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you have to get better at starting where you left off

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The sun, now only just starting to rise, could barely be seen through the fog. Nor could the few other people who were out at this time, because it was so early, and so cold. Now that Francis was this far from home, the damp, autumn air clinging to his skin, and lips, and hair, he could only question what he’d been thinking when he set off that morning. What distance would be far enough to walk? At what point would he turn back, content with what he’d found that morning after letting himself out of his house, quietly, gracefully, still hungover and wearing the clothes from the night before that he’d silently lifted from the floor of his bedroom?

When it had been long enough that finding Charles still there would mean something.

As though that would ever happen.

Francis turned down a side-street, a simple path that pressed against some trees, usually unnoticed because it was out of the way and went absolutely nowhere. Followed for long enough, it doubled back through a park and opened up into the street again. In the mornings it was popular with dog-walkers and joggers, and throughout the afternoon young mothers with young children could be seen strolling through it.

The few people that he passed now gave him a curious look – those of them who looked at him at all – likely due to how he was dressed, and how completely shitfaced he must look. How out of place he was, walking through the early autumn fog in his dishevelled suit, his hair the brightest thing to be seen. In turn he gave them a cursory glance, taking brief stock of their appearance and wondering how any of them could bring themselves to make a habit of coming out this early.

And if these were the people that made a habit of such a thing – insane people, if anyone asked what Francis thought of them – then in the tragic event that he was killed and abandoned in such a place, dead and discrete and hidden and out of the way, then it would be one of them who found him.

He touched his neck again. Every time he swallowed, he could feel the hand that had wrapped itself around his throat the night before and held him down on his own bed. In some wild iteration of the night before that hadn’t happened, and that would never happen, they’d have started somewhere along this path, taking advantage of how little light filtered through from the street; there was enough discretion that it felt private enough to pull Charles’ mouth against his own, and to grip his arm as tightly as he could to delay their return to anywhere they might be seen, the possibility of being discovered not far from either of their mind but the possibility of discovering each other even closer. That would never happen – it was so out of the way, anyway, that there was no reason for them to ever come by here, and the less time he gave Charles to think about why he was wandering off with Francis, the better the odds were for Francis getting to keep him for the night. But Francis thought about them nonetheless, and about being choked here, someplace that was familiar enough to him because he’d found himself walking here often enough, but ultimately still a neutral place.

And he thought about being left here; his eyes had rolled into the back of his head the night before, and that was one of the last things he remembered before coming to again seconds later, bleary and too weak to really grab hold of Charles (not that he could in any meaningful way, not that he was strong enough to force Charles’ head up, although Francis could grip him by the chin and guide his mouth against his); from there, it wasn’t hard to imagine not having had the chance to come to again. If that had been the case maybe he would have fought back harder than with just the struggle that came naturally when something was at his throat; maybe, if Charles had meant it, something instinctual would let him know that Charles meant it, and he’d be able to fight back.

Maybe he would have let him. Basked in it a little.

The problem with that line of thought, of course, was to ask what Charles had meant? What were his intentions? To make an object out of Francis: something to hold and to move around as he pleased; something that wouldn’t say anything back to him; something that he didn’t have to justify his attraction to.

The whole thing was just so romantic that Francis couldn’t stand it – Francis could think of no circumstances that would make Charles so desperate to have him that he’d pin him to the ground out here, unable to wait until they were someplace more secluded to take what he wanted. But if Charles ever killed him and left him out here, abandoned, untouched except by him, his clothes roughly re-fastened (just the thought of this made Francis flush; and the temperature disparity between himself and the foggy morning air was enough to make his skin feel too tight for the rest of his body all of  sudden) –  if Charles ever killed him, then Francis would at least know that he’d been wanted more than Charles could stand to have to face in the morning, or ever again.