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a million tired things that you used to say

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"You moved," Cole says.

Ivan thinks about nodding, but he doesn’t. He thinks about going and getting a towel to clean him and Cole off. He doesn’t do that either. He thinks about running out of the door of his own home so he doesn’t ever have to look Cole in the face again. He doesn’t do that, but he wants to.

“Needed a change of scenery,” he says finally, staring resolutely up at the ceiling. Cole is lying on his side, facing him.

“Me too,” Cole says, that ever-present laughter in his voice, and that’s what makes Ivan sit up abruptly. That fucking laughter.

He can’t look at his own reflection in the mirror. He wants to be sick. He feels like such a fucking idiot.

Back to the bedroom again. He forgot the towel, but Cole doesn’t seem to care.

“So,” Ivan says, words careful and clipped, “how long are you staying?”

“I, uh. I didn’t book a flight back,” Cole says. He sounds slightly hesitant. Good.

“You should,” Ivan tells him, and then he rolls onto his side, away from Cole. He shuts his eyes.

Cole doesn’t say anything, but then he wouldn’t, would he? It was always Ivan who did the talking.

After a few long minutes, Ivan hears rustling, and the creak of the bed as Cole gets up. He listens as Cole gets dressed and walks out of the room. When the front door opens, then closes, he lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

Cole is waiting outside the door to the dance studio the next afternoon.

“Ivan,” he says quietly, as though that’s supposed to make Ivan look at him. As though it’s enough to make him care.

Ivan pushes past him to unlock the door.

“I have work,” he says, and then he slips inside before Cole can respond.

Becoming a dance instructor had been almost a whim. Peter and Peter had suggested it before they’d returned to Florida.

“Think about it,” mustachio-ed Peter had said. “Think about what makes you feel like life will go on.”

And he had. He’d thought about it for a long time, and then sat on his thoughts for even longer, until Jury told him that the next time he showed up at the gallery with a painting she’d have to send it back with him.

It was the gentlest form of firing he’d ever experienced.

“Not forever,” she’d said, “just until you give yourself time to process. You need it.”

He had needed it.

Cole’s still there when Ivan finishes his class. He doesn’t say anything as Ivan locks up, and it’s a relief.

Ivan leans against the locked door and looks at him, this man who reminds him of the worst moments of his life. The man who was there for almost all of those moments.

They run through his head sometimes. A slideshow of every time Christian wrapped his hands around Ivan’s throat. Clip after clip, like some heavy-handed Powerpoint made by a tiring film student.

Cole had pulled Christian off, the last time, kept him off while Ivan had cowered uselessly.

It’s that memory that makes Ivan glance at Cole for half a second before he starts to walk away.

“Let’s get a drink,” he says, and he doesn’t check to see if Cole is following him.

It had actually started as a capoeira class, the dancing. He’d seen an ad, and dance-fighting sounded as useful as anything else, so he’d gone to all of two classes before freezing and curling into a ball when one of the other students touched him. It wasn’t even the touch that had done it, just the idea of fighting back at some point. He could barely make eye contact with his own art dealer.

Capoeira had been too much, but the Latin dance class two months later had been easier. He’d fallen into it after that, taking another class at the studio, and then teaching a class when the instructor had food poisoning. Then getting his own.

It was easy, and hot, and he liked the control. He liked the idea of being able to know what people said with their bodies.

“I moved out,” Cole says. They’re sitting at a cafe. Ivan is folding a napkin into equal quarters.

“He - he started hitting me. He thought we were meeting up, somehow, or that I was going out to find another - another man. So I left.”

“I’m glad,” Ivan says tonelessly. He’s folding the napkin into twelfths. Maybe sixteenths?

“I moved back to Texas,” Cole says after a moment.

Ivan nods, looking at the napkin, which is growing too small to easily manipulate.

“I missed you,” Cole says, “but I wasn’t ready. I never thought -“

“What,” Ivan says, looking up, “never thought you’d fall in love with a man? How tragic.”

“Ivan, I’m trying -“

“You’re trying,” Ivan says, and he can’t keep a laugh from clawing its way out of his throat. “I had to move out of my house because everywhere I looked I could see your brother threatening to kill me, but you’re trying.”

Cole looks at him, jaw working.

“I’m sorry,” he says finally, “but that wasn’t me. I’m sorry I wasn’t ready, but it’s not fair to blame me for what Christian did.”

“Life isn’t fair,” Ivan says quietly. “I let your brother put his dick in my mouth because it was so fucking lonely, being with you. I thought I was going crazy. The way you treated me wasn’t fair, Cole. So I’m sorry that he hit you, I’m sorry you had to face reality like everyone else. But I don’t owe you anything you didn’t already have a chance to get.”

He stands up, pulls some cash out of his pocket and puts it on the table.

“Take a taxi to the airport, and take the first flight out of here,” he says. “Whatever this was, whatever you wanted it to be - it’s not happening. We’re done.”

Cole looks at him blankly. He looks so fucking young.

“I deserve better,” Ivan says, and he’s almost at the point where he believes it.

He doesn’t look back as he leaves. He doesn’t need to.