In all honesty, France found he had a certain fondness for the scratching of a quill on parchment. There were times it did produce some unseemly racket, but the scratching was romantic. Being the embodiment of all things romantic (in any sense of the word), France never truly found himself aggravated by it for very long. The multi-colored plume wisped to-and-fro as his hand glided oh-so-elegantly across the parchment, the ink leaving behind a rather beautiful pattern of letters in its wake. The drying ink could still reflect the flickering light of the lamp beside him, and every so often, France could hear the flame jump. It was the combination of these two sounds that France would never find maddening, and always adore.
He wasn't entirely positive just how long he'd been writing, though as he could barely recall what he'd been scribing, it had clearly been long enough to be as fatigued as he was. It took a moment to remember, but he was sure he'd been writing out some random, poetic inspiration that had found its way through his hand. His setting was certainly fitting enough, he supposed…. Dimmed lights from the flames in fireplaces and lamps danced on his dark, sepia walls to provide a soft, yet passionate lighting. A fine rug lay in the center of the wood flooring, its design rather enchanting upon inspection. His desk, and the other tables in the room were of hard, dark oak, matched by frames of paintings and portraits that hung here-and-there in the room. Maroon drapery hung from the windows, and it was this color that would match that of one of his newer possessions: An antique sofa from Versailles. Outside, the night sky beyond his windows was made of healthy shades of dark blues, accentuated by the street lamps. In the back of his mind, the constant, dull drumming of the rain provided a source of solidity to keep him going.
Catching his attention, the time rang through the room. The chimes from the grandfather longcase clock sitting in the corner rang twice. Surely it wasn't already past midnight? With a slightly disgruntled look, France forced a small bit of energy through himself: Just enough to glance over the last several lines he'd written to make sure there were no glaring mistakes before retiring to bed. Admittedly, they didn't look quite as nice as he may have hoped. Ink was smudged more liberally than he would normally allow when completely attentive, and he wasn't even going to try and make out what that word was, scribbled there at the end…. France let out a yawn. It was late, and his bed was calling. With these last vestiges of energy, he scrawled a small note on the paper, marking where he needed to make changes. Just as he finished crossing that last T with a dignified flourish, a knock came drifting from down the corridor and into the parlor he sat in.
France sat up a little straighter, and flicked his eyes towards the room's door, wondering who on earth could be calling at this hour. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It was true; he'd had his late-night visits, but those were, contrary to popular belief, few and far-between, let alone at all recent. A bit of a groan escaped him as he attempted patting a bit more life into his face. Another knock sounded, slightly louder, and with a bit of a sigh, he scraped his chair back. As he walked down the corridor, he made sure to straighten out his coat to something a little more presentable (Not that he was ever unpresentable: He was France, after all), and tucked a few strands of fallen hair behind an ear.
The door was in sight when the third set of knocks came. These were much, much louder, and in quicker succession; far more insistent, now. His rolled his eyes with a shake of his head, though he cleared his throat and allowed himself a smooth grin as he opened the door.
"Bonsoir, et bienvenue à—!"
France cut himself off with a gasp, staring in disbelief at the figure before him: Dark hair clung to the newcomer's face, being soaked with the rain. It only brought his pale skin out even more, darkening his green eyes. His build was similar to France's, perhaps a little stronger, and along his jaw was a slight bit of scruff. He was drenched, despite wearing (an admittedly unfashionable) duster.
Scotland. Someone whose presence he'd not been graced with for some time. What shocked France was not that Scotland had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, or looked as though he was busy trying to give himself pneumonia. Rather, what shocked France were Scotland's eyes. While France could admit that all of the British brothers had brilliantly striking eyes of green, to see Scotland's looking so dark and glossed over was extremely unsettling. Scotland was a nation that, even if beaten down, never actually stopped fighting, or lost spirit; so for it to seem as if the rain had extinguished that flame, even if only temporarily, sent a rather unpleasant tremor through France. For France and all of his ideals, this was something akin to a crime, and bothered him more than he'd like to admit.
Doing as he normally did, welcoming people into his home with a more interested choice of words, didn't seem to be appropriate for this. Instead, his voice commanded a softer, even if slightly raspy, tone.
"Q-qu' est-ce que…. Écosse, what are you doing here?"
Scotland never responded, or moved. He just stood there looking … somewhere. Forward, it seemed, but his gaze failed to look concrete. What was worse, was that France couldn't tell if all that was rain running down Scotland's face, or if something else had conveniently snuck through and camouflaged itself amongst the rivulets of rain.
"I…" France began. Words, however, seemed futile, as he couldn't tell if Scotland was paying much attention to them. With a flippant sigh, he gave a shrug and said, "Écosse, I swear—what would you do without me?" He tried to offer a light-hearted grin, grabbing securely at Scotland's arm to usher him inside. Scotland did as was expected, without even a glance to France. Adversely, France's eyes never once left Scotland's person as he passed by into the house. The contrast between the welcoming warmth of France's home, and the dreary sorrow seeming to radiate from Scotland was too great to simply ignore, but also a little too intimidating to confront. Accompanying the depression Scotland carried was fatigue: Something France had recently found himself defining more than he'd liked. Feeling the shock of such heavy emotion startled France into realizing that perhaps exhaustion from a little late-night writing was simply not comparable to whatever plagued Scotland.
Sleep no longer seemed like such a feasible goal for either of them.
The door shut and locked, France stilled; just for a moment. Still he regarded Scotland, though Scotland didn't seem too intent on doing much more than stand there and breathe (imperceptible though it was). Another silent sigh left France, and he dusted his hands off on the hip of his jacket. Gently, so as to keep things at a comfortable lull, France cleared his throat.
"Perhaps you would like something to drink?" he asked. "It is a cold night, and I'm sure something warm would be delightful. I will go fetch some coffee. You do drink coffee, yes?"
Scotland didn't respond, too busy raking his hands through his sopping hair. He did, however, wince a bit at the mention of 'coffee.' France's lips twitched into a small grin.
"Very well," France ceded after a silent moment. "I trust you may find your way to the parlor to sit and make yourself comfortable."
At this point, France wasn't sure if the small grunt of affirmation was real or imagined, but regardless of what it was, he took it as his cue to venture towards the kitchen. Swiftly, he prepared a pot of water to boil—tea it would be.
The unconscious desire that Scotland would relax floated around the back of his mind, and he hoped that the drink would help at least a little. Tea was meant to do that, right? At least it was a better alternative to coffee, which would likely have ended up keeping them both awake for another several hours, if not until dawn. Even so, Scotland looked to be needing help, and who was France to withhold assistance from an ally—
Was Scotland an ally, anymore…? Was he even a friend? What with how certain things had played out in the last, say, almost 300 years: A broken alliance, executions, revolutions, unions…. France wasn't entirely sure what their relationship was anymore. Near the end of their alliance, when France first took Mary, there was definitely something the two of them shared; something that was levels beyond the bonds borne in an alliance. It was something that he and Scotland only briefly contemplated, and something they had entertained together only once, or twice. It was certainly something France wouldn't have minded continuing on, but it was no fault of his that nothing had really become of it, and he knew why it had come to a stumbling halt.
He knew that somewhere deep down, Scotland felt guilty for the end of their alliance; for the treaty Elizabeth threw at Mary's mother, and Mary herself. That guilt estranged them until Mary's execution which, in the end, estranged them only further. Now, with Scotland in a complete union with his brothers…. France acted offhandedly about it all, as if none of it bothered him. He never showcased much concern for any of it, but again—could he be blamed? He was sure Scotland was, by now, over the guilt of it, but concerning him further would be just cruel, wouldn't it?
The water caught his attention, the pot whistling a truly screeching pitch to jar him from his thoughts. He swiftly removed the water from the heat, and prepared their tea upon a nice, silver tray before waltzing out towards the parlor. With a slight bit of exaggerated display, he put on another grin as he stepped into the room. "Je suis retournée, mon cher Écosse. Did you miss me?" With delicate poise, France set the tray he held down upon the table before the lavish sofa he'd mentally admired just moments ago, and then stood straight. With an air befitting aristocracy, France swept the loose strands of hair from his front, still grinning. He hoped to lighten the atmosphere, and hopefully Scotland would find the theatrics at least slightly amusing.
"Hnn…?" Was the only sound (and this time it definitely was not imagined) to come from Scotland. It was almost a bored tone, indicating that France was in for a hard night.
If only it could have been. France had looked up to see Scotland sitting—no, lounging!—upon a particular piece of furniture. At first it hadn't registered. Scotland was sitting on the sofa, as was expected. His clothing, ghillie, hose, kilt, and all, looked to be a bit damp, but it would be understandable. That was all fine, but there were a few bothersome things that France decided to focus on: Scotland hadn't bothered to take off his muddied shoes, or at least keep them on the ground. He was simply making himself right at home on France's sofa, with a muddied foot resting upon it!
Never before had France been so glad to have set something down before assessing a situation; the tea would have been everywhere as his hands flew up to clutch at his heart. "Get—get off!" he demanded quickly, reaching to grab at the sleeve of Scotland's ghillie. He gave a rough yank, earning a quick, "Hey!" but not particularly caring if Scotland was offended. France was offended! Scotland had no right to be!
"I invite you into my home from the cold and rain, and this is how you repay me?!" he fretted, gesturing towards the sofa. "Placing your filthy feet upon this antique? This sofa is from Versailles, I will have you know!" France gave a few more notes of rant, while Scotland stared on in confusion. Finally the ranting ended, and France pulled a kerchief out to get as much mud off of the fabric as he could. Crouching down and inspecting the slighted spot, he supposed it wasn't too bad, but still…. "I know that England is rather rough around the edges, but honestly! He has more manners than you in such matters…!" he mumbled. "Crude…."
It didn't take long to get any excess mud, and he hoped to God that none had soaked through. He would simply have to bar certain rooms from Scotland when he visited, was all.
"Hmm," was the amused sound that now came from Scotland. France didn't stop his ministrations on the cushion of the sofa, but he did listen intently. "That's just like yeh, isnae? Yeh've not changed a bit."
For a moment – just for a brief moment – France paused internally. It had been quite a while since he'd heard Scotland's voice, and hearing it now sent something of a jolt down his spine. He realized how absent that voice had been, and now there was Scotland, in France's home. There was Scotland, his voice unchanged. Hearing it was refreshing, after so many years. Hell, to see Scotland after so long was shocking enough. Yet, that voice, that rough, accented, unrefined voice, was just enough to actually make France realize just how much he may have missed Scotland.
And he had missed him a lot; much more than he would ever have cared to admit.
The fabric under France's fingers was as clean as he was going to get it. Sighing, he stood, ready to turn, but Scotland got there first, resting his forehead upon France's shoulder.
Correction: Slamming his forehead upon France's shoulder.
France stilled, the shock from the hit still traveling through him and leaving a small trail of pain behind it. Carefully France turned his neck, nudging Scotland's head from his shoulder. "Do you think that perhaps," he began with a staccato. Scotland looked back, just a little bit perplexed, as France continued. "You might give some warning before hitting that thick skull of yours upon one's shoulder? Better yet, not assaulting others in such a manner, at all?"
Rubbing his affronted shoulder, France's gaze met Scotland's. France's wasn't quite a glare, and Scotland's wasn't very upset, but neither of them would relent right away. Then France gave an exasperated sigh, waving his hand dismissingly. "Go on and sit elsewhere. Preferably somewhere not on my sofa!"
Scotland rolled his eyes, walking to the desk France had recently sat at. France had no issues with this, at first, then remembered what lay before that seat. His poetry. He knew that Scotland's French wasn't the best, but he wasn't bad, and he could translate rather well. France's heart jumped slightly at this.
"N-no…!" he blurted. "Not … not there!" He rushed over, defending the desk as he threw himself into the small, remaining space between it and Scotland. He was close to Scotland, and it took a little bit of effort to keep the heat away from his face. He bit at his tongue to try and keep a straight expression.
The expression on Scotland's face truly was endearing, and actually … kind of adorable, in France's opinion. "…Why can I not sit there?"
"It … it is cursed!" France fibbed.
"Dinnae be tellin' me you have a Busby's Chair—!"
"Of course not! I simply … would rather you sit somewhere else…!"
Scotland closed his eyes and shook his head with a sigh before glancing about the room. France suspected it was all done in a sarcastic manner—a suspicion proved correct when Scotland's eyebrows quirked up and he said, "And where exactly would that be?" He made a small show of looking around once more. "That and the sofa are the only places I see tae sit."
Two could play this game. France straightened himself, bringing himself just a bit closer to Scotland than he already was. His feet were apart, and hands rested assuredly on either hip. "There is a floor," he said slowly, with a haughty tone.
Again they were in a staring contest, but this one made France feel … the slightest bit uncomfortable, especially given their proximity. Well…! He wouldn't be so rude if Scotland had just kept his feet on the floor! Yet, Scotland didn't seem too troubled at the attitude being thrown at him. Rather, he looked to allow the barest hint of a grin, and went to sit on the open bay-window's sill.
France allowed himself a long look. Still it rained outside, the water running down the glass of his window. It blurred Paris's lights into soft, yellow glows, and something about the picture made Scotland blend in with the background. It was a rather serene view, but also quite disconcerting. Scotland looked tired, stressed, and France wondered what to do about it, if anything. The tea sat, cooling and forgotten, on the table, as France cleared his throat.
"It has been quite some time since we last met, and I have not heard proper news from you in over half a year," he prompted. Scotland shot his gaze over just briefly, then returned his eyes before him, and closed them. This would be much more difficult than France thought. Why did Britons insist on being so stubborn…. Those brothers were more alike than they, and others, would like to think…. "Unfortunately, most I hear of the isles is of activity in London, and thusly, nos cher Angleterre. It is not him I am interested in, however. Mostly, I am concerned for you."
A nice contrast to the cool, blue tones finally rose in Scotland's face. First his ears turned pink, then the color began to blotch its way over his nose in bright spots. He looked out the window.
"Och, yeh've nothing tae worry about! Why're yeh so worried?"
"You came all the way to Paris—"
"I'm allowed tae visit my friends!"
"I know when you are lying, Scotland."
Scotland flinched at the Anglicized name. Yes: France was being serious now, and he fixed Scotland with a narrowed stare that never wavered as he took his own seat on the sofa. "You come calling at an ungodly hour, with no word of warning. Not only that, you do so in the pouring rain. Adding on the fact that while Edinburgh and Paris are not very far apart, to do so at this hour—in the rain, and crossing the channel—I can only assume something is wrong."
Scotland remained quiet, but he glared out of the window, almost like a reprimanded child who'd had his favorite toy taken away. "I wasnae in Edinburgh; I was in London."
France paused. "Then England did or said something. It must have been bad; I know you can take worse hits than Rosbif's words."
"It wasnae his words—well, it was, but…." His hands came up to rake through and grab at his hair. "Who said he had anything tae do with this?!"
This time France grinned fondly, crossing his legs. "Well, you've essentially admitted it, Chéri."
"I'm just tired, is all."
France threw Scotland confused look. "Tired?" he asked. "That is—that is the only reason you came here? Because you are tired?"
France stared, and eventually Scotland stared back like it was nothing. He tried to work it out in his head, he really did, but France was just evermore confused. "I refuse to believe that."
Scotland shrugged. "'S'the truth."
Tired. France shook his head as he recalled the tea. It would still likely be warm, but not enjoyably so. "No, it is not." France rested his head on a delicately folded hand, leaning against the arm of the sofa. "If you were tired, you would have asked for a bed by now. If you were tired, you would have stayed home—"
"London is not my home!" Scotland snapped.
France rolled his eyes. "I am aware. I simply meant—oh, never mind! Tell me why you are here! My patience grows thin."
"If yeh want me out, just tell me!"
"I don't! Where did you pull that one from, and why are you becoming so defensive?! Take a breath, and just tell me what is wrong!" France yelled back. It was another moment before he spoke again. "I am not going to judge you, nor turn you back out to the night, Scotland."
Regardless of the temperature, France picked up his cup of tea and drank from it. He could wait all night if he had to. Admittedly, he felt almost somewhat obliged to. In their alliance, Scotland was usually the more giving one. Not that France hadn't fulfilled his own part, of course, but Scotland was always more excited to help, lending his guards out, and camping out wherever he needed to if it meant protecting France or his king. France, meanwhile, hadn't often displayed such excitement when doing for Scotland as Scotland had done for him. He'd never often mirrored the thankfulness Scotland had ever shown. Part of him felt guilty about it, but at the same time, that was just who he was. Scotland understood that, right? He would have said something otherwise, though the silent assurance made France feel no less guilty, however. His heart squeezed, and as he took another sip of tea, he came back around to thinking about having missed Scotland.
Conflicted feelings flew back and forth within him. He had missed Scotland something terrible, and yet there that same man was, being defensive against France's concern! Perhaps France's concern wouldn't be so foreign if Scotland would have simply returned France's letters more than he had. France had sent letters rather often, and of those letters, Scotland had responded to only a handful of them. His responses were only ever comprised of short messages, with nothing of import truly mentioned. With each fruitless response, with each pointless visit he'd made, France grew steadily more annoyed. It was as if Scotland was avoiding him, which France was not appreciative of.
He didn't miss him just because he was gone. He missed him because … well, Scotland was gone. Everything that Scotland had been was gone. Friend, ally, lover, partner; it didn't matter what he was categorized as. Scotland had made France happy; happy just to see and be with him, regardless of anything else. Then he'd disappeared, and now reappeared with absolutely no warning. How was France supposed to react to that? It was almost unfair. Had Scotland not missed him, in return?
It upset France to think this. He was the nation d'amour—of love! Even if it wasn't romantic, he shouldn't have been so baffled at being unable to determine Scotland's feelings. He thought to Scotland's expressions, the few words he'd uttered; his movement, his tone. It all pointed to one thing, but his concern drowned the inevitable, and France was left wondering Scotland's opinion, and questioning his own ability to figure this out.
"It's England," Scotland finally said. "Well…. It's everythin'. Just everythin', includin' England. I really am tired, I wasnae lying." Scotland's hand came up to cover his face, slowly sliding down a moment later. "These last couple decades … this last one in particular … are just drainin'." His eyes widened, and he rose his arms in disbelief. "Yeh ken they called me intae court?! Soddin' parliament. D'yeh ken what they wanted me tae do?! They wanted me tae go 'round tae the clans, and tell 'em tae get out. Me! Tell my own people tae leave! They actually called me tae court for this. England said—" Scotland cleared his throat to do a half-hearted impression of his brother. (It really was amusing, France thought, and he had to stop himself from chuckling.) "'Well you know there will be issues if I were to go, or a member of my parliament. It must be you.' I cannae recall ever wantin' tae hurt him so badly. And now, with the famine…. It's not the worst we've gone through, but it's still a famine, and no one's happy. I'm sick of it all, and Hell, dinnae get me started on the Kirk." Again he covered his face, groaning into his hands. "I'm so tired of it all."
France wasn't chuckling anymore, nor was he really at all amused. Rather, he leaned forward on the sofa, a hand gripping at the table. "That is an awful lot to go through in just 10 years, Scotland…!"
"Compared to you?" He barked out a laugh. "You cannae even get a stable form of government goin'—"
"We are not talking about me," France hissed out. He stood quickly. "Though if that is the new topic, may I point out—"
Scotland jumped up, now, shouting back, "Don't yeh dare!"
"Oh, I will dare!" he said, though he wouldn't. He stalked over towards Scotland, shoving a finger to his chest. "Why is it I only now hear of this?!" he demanded. "That is ridiculous, Scotland! What do you mean, telling you to move your people?!"
"Clearances of the highlands—"
"Clearances for what?!"
"New agricultural program—"
France snickered. "Idée merveilleux, during a famine. Why have you not sent for help?!"
"I have!" Scotland retorted, trying to push France off of him. "Fuckin' Christ, I'm not dyin'." He rolled his eyes.
It was that moment, watching Scotland, and feeling his chest rise and fall beneath his finger, that France finally admitted It to himself.
It was something he'd certainly hated discovering time and time again since last he'd seen Scotland. It went beyond missing him. Somewhere within France, in his heart, he knew It was there, lurking, just waiting to finally finish its game of hide-and-seek. He knew It was there, and he knew what It was. Admitting it, though? That was something else entirely, and, honestly, a little scary. Having a relationship with someone – anyone, with any kind of relationship – meant that there was something that needed to keep it going. With Scotland, France wasn't at all positive if he had that something, but at the same time he had never been more confident about it. It was different with Scotland. With others, it didn't matter. They arrived, they stayed, they left. They were of no more importance than if France's coats were made of blue hues or green hues. (In all honesty, though, blues did tend to look better.) Looking at Scotland, more than just looking at him, France silently ceded It to himself, and his heart began beating much, much faster.
Scotland, meanwhile, seemed to relax. He sighed, a content grin on his face as he grabbed France's hand and moved it from himself. "I'll be fine. Stop worryin' yourself; yeh might get wrinkles, and we cannae have that, can we?" A second later, he covered his eyes. "I shouldnae've come, and keep yeh awake. Feel like a—"
It didn't matter that their personal contact hadn't been in quite some time. It didn't matter that it was unannounced—not to France. He grabbed Scotland under his jaw, and pressed his lips to Scotland's. Not hard, not soft—the pressure was actually … almost awkward. If not awkward, certainly surprising enough to push Scotland back down onto the sill.
France could hear Scotland's haggard breathing right in his ear; apparently this was a precursor: Scotland began to struggle against France, who obliged but for a moment before he was pushed back with force that he'd forgotten Scotland had. France's action had been sudden, but … it certainly hadn't been the first time they'd shared a kiss; a simple one, at that. For Scotland to get so flustered about it, he had no idea what it was supposed to have meant. So instead he sat there against the wall opposite Scotland's, peering down at the space before them. Scotland's hand rested there, dry skin and callouses under a layer of dirt. (Dirt that was likely in Scotland's hair now, now that France thought about it….)
"The bloody fuck, France!" he snapped. "What d'yeh think yeh're doin'?!"
Most of France's hair had fallen out of its tie by now, the ribbon holding on by only a few strands. The slightest movement could knock it free at any time.
"What am I doing?" France retorted. "I am reminding you that I am here! You never seem able to ask my assistance, while I call for yours like it is nothing!" He leaned forward some, watching as Scotland leaned back as much as he could. "You did the same thing in the 17th century—"
"Things were a wee bit hectic, then!"
"Things are always hectic for us, as you so kindly pointed out about me just a minute ago!" France nearly yelled. Scotland's eyes were slowly widening as France leaned closer still. "It is no excuse! It makes no difference, in the end. You are still important to me, Écosse. I don't want to see you struggling, though Lord knows your—your humble nature would never allow greater comfort!" he spat.
This time when their eyes met, France's really were angry, though scared and sad, while Scotland's were filled with surprise and something walking the thin line between joy and fear. "Écosse. Scotland…." France's upset resolve began to fall the longer he looked into Scotland's eyes, and his hands gripped at Scotland's ghillie like it was the only thing to keep France going: "I have never once not been concerned or worried for you and your well-being," he admitted. "Not once. Not once have I told you I love you, but not once did I ever not love you."
It amazed France to admit that saying such things aloud made him feel not only more vulnerable, but also relieved. He released a deep breath, bowing his head down. Still he was concerned about where Scotland's feelings stood: He didn't want to be the only one alone with these feelings. His hands gripped tighter at Scotland's shirt, grasping at it as though it would provide him with the words he needed. It slowly continued to consume him, until he felt a hand set upon his head.
He looked up, just in time to find his lips once again locked with Scotland's. Scotland was much more insistent this time, holding him firmly. One hand held his head in place, the other wrapped around to grip at his back, and France let him. He kissed Scotland back, more passionate than before and pushing him back some. The ribbon holding his hair back finally tumbled to the floor beneath him, his hair now falling around his face. It didn't bother him at all, or deter him, and he didn't mind it when Scotland's dirty hands thread through, either. It didn't go much further than that, though it didn't end in the same brusque manner as the first. Instead, this time France stared at Scotland with hope—and maybe a little shock.
"I'm sorry," Scotland said. He pulled France closer into an embrace, France returning the gesture in relief, and exhaling heavily when his clock chimed out three times.
France didn't say anything, instead preferring to look over Scotland's shoulder and grip the plaid over the opposite. He allowed himself a grin, letting his head rest in full for just a moment. In that moment, France felt the full weight of exhaustion land upon him, but it wasn't as heavy as earlier. It felt more comforting, actually, and for just a brief second, he wondered if the exhaustion Scotland felt was the same as his own.