He watches him dart between the shadows, from colonnade to colonnade in the hot midday sun, pulling faces at his friend, the small Spanish boy who had clearly come straight off the streets.
Arthur scowls. What he would give to be out there with them, playing tag and laughing, instead of grumbling down at Aristotle and Plato and a hundred different texts he didn’t give a fig for.
The Austrian teacher frowns, snaps the window blinds shut, and the two sunshine boys are lost to Arthur’s vision.
they’re fifteen and sixteen years old, hiding in a closet under the stairs, and if arthur’s father knew what he is doing he’d skin him alive, but francis, the serving boy’s mouth is on his and he’s stripping off his shirt and losing himself in feeling
Arthur sits in the lecture hall, listening to the professor drone on and on. He pulls at his collar, for it is stifling inside the building, and the cool dusty marble walls of the library are far away.
There is a slight cough beside him, and Arthur turns to find himself face to face with none other than the little Spanish boy he had seen with Francis all those years ago, except now he is a broad shouldered teenager in a slashed doublet and full sleeves.
He engages him after the lecture, stopping him against a wall where they would not be seen. The man’s name is Antonio, and he had been adopted into a rich family by a kind hearted gentlewoman and no, he did not know what had happened to Francis, whose family had been let go shortly after Arthur’s tenth birthday, and no, he was not in contact with him, for he had only known him as a playmate for a couple of weeks, all those years ago-
Arthur turns away, half angry with himself, and leaves.
complete ecstasy, drowing in francis, only francis, and god they’re both boys, what are they even doing, what foul demon that whispers in a voice so sweet, so soft, hush darling, or they’ll find us, and arthur closes his eyes and thinks oh god temptation, drag me into the pit of fire
He sits in a coffee house, ignoring all conversation around him, focussed on reading a letter, until a snippet of conversation reaches his ears and he listens, despite himself.
Absolutely scandalous…a man in a profession like that…selling his body and dancing around in outrageous outfits…
Arthur looks over. The men are dressed conservatively. Religious.
French too, apparently…people like that drag the weak into sin-
Arthur’s head whips around. It’s impossible, there’s no way it could be, and besides, there must be many French people wandering the streets these days, it’s all a ridiculous fantasy.
He finds himself outside the theatre the men had been discussing, swallowing dryly and asking for Francis Bonnefoy.
and strip me bare to the bones; take my body and my spirit and soul, give me francis, give me love
They stare down at each other in shock. Francis, clad in a thin shirt and breeches, surrounded with rack upon rack of richly embroidered dresses, make up on his face, and Arthur, the very model of propriety in his coat and doublet, hat perched at the current fashionable angle.
Francis stammers, and it’s all wrong because Francis never stammers, and he desperately tries to wipe off the make up with his sleeve, but it’s too late because Arthur’s here, Arthur knows, and the shame of everything he’s ever done is catching up to him in that moment, he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe-
Arthur catches him as he faints, cradling him in his arms the way he used to do.
give me wings, and let me fly away into the burning sky.
They talk over coffee, and Arthur almost grows irritated with Francis’ constant apologising. He hadn’t had a choice; when his family was let go they couldn’t find work anywhere, and his father left and his mother died and Francis had two options: die, or use whatever he had to his advantage.
And the French make the best lovers, they do say.
Arthur digests this all silently, and when Francis has finished his coffee he slides a single piece of paper over the table. Francis reads, and his eyes open in surprise.
“My father died a year ago. I’m a wealthy man, Francis, and I still love you, after twenty years of being apart. Please come home.”
Francis exhales, his breath catching in this throat. He nods.