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Lusca only knew when the nightmares returned by the way that his lover smiled. Others would probably consider this strange, especially those aware of the true nature of their relationship; after all, shouldn’t there be a hundred other small signs that anyone who cared to pay attention could easily observe? Wouldn’t his eyes be red and puffy from a lack of sleep? Wouldn’t he show clear signs of fatigue? Wouldn’t his mood be darker, more subdued? Moreover, how could anyone fail to hear the screaming that must surely accompany his night terrors, those horrifying remnants of a time best forgotten?

He only wished it were that easy.

Once upon a time, in the days just after the trial that had not only proven Guise’s innocence but also sparked a number of reforms in the criminal justice system, he too had believed that so long as his lover was smiling and healthy and didn’t shy away from him why he kissed him and touched him and held him close, then everything was okay. Clearly, the youth must have been coping just fine with the memories of his imprisonment. He was free now, and he would never have to step foot back inside that terrible place, so what did he have to fear?

He knew better now.

The truth was that Guise could be an undeniably accomplished actor when he so desired, and when it came to dealing with past traumas he was very determined indeed. For reasons unknown, he seemed entirely unwilling to let any sign of his so-called “weakness” show, which had made offering comfort practically impossible. He was without a doubt one of the most stubborn fellows on the face of the planet and only through sheer persistence (and a few underhanded tricks) did Lusca ever manage to convince him to admit to having a problem -
and that was under normal circumstances.

When it came to coping with the past, mum was the word.

In the beginning, only the sudden realization that Guise should have been showing some sign of distress after his ordeal clued him in to the fact that all was not sunshine and roses with the younger man. Any attempt to discuss the matter was only ever brushed aside with a smile or a laugh or (when he was being particularly relentless) an invitation to sex (which could challenge the resolve of men far stronger than he). He had therefore been forced to rely on his powers of observation to put all the pieces into place and figure out how to help his friend and loved one before his wounds began to fester and rot.

It had caused him no end of frustration to see that too-bright smile every morning, welcoming him to breakfast warmly, when he knew that smile was false -
a way to cover up the pain and the humiliation that haunted that precious boy still.

Even in sleep he found no outlet.

Guise was a quiet dreamer - never whimpered, never screamed. The only sound that ever emitted from those soft lips as he slept was that of his muted breathing, calm and rhythmic and perhaps just a little too well-controlled. This eerie serenity was augmented by the almost deathly stillness of his body and it didn’t take a genius to grasp the implications of such strange sleeping habits.

It hurt a little that even now, more than a year into their relationship, Guise could not permit himself to let down his guard and relax into his embrace as he slept, but he knew it was nothing personal and that some wounds ran a little too deep to heal easily with time.

All he could do was watch and wait and love.

And, of course, keep Guise distracted and sated so as to ensure that only pleasant dreams would follow him into slumber. Although keeping his emotions locked up inside probably wasn’t the most healthy way to deal with them, Lusca knew when and when not to push and so the best relief he had to offer was to provide some other means for his lover to work off some tension.

Though giving Guise the idea that he was cheating on him really hadn’t been part of the plan. It might be good for the release of anger, but Lusca rather preferred situations that led to noisy (mostly feigned) arguments and some spectacular sex over those that led to heavy objects being launched at his head.

“Just what exactly did you expect me to think?” Guise cried, picking up yet another (expensive!) law book and launching it in his direction with all his strength. Ducking back behind the sofa, Lusca winced as the book slammed against the wall behind him with such force that the windows rattled. Obviously this was one argument they weren’t going to have face to face. Lusca liked his head just fine where it was: on his shoulders, where it belonged. “You were kissing that blond hussy! In your office, where anyone could just walk in and catch you! Did you want me to see you? Is this your way of telling me our relationship is over with actually having to look me in the eye and say it to my face?”

“No, no!” Lusca interjected. “You’ve got it all wrong!”

Another book went sailing over the head and landed with a resounding crack. There went the binding on that one...

“Don't lie to me!”

“I'm not lying! She meant nothing to me! Nothing at all!”

“You could have fooled me," Guise shot back with a sobbing laugh. Lusca’s heart stilled on his chest. Oh, God. Was Guise crying? He never cried - hadn’t shed so much as a single tear since he was released from prison. “You had your tongue down her throat. Do you often kiss people who mean nothing to you like that?”

“Actually, she was the one who had her tongue down my throat,” he corrected, then winced. That hadn’t come out the way he wanted it too. Ducking his head a little lower, he waited for the impact of another of his costly tomes becoming painfully acquainted with the wall.

But the impact never came.

Instead, all he heard was the sound of his lover’s rapid breathing, harsh with tears. Risking a glance over the top of the sofa, Lusca was alarmed to see just how affected Guise was by this stupid misunderstanding. Sitting stiffly in the chair behind his writing desk, trembling hand shielding his tear-stained face from view, he was a perfect portrait of heartbreaking misery.

Combing his fingers through his own wild locks with a sigh of frustration, Lusca wondered how things had gotten so out of control. For someone with a supposedly silver tongue he was certainly fucking things up this time.

Time to do a little backtracking.

“Guise,” he started hesitantly, cautious of any sudden motions from his distraught lover that might end in pain as he slowly rose to his feet and inched his way around the sofa. “I apologize for hurting you and I promise that what you just witnessed was not initiated by me.”

“Well, you weren’t pushing her away, now were you?” Guise sniffled, refusing to look at him.

Lusca sighed again and kneeled down in front of Guise before reaching up to pull his hands from his face. He wanted to look into his lovers eyes while they had this discussion.

The fight seemed to have gone out of him, because Guise didn’t resist - didn’t even try to look away, which was both a blessing and a curse. When was the last time he had seen those brilliant brown orbs glimmer with such hurt and betrayal? And to think he had inspired that wounded gaze.

Opening his mouth to speak, Lusca was startled when Guise beat him to the punch with words that made his blood run cold: “I knew a guy like you could never really love me, but I didn’t really want to believe it.”

“Wh-what...?” Lusca stammered, stunned. “What do you mean?”

Guise smiled that same false smile that he always wore when he didn’t want anyone to know he was hurting, the tear-tracks down his cheeks stark in contrast, and Lusca had never hated that smile more. “I’m damaged goods,” he stated wryly. “How could anyone possibly love someone like me? And how could I ever deserve that love? This past year with you has been like a dream, but all dreams must end eventually. I guess I should thank you for humoring me and I- ”

“And you what?” Lusca burst out, a sudden fury overcoming his shock and dismay - though he would be hard-pressed to say with whom he was more angry: himself, for failing to recognize his lover’s inner demons before, or Guise, for having such little faith in him. Was he really so fickle and unreliable? “You’re going to bow down to your insecurities and run away without even letting me have a say in the matter? I’ve never taken you for a coward, Guise. Don’t let that change now.”

“Lusca...”

“Look,” he continued, firm and unrelenting, “there are clearly a number of issues we need to hash out, but before we continue this conversation I would like to make one thing abundantly clear: I love you.”

“Please don’t lie- ”

“Lie! Lie about what? About loving you? Just what makes you so sure that I don’t? Don’t you think I ought to know my own heart? Do you think I would lie to myself about my own feelings? And for what? Just to keep a boy who is supposedly ‘damaged goods’ happy?” He chuckled humorlessly. “I hate to break it to you, mon chéri, but I’m more selfish than that. If I decide to keep someone around - if I chose to share my life with that someone - it isn’t going to be out of any sense of charity or duty.” Guise’s eyes glimmered with unshed tears, but there was the faintest spark of self-doubt growing there too and Lusca could tell that his words were getting through to him. “Do you understand me?”

“I-I...”

“Do you understand me?”

“Y-yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“I understand that you...”

“That I love you,” Lusca repeated resolutely. “I love you because you are a beautiful, wonderful person who deserves to be loved by someone a hell of a lot better than me, but I’m too selfish to ever willingly let you go.”

“But that woman...”

“That woman who was just in here was nothing more than a low-class whore. You recognized her, didn’t you? She was the one who came in here a couple of weeks ago, desperate because her younger sister, who had been working as a barmaid, had been raped and brutalized by her employer, but no one was willing to take her case because she had very little money.”

“I remember,” Guise murmured quietly. “I also remember thinking it was strange that you would agree to work for practically nothing.”

“See what a selfish guy I am?” Lusca smirked, but received no smile in return. Clearing his throat uneasily, he proceeding on a more serious note. “She was referred to me by someone I owed a favor to.”

“Who- ”

“That’s a story for another day,” Lusca interrupted hastily, hoping that he wasn’t blushing too noticeably. With luck, Guise would never learn of any of his more humiliating drunken escapades from the time before they had met - especially now that the debt owed to the one person who could describe them in perfect detail had been suitably repaid. “The important thing here is that I took the case and won and... Well, Miss Lisalotta was so grateful that she decided to...” Was there a way to say this without sounding completely ridiculous? He cleared his throat nervously. “She wanted to repay me with her body.”

Guise huffed and glared menacingly.

“I wouldn’t have accepted her offer, of course,” Lusca amended hurriedly. “It’s just that she caught me by surprise with her proposal and when I tried to refuse, she didn’t understand why because I couldn’t very well tell her about us and then she kissed me and then you walked in and I was just too appalled by the situation to react properly and then you...” Pausing to catch his breath, he reached up to rub his throbbing temples only to discover that his cheeks, too, were wet. God, what a wretched day. “I love you,” he repeated tiredly. “I love you and I don’t know what I would do if you left me, so please forgive me for being a blind fool and tell me what to do to make things right.”

Guise sobbed, abruptly throwing himself forward into Lusca’s arms and Lusca welcomed him with equal parts surprise and satisfaction. “I’m the one who’s been foolish,” Guise said desperately, clinging to him as if he might disappear at any moment. Lusca rubbed his back soothingly. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“There’s no need to apologize.”

“But I’ve treated you so terribly, and I could have...” Guise’s eyes traveled gazed over his shoulder and he flushed brightly. It didn’t take a genius to know what he was looking at.

“Don’t worry about the books. They can be mended easily enough,” Lusca said. Then, eyes twinkling playfully, he added: “And you throw like a girl, so I’m fine too.”

Guise wrinkled his nose, pouting cutely, and punched his chest half-heartedly for that remark. “Jerk,” he growled, but his eyes were smiling.

And that’s when Lusca knew that everything would be okay.

Laughing with both relief and amusement, Lusca leaned forward to steal a gentle kiss from his lover’s sweet mouth and thought that maybe - just maybe - this had been what Guise had needed all along: a chance to breakdown and throw things and let out all the pent-up anger and anxiety that had been festering inside for so long. Distracting him from his troubles with small annoyances and plenty of sex may have offered some small temporary relief, but there was no way that such things could have encouraged the sort of healing he really needed. Now that he had finally been forced to admit to his own fears and insecurities, perhaps he could finally begin to heal.

And maybe someday soon Guise would no longer feel the need to hide his pain with an empty smile.