It's a Cruel World, Sir

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“What?” I demand. “How did they get here already?”

“I texted Nicole while you were in the shower,” he says.

“What? Why?”

“Well, to be accurate, she texted me to inform me you were missing, and Preston was the main suspect—though she also explained that Whitney believed I might have something to do with it—so I told her that both of those theories were correct and you were at my place. Then I sent her my address so that she and the others could come over,” he explains. “By the way, I’m quite impressed with her ability to get my personal cellphone number in such a short period of time.”

“She probably broke into the office again,” I say, “She doesn’t like wasting any time to—” I stop, eyes widening. “Wait. Did you say the others? You mean everyone’s coming here?”

He nods.

I groan. “Whitler’s going to kill you! She already thinks you’re somehow behind everything!”

“She can’t kill me, love,” he says, smirking.

“You know what I meant!” I say, exasperated. “Why didn’t you tell Nikki that you saved me so Whitler had enough time to, like, cool down or something!?”

“Because that would take up too much time,” he says. “And it wouldn’t be very interesting.”

I roll my eyes and smack his shoulder, standing up. “I can’t stand you.”

He chuckles, following me. “I can tell,” he says smugly as he walks to the door, the knocking becoming impatient as someone—Whitler, probably—starts pounding on the door.

“Wait!” I stop him. “I’ll do it.”

He looks back at me, tilting his head. “I’m perfectly capable of opening a door, Vixen.”

“Yeah, but it’ll be better if I do it,” I say. “Trust me.”

He shrugs, doing as I ask and stepping away from the door so I can open it.

With a deep breath, I turn the knob.

All I see is a blur of blue, green, and black before I’m tackled to the messy carpet.

“Oh, Cupcake, I’m so glad you’re okay!” TJ wails at the same time Nikki says, “I was so worried, you asshole!”

“Ow,” I moan playfully. “You know I was beaten up today, right?”

“Good,” TJ mutters, loosening his grip anyway.

“Who cares if you were beaten up?” Nikki gripes. “Do you know what I’ve been through in the last five hours? I thought I was going to have to murder someone!”

“She really did,” TJ says. “You should have heard her plotting it, too. It creeped me out.”

Nikki rolls her eyes. “It wasn’t that bad.”

TJ looks at her. “You kept muttering about how you were going to drink Preston’s blood from your heel.”

“Totally normal,” she says easily.

He looks back at Trent for help.

“Will you two please let go of Vixen?” Leon says, interrupting them. “She’s been through a lot.”

“But we were worried!” they say at the same time.

He gives them a look. “Let. Go. Now.”

Grumbling like scolded kids, they do as they’re told, helping me up.

Before I’m completely up, though, TJ lets go of one of my hands, nearly causing me to tumble back again as he blinks at the surroundings.

“Wow, Chase,” he says, tilting his head. “For some reason, I thought you’d be more... organized.”

“Really?” Nikki wonders, making sure I’m actually standing before looking around. “This is exactly what I pictured.”

“Same,” Calvin says easily, joining us in the apartment.

“Yeah, well, I don’t really give a damn what his apartment looks like,” Whitler growls, appearing in the doorway. “Is no one going to fucking address this bullshit or are we going to pretend like there’s nothing weird going on?”

“We’re getting to that, Whit,” Leon assures her. “Everyone’s just glad Vixen’s okay.”

“We would’ve known that sooner had this asshole told us!”

“Stop it, Whitney,” Leon says forcefully, using her full name this time.

“Stop what?” she demands. “Stop being rational? Stop being the only one who’s thinking clearly?”

“Is it really clearly, though?” TJ mutters.

Whit glares at her. “Don’t you think it’s weird? This guy just happens to be at all the right places at the right time?

“Gonna have to agree with Whitler on this one,” Calvin takes up for her. “I don’t wanna doubt Chase, but this is getting to be too much to just be a coincidence.”

“Yeah, but if he had something to do with it, do you really think Cupcake would be so... comfortable?” TJ asks.

“Yes,” everyone else says. Even Chase—the traitor—nods.

I glare at him, earning a soft chuckle, but that only brings Whitler’s attention back to him.

“At this point, I don’t give a shit if she feels safe with him or not,” Whitler says. “I want to know what’s going on now.”

Leon sighs. “While I don’t agree with her wording, I do think it’s time to tell us everything, Cupcake.”

I ruffle my hair, still uneasy about this whole idea, but one nod from Chase has me letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Fine. Just... sit down.”

They do as I say. Leon takes a seat on the window’s ledge where Chase and I were just a few moments ago, Nikki nestling between his legs. For a second, I’m distracted by the smile Leon has on his face as Nikki prattles on about how the story shouldn’t take that long. She’s totally in her own head, but Leon wraps his arms around her anyway, kissing her cheek.

It’s weirdly... tender, and I wonder if that’s how Chase and I looked when we were sitting there.

“Perhaps,” Chase murmurs. “If Nicole were facing him instead of facing us.”

My eyes widen. “How did you know what I was thinking?” I demand.

He chuckles. “Your face is bright red, love.”

I cover my cheeks. “Shut up. I can’t help it. I’m not used to... to...”

“Liking someone?” he wonders, raising an eyebrow. “Surely you’ve had crushes before.”

I shake my head. “No.”

He stares at me, and, for some reason, I get the impression that he’s both happy and thrown off by that.

“It doesn’t matter,” I mutter. “Let’s just get on with this.”

Trent and TJ are sitting next to each other on a pile of books to the left of Leon and Nikki, with Calvin pushing over some books so he can hop on the counter. Whitler, of course, chooses to stand, crossing her arms as she looks at me expectantly, waiting.

Sighing, I open my mouth. “The person who’s been threatening us—me—” I amend at the looks everyone sends me, “—is Canty.”

Six pairs of eyes widen. I’m pretty sure Nikki isn’t breathing, preparing for—

“Mother. Fucker.” Leon seethes.

“I knew it was him!” TJ says.

“I swear to God, I’m going to break every bone in his body,” Leon continues, overshadowing TJ’s tangent. “How did you find out? Did the bastard throw it in your face?”

“Leon, calm down,” Nikki says softly, her hand snagging his.

“Calm down!? Nikki, a fucking teacher was threatening her. Someone who’s supposed to protect us was literally trying to kill her!”

“It’s not like it’s the first time a teacher’s done this,” Whitler says even though she looks like she wants to tear something apart too, fingers digging into her arms. “So, how’d you find out?”

I sigh. “It slipped out,” I explain. “He said something about me being the one who was threatened instead of me doing the threatening.”

Nikki snorts. “He’s such an idiot. Everyone knows you can’t possibly be a victim, Cupcake~”

“Yeah, that’s essentially what I said,” I agree, “so he...” I trail off, closing my mouth.

“He what?” It’s Calvin this time. “What’d he do, Cupcake?”

“He threatened Leon and Whitler,” I say. “He said he’d fail them if I didn’t do what he said.”

Whilter’s face goes purposefully blank, but her fingers dig into her arm more. When Chase turns his head to her a little, I know it’s because she probably drew blood. Leon’s gone pale, and Nikki’s squeezing his hand reassuringly, like she’s reading his mind.

Seeing them like this makes it all... real, I guess. When they find out about the deal I made with Canty, what I was going to let Noah do...

Something in my stomach drops, eyes burning.

I’ve been so stupid.

“Vixen?” Chase murmurs, worried.

I try to wave him off so I can get myself together before they notice, but Whitler and Nikki are already coming over, making the others look at us.

“What’s wrong, Cupcake?” Nikki asks.

“I’m just—” I start, clearing my throat when my voice cracks. “I’m just sorry.”

“What?” Whitler stops, thrown off.

“What’re you saying sorry for?” Nikki wonders. “This is Canty’s fault, Cupcake. Not yours.”

“It’s not just about Canty...” I try, but the tears are coming back, and I really don’t want to cry again. “I was going to... To protect Leon and Whitler, I was going to... to...”

Nikki wraps her arms around me. “We know,” she says. “That’s who you are, Cupcake. It’s okay.”

I shake my head. “It’s not okay, though,” I choke out. “If any of you were planning on doing what I was going to do... if any of you were to agree to that kind of thing... I’d... And to think that I thought it was okay if you didn’t like it because... I just... I love you guys so much. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“We love you too,” Nikki says, pulling back to smile at me. “We’re in this together, right? So let’s just agree to not keep something like this to yourself anymore~”

I’m definitely crying now, but I nod anyway, rubbing my eyes.

“Good,” she says. “And don’t worry: I’ll be sure to rip out Canty’s heart for you~♡”

“Does she have to say that with such a pretty smile?” TJ mutters. “I can practically hear the heart in her voice.”

Trent clears his throat. “You shouldn’t ruin the moment.”

TJ snorts. “Nikki ruined the moment by threatening violence.”

Trent nods a little, agreeing with that on some level, and Nikki turns to glare at them. “It’s not ruining the moment,” she argues. “I’m making it better by handing her the very thing that keeps that human pile of excrement alive~ Like a sacrifice to a Goddess~”

“Wouldn’t that be obsession—not affection?”

She rolls her eyes. “Please. The only person I’m obsessed with is myself. I have affection for everyone else.”

“It’s Nikki’s world, and we just exist in it,” Leon confirms, though he looks almost fondly at Nikki.

TJ makes gagging noises. “You two are so gross. Get a room.”

Nikki and TJ continue bickering, making me shake my head with a smile as I wipe my face. Chase, who has been fairly distant, comes over to me.

“Are you okay?” he checks.

I nod. “Just had a moment,” I say.

“You’ve been having a lot of those lately,” he says lightly.

I sigh. “I know. I need to get it together.”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” he says. “It’s good to get it all out there with them, but I know it can be mentally draining,” he continues, “so if you want to cut this short, we can stop this and sleep. They can stay here since I’m sure they don’t want to leave you either.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Either?”

His smirk makes me feel warm. Or maybe that’s just my face. Instead of elaborating, though, he says, “I’m surprised you haven’t collapsed yet.”

“I’m close,” I mutter, stifling a yawn, “but I wanted to apologize, you know? When I saw how upset they were over what Canty was doing, it just... hit me. Really hard. You were right: they love me and would do anything to protect me, and I was just... not listening, I guess.”

“Not seeing,” he corrects gently. “And it’s okay, Vixen. You’ll get better.”

“Will I?” I ask without thinking.

He goes to say something, but Whitler cuts him off.

“Aren’t you standing too close to her?” she says venomously, causing everyone’s head to snap to us.

Chase barely covers another smirk as he tries to step away from me, but I grab the sleeve of his shirt, looking pointedly at Whitler and ignoring Chase’s raised eyebrow. “He’s as close as I want him,” I say evenly.

Whitler’s eyes widen as Nikki’s grin gets inhumanly bigger.

“What?” they say at the same time in very different ways.

“I want him next to me,” I say, ignoring how hot my face is getting with each word.

How does Nikki manage to talk about liking Leon so openly? This shit is embarrassing.

“And? What are the two of you then?” Whitler demands as Nikki and TJ clasp each others’ hands in anticipation.

“We’re... uh... something,” I finish awkwardly.

“Something?” she repeats mercilessly, turning to Chase. “And what do you have to say to all of this?”

“In regards to what?” Chase asks easily, clearly not as affected by her interrogation as I am.

She rolls her eyes. “What are you to Cupcake? What are you to us?”

“I thought I made the point abundantly clear that I’m not an enemy, Whitney. I am, for a lack of a better word, a friend to you all,” he says, still amused.

“Okay, so then are you just a friend to Cupcake too?”

“You get straight to the point,” Chase says, chuckling. When all she does is give him a look, he looks at me with a smile and says, “No. I suppose I am not just a friend to Vixen.”

Nikki and TJ start squealing, jumping up and down as they sing, “We knew it~ We knew it~ We totally, definitely knew it~”

Leon sighs, shaking his head the two practically dancing over the news. Calvin, as he has been for the last few minutes for some reason, is completely blank too, just like Trent.

But I’m ready for the explosion when it comes.

Before any of them—except Chase probably—realize it, Whitler clenches her fist and aims for Chase’s face.

I’m faster, though, grabbing her hand and twisting it behind her back.

“Dammit, Cupcake! Stop defending him!” she hisses.

“I can’t,” I say simply. “It’s like a reflex.”

“What?” she demands.

“I did it without thinking,” I explain. “Just like I do any time you guys are threatened.”

“Are you saying he’s on the same level as us?”

“I... I don’t know,” I answer honestly. “All I know is that I like him around. As sarcastic and irritating and absolutely awful as he is, I... I like him. Simple as that.”

“It’s definitely not simple, but I’ll take it because YOU JUST SAID YOU LIKE CHASE!” Nikki squeals, completely ignoring the shock on Whitler’s face.

“OUR CUPCAKE IS GROWING UP SO FAST, NIK!” TJ continues, wrapping his arms around her as they continue their jumping.

Leon shakes his head. “What am I going to do with you two?”

Whitler has gone slack, so I let go of her arm. It falls limply to her side as she turns to look at me.

“What do you mean?” she asks. “What’s the difference between him and... and that man?” she demands, almost shaking.

I sigh, ruffling my hair. “I just... He’s just so... genuine, I guess. In some weird, parallel since of the word.”

“I don’t get it,” she says blankly.

“Just... Okay, so, after Preston tried to... tried to... whatever, and Chase saved me, I really wanted to... kiss... him...” Jesus Christ. Why is my face on fire?? “But Chase wouldn’t because I wasn’t ‘in the right mind’ to consent after what Preston just tried to do,” I explain. “It’s things like that that make him different. He... he doesn’t have to think about things like whether I’m cold in only a fishnet top or how many times I’ve been taken advantage of or any of that, but he does, you know? Without thinking about it. Without any sort of motive.” Aside from the beginning, I amend in my head. But I even like that part of him too, which is stupid.

She’s silent. Everyone else has quieted too, though Nikki and TJ look like they’re trying to hide smiles so bright, they’ll outshine the sun.

“You really like him,” she says softly.

It’s not a question, but I nod anyway.

A few more beats, and she lets out a breath. “Fine,” she says finally. “I’ll stop being so aggressive towards him, but I’m watching you.” That last part is directed at Chase. “Anything weird, anything at all, and I’ll destroy you.”

“That’s still aggressive, Whit,” Nikki mutters.

“Like you have any right to talk,” TJ says.

She backhands him gently as Chase nods. “I understand, Ms. Hall.”

So... This chapter took a lot longer than I thought thanks to all of the development and revelations and geez. So. Much. Happened. And it needed to happen, but it just took me a hot minute to articulate it from my head to words. So, yeah. My bad?

Also, I’ve decided that even if “cellphone” isn’t one word, it is now~

I don’t know how I feel about this chapter yet. I finished last night, but waited until today to post because I wanted to be able to look at it with fresh eyes and make sure it wasn’t awful, but now... I’m not sure. Guess we’ll see as I reread it with everyone else again~ XD

Oh! And before I forget: next chapter is the Bonus Chapter, so tell me which chapter you want to see in Chase’s PoV! It can be anything before this chapter~

Happy reading, cupcakes~<3(:

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