My mark was pissed when I got back to him, but honestly. Fuck him. Fuck all these men, and all the things they wanted from me, and all the ways they tried to make me theirs. I wasn’t anybody’s; I was my own, and if I wanted to fucking destroy myself, if I wanted to fuck up my body beyond repair, who the fuck could stop me?
Who the fuck was a gorgeous green-eyed hunk to me? Why the fuck did it matter that he cared about what I did, that he hadn’t wanted me to take another drink that morning? Of course he hadn’t, I thought angrily, he wanted to fuck you, but it was more than that and I fucking knew it, couldn’t not know it with the way he had looked at me, with the worry he had pressed onto my skin, the understanding, with the way he had told me he had cared. No, that he did care. Present tense.
“Who was that?” my mark hissed, pulling me in close. I’d probably have a bruise on my arm tomorrow with the way he was holding me, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about that man, and his eyes, and his lips, and the way he’d looked when I’d walked away.
“Ted.” I was being shaken; I wised up and started paying attention to the jealous, angry man before me. “Who the fuck was that?”
I rolled my eyes. “John, please.”
His eyes went dark. His fingers tightened on my arm. “My name isn’t John.”
I’d been making a joke about my nickname in this place, a light comment on my status in this relationship. It wasn’t my fault that he hadn't gotten it, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to explain it now. I probably should have said something to calm him down, made some simple joke that he would be able to understand, the dolt, but my eyes were caught on the man down the bar, and he was fucking killing me by being so close, because the fingers on my arm weren’t light, or gentle, and they would never make me melt, and the words in my ear were thin and boring and would never command, and the face that was twisted up in anger didn’t give a real shit about me past the idea I’d created for him and there was someone who did, there was a man who could, and how could I have ever accused him of being the same as the rest of them? How could I have ever believed he was anything like these fucking clowns?
Because he had to be. Because I wouldn’t survive him if he wasn’t. And as much as I craved danger, as much as I loved the way the floor dropped out from under me, that man scared me more than anything I had ever done.
No. I couldn’t do this. I wouldn’t do this. He was nothing; he was just another boy, in another way, doing the same damn thing, and I stared him down and lied to myself as best as I fucking could. “You’re all the same to me,” I muttered, my eyes meeting green, the holes in my stomach dropping, melting, always melting for him, as I carefully rejected the only man who might be different.
“What?” My mark pulled me forcibly toward him, his fingers tight on my chin. “What the fuck did you say?”
I met his eyes. I could have still tried to fix it. A few weeks ago I might have, would have been thinking up ways out of the situation. But that night, as I looked into brown irises and saw anger, and saw a total lack of control, the only thing I was thinking was; Boring.
“I said,” I repeated, making each word careful, feeling something building inside of me as I did. “You’re all the fucking same to me.”
He hauled back and slapped me across the face. Hard.
It didn’t feel good, not like a punch in a fight felt. But it didn’t feel bad, either.
Honestly? It felt like nothing. An emptiness. The logical next step of a series of events; why feel anything about it at all? I stayed there absolutely still, my hand lightly touching the stinging flesh he had left behind, wondering why the sting was the only thing I had left in my body. Then I readjusted my jaw and brought my gaze back up to his, finding his eyes hard and lacking any sort of remorse.
“Yeah,” I said. “Fuck you too.”
This time when he hauled back, I used his ridiculous wind-up to bop him a good one on the nose.
I ignored the man gasping beside me, ignored the blood cascading down his face. Fuck him. He deserved worse, or better, maybe, but he wouldn’t get either from me. I reached over him casually and downed the rest of his drink, then grabbed the remnants of mine and pushed away from the bar.
In the motion, for some fucking reason, I couldn’t keep my eyes from tracking to the man I had left on the other side of the room. He looked like he was seconds away away from launching himself off his barstool, heading across the bar in reckless flight. Heading over to me.
I dared him to, dared him with my eyes. It was a test, I think. I don’t know what outcome I wanted; I don’t know what I would have done if he had moved.
In the end, it didn’t matter. He settled back, his face unreadable, his arms crossed before him.
Fuck him. Fuck everyone.
I popped a handful of pills and made my way out onto the dance floor.
Why the shit had I let him get away from me? Why hadn’t I said the right things, the careful things, kept him wound up and hungry next to me until he was begging, again, for me to take him home?
Because he deserves better than that, some stern voice reminded me as I watched his body twist and turn on the dance floor, his hands pushing away partner after partner. Because if you didn’t tell him the truth, you and he would both hate you for it. You need more than that from him.
But what does he need from you?
“He looks good tonight.” I tried to ignore the bartender, his voice seemingly always at my shoulder tonight. I gritted my teeth and turned away, surprised to find myself turning into a cold glass.
“On the house,” the bartender smiled. At my narrowed eyes, he shrugged. “Consider it an apology for previous actions.”
I wasn’t sure what he had to apologize for, but I shrugged and took the drink. Usually I avoided hard liquor, for reasons that were. Well. I don’t love not being in control of myself. But it was one drink, and Bren was here, somewhere, and honestly I really fucking needed it.
I guess the liquor was stronger than I expected, or I was way more of a lightweight than I remembered, because by the time I got the the bottom of the cup I felt fucking. I don’t know. Fantastic? Delirious? I wasn’t sure that I felt drunk, but I sure as hell didn’t feel sober.
“You know,” and there was that fucking voice again, the bartender back at my shoulder. Was he a devil? No, I thought, breaking into a grin. A guardian angel. “John’s right there.”
I snapped my gaze up and found him, dancing away. He had finally let someone wrap their arms around him, and his body was grinding against him in a sensual way that had my entire body out in goosebumps. Or maybe that was the music. Shit, when had music gotten so good?
“You could go to him.” His fingers were on my neck; fuck, that felt good. Everything was good. Life was good. Why had I been so worried? I felt a grin begin to grow: the solution was so fucking easy. All I had to do was dance. “After all, he’s what you want.”
“Fuck,” I laughed, pushing away from the bar. If the bartender said anything more, I didn’t hear him, because I got lost in the music and the way it felt against my skin.