“Len, come on…come sit down and have a drink,” Ray said, reaching out to take the other man by the arm, gentle but firm, in an attempt to lead him away from the coat rack he was abusing by nearly knocking it over when he threw his parka at it.
It was actually really unexpected, when it happened. At this point, after nearly five years, Len was much more used to and tolerant of Ray’s touch and Ray had gotten better with recognizing boundaries and where the lines were and when those lines were more solid than usual. Not really with anyone else, but definitely with Len.
So Ray was blindsided for more than one reason when he felt the sudden, dull-edging-on-sharp pain in his mouth and cheek. He hadn’t been ready for it and had actually staggered backward, only saved from the floor by Len’s favorite recliner being readily available for a sudden grab and clutch moment.
There were still the occasional shoves sometimes, though they were weak and far between and mostly in rejection of unwanted hugs, and once in a while Len still took pointed hold of his wrist and removed Ray’s hand from his arm or shoulder. But, Len hadn’t hit him since…well since a little before they had gotten together almost five years ago.
Their anniversary would be in another two months.
Ray stared at the floor for a moment, getting his bearings, shocked, and reached a hand up to his lip. Drew away with blood on his fingers.
Looking up at Len, he saw the man standing there frozen and wide-eyed, a look of dumbfounded horror on his face.
Their eyes met and Len’s were wet.
“I-I’m sorry…Ray, I’m…I’m so sorry, I didn’t–” he cut himself off from whatever he was going to say, his voice was weak and desperate, a tone Ray wasn’t accustomed to from him.
It seemed like all Ray did was blink and suddenly Len was there in front of him, reaching out to touch, first to try to help Ray up off of the odd way he was sitting on the recliner’s arm but the motion was quickly aborted, Len jerking his hands back toward himself as if Ray were surrounded by a barrier of fire.
Then to Ray’s face, reaching for the wounded areas, but aborting that motion, too, as if that invisible fire was still creating a force field around Ray.
“I’m so sorry…” he whispered again, knowing he shouldn’t be saying that because isn’t that what so many abusers said to their significant others? Their girlfriends, their boyfriends, their spouses? Their kids? They were so sorry, they loved you so much, they would never do it again. Until the next time when they did do it again. And the next time. And the next time.
He was horrified when he’d nearly made an excuse, horrified again when his third apology was almost followed with a “but,” as if there was any way to justify what he had just done. There was no excuse for that.
And there was no excuse for this manipulative behavior. It didn’t matter if he was trying to be manipulative or not, that’s what it was, wasn’t it? He shouldn’t be apologizing, he shouldn’t be begging forgiveness, he shouldn’t be trying to touch Ray, he had no right. No goddamn right.
Clearly, he’d touched Ray enough. His lip was bloody and starting to swell, his cheek was starting to bruise.
And this wasn’t fair, either. This reaction he was having. This wasn’t fair to Ray. This was manipulative, too. Wasn’t this also what abusers did? Make it all about themselves. Here he’d just hit his boyfriend, his fiance, and Len was the one freaking out. He was standing here concerned about what this made him, what this said about him, whether the apple really hadn’t fallen far from the tree, after all.
Rotting apples from dead trees.
“No, I…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…I should have known…” Ray stumbled over his words, but they were genuine and they broke Len’s heart even further because oh god he’d seen this scene play out many times as a kid. Between his parents.
His knuckles were red; raw and bloody.
“No…no, Ray, no…you…you didn’t do anything wrong. Even if you walked up and gave me full-bodied hug right then that doesn’t…that’s no reason for me to…to do this. Don’t you ever…ever say you’re sorry for when I–” and he had to cut himself off again because that sounded like he was anticipating that this would happen again.
Would it? Was he already preparing for next time?
Blood on his knuckles.
“You weren’t thinking…you didn’t mean to, Len…” Ray’s voice was soft and his eyes were concerned and Len felt like choking on air.
“Stop it. Stop making excuses for me. Don’t…don’t ever…” and this time he trailed off instead of cutting himself off because this was surreal and nightmarish.
How he wished this was just a nightmare.
And again making it about him. Why couldn’t he do the right goddamn thing?!
What was the right thing?
“Tell me what you need,” Len said, not sure that was the right answer, either, but he genuinely wanted to do anything Ray needed right now. If he needed Len to say something, to do something…anything at all. He’d go track down whatever kid bullied Ray at the third grade science fair if that’s what Ray said would be a start to…to fixing what he’d just broken.
“A hug…?” Ray asked, tentative, worried that it was the wrong thing to ask for. Touching had caused this in the first place. If Len hadn’t been of the right mood to be touched earlier, he certainly wasn’t now, right?
“That’s…yeah, honey, of course. Of course you can have a hug, baby,” Len wasn’t a liberal user of pet names, but there were occasions, usually emotionally-charged ones – although they were usually that for happy or sexy reasons, not something like this, never something like this until now – when he would use them.
Was that the wrong thing to do, too? More abuser manipulation?
God, he was a horrible person.
And again with the making it about him.
Still, Ray had asked for a hug and he was shocked that his boyfriend even wanted him to touch him right now but he came forward again, slowly as if approaching a skittish horse, and wrapped his arms around Ray, pressed up close and practically wrapped his whole body around Ray.
“No matter what you did, you didn’t deserve to be hit, alright? I don’t care what boundary you miss or forget about, I have no right to hit you. You don’t deserve it. It’s not your fault, it’s my fault,” Len said into Ray’s shoulder as he held him close.
“Don’t make excuses for me. If you do that…that makes it easier to wave it away, sweep it under the rug, blame yourself…it makes it easier for it to happen again. It makes it easier to justify it,” Len interrupted, because he wanted to make sure that Ray knew this.
Was that also the wrong thing to say? It was true, but at the same time he worried it was close or exactly the same as victim blaming. Like if this happened again, it was Ray’s fault because he made excuses for Len.
There would be no next time, though, because Len wasn’t going to allow. He wasn’t going to let himself turn into his father and he wasn’t going to turn Ray into his mother. If this happened again, he would leave. He didn’t say it, because that would sound like a threat and that wasn’t what it was.
They stayed like that for a long time, eventually moving to the recliner again, properly in the seat this time for Len and Ray on his lap, before at some point reclining the chair and laying back with Ray against him.
The position wasn’t sexual, they were just holding each other, sharing in the comfort of closeness.
Len’s boots were still on. Usually shoes weren’t worn in the house, they stayed in closets or on shoe racks, except for Len’s boots which stayed by the door, but neither of them were concerned with his shoes right now.
“I want us to go to therapy,” Ray said, voice quiet as if to speak any louder would break some sort of spell.
“I can’t–” this wasn’t the first time Ray had brought it up, nor the second time. In Len’s experience, therapy wasn’t that helpful but even if he wanted to go, even if he was willing to do it, Len was still technically a wanted criminal.
Going to prison for your misdeeds didn’t really count if you left by way of prison break. In fact, it tended to add time. The only reason they hadn’t come after him was because Captain Cold wasn’t really viewed as a criminal anymore and there was a potential for a huge outcry and backlash from the public if they took him in on old charges.
If his supporters could see him now, could see what he’d just done, maybe that wouldn’t be the case anymore, and Len wouldn’t blame them.
And there he went making it about him again. He tightened his hold on Ray and buried his nose in his boyfriend’s hair, nuzzling and taking in the familiar scent of his shampoo. Some expensive stuff Len could never remember the name of unless it was time to tease Ray about it.
Not that Len’s tastes were any less high end or expensive.
“If we go somewhere else, where they don’t know about your criminal record…” Ray offered.
“That’s a pretty short list, babe,” he said, regret in his tone, “I’m wanted internationally.” This was maybe the one time he had ever regretted his criminal past.
“If we work together, I bet we could find one. Or at least a good therapist who’s willing to ignore that and be discreet,” Ray said, hopeful as he lifted his head from Len’s shoulder to meet his boyfriend’s eyes.
Len was quiet for a few moments, looking into Ray’s eyes. God, he loved him so much. It almost hurt, usually in a good way but right now it hurt because people who really love each other don’t hit each other and what had he just done?
He wanted to make it right. He was willing to do anything to make it right. And if that meant flying under the radar with his criminal past and going to therapy again, he’d do it. He’d do it and he’d make a real effort at it, not just go through the motions to make himself feel better for hurting Ray. That’s not what Ray was asking of him.
“I know it didn’t work for you last time, but you had an overworked, overbooked, and underpaid therapist who, from the sound of things, probably wasn’t very good at his job. I promise that won’t be the case this time. We’ll find a good one who knows what they’re doing and who cares…” Ray said, tone and gaze almost desperate and it hurt Len’s heart. Ray was practically begging, Len had reduced their interaction to this.
“And, we can go in by ourselves at first. So, you can see them alone and so I can I. And either have separate sessions for us together or just work our way up to that. Len…please…” Ray whispered the last sentence and the watery tone to his voice nearly made Len burst into tears himself.
“Alright,” Len answered, ignoring the fact that his voice sounded a little rough and he swallowed around the lump in his throat.
“Really??” Ray’s whole being lit up like a Christmas tree, the bright and wide smile that lit up his eyes, his whole face, the way his body seemed to reanimate as he moved up onto his elbows and used the recliner as a brace to lean on.
God, Ray lit up the whole room when he smiled like that. Melted away the cold hand that he’d felt gripping his heart ever since he’d hit Ray.
“Really, honey. We’ll find a therapist, I’ll help you look, and I’ll go to every appointment. I promise,” he might have to pull in some favors from The Flash and other hero friends – not that Len was actually fond of the hero title…couldn’t you do good things and protect a city and maybe save the world once in a while without getting labeled? Damn – of theirs to cover for them if an appointment conflicted with something Captain Cold or The Atom needed to do.
But, he wanted this to work. He never wanted to hurt Ray like this again, and he never wanted Ray to have to worry if he was going to or to walk on eggshells around him, to have to explain broken bones or bruises or cuts to friends and medical staff as falling down the stairs or running into doors or making up fake missions for The Atom that his friends would see right through. And he didn’t want to hurt them both by having to walk away.
Len really was prepared to do anything and despite the hoops they’d have to jump through to make it plausible, some of them more troublesome than others, in order to make sure this never happened again. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he’d agree to anything to make it right. And if that meant seeing a therapist and putting in a lot of work, most of which would probably be emotionally taxing, he would do it. Ray was worth it, their relationship was worth it, and clearly Ray thought Len was worth it.
Len didn’t want to prove him wrong.
It was at that moment that he felt a soft pressure against his lips and tasted faint copper and he came back to himself to realize Ray was kissing him. Tightening his hold to pull Ray a little closer – not that they could get much closer at this point – Len tilted his head a little, slotting their lips together properly and kissed his boyfriend back.