"Nice nail polish," Lori said, grinning as she flung herself onto the couch next to Merton. Never mind evil alien boybands, Lori couldn't let the night pass without _some_ comment about Merton's current attire. A good friend knew when to tease, and this was certainly one of those times.
Merton shifted on the couch in order to face Lori. "You think?" he said with a critical lilt to his voice. He lifted his hand and studied his gleaming nails with thoughtfully pursed lips. Lori absently noted that Merton's lipstick made his pout seem kind of--really--cute. "I was leaning towards a dashing coat of Cha-Ching Cherry--but I thought that might give off the wrong sort of impression."
Lori burst out laughing. Merton glared at her with all the affronted dignity he could muster which only made Lori's shoulders shake harder. "Merton," Lori gasped, "Merton, you're wearing a leopard-print skirt. You can't make much more of an--impression than that."
"Are you casting aspersions on my honour?" Merton demanded indignantly. "Besmirching the Dingle name? Implying that I--_I_--lack a sense of style?" He sniffed. "I'll have you know that I've won the Gothic Fantasy Guild's Best Dressed Goth award for three years running."
Lori straightened her shoulders and wiped the smirk from her face. "I'd _never_," she vowed solemnly. Her lips quivered a moment later. "The Gothic Fantasy Guild gives out fashion awards? How very--"
"Ah, ah!" Merton cut in, holding out his hands in warning, "not a word. Those were dark, dark years in the Guild's history." He shook his head mournfully before looking at Lori from under his lashes. "Be a good girl, and I'll show you my trophies later."
Lori rolled her eyes; when had Merton ever given up on an opportunity to gloat over success in anything? That tendency wasn't as annoying as it had once been. Merton was a contradictory mix of insecurity and towering arrogance, of cowardice and startling determination--and Lori doubted that any other boy in her acquaintance could have carried off Merton's plan without at least a twinge of embarrassment.
"You actually look sorta--nice," Lori said, smiling again but not so amused as she had been.
Merton ducked his head, all false modesty. "I know," he said. "What can I say? Merton J. Dingle has a certain--panache, no matter what the situation." He paused and drew his eyebrows together thoughtfully. "And Tim hit on me--although I'm not sure whether that's an argument for or against tonight's ensemble."
"Against," Lori said firmly, "definitely against."
Lori could see the speech brewing at Merton's lips. She scooted closer to him before he launched his retort and grabbed his hand. Lori shivered when the edges of Merton's false nails scrapped against her pulse. She'd never worn her nails that long; she'd never really been interested in 'girly' stuff like dressing-up and makeup but right now she wondered what they felt like to Merton.
"You did a really good job on these," Lori said, testing Merton's nails with the pad of her thumb.
Merton cleared his throat and caught himself mid-squirm. "It's not exactly brain surgery, Lori," he said with exaggerated patience. Merton flashed a grin a second later, "and I _am_ a genius, you know."
"So you've said," Lori said. "You are aware, of course, that if I weren't such a kind person, I'd have to mock you mercilessly about this for weeks to come." Not, she admitted, that she really felt like teasing Merton about his makeup; especially not since she found it so oddly--appealing--herself.
"Ah," Merton breathed with the air of someone making a grand discovery, "do I perchance sense a moment of weakness?"
"I'll show you weakness," she growled. Lori released Merton's hand long enough to bat the side of his head. Merton yelped and ducked with perfect timing; Lori's hand barely grazed the tips of his spiked hair, still slightly wilted from the blonde wig he'd worn earlier.
If she turned her head slightly, Lori could make out the wig. It lay tangled on Merton's desk where he'd dropped it earlier, almost completely covering his purse. Lori was suddenly disappointed that she hadn't had the chance to see the full effect of Merton's disguise. For all that some people said that Merton was a wimp; for all that he yelped and squeaked and squealed, Lori had never really thought of Merton as feminine.
Still though, it was--interesting--that a little bit of makeup was helping Lori see all sorts of things she hadn't really noticed before: like the fact that Merton had really nice eyes; and that his mouth made all sorts of interesting shapes as he spoke. His lips were shiny and--
Lori shook her head roughly. She was obviously more tired that she'd realized, because there was no way would that she be thinking like this if she were in full possession of her faculties. She should have followed Tommy's lead and left for home hours ago. She should be leaving now. She should, except:
"How does it feel?" Lori asked.
Merton blinked in surprise and Lori wondered how long they had been sitting as silence as her thoughts roamed. "What? The nails?" Merton asked. "Weird, but," he brought his hands up and curled them into claws before his face, "strangely empowering." He set a snarl into place and rrrRRow-ed deep in his throat. "Bet I could even take TnT out with these babies."
"I wouldn't suggest it," Lori said firmly.
Merton sighed mournfully. "I suppose not. I'll just have to rely on you to defend my person." Merton lifted his eyebrows in what Lori had come to realize was his meaningful-(but-not-really-serious) expression. Merton rounded his eyes earnestly. "You will defend my person, won't you Lori? To think of the loss the world would experience if anything were to happen to this body!"
"Defending you would be a full time job," Lori said--from everyday bullies to the weird monsters that constantly popped up in Pleasantville, Merton was almost constantly in some sort of trouble or other. "I don't know if I'm up to the task."
"But think of the fringe benefits," Merton said winningly.
Merton made a small, disbelieving sound. "How about hours spent in my sparkling presence? Constant access to my scintillating self?" Merton looked at Lori expectantly. "My undying gratitude?"
"Speaking of which--" Lori said, hiking her eyebrows up.
Merton waved her off, a pale hand and slashing nails. "Yes, yes, thank you for keeping me from being launched into the sun by an evil lizard alien boyband--who, by the way, would never have gotten their scaly hands on me if you and Tommy had listened to me in the first place." Merton shook his head with slow deliberateness. "You'd think that after all this time, you'd listen to me when I tell that you something weird was going on. But _no_--"
"If we had listened, you would have missed your chance to play dress-up," Lori cut in before Merton could launch into a full-fledged lecture. Merton could chide, reproach and reprimand with the best; usually testing the limits of the human vocal range in the process.
Merton opened his mouth, blinked, and clamped his lips back together with an audible clink of teeth. He shook his head a minute later. "You'd think you had never seen a guy in a dress before, the way you're going on about it," Merton finally said. "What _is_ the fascination?"
Lori reared back and crossed her arms before her chest. "I'm not fascinated--" Okay, maybe just a _bit_, not that Merton needed to know about it. A good night's sleep, Lori decided, and she'd be back to normal and Merton would just be an odd, hyper friend and not--not whatever it was that he was now.
"It's the lipstick, isn't it?" Merton spoke over Lori's heated denial. "Or the eye-shadow--it really does bring my eyes out, doesn't it? I can't blame you for being envious, I suppose; not just anyone can look as good as I do."
"I'm--" Lori stopped and stared at Merton. "_Excuse me_? Did you say envious? Envious?!" Merton's expression was set in perfect seriousness, but his eyes were shining with good humour. He yelped as Lori launched herself at him, knocking Merton back against the arm of the couch. She dug both of her hands into the feathery collar of Merton's sweater and held him in place. "Would you mind repeating that, Dingle?"
Merton squeaked. "I do believe that I would."
"That's what I figured," Lori said.
Merton squirmed beneath Lori's weight. "Good thing Becky doesn't want her sweater back," Merton said. He tapped a long nail against Lori's knuckles, still buried in feathery black fluff. When she didn't move, Merton peered up at her from beneath his lashes. "Lori? You can let go now. I'm properly cowed." Heat was building in his cheeks.
This close, Lori could see where the lipstick had smudged at the corner of Merton's mouth. She could see the heavy overlay of mascara on his lashes and smell the faintly sweet perfume he wore. And yeah, Lori thought, TnT would try to beat Merton into next week if they ever found out about this; and she was just as absolutely certain of the fact that she wouldn't let them lay a single finger on him.
"Lori?" Merton's voice cracked nervously. "What--"
"Unless you're planning on talking me out of this, Merton--shut up," Lori said.
The muffled squeak Merton made when Lori pressed her lips to his was really quite satisfying, Lori decided. Merton's lips were waxy and slippery, weird but not and God, Lori thought, this was crazy but she wasn't stopping. Lori shuddered and pulled back when Merton's nails dragged against the small of her back.
His face was red and his eyes were huge. They stared at each other for a long moment before a goofy grin burst to life on Merton's face. "Cha _ching_," he breathed.
She'd have to hit him for _that_ one, Lori decided. Later.
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