When Arthur settled into the chair, Francis sighed.
It was a very particular kind of sigh, one that spoke of weary hardship and made Arthur bristle on principle.
French. Of course the new lead hair 'artist' hired by the fashion house was French. And he was through and through a typical frog; foppish, arrogant and a horrible flirt. Arthur hated him, and thankfully the feeling was mutual.
"Well?" he snapped after a moment, craning his neck to glare up at Francis. "We don't have all day you know!"
"Someday," Francis said, perfectly calmly. "You are going to move at the wrong moment and I am going to cut off your ear. I shant be sorry." He wrapped his slender hands around Arthur's jaw, bony fingers sliding along the model's smooth throat and thumbs brushing the backs of the threatened ears as he firmly turned Arthur's head back around to face forward.
(Arthur tried not to shiver at those surprisingly strong - French! - fingers sliding back away from his jaw and through his hair.)
He was about to offer a burning retort when one of the make up artists - a young Polish man with more 'gay' in his manicured nails than most of the models put together - strode up to stand in front of Arthur with his hands on his hips. Arthur groaned, steeling himself for a great deal of discomfort. Feliks seemed to take personal offense to Arthur's rather formidable eyebrows.
"Like, don't be a total baby," Feliks pursed his lips and came at him with the tweezers, and Arthur resisted the urge to roar.
"...I don't see why I need you anyway," he ground out in Francis' direction, trying to ignore the sharp tugging at his eyebrows. "Don't you have some bird you can go coif? My hair always looks like this!"
Francis sighed again, that supremely put-upon sigh that made Arthur want to hit him. "Rosbif, your hair may look like this when you first roll out of bed, but it takes a lot of hairspray to get it to stay that way, particularly under hot stage lights. That is my art, just as peacocking down the runway is yours."
"Peacocking?!" Arthur tried to yell, but Feliks was attacking him with foundation powder and he ended up sputtering instead.
Francis just shook his head, tugging at the shorter locks of hair at the nape of Arthur's neck, then smoothing them down where he wanted them. "He's all yours, Feliks, I've got a waiting line of 'birds' who appreciate me far more than this oaf ever can."
"Right behind you, Frannie!" Feliks called cheerfully, and by the time the powder had cleared from Arthur's eyes, Francis had moved on.
Francis had to admit - no, had always admitted - that Arthur was attractive.
He was a model, after all, how could he not be?
But Francis would admit as well that he found Arthur personally attractive. (Which was not to say he found his personality attractive.) Arthur had a certain... something. A lithe body and lovely abs, an ass that could rival Antonio's and the blessing of perfect skin and naturally tousled hair (though thank God the tousled look was 'in' right now. Francis would have found it a much greater challenge to his art to get Arthur's hair to look anything except tousled).
But beyond the physical, there was something more to Arthur Kirkland, something that Francis couldn't quite put his finger on. Something in Arthur's eyes that Francis kept reaching for, but could never quite catch.
It was only natural, of course. They never crossed paths outside of fashion shows. On a normal work day, Francis worked in the basement of the fashion house, pouring over designs with the other stylists and designers and artists, bantering about colour and cut and angle, hands weaving visions in the air. Arthur worked (if you could call it that) high above, strutting about and looking pretty while being ruthlessly picked over by the executives and grumped at by his handler.
Francis supposed it was fate. Their lives were much too far apart for anything to ever come of it.
"Fran, you should totes come drinking with us,"
Francis waved a hand languidly over his shoulder, not bothering to look up from where he was bent over his drawing board. The executives were getting rather ambitious; they'd managed to pull in a major designer for their spring line, and if she liked whatever designs Francis came up with it could land him a spot as lead hair designer.
"Sorry Feliks, working late."
A pair of slender arms that certainly weren't Feliks' twined around his waist, a pointed chin digging into his shoulder until Francis shifted enough to shrug him off. "C'mon Frannie, we never have any fun anymore."
Francis couldn't help the smile that pulled at his lips, and he turned his head to press a chaste kiss against pale jaw. "I mean it, Gil. Inspiration's been sparse, and you know I always work best late at night."
"Your loss," Gilbert breathed in his ear, and Francis shivered, but shrugged him off anyway. He hadn't gotten this far (or been friends with Gilbert this long) without learning how to resist him.
"I know, mon ami. Take your girlfriend out, have a good time. I'll see you in the morning."
"If you're still in the same clothes I'm gonna take drastic measures, y'know," Gilbert warned over Feliks' loud laughter. But he obeyed, draping his arm around Feliks' shoulders, and the two of them left the basement. Francis listened to their retreating footsteps, staring unseeing at the designs in front of him as the building settled into silence and stillness and night.
(And somewhere high above, Arthur Kirkland leaned his forehead against a cool glass window, watching the city lights flicker and dance as he lit another cigarette in silence.)
"It's Francis Bonnefoy, isn't it?"
Arthur paused, one foot off the ground as he hung in balance, in pivot.
"Yes ma'am, that's me."
The frog sounded excited about something. Arthur put his foot back down without taking the intended step, slipping into the outer office and easing himself into the shadows instead. Their usual lead designer was out for the season on maternity leave, and the executives had been all in a buzz lately about her replacement. Apparently the new designer was here today to look the facilities over and interview potential assistants. Arthur hadn't been aware the frog's name was on that list.
"I have to say, Monsieur Bonnefoy, I'm impressed with your work," the designer sounded sweet, and Arthur wrinkled his nose. She didn't sound like someone who could survive in the cut-throat world of fashion, but it wasn't Arthur's place to judge. "You have a very unique style."
"Merci, mademoiselle. Truly, I'm grateful that you've even given me this opportunity. I feel I can be a real asset to your spring line." Arthur was a little weirded out by the lack of flirtatious honey in the frog's tone. Usually he'd be flirting to high heaven by now, but instead he just seemed... not unlike himself, but... more like himself, Arthur realized after a moment. Still with the passion and drive and that weird love for hair (good grief, it's just hair), but without all the play-acting and sniping that he usually engaged in. It was... enlightening. And a little disturbing, as far as Arthur was concerned. He started to slip out into the hall again, but the designer's next words gave him pause.
"I like how well you characterized these drawings. Usually hair artists send me sketches of fully detailed styles on faceless ovals; they may as well be sitting on wig heads. But you drew in the faces too. Did you base them on anyone you know?"
"Ah," Francis' voice had an odd note in it, one Arthur couldn't hope to place. "Some of them. I feel that... the most beautifully styled hair in the world is useless if it does not suit the person who wears it."
("It is a good thing it suits you," Francis shook his head in despair, sometime around a year ago. "God help me if I try to give you anything but a bird's nest on your head.")
Arthur left as quickly as he could while still being quiet, wondering why he felt so overheated.
Francis never brought people to his flat anymore, not even Antonio and Gilbert. Matthew, yes, sometimes, but Matthew was his cousin and required to like him even if he thought Francis was a little strange.
Francis felt, sometimes, a little strange.
Because somehow, without his really noticing or giving his permission, his flat had begun to accumulate... things.
Mostly Arthur Kirkland things.
One wall in his living room, across from where he usually sat to sketch, had slowly been covered over by glossy magazine paper; photoshoots and covers and one poster he'd slunk out to buy in shame and one cherished photograph he'd stolen from Antonio.
That photograph was tacked up all by itself in the center, and sometimes Francis would lose himself in staring at it, because it was so different. He didn't know when it was taken or what the circumstances were. It looked like a bar or restaurant somewhere, not that it mattered.
What mattered was Arthur Kirkland, a little off center because apparently Antonio had intended to make the subject of the picture Lovino Vargas, who in the picture sat next to Arthur with his Armani suit and Gucci tie and fantastic scowl. And for once he must have stolen all the scowl from Arthur, because beside him the other model was laughing, laughing at whatever Lovino was snarling, and so Francis made that picture the center of whatever this new obsession with Arthur Kirkland was.
That picture was the only time Francis had ever seen him smile.
In the summer, Francis left.
The new spring line had been tremendously popular, and many of the reviews at least mentioned how well the hair styles of the models blended with the fashion itself, extended it rather than simply added on. Francis had nearly fainted when the designer - Miss Zwingli, adorable and sweet and ruthless when she had to be - had offered him a full-time position as the head artist at her own house, with a starting salary he could only gawk at.
He would have been a fool to turn her down, and he was no fool.
Arthur hated his hairdresser.
Whenever Arthur sat down, she said nothing, too busy thinking ahead to the next three or four or seven models she had to prepare while her hands seemed to fly through Arthur's hair. It made him nervous, the silence. He'd never realized how much bantering with Francis helped to calm him before a show.
"Dude, chillax," the obnoxious American gopher intern had told him numerous times, with an eye roll and an offer of a donut. (Arthur never accepted; he had to watch his weight, after all. Except for once, but that had been a special case.) "You're gonna drop dead of a heart attack or something."
Arthur bit back a snarling retort. There wasn't time to pick a fight, he had to go peacock.
One night about six months after Francis left, curious now despite himself, Arthur made his way down into the basement of the fashion house.
This was a place he had never been; a place of twisting corridors lined with bolts of fabric and shadowy mannequins, brightly painted doorways and personal spaces filled with colour and light. He wandered for what seemed like a very long time, squinting in the half darkness before he finally came upon what he was looking for.
No one had been hired yet to replace Francis, and so the tiny shoebox office was still empty. It had been cleaned out of personal things, of course, but Arthur leaned in the doorway and could almost see Francis hunched over the desk, the fluorescent light glowing off his hair as those strong, bony hands sketched out ideas and dreams.
Arthur bit his lip and turned to go, then paused when something on the floor caught his eye. He crouched to pull out the folded paper that had been laying half under the edge of the desk. Francis or someone must have dropped it when they were cleaning out the office, and it had fluttered out of sight and never been retrieved.
Arthur unfolded the curiously heavy, slightly textured paper and stared.
He was staring at... himself, surly expression, narrowed eyes, bushy eyebrows and all. It was clearly a design sheet; his hair had been given far more attention than his face, but there were still enough details sketched in that made it clear it was, in fact, Arthur Kirkland. And now, Arthur could see what Miss Zwingli had meant all those months ago, when she said that Francis' designs had character.
Arthur sat on the floor in the dusty basement office for a long time, then slowly pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. His fingers almost felt numb as he fished out Miss Zwingli's card. She'd pressed it into his hand with a warm smile six months ago, on her last day before she went back to her own studio. He'd wanted to ask her why, since he already had her card, but she'd swept away before he could.
Now he flipped the card over, fumbled with his mobile and dropped it, cursing, before he managed to actually open it and dial the number that was scrawled on the back.
He nearly hung up when it rung in his ear, the drawing of himself clenched hard enough that it was crumpling the edges.
There was a click on the other end, and Arthur cursed his own stupidity. Of course it was going to go over to voicemail, it was after midnight! Grumbling to himself and fighting the urge to just hang up, Arthur waited for the voicemail message to come through.
It never did.