Vince was "The Confuser" - that's what they all told him and that's what he believed. With seemingly little effort, he walked the thin line between the feminine and masculine, making the polar concepts fit together like they were no different. He chased the title like it was his sole purpose on earth - because sometimes it was. When it was a cold, grey day in London, it was his one true calling. He brought colour to the desolate landscape, and for one fantastic moment, he was King.

Vince was a masterpiece, the main attraction of some bright, unfathomable circus which danced and flourished in the mind of others. Like a precious gem, he was unraveled in front of the media's selfish eyes - their darkest desire to whisk him off his pedestal and devour him whole.

Faceless crowds would visit this circus - all bright makeup and bold, geometric fashions. They may even have been beautiful in their madness, if not for their lack of features. It was if they had been eroded away by the sands of lust, until everything they had been had disappeared in a tireless wind.

He felt constantly swarmed by their presence, their ferocious expectance clawing at his body with unsettling ease. They left scars on his wrists, his thighs, his hips, tarnishing his milky skin like only the sharpest razors could. The potent red would eventually fade, but the scars remained like a constant parody - souvenirs that he was loved.

This is what he had to be. He had to shine, to reflect the dazzling spotlight projected by their awaiting eyes as they sat impatiently for his reveal. It was the only way they saw him, like the showpiece that had stood in his mother's china cabinet. She had remained so still, positioned gracefully far away in East London, where she had been abandoned so many years ago.

There were cracks in her porcelain skin, spreading out like spider webs across her pale features. She was so pale, too pale against the wood's dark grain that she glowed with eerie reverence for her surroundings. Her soft slopes and vibrant colours were formed with love, smoothed, as if silk, by the calloused hands of an old craftsman.

She was painted with the soul of an artist - not today's pop idols or his hero, Gary Newman - but true art, rooted in so much honesty it burned to see the spark alive. In the end, it was what had caused that old man's heart to surrender - knowledge that his work, forged from passion and excellence, would be given away to a dangerous house, filled with young souls who could never understand.

But Vince did, painfully so. He understood her perfection, and saw that nothing again could ever be so untouched. Her delicate figure and ruffles of her dress exuded purity, and from that moment on he had craved it. At a young age, he had realised this was an impossible dream, he could not touch her, not really. She would be tarnished, ruined by his small hands and childlike emotions. But she was perfect, ideal, more so than he could ever be.

Was this how God had felt when the serpent spoke to Eve? Did he see the beginning of the end, the tear which would unravel his perfect plan, the purity of its inception? Vince understood this, more than the maths lessons, more than he believed in gravity. It was his reality, and to him, that porcelain figure had been an altar, his way to connect with something greater than himself.

So, when his mother would sit beside him, sinking into the rotting sofa - he would look at the figure. As she began promising lies, and spewing blind, infinite apologies through alcohol scented breath - he would pray to her. She was far more honest than his mother would ever be. She was skin deep, and her cracks were so exposed, unlike those around him, whose rotting demeanors ate away from the inside. As time passed, the doll sat high in the cabinet alongside the chipped china and gold edged plates - waiting.

She sat and stared with empty eyes, casting glances as he grew out his hair, experimented with makeup and colour, and as his mother yelled at her perceived pansy of a son. But he wanted to be that doll, safe and admired as he admired her. He wanted to be beautiful without knowing how.

She had sold it eventually - how he had begged her not too. He promised to cut his hair, play football, to be the son both she and an absent father had wanted him to be. For now the doll was gone, with its sophisticated beauty, and feminine features and curves. It was gone now and in its place was a dustless ring, the only remainder that there had ever been beauty in this house.

Ugliness reared its head, making the walls weep with the weight of it as it cascaded down their painted interior. The clock ticked away with echoing, agonizing sadness. Hatred seeped in from the outside through that dark, wooden void and into him. It was the day that he had become ugly. The ugliness was so terrible, burning not with the heat of impassioned genius, but with the painful cold of icy vengeance.

He was physically the same, cell for cell, but his heart had sunk. He used himself to fill her void, soaking up the darkness of the house and protecting its bowing beams. He became what that doll had been. He raided the makeup cabinet, bought fabric with his pocket money and collected badges and chains. He had become beautiful, emulating what he had always admired about her delicate features.

Vince had become "the Confuser" and people loved it. They ripped him apart and worshiped him all at the same time. Some he shagged happily, and some tore off his clothes when he was drunk enough to be complacent. He became a commodity, was given worth like that porcelain figure as she was pawned away some seedy shop near his favourite club.

He would see her sometimes, collecting dust on the back shelf. His reflection - busy with sharp, abrasive features - would stare back from the barred window. He forced himself to turn back, he had replaced her now. He was valuable.

But with every shag, every party, every line, or handful of colourful drugs, he lost himself. He became tarnished and polished himself – two kilograms here, a few during Christmas, extra calories burnt by not wearing a coat in the snow. He was becoming like her, so timeless in her elegance - a perfect specimen in the eyes of their generation.

So, when his ribs started to show, he was proud, and no one seemed to mind. The birds just seemed to care about his cock, barely paying attention in their drunken stupor. He became so mangled, knowing it was wrong, illogical even, but he didn't care. Why should he? He was loved, and more so, adored and cherished. For once in his life he felt truly wanted, content in the knowledge that he was also needed.

He thought that it would stop, eventually he would be content, stop accepting the hole he had dug. But the walls were slippery, sticky and dirty from England's rainy skies. It poured and poured, and the muddied ground climbed higher and higher until his feet began to sink. He was stuck, doomed by her fate to remain in this hole, dug by his own hands with the greatest of intentions. The slick ground embraced him like barbed wire, digging deeper and deeper into the heart of him.

He even set goals for himself, 60 kg and he'd stop. But the number kept dwindling down, and the intricacy of his outfits grew exponentially to compensate. His makeup became more fluorescent, more pastel, more sinister, more, more, more. So soon he was like that doll, overwhelmed by cracks – veins that shone blue against his pale skin, dark bruises which formed only too easily, and ribs that protruded awkwardly like a cage around his chest.

His cheekbones became more pronounced as blush laden brushes streaked across them. The colour hid their sharp contours, and he was careful not to let anything rub it away. It felt like protection, disguised in such a comfortable form, that he forgot its purpose. It was if the bright colours gave him immunity from others, blocking his perception of anything but their admiration.

And it worked, and advanced. While other's had walls, he had colour, bright and vibrant as he so desired to be. So he continued, adding thick bands of eyeliner to cover up his sinking eyes as his body clawed for survival.

Underneath, he was cracking, fracturing under that craftsman's loving and good intentions. He was breaking. Vince was so close to being beautiful and one day soon he would have to say good bye. But unlike her, nobody would cry for him.

He would do it himself, when the right time came. Perfection was never meant to last, he realised. That had been his only mistake – believing that the perfection he had chased would last forever. Even porcelain figures, without their heart and fragile skin, were mortal. Even her, carved of so much precision and enthrallment, cracked under the inevitable weight of the world.

Perfection was an instantaneous spark, a firework in a damp, turbulent sky, which fizzled out after a single moment of brilliance. He would not fizzle out, and refused the possibility of departing with such a pathetic whimper. People like him weren't meant to die old, living out a long fulfilling life. He was simply the comic relief, the Puck in the others' Midsummer Night's Dream. He was clever in his shining brilliance, wise to his sacrificial role, and perhaps noble in his own sunken eyes – but a fool none the less.

He wouldn't let his body kill him, not like this. Vince Noir would not die restricted to a hospital bed with a tube down his throat and mechanical lungs aiding his own. He would go on his own terms and for the only time in his life he would not leave it to chance.

He collected notes, scribbling illegibly on aging sticky notes in his own childish scrawl. The articles he read danced around the topic, too afraid of startling the general public - but he understood what they had meant. He had understood what separated the successful attempts from the failed, and he learnt how to succeed. For only the second time in his life, he would complete what so many lost souls had craved.

In his cracks, there was strength which prevailed, through the rigorous and regular doses he had consumed, spat up, and self-administered. Now he would just have to wait patiently until his time, that moment when he knew in every crevice of his thinning body, that he was perfect. And on the day he finally did it, he went to sleep, warm in the knowledge that he had done right by that craftsman, and everyone else who had raised him onto their pedestals so he could be the centerpiece he had always envied. And in the end, he had been glad to have known her as he did, so completely that they saw as one - for she had made him perfect.

And he was proud.


So when they found him, pale with a content smile, they had not cried, but sighed in shared sorrow for the flame which had been extinguished. While he had seen himself as a firework, they had seen him a lantern.

He was rusted, as if abandoned to a humid and languid breeze which stretched throughout his short lifetime. His glass planes were damaged, with thin cracks spreading from the sharp corners into the centre. He was not perfect, but he had been brilliant and beautiful.

They had been forced to watch as he had torn himself to shreds, feeding himself to all that had ever gazed upon him. Men and women, all too bright and strange to truly live, had been eager consumers.

They watched as he had shrunk, buying new wardrobes and cases of makeup, all too lively and extravagant for anybody's taste. But they had suited him well, and they had let him be. Soon, he'd stop, and if he didn't they'd host an intervention. They'd be gentle, but forceful if needed. Whatever it took, they'd make him realise that he was loved – not for who he was becoming, but for what he was, what he had always been.

That was the saddest truth about Vince Noir – he had been too blinded by his own self afflicted spotlight to see that he did shine. Under the darkness of the South London skies, he had been his own source of brilliance. Even through the broken glass and flaking paint, he had been magnificent. If only he could leave the limelight, turn his back to the nameless crowds and, for a moment, see those at his back.

Then he may have seen the tears which threatened to escape their fading eyes. It had hurt to see him rip himself apart, attacking each piece with growing vigor. But he was resilient, too strong to be fully human. It had felt like a hot poker, heated slowly over simmering coals until the perfect moment.

The pain was overwhelming, especially to Howard. The heated metal had bit deep into his skin, turning the surface black and branding him with the impending guilt. It severed the veins of his heart, burning the arteries and powerful muscle. Every following day, the pain grew until all Howard wanted to do was yell at his friend to open his eyes – to make those blue orbs finally see his own. Eventually, he reckoned, the fog would lift and all would be revealed. He had been wrong.

They had not done enough to recognise the deep roots of his insecurity. Vince had always been bright, even as a child, even as the older boys would laugh at his purple blush and crooked eyeliner. But Howard had been there, by his best friend's side. He had seen as Vince pushed away his lunch and rested his head on his lowered arms. His dark hair had grown so long that it had tickled his own as he sighed in defeat.

Eventually Vince stopped bringing a lunch at all, so Howard gave him his favourite chocolate bar instead, lying shamelessly to his mum. He was protecting Vince from the world, shielding him like a personal body guard from the external cruelty of it. That was not the source of his pain, though, it came from inside, sudden and angry red.

He had clued in eventually, when Vince had yelled for the tenth time that Howard, under no circumstances, could come over to his house – which sat, sad and dark, atop the neighbourhood hill. He had made some excuse about flooding in the basement, but Howard had lived at the bottom of that hill and there had been no storm in weeks, only dark swirling clouds and the typical English showers. So he nodded stiffly, and invited him over instead, entrusted with the secrets of the weeping house with storm clouds gathering overhead.

Vince had once described the journey down that hill, as vividly and imagined as his childlike mind. He gestured wildly in the air, recapturing the story with uninhabited movements of his long, pale digits. He relived the moments as his bike gained momentum, pulled by gravity into the earth's core. He said it had felt like flying, hands wrapped in the soft down of some mystical bird. He reasoned that it had been a phoenix, nearly impossible to kill but always rising to some unfathomable height.

Howard could only hope that he had been high as he had died, wrapped in the loving and feathered embrace, as he fell gracelessly onto earth. He hoped that Vince had not known he was dying, because he could not accept his friend's darkness. Howard was not a good catholic, but he did believe that good people would be rewarded. He used to at least – until he had seen the card that fate had handed his best friend, his only friend.

Vince had been like a beautiful flower, blossoming into vibrant, unique colours before life's bright sun. But there had been too much sun, and the delicate petals burnt, their paper thin contours shrivelling and browning. Vince had recovered – vanity and special ignorance making him believe that he had overcome nature's charms. It fooled those around him, and every day he was swarmed by flocks of bees and humming birds. There wings beat him down, bruising him with relentless downdrafts.

The stung at him and stole his sweetness in jealous raids. It was survival of the fittest and Vince had been prey. Howard watched as the petals wilted and the leaves sunk with the weight of the world. The insects continued to bite, to inject their falsehoods and reinforce the damage done before them. The façade was just that, a façade.

There was no defence around his heart, and a shrinking stem had ceased the growth, just as time had. And so the flower wilted, and in the background Howard had snuck in aid - rich waters and fertile soils - but the roots had lost their will, and nothing could be done. He had lost his best friend, and nobody noticed but the man from Leeds with a breaking heart.

They had buried Vince quietly, without the artificial glitter and gems which he had attempted to hide behind. His casket was not open, allowing for strangers to cry fake tears while they thought about the newest trend. It was a solemn occasion, with the occasional sniffle. Dark clouds hung over the sky, hugging the earth in greying sorrow. Despite the despair, Vince had died strong – physically weak, but mentally war hardened against the elements.

A fatigued and content smile had graced Vince's pale features – and for the first time Howard could return the small smile. He was proud – proud of the man who had been entrusted with such an unfortunate role. Like a dying flame, whipped by wind and pouring rain, Vince was a survivor.

As Howard placed the final rose on the coffins dark wooden grain, a lone tear fell from his eye – he was proud of the little man, and always would be.


Authors Note: This has been my first story in a while, and I know that it's not everybody's cup of tea. I hope that you enjoyed reading it and my attempt at a happy ending - which may be up for debate. I did enjoy writing this, and it felt good to get back in the groove of it. Writing allows for a lot of freedom and is therapeutic to many people - so I encourage anybody who has an idea, even only a small one, to open a word document or pull out a pencil and paper. Have a good day/night and please review!

Sincerely,

Stephanie