Author's note (PLEASE READ)

Oh my goodness. I thought this day would never come. FINALLY I have finished chapter 8 and am presenting it to you now. I really, really, really hope it was worth the wait and I cannot apologize enough for how long it's been. Nearly two months... gah, I'm so sorry. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PATIENCE!

Important things that you should know:

1. I am halfway through my gap year, so right now I am applying and auditioning for colleges. I have essays to write, monologues to memorize, songs to arrange, and on and on and on. It's a very stressful time as I am STILL trying to get a job on top of all this collegiate nonsense. This means that I will be very busy and may not have a lot of time to write. I will do my utmost to update much sooner than this in the future, but please do note that I have important things to attend to at this point in my life.

2. I have been playing around writing one-shots to break my writer's block. I am considering posting them soon. If I do, please do not take that as me neglecting Be My Bruise. I just need a little variety here and there.

3. I am currently in the process of re-editing an old Beatles fic of mine that I never finished and plan to start posting it chapter by chapter. This is also not a neglect of Be My Bruise, it's just something I've been wanting to do for a while.

So without further ado, here is Chapter 8 of Be My Bruise, brought to you by two months of lyrical, thoughtful writing and a burst of creativity due to tumblr being down.

Broken white light streamed in between the slats of the blinds and striped the room with spindly rectangles. They crawled across the carpet, slithered up the side of the bed, and crept across the peaceful face and bare chest of a deeply-slumbering boy. At first glance the late morning sun peeking in thought him dead from the way his pallid skin contrasted with the purple half-moon shapes under his eyes, giving him a morbid, sunken look. However closer examination found him very much alive – though looking entirely worse for wear – and the sun poked at his eyelids hoping to sting him awake.

Fitz flung an arm across his eyes with a groan. His head felt full of chipping marbles, and the incoming light rattled them rudely. He wondered silently if it was Saturday or Sunday... or perhaps a very unwelcome Tuesday. It was not clear quite when he fell asleep, nor what had taken place before that. He also wondered at the strange feel of the bed beneath him. It seemed a tad too short; his feet hung off the end. This was not a bed he had ever awoken in before. An extra-soft pillow cradled his ailing skull kindly, rendering any disconcerted wonderings about his whereabouts insignificant for the time being. Nothing about him wanted to move; the mere thought made his entire body creak and scream in protest. The night previous had not been kind to him. He remembered a hot sting in his throat that now lay gritty like sandpaper – whiskey had left its mark. He remembered the music, too - an uncomfortable pulse against his eardrums that numbed out a certain voice in his head that made his heart thrum giddily. Eventually all of it – the voice, the jade eyes that burned through his mind, the whisper of gentle hands on skin – melted away and was left to fester on the floor downstairs. Downstairs where? His thoughts refused to click together. There had been a yearning in the pit of his stomach, a sadness that he attempted to drown with liquor. And then a voice – a new one – invaded his memories from the night before. It was louder than the velvety echoes that brought him so much pleasure and so much pain at once. This new voice had to have been at the party itself. He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut, aggravating the headache but struggling desperately to remember. There was the dark and the noise and the liquor, that was clear. Then this voice... and weight on his lap. The conversation rushed back to him, the staircase, the slurred giggles, the heat of flesh on flesh. Fitz came back to the present and his eyes snapped open. The stark morning poured into his brain with a sharpness that he ignored as his attention turned to the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs.

Bianca slipped quietly through the half-open doorway, her timid movement the picture of care; she had not yet noticed that Fitz was awake and was working against startling him. A plate laden with waffles, eggs, and greasy bacon balanced expertly on her hand, a mug clutched in the other. The girl fumbled for the light switch, then thought better of it and continued on with only the slanted glow through the blinds to guide her. She set the dishes down on the bedside table, glancing sideways at the assumed sleeping boy for the first time. Upon finding his eyes open, however, she took an alarmed step back. Fitz sat up at this, his mind dizzily dancing from the abrupt movement.

"Sorry, Bee. I didn't mean to-"

"It's fine," Bianca shook her head dismissively. "I just... I didn't know you were awake."

She bit her lip nervously as though she feared her presence was the fault of his sleeping disturbed. Fitz thought to reassure her, but was distracted and took in her appearance curiously. Her hair was still damp from that morning's shower, and curled with messy softness over one shoulder. The skin-tight jeans she so often donned at school and at parties were missing, and in their place billowed well-worn periwinkle pajama pants. A black cami scooped toward her breast – a sight commonly seen – but the thick sweater wrapped around her torso prevented any indecency. All of this combined showcased a Bianca that Fitz was unfamiliar with, but his eye was further drawn to the girl's face. No makeup masked her skin or shadowed her eye, no artificial color stained lip or cheek. This was a glimpse that very few had been allowed to catch, Fitz knew, and he wished in that moment that it could be another man – not himself – sitting in bed, witnessing the pieces of sunlight dashing against her visage as she crept closer to the window, the day breaking merrily across her cheekbones. If a man whose heart was not already folded and tangled for someone else could take Fitz's place, he was sure that man would tumble helplessly at Bianca's feet. Fitz suspected that the girl craved no less than this.

Presently, Bianca shifted from foot to foot self-consciously, flustered under the weight of Fitz's searching gaze.

"I brought up some breakfast for you." She indicated the food and steaming mug. "Hangover's delight."

"Oh uh... thanks." Fitz awkwardly pulled the plate into his lap and, after a moment of hesitation, took a bite. Nausea did not rush his stomach. He chanced another forkful of eggs.

"This is really good, Bee."

"Don't sound so surprised; I do know my way around a kitchen," her lip curled into a half-smile. "I am a student of the Food Network, after all. Culinary genius in the making."
Fitz laughed outright at this, swigging back some coffee. Bitterness washed over his tongue and made him shiver, but it was exactly what his splitting head ached for so he allowed himself a larger gulp before turning back to the food. In a matter of minutes he had polished off his entire breakfast and therefore had nothing left to distract him from the fact that Bianca still lingered uncomfortably by the foot of the bed, looking anywhere but at him. The night before had not been their first time together, but Fitz had usually managed to stagger away when the party ended. Of course it would be at Bianca's house that he drank too much to stay awake after sex.

"So..."

The word hung between them in all of its blatant awkwardness. He immediately regretted breaking the silence in such a way.

"My mom will be home from New York in a few hours," Bianca muttered almost as an aside.

"Right... I'm uh... sorry that I fell asleep here."

"At least it wasn't during."

"Ah... yeah..."

For the first time that morning, Bianca met Fitz's eye. She squinted slightly as though she was trying to read information off of the boy's face. He wondered what she looked for and why her shoulders fell as if defeated by what she did or did not find.

"Fitz," the girl started tentatively, struggling to keep eye contact. "Do you remember anything about last night?"

He noticed a strange tilt in her voice – almost pleading. It confused him. "I remember going upstairs with you and... what we did up here. Vaguely. Why?" Panic invaded Fitz's mind. With that much alcohol in him and the subject that had been on his mind, he suddenly worried about what his drunken mouth may have spilled out. "Was there... I mean, did... did something happen?"

"No." Bianca dropped her gaze, but not before Fitz caught the flash of pain in her eyes. She took the dirty dishes from him. "I've got to clean up the kitchen. Your clothes are on the chair." The girl bustled out the door and all of a sudden Fitz found himself alone in the room again. He allowed her footsteps to fade out of his ears before attempting to process what had just taken place. Bee had answered him too quickly, fled too willingly. He could not imagine she was that embarrassed by their escapades at her party, but then what was it? Befuddled, he hoisted himself out of bed and crossed to the chair she had indicated. There sat all of his clothes from the party, folded and stacked neatly; Fitz had never figured Bianca for the domestic type.

After dressing, he found the girl downstairs washing dishes at the kitchen sink. Her eyebrows were knit together with determination that he thought may have to do with him coming into the room - she didn't want to notice him. His mind crackled painfully with every step and he was almost too afraid to pry at Bianca's strange mood; his hangover was still going strong. As he watched her scrub vigorously at a frying pan, however, he decided he might as well dive in and get it over with.

"Bee, why are you being so weird?"

"Me?" she scoffed, turning sharply. Fitz flinched, thinking for a wild moment that she might send the pan flying in his direction. "What about you? Seriously, Fitz, you've been weird for weeks. Owen tells me it's nothing and I've been trying to shrug it off, but you're acting like you're on your... your comma or something."

Fitz stared at her, bewildered. "My what?"

"Your comma... you know, your man period?"

"My man period? God, Bee, how old are you?"

She whipped the dish rag at him viciously. "You know what I mean. You've been a moody little bitch. One day you seem all giddy and preoccupied like a little kid at a carnival, and the next you're growling at everyone. Then last night... it seemed like you had hit some sort of wall. You hadn't been to any parties in a while – we all thought you were going back to normal."

"Normal?" Fitz emitted a small snort of laughter. Normal. What does that mean anymore? He considered the girl standing before him: his friend, someone he had slept with before, someone he had used drunkenly the night before to ward off the emerald irises still smoldering in his mind's eye. What could she be thinking when she asked about his recent oddness? She can't have ever guessed it right, he was sure. The heaviness of his heart tugged at him relentlessly day after day. For whatever reason, in that moment he was desperate to tell Bianca what was going on. He needed someone to take part of the burden for fear that it would break him if he held on alone any longer.

"Have you ever been in love, Bee?"

It was her turn to stare in confusion. He had caught her off guard. "Excuse me?"

"Have you ever been in love?"

The more she stared at him with those ever-widening coffee eyes, the higher terror climbed up through his rib cage, icing over his lungs. He wasn't thinking clearly. How could he tell her? She stood there gazing at him, unmoving, barely even blinking. Shit. Take it back. Don't ask her that question. Something seemed to click in her face and her eyes drifted away as the curtain of comprehension jerked open in front of her. There was something stirring in her mind, freshly realized. Shit shit shit...

"Oh my god," Bianca whispered.

"Bee, don't flip out..."

"It's that little Edwards girl, isn't it?"

Fitz froze. What?

"Um, well..."

But Bianca had started to pace tightly up and down, spewing each thought as they came together and snapped into place in her mind. "That's why you're being weird all the time and why you haven't told us about it. You thought Owen and I would give you shit because she's all prude and Jesus-y – which we will, by the way. And that explains you hating that goth prick so much."

At the insult to Eli, Fitz bristled inwardly. Bianca looked oddly pissed off at her revelation, but he did not have time to ponder this for she had halted her pacing and was watching him expectantly. He was unsure of how to proceed. His courageous idea of telling her the truth had dripped entirely away, leaving only an anxious need to say something – anything to keep her from questioning further.

"I, uh..."

Bianca crossed her arms impatiently, waiting for his response. Fitz suppressed a flustered sigh and nodded meekly.

"Fine, you're right. I'm in love with Clare Edwards."

.

.

-x-x-x-x-x-

.

.

Tap tap-tap tap tap-tap tap tap-tap.

Eli hunched his shoulders against the cold breeze blustering down the hall with every door opening.

Tap tap-tap tap tap-tap tap.

His hands swiftly turned the comic book's pages as he read, squinting a bit to concentrate.

Tap tap-tap tap tap-

"Adam!" Eli finally snapped to his friend, who stilled the tapping of his pen and looked up. "Must you?"

"Sorry, man. Don't get all excited."

"Me? You have been tense all morning. What is wrong with you?"

Adam tilted his head closer to Eli and spoke in a hushed tone. "Bianca. She's been staring every time she has seen me today."

"So?"

"Well... we have that stupid remedial gym class together and we're partners for ballroom dancing. Maybe she-"

Eli lowered his comic book, a surprised smirk twisting his mouth agape. "You have a crush on her."

"I don't know... she's attractive, don't you think?"

"Sure... if you like the club district type."

Adam shot Eli a look. "I like her. She's cool to hang out with, even if she is friends with Fitz the Menace."

At the mention of Fitz's name, Eli's stomach churned. His sharpied finger nails dug into his palms as he bit back the bile that bubbled on his tongue. Adam noticed the change in his friend's manner.

"Dude, are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just hungry. Clare is taking forever to get here." Wanting to divert his attention, Eli nodded in Bianca's direction. "Why don't you go talk to her?"

Adam raised an eyebrow. "I thought you didn't like her."

"You could do worse, my man." Eli shooed him off, grinning half-heartedly at the silly puppy-dog look his friend sported. But Fitz's name still buzzed in his ears and it was all he could do to keep from bursting out of his skin.

It had been over a week since the confrontation behind the school. Eli ached to know what Fitz had been doing in the passing days. Had he run off to a new place, devoid of tangled emotional webs and forbidden temptations? The very thought of it twisted the shards of Eli's heart uncomfortably. Fitz had to have known that he could not tell Clare that way. He wasn't prepared for it. Clare deserved a fair explanation that Eli fully intended to give her. Eventually. Maybe. Could he? Clare was an incredible girl – beautiful, witty, intelligent, enchanting in every way. She was everything Eli needed.

Is she? A familiar voice murmured behind Eli's eyes. Even as a conscience-driven echo, the light gravel in Fitz's tone vibrated through Eli like a kitten's purr. His ears thirsted for it, wanting to drink in the sound until he was full, yet knowing he could never get enough.

Is she what? He thought back to his Fitz-flavored conscience. It was frustrating when half of his mind didn't let the rest of him know what it was thinking.

Is she everything you need? What about the darkest parts of you – the parts that the warmth and light don't touch? What about the chinks in your armor that let in frigid air and seep blackness? Does she fill those holes? Does she cradle the wounded and withering parts of your innermost self?

Phantom Fitz was striking at the parts of Eli that Eli himself did not wish to acknowledge. The twisted sections that often raked at his sanity, shattered his control. No, Clare did not glaze over those gaps and make him whole. She hardly knew even the beginning of those flaws. Those were the spaces that Fitz contoured to perfectly. Somehow he did not have to know why Eli was chipping away in places; he simply sensed each fissure and unknowingly soothed the burns that festered there.

You can't have both.

I know... I know.

Eli felt sick as usual. His insides wrenched and reeled whenever Fitz and Clare tried to share space in his mind. He didn't want to have to decide, and so badly wished that time could be thrown into reverse. Then there would be no infidelity, no nights spent tossing and turning, no Fitz. Everything would be the way it was before – feuding and fighting. He and Clare would be happy together, Fitz would fade away, all would be well. Eli would not be living in fear like he was presently. A tingling fear seeped into his skin as he glanced across the hall at Adam. He wondered if the boy knew his secret. Perhaps he should tell him. After all, he had told Adam about Julia and Adam in turn had explained his own unique situation. If there was anyone who would be even remotely understanding about the secrets that had been forming in dark parks and locker notes, it would be Adam.

The night-shaded scenes rolled around in Eli's head as his friend finally loped over and slumped on the ground next to him once more. He looked somewhat nervous, almost as though he was thinking too hard about not telling Eli what had happened with Bianca. Eli wasn't one to push, but the look on Adam's face had him feeling inexplicably edgy.

"How did it go with the queen of the hit-and-run?"

His friend did not even shoot him a look. Something was not right.

"Adam..."

"Bianca said that Fitz told her something over the weekend – something... unexpected."

Blood rushed from Eli's face and surged into his brain, causing his vision to spin and his head to feel sickeningly light. If Bianca knew, everyone would know. It would spread like wild fire and get to Chantay who would quickly type out a heavily-hyperboled review of the scandal on her tactless gossip blog. This post would be read by Alli – the epitome of stereotypical high school girls – and she would turn immediately to Clare for more details on the compelling tale. Then Clare would know. It would all be over then. Eli hoped that he would be able to reach Clare first and tell her himself. It would not stop the anger or – God forbid – the tears, but letting her find out third-hand through someone else would be inexcusable.

Or perhaps she already knew. Could that be the reason for her lateness? Did she not want to have lunch with him now that she knew what lying, cheating scum he truly was? The thought wrapped its icy fingers around his throat, constricting his airway. He had been such a fool to leave this mess in tangles for so long, burrowing deeper and deeper, hiding behind the thin falsehoods he fed to his own conscience in attempts to rationalize the matter. This was not what he intended. He meant to handle things before they got out of hand, but he had yet to decide on a solution. Having one forced upon him seemed sickly fair in a way.

"Oh no..."

Adam looked at Eli, surprised. "So you already know?"

What? Eli did not understand. Of course he knew. How could he not? Once again something did not seem quite right. Adam seemed just as confused as Eli felt.

"Know about..."

"About Fitzy boy being after Clare."

Eli breathed a soft sigh of relief at the words lingering in the air. He was okay. Bianca did not know about Eli and Fitz's silent affair. She had merely let Adam in on the secrets concerning Fitz and Clare.

Wait...

What?

"Fitz... likes Clare?" Eli's head was spinning again. Nothing was adding up. He looked to Adam, hoping for an explanation or perhaps a confession that the statement was another of the boy's ill-formed jokes. To his dismay and utter confusion, he found no lie in his friend's eyes.

"Bee mentioned the word 'love'..." Adam continued cautiously, no doubt waiting for the flash of anger to overcome Eli's face.

"Love? Fitz said that he loves Clare? My girlfriend, Clare?"

"Geez, I'm sorry I'm late, but there's no need to shout."

Shaken by the sudden interruption, both boys snapped their heads up to find Clare standing over them, a vision of perfection shining vibrantly beneath the fluorescents. Eli had not realized the increase in his volume and now felt silly the way he always did when Clare caught him being a little less than suave. However her forgiving smirk soothed his haywire nerves into submission and he was able to return the half-smile as he rose to his feet. Adam bounced up as well, still looking sideways at Eli. Both boys wondered if Clare would ask what they had been talking about seconds before, but it was soon clear that she had heard nothing but her own name over the hallway rumble.

"Shall we?" She was still smiling expectantly at Eli. He threw a nonchalant arm around her and shouldered his bag.

"We shall. Adam here was just about to eat his comic book. We'd better hurry before he turns on us."

Adam punched Eli's arm playfully and led their small pack out the front doors of Degrassi towards Morty with great speed and purpose, eager to arrive at The Dot as soon as possible. Adam and Clare chattered about this and that as Eli started his car and he nodded along as though he were following their conversation. However, behind his blank, smiling eyes his mind seethed and raced. No matter how much Fitz wanted to avoid him, he would not have it anymore. Eli needed answers.

.

-x-x-

.

Buckles clinked against each other on a dark figure's shoes as the shadow paced back and forth, back and forth in the gathering midnight. Clouds of ink and ash blotted out every star that customarily winked over the city at that time. The moon was masked so fully that not even the faintest of beams seeped across the sky. Blackness was all that could be seen, save for a weak orange glow filtering through the leaves from a nearby streetlamp. No one walked about aside from the shadow boy who continued to pace back and forth, back and forth under the watchful eye of an ancient gusting wind. It hung curiously about the tree tops for a while before blustering down to the boy's level and waiting there with him, for it was apparent that the boy's anxiety came from an impatience to meet whomever he expected in the forest half of the park. Sure enough, a taller shadow slipped through the trees and paused, too nervous to continue. Each boy hesitated as though unsure if they were alone or not. As their eyes adjusted, however, the first boy stepped forward purposefully. His words came out low and sharp, and the wind whistled closer to hear:

"...talking about us when in fact it was you and Clare?"

"I-I needed an alibi..."

"So you chose Clare?"

The taller boy poked a finger in the first boy's chest, suddenly defensive. "Hey, I was about to tell her, but Bee jumped to her own conclusions. I chickened out, I didn't know what to do. So I went with it, okay? To protect myself. To protect you. You and your precious Clare." The words dripped with a poisonous contempt that knocked the smaller boy's anger aside.

"Fitz, I didn't-"

"Save it, Elijah. I know what you're going to say and frankly, I don't want to hear it."

"You will hear it, Mark." Fitz bristled at the name but did not interrupt again. "I didn't want to fight you behind the school. I didn't want to hurt you. But Clare... she surprised me. And then you... on the ground... hitting me and, and yelling..." Eli trailed off as his voice started to catch in his throat. Cautious yet swift, Fitz came close enough to cup Eli's face in his hand.

"You weren't... I mean, behind the school you didn't...?" He could not finish the sentence, but Eli knew the way he always did when certain things went unspoken.

"No," he nearly whispered, resting his fingers tenderly on Fitz's wrist. "I didn't choose her over you."

The silence between them was full like the heavy clouds slung above their heads – full of questions with non-existent answers and nervous tales to be confessed in a later moment. But now was not the time. There were complications as always, fears and echoes of twisted inner monologues, of tortured minds and conflicted hearts, but in the charred darkness there was nothing that could be done. Instead, each boy waded through the weight in the air, struggling to breathe until there was only flesh pressed to flesh, cloth mashed against cloth, sighs of relief at the arrival of a small window in space for them to call their own. Fitz was the first to stretch out on the chilly grass and Eli joined him straight away. They curled into each other quietly, content to feel the night settle upon their unity. Timid fingers found each other and held tight, Eli's ringed thumb circling slowly in Fitz's palm until the taller boy could not take it anymore. He swayed over Eli for a moment to drink in his shaded face - the flop of hair across his forehead, the fullness of his lips, the thought-consuming eyes of burnt jade – before whispering one letter - "E..." - and capturing his boy in a precious, hungry kiss.

I hope this was satisfactory. I know there was not a lot of development in this chapter, but I adored writing for Bianca and starting to unearth how complex she really is.

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Thank you all endlessly for your support, patience, and readership!