The park was chilly, but winter was slowly losing the fight.
Skies were grey above wet ground, but the trees seemed to be waiting eagerly for the sun to return. Some were budding already, Cortland noted. Seemed early in the year, but then the weather had been so erratic recently; which suited his moods just fine, he couldn't help but think with a grimace.
As he got closer to the small playground in the center of the park, Cortland spied the back of a familiar, gangly figure slotted into one of the swings, and a smile found him at the sight. Bright red hair seemed a welcome contrast to the day's greys and browns. Hinges creaked a little as Ian pushed the swing back and forth with long legs, his arms hooked around the chains that held the small seat in place, and Cortland couldn't help but feel like so much of his life was now wrapped up in the boy on the swing that it was almost frightening.
He sometimes wished he was still a kid, back when swings had been an adventure; going high into the sky until the chains slackened, wondering if he could ever get to the point of going all the way around. He never did. He remembered swinging and then jumping, mid-swing, to see who could get the furthest. Him or Anne. She had won sometimes, at other times he had; on one memorable occasion breaking his little toe as he misjudged a landing. But, maybe not everything had been simpler back then. Hadn't they once crammed a kid into one of the tire-swings so that he got stuck, then pushed him higher and higher as he squealed in terror?
Cortland couldn't remember why now, even when he tried. Maybe he hadn't needed a reason. Maybe the kid had been a nerd. Or just whiney. Cortland had been a bad kid back then, desperate to prove that he was as tough as his dad, Samson Hunt, the boxer. Shaking his head, dispelling thoughts of dead fathers and past misdeeds, he snuck closer to the swinging runner, looking disproportionally tall on the child's swing. Quiet, breath held, boots so soft in the wet sand. And then the pounce; reaching for the seat beneath Ian's bum and pulling it back as far as he could before letting it go and watching the boy swing.
"Christ, Cortland!" Ian cursed, clinging to the swing to keep himself from falling off. "You could have given me a bloody heart attack! I can just see the headlines: promising young athlete drops dead from sudden heart failure after vicious swing attack." He dug his heels in, slowing the swing, leaning backwards so he could look up at the offender, balancing precariously on the narrow seat.
Cortland laughed at the sight of the flailing athlete, digging his hands into his pockets as he cooed, "Maybe I can buy you an ice cream later on, if you're good."
"Was that revenge for the icy shower?" Ian asked, eyebrows shooting up in a suggestive leer. "If so, might I remind you that the shower was followed by ridiculously hot sex. Also, you nearly scare me half to death and all you have to offer is ice cream? You, Mr Hunt, are a terrible cheapskate of a boyfriend. And by the way
what's all this 'if I'm good' crap? I've never been good. Bribes or not."
"You're telling me. You certainly weren't good last night." Cortland figured the place was empty enough and risked leaning forwards to place a small upside-down kiss on the runner's mouth. "But I figure I owe you a lot of ice creams for it."
And again he was struck by the normality. No one came running over to accuse them of being perverts or weird. They were just two people sharing a small kiss and he loved that they could. One day, maybe they wouldn't have to hide it anywhere at all, but for now, nearly deserted little parks would have to do. Kiss shared, prejudices given the finger, Cortland finally settled onto the swing next to Ian's. His knees weren't quite as high as the athlete's, but he still felt far too big for the thing. One pair of creaking chains became two as he started to move, a melody of sorts. Disjointed. Improvised. Like so much of their lives.
"I haven't even begun to get revenge for that shower, Mr Tanner. But, damn
yeah. The bit after it..." Cortland cleared his throat as he glanced at Ian. They shared a mutual blush before seeming to, at the same time, decide that the mud just below the swings was very interesting and warranted a longer look.
"I have come to the conclusion that I need to keep you drunk all the time now
" Ian swung back and forth with renewed vigor, breaking the silence. "Maybe alcoholism won't be such a bad thing if it has such wonderful consequences. Maybe if we never sober up we won't have to deal with the horrible hangover part."
Cortland chuckled a little at the lame joke and shifted position, standing on the swing's seat now and using his body to move it backwards and forwards. From being taken over a kitchen table to playing on the swings. He really was caught between child and adult.
you said you had something to tell me? You wanna talk now or keep plotting to turn me into a lush?"
"There's a track and field meet next week." Ian kept shifting his weight back and forth, swinging slowly as he spoke. "It's indoors this time of the year which I don't like 'cause running on those tracks is all sorts of weird. But if I do well, I have a good shot at getting a sponsor and getting out of this shithole. Looking at the lineup I think I could win this. I really could. But
Not sure if I want to." He kept swinging, shaking his head, grip tightening around the chains. "You know what I mean, I hope. I just
you're important to me. And you'll still be stuck here another year."
Cortland's swing slowed and finally stopped as Ian started talking about the meet. By the time the runner had reached the end of what he had to say, Cortland was left hanging on the chains, leaning his head against one of them and just staring blankly ahead. So much had been happening recently. So many twists and turns
he'd almost managed to forget that the school year was winding to its own conclusion. That Ian's time at the school would end this year. That Cortland's wouldn't.
He had expected Ian to accept that Cortland might have to go to jail for what he'd done. Wasn't it hypocritical then to resent the athlete his own going away? And not for something negative, but for something amazing; a future? And yet, here was Ian sounding unsure. And here was Cortland, trying to understand, and his conclusions made him step quietly from the swing, crouching on the wet sand opposite where Ian was gently swinging. He put his hands on bony knees and stopped that movement, his face serious as he looked up into the other boy's eyes.
"Hey. You're not seriously considering not going, right?" Cortland tried not to let the smaller voice show. The selfish one. The one that wanted to keep Ian here. The one that knew he'd go mad without him. "Ian, you're
you deserve this. If you get it, you
you have to take it."
His words may have been betrayed just slightly by the choke in his voice, but he recovered it fast; smiling and squeezing Ian's thigh reassuringly. Playing the part that he knew he should. Suspecting that Ian may be able to see right through it, but trying all the same. He couldn't think about losing Ian. He couldn't stand the thought of the runner not being here. But worse was the idea that he might give up a chance of happiness and success because of Cortland. Enough lives had been left in limbo because of him. Some part of him was slowly becoming aware that Anne and Jerome would have to face the same hurdles this year. He felt the pain in his chest at the thought of Ian leaving and it was hard not to realise that Annie must have been feeling the same way.
"It's not about what people deserve, and you know it." Ian placed his hands on Cortland's, leaning forward slightly. "I will go, and I will bloody win because
" He sighed a little, eyes downcast. "This running thing. It's just mine, you know? Something that's not family related. I can do this and I can get out of here. Away from everything before things truly turn to shit. And besides, I've started to like winning." He admitted the last with a soft little smirk. "I think you know what I'm talking about."
"Winning is good. I know what you mean." Cortland watched Ian's face change, heard his voice talk in circles, felt those hands tighten on his own. It was like watching someone have an argument with themselves, and he felt hopelessly torn. Torn between the him that wanted to encourage and let Ian go, and the him that wanted to cling and ask him to give it all up, put his future on hold and stay. He knew which one he had to be. He knew it. And even when Ian spoke of getting out of town, even as Cortland felt the stab of those words, he tried to smile.
"My dad is getting set up for an interview." Ian said, out of the blue. Maybe the meet had not been the real issue here, a stubbed toe compared to a dagger in the back. "A parole hearing I mean. Or whatever it's called. He might be getting out soon. For good. Sort of. Until he screws up. If he screws up"
Cortland found it hard to keep the smile at the mention of Cail and his potential release. Fuck. Maybe it would be for the best if Ian really did win that meet. If he was gone, would Cail and the Tanners have any reason to threaten Cortland any more? Then again, if Ian was gone, would they have any reason to keep him around at all? But did that really matter in the end? Wasn't the important thing here that if Ian was gone
then he was out? Safe. Away from his possibly gangster father. Away from Cortland. And that last thought broke him a little, his smile crumbling into something pained before he reached for a mask again, determined for once not to fuck something up for someone he cared about.
Ian took a deep breath, not noticing Cortland's slip. Instead he confessed,
"I'm not sure how to feel about him being out. He's my dad. And a crook. And maybe things would be easier in a different town, but I don't want to leave you." There was heat in his voice now, curdling into anger and frustration. "It's not fair that you're a year below me. I was a bloody wreck after a week when you were at camp, not sure how you lasted two when I was gone last term. Christ, just going to sleep without you at night bloody hurts. I love you, that's the only thing that is supposed to matter."
"I could quit school." The words tumbled out as if Cortland's heart had spoken them before consulting with his brain.The mask was stretched thin. He could feel something odd happening in his eyes at those words
tears forming that weren't of frustration or sadness. He felt sad at the thought of Ian leaving, but what he was reacting to now? What was stinging at his tear ducts and making his jaw tremble? It wasn't sadness. But it was powerful. "I could quit school and come with you
" He lowered his face again, practically hiding it in Ian's shoulder as his hands clutched the runner's upper arms. This was stupid. Getting upset wasn't going to help anyone. Getting upset wouldn't give Ian the strength he needed to leave.
Ian slid off of the swing, sinking to his knees in the cold sand in front of the other boy, pulling Cortland close, into a tight hug."We'll just..." he started, half a mumble into his hair. "We'll see what happens, okay? It's not happened yet. I might fail, I only have the third personal best, I might trip and break a leg
we shouldn't worry beforehand. This is stupid." There were sniffles there behind the words, hidden in auburn hair.
"Right. Long way off. Stupid to worry." Cortland had been taken by surprise at Ian's embrace; right there on the ground in a children's park. But not so much that he tried to escape it. Because, shit, he wanted it. Needed it. Wanted the reassurance of time that Ian was offering. And so he mumbled into the other boy's chest, his own arms circling Ian's waist as he nodded. "Fuck, I love you too
I love you and it's just a year. You won't fail, and it's just a year."
"Let's just focus on the present, okay?" Ian seemed eager to leave this minefield behind, to put off making decisions for just another day. As if he had realised how it might have sounded, he added, "I just
I just want you to know I'm never abandoning you, you know? You've got me for the duration."
For the duration. That still didn't change the fact that it was a year they were talking about. A year. A whole year. But, Ian was right and they were ahead of themselves, and what would have happened had their roles been reversed? Considering his own actions, Cortland suspected he would have pushed. Pushed Ian away until Cortland's own guilt was alleviated by knowing that the other person didn't really care any more. That was how he'd always worked. Build those walls, make sure no one gave a shit because, that way, you weren't hurting them. Make sure you didn't care too much for anyone else because, that way, they couldn't hurt you.
As his mind raced, he squeezed the body in his arms tighter. Ian had changed Cortland, it was truer every day. But he wouldn't go back to old ways now. He couldn't shut Ian away, cut him off as if he didn't matter just to cushion his own heart against what might come. If Ian had the chance to escape and go on to greater things, Cortland would let him go. Until then, he was holding on tight.
There was a cough above them, and a mother and her child were stood there, dressed for winter playground fun. The kid wiped his nose, hiding a little nervously behind his mother. The woman looked down her nose at the boys, an expression of pure disgust on her face. And, as Cortland gripped Ian tighter, defensively, she said,
"You're in the way of the swings."
Cortland couldn't stop the laughter. It was all too much, their problems had come full circle now, two boys trying to deal with being what they knew they weren't supposed to be. It was almost a relief. "Come on." He pulled Ian to his feet. "I'll buy you that ice cream."
Ian let Cortland pull him to his feet, grinning a little at the mother as he remarked, "Oh, well, that's fair I suppose. We were indeed in the way of the swings. As long as you don't disapprove of the rampantly gay kissing."
It was such a typical Ian Tanner move that Cortland really should have seen it coming, the way Ian wrapped an arm around him, tilting him back so that he could deliver the most deeply passionate of showy kisses. Then Ian dropped his voice into a loud stage whisper, one hand still keeping hold of Cortland's.
"Because you know," the runner said, one finger raised in warning. "One day your kid might grow up to be one of us and you would have to get that stick out of your arse."
And with those words he grabbed Cortland's hand and ran for it.