Ivan remembered the searing pain in his gut, the warmth of his blood as it trickled from the wound and down his body. His eyes were locked on the one who caused it, the sight of those pale blue eyes staring back at him wide and just as stunned as he was.
Gilbert Beilschmidt had shot him and that was all he knew.
After that, there was a lot of chaos — a lot of yelling, people charging in. His own men swarmed around him, some came to his side to ask for orders, but once they noticed Ivan clutching his abdomen, blood seeping between his fingers and staining his uniform, expression shocked, they rushed him away. As he was helped off the battlefield, he glanced behind, hearing a voice ring out and shout. He knew it truly was Gilbert and saw him struggling, but soon his figure was obscured by the other bodies moving around.
Ivan didn't remember falling asleep, but the next time he opened his eyes he saw a woman beside him and leaning over him. He didn't recognize her but she was wearing a medic outfit with stains of blood on it. He felt pain in his side as the woman tightened a bandage around his abdomen. The realization that he was shot fully settled in, and then who shot him seconds later.
"Wait, please don't move yet!" the woman begged As Ivan pushed himself off of the bed. He felt a bit dizzy but he focused on the door, grabbed his long coat. He shoved his arms into the sleeves and didn't bother buttoning it up.
As he stumbled down the hall, a soldier saw him and saluted.
"Sir! We've captured a few of the men from the west who were in the attack. What are your orders?"
Ivan froze in place then turned to the man.
"Is there a pale man there? White hair, blue eyes?"
The soldier nodded.
"Yes sir. I think...interrogations have already begun on him. You were asleep for a while."
"How long?" Ivan stepped close to the man who instinctively moved back and bumped against the wall as Ivan looming over him.
"A...A day, sir."
Ivan sighed, then left the man alone to sweat in fear and headed towards the cells. Once he arrived, more guards saluted him but he ignored them and looked through the small window on the door. Inside, he saw Gilbert lying on an uncomfortable cot that was pushed up against the wall, on his side and facing away from the door. He was wearing nothing but his uniform pants, which had been torn in places and stained with blood and dirt. Ivan narrowed his eyes on some marks on his back that looked like small cuts, and couldn't tell if the man was conscious or not.
An emotion boiled up inside of Ivan and he clutched his side where Gilbert had shot him, ignoring the flash of pain when he did. Thinking about why Gilbert did it and what it meant that he was here made him fume with anger. He wondered if Ludwig sent him because he knew it'd twist the knife more if Gilbert led the charge, or if he'd falter on the battlefield when he saw him. Even if he didn't plan it, it had the same effect on Ivan. It worked. And for a brief moment, he was demoralized and felt betrayed.
But then that moment passed.
"Work on him," Ivan instructed to the guard nearby. "The boss will want information." And then he walked away.
Ivan didn't go back to that cell for days, maybe even a week or so. Every night he had the same dream — running out there, seeing Gilbert, feeling that burst of happiness when he saw his familiar face. Then everything turned bloody when Gilbert turned and shot him. He wasn't stupid; he saw the expression Gilbert had — he didn't expect to shoot Ivan as much as Ivan expected to be shot by him. Neither thought they'd see each other. Still, he couldn't find an answer to why Gilbert was the one leading the attack, and Gilbert wasn't talking either. As far as Ivan knew, Gilbert wanted to stay out of the war and knew that it would end like this.
He thought back to the meeting when the Pact was made. Neither he, Ludwig, nor Gilbert thought it was a good idea, but they played their parts as puppets to their bosses and presented the terms, made the agreement, and then went on their way. Ivan would have forgotten that evening had he not slipped into Gilbert's hotel room later that night.
Despite Gilbert's previous caution towards the Pact, he was the one who was seemingly leading it. He had to know how stupid it would be to attack Russia so close to winter, but Ivan guessed he didn't have control over when it happened — like Ivan, he was just a pawn for their bosses to play chess with. Over the week, Ivan tried to remind himself of that, told himself that Gilbert was just following his orders like a good soldier boy, but it hurt. By the end of the week, his victim mentality shifted to one of guilt over how he hadn't said so much as hello to Gilbert since he was captured. He hadn't even seen him since that first day.
Finally, he mustered the courage to visit him.
With the guards shooed away and no one in sight late in the evening, Ivan stood outside of Gilbert's cell door. His hands shook as he pushed the key in, but turned it and pulled the heavy door open.
The metal screeching of the door alarmed Gilbert but he tried hard to not let it show in his body language. He would never admit it but he was scared of what would happen and hated being tortured — it was humiliating. Things did not work out the way he had hoped and being locked in a cell was the furthest from what he'd planned. When the door finally was open, he saw Ivan's form standing there. The feeling he felt upon seeing him wasn't happiness or anger, but one of relief. He knew that Ivan would never hurt him; that much he could count on.
Ivan stepped to the side of the bed and looked down over Gilbert. He couldn't let himself focus on the injuries he had, given to him by his orders.
"How are you feeling?" Ivan asked. His voice was unnaturally cold. That's when Gilbert realized he wasn't talking to the man he once knew.
"How do I fucking look?" Gilbert spat at him with his usual venomous tone. Ivan sighed softly at his response. "Why are you even keeping me here? I'm not the one you want." Ivan narrowed his eyes in confusion. Was Gilbert really that stupid? He couldn't be.
"You're good leverage," Ivan answered and sat on the bed next to Gilbert's thigh. The motion made Gilbert tense despite his previous thoughts, and Ivan looked like he was about to murder someone despite how calm he looked. "You're a symbol of military power and Ludwig's older brother. If you remain captured, the Germans will be demoralized, especially Ludwig."
Gilbert grit his teeth and glared.
"You're just repeating what you're told to say, aren't you? What happened to the Ivan who didn't let his boss walk all over him like a scared child?" he questioned angrily, but with a purpose to get under Ivan's skin. Ivan breathed in and his expression went dark, then he leaned down some.
"You're one to talk," Ivan said. "You followed orders and landed yourself in a cell." Gilbert scoffed loudly and turned his head away.
"Whatever. We're two sides to the same fucked up coin," he said. Ivan leaned back and sighed again.
"You realize you're running in circles, right? You have no room to judge me if we're both following orders." Gilbert stayed quiet and didn't look at the other. Ivan noticed that his physical demeanor had changed now — he seemed more relaxed and almost docile as he laid there. Ivan recognized the expression and knew the man didn't want to fight anymore. "Gilbert, I—"
"Is it really necessary to have me chained up when we're talking?" Gilbert asked quietly in a near mumble. Ivan didn't answer. "Ivan, you know me," he said. Ivan didn't let that dismissive and familiar tone get to him. Ivan didn't fully trust Gilbert. Not anymore. Not while the pain of the bullet wound he gave him still occasionally sent sparks of pain through his body. Ivan looked at him, his eyes emotionless.
"Do I?" he asked doubtfully. Sadness and regret were mixed into his tone as well as caution, truly questioning Gilbert's words. Gilbert sighed quietly at the stone ceiling then looked back to Ivan. He tried to read through all the anxiety that Ivan had built around him like a barrier.
"You do," he assured him.
Ivan studied Gilbert's bruised and beaten face; one eye was swollen blue and was partially forced shut and his lip was split. Gilbert didn't seem to be lying, but he was good at lying — good at manipulating and playing the game to his advantage. Then, he looked to the bloodied shackles around Gilbert's wrists and narrowed his eyes, though sadly. He hated seeing him like that, truly. Ivan knew that there was nothing Gilbert hated more than his movement and control being stripped away from him.
He leaned down and cupped Gilbert's cheek, rubbed his thumb against his pale, dry skin, and then wiped some of the blood from his lip.
"I don't, Gilbie, not anymore." He pulled his hand back as he stood up, and then saw the hope in Gilbert's eyes turn to one of fear and panic as he turned and started for the door.
"Wait! Ivan!" The man didn't stop walking. "Verdammt! Ivan, please! Don't leave!" His voice was hoarse and he tasted blood in his mouth. It hurt but he still pulled on the chains until they were taut and dug into his wrists painfully, like a dog on a leash. He supposed he was a dog at that moment — desperately trying to get to his master, to the one he loved.
Then, Ivan broke when he heard the crack in Gilbert's voice and the sobs that followed. He bit his lip and shut the door behind him. The metal did little to block out Gilbert's yelling, switching between languages and shouting for him to come back. Ivan's lip trembled, his chest hurt, and he felt another part of him die. Seeing Gilbert was a mistake.
Another week passed and Ivan went to see Gilbert again. The week had been awful, he talked with his boss, and was scolded and berated for his poor work on Gilbert despite never even touching him. Eventually, they landed on an agreement that was far from perfect but was a start.
The cell door opened again and Ivan was even more upset by the sight than he was before. Gilbert was sitting up against the wall, legs pulled to his chest, face buried in his knees. He still had no other clothes aside from his dirtied pants, and he was covered in more cuts and bruises. Ivan knew he had to be cold since the cell was underground and the winter weather made everything freeze.
"Gilbert—" The man's head snapped up and he looked like a cornered, feral cat.
"You're back..." Gilbert muttered. Ivan could tell that it hurt him to speak.
"I've...made arrangements for you," Ivan said and Gilbert grinned in disbelief.
"Gonna torture me yourself?" There was almost a tone of hope in his voice and it frightened Ivan. Did he really want Ivan to be the one hurting him?
"No, I—" Ivan defended but then caught himself. "My boss will allow me to release you from the cell. You won't be interrogated anymore, but... You'll stay in Russia until the war is over." Ivan walked to him and held his hands, then rubbed at his skin that was red from the cold. "Please accept this, and please behave," he pleaded. Ivan took a key from his pocket and placed it in the shackles. He knew it was a risk, knew there was a chance Gilbert would snap at him once he was free.
As soon as the chains were off, Gilbert lunged at him with a grunt. It was quick — quicker than Ivan expected and the next thing he knew he was on the ground with Gilbert straddling his stomach. Cold hands wrapped around Ivan's neck and tightened, but he remained still and watched Gilbert in silent acceptance, knowing that he deserved all of the man's fury. Gilbert's hands were trembling as his thumbs cut off Ivan's air supply, and his breath pushed through clenched teeth with shaky gasps. Ivan knew he deserved it.
"I know you hate me, and it's okay, Gilbert. I don't blame you—"
"Shut up! Stop talking!" Gilbert shouted and tightened his hands. "Just stop it! Stop acting like this!" Gilbert's body shuddered as he leaned down and pressed his head against his forearms, and his body suddenly went oddly still. "Get me out of here," Gilbert begged him and finally loosened his grip on his throat. Ivan's eyes widened, then without another word, he cradled Gilbert in his arms, lifted him, and left the cell.
That night, Ivan took Gilbert to the washroom, cleaned his body of the blood and dirt that had been layered onto him, bandaged him up, and then, on Gilbert's own request, took him to his room. Gilbert's expression was emotionless and drained, but he climbed on top of Ivan and kissed him with clear desperation. His lip split open and they both tasted his blood, but neither stopped it. Ivan knew it was bad and he felt like he was taking advantage of Gilbert's fragile state, but Gilbert knew what he wanted and was taking it. Ivan wanted to make him feel better—or forget, whichever one it was—so he let Gilbert do as he pleased.
It was therapy for them both, albeit unhealthy and they both knew it. It started with kisses, gentle like they were lovers, then Gilbert took his clothes off and showed Ivan his scarred and bruised body that he was responsible for. Ivan traced some of the marks with his fingers, putting a halt to Gilbert's momentum as the sudden gentle touch was a shock to him.
"I don't want to hurt you anymore," Ivan told him, but Gilbert wasn't sure if he believed it or not, ignored it, and asked him to make him forget as he tugged at Ivan's pants.
The night was physically and emotionally painful for both of them. Every time Gilbert moved, the pain in Ivan's abdomen sparked and he swore it opened his wound. Maybe that was the point — to make Ivan feel pain as well. Still, somehow, it was so warm with him; his body was comfortable and made him feel good despite the circumstances being unhealthy. He just wanted to be there for Gilbert and he knew sex was a way for him to relax, or at least tire his body out so much that he'd sleep peacefully through the night.
For Gilbert, it was good to be in control of his pain, he knew what he was doing and wanted it despite how weak he was. He bled but that pain helped distract from everything else that hurt. It was Ivan, after all, and nothing Ivan did could ever truly hurt him. Ivan hated it — hated seeing Gilbert hurt himself on purpose and using his body to do so, but through that, Ivan swore he could see pleasure on his face as well and it gave him hope that maybe he really was helping Gilbert.
When Ivan reached up and touched his cheek, everything shattered. The pain, the pleasure, the fact that he was sleeping with Ivan and had been beaten for weeks. Then Ivan kissed him, and that kiss was what saved him from his invasive, chaotic thoughts. Tears streamed down Gilbert's face but he didn't sob aloud and kept moving his body. Ivan held him as he rode him, and wiped and kissed his tears away. He stopped Gilbert from going faster or being aggressive and made him realize that feeling good was okay, that he didn't need to feel pain to distract, and that it was better when it didn't hurt. At first, Gilbert struggled to give Ivan that control, but he was tired and eventually, he let Ivan win.
Afterward, Ivan was sitting up in bed with an exhausted and naked Gilbert nuzzled into his side, who had one arm over Ivan's abdomen. Glancing down at him, Ivan felt a pang of horrible guilt in his gut. Even though Gilbert started it, he should have refused. He knew that Gilbert only wanted to sleep with him because it would make him forget. Deep inside, Ivan didn't want to refuse him. He had hopes that he could make Gilbert his after everything they'd been through for centuries, and Ivan was aware that it was manipulative to Gilbert's emotions, but Gilbert was doing the same thing to him. They were in love in the most messed up way.
"I'm sorry," Ivan whispered as he rubbed up Gilbert's back. He froze when he felt Gilbert's arm tighten on his body and heard him grunt.
"This was...what I wanted..." Gilbert mumbled tiredly. Ivan was confused and was locked in a stare on Gilbert's face. He seemed...contented and calm, almost peaceful.
"Gilbert...?" Ivan inquired.
"I wanted to see you...so I demanded to lead the attack... Thought you'd hear I was coming, then we could meet..." Ivan felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner, but Gilbert was at fault as well, he never made his intentions clear and was extremely stubborn. Then again, both of them were. Just hearing Gilbert admit to it now was a rare thing; the man truly was exhausted and sick of fighting.
For Gilbert, it was an escape. He hated what he was doing in the west, tensions were high, and he felt more lost and without a cause than he had ever felt before. Desperately, he wanted out, so when the Operation was being planned, he jumped at the chance to lead it. Attacking Russia so close to the cold months was suicide — it risked death or being captured, and at the time either one of those worked for Gilbert. Ideally, he wanted to meet with Ivan and leave the soldiers to their stupid wars. After that, he didn't plan, the furthest he thought was just getting to Ivan. They weren't soldiers anymore, not like they used to be, and Gilbert was getting tired of fighting for things he didn't believe in.
Ivan pulled Gilbert into a hug and buried his nose into his hair, despite the pain in his stomach as Gilbert's body pressed against him.
"We're both idiots..." he said and heard Gilbert chuckle and grunt as he shifted.
"You're hurting me..." Ivan immediately loosened his grip and minded his injuries, but as he did, Gilbert lifted his body and knelt next to Ivan. "Want to do it again?" he asked and placed a hand on Ivan's stomach close to where his wound was. Ivan swallowed and took Gilbert's hand; he noticed the still-sad expression on his face.
"No," Ivan answered and Gilbert sunk a bit in rejection. "But if you need me to, I'll touch you. I don't want to hurt you anymore," Ivan said and Gilbert leaned against his chest and chuckled.
"You idiot. We'll both hurt each other again, you know that." It was a truth that both of them hated to admit. "But, for tonight, I guess it's okay." Ivan gently moved Gilbert to lay on the bed and rested beside him on his elbow, gazing over his face and chest, down to his stomach, groin, and thighs. He noted every scar, every mark and bruise.
"At least I can control whether I hurt you or not when we're in bed. I'd prefer not to," Ivan told him and Gilbert frowned.
"Sorry I made you do it," he apologized.
"You didn't," Ivan clarified and kissed Gilbert's lips softly. "I know why you did it and I'm fine with helping you, but just...don't use me to hurt yourself anymore, okay? And try not to shoot me again." For the first time in a long time, Gilbert saw Ivan crack a tiny smile and it made him feel timid.
"I'll try not to..." Gilbert spoke sleepily. Ivan slipped his hand down to Gilbert's chest and felt his heartbeat.
"Good." Ivan narrowed his eyes, then held Gilbert's jaw and kissed him. Gilbert submitted to his kiss immediately and opened up for him. Suddenly Ivan remembered years and years ago when they shared their first kiss on the balcony; he remembered how cute Gilbert was and how he melted into him, how he accepted Ivan despite their relationship up until that point. Part of him optimistically wondered if Gilbert would always accept him, regardless of how he presented himself or acted towards him.
Ivan wanted to go back to that time and do so many things differently. Even if he did, he knew that he'd still one day end up in that same bed and completely, hopelessly, in love with him.