build the levees higher

Belle Vista 
#1
After this
Sept 18th


He'd gone to Frank's house, knowing it was a stupid choice as he was doing it. But, the idea of going to his own home felt absolutely out of the question. He'd still be alone when he got to Frank's, as he was still at work, but somehow these walls felt better around him than the ones of his own place. It didn't stop the continuous, biting panic that gnawed and burrowed through his gut and along his spine. It was an unrelenting helplessness, one he had no plausible remedy to. There was no way of even putting it into words, let alone finding the courage to actually speak about it. It had been weeks now, weeks of sleeplessness and paranoia. He knew Frank had noticed, possibly others as well. There was no hiding it, and apparently no ignoring it, either, if he was imagining speaking dogs that disappeared when he threatened them.

It was by no means a healthy remedy, but he'd promised himself one glass of wine and a cigarette. Perhaps it was no surprise that Mathis found himself sitting on the back porch, an open and almost finished bottle of wine before him, smoking his way through a third, the glass he'd brought out abandoned and turned into an ash tray. He didn't have a clear reason for it, and he didn't have a plan for what to do when Frank came home. Maybe it was some subconscious attempt to incapacitate himself enough to force himself to answer to some questioning. Thus far, Frank hadn't asked him about whatever it was that was bothering him, and maybe that was just him trying to let him have his space, or maybe he was doing a better job of hiding it than he thought. When it was a constant thing that occupied his mind, it was hard to tell how things looked from a different perspective. Frank had his own things going on, so maybe he really hadn't noticed. But there was no way he wouldn't notice this, and there was no way Mathis would be able to sweep this under the rug.

That was all to say, when the sound of the front door opening reached him through the sliding glass door, he didn't move to look. He did snuff the cigarette on the pavement, and dropped the butt into the wine glass. Sniffing through his nose, he ran his hands over his face then through his hair, and adjusted in his seat. He swallowed heavily, and considered as he looked out over the pool and to the back fence, making a run for it. A stupid thought that hardly made it to completion before the back door was sliding open.

@Frank
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#2
The site of Mathis’ car in the driveway tipped him off that he’d have company tonight as his own pulled up next to it. It wasn’t necessarily an oddity as it had become a much more frequent occurrence as of late, but it was hard to miss just how tired and stressed the man seemed. That was a normal for Frank, not Mathis. He seemed off. Despite that worry, it would be good to see him.

As he closed the front door, Frank would take his wallet and jangling keys out of a pocket, plopping them down on a side table as he called out into the house. ”I didn’t know you’d stop by tonight. I would’ve picked up dinner for us.” But, as his voice echoed throughout the house, there’d be no reply. Odd. ”Mathis?” Brows knitting, Frank made his way further in, wondering where he was. The walls and hallways gave no response as he continued further into the home. Eventually, he’d look through the back windows which revealed Mathis sitting outside. Ah, that made sense now and a smile lit his face as Frank walked to the back door.

Sliding it with whooshing sound of glass and metal, he’d step outside into the evening air. It was a good evening to do this and he should’ve checked here first. ”There you are,” Frank greeted warmly, shutting the door softly behind before finally coming up to him. A hard to cover strong acrid smell suddenly wafted over and he immediately realized it was from Mathis. Smoke. Smile faltering, his gaze flicked towards the wine glass filled with ash and butts before ending at the bottle that was missing a lot of its color. His stomach immediately dropped. ”Mathis? Hey.” A hand would go to hold a shoulder softly, hoping that would bring him to look up as he left a kiss to the top of his head. He wasn't sure what this was, but concern pooled and fell like a waterfall from his chest down into a sickly feeling pool in his stomach.
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#3
Of course, he did hear the sound of him being searched for, but he still had enough reluctance to stay quiet and let himself be found instead. When he was, and Frank was speaking to him, coming over... he wished he could pull a curtain over himself, shield himself away. He realized in that very moment, as Frank questioned him and placed his hands on him, that he hated himself for letting Frank see him like this. Still, he blinked up at him, moved a hand to clutch at the arm behind his shoulder. He cleared his throat, shook his head that felt like it was full of hot air. "Hey. Sorry I didn't call before I came." He'd say, not drunk enough for slurred speech, but speaking slower and with more purpose to avoid it.
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#4
As he pulled away, Mathis looked up and there was a sleight sluggishness to his gaze that had Frank watching carefully. The hand to his arm was a good sign and he maneuvered to be at better angle to see him properly as an apology was given. That too, was off, slow. So he had drank all that himself. ”It’s alright. You know you can come over anytime,” Frank reassured, squeezing the shoulder as he looked at the tired face. Mathis could live here and he’d have no qualms. If he wanted to hang out on the porch or sleep somewhere quiet or do whatever he wanted, that was more than fine with him.

Putting his free hand to a cheek, a thumb stroked the skin there before moving on to push back bangs. ”Do you want to tell me what this is about?” It was asked carefully, softly, full of concern and not wanting to corner Mathis by any means. He trusted him not to need an explanation as to what ‘this’ was, but still a nod in the direction of a bottle and glass was made.
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#5
He found himself leaning into the touch of his cheek. Something warm, something familiar and real. Still, his eyes shut and eyebrows flinched inward as he was questioned. Somehow, this was worse than what he expected. There was no firmness, no demand for what the hell was going on with him lately. Those were bullets he could easily deflect with walls of passiveness or reassurance. This was different. This was snaking, deep rooted vines climbing beneath his walls with ease, unbothered by any attempts Mathis made to keep them out.

Did he want to? No. Did he have any will within himself to come up with some excuse? None. The truth was no easier, there were words for it that he would have to fish for. But, Frank was a patient constant, he was possibly, of all the people in the world, the only person he would be able to say anything at all to. Not Yana, not even Benji, his own blood. Mathis swallowed heavily, nodding as he looked down to the scene before them. He'd squeeze the arm in his grip, and motion for Frank to sit as he parted his lips and pulled in a breath. Where would he even begin with this?

"I went back to the place I killed Margaux today." He said after a moment, not able to look Frank in the eye for the time being. "Did you know that was just over a year ago? A year and eleven days."
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#6
There’d been some fear that Mathis would pull away, that he’d shut him out fully again. That Frank would be left to worry as he tried to pick up and nurse the pieces of a clearly hurting man. They’d made so much progress on just how far they shared things that hurt with each other that it would’ve felt like a slap to the face if denied, something he’d most likely subjected Mathis to a month or so ago. Instead, he leaned into the touch and agreed upon an unsteady breath. Swallowing, a small smile placed itself on Frank’s face at the squeeze before fading just as quick as it had bloomed. Okay, some success.

At the request to sit, he grabbed the closest chair, pushing it closer. The shaped metal creaked in complain as he sat and Frank made to grab for a hand and would squeeze it if given. And then there was a waiting moment before that first line immediately caused questions to bubble up. Frank forced himself to stay quiet, wishing he had eye contact as Mathis continued on. No, he hadn’t been keeping track of exact days, he knew it was somewhere around this month or so, but the reminder did bring with it the memory of that night, at thinking within one phone call that he’d lost two friends and then after, having to be the one to patch them together in a soup of blood.

His thumb stroked the top of Mathis’ hand. He hadn’t even considered, but now it seemed transparent. How stupid could he be to not realize that the anniversary would mess with him in some way? Mathis had almost died for christ’s sake, of course it would, and of course the man was keeping track. The memory was probably burned into his brain for life. ”No, I hadn’t realized it was so close,” Frank replied honestly. ”Is that why you went back there?”
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#7
Honestly, he hadn't either. He'd know the day was coming, known that it was in the looming future. But he hadn't realized the exact proximity until the night he'd... until he'd seen Margaux. Then he'd looked up the timeline, found the exact date, considered making the trip the day of. In the end, he'd waited until now. He regretted it.

Was that why he'd gone, though? Would he have, if he hadn't seen Margaux that night? He didn't know. He remembered back then in the aftermath, when he sat on a back porch similar to this witch stitches in his neck, looking over at Frank and expressing to him that he felt sorry for killing her. How he'd privately wanted to go there, to visit, for some bizarre reason. Try and make peace with it, perhaps. He hadn't ended up going, and ultimately had put it out of his mind and blamed it on the pain pills. So, no.

"Yes." He said. He lied. He hated it immediately, but enough to elaborate with truth. He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat.
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#8
Frank let out a breath at the answer, rubbing at his eyes. Irritation jumped and prickled at himself. Stupid. He was so stupid for not putting together the signs. Insomnia, being jumpy, this. All of it pointed to trauma of some kind and here it was rising up nasty after a year to process. He turned the hand around, using his other to sandwich it between the two, fiddling but keeping Mathis anchored. Words came and went on what to say to that. It was a precarious subject and he didn’t know what response would fit in the exact way needed. Had it helped? The ruins near them gave that answer loud and clear. So Frank moved on, not entirely sure, he wasn’t a psychiatrist after all.

”It’s dead and done, Mathis,” he stated firmly with no room to argue, a fact easily breathed as if he were talking about the sky being blue. ”You don’t need to go there, especially by yourself.”
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#9
He glanced up briefly at the breath, gauging the reaction. It seemed... irritated. He'd been stupid to go, stupid to tell him. Frank didn't need this right now. The words hit him like a punch to the teeth, so hard he physically flinched and let out a soft, wry laugh that sounded more akin to a whimper. His lips curled at the corners, and he shook his head. He went to speak, but found his throat tight, and the unfamiliar, uncomfortable sensation of tears pushed against the backs of his eyes. "It's not." He managed. It wasn't done. It never would be. Even without hallucinations of vampires tormenting him, it was never something he would be able to move past. But, somehow, his mind would not let him forget even one moment of it.

"S-she's not." He said with a shake of his head, withdrawing his hand from Frank's grip and moving to press both palms against his eyes, taking in a sharp breath in attempt to steady his breathing. Crying wasn't... something he did, ever. To do it now felt like just one more thing he was giving over to this fucking... whatever it was. Might as well, right? It was already eating him from the inside out.
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#10
Mathis’ reaction had him confused: the flinch, the exhaled whimper, the words. He was trying to follow, honestly, and Frank leaned to the side towards him. Caught off guard by the stumbling of more before words can be said in answer, he knit his brows. She’s not? Realization as to whom didn’t take much effort, hardly a step. The hand Frank held was taken from him, an action that mildly stung until he realized where it was taking a new home upon a crumpling face. Mathis was wilting in front of him, breaking in demeanor and voice and Frank’s heart went out to him, slamming feet into motion. Why the fuck was he sitting down?

“Hey, hey, hey,” he breathed in a hurried shushing tone, getting out of the chair with a scraping of metal against the wooden deck. Kneeling next to Mathis’ own, he would make to pull him into his arms if allowed. “Hun, it’s alright.”
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#11
The sound of the chair startled him in a way that it shouldn't have. He shouldn't be flinching at small noises or words or the sensation of Frank coming to pull him in. He shouldn't be feeling any of this. And yet, here they were, and he was quickly losing grip on the situation. Instead of falling into Frank, he pushed away. It felt wrong doing it, but crumbling into him did as well. He was up from his chair in an instant, the cat complaint with moving swiftly away from anything that he wasn't comfortable with. He took in a heavy, empty breath as he paced along the length of the table, then stopped there at the opposite end, back to Frank as he ran his fingers roughly through his hair. "Franco, I'm sorry, I-." He, what? He had not explanation, no reasoning for any of this. He just had the truth. His truth, even if it was insanity. "I saw her." He said after a moment, voice crushed into gravel, choked by tears he fought back with everything he had.
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#12
The flinching away at every step of that process hadn’t been missed and it was heartbreaking when immediately after, Mathis was pushing him away. Feeling burned as hands forced him further, he shuffled out of the way, pants dragging against the floor so Mathis could get up, his own cat pacing at the unexpected quick actions and tense energy. Weary and at a loss, Frank lifted himself up to a full stand while watching the beginnings of a pace. Cool metal of the chair’s back weaved between fingers as Frank grasped for the right thing to do, forcing himself to not follow. Space was wanted and he could understand that.

Steps took the man away and then slowly they were turning back towards him. Frank looked on all the while, swallowing at the apology, but staying quiet. A try at an explanation was given, but it ended in shambles, that voice splitting hurting more than anything and his grip tightened.

He’d seen her. A ghost of the past was haunting Mathis’ mind and it was a despairing check mark on a status report of a decline that made his stomach clench. His own throat felt parch as he felt another tidal wave of emotion with just taking in the tired and broken form in front of him. Frank didn’t register his own move forward till after he was a few steps closer as if to meet him. Catching himself, he stopped. No, Mathis wanted space.

”What do you mean?” His mind shuffled ideas around, fueled by a wanting to solve this, to better understand. ”When?” Both were asked cautiously, somewhat aware of the weight they might have on whatever dam Mathis had built that was now seemingly falling apart.
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#13
He looked when the footsteps met his ears, and he worried he’d have to withdraw again. But Frank stopped himself, and perhaps that was worse. He knew how it felt to be denied when all you wanted to do with grab the other and hold them until things settled down. He just. He couldn’t right now. It was all too much right now, already a sea wall crashing down over him. And while Frank was his buoy... he was somehow afraid that if he reached out for him, he’d disappear, too.

There was questioning, and Mathis drew in a breath before unleashing the words that surged from the pit of him. “Two weeks. I don’t know. I was at work- at night, it...” He shook his head, one hand moving to cradle the back of his head while the other rubbed at his chin. He gnawed a numb lip as he struggled for words, his wetted eyes unable to meet Frank. “I saw her. She... she destroyed things, pushed things off shelves. I couldn’t see her or smell her but then she was there. He lifted the hand from his beard to hold it out in front of his face, hardly an inch away. The proximity of the face he saw when he closed his eyes.

“S-she threatened, told me she was watching me, you. I... I don’t-“ It hadnt been real. How could that have been real! It had felt real enough for him to shift. “I- I spoke to her, she said she would make me pay. I ignored her then, and... after a while it was gone.”

He was rambling like a lunatic.

“And then today-“ His voice hiked up in pitch and panic, and he gulped for air as if he were a fish reeled to shore. “I was alone, then a dog. A dog appeared, and spoke to me, and I realized it was a vampire. It smelled like one, it was one I met. I threatened her, and-“ Then it went away. He exhaled shakily. He was doing good, right? He was using words, he was trying to explain. ”Then it was gone, too.”
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#14
Patience in these kinds of moments was needed, but always hard. Doing his best to wait on that breath to be taken, Frank was granted with more words than honestly expected. It was as if he’d pulled the right log and now the river was rushing out. Where he’d been scraping to understand, now there was so much to suddenly dwell on. Every pause, Frank expected for him to clam up again, but was relieved when that never came to pass. Through it all, Mathis wouldn’t look at him directly, but the glistening of wet eyes was still seen and god, this was torture.

What he was being told wasn’t expected. He’d been prepared to hear about a manifestation of fear, but physically doing things was a different caliber and Frank latched onto that. That didn’t sound like just mind things. This all had an air to it that felt oddly reminiscent of recent words of another source. And for two weeks, two goddamn weeks, Mathis had been tight lipped about this all. Two weeks of holding onto this panic and not a peep. Why hadn’t he come over or called right after that? Why hadn’t he said anything?

Hand coming up to push hair back, he listened to part two. Today. A dog. A talking dog, what the fuck? Right up there with the whole bird trick he supposed. As for disappearing, it was oddly familiar to another he’d met. What Frank wouldn’t give for vampires to just leave Mathis alone.

When Mathis had finished, Frank waited, digesting it all, making sure more wasn’t about to be added to the pile before speaking up. ”God,” he exhaled out softly with a shake of his head. ”You’ve been acting off, but I didn’t….” A deep breath was taken. He hadn’t known all of this. There was always the chance Mathis had broken things himself, or that had been made up too, that this all still was just a figment of stress mixed with some reality to give a final punch. It would’ve been the final damning conclusion to come to if it were not for what Frank knew as a possibility, one his mind dug up and wanted to cling to like a lifeline before accepting the worst.

”I believe you,” Frank admitted steadily, looking towards Mathis’ face, wishing that gaze would meet his. It was a belief, hopefully the truth, until proven otherwise. ”Asha saw her too.”
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#15
Of all the things he expected, of all the things Frank ought to have said, 'I believe you' was among neither. It was not something he should believe, it was a deranged, insane hallucination of the mind. It hadn't been real. Couldn't have been real. And yet, Frank believed him? Maybe he just believed that his partner had truly gone insane. He was already shaking his head before Frank spoke again, but the words stopped him in his tracks. It froze him, the words ice in his veins, hardening as they locked every fiber of himself in the sudden grip of shock. Asha had seen her, too. Asha, a woman that had voluntarily abandoned her group, wiped her mind, and turned her back on Frank and the others. She'd seen Margaux.

For all the things Asha had done, he didn't think she was insane. Even if she was... she hadn't imagined the same thing as he had, had she? Had... she? Or... had it been real? In some godforsaken way. Had it been some sort of ghost? "What." He managed after a moment, feeling as though he had tor each into himself and tear the word from his flesh. What of the dog, then? Had that been real, as well? Had this all been some misinterpretation? Had he driven himself mad with the idea that he'd lost touch with reality. It had been all very sudden, out of the blue, but he'd associated it with the impending anniversary. If that wasn't the case, if it truly was some sort of specter or some trick someone had played on both he and Asha.... then he had subjected himself to weeks of self torture for nothing. All of his silence would have been for nothing, all of his struggle to keep it from reaching Frank and those he cared about. For nothing.
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#16
That did it, that got a response piercing through the unfolding twine Mathis had been working himself into knots with. The moment of quiet as words were come to terms with were filled with the rustling of leaves and a gentle lap of waves from the pool. It would be serene, if not for the reality of the moment and the stated question back immediately taking over the space again.

”She saw her,” Frank repeated, confirming for Mathis that he’d heard right. It was around then he realized, this had never come up till now, at least not this particular part. ”She followed and taunted Asha for a while, kind of like what you’re describing.” And god, he hoped it was a correct guess to put the two experiences on the same reasoning here. There was of course Beauregard in that pool of witnesses, but that didn’t seem like the best name to drop when said person in a breakdown had much to blame on vampires and always would.
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#17
Exactly as he was describing, save for the dog. It had been real, then. It hadn't been his mind snapping without warning. There was no logical explanation for it, but there was no way it could have been a manifestation of his mind, if Asha had seen it, too. That truth was too heavy for him to hold himself aloft. He plunged into the depths of a sea of emotion then, at a loss for a direct word for it. Some relief, some anger, some abject horror. Whatever it was, there was no way of pulling himself together enough to avoid letting out a choked sound of a sob, a hand coming up to clasp over his mouth as he shook his head. A few staggered steps took him to Frank, whom he'd finally fall against and allow himself to be rapped into a hug.
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#18
Watching Mathis process it all was tough, but he’d stay vigil to it if that was what was wanted. Someone was fucking with people in Mountainside with an apparation of a year long dead vampire and it was frustrating to see that Mathis was included in that, that it had done this to him. Through that and the sickening concern, there was straight anger he could feel needling its way into sharp relief. Perhaps, there was some past tendency towards violence being egged on by the cat as it gave images of using claws and teeth for a way to solve it, or scarily, it might be purely his own thoughts. Either way, whomever was doing this, didn’t belong in Mountainside, especially anywhere close to his friends and loved ones and the want to make sure it didn’t happen again was burning brightly.

The sob trying to be covered by a hand was still heard and it struck right through his heart. Sorrowful eyes watched and there was a light feeling of relief at the stagger towards him. Maybe, that meant Mathis was accepting it, understanding that this wasn’t just his mind playing tricks the same way Frank was sincerely hoping to be the truth. The stagger, nonetheless, was all it took for Frank to finally allow himself forward, enclosing tight arms around him when Mathis fell into his frame, holding most of his weight. A hand came up to the back of Mathis’ head, kissing the side of it as Frank’s other tightly held his back, holding him with soft shushes and strokes. Maybe, if he held long and tight enough it would create some semblance of feeling safe again.
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#19
For all people seemed to be convinced of it, crying never felt good to Mathis. There was nothing cathartic about it, nothing healing he found in it. It was an ugly, uncomfortable affair that he spent the whole time fighting. That said, there was hardly anything he could do, exhausted and feeling entirely empty. He let Frank hold him, attempted briefly to clutch him back, but that went without success. It would be a few long moments of shuttering through breaths and focusing on Frank's breathing and the stroking of his hair.

Eventually, he'd manage to pull back a fraction and take in a cleaner breath of air, and on the exhale he would try for words, "I should have told you sooner." And that was, possibly, the worst of it. That he'd been finding comfort in sleeping beside the solution to his torment for weeks, and hadn't had the guts to tell him and find out the truth of the matter. It was insulting to Frank, too, to not be confided in. As if he hadn't proven time and time again that he was and always would be the one person that Mathis could express anything to.
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#20
Through all of it, Frank kept a steady presence, rubbing his back back and forth. Mathis was hurting to a point he hadn’t seen before and each wet sob against him had his chest cracking, arms tightening, wanting the warmth to smother it away. At least all of this was coming to light and he could be here for him.

When Mathis finally pulled a smidgen back, his gaze turned to look at him, giving a sad tease of his lips at the statement. That was a question in and of itself, why hadn’t he told him? Was he not someone to trust with something so personal while being expected to do the same? Of course, bringing that up right now would not help in any form when the man was so fragile, but it was worth addressing later. Still, if he had, it would’ve been nipped in the bud immediately and Mathis would’ve never felt like this. ”I wish you had,” he agreed. “You don’t have to go through things alone.” That was part of a relationship, you worked through things together, even if some of those weren’t all sunshine and daisies.
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#21
He was glad Frank didn’t seek to brush it off or tell him it was alright. It wasn’t. He should have told him from the start, should have gone to him the very night it happened. In retrospect, the reasoning of why he hadn’t didn’t hold up to the insurmountable relief he felt in having done it. They were feeble excuses he pressed like crumbled clay around the fact that he’d been a coward. Too afraid to look the fact that he could possibly need help right in the eye.

Still, Frank didn’t need this. He had so much to focus on, so many things he had to handle. “I know. I... didn’t know-“ Inhale, exhale, “How to tell you. I didn’t want you to worry. You have so much on your plate.” That didn’t make it right. And it wasn’t Frank’s fault. He just... he didn’t have an excuse. Just regret.
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#22
Frank set his mouth as a soft exhale escaped his nose, stitching brows in thought as he rubbed his back. Those were pale excuses, but he understood, disappointed that in some way it hadn’t been clear that Mathis couldn’t lay down any and everything and Frank would be there. There was a trickle of insecurity that maybe he’d been distant, pouring himself into other things more than normal, like before the move to Mountainside and that’s what was being picked up on. But, he had been doing his best to not do so, was as available as possible while juggling things. Frank definitely did have a lot on his plate, but nothing he couldn’t exactly handle.

This though, was hard. Coming home to Mathis abusing himself because he’d finally tied himself into too many knots while simultaneously making the decision for him on how much Frank could deal with was hard. If he’d just told him instead of, what, protecting him, it would’ve been better. ”You’ve got to have some faith in me, I can handle a lot.” He moved the hand at his head to cup one of Mathis’ cheeks, trying to get him to look at him. ”You’re never a burden, even with something like this.”
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#23
Faith. That's something they'd spoken at length about. That was something Mathis had promised he had no shortage of for Frank. But, for all he'd promised and reassured, he'd gone back on it so easily for the sake of not voicing what was happening to him. He swallowed against the piercing lump in his throat as Frank clutched his cheeks, and after a moment of blinking against the wetness that still lingered in his eyelashes, he met Frank's gaze. His own fists balled into either side of Frank's shirt, holding him in a grip that felt more like an anchor than embrace. "I know. I do. I should have told you." He'd never made him feel like a burden, never gave any indication that he wasn't someone that Mathis should go to for anything. Especially something like this. It was inexplicable how patient he was, to accept fuck up after the next and still be capable of telling him that he could handle more. It was a glaring reminder of how much Frank loved him, and how much he loved Frank, and all of those emotional things that made him sort of feel so full he could pop.

"I love you."
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#24
As wet eyes met his, he gave a small sad smile. Mathis repeated himself while confirming he knew and had both and the clutch to him had Frank tightening the hold across his back. His cat pushed against its bounds in a want to lean against the cheetah it knew was there. At least he’d gotten through and at least Mathis was telling him now.

Clearing his throat after feeling it tighten, he replied back with meaning,“I love you too,” before kissing his forehead.

Giving a squeeze, he offered a suggestion after a moment. “Do you want to go inside? I can draw you a bath and we can talk? You might feel better.” Or some tea or food? Anything to get him warmed up and cleaned, to scrub away all these bad feelings. It’d always helped him at least feel somewhat human after hard points.
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#25
Okay, take a deep breath. He did so, and at the offer, he would nod and reluctantly step back away from Frank. A quick glance to the mess on the table had him frowning. "Okay," He would agree after a moment, and move to start collecting the glass of ashes and the empty wine bottle to take inside with them. The cigarette pack he'd leave, for now, but later he would go outside and find somewhere to throw it away.

Eventually, after a well needed shower that he'd needily convinced Frank to join him in, and a quiet time helping to cook dinner, the pair were sat at the table across from one another. Mathis sipped water and prodded at his food, feeling better by leaps and bounds but still out of it enough to have to really work for the energy to eat. The cat helped in that regard. Eventually, whatever comfortable silence had befallen them, Mathis would break it with, "I think I'd like to talk to Asha about it. Do you think she would?" She had, after all, completely erased her memory of him, along with any other Were she had ever met. He was curious if she was even aware he existed. He didn't imagine Frank spoke at length about his personal life to her.
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#26
He watched Mathis eat, but made zero comment on how it was picked at, just happy an effort was being made and that he seemed to be more steady for the moment. Now if he could just get a solid night’s sleep. The eventual break in the silence had Frank pausing in chewing a bite, listening, before slowly finishing while mulling it over. It had been something that’d bounced around his own head too, that somehow it might do well to speak to Asha about this, but now that Mathis was asking he felt protective and hesitant to agree. The two hadn’t exactly gotten along when Asha had a memory and now, it was hard to know what to expect. Was it so bad to just want each in their own neat circle? It was entirely unrealistic, they were bound to cross paths.

“I… she might.” Asha’d been pretty rattled on the subject when telling him about it and he wondered if bringing it up again would even be wanted. If Mathis wanted to, he wasn’t going to get in his way, but that meant Frank needed to fill him in on the rest too.

He leaned his wrists against the table, fork still in his grasp. ”It’s hard to tell… she doesn’t know you anymore so I don’t know.” Frank’s gaze dropped to his plate in thought, paying special attention to his next words. ”I think she only told me because Beauregard had just dropped into the Terrace threatening us after thinking she was causing the apparition for him.”
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#27
Well, it wouldn't hurt to ask, right? If he thought there might be a chance. Still, Mathis watched Frank as he seemed to approach the topic with caution. Understandable, considering... everything with Asha. They were perfect strangers now, but maybe that would help. She wouldn't remember the issues with the cheetahs. He was preparing to make that point when Frank continued on about why Asha had even told him in the first place.

Because... Beauregard, the vampire King, had come to the Terrace to threaten them. Them, not Asha. To threaten them, the jaguars, because he had seen her, too. Mathis stilled all together as he absorbed that, his fork dropping down onto his plate with a soft clatter, cushioned by the half eaten meal. For a moment, he could do nothing but look over at Frank, his heart in his throat. There was a lot to absorb, but what he was tripping up on was the fact Beauregard had come to the Terrace, threatened them, and Frank hadn't told him. Mathis didn't like to pry too much into every detail of the jaguars' business, it wasn't his place to, but that seemed significant. The fucking vampire King. There to accuse Asha of somehow sending this apparition of Margaux after him. That made a second person aside from him that had seen her. God, why had he not spoken about this sooner?

Words, for now, were kind of lost to him.
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#28
Frank would’ve looked up, but what proceeded was the sound of a fork dropping and he tensed some, refusing to do so now, letting go of silverware. It was kind of a big thing he’d held off on, a very real threat that had them finally pushing towards getting the territory magic up and running again. He just hadn’t had the right time to say it. It'd been there and then passed. There was never a next good moment to tell Mathis, “Hey the King of Vampires threatened us in our own group area because of some stupid not real ghost.”

”We’re pretty sure it’s just someone messing with them, you.” He took a breath. ”Some kind of magic maybe.” He didn’t fucking know. Frank risked a look up.
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#29
"We" being, who, Asha? The whole of the jaguars? Mathis' jaw clenched as Frank went on. Even if it was someone messing around, that hadn't seemed important to tell him? Someone going around messing with people and making them see the woman he killed? "When was this?" He questioned. Before it happened to him? If he would have known sooner, before she appeared for him... He wouldn't have been in this mess. He would have known it was some sick joke, or would have come up with some other theory. He wouldn't have so easily accepted that he'd lost his fucking mind.
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#30
He looked upset, rightfully so, and Frank wiped at his face, put off dinner for now. When was this? Looking off to the side in thought, he went back to that crazy day. It had been a giant push for all of them to get their shit together more or less. There was a lot to cycle through, but it hadn't ended in bloodshed, yet, and personally his night had ended positively despite the nerves and anxiety that had followed him from the group meeting up.

”Near the end of August… The same night I told you I’d be the leader of the Prowl.”
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#31
So, then, before. Mathis straightened in his seat, recalling the night. It’d been a night of celebration, then rest from what Mathis had assumed with just a busy day of meeting with the group and discussing their options. And then, Frank had become so busy with it, along with their every day business that only allotted them a measured amount of time to settle down and actually talk. Then, before he knew it, Margaux appeared to him at Work Release, and the train had flown straight off the tracks. Still, in that time... Frank hadn’t told him.

He took a deep breath. He was, naturally, upset about it. But was this not the exact conversation they’d had earlier? One hadn’t told the other something deeply, incredibly important. He moved to push his hand through his hair as he sighed his exhale. “I wish you would have told me that before it happened to me.” He said, immediately regretting how accusatory that sounded.
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#32
Watching him carefully, the cat had Frank buoyed to run if needed and that wasn’t a great feeling, none of this was. He’d fucked up and needed to deal with it. He’d played a part in letting Mathis deteriorate, the consequences making him feel like the lowest scum of the earth. That out back, the times he’d awaken to seeing Mathis still so, the weird behavior over the last few weeks, all of it was partially because of him. The only thing ever wanted was for Mathis to be happy and content and by messing up on not saying one thing, that had unraveled horrifically. But, how was he to know that the same thing would appear to his partner too? How was Frank supposed to know Mathis was dealing with this very connected occurrence when he hadn’t said a thing? There was a small flare of sudden heat in his stomach and chest that wanted to come out, a wriggling of nasty snapping words in defense of himself. And words from Mathis came in just the right way and he let out an exhale, trying to keep them at bay, but some still escaped.

”And I wish you’d have told me as soon as it had,” he replied snappish, volume the same, tone twisting in a way he immediately regretted. Shock at having done so hit his face before apologies took root in every corner of it. Mathis didn't need that, this didn't need to be anything, just an acceptance of wrongs to learn and move past from. ”I’m sorry, I fucked up, I just… it goes both ways." This time, it came out softly, as he moved to lean his forehead against brought up palms.
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#33
He exhaled sharply at the rebuttal, his eyes moving away to somewhere on the carpet as he tilted his head away, sitting back in his seat. There was temptation to badger on, to spew the frustration and exhaustion that weighted his chest. It was difficult to keep on his tongue, but ultimately, he knew better. It never solved anything, and Frank was already starting again with a softer tone. They'd both fucked up, they'd both done the absolute opposite of what they should have.

He sighed, yellowed eyes blinking back into a blue that contrasted with the flush across his cheeks. It took a moment for him to look back to Frank, and when he did, he would slide a hand across the table, palm down. He'd drum his fingers to coax Frank's attention, and when he had some kind of acknowledgement, "We can't keep doing this. Nothing good ever comes from keeping things from one another. No matter what it is, or what's going on, or whatever bullshit reasoning there is for hiding it." He stressed the last bit with a frown, "We have to share it."
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#34
This was wrong in the fact it was one of those moments he thoroughly hated himself. It was a slip in composure where he knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. As that burst puttered to an all out end, tiredness washed back in its wake while emptiness hollowed him out. The sigh from Mathis had Frank closing his eyes slowly, taking a moment to stop the study of wood grain, the only seemingly neutral ground right now.

But, eventually there was a shifting in a chair and the sliding of something against the table. A sudden worry that Mathis was getting up to leave him at the table presented itself that he rejected, but prepared for. Instead, immediately pushing that away, was the drumming of fingers that had Frank slowly sliding hands down his face to then rest on the table again. As Mathis spoke, he looked up to him, exhaling out a breath while nodding in agreement. All good points. They did need to stop this cycle, it was hurting and twisting and sickening what usually was so easy. ”Yeah, we do.” He’d make to grab for that hand nearby to give it a squeeze if allowed. Swallowing, he felt for words, but ended with simple ones fed with meaning. ”I’m sorry. I'll do better.”
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#35
He would flip his hand to clutch Frank's when they were offered. "I'm sorry, too." He said with a squeeze of his fingers. "We both will." He assured. After a long moment in which he drew his thumb over Frank's knuckles, he would pull away and attempt to return to the meal. It wouldn't be a hard thing to fix, he hoped. Talking to Frank was easy as breathing, for the most part. Stuff like... thinking he was going insane was a harder topic, but it still should have been something that he sought to tell him about immediately. He might have sooner, if he'd seen him more, the distance made it easier to neglect.

"We should try to dedicate more time to stuff like this." He said after some short time, gesturing to the meals between them. "You should focus on the Prowl, for now, but after that." It would give them more of an excuse to sit across from one another and talk about whatever it was that needed to be shared. Especially with Frank becoming King, there would be even less free time to spend together than before. Not to mention, of course, the move that Mathis was privately dreading. He... guessed that was something he ought to voice. "You moving is going to be a hard change."
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#36
The hand turned to hold his own and that reassured and settled a part of himself that had been trembling for the last few minutes. Giving a small smile to the sorry and squeeze, he soaked it all in for the while it lasted. ”Okay.” They could do this, it would just take some inner redirection, a reminder they had each other to lean on. When Mathis eventually drew away to eat again, Frank took his hand back and would make an attempt to do so as well.

A suggestion of dedicating more time for things like meals together sounded nice and he gave a nod as he chewed. ”We should.” Yeah, the Prowl still had to be done, but it didn’t mean he should be pushing Mathis to the side through any of it. He needed to get better at managing his time with both aspects. About to speak up on that, Mathis brought up a final string of thought that had him quitting before ever voicing it. The move was something he was dreading as well, had been for a while even before the Prowl had fallen apart. It was an eventual future bound to come some way or another. ”I know... I’m really going to miss it here and-” Why was he still eating? Putting down his fork with a soft clack to the side of the plate, Frank officially gave up on dinner as his stomach swirled. ”If we’re being honest, I’m kind of dreading it.” He let out a sad soft singular huffing laugh before reaching for his glass.
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#37
He wished he could go back in time, help to smooth over the issues between Asha and Yana. If they had just stayed here, there'd be no reason for Frank to have to go. Although, there was a number of things he'd like to be able to go back and change. Given it was impossible, there was just the matter of what could be done now. "What would make it easier?" He questioned as he placed his own fork down.

There was the selfish impulse to tell him not to, to tell him to ask someone else to lead, someone that lived in Crestview already. But that was unkind, and unfair. Frank could do this, with the help from the others, and if it was something he'd volunteered for, then it was something he wanted. Mathis just... would miss him. There was a difference between living ten minutes away and living two cities away. It wasn't that far, but it was far enough to throw a wrench in things. Future plans.
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#38
Taking a drink of his water, though it didn’t help the lump that had formed, he’d set it back down, finding it almost comical in how much asking that didn’t solve anything. It’d been something already being mulled on in his own head for weeks now. ”I don’t know. I probably just need to get over it.” He couldn’t have his cake and eat it too. Frank wanted to be near the group, it was important. They deserved a group again and he wanted to get them on their feet. With time, he was sure Mathis and him would get into a routine and make it work. It just wouldn’t be as easy as it was now and there was a worry that loneliness would drift in again, something the prowl being disbanded had reminded him in stark reality how much that wasn’t something he excelled in.

”I think, like you said, making frequent time to just be together might help,” he smiled some before it slowly dropped. Even if it was as simple as watching tv together, he’d be okay with that. Any and all time, really, would be better than nothing. Picking up the napkin, Frank balled it up, deciding he might as well let the hope out so it could die and stop spinning in his head. ”You know, I was honestly about to, before everything I mean, I was toying with the idea of asking you to move in with me,” he explained, unable to really meet his eyes in a twinge of embarrassment. ”I know you’ve been dealing with things, but you staying here more often was nice.” Even if during that time it had come with an undercurrent of worry. But without that, it would be something he wanted and he’d gotten a taste of it times when there wasn’t that. Asking Mathis to move wasn’t a viable option anymore if that meant it’d be Belle Vista to Crestview and not just a few minutes away, he needed to let it go. The coalition was here.
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#39
Well, Frank sucking it up wasn't exactly something he could help with. Other than just... being there, doing... yeah, doing this, spending as much time as they could together. That plan didn't exactly scream longevity. It would help, but never really solve it. Mathis swallowed as he eyed Frank, was about to speak, say words that came to his mind without putting thought to them. Frank spoke before him, though, voicing an idea Mathis himself had considered for a time. Moving in, though then it had only been the idea of moving here. It was different now, a huge change, something bigger than moving across the city.

But it had been nice, in the past two weeks, staying with Frank almost every night of the week, coming here after work to him instead of to Benji. Benji was one of the very, very many things he would have to consider if he moved. Benji, the coalition, his responsibilities. It was a lot, but... in the moment, it was worth considering when the other option was only seeing Frank a few times a week. Honestly, if he'd be spending all of his free time there, anyway... It was a big thing to consider, but it didn't stop him completely. "Would you still want me to, after moving to Crestview?" He questioned. Maybe Frank was opposed entirely.
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#40
That, what? He’d expected it to be lamented, mourned, and neatly packed away as a nice to have that wasn’t feasible. Instead, he was hearing an opposite of the pretty much made fact in his head and it threw him for a loop, jump starting his heart some. Searching for any kind of off chance Mathis was messing with him as surprise etched into features, Frank answered quickly. ”But-, yes, of course. Of course, I would love you too. But, the Coalition?” His family. Mathis had been here before Frank had ever moved into town, roots running deeper than his ever would get to, responsibilities kept this whole time. He wanted to make it clear it wasn’t a whine, it wasn’t a twist of manipulation of any sort. All Frank been intending by saying something was to let know Mathis where his brain was. If in the end Mathis didn’t want to, that was okay, a sad possibility, but livable as something he’d been preparing for anyways.
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#41
At least there was a quick response, as predictable as it was. The Coalition. The biggest road block along this treacherous, uneven path. A lot of it was walking blindly, handling one pothole or crack after the next. There was a clear path ahead, seemingly leading toward some semblance of stability once more. Except, of course, for the Coalition. Mathis inhaled deeply, and held it for a moment as he rubbed at one of his eyebrows.

When he exhaled, he would look to Frank's face, seek out some eye contact. "I can speak with Yana. I think... well, you don't have to live in Belle Vista to be a member. It could be different, with me, because I'm Second. But, I'll still work here, and be here often. I'd only have to move back if something happened with Yana, and I don't see that happening." He was convinced that woman could outlive all of mankind by sheer willpower. Death would come for her one day, and she would look it in the eye, raise a brow, and it would turn away.
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#42
Frank watched him patiently, ready to accept whatever decision was made. As Mathis eyed him, he met the gaze easily. Listening, a smile grew, his chest feeling like it was expanding with air. That was an “I’ll ask” if he’d ever heard one. As for working and group duties, it was reminiscent to how he’d carried on as a medic for the prowl when that had been a thing. Knowing that, it would be easier to know what to loosely expect time wise. In the end though, there’d still be more time together than how it was now. And if in the end Yana approved of it, Frank felt himself facing a future he had wadded up in the trash after that talk with Abraham month’s ago and then smoothed out only to, again, throw it away when he’d agreed to take on leadership. Despite anything really being a hundred percent, the hope of it had him reconsidering that move to Crestview with a bit more lightness to it.

”I don’t either,” he smiled at the point of Yana most likely not having something happen to her. She was one of the first leaders he’d ever met as a were and still had that gravitas about her that didn’t seem to sway no matter how many times they’d been around the other. It was hard to imagine that ever being struck down. A more serious look taking hold, he tapped the table. ”Listen, don’t let my feelings play into your decision. I want to be sure this is something you want, too. I want you to be happy and if that’s living with me or up here, either is okay.” He just needed to be sure here.
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#43
"You make me happiest." He said without hesitation. The Coalition was family on account of them being cheetahs, bonded deeper than blood. But, it went further than even that with Frank. It was a scary, overwhelming thing to acknowledge, but not something that could be ignored. He would rather be where Frank was, no matter the cost. He'd reach for the hand again, hold it firmly. "Wherever you are, thats where I'd like to be. I'll speak with Yana, soon, and I will let you know."
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#44
That was as honest as he could ask for as it tugged at heartstrings in one fell swoop. Mathis’ warm hand grabbed his and he squeezed it earnestly with a small laugh as his face contorted into relief and swelling happiness. It’d been an exhausting evening, more so for him he imagined, but this was a bright spot that expanded as Mathis went on. ”Okay,” he said with awing disbelief and warmth that swaddled it as his cheeks ached with a smile. Hopefully, they got a positive message back, but he would do his best to prepare for either or.

A moment or so of not really knowing what to say or do, Frank pushed back his chair, standing to make his way around the table, hand still holding Mathis’. Stopping before him, he wasted little time in drawing him into a hug with his free arm wrapping around shoulders. ”You make me happiest too,” he breathed.
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#45
He'd lean heavily into the hug, and when it sufficed, he would move instead to place a kiss against Frank's lips. Then, another, and then maybe three or four more. Eventually he'd pull away, and push from where he was so he could untangle himself and look to the table. "Good. Now, we can clean up, happily." He said with a tease in his tone, humor displaced considering how the entire day had gone, but a breath of fresh air nonetheless.
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