[ Chapter Summary: Steff is freaking himself out... ]

Blane scoured the party for Steff, it didn't take long before he spotted him; leaning against the living room wall in that nonchalant way he seemed to have perfected back in sixth grade. Just a few months ago he'd been ready never to speak to Steff again but, and he supposed he'd always known it deep down, he wasn't the type of guy to hold a grudge for long. The plane had scarcely left the runway for Vail before he'd been speaking to Steff. By the end of the skiing holiday they'd had booked before he'd even asked Andie out, they were almost back on the same terms they'd always been on.

Blane pushed his way through the crowd – Brett really knew how to throw a party – and made his way over to his friend. He accepted the spliff Steff offered and took a deep drag before handing it back.

"So, you make up with Benny yet?"

"No." Steff kept his gaze on the crowd but Blane didn't need to see his face to pick up on the venom in that answer. He didn't know all the ins and outs of it, just that he'd woken up the day after prom to find a hysterical message from Benny on his answer machine, telling him Steff had shoved her to her ass half way through the last dance and stormed from the hotel, and couldn't he talk some sense into him? It had been followed by an even more hysterical message informing him Steff had managed to wrap the bonnet of his Porsche around a tree. Blane still couldn't believe Steff had walked away from it with nothing more than cuts and bruises; he'd been three sheets to the wind even before he'd left with Andie.

Determining not to mention it again, Blane instead brought the conversation round to his - soon to be - fiancee. "I'm asking you, as a buddy, to at least try and be civil to Andie tonight," he pretended not to notice the way Steff scoffed at this, "she's really an amazing girl, you've just gotta lay off the insults and give her a chance." He interpreted the continued silence as permission to carry on, "It's hard enough as it is, all the girls are so catty with her. But I told her to bring Dale with her for –"

"She's bringing *him*?" For some reason the emphasis on that last word really annoyed him. Sure, Dale was weird but he was Andie's friend and, well, an insult to the company Andie chose to keep was an insult to Andie herself.

"Jesus Christ Steff! Didn't you hear a word I just said? If you can't keep your mouth shut, just keep out of their way."

Before Steff had time to answer Blane spotted Andie in the entrance hall and pushed away from the wall, everything else slipping from his mind as he made his way back through the crowd to meet her.

xXx

Steff watched Blane go with something approaching shock. Dale was *here*, in front of him, right now. He took a long slug of the beer he'd been holding in an attempt to quench the sudden nervous rolling of his stomach. It was pathetic. He was Steff McKee; Dale should be nothing more to him than that weirdo he had been forced to sit next to in French class. The zoid who bagged up his purchases at the mall. He shifted his weight to the other foot, forcing himself to stay against the wall and not to join Blane and Andie. And Dale. He took another swig from the bottle, Dale looked so… his mind supplied a dozen adjectives ranging from adorable to fuckable, all of which he dismissed as quickly as they'd emerged.

He'd gotten back from Vail to find his credit cards cut in half and his old man stood there, with a face like he'd been sucking on a lemon. Harder than usual. There was a lengthy 'discussion' where he was told, in no uncertain terms, that he was a waste of space and it was going to change. That his college entry had been deferred, that he was going to grow up and learn some responsibility – and pay off the totaled Porsche – by working for McKee and Nash Industries. It sucked. Four months and counting of paper pushing and 'yes sirring' the old man. This… obsession with Dale was just the icing on the cake. Steff followed the exaggerated gesticulating of the other boy, his chest constricting – must be indigestion or something – at the way he picked at the fraying edge of his jacket cuff whenever he thought nobody was watching.

He swallowed the dregs of the bottle and, for what felt like the thousandth time, tried to pinpoint when he went from being Steff McKee: the guy who could get anyone, to Steff McKee: the guy with the crush on the zoidest zoid ever to escape from zoidsville. He guessed it was around the time Blane had bagged a date with Andie Walsh, the only girl to ever have turned him down. That had always been what he loved about girls; the thrill of getting them into bed. They all put up a token struggle but he knew they'd be on their backs by the end of the month. Andie, well, Andie was different. She'd treated him like he was pond scum and it had turned him on; it was just going to make the victory that much sweeter. Right up until she'd walked in, head high, to prom he'd been sure she'd eventually give in.

That moment had been an eye opener in so many ways. For the first time he'd realized that even a McKee doesn't get everything they want. It had hurt, to have Blane – his best friend since they were both in diapers – tell him he was shit. It had hurt worse to know he was right. He'd spent the rest of the night trying to drink the hurt into oblivion. And, to try and blot out the fact that when Andie had walked in his jaw hadn't gone slack at the sight of *her*. That he was jealous of the way Kristy Swanson was shamelessly pressing herself against Dale on the dance floor. They'd left, hand in hand, about an hour after Blane and Andie. The rest of the night was a blur; drink, blow and jealousy until the searing pain of his nose connecting with the dashboard of his 911.

Steff leant his head back against the wall, the combination of the drink and the blow starting to get to him. The music changed to some British new wave track he recognized from the stuff Dale had picked out for him the previous weekend. He didn't want to dwell on why he'd spent so much time listening to it. It was like some sort of divine punishment – he'd been a bastard to Blane so God was going to reduce him to an incoherent wreck every time he came within fifty feet of Elgin's biggest loser. Steff smirked to himself at the absurdity of his own thoughts.

It was his own fault. When he'd heard that Dale had been kept back a year and was working in Trax he'd gone over there, some half baked plan to humiliate Dale running through his head, revenge for the lucky punch the freak had landed on him back in school. When he left without doing anything he'd told himself it was because the owner had been watching his every move like a hawk. Naturally, when he'd returned the following weekend, it was just to carry through what he'd already planned. Lately he'd been forced to just admit to himself. He went to Trax simply to watch Dale.

Looking up, his eyes fixed on Dale only for those dark eyes lock with his, a small smile playing at Dale's lips. He didn't know if he was relieved or disappointed when Benny stepped between them, breaking the moment.

xXx

"Like, Ugh! What is it?"

"Get back to Zoidsville, freak."

"Yeah, Dale, go jump off a cliff!"

Duckie tried to pretend he couldn't hear them as he pushed his way to the refreshment table. It was just as bad as he'd known it was going to be. No, scrap that, it was worse. Andie and Blane had yet to come up for air and he didn't know anybody else. Well, he *knew* them, but it was the type of bash where unspoken rules said everyone concerned pretended he didn't. He'd spotted Steff on his own, leaning against the living room wall looking as cool and imposing as he always did. He had been making his way over to ask if he'd listened to any of that music yet, only half certain Steff wouldn't just call him a zoid and tell him to fuck off. Benny Hanson had sidled in before he got there anyway.

It was probably for the best; Steff wouldn't have acknowledged him here. Trax was one thing, a party at Brett Bradshaw's, the son of one of the richest guys on the East coast, was another. Duckie was suddenly glad he'd been spared the humiliation. He was just deciding which type of juice he wanted when someone shoved into him; he swayed once, twice – the moment passing in slow motion though he was helpless to do anything to stop the inevitable – before he fell, sprawling over the table. It collapsed beneath him, sending bags of potato chips, plastic cups, and a huge bowl of punch crashing to the floor, attracting the attention of everyone in the room.

He wished the ground would just open up and he could disappear.

Blane's voice broke out across the twittering, "That was really uncool, Kirk." Kirk Callaghan, he should have known, the guy had always been on his case at school. Blane offered him a hand and Duckie hated him for playing the gentleman.

Andie hovered next to him, "Duckie, I'm so sorry."

"It's alright." He forced a smile, wringing out the hem of his ancient jacket. He smelt like a brewery. "I was about to make like a banana and split anyway, busy day tomorrow."

Andie wasn't convinced for a moment, "It's a Sunday tomorrow. Don't go just because of one idiot, I'll find you another jacket –"

"Seriously, I have, like, a ton of assignments that need to be done. Didn't I tell you about my new year's resolutions? Gonna start 'em early and get an A this time round for sure." He started backing his way towards the door, "Don't worry about the jacket, it'll dry. Like spilt milk, no point worrying about it, that's what I always say. What do I always say?" He pointed at her, but the sound of silence just hung heavy in the air. He dropped his arm and finished lamely, "Well, I'll see you soon, yeah? Have a nice night." He felt like slime for wimping out on her like that but he really had to get out of there.

xXx

Upstairs Steff was pressing Benny up against *someone's* bedroom wall, he'd protested at first, had been doing his best to avoid her since he'd blown her off at prom. It had all been a mistake if he were honest. She'd been clinging to him as he shuffled drunkenly around the dance floor and had whispered something like 'she deserves him' in his ear. Like a total loser he'd flipped out, shoving her away and storming out of the place. It was only after he'd narrowly escaped an appointment with McKormack and Sons undertakers that it had dawned on him she'd been talking about Blane and Andie, not Kristy and Dale.

But it had been weeks since he'd last been with anyone, weeks of nothing but his hand; not since Nash had pulled him aside and warned him that if he fucked another receptionist, he'd break his legs. He didn't know how he was supposed to know that last one had been Nash's niece. It wasn't like they had family crests tattooed on their backsides. So, he'd been worked up, what with the lack of action and an hour's worth of watching Dale's long fingered hands flail around when they could have been put to much better use wrapped around his dick. It stood to reason that when Benny had pressed herself up close and maneuvered her hand into his pants that he should just – go with the flow.

It wasn't long before he was grinding against her, all wet open-mouthed kisses and erratic thrusts of his hips. He groaned when Benny removed her hand, but soon got the idea as she pushed him to lean against the wall and slid down to her knees. There had only ever been one thing that had kept him and Benny together – namely her being a total slut - and it was just so easy to pick up where they had left off.

He clenched his eyes shut as he felt her breath against the sensitive skin of his inner thigh and saw an image so clear for a second he was sure it was real - Dale on his knees in front of him. Those huge brown eyes looking up at him, his lips curved up in the same half smile he'd given him earlier. The flash of lust that shot through him was so strong he couldn't stop his hips from jerking forward violently.

"Easy tiger." Benny's giggle broke through the haze and his eyes snapped open, his mind reeling with what he'd just done. He looked down at Benny and felt sick. He didn't want her, didn't want her anywhere near him.

"I – Stop! We can't do this." Steff pushed her hands away and hauled his pants up from where they were shucked around his knees.

"Steff, baby" cajoling, "you can't try and tell me you don't want it." Benny reached out to touch him again but he moved away, hastily buttoning his fly. The thought of her touching him was suddenly repulsive.

"No! I mean, no, just get off me." He had to get out of there. Had to get some fresh air. He was still buttoning his shirt as he pushed his way through the front door, oblivious to the curious eyes fixed firmly on his retreating back.

xXx

Outside in the cold air Duckie walked aimlessly, scarcely noticing the way his damp shirt was clinging to him. The cold was so much better than going home. It was only 10:30; his mother would still be 'entertaining'. He'd once told Andie he liked to stay out late because his mother's lifestyle didn't agree with him. He'd wanted her to put two and two together, to look into the sorry mess that was his life and tell him that it was alright. That she was still his friend. She'd just laughed and said he shouldn't be so scared of her making him tidy his room. He should have known she wouldn't get it; Andie was too perfect to know what went on at home in exchange for a grubby ten dollar bill. Duckie looked up and realized belatedly he'd been walking in the opposite direction to home, was currently in the middle of what he liked to term plastic valley – where everyone's life was as fake and plastic as the cards in their wallets.

He studied the house he'd ended up in front of; it was the one Andie had once said was so beautiful. He couldn't help agreeing. Christmas lights twinkled prettily at the windows, the porch light basking a landscaped front yard and two top of the range sports cars. He imagined Andie living here with Blane. The perfect house for the perfect couple. Andie would be happy with him, and their perfect children would never want for anything. What could he offer her in comparison? A lifetime of drudgery and scraping by, stuck in some shabby prefab on the wrong side of town. He shut his eyes against a sudden wave of emotion.

He didn't know how long he stood there, eyes shut, but the cold had seeped into his bone marrow, making him feel slightly numb all over by the time the press of a hand on his shoulder startled him out of it. Duckie wheeled round in panic to find himself face to face with Steff McKee.

"What are you doing out here, Dale?"

"I, uh, could ask you the same question McKee." The warm hand slid away from his shoulder.

"I *live* here."

Duckie felt himself blush, God he must look such a dick. "Yeah? I mean, I knew that. Nice house. Loving the whole winter theme you've got going on here." He motioned at the Christmas lights and spray frosted windows, fervently hoping McKee was too drunk to remember this in the morning. "Well, gotta go, long walk back and all that."

"Southside is at least an hour from here!" Steff looked so genuinely shocked that Duckie almost wanted to laugh. Almost. The guy was such a Richie, had probably been chauffeured everywhere from birth.

"Why don't you come in a minute, warm up?" Duckie wasn't quite sure he was hearing properly. He watched closely as Steff's gaze traveled up and down, taking in his threadbare jacket and the blotchy red punch stains now covering it. "Maybe borrow a coat. I'm sure I have something you could wear."

"Fuck you McKee." Duckie turned and strode away without looking back, not seeing the shocked look that flashed across the other boy's face.

Duckie finally slowed after a few blocks. He couldn't believe that he'd thought, just for a moment, that Steff McKee was being sincere, not just having a laugh at his expense. He amused himself all the long way home with the satisfying memory of his fist connecting with McKee's chiseled jaw. Richies were all the same. He just wished he could convince Andie of the fact.