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Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Romance/Love · #883275
When you're still alone even after high school
[Introduction]
When high school ended they were still alone. even if they were in a relationship they were empty feelings, a pointless life. Then they went to college and they were determined to make it change. They want to have friends that liked them, they want happiness, safety and love.

This campfire is about how they make friends, how they're lives change and about love, betrayal and hope.

RULES:

Each person that joins will need to write their own character bio in their first go.

There can be up to 12 guys and 12 girls but hopefully not a too uneven number of either is fine really...

Relationships can form between any sex but keep it within the rating.

Please don't make beautiful, perfect, rocket scientists for characters. Everyone has there faults and weaknesses.

Questions can be answered in the Group:
 Ever Onwards Group  (13+)
A place for the writers in the campfire Ever Onwards to come together and discuss...
#1270725 by Dr Matticakes Myra


HAVE FUN! That's the most important thing!


Name: Dylan Watts
Age: 19
Birthday: September 4th
Gender: Male
Sexuality: Bi


Personality: Dylan likes to be different. He's temperamental, loves a laugh but then might fall into a hole of sullen, philosophical depression. Mostly he's a good listener and knows how to help people but he's very closed off. Feircly loyal to his friends but he's not exactly the sort of guy you just approach and he can be a complete dick if he does not like you. Not antisocial around people he's close with, slightly over protective. Loud, llikes attention, he likes to be different. Lives for his music and his guitar.

Appearence: He's a typical punk rocker sorta guy, he wears dark jeans, multiple belts, either band logo tshirts or dark coloured shirts but he loves to look good. He wont wear what makes him look formless as he likes to show off. He often wears a black jacket. His hair is naturally blond but right now he's dyed black with electric blue streaks. Last week it was blond with red tips and he might revert to that soon. He has several tattoos, a tattoo of a small scorpian at the small of his back and a raven, wings flared out across his shoulder blades. Eyeliner doned, peicings - five in his left ear, three in his right, one through his eyebrow. He's naturally quite pale and his skin is flawless though most people dont look at him long enough to notice.

Family: He's lived on his own since he w as 17 because he got kicked out of his home for being caught with another guy. Still sees his younger sister from time to time.
Name: Isaac Farmer
Age: 21
Birthday: May 23
Gender: Male
Sexuality: Straight

Personality: Laid-back, but still caring and protective of those close to him. He only loses his temper in dire situations.

Appearance: Isaac is 5' 11" with dark brown, spiked hair, a small goatee, and blue-gray eyes. Alternates his clothes between white, black, red, and blue, almost the only color clothes he has.

Family: Left his family to go off to college, currently enrolled in one of the local universities, where he lives in a dorm with two roommates, a friend of his and his friends girlfriend.

Name: Ella Blaine
Age: 19
Birthday: 14th August
Gender: Female
Sexuality: Straight (although when she's drunk or high she loses herself)

Personality: Ella is a party girl gone wild. She drinks and does drugs and often wakes up not able to fully remember the night before in a bed she doesn't recognise. She is in the 'in crowd'and the 'popular' boys are interested in her but she finds herself unable to take pleasure from this fact. She just wants to party her life away but doesn't seem to be getting the happiness out of it that she used to so she is becoming more and more reckless with her own safety, she has been to hospital to have her stomach pumped at least 4 times and has been arrested for drug use once, yet she still won't stop. She is dangerously close to loosing it all together but still goes out every night clubbing then turns up to lectures hours late. Her school life isn't important to her; she's studying medcine which she hates.

Appearance: Ella is thin, well endowed and tall; about 5'10" with straight red (not ginger)hair that is just longer than shoulder length and usually she wears bright beads in it. Her eyes are dark liquid brown and she wears a lot of make-up. She wears jeans or short skirts with heels most of the time and especially loves her black boots. Her ears are pierced twice on one side, once on the other and her nose and belly button are pierced. She has a tattoo of a butterfly on the right side of her lower back. Ella loves her jewelry, often wearing lots of bangles or large dangly earings.

Family/History: Ella has rich parents who don't really care about her. They sent her off to the good schools and colleges and she got kicked out of half of them but they didn't really even register. Ella and her brother Logan are pretty much left to their own devices. The two are very close and Logan is the only one who can really control her. He's four years older than her and is working as an intern at a major law firm.

I sighed as I wandered through the empty house that I was abandoning as my home. It wasn't a comforting thought, but I'd needed to get out of here for so long... I turned and walked out of my now barren room, the last small box of personal belongings held tightly to my chest. Yes, I was finally leaving. I would miss this place, but I'd certainly get over it. I made it out to the battered ford that was now cramped with a selection of my junk and carelessly tossed the box in. A couple of neighbours watched me warily, as if they expected me to start yelling my head off.

I wasn't so surprised. I'd been pretty moody over the week, after all. You see, my father had 'coincidentally' forgotten to tell me that he was taking the rest of my family away from the old house where they'd always lived, moving away for good it seemed as he followed his job... Yeah we werent on speaking terms but the cold letter that had come in the mail had made my life shatter for the second time since I'd been kicked out. Now I'd never see my sister again... Not for a long time at least... Not that we saw each other much anyway..

I sighed again, knowing that my own move from this place to my new one about eight miles away would be better for me but not wanting to really be that close to college. Inevitably it would be easier... My gaze quickly swept over the building saw the faces peering down at me. I didn't offer any kind of smile. Why should I? I had no reason to be happy for them. I sat down on the bonnet of my car, slipping one hand into my pocket, searching for my lucky strikes and sighing when I discovered the empty pocket.

Today would be moving in day and I had to start soon if I was ever going to be finished by tomorrow which would be absolutely necerssary. It was amazing how everything had fitted into my car, despite the face that the driver's seat was the only one that wasnt cramped up with junk.

With a last empty glance up at the high rise I finally sat myself down in the car, turned on the radio so it was loud enough to drown out the engine that buzzed merrily beneath my hands and then I was off. Praying that life was going to get easier with this... A fresh start maybe? I caught sight of the peircing through my eyebrow. Maybe not... Clean slates can't be made with dirty water.
Name: Rory Constant
Age: 19
Birthday: 5th May
Gender: Female
Sexuality: Bi-curious.(straight, but curious)

Personality: Rory is fairly quiet around some people, but crazy around strangers and close friends. She is extremely clever, but also very arty, and she hates all her academic courses.
People have high expectations of her, and always make comments that get to her like- You're wasting your brains. All she wants to do is paint, most of the time, and so this authoritarian attitude really gets to her, and she acts out. She has suffered from two mental breakdowns, and has been hospitalised for stress-related injuries.
A people pleaser, she often finds herself bending over backwards for people she doens't even like, because she is paranoid that she will be left, alone, with no friends. She also had a weak atteneion span, and gets distracted from her work too easily.

Appearence: Rory is five ft ten, with willowy limbs and barely-there curves. Her hair is naturally long and mousy, but last season, her agent cut it all off into a pixie crop and bleached it platinum blonde. It's taken her a while to get used to. She has a tattoo of a phoenix just above her right ankle, on the inside of her leg.
Her eyes are a dark hazel, and generally vary between a dark blue-green, and a soft brown. The jawline of her face is defined, but features are fairly angular, but they are smooth, not bird like, and her lips are bow shaped. her nose is fairly straight.
She generally wears high fashion, kooky clothes, stolen or bought from the shows, with value village finds. This makes her look somewhat like a dirty hipster.

Family/history: At the age of fifteen Rory was scouted by a modelling agent. She is now considered to be the epitome of the waif generation, and is popular by any standards, and the wear and tear shows on her face.
Often the pressures in the industry pile up on her so much that she breaks down. She is hounded by perverts, and yet has never had any vague form of a real relationship since before she entered the industry. This leads her to trail round new york's Clubs and shows, drinking herself into oblivion.
She was home schooled from the age of sixteen, and is originaly from england, moving over to the states for college and shows. Her cousin is an american by the name of Dylan watts, and she frequently telephones him from her lonely loft in new york, by the university. He is the only family she has left, the rest living in england.
I walked through the school, determined to just be invisible, which was extremely hard for me to do. I was never known as a lady killer, but since graduating high school, I've had numerous girls, and guys, ask me out. The guys asking was kinda creepy, but people have their own way of life.

Sure enough, there was no way I was going to make it outta this day without the constant badgering of a date. For once, I would like to ask a girl out. But, for some odd reason, they always beat me to the punch and I quickly lost interest. Easy and forward girls are a major turn-off.

After being barraged by half a dozen students wanting a date, I managed to sneak into one of the less used hallways, where I could think. It was there I met Ella. Rumor has it she's somewhat of a floosy, but I can tell from the expression on her face that she doesn't get any real pleasure from that kinda life.

I stopped to say hi, giving my friendly smile, and she gave me a shy one back, unusual for Ella. Oh, well, maybe she really is trying to change. She seemed like she just had another rough night, and needed some cheering up.

"Hey, Ella, you wanna get a mocha?"
A Non-Existent User
Name: Elizabeth Slone
Age: 18
Birthday: Oct. 20th
Gender: Female
Sexuality: Straight

Personality: Timid, but not overly shy. She has a soft-spoken air about her that makes her easy to talk to. Doesn't talk much her self, mostly listens. Although she can be quite she's slightly overprotective of those she's closed to. Her one weakness is drinking, she simply can't resist if she's with friends or at a party.(even though she's underage)

Apperance: a little bit on the shorter side only 5'5 but has soft curves. She has shoulder length dark brown hair that is layered and wavy. Her eyes are a deep, dark brown and has a natural pale complexion. Wears mostly neutral colors but loves headbands. She has only in almost every color and style you could think of.

Family/History: Grew up in a foster home until just recentley.She currently boards at one of her local universities. Was arrested once of twice for drinking underage. Was in rehab for like a week to try and get rid of her 'problem' as her foster parents called it. It didn't work. Trying to not drink as much and working on a career in pyschology.
(Sorry guys I'm swamped with work so I haven't time to add in this round, I promise I'll make time next round though!) - So Matt has come to the rescue to save the ropey addition.

***

I was in need of a mocha or at least something sweet and full of caffeine. My head was pounding, the blood echoing through the vessels sqeezing my skull and I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed. Sure I was skipping my medics lecture but... right now I couldn't bring myself to care. I had plans for tonight, and was prepared with my reknown hipflask of vodka in my right hand pocket.

With a sighed I smiled again at Isaac. I didn't speak to him that often and more often than not he was the one to approach me which is fine, it's kind of sweet the way he sets time aside for me, despite my lack of enthusiasm for anything during the daylight hours.

"That would be a godsend," I finally managed to say and pulled myself to my feet, pausing, grimacing as I felt the blood rush to my head and it pulsated painfully. God how much had I drunk last night? I didn't want to remember... Absinth was deadly. No wonder some places weren't allowed to sell it. The green fairy never seemed to leave you alone. Isaac sent me a pitying grin, or was it understanding? I couldn't tell but I wanted it to be the latter.

"Starbucks or L'Ouragan?"

"L'Ouragan." I replied instantly, only Amelie could make the perfect brew, the little french woman, although not having a huge cafe, was amazing with coffee, so much better than the universal mistake that was Starbucks.

"Right," He seemed pleased by my choice and we headed out, "L'Ouragan, mocha and I think you need an extra shot of expresso."

I merely nodded. Words really, really hurt my head.

I guess it was no surprise when I heard a knock at the door and found my cousin sitting on my mat, looking exactly like the fed up little girl she had been when we'd lived in the UK. I smiled, letting her in. She was earlier than I had expected but the coffee was on and she slumped into my faded armchair with a wry grin,

"You'd never guess this room was part of New York," she said, looking around.

She was right, of course. The whole place looked like it had been taken straight out of a British household, the sofa and wooden tables included. For the design of the flat, it seemed almost ironic how old-school the place seemed. I laughed a little and poured out two mugs of the liquid perfection that was pure, ground coffee from the cafetiere.

"Yeah, I guess. Something die hard, y'know?"

"Too true, you remember my place?" She grinned and I couldn't help but chuckle this time.

"Yeah, of course. How could I forget your giant painting of the aberdeen angus across your wall?"

With a wide smile that lit up her eyes she took a long sip of her coffee and I couldn't help but feel proud as her eyes closed in contentment. I had always prided myself on my coffee, having learnt from the best, the one and only Amelie.

"Oh... yeah... We'd better get going right?" I glanced at my watch a little while later. We were mid-way through an episode of her favourite anime and she made a disgruntled 'shmeh' at me as I switched off the television.

"Come on, we've both got classes to get to."

"I know, I know." She grumbled, holding out her hands for me to lit her to her feet. I obliged, knowing otherwise we weren't ever going to leave the living area.

Studying both art and english we had pretty much the same timetable only she took one extra art class and I had a couple more english lectures during the week. I yawned, forcing her out the door and towards the street. It was a relief to see her so soon after moving but I knew that if today was anything to go by, she'd soon end up living infront of my television.

"Rorrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyy...." I whined as she stopped midway down the stairs to tie up her shoes again.

"Dyyyyyylllaaaaaaaannnnn..." She whined right back as I poked her then she span around and looked at me straight in the eye, "What's your love life doing?"

I raised an eyebrow. What the hell? Where did that come from? "I'm single..."

"Pretend that you're my boyfriend just for today?" Her eyes turned puppyish. How dare she use that face on me!

"Why?"

"Just... pretend?"

I couldn't say no. Those stupid eyes of hers... I grimaced and nodded as she lept for joy and continuing down the stairs and out onto the street.

What had I just got myself into? I wasn't sure. But I knew that I was about to find out.
Adrenalin coursed through my veins in ice cold tendrils. It was unsettling, the weight of the energy rocking back and forth through my body as though I was a battered raft, palpitating on the ocean that swept majestically under the Verrazano Bridge. My eyes wandered dizzily as i felt the blood rush to my head.

"You look really, really odd." Dylan said carefully. "Are you sure you're up to this lecture?"

"I'm not going to the lecture." I mumbled into my faded blue spandex dress as I groped into an implausibly large handbag for a battered box of Cigarettes. The box was crumpled and worn, the faded blue diagonals of the 'Parliament' sign beginning to leak into each other. With a quick shake I established that there were still death sticks lurking in the depths of the great white leather monster. I glared sullenly at the dirty smears of oil paints that clung to my brown leather jacket, as my fingers finally clenched around a patent pink card case. "and neither are you. We're going to visit this chap."

I brandished a card in his face as though i were showing him a prised catch. The words on the card faced me, but they danced around the page, with no focus. Dylan grabbed the card and turned it around. Recognition flashed through his cerulean blue eyes.

"This guy is a really famous photographer..you have work? If so i'm not bloody coming."

"That...guy" I spat the last word out, poisonous thoughts entering my head at the thought of working with him, "That guy is stalking me. And we're going to confront him."

Dylan's face looked visibly agitated. He realized that confronting one of the most powerful players in the industry would have serous consequences on her fluctuating income and, worse, on her visa. He also knew that his beloved cousin had a history of mental lapses, and now looked visibly shaken. My eyes darted wildly around the city.

"I think we should go to the lecture. Just avoid the guy, or leave an anonymous tip off. I want you here in New York, where I can keep an eye on you."

Dark thoughts bolted through my mind like quick silver, volatile and bitter. "Are you suggesting that I'm going to have another..you know what. Because if you are, I can leave this street right now and lose myself in the biggest density of population this side of Shanghai."

"No, I'm suggesting that this man lives in Paris."

"Not today. It's a vogue editorial shoot next week with the Lilies," I flexed my hand at the mention of other models, fidgeting whilst i ommited the fact that I was to be in the shoot to, dressed to the nines in Edwardian wedding dresses and parasols. But i do have to go to lectures. I have Italian in ten minutes."

"You don't do Italian, we have American Lit next." Cool logic echoed from Dylan's mouth, as i looked into his angular face. His eyeliner was uneven and smudged, and the flawless complexion reminded me of a porcelain doll. The roof of my mouth was arid and my tongue kept grating against it. My lips puckered. I could feel my body beginning to slow down to a normal rate with the sensibleness of his American drawl. Melodies of welsh and english created a soothing discord with the long, easy tones. Dylan was right, not thinking about things often made it better. Which was apparently why she had still not told him my news.

"I don't do American Lit anymore. I dropped all my literature classes and took up Italian and French. And Russian. I still do writing, prose and um...that other one." My heart began to murmur as I waited for his reaction.

Dylan looked somewhat shocked, hurt dancing visibly across his face before relief made his translucent skin crease into an easy smile of slight puzzlement. I hated the red blooded American Males on the lit staff, clashed with their views on good literature and frequently missed their classes. The majority of the language lecturers were from their own countries and he clearly recognized that I would feel safer. Linguistic skills ran through me from generations of Constants that couldn't think of a serious subject to study and instead had traveled the world. Confusion still contorted over his face, "But you're semi-fluent in French and Ita..."

"I know."

"so the teacher's...."

"love me. Are normal. Couldn't tell an English model from a twig."

We began to amble slowly down the street, navigating past the tourists and street artists with an elegance that only the beautiful and the young of such a city could muster. The campus was an easy fifteen minutes walk from here. An unspoken accord had settled between us and melded into our pale skins like a glamour. "You're going to be late you know."

"This is exactly why we are heading to Amelia's, so I can bribe my lovely, big Italian teacher with sticky French confections. I don't doubt that you have too much blood in your caffeine system anyway. I believe you get....shakes?" My eyes drifted to his hands as though they were checking them of their own accord. He carried a white MacBook in one hand and a pad of doodles in the other. My face broke into a smile. My beloved shiny laptop, also a MacBook, but the lightweight aluminum Pro, was jostling out of my handbag with my punk rock troll, who's blue mohican was now sandwiched between the keyboard and the screen. A paint brush stuck out of my pixie crop behind one ear. If we hadn't already been related, we should have been.
Ella and I walked down the corner to the quant coffee shop. She looked like she had a serious hangover. And she probably did. She was a party animal, and she was almost always drunk. Or in the middle of a hangover.

We ordered our drinks and I paid Amelie, after Ella had tried to convince me that she could pay for herself. I insisted, and she was too hungover to really continue with an argument. We sat down and added some nuts to my mocha. She smiled when she saw me do that.

"Do you always do that?"

"Most of the time. Adds a little more flavor, not that it needs it, I just prefer to have it in there, kinda like with my ice cream."

She giggled, and I smiled. She must be starting to feel better. Amelie's mochas really helped with hangover's.
A Non-Existent User
Elizabeth was sitting at one of the tables at L'Ouragan, drinking a mocha and just watching people. That was mostly all she did, watch people, try to figure out what they were thinking. Unless of course she was with her friends, but that's a different story.

There was an old man sitting in the corner, witha far off expression; he was probably thinking about his past. Toward the middle of the cafe there were these two college age looking kids talking. The girl looked like she had a serious hangover though. Two more people walked into the cafe, one was carrying a notebook and something else, and the other one a puse.

Elizabeth had to admit, this place was pretty popular. It was always packed with people, and their mochas weren't half bad either.
It was one of her favorite places to think so why not, she had nothing better to do.
Name: Melanie Crevas (Mel)
Gender: Female
Age: 21
Birthday: 7th June

Appearance: Has long, sleek, dark brown hair that she usually keeps wrapped up in a bun, quite tall at 5'9 and 145lbs. Has those long legs, good looks and basically beautiful all round appearance. Stunning face proportions - high cheek bones, full lips and soft brown eyes. With a typical model's slenderness, she hates her barely B cup cleavage, and wishes for a bigger bum. Usually seen sporting slim fit jeans and a string top, with a zip up hoody. She doesn't like to wear makeup, unless for work.

Personality: Although a bit shy at first, Mel craves social contact. She loves nothing more than a low key night at the local bar with a group of mates, or a day out at the park. Naturally sporty, she loves basketball, but no longer plays very often. A romantic, she's alwyas on the look out for her Mr. Right.

Family/History: Mel decided to enter for college later than most people - and she's studying Psychology because she wants to get away from her career. She's a professional model - almost making it to super model life, but she wants something more. She doesn't like the way everyone thinks she's that another pretty airhead. She's a friendly character, and seems to fit in with everyone, once they've got past their own shyness towards someone they always see in the magazines. She just wants to be thought of as 'normal'. She has a brother, Alan, who is married with 2 kids, and very healthy parents who are currently climbing rocks somewhere in the desert.

My cousin calls the way I sit the 'emo-don't-look-at-me' pose. Shoulders slumping and face tilted so it's slightly obscured. She used to wonder where I developed such an insecure posture. I dont have to guess. I'm fairly certain it's the remnants of being kicked out of my house, being dumped by my boyfriend and generally having little to no support during a time when I needed it most.

The way she sat in her comfy, cafe-lounge chair was completely different. Her back straight and face turned so that the sun fell on it, striking her already defined bone structure. She'd be a perfect person to draw... I know that... I think she knows that as she raises her eyebrow at me. She's noticed my fingers twitching towards my bag.

"You going to doodle something daft or not?" She inquires finally. I wander if she's forgotten why we're here seeing as she certainly doesnt seem to be buying 'sticky confectionaries' at the moment.

"Nah. Some other time." I could feel my heart sinking but knew it would be better that we do what we need to do and get to class. I needed to go to that lesson especially...

"Who's caught your eye?" She smirked at me, the knowing glimmer, that had taken over from the wild look she'd had before, shining in her eyes.

"Just someone. I'll tell you about it all later ok? I just kinda need to get going."

"Oh yeah! Bribery!" She leapt up spinning away over the shop like a pixie would flicker through the trees.
I rested my weight onto my right foot, encased in black patent dominatrix platforms that I'd nicked from a recent show. They were entirely inappropriate, which is why I loved them. My feet emitted a dull ache but it was barely noticeable above the deafening pulse that radiated throughout my body. My skin prickled at the sensation, and I tensed my arms. As I did this, three crisp dollar bills, which were clenched in my fists like a gambling bet, grated against the calloused skin of my palm. I'd forgotten to take my pills in the morning, although part of me thought that I'd done it on purpose. Drugged up, I was a different person, and once in a while it felt great to be alive.

My eyes darted around the room as I waited for the doughnuts to arrive. The place was a bohemian magnet, filled with hipsters talking about post modernism in nonsensical abbreviations and Nike dunks, tweens dressed in head to toe urban outfitters desperately trying to attract attention from the hipsters, and then the misfits who just didn't give a fuck. It was in this corner that I felt my pupils land on a familiar face. Flame red hair had been pulled back into a disheveled heap on the crown of her head and she still wore the makeup from the last party we had crashed together, three weeks ago. Her eyes, normally a deep liquid brown, were glazed over with pain and she clutched a mocha in her pale hands. I looked sadly at Ella as I took in her posture, which was contorted into what appeared to be a ball.

It was true that fucked up people often stuck together. Ella and I often drunk away our troubles, although we did not see each other much outside of the club circuit. There was a silent understanding between us that we never discussed our issues with anyone other than each other, because at least we knew that the other would be too drunk to remember, and even our friends moved in different circles. In fact, my demand from Dylan this morning had been a rare occurence. Had I been able to convince the photographer that I was a lesbian, Dylan probably would not have known at all. He cared too much, that was his problem. He also had his own shit to worry about without mine on top of that. Like his little sister.

The only issue with my normal plans was that the photographer would have been so cock sure that he would have attempted to 'convert' me anyway. Bastard.

"Oy! Ella!" I yelled across the cafe as the till pinged into place and I automatically handed the notes to Amelie's assistant, a bubbly girl named Jennifer that liked to talk, alot. Suddenly I glanced across at my hand, bemused that it's reactions were so mechanical. Royal blue nail varnish glinted up at me, although my fingers seemed to absorb all the light in the room. They were blue black with the stains of oil pastels and God knows what. "I don't feel like going out tonight, wanna come to Coney island with me at 8? Bring... your friend. We'll take the subway!"

She looked up, recognising my voice but finding it difficult to place me when in the daylight hours. She looked positively shattered. Her nose rings glinted in the light that was flooding through the window in golden shafts. With her hair and clothes she managed to look on fire, and yet her eyes were colder than the darkest depths of space. She caught my eye, as if to say that she had a problem she needed to get off her chest, and gave a single nod. The boy she was with turned around and smiled as if approving of my slow tempo, the grin eaching his grey eyes. That was unusual, no one in New York was ever happy for long.

A Non-Existent User
'Oh my' Elizabeth thought as she looked down at her watch. She was late for her job at a restaurant down the street.

As she walked along the crowed block that lead up to Riverbottom (the place she worked) she thought of all she'd seen in the cafe.

'Didn't that girl say she was going to cooney island tonight?' Elizabeth thought as she walked. 'That's where I'm going when I get off work. Funny how things work out, isn't it?
Mel: "I've told you, I'm not taking the job." I said forcefully into my mobile. I missed the next sentence as a car drove past. "What? No, because I'm studying now. I want to study, here, and THERE is in London. I can't miss so much on teh first semester."

More garbled protests from my agent, and I moved the phone away from my ear so that I could concentrate on crossing the road.

"...keep up like this I won't be able to get you any jobs, Melanie. Get your tiny butt over there."

"No can do, mi amigo," I told him cheerfully. "I'll call you next week. Bye now!"

I have to tell you, it feels good not to work. I do runway, that sort of thing. Much easier, no-one knows you. 'Not like Rory,' I thought, just as I ran into her.

Bodily.

"Oh excuse me!" I started, before realising who it was. "Rory Constant?"

I've worked with her once on a shoot... but of course there was no recognition in her eyes as she looked at me.

"Look, you weirdo, if I get one more stalker I swear I will hunt each of you down and murder you myself. Get out of my face."

she turned to storm out of my path, but I grabbed her arm. She swiftly turned back and landed a very strong karate chop to my left arm, to which I let go.

"I'm not a stalker! I worked with you once..." I straightened up and took advantage of her suspicious silence. "My name is Mel Crevas. I don't expect you to remember me... but I just wanted you to know I'm not stalking you."

"Right," she said, looking confused. "Er... thanks."

I smiled and headed off... it's always weird when yuou bump into another model, it's so competetive out there! But this isn't what life is about.

I'm going to study! I'm going to get a degree!

And with a very big smile, I was on my way.

"Do you want to participate Mr Watts?" The voice of the teacher boomed upwars at him. Usually he had a lot to say in class discussion, he liked these lectures and when the floor was open to debate he realy appreciated the chance.

Today he looked up and felt other people looking at him and wanted to hide, "No sir, the points I can think of... have been covered."

Normally he would have tried biting the bullet and making something up but... Not today. He wasn't up for the challenge. He couldn't concentrate. He couldn't think. He wanted Rory back in class with him. He didn't like be the only one... Like this. He had loved having his cousin with him... At least she'd be happier doing her languages. Words, though part of her life, were not part of her personality. Art, language, beauty; they were there. Pressure to lose something else she loved might really hurt her.

HE scowled into his hands and stared in surprise at the blank page in front of him. He knew there was going to be an assignment on this module but he couldn't bring himself to care. He looked up at his teacher ho was now talking again and caught his eye. It wasn't his fault... That he was the way he was... Why couldn't he rely on just himself? He stared harder into the dark blue of the man's eyes and saw a sparkle there that he sometimes thought only he could see and knew... that was why...
"....E' perchè la gente non sa scrivere, perchè i giornalisti non sanno l'italiano o perchè ormai l'italiano sta divetando una lingua morta el'inglese è il futuro per tutti? A me non piace poi così tanto. E spero lei mi possa illuminare su questa questione." I felt the words roll of my tongue, in a peculiar way that I could not make English, my own native language, do. People are often mistaken in that they assume that Italians speak fast, when in fact, it is that they speak so slowly and fluidly that the words roll into each other giving them a wonderful lilt. When speaking in english, my ideas come out so quickly that I speak in a jumble of words, my brain constantly firing off ideas until no one, not even Dylan, can keep up with me. Italian, on the other hand, gave me time to rearrange my thoughts.

Blinking in the harsh lighting, I tucked a strand of white blonde hair behind my ear, and wished longingly for my long mousy locks. Since leaving the cafe I had donned a pair of white calf skin opera gloves, to hide the grazing on my hand from where I'd fallen earlier. Eyes bored into me as though they were searching for someone else, as though I were, in fact, a mask and standing behind me was a little green man in a coat. I looked up at the auditorium where the twenty odd people in my Italian media class sat, waiting for me to leave the podium. They were dispersed throughout the fairly large room sparsely, little knots of people in a variety of colours. At the back sat the three Casanovas of the language block, but it was not them who caught my attention.

Sidling into the auditorium, a few minutes late, was the girl who had crashed into me a few minutes earlier and whom I had....karate chopped. Fucking medication. Why did I always forget my medication? For a second, my mind drifted off to a peculiar excuse Ella had once made for me involving the percentage of calories in Baileys, but then I felt myself snap back to reality. Mel Crevas. That was her name.

Her nose was straight and long, and her eyebrows dark and definite as they arched above her big brown eyes, framing her face. It struck Rory instantaneously that the girl was more of an Artist's muse, rather than a model. This did not reflect on the girl's beauty, but the striking eyes would distract from any clothes. She knew instantaneously that Dylan would itch to draw the girl, as one might know that a piece of clothing was perfect for a friend. Ambers, ochres and peaches shon through her warmer skin tone, but I could detect a faint blue in the shadows of her chin, reflecting off her ultramarine hoodie.

With a second glance, I walked up the steps to my seat, at the other end of the same row. She shot me a rather puzzled look. From the end of the row, I studied her textbooks as I listened to a rather insane Texan called George bumble half heartedly trough his essay on politics in the Italian media. The Idiot had picket a difficult topic, whereas I had chosen to ask why Italian wasn't being used in major publications like Vogue Italia, giving me an excuse to waffle on about the beauty of the language, and therefore to win the heart of my rather jovial grey haired Signora. 'The advanced psychology of the human need for institutions', 'Criminal Psychology', 'The principles of psychology'. With a safe bet, I could tell that she was a psych major.

The wooden benches of the old auditorium were calloused, and carved. I had sat reasonably high up in the amphitheater, and from here could see the words, "Hello Mrs Wank-off" carved into the low, paneled ceiling with a pen knife. No doubt addressed to the dean of languages, a simpering idiot of a woman who had the tendency to patronize people of greater intelligence than her, which was anyone ranging from freshmen to the flamboyant Colonel, who had fought for Mussolini in the first world war and yet still managed to infiltrate the teaching staff of the university.

Even George, droning away at the front in an accent that sounded almost Portuguese, was better at languages than her. Poor guy, I really did like him, if only because his southern lilt calms me down to the point where I almost fall off the bench in a stupor. This therefore means that I can function without medication on days we have classes together, without the loss of any limbs or sanity. It's funny how all of the senses can be tricked by one musical voice, when they normally need 50ccs of medication to muffle them to a normal level.
I didn't mind leaving the coffee shop at that moment. After all, I had been through with my mocha for a few minutes, and Ella had just finished hers. She chided me about drinking so fast when Rory walked up.

We left the coffee shop and headed towards the subway. I hated the subway, but it beat the hell out of walking. And right now it wouldn't be so busy. It would be close to time for Italian class when we arrived back at campus.

Personally, I prefered Greek.
Name: Loki Stevens
Age: 18
Birthday: March 30th
Gender: Male
Sexuality: Bi

Personality: Loki is a bright eyed adventurer who likes to learn about things the best way he knows how, by talking to people. He tends to have a short attention span unless he’s very into the conversation at hand. He notices strange things around him in explicit detail, and then can move onto something new in a flash of a second. He never sits still for long, and this was a fact that disturbed his teachers to no end. He has two simultaneous loves, food (especially sweet things like pie) and his drums. He’s been playing drums since he was about 2 and banging on kitchen pots. It’s a toss up on which is more important to him, never give him the ultimatum: your drums or your pie, you’d short circuit his mind. He tends to have this air of selfishness about himself, because he’ll delve deep into your mind, but not leave you with much information about him. This doesn’t mean he won’t tell you, but it does mean you’ll have to really enforce your questions on him, because he’ll be too interested in finding out about you than talking about himself. In the middle of his High School years he was transferred to a school where he met someone who he could talk with for hours, even though they never said much by way of quantity of words. He ended up in a band with him and when they went to college, they found out they were going to the same place, so they decided to room together. The only possession he has that is important to him is his drums. He dresses in whatever comes his way, he never had much by way of clothes, so he tends to buy at thrift stores when he has money, just so he can get clothes and then go out for food afterwards. He really loves food. He eats all the time, but never seems to get fat, he moves around too much for that. Oh, and he likes to eat. He went to college because he could learn more about music there, and everyone seemed to think it was a good idea.

Appearance: Loki is obsessed with food, and is most often seen with some in his hands. This could be a sandwich, a bag of chips or a drink. Because he is so active, it doesn’t seem to affect his weight. He is tall, broad shouldered, and looks strong to most people who glance at him. He has deep blue eyes and black hair that seems to have a tint of blue to some of the strands. His face looks soft, smooth lines and an easy type of grace that makes a person feel rather relaxed when looking at him. He also seems to have the ability to look both old and wise, and young and innocent, depending on what he’s saying at that given moment. He takes care of his body the best he knows how, which usually means eating food and bathing regularly.

Family: Loki was seen as an unsuitable child from day one, and was given up to an adoption agency within his first year. He never knew his parents, and was adopted, then returned, six times throughout his life. His last parents kept him as they got him just before he was an adult, and they don’t really pay much attention to him overall. They gave him an allowance, and let him run around and do whatever he wanted. It’s because of this that he doesn’t really think much of parents, and he doesn’t trust people very easily. He learned to cope with the loneliness by becoming active and talking to people about themselves. He seems to have no real knowledge of how to deal with other people, but he does so by talking to them. He has no siblings, that he knows, and he wouldn’t really want to know about it if he did. He doesn’t get close to very many people, even though he is often surrounded by people he calls friends. He gets along with almost every type of person there is.
Name: Kanogisdi Brown
Age: 18
Birthday: February 6th
Gender: Male
Sexuality: Gay


Personality: Kanogisdi shortened his name to Kano early in life and that is the name his
few friends know him by. He is quiet and serious, having never learned to be social.
Playing instruments and writing songs are his favorite endeavors. Whenever he's alone he
is doing one or the other. When he speaks he tends to say exactly what comes to his mind.
A habit he's had reason to regret. Many people in his high school thought he was stuck
up because he hardly talked to anyone, but it's more a matter of being uncertain what to
say. He plays flute, wooden flute, penny whistle, clarinet, harp, lap harp, hammer
dulcimer, dulcimer, piano and synthesizer proficiently. He's been in two bands, one in
junior high which never performed and one in high school. His high school band split
when he and the drummer moved to college. They've decided to room together in the dorms.
His major in college is music performance.

Appearence: Kano doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to what he wears, and it shows.
Most of his clothes were gifts from family members so he doesn't have a style. He wears
a mish-mash of whatever falls into his hands and is right for the temperature, if he
remembers to consider that the temperature outside is different from the one inside.
He's 5'7" with long black hair and always tan skin. He tends to wear his hair tied back,
occasionally adding small braids and beads to it, but only when he's thinking of his
mother.

Family: Named by his Cherokee mother who died when he was five, Kano was raised by his
father. Raised is used loosely in this case since his father was always working. Kano
spent many evenings as the last child at a child care facility waiting for his father to
show up so the center could close. When he was eight he and his father agreed he was old
enough to stay home alone. This is what gave him the time to learn to play so many
instruments, along with the fact that he rarely bothered with homework outside of
school.

Name: Lee Izumi
Age: 17
Birthday: 5th November
Gender: Male
Sexuality: Bi

Personality: Vibrant, positive and excitable. He's always been a fairly exuberant guy except for the odd days of lamentation when he finds himself stuck on what he calls 'the shelf'. He's not a particularly worldly guy, knowing little about the rest of what's going on and he has been called naive because of this. Always trying to see the best in people he should find it easy to make friends but for some reason he always attracts the wrong people and ends up back on the 'shelf'. However Lee is incredibly smart, having finished his secondary education in England when he was 16 with top grades in Japanese, English, Italian and History.

Appearence: Lee has an oriental aspect to him, having inherited his father's, a japanese buisness man, eyes and hair. However, that hair is now tinted with bright red and is styled in different ways everyday. He has a small star tattoo on his neck which he can't remember getting. He loves unusual clothes, especially victoriana and has developed a style of his own by making his own clothes through combining his japanese history with his new victoriana range.

Family: Lee is part Japanese from his father's side and he spent the first ten years of his life being homeschooled because his father's job took them all over the world. From this he saw many different cultures and learnt to respect many different sorts of people. However his mother was an American born woman who never felt accepted by her husband's family. Her blond hair and blue eyes were always commented upon and when Lee too inherited her blue eyes his grandfather, his father's father, stopped talking to her. This drove her to suicide when he was ten. He tends to keep this quiet especially seeing as his father is now remarried with two more sons which are actually accepted by his grandparents.

"Mr Watts," That voice piped up from the front of the hall, "Stay behind."

I heard the murmur of allusion from behind me. Most of our group knew... How could they not? How many of them had been subjected to that same voice and felt that same confusion between trepidation and awe.

I lingered, not knowing whether I wanted to run or stay... deep down knowing that it wasn't because I had a reason, not because I liked the man, not because I wanted anything to do with this crazy game... In fact, quite the opposite... But then again wasn't it that twinkle, that underlying spark which came from my teacher's normality, the reason? Or maybe I was imagining that too.

Dark brown, combed hair and dusky blue eyes; the man wasn't cold. In fact, more than any other teacher, he was warm. He had that irresistable charm that made you love the subject and feel a passion for it that only magnified your own. He was strange though. So seemingly perfect, there was an underlying darkness, something you couldn't see or feel or touch, implacable within him that made him seem... False.

That was it.

False.

Nothing seemed genuine once you had spoken to him in private. Because you suddenly realised why he wanted you to talk more, why he wanted you to be around more, why he wanted you. I shuddered and he felt the teacher's body closer to his own.

This wasn't right.

Then again what was right? My family had disowned me. I wasn't straight. I had a cousin on prozac and questionable other medications. I barely had any friends because I was too fucked up to retain them and... My teacher was coming onto me with his hands ubing my shoulders and his face turned into my neck, hot breathing down my throat.

"Sir, this isn't right." I voiced my oppinion aloud. I wasn't up for this even if rules weren't my forte.

"What's not right, Mr Watts?" He turned me round, his fingers on my face and tracing. I didn't want those hands near me but how many times had this happened?

Too many times, "This sir. Any of this sir..."

My words were cut off by a rough shove into the wall, away from the view of the door. His eyes weren't warm when you looked at them closely. That normality you saw sparkling wasn't really passion for his words, nor a love for his job. No, it was something much harder and more viscious than that.

"Think of your grades."

Predatory.

"My grades are fine sir."

"Not without my consent."

"I have other teachers I can turn to. You're not the 'dean' of this subject, module or anything."

"And who'll believe you? The boy who came here on scraped grades? Without real registration details? " The man laughed, "No, no, Mr Watts. You're far from believable and because of that you have no choice in this matter."

I shivered again. You always know what's going to happen when his corners you like this. You always pray it might be different, wish you'd run away. And you let the things get done to you because you have no choice and he knows the truth. That dirty little truth.

"What about papers that I can show to the Dean. I can show an essay that should be 'A' when you've given it-"

"Oh shut up. Your know that wouldn't work." The man laughed again and I had to bite back a small yelp as he pinched my skin and twisted.

And he did what he wanted. And nobody gave a shit.

*

It was on the way out of that class... Just as I was ready to throw myself under a duvet, never to emerge again that I heard someone shouting my name. I stopped but didn't look round. I knew it was Rory. Who else would bloody speak to me? And I also knew that she would know something was wrong... I didn't trust my eyes.

"OI!" She called again and I heard runing feet, a small clip-clop and then felt her small weight launch itself onto my back. I made a small gargling sound, her arms wrapping a little too tightly around my throat and I heard a male laugh from beside me.

I lifted my eyes slightly, saw a crimson haired stranger who's face was split in two by his grin and who's slanted asian eyes were cerulean blue.

"DYYYYYYLLLLAAANNNNNNNN!" Rory was whining into my ear, "Take me to the coffee place! We've discussion plans for Coney Isola!" She was putting on a strange italish accent that was making the whole world seem different again. I wasn't good today. I wanted to go to bed again and skip whatever I had that afternoon if I had anything....

"We're going..." I couldn't put her down, of course not, her feet probably hurt having tottered around in high heels all morning, not that she wan't used to it but....

I passed a look at the blue eyed, japanese kid. He looked incredibly young for a student but then again some people did, his grin became wider still and I could imagine his jaw falling off if it split any further across.

"I'm Lee, by the way." He said in an accent that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

"Dylan, then again, you probably heard that one already."

"Kind of..." The guy was looking at him oddly and I averted my eyes. I hated when people stared and they trundled on, Rory babbling away in the background of my thoughts, completely oblivious.

*

The coffee shop was packed. For the first time in a long while we actually struggled to reach our usual table at the back near the top window on the raised platform so we could see the rest of the store. What I loved about this place was the smell of books and the dusty scents that mixed in with the coffee making it seem even more parisian than the french owner whose exuberant personality lifted the mood of the room without me. I felt the room out, my arms were limp and my body cold depsite the mass of bodies around me. I didn't want to be here, and yet I did... Why was I always so goddamned fucking confused?

The thing which caught my eye was the two guys I'd never spoken to before, but always seemed to crop up. I remembered the taller one smiling at me once when I'd nearly stacked it over my unlaced shoes and knocked over the blond triumverate of the university. In some, strange inexplicable way I wanted to join them, and from the look on Lee's face he felt sort of the same.

"You know them?" I asked as Rory went to find mochas and expressos.

"Yeah. They're in my residance. I think they go to class with my room mate. Uhhhh one of them's called Loki, like the Norse god of mischeif or something. The one who's tied down with poison dripping on his face and-"

I guess I must have been looking at him slightly oddly because he shut up and grinned again. I remembered learning about the different mythologies with my father before things became complicated and I forced a smile to my own face. Lee... was... different.

In a good way, of course.

That was when we noticed that Rory had returned. To the other guys' table. She smiled and beckoned us over with a funny look on her face. Had she taken those dubious medical helpers today or had she conveniantly forgotten again?

"I was just asking these fine fellows what was so wonderfully, fantastically, engrossingly interesting about them that had you two baboons looking at them in such avid concentration."

She didn't make much sense but the message came across, her deadpan face telling up it was true, she really had been asking that, and I felt my cheeks flush.

How could my day be any better?

"Uh..." Lee was stuttering and yet still grinning as he did so. The amused smirks on the two stranger's faces making my oppinions of life skitter into the drain.

I sank into the chair Rory offered me next to her and stared at my hands. I let the conversation pick up around me. Every so often glancing up and nodding as if I was listening.

"Right so what to you think?"

"Dylan?"

"DYLAN!"

Rory bellowed into my ear and I jumped back with one arm up as if ready to defend against being hit, "What?" I asked with a sheepish glance at the others.

"You weren't listening." She tsked me and waggled her finger, yeah she hadn't taken her medecine, "We're going to Coney Island. Now."

I felt my face drain of colour. It would be fun... I told myself half-heartedly... It would be... thrilling.
I blinked as my eyes turned to face the handbag that lay sullenly on the smooth walnut surface of the table, beside the satisfyingly thick, white, china teacup that now contained my dregs. The buttersoft leather seemed to be draped over its contents, with all the appearence of coagulated sunlight, it's cream surface divided into miniature mountains and valleys. The braided handle with it's 'secret' compartments had fallen haphazardly to the back of the bag and the front pocket was unzipped, with various contents visible to my searching pupils. Miniature mascara and lipglosses bustled busily against a tea packet of Twining's 'English Breakfast', the remnants of a horde stolen from a self-service breakfast carts in order to maintain a constant supply back in america.

I felt my stomach clench with a sharp wrench as I looked at the teabag. Memories of my Grandmother, left behind in England, flooded my mind and almost made me choke. I looked away from it, towards my fingerrs, which stroked and smoothed the foil of a Kit-Kat wrapper that I seemed to carry with me everywhere, but which was never conciously remembered. They moved with the fluid grace that came with old habit, stretching the metal, a reaction to stress that had formed of its own accord without direction from my brain.... Automatic.

Aluminium foil should be provided in all world peace conferences and Security council meetings.

My stomach now fluttered as muscles began to loosen, and I looked upwards, with a swift motion grabbing the bag and looping the handle over my arm. With a large groan, I realised that my jacket was still draped over the back of my chair, petulantly exposing its paint stains. My back clicked into place as I turned around to pick up the brown leather.

"Loki..." I grinned at him sheepishly, my eyes twinkling with mischief as he turned towards me and raised his eyebrows.

"Petit...." he drawled in the thick New orleans accent that he had adopted at some point during the conversation, after a pie eating contest between them, in order to keep himself amused.

"You're wearing my jacket!" I giggled, throwing it at him and ducking behind Dylan. My nose detected a slash of bark and crushed leaf blades mixed with strong smell of turpentine, as I rested my head on his shoulder and jumped. "Piggy back." I demanded petulantly, kissing his cheek and ruffling his hair.

"Mate...It looks like you're getting a work out." I turned to the owner of the deep, soft drawl. Kano had risen from his chair, and stood, fairly tall, with his soft brown eyes smiling at them. His dark hair was braided behind his head and a lone red feather was tucked in to the top of the plait.

"I'm quite sure that a mere suggestion on my part could launch her onto you, so you'd better watch out..." Dylan retorted with a grin. It took a second for me to register that Dylan had actually made a joke with a stranger. Perhaps..........no, that was far too unlikely.

"It's true you know, I have no criteria when it comes to my horses...or should that be pigs? I must admit that I am rather fond of this particular one though, good blood lines..." I felt an elbow dig in to my ribs at this, and let out a gargle. Suddenly I felt y mind flip through various ideas in a matter of seconds; sun...train...timetable...ah.

"Nearest F train?" Dylan gargled as I tightened my grip in retaliation.

"We are off to washington square-west fourth street," Lee anounced, surrepticiously looking at his MTA map, but concealing it very well.

"You know, you don't have to pretend that you didn't just look at the map...." Loki said mischeivously, his eyes creasing into a smile, as his hand reached upp to scratch his head. He was now wearing the leather jacket draped over one shouder with his pinky, and gazing longingly at the two drum sticks that poked out of my bag. They were maple, with small round tips; light, fast playing sticks, with a slightly darker sound than nylon tips, and they had a great flex and rebound. The sticks were beefy, but not heavy.

"You know..I should probably just give 'em to you before you go into a state of shock....." I laughed. He continued staring at them in awe for about 3 minutes as we walked out of the shop, before registering my words. Poor love. I laughed and repeated myself, "Loki?"

"yeah Petit?" He replied quickly, hearing me for the first time, his eyes now trained on the pavement in from=nt of him.

"You can have 'em. I haven't played since I was about 15, they were sweet talked out of a musician at a club as a dare from Ella..."

"You talked a man out of his drumsticks? My opinion on your morals just went down, petit..." he replied, although his eyes now glistned wih prospect.

"...hiss band's music consisted od covers of Lynard Skynard." I retorted.

"And that is why my opinions of you just rose again tenfold..." said Kano as he laughed softly, "how people like that get into New York clubs is beyond me."
I kept my eyes focused on the drumsticks wondering if she really meant it. I mean, it wasn't like I didn't have drumsticks, it was just... I didn't have them with me. And it would be so much easier to make a beat with them rather than my hands. Not that that really stopped me when I decided to create music. I created music with less than a thought. In fact... I looked down at my hands, they'd started reaching for them without thinking, and I was almost touching them.

"I meant it," Rory said, grinning at me in a way that reminded me of myself at my most defenseless. "Take 'em." I did so, and then proceded to use her head like it was a drum for a moment, which got her to shriek and giggle. I think she might be on some kind of upper. Well, either that or she hadn't taken her downers. It didn't matter, it was all the same.

My hands deftly wandered across each head in turn with the sticks, beating out something Kano and I had been working on the other day, and he glared up at me when I gently tapped his head, his eyes daring me to hit him any harder. I grinned and he said, "You've got the beat wrong on the third strike," which made me laugh.

"That's only 'cause you were glaring at me!" I said in protest and he shrugged so quickly I think I was the only one who caught it. His movements were something that took me a long time to get, and now that I've got some idea of how he works, I've realized that he doesn't say much in words, but his actions tell me a lot about him.

I wasn't sure about this Lee guy, he was... well, like he was holding himself back at the moment. Maybe he was like Kano, and trying to decide how much of himself he could show to the outside world. I'd given up trying to give a shit about people's opinion of me by now. I just had to deal with myself, and that's how I liked it personally.

Speaking of which, "Are we going anywhere with food? I'm starved." Dylan looked at me as though I must be kidding, Lee laughed as though he was certain I was kidding, Rory assured me there was going to be food, and Kano handed me a bar of chocolate. "Thanks Kano," I said, and he shrugged as I opened the wrapper and started munching.

Dylan blinked once, "Are you really hungry? Didn't you eat a whole pie during that contest?" I nodded and grinned, taking another bite.

"I'm always hungry, it's what all of my parents always hated about me." I said it without thinking, then shrugged. Rory looked at me curiously and I answered her with a grin. "I eat too much."

Kano saved me by looking around and pointing at a sign. "Is that where we're going?" he asked and it got Rory's attention off of me. I'd have to remember to thank him later, Kano was the only one I'd told part of my sorry life tale to, and he had just sat there and listened when I did. I wasn't ashamed of my life, nor was I happy or particularly disturbed. It simply was. There was nothing I could have done or would do now to change it. So I dealt with things one hit at a time. At least I try to stay out of trouble these days.

Rory jumped off of Dylan, which caused him to grunt and rub his back a bit, and grabbed hold of my hand. For a moment I was frightened. Where was the drumsticks? "Wait!" I said, and almost dropped the rest of the cocolate in my hands, that would have been a disaster. I looked around for a moment, then realized where they were. I breathed a sigh of relief. "Sorry, I thought I might have lost them somewhere." I patted my pocket. At some random point in time I'd put them in the front pocket of my jeans. I picked up Rory's hand again, which was good because I think she was going to smack me if I hadn't, and started heading off.

"Come on! We want to spend some time there so we have to hurry." She grabbed Lee's hand in her other hand, and I stuffed the rest of my chocolate in my mouth to take her initiative and grabbed the nearest hand by me, which just happened to be Dylan's as Kano had not kept up with Rory's frantic running forward. Dylan looked at me in surprise so I grinned at him, hoping all the cocolate was out from my teeth, and I nodded my head to Kano.

"Don't forget about him!" I said exuberently, which must have conviced him that Kano wouldn't kill him if he took his hand, so he did, and Kano leveled me with a stare that would have damaged me if it could have. "Excellent!" I said loudly, and then wondered which way we were going. "Where are we going again, and do they have food?" I asked Rory as Dylan looked at Kano as though he thought he should drop the hand.

"Yes already Loki, there's food, and we're going here!" I didn't know if I should be pleased, but I was certain that wherever it was I'd get fed. I tried to remember if I'd remembered to save money for some music paper or not, then figured if I hadn't I'd just make some of my own when I ran out and pulled Dylan forward to follow Rory.

I was ready for whatever was going to come my way. Afterall, it must be fun, there was food, and maybe music!
Looking around at the four people he was with then down at his hand grasped in Dylan's made Kano's heart accelerate. Not that this really meant anything. In fact that was the most disturbing part of it all. "I'm sorry, I'm just not used to holding hands with people unless I like them," he told Dylan, then immediately regretted it as it wasn't exactly what he meant, "not that I don't like you..." He closed his eyes and shook his head. How had he gotten into this situation? Yet he knew how, it was Loki as usual. Kano had wanted a cup of good, black coffee...

...

"I've heard this place has good coffee." Kano stopped at the shop and glanced in.

"But, I don't have any money," Loki complained. Kano eyed him skeptically, but it was probably true. Loki had a very hard time holding onto money.

"I'll buy you one piece of pastry or slice of pie," Kano told him like a parent speaking to a child, because that was most often the best way to deal with Loki.

"Great!" Now Loki was excited and he was through the door in a split second. Kano sighed and followed. When the got in he ordered and paid for his coffee then stood behind Loki waiting for him to make a decision. It literally took Loki twenty minutes to decide on an apple strudel thing.

"I'd also like one of those," he told the girl at the counter, and a refill. His coffee was empty.

"Wow, you drank that fast!" Loki exclaimed, staring at the cup.

"No."

"No?" Loki stared at him, confused.

"No, you just took forever to make up your mind." Kano paid for the pastry and handed it over, slipping into a back table where he thought they might not be disturbed. It was only a few minutes before he felt eyes on him. "We're being watched." He talked to Loki a certain amount these days. With most people he found that he felt inadequate. It was difficult to communicate. He often said the wrong thing or at least said it in the wrong way. With Loki he now had an easy friendship. Although Loki drove him completely nuts some days, he was comfortable and didn't feel self conscious around him.

"Really? By who?" Loki grinned, bouncing his head this way and that trying to find the onlookers.

"Stop it." Kano glanced in the direction of the two onlookers. "I believe their names are Lee and Dylan."

"You know them!"

"Of course not," Kano found it fairly difficult to get to know people. "I just... like them. Although Lee is a bit excitable for my tastes." Kano's eyes fell on Dylan. There was something not right about him today. He looked like he would rather be home, hiding then out in front of the world. Kano was familiar with the feeling, although he suspected it took more for Dylan to feel that way then for him to.

"Oh, I think I might know them!" It occurred to Kano at that moment that he should finish his coffee and leave, but it was too late. That was when the girl, Rory came over. He thought he might have seen her around before, but he had a bit more trouble remembering girl. The next thing he knew they were all there, chatting. As usual he had very little to say, and when he did speak he had a feeling he should have kept his mouth shut. Most of his attention was on Dylan. Yes, there was something wrong.

...

Dylan dropped his hand. That figured, he should have just kept his mouth shut. He'd been holding hands with Dylan and it hadn't been unpleasant. He shook his head, but it hadn't meant anything either. He really wasn't good with people. He wanted to ask Dylan what was bothering him, but he didn't know how. Why would Dylan tell him anyhow? Kano had been a total stranger to him until recently. He sighed, why he'd allowed himself to be dragged off was more than he could fathom.

Narrioch, the land without shadows, now known as Coney Island was their destination. Once known as a good place to hunt rabbits. Later in the mid to late 1800's it became a resort and amusement park. After World War II the constant arguments regarding zoning began. Should it be residential? Should it be for amusements? It had never mattered to Kano, even though the annoying bickering continued through his lifetime. He'd never been to Coney Island.

Without thinking he began humming a tune which nagged at the edges of his mind. Then he pulled out the small notepad he kept in his pocket with a pen and began scribbling notes in it as he walked.
A Non-Existent User
Elizabeth had gotten off work and was now making her way through the entrance to Cooney Island. It wasn't her first time there, but it felt like it, afterall, she hadn't been there sine she was 8.

As the wind blew, Elizabeth wrpped her sweater tightly around her. It was a chilly night, but not so bad, that you were freezing. Walking along the pier, the familiar sights started to come back to her. The giant ferris wheel, and the wooden roller coaster...

Truly, Elizabeth didn't know why she came back to Coney Island that particular night. Maybe she just felt she needed to get away, or maybe it was still that memory of 10 years ago...

"No" Elizabeth said quietly out loud.

'You aren't supposed to think of that, you're not supposed to remember... Tonight is supposed to be fun' Elizabeth was thinking to herself as she wandered into the nearest store.




Lee didn't quite know how he had ended up hanging out with these guys he'd only ever admired from afar... well mainly the exuberance of Loki and the broken perfection of Dylan, thanks to Rory's constant chatter about her lonely cousin. But no matter how they had arrived in the little pie-selling shop in Coney Island, he was glad they had. He was glad, once again, for confiding his insecurity with Rory Constant who had turned into his Italian helper and most charismatic friend. Even though he hadn't realised she was a model until about the third or forth time they had spoken...

So they were in a sort of food place, with Loki looking like he could buy everything and eat it all when Lee noticed that Dylan and Kano were lagging behind them all slightly and he frowned. He had imagined them both, especially Dylan, to have been a little more interested in the hyperactive pair that were bouncing in front of them like mountain goats in Scotland. Yes he had just alluded to goats when referring to Rory.

She wasn't goatish. She just bounced. Why was he trying to make up excuses for himself? Lee wasn't sure. He was on a high and didnt want to involve himself too much with the silent pair behind him in case it made him sullen too... He wanted to help them though.

"LEE!" Rory was shouting down the aisle and waving, "Grab the others! We've found pie!"

Pie?

Oh yeah. Loki wanted pie. He shook his head. His thoughts had become static and irrational as his excitement entoxicated him. He loved these people already and he called down to Dylan and Kano, who were now walking in line, "We've found pie."

Kano looked up with one eye brow raised, Dylan just nodded without looking up. What was wrong with the usually interested punk? Had something happened? Or maybe it was just a bad day. Everyone had bad days. It was understandable.

Anyway, Lee looked away briefly, only to then turn back and find Dylan ducking behind Kano and hiding. Kano looked confused, even for someone who barely showed much emotion. Loki was confused. And Loki and Rory were by the till paying for the four small packages they had chosen and five coffees. Lee shrugged and went to join them. Maybe that was Dylan flirting. He was bi right? That's what Rory had said... Yeah it was probably Dylan flirting...

Fair enough.

Kano was hot.

In a kind of stand offish kind of way.

And so was Loki who was now right beside him with Rory in tow and a lot of pie.
*Hey, guys. Having a bit of writer's block on this one right now. I'll let some of our newer writers catch up. Hope I can make an addition soon.

He didn't really want to go to Coney Island. He felt awkward, as if he shouldn't be there... Almost as if he was raining on everyone else's parade because he couldn't bring himself to shake off the events of earlier in the day. Every seemed so happy. He was sure that on any other day the intensity of Loki, Rory and Lee would have been refreshing. And of course there was Kano who inadvertantly had made his spirits fall even further. It wasn't that he didn't understand. He had felt kind of weird too, suddenly holding hands with people he barely knew when sober always was... But... Fucking hell he needed a drink.

Loki and Rory had launched themselves into a cafe/shop which reminded him vaguely of a British lunch stop.

"Kanoooooooooooo." Had Loki been taking lessons from Rory?

As the other three rushed about the shop it seemed that he and the mostly silent other boy were lagging. He almost smiled. Until he saw familiar brown eyes flashing from a table in the corner. He flinched and tried to turn away, only to find himself knocking into Kano. He ducked, trying to hide but found his new friend turning with him, a mixture of curiousity and concern seeming to flicker across his face.

He glanced back. Brown eyes led to long brown hair and crooked teeth. It wasn't him. It wasn't him... Dylan's breathing was rapid a shallow and he needed air.

"Are you... what's wrong?" Kano was still watching him and he swayed slightly.

Dylan put a hand to his head. He was such a mess, "I need to get outside." He said, lacking his usual roughness. He barely recognised his voice. He sounded so... pathetic.

Avoiding the eyes of anyone about them he let himself be half led outside. If he had less pride he probably would have cried. But he did and had promised himself he would never cry again so he refrained, simply sinkig to the pavement outside the building. His breathing was beginning to return to normal and his heart rate was slowing down.

Kano said nothing, standing beside him almost prtectively as he gathered up the shattered peices of his mask. Was it really so bad he was ecoming paranoid? That wasn't... that wasn't right...

Dylan was never scared. He never let himself feel it. But then again what else was it that was making his heart go into over drive at the mere thought of that teacher being in the same shop as him? He especially didn't show it infront of people like he was right now. He wasn't built to let his real self show when it would make him vunerable. Unless he was drunk... in which case he was more vunerable than ever but he didn't care because being drunk made it easier. Even if he was prone for putting himself in awkward positions. This was worse. He wanted a drink.

"I'm sorry." He said after a while. The panic was gone, replaced by a desolate feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was as if something had been taken away. The same as he usually did after English these days.

"Don't be." Unassuming and calm, that seemed to be Kano. He liked it. Easier that way.


**

The thing Dylan loved about Coney Island was the way it changed. During the day it was calm mostly, nothing eccentric not like at night. That was when the fun began and the boom boxes sounded and the punks and dissidents came out to rave. The five of them sat on the sand of the beach, their feet pressed into the snow.

"Oooooooo my god you're joking right?" That was Rory laughing about some joke. She really loosened up around these people. Maybe she didn't feel so pressured by them… Or maybe the alcohol was messing with her medication balance. He wouldn't be surprised. He knocked back his bottle of wine, refusing to drink the beer that they had also brought with them. It was a Sancerre withfifty years behind it that had left it bursting with flavour. He let its golden poison wash through his mouth and into his system. He had drunk most of the bottle as the others swapped stories.

Lee was interesting, seeming so naïve at times that it was hard not to laugh at him, yet also showing a depth of understanding beyond his years. It was hard to think of him as seventeen. He knew he hadn't been so mature when he was his age… Though it wasn't so long ago…

Things changed. He tossed back more of the drink. Someone was talking about parents and how they were only good if they were there. He lurched slightly as he laughed out loud, the alcohol definitely in his head by now, "Parents fucking suck. They're there as long as your convenient! Fuck them!"

"Dyl…" Rory's hand was on his arm and he shrugged her off with a grin.

"It's true ain't it?" he laughed again and stood up. Looking at the others with a wide smile, "I can hear music!"

"Music?" Lee tilted his head.

Had darkness fallen without them noticing? He'd noticed. And he heard the beat of Agenda Suicide by the Faint drilling out into the night. He held out a hand to Rory and then to Kano who was sat beside her watching him with a very different look on his face. Loki, who had seemed perturbed with his out burst now leapt up with a slight wobble as he felt the head rush.

"Let's go!"

"PARRRRRTTTTAY!" That was Rory, once again attached to Loki.

Dylan grinned and ran forward, letting the sand fill his shoes and trip him slightly as he went forward. Now looking for something stronger than the wine.


*

Dylan was dancing. Sancerre, vodka and rum mixing in his veins and pulling out his desperate need for someone to care. He didn't mind who. He just wanted affection. He wanted the feel of someone holding him because they wanted him. He wanted someone to make up for the loss of it he had felt before… That was how his enslavement had started wasn't it….?

His body moved in time with the beat. He was flying and twirling and he had lost Rory. Where was Rory? Swaying and letting himself go. Freedom. Arms were around his waist, thick arms with muscles lined with tattoos. He tried to same something about his own markings but found himself pressed more firmly into the other man. When had he stopped dancing with girls again? And where were the others? Where was Kano? Where was Rory? The arms were ensnaring him and trapping him down. He wasn't flying any more and he didn’t like the way this man was forcing him to comply with him. The man's lips were on his own and he didn't resist, becoming passive until the man drew his tongue over his lips, asking him to respond. Which he did, forgetting his apprehension and the force that was holding him there. He tried to forget. He tried so hard to forget all the time. The man smirked against his mouth as he felt more hands wrap around his body. Someone was now pressing up behind him in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Lips descended and sucked his neck. His head thrown back he stared up at the night sky and couldn't see the stars properly because his eyes were funny. The men tugged him away from the crowd of people that had accumulated on the shore and pulled him to one of the metallic palm trees. Shoving him up against it roughly and attacking his mouth and neck once again. He squirmed he didn't like this. He wanted to be cared for not pinned down. He began to struggle slightly, trying to pull away but he was completely pinned.

Not again. Not again. Not again not again not again notagainnotagainotagainotagain.

"Get off me." He managed to force out. Hands were roaming down his sides and fingering his trousers, "Get off."

Please someone?

He was drunk enough to know he was helpless. He wouldn't be able to run. It was a wonder he was standing. But he was sober enough to realise he didn't like this one bit. Flashbacks of brown eyes and crawling hands made him cry out as the men on top of him began to follow the same course of action.

Anyone?

*

The sky and the water had merged into one. It pooled in inky shadows in front of my eyes, blood spilling across the horizon in a smooth curtain. Somehow, New York transcended it's insular position. Surrounded by a Jungle of bricks and glass, even with four rivers carving their way around around Manhattan's finger, it was easy to forget that the sea existed.

That's why I had brought them here. All I had wanted was a cancer and the old moloko plus, as the honourable narrator would put it, whilst I stared at the measured violence that was the Atlantic ocean as it rolled onto the beach at Coney Island. The promenade, stretching for miles behind the beach, seperated the last dregs of brooklyn from the white sand where it met the sea.

Coney Island, no matter how many face lifts it was given, remained unchanged. I felt my fingers dig into the sand and looked down at my crossed legs, now bare and riddled with bumps from the cold night air. The tall black spikes of my shoes were sunk into the top of a sand castle to my right, the ribbed grey tights that I had worn earler stuffed into the front pocket of my bag. My little castle was lopsided and had a hefty chunk kicked out of it from where a drunken frat boy had stumbled towards the sea in order to throw up. Desecration of the highest order. The air pulsated as music blasted in the background, it's bass peirced occasionally by the hedonistic screams that didn't seem to belong here. Invading.

With a languid, feline stretch I dug my heels into the sand and pushed upwards in an effort to move from my current position. My hands sunk back into the sand as I attempted to push off them and I grunted with displeasure.

"Are you alright there?" A voice muttered from behind me, as a shadowy figure emerged from the darkness beside a metal palm tree.The moonlight picked out a glistening nose ring and golden flecks in liquid brown eyes. Her skin seemed transluscent in the light and I could just pick up a wash of blue eyeshadow. Ella.

"Clearly I am struggling with attempts at movement, so if you could help me I will not sock you one at a later date." I muttered darkly, but grinned up at her. I could feel my eyes glint as I studied her shadowy sillhouette against the lights of the impromptu party.

She stepped closer to me and offered me a slender hand, yellow nail varnish glinting softly at me through a veil of darkness. Grasping it with a sudden bout of energy I managed to pull her over in a fit of giggles.

My eyebrows raised at her and I collapsed backwards to languish on the soft sand. "Exactly how is this condusive to me standing up?" I rasped hoarsely as I grasped the bottle of Italian beer that lay by my side. None of this pussy american shit for me.

"It was entirely your fault. You, Rory constant, pulled too hard and I toppled under the pressure. How was I meant to take your weight?" Her hand reached over and snatched the beer off me as she recomposed herself. Ella's pale legs were haphazardly entangled among mine and her hair had come loose, beads winking at me through a veil of red. Shorts the colour of crushed blackberries barely encircled her upper thighs and she wore cork wedges, with a white tee shirt peaking through from a grey waistcoat. Erratic dressing indeed.

"So it had nothing to do with you being lashed or your three inch heels? I just want to verify this before I attempt to get up again."

Ella's face crumpled into a frown. Her eyes beamed up at me like a puppy's, their liquid depths shimmering and changing. Her pupils glistened and widened with the dim light, encompassing all that they surrounded, "I thought you said we were having a quiet night, why the rave with the frat boys?"

"Believe me, so did I. It seems that my lovely cousin Dylan...normally the one pulling back my hair, has chosen to party on the one night that I'm stable enough to not need or want to. I'm worried about him...we just wanted to investigate the source of the music and he went absouloutely crazy. He seemed to be lost in a flurry of music, throwing himself around like there was no tomorrow. Sometimes I think he's going to get himself into a position he can't get out of, but it's fine, there are loads of people looking out for him here."

"Bugger." A brief, but petrifying statement slipped from Ella's full lips and slithered into the night breeze. Her eyes searched my face as she sat opposite me. "Tell me...how do you think he feels about being pinned to walls?" A mane of hair had fallen into her face as we rose slowly, kicking my heels along the sand towards the fire and its revellers.

I felt my pace quicken and energy shift through my body. The muscles of my eyes tensed as I peered into her face, adrenaline pumping through me like a volatile poison. "...He gets jumpy when people touch him. As long as it's just some arty hipster it's fine though. He's drunk so it's probably..."

"No." Ellas soft american tones surrounded me, drowning out the music, the sea and the screams. She looked worried, had been in his position before. But then again... I had always been there to cut in and Ella, being a regular, knew exactly how to deal with this kind of crap. Dylan, on the other hand, was about as prepared as I was to take Ella's medical exams. "The guy....he was big. Muscles and tattoos big. Bouncer at the knitting factory big."

My skin pricked with shocks, like conurbations of needles had chosen to peirce my skin and smother me with the stifling night air. I was drowning in the darkness. Dropping my bag at Ella's feet, I sprinted towards the promenade, framed as it was by the graffitied walls that guarded Astroland from heathens and children of the night.

My skin smacked forcefully against a tall, masculine form that smelt of vanilla and sandalwood.

"ugh." Kano's voice slipped out as I swore and rubbed my shin. "Rory, you should really look where you're...fuck me what's wrong?" HE studied me with the same careful concern that Dylan had done earlier that day, visibly agitated as brown eyes searched my distraught eyes.

"Its Dylan. He's pinned against a wall and....and he has issues with affection and..." I flung myself forward and clutched onto his strong back, trying to maintain a heart rate that would ensure I wouldn't faint.

"But he lets you...ah....right... he only lets you." Understanding flashed across his face as he recalled the reluctance of dylan to hold hands. Suddenly, a pained expression flitted across his face, but in a moment it was replaced with a calm thoughtfulness. "tell me...how heavy is your handbag?"

"It's like a fucking house. Ella should bring it in a second, if she's not too drunk to find us."
Honestly I'm not sure what got into me. Perhaps it was the pie? Or maybe the later affect of the large ham and turkey sandwich? It could have been the tea, or the cola, or even the three different bags of potato chips I ate as well. Whatever it was, I found myself partaking of some kind of liquor... or... beer maybe? It tasted terrible whatever it was, but they refilled my glass and as I hadn't seen anything else to drink, I drank it as well.

It was something that seemed to make everyone else lose control and become loud, for me, I seemed to become quiet. Too quiet. I started thinking. Which I didn't normally do. I was remembering things that only made me sad, so when I was sitting down, having not remembered what all I'd said outloud, and Dylan walked past me, or rather was dragged past me, I thought perhaps he was going to be alright on his own. I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was getting something that I never even thought I ought to have.

Well, I mean, besides the whole sex thing, which I wasn't sure I wanted anyway. Some kind of affection, some kind of attention directed directly at him. When I blinked up at the passing figures though, I felt something drill deeply into my head.

'He doesn't want it,' my brain said firmly, and taking that as a reason to get up, I tried to do so. I lurched forward and found my face in the sand. It tasted terrible. I would have to remember to never drink anything that could make me feel this way. How many drinks had I had? Oh right, just two. Ugh, this felt terrible. What was I doing anyway? Oh right, Dylan was... not happy.

I put my hands under me and pushed up on the ground. A moment later, a splash of freezing cold water sprayed over my head. Something cleared, like mist, and I blinked my eyes a few times to look up at the face of one seriously angry looking Kano. Oh wait, no, he wasn't angry, just annoyed.

"Did you make me cold?" I asked slightly irritated myself. He nodded.

"Get up," he said, and I wondered how long I'd been on the ground, there seemed to be sand stuck to my face. "We're going to the wall." He said it so matter of factly that I nodded and got up, brushing myself off and stretching a bit.

"I feel better now, thanks Kano!" I said happily, wondering why I'd felt depressed at all before. He shook his head and motioned in the air to the right of me. I blinked that way, and realized that was where Dylan had been led off.

"We're stopping idiot's, you're good at that." He reached over and pulled the drum sticks out of my pocket, pushing them in my hands. I blinked at them. "Your weapons," he said, and I looked to him again, blinking a few more times.

"Stopping idiots?" I asked, and Rory came over in a rush.

"I've got my bag, let's go!" she said urgently and Kano nodded once.

"Dylan," he said simply and I nodded my head.

"Is he in trouble?" Kano nodded and I motioned to Rory, "Lead the way lady!" She grabbed my arm and Kano's as well and started rushing off. I wondered about Kano's decision to help, but then realized that probably Dylan was like Kano, so it was only natural that he'd want to help him. Well, at least thats what I thought. So I followed, and twirled the drumsticks in my hands. I hadn't used them as weapons since the bar fight that made Kano my first real friend. I hadn't needed to after that.

Well, I *was* good with them, I just needed to not break this pair.
Kano had been doing the thing he always was doing when he missed something important. He'd been preoccupied with the tune in his head, trying to sort it out while everyone else had more to drink. It was hard with the music pressing in to hear the music in his head, but when he concentrated he could still tune into it.

He'd dances with Dylan for a bit, but slipped away when others pushed in. From the sidelines he could half watch Dylan, a tragic and beautiful figure out on the beach, sweat glistening on his skin. It made Kano want to touch that skin, to get to know the feel of it, the taste of it. Such thoughts made him turn his attention back to the music. He didn't really want a one night stand, they never turned out well. Yes he did. No, he didn't.

Just as he was throwing together some scattered lyrics he looked up and realized Dylan was no longer in sight. How long had he been distracted? He didn't think it was any longer than five or ten minutes. Of course, it didn't take too long for someone to wander off. Kano stood, stretched and began walking down the beach looking for Dylan. That was when he'd run into the girl, Rory, who he was surprised to see had left Loki. Before he got the chance to look around for Lee she was answering his question with words he didn't want to hear. If only he'd kept his eyes on the dance floor.

He grabbed Loki, who was acting just like he was completely drunk. It made no sense. Kano had had a couple drinks, he was fine. He hadn't seen Loki drink more than a couple himself. Rory and Ella were both now leading the way to the opposite side of the dancing. Where they found three hulking men enjoying Dylan's body. Dylan was clearly not into what was happening to him as he kept yelling for them to get off, but it wasn't very loud and he was clearly exhausted. It seemed he'd been trying to get away for a while. His clothes were a tattered mess.

Kano started by doing the one thing he did best. In a clear commanding voice he yelled, "Get away from him, right now." This shifted their attention in his direction. Rory was evidently following her instincts as well. She had her handbag again, and she went straight for the one who'd been hurting Dylan the most, swinging the handbag hard. Kano wasn't sure where she'd meant to aim, but the handbag arced upwards with great force, crashing into the man's face. The was a sickening cracking sound and his nose spurted blood. Overall Kano thought it had been a good hit.

The three men advanced on them and he clearly heard Loki say, "You should just leave more before I realize what all you've done to my friend." Kano felt his lips curve slightly in a grim smile. Most people would think drum sticks were useless in a fight. It just wasn't true when Loki wielded them. He wasn't a skilled fighter himself, but he usually could hold his own when needed. One of the guys went for Ella, who screamed a piercing scream when he grabbed hold of her, and raked her nails across his face drawing blood. Loki was poking at the other two with his sticks, covering them with what would likely be hundreds of bruises before he was done. Rory ran to help Ella her handbag swinging as if in anticipation of it's next chance to strike.

Kano went straight to Dylan, who had fallen to the ground and was shaking. He should have been crying but he wasn't. His eyes were dry, the only signs of his anxiety the expression on his face, the emptiness in his eyes, and the way he shook uncontrollably. Kano bent down and looked into his eyes.

"Dylan?" Dylan lurched, curling up and closing his eyes.

"Brown eyes," he said. Kano contemplated that for a few moments. His eyes were actually blue, like his fathers. There was no way Dylan was talking about him. He put an arm around Dylan tentatively as the fighting continued around them.

"No, they're blue. Dylan... can you stand." He thought it might be best to get Dylan away during the confusion. Dylan uncurled enough to look at Kano, his eyes were uncertain, hurt, scared.

"Kano?" Well, at least he was actually present again, but before Kano had the chance to answer Dylan was clinging to him. It was so strange that Kano blinked blankly for a moment before closing his arms around Dylan and holding him. He suspected that Dylan still wasn't crying, but he seemed to want to be held and under the circumstances Kano understood the desire. He didn't mind being the one to hold him. He looked over Dylan's head to see that Ella and Rory were sitting on top of the thug they'd been attacking. He wasn't moving and they appeared to be chatting about something. Perhaps they were deciding whether to come over or not?

Lee had shown up at some point. Kano had no idea when, but Loki was talking to him with bright animation, the other two thugs nowhere in sight. Kano breathed a sigh of relief and softly spoke to Dylan. "They're gone now, so you don't have to worry about them, okay?"

Dylan nodded silently. It felt good to hold him, maybe a bit too good.

Loki was laughing with him at something. Holding out his drumsticks in glee, "They didn't break!"

Lee grinned. It was true, who would have thought that those things could have been so effective without breaking. It wasn't like they were obvious weapons though he had learnt that no object weilded in battle should be underestimated. Some old fellow back in Japan had told him that, a veteran of the Second World War. He grinned even more widely when Loki sat, tugging him to the sand with a snicker.

"Look at those two." Lee suddenly noticed the whole reason of the skirmish, Dylan, was wrapped in Kano's embrace. He wasn't jealous at all but he did feel a pang in his chest. He did so want to be held like that one day. Though he doubted he'd ever find someone who could keep him off the shelf and help him free himself of his demons. It wasn't even like he had big demons. He had just always been the brainy kid with no real friends for so long that he wanted to know what it was like. Looking about him, he knew he'd had a taste of it today, "So cute!" The word fell from his mouth before he could stop it and Loki dissolved into giggles.

Yup, he had just used the word 'cute' and sounded like a yaoi-fangirl in the process. He almost felt embaressed but then remembered that if he could make people laugh then people would like him and that would help him make even better friends with these people. Especially people like Loki who didn't seem to have a dull moment. Or Rory. She had been a laugh since he had first met her award-winning smile and over eager personality. These were the people he wanted to know for sure.

Dylan and Kano... Well they made a beautiful pair didn't they? There was a fragility to Dylan that Kano managed to counter with that quiet, inner strength aura he seemed to exude. Or maybe that was just because he didn't talk much. He wasn't sure. He just knew that they were cute together, even if this open show of need and affection was simply the result of a near tragedy. And Lee had seen them dancing together. Both had looked about ready to fall into the others arms. Figuratively. Of course.

Though literally it had now happened.

"We need to go home." Kano was holding the still shivering form of their drunk and unhappy friend close to his body still. Dylan's face was turned into Kano's chest as if unable to look at the rest of them yet. When did Dylan become so helpless looking? Sure he'd always had that arty-fragile-but-still-secretly-strong look that he did envy a little but now the whole 'secretly strong' bit had completely vanished.

"Yeah." Rory was looking unhappy now, really concerned about her cousin, "Though I need to get him home."

"I'll help there. It's fine." Kano seemed to genuinely care too. Lee began to plot getting him to hook up with the artist at some point.

"Yey! thanks!"

"We're going a long way home?" Loki was pouting again in a really fnny way that made him snort slightly.

"If need be."

"We'll get pie on the way." Rory added seeing a funny face forming on their food obsessed companion.

They began to shift. Moving away from the music, Dylan leaning on Kano for support as he didn't seem to want to be out of contact with someone. Reassurance? Probably.

The train station was empty and they caught the last train by a grand total of thirty seconds. It was impressive in the least to see Ella and Rory leap-frog over the barriers with their tickets in hand after the boys had all gone through normally. The trip back wasn't particularly eventful. He guessed Kano and Loki would be taking Dylan back together with Rory and seeing as he lived near by to them he stated he'd tag along instead of leaving alone.

That left Ella who was going to crash at Rory's.

"Nearly there Dyl," Rory said as they passed a certain station. There was no response at all. Not a flicker of emotion or anything. It was disconcerting. It wasn't good.

I guess you could call me confused. Ella had vanished, saying she'd be back momentarily after saying hello to Rory Constant and as of yet, she hadn't emerged. I had to say that I wasn't expecting this party here, not tonight at any rate though I had heard of these things occuring quite often in the summer. I almost preferred L'Ouragan, though I knew that Ella hadn't been expecting this either.

Slowly, realising that something had probably distracted her, knowing that I didn't really want to be there in the midst of a load of frat boys sloshing themselves silly, I left. That was that. Ella would be there tomorrow, though I couldn't help worrying about her slightly. She had loads of people looking out for her of course, I'd seen Rory and her cousin Dylan and I was pretty sure I'd seen another bunch of guys from college too.

Yeah she'd be fine. I'd see her in the later hours of the morning and I'm sure she'd fill me in with the gossip if there was any that was worth knowing. Making my way to the train I fumbled my way home, still distracted and not too happy about being abandoned. Then again... I yawned... I guess this was Ella we were talking about. She never stood still. That's why we were friends.

"See you later El." I said to the night as I let myself back into my room. And somehting told me that this night would later be one to remember.

I opened my eyes then shut them again quickly; too much light, it hurt my retinas. God I've turned into a vampire, I thought lazily as I curled deeper into the blanket surrounding me, Only come out at night.

I wasn't entirely sure where I was, the blanket didn't smell like mine so I was pretty sure I hadn't made it back to my place. Had I had sex? No; clothing all still frimly in place including those huge indigo heels, so unless I put it all my clothes back on afterwards I had spent the night alone. First time this week; I was quite impressed with myself. Right, so if I wasn't at some random boy's house then where was I? There was something familiar about the smell of those sheets but my fuddled brain couldn't quite slot the pieces together. What had happenned last night? Coney Island... Dylan, Rory, oh shit, Isaac. Damn it, I'd left him behind hadn't I? But that meant I was probably at Rory's, which meant I could turn over and go back to sleep.

My phone started ringing and almost on a reflex I clawed out trying to grab a hold of it without actually leaving the comfy swathe of blankets. I only had a vague idea of where abouts in the room it was and certianly couldn't reach it but then I heard someone come into the room. I squinted up and there was Rory, her hair all over the place and a cup of steaming coffee in her hand. She kicked my phone, which was lying discarded on the floor over to me and I glanced at the time before flipping it open. Shit, I'd missed one lecture already, it was nearly 1:00.

"Hello?" I mumbled blearily down the line

"Ella, aren't you supposed to be in class?" It was Logan.

"Probably, in fact almost definately but I don't think I'd be much use in this state."

I heard him sigh down the phone. I hate those sighs, he always manages to tell me how dissappointed he is without actually saying anything.

"How drunk did you get last night?" He asked resignedly.

I rolled my eyes at the ceiling, "Not very," I lied, "Just overslept, thats all, don't worry about me Logan."

"You make it kind of hard for me kid."

I'm not a kid, I wanted to shout back, how much do I have to do to prove that to you? Instead I just grunted down the phone.

"I'm going out tonight," I added, "There's a new club I'm dieing to try, I'll text you the name and address when I'm awake properly, meet me there tonight if you're not busy."

He just sighed again and I hung up before he could lay into me. Don't get me wrong, I love my brother to bits, and some would say he's the only one I really listen to (although I don't even listen to him sometimes) but he's all I have in the way of family.

I rolled out of bed and looked up at Rory who was standing with her coffee staring out the window.

"It's not good for you you know Ella," she said absent mindedly.

I snorted, "Look who's talking! Anyway how do you manage to be so lively in the mornings?"

Rory winked at me, "medication."

I swore and fumbled around for my bag. "The only medication for a hangover is more booze." I said, pulling out my hipflask and taking a long swig. The burning liquid cut down my throat and immedaitely my head started to relax, the horrible buzzing noise so frequent with hangovers receeded.

"How's Dylan?" I asked, suddenly remembering more clearly the events of the previous night. ROry looked worried but didn't answer. I bit my lip, Dylan had struck me as always so quietly strong, you know one of those delicate Rose bushes that makes you bleed if you so much as touch it. But Dylan was the only one bleeding.

"Shit, Isaac," I mumbled as I remembered for the second time that morning that I'd dumped the poor bloke.

"Ah, yes, now what's going on between you and him?" Rory asked interestedly

I shook my head, "No, we haven't had sex, or even come close! I'm trying to keep it on the friend radar. I haven't really got many just friends."

Rory frowned at me.

"Not many guy friends," I amended quickly, "I've slept with, and will sleep with again, most of them. Anyway, Isaac's too good for me. Don't get me wrong he's cute and everything, but I don't think he'd be able to handle the fact that his 'girlfriend' is a complete loose rocket who'll try anything and anyone!"

I smiled ruefully, almost sadly, but I knew I'd never do anything about it; I was a lost cause, doomed to party myself to death chasing the thrill that dissappeared months ago.

"So I think we'll just stay friends for now."
Art book? Check. Umbrella? Check. Spare contacts? Check. Asparin? Check. Dark tinted sunglasses? Check. It was amazing how one night out and a happy-handed teacher could lead to two nights of internal pain and self-condemnation. I don't think I remember the last time that I rejected the world so completely. It might have been when I was kicked out... Or when Cael told me he didn't love me... But then again... I don't think even then I felt so... Scared? Alone? Broken?

All of those things?

After everything though... I guess I just wasn't ready to face the others. Especially after they did so much for me. I was such a mess. For christsake I'd basically been carried home because I was so pathetically weak... So much for resolution? At least I hadn't cried. I hadn't broken that promise yet. And I wasn't contemplating doing anything stupid. I just didn't want to deal with life or anything related before... I just...

I don't know... For some reason the radio was playing 'Where ever you will go' by The Calling in between some babble about a crime commited in god-knows-who-cares... I found myself cringing slightly. I remembered learning it on the guitar back when I really used to play... And I remember the way I used to be able to just play it. Without thinking. Without trying. I'd listen to a song and just... Even on piano once I'd heard it a few times...

But now everytime I pick up my old aria I just... I'm reminded of him. That's something I don't want. Not at all. Not now. I'm not ready to face him or anything he entales.

Catching my eye in the mirror that hung beside the door I realised, yet again, just how awful I looked. My eyes were bloodshot and tired, my dark hair falling in damp tendrils across my too pale face in an almost gothic manner. I personified Death. Which, honestly, wasn't the look I was going for. I ran an hand through my hair, pressed the sunglasses to my face and glanced back at the mirror again. A little better. If it wasn't so against policy to borrow Rory's bronzer I probably would have. Anything to hide how ill I looked.

Maybe if I washed out the black and blue hair dye and let it return to it's usual gold blond colour... Rory had liked the blond hair almost as much as she had grown to like it's current look. I wonder what the others would think...

That's one of the things I hate about living alone. Not being able to ask people what they think about this idea or that... Or maybe I only missed it because I'd never really been able to ask anyone until now and finally I had the option and she wasn't there. So along side the lonely feeling of waking up alone, the misery of realising you've run out of food and don't have enough in your wallet to buy anything as well as hearing the voices of everyone else with their partners... those were all my hates of living alone.

Though sometimes it's alright I guess. I don't mind it. I like my solitude. I don't know what I would have done if I'd been living with people this weekend... Probably shot them and myself in a hung-over fit of 'passion' as the people here seemed to call it. Crime of passion my ass, when you kill someone on purpose, you kill them on purpose. Unless it was self-defense.... Urgh where was my brain off too this morning?

"Dylan?" There was a quiet rapping on the door and a muffled, "Please let me in." From Rory who I knew would be on the other side with two Americanos (with-extra-shot) from Starbucks. I smiled slightly and padded, still bare footed to let her in.

She looked cold. The rain was at it again. I loved the rain... It made me feel oddly happy... Maybe it was the romance that had some how formed in my art that always seemed to begin in the rain. Hernan Bas really knew how to inspire and when compared with the rest of the Saatchi Gallery in London.... I sighed and realised that Rory had brushed passed me into the kitchen.

She frowned at me when I followed. Her eyes travelled down the fade grey skinny jeans I'd ordered from Topshop and across my black shirt that my sister had given me for my birthday. Obviously my cousin was thinking. Considering the outfit as carefully as only she could. After all it was thanks to her that nothing in my wardrobe was now complete revolting, nor embaressing or too 'fucking ridiculous' as she had said about countless artifacts I'd been sent by one of my other aunts from Camden. It's weird to think all my extended family is across the pond...

"Well what's wrong?" I asked her with a wry grin as she finished her inspection without comment, just a little look.

She shook her head, "Nothing."

It was my turn to frown. She didn't sound like her happy self. Was she... still taking her medication? What was wrong?

"What happened to Ella?" I asked, trying to break the silence and recalling a voicemail message that had the two of them giggling down her phone asking how I was and whether I wanted their company.

"She had a class this morning. Ours isn't until..." She looked up, her usually warm eyes glazing and considering the cieling midway through her sentance.

"Ours isn't until 1150 Rory..." Now I was worried. Last time she was like this.... But she wouldn't be now. She was just getting better. She hadn't had a problem for a while now. Why now? "But we're meeting Kano and Loki for a brunch at L'Ouragon. I presume Lee's coming and I think he's bringing Mel Crevas with him. He seemed to want to introduce her in hs message yesterday."

I'd had calls from all of them. Loki's had been quite simply reflective of him and Lee's had bubbled and worried and expressed concern to no avail, often becoming distracted as he spoke for over ten minutes on the tape recorded. And of course Kano... his message, simply asking how I was and saying if I need to talk I could reach him on his phone most of the day... Well that had calmed me down after staring at a blank television for nearly two hours.

"Yeah. Well we should get moving right?" She asked with a half-hearted smile.

Off to see the others. The friends I'd never known before Rory came into my life... and suddenly I could nod and offer her my arm in a mock rendition of a gentleman's bow and say, "Yup. Off to L'Ouragan."

I could look on the brightside today... I didn't have english... I had art with Rory then a Classic's lecture so everything would be okay. Rory just hadn't had her usual medecine-coffee buzz hit her yet.... Of course... That was the problem for sure....


"Can't I have some of that money I asked you to save me?" Loki pestered as Kano changed shirts for the third time.

"No, you made me promise not to give you any more of it until next month. Now, is this shirt acceptable. I'm getting sick of changing." Kano glared at Loki who'd objected to the last two shirts.

"Well, if you wouldn't try to wear sweaters when it's hot out," Loki stared at him. "Is that really a striped polo?"

"I guess, so?"

"Well, it just seems wrong on you..." Loki continued staring. Kano shook his head and picked up his bag.

"Look, if you can't tell me what's wrong with it I'm wearing it. I really don't care about clothes." That was at least half true. Kano knew there were huge problems with his wardrobe. For one thing, he'd never bought a single piece of clothing for himself in his life.

"I just didn't know you were a nerd, that's all," Loki followed along, full of energy.

"I'm not," Kano replied, "I'd need good grades for that. Unless I'm a music nerd."

"It's not the grades, it's the shirt," Loki tugged at the collar.

"My aunt gave it to me," Kano shrugged. As far as he was concerned that explained everything. The fact that he wore it with a faded pair of blue jeans only meant that he was dressed. That was the point of clothes right, to cover the body?

"Doesn't mean you have to wear it," but Loki was pretty much done with the topic. Kano could tell both by his tone and by the next thing he said. "Maybe just ten dollars?"

"No," Kano replied, knowing full well that a part of Loki trusted him to keep the money he'd saved safe for him.

"Five?"

"Stop pestering me Loki. You gave me the money, you begged me not to let you use it too quickly. I'm not going back on my word. You can't even have a dollar of it." Kano turned onto the sidewalk to L'Ouragon. Why did he feel nervous all of a sudden? Did he really look like a nerd? He stopped and looked in a store window at his reflection. No, he didn't look like a nerd. He looked like a train wreck.

"But how will I eat brunch with no money?" Loki asked, looking into the window too. "Is there someone in there we know?"

"No," Kano moved on. "As for how you will eat with no money, you will mooch, as you usually do. Don't worry Loki, I'm sure someone will feed you." He sighed, hoping he wouldn't be the one again. It wasn't that he was broke, his father gave him money regularly for school. It was more that no one person ought to be responsible for feeding Loki in any way. Loki could eat until anyone was broke.

As soon as they entered Kano's eyes went to Dylan. He and Rory were sitting at a large table in the back with Lee and a girl he really didn't recognize and wasn't all that interested in. Rory looked down, a state he'd never seen her in. It seemed natural however, with how up she'd been before. To Kano's thinking Loki was the unnatural one, always up, never truly down. He was pretty sure Loki hid a lot.

None of that mattered however. What mattered was that Dylan was there, and although he wasn't right yet, he was better. Kano went straight to the table.

"Hey, Kano, Loki, this is Mel," Lee said immediately, "Mel, this is Kano and Loki." Lee seemed to be in good spirits. Kano glanced at Mel, nodded to her without comment, then turned his eyes back to Dylan. Loki took and kissed her hand. One really never knew what he'd do next. Mel blushed.

"It's very nice to meet another beautiful lady," Loki said with a grin. Then he moved a chair between Rory and Mel and began chatting away. Good, maybe they would buy him brunch, Kano thought as he sat down next to Dylan.

"How are you?" His voice was soft and intense, full of genuine concern. Dylan's eyes widened into a quick deer in the headlights look, which he covered quickly.

"Fine, I'm sorry I was so much trouble." He looked down at the table.

"It wasn't your fault." Kano stared at him, "You do know that don't you?" Dylan looked at Rory instead of replying, and his face showed obvious concern. Kano's eyes followed his.

"Rory, are you... did you take your medicine?" She was slow to answer. When she did it was to say, "Sure I did Dyl, least I think so. I'll be right back." She stood and wandered to the ladies room. Dylan looked after her, obviously worried.

"Is something wrong with Rory?" Kano asked. Loki was the first to answer, dropping his conversation with Mel to say.

"She's just gone to the ladies, that's all. I'm sure she's just tired. She stays up late a lot. If I did that I'm sure I'd be tired all the time. Don't you think Lee?" Lee smiled.

"I get pretty tired when I stay up late." It sounded to Kano like Lee wasn't in the habit of staying up really late as often as the others. He found himself smiling. Then he stopped as one glance at Dylan said that he was still very concerned.

"Does she have some sort of illness? You mentioned medicine." Dylan shook his head.

"She's been a lot better lately. I'm sure it's just an off day," and he smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes.
I kept my attention on the food, and what I might be able to squeeze out of people. I was so hungry I didn't know what I was going to do. I looked around the table and settled on Kano, who wasn't even looking over at me. What was that? Why on earth would Kano be so... so... oh why hadn't he given me a single dollar? I sighed and looked down at my hands and just sat there for a moment, as my stomach growled. I didn't even get embarrassed, it happened to me so often I couldn't feel the shame that was supposed to come from being that hungry. I put my head on the table in depression. Mel looked over at me and gave me a small smile.

"Hungry?" she asked, and I nodded, then shrugged.

"I'm broke, and Kano won't lend me anymore money," I said, pouting slightly. Kano glanced over at me finally and snorted so softly that probably I was the only one who even noticed. I rolled my eyes and mumbled, "'Course he did get me breakfast the other day, and he took me to a buffet, so that was really nice of him." Mel smiled at me, and then at Kano.

"He's a good friend, isn't he?" she said softly and Lee looked over at us and nodded.

"You can kind of tell that they've known each other for a while. They seem to talk without speaking sometimes." Hmm... that was interesting, did we?

I looked over at Kano, who was looking at Dylan again and I knew he was worried by the way his brow was creased ever so slightly. I nodded at him once and Kano glanced my way, glanced at Dylan, and glanced at where Rory had gone. I shrugged and shook my head. I didn't think she was in too bad of a state, I really did think she was just tired, even if Dylan was worried about her.

"See," Lee said, pointing at me, "that's what I mean." I looked up at him and then around the table, where Mel, Lee and Dylan were all staring at me. This time, I blushed.

"What?" I said, lifting my head and looking at them. Lee was grinning and Dylan was looking at Kano as though trying to decide something. Mel was just smiling softly.

My stomach growled, and Lee laughed. "Perhaps we should get you a sandwich Loki, or you might just die from hunger right here."

"I got him something," came the voice of Rory, who was back from the restroom, and had a large sandwich on a plate in her hands, complete with chips. I gave her my most grateful smile, which seemed to make her lips curve up a bit. She put the plate in front of me and I started eating right away. See, I said to Kano, there's nothing wrong with Rory, she's just tired. Kano looked away from me to Dylan and started talking to him softly again, and I just shrugged, focusing on my food for a few moments.

"So, Loki, what are you going to college for?" Mel asked me and I glanced at her.

"Music," I said instantly, taking another bite of the sandwich. She nodded.

"What's your major?" she asked, and I shrugged.

"Music," I said, instantly again, and she gave me a small smile.

"Minor?"

"Music." She looked at me in confusion.

"Okay, there's something I'm missing here," and Rory chuckled.

"I think he's not got a major or minor," she said her eyes flashing in humor briefly. "I think he's just taking classes, am I right?" I nodded.

"Music classes," I said, swallowing the last bite of the sandwich and downing the last few chips. "All music classes."

"Oh," Mel said, looking at Rory, as though trying to get some idea of what good it would be to have just music classes. Rory shrugged.

"What's your favorite class?" Lee asked and I turned to him, licking my lips.

"Music?" I said, somewhat confused. Which class should be better than the rest? Lee laughed and shook his head.

"I think this subject is a bit worn out now," he said. I shrugged and stretched.

"That was good food," I said, and looked around at the others, all of which laughed at me. I wondered if I should be embarrassed and smiled at them.

"Loki," Kano said, finally looking at me. I blinked at him.

"Yeah?"

"Go, or you'll be late." I blinked a few more times and then looked down at my watch. I had class in twenty minutes.

"Oh crap, I forgot!"

"I know," Kano said. I got up in a flash.

"Sorry guys, I've got to go, see you again, just tell Kano when!" and I dashed out of the place in a moment, realizing that if I didn't run, I might really be late.
Ella sat in one of her med. classes (she didn't know which one and never listened anyway)staring at the ceiling, trying to ignore the pounding in her skull. The teacher was droning on about some boring body part which Ella had absolutely no interest in whatsoever and all she could do was watch the clock and wait for the seconds to tick by. Finally the end of the lecture came and she charged out of the room so quickly that she bumped into someone, knocking the books from his hands. She looked up to see Isaac in front of her.

"Oh shit," she saiod helplessly, "I'm sorry Isaac,"

"What for making me drop my books or dumping me last night?" said Isaac jokingly and Ella's face flamed to match her hair.

"Oh I'm so sorry Isaac, here let me make it up to you, I'm going out tonight, a new club over the other side of town." Ella fumbled around in her pocket for the scrap of paper a friend had written the name on. Finally she pulled it out and squinted at the scrawled writing.

"Bridge," she said, "It's called the Bridge, want to come?"

"Sounds great!" said Isaac smiling, "though I'll have to check, niggling feeling I've got something on tonight. I'll catch you later."

He smiled and waved. Ella waved back and moved on, she decided to skip her next class and go to L'ouragon, the others would probably all be there so it was immediatley more interesting than anything the college could offer. She wondered about Isaac's reply, did he genuinely have something on or was he trying to tell her nicely to leave him alone? Ella shook herself, she was being silly, why did she care anyway?

Loki had gone. His crazy, food-music love that had brightened up their conversation was gone off to indulge in the latter. But he was happy. Everyone seemed to be getting along quite well. Mel was even enjoying herself from what he could tell and he hadn't been sure that she'd fit in as easily as the others because she was just that little bit different from them. There seemed to be a rift between her and Rory that he hadn't expected but then again Rory was unmistakably tired today, she almost seemed unhappy but he was sure that couldn't be right. She didn't seem the unhappy type... Then again... Dylan seemed worried.

Dylan. He smiled as he looked up at the dark haired artist and saw his eyes flicker up to meet Kano's and back. They had to figure out that attraction between them because there was no way that after Friday night that there could possibly be any doubt that at least a little spark was there between them. And Kano couldn't stop checking on how Dylan was. Or checking him out. He wasn't sure which. Lee smiled to himself. He was going o figure out a game plan and get them together. Hopefully some of the others would see it too.

"Oh my god, thank fuck I found you!" Ella skimmed her way into Loki's abandoned seat. Her skin was flushed from the chill in the air that had descended over the weekend and her hair was wild in a manner that made her look like she'd been running through a gale. It looked quite cool actually, "I'm in dire need of a double shot expresso and a good laugh, my head is killing me." She said with a laugh.

Was she always hung over? Lee stood up to go see if he could buy her what she wanted. After all his feet were going numb because of the way he was sitting and he wanted to stretch his legs. Ella sent him a relieved smile, "Double shot expresso. What about the rest of you? Want anything else?"

"I'd love another latte." Mel said after a slight pause.

"I wouldn't mind one of those blueberry muffins if you're buying." Rory added, looking up with an odd expression on her face, "I havent had one of those in ages."

Lee nodded and noted that Kano and Dylan weren't listening to him. Makybe they wouldn't need a hand to get them together. With a slight shrug he picked his way between the tables to the counter.

*

"You guys do art right?" Mel was talking again when he sat back down and handed out their respective orders.

"Yup. We don't always do the same sort of stuff but we both do art." Dylan was looking more alert as the topic changed to something that he enjoyed.

"Like what?"

"Well Rory's the more creative one I think. She can just turn her hand to anything and voila," Dylan spoke with a grin that made Lee smile, "I just sort of potter and doodle."

"You're kidding right? Dylan you're incredible at portraits and all that stuff." Rory had perked up a little too though she was picking at her muffin without a smile, "He's incredible. Since he gave up playing music he's been completely dedicated."

"I like drawing people. I love drawing things that live and breathe and all that. It’s the inanimate stuff I just can’t do.”

“Whereas I’m the complete opposite.”

Rory was obviously just tired. Why was Dylan so concerned? Everyone was laughing by this point for no reason other than the banter between them. Kano was looking slightly more thoughtful now as his lips curved upwards slightly. If he was anything like Loki was on the music front, which he gathered he was, he was sure that the question of Dylan giving up music was probably one he was considering.

Mel was talking again, making Lee come back to the conversation instead of people watching. Everyone laughed again except him because he wasn't sure what the joke was but he smiled all the same. Ella knocked back her expresso with a contented sigh.

"Anyone for Bridge tonight?"

"SOunds good."

Rory nodded, looking over to Dylan who's expression became sheepish.

"I thought I might go to Castle Heights actually... It's open mic on Mondays so you get some really interesting stuff playing."

Lee just listened. These people seemed to have such interesting lives compared to him. Until he'd met them he'd only been to parties with his father, usually business parties in dinner jecket in tie. Then again... He'd never had a social life before he'd come to uni here. The whole system was so different. He'd always been controlled by his father, never had any friends of his own. That was why he really appreciated these guys and was also why he was so torn between Bridge, which he knew was reknown for it's raves, and this Castle Heights place...

"Where's Castle Heights?" Mel asked from beside him.

"83-11 Northern Boulevard." Dylan smiled at her, "It's in Queens."

"Sounds good actually." Mel smiled at Dylan. Was there something there? No he was imagining things this time.

Oh dear his mind really was going awol.

And Rory had closed up again over her muffin. Dylan going back to looking worried. And brunch he realised was coming to an end.
After reading the address over and over again, Isaac put it in his pocket and headed for his next class. Along the way, he bumped into Elizabeth Sloane. Again the books were dropped and he bent down to pick them up.

"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth said as she helped Isaac with his books.

"Don't worry about it, it's not the first time this has happened today. And I doubt it will be the last." He smiled, and she smiled back at him. Isaac thought about something for a minute.

"A bunch of people are going out to the new club tonight. Maybe you've heard of it. Bridge?"

"Yeah I've heard of it. What about it?"

"Well, I was wondering if maybe you'd like to join us."

"I'd love to."

"Alright, I'll see you there." Now he had to go tell Ella he was coming. But he didn't think he should mention that Elizabeth was gonna be there.

Mel: "Thanks for bringing me along and introducing me to everyone," I said quietly to Lee as people started to pick up their bags.

"Hey hey," he replied with a stunning smile and a swish of his crazy hair, today styled to hang over one eye, "that's no problem. It was about time you met the gang anyway."

"Yeah, well, thanks." It was nice to be sitting with a group of friends, work never really left much time for socialising outside of sitting around in shoots. "So are you going to Bridge it up tonight, or are you up for coming to Castle Heights?"

His expression became comfused. "Bridge it up?"

"Sorry," I felt the beginnings of an embarrassed flush hit the back of my neck. "Left over slang from parts of south london. It's not great."

To my suprise, he laughed. "It must be cool travelling around in Europe, that's one place I never really went..."

"To be honest, it gets tiring. It's nice to be able to study and settle in one place for a while." Everyone was on their feet and starting to leave. I caught a glimpse of Rory still sat at the table, staring at her muffin through the flurry of jackets. "Well, have a good time tonight, what ever you decide. It would be nice to see you at Castle Heights though."

I missed his reply as I turned towards Rory.

"Hey." I pulled a chair up to join her at the table. "Aren't you heading off too?"

She looked at me, and I was startled by how intense her gaze was when she finally focused on me. "Well, yes. But I haven't finished my muffin yet."

"I'll wait with you if you like?"

"No, it's ok." She looked towards Dylan, who was waiting for her by the door. "I'm not that hungry any more anyway."

We stood up, and I linked my arm through hers as we walked towards the door. Smiling at Dylan as he held it open for us, I asked "So is anyone else actually coming to Castle Heights tonight or not?"

Was anyone elsse coming to Castle Heights? I wasn't sure.... I knew that I normally went with Rory and that she probably wasn't coming along. I had hoped that maybe Kano or Loki might have been interested seeing as they were so into their music but I wasn't sure any more. So instead I smiled at Mel with a shrug,

"I really don't know," I said, considering the fact that before Rory had comeinto my life I had used to go on my own or with Cael and I'd even played there once or twice before I stopped playing... "I was just going to go on my own if no one else wan't to come." I laughed now and shrugged, "Anyway if Ella's going to Bridge I'm sure others are going like Isaac or that friend of his... Watshername.....?"

"Elizabeth?"

"Yeah that one!" I grinned as name was set to face with Mel's general knowledge of the people we walked past everyday and never really spoke to. Lack of opportunity seemed to strike quite often.

Mel nodded and we headed outside after the others, "Lee?" She directed the query at the half-oriental oddball and the younger teen just gave us a lopsided smile that was so innocently boyish I could help but smirk.

"I think I'll come with you guys. I don't feel like jumping around to techno-trance-ga-ga."

We all chuckled at that, including Rory who had linked arms with me without my noticing. I frowned as I looked at her. She still had good posture but her head wasn't raised high and her eyes were watching the feet of the black heeled shoes infront of her. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't being goofy or loud and she wasn't asking me to carry her or her bag or anything. I knew she'd been on a high recently but just hadn't expected her to become low aftewards.... Just assumed she'd go back to being sober but happy.

Was it something I hadn't done? Had I missed something whilst I had been holed up in my appartment? I must have. I should have kept a better look out for her. She couldn't do this again.

"Definately going Bridge?" I asked her quietly.

She glanced up and nodded, "Yup. I want to rave."

"Fair enough." Mel had a nice smile. She would be amazing to draw... That classic sort of look made my fingers itch. I looked over my shoulder to see Kano with Ella talking quietly. I felt a symaltaneos twitch in my hands and a swarm of jealousy which I instantly chose to ignore. No matter what I think I thought at Coney Island... There was no way someone like Kano would need or want a curse of nature lik myself.

"Wow awkward turtle here guys!" Lee suddenly piped up nervously, making a strange gesture with his hands.

Mel groaned and I heard a similar grunt from Ella behind us who also giggled lightly, "You're not meant to say that!"

"It wasn't really awkward til you said it." Mel added to Ella's statement.

Lee had the decency to look sheepish and I thought I saw amusement flicker over Kano's impassive face.

"Why don't we try and meet back here at about four thirty to finalise plans." Rory suddenly said with a small bout of enthusiasm.

Was I overreacting?

"Sounds like a plan, my dear!" Lee darted over to Rory's other side with the puppydog face he seemed to adopt so naturally.

"Yeah. Sounds alright. I'll bring Loki too."

I nodded as Kano spoke up and fond myself smiling. I really did hope he'd come. Which was when I saw a familiar head of hair, a familiar face and I knew I had to run away now, no matter that I would be early to class, because otherwise I'd breakdown again.

I grabbed Rory's hand and tugged her forward with a burst of speed, "Shit Rory we're going to be late. Sorry guys got to dash!"

And pulling Rory after me, I left a slightly dazed group of people behind, just so I could avoid my most bitterly kept secret.
Kano turned his head and looked behind himself as Dylan dashed off. He'd seen someone or something. Then again Kano could have been imagining the look in Dylan's eyes. No, he really didn't think so. Everyone behind them seemed perfectly fine, so Dylan didn't have the same effect on whoever or whatever had spooked him. He shook his head and sighed. Dylan was definitely complex, but not in a bad way. At least for the moment he didn't feel it was a bad way.

He took his time getting to class. Fundamentals of Musicianship was every bit as boring as it's name implied. It didn't help that his particular class seemed to contain more than its fair share of obnoxious idiots. These were people who thought that if you didn't want to play in a famous orchestra or sing opera you shouldn't major in music.

The worst part was that when Sano chose to disagree one of them had labeled him as immature and naive. Now whenever he answered a question in lecture a ripple of giggles would traverse the room. It was worse than going back to high school.

What bothered him most was that he suspected he could play circles around most of them. Not a single one of them were in his Advanced Keyboarding class Level 2. To him this meant they were taking the usual freshman coursework which included Beginning Keyboard I. At least he'd avoided that. How boring it would be.

He arrived in the classroom just in time to take his seat before the lecture began. Then he fought off drowsiness for the next couple hours, avoiding his classmates on breaks. After class he hunted Loki down.

"We're meeting the others at 4:30 to tell them you and I are going to Castle Heights tonight," he said in matter of fact tones.

"Oh? I thought it was Bridge tonight. Isn't that where everyone's going?" Loki's stomach growled, "hey Kano, I'm hungry, can you loan me a five?"

"No, use your food card. That's what you bought it for." Kano changed direction, heading to the exit closer to the Student Union. That was one of the places a food card could be used.

"But the cafeteria's so far away," Loki complained. "Can't we go somewhere closer?"

"No," Kano walked in long strides, so that Loki had to walk quickly to catch up.

"My stomach is growling," Loki turned big pleading eyes on Kano.

"Good thing we're going to the cafeteria then." Honestly, some days Kano felt like he was babysitting not talking to a friend. Loki made an exasperated noise.

"Fine then, why Castle Heights? I thought everyone wanted to check out Bridge." Loki turned around so he was walking backwards and facing Kano as he spoke.

"Castle Heights sounds more interesting. Be careful Loki, when you do that there's almost always a disaster."

"There is not, you're exaggerating." Loki stuck his tongue out. "What makes Castle Heights sound so interesting."

"It just does. If you'd rather go to Bridge then go." Kano reached out a finger as if to push Loki's tongue back into his mouth and Loki stopped sticking it out.

"No, I just feel like there's something I'm missing that's all, and leave my tongue alone."

Kano grinned, "then don't stick it out where people can get to it. You might loose it one of these day." He opened the door to the History building. It was faster to go through it than around.

"Oh hey," Loki began grinning, "you won't believe what happened in class today." Kano listened as he babbled on and on, or at least he half listened. He was looking forward to spending a bit more time with Dylan that night. Maybe they'd get a chance to talk. Of course the problem was Kano never knew exactly what to say to anyone and that got worse if he actually liked them.

As they left the history building Loki was walking full force backward, missed the curve in the sidewalk, "Loki watch..." and ran into the bushes that edged it, "out." Kano had known something like that would happen.

"Ow," Loki took Kano's extended hand and pulled himself out of the bushes. "So then..." Kano shook his head, barely a pause and Loki was back to his story like nothing had happened.

"Uh huh," Kano nodded glad that Loki was no longer walking backwards in front of him.
I walked with Kano to meet the others and continued to wonder why it was that Kano wanted to go to Castle Heights instead of the Bridge. It seemed rather odd to me, so I decided to try to get more out of him again.

"So..." I began, and Kano turned to me.

"You said this looked fine Loki, don't tell me you're changing your mind," he said warningly. I glanced at his faded t-shirt and slightly worn out jeans and nodded.

"Yeah, you look good in that," I said, focusing on it really for a moment. I'd loaned him one of my pairs of jeans, because honestly I couldn't imagine him in anything other than that where we were going, and the effect of his ancestry with those clothes was rather good. I'd braided a few small strands with feathers in his hair, effectively pulling the hair away from his face so he couldn't hide behind it, and I liked the way it turned out. "In fact, you look kinda hot," I said, looking away from him and paying attention to the ground for a moment. "But that wasn't what I was going to say." I glanced at him just in time to realize I might have said something embarrassing, but I didn't know what, as his face was rapidly going from light pink back to it's normal color.

"What then?" he said, somewhat snappishly.

"Well," I wondered if this was a good idea afterall, "I wanted to know why Castle Heights?"

I could feel Kano rolling his eyes. "Because I said so Loki," he said finally. I rolled my eyes.

"I see," I said sarcastically. "That makes perfect sense."

"Just drop it," and his tone left nothing more for me to try to divine. I realized that he was incredibly closed about something, and I wondered what it was. Perhaps I would find out what when we made it to the gathering.

Which we did a moment later, Lee was there, Ella and Mel as well, but neither Rory nor Dylan was there. I waved enthusiastically and almost hit someone passing by in the face. "Sorry!" I said as he glared at me and dashed off.

"Hi!" Lee said, waving less exuberantly at me. "How are you two?"

"Great!" I said, not waiting for Kano to say anything.

"So we're waiting for Dylan and Rory?" Kano said softly, I think I was the only one who noticed.

"Yep," I said as the other three seemed to wonder what I was answering. I shrugged. "So, it's Bridge or Castle Heights, right? The big decision?"

"I think Bridge," Ella said, shrugging a shoulder.

"Castle Heights," Lee said, grinning.

"Kano's for Castle Heights. I don't really know much about either, but I don't think I could leave Kano alone, you know?" I grinned, but the joke didn't go over well with Kano, even if it seemed to make the others laugh. Kano turned dark eyes on me as I smiled, and I felt a stab of annoyance, related to, perhaps, sadness that I didn't make him smile. I wondered why he really wanted to go to Castle Heights.

It was at that moment that Dylan and Rory showed up, and I wondered what had happened to them. Rory seemed totally depressed, and Dylan... well, he looked like he'd just seen a ghost or something. Then I looked at Kano, and I knew, instantly, why he wanted to go to Castle Heights.

Oh, what on earth was it like to want to be with someone? In an instant, I wanted to feel that way. Then my stomach growled.

"I'm hungry," I said, to no one in particular.

"What the hell!?" I found myself being dragged along by Washington Park towards the art studios at least twenty minutes before we had to be making our way there. What was Dylan doing? I could feel where his fingers were pressing into my skin so uncomfortably, "Dylan you're hurting me!"

He stopped abruptly, spinning round to look straight into my face. His hands were on my shoulders now, his eyes raking over me as if trying to remove the finely applied Bobby Brown foundation with his eyes. "I'm sorry. Are you ok?"

"no"

I stared at him before turning my attention back to the slightly scuffed toe of my Viviene Westwood boots that I'd had since the autumn shoot in Paris two years ago. I quite liked what I was wearing today...

"Rory?"

Dylan looked vaguely well dressed today, but the sight of his lanky frame merely welled up tendrils of frustration.. he was really getting on my nerves. I was fine. I didn't need him to look at me as if I was going mad. Or maybe I was just imagining things.

"Rory. Are you alright? What's wrong? Do you-"

That snapped my head up to meet his gaze. I wasn't imaging things. His ragged bag with the macbook in was swept behind on shoulder so only the side that was held together with safety pins was visible from behind him. His hands looked like they wanted to reach out again and check my temperature or something. Just because I wasn't bubblegum and blase all over again today... I glared, the same face I used with my contractor when I didn't want to do something completely unreasonable, like shoot for nike or adidas or something, was being aimed straight at my overly protective cousin.

"I'm fine. I'm tired and I'm in need of some chill time."

"We can go home after class if-"

"No. For godsake Dylan!" I was just so angry. Had I taken my meds today? I couldn't remember. Oh yeah... I'd missed them. They made me emotionless, and painting without emotion was.... "You know I'm going to be tired!"

"What?" He looked confused, black dyed hair falling over his pale face in the way he let it when he didn't want the world to see his feelings.

Why was he allowed to do that when I wasn't? One hand made it's way into my hair that was now far too short for my liking and clutched at the fine blond strands. He reached out as if to move it away but dropped it as soon as he looked in my face.

"The one day I need to relax and you fucked it up!" I burst out. I'd been feeling like this since Saturday afternoon because I'd been so homesick and cold and the parisian that I was doing that shoot for had been determined to work his magic on me. The parisian I'd asked Dylan to help me out with by pretending to be my boyfriend. And the boy had forgotton! He'd left me to try and keep myself safe from the redblooded cock-sure frog that had nearly managed to persuade my agent to allow me to do a nude shoot for the latest mui mui pair or shoes. I sniffed at the memory, "You didn't even think did you!? Going off like that! To dance with those bloody frat boys!"

Dylan looked like he'd been slapped in the face, "I didn't mean to-"

"Of course you didn't! You never do! But the one time I need to relax before that stupid shoot and you balls it up for me! And then you left me to deal with the french bastard on my own when you promised to be there!"

"I didn't think... I didn't try..." He was stammering and looking at me with the far too pretty eyes that made him beautiful and I couldn't bring myself to stand there with him anymore. I was nearing hysterical and I could tell. So I walked passed him, ignoring his attempts to apologise and talk to me until he slowed down and let me walk into art ahead of him. My anger still seething.

I didn't want to go to Bridge tonight at all. I felt like curling up under 300 thread count sheets with my acient teddybear and a punch bag... But Dylan would be there watching over me. What should I do?

My feet stabbed in agony, sharp needles shooting up past my ankles as i pounded the pavement, the jewelled tones of the soles flashing at dylan who dogged behind me like a wretched stray. The pain was good, it reminded me of treking around london having polish guys chat me up and carry around my suitcase to several train stations and a taxi when the circle line closed. I could have crutches in new york and noone would help me. The doors of the college were to the east of washington square and with my furious pace I barely noticed the old red brick building coming into view as I instinctively turned and ran across into the studio.

Most people expect people like me to only obsess over fabrics and designs and people... But I don't. As much as I love them. And as much as I based my last project on the first two subjects, this time I wanted to focus on charcoal and different medias when creating a city. It wasn't thrilling at first glance but so far my project had been going well and today I had decided to draw the view from my flat in pencil and charcoal and indian ink. So I had the photo, the layers of paper... I wanted it to have feeling though... Reflect more than just buildings and streets...

And so into the drawing I tried to pour my emotions, hopeless anger, terrible sadness. Anxiety pushed my aching, graphite-blackened fingers on. And the picture before me developed, and became... Something unrecognisable to the city I was trying to portray. There were the skyscrapers and the road and the crowds and cars and general traffic but it wasn't the city. It was wrong.

I hated it. I glanced around the class room. There was Dylan being brilliant as he painted so perfectly the image of a couple dancing, kicking up sand and surrounded by bodies. It was passionate and you wanted to look at it. I looked back at the scrub I had made.

"My dear! It is so full of expression..." The professor was looking over my shoulder now and I scowled. It was so wrong though, "It is one of your best creations."

So did that mean the rest of my project was... poor?

The new girl was drawing another face similar to many of the ones she had done before. They were good but where was the emotion. She was a portrait artist who couldn't deliver any emotion. But she was better than I was at doing this.

I sat that in solitude and contemplating my resentment over the peice of kitkat wrapper I had used before. It was like a pair of balenciaga boots. A nice design with far too many buckles to be good. I had to stop thinking about shoes. It only reminded me of the shoot I'd so wanted to miss.

Dylan was waiting for me outside of L'Ouragon. I ground my teeth and glared again before walking passed him into our favourite cafe. He did look anxious, worried and for a fleeting moment even scared but I couldn't bring myself to care right at that point.

The first thing I noticed was that there were two more people sitting at our table. That made quite a few people. There was Lee sitting by Mel and Loki just across from Kano looking slightly down for him. There was Ella who was already drinking what looked to be a mocha with cream... And then next to her was Isaac and a girl I didn't know so well but who's rouge head band reminded me of the one Shirley Bassey had worn at Glastonbury festival. What was her name? Elizabeth something? Mel had talked about her at brunch but I couldn't recall a surname.

"Hey guys." Lee waved and ushered us in, offering me his seat next to Mel as he went to nick another one from a different table.

"Hey," Dylan managed a small smile as he drew up a chair next between Kano and Elizabeth, "So who's doing what?"

I noticed how he looked first at Kano, who must have changed his hair because he looked amazing with it pulled back off his face, then to Loki and Lee and the others.

"Well I'm up for Castle Height's to be honest," Mel said with a much more welcoming grin on her face than my cousin's half hearted smile before. It seemed sycophantic to me and i cast my eyes to the table. WHy was everybody annoying me today?

"Same." Lee nodded repeatedly for a few seconds, "I don't much want to listen to club anthems tonight I'm afraid."

"I'm with you on that." Kano agreed in his velvetine voice and Loki simply gave that lopsided grin of his own as he said something about going to buy pie and rising form his seat. He never changed. Never worried. His detachment comforted me in a vague sort of way.

"Is everyone going to Castle Heights then?" Ella looked at me and everyone else in turn. She looked slightly put out but I guess it was up to her what she was doing, "Bridge should be good."

"I think I might chill without the others El. I'm really tired." I said quietly. "I'm just going to go home and fix myself a large G&T"

"What about you and Elizabeth?" Ella inquired.

"I think we'll just go with what everyone's doing. These things are only really fun in big groups anyway." Isaac spoke for both of them as Elizabeth gave a thumbs up over the rim over her coffee mug. She must have ordered a cappucino. They came in the biggest mugs... almost like soup bowls.

With an exasperated laugh Ella flung up her hands, "Ok. Castle-heights it is!"



Maybe Rory was ill. She looked really pale, as if she needed hot chocolate and a disney movie. Lee had only discovered disney a couple years ago when he'd been babysitting one of his boarding school teacher's three year old girl. Now he wondered if his italian-class buddy was doing ok. The group was muttering among themselves, laughing, telling jokes about their day, the usual. He grinned and glanced across at Loki who was tucking into pie with enthusiasm.

"So it's open-mike night?"

"Yup. Monday's always are. It should be good." Dylan smiled at Elizabeth who had asked for the clarification, "I know people who have paed there before. It's generally the best time to go. The most fun."

"You played there yourself once." Rory piped up, though she didn't look up from her coffee which she was frowning at as if the cream had insulted her.

Dylan looked sheepish and shrugged, "A long time ago."

Rory's frown deepened, "A year ago."

Lee was awed. These people were super. He had never met people who had done gigs until he'd come here. Though he guessed Kano and Loki did too. And Rory was smiling for a moment as he passed her a napkin to wipe the dribbled of americano from the side of her mug which he suddenly realised had actually been what she was frowning at. She was really striking. Like Mel. Hang on, he was hanging about with musicians and models... And wild, parting going types like Elizabeth and Ella. And he hadn't even had to pretend he was older or anything... Was his life changing? Since his mum had died... No he wouldn't go there...

Maybe he would never be shelved again. Maybe he would. But he was content to just enjoy this while it lasted.

"Well I'm off." Ella said, putting down her mug, "See you all there round eightish."

"I think I'll do the same. I need to pick up my brother's birthday present." Mel stood up with Ella as the rest of the tables voiced their farewells.

"Oh see ya." He added to everyone else's goodbyes, "Kano, you and Loki aren't that far from my room so shall we see each other at the station?"

Kano and Loki glanced at each other and then nodded, "Sounds fine."

Lee grinned, "Awesome. hey Dylan you're only a couple stops from us. Why don't we all sit together on the train?"

Dylan, who looked much better than he had this morning shrugged and nodded and glanced at Rory and then at the others before he agreed completely, "That sounds like a good plan. I'm going to be off now though. I've a cople errands to do before tomorrow so I'll see you on the train."

Lee noticed that everyone seemed to be readying to go. Draining his coffee he smiled across to Elizabeth, she was really sweet, seemed to like to laugh a lot too. He wondered what she studied at the moment. That went for Isaac too.

It was then that he realised he had forgotten to call his dad last night for the weekly one over.

Shit.


A Non-Existent User
Elizabeth was excited for that night. Though she'd been to almost every club around, she'd never even heard of Castle Heights, never the less been to it. It was sure to be a lot of fun with the load of characters who were going.

Although, Elizabeth was a bit worried that she might lose her head and start drinking, but hopefully she wouldn't get too crazy, but, she'd just have to wait and see.

"Well, I guess it's time to get ready..." She said to herself, pulling out of her thoughts.

Walking around her room, she wandered around in her closet and drawers before finding something fitting for that night. A cute white skirt, a simple purple top, and a striped head band to match.

After throwing on some makeup, and a pair of high heels, Elizabeth headed downstairs. It was almost time for everyone to meet up.
As I got ready to head out, I double checked my outfit. Not that I normally cared what I looked like when going out with friends, but tonight, I felt different. Whether it was a place I hadn't been before, or whether it pertained to Elizabeth or Ella, I couldn't tell.

Something had changed. I walked out of my small apartment and got in my car. I had to go pick up Elizabeth and from there, we would meet up with everybody else.

As I pulled by the curb in front of Elizabeth's apartment, I was about to honk the horn announcing my arrival, but thought better of it. It wasn't gentleman-like to honk a horn at a girl when you arrived. I knew too many scum bags like that.

I got out of the car and headed up to the stairs. As i opened the door, I nearly ran over Elizabeth. I quickly apologised. Then I took a look at her. She looked magnificent. Even though it was everyday attire, for some reason, she made it look radiant.

"You're letting flies in your mouth," she giggled. That was when I realised that my mouth was wide open. I smiled sheepishly and we headed to my car, on our way to meet with the others.

I could easily say that I was pleased Castle-Heights had attracted the most attention. I was dressed to go now, glad that I would be meeting Kano, Loki and Lee at the station. The skinny black jeans I had doned left only the most important things to the imagination and I had managed to remember, miracle of miracles, Rory had told me to do to accentuate my good points... Like the fact that I have slim but not peg like legs and that my hips, though they stick out, make my torso look stronger if I wear off-set belts.So yeah, looking in the mirror like I had that morning, I felt I had made a hlaf decent effort to look good in smasual. I straightened the collar of the grey shirt Rory and I had designed together for her art project, patches and logos sown on over the left hand side. Rory would have liked it. If she wasn't mad at me. She hadn't spoken to me since this morning.

On the plus side though, I didn't look like death like earlier and I hadn't seen that teacher all day and Kano was coming tonight which was the aim I guess. The only thing I was worried about, other than the fact that I had been concerned about whether or not Kano was there, was the place itself. I had some memories there that were too amazing... Christ... I even performed there a couple years ago... When I first went out with Cael. But I was meant to smile because they happened... What was it Cicero said? It better befits a man to laugh at life than lament over it. I didn't want to 'lament' over Cael anymore. Or my father. Or my enforced blackmail.

PESSIMISM! I cursed as I looked at my mp3 player. Dashboard Confessional 'Vindicated'. No wonder I was being morose. I changed the track. 'PS shock the world' lit up the screen. I smiled. That was exactly what I intended to do.

I may be labelled as some kind of emotional, cynical, depressing wreck. But I was ready to remember who I could be... Afterall, since highschool people had been less keen to judge me by my past. Because no one knew me? Probably. I had L'Ouragon now and I had friends.

I ran through their names in my head. Rory then Lee with his crazy hair, Mel with her incredible bonstructure that I itched to put onto paper, Isaac who I had met for the first time today who seemed intersting enough though a tad quiet, Elizabeth who was just so smiley I could not help but like her. And Ella, obviously, raver that she is. Then Loki who reminded me of one of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan and Kano... I didn't know what to think about Kano.

How long did I have before they realised Rory was right to hate me?

I closed my front door carefully, locked it and tucked away the key. There's not so much to steal but what is there is precious to me... like my grandfather's record player and vinyl collection. Then again this part of town isn't as dodgy as where I lived before thanks to Rory's intervention...

Rory... Why was she so angry at me? I recognise the fact that she's on a low... But... I thought of the way she'd dressed in dark blues and greys today, her fashion of wearing clothes that she'd altered herself not showing on the outfit she'd chosen today. She had still looked amazing but the spirit, the vibrant passion I was used to had dulled and she had vacated to the inner musing of her mind.

Usually I don't go to Queens all that much. I used to. I had a band mate who lived there so I'd often visited. Then he had moved to New Jersey, met a girl and given up playing rock music. At the time I had been upset but then I gave up playing too and I was no longer upset at him...

The underground station was almost empty, the late rush hour not yet quite started. The walls seemed cavernous and huge as I stood there waiting for the train. Lee had dropped me a text telling me which number they were on. A tune fled through my head, clear like a bell... Humming it I watching down the tunnel mouth. They always intrigued me... Subways... How had normal men managed to build these things so deep underground? How many had died? Had any? Stupid questions that leaked into the tune. I really was messed up.

"Dylan!" Loki's voice travelled out from behind me.

Spinning I saw where they were waving from the subway door. It wasn't full and I felt a little sheepish that I'd been waiting on the wrong platform. With a slap on the back and a wide smile I settled into a seat by the window across from Kano and Lee and next to Loki. I tucked my legs up to my chin, I was more comfortable like that.

"So what's up fellas?" I asked, drawing out the english left in my accent. That was one thing I had lost, the distinct english in my voice from when I was little. I didn't mind so much, just with Rory around I almost missed it's refined intonations.


"Not much. Lee just discovered that gum on seats is antisocial."

I noticed now how the teenager was uncomfortably sitting on his chair, a frown on his face. He certainly didn't look happy. I laughed slightly and tipped my head back against the seat.

Kano hadn't said anything. Only smiled and nodded hello. I t made sense. Kano didn't talk. I couldn't help but wonder why. I decided to back up the world's oppinion of me though and keep the laughter on my face, smile in place. I wanted to forget how tense I had been feeling lately, but I didn't want to do it with a drink. Not tonight. I grinned now. I was surprising myself.


*

Castle-heights is a normal building, not at all like a castle, in a busy steet in Queens. The walls are the dark, dirty brown of a city wall; the entrance, sheilded by a single bouncer in a DJ, leads down a flight of stairs into a huge, dungeon like basement. However the large grey stone walls that give it it's almost austere look are broken up by black chiffon and strobe lighting as well as low pine wood tables pressed into the sides. The lights now were dim rather than flickering though as lights danced over a stage where a single man was playing a guitar on a stool. The tune was catchy.... The bar was a long bar with cocktail magicians behind it, the hum of the room reverberated from the signs of awe as one barman span a bottle across the tips of his fingers.

Yeah I loved this place. Why had I ever left it?

"Hey there's Mel over there with Isaac and Lizzy!" Lee bellowed over the music. Pointing for the rest of us, I followed his finger to where the other three had saved an area for all of us.

"Evening guys." Loki bounded though the crowd as the rest of us struggled our way through. So we were only waiting for Ella now. Kano, Lee and I finally managed to settle into the surounding seats.

"Tonight should be good. This guy's not the best but apparently there's a nice line up of people wanting to play." Isaac offered up as we made ourselves comfortable.

"Really? Who?"

"Well a couple local legends have turned up and 'What-a-Mug' from college. They're meant to be pretty awesome."

"Sounds cool."

"I thought that girl Jade was playing around here..." Loki mused to himself, "She's meant to have pipes. Right Kano?"

Kano shook his head slightly, "No, she mentioned playing in Queens the other day. Not that she was here though."

"Who's Jade?" I asked. The name rang a bell, but what with the huge number of people swarming through my life at school, it wasn't a very large bell.

"She's a girl from music. I don't think it's her major but she seems alright. A lot of bark." Kano filled us in quickly. His voice was still level, but it carried in a way I knew mine wouldn't even with a microphone.

I realised Ella still hadn't turned up... And I thought of Rory for no reason too... She'd be fine... But maybe Ella had decided to drop in on her instead... The lights went down and up again on a different act. Four people were on the stage. The Droogs... I knew them! I beamed. They were good. I had thought to soon though.

"Fuck! Sorry I'm late." Ella came in with a crash and a fairy green cocktail in hand, "Had to go to the bar first and I ran into a friend of mine." She slumped into a seat with a sigh, taking a sip of the toxic looking concoction, "Good stuff this. It's a green goblin. Strong though."

Elizabeth lent over, "Can I try it?"

"Go for it."

The music started up with the crowd baying and crying out for more. It was huge, the swell of sound as The Droogs launched into something I hadn't heard before. Obviously fans had followed them here. I saw Liz's face relax with the taste of the drink. I smiled and stood, "Who wants what? I'll get this round."
Mel: Castle Heights was dizzying. People and people and people... and more poeple.

"Hi!" I smiled at Ella as she slid across the leather sofa next to me. She looked beneath the table as her feet connected with a red object that shot onto the dance floor. "Sorry! My feet hurt," I apologised red faced as I leapt up to collect my shoes.

In all honesty, my feet did hurt. But the reason I'd taken them off was actually because in the towering red stilletos I'd nicked from my last shoot, I felt a little like the BFG. I'm not a short girl.

As I chased after my lost accessory, I found someone had beaten me to it. Standing up straight to face my shoe-stealer, I was glad of the lack of extra inches in my height. This way, I got to look up into Lee's smiling face as he pressed leather that I couldn't tear my eyes away to look at into my hands.

"Here you go."

He smiled and I was lost. He was looking stunning. I've always had a thing for guys with a sharper, different look to them, and he combined exotic with classic good looks. I'd always felt more comfortable with Lee than I had with anyone else in teh group so far, but until this moment I hadn't realise I fancied him. A lot.

And all of a sudden I wasn't that comfortable anymore. I was feeling hot!

"Thanks," I breathed, turned red and ran back to the sofa where I collasped next to Ella, knocking her bring on the way down.

"Woah!" she laughed as just a little drizzle escaped the glass, "you ok?"

"Fine." I answered.

But actually, I was as far from fine than I had been in a long while.
My key clashed with the bronze disk several times before it connected with the hole and slid into it, creating a muffled clink. I kicked the door once with my shoe, The aluminium spike connecting with the door and leaving a hole shaped mark as I scuffed along the door with the pointed tip of the gunmetal shoe. Stupid shoe. Stupid door. As I entered the hall with it's white carpet and plush blood walls, covered in red jaquard that seemed to glitter with the light from an ancient geisha lamp that my mother had seen fit to throw in my room at the age of 4. She, too, was wearing a red kimono, and this was painted in detail onto the smooth wooden form. Her skin was yellowing with age and chips covered her paint-work, but her perfectly formed lips smirked at me as she stood on my fathers regimental drum.

A mirror, running from floor to ceiling behind her, reflected me accurately and without an utterence of flattery. My face looked pinched. Dark circles were painted thickly under eyes where irises disappeared into pools of blackness that were set deep into my pale face. They mirrored the soft, dark charcoal of my V neck tee. White blonde hair was weighed down to the point where it was plastered onto my scalp and my nose was red and blotchy from the tears that rolled silently down my cheeks and to the corner of my mouth, collecting in the indentation before plunging into nothingness. If a photographer ever shot this his Development solution would curdle.

Resting against the drum was a large oil painting. A black London cab on a busy street. Reflected in the cab was a little girl, about 8, pointing. She was the subject. Her body language was confident and she seemed poised, but her face was lost. It was the eyes. Hours I had spent on those tiny eyes, making them well up with tears but never spill. Anger rose through me like a violent toxin when I remembered that it was Dylan's favorite. I felt my back straighten as I kicked off my shoes, carefully aiming them at the painting. A sickening grin covered my face as I heard a satisfying tear where aluminum spike met canvas and two holes were slashed through the girl and her finger, one shoe ricocheting of the hard drum to distort the canvas further. Suddenly, sadness engulfed me and smothered all other thoughts. I felt numb. That was one of my best paintings. I was going to send it to my brother. I had spent hours preparing. The only thoughts running through my head as I watched tears splash onto the white carpet were those that categorized and archived the incident.

Coughing, I stumbled in bare feet to the end of the corridor and through an archway into the kitchen. Trashed by Ella the night before, packets of green Pringles and dirty plates with crusted on bolognese sauce greeted me from the cheap wooden table. Flowers were strewn all over the table from their original location in a glass vase, sparkling at me from where it now lay on the wooden pew that was pushed against one wall. Three wooden chairs, in various states of dissaray, lined the other side of the table.

"Dylan only cleaned that up from her last decimation on tuesday." I muttered darkly, the thought of Dylan and his strange obsession with keeping my pit clean (and not his) unwelcome to my still smarting mind.

To my right, the kitchen with it's royal blue stone counter tops was spotless, and the child-locked “baby gate” that he had set up for me still stood. When drunk, no one could open it, to the point where Ella had taken to carrying a fridge's worth of stuff to my place after a night out. I still hadn't told her that I had worked it out- a part of me didn’t want to. Mexican tiles gleamed at me with cleanliness as I stumbled over to the gate, leaning my left hand and its brandy bottle on the island that was the fourth wall of the kitchen. With my right I fumbled with the lock, staggering in over the pastel blue and white floor.

The longest wall of counters went from the corner of the room to the door, where it turned abruptly and formed a row of counters overlooking the table, like a peninsula. This short row ended with the baby gate, where an island was located at right angles to it. The Island was fairly long, and connected by another baby gate to the short wall of counters against the other wall of the room, completing the rectangular shape of the area which took up a corner of the big room. A Short whisky glass had been left by the sink, which too faced "Ella's crater", as the wooden table had become affectionately known. I knocked it towards me and then twisted open the bottle.

As I turned on the balls of my feet to tend to the bottle the kitchen seemed to blur. Blues pulsated in time to the roaring headache that I’d developed over the past two days. The colours merged with the reds of the hall until all I could see was darkness, creeping over me like an animal, pinning me down. I felt suffocated. Out of instinct, I blindly grasped at the counter top with my left hand, and the bottle it held plummeted to the floor and shattered until the floor glittered and Burgundy snaked through the crystals like a bloody arctic ocean.

“FUCK” I screamed, crouching to the floor and grabbing a tea towel to staunch the flow of blood. The quick movement made me light headed, an once again I could feel the energy in my body pulsating and withering, rocking back and forth without any balance, random spikes in my fingers and back. I felt pain. At this point, it was impossible to tell where the bleeding was coming from because my lungs felt like they were in a vice, and my hands were trembling as though I had a fever.

My back to the Whitewashed oak counter door, I slid downwards until I was sitting in my grey jersey bubble skirt on the floor in a pool of blood and glass. It seemed viscous, the liquid’s movement was so slow. As I began to close my eyes the pain seemed to go. I could feel nothing. I let my hand rest on the floor, the other still clutching the tea towel like a ball. Pain shot through it in spikes. I lifted it up and examined the palm, but it was blurry. It looked like I was waving. I laughed- Soon I could finally go to sleep. Dylan would tell me off. He would tell me to dress my wounds and clean. But I was so sleepy.

Energy still rocked through me, but it felt like little mice were seesawing on my fingers. Idly, I turned my head and rested it on my left shoulder, and trailed my right hand towards the gat, my fingers ribboning behind my wrist in a delicate motion. My eyes fell in the direction that I was gazing. There was a red light. It was flashing. What was it? It was trying to speak to me. At the back of my mind I heard a memory ringing through my pulsating head. “Carbon Monoxide, It’s dangerous Rory, are you listening?” It was Dylan. Interrupting my nap. In six hours he would send somebody. I had six hours of sleep left. They had six hours to party. Party party. Let them. I didn’t want them. They would wake me up. Dylan would only send one person, maybe two. The rest could party while they came. which would take two hours. Then perhaps another two back. And he would get mad when he heard about my nap. But he wouldn't come, oh no. Too scared. To ruin the party and his new friends. So I could sleep. And Dylan could party.

Why was the door to the boiler open?

I really liked music. There was something about music that made everything else in the world seem unimportant. It was as though music itself was a creature to be loved, adored, worshiped. That was one of the things I loved about Kano, he seemed to realize that when I said I liked music, I wasn't saying it in an offhand way, I meant it. When I told him that music was my life, he knew I meant, if there was no music, I would die. Music was as much a part of my body, my soul, as blood was. Perhaps music replaced the red blood cells in my body, because it seemed more important to me than my health.

Sitting at Castle Heights, and listening to people play, sing and whatever else, I was feeling the similar feeling I had when I was at a gig. It was that euphoric high of being one with music. Sure, some of it sucked, but some of it was amazing. I felt as though this was where I wanted to be, performing here, sitting up at that stage, playing my drums, feeling Kano nearby playing whatever was right for that moment, and knowing the music was going to take me over, run through me, make me complete again.

Music never lied, it never played games with your life, it was pure, honest, perfect. I watched in rapt fascination as the third group of people played, and realized we were better than them, Kano and I. We could do a much better job of playing that song, we should show them how much better we were. I turned to Kano, not even noticing that everyone else was talking, I hadn't heard a word for over 20 minutes.

"We need to play here," I said excitedly, my hands twitching. He looked over at me and shrugged.

"We need a band first Loki," he said, having simply left whatever conversation he had been a part of. I nodded.

"We need to get a band together and play here," I said, grinning, my hands and feet moving in a time that was not what they were playing up there, but what they should be playing up there.

"We would need to run an ad for a band first Loki," he revised his comment. I nodded again.

"I need to play something Kano," I said. I think the others were talking, but I couldn't hear them, I had only eyes for Kano, he was the only one who really understood this need. He finally looked up at me, his eyes meeting mine, and I could see the desire there, the same one as mine. That want to go up and take the instruments out of those peoples hands, and play for them. I grinned. "Can we?" I asked, and he shook his head.

"No Loki, that would be rude."

"Doesn't Dylan play guitar?" I heard someone say, and I turned to him quickly.

"Are you any good?" I asked as fast as my mouth would let me. He looked up at the stage, and went silent for a moment. Just when I thought he wasn't going to answer and I was going to ask again, he shrugged.

"I guess I was good," he said softly, and I realized that I had changed the flow of the conversation. I nodded.

"Wanna be part of a band?" I asked excitedly, and he finally looked at me, his eyes a touch wide.

"Just like that?" he said, almost annoyed, "You haven't even heard me play."

"Just like that," Kano said, rolling his eyes ever so slightly. "Loki is like that when it comes to music. No hesitation."

Dylan looked away from me, and I pouted. "I'll have to think about it," he said quietly. I shrugged.

"Alright, think quick, I wanna go up there really badly." I looked around the table. "Anyone else play an instrument?"

"It's not like you can go up there tonight, I have at least a night to think about it," Dylan said, smiling at me.

"No, Loki is thinking of going up there tonight," Kano said, and I nodded vigorously.

"Most definitely, I wanna go up there tonight." I looked around the table again, perhaps I could get more into the idea.
While Loki tried to find more victims to loop into his ridiculous idea Kano watched the band that was up there. They had six people, a drummer, a keyboardist, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a guitarist and a singer. If the singer had been any good Kano might have understood his presence, but he wasn't. From what Kano could hear of their backup vocals any one of the others could have taken up the singing. The singer sure wasn't writing their music either as they had yet to play a single original piece.

Kano looked at Dylan. What was it about playing that bothered him? Why had he stopped? Kano knew he'd stopped because he'd put playing in the past tense. 'I guess I was good,' it sounded like an adult talking about something they'd done as a child, but he wasn't old enough to talk like that.

Kano still thought the whole thing was a bad idea. They had no instruments with them. Of course everyone had been using the provided drum set, but... he felt his pocket, actually he did have his wooden flute and a harmonica, but to make this sound anything like music they would need him on keyboard. That or they would have to play only cover songs which got boring. Kano returned his eyes to Dylan. Was there a way to get him into this? He seemed plenty wild when he was... suddenly Kano knew what would have to be done.

It wasn't really a good idea. The whole thing was a bad idea in fact, but if it got Dylan to play again, and made Loki calm down a bit it would be worth it. Point in fact Kano wanted to do it every bit as badly as Loki. This time he would keep his eyes on Dylan. Kano would not allow anyone to harm him. He would not end up in a compromising position. Maybe it was just a really bad idea, but Kano was going to do it anyhow.

"Loki," Kano said, more loudly than he usually spoke, "let's get Dylan another drink, I think he needs one." First they had to get him away from the group and, obviously, at least a little drunk. Kano really couldn't believe he was being this manipulative.

Loki turned to him, obvious confusion in his eyes. "You wouldn't give me any money!" he said defensively. Trust him to be more annoyed about not having cash than about getting someone drunk.

"That has nothing to do with it, I'll buy." Kano got up and started heading toward the bar, very much hoping Loki and Dylan would follow.

Loki bounced up and grabbed hold of Dylan's arm, "Come on, maybe I can convince him to get me a coke!" Loki said happily, a grin plastered on his face. "If we're closer to the bar, it's more likely."

Kano allowed Dylan and Loki to order, and paid right away. His eyes remained on Dylan as he drank waiting for the right moment and feeling like an ass every time he ordered another drink. He justified it several times by reminding himself that Dylan did not dislike drinking or being drunk. He was not taking advantage of him dammit. Well, not much.

Loki was incredibly happy as he drank his coke, and he often asked Dylan how his vodka tasted, although he didn't want any. When Dylan looked at him confused, after the third drink, Loki simply smiled and said he'd lived with an abusive drunk for a while, and it wasn't pleasant. Kano knew that this was why Loki never got into alcohol much. Kano didn't drink much because he wasn't sure how he would act if he did, and he didn't want to find out. Soon Loki was tapping his hands on the counter, not exactly in time to the drummer on stage, but in time to what the drummer should be doing on stage.

"Let's go play," Kano suggested, and he knew he'd timed it right because Dylan smiled.

"Okay," Dylan agreed and Loki bounced off his bar stool and started moving.

"Where do we go? Where do we go? I'm soooo excited!" He pulled out the drumsticks Rory had given him the first day they'd met. "I wanna bang on something so badly."

"Well, as I see it our only real choice is to surprise them so thoroughly that we get play time out of this. So, at the conclusion of the next song you will walk out and figure out a way to steal the drums. Dylan, you get the guitar, obviously. Can you improvise if you don't know our music or do we need to plan?"

Dylan nodded, shook his head, then nodded, "I should be able to follow."

"Good, I'll get the keyboards and make an announcement to calm any confusion," Kano grinned maniacally. That was the thing about music, it brought out the worst in him, or the best according to some. When it came to music he suddenly remembered how to talk to people. "Let's do this."

Loki bounded up to the stage, and waited, just until the current song ended, then he jumped onto it in such a bold move that the band stopped. All eyes followed Loki. Drumsticks in hand, he walked boldly up to the drum set, standing the incorrect way at them, staring at the current drummer. "Sorry, I'm stealing these," he said, and started flying his drumsticks across it, backwards, creating a lively beat that filled the room. He was grinning madly the whole time.

Kano and Dylan used the normal route to the stage and as Dylan walked up to the guitarist the drummer slid off the seat, with a shrug. "Sure."

Dylan tapped on the shoulder of the guitarist, "I need that," he said matter of fact, looking at the guitar.

Kano stared steadily at the keyboardist. "It's our turn."

"But we get ten more minutes at least," Kano stared at him. "Well, we do." Kano lifted the microphone that the man had used for back up vocals off it's stand.

"We don't have a name, you won't find us on the schedule, and we'll be playing until someone kicks us off the stage," he said, then he began playing the lead in to the last song the band had butchered, "we'll start by fixing this one." He replaced the microphone in it's stand. The keyboardist backed off as Kano's fingers moved across the keyboard in a way his never had. The bassist unplugged and walked off stage, with the singer trailing after him.

"What the fuck is going on?" the singer asked as he walked off, but the rhythm guitarist shrugged and began playing again. Dylan joined in quickly, seeming to really be enjoying himself considering they'd had to get him drunk to get him on stage. He and the rhythm guitarist meshed well with each other and Kano smiled, at least one member of the other band actually knew how to play even if the rest of them didn't. Loki had already moved to take the seat of the previous drummer, allowing his eyes to flit across the drums as he learned where they were in relation to himself. He got right into the music, doing all that the previous drummer hadn't and adding a few more pounds for good measure. He seemed to be flying high on adrenaline and Kano knew exactly where that would lead, to excellent music.

It was when Kano heard Dylan sing that he realized they had to have him when they formed a band here. His skill with guitar was excellent, if a bit rusty, and his voice was... perfect as a lead. There were certain songs Kano's voice would be better suited to, mostly the really dark depressing ones, but Dylan had a wonderful all purpose voice and could sing most anything well.

The realization only improved his playing and soon Kano was leading them from that first song into one of the songs he'd written. Loki gave a sidelong grin and wink at Kano and headed right into it, as though he could read Kano's mind. He tilted the mic in a pause so he could do backup vocals. Loki's vocals were quite amazing if one knew him, because when he sung, he sounded serious, and not like a hyper puppy. It was the only time anyone ever heard his real voice, when he was singing.

Both Dylan and the stolen rhythm guitarist handled the challenge of unknown music well, improvising and quickly adding their own style to the music. Kano's voice was a deep base, haunting. It seemed to echo through a person at the very core of their being. It was useless for more than half the music he wrote.

By the final refrain Dylan joined in the back up vocals, lending his own unique harmony, which worked well. Kano did not pause at the end but led into one more original as he noticed a manager type heading for the stage.

It was to their credit that the manager did not come onto stage until the third song was finished. When asked to leave Kano stood and motioned to Dylan and Loki. "Our time is up," he said in his usual steady, earthy tone.

Loki sighed and nodded, "Yeah, it was great though," he said, stretching and grinning, putting his drumsticks in his pocket. He looked out into the crowd and waved.

They exited the stage to loud applause. Surprisingly the manager only admonished them gently, and suggested they sign up next time. He also informed them that the other band might have issues with them using the guitar as it belonged to the band. Kano nodded, Loki grinned and Dylan glowed. The stage did good things to Dylan, Kano reflected, even if he did have to be drunk to be lured onto it.

As they sat at the table later, Kano wondered why they hadn't been kicked out for that little piece of insanity. Loki was jabbering on about the last song.

"Kano wrote it two years ago, can you believe that? He's been writing music forever. Not me, I just want to play it."

"Kano?" Dylan spoke softly from beside him.

"Hm?" He looked at Dylan. The glow had faded slowly after they'd left stage and now he was looking pale and depressed. "What's wrong?"

"When we go, could you check on Rory? I don't think she's feeling well," he didn't quite meet Kano's eyes as he asked.

"I'll go now," Kano replied, standing.

"No, I mean whenever," Dylan shifted uncomfortably, "you don't have to leave early."

Kano shook his head, "I'm not." He waited for a break in the conversation, then spoke, "Lee, can you make sure Dylan gets home safely? I have an errand to run."

"Sure," Lee grinned, "his place is on the way."

"I don't need help getting home."

"I know," Kano smiled at Dylan, it was a quick smile, easily missed, "thanks Lee."

"I'll come!" Loki offered, but Kano shook his head.

"It would be nice to be alone a bit, you can go back with Lee." He could see Loki's disappointment, but he really did needed some time to himself anyhow. Besides, he hadn't liked the look in Dylan's eyes and he didn't want any harm to come to these people. They were the only friends he had.

When he arrived at Rory's place, the first thing he noticed was that the door had acquired a new dent. Not everyone would have noticed this, and he reflected that it might not really be very important. Kano knocked and waited, then knocked again much more loudly. He didn't know Rory's history, but he knew what it was like to worry about someone.

He'd spent his youngest years worrying about his mother. She was always sick, never well. His father used to get into fights with her about it, he wanted her to relax, take it easy. Kano's mother hadn't been the relaxing type. She wanted to live and living didn't mean slowing down. After the arguments his father always sent Kano to check on her. He smiled grimly as he wondered if Dylan and Rory had been arguing recently.

As pounding on the door was getting him nowhere. Kano tried the door and it opened right away. He needed to tell Rory to lock up at night. It wasn't safe here to leave the door unlocked. As he entered his eyes flickered over the room, he saw shoes thrown at painting or carelessly tossed.

"Rory?" He called out loudly. It would be best if he didn't walk in on her naked or something. When she didn't answer he moved further into the apartment, closing the door behind him. He could smell alcohol, and as he followed the scent he found the kitchen. Kano raised his eyebrows at the sight of the baby gate. Rather than climb over it he opened it, setting it to the side.

"Rory?" There were tiny sparkling pieces of glass on the ground and as he followed them with his eyes he saw the pooling liquid which was soaking into... "Rory!" Wedged between two counters she looked like a broken doll, a toy used and then tossed away lying among broken glance. Tears formed in his eyes, and at the same time he wondered why he was getting so emotional. She was probably just fine, but in his mind he saw the face of an Indian woman. He shook his head, bent over and touched her neck seeking a pulse. Alive, he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. Was she just drunk?

She was bleeding from the parts of her which had been cut by the glass, but not enough to cause her pulse rate to change and he'd noticed it seemed slow. Alcohol could slow it. He put a hand to his head. Now he was getting a headache and he felt a bit nauseous. The smell of alcohol didn't usually do that to him. He shook her a bit.

"Rory?" When she didn't so much as twitch he looked around a bit more carefully. It looked like she'd come over the gate and... the boiler. He moved to it and slammed it shut. Then he saw the merrily blinking light in the carbon monoxide detector. Why wasn't it making any noise? He looked at Rory, he could call 911 or move her outside. She was light enough for him, he scooped her into his arms, no longer worried about the glass and carried her outside. On the outer stairs he sat down with her and called 911. Other people in the building could be in danger, she needed an ambulance.

He cradled her in his arms as he spoke to the woman on the phone. When she asked if he heard sirens and he answered that he did, she finally let him go. He knew he needed to call Dylan, but what would he say? Far in the distance he heard the sirens. Kano dialed Dylan's cell, still not sure what to say. The truth he supposed, at least she was still alive, and that made all the difference didn't it? Yet why had the boiler been open, had Rory done it purposely? Kano very much hoped she hadn't.


It was about two stops before Dylan's that his cell phone went off. Loki was still on a high from playing and kept pestering Dylan about the music which had kept them all amused. Lee had sat back with Mel and laughed along with Loki though he remembered thinking Dylan looked really subdued as the ocversation faultered. Mel was grinning beside him... They had been caterwalling away as the other's had played, screaming support from the crowd because they were so much better than the band before. Kano's voice... Wow that was incredible. Lee glanced at the beautiful young woman beside him...

If he had been older... If she could ever ever ever like him... He sighed. She was absolutely fantastic in ever sense of the word. Her smile, her laugh, the way she could talk about anything from the mundane to more interesting intellectual stuff like they had in L'Ouragan before everyone else had turn up. He really like her. He just knew she'd never feel the same.

But it was out of these thoughts just as Loki cracked a line about a giant beetle that Dylan's phone had rung and the evening came crashing to a studdering jolt just as the train spat them out of it's scratched windowed doors.

"Hey. Is something wrong?" Dylan's voice was soft so he didn't draw too much attention, but it still sounded happier than he had been a moment before. It must be Kano. He had to set them up...

Then Dylan's face, although considered pale before, now lost any semblance of colour. His eyes widened, fear seizing his features and twisting them into a mask of horror and terror. He looked very old, Lee thought as concern wound itself tightly in the bottom of his stomach. Mel reached for his hand, she must be able to feel the fear too... It was rolling off Dylan in waves. But he said nothing just held the phone to his ear, his face drawn and old and pale, eyes wide with the pupils dilated, his mouth open and twisted down in a melacholic 'oh'.

"She... Is she...?"

There was a static mumble from the other end that they couldn't hear. Even Loki looked apprehensive.

"I'll see you at the hospital."

Dylan hung up and began to move away from the group, his movements jerky and unsteady but swift. Lee didn't know if he should follow or not, Mel made his mind up for him, dragging him along after her as Loki loped ahead to catch up with the distraught youth infront.

They were outside the station when Dylan ran into the middle of the road to stop one of the yellow cabs. It didn't seem to matter to him that the rest of the world didn't understand his anguish. Lee just wanted to know what was going on. And so, he gathered, did Mel and Loki as they all piled into the back of the taxi and sat in an awkward silence.

"Dylan... What's going on?" Mel attempted after a moment. but Dylan said nothing, just looked at the skyline which was no lined with heavy grey clouds.

Lee was scared. Really scared. It had to be something to do with Rory. He had seen how close the two of them were. It made no sense for this to be about anyone else. Kano must have been the one to call him.

"Look, Dylan, what's going on?" Loki tried this time and shook the slender arm slightly.

This time Dylan's eyes met theirs. Lee wished they hadn't. The look in them spoke of lonliness, desperation, fear and loss and love.... It hurt just to look in them, "Rory... She may have tried to kill herself. She's sick... She's..." His voice was ragged and uneven. There were no tears.

No one said anything for a moment then Mel murmured, "We need to tell Ella. And Issac and Liz."

The other three had left a couple stops before but Lee agreed. They needed to know. They were just as involved as any of them. Especially Ella. Silence fell again. The next they spoke was to find out if Kano and Rory had arrived yet.
Mel: When we all ran into the hospital, bumping into eachother as we all tried to stay close to Dylan, all I could think of was why Rory would try to kill herself. I know that the modelling business has a harsh repuation, but it's not that bad, even when you're in high street like Rory. And even then, it's more about trying to stay thin, not about actually commiting suicide. Would she really do that?

But then, as we crowded around the reception desk, all asking the questions that Dylan seemed unable to produce, I remembered how strange she had been acting earlier, like she was already halfway out of this world...

"Down the corridor, turn right up the stairs, and then it's the second door to your right," the nurse snapped, looking at us like we were a bunch of idiots. "But you can't all go in!"

Too late, Dylan was already through the large double doors, and be damned if any of us were going to be left behind. We were fast on his heels as he took the stairs two at a time, and then we were at the door...

"Woah woah woah!" The doctor looked tired as he exited the room. Dylan dashed in before it closed, but Doc stood firm. "Two at a time. And there's already one in there."

"Is she ok?" The stricken voice beside me suddenly reminded me of my first night out at Castle heights. Lee's hand was warm in mine, and as I tightened my fingers around his, he squeezed back. Ooooh, curses on me for feeling glad about that at a time like this!!!

"We'll have to see. I'm afraid she's still not responding, carbon monoxide posioning is very serious. If she was exposed for too long, she may be brain damaged, starved of oxygen."

"How serious do you think it is?" Ella appeared behind Loki, pushing at his shoulder so that he would make space for her as Issac and Liz came to a halt next to her.

"Well, it's not a good sign that she hasn't woken up yet. Excuse me, but I have to get her some tests run, I'll let you know more later."

We all looked at him, stunned, as he loped off down the corridor.

Ella bust into tears as Liz pulled her into a hug. "I shouldn't have let her stay home alone, I should have stayed with her, she didn't seem happy today..."

"It's not your fault, sweetie, it's not your fault at all..." hushed Liz.

To my horror and shame, I felt tears well up in my eyes. I didn't even relaly know Rory, but I didn't want her to come to harm. She was a friend, a lovely person. I turned my face into Lee's shoulder and felt him put his arms around me...

"Shall we go sit in the cafeteria until we know more? I don't think kano or Dylan are going to be leaving soon..." Issac looked shaken but he sounded calm.

As one, we moved down the corridor. And when I looked back, the door to Rory's room was still closed.
Now that Ella had been calmed down a little bit, Liz also felt the pain well up inside, and she was almost ready to burst into tears. I took her hand and she laid her head on my shoulder. We kept to about the middle of the group. I didn't say much, except to comfort her.

I kept looking over my shoulder. Dylan was still in the room, clearly very concerned over the whole ordeal. The doctor would probably make him get out soon, so he could run tests. Doctors and their tests. But I knew they were necessary.

So we continued on our way to the cafeteria. Which was good. I was starting to feel a little hungry. I hadn't eaten in almost eighteen hours. And when this happened, I didn't have time to think about eating. But now I could concentrate some, and I realized just how long this night would be.
A Non-Existent User
It seemed to Liz that something bad happened whenever things were going great. A night of fun out at a local club had turned into another trip at the hospital. Liz didn't know much about Rory, but she did know that Rory was a nice person, and no one deserved to be in her position.

Walking down the hallway to the cafeteria, with Issac, left with her own thoughts to ponder, they turned to Dylan. This must be really hard for him, she hoped he wasn't taking it to hard, she knew what it could do to people.

Her thougths were interupted by Issac. "Are you okay?" he asked concern on his face as he held open the cafateria door.

"Yeah," she said as she walked through the door, "I'm fine."
Scyscrapers touched the sky and peirced the purpling clouds, pulling about their stuffing as they scratched along their moving bellies. Blue white paint racing down from the sky, splattering the earth like paint. The folds of buildings in the concrete jungle caught the rain at different intervals so waterfalls poured off rooves and made the bricks glow silver with slick wet. Rivers tumbled hectically through the guttering of the streets, desperately gushing over drains in a hope they wouldn’t be sucked down into the underworld.

Dylan loved the rain. Despite the fact he was beginning to feel numb he stood in the middle of the campus face tilted to the heavens, the sky’s tears making up for the lack of his own. He longed for someone to hold him and tell him it was ok to be so afraid and lost right now.. But he knew no one would... Once upon a time Rory might have been there... But Rory had been in hospital for three days now and no one else would waste their time trying to help a fuck up like him. He had driven her to trying to kill herself. He was sure of it. Even if she wasn’t awake he was sure... She had tried before.... She could easily have done it again.

Shivering he made his way to a bench and sat, feeling his hair sticking to his face with the water washing through. Cool fingers were soothing in the dark behind his closed eyelids. He was a slut. A thoughtless asshole. A stupid little boy pretending to be a man. Pretending he was in control... Why was he being so bloody selfish, his fists clenched. Rory need him so much more. She needed him as much as he had ever needed her... Especially now... But no... He had gone to classes on the third day... gone to english.... She would never have admitted it. That she needed him... Though hadn’t she almost done exactly done that the afternoon before she’d... She was so self-assured when she was happy.... Independent and haywire... But she needed him... They were the pillars they had to lean on because no one else would look out for them.

A bell rang somewhere and voices began to call out in alarm or discomfort. Different cadences blurring through the downpour, complaining about this or that. Someone was moaning about their new Karen Millen jackets being wet. Someone else that they had just had their hair done in Bumble & bumble and now it was ruined. Dylan laughed slightly and opened his eyes. A few glances his way made him bow his head again. Since when had he been so self-concious?

Since you were assulted by you teacher that’s when. Came back the little voice in his head. His shivering was becoming worse. He was freezing. Absolutely-

“Dylan?” A familiar deep voice was above him.

Dylan looked up with a shakey smile, “Hey.” It was Kano. The one who had, from the beginning, looked out for him in that passive way. He wasn’t sure why. He also knew that he was attracted to Kano one way or another and that normally he would have attacked by now... But... He had never before been shy with his emotions... Butterflies were an understatement for the thudding in his chest and hollow sensation in his stomach at that moment.

Looking at his friend’s dry appearence he realised the other boy had an umbrella and a music case slung across his back. He wasn’t beautiful because he wasn’t delicate like that.... Nor was he particularly handsome because he just didn’t fit that prince charming mold. He was just attractive, from the relaxed way he stood to the look in his eyes as he watched your reactions.... Dylan’s smile returned to almost chattering teeth. Kano had managed to make him drunk, give him a guitar and make him play infront of an audience... Anger threatened to sink it’s teeth into him... That had been a dirty trick to play... Especially when he should have gone back and checked on Rory himself but couldn’t because if he’d been drunk and she’d.... This reaction was him just trying to pass the blame. It wasn’t Kano’s fault. It wasn’t his fault at all...

“You’re freezing.” Kano said simply, holding out a hand to help him to his feet.

Dylan looked at his hand, felt the cold, and took it. The warmth almost burning his freezing fingers but he didn’t let go and nor did Kano.

“You really are freezing.” Kano’s level didn’t change but the tone did. Dylan looked away, unhappy that he was worrying people again when Rory was much more important.

“I’m alright.” He said, shivers becoming more pronouced now he wasn’t curled up on the bench. Hopefully his eyes weren’t red...

“No you’re not.” Kano tugged him closer, under the umbrella and into his arm, “let’s get you inside before you get ill.”

“I’m-”

“Don’t even try to say you’re fine.” Kano’s body was pressed against his own side and he looked up sheepishly into the dark blue eyes. Their gazes locked and he was reminded almost painfully of the night at Coney Island and the way they’d danced for whatever brief a moment...

“I like the rain.” He said after a moment, tilting his face to gaze up into the bruised, lilac sky and holding out a hand to catch the little droplets in his palm. Kano must have been annoyed because Dylan found his outstretched hand encompassed by the other’s. Inadvertantly their fingers laced as he was tucked back under the umbrella again, pressing himself under Kano’s arm to seek out warmth. He shivered thinking... It felt good to be held like this. Or at least it felt good to be held by Kano. He wasn’t sure he could tolerate it if it were anyone else at that moment. In fact he was sure he wouldn’t. No one else could touch him these days, much less hold him, with out his urge to flinch away kicking in... except with Rory but she was family.

“Let’s get you inside.”

“But I-”

“Don’t argue Dylan. If we don’t get you inside you’ll get sick.”

“I’m not that cold.” He grumbled half-heartedly. Not minding in the slightest that someone wanted to look after him. But he was still enchanted by the magic falling from the sky, “Look at it.” He almost reached out again but Kano’s fingers tightened slightly around his, telling him not to. That was new. He ought to go check up on Rory... He shouldn’t have left her.

Dylan let himself be led. They were heading towards the main music department space in the heart of the NYU’s Greenwich Village, surrounding Washington Square Park. He had never been there... Not since he had effectively given up music at the end of high school when everything he knew ended.

“Where are we going?” he asked quietly, glancing at the calm face of his friend.

“Somewhere warm where I can fix you up alittle.” Kano shot him a small smile. They were walking down La Guardia Place passed the Kimmel Center now and Dylan was shaking quite badly by this point. Wondering at his foolishness, he glanced across the park they were dashing through, saw the Silver Center for Arts poking up out of the trees.

“Thank you...” Dylan found himself murmuring and Kano tugged him that little bit closer with a small squeeze.

“You’re welcome.”

Dylan wanted to kiss him then. Really, really wanted to kiss him. But he didn’t want Kano to think that was the only way he could express himself as it had done at Coney Island... He was just much more away of the other at that moment. Aware of his warmth. Aware of the way he was holding him. Aware of that peculiar scent of fresh grass and ceder wood and something else that was just him... Everything seemed excentuated in the damp of the air. Or maybe his desire to kiss him was because of the way their bodies were pressed together with their hands entwined.... It made him feel much more complete... Sighing he pushed the thoughts away. He wasn’t going to jepodise this friendship or put himself up for another relationship that was destined to hurt him or give Kano anymore reasons to believe him desperate or...

Or a whore.

There was that little voice again and he flinched slightly at his own concsience. Stupid little fuck.

“Dylan?” Kano was holding open a door for him and he wondered absently when they had stopped walking.

“Oh... Sorry. Thanks.” He said sheepishly and stepped undercover. He felt Kano’s concern as his hand was taken again and he was led to a music room. Music rooms... He smiled to himself, feeling his skin prickle in the heat that he had forgotton how to feel outside. He knew his usually pale skin would flush in the heat change and that his eyeliner had probably run but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Kano was taking off his slightly damp jacket and, to his surprise, his shirt. A simple white tshirt was underneath but he was transfixed by the tanned body of his companion. Feeling himself blush as Kano handed him his shirt and said soemthing abut putting it on and getting himself out of his wet clothes before he ‘caught his death’. Who would have painted Kano as quite so caring?

His cheeks suffused with heat even further as he shed first his thin combat jacket then his even thinner Rocky Horror Show t-shirt off so he was bare from waist up. He wasn’t particularly self-concious, never had been. Sure he was lean but he wasn’t hideously skinny or flabby or anything like that... He had his tattoos which he didn’t mind showing off... But Kano’s eyes kept flicking to him and he was painfully away of how much the other’s oppinion matter to him as he slipped the shirt over his head. Hoping that he wouldn’t have noticed the fresh bruises on his arms and collarbone... He had to admit he was already a little warmer...

“I’d put your jeans on the radiator too so they dry off a little bit.” Kano said as he moved towards the piano.

Dylan knew he would die of embarressment if someone walked in right now but he did as he was told. Glad the marks on his thighs had faded... So he was left in his boxers and Kano’s shirt. His eyes were drawn to Kano’s hands which were warming up doing scales along the keys. He missed music. Prehaps he even owed Kano for bringing him out to play at Castle-Heights. He really ought to go visit Rory... But just looking at her sickly, pale face and bandages on her hands and the wires drawing out of her thin, broken body. He couldn’t look at her... The guilt just ate him alive.

His fingers tapped the floor to match the movements Kano’s on the keys. Drifted over dim remembered tunes with him as he tuned into the music. The piano was slightly out of tune which annoyed him... But the tune Kano was playing was... pretty. It reminded him of Castle-Heights before everything went wrong...

*

They’d played and he’d been eccstatic. When he’d asked Kano to check in on Rory he had done it because he had known she’d want her own space but also that if he’d turned up even smelling like he’d been drinking she’d have hated him even more. He hadn’t expected Kano to call him on the train to tell him that he was taking Rory to hospital because it looked like she’d left the boiler open and been poisoned by the fumes. Everything had floated by in a semi-daze. The way everyone had come to see what was wrong... How for that night he’d slept in the waiting room because he refused to leave when the other’s were told to by the staff.

They had waited in the cafeteria for so long just waiting for them... He and Kano had sat in silence until Kano had left and led the others away for the night. Then the doctors had asked if he should perhaps be considering sending her to a rehabilitation facility so she could sort out her depression. And he couldn't have left... Even though he'd desperately wanted to curl up in bed. Even though the other's all promised that they could always drop him off again in the morning if he wanted to. He wanted to ask them to stay with him. But had known they couldn't possibly...

Ella had dropped by before class. Mel and Lee and Elizabeth had come to visit together, presumably after lessons and they managed to bring him a take-a-way L’Ouragon coffee... Then he’d been told that her mother was coming in that afternoon from England. He’d left then with a respectful nod, not wanting to stay in the same clothes for another twenty-four hours and definately not wanting to meet the aunt that had, last time they’d met, sneered at him for wanting, age ten and a half, to be in a band just like his dad.

He had abandoned Rory so her mother could take over... And he had done it knowing that she would refuse to let him back in.

*

Sighing he pulled his knees up to his chest, shaking his head to fling excess rain from his hair. He was cold still... Though his skin felt over heated. What was wrong with him? He was hypnotised by Kano’s hands as they deftly fled from one tune into another. Something about a musician’s hands... Dylan wanted to push away that last inhibition and... Do what?

“Do you play the twelve-bar blues?” He piped up after a moment, standing and walking over to the stool.

“Yeah...” Kano was looking at him oddly.

“Can you do it duet?” Dylan smirked. He could play piano thanks to his ear, there wasn’t too much technique to it compared to the guitar and he started up a tune, standing next to the other boy and leaning down.

Kano smirked back, “Sure.”

Twelve-bar blues. They weren’t exactly hard if you could keep time and you knew a blues scale. Dylan laughed as he race his hand over the top of Kano’s and then back. This took him back. They began to speed up, every so often, on stretching over the other to hit a note or a chord which made it speed up even further. Tum da de da da ta.... Kano ran all the way down and up again and he couldn’t help but smile as he made his hand match the action in the opposite direction. It wasn’t bad... for complete improvisation. Finally he pulled his hands away and let Kano finish it off. Watching carefully the way the fingers span a web of movement and caused a miriad of sound so quickly that it almost seemed not to have existed at all when it ended.

Grinning he perched on the edge of the stool... It was made for two but he was still cold and damp and didn’t want to make Kano cold and damp too after he’d already done so much to look after him. The smile was returned with a flush of excitement on Kano’s face. It felt good to be back near music. Though he wasn’t sure he could deal with it once he remembered his old songs, the things they used to play...

Because music was the deepest of the arts and deep beneath all the arts.... Someone had said that... Forster? If painting had ever given him the idea of physical flight then music suggested something much more. It was a kind of encompassing of everything else into itself. It revealed the essense, the quiddity of things.... the rainy-ness of rain... the sunniness of sun... Because although the others arts let him feel that, they were still confined by reference. They were all limited by their materials or the moment or... it was just that music with it’s mathmatical laws still managed to trascend itself at the moment of it’s happening... when the music becomes itself. It’s free... it makes itself in the listener... it can be happy and sad and thoughtful and thoughtless... Dylan shook his head and sat back as a silence filled the room after the jaunt that was the twelve-bar blues.

“What were you thinking?” Kano asked after a moment.

Dylan laughed and shivered and dropped his head, “I wasn’t thinking.”

Kano sighed though it was almost like a groan in the sense that it held all the resignation and concern that could be pronouced by the soft expelling of air. He wrapped an arm around Dylan and pulled him closer. He couldn’t help but let the guilt hit him again.

“You must have been thinking something to let yourself get so cold.”

“I love the rain.” But he let himself rest against the warm body beside him despite the guilt. He really was cold, “It’s like magic.”

“You still shouldn’t have let yourself freeze like this.” Kano’s voice was quiet, his free hand spinning a new tune up and down the scales absently.

“I guess.” Dylan shivered again and thought of Rory, lying like the dead in a bed that was too big for her waif generation body, “I ought to check on Rory...”

“How come you left? You didn’t want to before.”

“Her mother was coming. We don’t get along. At all.” Now he felt ready to shudder, “I’m going to be verbally slaughtered if I go visit I guess... It’ll be my fault...”

“You know it’s not your fault though.”

“I guess.” But deep down he was sure that it was. They had argued. He had hurt her. He had, somehow, inadvertently, driven her away and back to this, “Her mother won’t see that though. She tried to kill herself.”

“You dont know that yet for certain.”

“She’s done it before. Tried to kill herself that is.” He wasn’t sure why he told Kano... He was easy to talk to but also he almost needed to tell him...Tell someone... “She’s on medication because she’s had breakdowns and all that y’know. I can’t help think... I don’t know. I thought I could help her stay on her feet and work things through but the doctors think she might need extra care now and maybe... I should agree.”

There was a pause that permeated the air then. Kano’s hand on his arm that had been moving in slow, stroking circles, stopped for a moment. Dylan tensed, expecting to be pushed away and told to get away... Even though deep down he acknowledged how illogical that expectation of Kano was... Then:

“You should probably ask her first about it all.”

Why was Kano so… He didn’t know which word was right… Kano was many things that he didn’t understand… He was calm and smart and rational and yet still passionate beneath it all… It showed in his music... He was incomprehensibly layered, as if he’d been constructed like a jigsaw, piece after piece to make up the man before him… Why was Kano so unassuming? There had to be faces to his friend he had yet to discover and he wondered if he’d ever be able to understand them...

Rory prowled at the back of his mind though. He really needed to see her. Really needed to make sure she was alright. Maybe that woman would have left. She was a foolish, cold hearted woman his aunt, too blind by prejudice to see who he really was. Much like her brother-in-law. His father. Tentatively, afraid of seeing the echoing look of betrayal, the real disgust at his actions, he lifted his head, lifted his eyes to the

Something sparkled beneath the surface of the dark blue irises, something suspiciously akin to unshed tears. Why was Kano unhappy? Kano wasn’t meant to be unhappy… Kano never let himself slip enough to show… Without thinking, Dylan unravelled himself, finding himself running his thumb over the light rouge that had risen with the shimmering in the storm.

Their eyes never left each others… Dylan felt arms lace themselves around his waist, holding him carefully, protectively. Gently Kano tugged him nearer, bringing their faces closer; Dylan could feel the tickle of Kano’s breaths across his cheek. Kano lifted his face up a fraction, smiling softly as their lips hovered only inches apart. They both shivered slightly, nestling into one another’s embrace more fondly as they did so. One hand rose to bury itself in the damp mop of hair, the other slid across his neck, circling motions with long, lightly calloused fingers making Dylan’s eyes widen with a mixture of fear and wanting. Was Kano… Were they… Noses touched, eye fluttered shut and lips…

“KAAAAAAANNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

They sprung a part, Dylan half scrabbling back to his original position on the floor by the radiator. His cheeks were undeniable pink. What the hell had just happened? Loki burst into the door as Kano, turning to their friend in the doorway, said, “I was just going to take Dylan to see Rory. Want to come?”

Loki looked at where Dylan in his half undressed state was blushing furiously and frowned, “What happened to you?”

“Caught in the rain.” He mumbled and drew his knees tighter. Then he realised what Kano had said, “You know I don’t think I can go. My aunt’ll be there and my relationship with her is even worse than the one she had with my father. Really. I-”

“Don’t be silly. You want to see her. We can look after you if you’re aunt’s really that bad.”

He wanted to describe just how deep her hatred ran for him. For the most part it was based off her homophobia. For the rest it was because everyone in his family, bar prehaps his sister, thought him to be the black-sheep bastard of the Watts name. He shuddered, missing the warmth he’d had from Kano.

But Loki was looking determined, “Right. To hospital.”
I was surrounded by perpetual midnight, darkness smothering every orfice of my body. Tinny sounds cut through the blanketing ink like knives, yet I could feel or see nothing. Only the muffled noises that reached my ears, steadily palpitating to my own pulse, disturbed my solitude. It was not an absence of light, because the darkness was lively and volatile, suffusing me with it's warm midnight glow and protecting me from all except the sounds that managed to pierce its heart. The oil-slick skyline of purples and reds, so dark they were almost imperceptible, diffused into the midnight horizon. I felt like a fish that had been dropped deep into an ocean trench, the darkness enveloping me like water so that I could sense it's presence but not really feel it, all the while immobile and swaying gently to the inky currents as the beats of my heart caused it to ripple like midnight silk.

My right hand began to move gently as though being picked up, fingers trailing behind my wrist delicately as it rose through the watery black. Snaking behind it like an eel came my forearm. Ripples washed against my flesh from where the arm had been, agitating the darkness and splitting it into tones of blue and red. My arm began to slowly descend again, until it rested just a little above where it had started it's ascent, as though something small had been placed under it.

Instinctively, I began searching for the bright flashes of light that seemed to accompany the louder noises as they cut through my protective blanket. I waited patiently for each elusive sparkle as though they were shooting stars and I was lying under the night sky with my family in Cambridgeshire. Each little burst seemed to light up the darkness, if only for a moment.

Uncurling my toes, I let my back arch into a feline sprawl, wiggling the fingers on my hands so that they elongated femininely before relaxing back into my aquatic state. As each finger came to rest where it had been before the low rumble of drums burst forth in a large flash of light towards my right. Fear washing over me like frost through my bloodstream, making crystals of ice form in the darkness surrounding me, I began to move my fingers to a familiar beat, and mulitiple flashes began to appear all around me. The beat became faster and I began to see the flashes collide in dizzying displays of white that seemed to ricochet off each other into the vast expanse of darkness. My fingers ran away with each other until I had descended into the bass line of the rhythm, a low thud using all of my fingers at once, slow at first, but which built up to a frenzied pace. Each time that my fingers returned to the invisible barrier, the flashes stayed longer, until the blackness began to give away to greys.

I was staring at a ceiling. A long, cylindrical flourescent light flickered above me, coating the industrial cream ridges with an eerie yellow light as I stared upwards, emphasising the gnarled, leathery paint. I wanted to shut my eyes and return to the pleasant darkness, yet instinctively I knew that this would not work. So I resigned myself to study the brownish marks that traced the cavities idly. I could hear a steady beep that resonated with that of my own heart, thumping diligently away below my breast bone. Slowly, I began to lower my head.

An explosion of cheerfulness greeted my senses as I took in the easy grace of Loki's jaw line. Sapphire irises burned through me from behind his raven hair, and his face was split by a grin. At that moment, he looked very young, but at the same time as though he had understood what was going on. "I knew it would work..." he muttered quietly to himself as he settled back down into a worn blue arm chair. Beside him sat a plywood round table with some daffodils on and a plate filled with crumbs.

I began to examine my surroundings, my eyes falling onto the snaking wires and feeding tubes connected to crisp white bandages. They trailed through the air, thick with the heat of the buttery sunlight that coagulated through the window on my left, tracing the veins and tubes down my pale arms until they reached my hand and...

"Loki, what's the drumpa....why the hospit....why is there a drum-pad with me in a hospital?" I found myself muttering huskily, as though I hadn't spoken for days.

"I thought it would wake you up from your coma." He stated the matter with genuine conviction, still beaming at me with those blue eyes, the unnerving stare of a little child. He seemed to be free from the normal constraints of an adult and this was the source of his peculiar intelligence. He knew instinctively that assuming anything about my actions wouldn't work, and that to just to state the facts, as they were at that moment, would be the best. Anything more would be too much to process. After a few pensive moments his face began to crumple into smooth folds of flesh and he added carefully, "You've been very interesting."

My eyes closed momentarily as I processed the information, but I felt as though my mind had been clouded by a thick fog, so that all I could feel was my energy rocking through me in silver tendrils again. I snapped them open to meet Loki's open stare. "I can take it you mean the drums. How did you know?"

"I guess....Music makes me want to wake up in the mornings. Then I like food." He proffered a piece of cake to me, the muscles of his arm tensing under the charcoal vee neck tee he wore. I stared in fascination as I watched each movement, recalling the intricacies of muscles and their reflexes, before shaking my head at him, a smile flitting momentarily across my face like a moth.

"Too early. You woke me up, you can have it."

"It's four in the afternoon." He stared at me quizzically, as though this were obvious. His eyes were so honest and open that I turned away and looked once again at my hand. I felt like I should have known too. But then again....Loki could eat at any time of day. Or night. As I stared at my long fingers, doodles in biro faded into bizarre grey smudges and my nail polish chipped into formations that mirrored the patterns of continents or barrier reefs, I began to see that my hand was shaking to the point where it was a blur of colour. Gulping, I returned to face Loki, now sitting upright in his chair.

"How interesting was I then?"

"Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die!" He replied, unblinking.

"Ah. So fairly?"

"You almost beat Katie Couric."

"That good huh? Sense clearly has no place between these walls."

"No literally. It reached the news. I fought off NBC with a spatula."

"I sincerely hope that you're joking" I muttered darkly, trying to imagine a camera man protecting his lens from returning to it's origins- hard rock.

"Only about the spatula. And the fighting. Except between your mother and dylan." Loki replied after a moment, before adding once more, "Cake?"

"Alright then, But I feel like Bruce Bogtrotter."

"You don't look like him."

"I should hope not. Wait....my mother's here?"

"I'm sorry, Dylan said you didn't get on. He's waiting outside. Scared. With Kano." Loki added, suddenly his eyes glazing over giving him a painfully vunerable look.

"He must be thinking about himself. I love my parents just fine. They have an irrational hatred of each other, because both believe that the other resembles Dylan's Dad."

Loki said nothing, but sat humming for a few seconds, his eyes closed in fierce concentration. It struck me that Loki seemed to understand almost everybody, and yet no one knew much about Loki. I smiled and let him keep humming.

"I know, why don't you play me a beat while we wait for a doctor and then Dylan to come." I announced slowly, my arm rolling off the drum-pad to rest on the itchy hospital blanket.
I blinked at her a moment, then grinned, “Okay!” I said, taking the drum pad and moving it into my lap as I thought for a moment. I looked at her and nodded my head, my hands moving on their own to create a lively beat that wasn’t too hyper. Switching mode part way through, I went for something more earthy, a steady beat that reminded me of Kano and his strange rituals. I could almost see the campfire as I beat it out, where we used to sit together and talk about nothing at all, me beating on one of the drums he had made and him hitting a rock with some sticks in time to what I had started. My eyes fluttered closed and I recalled the scent of the trees, it had finished raining a while before we’d started, and I had wanted to create something. Kano had given me music.

That was the problem with Kano, he was constantly giving me music. Perhaps that was why I liked him so much. He understood how important it was, how very much music was a part of my blood. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to understand why music was so important, so long as someone else did too. I opened my eyes and looked at Rory, lying in her hospital bed and looking like she might die simply from being too thin. I watched as she watched me, both of us staring at each other as though one might do some new kind of trick. It was interesting, and it made a grin spread out across my face.

That was when the door burst open, two doctors, an intern and a nurse bustling through them, Dylan right behind. I think Kano was behind Dylan, but I couldn’t tell for sure as he got pushed back. “Only two people are allowed,” came the voice of one of the doctors. I watched in fascination as they looked at this thing and poked at that thing, and started to talk to Rory. Dylan looked like he was going to start crying again, so I stood up and pushed a chair under him. I was afraid he was going to fall over from it all. He collapsed into the chair, grasping hold of Rory’s hand. I felt kind of like a third or fifth wheel, but when Rory’s eyes caught and continued to hold mine, I simply couldn’t leave.

There was something strange about Rory, and it was difficult for me to put my finger on it. See, she was interesting, fun to be around, and yet, dark. Dark was a good way of describing her. I put my foot on the back of the chair and balanced my drum pad on my leg, starting a drumming that was as dark as Rory. It reverberated through the room as people were talking, and I felt pretty impressed with how it sounded. Rory seemed to be as well, as she continued to watch me. I think she was more interested in what I was doing than what anyone else was doing. It made me smile, but not in a way that people usually see me smile, this was more devilish, slightly evil. I think it was the smile that Kano said was my demon smile. I suspect this was the smile that gave me the name Loki in the first place. Perhaps I really was simply a creature that didn’t deserve love, as my second adopted mother told me.

That was when the intern stared right at me and said, “Stop drumming!” I stopped drumming, stopped smiling, and looked at him. “You’re making it difficult for us to talk,” he said, somewhat sheepishly as I continued to stare at him. “Besides which, the patient needs some peace now.” I laughed a short bark of a laugh.

“What do you think woke her up?” I asked, my tone snide and somewhat angry. What was wrong with me anyway? I shook my head and looked at Rory, “Sorry, I should go now,” I said, grinning my usual grin, although it felt plastic and fake now. “I’ll be back.” I think Rory was going to protest, but I was out the door before she got two words in. Kano was sitting outside as I suspected, and I patted him on the shoulder.

“Go in there and be with Dylan, I think he’ll need you,” I said, and when he looked at me, I knew he understood something was wrong with me. He nodded and stood, and although he was going to say something, I pushed him into the door, and blocked the path of a woman who was rushing over. “Are you Rory’s mother?” I said in a false, and somewhat sickly sweet voice. I extended my hand, “I’m Loki!” Maybe I could delay her long enough to give the other two some private time with Rory.

“I need to be in there,” she started, and I shook my head.

“I’m sorry,” I didn’t sound sorry even to myself. “They’ll only let two people in there right now. Was I right?” the hyperness was back, but it wasn’t welcomed to me. She looked at me in confusion.

“What?” I decided she must be Rory’s mother, she had the accent.

“Rory’s mother?” I asked again, continuing to hold out my hand. Something seemed to click in her attitude, and she nodded her head, standing up straight and looking somewhat regal. I hated it when parents did that, when they “suddenly” became something because other people were looking. What was it about parents? Why couldn’t they just be worried, or be upset or whatever? Why did they try to make people think they were fine when they weren’t?

“I’m sorry, yes, I’m Rory’s mother, Kate. I’ve been so worried about her,” she took my hand and I shook it firmly, but tried to keep from shaking it off of her. It didn’t seem to matter, her whole body bounced as I did so. Was I really that strong? I didn’t think I was.

“Loki,” I said again, just in case she hadn’t heard me the first time. “I’m a friend.” Something wasn’t right with that statement, but I wasn’t sure she’d figure it out, or even exactly what it was. Perhaps we weren’t really friends yet. What did the English think of friendships? Maybe it took years for people to become friends in England. I tilted my head to one side, looking thoughtful. “I think so anyway.” She blinked at me, as though trying to understand what was wrong with me.

”You think you’re her friend?” she asked, and I nodded.

“I mean, we hang out, we talk, and she gave me drumsticks. Does that count? I think it counts,” I nodded my head in affirmation. “We’re friends on my end. I think she considers me a friend as well.” Most people didn’t know how to deal with me. I am a bit strange, and parents especially couldn’t understand me. I figured it was alright, as I can’t deal with most parents.

“What happened in there? You just came out, what’s going on?” She sounded so worried that I wanted to be mean. I’m not sure why, perhaps because she was still in England and Rory was over here. I mean, I didn’t know much about Rory, and maybe she came here to get away or maybe her career brought her over here, but maybe… maybe Rory hated her mother? It was hard to tell. I didn’t like to see people in hospitals, so I didn’t stay around them too much.

“Rory woke up,” I said flatly. Shouldn’t she have realized that by now? A doctor flew out of the room, but was moving away so quickly she couldn’t ask him any questions, secretly it made me happy.

“Woke up? That’s wonderful,” she sounded so relieved. Is waking up so wonderful a thing? I think there are definitely times when a person should remain asleep.

“Do you think so?” I asked, and I found that my voice had somehow become cruel again, “Maybe so, but maybe she doesn’t think so.” Kate looked at me in horror.

“What on earth could make you say such a thing?” she asked, her voice shocked and somewhat angry. Her eyes were blue, I just realized. I wondered if that was why Rory kept staring into mine.

“Well, don’t you think it’s better to stay warm and comfortable in sleep sometimes?” She might think I was… what was the English term, daft or something like that? Well, crazy for sure, but honestly I couldn’t care at the moment. She blinked at me.

“Who did you say you were again?” she asked, and I knew where this was going. It always went here, who was the crazy man so I can tell my children to stay away from them.

“Loki, like the god of mischief. Or so I’ve been told my whole life. Loki, my name is Loki, I woke up your daughter. I’m the one who thought to use drums,” I held up my drum pad. “I woke her up, she wouldn’t have woken if I hadn’t thought of it. I’m responsible for her coming out of her coma. I’m Loki. Loki, Loki, Loki.” I nodded my head and turned away from her. “I’m Loki,” I chanted, as I started walking away.

It was time for me to find some private space. I couldn’t deal with it all, my mind was going fuzzy. I think it was time for me to go back to the dorms. My drums were waiting.
Kano stood in the room watching Dylan with Rory. It was good to see her awake, though she still looked terribly weak and pale. The white sheets and her skin color had a bit too much in common for his comfort. He wasn't at all surprised the drums had helped. Music spoke directly to the soul, and drums encouraged movement more than any instrument.

"You look much better," he commented quietly once the doctors were gone and only a nurse remained. Dylan was a desperate and speechless form at her side. He seemed completely lost now that he had expressed that this was all his fault. Kano honestly couldn't see how it could be all Dylan's fault. Rory's mother, on the other hand, seemed very certain of Dylan's guilt.

"This is better?" Rory looked down at her hand and then up at him and Kano gave her a brief smile.

"Much, being in a coma does not suit you."

"I'm sorry Rory, I should have gone back with you," Dylan asserted. Kano was not trying to keep track of how many times Dylan repeated the same things at this point. He was fairly sure a world record of some sort was being made.

"No, you shouldn't have." Rory looked up at Kano again. "I heard my mother was here." Dylan immediately stiffened. His face turned nearly as grey as her hand at the mention of her mother. Kano nodded.

"I didn't think she and Dylan should be in the room with you at the same time. Would you like to see her?" Kano's eyes were completely on Dylan at this point. It seemed as though Dylan was holding his breath, waiting for Rory to answer.

"Yes," Rory replied, "I haven't seen her in some time. It would be nice to talk to her."

Dylan dropped her hand standing stiffly. "I'll go," he said and then he was out the door before anyone could object. Kano blinked blankly at the door for a moment then shook his head.

"I'll leave you with your mother then." Rory's mother was half way into the room as he finished. Kano nodded to her, "Excuse me," and left the room. It was hard to decide who he ought to go after. There was something wrong with Loki. From experience he knew that could probably wait. The worst thing Loki would do is play his drums until the whole dorm protested and then find some pie to eat. Dylan might freeze himself to death in the rain again. Kano chose Dylan.

Four hours later, Kano was still searching. Actually he was giving up. He'd tried every place he could think of several times. He'd left messages on every phone he knew the number to, asking that they let him know when they next saw Dylan and he went back to the dorm to deal with Loki. He had a creeping suspicion that Dylan was avoiding him, although he had no idea why.

The room he shared with Loki was silent. He unlocked the door and entered. Loki was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, holding his drum sticks.

Kano extracted a wooden flute from his raincoat and sat down on his own bed. He played one long, keening note, followed by another. It seemed that everyone was full of sorrow and pain now, so that was what he played. Regret, sorrow, pain, blinding emotions without words. When the final note hung suspended in the air between them Loki spoke.

"Thanks," he turned his head to Kano. Kano nodded.

"Thinking about your past again?"

"I hate parents." Loki sounded lost and very serious.

"I know you do. I love my father. I loved my mother. I think Rory loves hers too." Kano offered. Loki shrugged, then shook his head.

"It isn't rational."

"I know."

"How's Dylan?" Loki sat up and really looked at Kano. His hair was wind blown, his eyelids slightly swollen. "Is something wrong?"

"Probably not," Kano shook his head, "or maybe so." Dylan had stormed out. He probably thought his worst fears were confirmed. Rory wanted to see her mother and Dylan might have taken that as rejection of his presence. In fact Kano was fairly sure he had.

"Are you okay?" Loki was now leaning forward staring at him. In this more serious mood Loki's concern was obvious.

"I'm fine, I'm just worried about Dylan, and I think he's avoiding me." That was the only way four hours of not finding Dylan made sense.

"Why?"

Kano shook his head. "I have no idea."

Dylan had the haggard look of a man who had run through a desert with no shoes on. Or maybe one who had sprinted Alaska. It was rain in his hair and blue tinting his lips rather than sweat and the flush of heat that was shown on his pale face.
Lee stared. He had heard from Kano that Dylan was 'MIA' but hadn't expected him to be curled into the sofa at the back of L'Ouragan's book shop. It seemed strange to see the boy who had been so brazen and confident at the start of their semester stripped away to this creature dwelling in suffocating sadness.

Lee had Mel with him, waiting for him on their table with Ella and Isaac as well as Liz, but she was buying the second round of coffee. They had all been worried. Worried more than prehaps they should have been logically for someone they barely knew. Or maybe it was because it wasn't just fear for Rory and her bounce and charisma but also because her absence was tangible to the extent that the whole group of them was sapped of its usual vivality and spark.

Conversations were stilted by fear. Fear that dipped and dived on waves of concern and suspicion. For some reason he couldn't see her as suicidal no matter what the pale form infront of him had said before. It had sounded from Kano to be an accident. But then again that couldn't be proven.

"Dylan?" He ventured slowly out from behind the shelf he had been browsing and watched with worry as the bright blue eyes focused and dully turned themselves on him, "Kano was looking for you."

Dylan flinched. Not the right thing to say, "Oh."
There real was something shatterable about him when you looked harder, beneath the punk and mass off black hair.

"Do you want to come join us?" Lee felt awkward, it was as if he had intruded, "There's a whole gang of us out there."

Blank. Eyes blinked at him and flickered between reality and whatever was in his head then: "No thanks. I'm meant to be trying to find Lysistrata by Aristophanes... I've got loads of work to catch up on."

"Oh. Well if you change your mind we're at our usual table."

Dylan nodded and unfolded himself stiffly as if his joints ached before he turned and ducked out of Lee's way.

Finding Boccaccia forgotten Lee decided to turn back to the others. He ought to tell Kano that the runaway had been found and make sure the others knew too.

*

Kano had sounded relieved. The others had been slightly curious, especially when they caught a glimpse of the drawn face leaving L'Ouragon a few minutes later.

"I can't believe he was here all this time."

"I don't suppose he was."

"You think he was trying not to be found."

"Well Kano did say that he seemed upset by Rory's mother."

"That's true. Do you think Dylan blames himself for Rory's suicide att-"

"We don't know that yet."

"But-"

"Don't say it. We can't think like that until we know her side of the story. I mean, she seemed fine until that day. It's not like she's got a history or anything."

"That may not be true either. Dylan said at Castle-Heights that she was 'sick'"

Isaac's last point made the discussion still. Some wanted to visit Rory in hospital now she was awake. Some thought it was best to stay away until she was deemed to be recovering and came off intensive care. Now they were wondering about what happened for the upteenth time since the incident.

It had been in all the newspapers. Magazines had her face smiling from the covers with headlines questioning her sanity, whether or not it was a murder attempt, conspiracies about who might want to kill her. Mel had been in it too as some journalist had recognised her and photographed her entering the hospital the other day. Lee had never hated paparazzi or reporters more than he did at that moment.

He had never understood why people in situations like this made good reading. She was ill and suffering and they were gossiping about it behind her back. It was almost as bad as when his mother had killed himself and his entire family had gossiped about how 'no one would be looking after the boy now then' and how 'it was so obvious she wasn't strong enough for her position in society'. Everything echoed his past at him. He wanted to go home.

"Well I think I'm off." He tried with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, "I need to finish off an essay before tomorrow so I big you good day." He made a mock bow at the end of his excuse and turned away when he felt a hand on his arm and heard Mel excuse herself too.

"I'm going too. See you all later."

He sighed. He really did like her but he knew she couldn't like him. Not in the same way. It didn't make sense that someone as beautiful as her would be interested in someone who was so much younger and so much more inexperianced. He had never felt like this about anyone, always being the young geek in school. Here he had friends. Good friends. He didn't want to risk that... Especially with Mel. Friends was better than nothing.
Rory being in hospital means that although I visit every day, I feel that I rarely see the group anymore.

Which is a shame, seeing as I was just getting to know them.

I was allowing my agent to book local-ish catwalks only once a week, twice maximum. And Kyle was going crazy with it. Catwalks take up at least 6 hours hours of the day - and I refused to do a run when I had a class on. Which means all teh free time everyone else had was spent in the hospital cafeteria doing homework and sharing coffee while I got there just as most left.

Oh well. At least it means I can do the night shift (basically late until later). Which is mostly when Lee is around.

"Hey." As usual, he was sitting at the table we alwyas sat at, with Kano and Loki. I'd passed everyone else (barring Dylan who lived by Rory's bedside) everyone else when I came through reception.

"Mel," he smiled, and the whole stress of the day fell away. I'm an idiot - the boy isn't even legal. Not even legal. I could be done for rape, even though there was no way in hell he'd want to get inside my pants. I must be like some old woman to him.

I dumped my books next to the chair as I let myself slump with my elbows on the table. I was tired of keeping my back straight. "How is she today?"

"Awake." Loki replied heavily. "I think that Dylan arguing with her Mom is making her more tired than the whole carbon monoxide poisoning thing."

"Have you seen the papers today?" Kano asked me quietly. I shook my head. I hated papers, hated pictures. I never buy a newspaper, ever.

He passed it over to me hesitantly and I had a sudden dread hit my stomach.

"Page 3," Loki added. Lee shot them a look which I couldn't decipher.

And there it was staring at me in black and white. Pictures of us, the gang, in here the cafeteria. Pictures of the gang, here, without me. Pictrues of me on the catwalk. And the headline that took up half the page - "Crevas - caring friend or jealous enemy?"

I refused to teh read the rest of the article. I could guess what it was about. Another conspiritory article, aimed at me. Wanting to get my rival out of the way. Had it never occured to them that it's not a competition, and even if it was, we work in different areas? I felt sick.

"Wow." I managed. "And we only made page 3 today."

Lee put an arm round me as Kano looked away through the window and leant backwards on his chair.

"No-one thinks you want to hurt Rory, Mel," he started quietly, still looking out of the window, away from me. "But you are working a lot more than when we all first met you."

"That's because I have to pay rent, and because I..." I trailed off. I knew he wasn't really getting at me, but I was angry anyway. "I'm not here to explain myself to you."

I shook Lee off and stood up stifly. "Now if you don't mind, I think I'll go talk to Rory."

And I walked away.

I felt the need to go check on how Rory was doing, but unsure on whether or not I should wait. After all, she had just woken up, and maybe she didn't need all the attention. It could seriously stress her out.

I was currenty at L'Ouragan with most of the crew. Elizabeth was on my right, and Ella on my left. I had a hot chocolate, and everyone else had their own assortment of drinks, trying to keep themselves calm, or at least preoccupied.

I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. I hadn't been asleep for almost two days. Worry about anything always kept me awake. I could tell that the worry had been lifted a little, but not enough to allow me good rest.

Elizabeth put her hand in mine and lightly squezzed. She could tell how I felt right now, mostly because I could tell how she felt, which was the same. I sighed and drank the rest of my hot chocolate.
A Non-Existent User
Elizabeth was exhausted, she too, hadn't gotten much sleep the past couple days. Not even her double expreso mocha latte could keep her eyes from drooping.

The current situation had taken a toll on everyone; as they sat aroud the tabel, Elizabeth couldn't help but notice that everyone had a certain dullness to them, that look when something horrible has happened.

Well at least Rory was awake, that's really all that mattered, she was alive.

Hopefully the next couple of days everyone would be able to recoperate and sleep. Sleep was very important. In fact, after Elizabeth was finished here she was going to go home and crash.


Dylan watched a brown speckled, white-crested bird flutter its small russet wings of dew. It pecked around it twigs and urban debris that made up its nest and then perked its head to the side as if listening. He smiled to himself and sighed.

"I don't suppose you feel loneliness do you?" He murmured and gazed after it as it gave one last twitch and took off to find a breakfast somewhere in the city. It darted between buildings, rising upwards all the time. Climbing a thermal ladder and lifting out of sight among the clouds. Sighing again, he looked at the piece of paper on his desk.

Notes were scrawled across it. Notes from his head. Simple melody in print. There were drawings, conversations scrawled around the edges of the page. He could remember writing them in high school English with Cael after they'd first hooked up. There were questions as to who would play which bits of guitar, whether that note was right or if he'd forgotten to sharpen in. But there were also little faces, pictures of both of them. There was a poem in the corner from Cael...

'Stars can show you many things.
Like cooking tools and donkeys.
But if you take a closer look...
You might just see a monkey!'

He smiled slightly and looked away again. Why he had decided to sort through his old music case he didn't know. Probably because ever since Castle-Heights he had been compelled to face up to what happened. Or maybe it was because this situation with Rory made him unhappy... He made music to make himself feel better. Or had done. Art right now seemed wrong. Art had to be perfect, had to be beautiful to him. Music didn't.

Music could be ugly.

The white, wall hanging phone rang on its hook. Once, twice, again and again, making the otherwise silent rooms seem even more hollow than before. It was probably Kano or one of the others. It wouldn't be Rory. She had her mother now. And if that woman had her way then he was sure that Rory would be taken a long way from where ever he was. He sighed again. The phone stopped ringing. Silence dropped back like a heavy curtain holding back any light.

Things weren't meant to be like this. Things were meant to have been improving. He was meant to be moving onwards. Rory was meant to be growing in independence and furthering her love of languages so she didn't have to be a model forever. They were meant to be laughing about coffee runs, wrestling over whose half of the brownie it was, shotgunning turns to pay at L'Ouragon... They weren't meant to be like this. With everything in ruins, all their plans falling apart because of a few rough nights and a faulty boiler.

If it had been a faulty boiler... Had she tried to kill herself? Shaking his head, he decided he should listen to Kano on this one. He should ask her. In fact he should stop being such a coward and go back to the hospital instead of lingering here. Away from the others, away from the meddling mother and, ultimately, away from Rory.

And away from Kano.

Dylan chose to ignore that thought. He needed to focus on Rory rather than on his love life or lack there of. He couldn't quite believe what had nearly happened back in that music room. He had been scared and panicky and yet he'd felt utterly safe. He didn't think Kano would have hurt him. He wouldn't have just used him.

The dark blue carpet was soft under his feet as he uncurled and padded out of the four by five room he used as a sort of study and wandered through into the main part of his place. A studio flat with high gothic windows that he'd stained so lapis lazuli and cadmium and vermillion and scarlet scattered themselves across the wide room that was both kitchen and general sitting room though it was mainly taken up with bits of art. The walls, which he'd papered plain white were covered in his own doodles but canvases seemed to fall across every wall in a haphazardly fallen clutter. Those were the ones which caught people's eye. The abstract, the portraits, mixed media, encaustic, silk... ideas brought together from all over the world. He loved this place… it was a calm place and he could remember many times that it had lent him a sort of solace.

Rory had helped him buy it. He couldn't have afforded both his fees and his rent and his food if it wasn't for her help. That was why he pulled on two odd socks, one black, the other blue with stripes, before he searched out his converse again. He pulled them on, shuffling a little to make his feet comfortable in the damp soles. At least they weren't as sodden as they were before. Hesitating only to snatch an umbrella just in case he ran into Kano and not wanting to seem ungrateful for all the effort he had put into keeping him warm... He took one, last sweeping glance across the room, the dappled light casting shadows between art peices, before swinging out of the door, turning the key in the lock as a last minute decision.

*

Hospitals drove Dylan insane. The surgical smells of disinfectant and salves. The clink of metal beds rolling on squeaky wheels across the plastic tiles so if anyone vomited it was easy to clean up. The stoic faces of the staff with their crisp uniforms flashing gold-pin name-badges. Things like that... Made him despise each dull teal curtain hanging from rails, each rough woolen blanket tucked too tight about prone bodies in bed. Every bleep from the heart monitors and every creak from the swinging IV made his chest hammer hard, ribs aching under pressure. Whose life was being measured in mechanical moans from an uncaring machine? Whose suvival depended on the steady release of liquid food into their blood stream because they were too sick to do it themselves? Whose life hung in the balanced care of nurses who really just wanted to leave so they could have a glass of wine with mates and relax?

It was fair to say that he hated hospitals.

As he stepped through another set of unoiled doors he found Mel sitting, head in hands across from Rory's door and Lee beside her, arm draped over he shoulder. Some how doing that made him look a lot older than he really was. It was funny to think that Lee, for all his smarts and intellectual conversation, was really close on three years younger than he was.

"Hey." He murmured softly as he stepped up beside them, voice sounding hoarse for some reason.

"Heya." Lee replied with a smile though Mel didn't move.

Dylan thought back to the magazin articles he had noticed around on the heaving highstreets. People thought that Mel had done this to Rory. He shook his head and murmured her name until she looked up at him. Red rimmed, her eyes shone and it looked as if they could melt.

"I know it wasn't anything to do with you." He said finally, smiling ever so slightly as he did, "Don't listen to those hounds down there. They're just desperate."

Her eyes overflowed though he was sure he saw a flash of a smile before she ducked her head away again, hiding the tears from any paparazzi that had managed to infiltrate the corridor's special restrictions.

"Is her mother in there?" He asked after a moments pause, still standing, shifting from foot to foot.

"Nope. She left about ten minutes ago. Went to get lunch I think cos she asked if Rory wanted anything from the little cafe next door."

"Cool." Dylan relaxed, "So why are you waiting here?"

"Two people only. Liz and Ella are in there at the moment. Isaac went to up us all on coffee."

Dylan suddenly felt guilty. Here they all were keeping vigil and he had left. Abandoning Rory because of a stupid problem he had with her mother. He should have been able to put that aside.

"Kano and Loki have gone to find the nearest macky-d's... If you wanted to add something to the order."

"What?" Frowning, "You're getting macdonalds?"

"Yup. Can't eat the shit they sell here and can't afford nextdoor's stuff so..."

The two boys laughed and Mel's shoulders shook slightly. With laughter or not, he wasn't sure. Settling himself down, he decided to wait and if Kate came along. So be it.
The little red spider crawled across the crevices on the windowsill, mountains and ridges of flaked red paint barring it from the sparse green patches of lichen. It was the colour of a London bus, or perhaps Chanel lipstick, and no bigger than the sort of mole that winks at you from a stranger's eyelid. It wasn't beautiful, I thought, but rather pathetic in it's struggle to crawl up a ridge of paint that flicked backwards on itself. The spider tried yet again to mount the inside of the curve, but slipped back down into the trough of the wave. My eyes followed the spider's plight for one last time, feeling a sort of sadistic schadenfreude with its misery. I looked up at the view from the sill once more, refreshing in my mind the view of the grand evergreen tree in front of me, the name of which escaped my mind. The branches were bent downwards with the weight of a million green needles, and the majestic tree itself seemed lost in a world of vague evergreen dreams. Absentmindedly, I flicked another spider off my arm. It seemed that hundreds of the little red soldiers crawled across the bricks that made up the ledge, and yet none dared to come near to me on the inside of the room.

One particularly brave spider had made its way onto the inside of the window's frame, but its presumptuous thoughts were squashed, without a second thought, by a plastic ruler. No one was to enter this domain. Apparently, after today, this included me. I surveyed the room with a critical eye. All possessions that had once made the room mine had been stripped, the last neccessities now packed into two battered turquoise suitcases, their piping exposed and looking quite different from their original state, when I had been just seven years old. Decorations, posters, even school books- all had been cleared 3 weeks ago, at the beginning of my last half term. A wooden chair and a cheap desk lay to my right, and beyond that a shoddy school wardrobe. Facing my back was the standard single bed with its four drawers, now reduced to a mattress with a sheet the colour of blood, which someone had long a go written the words "I am a period" onto in capital letters. I smiled. It was common consensus among the girls, decided when these sheets had first arrived to replace the original white ones 4 years ago, that the very expensive, all girls boarding school had tried to save money by not replacing sheets from 'Stainage', quite as often.

My lacrosse stick lay on the mattress, a note wrapped around it with a hair tie, addressed to its purchaser 3 years below, who had indeed been fleeced for every penny she had paid. A pile of games kit, with its white polo shirt, long and itchy acrylic socks and short kilt among other things, lay crisp and fresh on the bed, ready to be hawked off by the witch-like ladies of the second hand shop with a zeal unparalleled, convincing innocent 11 year olds that they really did need this school scarf (unworn in all 5 years that the girl, who had arrived at the age of thirteen, had been at the school.)

I felt for some reason that I would miss this strange world, no matter how unrealistic and odd my experiences there had been. There had been an incident with a polystyrene head from the drama cupboard (Occasional roof walks were not unknown to occur (Scandals with thieving and posses and cliques had torn apart various friendships but, for the most part, I had stayed out of them and had led a rather unremarkable life there, provided, of course, that I stayed on the pills. At times I had hated it with a burning passion that seemed to rival the zeal of a third world dictator for his own image, but at others, it had seemed almost alright, this private school lark. An uphill struggle though, just like the spider's. Turning one last time, I glanced to the bin where a folder had been parked. Gleaming in black on a shimmering white label were the words "History - Rory Constant".

**

My hospital room was very much like my dorm at school, except for the boy perched silently on a blue plastic chair by one yellowing wall. Dylan had been silent, now for at least two minutes. It was unsettlng and I looked down to the arches of my feet, heels pressed together and toes wiggling with chipped navy polish.

The fingers of my left hand trailed across the the veins that winked up at me through the papery skin of my ankles, resting every so often in the hollows that the taught muscles created as they tightened like cord. Balanced carefully on my right ankle was a pack of cloves,the cream cardboard gleaming up at me through the ripples of purple and blue in its plastic covering. The filters of the Sampoernas faced Dylan, and his the dark pupils of his Kohl rimmed eyes raked over the rectangle of green at the centre of the packet, as though if he could stare long enough the pack would spontaneously combust. Or fly into his itching fingers.

"No."

Dylan said it carefully and slowly, as though the word had taken all of his courage to muster. His eyes raised momentarily, as though to meet mine and parry until I acquiesced, but he let his pupils fall short and began to study my juoce mouth with an artists keen eye. He looked visibly agitated, the dark circles under his eyes so dark that they had been smeared on with a pallete knife, his yellowing skin taut over the bones of his face. His black hair had become plastered to the side of his head at an irregular angle, and his lips jutted out over his squared off jaw.

"But the doctor said that the only reason I survived was my system's tolerance level." I muttered, pouting at him as my hand lurched for the cylindrical purple lighter that rested on the ridges of my spiral bound sketchbook.

"It's a fucking hospital. There's a fire alarm. The sock trick won't work."

Silence echoed throughout the vacuous space between us as I studied the flowers that dwarfed his hunched figure. White roses and orchids tangled up through the stiff stalks of eucalyptus, their sensual petals curvacious and feminine. Dwarfing them from behind in a cream jug of some metallic description were stargazer lilies, the sparkled pinks cotrasting with the pallor of both Dylan and the roses. "It will if it's wet. Remember...I spent my formative years chaining in my dorm with Agatha Christie playing whilst I tried to finish transcriptions of Georgia O'keefe's in oil paint. I think I even left the sock as a present for the matron."

A smile briefly flitted across Dylan's features as his hands fidgeted with an empty box of rose macaroons. The box had become folded like paint, rippling and yellowing with the coarse manipulation of his long, calloused fingers. Steeling his blue eyes until their stormy grays settled into a black spiral, my cousin tilted his head until his gaze locked onto mine. "The doctor said if you inhale anymore carbon monoxide you'll go comatose again. I'm not having that."

"Oh you're not? Didn't you have fun without dragging me along?" Inside I was still bitter that Dylan had left me to fend for myself. the anger pricking my skin like acid, it's dense fumes clouding my vision and senses. My brother wouldn't have left me. He was strong and brave and....Dylan wasn't him. Fading memories of him trying to stand up for me even when it was completely unnecessary began to stab at my concious, pushing themselves to the front of my still aching mind. My mother's arrival had almost made me more bitter towards Dylan, because it reminded me who I had left behind. Dylan was my crutch, his lilting american melodies distinguishing him from my direct family enough that I could bear to be with him, and his comfortable familiarity enough that it still felt like they were protecting me. Dylan might rely on me for money, but I relied on him, and to a certain extent on the other boys, to keep me stable. And he had removed himself. My tone was jovial but even Dylan, emotionally cutting me off as he was, could feel the spite that emulated from my steeled voice. He shuddered as though caught in an icy storm. I caught my breath like a frightened deer, sympathy and regret coursing through me as I saw the fragility of his state for the first time. "Fine. No smoking. On the condition that you strip that awful black dye and bring me some....hmmm... more macaroons, a dyptique candle - tuberose, naturally, some red lipstick, My book on edith Piaf.....Charbonnel & Walker Drinking Chocolate.....my blue cape....my red driving gloves, truman capote, an entire season of midsomer murders, my blusher....my blue nail varnish, some cadmium red,The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test , my doctor Hauschka rose gloop, the new terry pratchett...and all my Haruki Murakami books"

"Do you think I'm some sort of stepford-childling that magically spouts cash and arms? And where the bloody hell am I meant to find Charbonnel and Walker in New York?" with deadpan delivery Dylan replied instantly, but his eyes sparkled for the first time since...since he had met Kano, who I had instantly known he had fancifully turned into a Mr. Rochester and fallen deeply, madly, passionately and almost ridiculously obviously in love with. Not that Dylan would realise for....another two years at this rate. It was like watching a film with Hugh grant and colin firth in. But as lovers. An interesting concept for the next Bridget Jones. I still hadn't worked out which one would play Dylan, but by the time I was bantering with Galliano, the first show I'd booked since waking up- much to my mothers chagrin, I would have all the minor details bantered out. Dylan would be mortified.

"Citarella... MACAROONS AND BOOKS. AND PAINT. AND CLOTHES. OR I SHALL DECLARE YOUR UNDYING LOVE TO KANO."

"I'm not sure what exactly you plan on doing with leather gloves, vampy lipstick, old detective shows and smelly candles in your hospital room." He muttered as darkly as it is possible when turning the same colour as beetroot soup (or ???? as it is pronounced in Russian), "and I'm not with.."

I interrupted him before his embarassment made him shrivel into a dormouse. My vivacious cousin ripped into silence using the four last four words of a sentence. Truly bizarre. " child? Obviously. And obviously for entertaining myselfin this dump whilst you lug yourself to lectures without me..... for some reason I have the urge to paint pictures of flowers and listen to familiar detective videos."

"No smoking" He cautioned darkly, snatching the carefully balanced cigarettes of my ankle, almost dropping them onto a red rug that Isaac had managed to charm past the nurse for me, which had been smuggled over in my suitcases from Morocco just before I had launched Haphazardly into my first term at Columbia. Dylan was with me up there, and the others were dotted between NYU and the rest of the colleges in the city. Art classes at SVU involved frustration with oil paint and the tv permanantly switched on to supernatural for one teacher that had Tivo issues. The rug was a curious mixture of traditional weaving and borders, but multicolored silhouettes danced around the centre as if they had dropped off a pop artist's canvas. I had been so enthused by this action that I had attempted to jump up and hug him, only to be restrained by Kano and collapse back onto the bed coughing. Stupid medicine. Stupid central heating.

I shrugged my shoulders back into the buttery soft brown leather of my paint splattered jacket, frustrated by the itchy plastic-derivatives that made up the seafoam hospital smock. No attempt was made to snatch back the cigarettes and I merely resigned myself to staring at the laptop by the door. It blinked at me unerringly, humming happily as it scalded the plastic table underneath it. Metal began to creak beside it as the door handle began to turn and through the chicken-wire glass I could see the vibrant patterns of my quilt. Which, oddly enough, I had never had the chance to see open a door before. The yellowing pine reflected the blues in the light as it began swinging into the shadowy corner, and emerging from the bundles of cadmium, pinks and sienna came lee's shock of hair. His eyes darted around the room, which had already begun to accumulate hordes of my stuff due to the careful orchestrations of Mel and Kano.

Dylan laughed at the sight, which caused Lee to dart a suprised look at me from his kindly face as he dumped the bundle of colours onto my lap and grinned sheepishly. In a fit of genius he wore a cardigan over his well cut suit and looked quite yummy, if young. If only I could get Dylan to dress more eccentrically....I had only just managed to drag him into barneys the other day, but then again he really didn't fit the gay best friend stereotype. Especially when he cavorted around with the odd hipster girl in williamsburg and promptly broke their heart.


"So you finally get in to see me. Did they get the MacDonalds yet? I'm really craving that giant ass motherfucker fatty burger."

"Potty mouth. Yeah, I think they're going to sneak past the nurse in a second. She's paranoid that someone from the press will get in and you'll sue."

"I can see the headlines now: Murdered Model promotes High Cholesterol. Is this an attempt to stave of Anorexia claims?" Dylan murmured as he grabbed Lee's Coffee from his hand, shifting his weight to settle back into the plastic chair. I felt a slight pang as I reflected on all of the speculation that had been occurring. At first, I had been fairly neutral towards Mel, what with the karate incident, But as I warmed to her I realised that this press was destroying her slowly and unnecessarily. She really didn't deserve this. She had been so.....kind. No strings. It was unusual to see that in a person. I was so scared that I would be left alone that I gathered people around me in hordes, and yet I realised that only a few were good friends. Mel was refreshingly honest and didn't seem to care what others thought, but now those opinions were emptying her until it seemed that she had left her body completely. By now I had walked in most of the couture shows, as it was late in the season, but the press still seized onto the idea that she was somehow stealing my jobs. Which was ridiculous because, well, it was them building her recognition up by spraying her across the front page and asking whether she was after my position as a "supermodel". A load of bollocks. Even more so due to the last supermodels really existing in the 90s. I mean Gemma, Daria and me? Famous. Gisele, Naomi, Cindy? Supermodels. Mel definitely didn't me to die to boost her career anyway. She was doing fine on her own.

"I'm going out for a cigarette." Dylan announced cautiously as he stood up and shoved the economic "seating device" towards a rather startled Lee. Glaring at him sulkily, my toungue danced out of my mouth and I told him to find Mel for me and memorise my list. After a long pause, Dylan's face lit up as though he had caught a butterfly or won a conker fight, and therefore found the meaning of life. "AND YOU LIKE MY HAIR DYE."

"Yeah but........I'm bored of it. I think you should go back to blonde and green tips...maybe blue. Pink if you're feeling special. You're far too albino pale for black hair now- you're tendency to stad out in rainstorms leaves you quite blue."

"I guess. But I like it this way."

"I'll get you coffee?"

"I might suprise you. I'll think about it. But....black......" he sighed as though he had fallen deep into thought.

"Get my copy of Le Grand Meaulnes too."

He shifted his weight again as he glanced back towards me, his eyes pale and intense, framed by his knitted eyebrows. To me he was almost out of focus, like the ghosts in a photograph taken with slow shutterspeeds, fuzzy and surrounded by an eternal sense of movement, even though they were frozen. That was Dylan- always moving, thinking... even when frozen.

Closing my eyes I let the music of the city outside wash over me. Somewhere a radio blasted out beats, the melodies washing over the sound of sirens, shouting and traffic. The view from my bedroom window was painted onto my mind with strokes so detailed that they seemed to shimmer and move, Brown cliffs rising up from a sea of tarmac, the fading neon signs of a hairdresser and the yellowing poster outside the chinese restaurant contrasting with the sienna of the brownstones, so interupted by the large glass block on the end of the block. My two little floors at the bottom of a miscellaneous brownstone were home now. But there weren't any pill shaped spiders on my windowsill.
I nibbled on a french fry and wondered idly if I should be thanking everyone for their kind donations to my meal. Most of them had said, "Here, get me "whatever" and don't give me the change." or, "I want two doubles and a fry, here's a five, keep the change." and so I'd managed to get all kinds of food! I was beginning to think I might not go hungry after all. I looked down and was startled to find half the large fry was empty. Good thing I'd gotten two of them.

"Kano!" I called, how had he gotten so far ahead of me anyway? "Wait up!" He didn't say anything, but I was able to catch up to him fairly quickly, so he must have slowed down. "What's eating at you?" I asked, turning to him and fumbling in the bag, glancing down to see that the first fry box was empty. I tossed it in the nearest trash and reached for the next one.

"Nothing," he said softly, in that tone that meant, everything is wrong Loki, can't you tell? I rolled my eyes.

"Bull," I said, looking around and then settling my eyes on him again. He said nothing, and I figured it was because he didn't know how to say what was bothering him. I ran the past few events in my mind. We got to see Rory, there were only two people allowed in to see her at a time, we'd gotten money from all kinds of people for McDonald's, we went to get the food, I'd gotten all kinds of things extra to eat... I stopped in my tracks and stared at Kano in horror.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry!" I said, my eyes filling with tears, "What did you want? We can go back, I think I've still got some money! If not, you can have whatever it is I have you want! I can't believe I didn't even think of that, Kano I'm so sorry, I'm such a bad friend!" Kano turned to me, looking into my horror filled eyes, an expression of complete confusion on his face.

"What the hell are you talking about Loki," he finally asked.

"The food! I should have realized you'd want to get something else, and I took all of the money and used it on my own food, and didn't even think of you, and you're always so good to me and I've been so bad to you, I can't believe I didn't think of it, I'm so sorry, please forgive me-" I was cut off by Kano's hand, which was over my mouth.

"Shut up Loki," he said, a touch of exasperation in his tone. "I'm not upset over the food." I blinked at him a few times.

"Ywur want?" I asked through his hand. He let my mouth go and I blinked again.

"No," he said, and turned away from me to continue walking. After a brief pause, I caught up.

"Then what are you upset about?"

"Nothing." I rolled my eyes again.

"You are."

He turned to me and shook his head. "If I was, I'd tell you about it, wouldn't I?" I thought about that for a moment, then shook my head.

"No." He sighed.

"Why are you so astute when I don't want you to be?" he mumbled. Since I didn't think he intended me to hear him, I ignored what he said.

"Come on, it's not like I'm a blabbermouth about important things," I could feel my tone getting serious and I sighed. "Won't you just talk about it?"

"No." Stubborn as a mule, I swear.

"Fine," I said in exasperation and stopped talking to him. When the first of three double cheeseburgers was gone I looked over at him again. "So, what's bothering you?" I asked and he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turning angry eyes on me. Uh oh, I'd managed to piss him off.

"Loki, drop it," he hissed, and I nodded solemnly. "Good." With that he turned away and continued to walk. I sighed and pulled out another double, ate it and then saw the hospital.

"I wonder if Dylan will be there," I said, and a smile grew on my lips as I looked at Kano. Seeing the set look of his body, and the fact that he seemed somewhat angry, something clicked in my mind. "Oooohhh... that's what's bothering you! Dylan hasn't called or anything since I disturbed you two in the music room. What's his problem anyway?" I asked. Kano shook his head ever so slightly and I tilted my head to one side.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be wondering what I'd done wrong," Kano barely spoke. I threw the wrapper out and lightly touched Kano's shoulder.

"Sorry, I guess I'm dense sometimes. I didn't mean to make you angry." Kano shook his head, and turned to me.

"You didn't." Then he turned to the building again, and started in.

We didn't talk as we walked back to Rory's room. I had a large jacket over my hands, so I could smuggle the food in, and Kano walked so quickly, no one questioned what he was doing with one large McDonald's bag. When we got to the corridor where people were waiting for their food, Dylan was coming out of Rory's room, and I realized he looked somewhat annoyed.

"Heya Dylan!" I called, and Kano shot me a quick angry look before turning to Dylan. Dylan looked at Kano and seemed shocked, and somewhat apprehensive. I smiled and took one of the smaller bags out, handing it to Lee, "Food!" I said happily.

From the corner of my eye, I could see Dylan finally deciding to move. He nodded at Kano and tried to walk around him. He managed to get to the other side of Kano, their arms brushing slightly. He seemed to be trying to walk quickly, and I resisted the urge to trip him. Once he was past me, I looked at Kano, who seemed reserved, and somewhat uncertain.

I walked over to him and took the bag out of his hands. "Go silly, don't ask internal questions about the meaning of life, just go and stop the one you've been worried about." I gave him a little shove and smiled when he ran off after Dylan, no hesitation in his demeanor anymore. Grinning I turned back to Lee.

"I'm sooo hungry!" I said, pulling one of the other bags out. He looked at it and shook his head.

"Who all is that for?" he asked, and I looked at him in confusion.

"What are you talking about?"

"All that food, who is it all for?"

"Me!" I said happily, taking out a big mac and opening the box. "This bag is for Mel," I said, pulling one bag out and handing it over to her as I took a bite of the food. They both stared at me as though I was insane, and perhaps I was, and I ate with relish. It was good to have enough food to eat.
Kano had been trying to figure out the fastest way to ditch the McDonald's bag and follow Dylan. Luckily Loki provided the answer quite efficiently. He caught up with Dylan as he was leaving the hospital.

"Dylan," he touched his shoulder to get his attention, "I'd like to talk."

Dylan slumped his shoulders a bit more and nodded, then mumbled something about Rory and stuff.

"I'll come with you then," Kano said, walking beside him. They walked in silence for a long time as Kano tried to decide how to approach the situation.

Dylan had been avoiding him. That was obvious, what he wanted to know, no, needed to know, was why. He glanced at Dylan as if the answer would be plainly painted across him. It wasn't there.

The worst part was the when. They had almost kissed. A part of him wanted to strangle Loki for choosing just that moment to come running in, acting his happy puppy dog self. Another part of him was glad. After all, if this was Dylan's reaction to almost kissing what would his reaction to actually doing so be? That was assuming they had stopped there and Kano wasn't entirely certain they would have.

"You've been avoiding me," Kano started and Dylan shook his head. "You have," Kano said firmly, "and I'd like to know why."

Dylan somehow seemed to shrink into himself a little bit more. "Sorry," he replied softly.

Kano sighed, "It's okay and I'm not upset I just... don't understand. I thought... I'm not very good at this sort of thing." He shook his head and tried again. "Did I do something wrong?"

Dylan shook his head immediately, "No."

They stopped to wait for the next train, boarded and sat together in silence. Dylan's body felt warm but small at Kano's side. It was partly the way he sat, almost folding in upon himself.

The train stopped at Rory's apartment and the two of them entered. Kano stopped just inside the door remembering the night not so long ago when he'd found her. Then his mind wandered back to a different woman and a different collapse.

"Kano?" Dylan was holding a large selection of items and Kano realized he'd stopped in the doorway, staring off into nowhere. He had no idea how long he'd been there, remembering.

"Sorry, here let me help you carry some of that." Kano took most of what Dylan was holding with an awkward smile. What must Dylan be thinking? He'd just frozen in the doorway like a deer caught in headlights or something.

"I need to stop a few places to buy things," Dylan seemed hesitant. "You don't have to come with me."

Kano shook his head. "I've been trying to catch up with you for days. I don't know what's wrong, but unless you tell me directly that you don't want my company, you're getting it."

Dylan shook his own head. "It's not that."

Kano nodded, "Good."

Lee had noticed Kano lope off as his hair had peeped above the glass of the windows at the top of the wall. He smiled. Something was going on there which he was sure would be good for the group of them. Macdonald's aside, today seemed to be a very good day. It left him with a fuzzy contentment in his stomach. Though that may have been because Mel was holding his hand still. Or the junk food.

"The italian teacher misses your confectionary bribery." He spoke up and grinned, noticing that the munching had taken over from chatter.

"Oh?" Rory grinned through a mouthful of chips.

"Yeah. She was asking 'Dove ci potera questo cambiamento? Roria? Roria? Wheere ees Rory Constont?'" Lee's eyes sparkled as he mimicked their slightly dozy Italian professor.

She snickered along with Mel and Loki and Elizabeth. Most likely at the bad accent but if he made people laught that was a good thing, "Where'd Isaac get to?"

"Coffee still."

"I swear he came back?"

"Nope." Mel shook her head, "We sent him to L'Ouragon. Amelie would neverforgive us for being too lazy to go to her."

"Oh right." Red must have tinted his cheeks because she giggled slightly and looked at her watch before sighing.

"Hey guys, I got to dash. I'm meant to be meeting my manager in half an hour. He wants me to go to Japan for the week." She sounded upset and he squeezed her hand to remind her that they'd be there if she needed them, "Ciao guys."

He didn't want to watch her leave. But knew he should stay because he couldn't really go to her meeting with her. Instead he tugged her fingers, making her look at him, "I'll call you later?"

She smiled and he was sure it wasn't fake, "I'd like that."

He grinned. Happy again and stole a few of Loki's chips (french fries) as she disappeared around the corner. That Rory had told her to ignore the paparazzi really seemed to have helped. Lee sat back in the chair and mumbled in french, "Bon repas doit commencer par la faim." As he mused on the taste and texture of the small food. Hunger really was the best spice. It even made crap taste good...

Dylan shivered in the wind, wishing he'd brought a scarf with him today or gloves or something of the sort which would make the cold go away. November had finally settled into itself and with it the steely gray skies and blustery weather. He'd almost forgotten how fast the leaves fell... Trees lined bare, disposed of all of their bright rayment, which now lay in colorful piles in the gutters and on lawns. People were wrapped snuggly in their knitted scarves and gloves, hoping to keep out the biting frost of the fresh autumn air. Everyone seemed to be in a cheery mood; maybe it was due to the recent holiday festivities-kids were stuffed with sweets and talking all about what they did the night before. Or maybe it was just the fact that a new month had arrived and everyone was looking forward to what it might have in store for them. Either way, there was a definite note of change in the atmosphere. Even the grey suited workers as they crawled out of their offices for lunch seemed more cheerful, looking forward to the christmas holidays he was sure....

Beside him, keeping pace, was Kano, carrying the other half of Rory's junk in a plastic bag they had pilfered off Amelie when they had bought the latest Terry Pratchett for his cousin. So if Kano was holding that book along with dyptique candle, Kool-Aid acid test, the blue cape, the midsommer murders series and the blue nail varnish and the book on Edith Piaf.... And he was carrying the red lipstick, drinking chocolate from a chocolaterie, truman capote, blusher, the red driving gloves and the red nail varnish as well as the special gloop.... That meant that they still had to pick up the Haruki Murakami books and Le Grand Meaulnes, all of which were in his flat. He sighed.

"We need to go to my place... I'd forgotten that so much of her junk is now at mine..." Shifting the weight of the bags, he ran a hand through his hair. He really needed a cigarette but was pretty sure that Kano wouldn't like it.

Kano nodded and he caught the edge of a smile but tried to ignore it as best he could. He couldn't tell Kano that he had a habit of letting himself be used because in his life it was the closest he came to love... Or that he hurt... Or that his body still ached. Sure before Cael he'd been involved with people but they were usually one night stands with girls who thought he was part of some band playing... They had never meant much and he had never meant much. Rory teased him, about the broken hearts he had left behind. But if he couldn't explain to her what was going on, how could he tell someone he cared about in a similar way?

High above, the purpling sky grumbled. Phantom words of a heavy cloud growling to another to another and another. People about them glance upwards and frowned and sped up. Vaguely the thought of his car came to mind... It was a shame he'd arranged to lend it to his nextdoor neighbours. He hardly used it... but it would have been useful at that moment in time. The black and grey tarmac shivered, the puddles, yellow from the passing taxis, sparkled as they were moved by the wind.

"I'll fix us coffee when we get there." He added as he saw a fleck of rain splash into one of the smaller watery mirror on the street surface. He didn't have to look at his companion to know he was probably smiling that soft, bare disguishable way he often did. It was funny how he had become accustomed to seeing the small flickers that made up Kano's visible thought... It was much easier to understand now.

"Sounds good." Kano said just loud enough for him to hear, "It's getting colder."

The silence that fell was awkward. Back in L'Ouragon it had been comfortable. In the search for the Terry Pratchett, the quips of conversation had been light, jovial, relaxed. Dylan had leant on Kano's shoulder as he used to the ladder to pull down a copy of one of the Disc-World books. He had stumbled down as he had groaned with the realisation that it wasn't the right one. Kano had caught his elbow to steady him. Their eyes had met, mirth making them act like idiots and grin quite foolishly and Kano had then gone back up the ladder, with a little more grace that he had and found the right copy. But after that something had gone wrong.

That moment in the dusty place in the back of the bookstore had smashed a delicate balance. Of course... maybe that was just to him... Kano was humming something under his breath. It was pretty... Something in G major. It would sound good on the guitar.

"It's just down here."

The street was much liek the rest of New York. Tall, many layer buildings, though this area was residential and shabbier than Manhattan or places like that. However, despite te fatigued stone, Dylan liked the place. Flowerpots with gorgonvillia and chrysanthums blew in the wind, pale lacy curtains rippled and the neighbours didn't glare when another passed. No one heard shrieking cries from next door. No body was expecting to be stabbed. It was a fairly quiet place and safe compared to his old rooms. Rory had really saved him on this one. They rounded the corner which took them to the door of his apartment building and Dylan too the stairs two at a time as they climbed to the fifth floor. Fumbling a little thanks to his numbed fingers, he unlocked the door and let them both into his studio cave.

"Umm... Just leave the stuff here and mind the paintings on your way through. I've been meaning to put them up but.... yeah... they're not important if you do knock one over but..." He was babbling, "Make yourself comfortable."

As Dylan wove his way to the kitchen area he heard a sharp intake of breath. He looked up, worried that his friend had some how hurt himself, only to blush when he realised that Kano’s eyes had fallen on a painting of Rory, her dark, doe eyes staring out of the black and white image he had done at the beginning of the year, tears were glimmering in the corners of her eyes, her lips where the only thing in colour, she’d been wearing her vamp-lip stick and so he’d painted them scarlet and slightly bruised with a cigarette dangled from them. It was one of his favourites... Though it made him feel cold thinking that Kano was looking at this stuff. All the paintings he had here were those he felt for. The one of Rory had been done after she’d come over on the verge of tears because she was so tired out and the photographer had been a brutal, chauvanistic prat. Normally she could handle herself, but not that day.

There were others of course... Ones that he had poured his soul into only to realise that they still weren’t good enough. Like the one of a couple of punks, mohicans and chains included, strolling down past Barney’s.Or the semi-self-portrait of a child on a swing, the background grey but the boy in colour and laughing. Turning away so he didn’t have to see Kano’s reaction to any of the rest, he turned to making coffee, something he had perfected over the years.

It was a matter of using the right amount of ground beans. The most common mistake of all was not using enough, resulting in a thin cup that lacked depth of flavour and the distinctive qualities that helped to make each coffee unique. He hoped that Kano would be alright with Robusta beans... They had more caffeine which was a plus and they were easier to find in the long run despite being more expensive than most. Grinding the coffee as fine as he could, he relished the scents rising up from the little brown heap on his work surface. It screamed desire. Then came the greatest rule of thumb. It was about two tablespoons of water for each six ounce cup of coffee. And never to boil the water. He glanced at the machine. All the delicacy of the coffee flavours were ruined if the water boiled. If it was just off the boil it was perfect. He mumbled to himself, slightly worried about what Kano would think about drinking stuff quite like this... Rory had taken time to appreciate it in quite the same way, though she did realise that he had learnt from Amelie, the best of the best.

“These are good Dylan.” Kano’s voice rang through the room, making him cringe slightly, blushing and cursing himself for doing so. He was glad his face wasn’t visible.

“Coffee’s up!”

Kano had settled into the sofa, eyes roaming the room, though he smiled slightly as the scent wafted across to where he was. Two steaming mugs of liquid, brown heaven. Dylan smiled, ignoring the hitch in his breathing as he watched Kano turn. Passing the blue, stripey mug to his friend he warned him that it was hot before settling down at the other end of the sofa, leaning back against the arm rest as he crossed his legs under him. He’d never quite grown out of that habit. Silence descended agin but this time he knew Kano wanted to say something. He nodded sligtly, blowing on his coffee and sipping it tentatively in case it burnt his tongue.

“So are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

Dylan blanched, curling down to his knees so his elbows were resting on his legs and the coffee was cradled in his hands, “I knew this was coming.”

Kano looked a little sad as he said that and guilt spread up his body, maing him shiver as they sat on the sofa together. He didn’t wan Kano to be unhappy. That was the last thing he wanted.

“I know you want answers...” He didn’t know how to say anything. Did he tell the truth, the half truth, anything but the truth? Did he ignore his conscience and plain out lie? “I can’t really give you a proper answer...”

“Dylan-”

“Things are really complicated. They’ve always been complicated. With me... Things are messed up. More than you know. Or anybody knows.”

“Is this to do with Rory?”

“No.” He ran a hand through his hair, thinking about how his cousin had asked him to go back to his natural blond, “No, it’s not so much to do with her. Though things right now aren’t helping.” He laughed lightly, not really finding anything humourous, “I’m sorry... I just don’t know how to say this stuff...”

Rory would have been able to explain things like this... She would have asked the right questions which would push the right buttons and withdraw the right answers. But he didn’t know how to start now. If he told Kano anything it wouldn’t make sense. He couldn’t talk about his English teacher because then he’d have to explain why he’d gone along with it at the beginning which would lead him to saying that ever since Cael he’d been a mess and then he’d have to reveal why that had fucked him over so badly which would lead them onto his family, his father, the fact that he was never considered his father’s son and never cared for and yet how much he’d wanted them to like him and how much it had hurt that they had moved away... He wouldn’t say that...

“I pretty much live off Rory since my parents kicked me out...”

Or maybe he should just tell the truth. Except for the bit at the end. No one could know about the professor. And he sipped at his coffee and looked across at Kano and let the expectant silence wash over them.
"It's mossy. Give me a foot up will you?" I remarked into the stuffy, bleached air over my shoulder. Sat on the bed were Lee and Mel, who both looked as if they were unwitting accomplices to something dirty. Loki, standing up lithly, shrugged and walked over. Absently I let my eyes flicker over his...rather strong....frame. Fingers, shining and blinking at me through the layer of grease, were wiped hastily onto the wall, leaving greyish streaks. I let my unclad foot lift through the cool air and rest into the cup of his warm hands. Pulling my weight up onto the shining white frame of the windowsill with clammy hands, I managed to straddle it so that one leg dangled above the spongy grey tarmac of the square courtard.  It's leaves hung with oranges and golds, a lone tree stood in the corner of two sides of the building,  pinks singing their symphonies as the silvering trunk slid up to the skyline in needling curves. It was struggling from the weight of it's leaves in the new york autumn, and neat piles of brown and red were stacked like coins on a dressing table underneath it.

"Dylan's gonna fucking kill us." Mell uttered, sighing and retreating into the stonewashed rasberry hood  that cloaked glistening strands of dark, wet hair. Lee, a sharp movement of elbow interacting with ribcage, nodded, although a grin split his face into two, his eyes smirking at me merrily. It was not unkindness, but genuine amusement at the situation. As though he had, which he had, resigned himself to his fate as onlooker.

"I've been discharged"

"Puppy eyes shouldn't work on doctors"

"I'm not smoking"

"There's the question of..." mel's voice died slowly. <Mental stability> was the word that skulked slowly across the room, as yet unspoken. Lee frowned quickly as his own elbow interlocked with Mel's. She was more prone to beleive the doctors, having a grasp of psychology. Lee and her had argued behing the confines of the white walled corridor, pretending that rory couldn't hear, and rory had obliged them by not mentioning anything about it. The air of pretense was a flawed human mechanism but at the same time if everyone could convince hemselves, then who was to say what wasn't reality? Parameters could be shifted, yetyt at the same time rory would still have physically heard the conversations in their hushed tones, and the others would know they had occured too.

"Although the window doesn't seem an entirely sensible option...seeing as you have...after all...been discharged." Lee's voice was unplaceable, full of lilts and melodies and tangible memories of his studies in england, america and across the continents. His voice...it was blue. Everchanging blues from sources unknown and yet unquestionable.

"Have you *seen* the lobby? Full of sick people. Not.....nice."

I shrugged, shivering at the thought of all the comatose and barely alive, faces mangled, breathing tortuous. Me? I had slipped peacefully into sleep. I was...above...not... It didn't bear thinking about. I didn't want to see them because...well...too...close. My brain seemed to flicker on and off as though it were bending a series of slides through a rotating projector, each idea exclusive and yet linked by the thin film of chemicals and cellulose. Infinitely clear to visualise and yet the words were...hard. It wasn't so much confusion as lack of communication. I could express myself visually but not through... well, words. I needed a canvas. So i could mould and shape and knead and work. So that y thoughts could dance across the city and pirhouette across the..so I could get out of fucking queens.  I Missed my country within a country,  my kitchen aand...was the boiler fixed? The boiler was fixed. Kano fixed the boiler. DId he? Must have. They went.  Did they? Ideas were confused and I was once again hit with the frustration of isolation. I needed people or i would be alone again. Nothing was worse...at the hospital, people came, but they looked at you as though you were a doll or a...

I turned to face Loki and my face split into a grin. Pulling him towards me suddenly as he turned to walk away, he fell backwards onto my knee as i ruffled his hair through my fingers and gave him a kiss on the top o his head. The other two burst into fits and he looked somewhat bemused and questioning. After a few seconds a muffled "oomph" left his mouth, all though he made no attempt to move. I pushed him back up to my feet, suprised at the weight of another human being. I hadn't been allowed to....to touch anyone. It was like being on the other side of a mirror, looking through a glass, but darkly.

He sauntered off to grab one of the bags. Now humming a tune that didn't seem to have rythm or melody or structure, but struck some sort of frequency in your brain, making you want to join but...not. The room had been picked to the bone, all my accumulated rubbish stuffed into laundry baskets and cardboard boxes and plastic bags with the names of mini markets on. Bunches of flowers were weighted with water filled bags and jutted out of one bag, whilst juxtaposed behind was a laundry basket full of high heels and books. Lee was just recovering himself.

 "What should I take?" He muttered, impishly looking up at me and cracking a joy-filled smile.

"Whatever you can carry. Our goal is to empty the room as quickly as possible. I've got a small black limo - city car- sitting out front. Oy...mel, pass us those Hinfrays.."

I gestured rather wildly at the basket of shoes. She looked confused. I'd forgotten she wasn't a) into fashion and b) unwittingly an accountant for my closet, like dylan.

"The green ones. I feel like smashing jewels on the pavement. Plus sneaking up behind the paps and kindly enquiring which famous person is coming out should brighten up my day, and one can't be expected to do a thing like that without heels on....or lipstick."

"You already put lipstick on in order to read you med report from Ella."

"Precisely. Now cometh the heesleth toeth me......." a rather redundant pause occurred before I added, rather halfheartedly, "...eth"

I wore a grey silk dress with a round scoop neck and a bow on the front, a few pleats  from my deccoltage to the bottom of the bust  giving it detail. It was useful as it was, after all, short enough for me  to straddle a wall  in. As mel let the buckled stilettos drop into mt outstretched hands I ducked under the wndow, hoping to god not to become the decapitated subject of a b-horror movie. I wasn't. Folding my limbs to allow the shoes to slip onto my feet, I wriggled my toes, and sat up to look outside again. My hands fisted onto the cleats that were designed fo blinds, i tucked my right leg up and slid it over until i was sitting on the mossy side of the window, facing the courtyard ans shivering somewhat.

"Pass the blue cape." I muttered to noone in particular, and felt the wool being dutifuly pressed into my hand as Lee and, to some extent Mel , bursst into giggles again. Loki would be by now carrying the first lot of bags to the car, where a minibar awaited him. Letting go, i let myseld drop the two feet to the ground, landing like a cat and scraping my hands on the pavent. They stung mildly but made me for infinitely cooler, my war wound from the hospital. A tiny trickle of blood ran down the palm of my hand like a fistful of rubies would cascade onto a scale. I heard the door shut behind me as the others left with my stuff.

Standing up slowly and cricking my neck, I picked up the Green pebble leather duffel that was floating on the sea of grey tar. Flexing under the added wieght, I slung a brown leather messenger bag, over my shoulder. It had been beaten in with age till the leather curled into ridges and the glossy brown was laced with spiderwebs of white and black. My cape was left undone and the bow seemed to dance in the breeze, attempting to untie itself from the folded and ridged knot at it's center. I began to walk towards the opening, past the hospital bins and broken glass, till i could see cars streaming past in jittery, jolting movements. Turning the corner onto the real pavement I was struck by the brightness of the freezing autumn sky as it began to glimmer where the stormy clouds had been an hour ago. A noisy crowd of rain soaked paparazzi congealed like ants on the teps, expanding onto the road where their vans were parked and causing annoyance. At the back of the mess was a young woman, only a year or two older than me. Her straw blonde hair, was matted to her head and soaked, brown roots expsed as it lay glued to the side of her face like a cocoon. She was muttering curses and shivering. I sidled up behind her. THe poor thing was obviously awful at being a pap, what with not being catty enough to climb to the front She was anxiously trying to reload film into her camera and forcing it in, the back plate open and hanging off the hinge.

"who're you waiting for? I asked, as she finally clicked the film into place and closed the back, switching the camera on so that the whirring wing of the spool could be heard and the iso scanned.

"That supermodel chick. Her friends just came out with bags. We think she might make an appearence."

"Not through that door she won't."

"we've got people at every....crap." The girl, a fairly normal sort, turned around and her eyes widened as she saw me. I grabbed her hand with my left hand and put my right finger to my lips. She nodded sort of wildly and tried to gesture at the crowd.

"So.. why do you do....this?" I mimicked her gesture and waved a the hordes staring like vultures at the door. The psychology..it was interesting. "I mean, you look normal, reasonably attractive, bored out of your mind...."
"money"

"There are other jobs...."

"Not for photographers."

"KT auleta is looking for a paid assistant."

I turned and walked towards the car, leaving the girl somewhat despondant as she stared after me. One of the reporters finally caught sight of me as I piled into the car with loki in the front, Isaac and elizabeth sitting practically on top of each other, and lee and mel squeezed into the middle. I edged onto the end of an oily black leather seat as the driver began moving in clockwork motions. The car smelt of wet carpet, it's air thick like a curtain. My bags, shoved onto the floor by my feet, seemed to merge into the shadows like beetles. After a brief and akward pause, I finally turned to the others. A few minutes ago Dylan had received a text to retreat.

"Shoulda got a bigger car."

"Perhaps"
I looked around eagerly as the car rode quietly down the street. There were several cars chasing ours and the whole thing was fascinating. One turned the corner too sharply and almost flipped over.

"Wow! Did you see that? I feel like I'm in a movie!" I said, pointing to the car that had run into another car when switching lanes. Rory glanced behind her and rolled her eyes.

"Imbeciles," she said, turning back to look at me. "That makes you feel like you're in a movie?" I nodded.

"I've never been in a car chase before, have you?" She shrugged. Lee watched in a mixture of horror and interest, and Mel shook her head. Isaac watched with me and gave me a small smile.

"I think she's used to people making a fuss over her," he said, and Rory turned a glare at him.

"What does that mean?" she demanded. Isaac turned surprised eyes on her.

"Huh?" he asked eloquently.

"I asked what you meant by me being used to people making a fuss over me. What do you mean by that?" Isaac shook his head.

"Nothing much, just-" he was cut off by a set of sirens that flashed through the air. The car pulled to the side as they passed, and then resumed their normal pace.

"Look at that! They're pulling over the razzies!" I said excitedly. "How cool! That's amazing! What do you think they're going to get for their terrible driving? A ticket?" I grinned at Rory, who seemed vulnerable to my cheerful goodnaturedness, and gave me a small smile in return.

"Probably? A ticket and possibly jail time. They're not supposed to be getting into accidents." I shook my head.

"I don't think they'll get jail time. They're the pillars of society and all that junk." I grinned and lightly touched Rory's head. "But I could be wrong, it's happened before." She stared at me and I felt a small thrill at the look. That was strange, I'd never felt any kind of feelings like that before. I removed my hand and stared at it for a moment.

"They'll leave us alone now though, won't they?" Mel asked and Rory nodded.

"They can't go through the police. They can only deal with them, then try to figure out where we've gone." I stopped looking at my hand and turned around to see out the front.

"How far from the hospital were you again?" I asked, and Rory smiled.

"Far enough. Don't you remember the distance? I swear you got me something from my apartment." I shook my head.

"I don't think so," then I went silent thinking about it. Of course, that was when the car stopped and pulled into the parking area. "Oh," I said, "We're here."

When the car parked, we all feel out of it, which was quite amusing to watch indeed, and started grabbing bags, heading up to the apartment. Rory seemed to stay behind us for a moment and, not wanting to spoil everyone else's excitement, I led them all up and to the door enthusiastically. Rory was last to make it to the door.

"Well, here we are!" I said cheerfully. I turned to her. "Ready to see what your place looks like now?" She walked slowly to the door and looked at it. I tilted my head to one side in confusion as she stared at the door. "Something wrong?" I asked finally, and she shook her head.

"Of course not," she stated, and she reached for the door. Then she paused and looked at me, her eyes betraying a hint of fear. I doubted anyone else would notice it, but I certainly did. I was a good boy though, and ignored it. "It's fixed right?" she whispered, "The whole thing, we're all safe and sound, right?" I blinked at her.

"Of course. Why wouldn't it be?" She shook her head.

"Nothing, it's nothing, I knew it was fine." She grabbed at her purse, but it fell to the ground, spilling it's contents all over the floor. Elizabeth and Mel began searching for all the pieces, and Lee looked at Isaac. "See? It's fine," she giggled. "Perfectly fine." I looked at her curiously.

"I knew it was." If it was one thing, above all else, I knew, it was mental instability. Looking at Rory, and all her beautiful, feminine, and fashionable self, I knew it instantly.

Rory was mentally unstable. And although not necessarily dangerous, she should probably be watched. It was sad, but... I smiled at her and looked around the hallway.

"You'll be fine," I said to her, and no one else. She looked at me, and for a moment, I was certain she knew what I was talking about.
Kano felt like he was somehow forcing Dylan to talk. It wasn't a comfortable position and yet he had to know what was going through Dylan's mind. Relationships of any sort weren't his strong point, and he knew that, so if he was going to go into one he wanted to do it with his eyes open.

Dylan meandered through details that Kano half knew from watching him. There was the fact that he depended on Rory. He'd know Dylan did, although he hadn't understood there was a financial aspect to it. There was the fact that Dylan's parents had kicked him out. Kano had somehow gathered that Dylan's relationship with his parents wasn't good. Then there was the long pause.

"Did they think they had a reason to kick you out?" Kano asked softly. He had been half afraid to break the silence, yet he could see that Dylan was having a hard time talking. He wished he could somehow know what was going through Dylan's head without making him say it aloud.

"Cael," Dylan forced the name out, as if it was a battle just to say it, then his eyes filled with a haunting sorrow just before closing off completely. The following silence felt thick enough to touch. Kano curled his own legs under himself so that he could face Dylan without twisting his neck around, then he sipped his coffee.

"Someone you went out with?" Kano asked, watching Dylan closely. Dylan tensed, shook his head,then nodded.

"I guess you could say that. We were very close at least I thought we were." Kano nodded, because no matter what other problems Dylan had he'd discovered a fairly important one. Dylan was not really over Cael. Kano didn't know if Dylan even realized this, but it was true. No matter what happened between them, Dylan's mind would be sure to turn to Cael, and compare things.

"So, your parents didn't approve of him?" Kano prompted, determined to keep the conversation moving while he had a chance. He knew there was much more to Dylan's story. Dylan laughed humorlessly.

"No, they didn't." Dylan's phone beeped and he pulled it out, suddenly very interested in it. "It looks like Rory's leaving the hospital," he said after a long pause. "We should probably head back to her flat."

Kano smiled, knowing that this was mostly an excuse to stop the uncomfortable conversation for the moment.

"You aren't going to start avoiding me again, are you?" Kano asked, as he took a final drink from his cup, draining it. It was good coffee, and he wondered if a compliment on the coffee would go over better than the one aimed at Dylan's paintings. He'd meant what he'd said. They were amazing, they really were. He could see the depth of Dylan's feelings when he'd painted them. In fact, he could feel it.

Dylan shook his head, "No." He didn't sound completely certain. Kano sighed.

"You shouldn't say it if you don't mean it."

Dylan took Kano's cup and went to the kitchen again, rinsing the cups and setting them in the drainer.

"I mean it," Dylan dried his hands and picked up the items they'd come for as Kano lifted the bag he'd been carrying, "I think."

Kano grinned, "I promise if you run away again I'll come and find you again," he teased, "but this time I'll find you sooner."

"Why?" Dylan was looking at him with a startled, confused expression.

"Because I missed you," Kano said sincerely, "and I was worried about you." Then Kano turned and held the door open for Dylan and added the most important reason, "And because I think that's what you really wanted."
A Non-Existent User
Name: Naomi “Nao” Forest
Age: 18
Birthday: 10th December
Gender: Whatever she’s conning people to believe
Sexuality: Refuses to like anyone

Personality: Hates – people asking about her past, or asking anything about her in fact. Actually, there are few things she doesn’t hate.
Likes – Jelly and ice-cream (though she’d never admit it). Her favourite pastime is silently making fun of everyone around her. She lies compulsively but has never tried to break the habit, preferring to mentally belittle all the gullible idiots that believe her.
She’s wary of people, but doesn’t notice much about them as she’s too distracted by the permanent conflict occupying her mind. Unpredictable and violent, no-one has realised yet, but the voices in her head that started off as a personal joke are manifesting in her loneliness.

Appearance: 5’6 with green eyes. Her hair was originally orange, but sick of constant jeering she died it black. With white stripes. To prove a point. And then cut it short, which had the unexpected side effect of making her look like a boy, albeit a twig-like, delicate featured one.
She hides her sickly thin body beneath an eclectic and gothic assortment of clothing. Her eyebrows are constantly knitted in an expression that could be worry or sadness, but is actually just boredom.

Family/history: Family issues, rape, sexual abuse, death of loved ones… she’s never had any of it. She wilfully chose to join the wrong kind of crowd back in Ireland, and her down to earth and caring parents were powerless to protect her from the harsh consequences.
For Nao, brutal instinct, flawless lying and an uncanny sort of luck could always get her out of any situation, no matter how bad things got. Unfortunately, she could not vouch for her hapless best friend, who fell even deeper into the shit than she did - to the point where Nao had to accept there was nothing she could do to save her, and broke off all contact. She still feels cowardly and responsible, and doesn’t want to make friends again as she is sure she’ll make the same mistakes.
Her parents sent her to America a few weeks ago to keep her out of trouble, but as of yet she has pretended to be ill to avoid going to university. She is supposed to live with her aunt, but she can’t stand the woman, and is rarely in the flat. She doesn’t eat or sleep much, so this isn’t really a problem.

***

People kept glancing at where I stood in the university entrance. I didn’t blame them – anyone would do a double take, seeing such a small guy in a stance that radiated so much aggression. I had long since got the knack of standing in a way that guaranteed everyone stayed the hell away from me, but what those people walking past didn’t know was that I was bloody scared. Or at least, part of me was.

Ignoring the voice that begged me to walk away from this crowded place, I headed in the direction of my first English lecture. I hadn’t realised being in New York would get to me so much, but it was just too busy, too different. I felt like I couldn’t watch my back.

The last thing I expected was to see a familiar face, in the form of a short girl with wavy brown hair pushed back by a headband, smiling broadly at the boy she was walking with. The smile vanished when she saw me. A recent memory faded into focus as I broke eye contact with her and walked on. The same girl stood at the end of a corridor in a slightly out of control party, innocent face but impressively drunk. She was staring at the bruised and bloody mess of a man at my feet. I didn’t stick around, though I wasn’t worried – any accusations about that man could easily be pushed aside as self-defence. Besides, I hadn’t done any lasting damage.

I focused on the university corridor, trying to accustom to all the noise and rush. Really, this was troublesome - day one and someone here knew what a psycho I was? So much for starting over.

I was late for the lecture, but my luck was good as usual and the teacher was surprisingly laid back. He actually smiled at me as I went to an empty seat, something I’m definitely not used to.

But it was as I took my seat that the real surprise came. The guy sitting behind me was beautiful! As soon as the thought crossed my mind another chased it down; something along the lines of “Self-pitying pretty boy”. I felt much more comfortable with that diagnosis. It was still difficult to resist turning around to look at him – his beauty was only noticeable close up, but that wasn’t what made me stare. He was just so unusual, with pale skin and bright blue eyes hidden beneath black hair streaked with blue. I reached a hand up to my own white streaked hair that hid my green eyes in a similar way. I rarely felt I had anything in common with the people around me.

I slammed my hand down on the table, accidently getting the attention of everyone in the room.

“Mosquito…missed it…sorry” I mumbled, wishing my accent wasn’t so distinct. Goddamn this stupid class, with its stupid staring students and gay-ass blue eyed boys. I forced myself to calm down and concentrate on the lecture.

After the lesson the teacher with the warm smile called out “Mr Forest, I’d like a word”.

My thoughts split in two ways, firstly – “MISTER”?! I’d signed everything as Nao out of habit, and I was used to people mistaking me for a boy, but teachers? I grinned to myself. All the more fun if you can even trick members of authority.

My mind then turned to the more pressing matter – “a word”? Was it because I hadn’t been concentrating? Had I done something wrong all ready? Then I hit the obvious reason, and felt stupid for worrying. I was new, it was my first lesson and this teacher was clearly one of the nicer types. He just wanted to fill me in. Yet I couldn’t help but be a little disturbed by the reaction of the blue eyed boy. As I approached the teacher I noticed him lagging behind the crowd, looking at me with an unfathomable expression. I really hoped he hadn’t noticed me staring. He stopped for no more than a second, then turned and walked out of the room.

“Yeah, fuck you too” a voice growled from my subconscious. I had to agree. The hell was bothering him so much anyway?


Dylan was panicking. That boy… Nao… Would he be…? Could that man…The pathetic fallacy was not lost on him as he stepped into the blustering hallways and caught sight of the sky that had darkened with ominous nimbus. It matched his own racing mind as it struggled with knowing behind the closed door there was most likely a boy just like him being forced to do things against his will. Would the professor have something on this guy just like he had something on him? Would he cower away from it? Dylan hesitated, not knowing whether to stay or to go... Horror baiting him as he wondered if maybe he was over reacting and knowing that if he tried to do anything he would find himself in that position again and he didn't want to be... That was so selfish though… How could he just let that boy…

"Shit."

"Talking to yourself again, Dylan?" Lee had turned up beside him, blue eyes catching in the light as he spoke, amused. He forgotten that he was meant to be meeting everyone in L'Ouragon now Rory was out…

"Oh… Ummm… Well… No I just forgot my English text in class… Ummm… I'd better just get it. Could you wait?"

Lee looked baffled by his request and nodded before thinking it out entirely. His hair, straightened today, flapped in front of his face but Dylan had turned, dashing out of sight before seeing it. He didn't want to do this… He didn't want to try and help this stranger… Today he was meant to be seeing Kano too, for the first time since they'd scooped up all Rory's belongings. He didn't want to be late. He didn't want to be in a bad mood. He didn't want Nao to be hurt though either. Bursting into the English room he saw their professor staring down over the fragile looking youth who had apparently been apparently been pushed into a seat at the front of the class. So the man was only interrogating him at the moment… the same way he had been, so there was no doubt that no one would ever notice…

"Hey Nao, there's a kid outside waiting for you called Lee. Told me he couldn't find you." Dylan panted out, trying to disguise the tremble in his voice and the fear from his eyes.

Nao frowned. The eyes, though obscured by the long fringe, were obviously narrowed. The corners of his lips turned down in a suspicious glower, "Who?"

"Lee. He said he'd been sent by the head of department…" He knew his lies were obvious, blatantly fictitious in every way… He could see it in Nao's expression, even as he stood up. He could see it in the sneer that smirked across their teachers face. Pushing his shoulders back, he stood as tall as he could, daring to defy his teacher this victory even though he would lose in the end.

"Where is he?" Nao was asking in that light half-whisper, "Perhaps we can talk at some other point sir?"

"Yes of course. You've missed a lot of work by arriving so late but I'm sure you can catch up." The professor had slid back into his charming facade, hiding away the predator that gleamed behind brown eyes. Dylan held himself rigidly, watching and wary as those cruel eyes bored into him. He couldn't miss the flash of fury lingering there. Because of it he knew he had to make himself scarce too if he ever wanted to see his friends that day.

"Well I'll take you as far as Lee seeing as I've got art next anyway." It was another lie but this time he tried to relax into it and smile at the smaller boy who was coming towards him with the same apprehensive expression on his face. Slowly he turned away as Nao passed him and forced himself to walk as leisurely as he could, nearing his old sauntering ways.

"And we'll have to talk about your last essay some time Dylan. It may need to attention."

He flinched but didn't turn, kept on walking and shouted back that he'd make sure he put some time aside in the future. Now he some how had to explain to Nao that no one was actually looking for him without telling him what would have happened had he not decided to interfere… The hallways were empty except for Lee now, everyone else having left for lectures or into the hub of New York itself. He smiled apologetically as Lee turned around, loking confused.

"My name's Dylan. I'm sorry for pulling you out for no reason but it really was for-" Dylan began to babble as the realisation that he had been duped scattered over Name's thin face. He needed an excuse fast, "I wanted you to come with us… Me and Lee… to L'Ouragan and meet some people… And… It's the hair thing. Snap! See? heh heh… Shit…" He had started off his fiction well and ended like a cripple trying to do the high jump.

Lee looked them over, grinned and shook his head before coming over to join them, "Some text book. Are we off?"

Not trusting himself not to spurt out more drabble, Dylan simply nodded and prayed that things would blow over. The cool of the midday air flushed his skin a light pink as they stepped out into the streets and started towards their secret alcove in the city. Lighting up a Firenze cancer stick he sucked in a lungful of relaxing, burning smoke before exhaling it slowly like a steaming dragon. He needed to calm himself. He was going to see Kano and the others. That was a good thought. Kano knew so much about him it was enough to both scare him and make him feel safe at the same time. But now there was Nao to think about. He sent a sideways glance his way and frowned. There was something incredibly odd about this character. Something not quite right.
"You'll be fine."

The words echoed in my head as coarse as the bristled brush, which darted into the paint, flitting between the colours on the palette and caressing new tones into appearance on the splotched cardboard. I was sat on the stairs that led up to my bedroom, looking over the kitchen as various events trickled through my mind. Blue, simplistic whales created ovals on the crepe of my dress as it tumbled through the air, a sugary-light confection that rested in folds on my lap, where the coarse material kept catching on midnight grey tights. Intricate beats and melodies wove through the air, thick with the comforting smell of oils, white spirit, perfume and toiletries. The music cut through my comforting aura of fragrance, the words of Regina Spektor strangely appropriate with her shattered voice.

<< Hi, I'm Icarus, I'm falling>>
Down on this day of tears and mourning
From the dust of earth returning>>

I tilted my head upwards to face the kitchen of my duplex, the glint of shattered glass creating tiny pockmarks on the smooth surfaces, shadows that formed scabs on the polished granite. It was as if noone could bare to touch them, and so they lay like stale breadcrumbs on the cold stone. Closing my eyes, I let the colours seep into my mind... the face, the shining eyes, the liquid viridian of the words. When I finally allowed my heavy eyelids to open, the image lay on the small rectangular canvas too, it's golden ridges distorted by the smooth, rising hill that was created by my own knee. Expressive hues were seared onto it precisely, suggesting the rain-spattered smell of the pavement, the shadows creeping forward onto his face. I let my brush sweep into the folds near to an eye, cool tones that deepened a shadow and lightened the eye.

<<Man for judgment must prepare me
Spare, oh God, in mercy spare me>>

It wasn't a photo, but at the same time a portrait could be more real, because of the very emotion infused in it. Dreams and wishes were caught in paint like particles of dust, and yet only ghosts rose out of photographic developer, the smell sticking to your hands and surrounding you wherever you went, as though it were a reaper. And yet, the steady processing of photos was calming. A mechanical process that humans could imitate; a strange chemical magic in which everything was routine, measured, twenty degrees, 9 parts to 1. Every time that I left a painting I felt that a small part of me had been trapped beneath the paint with the image, as though it were my image of the person and so the person had decided to claim a part of me. A machine couldn't paint a portrait. But something was stolen from you. Was it the same with music?

My eyelids were growing heavy with the weight of leaden lashes and I yawned, paintbrush sandwiched between the warm, buttery flesh of two fingers like a 40s cigarette holder. I sank my head into my hands into my hands as fire mumbled beneath my skin, just as vodka slips down a fiery throat... only sleepier. The klaxons and clatter of the city vibrated through the windows and the room was lit with the bright, cold air that abounded in New York's winter, nipping at you through cracks in windows and holes in doors. I examined the painting once more and let my forearms drop onto my knees.

With a crash the front door, hidden from view, flew open, the old doorbell trilling throughout the room as I heard the muffled and irregular sound of steps padding down the hall. A head popped round the door frame into the dining room. A girl's face looked in surprise at me as I sat, studying the scene with an amused grin and a cigarette butt trailing from the corner of my mouth. Her eyebrows knitted together and her eyes darkened.

"What are you doing in his house?"? she gestured, as Dylan sauntered casually into the room, threw a leather jacket onto a chair and started tidying the wooden table, biting his bottom lip absentmindedly until I thought he would draw blood.

"Cigarette." He growled. I moved my left hand to my mouth and stubbed the fire out on a fresh piece of paint pallete.

Flicking it into a smelted bottle, it's label distorted and flat, I caught the girl's eye. "His house? I like that. Especially as that's located in a different borough. And your name is"

She turned and shot Dylan a look that could be construed as the look a Grizzly would give a swarm of bees; a mixture of panic and volatile anger. He shrugged.

He turned to face her, the sullen expression he wore back to a more normal level of antagonism. "I told you we were fetching something." He mumbled the words as he turned around, picking up Ella's broken glass elephant of a pipe and examining it curiously, before chucking it into a waste paper basket. The pipe clinked as it fell into the glittering metallic wicker. "Bad for you"? he added, a pointed look emanating at the wall, bouncing off and hitting me square in the chest like some sort of heat-seeking missile.

"Indeed" I muttered, shaking my head and idly letting my fingers wander over the back of my neck. I absently noted that a tattoo of an infinity sign would look awesome behind my ear. Dropping the paintbrush into a jam jar of white spirit and smearing it into a wad of tissue, I flexed my shoulders and made an attempt to stand up. "Dylan, you could not possibly have left more crap in my apartment. And now you start bringing girl's home" isn't it more often... you know... the other sex?"? I gestured at the girl's features. " And what about Kano, huh?"

My eyebrows furrowed to match hers as I stood up creakily in the beaten-up, brown leather wedges that shod my feet, adding an extra three inches to my height. The bluish grey folds of my tights shifted as my ankle moved. In a moment of realisation, Dylan span around like a figure skater and studied her face. His own facial expression betrayed nothing, but his pupils widened slightly. Right... that was awkward... he hadn"t realised. More to the point, i mused, there was no chemistry between the two. Why was this strange girl with him?

Dylan avoided my knowing, judging and highly entertaining gaze and picked up a blue granny cardigan that was idly draped onto a hook at the end of the kitchen counter. "This is Nao... we're going to l'Ouragon. Now Come on Rory, Lee... hang on where the fuck is Lee?"

Blue eyes searched the room, seeking the shock of hair and intelligence that was the crazy childling. Apparently they didn't have quite the same skilled aim as before. Or perhaps he was just more used to me. A shadow in the hallway moved.

"Here."? Came Lee's voice softly as he emerged from the darkness into the lighter, more populous room.

The burrs of the navy wool scratched at my calloused palms like a fistful of brambles, and I shrugged. The room's colours shifted with the changing light and for a second I felt like my heart had dropped into my stomach, sending ripples of electricity sparking through me like nerves. Dylan's face kaleidescoped in front of me as I stood facing him... as though I were looking at him through a broken mirror, the shards bent with heat unimaginable, the glass scorched by heat into multicoloured brushstrokes and waves. Blinking slowly as I perceived the distorted vision, I shrugged on the cardigan. Dylan's face was etched with lines as he frowned at me for a second, his skin translucent so that I could trace the concerned veins that mumbled across his temple with my eye. I gestured at the table, where a linen shopping bag from a Florentine boutique lay, filled with sweet wrappers and fresh rolls of film in midnight cylinders, an old camera emerging from among the jewel coloured plastic. Lee, approaching us, grabbed at it with his hand and slung it across his shoulder.

"È troppo pesante per te" He muttered in is lyrical accent, shrugging it onto his shoulder.

"Stronzate! Non capisci un cazzo."? An attempt on Lee's part was made to look wounded, whilst choking back laughter as Dylan and the girl looked on with raised eyebrows. "We going then?"? I demanded petulantly, blowing a kiss at Lee for posterity.

Dylan cast his blue eyes downwards to my feet, as though he couldn't quite bring himself to meet my eye yet. "Yeah. We should...you know...make like a...."

"Heffalump?" Lee suggested unhelpfully. The girl looked up at him with an unplaceable expression

I padded past the grayscale trio into the hall and felt my throat constrict as I passed the ripped canvas. My heart clenched into a tiny ball and shots of electricity encircled my chest and arms as I glanced forlornly at the painting, trying to maintain my composure as I stumbled quickly towards the door that led into the street. Trying to smother the inky thoughts of my family, my work, attempting to diffuse into my consciousness, I looked over my shoulder to face Lee.

"I take it you guys have my apartment key...the door shows no signs of having been kicked in since...you know..." The sentence was left unsaid, and I paused for a while, endeavouring to brighten my voice. "I have the Dior show to do tonight, so no caffeine for me. I think Mel's watching? You should come Dyl...." I paused, uncomfortable with my habit of using Dylan as a crutch. "and Lee, and Nao. I want Loki to meet Galliano... we might persuade him to fire his old Deejay."
I looked around, waiting for the inevitable arrival of the rest of the gang. Well, at least I expected it would be an inevitable arrival, we were supposed to meet. I looked over at Kano, his expression was as unreadable as ever, which meant he was thinking about something. When the notebook came out of his pocket a moment later and he started writing something down on it, I understood, he was writing music. From the way he moved his pencil, I figured he was actually writing down notes. I wanted to look over his shoulder and see what he was doing, but just as I leaned towards him the door to L’Ouragan opened and the, most likely, subject of Kano’s writing came into the shop. Well, so did Lee and Rory, and… someone else, a girl, a boy, well, someone anyway. Whoever it was, they didn’t look exactly as though they wanted to be here, but was doing so anyway, perhaps to humor someone, themselves? I shook my head and grinned up at them.

“Over here guys!” I called loudly, and the rest around the table looked over to the door, except for Kano, waving them over. Lee nodded, moving to us right away, Dylan and Rory seemed to shy back, and the newcomer looked at Dylan a moment before coming over with Lee.

“Hey all,” Lee said, motioning to the new face. “This is Nao, they’re new around, and Dylan,” he paused, looking at Nao.

“Introduced me to Lee,” Nao finished. I let my eyes drift down to their throat as they spoke again. “He seemed to think you were worth knowing.” I didn’t even pay attention to the tone as I watched the adam’s apple, girl, definitely a girl. I flickered my eyes back to her face and stood up, almost spilling the water on the table in front of me. If only Kano would let me have some money, I could have a coffee. I extended my hand.

“Loki!” I said exuberantly. She looked at me speculatively for a moment, then took the hand and shook it.

“I should say it’s nice to meet you,” she said and I shook it excitedly.

“The pleasure is all mine,” I said, “Have a seat,” I motioned to the chairs around and let go of her hand, sitting back down in mine. By this time Rory and Dylan had come over and were taking seats. Rory occupied the empty one next to me, and Dylan almost took one far from Kano, but when Nao took it instead he moved right to the one next to Kano. I was glad, they seemed to be somewhat better with each other, but I was still a bit worried. Kano wasn’t exactly the type of person to show his emotions and I suspected Dylan was just as bad. Well, I actually suspected Dylan wasn’t the type to show any of his real emotions anyway.

“I wanted to know if you’d be interested in coming to a show tonight,” Rory said to me, looking my way. Her eyes seemed somewhat distant, but I suspected it was simply because she still wasn’t used to being out of the hospital yet. I tilted my head to the side, thinking about it.

“Sure? Are we all going?” I looked around. No one else seemed to know she’d even spoken, they were all in their own conversations.

“I’m going to be there,” Mel spoke up, looking over at us. She was just on the other side of Rory, and must have overheard me. “It’s a nice way to learn, and there will be all kinds of people there.” She looked at me in a way that made me smile. It was as if she wasn’t sure I’d want to be there.

“Sounds like fun,” I turned, “Kano, wanna come to a show tonight?” He was looking at Dylan. Dylan looked over at us.

“Are you really thinking about going?” Dylan asked, as though uncertain I was being serious. I shrugged.

“Shouldn’t I?” Dylan shrugged.

“Do you think we shouldn’t go?” Kano asked. His voice was soft, which meant he was searching for answers. I’m never sure what he’s searching for when he speaks in that voice. Dylan looked over at Rory for a moment, before turning to Kano.

“No, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” Kano was studying him, something about the voice, I could tell too, but I wasn’t bothering with it. I turned back to Rory.

“You really want us to go?” She nodded, looked over at my water and reached for it. I pushed it closer to her.

“Go ahead, I haven’t had any of it yet, I know I should drink it, but I don’t want to.” She pulled it over and stared down into it. Perhaps she couldn’t decide if she believed me or not. I grinned, “I’m serious, I haven’t had any of it.”

“Colors,” she said, and I tilted my head to one side. “There are so many colors.” Her voice was soft and somewhat hesitant. I smiled.

“Yes, there are colors everywhere.”
One thing was certain, Rory was trying to grow. She was obviously restless. Kano studied Dylan, wondering if he and his cousin were drifting apart. That didn't seem exactly right, but as he'd begun to accept as usual, Dylan was worried about Rory.

"You seem tense today," he commented casually, but softly so that only Dylan would really hear him.

"I'm fine," was Dylan's tense reply.

Kano smiled, a bit of humor creeping into his eyes he was willing to bet. "Is that so?" He didn't expect an answer. It was becoming difficult not to find Dylan's firm insistence that everything was always fine humorous. It was an exasperating sort of humorous, but still humorous. Dylan nodded confirmation and Kano looked back to his notepad.

There were times when he wished he'd stayed home, and he wondered about himself. He'd been looking forward to seeing Dylan, and he was happy to be near him. Yet it was so difficult to concentrate in the damn coffee shop. He knew that back in the dorm room he and Loki shared was something a bit closer to the silence he'd become accustomed to in his childhood.

Actually, since coming to college he'd found silence difficult to come by. Loki said it was good for him, something about being social and expanding his limited pool of friends. Kano shrugged and closed the notebook. The notes weren't coming anymore.

"I think I'll find an empty music room," he said standing. Loki started standing as well, looking disappointed, but determined and Kano shook his head. "I want to work Loki, you stay."

He was aware, when Loki shot him an understanding look, that Loki knew he wanted to write. He looked at Dylan once more before going.

"Don't forget about tonight," Rory said. Dylan's expression was unreadable. That was the problem, Kano wasn't used to feeling so uncertain. Whenever he saw Dylan he wanted more. He wanted to touch him, to kiss him, to... that wasn't leading anywhere useful. However, all they seemed to do was stare uncertainly in each others direction and then he was hearing the lyrics.

"I won't," Kano retreated from the shop quickly, almost running as he waved in response to the goodbyes of Mel and Lee. It was taking far to long to get to the music rooms. He was desperate to open the notepad, this time spilling out his scattered thoughts into some semblance of lyrics. This was why he wasn't good at being social.

He wanted to scream it at Loki, but instead he sat down on a random bench, he wasn't sure what it was in front of, and poured the frustration into tiny page, by tiny page of notebook paper. All of his frustration, seeing Dylan and having no idea what to do about it, being around these people and feeling so detached, wanting to be part of the group and yet not wanting anything to do with it.

It was difficult to explain and he hadn't tried many times to do so. He wanted to see and talk to them and yet the call of the music was so much stronger sometimes. It wasn't just that, it was the sheer futility of trying to be part of something he might not belong in. Like somehow he wasn't created to have friends or something. Finally he closed the tiny notebook and reversed directions, heading for the dorms. He needed music paper, instruments, maybe his flute. He felt the flute in the pocket of his jacket. So he had the flute, just real paper then.

He stopped and turned into Notes and Totes, purchasing paper and leaving with no more than three words. Now, to the music rooms. The show that night faded from his memory like a fleeting thought from someone else far away. As he entered the Center and acquired a room his only thought was to write and play. The silence was so welcome. Here he could actually get something done.
A Non-Existent User
And what the hell was going on? Tricked into following that guy, I let my curiosity get the better of me and decided to see what could possibly warrant lying to a teacher to steal some random new kid away. I still wasn't finding any answers.

Admittedly his friends weren't exactly boring. Two of the women - Rory and Mel? I could swear I'd seen their faces somewhere. A newspaper article? They were models, but that should have been obvious, they were both stunning. It sucked that Rory gave the game away about me being a girl, yet I found myself relishing the challenge of someone who wouldn't fall for things easily.

That Loki guy was kind of funny. God of mischief. Figures. It was almost tempting to laugh at some of the stuff he came out with. And I've never seen someone eat so much! It actually made me hungry jusy looking at how much he enjoyed his food. All I could tell so far about the other people was that they were nice. I hate nice people. No really, I do. I made a mental note to kick anyone who makes a badger comment about my hair.

Nevertheless it was them I was thinking about as I walked back to the flat. Praying that that woman would be out with friends. Or something.

Thanking god that the flat was empty, I waded through the shambles into my room and decided I might as well change clothes for the modelling thingy that night. Not that I wanted to go. Just that anything was better than wandering aimlessly all night, trying to find somewhere to stay except here.

Make-up - couldn't be bothered to change the purple eyeliner. "Mascara?" one asked. "Too much" replied another. Barely concentrating I threw out clothes onto various surfaces, fast as a turtle to while away the time. It was nice to be at home for once. Well, not home.

In the end threw on a purple and black striped long sleeved top over my shorts - then a shirt - then a t-shirt. Not really sure what I was trying to do anymore I grabbed a few belts and a cap - far too exerting to care what I looked like. It was a little depressing the way everything hung off me, no effort needed to not look like a girl. Being around models was going to get to me for sure.

I was in the process of untangling myself from an assortment of necklaces and braclets when the phone rang. Letting it chime away I sat sullenly on the floor, and then by impulse jumped up to get it. If it was one of my aunt's dodgy friends I could just hang up.

I was sure I was getting confused again when I hear the vaguely familiar voice on the phone. But it was him, the record-breaking-food-scoffer.

"Nao right?"

I mumbled a reply, trying to work out how he had got the number. Oh yes, I had given it out in the restaraunt at some point. Why had I done that?

"Mel and Rory and Dylan here want to check if you are coming to the show or not. You'll be coming right? Right?"

I could practically here him grinning enthusiastically on the other end of the line. But before I could reply a girl's voice was telling him off, and then what appeared to be a fight for the phone.

"You don't have to come if you're busy or anything. There is still such a thing as free will."

It was Rory this time. Another pause, most likely a glare at Loki. I told her that I would go, surprised and almost glad that people were suddenly acknowledging my existence. With times and directions the conversation came to a close and we hung up.

I caught sight of myself briefly in the mirror before leaving. I just looked tired. And bored. What, had I forgotten how to smile? Probabaly. But there was hope yet.
Mel: I smiled at Lee as we walked back to my apartment, the plan being that we would catch a quick bite to eat while I changed before heading off to the show. Whilst I was cheerful at the prospect of having Lee in my living space, I was also aware that not only was he underage, but he was also my friend.

We were getting on even better of late, and although during Rory's hospitalized state I had wodnered if he was beginning to feel the same way for me, things had cooled off a lot since, to the point where I had almost decided to forget all about him - he was too young, to innocent.Almost.

I was beginning to feel like I had imagined it all.

"Do you want coffee, or do you want to dive straight into finding some food?" I asked as we swung into my kitchen, littering the table with bags and jackets.

"Coffee," he smiled back, despite the fact that we had just come straight from a l'Ouragon. "What do you think of Nao?"

"The new girl?" I turned away to the sink when I spoke, not wanting him to see my face. The pang of jealousy that hit me when he mentioned her, as well as the way they had obviously hit off... and there was the auspicious 'look' Rory had mentioned airily to me earlier... well I was a bit ashamed of it and at the same time very aware of it. "Yeah, she seems nice." And then, maybe it was bitchy, but hey, I like the guy. "Unusual style though, I wasn't quite sure if she was a guy or a girl when I saw her!"

I hazarded a glance over my shoulder to see if my tone had been a little too breezy to be belieable. I'm a model, not an actress! Lee looked at me with amused blue eyes, his hair, as always shadowing them.

"Yeah, Nao's definately got a spark! I think she's really nice," he added, and I looked away again, trying to get rid of the frown on my face.

The phone began to ring, and I was glad for a change of subject. Dropping the kettle into it's cradle, I launched myself at the phone.

"Hello?"

"Mel?" Rory sounded tired. "I've just had some new fangled chat show on the phone. They want us to come in and talk about how our show lives are damaging our actual lives... together. I said I'd talk to you first."

"Oh." I wasn't quite sure what to say. Unlike Rory, I wasn't ever really in the spot light; the paparazzi don't really care quite as much as they do when you're runway and not super star. "How are we going to get out of it?" I was trying hard not to chew my nails - bad habits die hard.

"Well, I thought of using the excuse that I'm still too tired from my hospital trip... by my agent really wants me to go for it. Just thought I'd give you the heads up - we can get really drunk and talk about it later."

"Sure. I'll see you later."

I glanced at Lee.

"What was that about?"

"Nothing." I looked away again. I was getting the feeling that being in Rory's 'crowd' I was going to get a lot more attention than I was used to. "What do you want to eat then?"


Lee watched Mel carefully. The way her hair fell across her face but left the plain of her neck bare, the way that as she turned her eyelashes became silhouetted against the glass window behind the counter. The way light filtered over her classically proportioned face, the cheek illuminated and the eyes still slightly shaded.... She was femininity and beauty and art at the same time and the frown just creasing a line between her eyebrows made him puzzled. Her lips were thinned into a perplexed pout and he couldn't help but grin, too confused himself to not try and hide it behind merriment.

"I don't suppose you have strawberry jam?" He asked, wondering if he should really ask for something as random as that in the middle of the day. Adding a justification he smiled rather sheepishly, "I'm having cravings for anything other than pastries and McDonalds."

She smiled, radiant as she nodded and shook her head at the same time, the furrow in her brow vanishing, "Yeah... Toast?"

"Yes please." Relief washed through him and he settled back into the counter... thoughts tracing back to Nao, wondering if she would have strawberry jam where ever she lived... "So was that Rory?"

"Yeah. Just reminding us of the time and place. Nothing we didn't know..." Her voice had changed, dropping a semi-tone and losing the relaxed way she normally spoke to him.

She was lying. Hiding her face again like she had when he had mentioned Nao. Was he saying something wrong? Had he irritated her? Maybe she was beginning to think he was irritating... He was a good few years younger and definately not as interesting... she was close to international fame, where as he would be lucky if he didn't fall into obscurity once he left school. He wasn't anything special.... All of the girls in their group were smart and interesting and beautiful, perhaps Mel most of all in his eyes... Though he wouldn't have admitted that considering he knew that half the time the people tended to see him as the younger brother they never had.... He sighed, knowing he was being pessimistic and not wanting to go anywhere near his dark, internal shelf.

"Here you go!" She looked triumphant as she passed him jammy toast. He almost burst into giggles as he took the plate from her. Four little quaters of toast were all neatly buttered and jamified and he felt like his mother had made them for him, she had always done toast like this. He shouldn't think of her like that... but it was still oddly amusing.

"Arigatou," He grinned and then realised he'd slipped back into japanese, "Thanks."

*

They were meeting at Rory's. That made sense since it was on the way anyway and she was the only one who actually knew exactly where it was. Flashlight Brown was playing on the radio out of someone's car as they crossed the road to her flat and rang the bell.

"Want to let us in?" He chirped into the machine as Rory's familiar voice flooded through the intercom. There were voices in the background and he assumed it was Dylan. Or Loki maybe... After all, Kano had kind of left him behind.

The door buzzed and let them into the stairwell. It had a musty smell, a combination of footwear and frebreeze or some other cleaning stuff. He wiggled his nose and noticed the amused look on Mel's face. That was more like it. He liked making her smile. Up and up, she was only on the fifth floor and the elevator was out of order. It almost made him groan but then he felt guilty about not being more fit.

"God I should go to the gym..." He mumbled.

He was wearing his favourite red jeans and a black shirt he'd covered with embroided stars, arrows and circle shapes in one corner. He had his white waistcoat which had two large band logo patches turned into pockets and over the top he'd borrowed a long cardigan from Mel on the basis that he'd freeze if he didn't, seeing as it was now October and the winds were setting in. He felt slightly strange, he hadn't had time to re-do his hair. It was still spiked up at the back and sides and pulled down across his face at the front. At least he didn't feel seventeen. That would have sucked.

"Bon soir, mes amis." He waved and gave a mock bow as they entred, grinning as he spotted Dylan in the corner fixing his eye liner in a long mirror, "I thought Rory would have redyed your hair by now."

He glanced towards them, raising his free hand in greeting before turning back to the mirror, "Nah, she doesnt want my hair to go green before we get to this show.Plus I'd need to cut the blue out first."

Mel shook her head and made a strange look in Rory's direction. The supermodel looked smug, though what about, he wasn't sure. It looked like a 'I-got-him-to-wear-those-awesome-tight-grey-jeans-with-the-retro-pink-floyd-pocket-and-yes-they-used-to-be-mine' sort of look..... Though of course, that was merely skepticism.


"Dyyylllllaannnnn!" Rory was lying on her sofa in the just about knee length Noki skirt and red Chloe book that came to her mid-calf. The long legs were cross and dangling above the armrest which they rest on, arms sprawled behind her. The knitted tank top had gold studs making it pull in around her waist slightly, Givenchy if he knew her wardrobe well enough, as was the cropped red wool cardigan. He sighed, how could she pull something together like that and still look fabulous? He wasn't even sure. The slender arms and high boned face made her seem delicate, the outfit: more like she could take the floor and defy anyone.

"PLEASE tell me you're not wearing those jeans?"

He glanced down at his black drainpipes and then back again, "I thought they were ok?"

"Exactly. They're okay, if you're escorting Mel, Nao and I you need to look gorgeous!"

"But-"

"I bet Lee and Loki and.. Kano..." she put emphasis on Kano, "Will look great. Isaac always looks smart so come on and buck up your act."

He smirked. The way she was lying made her hard to take seriously, particularly since her hair was still wet from where she had washed it, the dampness making the towel on the floor redundant for the poor pillow beneath her.

"And what would you have me wear?"

She sat up, instantly interested since normally he didn't agree with her so fast. He stepped back, noting the look in her eyes as she grinned up at him, suddenly looking like a mad pixie rather than a famous model. Running a hand through his hair, praying she wouldn't try to dress him like one of Walter Van Beirendonck's fashion behemoths.

He sighed. Every teen needed it's angst-ridden scene to empathise with, whether it was metal, indie, goth or punk... or emo... He just didn't really want to be made into a fashionable one. Then again... he probably already was the champion of the left and uncool outsiders so that was alright.

"You want... these." She had flung a pile of her clothes on to her bed and was smiling, twisting her fingers through her wet hair and looking mischeivous, "Shame you don't fit into my shoes... And about the hair but..."

He scowled. Flicking his hair into his eyes so he could at least shade his discomfort at his hair being mocked, even by Rory who he knew wanted it blond again. She smiled, making his anger ebb away when he realised he was glad she was excited and that he owed her one for being a shit... As she turned, strutting ever so slightly, out of the door to leave him to struggle into whatever she deemed would fit him from her full and tiny wardrobe. The jeans were first... He shed them, wincing when he saw the ones she had laid out for him. Skinny, grey and with pink floyd patches on the ass he knew they must have been too big for her despite looking mini to him. This could be a long night....

*

"Awww Dylan! You look great!" Rory was back on the couch, this time hair dryer in hand, "I'm loving the jacket."

It was a retro bomber from Screaming Mimi's, covered in zips which, opened, were slipping down until part of it sat on his hips... He wasn't sure he was so keen on it...

He shuffled uncomfortably, "I dread what sitting down is gonna be like."

"You'll be fine. They'll stretch."

"I feel like a bloody woman."

"Well a bloody woman dressed you."

He winced, "I can't change the jacket at least?"

"Are you wearing the white shirt and tie?"

He nodded. Hoping that that meant he didn't have to wear the bomber, "You could always let me wear that red yamamoto tailcoat?" He added hopefully. He'd worn that before.

She sighed and he was about to take that as a no when she nodded, almost sadly, "Go on then. You do look androgenous otherwise."

And he couldn't help but thank god. Despite not believing in him.

*

Dylan hadn't felt quite normal since Kano had left earlier... He'd had to fight the temptation to run after him and do exactly the things he wanted to do... but he remembered the way the other man had handled him when he'd told him about Cael, the look which had shown that he didn't think Dylan was even up to a relationship and the memory of silently screaming at that look when he knew it was only half of the truth. Now, waiting for the others, knowing that Kano would end up with that same distant look, deliberately glancing towards him and lowering his voice to see how he was... It was the knowing that he would walk in through Rory's front door and flinch remembering finding her body and then return to the music in his head that made Dylan ache... He knew exactly what it was like to live with the music in your head...

But then the door bell rang and Loki turned up, he couldn't help but frown. Was Kano not coming after all? Mel and Lee had emerged twenty minutes later as Loki rummaged through the fridge. Smiling, he realised that Rory had been right about one thing, everyone looked amazing. Wacky. But amazing. They were going to cause one hell of a stir seeing as Rory had only just been released from hospital and there had been all that publicity about Mel perhaps having caused it. Plus Loki and Rory seemed closer than before, their friend keeping an eye on her even though she seemed perfectly fine. Nao appeared next, sheepishly banging on the door as if she half didn't think she belonged there. Of course, he still couldn't really tell she was a girl, but there was something kind of interesting about that. Then Isaac. Isaac, dressed in black slacks and a blue shirt that was slightly open, looked decidely good looking and when Ella appeared, smelling of smoke and black coffee, Rory bustled her off to her room before Isaac's eyes could look any more concerned.

They had always known Ella was a strange one, wild and unhappy at the same time as ectstatic. But it was still sad... to see her appear in the midst of them as they readied themselves to go out... looking as if she'd just crawled out of an underground Camden nightclub.

"Anyone want a drink before we go?" he asked loudly, trying to break the awkward silence before it really settled, "Coffee? Water? Coke? Vino?"

"I'd kill for a glass of water." Nao piped up after a moment.

Loki grinned and popped a grape in his mouth before saying, "By the way, Kano's meeting us there. He only got home when I was leaving."

Dylan nodded and mentally crossed his fingers as he went to the sink for some water, "That's fine. Means we can try and squeeze into my car."

"What about Elizabeth?" Mel asked, checking her hair in the mirror and applying a little more lipgloss, "I haven't seen or heard from her in a while..."

There was a unison of frowns... Where was Elizabeth?

Ella was on a bad trip. Of that there was no doubt.

LSD enflamed her eyes into spriralling multicoloured flames, but her face was pallid, limbs shaking like a birch being battered by the wind. Walking her up the stairs as she wobbled was like trying to guide a fawn off the road. And equally unsuccesful. The Red corridor stretched above us like a vein, full of Dylan's crap, as opposed to the even more doubtful contents of Ella's own.

"So where were you?" I asked her, raking my worried eyes over her.

Ella looked up, eyes bloodshot and still dilated to the extent that they looked like black holes frames in a night sky. Her face was pinched, the edges of her mouth raw and her skin pale. The normally messy hair was now a rambling ivy with suffocating branches and gum clawing against her head, and binding her hair like a corset.

It would be best to start with the clothes. Glancing at my watch, I realised it'd have to be double the average pace too, As I was opening at dior's couture Viewing for the editors of america.


I Tightened up a corset around her waist, binding in the flowing folds of a white shirt and making the girl's back ramrod straight. Passing her some tailored black trousers and some sieger morrison Flats, I pushed her towards the bathroom.

"For fucks sake Ella. Acid? YOUR A BLOODY MED STUDENT! YOU KNOW WHAT THAT C RAP CAN DO!"

" 'eel perrkup." Ella slurred and wrenched her arm away, "'Eem fine."

I shook my head, the short strands of my white-blonde hair twisting over my face and back, "You'll be with people."

"Bahshroom." She said, lurching around and flinching as she looked in the mirror, almost visibly stepping back. Whatever she3 saw, I didn't want to know, for her eyes inflamed. Mirrors were bad then. I turned her to face me, Attacking her hair with a brush and a curlind tong, a pill box masking a particularly unceremonious piece of something.

Ella looked at me curiously. "DYLAN. you don't like dylan."

"Yes Ella," I sighed weairly. "Our secret."

I hadn't really wanted him to come, I'd just asked out of habit. I hadn't really wanted anyone to come. Well, except for... But I had had to ask when I'd realised my mistake in asking my blue-eyed cousin. To a fucking review. There'd be...400 people there, at best. How the hell was I meant to hide Ella?

As I dragged her unceremoniously down the rows of carpeted steps, Dylan came up to meet me. Coldly, I handed Ella onto him, tendrils of spite and anger and the numbness of sadness shooting through my mind. Instead, I just gazed at him sullenly.

"No mirrors."

Dylan nodded, eyes every so often flickering to the New girl and I recognised the look as a self-pity that could have swamped an ocean poured out of his glazed eyes. I frowned. Something had happened since that stupid boiler knocked me out. Dylan was keeping things from me. It was something stupid. Important. and utterly not meant to be kept in this state of entrapment. Something that kept the looks of concern from his far too feminine eyes on Nao.

Ella was smiling now though and seem more collected. She winked at me and smiled at everyone else who it seemed were oblivious to the sudden personality change that had occurred in the last two minutes. I nodded and began to usher everyone out towards the City car, which had been waiting for ten minutes at my doorman billy's behest. I would have to apologise profusely and give him a very large hug when I saw him.

*

Lights, cameras, a single path sticking out like a plank over an ocean of faces. It was a show and a performance and completely consumed by the anxious eyes of a critical audience. The panel of editors, settled into their seat, eyes cold, the merciless pirates watching and waiting for the splash. I walked, Gallianos confection of blue duchesse shaped and structured vibrantly around the New look's sillhouette, the same very thing I was to wear in versailles when the Orangerie came into bloom. The stitching that held the confection, whipped in the air around my skin so that it clung to my body and fluttered as I walked, so contrasting with the starkness of the dark, drawn on eyebrows. It was regal, Fluttery and yet structured.

My legs stretched out, my body strait and poised, arms relaxed yet still practised in their motion and I span the thing into something worth much more in terms of reputation. It was a very different world I walked as I trod a path that was so bright it seemed to be set in a sky, the eyes of the spectators becoming morning stars, glimmering in the blue light. I turned, began the short trip back to the dark door where another model was emerging from, Dark glittering skirt suit structured so that the base of the jacket flared out like a hooped skirt. So strange, yet so beautiful, these clothes.

The cycle repeated, the chaos of the area behind barely reflected in the serene creations, and then out again to face the music that calmly swayed to our own beat. The moon-faces watched, their gaze sticking fixed on each movement of the artistic creation on the hips of a tragic beauty. It was repetitive and yet invigorating and yet challenging and yet easy. It was a simple matter to become lost in the colours, the silks and satins and ruffles and textures of these visages. It was a complex material world in which everything was transformed into everything it was not and yet all it ever could be.

And in the crowd I could feel Loki's curious gaze, saw Mel, jealous of something, but not the show, and Lee and Nao sitting together, sandwiched on the other side of Ella and Dylan.

And I saw the braid of Kano flick as he made for the direction of the backstage area.
It was fascinating. The most interesting thing I'd seen in a long time. Well, besides Kano and Dylan of course.

Something about the way they came out, poised and ready to take on the world, spun around as though they were walking on clouds, and then walked out, wiggling their hips in time to their own beat, was almost musical. I turned to Kano and whispered, "I want to play." He nodded at me, which I took to mean he understood that I wanted to play. I didn't mind him thinking that way, it made it easier for me. I was secretly harboring a hope that he had some kind of music for me to read over and play tonight. I'd have to be quiet, I had a feeling we'd be coming in late.

As it was finishing up, I jumped up and started applauding, and got a touch of laughter at my enthusiasm. Although everyone else applauded as well, I think I was the loudest. All I could hope was that Rory heard me.

That was a strange thing, hoping someone would know I thought they did a good job. Usually I only hoped they would because I wanted people to like me. No, that's not right. I knew they liked me, I...

I sat down and shook my head. My thoughts were getting away from me again, what was wrong? I turned my eyes on Kano, but he was writing in his notebook and seemed otherwise distracted. I shook my head again, then stood up.

"We should go see them!" I said enthusiastically. There was something off about my voice, and when Kano lifted his head sharply, I knew he heard it too. No one else seemed to notice a difference, perhaps because it was loud in the place. Kano met my gaze, and for a brief moment, as everyone started getting up and getting their stuff together, we stared at each other, locked eyes and I felt that relief when he nodded at me. He understood, something, and I felt better, as though some kind of weight I didn't realize I'd been carrying, was gone.

"I've got some music I want you to hear," he said, so softly I knew it was meant for my ears alone. I smiled, the soft and real smile I rarely used.

"Thank you," I said, and he nodded, turning away from me and moving towards the back.

Sometimes I wondered what I'd do without him. Perhaps that's why I so desperately wanted to stay his friend at least, when I moved. He seemed to be able to connect me to me. Go figure.

Exuberantly I followed Kano as he led the way backstage. I saw Rory instantly, and waved my hand in the air. "Rooory!" I called, and she turned her head, almost like a porcelain doll would, delicately. She arched her eyebrows and turned the rest of her body as well the next moment, and I went right up to her and gushed.

"Wow," I said, "You're amazing! I've never seen anything like this in my whole life, can I have your autograph?" She rolled her eyes. "No, I'm serious!"

"What Loki is trying to say," Dylan cut in, "Is that you were fabulous out there Rory. Good job."

"No," I said, pulling out a small notebook of my own. "I want your autograph." Rory gave me a small smile.

"No," she said. I pouted. "Your my friend, not a fan Loki. You want my autograph, you've got to earn it." I frowned, and she grinned. "I'll give you an autograph after I've gotten a private drum concert from you." I thought about that and nodded my head.

"Deal." She shook her own and looked at Dylan, who seemed to be pondering something.

"Thank you Dylan," she said, her tone more aloof now. "Thank you all for coming."

"You seemed the most confident," Kano said softly and she turned to him. He shrugged. "You did."

"You were great!" Mel said, "I wish I could have been there as well. They did a really good job with the lighting and all." Rory nodded.

Something inside seemed to audibly snap. All the gushing, all the praise, all the... all the...

Was it fake? Was I fake? Was it all just something we were trying to do, make her feel better? I looked around frantically. I had to get out, I had to get somewhere else. What had caused this sudden change in my mood? What was wrong with me? I caught Kano's eyes. There was something hidden there, like he too was studying me.

"Bathroom," I mumbled, and I dashed off, away from everyone, away from the sudden surge of unease. Away from myself I suppose.

*

Splashing cold water on my face, I wondered if I was going to be alright. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw a line of wrinkles that shouldn't be obvious on a boy of my age. They were defined, they were terrible, they were...

The door opened. "What's wrong?" I shook my head. "You left so suddenly that we were all wondering what happened." I saw something like a crack near my hairline. I leaned forward to try to figure out if I had caught too much sun at some point and was peeling. "Loki?"

Suddenly I realized something. "Rory," I said, turning to her. "This is the men's room." She shrugged.

"It's not like there's anyone else in here," she said nonchalantly. I blinked.

"What if there had been?" I asked.

"Not like it's something I haven't seen before," the nonchalance was still there as she took a step closer to me. I shook my head.

"You're bold," I said, then I turned to the mirror again. The crack seemed to be a bit further down my forehead. "Hey, is there something strange right here?" I asked her, turning and pointing right to where I could see the crack. Rory came close to me and put her hands on my head, pulling my hair back. She was silent for a few moments.

"You've got lice?" she offered. I moved my head up suddenly.

"I do?" I asked in astonishment. I looked into her eyes, which were dancing with mischief. I blinked, then grinned. "Ah," I said, "The jokes on me." She shrugged.

"What's wrong with it?" she asked. I looked into the mirror. In my experience, if I spoke about myself like this, people freak out and leave me. Things like random cracks in your head that no one else could see weren't the kinds of things that made people feel confidently about your ability to be "normal". Usually they thought you were going crazy and would start to leave you alone.

"Nothing," I said cheerfully, but somehow it felt false to me, so I wasn't sure if she'd even believe me. She looked at herself in the mirror.

"Bull," she said, her eyes meeting mine in the glass. I shrugged. "Tell me what you see Loki." For some reason, I believed she did want to know. So, I sighed and closed my eyes. I didn't want to see the reaction she'd give to this confession.

"It looks like there's a strange crack near my hairline. I don't understand it and-" she cut me off.

"You don't need to worry about the facade Loki, they all crack." I shuddered, feeling incredibly vulnerable at that moment.

"They do?" I asked, my voice deep, real, somehow frightened. My eyes were still tightly closed, so when a hand lightly touched my head I was surprised and backed up into a sink. It merely brushed against my hairline though, so it wasn't something that lingered.

"Yeah," she said.

The door opened suddenly, and my eyes flew open, catching the sight of her just before she turned away from me. A random man, someone I'd never seen before, gaped at the two of us. As she walked out I felt some kind of solidifying feeling spreading across my body. When I glanced in the mirror I saw myself, my face, my features, looked just as they should, whole, clean, smooth. That was Loki.

Turning a broad grin that came easily to me now to the man, I walked out behind Rory.

This was interesting. No one other than Kano had ever been able to get me out of that kind of funk. Go figure.
Kano watched as Loki hurried away. Something was wrong. Even the anticipation of new music hadn't completely smoothed over whatever was bothering his friend. He looked to the group.

"I'm sorry, I think I'd better..." but Rory was already shaking her head.

"I'll go," she said with a smile, "I'll be right back."

"But he'll probably be in the..." Kano began.

"Don't worry about it," she chirped in an odd voice for Rory.

"... Men's," Kano finished as she hurried off. He glanced at Dylan, who'd been serving as Ella's leaning post on and off all evening. His gaze was still off in the direction Rory had exited in. Kano smiled slightly. It seemed that Rory liked Loki. It was nice to see someone else pick up on his ever changing moods.

"Dylan?" Dylan's eyes snapped to him, as if he was startled to be spoken to. Kano nodded at Ella, "Is she stable?"

Ella wobbled a bit and frowned. "Ken ask me, I'm right here."

"So far," Dylan shook his head, "I think the worst is past."

Kano held Dylan's eyes. "I think Rory is fine," he told him firmly. He knew Dylan was worried, and although Rory was showing signs of being a bit unstable he honestly didn't think she was suicidal. She seemed more dissatisfied then depressed, and restless. Some of the time she reminded him of Loki.

Dylan nodded although he didn't seem to agree. It was more like he was agreeing that Kano felt that way whether he himself did or not.

"Rory doesn't like..." Ella began, "...oh wait, that's our secret." She smiled as if she'd just saved herself from doing something terrible and was very proud of it. Dylan narrowed his eyes, then shook his head.

"Might be best to go sit down again until it's time to leave," Kano suggested. He noticed that Isaac was watching Ella with concern.

"I can sit with her," Isaac offered and moved to take her from Dylan.

"I don't want to sit," Ella objected.

"Let's go for a walk outside then," Isaac suggested, "get some fresh air."

Kano had some serious doubts about fresh air helping in the least, but he was happy to see Ella leave with Isaac at any rate, since Dylan was the one he really wanted to talk to.

He could hear Mel, Lee and Nao talking about the show. Mel was telling them about a show she'd worked which had been badly planned to the point of comical. Lee was laughing and really enjoying himself. Nao was quiet, but that seemed to just be her. She struck him as both happy and indifferent to the invitation to come. He had a feeling that like him she was not used to being especially social.

"I was working on some music today, and I wanted you to look at this," he told Dylan, once he was sure Ella and Isaac were out of earshot. It wasn't so much that he didn't want anyone to know he was giving music to Dylan. It was more that he was uncomfortable, and more people listening would make him even more uncomfortable.

"Something you wrote?" Dylan seemed surprised, his eyes on the sheet music Kano had pulled from his pocket. He'd hastily folded it to fit it there and it had that been in a pocket for hours look to it. Mentally Kano berated himself for giving it out in such a state, but he nodded.

"The first few sheets are the guitar line, the second to the entire song. It's meant for guitar, flute and drum, no lyrics," he stressed the last as this one wasn't meant to have lyrics. It was music of longing and words would only dilute the feeling. At least for him they would. "I thought you could... well, I just..." Suddenly words escaped him as well.

"Kano, Dylan, we thought we could all go next door for a bite to eat, that little bar..." Lee interrupted, then he stopped looking from one to the other. "Oops, didn't mean to interrupt!" He turned away blushing.

"Yes," Kano said as Lee turned, he looked at Dylan, "I'll meet you there."

"We'll be over with Rory and Loki," Dylan said.

Lee nodded and looked back, obviously relieved. "Great!"

Kano took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he looked at Dylan and tried again. "I thought if you wanted you could see what you think of the guitar line. I know you don't play anymore, but... I'd like to know what you think." Was he blushing? He hoped not.

Dylan nodded, and took the music, carefully refolding it. Kano saw Rory coming their way, Loki not far behind. His mask was back in full force, which was good. Loki was a mess when his mask fell apart and he hated for people to see him that way. Kano didn't fully understand, but he was glad to see his friend happy again. It was a genuine happiness too, he noticed. That was a nice change.

"Are you two still back here?" Rory asked, her eyes studying them. "Did the others go home?"

"No, we're meeting them next door," Dylan replied.

"We can wait while you change," Kano said, smiling briefly at Loki.

"Is that music?" Loki asked, eying Dylan's hand. How he knew Kano had no idea as the paper was folded. Dylan shrugged, so Loki looked at Kano, "Is it the new stuff you wrote today?" Kano shrugged too. "Oh, come on!" Loki complained.

"I'm changed," Rory said, "let's go."

Kano blinked at her, "but isn't that what you wore on the..."

"They said I could keep it because I wear it so well. Happens a lot," Rory was nonchalant. Kano blinked at her blankly. He hadn't known that sort of thing happened. It made him glad he wasn't a model. He already had too many clothes, and none of them seemed to go together if Loki was actually a good judge of such things.

"Let's go then," Loki seemed happy enough, "I'm starved, maybe they'll have peanuts. A lot of bars have free peanuts!"

Kano nodded, same old Loki. He just hoped Dylan would play the music. Or maybe it was more that he hoped Dylan would like the music. On the other hand maybe he just wanted Dylan to want to play the music. Things sure did get complicated when other people were part of your life.
A Non-Existent User
I was like a fish out of water. Everything was just so utterly – shiny. Is that an odd way to put it? What I was used to, what I had always lived in was dull; dull grey tarmac, stifling concrete school walls, the cold grey Irish sky that lost all character when superimposed on a dull and miserable city. Lights were the night-time blur of phones and cars and the occasional flash of metal, colour the gaudy glitz of girls with no integrity, the white of deals that shouldn’t be dealt and crimson pools that shone in the streetlight. When my hair proved to bright I turned it to tones, and when my eyes drew attention I hid them. Even the deliberately difficult mix of clothes I always donned where there for that reason only – to be deliberately difficult. But never bright. And sitting watching confidence strut across walkways, surrounded by strangers radiating style and sophistication I just felt somehow out of context.

So I had been glad when Lee suggested going to a bar next door – catwalks were new ground for me but bar’s were like a second home. And I was pretty content, walking through the streets and talking to him and Mel about not much, dodging cars and people and thinking about not much either. Whilst the model seemed reluctant to talk to me, Lee never stopped. Not that I minded; listening to his constant babble quietened less welcome musings in my head. But when we reached the bar I realised I’d been optimistic in hoping it would be less confusing than the shoot. Within seconds of entering I was overwhelmed and disconcerted, not by number of people but by atmosphere. I could feel the muscles tighten in my neck as we made our way through a human labyrinth to find an empty table that could fit the rest of the group. My eyes were processing everything around me to the point that my conscious became a strange mix of cotton wool shot through with volts and spasms, some odd feeling that encompassed both a vicelike crushing and an empty vacuum. Not a headache, but just as uncomfortable.

“The others are gonna have to grab a few chairs, there aren’t enough here” Mel piped up as we slid into the seats of a table by the wall.

“Yep. Drinks?” Lee grinned, standing up again as the thought took him. I declined, as I always did. I’d long since decided it was best to avoid drink, or drugs, or even caffeine, considering I had enough trouble retaining my inhibitions anyway. Only cigarettes, and even then only if my brain was going particularly haywire. Mel and I made some progress with polite conversation as we waited for the flamboyant oriental boy to return.

“Sorry for the wait. Nao, I got you a coke, is that alright?” Lee placed Mel’s drink in her grateful hands and then turned to offer the fizzing liquid to me.

I was unexpectedly pleased by the gesture, and decided I should at least attempt a conversation topic “Arigatou. Mel says you used to live in Japan?” Lee’s sat down next to me as his eyebrows went up towards the red streaked hair.

“You’ve been there?”

“Tokyo; it was incredible, not something I’d forget quickly” I smiled slightly as he sipped his drink and looked for me to continue. “The size, the speed – At night-time the lights were so bright my eyes hurt! It was so vibrant and busy and yet everyone was so much more polite to each other than here or in Ireland. And it was so damn easy to get lost!” I laughed, on a slight high from the bollocks I was spouting. I’d never been to Japan in my life. But I had realised too late that I’d chosen a conversation topic I didn’t want to pursue without fabrication. What else could I say – that I’d picked up on Japanese language and culture from watching anime on youtube, on days that going to school became unnecessarily risky? That would turn down a tangent of questions that I’d rather not answer.

“Yeah, I do miss it. And I can just see you getting lost there – the system’s different from other places. Especially when, instead of street names they have -”

“Numbers! I find it hard enough to remember phone numbers, and then that?”

Lee laughed happily, and was about to speak again when Mel suddenly stood up.

“I’ll just… I’m just going to see if the others have arrived” She turned and strode away from the table, merging into the blur of people in seconds. After a questioning look at her disappearing back Lee shrugged, the movement almost indistinguishable as he opened his mouth to speak to me again.

“You’re not going after her?” I asked before he could say anything. A confused expression knitted its way into his eyebrows. Just how naïve was this guy? Heck, he was even more unobservant than me.

“I – did I do something? She was just going to -”

“Baka. Go talk to her. Now!” I’m shimmied him away as he paused for a second in doubt. Then he too was off, swallowed by the crowd, and it took me a few seconds to realise that I was left very conspicuously alone, surrounded by empty chairs. I placed my elbows on the table and crossed my legs. The uncrossed them and propped my forearms on my knees. Then leant back and took out a cigarette.

That unwelcome silence enveloped me once more as I tried to light it, a cotton wool silence that dampened even the thump of music. Music had always been an unreachable pleasure for me - I guess you could say I lived a silent existence. Nervously I continued to move around. Usually I could’ve easily coped with the unfamiliar situation, but for some reason I was feeling particularly vulnerable. I looked at Lee’s almost full glass. Then looked at the people around me, drank in their relaxed features, the easy (albeit drug-induced) graces. Well, what the hell. I picked up the clear liquid and downed it in one go. A few minutes later I’d calmed down considerably, and a glint of platinum blond alerted me to Rory’s presence, followed by Kano, Loki and Dylan. I waved an arm at them and then quickly retracted it, looking down and putting the cigarette to my mouth. What was I, ten? This was why I hated drinking.

“Where’d Lee and Mel go?” Dylan asked as everyone sat down, Loki and Kano dragging over extra seats. I told them that the pair had gone to look for them, and smiled at the questioning looks that passed from each person. Kano disappeared off to get more drinks, and Loki was absentmindedly tapping the table, eyes to the stage as his concentration was stolen by the music.
As I took Ella outside, I couldn't help but wonder why life was getting so hectic all of a sudden. It was just getting to downright crazy, and I felt that I couldn't keep up. But it was moments like these, when I could just walk, that made life simple again.

I looked over at Ella. She had been hitting something serious, and I could tell. She definitely needed this fresh air, probably more than I needed time to slow a little bit. Hopefully, we would both get what we needed.

She slowly walked beside me as we strolled down the sidewalk, passing other pedestrians. Some, who were more observant than others, could also see what Ella looked like, and gave a disgusted, disapproving look.

I returned their look with my own, Mind your own damn business,{i/} look. And most did start to avert their eyes. Apparently, a fight was not what they needed. And I thought that I could really use a fight to get my mind off of some of my problems.

But right now, I had to take care of Ella, and I promised myself and, silently, her, that nothing else mattered.

The point was that he hadn't realised. Mel stood, almost rigid except for her breathing as her eyes burned. So she had a problem with Nao? He didn't quite understand so he had taken her hand, trying to feel some kind of sign which told him what the model was trying to say... only she had snatch her fingers from his and in that moment as palm scraped palm... he had realised what was going on.

"I did't-" He began and the beautiful girl's eyes flicked away.

"I know, it's just for a while now..."

"Yeah..." He didn't try to take her hand just held it out so she could take it if she wanted. His heart pounded in his head, the very veins burning and roaring and flushing his face in an embarressed confusion of realisation, "I never thought you'd feel like that..."

The look she gave him made his heart suddenly press flush against his ribcage and boom out so loudly he was sure she would be able to hear it over the music.

"Me too..."

They began to weave their way back out of the crowds of party people, perhaps now actually looking for the others as they wove away from the entrance and towards their table. He smiled, squeeing the hand she had taken.

"If you had been so worried Rory liked Nao more than you the you should have said-" He piped up, "I mean it's obvious that you and her like each other, you're friends after all."

He saw shock, surprise, horror flicker over Mel's eyes before she closed her eyes, a semi second longer than a blink but enough to make him realise that he adn said something wrong. And then she smiled, radient. And she let go of his hand. And she dashed forwards, away... The others had arrived...

Mel: I flashed Lee a smile and shot ahead of him; there are uses to working every day in a profession where you have to smile, always, whether you feel like it or not. I cursed to myself as I weaved my way to the table and back to my drink, and to Nao, who I realised I was being horribly rude to - it wasn't her fault she has all the ease with Lee I had been trying to achieve for weeks. I had so hoped that he had meant... that he had thought... I stopped myself short as I put my arms around Rory from behind.

"Hey, you were wonderful tonight. You have so much ease, so much class."

She smiled easily at me, fluttering her eyelashes so I saw flashes of shimmer from her eyelids. "It was fun," she confessed. "I missed it in hospital - and it was nice to make sure everyone knew I was back and in style!"

We giggled together, and I looked over to see Lee and Nao laughing, heads close together as they made themselves heard over the music and noise of the crowd.

"I... I gotta go."

I marched myself over to Nao and smiled. "I'm sorry, I've not been the most welcoming here," I swept an arm to enclude the whole group. "I'm just not very good with metting new people... I tend to be a bit shy."

I didn't wait for her to answer, I turned directly to Lee and said "I'm off. See you tomorow."

And I turned and walked away.


As I moved through the crowd, I was suddenly so grateful for the dark and the flashing lights and the whole lonliness it provided in a world where everyone was in their own. It meant I could let myself well up, it meant I could slip away without fuss, it meant I could leave.

I just felt so old, next to my younger friends and my young young crush. I must be such an old lady in his eyes.

Rory caught me at the door. "Mel! You forgot your purse!" I turned to her before I could wipe the look off my face. Her smile turned upside down. "Toilets. Now."

We reached them in a hurry, almost stampeded by a large group of grinning, laughing girls and high heels.

"Lee?" Rory asked as she entered a cubicle and handed me a wad of tissues.

"How did you know?" I was horrified - but at least I didn't have to explain. That was a relief.

"We all sort of knew." She shrugged, absently scratching her arm. "You're both a little obvious."

And as I started to tell her, I burst into tears.

Puzzled, Dylan watched as his cousin gently took Mel's elbow and lead her away. The dark haired model was a good friend to have and as he caught sight of her face he became aware of the tears tracing down her cheeks like blood in the red lights. Musing, slightly apart from the others whilst nursing a silvery champagne, he watched them vanish and noticed Nao and Lee chatting happily at the table. He shook his head, sipping at the liquid which left bubbles sparkling in his head... They delicately seemed to be dancing through his bloodstream, mixing with the double vodka he'd downed at the bar. There was still something bothering him about Rory, more so than he could find himself to be bothered about Lee's clueless-ness. It was to do with the odd little comments, the way she ignored him, cold-shouldered him, teased everyone but him…. The way she seemed suddenly in love with her profession when so many times before she had talked of how much it suffocated her… That was why she had come to university against her agent's wishes… To learn, to have an education so she didn't have to model if she didn't want to…

Shaking his head, he let a few dark strands fall into his face and blurring the thoughts on the fringe of his mind. He glugged down the last of the champagne before losing the glass on the onyx table. In his hand now remained the sheets of paper that had tickled him in his thought since Kano had given them to him. The music in his palm was strange, a sense of feeling aching out of the notations as his pitching kicked in to fill in the tune. It was in A-minor… or maybe those were just accidentals… It seemed major in so many places. The key signature was illegible, as though hastily added after each note had been painstakingly thought out and blotted onto the paper. Twitching and twisting into the crowds, the black-haired, blue-eyed boy could feel his body moving, feet shifting his weight into a swift walk, blurring him in the crowds. As he passed the bar, his hand reached out for a snakebite before he stumbled away, drunk more on anticipation than anything else.

"Do you have a free slot for tonight? Like so a band could play?" He had staggered over to the DJ before he could realise, hands trembling as he made up his mind and dared to do what he never have done sober.

"There's half and hour when 'RocKabaret' are playing! But it's not open mic night!" The DJ bellowed, sense of his sentences made out of the contortion of the thick, dark lips rather than the sounds he made, "Ask them!"

"Where?"

Dylan didn't think. Didn't want to think. He wanted Rory to know he was sorry but he was breaking too, wanted Nao to know he'd try and protect her, Lee to know Mel liked him too, Mel that Lee was just younger and more naïve. Most of all he wanted Kano to know that he was over Cael, even if not their music… But music always had been more personal than any human relationship.

"In the back!" the skin-headed disk-jockey was already turning away; back to switch the beat and song.

*

"KAAANNOO!" Dylan shoved thought the mass of pulsating bulk, ignoring those who reached out to touch him, "Kano! KANO!!!" The lights flashed in the corner of his eyes, burning then fading only to flare again and dizzying him. He could see the back of his friend's head, the other dancing with some stranger. Almost growling, Dylan launched himself through the last barrier of bodies and seized the broad shoulders, making the other jump.

"Kano! We're playing in twenty minutes!" Dylan was electricity, the blue of his irises flashing, pupils dilated and face split with a grin. A smear of black eyeliner traced like a tear track from the lid of his eye and yet he bounced with a barely seen vigour.

The other didn't seem to be registering what he said and so he said it again, this time falling into his old self, wrapping his arms about the other's waist and leaning forward, "Twenty minutes. We're borrowing guitars and all that from the band about to play."

Their lips were almost meeting as he spoke; words felt more than heard along with the strangeness of his tone.

"What?" There was a pause as Kano seemed to come to realise what he was saying and one larger hand came to rest on the pale, bare upper-arm, "You're kidding…"

"Nope! I asked them!" Then Dylan stopped, fear snatching a thread of enthusiasm and he visibly seemed to close up again, "Did I do wrong?" He knew he sounded like a child, but it was as if the music was already playing in his hands like a supple sculpture ready to be perfected.

Kano didn't reply. Staring at him or a moment before he moved forwards, other hand reaching to trace along the narrow chin, closing the gap between them and softly touching his lips to his own. Lingering, only a second before pulling back, Kano's eyes sought out his and he smiled, "No, you did good."

Dylan grinned, pulled the other close again and kissed him back this time. Their bodies moved until they were out of the centre of the crowd, lips not leaving the others except to breathe until they were resting by their original table, against the wall. Dylan tangled his fingers in the naturally dark hair, feeling the silken strands know between the digits and pulled the other even closer. Tentatively stroking Kano's bottom lip with his tongue, he was suddenly desperate to explore the other just they way he had dreamed of. Gasping slightly, Dylan felt him respond, kiss becoming bruising, searing and delving deep into the warmth of the others. It was passionate, hard; teeth pulled at his lower lip and he moaned, unable to stop the soft sound escaping him. Kano pulled back.

"How much have you had to drink?" He panted out as Dylan moved his mouth to his chin and along the warm throat.

Laughing lightly against warm skin, he flicked his tongue out to grace the spot he'd just kissed, "Enough." He breathed, knowing his voice would feel chill against heated skin.

"I don't-" Kano began, eyes frowning despite the desire still lingering in his tone. Dylan kissed his again, not wanting to know what came after 'don’t'. He'd waited too long to do this… They'd waited too long… Their arms were entwined, breathing stripped of normalcy, synchronised with indelicacy of lips, tongue and teeth.

"How… about we… do an… up… beat… song and bleed… into you new one… then… into a-" Dylan placed a kiss between words before gasping as Kano moved his mouth to nip one ear gently.

"Sounds good."

Dylan could feel the knobble of his spine against the wood of a chair and the wall at his shoulder and grinned, "I bet you always wanted to get me against a wall."

There was a brief flash of a smirk, making Dylan shiver, before Kano left one last kiss against his skin, "You've definitely had enough to drink," There was a pause as he pulled himself away, "We need Loki."

Dylan's face was bright again with excitement, the fusion of desire and anticipation setting fire to his thoughts like kindling, "Yeah. We'll not have long now!"
*Just wanted to point out Ror lives on the bottom two floors of a brown stone (house). I can't remember who got that wrong but they did, so whatever, just for reference. Also, as the meds kick in she'll become really vague and tired.*

The mirrored room pulsed with the noises of the fading set, the damp drip of taps invading the geometric echoes with unlikely precision. Mel collapsed into a cubicle, retching with her reddened face burning under the fluorescent industrial lighting. I sighed as the echoes were replaced with distorted shouts, manipulated through the air until they curled softly into pools of confusion. The girl was hysterical. She was irrational. The insecurities, the ones that made her come across so self-righteous, the ones that prevented her... they all spilled to the floor in salty water as I looked on. It was completely, however, justified. Stupid Lee.

My arm was itchy.

"You know, this is all completely silly. He's been fawning you for days. Gazing into your eyes, studying your arse...the whole boy deal. I bet he's even seeing connections with his mother. Freudian, you know?" I forced my voice into a logical mould, squeezing it like the fscia putty it was into the solid red rubber. Logic.... Reason.

I had to believe in bluntness. My hand reached up to tilt her chin as she gazed balefully at me, eyes glistening, liquid espresso. Blood red fingernails pressed against the pale skin of her jawline as tears pooled in the ridges of my knuckle. Her pupils seemed to dilate, shrink, absorb the shock of a universal breakdown into glistening purple depths. Eyelashes were clumped together, the frail skin puffy and red.

"But.... Nao?" Her voice was filled with the twang of the Catskills, reverting as she sniffed and turned to study herself in the mirror.

Pity welled up inside me, but at the same time my nerves seemed to fray at the clarity of the situation. The room around me smelt of cif, the pills tucked up my sleeve weighing me down like dumbells until I could take them in peace. Ella... her problems were so.... daunting. And though this was a big problem, it just seemed so...clear, natural, unfussed. If only the poor beauty could see.... it was as if she was trapped in a painting, unable to understand the admiration through the layers of Primer and oil. Somewhere beneath the layers of feminine lay a country landscape, a mountain cabin in the rain. and that was the one Lee wanted.

"You're acting the jealous girlfriend before you've even got round to admitting it. He's a genius; hes also a complete idiot. I doubt he understands the mindgames of the girls you were brought up with by the lake..."

"But...."

It was at this point that the room started spinning. AI gazed up at the flickering light on the red wallpaper, trying to fix my gaze as the smell of moisturiser and hairspray mixed with the smell of burnt umber, the vibrant colours of a bass beat. Greens and browns seemed to form rings around me, icy rings of dust that shifted under the light, undulating quietly as I stumbled over my own Vivier clad feet to the sinks. Folds of satin buckled as I stopped the plug with the heel of my left palm, shaking my right until the small salmon pills, white pills, green pills...Celexa, suppressants perhaps? Dropped into the palm of my hand. My throat was dry, the roof of my mouth grating like sandpaper across my tongue. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room, as if i were swimming, swimming in Esther's Bell Jar.

The pills crawled down my throat like spiders.

The room span as I turned to Mel, placing my finger to my lips unsteadily, as though a flagpole buffeting in an invisible, intangible wind. Like any wind. Except the emotional kind.

"Fine. You'll be fine. He loves you. You have somebody that loves you. Love? yes... love. Nature's way of tricking people into reproducing. Love is when you can't do anything without thinking about that person, you always want to be with them. It's not that you want to have sex with them, you just want to spend time with them and you just want to hold them and never let go. And he's young. And it's probably illegal somewhere. But so is reading. Reading's illegal..." I paused, catching my breath as my mind raced head of me..... "somewhere. Into someone. It can bee hard to read..." Another pause. My finger lingered in the air between us, a silent reminder that neither would repeat what they had seen. The infantry, the torch, the baton.

She looked up at me, for a second, stripped of all her logic and psychoanalysis..... reduced to my level. Bestial. And she understood. It was comprehended, such that it seemed that she physically shivered with the recognition, with the fear of what it was like to live without any moral guidelines... to not be human, but an ape, an ape following someone else's rules, about love, about behaviour.

"...people" She finished. And then he recognition was gone, replaced by purpose. Purpose with Lee in mind? Nao? Who knew.... I was a monkey. Did I howl?

It was a great day for cracking facades. Closing my trembling eyelids, i had the feeling that I would crumple with any more shocks. Someone needed to help me. Someone that could see, but not. My mind was like a television. Clips and static. Clips... I wondered faintly if Galliano would get to see Loki play...

That little Gibraltan loved a good beat he had, after all, lived in London. o be fair, he also liked his moustache, stealing the catwalk, and fancy dress.

But Loki seemed to be able to pin down beats, no matter how fledgling.
"Loki!" the call made me look up at a strange sight. Strange only in that I hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. Kano and Dylan were coming over to the table, it was Dylan who had called to me, Kano had his arm around Dylan, and Dylan's face was flushed with pleasure, excitement, and anticipation. I tilted my head to one side and blinked.

"Yes?" I asked, wondering what on earth they could possibly want.

"We're to go on stage in," a head tilted to look at a watch, "five minutes!" Dylan was exuberant as he said it, and he gave me a smile that reminded me of the sun coming out from behind clouds. I blinked.

"On stage?" I said vaguely, looking at Kano. Kano looked at me and nodded. The excitement filled me and ignoring anyone who might have said anything, I got to my feet and jumped. "Excellent!" I said loudly, to the amusement of those who were nearby. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the drumsticks that Rory had given me the first day we'd met. Somehow, I'd never managed to lose them or leave them behind me. I grinned and started moving to Dylan and Kano. "Lead the way!"

We walked through the crowd and managed to get backstage just before we were to go on. Dylan took a deep breath, as though to still himself, and Kano turned to me.

"Follow my lead," he said softly and I grinned wildly.

"As if I wouldn't," I returned. He winked at me and I pointed at Dylan. "He's had too much to drink." Kano looked back at him and nodded once. Then, we were on stage.

"For the next half hour we're proud to present "Nomads"!" came the announcement, and I looked at Dylan, my eyebrows raised. He shrugged.

"It was all I could think of last minute!" he shouted at me as there came a scattering of applause, mostly from our table of friends. We each waved as we headed off to our designated spots. I fiddled with the drum set a bit, lifted the chair, and got used to where each piece was positioned. I smiled. I really had wanted to bang on something today, I was totally pumped that I got to do so.

I nodded at Kano, who looked at Dylan, who looked at me his eyes shining. We were ready.

Kano's fingers tapped a few keys, I grinned even wider as I recognized what he was doing, and I started the beat. It was a second later that Dylan knew what was going on, not even long enough for others to realize we hadn't rehearsed this a thousand times already. I could almost close my eyes and let the feelings wash over me, but that would partly defeat the purpose, so I looked out into the glaring lights, found the faces of those in the crowd I wanted to see watching me most, and I could feel the insane, wide mouthed grin spread across my face. There was Rory looking subdued, and Mel red eyed and blushing, Nao the new girl, Lee confused as hell at Mel, and a ton of drinks on the table. I remembered why I didn't like to drink, it confused people. I nodded in time to the music. Confusion sucked, I remember confusion. But confusion had nothing to do with the intensity flowing through me.

A band. Again, perhaps. What I wouldn't do to be part of a real band. A band with real members, who practiced together on a regular basis. A band who liked to compose music, sing music, be music together. How much I missed those simple anger sessions and talking sessions, and planning sessions. How much I missed being able to be a part of something that made me feel complete, whole and untainted. I found Rory's eyes again, and I thanked her through my eyes. I thanked her for all kinds of things, but I wasn't sure if she understood it all. That was alright, I could always tell her later.

The music changed, and we were on something new, something... my eyes caught Kano's briefly. This was his new music, and I found it all so very painfully wonderful. I felt the music flow through me and then into the drums, not certain if I was doing it justice. I looked down at the group of people dancing and clapping their hands. They seemed to like us at least.

We made it through that song, then on to another, and before I realized it, our time was up. I couldn't believe how quickly time passed. It was almost depressing. I twirled my sticks, stood up and bowed with flourish, then put the sticks in my pocket. I was almost flying high with the adrenaline. I made it to the table in about three steps and I grinned at the looks around the table.

"I really, really love banging on things," I said, and I kept my grin through the whole scattering of laughter.

"Loki," Kano said behind me, "Watch what you say." I looked at him and flopped into my seat.

"Why?" Kano rolled his eyes.

"Because you just made it sound like you love to have sex." I blinked at him, and turned my gaze around at everyone at the table.

"Really?" I asked, and from the laughter and commotion everyone was giving me, I guessed he was right. I shrugged. "Well, I wouldn't know if I liked it or not," I started, but Kano's hand was over my mouth in a flash so I couldn't finish the sentence.

"Leave it rest Loki," he said, his eyes sparkling. I shrugged and looked over at Rory who I was sitting next to.

"Did it sound bad?" I asked her, and when she turned her gaze to me I realized that something was wrong.

"No," she said, somewhat vaguely. I blinked at her.

"Are you alright?" I asked, and she smiled at me.

"Couldn't be better," she replied, and I nodded.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" I asked, wondering if she needed some time alone from everyone else. But she shook her head at me and looked around the room.

"No, I was hoping..." she trailed off and I tilted my head to one side, waiting for her to continue. She never did though, and I lightly touched her arm.

"Every thing's alright?" Her gaze returned to me and she nodded.

"Of course." I nodded back at her.

"Good," but I knew, somehow, that I needed to keep my eyes on her. Something was definitely wrong.
It had become a wonderful night. Kano knew he was smiling more than usual, but the fleeting thought only brought another smile to his lips. His lips, which had been pressed against Dylan's so recently, the lips which Dylan's tongue had caressed, those lips smiled. How could he be expected not to smile more tonight? Even if Dylan was drunk, it meant... well it meant something. Perhaps it even meant that Dylan was ready to move on from the past.

"Lee, can we talk again?" It was Mel and she looked determined. Kano was fairly sure he knew what was going on though he didn't fully understand why it was happening. Mel was obviously jealous of Nao, though Lee didn't seem nearly so into Nao as he was Mel, at least his interest in Nao seemed of the friendly nature, not romantic. Lee blinked up at her uncertainly.

"Sure," he said and Nao actually got up.

"I think I'll get a drink or something," she said quickly and left the table.

"Loki," Kano turned to him and pulled money out of his wallet quickly, "why don't you take Rory and grab something to eat. I heard they had food here."

"Sure!" His eyes lit up as Kano had known they would and he was out of his seat in a flash.

"Take Rory," Kano told him.

"Oh yeah, Rory, let's go," he took hold of her hand and pulled her off. It was a bit too easy and she seemed unsteady. Perhaps she was tired, it had been a long day. All Kano could think was that the group needed to all clear off so Lee and Mel had some time alone. It was the only thing he could do to try to help them out. Honestly, Kano thought they'd make a nice couple, although he wasn't sure what made him think about that at all. In the past he'd never considered such things.

Kano looked at Dylan. Before he had a chance to come up with anything Dylan was pulling him to the dance floor and Kano was smiling again. Maybe this smiling thing would become a habit. He knew Dylan liked to dance. Kano shivered as he remembered the first time he'd danced with Kano. Then he'd gotten involved in the song he'd been working on and Dylan had disappeared. Had they taken any longer to get to Dylan what would have happened?

Kano wasn't sure when he stopped dancing and started kissing Dylan again, nor did he know exactly how they ended up pressed so tightly together. It felt so right that he thought he could do it forever. His mouth seemed slightly swollen and sensitive, but it wasn't a bad feeling it was good, so good. It was as if this was what mouths were meant for to feel each other, to explore and tongues were for tasting lips and skin. Teeth were for nibbling ears and necks and..

"Hey get a room," Kano blinked and felt his cheeks redden, but he wasn't sure who'd yelled the words and he didn't look around. He didn't want to stop feeling Dylan in his arms, Dylan's tongue against his own, Dylan's body so close. Of course that was the problem, and they were in a crowded place. Kano pulled away.

"He might be right," the words caught in his throat as Dylan kissed his neck.

"Hm, who?"

Kano shook his head. He pushed Dylan away a bit so he couldn't reach his neck. He'd had no more than one drink, so why did he feel drunk himself?

"About a room, maybe... can I take you home?"

"Now?" Dylan looked a bit disappointed. Kano kissed him again.

"Hey," Loki's familiar cheerful voice interrupted. Dylan broke away from the kiss this time, "uh, sorry, it's just that Rory is... really tired, so I thought I'd just take her home if that's okay and um..." Loki looked from one to the other, "Maybe you should take Dylan home too?" His eyes ended on Kano. Kano knew he was right but it didn't seem like Dylan wanted to leave..

"Sure, I'll see you later Loki."

"Great!" Loki hurried away.

"Can I take you home?" Kano asked again turning back to Dylan. Dylan shook his head, then nodded.

"Only if you come in after we get there," he grinned. What did it mean? Did Dylan just want his company or...? He didn't really want to do too much with Dylan drunk. If only being drunk didn't seem to be a prerequisite for Dylan touching a guitar.

'Hell of a time to get shy again,' Kano told himself as he took Dylan's hand. "I'll come in."
A Non-Existent User
It was only in the giddy rush as I stood up that I realised just how much I’d had to drink. I’d gotten carried away amongst the cheerful chatter, watching the guys play and trying to figure out the different relations between people in the small crayon box of a group. Which, generally, wasn’t something I’d bother doing. Unsteadily I made my way from the table, knowing even in my vague state that it was time to let events take their course. What anxiety had dimly hummed in my contented subconscious had been replaced by a peaceful conviction. People were sorting things out. With a half wave at Lee I jerked my thumb at the entrance, turning to leave and glad to have come, and not really sure were to go. I let myself be washed out of the building in the constant stream of people arriving and leaving, crossing the street to a more peaceful spot and standing in consideration, hands in pockets and shoulders shrugged. Once I had my bearings, I knew where I wanted to be.

*

I couldn’t describe the park. I wasn’t really aware of it. In my comfortable stupor I saw only the stars, lying on the hard bench, arms rested over stomach, legs outstretched, ankle balanced upon ankle balanced upon metal armrest. The stars seemed somehow very important, but my thoughts on them moved from one to the next too fast to become coherent. Well. I hadn’t been drunk for a while.

I laughed slightly, to no-one in particular, wondering at the people I had met; whimsical and vibrant and impossible to fathom. What a generous mood. It matches the stars, I couldn’t help but think. So many. Only a very generous person would give us that many to look at. They make very nice patterns don’t you think?

Indeed. We don’t need to sleep, only watch the stars. If we watch for long enough, they may just move. When they move we will know their meaning, know our meaning and why there is even any point. Because there is definitely a point. What is a shadow doing blocking our view?

Annoyed I waved a hand at the obnoxious shadow.

“Hey look, he’s awake”

As a few more tall shadows leaned over me I stared back impassively, wondering if those were ambulance sirens or warning bells that I could hear in the dim reaches of my hazy mind.

“You got nowhere to go kid?” a decidedly dodgy looking character picked my legs up from the bench arm, sitting down in the space they had occupied and placing them on his knees. I considered getting up, even though two – no three – other men stood annoyingly in my way. But it really just seemed like too much effort. So I lay were I was, ignoring the pestering mental sirens. There wasn’t really any problem having my bare legs on someone’s lap. In fact in shorts and legwarmers and converses I was kind of cold anyway. What a strange logic. I wasn’t tuned into anything they said to each other, or me, and had no idea how much time passed when a jolt of rationality pointed out that my leg was being stroked.

Bugger. Not again. Instinct finally bursting my contented bubble I jerked my legs to the ground and stood up, head-rush blinding me for an instant as I felt hands grab me and push me back down. Then my vision cleared. Fist met flesh and one man’s head snapped backwards, a steady bruise spreading over my knuckles, satisfaction seeping in as blood spurted from his nose. The coiled trap had sprung, a burst of rage releasing the seething fury, unleashing the eager brutality. Adrenaline made time slow, the crimson droplets almost freezing in the air as his body crumpled in disjointed camera frames. It was beautiful.

The other man had hold of my arm in seconds, and I yanked it away, taking advantage of the weak point in his grip between the fingers and thumb. Most likely I had already pulled muscles in both arms, but pain was unnoticed and in this state I would always push myself past my small limits. The idiot then made the mistake of attempting to restrain me. Pinching his earlobe and a sharp flick upwards removed most of the ear, pouring out yet more scalding blood. Even as he screamed and clapped his hand to the empty hole where his ear had once been I grabbed fistfuls of hair in both hands, slamming my knee upwards into his face in the same movement as jerking his head down. This time bone met bone. I let him go and he didn’t get up. I could hear his body hit the floor, hear his belt clang against the pavement, the slight squelch as his crushed face smeared blood over the ground. Every sense was accentuated, as I stood there in my element, revelling in what I was born to do. Others were creators, artists and musicians. I was a destroyer.

And I was too busy enjoying myself to notice the other two men. My whole body was encompassed by two large, crushing arms from behind, the man in front of me throwing his vengeful fist into my face. And suddenly, as pain winked and starred in front of my eyes, something very confusing happened. I only became aware of another person having arrived as all four men dispersed into the darkness and I was left, standing and befuddled.

After a long pause I worked out the person looking at me was Isaac.

“You chased them away” I stated. He replied that he had. Looking down I saw he was holding one of the broken slats of wood from the bench, and mentally commended him for his resourcefulness.

“You had better go home” there was no arguing, though I did try. He insisted that he was going to walk me back, still firmly refusing my persistent statements that “I don’t have a home”, “I can’t go back drunk and with a black eye”, “my aunts an effing whore I swear I’ll never go there again” even as I walked him to the flat. When refusal became boring we talked of earlier. He hadn’t gone back to the bar in the end, instead walking with Ella (was that a slight smile that crossed his face?) until eventually she had said she was tired and he walked her home. It was just a very convenient coincidence that he happened to walk through the park to get to his home, and having seen a fight been drawn closer and helped me out. This time it was my turn to smile. My luck just worked like that. Aren’t I a cocky shit? Though for some reason I found it very important to explain myself.

“You… probably think I’m a real psycho” he looked at me with an unreadable expression.

“I hurt them as well. Sometimes you just have to” he said after a pause.

“I could have killed them” Isaac didn’t reply, but I had to continue.

“If I look back all I see is a bloody nightmare. Cruelty and crimson pools span my adolescence. I could never have remained just “me” and survived. Can you understand? I created a monster, a Mr Hyde that revelled in the gruesome violence. I had to. And in time I could no longer draw the line between that monster and myself. “I” was born in a pool of blood. “I” came to live only for the pain of others. Sometimes I feel like I’m not even human.”

We had arrived at the apartment almost as I finished, and there was a silent pause until Isaac turned to me.

“You’re worried about it right? So you must be human”

There was nothing more to say. Half-smiles where all the agreement we could express, as Isaac turned and left and I opened the door. Once in the flat soberness seemed to hit me in a sudden rush, the night’s close call finally becoming significant. After standing shocked for some time, rationality eventually took over. The clock flashed 4:30 at me from a shelf, and I strode into the bathroom, determined to clean myself up, clipping back my hair from my face and cleaning my eye, then shirking off my clothes and pulling on a gigantic winnie the pooh t-shirt that my mom must have hidden in my luggage. Getting ice-cream out of the freezer and pondering where I could get some jelly, I finally noticed the bright pink post-it note on the fridge.

“Gone with friends, will be back in a week. Don’t let anyone in.”

Joy! The bitch was gone! I decided my first act of claiming the flat for the few days would be to steal some of her cheap wine. Music playing and TV on I skipped round the flat, turning on every light and eating the ice-cream from the tub, occasionally stopping for the bottle of wine. I was standing triumphantly on the sofa when the phone rang, and jumped down to answer it. I hadn’t expected the thick Irish accent that greeted me – the lively voice of my fourteen-year-old brother telling me off for never being around when he rang, what with the time difference and all. We talked, caught up, reminisced and eventually there was a pause.

“Hey Naomi. You sound really happy.”

“Yup”

“You’re drunk, right”

“Me? I’m just doing the conga through the kitchen at 5:00 in the morning in an oversized t-shirt.”

“You loser!”

Though as we talked on I did find myself thinking of why I was so happy. Although I was just a ghost passing through, although I had only just met those people, was only thinking of one night, I had some overwhelming sensation of having witnessed many things being set in motion, some indefinable unrecognisable feeling.

I set a few alarms for the morning, surprised to find myself exhausted. Crawling into bed I laughed sleepily as the brief thought struck me - Dylan was so drunk he probably wouldn’t wake up for English tomorrow. Shame, it would have been nice to see him. Nice to have something to look forward too. But somehow, there seemed plenty to look forward too.

Lee was tired. But there was something about the way that Mel was standing, clutching her elbows with opposite hands as if trying to protect herself... or hold herself back. Her face was illuminated amber in the artificial light. Behind her, a golden red lamp made her hair frame her face like a black hood, casting shadows downwards which were fought by the lighter umber. It was as if a thousand twinkling candles were fighting to highlight her model-esq beauty, leaving a blurring mirage before his eyes. Ethereal. He'd seen Loki leading Rory away into the dark tunnel towards the night. He'd smiled because he'd seen Dylan and Kano , still entwined and heads close together as they murmured together and vanished from sight. Nao had gone. And now he needed to talk to Mel...

Nao had been easy to talk to. Her small, almost invisible smile had reminded him of his mother a bit, or of the photos he had of her. It was a lie when they said you never forgot the faces of the dead... But then again... although their collective self was lost, the essence of their presence was left behind and... He had found that a little in Nao. It sounded Freudian. But that wasn't it. He had just been able to tell her about things that he had been desperately trying to come to terms with and failing. Like Mel. They'd spoken about these people he now called friends and their lives, their love lives... his love life.

 He was the first to admit that when it came to Mel, he thought she was beautiful. He felt that as she stood their now, uncertain and with half-shuttered eyes. There was no point in even denying the fact that he liked her. But of course... He was a minor, younger than her, not as mature he was sure. He could feel his self confidence drop every time she looked at him. He wanted to say that he'd like to take her out sometime. Just the two of them. He wanted to tell her everything there was to know about him and learn everything about her in return. He wanted to write her bad poetry and laugh with her over the fact that it was so bad. He wanted her to turn to him when she had a problem... He wanted to be able to run his fingers through her hair and brush the tips across her skin and feel her shiver. He wanted... He wanted... He blushed. He really really liked her.

And he'd told Nao all of this.

   "Do you want to go for coffee?" His voice seemed so heavily anglicanized, "I'm thinking it might be nice on the way home."

She smiled, nodded sheepishly and he held out his arm with a quirk of his lips and a flick of his eyebrow, "You walking me home?"

  "Am I allowed?"

   "I think so."

 He grinned and then tried to make it look like a more adult smile, knowing he'd look every bit his 17years if he wasn't careful. Maybe she wouldn't care. Maybe Nao was right when she said that Mel cared about him too. Maybe… Maybe. Maybe. He was so sick of maybes. But he knew he'd be dealing in them a little while longer.



Waking up, curled into the body of another person with a throbbing headache had always conjured cruel and tasteless memories for Dylan. He laid, eyes closed, afraid of the pain of sunlight and daytime noise to brave opening them yet. He listened to the rush of breath caught just above his ear as it brushed across the chill metal piercing there and made him shiver slightly. If he ignored the pounding rush of blood in his earlobes then he could make out the thud of the others heart beat and for some reason that soothed him a little. There was a distinctive smell of club… smoke and dance and spilt drinks… but beneath it, vague and yet wonderfully there was that peculiar scent of mown grass and pine and… he relaxed, realising that the arms tangled about him could only belong to one person and that person he couldn't help but want to stay like this. If he was going to be wretchedly hung over and entwined with another, well he didn't mind it being Kano…

It helped that he could feel the tightness of Rory's jeans still about his legs and the fabric of Kano's shirt beneath his fingers… He was glad that nothing to serious had happened…If it wasn't for the pain he'd be perfectly content. As it was a bitterness to the taste that seemed to be the air sliding over his tongue, sticking to the upper palate of the bloodmillion cavern with thickening ooze, a melancholy memorial to the misery of a hangover. Eyes drooping he let himself nuzzle deeper into the warm embrace, managing to happily doze in the realm between conscious and not and wondering dimly what would happen when the other woke. He liked this feeling of being snug and warm, next to Kano, knowing that it was this cocoon that was special and that the outside world could wait.

Kano stirred and made a faint mumbling sound as he was disturbed slightly from his slumber. Dylan chuckled lightly and wiggled closer. His head really hurt... They had been close to something… something he had only dared to think of when completely alone and completely calm. He didn't remember details just hands and music and lips and tongues… What would have happened if… Would they have…? Dylan shook his head and woke himself from his small slumber. Eyes opened slowly now, squinting slightly in the daylight glow and he flinched, the added spike of pain scattering through his forehead and splintering.

“Morning,” Kano's light baritone greeting was soft and sleepy and he began to wake.

“ ‘Ning” Dylan managed with a half hearted smile, “ ‘s time?”

There was a shuffle behind him as Kano clearly glanced to see his watch, “It’s nearly eleven…”

“Sleep…” Dylan mumbled and closed his eyes again. Kano was obviously amused as a small snort left his notrils and whispered across his ear. Dylan was not a morning person.

“I think we should get up…” He ventured up a couple of minutes later to a return grunt from the tightly entwined form beside him, who pouted in his stupor making Kano burst into laughter. Dylan moaned a soft 'Kano' before rolling onto his back and blearily looking up into the unhungover eyes.

"Plan?"

"I don’t know…" Kano shrugged.

Dylan smirked, albeit sleepily, wrapping his arm around Kano's neck. He pulled himself up slightly and then suddenly tugged the other boy down on top of him, "Sleep." He said and laughed out loud when he saw the surprised face of his friend.

Kano smiled.

He noticed how their bodies had aligned as he had fallen and how his arm was still wrapped around the tan neck. He didn’t want to move. But he didn't know what to think as they lay there, blue meeting blue, and as he slowly became more and more awake. Then suddenly Kano was pulling away and sitting up and stretching, "You need coffee and a paracetamol."

Yawning, Dylan frowned and let the incognizant blur of sound that did for language in his state slowly form sense. He nodded. He needed coffee almost more than the paracetamol in his eyes but still… There was a fuzziness to his brain that was telling him that it was good enough that Kano even thought to think of asking. God he was going to feel awkward when his hang over finished… that was the second thing that rushed to the front of his mind… He was not used to this. Not at all. The one person who had ever looked after him after a night out had been Rory. Cael never had. They'd usually been in the same boat back then. He wasn't sure he was even comfortable with it… But then again most of his reasoning was being squashed by the empty agony in his body and the bursting pain of his skull.

"I'll put the kettle on."

Dylan grimaced and then forced himself to roll first onto his stomach and then up onto his knees and out of the bed. Kettle coffee… He wobbled, the world lurching beneath his feet and his arms shot out trying to keep him balanced as blunt needles poked at him from within,

" 'm coming…" He muttered, finding his centre of gravity and then realising his balance actually came from the hand supporting his left arm.

If he looked a mess, which he was sure he did, Kano didn't say anything. It made him awkwardly comfortable. He wished he could reason when he was like this. But that was beyond him at this time of the morning on a good day. The phone was ringing.

"Fuck." He moaned, resting a hand to his head and then dizzily moving to the buzzing monster that wailed like a trapped badger.

Kano laughed, handed him the hand held reciever, "Sounds like Rory."




Rory was almost amused to hear Kano's voice pick up at Dylan's.

"...'Lo? Ror?"

"Morning, cousin. Don't you sound attractive." She made sure her voice was a vibrant and bright as possible, knowing he'd be regretting every drop of drink he'd drunk the night before, "I bet you look fabulous too."

"nurngh..."

"I see. So Kano's still there? What happened?"

"Nuthin' Ror... Wah did you wan'?"

"Oh." She paused and thought for a second, her eyes catching on the sparkle of a pair of blue sequinned high heeled shoes that she knew would look just right with her lay-a-bout outfit of black cotton leggings, overly large band t-shirt which she had brought back in england from a Portobello sale, and large black cardigan. The blue shoes would be a sparkling, vibrant touch to what was otherwise a very casual outfit. And she wanted to look nice today.

"Rory?"

"Oh sorry. Ummm... Yeah... Was going to ask if you were coming to that art exhibition. The one that Jan's showing." As if he didn't know. He'd been the one to tell her that their class mate was putting on her own exhibition.

" 'Stoday?"

He sounded like he'd been pulled out of bed after climbed the white peaked himalyayas for ten months.

"Yep. At Gelaberts."

"Fuck."

"I'll see you there then in an hour?"

"Yeah."

She hung up. Black Bang&Olufson phone sitting like a skyscraper in its handset. She had meant to phone Loki and thank him for walking her home for the comforting hug before he left and the smile which had told her that he saw in her much more than what he showed. She was sure that he knew that she wasn't so perfectly ok. Even now. The nigrescent night had wrapped a comforter about them as he walked her home, neither feeling the need to hale a taxi, the music of silence between friends reigning above the traffic and calls and city rush. Even at night this place was alive and it had been infectious in the red and white and blue and green and purple lights of Broadway as they crossed it briefly. She had lept up on a stone wall and lifted up her arms and then let herself spin for a moment before leaping back to earth to join the bemused boy walking her home.

" Carpe diem?" he whispered into the silence, previously unbroken by small talk.

She smiled, "Something like that."

"I think that's the best way to live."


Not for the first time she recalled the times she had seen different faces to Loki. She wondered about him a lot. Her hand reached out for the phone again, pale skin looking ranslucent against the black of her cardigan and delicate compared to the hard prong of the phone. She half dialled the number, paused and then put it back down. Watching the cordless machine, as if expecting it to call all on it's own.
Kano watched as Dylan dropped the phone almost in the proper place. He reached out and settled it on the hook properly.

"Shower," Dylan suggested, almost falling as he moved away from Kano.

"Coffee first," Kano caught hold of Dylan again and guided him to a seat. "I'll get it and while you drink it you can tell me why we're suddenly in a hurry." The corner of his tips curved up slightly. He'd had a great night. It was too bad Dylan was so hung over this morning. He'd thought he would have a hard time sleeping with Dylan in his arms, but it hadn't seemed to bother him after all. In fact he'd really enjoyed the feeling of drifting off with a warm body held close to him.

He was soon setting the coffee in front of Dylan and drinking his own. "I know it's not as good as your coffee," Kano admitted, "but it should still work in this case." Coffee was not something he'd perfected, and because of that he preferred to get it out when he could. Dylan winced, whether in was from the coffee or his headache Kano couldn't be sure and stumbled through an explanation about art and an exhibition at Gelaberts.

"I'll go with you," Kano offered quickly, "although I don't know if you can make it that quickly."

"Be fine," Dylan insisted, and he did look better even though he was still not using complete sentences. "Shower'll help."

"Yes, and the paracetamol," Kano tipped his cup and drank down the rest of his coffee before searching out the medicine and presenting it to Dylan. "I'm calling Loki to see if he'll bring me a change of clothes," he told Dylan, "but first let me make sure you can stand on your own."

"I'm fine," Dylan stood carefully though. He took a moment to balance himself properly, but he seemed good enough.

Kano nodded, "Can I use your shower when you're done?"

Dylan nodded and his whole body tilted forward and back. Kano reached out a steadying hand. "I'm fine," Dylan insisted and Kano withdrew his hand with a smile.

"I know, go on. You have us on a tight schedule." The smile was gone in an instant. There was something about being around Dylan that just made Kano happy. His cell phone was still in his pocket, although the charge was low. He called Loki quickly, hoping the charge would hold out long enough to get his request out.
A Non-Existent User
I couldn’t help but wonder if the frown on my face might crease my forehead permanently. Even paler than usual no doubt, eyes dark with smudged eyeliner, with aching bruises, a pounding head and queasy stomach, I didn’t feel good and wasn’t intending to look it. I stomped through the streets wondering why the hell I’d bothered getting up, and what could’ve possibly compelled me to set all those damn alarms. Though I knew beneath the storming temper I couldn’t afford to miss more lectures, having enough to catch up on already. I had to start taking work seriously.

My spirits lifted slightly with surprise when I found Lee in the class, greeting me amongst the sea of faces with his customary grin.

“Whoa, that’s some black eye!” He gasped as I sat down.

“Don’t ask. You in my class?”

“Yeah, I’m gatecrashing. Nice hoodie” Lee grinned wider, pulling at the material of the huge dark jumper I’d thrown over the slept in t-shirt and faded jeans. He got a groan in reply, as I slumped onto the desk and pulled the hood around my head.

“Look lively” he poked, and lifting my head from my arms I saw the teacher walk in. With more grumbling I tried to look reasonably attentive, and a few minutes into the lecture Lee slid some paracetamol and polos over to me. Cos your breath stinks he wrote when I pointed at the polos. Fuck you I scrawled in reply, resisting the smirk that twitched at the corner of my mouth. And then, because he was being cheeky, bet you had some fun with Mel last night. He leant over to read the note, then blushed violently and scowled with indignation.

“Oh you did” I grinned wickedly under my breath, but he just shook his head slightly and looked rather upset. Popping the confectionery in my mouth, I began to slowly recall all the things he had told me the night before.

“I just… don’t really get what to do from here” he whispered. “I like being with her so much, and talking to her, and being with her-”

“You said that one already” Lee grimaced at my bored voice. For all the talking we did last night (that I could remember), I’d have thought he’d come to some conclusion. But clearly, as simple as it may seem to me, it wasn’t for him.

“What’s stopping you? She likes you, Lee. She does” I repeated when I saw the doubt cross his face. “And she likes you as you are. Bloody hell, it’s so obvious -”

“Mr Forest. Be quiet” I glanced up and stared at the teacher in surprise. Yesterday the man had seemed laid back, liberal. It was a bit out of order for him to pinpoint me like that. Exchanging a glance with the Japanese boy next to me we dutifully returned to our notes.

“Look, if you’re gonna be such a wimp about this then I’ll help you out okay? I’ll tell you what to take her to at the movies, or something” I hissed.

“Mr Forest! See me after the lesson.” Easy features and a light smile smothered the snap behind the man’s voice, and for the second time in two days I found the class looking at me, and myself worrying what sort of mess I was in. This place was my last chance, the teacher knew that, and yet he was making me out to be some kind of delinquent. I was in a royally bad mood by the time everyone was packing away.

“I promised to meet up with Mel after this, so I can’t wait. Are you going to come find us at L’Ouragon?” Lee asked as he leant in the doorway, the last to leave.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” I shrugged nonchalantly, not really wanting to play third wheel without the others around. With a parting grin and a comic wave he walked away down the corridor. Turning back I was confronted with a scowl, marring the usually amicable face of the teacher.

“Close the door” he sighed. I kicked the door closed and walked to the desk, headache, exhaustion and sheer injustice making me impetuous.

“I thought you explained yesterday that you really mean to work hard at this” he demanded, sudden anger simmering as he planted his hand on the desk in front of me. Unnecessarily hard.

“I do” I replied grumpily, meeting his glare beneath the protective veil of black and white “and I don’t want to cause trouble. My friend’s just having a bit of difficulty -”

“Is your friend going to get you through university?” he cut me off swiftly, placing a large hand on my shoulder and shaking me, leaning forwards and biting the words intensely.

“Yeah, well…” I tried to shrug his hand off, uneasy at the sudden change in character. Undeterred, he placed a hand on the other shoulder and stepped forwards till I was backed into the table. There was a long pause, his head leaning down inexplicably close, breathing hard into my ear, then his hand was moving slowly down my back.

“You know what, I have people waiting for me” I said, wondering why my voice was suddenly shrill, lifting one palm to push the man away and the other to push my godforsaken hair out of my eyes. I was snapped back by the arm then, his large hand closed over my small wrist, and the instinct to lash out was barely contained by all the trouble I’d get in.

“Look now, fuck off okay” I said, surprised at how alien my voice sounded, surprised at the surreal situation in which I’d swear at a teacher.

“Or what” he growled, stepping forwards, and I sidestepped sideways along the table, and he moved forwards again, hand still tight round my wrist, and we were in some silly sort of tango or waltz or whatever that dance is, except the song was ending because he was getting closer and with a wild glance over my shoulder I realised I was practically up against the wall. I slipped my free hand into the back pocket of my jeans. Shaken by the events of the night before, I’d shoved a penknife in there before I left the flat. Just in case.

Ringing footsteps echoed down the empty corridor and the man sprang away from me, a sudden transformation coming over his face, reverting back to the form I had not noticed it leave. Picking up some sheets from the desk, he lent casually against it and shuffled them. Leaving one hand rested around the knife, I placed my other hand in the other butt pocket and stood casually. A knock on the door, and the teacher called for the person to enter.

“Hi” Isaac said tentatively, walking in and breaking the strange tension “sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to ask Nao if she’s going to L’Ouragon any time soon”

I smirked slightly at the barely discernable look of surprise that passed the teacher’s face, eyes swiftly glancing to me and back.

“Yeah sure, this is pretty much wrapped up I think?” I looked at the teacher and he smiled richly, a deceptive warmth enveloping him.

“So long as we understand each other. It will be difficult enough for you to catch up, without talking through lectures. Don’t hesitate to come to me if you need any help.”

And with a nod I turned to Isaac, some kind of well-dressed guardian angel, and left that twisted surreal place. Though as we walked away down the corridor in an unsure silence, I could feel the tendrils still clinging to me, lapping at my heels, making the hair at the back of my neck stand on end.


Lee felt bad for Nao. He hadn't meant to cotch in on her space only to bring that teacher down on her head. He'd head that the guy was meant to be one of the most lenient teacher about. Obviously that was a false rumour... or he just didn't like Nao... Sighing, he looked at the scrap of paper with all the notes and ideas that he was meant to be taking into account for what he supposed the androgynous new girl would call 'date' with Mel... He shivered. Though mainly because he didn't know if he wanted to risk her scorn. She'd seemed fine with him taking her out for a late night coffee and walking her home but officially asking someone out on a date... that had to be something a little bit more important surely?

"Hello Mel, I was just wondering if you might like to accompany me to the cinema and then out for a meal?" He tried the words out and scowled. He sounded like a bad British film actor who was trying overly zealously to be 'proper' in his approach.

"Hi, Mel, wanna come to the cinema? Just you and me?" And that sounded like he was trying to 'get into her pants' as-it-were....

"Mel I was just wondering what you were- GAH!" A hand had dropped onto his arm. Low and behold the figure of his affections. Oh god even in his head it was as if Jane Austen had taken over! "uuuhh um h-hello!" He finally forced out far to quickly, words splurging everywhere now he had acknowledged the way he was feeling.

"Hey..." She looked at him strangely, her smile faultering, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah. Yeah of course! I was just... um... looking for... looking for y- my comb. Yeah... my comb. I had it a second ago but it's vanished and-"

"Your. Comb?" Her eyes filled with disbelief and he was sure she was about to shriek at him for some reason then her face split into a sunshine smile, traditional beauty making her lips seem like roses, her cheeks stained with berry, her eyes sparkle. Oh fuck he'd resorted to cliches. He wanted to gag at the voice in his brain but he was encompassed by the little things about her laughter.

"So..." She had stopped laughing but smiling still, "We need to find your comb. Where did you last have it?"

"I dont know..." He tried to sound suitably mournful and disparaged.

"Then we'll go on a quest for it! And if we dont find it then we can go to a co-op and get you a new one or something." She took his hand, "Come on!"

He crossed his fingers and smiled, vowing to himself that he'd ask her out by the time they found a comb...

Mel: Looking at Lee's messy, I-just-got-out-of-bed-right-this-second hair do, I knew he didn't need a comb. But perhaps it was just a lucky thing he kept on him, cos lets face it, his hair style changes every day!

I tucked my arm into his and rummaged through his pocket. "Nope, no comb there." I tried a beguiling smile up into his face but I'm not sure I managed it... you see, he coughed and looked away. Disappointed, I let go of him and brushed the hair out of my eyes.

Last night had been so great, I was so full of hope for today. But while he'd seemed pleased to see me, he wouldn't even look me in the eye. Was I completely imagining that he had been flirting with me? I should have kissed him at my front door, I knew it! But I was so nervous, he's just a boy, would it be so inappropriate of me?

"You know, I have a comb, if you want it."

He looked suprised, and if truth be told, not as excited as I'd hoped. Silly Mel... it's just a comb!

"You do? Great!" He smiled, flushing a little, and I thought for the millionth time just how cute he was.

"Sure." I rummaged in my bag for my tiny blue weapon against tangles. "Here. Have it, I've got several at home."

"You do?" He was looking blankly at me. Shupt up, Mel!

"Sure," my mouth said."I'm alwyas nicking them from the makeup stand at shoots, they egt annoyed but they're good quality..." I trailed off.

The silence was tanglible, even though the chatter of millions of students surrounding us should have drowned it out.

"So.." he eventually started as we left the building. The pause was a long one and my heart started to pump - was he going to...? "Are you and Rory going to do that chat show thingy?"

No. He wasn't

"I don't know, we haven't discussed it," I told him lightly. I'd mentioned it to him last night, but truthfully I was wishing I hadn't. He blatantly thought I was a freak.

"Well you can now, she'll be at L’Ouragon I'm sure." His fingers found mine and squeezed. Thank God I thought to myself. It's going to be ok.

I made sure to flash my teeth as I smiled up at him. "Yeah, maybe."





Dylan frowned into his reflection as he had so many other times before. He felt strange, almost giddy on his feet. He had Kano. Here. In his apartment. Even if it was just by luck… If he hadn't felt the music or drunk enough or… As the coffee took effect he was growing rational again. If he hadn't been able to forget… He shivered, his thoughts drawn back to dark, insidious irises ringed with sodomite lust. Inside he felt shame. His face was paler than usual in the spider-cracked mirror he so loved, eyes ringed. He was naked from his waist up, investigating bruises that were finally fading from English lecture desks and cruel fingers... Kano hadn't hurt him at all. That he even thought that he might have made his stomach quiver. Kano would never do anything like that, he was certain of that…

Shaking his head he looked at his hair, the lightness of his skin, the blueness of his eyes. He didn't want to be this dark persona anymore. He wanted to be happy again. Like he had been before things were complicated. He looked at his bare shoulders and the few battle scars that crossed his chest looking white in the dim lighting and then turning to the shower stall with a curious weight in his stomach that reminded him, scarily, of the moment he left home, leaving behind his family.

The roar of water as it splattered down in fragmented glitter made him smile and he turned the temperature down until it was almost unbearably cold, relishing the way the water still poured down around him like rain, cascading over his shoulders and washing away the dregs of last nights madness and the self loathing he was growing to recognise within him. It wasn't fair on Kano that he felt this way, he had always wanted to be held the way the other man held him, cared for in a way he'd always had restricted from him. He sank back into the moment in his mind, trying desperately to shy away from all the thoughts he had of repeated ra- He whimpered and lent against the wall. Opened his eyes so all he could look at was the falling water.

*

They finally reached Gelabert's about thirty minutes later than they had intended but Rory it seemed had been more than intuitive about the whole thing because as they stepped out of their cab so did she and Loki, who having dropped off Kano's things had dashed across to the twiggy model's to pick her up. Dylan frowned to himself but then shook his head, whatever the reason, he was such Rory would tell him if there was anything important for him to know.

"Hey, I'm sorry you landed the job of looking after my wayward cousin." She seemed to saunter as she walked today, bright blue shoes sparkling in the light as she moved, a puddle caught the reflection, becoming a Caribbean ocean for a brief moment between the grey folds of tarmac.

Kano let out a short laugh as Dylan's cheeks suffused with embarrassment, "Considering how good last night was I'm sure I could put up with him like this more often."

That sounded so wrong.

They turned up the stairs, Rory inadvertently leading them through the doors and towards their destination. Dylan walked on the far side of Loki and Rory, missing the warmth he'd been surrounded by before though also feeling relieved at the space put between them. He'd liked Kano for so long and yet even now the thought of… of anything made him flinch away and shake.

The air in the gallery was light, as if it had been made fluffy… It tasted of nothing, a strange dryness seeming to be breathed in as they walked the elegantly furnished hallways lined with portraitures and landscapes. It was almost sterile… or it would have been if not for the murmurs of art students breaking the silence of the place. It was a palace of antiquity, a barely there magic seeming to stream through the rooms yet also threaded by the modernity of the newer pieces, the newness of refurbishment. Dylan couldn't tell if he liked the place or not… It put him on edge, making him want to relax but not feel comfortable doing so. Rory and Loki and Kano were talking but he closed himself inwards and blamed his hangover for the mood, knowing only one of three would be able to see that he was more than just suffering a golden poison.

"I don't know if you'll like her art to be honest with you. It's all very dark though often sexual too but realistic. You often feel like a voyeur when looking at them because… well… they seem so real and yet the macabre elements and sexuality seems so overt that reality becomes incredibly bitter." Rory was babbling, excited about the exhibition, she and the artist were occasional friends, often having paired up for figure work and other things, "What do you think Dylan?"

Her voice was bright, perhaps more so than usual, and he briefly wondered if it was on purpose to spite him, "I've not seen as much of her work in the past but it often feels very tangible, as if you could step into that world and be part of it but… I think there's often a feeling of guilt or anxiety left within the onlooker. There's no sense of catharsis… it's as if you've become part of some cruel, illicit plot which… you have… no control over…"

Rory looked at him strangely but then bounced back into art-excitement-mode. Dylan stole a glance at Kano, remembering the look that had been shot his way as he had stepped out of the bathroom to tell his friend that the shower was free. The mixture of desire and curiousity had flickered over the blue eyes and then it was as if they were dispelled with a smile and a nod and a quick word saying that Loki was dropping some clothes off for him. He smirked, that had almost been a relief as he tried to imagine Kano: broader, taller Kano, fitting into his girl sized jeans and skinny fit shirts.

They made a left then on into the art of Jan Vandel, the strange girl who hunched herself like a child into such small spaces that you feared she'd be unable to breath… A hush had fallen over the four of them, as if stepping into this space had ensnared them into a state of espionage and secrecy. Rory immediately headed off towards a large, rouge painting of a policeman looking down over the city from a rooftop, cigarette in hand. Dylan watched Loki trail after her having glanced with a strange uncertainty at Kano.

Dylan didn't want to know if Kano was going to follow him or Loki, he felt drawn towards some of the smaller paintings. It was a set of fifteen '18cm by 18cm' canvases, laid out in the gaps between larger portraits. They were paintings of various people in various situations, each one looked in upon from around the edge of a door frame, as if you had peeped inside of a secret liaison. On first glance it seemed romantic, the forms of people as they clutched at one another, cradled each other, moved towards each other. Yet after the initial reaction, reality set in. Dark greys, umbers, ochreous browns and dusty reds, black tinted the shadows and bright colours were only in the form of clothes. The fall of light always showed the struggle between partners, the dominant seeming to snare the light and obscure the other's face as suddenly the sliver of red around a hugging hand revealed the clawing nails and the movement towards the shaded shadow became angry with the addition of a middle-ground fist, half hidden by a twisted body. Dylan shivered. It scared him.

As he moved along the series he took in her more beautiful paintings, the purple and violet swirls flowering along images of secret kisses caught in between the green protection of a bush. Or the indigos blending into turquoise as a young man offered a hand towards another who had fallen on a playing field. He felt warmed by them even if Rory would have shaken her head at his lack of awareness when it came to what he had heard her call 'subconcious carnal lust'. He suspected it was something Mel had told her before.

He glanced on to the next. He stopped. Transfixed by a gaze, perfectly recreated, lazy and satisfied, lodged in brown eyes that he had tried so hard to ignore. His mask broke and his eyes roved wildly over the depiction. Only part of the man's face was visible. It wasn't the same face but the eyes were… The smile… his hand was lifted to his lips, knuckled bruised, his smiled with a prideful contentment of a cat … that was the smile… and in the background, only just noticeable was a slumped form, curled downwards, arm raised across a face as if trying to block out reality. Dylan let out a small whimper, almost a squeak and turned away, desperate to escape those eyes…

"Dylan?"

He heard someone call his name, suitably soft in the undeniable prickling quiet. He didn't stop, couldn't and wouldn't. It wasn't Kano whose arms encircled him in his mind now. It wasn't any sort of desire that made his heart speed. It wasn't happiness that made him draw in a trembling gasp and choke on the air. He remembered nightmares when all he'd hear were footsteps behind him, feel hands and their fingers pulling at his skin, bruises, know the grunts and groans in his ear as they flooded through his frozen mind. None of his limbs worked properly, he couldn't cry out. Things which had started as merely uncomfortable had become rough and painful and tortured him with the loathing of the past and the agonising over the future. He felt sick and sore and shaky.

Dashing through the rooms he found himself in the toilets, throwing himself inside the first free cubicle he could find and retching into the basin out of horror more than anything else. The face hadn't been the same, the jaw had been too square and his chin too long and his forehead higher and shorter but those eyes were unmistakeable. They raped him over and over.

He curled up, foetal on the floor by the loo and shook, tears threatening to fall but not allowed in his sobriety. He was not going to cry. He was going to 'get over it' and go back there. He just had to calm down and… and… a half gurgled gulp of air tore at his throat and he bent over the basin again, wishing he had a toothbrush and toothpaste. He had polo mints. They'd have to do until he could escape.

God, he was a mess… And he longed to be able to nuzzle himself into someone's arms as he went through the turmoil of his brain. Only problem was that the mere thought now made him shatter into the tears he'd been holding back as if a mirror had been smashed and the shards were cutting down his face.
I was changing my shoes.

My eyelids were heavy, the lashes made of lead as if they were being tugged downwards by gravity until my vision was limited to a blurred slit of violent violets. I swayed with the current of colours as I registered the streak of black, the noise interrupting the dry, heavy air of the gallery. As if oblivious to the terrified motions of Dylan, the other people stayed as they were. Restlessly gathered in clusters as if they were bees, they hummed as they gazed at the pictures, eyes critical to proportion and colour as they examined the canvases on the peeling buttermilk walls of the old warehouse. Behind me, the rhythm was making Loki restless, the colours of the paintings charging his fingers as they began to unconsciously tap onto his jeans, worn through where his fingers idly brushed against the threadbare twill. The dull yellow ache of hunger pulsated in the hollow of my chest in a chaotic rhythm, my sinuses pulled taught like the string of a violin and my skin stretched tightly under the caked remnants of stage makeup. Despite this, the anarchic reactions of my body seemed, to my sleep-addled mind, methodologically arranged and dismissible.

In an effort to judge the situation, I followed the path of my white 4-inch heels across the gallery, the white straps zigzagging across my feet till they reached a thick band of supple leather at my ankle, cool gold buckles resting flat against the curves of bone. The rubber tips of the stiletto muffled the clicks on the cool wood as the straps bit into the bare skin of my foot, the geometric forms and triangular cut outs exposing my flesh to the cold of the air con. I let my hand drop past the cuffed white shorts, purple nails glistening at me as they balanced the blue shoes on their tips like fairy lights from a wire. Reaching into the purple folds of my bag, I allowed the pads of my fingers to graze the contents, coming to rest on the worn plastic casing of my painkillers, the heels now stabbing into my hand. The label was well worn, faded in the sunlight until the colours had bled into each other and all warnings and directions had balefully receded from their half-hearted attempts to rule the dosage. Excedrin… Ibroprufen…. It was all the same to me. The faded scratches and dents of the vivid green plastic called for me to take six.

I came to rest in front of the painting that had spooked Dylan like a shy horse from the inexplicably terrifying corner of the dressage arena. There was something familiar about the face, the eyes burning into me as if I would have recognised them instantly before. There was something that disturbed me about them, as if my drugged senses were lethargically reminding me of someone that was utterly to be avoided. Over the sound of buzzing came the heavy footfalls of Kano, his pace quickening, their purposefulness ringing out over the hum as he followed Dylan’s trail into the loo.

A voice came into my ear. “You gonna just leave him?” That shut me up. My mind snapped out of its lethargy, and I span around. It was Loki, I realised, breathlessly turning around to catch his eye. The expression of curiosity was written onto his face, carved into his features with an honesty that almost took you aback. And yet, looking deep into his eyes was unsettling, as though they reflected all of the worldly qualities that every other person in the room possessed. It was such a cruel reflection that, in that moment, I wondered what it would be like to be burned alive along your nerves as you sat in the execution chair of Plath and Byron, surveying your flaws and faults. I shuddered unconsciously, and shook my head.

“I guess he’s family.”

I winced at the reluctance in my voice, turning the headlights of my gaze in onto myself. The cathedral ceilings of the gallery seemed to close in on me. Again, a wave of cold overtook me as I shuddered, pulling on the lapels of my white waistcoat, the silk and buttons brushing against my arm. I was supposed to be having the time of my life, yet here I was, wrestling with a wolf headed eel as the weeds grew up around me, their flower heads leering red and brown tangles filled with grotesque hybrids of lions and vultures and lizards and people.

I broke the gaze, reaching for his wrist and pulling him along with me. It was comforting, the contact of skin. I would need it to face Dylan in this level of rationality.
A Non-Existent User
I was tapping my foot. It only made the silence around the table more awkward, but I did it anyway. The atmosphere was so tense that everyone jumped when Isaac’s phone rang, and he seemed rather relieved to have an excuse to go outside. Which left me, Lee and Mel.

“So…” Lee and Mel said in unison, and then there was the customary flurry of apologies and ‘no, you go’s. I was sick of being around them, but the looks Lee gave me begged support. I just glared back at him. Then again, even being in such an uncomfortable situation was better than being on my own. I needed the solitude only found in company. Who was it who said something along those lines? Oh yeah – Austen. Can’t stand her books. My foot was still tapping.

“Hey, sorry about English. I didn’t think that teacher would get so pissed off, but I guess... What happened after the lesson?”

My foot didn’t even miss a beat as I looked up at Lee.

I nearly stabbed the teacher.

“He told me I shouldn’t mess about and need to work harder if I want to catch up. Typical, right? They always give you the same.”

Lee and Mel agreed, then laughed as Mel recounted some story, but my mind was already back in its little box of monsters. The drama was far more intense there. Anger raged against The Coward, Complacency held its own as it was battered by Righteousness and Instinct. Fear cowered unbidden in the corner, The Cynic was having a field-day and deep, deep down in the cold, frozen depths, a manic, hysterical laughter rattled against its chains.

“Wha~t an overreaction” I agreed as I stood next to The Cynic surveying the scene.

“They’re always like this” she drawled, “But the question is, what are you going to do?”

“I’ll just see who wins” I replied.

“Where’s Dylan?” I asked out loud, remembering that I hadn’t seen him in the lesson. In fact, it was about lunchtime, but considering who I'd met the day before there seemed to be five people missing.

“He’s at an art exhibition with Rory, and I think Loki and Kano went too. They should have been back a while ago” Mel answered. But even as I listened my thoughts backtracked and lingered on the question. Something was muddling my brain. Snippets of thought placed themselves one after another in my head like dominoes. Some grand design implied itself, but a veil had been carefully draped over it. All that came to mind was a caped man in a Fauxian mask from a comic I’d read as a child.

Still my head buzzed. There was something I’d overlooked, something we’d all overlooked. “Where’s Dylan?” A door was thrown open in my mind, and there stood a pale boy in tight jeans, with electric blue streaks through his hair. The frames shifted, and he was dancing through a chess-board corridor with an angry teacher that smiled like the Cheshire cat. It was not impossible, it was just improbable, drawled a drugged up caterpillar. And Dylan had been so very keen to get me away from that classroom. Like a late rabbit on speed. Or maybe a March Hare. He dressed fancily enough.

Maddened by the childlike madness of my mind, and all the inconsequential mental ramblings, I bit into the knuckle I’d been chewing.

“- something wrong? Nao?” Mel and Lee looked worried. As a metallic taste seeped into my mouth I released my hand, surprised to see a trickle of blood on my skin.

“Maybe… we should go find them” I mumbled.
Kano had mostly been looking at the art, the rhythm around him forming a background for the melody that began to rise from somewhere deep inside him. He listened attentively to it, unconsciously fingering the small notebook he often scribbled such snippets into. His eyes went to Loki. Loki was hearing music too, he could tell. Then they drifted to Dylan whose eyes seemed to be caught in those of another man. The man in the painting seemed smug, the feel of it adding to the dark tone of the music in his head. Then Dylan made the strangest sound and rushed away from the painting.

"Dylan?" Kano hadn't expected Dylan to stop. The look in his eyes was sheer panic, horror and intense pain. There'd also been guilt, anger, hatred, so many emotions reflected so strongly in that moment. Kano followed Dylan, though he went slowly allowing Dylan to take the lead. He had a feeling if he arrived at Dylan's side too quickly it would be impossible to get through to him at all. He heard Dylan before he saw him again. Gently he opened the door and stepped inside. He knew immediately that Dylan had been vomiting. The sickly scent was noticeable even from the door. "Dylan?"

The sound, half whimper, half sob led Kano's eyes to the nearest cubicle. The door hung open by a couple inches and Dylan was curled up on the cold tile floor in a tight ball. Kano opened the door further and moved toward Dylan, but when he tried to reach out to touch him Dylan seemed to sense his hand. He winced away as if Kano was threatening him in some way. Kano shook his head. What was going on? Last night, granted Dylan had been drunk, still he'd leaned into Kano's every touch. Now, he was like a rape victim confronting his first attempt at a relationship after. Yet between last night and now there was no way Dylan had been raped.

Kano stared at Dylan for a moment as realization began to set in. At some point Dylan had been raped. It had to be true. Did Rory know about it? When had it happened? Kano shook his head. What was important right now was that he somehow help Dylan. Whatever had caused this would have to be left until later. He knelt near Dylan, but moved his hand away completely.

"Dylan, I want to help you but I can't if you won't let me," Kano reasoned very softly in almost a whisper. "Can I get you anything?"

Dylan shook his head. He was still curled up but he seemed to be calming just a bit.

"Do you want me to stay with you?"

Kano immediately noticed the tightening of Dylan's shoulders. Had he ever seen Dylan cry? No, Dylan didn't cry at all costs. He refused. Kano took a deep breath his stomach tightening. He was probably making things much worse by being here to see this.

"Do you want me to wait outside?"

Dylan nodded, but Kano thought it seemed a reluctant nod. He hesitated, then shook his head.

"Then I will." Kano stood slowly and moved out of the cubicle. He glanced back. Dylan was peering at him now, having somehow managed to uncurl himself. Their eyes caught and Kano took one last chance. He offered Dylan his hand to help him up. Dylan reached out and froze before their hands touched. He could see a war occurring in Dylan's eyes. Kano had no way of controlling that war. He had no way of altering it's outcome. He waited and finally Dylan stood without his help, wiping at the tears left on his face with a violence unbefitting of the gesture. Kano nodded and slipped out of the room, nearly walking into Rory and Loki.

"I think he'll be out in a moment," he told them softly, assuming the reason for their presence. Then even more softly he said to Rory, "He was crying."

"Dylan?" Rory was obviously in complete shock. "He's drunk," she said as if it was a certainty.

Kano shook his head, "Still hungover maybe." He could see that Rory didn't really believe him. So it wasn't just him. Dylan really didn't ever cry, at least not sober, but this time he had. Kano took a deep breath and let it out slowly. How was he supposed to handle that? In fact, what had he just been doing? He looked at the door feeling very awkward all of a sudden. Had he made things worse? Would Dylan hate him? 'Dylan won't hate me,' he told himself internally, 'of course he won't.'

Still Kano didn't feel certain because when it came to relationships he really didn't have a clue. He'd been acting on instinct alone and it had been okay so far but eventually wasn't he bound to make a mistake? The door opened and he moved to the side as Dylan came out. He looked very much like he was trying to look normal. He might have pulled it off if his skin hadn't been Chalk white and his hands hadn't been trembling. Dylan stuffed his hands into his pockets quickly.

"Is something wrong?" Dylan asked and Kano's eyes met Rory's. He wondered if she was going to let her cousin get away with acting like nothing had happened. In that moment Kano realized that Rory was not doing all that well herself. He wondered what was going on with her and his eyes met Loki's as Rory turned her own eyes on Dylan.
((OOC: Didja miss me? *grin*))

I caught Kano's eyes and blinked a few times. This strange thing that had been going on was beginning to leave me very confused. Sometimes Rory seemed so intelligent, aware and real, and sometimes she seemed just as strange as me. Then there was Dylan. He was bizarre, like someone who desperately needed something but wasn't sure what it was and even if it came right up to him and started hitting him over the head, he'd ignore it.

"There isn't anything wrong if you're alright," I said into the tense silence. Dylan looked at me and shrugged.

"Are you fine Dylan?" Rory asked, her voice clipped and almost annoyed. Dylan turned to her and nodded.

"I'm fine," he said and Kano sighed. He turned to Kano, and blushed slightly, the edges of his cheeks turning a light pink.

"No you aren't Dylan," Rory said, putting a hand on her hip. "Your eyes look bloodshot and red. You ran out of the exhibit like you were ill. Did you leave part of last nights drinks in the stall?" Dylan was beginning to remind me of those internet games where your character's head would turn when you clicked on something, as he turned to Rory next.

"I said I was fine," his voice was defensive and he shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.

"Then we're alright. Are we going back to that exhibit or are we visiting something else?" I asked, trying to turn the conversation away from what was obviously a difficult path. Dylan looked at me now, shivered, started to shake, and shook his head.

"No, I don't want to go back there," he mumbled, turning his eyes on his shoes.

"Why not Dylan, you knew about her kind of work before you agreed to come and see them. You haven't even gotten through them all," Rory seemed to be pushing him, and Kano took a small step closer to Dylan, as I moved closer to Rory.

"I think he and Kano would be alright moving off somewhere else, don't you Rory?" I said, taking her hand. I hoped that was alright, taking her hand and all. She turned to me, almost in anger mode, but not quite there. She stared into my eyes, and we were locked for a few, long, moments. Then she seemed to relax and she nodded.

"Right, sorry," she said, sighing, almost falling deeper into herself. "Go on Dylan, have fun with Kano, do whatever you want to. I'm going back to the exhibit with Loki." She turned, clenching my hand in hers and started dragging me off. I turned a grin and wink back to Kano, and he thanked me with his eyes as he turned to Dylan, saying something low to him.

Rory dragged me back to the exhibit and started talking exuberantly about everything that was up on the wall. I thought some of them struck me a touch too close to home in their anxiety and couldn't look at them too long, but she seemed to really get into them, so I continued to show her my appreciation for the work. Honestly, anyone who could get that close to those emotions and not go insane was amazing in my book, I thought the girl was incredible.

Hours later, we were sitting on a bench in one of the random halls, I was lost so I hoped Rory knew how to get out of here, and she leaned lightly against me. "What do you think of Dylan?" she asked me. I turned to her and blinked.

"In what context?" I returned. She sighed.

"You know, like, what do you think of him? His strange attitudes and moods, and his inability to behave in normal society."

"Can you really ask me that question? I think he's doing a much better job of it than I do. I mean, at least he's attached to his emotions, mine are just cut off." The words were out of my mouth before I realized they were there, and I blinked a few times to clear my mind. Where the hell had that come from. Rory however, was nodding.

"But that's still not all right. He's still not okay to just be like that. He needs something to make him better. Maybe a shrink..." she trailed off as she thought about that.

"I wouldn't see one," I said, and she looked at me.

"I've been to one," her voice was flat. I shrugged.

"No one can understand me anyway, so I don't bother trying to get help. I can function, and I'm alright, so..." I shook my head, and grinned. "I'm really just a lovable guy, it's hard to get too close to the lovable ones." She seemed to be trying to look as deeply into my eyes as was possible. I shrugged and lightly touched the top of her head.

"You're in there, somewhere," she mumbled, and then looked down. "I think I'm tired."

"Do you want to go somewhere else? I could take you back home?" She shook her head.

"Just let me stay here for a moment, alright?" I nodded.

"Stay as long as you'd like." She chuckled.

"Don't make me hold you to that."

"Do you mind if… we just… go outside for a moment…? I just… really need a meal…" Dylan hung his head as he spoke, letting Kano lead him gently by his elbow. He wasn't sure if he liked this gentleness… it made him feel safe and he wasn't. Because it made him also feel fragile. And never had he been fragile. He'd had to be independent with a family like his own, he couldn't allow himself to be walked all over or hurt or breakable because if he had, he wouldn't have made it through. He could be out of control, it was true. It was deceptive. He wondered if Kano had figured it out… And then he couldn't help but feel the cobwebs of dread clutch tighter. Did Jan know about him and that man?

"Meal? You're hungry?" Kano looked at him oddly, the slight twitch of an eyebrow making him momentarily seem sceptical before the impasse of his usual expression returned.

"No!" Dylan half chuckled. The bitter taste left in the back of his throat tickled and he let the sound drop into the wake of shuffling feet and leading steps, "It's a phrase we used at school… you know so teachers didn’t know we smoked… I guess it stuck."

"Ah." Kano's walking paused as they walked through the corridors of the gallery and he discovered that there was a minimap of the building, telling them the way out. He guessed that was useful, he'd lost track of where they were… maybe Kano had too…

"I used to think people who smoked were such idiots." Dylan added, not knowing why he did so even as he spoke, "But it's surprisingly untrue… It actually makes you calm down somewhat…" He grinned ruefully and realised that Kano was acquiescing to his request even as they spoke, "I guess all addicts say that though, huh? Defend their vice by saying it's actually beneficial?"

He thought about what he had said, knowing that the cogs of Kano's brain were whirring because of the way his fingers on his hand curled and uncurled like spiders playing a minuet. Shivering, he realised that in many ways that was the excuse fed to him by the professor. He lowered his eyes, once again realising his state of griminess. He was like a thick, stagnant smog in the perfectly elegant, unpolluted room. Something ugly and unwanted in the midst of refinement and ability. Why the hell was Kano bothering with him? Why would he have ever wanted to touch him? He remembered all those times… all those moments when he'd genuinely thought that the other man could see past the broken parts of his tainted world and save him… like at Coney Island when he'd been lifted from the chaos as if nothing would ever hurt him again… and when Rory went into the coma and he went to class because her mother turned up and then he'd left almost worse than before and Kano had found him in the rain…

"Dylan? Still with me?" Kano's voice had always been able to draw him back to reality. Like the first time they met. He shook his head from his reverie of moments and tried to smile. The blue eyes of his… friend, had darkened, almost navy around the pupil as he looked up. Worry? Concern? Thought? Or maybe just the lighting…? He had stopped on the edge of the threshold to freedom as Kano opened the door for him and the other's face was cast half in gloom and half in the crisp light of a dully bright afternoon.

"Yeah. Sorry." He nodded, a little too vehemently to be believable and stepped out into the air. A wind had picked up and it plucked at his clothes with curious fingers, tendrils of heartless silk coiling round them. He glanced at Kano who had once again fallen into stride as they walked the few stairs down to the pavement. The cooler chilled his still damp skin, like the kiss of a corpse, numbing and icy, "Thank you." The mumble was as sincere as he could manage as he hurriedly fumbled in his pockets for a Marlborough salvation and a lighter. The latter he found and placed between his teeth whilst he rummaged deeper for the packet of cigarettes he'd somehow mis-stowed on his person. Finally he had one, its skinny cylinder calming him just by being in his hand… This addiction was as much psychological as anything else. One, two, the lighter clicked and squeaked as he tried to make the little plastic contraption come to life but his hands were shaking still and he felt frustration rising up in him as the stick in his mouth sat untouched. Sighing, he leant back against a low rise wall and waited a moment for his hands to settle before trying again and succeeding.

The first inhalation was a poisonous heaven, a drought of composure as he drew it in, deep into his lungs and held as he refused to breathe. The smoke was going to smother him and drown him and disguise the rest of his ugliness with its own. They had a good relationship… his cigarettes and him… both used to fill in for some unhappy hole in someone else. The lack of air came back to haunt him and he blew the cloud out through his nose like a kettle letting out steam as it simmered over the hob.

"I'm sorry you had to see me like that." He muttered as the silence teetered on the verge of awkward.

Kano's response was immediate, "Don't apologise." His manner was slightly more gruff than he was used to and he found himself looking his friend over. He took in the almost stoic face, the frowning dents in his eyebrows, the twitch in his fingers, the way his feet were set apart as if a cat ready to defend his territory… Dylan memorised it, whirring images sorting themselves in his mind until, "I'm sorry for what you're going through."

Like a sudden onslaught of pneumonia, he felt his body both heat up and dramatically freeze. It was as if his skin was burning but his muscles had been attacked by Boreas. Or as if a Thracian wind had tackled him to the burning grounds of the Sahara Desert in the dead of night, this peculiar sensation split him apart.

"And what might that be?" Dylan's arms curled protectively about his chest and stomach, holding himself and almost forgetting his cigarette as he went on the defensive. Anything that was said, he had to deny. He had no choice. He had to protect himself… He had to protect Nao too now…

Kano's eyes hardened as they turned to him, "Don't pretend to be stupid, Dylan, you're not."

"I don’t understand."

Kano sighed, a barely-there- exhalation of air, "Really?"

"I don't know what you're trying to imply."

"Who said I was trying to imply anything?"

"You did. By asking these questions."

Piano hands, that had hypnotised him with their playing, captivated him with their touch… He now flinched away from them before he could rationalise the reaction. He couldn't bare it right now…

"That's what I'm talking about, Dylan."

He didn't want to deal with any of this. "You don't know anything about it."

Kano's face betrayed nothing as he stared at him. He could feel his hands trembling again and he quickly took another drag before curling back up. He was beginning to feel ill again, verging on tearful but there was no chance of that ever happening again. He would never let Kano see him like that after this. He needed to stop being such a mess and pull himself together. It was easier said than done.

Once upon a time… Cael had told him that everything that ever occurred, after the first time, it began to stop feeling strange and painful. But that wasn't true. Things stung on forever, particularly when you feared the same thing happening again and again. Knowing in advance was almost worse than anything else…

"Really?" The tone was so soft it became deadly, almost… almost… frightening coming from the emotionless façade.

"Don't do this, Kano… Not here. Not now." He heard the plea leave his lips, a broken whisper, as he turned his head away.

And he refused to meet the other set of blue eyes even as he felt two fingers tip his chin back to face them. The silence that now hung was stiff and brittle, like ancient bones unearthed in a labyrinth. It stretched, elastic on the brink of reaching its limit.

"DYLAN!!!"

Lee and Mel and Nao… His eyes snapped to them even as his stomach churned in fear. What were they doing here? Nao seemed ok still too… If a little beat up. It seemed she had been in a fight but… if there had been a problem he doubted she'd be the calm, collected type. More like she'd turn into a frenzied harpy or something….

"We came to visit. Got bored without you all." Lee was blathering away, talking inanely to them. Dylan wasn't listening really… and since Kano was still watching him, he guessed he wasn't either.

He was spared explanation for now… He doubted he'd be able to escape the questions for long.
I turned to face Loki, his dark hair masking the half closed eyes. He almost seemed to be listening to the paintings.... a right Anthony Frost. Each colour resonated with its own harmonious pitch, pigments scattering the vibrating light in a surreal symphony. All this, over the hushed whisperings of the gallery. The abstract piece in front of me should have been renamed "Pinhead', the title card reduced to the infamous "Gabba Gabba Hey" that would belonged so much better with the image. He grinned up at me.

"Bored yet?"

Two day old stubble graced his smooth jaw, dark hair glinting blue as it fell raggedly over his face. The smile that played across his lips darted between us, and I grinned, reaching into the buttermilk pockets of my shorts. In a disconcerting movement, my fingers brushed the side, refusing to connect with the smooth linen as they should. My waist felt as if it were compressing, sharp stabs reminding me that all my mother had said was true.

"It's that painting," I gestured with my head to the corner that had pierced Dylan so badly. "For a second it was almost as if I knew who it was that was....." I shuddered, prickling skin throbbing as I searched Loki's eyes for any sign of recognition. My arms throbbed with the cold of the air conditioned room, pulses of warmth crashing like waves over translucent membranes. I wanted to leave, to escape the leering shadows of the painting. Wavering slightly, I plunged forward towards Loki, cursing as I stumbled uncertainly through the dawning haze of meds.

"Shall we go eat?" He looked concerned, arms reaching up from their drumming involuntarily, as if to catch me as a toddler.

Nodding, I let my fingers brush through my hair as if they were involuntarily searching for something in it.

"What's that totally illegal chinese place with the monkeys running around in it? I hear they do live music. I could do with some live music. And a monkey. "

"Can we steal a monkey?"

"sure."
Kano's fingers danced gently over the practice room piano playing a tune he neither wrote down nor intended to. He actually barely heard it. Music had a life of its own and this music was not for enjoyment, it was to relax him. Dylan had dodged him again, and there was something not right about Rory. Although Loki seemed to have a grip on that Kano knew all too well that Loki had the stability of a moonbeam, It took only a passing cloud to disturb his sanity.

The piano notes wove a pattern that touched something deep within him and he felt the beat within them. Everyone else had gone somewhere with monkeys, but he'd needed some time to himself. He wasn't used to having so little time alone and a part of him sorely missed it. On the other hand touching the lives of others and being touched by their lives was an experience he wouldn't wish to miss. He'd been alone for so long that a part of him ached for all of this.

As he lost himself in these thoughts and the solid support of his music he felt tense muscles release and his whole body relax. Somewhere very far away there was a moment of discord, then another and another. Kano opened his eyes, he wasn't sure when he'd closed them, and stopped playing. His cell phone was ringing. He opened it.

"This is Kano," he said abruptly, having not taken the time to see if the display showed a familiar number.

"Uh, hi," a rather timid female voice wavered on the other end of the line. "I, uh, was wondering about the, um, band."

Kano's brows drew together, a crease forming between them. "The band?"

"The posters said to call Kano. This is the number right? Um, you said you were... uh, Kano."

Kano nodded, "this is Kano. You saw the posters, you said? For... the... band?" It had to have been Loki. That was all there was to it. Only Loki could have hung posters with his number on them. Only Loki would be trying to form a band. They must have finished at the restaurant and Loki decided he needed money for more food or some such. That or he was just missing regular playing that much.

"Yeah."

Whoever the girl was she didn't sound like she'd do all that well on a stage. Of course you couldn't tell everything from a phone call. "Sorry, I didn't know Loki had put those up already," Kano explained quickly, "so, what position were you interested in?"

"Oh, I don't think he put any up. I mean he was passing them out at this restaurant I was at, y'know. I play lead guitar, but he said that was taken. Uh, so, like maybe bass?"

"Audition," Kano said quickly, "we'll be having auditions. Give me your number so I can call you back and set it up." Once they were off the phone Kano took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Half way through letting it out slowly his phone rang. It was a drummer who thought he might be better than their current drummer. "No, sorry, I'm used to working with Loki. We won't need a drummer." He hung up and dialed Loki's cell.

"Hiya Kano, hold on there's something important I need to tell you. Rory helped me make up these fliers and..." Loki's voice began rapid fire.

"Who is the lead guitar?" Kano interrupted.

"Dylan. Why? Are people already calling?" The joy in Loki's voice was unmistakable.

"Did he say he'd do it?"

"I didn't ask," Loki replied dismissively. "So, people are calling?!?"

"Loki, you're handing out flyers for a new band in the middle of New York city," Kano was doomed to an evening of phone calls. His phone would probably ring non-stop for the next week. "Of course people are calling. Are you nuts? No, strike that, I know the answer." Kano sighed, "I need to change my message and turn my phone off. I'll see you tonight."

"Kano's really excited," he heard Loki saying as he closed the cell phone and shook his head. It took half an hour before he managed to open his phone without having someone at the other end of the line.

"This is Kano, thank you for calling. If you are calling about the band please leave your name, number and the instrument you wish to play after the tone. We will contact you within the week." He checked to make sure it took and then turned the damn phone off. What was Dylan going to say when he found out? Kano had a feeling he should call Dylan, but he decided to put it off. He had a feeling Dylan might just be enjoying a bit of time alone himself.
I was bored. Bored, bored, bored. I'd already caught a monkey. Three of them in fact. Nao and Lee were playing with one, another stuck to Mel, and Rory was petting the third, which happened to be in my lap. I looked around the table and sighed.

Dylan had taken off fairly early. He claimed he had a headache. Rory didn't think much of it, she said he was probably still hung over. I had to agree with her, but I thought there might be more to it than all that. Perhaps the headache was due to something else? He had certainly looked strange when he'd left the gallery.

Food time was over. I don't know who paid for mine, when I looked for the check, it was gone. Perhaps someone was starting to feel sorry for me, never having enough money for food. That made me both sad and happy. Sad because I didn't have money all the time, and happy because at least I kept getting fed. Kano would never approve. Kano... Kano... there was something about him that made me think. Something... something...

I jumped up from the table, scattering the monkey into Rory's lap. "I know!" I exclaimed excitedly. "A band!" Everyone stared at me in surprise. Even the monkeys. Even the other tables. I was shaking with the adrenaline. "A band, don't you see?" The monkey in Rory's lap chittered at me in anger. I grinned at it. "I mean that's so totally what I need. And Kano, and I'd be willing to bet Dylan needs people to play with on a regular basis as well. So, it's perfect!"

Mel lightly traced a line down the head of the monkey in her lap. "You know, that's not really a bad idea. But Loki, how are you going to get members? What are you going to do?"

"Fliers," Lee said, grinning at me. My eyes lit up.

"Of course!" I said, "Kano said if I made fliers we'd have a band!" Lee and Mel looked at each other, sharing some kind of secret, but I didn't care anymore, I was too excited. "This is perfect, now, how to do it." I sat back down and flipped over my place mat. "First we've got to say we're starting a band."

"No Loki," Rory interrupted, "You're not starting a band, you and Kano have been together for a long time. You're looking for members to your band." My eyes glowed.

"You're right. And Dylan can be our lead guitar. He's alright with that, right?" Rory nodded.

"Most likely. He has played with you two twice now. Dylan loves music." I grinned.

"Awesome. So we've got a drummer, a lead guitar and an everything else," I looked down at the place mat and reached for one of the crayons on the table. "Alright, so then we need to say "Looking for members," or something like that." I wrote Looking For Members in big letters across the top of the paper. Nao leaned over and shook her head.

"Looking for band members it should say. You want to specify what you're looking for." I looked up at her and nodded.

"Right," I put an arrow between for and members and wrote in Band. "Now, we also need to say what we've got. So," I wrote Drummer, Lead Guitar and Wind before I got interrupted.

"You're writing that you have those, right?" Lee said.

"I think that part should be secondary," Mel said, "Primary should be what you're looking for." I smiled.

"Thanks guys," I said, and started drawing arrows. I couldn't wait.

*

Mel had made a mention that a favorite band of hers had recently broken up. She was off with Lee to see if she could find any of the members and ask them if they'd like to join. According to her, we didn't need members, "You need good members. You three aren't just average as far as talent goes, you're really good. And you have a good vibe with each other. You need people who will accentuate that vibe, not distract from it." Lee thought the idea was great, and so they were off. I wished them good luck and headed over to the nearest Office Max with Nao and Rory. One of the other customers in the restaurant had given us directions. Apparently we could make the fliers there. Rory had offered to pay. Nao said we needed to have colors other than pink, orange and neon green. I couldn't imagine why.

My monkey had crawled under my shirt before we left the resturant, and now was peaking it's head out from my collar. I grinned at him. What a pet, and it was free! Nao glanced over at it and shook her head.

"Honestly," she said, "Will they let you keep it in the dorms?" I shrugged.

"It's not going anywhere," I said, reaching a hand up to pet it's head. "It's mine now."

"Will Kano let you keep it?" Rory asked, and my face fell. Then it brightened again.

"I'm sure he will. If we've got a band." Nao and Rory exchanged a quick glance as I looked down at the directions again. "Here it is!" I said boldly, pointing at the big building that said Office Max. "Ready?" Rory took a step and nodded.

"Of course Loki," and she headed for the door. I followed behind her, grin plastered to my face, and Nao was behind me. Her hands were in her pockets and her head was stooped a bit, as if she didn't want to be associated with us. I knew that wasn't true though.

We walked into the building with gusto, at least I did. Rory lead the pack with her head held high looking for all the world like she was still on the runway. I really admired that about her. That she could walk anywhere with that air of superiority and not seem crazy or stupid was amazing to me. I followed on her heals, tucking the monkey under my collar as I entered the building, and Nao followed behind, her head still down. When we made it to the copy center, Rory walked right in and started talking to an employee. Before I knew it, we were discussing colors, fonts, sizes and backgrounds.

Hours later, five hundred fliers in our hands, and tons of energy zinging off of me we walked out of Office Max. "Where should we distribute them?" I asked, and Nao looked up at me.

"Restaurants, bars and such. Places where musicians hang out."

"Campus," Rory said, looking down the street. "Where other college students can see and respond."

"Do you think you should have called Kano?" Nao asked, as a breeze slipped through and scattered a few of our fliers down the street.

"Naw, he knows we're doing this, it'll be fine." She looked at me in surprise.

"He knows? When did you tell him?"

"He's the one who told me, don't you remember? Oh wait, were you there then?" I looked thoughtful and shrugged. "Anyway, he knows. It's fine. Now, let's go distribute!" With pleasure I headed off down the street.

"Where are you going Loki?" Nao asked. I looked at her.

"Well, I figured I'd go to the places we've played at and set some fliers out there. Maybe back to the gallery too. You know, let people know that a friend of a friend is part of a band and needs new members."

"Campus," Rory said, turning away from me. "I'm heading towards the campus."

"Well," Nao looked at me slightly concerned, as though she wasn't sure I should be left alone. "If you're going to campus, and you're going to the gallery, then I'm going to hit the bars." I nodded enthusiastically.

"Yes, then we can meet for dinner with Mel and Lee when we're done, right?" Rory nodded, not looking back and Nao shrugged.

"Sure," she said, and headed off down the street.

"Later Rory, call me if you need anything," I said, and she started walking. There were times when I really wondered if she heard me, but this wasn't one of them. She heard me. She understood me too. I smiled and headed for the gallery.

A band. For real. I can't wait!
 

Name:  Kazuhiro Yamamoto, but my friends call me Kaz. Call me Hiro and we'll see how much of a hero you are. No, not 'Cuz!' Like 'ahh' -- 'K-aaah-z.' Got it?
Age:  24. What kind of question is that? Of course I'm looking forward to my insurance premiums going down. Of course, only an idiot drives in the city, anyway ....
Birthday:  January 1st (Make a crack about me being a New Year's baby, and I may just have to hurt you.)
Gender:  Male. I thought that much, at least, was obvious.
Sexuality:  Who cares? Not that it matters, I have no interest. Hear that? No interest. Now go away.
Personality:  I hate surveys.
Appearance:  No, I look like an American kid from the 'burbs trying to look like a Japanese rock star. The hair's my own, but the piercings clip on, ain't nobody getting near me with needles. Of any kind. What? Oh, that's a henna tattoo. Cool, huh? I almost got myself drunk enough one night to get it permanently etched. Never sobered-up so fast in my life.
Background:  Former band: Metal Monkey. Yeah, I know, I was the Japanese-American frontman for a band named after a Chinese birth-sign. You don't need to talk to me about irony. Or fate. I hate that. What am I going to do now? I'm going to Disneyland. Seriously? I don't talk about my personal life. So fuck off. Oh, my language offends you? Kiss my ass and go get a life. I'm outta here.

*          *          *

         "Kaz! Kaz, dammit! Wait!"

         I ignore her and continue towards the door. The glass portals back to obscurity are all I can see now and I'll be damned -- just fucking damned! -- if she's taking that away from me. Twenty feet ... Ten ... Nine ... Eight ....

         "Kaz ...."

         I whirl on her. "Get off me, you crazy dyke bitch! This is all your fucking fault!"

         Now, Laura's my favorite-est person in the whole world and probably my best and oldest friend. We've been through puberty (and whatever the female version is that happens to occur in a slightly irregular, regular fashion every week), girlfriends, boyfriends, psychotic exams, and failling out of college; and, best of all, she was there by my side to build the greatest band in the history of the fucking world ... only to then watch it all turn to shit. Like big, stinking cow-plop kind of shit. As if a whole field of heifers decided to come shit all over me. And then laugh ... and chew their goddamn cud all the way to the bank.

         I've said a lot of things to this friend of mine (and her to me) over the years and we know each other better than anyone. It's almost a shame she's a lesbian, but I doubt we'd be able to stand each other in a relationship, anyway. We'd tear each other apart. Like a rabid dog, she knows I'm hurting and angry and don't mean what I'm saying right now, and that a lot of it isn't going to make any sense ....

         But, then again ....

         Damn. She looks pissed. Was it the dyke comment? Or the fact I just broke the nose of that back-stabbing cretin who, until fairly recently, was our lead guitarist? Hmm, strike that ... He is still the lead guitarist. But he'll never be more than a wannabe poser con-artist and he had to drag my band, my heart and soul, down into the gutters with him.

         Me? I'm just ... just fucking screwed is what I am.

         "Aw, hell, Laura ...!"

         But she's not letting me get in a word edgewise, ranting and raving like she's infamous for -- heck, what'm I saying? We've been known to yell at each other full blast for hours at a time over just the craziest shit. I just don't have the heart to do this right now. After making a fool of myself in front of a room full of reporters, the last thing I want is to give those bloodsuckers any more ammunition.

         "You promised you'd act like a civililized human being!"

         Now, that is just going too far.

         "FUCK YOU!" I scream back, forgetting about freedom at less than ten paces. "It was MY band, MY MUSIC! That fucking cocksucker stole everything! I BUILT that band! How can you just stand by and let him take --" Oh, fuck, I'm going to cry. "T-take -- take -- SHIT! I AM METAL MONKEY! I may have only had a hand in the lyrics, but I arranged that music. For US! MY vision! He can't even SING!"

         And dammit if my voice just isn't going all girly-treble on me. Fuck the genes that cursed me with a contra-tenor. I'm always going to sound like some pre-teen geek. Unless I'm singing. I've always been told I sound like an angel, unless I'm punking it out. Everyone thinks it's just falsetto at first. Let them. Fuckers. And fuck the whole goddamn world while you're at it.

         "IT'S NOT LIKE YOU'RE COMPLETELY BLAMELESS!" She finally loses all semblance of control to drown me out. Girl coulda been an opera singer with that lung capacity ... if she could hold a tune, that is.

         "I put everything into this band!"

         "And you're a fucking jackass, Kaz!"

         "So what?"

         "There's a difference between prima dona and just total pond scum."

         I can see she's trying to hold it together, to make some logical sense out of things; she's always doing that. How she can still be logical when the world is ending I'll never know. It's what I've always admired the most (and hated beyond a reasonable passion) for as long as I've known this girl. Her unstinting logic has always inspired the worst in me, the desire to just see her lose it, to confound that logic, and damned if I've only managed to do that so seldom I can still vividly recall each occurrance ... and count them on one hand. Not sure if this one counts.

         "Sure you can sing," she's saying now, "but there's more to making music than just being pretty. You." She's spacing out the words now, being what she calls 'emphatic' and I really, really hate that. "Piss. People. Off." She waves a hand backwards toward the room where the press conference was still (I'm guessing now) in session (probably a pretty good presumption considering there's still only a handful of people in the lobby of the studio, all studiously trying to ignore our ranting ... If you ignore that guy with the press placard peering at us from behind the little voice recorder around the corner) ....

         Anyway, I'm getting off track again. God, I hate reporters.

         "Do you know how long it took me to set up this press conference?"

         "No, but I'm pretty sure you're about to tell me." I take my eyes off the shivering, Life and Times correspondent to roll my eyes at Laura.

         "You're damn right I am!" she all but screams at me. "You were supposed to make nice so they write good things about you so you get some goddamned publicity! How do you ever expect to make it as a soloist if --"

         "I'm not a soloist!" I holler. "I. Don't. Want. To. Be. A. Soloist!" I have a little moment of victory in that I managed to throw her little trick back at her and make Laura's face go red, not an easy trick for an African-American woman, even one as fairly light-toned as Laura.

         "Oh, fuck you, Kaz! I'm just trying to help!"

         "Yeah, that's original! Fuck you, too!" I make it to the door this time.

         "Where are you going?!"

         "To get shit-faced drunk!" I slam the doors open, startling a skinny, freckle-faced kid with a loaded tray of hot coffees. "And ...!" I turn back around. "And I'm going to get stoned, steal a goddamned monkey, and throw off the top of the fucking Sears Tower!"

         "That's in the wrong state, you moron!"

         I flip her the bird and let the doors fall closed behind me. It's fucking cold! and I don't really know where I want to go, just anywhere but here.

         "I HATE New York!" I shout, for no particular reason except to send the everpresent, miserable crowds skittering away from the crazy person. I don't, though. Not really. Sure, it's miserable when it's cold, and when it's hot, and, well, let's face it, it pretty much stinks year round. Except, the fall's pretty nice. And there's a coupla weeks in the spring when it's not so bad. Just forget that summer when the garbage collectors' union went on strike and the streets filled up with trash ... we won't go there ... and trudging through the snow between subway stations sucks ... and the traffic is just insane ....

         Shit! What the fuck do I like about New York?

         Oh. Yeah. The music. Right.

         "God-DAMN-it!"

         So this is what it feels like to have your heart ripped out. It didn't hurt this bad a few weeks ago. Guess I was still in shock.

         I'm not a lyricist; everything I write always seems to turn out corny and sappy, but I can take a simple melody and turn it into a masterpiece. I play every instrument there is, just about, though the violin is my one, true love. Funny, that. I hated taking lessons as a kid. If my parents had ever thought forcing a kindergartener to studio classical violin would lead to ... well ... American Funk Rock, I doubt they'd have made me do it. I know there's people who can fiddle and sing at the same time, but not me. Not that coordinated, I guess. Will just have to settle for faking it on a keyboard.

         But, mostly, I can sing. I love to sing. I've lost my voice a time or two and just wanted to kill myself, if only for the duration. There's something just indelibly missing in the world without music. All the great recording studios have offices out here, and their scouts frequent all the good clubs.

         I lean against the railing and put my face in my hands. The breeze is cold coming off the water tonight from Liberty Island. The lights are all on, making everything seem mystical, all magical and shit.

         The cell phone in my pocket buzzes angrily, but I ignore it. It's fucking cold out here, but all I can think about is the little bit of brass I can now hear that was missing in our so-light-it's-almost-pop tune, Breezy. Their. Their goddamn song now. Hell if I'm going to make it any easier for them. Let them figure it out on their own, if they could. Dammit, I know they can. Now. They've got the backing of a whole studio, even if it's a small, independant type. Mainstream rock, though, not alternative, but ... damn. It's a good deal and I'm so fucking envious!

         And all they had to do was get rid of me.

         "FUCK 'EM! FUCK 'EM ALL!"

         Oh, god, do I need a drink ....
A Non-Existent User
For once I was the only person in a good mood. The drum of sudden rain had caught everyone by surprise, spreading discontent throughout the streets and washing the world into a colourless haze. Which made me happy, of course.

The rain brought with it a sort of vigorous freedom that walked me into a bookshop for the first time in months. Stillness and assurance permeated everything, forgiving all things passed and compelling me to think in a rational manner once again. In Ireland psychiatrists had preached self-control, warned against “negative influences” in games, comics, movies, books, artists, thoughts. In time I had finally realised that trying to filter my own thoughts and influences had torn me apart and trapped me into childish mind games that were, in retrospect, far more dangerous.

But the rain had brought freedom with it, promised release. As I travelled from shop to shop I built myself up again through the books in my arms, paper sheltered from the rain with my hoodie despite the fact that my winnie the pooh t-shirt was then in full view. A childhood was reconstructed in the search: Frank Miller and Battle Royale and Tim Burton, Dali and Bosch and spanner-wielding skull-masked stories of psychotic Halloween obsessed children. With a bag slung across my body to carry the load, a sketchbook and some good pencils I finally started to feel complete again. I did put the hoodie back on though, what with my t-shirt gradually becoming see-through in the torrent.

It was only in the search for shelter that I remembered my original destination. Characteristic frustration returned. How much time had I wasted? Two hours? Three? Fortunately the posters weren’t wet, and with renewed energy I distributed the fliers in every bar I could find. A rhythm began to develop; storm through the freezing rain, spot a bar and enter it with water steaming from my sodden hair, hand out posters, get asked some really idiotic questions, stare at idiots and point out the phone number and promptly storm out into the freezing rain again.

What with all this storming around in the rain and steaming and staring, I shouldn’t have been that surprised by the exhaustion and unwelcome symptoms of a cold that began to develop. Tired out, I came to a stop in some fancy brightly coloured bar and stationed myself on a lone sofa that was a hideous shade of orange (uncannily like what my hair had once been). Disgorging the winnings of my little treasure hunt from my bag, I amused myself with reading and sketching and sipping at a bright pink fizzy drink that clashed wonderfully with the aforementioned sofa.

“just fuck the damn fuckers. Fuck em all. They’re just goddamn… damn…”

It seemed the best form of entertainment was actually on the sofa right next to me, spewing drunken profanity to a few girls that somehow screamed the word groupie.

“I’m… I really am better than all that… them, you know?”

Blonde groupie heads bounced up and down in agreement.

“They’se… they ARE nothing – absolutely NOTHING without me. You just see how far they get! They can’t sing for fucking shit!” the boy was beginning to look like he might cry, or had been. Or both. “I deserve better than them! I can sing! I am better worth a band… worth a better band… fuck…”

As the girls cooed and comforted the Asian lad I grabbed another flier out of my bag and leant over the arm of the sofa.

“They’re good. I think. I can’t really tell, don’t know much about music, but they are nice people” I said when he blinked drunkenly from the flier to my face and back again. Then, with some more heavy profanity and a most ill advised jibe at my appearance he snatched the flier out of my hand and proceeded to rip it into little pieces.

“Look here you little shit” I smiled widely at him “I’m going to give you another flier. When you’ve sobered up, you will call the number and – now listen carefully” I pointed a finger in his face as he shrank wide-eyed back into the sofa “you are going to personally apologise to Nao Forest. Or I will hunt you down, rip out your eyeballs, fry your brain and feed it to you and shove your intestines up your arsehole. Now that may sound like an exaggeration, but mark my words you would nevertheless be feeling very uncomfortable when I’m through with you. And I doubt” I glanced briefly at some of the stickers on a book that one groupie was holding “it would be very hard to find the loser that just got kicked out of Metal Monkey.”

And then I possibly ruined the entire effect by sneezing. Gulping down my drink and leaving the few remaining fliers on his lap I shoved my books and pencils in my bag, swung it over my shoulder and, once more, stormed out into the rain. What a piece of shit. And to top it all off, I now had a cold.



"Well fuck!" Dylan giggled, cradling his glass of Verdicchio in one hand and the remote in the other whilst his knees hugged the half empty pot of Ben&Jerry's 'Half Baked' icecream. Audrey Hepburn was kicking Cat out the car and for the first time, he had suddenly realised how funny it was, how futile that little act was. Normally he cried. But he now knew it was funny. Hysterical even. He'd also normally watch it with Rory. But she was pissed off at him. And it was official. He had seen it in her pretty little eyes. What a sad time. He giggled again. He was so good at self pity that it was almost a shame that it wouldn’t pay. He’d be a millionaire within a week.

-Awwww poor, sad pathetic little boy. You really must grow up. Let things go. Be happy. Deal with it. –

He could hear the words in his head. But he remained a silly, sad young man who couldn’t really grow up or let things go or feel happy for extended amounts of time or deal with the big ‘it’ which plagued him so incessantly.

He wanted to call Kano. In fact he would. Later. Ahhhh the art of procrastination. It was such a gift.

But the person he needed to talk to was Nao. Right? Because tomorrow they had lectures and he didn’t want to go. He was going to wash out his hair. NO MORE BLACK. He wanted his natural blond back with highlights and red lowlights… He’d need a full day or two for that. But that meant she couldn’t go. Not at all. If she went… What if something happened? He’d never forgive himself if she… but she was strong. So strong. Stronger than him.

Placing the glass down, he sighed, lolling his head back and exposing his neck. It was time to start trying to be better. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t wallow. Somehow he had to accept that this had happened and that that was life and that the most important thing was moving on and making sure that he kept his life on track. Of course the fact that he had never had his life on track as beside the point. It was time to find some solution.

Slowly and with the deliberation of Zarathustra, he sealed the lid onto the tub of ice cream and muted Audrey Hepburn mid-speech. He crawled from his paint splattered sofa and sighed, sidling along to the telephone, spindly limbs and pale skin seeming to make him into a character from the Corpse Bride… or Buffy… or the White Stripes. The phone lay, unloved, a black shiny pebble shaped thing on the granite counter top. It was silent and unblinking. He picked it up, scrolled down the little lit screen until: Nao.

It rang.

The rain splattered in an incessant beat against the windows, the walls and slid with a whisper down the sides of the city. The distant music of a neighbour’s routine fragmented his water coloured silence. The glare of a red flashing speck from a distant plane caught his eye, the wing lights dancing as it caught in the rain specks on the window and split apart. So pretty… like little jewels.

It rang again.

On the wall of the next door building was his constant inspiration, or the inspiration he had held in mind the entire time he’d lived here. It was an old white stencil that some graffiti artist had painted on, like a Banksy but quite clearly just an imitation too, of an old man peering out of a window from behind a curtain as if scared to go out. It reminded him that he could never do that, and in the rain some how it became all the more poignant.

It continued to ring.

“Hello?” Nao’s voice sparked into life with him not realising until she snarled the word again, “HELLO?”

“Oh hi… Nao? This is Dylan.”

“Ah right? What?”

Her voice sounded cold, as if her nose had flushed pink and her lips were purpling. There was a squeak and a sneeze, “Bless you.” He murmured and caught himself wondering how to say he wanted to talk to her without sounding like… well… “Are you busy at the moment?”

“Not if you’ve got a more appealing offer than handing out posters in the rain.” She grumbled and he chuckled. Why on earth was she doing that to herself in this weather? Even he wasn’t that silly.

“Come over for coffee, I need to ask you something.” He heard the paused, “I promise I make the best cuppa in town and it’ll be ready when you get here.”

“I’ll be there in twenty.”

The line went dead and he smiled. She was like that he guessed… kind of separate… as if social norms such as goodbyes were simply fictional and the truth was something to never flaunt. She would never have sounded enthusiastic to come, she was much like him, making sure that a request like the one he had made would be agreed to but only if it was possible to make out it was not in her interest. But it was. It really was. He had to warn her… even if he couldn’t tell her the truth. It was time to turn his back on this side of himself but he wouldn’t see her hurt in the process just because he wasn’t there or because she didn’t know the danger.

It was coffee time. He didn’t know what sort of coffee she liked. He’d hazard a guess at something strong but maybe slightly sweet like a mocha but with only a hint of dark chocolate. Chocolate like the chocolate in an AfterEight. He’d make three, one like that and two dark and strong with a splash of warm milk. There was an art in brewing which he had perfected and planning was part of the fun. Rory laughed at him when he was like this, or she had done previously, saying his eyes faded away like he was working on the next Picasso rather than a simple cup of coffee.

The cafétiere was ready, beans already crushed from earlier when he’d made his first mug of the afternoon. His hands fluttered over the countertop in his kitchen like white butterflies, gently implementing a delicate, fragrant artistry. Once when he’d read books on magic and witches and paganism he’d imagined that brewing a potion like that of the Witches in Macbeth must have been much like making coffee… though rimmed with more superstition and stirred with a more malevolent heart. He chuckled at the image in his mind… three little women like the ‘grannies’ from Monty Python all round a giant cauldron stewing over coffee and muttering curses at the nonexistent. He glanced at his watch. He had fifteen minutes. He had plenty of time.

*

When the knock on his door came he grinned and turned around, shouting for her that the door was open. There was a shuffle, a jingle as the chain clinked against the door it should have been locking and a muffled slam as it closed over the thick doormat. Calming himself down had taken time but the smell was almost doing all the work for him.

“Take a seat if you want, coffee’s coming.”

And it was. He’d timed it perfectly so that it all was done less than two minutes ago but he didn’t want to come in and see her without something to offer and something to act as a slight distraction, like a prop on the stage. He was hardly a showman but he was a good actor when it came down to it and he could adapt… so long as he had a prop. Like good coffee. He picked up one mug and then the other, deciding he ought to give her the less chipped one even though it was his favourite.

Sitting, well more like perching, on the edge of the arm of the sofa, was the girl he’d originally mistaken for an effeminate boy. Looking now, he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d done it though he apparently had. She was a different type of delicate. Too much like himself maybe?

“Look I’ve got something to tell you… but don’t answer until you’ve heard me out.” He looked her directly in the eyes as he spoke.

“Are you going to tell me you’re gay? Cos that much is obvious.” She sneezed again and he gave a glance over with a frown before smiling.

“No. I think you guessed that the other night.” He sipped at the coffee brew before starting again, “And are you warm enough?”

She nodded.

“Well… I’m not going to class tomorrow. I’m washing out this bloody dye, I need a new colour.” He spoke quickly, dashing out the words, “And I was wondering if you’d skip class with me.”

Her eyes narrowed into black pencil scrawls in her face, “What?”

He sighed, “I’m going back to my natural hair, blonde, but… Rory asked me… you know? And I think I want to do it for her as well as me. But normally she helps me,” That was a lie, “And I don’t think I can really do it on my own.” Also a lie, “And the lecture is so early in the morning I thought I’d skip that and… ask you for help.”

“You want me to skip lectures… for your hair?” She sounded sceptical, “You serious?”

He nodded, “Rory’s so fucked off at me… I was hoping maybe if I showed her I still cared by doing something like this… And I know that you’ve only just really joined our classes but I’m the best in that class, I really am, and I can find out whatever it was on and pass on the notes to you.” That wasn’t untrue. He had always been top of his English classes with the odd exception of Rory before she’d changed.

“I guess I could help.” Nao grinned, “Good enough excuse as any for bunking off.”

He smiled, relieved, “So what were you doing in the rain?”

She flushed, “Handing out posters for Loki, the goon is setting up a band and there was this one guy who was from Metal-” She stopped abruptly, “I thought you were part of this escapade. Guitar?”

Dylan frowned, “I don’t think so.”

“I could have sworn… Maybe Kano was just thinking of asking you, I mean you’ve played together before haven’t you?”

“Twice…” He didn’t add that both times he’d been pissed, “What were you saying anyway… about that guy you met?”

And she launched into a tale of how she met the guy from Metal Monkey. He half listened, half wondered if he should call Kano and ask about the band. Secretly, he knew he’d love to be surrounded by music, the only thing was that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle that scene anymore and keep his bearings after everything else had happened. It didn’t matter he supposed… He’d be a groupie otherwise, learn all the songs and generate crowds. He snickered in his head at the image. It was all a pleasant lie.

And best of all was: Tomorrow he’d have new hair.
The rain beat down on the pavement, scattering oil and sinking through the leaves and grime that coat the pathways of the park. Umbrellas swept past, the trees bending their boughs over them graciously and creating waterfalls of mist as they scattered the droplets. Wordlessly, I slipped further into the waxy cocoon of my coat, burying my bare legs into warmth of the Barbour as I shivered in the shadow of a tree. The bench underneath me was hard, and the soaked leaflets in pink and yellow were flying from it in the breeze, their sodden sheets binding them into the wings of butterflies as they leapt from it's wooden slats.

Frowning, I wished for the vibrant oranges of Christo's gates. My hands were shaking as I looked forlornly over the gray grass and sky and trees, fumbling with a lighter to smoke a cigarette that didn't exist. Had Dylan still not worked it out? That it wasn't even the abandonment, the demonization of my mother, the broken promises. I wanted him to smile, and he hadn't. His own darkness was smothering him. If i could make him light? Bleach him? his hair... Dylan was so blithely wandering into the same fucking circle of destruction that I was caught in. If I sent him away.... I hugged my bag towards me. I would protect Dylan, even if it made him hate me. Because.... because if I could stop protecting him from my own emotions, even for a moment, then Dylan would step up to it and confront someone.

But who was it?

I knew that look. I had seen it in hundreds of young girls before. That soul crunching look. The one....the one I had in the mirror when I was showering that jerk's smell.. the one that didn't go away.. because Dylan had forgotten. That feeling that made the smell of my own darkroom make me vomit. Eyes closed, colours sweeping past your eyelids in sickening waves till you found yourself in cold sweat. The click of a camera reel making you jump.

The reason I couldn't look at an english book without remembering cold hands reaching for me.

I would do what Dylan hadn't.

As I hugged my bag towards me, my pocket began vibrating warmly. I reached into the shorts, fingers enclosing around the glass and aluminium of my phone. I tapped the screen as it emerged into the grey half light.

"Hello?"

A pause at the other end. <<Is this Rory? The english one?>>

A man's voice. My heart began to race slowly. "Who the hell are you, and why are you on Ella's phone? I'll kill you. Where are you? DID YOU HURT HER?" A million images flashed before my heads. Blackmail threats, torture the med student, rape...oh fuck, what if it was her dealer?

<<No. I'm her brother, Logan. She hasn't been picking up so I went to her rooms and...>>

"oh god, is she ok?"

<<I don't know.>>

"What? How did you....know to call me? Where is she?"

<<She left a note.>>

My left hand dropped into my lap slowly, my thumb idly beginning to manipulate the lining of my coat as the nails began to bite into the flesh of my palm. I wasn't breathing, yet it seemed like minutes before his voice came again, my head counting every thump as the blood pounded in my ears like a swelling drum.

<<It said that you needed to go to the hospital. For more tests. But i've spoken to the candystripers and her roommates and no-one's seen her since a guy dropped her back after your show.>>

A guy? What if? No, that must have been Isaac.

"Oh...." my voice trailed off, questioning everything. Blood dripped from the indentations in my hand, running through my fingers.

Blood. Smoke and blood. It was like being taken back, to that confusion, that unknown sadness. Just before...

..."have you called the police?"

<<Not yet, i was thinking she might just be... you know....>>

I knew. Everyone that came into contact with Ella knew. The drugs, the wild parties, it all got worse.

"You could look up Rico. Fuck knows, she probably added him back to her phonebook on the cell....he's the.."

Dealer. Rico was a dealer, and a seriously fucked up piece of shit.

"But he's..." I paused again, the breathing on the end of the phone shaking anger across the city. "...dangerous."

<<The note? It said goodbye. My mom's account's been emptied so it thought she might just have..."

Like me. Ella...not commiting it but maybe wanting it. That embrace. the smoky embrace.

Blood. There was more blood. Creeping over my wrists now. it dripped onto my leg. Unconciously, I began shaking. The line went dead. I tapped the screen. Recent calls..

Loki... I needed Loki.

Kano picked up.

"Loki? Kano? Will you...."

Blood trailed down my leg. Smoke. Who had it been? That cut the pipe? Alone. I was alone. The swaying started again. The blood shaking through me from side to side, my eyes rolling.

"Loki??" Fear. In my voice, on my skin. Where was Ella? Why was I alone? With the blood?

Kano's voice said something. The bodiless voice. I felt I should respond, but what had he said? Was he here? where had the blood come from?

The air was heavy. My lungs were heavy. Where had the doctor gone? the lilies? Where were my pills?

"tell Dylan....in the park. Loki?....." my voice was getting more and more urgent, "....Loki?....... No more Ella. No more pills. "

I was biting my lip in frusration.

Where was the confusion coming from? ....the fear.... the blood

..... both?

It wasn't raining anymore. The sun told me so.

I saw a leaflet for a band.

Are they good? I hope so.
"Rory? Rory!" Kano shook the phone and stared at it, then put it to his ear once more. "Rory?" He wasn't surprised to hear no reply. Who knew what Rory was doing now. It wasn't the dorm phone that had failed. In fact Kano was fairly sure the failure had nothing to do with phones and everything to do with Rory. He hung up. Talking to the absent Rory wouldn't get him anywhere. Instead he dialed Loki's number.

"Loki?" he asked when it stopped ringing.

"Wah, ow ow, oh, ah," there was a monkey on Loki's phone. At least that's how it sounded.

"Loki!" Kano yelled it as loudly as he could this time. "Hey, this is an emergency!" He heard a clatter. Several seconds later Loki finally spoke into his ear.

"Kano? Is that you?"

"Yes, Loki, it is." Kano wanted to ask about the monkey. He wanted to find out just what Loki was doing. He wanted to hang up and call back when the world went sane again, but the world of Loki was never sane. "Rory is... in trouble."

"What? But I just saw her. She went to give out fliers on campus."

"Great, then I'll look for her on campus." Kano grabbed a jacket, though he had no idea if he needed it or not and headed for the door. Then he remember he wasn't on his cell phone. He'd had to turn that off. "You look in the park, um the nearest one to campus. She said something about Dylan and the park. I'll call Dylan, no, you call Dylan. I can't use my cell or I'll have to sort through all the band calls. Never mind," Kano shook his head, surprised by his own panic. "I'll turn on the cell. Just stop handing out flyers and start looking for Rory. I just got a very strange call from her."

Kano hung up the phone without waiting for a reply, put on his jacket and hurried out of the dorm room. As he rushed down the hall toward the stairwell he extracted his cell phone and turned it on. He clicked listen later for his messages and called Dylan. The reason he was panicking was clear. A person could only handle so many emergencies in a set amount of time. He was used to about one a year. His new friends had exceeded his quota a while ago. It was strange having friends. He wondered if they always came with so many problems, but the thought was gone when Dylan picked up.

"Kano, I was going to call you." Kano wondered briefly why Dylan was going to call him, and then remembered the last time he'd seen Dylan. He sighed softly, as he pushed the outer building door opened and walked into the rain. That was nice, rain. Well, Dylan would be happy, he seemed to like rain.

"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you, but Rory called me a few minutes ago and I don't want to make you worry but she said something about you and a park. She seemed confused and..." Kano wasn't sure what else to say. Dylan would probably not take this well either way. Since Dylan was silent he continued. "She wanted Loki at first, but her words kept shifting. When she mentioned you and a park I thought maybe she was at a park she'd been to with you? Loki said she was supposed to be passing out fliers on campus and he'd just seen her but with Loki just seen her could mean anything. That might easily have been hours ago."

"I'll run to her flat. She might have tried to kill herself again," the words tumbled out so quickly Kano knew there was no thought behind them, just fear. Fear, that was actually significant.

"I don't think that's it this time," Kano was walking toward the center of campus scanning the grounds for any sign of Rory, "she sounded scared. I think this might be something else. It won't hurt to check though. Call me if you find her. My phone's on now and I'll call you if I find her," Kano finished. He waited for Dylan's reply but all he heard was silence. "Dylan?"

Kano's phone beeped and he read the screen message, 'Connection Lost.' He sighed, wondering when exactly that had happened and redialed Dylan's number. After three tries he gave up. He felt like he needed to find Rory fast. He could try Dylan again later.
I didn't have any of the fliers left. I had spent hours distributing them all over the place. By all over the place I meant EVERYWHERE! It was so freeing to have them handed out. It was like I was telling the world that I was ready for it. And I was ready for it. Between Kano, Dylan and I, I knew that we could accomplish anything. Especially if we got a few others involved. Maybe we could use Mel and Rory for cover models for the albums we would sell? I wondered briefly if they would go for it.

The monkey was a topic of much discussion between people. Everywhere I went people asked me where it had come from. I told them the truth. It found me, stuck to my shoulder, and wouldn't go away. It was strange, but they didn't all seem to believe me. I couldn't imagine why.

My phone rang and I blinked, wondering where I had put it. When it stopped ringing, I shrugged and continued walking down the street. My monkey started chittering and I tilted my head to see that it had my phone.

"Loki! Hey, this is an emergency!" Kano's voice called out from the phone, and I struggled with the monkey to get my phone back. The monkey climbed down me and dropped my phone on the ground, chittering at me in anger.

"Don't do that," I said sternly, picking up the phone. "Kano? Is that you?" I asked. I heard a soft sigh.

"Yes, Loki, it is," a brief pause then, "Rory is... in trouble." I blinked. That couldn't be true. We'd just gotten fliers and headed off our own ways a few hours ago.

"What? But I just saw her. She went to give out fliers on campus." Yes, that was true. What could possibly have happened to her to make her not alright?

"Great, then I'll look for her on campus." Kano seemed desperate, hyper. I thought about this for a moment and got a bit jealous. The last time he had sounded like this it was because I had started destroying instruments. "You look in the park, um the nearest one to campus. She said something about Dylan and the park. I'll call Dylan, no, you call Dylan. I can't use my cell or I'll have to sort through all the band calls. Never mind," a pause, "I'll turn on the cell. Just stop handing out fliers and start looking for Rory. I just got a very strange call from her."

"Alright, I'm done with the fliers anyway, so I..." the phone was dead. "Now look what you've done," I said accusingly to the monkey. He held his tail in his hands and looked up at me with sad eyes. "You need to be more careful with electronics, you never know when they might fail so you should be gentle. Now, get back up here," a few people walked past me, giving me a wide berth. "We're going to look for Rory. In a park." He jumped up and climbed back to my shoulder. With a nod, I started walking. Something inside of me was shaking, but I ignored it. I couldn't be scared for Rory, because she was fine.

*

It was the second park and the third bench. She wasn't sitting on it anymore. She was curled up on the ground, and it was tucked away from the main part of the world, so she wasn't noticed by anyone. Besides, here, who would notice and do anything about her if they had seen her? I walked over and gently placed my hand behind her head, turning her onto her back. Her hands were red, and I blinked to see the crescent shaped marks on her palms. They weren't bleeding anymore, but they were angry and the skin was puffy. I smoothed her hands, and ran one hand through her hair.

"Rory?" I asked softly. She was breathing and nothing seemed to be broken, but she had a desperate flutter to her heartbeat and she was breathing slightly quickly, like she was having a bad dream. "Rory?" I asked a bit louder. Her eyelids fluttered but did not open.

I smiled and tapped a small beat on her forehead. "Rorrrrry," I called, pulling my other hand away from her hair and adding another finger to the beat. "Wake up Rorrrrrry," I said, a grin on my lips. It worked before, so a good beat should wake her up. Her eyes fluttered again and I tapped the beat down her face, across her neck and along one arm. Her eyes opened, and I stopped the beat, giving her a soft smile.

"Good morning," I said. The monkey chittered a bit.

"Are you an angel?" she asked and I blinked a bit.

"Not that I'm aware of," I said, somewhat taken aback.

"I thought.. I mean... am I dead?" She blinked her eyes to clear them, then they focused on me completely. "Loki?"

I nodded, "Yes, I am Loki. You are not dead, and Kano is getting all kinds of calls for the band. Kano is worried about you, by the way." She took a breath.

"There was all this blood," she said, turning as if to sit up. I held out a hand.

"Hey, let me," I put an arm around her and helped her sit up, then stand, then sit on the bench. "There really isn't any blood. A bit, but nothing really all that bad. How are you feeling?"

"Ella," she said. "Ella might be gone." I shook my head.

"How? Didn't we just see her a few days ago?" She blinked and turned her eyes on me. They were shallow, hollow, frightened, but too scared to be frightened. There was an emptiness and a depth and I understood so much of what that meant. I reached for her and wrapped my arms around her. "Shh... it'll be alright," I said softly. She stayed stiff in my arms for a moment, then she hesitantly put one arm around me. "I'm not going anywhere Rory, so it's alright. Lean a bit, I'm strong enough for two." There was a shuttering sigh, and the other arm went around me.

For several minutes we stayed like that, her clinging to me and crying (I suspected, although she made no noise), and me holding onto her. I ran my fingers though her hair and lightly rubbed her back. She seemed so frail that I was afraid I'd hurt her. So I held her close but not fiercely. I don't know that she noticed.

When she pushed away from me, which she did gently, I looked down at her and gave her my most unconcerned smile. Her eyes were red rimmed and dry. The monkey held out his hands to her, which made her smile a bit.

"Thank you," she said, and I shrugged.

"Of course," I replied, because... of course.

She gave me a look, as though she was trying to study me. I let her look at me as long as she wanted to. Well, I would have, except that my stomach growled. I blinked, I hadn't realized I was hungry until that moment.

"I'm hungry," I said in surprise. She blinked, then rolled her eyes.

"Of course you're hungry Loki," she said and I shook my head.

"No, I mean, I just realized," my stomach growled again.

"Yes Loki," her voice was dry, but there was a smile in her eyes. "Should we get some food?" I nodded.

"If you're up to it."

"Of course," she tossed her hair over her shoulder and stood.

"You'll tell me about Ella later then," I said. She shrugged.

"Maybe." I got up and reached for her hand.

"I see." We started walking out of the park. She might not be alright, but she was better. That made me happy.
 

         There's a reason I don't drink. Honest to God. You wouldn't think it'd be a big deal, considering I can get drunk off wine coolers, or just breathing the fumes off shots, but it is. Take this morning for example.

         a) I have no fucking idea where I am. This could be a problem. Seriously, there should be buildings. Lots of them. In fact, come to think of it, I should be in one. That's not good. What the hell?

         b) Something crawled into the back of my mouth and died. I know I threw up, at least once, I can smell it on my breath, and it's making me want to puke again. Is the ground spinning? Shit! Stay the fuck still ...! Bleagh! Let's add one more moment of puking for this morning, shall we?

         c) No wallet. Isn't that fun? Huh. No cell phone -- oh, wait, there it is. Ew. Well, at least I can call Laura for a ride home. No, scratch that. Probably ought to call a cab -- oh, no, no wallet, remember?

         and that brings me to d) the world's largest collection of heavy construction workers jack-hammering my brain. It's lucky I know my name.

          ... Wait ... ... ... ... ... ... ... um ... ... ... ... ... ....

         Kaz. Right. Whew.

         And the world is still -- oh, for God's sake! Quit thinking about it! Just keep my eyes closed for a few minutes longer, listen to the birds chirp ... oh, fucking hell, I can feel the bench slats with my toes. I have no shoes. No God damned shoes! Fuck!

         Fuck, fuck-fuck-fuck .... ugh. Going back to (b) again. God, what did I drink last night?

         Slowly, I crack open an eyelid. I think I can make out one of those wooden benches, which is odd, because they're mostly concrete or that webby-pseudo--painted-bizare-colors-plastic-whatever in the city. Where the fuck am I?

         Smells like grass, though, under my ... nose. Oh, no. There's someone singing way, way, way too fucking close to my head! Oh, fucking God, no! Shit! Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit ...!

         Work legs, work! Work! Damn you!

         There's a sound like a window sliding open, but much bigger. My half-open eyeball doesn't want to look over that far.

         "Kazuhiro? Kazuhiro!"

         Curse of the mothers. Oh, God, I must've been drunk!

         "What are you ...? Are you -- Kazuhiro Yamamoto!"

         And my mother dissolves into choice swear words in Japanese that I'm just not going to pay attention to right now. That jackhammer crew went and got some extras and they're trying to drown her out.

         I clap my hands over my ears. "For God's sake, Mother ...! OW!"

         A fist in my hair jerks my head up and I ralph, but there's nothing left. My mother's slapping my cheeks, and, really, we're getting nowhere here.

         "Okay, okay! I'm awake already!" I manage to half-yelp, half-sob. "Stop it! Leave me alone, I'm just sick!" Keep up this racket and my father will be out here. Like I need that this morning! What the fuck am I doing here? I'm not a fucking masochist! Christ!

         "Ow, ow, let go of my ear! Ow! Mom!"

         She's shouting at me in Japanese again, something akin to 'Get your sorry ass inside before I have your father whup your ass!' As if my flower petal of a 100 lbs soaking wet on a good day mother would actually say something so vulgar. It's like listening to the French swear at each other. Whatever they're saying, it still sounds pretty.

         Now the Germans, on the other hand ...! They can be reciting poetry and still sound like they're cussing each other out.

         I took Japanese in high school. So sue me. I remember how to bow, but that's pretty much it. Well, no, that's not exactly true. I haven't spoken it in ages, and my accent is atrocious, but I can understand when it's spoken to me, and I can puzzle out a newspaper pretty okay. We did go back to the old country a few years ago for my father's father's funeral. Yeah, they cooed at us and tsked and told us we looked and sounded like the spoiled, rich, American brats we are. My sister didn't like that too much. I didn't care. Whatever.

         But, right now, I'm more concerned with the way the ground keeps trying to buck me off, like it's determined to help my mother yank my ear off. It's a fucking conspiracy. Oh, God! I'm going to throw up again -- oh, wait, is this the bathroo --

         "Hey!" I squawk, catching myself on the tile wall of the shower. "C-c-c-co-oo-old! Mom!"

         I barely get my feet out of the way of the door slamming closed. Ow. Jackhammers again. I swear there're having a party in there. Well, the message is pretty clear, at least.

         Oh, yeah, this is great. Wake up in my parents' garden on their love-bench, and subjected to a motherly tirade, with a promise of a fatherly lecture on 'the responsibilities of the young' and blah, blah, blah, yawn. The trick, of course, is to skeddadle out of here before either of them can pin me down on that girl they've picked out for me to marry. Her parents are here, somewhere. She's here already, apparently, going to some university. Don't know her name, or what she looks like, nothing. Don't want to, either.

         Hey, what's this?

         I pause in stripping off my sweat, cigarette, and beer-stained clothes. There's a soggy flyer in my back pocket. From somewhere in the back of my mind I can remember green eyes ....

         And a name ... ... ... ... ... maybe ... ... ... ... ... ... ... um ... ... ... Nao. That's it!

         I spread the flyer on the shower door, frowning at the bleeding colors. Fuck, it's so hard to think. Shouldn't there be trees or something? For some reason, I think there should be trees. Lots of trees. Black trees -- no-no, white trees -- no, black and white trees. Wait. That doesn't even make any sense.

         Where the fuck did my cell phone go? It's too fucking hard to think; I almost can't figure out how to work the shower door. There it is.

         I grab the phone, wiping the face carefully with an edge of my shirt neither wet nor icky. I squint at the poster a few more seconds while the ink runs, puzzling out the phone number. I listen to it ring. And ring. And ring. It's going to voicemail.

         Oh, God, why am I doing this? I'm insane. Totally insane. Probably some dude wants me to come see his band and I said 'sure, whatev' before stuffing the damned thing in my pocket. What am I doing?

         "Shit. Message. Um ... ... um ... ... Um, yeah, okay. Wait, did you just say you were starting a band?"

         Beep.

         Crap. I hit re-dial and this time listen to the message. New band, looking for a couple new members. Got a drummer, a guitarist, and keyboardist. Looking for some fresh talent, willing to work with monkeys.

         I pull the phone away from my ear, staring at it a moment. Did I hear that right? Monkeys? What the -- Shit! Here I am, standing in the shower in my underwear and t-shirt, and totally spaced the message again.

         I re-dial. Wait. I hang up. Why am I doing this? I just quit a band. Why would I want to join another. They're just some random dudes, most likely. I'm way better than some garage band. I should have people begging to sign me up.

         Oh, but, wait. That fucking press conference is probably in the papers by now. I know Laura, despite our words last night (I can still sorta recall that), will be able to spin the event favorably. She's good at what she does. Really. Hmm ... maybe she set me up. This could be one of her jokes.

         Or, it could be real. What if they did search me out? What if this is some actual good luck coming my way? Shit, so the fuck what if it's total garbage? This will at least get me out of here!

         I re-dial. This time I'm ready.

         "Hello, my name is Kaz. I heard you're starting a band. I can sing and play a variety of different instruments, even the kazoo." Oh, God, why did I say that? I gulp and chuckle nerously before giving my number, knowing my voice is speeding up as I go along and praying they still can get the gist of it. "Letmeknowwhentry-outsare. Thanks."

         I hang up and say a couple prayers to a God I don't believe in and yet use his name fluently in vain, and then a couple more to Buddha, just to be safe. I shower and dress in some fresh clothes my mother brought in at some point.

         I swear I'll be a good, dutiful son, God -- or at least a better one -- just let me get out of here soon.


He hadn't really thought about it before, but handing out fliers wasn't all that much fun. It had been funny at first, flinging them in the faces of strangers and all that but it didn't quite work how he had expected after a while so everything had somewhat become ridiculous. He'd almost decided that it wasn't worth continuing, in fact, when he'd had the decision snatched from him.

His phone rang.

At the other end was his father.

Lee had never had a fond relationship with his father but he had never been bothered by that fact until now. He wanted to meet up later that day on the basis that he had flown in that day for a meeting and expected to use the time being updated on Lee's activities. It was sometimes as if he didn't recognise that university gave him much more independence than the average teenager of his age. His father expected him to behave like a forty-six year old diplomat but have the freedom of a sixteen year old. But that wasn't the only thing. When his father met him, he also judged him; how much more like his mother was he? How American was he becoming? Could he represent the family still?

It more often than not left him on the shelf. And sometimes it took him days to come off it again.

"Are you ok Lee?" Mel asked as he hung up.

His demeanour had changed in moments.

"It was my father. He wants to meet up this evening at his colleagues house. He's invited there for dinner and has decided I'm to join him and fill him in on everything."

"Oh! That'll be nice right? I mean, you can't have seen him at all so far this term!"

"...yeah... It'll be great." He shifted uncomfortably running a hand through his hair, "I'm going to have to go. I'll have to change and then find a train which will take me to this place..."

*

Arriving, he saw the rental car with the chauffer still sat inside it in the drive and the silver mercedes with the personal number plate and scowled slightly. He knew this family. He'd not been here in years, not since their son had moved out... He was sure there'd been a reason for the older boy to have left early from home but he wasn't certain of what it was. He smiled. He had an amusing memory of the last time he was here. They had sat at the table, his hair flattened to his head and his personality shuttered, when the son's phone had started playing a pirate electro song. The faces...

He smirked.

Well he wondered what they'd think when they saw how much he had changed, these people with their suburban perfection and americanisms whilst they mused over the old country.

There was a loud yell suddenly from within the house and a woman shouting before silence laid itself over the area again.

God... What was he in for?



“Oh no you are NOT leaving the house. Not when you’re looking like your mother just got run over by a forklift truck.” Nao stood in the door way with Dylan agitatedly trying to duck around her.

At her words though he stopped, looked her dead in the eye and raised one eyebrow, “Are you kidding? I’d be dancing round the living room naked if my mom was dead.” He frowned, “Rory’s fucking out there and no one knows where she is; how can you expect me to do nothing?”

“Because you’re a mess.” Nao didn’t even blink as she stood in front of him.

He scowled, “She’s my cousin-”

“And you’ll just have to learn to let other people handle your problems. You are in no state to go outside and search for her. You have no idea where to start and Kano and Loki are already on the case. You stay here.”

“I said I’d check-”

“I’ll do it.” It was clear from the look on her face that her sudden outburst was a surprise to her as well as to him. She sighed, “Look you stay here. Drink coffee. Find some stuff so we can get your hair normal again tomorrow or whatever. Just you stay put and I’ll go look for her.” She saw his mouth open, “Honestly, Kano will call you if he finds her and I’ll call if I do, if I don’t I’ll be back in an hour. You are not to leave the building. I’ll know.”

Dylan stared. He knew she was right. Deep down he recognised how futile it would be for him to try and find her. He’d be in a frenzy the whole time and if he did find her he’d indubitably yell and damage their fragile relationship even more. He didn’t want to admit he was wrong. But she was right so he had to be wrong. He sighed and stepped back, not noticing how she relaxed and softly blew out a breath she had been subconsciously holding.

“You promise you’ll call if you find her?”

“Of course.”

“I’ll have coffee for you in an hour then…” He scuffed his toes into the carpet, “And I’ll call you if Kano calls…”

“Good boy.” Nao smiled in the strangest most alien fashion he had ever seen. It was almost as if she was being soft. And never had he ever thought the tomboy soft. Maybe they were more alike than just looks.

*

Dylan painted. He stood composed, cat-like, on a tall metal ladder on the edge of the world. Both of his hands were occupied with a paint brush and a bucket of paint. His usual fitting, faded jeans were now sprayed with flecks of red and white and blue and his splattered grey t-shirt had one side pressed purple from a blending of acrylics. His hair was messier than usual, the ends curled around his neck in a haphazard mop. He knew that his sister would have said he looked ‘cutely dishevelled’ in the studio light and that Rory would have said he was playing the role of tortured artist well. As he extended his body a bit to spot a corner, he imaginer her watching as his bare feet rose up deftly into tiptoe and he teetered, spreading rouge across the wall. He loved art. It was the same oblique addiction as music…

The muffled sound of loud guitar riffs pounded in his ears; the long white cord from Rory’s headphones plugged into his iPod where the old and the new blasted through his brain. Dylan mouthed the words, moving his brush in time with the beat, still able to carefully paint the borders of his creation. He stood skilfully, almost as if he were born in high places, his jeans hanging about his feet all frayed. He tilted his head and switched hips, smiling as he listened to the music.
It had taken him less than ten minutes to become twitchy and restless again. Five more minutes before he had cleared aside all the paintings on the wall by the window and decided that it was destined to be turned into a colourful miasma of abstract art. Five minutes later he’d put up the ladder and begun to paint out the beginning of a memory. He started with blue light, green light, purple haze and fuchsia skyline. The tingling frustration of being left in his flat buzzed in his stomach and simmered upwards to his head, through his chest and his heart before stretching out and find itself a heated splatter on the wall.

Nao hadn’t called yet. He could see his phone on the floor by the window, he’d notice if it lit up. Even if he wouldn’t be able to hear it. The music kept him sane, blocking out his negative thoughts. He needed to talk to Kano if he called. He wondered if he should ask everyone over for Chinese take out or something. He hadn’t done that in a while. And he guessed then they could talk about this band Kano and Loki were setting up. Tonight?

His shuffled songs drew up a Juno track… Anyone else but you…. He started to sing along as he started to paint in the circle of people. Rory… white haired laughing, rocking back and forth in mirth beside Loki who would sit next to the ever awkwardly smiling Lee. He hadn’t seen Lee in a while. He would call the boy tomorrow and see how he was.

“… part time lover and a full time friend The monkey on your back is the latest trend I don't see what anyone can see in anyone else...but you I'll kiss you on the brain in the shadow of the train I'll kiss you all starry eyed my body swingin' from side to side I don't see what anyone can see…” He sang along, rocking on his ladder with a smile on his face.

It had been a long time indeed since he’d felt the way he did at that moment. Though worried, he felt separate and though miserable, he felt in control. He felt… in control… he was reminded of the person he had originally people. Free, happy, aggressive but banterwise. He’d been crazy and creative and content to be himself.

He missed himself.
*
“You found her?” Dylan kept his voice level as he spoke to Kano, “Loki found her?” Relief washed through him, “I’d better call Nao…”

“Nao was looking for her too?”

“Ummm she refused to let me leave the house to look for Rory. So she went instead of me.”

“Oh.”

“Ummm…” He wasn’t sure if he should ask now but, “Do you all want to come over and order out tonight? Like… Us, Loki, Nao, Rory – if she wants to – Isaac…. Lee and Mel?” He paused, knowing he was stating to obvious, “I mean… it might be nice… to do something non-eventful and all that after… after all this.”

Kano didn’t reply immediately and Dylan began to panic, wondering if he was pushing it, wondering if Kano no longer wanted to associate with him after what he had figured out, “And we can talk about that band you’re setting up.”

“You heard?”

“Nao mentioned it.”

“Are you interested?”

“Yes.”

“Great! I’ll talk to Loki and Rory, see if they’re up for takeout this evening and call you back ok?”

“Sure…”

“I’ll come if they don’t.”

Dylan grinned, reassured slightly, “Ok! And I’ll call Nao… she ought to be back soon anyway.”

“Alright, well talk to you later Dylan. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Maybe things would sort themselves out? Just maybe. Dylan smiled, looking at his half finished wall and the paint that had splashed all over everywhere. Things were changing and he was ninety percent sure it was for the better.
The monkey was skittering across the tatami mats of the restaurant as Loki beckoned to it, the intensity of the silence torn by the pattering of tiny paws on woven straw. It approached cautiously, sideways, head darting to the side as if searching for the brightly coloured kimono that it had tried to follow from the room. Loki gestured into the pit that his legs dangled idly into clicking. It jumped, rustling where my feet would be, save for the fact that I had appropriated the position of seiza, my big toes crossed behind me as I knelt, bolt upright, facing my rescuer. I grinned. He was so tall and broad shouldered, but the easy grace with which he was now settled, resting his weight on his left palm, filled the room with cobalt blue. Happiness. My face finally softened. His dark hair fell around his face, and I wanted to touch it. My fingers reached across the table, their tips brushing against blue black strands. Softly.

"Hey p'tite.... welcome back." He looked up at me, smiling. Eyes smiling. Smiling blue that swirled like steam, losing you, losing me in their depths. His hand reached up and he kissed my fingers, grinning like the first time we met, like he would a king. He would probably do that to the queen as well, Kiss her begloved hands and smile up at her, asking if wearing a crown was heavy. But the cajun accent? Mine.

I did like the Queen.

An apparition appeared in one of the sliding panels.

Mel stood there, shaking and red, her feet bare on the line where the tatami joined.

"Should never stand on the cracks dear, you have no idea who might be hiding underneath with weapons," I muttered, gesturing for her to come and kneel beside me on the mat by the short table. She was quivering, her expression wavering as though she was caught in between two worlds, or indeed, two cultures. Her skin was flushed an angry red, whether from sadness or the fact that she'd completed the 5 minute walk from Grand Central in about a minute and a half, an ambiguity. She looked confused, her brown hair falling haphazardly around her face, nose red.

"Hakubai? seriously? When you said Japanese I thought you meant bad Sushi. No wonder Lee looked suprised when I got your call."

Loki looked puzzled. "This isn't bad sushi?" I could see him wondering why they had let him keep the monkey.... Should I tell him the waitress was in love with him?

"I'd love to see where you eat if you think its normal to get served in kimonos." Mel muttered, then stopping as she saw the shining laquer of the traditional low Japanese table, the small seats like footstools. It was as if she was calculating just how much she could mess up through malcoordination.

The panel opened again. Kano. Dylan.

Dylan. He stood, unsure, wavering. The portal that made people waver. His hand slid from Kano's grasp. We needed fixing. We were broken people. But worse, it was worse without each other.

Dylan was blonde. Blond? I smiled. Maybe he was starting. That was good. No more anger. I didn't have to be angry anymore? wow.

I was clean. White. Soaked with water. My hair dried in loki's jumper. He had held me tight. Not breaking me. Just warm. But now Dylan was clean too. we couod be fresh together. No facade. because of loki. and kano. the fixer uppers.

Oh. I said that last bit out loud.

My hands reached towards Dylan. Grabby, like a chick. He seemed confused. But then the mist lifted. He grinned, jumped, tackled me to the floor.

Kneeling.

"Ow. I'm kneeling you fool!"

But I was smiling too. Happy. Found. Cut off from New York by the surroundings of Japan. WE were back. And I had Loki. Drying my hair and hugging me tightly. Because Dyla had smiled. And that meant he would help. He would fix me now.
n
"OK.... Shins folded under you, Knees close together, back straight, toes crossed. Or you can be lazy and use the pit, but the monkey might bite your toes."

"The monkey?"

Mel, who had sat down on my right, whimpered, and her legs jumped from under the table.

"Bitten?" Kano enquired, an eyebrow raised.

"Worse." she stated, half smiling, the unnatural flush draining from her cheeks in the pureness of the room. "Licked." Her nose wrinkled, and we laughed. Where was Lee?

Kano knelt on Dylan's left. Which was my left, as Dylan was still stradling my knees, grinning inanely.

"See? You smiled. So I could stop being mad." I smiled, happy with my explanation. He looked lost for a moment, and then went back to grinning, his eyes lighting up the angles of his face. He was a happier blond. "Now get off me before you scandalize the poor waitress and her obi falls off."

He went and sat on the corner, perpendicular to Kano. His hand was twitching in his lap, as if he wanted to make sure that Kano was still there. I leant over to the boy's ear, shuffling over on my knees. Voice lowered, muffled by the noise of the others. His eyes lit up as I whispered, he nodded.

They were holding hands within a minute. What would Kano do to help with Ella? Ella knew about the....that thing. She would have made it so he never touched dyl. But she was gone. Was she gone? She wondered what Kano thought of her words.

The panel slid open again. Sake, a frosty ice blue glass bottle snuggled into a bowl of ice next to a single orchid blossom. It shimmered, even the flower glittering with shards of icy dust. The clear liquid running down her throat was delicate and fragile sake, all fruit and flowers. It wasn't cold, but chilled. A different beast to the hearty warm sake of the taverns her grandfather had drunk in. I opened my eyes. It was peaceful.

Kano's phone beeped. It was on loudspeaker. Voicemail

"Hello, my name is Kaz. I heard you're starting a band. I can sing and play a variety of different instruments, even the kazoo." A number, voice speeding up as it reaches the end. "Lemmeknowwhentryoutsare. Thanks."

"Huh." Dylan grunted.

"I like the kazoo." Mel interjected.

Loki peered up beneath his long dark lashes. "I wonder if he can come."

"where?"

"To play. Now."

When the waitress returned, she was bearing long, covered bamboo dishes divided into three compartments. One held soft, seductive sea urchins suspended in clear aspic. Another presented small, salt-roasted sweet fish topped with fresh soybeans. In the middle were tiny roasted Japanese yams, still in the skin, as soft and sweet as custard. Should I warn them about the sea urchins? Too late. Mel found out.

"What exactly is the chance of death again?" She drawled, her accent soft and mellow. Dark rings circled her eyes. She couldn't have slept much. But her skin was glowing, the ochre shades framing her dark brown eyes. Like pottery.

"Live a little." I grabbed hers, downed it, languidly stretching in a feline movement, my legs slipping under the table. Did monkeys like eating sea urchins?

Next, light soup. The covered black lacquer bowl contained a single shrimp and a section of a corn cob, hollowed out and filled with homemade tofu. Then there was sashimi served in two ice-covered bowls. One held translucent slices of fluke on a leaf of shiso, chunks of lobster on slices of lemon and a round of cucumber filled with freshly grated wasabi. Then Fatty tuna. I wondered if this was the best way to feed Loki...constantly. In small doses. He was stealing someone's wasabi. Mels. She looked pissed. Kano offered her his cucumber.

The waitress returned to see if we would like some more sake. Tucking her long sleeves into her obi in a graceful flowing motion, she poured the rice wine and left, her flowered kimono and small shuffling steps like the fairies in the nutcracker, gliding. My head was clear, the air light. When she returned, carrying covered ceramic dishes that cradled slices of duck simmered with eggplant and ginger, someone was failing to steal Loki's tuna. The waitress reappeared with ceramic plates, each holding a sizzlingly hot rock set in salt. She set one in front of each of us, along with platters of thinly sliced raw wagyu beef, mushroom caps and spears of asparagus. Tucking her sleeves into her obi again, she showed us how to cook our food on the rock; the scent of the butter-soft meat spiraled up into the air.

It was easy to forget chaos here. The mats, the walls... everything was ordered, but nothing was too sterile and perfect. Bad luck to have more than two corners of tatami touching, after all. Separated from brooklyn, from the raging sea of emotions that turbulently crashed outside. Here, everything was beautiful. Anyone was beautiful. Every day it changed, the meu, the glittering cloth, yet, like Coney Island, no matter how many face lifts it was given, it remained unchanged. The silence, intense. No trace of other people. The sense of crossing a threshold into narnia, into somewhere perfectly controlled, yet imperfect. I glanced down at my now crossed legs, bare and riddled with bumps from the cold night spent mourning the loss of Ella, drowning in blood that covered every tree in the park. No. That didn't exist. Even I couldn't bring that through that door, couldn't drag in behind me the blood soaked trees.

They wouldn't fit.

The finale was served on sparkling glass plates, each the color of a different jewel. Each held a single fresh litchi, slices of crisp Asian pears and a scattering of blueberries. Then the waitress served tea, put her hands together, bowed and indicated a button on the wall. ''If you need me again,'' she said, ''please ring the call button.'' And she disappeared, silently sliding the door closed behind her. The bill to be settled to my tab at a later date.

"We should ring that dude. Maybe he could play."

"Here?"

"Why not. Maybe he's in the area."

"Where's Nao? she should get to help. She passed out flyers for ages." Dylan interjected.

"She calles and said some family shit cropped up. needed to go to a hotel in midtown to pick them up."

"Where?"

"The Kitano."

"I can't believe you're such an idiot."

"eh?"

I sighed. "We're there. This restaurant's part of the Kitano hotel."

A silence fell.

"Then she can help.... right?" Loki added, his face blank and unaffected.

In the silence, we wondered what would call Nao to her family. Did we know her well? No. It seemed like the thought struck us all simultaneously.

© Copyright 2004 Dr Matticakes Myra, Jason Simmons, Staryl free as a Sparrow, Flex 5th birthday just gone., Glam-BACK, *Teddybear is back*, Stormy is Editing, M, Lascelles in Telos, xx-xx, KC under the midnight sun, (known as GROUP).
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