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But You Just Seem So Genuine (So Maybe I Could Be Gentle)

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Owen's still struggling, most days.

They both are, he knows. He sees it in practically everything Curt does, but before he can even think on it, he's questioning if Curt's really struggling, or if he's just... Projecting. Overreacting. Maybe Curt's always been this way, and Owen's just forgotten. He can't very well ask him, can he?

After all, things are good. They're not perfect, no, but they're good, which is more than the Owen standing on a staircase with a gun raised could have ever dreamed. Things are good, and Owen is not going to ruin that.

He won't ruin this. He won't.

Love, he finds, is easy, even after all these years. He thinks loving Curt is something he never really stopped doing, even when he'd convinced himself to bury it deep inside him- but it was still there, lingering like a thin line of thread sewing his heart closed and trapping pre-Russian affair emotions inside.

Now, in a safehouse in the country, slowly working through things, relearning how to be in sync... It takes nothing, to remind Owen. Sometimes, Curt will just inhale, in a certain way that makes Owen suddenly aware that they are both alive, and together, and the urge to wrap his partner in his arms is overwhelming.

Loving Curt is the easiest thing in the world.

He only wishes everything else could be so easy.

Loving is easy. Showing it is near-impossible. Trust is hard. Forgiveness is terrible. Communication is vile. Owen is trying, bloody fuck, he is, but sometimes it's so draining to be good. He walks around the house on eggshells, every action only carried out after he asks the big question- Is this good? Am I doing this right? Is this what a good partner would do? Is this what Curt wants? Is this what I would have done four years ago?

Being good is exhausting, and nerve-wracking, especially when Curt seems to pull it off so effortlessly. Curt makes him dinner on the days when he can't get out of bed. Curt buys him a new watch when he notices Owen glancing at his empty wrist. Curt asks if he needs anything before he goes to bed. Being good has never been hard for Curt, even when he can't accept it. Owen... Owen's always been rough around the edges, he knows.

He thinks Curt used to like it, before. Used to like breaking him down, pulling him apart to see what was inside, and then putting him back together better than before. Now, though, Owen's been more than cut into... He's been flayed. He's quite certain Curt can't put him back together this time, because he's quite certain there's not enough left of him.

Most days, Owen feels like a puzzle with only the corners and edges left, and all the middle pieces missing. Just enough to form an outline, a basic idea of what he should look like, but not enough to truly exist.

He says none of this to Curt, of course. The reason varies depending on the day. Sometimes, it's about not wanting to burden Curt, who worries enough already. Sometimes it's about not trusting Curt. Sometimes it's wanting Curt to notice without him saying anything, to feel terrible, to never forget what he did to Owen. Sometimes it's wanting Curt to notice without him saying anything, so Owen can know that Curt still pays attention to him, still cares enough to notice that he's upset.

"O? You okay?"

God, feeling vulnerable should be one of the nine circles of hell.

"Fine, love," Owen says, words rolling off his tongue before he can even consider them. He says a lot of 'fine's, these days. They taste bitter on their way out, but the alternative... Owen isn't ready to speak like that yet. Honesty is hard. Deflection is second-nature.

Curt leans forward, just the slightest bit. There's an entire table in-between them, piled high with lunch, and still, Owen tenses, waiting for Curt to strike. Why, he does not know. Curt, even at his worst, never wishes Owen harm.

He dismisses it as the movement being sudden. (The prospect of it being anything else is too much to bare this early in the day.)

"You're sure?" Curt's face is pinched in worry, and Owen's chest tightens. You're worrying him, something cries, and Owen supposes it's going to be one of those days. "You seem... Stiff."

And, he is. Owen's been sitting at the very edge of the chair, back straightened, in the hopes that Curt wouldn't notice. His back is killing him. Nearly every day for the past four years it's killed him, but today is one of those days where being used to the pain is no longer enough. Suddenly, intrusively, Owen's mind is invaded with memories of life without a constant aching, and he forces them back- He will not cry over this.

Curt is still staring at him, mouth thin with worry, so Owen closes his eyes for just a moment (that in itself is an act of trust that ought to speak volumes), and forces himself to lean back in the chair.

Immediately, his body moans in protest. The hard wood of the chair disagrees with everything from his hips to his shoulders, and Owen trains his face to not betray him.

Curt relaxes, seemingly satisfied for now, and goes back to eating. Owen picks up a hand to grab his fork, and his arm throbs at the motion.

It's going to be his whole body, then. Not just his back. Lovely.

He should have expected it, really. He'd gotten no sleep the previous night, nightmares forcing him awake, and as such, his body hadn't gotten any time to rest. Still, the predictability doesn't stop Owen from wanting to cry. He doesn't cry, he doesn't. He refuses. But god- some days, it's like every bone in his body is begging him to.

"You done?"

Owen peers down at his near-full plate, and hums. "Sure."

Curt takes the plate, and belatedly, Owen stumbles out, "Thank you."

Remembering how to be a human is frustrating.

Curt turns and smiles, as if surprised Owen remembered, too. "Of course."

Ah, Owen remembers, then. Curt has never, in all the time Owen's known him, said 'you're welcome' to Owen. Always 'of course', as if to say 'what else could I possibly do?' Being good isn't a choice for Curt, it's a necessity.

In contrast- being good, for Owen, is the hardest choice he has ever made.

Curt places the dishes in the sink, and heads for the doorway, pausing. "Do you need anything," Curt asks, because of course he does.

A million things travel through Owen's mind, but only a, "No, thank you, dear," leaves him.

Curt nods once. "If you need anything, just let me know, okay?" With that, he leaves.

Owen leans forward from the chair, but rather than easing, the pain only seems to worsen, as if yelling at him for daring to move at all. A small sound escapes him, something between a whine and a groan, but luckily, it appears to be too quiet for Curt to hear. Good. Owen doesn't need to have that conversation.

His eyes almost flutter shut, instinct for a person in pain, before they snap open again. He is alone. Curt isn't here, and if Curt isn't here, he's vulnerable, so he can't close his eyes, not even for a moment, not even to blink, if he can help it.

Some days, Curt makes him feel like prey, too exposed. Others, Curt feels like the only barrier between Owen and his demons, both mental and physical.

Loving Curt is easy. The idea of figuring out what other emotions Owen feels towards the man is... Well, chimerical.

Ignoring the way his arms pulse at the movement, Owen reaches both hands up and towards the area between his neck and back, in need of the most attention. Slowly, cautiously, Owen starts to rub, and instantly hisses. It feels good, a bit, but it also hurts like hell.

It fits the rest of his life rather well, actually.

Still, Owen grits his teeth, determined to continue. He will not sit here like an invalid. He can take care of himself, dammit. The hands return, and Owen pushes forward.

It lasts only a minute or so before his fingers begin to tingle, already weakening. Once again, the overwhelming urge to burst into tears captures Owen, although he knows nothing will come of it. He can't make himself cry much at all, these days. Still, the feeling of emptiness and utter hopelessness fills him. Of course, his hands are too sore to soothe the rest of his sore, sorry excuse for a body.

Curt's voice rings through his head, soft and caring: "If you need anything, just let me know, okay?"

No.

His eyes begin to close again, and this time, Owen lets them, memories flooding his mind without his permission. Owen, coming back from missions and in pain- or at least, what Owen though was pain at the time. (Now, he longs for it.) Curt, rubbing his back. Curt, massaging his neck. Curt, running fingers through his hair. Curt, letting Owen lay face-down in bed and be vulnerable and hurt and weak, and not saying a word, just pressing his hands to Owen's skin and on occasion, placing a kiss.

Owen's eyes flash open, and his body throbs, and above it all, he can feel his heart squeezing, aching a million times worse than anything physical. Something wet touches his cheek, and in a moment of absurdity, Owen looks up, expecting it to somehow be raining inside the house. When he's met with nothing but the ceiling, he frowns, confused. More drops trail down his face, and slowly, he wipes one away with a finger.

He's crying.

Oh.

Ignoring the way his body cries out, Owen doubles over, hand covering his mouth in a desperate attempt to muffle his sobs.

Curt can't hear him. Curt can't know. He can't let Curt realize.

And yet, Owen grits his teeth, trying to block out every atom in him screaming out in disagreement, longing for Curt, longing for what used to happen but what CAN'T happen, not now, because four years have gone by, and they are different people, and they will never be the pair they once were.

The thought only makes him cry harder. He starts to curl into himself, self-soothing the only way he can, and almost howls at the sharp feeling that runs through him like the stab of a knife.

He can't. He can't, he can't, he... He can't do this alone. He needs, he needs, he needs...

He needs Curt.

God, he NEEDS Curt.

Pushing himself up from the chair, Owen storms into the living room, and freezes.

What is he doing? What is he- He can't-

"Owen?" And god, Curt is staring at him, eyes wide, but voice so so soft and gentle, and Owen wants desperately to tell him everything, to take his brain out and dump its contents into Curt's lap so that he never has to think any of his awful thoughts again, but his mouth remains glued shut.

Slowly, Curt stands, moving towards Owen as if he's a frightened animal, and Jesus, Owen feels like one.

"Owen," Curt says again, barely whispering, and Owen forces himself to speak.

"I can't-" His eyes squeeze shut, and he allows it, because Curt is here. Curt is here, and Curt will keep him safe- He has to. "I can't say it. I can't talk, and you can't make me, Curt, you really can't, because I can't handle it, but I need-" His voice breaks off, and Owen holds back a sob.

He can't say it. He can't, he can't, he can't. He can't ask for the things he needs. He can't burden Curt. He can't admit that he can't take care of himself anymore. All he can do is say the closest thing, and pray Curt understands.

"I'm in pain," Owen finally chokes out, and instantly, Curt's face melts into one of understanding, and Owen's so relieved that he untenses, and feels himself nearly fall to the ground. Curt rushes to his side, holding him with the gentlest of touches, and Owen only cries harder. Curt, beautiful, wonderful, lovely Curt, says nothing of it. Instead, he hooks his arm around Owen's left, and whispers, "Let's go upstairs, honey."

Curt starts moving them towards the bedroom, and all of a sudden, Owen realizes that Curt has chosen the side that will help Owen walk with his injured leg. He had injured it two years into working with Chimera, and it never healed right, but he never told Curt any of that. The realisation that Curt must have noticed, must have cared enough about Owen to pay attention and remember, makes him nearly weep.

Loving Curt is the easiest thing in the world.

Loving Owen, he knows, is impossible. And yet, Curt does it anyway.

He allows Curt to lead him like a dog on a leash, brain working overtime to not utterly collapse over what's just happened.

"Hey, O," Curt is murmuring, "We're here. Just lay down, okay? I've got you."

And Curt, god bless him, does. Owen really believes it.

Owen nods, or at least, he thinks he does, but he can't make his body move. A keen escapes his lips, and his eyes clench shut, humiliated. Then, he feels a hand brush over his cheek, light as can be, and Curt murmurs, "It's okay, honey, it's okay. I'm going to help you up, okay?"

Owen makes sure he actually nods this time, and he can feel Curt's arms underneath him, lifting him up with care. He thinks he should open his eyes again, but he's so tired, and Curt's there, and he just can't make himself do it.

He feels his skin touch the warm softness of a blanket, and Curt's hand is back on his cheek. "I'm going to lift your head up a bit, okay?" Curt doesn't wait for a reply, likely knows he won't get one.

Still, the fact that Curt is taking the time to warn Owen before he does something, knowing it would startle him otherwise, makes him feel warm all over. Curt lifts his head just a bit, and Owen feels a pillow slide underneath him. It's the extra comfy one, the one Curt usually hogs, and Owen exhales softly as soon as he feels it, letting his face sink into it.

Curt brushes a few hairs from his face, fiddling with a strand, and it's so familiar Owen wants to cry harder, but he's suddenly so exhausted, and even the thought of crying feels like too much work. He's tired of crying. It's rare that he feels like this, completely safe and protected and loved by Curt, and he wants to feel this way for the rest of his life. He knows he won't, though, so he decides to cherish it for as long as it lasts.

"Alright, I'm going to rub your back, alright, O? Let me know if I hurt you, okay?" And then, Curt's hands are on him, and the pressure is hard enough to pierce but light enough to ease, and Owen feels his body completely collapse, as if the last thread holding him tense has been cut. Owen lets out a shaky breath, and a whimper comes out with it, but it's such a welcome feeling that he can't make himself feel badly for it.

He feels Curt press a kiss to the top of his head, the hand not massaging his back moving to pet his hair once, then retreating. Unable to stop himself, Owen whines, and then the hand is back in his hair, scratching gently, and he shoves his head forward, desperately leaning into the contact. Curt chuckles, but there's no cruelty to it, and Owen can feel himself smile just a bit.

As usual, perfect Curt says nothing, just continues to make his way through Owen's body, somehow knowing all the places in the most pain and just the right way to ease them, letting Owen know where he's moving each time. The longer it goes on, the more Owen relaxes, until he can feel himself starting to drift off, the previous night's lack of sleep combined with the stress of the morning finally catching up to him. Each time he feels himself dozing, he jerks himself awake. A moment like this, where Owen is trusting and content and it feels like before, is such a rarity. He doesn't know how long it will last. He doesn't know when the next moment like this will come along. He's not going to miss this. He can't.

"Owen," Curt says softly, a hand running down his side. "You can sleep, baby. I'm not going anywhere."

It doesn't sound right, it doesn't, and something inside of Owen protests loudly, but... It's Curt, and Curt loves him, and Curt's going to protect him, and keep him safe. He can trust Curt. He can't, something screams back, but right now, in this moment, he can.

So, Owen hums, feeling sleep threaten to take him once more, and this time, Owen doesn't stop it.

Before he drifts off, he can feel Curt squeeze his hand.

It feels like home.