There are bars across the window in the bedroom, the one which looks out over England's pretty garden. He has visited the little cottage several times before, but the bars are new and ominous and England has barely met his gaze since they left London that morning. In these paranoid times, it is more than enough to set France on edge. "Angleterre?" he asks, voice sweet and mild, as he turns to face his companion. "Angleterre, what is this?" There had been guards on the road outside the house too, a couple of men in uniform who had stuck out like a sore thumb in the tiny English village. But he will not jump to conclusions, he will not accuse. England is his ally and he has precious few of those at the moment, but oh, it is difficult to reign in his temper when England is wearing that uncomfortable guilty expression, and when he stares down at the shine of his black boots rather than look France in the eye.
"What does it look like?" England asks gruffly. "It's safe. You can stay here for a while."
France purses his lips, but keeps his tone light, reasonable. "It is a long way from London. Working will be difficult." He watches England's shoulders hunch up further, uniform bunching up, making him look smaller and reminding France of how much weight they'd both lost.
"The bombings," England grits out, looking at France sideways, licking his lips in a nervous gesture that France recognises well. "We can't risk you."
France forces a bright smile to his lips; the false expression makes his cheeks hurt. "Ah! Then you will be staying too mon cher? We cannot risk England himself after all."
England's hands clench into fists at his side and France's polite, compliant smile splinters. "Stop playing dumb, France!" England snaps, the frustration clear in his voice.
"Then stop lying to me!" France snarls, whip sharp, eyes blazing anger. Does England think that he is stupid? That he can be placated with shallow lies like he is some kind of child who does not understand? Does England really think so little of him that he will not even tell him the truth?
England looks stricken, starts to shake his head to deny the accusation, but France speaks before he can open his mouth. "You are imprisoning me." The words come out cold and steady and he feels a vicious stab of satisfaction when England pales and grits his teeth.
"It isn't because I want to…"
It is so weak and France's fingers itch with the desire to slap him. Oh! Of course it is alright, because England does not want to. Not wanting to absolves him of all responsibility! "What charges?" France growls, voice low and angry.
England finally looks at him. His face is very pale, his eyes wide and hunted. "No… no charge! It's not like that!"
"If I am to be imprisoned, then I at least want to know what I have been found guilty of."
England recoils as though he has been struck, glaring and stubborn, but France glares back until England, proud England, is forced to drop his gaze. "Treason."
The words settle over France heavily, leeching all sound from the world. Even the birds outside seem to fall silent. He thinks that he must look very sick in that moment. "What?" he whispers, tongue feeling heavy and oversized in his mouth.
"Treason," England repeats, lips twisted and he looks a little like he might cry. He so rarely looks that way, buried beneath violence and anger, but France barely pays it any attention now. "Treason against Britain and Free France. You are a liability that we cannot afford."
France feels his throat go dry at the admission, his forehead creased in confusion. He almost wishes that he hadn't asked, that he had just allowed England to lock him away in this pretty cell. "I don't understand. I've never…" His expression hardens, switching instantly from hurt to fierce anger, and he holds the bed frame with a white knuckled grip. "You will let me speak with my boss! He will not let this happen!" He bares his teeth at England, a savage expression, mistrust flickering in his gaze. England has always been a warmonger, a devourer of others. "This is some ploy to allow you to run roughshod over Europe when you win!" He will be trading one oppressor for another and that is intolerable.
"It was your boss who ordered this, France!" England shouts, his voice harsh and broken, and France feels all of the strength leave him at that moment. He sits down on the bed heavily and just stares at England, his small, uncertain world, crumbling around him.
"Merde… why? Why are you doing this? I am loyal!"
"He doesn't trust you," England says, more quietly now, and he sounds tired, so very tired. "He doesn't trust you and for once I agree with him."
France buries his hands in his hair, tugs at it lightly. "I have done nothing to deserve such suspicion, Angleterre," he says earnestly, giving England a pleading look. "I am on your side! Why would I betray you to the ones who invaded my land?" Why would his boss do this? Why would England do this? He has done nothing wrong!
England reaches out to touch his shoulder, looking hurt when France flinches away from his hand. He sighs heavily, running a hand through his choppy blond hair. It's ragged at the ends, more so than usual. Neither of them have had the time or inclination to care about trivialities recently. "You don't even realise that you do it," England says, quietly enough that France finds himself leaning towards him to hear.
"I tell you Angleterre, I have done nothing. You saw me when you rescued me. You saw how Germany had treated me, the prison he kept me in. Why would I assist in my own subjugation?" There's a brittle edge to his voice and he digs his fingernails into his scalp.
"Francis Bonnefoy would not," England replied, and he glances at France from the corner of his eyes. "But the country that Francis Bonnefoy also is, is divided and conflicted and I cannot afford to differentiate between the two."
France shakes his head violently, sending golden strands into his eyes. "Non. Non, you are wrong! Do not do this to me, Angleterre."
England swallows. France can see his throat bob and he thinks for a moment that England might relent, might see this for the foolishness that it is. France does not like being trapped, and a cell is a cell, no matter how it is decorated. But England closes his eyes and shakes his head. "I find letters written to Petain and Laval amongst your correspondence," he says and there's a tremble in his voice. "Sometimes you sing Maréchal, nous voilà! instead of La Marseillaise when you're distracted, or talk of the French State instead of the republic that you were so proud of."
"Non!" France cries, squeezing his eyes shut as though it will block out the terrible words that England is heaping upon him. "Stop! Please…" It is not true! He is… he is France! He is not Vichy or Germany's lapdog. England is wrong!
"You talk in your sleep, broken German and propaganda," England continues relentlessly as France draws his knees up to his chest, rocks back and forth, fighting back the hot prickle at the back of his eyes. He will not cry. It is weak and he… France must rebuild itself and become strong and support its allies except he can't remember now who is supposed to be strong for. "Sometimes I wake at night and you're watching me like you want to see me broken and defeated and I don't know anymore whether I am sharing my bed with France, my proud France, or if I am spending my nights courting Vichy."
"Stop…" France murmurs, a broken whisper. "Angleterre… I don't…"
He hears England's breath hitch, and there's a warm hand on his shoulder, but it feels so distant, so disconnected when it hurts, it hurts like there's an itch beneath his skin, a burning twisted thing, seeping through flesh and blood. "France?"
"Get it… get it out… get it out of me Angleterre… I don't want it. I don't want to be this for the love of god stop it!" He digs his nails into his arms, starting to scratch at his skin roughly, nails tearing through it hard enough to draw blood. He will get rid of it! He will get it out of him, tear it out, scratch it out, leave him skinless if that is what it takes.
"France… France!" His wrists are grabbed, forced away and apart and he is shaken. He blinks blearily, staring up at England as though seeing him for the first time. "You hurt yourself," England says quietly, barely above a whisper. He glances down at his arm dispassionately, seeing blood there where he'd scraped through the skin. "Please don't do that again," England continues, releasing his wrist slowly, cupping France's jaw gently, forces him to look up at the somber expression on his face. "I'm sorry France. Please believe that I do not want to do this. But I cannot risk so much, not when things are so close to fruition. And I…" He made a choked sound, turning his head aside for a moment.
England's shoulders slump. "I don't want you to be the cause of my downfall," he says, leaning down to press his lips to France's hair and his face is warm, nearly feverish against his scalp. "If I fall and fail, I don't want to hate you."
France laughs, a bitter, choked sound. "It has not been so very long since we did hate each other after all," he says, giving him an unhappy smile. Less then fifty years and that is nothing to them, but each day has seemed a year recently.
"But we are allies now," England says, sounding certain although France catches a tremor in his voice that should not be there. "We are allies and we will stand together in the ruins of Berlin at the end of this."
"I do not feel much like an ally when I am to be confined like a traitor," France snaps, digging his fingers into the embroidered comforter and finding himself picking at the threads that England had doubtless hand sewn with care. Part of him wants to tear it apart, to see the expression on England's face, to hurt him, but he bites his lip until the urge passed.
"What would you have me do France?" England replies, his reasonable tone replaced with frustration. "Would you have me permit you free access to everything that I have? Should I allow you to see all of my plans and my intelligence? Look me in the eyes France, and tell me that you have never thought of passing on information, that you have never felt the urge to return to Vichy and become the French State. Tell me that and I will defy my Boss to return you to London."
France meets his eyes, wanting to look firm, wanting to prove that he is as steadfast as England himself, but his gaze drops after barely a moment, and he remembers snatches of unsent letters and the wrong tune on his lips. "I hate it when you are reasonable," he says dully, the bitterness drowned with exhaustion. He feels so very tired now. "You make it very difficult to come up with an argument."
England snorts softly, reaches out to touch him, resting a hand against the curve of his hip. France almost expects him to make some other move, to try to wash away ill feelings with lust and heat. He is rather grateful that he doesn't. "I am rarely reasonable. I doubt that it is something you will have to get used to."
"Good," France says, uncurling a little and accepting England's touch even if he does not return it. It is about as much of a rebuke as he can give at the moment. "I do not think I could live in a world where you are reasonable all the time. It would be most unpleasant."
"Hmph. Yes, that is truly the worst thing that could happen to the world. How would you survive?"
A faint smile quirks France's lips, a genuine expression for once. "With fortitude and bravery and impeccably targeted puncturing of your ego, of course."
"Ah," England replied dryly. "Just as normal. How could I forget?"
And France brushes their fingers together, a flicker of affection. "These are trying times. I will forgive you the lapse."
England gives the barest nod and things aren't right, they haven't been right for years. But that tautness between them is gone for now and that is good enough.
As prisons go, this one is rather luxurious. He is clean and comfortable and given free reign of the little house, kitchen to attic. When it is sunny outside (a rare occurrence of course, when one considers the English weather) one of the guards allows him out into garden of wildflowers and gnarled apple trees that England has tended for centuries, to take the air. There are books and paints and canvases to keep him occupied, and fresh food is delivered every few days for him to cook with.
He stops writing letters when he finds addresses in Vichy amongst them, names that he didn't remember penning. He burns them and scatters the ashes at the base of a red rose bush in the garden.
It is a prison for a mistress, and he welcomes England each time he visits with sweet words and spreads his legs and England looks so grateful, looks at him with soft eyes as they lay together and please don't hate me for this, please don't hate me for locking you away, for being ruthless like I have to be and he almost wishes that England had locked him in the tower instead. They talk of gardens and paintings and he watches England's lips go white every time the conversation veers too close to weapons and war.
In his darker moments, burns and blisters on his skin from bombing raids and infected wounds from Germany's camps, he curses and rages, the words a strangled conglomerate of German and French and English, and he wonders who he should be afraid of most.
It has been two weeks since England visited, and France can feel a storm brewing. It lays heavy in his bones and in his blood until his head throbs with it. In earlier years he would have called it the hum of revolution, but now he is not certain whether it is the clamour of people for change or the clamour of his people being changed, becoming something not his. All he knows is that they fear and they anticipate and they fight.
Whatever it is that is happening, England does not tell him and there has been no contact with his boss in months. Left with his thoughts, he wonders if he has been forgotten, if they intend to build a new France, one not worn and scarred by time and care, and leave him here to fade away, a chapter in the history books. He wonders if his boss loves him, or if his affections are turned to some ideal which he cannot match when Vichy's boss loves him as well.
It is after midnight, once night in early June, and he has fallen into a fitful sleep, a storm raging outside, rain battering the window and battering his dreams. The door slams open, waking him instantly. He pushes himself up onto his elbows, blinking blearily, and the first thing that he sees is a uniform half covered by a heavy coat and a cap concealing a man's eyes. Memory and fear overtake him, seeing German soldiers in his mind's eye, heavy boots on the stairs and rough hands dragging him away from Vichy and the shreds of his government. He cowers back on the bed as the man approaches and oh god, has the storm broken already and left England failed and broken?
His name is called twice more before the voice filters through his foggy mind and he looks up, meets forest green eyes as England pulls off the cap, his hair shaggy and overgrown beneath it.
"Angleterre?" he breathes, uncurling and combing his fingers through his hair to try and tame it, a futile gesture without a brush, but it soothes him. All is not lost if he can still take care of his appearance. It is comfort for him as much as it is his infamous vanity and he feels his confidence return with the simple motions. "Angleterre, what is the meaning of this?" he snaps, pulling himself to his feet and reaching for his robe. "I was sleeping!"
"Don't bother putting that on," England says roughly, throwing a canvas kit bag onto the bed and starting to pull out a drab green infantry uniform, laying it out. "Here, these should be your size or close enough."
France looks between him and the uniform, confusion showing on his face. "What is this?" he asks, picking up the rough shirt, lips twisting at the coarse material.
"Just- just put them on. Don't ask questions," England says sharply, pacing impatiently from one side of the room to the other like a caged animal. "We need to go quickly."
It is the look in his eyes more than his tone which prompts France to begin changing; an excited, almost fevered look that France has never seen outside the battlefield before. It calls to him, makes his heart jolt in a way that isn't quite fear as he remembers bloodied swords and victorious trumpets and banners in the wind. "Where?" he asks, sounding almost breathless, although he can't decide if it is the prospect of leaving this prison or the look in England's eyes which affects him so. "Where are we going."
England holds his gaze for a moment before turning away, hands in his pockets. "I can't tell you, just change. You'll see when we get there."
It is a most unsatisfactory answer but the wind is raging outside and it seems so much more appealing now than pretty summer days spent painting flowers and clouds. He pulls on the uniform, tugs his hair out from the collar and England turns to face him, looking him over critically. He reaches out, fingers a strand of France's hair between his fingers and then thrusts a cap into his hands. "That too. You can't be recognised."
France raises an eyebrow but pulls on the cap, tucking his hair up beneath it so only glimpses of blond can be seen beneath the cloth. It shadows his eyes, changes him from a country into a nameless soldier and he'd never expected it to feel so liberating. "Is it my boss?" he asks, sliding the heavy overcoat over his shoulders. "Has he called for me?" His heart lurches at the thought, torn between too many feelings for him to adequately express. Maybe he is being summoned to London to stand at his side as they rally the troops for one last battle.
Maybe he is being summoned for trial and execution, let Vichy die with him, inside him, before that is all that is left.
England shakes his head, an apologetic look twisting his lips. "No. Just me," he replies and France forces down the swell of disappointment at the words. He "I couldn't allow you to miss this. You of all people need to be there."
There is barely time to think over the next few hours as France allows himself to be guided by England, keeping his eyes low and his tongue still. All is abustle in the dockyards, loading up men and metal with the same steely determination that he saw at Dunkirk when everything fell apart. He longs to announce himself, to prove himself to his people. France is fighting with you! France is fighting for you! They have been loyal to him, he wishes to show that in some way, France has been loyal to them as well.
"You're invading," France says, pale morning light just touching the horizon. They are sequestered safely on a ship, curled together on a too narrow bed, the issued revolver cold in his hand as he spins the barrel between his fingers idly. He has not felt a weapon in his hands for too long now, and the trust demonstrated in giving him such a thing is warming, enough to drive away that rebellious part of himself, born of history as much as Vichy, which wants to press it against England's jaw and watch fear flicker in his eyes.
"We are invading, France." And the double meaning behind that makes France laugh, the first genuine laugh in what seems like months. They are going to France, they are invading his own beloved land and he thinks it might be the most wonderful feeling in the world.
"Where are we landing?" he asks, because they are too close for him to get a message out, and even now they have not allowed him near a telephone or communication device. It is, perhaps, over-cautious when his people are chafing at the bit, ready to throw off their halters and blinkers.
England pauses, stretches against France's body, all hard muscle and bunched sinew. His smile widens crookedly, white teeth in the darkness and once they were pirates and stealing back a country is the greatest piracy of all. "Normandy," he says easily and France just stares at him for a moment, wide-eyed, and then he laughs, the first genuine one in what seems like years. There is a savage sparkle back in his gaze which brightens with every mile closer they get to his shores.