Freebie Mondays: A Crash Course in Relationships

Freebie Mondays: A Crash Course in Relationships

Around the time I wrote Domerin’s Ring, I had another flash of inspiration. You see, Domerin is quite experienced in relationships by the time he and Crescent decide to give a serious relationship a try. Crescent, on the other hand… is not so much. I had a conversation with my writing partner (Crescent’s creator) and we started spit-balling ideas for Domerin and Crescent’s first real fight.

I laughed so hard I couldn’t resist putting it all into writing. So here it is, in all it’s glory, Domerin and Crescent’s first fight as a couple!
. . .

Crescent was lazing on the couch when he heard a spectacular thud echo out of the bedroom. He swiveled his ears toward the hallway, waiting for the telltale sound of Domerin’s answering curse, then turned his attention back to the TV.

It was a lazy evening, the kind where there wasn’t much to do aside from re-watch a documentary he’d seen dozens of times while his boyfriend napped to recover from a recent stint of overtime. He was contemplating rising long enough to amble into the kitchen and retrieve a bag of chips when heavy footfalls moving swiftly through the hallway indicated both Domerin’s imminent arrival and the foul mood that accompanied it.

Crescent turned to greet him slowly, unprepared for the fire that flashed in his eyes.

“Can you please stop leaving piles of dirty clothing on the floor?” Domerin snarled before Crescent had a chance to so much as inhale. “I am so sick of rolling out of bed and skidding halfway across the room because you can’t be assed to put your clothing in a laundry basket.”

Normally, Crescent responded to Domerin’s grumpy greetings with sarcasm, but he sensed that attitude would only make his boyfriend more snappish. Conversations like this had been a lot easier when he and Domerin hadn’t lived in the same apartment. A few months ago, he could simply have told Domerin to go home for a few days and come back after his cleaning lady visited – it was just about time for her to make another appearance, after all.

But that was before Domerin sold half the things that occupied his old apartment so that the remains would fit inside Crescent’s. Before they spent two weeks shopping for a new couch because Domerin genuinely didn’t seem to care which one they picked as long as it was even remotely comfortable and wasn’t covered in some hideous, eye-searing pattern. Before Crescent had to clear a clean swath in the master bedroom closet for Domerin to use – which had involved taking over a significant portion of the guest room closet to accommodate his considerable wardrobe.

Now that Domerin lived here, Crescent had learned to be somewhat more tactful about his responses. So instead of commenting on Domerin’s foul mood, Crescent wrinkled his nose to indicate distaste for his tone. Then he shrugged and said, “It never used to bother you.”

“Yeah, well I never used to live in the middle of the mess,” Domerin retorted, his temper unfazed by Crescent’s cool response.

He supposed he should have anticipated that one. “You never said anything about it,” Crescent pressed, not really interested in continuing this conversation at the moment.

“Because people don’t go over to other people’s houses and tell them how to clean.” Domerin’s response was almost a growl, his tone still heavy and his voice still louder than usual.

Something about the way he said it wormed its way under Crescent’s skin where it wriggled and twisted, finally settling as a fiery spark of his own. “Well, while we’re bitching about people’s bad habits,” he replied, dropping all pretense of maintaining peace, “why don’t we talk about the fact that your idea of putting stuff away is just throwing it in the first available space.”

“At least I don’t leave shit on the floor,” Domerin responded without hesitation, crossing his arms in front of his chest. The response was so confident, so self-assured, Crescent wanted to smack him across the face.

“Okay. But is it really helpful if I have to spend half an hour looking for the thing I want to use?”

Domerin frowned, clearly displeased by the insinuation that his habit was as bad as Crescent’s.

“Are you aware that all your DVDs are in the wrong cases?” Crescent pressed when he sensed his indignation had gained the advantage. “The last time I went looking for a movie I actually gave up and just turned some music on instead.”

“Huh. Maybe I should lay them out on the floor so they’re easy to see.” Domerin made a sweeping gesture with one hand. “You can walk over them, and whichever ones you don’t crush will be the ones we watch. How does that sound?”

Crescent’s fur bristled. He sensed that his tail was about twice its usual size, but he was too busy whipping it across the couch beside him to notice. He laid his ears flat against his head and snarled, bearing his pointed teeth, though the image of an angry shifter didn’t bother Domerin in the least.

“If the clothing bothers you that badly, just move it! I’ve spent weeks organizing your crap without saying a word.”

“I’m not your mother,” Domerin snapped. Crescent got the impression that if Domerin had fur of his own, it would have been standing equally on end. He didn’t bear his teeth, but his tone was low enough that it sent a small shiver through Crescent’s body.

They were skirting an edge – a stupid edge, but an edge none-the-less. “Jokes on you,” Crescent snarled, “my mother never picked up after me a day in her life.”

“Yeah? Well she didn’t exactly teach you to do it either, did she?”

“No!” Crescent howled, leaping to his feet, furious that Domerin had even dared to bring his mother into this when he knew how much of a sore spot she was in his life. “Probably because she was too busy teaching me what poison tastes like to worry about a stupid pile of shirts!”

Crescent’s claws were out, his fingers twitching at his sides as he resisted the urge to curl them into fists. He wasn’t trying to look like he was ready for a fight; this was simply his nature, to puff up when there was a challenge, to exhibit his strengths in hopes of making any other potential predators back down.

His heart hammered in his chest and his breath came hot and heavy. Part of him desperately wanted to punch something, but mostly he just wanted Domerin to realize he was acting like an ass.

Domerin took one look at him and pursed his lips. If anything, he seemed completely unimpressed with Crescent’s display. His eyes narrowed and his muscles tensed as if  he, too, would like nothing more to punch something.

Then he snorted, a soft, low sound, and spun on his heels. He stalked back to the bedroom, each footstep like a nail slamming into a coffin.

Crescent’s stomach lurched and his heart faltered. Instantly, all the fire in his gut evaporated, replaced by a sinking sense of dread. It was as if he had swallowed a series of lead balls that now jangled in his stomach with each tiny movement.

Crescent retracted his claws and lifted his ears. He could feel his tail shrinking, but it wasn’t happening fast enough.

Domerin might not have shown it, but he was mad. Really mad. Crescent could tell by the way he held himself, by the small ripple of tension evident in his muscles when he finally moved. He had probably been digging his nails into his arms to keep them crossed and gritting his teeth against more angry words.

And he had never turned his back on Crescent like this before.

Suddenly, Crescent couldn’t stop thinking about Kearath, Domerin’s ex. Of all the times Domerin slumped on his couch after the two of them went at it. Of the way Domerin retreated into himself after every one of those battles, sullen and guilty.

But most of all, he couldn’t stop thinking about how done Domerin had been by the end of it all. The number of times he told Crescent he would never endure anything like that again…

And Crescent had just put him through the ringer when he could have just offered to deal with the thing that made Domerin unhappy.

He supposed he had been kind of an ass too, but it was too late to take it back.

Even as his mind swirled through a fever haze, trying to figure out what he should do to make things right, Domerin bounded back out of the hallway. He was wearing a worn pair of jeans now and a hoodie, the hood of which he had pulled over his head. He stalked straight to the door and shoved his feet into his boots even as he reached for his keys.

Panic exploded in Crescent’s chest.

Domerin was leaving. And maybe he should leave; he had every right too. After what Kearath had put him through, he shouldn’t have to deal with any kind of bullshit from his partners ever again.

But when he left Kearath, that was it. That was the end.

And Crescent didn’t want this to end. They had only been a real couple for a few months and he had already managed to fuck it up beyond repair.

He did the only thing he could think of, the only action that  managed to penetrate his feverish mind.

He threw himself on his knees and wrapped his arms around Domerin’s waist, just barely resisting the urge to dig his claws into the denim to anchor himself.

“I’m sorry!” he wailed, realizing only as the words tore from his throat that his eyes stung with the threat of tears. “Domerin, I’m sorry! Please don’t go!”

Domerin made a soft, frustrated sound. He  hesitated, but only for the barest of moments. Then he gripped Crescent’s wrists and lightly peeled them away from his hips.

Crescent tightened his grip. He wanted to crawl up the man’s back and latch on to him the way a house cat might. Except he was much bigger and much heavier and he didn’t want to hurt Domerin in the process.

So he wrapped his legs around Domerin’s legs instead, shifting so that he was in front of him instead of behind him. He peered up at his boyfriend – the man who was hopefully still his boyfriend – with the widest, most pleading eyes he could muster and jutted his lower lip into a pout.

“Please stay, Domerin! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you! Honest, I didn’t!”

“For fuck’s sake,” Domerin growled softly. “Crescent, get off of me.”

Crescent didn’t release Domerin. He couldn’t. As soon as Domerin went out that door, he’d never see him again. It would all be over and it would be all his fault. He had to fix this, but he didn’t have much time!

“I just want to talk!” Crescent insisted. “Please, Domerin! I’m really sorry. I’ll clean up the shirts, I swear!”

Domerin didn’t seem to hear him, though. He reached down, gently prying Crescent’s arms free of his legs, then he stepped out of Crescent’s curled position and yanked the door open.

“We’ll talk later,” he declared before darting through the opening.

The door closed too quickly in his wake for Crescent to protest. It didn’t slam, but it may as well have.

With a soft wail, Crescent curled into a ball on the tile in the foyer. His eyes itched and burned, but he refused to let a single drop of moisture slide from the edges of his eyes. He wasn’t a child anymore.

But he sure had acted like one.

Limbs shaking, Crescent rose to all fours. He slunk across the living room, down the hallway and into the bedroom he shared with Domerin. Or at least, had shared with him until recently.

Sniffling, still fighting the burning sensation in his eye, Crescent opened the top drawer of Domerin’s dresser and pulled out one of the shirts near the front. He rubbed it against his cheek, inhaling the spicy scent of the man he so loved. After a moment, he unfolded the shirt and slid it over his head.

He didn’t often wear clothing when he shifted at home. He thought the fur provided more than enough protection from the elements. But this was a special situation. Being surrounded by Domerin’s scent made it feel like the man was with him, hugging him, reassuring him it would all be okay.

Still sniffling, Crescent climbed onto the bed and curled into the fading warm spot left by Domerin’s swift departure. He tried not to think about how difficult it would be to come to this bed alone when fatigue finally wore him down. He tried to focus solely on Domerin’s comforting scent and the last fading vestiges of his presence rather than how badly he had screwed everything up.

*   *   *

Domerin hesitated just outside the door. He drew a deep breath and braced himself before he pushed it open.

In the past, he had come back from these sojourns with peace offerings. Flowers, chocolates, little stuffed things, anything to make it clear he realized he had been a bit of a jerk. But Crescent wasn’t a flowers, chocolates or little stuffed things kind of guy. And Domerin had long since learned that peace offerings were superficial. They detracted from the real issue, which was the fact that he and his partner needed to communicate better if they wanted to avoid future altercations.

The living room was empty when he stepped into it. The TV displayed the last few minutes of a documentary Crescent liked to re-watch on lazy days, though this viewing had evidentially been abandoned after their argument. Domerin hit the pause button on the remote, then turned the TV off.

He heard the skittering of padded feet on the floor of the hallway. Moments later, Crescent scrabbled into the room on all fours. He paused just beyond the hallway, his jade eyes wide. Then he shot to his feet and trotted the last few feet between them, pausing three feet away.

Domerin half expected the man to launch himself into another ferocious embrace. He looked rough; his eyes were red and puffy and he was wearing a T-shirt that was clearly too big for him.

One of Domeirn’s T-shirts, actually.

“Domerin!” Crescent breathed before he had a chance to speak. “You’re back!”

Domerin opened his mouth to reply, but the words died on his lips. It was such an odd greeting, especially when paired with the way Crescent had begged him not to leave.

Something weird was going on here.

“Is that my Skull Saber tour T-shirt?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.

Crescent glanced down, lightly tugging at the waist of the shirt so he could get a better look at it, perhaps indicating the shirt had been chosen at random. “It smells like you,” Crescent replied, sniffling to emphasize the statement, as if that explained everything.

“I’m really sorry,” he added, before Domerin had a chance to organize his thoughts. The way he said it was almost timid, not a tone Domerin had ever heard flow from Crescent’s throat before.

“You don’t have to keep saying that,” Domerin replied softly, still not sure what to say. He meant to apologize when he got back, but something about the way Crescent was acting put him on edge.

“Please just tell me how to make it up to you,” Crescent pleaded, finally vaulting across the gap between them. He closed his arms around Domerin’s waist in another vice-like grip and, for a moment, Domerin wasn’t sure what to do.

Slowly, hesitantly, he lowered his arms, wrapping them around Crescent’s shoulders. This caused his partner to nuzzle closer to him but, still, something about his tense posture and tight grip made Domerin uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to make a fight up to me,” Domerin replied, choosing each word with care. “Crescent… What the hell is going on here?”

Crescent squeezed him tighter – a feat Domerin didn’t think possible until he accomplished it. “I’ll do anything,” he insisted, his voice a ragged hiss. “Just please don’t break up with me.”

Domerin closed his hands around Crescent’s shoulders and pushed him backward faster and more forcefully than he meant to. He was simply so stunned by the man’s statement, he wasn’t sure how else to react. “Break up with you?” he demanded, dumbfounded.

Crescent blinked several times in quick succession. “That’s what’s happening right now, isn’t it?”

Domerin mirrored Crescent’s rapid blinking. “Do you want to break up?”

“No!” Crescent insisted without hesitation, forcing his way forward so that he could lay a hand against Domerin’s chest. “But that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?”

“Is that what you think?” Domerin exclaimed, not realizing he had spoken the words aloud until Crescent sniffled softly in response.

“We yelled at each other for like ten minutes and then you left!”

Realization dawned on Domerin. He closed his eyes for a moment. How could he have been such an idiot?

Crescent may have been with many partners throughout the years – himself included – but the man had never had a serious relationship. He didn’t really understand the fine nuances of interweaving another person’s life with his own – as evidenced by their fight earlier. But most of all, he had probably never had a serious fight with someone he wanted to keep interacting with.

Worst of all, Domerin had ended his last relationship by walking out on his partner. And Crescent had witnessed all the fallout. What he hadn’t witnessed was the buildup, the number of times Domerin allowed himself to be drawn back into Kearath’s influence in hopes that they could put all the unpleasantness behind them and make things work again.

He sighed softly and shook his head. Opening his eyes, he gently took hold of Crescent’s shoulders, guiding him to the couch. He pressed his partner onto one of the cushions, then sat beside him.

“Crescent,” he said softly, “I’m not breaking up with you because we got into one screaming match. Couples fight sometimes. It’s not unusual. And they fight over really stupid things like picking up a pile of dirty shirts or putting the DVDs back in the wrong cases.”

Beneath Crescent’s fur, his cheeks developed a splash of crimson. “I didn’t mean to be such a jerk about that.”

“Me either,” Domerin replied, mustering a tired smile. “And I’m sorry, by the way. I didn’t realize that bothered you. I will admit that I  hate clutter but often feel like I don’t have time for genuine organization, so I take the first available option to de-clutter. You’re right that it’s not a substitute for keeping the house genuinely tidy. I’ll try to take a little more time for those kinds of things.”

“And I’ll put my dirty clothing in a wash basket,” Crescent replied with another small sniffle. “You know… after this conversation. I kinda… didn’t think of it while you were gone.” He smiled sheepishly.

“There, you see?” Domerin said, squeezing his leg gently. “It’s important for partners to express their discontent to each other. Preferably before they reach the point of snarling – and I’m sorry about that too, by the way. That was my fault. I was in a foul mood and I took it out on you. I really shouldn’t do that. But anyway, if you hadn’t said anything about the DVDs and whatnot, I would never have realized it bothered you. And as you can tell, just putting up with little stuff eventually turns it into big stuff.”

“I’m still getting used to living with someone else all the time,” Crescent admitted, dabbing a finger at the edges of his bloodshot eyes.

“I know,” Domerin reassured, squeezing his leg again. “And you’re doing a good job considering how long it’s been since you shared your personal space this way.”

“I just don’t understand why you stormed out,” Crescent admitted, his eyes shimmering slightly. “Especially when I begged you not to.”

Again, Domerin sighed softly, slumping a little bit deeper into the couch. “I’m sorry about that, Crescent. I didn’t really understand what was happening. I thought maybe you were being dramatic. It’s happened to me in other relationships.”

“It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable assumption,” Crescent admitted with a light smile.

Domerin smiled in return, relieved that Crescent seemed to be taking this so well. “Removing myself from an aggravation is my preferred coping method,” he admitted with a shrug. “When I feel my temper getting the better of me, I make sure I don’t lose control. I go for a walk, smoke a cigarette, cool myself off so I can think clearly before I return to the topic at hand. This was a pretty stupid fight, if I’m honest. But I’m aware I crossed a line when I brought your mother into it. Sorry about that, by the way.”

Crescent shrugged. “I don’t really know why I let any of that bother me as much as I did. I guess I just wasn’t in a mood to take anything seriously. I’ll try not to be so dismissive in the future. I uh… I guess I did overreact quite a bit.”

Domerin made a show of glancing down at the T-shirt Crescent wore, which drew a light chuckle from the shifter’s lips.

“Just don’t stretch that shirt out too much,” Domerin teased gently. “That band doesn’t tour very often anymore.”

“I wouldn’t dream of damaging any of your precious shirts,” Crescent pledged with a grin. “Though I do like wearing them sometimes,” he admitted, smoothing his fingers across the T-shirt’s print. “They hold your scent really well.”

Given the sensitivity of Crescent’s nose – and the nature of cats to find comfort in the scent of their people – Domerin wasn’t really surprised. “You can wear them whenever you want,” Domerin said, reaching up to gently caress Crescent’s cheek. “As long as you don’t go snatching the one I’m wearing at any given time.”

“Deal,” Crescent agreed with a laugh. “And I promise I’ll try not to jump to such hefty conclusions the next time we butt heads. Though I kind of hope there won’t be a next time.”

“There’s bound to be,” Domerin admitted, sobering slightly. “No relationship is perfect right out of the gate. And I wouldn’t be fostering a healthy relationship if I expected that, no matter how many relationships you had in the past. I may have forgotten this is the first time you’ve ever tried long-term commitment. In the future, I’ll try to be a little more aware.

“But don’t forget that I gave Kearath a million opportunities to make things right between us. Even when he did some pretty terrible things.” Crescent hadn’t ever come close to the kind of emotional manipulation Kearath pulled on a regular basis to make Domerin feel guilty over perfectly reasonable things, and he didn’t expect they would ever have that kind of problem between them. “I’m not going to dump you over something small and silly. And if I ever really felt like our relationship was in jeopardy, I’d be honest with you about it and give you a chance to make changes. And I hope you’d do the same for me.”

“I want to say you’ll never have to worry about that, but this has been a somewhat eye-opening experience,” Crescent replied. “I guess I bought into the romantic movie hype about love being magical and making all your problems go away. I think there may even have been a small part of me that always believed you and Kearath had problems because you just weren’t compatible.”

“We probably weren’t,” Domerin admitted with a wince. “But all relationships take work, no matter how well two people mesh. We’re probably both guilty of believing we knew each other so well the transition would be easy. But there’s a big difference between me stashing a few extra uniforms in your closet and this being as much my personal space as it is yours.”

“Maybe it’s not entirely a bad thing we got into this fight,” Crescent mused as he draped himself across Domerin’s lap. “I feel a lot better about how things are going after this conversation. Considering that this is my first relationship, I often worry I’m doing everything wrong.”

“You’re fine,” Domerin reassured, laying a light kiss on Crescent’s forehead. “More than fine, in fact.”

“Good,” Crescent replied with a grin. “Oh and I’m really looking forward to the makeup sex,” he announced as his grin became wide enough to reveal his teeth. “I’ve never gotten to try it before and, according to the movies, it’s the best thing about relationships.”

Domerin laughed, but if Crescent wanted to draw him back to the bedroom, he wasn’t going to complain.

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