It was a secret. Everything was a secret- that was just how it was meant to be. Skinner's entire life was a carefully constructed lie, executed by an expert actor, and that was how it always had been. There was no reason to change that now.
No reason at all, except for the blood. Yes, that part scared Skinner a particularly large amount. He was used to it, to an extent- after all, he brought it about. He was used to seeing a small handful of red lines across his skin beading up with blood. But this? This was completely different. This was blood literally dripping from his wrist, coating the inside of his bathroom sink, making him see colors as he struggled with the sudden dizziness that was threatening to overtake him. This was him accidentally dropping the razorblade, his tiny lifeline, down the drain. This was Skinner reaching for his cell phone, finally letting go of the act.
There was ringing. There was momentary silence. Then- "Hey, dude, what's up?" Bucket. Skinner's best friend in the entire world. Bucket was smart, much smarter than Skinner had ever been. Bucket would know what to do.
"Dude, I need you to get to my house. Like, now," Skinner managed to say, hands shaking in fear. The tone of his voice left no room for argument- the act was gone. Skinner was no air-head surfer bro, and Bucket was no pretty-boy surfer dude. At this precise moment in time, Skinner was a young man who needed help, and Bucket was the only one that could give it. Bucket agreed without a sound, clicking the phone off.
Skinner struggled to stand up. Gripping the sink for support, he inched his way into a standing position, slowly working his way to the bathroom door. He flipped the lock to open, wanting Bucket to be able to enter, before grabbing another hand towel to press against his still-bleeding cuts. He hissed slightly as the towel made contact with the sensitive tissue, slowly increasing the pressure until he had a death grip on his own wrist. Skinner sank down onto the edge of the tub, still clutching the towel to his arm, and closed his eyes tiredly. Bucket, hurry.
Time dragged on sluggishly as Skinner clung to conciousness. The minutes took hours as colors danced before his eyes, the blood flow still moving, albeit slower. Skinner was so, so tired... The door flew open. "Skinner."
Skinner raised his head tiredly, barely able to open his eyes. He looked at his best friend, sensing the horror in his eyes but completely unable to explain what was happening. He simply held his wrist out for Bucket to see, blinking slowly. "Please make it stop bleeding, Bucket." His voice came out tired and scared; broken. Completely unlike the Skinner that Bucket had always known.
"Skin.." Bucket's voice faltered. He clearly had no idea what to do. He blinked a few times before stepping into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Bucket turned on the water in the sink and let it run, before kneeling down in front of Skinner.
"Careful," Skinner warned him as Bucket reached for his arm. Bucket flipped it over and gently peeled the towel away, taking a fair amount of blood with it. The bleeding had nearly stopped, but a thin trickle of blood leaked it's way out of one of the cuts. Bucket's eyes followed it, keeping him paralyzed as it inched along the soft skin of Skinner's inner wrist, before it dripped onto the floor. The soft sound of the drop hitting the tile seemed to jolt him awake, as he jumped up and threw the towel into the sink. He quickly dropped in front of it, opening the cabinet and digging through it.
"What are you doing?" asked Skinner, still struggling to stay concious. "First aid kit," came Bucket's muffled reply. He emerged a moment later, holding the little box triumphantly. He immediately pulled it open, gathering medical gauze and antiseptic. Abandoning the rest of the box, he brought the antiseptic over first.
"Hold your arm out, wrist up," Bucket told him, opening one of the bottles. Skinner did as he was told, barely listening to the warning that this might sting. Bucket poured the solution onto Skinner's cuts, forcing Skinner's eyes open. "Ow!" Bucket made a slight face as he dabbed at the cuts with cotton.
"You can complain after I clean you up and you explain what's going on," Bucket told him, dabbing with a little more force than necessary. He threw the cotton balls into the trash, reaching for the gauze and securely wrapping Skinner's forearm.
"There. You're good to go. Now start talking." Bucket's voice was harsh, harsher than Skinner had ever heard it, and his mouth was set in a hard line. Skinner shook his head slightly, leaning back against the wall of the tub.
"I can't explain, Bucket," he said, sighing. "I never could." Bucket made a scoffing noise that clearly stated 'I call bullshit.' Skinner closed his eyes again, not knowing how to put the feelings into words.
"It's just stupid, okay? It doesn't even matter anymore, my razor is gone," Skinner told the darkness behind his eyelids. "Gone." There was a slight pause.
"Gone where?" asked Bucket, voice slightly softer. Skinner shrugged. "Down the drain. Gone, gone. Never getting it back, gone. I don't know what I'm going to do now."
Skinner would have never admitted that to anyone but his very best friend in the world, and even in this moment he couldn't help but hate himself a little bit for allowing his voice to crack, for allowing the tears to well up in his eyes. He closed his eyes tighter, hoping that would make them go away.
There was another long, long pause. "We can't stay in here, Skin." Bucket pulled Skinner to his feet, helping to support him as they walked. He shut off the water as they passed the sink, unlocking the door with a flick of his wrist. Bucket carefully walked Skinner all the way down the hall, into Skinner's bedroom. Skinner collapsed on the bed gratefully, listening to the sounds of Bucket closing and locking the door, before moving to lie next to him.
"Skinner, please just... just tell me something." Oh, here it came. Skinner knew exactly where this was going. He nodded his permission for Bucket to continue. "How long?"
That wasn't exactly the question Skinner had been anticipating. He answered without really thinking about it. "3 months and 14 days." Bucket froze next to him.
"Three months? Three whole months and I didn't even notice?" Bucket sounded upset, but not in the way Skinner would've thought. He thought Bucket would be angry, but instead he sounded... sad. Lonely, even.
"You didn't notice because I didn't want you to." Skinner opened his eyes long enough to look at Bucket, study his face, try to understand what was happening. Bucket looked just as sad as he sounded, and Skinner didn't understand it at all.
"Please, no more," Bucket asked him, sitting up slightly. "Please." Skinner shook his head. "I can't promise you that."
"But, why?" Now Bucket sounded angry. "Why do you need it so bad?" Because I'm in love with you, dumbass. "Because it makes me feel better." About you not loving me.
"I just don't understand," Bucket sighed, laying down and pulling Skinner against him. He arranged the two of them the same way he always did, with Skinner's head in the crook of Bucket's neck and Bucket's arms draped around Skinner's shoulders. Their legs lay in the familiar comforting tangle.
"Neither do I." Skinner couldn't offer more than that, and he felt horrible for it. Bucket shook his head. "I want you to do something tomorrow. I want you to let me count your cuts."
"Why?" Skinner was genuinely puzzled. He hated looking at the cuts, he didn't understand why Bucket would do so willingly. "Because," Bucket said, "I am going to count them tomorrow. For every cut that appears after that, I am going to add one right here." He pointed to his own wrist, miming a slashing motion.
Skinner shot up, leaning over Bucket. "No. Never." Bucket stared right back at him. "Now you know how I feel." Skinner leaned forward, resting his forehead against Bucket's and sighing.
Skinner wanted to say something, but couldn't think of anything at all. He let his eyes slip shut, still hovering awkwardly over Bucket, but unwilling to move. Bucket shifted slightly beneath him, wrapping his arms around Skinner's waist and pulling him down for a hug.
So when their lips met, it was completely natural. Neither boy registered this as something strange or different, because it simply felt right. Skinner pressed forward into Bucket, lightly nipping on his lower lip before pulling the soft skin into his own mouth, gently sucking on it. Bucket made a soft gasping sound, pulling Skinner more firmly against him and tracing his tongue along Skinner's upper lip. Skinner dropped his jaw, allowing the tongue in to explore his mouth, reaching out with his own to tangle the two together.
There was no frantic groping or removal of clothing. Just the two of them lying together, lips glued to one another, in a silent show of their feelings. Neither boy was willing to say them outloud, but something about the way Skinner's lips pressed tiny kisses along Bucket's bottom lip, and the way Bucket's lips molded perfectly into Skinner's, said it all.
When they finally broke for air, neither boy said anything at all. Skinner moved back into the crook of Bucket's neck, and Bucket wrapped his arms around Skinner. They were laying exactly the same way they were before- the same way they had been for their entire lives. Nothing appeared to have changed, because nothing had changed. The only difference was, now it was in the open. Neither boy had to explain. They both knew.
"Promise me," Bucket requested again. Skinner took a deep breath, closing his eyes. "I promise I'll try, and that's going to have to be good enough because I can't promise anymore than that."
Bucket shook his head slightly. "It isn't good enough. But I can live with it, for now." Skinner snuggled into his neck gratefully. "Thank you for understanding."
"Thank you for calling me," Bucket said somberly. They both knew that if Skinner had been really depressed, he wouldn't have called. He wouldn't have even bothered trying to stop the bleeding. And that thought terrified both of them.
Skinner nodded, using Bucket's neck to disguise the tears that were welling up for the second time that night. "I'm glad you're my best friend."
"Is that really all we are?" Bucket's voice sounded like he already knew the answer. "Of course not." "It's gonna be hard." "I know." "Really hard." "I know." "Promise me you'll be okay?" "I promise I can try."