Black and red, dripping slowly down to splatter on the new white tile; a thick sluggish stream that catches and absorbs the light rather than reflects it. Blotches of crimson wend their way in a macabre connect-the-dots, from the front door to the sparkling bathroom with its tasteful wallpaper and scrubbed surfaces. The sanguine trail ends in a rapidly spreading puddle at the booted feet of a boy, huddled in the corner with his head between his knees.

A soft sob escapes into the silence, and the thin shoulders hitch. The boy's clothes are well-made and expensive, but now they are torn and bloodied, to match his face. His jaw- length black hair is tangled into great knots, and plastered to his delicate skull with both dark blood and rainwater. One slender, long- fingered hand, the left, is wrapped in the tatters of his black jeans; the other clutches at his chest, where a scarlet flower blooms on his white shirt. It is the source of the red, red trail on the pale floors, a deep gash caused by a bone-handled knife the boy is very familiar with.

Taking a deep breath that catches in his battered throat, the boy lifts his head, gingerly reaching up with his left hand to brush those long fingers across his bruised and swollen cheek. He winces, and the hand moves further up to flick away glistening tears. His skin, what little can be seen through the mass of bruises and cuts, is very pale and soft; with such smooth skin and feminine features, he's often mistaken for a girl. He forces himself to open his eyes, despite the pain from what is most likely a broken cheekbone.

Those eyes blaze through the mask of blood, large and fringed with beautiful long lashes; but it is their color that catches and holds attention, and draws murmurs of envy. Violet like the sunset on a hot summer's day, they are cutting and full of defiance, almost hiding the pain. Even the tears that still brim, and run down his scratched cheeks, do nothing to take away from the splendor of his strange, exquisite eyes.

His gaze-often called unnerving-travels slowly around the once-white bathroom, and he groans softly. Muttering a curse in a hoarse, broken voice, he levers himself to his feet, using the wall as support as his knees tremble. He leaves a bloody hand-print to mar the pale green wallpaper, a stark splash of red. The movement causes the clotting wound on his chest to break open again, and he draws a ragged breath as pain burns through him, leaving him weak and trembling. He bites his lip hard enough to draw blood-adding one more rip to his already mangled mouth-and straightens his back.

His steps are halting, fraught with the fear that at any second he could collapse, simply tumble to the uncaring floor and never be able to rise again. He staggers to the sink and leans over it; crimson drops splash against the surface. With a trembling hand he turns the tap and lets the cool water wash over his bruised skin. It feels good against his raw knuckles, and he relaxes slightly before carefully beginning to wash his face.

Even here he can't feel safe, not even in his own house. He had felt safe on the walk home from school; had convinced himself that no one would even know of the roundabout route he took to avoid the bullies from his school. But somehow, they had still found him, and they had made him pay for eluding them for so long. Frightened, panicking, he had swung his fists wildly, and kicked out with his feet, and screamed for help, but they were all bigger than him, and no one dared to cross them. One of the brutes had pinned him down, and then they had all taken turns beating him into a bloody pulp. He had finally passed out, and when he'd woken, they were gone and he was lying alone in the cold street. Battered, feeling broken inside, he had finally made it home and had simply collapsed in the bathroom.

With his face washed as clean as possible, he hesitantly crouches down and opens the cupboard doors beneath the sink. His chest, his legs, his back, everything complains at the movement, and he almost begins to cry again at the intense pain. Sniffing the tears back, he gingerly reaches for one of the rags kept beneath the sink. Standing up again hurts, but he manages to do so; and immediately soaks the rag in water to begin cleaning up the blood that covers the walls and floor like a gory finger-painting done by a schizophrenic child.

He can't help wondering why this always happens to him; why the big apes from his school seem to take such an intense pleasure from trying their best to kill him. But, in a way, he knows why. It's because he doesn't belong, not to any group or clique. He's not gothic, although he sometimes wears the clothes and the makeup; and he's not a prep, although he sometimes wears those clothes also. He's definitely not a jock; he weighs maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. He's not smart enough to be a geek, and not dumb enough to be popular. He's a freak that no one will talk to; an 'invisible boy'. He has no friends, no one to hang out with, swap stories with, get into adventures with; not even to just plain talk with.

He is a nothing.

The bathroom is almost clean when what he has been dreading finally happens: the front door opens. He quickly muffles the tiny cry of fear that escapes with the bloody rag; the taste of his own blood fills his mouth with its coppery tang. Crouched on the floor, a mere parody of a boy, he listens as there is a single footstep, and then a cry of horror. He allows himself a sigh of relief; at least it's his mother, and not his father.

"Kelly!" The voice is full of terror. "Kelly, where are you? Kelly! Answer me!"

Kelly Parker debates staying quiet and allowing his mother to really panic, and then he sighs. "I'm in here," he manages, surprised that he can still talk after the damage his throat took.

"Oh, Kelly." His mother is in the doorway, one perfectly manicured hand pressed to her throat, a reproachful tone in her voice. "Another fight?"

"No, Mom, I fell down the stairs," he mutters sarcastically, staring at the floor. "Then, just for shits and giggles, I beat myself up."

"Kelly! Please, watch your language." He hears her high heels click on the bathroom tile, and flinches as he senses her reach out for him.

"Don't touch me," he snaps.

"Kelly, please, I just want to make sure you're okay."

"I'm perfectly fine, can't you see?" He laughs bitterly. "Just peachy."


"Go away." His voice is cold. "I have to clean this up. Wouldn't want you getting down on your knees. Well, not again anyway."

He hears her sharp intake of breath, then the click of her impractical shoes as she spins on her heel and storms out. He stares at his hands, long-fingered and fine-boned, an artist's hands; and he curls one into a fist. After a moment, he shakes his head and moves to the hallway to clean the blood there, his body beginning to become numb, finally.

Finishing the hallway, he returns the rag to the bathroom and begins to climb the stairs, his movements stiff and painful. He wants nothing more than to sleep, but he has homework still, and he hopes to avoid his father. However, he is only halfway up the stairs when the front door swings open again, and a loud voice bellows for him. Wearily, he returns to the hallway, squinting in the bright light. His father is there, big and scowling, and stinking of alcohol. Mr. Parker takes one look at his son and his fist swings out, spilling the skinny boy to the ground.

"Another fucking fight!" he roars, standing over Kelly, who cowers away from his rage. "Are you stupid or something? Why the fuck are you always fighting? Answer me, you little shit!"

Kelly grins, painfully getting to his feet. It's hard for him to breathe, and maybe that's why he shows a rare defiance. "I dunno, Dad," he says mockingly. "Maybe I'm a masochist."

His head rocks back with the next blow, but before he can fall, large hands wrap in his torn shirt and he is hauled into the air. His father is screaming at him, spittle flecking the older man's lips, fury turning his face a dull brick-red; but Kelly can't hear a word through the roaring in his head. Mr. Parker, his rage heightened by Kelly's unresponsiveness, throws the boy against the wall, and rains blows down on his head and shoulders and back.

In his alcohol-induced frenzy, the old man comes to the conclusion that his son is the cause of all his problems; that without Kelly around, he would have a blissful life. He pulls the dazed boy up again, and carefully, almost gently, wraps his large hands around Kelly's throat and squeezes. Kelly struggles, his violet eyes wide with terror, but his father's grip is strong; he can't break free. His skin takes on a bluish tinge, and his eyes begin to roll back in his head.

Then, abruptly, he can breathe again, and he finds himself flat on his back on the floor. The hallway seems too bright, and Kelly can hear every tiny sound-especially the loud click of his mother pulling the hammer back on a small black pistol. She's crying, silently, tears streaking heavy black mascara down her face, but her lips are set in a firm line.

"I swear to God, Mark," she says softly, "if you touch him again, I'll kill you. Now get out." She gestures with the pistol.

He is an alcoholic, but he isn't stupid; Mark Parker staggers his way out of the house. As the door slams behind him, Kelly's mother slumps to her knees, the pistol falling from limp fingers. Kelly lets his head drop back to the floor, and takes a deep breath. He would try to comfort his mother, but she would push him away; it had happened before. And he knew his father would be back by morning; that, too, had happened before.

"Go to bed, Kelly," his mother says finally, her voice flat and emotionless. "You have school tomorrow."

It's a struggle just to get back to his feet, but somehow Kelly manages it, and drags himself up the stairs. He knows he should probably go to the hospital, but it's impossible; his mother would stop him. She fears hospitals; fears what they might find out about her family. Once in his bedroom-stark and cold-Kelly simply falls onto his small bed fully clothed and passes out. His last thought before sleep claims him is that he hopes he will be dead by the next morning.

When he does wake the next morning, he's almost disappointed. His body has stiffened overnight, and he can barely move, but he's been through this before; he knows if he can just get moving, he can stay moving. Somehow he's on his feet, and going through the motions of getting ready for school. He avoids looking at himself in the mirror; he can feel that his face is swollen and bloody. He doesn't really care about his appearance anyway; today, he's decided, he won't actually be going to school.

His mother is still asleep when he leaves, and he debates leaving her a note, then decides against it. She'll soon hear about him, most likely in the news that night. The morning air is crisp and cool against his battered face, and the streets are almost empty. Walking slowly down the sidewalk-in the opposite direction to his school-Kelly imagines briefly that he is the only person left in the entire world. He likes the feeling.

The bridge comes up almost too soon; Kelly is enjoying his fantasy that everyone in the world has died. In a daze, he walks along the road to the center of the bridge and leans on the thin iron railing, staring blankly down at the rushing water below. His body seems to move of its own volition, and the next thing he knows, he's sitting on the edge, his hands braced behind him, ready to push off. He imagines his body free-falling through the air, to smash into the rocks and rapids below.

Surprisingly, the image doesn't appeal to him, and he suddenly wonders what he's doing there. The railing is cold under his bare hands, and there's nothing even remotely romantic about the fact that if he jumped, his body would simply splatter across the rocks. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he carefully stands and turns around, ready to climb back to the safe side of the railing.

And at that instant, the other boy steps out of thin air.

Kelly lets out a startled cry, and his body involuntarily jerks in surprise. Even as the other boy's eyes fix on him-he has just time to notice they were a startling shade of blue- his feet slip on the water-slick stone that made the bridge. The next instant, he is dangling from just his hands-and his grip is loosening quickly. With a last desperate yell, he tries to scramble back to safety, but it's too late.

His hands slide from the railing and he plunges towards the rocks.