They’re back on the old-timey train, warm air coming in through the windows as the almost supernaturally boring landscape slides by. Eleanor tries to focus on that and not Chidi, who’s sitting across the aisle, feet up on the bench so he can face her.
“So…” he says, ruining that plan. “Want to tell me why we’re going back into the literal mouth of hell? Or maybe what that’s about?” He nods at the videotape still in her hand.
Eleanor huffs out a breath and lets her head drop back. Better get this over with.
“Janet?” she says and lifts her head when Janet pings into the aisle between them.
“We are not there yet,” she says pleasantly, as though she knows what Eleanor’s going to say. To be fair, Eleanor had asked that like three times on the trip out.
“Cool, I know,” she says, “that’s not what I was gonna say. Do you have, like, a VCR or something else we could play this on?” She holds up the tape and waggles it in the air.
“Of course,” says Janet and holds out her hand like a waiter without a tray. Another ping and she’s holding a laptop, which she hands out proudly to Eleanor with both hands.
“Oh, I don’t think this can play—“ Eleanor starts, then blinks twice as she turns the laptop on its side. Instead of a DVD drive, there’s space for a VHS tape. Okay then.
“Okay then,” she says, and slides the tape out of its box to shove it in. Janet beams and disappears and Chidi moves across the aisle to slide in next to her, so he can see the screen. The seats are small enough that his knee bumps hers and she jerks hers away involuntarily. He smells faintly of aftershave and sweat — has she ever been close enough to notice his smell before? Well, apart from the obvious, she thinks, as the video starts up.
Instead of a keyboard, the laptop just has three big buttons: rewind, play, fast forward. She hits rewind and angles her body so Chidi can’t see the screen, since the last thing she needs is for him to have an actual aneurysm on her. Although actually, can you die in the afterlife? Huh.
“If you die in the game, you die in real life,” she mutters to herself, then jams the play button, since she almost went too far back and that is not an experience she needs to have on a theme park train sitting beside her co-star.
“So, it turns out Mindy runs the world’s worst Blockbuster,” she says, still not showing Chidi the screen. In the video, her past self flops off of Chidi and onto the bed, smug post-O smile in full effect as she slides across the sheets to tuck herself into the crook of his arm. God. “Featuring home movies made by a perv.” She finally turns the laptop so Chidi can see the screen.
“Oh my god,” he says as he realizes what he’s seeing and she shushes him so he doesn’t miss their oh-so-plotworthy dialogue. She keeps her gaze firmly fixed on part of the ceiling while Chidi gets to relive her journey. When it gets to the end, she slaps the screen shut before making herself drag her gaze away from the ceiling to look at Chidi.
He looks shellshocked, which isn’t a totally unfamiliar face, but this time it seems— more.
“Oh my god,” he says again, still looking at where the screen had been, before he looks up at her. Just meeting his gaze now makes her feel prickly and weird. “I—,” he says. “Was that—"
“Yes, it was us,” she says flatly, “no, I don’t remember it either, yes I am also extremely shocked, surprised, insert your own adjective.” (Extremely? her traitorous brain asks.)
“That is, um,” he clears his throat, his voice a bit higher than normal. “Not what I was expecting you to show me.” He blinks several times, his eyes searching her face, before he seems to suddenly realize how close they’re sitting and lurches back out of the seat, back to his own side of the train. On his bench he pulls his knees up again and presses the heel of his hand to his mouth, staring at her like she’s going to be able to make this make sense.
“Yeah, you and me both, buddy,” she says, trying to keep her voice even. She skips over the part about how she never says... that word. And she’s gonna agree with the Eleanor in the video it’s probably not his strong suit either. “But,” she continues. “Weird and embarrassing as this might be, what matters is that it’s proof.” She raps her knuckles on top of the closed laptop lid. “Physical proof. If what Mindy says is true and we keep going full Groundhogs Day and they keep wiping our memories, this might be our best chance at reminding ourselves."
“Like a time capsule,” he says, lifting his chin from his hand. “To our future selves."
“Bingo,” she says. “A creepy, sexual time capsule."
She watches the tape. Obviously. Yeah, she’s working on becoming a better person, but come on. She’s taken her share of dirty selfies, but somehow never actually made a sex tape. So she’s curious. And a longtime horndog. So sue her.
She waits ’til it’s super dark and super late before sliding the video-laptop contraption out from under the bed’s other pillow. She’d evicted whats-his-name, her “soulmate” earlier, now that the jig was up — he didn’t seem too bothered.
The video starts with shaky camera work, a flash of Mindy’s forehead, darkness and rustling as she slides the camcorder into her creepy wall hole and tries to figure out focusing. The audio is fine though and Eleanor can hear herself and Chidi.
“— one good thing about all this,” says her own voice. “If they’re not our real soulmates, then at least we don’t have to feel so guilty about wanting to— oh!” There’s a wet noise, then an exhale, and another noise as the camera finally focuses. She and Chidi are sitting on the edge of the bed and he’s, well, kissing the hell out of her. He has one hand tangled in the back of her hair and her arms are wrapped around his neck and damn, who would’ve guessed he knew how to kiss like that. It goes on and on, and when they finally stop, she can hear his shaky exhale as he rests his forehead against hers.
“Well, shirt,” says her onscreen self and he lets out a chuckle.
“You have no idea,” he says. “How long I’ve wanted to do that.” Eleanor onscreen pulls back, arms still around his neck, eyes searching his face. An expression she’s not used to seeing flashes across her own face, something unsure and secret and pleased, before she tilts her head to the side and cocks an eyebrow.
“Well, while we’re on the topic,” she says. “Anything else you’ve been wanting to do to me?”
He lets out a groan, half laugh, half exasperation, and pulls her easily onto his lap and then he’s the one angling his face up while she kisses him, slowly rocking her hips against him in a way that makes him pull her even closer.
Things move predictably from there: more kissing, her teeth on his neck, each of them shedding clothes. Her onscreen self takes off his glasses and sets them carefully aside and damn. Without his glasses and his nerd outfit and any philosophers to talk about, Chidi’s like — well, wow. Someone she would theoretically bang.
It’s not like watching herself just do it with some rando, though, because he’s still so clearly himself, even half naked, even totally naked, even with the strangled noise he makes when ….
“Okay?” he asks as he unbuttons her pants and the onscreen Eleanor, lying down and already topless nods breathlessly and gives him a double thumbs up. She lifts her hips as he hooks his fingers in the top of her pants and removes them and her underwear in a single swoop. Well then. Smooth move, Cheedster. She finds herself wondering if he’d gotten much play back when he was alive. Before this she would’ve said no way, but now she can definitely imagine him being the catch in the nerd pool. If you were theoretically looking for a professor to bang. Or maybe he had a lot of students with a hot for teacher thing— and okay, this is definitely not the time for that train of thought.
Onscreen he’s moved back up, kissing her again, and he must have gotten rid of his own pants out of the shot because now she can see his ass and “well, hello,” she mutters under her breath. As if agreeing, the Eleanor being kissed slides her hands down his back to grab it in both hands and he lurches against her involuntarily. Eleanor smirks just as her onscreen self does, and then that Eleanor is wrapping her legs around the back of Chidi’s thighs, shifting the angle of her pelvis and christ, Eleanor can practically feel all the specific places they must be sliding against each other. There’s another unexpectedly deep groan from Chidi, but then he’s pulling away a bit, sliding down her body.
“Is this okay?” he asks again as he kisses just below her belly button and she can hear herself sigh as she spreads her legs.
“Fork, yes,” she says, and the way Chidi’s head is angled as he kisses her inner thigh, the Eleanor watching can see him smirk, privately, against her skin. It’s infuriating, and infuriatingly hot.
Eleanor’s not gonna lie, she’s a girl who knows what she likes and she likes is getting head. She’s always figured, if she’s giving some guy access to the sweet piece of ass that is herself, she deserves the opportunity to lie back and enjoy herself. She’s not one of those girls who’ll relent after 20 seconds of halfhearted attention and let the guy come back up like he’s just won a badge for effort and rocked her world. She should probably feel guiltier about all the times she’s tangled her fingers in a guy’s hair and pushed his head back down with a perfunctory, “mm, yes, just like that.”
Not a problem, apparently, with Chidi, who seems to know what he’s doing, at least according to her onscreen reactions and motherFORKER, why has she never sucked up her pride and asked Janet for a vibrator or ten to keep in her bedside table here? Not that that’s why she started watching this. Not… entirely.
Then the onscreen Chidi is flopping on his back beside her, wiping his chin and grinning as she shifts to straddle him. She recognizes her own moves onscreen as she takes him in hand and positions herself and--
“Oh, fork,” Chidi breathes as she settles, his eyes closed and his hands gripping her hips, fingers splayed across the pale skin of her back.
“Cool?” comes her onscreen voice and he swallows before nodding, then opens his eyes to look up at her.
“Totally cool,” he says. “As long as you’re cool with this not lasting very long."
Her onscreen self snorts a laugh and, watching, Eleanor can see his face as he grins back at her, the way he watches her as she starts to move and--
“Jesus Christ,” she mutters (oh! apparently that gets past the filters here) and slams the screen closed. That is more than enough of that nonsense. She shoves the laptop back under the other pillow and closes her eyes tight, hands above the covers, pajamas fully in place, until she falls asleep.
Okay, so maybe not all of that remains true. But she does, eventually, fall asleep.
They’re having a secret pre-meeting meeting in the morning, ostensibly to strategize what the four of them will say when Michael comes over in an hour to lay out his detailed Vicki Takedown Plan, but it’s kind of dumb because it’s not like they have any idea what he’s going to want them to do. At least there are donuts.
“This one time,” Jason is saying, “me and my friend Shirtstain—“ he pauses, frowns, tries again. “Shirtstain— ah, well, that wasn’t his name, but you get the idea, this one time, me and him took a bunch of corn dogs and a box of donuts and made them all get it on together.” He grins, poking his finger through the middle of a powdered donut to illustrate. “It was totally dirty. And then we ate them all.” He looks thoughtful. “Although we did barf a lot afterward.” He shrugs and takes a bite of the powdered donut before flopping down on the couch.
“Lovely,” says Tahani dryly, creasing her paper napkin before unfolding to crease it the other way.
“Aren’t you going to eat one?” Eleanor asks pointedly from the kitchen island, nodding toward the box. If there was ever a time or place not to count calories...
“Well, all right,” she says, elegant hand hovering over the options. “I was hoping they would throw in some pain au chocolat or a few profiteroles, but beggars, choosers.” She daintily selects a boston creme before taking a massive bite and wandering off to stare at the clown gallery.
Eleanor’s on her second raspberry jelly and just like on earth, they somehow can’t manage to get the proportions right. Every bite is either all donut or all jelly, never the right mix. She’d always thought that was a weird thing for the good place not to have perfected. So many things are making more sense now.
“Hey, you have—“ Chidi gestures at his own face and she freezes, mouth full, blinking at him. He’s around the corner from her at the island. “Jam,” he says, pointing to the corner of his own mouth. When she still doesn’t move, he leans forward, reaching out with a napkin toward her.
“Don’t!” she manages, crumbs flying, and jerks away from his touch. Wow, smooth move, ex-lax.
Chidi blinks at her, then places the napkin down on the table between them.
“Some jam on your face, is all,” he says, and she feels herself redden, grabbing the napkin to scrub at her mouth. He watches her, frowning slightly.
“Is everything okay?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she says, not looking at him. “Totally. Mucho bueno.” She focuses on folding up the napkin in her hand, but can tell he’s still watching her.
“Are you sure, because — OH!” Her head snaps up in time to see his eyes widen in shock.
“You watched it,” he says. "You watched the whole tape."
“What?!” she says. “No!” Funny how completely instinctual lying still feels.
“That’s why you won’t even look at me,” he says. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you actually watched it."
“Watched what?” Tahani asks and they both jump.
“Nothing,” they say in unison and she narrows her eyes.
“Really, because—“ and then the door bangs open to let Michael through, with a giant easel and stack of posterboard that looks like nobody’s idea of a good time.
Fifteen minutes in, he slouches down in his seat and shifts closer to her, close enough that she can feel his body heat.
“Okay, but why?” he says so softly only she can hear him, without taking his eyes off of Michael. “Why would you even do that?"
She shrugs, also still looking at Michael, and chews on the end of the ballpoint pen he’d handed out at the start of the session. Chidi looks at her out of the corner of his eye and she shrugs again.
“Curiosity?” she offers.
“Killed the cat,” he mutters.
He doesn’t say anything else as Michael goes on a long tangent about the benefits of being bitten that has her really wondering why they’re going along with this at all.
“What was it even like?” Chidi whispers again after a very long pause and oh lord, he’s been sitting there trying to imagine it. She flushes at the thought.
“Now who’s curious?” she asks, tossing him a look. He straightens up a bit, looking attentive to Michael’s lecture.
“From a strictly academic perspective,” he says after a long pause. She snorts.
“It’s not like there were footnotes, dude,” she says and he glares at her from the corner of his eye.
“Excuse me,” says Michael pointedly. “Is there something going on back there that’s more important than avoiding an eternity of torture in fiery hell pits? No? Good, that’s what I thought."
Chidi stays behind when Michael and the others leave, ostensibly to help her tidy up. This basically involves moving a chair back in place and throwing out the donut box. What a mess.
She hops up to sit on the edge of the counter while Chidi finishes brushing cinnamon sugar crumbs off the counter and absentmindedly slings the dishtowel over his shoulder. Is that a French thing? It’s definitely not something she should find even a little bit attractive.
He puts his hands on his hips — something she would have called prissy a couple of weeks ago — and scans the counter before looking up. Eleanor realizes she’s just been sitting there staring at him and looks away fast.
“What?” he says.
“What what?” she says, a little too loudly.
He cocks his head, watching her until she meets his gaze. He opens his mouth, then closes it again. Eleanor huffs out a sigh and crosses her arms over her chest, concentrating on the feel of the flannel under her hands.
“Spit it out,” she says. “Whatever you want to ask me.”
He gives her a measured look, less ruffled than she’d expect.
“Did you find out anything else important? About us being here?”
Eleanor frowns and shakes her head.
“Not really. It was mostly just. You know.”
“Okay, then,” he says, like that’s the end of the conversation, and takes the towel off his shoulder to hang it on the edge of the sink. Instead of saying anything else, he picks up his copy of the Character Manifesto briefing packet Michael had handed out and bends over, elbows on the counter while he flips through it.
“… that’s it?” Eleanor says after a minute has gone by in silence. “You have nothing more to say.”
He looks up at her, frowning slightly, and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
“What do you want me to say?” he says.
“The thing you know you want to ask!” she says, uncrossing her arms and slapping her palms on the counter on either side of her in emphasis.
He looks even more lost now, which is so annoying. She wants to wipe that confused look right off his face.
“What thing I know I want to ask?!” he says, exasperated and she rolls her eyes.
“Um, for me to give you the tape, dummy? I know you want to see the whole thing.”
He blinks at her twice, finger still holding his place in the briefing book.
“No, I don’t,” he says slowly and she laughs a little hysterically.
“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills,” she says, and she knows her voice is getting loud by the way his mouth is turning down at the corners. She thinks of every guy she’s ever boned and tries to imagine any of them turning down the chance to watch any sex tape, let alone one of someone they knew. Let alone one with them in it. That someone else had already watched. And sure, she’s no Tahani, but she’s got a pretty sweet bod of her own under here; definitely the kind guys should want to see naked. Even philosophy nerds. Especially philosophy nerds.
“Let me guess,” she says. “Because you’re such a good person? Because you’d never want to take advantage of someone like that? Because you’ve transcended basic mortal flaws like lust? What happened to that academic curiosity, huh?” She’s needling him now and she barely knows why, but there’s a kind of bone-deep satisfaction when he slams his book shut and straightens up to face her.
“Because why would I want to watch something I can’t have?” he blurts out, and it sounds extra loud in contrast to the silence that follows.
Eleanor’s stomach does something complicated and intense. It’s her turn to open her mouth, then close it again. Chidi looks incredibly chagrined and is staring somewhere at the ceiling over her shoulder.
“Which is to say— I mean—“
“Oh,” she says, and her voice sounds smaller than she expected. Chidi lets out a long exhale and lets his eyes drop, still not looking at her.
“So yeah,” he says after a pause. “Anyway. I’m going to go now, and… spend some time…. wishing I were dead. Which, actually, I am!” he gives a strangled laugh. “So it’ll be nicely ironic.”
Eleanor feels frozen, her mind racing and pulse high. She’d thought — well, it seemed like those other versions of themselves had a whole different thing going on between them. But maybe not, after all.
“Who—“ she starts, feeling flushed, then swallows and tries again. “Who said it’s something you can’t have?”
He looks up at her sharply, eyes intense behind his glasses.
“Eleanor,” he says, a warning note in his voice. “Don’t.”
“I’m not,” she says, knowing what he means. “I’m not,” and it’s true.
She’s less than a foot away from him, where she’s sitting on the counter, and she’s had plenty of practice already, being brave for both of them. She leans toward him, reaching out to use the front of his shirt to tug him closer.
“Come here,” she says, and her own voice sounds strange. And then he’s close enough and she leans in and kisses him. It’s nothing wild. That would feel wrong. Instead she tilts her head a bit to fit their lips together in a way she’s hella into. She lets go of his shirt and presses her palm flat against his chest, which is broad and warm. Chidi makes a tiny noise in the back of his throat and steps closer, letting his hands rest cautiously on her legs and she makes a pleased sound and wraps one ankle around the back of his thigh to pull him closer.
When they finally stop, her face is flushed and he’s breathing hard. They’re basically eye to eye and she searches his face for a reaction. Freakout? Lust monster?
Instead he smiles and it’s a look she doesn’t think she’s seen on him before. At least not in this lifetime.
“Hey,” he says, letting one hand drift upward to dip under the hem of her shirt, fingers gliding across the skin of her back.
“Hi,” she says back, feeling shy in a way she’s not sure she’s ever actually been. The urge is overwhelming to say something stupid to break the tension, maybe how she can show him just exactly what was on that video. Maybe how pissed she is at Michael if this is what he keeps making them forget.
But Chidi knows her. He knows her. Instead of letting her fill the silence, he brings both hands up to her face and leans in to kiss her again. Her mouth is opening under his before she even knows what’s happening and oh, hell yes. She could get very very used to this.