theo tate &. ethan beck
february 2017
i'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream
it was a friday night and already, ethan’s weekend was off to a shitty start. he’d been reprimanded for the second time in the past two weeks and he was told that he’d be speaking to internal affairs come monday. he was on a fast trip to losing his job if he didn’t straighten up and play by the rules, but the rules weren’t getting him anywhere, goddamn it. by then, it had been several months since theo had come into the precinct and given his statement and his description of the drug supplier that had led them down the right path… that ethan inevitably fucked up in his haste to catch the supplier. he’d been on the case for nearly two years and he was this close to catching the guys but he wouldn’t be able to do it by playing by the rules.

As they walked towards the bar Theo had booked for their evening dinner, ethan tensed for a moment as he struggled to decide how much to tell theo. he didn’t want to worry him or anything, but more than that, ethan was embarrassed. “ ethan hadn’t told theo about his troubles at work and in fact, aside from bringing his work home with him nearly every night, so theo knew how much he worked and how into it he was. he just didn’t know how far he’d taken it on occasion. for the most part, ethan couldn’t share details of his cases but there was also a part of him that didn’t want to taint theo with any of it. "still working on that drug ring. haven’t been able to pin anyone down.” he tensed again, this time in agitation. “i just…” a strangled sound crawled its way up his throat as he glowered at nothing in particular. “i want to break it up.” he wanted to do, wanted to be the one who got the glory. not that he was like that on everything but he especially wanted it for this case. he’d been working on it for over two years and had given so much of his life to it. it was why he’d overstepped and crossed lines he shouldn’t have; he was verging on desperation.

by then, they’d reached the bar and ethan looked up as theo’s footsteps slowed. a quiet huff of laughter escaped and he forced himself to relax. “this the place?” he asked, changing the subject and hoping that theo wouldn’t backtrack. his hand in theo’s tightened again. ethan had passed the bar before and hadn’t thought much of it but it could be a diamond in the rough for all he knew. besides, he was always down for checking out new places, especially with theo at his side.

As they walked now, Theo kept close, his arm bumping and sliding against Ethan's, joined hands held close. His head was turned up, face angled at Ethan as he listened to him talk about work — his expression shifting into empathetic concern. He could tell Ethan was frustrated by it, but Theo was perpetually optimistic, and he was certain Ethan would crack the case before too long.

"You'll do it. You'll manage it." Theo answered with another squeeze to Ethan's hand, smiling warmly with the confidence he only wished Ethan would have for himself. But Theo understood discomfort and self-consciousness too, and experienced it often. Still, he was suitably distracted when they arrived at the bar, and he laughed too and tugged Ethan's hand. "Yes. You'll like it. Come on." He pulled him alongside him, through the door and down a dimly lit corridor and some steps into the bar. It was completely old-styled, speakeasy and low lit inside, with velvet booths and some cigarette tables and a stage for a singer, where a woman was crooning away now.

It was fairly busy, too, but Theo had booked them a booth, and the hostess lead them to it with a smile and sat them down. Theo grinned over at Ethan brightly. "So? Nice, right?" Their server appeared then, too, a handsome twenty-something who set down their menus and asked for a drink order.

"What would you recommend?" Theo asked, friendly as usual, turning his beaming smile to the waiter instead, who considered for a moment.

"We have a really great signature cocktail here called the Speakeasy, if you'd like to try that." He answered back, smiling at Theo, who nodded agreeably and folded his hands. "That'll do me!"

Theo's optimism was one of the things Ethan loved about him, that and he envied him for it. He'd never been particularly optimistic, always inclined to look at the glass as half empty than half full. It was just how he'd always been, perhaps a side effect of being raised by a resentful single father, if you could even call it raising. In any case, his father's negativity had rubbed off on him. Theo helped when he was feeling particularly down but he could never entirely convince Ethan to look on the bright side. Tonight was no different, the corners of his mouth turning down in a frown at the younger man's eager optimism pertaining to his case. Ethan was just glad that Theo didn't stay focused on it nor did he remark at Ethan's grunt in response. Instead, both of their attention was on the bar they were approaching. For a few precious seconds, Ethan himself was a little distracted, the frown giving way to a small, almost secretive smile that was reserved solely for Theo.

Still hand in hand, Ethan followed along half a step behind Theo as he led the way into the bar. As they stepped into the main room, Ethan couldn't stop the way his gaze drifted to take everything in. It was quaint and charming and Ethan had a moment to wonder why he'd never been there before - why they'd never been there. Sliding into the booth, Ethan smiled at Theo and nodded, opening his mouth to elaborate on his impression of the bar, but just as quickly as Theo had posed his question to Ethan, he was turning to smile at their server instead. Ethan's smile faded and the muscle in his jaw clenched a little as he watched the server who was not only attractive but all smiles. He tried to tell himself it was the guy's job but it didn't ease the discontent swirling in the pit of his stomach.

After what felt like an eternity of Theo and the server chatting away, the man turned to Ethan to get his order. He was still smiling but Ethan could have sworn it was dialed down a notch or two and he wasn't nearly as chatty. Never mind that Ethan didn't exactly look approachable with the way he his expression had hardened. "What's in the Speakeasy?" he asked, more to make conversation then any real interest in the drink -he rarely diverted from his regular glass of whiskey. The server was curt but polite and occasionally shot Theo a quick smile as he rattled off the ingredients of the cocktail. When he remarked on the garnish, he had the gall to wink at Theo. Whether or not Theo had seen it, Ethan had and it ticked him off, his jaw clenching harder as the server's attention returned to him, patiently awaiting his drink order. "Whiskey. Neat." He practically ground the words out through his teeth but the server didn't seem to notice or he was a good actor.

As the server disappeared to get their drinks, Ethan calmed a little, lifting a hand and squeezing the bridge of his nose. He needed to relax; he knew he was overreacting but he couldn't help it sometimes. To say that Ethan was insecure in his relationship with Theo was an understatement. Not only was the younger man attractive but he was kind and gentle, perhaps the most sincere person Ethan knew. He still didn't know why he'd taken him up on his offer to go out several months before but he was extremely grateful that he had. Despite the stress of work, the past few months had been some of the best Ethan had had. Fixing his gaze on Theo across from him, Ethan gave him a small, tired smile. "The place is great. Thank you."

Theo had missed the wink. And as much as Ethan found him to be kind and gentle, he had his flaws, too — namely, being horribly oblivious to most things, especially when someone was showing interest in him. He would, of course, tell anyone that the waiter was merely doing his job, being friendly — and he would have believed it wholeheartedly, whether or not that was or wasn't the case. In this situation, certainly — the waiter was just being friendly, chatting easily with an open customer who seemed warm and happy to be there. But Theo missed any hints at flirtation, and merely smiled happily back at him, pleased and excited and thrilled that the bar he'd discovered was turning out to be a good option already.

He was also oblivious to Ethan's irritation. Theo was glancing after their server — not to look at him, but to inspect the rest of the bar, gazing out over all of the drinks lining the shelves and the nice uniforms everybody was wearing, the style and the glamor of the place bringing an easy warm look to Theo's face. When he returned his attention to Ethan, he was still smiling — though it faltered a little at how tired the man looked. He'd missed the frowning, the pinching of his nose — and he reached over across the table, opening his hand out to Ethan, palm up.

"Hey, if you're too tired, we can absolutely not stay too long." Theo offered quietly, still with a little curve of a smile at the corners of his mouth. "But I'm glad you like it. It's really nice, right? The uniforms are really cute, too. A nice touch." He grinned — oblivious, again, to how that might sound to someone certain that Theo and the waiter had been flirting with one another. "You should've got the cocktail, though! I'll let you share mine, if you play your cards right." Theo wiggled his eyebrows, over exaggerated, at Ethan. "We could get something to eat, too, if you want?"

Where Theo was checking the place out, Ethan was checking him out, watching as his gaze followed their server as he departed the table. Ethan tried to tell himself that it was nothing, that Theo was just being nice, that he was nice and friendly. It didn’t help though, not much anyway. That niggling insecurity refused to let go and instead it continued coiling in his gut. Ethan knew he needed to let it go, to trust that Theo was with him and only him and had no interest in others. Still, it was hard not to be jealous when he wanted every bit of the younger man’s attention. He stuffed it all down though in an attempt at at least pretending to enjoy himself, for Theo’s sake.

When Theo held his hand out, palm up, Ethan’s chest constricted and guilt rolled in. He didn’t hesitate to reach out and take Theo’s hand, wrapping his fingers around the other man’s hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. Again, he was reminded of how sweet and perfect Theo was. In the privacy of their booth, Ethan was a little more comfortable with the PDA such as the hand holding and he leaned forward, bringing Theo’s hand up to his mouth to press a soft kiss to his knuckles. He hoped their server was watching and saw that, saw him staking his claim. His grip on Theo’s hand tightened as he let their hands fall back to the table. And then Ethan was withdrawing his hand, his thoughts soured by thoughts of the server and recalling how Theo had smiled at the man.

But then Theo was speaking, assuring him that they didn’t have to stay long and once again, Ethan felt that stab of guilt. He gave a quick shake of his head. “No, no. It’s fine,” he assured Theo, forcing a smile for his benefit. His eyes tracked to their server who was leaning against the bar, waiting for the bartender to mix Theo’s cocktail and he frowned once again as he noticed the man looking their way with a smile on his face. Once again, Ethan had to mentally shake himself and refocus on Theo. His lips twitched and he gave a shake of his head. “You’ll share with me even if I don’t play my cards right,” he shot back with a knowing look. Once again, he relaxed some, going from tense and relaxed like he was was going to give him whiplash. He was surprised that Theo hadn’t caught on just yet. “Yeah, let’s get something to eat.” Ethan couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten and it probably wasn’t a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.

Theo was noticing the ebb and flow of Ethan's mood, but he wasn't sure how to place it. Ethan had been grumpy before — short tempered, too, but not really at him, not terribly. Only a little, sometimes, things that Theo always found easy to explain away, because of course he could be annoying, or a little too much, or forgetful and clumsy. There was more than enough reason to find him frustrating. He certainly had no clue that Ethan thought he was perfect — and would have disagreed wholeheartedly, even if that was nice to hear, sometimes, from the person you were dating. Still, the corners of Theo's mouth had turned down a little with concern as he watched — confused by the whiplash of the kiss to his hand and then Ethan withdrawing again, and how brusque and sour he seemed by the whole thing.

Was he really just that tired? Theo was certain of it, but Ethan didn't want to leave, and he didn't want to force him, either. So he sat back in his chair, smiling a little sadly, a little anxiously, and pulled over the menu so that they could start poring through to see what it was they might like to order. "Looks like they do some really nice burgers." Theo commented, and smiled hopefully Ethan's way. "I'm gonna get one of those, I think. What about you?" He pushed the menu over to Ethan to have a closer look, which was the same moment that their waiter returned with their drinks.

He set the whiskey down in front of Ethan, and delivered Theo's cocktail with a flourish, earning a grin. "Your Speakeasy, sir."

"Oh, thank you, sir," Theo answered with matching friendliness, and their server leaned against the edge of the booth closest to Theo.

"Thinking of some food? I gotta say, our burgers are really amazing."

Theo beamed, and glanced over at Ethan, then back up to the waiter. "I was just saying they looked super good to him. I'll have one, please. Thank you."

Ethan was tired, mentally, and physically drained, but he wanted this night, wanted this time with his boyfriend. He wanted to see Theo’s dark eyes light up at him, wanted to see Theo smile at him. Instead, all Ethan felt like he was getting was concerned and worried looks while their server got every bit of Theo’s positive responses. It was infuriating to say the least and Ethan wanted nothing more than to tell the server to fuck off, especially the next time he came over to bring them their drinks. Ethan was tense and his eyes were narrowed, mouth in a flat line across his face as the server presented Theo’s drink and then leaned over him.

The muscle in Ethan’s jaw was working as he watched the interaction between Theo and their server. His hands which had fallen into his lap were balled into angry fists as he glared daggers at the server as he chattered away with Theo. Their conversation might have been innocent enough but it was all too easy for Ethan to read more into the interaction, and he did just that. The way that Theo beamed had Ethan’s heart constricting knowing that it wasn’t for him, that he was looking at someone else -at another man- that way was like a knife to the gut, a poisoned knife that pissed him off that much more.

Still, Ethan was trying to temper his reactions, trying to rein in his emotions. When Theo slid the menu over to him, however, Ethan just barely glanced at it, only long enough to find something other than a burger.

When the server turned to Ethan, he was still smiling although it had been dialed down as though he was simply being polite. Through narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, Ethan practically growled out his order. “Fried chicken sandwich.” He didn’t even really want it. Truth be told, the hamburger had sounded good, at least before the server had returned. Now nothing sounded good to his soured stomach.

“Gotcha!” the waiter’s smile grew and he turned back to Theo (of course). “I’ll get these put in and they’ll be out in no time. Enjoy your drinks!” He had the gall to nudge Theo’s shoulder before he pushed off the booth and disappeared, presumably back into the kitchen to put in their order.

Practically steaming, Ethan grabbed his glass of whiskey, his grip on the glass so tight that his knuckles were white. He didn’t say a word but he did shoot a glower in Theo’s direction for all of a split second before he was lifting his glass and taking a hefty swallow of the amber liquid within. The burn down his throat and the warmth in his bellow were welcome sensations, although Ethan wished they’d take away the foulness of his mood. He set the glass down with a loud thunk on the table and stared at Theo as he eyed his cocktail. Ethan’s gaze was dark and stormy and this time, he didn’t turn away to look for the damn server.

Theo missed it all until the server had left. When he looked around, back to Ethan, it was with a happy smile. They'd ordered, their drinks were there, their food on the way — now they could relax, and talk, and spend the evening together, and maybe with some jokes and chatting Ethan's mood would liven and he wouldn't seem so tired, so worn, so unhappy. But the look he turned back to, the darkness printed on Ethan's face — it took the breath out of Theo in the worst possible way. A cold feeling shot down through his chest, into the pit of his gut, and the smile he'd been wearing dropped clean off of his face.

He swallowed. His throat had grown a little constricted from anxiety. What had happened? Had he said something? Had he done something unintentionally? He'd only ever seen that look on Ethan's face a few times before, but never quite like this. Theo wondered if perhaps he was reading into it — maybe Ethan was just very tired, maybe this date night had been the wrong idea. Theo fiddled with his cocktail for a few moments, flinching sharp when Ethan lowered his own glass to the table loudly. He swallowed again, took a quick sip of his drink, and ventured a careful, unnerved look Ethan's way.

"You okay?" He murmured, smile venturing out again. He'd experienced Ethan's brutal temper in the past, too — how quickly he could lose it. Theo shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn't want that to happen here, in public, but he couldn't understand or comprehend what Ethan could possibly be mad at. So Theo tried to lighten the mood, and attempted a soft, "The servers are really nice here, aren't they? It's great service. We should definitely leave a big tip."

He didn’t miss the way that Theo’s expression shifted, the complete one-eighty it did but by that time, Ethan was beyond livid. Not only did it hurt that Theo would bestow such attention on a stranger but it was also embarrassing, infuriatingly so. Ethan always seemed to turn to anger whenever he was hiding his feelings; it was the only emotion he seemed to fully be able to connect with, perhaps a byproduct of his upbringing with hate and anger being so prevalent. It was certainly easier to be angry than it was to be happy, something that Ethan had found quite some time ago. Still, that didn’t make him stop striving for happiness, even if it often seemed out of reach.

At Theo’s tentative query, Ethan just glared at him. Theo acting like he didn’t know what had upset him just made things that much worse. Did Theo think he was a fool? Ethan wasn’t so far gone that he didn’t know that Theo was friendly with everyone but he couldn’t fathom that Theo would be so oblivious to the fact that their server was flirting with him and that, for all intents and purposes, it appeared that he was flirting back. Even if it was harmless, it made Ethan feel like a schmuck to have his boyfriend flirting with the server.

Then came the clincher. Ethan just blinked at Theo when he remarked on the service and suggested they leave a big tip. Dry, humorless laughter bubbled up and Ethan gave a sharp shake of his head. “Oh, that’s rich, Theo.” His voice was low and menacing. “You might as well give him a big fat kiss while you’re at it.” He tossed back the rest of his whiskey in two swallows and once again slammed the glass back down on the table. Then he was sliding out of the booth and to his feet before Theo had a chance to reply. “I need to take a leak.”

Crossing the bar to the restrooms, Ethan relieved himself and took his time washing his hands afterward. When he emerged, he’d cooled down a little. He was overreacting, Theo was just being friendly, he was just tired and stressed from work… Passing by the bar, Ethan caught their server’s conversation with the bartender.

“Check out table twelve, the cute brunette? He’s practically eating out of my hand.” The server could have been referring to anyone at any table, but following his line of sight, Ethan saw Theo seated alone at their table. Theo glanced toward the bar and the server and Ethan turned back in time to catch the server’s face light up and he absolutely lost it.

Storming across the bar, face red with anger and embarrassment, any of the calmness he'd reclaimed while in the restroom had evaporated. Reaching the booth he'd shared with Theo, Ethan didn't give Theo a chance to react before he was grabbing the younger man's arm and hauling him up out of the booth. His grip was firm but not hard enough to bruise and yet, once Theo was on his feet, his grip loosened more and his hand slid down to take Theo's hand, his grip every bit as unyielding. "Let's go. We're leaving." The words were snapped out in short, clipped tones brooking no argument. Ethan felt like a fool and he'd be damned if he was going to let things continue.

It was like a punch to the gut, the way Ethan spoke to him. Theo visibly flinched, mortification crossing his face, his blood running cold. Even if Ethan had given him a chance to respond, Theo wasn't sure what he would have said. The accusation took the wind out of him, and he stared, horrified, as Ethan excused himself from their table. The heat flooded to his cheeks, then, all at once — deep embarrassment settling heavily on him, anguish at having upset Ethan so severely, and his mind racing as he tried to make sense of how things had unravelled so quickly, so suddenly.

Had he been saying the wrong things, somehow? Theo couldn't make sense of it — he'd only been polite, hadn't he? He liked chatting to servers, to waiters, getting to know them, making sure they were having as good an evening as he was. He'd worked in the service industry himself as a part time job before, he knew how gruelling it could be, how difficult if one's patrons weren't amenable to nice conversation. Theo felt sick, deep and heavy at the base of his gut, and he curled in on himself, a hand settling through his hair as he tried to understand. He'd just — apologize. That would help. He'd soothe Ethan's worries away, whatever they were, wherever they had come from, and they'd get the night back on track.

Theo turned in his seat, glanced over his shoulder to check if Ethan was on the way back from the bathroom, yet — still with flush prickling underneath his eyes — just in time for Ethan to appear closer to him than expected, for Theo to half stumble out of the booth with that jerk to his arm. He flinched, tensed, shock slapped across his features even as Ethan's hand dropped down to his own. It should have been comforting, maybe — but Theo felt as though he had no choice in the matter, that Ethan was pulling him out of there whether he liked it or not, and it sank that sick feeling in his stomach even deeper.

As quickly as he could, he yanked his wallet out of his pocket, one-handedly managing to spew some cash from it out onto the table to pay for their drinks and the food order they'd placed, but with desperation building and a bit of moisture prickling behind his eyes, Theo didn't want to cause a scene. He ducked his head, tried to give Ethan's hand a reassuring squeeze, and went along with him, only glancing around to shoot an apologetic look at the server as he was rushed from the bar.

When they were clear of it, Theo ventured in a tense, unsure voice. "Ethan? What's happening right now? Why are you so angry?"

Deep down, Ethan knew that as much as he felt like a fool for how Theo had been carrying on with their server, he was very much behaving like a fool in the way he’d hauled Theo out of the booth and then practically dragged him from the bar. He couldn’t help it though; he simply had to get out of there, to get away from the server, to get Theo away from the man. His Theo, his boyfriend, not the server’s boyfriend or even friend of any sort - they didn’t even know each other. Thinking those thoughts as he pulled Theo behind him out of the bar, Ethan began to calm a little even as his heart continued to race.

Fortunately, Ethan had missed Theo tossing cash on the table or his anger likely would have been stoked further. The last thing he felt the server (or the bar for that matter) deserved was to be paid. Never mind that Ethan at least had drunk his entire glass of whiskey. Once he’d pulled Theo a few meters from the bar, Ethan could finally breathe a little easier. His hands trembled a little and tried to hide it by giving Theo’s hand a squeeze. He wasn’t entirely sure he was successful and then, suddenly, it didn’t matter.

At Theo’s questions, Ethan immediately yanked his hand from Theo’s as he whipped around to glare at the younger man. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know,” he hissed darkly. There was a beat and he was repeating the server’s words. “You were practically eating out of the palm of his hand.” The muscle in Ethan’s jaw jumped as he ground his teeth together angrily even as the insecurities that plagued him swirled hungrily in the pit of his stomach. This was it, This was where Theo was going to leave him, where he’d wind up alone yet again.

He squeezed his eyes shut and his nostrils flared as he inhaled sharply, both hands lifting to drag his hair back away from his face. When he opened his eyes, his gaze was accusatory as he looked back at Theo. “You don’t really expect me to believe that you didn’t know what you were doing, do you?” There wasn’t really any venom in his words but rather the question was asked with a matter-of-fact tone. Surely, Theo didn’t think he was that much of an idiot.

That brief, fleeting squeeze of Ethan's hand around his own had Theo momentarily relaxing, like it was all alright, like this was just a terrible misunderstanding, and Ethan regretted his gut reaction over — over what? Theo still couldn't make sense of it. But it was only fleeting, only for a second, because with Ethan wrenching his hand away and whirling on him, Theo felt the air go out of him in one punch to his solar plexus. The glare leveled on him was unlike anything he'd ever seen from Ethan — and he'd seen him frustrated, annoyed, but never this. There was fury in his face, all directed at him, and Theo couldn't wrap his head around it, couldn't parse through the moments that had lead to this, lead to Ethan snarling at him about eating out of his hand, and — Theo's mouth went dry.

His cheeks flushed, prickling at the backs of his eyes growing stronger, harder, a sharp shine already taking to the brown of them. Theo knew that wasn't helpful — that right now, him starting to cry wasn't the way to get Ethan to calm down. But he couldn't help it, couldn't stop the way his eyes burned and his face hurt with the sudden heat to it, how it had gone blotchy with hurt and his own little bit of anger that Ethan could accuse him of something so horrendous when Theo had just been friendly. Just friendly — to a server, to someone who was just doing their job, and now — Ethan's cold gaze on him, and that hard, flat question, Theo felt a cold hand clench around his heart.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He insisted immediately, the hurt deep and apparent in his voice. Theo didn't come easily to arguing, at least not for himself — for others, absolutely, he barrelled into fights with his hands on his hips. But now? Maybe he was in the wrong. He swallowed, jaw tensing, expression faltering, and reached his hand out for Ethan again.

"Ethan, please, I'm — I don't know what happened. There was nothing going on. You can't — surely you can't believe that? I was just — I was just being nice. Just... talking." Theo groped fruitlessly for some way to explain that felt satisfactory, but even then he was sinking fast into self-doubt and fear.

There was no missing the way that Theo’s face flushed and the bright sheen of unshed tears in his eyes and Ethan felt like he’d been sucker-punched. A stab of guilt had him hesitating for just a moment before the dark thoughts swept back in and overrode it. Theo was just trying to make him out to be the bad guy. Which, technically, Ethan supposed he was being. But that was beside the point. Theo had been entirely too friendly with their server, so much so that the other man had thought it funny where Ethan found it humiliating to have his boyfriend flirting with their server.

When Theo insisted that he didn’t know what Ethan was talking about, Ethan scoffed and gave a shake of his head. He didn’t bother replying -his reaction implied his disbelief plenty. He did calm just a little, enough that his next question wasn’t so terse. And yet, Theo continued to insist that he’d done nothing wrong. Ethan thought that maybe he’d feel better if Theo simply admitted that he’d been flirting with the server, at least that’s what he thought. But Theo’s continued insistence that he was innocent was only infuriating Ethan even more.

He almost caved when Theo reached for him and pleaded with him but then he was whipping his hand out of Theo’s reach and spinning on his heel to continue the brief trek back to his apartment without a word to Theo. His stomach twisted anxiously, whatever appetite he might have had was gone although his body still needed the fuel. How could Theo be so completely oblivious? The short of the answer was that Ethan didn’t believe he was. Maybe he was in denial, but there was no way he couldn’t know what he’d been doing. And if Theo was flirting with a stranger right in front of him, there was no telling what he was doing when he wasn’t with Ethan. That thought soured his stomach even more.

Ethan’s pace lengthened and he just assumed that Theo was following behind him. If he’d had any notion that Theo wasn’t following him, he would have… Hell, he would have stopped and physically dragged him back to his apartment with him. As upset as he was, Ethan didn’t want Theo to leave. Besides, his bookbag was up in his apartment and he’d need that. That momentary prickle of fear that Theo might not follow was snuffed out and Ethan continued his stormy march to his apartment, only pausing at the entrance of the building to glance behind him to ensure that Theo was indeed following him.

For a fleeting second, Theo did consider just — staying where he was. Or turning around to walk somewhere else, to walk off the turmoil churning in him, the fresh and sensitive hurt that Ethan would accuse him of such a thing. Confusion, too — because how was it possible? He hadn't — not intentionally, anyway, of course he would never, ever intentionally flirt with anybody, not when he wasn't looking, when he wasn't even remotely interested in getting attention elsewhere. But that wasn't how it had come across to Ethan, apparently, and despite how awful he felt, Theo still wanted to smooth things over. After some momentary hesitation, he wrapped his arms around his chest and followed.

He kept pace behind Ethan, only hurrying a little when the older man's stride lengthened and he had to move a little faster to keep up. He worked through everything that had lead up to this moment, trying to make sense of it — but it was still hazy, unclear in his head, how Ethan could have come to that conclusion with only a few words exchanged between himself and the server. Theo felt sick, and looked it, his face blotchy from withheld emotion, head ducked a little so that none of the passers by on the street could see.

He didn't look up when Ethan paused at the entrance to his building, just quietly moved through it as long as the door was left open for him, and then up the stairs, and up into Ethan's apartment. Theo hesitated near the door once they were inside, chewing on the inside of his cheek, fighting against the desire to snap from defensiveness. After a long, uncomfortable silence, Theo scraped his hand through his hair and turned his hurt frown Ethan's way.

"I just — I can't... really believe you're... acting like this. I was just being friendly." He still sounded confused and conflicted. "You were the one being — cold. Unfriendly. That guy was just doing his job. He was just being nice, too, there was nothing... I'm not. I'm not like that. Do you really think I'm gonna go out on a date with you, on a special night that I planned for us, and try to give some other guy my number, or something?"

The climb up the stairs up to Ethan’s apartment were the longest they’d ever been. The silence was every bit as thick as the tension and it wasn’t getting any better since leaving the pub. Reaching his floor, Ethan trudged down the hallway to his door, at last, everything beginning to weigh on him. He unlocked the door and pushed in, not waiting for Theo this time. Theo had come that far, he wouldn’t not cross over the finish line so to speak. Although Ethan didn’t look behind him, not at first, he wasn’t sure where to look after that, or more to the point, where he should go. He hesitated at the entrance to his bedroom and then slowly turned around to face Theo, almost feeling as though he were going to the gallows.

Ethan knew he’d overreacted but he seemed helpless to stop himself. Just thinking back to the interaction between Theo and the server… His jaw clenched as Theo fixed a frown on him and began to defend himself. Of course, he would defend himself and of course, he didn’t see what Ethan saw. Ethan scoffed and leaned against the doorway of the bedroom, arms crossing over his chest as he glowered across the room at Theo. “I don’t know what you were doing but you were being more than just friendly. Even the server knew it, he was-” Ethan cut off and made a strangled sound. “If you were just being ‘friendly,’ you were being way too friendly.” As though Ethan were the judge of that. In this instance, he absolutely thought he was.

As he glared daggers at Theo, Ethan’s chest constricted. His heart ached as much from the fact that he’d been hurt himself as because he was clearly doing the hurting too. He didn’t want to do any of it, he just… did. Kind of like how Theo and the server had just been nice. “Don’t pretend like you didn’t know what you were doing,” he snapped out suddenly. “I don’t know why you would do it but you did. And it’s not the first time either.” It was the first time Ethan had been in a bad enough mood to call him on it though, or more to the point, it was the first time he was insecure enough about their relationship to bring it up. And that was the crux of it all, wasn’t it? Ethan was insecure and everywhere he looked Theo was looking to leave him, to be with anyone but him.

It was easier to hide the pain and fear behind anger, Ethan had learned that early on. “What was it about him, hm? He was cute wasn’t he?” Ethan was goading him now, arms uncrossing as he started to stride across the room toward Theo. “He was certainly younger.” He sneered and reaching the small two-person table in what passed as a dining area, Ethan angrily swept his arm across it, knocking a couple of paperbacks and a file folder off onto the floor, the contents spilling across the old wooden boards. He’d have to pick it all up later but he couldn’t be bothered with it at the moment. At least the paperbacks had made a slightly satisfying thud as they landed, albeit a muffled one. He wanted a bigger bang though, louder, more finite. His eyes landed on Theo’s bookbag on his small couch and, worked up as he was in that moment, there was no stopping him as he crossed to it and whipped it up and threw it at the nearest wall. If the loud, resounding thunk didn’t make him feel better, then the neighbor whose wall he’d thrown the bag at, banging on their shared wall in retaliation certainly did. Ethan snarled at the neighbor he couldn’t see through the wall and turned back to Theo. “Tell me again, you weren’t flirting with him,” he demanded, voice low and cold as he took a couple of steps toward Theo.

Every word out of Ethan's mouth made a cold heat flare through Theo, twisting his lips into a look of distressed hurt. It was just getting worse and worse, the more they talked, the more he tried to defend himself. But he had to, didn't he? He'd never been accused of anything like this before, and he'd always been friendly. Affectionate with everybody he knew, physically and emotionally, and always outgoing and warm with strangers or anybody. He found himself wondering if that wasn't one of the better things about him. He'd always hoped so, anyway — that he could make friends anywhere, with anyone, and that it was a positive, not... whatever it was Ethan was turning it into now.

Way too friendly. It crushed a little part of Theo, twisted a thing he felt confident about into something bad. Was he really too friendly? Was that why Eva had left him, too? Had she grown sick of it, maybe, that he was always off being goofy or — or did it seem like he was actively flirting with other people? He'd never intended to do that, not knowingly, but maybe he was just — too oblivious. He'd never understood why Eva had left, and now — maybe this was it. Self-consciously, Theo sought out the solution, a sad part of him figuring that it must have been it.

But it was only a small part. Theo was agreeable, and friendly, and amicable, but he didn't like the way Ethan was putting words into his mouth, and he didn't like the accusations, and he understood perfectly that if he'd been a witness to this, if he'd seen Ethan talking this way to anybody Theo cared about, he would have intervened with fervor. His faltering anguished look hardened as Ethan continued to hurl accusations at him, even when Theo's entire body jolted, went stiff with sharp surprise as Ethan swept books from the table, when he grabbed his bag and hurled it at the wall.

Theo's shoulders remained tense, entire body closing in on itself, his fists balled at his sides. It was shock, really, that kept him standing there for a good long moment. Ethan had never shown t his side of him before, and Theo could only stare, wide-eyed, horrified. Ethan's steps towards him made Theo half back up, falling into a bracing step towards the wall, and then he sucked in a breath, sharp and reaffirming and glared hot up at him. "I was not flirting with him." He shot back, sharp and cutting, and whirled away before Ethan could catch sight of any tears prickling at his eyes, making a beeline for his fallen bookbag.

It was too late, though, because some had broken loose of his eyelashes and slipped down his cheeks, and Theo hauled his bag up into his arms, clutching it protectively so he could jerk a look over his shoulder at Ethan. He couldn't be goaded into losing his temper just yet, not fully, and answered as calmly as he could, even though his voice still hedged and prickled with wretchedness. "I wanted to go to dinner with you. I wanted to have a nice night. I wanted you to have a nice night. I didn't think anything about that guy except that he was nice to me. I wasn't flirting, I wasn't doing anything wrong. I'm sorry that I upset you."

With that, he turned away for the door to make a hasty exit.

I was not flirting with him. Ethan just laughed, the sound dry and humorless. He didn’t believe Theo and that much was obvious. He’d seen the way Theo had looked at the server (whether it was just imagined or otherwise) and what the server had said… Maybe Theo hadn’t been flirting with the server but the server had been flirting with him and Theo hadn’t discouraged it. Some people liked when others thought their significant other was attractive and wanted to be with them. That kind of thing made Ethan even more insecure. Hell, he knew Theo was attractive -he was attracted to him himself, obviously- he didn’t need someone else to tell or show him that he was. Especially when Theo seemed oblivious to what was going on.

Ethan hadn’t been paying close enough attention to catch the tears that slipped down Theo’s face before he turned away from him. He was too fired up and on edge to really look at him, to see him. All Ethan saw was his own rage. Hell, he knew Theo was nice, it was one of the things that had drawn him to the younger man in the first place, but this felt different, even if it was of Ethan’s own making. He could still see the server’s gleeful face as he talked about how Theo was eating out of the palm of his hand and it made him ball his hands into fists at his side. More than anything, Ethan would have liked to sock the guy in the mouth. He’d show him eating out of his palm.

Mentally shaking himself, Ethan came back to the present in time to catch Theo clutching his bookbag to his middle as he turned on Ethan. A scowl crossed his face then. “Oh, don’t turn this around. Don’t you dare play martyr and act like I’m making this all up!” He jabbed a finger toward Theo as he glared at him. And then Theo’s back was turned toward him and it gave Ethan pause for a moment. This was it. This was where Theo was going to leave him. His insides constricted and a pained expression crossed his face for all of a second before he was masking it in his anger again.

When the onslaught of accusations kept coming, Theo's body stilled as he made the beeline towards the door. He did not want to listen to this, not any longer. He wouldn't stand around to be yelled at, or wait for Ethan to calm down, or wait for him to listen to him. They could talk later, maybe, once Ethan had a chance to cool off, but Theo was hurt, confused, feeling terrible for how the night had gone — and guilty, for some reason, as if it was his fault, as if he had been too friendly. If he'd just kept things polite, maybe Ethan wouldn't be shouting at him as he was, accusing him now of being a martyr.

Theo shot another hurt look over his shoulder at Ethan. "I'm not a martyr and I'm not saying you're making it up but — I'm — I didn't. Ethan, I didn't. Not intentionally. I said I was sorry, I just — I don't want to do this." Theo didn't want to throw things back on Ethan, to say you know I wouldn't. He didn't like when people upset him and then claimed that they would never do the thing he was upset with them for, when — for all intents and purposes — it felt like they had done it. He understood that, for Ethan, he thought that he'd been flirting with the server. But Theo couldn't accept it as fact, not when he'd had no intentions of doing so, when he'd put time and effort into planning a nice night for the two of them, when all he'd been looking forward to was that, was time with Ethan.

He clenched his teeth, muscle in his jaw flexing and tensing. "You just — you must think really poorly of me." Theo had nothing left to say, and now only wanted to escape the situation so he could lick his own wounds. He whirled around, threw his bag over his shoulder and onto his back, and wrenched the door open to exit.

Ethan’s eyes rolled as he scoffed when Theo insisted he wasn’t a martyr. Of course he would insist that and there would be a but as well. He just tuned out the rest of what Theo was saying all while replaying the server’s words in the back of his mind. Eating out of the palm of my hand. Naturally, it only served to infuriate him that much more. Why couldn’t Theo see what he saw? Or was he just in denial? Ethan didn’t really know. All he did know was that Theo had been extremely friendly to the guy and the guy had eaten it up. Ethan just didn’t know Theo could have missed that. Well, unless… he wasn’t looking for it. That made Ethan’s frown deepen and his insides twist with a little bit of guilt.

He did hear when Theo choked out that Ethan thought poorly of him and that guilt twisted even more in his gut and he opened his mouth to protest but Theo was already turning his back to him again and wrenching open the door. Something inside Ethan broke then and he didn’t think, he just acted. Lunging forward, Ethan’s hand shot out and slammed the door shut just inches in front of Theo’s face. Ethan knew that it would come to this, that it would come to Theo leaving and yet it sent him into a panic. “No, don’t,” he practically bleated, his own voice thick with emotion.

Moving in where his hand was pressed against the door, Ethan wedged his body between Theo and the door. “Don’t go,” he pleaded, all the anger having melted away when faced with Theo actually leaving. It felt so finite and Ethan couldn’t stand that. He reached for Theo’s hands, squeezing them in his own. “Please.” His voice was near a whisper now and he tugged at Theo’s hands, turning him away from the door.

When he sensed that Theo might be rethinking making his exit, Ethan seized on that and rushed on as he sank down to his knees in front of Theo, still clinging to his hands. “Please don’t leave. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was an asshole. I didn’t - it’s been a long day. I’m sorry,” his voice was still thick with emotion and he pressed his face against Theo’s middle, silently willing him to stay just as he was verbally pleading for him to do. Looking up at Theo, there was a definite wet shine to his own eyes. “I love you, please don’t go.” Ethan didn’t realize how childlike he sounded, how completely pitiful, but he might later. In that moment, all Ethan could think about was the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach at the prospect of Theo leaving and being left alone.

Theo's tension prickled sharp and cold as Ethan appeared beside him, against the door, and he barely had enough time to jerk himself out of the way before he could get caught in it as he slammed it shut. It flashed a cold spike of momentary dread through him — in the moment, Theo couldn't make sense of what Ethan was doing. He'd just been insulting him, arguing with him, convinced that he was looking elsewhere, and now — Theo stared up at him with a mixture of shock and alarm, frozen in place as Ethan found his hands, as he sank forward onto his knees.

He felt like he was experiencing whiplash. Only a second ago Ethan had been cold and shouting and furious with him, and now, when he looked up at Theo, his heart gave a sharp jolt and pang at the sight of that wet sheen across Ethan's eyes. He'd never seen such an abrupt about face from anybody before, and the entire rollercoaster ride had him reeling. Theo didn't know what to say, or what to do. Instinct told him that he needed to go, to proceed to leave, but the thought of trying to extricate himself from Ethan while he was crying and begging him not to go broke his heart. Theo couldn't do that, even though he was still hurt, and confused, and even though there was a deep, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he stared down at Ethan.

Oh, fuck. Theo found himself thinking, dread in the thought, even as he opened his mouth to answer with a soft, sad, "It's okay." It had been a long day. Ethan was tired. He was reacting out of character. Theo could forgive that, with some time. He didn't realize in that moment that it wasn't out of character, that he was opening up the door to more of Ethan's insecurities. If only he'd had spider-sense then.

Theo gave Ethan's hands a squeeze, trying to be reassuring, his expression caught between a wince and crumpled with a bit of his own devastation at it all. "It's okay. Don't worry. I won't go."