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Heart of Glass

Chapter Text

He was born Francis Moore, no middle name. His birth parents were short like that; short on names, short on attention, and short on love. He wondered sometimes if he should’ve changed his last name to the name of the people who raised him and taught him what it meant to be a man, but ultimately he couldn’t do it. He wanted… no, needed , to stay connected to that name. It was one of the few ties to his old family that he had left, and while he hated his parents and everything they’d done, he couldn’t let go of the last connection he had to his brother.

Where Francis was tall and broad, his little brother was short and slender. Francis’ skin was darker and rougher than his brother’s light complexion, and a pair of foster parents once described them as toast and peaches ‘n cream, before laughing in a cruel way. The brothers didn’t stay at that home very long.

His entire life, Francis struggled to flatten his dark curly hair to his head, but after football practice in high school, when his helmet came off, it was as messy and wild as it was after a night of restless sleep; a black crown floating around a frantic mind, dark eyes crystalline and wild. Francis appreciated his brother’s lighter, smoother locks and gentler features the most on nights like those. Small touches and gentle hugs, a hand rubbing against a back to soothe, and Francis could sleep again. In all the world, the two boys only had each other.

Francis took to football easily, with his broad shoulders, wide hands, and easy smile. No matter what home he and his brother ended up in, Francis would find a place on the team. He could always make friends this way. His deep need to belong made him an ideal fit for the high school sports culture. Francis tried so many times to get his brother involved in school activities, but he would always say, Frankie, stop trying so hard , and go back to whatever project he was working on, usually something engineering related.

Alex , he thought to himself, in the darkness of night when the Georgian stars twinkled, their song reminding him of a home and a brother he’d promised himself he’d never forget. The remnant of a family that he’d never let go of. It was on nights like those that he would roll over and hold his wife close. He would think of their children, and their happy, quiet life together, and usually he’d be able to fall back asleep after a long while.

It didn’t used to be simple, pushing his brother to the back of his mind and living his life, things became easier. Wounds of the heart didn’t heal so easily; sometimes they stitch themselves together with too much protein, scar tissue lumping and shining, an embarrassment and an eye sore and something to hide, a constant reminder of a mistake made, the imperfection and endurance of the body.

Francis excelled in medical school. He didn’t have a stomach for surgery, so he stuck to family practice. Do no harm , he swore. And yet, one of the most interesting facts he’d learned was that when the body doesn’t get what it needs, when vitamin C isn’t abundant enough, collagen is made poorly, and thus unstable. Capillaries burst, wounds remain open, and since the body constantly replaces the collagen in scar tissue, old scars can reopen.

He wanted his scars to stay closed, so he fed his wounds with any love he could find: love from his adopted parents, his wife and children, his church, and the patients at his medical practice. He would even go out of his way to help strangers. What is an older brother without a younger brother? A people-pleaser, and a man desperate for kindness from anyone who will give it.

Can I help you with your groceries, Sam?

Do you need help crossing the street, Mrs. Winshire?

Your cat ran up that tree, Susie? I’ll get it for you.

As a child, he’d been the peacekeeper between his parents and his brother, comforting and placating and doing everything he could to minimize the abuse. He would even take the blame for things Alex did. As much as he craved loved from June and Geoff Moore, he needed to protect Alex especially, and so he bowed and caved and begged and apologized to protect him.

And when he didn’t have to do that anymore, when the state pulled them out of that home because their parents hit them and oh, yeah, they were also making and dealing meth, because of course they were, and they went into the system, Francis didn’t stop protecting him.

And when the courts were involved again when he was sixteen, Francis was relieved. He had done everything he possibly could for Alex, to protect him and save him and love him, and to be the best big brother possible, and he’d failed. He wanted to be punished, and he offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb. He could finally suffer the way he had always needed to, and Alex could finally have a good life. It was all worth it. Francis would do anything for his brother.

 

And then Alex died.

Chapter Text

Francis woke with a start, sweaty and tangled in the sheets. The power had turned off sometime in the night, and with it the dehumidifier. Moisture hung in the air and clung to him like a shroud.

He looked over to his wife who was still deep in slumber, probably dreaming of summertime sugar plums and fairies and whatever else that creative head of hers could think up.

Nights like these were the worst.

Alex had been there in his mind, smiling and happy and vibrant like he’d been when they were children. Waking up after seeing his little brother alive and thriving was the worst kind of hell.

Because there was no getting him back.

Because Alex was dead.

Chapter Text

After the court separated Francis and Alex when Francis was sixteen and Alex was fourteen, Francis wholly submitted to his punishment.

Any time his mind would wander too long to Alex, wondering how he was doing, if he was happy, hoping beyond hope that he found somewhere to belong and some way to overcome Francis’ failure, he would pull out his personal copy of the court papers and run his finger over and over again on the few lines that meant he could never see his brother again. They would eventually smudge and become illegible, but not yet.

...Alexander Moore is a deeply confused boy who was manipulated by his older brother. For his safety, he is not to be contacted by Francis, and he is not to contact Francis. If either of them are caught with each other, or attempting to make contact with each other, Francis Moore will be tried as an adult...

Which meant that, as long as they were alive, they could never see each other again.

Francis, long used to being a martyr, accepted it immediately. He’d protected Alex from their parents when they were young children, he’d protected Alex from other kids and teachers who tried to bully him, and he’d made sure that Alex always got what he needed, even if it meant Francis went without. The night Francis gave up Alex was the night he decided to kill any last shreds of selfishness in his soul. He became a man who couldn’t stand up for himself; a man who constantly punished himself and supplicated himself to everyone around him. He fell into Christianity easily, and it sated his need to be punished, and gave him a glimmer of hope that maybe he could be something more than he had been before.

Francis knew he’d never forgive himself for what he did to his brother, the person he loved more than life itself. He would do anything for Alex, and that included protecting Alex from himself.

Francis would do anything for Alex. He had no idea that Alex would do anything for him, too.

 

-----

 

It was the night of his medical school acceptance party when he was twenty two that he found out Alexander Moore had died.

His adoptive parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales, along with his girlfriend of two years, Julie Encoms, had been planning for months. Francis had told them not to put too much work into it, that he probably wouldn’t even get accepted, that his grades weren’t good enough and he couldn’t afford it, anyway.

“Francis, you’re getting in and that’s final,” Mrs. Gonzales sternly told him.

“Let your family celebrate you,” Mr. Gonzales insisted with his perpetually twinkling smile.

“Frank, honey, we love you and believe in you even if you don’t believe in yourself. That’s what family’s for, right?” Julie said while soothing him with a hug.

Julie was a beautiful, petite woman with a stern chin and striking blue eyes. She seemed severe until she smiled, and then it was if the heavens themselves had opened up. Her long blonde hair swept down her back, Francis complimented her perfectly. Stubborn Julie and her Prince is what their college friends called them.

When Francis was with Julie, he was able to exist in her shadow, and that was how he liked it. So when his parents and his girlfriend told him that they were throwing him a medical school acceptance party, he let them graciously.

So here he was, twenty two years old with an incredible girlfriend, two loving parents, and surrounded by all fifty of his closest college friends, though most of them were actually Julie’s. They had driven out to his parents’ house from Atlanta where they all went to Georgia State, and they were ready to celebrate the Prince’s victory.

It was late May 2002, and the moist night air was crisp. Francis stood tall in a white button down shirt rolled up at the sleeves and tucked into a pair of dark, worn jeans. Julie radiated beauty in a plum summer dress with a black cardigan on top. They were the perfect example of Stubborn Julie and her Prince.

Tea lights and strings of LEDs lit up his parents’ backyard, and it was filled to bursting with college kids. Mr. Gonzales’ prized lawn was getting trampled by one hundred pairs of feet, but he didn’t care and couldn’t stop smiling at his Francis who overcame so much and had been accepted into medical school! Can you believe it, mijo? Our son! A doctor!

In all of the hustle and bustle of finishing his undergraduate degree, applying to medical school, and getting his life in order, he hadn’t thought much about his younger brother. In fact, it had been three months since the name Alex walked across his mind. Francis had been happier and his life had had more purpose. He and Julie were even discussing what marriage might mean to their relationship, and making moves to find a home together. So it was a shock when he was abruptly reminded of his baby brother.

Francis and Julie were talking in the corner of the party with one of Julie’s couple friends, Heather and Grace. The group of four was stuck between two ferns and the corner where the yard fence met the back alley wall. Francis was shoved all the way in, surrounded on three sides by the women who were having an animated discussion on which of their professors was more likely to write them better recommendation letters. Francis was fit to bursting with love for his girlfriend, for his parents, and for all the people who came here to share this special moment with him.

His eyes wandered the party, and he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. Francis raised his red solo cup of beer to his lips to take a deep swallow.

“-Alex, though,” Julie said, and the liquid in Francis’ throat caught and he doubled over choking and sputtering.

“Frank, are you okay?” she asked, concerned. Her small hand rubbed his back while he leaned on his knees coughing.

“Yeah,” he croaked out, standing back up. “What were ya’ll talking about?” Francis kept his face smooth and impassive, but fear coiled in his gut.

“Oh, just baby names,” Heather laughed, her dark skin bending beautifully around her white teeth in a smile that showed she had no idea what Francis was afraid of. He sagged a little in relief.

“See, Julie!” Grace cackled, her tall frame bent, face split into a grin. “He’s as much a guy as any other! Freaking out about baby names. And you think he’s ready for marriage?”

The three women had a good laugh, and Francis laughed along, playing the part of the doting, bumbling man. He excused himself to go in the house and change shirts.

Every step he took towards the house was another time Alex echoed in his mind. Six steps up to the porch was Alex Alex Alex Alex Alex Alex. Walking inside and closing the sliding door was Aleeeeeex. He turned around quickly, his back to the door, and his dark, wild eyes searched the room for something, but he didn't know what.

He went up the stairs to his room (Alex Alex Alex…) and grabbed a new shirt out of his closet. This one was black and freshly ironed, and Julie said it brought out his brown-black eyes. He pulled it on carefully and looked at himself in the full-length mirror Mrs. Gonzales had given him last Christmas. You’re a man now, Francis, she’d said. You must look your best.

And so Francis Moore looked at himself in the mirror. His black shirt really did bring out the brown of his eyes, and tucked into his jeans he was a dark vision of Southern hospitality. His curly hair danced around his head, the ringlets black and dangling in his eyes. He pulled at one curl and thought absently to himself that he needed a haircut soon.

Then his eyes shot back to the mirror, and he remembered his brother, and he remembered that he’d forgotten about his brother, and he hated himself for that.

Francis turned the mirror against the wall so he didn't have to see himself, and he walked over to the window to look down at the party below. He wished Alex could be here. He wished Alex could be part of the family Francis had made. He wished he could pick up Alex from wherever he was and insert him into his life. But , he reminded himself, I can’t see him.

His mind played over that smudged paragraph in the stack of paper in his bottom bedside drawer, hidden under a stack of pristine pornographic magazines.

... For his safety, he is not to be contacted by Francis, and he is not to contact Francis. If either of them are caught with each other, or attempting to make contact with each other…

But an internet search didn’t count, right? Francis had gone back and forth on this. He didn’t know how much could be seen of his internet activity. Could the cable company see it? Could his parents? Could the courts get that information?

He’d accepted his punishment so fully, and had intended to go the rest of his life without seeing his brother again, but his horror at forgetting Alex cracked his self-restraint. And so, as on that night eight years prior, he crossed a boundary.

Francis quietly padded into the computer room and nervously typed in Alexander Joshua Moore July 2nd, 1982 into the search engine and hit enter. The computer made the beep boops and grinding sounds that indicated the dial-up modem was engaging, and finally a single search result popped up on the screen.

Alexander Joshua Moore. Born July 2nd, 1982. Deceased August 21st, 2000… Sudden car accident… High school graduate… closed casket… no one at fault…

“No,” Francis whispered to the dark room, his face lit by the electric light from the monitor like a jackolantern of misery, eyes hollow, mouth a tight line sloping down at either end.

“No,” leaking out of him like helium from a balloon.

“No,” a begging, an offering to someone out there to make this not true, to take it back, to fix things.

“No,” silent, remorseful, stagnant, resigned.

Quickly, Francis deleted the search history and turned off the computer. He sat in the black, blending into the darkness, losing himself to it and fading at the edges.

Julie would find him like that a couple hours later after the guests had all left and she remembered to find her boyfriend.

The Francis Moore who entered that room two hours before was not the same Francis Moore who left it. Within a month, he’d proposed to Julie and was preparing to go to medical school. They signed a lease for an apartment, and he was the perfect attentive partner and student. Everyone commented on how lovely they were together, and Julie appreciated how Francis had “matured” since his undergrad days. What Julie wanted became what Francis wanted. He had been so thoroughly punished by God for who he was and what he’d done that he gave up his last reserves of selfishness and lived only for other people.

It wasn’t until a man walked into Dr. Moore’s clinic with a nasty gash on his arm that Francis felt a stirring of that selfishness that he’d tried to so deeply cut out of himself.

And Damian Glass would do anything to get what he wanted.

Chapter Text

The town’s hospital was large, imposing, and left to disrepair and disuse. It was built with a grant from the governor, meant to revitalize smaller towns with aging populations. Besides the initial injected investment of construction costs and materials, the hospital was a money suck for the town, and was usually empty and unused, except for the front lobby in the center of the building and opening to the parking lot, and a single patient room that was kept stocked with supplies.

The outside was slate grey with wings stretched out on either side. One hundred dark windows watched the large parking lot in the front where the asphalt was cracked and puckered from a decade of neglect. On cloudy days, the front of the building looked like a hundred arachnid eyes watching and judging all who dared enter.  

Too many trees to count had been cut down to make room for the massive structure in the old forest, and a long winding road connected it to the state highway that ran through the town. It was at most a fifteen minute drive to any point in the town, which was good for the residents because the next closest hospital was in Atlanta, an hour's drive away.

Dr. Francis Moore loved the isolation and general lack of visitors. It remained open by the grace of God (and a small annual fund from the state government). During the rainy season, he would leave the windows open and get lost in the whispering of leaves in the trees, and the hard drumming of rain against the roof and echoing in the fifty empty rooms through the hospital. He hadn't imagined having a practice like this in medical school, one without many patients and too much free time, but he appreciated it immensely. He needed to be alone, and as a husband, father, and community leader, he was never alone. Here at the empty hospital he could be alone. Here, he didn't have to pretend to be someone he wasn't. Here, he didn't have to hide his grief.

Dr. Francis Moore, thirty eight years old, six foot three, father of two and married for sixteen years, took another bite of the egg salad sandwich his wife had made for lunch, the hard surface of the break room table digging into his elbows, the stale crumbs from a week’s worth of crusts grinding into his exposed forearms. His white doctor’s coat was slung over the chair next to him, and the long sleeves on his pale blue button down were rolled up to the joint between his forearm and bicep. Crumbs fell carelessly onto his straight-leg khaki pants, and his dark eyes were distracted by whatever that day’s news was on his phone.

Francis was mid-bite, sandwich poised in the air in front of his face, mouth wide open, when his front desk attendant slash nurse slash secretary ran into the room, her comfortable white hospital shoes smacking loudly on the linoleum.

Out of breath and gasping for air, she addressed him.

“Frank, you gotta come see this,” she gestured wildly with her hands, beckoning the doctor to follow her.

Francis put down his half-eaten sandwich on the brown paper towel on the crumb-covered table and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand.

“What's going on, Maureen?” he asked carefully, not wanting to get caught up in her hysterics. Maureen Hammerschmidt, forty-six years old, had the body and platinum blonde hair of a Mid-America soccer mom, but didn't have the children to show for it. She lived with her elderly mom in a small two bedroom house in town, and had a flair for the dramatic.

“You know that project? The Fraggle one? The new Internet super fast optical illusion or something one?” Maureen spoke fast, almost unintelligible in her excitement.

“Yes, I know the project.”

“Well, you know the team they sent here to work on it? The fancy Fraggle team? The engineers or scientists or whathaveyou?”

“I've heard there's a few people from the company staying in town and overseeing the project, yes.”

“Well, one of them is in our lobby and is bleeding out all over the floor!”

“Shit-” was about all Francis managed to get out before he was pushing past Maureen and running into the lobby.

He made it down the short hallway in five long steps, through the double swinging doors in one, and came to a halt next to the man who Maureen had described as bleeding out all over the floor . Quickly he assessed the situation, gently placing his hands on the man’s left arm and pushing up his sleeve to see the extent of the damage. He determined that while there was a trickle of blood dripping onto the floor from the wound, it was falling at a declining rate, injury was not life-threatening, and would require nothing more than stitches and ibuprofen. Francis, having filed away that information in his mind, released the arm, and finally took stock of the man in front of him.

The man was shorter than Francis, maybe 5’ 10” or 11”, and younger by at least a decade. His fashionable short-on-the-sides-long-on-top, perfectly styled blonde hair stuck up in odd places, probably due to whatever had caused his injury and the mad dash to the hospital, and the remains of what had probably been a very expensive olive jacket were tied around his upper arm. His rust-colored t-shirt made of some buttery material clung to his chest, and the dark blue jeans on his legs were the kind of indigo that was only maintained by not working hard. The blood dripping down the well-toned bicep was bright red, and was in high contrast with his pale skin. He looked as if he never went outside, and had perfected his body in a gym. His face was ashen, a healthy flush gone from his cheeks and spilling out of the gash on his arm. As Francis’ gaze made its way to the man’s face, he noticed high cheekbones, a perfect narrow nose, a strong jaw, and the most beautiful blue eyes he’d ever seen that were fixed on his, the expression nameless but powerful.

Francis was caught in those eyes, trapped in them, and felt his heart beat once in his chest, loud and strong and low.

Francis broke the tension with a small smile and extended his hand.

“I’m Dr. Moore, son,” Francis said gently. “I’m gonna get you patched up and on your way.”

A soft, warm hand slid into Francis’ large, rough one, and languidly moved up and down twice in the air in a smooth handshake.

“Damian Glass, at your service.” Damian’s smile was wide, white, and predatory. He removed his hand from Francis’ slowly, his middle finger trailing down the middle of the doctor’s palm. “And don’t call me son , old man.”

Francis’ hand tingled from the contact, and he quickly shoved it into the pocket of his khakis.

“Maureen, help Mr. Glass into the patient’s room and I’ll be there in just a moment.”

The nurse quickly moved to put pressure on Damian’s arm and led him back through the double doors. Francis turned to his patient’s companion, finally noticing the other person standing in the lobby of his empty hospital.

“You’re welcome to wait here for your friend, ma’am.”

“That asshole’s not my friend, but thanks, I’ll stay. Gotta make sure the project leader doesn’t croak,” the woman in grey chuckled to herself. She was short, with cropped auburn hair, dark skin, and tailored clothes that screamed designer .

“Yes, well. Alright,” Francis said, then swiftly moved through the double doors to tend to his patient.

His patient, with eyes like ice that cut through him to the bone; a glacier cracking in half.

His patient, with soft hands and flirtatious fingers perfect for stroking.

His patient, with a handsome, supple body and an aura that Francis wanted to inhale, to invade.

His patient, who would ruin his life.

But Francis didn’t know that yet.

Not yet.

Chapter Text

Oh.

It was all I could think as the attractive doctor ran to me across the lobby. Dr. Francis Moore, or Frankie, as I couldn’t stop calling him in my head, moved with strong, purposeful strides, his large frame focused completely on helping me. Finally he was next to me, and my entire body thrummed at the proximity. My arm throbbed where the winch had cut through the skin, and the same place where Darcy had tied my very expensive jacket much too tightly. The same jacket that just the other day she’d commented as being tacky and counterproductive to corporate’s assimilation directives.

Yes, I’d responded, and your discount designer wardrobe is absolutely understated and not at all still more expensive than anything anyone else in this shitty town will be wearing. I ignored the expletives she threw my way in favor of, oh, I don’t know, working on the goddamn project we were sent to this backwater town to complete.

But standing there, my arm in Frankie’s large, warm hands, my blood falling to the ground with a quiet pitter patter, the pain hit me harder than I’d expected.

Who knew that a frayed winch could snap suddenly, hitting whoever was next to it?

Apparently the whole construction crew had known that little tidbit of information, which is precisely why they were perfectly fine while I was bleeding and throbbing and aching in front of the most handsome man in town. What can I say? My job is to code and run the project, not know about safety and wellness practices in some forest in Nowhere, Georgia.

Watch out! They’d shouted, so concerned. Get out of the way! Of course I didn’t hear them because my ear protection was firmly fixed on my head and I was looking the other way, in the direction of the van with the banks of computer, and waving at Darcy to come over and look at the power levels on my tablet.

Her frantic waving in return could have been her way of saying (as she so often enjoys saying), Hey, asshole! Leave me the hell alone! I’m trying to work! Of course I refused to move. I’m her project leader, not the other way around.

And then… thwack. I’m knocked to my knees. How did I get here? Numbness. Wetness on my arm. Looking over and realizing I’m seeing through my skin because it has opened up and now I’m bleeding and now the pain is hitting and it hurts.

It hurts worse than I thought it would.

 

I first saw the doctor a few months ago, shortly after arriving in town to start construction. I was trying to swallow mouthfuls of disgusting coffee in the furthest back booth at the local (read: only) diner, terribly bored, when a man in a white lab coat walked by the large front windows. I wouldn’t have noticed him, except for the coat. It was so bright, and that day was overcast. It glowed against the sky and the rest of the worthless grey town.

I watched this man with curiosity, and saw him greet a woman with a small child on the sidewalk. The woman looked up at him with such gratitude, such openness, and a coy grin. If I hadn’t lost my appetite from the coffee already, that smile would’ve done the trick.

Suddenly, the man in the white coat picked up the child and spun her around. I could barely hear her laughter, but her joy was apparent on her face.

In that moment, I hated her.

The man said his goodbyes and walked into the diner. The little bell above the door jingled, and Dr. Francis Moore, as it said on his coat, politely talked and smiled with the cashier as she grabbed a blueberry muffin for him.

I could clearly see him now, a vision with a strong jaw and black eyes. He was tall with dark curly hair down to his ears, tan skin, and broad shoulders. He also looked tired, with dark circles under his eyes and five o’clock shadow despite the fact that it was 8am on a Saturday.

I could finally hear his voice, too, and it was deep with a Southern lilt. Utterly divine.

Then, the tall, dark, and handsome doctor walked out of the diner and back the way he had come, and I was left with a cold cup of coffee, a serious case of blue balls, and a newfound determination.

 

So here I was, in a shitty, run-down hospital in a town called Nowhere staring at the most handsome man I’d ever seen. After what felt like an eternity, and after he’d finished assessing my injury, he raised his eyes to mine.

In that moment, electricity traveled down my spine and shocked me to my core, and I knew it had all be worth it. Finally I was here, with my obsession only inches away, where before he had been feet and yards and miles. Catching glances of the doctor in town hadn’t been enough; I’d needed to get closer.

And I’d finally devised a way.

Cutting the winch rope almost all the way through, bullshitting my way into standing next to it, wearing my ear protection so no one would think it strange that I wasn’t getting out of the way when they were yelling at me, ignoring Darcy’s obvious concern for my safety, and then ruining a perfectly good outfit. It had hurt so much worse than I’d thought.

But yes, it had been worth it.

And yes, I would do it all over again.

And yes. This was going to be fun.

I couldn’t stop a smile from cracking my face in half.

Chapter Text

Francis’ hand shook as he reached for the necessary supplies in the dusty medicine closet. Gauze, needle, thread, iodine, alcohol swabs… he ticked off items in his mind and tried to forget the steel blue eyes and prickling touch of Damian Glass.

He leaned against the closed closet door and took deep breaths to still the pounding in his chest. Francis didn’t have time for this, he didn’t have time to lose his composure and be so affected by a strange man. He had to treat his patient, and then he could go back to sitting alone and staring out the window. It was bland and boring and predictable, and utterly soothing. Yet, such things felt a lifetime ago.

Francis calmed himself and gathered handfuls of supplies. In his rush to the lobby, he’d forgotten his white coat which now lie neglected on the chair in the break room. He gathered everything up in his hands and prayed that nothing dropped. Opening the closet door was difficult with full hands, but he managed. He walked the few short steps to the only patient room they ever had prepared and tried to open the door. The handle to the door rattled but didn’t make the quarter-turn rotation necessary to open.

“Maureen, open the door, please,” Francis called out, trying not to drop any of the supplies.

The door opened, but it wasn’t Maureen on the other side.

“Need help, Doc?”

There stood Damian with a smirk. Blond. Beautiful. Intimidating. And in obvious pain. His face was pale, and his brow was furrowed with a light sheen of perspiration.

Francis shook off his flustered, erratic thoughts and applied his doctor’s mask, easily falling into that old code: assess, stabilize, and treat.

“Thank you, Mr. Glass,” Francis‘ Georgian drawl coming in thick due to his heightened anxiety. “Now please get yourself situated up on that there table so I can take a look at your arm.” The door snicked shut behind the doctor as he walked into the room.

The only working examination room in the entire enormous, defunct hospital had a single examination table, a small metal sink, various glass jars of cotton balls, tongue depressors, and bandaids. On the counter next to the sink was an opened box of gloves. On the wall were posters covering a wide range of human health and wellness, from the effects of smoking on an unborn fetus, to how swallowing works. A small trash bin was tucked away in one corner, and on the wall next to the exam table hung a blood pressure monitor and a lighting device for looking in eyes, ears, noses, and throats. A single rolling, circular, backless chair sat unused, and the pink pastel puke-colored walls completed the picture.

Damian climbed up on the plastic-covered examination table, white safety paper crinkling as he settled in, and sat leaning forward, his weight supported by his hands, his expression intense but unreadable. Francis turned to set down the supplies before they could fall out of his hands, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up as though he could feel Damian’s eyes on his back.

“I love your accent,” Damian spoke clearly, carefully, and Francis turned to find him examining a poster about prostate cancer.

“My accent?” Francis chuckled in surprise, Damian’s voice knocking him out of the self-conscious loop he’d been stuck in. He pulled on a pair of neoprene gloves and picked up angled safety scissors with blunted ends. “You know, Mr. Glass, to me, it’s you who have the accent,” Francis spoke, his o’s longer and his a’s more ey than they would have been if he’d grown up north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“Now what ever do you mean by that?” Damian’s lilting voice shot back, his blue eyes flicking to connect with Francis’ dark brown ones and his mouth still curled up at the edges.

Francis stood frozen, his eyes locked on Damian’s, and he struggled to come up with an appropriate reply.

“Oh, my deepest apologies, Mr. Glass. I meant nothin’ by it. Now please, if you’ll let me just take a look at your arm.”

“Of course, Doc.”

Francis approached him with the scissors held in his gloved hand, and Damian leaned back away from him.

“What are the scissors for? Not cutting off anything important, I hope?” Damian asked, an eyebrow raised quizzically, his smile teasing.

“Not at all, Mr. Glass. I need to remove your sleeve to fully clean and treat the injury.”

“Why just the sleeve? Why not the whole shirt?” Damian’s voice was light.

“I… If you’re comfortable with that, that would probably be for the best. I just didn’t wanna…”

“What didn’t you want to do?”

“It’s nothin’, I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”

“There’s nothing about you that could possibly make me uncomfortable. You couldn’t hurt a lamb, and I am no blushing virgin. Cut it all off, Doc.”

“Alright, Mr. Glass.”

Francis set the scissors down next to Damian on the exam table, and gently pulled off the ruined olive jacket tied around his patient’s upper arm as a make-shift and poorly constructed tourniquet. Francis set the jacket down on the counter next to the sink, and picked up the scissors once again.

Blood had dried deep into the dark indigo fabric of Damian’s once-pristine jeans. His soft, rust colored t-shirt was wrinkled, pulled out of shape, and dark in places where the red of Damian’s blood mingled with the red of the shirt; red, the color of a sun setting over an old, dead world; red, the color of decaying industry; red, the color of a river polluted with too little oversight, too few regulations.

To Francis, Damian was beautiful.

Chapter Text

Dr. Francis Moore made the first cut at the left sleeve of the ruined shirt, moving from the bottom all the way up to Damian’s neck. Damian’s warm skin burned Francis whenever his gloved hand would accidentally touch his patient. The doctor had to stand closely, and he could smell Damian’s underlying musk. It was cinnamon, and heat, and something else that lit Francis’ blood on fire.

The next cut moved from the collar of Damian’s shirt down his chest. Each snip of the scissors revealed another inch of perfect, pale skin.

Francis pulled the defeated garment down Damian’s right arm, and his patient’s upper body was completely exposed.

Damian Glass had a body clearly built by a trainer and nutritionist. He was lithe and lean, muscles defined but not overly so. A narrow waist tapered down from broad shoulders, and a flat stomach gracefully followed. His arms were strong, biceps gently sloping out then in, and his forearms were toned in the way that all computer programmers are toned: large, strong, and perfect for gripping. His chest was also hairless, and free of any scars or tattoos.

The first thing that Francis noticed was that Damian’s pink nipples were hard. The second thing he noticed was that Damian’s eyes followed him in the same way that a cat’s follow a bird. A deep blush spread across Francis’ tan cheeks.

“Like what you see, Doc?” Damian’s voice was husky, his natural tenor sinking lower, a little gravel added to the mix.

Francis was frozen, the scissors still in his gloved hand. Damian’s chest rose up and down, his breath hot.

“I-”

Damian laughed, his head thrown back and one hand holding his exposed stomach.

“Jesus Christ! I was just kidding! You looked like I asked you to jump off a cliff,” Damian shook his head, wiping tears out of his eyes. “Now can you stitch me up? My arm is killing me.”

“Of course, my deepest apologies.” Francis threw Damian’s shirt on top of his jacket on the counter, and prepared the necessary items. He cleaned the injury, injected lidocaine, and stitched up his patient. Damian attempted to make small talk, but Francis replied with single word answers to each question, so they mostly sat in silence while Francis finished.

“We’re done here,” Francis said as he threw away his gloves into the biohazard disposal bin.

“Fantastic,” Damian replied, examining his newly stitched up arm. He raised a hand to it.

“Stop!” Francis exclaimed, but it was too late.

“That feels incredibly strange.”

“You aren’t supposed to touch it, Mr. Glass,” Francis said with an exasperated sigh.

“And what can I touch, Dr. Moore?” Damian asked, a world-weary yet playful look thrown at Francis.

Francis stood there, blinking his eyes, a blush once again stealing across this face.

“Fucking hell, Doc. Learn to take a joke,” and Damian was once again laughing. He stood up from the table. “Guess I’ll be leaving now. Maybe next time we see each other, you will have found a sense of humor. Or,” Damian paused here, looking from Francis’ feet all the way up his body, pausing on his belt, and ending on his face, his eyes devouring all of Francis, “maybe you’ll have found something else.” He turned his back to Francis, and the good doctor couldn’t stop from staring at the way Damian’s muscles twisted under his pale skin as he walked away; he couldn’t stop from looking at the way his patient’s ass filled out those dark blue jeans perfectly.

The door snicked shut behind Damian as he walked out of the room.

Francis fell onto the round, rolling, backless physician’s chair in the middle of the small room. The force sent the chair sliding backwards and the doctor’s back bumped against the counter.

What is wrong with me?

Francis rubbed his face with his right hand, and remembered how it had touched Damian’s warm skin, how he’d smelled of cinnamon and something else, something unnameable and strong and hot. He turned his head to the side and saw the crumpled shirt and jacket. Francis slid closer to the pile on the counter, the wheels on the chair under him squeaking in protest. A single long arm reached out and touched the cloth with questioning fingers.

Softly, gently, he turned it over and over again in his hands, afraid it would turn to dust if he was too rough. The buttery soft material slid through his fingers, and he slowly closed his fist around the fabric. He brought the clump of fabric to his nose and inhaled deeply, breathing life into his lungs; breathing in cinnamon, and heat, and something else.

Desire. It smells like desire , he thought. Francis had cut off that part of himself for so long that this smell, Damian’s scent , sparked something in him. Immediately, guilt crushed down on him, even as he could feel himself swelling in his pants, even as he pressed the cloth harder to his face. He ground his nose into it, wishing he could snort it like a drug. His nose ached a cold hurt at the bridge from the absolute pressure he used to hold it against himself.

What about Julie?

Julie isn’t here right now.

This is wrong.

You aren’t hurting anyone.

I have to stop.

You can’t stop.

Please...

No.

Before he knew what he was doing, before he could stop himself, he fisted one long, olive sleeve in his hand and dragged it down his body, still holding the rest of the jacket to his face. He moaned as the fabric reached his aching hardness. Francis slid his hand under the waistband of his pants, under his boxer-briefs, and finally pressed the soft material of the jacket against his cock. Everything was too tight, too hot, and he stifled a moan by biting down on the jacket, holding it between his teeth, grinding his molars into it, tasting the sweat and blood and absolute heat from Damian on his tongue.

There he was, sitting in the black, backless physician’s chair, the hard counter cutting into his back; one hand crushing the jacket into his face, the fabric forced down his throat; the other hand shoved into his pants, the jacket sleeve soaking up the moisture leaking from his cock.

Francis’ body was alight with pain and pleasure: the hard counter, his burning mouth and crushed nose, eyes squeezed so tightly shut that it was giving him a headache, the waistband of his pants digging into his wrist, his cock trapped inside a bundle of fabric, his hand cramping from being shoved into such a small place.

All of this was before he even started moving his hand.

Snick .

Francis’ eyes popped open at the sound of the door closing, but no one was there. He tore the cloth out of his mouth and away from his face, coughing at the rough expulsion.

Francis finally remembered where he was, and who he was, and what he was doing.

I am Dr. Francis Moore. I have a wife and two kids. I am happy.

A cold bucket of shame poured down on him from above. His skin went ashen, and he pulled his shaking hand and fistful of jacket out of his pants. The wet spot of precum on the sleeve shone in the flourescent lights of the patient’s room, and guilt settled into his stomach, hot and thick like lead.

I am sick.

I am happy.

I have to stop.

What would Julie think?

He barely made it over to the biohazard disposal container before emptying the contents of his stomach into it: half of the egg salad sandwich his wife had made for lunch, a cup of black coffee, and bile.

Francis took two shaking steps over to the sink, slammed on the tap, and splashed cold water into his hands.

What have I done?

He brought his cupped hands to his face and pressed the icy liquid into his skin; a hasty baptism made by an imperfect man. He brought another cupped hand to his lips and pulled the water in, threading the water through his teeth, gargling it, gliding it across his tongue, trying anything to get the taste of Damian out of his mouth.

I’m disgusting.

Francis held onto the counter with shaking hands, and spit out the water. Guilt chilled him, and his stomach quaked as though he was on a small, small boat in the middle of a hurricane.

A quick knock at the door brought him out of his shame spiral, and immediately he tensed, the muscles in his back and arms flexing, his body ready to fight or flee.

“Frank!”

Oh thank god, it’s just Maureen. For a moment, Francis had thought it would be Damian coming back to finish what he’d started. For a moment, Francis was hopeful and disgusted with himself for being hopeful. A moment later, it was Maureen at the door instead, and his nightmare was over.

His accent thick with his anxiety, Francis drawled, “Yes, Maureen?”

“Mr. Glass needs his jacket. He said he left his key card or somethin’ in it? He said he can’t leave without it. And between you and me, Frank, I want that kid gone.”

Francis balled up the jacket and shirt and took a step towards the door, but he hesitated.

A moment later, he opened up the door just wide enough to shove the jacket at Maureen, hiding his disheveled pants and obvious state of arousal.

“Here you go. Please escort Mr. Glass out of the building.”

“He’s a rough one, isn’t he? A right bastard-”

“Maureen,” Francis interrupted, “we don’t talk about our patients that way. Give this to Dam- Give this to Mr. Glass. I need to set up the room for the next patient,” Francis said, then promptly shut the door in Maureen’s face.

Bastard,” Maureen grumbled under her breath.

Chapter Text

I absolutely sauntered out of that room, hips swinging, back and arms flexing. I’ve worked hard for this body, and I know how to use it to get what I want.

And what I want right now is for Dr. Francis Moore to fuck me so hard I can’t walk for a week.

Unfortunately, there’s a bit more work that has to go into it before I can get him where I want him. He seemed unsettled by my flirtations, but according to the head of my construction crew, he’s married with kids and very active in the community and church, so it could be an uphill battle to seduce him.

At least, that’s what I thought. Until I walked in on him furiously masturbating while grinding his face into my trashed clothes. I closed the door as quietly as possible and went into the closest open room to catch my breath.

It looked like some sad excuse for a break room. It was cold in here, the sparse windows carelessly left open, and a half eaten sandwich sat on a pathetic, scratched circular table older than I was. A metal chair was thrown back, and draped over another metal chair was an item that absolutely grabbed my attention: one white coat, immaculate, pristine.

I quickly and quietly walked over to it, muffling my footsteps as much as possible, walking heel-toe the way I'd learned as a child to avoid my parents. I held up the jacket and marveled at how big it was, a reminder of his wide shoulders and strong arms. I smelled the jacket collar, and while it held his intoxicating aroma, it also smelled faintly of perfume.

A punch to the stomach would’ve hurt less. Hell, my arm hurt less. Even breathing caused sharp spikes of pain. Within seconds, my rational brain shut off and anger consumed me.

That bitch.

I bet she doesn’t even appreciate him. I bet she doesn’t even love him. I bet he doesn’t even cum inside her, as unsatisfied and hard as he was before they started fucking.

I bet he doesn’t even know what he wants, but I can show him; I can teach him all the ways to be satisfied.

Pleased with myself, I put the jacket back on the chair exactly as I’d found it, but not before taking a little present.

I estimated that three minutes had passed since closing the door on the Doc, so I hurried out of the little, sad room and down the hall, passing through the double doors. I felt a hard object collide with the door, and saw the inept nurse with an ugly soccer-mom haircut bounce off a wall.

“Oops,” I said, and walked over to Darcy who was morosely typing something on her phone. She raised her eyes in the nurse’s direction, and glared at me pointedly.

“Fine, fine,” I grumbled in a most dignified manner, and walked back over to the nurse who was dramatically rubbing her back.

“I am so sorry about that, are you alright?” I extended a hand and gave her my best winning smile, but that bitch brushed it off and just scowled at me.

“I’m quite alright, Mr. Glass. Now if you would please fill out some information-” she started, but I cut her off.

“If there’s anything you need from me, my team will be in contact. But I’m leaving now.”

“Mr. Glass, where’s your shirt?” she asked, her eyes wide in what I’m assuming was arousal because of my uber hot bod. That, or she was having a stroke.

“The good doctor had to cut it off of me. Now if that’s everything…” sudden inspiration hit me. “Actually, nurse,” and here I really turned up the charm, even gently touching her upper arm. “I desperately need my jacket. Could you go get it from the doctor for me? It has my keycard in it, and I’m feeling rather weak.”

“Um,” was her absolutely eloquent reply, and she quickly scanned my torso; her eyes on my skin felt revolting. “Yes, I’ll go get it.” She hurried off, and I walked back over to Darcy.

“What the hell do you need your jacket for, Damian? Just fucking buy a new one.”

“Sentimental value.”

Chapter Text

The rest of Francis’ day passed quickly in a haze of guilt and confusion. Sunlight faded out into pinks and oranges on his drive home; a sun setting on the dying town of Nowhere, Georgia.

Julie was in the kitchen preparing dinner when he stepped through the front door.

They lived in the biggest, nicest home in town, built in a time before the Mason-Dixon Line had been erased; however, that doesn't mean much in a place like Nowhere.

Chapter Text

In those early days, he only came to me when it was raining. Lucky for me, it rained most of the time.

Damian , he’d say, breathless and rapturous as he thrust into my body, rain thrumming against the windows. Damian , he’d press against my lips. Damian , he’d release inside of me. Somehow it only encouraged me, the way he’d say my name, my other name. It touched something hot and angry and righteous, and fed the flames.

Already, we were closer than I’d ever dreamed; from that last night in the kitchen, before we were separated, the night I could see everything I’d ever wanted within my grasp, only for it to be ripped away. I used to go back to that night often in my memory, wishing and hoping and fantasizing of a different way it could’ve gone, a way so all of this chicanery hadn’t been necessary.

Somehow, this way, it was almost better. The angst, the emotion, the guilt… for Francis, of course; I feel guilty over nothing. I have nothing to feel guilty for. I have been persecuted for my love, I have died for my love, and there is nothing I would not give up and have not given up for him.

Of course it would always be him. He’s my forever.

 

It’s dark in my bedroom, and he’s holding me so tightly it hurts. The curtains are open and lights from the city pour up into the thirteenth floor windows. He’s on top of me, clutching me to his chest like he’s afraid I’ll fly away.

We’re naked, of course. In the beginning, he’d jump me as soon as I let him in, but I’m teaching him to be patient, to take his time. We have time now , I tell myself. We have all the time in the world .

I have to tell myself this so I don’t go nuclear and destroy his whole fucking life, take him away and make him mine.

We’re naked, and he’s holding me, squeezing my back and shoulders so I’m trapped between him and the bed with no escape. Every thrust is too strong, so strong that my hips stutter with every pound, so strong that precum leaks out of my painful arousal. When he fucks me like this, when he makes love to me like this, I’ve already cum too many times, too many times to reach that precipice again.

But I don’t stop him. Being so completely owned by him in this way, so completely fucked out, being held by him and fucked so far into oblivion that I see stars and lose myself… It’s the only time I feel truly alive. I hold onto my sanity for dear life and trust him to hold me back from the brink, to know when to stop because I won’t tell him to; I’ll never tell him to stop. I’ve been screaming at him for years, ever since I was thirteen and he was fifteen, to take me, and now that I have him here I'll never let anyone stand between me and my happiness ever again, even if that person is myself.

Don’t wake me up from this. Don’t let me wake up from this.

“Hold me tighter, Francis.”

“I love you, Damian.”

“I know you do.”

Chapter Text

“Where’s your ring, Frank?” Julie asked, stirring a metal pot with a wooden spoon. An empty jar labeled Streggo sat on the kitchen counter next to her.

Francis froze in front of the open refrigerator, pulled out of the fog he’d waded through since a certain patient showed up at his hospital.

I’m a disgusting pervert .

“What was that, honey?”

Tsk , you don’t have to call me that, no one’s here besides us.”

“Oh, right. Of course.” The refrigerator door closed with a small sucking sound.

“Your ring, Frank. We just got into a fight about this last week! Put the damn thing on.”

“I-” Francis looked down at his naked left hand. “Of course, Jules.” He patted his pockets, turned them inside out, and tried to think back to the last place he’d had it. Work this morning? Where’s my-

“-jacket?”

The spoon in Julie’s hand thunked again the metal pot, and she turned slowly to face him, her expression tense.

“Where’s your white coat, Frank?”

“I-” and Francis was suddenly back at the hospital, clutching torn, bloody fabric to himself, drowning in Damian’s scent.

“I’m fucking tired of this. You don’t have your ring, you don’t have your white coat, what’s next? You gonna forget Junior’s birthday? Max’s fifth grade graduation? Do you realize how it looks to other people when you pull shit like this?”

“Julie…” Francis started, embarrassment flaming hot across his cheeks.

“What do you have to say for yourself? How are you gonna fix this?” Julie’s raised voice echoed around the large kitchen, and she crossed her arms.

“I’m sorry. I’ll fix it. I’ll go get my jacket, it’s in there, and everything will be fine,” he said quietly, his deep voice not much more than a whisper, his eyes turned down.

“Make sure that it is, Frank. Make damn sure that it is.”

Her voice echoed down the hallway behind him on his way to the garage. The road to the hospital was dark and quiet, and no music played over the radio.

As he pulled into the hospital parking lot, it started raining.

Chapter Text

If anyone happened to drive down the winding road into a patch of forest a quarter mile off the main road, they would’ve seen through the rainfall a tall man with broad, slumped shoulders and black curly hair walking through the glass entry doors at the mouth of the hospital, the darkness inside ready to swallow him whole.

Francis’ hand fumbled for the light switch just inside the front doors, the light tremor running through him not helping the situation. Finally the lights turned on, and he let out the breath he’d been holding. He didn’t like the dark.

Locking the doors behind him, he walked past Maureen’s desk and pushed through the swinging double doors and once again was engulfed in darkness. Another fumble, and a single light in the hallway illuminated, casting hollow shadows down the end, leaving every nook and cranny in black emptiness.

The break room was as cold and empty as it ever was, and the rain hit the glass panes of the windows with an accusatory thwack thwack thwack . His white doctor’s coat was exactly where he’d put it, draped across one of the metal chairs around the dingy table he ate lunch at every single day alone.

Why did I forget it? At least it’s where I left it.

Francis picked up the jacket, exactly where he’d left it, and put his hand in the front pocket to grab the ring that was also where he’d left it.

He pulled his hand out, and it took him a moment to recognize what was in it; not a ring, but something else.

Something grey. Something square. Something that had a familiar name typed on the front and a phone number scrawled on the back.

Francis looked at the business card in his hand in confusion. It fluttered out of his hands and landed silently on the banged up lunch table. He grabbed the white coat with enough force that would have torn a weaker fabric, and shook it upside down. A lone chewed piece of gum in a wrapper fell onto the ground. He set the white coat back on it’s chair, and flopped into the same metal folding seat he’d eaten lunch on for years.

He crossed his arms and rubbed his face, the five o' clock shadow turning his skin red. His eyes moved from one object to another, spinning faster and faster.

One piece of trash.

One white jacket.

One business card.

No wedding ring.

 

Julie is going to kill me.

Chapter Text

The rain falling outside was loud, but not as deafening as the blood pumping in Francis Moore’s ears.

The ring is gone.

Francis lifted one trembling hand and picked up the light grey business card off of the table. One side had printed letters in bold black ink:

FRAGGLE CO.

Damian Glass

Special Projects

On the back of the card in loose script was a ten digit number. Before he could stop himself, his cell phone was in his hand and he was dialing.

One brring. A click.

“Hello, Frankie,” a warm voice purred into his ear. Francis tore the phone away, ended the call and slammed the phone down on the table, the sound echoing the wrong way to suggest that when he picked it back up to look at it, the screen would be cracked.

Shit. Julie’s going to be so upset. As if she won’t already be upset about the missing ring. And being late. And forgetting my jacket.

Francis felt his guilt multiplying until it was too heavy for him to bear. He slumped his shoulders forward and leaned against his hands. Shame began to spiral and take him over the edge into panic until the familiar chirp of his phone told him he was getting a phone call. Francis’ stomach twisted, but he immediately reached for the phone and turned it over, noticing two things.

First, that his screen was definitely cracked, and second, that Damian Glass now had his personal cell phone number and was attempting to make a connection.

Fuck .

Francis stared at the phone until it stopped ringing, and breathed a premature sigh of relief, for what would happen next but a photo message: a single photo of a ring held in the palm of a man who hadn’t done a day’s worth of hard work in his life. Then a text with an address, and the number 1303.

What do I do? What can I do? He has the ring. I need it or I can’t go home. What if Julie asks me where it is? I can’t tell her about this.

The world had always been a very lonely place to Francis, and this was true now more than ever. When he was a boy, he’d had his brother, but his brother was dead, and his parents were gone. Francis was the only person he had to rely on, and so he did the only thing he could.

Francis grabbed the white jacket, walked out of the hospital, turning off lights and locking up doors. He stepped out into the torrential downpour outside, and put the address into his phone’s gps. Francis drove the 35 minutes up the state route to Macon, the closest city to Nowhere, and parked his car about a block from the hotel.

The rain didn’t let up in that dark, black night, and by the time Francis was in the elevator and going up to the thirteenth floor he was chilled to the bone and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

Out of the elevator, down the hallway, and there it was. Room 1303. His heavy breathing echoed off of the closed doors on either side of him, and the rain dripping off his tall frame made satisfying clunk sounds as they hit the red carpet. Francis caught himself, his fist raised inches above the door, ready to shatter the silence of the sleepy hotel, like the silence of his sleepy life.

His knuckles hit the wood once and it was quieter than he’d thought it would be.

Immediately, the door opened.

Chapter Text

How did I know the exact moment Dr. Francis No-middle-name Moore would knock? Simple. I’m psychic.

Pause for laughter.

I knew the way that I always knew things about Frankie. We had a connection, and the sooner he realized that, the sooner we could live our happily ever after together.

I imagine he was distracted and forgot about the ring somehow. Or maybe he immediately noticed and had hoped that his wife wouldn’t. I wonder if it was a relief not to have it weighing him down through his day. Maybe he dreaded the moment he’d have to go back to his captor, Julie Encoms.

I hate her. Obviously.

According to Fraggle Maps, it takes 28 to 45 minutes to drive from Nowhere to Macon depending on traffic, and adding a little wiggle room for inclement weather, I actually thought he’d take a little longer. The rain was pouring down and muffling everything outside under its deafening static.

Of course, I’d been waiting for Frankie all day, so I was prepared for his arrival. I wanted to project the image of someone calm and composed, ignorant of any machinations or manipulations. There is time for him to know me fully, but not here, not at the beginning.

I’d showered earlier to get off any blood from my wound, or grime from wandering around that goddamned forest with the construction crew. Washing my hair and applying all of my skin products with one hand was a challenge, especially since I’m left-handed (don’t even ask how I’m going to masturbate later; the few jerks in the shower did more to frustrate me than anything else), and by the time I was clean and mostly dry my arm ached something fierce.

Yet another thing I hadn’t anticipated, but it’s not really my fault; I haven’t been hurt that badly in eighteen years, and the body doesn’t remember pain the way the mind does. Things you think you can handle end up being things that hurt worse than you remember.

At least the perm in my hair held strong and my hair was as straight when I got out of the shower as it was going in, but I could see my dark roots growing in. About time to go to the salon. I eyed myself and appreciated the way my muscles rippled under my skin; perfect for seducing him with, my dear.

Putting in contacts right-handed also proved to be a challenge, but I managed. I went to the closet and slid aside elegant shirt after elegant shirt. I needed something non-threatening, easy to put on, and even easier to pull off. An article of clothing that said, “I’m not here to steal you from your family and make you mine, but if that happened… would you be down?”

And then I found it: a lightweight cable knit sweater, soft grey in color to bring out the blue of my eyes and paleness of my skin, loose enough to be modest but fitted enough to suggest the shape of my body and broadness of my shoulders. In a word? Perfection.

I didn’t wear an undershirt with it, and paired it with a pair of dark grey sweatpants that cost me close to $300 but were completely worth it for the way they showed off my ass without being vulgar in the front as well. Finally, I slipped my feet into black wool slippers, and turned down the heat in the apartment room to 62°F. I grabbed a couple towels from the bathroom and set them on the small table next to the door.

And then I sat down on the long black couch in the living room and waited.

A small lamp was on next to me while I worked on various projects for my very important job, analyzing data and correcting my underling’s code (Darcy’s work was perfect as always, but I liked to add a few personalizations to fuck with her). I was two whiskey’s deep when I heard the elevator chime. My head cleared of the numbers and text swimming around, and I leapt to the door. I adjusted my sweater, smoothed my hair, and stood in anticipation.

My breath was completely still waiting for Frankie to knock; it felt like eternity, standing there and being patient . He was finally here, on the other side of the door, and I could feel his indecision, feel his panic. I was confident I could handle whatever waited for me on the other side, despite my nerves, and paused half a second after his first knock.

Of course, then I opened the door and it all went to hell. How dare he stand there and look so handsome, all wet and dripping and flustered. How dare he look so terrified yet so imposing, standing there, filling up the frame of the door and blocking the light from the hallway.

How dare Frankie look so delectable.

Chapter Text

The door opened suddenly, and Francis jerked his knocking fist back, startled. He took in the smug look on the face of the man in front of him, fear turned to anger, and had the strong urge to clock Damian right in his perfectly square chin.

Glass ,” the good doctor spat out, his drawl thick, and a name as straightforward and fragile as Glass became something hotter in his mouth, something alive and malleable; molten.

“Frankie! I’m so glad you came,” said Damian, the corners of his mouth pricked up in what could have been a smile if it had been less predatory.

“Do not call me that.”

“Sure, Doc . Now, why don’t you come in out of the hallway before you cause a scene?”

Francis hesitated for a moment; nevertheless, he stepped through the door held open by Damian.

Sterile . That word echoed through Francis’ mind as he looked around the lion’s den he’d just stepped into. The floor under his feet was cold, white marble; this marble continued down three short steps to his right and opened into a swath of white carpet ending at matching corner windows that rose from floor to ceiling; it felt like standing at the edge of the world. A world wiped clean of expectation, of humor, of life .

A single black couch, slim with blue steel edging, floated in the middle of the white expanse. Then a coffee table before it, and a matching loveseat across from it. Two side tables with a lamp on each one (white, of course), and an open laptop with the Fraggle logo on the back sat on the coffee table next to a loose pile of papers.

To his left was probably a kitchen of some sort, and a hallway even further back, but the room was too dimly lit to see much of anything else besides the white, white living room and the pale, handsome man next to him.

No lights were on except for the two side table lamps, the pale, clean white light emanating from them illuminating the dark room as too beacons. The storm raged outside, pounding rain onto the walls of windows, blocking the view of the city. A few lights from building filtered through, but they were well and truly isolated.

They were alone.

“It’s too dark in here.”

“I can see perfectly.”

Francis saw Damian looking up at him with eyes that showed a profound hunger, and a gentle smile, and he forced himself to turn away.

Unfortunately, marble plus rain plus a very soggy doctor leads to… slippage.

Damian caught him before he could hit the ground, and steadied the taller man on his feet. Now he was in Francis’ space, one arm around his back, one hand clutching a fistful of wet clothes on Francis chest, and angry panic welled in Francis’ heart. They were much too close, and Damian smelled far better than any person had a right to.

“Get your goddamn hands off of me, Glass.”

Damian let go gently and backed away to the door, gingerly picking up the two towels sitting there, and turned to give them to Francis. Francis grabbed them out of Damian’s hands, afraid of some trick, and watched Damian with weary eyes as the slim, blonde man walked down the short steps and onto the white carpet.

Francis pressed the towel against his head to squeeze out the rain, and when he finally lowered the towel and looked at his tormentor, he saw Damian spread across the black couch horizontally and propped up on one elbow, his grey sweater slightly pulled up exposing a sliver of skin, and his black slippers on the ground next to the couch.

“Please, Fra- Doc,” Damian said. “Have a seat.”

Francis’ dark brown, naturally wavy hair, freed of the product he used to keep it shellacked to his head thanks to the rain baptism, and with water scrunched out of it so that his natural curl pattern was enhanced rather than broken, framed his face like a halo. His brow weighed heavily above his dark eyes, and lines creased his forehead with his scowl.

Julie hated how his hair would poof around his head. She demanded he comb it, he gel it, he keep it calm. He couldn’t look anything less than dignified, anything less than professional, even at the old age of twenty two. He was her prince; she, his queen. What would people think if they saw your natural hair? We can’t have that, can we, Frank?

Francis looked every second of his thirty eight years, years hard fought and painfully won, years he’d take back and years he’d do again, and in this moment, angry and angelic and terrified, he was more himself than he’d been in the sixteen years since he married Julie; perhaps more himself than he’d ever been in his entire life.

He looked dangerous.

For the first time, Dr. Francis Moore looked deadly.

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Chapter Text

Damian sat there on the couch waiting for Francis to say something or do something. Francis stood there in the entry wanting to say or do something, eyeing his captor wearily.

“Give me my ring please, Mr. Glass,” Francis’ tone was sharp, cutting. His manners, beaten into him by a long life living in Georgia, were impeccable, but the warning in his voice was clear.

Do it, or else.

A smile danced across Damian’s face and he gestured to a half-full crystal decanter of some brown liquid on the kitchen counter; a concrete counter to create a dissonant dichotomy with a marble floor , the Architectural Review had said of this particular apartment.

“Want a drink, Doc? They’re quite good. 300 year old single malt scotch. Cost me a pretty penny. You know, my scotch guy said-”

Of course he has a scotch guy , Francis thought. Despite how desperately he wanted to wrap his lips around a glass of brown oblivion, that wasn’t an option.

“I do not partake. Now, the ring.”

“It’s such an ugly ostentatious thing, I just had to try it on,” Damian chuckled, and pulled out the offending creature from his pocket: a thick gold band with a massive square cut diamond in the center, with two rows of smaller diamonds on either side surrounding the center diamond like the walls of a prison. “And then, to my horror, it wouldn’t come off! The only thing I could do was come home, use something slippery, and slide it off. I left my number so you’d know where you could find it. I’m actually surprised it took you so long to call.”

Damian looked thoughtfully up at Francis.

“Why did it take you so long to call, Doc?”

Francis stood there on the cold marble floor, dripping water, his brow furrowed and fists clenched at his sides.

Why did it take me so long to call? What can I say? Why am I here? I should’ve just gone home.

But Julie.

“Look here, Mr. Glass. I do not owe you a single word of explanation, and your story is thin at best.” At this, Francis pointed a rigid finger at Damian. “There is no way that my wedding ring, which my wonderful wife picked out for me with love, would get stuck on a hand as thin as yours.”

“So,” Damian looked up at Francis through long dark lashes. “You’ve noticed my hands?”

Glass ,” Francis growled out, all pretense of politeness discarded. He took a step towards his captor sprawled across the black couch.

Damian offered the ring in his open palm.

“Here: if you want it, come take it.”

“I do not have time for these games.”

“No games. If you want it, here it is. No tricks. Cross my heart.”

“What heart?” Francis scoffed, but took careful steps down the short marble stairs until he stood fully on the white carpet.

“It’s such a shame,” Damian sighed, his eyes travelling up and down Francis’ body.

“What is?”

“You’re getting mud on my carpet.”

“Fuck you.” Francis snapped.

“You first.”

Muddy boots took heavy steps across the sea of white, until the tall, dark man loomed over small, pale Damian Glass.

“Take what you want, Frankie.”

A single hand slid around the back of Francis’ knee, not using any force to hold him there, but just enough pressure to clear up any ambiguity. Damian leaned into the space just in front of  Francis’ hip, and looked up at him with big blue eyes.

Stay ,” he said. Not a command, or an order, but an invitation.

Francis could feel the heat emanating from Damian’s hand, from his face, and from his eyes. His gaze was wolfish, hungry, and his request, stay . Asking Francis what he wanted by telling him what Damian desired.

Francis twitched in his pants. Damian noticed.

The hand behind Francis’ knee tightened, and nails dug into his flesh. The muscle in Francis’ jaw spasmed as his teeth ground together. Pink ran across Francis’ cheeks, the blush heating his face in the cold apartment air. He was on fire, and he had to escape.

“Are you happy?” Damian asked, but that was a mistake, because Francis’ hand closed around the ring offered to him, and he all but ran out the door.

“Wait!” but Francis was gone, and Damian was once again, as always, alone.

Chapter Text

Julie Moore didn’t care about him, but Francis didn’t realize that yet.

Julie hadn’t cared that he came home late, stepping in out of the rain; soaked to the bone and shivering. She was in bed, asleep, snoring. Unconcerned, unaffected, she slumbered.

Francis quietly, carefully, changed out of his wet clothes. The pants were the hardest thing to take off, and not only because removing wet slacks is a fool's errand, the material sticking in the worst places, the zipper refusing to slide down, because oh, wouldn't it be so much more fun to get stuck?

So yes, the pants themselves were a challenge, but what was also a challenge was the erection that kept trying to rise to attention whenever his mind wandered unbidden to Damian Glass.

Why. Why? Why did he ask me to stay? To take what I want.

I cannot take what I want. I can never .

What was Francis to do? He needed to avoid Glass, that was sure. He needed to stay far away and never allow himself to be in the same room with him. To run away if he had to, because Francis, King of Repression, Master of Self-Denial, could feel his walls cracking around him; could feel his resolve to deny himself all things pleasurable and untoward dissolving.

What is a man without his resolve?

A monster.

He didn't dream that night. The hours were the blankest and blackest they'd ever been, and what sweet relief can be found in oblivion.

Chapter Text

The dry toast crumbled to ash in his mouth, mixing with saliva and turning to gum. Every opening of his mouth took effort, and the only thing that could break through was the putrid black coffee he gulped like salvation.

In the stainless steel modern monstrosity of a kitchen that Julie lovingly referred to as her “hive” whenever the book club gals came over, every bite of breakfast around the center island came with a free helping of criticism.

Julie loved spending the money he made as the town's only doctor, and the paycheck the government cut him each month to stay in Nowhere went directly into each of his kids' college funds, a place Julie and her fast hands couldn't touch. She knew he kept this money from her, and they often got into arguments about it; arguments where he would sit silently with a warm glass of something akin to lighter fluid, and she would stand in front of him, stomping and seething and making as much noise as she could without waking the children.

I give you everything, Julie. Why can't you let me have this?

Even this, the time when he was the most selfish with her, with anyone… even here, he was acting selflessly, providing for his children's futures, working and hoping and praying that they'd have an easier life than him.

Him and Alex.

Georgette (No Papa, George, she insisted regularly) Wilhelmina Moore was nine and whip-smart. She loved climbing the tall Southern Oaks in the backyard, and often snuck off with the other kids in the neighborhood to explore the woods surrounding their properties. More than once, she'd come home with a pet frog or squirrel, and Francis had taught her the important life lesson that if you love something, you must let it go if it is not meant to belong to you.

But Papa, I love Mr. Jumpy! Why can't I keep him?

Tears running down her face, cheeks red and puffy from crying. Her wavy, light brown hair, so unlike his and unlike her mother's, glinting in the sunlight.

Sugarpie, Mr. Jumpy doesn't belong inside. He deserves a full life outside this house, exploring and jumping and starting a little frog family of his own.

But he wants to stay with me!

You know he doesn't, Sugarpie. If you love him, let him go.

Okay Papa.

And time after time, she'd to back into the forest, and come back later empty handed, laughing and running through the halls and tracking mud that Julie would complain about (as if she ever cleaned anything; they had a housekeeper for that), but Francis would quiet her, too, with a smile and a pat, and go back to reading the newspaper, and pretend every day that letting someone go was better for them, even if they said they wanted to stay.

Even if they showed with their heart, their mind, their body. Sometimes people can't be trusted to know what they want.

Some people can't be trusted at all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

His son, William (Not Will!!!, the little boy would scream at him if he slipped up and used his nickname) Julius Moore, had his mother's blonde hair and his father's medium tan skin tone. Named after Julie’s father, William Julius Encoms, she doted on him more than she looked at George. She took him to ballet, art lessons, private tutors, and though he was only six, he was a handful of privilege and education. Where George was always covered in something black or sticky, William was pristine, poised, and polished. The Encoms' genes ran strong in him, and Francis worried about how much money they were spending on the little boy.

Francis loved both of his children dearly, and celebrated their strengths and weaknesses, but his connection to George was different than with William.

And so standing up to Julie about how much money went into the children's college accounts wasn't just about making sure she didn't spend every penny he earned on appliances that connect to wifi, or covering the antique wood of the living room floor in tacky, expensive Turkish rugs; it was also about ensuring that their parent's favoritism (yet another thing for Francis to feel guilty over) didn't have any effect on their future potential. George wouldn't go to the local community college while her brother went to Stanford, unless that's what she wanted. Francis was determined that both his children would have opportunity.

He could never escape the damage that June and Geoff Moore had done to him, but he could sure as hell make sure that his kids were never at the mercy of their parent's moods.

He was a good dad.

Francis was an excellent father.

Until one day, he wasn't.

Chapter Text

It was Saturday morning, and Francis hadn’t been sleeping well. It was a few weeks since the incident with his wedding ring, and he’d been hyper vigilant, keeping an eye on it at all times, wearing it more than usual, keeping it in his pants pocket instead of his lab coat pocket. He also kept an eye out for Damian Glass, seeing him in shadows and out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked more closely, there was no one there, and nothing to worry about.

Nothing to be afraid of.

Fear, guilt, these things were normal to Francis, they were his everyday reality, but usually it was background radiation on an otherwise uneventful life. Unfortunately, Damian Glass had shaken things up, stirred the numbing cocktail that was Francis’ life, and he couldn’t risk anything ruining the pleasant suburban hell he’d built for himself.

Of course, he didn’t see it as a hell. He saw it as just and righteous, a pious man with a beautiful wife and two lovely children. A pillar of the community who volunteered and helped little old ladies across the road. Francis couldn’t see the truth because it was too terrifying, too monumental.

Francis was taking a little longer than usual to get ready that morning, slowly pulling his worn blue jeans up his long legs. They were as muscled as they’d always been, but when it came time to button up the jeans over his hips, his stomach was a little softer than it used to be. Sifting through the drawer where the house keeper kept his old t shirts that his lovely wife kept trying to throw away, he found one of his dark blue Georgia State shirts, faded over the sixteen years since his bachelor’s graduation. It was less roomy than when he’d first gotten it, and the soft material stretched over his shoulders and around his strong arms, but he would never get rid of it. Those were some of the happiest years of his life, and he felt guilty over why they were so happy for him, but that didn’t change the fact that before he found out that Alex had died, he was happy. As happy as someone like him could be, anyway.

Happy with ignorance. Happy with possibility. Happy that without him in his life, Alex would go on to be successful, start a family of his own, and never be burdened by Francis ever again.

The slamming and swearing in the kitchen downstairs finally stopped, and Francis waited a few minutes longer before risking coming down from the bedroom. When Julie got into one of her moods, it was better to avoid her, lest her scope land on him. It was such a beautiful morning, birds chirping, sun shining, and it would be a shame to ruin it. The kids were with his adoptive parents, Mrs. and Mr. Gonzalez, for the weekend, and Julie should’ve already been on the road, driving the 35 minutes up the state road to Macon for a weekly hot yoga session with her college friends who lived in the big city. She was usually gone until late into the night, sometimes not coming home until the next morning. Francis looked forward to having the house and the kids to himself for the night. George was allowed to have her friends over and make as big a mess as they wanted, which he’d stay up late cleaning after she went to bed, and Will- no, William , was allowed to sit in front of the TV and watch as many war documentaries as he wanted without his mother around to limit him. However, since the kids were with his parents, he was going to be completely alone.

At least, he was supposed to be.

Francis entered the large silver kitchen with blinking appliances, and made his way over to the coffee pot.

The empty coffee pot.

Julie was sitting at the center island, an empty mug next to her, and texting furiously on her phone, the latest something or other from Fraggle’s line of cellphones. Their phones were the most expensive, and supposedly the best, though Francis didn’t understand how one phone could cost over $1,000 and be worth it. Phones only needed to make calls, text, and play music, as far as he was concerned.

“Morning, Jules.”

She didn’t respond, and kept typing furiously at her phone.

Francis didn’t want to break her concentration and risk her wrath, but the energy in the kitchen was strange and mostly he just wanted a cup of coffee. He decided to risk it.

“Are we out of coffee?” He drawled, nerves deepening his accent.

“Nope. The fucking machine is broken.”

Francis looked at the coffee pot, an expensive one from Italy with over 35 function and a touch pad on the front. A blinking touch pad. He looked around to the other appliances in the kitchen that had probably cost him over $30,000 to meet Julie’s whims, and noticed that every one of them had a blank or blinking or bright white screen. From the fridge to the microwave to the stove to the toaster, and more appliances that Francis didn’t actually know what they did, were out of commission.

He pulled out his phone and tried to connect to the WiFi, and found that as soon as he tried, his phone went blank, a bright white screen showing now instead of the background picture of George and William in a rare state of harmony, both smiling like they loved each other, and covered in finger paint. The painting they made together hung in the office of the large home, and he looked at it often to remind himself of what was important in life.

“My phone isn’t working.”

“Did you just try to connect to the WiFi?”

“Yeah, and now there’s just a blank screen.”

Julie looked at him like he was an idiot, and Francis’ face flamed with embarrassment. She finished texting, and finally gave him her full attention.

“We still have the landline, and my phone is still working, so I’m leaving for Macon now. My friend is coming over to see if he can fix whatever is wrong, so I need you to stay here for when he comes by, okay?”

“Oh,” Francis choked out, then cleared his throat. “Jules, I wanted to go into town today and get some supplies for the tree house.”

“You mean that ugly thing in the backyard that I’ve begged you to take down for weeks now?”

“George is really excited about it, and I told her we would finish it in time for her birthday party.”

“Look, Frank,” Julie said, and rose from her spot at the island. She walked over to him, getting in his space, and wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him close to her so he could feel the heat radiating off of her through the thin, tight clothes of her yoga outfit.

After all these years, she was still the same attractive, slender, blonde woman he’d decided would be the correct person to be with; still the only woman his body reacted to. Francis felt a stirring in his lower depths, and was painfully reminded of how long it had been since he was intimate with anyone, especially his beautiful wife.

Her small hand rubbed circles into his lower back, and she spoke sweetly.

“I really need you to do this for me, okay? You know how important my time is with my friends, and how much more relaxed I am when I come back. I’ve really missed you the last few weeks, and when I come back I’d love to continue this conversation ,” her hand slid down and cupped his ass, and she gave it a small squeeze, “but right now I need to go. You understand, right?”

Francis was trapped, and painfully turned on, so he did the only thing he could do, the only thing he ever did.

He acquiesced.

“Okay.”

Julie raised up on her toes to kiss him, and he lowered his head so she could reach. After a quick peck, she released him, grabbed her purse, and left. Francis realized too late that he never asked when her friend was coming over, he couldn’t text her because his phone wasn’t working, and if he called with the landline then she might get mad and withhold her affection from him.

It wasn’t the lack of sex that bothered him, but the lack of physical intimacy. A simple smile or touch was all it took to sustain him, but Julie used his need for human comfort against him. Again, of course, he refused to understand this because it meant threatening the only semblance of normalcy he’d ever had.

A couple hours passed, and he was covered in lawn clippings and sweat, the humidity making his shirt and jeans stick to his body. He rolled the hot lawn mower into the large garage, and made his way to the kitchen for some lemonade. Realizing his mistake when the fridge wouldn’t open ( fucking technology , he muttered under his breath), he grabbed a glass from the cupboard and filled it with tap water.

Francis finally caught his breath and looked out of the kitchen window at his perfectly mowed lawn, the sunshine lighting everything up, the forest glowing dark and green, and a small contented smile washed over his face.

Ding dong , the doorbell screamed, startling Francis out of his hard earned euphoria. He gulped down the remains of the glass so as not to waste the clean water, and wiped his hands on his jeans. He clomped down the hallway in his grass stained white tennis shoes, and saw a figure standing on the porch through the speckled glass front door, facing away from the door.

He pasted a smile on his face, took a breath, and opened up the door.

“Good morning, I’m Francis. You must be-“

The words caught in his throat as the person turned around.

The man, with blonde hair, fierce blue eyes, a slim dancer’s build, pale skin, and a smile like the cat that ate the canary.

“Hi, Frankie,” said Damian Glass.

 

As one predator leaves, another enters.

Chapter Text

Glass .” It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t an answer; it was fury.

Frankie ,” Damian mockingly growled back. The smile stretched over Damian’s brilliant white teeth exposed his canines, and he looked every ounce the predator that he was.

Francis’ gaze raked down Damian’s perfect form, taking in the buttery, light grey t-shirt that was made of the same material as the shirt he’d worn when Francis first met him all those weeks ago in his hospital’s lobby, bleeding all over the ugly carpet like a sonofabitch. The fabric stretched just tight enough across broad shoulders and a hard chest that it walked the line between angelic and obscene. A large gym bag made of distressed leather that probably cost as much as his monthly mortgage hung strapped across Damian’s body.

Look, but don’t touch. Or else.

Around his narrow waist, light colored khakis snugged close, the kind that stain easily from grease or physical labor. Completing the ensemble was a pair of wine red velvet loafers. 

Francis was a man who worked hard for everything he’d ever had in life; a man who had beaten the odds, despite his rough upbringing. Abusive parents, being tossed around by the foster care system, losing his brother, finally being adopted by the Gonzalez family. Getting into college on a scholarship, working 40 hours a week in construction with a full course load, then somehow getting into medical school. His high school football days might have been behind him, but his physique was one built by necessity and by the love of moving it in ways that challenged him. He was a hardworking man, and as honest a man as he could be.

Francis stood there in his worn and faded blue jeans, stained with dirt and grass, his dark blue Georgia State shirt wrinkled and sweaty. Damian stood before him the perfect image of someone who had never worked a day in his life.

Velvet loafers.

“Do not call me that.”

“What would you rather I call you? Daddy ?”

The door slammed loudly in Damian’s perfect face, blue eyes quirked up in amusement. Francis could still see him through the door, and anger coursed through his veins, making it hard to breathe.

Anger, and something else.

A gentle knock, then a more urgent one.

“Look, I don’t have all day to-” Francis saw Damian turn from the door, and raise his arm in a wave. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Marks! It’s such a lovely day today. What am I doing here? Oh I’m just-”

He didn’t get a chance to finish that sentence, because the door popped open and Francis was hauling him inside by the back of his elegantly soft shirt, the grey material fisted in a large hand. Francis threw him into the hallway, slammed the door shut, and leaned on it, breathing hard as he tried to center himself.

“I think you’ve rumpled my shirt,” Damian said, and Francis turned his head to look at him, standing there looking unbothered and mildly amused, examining the fabric of his shirt. It had pulled up the bottom slightly, and a flash of pale, toned skin hit Francis like a laserbeam.

“My eyes are up here, doctor .”

Francis’s panicked gaze swept up to Damian’s face, and of course he had a half smile, as he always did. Francis moved away from the door and stood in front of Damian, his feet planted shoulder width apart, his large arms crossed over his chest.

“What the fuck do you want, Glass.” It wasn’t a question, but an accusation. Damian’s eyes flicked down to Francis’ hand.

“No wedding ring I see.”

“I’m in the middle of yard work. Though I do not suspect that you know much about such things,” Francis spat out, his accent thick and heavy.

“No, I don’t suppose you would suspect that I know much about such things.”

Francis wore hostility openly on his face.

“Oh, no angry retort? By the way, where are the children? I’ve heard so much about them.”

“You have five seconds to tell me what you want before I bodily throw you from my home.”

“So violent,” Damian tutted.

“One.”

“No games today? Alright. I come in peace anyway. I’m here to fix your wifi.”

It finally dawned on Francis why Damian Glass was in his foyer, smirking and complaining of a rumpled shirt. His stomach churned.

“You’re Julie’s friend.”

“Yes! She wouldn’t happen to be around, would she? She left her mat at yoga last week by accident.” As if to prove it, Damian pulled the rolled up mat out of his large leather cross-body bag.

“She isn’t here.”

“Oh, really? What a shame,” Damian said, as though it wasn’t a shame at all.

Chapter Text

Francis made no move to take the mat.


“Well then, I’ll just…” Damian said, then gingerly set the hot pink rolled up yoga mat next to him on the floor. Next from his large leather bag came a laptop and various cords and wires. “See, I really am here to fix your internet. Where do you keep it?”


Francis’ eyes flicked over the evidence of the man standing in his foyer with seemingly no ill-intent. His jaw set, the muscle there fluttering, he spoke, turning away: “Follow me.”

And follow, Damian did.

Francis was resigned to the circumstances, resigned as he always was; unhappy, irritated, the taste of ash in his mouth. He led Damian to his office and opened the thick wooden door.


“The router is in here.”


Damian pushed past him, walking with a purpose as he always did, each step taken like it was owed to him. Like he was entitled to it. The smell of him, of cinnamon and heat, filled Francis’ nose, and his pulse quickened.


Shit.


The office was very large, fitting for the large, sprawling manor. Dark wood details, an empty fireplace, a large wooden desk in the middle that must have been built to match the house a very long time ago, bookshelves along one wall filled to bursting, and a large framed photo of George and William playing hung on the empty wall next to the door. It was situated perfectly for Francis to look up at as he was working at his computer. Behind the desk, a large wall of windows that looked out at the vast lawn and forest beyond. The beginnings of a wooden structure at the closest tree to the house could be seen if one looked closely enough.


Damian strode with purpose towards the ornately carved desk and the Fraggle brand combination computer monitor unit sitting there. Francis saw him assess the desk, overflowing with papers, and follow the wires going from the computer to the bookshelves along the closest wall. Damian took a step towards the bookshelf where the router sat.


The same bookshelf with a plain wooden box, matching the shelves, shoved behind several books high up. Not high enough to be suspicious, but not low enough for any children or wives to easily grab.


He was the only one to use the office. Julie hated it, and did most of her typing and instagram scrolling on a FragPad in the kitchen or in their massive bed. The children knew they weren’t to come in, and most of the time they didn’t want to. Sometimes Francis let George come in and draw on the wooden floor in a coloring book (with washable markers), but she was too old for that now, and generally hated staying in when she could be outside, catching frogs and digging holes with her friends. William sometimes sat silently in the corner reading a children’s encyclopedia, but that was only when Julie encouraged him (made him) spend time with his father.


“Wait-“ Francis said, his hand outstretched.


Damian turned his head over his shoulder and looked at the taller man curiously.


“Yes?”


“Just… be careful. It may look messy, but things are organized just so, and it’ll be hell trying to settle it all if any of the stacks get knocked down.”


“Oh, Doc, I’m always careful,” Damian replied, giving a little wink and a devilish grin. He turned back to the router and set down his large leather bag on the floor. “Now, I have a very serious question for you.” Damian turned off the power switch, and flicked it back on. “Had you tried turning it off and on again?”


Francis stood there silently, his arms crossed, his expression tight.


“No, Damian. How smart. I hadn’t thought of that. In addition to being handsome, you're also incredibly intelligent.”


“Enough. Fix it, or leave.”


“So demanding, Doc. I like that.” Damian turned back to the router, watching the green lights pop up and flicker. Seemingly satisfied, he set his laptop on top of the desk next to the Fraggle computer.


“A fan of my company’s products, are we?”


“Julie… was very generous at Christmas this year,” Francis admitted, surprising himself with his candidness.


“Well if you ever need help learning everything it can do…” Damian said, distracted by his work. He connected his laptop directly to the router and moved aside a wireless keyboard. Francis finally walked into the room, leaving the large wooden office door open, and circled the desk to see what Damian was doing.


“Oh.”


Yes?” Damian asked, the word elongated into a question. A blue screen with white words and numbers that Francis didn’t understand zipped across the screen, and Damian’s long, graceful fingers moved soundlessly over his laptop.


“You don’t support your company’s products, Glass?”


“Fraggle collects data from over one billion devices. I don’t see why they should have mine as well.”


Francis chuckled at that.


“Don’t trust Big Brother?”


Damian’s fingers jerked so slightly that if the good doctor hadn’t been standing right behind him, breathing in his air, watching his hands dance over the keys, it would have been overlooked.


As it was, Francis stood there looking over Damian’s shoulder, intoxicated by the fine fire of him, drawn to him, lost in the act of being near him.


So lost, in fact, that he jumped when Damian spoke.


“That was funny. You’re funny, Doc,” the pale man chuckled, rolling his shoulders slightly and rubbing the back of his neck.


Francis cleared his throat and leaned back, away from Damian’s gravitational pull.


“You’re the first of my patients to think so.”


“Really? What a shame. And I’m not your patient anymore, Doc.”


“Of course. You know, why don’t I- would you like something to drink? How… rude of me to not ask before. I can’t offer you much besides water since the fridge will not open, blasted technology, but the tap is clear and cold.”


“I’d… really like that,” Damian responded, sincerity ringing in the quiet timber of his voice.


Francis left the room and pretended like he hadn’t noticed how the tips of Damian’s perfect ears pinked at his words.


To
the kitchen. Two glasses. Tap water. What am I doing? Walk back to the office. Through the open door. 

 

No.

 


The glasses shattered on the hardwood floor as Dr. Francis Moore looked on and saw his ex-patient, Damian Glass, standing next to his desk where the plain wooden box sat open.


The box that no one was supposed to see, ever.

Damian gripped the edge of the desk so tightly that his already pale hand turned white. The other hand rubbed the soft, soiled red fabric in one hand, his eyes refusing to leave it.


No.


It was the shirt he’d worn when Francis first met him.


I can’t…


“I saw you, you know. I saw you, touching yourself, and I wanted…”


Damian still wasn’t looking at Francis.


This isn’t real. This can’t be happening. I have to-


“Come here, Frankie.”

 

Chapter Text

“Come here, Frankie,” came the whisper, commanding over the ringing silence between shattering glasses and the present.

Something was crunching somewhere far away. That was the first thing Francis noticed. The second thing was the way the hardwood floor felt under it feet. It was different, the pressure wrong, the ground shifting. The third thing he realized was that Damian was getting closer to him.


No, that’s not right.


No, that wasn’t right. Damian wasn’t getting closer, Francis was.


Stop. Don’t do this.


And yet he was doing it, putting one foot in front of the other, unable to stop, compelled through something that if he put a name to, he would lose his sanity.


I’ve lost my mind. I’m not doing this. This isn’t me.


Damian still wasn’t looking at him. The closer Francis got, he could see the red flush over Damian’s soft, unmarked face.


He’s beautiful. What am I doing?


Another step, another crunch of glass under his feet, another inch closer to oblivion. It was dangerous, what he was doing. But he couldn’t stop. He could never stop, not when it came to the man in front of him.


But he didn’t know that yet.

Chapter Text

And there I was, invited into his home, standing in the entryway, teasing him and watching him hate me. It was all so delicious. I glowed under his attention, for even harsh words directed at a ghost are better than no words at all.

It was so easy, as it always is. People really ought to be more concerned with their digital privacy. Finding where Julie goes to yoga, who she spends her time with after, befriending her with charm and deception. Almost too easy, truthfully. And the other things she and I did… Let’s just say that I’m feeling pretty good about my chances with Frankie. Oh, sorry, Francis .

Hard eye roll. Gross.

Anyway, slipping my homebrew into their wireless network was ridiculously simple, and I’ve been so accommodating to Julie in the past, that of course I would be the first person she’d ask for help: the handsome computer guru, the Fraggle executive with an inviting smile and impeccable taste. Someone for her to giggle over with her girlfriends. And with her personality? Sending me to meet with her doting husband knowing what she and I have done together? I may have done questionable things in the name of love, but at least I’m not downright evil

I can’t wait until all of this is resolved and she’s finally out of the picture. But enough about the future.

Francis opened the door looking like something I wanted to devour. He must really not understand how delectable he is. The outdated college shirt pulled taut over his broad chest, the sweat glistening on his forehead and arms, the well-worn jeans snug over narrow hips, thicker than they’d been twenty years ago but still perfect for holding onto as they fuck hot and hard.

And how he denied me? He’s too precious, too adorable. My name is Doctor Francis Moore and I have a massive stick up my ass all the time . God, I love him. 

Though, God doesn’t have much to do with all this, hmm?

And finally he led me to his office. Totally overplayed his hand though, didn’t he, when he stopped me from getting too close to the bookshelf where the router sat. He really has gone soft, so used to hiding his demons instead of living with them.

Hell may be hot but at least it keeps you warm at night.

Does Julie keep you warm at night, Frankie? I don’t think you can give her what she really wants, but that’s okay. You’re too gentle for her, too lacking passion, she says. She blames you, says you’re too innocent, too pure, despite your age. Thirty eight years on this earth and already an old man. But we both know that’s not it, don’t we? 

I’m always getting ahead of myself. Pardon my impatience. When you’re so close to everything you’ve always wanted, it’s hard to slow down. Put the brakes on. When you’re in my space and standing over my back as I’m typing the conclusion to a program on my laptop that has been written a thousand times, when I can feel your heat and smell you, feel you filling my lungs with your musk, a smell I’ve remembered over and over again, touching myself and thinking of you, fucking Julie and thinking of you, fucking men who look exactly like you but aren’t ever you.

No one else does this to me.

You’re so lucky that you have me. You just don’t know it yet. 

So adorable I can hardly stand it. I just remembered that I am Georgian, bred and born, and my adoptive southern parents would faint if they knew I had not offered my guest a glass of something cold and refreshing. Haha, alright Frankie. You do you. Bring me that glass of tepid tap water. I’d drink anything you gave me, even poison.

Finally you leave the room. I take a moment to clear my head of your essence, and inspect the bookshelf. A wall of shelves filled to bursting with medical journals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, even some comics. Oh, but here, if I stand back at just this angle, I can see…

I’m pulling the plain wooden box down, opening it, and I’m smiling but I can’t breathe. My shirt, the one he’d cut off at the hospital, tucked here, crusted over with blood and something… decidedly not blood. Something dried white on the dark red shirt. Some things , multiple stains, one not all the way dried.

It’s all I need, all the encouragement I need to keep going, to keep pushing my plan, to keep pursuing him. I’m setting the shirt back in the wooden box, no need to push him too hard today, I just want to get him used to my presence, receptive to my personality, accepting of everything I am, but when I put the shirt back a little too firmly, the bottom of the box shifts.

Now that’s interesting.

I lift up the false bottom, and my heart drops out of my stomach. It’s a stack of court papers, crinkled and yellowed, stained. Of course, I read it, flipping forward, knowing Frankie could be back at any moment, but needing to understand what this is.

...Francis Moore groomed his younger brother, and sexually assaulted him on the night of October 23rd, 1996. Alexander Moore is a deeply confused boy who was manipulated by his older brother. For his safety, he is not to be contacted by Francis, and he is not to contact Francis. If either of them are caught with each other, or attempting to make contact with each other, Francis Moore will be tried as an adult for rape of a minor. This is for Alexander’s protection, and to give Francis a chance at a better future... 

Oh.

I swallow around the rock lodged in my throat. I need to compose myself. He’s going to be back any second and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I see him.

My hands shake as I place the papers back into their coffin, setting the false bottom back into the box. I’m standing there, the red shirt in my hand, trying to use it and use how I know he feels about me to ground myself in something real.

Glass shatters, and I don’t look up.

I can’t look up.

Chapter Text

“I saw you, you know. I saw you, touching yourself, and I wanted…”

I’m still not looking at him. I have wanted so many things in this life, yet they all boil down to one: Francis No-middle-name Moore.

This isn’t real. This can’t be happening. Everything I’ve wanted...

“Come here, Frankie.”

I’ve been so patient, I’ve waited and plotted and I would never blame him, I would never say that he is the reason that I am the way I am, but damn if he doesn’t make it hard. 

He’s walking towards me, and I’m standing here, and this is all out of order, but I need this. I need one taste, one sip of his soul, and I will be able to hold myself back as long as it takes.

Finally he reaches me, but he doesn’t reach out, a distance that feels like something between an inch and a lifetime. I feel the weight of his eyes on me but I can’t return it, keeping my eyes firmly down. What if the weight of my stare wakes him up? Makes him remember that he shouldn’t be doing this? Has a crisis of conscience? No, thank you. I need this.

 

Francis stood silently, looking down at the man in front of him, a man holding a soiled red shirt, a man who refused to look up at him. Full lips in a tan face opened and closed, wanting to say something, but terrified of what would happen if any words were uttered.

 

I’ll take what I can get.

The shock of hitting the hardwood floor snakes up my knees and through my hips. I’m kneeling here before him, the red shirt discarded next to me, and finally my head is quiet. All I am is intent and purpose. 

I softly reach a hand out, expecting him to bat it away, but he doesn’t. He’s silent, standing there, looking down at me. Frankie doesn’t understand the power he has over me, the things I’d do for him if he only just uttered the words.

The faded fabric at the front of his jeans is more worn than I expected, the result of time and use. Under my hand, I can feel him, and where his jeans are soft, he is most definitely not. Pride trills through my chest bright and vibrant. I did this. I do this to him.

All his bluster is pretense. I know what he really wants.

I want to touch him more, to rub myself against his legs, mark him with my scent, hold him tight to me, but I can’t give him a chance to question this, to stop me from giving him what he wants, what I need. He’s always stopping himself, and that’s the most frustrating part of loving him.

Just take what you want, dammit!

But he won’t, of course. So I have to take it for him.

 

His hands hung limp by his sides as the shorter, kneeling man in front of him rubbed one hand firmly against the front of his jeans. Francis, once terrified at his demented secret, the shirt cut off of his patient found by said patient used and covered in his release, now found himself hardening at the image of the man kneeling before him. Fear, guilt, and desire were three things Damian Glass always aroused in him. Francis didn’t know where one ended and the others began, and he closed his eyes against the question.

A firm squeeze pressed a groan from his lips, almost a word, and the sound of a zipper echoed in the large office. Firm hands yanked down his pants and white briefs to mid-thigh, and his hardening length was exposed at last. 

Still he didn’t open his eyes, even as a gentle finger traced the curved line of him from base to tip, swirling in the fluids there. The finger disappeared, and the kneeling man hummed around as a sucking sound reached Francis’ ears. His eyes opened in time to see the wet digit pulled from between pink lips, a single line of saliva connecting them..

 

Finally, because I can take it no longer, I look up at him, and there he still stands across the room from me on broken glass and looking so handsome that I’d kill for a single kiss. It wasn't real, but it will be soon if I have any say in things.

And I always get what I want.

Chapter Text

He finally walks to me across that fucking floor, and I look up at him, and he looks down at me, and we don’t say anything, but I know. His thumb ghosts over my bottom lip, and by the time he kisses me, I know that he accepts this, that he accepts us . Across years and lifetimes, we’re together the way we should be. 

He kisses me, and his lips are soft and cold and dry but they match mine, and finally the world makes sense.

 

I look up, and there he still stands across the room from me.

Chapter Text

Francis wasn’t there in that moment. He wasn’t there with Damian, frozen with shame and terror and desire . His body stood just inside the doorway on broken glass, but his mind was elsewhere. 

His mind was twenty-two years in the past, in a home he hadn’t lived in for long, with a new set of parents who weren’t as good as they could have been, but not as bad as the others were. With a brother who was alive and so strange but so lovely; pink skin and wavy, light brown hair that glittered golden in the sunlight, hazel eyes always calculating, only softening when looking at Francis; quiet and cold to everyone except him. A brother who never missed his football games, but refused to spend time with Francis’ friends. All they had was each other in a world that had thrown them away, and that was enough.

Until it wasn’t.

 

Midnight. A kitchen far removed from the present, illuminated by the single lit bulb from an old refrigerator, door open and cold air seeping out, showing the hungry teenage football star that he had two choices: old hard cheese, or leftover tuna casserole. His dark eyes flicked back and forth, weighing the options, and his naked chest peaked in the chill. He was too warm most of the time, and always slept in only his boxers. He’d thrown on old grey sweatpants from one of their previous high schools before coming down for a snack, just in case he ran into someone, but his torso was bare. He was not a self-conscious sixteen-year-old, at least not about his body. 

So caught up in his meager options was he, that Francis jumped when a cupboard closed behind him. 

“Thank god it’s you,” he breathed out in relief after turning to look at his younger brother.

“God, indeed,” his brother snickered, and filled the glass in his hand with water from the tap. Francis looked back into the open fridge, then snapped back unbidden to his brother.

 Alex, his older brother had assumed, was self-conscious of most things, including his body. He always hid it from view under baggy clothing, usually dark, hiding in the shadows, and even when swimming wore a loose white shirt over himself that he must not have realized became see-through when wet.

Francis certainly realized. And Francis also realized that his fourteen-year-old brother stood leaning back against the far counter, drinking steadily from a clear cup, and followed with his dark eyes a single drop of water that escaped his lips and traveled down, down, down his long, pale neck, over his prominent collarbones, and over his exposed chest, for his brother wore no shirt this night.

An audible gulp echoed in the quiet kitchen, and Francis concluded by process of elimination that it had come from his own throat. He tore his eyes from his younger brother, but the image was burned in them: tousled wavy hair, pale, pink skin, a swallowing throat, a frailness to his form that was as delicate and beautiful as cut crystal. And, of course, wide hazel eyes that saw him, and always saw through him somehow.

A blush burned across his tan cheeks, and he prayed that the cold air from the fridge would still the quickening in his veins. Blood rushed in his ears, and the buzz of the fridge was drowned out by the thumping of his heart.

“Frankie…”

His breath caught in his throat, and he looked over his shoulder. Alex still leaned against the counter, the cup abandoned next to him, and a small hand stretched out to Francis.

“Come here, Frankie.” 

 

Anger. Yes, that emotion he knew, that emotion he could count on.

“Get the fuck out of my house, Glass.”

“But I-”

“Get out now or I’ll throw you out, you sick fuck.”

“I hardly think that’s-”

Francis took a step towards the slight man holding the soiled cloth, his hands clenched into fists, his brow crushed together, the rage evident in every crease of his skin. 

He almost looks like he’s going to cry .

The doctor squashed that thought down, pressed the emotions as tightly together as he could into a ball he could ignite and throw like a Molotov cocktail at the wretched creature before him.

Damian shut his mouth and it made a tight line despite the fullness of his lips. He looked down at the cloth, slammed shut the wooden box, and shoved the cloth and his laptop and wires into the bag lying crumpled on the floor. Francis didn’t move as Damian walked towards the door, and as his shoulder brushed against the taller man, Francis’ hand shot out and grabbed the meat there.

“If you tell anyone-” he started.

Bright, sparkling blue eyes met his dark ones, and a cruel smile opened over perfect teeth.

“Tell Julie I said ‘hi’,” Damian sneered. He yanked himself from Francis’ grasp.

The front door slammed behind him.

Chapter Text

I can’t... how fucking dare he. How dare he use the words Alex used, how dare he call me by Alex’s name for me, how dare he breathe in the same space as Alex’s memory. Who does he think he is?

I was only Frankie for one person, and that name is as dead as he is.

I shouldn’t have kept the shirt at all, but especially not with my only connection to Alex.

Alex.

I don’t think of you often, because I can’t bear it. I know you never believed in God, but I pray to Him about you. I pray to Him that He let you into heaven because though you were an unbeliever, you deserve heaven more than most. You never had a chance at a real life, a full life, a future with a wife and kids and dreams outside of surviving another day. I know you said you never wanted any of that, but you would’ve changed your mind when you got older. 

If you’d been allowed to get older.

I love you, and I’m sorry. If I hadn’t… if I’d been stronger, we wouldn’t have been separated, and I could’ve been there for you. You never would have been driving so recklessly. I would have been able to look out for you, to tell you to slow down, to be careful. You were always rocketing past me, did better than me in school, and you would have been incredible out in the real world.

I would take it back. I wish I could take it back. My selfishness knows no bounds, and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to make up for it. 

I take a deep breath.

I can’t stand to be in this fucking room anymore, smelling his stench in the air. Cinnamon and heat and something that makes me turn my nose up, that brings me back to you , and that’s despicable. 

How dare he.

I’m angry, angrier than I’ve been in a long time. Fists clenched, shaking, shoulders tight. Rage is dangerous, desire is dangerous, and Damian Glass brings these things out in me. I feel unhinged, and I hate him for that. When I loosen the tether on my emotions, bad things happen, and people get hurt. People I love. 

Alex .

You’re in my head and in my heart and I can feel you with me now, I can feel your spirit twining around me, and I can’t think like this. I can’t live like this.

Feet crunch on broken shards as I leave my office and head to the kitchen. 

I had everything I wanted for fifteen seconds, and it ruined my life and killed the person I love most in this world.

I’m reaching for the whiskey on the top shelf that no one, especially Julie, knows about. It’s cheap, so she wouldn’t like it anyway. It’s the same shit our daddy drank, and if Alex saw me now, he’d say to put it back, probably. Or to pour one for him, too. 

He would be 36 this year. I wonder what he’d look like. Still too slender in a way that he was insecure about? He was always hiding himself, and I know I caught him staring at my body a few times. I was broad everywhere that he was thin, and I told him he’d grow bigger just like I had, but he’d just smile that small, all-seeing smile and shake his head.

I miss you every day that I remember you.

I’m emptying my second glass of the brown liquid by the time the first one hits me.

Chapter Text

It’s Monday morning, I’m awake, and I shouldn’t be. My alarm hasn’t gone off yet, it’s pitch black outside, and I’m… well, I wouldn’t call it ruminating, but its not happy fun brain imagination time.

Which sucks. 

He’d thrown me out like trash, and that rankles because I was such a fucking fool to allow myself to hope that things could be easy between us, even for a second. As caught off guard by the shirt as I already was, and then the secret stack of papers that showed me… what? What did it say about him? And what did it say about me that those pages excited something in me? That my love for him is deeper than before, burns more brightly?

If I had a therapist, she might have something to say about it. 

Enough of this. I swim through silk sheets and pull my heavy body free. My shoulders sore and tense, and I definitely slept on my neck wrong because it hurts when I bend it like-

Ow. Jesus fucking Christ.

Time to get clean. As clean as someone like me can get, anyway. 

Wow, I’m really leaning heavily into ennui this morning, aren’t I?

Looking in the bathroom mirror before my shower, feeling my jaw, I feel the sharp angles, the strong shapes, the soft skin, but I also feel thin stubble growing in, can see darkness under my eyes from another sleepless night, and lines beginning to crack around my mouth. Can’t outrun Mother Time forever, that bitch. And I can’t outrun genetics, but I can sure as hell hold them off for another year. That should be enough time to do what needs to be done.

Into the shower now, careful not to bend my left arm too much. It’s mostly healed, but the skin stretches in an uncomfortable warning pain when I try to reach around myself, and for the first time, I wonder if it was worth it. Washing my hair is also mildly challenging, so I favor my right hand, aka my dumb hand. I press my forehead to the cool, white tile wall, and encourage it to calm my building headache.

Out of the shower now, shaving, taking care to get as close to the skin as possible, and then come the moisturizers and creams, under eye concealer, light foundation, just enough to smooth things out, contacts, then my hair, fuck, what am I even going to do with it. I never suppress my eye rolls, and I’m not suppressing this one.

Fuck, I’m tired. 

Alright, Damian, we’ve got this. 

I switch into autopilot mode, and before I know it, I’m leaving my monochromatic apartment, travel coffee mug in one hand, messenger bag in the other. As the elevator doors snick shut and I’m confronted with my reflection, seeing what other people must see, I have to admit that I look good. Young, vibrant, self-possessed, and of course, handsome. 

It’s my expression, though, that tops the whole thing off. Confident blue eyes shine out, lack of sleep and uncharacteristic sliver of self doubt hidden away. No matter how I’m feeling, I can always trust my expression to be unwavering, intimidating, and absolute. Thank God.

Fucking fuck, I need to stop thank god this, and sure as hell that. What am I, some kind of Baptist hick? These people, this place must be rubbing off on me, and not in a fun way that makes a mess after. Disgusting. 

Out of the elevator now, into the parking garage below the building, and there’s my rented baby: gorgeous and sleek and black. Getting Fraggle to pay for it had been… impossible, to put it lightly. So out of my own pocket came the money for this gorgeous machine. Which was fine. I certainly make enough money at that hell--- that trash company. And I’ll have even more very soon.

Anyway.

It’s dark out still, the sunrise a ways off, and the thirty minute drive from Macon to Nowhere is dull. I only see a couple of other cars on the road, and I am glad to be so alone. Relieved, really. But in my tiredness, ghosts from the past slip through my defenses, and the silence is no longer comforting. Loneliness calls to me from the depths. 

I take a long drink of coffee.

I’m so fucking tired .

Chapter Text

Light crests the top of the dense Georgian forest off in the distance as I arrive at the office. 

Well, office is a strong word. It's the only warehouse in town, abandoned back in the eighties or something when industry died and jobs were shipped overseas. The outside has rusted to this gorgeous-disgusting green copper patina, and it shines like a beacon in the sunrise. 

The majority of the warehouse space is used for storing equipment that isn't under the purview of the general contractor. Big machines that beep and spit out data, other machines for grinding, others for electrographic manipulation. There's a testing room for analyzing the conductivity of different fibers, there's a manufacturing room where we make the fibers we test, and then? 

Then there's the computer room that I've lovingly called the WoMB (the Wonderful Machine that Beeps). Monitor screens wrap around every wall, and long tables bisect the room. Designated computers line the tables, the computer/monitor hybrids with lights blinking on the front. One wall is designated to what I've named MOther (Machine by any Other name). That's where all the data we gather, data on light speed, conductivity, soil types and depths, vegetation type, water content, topographic information, historical flood data, consumer use reports, and so many more things that I'm getting really tired of listing, so we'll move on. 

Darcy has threatened to human resources over my nicknames several times, and she’s removed every plaque I've put on the wall outside proclaiming, Beware MOther's WoMB . How is anyone supposed to know they shouldn't go in here with the billion dollar number cruncher if I don't have an engaging, mildly inappropriate sign?

But it's fine. I've got plenty more in the trunk of my car. Outsourcing was bad for a small town like Nowhere, but great for the business of buying tacky, personalized plaques in bulk. 

If she's such a pain in my ass, why not fire her, you ask? It's simple. Step one: Unstoppable force meets immovable object. Step two: Unstoppable force gets immovable object hired for a super secret advanced tech project at the biggest company in America. Step three: Prosper. 

She's damn good at her job, and she's almost as invaluable as I am to the entire project. Plus, her involvement means I can… lean back a little. Push some of the heavy lifting onto her shoulders. Have more time for… personal projects .

The heavy security door beeps at me to know it’s ready for me to enter. I do so, graciously, and my half-bow to the door is interrupted by… Darcy’s laughter? I’ve never heard her laugh before, at least not like that. Surprisingly, Darcy is here before me. Even more surprisingly, I hear someone else, too.

Higher, harsher, that's Darcy. What's she doing here so early? The other is deeper and more feminine, a gentle growl more than a voice, and I'm mildly turned on and more than mildly curious. 

"Who are you talking to, Darcy Darling?" I sneak up, grabbing her shoulders. She jumps a foot in the air and slams the laptop closed, but not before I get a good look at a very pretty face indeed. "Who was that? A new girlfriend, perhaps?"

Darcy stands up, fists clenched. 

"What the fuck, asshole? You scared me half to death." She takes a breath, and a moment later the shock slides from her face. Dark hands smooth black, fashionable fabric. "And what are you wearing? And why are you here so early? You're usually-"

"Perfectly on time as I always am, you're right," I interrupt her. There's a reason why I don't use Fraggle brand or corporate issued tech. Their employee monitoring is just short of unconstitutional, and I’d like my secrets to be kept… secret. "So who is she? Anyone I might know?" 

I sip my coffee and flash a maniacal grin that doesn't reach my eyes. I think she finds it endearing, because she doesn’t complain further.

“You’re looking especially pale and bougie today,” she says.

“Why, thank you, Darcy,” I say as she walks over to MOther, presumably for data analysis. “I thought maybe a dark grey jacket with dark fitted pants and a deep green buttery tee would be a bit too much, but overall I think the effect is-”

“Haunting. You look haunted.”

“Well, that’s not very nice.” 

She’s not looking at me, but I don’t like this intuitive streak of hers. Something for future consideration. I can’t have her ruining my plans, and I’m not sure she’s the kind of person who can be bribed, and my half-hearted flirtations don’t work on her. I’m lucky she’s a lesbian, honestly. Working with people who find me attractive can be exhausting.

And I’m already so tired .

Outside the locked lab, machinery grinds and I can imagine the heavy garage doors lifting. Workers will start shuffling in for another long, well-paid day of digging and sampling and vital labor that I am very glad to not perform.

Anyway. My phone vibrates in the pocket of my chinos, and upon further investigation, it’s Julie. Hmm. Sweet, gullible Julie. I wonder if she got a thrill from secretly cuckolding her poor husband. She treats him so badly, and that’s what I appreciate about her. The easier to take him from you.  

Ah, I see. Apparently there’s a church potluck fundraiser this coming Sunday. How quaint.

And I’m invited? She says to bring something for everyone to enjoy, and I see she’s included something for me to enjoy. I quickly close the text app so Darcy can’t see Julie’s two bountiful gifts. 

The greatest gift of all is that this particular scheme is almost completed, and it’s thrilling because I truly have no idea what Frankie will do afterwards.

I mean, I have hopes . Desires, intentions, et cetera. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a conclusion I’m racing towards and I am struggling to stay the course and take things at a slow pace, but it will all be worth it.

Fucking Julie is indirectly fucking Frankie and that’s the only way I can stay hard when I’m inside of her. She’s helping me destroy her marriage and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Bless me Father, for sinning keeps me sane, and my insanity is killing me. Would you deny me my salvation?

Chapter Text

When Julie came home that Sunday, after the kids were dropped off by Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez, (people didn’t know Francis was adopted unless he or someone else said something; his medium complexion and dark, wavy hair were so similar to his adopted parents’ that a familial connection by blood was assumed, despite Francis’ height) she reminded her doting husband (who was miserably hungover and had thus, along with the children, missed morning service) of the upcoming church potluck on Sunday after service. 

Darkness fell, finding Francis seated at the breakfast island in his massive chrome kitchen holding a short glass of brown, cheap liquid close to his chest while his wife opened and closed cabinets too loudly. The children had required extra bedtime stories to go to sleep that night, and though their bedrooms were far from the kitchen, Francis worried because sound carried easily in the large, cold house. He sat there, long limbs tucked under the seat and folded into himself, eyes red and hair sticking up in dark tufts around his head. Julie, as always, looked a picture of angelic perfection.

“Everyone loves my buffalo chicken dip, so we’ll need enough tortilla chips,” she planned aloud as she rooted around in the fridge that blinked and blonked happily, little tones chiming as its door shut.

“Jules, how do you know-” he started, and she interrupted, as she always did.

“I’m so glad that Damian was able to come over last weekend and fix whatever was wrong with the wifi or internet or whatever,” and Francis can hear the smile in her voice, and he is so tired and he wants to ask the real question but he also doesn’t want the answer. He wants to live in the space where Damian Glass is not part of his life; where this confusing, intoxicating man did not enter.

Don’t start thinking about entrances .

“He-”

“You know, he is such a funny guy, a real charmer. Did you guys get along? I hope you did. You know, you could be friendlier to people, Frank.” And then she came over, placed a small hand over the single large one laying impotent on the counter, and smiled up at him. For the first time, he noticed that her smile didn't seem genuine, and had a troubling realization. 

She doesn't like me. 

The thought shocked him. He always held such a tight hold of his impulses and thoughts, but for some reason, that restraint was slipping, and honesty bled through. 

“Your yoga mat-”

“Oh!” at that her face brightened, but her smile didn’t climb all the way up and instead reminded him of a wet dishtowel dropped on the counter. “I must’ve forgotten it at yoga. It was so thoughtful of Damian to bring it when he came over. I already told you how we met at Helen’s studio in Macon, right? I’m sure I must’ve.”

Francis looked down at his wife's small hand on top of his, and realized he couldn't remember the last time that they'd made love, the last time she had touched him without trying to get something else out of it. 

“I don’t remember you saying anything about that.”

“Well, Frank, you’ve been working really hard lately,” she said, and her soft hand reached up to cup his pink cheek, whiskey ruddying the tan skin under his stubble. It stung his face like wind on an overcast day. 

She smiled at him and it was almost as genuine as the first time their eyes met across the quad at Georgia State, and for a moment he thought was wrong about all of it, that nothing was different, that she just wanted what was best for him. She always had been able to see things he hadn’t. 

Julie tugged gently on one of his haphazard curls and opened her mouth to say something, but just then her phone jingled an unfamiliar ringtone, and his hope and nostalgia cracked and peeled away until all that was left was the numbness from the alcohol and the deep pit inside of him that told him something was wrong. A name tickled the back of his mind, but he pushed it away.

Stop it.

She turned away but he still caught her sideways smile, the corner of her cheek peeking around the curve of her face, something he knew well after their countless years of marriage.

She’s hiding something.

Julie walked out, and Francis was once again alone. Horridly, achingly alone.

Chapter Text

“We missed you at service last weekend,” Pastor Gabrielle intoned in that deep, quiet-loud voice of hers. Francis was trapped, his hand caught in hers. 

“Pastor,” Julie nodded, her smile wide and a high pink color in her cheeks that Francis couldn’t differentiate between the rouge she usually wore and a reflection of true emotion. There were a lot of things he couldn’t tell about Julie these days.

Pastor Gabrielle McCullough stood below Francis’ height but well-above many of her flock. She had broad shoulders, cropped red hair, and an unwavering, full smile. Francis’ own strength was diminished in the power of her pale, scarred hands, and he choked down his panic.

“Yes, I uh, wasn’t feeling well,” Francis answered, which was the truth; in fact, he hadn’t been able to shake the residual nausea and was determined not to imbibe today.

“I’ve heard that you haven't been ‘feeling well’ a lot lately,” she said looking to Julie, and Francis noted the way Gabrielle’s pink, freckled skin clashed with the green of her ornate robes.

Like rotten fruit.

 It unsettled him, and of course he then felt guilty for the mental disrespect.

She is a shepherd of God, he thought, but it didn’t calm him the way it used to; few things calmed him these days; few things that weren’t brown and liquid or shoved into boxes on high shelves.

“I’m here if you want to talk about it,” Pastor Gabrielle said, and Francis smiled at her in a way that he hoped seemed genuine. Where before her concern would be welcome, and her holy confidence appreciated, the things he couldn’t admit to were piling up and he trusted himself less and less to not shout out loud the things that kept him up at night.

I loved him-

Stop it!

Julie stepped in to smooth the silence that had fallen over their little group.

“Thank you so much Pastor,” she said, and reached out a small hand to the green-clad arm holding her husband hostage.

“Of course,” the Pastor responded under the soft caress, her smile still wide, but the edges starting the slightest of descents downwards.

“Yes, thank you Pastor,” Francis finally said, his drawl thick with nerves. He shook his captive hand up and down, forcing the Pastor into a corner, forcing her to play along, to shake his hand and release him. 

Sometimes, rules of social etiquette could be taken advantage of to escape difficult situations.

Julie hung on his arm as they walked to the potluck reception, and without anything to calm his mind, all Francis could think of was the picture they must paint to everyone else. Julie had picked out his clothes, as she always did when they were attending an event that mattered to her position in the social strata. He wore a white, long-sleeved button-down tucked into black slacks held up with a black belt, and finished with black loafers. His dark curly hair was brushed back smooth and held in place with fiber paste, wavy ends curled up under the backs of his ears. When he was getting dressed that morning, Julie had clucked at him and reminded him to wear sunscreen when he does yard work; she said that he was getting too dark. 

She says the same thing about William, doesn’t she? Applying sunscreen constantly to his naturally tan skin before he goes outside. What does she think will happen, that he’ll become paler somehow?

Julie next to him was a picture of beauty, a princess removed from a storybook. She wore a baby-blue sun dress that exposed her delicate collarbones and kissed the tops of her knees, with a white knit cardigan on top. She stood on pale pink high heels that made Francis’ ankles hurt just looking at them. Julie’s long blonde hair was expertly coiled and piled on top of her head, a few intentional ringlets tracing the curve of her face and her long, slender neck. 

Francis couldn’t remember the last time Julie had worn this dress as she had complained after the purchase that it was inappropriate for most of the functions she went to, that it was too short and too exposed up top; Francis wondered what had suddenly changed to make it appropriate for a church potluck.

As the handsome pair walked over to the covered tables laid out and heavy with food, they were stopped several times by former patients and family members of patients. They all brought Francis into big hugs and firm handshakes, and he felt his place in his community strengthen, felt himself grounded in the life he’d made, in the people who appreciated him, in the people he’d helped. The physical touch was uncomfortable but welcome, and already today he’d received more contact than he’d had in weeks.

It reminded him of a hand wrapped around the back of his knee, of an offer he had rejected, and continued to reject. Of a lilting, playful voice that belonged to someone else, that had taken up residence in a small corner of his mind.

Take what you want, Frankie.

Are you happy?

They finally reached the spot in the rows of food-laden tables where Julie’s ‘famous’ buffalo chicken dip was supposed to be bubbling away cheerily, ready to be scooped out onto plates and devoured with the five large bags of tortilla chips she’d brought.

Instead, they were confronted with a cold crock pot full of a coagulated, orange mess.

Shit ,” Julie said, and moved around the table to check on the power strip where the machine should’ve been plugged in. She gave away nothing in her body about how tense she was, but Francis knew she was deeply upset. “Someone unplugged it.”

“Maybe you just forgot to plug it in?” Francis supplied unhelpfully.

Julie looked up at him, her pale blue eyes crystal clear and full of rage.

Fuck.

“Maybe-”

“I bet Karen did this. She KNOWS that I’m trying to get on the rotary board.”

Who did she dress for today?

“Where are the kids, Jules?” he asked, watching the other women and a couple of men uncover their trays and crock pots and boxes of various foods on the folding tables set up under the outside hall under the peeling white paint of the worn down awning.

The pastor’ll want donations to fix that this year.

“I don’t know, Frank,” and the way she said his name made him wince. She plugged in the crock pot and used a long spoon to stir the thick, mucous mixture. The shlick-schlack sound of it turned Francis’ stomach, and he looked away from the hypnotizing horror to find his children.

There was George running around with other kids her age on the lawn, her white dress already grass-stained, her loose, golden-brown waves flowing in the wind. She looked happy, and his heart hurt with love. Then there was the little pristine blonde head of William, coloring with a couple little girls in the corner under the awning, his white three piece suit in stark contrast to the ordinary but well-cared for clothes of the people around him.

I told Julie that he’d stand out if he wore that .

Francis looked again to his perfectly made-up wife and caught glimpses of her blue eyes, pale and limp and empty, as she finished setting up the table. He remembered darker blue eyes; brilliant blue eyes with power and intelligence and wit swimming in their depths; eyes that drew him in and hurt him and made him want things he hadn’t allowed himself to want for twenty-two years.

The eyes were so bright in his mind that it was as if they floated in front of him, as if he could conjure them through the power of his desire alone.

Until he realized that, in fact, he was seeing them. And they were seeing him.

When he realized, in fact, that Damian was staring at him.

And, in fact, that Damian looked hot as hell.

Chapter Text

Francis saw him standing there, a deadly angelic vision wrapped in a fitted, goldenrod long-sleeved shirt that suited his coloring perfectly and were complimented by a pair of dark grey pants, and he couldn’t help the way his hungry eyes raked across Damian’s body, feasting on the tight material wrapped around his narrow hips, devouring the way the sleeves of his shirt were pushed up his forearms and accentuated the corded muscle there, and drinking down deeply the long, pale neck that just begged to be touched, to be bitten. 

The chattering around him slowly filled his ears and he remembered himself, remembered where he was and what he was doing. First, of course, shame came racing in the door left open by his vulnerability, and so the next inevitable feeling was rage.

His eyes narrowed as Damian smirked, having seen all of this, seen Francis and his treacherous eyes roamed and wandered, and focused his attention back on whoever he was talking with. Rage now, again, for being ignored. Shame for feeling rage at being ignored. Embarrassment and rage and shame battled in Francis’ chest. He saw then that Damian was speaking with Maureen who was with her very old, perpetually sick mother; platinum blonde Maureen who was so thin and always in everyone’s business. 

And now she was giggling?

Is he… is he flirting with her?

“What is he doin’ here?” Francis’ voice was hollow, his drawl thick, and Julie’s cool hand wrapped around his fist. 

How dare he-

“Who, honey?” She smiled, but annoyance creased her eyes at the edges.

Glass,” he spit out.

“Oh, Damian’s here? I was hoping he’d make it!” her cheer was a little too thick, and Francis could taste the insincerity, but he pushed it aside. She rubbed his hand too firmly, almost enough to hurt, but he’d never admit that. “He told me that you two didn’t exactly… get along when he came over last weekend, but I swear to- I swear,” and then she leaned in, “you better not cause a scene. This event is really important to me,” she whispered in his ear, and her angry tone made her sweet face that much more sinister. “You know that I’ve been trying to get on the rotary board for years, and you know that bitch Kelly has been blocking me. This is my only chance to get good with them before she comes back from her sabattical. I swear to God Francis, I swear to God that you better not fuck this up for me.”

She pulled back and straightened his white polo, all smiles, but Francis could see the howl, could see the threat, in her eyes. He wasn’t angry anymore, he wasn’t shaking with rage; he was cold and empty, mollified not through any consideration or comfort that Julie had shown him, but through the need to please her, to keep her, to prove to himself that his was a good life, and for that he needed to be a Good Husband to his Good Wife.

“Of course,” Francis said. “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, sweetie. Now go mingle with the other husbands while I- Oh my gosh, Lynette, is that you?!” Julie shouted, the feminine trill in her voice turned up ten notches to a shriek, and she ran to a handsome woman carrying a baby. 

Francis spared a look back at Maureen and the Interloper, but Damian didn’t look at him again. He was still ignored, and thus he retreated to the one spot at these events where he could have a modicum of fun: the corner with the ice chests full of beer and the husbands who were freshly primped (as much as is expected of their gender) and who stood around watching the festivities.

“Hey! Frank! We haven’t seen you in a while, buddy!”

Francis was yanked into a big hug by a man shorter than himself and twice as wide.

“Danny, it’s been too long,” Francis said, his fury forgotten, and clapped his friend on the back. He pulled back and smiled his first genuine smile in a long time. “How is Patricia? Is her cough getting better?”

“Shit, Frank, the meds you prescribed her worked out great. She’s over there running with the kids now!” the burly man pointed and Francis followed with his eyes, pride swelling in his chest. 

This is why I do what I do.

“I’m so glad to hear that. I know she missed playing with them,” he said, then was yanked into a hug and lifted off the ground by a tall thin man of surprising strength, taller even than Francis. “Tim, be careful... your back,” he managed to exclaim, and Tim placed him earth-side then pumped his hand up and down energetically.

“Doc, I gotta tell ya, I was scared I wouldn’t make it to this potluck cuz of my back, but by God- shit, sorry Father,” he said, looking skyward, “I’m here, and Angie is just beside herself with joy.”

Francis looked over and saw an elegant older woman surrounded and held by her friends, and who was hopefully crying from joy.

“Well, don’t push it too far. I don’t wanna see you back at the hospital!” Francis laughed, and fell into conversation with the group of men whose lives he had touched.

It’s okay. I belong here. I want this.

He focused on the men around him and on the cold beer Danny pushed into his hand.

He does not look for Damian.

He does not look for Damian.

Chapter Text

he’s three beers deep by the time bill pulls out his flask, and by the fifth beer and third large gulp of disgusting fire he’s finally floating away and above it all

pastor gabs keeps looking over here

fuck her

another swallow, and he’s laughing with his friends (I HAVE FRIENDS) and julie

where’s julie

what’s julie why’s julie

julie isn’t around to kill his buzz and julie isn’t here to stop him so

i’m here, i’m spending time with friends, what more does she want

what does she want from me

what when why where

oh shit

A slender, tan woman covered head to toe in white lace stomps towards me, and she looks familiar but it’s hard to-

“Mrs. Archambeau! How’reyou this fine af’noon,” and I’m slurring a little, but I don’t think it’s noticeable-

“Mr. Moore!” She hisses, buffing some shine off my buzz. The laughter of the men around me stops.

“That’s Doctor Moore, Karen,” Danny teases, reminding her of the proper social etiquette. I personally don’t mind much, but-

“Daniel Kaner, don’t you dare go speaking to me like that,” she spits out. “Dr. Moore, do you know what your spawn did to my poor Amelia?!” and finally I notice the little girl hiding behind her imposing, ferocious mother.

“Amelia, how are you today, little miss?” I say, and give the crying girl a little bow. She sniffles and her eyes are red, but she gives me a small, brave smile.

“Don’t you dare talk to her when it was your son who made her like this! Now you and your wife had better bring him over to apologize.”

“Mrs. Archambeau, I’m terribly sorry for whatever William-”

“No! That isn’t enough! It has to be from him!” she shrieks. She’s causing a scene now, and other groups near us are starting to stare. This isn’t-

“Ma’am, I don’t know where Julie is, but I’m sure-”

“You had better get her and your spawn, or she can kiss her spot on the rotary committee good bye, Dr. Moore.” And with that, she turns on her heel and drags her daughter away behind her. Amelia, for her part, gives me a small wave goodbye.

Once she’s out of sight, the men erupt into drunken laughter. Danny claps me on the back and can hardly breathe from his mirth. 

“Guess I better go hunt down the missus,” I joke, and the laughter starts up again, buoying me in a wave of positive energy. I can’t see Julie outside or by the potluck tables, and I'm so caught up in my task that I nearly knock over Pastor Gabrielle. Her arms must be strong because she catches me easily, her friendly demeanor never leaving.

“Have you seen Julie, Pastor?” I manage to get out, righting myself.

“I believe she’s inside getting more napkins. She’s been in there for a while. Maybe she got lost,” the pastor says, and I see a twinkle in her eye but maybe it’s just the sun shining too brightly today.

“Thank you, Pastor.”

“Please, just Gabrielle is fine.”

I could never call her that. It’s too disrespectful. My feet are bigger than I remember and walking up the short steps into the church is tricky. I’m probably just dehydrated.

I head back to the kitchen and don’t pass anyone on the way. I suppose it makes sense, everyone is outside reveling and laughing, and what am I doing? Hunting down my wife, drunk.

No, I’m not drunk, that’s not fair. I’m just… having fun with my friends. All the other guys are doing it, too, so it’s not like it was my idea. I wasn’t even going to drink today.

I shouldn’t be here. I really, really shouldn’t be here. I’m drunk tipsy and I’m in a house of God and I need to leave-

No. I belong here. If anyone doesn’t belong here, it’s him. He’s the one who doesn’t fit. His eyes and that smirk and-

I take a step into the kitchen and hear a thump from the back pantry. We run a canned food drive every summer to stock it up for the winter, and I’ve helped stack the cans back there myself for many years now. It’s a large space, enough to hold dry goods and bags of potatoes, onions, and jars of peaches from the trees out back.

There’s no one else here, the countertops have dirty trays on them, the sink is full of dishes, and there’s a big plastic wrapper of pristine, white paper napkins sitting in the middle of it all, untouched and unopened.

There’s a thump again, and this time I think I hear an ‘ow’. Someone could be hurt. I need to-

I throw open the pantry, and wish I’d walked off a cliff instead. The two of them are in here, and Julie is straightening her blue dress as Damian is pulling his hand out from underneath it and her hair has fallen down around her shoulders and her cheeks are pink and her lipstick is all over his mouth and-

Julie comes towards me and she’s trying to placate me and why is she trying to placate me what and I see Damian’s smug face and those fucking blue, blue eyes lock on me and I-

And they’d look so good together, blonde hair, blue eyes, I really have a type don’t I-

-and the bastard smirks at me and I just-

-I just-




 

-how dare she kiss him when i can’t-

Chapter Text

-things stop making sense for a while, and-

 

-he doesn’t recognize his fist connecting with bone until Damian’s body flies back and hits the wooden shelves. Julie screams. His arm pulls back for another punch as though a puppet on a string, but now there are hands fisting in his white shirt and pulling him away-

 

“-I don’t know why Francis did that, Damian was just helping me carry supplies-”

 

“-he’s been drinking, I don’t know-”

 

“-no, please don't call the police-”

 

-a voice (that Francis has been forcing himself to hate with varying degrees of success) chimes in, and it says, “It’s okay, he’s been going through a lot lately, I completely understand, ” and Damian is holding the right side of his face (oh no), his eye covered, an angry red mark already beginning to spread across the porcelain skin stretched over his jaw, and as he’s leaving (what have I done) he gives Francis a look with a single blue, blue eye-

 

(stop it stop it stop it don’t look at me)

 

-and Francis doesn’t know what it means.

Chapter Text

The sun set in the west, as it always did, casting rays of orange and pink across the fields and forests of Nowhere, Georgia, but the taffy-colored light couldn’t touch the silent family as their tinted black SUV raced down the flat highway, overgrown bushes on either side guiding them home.

A few glances sent Julie's way went unreturned, and so Francis focused instead on the flickering shadows of the forest outside the passenger side window. 

At least, that's what he tried to do. In his reflection in the car’s side mirror, Francis couldn’t see his face, but could see flecks of blood on his pressed white shirt, now rumpled.

Damian's blood.

That's twice now that he'd touched it, touched something that was inside the man that he never should have. 

I’ve never hit anyone like that before, out of rage.

-Out of jealousy-

What’s happening to me?

What’s happening to me?

- Will I hide this shirt away in the dark, too?-

 

Francis sat on the couch in his gloomy office, the sun swinging low and preparing for sleep. The heavy wood door was closed, and though it was muffled, he could hear his family on the other side. His hands fisted in the ruined white shirt in his lap as if he could press the stains out, undo what he’d done by force of hand against cloth, and the cold leather on his bare back seemed to soak out some of his drink-induced fever. 

“Is Daddy gonna be okay?” he heard his favorite child ask, muffled as it was by the thick oak.

“Of course, Georgette, he’s just resting. He had too much fun at church today is all,” his traitorous wife replied. He could imagine exactly the smile she would use, and he hated her for it.

Hands under dresses and lipstick on faces it shouldn’t be.

 

I hit him.

He knew what he had seen, and he knew what he’d felt; soft skin easily giving way to hard bone underneath; the solid sound of a body hitting a wall. Francis examined his hand, and in the dim light he could see a smudge of lipstick there where his fist had connected with the enemy’s lips.

I took it back from him, didn’t I? I took the kiss back.

Jealousy roiled in his gut, but he couldn’t decide if it was because of Julie or Damian; who was he more envious of? Was he violated, or was he desperate to get something that came so easily to someone else? 

The red, smeared mark on his hand was tacky against his lips.

 

Francis’ way was gentle, was calm. He was all soft edges and placating smiles and defusing difficult situations. He hadn’t raised a hand to another man since a stranger got too handsy with Julie in a bar some fifteen years ago. His children were warm and open and trusted him, and that was because every day Francis woke up and decided to be nothing like his own father; used the template Geoff Moore imprinted in him as a guide of what not to do.

This isn’t who I am. 

What have I done?

Guilt settled hot and thick in Francis’ gut as he curled up his tall frame on the couch, and it was the red fox that chased him to unconsciousness.