Into the Rain

Chad Dylan Cooper was an excellent actor. It was something he prided himself on; the ability to not only portray his character, but to portray him so well, that he became that character. It had carried him far, and his current job, as star of MackenZie Falls, while cheesy, was familiar and comfortable. He knew Mack; he could be Mack. Whenever he was on set, in front of a camera, he became Mack. Chad was pushed to the back of his mind; Mack to the forefront. Mack saw the world very differently from Chad Dylan Cooper; he was a black and white kinda guy. There were no grey areas; there was one, and there was the other. Mack was familiar to him, like a security blanket you hang onto as a kid. Chad Dylan Cooper saw many more shades of grey than he did of black or white; and it made doing what he felt to be the right thing very difficult indeed.

Off set, he could shrug Mack off like a coat. He wasn't really lying when he said he was the greatest actor of his generation; none of his friends or rivals had the ability to lose themselves to a character on set like he did. None of them could throw off a character like he could. Maybe he was exaggerating a little, but he damn good and he knew it. Maybe that came off to others as a sign of his arrogance; Chad Dylan Cooper wasn't arrogant. While he was an excellent actor, telling people this to their faces wasn't as enjoyable as he maybe pretended it was, and most of the other things he would tell people about himself were complete fabrication. He wasn't arrogant, just self-assured. Confidence could get you a lot in life, and he relied on it as much as he relied on his acting skills.

So one day, hanging out with his cast after rehearsal, having thrown Mack off and pulled Chad on, and a message came to his phone that he could not ignore, it wasn't too hard to come up with an excuse. His cast were, at first, rather confused by how his face instantly paled as he read the message, and further so as he stood up and pronounced that he had 'business to take care of'. Eyebrows were raised, but he flashed them a playful grin, and hadn't he been pale just a second ago? Clearly they'd just imagined it. He excused himself to his dressing room without further explanation, but his cast were no longer worried or confused; they were actually rather used to Chad's random excursions off on his own, and were not suspicious. Chad gave them nothing to be suspicious about. He was, after all, an excellent actor.

Once he had made it out of their line of sight and their range of hearing, however, Chad began to move a lot faster, making the rest of his way to his dressing room at a near run. He pushed the door open hastily, unsurprised that it had been unlocked. After all, only he and one other person had a key, and that one other person was who was here to see him. His heart lurched painfully as he took her in; curled up on the couch, sobs racking her body. She looked up for a second, and he caught a glimpse of her flushed face for a second before she looked down again, burying her head into her hands. He sat down beside her, not too close, not touching her. Touch was not what she needed, not what she wanted.

"I'm s-sorry," She managed through her tears, her shaking increasing. "Ch- Chad, I'm s-so so-sorry." He reaches a hand out warily, and places it on her shoulder for just a second. It's a soft touch, meant to be reassuring, but she flinches in place even as he moves his hand away. He doesn't say a word to her as she cries. He doesn't hold his arms out to her, inviting her to throw herself into them. He just watches, sitting beside her close enough to provide a comfort, close enough to provide a solid body heat.

Eventually, her sobs die out, and she sneaks a look at him, sniffing quite pathetically and wiping her eyes. He looks back at her, capturing her eyes with his own and making sure she doesn't look away. He keeps his face devoid of expression, but his voice is rough with emotion as he speaks.

"Let's see the damage, then." He extends an open hand. She bites down on her lip, and lifts her own hand shakily, and places it into his, palm side up. He takes in a sharp breath at the sight of her wrist; not quite a gasp, but as close to hyperventilation as you can manage in a single breath. He is, as always shocked at the sight. That's a feeling he'll never get used to, they suppose. "Damn, Sonny." He says weakly, examining the bloody mess that is her wrist. "How can you do this to yourself?"

She doesn't answer, as per usual. He's not surprised, nor is he disappointed. He just feels incredibly sick. His fingers grip her wrist very, very lightly, careful not to do any more damage. He places her hand back in her lap, moving off to the bathroom to find a towel and some band-aids. He's pretty sure the bleeding has stopped, from the way there's no trace of red on her shirt. He takes a peek at her around the door frame at her. She's still sitting where he left her; cradling her damaged wrist in her unhurt hand. She alternates between wrists, and he breathes a prayer of thanks for that. If she did any more damage to herself, he'd have to take her to the emergency room, and they both want to avoid that, for their own respective reasons. His is selfish, he knows; the sight of him pulling a girl with that degree of self-harm and depression along with him, even just to take her to the ER, would do something serious to his reputation. It could be a harmful effect or a positive one, but he'd rather it didn't happen at all. Secondly, (and a lot less selfishly), he's quite sure he never wants her to actually damage herself to the degree that outside help is required. Her reasons are rather more simple; she doesn't want anyone to know. The last thing Sonny Munroe wants is attention, and this kind of thing would be guaranteed to land her with one label in particular; attention whore. The thought is nauseating to her. And if her family found out, there would be hell to pay for her.

Chad comes back to sit beside her, armed with a towel, a large handful of band-aids, and- she is ridiculously grateful to see- a packet of Tylenol. He doesn't usually give her meds- on the counts that a) he doesn't think she deserves them- if she wants pain, pain is what she'll get, and b) he really can't deal with her nursing a drug habit along with her self-mutilation habit. He is worried about her, and as bitter and angry as he feels over her doing this to herself, he is absolutely determined to help her in any way he can. Sonny Munroe is rather important to him, and one thing he wants to see is her kicking this habit. He knows he can't force her to stop- self-harmers always find a way- so he's doing his ample best to help her and encourage her until she finds the strength and motivation to stop for herself. He's researched this stuff, and this is the best thing he can do for her, apparently, outside of sending her to see a shrink.

As he wipes the semi-dry blood from her wrist, he can still remember the Sonny Munroe he first met, and though she's pretty hard to remember when he sees her like this, it's an image he's got fixed in his head so that he can tell when she's better again. For comparison's sake; when she's like she was then, he'll know for sure that she's really better. He doesn't want fake better. He wants the real Sonny back. He starts applying band-aid, making a criss-cross pattern in an attempt to cover as much of the wound, as thoroughly as possible. It's the kind of cut that would start bleeding again as soon as you've poked it. He hands her two Tylenol, and she swallows them gratefully, flashing a tiny, thankful smile in his direction. It's not her smile though- it's not the Sonny smile. It's a twitch of the lips, not a full, show-every-sparkly-white-tooth smile. He misses that smile. He forces a smile back at her, but she and he both can see the strain behind it.

He wonders when she started to go wrong. He can still remember the first time he met her like it was yesterday...

It had all started several months before. Chad was in New York City, riding the subway, and feeling slightly ridiculous. He'd travelled out of state for a family party; his cousin had gotten engaged, and his aunt had invited everyone to NYC for a few days to celebrate. It hadn't been a problem getting off work; he so rarely took time off, and Condor could spare his star for a few days. It was Chad's first family thing since he had turned eighteen, and subsequently started living on his own, and so the journey to NYC was a solo trip. He'd declined the idea of bringing friends; mixing his high-maintenance friends with his laid-back, slightly insane family did not sound inviting. He preferred to keep his work and his home life separate, thank you very much. Most of his Hollywood friends were hard-core partiers, with the idea that a party was not a party unless there was alcohol involved, and would definitely not be impressed by the wholesome and rather domesticated setting that were his family's parties. He preferred it that way. His family understood.

Travelling on his own was scary. In LA, he made the same trips to the same places with regularity; home, work, friends' houses'. He never really went anywhere that required more than a twenty minute drive without being forced by his friends; any long trips were planned and executed by them, and only occasionally took him along for the ride. Taking a plane to New York and getting a cab to a local hotel felt like a huge accomplishment, and he'd been profusely regretting his decision to do some sight-seeing before meeting up with his family when on the tube. He'd been dressed carefully; jeans, a jacket with the hood up and a comfy t-shirt. On boarding the tube, he'd buried his earphones in his ears and felt eternally grateful for his iPod and its seemingly ever-lasting battery. He'd been contentedly sitting in silence and staring stonily at the wall opposite to him when a hand tugged on his arm. He turned automatically, pulling one of his earphones out and was preparing to deny being Chad Dylan Cooper when she smiled sweetly at him and asked what he was listening to. He was struck dumb by this question, and managed no better reply than staring blankly at her with his mouth hanging slightly open.

"What...?" He'd added intelligently, as it'd dawned on him she'd asked him a question.

She'd grinned at him in amusement, and repeated her question. "You deaf, mister? I asked ya what you're listenin' to." She had a New York accent, so he felt it was safe to assume she was a local. She also didn't seem to recognise him, so he decided it was quite safe to talk to her. He answered her question with a smile, and when she had confessed having never heard of the artist, he mock-gasped and insisted she take an earphone.

"You look like the type o' girl who appreciates good music," He'd grinned at her, and she'd beamed back at him. One song turned into two, then three, and soon they were trading music advice back and forth, and talking like they'd been friends forever. It was a connection he'd never experienced with anyone before, and he'd enjoyed it immensely. It was hours before the battery went dead, and they'd grinned at each other before realising, with unanimous shock, just how much time had passed, and just how past their individual stops they were.

She had sworn loudly, and then smacked him lightly on the shoulder when he'd laughed.

"Sorry, sorry!" He said, although he was still giggling at her. "You just didn't seem like the swearin' type." She frowned playfully at him.

"I'm not, usually." She admits lightly, and it strikes him they've been talking for hours, and he doesn't even know her name- nor she his.

"I wouldn't know. I don't even know your name." He says wryly. She seems surprised at that, and then she laughs.

"Well, I don't know yours." She defends, then grins again. "Sonny. Sonny Munroe." She holds her hand out for him to shake. He doesn't even hesitate as he shakes it and returns the favour.

"Chad. Chad Dylan Cooper." He says, smiling and feeling a wave of expectancy.

"No way!" Sonny laughs. "You're the star of that there drama, Mack Falls, right?" She clearly isn't a super fan, but she has heard of him. He's not put out by either, and continues to smile at her.

"That's me." He confirms, then makes a show of pressing his finger to her lips. "But shh... I'm undercover." She laughs again at that, and he decides he really, really likes her laugh. "Any idea how to get back to Brooklyn station from here? This is my first visit to NYC without my mom to help me, and I didn't foresee missing my stop."

"Well, you're in luck then, Mr Hot Shot; I happen to be a native, and I know exactly which sub to take when." She stands as the sub trails to a stop, and holds her hand out to him. "C'mon, then! Don't you wanna get to where you need to be?" Once again, he takes her hand without even thinking about it, and allows her to lead him off the train. She could be crazy, she could be lying, but he doesn't care; meeting this girl has been the most fun he's had in a while, and he's not quite ready for it to stop. Besides, he didn't have a clue how to get back on his own. He feels like he should say something in protest about imposing and keeping her from where she needs to be, but her smile and the way she's laughing is telling him she's having just as much fun as he is, and who is he to stop their fun?

As she trails him along, talking lots about nothing at all, he nods in appropriate places and just watches her. Her hair is black; obviously dyed, along with a fringe full of streaks of bright, cheerful colours like yellow and bright pink. She somehow managed to make it not look ridiculous. She was wearing a plain purple t-shirt, and a loose denim jacket that stopped somewhere around her belly-button. She was wearing matching denim shorts, despite the rain he'd seen earlier, and white Converse that looked like they'd definitely seen better days. There was a necklace around her neck, with a large silver star as a pendulum. She had a piercing at the top of her ear, and a heart drawn on her arm in what looked like a pink Sharpie. Her fingertips were rough and callused; this lead him to believe she was musical. She looked very out of place on the dreary subway, but somehow she pulled the whole thing off very well. When she smiled, it seemed to take up her whole face; a wide, dazzling smile that put models around the world to shame. The expression seemed to light her up from the inside, and she glowed with happiness. It was like standing with a real, genuine ray of sunshine, and he felt she couldn't have had a more accurate name if she tried.

When they'd finally stumbled off the sub at Brooklyn station, and she'd blushingly, admitted that she probably should have been home hours ago, he couldn't help feeling a pang. He didn't want her to go; he didn't want to never see her again. In a matter of hours, this crazy, overly-happy, sunshine-y girl had made an impact on him. When she'd thrown her arms around him in a hug, it had only cemented this view; no girl he'd ever been friends with before had ever done something so normal and casual like hug him. He kissed girls he dated, he awkwardly kept his hands away from girls he was 'friends' with, because they seemed to feel nervous about touching him, somehow. He could only guess it was because of his reputation as a player- a reputation that he hadn't really earned, but whatever. The paparazzi had firmly established him as a player, and once the paps established something, it was rather difficult to un-establish it.

So it was instinctive, he supposed, that when she drew her arms away from him, not looking embarrassed in the least, that he caught her fingers, and held firmly onto her hand while he scrawled his number across her palm with a pen he couldn't quite recalling having, and telling her to call him. She'd smiled sweetly, and instead of emptily assuring him he would, grabbed the pen off him, and pushing the sleeve of his hoodie out of the way, continued to scrawl her name and number up his forearm. He'd given her a questioning look, and she'd laughed, told him it was more original, and told him he was lucky she hadn't written it across his forehead. She'd hugged him once more before departing with a wink and a smile.

Across the next couple of months, they had met together as often as possible. They did random things; sometimes, just meeting for coffee and a chat or going to a concert, other times doing crazy things that they'd both agreed they wanted to try just once in their lives; bucket list type things. They'd been sky-diving and rock-climbing and across one of those ridiculous tree-top assault courses. Meeting up with Sonny was his favourite thing, especially since he couldn't do it every day; living states apart made it difficult. They were so very different; he, a famous, rich actor, and her, an about-to-graduate high school student who worked in a coffee shop and earned amazing tips because of her sweet attitude, but they were also similar; both lonely, both loving to do crazy things because of the rush of feeling the sense of accomplishment; both willing to travel across the states to see their new best friend. Even when they can't meet up, they text and talk on the phone 'til they've ran up a ridiculous phone bill, and even, after much wheedling on her part, talking face to face over Skype.

Over time, they start to change. For him, he is convinced the change is positive; he's never cared for someone the way he's cared for Sonny; deep and protective and intense. He's happier than he's felt in a long, long while and he knows it has to do with having a friend who's so close, so understanding. She gives him a goal, a purpose; she makes him feel the need to be better, be nicer. Of course, this doesn't show much at work; but he's definitely making more effort with his dad and his older sister and working to make those relationships as level and comfortable as his relationship with his mom. She, on the other hand; as time slips by, he notices she's starting drawing into herself, becoming quieter and quieter on the topic of her family until she stops mentioning them at all. Her smiles become less sunshine-y and more strained. Little by little, she loses weight.

His frustration finally boils over one day when they're drinking coffee, and he explodes at her, demanding to know what's wrong and what the hell is going on with her. To his shock, she doesn't answer him, or smile at him, or tell him what's up with her. Instead, her smile vanishes and she stands up, pushes her coffee away forcefully, and coldly says that maybe she should be getting home now. He's too shocked to do anything but blink at her, and she leaves loudly, kicking the door of the café open and slamming it shut behind her. It's not until she's started the engine and driven away that what's just happened sinks in. He throws some cash down on the table- how much, he doesn't know, nor does he care- and races out the door after her. He reaches his car and is hit by a hard wave of frustration as he realises it's far too late to chase her; even if she wanted to be chased, which by the evidence of how quickly she left- skid marks where her car had been parked- she definitely didn't want to be chased. So instead he dials her phone number, and unsurprised by her not picking up her cell, leaves an apologetic but frustrated voice mail, apologising for his rudeness but demanding she call him back as soon as she gets the message.

She doesn't answer the voice mail for three weeks, and ignores all of his attempts at communication during that time. It's rather upsetting for him; she's never ignored him before, and it's sort of painful. He doesn't like to go a day without hearing her voice, and knowing she's deliberately drawing back from him and not talking to him hurts. When she finally calls him back, though, she ignores his questions as politely as she can, and instead sets up a rendezvous at a coffee shop; but not the same one she stormed out of. Not the coffee shop they've been meeting together every once in a while for the last four, no, nearly five, months- a different one. He has to look up directions to it, and when he's finally driving there to meet her, for the first time ever since meeting her, he's hit with jitters and wonders why he feels nervous. He attributes it to reacting to the fact they've been fighting, something they've never ever done before. He wants this to go well; he doesn't want her to cut off all communication with him again. Ever.

When he walks in there, and sees her, he's hit with such a wave of relief it nearly knocks him flat on his face. The jitters soon return, though, as she insists they order their coffee as take-out and leads him out of the café and down a worn looking path and to a picnic table, despite the face that its currently mid-November. Their breathing creates puffy white clouds, and he grips his hot coffee tightly between his two hands, again wondering why he feels so nervous. It's not like she's going to end this thing they've got going on, is it? He knows it's terribly inconvenient for her- hey, it's terribly inconvenient for him, and he is- no offence meant- rather a lot more well-off than she is. But she's admitted to needing this every bit as much as he needs it; a sense of release. A sense of safety, having someone there to connect with on a level they've never felt before. It's not dating, exactly; it's just a firm, solid friendship.

But what she does tells him shocks him to the core, even more than her storming out on what he now thinks of as 'that fateful day'. The story comes out, slowly at first, and then tumbles from her lips almost uncontrollably and he gets the feeling that this is the first time she's told anyone.

It hurts him so bad to hear what he hears, but he doesn't interrupt her once. He can feel that she needs this; needs the release of emotion as much as she needs her morning coffee or her daily shower. As much as Sonny Munroe loves to be sporadic and crazy, she draws a certain comfort from having a routine with little daily rituals, like the way she brushes her hair after a shower and the way she always needs to wear mascara, in or out of the house.

Today, she tells him a story of tragedy and of pain, and she admits to him just how wrong her familial relationships have gone; how she fights with her brothers and her father in every conversation, and not in a playful way; all out screaming matches. How nothing she ever does seems to impress her mother; instead, it all draws a deep, from-your-toes disappointed sigh that hurts to hear and hurts even more to give. How she barely even comes out of her room any more; instead, hiding in her room and examining herself in the mirror and wondering what is so wrong with her that she impresses no one. She is, she says to him, just a stupid, ugly, clumsy world who doesn't mean anything much to anyone.

She tells him, looking away from him because she's unable to look him in the eyes at this point, of how when she's at home, the only time she feels right is when she has something sharp in her hand, cutting into her wrist, her leg, her anything. She's been cutting herself and she's so, so ashamed but now that she's started she can't seem to stop. Of how she can't bring herself to eat any more; not because of anorexia, not because she doesn't want to, but because she can't. She never feels hungry, no, not any more. It hurts him so bad to hear, and he doesn't even realise he's crying until he feels her soft hand on his cheek, wiping futilely at the tear there, even as it's joined by another and another.

He stares at her, feeling terrified out of his damn mind, and he finds he can't say a single word. He feels physically sick. She shakes her head, starting to cry as well, and finally, as she lets out a sob that could bring tears from a stone, he pats her shoulder, a pathetic show of comfort but it's all he can bring himself to give her now. He's just so- so shocked, and confused, and just hurt by this.

"Why didn't you tell me?" He asks eventually, surprising himself with how heavy his voice sounds. She wipes her eyes, sniffing.

"I knew it would hurt you." She says, like that makes it okay. He slams his hand down on the table in front of them, a burst of anger erupting over him like a tidal wave.

"That shouldn't have mattered! Damn, Sonny, you needed someone to talk to about this! If you had've talked to me about it sooner, maybe then- maybe you wouldn't have-" He can't bring himself to finish that thought and instead he brandishes uselessly at her arm. She catches the drift, of course, and covers her wrist with her hand defensively, even though her cuts are covered by her sleeves and presumably the multitudes of funky bracelets she always seems to wear.

Had she always worn them? Or had she just started to when she'd started... hurting herself, and he just hadn't noticed? He stares moodily up at the sky, and Sonny doesn't interrupt him. She just continues to sob softly, rubbing her wrist in rhythmic, absent-minded motions in a movement he's actually seen her do many times before when she's upset.

Why did he never notice?

"'S not your fault, Chad." Sonny says, and he snaps around to look at her again. She's been watching him for a while now, he realises, reading the familiar expressions on his face. Of course, she knows him better than anyone. She can read him like a book.

After that day, the day he found out as he refers to it in his head, he insists on calling her every single day. It seems to help for a while; but then one day she calls him, sobbing and apologising, and damn, he doesn't remember forcing her to promise him she'd stop hurting herself, but apparently he had, because she's sobbing and rambling about broken promises and how bad a person she is, until he can't stand it any more.

"Come out to LA and be with me." He says abruptly, cutting off her ramble and shocking both of them into silence. He hadn't even thought about it before asking. It just came into his head, and instantly out of his mouth. Now that he's said it, though, it does seem like the perfect solution. If she comes out there, to be with him, that'll get her away from her stressful family and therefore her problems, right? Then she won't feel so awful all the time and she'll stop hurting herself, and she'll be so near him that he can make sure she's okay in person at all times. He feels a grin spreading across his face at this plan, and is therefore completely put out with her response.

"No, Chad, I can't." She doesn't say it nicely; it comes out sharp, like a sword.

"Why not? It'll be perfect!" He explains his reasoning to her, fully expecting her to gasp and proclaim he's right, he's a genius, of course she'll come out to LA.

But she doesn't. "Well, for one thing, Chad, I have school." Crap. He'd forgotten that. He always forgot Sonny wasn't the same age as him; just a few months younger, and the school year below him. While he had graduated high school the year before, and gleefully celebrated his nineteenth birthday by moving out of his parents' home, she had just had her eighteenth birthday in August and was still working towards finals and graduating.

"You could transfer to a school here." He argues feebly, still unwilling to give up the chance to have her safe here with him. She really isn't going for it, though.

"With what money, Chad? And this late in the year? There's no point."

"I'd pay for it." He offers, feeling a little desperate.

"I'm not a charity case, Cooper." She scoffs

"No, you're not. You are, however, my best friend, and I'd like having you here." For a second he's sure she's wavering, and does a mini celebration dance, which turns out to be moot.

"No, Chad." Her rejection is more gentle this time, but it still hurts. "What makes you so sure I want to get away from the fam, anyway? They're my family, Chad. We're just going through a rough patch. This is where I belong." She really doesn't sound too convinced by her own argument, but he's too busy gaping with his jaw on the floor to argue with her any more. "I'm sorry." She adds, and he mumbles something non-committal, hoping she won't realise how genuinely hurt he is. Does she think he'd just ask anyone to come out to LA to be with him? He's actually a little embarrassed at how he phrased the question, but really, it revealed to him how badly he wanted her here.

"But they're hurting you, Sonny! They've driven you to the point of hurting yourself. That's not okay." He feels a little panicked as he says this, wondering if they've caused more psychological damage than he'd thought.

She laughs dryly. "You think I don't know that? I'm just hoping they'll realise what they're doing to me and stop doing it." His heart pounds painfully in his chest at the genuine hope hidden in her dry tone. A little part of her still thinks it will happen, but he knows with absolute certainty that it won't. Her family have driven her to the edge, and if they haven't noticed how off she is, they never will, and if they ever do realise it, he really doesn't think they deserve the chance to make it up to her, and he knows Sonny well enough to know she would give them that chance. Second chances are a part of her approach to life, but he can't help thinking her family have gone well beyond their second chance now. Every day she stays there with them is a new chance. Every minute.

They don't deserve any of it, and he tells her so. She doesn't really argue the point, but he can tell she doesn't agree with him. They end the call soon after that, but not before Chad makes her promise something else; that she'll always call him if she feels like hurting herself. He hopes it'll help, but something deep within him tells him that it's too big. He ignores that something. Sonny promises to come visit him in LA soon- a visit, just a visit, mind. She's not coming out to stay.

He wishes she would. She wishes she could.

So this brings us back to near the start of this tale; Sonny Munroe sitting in Chad Dylan Cooper's dressing room, months after that conversation on the phone. It's June, and she's graduating next week. Neither of them mention the elephant in the room; Chad has brought up the possibility to Sonny moving to LA once she's finished high school and free of that commitment, but she had made no decision either way. He knows she feels committed to her family, and she knows he wishes she didn't. But it's not only her family she's staying for; she has friends. A job. She likes where she lives; if not the atmosphere at home, but the town where she lives. She likes the cafés and the book-stores and the movies.

He feels like pointing out LA has all of these things, and probably on a bigger scale, but he's done it many times before, and Sonny's always so drained after cutting herself. It's part of her recovery process, he reckons, but that doesn't mean he has to like it. He watches as her breathing deepens and she sprawls out a little in her sleep. Not by much, though; part of depression is always feeling cold, and despite the LA heat she still sleeps curled into a ball. He sighs and drapes his blazer over her, figuring he can pick up another from wardrobe. It's not like he keeps blankets and pillows in his dressing room, although he should really consider it, seeing as Sonny has been visiting- and subsequently falling asleep- here more and more often. This would be a good thing, except she mostly visits because she's hurt herself once more, and it's causing him more and more heartache. They never do crazy things together any more. They never even go to concerts, or out for coffee. She's changed an awful lot in the past nine- or is it ten?- months since the fateful day when she tugged on his sleeve on a subway train in New York City. It feels longer. It feels like forever. He can't even remember the times where she wasn't in his life, and currently he's not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe it's both; and that leaves him with an incredibly bitter-sweet feeling in his chest.

They meet up three more times before she drops her next bomb on him. One of those times is just plain ol' meeting for coffee, and he feels half hopeful that the fact that she never has to go back to high school again has helped somehow, because he knows that high school and the pressures it brings and the idea of college was a lot of what she'd been fighting about with her parents.

It doesn't seem to have helped though, and on the twenty-third of July, she calls and asks if she can come see him. She sounds so deadly serious and it makes his heart pound in his chest. The tone, combined with the fact that she never asks permission to come out to LA to see him (she has an open invitation) makes him feel incredibly nervous, and he can't help feeling those jitters again as he walks to his dressing room to meet her after shooting.

"Hey." He says quietly. She's not curled in her usual spot on the couch; she's standing up, and she only stops pacing because he's there.

"Hi." She returns, even more quietly. The air in the room is incredibly stiff as he watches her, waiting for her to say whatever it is she needs to say to him. She says nothing for a few minutes, but then it finally comes out of her mouth and it hits him like a wrecking ball. "I'm going to a rehabilitation centre."

"Wha... Rehab? You're going into rehab?" He can only gape at her like an idiot; something that always happens when she does or says something shocking.

"Yeah. Rehab." She gives him a smile that just looks painful. "I can get... professional help, and maybe...maybe I'll be able to stop." Her smile is less painful, and more tentative, now. More genuine, he realises. She really thinks this could work.

And maybe it could. "I don't know what to... what to say." He gulps out truthfully.

She crosses the room, and for the first time in months, takes his hand. He looks down at it like it's a foreign object, the likes of which he's never seen before, but she doesn't let go. "Say you're proud of me." She says, pleading. "Say I'm doing the right thing and that this will help me stay strong." He gapes at her again as her words sink in. But then they do sink in, and he pushes aside all his pain, all his anger, all his guilt at not being enough to save her.

"You're doing the right thing." He whispers, squeezing her hand. "This will help you stay strong, and Sonny Munroe, I am so, so proud of you." The emotion in his voice catches them both off guard. She looks up at him with tears in her eyes and she can see that he means it, even if she gave him the words to say.

They say a lot more, and she reveals that her college fund is going on this, and no, her parents don't know. He tells her over and over again how proud of her he is, and he means it, truly he does.

But inside, his traitor heart is pounding, and it hurts, it hurts so badly. He doesn't want her to go away for weeks, where he can't see her, talk to her. He's going to miss her so, so much but he can't vocalise that. He can't give her any reasons not to go through with this, because he knows if she knew how much this was hurting him, she'd drop the idea in an instant. But she needs to go, he can tell. Maybe- or, come on, definitely- this is the help she needs. She can get better. She can be Sonny again. He walks her out the door of the studios and hugs her for the first time in four months, and somehow that makes the goodbye seem that much more real. For just a few seconds, he can feel her heartbeat pressed over his own, and that reminds him that going to rehab could save her life. It'll keep her alive, keep that steady thump going. And so, he has enough strength to let her go.

He keeps telling himself, this will get easier. He has to constantly remind himself that being away will help Sonny. He has to fix that image of Sonny in the sub station that day, has to remind himself what her heartbeat sounds like and how she smells like lavender and vanilla and coffee all the time, even when she's depressed.

Even so, things are a lot more difficult now Sonny isn't constantly there in some way. He's more grateful than ever that he's an actor, and not just an actor, but an excellent actor. The ability to lose himself in Mack becomes his saving grace- saving his job from his awful mood as Chad, saving his job because he still acts as well as when Sonny was around, maybe even better, because now he has the need to have Chad pushed to the back of his head for a while, with all of his worries and hurts.

Although he's aware it's probably incredibly unhealthy, he goes ahead and buys scented candles and air sprays that smell like vanilla, or lavender, or buys a coffee machine for his dressing room so that he can make it smell like she does and he can feel as close to her as possible. He's also taken to walking around the studios in a blank daze under the pretence of clearing his head. It's at this point that he starts to see the cast of MackenZie Falls long running rival, So Random a lot more than he used to. He tended to avoid them because the rivalry between their shows made them wary and distrustful of Chad's cast, and the friction between the two casts had been explosive when it had first formed. Now they were all a little older, the rivalry had cooled, and the two casts regarded each other with cool indifference.

However, as Chad ploughed through the studios on a regular basis, the So Random set became one of his more regular pit-stops. It was busy and cluttered, due to it being a show filmed live and in front of a studio audience. It meant he could rest unnoticed, and the busyness of the set was interesting to watch, and made him feel relaxed simply by omission. After three weeks of circling, however, he started noticing one cast member in particular, because the way she acted reminded him far too much of when Sonny started to change. After watching for about another week, he could stand it no longer, and approached her when they're show was over and the rest of the cast members had gone home.

"Cutting's not the answer, ya know." He said conversationally, dropping down onto the bright orange couch beside her. She jumped, and stared at him in shock.

"Chad Dylan Cooper?" She asked. He gave her the ghost of a smile and nodded.

"Tawni Hart." He acknowledged. She was still sort of gaping at him. "I'm sorry; I guess I scared ya dropping in like this, didn't I?" She nodded shakily, and he suddenly felt the need to justify himself. "It's just... I've been walking around the studios for the past month or so, and I can't help noticing this stuff, ya know? It took me a couple of weeks to realise, but I know, Tawni. I know what you're doin' to yourself, and I gotta tell you, it's not the answer you're looking for." Now that he's close to her, he can see how incredibly tired she looks. She kicks her heels off, and he approves. Those things must have hurt a lot to walk around in, never mind pull off one of So Random's happy-clappy shows. She pulls her legs up and tucks her chin over her knees, suddenly looking very young.

"How did you know?" She asks, looking small and sad. "How'd you figure me out? Not even my mom or my boyfriend know."

"I know the signs." He answers her, staring up at the ceiling and tucking his own knees under his chin. When she gives him a questioning look, he sighs, and he figures he may as well tell her. He did basically plunk himself down and inform her he knew what was probably currently her deepest, darkest secret at the moment.

"I have this... friend." He explains. "She is... the kindest, sweetest girl you could ever know. Has a smile that lights up like the sun. And in a few months, just a few months, she kept slidin' and slidin' and slidin' further away from me and into her own wee shell, not talkin' to me or laughing anywhere near as much as she used to." He sighs at the memory, and he's surprised to feel a hand pat his shoulder sympathetically. He's used to doing the comforting. He waits until she moves away again to continue. "And one day, I just asked her straight up what the problem was. She freaked out at me. Didn't say a word, just left. I didn't see or hear from her for three weeks." He laughed dryly. "It may as well have been three months. And then when I do see her, she drops this bomb on me- she's having all sorts of family issues, and she's started cutting herself all over." He sighs. "It was the worst day of my life, ya know that? I tried so hard to get her outta there, to make her happy again." He doesn't finish, because the Sonny-in-rehab would is fresh and open and aching.

"Then what happened?" Tawni asked, a little edge to her tone and Chad suddenly realises how ominous the way he's trailed off must have sounded. He cleared his throat and set his shoulders.

"She's in a rehab centre." He admits, and feels the dull ache pound. Tawni gasps, and he has no idea why. He doesn't know her well enough to tell whether she feels bad for them or because she's worried she'll end up in rehab herself.

"I'm sorry." She says sombrely, so he's guessing the former. He shrugs, not wanting to show too much more emotion in front of this girl.

"'S okay. She's there to get better, ya know? I just miss her. Like, a lot."

"I can tell." Tawni says, and gives him what he guesses is as close to a smile as she can get in her state. "If it helps, it sounds like you two really love each other."

He gawks at her "L- love? Nah, I dunno what you're talkin' about. She's my best friend, sure, but love? C'mon, now, I only met the girl like a year ago." He sounds phony to his own ears and Tawni gives an eye roll, the situation apparently bringing some long gossip thing long ago killed by depression new life.

"Are you dense? Dude, for someone you've only known, like, for a year, she sorta sounds like your whole world... and universe... and solar system." She says, like it's obvious, and yeah, it sorta is. Chad gawks at her some more.

"Well, yeah, duh. But that doesn't mean I love her." He stresses, and she rolls her eyes again.

"But it does!" She exclaims, actually waving her arms around and flailing at him. "That's how I knew I loved Nico." She smiles and he's surprised. He hadn't realised the two Randoms were in a relationship. "When it felt like he was my whole world; the sun and stars to my night." She sighs dreamily, and Chad feels grumpy. All he'd wanted to do was a nice deed and help a girl stop cutting her wrist up, and she'd turned it all around and started dissecting his feelings! "You love her, Chad." She reaffirms, and he scowls at her, to which she just smiles softly.

"Here's some advice, Hart." He says, making an attempt to change the subject. "Tell Nico about your cutting and about how sad and hurt and numb you are. Give him the worst day of his life, so he can turn it around and give you the best days of your lives." He forces a smile at her, and leaves her to ponder his advice and push her words out of his mind.

"Hey, Sonny." a soft voice says, jerking her out of her thoughts. Sonny turns to see Diana, her room-mate, giving her a wide-eyed look. "Are you okay?"

Sonny raises an eyebrow at her- come on, they're in rehab. They're here to fix themselves. Are any of them okay? "Could be worse." She finally answers. Sonny had been in rehab for three weeks and two days. Diana had been in, as she'd informed her, for six months. Her heart had lurched when she'd first heard that- was she going to be there for that long?- but then Diana had kept talking.

"I'm a special case." She'd explained. "I attempted suicide. I have to stay here at least a year before they'll even consider releasing me." Sonny had mumbled an obligatory 'I'm sorry', feeling awkward as she'd realised while she was here under her own free will, this girl was here because she'd had to be. They'd formed a tenuous friendship- they weren't exactly all buddy-buddy with each other, but Diana was willing to listen to her, a lot like Chad was, but as willing to listen as Chad was, Diana understood her on a level that he never could. She didn't resent him for that; of course she didn't. If anything, she was glad for it. This was a bond formed over the fact that they both had caved to the pressure of self-harm, and that wasn't a bond she wanted with Chad. That would mean things were bad enough for him that he'd caved to that pressure too- and Chad was funny, arrogant and self-assured. She couldn't imagine anything ever being bad enough for him that he'd fall into cutting- he was determination personified. He'd hold out out of sheer force of will.

She missed him. A lot. She hadn't told him he could visit her. She hadn't used her phone call to call him. She knew seeing him, hearing his voice, would just make this harder on the both of them. As she was in here under her own free will, the staff had made it very clear if she wanted to leave, they couldn't stop her; and if she heard his voice, she wasn't sure she'd be able to stop herself leaving. She missed his sarcastic laugh and his smirk and the way he'd always sit beside her and be there for her when she needed him. He'd given her a goal, a purpose; the need to get better for him and to stay strong for him so that she could put that smile back on his face. The startled, amused one he would get when he saw her and she made him laugh. He had started to worry about her so, so much and it was making a difference to him, as much as he'd like to pretend otherwise.

She could get better. For him.

He was on set when it happened. Shooting was just wrapping up, and their director was singing praises to their cast, as usual and Chad was paying him no attention, as usual. He was itching to get back to his daily walk around the studios, because now that shooting was over he was Chad and not Mack and today thinking about Sonny was particularly unbearable, in light of what Tawni Hart had said to him. She'd made him think, and it had lead him to a conclusion; he did like Sonny. She had never particularly only been a friend to him, but they weren't really dating, either. What he did know for definite was that losing her for good would kill him.

He was just preparing to walk out of his set when someone stepped in, and he stopped dead. She smiled at him nervously, her hands twitching. He started at her, mouth hanging slightly open, and she stared back. Before he could stop himself, he had pulled Sonny Munroe into his arms and into the tightest hug she'd received in life. Slowly, she wound her arms around his neck and hugged him back, and he just hugged her even tighter. On anyone else, it might have hurt, but from him it just felt like the reassurance she needed. He pressed his face into her hair, and it was then she realised he was shaking. It wasn't until he pulled away from her that she realised she was crying, just a little bit.

"Are you... Have you...?" He can't seem to articulate himself properly, and she doesn't blame him. It's not like she gave him warning that she was coming, at any rate, and she has a warm, liquid-y feeling in her chest as she realises he's missed her just as much as she's missed him.

"I'm clean." She says, a smile tugging at her mouth. "I haven't cut myself since I went into rehab. I haven't felt the urge for weeks." He looks like he doesn't believe her; not that he thinks she's lying; more like he thinks it's good, too good to be true, so she raises her hand in a familiar way that his him opening his hand and offering it to her in the familiar way and she places her hand in his, palm side up, and allows him to examine her wrist. It's not covered in cuts; it's covered in scars, scars that look weeks old. A smile breaks out across his face as he processes this and he looks up at her and he says the only thing that is on his mind right then.

"Health looks good on you." It's not particularly eloquent or smart, but it's honest. And she does look good; really, really good. Her hair is longer, and a soft brown colour that he has a feeling is her natural colour. She's put on weight; no longer is she skin and bones, but curvy and just healthy. Her cheeks are flushed pink and she's wearing her old necklace with it's ridiculous large silver star and her nails are painted bright pinks and yellows and even as he watches, the smile that breaks across her face flashes every single tooth and he pulls her into another hug; this one a quick one armed hug but a hug all the same.

It's only then that they become aware of all the eyes on them, and Chad turns to see every member of his cast staring at them with identical wide-eyed expressions that are so reminiscent of his own when Sonny surprises him that they both burst out laughing; the most honest, happiest laughter they've managed in months and months.

"This is my friend Sonny, guys." He says, grinning as they scramble to lift their jaws off the ground and greet the girl like normal human beings. They don't really manage it and he's smirking when he turns her away. "We should do somethin' to celebrate." He says to Sonny, and she nods in agreement.

"Like... riding around the subway in New York City." She suggests, her eyes sparkling and it makes his heart pound and he grins at her.

"Yeah... exactly like that." They walk out without glancing back his cast, who still look more than a little bemused but he couldn't care less. Shootings over for the day, anyway. They walk along, not exactly holding hands but Chad keeps picking up her hand and tracing her scars, as if to reassure himself that this isn't just a dream; it's really happening and Sonny's not hurting herself any more. He can't keep the smile off his face any more than she can keep the smile off hers.

"Chad?" He hears a questioning voice and turns to see Tawni Hart, giving him a calculating look. He flashes a smile at her.

"Tawni, this is my friend Sonny. Sonny, this is Tawni." Sonny waves at Tawni, not even noticing that Tawni can probably see the scars on her wrist. She's not ashamed of them any more, and he feels a surge of pride at how far she's obviously come in her few months in rehab.

The rest of So Random follows Tawni out of their set, staring from Chad to Sonny to Tawni in confusion. Tawni is talking to Sonny quietly, whispering to her so Chad can't hear what she's saying and after a few minutes, gives her a small hug and then walks back towards her own cast. The Randoms give Chad a look, but he just shrugs, because he doesn't have any idea what that was about, either.

Sonny starts walking down the hall again, and as he walks after her, she surprises him by sliding her hand into his and knotting their fingers together. He doesn't question it, though.

"You kept me strong, ya know." She admits, and he gives her a sharp look. She's actually blushing a little. "You made me want to get strong and stay strong."

He doesn't know what to say to this, and he's doing his trademark gawking face and she waits patiently.

"I love you." He blurts, and it's her turn to gawk at him. She recovers much more quickly than he does, of course, because taking whatever she gets is in her nature and she squeezes his hand with a smile.

"Well, that's nice." She snorts a laugh at the look on his face. "And that is priceless." She grins at him. "Oh, and I love you, too."

He can't help breathing a sigh of relief. They walk out to his car together, completely ignoring the fact that her car is parked out front and the day passes in laughter as they drive across states so they can get on a subway in New York City and get themselves a completely lost. When they finally stumble off and into the station, it's pitch black outside. They walk outside and into the rain.

They walk into the rest of their lives.


A/N Dear goodness, that was long! I got the idea for this a few days ago, and I wrote out a plan for it and all :D I had a feeling it was going to be long, but when I get feelings about things being long, they usually turn out to be the opposite... But instead, this thing decided to be over nine and half thousand words long! Hahahaa. I started writing this last night at about midnight, and I wrote and wrote until it was after four o'clock in the morning and the sun had started to come up. I had about eight thousand words then but enough felt like enough at that point so I went to bed. Sonny just had so many demons and Chad had so many feelings and the Tawni part wasn't even part of the plan. It just wrote itself.

I really, really hope you all liked this! Because then it'll be worth my lovely new headache that has come from staring at a screen for hours on end. :) Do me a favour... review? Did you think it was realistic? I know next to nothing about rehabilitation centres so I didn't go into much detail but I hope everything about this felt genuine to you :)


Hannah xo