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For about fifteen minutes in the spring of '00, Jeremy remembers being happy.

It wasn't just him. It was both of them. They were both happy. Unreservedly, unashamedly happy with each other.

At that point, it was only a question of who'd sabotage it first.

Gabriel had made a quick play for the role of saboteur when he'd pinned Jeremy's arm behind his back. He'd started nipping at the back of Jeremy's neck and had thrust up against him in a parody of fucking, and Jeremy had been determined not to beg.

The stretch in his arm had grown painful. More and more so, as Gabriel felt himself losing control and clamping down tighter. And then Jeremy had started pleading -- enough, enough, stop, you're going to -- Gabriel, stop.

But they haven't played with safewords and safeties in years. And so Gabriel didn't stop.

Shut up, shut up, stupid, you know you want it this way, you want it to hurt, shut up, fucker...

Jeremy had brought out the big guns at that point. Please.

It had startled Gabriel enough to ease up. Just enough that Jeremy didn't think his shoulder was going to come out of the socket; not enough for him to get away.

Fuck, you sound amazing when you say that. Say it again.

I love you, Gabriel.

Gabriel had gone completely still for several moments. Then he'd let Jeremy go entirely, and a few seconds later Jeremy heard water running in the bathroom.

Point to Jeremy, then. And damn, it had been beautifully won.

The words come out at the oddest times. Gabriel first said them to Jeremy nearly a year later, after Jeremy had cut him to pieces and forced him to lick the blood up before fucking him so hard he thought he was going to lose consciousness. There'd been something silver in Jeremy's eyes at that point, and Gabriel, for once, had been afraid.

So out came the words: I love you, Jeremy.

And Jeremy's eyes had snapped back into themselves instantly, going hard and cruel. He didn't acknowledge the phrase, but he'd stopped looking lost.

Then there's now.

They're fencing; neither of them is wearing protective gear. They could lose an eye; they will cut, scratch, scrape. It's to first blood, and they're both playing to win, blocking, feinting, parrying, thrusting. First blood gets first fuck, while they're sweating and exhausted; it's a wonder neither of them is playing to lose.

There's no padding on the walls; no strip on the floor to mark the path of their footwork. They can circle, run, twist around the borders of the room if they like.

And this, too, is another crystalline moment, one which Jeremy will remember years on as a moment when they were happy.

Ruin it, he thinks to himself. You can't stay like this.

And a voice whispers, No.

The blood is drawn from Jeremy's shoulder; he flings his blade to the ground as soon as he feels it. Gabriel steps forward and pushes Jeremy up against the wall.

"Mine," Gabriel snarls, and he brings his lips down hard on Jeremy's.

Surrender. Jeremy can feel the need for it humming under his skin. He pushes back at Gabriel's chest, and Gabriel drops his own blade and pushes Jeremy's hands up above his shoulders, pinning him to the wall.

"Mine," he whispers, teeth scraping down along the line of his neck. "Stop."

Ruin it. Before it's too late.

No. Damn it. No.

"I love you, Gabriel."

Gabriel yanks away, and his eyes are furious. "I didn't tell you to speak, boy."

Jeremy is barely blinking; he doesn't know which part of himself this came from. It could have come from the part that wants to ruin everything; it could have come from the part that wanted it held together. It fits both.

"Give them back to me," Jeremy hisses.

Gabriel's gaze falters, drops, but he holds on even tighter.

"Coward."

That's enough; Gabriel lunges forward with a forearm across Jeremy's neck. "I love you, too, Jeremy," he whispers, "and now we can't pretend we haven't said it, can we? We can use it to hurt, stab, scar, wound. But we can't pretend we haven't said it."

"I know," Jeremy smiles.

Ruined. Held together. Both. Yes.

Happy.