33

"I'm not going to pretend that I'm not disappointed, Mr Daniels."

Mr Delaney seemed to like that word. Disappointed. He clipped its edges with his tongues. River could feel it creeping up on him, creating a chasm in him, that word. The feeling of failure was familiar to him, and yet it was sharp, it hurt. It made him feel like things hadn't changed.

He put one hand along his arm, and rubbed the raw bone of it. He was so thin. Caspian was always telling him so.

"Mr Daniels?"

He nodded, patiently. He was listening.

Mr Delaney put down the pen he was holding. His face softened, slightly. "River. Look." He opened his hands, like he was holding something within them. "We all know that you've had a hell of a month. And we're prepared to give you leeway for that. But this- losing grip of your studies- it's out of character for you. You were never one to lose track of your schoolwork. Were you?"

You don't know that, thought River suddenly, vividly. I could be. You don't know me at all.

But he shook his head, meekly.

It was stupid. He knew it was stupid. Waiting up, instead of doing his assignment. But-

Damn it, Caspian wasn't being- he wasn't being wise. He wasn't strong enough to be doing this, going out at all hours of the night. He was going to compact everything tighter within him, until one day he simply keeled over with the weight of him. River was not going to allow that to happen. No way.

"Considering the circumstances," said Mr Delaney, still in the same deeply concerned voice, "if that Othello essay is on my desk within three days, I won't take any marks off. But this had better be the last time, River. I'm quite serious about that."

River nodded again. He picked up his bag and hooked it on his shoulder.

Being mute was useful sometimes. It meant people didn't expect him to answer back.

"Oh, and River?"

He looked back at the desk, his face as blank as a painting. He was too tired for this.

But it wasn't that.

"Go and see Mrs Gardner, would you?" Mr Delaney wasn't looking at him. He was putting his pens away in his pencil case, carefully, as if he didn't want to meet his eyes. His voice was constrained- too light. "Whenever you have time."

This puzzled River. Mrs Gardner? Oh. Right. They wanted to see if he was going off the rails or something. If his boyfriend was pulling him down. Sending people to look after him.

Damn it, he could look after himself. Losing grip. He was fine.

But he nodded, again. It was such an easy gesture. It didn't really mean anything at all, did it?

""""""""""""

It was Aunt Emily who answered the phone. River had been picking over his meal- quietly, like a bird. He never ate much. Caspian looked at him, concerned, once or twice, but supposed his throat had been troubling him. When it did, he didn't like eating- swallowing made it ache.

"Hello?"

"Oh, hello, Mr Browning."

"Yes, of course I have a moment to talk with you. Has something-"

"I see."

Caspian stiffened. Phone calls from the principal were not usually regarded as good things. He put his fork down and looked up, out into the corridor, carefully. He looked over at River, prepared to mouth a question, share a puzzlement- but noticed, suddenly, that he wasn't looking up, wasn't even looking surprised. Was simply regarding the food on his plate, biting his lip ring gently.

"Riv?" he asked, as quietly as he could. He didn't know what he wanted to say after that.

There was no response whatsoever.

They hadn't talked it over- waiting up for him, the curious, constrained interview they'd had when he got home. They'd both acted like it was all normal, the following day- both kissed as normal, laughed, everything. But something, subtle, in the air had changed. Caspian still felt separated from him.

Staring at him over the vegetables, listening to Aunt Emily's voice lower in the corridor so that only a few words could be heard, he felt that feeling intensify.

"I'm sure. Yes. Well, thank you for your call."

There was the sound of the phone clicking, and then Aunt Emily strode back into the kitchen.

"Caspian," she said, "go to your room, please."

Caspian looked up. Then he looked over at River.

"Caspian." Aunt Emily's voice hardened, slightly, at the edges.

There was nothing for it. He had to leave. He thought, briefly, of dawdling as he picked up his plate and put it on the sideboard, to see if he could hear anything, but knew that lingering would only make Aunt Emily angrier. And she was angry- there were small dots of pink on her cheeks, and her mouth had compressed into a line.

He felt as if he were abandoning River to a harsh fate- but, just before he shut the door behind him, he looked back and saw the boy's mute back, not turning to follow his exit, not doing anything. Just sitting there.

I guess he doesn't want me there, he thought. And moved away, to his bedroom, unsettled by the thought.

"""""""""

Aunt Emily sat down, and folded her arms.

"Well?" she said.

That was Aunt Emily for you. An economical person with her words at the best of times.

River looked up at her. He knew his eyes were obstinate and sullen, and he knew he was acting like a sour teenager. He knew she'd see it, and hold him in contempt for it. She treated him like an adult, not a sulky mood-swing magnet. But he was tired, and he didn't care. Why did they have to call?

"River," she said, and her word held the vague thread of a threat in it.

He raised an eyebrow. What?

Hating himself for doing it. But he felt all hard inside.

"River, you do not play games with me. The talk pad will go on the table, and you will explain to me, in as brief a manner as possible, why it is your principal is calling me because he is concerned by your recent academic performance."

What? That got River's attention. He flipped open the talk pad and typed, furiously, with one hand.

He's calling over one essay?

"There was also," said Aunt Emily, drily, "the matter that you have, apparently, skipped a few classes."

Morning ones. I was running late.

"No. You were not running late."

The implication was clear. But Caspian was.

River didn't want to do this. Not now. He was so tired. He felt it seeping into him, all of a sudden. Infecting his bones, his marrow, his blood. The exhaustion that came with holding himself up.

He gives me a lift, he typed. What was I supposed to do?

"Behave like an adult and organise alternate transport." Aunt Emily's voice was sharp. "You disappoint me, River. I always thought you possessed some small modicum of common sense."

The word again. turned his face away.

Guess you were wrong, then, he typed.

"I am never wrong, as you very well know." Aunt Emily's voice was crisp. "Stop taking the easy option and back-talking like a child, my boy. This is, I believe, a symptom of a wider problem."

He sat, his fingers stubbornly silent, and allowed her to expand on her theory, whatever it was.

"River, this Caspian of yours-"

Oh, great. Here it came. He shut his eyes, allowing the words to break over him- but they weren't exactly what he expected.

"It is love, between you two." There was a pause. "I have been on God's good earth for long enough to understand what it looks like. I would not allow him into my house if I did not approve of that. However, I refuse to allow him to impede upon your wellbeing. And when you begin to miss classes because of him, and stay up all night worrying about where he is-"

River looked up sharply at this last point, and she interrupted herself to smile at him, sadly. "I do notice the circles under your eyes, you know. My eyesight hasn't deteriorated so far as all that."

He smiled, but a surge of guilt rose up in him. It felt like it was colouring his blood.

Aunt Emily took off her glasses and rubbed them, carefully, with the corner of her handkerchief. "I think you will agree," she said, quietly, a little more force creeping into her voice, "that the situation, as it is, is undesirable."

No shit, thought River.

"River-" and she put her hand on his, and looked into his eyes, grey to black. He'd always found that gaze highly interrogative as a boy, had shied away from it. He found it no more comforting now. "You are my only concern, in this earthly life. I have devoted myself to your welfare, and therefore am entitled to interfere when you start to endanger yourself. Yes?"

Hesitantly, wondering where this was leading, but unable to deny himself the point, River nodded.

"Well, that, I believe, is what is happening at the moment-"

But River shook his head, vehemently, feeling strangely like a horse resisting being tamed. He could cope with these things. People just underestimated him. They always had. Maybe that was safer; maybe it was better. Adam and co had thought he wouldn't fight back, and look what happened to them.

But look what happened to you, said something to him.

Things were getting twisted. He didn't like twisted. He liked simple. Twisted got complicated, and then you got lost in the folds of things until somebody came to find you.

"I see," said Aunt Emily, after a pause. She removed her hand.

It was too complicated. He wanted to bury his head in his arms and go to sleep. He sensed that Aunt Emily was watching him, but he didn't really care about that, at this stage.

"You have mail, by the way," she said, getting up and crossing to the sideboard to get it. River sensed, in her voice, that she was disappointed in him; that seemed to be happening a lot recently, so he should start getting used to it, he thought, bitterly.

She took his plate away with one hand and put the letter in front of him with the other. He looked at the unfamiliar writing, puzzled. It was hand-written, addressed to him. River Daniels. Behind him, he could hear Aunt Emily turn on the taps and begin, in her thorough matter, to wash up.

"Turn it over," she said. There was nothing to read in her voice.

He did, and his mouth opened in shock as he read the return name and address.

Alexander Dufresne, Esq.

Bloody HELL.

He almost scrabbled to open it- contemplated using a butter knife as a letter opener, but then the envelope yielded. The letter inside was on expensive notepaper, with a crest at the top- Dufresne Industries. It was cursory and to the point.

Dear Mr Daniels,

I believe it to be a reasonable hypothesis that my son Caspian is presently housing with you. I have, as yet, hesitated to contact him directly, since (as you know) he would probably, and somewhat justifiably, refuse to talk to me.

I do wish, however, to communicate to him my intense wish that he return to his family home. While I am grateful for the hospitality of yourself and Emily Abernethie and would like to thank you for your evident concern for his welfare, I firmly believe that his place at this difficult time is in the house of his childhood. As I am sure you are aware, its doors were shut to him recently, a motion which I regret, and for which I now wish to make amends.

While it pains me that I must use you, Mr Daniels, as a messenger between myself and my son- it will possibly be the cause of some friction between the two of you, which is an outcome I would have wished, in the best of possible words, to avoid- I would like you to express to him my earnest apologies and my desire for his homecoming. If, as we both know is likely, that proves fruitless, please contact me so that the matter can be explored further.

I know that you, like myself, have the best wishes of Caspian at heart. I must express my thanks again for your kindness to him.

Alexander Dufresne.

River read the letter through twice, just to make sure he hadn't missed anything. Then he put it down, and stared into space.

The irony, and humour, of it was creeping up on him, slowly. Caspian's father had no idea whatsoever that he was writing to his son's boyfriend, trying to get him to persuade Caspian to come home.

I wonder why he wrote to me, he thought, suddenly. So he did notice I was spending a lot of time with Caspian. How did he find out he was here? Guesswork? Maybe he sent this same letter to all Caspian's old friends…

But he doubted it. Caspian's dad didn't seem to be the type to humble himself before just anybody, and behind the proud phrasing of the letter was a definite, grudging, attempt to admit his wrongs. River admired him for that. He really did. People so often refused to admit they'd done something stupid.

"Alexander is not the type to grovel," said Aunt Emily, suddenly, as if she had been reading his thoughts- or over his shoulder. She was, however, still over at the sink, examining the plate she was washing with a scrutinising eye. "You may want to preserve that letter as an historical artefact."

River looked at her, open-mouthed. How did you know-

She looked at him, and her eyes twinkled. "Oh, don't look so shocked. He knows he's staying here, given that you were always hanging around his son- although I doubt extremely that he knows all there is to know in that regard. He cannot simply call up his son and request his forgiveness, for two very good reasons- one being that your sweetheart would, being the charming person that he is, simply slam the phone down, and the other being that I am unlisted. I take it he's proposing to use you as a go-between?"

Still slightly stunned by this surreal turn of events, River nodded. He hadn't thought- when he'd gone to Caspian's house on Sunday, and met his father at the door- he hadn't thought Alexander Dufresne actually liked him. Or trusted him. People usually didn't. It was something to do with the piercings.

Aunt Emily put down the plate and picked up a fork. "I would advise," she said, thoughtfully, "not showing Caspian that letter. Or letting him know that his father has contacted you. You know why, don't you?"

River nodded again. Caspian would start thinking the world was conspiring against him- would get irrational, and stop trusting River at all. Which would be quite possibly the worst thing ever.

"Well, then." Aunt Emily put away the fork and looked over at him, beadily. "It appears a little subliminal force from you is in order."

Yes. River folded the letter and put it in his pocket. I suppose it does. He looked up at the ceiling, thinking.

"I suppose I owe Alexander a vote of thanks." Aunt Emily's voice was tinged with a sudden humour. "I was worried that, when I suggested you begin the process of reconciling Caspian to his family, you would resist on the grounds of his father's ox-headedness. Now that you are deprived of that excuse, all of our problems will begin to be solved." She twinkled at him.

River's heart soured a little, hearing this. He didn't return her smile. There was something naturally resistant in the idea that he was just being used as a little puppet by all these smiling adults, so keen to get their own way.

He wanted Caspian to go home. He did. But he'd wanted to let him do it on his own terms, not because his father demanded it, or because Aunt Emily thought he was being a bad influence.

But his hands were tied now, weren't they? He couldn't ignore a letter like this.

"Calm down, my dear." Aunt Emily went back to the forks. She held one up to the light, looking at its prongs carefully- her voice became almost absent. "When you have children, River, you will understand the lengths to which their guardians will go to keep them safe."

River raised an eyebrow at her. Children? Could be difficult, considering I'm in a relationship with a GUY.

She seemed to sense his sarcastic train of thought, and looked up at him. Then she smiled. "Well, you know what I mean."

"""""""""""

Caspian wasn't waiting for the door of his room to open and River to come in. He really wasn't. He was sitting there, on his bed, reading his textbook. He was just- slightly more alert than usual, that was all.

It didn't mean anything that he hadn't read any of the past five sentences less than three times over.

When River did finally come in and sit down on the bed beside him, though, he was calm about it. "Oh- sorry. Didn't hear you come in." Put down the book, casually. "So what was that all about?"

But River seemed to see through it immediately, and smiled. Damn it. How did he always do that?

Then he brought out the talk pad.

School, he said, shortly.

"No shit. I thought Mr Browning called to talk about the weather. What about school?"

A brief hesitation. Forgot to do my Othello essay.

Caspian cocked his head on one side. Some of his hair fell in his face. "Aw, River," he said, slightly surprised. "Since when do you forget to do anything?"

A shrug. There was more to this, but, predictably, River wasn't telling him. Aunt Emily got onto my case about it big time, though.

"Pity. They're all like that, parents. Or- guardians. You know what I mean."

River nodded. He looked- weaker, here. Slightly folded into himself. He pulled his knees up to his chest, hugged them. A protective gesture. Caspian wondered what Aunt Emily had said.

"Come here," he said, gently. River did- automatically, without even seeming to realise he was responding to a command- and Caspian hugged him. Pressed a kiss to his temple.

River extracted his arms from the hug and reached for his talk pad.

Your dad. Is he like that? If you miss an essay or something?

River's eyes were calmly questioning, containing no hint of pressure, but Caspian felt the sudden urge to take his arms away from him. What was he bringing his dad up for now?

"Yeah, a bit," he said, vaguely. Loosened his grip a little, detached himself, looking off in another direction. "He'd come down on me very hard about academics. Said they were important. Mum was worse, though. She wouldn't yell at me, she'd just kind of- look sad. It was worse."

He could feel River's hands curl around his own, and recognised the gesture as a comforting one, possibly bearing a hint of apology for having introduced the topic. Caspian never talked about his mum if he could help it.

They sat like that for a while.

Then River retrieved his hands again, reached for the talk pad. Are you still mad at him?

"River-" Caspian began wearily. They'd talked about this. Sunday night, going over and over the same issues. But he could tell, by River's eyes, that he couldn't dismiss him lightly. "Yes. OK? Yes, I'm still angry."

You can't hide here forever, you know.

The first thing that popped into Caspian's head when he read that was how Aunt Emily-ish it sounded. He would have voiced that opinion, but that was cruel and they both knew it. "Yes," he said instead. "But it's just for the moment. Till I make other plans."

That, of course, was rubbish. He was kind of happy here. He had River, and food and warmth. He could go to school and hang around with his old buddies. He didn't need much more.

River looked at him intensely. He seemed to know that Caspian was making that bit up.

The only plans you have, he typed, are ones concerning your social life. Don't deny it. You want to stay here.

"Yeah, well-" Caspian was a bit stung by the reference to his 'social life', as River called it. He was aware that River wasn't part of that crowd, that they drifted apart a bit when he was with them, but that wasn't really his concern. River had made his choice, he'd made his. "Is that a crime, now? Wanting to be around you?" He ruffled River's hair, trying to calm the anger in his voice. Getting angry wasted energy.

I love having you here, but this isn't your home.

For the first time Caspian was aware of something- pain, perhaps?- in River's eyes as he typed that. Saying this was costing him something. Maybe he didn't really believe it; maybe he was just saying it to relieve his own conscience. Yeah, that was probably it. Caspian smiled, dismissively, and lightly kissed River's mouth.

"I know," he said, in the tone of voice which indicated that the conversation was over, and that he had other things on his mind. He kissed him again, slightly harder this time.

River yielded, but Caspian got the feeling, somehow, that he'd done something dishonourable, shielding himself from conversation by seguing into making out.

But he was a teenage boy. That was what they did.

""""""""""

Mrs Gardner found that she was looking out the window again. The playground was empty- the sky grey. Everything seemed grey, now. Cold. Bleached of colour and life.

She shook her head- she'd been finding it difficult to focus, these past few days- and returned to her task, placing papers and folders in a box on her desk. At one point she stopped to look at a photograph she'd taken out of its frame. She held it for a little while in the palm of her hand, then put it in the box, on top of the folders, and shut the lid. Before she did, though, the name on one of the folders caught her eye.

I wish he'd come and seen me, she thought. Just once.

Ah well.

She picked up the box and shut the blinds.

""""""""""""

"Thank you, Mr Daniels."

River stood and watched as Mr Delaney leafed through the essay, raising an eyebrow occasionally. He'd worked his ass off on this to make up for his previous stupidity. Without boasting, it was a very, very good essay.

He wondered if he could be dismissed now. Caspian would be coming out of basketball soon. River knew he'd probably be hanging out with Harry and that lot now, but he wanted to see him for a bit before that. Five minutes. Just a brief few words, a smile, that was all.

They'd gotten into that sort of routine, now. River waiting after school, after classes, for Caspian to touch base with him. River thought it was important. Provide some stability. Remind him that he was there for him.

It took strength for him to do it, too. He felt exposed, while he stood around and waited for Caspian to appear. People had always stared at him, but in the past few weeks he'd had Caspian to take the blunt off their curiosity. He supposed he'd gotten used to it, and now, without it, he felt- naked. Like he'd relinquished something; his dignity, perhaps. Which was a joke. He'd never had any dignity to lose.

But it was important, so he did it. Shaped his day around Caspian's movements. The only times when he'd put Caspian's needs to one side, as it were, had been the ones where he'd been working on this essay. And Caspian hadn't complained about it at all, even though he'd been anxious to show him that he was sorry. He'd just shrugged it off, like it didn't matter all that much. But River knew it did.

He coughed, slightly. Just once. He was dreading doing it now, though. Every time he did, something in his throat pricked and burned.

He would go and see Dr Jackar. At some point. These days, though- there was just no time.

"Well, this appears to be an excellent piece of work, Mr Daniels." Mr Delaney's voice brought him back to earth. "Above and beyond your usual standard. I'm assuming that the school's concern about your academic focus prompted you to prove us wrong?"

River couldn't really deny it- and Mr Delaney was smiling. So he smiled back, and nodded.

"I see. Fair enough. Well, I look forward to being proved wrong in the future."

That struck a less confident note. The future. It was going to be difficult, maintaining his grades when he had Caspian to worry about. Difficult, but not impossible. A challenge. River liked challenges, as long as they didn't carry a sting in the tail. He still smiled, though. Then he motioned towards the door, questioningly. He was itching to move, to go and see Caspian, to feel the wind on his skin.

But Mr Delaney wasn't done. His voice- changed, slightly. "River, did you go and see Mrs Gardner like I asked you to?"

What?

Oh. No. He shook his head apologetically, pushing some hair out of his face. He hadn't had time. Well, more accurately he'd pushed it to the back of his mind- he hadn't wanted to face up to another person who was potentially disappointed in him. Still, Mrs Gardner had always helped him, so he was vaguely planning to drop by in fourth period yesterday, but he got caught up in- um- extracurricular activities with Caspian, in the hidden annals of the library.

(It was a free period. And the experience was very educational.)

But the warmth of the memory fled from him, looking at Mr Delaney's face. It wasn't disappointment, like he'd feared. It was- something else. Sadness, perhaps?

What had happened?

"I wish you had, River," he said, softly. He folded his papers and looked straight up at him. "She left the school today. She's taking a leave of absence. Personally I doubt whether she'll come back."

River's mouth opened in shock. He reshaped his expression into one of questioning. Why?

"You remember her daughter, Sasha? She said you went to see her once or twice when you were in hospital."

Sasha. Of course he remembered her. The bright walls of the deaf ward, and her little blonde flicks falling in her eyes- already they were beginning to be clouded by cataracts, but there were operations for that these days, he'd been hopeful for her. Stupid little stories in sign language, joke-telling competitions with her hands, weakened and pale because of the IV drips. And her blunt, continual refrain- "No fair!"

A great kid. It seemed like such a long time ago, now. Months.

He nodded. He wasn't sure what was coming next. He felt uncertain, as if he were standing on the edge of something deep and dark, and was about to take the first step forwards.

Mr Delaney sighed, and looked away. "I wish I hadn't been the one to tell you this. It's not my- but I suppose-" He broke off, and looked straight at River. His eyes were- kind. Sad, and yet pitying. River waited.

"River, Sasha passed away last week, from complications in surgery." A pause. A helpless, stupid, weighted pause. "I'm sorry."

River felt- cold.

""""""""""""""

What can I say? It was time for another death. To move things along, as it were.

Are people beginning to get the direction of the relationship now, and the impending problems? The ending is going to be so hella dramatic it's not funny. This story is ridiculous, it really is. I mean, it's literally an exercise in 'how much stuff I can put my characters through in a one-year period.' Yay for slashy melodrama!

Can I reiterate that I officially have the best reviewers EVER?

Number one, I get fanart. FANART! Tackle glomp hugs to Gauntlets of Discord, and you all have to go look at it- .

Number two, a lot of you have totally forgotten about actually talking about the story and just tell me how your day was instead. I cannot tell you how wordlessly awesome that is.

Anyway.

Final Rose- I've heard that theory of homosexuality centring around paternal influence before, actually. Personally I believe you're born gay or bi or whatever and that society simply shapes the way you express it, but that's my own personal opinion. My gay/lesbian/bi friends tend to get annoyed at people who say you can control or choose your sexuality, because it seems to demean their struggles and the struggles of their friends with sexual identity. I've known people who go 'oh, I'm a lesbian' (usually very loudly, with a lot of fuss), and do that for a few years and then announce that they aren't and never were, and in general I think they're tossers who were doing it for the attention.

Cere puddlecrow- I'm now obligated to ask what on earth a myspace is. It's not my fault, I swear. I'm computer intolerant. Caspian used to laugh his head off at me because he works in IT and I was like, 'um, yes, how do I turn my computer on?'

Mage Dudette- Yes, I am alive. I am cold, tired and have forgotten where I left my lunch, but I'm alive. (That's a line from a play you've never even heard of because I wrote it with my friends in my final year of school. Yay for pointless referencing!) It's funny, I never really understood the division between college and university. Australia doesn't have it. We have high school, then university, with maybe a gap year in between for people to travel, work, sort out their existential teenage difficulties, whatever. What's the difference?

Yes, going away with friends tends to make you all come back hating each other. Good that you avoided that. I went away with a group of girls after I graduated and I haven't spoken to 80 of them since. I was kind of planning to drop them after I graduated anyway, but the holiday just clinched the deal, as it were. Man, I'm a cynical bitch sometimes, aren't I? beams

And yes, the pictures from Rinna were VERY interesting. She's attempting to turn me into a manga fiend. I'm not resisting very fiercely.

Yoyo-chan- You came out in the ARMY? Dude, kudos to you. I definitely will email you when I get the time. This is something I gotta hear.

Gauntlets of Discord- You rock my world, my socks, my rocks, my poppycocks, all and everything. I'd start a religion surrounding your art talent, but that would quite possibly freak you out. THANK YOU. (I think this also earns you the right to see what R&C actually look like. If you somehow post your email address somewhere we'll work something out.)

Zwitter- Drag queens kick ass, don't they? Sydney has a big community of them. And no, River isn't a crossdresser. Neither the real nor the story one. There was one selected occasion, at a Halloween party… no, I'm not going there, on second thought.

BairbreB- Rocky road? Yum. I'm hungry now. Sorry- yes, the road ahead is going to be fairly obstacle-filled. I haven't quite figured out how exactly to make everything fall into place, but I'm having a lot of fun figuring it out as I go along.

Blacksunrise- Yes, 'unsensitive ass' sums up Caspian quite well at the moment.

ErrantG- Yes. Yes, I am wicked. I cannot deny it.

Randomperson- Urgh. Colds are the Devil. I don't get hayfever, but my mum does. I once counted her doing thirty-six sneezes in three minutes in spring.

Oh, please don't die. You know, just because it's kind of bad and then you won't review any more, and I would be miserable. I'm sure the GSCE's will be fine. Many, many people have gotten through them before, so it's evidently not an impossible task.

I love it when people cuddle in public. I am that odd thing, a combination of total cynic and hopeless romantic. I think that the cynicism only applies to my own prospects, though, so it isn't really an inherent contradiction. I love love LOVE reading other peoples' quirky romantic stories. And yes, it's been… what…. a year and a few months since I had a boyfriend, and mine was an absolute disaster too, but it's not that big a deal, is it? Singledom is fun. And I wouldn't want to have to explain to a boyfriend why I'm writing a stupid story about two boys making out and getting their lives messed up all the time.

For some reason, the goths in Sydney hang around the Town Hall here, too. What is it about Town Halls? Are they attempting to challenge authority or something? Or is it just the only place where they can stare malignantly at as many passers-by as possible? I think goths are funny, I really do. I'm friends with a lot of them, and provided they don't take the whole mindset too seriously they are brilliant, awesome people. But once they start buying into it, I can't help it, I just start laughing. I don't really fit into any clique- I have blue hair and a brain, so I'm not a prep, and I don't dress in all black so I'm not a goth, etc etc. It's kind of cool to be an outsider and drift from group to group.

I don't like popcorn. I don't know why, I just don't. Possibly because one of my friends works in a movie theatre and she's told me horror stories….

Patrick- Hey, dude. My name's J. Glad you liked the story- thanks for reviewing, I'm happy I prompted you to come out from your little shy shell and actually say something! I know basically no sign language so I'm making it all up as I go along, but it's good that it sounds like I know what I'm talking about. As for the mistake with ballet… I do not really want to know why you know the different ballet positions, I really don't.

And yes, you have puppy eyes, but my friend Isa could puppy-eye you off the planet. It's insane.

Monster In Your Head- Awww, thank you. I have to make you sad, though. What on earth would people do if I made this story HAPPY? Not read it any more, I'll bet.

Narcoleptic II- Your English is better than most English-speaking people I know. Quit putting yourself down about that. And yes, Caspian is entering jerkdom, we must all gather around and burn him in effigy. Well, no, not really, but he is being a bit of a stupid punk, isn't he?

'The one person who would bring down the moon to make you smile…'- that's a lovely image. I don't know why the moon would make anybody smile- it'd be more like, 'ok, um, you've given me a massive chunk of cold space rock, that's lovely, now put it back before NASA gets shitty at us'- but the concept is brilliant.

That story about your first kiss is kind of cool. Random stuff like that happens, though. I've never kissed a girl and I'm not planning to (despite the concerted efforts of some of my lesbian friends to at least try it so I know what I'm missing), but it's an experience you can tell your grandkids about, right? Well, no, not really, but it is a hell of a story, you're right there.

Skeptic-Critic- You wrote this entire long review and you didn't even tell me what you think of the story. That is incredibly priceless. Do it again.

You really should stop biting people. You don't know where they've been. And blue tips are good if you require normal hair again in a hurry. Mine, however, would be impossible to restore to normality unless I dyed over it, which would make me very sad. Very very sad. So it's not going to happen, because my blue hair really is the shit, quite honestly. My high school got annoyed if you dyed your hair a non-regulation shade of red (you think I'm making this up), so no blue hair for me there.

Go ahead, get holes in your ears. Just don't get a tattoo. They're silly. You're going to be like sixty-five and trying to explain to your grandkids why Grandma has a little peace sign on her ankle. My grandma's said she'll disown me if I get a nose piercing; I'm contemplating dating a guy with one, I hope the same rule doesn't apply… Anyway. Yes. Piercings. Have fun. They tend to heal over if you don't want them any more.

And maybe you should start writing themes for your reviews, like I do. That might help…

Oppanielsarim- That is the first, and, I would strongly suspect, the last time anybody will compare this story to Tsarist Russia. Best. Simile. Ever.

Horrible writer- I know, nothing much did happen last chapter. I hope this one satisfied your appetite for stupidly dramatic happenings. I did say that I'm not making any comments on what happened with the real life R&C, and I stand by that. Don't ask any more or you'll risk making me angry. Your friend is right in that 'coming out' does indicate that she's abnormal to some extent, but from a wider viewpoint it's simply an assertion of identity, not a request for acceptance. If she doesn't want to make it a big deal she doesn't have to, but I'm of the opinion that telling the people around you the truth about yourself makes life easier, not harder. And please don't forget about me, I'll be sad it you do.

Puji- Hey, thanks! And yes, I think you were making up words, but compared to some of the stuff that happens in the reviews on this story, that's completely and utterly normal.

WaterRose89- Heh. Yes, Caspian is suffering from a disease. Total and utter moron-ness. Although it's partially River's fault for being such a doormat. And gay people ARE interesting, aren't they?

America's Dream- Back in the dawn of time, when R&C and I were constructing this story, we discussed whether River would be able to whisper, and decided, you know what, forget conventional medical wisdom, let's just make it that his entire breathing tube situation is so fucked up he can't even do that. Hey, it's not like the rest of the story is setting any standard of realism we have to live up to, is it?

Prisoner-11- Well, I'm perfectly sure that you're beautiful and don't need any magical weight-loss food, so if you come across any you can give it to me anyway.

GossamerHeart- I don't know how I do manage to make your stomach twinge in nervousness. It has nothing to do with voodoo. Nothing at all. Uh-uh. Just ignore those little dolls over there, they're… um… ooh, look, something shiny!

Lindsay- It's funny, I always seem to attract the rambling reviewers. Is it something about the slash community? I have no idea what you're talking about with Mexican accents and so on, but that may possibly be because I'm writing this way too early in the morning.

Urgh. Eye drops. Yucky. My sympathies. The R&C picture thing is a personal choice of theirs which I'm not going to interfere with, but it's not like you need it when you have the glorious FANART done by Gauntlets of Discord instead, do you?

I find it immensely amusing that you spent Good Friday at a metal concert. That's like the best thing I've heard in ages. I've never heard of Morbid Angel, but it's a good name for a band- and mosh pits can get dangerous, particular when people have metal tips on the ends of their dreadlocks and they're head-banging. (Yes, yes, I speak from personal experience. I once had to spend half an hour mopping up River's face in a unisex club bathroom after he was scratched on the cheek by one of those tips.) I tend to find girls like that midget with the mickey mouse boots kind of sad, really- if that's the only joy they get out of life, they are miserable creatures. Yay for going backstage and being VIPs! Don't sell the dollar bill, wait till he dies of a heroin overdose first. (What, like it's not going to happen?)

I recommend that you publish that guide-to-metal-etiquette more widely. It's hilarious. And so true. So, so true.

It's kind of funny that people make judgements on you based on your baseball leanings. Your country is a weird place, it really is. And yay for fanart!

Fanart is love, people.

Misundastood- Awesome, thanks!

Lace Butterfly- Tyler and Ian made my morning. Quite seriously. Particularly Tyler. Do I want to know how he knows what eating a live rabbit feels like?

Purple hair is the shit. I had purple hair for a while, but blue suits me better. Still, it remains the shit. As are lip piercings, purely because they are, I don't need a reason for that. You have cool friends.

And come on, that story was twenty thousand different types of awesomeness. Tyler's standards for drama are too high. It's like something out of a movie. Well, maybe an indie movie with an experimental director. Still. When I first heard R&C's story I thought they were making it up, but the Tyler-Ian one is believable, and what's more it's very, very sweet, without being nauseating at the same time (which is rare, so kudos to them). You can't fault anything which combines snow, coffee, charitable actions, lip piercings, pink pens and kind-of-sort-of-stalking, you really can't.

I don't like coffee either, really, so I'm on Ian's side there. I'm contemplating a job in a coffee shop, though. Mostly because it's warm there, and it's coming up to winter, and yes, the money might be a factor too. And 'punk-rock leather-pants-nice-ass' is a brilliant phrase. I'm absolutely using that, from now on. And 'evile'. Because I can.

Strangely enough, 'punk-rock crossdressing Energizer / Playboy Bunny of eternal happiness, hyperness, and doom' is actually quite an eloquent description. I now have a very distinct mental image of Tyler in my head. Very distinct, and very, very funny.

As it happens, I agree with Ian that this story is 'adequate'. It was never meant to challenge literary boundaries or be a bastion of social realism or anything of that sort; I save that for my English theses and my novel. It's just fluffy, brainless, melodramatic fun where most of the plot originates in me going 'hmmm, what can I do to them next?' Luckily nobody's really taking it seriously, though, which is good.

I would be very proud if I started a trend of writing romance stories for becoupled friends. It's a brilliant gift- I fully recommend it. It costs you nothing except a bit of time and imagination.

Hey, my name's Jennifer too. Only I don't answer to that except when my grandmother calls me it. I only answer to J. And don't worry- bipolar or no bipolar, the weirder your reviews are, the more they'll fit in here.

(I have to add a postscript. My friend Emma, reading this review, emailed me and said 'There are gay people in Kentucky?!' … I think she'd gotten the impression, like, well, most of the rest of the world, that the Southern US was a little closed-minded. You should feel proud, however, that people take such an interest in you.)

OK, because that story seriously was kick-ass- if you have a sweet, quirky, off-the-wall or simply weird romantic story, please share it. I want to see if any of you can beat Tyler & Ian. Go and read that story in my reviews, anyway, it's cute.

Mimay- I'm glad it cleared things up for you a bit. Yes, story-River's eyes are very expressive. They have to be, don't they, considering he doesn't have many other ways of talking. And, you know, it's funny; most people have read Caspian not being able to understand River's expression as an indicator that he doesn't really comprehend that anything's wrong with him. There's issues there that need to be worked out.

Rinna- I actually had this chapter written a little while ago, but I've been waiting to post it until you reviewed the last one, mostly because I did not want you to spontaneously double your review length to two chapters at once. I think the fictionpress review algorithm would die or something.

Anyway. Yes, it was meant to be creepy. I'm not entirely sure if I communicated their distance- I've brought them back together more in this chapter, but they're definitely drifting apart. By the way, you summarised the issues (ie why they're such idiots) perfectly, as I understand them. I was never the type to get them together and then let the world move on as it wished. I like the fact that my characters aren't perfect and I'm giving them the chance to fuck up as much as possible. You really are going to kill me, I think, but hey, you were the one with the story title 'Nothing's Perfect'.

You are kind of like Angela, aren't you? That wasn't self-insertion or anything at all, I just figured somebody needed to be a foil to River so I could express what he was thinking at that point.

Heh. The fact that a random slash story on the internet by a girl in Australia is influencing your high school education is, officially, awesome.

I have no idea who Mercedes Lackey is, but I did get the sense that you were a fantasy sort of person. I'm nowhere near as obsessed, because I tend to find that the worlds fantasy people construct are all the same. They're usually idealised Earths combined with industrial hells (usually with a bit of futuristic randomness thrown in). Either that or they shamelessly rip off LOTR. And they all suffer from capital letter syndrome. Anything important is given a capital letter. The Dome, the Guardians, the Malificents, the Field of Everlasting Sorrow (all of those were completely made up, but they don't go very far from the truth). I find that annoying for some reason. Isobelle Carmody was always my favourite and she suffers from that.

Yes, you would come to Australia and watch the toilets flush, wouldn't you? 20 degrees is cold, shut up. Maybe I will tell you the other ending, maybe I won't. But the way I'm looking to set it out, the other ending will be pretty obvious anyway. I'm so posting both, on reflection. With the chapter headings: 'Sad Ending' and 'Happy Ending'.

Twould be cool if you could be friends with Jess again, but there are so many people in this world that I'm sure you're not missing out on anything, if that makes sense. And yes, fine, eight, but that was the most unsubtle attempt to pull me over to the manga dark side ever, man. I don't have time to read it! I'm most intrigued by Junjyou Romantica and Gin, though, because the latter sounds cute and the former sounds interesting. And Loveholic, purely because that's a sweet name for a story. (Superficial? Me? Never.)

Bloody hell, your life story's getting complicated. All right, I'll type what I think as I read. You only took four classes? We had eleven subjects… no, ten… 'Tell Me More' is a great song. So cheesy! But I can't talk, I've gotten you into John Farnham. You so aren't a Rizzo. You'd play one well, though, I'd bet. Yay for Chris and Jason! I swear, this story is introducing me to more gay couples- you read that thing about Tyler and Ian, didn't you? Made my day. Boo for evil ex-boyfriends; I hope AJ's Jesse got what he deserved. Thanks for telling me AJ's story, it was pretty interesting.

That's amazing, that Chris got an apartment. Man, I want one! Oh, no, hold on, I can't cook and I have no independent income. Yeah, I'll keep living at home, thanks. Poor Miranda (this is about the asexual best friend). Parallel with Alex and Conrad much? Although yes, they are an OTP, I have to get them together at some point otherwise a legion of fangirls will lynch me. Though whether their relationship works out or not is not guaranteed. I think transitional phases like that are quite common; from what Emma's told me about herself, she went from liking guys to liking girls to deciding she just couldn't pick. But Emma is a fan of self-embellishment, so I have no idea if that's true or not.

Yes, you are the most random rambler reviewer ever. But, on the good side, you got me to write two paragraphs of totally incomprehensible replies when I gave up on trying to be coherent and linking everything together. Feel proud.

R.E.V.I.E.W

Really Excellent- Very, If Everybody Writes

Heh. I'm proud of that.