Pale September, I wore the time like a dress that year
The autumn days swung soft around me, like cotton on my skin
But as the embers of the summer lost their breath and disappeared
My heart went cold and only hollow rhythms resounded from within
But then he rose, brilliant as the moon in full
And sank in the burrows of my keep

And all my armor falling down, in a pile at my feet
And my winter giving way to warm, as I'm singing him to sleep

Pale September – Fiona Apple

He hasn't thought any of it through, I can see that much in his eyes. He gives me a quick feeble grin, but he doesn't seem to know I'm the furthest thing from a fool. I can see so much more, but I would never admit that to him since I know how it would wound his pride. And frankly, he's been hurt enough. He isn't a man that holds great esteem for status or wealth, or having the right connections in life. He had tasted all that and disliked the flavor it had left behind in his mouth. The strings attached to all of its privilege. Acceptance always seems to escape him, despite the fact that he works so damned hard to earn it. His eagerness to prove himself puzzles me sometimes, but it never ceases to further endear me to him. If only he'd put his efforts to something more worthwhile. More lasting that what some fickle people say about him.

People misunderstand him… His brooding looks are mistaken for ignorance or rage, when all I can really see is the torment he puts himself through. All the punishments and hurt he inflicts upon himself for whatever went wrong in his sad turbulent life. The darkness in his complicated eyes holds him captive, yet no one's ever seemed to try and free him. I'm afraid he wouldn't let me if I tried. But I'm no fool, and I don't hold much weight to assumptions anymore, so I'll try despite this man's hard shell.

I want to touch him, but I can tell he wouldn't even let me. I want to tell him that life does have pleasant things in store for him, if he'd only stop his fighting and look around a little. I can already tell it's his stubborn streak pushing him on to do these foolish things. Rash acts that only work to prove everyone right. I wish he'd show them that he could be wise instead of so angry, deep instead of this simple predictable man he's turning himself into.

The waning lights of the day transcend into evening, and I watch his movements from a distance. Slow like honey, but never sweet, he'd rather die than be gentle since all it's ever gotten him was grief. So many times I've tried to imagine him as a little child, and a smile always lingers at the corners of my mouth at those musings. He must've been cheeky, a daredevil with too much loyalty to fit into his little frame. I wish he'd share what made him so hardened, what happened to that sweet boy I see lurking around his sharp edges.

Huddling into a small ball, I warm myself by hugging my knees to me, my eyes trained to him as he schemes his life away. Trying to understand his reasoning instead of his actions, as I wonder if perhaps I've also been swept away by this town's opinion of this man. Perhaps I haven't uncovered all the trees covering his lush forest. I smile at my odd imagery, and he catches me in that simple moment. I seem to have puzzled him, and he strolls towards me. Another harsh breeze passes along the docks, and dread fills me for some odd reason.

"What!" He barks from a distance, raising his defenses in a split-second. I idly watch his strong jaw twitch, and can't understand where such a kind man gets so much anger. "Woah…" I crack another smile, shaking my head a little while hugging my limbs tighter around myself. I don't feel like looking at him this time around, my sympathy is waning. My conviction of his heart seems less and less plausible with each passing day. I wish I had more faith…I wish I wouldn't need any at all, but a shiver runs through me as I look at his handsome face again.

He runs his hand through his hair, aggravated by something…or perhaps by himself as well. And I relax a little, lowering my feet from the bench as I brace myself against the winter chill quickly descending upon us. I can hardly stop myself from wishing he'd wrap his arm around me, but I shake my head and dispel all hope from my brain. "Sorry," he says gently and turns my way. Awkwardness makes his upper lip tilt up a little in the corner, and it makes me want to smile but instead I nod in acceptance. "I just expected a lecture, everyone I know has had their turn…I figured you'd…"

Now it's my turn to look uncomfortable, while a part of me feels like I've disappointed him in some huge way. My stomach churns at the thought of failing him, and self-doubt overwhelms me all of a sudden. I tremble softly as I try to touch his shoulder, then quickly – uncertainly – decide that it wouldn't be best to reach out to a flame like this man. Meek from afar, while his fever burns him deeper than he could ever show me. Deeper than I could even try to see.

"I care about you," I start off unsteadily, and I hear him exhale sharply, annoyance tinting his face in a handsome shade of crimson. "I should've know…" I hear his angry whisper, which in turn only seems to flare up the hiss of rage inside me as well.

"How dare you accuse me of being like all the others, when I'm still here." I gulp in large amounts of air, fueling my words with the heat of my emotions. I can't comprehend his logic, and frustration causes the rest of my words to sound so damn sad…something that makes me angrier with myself. "When I haven't ever walked out on you Zander!"

Zander matches my stare with a sturdy one of his own, hurt gleaming back at me from his mahogany orbs. "Yet…" he states sadly. I can't believe the nerve, and I'm stumped into silence because of it.

"How can you be so careless?" I murmur under my breath, nearly silenced by my own inability. "We're friends, right?" He doesn't react, so I nod to show him I do consider him someone close to my heart. I can't read him for some reason, and maybe…. I start thinking I was wrong, maybe I've never been able to read him at all. Maybe it was his darkness that drew me to him, perhaps his danger was all I saw. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize," I get to my feet and walk away from the bench, more disappointed in myself than him.

"You say you understand…so many times you've claimed to know. But you don't know at all." He yells after me, causing me to stop in my tracks. I wish he'd stop speaking, I wish for once he'd know when to give up. I scoff loud enough for him to hear me, and turn to face him again.

"I'm not fighting with you Zander, look at me." I command with fierceness, and hold up my hands in the delicate chance that he might realize this isn't a battle at all. "This isn't me attacking you. You don't even need anyone for that, you're doing a damn good job of that yourself."

I move back to where he's standing, while the moonlit evening is forming an eerie cast around us. I shudder against the words I feel pressing against my lips, I don't want to admit defeat but he has forced it upon me. "I'm walking away okay, since it seems to be what you've expected me to do all along…What you've wanted?" I try in some twisted sort of question, "Am I right Zander? Do you want that?"

His moves are stealthily and frightening all at once, as if he'd been practicing it inside his head. His hands dig into my hair, and I exhale softly in anticipation of what he might do next…what he'd dare to do. The suspense is torture and I open my eyes again, only to find him staring at me. It completely unnerves me and I can't help but step back. Yet Zander won't let me go, he seems enchanted with something…stubborn streak and all, I think in my own headiness.

And then his mouth slants over mine. I gasp softly into his mouth, and press my hands against his chest. Fearfully at first, but then my urgency wanes, and all my senses peak, flutter and swell at the slow moves of his lips against mine. The way his fingertips feel so soft against the outline of my jaw, and then return back to my hair. I part my mouth in complete submission and my hands feel his moan rumbling his chest. I realize this must be the taste of triumph, and I kiss back with equal vigor.

"I want…" he kisses the corner of my mouth, while the sheer huskiness melts from his voice back to his devious eyes. "Yeah," I want to urge him on, or kiss him…but the way he's looking at me is making my stomach do somersaults like nothing I've felt before. And then, like I'm some toy he's lost interest in, he's the one to step back from me. Crestfallen, I sigh, covering my kiss-swollen lips with my hand, and my cheeks flush with embarrassment. He was merely teaching me a lesson, I scold my own foolishness while loathing the pleasure I took in it.

"Goodbye Zander," I try for dignity but nothing ever works for me these days, and I want to strike back at him. The urge for revenge overwhelms me all of a sudden, but my eyes start tearing up instead. "I'm sorry you feel the need to ruin yourself. No, scratch that…" A cold derisive chuckle erupts from my core, and good intentions dwindle away into the chilly night air. I glare at him while he does that thing I hate…feigning nonchalance, when I know he cares, since that's his mortal flaw…caring too damn much.

"I don't care what you do to yourself, you're not the man I thought you were." Pity, I think…and decide to not withhold anything, revenge might evoke some sweet triumph as well, "It's a shame you know, since you don't realize you're the most honest person I ever met…except you can't ever be honest with yourself."

"You don't even know me," he is retaliating, fighting against the wrong person as usual I think idly. "I'm not a nice guy." He laughs but it doesn't reach his face, I bet it would be beautiful if it ever did…but he'd never allow it. God, how I wish he'd let it reach his eyes.

"Don't you know, I'm Port Charles' public enemy # 1, I'm the drugdealer turned mobflunky turned all-round danger to society. I'm the guy who kidnaps young girls and ruins their lives." I shake my head, but I won't cry, I won't prove him right. I watch him raise his arms, and curse under his breath…and I wish he'd stop. "I'm the guy that killed his brother, the screw-up son, the one my father won't ever admit to knowing. You don't know me! I'm not sweet, or gentle, or…" Zander stops then, backing into the quiet stone statue he prefers over everything else.

"You're wrong," I declare sternly, "You were always sweet to me, you're the only one who… Never mind!" But he grabs my arms, making me face him again. "Go on."

But I really don't want to, I feel like on the verge of making a huge mistake. Something too delicate to say out loud, I wish he'd stop pushing me. Perhaps he'll never realize that he isn't the only one who doesn't know how to deal with people. "You and me aren't a lot different." I smile wryly, my old facade, the person I portray with such poise, unravels in front of me, and I hate that he's here to witness it. He looks at me like I've lost my mind, and I can't blame him. How in hell am I comparing myself to him?

"No one understands, or listens anymore." I smile to myself, feeling odd things happen in my stomach. "It's something really rare, especially in this town. Everyone's so disenchanted and bitter, you can hardly find a sane person in this place. And yet no one is crueler than these people, despite being chockfull of flaws themselves they can shun like no one else." I'm rambling, and I expect that his expression would be horrified, but it isn't… Zander once again proves what a beautiful exception to the rule he always is. Delinquent with a heart of gold, he used to say so many times. I love the kindness he hides away in his eyes, and continue my musings while quickly avoiding his eyes again. "Even though I don't look it, I'm as much of an outsider as you are. And I met you…"

I glance up at him, but can't be sure if he's even listening, as his face remains void of any emotion. "And you saw me, you're the only one in this whole town who saw me…and talked to me." I feel my eyes well up, certain and so sad that my spirit to fight has flown off with the cold river breeze.

"Zander, you're my only friend, you need to realize that. And damn you, I don't care if I'm selfish, I want you to be okay again…for me!" A huge chunk of my head is still in the clouds because of his kiss, and I'm breathless for a second as I quickly lick my lips. "For you, I mean…" I chuckle softly before tucking a strand of hair behind my ears.

He finally cracks a smile, and I want him to come closer, or talk or something for god's sakes. "So?" I whisper nervously, and I can't stop my stomach spinning from the way he's staring at me. Like his gaze is penetrating through my skin and into parts he isn't supposed to come. Zander just shrugs at me, "What?"

"Why are you doing this, at least tell me that."

"You've heard all this before."

I give him an exasperated glare, but his eyes warn me not to lecture him. I don't listen to anyone, he should know that by now. "Yeah, revenge…blah blah blàh!" I illustrate my snippiness with my hand, but quickly stop when he's only inches from me.

"You need to…stop." Zander hisses under his breath, but I can see the banter in his face. Or I hope it's banter, I can't seem to read him all too well tonight.

"I never answered you before," at this my brow crinkles unladylike, and I give him my best 'whatthehell' look. The corner of his mouth arches up a little, and his eyes lighten with playfulness. "When you asked me what I wanted." I feel my face burn instantly, while hating him for having such a devil's streak and all I manage is a hoarse, "Oh."

He takes his turn to moisten his lips, and puts his large hands on each shoulder. Damn you, I curse him silently, and he chuckles right on cue, leaving me to wonder if he is a mind reader.

"I want to kiss you again." I arch one eyebrow at him, wanting to come off a little stronger than I feel. He doesn't need to know I'm shaking in my shoes. He doesn't need to know I want him to kiss me too. I realize I am very complicated, when the warmth of his breath skimming my cheek ceases any brain activity I might hope to have. And I'm tangling myself in the potential retorts clinging to my tongue.

"Who says…gulp…I want you to?" Zander is to be undeterred in his goals. That's what makes him so successful and so foolish all at the same time. My heart is silent with me for a moment, and I feel so faint I hardly make him work as I lean into him. I grin, halfheartedly, watching how he arches one eyebrow in some sort of mocking question. I want to smack the cocky smile right off of his lips, but instead I allow my fingers free travels in his soft hair.

"I say so," I hear him faintly whisper against my mouth, before covering it with his own. And I buzz with something entirely new, something entirely pleasant…I smile against his lips, and then part them a little, ready to be daring like this man. Ready to embrace the fire he holds inside, burning might be beautiful like him.

It's not as cold now, with his arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders, his tongue dipping and brushing against mine… I feel him sigh into me, and I open my eyes to steal a tiny peek of him. I can hardly believe this is me, washed over with emotion for this man who did such a good job of pretending he never heard of such a thing. His hands cup my face, and his kiss tilts from passionate to tender and then back again, making me dizzy in the wake of it all. We part, breathless and dazzled by one another, and I feel him retreating from me as if he's realized what has just occurred.

"No wait…" I wipe my lips with my fingertips, avoiding his eyes as I swallow the derisive laugh I feel bubbling from some bitter part of me. "Let me guess, you didn't mean that," I shake my head, as I run a hand through my hair. Oddly realizing his hands in my hair was so much more different. Disappointment shadows over my embarrassment for letting him toy with me a second time. "You know what Zander, I just remembered I seriously gotta go." I croak and turn to leave.

"How can you be so sure?" I hear him ask very gently, and I'm not sure what he means so I turn back to him. "How can you be so sure…of me?" Zander gives me a fearful look, his cheeks flustered and his lips handsomely kiss-swollen. I smile for him, I can't help myself, since it's such an endearing sight. "Because I see you as you are. I refuse to see the man you are trying so hard to become, or the one people think you are." I shake my head, unsure of how to say this, but so certain of my meaning. It's odd how people can get so tangled when they know that what they want to say is so important, and so true.

I close the gap between us once again, wanting his heat to race the sudden chill from my bones.

"I guess I'll have to spell it out for you then Smith." I stare into his swirling eyes, and raise my hand to cup his cheek. "I love you, that's the only thing I'm sure of, that you are what I need and the person who makes me this happy."

Heat rises to my cheeks in record time, and suddenly my head begs me to retreat. But I don't…perhaps I am a fool in dire times, but I cannot for the life of me step away from him. From the look he's giving me. It's frightening and invasive, and perfectly serene all at once. His silence shakes me more than he could know, and yet I can't break it either. I just stare at him, as the chilly breezes come rolling by us from the river, freezing us in our confusion.

"Don't say that if you can't handle it," his smile turns bitter, twisting him into someone he'll never become. Like he was daring me, finish what you start. So being the brazen girl this time, I nod my head and press my mouth against his. "I can handle you." I chuckle softly, and kiss him again. Zander doesn't move for the longest moment, as if I've scared him with my bravery. He hadn't expected me to agree, or venture on into the darkness he's surrounded himself in. His fire flares though, uncontrolled and beautiful, and his hands delve back into my hair as the softest sob escapes me. His kiss grows high and low and spreads its flames into my veins.

"Same here," Zander declares between breaths, and I lose myself in the sweet wildness of his inferno. In his gentle determination and his fiery passion, I'm glad I stayed to look and really see him. "Sometimes I can't believe you stuck around…" I sigh as his lips press warmly against my temple, "stuck by me" Zander hums lowly, and my insides flip at the way he seems to be inhaling the scent on my hair. I pray that he's serious, since I feel dizzy with joy. "You can't get rid of me, I'm loyal." I declare this rather ditzy, along with a huge proud grin. I notice his eyes swallow my image, and I'm left feeling unnerved and flustered.

The lights flicker and flash in his eyes again, and adrenaline roars through my head. I find myself settled in his embrace again, his fingers playing with mine in such an innocent way I'm amazed this is the same man who tries so hard to be so tough all the damn time. "And beautiful, and warm…" I can't even hear the rest of what he's attributed me with since my need to kiss him takes me over. I pull him down by tugging at his collar, and he stops himself moments from my lips. His eyes take me in, unbelievably scrutinizing yet so deliciously adoring.

"I have loved you for so long." And his eyes give me the reassurance I need, adding so much power to his words. "I'm sorry for…" I kiss him hard then, erasing his apology from his lips, as I reaffirm how much I relish that fire he keeps inside of himself. And I know I'm losing myself in this man, as his fingertips continue searing my skin, I realize I don't care anyway…