AN: This is AU. If you don't like it, don't read it. It's just an experiment, really, an idea I've been trying to put into words for the past few weeks. If you guys like it, I might continue.

They keep asking her why. She doesn't know how to answer that because the reason seems so absurd, even to her. She just shrugs back at them and tugs her sleeves over her wrists. They always notice that; the way she tries to hide them, how she tries to change the subject as soon as it's brought up. They don't miss anything, the doctors. Therapists. Counselors. They see everything she tries to hide like her shields are paper. It's hardly fair. There's so many of them and only one Cat.

"There has to be a reason," they say when she shrugs and looks away, and they poke and prod at her childhood, tear flaws from her parents, from her little brother, from her friends and her school. They peel everything away to find something, anything that would make sense that would drive talented, pretty little Catarina Valentine to slicing her wrists.

Even the brightest people have dark corners.

And Cat really hates that she's back at the Center and is on suicide watch just because she went a little deep last time and her parents found her trying to stop the bleeding with balled up socks. She wasn't trying to kill herself. Really. She actually enjoys living most if not all days, there's just these scary moments that creep up on her and she doesn't know how else to deal with them. The nurses check on her every hour when she's not in group therapy or at meals and they always say the same thing, "How are you feeling?" and Cat has half a mind to retort, "Like I'm being stalked."

Every night she's allowed an hour on the phone to talk to whoever she likes; usually she spends that time talking to her worried mother, who gushes about Cat's brother and how much they all miss her. And every night Cat asks to come home, only for her mother to whisper into the phone in this soft, weak voice, "Not until you get better."

Cat has dark corners she'd rather not shed light on.

Jade has said "I don't want to die" a hundred times in the past few weeks and no one is listening to her. It's like her words don't register with them, like they're only listening to the scars on her arms; as if they should be talking for her or something. They don't mean anything and Jade isn't afraid of them. It's a coping mechanism. Jade is coping.

"What, exactly, are you coping with?" Jade's therapist touches his glasses and studies her and she feels like he wants her to strip naked or something, the way his eyes are so intruding.

"Life. It's a huge ball of shit."

"What's so terrible about your life? Is it your parents?"

Jade's eyebrow twitches. He keeps expecting her to admit something totally horrendous, like her dad molested her or her mom beats her or she doesn't think she's pretty enough or something dramatic like that. "No," she says, crossing her arms. "I get stressed, just like everyone else. Some people eat when they're stressed. Some exercise. Some paint fucking pictures. I cut. It's not as big of a deal as you're making it."

And he tells her that it is, like he always does, and eventually Jade tunes him out and stares at the ceiling fan, listening to it whir against the tense, almost heavy atmosphere in the little room. This is her last session before she's shipped off to Stowe's Self-Help Center for the Troubled. Her mom made her read a pamphlet about it. Jade screamed, threw the pamphlet in the fire place, and told her mother for the millionth time that she wasn't trying to kill herself.

And her mother just stared at Jade's arms and didn't listen to her.

The Center was dreadfully boring – this was Cat's second time residing here, on another 30 day stay, and had to go through the same routine every day: breakfast at eight, group therapy until ten, free time until noon, lunch, more therapy, some kind of physical activity outside if the weather permitted, dinner, and, depending on what day it was, individual therapy. Cat usually fell asleep as early as 7:30 out of pure boredom, so on her eleventh day, when she sat heavily at the breakfast table and heard rumors of a new girl, Cat was instantly intrigued.

Most of the residents at the Center were cutters like Cat, though there was a separate part of the building specifically for eating disorders. Cat felt bad for hoping the new girl was a cutter, but, either way, the girl was obviously fucked up to end up here.

There were five girls, including Cat, and two boys who made up the cutters. They made up the bulk of the Center which made Cat feel good about her situation, as odd as it seemed, when she arrived here the first time. It seemed that, for once, she was a part of the majority and not hovering in the background. The kids were nice, she supposed. Cat had only heard most of them speak in therapy when they were forced to – there was a point system at the Center, too. The better you did in activities and therapy, the more points you earned, and the more freedoms you received. Privileges included using the TV room, which had a DVD player, lame movies, and equally lame video games you could play. Some were even allowed to go outside and walk through the garden, but Cat was on suicide watch and wasn't given that liberty.

"I love new people!" Cat clapped her hands together, smiling brightly at the kids surrounding her. Most of them were used to her strangely bubbly personality considering her 'problem' or what have you, but some still raised their eyebrows and stared at her like she was crazy. "Will she be in our group?"

"Don't know what she is yet," the girl beside Cat, Abby, replied, drinking the milk left in her bowl. "But I caught a glimpse of her in the office and she looks scary."

"Was she skinny?" One of the boys piped up.

"Yeah, but not like the Skeletors over there." Abby nodded to the table across the room, where four girls sat staring at their plates and bowls of food. Abby shifted her gaze to Cat. "If she is a cutter, she'll be your roommate."

Cat beamed excitedly. A new girl that she got to live with? That could be good or bad, but Cat, strangely, liked to give the benefit of the doubt. "You think so?"

Abby nodded. "She'd have to. You're the only girl cutter without a roomie. Beware, though, Cat." Abby looked serious, subconsciously rubbing the inside of her wrist. "She looked really angry."

Cat could sympathize with the angry feelings; she wasn't too peachy about being here – again – either. But a new person could be interesting. A new person could provide, well, something new.

Jade hadn't been too sure about the whole Hell existing thing before, but she was thoroughly convinced that it did - within the white walls of the Center. The lady who owned it, a Brooke Stowe, had been all sunshine and smiles when Jade had walked in, like she was happy Jade was troubled or whatever. Sick people. Jade had dropped heavily in the chair across from the woman and only vaguely listened to some point system and all that and that Jade couldn't have any pens or pencils or hair clips in her room. Or shoe strings.

Jade decided this place was full of psychos.

To top it all off, she was going to have a roommate. Great. That's exactly what she needed: thirty days cooped up in a room with a crazy. Awesome. Stowe had asked a nurse to go fetch this Cat person while Jade stared blankly at a nearby wall. Stowe babbled on for a few more minutes until the door squeaked open.

"Ah, Cat, thanks for coming. This is your new roommate, Jade West."

Jade flicked her eyes to the girl standing in the doorway and Jade was a bit thrown off by the girl's wide, happy smile. Wasn't this place for sad, dark people? This girl had big brown eyes that all but leaked happiness and red velvet hair that curled down past her shoulders. She seemed too happy, beaming at her from the doorway, and Jade wondered why a girl like that would be in a place like this.

Jade only nodded to regard the other girl and then she was ushered off with her, treading down a carpeted hallway to where their room was.

"Cat's short for Catarina, but no one calls me that except my grandma."

Jade just nodded, letting her eyes dart across the various paintings that lined the walls, peering into opened rooms.

"Where are you from?"

The girl's tone was so happy-go-lucky Jade didn't know how to take it, so she just shifted her shoulders a bit and averted her gaze. "Hollywood."

"Really? Me too. South side. Do you ever go to Cal's Café? I love Cal's Café. Best mochas ever. And candy apples in the summer. I went there once when I was a kid and I got a candy apple stuck to my braces. The owner felt so bad about it, he let me have it for free."

Jade wasn't used to the talkative type and simply stood there in silence, nodding awkwardly. Of course she got stuck with a chatterbox. She turned slightly to watch as Cat paused to find the girl watching her as well, that bright smile never fading. Cat pressed her tongue between her smiling lips before turning toward their room, apparently. The door opened to a small room with a single bed on each wall. It was obvious which side was Cat's, as the bed spread was the same color as her hair. The bedside table had a plethora of doo-dads on it while the other side was bare and empty.

"The beds are kind of hard, but you get used to it." Cat smiled at her again and twirled to her bed, flopping on the mattress. Jade stepped inside hesitantly, glancing about, slipping out of her flats and moving to the bed. She touched the bedspread in silence before sitting tentatively, as if expecting it to explode.

"There aren't any windows," Jade said, more to herself than to Cat, but the red-haired girl took it as an invitation to speak.

"Oh, I know. I hate it. Abby has a window in her room that looks right out into the garden. Jealous." Cat pushed back against wall and twirled her thumbs. "By the way, it's a pleasure to meet you. Though I wish it was under different – better circumstances, you know." She shrugs and touches her hair, still watching Jade's every move.

Jade shifts uncomfortably and shrugs her shoulders. "Eh." It's all she says. She sits cross-legged on the mattress and stares at her hands.

"It seems really rude for me to ask you this, but I can't help myself." Cat twists her red bedspread in her fingers. "Why are you here? I mean, I know you're troubled, duh, and I know you're a cutter or you wouldn't be rooming with me, and you don't have to answer, -"

"I'm not troubled," Jade snaps, green eyes cutting sharply at the girl across the room. Cat's mouth clicks shut. "I'm here because my parents overreacted and wouldn't listen to me."

Cat's eyes dart down to Jade's exposed arms. Jade doesn't try to hide them. She has nothing to be ashamed of. "But, you have scars. You cut yourself."

"It's a form of coping. I'm not trying to kill myself, I don't get a hard-on from doing it. It just helps me with stress."

Cat gnaws her lip for a moment and Jade dares the stranger with her eyes to try and challenge her words, only for Cat to shrug and push herself to a stand. "Okay." She smiles and jerks her thumb toward the door. "We better go. Your first session of group therapy awaits you."