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Weather Every Storm

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Their relationship had always been tumultuous. Leo, though, had always believed in them, passionately. Riario had never shared his deep conviction, but he'd let himself fall in love – or so Leo believed – and one day he moved in, and Leo thought that settled the matter.

Leo's friends had always had their doubts. Zo said it wouldn't last, and Leo knew he hoped it wouldn't, but he never pressed the matter, because Zo was really looking out for Leo and trying to make sure he didn't get hurt. Nico and Vanessa were more accepting, though still wary of Riario. He wasn't one of them, didn't share their bond, their background.

It didn't matter. Leo was confident that, in time, Riario would be part of the group as he was so very much part of Leo.

They'd already overcome so many obstacles. While Leo had always known he was bisexual, long before he knew the words to describe his feelings, Riario was a different story. It had been difficult for him to put aside years of an upbringing that said being gay was a sin, a crime against nature. He clung to the notion that he was still attracted to women, that Leonardo was an exception; Leo, his beloved artist, the only person he had ever truly cared about.

They fought often, but there was always passion beneath the fury. Harsh kisses led to make-up sex and soft apologies; the consequences were always pleasurable.

Until the day they had a fight that got out of control. Not passionate or fiery but cold and sharp like a knife.

Riario left. Packed a bag, walked out and didn't come back. Not that night. Nor the next.

After Leo made a hundred phone calls and left innumerable text messages, Riario finally called him back. "It's over."

"No. Let me explain," Leo said, though he couldn't quite remember how the fight had started, didn't know why it had been the last straw for Riario, or what he could possibly explain that would make things better. "Let me make it up to you. Let's talk about this."

"Our relationship is over," Riario said, as callous as if he were telling a persistent telesales operator he did not want to buy double glazing. "I cannot make it any clearer."

Leo blinked back tears. "I love you."

Riario was silent for a long moment. "Take care, Leonardo." He hung up. Leo thought he'd sounded upset, but couldn't swear he hadn't imagined it. He wanted Riario to be upset. He wanted him to hurt the way he was hurting. He tossed the phone aside, hearing it land somewhere across the room.

Leo sank to the floor and hugged his knees, sorrow overtaking his anger. No, he didn't want Riario to hurt. He still loved him. He didn't want him to suffer. He wanted him back.

*

Twenty days without contact, Zo said. He'd read it in a Sunday newspaper supplement, something about How To (Mostly) Painlessly Break Up With A Lover. No phone calls, no Facebook, nothing. Twenty days to break the cycle, to begin to let go of the relationship.

Leo didn't want to let go. He didn't believe it was possible. He didn't phone or text though, and he didn't post to Facebook, though he kept an eye on it.

It was hell.

He slept little. Flung himself into a new painting, something non-commissioned and that would likely never sell, a piece that was all dark lines and rough splashes of colour, something primal and angry and quite unlike his usual work.

The twenty days crawled by and Leo still felt Riario's absence like a missing tooth, an aching gap surrounded by raw flesh that he kept unintentionally poking at it.

It was day twenty-one when Leo saw Riario's employment status had changed to "unemployed". Leo promptly left a message – sorry, I know how important your job was, please call me, I'm still here for you - and additionally sent a text to his phone.

When those went unanswered, he sent another text. Then left a voicemail.

"What happened? Talk to me! Please."

There was no answer to that. nor other ten messages he sent.

"You broke up. Give him his space," Zo said.

Leo didn't think he could survive another day, let alone a further twenty, without contacting Riario. Nonetheless, he tried. He didn't send any more messages. He threw a cloth over the painting and went out to a business meeting about a new commission. His life would go on without Riario in it, or so he told himself.

When the phone rang at 2am, two days later, Leo, who hadn't gone to bed yet, answered immediately. He expected it to be a drunken Zo needed to be fetched from a pub or a police station. Not a hospital administrator calling Riario's emergency contact.

*

"Leo!" Vanessa was wearing a long coat over what looked like pyjamas. She embraced him and Leo let her hold him. Her hair smelt like lavender, a welcome counterpoint to the antiseptic and the scent of death he imagined lingering in the hospital hallways.

Nico had driven her, and, while he was fully dressed, his hair was mussed up. A few minutes later Zo arrived, looking like he hadn't been to bed – quite likely the case.

"What happened?" Zo demanded. Vanessa released Leo and he began to pace, rubbing at the back of his head with one hand.

"Someone from his work went round to collect a file or some keys, I don't know. The door was open, I think. They found him unconscious. He cut his wrists, well one of them certainly, and it's bad, he's lost a lot of blood." Leo's fingers danced in the air, as if playing an invisible instrument. "I wanted to give blood but they said there was no need, but I really wanted to…"

Nico caught at his sleeve and Leo stopped. He swallowed. "I can't lose him."

Vanessa bit at her lip. "Leo."

"He's not your problem or your responsibility any more," Zo reminded him. "You two broke up."

Nico gave him an exasperated look, which Zo ignored. Leo blinked away tears. "Maybe it's my fault."

No, no, his friends said, rushing to reassure him, Nico's hand on his shoulder, Vanessa trying to hug him again, Zo muttering about how this was all Riario's fault, selfish bastard.

Vanessa glared over her shoulder. "Go and get us coffee," she ordered. Zo went, chastened.

"It's not supposed to end this way," Leo said. "I thought he just needed some space. When I found out he lost his job I tried to contact him. I never thought for one minute he'd try something like this. He's so strong-willed."

Too strong-willed? Inflexible, unable to adapt. Broken.

He looked at the clock, the second hand slicing time into precious fragments. "They said it could take be a while. Before we know." He didn't have to clarify further.

Vanessa kissed his cheek. Nico squeezed his shoulder again. "We'll wait with you," Nico promised.

It was the longest night of Leo's life. By the time someone came to reassure Leo that Riario was out of danger, he was exhausted, eyes bloodshot and burning. He mumbled something, maybe a thank you. He wanted to see Riario and tried to make this desire known, but maybe he looked too wild and unkempt to be allowed, because it didn't happen. Instead, somehow he must have let Nico take him home, because without Leo remembering the journey, they were home – though it hadn't felt like home since Riario moved out.

"You can see him tomorrow," Nico soothed, leading Leo to the bedroom. "He's still unconscious. He wouldn't know you were there anyway."

Leo wanted to argue, to cite papers that said the unconscious and even comatose were often aware of their surroundings. He wanted to say it was already tomorrow, and what difference would a few hours make anyway. But he was too tired and his brain had become disconnected from his tongue.

"He'll be all right," Nico said.

Leo wasn't fully reassured, nor was it enough for Riario to be merely alive. He needed Riario back in his life, back in this bed. He gave a sob, and Nico sat next to him, holding his hand, letting Leo lean on his shoulder until exhaustion finally claimed him and he slept.

*

The nurse was polite but firm, blocking Leo's path. He frowned, finding it hard to accept what she was saying.

"I'm his boyfriend." Riario always hated the term but Leo wasn't about to beat around the bush for a suitable term of endearment. "I'm his emergency contact," he reminded her. "You called me." And now Riario was awake Leo wanted, needed, to see him.

"Yes, I know," she repeated, with infinite patience. "But this isn't my decision. He doesn't want to see you."

The floor ought to open up and swallow him, Leo thought, suddenly distracted by the lines of the tiles, the colour coded route marks painted along the edges, the way the fluorescents lit up the corridor. Not to be eaten up out of shame but because it was something that would happen in a nightmare, and if this was a dream then he'd wake up, because after everything he'd already been through this dismissal was the worst of all.

"I love him." It was a stupid thing to say but nothing else came to mind.

She gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry."

"Can you…can you tell him I was here. And that I want to see him? And, and tell him that I love him. Can you tell him?"

She gave him a sympathetic smile. "If he changes his mind, I'll call you."

Leo walked out on autopilot and down three streets until he realised he didn't really know where he was, and that he'd left his car back at the hospital.

*

He left voicemails. Some he deleted, some he let go through. Lots of "I'm sorry" and "Please" and "For fuck's sake!" Some "Just send me a text, even" and "I need to see you". One "I love you, I still love you, damn you!" that ended up with him hanging up in tears.

He could barely sleep. He tried to work, but he was unable to stop thinking about Riario and, after he snapped a paintbrush, he gave up, wiped off his hands, and tried to find something to eat. He'd missed at least two meals he was aware of, and even though he still wasn't really hungry, he knew he had to eat something. As he hadn't been shopping for a while, he was reduced to forcing down a yoghurt that was one of the few things left in the fridge.

In the finish, Leo went back to the hospital, determined to see Riario come hell or high water.

"You didn't hear?" the nurse asked, interrupting Leo's brilliant argument of why he ought to be allowed to see Riario whether the stubborn bastard wanted him there or not (plan b involved setting off a door alarm, or possibly the sprinklers, and sneaking in during the confusion).

"Hear what?" Leo said, time slowing down to a crawl as terrible, horrible, visions danced through his head. Delayed reaction to the blood loss, some sort of complication from the transfusion, another, more successful suicide attempt…Leo lived a dozen terrible scenarios that all ended up with him at Riario's funeral, usually having to stand outside on the pavement because the security guards hired by Riario's father wouldn't let him into the church.

Seeing his panic, she put a gentle hand on his arm, reassuring. "He left." The next question, and one she wouldn't answer, was where Riario would have gone. Leo, however had an idea how to find out.

Back at home, Leo paced the floors. Someone had to know where Riario had gone when he'd moved out. He made a phone call to Riario's previous place of employment, pretending to be a hospital employee asking to confirm a current address for their records and follow up appointments. It paid off. Riario had still been employed by them when he'd walked out, and had updated his details. Things were finally looking up.

*

Leo hadn't planned on what to say, too distracted to think as he followed, ignored, and swore at the GPS by turns. He was stunned to see the ancient terrace house, converted into two flats, the sort of old tenement that got pulled down to make way for "gentrification", replaced with loft apartments out of reach of most people's budgets. Loft apartment was what he'd expected, really. Riario had grown up privileged – abused mentally and physically by his father, but with money and education to spare – and never had he lived in squalor.

Leo parked up and took a deep breath before he got out and locked the car door. With trepidation he made his way to the front door, swallowed his nerves, and leaned on the doorbell.

What if Riario wasn't here? Maybe he'd gone somewhere else. Leo began imagining again. Riario might be shopping, or gone back to his father (surely not!), or to church. He might also be inside ignoring Leo, or, worse, dead or dying, or –

The door opened. Riario's brows drew together as he studied Leo, and he leaned on the door as if he might slam it. Leo surreptitiously slid one foot against the door jamb to prevent such a move.

Leo didn't forget faces, could never forget Riario's in any case. Yet seeing him again in the flesh, after fearing he might never lay eyes on his beloved again, sent a thrill through him as if he were seeing him for the first time. His blood hummed in his ears. Riario didn't look too bad all things considered. Pale, but then wasn't he always? A little skinnier than a few weeks ago when they'd split up, but he'd always been lean. Smudges of dark shadows were visible beneath his eyes, but hell, Leo looked worse than this after a couple of nights working on his artwork in lieu of sleep.

Riario didn't say a word. He lifted one hand to brush at his chin. His beard was a little fuller, more untidy. Leo didn't care. He wanted to touch it himself. He stuck his hands in his pockets to make himself behave.

Right. Say something. Anything.

"You left the hospital," Leo said accusingly and cursed himself inwardly. Shit, anything but that!

To his relief, Riario didn't slam the door. He lifted his chin somewhat in defiance. "Psychiatric hold is only 72 hours."

"You were unconscious for most of those!"

"Don't exaggerate."

Leo made a noise of frustration. "I just can't believe they let you go!" Some part of him whispered that what he meant was that he could not believe he, Leo, had let Riario go, at least without more a fight.

Riario shrugged. "I know what answers to give to satisfy nosy psychiatrists. I always know what to say," he said, eyes boring into Leo's, "except when it comes to you."

Unable to hold his gaze, Leo studied the doorstep instead – noticed a crack in the grey concrete, a tall weed growing up alongside the doorframe – and then back at Riario. "That's not what I meant. You almost died." If his voice sounded whiny and pathetic at least it wasn't another accusation.

"That was, at the time, the intention."

Leo stared at him and Riario sighed. "I'm all right. Besides, I couldn't stand another moment there. Much as I cannot bear another moment standing here talking to you." Riario turned, but he left the door open and, taking it as an invitation, Leo followed him inside. A shabby door closed off the stairs leading to an upstairs flat, while Riario had turned left into the lounge of his ground floor flat..

The room was small and sparsely, dreadfully, furnished. It made Leo's skin crawl and his eyes burn. A fake chimney breast with a tawdry electric heater jammed into the orifice caught his eye. He glanced down at the threadbare carpet on the creaky floor and his gaze was drawn to a place on the carpet that was conspicuously cleaner than the rest. He couldn't help but think this was where the blood had been – Riario's lifeblood slipping away – and that attempts to remove the evidence had only left another kind of reminder behind. He chewed at his lip, angry he hadn't thought to come here and clean up. (If there'd been plants or pets he'd have come here, of course he would, but Riario had neither; he didn't like attachments; that was Leo's job, and he'd failed at it, hadn't he, failed to love Riario enough to keep him at his side.)

The thought of Riario having spent his first hours back home – not that this place was home, and would never be if Leo had anything to say about it – on his knees, cleaning up his own blood, was a guilt inducing one.

Leo blinked, tried to focus on the rest of the dingy flat. A two seater sofa that had seen better days, and a glass coffee table, heavily scratched. There was a tiny kitchen and two doors that Leo guessed led to an equally drab bathroom and bedroom. Why hadn't Riario rented something better? He could have afforded it, before he lost his job.

Seeing his distress, Riario gave a sharp laugh. "I was in a hurry and I rented it furnished. Technically I cannot sue for false advertising."

"It's awful," Leo said with feeling. There was a faint smell of damp, the curtains would have looked outdated in the 60's, and the walls were painted some awful shade of beige. He briefly entertained the thought that if Riario hadn't been suicidal after losing his job, coming back to this hovel would certainly have pushed him over the edge.

Leo thought of their home, the renovated semi-detached that he'd put a huge deposit on after receiving a particularly good commission. It was full of his clutter, yes, but full of warmth too. Bright walls, french windows leading to a surprisingly well kept garden, plenty of paintings, the comfortable sofa, an entertainment centre, a dining table for when he invited all his friends over – even if they did mostly end up sitting on the chairs and floor of the lounge, the modern kitchen, the bathroom –

He lost a moment reminiscing about the large shower cubicle and all the times he and Riario had allegedly saved water by showering together, soaping each others' chest, one hand slipping down, lower, lower –

"You can't stay here," Leo said, blinking hard as he fought to stay present in the moment.

"I believe I can." Riario's eyes narrowed. "If you are going to attempt to incarcerate me –"

"No!" Not at all what had been on Leo's mind. "I just mean you can't possibly live here. I bet there are cockroaches who'd turn their nose up at this place! I insist you come home. I mean, come back with me to our – to the house." He gave a cry of frustration. "God, why didn't you at least get some of your furniture?" Leo stared at the curtains again, certain they were a crime against humanity.

"Our furniture?" Riario shrugged. He'd brought a few things with him when he'd moved in and they'd purchased other items together, fitting them in around Leo's haphazard interior décor. "I suppose I was trying to make a clean break."

Too damn proud, Leo thought, knowing if he'd been the one to walk out he'd almost certainly have done the same. That Riario hadn't even picked up the rest of his clothes though had fuelled Leo's belief that he hadn't moved out for good.

He stepped close to Riario. "Please. I will promise you whatever you want, but I won't leave you here alone, and I can't stay here. It's depressing as hell!"

Riario studied him for a long moment. He went to the furthest door and disappeared into the bedroom. Leo didn't follow but he caught a glimpse of the same beige walls and a really obnoxious bedspread, and gave a shudder. Riario reappeared with a leather holdall bearing his initials.

"One word of criticism and I'm coming back here," he warned.

Leo nodded, anxious to get into the fresh air.

*

Riario ordered pizza. In the past, Leo had often teased him about eating it, a dish in keeping with his heritage but not with his cultured image. Today there was no teasing, and furthermore Leo kept silent about the choice of toppings, discarding the pepperoni to one side without comment. They'd never really argued about food because he'd always refuted the claim that he was a picky vegetarian. He didn't care if there was meat in the house and he never even demanded vegetarian cheese. His philosophy was that he personally didn't eat anything with a face, but he wasn't one of those fundamentalist vegans who thought milk was cow abuse and that keeping a pet was animal slavery. And he loved his battered vintage leather jacket too much to part with it, and he could live with the accusation of hypocrisy.

Eating the pepperoni would be going too far, but he had no intention of making a fuss. If Riario was testing him, he intended to pass. One night without criticism, one night without fighting. He could do this.

When Riario fetched two beers from the fridge, Leo held his tongue. The transfusions should have made up for the blood loss, it would do no harm now, surely. Riario preferred wine, but in his absence, Leo hadn't fetched any from the cellar. Despite his faith that Riario would return, in many small ways he'd subconsciously tried to cut Riario out of his life too; Leo had refused to use the towels that Riario had brought when he'd moved in, had stuffed to the back of a drawer the shirt he'd had been wearing to the event that had culminated in their first sexual experience.

Riario leaned back on the comfy sofa, staring at the ceiling, where Leo had been painting a stylised representation of the zodiac. It hadn't been worked on for months, abandoned for other, more pressing, projects. Pisces was still only outlined, fins barely visible, while Gemini's twins were blank faced, their facial features yet to be added.

"Are you ever going to finish this?"

"When I get round to it." Cautiously, not wanting to spook him, Leo sat down on the floor next to Riario, needing to be close, wanting to touch him. He settled for pressing his shoulder against Riario's knee. With easy familiarity, Riario dropped his free hand onto Leo's shoulder. Leo bit his lip, overcome with conflicting emotions.

"I missed you," Riario said, so softly that Leo had to wonder if he'd heard him at all, and it wasn't just wishful imagining on his part. But Riario went on, with a harsh laugh, "I didn't want to. I tried to forget you, but you are unforgettable. Yet I couldn't just come back to you, the way you wish I had. I am not a man who easily forgives."

"I know."

A sigh. "I'm not sure any longer what it was I needed to forgive."

Leo licked at his lips. "We both just – we're too different, and too much the same, and we didn’t try hard enough to make ourselves fit together. You're inflexible, yes, -" Was that a criticism? It was, but he'd move on quickly, and maybe Riario would ignore the misstep. "But I'm arrogant and I treat people like toys."

"Toys?"

Vanessa had said that once, sick with the flu, feverish to the point of delirium and pissed off because Leo had promised to watch the pub for her until she felt better, only he'd got distracted, forgetting to open at all. "You treat people like toys, like we exist for your pleasure, for you to experiment with, or to sketch, and we're not! We're people and we have feelings and lives!"

She'd apologised later but Leo had taken her words to heart, nursing a small wound that would never heal. It ought to have been enough to keep him from making the same mistake with Riario. It had not been.

"I'm sorry," Leo said. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I know we fought about so many things and I know a lot of them were my fault and that I didn't listen when you tried to talk to me. I get distracted."

Riario laughed but it was softer, more genuine this time. "That's an understatement. You don't live in our world. You live in one of your own imagining. That's part of why I fell in love with you, that vision, that creativity. But it's hard to compete with, my darling artist."

Leo twisted his head to look up into Riario's eyes. "I don't want you to have to compete."

Riario gave a barely visible shrug. "What do you suggest?"

Leo clambered up next to him, sending the remote flying from beneath the sofa cushion – he'd been looking for that all day yesterday – and, kneeling alongside Riario, took one of his hands in both of his. Riario's skin was cool, if not cold, and Leo wanted to warm him both physically and emotionally. If only he could pour his feelings directly into Riario's flesh so that Riario could know the depth of love that Leo had for him.

Words would have to suffice.

"You promise to tell me when things are going wrong, when you need my full attention, and I promise I'll listen."

Riario took a swig of beer. "How long do you imagine that would last? Until you get knee deep in one of your projects, I expect. Or until there's something you can't fix by fucking me. Or until there's something I don't know how to talk about with you."

"We can try." Leo sat back on his heels, releasing his grip on Riario's hand. "I want to try."

Riario placed his empty bottle onto the arm of the sofa with the delicate grace that Leo had always admired in him. "My darling artist. In your greatest passion I've seen you throw wonderful artwork into the fire that people would have paid good money for. Our relationship is more flawed than those supposedly imperfect things you've so destroyed without a moment's hesitation."

Leo shook his head. "I start again. I never destroy without a plan to rebuild better than before." He gave a strangled sob. "You're the one who says I'm a hoarder. You should be glad I sometimes throw things away."

Riario lifted his hand to rub one knuckle across Leo's cheekbone. "Leonardo?"

Leo blinked away hot tears. "I'm still angry. I'm not the one who gave up or moved out. I still love you. I wanted you to come back and you didn't." He swallowed hard. "You almost died and I didn't know how I would live without you. I could never stop loving you the way you did me."

Riario closed his eyes briefly. "You're wrong. I haven't stopped loving you," he said, barely above a whisper. For now that would suffice, something to rebuild from.

"I know you don't want to talk about it," Leo said, using one knuckle to wipe any moisture from beneath his left eye. "Just tell me you're not going to do it again." He couldn't bring himself to say the word suicide and he didn't have to.

"I'm not. It was an impulsive act carried out in a temporary moment of despair."

It sounded like something he'd rehearsed for the psychiatrist but maybe it was true. Leo chose to believe him. The alternative was unthinkable. Besides, now Riario was home things would be better. He would have less to despair about. Leo would see to that.

*

Riario wanted to shower before bed and Leo didn't blame him for not having done so at the rented accommodation. There'd probably been a dozen kinds of mould lurking in the bathroom. To show willing, Leo tidied up the bedroom as much as he could, and even changed the bed sheets.

Only afterwards, stripping off his shirt and admiring his efforts, did it occur to him that Riario might prefer the guest bedroom. Which would mean a lot more cleaning up because a spare room or a clear surface was, to Leo's mind, just begging to be filled up with things, just as a sheet of paper ought to be filled with ideas.

He turned to find Riario in the doorway, a towel wrapped around his waist. He'd trimmed his beard back, which Leo approved of. The tousled dark hair dripped water slightly onto toned skin. The sight took Leo's breath away.

"Do you – I didn't know if you'd want to sleep with me, I mean in our bed, I mean this bed. I mean I can tidy the spare room. Oh, God." This last had nothing to do with sleeping arrangements and everything to do with catching sight of the stitches marring Riario's flesh.

Riario waited patiently until Leo seemed to have run out of words. "Help me bandage this," he said and Leo did as he was told. He might be the cause of many a crisis, as his friends often told him, but he had also got rather good at dealing with them, from putting out small fires to administering first aid.

Riario sat on the edge of the bed while Leo worked with equal parts care and efficiency. He went to return the first aid kit to the bathroom because despite what people thought of his organisational skills, Leo knew that certain things needed to be kept in places they could be found in case of emergency. When he returned, Riario had pulled on a T-shirt and shorts and climbed into bed. Which, good, Leo thought, swallowing unexpected nervousness.

He'd often thought that if Riario hadn't left that night, if they'd just come to bed and they'd fucked –just held each other, even – if he'd let Leo show him how much he loved him, then things would have gone differently.

Since then, he'd had fantasies of Riario showing up one night, sober and angry, or tipsy and affectionate, and they'd argue and the argument would turn to flirting and they'd end up in bed and in the morning it would all be fine again, as if Riario had never left.

This wasn't like his daydreams.

Leo undressed and climbed into bed. He turned off the lamp, plunging them into near darkness. His eyes began to adjust and he could make out Riario in the gloom, could hear and smell and sense him. Not a dream this time.

"Can I hold you?" Leo prayed fervently that the answer was yes, because if not he didn't know what he'd do. End up on the sofa downstairs, probably, because his arms ached almost as much as his heart did with the need to pull Riario close, and it would take more self-control than Leo possessed not to transgress if it were forbidden. He need not have worried.

"Of course." Riario's tone was gentle, and, Leo thought, tinged with a touch of amusement. Riario turned onto his side – away from him, so Leo could spoon. For a few minutes it was peaceful, perfect. Every fantasy paled into insignificance compared to the reality of Riario back in his life.

It didn't last long, for soon Leo wished that Riario had turned to face him, for he wanted Riario's mouth on his skin. He reined in his impatience as best he could. Be grateful that Riario was here at all, he told himself –alive, in this house, in this bed, in his arms.

"We can't pretend none of this happened," Riario said sleepily, as if he'd read Leo's thoughts.

"I know." But why not, he wanted to ask, countering, enough, Leo, just be thankful, ssh, sleep. It took a long time for him to relax fully, afraid he'd awake to an empty bed, an empty house, once more.

At last though he gave in and his dreams were joyful as they had not been in weeks, of flying as if he were a bird, soaring into the blue skies while Riario watched on indulgently, not yet ready to take Leo's hand and let himself be pulled up into the cloudless sky.

*

It took a moment for Leo to realise that Riario was next to him. This wasn't a dream. He pressed a kiss to Riario's neck. Riario mumbled something unintelligible. Leo stayed silent for a while, not wanting to fully wake his beloved without cause.

Riario yawned and said, sleepily, "Leo?"

Leo caressed Riario's neck and offered what he thought of as a celebratory breakfast. "Do you want pancakes?"

Riario squinted at him, disorientated. "What time is it?"

"Who cares? You don't have work and I work from home." Leo added, scrupulously honest for once, "Except I have a class later."

Riario pulled away and sat up, smoothing down his ruffled hair. Leo wanted to do it for him, but they were supposed to be taking things slow and Riario already looked vaguely uneasy. Leo ran his fingers through his own hair instead; it was getting long and if he wasn't going to get a trim he'd need to buy hair accessories to keep it tidy.

"Teaching or studying?" Riario asked.

"Teaching." Leo sat up, angling his body towards Riario, eager to drink in the familiar features once more. "Watercolours for beginners."

Riario stifled a laugh. "You'll be bored."

"No! I want to get people enthusiastic about art!" Leo put one hand one Riario's knee. "I can't be bored when there's so much to be excited about." He changed the subject. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes." That seemed to be a surprise to Riario. "I can't believe I'm back here." He looked at the bandage on his arm and Leo swallowed a stab of pain.

He squeezed Riario's knee. "You don't regret staying here?"

"No. But Leonardo, I meant it. We can't pretend the break up didn't happen. That – this – didn't happen." He ran his fingers over the white linen.

Leo nodded. "I've been thinking about that."

"While you were asleep?"

Cynical bastard. It made Leo smile to have the Riario he knew back. "I do some of my best thinking then."

"That explains a lot."

Leo took the risk, cupping Riario's chin and pressing a kiss to one cheek. "I missed you."

"Leonardo." Riario fixed him with a stern gaze. "What were you thinking about?"

He released Riario and sat back on his heels. "Maybe you should go to therapy."

Riario was out of bed like he'd just found a tarantula in there. Leo bounded across the bed, almost falling onto the floor. "Wait!"

"No," Riario said, and it was no to the therapy and probably no to the request too. He picked up his shirt and Leo stabbed one finger in the direction of the wardrobe.

"Get a clean one!"

Riario tossed the shirt aside and stormed over the wardrobe, rifling through neatly folded t-shirts until he found one he wanted. Leo watched him browse through the hanging garments to choose a shirt, while putting himself between Riario and the bedroom door.

"You think talking to some professional with an agenda will solve anything?" Riario hissed, fumbling with his buttons. "You think I didn't have enough of that already, pasting on a smile so the asshole with the clipboard didn't lock me away for the foreseeable future? You want me drugged and insensible? Compliant – you'd like that!"

"No!" But Leo knew Riario was not really listening, probably didn't even mean half of what he was saying. It was rare he lost his temper like this, and it was usually better to let him rant and stay out of his way until he calmed down. That wasn't an option right now.

"I don't want a stranger prying into my personal life. Into our lives!" Riario had missed a button in his anger and he let out a cry of frustration. It took every ounce of his limited self control for Leo to stay put and not move to help him, to undo the buttons with a gentle hand and rebutton them in the right order.

Riario leaned back against the wardrobe, temporarily defeated. His tone was bitter when he found his voice again. "Last night felt like normality. Like a life worth living. That was what I needed. Not more sessions with some patronising social worker. Do you think you get beer and pizza and conjugal visits in the mental ward, Leonardo? Because you don't. And I swear to God, I would truly rather be dead than incarcerated, and if you put me away, then I will have nothing left to do but find a more effective way of killing myself."

Leo swallowed. Riario only swore "To God" when he meant something. He blinked away unbidden tears. Riario had fallen silent. It was Leo's turn to talk. He needed to reassure Riario but he wasn't sure he had the right words.

"That's not what I want. Any of that." He tucked a strand of his hair behind his ear. "I didn't mean some psychiatrist asshole with a clipboard. I just thought if you had someone to talk to it might help. And I want that person to be me, but I think I'm part of the problem. So at least for now…" He spread his hands.

Riario regarded him suspiciously, calmer now. "When did you start being reasonable?" he asked. "Usually we fight until we fuck and you hope I have forgotten what we were fighting about." Not that he did, but he'd pretend to, and that had been enough, for a time.

Leo took a step forward. "I'm trying to do better. But if you don't want…Vanessa."

Riario straightened up, unbuttoning his shirt. "I don't want Vanessa?" he asked, puzzled.

"No. I was thinking. She is a bartender. It's practically in her job description." Leo grinned, excited by his fantastic idea. "You should go see her. Talk to her."

Riario sighed. "Will it make you happy?" And stop bothering me further was clearly implied.

"Very much."

Riario beckoned him forwards and kissed him on one cheek. "Then I shall." Then, as Leo's hand roamed beneath the open shirt, "Stop. Go and take a shower."

Leo, once again, did as he was told. Obedience was difficult but he was trying his best.