the feels.
"I-- oh." It was Ellis' turn to fall speechless for a second, and he blinked, feeling a strange fluttering in his chest that was countered by a sudden heat coming over his face and oh, come on, this was no time to get all choked up. "I-- really?" It was just hard to accept the fact that he was considered a good thing to anybody-- no no, scratch that, the best thing, Herb had said the best thing, and Ellis stammered to get out a response. "I-- well--"
It had been building up for a good long while now. Someone had spent the last few months trying desperately to be as coolly detached as possible, holding in any and all excitement because, well, excitement was lame, right? Hipster douchebags didn't get excited. But this stupid boy with his stupid face had weaseled his way into Ellis' stupid heart and told him that he didn't care about his stupid paper-face. And now here they were, standing in front of a dam that had just burst, and the tidal wave that followed was made entirely of horrible, rambling words.
"Y-you are, too. I mean, to me, the best thing, that is, uh-- you have no idea, I-- heh, when I first met you I didn't think that we'd be here but we are here and, just, you're so-- you're great, just, in every way, it's so, so gay but I think about you before I go to bed and then first thing when I get up and you make me actually wantto get up which is just--it's huge, and-- and-- and I wish I could just, that I could like--" The briefest of pauses, during which Ellis pulled his hands away and started to flail them in excitement, and then: "--that I could cut a hole in you and live inside your stomach so we'd never have to be apart."
And then that dam sealed right back up as Ellis' bug eyes widened and he covered his mouth with his hands. Did he just-- he did, didn't he? That... that literally came out of his mouth, didn't it?
Herb had tried to keep up the front, but his resolve to look salty broke with a crooked grin and a puff of air that came out like lighted glitter. "Hmmph." Pleased? Well he certainly came across as such, until the fascination set in, he was always one to stare, unblinking really...it was a persona flaw- probably made a thousand times worse by his lack of real expression and the abyssal holes that served as his eyes given current circumstances. Of course, Herb was completely oblivious of said creepiness,, thinking he was more on point adoration then say...scrutiny and couldn't quite figure what was up with Ellis' face drop and sudden discomfort.
So he floundered a bit, "I did? That day was so messed up...I kinda forgot parts of it." Herb dipped his head, playing the fool but knowing that the question had been dodged at the time, which completely made his point, and why he had been so very worried. About things that were different and what made him scared when he was away and he couldn't see them. "No I'm sorry." and before he could take some relief from any apologies or truthiness, he had to air his own dirty laundry before he ate him up. "Because...you would have thought I was crazy if you heard of some of the shit...the complete shit I wondered about when I was alone." Herb sighed, finally done boring holes into Ellis because he was feeling so very shameful. "...You showed up while I was working on this case, someone kept killing these people and taking their skin...and sometimes, I just wonder if..."
The thought remained unfinished as he bit the side of his cheek, maybe in part punishing himself for having been so...well, crazy. It was crazy wasn't it? Of course now he knew better but at the time. "I mean, I don't think you're a serial killer!" He yelped out of the sudden silence with a jolt like every nerve seemed to electrocute him, what was left was a man limp and defeated and the rest came with a whisper"...Anymore."
It was those same nerves that kept him babbling like a brook, trying to make things better and worse, because there was really no difference for Herb, it was like his mouth was on autopilot and his brain had gone overboard. And after all was said and done, he gave those hands a squeeze and wished he could take back a lot of that...like, maybe most of it, because he sounded like a complete psycho spaz and never mind a stage five clinger. Silence took a lot,because he had to listen, and yet...he wanted to groan at the back of his throat, slide away and maybe drop himself in the middle of Deep Lake never to be seen again.
Then came that wonderful, unfamiliar chatter a side of Ellis he had never seen before, who was...well, something else, and fantastically alive, the commotion of which pulled Herb from his self loathing with a smirk of disbelief. "...Really?" Of course, that whole Taun-Taun thing, that was a dig wasn't it? Herb made a face and gave him a gentle shove.
"Oh my god...you buhhole!"
And in an instant he was cackling, falling forward to lean all up against that poor scandalized paper man, whether he was ready or not.
"Ugh, I wish I could forget parts of that day." Mainly the parts with walking wax sculptures and almost catching pneumonia, those parts he could do without. But the other parts, he had kinda liked those, a lot actually, and even the bad parts made for a good story. Not that he'd ever tell anyone outside of the valley about most of it. Who the hell would believe him? Nope, in the long run, he'd have to settle for 'we met at a coffee shop' if anyone asked, lame as it sounded.
Ellis had long ago gotten used to that thousand-yard stare Herb was known to adopt from time to time, so it wasn't that locked-on gaze that was causing him to want to fold in on himself. No, it was his own discomfort with himself, and with having to hear Herb apologize when he hadn't done anything wrong. At least not in Ellis' eyes... though the longer Herb went on explaining himself the more iffy he became about that decision. "I-- I'm sure that's not true..." That laser-focused gaze fell and Ellis leaned forward slightly, wondering where Herb was going with this, and then--
"What?!" Those black eyes widened in surprise, and Ellis let out a strange little sputter-laugh, the sort of sound that comes when you just didn't have any words, but Herb had one more to spare, and the defeated, sheepish way he added that little 'anymore' just struck him as hilarious, and Ellis busted up laughing, falling back against the arm of the couch for a moment. "You-- ha! I-- wow." He sat back up with a few stray giggles, wiping at his eyes with the heel of his hand before leaning in and gently planting a kiss against Herb's glowing cheek. "You are just, the strangest boy." Which was a good thing in Ellis' mind, and said with the utmost fondness.
And it was probably because he was so very fond of the boy in front of him that hearing that story about the girl who broke his heart got him so upset. He wanted to tell Herb that he didn't deserve that, maybe assure him that Ellis would never intentionally hurt him like that, but Herb dropped that acceptance-bomb on him and suddenly, he couldn't get his thoughts to work together to save his life. And so they all sort of came tumbling out rapid-fire, like a machine gun turret full of squeaky-voiced nonsense that ended in perhaps one of the creepiest things Ellis had ever said and sadly sort of meant, hopefully Herb would take it as a joke because damn, that was like some stage-nine-thousand clinger levels of cringe right there.
"Uh... yeah, really..." Cue an awkward half-smile on Ellis' end, the second of silence that followed feeling infinitely longer, until Herb let loose with the buh-word, and Ellis grinned, flopping backward as that giggling pile of noodle-man got all up in his personal space. "You're the buhhole." This was said against the top of Herb's head as Ellis buried his face in that starry mop of hair, his hands settling against his boyfriend's back, and yeah, this was nice, really nice, but the urge to be a shithead was never far from the forefront of Ellis' mind, and after a few seconds he smirked, one of those hands shooting down suddenly to goose Herb right between the cheeks, accompanied by, "Oh wait no I found the buhhole."
Herb nodded, but that shook his head before he could get too far into his usual negativity, suddenly feeling a bit more sentimental then he typically was inclined to be. "Well, not all of it though." He might have redone a few things here and there...like dumping them into the swimming pool, but the keynotes he probably wouldn't have exchanged for the world. Any world, and he had seen quite a few of them, and yet having met Ellis was far too important to trade.
He was cursed with a terrible gift, a gift where he could just about beleaguer a point into the ground like he was boring for oil. And like typical, he struck black gold trying to explain himself to his boyfriend because he didn't know how to shut the fuck up. Ellis seemed ready to argue that there was no way that he could possibly be correct and then, he up and reacted in the sort of way Herb expected. Shock mostly. Though the surprising part was that shock wasn't met with outrage or negativity. Herb tensed and then relaxed even as he was being called a strange boy, because he couldn't really say that wasn't the case, and well...it was the nicest way anyone had ever said it about him before. Because Ellis was saying it like it was almost positive. Now wasn't that wild? Herb was dumbfound, accepting that kiss with a few blinks and a crooked smirk. Crazy, but maybe not entirely so crazy to not be loved.
That was nice.
Herb hummed happily as some of his panic melted away, but he wasn't going to retract that buhhole statement, because someone was one, and didn't have a leg to stand on trying to say he wasn't. "Nuh uh. You are." Not that said debate was exactly stunning discourse, though neither of them were exactly cunning linguists. There was a joke there, but it was lost in the screech that came from getting man handled. "Oh come on!" See, take a nice thing and make it awful, Herb giggled and squirmed "NooooOoooo." he sounded a bit like leaking balloon.
"Yeah, there were some pretty good parts." Well, okay, so there was really one pretty good part; meeting Herb. Outside of that, even magic-stuff notwithstanding, there had been Ellis' biohazard trash baby den and some unexpected gay porn that showed up and oh, can't forget the pants that shit out jelly beans. But then again, in hindsight, that had been just the right amount of adventure to drag his sorry ass out of the depression hole it had dug for itself, so... yeah, not all that bad.
It was kind of weird, every single thing he'd done since that day had led him to this moment, lying here basking in the metaphorical glow of knowing he was loved and the literal glow of a million stars pressed against his chest. Weird, and wonderful, and so very perfect that he felt a sudden need to ruin it, like standing in the Louvre and getting the urge to draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa, so why not karate-chop your boyfriend between the buttcheeks?
That screech from Herb was the second sweetest sound he'd heard all day, and Ellis couldn't stop the tsunami of giggles that came after. He kept it for a few seconds, letting his hand follow Herb's squirming butt around before finally relenting. "Okay, I-- ahahaha, whoooo, alright, I'm-- I'm done." The last of his laughter wheezed itself out of his mouth and Ellis took a second to catch his breath, both hands coming up in the international sign of surrender. "Promise." And then, as if to drive the point home, he oh-so-gently settled his hands down against Herb's back. See? He was being good. "...But I mean if you want to make it even I'll let you poke my buhhole." Well, sort of good, at any rate.