Arthur Kirkland had been staying with Francis Bonnefoy for the grand total of three months. At first it was strained. Beyond tense. France had tried to give Arthur his own space but always seemed to gravitate towards him, checking if he was OK, making him cups of tea when he wasn't asked, making his bed, sneaking into the shower to check he hadn't drowned...silly stuff like that. In all that time there had been no contact from Alfred. Not a single house visit or phone call on France's landline. At first America had been ringing England's phone 24/7, texting, leaving voicemails, the whole nine. It wasn't until France snapped that it stopped.
Much to Arthur's horror Francis had locked the Briton's phone away. It had been a quiet Saturday night in the Frenchman's home, two weeks into Arthur's stay, when the American national anthem started booming (as usual) from England's phone. Emerald had met turquoise and within a second Francis had shot up, leaping on Arthur and fighting tooth and nail for that damn phone. Arthur had screeched and cursed and kicked France several times in the ribs but in the end France was sitting straddled atop Arthur, aching and bruised but holding aloft the phone victorious.
Arthur hadn't followed France when he went to go and hide the possession , supposedly not wanting to know where it has been stashed. Francis had placed it in the top drawer of his dresser and latched AND locked the door with the key he hid in his vanity box. Only special items went in that drawer, things he didn't want people looking at or reading. Things such as drawings England had given him when he was little, photographs of them both, old vintage porn magazines....etc etc. All important things.
You can imagine France's surprise then, seemingly living quite peacefully with Arthur, when one day he walked straight into the man exiting his own bedroom. England had been using the spare bedroom and hadn't strayed very far outside of it in the last month or so. At first he had been eager for time alone, then he had ached for company and spent many a day just sitting with France in sight reading a book or watching mindless television. England only left the house to collect food from the small shop down the road and even then he always returned tight lipped and uneasy, as though the small outing had shattered the defences he was working so hard to build up. France never found out what happened on these outings but he figured seeing lots of families and happy couples had messed with the blonde's head.
'Angleterre' France said, his jaw going slack in surprise at the situation. He'd just been coming upstairs to change his clothes and maybe go outside, even attempt to try and persuade Arthur to come with him. France's eyebrows moved inwards and upwards as he scrutinised the man before him, the way he'd posed as if caught in mid flight.
'What are you doing?' fear flit around in France's stomach like a trapped bird in a cage.
Deep green eyes rolled and Arthur planted his hands on his hips, his fingers curling around his hipbones and nails digging into his skin.
'We're out of toothpaste. Thought you might have some in your room. Relax, Frog'
'Toothpaste is in the bathroom cupboard. You know that'
Arthur shrugged, too exaggerated to be casual. 'Guess I forgot'
'I guess so'
The two men stood in fretful silence before Arthur cleared his throat, his demeanour snapping back to stiff upper-class gent as he pushed past Francis to get down the hallway and to his bedroom. France let himself be pushed out the way, treasuring the small touch even if it was a dismissal.
'Later...do you want to come into the town with me?' France called, not looking round until he heard the snick of a door closing. A sigh escaped his lips and his fingers moved to hold Jeanne's cross that hung round his neck, finding comfort in the slightly warmed metal. So much for that.
Nudging his door open with his hip the Frenchman sauntered into his bedroom, eyes flicking over the interior and checking nothing was out of place. As far as he could tell nothing was missing. Francis opened a few drawers (perhaps Arthur was stealing his clothes? After all he did have amazing fashion sense) and even checked under the bed, but everything was as it should be.
Snorting in derision at his lack of trust in the other man France grabbed a violet coloured button down shirt and a white, mauve and blue neck scarf before changing out of his bed shirt and beginning to primp himself up. The stitches in his head had been taken out but his hair was still growing back in and the flesh was slightly raised, giving it an almost Frankenstein look to it. It was not glamorous in the slightest. Brushing his hair until it was shining France tied it back in a smooth ponytail and grabbed a white fedora with a violet band round it to match his shirt, placing it jauntily on his head. He longed for the day when he would no longer be required to wear a hat. Hats got old pretty quickly.
Being a nation France could very easily snap his fingers and have his shopping delivered to his house, even probably delivered by a gaggle of scantily clad women seductively eating phallic shaped fruits if he so desired, but there was something about the generic experience, of being perceived normal, mortal even, and witnessing the lives of his people that just made France go all soft. Children rushed past him screeching as they darted around the isles playing a seemingly never-ending game of tag and Francis' lips tilted up in a fond smile as the parents rushed after them screeching. Turning his attention back to the isles in front of him Francis thought idly how it's almost like he was a housewife now. He did England's washing, made his bed, fed him, entertained him...everything.
Grabbing a box of scone mix off the shelf Francis squinted as he read the small print. The ingredients sounded disgusting. Nose wrinkled up in distaste France dropped the package in the metal basket anyway, knowing England would have a fit if he forfeited the one item he specifically asked for. Letting out a whimpered sigh at the idea of those atrocious scones being made in his kitchen France accepted that he was well and truly whipped.
It took around a fretful hour and a half before France had all the things on his grocery list and as he waited in line at the checkout he could feel anxiety getting it's grip on him. What was England doing? He was all alone in the house, the only protection from a lethal ex-boyfriend a dodgy at best double locked door. Digging his top row of teeth into his lower lip France adopted what young England used to call 'alpaca face' as he fought against every single gut instinct to drop the shopping and get back to the house before Arthur did anything stupid.
Visions of Arthur practising black magic (again) entered the Frenchman's mind and the 'alpaca face' deepened. By now the line of customers had filtered along and the brunette sitting at the till did a double take when she saw France's expression. Sensing her discomfort Francis shook his head, as if disregarding his thoughts, and let a flirtatious grin overtake his lips. Flirting was something that Francis found comfort in, something that was familiar and he was assured by. It didn't really mean anything nowadays, not since everything with Arthur rekindled anyway.
Darcy, as he jaunty name tag identified her to be, smiled broadly back at the Frenchman, her lips fuller on the bottom and her teeth obviously whitened. She made a big deal of bending forward baring her bulging cleavage as she packed the groceries into plastic bags. It was a testament to how influenced by Arthur he was that France barely even registered this, instead plucking his mobile phone out his slim fit pocket and dialling the one number he knew would give him peace of mind.
It took three agonisingly long rings before there was a click, a puff of breath and Arthur's groggy voice filtered over the line.
'What do you want, Frog?'
'How did you know it was me?'
'Who else would it be?'
Good point. France hummed and handed his credit card over to Darcy with a wink. She giggled and swiped it.
'I got your cement mix. It looks like dandruff'
France commented, taking back his card. The easy banter was settling his nerves a little.
'It's a scone mix you wino. You need to MIX it before it's ready for baking. Thought you were a chef' Arthur scoffed.
'I'm the best chef and you know it. I just cook real food'
Looping the plastic around his nimble fingers France grinned and winked one last time at the flushing gem that was Darcy before he hoisted the bags up and off the counter, his healing ribs twinging in discomfort.
Arthur snorted 'Unlikely. But I'm fine before you ask. I'll see you soon'
There was the sound of fumbling before dial tone greeted France's ears. Well at least he answered, Francis conceded.
There was a scuffle from behind and within a second France was faced with a sweatball. Or that's what he looks like to the blonde before he blinked his eyes and realised the man's head was not sweaty but covered in a slimy shiny layer of slicked down chestnut coloured hair. France tried not to look too visibly disgusted at the Germany-esque haircut and ran his eyes over the specimen before him.
Wiping sweat from his upper lip and hopping from foot to foot, the man leant in close, swaying a little before attempting the move again, this time getting close enough to whisper in Francis' ear.
'She was so going for you!! Why didn't you take the bait?!'
'Who?' France blinked
Gel-man rolled his eyes, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at the checkout
'Hot tits Darcy! I've been trying to get her for weeks!'
'Ah' France exclaimed, more than a little taken aback by the man's forwardness.
'So?!' Gel-man demanded, basically hopping up and down on the spot.
With a put upon sigh France clapped his free hand to the young man's shoulder, dragging him round to his side as if to show him some magnificent sight.
'I have something better waiting for me at home'
The simplicity of that statement, the way it had been so easy and honest to say, made the Frenchman's chest ache dully. It was true. He really had no interest in looking at others, flirting more out of habit than with any intention, and the thought of the Englishman did funny things to his stomach. Yes, he was officially, as Arthur would say, screwed.
Gel-man looked disheartened, his expression morphing into embarrassment at having just accosted a stranger for flirting tips. An odd sense of pity worked itself up in France's chest and as he stepped away he decided to impart his knowledge to the less flirtatiously gifted.
'Lose the hair gel. Use deodorant and cologne. Do NOT-'
France eyed the man's ripped jeans and scuffed Adidas trainers
'wear those. Ever. Throw them away'
Gel-man was nodding like every word said to him was sacred scripture from God, his hazel eyes wide and mouth a gaping 'O' in the way people tend to look when they're attempting to retain information very quickly.
'Wow I- thank-you!'
France chuckled and winked 'Good luck mon ami'
Feeling pretty pleased with himself the blonde haired man left the hustle and bustle of the store, the echoing 'good luck to you too!' ringing behind him as Gel-man finally gathered his thoughts together.
Good luck. Yes...he would be needing a lot of that.
It took around half an hour for France to walk home from the supermarket, his brow sticky and his body one massive ache by the time he was dropping his bags with a thunk on the doorstep, hands cut up and sore from the abrasive plastic bags digging into his pockets for a key. France's car was still at the repair shop – namely because France refused to let Arthur drive him there to collect it. There was no way he was risking death or mutilation for a Peugeot.
Shoving hard at the door that was sticking like a limpet to it's frame Francis finally with one large heave fell through the entryway, tripping over his own feet and lurching forward, hands scrabbling to find stability. Luckily or rather unluckily for the Frenchman stability came in the form of a rather pinched looking England, whom upon hearing the brutal attack being inflicted upon the door had promptly gone downstairs ready to scream blue murder at whoever was making such a racket.
Firm cold fingered hands steadied Francis' elbows, shaking him a little and pushing him backwards so that he could stand on the flats of his feet again.
'What the bloody hell are you doing?' Arthur demanded, eyebrows furrowed.
'The door would not open! I was...improvising!' France defended, lips sliding into a pout despite himself.
Looking sufficiently fed up yet not truly surprised at the Frenchman's predicament, the Briton, clad in brown linen trousers and a soft looking eggshell blue tee-shirt (he'd been stealing Francis' old clothes) moved forwards, all but elbowing his companion out the way to reach the shopping bags slumped against the stoop.
'Angleterre, there is no need- let me-'
'I'm fine. And more than bloody capable of lifting a bag of food' Arthur snapped, effectively cutting the blonde's words short.
And the shock of it was, as Francis stepped aside, standing idly by and feeling out of place in his own home, that Arthur really was fine. Or appeared to be at least.
His bruises had faded into a nothingness, leaving behind smooth alabaster skin that one could hardly guess used to look like a patchwork quilt of pain. England's hand, strained from going for Alfred at the last Arena Board meeting, was now also healed, giving Arthur back the agile fingers he now used to knit and crochet to pass the time. The Briton looked soft, homey, like he fit in being in France's house, stacking tins away in the pantry and humming disjointedly to himself. The Englishman's hair had a healthy shine to it at last, bringing out the lighter shades in the blonde, his eyes were no longer accompanied by dark circles and his lips even quirked up in an attempt at a smile on occasions.
Arthur was, for use of a better word, healthy. And if that didn't make France feel unbelievably relieved and also grossly ill at the same time he would be lying. It was undeniably brilliant that the Briton had and was still recovering, something that France feared would not happen easily, yet at the same time Arthur's albeit miraculous recovery was making Francis' insides feel like they were crumbling to dust. If England was healthy he was independent and if he was independent he didn't need France. He could leave.
Eyeing the Briton's green mini parked in the driveway, a source of an escape if the other man so pleased, France felt the indescribable urge to go out and destroy the machine, stab it's tires or rip out it's engine. Anything to get the Briton to stay a big longer.
'Shut the door you dolt! It's cold as hell out there!'
Turning his head a little at the Englishman's course yell Francis eyed the parked car up and down one last time before shutting the front door, double locking it for his own piece of mind.
Knowing that the Briton would likely yell at him for trying to help him with such a small menial task as putting the shopping away the long haired man went to perch on the edge of the sofa, knees spaced shoulder length apart, his chin resting in his cupped hands.
'I've put your croissants out on the side incase you wa-'
France looked up tiredly as the Englishman's words cut off, more than a little dubious as to why Arthur had stopped mid breath.
'Ah, merci Angleterre. That is most kind'
Rubbing a hand over his face France inhaled sharply through his nose before pushing his lips into a crooked grin.
Arthur hesitated, his feet rocking back and forwards a little, heel to toe, heel to toe, before he made a grumbling sound of frustration, seemingly directed at himself, and walked over directly to plant himself down on the couch next to Francis.
'Why are you looking at me as though I'm about to steal the Eiffel Tower?' England demanded, his emerald green eyes narrowing and his fingers laced upon his crossed legs.
Sucking his bottom lip up between his teeth and chewing on it Francis shrugged his shoulders a little, adopting nonchalance.
'I am not'
'Bull. Stop making alpaca face and tell me what the blazes is going on'
'Alpaca f- you remember that?' Francis shifted on the sofa, eyes wide and hopeful.
England's mouth openened a crack, his eyes skittering downwards.
'I- of course I do. It's a moronic face, who could forget that'
France wasn't particularly listening. His eyes felt hot, like they were burning with the difficulty he was having not bursting into tears. Arthur remembered their early days, hadn't completely dismissed them, and the fact he was willing to bring it up made Francis' bottom lip tremble.
'Don't you dare' England warned, catching on quickly as the full power of France's baby blues were turned on him.
'No, no, no, no, NO!' Arthur yelped, crushed under the sudden weight of dramatic wailing Frenchman.
'Oh, Arthur!!' Francis cooed, snuggling the flailing Briton into the couch, peppering his ever reddening face with smooching kisses.
'Get off you loon!!' a leg kicked out at France and hands bat at him but the defiance was pretty useless, the Frenchman just continuing his pursuit.
France reeled back suddenly. His heart lurched in his chest and he began to perspire. The taste of England's lips, the taste of earl grey and peppermint, swam around Francis' consciousness and he begged the Gods to drown in it. During his rabid infliction of affection he'd...missed. Daring to look down at the man below him, all long limbs and fluffed up golden hair, the longer haired man waited for death. Or a punch at least.
There was pressure underneath his knee and with realisation France lifted his leg slightly, watching as Arthur recovered his previously trapped hand. England was pointedly not looking at him, eyes secured on a piece of sofa cushion as though it held all the answers in the world. Slender fingers fluttered up to pink flushed lips, rubbing at the lower curve before the fingers bent and retracted, as though burnt by the feel.
'I am sorry; that was not my intention' France pushed out, heart a ticking bomb.
'Of course it was. It's always been your intention' came the muffled reply.
Green met blue, Arthur's face pinched, confused and vulnerable.
Francis' mouth flapped open and closed before he shook his head, hair dancing around his ears.
'Non. Not like this'
There's a stifled silence that falls then, France gingerly climbing off the Briton and going to potter around the living room, picking up odds and ends, rearranging vases of flowers and generally keeping busy and avoiding the situation at hand.
Mon dieu he was an idiot! A kiss was the last thing their fragile situation needed and now France had gone and put a spanner in the works. And Arthur insinuating he'd always been after him regardless of the Briton's feelings? Francis would happily have taken a beating right then and there so he wouldn't have to be conscious whilst Arthur packed his car and left, likely to never speak to him again.
Wallowing in his misery France almost missed the sensation of a slim fingered hand touching his elbow. Sighing, barely ready to face the inevitable, Francis let the strong gripped Briton turn him round.
A press of lips was what greeted the Frenchman, moulding to his own tenderly. A swipe of tongue and Francis opened his mouth on a shallow breath of surprise. England moved both his hands to clamp onto the sides of the elder man's face, his lips pulling away for a fleeting second before they were returning. The couple continued their lip lock, short closed lipped kisses morphing to heated long embraces with the hot press of tongues. Francis' arms wound round the Briton's hips, one hand splayed against the small of his back to keep him pressed close. Even though this was not their first embrace it still made France as giddy as if he were that young boy once more. Kissing Arthur was like a religious experience, filling him full of light and miraculous elation.
England shoved France back against the wall, the elder man not resisting, and pressed in close, the softness of his shirt tickling the Frenchman's chest where his button down was left open to the elements. The events that followed, when France reviewed them and replayed them countless times in his mind, caused him nothing but anguish, and it was that exact emotion the Frenchman was about to experience in the present day. Francis' hands, ever with a mind of their own, slid down and around to squeeze England's ass, one cheek in each hand. Arthur made a noise halfway between a groan and a huff of derision, his eyebrows furrowing to make one fluffy caterpillar upon his forehead.
There was something denying the Frenchman perfect access to the gorgeous peach that was England's derrière, a cylindrical bump close to the skin. France was pretty sure Arthur didn't have a skin condition but he couldn't stand the curiosity gnawing at him. Looking back France wished with everything he hadn't scratched that particular itch. Using his nimble fingers Francis was able to identify that the bulge was coming from the Briton's back left hand pocket. Seemingly catching on England froze, his lips pulling off of the Frenchman's, breath coming out in short anxiety ridden puffs against France's whiskered cheek.
It's a phone. Arthur's phone to be exact. The same one that Francis had securely (or so he'd thought) , locked away in his vanity box months before.
Pushing the frantic Englishman away France's gaze latched on to the device in his clenched fist. He was shaking like a static electric current as he swiped buttons and got up the countless messages and missed calls as well as those outgoing. All of them to that bastard-
'L'Amérique?' France's voice was a furious stammer.
'You have been in contact with that abusive ass?!' chest heaving with rage, bewilderment and distress France shook his head like a dog rapidly trying to dispel water from it's ears.
'I know all that you must be thinking of me right now-' Arthur said, hands up as if to placate the Frenchman.
'-you have been absolutely amazing to look after me all this time'
'Like a babysitter' Francis snipped, eyebrows low.
England shook his head 'like a friend' he corrected.
The Briton retracted his hands, wringing his fingers, obviously agitated. France could only watch, his whole being wracked with pain and betrayal.
'You...are you with him? Are you still with America?'
As much as he knew it would cripple him to hear the defining answer, the Frenchman, as was usually his downfall, couldn't stand not knowing.
Chewing his bottom lip before he released it again Arthur brushed off his clothes, straightened his posture and looked France dead in the eyes. That was the Briton's signature move when he was bolstering himself up for something. Francis had seen those gestures many a time before the commencement of battles.
No single word had ever destroyed the Frenchman quite like that one. It felt as though the atoms inside his body had decided to spontaneously combust, as though his bones had become jagged pieces of sharpened artillery bursting out of his ruptured flesh, like someone had taken a hot poker to his heart. And in that moment France realised. He would never be enough. He could bend over backwards offering support, shelter, food, companionship and aid, could get beaten to a pulp a thousand times, yet Arthur would always choose Alfred. The large eyebrowed man, standing before him wearing his clothes, smelling of his cologne and his shampoo would always fall down like a house of cards and return to the boy he'd loved and lost over 200 years ago.
Love made us weak, yet it was still an addiction.
Before Francis realised what was going on Arthur has stepped up close to him again, emerald eyes fixated on him. No sarcastic wit came to mind to save his pride as the Englishman leant forward to press a quivering kiss to France's rose coloured lips.
A goodbye. Francis could feel the finality of it down to his bones.
'Francis, I need you to lis-'
Large eyes blinked at him in confusion 'what?'
'I am done, Arthur. I...you must go'
'Now listen here-' England began, hands fluttering
'I said GO, Angleterre'
The two men stare each other down, tears itching at France's eyes as he desperately tries to maintain his composure.
'Please, I need you to go'
The anger that had seared through the Frenchman's veins mere moments before had now turned to a chilling shot of loneliness. His whole body felt like a weighted block, disappearing down to the depths of the ocean.
Whether Arthur could see that or not was unclear yet he jerkily moved away, the lost and haunted look back in his bright green eyes. A crash. England had kicked over the coffee table, his hands clutched to his head and his knees buckled before after a tense few seconds he grabbed ahold of his last remaining shreds of strength and disappeared up the staircase.
France didn't move, his ears attuned to the creak of the floorboards and banging of doors as the love of his life packed to leave him for another.
France couldn't have told you to save his life it if it had been thirty minutes or even thirty seconds before Arthur reappeared, changed into his suit from the last Arena Board meeting, his car keys clenched in his fist and an expression of pained disbelief upon his features. If someone were to have told the Frenchman that he'd died in that instant he likely would've believed them. It felt as if his soul had vacated his body and was clinging desperately to the Briton's ankles, his empty vessel of a body standing there a limp fleshly lump, devoid of purpose and staring with fixated glassy eyes upon the golden haired man who approached it.
The tension between them was static, the air charged as though sympathetic to their situation. England moved to walk past France, his face stony with the effort of concealing emotion, yet he paused, jolted back as though pulled by an invisible string. Francis could see Arthur in his peripheral vision, stood just about an inch from him, and he had to use every ounce of strength he had left not to buckle at the knees right then and there.
'Will I...will I ever see you again?'
The question sounded odd coming from the Englishman, as though the delicate combination of words belonged to the lips of a small boy and not to one of the strongest nations in the world.
Not once had Francis ever said no to Arthur when he was in need, not once had he ever pushed the other man away when he seemed to ache for comfort, not once had he ever wanted England not to want him. Their relationship had been built up with duct pins and safety pins, 'maybe' their safe word, another link in the seemingly never-ending chain that connected the two of them through thick and thin. Always a way out. Never facing up to the inevitability of the loss that would one day come.
France isn't sure who was more surprised, himself or England. The tie between the two, frayed and splintered, finally broke with a force that both felt down to their bones.
A step, a click of a lock, a slam. A deafening silence. A deep rumble of a car's engine and the screech of tires.
Two bangs from the exhaust pipe. Two shots to Francis' heart.
His legs, liquefied jelly now, failed to hold the Frenchman up any longer. A broken wail escaped Francis' throat, tears like burning acid falling down the man's alabaster skin and into his cupped hands.
It was over. It was finally over.
TO BE CONCLUDED...