Winter as My Season

Chapter 8. Undermining Leopard Spots

"I don't like you." Matthew murmured, arms crossed in front of him like another pathetic shield, eyes turned away so that he wouldn't see the hurt. So that he wouldn't see the cruelty. He didn't look up, blue violet eyes wet and ashamed, as though confiding a great secret. Ivan wondered how he would say the same thing to his so called friends. Would he whisper it just as he was now? Would he tell them proudly?

The vodka, as always, left him without his stone casing, despite the clarity, and through the glaze the vodka gave him, the whisper stabbed. But Ivan buried it, and smiled, laughed, thought that it was plainly hilarious. As always, once again, Matthew was finding new ways to intrigue him.

It didn't matter if the intrigue often melted, and left barbs that he couldn't pull out inside of him.

"You don't like me?" Ivan repeated, and if either of them heard the lava under the frosting, they both chose to ignore it. The lava hurt. The frosting made things better. Ivan let out a rough, chilled giggle, and Matthew only turned away, gold hair falling across his face. "What happened to understanding me?"

Matthew shrank as Ivan advanced, forever pretending at inferiority as though it would save him, forever making himself feel small. Ivan was tempted to tell him he was beautiful. Perhaps he would grow then. Perhaps then his would lift his head and look him in the face. "I-it was a mistake. I sh-shouldn't have..." Matthew looked up then, violet eyes so big and bright, the barbs dug in deeper. Damnable eyes. "I'm sorry."

Ivan laughed and hated his own laughter. Hated the hate inside the laughter. "Are you giving up, Matthew? Are you admitting defeat?" he grabbed Matthew's wrist when he tried to back away, pulled him closer. Matthew nodded quickly, pushing against Ivan's chest as though he would budge, desperate to be away from him. "I can't let that happen, not until I've grown tired of you." he would never allow himself to think that perhaps, perhaps he wanted Matthew for other reasons.

So he laughed and hid and held Matthew closer. Put his arm around his waist, burying his fingers in his soft golden hair, wanted to melt in with him and the innocence and the tormented expression in those violet eyes. Wanted to melt like a snowflake on Matthew's tongue and just disappear inside him. Wanted to be nothing and everything.

Matthew was silent in his arms for a long moment, and Ivan breathed his scent deeply, didn't think. Just melted. Melted and drowned.

"Are you jealous of me?" he whispered, looking up at Ivan. His fingers fisted in his shirt just like they always head, a familiar gesture of submission that Ivan adored. He giggled, rough and grating in his own throat as though he had swallowed glass with bitter acid. "B-because, I still feel sorry for you."

Another stab. The vodka couldn't fill the hurt, or replace the blood. He took Matthew by the shoulders, forcing their lips together. Matthew didn't yield to him. He didn't make the soft little whimper, nor did he open his mouth, or pant hotly against his lips, or look at him with the same tender open eyes. His eyes were violet ice. And they stabbed repeatedly.

By the time he recovered, Matthew had already run from him, into Alfred's arms. He scowled sourly, hands becoming fists, lifting the clear bottle of vodka to his mouth and taking a swig, feeling the welcome burn of it . When they kissed, Matthew still clenched at his jacket. Matthew still stiffened in his arms, and then relaxed. Then he smiled sweetly.

A smile he had never given Ivan before. As though he actually loved Alfred. As though he actually thought that he could.

He decided then, that Matthew was a toy that had lost his charm. Matthew was boring. Matthew wasn't worth the trouble or the time. He had seen him cry. He had broken him. Matthew wasn't fascinating anymore. He wasn't. He held his hand over the wound Matthew's eyes had made, tried not to hear Alfred's obnoxious laughter, didn't want to see those poetic blue eyes glow because he had what Ivan wanted. He had it because...

Ivan clenched his fist and started home. Didn't notice Matthew's eyes following him.

Katyusha's Wednesday. She sat as daintily as ever at the kitchen table, waiting for the pot to boil before she put in potatoes, reading and rereading their mother's cookbook in a panicked, frantic way, afraid of messing up, of becoming inadequate. She looked up, her expression somewhere between a frown and a smile. "You're home early." A greeting she had whispered weeks before, with the same sadness, the same pain.

Ivan nodded to her, felt her surprise in the air. "I'm home, sister." he said instead, sitting next to her at the kitchen table, large and out of place, sunshine on his face from the window above the sink. He couldn't remember the last time he'd done this, sitting down and saying nothing just to hear his sister breathe. The table had seemed so much bigger, then. So much lovelier with fresh flowers and a checkered table cloth, rather than a pile of bills, dried dots on them where Katyusha had cried.

"You haven't been yourself lately." Katyusha whispered after a moment of silence, looking at him only in glances as though afraid of his reaction. She reminded him of Matthew. Matthew looked at him in the same way. Matthew was quiet like her. He didn't answer. "Who is it that has brought life to my little Ivan again?" The question was soft, so soft that if he wanted to, he could pretend he hadn't heard.

Only that Katyusha knew that he did. She always knew.

"Let me tell you something." Another soft query, as though he would walk away, become angry, disappear any moment. He didn't nod, just waited for her to speak, patiently silent while Katyusha stood up, dumping the potatoes into the bubbling pot, before sitting back down to look at him, study the way he studied her, study the half finished bottle of vodka in his fist. "Sometimes, people make you frustrated. They make you hate them. And you never realize the reason you feel so strongly is because you want them so bad."

She was silent, shredding the leaves off herbs to put in the pot next, carefully and with that same determined thin lipped expression, as though if she focussed hard enough, she could be just like their mother. She wanted to be just like their mother.

She didn't know that she was only opening her own wounds, would cry when Natalia rejected the meal, when Ivan didn't come down for dinner. But she would do the same thing tomorrow night, and the night after that.

"Thank you, sister." He stood up, and she didn't watch him go. She was stronger than he thought, somehow.