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Charles is pretty.

Jay thinks that's part of the problem; he maintains a singular appreciation of aesthetics, and Charles is just so pretty.

That's why Jay is watching him intently from behind his bangs. Watching Charles is transcendent and almost voyeuristic. Charles is inescapably Charles, immovably himself, centric and centered, and he is such an inward human being—and yet finds attention, positive, negative, or homicidal, so intoxicating—that observing him without his notice feels illicit.

So goddamn pretty.

It's dangerous, of course, the prettiness is—sharp-edged and unrepentant. Charles's beauty is that of a predator, a cat. One of the big cats, but lithe; a panther or a leopard or a jaguar; the roll of his shoulders, the sliding shift of muscles as he moves. Smooth. Polished. Cold.

Charles is pretty like a knife.

He is so pretty that you don't see anything but the breathtaking exterior until you're bleeding into your hands, at which point you realize that part of the 'breathtaking' problem is clinical rather than romantic.

So much for that lung.

If Jay ever had any doubts that he is a masochist, he abandons them now.

Jay is watching Charles flick his hair, which looks like pale silk and gleams extravagantly even under the harsh fluorescent lights of the cafeteria, out of his face as he leans forward. His eyes are pale, are arid, are Arctic, and Jay wonders if he really is that much of a dick, or if he's just afraid of letting people see that he bleeds, too, sometimes.

Poser. What the fuck does that even mean? What does Metis have that grants him access to that one tiny part of Charles where kittens and butterflies roam?

All right, more like that one tiny part of Charles that doesn't outright obliterate a sort of grudging, indulgent, vaguely condescending affection.

He thinks, sometimes and now, that maybe it's because Charles is just too damn smart—for he is, too smart for his own good or anyone else's, with the steel-trap mind and the whip-crack wit. Maybe most people honestly aren't quick enough to keep up with someone whose intelligence gives new meaning to the word "incisive."

Incisors. Half the time Charles doesn't even need to show his teeth, simply because everyone knows they're there.

Maybe, Jay thinks, Charles just likes hurting people. Maybe he pushes them away, wards them off, sends them running to the hills because he's scared of what they'll find if he lets them in close. Maybe he's scared of what he'll find, seeing himself reflected in someone else's eyes. Maybe he's terrified of the truth, which is that he's too fucking weak to let somebody see him that way.

Maybe Jay is getting a wee bit vindictive.

He wonders if Charles knows he's watching. Jay has never been gifted with subtlety.

Maybe—and Jay knows very well he's reaching now, employing a talent for bullshit like the one Metis has, except that Jay over-interprets people and Metis analyzes books—Charles is waiting, behind that sharp, sharp, beautiful wall, for someone to shatter him completely. Maybe he's forgotten how to feel safe in vulnerability, and someone impossibly patient has to teach him again.

Maybe Jay and Lewis Carroll should get together for lunch sometime.

(Jay won't be trying the tea.)

(Or the cake.)

(And if he sees any caterpillars, he'll excuse himself and go.)

Charles slides two slender fingers through his daydream-colored hair, and Jay wonders what it would be like to move against that beauty, to be so close as to find its faults. He thinks it might incinerate him on contact.

…which is strange. He usually imagines Charles being cold to the touch.

The fingertips alight on the grimy cafeteria tabletop, and Jay frowns, because they don't belong there.

They're too damn pretty.