S.E. Hinton owns "The Outsiders".

Author's Note:

A short fic about Johnny, Dallas and that two a.m. angst we all suffer from. Critique is welcomed, if you have any.

A Dying Fish Out Of Water

In which the fish dies and the ocean doesn't do anything about it.

You're looking at me like you don't know why in God's name I'm here, and the truth is, neither do I. It's happening again, that thing you do with your eyes - and I know I'm fucked.

The room is darker than the streets I just crawled through and smells like the deepest part of a sewer. What little furniture you have has been shoved up against the rotting walls so that the middle of the dank space contains nothing but a mattress I've spent more hours on than my own. I should be used to this by now, but I'm not, and I don't think I'll ever be - you've never given me enough time, and I've never asked for more than what's left.

The moon slides in and out of focus, light playing on the shadows of your hollow cheekbones and the line where your mouth is pulled taut. You're high; hair a disheveled mess, plastered to the sides of your sweaty face from moving everything around, numb in another world eons away from the one you're stuck in. I'll never admit it, but it's always the worst when you're like this, because we both know once you've snapped, there's no going back.

You light up a cigarette, momentary annoyance flickering across your face as you carelessly look me up and down, dilated pupils focused on some place above my head. Then you open your mouth and slur the words I've been dreading to hear all night:

"The fuck're you doin' here, kid."

It isn't a question.

"Thought I could crash here for awhile." I suck in a breath and try not to wince at the burn of my lungs compressing against my swollen ribcage. I don't have to tell you what's happened; you've already grabbed my arm and pulled me inside, your fingertips molding into my skin, oddly warm despite all this lack of heat. The bolt on the door slides home and I try not to fall to the floor when you loosen your grip and leave me standing there by my lonesome, like a dying fish out of water.

I'm fumbling for words, praying that you haven't noticed the blood dribbling out of my mouth and down my chin, the cuts and bruises and strangulation marks I can't hide no matter how sheepishly I try to. Of course, you already have.

"He did this to you."

You're swearing all the words in the book and even ones I haven't heard, which is far and few between. I try to tell you that saying what's happened doesn't make it any less real, although my tongue is in knots and I can't hear anything besides my heart pounding unevenly in my ears, thumpthumpthumpwhoosh.

I am hot and cold at the same time, an Indian summer on the backburner of a dying winter, nerves shot and exhausted from sleep that never really arrives.

You take a drag and blow the smoke into my face, offering me the last of your cigarette as you light up another. I fumble for it and press it to my lips, the comfort so distant and vague; I almost forget I'm here, asking for something that you can't give, won't ever be able to.

I shift my eyes to the floor, not wanting to see the disappointment and disgust on your face. You would murder my father if I let you and go to jail for it - walk on over there with Shepard's forty-five millimeter and blast a hole through his head, bam - but it still wouldn't be enough. That's what makes this so sick - you've probably imagined killing him more times than I've imagined killing myself, and that's just not fair at all.

All it takes if for you say my name and everything comes rushing back, the anxiety having reached a breaking point. I can't breathe - I'm choking on the blood caught between my teeth and the bile I can't throw up. I want to leave, but there is nowhere else I can go.

Undistinguishable words are twisting in your mouth as your fingers suddenly jerk my chin up, damn-near pulling me off my feet as you drag me towards the bathroom the size of a closet. You're muttering "goddamn son of a bitch" while you turn the tap on, sewage water sputtering out into the sink as you rummage in the cabinet for some antiseptic, and I don't know whether you're talking about me or my father or the drug you're on before the ache of a dirty washcloth burrows inside my mouth.

We've done this so many times before it's become a routine.

Avoid eye contact and remember to breathe through the nose. If there's blood, don't gag when it goes back down your throat; spit it out the corner of your mouth instead. If you're going to throw up, let him know so none of it gets on him. Don't show him everything that's happened to you, just the open wounds and the bruises he can fix with a chunk of ice wrapped in a towel. And lie, always lie. Lie like you've never fucking did before.

We work in tandem, moving around each other like caged lions. Your hand on my chin, tilting my head up so far my neck aches; then your hand on my shoulder, gripping denim and bone. The space is so small, so quiet, I hear you breathe. Inhale, exhale.

"Where?" you say, and I point to the cut under my eye, or lift up my shirt to expose the bruise on my stomach, darkening the skin around it a disgusting blue-purple, and you swear. Repeat, rinse, and repeat.

So much of our time has been spent in the dark I've forgotten what you look like during the time we're under some form of light. Angular face and blue eyes, white-blonde hair and lips pulled back, exposing sharp teeth stained red with lipstick from girls you couldn't shake off all the nights before. It's amazing how you wouldn't give me the time of day if I wasn't so desperate and you weren't so self-destructive.

When you're done, you release my shoulder and run the washcloth under the water, my blood swirling down the drain. I am exhausted - the bruises ache and the cuts burn. My brain pounds against my skull and the back of my eyelids, a dull pain to the gnawing hole in my stomach that continues to expand with each second. I am slowly drowning from the inside out.

You tell me to go lie down, and I stumble into the other room and onto the stained mattress, my back facing the bathroom I don't know how many minutes we've just spent inside of. Although the pillow is lumpy and the sheets are thin and cold and both smell like you, so heavy I almost choke - if horseshit and blood and cigarettes and sweat could be made into cologne, you'd wear it every day - I'm grateful.

All the while, your eyes burn into the back of my head while you sulk in the doorway, gnawing on your lip and then the inside of your cheek. It's almost two a.m. and you won't fall asleep until I've left the next morning.

Because it might be another night, a different night, but it's all the same.