This is me, failing. I kind of died last week.

Pathetic excuses (which I won't inflict on you) notwithstanding, we're getting close to the end here, and I really don't want to rush the rest of it. So, officially, the update schedule is going to be scrapped. Unofficially, I'll still make my best effort to get chapters written weekly. Thanks for your understanding, and for all the feedback. I wouldn't mind a little more critiquing, if anyone's got any, s'il vous plait.

Seventeen: Lovers and Liars

Orion called me, and I'm pretty sure he was the most upset I'd ever heard him. He said, "Can I talk to you?"

"Of course." Trevor was making these lewd gestures at me from the couch, so I flipped him off and went into my bedroom, shut the door. "What's up?"

He took a deep breath, and I suddenly had a distinct, worrying feeling that he was trying not to cry. "No, I mean... I'm at the train station. Would you mind if I came over?"

"Shit, are you all right?" Kicking dirty clothes around on my floor, I found a hoodie and pulled it on, tugged open my door and gave Trevor a warning look; he followed me upstairs as I continued. "Don't go anywhere, okay? I'm coming to get you."

Orion protested half-heartedly, "You don't have to."

"Yeah, I do. I'll be there soon."

When I had hung up, Trevor snickered, "You're so fucking whipped."

I glared at him as I tied my shoes. "Dunno if you'd notice, but things haven't been going so well lately. Right now he needs me, so this's my chance to make it up to him. 'Cause, you know, I'd rather not end up like you and Caitlyn."

"What, happily single?" He gave me a feeble grin.

"Right." I threw his coat at him, and he shrugged it on. "That's why you just spent the last hour telling me how she's such a bitch and she's never going to find anything better than your stoner ass. Fuck, my parents have the car."

"Douche," he said, but didn't push it. "You can't take the truck?"

Rolling my eyes at him, I slammed the front door behind us. "As much as I'd like to claim I'm proficient at driving stick—yeah, no. I can't drive standard." I shook out my scarf and wound it around my neck, and said, more seriously, "Look, I'm sorry for that. It's just that you're like, the most boyfriend-like guy I know. You know? And we all thought Caitlyn was fucking perfect for you. So if you can mess that up, what chance do I even have?"

His hands shoved in his pockets, Trevor lifted one pierced eyebrow at me. "Are you shitting me, Drey? You've only been fucking him for how long?"

"Dating," I corrected, and threw a gentle punch at his shoulder when he laughed disbelievingly. "Shut up. It's been almost three months, now."

"Three-! Christ. You're actually serious about this, aren't you?"

With a shrug, I looked away. "Just go home, T-Rev. Get over her. I'll talk to you later."

"Whatever you say, princess." He pretended to blow me a kiss and I flipped him off and we parted ways with a little laughter and a lot left unsaid.

It wasn't a long walk to the train, but I had underestimated the night chill somewhat. Zipping my hoodie closer under my chin, I told myself I didn't care that my fingers were going numb even though it was mid-April and it should have been at least pretending to get warmer, but I was relieved when I got the station and stepped in out of the cold. Burying my hands deeply in my pockets, I trotted beyond the automated ticket machines to find Orion slumped on a bench with a notebook perched on his gangly knees and a ballpoint in his shaking fingers. He looked up at my footsteps, and I was startled to see dark circles under his eyes; none of his hair was visible under the grey tasselled toque he wore low on his forehead. The notebook snapped shut.

I said, "Hey." He didn't move to get up, so I splayed myself beside him on the bench and put an arm around his shoulders. I was almost surprised to hear the genuine concern in my voice, because it hadn't been intentional. "What happened?" The words echoed eerily against the glass.

His pen scratched absently across the cardboard cover. His eyes skittered away. He said softly, "I shouldn't have called you."

That stung. "You don't want me here?" When he didn't answer, just studied the bright billboard across from us, I said gently, "Look, I couldn't drive here, but my parents are at bible study and won't be home 'til later. Why don't you come back to mine?"

He looked at me, now, grey eyes flat, and said nothing.

I lifted my eyebrows, gave a little half-grin and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. We'll just hang out, okay?"

"Okay," he whispered finally, and then his hand was squeezing mine gently. "Thanks."

"'S what I'm here for," I said with a grin, and didn't let go of his hand.

He was quiet on the walk, so I tried to talk enough for both of us, keeping it as light as I could. I told him about the most recent meeting of the support group my parents had sent me to, and the story one of the lesbians there had shared about being in love with her straight best friend without explaining to us that her best friend was the girl in the seat beside her. He didn't seem to find this very amusing, so I tripped on, found something else to talk about, and wished he would just tell me what was bothering him.

We ran into Virginia in the kitchen when we got back to my house, and her presence seemed to thaw Orion somewhat. She looked up from the glass she was filling at the sink and said, "Well, this is new. How's it going, Orion?"

He shrugged awkwardly, tugged at the tassel on his toque. "Okay."

I found a glass of my own and pulled some juice out of the fridge. "You want anything, Orion?" He shook his head, and I said to Virginia, "What do you mean, this is new?"

Draining her glass, she set it down with a clunk. "That you guys are here, instead of going out somewhere. Since when do you bring anyone home?"

"Since now," I suggested. "Why does it matter?"

The smile she wore was not exactly innocent. "No reason. You finished that bio assignment?" The last was directed at Orion; he shook his head.

"Haven't started it."

"Me neither," she said perkily. "You up for working on it together, like tomorrow or something?" He shrugged, and she said, "Great! I'll call you tomorrow, then. Keep things PG, guys, or I'll never be able to walk into the basement again." She gave a little wave to Orion and went upstairs, and he gave me another unreadable look.

Gesturing with my glass, I tilted my head and cocked an eyebrow. "Shall we go downstairs?"

In the basement, he perched on the edge of the couch and I flopped down beside him and before I had a chance to say anything more, he said, "My mom sold him."

The look I gave him was startled. "Who?"

"The dog." His laughter was bitter; dark eyelashes flattened against his cheekbones as he squeezed his eyes shut. "She said—fuck—she said it was just one too many 'accidents' on her carpet. Like a goddamn puppy can help it. Like he hadn't even been doing so well at the puppy classes. Like I haven't been fucking trying so hard-"

"Shit," I said, and pulled him into my arms. He was trembling, and I couldn't be sure he wasn't crying; I never would have imagined this could have hit him so hard. How was I even supposed to respond to that? For a long minute we were silent, Orion's smothered breathing the only sound between us, and all I could do was wonder if he had suspected something like this was going to happen. It would certainly explain his reluctance to give the animal a name.

Finally he said, voice barely a whisper against my neck, "I don't know how much longer I can do this."

That felt like someone had taken a fucking sledgehammer to my ribs. "What?"

"Nothing." Bright grey eyes met mine, and then his lips were on my own, gently. He said quietly, "I'm sorry if I interrupted something, when I called."

I shook my head at him, smiled slightly, brushed his hair from his eyes. "I was just hanging out with Trevor, don't worry about it. You wanna watch TV or something? Virginia's been taping Dexter."

He shrugged, so I fumbled for the remote, flipped through the PVR controls.

Orion said, "You're pretty tight with him."

"Trevor?" I threw the remote back onto the table (my mother had never noticed the missing doily—I'm not sure why I found that amusing) and leaned back into his chest. "Yeah, I guess. Not as tight as I'd like."

I threaded my fingers through his slender digits and we watched in silence for a minute. Then he said, with a hint of sourness, "Do you like him?"

My sudden laughter died when I looked at his face and realized he was entirely serious. "Jesus fuck. No. Why would you even think that? He's not exactly my type."

"You have a type?" There was definitely a bitter edge to his tone now, so I gave him a casual little grin and slid onto his lap, draped my arms around his neck, kissed his cheek.

"Sure, babe. I like them gay. Nice to know there might be some reciprocation, no?"

"Reciprocation, right. Always a plus." His eyes were fixated over my shoulder on the television screen, but his hands were knotted in the back of my shirt. "Prom tickets went on sale this week."

"Yeah." I kissed him again, let my hands wander. "I told Karen I'd take her."

He caught my hands and held them still, eyes wide. "What?"

"What do you mean, what?" I demanded, annoyed. "She was upset because Aaron asked someone else, and she doesn't want to go with anyone except him. I don't count, so she doesn't have to look like an idiot. It'll make my parents happy, anyways." I cocked an eyebrow at him. "I'm not taking you, Orion, there'd be so much shit over that."

"Fine, then, don't take me," he said angrily. "But don't fucking take Karen! What the hell does that accomplish?"

"It's not a big deal," I said, and honestly, I was surprised at how upset he was. It wasn't a big deal. I had never intended to ask him to be my prom date. "We'll get drunk after, okay?"

He shook his head and said, "I can't believe... Why are you so thoughtless?"

I couldn't help the frustration that crept into my voice. "What the hell is this jealousy shit? Because before you go all fucking envious on me, you should probably think about the fact that I wouldn't be wasting my time on all your angsty bullshit if I was into someone else, okay?"

As soon as it was out, I wanted to take it back; as usual, he had heard all of the worst parts and none of what mattered. His eyes darkened by degrees, and a scowl curled his mouth downwards. He hissed, "So I shouldn't be surprised the next time you're on... on fucking E or something, and you meet someone who's not asking you to make a fucking effort-"

"Christ, don't do this," I said, and it was supposed to be pleading but it came out snappy. I tried to soften my tone. "Look, what about what I said? I mean, the boyfriend thing."

His voice was half a sob. "You were high, Dreyden. How can you expect me to take it seriously when you can't even be serious? Fuck, get off me." He pushed me away, but even that was gentle; I stumbled to my feet and watched with growing horror as he pressed the backs of his hands to his eyes and turned away. "I can't do this," he whispered. "Can't fucking be with you, when I'm spending every goddamn minute of it wondering when you're going to get bored."

I didn't know whether to be offended or reassuring. "Why would you think I'm gonna-?"

"Because you will," he said miserably, and this had nothing to do with anything I had or hadn't done or said, and everything to do with his insecurity. "Because everything I ever..." He trailed off, muttered a profanity. "I don't even like you, Jesus."

My eyebrows shot up, and I repeated, "You don't like me?"

"No," he muttered, and his scabbed knuckles pulled tight to catch the lie in his fists. "You don't even fucking understand, do you? It's not about you. It's just that..." He took a deep breath, scuffed at the floor, and finally said, "It's just that you're everything I'm not. You're confident, and popular, and so..." The stunted laughter was painful, and his eyes were almost black. I didn't know who he was trying to convince. "So fucking hot. But you don't need me to tell you that, because you've got an ego the size of-"

"Shut the hell up," I snapped, and caught his wrist but he fought to pull away, wouldn't let me get close. "Look, I get that you've got about as much self-confidence as a suicidal amoeba, and you have some paranoid fear of being left behind or forgotten or something, but you can't fucking take this out on me, okay? Christ, Orion. Did your therapist feed you that little speech?"

The flash in his eyes suggested I was onto something there. He said, "You don't even-"

I interrupted, "Because it was touching, really, but you know what she neglected to mention? If you stopped worrying about what everyone else thinks for one goddamn minute you might look in a mirror and realize that you are fucking gorgeous, and you deserve so much fucking more than this."

"Just fucking stop," he said brokenly, and wrenched away, took a step towards the stairs. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"How about for once you don't just fucking walk away?" I growled, but something inside me was tearing at the bitter knowledge that this was how it was going to end. "How about you tell me what the hell I did?"

He whirled around, and his wide eyes were shining with something that wanted very much to be anger but fell impossibly short. "So you can come up with some perfectly plausible excuse that you know I can't refute without looking like an insecure idiot? So you can laugh it off and pretend you care and then act like it never happened?"

"Orion, please." I took a step towards him, and he took a step back, and there was this endless ache in my stomach. "Look, I-"

"Don't!" He took another step away, pressed his eyes shut, and his next words were almost too soft to hear, drowned in misery. "Please don't make this harder."

And there was such a note of finality in it that something inside me snapped; if he really wanted to go through with this, I was going to make goddamn sure he regretted it. The words were out before I could think. "Fine," I snarled, and his eyes flew open in horrified surprise at my tone. "You want to just end it like this? Good fucking luck finding some other blind cuntpuppet who's going to even give a shit about your whiney ass, Orion—especially when you're too insecure to even fucking take it."

He blinked once, twice. He shut his mouth, opened it again and breathed, "Oh my God. How is it even possible for you to be such an asshole?"

As abruptly as it had come, the anger was gone, and there was nothing honest I could say to make up for what I had done. But an apology would never be accepted now, and so the only thing I could do was make sure I would never get another chance to hurt him. With something shattering inside me, I gave him a snide little grin and said, "You were never worth the effort."

His eyes fluttered rapidly, and the tightness around them suggested he was trying to hold back tears. There was no bitterness in his voice, now, but the deadly softness bit into me more painfully than if he had shouted: "Someday you're going to care, Dreyden, and I really hope that whoever he is, he doesn't give a shit about you. Because, honestly? You don't deserve anything else."

And for the first time in my life, someone walked out on me.

I stood there for a long moment, staring at the stairs; then snarled, "Fuck," and kicked over the coffee table, sending the lamp shattering against the wall. Put my head in my hands and sank onto the couch. Almost cried when I found he had taken the lighter from my pocket, because I knew it would probably be the last thing his deft fingers ever stole, from me or for me, and somehow that realization made everything so much more final.

I didn't deserve anything else? Well, I hoped he was fucking happy, because he had just made 'someday' happen so much sooner than I had ever expected.