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Linger

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If you, if you could return

Don't let it burn

Don't let it fade

Im sure Im not being rude

But its just your attitude

Its tearing me apart, its ruining everything 

 

(I love you.)

 

Im in so deep

You know Im such a fool for you

You've got me wrapped around your finger

Do you have to let it linger

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The front door opens with a soft creak that sounds like a gunshot in the darkness. Claude didn't feel like turning on any lights when he got down his bottle of scotch. He barely felt like getting a glass for it.

 

“Where have you been?” Claude rasps, voice rough from disuse. Or maybe the drinks he’s had. It’s not fun, drinking alone, so he drank some more to feel less lonely, and now he’s pretty sure he’s not going to be able to stand. “Nobody's seen you in days.”

 

Vora freezes right as he is. Slowly he puts down his keys with a soft clink. “I went to my sisters.”

 

Claude almost breaks the glass in his hand. “Oh yeah?” 

 

He wasn’t at his sisters. Claude knows. He called her. He called everyone. He even called Jake’s parents, who very much aren’t aware of their relationship. No one had seen him. Claude doubts his sister lied. She sounded just as angry as Claude did. Besides, she and Claude have talked before. She doesn’t take shit, not from anyone, and she certainly wouldn’t agree to hide her brother, no matter how much he begged. 

 

Deal with your shit ’ is probably her most used phrase.

 

“Clo, I-” Jake turns on the lights and stops when he sees Claude. His face does something complicated that Claude can’t figure out. Whatever. Claude doesn’t care what Voracek is feeling, he doesn’t care because Jake clearly doesn’t care what Claude is feeling. 

 

He doesn't care. 

 

He takes another sip of his drink to chase away the burning lie of it all. 

 

Jake slowly puts down his bag. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you.”

 

“Yeah,” Claude tilts the glass to watch the last of the liquid swirl around the bottom. It’s mostly just backwash. He takes a swig straight out of the bottle. “Probably should’ve come up with a better lie too.”

 

“I didn’t want to-”

 

“Do you even still love me?” Claude blurts out, the alcohol making his tongue lose. But then, this has been coming for a while. “And don’t- don’t fucking lie to me again. Don’t you dare. I can’t hear another lie come out of your mouth.”

 

“I wasn’t at my sisters.” V says after another pause. “I was at a TK’s. And then I stayed at a hotel downtown.”

 

“Fucking some other guy then,” He says. It’s mean and it’s wrong and it’s hurtful but Claude is hurting, he’s in fucking agony, and he’s- he feels like he’s losing everything. Or maybe he’s lost everything already and was too stupid to notice. “Could’ve at least broken up with me first.”

 

“Christ, G, I wasn’t cheating on you.” Jake snaps. Claude wants to cry. This isn’t them. This isn’t him . He’s just so scared. “I had to get my fucking head right. I’m sorry. I should’ve told you where I was.”

 

Claude sucks in a breath. “You didn’t answer my question.”

 

Jake crosses the room slowly and puts a hand on the bottle, stopping Claude from taking another drink. “I love you.” He says slowly. “I love you more than anything. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving you, even if I wanted to.”

 

He lowers himself down to crouch in front of G, who’s currently trying really hard not to cry. He wants to believe Jake. He wants to hear that his anxiety was wrong. He wants that not so little voice in his head to be wrong. He wants to back to what they had, before Claude went and fucked it up.

 

He told Jake he would get them another cup. He told Jake he’d marry him with it in the background. He told Jake he loved him, more than anything. 

 

But that wasn’t enough. He wasn’t enough. Jake left because Claude wasn’t enough.

 

“No, baby that’s why. That’ll never be why.” V says softly. Claude doesn’t remember saying that out loud. Maybe he didn’t, and Jake knew anyway. He always was so good at reading Claude.

 

“I left, because I was- I was angry. I was angry and upset and I couldn’t get rid of it, and I punched a hole in that hotel room wall because I couldn’t stop being so fucking angry, but I missed you so much.” Jake shifts slightly, gaze flickering to the bottle still in Claude's hand. Something like sorrow and guilt flashes across his face. “I knew it was hurting you, but I thought staying away would be better than making you deal with all that.”

 

“I’ve dealt with it before.” G chokes out, angry and shaky. “That’s what we do, Vora. We deal with each others shit, that’s how we work .”

 

“I didn’t say it was smart ,” Jake says in exasperation. “It’s the reason I had. Stupid. But it was what I had.”

 

Claude shakes his head. “I can’t. I can’t do this, Jake, I can’t keep doing this-”

 

“Clo, I love you-”

 

“Then maybe that’s not enough.” Claude snaps. “Because- because we’ve barely talked to each other the last few weeks and we fucking live together, we work together, Christ V we’re- we’re supposed to be- and we aren’t. We aren’t what we were. If that’s how you love me, I can’t keep doing this.”

 

He doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t mean any of it. Claude would take every bit of Jake’s love that he could get, for a long as he could get it. He would beg and plead and harbor the tiny scraps of affection thrown is way, and he’d do it because he’s just like Jake. He can’t stop loving him, not matter how much he could want to.

 

Instead of responding, Jake gently pries the bottle of liquor from Claude's hand and caps it, setting it down on the side table next to half a dozen empty beer bottles. Turning back to G he takes Claude’s hands in his and holds them for a while.

 

Claude is crying. He hates it.

 

“I can fix this,” he tells Claude. “I can. I shouldn’t have left you like that, so soon after the last game. But you can’t push me away Clo. You can’t shut me out.”

 

And that’s it, really. Jake’s always looked right through him. It’s not what Jake did, or didn’t do - yeah, it was an asshole move, disappearing after getting kicked out of the playoffs without a word - but it’s what’s been brewing in Claude's head for weeks now. It’s always his instinct to leave first. 

 

He doesn’t know when or why or how, but as long as he can remember, Claude remembers feeling like he wasn’t enough. He grew up, and he learned to be stubborn, to prove that he was enough, to everyone except those he really cared about it. Proving to his coaches and his dad and the entire city of Philadelphia that he was enough, that he was better the rest, he deserved to be in the NHL - that came easy.

 

It seemed with everyone he loved, he was always waiting for them to see he wasn’t enough. He looks for those changes in behavior, those little things, the tiniest implications that it’s about to be over. He’s always waiting for the moment when his partner realizes that he’s not so great. He’s a fake, a fraud, a nobody pretending to know what the fuck he’s doing.

 

And the people he loves, they deserve better.

 

He doesn’t want to lose Jake, but he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to fix this.

 

“I can’t do anything right.” Claude whispers brokenly, wishing he could bite his tongue and keep the words inside. “I can’t- I can’t give you what you deserve.”

 

“I don’t care about what you think I deserve.” Jake pulls him so they're closer, foreheads nearly touching. “I just want you.”

 

It's not enough, Claude thinks. It won't be enough. But for this moment, sitting here in the half-lit living room, enough alcohol to properly kill his liver but not enough to kill the pain, it is. It's enough.

 

"Just try", Jake whispers, asking, begging for Claude not to give up on them, on himself. "Just try for me."

 

He's never been able to deny Jake anything before. He's certainly not about to start now.