Author's Note:This story combines Brady's current story line and one of my favorite places in Salem...the pier. I feel like his life is starting to spiral out of control and this is my take on what could possibly happen after Nicole leaves Salem. It is entirely self-edited so I apologize in advance for any typos/etc. that may be there.

Vice

The gently rippling water drew him. Even in his apparently never-ending hung over state, it still somehow managed to call out to him. Brady stumbled over the second step of the staircase. He needed to grab onto the rough railing before he ended up on the weathered floorboards of the pier in a tumbled heap. With the way his life was going right now, he would probably have ended up with a few broken bones, too. Gritting his teeth against the dull headache that never seemed to leave him, courtesy of Jack Daniels and anything else he could swallow down, he righted himself and concentrated on getting to the bottom of the stairs. One unsteady foot in front of the other.

The dark red of bloodshot contrasted with the brilliant blue of his eyes. Groaning, he glared out over the quietly lapping water, hoping for a peace that didn't seem to be forthcoming anytime soon. God, he'd lost it all. In the span of two weeks he'd lost everything. His relationship with Nicole. His job at Titan. His home. Fed up with his crappy attitude and his willingness to drown himself in any and every bottle of alcohol he could get his hands on, Victor had not only kicked him out of the mansion but had also given his job to Sonny. He'd even threatened to take custody of Tate if Brady didn't get his act together. The worst part of it all? He had no one to blame but himself, an ugly truth he was trying desperately to escape through the destructive vice of alcohol. A short curse word was torn out of his curled lips.

It wasn't even a pretty night. Why the hell should it be? There wasn't anything remotely happy or attractive about his life right now. No moonlight. No stars. Not even any characteristic fog rolling off the water, which usually gave the pier a pleasing nautical ambiance. Nope. Nothing. Not for him. Just a set of blah off-black, not even an interesting shade of gray, clouds with only the ugly red emergency lights offering any sort of lighting. Dreary. Dull. Dead. "Just like my life," he muttered, squeezing his tired eyes shut.

Lost in dismal thought, desperate to escape the fact that his life had imploded so dramatically and left him an unwilling casualty, the sounds of quietly approaching footsteps didn't register on him. He did feel the soft touch on his shoulder. Damn it all, he knew who it was. He didn't need to look. Like a lone wolf licking his wounds, he let out a low, feral snarl. And damn it all again, he wanted to be left alone. Ripping his shoulder away from the feminine touch, he glanced over his shoulder and growled furiously, "What the hell do you want?"

"Nice to see you, too," Chloe shot back smoothly, hiding her overwhelming concern behind a sarcastic tone. Paul had said it was bad when he'd called her to help find Brady but she wasn't expecting it to be quite this bad. She didn't miss a thing, quickly cataloguing the results of the destruction Brady seemed to be hell-bent on completing and in record time, too. Blood shot eyes, week-old scruff, unkempt hair. His clothes were rumpled and stained. Even though it was early November, there was no coat in sight. And the smell…Dear Lord, the smell. He'd obviously been living inside a bottle. Whiskey? Vodka? Good, old-fashioned beer? Most likely a mixture of all three and then some. She fought the urge to crinkle her nose in disgust. He'd notice, of that she knew for certain. It would only add more fuel to the fire he so desperately wanted lit.

The last thing he wanted was company. Especially her company. He whipped back around, glowered out over the water, not willing to let her see the effects of his weakness. Hoping to push her away and get back to his much-needed solitude, he muttered unpleasantly, "Didn't you hear me? I asked you a question."

Chloe let the snideness roll off her. Her shield was strong. She'd put up with worse in her life. One encounter with a disgruntled, angry and hung over Brady Black wasn't enough to pierce through her armor. She could handle him and whatever he threw her away. Ignoring him, she walked up to the edge of the pier, her arms wrapped around her tightly. A light wind went through, rippling both the water and her long dark hair. Surprisingly, her eyes lit up with pleasure. She loved this place. Her voice was low as she admitted, "It's been so long since I've been on the pier. I'd almost forgotten how beautiful it was here."

"Beautiful? You think this place is beautiful? God, you're delusional," he scoffed, his voice coated with acerbic ice. He absolutely refused to acknowledge the rugged qualities of the pier and why he'd always found himself here, especially in times of strife. "It's just a damn pier. An old, rundown, weather-beaten pier. It's so old it should probably be condemned."

"No. You're wrong. It's so much more than just a pier," she murmured, shaking her head in disagreement. She ran her hand along the nautical netting tossed haphazardly across a set of wooden boxes and watched him covertly out of the corner of her eyes. "It's more than what it looks like. Much more. I know it. And you know it, too. This place has always brought me peace when I've come to visit here. Always."

He let out a grunt and stared out into the water, unwilling and unable to gift her with an answer. With the screwed-up state of his mind, he figured just staying in her presence was good enough, especially when he'd much rather be alone. Partaking in any sort of a conversation simply wasn't on his agenda for the next year or so.

"A long time ago…hell, a life time ago," Chloe interrupted herself with a little laugh, finding it hard to believe that it was so long ago. So much had happened since she'd first moved to Salem. Sometimes it felt like her life was just one long soap opera. "I used to come here, to wish away my problems with my mother and my classmates, to dream of a life far away from Salem."

"You didn't make it very far," he muttered callously, uncaring if his words hurt her.

Her beautiful blue eyes widened a bit but she refused to feel any pain. After all, he was doing it on purpose. She knew it. If he wanted to act like an ass, she was going to let him. She had a job to do, one she was going to see through to the bitter end, no matter what. "No. No, I didn't," she admitted lowly, sighing inwardly over her lost dreams of becoming the next big opera star. "But, this place, this place right here? I always felt like it had magical healing powers or something like that. I'd come here. To think, to sing, to dream. And I always left here feeling better than when I'd first arrived. It always brought me peace and comfort. Always."

"Well, Mary Poppins, that ain't going happen. Not with me. Not tonight." The edge of a lip curled up when he saw her mouth drop open in disbelief at his blatant rudeness. Holding up a hand to ward off her next string of words, he ordered her harshly, "Save it, Chloe. Just save it. Whatever it is you're trying to do here with me…it's not going to work. I won't let it. Hell, I don't need it. And I sure as hell don't need you. I don't need anyone."

"I'm not trying to do anything," she lied without a qualm, staring out over the still water, knowing that if she'd told him Paul had sent her on a mission to find his brother, he would shut down even further and push her as far away as he could. At least he was acknowledging her presence. It wasn't exactly pretty and certainly wasn't progressing all that well but she had that much going for her. She would take it and see where it led.

"Yeah. Right." He drew out the word, the sarcasm pouring out of him like whiskey flowing out of an open bottle.

Nervous fingers gripped the netting. It was time for a change in tactics. Skirting around the issue wasn't getting her anywhere. Inwardly squaring her shoulders, she prepared herself to prod the injured beast. There was no predicting his reaction. Her voice was quiet when she said, "I'm sorry about Nicole."

He whirled around, blue eyes flashing bright with indignation. He moved so fast that his dull headache returned with a vengeance. Swearing under his breath, he rubbed his temples while a flush spread cross his cheeks and the expression on his face…Holy hell. It was the most anguished she'd ever seen him. He was so far off his game that he couldn't successfully mask his feelings. He took an angry step towards her before he bit out, "How dare you, Chloe? Just where the hell do you get off?"

"I mean it." She held his angry gaze bravely, refusing to back down when he took another step forward. Breathing in, knowing there was no way at all to tame this savage beast, she murmured quietly, soothingly, "I truly am sorry. I don't like to see you hurting."

He laughed. He actually laughed. The rough laugh sent chills running down her spine; it was that unpleasant. "Well, you must be the only one in this godforsaken town who doesn't like to see me hurting." Chuckling more, he bent down, picked up a rock and tossed it out into the water. It was so dark he couldn't see where it landed. Just like his life. He didn't have a damn clue where he was going now. Probably in the same direction as that rock. Down, down, down. Until he hit rock bottom. Sounded like a damn fine place to him. "No one else gives a damn. Not about me."

He was wrong, so incredibly wrong. Chloe bit her tongue, knowing now wasn't the time to bring up just how many people were worried about him. She stepped up closer to him, bravely closing the distance between them, and was amazed when he didn't back away from her. She'd half-expected him to dart away, like a wounded, angry animal out in the woods. "Brady." She waited until he looked at her before continuing, "You've always been one of my favorite people in this town. From way back when."

"All right. I'll buy that." He couldn't doubt the sincerity ringing with the power of an aria in her voice. Plus he had the added benefit of knowing it was true, all true. Sure, there'd been times when they hadn't interacted or sought each other out but that had never changed the strong bond between them. First and foremost, they were friends.

"You've seen me at my worst," she murmured quietly, recalling some of her not-so-brilliant moments. A low sigh fell from her lips at the blatant stupidity of her past. What the hell had she been thinking? She'd worked hard to put it behind her, to regain her self-respect and turn herself into someone she could admire and like again. Finally, she was well on her way to succeeding.

"True." Hell, she was right. There was no denying it. He didn't like the memory of finding her in an alley, bleeding and unconscious and hurt. Yeah, he didn't like that particular memory at all. Definitely one of her worst moments. And he'd seen it, just like she was seeing him now. It was a blinding flash of insight, one that made him stand up a little straighter. His head cleared a little, enough for him to look down at himself. For the first time in a day, he saw the wrinkles in his shirt, the dark stains on his jeans, his untied boots. He wasn't even wearing a coat anymore, had no clue where or when he'd lost his. The cold November air ripped through him, finally penetrating him and making him shiver slightly in response.

She breathed in deeply before giving voice to another truth, one she wasn't sure how he would take. "Now I'm seeing you at yours." For the first time since she'd come across him, her eyes met his. She was amazed when he allowed her to hold the gaze and had to swallow a sharp gasp at the pain she saw swirling within the depth of his eyes. It appeared to be endless.

"True again." All he could do was admit it. Hadn't he slept on a park bench somewhere last night? With the amount of liquor in his system he hadn't even felt the cold. Or maybe he'd still been in possession of his coat then. He couldn't recall. Yeah, definitely not one of his finer moments. Hell, he was such an unspeakable mess.

A little sigh blew past her lips. Life hadn't always been easy. Not for him and certainly not for her. And she hated the dead look to his eyes, the ones that used to sparkle with such humor and life. She took a deep breath before admitting softly, "I made it much harder on myself than I needed it to be."

"I suppose you're saying I'm doing the same thing?" He may have been hung over; with the left-over remnants of his liquor diet still moving sluggishly through his veins, but his mental capacities were starting to fire on all cylinders again.

She rolled a slim shoulder, her sapphire blue eyes never leaving his. "If you think so."

He gave a short bark of laughter and shook his head, amused despite himself. "Playing the shrink now?"

Some of her concern drained away when she heard a spark of amusement in his voice. A small smile traipsed across her lips. "No. I wouldn't dream of it. Not with you."

At that moment, a beam of moonlight cut through the dark clouds, illuminating a thin patch of water. It was small and wasn't as vibrant as it could have been. But it was still there, dancing across the gently rolling water. He found it oddly reassuring, the first sign of comfort he'd had since Nicole had told him about her and Eric and what she really wanted out of life. Clearing his throat, he admitted lowly, starting to feel the overwhelming shame of the wreckage of his life, "My grandfather fired me."

Her eyebrows rose, shocked to the core. Paul hadn't told her this. Everything was starting to make more sense to her. "Oh. My."

"And he kicked me out of the mansion." He delivered the statement matter-of-factly, unwilling to give life to the pain Victor's decision had caused him. And the pity of it was that he couldn't blame his grandfather. No, it was his fault. He'd been acting like a first rate ass. "Two days ago."

Damn, it was even worse than she'd expected it to be. "Brady," she murmured softly, her heart breaking for the pain he was running away from. Running away didn't get you anywhere. She was living proof of that. All it got you was heartache. Nothing more; nothing less. She let out a small sigh, hoping, just hoping that he'd be able to see the light. If not all, at least a little bit. She didn't want him drowning in the grim darkness that was vice.

"My life sucks right now. Absolutely, positively sucks." Hooking a thumb into the front pocket of his pants, he nodded towards the water. "That peace you were just talking about? I'd love to find some right about now."

"Well." Chloe could have lectured him; could have told him to stop drinking and get his act together, for his own well-being and for his son. But that wouldn't get her anywhere with him. Not yet. He wasn't ready for logic and he most definitely wouldn't respond to any sort of a lecture. But she could offer some help. He wasn't voicing it; certainly would never have come right and asked for help. That simply wasn't Brady Black, sober or not sober. "I don't know if I can give you any peace but I can give you a place to spend the night. That is, if you don't already have a better place to stay," she added in a way to assuage his wounded pride.

At the moment all he had were the clothes on his back and eighteen dollars in crumpled bills in his back pocket. He didn't have a clue where his wallet, his cell or his keys had ended up during his drunken binge of the past two days. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing he'd lost his keys, he realized with a philosophical shrug. He definitely was in no condition to drive. With a glimmer of the old Brady finally shining through, he admitted, straight-faced, "I don't know, Chloe. Do you think anything can beat the park bench I slept on last night?"

Her eyes lit up with a curious mixture of both pity and humor. Finding it hopeful that he was attempting to joke over his current situation, she put a hand on his elbow and tugged him forward. Amazingly, he followed along, just like a child would. "Come along, Brady. My car's this way."

He allowed her to lead him away, thoughts of the destruction of his life dogging each and every step he took. Pausing at the base of the steps, he tossed one last glance at the water sparkling in the brief shaft of moonlight. His life may be in shreds but it was still his life. He'd be damned before he let anyone or anything screw it up even more. Finally finding some of that peace she'd been talking about, or maybe it was more of a return of the steely determination that normally drove him, he gave a curt nod of gratitude in the direction of the pier and decided that it was time, past time, to get himself back on track.