Yellow Pages swallowed pride
One year. Mateo was unaware that it was precisely a year to the day since he'd spoken to his brother. He had muddied memories of that day, in the apartment he'd never meant to stay in forever, feeling like a caged animal. Fresh off a shift he'd done with Ingrid, instead of Iago. How he'd come in to do him the favor of telling him the information he'd failed to, at the behest of Ingrid, and not because he wanted to.

He barely remembered what he told him. Vampires, maybe. Something about animals, mind control. About getting stuck when you shift, Remembered getting mad about... well, everything. About not being warned. Iago making some excuse about Mateo being suspicious. It didn't fucking matter anymore. Didn't matter if he knew what the fuck was coming or not. It was going to happen, eventually. No way around it. Either they'd fight, and Iago would have shifted, or Mateo would have found out too much and gotten turned to keep the fucking secret. Either way, he didn't think there was anything that could have changed what happened.

That didn't mean there wasn't another way it could have gone. If Iago had just owned up to it, had tried to help, then maybe things would be different. He still didn't really get it. On a basic level, yeah, maybe. It was a big thing, he knew he wouldn't know what the fuck to do if he turned someone himself. Knew it would be fucking hard. But that wouldn't stop him from trying, would it? Especially not if it was his brother. But not Iago.

Mateo wasn't saying he was perfect. He was fucking far from it. And he knew he could be trouble. But he didn't think it was enough to go radio silent for a fucking year. He remembered what his brother told him. Call if you need anything, as he was placing a boot against his back as he pushed him at the door. Only to never say another word to him. Knew now that it was probably Sokol that Iago'd moved into the apartment. Sokol, who was apparently the leader of the Pride, but didn't give two fucking shits about a stray lion staying in the middle of the city with no fucking guidance. Only cared enough to come to his house and judge him for not having his life together.

He didn't want them. He didn't care to be in the fucking debt of people that didn't want him. But he needed them. He had a life that he was trying to fucking move on with, and the only thing getting in the way of that was himself. His inability to handle the lion, who was miserable in the solitude. Mateo didn't think being in the Pride would magically fix everything, but he remembered the way he felt during the shift with Hei Ryung, how the lion was so settled around her. Knew that if the lion could feel that more often, then maybe he could figure out a way to sort shit out with it. Be less on edge when he got home to Lora. Something.

Maybe it was all bullshit. Maybe it wouldn't work. Maybe it was all in vain. But the theme of the year was fucking making an effort. So here he was.

The safest bet would have been to just ask Hei to shift with him on occasion. He bet she would have said yes. But that felt fucking weirdly scandalous. Another safer option was Ingrid, but she'd already told him he was on his own. She couldn't help him. Told him to prove it that he could be worth it. He hated having to prove it, hated having to fucking grovel. But he knew he had to. He could swallow his pride for the sake of making things better.

The only thing left to do now was send the text. He didn't even know if it was the right number anymore. Or if his number was blocked. Even if it went through, there was doubt he'd even get an answer. But he had to try.

Stone cold sober, determined to be clear, he constructed the text to his brother carefully. Took about an hour.

hey. hope ur doing ok. want to talk to you new year was hard. thanks.
It was as startling as if someone had just shot him. Out of the blue, no warning, no indication that there was anyone nearby who would want to. And there was the sniper, waving from a window, the scope glinting ominously. Seen, acknowledged, still dangerous.

It was for the best, then, that he'd taken his break up to the cold roof of the theater. It gave him space away from anyone else. Best that he'd not seen it with a hammer in hand or up in the rafters. Here, his feet were on solid ground and he could gasp through the way incredible panic twisted a few ribs and fight it off with grit teeth and furious shakes of his head. Knees of his jeans wet from snow, hands cold.

That was not a name he had ever expected to cross his phone again. It had been... god... what? A year? He'd left him unblocked because at first he hadn't had intention of cutting him off. And then, just... things with Sokol had just... his mind reeled, regret forming--not for not reaching out sooner, but not for making it clearer. That. They weren't doing this. Iago could not do this. He didn't want to do this.

Once upon a time, he had woefully, tearfully promised to do what he had to, abashed and ashamed at what a dumb fuck he'd been. But that had been an idea overturned. Instead. No contact. None. Cut him out, the others will handle him.

Iago realized, only now, how much he'd been using that--how much he had come to accept it as a fact of the universe. What once had been an agreement was now... what he wanted. And for months and months of absolute silence between them, it had seemed to become immutable. As much as it had become a constant reality that he simply would never see his family ever again. Did it suck? Sure. But it was a choice he'd made, it was a decision that was easier, cleaner, happier. But a whole second time Mateo was coming along to try and wheedle his way back in. Things had been bad, Iago. Can't you see your poor brother, having a hard time? Shouldn't you talk to him even though you had every intention of never, ever giving into such dangerous temptation?

No. Not this time. He'd been suckered by his familial feelings once and it had shaken him repeatedly. He didn't get anything out of this other than some sort of nostalgia that was... well, not fake. It wasn't... pretend. But it was so far removed from who he was now, who he wanted to be. Curiosity could get the better of him, he could wonder about his siblings, their children, his parents, but in the end the people he wanted were... here. The person he wanted. The life he wanted. He could not trade it for little flints of long-buried treasure. He wasn't the person who had buried it anymore.

Pity for Mateo was not his to chew over at night or in his daydream moments. Mateo had Lora. Lora would... figure it out. Iago was pretty sure. Very much, he trusted her to that, maybe more than she trusted herself. He still felt he should have just left his brother to the hyena. Never gone out. Never let Mateo bully him into confessing, into giving things up, into engaging in a dangerous fight where there were no winners. One of the worst nights of his life, and he'd had a few.

And so he sat here, cold but not thinking about that feeling, staring at a scant... few sentences. Pointed, like teeth in his arm, trying to drag him back into those moments, blood running hot. And it made him... so angry. Like how... dare he just. Come back in here like it hadn't been a whole year. Couched in such nice language. Please and thank you, I hope you're well.

They weren't brothers. Brothers cared a lot more often than this. This was on both of them but Iago was prepared to accept what he'd done.

He thought, very hard, for too long, about sending back "no". He could have. It would have been pointed and unmistakable. But he didn't want to fucking engage, didn't want to give even the barest opening of that door again. It was shut. Mateo was welcome to knock but Iago was well within his rights to not open.

So he deleted it outright. Easier to pretend it had never happened. That he didn't need to think about this. Mateo wasn't his brother, his progeny, or even a lion in his mind. Mateo was someone who was a ghost. A memory. A phantom of a time so haunting that it could strike a physical blow when it came back to his mind, but nothing more. A limb he'd already cut off. Close your eyes, dumb fuck, and just... run.

Though perhaps not literally.

Blocking the number made him feel sick. Horror at himself, maybe. Or just the strange, sticky anger at being expected to do things he hadn't signed up for. He would not be pinned down by something, someone he had not chosen. It grated at the very core of him.

Mateo didn't need him. Iago had nothing to offer anyway. His estranged brother was perfectly capable of fucking up on his own.

And that, as far as he was concerned, was that.
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