Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own it. If I did, it'd be out on DVD, officially. I have never used a beta, so all mistakes are mine.
AN: This actually would have been up sooner (a lot sooner), but I spent a lot of time rolling a certain plot twist - a twist that would have totally changed the direction of the story, and the series (from Seductions, which will have a heavy influence on this chapter, and the next,onward) for that matter - around in my head before deciding that it was just too unrealistic and out of character.
This chapter, like the last, was, for lack of a more eloquent term, a steaming piece of crap. It's been completely re-written, and split into two parts - which made it difficult for me to choose exactly where I would cut the first part off (and I'm still not entirely certain about it/pleased with it). Hopefully, that will make it easier for me to get the second half out quickly, but I promise nothing.
Once again, thank you to everyone who reviewed, added this story to their alerts, or both!
"You're wrong, you know."
Shelby had been amusing herself with a thrilling one player game of tic-a-toe for the past fifteen minutes. Prior to that, she'd been drawing farm animals with the tip of a small stick. She'd managed to fashion a cow, a duck, and a mysterious looking blob that might pass for an elephant if you squinted really hard and turned your head at a certain angle. However, her artistic skills were limited, so when the lion she'd been working on clearly looked nothing like Simba, squinting and head maneuvering duly considered, she'd chosen X's and O's over hangman.
She would have - could have - asked Scott to play, make it a little more, well, interesting. But she hadn't. He'd asked that she let him do something decent. Decent was not leaving her alone to freeze in the middle of a raging storm. She figured any person, with any discernable sense of humanity, wouldn't leave a cripple (or so she romanticized herself in her head) in the swirling rain and wind. But playing a game with the cripple you'd rescued from the middle of a raging storm? That wasn't decent, that was downright friendly.
Scott had said nothing about friendly, and she certainly wasn't about to give him a free bonus.
After drawing a line through a row of X's (she'd always preferred the X's, and had once thrown a dignified fit when one of her kindergarten classmates had started their game with an X - her X - in the center square), she glanced down. Even though she'd been using the stick, dirt - a lot of dirt - had managed to find it's way under her fingernails.
She needed to wash her hands.
No, scratch that, she needed a long, hot, endless shower. She needed an enormous cup of really strong coffee with a few shots of really good espresso. She'd use said strong coffee to wash down a handful of even stronger pain killers. She absolutely needed those.
Really, she needed a lot of things.
Scott telling her that she was wrong - the first words spoken by either of them since she'd silently agreed to a détente of sorts - however, certainly wasn't one of them.
Dropping her stick, her eyes narrowed as she barely looked over at the brooding figure who'd been watching her from his perch on the other side of the smoldering fire - inconspicuously, he thought - for the past hour.
Right. He was about as inconspicuous and subtle as Britney Spears' performance at the VMA's.
He was pretty sure her tone was frigid enough to freeze the Pacific Ocean, which is why he was really hoping that this conversation he was venturing into would be more of an ice breaker than the cause of widespread maritime disaster.
"I said you're wrong," he repeated, knowing full well that it wasn't necessary, that she'd heard every syllable the first time around, though he knew this meant there was no turning back: she was either going to insist that he join her in her lifeboat, or he was going to valiantly - albeit painfully - go down with the ship. "Earlier, earlier you said I haven't been nice to you since we were ten. That isn't true. You're wrong."
Shelby stared at him for a few moments, as if a third eye was forming in the middle of his forehead. Did he really want to go there? Was he really going to nitpick like that? Because she might have knocked off a couple of years when she was telling him off in the heat of the moment? Was this his attempt at being decent?
She was tempted to hit him, but he was too far away and any sudden movements were more than certainly out of the question.
"Are you really trying to argue semantics right now?"
Scott shrugged. "Hey, you're trying to cut out two solid years where I wasn't a complete asshole to you," he said matter-of-factly, ignoring the way her eyes nearly fell right out of their sockets upon his admission. "You're trying to discount all of those candy cigarettes, the ones that actually smoked, I bought from the ice cream man every day for you that summer before eighth grade. You're not acknowledging all those times I let you copy my math homework because you said homework wasn't cool but just about pissed your pants when Mrs. Morzenskie almost caught you. Oh Jesus, and the time I flirted with Kim Martelli," he continued, making a face that made it clear just how painful that experience had been, "to distract her so you could get the last issue of Teen Something with Jonathan Taylor Whoever on the cover…"
He was still talking about how Kim Martelli had given him the eye and told him he should definitely come over to swim in her pool, but Shelby didn't hear any of if. She just stared at him, her mouth agape, unsure of what to think, or what to say.
First of all, she was a little surprised he still remembered those things. She'd been fairly sure that their friendship, or at least the finer points, was something he erased from his memory. That she didn't have a place in the eternal sunshine of Scott Barringer's spotless mind.
Second, what was he getting at anyway? That they'd been good friends once? That yes, before he treated her like some kind of gross fungus on the bottom of his foot, he'd done a lot of nice things for her, and vice versa?
But that was then. This was now. Whether he was ten or not, he hadn't treated her like a friend…hadn't treated her like a living, breathing, feeling human being in a long, long time.
"…and then you took forever to come find me afterwards. I mean, I was just standing there and you left the freaking store to get ice cream?!"
He paused momentarily to exhale and Shelby grabbed the opportunity, cutting him off.
Her first instinct, obviously not well thought out, was to remind him that when she'd left to get ice cream, she'd brought him back a bomb pop - Scott's favorite (well, they used to be his favorite, anyway.)
But she didn't. She had a feeling that was exactly what he wanted. She wouldn't give that easily.
"So what's your point, Scott?" she asked, her voice sounding more tired and defeated than she wanted it to.
He sighed, glancing at her - sitting there, ankle propped up on her pack, still swelling under the ace bandage he'd painstakingly wrapped, hair damp, looking exhausted…looking like she was five years old again (and why did that make his heart fucking ache?) - before looking away, out into the storm.
He wasn't even sure if he had a point.
He just wished - selfishly, he knew - that she would stop hating him. That she would stop treating him like a plague, or a disease, though he knew full well that there was a time when he'd done just as much harm. That he could just stop the tape and press rewind; he'd close his eyes when all of the bad parts passed, reversing all the wrongs that he'd done, that her parents had done, that his parents had done, that she'd done.
He knew exactly where he would pause.
They were five years old. There was no divorce, no discord - at least not that they knew about. Just a summer, stretching out endlessly in front of them, without a care in the world. They knew nothing of what waited for them in the coming months (Shelby's father would move out, first across town, then to some far away place called California. Her mother would meet a new man. She'd quit dancing. Her eyes would become a little more dull, even when she smiled), the coming years (Scott's mother relocated to New Mexico, where her art could flourish, but her son's budding gridiron career couldn't, so he would stay behind. His father would remarry. He wouldn't smile much at all.)
"I can't rewind the tape," he murmured, his voice laced with regret, not even realizing he'd spoken out loud for a few moments.
Scott cleared his throat and clenched his fists.
"I guess my point is, I'm sorry, ok? I know you don't want to hear that because you think I'm full of shit, but I really am sorry. Not just for what happened yesterday, or today, or a year ago. I'm sorry for all those times I ditched you, or said things about you, or ignored you. I'm sorry I didn't tell you…a lot of things…"
His voice trailed off. He was sorry he didn't tell her how his life had started to turn upside down when he was fourteen: when they started high school and their friendship completely disintegrated, when his father became serious about a woman for the first time since his mother had left, when that woman decided that the eldest Barringer wasn't the only one who struck her twisted fancy…but he couldn't tell her now.
Too much had happened. Too much had changed.
He wanted her to like him again, to respect him again. Not to look at him like the circus sideshow freak that he was.
"I'm just sorry, Shelby," he sighed, catching her gaze and holding it, looking her dead in the eye. "I'm sorry."
This was not what she'd been expecting, and this was certainly not something she was equipped to handle.
Shelby knew how to fight with him; in fact, that was her area of expertise. She majored in Conflict with a minor in Disputes. Her favorite class was Quarreling 101 and he was her familiar study buddy. She knew where to aim her best barbs for maximum damage. She knew how to defend herself. She was a star pupil.
But apparently there were other requirements she wasn't aware of, such as Civilized Conversation 202, and she was failing miserably. Save those few strange, blissful, out of character moments in the clearing, when they were practicing for the X-Challenge (and when he might have potentially been possibly trying to kiss her), she didn't know how to talk to Scott.
More importantly, though, even if she knew how to talk to him, she didn't know how to analyze his responses.
Five years ago, she would have believed almost anything that came out of Scott Barringer's mouth. Unless of course he was saying something stupid, as he often did, like that he was a better soccer player, or a better dancer, or a better anything (except football; she'd always give him football). Always, always a lie.
This was now, though, and if she was honest with herself, she didn't really know Scott anymore.
She didn't know if his favorite color was still blue, or if he still had a blushing crush Jennifer Love Hewitt, though she suspected he'd gotten over it. She didn't know if he still got upset when anyone dared to mention Old Yeller, because he'd had a golden retriever when he was younger and developed an irrational fear of rabies and guns . She didn't know if he still inhaled banana pancakes for breakfast, as if he'd never see another stack again, or if he still picked tomatoes off of his double cheeseburgers because they made him gag, or if he always asked for a mix of chocolate and cherry in his milkshakes. She wasn't sure if he could still be your worst enemy on any athletic field and your best friend as soon as he stepped off of it because from what she could see, looking at the way he'd treated her, and others in general over the last few years, he wasn't the same person at all.
For all their history, Shelby felt like she knew nothing about him. So she trusted him as much as she trusted anyone else at Horizon. Which pretty much meant that she didn't.
"So, say Horizon disappeared and we went back to school tomorrow. Back to the way things used to be before I left," Shelby began slowly, evenly, suspicion evident in her wary eyes, "would you still be sorry?"
"Sorry? I'd probably be fucking suicidal," he admitted, not thinking, before he could stop himself.
Shelby let out a nervous chuckle (was that a joke?) and felt a bit like an asshole until he followed suit.
Scott let his shoulders relax, slumping forward a bit as he thought about the ramifications if her scenario was to ever become their reality. Going back home, back to his friends (who they were these days, he wasn't really sure), back to school, back to football, back to his own bedroom…
"If Horizon disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't go back to school, back home. I don't know where I'd go, but I wouldn't go back home. Unless they forced me, I guess. But yeah, I'd still be sorry."
"Me too. Well, about not going home, I mean…."
"So…is this an apology accepted?" Scott questioned, his tone tinged with hope, more than a little eager to steer the conversation away from exactly why his home life might make him question the value of little things, like breathing, "Or do I have to keep begging? Not that I wouldn't, because I would, but…"
Shelby sighed deeply, looking up at the jagged ceiling of the cave, thinking for a moment, dramatically, that it'd be easier to impale herself on one of those rounded edges than to have this conversation with him. Than to tell him the truth.
Ah, the truth. She wondered if everyone had such difficulties deciphering what was real and true, or if she was just exceptionally, profoundly screwed up.
Well, she knew she didn't want to argue with him anymore. She didn't want to be so angry with him anymore. Not only was it exhausting, it seemed so pointless. But at the same time, she didn't want to let her guard down, only to have him kick her in the stomach, again. To humiliate her again. To leave her even more angry, and even more exhausted than she was before.
"You don't have to beg, Scott. But…its going to take some time. 'I'm sorry,' is a step, not a solution. You can't make it okay overnight. You've done and said a lot of things.."
"I know, you're sorry. I heard you. I don't know if I believe you, but I'm willing to stick around and see."
"Not that you have much choice right now," Scott reminded her wryly, gesturing to her bum ankle.
Shelby's expression softened a bit before she cringed, looking down at her stupid immobile limb. She had a bump forming on the back of her head, too; the more she stared at her ankle, all swelling and the full range of purples in the big Crayola box, the more she wished the fall had knocked her out. Not only could this potentially awkward situation have been avoided, she would have been out like a light until Peter found them. He'd be so distraught at her condition that he'd give her all the pain meds she wanted.
"Well, you picked a good time for the 'sorry,' speech, I suppose. You got yourself a captive audience, Barringer."
"Just as I planned, obviously."
The two teenagers exchanged the smallest of smiles, and settled into a silence that was hovering on the border of comfortable and awkward.
"Yeah?" he replied, a little too quickly, a little too eagerly.
Shelby wasn't really sure how to put this. She paused for a moment, trying to re-word the statement in her head, trying to remove the awkward element from the confession she had to make. She wanted to keep putting it off, as she had for over an hour now, but she simply couldn't wait any longer.
She closed her eyes, bracing herself.
Just a few small words…
"Um. Well. I--I have to go."
He gave her a look, his eyes going from her face - if he didn't know any better, it looked a little flushed - to the storm that continued to rage on outside and back again. Was she kidding him right now?
"I have to go."
"Right. Should I call a cab?" He whipped out an invisible cell phone, and 'dialed, 'waiting a few moments before he spoke. "Yeah, I need a ride. I know it's there's a hybrid cross between a freaking hurricane, tornado and I don't know, snowstorm? Whatever, going on outside, but Queen Shelby here wa--"
"Scott! Stop being an asshole!"
"Well what do you want me to do, Shelby, we can't lea-"
"I'm not asking to leave, if you would just sh--"
"What do you mean you're not asking to leave, you just said you had t-"
"Scott, I have to go. I have to pee!"
"Oh! Right. Yeah. Of course. You have to go…right. Yeah."
It had been nearly three hours since he helped her towards the back of the cave, the situation forcing her to literally lean on him as she hobbled along. He sensed her trying to more faster than she really felt comfortable going, her eyes glued to the ground as she muttered about a band of speedy tortoises lapping them more than a few times. He'd smirked, assuring her that if there were any turtles running circles around them, they were surely taking more performance enhancing drugs than Jose Canseco ever had. His response had seemed to mollify her and he felt her relax, letting him lead her along. Upon her orders, he turned his back to her red face, plugging his ears ("Like I've never heard you pee before!" he'd protested, only to be greeted with a look of death), and counting sixty Mississippi's so she could relieve herself.
Once they got resituated, Shelby started to nod off. She fought to stay awake, blonde hair splayed upon a pillow made of dry leaves, but her eyelids betrayed her, drooping downward as she absently asked him if he still loved bomb pops.
"Yeah, I still love bomb pops," he laughed quietly, shaking his head at the random nature of her inquiry, but she was already asleep.
Scott, however, would not be so lucky. There were suddenly no more distractions, nothing (alcohol, drugs, Shelby, Shelby, Shelby) to keep his mind off the obvious.
It'd been storming the first time she'd come to him.
His father was out of town on business. Scott had arrived home late, as an extensive film study session had followed the conclusion of his usual two-a-day's and weight lifting regiment.
He'd barely made it in the door before the sky opened up.
The entire house had been dark and still as he gobbled down a few pieces of cold, leftover pizza and retreated to his room, stripping off his gray t-shirt as he walked across the hardwood floor towards his bed.
He'd almost been asleep when he heard the door creak open, an impressive bolt of lightening illuminating the room as she appeared in the doorway. He figured she was just checking on him - trying to be motherly or something, so he kept his eyes closed until he heard her whisper his name.
Just thinking about it made his stomach turn.
She begged him to let her sleep in his bed. Complained that his father wasn't there, and she was afraid of thunderstorms. She just couldn't sleep alone that night.
He thought it was strange, but slowly agreed, in part because he just wanted to get back to sleep. As she climbed in beside him, her weight causing the mattress to shift, he closed his eyes again and willed himself to relax. His muscles were aching and … all of a sudden, her hand grazed his bare abs. He swallowed, and inwardly shook his head. It was just a mistake - she'd accidentally brushed against him.
He was imagining things - like the way he thought she looked at him by the pool the other day - and it was sick. It was disgusting. She was his father's wife. She was just trying to be friendly.
It was no big deal, he told himself. No big deal.
He felt her touch again, and instantly stiffened.
"Scotty," she'd whispered, her voice no longer afraid, but rather breathy and foreign.
Exhaling sharply in the present, Scott rested his head between his hands, his fingers wrapping around a fistful of curls, tugging moderately, trying to keep himself under control. But he couldn't, because it hadn't been an accident. It wasn't 'no big deal.' And it didn't stop there. Not that night. Not for many nights after.
"Scotty? Scotty, are you up?"
She might have been hundreds of miles away, but it seemed the worse the storm became, the closer she felt. With every rumble of thunder he heard her; with every flash of lightening, he saw her.
Scott stood up, anxiously pacing, wearing a path back and forth in front of the fire as he tried to think of something, anything, else.
"No. Shut up," he muttered, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt, teeth clenched.
"..this is our little secret."
"Shut up!" Scott seethed, clamping his hand's down over his ears.
"Scotty, you don't.."
He turned around so quickly, he was pretty sure he heard his neck crack.
Shelby was awake, looking up at him, sleepy-eyed, with a mixture of skepticism, curiosity, and concern. "Scott?" she repeated, propping herself up on her elbows, forcing a nervous smile. "Is there an imaginary friend I should know about?"
Scott's mouth went dry and he wondered how he was going to work his way out of this one.
"Nah, I was just uh, singing. Its uh, its called 'Shut Up.' The song, I mean. Some ah, some weird indie band Mark used to listen to. Um, lame song. I hate it, but its stuck in my head."
He stumbled over his words as he sat down a few feet away from her; even as he spoke, he could hear just how unconvincing he sounded.
"Sorry I woke you up," he offered lamely, when she didn't reply.
She just nodded slowly, continuing to stare at him.
"What?" he asked, almost bashfully, turning away from her gaze for a moment, refusing to left her see just how mortified he truly was over what she'd seen, what'd she'd heard. He glanced over at her again; she was still watching him intently. "Stop looking at me like that, I know I can't sing," he protested, forcing his voice to take on a light quality.
"Scotty? I'm scared of the storm."
No. Not now.
"Do you know how long its been since you've looked at me without looking like you want to kill me?" he blurted out, "Or that you're like, I don't know, ashamed of me or something? Wish I'd known that all I had to do was carry a lousy tune."
Well, that was an effective subject change.
"Do you remember?"
"I do. Last time. You were laughing. We were laughing. You looked…I wanted to…you were going to let me, but Peter…"
He was cut off by a clap of thunder. The lightening immediately following. The storm was right on top of them. She was right on top of them, of him, and he couldn't shake her
"I saw how you watched me, Scotty."
Shelby's heart was pounding. She thought they'd wordlessly agreed to never talk about what happened that day. It had been months now. She'd told herself time and time again that it had been a lapse in judgment. That it meant nothing, and his actions since then had been proof enough.
"Scott, what are you--"
She didn't get a chance to finish.
Before she realized what was happening, he closed the distance between them, his lips quickly covering hers, his tongue urgently probing the inside of her mouth. His hand rested on her forearm and she vaguely realized that the right thing to do would be to push him off. To order him to stop. To slap him silly because this wasn't just beyond decent, this was beyond friendly, and just because he'd said he was sorry and she'd cracked a few jokes didn't mean he could just kiss her…
He pulled away momentarily, his breathing labored as he looked into Shelby's wide, confused eyes.
He could still see her. She was standing right over her shoulder, dressed in a black silk negligee (his father had brought it back from an Italian business trip, presenting it to her proudly in a trendy looking bag from some obscenely expensive boutique; Scott's stomach had turned when her eyes had immediately flashed to him), raven locks flowing carelessly around her shoulders, dark eyes gleaming, a sharp contrast against Shelby's pale skin, hair, eyes.
"Scott, I--I--" Shelby stammered, her gaze still locked on him, looking more unsure than he'd ever seen her. "What are we--what are you--what--"
Another pause as she looked into his eyes, his face just inches from her own, trying desperately to get a read on him.
And then, in a whisper, "Make me want to stop."