Arthur had to learn many things on his own. He only has a few memories of his mother — of a time when he was young and careless and free — and even fewer memories of his mother explaining things to him.
The rest of his early memories are just flashes of his siblings: Callum always frowning, Saoirse always laughing and Ossian, too young to do anything else, always crying. And then there’s nothing: one of the first things he remembers is the feeling of being alone.
And while it’s not necessarily a bad feeling — he likes being alone, he feels comfortable on his own —, Arthur also knows he’d be a fool to pretend he never feels lonely.
He doesn’t like to admit it, of course, and obviously doesn’t want anyone to know his weaknesses. And yes, he’s aware at least his own family knows this. He’s very, painfully aware of this, always has been.
This has been his greatest fear for a long time — and he’s also painfully aware of the way he reacts to fear: it’s not pretty. He still doesn’t really understand why his siblings forgave all the terrible things he did to them.
He still doesn’t know if anybody else would forgive him — and there are days when he doesn’t want to be forgiven.
He’s still a work in progress.
Arthur doesn’t really remember the exact moment he found out about soulmates and tattoos and what those things actually meant. He remembers hearing tales, growing up, and songs about your true soulmate and a lot of other things he didn’t really care about nor understood.
His sister explains everything, to the best of her abilities. Arthur only knows their father because of Saoirse’s tales — but it’s pretty clear neither him nor their mother were particularly keen on talking about this subject. Or maybe just on explaining things. He mostly remembers moments of affection and Saoirse and Callum always talk about great adventures with their father.
“What about you? What’s your tattoo?” he finally asks, when he stops thinking about their parents. Ossian is still fast asleep and doesn’t seem to be bothered by their voices. To be honest, Ossian doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything.
Callums scoffs and shakes his head. “Nosey as usual.”
“Ignore him,” Saoirse laughs and takes his hand, pulling him closer. “I don’t have one. I don’t really know if this is because I don’t have a soulmate or because my soulmate isn’t born yet. Or something else”
“You mean you could have a human soulmate?”
“Or no soulmate at all,” Callum snaps and then just leaves, without saying anything else.
“He’s just... he’s frustrated because he has a few lines on his shoulder and he doesn’t understand what those could mean. And it’s been like this for years.”
“… I don’t like any of this. I want to be like you, I don’t want a tattoo.”
“Trust me, you don’t want this,” Saoirse is smiling but her eyes are sad and Arthur has to look away.
The day the first mark appears on his arm, Arthur just pretends it isn’t there. He looks at the small, delicate design — he observes the pale, violet flowers and the lean leaves and then just stops thinking about it. Or at least he tries.
“Your soulmate is a pussy,” Callum laughs when he catches a glimpse of the tattoo, but then Saoirse hits him on the head and he quickly apologizes. Arthur doesn’t care.
He doesn’t have a tattoo. He doesn’t want a tattoo, no, thank you very much. Doesn’t matter what Callum says, doesn’t matter what Saoirse says: he doesn’t want a damn soulmate.
There are a million reasons Arthur doesn’t want a soulmate.
He sees Callum’s pain, he sees Saoirse’s pain, he heard the stories of so many tragic loves and he just doesn’t understand why he should end up suffering too. And for what? A chance in million to find the perfect one? Why should he care?
He certainly doesn’t like the odds.
It’s not like Arthur doesn’t want someone to love, it’s just that he doesn’t understand why this should depend on a stupid tattoo on his arm. Callum seems happier since he came to terms to his useless tattoo: he said he found someone he likes and really do seem happier. So why can’t Arthur do the same?
He keeps thinking about what Callum had said: about this pretty boy who shouldn’t be there and is like them and, while Saoirse is way, Arthur can’t help but being curious. And that’s probably why he decided to follow his older brother.
He hears their voices, before he can see them, deep in the forest where almost no one dares to venture.
“Stop leaving me behind!”
“You said you could find your way through the forest!”
“Well maybe I lied! I live in a palace, back home!”
“You should try harder, city boy!”
Then, Arthur sees him, and he’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen in his whole existence. The other boy — Francis — is standing right next to a tree, looking around with a pout that should make Arthur hate him and instead just makes his breath shaky.
He doesn’t look human — and of course, he isn’t completely human, no, but he doesn’t look human like them. He doesn’t even know how to describe him: Arthur simply stares at him for an incredibile amount of time, wondering how such a creature could actually be real.
Arthur’s lungs stop working when he focuses on the flower crown Francis is wearing. The same flowers Arthur has on his arm.
He runs away and doesn’t look back, heart hammering in his chest, trying his best to erase everything he just saw.
It doesn’t work.
The flowers on his arm grow and grow — and Arthur still ignores them. Their design is incredibly delicate and intricate at the same time, their colours are amazing and bright.
Arthur lives, day after day, pretending he has no tattoo at all.
Saoirse hates him for this, and Arthur knows; Callum hates him for this, and Arthur knows. He understands why they suffer and this just makes him more committed to his decision. Life is already difficult without adding all the problems that come with this soulmates thing.
It doesn't help that he can’t stop thinking about Francis.
Arthur doesn't remember the moment he decided Francis’ hate was better than his indifference. He doesn’t remember the moment he thought that was the best decision he could make, but that doesn’t matter anymore. He’s still pretty sure of his opinion and anyway it’s too late, now.
Arthur knows he has fucked up. He knows.
He doesn’t want to love anyone — he doesn't want to care about his siblings, let alone someone else. Love is weakness and he doesn’t want any weakness.
The fact that he doesn’t want to love anyone doesn’t stop his heart to feel what it feels. Doesn't stop his mind to think Francis is still the most beautiful man he has ever seen.
“I don't want to fight you. I know it’s out of our hands, I know we can’t change what our rulers want but— we can at least try. I don’t want to fight anymore.”
They’ve been fighting for so long he doesn't even remember what it was before and apparently Francis feels the same way. Arthur could tell him, could talk about his feelings, could tell him what he think of this conflicts, could even tell him about his damn tattoo. Arthur could tell him everything — Arthur could be weak. He doesn't trust Francis. He doesn’t trust anyone. He doesn’t want to care about anyone, he doesn’t want to love anyone.
“I guess it’s a shame I do want to fight.”
Francis leaves with a betrayed look in his eyes and Arthur knows. He knows he has fucked up.
When the flowers start disappearing, Arthur panics.
He doesn’t care about all this soulmate thing, he doesn’t give a shit about his tattoo or his soulmate — he still doesn’t want a fucking soulmate. But he does care about Francis.
He’s frantic to know what’s happening on the other side of the sea: is Francis okay? Is France okay?
The answers he gets are not what he expected: apparently there’s nothing wrong with either Francis or his country.
He’s glad, sure, though he pretends he doesn’t care at all. He just doesn’t understand why he doesn’t have a tattoo anymore.
It’s only after a few years of war that Arthur suddenly understands something he never thought of.
They’ve been fighting for so long he doesn’t even remember when (or why) they started and he can’t help but have mixed feelings about this.
He does want the best for his country and for his people — and according to many of his kings and advisors, that best comes from more territories and more lands taken from the French. Or from any other country, for what that matters.
He does want the best for his country, but there’s a voice inside of him that doesn’t stop talking. What if this kills Francis?
Nobody knows exactly what does it take for one of them to die: some survive even the hardest conquests, some disappear after less traumatic events. The point is: nobody knows.
And every treaty he signs, every victory, every fight, every year of that centuries-long war is another chance to see Francis disappear from their world. There are times he finds himself happy to lose.
Francis seeks comfort and safety in the arms of others and Arthur can't really blame him. It’s different when he finds out that the comfort is also physical — and that it mostly comes from Callum.
They appear in public together so often and seem so happy and he really shouldn’t be there to see them — he’s so fucking stupid, why did he decide to do something so fucking dumb?
He doesn’t care about Francis. He doesn’t care about Francis. He doesn't care about anyone: caring is weakness, love is weakness, affection is weakness. He can’t afford weakness.
Arthur hurts and while his heart is in pain, his hatred grows.
Turns out it’s not that he doesn't have a tattoo anymore, it’s just that his tattoo shifted and changed so much it apparently disappeared before coming back.
The flowers are still there, just as beautiful as Arthur remembered. The colours are the same, the shapes are the same, the disposition is still the same. The stems are different. They were simple, before, just simple and ordinary stems.
Now they’re covered in thorns.
The thorns grow and grow every day a little bit more, until they begin to suffocate the delicate flowers.
Until the flowers die.
As time passes, Arthur finds out that there’s a loop that helps.
He’s in pain and when he hurts someone else, he’s in less pain; by hurting everybody else, he’s still and will always be alone. And he’s in pain because he’s alone.
When he manages to think, he understands that this loop doesn't help at all, that this is just one of his bad habits that has gotten way out of hand. The problem is: those moments in which he manages to be clear-headed enough to think, are fewer and fewer.
He doesn’t really know what’s happening: he lives his life between London and the sea and he loses count of the days.
They tell him about meetings and battles and new lands to conquer and he remembers only half of those things. The rest of the time is just a blurred fog.
He remembers Francis — he remembers Francis asking to see him, he remembers shouting and anger and he still doesn't know why Francis would want to see him.
Everyone around him is a danger. Everyone else in the whole world is a danger. He doesn't trust anyone — he can't trust anyone but himself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s his family or the man he loves: he doesn’t trust anyone, he can’t trust anyone. He is right and everybody else is wrong.
Paranoia is his only company.
The thorns don’t go away, and it gets to a point where his whole arm is covered in thorns.
In his clear-headed moments, Arthur can’t help but worry about Francis. He doesn’t know what this means, he doesn’t understand what the thorns mean, he doesn’t understand why the flowers aren’t there anymore.
It doesn’t take a genius to know it’s not a good sign.
At the end of the century, the flowers grow again: they’re sharp and their colours are dark and they’re made of steel.
Arthur hears rumors of what’s happening in France and understands a little bit better. The thorns are still there.
As time passes, Arthur finds out that his loop doesn’t work anymore. He doesn’t know why it worked before and doesn't work anymore now. He doesn't really care. He’s too tired to care.
He’s too tired to pretend he doesn’t care about other people. Too tired to pretend he doesn't worry about Francis during the war, too tired to pretend he doesn’t worry about Francis after the war.
So he visits Paris for a while, hoping to find the courage to go see Francis. And he sees Francis, he certainly does. It’s just that Francis doesn’t see him: Francis is throwing a party, a massive party, and Arthur manages to sneak in.
And he manages to see Francis, beautiful as ever, in a beautiful gown. Arthur knows he should be shocked because Francis is a man and he’s wearing a gown — but he’s shocked because he never thought Francis could look even more gorgeous than he usually does.
The night goes on and Arthur thinks he just saw Francis dancing with Josephine Baker and he doesn’t really know what to do with that information. During the rest of the evening he sees him talking to Thomas Stearns Eliot, smoking with Ernest Hemingway, arguing with Pablo Picasso.
Arthur doesn't get too close: he stays hidden behind the moving crowd, behind any door or piece of forniture he can find. He doesn't want Francis to see him, and at the same time he’d like nothing more that to dance with him — and to hold him close and to kiss him and to see his smile.
Francis smiles and talks and dance and seems perfectly happy — Arthur does his best to ignore those moment when Francis' eyes are clouded by something else.
It’s not until the sunrise that Arthur manages to sneak close enough to actually see what has been in front of his eyes. Francis’ dress is backless and when he turns to talk to someone else, Arthur can see the tattoo.
He’s not stupid. He knows what that tattoo means. He knows what every single mark means.
He walks away with rage roaring in his heart.
Arthur is filled with anger and pain — both because of what he has inside and because of what’s happening to the world once again, in less than twenty years.
Francis is his soulmate. Arthur is Francis’ soulmate. He could’ve known all this time, they could’ve do something, talk about this but instead? Francis kept that as a secret and they spent centuries without knowing.
Arthur covers his tattoo every time he can, he avoids looking at it and thinking about it as much as he can.
He almost doesn't notice — between the war and the bombings and the pain and the worry — when the lilies on his arm turn bloody.
When the war ends, Arthur takes his time to recover and still doesn't know how to feel about Francis.
“Why are you mad at him? You did exactly the same,” Ossian asks when they’re not fighting — and they fight all the time, his whole family hates him and to be honest? He kind of understands why.
“You're an asshole,” Callum spits out and Arthur knows he must have talked with Ossian. “What did you expect? That Francis would’ve thrown himself into your arms and tell you you’re his soulmate? No one would want you as their soulmate.”
Those words hurts like hell but he doesn’t even pretend Callum isn’t right. He never wanted a soulmate and he certainly acted like he didn’t want anyone at all. He still doesn't want a soulmate, he’s stille pretty skeptical about this whole thing. And when he really thinks about it, being Francis’ soulmate doesn't even mean that Francis loves him. He certainly didn’t do anything to make Francis love him.
The years pass and Arthur starts trying.
He tries to be better, to trust other people, to be less of a dick, to be less paranoid, to express his feeling a little bit more, to seek forgiveness from the people he hurt.
Saoirse is the first one to forgive him — he knew this would be the case and at the same time he feared she wouldn’t forgive him at all. Ossian forgives him. Callum doesn’t avoid him anymore and to Arthur that’s a huge victory.
He tries to be there for Francis and to ask nothing in return. He knows Francis is skeptical in the beginning — why shouldn’t he be? — but he keeps trying until even their relationship, as broken as it was, seems a little bit mended.
Arthur doesn’t really ask for anything else.
One day the thorns on his arm start gradually retreating, becoming less and less in number. The pale and delicate flowers he had at the beginning come back, along with the lilies, and they’re not weighed down anymore.
Arthur remembers the thorns on Francis’ back and he thinks maybe now he understands.