When Berwald stepped in the front door that evening, he found himself in a perfectly dark house. Everything was dead silent, still, eerily peaceful. Exhaling slowly, he turned the light on, expecting someone to be waiting for him, possibly with sharpened knives and screwed-on silencers. Instead, all that waited for him was a Finn sprawled on the sofa, holding a bottle of rum with loving care. He halted in surprise, blinking at the smaller man.
"Tino?" The Swede set his coat on the back of a chair and approached his roommate. Hazy violet eyes finally turned on him, sweeping up and down his form.
"Welcome home, Berwald! Mmm... Sorry about the liquor..." He pointed to the bar of the kitchen, where a row of empty bottles revealed his activities for the evening.
"What're you doing, Fin?"
"Drinkin'," the smaller male slurred. "What's it look like?" He tried to take a sip of the rum and sloshed alcohol on his shirt. "Aw... Fuck."
Berwald's mouth fell open a little as he stared at Tino, watching the Finn attempt unsuccessfully to wipe the rum away with one hand. "Why're you drinking?"
"'Cos I like it," Tino sang, and giggled when he almost dropped the bottle. "Oops... That woulda been bad... What a shame to be... Hm... I like this stuff." He tried taking another swallow.
"Think maybe you had enough..." Berwald pulled the bottle from Tino's hands and headed to the kitchen.
"Hey! Get back here..." Tino rolled over and fell off the sofa. "Tha's mine."
"I paid for it." The Swede searched for the lid and screwed the bottle shut tight. "This stuff'll kill you."
"Please! I'm Finnish! I'm... I have a stomach of steel. I can handle anything!" He giggled maniacally, staggering into Berwald and prodding his muscular chest. "Even. You." Berwald's brow furrowed as he stared down at Tino. The smaller blond was running his fingertips up and down along his sternum, and it was more than a little awkward. He kept staring at Berwald's chest like he'd never seen something so fascinating. One slim hand splayed out across a solid pectoral, pressing gently. "You're so...big. And strong. And handsome. You're like a beast. A scary, handsome, sexy beast. You should have a boyfriend. Why don't you have a boyfriend, Berwald?"
An uncomfortable ripple travelled down the man's body. This was not something he wanted to discuss. "Don't need one."
"Why not? You're all alonely here by yourself... You just work... I bet it's 'cos you-you... You're too afeared to get close. You use your...your beastyness to push everyone away. You don't wanna be st-sticked in one place b'cos that... But no one wants that! That's a turrible way to live! Everyone needs someone to...to... What was I saying?"
"Terrible way to live."
"Oh yeah. You're scared, so you scare everyone else. It's why you always have that angry face. With the little wrinkle spot between your eyebrows." The Finn attempted to mimic Berwald's characteristic scowl, scrunching up his face. "You know, I bet you haven't got any in like, four...y-years!" He held up three fingers, then added his thumb. "And I think we should fix that. I will help you fix that, because as your-" he hiccupped, "friend, I am conssserned about your well-being, and it's not healthy for a hot young stud such as youself to be sooo...pent up. Too much sexual frustration is bad for you! I am willing to do whatever it takes to fix yer issue."
The Swede shook his head. "You need to sober up..."
"No. You need to loosen up. Come on, Berwald. Loosen up." Sneaky hands slid up beneath the hem of the taller man's shirt.
A quiet grunt of surprise escaped Berwald as he caught hold of Tino's wrists. Despite the drunkenness, those fingers could brush over his skin in just the right way... He forced those tricky hands back down to Tino's sides. "Calm down, Fin. You're drunk."
"No shit... Where's that rum..." The Finn straightened to peer around Berwald, searching for his bottle.
"No more." One strong arm wrapped around the smaller blond's waist and he found himself floating back to the sofa. He giggled, clinging to Berwald, then slipping a hand down the Swede's pants. Berwald dropped him gracelessly on the sofa in shock. "Tino..."
"Don't 'Tino' me," the Finn grumbled. "I know what it is you want. You want what they all want, don't you? You want this." He ran his hands down his body suggestively, fixing clouded eyes on his roommate. "It's okay, I dun' blame you. I been told I'm irresistible... Boys think I'm pretty. Girls think I'm pretty. And they all want the same thing," he sang, rocking back and forth on the sofa. "Sex, sex, sex... I'm good at that. Wanna see? I can show you." Tino's hands began tugging at the button of his pants, but Berwald dove forward to stop them. "Ooh, wanna do it yourself, then?"
"No." Berwald forced Tino's hands back to his sides. "Stay dressed."
"You're no fun..." Tino went limp, falling into the other's arms.
"Dun' wanna..." He nuzzled against Berwald's abdomen. "You're all warm and muscly..."
Why me? Berwald asked the universe silently, trying to hold his drunk, amorous roommate back. The only thing that kept him from just giving in and dragging the little Finn back to the bedroom was a very deeply-ingrained sense of chivalry. Plus, if he took advantage, there was a distinct chance Tino would wake up horrified and leave, right after giving Berwald a smack for the ages.
Tino was once again trying to literally get into the Swede's pants, and had skilfully undone the button and zipper with his teeth. The high functionality of his drunkenness was impressive, Berwald decided, but a bit disappointing. Now his arousal was that much more evident. He pulled back to fix his jeans and left to sit across the room.
"Hey! Get back here..." Tino tried to scowl. "I was busy."
Berwald shook his head, watching Tino with unreadable eyes. He had never seen the other blond in this state before, and it disturbed him. Not once had he ever asked for more than a glass or two of wine, a couple shots, maybe a beer. This Tino was loaded on three beers, a half bottle of wine, and part of a bottle of rum. At a party, in a total stranger, he might have found this amusing, but not at home with his friend.
"Why did you do this, Fin?"
"I like drinking. It makes everything go away..."
"Makes what go away?" Berwald's brow furrowed slightly.
"Everything. All the bad memories and unhappy feelings... They all..." Tino stared off into space, expression dreamy. "It's like drain cleaner."
"You know. Gets all the ickies out."
"Like right now... I know I supposed to be doing something... I'm in big trouble..." The Finn gestured at the ceiling to illustrate "big". "But I dun' care! Dat's what's great about drinking."
"Why're you in trouble?" Berwald perked up a bit in curiosity.
There was a long, drawn-out pause, and Tino burst into tears. The Swede stiffened in his chair, shocked at the abrupt change in emotion. Drunk and off-kilter he could handle, sobbing and blubbering he could not. Hesitantly, he rose from the chair and crossed the room, settling on the sofa and placing one large hand on his roommate's trembling shoulders. Tino flinched and continued crying all over himself, staining his sleeves with salty tearstains. Berwald opened his arms and wrapped them around the other's slim form uncertainly and patted his back. The blubbering turned to focus on him, rubbing moisture all over his shirt.
"I-I jus' wanna be free... No more angryness and scaredness. Just peace. Dun' I deserve sum peace? Happyness? L-love? Why dun' anyone love me!" Tino went back to sobbing against Berwald's shirt. "No one deserves to be alone! I wanna have sumbuddy... Alone is scary..."
"I do fine alone," Berwald couldn't help but add, a bit dismayed by Tino's rambling thoughts.
"You're okay though, 'cos you dun' really need anyone. I need a someone..."
"What manes you think I don't need someone?"
Tino paused in his sobbing to think. "I... I dunno... You just seem that way. Like you dun' really care."
Tino sat up and looked Berwald in the face. "I'm sorry, Berwald..." He sniffled and wrapped his arms around the Swedish man's neck. "I-I..."
"It's okay." Berwald gave him a gentle squeeze. "Maybe you should go to bed."
"I'm fine! I...actually I feel icky..."
Berwald held him out at arm's length. "What?"
"Dun' feel good..." The color was completely absent from Tino's face.
Berwald practically hauled Tino off the floor as he rushed him to the bathroom, praying that he wouldn't have to scrub Tino's stomach of alcohol off the floor that evening. He set the Finn beside the toilet and stepped back, watching him anxiously. Tino slumped down and hung on the edge of the toilet, issuing quiet groans of discomfort.
"Do you need anything?" Berwald asked, reaching out to him, then pulling back hesitantly. Tino shook his head. "Feel sick?"
"Yeah..." Hanging onto the toilet seat, Tino leaned forward as if to vomit. "I feel awful... My tummy..." He coughed.
"Need to throw up?"
"Stick a finger down your throat...?"
"I dun' have a gag reflex," the Finn moaned, hunching over the bowl.
With a sigh, Berwald knelt beside him, rubbing his back as soothingly as possible. After a few minutes, the smaller blond stiffened and emptied his stomach into the toilet. Berwald winced in sympathy, trying not to look or listen too much. Just when it seemed Tino was through, he was retching again. Berwald stayed close, waiting patiently for him to be through with it, then got up to dampen a cloth. He swept it over the Finn's clammy forehead and let him clean off his own mouth.
"Th-thanks," Tino muttered, curling up on the rug.
"Welcome." Berwald took the rag to rinse it off. When he turned back, Tino was passed out. His entire slender body shivered, curling up a little tighter into itself.
Berwald bent to scoop him up as gently as possible and carried the Finn to the bedroom. The blond head lolled pathetically on his arm, and the limp body still trembled against him. He almost dropped Tino as he struggled with the covers, then rolled him onto the mattress. The Finn flopped onto his face but slept on, so Berwald organized him in the middle of the bed and hauled the covers up.
For a while, he regarded Tino. Now that he wasn't in misery, his face was peaceful, and a god-awful smell wafted from him. Berwald tried not to gag on it and fanned the blond in an attempt to blow the scent away. It had been a long time since he'd gotten this plastered, but he knew Tino wouldn't be feeling pretty tomorrow. The only explanation for such sudden, erratic behavior from Tino was the other night. He must have shaken Tino rightly for him to go on such a bender the next day. Berwald let the guilt fall onto his shoulders. By now, he felt he should be used to reactions of fright, anger, or borderline insanity when he tried getting too close. Very few people were ever not afraid of him. Most of those were bigger than he was, and scarier. He patted the smaller male's hair timidly and left without making a sound.
He was lost. No matter which way he turned, no matter how many times he told himself this way was the right way, Tino knew he was lost. There was no direction, no astral bodies to guide him, no moon, though everything was lit in pale, sharp silver. Through the seemingly infinite paths of the maze, he ran, sometimes trotted, but never walked. He had to keep moving, and he had to stay lost. That was the only way he knew to be safe. There was always that whispering, the quiet voice that seemed to follow him, coming from nowhere, that kept him going. He couldn't let himself be caught. One turn after another after another, trying to leave behind what always found him no matter how hard he tried.
The Finn also became very aware that he was being followed. Something moved through the thick forest of sunflowers that made up the maze, slipping easily between the thick, rough stems, running when he ran, slowing when he slowed, turning when he turned. Each time he tried to see his follower, the form vanished into shadows, but he caught the occasional flash of gold from it, a bright blur that left an imprint on his eyes in the relative darkness. He tripped and the form paused, not continuing until he picked himself up and sprinted onward.
Turn after turn, dead end after dead end, Tino went on, scratched by the wicked plants, hands scraped by the ground, exhausted from the constant movement. He felt sick, but he had no choice but to keep going. Another corner and he was nearly floored by the heavy wave of copper scent that hit him. Thick, hot, metallic air crept into his nose and mouth, and he was truly about to vomit. The Finn backed up, only to find himself flat against a wall of spiny stems and rough sunflower leaves, tendrils tangling around him. He tore free and proceeded down the trail despite the strengthening of the smell.
Dark pools and spatters of liquid covered the ground and dripped from the leaves of the giant flowers, occasionally landing on his shoulder or causing him to slip. The whispering voice vanished and was replaced by soft, childish laughter. It echoed through the path, sending chills down Tino's spine and across his skin.
"Tino... Where are you? I've been waiting for you for so long." Tino froze in his path, stiff with fear, unwilling to go forward. "I know you are there. I can hear your breath, and your heartbeat, like a little rabbit's. Come here, little rabbit. I want you."
His breath stopped. Tino didn't move a muscle for several moments, then lunged forward, sprinting in the only direction he could, ignoring the blood splashing up when he ran through a puddle. A rumble pulsed through the air, making his hair stand on end, and urging him faster. His stalker bounded through the sunflowers at his side, and he struggled to outpace it, wanting nothing more than to leave it behind and be alone. When he saw the end of the path, opening out into a wide, free space, he cried out with relief and charged through it.
But it was not the exit of the maze. It was the center. And he charged right into a trap.
Ivan turned to face him, smiling that familiar smile, the one that could be so cruel and sweet at once. In his hand was a familiar pipe, stained dark with blood, swinging to and fro like a pendulum. His movements as he approached the frozen blond were slow, deliberate, as if he was approaching a wild animal and he didn't want to frighten it off.
"I've been waiting for you, rabbit."
Another warning rumble trembled in the air as his follower finally exited the maze, sliding effortlessly from between the stalks despite thick mane and tail. The lion padded leisurely between the Finn and the Russian, eyes fixed on the latter with deadly intent.
Ivan looked displeased, twirling the pipe in his hand skillfully. "Stay away, lion. He is mine."
The beast snarled in response, curling his upper lip back to expose glistening canines. His muscles coiled as he readied to spring.
"Bad kitty." The moment the big cat leapt, Ivan brought his pipe down toward his head. Tino screamed.
The first thing Tino woke to was the brain-shattering sound of a door slamming into a wall. He cringed and was further tormented by a brilliant light glaring into his face, and his hyper-sensitive eyes.
"Tino?" Berwald was staring at him with what the Finn would characterize as his alarmed expression, though it was more of a surprised glare. The difference between this and his usual expression was subtle. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Berwald..." Tino rubbed at his temples wearily. His head throbbed something terrible, and when he exhaled, he caught a whiff of poisonous dragon-breath. That smell alone was almost enough to have him dry-heaving. "Is there something you want?"
The Swede changed to his puzzled glare. "You called me."
"Oh." There was a moment's pause before Tino repeated, "I'm fine," and burrowed back under the covers to hide his pain from the world. After several moments of silence, he almost thought Berwald had left again when he felt a weight settling on the bed and a hand on his back.
"Do you need anything?" the taller man asked, keeping his voice low and soft. Bless him, he understands, Tino thought with some pleasure.
"Coffee would be spectacular," he mumbled through the blankets. Berwald nodded, though his companion couldn't see.
The weight lifted off the mattress, but the hand lingered briefly on Tino's back.
The Finn could see no reason for forcing himself out into the misery of the world in the midst of his hangover, and chose to lay beneath the covers until he truly couldn't stand the scent of his own breath. With reluctance, he crawled out of Berwald's bed and slunk across the room to close the blinds before tripping into the bathroom. The reflection in the mirror showed that he looked just as terrible as he felt, pale skin blotchy, eyes puffy and red with raccoon dark circles, dry lips chapped at the edges. Then there was his hair... He couldn't believe he'd allowed the other blond to see him like this. No attempts of combing or smoothing with fingers worked, so he promptly divested and headed into the shower, bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste along for the trip.
The cold water was not only shocking, but enlightening, bringing back memories of the previous day that the alcohol had temporarily erased. The more Tino recalled, the more upset, frightened, and disturbed he became. Oh God. He'd hit on Berwald last night. He had always been a fairly lucid drunk, always remembering the night's happenings eventually, but he would have given a kidney to keep from recalling his "episode" the night before. If memory served correct, he'd even cried. Just thinking about it convinced him that maybe, it was time to practice a little abstinence. From then on, no more than three at a time, he resolved. One night of humiliation was more than enough.
It took a while, but he managed to work his way up to the Ivan problem. The Russian was a major player in his nightmares, forcing him to remember many things he'd tried to flush out with hard liquor, quickening his fears, and dredging up feelings that he'd long ago formed distaste for, but still had. He couldn't argue them, no matter how many times he told himself that Ivan was a sociopath, pure evil, Satan's little helper, or hell, maybe the man himself. They gripped his heart, sick black tendrils suffocating him whenever they got ahold, injecting him with the addictive poison that was Ivan's love. He could feel the stuff pumping through him already, twisting his thoughts to something that the Russian had created in their brief time together. Tino felt ugly just dwelling on it, and hurried to get out of the shower and restore himself before facing Berwald again.
When he entered the kitchen, still drying his hair, Tino found a mug of coffee and the cinnamon twist from the previous day waiting for him.
"Oh... Berwald, this isn't mine." The Finn nudged the plate away, receiving a strange look from Berwald.
"It was for you..." Tino smiled sheepishly. "As an apology. Really, it's been a shitty few days, and it's all my fault. I'm sorry."
Berwald just tilted his head slightly, eyes shining behind his glasses, a faint blush appearing on his cheeks. "We could share."
An even deeper flush colored Tino's face. "B-but it's yours... I got it for you..."
"If it's mine, I can do what I want with it." Berwald tore the twist in half, taking part for himself and leaving the rest for Tino.
The Finn thanked his housemate quietly and started picking at his half of the pastry, still beet red from the roots of his hair to his collar. The coffee slowly kicked his brain into gear, and his hangover seemed to vanish. The magical thing about being who he was. Hangovers were a cakewalk.
"Feeling better?" Berwald unbraided the pastry, eyes fixed on Tino.
"Yeah. Tons. Loads." He couldn't look at the Swede. All he could see was a blurry image of his hands on the man's pants and a flash of what he thought were gecko-print boxers. He had humiliated them both last night, and preferred to go on pretending he didn't remember a thing.
"Got pretty plastered."
"Yeah, it happens sometimes."
An awkward silence hung between them, Berwald stirring his own coffee, Tino still tearing at a piece of cinnamon twist. Neither looked at the other.
"So I guess you were a bit out of it."
"Something like that..." The violet-eyed man cleared his throat. "I was just a little upset last night, and I apologize, once again..."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Berwald replied, with an edge to his voice. The Finn finally glanced up, and wished he hadn't. Berwald was giving him an intense stare from over his glasses, indicating that while Tino could pretend to forget, the Swede could not. The taller man said nothing further though, preferring to take a sip of coffee and finish his cinnamon twist.
"Actually, Berwald... There is something I wanted to tell you." When the Swede gave a grunt of affirmation, he continued. "Last night, I know I shouldn't have gone on a bender, but recent developments pushed me to it. Not like they excuse anything I did," he added hastily. "But I was trying to keep my mind off my problems and figure out how to tell you that I think it's time that I leave."
Berwald's head snapped up. "Beg pardon?"
"I've been here so long, I've out worn my welcome, I've eaten your food, used your kindness, and I think it's time for me to go. I've made enough money to pay you back for some... I'm sorry I can't do more, but I hope what I can give you will be enough."
The Swede was silent for several moments, eyes unreadable, and the wrinkle between his brows deepened. "Why?"
"Why are you leaving?"
More silence hung between them, and Tino ran a hand back through his hair anxiously. "It's just time... I never stay in a place for long, Berwald. I can't. It's...hard to explain, and I'm sorry. As much as I wish I could stay here... I mean, I love being here with you," the Finn admitted. "You're one of the...kindest, sweetest, quietest people I've ever known, you've made me feel so welcome, like I belong here. And I thank you so much for letting me stay with you. Having a home has been nice..." Tino trailed off, voice trembling. "I'm going to...to miss..." Tino found his vision beginning to blur. The first of the tears slipped down his cheeks, and he hurriedly wiped them away, only to have more cloud his eyes. His throat ached, and he could no longer hold back a sob caught in his chest.
Strong arms encircled him, embraced him, pulling him against a warm, solid body. Tino let them manipulate him and curled instinctively into it, resting his cheek on the broad chest and tucking his head beneath the taller blond's chin. Tears ran down the Finn's cheeks and leaked between his lips, bitter and salty on his tongue. Hoping Berwald would forgive him, he rubbed his face into the man's relatively dry shirt to clear them away. The familiar musky, natural Berwald-scent filled his nose, soothing him as they gently rocked back and forth. Tino was a little surprised. Berwald was better at this comforting thing than he ever would have thought. He was a quiet, secure presence that the Finn could cling to. And cling to Berwald he did, matching his breaths with the other's, gradually calming his sobs. He sniffled quietly when they stopped.
He felt the Swede's nod of affirmation, then the soft press of lips to his hair and warm breath running between the golden strands.
Tino let his arms rest loosely around Berwald's waist as he tilted his head back to look the man in the face. Solemn ocean eyes stared down at him. They had that see-through-you look in them, like they often did when Berwald looked at Tino. That look had always scared him, or made him very nervous. He barely acknowledged it now though, placing one hand gently on the Swede's cheek and leaning up to press their lips together. He kept the kiss soft and chaste, felt it returned by Berwald with equal softness.
"Don't want you to leave," the Swede murmured, reaching up to brush a bit of hair from Tino's eyes.
"I think I have to, Berwald..." Tino sighed, leaning into his body again. "There are things... If I stay, bad things might happen..."
"Doesn't matter." Berwald held him a little tighter. "I want you to stay."
"I don't care."
"You should. I do. I wouldn't forgive myself if something were to happen to you because of my stupid mistakes..." Tino rubbed at the Swede's lower back absently. "There isn't a good way to explain this."
"Then don't. Just stay." Berwald, for one, knew he was being selfish. If Tino thought he was in it deep as he was, he had another thing coming. The larger man just prayed it was a long time coming. He knew eventually, he wouldn't be able to keep his lives separate. Tino would find the guns he kept hidden, but didn't use on principle, and would realise he wasn't all he seemed. Or he would be singled out by one of Berwald's enemies and find himself snared in the dark web of the man's past. Or worse, one of the family might find out about him and report it directly to Søren. The last thing he wanted was for the boss to find out he was keeping secrets. The Dane hated that. He liked the idea that he knew everything that went on in the lives of his family members, and Tino might be used to punish Berwald for his secrecy. So many things could go wrong.
But Berwald had to weigh those with the positives of getting Tino to stay. For the longest time, he hadn't had anything that he didn't care to lose. He was alone, relatively. The people he had once considered "family" were now the very ones he tried to escape. He had distanced himself from them, but was still tied to them in so many ways, through loyalty, force, and the fact that he had no one else. But now he did. Tino was a little piece of the world that he could keep all to himself, someone he could count on and protect. After all, the violet-eyed man was so small, and Berwald felt a deep, intrinsic need to protect him. Maybe he was stereotyping, but there was something appealing to the thought. It made him more the white knight and less the black pawn that he'd been for so long. With a sigh, the Swede lifted Tino's chin to look him in the eyes. It was with pleasure that he noted the blond didn't flinch away so much when their gazes met.
"Tino. Will you stay with me?" He received a number of soft indecisive noises, and was about to release his friend in defeat when the Finn responded.
"I suppose I can stay for a while longer... Just while I'm figuring things out. I don't have any clue where I'm going to go yet, or what I'm going to do, and I only just got the money to replace my old camera... Okay, I'll stay. It might just be for a little bit, though. Only a few days."
"Right." Berwald nodded in understanding, but his eyes were bright with the contentment of winning this battle. He could do a lot with a few days.
Tino laughed unsteadily. "Stop looking at me like that... This doesn't mean I can stay forever. Just until I get things figured out."
"Of course..." Berwald gave him a small, smug smile.
The Finn hit him.