Fuse Fitness 
not long after "humble pie" and "no te ahogues," early afternoon
outfit plus sunnies even when he comes inside >:[

One hour and twenty two minutes, to be precise.

He'd taken himself somewhat off guard, deciding to make it happen now. Today. He had felt smart and certain when he'd done it, but now he had his doubts. Iago was feeling very hungry but didn't realize it yet, still lost somewhere in his own head, full up on the anticipation of meeting Mateo for the first time in probably fifteen years.

Ingrid might have been helpful, if he hadn't basically blown off her apology. Sokol could have probably brought him down again, if they weren't in such a dangerous way right now. Who else did he have? No one he was even kind of willing to broach personal subjects with.

He had no contacts to hide his eyes, wasn't even sure he would know how to put them in even if he did. That was the sort of planning he hadn't given himself time for. Having taken the time to cut down and file his nails on both hands had taken a solid amount of time, and his left hand felt weird and naked. Left him feeling like he was vulnerable, for all he very purposefully never used those claws on other people. And wouldn't have used them on Mateo. But it was still like someone had snuck off with his security blanket while he was sleeping.

Nothing to be done about the teeth. Good thing he didn't feel like smiling.

Having never been to Fuse Fitness before--with approximately zero interest in any gym venue--he arrived and approached with a mindful caution. If he could manage it, he wanted to find Mateo before Mateo found him. He tugged on the shoulders of his shirt, kind of wanting to pull the hood up but feeling like that might only draw attention to him here. Everyone else was headed in in workout gear. He... decidedly was not.

Well, here went nothing. Into the starkly air conditioned interior of a salt and electrolyte scented palace he went.

Skippable :3

 Ingrid would, perhaps thankfully for all parties involved here, be occupied with a client when the known feeling of Lion presented itself. The beast in her mind uffed softly, as if to tell her to go to him. She ignored it sternly, her customer service smile faltering as she took her eyes from the middle-aged woman doing lunges to seek him out. He was across the gym, hoodie and sunglasses beyond a jungle of weight machines and treadmills. What the fuck was Iago doing here? Looking for her? Looking for Mateo?

 Her attention snapped back to her client, and her tiny smile sprang back into place in time to deliver praise. Good job. Not distracted at all!

 Still, she'd put the woman on an elliptical so that she could creep on the man with a little more ease, hoping the business of the building kept her hidden.

An hour. He could make it an hour. Mateo finished another cigarette, hating it for becoming a habit again, and went back inside. He still had a job to do, and he was a hard worker, but the toilets were never more aggressively scrubbed and the laundry was never so sloppily folded than today. He approached every task before him as if it were an opponent he were stepping into the ring with. He'd earned scorned looks from women he regarded with a less than pleasant stare when they got in his way of vacuuming around the yoga section.

By the time he was reorganizing weights, he was pretty sure it had been longer than an hour. It didn't help that there were large clocks situated on most walls for people to check how much longer they had to beat themselves for. He didn't notice the entrance of his brother, but he had earlier acknowledged a busy Ingrid, and thought about approaching her before thinking better of the consequences. So, even as Iago made his way inside, Mateo was beginning to doubt he'd have the cojones to actually show.


Iago felt immediately like the dumbest person on the entire planet. When he'd made this decision, Ingrid hadn't factored into his calculations whatsoever. Somehow along the way he'd lost track of the fact that Mateo knew her from work. Which meant. She worked here.

And after he'd just been a dick to her, too!

Which meant he had to ignore her, which put his lion in a downright mood, lonely as it felt today. He didn't even glance around to see if she'd seen him, or where she was. just pretend she wasn't there because the only other option was to get the fuck out of here and that was just... not a winning move. Not that he was certain of winning anything today.

Instead he focused on finding Mateo. Which wasn't nearly as easy as discovering Ingrid because Mateo didn't have a furry passenger to sniff out or otherwise hone in on. But... eyes picking out along people, looking for ones not in workout clothing. Employees. He had no idea what his brother did here but...

When he spotted him, though, it was unmistakable. Older, for sure, completely. But Mateo was a very strange echo of their father, especially now. It was a slap of alert nostalgia that he hadn't needed, that made him straighten up and adjust course, putting his more feline instincts to the test as he used people and equipment like he would grass to get closer and closer without being spied.

He had no idea how good Mateo's situational awareness was these days, but if he could get close enough to just stand there in Mateo's blind spot--just a couple steps back and to the side--until he was noticed, he would. Just watching him work with an uneasy frown and his hands shoved into his pockets.

Maybe it would have been less harrowing to do the 'attempted assault' reintroduction he'd been entertaining earlier in his worse moments.

Clink, clink, clunk, went the weights that he shuffled around and re-positioned on their respective racks. He focused in on the task, on not smashing his fingers, on making sure he wasn't mistaking fives for tens. His unseen pursuer would be successful in approaching unnoticed, if only because Mateo was making a point not to notice anyone in particular. He'd been counting on a text to notify him that Iago was here, waiting in the parking lot, asking where to go to meet him.

When he turned to scan the floor for any errant weights, he spotted him. The sudden appearance of a face that was strikingly, unmistakably familiar in such close proximity gave him pause, and he took a half step back as his heart leaped to his throat. There he was, that motherfucker. Wearing sunglasses indoors, but he didn't need to see his brother's eyes to know it was him. He knew the face well enough, though there was aging in the skin and hair. He's always looked more like their mother, and it made him miss her. It made him miss home, miss family, miss Iago, even with him standing right there in front of him. Mateo took in a steadying breath, and for a moment he was unable to do more than stare over at his shrimpy younger brother with a furrowed brow and a hardened jaw.

And there they had it.

Last chance to turn his back on this was gone after several seconds of standing there watching Mateo be... dutiful, Iago supposed. Hard at work at... whatever people did at gyms. He didn't know. And it hardly mattered when Mateo finally noticed him, setting his face in a tight way that spoke of their rocky path in getting here. The older man's heartrate had swept upward, gathering attention from the lion who had as little idea what to do with any of this as Iago did.

Iago didn't move. He stayed rooted right there, still frowning, still with his shoulders rolled back as if he could hope to compete in height with his taller older brother. He didn't feel timid in spite of how awful everything was.

"¿Realmente necesitabas encontrarme tanto?" he questioned after a moment of just staring at his face through the darkened lenses that were inconvenient but necessary until further notice.

"Did you really need to find me so badly?"


They stood there, stupidly, while men grunted and woman breathed through pursed lips, metal clanged and music bumped. None of it seemed to exist, for a moment. Just the fact that this man, his brother, that he had not seen since they were fucking kids... was actually here in front of him. There was impulse, despite the anger and the frustration and the heartache, to reach out and hug him. But they just... stood there, until Iago spoke up. The language was familiar and refreshing to hear, especially from a voice that was... not all together familiar, but he supposed it might be the time they'd spent apart. The question set his teeth gritting, and he exhaled sharply in something of a laugh.

"¿Crees que elegiría aquí si no necesitara encontrarte?"

Do you think I'd choose here if I didn't need to find you?


 Iago all but prowled into the establishment. Ingrid averted her eyes, forcing her focus back to her client. The inner beast cared not for this, some human running but getting nowhere prioritized over its companion. "Ah-ah, don't hunch - shoulders back, chest forward." Quick to instruct the client where her own distraction had let the older woman go slack.

 Still, her eyes wandered back to Iago - looking very small suddenly in the presence of Mateo, as he caught his pitiful brother off guard. She strained her ears for their conversation, but couldn't make sense of the words. Spanish. Ugh. She hated it only because she couldn't understand what they were saying. The woman sighed to herself and came to stand on the other side of the elliptical, with her back to them, eyes moving up to one of the mirrors on the wall occasionally to spot them.

Iago was realizing something he'd feared: Mateo was family, but Mateo didn't feel the same to him anymore. Mateo was human, and Iago was something else now. It wasn't the thing that had first kept him away from his family, years ago, but as time had gone on and the sense of being something else had really started to take hold, he had considered it heavily when the pining had gotten bad.

The idea of looking at his mother. Or his father. Or one of his baby sisters. And seeing them--even for a brief and wild moment--as something other than his kin alarmed him. And it was happening now with Mateo, as he stared hard into that gaze and mourned for the first time ever the loss of his pure humanity.

Iago shrugged at his brother's words. He couldn't have told you Mateo's motivations anymore.

"¿Porqué entonces?"

Mateo had a lot of answers to give. A long story, he kept saying. In person. Well, they were in person now.

"Why then?"


Iago, it was clear, had changed. Though, he decided that he really never knew him at all. He knew him as his little brother, someone smaller and weaker than him, but scrappy in a way that made him proud. He knew him as quiet, studious, and eager to get out of Mexico and stretch his wings in America. This man before him was close to a stranger, but there was no denying the way he held his face in a way he'd seen many times from his mother when she was angry with him. He couldn't ignore that the way Iago shrugged was the way he shrugged, too.

"Fuera." He said, motioning with his hand as he finally fell into motion. They couldn't do this here, in the middle of where he worked. He was sure it would eventually draw some attention.



It surprised Iago a little bit, how taken off guard he was by the suggestion to take it outside. He swayed a little in his spot, as if he had rooted there and hadn't anticipated being pulled up just then. But... Mateo wasn't wrong. They probably weren't the only ones here that spoke Spanish, and even if they were... this wasn't a conversation for the very public space they currently occupied.

Movement to follow after Mateo--presumably out the back somewhere, since the front end of the gym wasn't any better than inside--he was forced to think, his standstill of determination gone. He still acknowledged Ingrid, somewhere... that way. He didn't look, though. Couldn't afford to. Right now he could not be a lion, and if she was furious with him--likely--he couldn't afford the distraction of dealing with increasingly compounded issues.

Only when Mateo was ahead of him, his back to him, he pulled one of his hands from his pocket and shoved it up under his sunglasses in a fist, rubbing briskly at the under edge of his eye with a knuckle and huffing before letting his hand fall slack to his side.

No protest. Mateo would scan the crowd then, as they turned to make their way out, searching for a manager that might have spotted him talking too much with a patron and not doing his job. Instead, he just spotted the blonde giving them side eye as they went. Ingrid. He'd snap his gaze away from her in the same instance, and move on toward the back of the building, then subsequently the back door. There would be a silence that followed as he lead Iago around to where he had been taking the smoke break when his brother had texted him in the first place, and he considered lighting another one to deal with this. Deciding against it, he'd instead move his hands to rub heavily at his face and beard, and face the wall a moment as he considered what words to use.

"Me echaron." He started, drove a heel into the ash-ridden concrete, and turned to face his brother. "Vivía con mamá y papá, y me echaron." His lips down turned, the words tasted wrong in his mouth. A fucking pitiful thing to admit to.

"Así que me mudé a Arizona. Tampoco funcionó ahí fuera."

"I got kicked out. I was living with mom and dad, and they kicked me out."
"So, I moved to Arizona. It didn't work out there, either."


Iago had been somewhat prepared to drag information out of Mateo, based on how hard it had been up until this point. But Mateo began before he'd even fully turned around to face Iago, and immediately Iago felt... way, way, way worse for giving Mateo a rough time of it than he'd expected to. He rather wanted to bite at his own lip, but that wasn't an option, so instead he sank against the wall with a shoulder as he listened, no longer posturing.

He'd been wrong, before. Mateo discovering that he was a lion wasn't the only thing that had kept him from wanting to see his brother. This was another one. It was so much harder to keep someone at arm's length when they stood right in front of you to plead their case. Harder to feel affronted by them meddling in your own little world.

If their parents had kicked Mateo out... he really must have deserved it. Papa had always insisted they find their own way, earn their own life, but he'd always provided a foundation, at least. Mateo's fall from grace was even worse than Iago had supposed.

Arizona hadn't worked out, either. Almost certainly a story there. An unhappy one. Iago was struck with more unexpected empathy. He couldn't explain it to Mateo, but he knew exactly what it was to be ejected from any and all sense of belonging.

Iago was quiet a moment, arms folded lightly over his chest as he rubbed a mindless circle against the cloth of his elbow with the opposite hand. At war with his own needs, his own sense of privacy, and everything... he couldn't bring himself to be cruel to his brother. No more than he already had been. His eyes fell to the asphalt between them. "Lo siento, Mateito. No lo sabía." His voice, decidedly soft.

It would have been better to tell Mateo that he didn't care, that he couldn't help him, that he needed to go find someone else. He'd been very prepared to. But he couldn't.

"I'm sorry, Mateito. [familiar/affectionate diminutive] I didn't know."


Mateo watched him as he... seemed to soften. Seemed to understand, maybe. Or appear to. To say sorry, that he didn't know. To call him what he called him as kids. Mateo's lip curled, and he took a shuffled step back, eyeing him with a heavy stare. That wasn't all it took, was it? Someone that'd spent so fucking long away from the family, had put up such a fight hiding away, gotten so mad at being found. And he was sorry? Of course he didn't fucking know. He'd cut them all out.

Mateo clicked his tongue, and began to move forward, closer to his younger, smaller sibling. He'd stop when he was less than a foot away, having to look down at him, able to peer through the tint of the sunglasses. He measured his breathing, his heart still in his throat as he looked over Iagos' face, a stranger with a face of someone he helped to raise.

"Nah," He said after a beat, shaking his head, "You don't fuckin care, do you?" His eyes fucking stung, his chest fucking ached. This wasn't what he came out here for. He'd come out here to... he didn't know, see his brother. Not to be treated like he was some kind of threat, to be shut out, to be questioned. Then fucking. Pitied. It wasn't real, couldn't be. No one that left their fucking family for so long could care so easily.

He wasn't afraid of Mateo. He never had been, even when the 'tough love' had been at its worst. Mateo had always been a force to either work with or push back against, but never anything he'd been afraid would stop him. That wasn't Mateo's purpose after all. No one was more loyal to their blood than Mateo.

The lion growled in his heart at what seemed to be a threat as Mateo got very close--close enough to likely start picking apart the face he was staring at. The sunglasses had slipped a little, but either Iago didn't notice or didn't care enough to go through the motion of pushing them back up.

Part of him wanted to be offended at the rejection of his sympathy, but ultimately he was just so... very... tired. Even with his face scrunching in disbelief at the English words tossed to him, all he could do was look up and stay rooted to his new chosen spot. Another emotionally wrought conversation that could so easily tip into argument seemed a steep-faced mountain looming up before him. He wasn't sure he had the means to tackle it.

Timing was bad, so very, very bad. He was feeling hazy again, removed from his own reality. "Por favor. Estoy tratando de ser amable." Still just as soft, he had to resist squeezing his eyes shut.

"Please, I'm trying to be kind."


He was used to the kind of reaction he got when he did this, the nervous roving of eyes or the heavier breathing or the bob of an adam's apple. He'd forgotten, in the time apart, that Iago never did that for him. He was smaller, but not scared. Maybe it was a lesson he'd even taught him himself, when they were just kids. The words that answered him back weren't in the language he'd used to try and cut at him deeper, a purposeful thing to remind him where they were and that he'd left. It did nothing but frustrate.

"¿Amable?" He repeated, face screwing up. "¿Crees que has sido amable?" Mateo's head shook, and he forced his eyes to the brick wall behind Iago, taking a step back as he moved a hand to rub aggressively at his beard. "Tuve que encontrar tu número de un gringa con la que trabajo, porque ni siquiera le das eso a la familia." He gestured with his other hand toward the building.

"Kind? You think you've been kind?"
"I had to find your number from a gringa I work with, because you don't even give that to the family."


Badly, he just wanted to close his eyes and sit down and push pause on all of this. Iago felt like he was having a hard time thinking, let alone doing much else.

No, he hadn't been kind. At least not in a way that your average person could understand. Not in a way he expected the family to understand. Explaining it was impossible without undermining the reason for the distance. He was terrible to them, distant and absent, because his presence itself was dangerous. More than your average were, he'd argue. He wore his secret openly and even proudly because he had to. Friends and strangers wouldn't ask too much to be polite and would be turned away with a few words.

Family, though. They always dug deep. Like Mateo was now.

"Tienes razón. No es justo. Pero tengo mis razones, lo siento. Estoy tratando de ser amable ahora. Permíteme, Mateo."

When had the tide shifted. When had he become the one begging? It stung and twisted but he was almost too numb to feel it properly.

"You're right. It's not fair. But I have my reasons, I'm sorry. I am trying to be kind now. Allow me, Mateo."


He was right. Of course he was. It was fucked up. But it some how made it worse that Iago still did it, even knowing how shitty it was. He'd been so reluctant to talk to him, to even listen to him, made him feel like shit, got him into trouble... and now he was trying to be kinder. Let him, Mateo. He took in a heavy breath, and dropped his arms like his hands had suddenly become sacks of potatoes. They hung limply, and only swayed when he breathed through his barreled chest.

"¿Qué razones?" He nodded toward him imploringly, the edge of his tone dulled some, "Te busqué porque eres la única familia que tengo aquí. ¿Tus razones son demasiado buenas para darle la espalda a eso?"

"What reasons?", "I looked for you because you're the only family I have here. Are your reasons too good to turn your back on that?"


Were his reasons enough to turn his back on that?

Yes, actually. He was pretty certain that... very little good could come for Mateo from this. But in his heart, Iago was a good person, and... Mateo was family. And it was foolish and horrible and something he had avoided for nearly a decade for precisely everything that was happening right now, but he could feel himself bending to the weight of that.

Forcing himself to take a breath, put some oxygen in his brain, try and clear out some of this tunnel-vision anxiety that was closing in on him in increasing degrees, he straightened up again. "No son razones que pueda decirte. Son del tipo que te meterán en problemas si lo sabes..." He could imagine the sorts of places Mateo's mind would likely jump. He was counting on 'baby brother turns into a lion' not being one of them. Please. "Pero no quiero asustarte. Te quiero..."

It was worth noting that was not a sentiment he'd used often growing up. But it had been so very long.

"They are not reasons I can tell you. They are the type that will get you in trouble if you know them..."
"But I don't want to scare you away. I love you."


Reasons he couldn't tell him, stuff that'd get him in trouble. Mateo laughed sharply, more of an exhale as he pressed his tongue to the back of his lip and nodded. Yeah, he'd heard that shit before. So, what? His baby brother stole away to the middle of America to sell drugs? Join a gang? Worse? Did it matter, when he was making it enough out her to have friends? When he was still... trying to keep him here, not drive him right away. When he still loved him.

Mateo took in a heavy breath then, closed his mouth and regarded his brother thoughtfully. Whatever the fuck he'd come out here to do, it was worth more than family. But, lately, what was family worth to him anyway? He thought it meant more to everyone else, as much as it meant to him. But as soon as he fell down from the tightrope he'd been walking, the safety net sliced itself in two to let him fall. Now, he was at the bottom, climbing his way back up, and here was a near forgotten tatter in the net, one that loosed itself years ago, reaching out to pull him back.

"Okay." Mateo said with a sense of finality. Okay, to what, exactly? What was next? Accepting that Iago was willing to help, that he actually had some sliver of regret. Taking whatever it was he'd offer to him.

This was not what Iago had come here to do.

What exactly his plan had been, he wasn't sure. At all. Largely because he hadn't known what exactly Mateo was going to ask of him. But finding that Mateo was at the end of his own rope, left with only the choice of tracking down someone who didn't want to be tracked down... It changed even the vague intentions of the secretive werelion.

"Okay," he echoed and found it was enough. For what, he didn't know, but he also didn't feel like dragging anything else out of Mateo just here, standing in an alley space behind a gym. He felt very bothered. Shifty, even, though not in a way that alarmed him. Clothing and especially the plastic on his face was starting to bother him a lot, and it took some short resolve to not just take the sunglasses off to rub at his eyes.

He realized he was hungry. Ravenous, even.

"¿Cuándo sales del trabajo?"

"When do you leave work?"


Okay. When did he get off work?

"Cinco." He answered, looking down at his watch. He needed to go back to work, but how the fuck could he just go back in and pretend nothing had happened? He was an adult, he'd have to deal with it.

Not enough time for a shift, but enough time for him to go feed himself. Maybe even twice.

Iago was officially alarmed for different reasons, now that he was realizing he'd come, stressed out, to meet his own brother without having fed himself in a fair amount of time. He pulled away from the brick wall with a sharp exhale, trying not to broadcast his newfound sense of urgency too greatly.

"Llámame cuando hayas terminado. Podemos encontrar un lugar mejor para hablar."

It felt... anti-climactic. Going now. But it wasn't going to get better trying to force any interaction right now. The lion was pacing, demanding he either... what? Go back inside and find Ingrid? Go hunt down Sokol? Neither were options. Feeding was simpler and he was banking on that being solution enough.

"Call me when you're done. We can find a better place to talk."


Somewhere better to talk. That meant, most likely, he'd be recounting all his recent fuck ups. But that wouldn't come without him prying some answers out of Iago in turn. Mateo would sigh to settle himself, and nod. He felt... the urge to pull his brother into a hug, but the way this was ending felt unfinished, disjointed. Soothed, but not resolved. So he would end up moving to just extend a hand for him, intending to grasp him by the upper arm. The hoodie was... "Usted debe cambiar antes de eso" He'd say, a ghost of a smile and an echo of a tease.

"You should change before then."


Iago was not a person who shied from touch or familiarity. But in his current state of mind, with a lion getting more and more raucous about its needs that were most certainly not being met, he felt himself tense as Mateo kindly took him by the arm. He played it off with a close-lipped smile and a gentle move to pull away.

"¿Qué está diciendo de mí?" he shot back. Taking the tease, letting it tumble around somewhere in his headspace with the thought that the moment before had been his first physical contact with family in an incredibly long time. That response, probably more the Iago that Mateo had known, was almost automatic. And he tried to make it into his otherwise silent goodbye as he would take his leave down the side of the building without going back in if he could.

"What are you saying about me?"


”Sólo cámbialo.” He’d say through a small chuckle, head shaking. He’d let him go, though, unsure of how he felt, and took a heavy breath before heading inside.

 They took it outside, without a word to her from Iago. This was all very strange. What could they possibly talk about after she had been told to “keep it that way” where Mateo’s awareness went. Didn’t he want to avoid his brother? Had Mateo told him where he worked, or would this be something for the taller brother to scorn her for?

 Ingrid’s client was getting ready to take a water and bathroom break when Mateo sauntered back in through the back door. She wasn’t sure what to expect. As the older woman under her scrutiny headed to the restroom, Ingrid would linger by the weights they’d be working on next, watching Mateo silently.

With that, he'd head inside. His eyes stayed to the ground, focused on just getting his job done. And he might have been able to do that, if he didn't feel the burning stare of someone on his back as he went toward a garbage can to check if it needed to be emptied. Mateo would glance to Ingrid, and lift two fingers in a sharp wave as he raised his brows. What?

 Ingrid was rightly puzzled. Mateo didn't seem angry or mournful, just went right back to work. He questioned her gaze without a word, and she would only acknowledge him with a lingering stare before she turned away from him to pick out weights for her client.

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