A/N: I know, I know... I have Checkmate and Rooftops in progress, but I couldn't help posting this chapter. I'd like to know your opinions, whether you're interested in reading more of this story, so on, so forth...

Oh, yeah. For those of you reading Checkmate, this is the story of Landon's friend, Cole, but it happens a few years later, in college.

Chapter 1: Slippery slopes

He stood there, pen poised over the page of a notebook, gaze staring into nothingness. The eyes of the people passing by him would linger appreciatively for a moment, taking in the raven, shoulder-length hair, the lanky, six feet body lazily seated with the back against the fountain, before going ahead to their business.

He didn't see them, didn't hear them, didn't acknowledge their presence. He was alone, even in the sea of people milling around.

Rayner sighed and snapped out of his reverie. Looking down at the notebook he'd been holding, he grimaced and started doodling on the page he'd been previously trying to write. His doodles were invariably the same, whenever he would start drawing it was always the same things appearing on the page: eyes of different shapes, flowers of different species and families, abstract, tribal patterns, wings. When he got bored with that, he'd start jotting down lyrics from the songs that obsessed him at that moment or seemed to fit the mood. Or simply write his own.

He didn't want to go back to the apartment, not now, not yet. He snapped the notebook shut and closed his eyes, annoyed by the bright, cheerful rays of sunshine. It was summer, and the heat almost unbearable. The black, long sleeved T-shirt he was wearing didn't help, but the cold stone of the fountain, and the cool water splashing behind him did.

Rayner opened his eyes and threw a bored look around him. There was a mother playing on the grass with her spoiled three-year old child, a few older people sitting on benches, having come outside to enjoy the beautiful weather, and any number of happy couples walking around, blissfully in love and stupid in their mutual infatuation.

"God dammit, Cole, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Get back here, Kelly, or else!"

Rayner ground his teeth in irritation at the noisy voices he heard behind him. Who started yelling like that in a public park? He stubbornly refused to turn around; it would mean he'd acknowledged them, which was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Or else what, you jerk?"

He heard a muffled scream then a splash as something fell into the fountain, moments before the droplets of cold water splashed against him.

"What the fuck?" The words flew out of his mouth as he fruitlessly tried to brush away the wet tendrils of hair sticking to skin of his neck. He jumped to his feet and turn around to glare at the pair behind him, only to have the words stuck in his throat at the image that met his eyes.

A boy and a girl were tangled in a wet mess in the fountain, laughing like lunatics. They were both tall and blond, and a closer look had Rayner pegging them as siblings. Twins, no less. Great.

The boy lifted sparkling black eyes at hearing Rayner's voice and his lips curved in a wider smile as he noticed the angry boy.

"Oh, hey! Wanna join!"

"Cole, you idiot, can't you see we splashed him head to toe! Get off me, you retard, before the police comes to arrest us!"

Rayner fisted his hands to his sides, fingers clutching tightly at the notebook that had somehow been spared the impromptu shower, praying for patience. He turned to leave, finding it more productive that sitting around to deal with that pair of idiots.

"Hey, wait, wait!"

A cool hand encircled his wrist and Rayner snapped his head around, sharply pulling his hand back.

"Don't touch me."

"Okay, okay, fine, but wait a second. " Cole lifted his palms up in the universal gesture that invoked innocence. He was drenched, water dripping from his clothes, his green T-shirt stuck to his chest. "Let us at least apologize. "

"Accepted." Rayner growled and impatiently pushed the wet hair from his face as he walked away.

"Wow, you always in such a bad mood?"

Rayner ignored him and kept walking forward, furious at having fallen into that trap. Why, why, couldn't he have kept his mouth shut, let it go and walk away? Now he was stuck with this guy following him around like a stalker.

Cole ran a few steps and skipped ahead of Rayner, walking backwards as he faced the dark-haired boy.

"Would you stop for a minute? Please?"

"You won't let this go, will you?"

Cole smiled winningly, a fact that did nothing but further annoy Rayner.

"Nope. Give me a few precious moments of your time. Five minutes."



Rayner considered."Fine. Shoot."

Cole shook his head and sent water flying around before he dropped on a bench and patted the place next to him, sighing exaggeratedly when Rayner refused to follow the invitation.

"You just lost 30 seconds."

"Aww, man, don't be like that. I'm trying to be friendly here."

Rayner wasn't feeling friendly, it wasn't in his nature. Sullen was though, and the feeling kept climbing. "Two more minutes."

"Fine, be like that. Jeez." Cole muttered under his breath before snapping those black eyes back at Rayner." Anyway, just wanted to apologize for the incident. "

"We already went through that. Forget it."

"Yeah, but you see, I was thinking…"

"Don't." It had escaped Rayner involuntarily, and it earned him a mock glare from Cole, who kept on talking.

"As I was saying… To make it up to you, I was thinking I'd pick you up tonight. "

Rayner was struck dumb. "No."

"But you don't even know what I'm talking about."

"Not interested."

Cole got up from the bench. "I was going to propose a couple of drinks down at Frenzy. I know you go there, I've seen you in there occasionally."

Rayner frowned. He did, indeed, go there, but only very rarely now. There had been a time when that place had been his favorite haunt, his and his friends'. But that was before…

' "Ray, love, get that cute butt of yours over here and have a jelly shot with me!" '

The raspy voice spearing through his memories had him wincing in pain and returning to reality, and the blond-haired, black-eyed boy in front of him.


"Oh, come on. Why not? You like it there."

Just then, his phone beeped the arrival of a message. 'Got your stuff. Meet me at F tonight. K.'

He ignored the shiver of relief that shot up his spine and looked back at Cole. "Okay." He turned and left, not waiting for Cole's answer, still shaky from the moment before.

"Great, see you there then! Drinks on me! Hey, do you have a name?"

Rayner didn't bother answering back, his mind already on the message he'd received, and the promise it held.

He entered the apartment and fell on the bed, boneless and hurting. The sharp pain in his chest was still there, the cold sweat covering his body making him shiver. He made no move to change his wet clothes: as long as he had them on, he could still pretend that was the reason his whole body was trembling.

Rayner let his eyes flutter closed, knowing that, if there were other images waiting to assault him, it was better to get it done with. He braced himself, trying to prepare, but it still hurt as that sharp, angular face flashed behind his eyelids.

' "Ray, love, get that cute butt of yours over here and have a jelly shot with me!" He pulled on Rayner's wrist and brought him flush against him. "There you were. " He dropped an absent kiss in Rayner's hair, before gesturing to the seat next to him. "Sit. Have a drink with me."

Hazel eyes stared at Rayner, muddled and slightly confused. Rayner sighed heavily. "You're drunk."

The boy nodded and his lips curved in a slightly bitter smile. "So I am. Come here." Rayner moved closer and sighed again as the boy's arms wrapped around him. Long, skinny, fragile arms. Rayner moved his hands to cover the cold, clammy skin and sunk deeper in the hug.

"Let's go, Seth. Please."

"One more drink, sunshine, then we'll go. Promise."

Rayner squeezed the arm holding him as his stomach tightened in disappointment. They weren't going anywhere too soon.

"Get me something too, then. " '

Rayner blinked rapidly and shuddered, curving in a tight ball in the middle of his bed, trying to keep the pain at bay. He pulled the phone out of his front pocket, relieved to see the water hadn't reached it and rapidly wrote a text.

'I'll be there. R. '