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been a prisoner of the past (learn to let go)

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“I wasn’t worried.”

They’re lying in bed. Ian’s head is turned toward Caleb’s, whose eyes are closed. Caleb blinks sleepily at him, not altogether awake yet, making a questioning noise in response to his words. Ian tries to hold his gaze when Caleb finally manages to open his eyes, but he can’t. He turns his head away, eyes skittering up toward the ceiling, feeling nervous and overwhelmed.

“When you asked me if I was worried about you finding out how many guys I’d been with, I wasn’t worried.” His gaze flickers over to Caleb, seeing the questioning look on his face, before darting away again, unable to look him in the eye. “About your reaction, I mean. I was...” He swallows a lump in his throat. “Fuckin’ ashamed. And not just ‘cause of not knowing just how many guys I’d been with, or that I was blowing them for money, but ‘cause...” He shrugs a little, helplessly. “All the guys I don’t even remember being with.”

Ian doesn’t give any details. He doesn’t—he can’t, at least not yet—tell Caleb about all the times he could barely even remember leaving the club. Being led out of it, stumbling, held up by someone because he couldn’t walk on his own. Drunk, manic, and on too many drugs. Some stranger groping him. Their hand sliding down his chest and his stomach, over his ass, to his crotch, shoving into his pants and down his boxers. Blacking out somewhere between the club, the car, wherever they were heading. Or the times when there was just nothing. A vast, gaping hole in his memory. No club, no car. Nothing. The whole night, gone. Either way, waking up in some strange bed. Naked, sore, bruised. Sometimes alone, sometimes the men still with him. Not sure how he got there or what happened while he was unconscious, and not wanting to know.

Ian takes a shuddering breath and can’t help the slight edge of hysteria that seeps into his voice. “And not just that, either, but all the guys I wish I could forget bein’ with.”

He still doesn’t explain any further. He doesn’t tell Caleb about all the times when he wasn’t drunk and drugged up enough to completely blackout the whole night. The times when he woke up, or had never passed out at all, too out of it to really do anything but aware enough to know that he didn’t want what was happening anymore. The times when he felt numb, frozen, completely unresponsive but they didn’t notice or care. The times when he told them to stop, tried to, struggling, but they just did what they wanted to him anyway.

He can’t even begin to bring himself to tell Caleb about his greatest shame: All of the times he wanted it, enjoyed it—them, the men. A perfect combination of alcohol, drugs, and mania fogging up his brain. Every nerve ending of his body on fire, pulsating, soaring with pleasure as they touched him and he touched them. Then: the inevitable crash, the aftermath. Waking up in some stranger’s bed, their body draped over his, or completely alone. Disgust and regret turning in his stomach because of the things he’d done, let others do to him. Yet still going out the next night to do the same thing. The cycle repeating itself over and over—

“Hey.” Caleb’s palm is suddenly cupping his cheek, fingers stroking his hair, thumb brushing away tears that he wasn’t even aware that he’d shed. Ian turns his head into the touch, finally looking at him. Caleb’s expression is worried, eyes full of concern for him, and the intensity of it makes Ian want to turn away, run and hide, but he doesn’t for once. “You don’t have anything to feel ashamed about. Those guys... hurting you, that’s all on them.”

“I know,” Ian says, nodding, blinking back the tears still in his eyes and swallowing down the lump in his throat. “I know,” he says again, and his mouth stretches into a crooked half-smile, trying to make the words seem more convincing. Like he's actually fine and he really understands what Caleb is telling him. But the words, like his smile, feel like a lie. They are one.

He turns away abruptly and closes his eyes before Caleb can speak. He can tell Caleb wants to say something else to him, something more. He can feel it. But he feigns sleep. He doesn't want to talk about it anymore. He can't.

He hears Caleb let out a huff and feels the bed shift as Caleb gives up. Eventually, he hears Caleb's breathing even out as he falls asleep and the room grows quiet. He opens his eyes to the ceiling. It feels like some great weight was supposed to have lifted off his shoulders with his confession, even if only a partial one, but the weight's still there.

He looks over at Caleb and remembers the concern in his eyes for him. The affection that made the moment—the reality of what happened to him—almost too much to bear. He tries to feel it now, alone in the dark and the quiet with only his thoughts. He tries to take in Caleb's words, things that part of him always knew but that he still hasn't been able to admit to himself yet.

The men at the club... they raped him. Even as he thinks that there's still a part of him that wants to deny it. A part of him that still thinks it wasn't that bad and that he's just overreacting. A part of him that says he wanted it and that he's not just some victim. But he knows that's what they did to him. Even when it felt good, at least at the time. They knew what they were doing when he didn't. They chose to hurt him. It's their fault, not his. He can't change it. He can't forget it, whether he can actually remember it or not. He has to live with it. But... he has lived with it. He's been living with it. It's his past, his history. It's a part of him, it always will be, but it's not all of him, either. It's not who he is.

Ian closes his eyes. Maybe the weight of it—what happened, the memories, the things he can't even remember and the things he doesn't want to—won't change or lift or disappear completely, but maybe it'll get easier to bear. Maybe that can be enough. Ian hopes that it will be, one day. He falls asleep.