It's a Cruel World, Sir

— Important —

He sits down next to me and looks me in the eye. "Now we talk about you."

"What about me?" I ask nonchalantly, trying to play it off.

"You know what," he says. "Tell me what happened in class today."

I stiffen automatically, but force myself to keep his gaze. "Nothing happened," I say firmly. "You were being an asshole like always, and I lost my temper. I don't know why you think that's so strange."

He eyes me, unconvinced. "There's a common myth among humans," he says suddenly, watching me.

I raise an eyebrow, not sure where he's going.

"For some reason, people believe that when a person is lying, they look away," he informs me, "but the opposite is true: if someone is telling the truth, they look away, because they're trying to remember. When they're lying, however, people tend to make an unusual amount of eye-contact, like you're doing right now."

I roll my eyes. "What're you trying to say?"

He shrugs. "I'm just trying to figure out whether or not you're relapsing, Vixen."

"I already told you I'm not!"

"Yes, but what you say and what's actually happen rarely line up."

I groan. "Then what? You have a theory or something? Because I'm all ears for it if you do."

He shakes his head. "I have thousands of theories, but I've found myself blank when it comes to what happened earlier."

"That's because it was nothing," I reason. Why can't he just let it go already?

"Then why are you so angry?" he asks innocently.

I clench my teeth, feeling a headache coming on. "What do you want from me, Chase?"

"I want you to talk to me," he says simply.

Except it's not simple.

"There's nothing to talk about."

"There's plenty to talk about, Vixen," he corrects, tilting his head. "Let's start with why you were angry."

"I'm always angry," I grumble, biting the inside of my lip. "Nothing new there."

He sighs, and it throws me off. Chase, of all people, sighing. "I can smell blood, remember?" he says softly, thumb brushing the underside of my lip—the exact place I had just bitten.

I actually have to consciously tell myself not to bite the inside of my lip again, thoughts racing.

This was the perfect time to tell him about Canty. It was the truth anyway, right? Besides, it would keep his mind off of everything else, and he might even assume the breakdown was from that whole situation instead of… well, instead of something as stupid as whatever feelings I had.

"Canty's the one who's been working with Preston," I say finally. "He's the one who put the ricin on my desk and in my locker."

Chase is unnervingly blank as he says, "Jeremy Canty?"

I nod, the words coming out in a rush. "He told me earlier today when I caught him lying." When Chase quirks a brow, I explain, "He mentioned that I was the one who was threatened, but, as you know, the entire school thinks that I threatened someone instead. When I called him out on it, he confessed the whole thing."

His silver eyes darken. "Have you told your friends yet?"

"No," I say, shaking my head. "He said he'd fail Leon and Whitler if I told them. Neither of them are good at hiding their emotions, and they'd tear into him without thinking about it first. Besides, no one in the school would believe us without hard evidence, so all he'd have to do is say that Leon didn't turn in homework and Whitler didn't go to class or some shit and fail them before we could do anything."

"Well, why didn't you tell me?" he asks, almost angry.

I look at him incredulously, irritated again. "I wonder," I growl. He looks surprised, but I don't pay any attention to him. "It couldn't be because someone was ignoring me like a 5-year-old, could it? Actually, you were the first person on my mind, but no, you were too busy pretending like I didn't exist, like I didn't…"

I stop myself, clenching my teeth. Everything I had felt in class comes crashing back, almost suffocating me.

"So, you were actually upset with me then?" he asks point blank.

I chew on the inside of my lip, ignoring the knowing look on his face as it starts to bleed, the metallic taste of blood touching my tongue.

Way to go, Vixen. Just spell it out for him.

"As if I give a shit whether you talk to me or not," I say defiantly.

He tilts his head. "But didn't you make a comment about it? Just before heading out the door?"

"That's just because you were being a child about everything!" I burst. "What's the big deal anyway!? It's just a kiss, Chase! I didn't even ask for it—Darestin forced it on me—but that shouldn't matter anyway because you're the adult here, over millions of years old, and you were acting like you were 2!"

He raises an eyebrow, waiting, and I can't seem to stop myself.

"You know, Nikki made the comment that it was cheating—Darestin and me kissing—but all I am to you is some experiment, right? Just some orphan kid you can pass your time with. Which, fine, whatever. I get it. I really do. But as soon as Canty blackmailed me, as soon as he said I couldn't tell Leon or Whit or anyone in the gang… you know who I thought of?" I let out a shuddering breath. "It was you… It was… I tried to convince myself that it was just because you would be the most convenient, the most logical choice, but, in reality, I just wanted… I just wanted you to smirk like an asshole like you always do and tell me it'll be okay, tell me that you… that you…" I trail off, unaware that I'm even crying until Chase cradles my face in his hand, thumb rubbing along my cheek.

"I think you're the most infuriating human I've ever met," he says softly.

I roll my eyes, sniffing. "Yeah, well, you're the easiest creature to get along with eith—"

Chase pulls me against him. I ram into his chest and rub my head as I look up at him, readying myself to argue, but his lips catch mine. It's slow, languid, and annoyingly gentle, making me groan. I feel him smirk against my mouth before he leans back. "You are anything but an experiment to me, love."

"But, you said—"

"I know," he says, "but that was before."

"Then… then…" I search for the right thing to say. "Then why do you bother helping me?" I demand.

"Because I don't want other creatures laying their hands on you," he says easily. "I have an incorrigible urge to impress upon any creature that touches that you are mine. It's getting to the point that I may actually end up killing some pathetic human for blackmailing you."

My face heats up. "You can't just kill someone for… for blackmailing me."

He sighs. "Yes, well, that's what I'm trying to convince myself." He looks at me. "At any rate, I don't think you understand how affected I am by you."

I sputter. "W-why would you… I mean… Oh, forget it."

He chuckles, wrapping his arms around my waist. "Now, back to the matter at hand: is that the only thing Canty said? That he'd fail Leon and Whit if you told them?"

I'm too aware of his arms around me to really focus. "Uh, well, part of the agreement was that I wouldn't fight Noah anymore. No matter what he tried to do to me," I mumble.

Surprisingly, he stiffens, arms like iron bars around me. "And what did you say?"

I tilt my head, not really sure why he's so tense. "Well, I can handle being touched by the idiot, so—"

Frost starts splintering around us, covering the window ledge under me, the carpet, the walls—everything is frosting over. My eyes widen as Chase himself begins to frost, the tips of his fingers actually hurting me because of how cold he is.

"What—" I try, but he holds up a hand, stopping me.

There are a few beats of silence as he closes his eyes and breathes, jaw locked. After a minute, I almost ask him what's wrong, but the frost suddenly eases away, the room warming up again.

When the last bit of the ice is thawed, he opens his eyes and looks at me. "I believe I've already said this, but I'm going to repeat myself anyway: you are an incredibly frustrating human."

I roll my eyes. "Well, excuse me for—"

He covers my mouth with his hand, effectively shutting me up, and I glare at him. "I know it's going to take time to prove to you how important you are to others, but it is painstakingly frustrating to be so irate at a human of all things only to have you try to play it off as trivial."

I move his hand, huffing. "I'm not saying it's not irritating; I'm just saying that compared to what Whit and Leon would go through—"

"And when are you going to learn that you can't one atrocious situation to another?" he demands. "Yes, Mr. Reid and Ms. Hall failing would be a tragedy, but you can't compare that to you being raped. Both are gruesome and horrifying in their own way, so there's no way to compare the two."

"But Whit and Leon would be abused and—"

"And so would you," he counters. "By a classmate who would have no qualms about spreading around the school. Now, how would your friends feel if they found out that you were letting Noah do that to you to protect them? How do you think Ms. Hall and Mr. Reid would react?"

I stop, cringing.

"Exactly," he says, sighing. "Vixen, you're not protecting anyone by taking the fall all the time. Instead, you're making things worse in a way. This situation with Canty is a good example: you know why Mr. Reid and Ms. Hall would ignore their own fates and go after him for threatening you, don't you?"

"Because they're impulsive and short-tempered."

He rolls his eyes, actually rolls his eyes, and looks at me. "It's because they know how much you've suffered, and they don't want you to suffer anymore."

"That's just because they're—"

"It's because they're your friends," he says simply, "and they want you to feel as if you're a part of their family."

"But I do think of them as family!" I argue. "It's because I think of them as family that I can't… I can't let them go through that! I feel like I might break if anything were to happen to them! Leon's an idiot and worrywart, and Whitler's an overprotective loudmouth, but they're both so important to me that… I don't know what I'd do without them."

"Don't you think they feel the same way about you?" he asks softly.

I stare at him, unable to blink.

I'd never thought… I'd never thought about it, honestly. I thought that even if I was hurt, as long as they were okay, as long as nothing happened to them, everything would be fine. Everything would be…

"Just like you hurt when they're hurt, love, they hurt when you're hurt," he says. "That's how family works."

I… Have I been wrong all this time? Putting myself last just to help them… is that not how friends worked? Is it just… Is it just me, hating myself so much that I couldn't see how anyone… anyone else would care what… what happened to me?

Do I matter too?

"And I'm sitting here, telling you rather openly that I care for you, yet you're so sure that no one in this world would be bothered by you getting hurt?" He cups my face with his hand again, looking at me. "Are you so sure of that? After everything?"

"I… I…" I try to speak, but nothing comes out.

He smiles, the corner of his lips turning up, and leans in, planting another soft kiss on my lips. "Your friends and I would traverse Hell to make sure you're okay. Never forget that."

— xxx —

Well, cupcakes, you have Grammy to thank for this update because she said, "DD, Mrs. Tice and I had to wait a year for a new book, and you're making your fans wait a year for a chapter! Don't make them wait anymore!" and, well, here we are~

I did point out to her that I'm a full-time student with a full-time job, and, as much as I would love writing more, I can't afford to just drop my work and focus on it. To which we hatched a plan:

How do you guys feel about Patreon for me? I was thinking of having rewards like access to chapters in advance ($1), all the book covers and chapter pictures and even commisioned pictures for your favorite stories ($3), never before seen content that includes how your favorite stories came to be and rough drafts and even possible future stories ($5), and maybe even the chance for you guys to dictate what I update via polls and have some say in what happens in the very next chapter ($10)!

It's still a rough idea, and I want it to be as custom to what you guys want as possible, so comment or PM me and let me know what you think and what you'd like to see!

(Naturally, the stories themselves would still be available on free sites like Wattpad and FictionPress, but the updates there will be slower than Patreon members would get)

The goal is to get enough money to either make a website you guys can subscribe to to get access to all of the books I've written and will ever write, or even some of those stories getting published, so let me know~

Happy reading, cupcake~(: