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The Way It Was

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{maybe a thief stole your heart}

Alone.

Your apartment is quiet now except for the sound of your breath, loud gasps as you inhale and soft ragged shudders as you breathe out. That you are breathing at all seems miraculous in and of itself. Whether you want to be- well, that's another question.

You are sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, head tilted against the wall as you try to arrange your thoughts into some sort of order. Everything around you and inside you was in disarray, scattered and broken and there were so many places to begin repairing that the idea of having to choose one was overwhelming.

Brian had already been given orders to leave. In some ways, you think it had been harder for him to walk through that door than it was for you. He was the one who had been there before, having made a side trip on his way to take you home from the hospital, but you could tell that he had been too caught up in the chaos of his own mind to notice what was going on around him. Only now was he truly seeing it all for the first time.

You, though- you knew what to expect. You walked these floors every day in your memory. Just like now, when you get up and head down the hall to stand in the doorway to your bedroom. The mattress is gone from the bed, along with all the blankets and pillows, but you still remember. Being pushed backward. Hitting your head against the corner of the bedside table and feeling the warmth spread as blood flows onto the pillow underneath you. His hands are fumbling with the button on your pants and you're screaming in your mind but all you can do is squeeze your eyes closed as tight as you can and wait. And then nothing. Waiting. An unexpected blow across the face has you recoiling in shock. «Is that what you wanted, bitch?» He disappears back down the hall and you struggle to lift your head up, straining to see or hear anything that might give you a clue about his next move because you know he sure as hell isn't about to leave. Footsteps getting closer, quick, shut your eyes. He's not interested if he thinks you've passed out. «it's okay, I can get creative.» Don't move, don't move. «you're gonna wish to god I would've just fucked you» and then...

No. Nonono. You shake your head almost violently, turning away and deliberately not looking past the open bathroom door. But it's still happening. Being shoved against the wall, the gash on your head barely avoiding contact with the tile. His hands are everywhere they shouldn't be. He tries to kiss you but you turn at exactly the right moment and bite down on the side of his cheek, hard. It buys you a few precious seconds, enough to get past him and back out into the hall, but he recovers too quickly. He grabs onto your ankle and your chin takes the brunt of the fall as you pitch forward onto the floor. Now he's on your back, holding you down, forcing you to turn over so you're looking at him. Your mouth is bleeding from biting your tongue and ohgodohgod close your eyes can't look he’s hurting you and there's blood so much blood don't scream you're dead if you scream «bet you won’t forget me now» can't look don't look…

No more.

{Back then this thing was running on momentum love and trust
that paradise is buried in the dust}

"So you're going back to his place."

"Yeah." You and Elliot are sitting side by side on the couch, shoulders and knees touching, both staring straight ahead at some unidentified point on the moonlit wall of your apartment.

"Because you want to or because you think you have to?"

"Don't. Just...don't." You suspect part of him was perversely disappointed that your tearful call earlier in the night had nothing to do with Brian. "He's good to me."

"You keep saying. But where is he now?"

"He didn't want me to leave." And you couldn't let him stay here, not with that haunted look in his eyes that you recognized from every time a car engine backfires out on the street. The fourth of July had been a shitstorm, both taking turns exploding at one another until night came and the sky took over for you, echoes ricocheting back and forth between buildings. You brought him a bottle of scotch and turned the tv up and mentally vowed that you two would go away for the holiday next year. Only one of you could break at a time and you couldn't let it be him, not when you were doing such an excellent job of fulfilling that role already.

"But he-"

"Enough. Drop it."

He sighs in exasperation, and it must be the same sound his kids make when they’re being lectured about staying out past curfew. You ignore him and look around the room at stacks of boxes that look like islands in a sea of destruction. When you called him, you had been frantically pacing from room to room, torn between the urge to flee and the knowledge that once you left, you wouldn't be coming back. I need you, you had said. Not I need you to take a look at this file, or I need you to wake me up in a half hour, or even I need you to quit sabotaging every date I've ever had. I need you. Full stop. Period. End of subject.

"I. I appreciate all this," you say, nodding in the general direction of the piles the two of you had created. You had heard someone say once that you find out who your real friends are when you ask them to help you move. It made you wonder what the hell would be the proper title for the person who helps you move in the middle of the night with no advance notice. Probably hasn’t even been created yet.

"I'm glad you called. Not, I mean, I'm not glad about all this-" he gestures around the room, suddenly looking like he was afraid he had frightened off some skittish little woodland creature. "But I know it couldn't have been easy for you and...I don't take that lightly."

You fidget uncomfortably, laughing softly to try and deflect attention from your embarrassment. "Eh. My therapist says I'm supposed to practice accepting help when I need it."

"Smart man. You like him?"

"I do. But sometimes...I'm not sure that it's working. The whole therapy thing."

"Give it time. It's a process."

"Oh?" you ask, curious.

Now it was his turn to look uncomfortable. "From personal experience, yeah."

And curiouser still. "Yeah?"

A tight nod. "After...everything. I had a lot of free time and not a hell of a lot to lose. Our priest suggested a guy. Ex-military. He's good at calling me out on my shit."

"Someone has to," you agree.

"But not as good as you. Don't worry."

That earns him a little smile. "Do you talk about me?"

"Sometimes. You?"

"Sometimes."

"What a pair we are." Your entire arm is resting against his now, and there's no reason for you to sit this close together but there's really no reason not to either.

{I wonder if you feel it too
it’s like we’re going under}

The sky has turned that navy hue that signals sunrise isn't far off. "What did you tell Kathy?"

"I didn't. She was already asleep so I just left a note."

"And that's gonna go over well, I bet."

"Liv, I told you. Let me handle it," he chastises gently. "I'm not worried about that right now."

You raise one eyebrow, skeptical. "But maybe you should be."

"I will take care of it," he insists, fingers brushing the back of your hand.

"But I-"

"Liv. Listen to me?"

"Yeah?"

His palm is covering your hand and you realize that you can't remember the last time the two of you had actually touched. "Shut up. Trust me on this."

You laugh quietly, fondly, at being told to shut up, but there is still something inside of you that feels small and sad. If only it was as easy as that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"She was the one who told me," he says after a few minutes of silence.

You are confused by the non-sequitur. "Who?"

"Kathy. She was the one who found out about," he tilts his head somewhere in the direction of the door, as if that would provide any information at all, "before I did."

"Oh," you say, for lack of anything better.

"We were in Mexico. Maureen and her husband are living down there for the year...we went to this beach town that was pretty much off the grid. But she was able to get online and she saw- she and Kathy, they decided not to tell me. Didn't want me thinking about it when there was nothing I could do. They were trying to decide when to, but. She found out you were." He swallows hard, rubbing his forehead. "Alive. So Kathy told me right before we were about to get on the flight back home. And I...uh. I'm probably not welcome in Mexico City's airport ever again."

You wince, suddenly very interested in a scratch on the flooring.

"Did you know that anger is a symptom of wanting to be in control?" he asks, and you’ve given up on trying to follow where this conversation is headed, other than proving that he truly had been listening to his shrink. "When we feel like we're powerless over a situation, our natural instinct is to get angry."

You think about breaking glass and burnt toast and slamming doors and «who are you really angry at, Liv?». "I...don't know why you're telling me this."

"Because I can't stand thinking that...fuck!" he swears, slamming his fist against the table beside him, and it's good to see that therapy hasn't changed him that much, "You have to know that I would've been out there. I would've tracked you down myself."

Your fingers are interlaced now, and it’s that time of day where it's either very late or very early and every word that's spoken seems heavy with significance. "I don't want to talk about this any more."

“You have to know!”

“Know what?”

“I wouldn’t have left you out there!”

“There was nothing you could have done,” you say in a dull monotone, and it was like a game of telephone with you relaying the message you had been given so many times.

“It could. It could have been different.”

{all of our plans have fallen through
sometimes a dream, it don’t come true}

“So no word from loverboy yet?”

Despite the joking, his voice is so deflated that he sounds like a little kid whose balloon has just burst. You don’t even bother to come up with a halfhearted retort. “He’s still at work. He’ll call when he’s back home and I’ll talk to him then. We’ll figure out what to do with all-” you wave your hand toward your collected boxes- “this. I just need to get the hell out of here, shit.”

“We can go somewhere and wait,” he offers.

“Nah. Tired.” You rub at your eyes with the heel of your left hand, because your right hand hasn’t moved from underneath his. He’s warm against your side and your head is lolling toward him and the first streaks of yellow are peeking up over the horizon.

You can sense that he’s about to say something even without the benefit of looking at him. “You don’t sleep, do you. When you tell me you’re going to bed at night.”

“No,” you mouth silently, too exhausted for sound.

He sighs, and you think you’re about to get a lecture until he reaches for your shoulder and nudges you sideways, shifting both of you until your head is in his lap. “Sleep.”

You try to protest, but then his hand is in your hair, and your brain expects your body to react in fear but it just. Doesn’t.

When you fall asleep, you don’t dream.

{if I go on with you by my side
can it be the way it was when we met?}

You are a coward.

It's the only reasonable explanation for why you couldn't even call Brian when you woke up. Instead, you sent a one line text: «I want to come back» and then closed your eyes and held onto your phone with the grip of someone at risk of taking a twenty story plunge. And in a way, maybe you were. Maybe all you can really do is pray you'll pass out from the fall so you won't feel the impact.

The phone whistles and something in your heart clenches at the response.

«come back. i'm waiting»

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You haven't cried in front of Brian in weeks, save for the nights when you wake up in tears and make a hasty retreat into the bathroom, telling yourself he didn't notice. In an impressive show of self control, that all went to shit as soon as he opened the door. You could hear him murmuring reassurances with his lips pressed against the top of your head, could feel his arms wrapped around your back as you sobbed freely for the second time in as many days. He promised that the two of you would make this work somehow. I want you here, I swear, we'll figure it out. We'll find a new place and start over. Something bigger, something that's both of ours. It'll get better.

You're not an idiot. You know that a new address and a couple hundred extra square feet won't change anything, but you just need something to believe in right now, and real estate is maybe the only choice you have. People have placed all their faith in less, you suppose. It certainly has to be safer than putting your trust in the hands of another human being.

The rest of the day is spent nestled together while looking at apartment listings. He doesn't ask what made you decide to come back and you don't offer to explain, focused instead on making a list of places to check out and browsing furniture sites. You want a new living room set, you think, but then it might not match the bedroom furniture. Might as well replace all that too. You'll leave it all behind, leave this place like you left yours and start over somewhere without the ghosts of sleepless nights and angry words. It'll be a new life, and you'll have someone waiting for you at night, someone who exists in more than shadows and memories and missed goodbyes.

You both start drinking sometime in the late afternoon, so by the time night falls you are buzzed enough that your body feels loose and boneless as you trade dopey smiles. He's further gone than you are, you realize when you see the flush spreading across the side of his neck, and the knowledge leaves you feeling suddenly very brave. When he wanders into the kitchen, you go back to the bedroom and yank off your shirt and pants without bothering to close the door behind you.

The bedroom windows have blackout curtains on them, a necessity for someone trying to sleep despite the afternoon sun, but they've stayed open at your insistence for two months now. You pull them closed before slipping on an oversized t-shirt and shoving aside your giant pillow to crawl into bed.

"Hey, it's dark," he says, and you're just drunk enough to laugh. You listen to him fumble around in the bathroom, watching until you're sure he took his contacts out. He's been making noises about getting laser surgery and you're still trying to come up with a way to dissuade him other than telling him flat out that his chances of getting laid in the future are hinging on him having less than 20/20 vision.

It doesn't take long for him to notice your bare legs once he's in bed next to you, and you laugh again at what you imagine must be a surprised expression concealed by the darkness. When his hand wanders down below your hipbone and you don't bat it away, he takes that as a cue to keep going, palm splayed out midway down your thigh and fingers tracing patterns across your skin as you kissed.

You prop your legs up with your feet flat on the mattress, sighing contentedly as his hand skimmed up the back of your leg from the ankle to the curve of your ass and then down again. Your eyes flutter closed as he repeats the motion. "God, yeah, that's good," you say, back already arching slightly.

He pauses when you feel his lips pressed right above your knee, and you nod restlessly, eyes still closed. Now he's kissing up the inside of your thigh slowly, warm little puffs of breath against soft skin as he laughs. "Are you going to be patient here or not?" he asks with a wicked smile as you look up at him.

When you don't answer, he leans forward to whisper in your ear, bracing himself with his hands on either side of your head. Most of your past flames couldn't or wouldn't talk dirty to you beyond a few cliche phrases, but this man right here had a talent and knew how to use it to maximum effect. You hiss as you grip onto his shoulder and try to nudge him back down while he pretends not to notice. He keeps talking to you in a low voice, distracting you from the hand that had moved back between your legs, until his knuckles brush deliberately against you and you groan in surprise.

"Fuck...oh, fuck," you moan as he goes back to kissing your inner thighs, enthralled by the idea of looking at them the next day and seeing fresh bruises drawing your attention away from angry red burn scars. Your whole body is shaking by the time his mouth has made it all the way up, nosing at the inner crease of one leg, then the other, then mouthing at the thin fabric between them.

Now his fingers take over where his mouth had been, stroking lightly, and it's insane that he's not even actually touching you but still you haven't felt so good in fucking forever. You tense up a little as he starts kissing low across your stomach where your shirt has ridden up, but he notices and goes back to your legs before you can say anything. It's not long until you're close, so close oh holy shit, and then you sit up so you're straddling his lap as you move to finish yourself off. All it takes is a few seconds of rubbing at your clit before you're coming hard, biting at his shoulder while he talks you through it.

Later on, after you've fulfilled your obligation as a girlfriend (you will never let him live that down), he hugs you close and says that it's all going to be okay, that things are about to get better.

You are tempted to believe him.

{the question of my heart came to my mind}

"Liv?"

You can tell he's not awake, his face buried in the pillow and his voice sing-song in that way that sleepy drunk people have. "Yeah?"

"I wanted you to stay."

You close your eyes and curl up on your side, feeling around in the dark for his hand. "There wasn't part of you that wanted me to go?"

"Yeah. But more of me wanted you to stay."

Once again you would sleep without dreaming.

{can it be the way it was?}