"Dante--" He tries again, voice breaking under the strain of desperation.

I clench my jaw, lifting a hand to silence him. "You don't understand. You hear things about me? You know what happened that night? You think you're doing me a favor by ignoring those supposed rumors?" I run a hand through my hair, mussing it up even further. "You don't know anything." I hazard a look back at him, at those glowing cerulean eyes. He's confused.

"What...what night?" He asks, tentatively, barely a whisper.

"The night Colt Brighe died." I reply, the name gravelly on my tongue, always thought of, never spoken. There's an answering shock in his expression now, and I level my gaze at him. "I don't know what you've heard. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But I'm going to tell you the truth." I keep my eyes on his, despite the raw emotion on his face. "About Brighe, about Colt, and about me." This is one last attempt to finally get him to fucking understand. After this...if this doesn't fucking work, I don't know what the hell will.

Caleb crosses his arms over his chest, nodding shakily, the tears still brimming in his bright eyes.

"We were best friends," I start, fingers pinching the bridge of my nose, crossing my other arm over my chest. "Back in high school. It was ironic, really. Him, some prep kid from a rich family, and me, barely surviving in a broken home, best friends. We were inseparable. We were going to do everything together. Get drunk, get tattoos, get our first cars, everything. It was that first one that was..." I grind my jaws together, then go on. I need to get this over with, and fast. "At the end of our last year, we threw a party at his place. It wasn't...it wasn't supposed to be big. He was popular, though, and that brought everyone in the school to it.

"It was great. Or, it would've been... I got wasted. Colt got wasted. Everything else was a blur, insignificant next to the thrill of doing some forbidden act. Hell, I didn't even want to hook up with anyone, all I wanted was to get drunk off my feet, pass out and wake up on the roof or something... The day after the party, I'm the number one suspect for his murder. All I know is that he was beaten to death with a blunt object. No one tells me anything other than that. I'm assigned a court date, expected to be there no matter what. Whether I think I did it or not. The judges take pity on me, a stupid kid who "didn't know any better", broke, almost homeless, neglected by family as it was. I get out on a parole, who knows how, and they have me do some labor time, all the while no one stops talking about Colt's death. His parents wouldn't see me, or let me go to his funeral. His friends avoided me as it was, so when we ran into each other on the street..." My hand floats to rest over the scar on my chest. "I'm sure you know what happens then. Scum kid kills their friend, they do their best to try and kill the kid.

"It was supposed to be a night we would never remember. But sleep never lets me forget. In my head, I've killed him a countless many times, over and over again. I'm not your 'good person', Caleb. I'm a monster. That's about all I know how to be."

I barely have time to look up when he crashes into me, quivering, silent, his arms wrapped tightly around my chest. His fingers are just at the edge of those ugly, unseen scars on the back of my neck, leaving a warm path where his fingertips press into my skin. "That's not true." He murmurs into my shirt, "That's the biggest lie you've told me about you yet. And if it is true, then--then I'm a monster too. And Kevin and his friend. And your boss. And Haylie..." His fingers twist in my jacket, clawing against the leather. "We're all monsters. We do things we don't like sometimes. Like--like Haylie, when she thought she was being good by sticking with her friends even though she didn't want to be like that...and Colt's parents, they probably thought they were helping you somehow by keeping you from going to the funeral, and--and me!" He jerks up to look at me, wide, cerulean orbs frantic, overflowing with tears. "And me! I'm being selfish and ridiculous, but I don't want you to go away, Dante, I don't. Even if you think you're the worst around or if you hate yourself for Colt's death, I don't hate you. And neither does Leonzio or Haylie or your boss or--"

"You're rambling, Caleb." I say, because in reality half of what he's just said doesn't make sense. A part of me wants to ask why I should even care that he doesn't hate me. But...the strange thing is, somehow, I think I do.

He blinks, a blush lightly dusting his cheeks, then buries his face in my chest, just slightly below my heart, and that near-dead feeling in my gut roars to life, rearing it's head with a passion. "I'm sorry, Dante. It must be really awkward for you, having a weird little nerd like me get all upset just because you don't feel comfortable with people..." He laughs softly, stepping back away from me. "I don't want to force you to do something you don't want to...even if it's for me. You shouldn't have to."

I wrap my arms around him just as he removes himself, pulling him close. "S...stay. I haven't...had body contact with anyone since..." Words fail me with the expression written all over his face. As if reaching an agreement, he nestles back into me, sighing. His hands against my skin, it's...it reinforces the fact that this is actually happening. This is real. I've told him the truth, the disgusting reality, and it's only brought him closer to me. I take a moment to marvel at the way his embrace feels, this tiny, slender nerd with cerulean eyes and choppy chocolate colored hair. Is this how...comfort feels? What is this feeling...? Am I simply taking advantage of him because I haven't felt an embrace since Colt died? Or is it because it's Caleb and something about him just draws me toward him, despite how much I don't want to hurt him by being too close?

Then the questions are drowned out by the sound of his quiet breathing, and I tuck my nose into his smooth hair, inhaling his nerdy, vanilla scent.

Sometime later, after memorizing the way his arms feel, the curve of his shoulders extended, the relaxed pulse in his throat, the sweep of his cheek resting on my chest, how he seems so...calm, even after everything I've said, I let him go, watching as he enfolds his arms about his waist. "Do you...um..." He drops his gaze, motioning behind him towards the kitchen. "Want something to drink? If you still have some time, we could...get to know each other a little better. I can make a mean bowl of salsa and chips."

This time, I stop the smile on my face from growing for a minute. Thoughts flit by in my mind, one by one, so fast I'm surprised only a few seconds have passed. Something between us has dissolved, leaving in its wake an almost familiar ease. As though we've known each other, the true face under an exterior mask, for longer than we thought. "Yeah, why not." I say, letting the smirk show. "I like spicy food,"

Nevertheless, the painful twinge of wariness remains in my gut, under the light, triumphant monster still singing it's victory.

He can still hurt you.

But, seeing the way Caleb's face lights up at my consent, I realize something else.

Caleb's just as vulnerable to me as I am to him right now, even if it's in a completely different sense of the word. He's taking his own chances, just like I am.

And for some reason, that only gives me more incentive to stay.

"By the way," He remarks, walking into the kitchen with a bounce in his step, "Vesci didn't just blab about me to you, you know. He mentioned that you like making maps. Care to elaborate?" He throws a smile over his shoulder at me, scarf waving tauntingly at me.

I follow him into the kitchen.

The End

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