chapter oo4:

your dermis is showing

Rays of sunlight fall in angled lines upon clasped hands and an empty plate littered with crumbs. Prudence bows her head over her folded hands and, although her lips are sealed, she whispers her secrets into an all-hearing ear. Confessions mingle with prayers mingle with hopeless wishes. She feels so young, so helpless when she wishes for things she cannot have back. Still, her hands continue to clutch each other and her 'dear god's attempt to make themselves heard.

The gentle thud, thud, thud on the stairs announces her brother's presence as he shuffles downstairs. She hears the resounding silence when he catches her in this prayer of pose and uncertainty freezes him. Whatever happened to the self-assured big brother who always knew what to do? Maybe he, like the naïve little girl she used to be, grew up too.

Droplets of shower water drip down his cheek, reminding Verity too much of the hot burn of someone else's tears landing there. He does not linger in the dining room for long. Watching other people pray gives him a dreadful feeling that claws mercilessly at his gut. Their sincerity wordlessly accuses him of many transgressions.

Verity slides two slices of bread into the toaster, and with the press of a switch, they slip into the hot recesses of the contraption. He focuses on the red glow of electricity transformed into heat instead of the bustling sounds around him. Dishes clatter as a plate and mug join the clutter in the sink. The water runs quietly. Prudence begins to wash the dishes as he continues watching the toaster do its job. "Mom went out to lunch with Mrs. Thomas."

His sister's voice sounds small in the tranquility of their home. Always, she speaks to him in that tentative tone, as if dipping a toe in to test dark waters frightens her just a little. Sometimes he wants to ask what she prays for, but the question never makes it past his lips. "Okay," Verity acknowledges her information quietly. They don't have much to say to each other lately. Is this part of getting older too?

Silence reigns once more. Toasted bread startles them both as it pop out of the toaster with a ding. Verity retrieves the butter from the fridge and begins to smear it slowly over his bread. As the dull knife sweeps over the rough surface, he casually brings up the topic he has been avoiding for the last few days. "I saw you at the bake sale."

A soapy cup thumps against stainless, metallic silver. Tension unfurls into her tone as Prudence replies with forced nonchalance, "Oh. Really? There were lots of people, so, I ... I didn't stay for long. You could have called me over, if ... if you saw me."

"You looked busy," Verity replies, moving on to the next slice of whole wheat. His voice sounds too indicting for his liking. Smoothing his tone over the same way he smoothes pats of butter with the edge of the knife, he continues, "Who was that boy?"

Running water swirls wastefully down the drain as Prudence stiffens. She doesn't try to dance around the question, but it takes a moment for the words to form in her mouth. "He was my most recent ex-boyfriend," she admits quietly, rinsing the soap off the dishware.

That only makes Verity want to punch the nameless boy's lights out even more. Maybe he just feels the need to blow off some steam by rearranging some kid's facial features. "What were you arguing about?" he inquires, scowling at the thought that anyone could engage in any sort of negative conversation with his sister. Ironically enough, the rough edge to his tone doesn't exactly brighten their little exchange.

"We weren't arguing," Prudence murmurs curtly. Her soft words quiver with the struggle to keep an even inflection. Verity recognizes that quaver well, for he has fought that sort of battle with his vocal cords more times than he can possibly count.

"Prudence, come on. I know you were arguing. I'm not stupid," Verity replies, his frown deepening as he sets the butter knife down. He turns to face her but she keeps his back to him. "Was he ... bothering you?"

A dishtowel swishes as Prudence wipes water droplets off the plates and cups. She places them in the proper cupboards while blatantly ignoring his question. "Come on, Prue. You can tell me," Verity tries to coax the words from her throat. The note of gentle pleading does no good. Instead, she whirls on him with tears swimming in her irises.

"I don't know!" she shouts, flinging the dishrag away. On the verge of bawling, her expression reveals everything save for her innermost thoughts. Splashes of agonized emotion paint her face. Anger, suffering, confusion — it is the look of someone desperate to find driftwood to cling to in the middle of a tempestuous sea.

Yet when Verity attempts to hug her, she steps away from him. He stands there with his arms open for an embrace but only empty air before him. Prudence flees before he can utter another word. He can hear the faint sound of her sorrow as her footsteps pound up the stairs. Prudence used to draw strength from him when they were young. But now the very idea must seem laughable. Wide-open arms fall to his sides, tugged down by the heaviness weighing down on him.

Evening splays its fading, violet light upon the windows of their quiet home. Verity wakes up to the dim murmurs of a TV seeping in through the ceiling. He doesn't remember falling asleep on the sofa, but the stiffness of his joints does well to remind him. Blinking sleep-laden eyes, he rubs the back of his neck only to discover his knuckles sinking into a cloud-like comfort. Someone has tucked a pillow under his head.

The onerous weight in his heart intensifies tenfold. In a fit of childish annoyance, he flings the pillow away and glowers at it. The immature brat buried within him is showing and it doesn't suit him very well at all. Verity sighs as he picks the pillow up off the floor and sets it on the sofa. Television voices whisper overhead.

He needs to disappear for a while. Rip the mask off his face and forget the façade he forces himself to live.

Verity lets his feet lead him out the door to nowhere in particular. Mindless wandering can't cure any of his afflictions but the pretty landscape of picture-perfect houses and well-trimmed lawns distracts him from the brain-bending conundrums of life. Focusing cynical irritation on the picturesque suburban streets prevents a surge of puzzling emotion from swallowing him whole. Night begins to crawl over the sky as he takes a winding path through the neighborhood. He has no idea what to look for, but he needs something else. Something that isn't the skin he's wearing.

Luckily for him, the blaring racket of a party located down this street lures him in. The house seems to vibrate on its very foundation as music flows through the walls in a fashion similar to blood coursing through veins. Verity slips in through the front door unnoticed. Alcohol numbs brains and nobody wants to guard the door anyway. The danger of these reckless parties doesn't seem to occur to anyone when techno melodies deafen ears.

Giggling a little drunkenly, a little flirtatiously, an unknown girl teeters towards him. Her make-up isn't fooling anyone. They're all too young to party like this, but everything about this girl screams freshman. The scent of alcohol coats her like a perfume. Nausea squeezes the organs of his digestive system. "Hey," she coos, gripping his arm.

"I have to go," Verity manages to choke out a vague reply.

He's been here before, amongst the wild ambiance of these partygoers, but now he feels like escaping. All because of this strange girl. There is a moment when the music wails and confusion tinges the girl's gaze. Minus the glaze of alcohol, that lost look on her face reminds him so much of his sister. This girl shouldn't be here. "Y-you don't want to dance?" she mumbles, puzzled by such an unencouraging response.

Verity tries to tug his arm away gently but chewed down, glittering blue nails dig into his skin. Smarting from rejection, a shade of anger slowly leaks onto her face. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as they say. Whoever told her that all boys are sex-starved pigs got it all wrong and now he is paying the price. He winces as she does her best to leave crescent moons marked on his skin.

Warmth envelopes him from behind and arms wrap around his neck. "Sorry, sweetheart, I have dibs on this one," an all too familiar, an all too smug voice drawls beside his ear. They are melded so that each hard line of their bodies presses together. Verity can feel that sudden pulse of desire burning in him. Perhaps the term 'sex-starved pigs' does them justice after all.

The kid — that's all she is, really — releases his arm. Looking too lost for her own good, she wanders away slowly. The crowd on the dance floor swallows her in an instant.

"What a surprise to see you here," Vice taunts, freeing Verity from his grasp. Something about that usual Cheshire Cat smirk tells him it's the exact opposite.

"Such a coincidence," Verity bites out, shifting backwards two paces to put more distance between their bodies. The vortex that is Vice threatens to suck him in, but he doesn't plan on allowing the maelstrom to trap him once again.

Other people might find his dark hair and dark eyes and dark personality sexy, but Vice disgusts Verity too much. Yet he cannot deny the truth of his blunt remark. The freshman from before made him forget, but now nothing distracts him from the toxic atmosphere of the party. Vice is just an extremely obtrusive part of the scene, he tells himself. Vice can be ignored, he repeats to himself. Vice is just a corner of the wallpaper that's peeling off the wall, he assures himself.

"You need a drink."

The bottle of beer waved before his face seizes his attention. Didn't he ask for something else anyway? Maybe that upturned corner of wallpaper will drive him mad and he'll pull on it and unleash havoc into his life once more. Verity snatches the alcohol away and the burn as it travels down his throat relieves him of the burdensome feeling on his shoulders. For now, he needs to plunge headfirst into the deep end, even if he has to smash himself to pieces to get there.

As he tracks down more drinks, he can hear Vice vaguely in the background. Like a floating voice detached from a body, he seems to be saying things to him, but the words don't register. Desperation has turned Verity into a situational alcoholic. Maybe he will feel like a monster when he wakes up in the morning. Maybe he will feel remorse later on. Maybe.

"I said a drink, not four or five," the words penetrate the buzzing haze clearly somehow. Vice forces the bottle away from his mouth. The light must be affecting his eyes, making him hallucinate that scornful twist of lips. It might just be Verity's imagination, but a dry sarcasm seems to invade the other's voice when he speaks again. "Are you drunk enough that sex in an empty room upstairs might appeal to you?"

"Fuck," Verity mumbles to himself, setting the beer aside. A moment of clarity seizes him suddenly and a question begins to think about forming in the back of his mind, but then it vanishes — an important smoke signal whisked away by the wind. He feels like throwing up.

Vice seems to take his profanity as a positive answer. However, their trip up the stairs lacks all the heat, all the intrigue, all the bump and grind of their first encounter. His hip hits the doorknob on the way inside the empty room. The headboard bangs the wall as their combined weight lands on the bed. Aggressive lips touch his skin.

The last thing he remembers before he falls asleep is the warmth of someone else's bed and the body curved against his.

The world swirls round and round. Faintly, the wet sounds of eager lips and sighs of pleasure emanate from a corner of the room. Verity groans into the pillow. His brain whines pitifully as reality slowly drops into place all around him. If he cared to peel his eyes open to face the darkness of this unknown room, he would notice the pair of hormonal teenagers making out against the wall.

How many drinks did he have again?

Verity sits up jerkily. The joints of his arms and legs feel rusted, but that could just be the weariness mingling with the effects of alcohol. Every feminine whimper from that dark corner resounds painfully in his brain. "V-Vice," the girl sighs contentedly, immobilizing the boy on the bed.

From her tone, Verity can tell she is melting in his arms. Does playing with people please the bastard? Are humans just his dolls, his toys, his playthings? What is this fucker's deal? He can't figure him out at all. Even in his drunken state, when the illogical might seem sensible, that boy just doesn't fit together correctly. Vice is a puzzle with too many missing or horribly disfigured pieces. Verity feels his head throb again and the overworked gears of his brain submit to a decrease in speed.

"Who the fuck is that?" a disdainful hiss slips from the girl's lips.

What was that saying again? Something about hell and scorned women. It muddies the melodious quality of her voice and, suddenly, she is all bite. Her steadily rising voice hammers nails into every crevice of his brain but the words fade into a gibberish he doesn't try to understand. She ends her rant with flourish, storming out the door while simultaneously attempting to tug her shirt back on. As hallway light knifes into the room, Verity screws his eyes shut.

"Well, Mister Voyeur, you lost me my toy for the night," Vice remarks unconcernedly. The bed creaks almost inaudibly as he adds his weight to the corner.

"Voyeur?" Verity splutters, his words slightly unsteady due to the alcohol content still streaming through his body. "You son of a bitch! You were about to have sex with a girl while I was asleep in the same fucking room!"

The ringing accusation does not linger to fill the space. Twinkling eyes leer at him, but no response comes from the smirking lips he can just make out in the darkness. He ruffles his hair and kneads his forehead in an attempt to assuage the pain. "You didn't molest me in my sleep," Verity realizes aloud, the words slipping out in a mumble before his brain has time to think them.

Smirking lips transform into a grin and Vice laughs. It's probably just the alcohol talking, but Verity swears that's the most human sound he's ever heard Vice Blake utter. He rubs his temples and the observation evaporates into thin air. Almost as if it never existed to begin with. "Please. I may be a bastard, but I'm not a rapist," Vice replies smoothly, a chuckle still imbedded in his tone. "Although ... "

Finger tips brush a patch of skin on his neck. The pad of a thumb rubs slow circles over the smooth, pale texture of cells. "Stop. Touching. Me," Verity struggles to enunciate each word with menace despite the increasingly painful throbbing trapped in his brain.

He shoves the hand away and his own fingers flutter uncertainly over the column of his throat. He slides the pads of his digits over the back of his neck, through the ruffled mess of blond hair, clamps his palms over his weary eyes. "Shit."

"The word with which no Saturday night party is complete," Vice purrs vaguely, almost soothingly, as he begins to slide the other's rumpled shirt up to expose pale skin.

For an unexplainable reason, the date is the only thing sticking to his brain. What is the significance of Saturday? Verity ignores the hands on his midriff, concentrated on digging the answer out of his throbbing head.

"Saturday..." he mumbles, forcing himself to think even though his brain pleads for mercy. The hands on his skin still and slide away. Vice chuckles like a man who knows a secret that he will tell no one. Verity wants to just shake the answer to this puzzle out of him and, perhaps, rough up his dignity (if he even has any). He reaches out to do just that, but his fingers barely brush the fabric of the shirt as the answer slaps him in the face.

"Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit." The enunciation of his words steadily blurs and becomes a panicked chant. An urge to vomit swirls pitifully in the pit of his stomach.

After Saturday night comes Sunday morning.

Verity scrambles to find his cell phone. Bed covers are flung into the dark of the room. Something falls off the nightstand and hits the floor with a muffled thud. Blue light glows upon a smirking face. "2:03," Vice recites the number off the screen. "Fifteen missed calls. All from a very worried sister of yours."

In the few seconds that it takes Verity to stomp across the room and snatch his cell phone out of that asshole's hand, he doesn't formulate any violent course of action. He feels sick and he needs to go home and he needs to wake up tomorrow to go to church like he always does. Beyond that, he has planned nothing in advance. So, he doesn't mean to punch Vice Blake in the face, but, as they say, shit happens.

The contact of his own knuckles against soft skin startles even himself. Yet he can't help that hint of smug satisfaction he feels in the space of time when those dark eyes widen and that stupid bastard tumbles off the bed. However, the pitiful wobble to his posture and the crumpled, half-buttoned shirt and the heaviness of his breathing detracts from the glare of distaste on his face as he gazes down at Vice.

Even if Vice is the one on the floor with a bruise sure to bloom on his flesh, Verity can feel his ears burn with the humiliation of losing control. He turns away wordlessly and leaves the room on vaguely unsteady feet. Through the closed door, he can hear the muffled sound of laughter in a silent room.

Morning brings a cool breeze that whispers where the window is open a crack. Buried in slumber's hold, Verity lays sprawled haphazardly atop the covers in the same spot where he collapsed into bed the night before. Dimly, he is aware of an alarm clock beeping, but perhaps it is only part of a dream. As suddenly as it started, the sound fades. A train of important thought whistles feebly in the back of his mind. Then that too is gone.

He doesn't know how long he remains asleep. When he stirs, evil little demons pound his brain mercilessly. Verity muffles a groan into the pillow. The sound of the door opening seems so loud now and he wants to scream at the trespasser to leave him alone because this hangover is killing him.

Soft hair tickles his bare arm. Verity wonders why the gentle fingers on his shoulder aren't trying to shake him awake. Tense silence dominates the air. He might be hung-over, but even he can sense when negative emotion charges an atmosphere. In a sudden epiphany, it occurs to him that the scent of alcohol lingers on his disheveled clothing. When trembling fingers ghost over a certain patch of skin on his neck, another flash of brilliance and a dreadful feeling in his gut tells him that a red-violet stain is marked there on his skin.

Fucking Vice Blake. Verity does not regret punching him.

Before he can even think about forcing himself to sit up and face the music, he hears the door shut. If he strains his ears, Verity can hear the soft sounds of a slightly wavering voice. "He's running a fever, mom. I don't think he'll be able to go today." Prudence is lying for him. Despite every blatant hint that he has done wrong, she invents an excuse for him out of thin air.

An indistinct voice murmurs something from downstairs. "No, he's feeling really weak. Yeah, I — " her voice fades into inaudibility as she slips down the stairs.

With bated breath, he stares up at the ceiling, waiting for the sound of the garage opening. When it comes, Verity heaves a sigh of relief. He mutters a soft word of thanks to the air before burying his head under the pillow to protect himself from the rude glare of sunlight pouring in through the open curtains.

A/N: oh my god, i am so tired. school orientation stuff sucks. especially standing in line for textbooks. bah. yeah, so, i'm quite braindead right now.

school starts soon. i lament the end of summer, man. but i'm looking forward to autumn, oh, autumn. it's my favorite season. x3

thank you to patsylooj for being totally awesome and looking this over for me. i lovessss youuuuu~

uhhh, thanks for reading. please review. [: