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A/N: The morning after the night before. How are our two faring~? Please enjoy!!

Warnings: Reference to cutting, reference to suicide.


When Francis woke up, he didn't know quite what was going on. He was in someone else's arms, but didn't know who that person was. Had he somehow submitted to another meaningless one-night-stand which only purpose was to distract him from the real world and the events of the previous day? However, Francis soon released that he was in fact still laying with Alfred. The happenings of the previous night suddenly came rushing back to him all at once.

It seemed that every time he woke up, his face was streaked with sticky lines of dried tears, running down his face. Lifting a hand, he pushed some hair out of his eyes and mumbled incoherently, shifting against the warm body that was next to him and slowly opening his eyes. His squinted at the sunlight seeping through the curtains and instead stared up at the ceiling, delighting in the fact that it was bare-- no photos to be seen above him. Moving his hand around again, he found the other's and gently intertwined it with his own, as form of greeting.

"Mm... Alfred..." The words felt like sandpaper in his throat-- he needed water. After drinking so much alcohol the previous night, his head was aching terribly, but he still felt a duty to warn his friend of the time, believing that the other was going to attend his classes. "Alfred, you will be late..." Despite the fact that he had no idea what the time was, he thought that it was time to wake and that his words would be enough to rouse the American from his slumber.

Stirring a bit at the hummed words and the touch to his hand, Alfred's eyes fluttered open. He was a bit achey from last night's shots, and bone tired from wave after wave of exhausting tears and getting little sleep. Alfred had stayed up for quite some time after Francis fell asleep once again, trying to memorize his features, knowing it may be one of the last times he'd get to see him. Alfred vowed he'd never forget his face, not a single detail. Nor would he let the memory of his soft hair fade or the deep, sparkling blue of his eyes. Alfred didn't want to let any of those things go yet. Even as he stayed awake most of the night and his friend slept, Alfred suspected Francis was going through just as much discomfort, if not more. "Mm... I'm not going to school today, Francis. I'm staying with you." It was something he'd decided as he laid awake thinking last night. Class could wait. Classes could be made up. But however longer he had with his best friend, those moments... that time was too valuable to give up.

Francis frowned a little at the other's words, but decided not to argue. In truth, he was grateful that Alfred was staying-- he was glad to have some company. Someone to stay sober for, a reason not to keep turning to the bottles in hope that they would numb his pain. Groaning softly, he began to get up from the sofa, stumbling a little as he did so but grabbing at the arm to prevent himself from failing. He didn't really know how he was managing to stand, what with the amount of whiskey and vodka still in his system. "I'm making coffee. Would you like some? It's good for hangovers." He looked down at where the American was sitting as he spoke, one hand pressed to his forehead. He guessed that he looked terrible-- still in his uniform, not having changed clothes since the previous morning. Physically, he didn't feel good, but he knew that he couldn't just sleep all day. He should at least be awake and spend some time with Alfred. Though in truth, if he was alone, he would probably have been far more drunk-- perhaps he would have drank himself into unconsciousness. These precious hours... Francis knew that they would soon have to part ways, as much as the Parisian didn't want to leave his friend. He just needed to leave Matthew.

"Ah, ah, ah-- sit down, dude, I've got this." Alfred got off of the couch, then turned, putting gentle pressure on Francis' shoulders until his weak knees gave out and he sat back down onto the couch. "Just take it easy, okay? I'll make coffee. Want some water?" Alfred made sure to not speak at his usual volume, not wanting to give Francis more of a headache. He gave his shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze, then turn and grabbed the bottles of alcohol of the table.

Alfred was being so kind-- Francis was just so grateful. In a world where everyone else seemed to hate him, it was wonderful to have someone who cared so much. The American's request for him to sit down was more a command than anything and, combined with his gentle push, Francis was seated once more in no time. "Water would be good, merci." His voice nearly gave out when the other touched his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Francis wanted to run across the room and hug the other-- give him everything. Instead, he stayed seated upon the sofa and waited for the taller man to return.

Walking to the kitchen, Alfred carefully sorted the bottles, putting the full ones away and throwing out empty ones. Alfred knew that drinking had only made heartbreak more painful and uncomfortable for Francis. So there would he no more of that. There were better, more permanent ways to help his friend, such as talking or going outside... anything to distract him and remind him how many things there were to live for.

Starting the coffee machine, Alfred grabbed two mugs, setting them aside. As that brewed, he grabbed a glass of water and managed to find pain killers, remembering where the Frenchman's medicine cabinet was. "Here," He said as he crossed the apartment back to Francis, carefully handing him the water and pills. "This'll make it better." Sure, Francis looked a bit untidy, and it was clear he wasn't feeling his best, but even in the state, with dark circles under his eyes, uniform rumpled and his hair a mess, Francis still seemed to glow.

When Alfred returned, the Parisian took the pills and water gratefully, making a soft noise in appreciation as he tipped his head back and downed the medicine. "Mm... merci beaucoup, ami. I'm sure that it will help, in time." As he looked up at the other, Francis actually found himself flushing a dark shade of red. Running a hand through his hair, he realized just how terrible he must appear. Alfred didn't really seem to mind, but it made Francis embarrassed. Instead of beautiful flowing blond locks, he had a tangled mess of hair that hung limply around his shoulders, framing a pale tear-stained face and tired eyes. Hanging his head in effort to stop Alfred realizing just how terrible he really did look, though he suspected that the damage had been done already, Francis attempted to hide his face. He already felt so weak and broken-- he didn't really want Alfred to see him in such a state; not when his self-confidence had dropped so much already. He was a wreck, and felt sad that Alfred should see him in such a way.

Just because a flower was wilted and crushed didn't mean it couldn't be beautiful. "Don't mention it, Francis, it's no problem." Eyes softening further as he looked down at him, Alfred felt his heart ache a bit more. Francis didn't look nearly as terrible as he thought he did. Even like this, at his absolute worst, he still looked... nice. Well, nice was an understatement. He looked gorgeous. Francis always did; it was a 'curse' he often bragged a bit about. Alfred resisted a strange urge to lift the blonde's chin and tell him he was beautiful. "I'll go get coffee, okay?" That urge was back. Why did Francis have to hide his face away like that and look so embarrassed? Even if he did look awful, it was only Alfred that would see him...

The American returned shortly, sitting down carefully on the couch instead of plopping down, not wanting to empty the contents of their mugs onto Francis' furniture or rug. "Here 'ya go." He handed the Frenchman a steaming up of coffee, then leaned back and sipped his own.

In response to the other's question, Francis murmured softly, "Oui, okay." But the words were barely audible, considering the position of his head and the volume at which he was speaking. He listened as footsteps headed towards the kitchen and then back again, this time slower, no doubt to ensure that Alfred didn't spill their drinks over the floor or himself. When he was handed the steaming mug, Francis raised his head in thanks, meeting the other's gaze. Opening his mouth to say something, he kept eye contact for a few moments before breaking it, closing his mouth again and curling into himself. Taking a small sip, a flicker of a smile crossed his lips for a brief moment. "Mm... It's good, Alfred. Thank you." After giving the compliment he stayed silent for a while longer, seemingly content with just sitting quietly as he sipped his coffee. However, a few minutes later, he set the drink down onto the table and stood on shaky legs, gripping at the arm of the sofa. "I can't stay like this. I feel disgusting-- I need a shower. Dieu, I hate alcohol.." He looked guilty as he remembered the events of the previous night and how drunk he'd been. "Alfred... I'm so sorry about last night." He whispered softly, running a hand once more through his messy locks, a clear sign that he was feeling self-conscious.

"No, no... It's okay." It wasn't okay. But Alfred didn't regret it. If he could have taken more of Francis' pain on his own shoulders than he had, he'd do so in a heartbeat. The American stood, placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Yeah, a shower will probably make you feel a little better. But, hey..." It was clear that the Frenchman was self-conscious. He kept averting his eyes, trying to fix his hair-- "...You look fine. You look good, really." The corners of his lips turned up in a faint, sincere smile as he spoke. In fact, there was something about seeing Francis like this-- having just woken up, his hair untidy and his clothes a bit rumpled-- that made him even more breathtaking. Alfred couldn't understand how he was the only person who thought things like this. He wanted to go in front of the whole school, point at Francis and yell "Tell me this man isn't beautiful!" If anyone said 'no', they were either lying or had terribly horrible eye-sight.

"I... we didn't go too far, s-so... it's alright." Sighing gently, he flashed a hint of a rather tight, forced smile towards the other. Francis knew that it wasn't alright. If Alfred had been any more drunk, then the two of them might actually have ended up sleeping together. The Parisian had the younger man to thank for staying in control and only having one shot, as oppose to Francis' five shots and more than half a bottle of whiskey. His thoughts were interrupted when the other stood and, once again, placed a comforting hand upon his shoulder. Rather than shying away from it this time, Francis gently placed his own on top of the other's. "O-Oui." He was still stuttering a little. "You really think so? I... thank you, Alfred." He stopped himself before any more words fell out of his mouth without his mind's consent. "You're right; a shower will make me feel... like me again." Even as he spoke, the Frenchman felt as if something was strange. The way that Alfred was looking at him... what was that in his gaze? And his expression-- Dieu, he was actually smiling. Genuinely. Francis felt his heart skip a beat as that familiar happiness seeped back into the American's expression. He couldn't help but reach up and touch the other's face gently, speaking without even thinking. "There's my sunshine, Alfred." His thumb ran over the other's lips as it had done the previous night; making Francis feel more at ease.

Alfred's eyes went round, his breath caught in a soft gasp. God, what was Francis doing? Touching his face, calling him his sunshine... It was only a smile. And a small one at that. It dawned on Alfred that this kind of affection from Francis could lead to one of two reactions. The first, boiling hatred. Simply because Francis had a way with speaking, touching, even the subtle flicks of his eyes... and he used these ways on everyone, not intentionally; naturally. What a cheater, a monster, a man-whore. Oh, so many names, so much possible hate. And then there was the other reaction. If you had this sort of reaction to Francis' affection, Alfred concluded, you would find it very difficult to keep yourself from falling in love. And the American wanted nothing to do with either. No love for him; that only came with suffering. And of course, he could never hate Francis. Seeing how the way Francis ran his thumb over Alfred's lips relaxed him, the American allowed him to do it. "Your sunshine, huh?" He took his hand, kissed his fingers gently and closed his eyes for a moment as he did so. "You don't mind if I use your shower after you're done, do you? That was a good call." He allowed a tiny smile to grace his lips again, plopping back onto the couch, Francis' light touches on his face lingering pleasantly, tingling softly.

Francis was about to speak, about to say that yes, Alfred was his sunshine, but he was suddenly rendered unable when the American pressed his fingertips to his lips. Blue eyes went wide in surprise and his mouth dropped open slightly, lips parting in an astonished gasp. The Parisian's entire body felt as if it was burning; heat radiating from every part of him, from the tips of his fingers to the soles of his feet. Surely such a gentle action should not have triggered such a strong reaction? Francis silently berated himself as he suppressed a shiver, not entirely sure why his body was reacting in such a way. Swallowing nervously, he gave a gentle nod. "I don't mind at all; you're welcome to use anything here. What's is mine is... also yours." Alfred had caught him off guard. His gentle, affectionate action combined with his little smile stirred something within Francis, causing him to smile back before he even realized what he was doing. Suddenly, though, he came crashing back down to earth, once again joining reality as the smile left his lips and he turned, heading towards the bathroom with a relieved sigh-- he guessed that his cheeks were flushed and didn't want Alfred to see him looking even worse than he already did. However, even as he turned away, the image of Alfred's smile and soft lips were burned into his mind.

"Thanks, Francis." The American answered with a soft smile. The Frenchman's reaction had caught Alfred a bit off guard. It was the way his cheeks flushed, how his eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open slightly. It was that gasp, how he stiffened slightly to suppress a shiver. It had only been a kiss to his fingertips. The two of them had shared little kisses before. Francis sometimes kissed Alfred's cheeks, his forehead and, on rare occasions, his lips. All with nothing but friendliness behind them. Platonic love. Two things dawned on Alfred then, as he watched Francis walk off. One, it was always Francis that was handing out his love. Giving kisses, stealing touches, spewing those smooth words. It occurred to Alfred that this kind of affection was hardly ever used on Francis himself. He had always been the one to take Matthew's hand, surprise him with dates and bring flowers. It had never been the other way around. Perhaps that's why little things like this caused such a reaction. The second thought that began to stir in Alfred's head was a bit more complicated. Every other bit of affection, every other hug or kiss... were simply friendly gestures. A kiss on the cheek before running off to class, a thankful kiss to the lips, a playful kiss to the forehead. Friendly. The difference with this one, this tiny, miniscule gesture, was that it suddenly didn't feel so... friendly. It didn't feel like anything less than friendly. It was more. But it was something Alfred couldn't place. And it was a feeling, a deep one at that. Alfred wanted nothing to do with it.

Francis didn't even understand why he was blushing, why his fingertips were burning or why the remains of his fragile heart were fluttering so widely in his chest-- he just knew that he needed to suppress everything. Being so liberal with his love was what got him into this mess, so he wanted to try and consciously suppress his emotions. Francis still believed that all of this was his fault, that somewhere along the line he had messed up and made Matthew hate him. His yearn to love had destroyed theirs; or rather, not destroyed it. In truth, there was never anything there in the first place. Deep down, Francis knew this... but he just didn't want to admit it. He couldn't bring himself to say that, over these past months, he had been giving himself completely to somebody that despised his very existence. All of his love, his words and compliments, his presents, his planned proposal... they had all been for nothing. So Francis turned away from Alfred, hiding himself and his emotions, and instead faced his bedroom door, which then led into the bathroom. "Alfred, you... you should eat something. There's food in the fridge-- you're welcome to anything." Realizing that the two of them hadn't eaten since the previous afternoon, he immediately offered everything he had to the American. "I'll be out of the shower in a little while.." He added, casting a glance over his shoulder to where the other was standing, seeming to tower above him. It made him sad that he had to hide himself from even Alfred.

On a normal day, he would have kissed the other's cheek, but right now he couldn't really deal with physical affection. Not after last night; what he had tried to do with Alfred. Not only that, but it made him feel guilty. He felt like he was betraying Matthew because he was putting into practice exactly what the Canadian hated: showering everyone with affection.

"Thanks, Francis. You must be hungry too... I'll make us something, okay? I can't cook like you, but I can sure try, can't I?" The American chuckled; a quiet, short, yet sincere little noise. Alfred walked to the kitchen, clicking his tongue to a little tune in thought as he scanned the room. The way Francis blushed and avoided eye contact... Alfred didn't know how to react. He didn't know what it meant. Clearly, he was still embarrassed over the way he looked (Not that there was a thing wrong with his appearance), but something seemed different. He stopped dead. Oh-- that was it. Alfred understood now. Like himself, Francis had locked away his heart. He didn't want any affection to get to him, whether it be deep friendship or something more. It was dangerous, an opinion with which Alfred couldn't agree more. After all, look at what trusting someone on that level could do. Look at what it did to Francis. And Alfred. They'd both been hurt by the person they'd shown the most of their heart too. After all, the heart can only be broken if you let someone near enough to do so, right?

With a glance to the fridge, Alfred scooped out the breakfast options. "Anything but pancakes..." He sung under his breath to himself, clicking his tongue and rolling his fingers on the edge of the fridge door. Grabbing some eggs and toast, Alfred settled on making French toast. He almost chuckled at the decision, sighing as he began to mix ingredients into a bowl.

At the other's words Francis lit up a bit, a fraction of a smile appearing on his face as he turned to walk into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. "I'm sure that it will be wonderful, cher, and much better than mine." As always, he was being complimentary. Even if he was feeling terrible there was no need to influence Alfred into feeling the same way; that wouldn't be fair. No, Francis wanted the other man to be happy-- as happy as possible. If it would make Alfred happy, Francis was prepared to glue every piece of him back together until he was whole once more. He was determined to fix the other's broken heart (which he knew was just as shattered as his own), even if he cut his hands to pieces in the process.

Francis' bedroom led into a small en suite bathroom and, after undressing and throwing his clothes onto the bed, he went in, deciding to leave the door unlocked. It was only Alfred there, after all. The shower was welcome-- Francis was glad to stand under the warm water and wash all the dirt away, feeling a little more alive once he had soaked for a while. However, although his body was fresh and clean, his heart still felt crumpled. Even in the bathroom, he was still reminded of Matthew. There were just... pictures of him everywhere. And razors. They were another thing he noticed. Francis cared greatly about his appearance and, although he did take pride in having a little stubble, keeping it short mattered, so it was natural that he had such items laying around. He considered picking one up and ending it all but he just couldn't, not now, when he had Alfred to look after. But even so, Matthew was still there. His things littered the shelves and the space in Francis' mind until he sunk to the floor of the shower, sitting down with his weakened knees pulled up to his chest.

He stayed there for a long time; so long that he couldn't even remember how long he'd been in the shower, what time it was or what he was even supposed to be doing. The idea of eating seemed to appeal less and less as he thought about Matthew. The fridge, littered with photos of him and Arthur and Alfred and Francis himself and stuffed full of his favourite foods; fresh pancake batter, bacon, maple syrup and bottle of fresh water, all the way from Canada. It was just too much. Newly-washed blonde locks fell down into his eyes, but he didn't care-- he just sat on the floor and buried his face in his knees, sitting in silence; the sound of the water running above him accompanied by his soft sobs his only companion. The saddest thing was that he couldn't even recall when he had started to cry.

Even that fraction of a smile, even just the little spark in his eyes was enough to visibly relax Alfred, a splash of relief and happiness washing over his expression. While Francis' thoughts told him to do whatever it took to make Alfred happy, little did he know that Alfred could only be truly happy if the Frenchman was too. A confusingly simply cycle it was; two people breaking their backs and cutting their hands to bring each other happiness, unbeknownst to one other that just being happy themselves would solve their problems. Both Francis and Alfred were stuck with hearts of gold, both blondes far too good for this world, for their own good. Too empathetic, too forgiving, too soft, too selfless to think of themselves, to even take their minds of of each other for a moment to discover the cycle.

The American had finished making breakfast, covering the steaming plate of food with a tea-towel and placing it under the heat lamp so it wouldn't get cold. Almost subconsciously, he'd been counting the seconds. Aqua eyes flicked up to the clock too many times and he began to pace, push his fingers through his hair, click his tongue, bite his lip-- anything to distract him from the fact that Francis was taking far too long in the shower. As much as Alfred tried to hold them back, suspicions and thoughts filled his paranoid mind until he felt nearly ill with worry. What if he hurt himself? Alfred's eyes swept the tile before his feet. Dammit, what if he's cutting? What if he drowned himself? What if-- unable to stand it a second longer, Alfred walked into the Frenchman's room, stopping in front of the open bathroom door.

Not wanting to intrude and embarrass Francis, Alfred knocked, loud enough to he heard over the stream of water but not enough to startle. "Francis?" The sound of muffled sobs could be heard, and what little happiness Alfred had, simply because Francis had shown a flicker of a smile, dissipated, crumbled and was replaced with ache and concern. "Francis... Francis, come out." He'd stopped knocking, holding a loose fist against the door. Alfred decided right then that Francis' weeping was his least favourite sound, the worst in the entire world. It broke his heart, hurt more than it should. Even when his brother had collapsed in tears in the hallway, claiming Francis had cheated on him, even when Matthew had been crying, back before the world fell apart, Alfred had never felt this kind of pain for him. Of course, seeing his brother so 'heartbroken' had crushed him, but this; Francis, shattered him.

The sound of the other knocking was soft and gentle, his knuckles simply colliding with the door, but it still made Francis jump. It still made his head snap upwards, blue eyes going wide and fearful as they tracked the movement behind the door, fixated upon the silhouette that was Alfred. Tall and slender, a translucent image through the glass panels of the door and oh, when Alfred's voice fell upon his ears, Francis almost let out a sob. So broken. So pitiful, what the two of them had been reduced to by a single act of revenge. The two men that they loved most, turning on them and turning their world upside down. In a trembling voice, he managed to speak a few words. "Please... l-leave me, Alfred. Don't... don't look at m-me."

At the Frenchman's shaking words, Alfred felt his heart plummet further. Of course, Alfred knew it was impossible to get over such heartbreak in one night. Why had he gotten his hopes up that Francis would be okay, be back to normal, in less than a day? Maybe it was because Alfred had given him all the comfort he could offer. It hadn't been enough. It would take all the comfort and support in the world to put such a broken man back together. Even still, even with disappointment weighing down on his shoulders, Alfred was determined. Yes; he could do it. He could put Francis back together, he could save him. He'd give him his everything. All his attention, all his comfort, all his efforts to cure the Frenchman of the heartbreak he never deserved. It would take time. It would be exhausting. It was nearly impossible. But it could be done. And it would be done. He'd save him. Francis had quickly become not only the American's best friend, the centre of his world and the only one he trusted, but his project. His goal, his purpose. He was going to put Francis back together again. Alfred had never been more determined about anything in his entire life.

On shaking legs, Francis managed to rise, shutting off the water and stepping out of the shower. He shivered, though it was not due to the fact that he had left the warm water behind. It was because he felt cold inside. Empty. There was almost nothing left, though his house was full of things and his mind full of thoughts... nothing was of much significance except from Alfred. Taking a towel from the rail, he tied it around his waist to cover himself before looking in the mirror. It was steamy and he had to raise a trembling hand to wipe away the condensation, clearing a space for himself so that he might gaze into his reflection. Blonde hair hung around his face, framing the pale skin and almost mocking him, for Francis' hair appeared to be the same shade as the Canadian's whilst wet. His eyes, though blue and shining, sparkled with tears and sadness.

Not wanting to look upon such a pitiful image any longer, the image that he had told Alfred to stay away from, he lowered his gaze, only to be even more saddened at what he saw. A few of Matthew's belongings lay on the shelf. His razor, the solution for cleaning his glasses, a little hairbrush... small essentials that he liked to bring from his own house rather than use Francis' own. The Frenchman had simply thought that it was because they made Matthew feel more at home, but now he realized it was because he hated Francis and most likely did not want to share any of his things.

Cursing himself for being so stupid, for not seeing this sooner and allowing both himself and Alfred to be caught up in this mess, he reached out a hand and pushed the entire contents of the shelf onto the floor with a yell before leaning forward and punching the wall in a fit of rage, crying out as pain radiated through his hand.

The crash from inside the bathroom was like a devastating earthquake inside of Alfred, shaking his confidence that he'd someday reach his goal, nearly crumbling it. Almost automatically, Alfred had flung the door open, eyes round and worried. "Francis..!" He cried and rushed to his side, worriedly searching his glazed eyes, scanning him for injuries. "Francis..." The name came out softer now, nearly a whisper, voice strained with emotion. Carefully taking the Parisian's wrist, Alfred lifted it a little to examine his hand. The American's expression softened sadly, eyes crinkling and lips dropping into a slight frown. You did this, Matthew. I hope you're happy. The sick thing was he probably felt exactly that emotion.

Without hesitating a second longer, Alfred pulled Francis into a hug, hands against his bare back that was damp and warm from the shower. "Easy, shh... just breathe, Francis, just breathe... it's okay, you're okay... I'm here..." The softly murmured words seemed to warm the chilled room a little, and Alfred only hoped they brought Francis comfort, even if it was just a fraction.

Francis didn't know what to do. He had been angry, so angry, and now there were warm arms around him, pulling him close. It had all happened so quickly. He hadn't meant to harm Matthew's things, it had just happened. Francis didn't believe that violence was right, but he wasn't exactly a pacifist either, and had simply been too angry and upset to deal with his emotions in any other way than to lash out. It scared him, what he had done, and he felt fearful as his eyes flickered to his hand. Alfred was holding it up ever so gently, observing it and making sure that Francis was alright. A small trickle of blood was escaping from his knuckles where the skin had been sliced on the wall, but it didn't look too serious. He didn't think that it was broken and was actually quite content to watch the red liquid slowly dripping down his hand. He almost embraced the pain-- it was a welcome distraction from the constant, agonizing aching of his heart.

Only later on was Francis able to comprehend the American's words. Before, they had fallen upon deaf ears, but now he was starting to make sense of them. Alfred had called his name, had called for him in a tone that was panicked and afraid and then, all of a sudden, it was a whisper. A whimper. As soon as Alfred embraced him, strong arms enveloping his body, Francis desperately clung to the other, trembling in fear of what he'd done. Despite the way he held onto the taller man, the Parisian was slowly shaking his head from side to side. "Y-You're going to make your clothes damp, I'm c-covered with water..." He said, practically choking the words out as they mixed with a gentle sob. However, the tears that he shed were more out of fear than anger or sadness. Never before had Francis reacted in such a violent manner-- he didn't like it at all; his own reaction had scared him quite a lot. He felt torn, not knowing whether to push Alfred away and lock the door for the American's own safety or hold him close and refuse to let him go. In that moment though, Francis didn't think he would be able to let go of Alfred. The man was his comfort, his confidant, his only friend in the world. He couldn't afford to let someone like that go. So he simply stood there, desperately clinging to the other as he stared down at the mess on the floor and the red droplets of blood there, the consequences of his sudden outburst. "I'm s-sorry." He said quietly as he made a sudden realization. What if Alfred didn't want to be near him anymore; what if he was fearful that Francis was becoming violent? "I-I didn't mean.. I wasn't trying to hurt anybody." He said weakly, looking up at the other with sudden desperation in his eyes. "It just h-happened." Rejection was one of Francis's biggest fears, so he felt the sudden need to justify his own actions, almost as if it were an obligation to do so. "Please, Alfred. D-Don't leave me now. I-I'm sorry, really..."

It was the way he begged him to stay. It was how his voice shook with fear. It was how he apologized, looked up at him with those rounded, deep indigo eyes, glazed with tears and filled with desperation. And Alfred had thought Francis could touch his heart before. If anyone else had clung to him like this, spoken to him like this, looked at him like this, Alfred would have certainly felt heartache. Empathy, sympathy, pity. But Francis. What Alfred felt in those moments was a hundred times more powerful than anything he'd ever felt before. Those eyes were hypnotizing him, that voice was echoing in his mind. A fire had begun to smolder within the American's heart. Hot and powerful, this fire was his will to protect. The sudden wave of emotion was nearly too much, too hot and too cold at the same time, and it rendered Alfred speechless for a few dizzying moments. "...Leave you?" The words left the blond's lips as nothing more than a shaking, disbelieving sigh. His hand had found it's way to the Parisian's cheek, the side of his neck, hand cupping there, thumb against his jaw and fingertips in his damp hair. "Listen to me. I won't leave you. I'll never let you go; I don't think I can." He was shaking his head, searching his glistening eyes. It was just then that his own words struck him, the truth of them. He was going to have to let Francis go. Soon; he was going back home. Alfred thought he could bear to let him go before. Now something deep inside him told him he couldn't/ Not now. Don't think of him leaving right now, he told himself. Not right now when we need each other, when Francis needs me.

"Don't say sorry, Francis." Shaking his head softly, he allowed the corner of his lips to turn up ever so slightly into a fleeting, reassuring smile. "Everyone gets mad, and you didn't hurt anyone..." He paused. "Well..." Alfred gently took the Frenchman's cut hand in his own. "Let's fix this, okay?" Another gentle, reassuring flicker of a smile. "And then..." Blue eyes scanned the bathroom, thought written in those clear orbs. These things. These objects. These reminders. They were all over, surrounding Francis, and they had simply become too much for him to bear. The solution was simple, Alfred realized. "... and then we're getting outta here." He looked back at Francis, reassurance and promise in his eyes. "Let's spend the whole day outside, away from this apartment, away from the school. Let's just run away today, just you and me-- let's not worry about anything else."

It was cold standing in that bathroom, clothed only by a towel wrapped around his waist, but somehow Francis was so hot. Perhaps it was the way he was being held, or the way he was being touched, Alfred's fingers leaving burning trails over his skin and making his breath hitch. He didn't know. He just needed to be closer to the other, close enough to feel the comfort that Alfred always brought. The comfort that Alfred was. Every time, without fail, Francis was rendered almost speechless whenever the American offered him support. It was something about the way he was treated; watching the extroverted man pour all of his affection onto Francis stirred something inside him. Sure, he was used to being the centre of attention and was very much at home in the spotlight, but this... this was somehow different. It was a nice different. Francis spread love around so much, but it was never really given back to him, not in the way that he truly deserved. He had thought that Matthew loved him, but-- well, he had obviously been incorrect. The Canadian hadn't been looking for a hand to hold, only a heart to smash. And that one single hit had broken Francis' entire being. So, when Alfred took up his face, pressing gentle fingers into his neck and jaw, tangling into his hair, Francis felt like he was the only person who existed in the American's eyes. To have all of that care given to him, endless words of reassurance pouring out of the other's mouth... it was almost too much. Francis felt like crying again, this time tears of joy forming in his eyes. Despite everything, Alfred wouldn't leave him. He even went as far as to say that he couldn't leave him. Francis became trapped within the other's gaze, unable to look away and frankly not wanting to do so either. It was bliss.

Then there was a hand touching his own, carefully avoiding contact with his injuries, constantly aware of Francis' needs. "O-Okay." He managed to speak softly, naught more than a whisper. "Oui, okay... let's run away together. Far away from here, Alfred..." It sounded like heaven. Away from Matthew, away from his apartment, away from Arthur, away from the school. Just Alfred. No memories surrounding him, no more dark thoughts that hung over him like a black cloud, constantly taunting him. "C-Can we really?" Despite his longing to escape, Francis knew that the other's words were dangerous. They were bonding, getting closer and closer to each other... but soon Francis would be leaving. Was it really alright to do this? Or was Francis going to render Alfred as angry as he had Matthew?

Francis was small, Alfred noticed. Thin-- although not an unhealthy thin-- and slender, nearly petite. Especially bare like this. But it wasn't just his clothes that he had been stripped of; he wasn't just physically small. It was as if when Matthew had broken him, he'd taken some pieces away, or lost them. Of these pieces were his confidence, his outspoken, shimmering sides of his personality. What was left was someone a bit incomplete, delicate, fragile. The Frenchman seemed stripped of these pieces, the parts of his personality that he liked to flaunt and display. The way he looked at Alfred now, blue orbs round and shimmering, how he questioned his own words... made Alfred hold him a little tighter. He wanted to protect this raw, stripped version of his best friend, or what was left of him, until he could find and collect his missing pieces. He wanted to put Francis back together again, he wanted to make it better. This, Alfred realized, was probably the biggest challenge he'd ever face.

"Of course we can." He locked eyes with him, his own clear and reassuring. And then he threw him that faint smile again, adding a bit of warmth to the cold room. "We can. There's nothing holding us back, right? We can do whatever we want, so let's get outta here." Now, Alfred was certain that this would help. If Francis choose to stay in this little apartment, filled with relentless reminders of the Canadian-- God, it'd be torture.

"Come on," He lightly bumped foreheads with the Frenchman, noticing how the water that soaked his hair had turned it almost the same shade of blond as Alfred's. "Here's what we're gonna do. I'm gonna shower, you're gonna change, we'll eat some breakfast, then grab the bare necessities and get the hell out of here." He smiled again; softly, kindly. Francis needed fresh air. He needed to be around people, he needed sunlight and open spaces. Alfred was going to show him everything to be happy about. He was going to remind him of all the things to live for. "Okay?"

Despite feeling hot, almost to the point of it being unbearable, Francis had started to shiver. Being in Alfred's arms was a strange feeling. He was content, but somehow felt so weak. It was something that he couldn't really explain. He longed to tell Alfred, to thank him, but he just didn't know how to do it. Every time he tried to form the words in his mind, they broke apart and refused to connect. Every sentence sounded so much like what he had said in the past: 'You're wonderful. You're beautiful. You're perfect. You're kind. You're breathtaking.' Things that he had said to Matthew.

'I love you.'

This wasn't fair-- Francis didn't want to recycle compliments like that, especially not when Alfred and Matthew were so painfully different. It seemed sadly ironic, seeing as twins were stereotypically similar, but in Francis' opinion this particular pair couldn't be more different. Once again he felt a stab of guilt for mistaking Alfred for Matthew in his drunken state the previous night. Alfred was light, whilst Matthew was dark. Alfred was warm, whilst Matthew cold. Alfred shone. Matthew was dull. So, he tried again, this time speaking from his heart and not his mind. The things that he felt, not what he thought. "I want to run away with you. You make me feel... like a person again. You treat me so kindly, Alfred..." He clung to the other, desperate to cease the shaking of his body. The point where their foreheads met was damp, but he leaned in close anyway, keeping close to the American despite their height difference-- leaning up on his toes in effort to remain safe in his arms. Lids covered his blue eyes and, with eyelashes fluttering, ghosting over his high cheekbones, he attempted the tiniest of smiles. "Okay. It sounds like a plan." As long as he had Alfred, Francis had faith. He decided then and there that he was going to cling to those words and use them as his motivation. He had Alfred. Alfred was going to stay by his side. Though he couldn't help but think upon the day when he would inevitably leave Alfred's side and travel back to his home in France.

Opening his eyes once again, he pushed those sad ideas to the back of his mind as trepidation began to build up in his thoughts. His own eyes met startling bright blue and he found himself lost within the other's gaze, finding comfort there. "Where are we going to go?" As he proposed the question his voice quietened somewhat. They were in such close proximity that he could have whispered and the other would still have heard him. In fact, their lips were almost touching. Upon realizing this Francis' breath hitched a fraction and he paused, eyes darting down to the other's mouth as he remembered the events of the previous night, how close they had come to starting a physical relationship. Or rather, to using each other as relief. He swallowed gently and moved his gaze back up to the other's eyes again.

There was something sickeningly wrong here. It was the way Francis tried to get as close as he possibly could to Alfred. The way he looked at him, spoke, flicked his eyes to his lips, then back into pools of gentle blue. It was the heat of the Frenchman's skin, the way he smiled at him. This was familiar. Because Alfred had seen Francis do these kinds of things with Matthew. He'd gone from experiencing Francis' love from second person point of view, to first person. Alfred felt as though he was looking through the Canadian's eyes, trapped in his body, receiving the love that was for him. Of course, it's not like Matthew would want this anyway. Even still, Alfred felt wrong. He wanted to push Francis away. He wanted to hold him closer. There was a brilliant, confusing storm of emotion smoldering inside of the taller blonde. And it shouldn't be there.

These kinds of emotions weren't safe. Protectiveness was a manageable emotion. So was relief. And anger. Guilt. Happiness. Uneasiness. Even the intense feeling of love could be managed. On its own, that is. But all swirled together like this-- Alfred shouldn't feel this much. It was dangerous. The arms that surrounded Francis pulled him a closer with the sole purpose of making the Parisian feel safe. "I..." A breathless, soft chuckle. "I have no idea where we're going. Let's just leave. We'll walk around until we don't feel like it anymore, maybe fall asleep on a bus or train and see where it takes us. Maybe we'll be a couple of hobos and spend the night on the side of the road." He said the last part lightly, two pairs of blue eyes sharing each other's light and warmth. "We'll figure it out." The American assured him, reluctantly loosening his arms. "Now come on; change, pack, we'll eat something and then get outta here." Alfred lifted a hand, gently combing his fingers through Francis' bangs and, rather naturally, pressed a kiss to his damp hair. He didn't know why he did it; it just felt right. Yes, that's what was so wrong. Being in Matthew's place, this confusing hurricane of dangerous emotion inside Alfred; it felt right. It felt right-- that was the problem. Something so wrong shouldn't feel so right. Should it?

Finally mustering up the control to slowly end their embrace, the American offered the Frenchman a gentle smile. Francis looked cold. He looked small, but he also looked a tiny bit better. Even still, Alfred wanted nothing more than to hold him again.

Everything that Alfred said, Francis was constantly nodding in agreement. Anything that Alfred said was good. The man was always full of bright, cheerful ideas, always willing to contribute. Despite how broken Francis was, he was still able to recognize the qualities within his best friend. Alfred was still Alfred, despite all the confusion that the two of them were going through. They had each other-- each with an unspoken duty to fix the other's broken heart. "Let's just leave." Francis echoed, his words a soft whisper as he nodded once more. "We'll pack up and go, leave this place. J-Just... just travel, far away from here." Far away from him, from them. From the two dangerous men that had destroyed both Alfred and Francis, reducing them to nothing but empty shells and faint smiles. Francis felt as if everything was finally coming together-- he finally had some kind of a plan, an idea of where his useless life was going... until Alfred kissed him. It was such a soft, brief action, lasting merely a moment, but Francis felt every burning millimetre of the other's lips press against his damp locks, making his scalp tingle with warmth. He choked, a soft, strangled noise sounding from his throat. He didn't even know why; whether it was from the sudden show of affection or reminder of what being loved felt like or perhaps something else, something more dangerous than that. Francis was rooted to the spot, his hands tightening around the other in a needy yet protective manner. He didn't know whether to shove Alfred away or hold him near, but it needed to be one or the other and soon, because Francis' body had started to tremble again and his cheeks were turning red.

They used to kiss each other all the time. Little, exchanged signs of friendly affection. They didn't mean much. They didn't do much either; Alfred remembered how his heart would swell and his smile would grow, but that had been it. They'd both felt like that. The small bit of warmth that used to flood both of them when they shared kisses wasn't the same; it'd grown. Alfred could tell by the soft, choked gasp that escaped his best friend's lips. This was dangerous, he thought. These kinds of feelings, these sorts of reactions. He wanted to keep exchanging kisses with Francis, he liked them, but now that they had grown in meaning... he wasn't sure it was healthy, for either of them. Francis needed time. So did Alfred. The American was well aware that he looked quite a bit like his twin. He knew his hand felt the same as Matthew's when it was held. He knew that it Francis were to hug him and close his eyes, imagining the Canadian wouldn't be much of a challenge. They had similar build, similar accents, similar faces. He knew if Francis were to kiss him, his lips could be easily mistaken as his brother's. Maybe it was selfish, but he wanted to help his friend, not act as a replacement Matthew. But that wasn't it. Francis was smart, he knew. Not just with books and music and cooking, but with people. They were distinguishable to him, and the way he reacted to such a small action, just a little kiss to his forehead by Alfred, was enough to convince him that there was no confusion about who he was. And then Alfred was conflicted. He was either a replacement to Francis, or... someone more. Someone like Matthew had been to him, yet not Matthew at all. Both options; they terrified Alfred. They were both dangerous. And they were both enough to convince him to save his kisses, for both his and Francis' sake.

"Come on now," He ever so gently pulled away from Francis' arms, created space between them. But God, Francis' expression, the way he shook; Alfred wanted to hold him closer. "I can't shower with you clingin' to me, and you can't change like this either..!" He smiled faintly, reassuringly, at him. I wish I could hold you forever. He thought, wanting to say such words. But we both know it's dangerous... Alfred brought his lips to the Frenchman's hair once again, nearly kissing him, simply out of something that felt like instinct. Dammit. He could hardly control the... need to make Francis feel wanted. He pulled away, ruffling his hair instead. "I'll be out in a little bit, okay? Just hang tight."

These gestures, these words... Francis was so conflicted. He and Alfred were so wonderfully casual with each other, and yet that kiss had made the Parisian's heart skip a beat. He couldn't place why, but he knew that this was dangerous game. It wasn't even a game-- Alfred was not like his brother. He wouldn't crush Francis' heart as Matthew had done so carelessly. But game or not, it felt dangerous. The kiss had brought back memories from the previous night; startlingly clear in the Frenchman's mind. Words exchanged and a course of action quickly decided. Alfred's lips on his neck leaving trails of hot kisses that burned and-- starting in realization, Francis reached a hand up to his neck, touching the skin there. Were there marks? Were they still visible? He hadn't even thought to check in the mirror despite being shirtless. His neck was exposed completely and Alfred would surely see if there was anything there. Then, all of a sudden they were moving apart. Francis had to move his arm back down to grab at his towel, desperately clutching at the fabric to stay decent. The space between them was strange. After being held in Alfred's arms for so long, Francis felt exposed, out in the open like that.

"I know." He managed to say in a tone edged with false confidence, along with a nod. Then Alfred was moving again all of a sudden, startling Francis once more. Those same soft lips that had been pressed against his neck the previous night were coming closer, moving towards his hair once more. Blue eyes widened in confusion and shock and his lips parted in another soft gasp. "A-Alfred--" Francis winced at the stutter in his own voice, instantly regretting that he spoke at all. And then, of his own accord, the American seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled back, replacing his lips with a hand that landed in his hair. It wasn't that the Frenchman was scared of Alfred or didn't want to kiss him, but there had been a certain look in the other's eyes; a need or want of some kind. And after the previous night, Francis didn't want to do anything like that with Alfred. Delicate, inexperienced Alfred, whose heart was still so broken.

Feeling stupid, Francis flushed red and lowered his face, casting his eyes down to the floor. "Alright." He said in a small voice, glancing up at the taller man for a second before moving towards the door, still confused about the reason behind Alfred's actions.

A faint flash of worry washed over Alfred's features as Francis looked away, spoke in such a small, almost ashamed voice, then began to walk out. What ever did he had to be ashamed about? Alfred hadn't meant anything by it; creating space between them, replacing his lips with his hand in a friendly gesture. He only want to play it safe. The American's eyes followed Francis as he began to walk out. Had he hurt him somehow? God, anything but that. He certainly didn't want to make his best friend upset or unwanted. No, he'd at least justify his action, clarify so Francis wasn't confused, wasn't left jumping to conclusions. "Hey..." His voice was kind, beckoning. "Don't look so sad, Francey..! I just can't hug you all the time, that's all." He assured him, catching his eyes as the man turned and walking over to the other. "You know I would if I could..." He added, his words truthful. Oh, how great it would be to be able to hold the blonde forever. But he couldn't. Life went on. "Here," In the moment, without really thinking, Alfred reached up and placed a hand on the back of Francis' head, tilting it forward carefully. Simultaneously, he leaned forward, and pressed a kiss to his bangs. Why had he done that? It was just to show Francis that he didn't want to push him away. He hadn't meant that he was disgusted by or disappointed in him when he changed his mind about kissing him the first time. That's all. He just wanted to see the other relax again, not look so upset over nothing.

Francis looked surprised as Alfred began to speak once more, turning to look up at the other man. He spoke so softly, so kindly, reassuring Francis when he had thought the conversation was over. He felt cold without Alfred's arms around him. Empty. It was... a feeling that he couldn't quite describe. A need to be near to and holding the other, so powerful that he almost felt alone without the touch, even now when they were standing next to each other. He realized with a start that... this was similar to Matthew. Whenever the other man was parted from him, Francis felt a deep sorrow and worry, a need to be near the other. Of course, the man had his own life, but Francis was still a big part of that, and naturally felt worried. What decent lover wouldn't? You couldn't ask a man like Francis not to worry about the love of his life. Love. That feeling... he felt it for Matthew in the past, yes, but... he didn't love Alfred. Surely not! Not in that manner; not romantically. It wouldn't be right. There was no way that he could--how could he love someone whilst his own heart was still broken? Not now, when they were so damaged. No, not now; not ever. Not with Alfred.

Pushing away those terrible thoughts of love, Francis looked up at the American in question, trying to concentrate on what he was saying. Alfred... wanted to hold him forever? And that look, deep within his blue orbs... it was plain to see that he was telling the truth. Francis opened his mouth up to speak in that moment, to talk to Alfred and tell him how grateful he was when a warm hand touched him once more. Alfred's large, soft hand upon the back of his head, cradling it. This time, the kiss was in slow motion. Before, it had sped by at a hundred miles an hours, leaving Francis shocked and confused. But this time, he was still, inhaling deeply and holding his breath, feeling as soft lips connected with his blond locks. It seemed to last a lifetime-- just the two of them, lost in a beautiful embrace. At some point, Francis' hands shifted and settled light upon the other's hips. It was comfortable and secure... it felt so right.

Alfred smiled. "Better? Now go change; the faster we're finished here the faster we can get out of here, right?" He flashed him a smile, warm and sincere, reassuring. He was happy they could get out. Happy for Francis; he wanted him to smile again, gain back his confidence. Alfred closed the door then, being careful to do so gently, not wanting Francis to think he was slamming it in his face, or shutting him out. The Frenchman was sensitive right now, Alfred knew that. So he had to be careful.

This time when they parted, Francis didn't feel so alone. The warmth of Alfred's lips still lingered upon his head, and he felt loved. He still didn't know why Alfred had kissed him, twice now, but he did know that it felt wonderful. He gave a genuine smile. "Better. Thank you, Alfred. You're right-- the sooner we're ready, the faster we can leave." His hands were still resting upon the other's waist, though he soon moved them back as the other had told him to change. Giving a small nod of agreement, Francis watched as the door closed and separated them, one man on either side of the frame. But he still felt the warmth of the kiss, even more powerfully now that he had left the steamy bathroom.

Crossing the bathroom back to the shower, Alfred turned on the water, letting it run. He stepped in once it had warmed up, pushing his hands through his hair and sighing. How could he be away from Francis for only a few minutes, and already be worried about him? He only hoped he was okay, hadn't taken anything the wrong way...

Francis soon heard the water begin to run and decided to get dressed. Dropping his towel, he changed into a striking blue turtleneck, the same shade as his eyes, and a pair of simple trousers, a cross between black and grey. He also laid out some other clothes for Alfred, spreading a variety out over the bed. He wasn't sure if any of them would fit, as Francis was smaller than Alfred and had less muscle, but he left them out anyway, just for the other to try.

Meanwhile, the American was lost in thought. Could touch really be that effective? Simple contact between two people caused a tsunami of emotion, dizzying thought and breathtaking warmth. Just small touches; Alfred's lips against's Francis' hair, the Parisian's hands settled upon the other's hips. Basic, uncomplicated touches, and yet, when the two made contact, there were explosions, fireworks, flashes of brilliant light. These sorts of reactions... they both confused and even frightened Alfred. However, judging by Francis' hesitancy, gasps and wide eyes, he wasn't the only one who felt this way. He and Francis were two chemicals, and when put together, they were brilliant, dangerous. This sort of chemistry wasn't safe; it was too new, too advanced, unexplored. And yet, like two magnets, they were drawn to one another, simply because only when they touched were they entirely happy, complete.

Alfred's heart fluttered and felt warm inside his chest. What? Francis hadn't even touched him then. Oh. So, apparently, a reaction could take place without contact. Just the sight of Francis' genuine smile, the words that he spoke. They were enough to make Alfred's heart race. This was so strange, so different, so unfamiliar. So tempting. Francis knew something Alfred didn't. Francis knew what being in love felt like. "Right." He said with that sunny smile of his. And the only reason it was there was because Francis seemed a bit happier, less conflicted and upset. Why did Alfred smile when Francis was happy, frown when he was sad? Wasn't Francis supposed to smile when he was happy, wasn't he supposed to frown when he was sad? Since when did Alfred start reacting to his friend's emotions in this way?

The American rinsed the suds from his darkened blonde hair, let them run down his body and into the drain. His shower was brief, both because he wanted to get out of there, and because he'd somehow found himself missing Francis, after only minutes apart. "Ooh," He said in interest as he walked into the bedroom, a towel around his waist. "Am I gonna get to try on Francis' clothes? Whatever has he picked out for me..?" He thought out loud playfully, throwing a warm smile at Francis. He couldn't help but keep his eyes where they were a moment longer. There was no question; Francis looked good. Maybe it was just a side effect of being French, but the guy seemed to look perfect in everything. So, when he wore something put-together or fitting, like that sweater of his, Alfred simply couldn't help but stare, just a little. "You look good, by the way, Francey." Alfred complimented with a smile, looking back at the bed. Well, what? He wasn't going to make Francis ask him for an explanation as to why he was checking him out. That's what friends did; they were honest with one another. They told each other what was on their minds. Francis knew that, didn't he?

After his shower, Francis felt refreshed; more alive than he had been beforehand. Once dressed, he lingered about in his room, cautiously looking around. In here, as in every room of his flat, there were various pictures. However, in this particular room, now that he observed each one carefully... there were actually more of him and Alfred then there were of Matthew. Despite the two of them being together, Francis cared greatly for all of his friends and wanted to show that. In fact, it was only now that he realized just how many there were. Each of them contained two happy figures; smiles on their faces as they hugged, laughed and made memories. He couldn't recall who had taken the photos. Perhaps Matthew or Arthur? They could hardly refuse such a normal request if it came from Alfred, and if they were on the American's phone then he must have sent them to Francis, who had got them printed at some point. Reaching up to one above his bed, he touched his fingertips to Alfred's cheek, noting how joyful the man was. He was wearing a smile that stretched from ear to ear and lit up his whole face; every part of him seeming to radiate happiness. Then, Francis looked to the American's side where he himself stood, an arm wrapped around his waist, whilst Alfred had his own arm slung around Francis' shoulders. The Frenchman was reaching up with his other hand so that their fingers touched and intertwined, Alfred's happiness seemingly spreading to him. Had he really been that happy, once upon a time? In his other photos, when he was with Matthew, he appeared happy and love-struck, but here... he looked joyful.

Francis recoiled his hand from the image as Alfred entered the room, his eyes immediately drawn to the other's bare torso. Forcing his gaze upwards as the man began to speak, he did his very best to pay attention to his words. "It's just a few things. Shirts, jeans and such. They might not fit, because..." He trailed off, his eyes drawn to the man's strong body, observing the muscles in his arms and legs. Francis himself was quite petit, with not a massive amount of muscle to show, but Alfred was taller and had more strength. "W-Well, height and things. But you're welcome to try any of them on." He finally said, meeting the other's gaze.

The corner of the American's lips turned up in a teasing half-smile as he listened to his best friend awkwardly trip and stumble over his words. "Is it 'cause I'm fat?" Alfred said with a little chuckle, finishing Francis' sentences as the ends faded away. Knowing full well that wasn't what the smaller had meant, judging by the way he tried not to stare earlier and how his eyes went slightly wide with the beginnings of a apology, Alfred just laughed softly and waved him off. "Alright," He put his hands on his bare hips. "I think I'll try these on..! You'll tell me if somethin' doesn't look good, right? I'm not as good with fashion as you are." Ocean-colored eyes flicked up to Francis for a moment, and he just barely managed to not stare. He shot him that charming half-smile of his.

At the other's words, Francis looked shocked. He had been expecting shyness and confusion, but instead, he received humour. "Fat?" He actually had to pause and blink at the other, making sure that what he had heard was correct. Alfred? Fat? "But... but cher, what are you talking about? You're not fat. You have a strong figure." Francis could hardly believe his ears. The Frenchman was willing to brush aside his own thoughts and needs for the sake of improving a person's self-confidence; especially if it was Alfred's. He was a messenger of love, after all, and wanted to make the whole world feel beautiful. And... was Alfred laughing? "Oui, I'll tell you if it doesn't match." He managed to say, nodding in agreement and yet appearing to be quite confused. That smile; a playful half-smile, and his amused laughter... it was as if Alfred was back to being his old self again. But hadn't Francis just make a massive blunder with his words? Wasn't Alfred angry with what he'd said? Even if it had been a compliment, his words had been rushed and rather thoughtless. He knew that he shouldn't have been staring at Alfred in the first place.

However, what he didn't realize was that, while he had been looking at Alfred, the American had been doing the same to him. Which is why, when the other spoke and complimented him, he was quite surprised. Francis felt his cheeks warm; his face going red and his heartbeat suddenly speeding up, beating rapidly in his chest. Why was his body reacting like this?! "Ah... merci, Alfred." He managed to get out, his voice sounding quite strained. "You do... too." He said rather awkwardly, his face turning two shades darker when he realized that he'd just complimented the other's body. He hadn't meant to, but it was polite to return a compliment and he hadn't fully thought the words through before they had left his mouth. "W-Well, I should.. leave you to change." He said quickly, turning around and heading for the door.

"Hey, thanks, Francey." Francis was cute. That was a fact, someone who barely knew Francis could tell you that. Hell, all you needed was to see a picture; that was more than enough to make the conclusion that Francis was cute. But there was more to him, Alfred knew. More things that made him difficult to pry your eyes from. Maybe it was how he bashfully complimented Alfred just then, and got so dark in the face. This broken, exposed version of Francis was different than the one Alfred had grown so accustomed to. The Frenchman would have had no problem complimenting or flirting with people. But now, it seemed that he grew flustered, tripped over his words, became bashful and awkward at the slightest of things. Alfred briefly wondered if this kind of behaviour had anything at all to do with being hurt and broken so badly. And with that thought, that maybe, just maybe, Francis was acting like this simply because of Alfred... oh, no, that couldn't be the case. Surely, he would respond to affection the same way towards anyone who offered it. Even so, he was undeniably cute. Alfred resisted the urge to stop what he was doing, cross the room and pull Francis into another close hug. If Francis hadn't decided to leave at this moment, Alfred may have just given into his urge and embraced his best friend again, with no reason he all. Alfred ached for them to have some kind of a relationship where they could hold each other and casually kiss without having to justify and explain each gentle action.

"Cool," Alfred said, smiling softly as he picked out the biggest shirt and pants that Francis owned. The Parisian really was so small... just another reason he was cute and difficult to pry your eyes from. "Breakfast is on the stove, just heat it up if it got cold. I'll be right out..!" He said over his shoulder as he held the shirt up in front of him.

It was a white button-down with sleeves coming to the elbows. The pants he chose were plan, similar in color to Francis', slightly more brown. It was an outfit Alfred would be comfortable in. The taller blonde waited for his friend to leave before changing and looking in the mirror. He turned from side to side, tilting his head up, down, left, right, running a hand through his hair, checking himself out in the reflective surface. Alfred knew he looked pretty good. Well, until you got to his midsection. There really wasn't much there, and what Alfred didn't know was that when he stepped onto the scale, the extra numbers were more than likely from muscle mass rather than fat. But really, all he saw was a thin strip of pudge that ran over his stomach and around his waistline, making him seem a little softer. His arms and chest were plenty toned, but that one little bit of chub... He simply couldn't be rid of it. Even so, with his nearly non-existent insecurity, Alfred looked pretty good in that slightly too tight button-down shirt and slacks. He only wished he had his cowboy boots and his beloved bomber jacket with him; then he'd be completely content with his choice of clothes.

After a moment or two of sucking in his slightly soft belly and quietly judging himself, he looked back up to his face and nodded some in satisfaction. Alfred left the room then, going to the kitchen.

Looking up at the other, he blushed lightly as that beautiful smile was directed at him. "It's no problem, Alfred. Anything I can do to help.." He said gently in response, his words completely genuine. "I'll have some-- thank you for making it, Alfred." He didn't know what it was yet, but was thankful anyway. The American was looking after him, it felt like, and Francis truly needed that. He turned, looking to the taller man for a moment longer before exiting the room and closing the door behind him, leaving Alfred to change in peace.

When he reached the kitchen, he saw the food sitting atop the stove and smiled at the other's kindness. He truly was lucky to have Alfred with him-- the man could just as easily have sided with Matthew, and then where would Francis be? Well... he'd be dead. Shuddering at the memory of how high up he had been on the roof, how close he'd come to ending it all, he remembered once again that he owed Alfred his life. As kind a gesture as the other's cooking was, Francis felt his stomach turn at the thought of eating. Still hungover from the night before, breakfast was one of the last things he wanted. Now that he thought about it, his head was spinning. It felt as if there was a carousel behind his eyes, going at the speed of light, and Francis was suddenly very dizzy. Even before he'd had his heart smashed to pieces and drowned himself in alcohol he hadn't eaten much. It sounded ridiculous now, but he'd been putting part of his salary towards saving for a ring for Matthew, which meant that money for food became sparse. And having all that alcohol on an empty stomach... it was never going to turn out well. All of the events from the previous day, they were just too much and too many. The thought that not too long ago, Matthew had been his lifeline rather than Alfred absolutely terrified Francis. Head still spinning, he reached forward, clutching at anything to keep him steady. How could he ever have fallen in love with such a monster? His hands touched wood, a chair, and grabbed at it, but it slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor with a thump. Suddenly, Francis' torso meet something hard and heavy and he gasped, realizing that he'd fallen into the table and was now slumped over it. Breathing hard, he clung to its sides as his breathing slowly evened out, closing his eyes.

As Alfred walked out into the kitchen, a thump was heard and something like a pained gasp, protectiveness sparking inside Alfred instantaneously. "Francis..!" He was at his side in seconds, helping him up from his slumped over position. "Jeez... what happened?" He muttered worriedly, mostly to himself, carefully helping his friend sit down in a chair. How had he expected someone to heal from all this so quickly? Maybe a stone-hearted person could move on and revert back to their normal self within a few days, but Francis was far from heartless. He needed time; things couldn't just heal within a matter of hours. "H-Hey, you're okay, you're alright... talk to me... what's wrong?" He crouched down next to the chair and put a hand on Francis' shoulder. Worry was evident in his voice and his eyes, concern displayed clearly on his face. Alfred had seen what heartbreak had done to Francis on an emotional level, and now he was seeing it on a physical one too. He seemed weak, disorientated, probably hungover and lacking nutrients... "Maybe eating right away isn't a good idea..." Alfred thought out loud, eyes dropping and sweeping the tile floor. Something else occurred to him, and while he didn't know that Francis had been saving up for a ring, he did know he was conserving money for something. "When's the last time you ate...?" Alfred asked as he stood, going to the sink and filling a cup full of water. That'd help; it was needed. Water always helped... "Here.." He said quietly, handing over the cool liquid and not letting go of the cup until both of Francis' shaking hands held onto it. "... drink that, it'll help..." Alfred was trying. He really was. But he was no doctor, no therapist... he only wanted to fix the damage that Matthew had done to his best friend... and he hardly knew how.

Francis had thought he was alone until he felt strong arms around him, pulling him into the light and out of the darkeness. "Alfred..." He said softly in response, instinctively grasping at the other's arms for security; holding onto him. "I.. it's nothing-- just a moment of weakness. I was dizzy.." He admitted with a sigh, pressing a hand to his forehead. When Alfred bent down next to him, Francis couldn't bear to look him in the eyes. He'd been careless-- he knew that his poor health was a result of his eating habits, as well as certain other things. "Nothing's wrong in particular.." He said softly, trying to evade the other's questions. When Alfred suggested not eating he let out a sigh of relief, thinking that Alfred hadn't figured out what Francis had been doing. But then, of course, the other man sharp as ever, he asked the question that the Parisian had been dreading. "I... don't know." His answer was rather meek, despite being truthful. "A... couple of days ago? I didn't mean it, really.." He bowed his head, feeling ashamed and stupid that he'd pushed himself to such a physical breaking point. But.. he couldn't help it. Matthew had been his priority, the love of his life. Francis had wanted the best for his lover, and the best had proved to be very expensive indeed. "Merci, Alfred." When water was handed to him, he was terribly grateful. Cool, clean and crisp, quenching his thirst as it ran down his dry throat, the only liquid he'd drank in a while that wasn't alcohol. "It's good.." He added as he drank slowly, appearing to be a little more content now.

Alfred could decide what saddened him more; the fact that Francis hadn't eaten in a few days, or that he looked so ashamed and apologetic about it. Poor guy... he didn't have to say sorry, just take care of himself. Whatever he'd been saving up money for must've been expensive. And important. Expensive, important... it was probably for Matthew.

Alfred sighed, but it wasn't out of disappointment for Francis. "You're welcome, bud..." The American pulled up a chair and sat with him, rubbing circles over his back. That wasn't how love worked, nor healthy relationships, Alfred thought, his expression turning distant. Only each other should matter. Not expensive, materialistic things... that's not where happiness should come from. Alfred knew one thing for sure; if he ever fell in love with someone like Francis, so selfless that they entirely put themselves aside to buy something expensive for him, Alfred would be more than upset. Not angry; the same kind of upset that a parent felt when their child nearly hurt themselves doing something stupid. Alfred knew that, if you really loved someone, just having them and their happiness should be plenty. He couldn't help but compare the statement he'd made in his mind with... how he'd felt recently. About Francis. His happiness... Alfred found himself putting it first, ensuring that it was present before he did anything else. Well... he did love Francis. As a friend, of course. Platonically. But he loved him all the same. "Better, Francey?" He asked once the Parisian had finished, taking the glass back. "I'll get you some more, okay..? You wanna try to eat something..?" He asked gently, knowing Francis had to eat eventually, to get his strength back.

Francis shook his head, feeling physically sick as he thought over what he'd done; his body trembling. He'd practically starved himself for a man that would prefer him dead. Such a thought made him want to throw himself off of the roof all over again, but he knew how dangerous thinking in that manner was, so instead he clung to Alfred and swallowed down his sobs. "No, please.. don't move yet, Alfred. Stay here.." The hand on his back was warm, comforting and familiar. It felt.. nice. Secure. Feeling at home with Alfred, he carefully lean into the other and opened up. "$1000.." He began softly. "It was over $1000. I had to get it before July. H-His birthday... I saved up for weeks. Cancelled the gas bill for a little while and tried to get more shifts. Cold showers and sandwiches." He laughed weakly, the sound a cross between a broken sob and a nervous chuckle. "He was so perfect... I wanted a perfect ring to match. A diamond, just like how mon Matthieu was a diamond in the rough.." He trailed off then, going silent for a few moments before standing up and reaching across, grabbing the food from the stove and setting it upon the table. Slowly, he began to eat, picking at one half of the food, before giving the remaining half to Alfred on a separate plate. He'd purposely divided it into two so that they would both have something to eat. The food felt heavy in his mouth, despite how nice it was. After not eating properly for weeks, this amount of real, hot food was quite a shock to his system, and he only managed to consume a little. But it was enough. When he was finished, he set his cutlery down and stared at the table. "I'm ready to go when you are. Let's leave this place behind.." He said softly, feeling slightly relieved now that he had spoken to Alfred. Something about the other man just made him want to open up. Whether it was his charming smile or caring attitude, Francis didn't know, but he felt very safe around Alfred-- he always had done. And he was glad to have such a good friend as him now more than ever. Without even thinking, he took Alfred's hand, needing the security. It was slightly larger than his-- perhaps due to their difference in size. But despite all the other's sporty activities, it was still surprisingly soft; the skin not as calloused as he had expected. Soon enough, he found himself staring down at where they connected, blue eyes full of wonder as he did so.

It broke Alfred's heart to see Francis like this, broken and so needy for comfort. The same way it made the American's heart soar when Francis smiled or laughed, he felt like crying when the Parisian was so sad... so he gave into his urge (as if it were even possible to resist it at a time like this) and hugged his best friend carefully, listening as he spoke. And his words, God... Francis had gone through all that for a man who hated him, for someone that wanted him dead. He was too frozen with the heart-wrenching thought to speak, letting Francis go as he stood to get food. After a moment, Alfred opened his mouth and took a little breath of air in to speak, then closed it as Francis's next words cut him off. And oh, were they refreshing to hear. Alfred didn't want to speak of his brother-- no, he didn't want to speak of Matthew anymore. Anyone who hurt someone so badly, who dared to hurt Francis so badly was no brother of Alfred's.

"Yeah," Alfred's hand found its way to Francis' back, rubbing a few circles in an attempt to bring him a bit of reassurance. "Let's get outta here." His hand had lowered, and suddenly there was electricity, pleasant waves of it coursing through his veins and straight to his weary heart. Alfred's eyes fell to their conjoined hands, and the two just sat there, staring in wonder where they locked, baffled that such a simple connection could bring so much emotion, so much of that very much needed comfort. Did Francis feel it too? This electricity? Oh, it was dangerous, it was terrifying... but it was so perfect. And it was clear that Francis had taken his hand simply because he needed the security that Alfred was more than willing to give him. "You're okay, bud.." He said quietly, in a voice so soft that it was nearly a whisper, placing a second hand over Francis'. He looked back at him, looked until their eyes met. "Try not to think too much about it... listen... as long as I'm around, nothin' bad's gonna happen to you, okay? I promise..." Alfred would take care of him. He'd treat him like Matthew should have. "Now come on," A gentle squeeze to the other's smaller hand. "Let's get what we need and go." Alfred reluctantly let go of Francis' hand, stood, and deposited their plates and silverware in the sink.

As soon as Alfred's arms were around him, Francis felt like he could breathe again. Slowly exhaling, he managed to get through his story in a clear voice without it breaking even once. There was something amazing about Alfred, the Frenchman thought... something that couldn't be explained, but was somehow so significant. Just being in his presence made Francis feel secure, and having the other's arms around him... it was just bliss. His breathing slowed and he felt calm, although his heartbeat somehow sped up. Then, as he stood, Alfred's arms left him, but he still felt safe despite missing the heat of the other's body a little bit. And then the other was speaking. A soft word of agreement, of conformation, that made Francis feel as if he was right for once. After having Matthew undermine his very being and his want to spread love to the world, it felt nice when his opinions and ideas were well-received. It had hurt to hear what Matthew had said, but Francis didn't want to let it bother him anymore. That was who he was, and nothing the Canadian said or did could ever change that.

When Alfred's hand was placed upon his back again, Francis couldn't help but lean into the comforting touches, a soft smile creeping onto his face. His smile vanished soon after, however, to be replaced with a look of awe as he looked down to where their two hands met. Feeling his heart skip a beat as another hand was placed atop his, Francis looked up at its owner. "Oui.." He said softly in reply, surprised to find that his own voice was even quieter than the American's had been. "I.. I'm alright." A flicker of a smile. "As long as we're together, Alfred." He paused, suddenly finding himself lost deep within the blue pools that were Alfred's eyes. "Thank you. For.. for everything." He wanted to have more than this; to go back to the way that the two of them used to be. There was no harm in it, right? They were just friends, comforting each other and working to fix their broken hearts. Matthew and Arthur were no longer in the picture; they weren't relevant anymore. As he and Alfred stood together, he found himself thinking about this more and more. His hand went cold as the other man gently pulled away, and he suddenly decided. He wanted to stay close to the other. And as for Matthew and Arthur... Francis didn't want them to be anything more than a bad memory. So he leaned in and pressed his lips to Alfred's cheek, the gesture soft but the moment soon over as Francis carefully moved back. It had felt like the right thing to do, and besides, that's the way that he always used to thank Alfred, wasn't it? Nothing had changed between them, had it? Only the people around them had changed as they played their twisted mind games, using Alfred and Francis as their playthings. But, in truth, Francis knew that neither of the two had changed at all. They had always hated him. His relationship with Matthew had never been true, the love he poured upon him forever unrequited. And Francis had been blind to it all. Which is why, when he lay a kiss upon Alfred's cheek, he was surprised to find that his heart sped up once again. Perhaps it was their close proximity, or that the kiss had been a reminder of how things were before, Francis didn't know, but it felt somehow.. different. Dangerous. And yet still so special.

A flicker of confusion danced within his eyes as he pulled back, the orbs darting across Alfred's face as he looked for an explanation. This was supposed to have been a 'thank you' gesture for the other, but Francis suddenly felt silly, and confused. Why didn't it feel the same as it had done before? The friendly love he felt towards Alfred... it wasn't there anymore. He searched his soul, but he couldn't find it; couldn't pinpoint the emotion within his mess of a body. Had Matthew broken his ability to love, as well as his heart?

Alfred didn't know that it was possible to be frozen and melt at the same time. But here Francis went again, mixing and matching his emotions, controlling them, amplifying them in ways the blond never thought possible. Oh, yes; something had changed. Altered, twisted, somehow become a thousand times more powerful. How were two small, broken things able to create such a masterpiece from nothing at all? That kiss... it wasn't the first time Alfred had received it. Warm and simple against his cheek, it was a sign of a 'thank you', of friendship. Both those feelings were gone. If only Alfred had known that Francis considered the thought that, maybe, Matthew had taken away his ability to love, along with so much more,he would have corrected him. After all, he wasn't the only one that felt no simple friendship when they exchanged that basic gesture. But it wasn't as if nothing was left in its place, it wasn't as if where warm friendship had been taken away nothing else remained. No. Not at all. Warmth wasn't there anymore. Now it was blazing, scorching heat, perfectly balanced with something cool and comfortable. Yes, the slight feeling of swelling in their hearts was gone, but it had been replaced with thunder and waves of electricity, hearts leaping and flipping and racing wildly. There was so much in the American's eyes when they met Francis'. Fear, fear of what this was and what it meant. And then awe, and with awe came wonder. A brilliant light, like he was looking at the only person in the world, the only one that mattered, at least. There was confusion, and then there was happiness. Pure, unattained happiness as if, in that moment, Alfred couldn't care less about Arthur, or Matthew, or this painful little apartment, the ache that ate away at both of their hearts, the trust that had been broken; just Francis. And Francis... he made him happy.

It took a long moment for either of them to snap out of it, but neither of them seemed to mind waiting for that stretched moment to end. Alfred took a step back, but his eyes were still on Francis and, much to his surprise and embarrassment, he nearly knocked a chair over as he backed away. Why was Francis looking at him like that? Like he looked at Matthew? His cheeks heated and he finally tore his eyes away. "H-Hey, come on, let's pack, okay?"

Francis didn't know what this was. He didn't understand it, couldn't make any sense of it. Even as he tried to comprehend what was happening, he found himself at a loss. The Frenchman opened his mouth to speak, to say something, anything to apologize, to fill the terrible silence that was eating away at the both of them, but just as he was doing so, he was suddenly distracted. Alfred was moving backwards, away from him. Away from him. Creating distance between them and making Francis' heart sink in utter despair. God, what had he done? This wasn't right-- the Frenchman didn't know what kind of reaction he had been looking for, but it certainly wasn't this one. They had been happy, and now Francis had ruined it with a kiss. Ironic, really. Francis might have laughed if he hadn't spotted the chair shift at that one moment, caused by the movement of the American stepping backwards. "Alfred, careful..!" He cried suddenly, reaching forward and grasping desperately for the other, fearing that he was falling as a result of him pulling back and changing his position. Francis grabbed at the other's arms, trying to pull him forward and save him, panic arrising from the fear of him hitting his head on the floor. However, he soon realized that the other was not falling and that he had simply tripped. Alfred looked scared. There was a certain fear behind his eyes that was mixed in with embarrassment.

Suddenly feeling that he was too close, Francis recoiled, practically jerking backwards to get away from the other. Francis watched Alfred blush, turn away and stutter, feeling his own cheeks heat up. He swallowed, looking away and clenching his fists to prevent his hands from shaking. "What do I take..?" He questioned in a small, trembling voice. He was confused. He sounded confused, despite his best efforts to hide the emotion. It hurt for Alfred to look so afraid when he stared at Francis, to move away so desperately. Was he really that bad, that Alfred was forced to physically move away from him? There had been a moment where happiness had entered Alfred's eyes, just for a couple of precious seconds. But now... he just looked shocked. Dazed. Confused. As confused as Francis was himself, most likely.

Oh, no; Alfred wasn't afraid of Francis. He hadn't created distance because of him, but he was terrified of the electricity between them. These emotions that drew him in; so beautiful, wild, brilliant, so very dangerous. He put his hand out to offer a bit of reassurance when Francis looked so concerned over his near wipe out, shaking his head, eyes round. "No, no, I'm fine..!" He promised quickly. And then the Parisian jerked away like that, and Alfred decided then he hated every inch of space between them. He liked it better, so much more, when there was no space at all. Being close to Francis, in each other's arms... it felt like home. "Well... money, clothes... probably first aid and water. D-Do you have a duffle bag or something?" Why was Francis clenching his fists? Why wouldn't Alfred's-- either of their voices stop shaking? Relax, He told himself, taking a slow breath. Francis is sensitive. If you can't control your emotions, he'll take it all the wrong way. Calm down. So he did. His shoulders fell slightly, his eyes softened and he offered a small, warm smile. "Let's keep it bare minimum. Just enough to get by, yeah?"

Francis jerked away as the hand came towards him, the man's quick reflexes responding to the unexpected movement and causing him to suddenly recoil. He soon took a tentative step forward, however, as he was afraid that Alfred would think him rude and a coward; too scared to face up to what he had done; their kiss. "Alfred.." He began in a hardly audible, tender voice that shook with nerves. "I didn't mean--" However, he soon broke off, instead opting to remain quiet as the other began to speak. He paused again before responding. "I have a bag. A-And supplies. Money from the... stuff that I saved up. Just the bare minimum..." His words were tinged with an underlying note of regret; feeling sad once again at how cruelly he had been deceived. In only a few weeks from now, he had planned to ask Matthew for his hand in marriage. Those words had once filled Francis with joy, but now... now they filled him with despair for his lost lover. "Although, I-I need to save a little back. For... for my flight." He said softly, unable to comprehend why the words saddened him. The thought of going back to France alone was enough to rip a new hole in his shredded heart, but Francis knew that he must leave Alfred someday soon. Shaking his head sadly, he tried to change the topic. "I'll gather the clothes from the bed, put them into the bag. Our supply is over there.." He raised a trembling hand, one slim finger pointing in the direction of a lone wooden box upon the shelf, clearly labelled using a note written in the Frenchman's elegant hand that simply said 'Matthew'. He had used the English spelling for once, perhaps to show that it truly did belong to the Canadian. The sight of such a thing seemed to have saddened Francis, and he turned to the bedroom instead with a pained expression, his gaze looking towards the clothes that still lay upon the bed.

Francis felt tired. His body ached, but despite only just having woken, he didn't feel refreshed from his sleep. Perhaps it was the alcohol, or perhaps something more sinister. His emotions, playing tricks on him again. Matthew still lurked somewhere deep within Francis; he could feel it, and it wasn't comforting either. The man had invaded his whole life, completely taken it over and gained access to Francis' deepest thoughts and feelings in the process. Then he had used all of those against him, mercilessly ripping him apart from the inside. Even now, despite Alfred's best efforts to save him, his heart still lay in shreds around him. It was within the photographs plastered over the walls by Francis like some kind of excited teenager, the box of money saved up so carefully, the things in the fridge and bathroom... all Matthew's. All invading Francis' space so that he could barely breathe in his own home, even after the Canadian was gone. It made him feel sick.

Trudging slowly to the bedroom, he began to plan out what he'd take in his head, already eyeing the bag that they would be taking: a simple bag decorated with the American flag. He had bought it when he was back in France, thinking that it would help him fit in. The Americans seemed so patriotic, and Francis decided that if he was going to fit in, he should at least try to follow the example of others. However, despite trying hard to be act more like an American, it was painfully obvious that Francis was a foreigner. If he was just standing around, then perhaps he could pass as a native, but once he began to speak it was a different story. For one, there was his accent. Although his English was very good and his speaking skills were forever improving, it was still his second language. Not only the way it sounded when he spoke, but the way in which he spoke.

The Americans seemed to be more vocally expressive, whereas back home, people relied on gestures to speak. It was true that smiles were plentiful in America, but the more subtle, important gestures.. they were somehow missing. The cities were loud and bright, almost blinding, and the people buzzing with energy. There didn't seem to be a great deal of quiet anywhere. Not compared to Paris, at least. Francis' home; his was a city of romance. Of light music and fine wine, couples and love, all set upon the beautiful backdrop of Paris. This place was loud and full of laughter. In truth, it had scared him at first. He hadn't known what to make of it, which is why he had found so much comfort with Matthew. He sighed. Matthew... It was so hard to distract himself from thoughts of the Canadian. This was why he and Alfred needed to go far, far away from here.

How did Francis have this kind of power over him? He laughed, and Alfred felt like the happiest man alive. And now, when he was so obviously traumatized and upset, Alfred swore he could feel his heart breaking. With every broken word or tremble of the Parisian's hand, a bit more weight was put on Alfred's already weary heart. "Okay..." He replied when he was told to go take a look at their supplies. He turned around and walked to the box, tensing a bit at the name written in elegant cursive. Alfred winced, but the pain wasn't physical. That name. Him. He'd caused so much pain. Alfred stood still for a moment, back facing Francis. He didn't want to cause Francis any more pain. Even if it was accidental, even if Alfred wasn't sure it was his fault that the Frenchman was so on edge right now.

There was a heavy moment, and then Alfred sighed, giving in and turning around. "Ah, jeez.." He sighed, closing the distance between them, finally. His arms surrounded the Frenchman in a protective, sweet embrace, pulling him to his chest. It was like everything was clearer, warmer, better. It was so difficult to keep two magnets apart, but when then finally locked, it just felt right. The American sighed, holding him a bit tighter. "I'm sorry, Francey... I couldn't do it; you just looked so damn sad... I hate seeing you like that..." Alfred closed his eyes, rocked the blond gently from side to side, swaying slightly. "You've got no reason to be guilty... or worried... you've got nothing to be afraid of." He understood. All this talk of the bare minimum, taking whatever they needed and nothing more... Francis had done it before. For a man who wanted him dead. Surely, this was all a big, aching reminder, just as it seemed most everything else was. "I'm not gonna leave you. And you," He pulled away just enough to look at him, lifting his own eyebrows and chucking weakly. His pointer finger curled and gently lifted Francis' chin."... ain't gonna leave me. Quit talking about going back to France... I'd hoped you forgot about that, bud..!" He smiled softly, a bit saddened, but it was entirely sincere. God, did he love being so close. His eyes glistened with happiness that he couldn't hold back.

He sighed, breaking out of his thoughts and reaching for the bag again, the material cold from being left alone next to his bed for so long. And then there was warmth. Alfred.. Alfred's arms around him once more as he was turned around. Francis could do little more than simply melt into the touches, his hands immediately wrapping around the other's back. "Don't be sorry, Alfred. You haven't done anything to me. " He allowed his eyes to close and basked in the warmth that was Alfred. "I know that you're not going to leave me.." He added, although the American's next question gave him pause. Alfred... didn't want Francis to leave? But surely that was something that was out of Francis' hands? It was because of Matthew that he had to leave at all.

Francis thought back to his earlier contemplation. Not only did he need to get far away from his apartment, but he needed to get out of the country. It was such a shame... over the months he had grown to love America and her people. He'd learnt to understand them a little better. Mostly through Alfred, he realized with surprise. The man had shown him that there was more to his nation's people than Francis had assumed. Alfred had shown him that they could love just as well as the French could. But Alfred was a special kind of person. If he cared for something, then you knew about it. He just expressed it in a different way to Francis. Alfred... why was Francis even thinking about him so much? "Alfred.." He began softly, looking up at the other man with sadness in his blue eyes. "I-I... I can't. I can't stay. Not here. Not.. anywhere in America." He looked pained, though forced himself to continue. "I.. I need to go home, Alfred. I'm sorry..." It was a poor apology and he knew it, but he just couldn't stay. There were too many memories here. Alfred, on the other hand... this was his home. Where he'd been born, where he went to school, where his brother was... this place was his whole life. Alfred had to stay.

Then I'll come with you. He'd almost said it. Effortlessly, those words had almost fallen from his lips. He hadn't even taken a moment to think about it; the simple sentence had already formed in his mind, had almost reached Francis' ears. Come with him? Stay with him? In France? Why was that such an... easy thought to have, to say? It was ridiculous.

This was his home. Alfred belonged here, this he knew. He could feel it. A home was a place you lived in; that's what they said, at least. But Alfred disagreed. In fact, what he thought was quite the opposite. A home was a place that lived in you. It was buried deep inside you, a warm, permanent reminder, something like spirit that couldn't be broken. Home was like a built-in compass; no matter where you went, where you lived, you always knew just where you belonged. Alfred knew from experience. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy traveling; in fact, he loved it quite a bit. It amazed him that there were so many different kinds of people, so many places one could see. Alfred could remember all of the places he'd been to, all so different and gorgeous in their own ways. Italy was one of them that sprang to mind . He'd only visited for two weeks, but it had been mind-blowing. The architecture was incredible, the food was outstanding, the roads and art were gorgeous. But, despite it all, that's not what captivated Alfred most. It was the people. They were friendly and confident, just like what he was used to. They sang, and danced, and spoke with strangers like they'd been friends for ages. Reckless, kind, bright and had Alfred loved it. Italy had drawn him in, made him want to stay. But, of course, he had to go back to America eventually.

Alfred only really began to develop his theory of home living within a person once he stepped out of the plane. It was as if the country herself had enveloped him in warmth and relief. So much so that his hands grew weak and he dropped his bags, sighing happily, feeling safe. He didn't know if there was quite a way to explain it. But there was relief. Belonging. These people were his family, they were just like him. He was one of many and, while he might have stuck out, been different while in Europe, he fit in perfectly here. And oh, how good it felt. To belong. To be home. America was this place. It's where his heart lay, where he would always return to.

So why, how had it been so easy for Alfred to say he would go with Francis?

France wasn't his home. He'd love it, for sure, but then he'd come back, and he'd step off of the plane and he'd belong again. Or maybe... maybe he was thinking about this all wrong. Maybe home didn't have to be a nation. Maybe... maybe home could be the person in front of him. Maybe home could have long blonde hair, a broken heart, deep blue eyes and a smile that took Alfred's breath away. The Parisian had somehow buried himself deep enough into Alfred's heart to reach his core. Francis... he was tampering with Alfred's compass.

Realization hit the American then; being close to Francis, in each other's arms... felt the same as when he stepped off of the plane. Francis felt like home. And suddenly, for the first time in his life, Alfred didn't know where home was. In his beloved country, or with his most treasured friend? He didn't want to leave either. Couldn't he be with both? So this is why when Francis said he was leaving Alfred felt so torn.

"Francis..." Alfred's smile had faded away, his eyes were the colour of the ocean that would separate them if Francis left. "Come on... stay. We'll... we can go away, far, far away. America isn't small; we'll go to a place so far away from here that... no memories can get to you, you'll see..!" Another thought occurred to the American then. What if he was a reminder? Alfred himself? He'd been with Francis through it all... just like the school, these familiar homes, faces. Alfred was just another thing that brought back memories of Matthew... Matthew and Francis, back when things were right. Alfred could very well be the absolute worst thing for Francis. He was the reminder of all reminders. Not only of the place the Frenchman had gotten his heart broken in, but the person who had done it. Alfred looked very, very similar to his twin brother. The blonde liked this before, how similar he and Matthew looked. But now, it felt like a curse.

Francis felt like he was going to be sick. Here was Alfred, the one person in the world that still cared for him, and Francis was trying to leave him? He wanted so much to stay, to agree with him like he knew he should do, but somehow his lips betrayed him. The words he spoke were not in accordance with his inner thoughts. "Alfred.." Such a simple word carried so much meaning, so much heartfelt emotion. "Y-You know that I can't. America has become... a sad place for me." He admitted softly, clutching desperately at the other's shirt as if he was scared that by rejecting his offer, the man would simply disappear into thin air, and if that ever happened then Francis didn't know what he'd do.

It had taken so much for him to adjust to a new way of life, but eventually he had thought that it was all perfect, that everybody was alright with him being there. And then that one man who meant the absolute world to him completely turned against Francis, branding him as disgusting, wanting him to die, saying that he wasn't capable of loving one person. But.. without love, Francis was nothing. Matthew had broken him enough, and if Francis was going to preserve himself and hold tight to his beliefs, then he needed somewhere he would be accepted, where he could relate to people and feel wanted once more, just like he had done when he first came to America and fell in love with his beautiful Canadian. That place had to be France. Where else could he call home now? Certainly not this apartment full of bad memories. "I need to go back home, to France. My home in Paris... I miss it, Alfred. I was homesick even before everything fell apart, but now..." He shook his head in despair. "I want to go home." The sickening feeling didn't go away as he tried to explain to Alfred what he was feeling. No, in fact, it got much worse. Alfred's words... 'We'll go to a place so far away from here.' We. He had referred to the both of them. Did that mean... that the American was willing to stay with him? Throw everything else away?

A sad place? Oh... there was a familiar ache of disappointment, Alfred's eyes fell to the carpet. Matthew really was a bastard. Oh, the things he'd ruined, crushed and spoiled. He'd taken all of the love Francis had to give and thrown it away. Completely destroyed a person for no reason at all, shattered their every dream, most ironically involving the Canadian himself. And even if he didn't mean to, although he surely didn't have any regrets, Matthew had managed to ruin Alfred's country for Francis.

The American sighed softly, flicking misted blue orbs back up to look at Francis. Home... that was a concept Alfred understood. Missing home, being homesick. Clearly, Francis didn't feel the same hesitation that Alfred felt; not knowing where home was. Alfred wasn't home for Francis. France was home. And keeping Francis here, with him... it'd be selfish. "I get it, Francey, I know... you can't stay." Alfred assured him quietly, smiling sadly. "I'm gonna miss you..." He had to say it. Francis had to know that he would be missed, if he left. When. When he left... Alfred didn't want to believe it. Alongside his emotions being amplified when he was with Francis, so was his need to protect him. Stay with him. Alfred wanted to keep him close. How was he supposed to survive with Francis an ocean away, when he could already hardly stand it when he was across the room and not in his arms? How can you say you want to leave me while you're clinging on like this? He thought, returning the close embrace that neither of them wanted to break.

He inhaled shakily, looking up at the other. "I-I won't go right away. I need to think, first. For now... let's get away from this place together." Francis wanted to preserve their bond, so he tried to include the both of them in his words. Show Alfred just how much he mattered to Francis. "Is there... anything else that you need? Anything from.. from your home?" He practically whispered the last words of his sentence, knowing Alfred shared that home with Matthew. He silently prayed that the American wouldn't have to go back there, clinging tightly to his shirt.

Alfred hummed softly in thought when Francis spoke, softly biting his lip. "Unfortunately, yeah... there are some things I need to grab from home. Clothes, money, you know?" He'd nearly forgotten. Alfred's stomach sunk some, more weight was put on his shoulders. Matthew. He didn't want to see Matthew. Not now, not ever again. What would he be like? Guilty? Regretful? Surely not. He'd done this all on purpose. He'd looked so victorious as he tossed the Frenchman away like garbage. So would he be happy? The blonde's blood began to boil, and he noticeably held Francis a bit closer. Happy. If he was happy Francis was so broken, only disappointed that he wasn't dead, Alfred may just kill him. The American wasn't a violent person. But he loved Francis. He was his closest and most treasured friend. The thought that anyone, brother or not, could willingly hurt him so badly and be happy about it made Alfred beyond angry. But right now, he just had to calm down. Being angry wouldn't fix a thing.

No matter what he said or did, the sickening feeling in his stomach just kept worsening, twisting and rising as if trying to kill him on the spot. "But.. but it's not because of you, Alfred." He said desperately, looking up at the other. "It was never you. Please, just.. just know that. You're not Matthieu. I-I would never treat you in the same way, Alfred." Francis held tighter to the other's hands, as if his words would somehow magically bind him to the other, stop him from ever getting on another plane. He savoured these moments with Alfred-- treasured them with all his heart. But the American's next words made him want to be sick all over again. "You're going back home..?" It had been his idea in the first place, yes, but even the thought of Alfred being near Matthew made him terribly scared. "A-Alright. But... be careful, Alfred. Please." He swallowed, thinking to himself. Should I go with him..? He didn't want to, oh no. In fact, he completely dreaded the thought of ever seeing the Canadian again, but he'd do it for Alfred because he knew that Alfred would do it for him.

"Yeah. Listen... I'm going to run home now, okay? It won't take long... probably less than an hour." He didn't want to leave Francis alone. What if something bad happened, what if he still wanted to hurt himself? Alfred had to give him a reason not to. He wanted to be that reason. "Just pack up, relax. I'll be back soon." He said as he pulled away. The American did it again, leaning forward slightly, lifting a hand and gently pushing back Francis' bangs, then pressing a kiss to his forehead.The kiss silently answered all of his questions, letting the Frenchman know that it was okay, that he understood, that everything was going to be alright now. Alfred smiled softly, reassuringly at him, then crossed the small apartment to the door. "I'll be back, Francey..!" He called one more time, then turned and walked out, gently closing the door behind him. His smile melted away. Not that it was fake; he just wasn't with Francis anymore. And he knew it was more than likely he'd have to see Matthew. God, he hoped he wasn't home. Alfred sighed, and began to walk to their shared house.

Francis' thoughts of joining the man were soon halted as, before he could speak, Alfred was out of his arms and the world was somehow cold again. Instructions were given and he nodded, flashing a small smile in return, showing a spark of hope in the despair he truly felt. "I'll see you soon, Alfred." As the door closed, he felt his smile slowly fade away. He was alone. The last time he had been alone was... well, he didn't want to think about what had happened on the roof. Francis felt like sitting down and simply waiting for Alfred, but somehow, he couldn't. He had to stay strong and stay standing, both literally and metaphorically. For Alfred's sake. Francis would not be crying when the American returned home, oh no, he would be ready to go, to leave this place behind. Nodding his head firmly, he set to work, going to his bedroom and beginning to pack.


Translations:

Merci beaucoup, ami - Thank you, friend
Dieu - God
Oui - Yes
Cher - Dear

A/N: And we're back! My sincerest apologies, it's my (Libra's) fault that this chapter has taken so long to be posted. We've been having terrible trouble formatting-- italics and such-- and it's still not all 100% correct, I'm afraid. Still, the plot is there at least, so we hope that it's an enjoyable chapter...! Whew, this was a long one though, huh? At least by our standards so far. Hopefully it makes up for the very long wait ^^"

We have some news! Our little fic reached 400 hits! This really does mean a lot to us. We work hard to try and create new content (though it is tremendously fun), and it's fantastic to know that people are reading our work! Thank you guys so much for sticking with us despite the long waits between chapters, we really do appreciate it. We're doing our best! This new milestone is a wonderful present for my dear co-author, who is celebrating her birthday this month ^^
Happy Birthday to you, CurliesandCoffee! This fic wouldn't be possible without your hard work and motivation.

I love you so much, dearest <3

Thank you once again for reading! I think we'll have a chapter out before Christmas. Perhaps...
Please do let us know what you thought of the latest installment in the comments below!!
(And do wish my lovely co-author a nice day :P)