Not Sexting


francois_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Not Sexting
Synopsis Teo makes a grand, magnanimous gesture to repair his marriage, which his husband doesn't appreciate. On the upside, the communication breakdown doesn't actually occur over text messaging.
Date April 1, 2019

The Internet

Teo is getting gasoline when he finally decides to send the text. At this point, he is only slightly hungover. He is on the tail-end of a process that included congratulating himself on not being puke or diarrhea levels of hungover, and packing some boxes, putting them in his truck, driving, sounding coherent on the telephone with his new landlord, whom he is sure only agreed to rent to him because of good credit and the fact he remembered a deli in Queens where the other man used to get good chicken parm, before the war. Teodoro Laudani is too easy to Google these days. Only country people don't bother. This is one of many unhappy thoughts he has yet to actually disclose to his husband, and it's not the one he chooses to text to him now.

243 oak blvd
Sheepshead bay
Moving some shit over today
Let me know when you want to visit

Bwoop! The outgoing message sound rankles unpleasantly in Teo's ears, so he switches to vibrate and checks the gas meter.

Francois' phone chimes in his pocket, where he's standing in the Elmhurst Hospital parking lot, sheltering his attempt at lighting his cigarette against the restless spring wind. He can't quite get it to go in time for his impatience to win out, but he keeps it set between his teeth as he fishes the device out, and looks down at the glowing screen, angling against the glare of natural light.

He palms the unlit cigarette out of his mouth when he sees that it is a text and it is from Teodoro.

He is confused, first of all, which would normally be expressed as a demand for clarification, but the phone in his hand with the text on its screen feels like an impossibly delicate thing, like it will shatter if mishandled. He has to think about this! But he also has to think about it quickly, or the pause will become too pause-y, and he'll have to wait another hour until it becomes plausible that he hadn't read it y

i am in elmhurst for a while longer
what are you moving?
i could help

Francois hates this text and sends it anyway, absently bending and crushing the cigarette in his hand in subconscious fidget as he leans against the brick.

Teo has acquired his change and started to climb back into the truck by the time he gets the response. He checks it promptly and without hesitation, and decides just as immediately that he doesn't really like what it says. Whatever. It's probably been a solid thirty two hours since he had categorically positive emotions about anything, so this is nothing new, really. His expectations could not possibly be lower, which he has been checking in with himself about nearly as regularly as he has been complaining internally about New York City.

Cookware, bedding, books, clothes

Myself, he doesn't add, because at this point it's probably fairly intuitive. And also admittedly, Teo doesn't add that a little bit because he knows Francois would like some clarification, with a clear topic sentence, details to follow; ideally, some kind of plan. But the pause, the absence of probes thus far, means Francois believes himself to be walking on thin ice, and who is his beleaguered husband to cheat him of that excitement.

Ok omw I'll be there in 20

Teodoro almost adds what time he's planning to leave, for time pressure, for emphasis that this is occurring on his terms, but that seems like too much, considering he recently shot a hole into the man's car tire, and it is technically— probably— business hours for Wolfhound. He stuffs the phone back into his pocket and starts the truck. There's an app for checkpoint delays, but Teo has been a victim of inaccurate estimates before; he got gas because he wouldn't want to get stuck mid-bridge. This truck is a beast.

This information clangs together in Francois' head, dissonant. Glad to be looped into plans, but also on the outside of plans already in motion. Francois has more in common with New York City than he does the Catskill, but it's still yet another address not of his choosing. Not enough information to settle on for judgment and so he finds himself in a state of flux.

And texts:

elmhurst hospital, visitor side

There's a little metal receptacle bolted to the brickwall for cigarette butts that he flings his handful of crumpled paper and tobacco leaf into. Devon Clendaniel's miraculous return from the dead has been an odd kind of distraction, which is perhaps a little better than marriage problems being a distraction from miraculous returns from the dead, but both are fucked in different ways, full of unknowns and pressured in some form of responsibility that he can't figure out what to do with.

Given twenty minutes to work with, Francois ducks back inside the hospital, speaks to medical professionals, leaves his number. In the olden times, there might be an offer of money exchanged, but it's a blessed century, where the government will pay for everything after enough paperwork has been filed, and he's been assured it's not his paperwork to do.

Back out into the humid cool of the parking lot, intermittently checking his phone.

Elmhurst Hospital, Visitor Side

Elmhurst Hospital is one of two operational public hospitals servicing the entirety of the NYC Safe Zone. Elmhurst is the most newly reopened hospital and also the shortest staffed and least well supplied. This facility is based out of the run down and still partly condemned Elmhurst Hospital building which was scheduled for demolition prior to the civil war. The newer Elmhurst Hospital, which was supposed to be constructed adjacent to this old campus, was never finished and the infrastructure that was laid before the civil war rapidly deteriorated in the decade since. Elmhurst struggles to meet the needs of the rapidly growing Safe Zone population and is in a constant struggle to balance the needs of its patients and its often too-short supply of essential medication. In spite of this, the hospital was donated a brand new MRI by Yamagato Industries and are partially supported by recurring charitable donations from the corporation and other sponsors.

This is the second time Teo has crossed the checkpoint in a week, and the increased exposure has not rendered the experience any more pleasant. While the guards look inside his boxes and poke around his glove compartment, they allow a family to drive through in the lane next to him. Something about it makes his skin crawl, but he behaves himself, shows them the registration for the handgun in its case. He does nothing to make them check the underside of the vehicle, which is where the less legal guns are snuggling chassis segments in a coat of duct tape.

Sometimes, Teo thinks that the personnel management wants the smuggling to continue. It keeps the rustier parts of the economy greased well enough to keep turning. If they were actually serious, he thinks, they'd play two telepaths off each other.

Anyhow, he sees the text and he doesn't respond. Teo follows the GPS to Elmhurst Hospital, visitor side. The truck, beast that it is, is extremely noticeable, wallowing smoothly into view of the road, still flecked by the dry-off of dirty snow. There are a lot of boxes in the back, lashed down by red cord. No big furniture. Teo unlocks the door without opening a window, which is probably one of those decisions that falls deliberately between sulking and fine.

Francois' own vehicle is not in sight, which Teo can take to mean either his husband had a malfunction and couldn't operate the equipment necessary to change a tire and his car is still gathering snow in the mountains, or he defaults to public transport while he's in the city, or some other thing. Regardless, Francois crosses asphalt to get to him, only one bout of white-person-jogging to cross an open road within the parking space to do so.

Leather jacket, jeans, patternless button-down. Timberlands, silver watch, rings. He's not carrying, from what Teo can tell at a glance, especially as Francois opens the door and climbs up and in, jacket parting to show off a lack of rigging.

He sits down heavy, closes the door.

"Hallo," is neutral rather than cute, Francois twisting to look at everything in the back as he does seatbelt things. The furrow in his brow is playing stand in for asking questions, yet. Interrogation must come, if Teo makes him, but if he can avoid it—

"Hey." Up closer, there seems to be a bruise fading from Teodoro's chin— very faint, barely-there, green peeking out of his beard.

Teo puts the truck back into gear. It chortles back onto the road, taking both men and his variety of belongings with it. It was actually quite difficult to get them boxes. The cardboard and packaging industry isn't what it used to be, especially up there. His sleeping bag is going to come out smelling like peaches, but there are worse things, many of which he is constantly complaining about internally. He stares out the windshield, feeling Francois' curiosity like raccoon patting over the edge of his mind with its little black meme hands. The only reason why he doesn't enjoy it is that he's physically incapable of enjoying anything! in this shit city!

Blah blah blah, more silent complaining. Teo knows Francois is about to start asking questions, so he decides to fire the first shot.

"You should get yourself checked for Lyme disease when you get back. I found a tick on my side the other day." Teo is well-aware that he might be the worst person in the world. That's a fairly frequent feature in his psychic monologuing.

One question answered.

Francois keeps his eyes on the road, as if maybe Teo needs someone watching his blind-spots on almost entirely empty city streets. Maybe there's an eyebrow twitch up, but who's to say. He brings his window down by a few inches, the sudden whip of cool wind adding a new dimension to the awkward interior ambiance. He is not yet contemplating how quickly he could escape this way.

Rather than dignify this piece of pageantry with response, he asks, "Are you very familiar with Sheepshead Bay?"

Because it is a shithole, Teodoro, speaking of disease, which is articulated into his tone. But even that is subdued, still testing out patches of ice as he traverses over the frozen lake of 'I recently confessed to adultery in an apparently misguided attempt to highlight how wrong we've gotten this'.

Actually, the real reason Teo wasn't— isn't— asking any questions was because Francois told him off last time he did. He may continue this practice indefinitely, despite that he is admittedly somewhat curious as to why Francois has been at the hospital.

But no. Teo is just supposed to 'know.' He's here now. Maybe he'll start to 'know' through osmosis.

(Maybe he'll just push Francois out of the car door. Why did he open the window? It's fucking cold.)

"Medium," Teo answers, pivoting coolly around the criticism implied by his husband's tone. "I know Brooklyn College is there." Which is why there is actually some halfway decent, yet affordable real estate in the area, dipshit. As well as roommate prospects. Soon, a small blonde girl will highlight to him the various (numerous) holes in his strategizing. But escaping illness is not part of it; the absence of deer-borne diseases is a bonus, not a feature. Besides, Teo had never been bothered by living in shitholes before, so why start now. (This whole city is a shithole!!) (In case you haven't caught on.) (Some of us haven't, apparently.) Maybe next time, Teo will just let Francois go ahead and develop Lyme disease.

Francois closes the window again. Shwoomp.

Brooklyn College is a weird piece of information that he turns around in his head enough to land on some of extrapolations, such as affordability, but not the idea of a roommate, just yet. He wants to protest having not been asked to help to look for something, and allude to the savings he has accumulated over several years of government mandated bounty hunting and no real living expenses to take care of, but he can recognise a step in the right direction when he sees it.

Well. Step in a direction.

So he nods, just detectable in Teo's periphery. Sure. And re-opens the window another inch. Fwwsh. Dying of the cold is apparently the best way to go, but he dreads the shock. "You've signed a lease?"

"No, I'm squatting in a crackhouse," is definitely, one hundred percent not the right thing for Teo to say, but it's markedly better than mentioning infidelity, and somehow, actually, more mature than asking why Francois didn't figure it out just from him being here, so that's what he says. He does regret it the next instant. Even if he thinks that context has made the situation reasonably obvious by now. And so— without leaving enough time for Francois to do much more than look at him (but he's not looking to make sure), he quickly adds, "Month-to-month.

"I think that should give us enough time to figure out what we're doing."

Which may apparently involve repeatedly opening and closing the truck window, for no reason? Teo closes his teeth gently on the insides of his own lips but keeps his hands lax on the steering wheel, resisting the urge to tell Francois to knock that shit off. He hangs a right, going around what passes for traffic these days— like nine cars at the light, or something. That would be several more seconds of this phase of the conversation, and who needs that!

It doesn't really sting, the sarcasm — unseen, Francois' mouth skews into a crooked, thin smile, a little gallows, obscurely fond. He does wait to see if he has to prompt Teo for the information he actually wants, but it comes, and that smile goes away, even if there is some silver lining in the flexible nature of this arrangement. The use of 'we'. He nods anyway.

It's not raining, so he also nudges the window down a few more inches. Ffwwsh. Wind run-off rearranges some of the swoops of his hair.

"Bien," he says.

He's being a little proud, he knows. Force of habit, even now. Tempting though it is to shut up on that note, Francois says, "One thing at a time, then. Perhaps we can talk after we get you moved in." Now he looks at him, attempting to read the nuances of Teo's profile, and sets his eyebrows to concerned and imploring.

Teo completely misses the eyebrow reconfiguration, expecting glances at the wrong time, even if he was always going to ignore it anyway. 'We should talk' just seems like a banal, obligatory line to say, when you are having marital problems. He says, "Yeah." Without looking, but he does. Of course they're going to talk some more. He is beginning to think that this is the true nature of marriage: the person you have to talk to is going to be the one that you want to listen to the least.

Irritably, Teo wonders if Francois tends to open and shut the windows during Wolfhound convoys and, for a split-second, he entertains what kind of extramarital bullshit probably had his attention instead.

Instantly, Teo drops the thought as if it had burned him. Fuck. This is a challenge, pretending that Francois' adventure was merely a symptom of a vast but straightforward underlying injury, but it's very difficult to imagine giving up that version of reality right now. He switches to wondering if Francois has already looked up divorce lawyers. He can acknowledge that they're probably easier to come by here— or in Rochester— than in the mountains. (Where people don't cheat.) (This isn't even remotely true, but he's going with it, thanks.) "We're here," Teo says, pulling up to the curb.

The truck is so big that Teo has to actually bring up the tires a little way onto the pavement, to keep the lane clear.

It's a townhouse. Narrow, slotted in between two like-faced siblings. The stone is beige instead of brown, which should probably thwart nostalgia, but Teo personally finds it unpleasantly familiar anyway. The people who built up Brooklyn tried to make it feel very Manhattany.

Sheepshead Bay, near Brooklyn College

An area nicer than the official roomdesc, because the area closer to Brooklyn College is officially not actually a shithole, Francois, maybe if you read the Wikidot now and then instead of assuming your husband's choices were poorly thought out.

For the rest of the drive, Francois goes through his mental Rolodex of people he ought to have solicited advice from before this moment. It's pitiful, which is why he hadn't done it before now. There's Abigail, front and centre, but whining about his marriage to a widow seems offensive, and worse still when she's well versed in the Ten Commandments. There's Wolfhound, of course, but for most of them, he prefers to be perfect, and for the rest— well, Epstein doesn't seem as though he'd be a fount of wisdom in this particular arena even if it wasn't about queers, and he would definitely rather die than approach Hana Gitelman about anything remotely personal.

The rest of his friends that he had are dead or, you know. It's been a while. Maybe Devon's comatose body would have had good ideas.

Francois gets out of the car and looks up at the house. Seems large, for one person only.

That's not a hopeful thought, just a bleak one.

"Go on ahead," he says, turning his shoulder to it, rounding towards the back of the truck. "I'll make a start out here."

"Okay," says Teo, in English again. It seems like a reasonable division of responsibilities, which he appreciates, in absence of reasonableness about anything else right now. He plunks his long strides out of the truck, jingling some keys, pushes the door open.

Cut with moving montage.

The kitchen is very simple, very plain, eggshell semi-gloss paint on every inch— obviously where the landlord had skimped on remodeling the most, possibly buying into some stereotypes about college students. There's hard wood on the floors, sharply contrasted colors and a few dings and nicks in the grain underneath the varnish, no indentation in the buffing, suggesting it was reclaimed. It'd look classier, deliberately vintage, if any effort had been put into matching up the cabinets, doors, crown mouldings, or if the walls weren't just Beige. It's probably good for the money, but definitely just a rental income property.

Teodoro has claimed the smaller of the two bedrooms, with its proportionately smaller bathroom. Craigslist roommate tactics, you see.

They do the marching past one another efficiently enough, going in with boxes, emerging out again without them. Teo thinks some of the people walking by the other side of the street are eyeing up his truck, so he makes a point to dig out his holster and the gun out of his glove compartment at one point, which is maybe a little paranoid, but not outrageously so. Francois isn't wrong; this is kind of a shithole. At least shithole adjacent. One wrong step and you're standing in shit.

Toward the end, after the cookware box is in the kitchen, and the book boxes are evenly divided between living and bedroom spaces, Teo says, "Oh here's your bag." Unceremoniously, he drops the luggage in question on the floor next to the front door, failing entirely to revisit the dramatic events during which he came into its possession.

Francois is emerging out of an adjacent room as the thing with the bag happens, rubbing his palms together to bring circulation back properly. He'd shed his jacket at some point, rolled his sleeves up, and does not consider this his cue to go retrieve it as he glances down to the bag and then looks back up at Teo, a crack emerging in the deferentially helpful veneer he'd been working so hard to maintain.

Just a sliver, enough for— irritation is too mild a word, but the moment is too brief for anything much stronger, either.

What he does is say, instead of thanks or fuck you, "What happened to your face?" in a way that implies he's been meaning to ask, while also pivoting and heading back into the kitchen, towards one of the boxes he'd half-opened and left on the counter top.

Just as brief, Teo enjoys himself a stab of vindictive satisfaction when Francois looks annoyed. It's not pleasure. But there's something to be said for spreading around a bad mood, and Teo's bar for bad behavior is remarkably high anymore. He says, "I got into a fight." And also, "I won." Another one of those 'not even remotely true' things, but there's nothing more malicious about it than a stingy grip on the truth.

Is he technically moved in now? Does this mean they are supposed to talk. Teo looks around at the Lego bricking of boxes around the bottom floor of the townhouse.

It still has that new renovation smell, that toxic stink faded to leave only the powder-fresh scent of paint, sweet wood from the floors' buffed floors, the air-conditioning system cleaned out despite that it retains the asthmatic rattle that most old buildings suffer from, a chronic condition. He remembers a time when that would kind of make him feel happy. Fresh starts. He'd moved once or twice as a child with his family, in Sicily. Of course, he'd moved with Francois, too. Automatic optimism. It's gone, but there's nothing for it.

"Let's smoke," Teo suggests, which is some kind of lazy synonym for 'let's talk,' once he's done complaining inside his head. He walks back out past the discarded day bag, hunting through his pockets for cancer sticks. It's not actually a passagg play against privacy. The walkway, the fence, the stairs, there's enough distance from the sidewalk that they wouldn't easily be overheard.

Teo doesn't have to wait long. Whatever excuse Francois was looking to find in the kitchen is abandoned, and he emerges a handful of seconds after — holding his jacket, because his jacket has his own smokes and lighter. Maybe this will go better than wine. The buzzy nicotine calming effect.

There is an iron railing that runs up either side of the stairs, and it's against this that Francois leans. Normally he'd probably sit down on the steps, huddle a little for warmth and companionship, stare out at the street together — much like the first time they kissed in Ryazan. Now, it seems assumptive to do, and also: he wants to see Teo's face.

He wants Teo to see his.

He lights his cigarette in the protective circle of his hands, successful this time. He doesn't want to speak first, and so he doesn't. Yet.

Teo doesn't speak first. Number one, he spoke first in the truck, even if he was being a bit of an asshole about it. Number two, Francois had been the one to ask to talk after moving. Number three, Francois is the one who has an obligation elsewhere— specifically, the hospital, which implies the pace and deadline for any kind of 'conversation.' Number four, his mind is uncooperatively, uncharacteristically exhausted. He wants to say and do things that are the dead opposite of other things he wants to say and do, and the net effect is to (uncooperatively, uncharacteristically) do nothing.

Teo's little bruised face is not quite blank. He puffs nicotine smoke and studies Francois' shoes absent-mindedly, checking if he'd gotten his socks matched, his shoelaces even, forgotten to clean off any blood stains.

Problem: the last time they Talked (and not that ice-breaky bullshit in the truck), Francois dominated the stage.

And look where they are now.

However, where they are now is Teo not saying anything and looking at his shoes, so Francois tries to sift through his brain for something that won't end the conversation within seconds, again. He looks at the sky, cloud cover rendering it into an inverse dome of pale marble. Tries to imagine what he'd like to hear. Gives up.

"I don't have any excuses," he says, studying the burning end of his cigarette between his fingers on his hand on the railing. His voice is pretty even, quiet, a little like he is testing how hot something is with his hands without yet wanting to touch it. "Reasons, maybe. But I told you knowing I'd never do anything like this again."

One way or another.

Seconds tick past without Teo saying or shooting anything, which means at least that it went over better than — either of them expected it to, probably. Unhappy as he is, Teo is just a little too grown up to fixate on the worst case interpretations and insinuations of that promise. In theory, he can still tell the difference between a wilful 'fuck you' and whatever this is.

With effort, Teo looks up at his husband's face. Francois is still very handsome. His hair seems a little long, nothing against regulation. He always seems taller than he is, right up until Teo is standing over him, narrow enough of limb, that jawline, his shoulders evenly balanced, the good posture of an old man in a young body. By nature of what Teodoro is, he knows that schisms are bad, as a general rule. Any form, emotionally repressive or psychically altered or physically injurious, of a schism usually indicates that some bad shit is happening. He feels the sharp edges of this one now. Sharper even than the split of his comfort between the Catskill Mountains and New York City, he remembers what it was to love Francois a week ago, and how wrong that fits now.

Maybe Teo just ran out of door slams and epithets.

"Why not?" ends up being Teo's question, which he knows— is an awful and cruel, maybe a 7/10 difficulty rating, but there's less tension in his voice than there was even when he was talking about Lyme disease. (Which is a legitimate concern in the rural Northeast, okay.) He doesn't say, I don't believe you, but he probably doesn't have to. "All your fuckin' reasons are still right there."

Francois vocalises some form of agreement, and takes a lungful of smoke. Taps its ash.

"Because I want to be married to you," he says. It sounds like it is taking effort. Perhaps Teo can recognise that Francois is unused to not being in the position of authority, power — god knows, Francois is aware. "And I want that to be something different than it has been for us both. In time," he adds, so they don't argue about the apartment or Sheepshead Bay or the rather large empty bedroom that Francois couldn't help but poke his head inside in between book boxes taken through to Teo's smaller territory.

Maybe also he should just say it. It's right there. The French say it like this: I am desolate. It feels a little like throwing himself into darkness and being ninety-percent sure that instead of a lover's arms, say, he'd be met with an unexpected staircase going downwards.

He takes a breath, instead, clean air rather than smoke. "I miss you all the time, Teo," he says, instead. "It was what I was trying to say."

Neither of the other Teos are married— that he knows of. Lately, Teo wonders what kind of difference he was trying to split by choosing what he did, despite all evidence that no version of him was cut out for marriage. His heart feels as if it's closing like a fist.

You didn't want to be fucking married to me before? Would've been nice to know.

Teo doesn't say it out loud, because he knows the answer, and he knows that in reality, he could have made more of an effort, and because it wouldn't change anything, and because it's all just words. Manipulable. Heartfelt in the moment, probably, but not necessarily enough to bind your fate. Francois is a talented wordsmith. Even when he published his life's story for the whole world to read, he found a way to disown it, and when Teo is less peevishly drunk in his efforts to play keepaway with his own frustration, that only seems matter-of-fact. The world does not change Francois Allègre with its consequences and brutal trials; Francois Allègre changes the world in the act of surviving it. On the third or fourth draft of his book, Teo had teased him, gently, that his audience would probably be more interested in his love life, the children he'd sired, moments of connection and passion that had buoyed him through his darkest years, than he seemed to think.

"It took you five years to — do this," Teo says, still unable to say the words. "I dunno. Four?" That's not a real question. Teo refuses to invest in asking. "How long do you really think you're going to last through round two?"

Teo drops his cigarette on the step beside him without emphasis, putting it out, thinking better than to leave it here.

He's getting mad again. It's the Sicilian way. But Teo is enervated by New York City's New York Cityness, or that's his excuse, so it's not much louder when he says, "I'm right fucking here, and you still miss me. What the fuck do you think is ever going to come back to you, now?" Honesty has always been a good excuse for being a jackass.

Francois has always had a thick skin of certain types of meanness, and now is no different. Throw however many cuss words you like in a thing, and he is not so bad at interpreting the meaning behind the anger, unsettling though it is to be on this side of it from Teo — if, sadly, not that unfamiliar lately. What he understands is that Teo has understood him, on some level, even if the reality of it is sharp edged. Even if he doesn't have all the answers.

He thinks back to a few nights ago, half in Teo's lap, pushing himself away. Because he missed him. C'est ridicule, and yet, there it is.

"You hate what I do," he says, finally. They've fought about this before, but he has always avoided being so direct. "I have to leave so much of myself aside when I come to you. I have— I had no one I could speak my doubts to, or be weak with, or find comfort. These aren't excuses," he feels moved to say again. "It is beside the point. And perhaps you were right not to want these things, not to live them. And it is my fault that if I tried to talk about it, it came out like the same fucking argument again." And and and. He's actually not sure about this last one, this designation of blame, but maybe now's not the time.

And then what? Teo has asked him a question he hasn't answered. "Wolfhound is changing," he says, before curtains can come down on him. He doesn't realise he is holding onto the iron railing beside him like he needs it for balance, and that his cigarette is wasting away in the other. "We completed the bounties."

"Well, congratulations," Teo says, acidly, despite that there aren't any more swears. He doesn't know why it feels worse, that his original complaints have been addressed in a practical way. Maybe he's just running out of excuses to not look at his latest wound, to try to make meaning of it, connected to but also independent of their old married gay problems. He doesn't know why it feels worse too, that Francois is taking on the fault. Maybe it just feels worse because it doesn't actually feel any better. What else is there to fix?

Intellectually, Teo knows that it probably just— takes— time. But— time is its own humiliating problem, see. Insecurities hunt and pick at him, a murder of crows, maggots fattening in an abcess, something.

Five years— Francois still hasn't said anything about that. He hasn't explained whether these anonymous lovers had listened to his doubts, fawned over his weakness, provided him comfort, and an illogical part of him expects that, when you cheat with a married man, the doubts you listen to are about his failing marriage. He wonders how attractive they were, if they had been older? Younger? If they had come to Francois with a warm pistol still strapped snug under their arm or— or what if they had never fired one in their entire lives, that pretty, fuckable innocence that represented escape, naivete unscarred by war or, better yet, able to transform it into something better than the awful thing it was, change in Wolfhound's preferred, marketable language, and then he catches himself at this wondering, though not before his metaphorical hand is already smoking, stinking of burnt blood.

"You know," Teo stands up, half-burnt cigarette in his fingers. "Every time you rename your excuses as reasons, you make them sound like that's your fucking kink. What you need to bring to the bedroom, to get off. Why you took your dick out and wandered into—" oh, he still can't say it. He glances down at Francois' hands clutched at the railing, and it turns down the corners of his mouth. Like Francois thinks his doubts, his weakness, his need for comfort is something to be leveraged now, exploiting perceived weakness, just because Teo isn't throwing his keys into the dark anymore.

Teo puts his hand on the railing. The upside of being in New York City is that he never feels the urge to cry here. "You can just say it. You believe you deserved better. You still do."

Francois doesn't do much to hide his distinct displeasure for Teo's framing — he doesn't think he needs to. There is a bristle at the indignity of it — as if this was not undignified enough! — and a cut of a look away to focus eyeball-directed ire at the comically large truck sitting up on the curb. Micro-muscles express tension, unhappiness, that glimmer of anger.

But letting it go. Oddly enough, it was the biting congratulations that he's going to remember better. Because that shit, unlike the inexcusable other shit he has recently introduced, he expects Teo to understand.

He looks back to Teo at this last thing, and almost doesn't have to say it, expression open. Yes. Yes he does. He remembers his cigarette and brings it up, a short breath in, before he is putting it out on the damp iron railing, jaw tense. "Yes," he vocalises, anyway, just in case. "But so do you. Not just the— " The thing he can't say either, turns out, eyes shutting impatiently at himself for a heart beat. "Not just that. We've been better. We've had better."

SOMe day in the hopefully not too distant future, Teo will realize that expressing doubts, exposing weakness, and soliciting comfort is actually something he needs to learn how to do.

That day is not today!!!!!!

Was it ever? Teo's different, these days, sure. But the underlying pattern is measured on the same dramatic extremes— he's always crusaded for optimism at the expense of total despair in some other part of his life. He wouldn't admit it, but every version of him has that much in common, and very little ability to allow anybody to change their mind. "Okay, that's what this is gonna be." 'So do I.' 'Deserve better.' He stares at Francois with his expressive blue eyes. Currently expressing the opinion that his husband's assumption that he's the better anybody could deserve is wrong.

Teo can do this for a hundred years. Avoid ever talking about the affair— affairs, plural, while nonetheless twisting it into repetitive guilt trips. It's like having the best of both worlds. Having your cake and eating it. Except that cake/world appears to be made of being a spectacularly unattractive coward and disappointment, a joke of a man, who doesn't even have enough pride to hold out on his cheating husband for two full weeks. It's a really good time. (Today will not be the last of his hangovers.)

"By the way." Teo sniffs loudly through his nose, doggishly scornful, not wet. "If you could stop blaming long distance for the fact that you don't remember how to make friends, I'd appreciate it."

"This would be easier for us both," Francois says, quick on the draw all of a sudden, a hint of ill-feeling in the French rrr's that lift off his tongue, "if you would stop twisting all I'm saying."

The injury is still there, exposed, chronic. He doesn't remember Teo asking him about five years. It doesn't go away just because his own temper starts to lick flames up his throat at this particular show of obtuseness, a stupidity he finds unbecoming of them both. Same shit, except now he doesn't get to yell at his husband about it from upon a high horse — they're just both standing in it.

"What do you want to know, Teo." A white flag, of kinds, if rather aggressively waved, like he might strike his foe over the head with it. "I've given up my right to be taken seriously, alright, then what shall we talk about? I would like to get to the part where I beg your forgiveness." He probably shouldn't sound facetious about very necessary healing steps but it kind of just comes out; the brisk snap of each consonant certainly sounds earnest, at least.

Maybe he should have opened with the thing he hasn't done yet, but he's pretty sure that sorrys get weaker with frequency, that Teo will toss it aside with everything else.

Inwardly, Teo recoils, stung. The words twist by themselves, this time. Fun sex stuff aside, he has never seen Francois beg for anything; certainly not permission to join Wolfhound, clearly not to fuck other people, so— why would he—? Teo doesn't even know what he thinks anymore, his dysthymic haze muffling whatever thought he was going with after that. It feels too foolish, somehow, to turn that around on Francois, accuse him of his own selective interpretations. Maybe Teo will have the heart to try it later, when he hadn't so recently undermined his own wounded indignation by coming all the way here unasked. Possibly even unwanted. Although he supposes, it's a stretch to think that just because Francois was unimpressed by his new residence doesn't mean he gets nothing out of it.

The two of them are getting loud, Teo knows. Across the street, the grocer putting out butternut squashes into the boxes up front of the store is beginning to kind of look over at them. Even without being able to hear the details, it's pretty obvious they're having an argument. People love drama. Civil war hasn't cured humanity of that.

Outwardly, Teo takes an unnecessary interest in a professional dog walker going by. He tells himself to calm the fuck down, resists the urge to hop out of his own mind, and into a passer-by long enough to steal the mundane cadence of their bio-rhythms. He doesn't need superpowers to slow his breath. "I can't think of anything else to talk about," he says, evenly. Apart from everything they haven't talked about that he doesn't want to talk about, possibly ever. "Do you— you can come over next week when everything is set up. If you have time."



Francois fixes a wintry look on Teo's face, reasonably sure that he could stare the younger man down if need be. He's run out of stammers and he is unimpressed with this particular pattern. Later he can spend hours delighting in the nuances: the pretense that there is nothing else to talk about, the hesitant reframing of a question that turns offer into permission, the halting addendum as if there is some reality where of the two of them, it is FrancoisFRANCOIS!!!! — who needs to make himself FUCKing available—

Anyway. He's not going to get angry.

He steers that look off of Teo's face, back towards the door. Bends sideways, grabs up the bag that Teo had thrown! down, and then spends a second evaluating the street. Uh huh. Sure. Out loud, he says, "Bien," and without another glance, marches down the stairs. Later, he might also regret not affirming his desire to come back. There may be some awkward text messaging. For now, Francois hits the sidewalk, makes a hard left in the rough direction of Elmhurst. Maybe he will just walk there, like this, a tireless march.

He slings his jacket on as he goes.

Automatically, Teo actually takes a step down the stairs to follow Francois, if only after it's too late; after Francois has already started to go, bag in hand and livid. He stops himself from taking another.

All right, Teo thinks to himself, watching his husband storm off. Shouldn't have

shouldn't have what?

Shouldn't have reiterated the invitation over later, Teo theorizes bitterly. Stopped him repeating his rationale for cheating just because it was the third or fourth time with no new information coming to light. Expected him to actually beg for forgiveness. Been so rude? That one seems more valid, less sullen, but also physically impossible at this particular crossroads in Teo's life. He has an extensive history with rudeness, and it's hard to break old habits when you're under epic stress from the person you love best in your life.

He shouldn't have cut back on smoking. His throat feels scratchy now. And perhaps Teo's relative virtues are less. He doesn't wait very long to see if Francois will come back. Twenty more seconds, maybe, watching the market man across the street post a price sign above his melons. Twenty seconds, and then Teo turns around and goes back into the townhome to unpack.

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