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Almost Home

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A/N: The first chapter of what we hope to be a delightful, compelling story!
As the chapters continue, new subjects will be introduced and, as some of these are known to be triggering, there will be a warning at the start of every new chapter as oppose to within the tags. Please take care to read them!
Please enjoy~!

Warnings: None


Alfred absolutely adored his little brother. Well... maybe 'little' wasn't the best word choice; Matthew was just as tall as Alfred, maybe even a little taller, although the American would never admit it. So perhaps 'younger' was a better word, even if it wasn't entirely true (But Matthew was only older by a little, anyway, so what did it matter?). Yes. Alfred adored his younger brother.

Of course, being Alfred, you had to squint to tell if he cared at all or if he was just being friendly, just joking around like he did with everyone. But Matthew was one of those special people; Alfred's smiles were always genuine around Matthew, and when he joked and teased him, he did it out of love, in a brotherly manner.

See, Matthew wasn't a hard guy to like. By the same token, neither was Alfred. For different reasons, of course. Alfred was bright and sunny; the room practically glowed and burst into colour when he walked in. Wheras Matthew... Matthew was a bit more subtle; his sweet, kind personality warm to the touch if you took the time to get close enough. And that's all there was to Matthew. A sweetheart, never one to say 'no' to anyone, never one to offend. Likable. Innocent. Pleasant.

Even his own brother didn't suspect anything more. Alfred was friendly to everyone, but he was only friends with a select handful. Of that handful was a boisterous, talkative, charming, over-the-top flirty Frenchman named Francis Bonnefoy, a transfer student from his beloved home country. Francis was the kind of young man that was either adored or avoided, swooned over or treated with disgust and distaste (Although negativity didn't seem to damage Francis' confidence in the slightest). He was the kind that seemed to leave sparkles and rose petals in his wake wherever he went, sing when he spoke, shine in the darkness. Of all the people his beloved little-- no, younger brother could have chosen to date, Alfred was glad he decided he wanted to be with Francis.

The Frenchman was plenty kind and loving, and surprisingly loyal to his Canadian boyfriend, despite his naturally flirty stature. Alfred had no problem with the two of them being together. They were happy, after all, weren't they? And nothing else mattered more to Alfred than the happiness of his innocent baby brother and his close friend. So what did he have to complain about, or be suspicious about?

Ever since the day Francis had arrived in America and laid his eyes upon Matthew; he knew he was the one. In all honestly, the mild-mannered boy had been the one to save him. Francis had not been in a good way when he moved from Europe, leaving behind everything he knew and loved to attend an American school, one that he hoped would improve his English and thus further his grades.

However, when he arrived, it seemed that Lady Luck had not only abandoned him but dumped him in a dark alleyway for good riddance. America was the complete opposite of France. Yes, the people were energetic and kind and willing to strike up a conversation, but... they were just all the same. There was no charm in their words, no tenderness.

Which is why on his first day at the school when the Frenchman lay eyes upon Matthew, saw that his lips were still, unmoving, and he was quiet, looking up at him with those beautiful amethysts framed in glasses that only seemed to add to his already marvellous appearance, did Francis feel like he was home again. Just as Alfred adored Matthew, Francis did the same.

Not too long after their first encounter, the two had begun dating. It hadn't been too soon after, of course, as Francis had needed time to work his charm and truly get to know the man, but now they were together and nothing could break them apart. The Frenchman had been surprised to find that, once spoken to enough, Matthew could be slowly coaxed out of his shell. His little Canadian, although innocent, was also a confident man underneath, though his usual demeanour didn't show it. He was perfect for Francis, and he hoped that his lover thought the same way about him. After all, they say that opposites attract, don't they?

The way they were walking now: fingers intertwined as Francis gently leaned into the taller boy, so close that their hair became one silky blond flow, never seeming to stop. He could see Alfred in the distance, another blond head in the crowd, distinguishable by his bouncy ahoge, and began walking towards him, Canadian-in-tow, their fingers still gracefully linked.

It seemed Alfred was just one of those people. He wouldn't stop smiling, even if he was told to stop (Well, Alfred was never one to obey, anyway). The room seemed to come to life, become a little brighter the moment he was present. Perhaps that was something Francis and Alfred had in common.

The American noticed Francis and Matthew and began waving and grinning, beckoning them over. He couldn't help but note for the hundredth time how perfectly his brother and Francis complimented each other; how easily their hands seemed to fit together, their similar hair seemed to match and flow, their personalities seemed to balance the other's out.

"'Sup, guys!" Was Alfred's bright greeting once the couple had approached him. Alfred wasn't alone; he often wasn't. The American simply needed to be around people, to have human contact. Being alone just wouldn't do, not for Alfred.

Beside him was a second transfer student, although he'd moved permanently from his home in England. The Briton stood at an unimpressive hight, especially besides Alfred, slender arms looped around the book he held close to his chest. His pale blonde hair remained a mess despite how often he tried to tame it. Many a morning was spent with him grumbling as he pushed a comb through the unruly locks. Or rather attempted to do so.

It was always Alfred to tell him he liked his hair the way it was, mess it up again, remind him that not everything had to be in perfect order and some things, such as Arthur's hair and the American himself, weren't meant to be tamed and controlled.

The rather attractive, despite almost always frowning, Arthur Kirkland also possessed the bushiest of eyebrows, two breathtaking, intelligent emerald eyes set in a sharp face, pale, lightly freckled skin and an invisible royal crown atop his head that only Arthur could see (and perhaps Alfred as well, as a lot of the time he treated Arthur like royalty. Well, by his own standards, at least).

Despite being slightly bitter, a bit too up-tight and proper, Arthur was one of the few that made the short list of Alfred's friends. He was kind, secretly shy-- rather adorable in Alfred's opinion-- and plenty pleasant to be around once you got to know him.

As Francis and Matthew approached them, the Briton pulled his book a little closer to his chest, let his cheeks flush a lovely pink color, and turned his gaze to the side, away from Francis. He let his eyes meet Matthew's; soft purple locking with royal green, both pairs of eyes glinting with unspoken knowledge.

"What's up, Francis?" Alfred wrapped his arms around the slightly shorter man, hugging him as a greeting, something he often did, and something Arthur still hadn't grown accustomed to yet.

As they edged ever nearer to Alfred, Francis caught sight of a second blond head amongst the crowd, tell-tale locks giving away his identity immediately. The Frenchman knew no-one else, not in France or America, that had such unruly hair. However, the Briton seemed to wear it with pride, despite trying to tame it, and never seemed to let it bother him. Well, not in public, anyway. Francis shuddered, moving a hand to travel through his own golden locks; falling off of his face in perfect waves, not one hair out of place. As he did this, he couldn't help but glance to the side, up at his lover's face. As always, a single curl was bobbing about as Matthew walked, seemingly defying the rules of gravity, much like his brother's own sprig of hair.

Chuckling softly to himself, Francis allowed a warm smile to settle on his face, preparing for his encounter with his two friends. Now, although Francis was sometimes blinded by love, he was in no way an idiot. He picked up on the way that Arthur eyed his boyfriend, emeralds glinting with something unspoken, something secret. However, before he had a chance to delve deeper into the mystery of the Briton's gaze, he was enveloped in a hug by the American, his hand falling from Matthew's and instead coming to rest at Alfred's waist. He figured that the Briton was simply embarrassed about something by the blush on his cheeks; most likely the state of his hair, Francis thought with an internal giggle.

As he embraced the American, he looked over the man's shoulder to where Arthur stood, flashing him a gentle smile, aiming to ease the other's embarrassment and hopefully reduce his blush, as cute as it were.

"Bonjour, ami!" He said finally, turning his attention back to the American as he was released from the hug. "This is a fine day, non? Matthieu and I have just been to check out the new coffee shop across the road-- it is a French café. I plan to treat him there later on today."

Although his speaking voice was composed, his eyes shone with warmth and happiness. Taking a step back, Francis gently slipped his hand back into the Canadian's, feeling the comforting warmth that was Matthew surround his skin, blue his eyes softening with love as he looked up at the other.

Talking about the weather was a simple pleasantry-- one that the Frenchman had picked up off of Arthur. He intended to make conversation and hopefully include the Briton in their group, wanting to make him feel welcome. Francis had a soft spot for Arthur; he knew what it was like to move away from your own country to a new place with new people, and genuinely admired how he kept his head and stayed proud. However, Matthew was still, and always would be, the apple of his eye. It was just those small things that expressed that, things so small and trivial that perhaps only Alfred and Arthur themselves noticed. How pleasant he was around the Canadian, buying him gifts, pampering him all the time, constantly complimenting him and reminding him of his beauty. But perhaps most important of all was his smile. It was a special, secret smile. Not crude or suggestive; but simply charming. It was a cross between a grin and a playful smirk-- full of love and warmth, and it was reserved for Matthew only

"You don't have to pay, you know." Matthew said quietly; his voice soft, always mistaken for concern. But Francis knew that was just how the other man spoke.

The Frenchman shook his head, aghast at the thought. "Non, I must. I can't let you do that. What kind of lover would I be then? It will be a treat, Matthieu, and besides, you do too much for me anyway." The Canadian simply smiled in response, a light blush settling upon his cheeks.

"Yeah!" Alfred agreed brightly when Francis mentioned the mild weather, the suggestion of a cute French coffee shop. Matthew would love that, Alfred thought. He smiled fondly as he watched Matthew and Francis, feeling genuinely happy for them.

It was quite hard to see, considering Francis treated everyone with kindness and love, but Matthew was different to him. Alfred could tell.

It was the way he looked at him; deep blue orbs softened and filled with adoration. And the way he was careful with his brother, gentle in the way he took his hand and spoke. He must know that Matthew was rather sensitive and considered being kind and gentle important qualities for a person to have. Alfred could tell Matthew was different, special, to Francis.

Maybe the American could see this difference because he was the same. He was friendly with everyone, but only friends with a few. Francis loved everyone, but was only in love with one. He only hoped he wasn't the only one who recognized this. He hoped Matthew knew he was the one who held Francis's heart, not anyone else, despite the way it came across at first glance.

"Hey, Art!" The Briton jumped, then glared up at Alfred. "Wanna go on a date with me?" Alfred asked with that blinding smile of his. Arthur seemed absolutely thrown, opening his mouth to say no, but the words died in his throat and he became flustered, as if he had suddenly been told to give an unprepared speech in front of a massive crowd of people.

His eyes darted from Alfred to Matthew, just for a moment, as if they were exchanging some sort of acknowledgment. Before Francis or Alfred could pay any attention to the glance, the Briton looked back at the boisterous American, straightened his back and allowed his cheeks to flush red.

"Well... If you insi--"

"Great!" Alfred leant down and kissed his cheek, took his hand, then turned to leave, smiling over his shoulder. "See ya, guys! Have fun!"

Matthew stood quietly as the conversation spiralled, still gently holding onto the Frenchman's hand, though his eyes darted around between the three of them. When his brother began to speak in that loud, irritating tone of his, he caught Arthur's eye, just for a second. But it was enough for them to communicate. Why not let Alfred go out with Arthur? It wasn't as if the American liked him, was it? Surely Matthew would be aware of such a thing if that was the case. No, they were simply friends. So what if they wanted to go out together? Alfred wasn't going to be able to get anywhere near Arthur, not with the Briton directing his 'love' to someone else.

Once the pair had run off, the Canadian conjured up one of his gentler smiles and looked down to his lover, about to speak, before he realized something vital. What if... Alfred did fancy Arthur? It was a long shot, but... Matthew didn't want to risk anything. If the two of them went out together and Alfred said something to the Briton, then he could end up getting hurt; his heart crushed by Arthur.

"Wait..!" Turning back to the pair, Matthew suddenly called out, still keeping his voice at a fairly soft volume to avoid suspicion, despite the worry he felt inside.

"Arthur, oh, we forgot about that project for English...! I-It's due in a week...!" His expression shifted, instead turning to one of sadness as he hung his head a little. "Alfred... I'm so sorry, but... do you think that you maybe could... rearrange your plans? I-I wouldn't usually ask, but this project counts for a lot of our final grade..." His tone was gentle, embarrassed, as he addressed his brother, practically pleading with him, his face was flushed a dark red.

In all honesty, the American would be lying if he said he didn't like Arthur as more than a friend. He wasn't in love with him, oh no, but this teeny tiny crush of his was the reason he'd asked the Briton out on a date. Sure, Alfred dated all the time; girls, boys, friends, almost-lovers, those he was unsure of his feelings for and everyone in between. It was normal for him. But Arthur... Arthur was different.

Everyone here grinned, everyone laughed and talked loudly and sported American accents and, in a way, everyone here reminded Alfred too much of himself. But Arthur; Arthur was different. He caught Alfred's attention.

Maybe it was the way his smiles were earned, not handed out. His true emotions had to be unlocked, and Alfred had yet to find the key. Maybe it was his adorably messy hair, bushy eyebrows, maybe it was his crankiness, the way he grumbled in those foreign curses of his, maybe it was his forest-colored eyes that first had the American noticing him. But since Alfred was being honest with himself right now, it was probably all of those reasons, every one of them all at once, centered into one person that caught his attention and now, his interest.

At Matthew's bashful outburst, Alfred turned blinked a few times. Sure, he was a bit disappointed. But who could stay mad at Matthew for more than five seconds, with a face like that?

"Don't apologize, bro! There's always next time!" He chimed with a bright smile and a dismissive wave. "That is okay with you, isn't it, Art?"

"Arthur." The Briton corrected him for what felt like the thousandth time. Alfred with his nicknames. But other than his slight tendency to irritate the shorter blonde, Arthur had nothing against the loud, cheerful American.

Precisely why he was looking right at Matthew now, the two of them communicating just with their eyes.

Arthur had no intention of crushing Alfred's heart. Alfred had done nothing wrong. It was no question that's why Matthew had thought twice and stopped them from walking away. He obviously didn't want to see his brother get hurt.

"Ah, yes. That old thing; thank you for reminding me, Matthew. Perhaps it would be wise to work on it now, don't you think?" This way, the two of them could have time to talk about how they would handle Alfred and, of course, Francis. Well... that, and Arthur really just wanted alone time with Matthew. They always had to be so secretive, it was difficult to find time to be together.

"Francis..." The Briton managed to look a bit shy, tucking a loose strand of pale hair behind his ear as he turned his gaze to the Frenchman. "It wouldn't be any trouble if you paid a visit to that coffee shop another day, would it? Matthew is right; we really have a lot to do, I'm afraid."

Although he knew the man well, Francis was somewhat startled when his lover suddenly called out, disrupting the plans that his brother had set in motion. It actually made him smile; Matthew was finally making his own way in the world!

Since the first time they had met, the Canadian had always seemed shy, too timid to share his own opinion, fearful of the consequences his words might have. Francis had always sought to encourage him, and it now looked as if his hard work had paid off! That, and Matthew was very academic-- always willing to put in effort. He knew how to relax thanks to Francis, of course, but he was always mindful of his workload and willing to ask for help when he needed it. Many an evening the two of them had sat together, the Parisian helping his older lover with his essays. And, with his kind personality, it made sense that the Canadian would throw away his fears to warn a classmate of upcoming work that was due in.

Smiling proudly, Francis turned to look up at the other man, meaning to congratulate him when another voice suddenly addressed him, startling him somewhat.

Turning back to greet the voice, he flashed a charming smile. The Briton was always so gentlemanly when he spoke to Francis, somehow. "Not at all, cher. I don't mind-- do you, Matthieu?" When the Canadian politely shook his head as a negative response, Francis continued. Being the considerate French gentleman that he was, he always valued his lover's opinion and was careful not to make decisions without consulting him first.

"It's not a problem, Arthur. Though, Alfred, it looks as if it is just you and me now, non?" He laughed airily as he looked up at the American for a moment before turning back to his twin.

"I bid you adieu, amour." With a gentle smile, he leaned down to kiss the Canadian's hand, in the proper manner of course. Most people brought their lover's hand up to their mouth, but Francis knew that the correct method was to lean down to where the other's hand already was.

Matthew willed a blush to grace his cheeks in response, flashing a sweet smile in return and kissing the other's cheek before taking Arthur's arm and walking off.

"Yeah! Just you and me!" Alfred beamed, then nodded his head, beckoning Francis to walk besides him. "Hey, Francis, do you think Arthur likes me?" He asked excitedly, eyes full of hope. "Just a little? Maybe?" If Alfred had a tail, it would be wagging.

As his lover disappeared around a corner, Francis' gaze shifted back to the American, his cobalt orbs lighting up at the question. "Arthur?" He chuckled softly as he thought of the Brit and his manner. The man was so obviously in love, using anger to try and hide his emotions. It was adorable! "Well, mon cher, you have asked the right person! It is clear to me that our petit Arthur is hopelessly in love with you."

"Really?" The question came out as more of a shrill exclamation. "You really think so? Oh, he's so..." Alfred nearly squealed mid-sentence. "... cute! And small! And so adorably cranky! Don't you think so, Francis?" He beamed at the Frenchman.

"But of course, amour! It is clear to see that he cares for you." The Frenchman beamed, enjoying seeing Alfred so genuinely happy. He made a mental note to somehow set the two up together. "He is all of those things, yes, and trés mignon. Although him and I are roughly the same height, so he doesn't seem too small to me." Breaking off for a moment, he chuckled. "However, my heart lies with your dear, sweet brother. He is cuter than them all." Francis sighed happily as he thought of the beautiful Canadian.

Sparking blue eyes peered over at Francis, his ever-present smile a bit warmer than it usually was. "You really do love Matty, huh? I can tell, ya know? You don't even need to say it. You treat him so well..." The American closed his eyes happily for a moment as his smile grew. "I'll hardly be able to decide whose best man to be at your wedding!"

Despite his usual pride, Francis actually blushed at the other's words. After all, Matthew was his world, and he was willing to sacrifice even the things most dear to him if it was for the sake of the other man. Not only that, but the mention of their possible marriage one day also coloured his cheeks and brought a smile to his face. Sometimes, Francis just couldn't control his emotions and simply let them shine through.

"I do love him, oui." He said, nodding as he smiled. "More than anything else in this world. More than France itself. As for marriage... we'll have to see." Though there was a happy look upon his face as he spoke.

"No." The way Alfred nearly gasped the word in shock, his eyes lighting up and a smile appearing on his lips, although it sounded more positive than disbelieving. He seemed to be so surprised that he didn't comment upon Francis' words upon marriage.

"More than France? But all you ever talk about is France!" Alfred clapped a hand on Francis' back, and with the other pushed open a heavy door that served as one of the exits to the school. "I'm happy for you, dude. So what, is Matty like your soul mate? He is, right? That's so sweet! I'm really glad you guys are together, you know? The two of you really treat each other well!" He rambled happily.

Francis chuckled in response. "Oui, amour. He is my everything, after all. I would gladly forget about my beloved home country if it meant spending eternity with Matthieu." His smile widened as he felt the hand on his back, encouraging and kind. Alfred was a wonderful friend, and Francis didn't think that he could ever ask for someone more accepting than him. Even though he was from another nation, he still fully accepted him and was comfortable with him dating his brother.

"Wow." Alfred breathed, eyes lighting up as he smiled brighter than the sun above their heads. He didn't overthink it when Francis called him 'love' in French. It meant nothing. Because, while he surely said the word with affection and friendly love, his tone was different from when he called Matthew pet names like that. His eyes didn't soften in the way they only did for his Canadian.

"Matty's really lucky to have someone who loves him so much. And the other way around, of course! If Matty cares about you as much as you care about him, then you're a lucky guy too!"

The Frenchman's blush darkened at the other's words. "As much as I feel lucky to have Matthieu, I feel lucky to have you as well, Alfred. You have been kind to me ever since the beginning, and I am grateful. You are a good man." He smiled, leaning up to press a soft kiss of affection to the other's cheek. There was no romantic side to it, however. It was only in appreciation.

"Thanks, Francis! You're a good guy too, you know that? Always so nice to everyone you meet. I'm happy I met you!" He blushed a bit at the kiss to his cheek, even if he knew there was nothing even close to romance behind it. This was simply Francis' way of thanking. In return, he threw an arm over his shoulder, pulling him into a wobbly side hug as they walked.

"Ah, it is common courtesy, amour! Any less wouldn't be polite." He smiled brightly as he was pulled in for a hug, the taller man pulling him into his side. He laughed, and moved his hand to hold the one that was slung over his shoulder in a friendly gesture. "I'm glad that I met you too, cher."

The American gave Francis's hand a squeeze, grinning widely at him. The man squeezed back gently, smiling all the while. Francis loved Alfred, in a friendly way of course. He was such a wonderful person to be around-- never judging, only accepting.

Physical signs of affection were something Alfred was accustomed too, something he didn't mind in the slightest. Like Francis, he could differentiate platonic and romantic love, as well as friendship from something more than that. He felt as if he were in touch with his emotions, much like the Parisian.


Matthew willed a blush to grace his cheeks in response, flashing a sweet smile in return and kissing the other's cheek before taking Arthur's arm and walking off. Once the two were out of earshot round the corner, he shuddered and wiped his hand on his trousers.

"Ugh, why must he insist on kissing me every time we part?" Matthew frowned as he looked to Arthur for some kind of explanation. "It's so embarrassing-- I hate it." The two of them turned another corner, now far from earshot and way out of sight of Alfred and Francis.

"I don't blame you, love, I don't." The Briton sighed, making a face of mild disgust. "It makes me ill. He calls me 'dear' in his frog language and then he kisses your hand. How dare he." Arthur clenched his jaw, ground his teeth together in an irritated fashion and shook his head slightly from side to side.

Their plan was simple; three steps to their trick.

Step one, Francis falls in love with Matthew.

Step two, Arthur flirts with the Frenchman, and when he gives in and cheats on Matthew, their suspicions will be put to rest about Francis being a fifthly, heartless person, despite all this cheap talk of 'l'amour'.

Step three would be to expose this fact, make it obvious to everyone to stay far away from Francis if they did not wish to get hurt. Francis was just one of those people, Arthur thought. They had no shame, no heart, they were too full of themselves, too obnoxious. People like Francis needed to learn.

"We only have to put up with this a little while longer, darling. I know you hate it, I hate it too. I can hardly stand watching him kiss you." Arthur muttered. He paused for a moment, then mirrored the Frenchman's gesture, pressing a kiss to Matthew's knuckles, replacing the prior one, in a way.

Matthew huffed, appearing to be genuinely irritated for once. If it wasn't for his brother, he wouldn't be putting on such a façade. But the truth needed to be exposed; Francis was a player. A liar, and a cheat. Both the Briton and the Canadian wanted to expose this fact.

"I hate him." Matthew said harshly, the words that had been circulating around his head for hours finally tumbling out of his mouth. "He's probably seeing someone else behind my back anyway. How dare he think he can play with my emotions like this-" His hand balled into a fist, though it was soon unfurled as Arthur pressed a tender kiss to the skin. The Canadian's expression softened somewhat, the anger fading from his eyes.

Instead, it was replaced with a cruel smirk; a simple twitch of his lips. The kind of expression that only the people closest to him would be able to pick out and recognise. "He'll get what's coming to him soon enough."

He nearly flinched when Matthew stated that he hated Francis. "I do as well." It was true, after all. Arthur had said it many times. But hearing those words from Matthew... it was unsettling. The words 'I hate' seemed wrong as they tumbled from the Canadian's lips, but fit perfectly all the same. Even still, he agreed.

"Absolutely. And... thank you for calling me away from your brother. He's hopelessly ignorant and a bit irritating, yes, but he's good at heart. He doesn't deserve to share Francis's pain."

Thinking nothing of his own words other than the fact that they were truth, Matthew nodded. "Of course. I won't allow Alfred to be hurt by that heartless monster. He'll see soon enough that they were never truly friends." At this, the Canadian smiled softly, as if comforted by his thoughts. A world without Francis would be better for them all-- Alfred would surely shun him once he found out about his tendency to cheat on his partners.

"Right you are. Alfred is ignorant. Kind, yes, but ignorant. Anyone in their right mind wouldn't spare a word with Francis. He obviously hasn't seen the man's true colours yet." Even his name made Arthur sick. He was so full of himself, so overly sweet to a point where it could no longer possibly be sincere. Imagine all the people he's hurt, all the hearts he's broken. Loving everyone was the equivalent of loving no one, Arthur thought.

Matthew let out a sigh, shaking his head. "Don't waste any more of your words on him, Arthur. He's not worth a single one of them." He practically spat, his violet eyes bright with anger. The Canadian was sick of his so called lover. All of his worthless compliments; they didn't mean anything. Just words. Syllables strung together in effort to make Matthew feel loved. Well, it wasn't going to work. Not when those words came from such a vile man.

Worry for his lover mixed in with the hatred and disgust that already filled Arthur's forest-colored orbs as he gazed up at Matthew. "I know he isn't, love. Now come on, don't become upset over him. He's not worth it." Arthur hated Francis. He really did. But he also found himself concerned by the piercing glow of Matthew's eyes, ignited by the Frenchman that seemed to just make trouble wherever he went, causing people to grow uncomfortable and disgusted whenever he spoke.

Yes, The Briton thought darkly, The world would be a much better place without Francis Bonnefoy.

If not for Arthur's own sake, then for Matthew's.

The Canadian nodded softly, setting his face. The anger disappeared from his eyes, and instead he smiled. "You're right. All we have to do is wait, and he'll be put to justice." Matthew gave a soft chuckle. "He'll fall for you, surely. The cheating imbecile." In his eyes, infidelity was the Frenchman's middle name, so Matthew had no doubt that their plan would succeed.

Worry dissipated from the Briton's eyes as Matthew relaxed some. "I probably won't even have to do much, knowing Francis. Oh, and Matthew, if he you tells you anything of this, of me coming onto him, you mustn't give away you know what is going on. Play dumb, yes?" Arthur didn't want Francis to find out of their plan prior to Step three. But now that he thought about it; what were the chances of Francis telling Matthew about Arthur's advances? That seemed a bit too loyal for someone like him.

Giving a soft nod of reassurance, Matthew smiled. "Of course. I wouldn't be so stupid as to do that. I can keep a secret, you of all people know that, Arthur."

"Yes," The Briton gave an affirmative nod. "You can, Matthew." What they were doing; it was sneaky, Arthur knew that. But Francis deserved this. In fact, Arthur suspected that he might not even be hurt at all. After all, Francis showed everyone affection and love-- no one was special to him. He may as well not have a heart at all. No heart, no heart to break.

Arthur hoped that he'd at least feel a little sting of sadness. He needed to learn that he couldn't toy with people like he did.

Matthew took the other's arm once more and linked it through his own, putting on a sweet smile. "When this is over," He began, the smile sticking to his face. "The three of us will be happy together." It was true-- with Francis pushed out of the way, Matthew figured that Alfred, Arthur and himself would be free of any issues. Nothing would slow them down. They just needed to be rid of the Frenchman.

With a quiet gulp and another nod, Arthur gazed up at Matthew's sweet smile, finding himself put at ease by its softness. "Indeed, we will. Do you really think this will be enough for Francis to leave our lives?" Leave their lives. Oh, that sounded fantastic. But... what did it mean? That Francis would exist, but wouldn't see them anymore? He didn't entirely want Francis to die, did he? Just to vanish.

At the other's enquiry, Matthew smiled, thinking it the simplest question he could ask. "Of course it will. Once we're through with this, the frog will never come near my brother again." The thought was a very happy one-- finally, they could be in peace, away from the French player.

Nodding, Arthur inched a bit closer to Matthew. What a comforting thought that was. To have Francis out of their lives. To separate the man not only from himself and the Canadian, but from Alfred too. This would protect him; they were doing a good deed, after all. Surely Alfred would realise what a fool he had been to choose to befriend someone like Francis after all this was over.

Arthur looked down at the book he had been holding all the while, smiling as his eye caught the title and he recalled a certain line.

'Cheating is easy. There's no swank to infidelity. To borrow against the trust someone has placed in you costs nothing at first. You get away with it, you take a little more and a little more until there is no more to draw on. Oddly, your hands should be full with all that taking but when you open them there's nothing there.'


Translations:
Bonjour, ami - Hello, friend
Non - No
Adieu - Goodbye
Mon cher - My dear
Petit - Little
Amour - Love
Oui - Yes
Cher - Dear
Trés mignon - Very cute

A/N: Hello there~! So, this is my first fic. It's based off of an rp that a friend and I have been working on and we figured that, since we love the plot so much, why not make it a fanfic? There will be multiple chapters, though we have no set release dates or anything like that just yet, but be sure that Chapter Two is on it's way ^^

The quote at the end is taken from Jeanette Winterson's book 'Written on the Body', and although I've never read it, I found those particular words fitting and wanted to include them.

Thank you for reading and supporting us!
Please do tell us what you thought below in the comments-- we'd love to know.

Chapter Text

A/N: The drama is on its way! This chapter is scandalous and frankly quite sad, but we enjoyed writing it all the same ^^

Warnings: Suggestion of abuse within a relationship, suggestion of domestic abuse.


A few weeks passed, and life went on as usual.

Matthew's and Francis' 'relationship' grew stronger, but so did the Frenchman's bond with Arthur and Alfred. In fact, with Arthur in particular. Often, the Canadian would purposely whip up an excuse to leave Francis and Arthur alone, leaving the Briton to follow through with the second phase of their plan. This would generally involve the Canadian dragging his brother off to do something away from the other two men, such as studying, talking, or working on a certain piece together. Alfred didn't seem to mind this at all as he enjoyed spending time with his brother and didn't seem to suspect anything out of the ordinary.

Today was one such day. They had split off into pairs with the twins going to study Physics in the Science Department on the fifth floor whilst the two Europeans studied English Literature. Arthur was besides Francis in the near empty library, sitting stiffly on the couch, pretending to be nervous and bashful as they went over a work of Shakespeare together. He glanced down at his hands, then at Francis, then back down at his lap as soon as their eyes met, allowing a rosy blush to cover his lightly freckled cheeks.

Francis was not stupid-- he had noticed how the Briton had been acting around him recently. This was unusual behaviour for the other man. His blushing, constant glances, soft speech... in fact, his whole attitude seemed to change around the Frenchman. He was much more gentle. Francis silently wondered to himself as he surveyed the other man, allowing his cool cobalt eyes to meet those forest green emeralds.

"Arthur, mon cher.." He began softly, reaching across to place a gentle hand upon the other's knee. "Is there something on your mind?" He wondered... was this the beginning of a crush? What other explanation could there be for his strange behaviour? If that was the case, then Francis knew that he needed to make the fact that he was with Matthew clear, without being rude to the other. He was a kind man after all, and didn't want to crush any hearts in his own quest for love.

Arthur, meanwhile, was well aware what Francis thought was going on. But he and Matthew had thought up something even better. Complicated, but better.

He inhaled shakily, hesitantly resting a quivering hand atop Francis'. He looked sweet, a little sad and afraid, but inside was a angry storm of hatred as he refrained from glaring at Francis' hand against his knee. How dare he? Touch him like this, call him such things, treat him like a lover? Treat him like he treated every other person. Arthur felt ill as he looked numbly at their hands.

"F-Francis..." He sniffled softly. "Do you trust me? If I were to tell you something, would you believe me?" He looked up at him with round, quivering green orbs, bushy eyebrows knit.

The other's voice was so soft, so tender, that Francis was expecting him to suddenly burst into tears.

"Amant.." As he began to speak, his tone was full of worry. Genuinely concerned for the other, he pressed a gentle hand against his cheek, his soft fingers sliding against the pale skin of the other's face. "You can talk to me. Whatever it is, I am here." He truly meant this-- the Briton was quite an introverted person, in terms of his emotions at least, and needed to be coaxed out of his shell, much like Matthew had been all those months before. Francis thought that, by being kind as always and using his physicality, the other might feel more at ease. But what could this be? Was he going to confess?

Arthur did everything in his power not to let the hate and rage boiling inside him show in his eyes. Francis was even worse than he thought. Touching his cheek, holding his hand, gazing into his eyes; he may as well be kissing him too. Matthew was nothing special to him! No one was special to him! He was entirely heartless!

"I..." The Briton sniffed softly, leaning into the touch. "I tried to tell Matthew, but he didn't believe me, h-he didn't want to believe his... his brother could be anything but sweet and kind." Arthur crinkled his eyes sadly, then closed them completely, forcing a few tears out. "Alfred... he has a very bad temper, I'm a-afraid."

Although he was completely willing to help the other man, Francis was slightly confused. "This is... about Alfred?" A thousand thoughts began to run through the Frenchman's brain, nearly all of them bad. "His... his temper? Dieu, I..." He paused to swallow, thinking about what the other could mean. "Arthur... he hasn't done anything to you... has he?" The Frenchman's voice was wracked with concern, as was his expression. The poor man sounded completely lost. Something had happened with Alfred and Matthew had refused to listen, something that Francis could hardly believe, so he had nobody else to turn to but the Frenchman.

In a desperate bid to stop the other from crying, Francis caught the other's face in both his hands and brought it close to his own, even though he had not received an answer yet. "Amour, please.. whatever it is, please don't cry, don't be sad..! We will sort it out, together. Matthew will believe you; he is a good man. We'll talk to him together. Now tell me, what has happened..?"

How dare Francis even speak his Matthew's name while he held his face like this, so close to his own, calling him 'love' and speaking to him with so much bloody 'l'amour~' in his voice?

Arthur gripped the Frenchman's hand a little tighter. He played it off so that it seemed like he was trying not to cry, desperate for comfort, but in reality, he was practically smouldering with anger. This filthy, lowly, heartless monster. He could have spat in his face. Instead, he let more tears slip down his cheeks and decided to continue with his own planned words rather than stop and improvise to answer Francis' stupid questions.

"I-I know Matthew is a good man... but he loves his brother very much. He'd believe Alfred over me." Arthur took a shaky breath to keep up the façade and also to steady himself. "A-Alfred, he.... he is very protective of me," Arthur got a little closer to Francis, closing his eyes as a spoke and leaning into the hands holding his face. "I-I tried to leave him once, and he got angry. He told me I wasn't allowed to leave, wasn't allowed to tell anyone..." Arthur forced images of Francis kissing Matthew into his head, how forgotten and sad it'd made Arthur, even though he knew it was all just an act. And for that reason, he began to cry.

Francis was absolutely silent as he listened to the other's words. By the end of Arthur's story, he almost felt like crying himself. Instead, he decided that he needed to be brave, for the Briton's sake if not his own. So they had been together all along? How cruel Alfred was to ask for Francis' advice about Arthur when he was already secretly with him? Other thoughts began to cross the Parisian's mind. That day when Francis had told them both about the French café and Alfred had offered to take Arthur. The Briton had seemed so hesitant to accept. Was that... because he was afraid to be alone with Alfred? Coming out of his thoughts and gasping in realization of what was happening to the other, Francis hurried to dab at his friend's tears, quickly drying them with the back of his sleeve, choosing to sacrifice his clothes in favour of trying to help his dear friend.

One thing that the Frenchman could not deal with was tears, it was just too much for him to cope with. So now, seeing the usually strong, sophisticated Brit broken and sobbing in his arms.. it broke his heart. The organ felt heavy in his chest as he shifted, silently wrapping his arms around the other. "Amant, we will fix this, I promise you. Alfred, he... he can't have meant that. He loves you, amour, he wouldn't ever want to hurt you like that." Yes, the American's crush was kind of a secret, but Francis figured that Arthur needed those words of reassurance more than Alfred needed his pride. And besides, Alfred would be the same as Francis, surely: he would want to do anything that he could to help prevent Arthur from being upset. If the Alfred Francis thought he knew was genuine, that was. Since they were already in a relationship, all of his talk about having a crush could have just been rubbish.

Arthur felt absolutely sick. What if he was truly upset? He'd receive this comfort and love, be lead on like this, only to find out that none of it meant nothing at all, that he wasn't special, that Francis treated everyone like this? Precisely why they needed to get Francis far away from Alfred. "He doesn't love me. He says he does, but he--" Arthur sniffled as he broke off, burying his face in the Frenchman's shirt. He smelled of cologne and roses.

Disgusting.

"Francis, F-Francis... I don't know what to do...! I-If he finds out I told you, h-he'll hurt me like last time, when I told Matthew...!" The Briton looked up into Francis's eyes, his own wide and pleading and a mere inch from the Frenchman's. "You won't t-tell him, will you?" And those words, Matthew and Arthur had suspected, would keep Alfred from actually getting involved in this.

Francis felt as sick as Arthur did, though neither of them knew of the other's emotions. How ironic that they felt the same way and yet for such different reasons. Alfred, the man that Francis was such good friends with, had hurt Arthur? He was disgusted by the thought, his hands reflected his worry and unease as they roamed over the Brit's back, gently travelling up and down his sides. It wasn't that he was trying to be suggestive, it was simply a natural movement as he tried to think, tried to process this horrible information. "Arthur... cher, I must talk to Alfred myself. To try and solve this. But... is there anything that I can do for you, to help you? Anything at all..." Honestly, he just wanted to stop the other from crying-- He couldn't bear to see the younger man upset, even if it was a heart-breaking thing.

Arthur looked down so Francis couldn't see the hate that filled his eyes. He knew Francis was bad, evil and cruel cheat, but this? He was practically feeling him up, running his hands up and down his sides like that.

Disgusted, the Briton kept his head lowered, face buried in Francis's chest. His shoulders shook, and no one had to know it was was out of rage. "Please, I'm begging you, please; don't talk to Alfred. I-I told him once I'd speak to you, to Matthew, and he just laughed. H-He said that I wasn't allowed and neither of you would believe me anyway. If you brought it up, he'd play dumb." Arthur blinked the hate from his misty eyes, looking back up at Francis. He let one slender, pale hand rest against the side of Francis's face, caressing his cheek gently. "I don't want him to hurt you too. I can't even.. bear the thought of it..."

Francis looked torn as the other spoke. "Amour.. I must, I need to. This isn't something that should be left alone. However..." He sighed softly. "If you truly don't want me to.. then I can't force you to let me. Another time.. I'll speak to him about it another time." He let out a soft sigh, holding the other close, cobalt orbs widening in surprise as he felt a hand against his own cheek. "Arthur.." He murmured softly. "You.. what are you saying, cher? That you can't bear the thought..?" He was confused-- was this... a come-on? All the signs pointed towards that idea, and it almost seemed as if Arthur was trying to flirt with him. However, the man was broken, and Francis seemed to be his only friend in the world right now, so of course he was being nice to him. He didn't know what to think. For once, Francis was confused about the emotions between the two of them.

Arthur was on a roll at this point in the game. He should go into professional acting, he thought, letting his vision blur with tears again. Not to flatter himself, but he was quite good at this.

"O-Oh, Francis. N-Nothing's going correctly, everything is twisted..." He let his gaze drop to the Frenchman's lips. "I-I'm so afraid... this is the safest I've felt in weeks, here in your arms. I've been.. hiding this for so long..." The tips of Arthur's fingers ghosted over Francis's lips. If Francis decided to tell Alfred of this, the American would surely deny it. Well of course; he hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, the two of them weren't even together. Francis would just sound crazy, ridiculous, accusing Alfred of something like domestic abuse. He might even get kicked out of the school for making such remarks, Arthur thought with a hope-filled internal smile.

Francis could tell that this was bad. Never before had he cradled a sobbing Englishman in his arms, and he didn't exactly know how to go about it. The way his name fell from the other's lips, so needy and lost.. it made his stomach twist. This was real-- it seemed as if Alfred was not to be trusted anymore, for whatever he had done to Arthur.. it wasn't good. "You don't have to hide anymore, amant. I.." He paused as fingers ran over his lips. "I am here for you."

Going silent for a few moments, he took the hand that the Briton had used to touch his lips and held it, pressing gentle kisses to his fingertips. In his mind, he was not doing anything wrong. He was simply comforting the Brit, being a good friend. Hell, he kissed Alfred sometimes, and it didn't seem to bother Matthew. His boyfriend knew that it was a comforting gesture of his and did not mean anything intimate. All of his love was for the Canadian; nobody else. This was why, when he then pressed a gentle kiss to the Briton's lips, he did not think it wrong. "I am here for you, Arthur." He repeated once more. "Alfred cannot hurt you anymore."

It was becoming increasingly more difficult for Arthur to keep up this act; perhaps the professional acting would be given a miss now. His blood was on fire with rage, scorching his veins and making his eyes sharpen with anger. Luckily, hatred-filled green orbs were hidden behind closed eyelids, and he forced himself to relax. Every ounce of will and thought was urging him to shove the Frenchman away, shout curses at him and reveal the whole scheme to him right now. Arthur was actually concerned his hand might move on its own, slapping Francis across the face like he wanted to do so badly. Instead, he pretended to melt into the gentle touches and the lips against his own, as appalled as he was. "O-Oh, thank you, Francis." And with that, Arthur lent forward slightly, pressing his lips to the Parisian's.

Francis melted into their kiss, though his expression was one of sadness as he did so. Arthur looked so broken. He was so desperate to be loved by somebody. The Frenchman dreaded to think what the American had done, but it couldn't have been good if the Briton was acting this way.

A few moments later he pulled back from their kiss, feeling his heart drop at the other's expression; his eyes were closed and his lips were parted just a little, his face caught in the trap that was temporary bliss. Francis wouldn't deny that Arthur was a very beautiful man (though not as beautiful as Matthew, of course.), and he couldn't understand why Alfred would ever want to hurt him. Such a beautiful creature should be cared for, not treated so horribly.

"Arthur..." He began as he pulled away, shifting his position and taking the other's hands into his own, where he squeezed them ever so gently. "Arthur, je suis désolé." Sighing, he lowered his head a little, fearing that his tears too would spill over. Just thinking about what had happened, that Alfred had the power to turn such a proud, fiery Englishman into a weak, sobbing mess made Francis himself feel like crying. Alfred was one of his best friends! Had he been mistaken all along? Had Alfred been using him too, planning to hurt him? What if he was going to do the same to Matthew?! Blinking away his tears, Francis squeezed Arthur's hands. He couldn't be crying at a time like this! Arthur needed him to be strong. "I must go and speak to Alfred now. He needs to know.. that this is not acceptable. I won't let him hurt you anymore, Arthur. Oh, mon cher..." He sighed in disbelief. "Just know that you are loved. By both Matthieu and I, if no-one else."

Arthur felt sick. He'd never been more disgusted, more angry in his entire life. Thank God Francis wasn't in a real relationship with anyone right now. How it would break them, knowing Francis was off holding someone else, telling them they were loved, kissing them. It was disgusting. Arthur just wanted to see Matthew right now. He wanted to tell him everything. His eyebrows furrowed slightly when Francis mentioned Alfred, looking down and allowing his shoulders to shake slightly. "H-He'll just deny it, you know. That's what he told me. He... he said no one will believe me. He's just going to deny everything..." Arthur let out a shaking sob. That should do the trick. Of course, he didn't want Alfred to have to get in a fight with Francis, but perhaps this way their 'friendship' could be damaged ahead of time. Alfred would think Francis crazy this way, since he'd be accusing him of doing things that never occured.

Francis leaned in, taking the other's chin between his thumb and index finger before tilting it upwards, making the other look at him. "Arthur," He began in a soft tone, aiming to reassure the younger man. "Whether he denies it or not, he will pay for this, for what he's done to you. I'll make sure of it." Releasing the other's face, he stood, moving his hand to rest lightly atop his shoulder instead. "Don't be sad, cher. He will not get away with this, I promise you. Here..." Pulling out a $10 bill from his pocket, he pressed it into the other's hands. "Go and get yourself some tea; you need it, amour, you've been through a lot. After I've spoken with Alfred, I'll come and find you, alright?" As he spoke he looked down at the man with kind eyes, trying to be as gentle as possible with Arthur being in such a fragile state as he was.

Stop touching me, imbecile, He wanted to growl at him, but instead took the money and offered a wobbly smile, thanking him quietly and wiping at the tear stains on his cheeks. How dare Francis treat him like a lover. Alfred had told him once before how he could see the love and warmth in Francis' eyes when he was with Matthew. But, to the Englishman, there was the same look in his eyes with everyone. Blind lust. He looked around to see who he could prey on next, who he could exploit for his own benefit. Francis was a waste of space. He was going to hurt someone soon, though Arthur thought he'd probably hurt many already in the past. Well, his next victim wasn't going to be Matthew, Arthur would make sure of that.

"A-Alright, Francis..." He weakly took his hand, looking up at him with pleading eyes. "But be careful... don't anger him. I... don't want you to get hurt. I'd never forgive myself." Of course, he felt a little guilty making Alfred seem like such a monster, but really it was Francis' fault for being so gullible; willing to believe anything he was told. In reality, Arthur knew, everyone knew, that the overgrown puppy that was Alfred would never hurt a fly. "Thank you, my love. This has helped me, Francis..." As he spoke, he stood carefully, then pressed a kiss to the corner of the Frenchman's lips. And with that, he walked off to where Matthew would be waiting for him, only letting his pitiful expression drop when his face could no longer be seen.

Francis watched the Englishman walk away with sadness in his eyes, touching a hand to the spot where the other had kissed him. Never before had the Briton shown such emotion towards him, such appreciation. The other had even addressed him as 'love'. Francis knew that it was rare for Arthur to use such a term of endearment-- he was almost the Frenchman's opposite in that sense, seeing as Francis used the term with many of his friends and even those that he didn't know very well. The thought that Alfred had been so horrible to Arthur was a sad one; one that made Francis angry. He had been treating him like a friend! Clenching his fists, he turned away from the Briton and made his way over to Alfred's classroom, where he would surely be.

When he saw Alfred, Francis vowed to put a stop to his behaviour and protect Arthur.


Translations:

Mon cher - My dear
Amant - Lover (The one you love)
Dieu - God
Amour - Love
Cher - Dear
Je suis désolé - I'm sorry

A/N: That's another chapter done! I'm happy I was able to get this out so soon after the first was published. Not sure about the date of chapter number three, but it'll be on its way soon enough!

Thanks so much for reading and supporting us!
Please do comment and tell us what you thought ^^

Chapter Text

A/N: This chapter is full of wonderful drama-- things are really heating up!

Warnings: Swearing, minor non-graphic violence, mentions of abuse inside and outside of a relationship.


Now that Francis had been taken care of, Matthew felt like he could relax a bit.

After talking with Arthur for a few moments and taking the time to congratulate him on his performance (he had been watching from a corner of the library and was most impressed), he knew it was time to do his bit. Despite being disgusted by the kiss they had shared, he also felt a strange sense of relief. He now had solid, concrete evidence that Francis really was a cheat and a liar. It was a pity he hadn't taken a picture, although Matthew wasn't sure if he could handle having something so disgusting on his phone. After a brief exchanging of words with his lover, Arthur bid Matthew good luck, and then told him to meet him after he was finished making Francis look like the cheater he was. Arthur had no doubt the tension that they'd created between Francis and Alfred would be the cause of a fight, hopefully something detrimental enough to ruin the close-knit friendship between the two. If Alfred already had a bad impression of Francis before the secrets were spilt, then revealing the Frenchman as the monster he was would cause him no pain, nor should he pity and comfort him. Francis would be out of their lives forever.

Getting ahead of Francis, the Canadian ran off to find his brother. He would be in the classroom talking to friends as always. Pausing at the classroom door, he forced tears to gather in his eyes. Just remembering how Francis had kissed Arthur so tenderly was enough to make Matthew burst into great floods of them. Once he was happy with his appearance, he knocked softly before opening the door, spotting his brother in the corner. Dipping his head to avoid anyone else's gaze, he walked over to his twin and tapped his shoulder with a trembling hand. "Alfred...? C.. C-Can we talk, please...?" As he spoke his voice was full of sadness and softer than his usual gentle tone.

The American was busy laughing and talking with a few people around him, as the last class of the day was almost over and he'd finished all his work. His mood changed in an instant the moment his brother's saddened voice filled his ears, eyes widening slightly as he looked up at him.

"'Scuse me, guys." He muttered as he stood, then took Matthew's hand and lead him out of the classroom. His eyes were filled with concern, darting worriedly between his brother's misty violet eyes. "Matty... what's wrong? W-What happened?" He asked gently, giving his hand a little squeeze. Did someone hurt his baby brother? Oh hell no-- Alfred would fight them. Who'd reduced Matthew to tears?

The second he had walked into that classroom, Matthew knew that he already had Alfred on his knees. Sure, he felt a little bad for lying to him, but it was all for the greater good, right? For this reason, he was able to do so. Besides, his little lie was nothing compared to all the false statements that fell out of Francis' mouth-- this would put him to justice.

"I w... I was in..." He trailed off and looked to the floor, squeezing his brother's hand as tears began to leak from his eyes, as if the mere thought of his words were enough to make him cry. After all, if their plan was to be successful then he needed to tug at his brother's heart-strings, just as Arthur had done with Francis. And that meant turning on the waterworks. "I was in the library, and.. Arthur was there, with F-Francis. They were just talking, but then.. then.." He began to cry properly now, screwing up his amethyst orbs as streams of tears began to crawl down his face. "He made a move on him, Al. He started kissing him and hugging him and t-touching his hair. The things that he does to me." His lip trembled. "Not Arthur." As the Brit's name left his lips he shifted, his knees buckling underneath him, causing the Canadian to fall to the floor. "He's c-cheating on me...!" He wailed, seemingly unable to comprehend his own words as he shook his head and sobbed quietly. "Why would he do that to me, Alfred? I thought that he l-loved me...!" Matthew knew as he spoke that Francis would never be able to love somebody, and for this reason, he began to cry harder, throwing away all of his pride as he knelt on the ground and unleashed the emotion he had been bottling up for months, his knees buckling underneath him.

His heart sunk, plummeted to the ground and crashed at his feet where his brother sat, crippled with grief. Head spinning with worry and disbelief, Alfred crouched down, immediately surrounding Matthew with his arms and holding him tightly. "H-He does love you!" However, Alfred found himself questioning those words as he said them. "He does! I-I'm sure he was just... Matty, I'm sure he didn't mean it...! He loves you! He does! All he ever talks about is you...!" Francis wouldn't cheat on Matthew...! He loved him, Alfred knew he did; it was in the way he spoke, the warmth in his eyes... Francis was surely just being friendly with Arthur..!

Arthur.

Now... Francis may have had some very intimate, tactile ways of showing affection, but Arthur, he was reserved. He would never kiss as a way of saying thank you, would never accept that level of affection in a platonic relationship. Oh no-- what if Francis really was cheating on Matthew?

Tentatively, the Canadian reached up to wrap his arms around his brother, his body shaking with hidden rage, though it appeared to be with sadness to anyone else. "No, no, I saw him, Alfred! He was kissing Arthur!" He was still crying, and the tone with which he addressed his brother was filled with despair rather than anger. He opened his mouth up once more, seemingly about to speak again, though he suddenly caught sight of Francis approaching them over his brother's shoulder and immediately rose, taking a few steps backwards as he recoiled, shaking his head all the while, before turning on his heel and running away, seemingly desperate to get away from the Frenchman.

Poor Francis, of course, had no idea what was going on. He had come to find Alfred, and what did he see? His little Canadian sobbing into that same man's shoulder. What was going on? Had Matthew been hurt by the American too?! He felt his heart drop in his chest as the man turned and ran away, suddenly fearful that his lover was in the same state as Arthur. Had he arrived just in time to save his lover?

Forcing the worry from his eyes, he clenched his fists and went over. "Alfred!" He began, his tone angry, reflecting what he felt inside. "I know what you did to Arthur, but I didn't think you were low enough to harm your own brother! What have you done to them?! What have you done to my Matthieu?!"

"Well done." Arthur complimented quietly as Matthew rounded the corner and was lost sight of by the the remaining two. Arthur and Matthew just listened, the Briton's eyes flicking back and forth as he studied the tile and eavesdropped with the Canadian.

"What have I done to-- don't you dare call Matty yours!" He shouted as he stood, facing the Frenchman. Alfred couldn't recall a time he'd been this furious with anyone. "How could you?! You said you loved him! And then you-- you go off and cheat on him!" The American gestured wildly as he spoke. He was too angry to register what Francis had said, about Alfred hurting Arthur. Too much fury was boiling inside him, but really, he was just beyond disappointed. He'd trusted Francis. With his brother. As his best friend.

"What the hell, dude?!" Alfred shoved his shoulders, not hard enough for Francis to lose his balance, but enough for him to stumble back. Narrowed blue eyes glared into the Frenchman's, eyebrows pushed together.

Francis was fuming-- he'd approached Alfred to reprimand him and find out what was going on, not be shouted at for something else entirely! The American was dodging his questions, he had to be lying and-- what was he saying, anyway? He stopped for a moment, listening and trying to understand why he was being yelled at when hands suddenly pushed him backwards. He stumbling, nearly toppling over, but soon righted himself once more.

Thoroughly confused and angry, Francis clenched his fists tighter and, picking up on Matthew's name, glared across at the American. "What are you talking about? I have not done anything to Matthieu, it is you who has hurt him!" He dusted off his shoulders, still glaring, hatred strong within his blue eyes at the thought of Matthew and Arthur hurt. "Well, you won't be doing the same to me! Did you enjoy it? Pretending that we were friends, whilst you hurt the two of them behind my back?!" He walked forward, grabbing at Alfred's collar, reaching up to the taller man to do so. "You have turned Arthur into a nervous wreck, you monster! Tu es un bâtard!" He cursed, reverting back to his mother tongue in the midst of his fury.

Alfred was both confused and infuriated, quickly shoving Francis away again. "What the hell are you talking about?! I haven't hurt Arthur, and I sure as hell haven't hurt Matty! You have!" He pointed to the end of the hallway where his brother had ran off. "Did you see him just now?! He's a mess, thanks to you! Wait-- oh, I see how it is." He laughed humorlessly. Francis was pretending something was wrong with Arthur as an excuse for his affection. He'd gotten caught showing him love behind Matthew's back, and now he was using comfort as an excuse. "Don't go making some shit up to cover what you've done! I'm not stupid!" He ground his teeth together, glaring harshly. "Look me in the eyes, Francis. Look at me and tell me you didn't kiss Arthur just now!"

When he was pushed a second time, he fell into the lockers. Although this time, he stayed there. The way that the other laughed scared Francis. Was he being serious? Perhaps the American was more crazed than Francis had imagined. However, his question caught the Frenchman off guard. If couldn't have been more than ten minutes since he'd spoken with Arthur... had someone been spreading rumours?

"Non, I won't lie to you, Alfred; I did kiss Arthur, to comfort him. He came to me, crying and saying that you'd hurt him. He also said that you'd deny it when I asked." Francis grit his teeth. "Does it matter that I kissed him? That I comforted him and told him that he was loved when he was in such a horrific state? It is not as if I had my tongue down his throat! Besides, he wanted it; he came to me looking for comfort!" Taking a few steps forward, he looked up at the American, meeting his gaze. "You honestly believe that I would cheat on Matthieu? Even when you know that I have kissed you in the past, as means of expressing platonic love?! Why would this be any different?!" He was furious-- how dare anyone accuse him of cheating on his sweet little Canadian?!

"Bull shit!" The American spat, advancing forward and glaring harshly at his so-called friend. "I did nothing to Arthur! I'd never hurt him! You're lying, you bastard; you're making this up as an excuse for... for cheating on my brother!"

Alfred didn't like yelling. In fact, he hated it. Especially when it was directed towards Francis. Francis who was so kind, and sweet-- he could tell him anything, and Francis would never judge, never lie, never use people, never cheat. I believed that. Maybe I am an idiot, Alfred thought bitterly as he glared into the Frenchman's eyes, deep blue sharped and as furious as his own.

Shaking the other man off, he grabbed the collar of his shirt and pinned him to the lockers. "Dammit, Francis! I thought you were good! A-And then you go accusing me as an excuse for your cheating! What happened to l'amour, huh? To being faithful to Matty, to me? I trusted you!" Now there was hurt in Alfred's eyes.

"It is not! You've hurt him-- you expect me to believe your lies?! Why would Arthur make up something like that? Do you honestly think that I would make such an accusation if I thought it wasn't true?! You think that lowly of m-- uhn!" He broke off, a pained sound leaving his throat as he was pushed up against the lockers, the metal slamming into his back. Next thing he knew, Alfred was shouting at him again, but... the other appeared to be genuinely upset. Francis knew Alfred. He had got to know him over these past few months, and he knew him well enough to judge his character. At heart, Alfred was simply a kind child, wanting the best for everyone.

Now that he truly thought about it, the Frenchman didn't truly believe that Alfred would or even could conduct such a grand façade as this. If he truly had hurt Arthur and Matthew, then Francis figured that his conscience would be too heavy to physically and verbally abuse someone else. He was a hero, after all, one with strong moral conduct. This wasn't the Alfred that he knew; this man was simply being fuelled by anger.

He reeled back a tight fist like he was about to punch the Frenchman in the face, gritting his teeth, although he soon hesitated. Who was he kidding. He couldn't hurt Francis, even if the Frenchman had crushed everyone else like they was nothing.

"D-Dammit." He choked, letting his hand drop, releasing Francis. He should be showing Matthew justice, he should be avenging him right now. He wasn't a hero. He was a coward, because he couldn't hit the bastard that cheated on his brother and lied to him. Alfred's chest rose and fell with shaking breaths, eyebrows knit and furrowed, lips parted. He just shook his head, eyes filled with hurt and anger, then turned and ran off, not even noticing when he passed Arthur and Matthew.

Alfred felt sick. He just wanted to go away, he needed to breathe, he needed to stop trusting people. This is why friends are a bad idea. This is why letting anyone in is stupid, He told himself as he ran down the hall, tears already stinging his eyes.

Realization flashed in his eyes just as he recognized Alfred's fist rushing forwards to meet his face. However, the punch was not delivered. Francis watched in surprise as Alfred turned and ran off, looking as if he was about to cry. Immediately, he turned and ran after the American, catching up with him and reaching forward, grabbing him by the back of the collar and forcing him to cease running. "Alfred... Alfred, please, for the sake of our friendship if nothing else, please tell me... who told you that I kissed Arthur?"

With a surprised gasp and a sudden tug of his shirt, Alfred spun around, eyes locking with the one person he couldn't bear to look at. At Francis' words, he just shook his head, tears threatening to spill onto his cheeks. "Matthew, who do you think? And... we're not friends. There's no friendship. I-I can't-- I can't believe you would--" Alfred cut himself off when he realized he sounded more like he was begging instead of accusing. He lifted a shaking hand to his own cheek, teeth gritting when he felt his skin, damp with tears. "I need to be alone." He choked. With that, Alfred turned, walked quickly to the large double doors that served as an exit to the school and threw them open, the hall flooding with sunlight for a moment before they slammed shut, the surroundings enveloped in darkness once again.


Translations:
Tu es un bâtard! - You are a bastard!
Non - No

A/N: The next chapter won't be for a couple of weeks, but it'll be here eventually; we promise.

Thank you for reading!
Please do let us know what you thought, feedback is always appreciated ^^

Chapter Text

A/N: Perhaps the saddest chapter so far, but no worries, they'll be far more of these to come as the story progresses.
Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of emotions from here on.
All aboard the feels train!
Enjoy~

Warnings: Mentions of domestic violence


Francis simply stood and stared in disbelief as the American walked away. He felt like bursting into tears himself. None of this was fair-- Alfred shouldn't be crying, Arthur shouldn't be crying, Matthew shouldn't be crying. Matthew... the poor boy had clearly stumbled in at the wrong moment, seen the two of them together, Francis comforting Arthur, and then gone to tell his brother.

This was all just one big misunderstanding.

Feeling as if his legs would buckle underneath him, Francis turned and looked around, searching frantically, looking for the one person he knew he could trust, who could back him up, help him. Practically running over to Arthur as he spotted him, Francis took the man by the hand and looked across at him with pleading eyes.

"Arthur, cher.. tell Matthieu that this is all wrong, that this is all a misunderstanding. Please... explain to him about Alfred-- we can tell him together, he'll believe you this time, I promise. He'll believe you if we tell him together. Tell him why I was comforting you." The Frenchman was frantic as he spoke, the beginnings of tears starting to glisten in his eyes. "Please, Arthur. I love Matthieu. I can't lose him."

Arthur bit back a wry scoff. Right. You 'love' Matthew. Just like you 'love' me, Alfred, and every other person you lay eyes on. God, was Arthur relieved no one actually loved Francis.

"O-Okay." The Briton sniffled, making himself look afraid. "I'll tell Matthew. B-But I won't go and talk to Alfred...! He'll know I told you, and h-he'll still deny everything, don't you see? I'll only get hurt! Don't you believe me?" Arthur pleaded, emerald eyes big and round. It was only a matter of time before Francis realized that he couldn't trust both Arthur and Alfred. One of them was lying. Arthur also knew who he would choose.

"H-He nearly punched you, Francis. I... I told you he has a bad temper..." Arthur reminded him, letting tears fill his eyes again. That should do the trick.

Francis was seriously considering getting down onto his knees. "Please, Arthur. Do this one thing for me... what if I go with you, to see Alfred? We'll be together, I'll go in front.. he won't be able to hurt you again." He assured, his own eyes wide and pleading, blurred by tears. "Arthur... I'm begging you... Alfred must think I'm a monster. Cheating on Matthieu..." He shook his head, aghast at the thought. "I have been cheated on before, and it is not something I would wish upon my worst enemy. Before I came to l'Ameriqué.." His blue eyes softened at the memory for a split second before his gaze hardened and he put a hand to his chest, as if he were clutching at his own heart. "Please don't cry, Arthur. A punch is nothing. If it will make him see the truth, then I would gladly take it, for yours and Matthieu's sake."

Shaking his head, the Briton let out quivering breaths, looking genuinely frightened and nervous. "N-No. I can't talk to him, I-I don't want to. Please don't make me, Francis...!" He sniffled, letting tears fill his already misty eyes. "Alfred isn't the one you should be talking to right now, anyway." Arthur placed a hand against the Frenchman's cheek, caressing it gently. "Matthew needs you." They had to keep Alfred and Francis away from each other. They had to let their relationship spoil. Any apologizing or exchanging of words with Matthew or Arthur didn't mean a thing, though, it was safe. The two of them just had to keep the American and the Frenchman separate.

Stepping forward, Francis took the crying Briton into his arms once more, holding him close. He sighed, pressing his face into the other's shoulder. He recoiled sharply as he inhaled, suddenly catching a familiar scent. It was the scent of Matthew. Francis being a tactile person, he knew exactly what his lover smelt like, had memorized every bottle of cologne on his shelf. So... why was his scent on the Briton?

"Arthur.." He began softly, looking quite confused. He couldn't comprehend the meaning of his small discovery. "If... if Matthieu didn't believe what you said about Alfred and didn't offer you any comfort, then... why has he been in your arms?" His brow furrowed as he spoke, desperately trying to remember what had gone on during the day. So much had gone on, it was hard for Francis to keep track, though he suddenly remembered something else that had been out of place. "And, Arthur... we were in the library together earlier. I came to see Alfred to talk to him, but... why would you have followed me? Earlier, you said that he nearly punched me, so.. you must have seen us fight. But why were you here in the first place? Wouldn't you have wanted to get away from Alfred...?" The Frenchman didn't seem to have figured anything out yet-- he was simply confused.

Bollocks. Arthur had to think fast. How had Francis figureed out that he'd been with Matthew? Arthur nodded, making himself look pitifully sad. "Y-Yes, I did want to get away from Alfred. But I... I was worried about you, so I hid behind the corner." Good. That was plausible. Now he just had to make up and excuse for the lingering sent of cologne and maple syrup. Part of him didn't want to make up an excuse. He wanted to shove Francis away, glare at him and shout Because he's mine, you frog! But not yet. Soon, not yet.

"M-Matthew didn't believe me when I told him what Alfred did... but he still hugged me. He couldn't bear to see his friend cry, see?" Arthur looked deep into Francis's eyes, hiding all traces of lying in his own. It'd become quite easy, actually. Lying, that is. Hiding his emotions, however, had never been a simple task.

Francis was confused-- this wasn't right. Arthur was being far too emotional-- the Briton valued his pride dearly, so why was he throwing it all away now? It just wasn't logical.

Sensing that Arthur was having a spot of trouble, Matthew dashed over and put an arm around Francis, holding the man close; one around his waist and the other grasping his hand.

"A-Arthur," The Canadian began softly, staring down at the Briton. "Tell me it isn't true. You.. you're not seeing Francis.. are you? I know that the two of you wouldn't do that to me..." The man's eyes were glistening with tears as he reached for his 'lover', pulling Francis close and pressing a kiss to his lips. The Frenchman's eyes went wide and he froze as Matthew kissed him, going very still all of a sudden.

Arthur did everything in his power not to look visibly relieved. He had been loosing control--thank God that Matthew had showed up. He just hoped that Francis would buy it.

"Matthew..! Oh--" Arthur pretended that the Canadian hadn't just been standing right around the corner next to him a few minutes ago. "No, no-- it was all a misunderstanding, Francis wasn't cheating on you with me! I-I promise!" He looked up at his lover with large, pleading eyes, but there was an exchanged flash of understanding in their gaze. It felt odd, talking to Matthew like this. Knowing this was just an act. Arthur just wanted to be alone with his Canadian... his blood boiled as he kissed Francis right in front of him, even though he knew it meant nothing.

Matthew shifted, moving his arms to wrap around the Frenchman, holding the smaller man close. Kissing Francis made him feel sick, but it would be worth it in the end, when Arthur and him could finally be together and not be bothered by anyone else. Alfred would accept that Francis was a cheater, and everything would be resolved.

Francis, however, felt as if his heart was going to fall out of his chest. Untangling himself from Matthew's arms, he recoiled from their kiss and took a step backwards, keeping his gaze locked with the Canadian's all the while. Everything, every awful piece of this horrific puzzle had slotted into place in his mind.

For a while now, whenever they kissed, Francis had been able to detect a strange, lingering taste in his lover's mouth. It was subtle, yes, but the man knew his Canadian well enough to detect anything that was different about him, however small. He hadn't said anything, of course, because it had been such a minor thing, but now he wished he had, because now it was something major.

For the first time, Francis was able to detect what it was. His time with Arthur in the library had shown him what the man's lips tasted of, had allowed him to pull at a loose thread and begin to unravel whatever was going on here.

Tea.

Earl Grey Tea; the kind that Arthur shipped over from England and drank every single day without fail.

The kind that Francis didn't drink, and the kind that shouldn't be lingering in his boyfriend's mouth.

Shaking his head, he took a few clumsy steps backwards, his mouth dropping open in realization of how stupid he'd been. "Y-You... You liars..." Silent tears gathered in his indigo eyes and slid down his face. "Matthieu, you've been... k-kissing Arthur."


Translations:

Cher - Dear
L'Ameriqué - America

Hardly any translations this time! Our (non-existent) French skills must be lacking.
So, we weren't expecting to post for a while, but we managed to get this chapter finished.
Thank you to my wonderful co-author for always working so hard on this with me! <3
However, chapter five will definitely not be posted for a few weeks. We're not yet sure if we're going to establish a proper schedule for posting, so sorry for those of you who prefer continuity, but we're still new to all this..!!
Also, apologies that the chapter is so short this time! Gotta give you drama in small doses.

Thank you so much for reading, and as always please do let us know what you thought in the comments below~ ^^

Chapter Text

A/N: And we're back once more with the latest instalment to our emotional rollercoaster! Grab your tissues before boarding, folks; we're in for a bumpy ride.

Warnings: Swearing, implication of suicide.


Arthur's eyes widened. Well, it seemed that Francis had finally figured it all out. Perhaps it was time. Time to initiate the third and final phase of their plan.

Arthur's eyes met with Matthew's in a dark sideways glance full of knowledge. An evil smirk pulled the corners of Arthur's lips up.

"I'm impressed. I thought it would take you longer." Oh, was he ready for this. This was the punishment for cheating, for loving everybody and nobody that all. This was the penalty for being Francis Bonnefoy.

Arthur exchanged his small, pitiful stance for one of confidence, whipping pale bangs from his eyes and letting the tip of his tongue run over his molars. "Go on, love. You first." He said to Matthew as he glared at Francis.

The Canadian chuckled, moving to take the Briton's hand into his own. "Thank you, Artie." Smiling, he looked at the Frenchman. "So, amour..." He practically spat the word, taking on a mocking tone that he delighted in using. "Do you understand yet? Or is it all just too much to take in?" With a matching smirk to Arthur's, he walked over to his 'lover', having moved further away upon taking his true lover's hand. "Now you know what it feels like, Francis, to be loved by somebody, only to find out that it was all false. Because that's exactly what you do. To me, to Arthur, to Alfred." Anger crept into his soft tone of voice as his brother was mentioned. "And it doesn't mean a thing to you. Isn't that right, Arthur?"

"Of course it's right, dear. The two of us were sick of watching you play with our emotions and with Alfred's emotions. Perhaps now you've gotten a taste of your own medicine. Hopefully this will hurt a little, although I've begun to question whether you have a heart at all." Arthur's words got colder and harsher as he continued to speak . "Can't you see it, Francis? We simply hate you. We want you gone. This seemed like the best way to do the trick."

Francis was shaking his head all the while, his blond hair flying all over the place as he did so. "Non, please, Matthieu... w-what are you saying...? It is only you... it was only ever you. Can't you see that?" He extended out a hand towards the other, as if reaching for him. Tears still streamed out of his eyes, never seeming to stop. "Please, amour... I-I love you." He could feel his heart physically breaking as he spoke, cracking into shards along with his voice as he broke down, covering his mouth with a hand. He felt so sick-- it was awful, this betrayal... he wanted to throw up.

The Briton was smiling cruelly, eyes narrowed and lit up with a harsh glare. He felt no sadness as he watched Francis break right in front of him, and a glance in Matthew's direction confirmed his suspicions that he didn't feel any pity or regret either. Go on, darling. Tell him what you tell me. He thought, mentally urging the Canadian to speak. Tell him everything. Tell him the truth.

Chuckling darkly, Matthew continued, smiling over at his true lover, proud of his words. Even without a verbal command from Arthur, Matthew was able to see just what the other wanted simply by looking at him.

"Do you know what's kept me going through these past months? How I managed to suffer having your lips against mine, your hands clasping my own? Your arms around me, the scent of that disgusting cologne and those sickly sweet lies that you tell every day about how much you love me?" He paused a moment, savouring the words he was preparing to say. "The thought of you leaving us. Out of our lives, forever. Away from my brother." At this, the Canadian grit his teeth, his fists tightening. "Away from my loved ones."

Moving closer to Arthur, he leaned in for a kiss, taking delight in the fact that the Frenchman was watching, that he could hear him sobbing in the background. Matthew took delight in crushing the remaining shards of the Frenchman's heart, if he even possessed such an organ in that dark body of his.

Francis was on the floor, falling to his knees as his darling Matthieu rejected him and began to openly kiss Arthur. Everything he had loved about Matthew... was it all false? The Frenchman had been used terribly. Sobbing, Francis clutched at his heart and began to wail in despair, distraught at the idea he was being rejected, that all his efforts to make the Canadian happy had been useless.

"Matthieu, mon amour, m-mon coeur, non, s'il vous plait..." The words flowed out of his mouth without the Parisian's consent. He felt so broken, he didn't even know what he was saying anymore. "Dieu, je veux mourir..." There were times when Francis would shed a tear for a minor reason, perhaps when his hair wasn't co-operating, or simply for the purpose of giving the others a laugh as he fretted over small things. However, these cries were not his usual melodramatic sobs, but true sorrow.

Matthew didn't even spare the man a glance, he just murmured against Arthur's lips, taking delight in how broken the other was. "Oh oui, se serait bien."

Looping his arms around Matthew's neck, Arthur knew there was no more that needed to be said. His lover had summed it up quite nicely, in his opinion. The Briton barely cracked open his eyes, green slits glowing with hatred as they landed on Francis.

Finally. Not only would this surely get rid of the Frenchman, but now he could finally, finally, kiss Matthew in front of him. Make it perfectly clear that the Canadian was his, and his alone. Arthur closed his eyes, then deepened the kiss, threading his fingers through Matthew's soft hair.


One more 'Hey, are you okay, dude?' from one of his fake friends and Alfred was going to be sick. He walked home as quickly as possible, then threw open the door. The American tossed his bag against the wall, leaned back against the door and buried his face in his hands.

Francis.

How could Francis have done that, have done any of it? He'd trusted him. And Arthur too-- it takes two to cheat on someone. All he had was his brother. Poor Matty. He was probably alone, crying right now. Dammit. He should have found him and taken him home before he stormed out.

Alfred's hands slid down to cover his mouth. He should call him. Yeah. Tell him to come home. He'd make him hot chocolate, let him vent everything to him and he'd be his shoulder to cry on. Matthew was, after all, the only one Alfred trusted now. They were brothers. They stuck together. And right now, they needed each other. Alfred picked up his phone, found Matthew in his contacts and called his number.


Watching the two of them was too much for Francis to bear. His shattered heart couldn't comprehend how they were kissing so casually in front of him. But then he suddenly understood.

He didn't matter.

Whether he saw or not was insignificant, because they didn't care about him. None of them did. The three people that he loved most in the world most likely thought he was better off dead. Matthew did, for sure; he'd already told him so.

With a heavy, shaking sigh, Francis climbed to his knees and began to walk away, heading towards the stairs. With every step he thought that he just might keel over, but he stopped for a second longer, watching the two of them. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps to check that this was truly real and not some awful nightmare.

"Au revoir." The words were hardly a whisper as he spoke them, barely audible above the sound of Matthew's phone, which had suddenly started to ring. Francis left them there, trudging up the stairs with a heavy, shattered heart, not even bothering to wipe his tears away. Besides, who was there to care how he looked now? Nobody.

With an irritated groan, the Canadian reached into his pocket and took out his phone, reluctantly breaking his kiss with Arthur to speak. "Hello..?"

Arthur sighed as the kiss was broken, his arms remaining around Matthew's neck as he rested his head against his shoulder, watching him speak into the phone. The Briton didn't look guilty. He didn't look upset, or even annoyed. If anything, he was relived. Francis was gone. With a fairly neutral expression, Arthur listened to the phone call as he busied himself by pressing gentle kisses along the side of Matthew's neck.

"Matty! Oh-- are you okay? Come home, I'll make it better..!" Alfred needed his brother right now; he wanted to be his hero, he wanted to take away the Canadian's pain. Surely, he was still a mess; who wouldn't be after being cheated on?

"Oh, Alfred." The Canadian sounded surprised as he answered, though he made sure that there was a tender note of sadness in his voice, just to invoke some sympathy in his brother. "I'm.. recovering. I've been talking to Arthur." Catching the other's gaze, he smiled. "It turns out that... we have a lot in common. Aside from being cheated on by that... that..." He sighed. "It's alright now, Alfred. Everything's been sorted out, alright? You should come back to school; come and find us." He urged gently, not wanting his brother to be alone despite the fact that he wanted to spend some private time with Arthur.

"Oh. Oh-- okay..!" He sounded hopeful, even if he was still in a bit of pain. What mattered was that the one person he still trusted didn't sound as broken as he thought he would. "Wait... Arthur? What-- what were you just about to call Francis?" Arthur was having an affair with Francis, wasn't he? How could Matthew sound so pleased to talk to Arthur? Alfred knew Matthew was bound to be mad at the Frenchman, but he still loved him, right? Alfred was suddenly very confused.


"Matty... what's going on? What's been sorted out? Oh, never mind-- Hold on, I'll be right over!" He spoke innocently as he began his trek back to the school. The American was lucky he lived so close. Like anyone else, Alfred didn't look up as he walked inside, blinking in surprise when he found Arthur and Matthew... holding each other like that. Something wasn't adding up. He'd been accused of hurting Arthur, and he still didn't know where Francis got such an absurd idea. And... Shouldn't Matthew hate Arthur now? For stealing Francis away?

"What was I going to call him.? I-- What..? Everything's been sorted out. You'll understand." Matthew said gently as he pressed a kiss to Arthur's lips, as if reassuring him rather than Alfred.

Minutes later, when he brother appeared around the corner, Matthew gently broke away from Arthur, opting instead to meekly hold his hand. His brother had been suspicious and confused on the phone; he could tell. Matthew was going to need some help to explain this one, to maintain the lies surrounding his brother and protect their elaborate façade. "Alfred.." He began softly, looking sweetly concerned. "Are you.. alright?" Stepping over, he pressed a hand to his cheek and looked across at him, giving him a gentle hug of reassurance. " Don't worry. H-He.. He can't hurt us any more."

Alfred wasn't entirely known for his smarts. But this he knew, this was wrong. It didn't make sense, something wasn't adding up. Gently pushing his brother's shoulders away, the American pulled out of their hug, hands still gently gripping the Canadian's shoulders. "Francis? But... he cheated on you, I get that, but why are you hanging out with Arthur? Wasn't he with Francis?" Another thought popped into Alfred's mind, and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "And..." What Francis was talking about before-- "Why was he so angry with me earlier?" The American glanced over at Arthur, looking even more confused when he saw the Briton's guilty expression, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. "Ah, Alfred... W-We simply had to create a problem to solve a bigger one." There was a pause, and it was Alfred who broke the silence. "Someone explain this to me. Now."

Matthew took a step forward, sighing. "Alfred, there's nothing to explain. Arthur and I have both been hurt by Francis-- he's a liar and a cheat, you should know this. Can't you see it? He never loved me, Alfred. He hands out love to everybody like it's cheap candy-- he doesn't have the capability to stay in one relationship." He grit his teeth. "I think we proved that, don't you, Arthur?"

Moving forward, he placed his hand upon his brother's shoulder and looked sincere. "This is for the best, Alfred. Francis is a bad influence." He was hoping that the American would just nod; accept his words. That was what he wanted, what he'd been working for all these months. He hated Francis-- He just wanted to be happy with the two people he knew he could trust. "You don't want me to date a man like him, do you, Alfred? He'll end up hurting us all."

Alfred nodded at first. It was a slow, hesitant nod, eyes unsure and still filled with confusion and doubt. The nod of his head slowly transitioned into shaking. "But.... don't you love Francis?" He asked simply in a rather ignorant tone.

Arthur sighed. "Matthew doesn't love Francis, Alfred. He never did." And one by one, things started locking together in Alfred's head. "He loves me. Listen, we were testing Francis, seeing if our suspicions were right about him being a cheating monster. And guess what? They were."

Confusion quickly turn into disbelief and anger, and Alfred suddenly looked appalled, shoving Matthew's hand off his shoulder. "What... you don't mean to tell me that..." This was wrong. This wasn't what good guys did. "...You two have been together this entire time? You tricked him, just to make him look bad?" Alfred blinked a few times, taking a stumbling step back. He felt sick. He didn't know who to trust anymore. "Matthew!" He looked hurt, furious, everything suddenly making sense. "You lied to me! You... you weren't really upset earlier, were you? That was just to make me mad at Francis!" He pointed an accusing finger, taking another step back. "And Arthur! You're the reason Francis was mad at me! You tricked him! You tricked me..!" He felt like throwing up. Francis. "You two are the cheating monsters! H-How could you do that to him?! Do you have any idea how much he loves you, Matt?!"

Matthew scoffed. "Don't I love Francis? How could I ever love that monster?!" He looked angry that his brother would even suggest such a thing, and was glad when Arthur stepped in to explain. When the Briton was finished, he opened up his own mouth to speak, though soon found himself being pushed away. "We didn't trick him-- we simply exposed everything that was already there! He deserves this, Alfred. He deserves to hurt!" The Canadian's expression morphed into a frown as his brother spoke his name so sternly. This wasn't right, this wasn't how it was supposed to be. Alfred was supposed to be happy with him and Arthur-- the three of them were supposed to laugh about this, about Francis finally receiving justice for his actions. "So what if we told a few small lies? It's nothing compared to what he's done. How can you feel sorry for him, Alfred?! He never loved me, it was all lies!" Stepping forward, he walked towards his brother, getting close to him so that their gaze could meet. "We're better off without him; he'll only hurt us! Why can't you see it, Alfred? See that's he's a liar and a cheat-- and a coward! He ran off as soon as he realized!" Matthew pointed his index finger to the sky as an indication of where the other man had headed. "He never cared for you. He never loved any of us!"

It was moments like this when Alfred realized that Matthew was just as big as he was, could be just as loud as him. With two angry gazes, two sets of narrowed eyes behind tin-rimmed glasses, the twins looked shockingly identical. "You're a liar!" The American cried, shoving Matthew back. "Y-You-- Francis hasn't done a thing wrong! Can't you see? Just because he shows everyone love doesn't mean you weren't special to him!" Now he was furious. They'd completely crushed Francis, just because they hated him-- he'd done nothing wrong. "A coward?! You broke his heart-- you think he'd want to stick around?" Alfred gripped his hair. God, he'd never felt so betrayed. They'd lied to him. Francis. He'd never done a thing wrong; he had been forever sweet and kind. They'd tricked them both into destroying their friendship. "Where is he?" Alfred choked, seething with anger, and now worry. Oh God-- Poor Francis.

Matthew stumbled backwards as he was shoved, falling into Arthur, who caught him hurriedly, holding him up. Clenching his fists, he dusted himself off and walked towards his brother once more, angry tears glistening in amethyst eyes that shone with rage. "That's not how a relationship works, Alfred! I'm with Arthur-- you don't see me going around and flirting with every other person I lay eyes on! Love actually means something to me; my heart isn't a toy to be played with! Francis never had the ability to love me, because he loved everyone! There was no value to his emotions, because they're the same for every single person!" He yelled, practically shouting in his brother's face. Matthew didn't want to hurt Alfred, he just wanted him to see the light, to finally understand that he was wrong. Francis wasn't to be trusted. "He doesn't have a heart to be broken." Matthew spat, grabbing at his brother's arm, wanting him to stay where he was. He was tired of Alfred running away from him, always wanting to help, to be the hero and save the day. "So, what are you going to do now, hm? Go and find him? Choose him over me?! I'm your brother, Alfred, and I'm older-- so listen to me when I tell you that he's not to be trusted!"

"Is your hatred for Francis really that much stronger than your love for Arthur? That'd you go off faking a relationship with someone for months, just to see them hurt?" Alfred's face twisted in anger, sadness, and betrayal. Swallowing dryly, he just shook his head. "My brother would never do this. Even if you hated someone, I didn't think you'd have the heart to put them through this much pain."

At his final words, Alfred felt something inside him snap, and he narrowed his eyes, a low growl escaping his throat. "You're the heartless one! I don't even know you anymore! Francis has never done a thing wrong, never hurt anybody-- And look what you do to him!" His voice wavered a little, his heart was becoming too heavy. Francis was off hurting somewhere right now. He didn't want to imagine how he looked when he found out his little Matthieu had played this cruel trick on him. "I don't have to listen to anyone!" Ripping his arm from the Canadian's grip, his fiery spirit began to show, chest rising and falling with anger. "I don't care what you call yourself! My big brother, my boss, my King-- Fuck it! You've hurt an innocent person, Matty! I don't know how you sleep at night!" He began to back up towards the stairs.

"I'm never going to forgive you for this, Matty!" He spat, then ran up the stairs. His anger dissipated, replaced by aching worry. He didn't want to imagine Francis's pain right now-- Oh God, if he hurts himself... Alfred didn't want his last words to his best friend to be that their friendship was over.

"Yes it is! Our plan was fantastic-- and it worked, didn't it?! It made him cry! I won't say I'm sorry, because I'm not!" Upon recognising the sadness in his brother's expression, Matthew didn't feel guilt, but anger.

"You're calling me heartless, saying that he's never hurt anybody?! God, Alfred, I didn't think that you were this stupid." He spat, glaring across at his brother, angry purple meeting furious blue. "Are you blind?! He's the one that's been hurting us all this time!" When the other stopped and shook his head, Matthew thought that he might have one. Alfred had caved in; seen the light. Realized that him shouting his brother down wasn't going to make any difference-- it wouldn't change the fact that Matthew was right.

But, he was mistaken, for no sooner had he thought this, that perhaps they could finally just be happy, Alfred began yelling at him again. Matthew waited until he was quite once more before speaking. "That man never had any heart to break in the first place. He left his innocence back in France, if he had any to begin with. His only goal was to hurt us, Alfred! I know I'm right, so you will listen or so help me, I'll throw you into the same boat as that French bastard!"

The Canadian soon realized that Alfred wasn't going to do as he said and was moving away from him, towards the stairs. He clutched at the arm Alfred had shoved away, feeling pain shoot up it from his wrist to his shoulder.

"Fuck you then, Alfred. Choose him over us, but don't come running back to me when he hurts you. I tried to protect you." He growled, turning on his heel, taking Arthur by the hand and storming off as his brother ran up the stairs.

A shaking gasp passed through his lips at his brother's words. Throw him in the same boat as that French bastard, huh? Alfred had felt betrayed by Francis earlier today, but this... this was worse. So it was that easy for Matthew to toss people aside, crush them? He'd broken Francis, simply because he made assumptions about his intentions, about who he was. It was disgusting. Alfred knew it would only be a matter of time before he realized just how bad a person Matthew really was, how awful it was that Alfred had trusted him all this time. But right now, his mind was sharpened yet clouded at the same time with sickening worry. There was a lump in his throat, his heart felt heavy-- Alfred was ill with dread and that icy feeling that something bad was going to happen in the near future. He increased his speed, determined to find Francis.


Francis kept going up until he reached the ladder and trapdoor he had been looking for. It shut behind him with a crash that was far too loud for his ears to cope with, before leaving him in silence on the roof of the building. He couldn't take any more noise.

It was nice on the roof. Quiet, unoccupied... everything that he wanted. He could see down, to the entrance of the school, so high up that he could whoever was coming in and going our. They would be able to him him too, if they only bothered to look up. Everything that he needed. Up here, there were no words. No lies could be told to him if he was alone.

The railing that bordered the roof was low-- only reaching to around Francis's thigh. Escape would be easy. He figured that climbing over it would be no problem. And then there would be no problems at all, because he would be gone, just like Matthew had encouraged. Free from the lies and the liars-- people who used him, exploited him, laughed in his face. There would be no more of them; no more taunting, no more harsh words, no more of this nightmare, no more of Alfred, of Arthur, of Matthew, no more of anything. Only silence.

Peace, at last.

And he could be content, just once more.

Francis was standing next to the railing, looking down upon the world he was going to leave behind, when his eyes landed upon Alfred. The sight of the American made him want to cry again and, upon realizing that he was alone, he began to do so. Alfred, Arthur and sweet Matthieu.. they had been his only friends in the world. The only thing that he had. All of his family was back in France-- What else was there to live for now? He figured that Alfred was in on their little scheme as well-- he had been told so, hadn't he? Arthur's words kept coming back to haunt him, circling round and around in his head. 'Can't you see it, Francis? We simply hate you. We want you gone.' Arthur.. the one who he had held in his arms and comforted in his 'time of need', the one who he once had so must trust in, the one he had allowed to manipulate him, spreading lies and forcing him to accuse his best friend of such terrible things... was now downstairs five floors below, embracing his lover. But in truth, Matthew never really loved him, he realized. Their entire relationship had been nothing more than a huge lie on his 'lover's' part; a large, elaborate façade. Francis had given him everything... and he had been rejected.

Gripping the railing, he started to climb over.


Translations:

Mon amour, mon coeur, non, s'il vous plait - My love, my heart, no, please
Dieu, je veux mourir - God, I want to die
Oh oui, se serait bien - Oh yes, it would be nice
Au revoir - Goodbye

A/N: Oh, what a cliffhanger~
Sorry, but we're cruel like that. Got to keep up the suspense!

Chapter Six should be up within the next few weeks.

Thank you so much for reading and, as always, please tell us what you thought down below. Comments are always appreciated~!

Until next time~! ^^

Chapter Text

A/N: And the next chapter is finally ready! It feels like ages since we last posted.

You still got your tissues? Oh good, good-- you're gonna need them for this chapter ^^

Warnings: Swearing, suicide


On the next floor of the school, the highest of five, was the Science department.

Even now, as Alfred ascended the mountain of stairs, he couldn't quite believe just how large the school was. The never-ending flights seemed to stretch out in front of him, drawing him upwards; higher and higher.

It had been built in such a place to allow easy access to the windows, and meant that anything rising from the classrooms wouldn't pollute the air down below, where the students and staff roamed.

At the end of the corridor there was a small turning to the left and to the right. One was a cupboard for maintenance purposes, and the other, on the left side, contained a ladder leading up to a trapdoor in the ceiling.

At the base of the ladder lay a small rucksack, decorated in red, white and blue. However, the bag was not stars nor strips: no, it was designed to look like the French flag.

Francis' bag-- almost a clue that had been unintentionally left for the American as to his friend's whereabouts. It had been abandoned there by it's owner, in the hope that the pain would soon fade away. Francis had lost his lover and his friends, so why not abandon his belongings too?

Blindly searching the first few floors, Alfred finally reached the highest level. He about turned back after quickly scanning the forked hall, but then took a double take, spotting the backpack that had been forgotten below the ladder.

He knew that bag; it'd found itself tossed in the corner of his bedroom while he and Francis played video games, draped over his couch or besides the Frenchman's desk. It belonged to Francis, without a doubt.

He didn't hesitate, gritting his teeth as he climbed up the ladder. The American pushed open the trap door to the roof, climbed out, and closed it behind him. He stood there, sun-coloured hair lightly blowing in the wind, barely breathing, his blue eyes filled with worry as they scanned the roof.

"Oh shit-- oh please, tell me you didn't jump--" He whimpered to himself, gripping his hair, afraid to look over the edge.

The roof was so quiet. It was summer, and there was only a slight breeze; catching Francis' hair and making the strands dance in front of his face. On any other day, it would have perhaps added to the quality of his appearance.

However, this day was an exception.

There was nothing for his hair to enhance-- Francis was too broken for that. He felt as if the last of his beauty had shattered along with his heart the moment his sweet Matthieu's lips made contact with Arthur's. Even the thought of such a thing made him want to be sick-- what decent lover wouldn't feel the same pain if they saw their beloved showering their affection upon someone else?

Somebody that wasn't them?

But in truth, deep down in his broken heart, he knew that Matthew had never truly loved him. The thought made him ache, deepened the gaping hole in his chest, but he knew that it was the truth. He had been perched on the edge of the roof for a while now, on the wrong side of the railing. The sky stretched out before him, blue as anything; almost inviting Francis to draw nearer.

One hand clutched at his heart, feeling so broken he thought that the remaining shards of the shattered organ would pierce through his chest and cut his hands to ribbons. The other gripped at the railing behind him, the only thing stopping him from falling.

Just as his blue eyes began to close and he prepared to make his peace, there was a loud bang. The noise startled him-- so much so that he nearly let go of the railing.

Still holding on tight, he turned his head, looking to see who else was on the roof with him. Who had come to gloat? That was the only explanation he could think of-- everybody hated him, so why would they be coming up there for anything other than to taunt him?

When Francis' gaze landed upon the American, indigo orbs widening in distress, the resolve he had gathered immediately shattered and he broke down into tears. Unable to face the other, he hung his head as he began sobbing loudly once again, not caring anymore. He had nothing left-- no pride, nothing to preserve any longer.

"Please." He wailed, his words watery and only just distinguishable through his broken sobs. "Leave me. Leave me to die, Alfred." He spoke the other's name with sadness, remembering all the times he'd done so in the past. All the times he'd greeted him with a smile and a kiss, the syllables of his name bright on his lips.

Had that really been so wrong?

"I know you all hate me, but--" He broke off, moving the hand that was clutching at his heart to cover his face, sobbing into it. "Please don't taunt me any longer. S'il vous plait... je suis trop désolê..."

Alfred could hardly breathe. He dreaded looking over the railing, feared what he would find there. At the sudden sound of sobs, there was a massive wave of emotions that crashed over Alfred. Relief, oh--so much relief. Francis wasn't gone. However, this was then followed by fear, the fear that his previous relief might be short-lived.

In with the mix was anger and dread and hope and sadness and the unmistakable desire to protect those he cared about. Taking a heavy second to recover from the tidal wave of emotion, Alfred felt his heart crack and break apart at Francis' words. Why was he apologizing? He had done nothing wrong--not a thing! He was a victim of backstabbers, of cheaters and liars.

And he deserved none of it.

"Francis!" Alfred closed the distance between them, wrapping his arms tightly around Francis. Like hell he was going to let him fall. One shaking hand wasn't enough to secure his safety, but with Alfred's arms and stubbornness, there was no way Francis was going anywhere. "F-Francis, Francis-- Please, I'm sorry. I don't hate you, I don't hate you at all." Tightening his arms around him, Alfred let tears of relief blur his vision. He didn't know where to start. "Don't apologize, you did nothing wrong...! N-Not a thing..."

Upon feeling arms wrap around him, pulling him close, Francis felt sick once more. The crushed tone of Alfred's voice unnerved him--why did the other sound so upset? Was this another trick? With weak, trembling hands, he attempted to push the other away, though it proved to be unsuccessful.

"Just let me go, Alfred. P-Please, I..." He didn't want this. More hurt, more hatred, more lies... They were playing with his heart--taking great delight in doing so, it seemed. "If I was ever your friend... j-just let me go." He wanted Alfred to let go of him so that he would fall, freeing him both physically and emotionally from the horror that was now his life.

Once the American's arms were unwrapped from around him, Francis would surely fall to his death. As well as keeping him anchored to the ground, Alfred also held Francis's broken heart in the palm of his hand. The Frenchman felt so weak now,It was being squeezed and squashed; more sadness creeping into his emotions, taking over.

"It hurts, Alfred. Let me be free..." He whispered, reaching a hand out towards the horizon, where the land met the sky and the sun shone brightly in the centre. He focused on it, tried to reach towards it whilst pushing back against Alfred, trying to shove him away. His words were lies-- just like Matthew's false kisses and false words and false everything. Designed to lull him into a false sense of security, to fix the shards of his heart and glue them back together, only to break him all over again.

'If I was ever your friend, just let me go', Francis had said.

Alfred held him tighter.

"I'm still your friend, so I won't let you go." It made him feel ruined, seeing Francis like this. Broken, completely shattered; he'd never seen anyone in so much pain before. Francis could cry and tell him to let go, shout at him, even hit him if he wanted, but Alfred was never going to do such a thing. He wasn't going to abandon his best friend in his time of need.

It wasn't going to end like this; he wasn't going to let Francis fall. Oh, Francis, he'd nothing wrong. Always so sweet and kind, showing everyone love. He didn't deserve this.

Letting his knees buckle and fall out from beneath him, Alfred suddenly found himself on the concrete surface of the roof. He'd pulled Francis with him, off of the railing, the securing tightness of his arms around the man not loosening in the slightest. "I-I know it hurts, I know..." He buried his face in the crook of his neck from behind, shaking from a mixture of relief and worry and grief.

Suddenly, Francis was falling.

Falling... but not in the direction that he wanted. Strong arms pulled him backwards and he collapsed along with Alfred onto the ground. Now on the other side of the railings, he stared through them, still looking towards the horizon. What was this? Why wasn't Alfred letting him go? He'd saved him, pulled him back, stopped him from ending his life... but why? He wondered as such, speaking his thoughts aloud. "W-Why? Alfred, I don't understand this. None of this makes any sense..."

The American's hair tickled his face and neck--a comforting feeling that he knew all too well. The sight of the blond locks suddenly reminded him of Matthieu. The taller man would hug him from behind, on occasion. Not wanting to think of the Canadian, he shook his head and reached for the railing again. "C'est pas vrai... he said that you hate me."

Couldn't Francis just turn around? Alfred would make it better. He could try, at least. He'd try his very best, but... How was he supposed to be Francis' hero when he needed saving himself?

"Nothing he said was true. Nothing, Francis. Especially when he said that I hate you." So much to say. So many things he needed Francis to understand. He just wanted Francis to be safe. He wanted that flirty smile again, warm, blue eyes deep like the sea, twinkling with happiness. Alfred just wanted Francis to be okay, because the guilt was too much. He was too guilty for accusing Francis of cheating, for yelling at him, for believing Matthew's lies. Alfred wished he could have been there the moment Francis was crushed; he would have stepped in front of him, defended him right then and there, protected him. There was too much regret, too much sorrow, too much relief.

Too much emotion for their shattered hearts to deal with.

Alfred felt himself break down into sobs, the uneven rise and fall of his chest against Francis' back, tears slipping from his eyes and down onto Francis' shoulder.

"Y-You didn't jump. You didn't-- You're still here." He reached one arm up, gently pulling Francis' hand from the railing, watching through his tears as the Frenchman's fingers slipped from the metal beam. "T-That's all that matters. You're... okay." That was far from the truth, and Alfred knew. But physically, at least. When the American spoke, his words came out as nothing more then trembling whispers. "You're not hurt. Thank God..."

Francis' head was spinning with confusion. This was too much. Too much to take in-- he had been completely overloaded with information.

Just a few seconds later and he would have thrown it all away. Had Alfred not suddenly appeared, Francis would have jumped off the roof; of that he was confident. He would have plummeted to the ground, travelling goodness knows how many feet and... his life would have been over.

Alfred, the Frenchman realized with a gasp, had saved him. Just like always, he was there for him. Always prepared to help him out, giving him a hand with whatever he needed-- forever the Hero. Even if the man had yelled at him and thrown insults, accusing him of horrible things that were anything but true, Alfred was still his friend. Because those words hadn't been the American's own. No; he had been tricked, just like Francis had. Alfred still cared for him.

He could hear Alfred whispering soft words; talking about how thankful he was, grateful and happy that the Frenchman was still alive. Just the care in his voice made Francis break down into tears once more. It meant so much to be cared for, genuinely cared for, after being treated so horribly; abused by the ones he loved. "I almost j-jumped." He whispered, his body trembling in fear. "I almost left you. D-Dieu, Alfred... I let them trick me."

Just the thought that he had nearly thrown away everything that he had made Francis feel physically sick. Lurching forward, he grabbed at the metal railing that had kept him anchored to the ground, throwing up the contents of his stomach in a stunned reaction.

The American's cerulean orbs went round with surprise, quivering slightly at the awful sight of Francis in so much pain that he physically couldn't bear it.

Only now did Francis truly understand what the implications of his decision would have been. Someone did still care, and that someone was the most important person to Francis in the whole world. Matthew was a liar; Francis should have known not to trust anything he said, but the Canadian's poisoned words had worked their way into the Frenchman's head, invading his thoughts and feelings, influencing his decisions.

Alfred was shaking, and he reminded himself to close his jaw so sobs didn't escape. It was no secret he was a mess, though, tears streaking his cheeks, forehead splotchy and red and the corners of his lips pulled back in a wobbly expression that was neither a smile nor a frown.

"I let them trick me too." He placed a hand on Francis's back and began to rub slow, calming circles. "Jesus... I'm so sorry..." What else could he say? Oh-- There was so much to say. Too much to say.

"I-I'm so fucking happy you... didn't jump." He didn't say it, didn't want to further upset Francis, but he would have thrown himself over the railing too if he'd seen Francis' body sprawled out on the ground below. Why even go on when there wasn't single person who loved you, not one person you could trust and call your friend? No wonder Francis had considered ending his life.

Francis closed his eyes and wiped his mouth with his sleeve, wanting to block everything out. Nothing meant anything to him anymore. Nothing but Alfred. He just wanted to stay with the American, his only friend in the world, and never see Matthew and Arthur again.

Matthieu.

Just the thought of the man made his heart ache terribly, so much so that he was nearly sick once more. Biting back his pain and pushing down the sickening feeling in his stomach, he slowly turned around. Opening his eyes, his gaze met with Alfred's, the two of them staring across at each other, each one in just as much of a state as the other was.

"I-I thought that they l-loved us, Alfred." He said quietly, not even trying to hide the flow of tears streaming down his face anymore. What did it matter? His pride was long gone.

"S-Seeing them like that... kissing Arthur, r-right in f-front of me--" He broke off, pressing a hand to the space above his heart and sniffing. "It's too much. I-I can't..." Trailing off, he hoped that the other would understand what he was trying to say. Francis was desperately trying to explain why he had done such a thing, why he had nearly left Alfred behind. His love for Matthew, which was still somehow present even now, was too strong. Being rejected in such a cruel manner had broken his heart, and he hadn't wanted to live anymore. After all, he was Francis Bonnefoy. What kind of world was a world in which he wasn't loved and couldn't express his own love? Deep down, he was insecure-- he needed to be loved; made to feel like he was wanted. It turned out that Matthew and Arthur had taken that flaw and exploited it as much as they could.

"Yes you can." Trying to sound firm, although his voice was shaking, the American held onto Francis. His arms encircled the smaller man and pulled him close, legs lifting and crossing in front of the Frenchman's shaking body.It was like he was trying to shield him with his entire body, but the damage had already been done.

"D-Don't say you can't. God, I know, I know it hurts," Matthew had kissed Arthur right in front of Francis?

The American held him tighter.

I bet he enjoyed watching him break down in tears and beg them to stop. Alfred thought. And the image of such a thing filled his mind, making the pieces of his heart ache, his arms pull the Frenchman closer. "...I know. But please-- Oh, thank God you're safe. I-I thought I'd lost you." Pulling away just enough to look at him, Alfred had a chance to really see at his face. He looked paler than he should. Francis wasn't glowing like he should, he wasn't smiling like he should. His eyes were filled with pain, cheeks stained with tears. At least he was alive, still breathing; his broken heart was still beating.

"You know you did nothing wrong, don't you?" Pressing his forehead to the Frenchman's, he took another moment to appreciate the fact he could feel him breathe against his arms. "Not a thing. I don't know why he did it, Francis. You don't deserve this, I-I know that you don't..."

The two of them were so close, Francis was practically sitting in Alfred's lap. Not that he minded, of course. In fact, it was a comforting feeling, to be held and loved by someone who cared for him. "I don't know." He whispered softly. "I thought that he loved me. I-I gave him... everything that I had..."

It was true. Francis had sacrificed so much for the Canadian-- his time, his money, himself. Every bit of his salary went towards making the other man happier. They had gone out together whenever they could, visited places, made memories, built up a solid, meaningful relationship, only for Matthew to destroy it completely without a second thought. It wasn't that Francis simply bought the Canadian things and expected to be loved in return; oh no. He had given as much of himself as he had materialistic things. Far more, even.

Francis knew how to treat his lover correctly-- knew the perfect balance of gifts and embraces and kisses. He knew how to keep Matthew's confidence at it's highest, whispering sweet nothings and compliments into his ear whenever they were together; alone, of course, as his former lover did sometimes get embarrassed in front of others. Matthew knew absolutely everything about Francis, because Francis hadn't held anything back. He had been in love-- why would he? And now... all of that proved to be a huge mistake, perhaps the biggest of his life. His world, Matthieu, had come tumbling down around him. And Arthur... the Briton was just as bad. Playing with his emotions like that, tugging at his heartstrings just to get where he wanted-- lying about his friend and making Francis turn on him.

Holding the American closer, Francis leaned back and buried his face in the crook of Alfred's neck, desperately seeking comfort there. "Why...? I... I never hurt him, did I?" A fraction of doubt crept into his voice. "He means... so much to me, Alfred. A-And now, he hates me. Non--" Francis sniffed, tightening his grip around the other; his body still trembling all the while. "He always did hate me."

As pained words spilled from the Frenchman's mouth, Alfred felt the pieces of his heart break into smaller ones. Surely, though, it was nothing compared to the conditions of Francis' own golden heart. His brother had probably reduced it to nothing but dust.

"I don't get it either, Francis..." He knew that he couldn't lie to him. As much as he wanted to look Francis in the eyes and tell him he was wrong, that Matthew didn't hate him at all, that he still loved him... it wouldn't be right. This whole thing was twisted and sick, and it had nearly cost his best friend his life.

It was times like this when Alfred realized how small Francis was, despite his big and showy personality. He couldn't stand it, how Francis trembled and broke down in his arms, trying to process and accept something too painful to even think about. "No, you didn't hurt him, you never did a thing wrong. You don't deserve this. God, you..." Alfred had never seen anyone love someone as well as Francis had. He put the Canadian's happiness before anything, his every need and want above himself. The Frenchman looked at him the way everyone dreamed of being looked at, and he treated Matthew like nothing less than royalty. And this is what he got in return.

It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. They'd completely misread Francis, put him through pain no one should go through or wish upon anyone; not even their worst enemy.

Alfred felt the Frenchman stiffen in his arms, closing his own eyes and letting tears drip down onto his shoulder. "Francis... try to relax. I-I wish there was something I could do, but I don't..." He paused, sighing. "I want to make it better..." Alfred truly felt useless. This is all he could do; hold him in his arms, rub slow circles into his quivering back and make an attempt to comfort him.

Alfred couldn't repair his heart, because only Matthew had access to it.

In truth, Francis didn't understand how he was still living; still breathing, even.

How was his broken heart still functioning?

How did it have the strength, the ability, to continue pumping blood around his trembling body? It felt as if the life had been sucked from his very being, leaving him as an empty shell. Alfred, he figured, must somehow be feeding him his strength. Francis was becoming increasingly aware of how much of a state they were in-- both of them still sobbing, clutching at each other for comfort. Alfred was his only friend in the world, it seemed, the only one who actually cared about him and valued his life. It was then that Francis decided to speak his heart to the American.

"I was going to ask him to m-marry me." He began, stuttering and stumbling terribly over his words. They seemed like a joke now, to Matthew, at least. "It was all planned out.. I was going to ask your permission in June, to mark the anniversary of gay marriage being legalized in America." Sniffing, he clutched tighter to the American; his life support. The idea was supposed to be a celebration. Francis believed that there were no boundaries to love, and fully supported the new law.

"Then on July 2nd... on his b-birthday..." As he spoke, Francis began to cry again. Again. As understandable as his tears were, he felt so weakEverything. It meant Francis was entirely committed, that he had found the love of his life. Exactly why Alfred wasn't the least bit surprised, because he believed Francis when he told him how much he adored Matthew. "S-Shit... God, I'm so sorry, Francis..."

I would have said yes. The chilling, yet obvious thought came out of nowhere. Of course he would have said yes if Francis asked Alfred's permission to marry his brother.

"I was going to propose." This had been his secret for a long while now, the thing that he had been looking forward to for so long. He was in love, and so sure that his sweet Matthieu would accept. They were going to be so happy together, just like Francis had always promised him--

"I need a drink." He broke off, legs trembling as he attempted to stand up, wiping away his tears. The effort was weak, however, as he didn't really want to move away from Alfred. The memories were too strong-- he couldn't handle them. Everything beautiful that they shared together; all the words, all the moments, the kisses and hugs... they were all resurfacing at once in Francis's mind, and he suddenly needed a drink like he needed to breathe. Forget being under the legal age limit-- He had alcohol at home that he fully intended to consume. Good, strong stuff that would allow him to sit and spend the night drowning his sorrows. All the painful memories would be lost in the blur of alcohol.

Ocean-colored eyes widened when the Frenchman stirred, telling him he needed a drink.

At first, Alfred was stricken with worry, worry that he'd make a second attempt to jump from the roof. However, when he realized Francis simply wanted to drown his pain, not end it all, Alfred found himself relaxing some.

"Okay..." He knew it was illegal. He knew Francis shouldn't do it. "Can I come with you?" He asked, swallowing dryly and pushing his fingers through his hair. "A drink sounds--" He laughed shortly, humourlessly. "-- really damn good right now." That, and he didn't want to leave Francis' side for a minute. Alfred had to look out for him. He had to make sure the Frenchman didn't do anything stupid. He had to; he'd never forgive himself if Francis got hurt again.

Francis hadn't been expecting the other to agree so casually. Not because he viewed the American as conservative, but Francis couldn't recall a time he'd seen the other so eager to drink. Giving a short, humourless laugh that died in his throat only moments later, he smiled sadly. It seemed as if they were more broken than he'd thought. "Of course-- I wouldn't deny you. Not now.." He trailed off as he reached out his arms, grabbing the metal railing and hauling himself up to his feet, still holding Alfred close to him; the two standing up together. His legs were still trembling-- so much so that he wondered if they would collapse underneath him. However, as he remembered the last time that'd happened his face suddenly paled, before darkening a little, and he told himself that they wouldn't, that he'd stay strong. Weak. He was so weak-- collapsing onto his knees like that in front of the pair who'd crushed his heart. Weak and stupid. How had he not seen through their façade? They had played him so well; utilising their acting skills to their maximum, but surely destroying their morals in the process.

Pushing thoughts of the others aside, he held Alfred close to him, pulling him over to the trapdoor with his legs still trembling, and descended the ladder, grabbing his bag before rushing down the stairs with the American as fast as he could.

All through their conversation, he had been secretly dreading this moment, this descent through a sea of taunting faces. He felt as if there were a million eyes on him as they walked, and actually broke into a sprint when he passed the spot where it had all happened. Where the pieces had clicked into place and his heart had shattered, Matthew's lips meeting Arthur's and--

He paused, exhaling as they reached the entrance of the school, great metal gates towering above them. As he looked up, he caught sight of the roof, where he had been standing only minutes before, poised to end it all. He pictured himself falling, falling, down to the ground and the earth below, amidst that same sea of faces, the people who all hated him so much... and then he pictured Alfred. A shining light in the darkness. He didn't understand why just then, but the thought made his heart ache in his chest and his fingers tighten, desperate to hold the American closer. Turning away, they left the school behind and headed towards Francis' apartment.


Translations:
Dieu- God
Non- No
C'est pas vrai- It's not true
S'il vous plait- Please
Je suis trop désolé- I'm so sorry

A/N: Wow, I think that was the longest chapter we've had so far! They've been pretty short, but they'll be getting more lengthy from now on.

We know that technically the warning should have been 'attempted suicide' but we didn't want to spoil our plot. Sorry about that.

As always please let us know if you enjoyed! Reviews brighten our day~

Chapter Text

A/N: We're back! The feels trip continues with our next, rather lengthy (at least by our standards so far XD), chapter.

Enjoy~!

Warnings: Drinking, sexual references.


Escaping the suffocating buzz of the school had been a blur. Alfred would have noticed other people, how they stared, if he hadn't been so focused on Francis.

His heart felt like it was being stepped on, cruely broken further and further with every detail he observed about the Frenchman. He used to saunter through these halls, making flamboyant gestures with his hands as he spoke. Now he looked small and frightened. He looked trapped. Alfred gripped his hand tighter, hoping the tiny bit of reassurance and comfort helped a little.

Releasing a small breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding in, Alfred ran out of the school with Francis. When the Frenchman suddenly stopped, turned, and imagined, looking back at the rooftop where the two of them had been standing but a few moments ago, Alfred couldn't help but do the same.

He swallowed dryly, heart clenching painfully in his chest. God, Matthew, what have you done? The slight tightening of Francis' fingers assured him that he was still there, still alive, still far from okay, but at least he wasn't...

He was still breathing.

Alfred didn't even want to think about it. When the Frenchman turned away, Alfred was more than ready to do so as well. He began heading towards Francis' apartment with him, their hands still locked together.

Francis didn't try and start up a conversation as they walked. In all honesty, he was too depressed and upset to do so, having enough trouble simply dealing with his own thoughts. There was no room for any more words in his head.

To anyone passing by, Alfred and Francis might have looked like a couple holding hands. A very unhappy couple, by the way the Frenchman kept his eyes focused on the ground as they travelled, simply eager to reach his home, to shut the world out and be alone with Alfred. Like the American, he lived close to the school, though it was still a fair distance. His home, a small apartment, was part of a fairly large complex and was situated on the third floor. He had planned to move one day, but life went on and he met Matthew, and then it had been all he could afford, what with him saving up money for the Canadian's ring. The thought made him sigh and hold the other's hand tighter. But even before all of his plans, he had been living alone, so how much space did he really need?

His forced optimism may have been unhealthy, but it kept him going. Francis was generally a happy person, but this situation was nothing like he'd ever encountered before.

They ascended two flights of stairs to reach the third floor and only then did Francis let go of the American's hand. Unlocking the door, he stopped inside and ushered his friend through to his living area.

This proved to be a mistake.

It was as if Francis had forgotten how much he loved Matthew when he suggested going to drink at his flat, because everywhere he looked, the Canadian was there. Along with numerous books and glasses scattered around, there were photo frames. Pictures. Memories captured forever, and most were of Matthew and Francis. Just the sight of them made him ache, made him want to smash them like his 'lover' had done to his heart. But he didn't.

Instead, he threw his bag onto the floor next to the sofa, much like he had done beneath the ladder of the roof, and set about finding his alcohol-- determined to push everything away, all of the painful memories and emotions.

He went over to his little kitchen and gathered what he wanted, what he needed, carelessly throwing the cupboard doors open in the hope of reaching the alcohol more quickly. It didn't even matter what the substance was. If it was alcohol, the strong stuff, then it joined the ever-growing pile.

Going over to the sofa with an armful of assorted bottles and glasses, Francis set them down on his little table and gestured for the American to come over, not even daring to speak for fear his voice would crack. After setting up a round of shots (and knocking over a picture of him and Matthew in the process, though he set it back up again with a shaking hand afterwards. Even if it was just a picture, he still somehow loved the man and it hurt too much to leave it laying on its back), he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and brought it to his lips, not bothering with a glass, far too eager to forget. He took a long drink from it, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed eagerly and allowed his lids to cover tearful blue orbs when the liquid burned his throat, feeling himself slowly begin to slip away. He tried to swap the pain in his splintered heart for the heat in his mouth as the drink slid down into his stomach.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Alfred knit his eyebrows, eyes filled with worry and almost pleading as they followed Francis' every move. How he'd knocked over the picture, then been too kind to leave it that way, and then how quickly he'd picked up a bottle of alcohol, drinking it at a speed that Alfred knew wasn't safe. What if he hurt himself this way? The American suddenly felt too sick with worry to drink a single drop. Instead, he hesitantly lifted a hand, then placed it on Francis' back, rubbing slow, careful circles, much like he had done on the roof. He gulped at the sight of the Frenchman downing whiskey so quickly, blue eyes crinkling sadly.

Taking a shaking breath, Alfred felt his eyes burn with tears again, chest tightening. Why did he feel so guilty? He had no reason too, he'd done nothing. Exactly. He'd done nothing. He'd been too much of an idiot to see the signs. He had no excuse for what he had-- or rather, hadn't done; he wasn't blinded by love for somebody. Alfred had simply been too ignorant to pick up on this cruel plot. He could have saved Francis so much pain. He could have-- he should have solved this sooner. He should have saved his friend. And now look where Francis was. Alfred doubted he'd ever be the same. And how could his heart ever be whole again? Not when the one person who had access to it, who had the ability to fill it, repair it, had been the same one who had carelessly shattered it. And there was nothing Alfred could do except watch and offer measly comfort that Francis either ignored or didn't feel. He just watched him, drink after drink, crying quietly.

About a third of the whiskey later, Francis was starting to feel more dizzy than satisfied. The pain was still there-- it ached in his chest just like the alcohol burned his throat and warmed his stomach. Extending a shot glass filled with vodka towards the other man, he urged him to drink. "Bois." He said, the words more of a command than anything. He felt sorry for Alfred-- the poor man had been back-stabbed by his own brother. Francis could hardly begin to imagine how he felt. Despite being in an immense amount of pain himself, he dearly wanted to sympathise. He wasn't a selfish man, after all. Even in his drunken state he was able to recall the importance of looking after others.

It could have been minutes or it could have been hours that Alfred just watched Francis drink. His eyes followed the dizzying liquid, from the bottle, then as it touched Francis' lips, slipped down his throat. This wasn't right. Francis should stop, he was only going to hurt himself. But at the same time, Alfred knew he couldn't stop him. The American's face, usually lit up, was startlingly dull and monotonous, clear trails of tears continuing to slip from his eyes and spill down his cheeks.

Pressing the shot glass into the American's hands, Francis took another for himself and downed it, followed by a second, and then a third. Followed by another swig of whiskey. If he had been drinking for pleasure, then it would have been wine he was downing-- no, sipping-- enjoying the deep, beautiful comfort of his beloved red. But this... there was no pleasure in this. He just wanted to forget.

When the shot was pressed into Alfred's hand, he simply looked down at it, the tears in his eyes making the world appear as though it was under water. Drops of salt water rolled across the frame of his glasses, then dropped into the liquor with a light splash, adding to the mix.

"Ils sont bonne, oui?" He slurred, referring to the shots that they were downing. Or rather, should have been downing. Turning to Alfred, he prepared to reprimand him for not drinking; however he found himself greeted with a different person entirely.

Blinking in confusion he leaned forward, practically sitting on top of the American. However, his expression soon softened and, with sad eyes, he pressed a hand to the side of who he thought was Matthew's face. There was no mistaking his believed... soft blond locks, delicate tanned skin, cool metal beneath his palm-- the tin rim of his glasses. However, this person had cerulean orbs and a softer face and glasses that were more sharply defined-- small, important things that Francis was unable to pick up on in his drunken state, in the darkness of that room.

And so, he was mistaken.

"Oh, I have always loved you... I could never hurt you, not like that. Not like you did..." He whispered, finding himself suddenly pouring his heart out, these words a little more distinguishable than his last ones.

A hand was suddenly placed on his cheek, making Alfred gasp and jump slightly, eyes widening and a light blush dusting his cheeks. He locked eyes with Francis, and then, in one crushing, sickening moment, he realized Francis wasn't looking at him at all. "F-Francis..." He whimpered, breaths uneven and shaking. Oh. Look how Alfred and Matthew's roles have changed. So this is what it felt like, to be mistaken for someone else. Someone a thousand times more important to the person in front of you than you yourself were. "Francis, it's... it's just me. Alfred..."

Francis had been expecting some kind of harsh rebuttal from his former lover, some insult that would be thrown his way. Which is why he was so shocked when, instead of hearing verbal abuse, he heard a whimper. A soft voice, whimpering his name.

Freezing in shock, the Frenchman's lips parted in an astonished gasp as his vision suddenly changed. Teary sapphires replaced cold amethysts, and the blond hair he adored so much became short. Blinking in shock, he didn't dare to move, his face still near to the other's, his hand still pressed to his cheek. Oh God-- what had he done? His only friend in the world, and he had mistaken him for the person who hated him most. Granted, Matthew was Alfred's twin, but how had Francis ever mixed the two up? How had he mistaken someone so perfect for someone so evil?

"Dieu, I--" He broke off, not knowing what to say as he looked blankly at the other. But the sadness in the other's eyes... it was heart breaking, and he knew that he must speak and say something. Pressing both hands to sides of the taller man's face, he tried again. "Non, Alfred. You... you are not 'just' anything." It was hard to speak, hard to get the words out in his drunken state, but he managed it somehow. "Tu es--" He frowned, muttering to himself in French as he fought to translate. "You are... wonderful. The best. Your words... they fix my heart, you know. Je me suis cassé mon coeur, mais... non, that is not... that's not right.." Taking a breath, he tried again, words simply pouring out of his mouth. "I did not my break heart. Matthieu; sweet Matthieu, he broke it. Et... now you are fixing it. I am... grateful." He slurred, taking a piece of the American's hair and toying with it gently between his fingers. "I think you are the only one who ever truly cared for me."

Fighting back tears, Alfred realized, was no use. Maybe he shouldn't have come here. Crying for hours straight wasn't healthy, but he just couldn't stand the thought of Francis being alone, in pain. He hadn't been able to stop what happened, but he at least had to be there and make an attempt to fix it.

Alfred knew he had no real reason to feel so guilty, so ashamed, so stupid, but somehow he couldn't stop crying, shaking at Francis' broken, slurred, sweet words. Even when he was drunk, the man could still speak so beautifully. Alfred couldn't help but let his mind wander back to a few moments ago. The way Francis had looked at him-- no, the way Francis had looked at Matthew. Alfred had been in his brother's shoes just then, he'd been looking through his eyes, seen his visual point of view. So that's how Francis looked at you, Alfred thought. So much love in his eyes, it was almost startling. God... no one had ever looked at Alfred like that. And yet, the Canadian just tossed such a thing aside. Threw Francis away. Did he not know how lucky he was?

Alfred suddenly felt sick, his chest was too tight, there were too many emotions at once and, for the first time in his life, he couldn't find the words to say. In shame, in guilt, in sadness and in confusion, the American lifted his fingers, taking off his glasses, and then proceeded to hide his face in his hands, muffling sobs into his palms.

This wasn't right-- Alfred shouldn't be upset. This wasn't Francis' goal. He had wanted him to forget the pain, but whatever he'd said had somehow seemed to have made things worse. Had his words made the pain more unbearable?

Feeling immensely guilty, he reached forward and pried the American's hands from his face. They were wet and sticky with tears, along with Alfred's red and blotchy face. In the same state as his own, he figured. Meeting the other's gaze with a desperate look in his eyes, he leaned in so that they were close and intertwined their hands. Although, Francis was practically sitting in the other's lap, anyway, so it wasn't really possible for them to get all that much closer.

"Alfred, look at me. P-Please... don't cry. This... this feeling won't go away, but... we can escape it." Francis knew that there were two ways to do such. Either drink himself into unconsciousness and find peace in the dark black of sleep, or to grab onto someone else who was hurting just as much and loose himself with them. "Just... with me. We can survive together... and help each other." He swallowed. "Just let go." However, as he spoke, Francis realized the implications of his words. It almost sounded as if... He was inviting Alfred to be with him, rather than escape with him. It was true that the Frenchman had found comfort in one-night-stands before, from being loved by another just for a little while, but... this was Alfred. Alfred. He couldn't do that to his friend! And so soon after Matthew... perhaps the other would start to believe that he really was a slut like the Canadian had said.

Francis didn't really know what to say next, so he simply stayed silent; his forehead almost grazing Alfred's as he squeezed his hand tight and gazed wordlessly across at him.

A whirling tornado of emotion suddenly halted. The storm didn't clear, no, but it froze in place. The air around them both seemed cold and heated, still and yet charged with electricity. Alfred's round blue eyes slowly rose to meet the Frenchman's, and it took a moment for him to truly process what he was asking of him. "Y-You mean..." No. No, no, no-- absolutely not. There was no better way to ruin a friendship with someone than to sleep with them. And Francis was all Alfred had; Alfred was all Francis had. They couldn't risk it, this friendship was worth too much. And... so soon after Matthew. To even say such a thing, Francis must have been so desperate. Although, it's not like there would be any love in it, anyway. Perhaps it was because of Matthew? It would simply be... a distraction. Mind-numbing bliss, just for a little while. Francis might as well just hire someone for the night.

Alfred was speechless as he sat there, thinking. God, the look on Francis' face. He obviously was just desperate for a little relief from his pain. It was understandable. And his eyes, they were almost pleading. Francis... Alfred cared about him. He did, he was his best friend, after all. Alfred wanted nothing more than his happiness.

"Yes." Alfred barely whispered. This is how you can help, he thought, taking a deep breath to steady himself as he sat up a bit straighter. You wanted to save him, you wanted to do something right. Do this, then. For Francis.

"Okay." With a little more firmness in his voice, Alfred spoke once more, then placed his glasses on the table, exchanging them for the shot of whiskey. Trying not to think, not to realize what he'd just agreed to, what this made him, Alfred tipped his head back and downed the shot.

As the pieces clicked in Alfred's head, Francis found himself swallowing nervously. He was desperate to be loved, yes, but Alfred was a very dear friend to him. He hadn't even meant to ask for such a thing in the first place, and now that Alfred was actually considering it and looking as if he might agree, Francis felt nervous. If they were going to do this... he had to be careful. The American wasn't just some toy to be played with; Francis needed to explain to him what he had meant and how they would do this, that he wasn't just going to use him and then throw him away. But then, all too soon, Alfred had agreed and began downing shots. With wide, shocked blue eyes, he watched, soft gasps escaping from his lips as he did so. "Alfred, cher, wait..." He insisted, moving forward and physically climbing on top of the other to get his attention.

Once he had straddled him, he placed both hands upon his shoulders and leaned in. "Don't feel obliged to do this. I... you are my dearest friend, Alfred. I-I won't ask you to just..." He trailed off, not wanting to voice his thoughts, not wanting to admit that it would just be a quick one-night-stand, if he made it that way. "...for a night. You.. you mean more to me than that. If we are going to do this, then..." Suddenly, he paused and looked at the American. Looked at him properly. His gaze was the same as it had been a few moments before, when he had mistaken Alfred for Matthew; full of love and caring. Only this time, it was intended for Alfred and Alfred alone. "...then let's make love. Let's be gentle..." He had tried one-night-stands before, prior to his relationship with Matthew; they worked, although there was no meaning behind them. Kisses were rushed and needy with no real emotion behind them. In his experience, every action was only performed when wanted, out of lust, not consideration for a partner. That wasn't what he wanted with Alfred, he didn't want to use the other for simple relief. He wanted to show him some love.

Those deep blue orbs of Francis'... Alfred found himself suddenly lost in them. They were so gentle, so sincere, so warm and loving. How could Matthew not fall in love with Francis when he was looked at like this everyday? Breath catching at the intense colour, Alfred couldn't help but be transfixed, a shaky breath leaving his parted lips, lingering with alcohol. But his daze was interrupted by realization. As blurring as the alcohol was, as hypnotizing as Francis' eyes were; with his promising words and deep, loving eyes... Alfred could still see clearly, for just a moment. "You're so drunk." His words were hardly a whisper, he practically mouthed them and, judging by the way Francis' eyes were clouded, his expression unmoving, the Americam knew he didn't hear him. Of course he was drunk. And in pain. Who were they kidding; this wasn't going to have any love behind it. Francis did care about him, but Alfred knew he was in no way over the Canadian. Alfred, as harsh as it sounded, was simply a replacement for tonight. He was doing Francis a favor, helping lessen his friend's pain.

"Okay." He wasn't agreeing to making love, because they simply couldn't. But distracting, numbing Francis's pain and being his relief for one night; that's what he agreed to. "...Just relax." The American murmured, then lifted his hands, wrapped them around the Frenchman and pulled him down so they pressed flush together. Dipping his head some, he began to kiss up and down his neck, across his shoulder, sucking gently and leaving little bites where he knew the skin was sensitive. Nimble hands pulled Francis' cotton shirt out of the way, exposing the milky white skin of his upper torso.

When Alfred began to kiss him, it felt strange. He wasn't used to being treated like this, despite him being very in touch with so called 'l'amour'. When he was with Matthew, the Frenchman very rarely experienced anything like this, as the Canadian wasn't usually the one to instigate their kisses. Not in public, at least. Francis had simply put it down to the other being shy and not wanting to take the bold step of blatantly kissing another person when there were people around him. Even in front of Francis himself, he was vaguely shy. Matthew preferred smiles and gestures-- little things; like when Francis would bring him cups of sweet coffee in the evenings when he was studying, or when they'd sit and cuddle together, sharing secrets and making promises in the darkness. Although, now he knew the real reason behind Matthew's actions.

But Francis suddenly realized that he didn't want to think about what Matthew liked. Especially not now, when Alfred was biting his neck like that, leaving little marks and fleeting soft touches as he moved up and down. Doing things that reduced Francis to gasping; shuddering as he clutched at the other's back, his hair, his anything.

Shifting his head, his lips found the American's ear and he began to gently suck and bite, copying the other's movements, wanting them to share emotions and feelings and simply become one, forgetting their pain together. But then, as he was nibbling on the tip of the other's ear, it hit him. A question, nagging in the back of his mind that even in his drunken state he knew he should ask. For the sake of their friendship-- he truly didn't want to take advantage. One hand threading through the American's silky locks, he murmured against his ear. "Alfred... have you done this before?"

He had to ask, didn't he? Alfred sighed, looking numbly at the wall over Francis' bare shoulder. "Not once." He admitted, face blank, grey, streaked with tears. This expression didn't suit the American, but what was there to be happy about? His brother had lied to him, Arthur wanted nothing to do with him, Francis wanted to use him. And Alfred was entirely willing to give this up for his best friend. If he couldn't fix him, couldn't save him, then he just wanted to help and, if this was the only way he could do such a thing, then so be it. Alfred just wanted Francis to stop suffering. He no longer cared about himself, about these kinds of sacrifices. It would be worth it if Francis smiled again, just once. Alfred was so tired. Tired of crying, tired of trusting people, believing in people. He didn't want friends, he didn't want a lover. He didn't want to, didn't plan to, let a single person in. Not after today.

With his griip on Francis loosening slightly, the American let his eyes flick upward. The ceiling was blurred, whether it was from the tears in his eyes or the fact his glasses were missing, Alfred couldn't tell. He watched the fan spin round and round, and he tried to focus on it, on the burning of alcohol in his throat, on the comforting weight of Francis over him. It seemed that when his trust and faith in people left him, he lost his spirit too.

Upon receiving an answer to his question, Francis recoiled, pulling away from the other's ear. Meeting Alfred's gaze, Francis shook his head. "Then I won't. Save it, Alfred." Francis was surprised to hear that the American was still a virgin. He wouldn't deny that he thought Alfred was attractive-- very much so, in fact. The man being Matthew's twin, he was inclined to think so. However, even though they were brothers, twins even, there was something different about the American. His blue eyes were brighter; they sparkled more than his brother's soft violets. Even when meeting him for the first time, you could just tell... tell that he friendly, that he was a good person, whereas Matthew had always been quite shy and mysterious. Francis had found this alluring at first, but he now knew that it was just a mask; a cover for all of the hate that lay beneath his sweet surface; hidden away. And Alfred's smile, surely nothing was brighter; it was like the sun itself. But right now he wasn't smiling. Realizing this made the Frenchman's chest ache; it made him want to take the other into his arms and hold him tight, comfort him until all the tears had disappeared. "This... this isn't right, for me to do this. Save it for somebody you love." Save it for somebody who loves you, he thought, but didn't say such. Because he did. He did love him. Not in a romantic manner, but somehow in his drunken, depressed state, he finally understood. Alfred was the one that had truly been there for him all along. The others, they had just been pretending, toying with him and his heart as if they were nothing. But Alfred, with his winning smile and shinning eyes, he had stayed behind to pick up the pieces. He had seen Francis at his weakest, completely broken... and yet he had not judged him at all. He'd saved him from committing suicide; preserving his life because he cared. Leaving his brother and supposed best friend behind, the one that he had truly loved. Alfred had chosen Francis over Matthew and Arthur. And now, he was freely swigging alcohol because of Francis, willing to give his virginity away to the other man because he wanted to comfort him. Francis could see that the pain in Alfred's eyes wasn't only for himself. He was hurting for both of them. At his sudden realization, Francis almost began to cry again, but instead he chose to be strong, to sacrifice his own urges in effort to make the other happy. Holding him close in what he hoped was a comforting manner, he did not lean in for another kiss. "Keep waiting, Alfred... you'll find the one that you love."

Letting out a soft sigh of relief that he didn't even know he'd been holding in, Alfred relaxed a little more, letting his head sink into the couch cushion, resting his eyes for a moment. He couldn't help but be relieved. Not because he was afraid to give this up, but because he was afraid it would ruin their friendship. "I do love you. You're my best friend." He mumbled. The last person he had, the only person he still trusted-- he didn't want to loose Francis over something like this. "I'm sorry." He felt his chest tighten, eyes sting, but he had no tears left to cry. "...I wanted to help... You can still..." He trailed off, knitting his eyebrows and looking away.

Francis let his hands drop, releasing the other's body, though he was still sitting in his lap. As much as the other wanted to relieve him of his pain, Francis wanted to show him what it felt like to be loved. But deep down, he knew it wouldn't be fair, to take the other's first time like that. How would he be remembered? As a one-night-stand where the two of them had been drunk out of their minds, needy and desperate. No. Alfred deserved better than that. He deserved romance and love-- somebody who he genuinely wished to be with. Francis wanted him to do this out of desire, not obligation. It wouldn't be fair to ask this of him now, when they were both so ruined. "Simply by being here, you are helping me. I didn't want to drink alone, after all." He said, a weak attempt at humour, desperate to make the other smile again. However, something made him curious as he remembered the other's words, how he had trailed off. Francis hadn't understood what he had meant, and it was then that he realised how drunk he must be. Francis had always been good with people, able to read the general mood along with their body lanhuage, but tonight, his skills were lacking as the alcohol warped his judgement. "I can still... what, amour...?"

Of course, Alfred wanted to save himself. But now, it didn't seem like it mattered so much. After seeing what loving someone could do to a person, Alfred didn't plan on letting himself fall in love. No lover, no soul mate, no romance; no reason to save yourself for someone special if they didn't exist. So why not give up his virginity for the one person he still trusted, for his best friend? Swallowing dryly, Alfred glanced down, pushed his fingers through his hair. Why was he calling him that? That sweet little French pet name-- that was meant for Matthew. "Never mind, don't worry about it." He replied, flashing him a small, almost forced half-smile, the corner of his lips turning up for just a moment. "I'm glad I'm helping, Francis..." He knew he couldn't do enough. He couldn't be enough. Francis still only had eyes for Matthew, he was in mourning; trying to recover from a broke heart right now. The Frenchman must simply miss loving someone, and having that love returned. The American could at least try, he figured. He just wanted to make Francis happy again, take away his pain. Wrapping his arms around him again in a close hug, Alfred offered a small, forced smile again, then kissed Francis gently between his eyes. He was almost shocked at how natural it felt, but he brushed the unfamiliar feeling aside. "

The soft kiss that was pressed to his face made him shudder and his eyes go wide once more. Feeling arms wrap around him, pulling him in, lips against his skin... he couldn't do this. This was too familiar. Francis knew this, knew what it felt llike, but Alfred didn't. "Alfred.." He murmured, before speaking more firmly, though the volume and tone were still soft. "Alfred, stop. We.. we're going to go too far. Please.. save it. Don't give it away so easily, I'll-- you'll only regret it. We don't have to do this..." He felt a need, a duty, to stop Alfred from forcing himself. Francis didn't want it if the other was purely acting for the sake of things. Exhaling shakily, he opened up to the other man. "Matthieu and I, we never.." He shook his head. "We never did that." It was true. The Canadian hadn't wanted their relationship to go any further at the time, which Francis was completely fine with. And yet now, when he knew why that had been, it hurt him. It was because the other hated him, despised him-- why would Matthew ever want to sleep with him when he had that opinion of the Frenchman? Alfred's opinion of him... it was different, but made Francis feel just as bad. He could see so plainly that the other's smiles were forced, that he was only loving him because he thought he needed it. Francis had stopped the man to protect both Alfred and himself. If they did this... then it would feel as if they were both using each other. They couldn't just do this out of pity-- it'd destroy them and their friendship.

"Shh, shh, hey, it's alright..." He hushed softly, still holding him in a close hug, searching his eyes. "That wasn't my intention; we don't have to do anything." When he had pulled Francis closer and kissed his forehead, he'd simply done it because he wanted Francis to feel loved. He didn't want to sleep with him. Knowing someone on that level; it was too personal. It was getting too close to the American's locked up heart. "I thought so... That's a good thing, I guess. He didn't use you.. physically, at least." Alfred responded softly. Of course Matthew wouldn't have gone as far as to sleep with the Frenchman. He was disgusted by Francis. That, and what about Arthur? It'd just be cruel. But... after seeing Matthew today, no amount of cruelness could surprise Alfred. Thinking back to earlier, Alfred realized he'd meant what he said. He would never forgive the Canadian for this. The American sighed, looking Francis in the eyes, shrugging lightly. Freeing one hand, he carefully cupped the Frenchman's cheek, gently wiping away the tear stains from his damp skin. Enough talk of Matthew. Enough about hurting, about this whole mess. Alfred simply wanted to distract Francis from it all, take the weight off his heart. He wanted to see the Frenchman light up again, those sapphire eyes of his sparkle, smile, just a little. He got like that when he talked of what he loved most. Matthew. But... Matthew was gone. So Alfred would ask him about what he loved almost as much. "Tell me about France."

When the other spoke and reassured that they weren't going to do anything; that Alfred wasn't going to give up such a precious thing, Francis relaxed a little. This was how they should be. Together-- talking, questioning, exploring. Comforting. Even now, the way that Alfred wiped his cheek so carefully, drying his tears and trying desperately to take the pain away... it made his heart swell with warmth. Even his words. Alfred, who was so busy with a million other things to think and do and take care of, always off being the Hero somewhere, and he still had time for Francis. He remembered Francis, even in the blur of everything. The Parisian knew that the other was asking about his home nation to try and ease his pain, for hadn't it been Francis himself who had said that he loved Matthew more than France itself? That had been back when he was in a relationship, if it could even be called such a thing, when he had been peaceful and happy. It touched his shattered heart that Alfred had remembered his words, all this time later. How long had it even been since his world collapsed? Hours? Days? In the blur of the alcohol, he couldn't recall. But what he could recall was more valuable than any date. He had memories. "You... want to know about France? Well, she is..." He trailed off, every adjective suddenly reminding him of Matthew. So he went a different route. "She is 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité'." He said softly, something stirring in his chest as he said those special words, his eyes regaining a hint of a certain spark that was once ever present.

The American smiled softly, sincerely now, a thin ray of relief touching his locked heart. That little spark in Francis's eyes. Yes, there wasn't a whole sky full of stars like there normally was, but every little twinkle counted. Alfred subconsciously made it his goal to bring back each hint of light in the Frenchman's eyes, even if it took forever. He didn't know what his words meant, but they were beautiful, and they seemed to relax Francis a little. Alfred looked at him like he was imagining, dreaming of what France might be like, but really, all he was thinking about was Francis. Dipping the tips of his fingers into flowing, soft blonde locks, Alfred carefully, slowly combed his fingers through his hair. He let the very ends of his fingers splay out a little, gently massaging the Frenchman's scalp. "She sounds beautiful." Francis' love for his country was something Alfred could relate too. They could both go on for hours, simply daydreaming about their homelands. The American slowly laid down fully on his back, sighing softly.

Francis felt an urge to continue when he saw the other smile, suddenly wanting to see more of it. Alfred's smile was his saving grace, his light shining in the darkness. If Alfred wasn't smiling, then Francis wasn't happy-- the simple expression had become a part of his life. He needed it to feel safe and secure, to know that everything was alright. For this reason, he continued to speak. "C'est, uh... it means 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'." He translated, and a hint of a smile appeared on his face. "It is... somewhat of a motto. How every person of my country should live. Freedom and friendship... a community to belong to. Everybody should feel love and spread it to others. Nobody should ever be lonely or thought any less of." When he spoke, a sudden passion came into his voice. He truly loved his country and her values-- they meant a lot and were very significant to him. Those three words were how he lived his life. They summed up who Francis was, because they came together to make love itself. He thought so at least. That if he respected these values and put them into practise, then he would be able to spread love to the world and make it a better place. However, this had backfired. Badly. Never had he expected to be rejected so horribly by the one he loved-- he almost felt as if he should give up.

Inhaling shakily, he reached for the bottle of whiskey again, though paused when he felt fingers in his hair, soft and gentle. They caressed his scalp and he found himself leaning into the touch, the alcohol left forgotten on the table. "Oh, Alfred.." He sighed softly, plunging the world into darkness as he covered his blue orbs with his lids and lay down next to the other on the sofa.

Normally, Francis wouldn't wait to be asked to start talking about his country. That was all he talked about, for the most part. France. Well... Matthew and France. So Alfred let him go on and on about his nation, the other love of his life. This was something both Francis and Alfred had in common. They both loved their homelands. He listened to those mumbled values, understanding completely how important nationality was to Francis. Those values reminded the American of his own. Both their nations lived under the value of liberty; their mottos matched there. However, a little pang of sorrow hit home at the Frenchman's final murmur of words. He'd tried. He'd done everything he was supposed to do. It was sick how he was repaid for doing nothing but spreading love. As they laid down together, the couch creaking softly under their weight, Alfred made sure to keep the Frenchman close to him, resting in his arms. The way he sighed his name, closed his eyes and leaned into the touches was enough to tell Alfred that whatever he was doing, it was helping. He just continued to carefully comb his fingers through the Frenchman's hair, caress slow circles over his scalp and watch him lazily as they drifted off. Soon, it became clear to Alfred just how tired Francis was. The man looked as if he might pass out any second, so Alfred decided to gently urge him into resting. "Get some sleep, Francis," He barely whispered, pressing his lips to his bangs, softly murmuring the words against his hair. "You've had a long day..."

Sleep sounded good. Francis was still in pain, his heart still heavy and aching in his chest, despite the large amounts of alcohol he had consumed. Rather than take his pain away, it had only served to increase it and now he was drunk and hurting. Alfred's gentle touches and soft words, requesting that the other sleep, were very much welcome. He leaned in towards the other, finding comfort in his kindness and the way he was touching him so sweetly-- gentle fingers in his hair, calming him. No sooner had the other spoken did he begin to close his eyes, giving a gentle nod and murmuring parting words. "Bonne nuit... and you too; sleep well, amour..." His lids soon closed and he slipped into unconsciousness as the world went dark.


Translations:

Bois - Drink
Liberté, égalité, fraternité - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (This one was already translated within the text, but we'll include it here anyway ^^)
C'est - It is

Bonne nuit - Goodnight

Ils sont bonne, oui? - They're good, yes?
Tu es - You are

A/N: Well, now that Alfred is caring for Francis, the heartache with Matthew and Arthur is finally over! Or is it...?

A quick note-- we won't be translating the little French nicknames that Francis uses, along with other words in general, if we have already done so in a previous chapter, so please do look back. Also, be sure to let us know if we've left any out, as there may be times when we miss one or two. Saying that, if anything is incorrect then please do let us know, as I'm afraid neither of us are native French speakers.

As always, please do drop us a note in the comments! So far we've delighted in reading them together ^^

Until the next time~!

Chapter Text

A/N: And we're back once more with the latest instalment in this little story of ours. Please enjoy~! ^^

Warnings: None


Francis' sleep was not a happy one-- he had gone to rest with a heavy heart and a body drowning in hard liquor. Even in his dreams, the happenings of the day could not be escaped.

Almost as if seeking to torment him, his mind kept circling back to that one moment when it had all clicked into place. He felt his mouth dropping open in a gasp as his knees hit the floor, watching his lover kissing his friend through blurry vision, the two of them freely embracing, Francis left behind-- He awoke with a startled gasp, sitting bolt upright and crying out in horror. "Matthieu!" Though his words soon faded into the silence of his home as he realised where he was. Reaching forward, he grabbed the whiskey and took a long drink, forcing himself to swallow the burning liquid. He didn't want it. He just wanted to forget.

Extending a shaking hand, he picked up the photo frame from the table and examined it; the same one that he had knocked over earlier that evening. The image was of him and the Canadian. Alfred had taken the picture, he recalled. Francis was holding him close, one arm slipped around his waist and the other delicately pressed to his cheek, cupping his face, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was being photographed-- he was simply lost in the moment. His only focus, it was clear to see, was to shower the Canadian with his love. Matthew, however, was aware that the moment was being captured on camera, and though he had one arm wrapped around Francis' back, the other was extended towards the lens, trying to block its view of their moment. He was smiling brightly, and there was a deep, red blush staining his cheeks. They weren't even kissing, but Francis' gaze said everything. There was so much love within those blue orbs... anybody could see that he was head-over-heels in love with the other man.

Feeling his heart ache along with his head, Francis sighed and clutched the photo to his chest, a shaking sigh leaving his lips as he felt tears blur his vision. Looking over to the body next to him, his gaze softened. "Matthieu... why did you do this to me? To us? I-I loved you... so much. I still do." He sniffed, lowering himself back down to lay next to the other man, where he pressed his hand to his cheek, tenderly, just as he had done in the photograph. "And your brother. Sweet Alfred... you've broken his heart Matthieu, a-and I don't know how to fix it. He's hurting so badly, but... I don't even know how to f-fix myself..." His voice cracked as he spoke, and he began trembling as tears steadily began to make their way down his cheeks, sliding over pale skin. "Why can't you just love me? G-Give me back my heart..."

Francis' outburst of his brother's name had woken him, of course. Alfred had been laying on his side, messy wheat-colored hair spilling out onto the cushions around his head, arms tucked into his chest now that they weren't draped over Francis. God, why did Matthew have to be so cruel? Francis was never anything but kind and good to him. He treated him like everyone dreamed of being treated. And he'd completely crushed him, tricked him, broken his heart and then left him for dead. Francis wasn't the heartless monster, Matthew was. Yet here the Frenchman was, breaking down in tears over an old picture of the two of them, clutching it to his chest and trying to contain himself. And Matthew was probably sleeping like a baby.

New, shaking words filled the still room, and Alfred quietly listened, though showed no signs of being awake. Of course you loved him, Alfred thought to the Frenchman. Of course you did. He meant everything to you. You gave everything to him.. Freezing when a hand was pressed to his cheek, Alfred's heart sunk further as he realised he was yet again being mistaken for his brother. Or perhaps Francis was pretending on purpose. It was always the other way around. Always Alfred's 'friends' approaching Matthew and greeting him using his twin's name. Matthew had always been a bit ignored, pushed aside, unimportant to most. But now their roles had switched. Alfred now knew what it felt like to be mistaken for someone more loved than you yourself were. Maybe what Matthew did to Francis had been out of built up anger. He wanted revenge, so he picked a person he didn't like and decided to break them. Couldn't Matthew have hurt Alfred instead? Why did he have to do something like this to Francis? Shatter him so badly?

God-- the way the Frenchman spoke to him right now. Touched him like he was something precious. The American let his eyes crack open, meet the blonde's. "I'm sorry, Francis." His faint whisper came out as a whimper, chest tightening and eyes glazing over with tears. "I'm not Matthew." Matthew should be here right now. Lying here, holding Francis; not Alfred. He should be telling him he was sorry a thousand times over, convince him that what had happened the day before wasn't him-- that he didn't know what came over him. Matthew should be on his knees, begging for Francis' forgiveness, telling him how much he loved him. Wouldn't that be a happy ending. But this was real life. This wasn't a fairy tale. Matthew hadn't been under some spell that made him a monster. He just was. And Alfred couldn't be the knight of this story-- this terrible reality. He wasn't the hero. He was just a sad excuse for a replacement. He couldn't give his entire heart to Francis, but even if he did it would never be enough to fill the gaping whole Matthew had left.

Though the other spoke, telling him that he was incorrect, mistaken, Francis didn't seem to hear it. Whether it was due to his broken state, numbed mind or simple inability to process the words, he didn't know, but he still saw the Canadian in his brother's place. "I should have jumped, Matthieu. I should have done it sooner. It would have made you happy, wouldn't it? If you found me on the ground afterwards. You and Arthur would have laughed." He chuckled softly, though there was no trace of humour in it-- only darkness. "But I didn't. And I'm glad, amour. Do you know why? Because it means I can be here for your brother now that you've abandoned him." Despite his tears, the Frenchman's gaze harden and he shifted, moving his hand to stroke the other's cheek. "So much darkness in you now, Matthieu, whilst he's so bright... how did I not see it?" At this, he trailed off, once again marvelling in disgust and shocked awe at how good an actor his 'lover' was; how comfortable he had been with deceiving his own brother and Francis himself.

"Even now, he's bright-- strange, isn't it? That he's so perfect, and I never even realized. I was too infatuated with you to see it." Laughing once more, he took another swig from the bottle, tears streaming down his face as he did so. "Even now-- you're still there, amour. Always there. I can't escape. How pathetic it is that I mistook him for you, earlier on... how worthless he must have felt, to be compared to you." Francis grit his teeth, gulping as the alcohol burned all the way down to his stomach. "When you're so different, I still did that... I'm so useless, Matthieu. I thought I'd found somebody who loved me, finally, but no.." Shaking his head, he pulled the other closer. "Of course not. You hate me as well, just like all the others. Your hate is the strongest, I think. It must be, for such... such a cruel thing to have taken place." He truly felt regretful for what he'd done to Alfred and simply fed his emotions straight to 'Matthew', telling him everything he felt in confidence, surprised that the other hadn't simply got up and walked away by now. It perplexed him a little, but he decided not to try and follow him up on it. All he wanted was to talk-- he had no more energy to argue, to fight.

'I should have jumped, Matthieu, I should have done it sooner. It would have made you happy, wouldn't it?' Alfred knew those words weren't being said to him. But even so, he shook his head, misty eyes crinkling sadly. 'You'd sacrifice your life, just to make him happy? You're crazy, Francis.' He told him in his thoughts. 'Crazy, wonderful, too good for this world or anyone else in it.' He felt like crying again. That was, until the Frenchman continued. The way he spoke to his 'lover' about him... Did he really think those things? Alfred's cheeks tinged pink, ocean orbs round and faintly shimmering. It... felt nice to be considered so highly. Sure, Alfred received compliments, he was treated with kindness, but this was Francis. The only person left that Alfred trusted, considered his friend. The Frenchman had snuck in his heart before Alfred had locked it away.

The American decided to play along. Francis deserved to have some of the love he offered everyone else returned. Of course, Alfred could only give away so much, he was only one person, but he'd try. Because right now, in Francis' eyes, he wasn't Alfred. He wasn't the loud, boisterous American with the sun in his smile and spirt in his eyes. Right now, he was Matthew. Whose small, reserved personality was shadowed so by his brother's, with his soft hair and sweet smile and kind violet eyes and cold, dead heart.

Alfred took the Frenchman's hands in his own. He didn't say anything, for his voice would give it away. He just wanted Francis to be blissfully unaware for this moment. Talking to 'Matthew' seemed to put him at ease. Alfred pushed his own emotion aside, ignored the aching feeling of being unwanted that gnawed at his heart and forced tears to roll down his face. He gently kissed the Frenchman's cheek, giving his hands a gentle squeeze, as if he was telling him it was okay to go on. All I ever wanted to do was make you happy, Matthieu. I wanted to make you smile." Voice shuddering as he spoke, Francis pressed a hand to his forehead, biting back a sob. "I wonder if you ever loved me at all, even just a little. Just a fraction of your heart that I could have looked after..." Sniffing, he closed his eyes and squeezed the other's hands. "Did you ever talk to h-him about me, I wonder..? Alfred... He must have been so sick of my rambling." A short, sad laugh escaped his lips. "All I ever spoke about was you. He never got the attention he deserved from me. I'm trying to make it up to him now, but..." A pause. He shook his head. "It's not enough, Matthieu. Nothing is ever enough. Even when I gave you my heart, my soul, my hand, my life... you had my everything, amour, and even then, you threw it back at me." Pausing once more, he gently ran the pad of his thumb over the soft skin of the other's hand. "So many times we've sat here together; did any of them mean anything to you? So many people have sat with me here, and yet none of them loved me. All of my cheap 'lovers', simply looking for an easy lay. I thought that... if I was with you, Matthieu, then I could give you all of my love. I wouldn't need them anymore because they didn't love me like you did. I wouldn't need to sleep around anymore, because I loved you. You were all that I needed. I didn't ask for anything else, Matthieu, just love and companionship..." He paused, shifting, his forehead brushing the 'Canadian's' shoulder. "And it meant that I didn't need to look anymore; I didn't need to waste my time with people who I wanted to love me, yet who only wanted to use me."

Crinkling his eyes sadly, Alfred felt his chest tighten almost painfully, heart aching horribly. He just listened, let him spill out his emotion, let him pretend he was talking to Matthew. The American looked down at their hands, watching the Frenchman's thumb run over his skin through a curtain of tears. "F-Fuck..." The curse was nothing more than a shaky breath out, a choked response to Francis' heart-wrenching words. "You love him so damn m-much," He'd given up trying to be someone he wasn't now, no longer caring if Francis saw Alfred or Matthew anymore, he was simply set on showing the Frenchman he cared, even if it meant nothing. Alfred pulled him into a tight hug, arms wrapped securely around him, chests pressed tightly together, quivering breathes meeting. "He's not just heartless, he's stupid too. Couldn't he see? Couldn't he see how loved he was, how lucky he was to have someone like you? God--" Gritting his teeth in an attempt to bite back a sob, Alfred just held him tighter. "You don't deserve this. H-He doesn't deserve you. No one does."

The Frenchman jolted in surprise as the other spoke, the curse falling from his lips in form of a shuddering breath. Matthew didn't swear; he had no need. The Canadian was so relaxed about things that he rarely argued back. He didn't throw insults around; he was gentle. But then Francis remembered. He remembered all that had happened-- remembered that in truth, Matthew wasn't like that. His sweet little Canadian was a liar and a trickster who had purposely deceived the one who loved him so much-- too many thoughts were clouding his mind and Francis decided that he couldn't take anymore, shutting his eyes to block them all out. He sighed, confused. "Matthieu, you sounded so much like Alfred just then..." And then, as the other continued he realized that, not only was he hearing things, but he was seeing things as well. For there was none other laying next to him than the dear American himself.

Sitting bolt upright, Francis opened his eyes wide and looked down at the other. Short blond hair, a touch darker than the locks he was so used to caressing, blue eyes glistening with tears, not a hint of purple in them... there was no mistake. This was Alfred. Looking utterly confused, Francis simply stared down at the other in shock. "Dieu, m-ma tête..." He pressed a hand to his temple as he spoke, groaning as the room spun. He wasn't used to this; mistaking people's identities. Francis drank alone-- he didn't generally stay with others at times like this. it was his time to be alone; to relax, think and reflect. But... Alfred was different. They were both aching; both of their hearts lay shattered in their chests, so why should Francis push him away when the American was his only friend in the world? No, he had invited him to come and have a drink, a decision that he didn't regret-- it would have been far more painful had he been alone. But Alfred was supposed to be his best friend, and the Parisian had, once again, just mistaken him for the one who hated Francis most.

He'd almost been able to see his thoughts, every bit of realisation and confusion displayed in Francis' dulled sapphire eyes. The American sat up, looking at the man with deep concern written in his expression. Of course he was hurt. Of course he felt like a replacement, and a mediocre one at that. Of course he knew that crying this much was bad for his health, his mental state. But he knew that it was all worth it. For Francis. It's not like Alfred had much of anything else to live for, anyway. He may as well give up everything he had left for his best friend, even if none of it was returned. Alfred just wanted to be there for the Frenchman. Loneliness was something no-one should have to suffer, especially not Francis. So Alfred chose to stay with him. Even if he was constantly mistaken as his twin, as a monster, he'd stay with the Frenchman. Alfred wasn't a hero, but he could save Francis from loneliness. One hand found its way to the side of Francis' neck, cupping against his skin, the side of Alfred's palm against his shoulder, the pad of his thumb against his jaw. "Hey... 'you okay?" His voice shook slightly, quietly spoken as his words filled the room for a moment, giving it a bit of warmth. Of course Francis wasn't okay. But maybe he could do something about his head, lessen the ache a bit somehow. Any way to take just a bit of Francis' pain away.

No. No, Francis was not alright. He didn't know what to say when the American presented the question to him, sounding quite calm despite his shaking voice. Francis didn't quite comprehend-- shouldn't the other be fuming with anger? "I-I don't understand. Matthieu was just..." He trailed off slowly, his voice disappearing into silence until there was no sound in the room. His gaze moved from Alfred to the various bottle of liquor on the table, and finally back to Alfred again. "...He was never here, was he?" He spoke once more, voice trembling. "I was so sure that he'd come back to me." Then a laugh; short, humourless and abrupt. "But why would he come back to someone he hates?" Francis moved his own hand, reaching up and taking the other's, gripping onto it needily rather than simply holding it in his own. He needed support more than he was able to give it. "I can't keep doing this, Alfred." He whispered softly, wincing as his gaze caught the near-empty bottle of whiskey on the table, feeling just how drunk he was, how much his body ached. "It's not fair on you. No more..." He added softly. "No more. I-I've decided... I'm going to go back to France. I can't stay here anymore... not with him. I can't see him again, Alfred. Never. It's just too painful..." Squeezing the other's hand, he looked across into his blue eyes, attempting a watery smile as tears rolled down his cheeks. "B-But I'm going to miss you, Alfred." His last words were spoken with sincerity, despite his shaking tone.

Internal conflict was written in Francis' expression. Watching the fog clear in the Frenchman's mind, Alfred just gripped his hand tighter, searched his eyes with worry and tears in his own. And then his the room grew cold as Francis went on. The way he was speaking; of course, Alfred assumed the worst. He was dreading that Francis would say he'd try to end it again, end his life a second time. Alfred couldn't imagine the pain he was going through. Although, he was going through a great deal himself. Just multiply this amount, he told himself. Double it, triple it, and that might make a dent in how much Francis is suffering. But even still, he didn't want to imagine a world without the only one he trusted and cared about. Francis' next words came, and Alfred wasn't sure he'd heard. They felt numb. "F-France?" He choked, tears welling in his eyes. "But that's... so far away..." Of course it was far away, that was the point. What a stupid thing to say. Alfred couldn't breathe. Francis was going to leave his world. France was too far away from America. The Atlantic Ocean was too damn big. How could he be there for someone, be someone's friend, someone who he couldn't really see, couldn't really hear, couldn't touch? The tears in his eyes submerged the room in water, bleeding the smallest light into the shadows, streaks of dull colour across Alfred's vision. He blinked, and his sight cleared for a moment, just enough to watch a tear drop land on Francis' and Alfred's interwoven hands. "I can't hold your hand if you're half a world away from me." The American swallowed dryly. "Don't go." His shoulders and back were shaking. "Please. You don't have to see him, I'll... I'll..." Save you. Be your hero. But he couldn't just magically make Matthew disappear from their lives. "Don't leave..." His words were nothing but shaking whispers, barely audible. Francis couldn't leave. He couldn't just walk out of his life...

These were not the words that Francis had been expecting. Alfred looked absolutely heartbroken-- but why? He could only nod as the other repeated what he'd said, holding tight to the hands gripping his own, feeling them tremble. "A-Alfred, I..." He didn't know what to say. Not when the other was pleading so sincerely, tears dripping down his face and onto their intertwined hands, his whole body seeming to shake as he spoke. Francis' stomach turned as Alfred repeated the words, watching him desperately attempt to understand.

Trying again, he took a shaky breath and squeezed the other's hands tighter, feeling a pang of something in his chest when Alfred mentioned the distance. "Alfred, I have to do this. I can't stay here. I can't keep going to school; not with him. There's too many memories. This place..." He took a slow, careful look around the room, and his eyes were filled with new tears by the time he'd finished. "I-It's just.. Matthieu made it his home as well as mine. I can't stay here now. France is my home-- it'd be the best place for me. A-Away from here, from him... but at the cost of being away from you." He hung his head a little, feeling terribly guilty for what he was doing, practically shunning the other, despite all he'd done for him. "I'm sorry, Alfred. I-I wish that I could stay with you longer..." As Francis spoke, he began to feel hate for his ex-lover. He had done this. It was him that was causing Francis to leave, tearing him away from Alfred... It just wasn't fair. Francis never wanted to fall in love again, not after this betrayal. It hurt too much. He wished he could put a shield around his heart to keep away all of the people who'd hurt him, who'd hurt his friends; his true friends. His true friend. Alfred was the only one that mattered now, and he was being forced to leave him alone, his own emotions and inability to deal with the pain tearing him away from the one he cared for most.

Breaking eye contact and casting his gaze away, Alfred forced him to fight back tears. Begging would do him no good. Because Francis; he was right. How must it feel? Going through each day, seeing the ghosts of bright, sweet memories in those halls and rooms... It would be crushing. Too much weight to bear upon a person's heart, and his shone with emotion; Francis' golden heart couldn't withstand such reminders. And Alfred understood this. Every day Francis would suffer, if he stayed here. And of course, Alfred didn't want that for his best friend. "I..." Swallowing dryly, still unable to look in Francis' eyes, Alfred tried to make words once again. "I understand, Francis. And I... I-I don't want to be in your way," Tears rolled down his cheeks, but despite the obvious, there was no other give away that he was crying. He looked sad, in his eyes, but his expression was blank. He had to be strong. "Please don't feel guilty for leaving me here." The American's voice was small, but there was no hidden, passive meaning; nothing between the lines. He meant what he said. "If... if this makes you happy..." A shaking, shuttering breath tightened Alfred's chest, and he let it out slowly. "If leaving makes it hurt less, if you're happier there, then that's what I want for you."

Francis' eyes crinkled sadly and he suddenly felt the need to squeeze the other's hand tight. "Non, it's not what I want, but..." What did he want now? His love was no more-- was there anything? Letting out a shaky breath, he sighed. "I can't stay here any longer. I-I need to be far away from him; s-somewhere the memories can't follow. Dieu, I just..." He clenched his fists, gritting his teeth as he fought his emotions, trying not to start sobbing. He wanted to be strong for Alfred, and he knew that he needed to explain why he was doing this.

"It was never you, Alfred. Never. I... you've always been there for me, truly you have. Not like the others..." It was true. Within the web of lies Francis had been caught up in, Matthew and Arthur dancing strings around him, feeding him lies and setting up confusing scenarios, Alfred had always been there. The American had never taken part in any of it-- He too had been played by a fool, by his own brother and the one he thought he loved. The one he thought loved him back. It wasn't fair on either of them. "I don't want to see him again. You may as well tell him that I'm d-dead. It's what he wanted, after all; he said it to my face." Sniffing, he exhaled once more. "Please, Alfred. Just know that it isn't because of you, b-but..." Francis broke off into soft sobs, drawing his hands away from Alfred's and using them to cover his face. Using his last bit of strength, he spoke again, sounding quite broken as he did so. Francis really was lost without his lover. "I want to go home." He whimpered, feeling his heart ache as he thought about the Canadian's words once again, how Matthew had shunned him. It just wasn't fair that life was so cruel, when he had put his whole being into their relationship.

Matthew had said to Francis's face that he wanted him dead? What... what kind of person could find it in their heart to do that? Alfred was convinced then that Matthew's heart wasn't cold and stony at all; he simply didn't have one. It sickens me to call that monster my brother, He exhaled shakily. Watching the Frenchman break down, Alfred seemed to feel a fraction of his pain. His chest tightened, the growing lump in his throat becoming painful, tears swelling in his eyes once more. Of course Francis wanted to go home. This place had only brought him pain, and it would continue to bring him pain. Because it'd been touched by Matthew. Every twist and turn down the hallways of their school, this apartment, Alfred's house, the sidewalks and parks and familiar buildings; Matthew had been there, Matthew had spoiled these places, filled them with painful memories. Of course Francis wanted to go home. And Alfred, Alfred wanted to leave too, wanted to shun away those places that the Canadian had touched. Francis' reminders were Alfred's too; countless memories haunting these places, all of them reminding the American of how his brother lied to him, hurt him and his best friend, how he'd been a traitor and a cheat. Alfred wanted to go home too.

The problem? This was his home. He was stuck here; he had nowhere else to go.

"I... O-Okay." He barely whispered, looking back at Francis, trying to control his breathing as more tears stained his cheeks. "Okay. I-It's okay. Francis, please--" With shaking hands, Alfred took Francis' away from his face. "Don't cry. I-I know it hurts, but it'll be okay soon, you can go home, you can forget you ever came to America." He placed a hand against his cheek, wiping away his tears. "J-Just please don't cry... don't cry..."

Francis didn't know what to say anymore. His mind-- it wasn't functioning properly. He couldn't process, couldn't speak, couldn't think. None of his thoughts could be put into words. Everywhere he looked there was just Matthew, Matthew, Matthew and Alfred, Alfred, Alfred. Two halves of one whole that he didn't want to be a part of any more. No, Matthew had broken all their ties when he spoke those terrible words, pushed him away and took Arthur into his arms. When he had smashed his 'lover's' heart into the ground, throwing away what they had spent months building up all for the sake of cruel revenge. None of it was fair, none of it was justifiable. Francis didn't even understand what he'd done wrong, why Matthew hated him so much. He was hurting too much to try and comprehend. All he knew was that he wanted to forget. Everything. Everything except Alfred. He tried to explain this, but his tongue felt numb in his mouth. The room was still spinning, and Francis could do nothing more than simply lean in and hold the other close, pressing his face into the crook of the other's neck as he managed to get out a few soft words along with a shaky nod of agreement. "W-We need to sleep. I'll book the flights another time. Just sleep, amour... I won't cry..." He fought to still sound polite, still feeling desperate to be kind to Alfred, despite everything. He was actually doing it because of everything. To keep his friend happy and the both of them sane. After all, Alfred was the most important person he had in all the world.

The way Francis spoke to him, treated him; it had become clear to the American that he was the most important person to Francis now. But he didn't have any competition. He was the only person Francis had. So it meant nothing. It wasn't just people; it could be anything. Like flowers.

Francis could have a bunch of flowers, a couple average ones and then his favourite one; with bright colours and the most beautiful bloom. And then suddenly, he lost every flower. All of them, except a single one that remained; one of the average ones. And suddenly, he had a new favourite. Simply by default, because he had no better choices. And that, Alfred figured, was where this affection was coming from. The deep, loving gazes into his eyes, how he used that pet name... Alfred was simply the only one Francis had left, so he was his favourite. "Yeah... okay." Alfred had shoved thoughts about himself aside. Because all he cared about right now was Francis. Francis was also the only one he had left, his favourite. The only difference was that Francis had always been the one he liked most, the flower with brilliant colours and a breathtaking bloom, even when Alfred's arms were full of blossoms. Laying down, Alfred held the Frenchman close to his chest, letting him hide his face in his clothing.

Laying close to Alfred, Francis finally began to feel relaxed once more. He was tired, hurting, needy and broken, but in the American's arms, all of that seemed to somehow fade away. He had something to hold onto; a goal. Francis wanted to make Alfred happy, to bring back his smile, for it was his shining light in the darkness. "Even before Matthieu.." He mumbled softly, already beginning to drift off to sleep. "Your smile... it was always so bright. Whenever we spoke, I used to think it was so beautiful. So... so perfect." Reaching up, his thumb brushed up against the other's lips. "Soft... and warm. You think before you speak. I've always liked that. But your smile... it distracts from the very sun itself, Alfred." And with that, Francis closed his eyes and slipped into a world of black. Darkness surrounded him once more, but this time, he would not be scared. He refused to be. He would be strong. Because he knew that soon, he and Alfred wouldn't be together any more. Francis wanted to ensure that their last days together were special, that they meant something. He wanted to make memories before their time ran out.

"This is why they hated you, bud..." Alfred hardly whispered, after Francis had slipped asleep. He kissed his fingertips gently. "You're so romantic and sweet. To everyone..." How beautiful and golden the world would be if everyone was like Francis. But now it was clear why he was so despised. The Frenchman treated every person he cared about with affection, showered them with sweet, kind words. My smile distracts you from the sun itself, huh? Alfred thought, tracing Francis' peaceful features with his eyes. "I'm gonna miss you." The words were barely spoken, strained with emotion, Alfred's lips moving however nothing but the softest of whispers leaving them. Softened eyes stung with tears, and his chest felt tight. It was too quiet now. Now in the silence, without Francis' smooth, accented voice. Now that he knew he'd only he able to hear it a few more times. So he'd hang on every word, treasure Francis' voice.

Alfred realized that the dark room was suddenly colourless, what with Francis' deep blue eyes closed. He'd miss those too, God would he miss his eyes, how they crinkled when he smiled, sparkled when he talked of love. So Alfred held him like he was saying goodbye. Like, when he woke up, the Frenchman would suddenly be missing. He didn't want Francis to leave. But if it made him happy again, Alfred knew it would be entirely worth it to let him go.


Translations:

Dieu, ma tête - God, my head
Amour - Love

A/N: Hello there, folks. So, some exciting news-- my wonderful co-author may be getting an account! Our apologies for leaving your comments blank, we will reply to them eventually, we promise.

Please do drop us a note in said comments to tell us what you thought! ^^

Until next time~!

Chapter Text

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)

Chapter Text

A/N: Looks like Alfred has a visit to make... this isn't going to be pretty, ladies and gents.

Warnings: Mild descriptive violence, swearing.


Matthew was fed-up. Not particularly angry as such-- Arthur made sure of that-- but just fed-up. Months of particular planning had boiled down to this. Alfred running off with Francis of all people. His brother clearly hadn't seen the light yet, he still believed that the French priss was his friend. Friendship. Huh. The thought that the two of them were still spending time together made him clench his fists in rage. Beside him, Arthur shifted in his sleep, and Matthew's face softened somewhat, his fist unclenching and instead dropping down to the bedsheets. He closed his eyes, feeling exhausted. The two of them had worked so hard to plan all of this out... it wasn't fair. Sure, he and Arthur were openly together now, but Alfred was supposed to be there too. His brother was supposed to commend Matthew for his genius, thank him for exposing such a horrible person as the disgusting liar that he was. But no, Alfred had to be the hero as always and run after somebody. Matthew didn't usually mind the fact Alfred was so concerned about others, but this person was somebody who he wanted completely out of their lives.

Sighing in exasperation, he rolled over and took Arthur into his arms, seeking some comfort in the Brit's warmth. Arthur understood. Francis and Alfred didn't matter if he could have Arthur.


By the time Alfred reached the front porch, he was boiling with rage. His mind had gone wild on the way there with possible things that were going through Matthew's mind. He couldn't recall a time he'd been this angry before. God, if Matthew even dared to say the Parisian's name the wrong way, he was going to get it. Alfred fished in his back pocket for his keys, then blinked, realizing that these were Francis' pants. That meant he'd have to knock to get in. That also meant having to see Matthew's face, the one that looked so much like his own. He might just be sick at the sight.

Alfred knocked on the smooth wood of his front door, a little harder then he usually would. In fact, he just looked all-round irritated, his smile gone and his eyes filled with anger. Now that what his brother had done had finally sunk in, now that he believed it, it stung. It burned. How could, how dare Matthew treat an innocent man like that, his best friend of all people? Alfred knocked again, a bit louder. He just wanted to get his things and go. Go back to Francis, because after only about fifteen minutes, he was already missing him dearly. How was he going to survive for years away from him at this rate? The American shook the thought out of his head.

"Matthew, open up!" Was Francis hurting himself right? Was he crying? God, Alfred hated the thought of him alone. Something told him he was okay, though. Well... as okay as a man could be after being crushed so badly. Francis was strong. Hopefully, he knew he was loved. Something told Alfred he shouldn't worry. Francis was going to be fine. But what on earth was Matthew doing? Sleeping? Oh, no-- he was probably getting it on with Arthur. The American's anger pilled up. Arthur. He'd seemed so innocent and cute. How could someone like Arthur do any wrong? Yeah, that's what he thought. Until the truth hit him, that Arthur had been helping Matthew all along, working with him to break Francis' golden heart. How could people he had trusted so dearly turn out to be so damn cruel?


It was so special, the way that he and Arthur just fitted together. The smaller man lay so perfectly in his arms, every curve of his body just... breath-takingly beautiful. "Arthur..." He whispered into the man's soft blond locks, appearing almost golden in the morning light. "I love you." And his words were genuine. None of that soppy French crap that he had heard so many times before, the words that Francis seemed to repeat like a broken record. It was disgusting. Why would he ever want to listen to the Frenchman droning on about how 'beautiful' he thought Matthew was when he could have perfect little Arthur nestled in his arms? After all, that was the only reason why Matthew had been able to bear it so long, their 'relationship', because the thought of finally being with Arthur was oh-so tempting. It had been his motivation for months on end, the person that he imagined whenever he and Francis had kissed. Arthur was beautiful... Francis was disgusting.

Not wanting to ruin his beautiful morning with thoughts of the other man, he pulled Arthur closer and exhaled slowly, trying to drift back off to sleep. A sudden noise made him start, jolting awake again. He cursed, peering down at Arthur nervously before creeping out of bed so that the other wouldn't stir. Hesitating, he pulled on a pair of underwear and some trousers before going to the door, opting to keep the visitor waiting a few moments in order to protect his modesty. "Alright, I'm coming!" He yelled back when the knocking became louder, after shutting his bedroom door. Grumbling, he pulled it open and opened his mouth to speak, though found himself surprised as he looked across at a face the same as his own. "Alfred..?" He said softly, sounding surprised. "Hey. I haven't seen you... have you been alright?" Matthew knew that he was treading dangerous waters simply by the irritated look upon his brother's face. That, and also the fact that one of the last things the Canadian had said to his twin was 'fuck you'. "You want to come inside?" He offered, gesturing to the house. "Talk things over? The fact that you've come here says it all to me." He smiled; a sickeningly sweet smile dripping with false innocence. "You must have figured it out by now, Alfred, come on... you're a smart guy! Can't you see that he was using us?" Matthew spoke causally as he leaned against the door frame, staring across at Alfred. He had absolutely no idea about how the other was feeling, but guessed that he'd had a change of heart at least. He expected the American to give in and accept that his brother was right all along.

Maybe Alfred should have turned back the moment he began to feel rage and protectiveness heat up his blood. Because if he thought he was angry before, now he was furious. "Using us?" He spat in a hissed whisper, his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Like you're one to talk about using someone. You sick bastard." Alfred grit his teeth, shaking his head in slow disappointment. He was about to shove past the Canadian, but then he changed his mind. This was too good of an opportunity to not speak his mind, and he was too fired up to simply walk away. "Do you have any idea what you've done?" Matthew probably didn't care. Alfred could tell him everything; how Francis had been practicing starving himself to save up for a wedding ring, how broken he was now, how he'd nearly jumped off a roof. And Matthew wouldn't care. In fact, he probably wouldn't even bat an eyelid. "Tell me, what the hell has Francis ever done to deserve this? He trusted you. He loved you, just you, not anyone else. I saw how he treated you; like a fucking princess. And you repay him by cheating, completely crushing him?" Alfred's voice was dangerously quiet, sharp like the edge of a blade. "What the hell did he ever do to deserve this?" He demanded to know, heated, fiery blue eyes flicking between the Canadian's violet ones. He wanted to know. He wanted to hear just what Matthew's excuse, his reasoning was for hurting his best friend as badly as he had.

Matthew should have known that this was going to go just as well as their last confrontation had. Which meant that it wasn't going to go very well at all. Even now as he listened to what Alfred had to say he felt sick to his stomach. Lies, lies, lies.. it was all lies! He pulled the door to, keeping it open but not completely. "Will you lower your damn voice? You're going to wake Arthur up." He said sternly, seeming to disregard everything that his twin had said about Francis as he began speaking in a harsh, hushed whisper. "And do you even hear the bullshit that's coming out of your mouth? Francis never cared for me. You need some new fucking glasses, Alfred, if that's what you saw. How did I cheat on him when he was never truly with me? He never loved me. It was all just empty words! You think that he's actually capable of loving?!" Matthew paused for a moment, listening to his twin's tone of voice. When Alfred spoke quietly like this, it meant that he was very angry. But he wasn't afraid, oh no. He knew that he was right, so what did he have to fear? "What's he doing now, hm? Has he gone back to his shitty little country yet? Or is he still sulking at home? It wouldn't surprise me if he hung around-- after all, he doesn't have a heart to break, so his emotions are non-existent too." Matthew clenched his fists once more as he spoke. "Why are you hanging around with such a cruel man, Alfred? I'm your brother-- leave him to rot and come home to me, where you belong."

Every time Alfred opened his mouth to speak out against the hateful words that spilled from his brother's mouth, he was cut off with more, each harshly spat word pilling on more and more anger. Francis never cared for him? Matthew wasn't only a monster, but he was an idiot, too. The Parisian clearly displayed how much he loved Matthew in everything he did. It was in his eyes, his words, his words that were anything but empty. Capable of loving? Everyone was capable of loving. Francis, with that golden heart of his... he knew most about how to love someone.

Alfred's breath was coming quicker, heavier. His eyes weren't gentle like they always were when he looked at Francis. No, they were startlingly sharp, dangerous. "What the hell did you just say?" His voice was threateningly low, quiet. "What the fuck did you just say?!" Alfred roughly shoved Matthew's shoulders, sending him flying backwards, past the door and into the wall. The push wasn't enough to make him fall, but Alfred was by no means being careful. "Hell yeah he doesn't have a heart to break! Because you crushed it so badly!" He was furious, he couldn't believe what Matthew was saying. "Francis is capable of loving! He has emotion, just like everyone else! Even a fucking monster like you, whose only emotion is hate!" The American seemed to loom in the doorway, his eyes glowing as he took slow steps forward. "Don't you dare call his country shitty. Don't dare you make him sound weak, because I sure as hell know that I would have jumped if someone hurt me as badly as you did!" He was nearly chest to chest with Matthew who was, unfortunately, just as tall as he was. "He's not cruel. He did nothing wrong; all he did was love you. Don't you dare tell me to let him fucking rot! No one deserves that, especially not Francis!" Alfred was this close to punching Matthew across the face. Oh, how he had the self control to not do it, when he was so angry and Matthew was so deserving of it, Alfred didn't know. All their shouting had surely woken up Arthur. No one could've sleep through that noise, not unless they were as cold and dead as Matthew's heart.

"You're not my brother." He hissed, dangerously close to Matthew's face. His eyes were fiery, his pulse was thundering with anger. "You're nothing but a fucking villain."

Matthew was fuming just as much as Alfred was, but the Canadian seemed to hesitate somehow as Alfred spoke again. This was dangerous-- Alfred was never truly angry like this. Was his view of Francis so twisted that he couldn't even listen to Matthew? He grit his teeth and opened his mouth up to reply. "I said--" But Matthew was soon cut short as his brother did the unthinkable. Flying backwards, he tried to grab at something to support himself but couldn't, and ended up colliding with the wall at full force, the blow knocking the breath out of him. "Alfred, what..." He gasped, both for air and out of pure shock. "What the fuck are you doing?!" He yelled, still gripping the wall for support. What his brother had done hurt, both physically and emotionally. "Have you really spent so much time with him that you'd become so twisted? I'm your brother, you're not supposed to hurt me! What happened to being friends for life, Alfred?" He took a step forward, one arm still gripping his injured shoulder. "Why did you have to screw everything up when Arthur and I worked so hard to put it right?" It wasn't fair, it just wasn't. Francis wasn't the victim here; Matthew was. "That French bastard came into our lives and ruined everything! So don't blame us for doing the right thing, Alfred!" He yelled, still looking very angry and upset. "And what the hell are you saying about jumping?" By this point, Matthew was confused more than anything else.

A small, minuscule part of the American's mind gave into Matthew. What if... he was right? What if, somehow, Francis really was guilty of ruining everything? What if he'd somehow been tricked, twisted, as Matthew said, into staying with Francis and being on his side. Alfred's expression softened ever-so-slightly, his narrowed eyes just barely rounded. His brother. Friends for life.

Oh, Matthew.

Alfred almost gave in. He almost closed the door behind him, apologized for his behavior, left Francis to rot. And then he began to make actual sense of Matthew's emotion-filled words. But it didn't add up. None of it. Alfred's expression became heated with anger again. "You say he ruined everything, but you can't give me one good example! Nothing other than your-- your stupid assumptions about him not loving you!" He advanced again, gripping the collar of Matthew's shirt and tugging it forward. "You say you're doing the right thing, that Francis is to blame, but there's no reasoning. You just hate him, for no reason at all!" He hissed, glaring. How could he have almost let Matthew fool him into hating for no reason? Francis... God, he just wanted to go back to Francis. He wanted to hold him in his arms and run his fingers through his long hair and tell him how much he mattered. Alfred just wanted to leave, go, be alone with him, away from twisted bastards like the man he had once called his brother.

There. Right there-- that tiny flicker of doubt in his brother's face that said he believed in Matthew, even if only for a moment. This was exactly what the Canadian wanted; for his brother to understand. However, the moment was short lived and Matthew soon found his face falling again as Alfred's expression returned to one of anger. No. No, no, no-- he wanted that expression back, for his brother to believe in him once again. He opened his mouth to spit back a powerful retort, but soon found himself being thrown around once more, this time pulled towards his brother's face using his clothing.

"Alfred, I know you understand. I saw it in your face-- you agree with me, I know you do! Stop lying to yourself! He's a piece of trash and you know it!" Matthew paused, reaching a hand up to touch his brother's hair, slowly and carefully running his fingers through the blonde locks that were so similar to his own. Perhaps... this method would be better? Would his twin listen if he didn't shout? "Alfred... you know I'm only doing this for you. Because I love you. I don't want Francis to hurt us, so... I had to hurt him. Just for a little while. But he's fine-- he doesn't feel the pain anyway. He doesn't have a heart..." His hand shifted, trailing down through his hair, across his cheek, and finally settling above the other's aforementioned organ. "Not like you, Alfred. For all your strength, you're delicate inside. If you stick around, then he's only going to hurt you too." Worry flickered into Matthew's eyes--genuine worry. Deep down, he did have care and respect for his brother. Well, provided that they shared the same opinion. But he only wanted to protect the ones he loved, and he was connected to Alfred by blood. They shared the same face, the same name... the bond that they had was special, and he wasn't about to let some prissy Frenchman break it down.

It could have been how he called him a piece of trash. Heartless. Or maybe how he blamed him for crimes and sins that he hadn't committed yet. Perhaps it was how he said an innocent man had hurt him, how he said Francis would hurt Alfred. Or maybe it was that he talked about Francis like he was some emotionless monster. Or how he called his country shitty.

'Francis is a bastard. Francis is disgusting. Francis is untrustworthy. He's dangerous. Twisted. Cruel. Deserving of death. Incapable of loving.'

"Shut... shut the fuck up." His pulse was racing, pounding; he could hear it in his ears. His breathing became ragged and heavy. "Don't you dare talk about him like that!" What did Matthew see? All those God awful things he said about Alfred's best friend... none of it was true. Not in Alfred's eyes, not in any sane person's eyes. Matthew saw someone disgusting, Alfred saw someone beautiful. He saw heartless. Alfred saw irresistible. Matthew saw a dangerous beast that deserved punishment. Alfred saw the crushed, fragile version of his best friend. How dare Matthew speak about Francis like that? Francis, who was so sweet, so good, so loving and gentle. And Alfred had almost let Matthew trick him into leaving Francis to rot.

He slapped his hand away and glared at his brother. "He's completely innocent! He'd never hurt anyone!" Alfred was fuming. He'd had enough. "I'm so sick of listening to you lie! You're not the good guy, Matty! You're not the victim! Y-You hurt him, you nearly killed him for fuck's sake, and for no reason at all!" His voice boomed, shaking with anger. "Do you have any idea how much pain you cased him? He can feel, he does have a heart! And you... you..." Francis' cheeks were streaked with tears. His round indigo orbs were full of agony and fear and pain. His fingers hooked into the fabric of Alfred's shirt, his voice was small and broken. Francis' hands shook. He was weak from malnutrition and heartbreak. He could have died. "You did this." He hissed, exhaling shaky breaths through his clenched teeth. "Y-You... you.." His eyes suddenly lit up with hot rage. "You fucking bastard!" His fist reeled back before it then made contact with the side of Matthew's face, sending him back into the wall with a satisfying thump.

Matthew held his brother's gaze, amethyst orbs meeting sapphires that were just as sharp, if not sharper, than his own. He watched with a sinking heart as the anger shown in Alfred's face began to increase; his eyes lit up, flames that flickered dangerously in pure rage. Matthew could feel his heart sinking with every second that passed until finally, Alfred spoke and Matthew's fears were confirmed. The Canadian's expression shifted from innocence to something much darker in a mere millisecond, his face just as dangerous as his brother's own was. "I can say whatever the hell I want, Alfred! What are you going to do about it, huh?" There was to be no more playing games. No more sweet, angelic words from Matthew about his innocence. This was war now--he could see it in his brother's eyes; that same dangerous flicker growing stronger and stronger with every word. Oh, how easy it was to provoke Alfred. Despite all his front, the man had weaknesses, especially when it came to those he loved. And seeing as Matthew no longer came under that list, he planned to exploit the names of those that remained until his brother was fuming. He deserved it for abandoning Matthew, after all.

"Believe me," He began, his lips twisting in a cruel smirk, one that few had seen. "If I'd nearly killed him then I would have known about it. What an achievement that would be." Matthew truly had fallen so far since meeting Francis. His whole calm, kind demeanour had disappeared, only to be replaced with something horrible. However, he delighted in having the ability to act in this manner, because it gave him the confidence to confront the bad people around him, and protect those he loved; Alfred and Arthur. Well... it used to be Alfred that he sought to protect, at least, but now he wanted his brother to suffer. Not for any cruel purposes, as such, but simply out of anger. The months of hard word, careful planning, events that had been meticulously carried out... did Alfred not realize how much work Matthew had put into this? How cruel Francis was, toying with his heart like that. "He doesn't have a heart-- he chose to play with mine and Arthur's for fun instead! I've only exposed what was already there, Alfred, you're just too fucking stupid to see the truth! It makes me sick that you sympathize with such a--"

What Francis was, however, Alfred would never know, as Matthew had just been cut off by a powerful punch to the side of his face, delivered by the American's fist himself. Pain exploded in his cheek, quickly travelling to his mouth and across the rest of his face. He hit the wall, his head falling back and smashing against it with an almighty thump before snapping forward again, as if his neck had disconnected.

I just punched Matthew. Alfred looked at his fist. Opened his hand. Closed it again. I just punched my baby brother. God, the way Francis' back trembled beneath his hand. How heartbreaking he looked with his eyes void of light, crinkled sadly, looking almost desperately up into his own. "O-Oh, that felt fucking amazing." He exhaled, voice shaking with rage. Alfred lifted his fists, the corner of his lips twitching upward slightly, his bangs falling into his eyes. "Call him disgusting again. Say he's heartless. Tell me he's incapable of loving one more time. I dare you."

Breathing hard, Matthew grasped at a nearby bookshelf for support, leaning his weight on it as his other hand reached up to touch his face. Pain blossomed from his lips where his fingers had made contact, and as he brought them back down to observe, he was shocked to see a dark red substance upon them, startlingly bright against Matthew's skin. He wasn't pale, as such, but he wasn't as tan as his brother Alfred.

Alfred.

Matthew looked up, disgusted to see that Alfred was now the one smirking, and suddenly felt a powerful urge to strike back. The man's punch had been so powerful that it had knocked Matthew's glasses off of his face, and they now lay somewhere on the floor, so as he tried to strike back his target was slightly off. Realising that if he attempted a punch straight off the bat he'd most likely get his arm broken, he decided to strike out with his leg instead. Lurching forward, he kicked out his foot, hitting his brother in the stomach in an attempt to make him double over. "Amazing?!" He yelled, staring down at the other angrily. "Punching me felt fucking amazing, did it?!" The mix of emotions that Matthew felt could not be explained. He wanted to cry and scream and shout and laugh at the madness of it all. Francis had done this. It was his fault. Without him, then perhaps Matthew and Alfred could have been happy-- they would have got along and maintained the special bond that they had once shared. But that relationship had broken down now, it no longer existed. Francis had stolen his brother away and there was nothing that Matthew could do about it. Feeling a surge of anger, Matthew grabbed his twin's hair and tugged soon after kicking him, yanking his head up and hoping to prolong his pain.

Oh, how satisfying it felt to punch Matthew in that moment. The hate he spewed was just too much. Alfred was positively infuriated. He couldn't stand hearing another disgusting word from the man's mouth. Not only that, but on top of everything he called Francis, who says they love someone one moment and then calls them stupid the next? Matthew, apparently. God-- if he was trying to piss Alfred off, it was certainly working.

A bit of him was thankful. Thankful Francis wasn't here. He didn't want the Frenchman to hear a word coming from Matthew's lips about him. Those filthy, spat words; they caused so much damage. Alfred knew how much pain they caused. And look how much energy and care it had taken already to convince Francis that none of it was true. He wasn't disgusting, he wasn't a monster, because then Alfred wouldn't want to be as close to him as he did. He wasn't unwanted nor unnecessary, because Alfred would be broken if the Parian had jumped, if he was gone. He wasn't unlovable, because Alfred loved him. Francis was so kind. So sweet. So undeserving of the torture Matthew had put him through.

Matthew.

His anger swelled again, and he was about to strike once more-- but then he suddenly couldn't breathe. His lungs refused to fill, and his back hit the closed door harshly as he was kicked back. Pain coursed through his entire torso, and Alfred felt as though he might have lost consciousness if he had been denied air a second longer. He groaned in pain and doubled over, the ironic taste of blood filling his mouth. Would Matthew ever stop hurting people? Did he not see he was acting like a psychopath, fighting and blaming instead of recognising just what a monster he'd become? Who was this man? Not his brother, that was for sure. This was the one Francis cried so much over, the one who nearly drove an innocent person to suicide.

It was so wonderful to hurt his brother like this; to have the true upper hand for once. Just as Alfred was about to strike, Matthew beat him to it and took absolute delight in doing so. Alfred deserved everything he got for sympathising with the enemy. He wanted his brother to feel the same pain, but just as Matthew fell into the wall, Alfred collided with the door. His lungs weren't functioning properly, that was clear to see by the way his brother gasped and groaned, clutching at himself as he collapsed and doubled over his body. Who was right now? Who had the upper hand? Matthew was feeling quite victorious; proud of his attack and still aching from the first one that had been delivered to his face, but relishing the pain all the same. It was his sacrifice, the price that he had paid for victory. "Fuck you, Alfred! I already told you that I'll say whatever the fuck I want! You can't stop me!" So, he was still breathing, at least. Matthew hadn't yet hurt him so badly that he was rendered unconscious or unable to speak. He stared down into his brother's face, daring to meet his eyes and hold his gaze. The tension between them was incredible.

"You're damn right it did!" He shouted back with the same heat and emotion-filled voice, just as soon as he was able to fill his lungs with air. "And I'll do it again if you don't shut the fuck up about him!" The American gasped in pain when a fistful of his hair was so roughly grabbed, his head forcibly tugged upwards. Wasn't that the same hand that had been stroking his hair moments before. That's just who Matthew was. He faked gentle kindness, always with a backhanded motive. And then he hurt. "I hate you." He growled, his eyes sharp, a thin stream of blood streaking from the corner of his lips down to his chin. With all the strength he had, Alfred punched Matthew in the gut, finally freeing himself from the hold the Canadian had on his wheat-coloured hair. "You'll pay for what you did to him." Silently pledging to avenge Francis, Alfred rose to his full height again, his eyes narrowing dangerously. He shoved Matthew back against the wall, then hit him again, and he swore that nothing felt more satisfying than his fist against the other's cheek. Ah, that was another reason he was glad Francis wasn't here. He didn't want him to see Alfred being so violent. He didn't want him to know he was getting hurt for his sake, in his defense.

The Canadian couldn't recall a time when he had seen his twin this angry before. There was nothing but pure hatred in his eyes, something that would have usually unnerved Matthew and chilled him right down to the bone, but in that one moment he felt more powerful than ever before. Alfred was the one at fault and Alfred was the one who would suffer.

He smirked once more, twisting his lips in an evil manner and unintentionally coaxing more blood from his lip. "I hate you too." Matthew was running on an adrenalin rush, although his confidence was diminished as pain exploded in his body again, this time blossoming from his chest. His hand dropped from the other's hair, instantly releasing him as he clutched at his own body. "Pay?" He croaked, coughing a splatter of blood onto the floor beneath him. "He's the one that should pay." It was a last, defiant sentence before he lost the ability to speak. He knew that it was coming as soon as Alfred rose, towering above him once more, and looked up at the other defiantly, even as blood covered his lips. A push backwards, sending him crashing into the wall again before a second punch met his face, giving him matching bruises on each cheek. This time, tears gathered in Matthew's eyes as he was hit. Whether it was from the pain, the betrayal or the shock of it all he didn't know, but the tears were genuine. Coughing once again, he slumped against the bookshelf and grabbed onto it, hands clutching for an object that he knew was there. A tall glass vase, decorated with a pattern of tiny stars-- one of Alfred's favourite items. With a sickeningly cruel, blood-red smile, Matthew picked it up, used the wall to push himself forward and smashed it over his brother's head. Soon after, his legs gave out and he collapsed to the floor from the combination of pain and shock, but not before the glass had made contact with Alfred's skull.

Eyes grew wide as they stared at the Canadian, but not with fear. Alfred was shocked. Matthew... Matthew looked dangerous. Hateful. His eyes were filled with angry emotion, but whether it was because of Francis or himself, Alfred didn't know. You said you loved me just a second ago. Now you say you hate me. This same principle, amplified and stretched over months, done to a person who trusted Matthew. It became sickeningly clear to Alfred just what had been done to Francis on an emotional level. Matthew was psychotic. He brought people up, knocked them down, enjoyed it. Blamed those he crushed for it. Hated the ones he broke. And he said Francis was the one who didn't understand love, didn't feel it, didn't mean it when he said those three words. Oh, how wrong Matthew had been. All along, he had been describing himself. Francis, God, Francis... He was a victim of the monster in front of Alfred.

"You're sick." Alfred croaked. The blond could already feel bruises forming. Why? That was all Alfred wanted to know. He had no reason to target Francis. 'He did this, he did that, it's all his fault, that monster, that bastard.' Yet the entire time, Matthew had never put any reason behind those empty words; not even once. He claimed he did this so he and Arthur could be together. And why, Alfred wanted to know, why couldn't they have done just that? Been together? Before Francis and Matthew? Did the Canadian really have to map out such an intricate, dastardly plan, only to crush someone? Alfred was distracted. Distracted staring at Matthew with pain and confusion in his eyes, round and sharpened, his eyebrows furrowed. And because he was so distracted, he hardly had time to think, let alone prevent it, when the vase came down and shattered over his head. The American cried out in pain, stumbling back, hitting the wall. How he'd been lucky enough for none of the glass to get into his eyes, he didn't know. But it was everywhere else. A bruise had began to form over his eye and shards of the smooth glass had sliced over his cheek, through his eyebrow, leaving trails of bright, blood red.

Pain pulsated from where the vase had made contact with his skull, and every other part on his body that'd been injured burned and pulsed with it too. Alfred groaned in pain, taking short, fuming breaths of air. He glared down at Matthew, who now lay crumpled on the ground. Good. That may cover a small fraction of the agony he caused Francis. Alfred had won. For today at least. Maybe that would teach Matthew not to hurt or say such hateful things about the Frenchman. Or maybe the other could go on despising. He'd hate Francis more, come for him, for no reason at all. Alfred prayed it wouldn't be the later. The twin brother that still stood spat a combination of saliva and blood at Matthew. I want to go home. Home being Francis..., he thought. He wanted to hold him, assure him everything was okay. Not mention a word of what went on today. He didn't want Francis to know he wasn't just loved but he was absolutely hated too, by Matthew.

He'd done it. He'd really done it-- Matthew had hurt his brother badly, and on purpose. He could have made him unconscious, rendered him blind, perhaps even killed him had the lacerations to his skin been bad enough. But no. Strong, defiant Alfred seemed to be alright, as usual.

Matthew watched him from his position on the floor, where he lay scowling. What would it take to break Alfred? The Canadian just didn't know. Still, he watched with pleasure as his brother fell back and hit the wall, slowly coming to terms with his injuries as the pain burned through his body. Yes, this was his new goal, he decided mentally. To hurt Alfred. To break him down as he had done to Francis. Why his brother was even acting in this way, Matthew didn't know, but he wanted to find out. Now that he thought about it, although Alfred was a good guy. He generally sided with Matthew when it came to issues or controversial topics, even if the Canadian's views weren't entirely what he himself believed in. He'd always thought that it was because he didn't want to cause trouble by voicing his opinion about such a thing, but... since when had Alfred ever thought in that way? If Alfred thought something, then other people knew about it too. Unlike Matthew, he didn't always know when to keep his mouth shut. But then, why didn't Alfred usually side with those he believed were correct, rather than his brother? Ah, of course, he realized with an internal smile. His brother.

Alfred had always been protective of Matthew, despite the latter being the older sibling. He would never openly speak out against him because he knew it'd cause trouble. Maybe it was just because they were twins, but their relationship held like shackles upon Alfred's wrists. He hated losing people-- hated letting go. For someone usually so expressive, parting was a difficult thing. This was, perhaps, what he feared would happen with Matthew. Even them having differing points of view was scary. The simple possibility of anything that might divide them was something that Alfred strived to avoid at practically any cost. Until now. Here they were, two once-loving brothers punching and kicking at each other, throwing hurtful words as limbs collided painfully until they were left broken-- one upon the floor and the other decorated with shards of broken glass. Matthew was no longer Alfred's priority. He wasn't the one that he strove to protect. He had been replaced/.

"I'm not sick."Matthew managed to croak from where he lay on the floor, tears of pain silently falling from his eyes. Much of the glass had fallen to the floor, and he was now laying upon a carpet of shards as he watched Alfred turn to leave, staggering off to grab his things. He began to yell. "You're the twisted one. What is he to you? Something so important that you'd abandon your own brother? How is he more fucking important to you than me?!" Matthew took a sharp inhale, desperate to speak before his brother walked away. "Are you his next toy, Alfred? My fucking replacement?! His new boyfriend?!" The words were filled with hatred and loathing, directed both at Francis and Alfred now.

Alfred glared for another moment, then quickly went off, packed a bag with money and clothes. When he was finished he let himself out, walking back towards the Frenchman's apartment.

It was nearly unbelievable, he thought, how someone could go from loving to hating in such short a time. Matthew claimed that Francis was heartless. He said that the Frenchman couldn't love, threw his words of affection around, Matthew calling those words empty and overused. Alfred's twin said that he was incapable of loving, that he didn't know what it meant. But not only was Matthew wrong about Francis; he was wrong about himself. He was no better than his hateful words that were meant to describe Francis. In fact, he was worse. His hatred was meaningless, pointless. The seeds of his bitter loathing were his unreasonable jealousy of things he had no reason to be jealous of. He hated Francis, because Francis sometimes showed affection to others, including Arthur. And now Alfred. Why would Matthew be jealous of the fact that he was a replacement for Francis? It's not like the Canadian ever loved him. He blamed Alfred for fighting him because he was his own brother, his own blood, but Alfred wasn't deaf. He could hear the hatred in Matthew's voice. No; Matthew didn't know a single thing about love.

Alfred didn't answer Matthew. He stormed out as fast as he could, shifting the bag on his shoulder. The adrenaline in his veins began to die down as he neared Francis' apartment, and suddenly he felt all the pain he should have felt back during the fight. The bruise on his head spread down over his eye, pulsating painfully. His face was grimly decorated in thin, stinging cuts, a few a bit larger, like the one stretching over his cheekbone and over his eyebrow. Those would scar, without a doubt. His knuckles bled, his stomach ached and he began to feel dizzy. Alfred made the mistake of looking into the reflective glass of a curtained window. In short, he looked terrible. Covered with cuts, bruised from being punched, a thin line of blood running from the corner of his lips down to his chin.

The eye that wasn't bruised went wide. Francis. How would he react? God, Alfred would have to tell him. He'd have to worry him. Could he lie? No. No, he'd never lie to Francis. Alfred had silently vowed to himself that he'd never do such thing. Not after Francis had been lied to so much. Alfred sighed shakily, pushed his fingers through his hair. He got in a fight with Matthew. That's what he'd have to say. Yes, Matthew did this. No... I was the one who hit first. Why? Because... Because he was saying mean things. Mean things about you, Francis. And I couldn't stand it. No one can talk about you like that... Alfred sighed. He wished he could fix himself. Not for his own well being; for Francis'. Alfred walked up the steps to the Parisian's apartment with some trouble. He took a breath in, let it out, hesitated, then knocked.

Back in Francis' apartment, life was good. After Alfred left, Francis had put himself to good use and spent a lot of time packing up the things that they would need. He had gathered clothes, a first aid box, some food, a few photographs of the two, and all of his money. The box that his money had previously been kept in was now in the rubbish, never to be used by Francis again. He had smiled as he threw it away-- it felt as if he was taking a step forward, although there was still an ache in his heart for the Canadian. After all, there was no way that he could just suddenly forget all that had happened. Still, he had tried his best to stay happy whilst Alfred had been out. Under no circumstances would the American return to see him crying, oh no.

Francis had put some music on after all the packing was finished, and now sat on the sofa humming along to the tunes as he studied old pictures of Alfred and himself. The one he was looking at now happened to be the same one he had been studying earlier that day in the bedroom. Since then, he had decided that it was his favourite photo. The two of them just looked so happy together, smiles upon their faces and hearts being whole within their chests. The sight of it brought a smile to his face as he studied it, taking a small sip from the water he was drinking. Suddenly there was the sound of knuckles tapping against wood and Francis jumped to his feet, laying the picture down upon the table but taking his drink with him as he walked towards the door. He knew that it was Alfred-- it had to be, who else would be coming to see him? He had no other friends now, and it surely wasn't Matthew or Arthur.

Reaching for the handle, he opened the door with a wide smile, the latch clicking as it unlocked, since he had shut himself in as soon as the American had left. However, when he opened it, there was a different person standing there. When Alfred left the apartment he had been emotionally damaged, yes, but physically, he had been fine. But now... Francis' smile vanished. The cup left his hand as soon as his eyes met with Alfred's, clattering to the floor and spilling its contents. It was plastic, thank God, but that wasn't something the Frenchman was worried about. Not when there was blood running from Alfred's lips and slashes over his soft skin and bruises over his face and that dull look in his blue eyes--

"Mon Dieu, Alfred." Francis didn't know what to do with the broken body before him. He reached out with his hands tentatively, then drew them back, pressing them to his own face and covering his mouth in pure shock before reaching out again. Hands on his shoulders, gentle and shaking, pulling him in. "A-Alfred.." He said again, his voice cracking as he looked over the other properly. Deep cuts along his face, a large bruise on his head.. a fight? Cuts that deep must have come from something cruel and sharp... a knife, perhaps. "Alfred, you're bleeding. Y-Your face... you're hurt." The Frenchman took up his hands instead, shocked to find that his knuckles were also decorated with a variety of slashes, as if he'd been punching something. Or someone. Such a vast array of emotions were coursing through Francis' mind. Hurt and sadness and anger and pain. It was almost as if Francis shared Alfred's injuries, the amount of pain he was in. He opened his mouth up again, only to shut it tightly as a sob threatened to escape from his lips. Alfred was hurt and in pain. Strong Alfred, the one who had protected him so carefully... reduced to this. Francis couldn't even speak anymore. The mere thought of Alfred bleeding, hurting and in pain was enough to make his heart twist and lurch in his chest. He knew that he should run for the suitcase and find the first aid kit straightaway, but he had to know. "W-Who..?" He asked tentatively, swallowing down another sob. "Who hurt you, Alfred..?"

For the first time in all his years knowing Francis, Alfred was hurt at the sight of him so happy. Those deep, indigo eyes of his were lit up, free of tears, his smile practically glowed. Alfred felt the strangest, most heart-wrenching combination of joy and guilt. Joy, because when Francis was happy, he simply couldn't help himself be anything but happy too. Maybe it was the fact that he knew he was about to spoil his happiness that sparked the searing guilt in his heart. As the Frenchman's glowing smile disappeared, his eyes going round with worry and surprise, Alfred winced, knitting his eyebrows and closing his eyes simply at the sight and the guilt it caused. This was his fault. He was the reason Francis was no longer happy. He'd been recovering just fine; going about this agonizing apartment with hope for the future and a good attitude, packing and tossing away painful memories, replacing them. The American was proud of him for being so strong.

But, of course, Alfred had to waltz in here and-- Francis' voice was shaking. His eyes were filled with tears again, his hands shook as they took his own. Make something up. He told himself, feeling rushed and pressured. Don't you dare hurt him anymore than you already have. Make it up. You ran into a tree. You got mugged. Something, anything!. But he couldn't do it. He couldn't lie to Francis. And then his dams broke, his thin walls crumbled and Alfred looked down in shame, eyes lingering upon their linked hands. Who? Who... Alfred had no time to think about what would hurt Francis more; being lied to, or being told it was the Canadian that caused Alfred's pain.

"Matthew." His voice was worn too, filled with emotion. The blonde swallowed dryly, a lump forming in his throat. "I hit first." Those three words were mumbled, and they hung heavily in the air with no exclamation, only a monotone sounding voice that Alfred hoped would cover up with fear. He needed to explain. He had to justify what he'd done. Alfred knew this would mean being careful. He didn't want Francis to know one hateful thing Matthew had said about him. Not when he was still so fragile, not when he'd been so... happy. But... "Francis, I-I had to. I couldn't help it." Their eyes met, and suddenly Alfred's hands left the Parisian's, only to cup his cheeks. His palms were warm and slightly calloused against Francis' skin, thumbs caressing slightly. "The things he was saying about you. I couldn't take it, Francis." He said in an almost hissed, shaking whisper, his eyebrows knit. "No one can talk about you like that... no one can say those things, not about you." Matthew's words still filled his head, made him want to hit him harder. Alfred didn't care if they were blood-related. If anyone talked about Francis like that, they were going to get it. "We... got in a fight, Francey..." He explained in a slightly gentler voice, eyes searching. "It got... pretty heated. Left us both nearly unconscious. That vase should have had me out cold and in the hospital, but..." He swallowed. Francis deserved the whole truth. "...but I had to get home to you." The American awaited anxiously for Francis' response. Angry? Disappointed? Happy? Scared..? Alfred searched his eyes nervously for hints of a response, hands still tenderly upon his cheeks.

Francis didn't realize that he was crying until Alfred spoke again and mentioned his brother's name. He could feel his stomach drop in his chest and his broken heart shrivel-- why couldn't the other just disappear? It was a terrible thing to say since Alfred and Matthew were brothers, he knew that, but he found that he... he didn't really care about blood relations anymore. The Canadian had hurt his own relative, leaving him bruised and bleeding when he was already so broken. It was so unfair. Alfred was so undeserving and oh, his next words. Francis didn't think anything less of Alfred for hitting his brother, since Matthew was a cruel man and had probably been provoking him. In fact, he might even have felt pride in what the other had done, if he hadn't been bleeding and Francis had condoned violence.

However, this was no time for being joyful. Alfred's three words... "I hit first." So soft; mumbled, almost incoherent. They were filled with so much guilt, as if this was somehow his fault. Just as Francis was about to speak, to tell the other that he needn't worry, that he didn't need an explanation for his actions, Alfred continued. Their eyes met, and Francis shook his head, hands immediately moving to touch the other's once more after they had parted; settling above his own cheeks, atop the American's. And then, it all began to sink in. Slowly, ever so slowly, he considered the words, then the colour suddenly drained from his face. "A-Alfred, I don't... I didn't..." He shook his head, holding onto the other's hands tightly. "...didn't want you to get hurt. It... it's not fair." He swallowed, suddenly feeling as if his throat was made of sandpaper-- dry and scratchy. The Parisian's face twisted; anger entering his expression. "Why did he do this to you..?" Francis just couldn't understand it. Alfred was a tolerant man-- what on earth could Matthew have said that made him angry enough to strike out?

"What did he say? Whatever it was, it's just lies. D-Don't... don't listen to him, Alfred. Oh Dieu, you're bleeding so much..." Oh. But then Francis had a moment to fully process the other's words. "The things he was saying about you. I couldn't take it, Francis. No one can talk about you like that... no one can say those things, not about you." He was silent for a moment, thinking it over as the silence hung heavy in the air. "W-Wait, you... you did this for me? Because of what he said?" He swallowed once again, feeling absolutely sick. "Mon Dieu, you... took a vase to the head because of me." This was his fault. Matthew had insulted Francis and Alfred had felt a need to protect him, simply thanks to learned association. Of course, he and Alfred were friends, but surely the other had simply felt obliged to stand up for him like that? "Alfred... what did he say about me?" He asked in a tiny voice, once again squeezing the hands atop his face that lay beneath his own. Francis didn't even know why he wanted to know; he just did. He wanted to know which words had angered Alfred so much and made him strike out so forcefully like this, so that he could then apologise-- comfort him and reassure him that the words were not true. At least he hoped that they weren't...

Oh, he should have lied. He should have made something up... then maybe, just maybe, he could have spared Francis some of the pain that now showed so clearly in his face. There was so much emotion there; sadness and helplessness, confusion and anger-- anger? Alfred looked a bit closer. No; he wasn't mad at him. Then... could it be Matthew he was angry with? "But I..." Not fair? For Matthew to hurt him? "...I hit first." He said again, voice worn, as his throat was suddenly dry too. If someone hits you, you have every right to hit back. But the Matthew he thought he knew would have never hit anyone, not even in defense. He would have turned the other cheek, most likely have apologised too, even if it hadn't been his fault at all. But the Matthew Alfred thought he knew was gone; perhaps he had never even there to begin with. He had no reason to hit back, because Alfred had only done what Matthew deserved. And he had no regrets.

Francis' next words came, and the American's heart felt like it was being crushed under added weight. "...it's just lies. Don't listen to him." Those are things that Alfred should be saying to Francis. Not the other way around. He didn't want him to know. Telling him what had been said would only wound him more. What if he believed those words? "Francis... l-listen, I don't... they're all just lies, I don't want you to have to hear them..." And then his expression changed again. Oh, it was too much, seeing that guilt in Francis' eyes sent his heart crashing painfully to the ground. "No, no... you didn't do anything, Francis, this isn't your fault." His hands caressed gentle circles over Francis' damp cheeks, being so very careful with him, even if it wasn't the Frenchman's face that was hurt. Of course he wanted, needed, to protect Francis and stand up for him. This wasn't out of obligation or pity; it was because he genuinely cared about him. And when you cared about someone as much as Alfred cared about Francis, you didn't let anyone go around talking about them like they're some kind of monster, or someone that deserved death. Alfred had fought Matthew because he wanted to. He didn't like violence, no, not in the slightest, but he'd positively craved to feel his knuckles against the Canadian's face. Alfred just ached to give him a taste of the agony that he'd caused Francis. But now he realized his desire to fight Matthew had been a terrible idea. Not because he regretted hurting Matthew; please, of course not. He couldn't care less about Matthew's well being. No; it bothered him because he'd somehow ignored the fact that he too would get hurt as he threw that first punch. And getting hurt meant worrying Francis, getting hurt meant making him upset and guilty. It meant making him cry.

"No..." His voice was broken, strained as he tried to force words past the lump that had formed in his throat. "Francis, I don't want you to... hear those kinds of things." The whole point of fighting Matthew was to stop those hateful words from being said, from hurting Francis further. And now the Frenchman wanted Alfred to personally deliver them to his ears. Their eyes met, and Alfred let out a shaking sigh, gently biting his busted lip. Maybe he'd just... tell Francis a little. Just enough to put him at ease and stem his curiosity, so he wouldn't be wondering. "He... God, he was... he kept saying you were heartless... that you... deserved what was done to you, that you couldn't feel it anyway." He shook his head slowly, dipping his fingers into Francis' hair and gently combing them through the long, pale strands. "...He tried to convince me to leave you here to rot... that you were only using me as a replacement." There was a flash of disgust and anger across Alfred's face. "It was like... he was disappointed that you hadn't... jumped." It hurt to finish that sentence. And suddenly he realized that he'd said way, way too much. "F-Francey, that's why I hit him. I couldn't stand it, I couldn't listen to him talking about you like that..."

Oh God, did it hurt most of all to hear those last words. Being reminded of what had occurred a few days ago made the Frenchman's heart drop in his chest. Alfred had seen Francis at his weakest moment, and he could never take that back. The Parisian had felt like depression itself, wanting to throw it all away because he was hurting. He had just wanted the hurt to stop. Was that really so bad? He chided himself upon that thought. Yes. Yes it was bad, because throwing his life away would mean throwing Alfred away too; cutting his time on Earth short and cutting their relationship off. The events would be simultaneous, and there was nothing that Francis could do to stop that. And to think that he had been so close to just ending it all without a second thought.

"Alfred, I..." He trailed off once again, the words sounding slightly slurred in his head. Had he really done that? What would have happened to Alfred after Francis... jumped? This man, this wonderful man, had punched his own brother simply for the sake of protecting his beliefs. He had openly refused Matthew's ideas and instead chose to protect Francis. He had got himself hurt for Francis' sake. Suddenly feeling dizzy, he swayed slightly, his arms twisting to clutch at the other's elbows. "No." He said meekly. "No, I didn't... I didn't want this. Not like this..." His hand moved back to touch Alfred's face, placing his fingers to one tiny spot where there were few cuts. "M-Matthew, he... he really wanted me to..." He increased his grip on the other's hand as he trailed off, feeling himself tremble. Asking Alfred to repeat his brother's words had been a grevious mistake; they brought nothing but pain for the both of them. Why hadn't he heeded Alfred's warning? The man knew best, after all. Francis put a hand over the hole where his heart was. Heartless? Matthew had called him... heartless? Was his way of loving really such a failure that the man now wanted him to die? "I don't understand..." He looked baffled, shaking his head as he looked up to Alfred. "I don't... all I did was love him. What went... wrong? Why does he hate me so much, and... why did he hurt you?" The hand was back, caressing and loving. "Alfred, you didn't do a thing wrong, not a thing..." He spoke softly, trying to somehow soothe the other's pain with his words. His head was reeling with hurt and confusion as he thought upon what Matthew had said, and he eventually became so caught up in himself that he didn't notice he was crying again.

Harsh, stinging tears fell from him eyes, running down his face and burning trails of moisture down his cheeks. "A-Alfred." He touched the other's mouth gently; tenderly. "Don't bite your lip, s'il vous plaît, you're going to make it worse..." It was his desperate attempt to keep talking, to hold on and not break down completely but... but... it didn't seem to be working. A small, hiccupping sob left his lips, finally breaking free and giving way to everything else. "H-He said he'd be happy if I died before, b-but..." He shook his head, feeling his body tremble more violently. He couldn't put his feelings into words. It was so heartbreaking to know that Matthew still wanted him dead, despite all of his efforts to love. Could he not love anything anymore? Right now, he should be caring for Alfred, but look where Matthew had got him once again. In floods of tears.

Clueless to the fact that all Francis was thinking of was him, Alfred just shook his head softly, feeling tears sting his own eyes as he watched them run down Francis' cheeks. The Parisian's expression was unreadable, but he wasn't happy, he wasn't hopeful... Alfred had come in here and completely crushed his good mood, delivered him things straight from Matthew's lips that he had never wanted Francis to hear. "No, no, Francis... don't try to make sense of his words... they're lies, they're not true. He's crazy, Francis... please, don't let what he said get to you..." Oh, his poor Francey; he could barely keep himself upright, his words slurred and filled with pure emotion, his touch too kind and gentle for someone who'd spoiled his happiness, made him cry. Francis had cried enough, he'd felt enough pain. He'd been doing so well whilst Alfred had been gone; staying positive and hopeful, packing what they needed and ridding himself of the past that had hurt him. Oh, and Alfred was so proud of him for it; for staying strong and keeping the good things in mind. They were both feeling dizzy, sick, but for entirely different reasons.'You should leave. Alfred thought to himself, breaking eye-contact with Francis and looked down, his eyes filled with guilt and crinkling sadly. Can't you see? You're the worst reminder of them all. When Francis mistook Alfred for Matthew, it hadn't been his fault. You have the same face as him, idiot. No wonder he mistook you. He'd caused him pain then, and he'd caused him pain now. For the first time in his life, Alfred had brought sadness and bad news into a room. He was so used to lighting up rooms as he walked in, being loud and friendly and making people smile. But he didn't care about other people. He only cared about Francis. And if he was making Francis' life harder, more unbearable than it already was, then he had to go. Maybe when he left, Francis' good mood and happiness wouldn't be cut short and ruined. So it was decided; Alfred had to disappear. For Francis' sake. He had been right; going back to France was the best thing for him. After all, he would be home, surrounded by people that didn't think he was different, that wouldn't hurt him. More importantly, he'd be far, far away from Alfred. He'd be safe.

"Alfred, you didn't do a thing wrong; not a thing..." Francis didn't even know all that Alfred had done. Alfred himself hadn't even realized all the damage he'd caused up until now. "Don't bite your lip, s'il vous plaît, you're going to make it worse..." Why was he being so kind, why was he worried about him at all? Oh, Francis' touch was so comforting, so gentle and soothing. And there he was again, tampering with his compass that pointed to home, making him want to stay by his side-- what a selfish thought; wanting to be with someone even if you knew it'd hurt them. Alfred's eyes flicked back to Francis' face. He had to attempt to fix what he'd done, he couldn't leave Francis like this. "F-Francey... don't... don't listen to him... he wants you to die because he's crazy. It's not your fault, Francis, you did nothing wrong..." Alfred wished his had more hands; then he could touch Francis' cheeks and wipe away his tears and at the same time hold his hands and stop him from shaking. He settled for just pulling him into a hug, one hand going up to stroke his hair. "None of it's true. You're far, far, from heartless, Francis. You're the kindest, most pure-hearted, most loving person I've ever met..." His voice was barely a whisper, and he just hoped that Francis choose to hear these words over Matthew's. "I-I don't think you're disgusting, I think you're beautiful... and... and I'm so, so grateful that you're okay... Francis, I-I would have never stopped crying if you'd... ended it. I really do care about you, hear? S-So damn much..." Truth kept spilling from Alfred's lips, and he wished he'd just shut up for once. Staying quiet would stop the tears from running down Francis' cheeks. Because everything Alfred had said up until now had only made things worse. And that is exactly why Alfred had to go. "I'm sorry..." The two words were barely said, quiet and pained. He prayed Francis didn't ask why he'd said them. Just shut your mouth. Alfred pressed a shaking kiss to the Frenchman's hair. You should just leave. Can't you see your 'help' is just hurting? He felt like a giant trying to rescue a kitten. Trying to help would only mean accidentally crushing Francis. Whether he meant to or not, he was only going to cause more damage. Let him go, you selfish bastard. He was only thinking of himself, this entire time..! Francis made him happy, Francis felt like home, he wanted to stay with Francis. Selfish. He dropped his arms, bangs shadowing his eyes.

What a poor, darling man Alfred was, explaining away what his brother's intentions were in order to protect his friend. It was quite heartbreaking to watch, really, and Francis was tempted to press a finger to the man's lips to silence him and tell him that it was alright, that he needn't explain. That Francis had already experienced enough pain from Matthew to know what the other wanted. The Canadian was like a small child-- seeming to have the ability to wreak havoc so effortlessly, creating mess as he went. Just a few of his words had completely crushed Alfred, had made him strike out and left him bleeding like this. But Matthew was also sly in the sense of how intricate his plan with Arthur had been. He had provoked Alfred until he was pushed to his very limits, and it seemed that words about Francis had been Matthew's ammunition. It wasn't fair that Alfred had been played around like this. It wasn't fair that he couldn't even feel safe around his very own brother. The man deserved peace, he deserved to be loved. And what had he received instead? Cuts and bruises and insults, most likely-- Francis doubted that Matthew would have stopped at him, he would have gone on to hurt Alfred in the same way, by playing with his emotions. The thought that Alfred was experiencing the same thing as he had made Francis feel sick. To have someone you loved so dearly turn again was heartbreaking, but... when that person was your brother? Francis couldn't even imagine how Alfred must feel. Your own flesh and blood, treating you so horribly, intentionally hurting you for their own sick enjoyment. Matthew didn't have one ounce of integrity within him, it seemed.

Francis looked up with a sniff, into those cerulean orbs, and he saw a hurt man, damaged and needy. He saw Alfred, his dear, precious Alfred. There was no mistaking him for Matthew any longer-- it just wasn't possible after what he'd done, even if Francis' vision was blurred by tears. This man was pure, kind-hearted, selfless, gentle-- so many things that Francis couldn't think of a way to say them all. He shook his head at the other man. "I-I won't. I won't listen to him... only you, Alfred." It was true. If Matthew was ever going to be out of his life then the Parisian needed to stop thinking about him altogether and never listen to him again. "I never want to... see him again." The words were soft-- practically a whisper. They felt dangerous to say; never seeing Matthew again? What utter madness. Oh, but what sweet bliss. "You shouldn't either. H-He's so cruel..." Even if Alfred and Matthew had the same face, they were two complete opposites. Francis vowed from that moment onwards to listen to the former and disregard the latter. He would only try and make him feel terrible, after all, since the Canadian operated with harsh words and violence. Just as he was making this promise to himself, he felt arms around him, pulling him in close. There was warmth, the same warmth as before; loving and secure. That feeling belonged to Alfred and Alfred alone. In his arms, Francis knew that he was safe and, almost upon instinct, he clung to the other, his own smaller arms wrapping around his back as the American began to speak. Beautiful words began pouring out of the other's mouth-- almost too unexpected to comprehend. "Kind. Pure-hearted. Loving. Beautiful." Alfred thought that he was... all of these things? "Beautiful". More beautiful than Alfred's cerulean orbs and sweet, shining smile that never failed to make him melt? More beautiful than his soft hands and the tiny dimples in his cheeks? More beautiful than his soft, wheat-coloured locks than shone gold and his broken yet somehow somewhat functioning heart (for even if he could not love, he was still as kind as ever)? Surely not... how was it possible to be more beautiful than Alfred was? The man was perfect. Tears still ran down Francis' cheeks, but they were more of a joyous shock than sadness. The words had made him completely fall apart. His hands still clung to the other's back, but his grip was tighter, somehow more needy.

Feeling his heart twist with a terrifying mix of emotions, he reached up with a trembling hand and tipped the other's chin towards the sky, so that their eyes could meet. "Alfred, I..." That name. He just... never tired of it, somehow. "Alfred, I should be apologising to you. I should be consoling you, not... not the other way around. Y-You're just so kind, even when you're like this, injured and hurting..." His hand shifted, fingertips ghosting over his cheekbones and the marks there, nowhere near hard enough to cause further harm, but just enough for him to feel. "Everything that you said about me, e-every beautiful/ word... I think the same about you, and more. So much more, Alfred. I can't even begin to say it all." The fingers travelled lower, towards his lips. No. They were bleeding and bruised, not fit to touch. He searched the other's face, breaking their gaze and setting cerulean free from cobalt in one careful movement. It wasn't that he didn't want to touch the other, oh no, but he wanted to find some way to help him. He needed some security, something strong to hold onto. Well, Francis would be his rock. Lifting himself up onto the tips of his toes, Francis leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss upon the other's forehead. Just that simple action somehow carried so much meaning. Unlike his usual displays of affection, this one was filled with love and affection rather than simple charm. It carried meaning that he hoped Alfred would feel as he leaned back down again and looked up at the other with a tender gaze. "Tu es un beau homme, Alfred." He finished quietly, switching back to his native tongue as he spoke.

There was something overlooked here, Alfred realized then. He'd jumped to conclusions; assumed that Francis' tears were out of pure sadness. And while there was grief here, it wasn't over what Alfred had so quickly suspected. He saw that now. His assumption that was Francis upset over the fact Matthew couldn't care less about him, that he couldn't be with him anymore, was entirely wrong. "I never want to... see him again." He's kidding himself. That's what Alfred thought initially, at least. But his voice. Francis was being sincere-- he meant it. "He is, Francey... he really, really is... I don't want to see him ever again either, I really don't..." The American's eyes were back on the Frenchman again, ocean blue locked with indigo. The idea of leaving for the sake of his best friend was slowly fading as Francis went on; not only with his words, but with his body language, his tone, his eyes. And then it hit Alfred; Francis didn't like Matthew. Duh, of course. Why should this be such a big breakthrough? But it was. Francis had done it; he'd pushed away the man who'd crushed him, gotten rid of any trace of rejected love that remained. Francis had thrown away the shards of his broken heart that had been so cruelly shattered, and then he'd dusted off his hands, stood back on his feet and gotten to work growing a new one, trusting those that... actually loved him. However, Alfred didn't know that the main reason Francis hated Matthew was because of what he'd done to Alfred. In fact, the American hadn't even considered himself through all of this madness. But at least his perspective was clearer, and he knew that he no longer wanted to leave Francis. Because the Parisian had made it very clear that Alfred was far, far from the same person as his brother. If he was really the worst reminder, Francis wouldn't want to be so... close to him. And yet he was. He practically clung to him every second that he could.

There were tears again as Alfred finished speaking, showering Francis with all the compliments he so deserved. But this time he wasn't as quick to jump to the conclusion that they were out of sadness. "Francis..." He hardly breathed as his chin was tipped up, their eyes locking. No, those weren't tears of sadness at all. Not of grief, not of loneliness. Call him crazy, but those looked an awful lot like tears of joy. The Frenchman's eyes were soft, filled with something warm and entrancing as he looked into his own. Alfred suddenly felt the urge to glance over his shoulder. Surely Francis wasn't looking at Alfred like that with so much emotion and love in his eyes. Oh, and there went that assumption too, completely up in flames as Francis reached forward and touched his face so gently. The wheat blond's breath caught, his eyes went round. He couldn't care less about Matthew. Not Matthew, or Arthur, or anyone else at the moment. Anyone else but Francis. "N-No... you've got no..." He gulped softly as those gentle, warm fingertips ghosted over his cheek; warm with a rosy blush and decorated with cuts. "...no reason to apologize. Or council me..." It was as if the closer Francis' fingers got towards his lips, the quieter Alfred's voice became. The Parisian was quite literally taking his breath away. "I'm okay, Francey, r-really, I am..! I'd do it again in a heartbeat, you know." And then his words were completely stolen and, although he was breathing fine, he felt as though he was under water, his chest tight, words unable to leave his lips. "O-Oh, Francis... you know I only say 'em because they're true..." He wasn't entirely certain the words had reached Francis' ears. Hell, he wasn't even positive they'd left his own lips. "Fra..." Alfred's heart leapt, his stomach twisted, the only thing he could clearly hear was his own heartbeat and the Frenchman's quiet, accented voice. With each new kiss they shared, they seemed to grow in meaning, reactions more powerful each time. It was only a kiss to the forehead, but oh, Alfred had never felt so much-- and then it ended, and the American was overwhelmed with the most tempting urge. He positively ached to just... what on earth did he want to do? Alfred blinked slightly in confusion. How could someone have such a powerful urge to do something, and yet have no idea what? Alfred let it go, ignored, it, pushed it away. His look of confusion was replaced with the same softened, tender expression that Francis wore. Now, Alfred didn't speak French, despite the fact that his best friend was from Paris. But he knew enough of other Romance languages to get a general gist of the quiet statement. His cheeks heated, and he found himself chuckling bashfully.

"But Francey, look at me, I'm a mess..!" Beautiful? With a black eye, a busted lip and a face covered in little cuts? Alfred's smile wouldn't go away, his cheeks wouldn't return to their natural colour. You're not really talking about how I look, are ya? He thought, heart fluttering. "You are too." And despite being beat up, despite the tear stains on both their cheeks, Alfred found himself entirely happy again. What a crazy, intense effect Francis had on Alfred. How could he make all his emotions go wild, how did he have the power to make him happy, just by being there? He'd gone from feeling guilty, to sick, to surprised, and now he just felt giddy with happiness. Let's move on, he thought to himself. No more crying, no more pain, no more Matthew. Alfred glanced over at the already packed bag on the table, his smile growing. "You're all packed up, Francey..! You ate something, right?" He asked, clearly caring very much about the Frenchman's well-being. "Hey, I'm just gonna go fix my face, and then... then we can go!" Alfred shrugged his bag off, showed it to Francis with a warm grin, then walked over to the table and dropped it there, beside the Frenchman's.

"But Francey, look at me, I'm a mess..!" Upon hearing these words, the Frenchman felt his heart lurch in his chest. At first, he couldn't figure out whether he was happy or sad, but after a few moments contemplation he realized that he was in fact joyous. And terrified. The knowledge that Alfred was able to translate his words was... an amazing feeling. Since he hailed from France, the Parisian was fluent in French and at first had sorely missed not being able to converse in the language properly, seeing as the general American knowledge of his mother tongue seemed to be quite limited. However, he didn't mind this too much and, as the weeks progressed, learnt to love English just as much as he did French. But despite this, just knowing that Alfred was able to translate something from the language of love made him very, very happy indeed. And such a heartfelt phrase as well. He felt honoured that, out of all the things he said in his native tongue, this phrase particularly Alfred was able to translate and comment upon.

"Une désordre?" Once again, Francis looked thoroughly confused, as did Alfred, at his words. He soon chided himself and returned to a more neutral expression; his gaze softening and his lips settling into the tiniest of smiles, his lips curling at the corners. "Mais, mon cher..." No, English, Francis, English. He wanted Alfred to be able to fully understand this. "I was not talking about your appearance only, but also your personality. Even after this, you..." Francis shifted, his fingertips once again brushing the other's face as if trying to soothe his injuries; draw the pain out of him with his hand. "You still smile. And laugh..." Tears began to gather in his eyes as he was drowned once again in the mixture of emotions that Alfred caused. They filled him up, made him overflow until the emotion spilled over in form of salt water. They burned his eyes, but he soon blinked and bid them descent, choosing to abandon his pride and maintain a clear vision of Alfred rather than cling to it and allow himself to be drowned in tears. However, along with the clear vision came a slightly clearer mind. Alfred needed to know what Francis felt, and a kiss just wasn't enough this time. He needed words. Actions sometimes needed to be accompanied by something verbal. The Parisian thought back to a few moments ago, when Alfred had said his name so many times, each repetition meaning the loss of a fraction of a syllable, until only the first few letters remained. Thinking upon this, his demeanour changed slightly. He seemed to become more... nervous. Why was that? He didn't know... "I-I did pack and eat, yes, but... Alfred, wait a moment." He crossed the room and walked over towards the other before placing his bag down, flashing him a small smile as he took his hand, taking a brief moment to intertwine their fingers. "Before we leave, I... I wanted to make sure that... this is what you want. For us to go somewhere else. I-I don't want to force anything upon you, but--" He broke off, sighing gently. The words just weren't working. He didn't know how to form the right sentence and deliver it in the right tone whilst still being subtle. He decided that he would have to be straight with the other man. "Alfred, can you please... tell me how to make you happy..?" The words were so gentle, so tender and so nervous that they were hardly even words. It was as if Francis was reciting a poem of some kind-- the sounds just seemed to flow together, the man voicing his thoughts straight to Alfred without any filter. That was either a very good or a very bad thing. However, the Parisian had little time to contemplate this as he looked up at Alfred, into his cerulean orbs, and suddenly felt a wave of emotion. It... it was something that he had felt before, most definitely. Something warm and comforting that reminded him of home in France and coffee in Autumn and warm scarves and smiles and walks on summer evenings and all the things that were good in the world. All the things that Francis loved. The heat... it seemed to radiate from Alfred. It was coming from his hand, from underneath his skin, from the places where their fingers met and brushed against each other. With a soft gasp, Francis realised that Alfred made him feel... home. What had the American said earlier? 'You are too.' You're beautiful too. Wasn't this what he had been searching for? The feeling of being accepted for who he was... that was how Alfred made him feel, wasn't it?

Along with every other beautiful thing about his best friend, Francis had a rather breathtaking voice, Alfred noticed then. He sounded different in English; it was a good different. But when he spoke French. Each word seemed to roll so naturally off his tongue, everything he said made Alfred's heart flutter, even if he didn't have a clue what any of it meant. The Frenchman suddenly didn't have an accent when he spoke; because he was meant and designed to speak the language of love. Alfred found himself in a near daze, only breaking his trance when Francis' words suddenly clicked in his brain. English. This, he understood. Oh, he understood... and what he heard made him want to check his pulse. "Well, that's... because you're here." The Frenchman's touches felt like paradise... it was like he really did take away the pain wherever his fingertips brushed. You make me happy, you know. That urge was back. Oh, Alfred wanted, needed, ached, craved; but he had no idea what.

At the soft sound of Francis' voice, Alfred looked over his shoulder, a bit of a sheepish smile on his face. Francis looks hopeful, the blond thought. He was filled with the strangest mixture of emotion; guilt and joy and happiness and bashfulness all simultaneously. Of course, when the Frenchman looked so... joyous, how could Alfred not feel the same? "Ah, Francey... I hate to tell ya, but I don't speak French..! 'Wish I did..!" No; he really did. It was a beautiful language, really, and it would probably fit awkwardly in his mouth and he'd probably sound strange and foreign when he spoke. But what was important was that he'd be able to talk to Francis. And Francis would be able to talk to him. He would have someone to speak his native tongue with... "Hey, maybe you can teach me someday...! French, I mean..." He smiled almost shyly, casting his eyes downward as his hand ran lightly over the edge of the table.

Francis sighed, knitting his brows. "Forgive me, Alfred. Sometimes, it... it becomes hard to speak English. I can't always translate every word..." His words were apologetic as he spoke, and he lowered his gaze a fraction, eyes flitting to observe his hands which he saw now were clasped tightly together, the knuckles white. Language wasn't exactly an issue for him, as he spoke English rather well, but there were times when he became overwhelmed and lost the power to translate. Now was one such time. As Alfred proposed a question, Francis almost lost it. In fact, he may not have been unable to understand the words at all had he not been concentrating so hard due to how tightly his hands were clasped together. "You... want me to teach you French? I-I..." Memories immediately flooded his mind; warm summer evenings spent walking around parks as the sun set, Matthew's hand tight around Francis' own as they were basked in a warm orange glow. He had taught him numbers, letters, words of affection, everything that he could until, one day, the Canadian was able to hold a conversation well. It had been joyous, listening to his boyfriend speak his own language. He was been filled with a sense of accomplishment, and found himself falling in love with the man even more. But then things had gone wrong. That warm orange glow had grown into a fire; hot, angry and dangerous. No longer comforting. The knowledge that Francis had passed on to Matthew had been used for bad purposes. On the day that everything had unravelled, Matthew had spoken in French as he told Francis how nice it would be if the Frenchman died. He couldn't go through that again, couldn't have something that he held so dear to his heart exploited so cruelly. But... this wasn't Matthew. This was Alfred. Alfred, who was sweet and kind and wanted to learn, who had a genuine interest in the language of love. Alfred wouldn't hurt him, he wasn't like his brother. Realising that he had been staring into space for quite a while now, Francis looked back at the American and gave him a soft, gentle smile. "I would be honoured to, Alfred."

And then Francis crossed the room just moments after Alfred had created space between them. He'd taken his hand, looked up at him like that, and spewed the most ridiculous words Alfred had ever heard. "What I want? Force me..? Francey, I was the one who suggested it..!" The American spoke gently, despite his disbelieving tone. Francis was far too... careful. Everything he said and did; it was like he wad contemplating it all. 'Is there any way at all that Alfred could take this the wrong way? Possibly ruin what we have? Hold on, try again, re-word, be careful, make sure. Don't ruin this.' Is that went though Francis' mind? Didn't he know that he could get away with murder and leave their bond still intact? Alfred had let himself get far too attached; his love for his best friend was there to stay. "Alfred, can you please... tell me how to make you happy...?" Those soft, tender words... didn't Francis know? Couldn't he tell?

Now the two of them were both speaking in English, and Francis felt his heart thumping in his chest as Alfred spoke. He didn't know what to say. The man was happy because of Francis' presence? Because he was there? "W-Well, I... I'm happy to be here with you, amour." Yes, that sounded about right. Truly, Francis didn't know what he was saying anymore. His heart was speaking for him now, with very little input from his brain. He was caught in a daze, gazing up at the other in a strange mix of wonder, awe and confusion. He was desperately trying to understand his own emotions, but then Alfred spoke again and Francis tried to concentrate on his words. "I just wanted to check. To make sure that I'm not making you feel obliged to go with me, even if it was your idea." Dammit, why couldn't Francis make himself understood? Talking to Alfred was so difficult, somehow-- his words seemed to dance around the man. He was afraid of hurting him, of saying something our of place, and seemed to end up never saying enough, it felt like. To him, at least. Francis clenched his hand again, the one that Alfred wasn't holding, turning the knuckles white. "But Alfred... what do I do? How... how am I making you happy? I'm not doing anything, so... what's making you feel like this?" He looked up once more, cobalt meeting cerulean as he searched for an answer within those blue orbs.

"Francis..." And there he went again; stealing the American's breath once more with those big, sweet eyes of his, how naturally their fingers locked together... was it normal for two people who were just friends to stand in the middle of a run-down apartment, holding hands and getting lost in each other's eyes? "You don't have to do a thing..." What was this? Hot, bright, home... Francis wasn't the only one the felt it. It was intoxicating, tempting ; this incredible feeling of belonging, of warmth. "You always make me happy..!" The corners of his lips turned up some in a tender, sincere smile. It was true. It was inexplicable. Francis could be broken, he could be a complete mess, he could be angry, or joyous, or exhausted, or doing nothing at all, and Alfred would still be happy. Simply because Francis was in his company, in his mind, his heart. The American was convinced that even if he were never able to see Francis ever again, he'd still find happiness in his memory. Just meeting Francis was a blessing, in Alfred's eyes. But even so, the thought of only having memories of the beloved Frenchman was far too painful to think about right now. Alfred wasn't going to think of being separated right now, he decided. After all, Francis was right here, staring up into his eyes, their hands were touching, and Alfred wondered if the other felt that same electricity wherever their skin made contact. What had happened to moving on? Well, this was different. Moments like this didn't count; time paused when it was just the two of them, like this.

He shook his head, hardly able to understand the words that Alfred was saying. "Not one thing..? Alfred, I... I really don't..." Blinking indigo orbs up at the American, he desperately tried to comprehend the idea. "I don't have to do anything? Just by... being myself?" What an astounding thought that was. So, Alfred was saying that, simply by existing, Francis had the power to make him happy? That there was no effort required? The Parisian found this strange because God did he try and make Alfred happy. He tried so hard. Francis had crammed the space in his head with all the various ways of making those three people happy. Matthew, Arthur and darling Alfred. Two thirds of the space in his head was filled with useless information now, only a depressing reminder of what Francis had once had, what he had once treasured. Not so long ago, that information had been absolutely priceless. His head was a library filled with so many wonderful ways to please his beautiful boyfriend, ways that he had been collecting over the months that he had known Matthew so that he might always have one way or another to make the other happy. As for Arthur... his space in the library was forever being added to, but it was still there; it still existed. It had taken Francis longer to crack open Arthur's shell than it had Matthew's. The Briton had to be unlocked, whereas over time the Canadian opened himself up for Francis. And as for Alfred... well, the two of them had become friends upon sight. Alfred wasn't difficult-- his friendship was precious, yes, but it was fairly easy to come by. Only now did Francis realise just how precious it was when he spent more time with the American and observed how he treated everyone in the same beautiful way. It was when he had realised just how similar the two of them were. Francis gave out love, whereas Alfred gave out kindness, and it was exhausting for the both of them. Doing what the two of them did every single day was no easy task; it took dedication and a real desire to make people smile. Arthur and Matthew received the majority of the men's affections, it had to be said. As kind as Alfred and Francis were to everybody else, their attention was sometimes focused upon the two men that they loved. It had been a wonderful setup, their relationship. Francis and Matthew in love, Alfred Matthew's twin brother, Alfred crushing on Arthur, Arthur (Francis had strongly suspected, though now it had tragically been proven to be fact) crushing on Alfred, and the four of them firm friends. Until the walls came crashing down around them.

"Don't you see? You don't haveto do anything. Making me happy; it comes naturally to you... I don't even think you realise you're doing it." Ocean blue orbs were softened with sincerity as they remained locked with those deep, indigo pools, so filled with emotion that it seemed they'd burst. And if there was one thing more enchanting, more breathtaking than Francis' eyes, it was his laugh. His laugh, his smile, his happiness... Alfred made a promise to himself. Francis' whole life was centred around making others happy, spreading love to the world, to everyone, even those who didn't deserve it. So Alfred vowed to himself, silently to Francis, to repay him. The world had beaten down on him. Those closest to his heart had crushed it. Alfred wasn't only just going to rebuild him; he was going to bring him all the happiness he so deserved. Alfred was going to make him laugh and smile so much he could hardly catch his breath, he was going to make his heart swell with bliss, his eyes well up with tears of joy. He was going to make sure he never cried himself to sleep ever again, never found himself lonely. All that rejected love and attention that Francis had so whole-heartedly offered to Matthew, well; Alfred was just going to give it right back to him. He'd do it himself. He'd return all of it, he'd make Francis happy.

"Hey... we can't stand here forever, can we?" Alfred's voice was soft as he broke the silence that had fallen between them, filled with excitement and gently urging. "I'll be right back..." Why couldn't he move? Letting go of Francis' hand would be a good start. He reluctantly did so, their fingertips shyly brushing before separating entirely. Alfred chuckled bashfully for his staring, almost as form of an apology, but what was there to be embarrassed about? Francis was doing it too. What was there to stare at? Alfred must look terrible right now..! He gently ruffled the Frenchman's hair, then turned, going to the restroom. Yep. He looked just as disgusting as he felt, Alfred thought as he peered into the mirror. Francis doesn't seem to mind. With that thought in mind, how much Matthew deserved what had happened and the realisation that he'd stood up for Francis, Alfred straightened his back proudly, then washed his face, and bandaged his little cuts. If Francis thought Alfred looked okay enough to stare at, then there was no reason to be self-conscious at all.

Francis didn't feel the time ticking by, and he might just have stayed there forever if Alfred hadn't spoken. He jolted slightly at the voice, startled by the sudden noise. The Parisian had been so deep within the other's eyes, it felt like he was drowning. Drowning blissfully. "I... I guess not." He gave a weak, nervous laugh, watching as their hands hesitantly parted, their fingers shyly separating. It was as if the two of them had never known anything of the outside world and only had each other to think about. "Alright." He added softly, raising his shoulders and laughing softly as Alfred ruffled his hair. God, why did his hands feel so good? Whether they were resting on his body, holding his own or tangled in his hair, they always felt so soft and perfect, bringing Francis a sense of comfort. He turned, watching as Alfred went through his bedroom door, heading for the bathroom, no doubt. Going over to the mirror by the front door, Francis looked at himself. His clothes were still intact, although his hair was a little messy, but still clean. There were a few stray strands sticking up here and there where Alfred had ruffled his hair, but his blond locks didn't look particularly out of place. Not wanting to change what Alfred had created, Francis opted not to touch his hair, though he did stop to brush a piece out of his eyes. As he did so, he noticed the small smears of blood on his hands from where he had touched the American. He rushed to the table and grabbed the first aid, taking out various bandages and antiseptic wipes, ready from when Alfred emerged from the bathroom.

After they parted, Alfred stood in front if the bathroom mirror, brushing his sandy blond bangs aside with his fingertips so he could press the last, tiny band aid to his forehead. He looked a bit better now. Well, as good as he could look, what with a cut lip, a face littered with tiny bandages and a black eye. Good enough for Francis. Francis didn't seem to care how he looked; only how he felt, only that he was okay. Francis... so kind, so caring. Alfred wanted nothing more than to get the hell out if this little apartment, to start fulfilling his promise to make Francis happy again.

The American pressed his hands to the edge of the sink, let out a sigh, and let his head hang forward. Blinking open his eyes after a minute, he noticed that they were smeared and stained a sickening red. Letting out a soft gasp, he lifted his hand in front of his face. Busted knuckles. He hadn't gotten blood on Francis, had he? This was nothing too serious, but he'd have to bandage his hand. And maybe-- he lifted a second hand-- yes, he'd have to dress the other too. Why do you have to go around worrying Francis? Alfred turned on the water and hissed softly in pain as the cool stream cleansed his cuts. You're supposed to be making him happy. But you'll only cause him anxiety, only make his hair go grey faster. The American knit his eyebrows, clenched his teeth as he washed his hands, the soap stinging painfully but doing its job as it cleaned out the tiny wounds. After a second or two, Alfred turned off the faucet then walked out of the bathroom, already headed to the first aid. When his hands were all said and done with, Alfred offered an excited, sincere smile to Francis. "Well come on, what are we waiting for? Let's get out of here!" A worn down duffle bag and whatever money he had was all Alfred had to his name. But he had Francis too. They could he homeless, they could be broke, they could be starving, but they had each other. And they had the whole nation in the palm of their hands, all theirs to explore. This is exactly what Francis needed. To be set free, let loose from this cage he'd built himself, for the Canadian's sake. He needed to see for himself how wonderful the world was, how much there was to live for and be happy about. How amazing life was, even without Matthew Williams. Alfred trotted to the door, pushed it open, smiled brightly at Francis. "Run away with me, Francey." The American extended his hand, offering it, open and welcoming. Promising. "I'll take care of you. I'll make you happy. Let's live, Francis."

When Alfred emerged from the bathroom and began speaking in a bright and cheery tone, Francis was standing at the ready with the first aid kit and appeared to be quite surprised when the American emerged already covered in bandages. Despite his desire to help the other, the Parisian couldn't help but smile at the sweet words and gesture, stepping forward and taking his hand, holding it gently. "Oui, Alfred. Let's run away together. You already make me happy, amant, but we shall leave this place behind and be free." He smiled, actually looking hopeful for a moment before he remembered their hands. Looking down their conjoined hands, he noticed that his own were still stained with red and immediately panicked. He recalled how Alfred had looked upon entering the apartment, how broken and bloody he had been. Francis didn't want that-- he needed to fix it, and fast. Loosening his grip upon Alfred's hand, he gazed deep into the other's ceruleans orbs, looking quite worried. "But first, Alfred, before we run away together..." He began in a soft tone. "You already took care of your cuts? Oh, I... I meant to do them for you. They didn't hurt, did they..?" Glancing down for a brief second, he remembered the blood on his own hands. "You're still bleeding. Please, let me bandage your hands. You can't go outside like this..." Stepping forward with a reel of bandages and an antiseptic wipe in his hand, Francis moved until he was standing directly in front of the American. "M-May I..?" He winced, looking down at the other's ruined knuckles, one hand still pressed against the door and the other intertwined within his own. "It might sting a little, but it'll help you." Francis really was eager to help Alfred, that was clear by the tone and the desperation in his indigo orbs, of worry for his friend.

"Oui, Alfred. Let's run away together." At those words and, oh, that smile, Alfred found his heart soaring, eyes glittering with joy. His first impulse was to grab Francis' hand, turn, and get out of this painful apartment, this aching town, and run until it was just them, free from reminders and everything that had let them down. ...we shall leave this place behind and be free. He was thrilled with the idea of rescuing Francis, showing him the land he loved; maybe the Frenchman would fall in love with it too. Maybe he wouldn't want to leave Alfred or his country, maybe he'd stay. Or maybe Alfred was getting ahead of himself. Their journey hadn't even begun yet. His wild, excited thoughts were scattered the moment the other's deep blue orbs met his. Francis was worried again. About him. The Frenchman was always one to completely neglect himself when those he was closest too faced the smallest of problems and threats. Everything seemed to worry Francis. He was always fretting, his eyes were always hinted with concern. Couldn't he let someone else stress a little, let someone else worry about him for a change? Someone like Alfred? "Okay, okay. But after this, no more worrying for you, yeah?" Alfred sighed, chuckled, and reluctantly took his hand from the door, offering it to his friend. He watched him for a moment as the other so carefully dealt with his wounds, not even noticing the stinging, for he was far too focused on Francis as his eyes softened with affection. "Thank you, Francey," The American spoke a few seconds before the other finished, offering him a sincere smile. "Now come on; I'm fine. Let's get outta here." Oh, how he craved to be free of this place, of the cute little story between himself and the three people that mattered most to him, of the little story that had gone so rotten and twisted so suddenly. Alfred wanted to rewrite his own story. He wanted to write it with Francis. The one person he trusted, the one person he needed. By now, his bright, unbreakable spirit was sparking in his eyes, locked with Francis'. A smile tugging at the corners of his lips, Alfred waggled his eyebrows, shouldered his bag. "Is there anywhere in particular you want to go? Or do you want to... go?" He said with a giddy laugh, gently squeezing Francis' hand as he pushed open the door, lead him downstairs, and finally, out of the apartment.

The Frenchman didn't have to save up for an unwanted wedding ring now. For once, he could spend the money on something for himself, somethings that'd make him happy. They walked down the sidewalk with their hands still linked, Alfred's pace a bit quickened. "This is amazing, this is so cool..!" He said with an excited smile, looking to Francis for a moment. "I haven't run away since I was a kid! And when I was a kid, I always went back home! Have you ever ran away? Oh, Francey, we could go anywhere!" His excited rambling seemed endless, and he continued to talk about just how wonderful it'd be to trash what had become of their lives, forget about it, and start over. Just the two of them. He only stopped when he began to fear that he was annoying Francis. If it were anyone else, he would have just kept on going until he was told to shut up, but Francis was different. He wanted, needed the other to enjoy this; running away.

Francis was distracted. Their bags were packed, they had supplies and the front door was right there, leading to a new world of opportunities. But somehow, Francis couldn't bring himself to open it. Not yet-- not now, when Alfred was still hurt. How could he ever be so selfish? "Thank you, Alfred. I'll try not too." He said with a gentle smile before taking Alfred's hand. It felt so strong, so large and so powerful, but yet it was so broken. So damaged, just like Alfred's heart. Francis took it into his hands with the utmost care and consideration, carefully wiping down and covering the wounds until they were no longer visible. Tying the last part of the bandage into a tiny knot, Francis looked up at Alfred as he spoke, faltering for a brief moment at the sheer amount of affection in his eyes. "You're welcome-- I'm glad that I could help you, Alfred." Despite the Parisian's concentration upon the man's hand, he always made sure to listen out in case the American spoke to him. Taking Alfred's hand in his own, Francis smiled, grabbing his bag from the table and hoisting it onto his shoulder. "Let's go." He nodded in agreement, having practically whispered the words he was so overwhelmed with emotions. Oh, and then there was that beautiful light as the door was opened, lighting up the room. Combined with the sparkle in Alfred's eyes, Francis felt like he was in heaven. So much light and hope, so much happiness... they were leaving this place behind for good. "Anywhere," Sounding breathless as he spoke, the Frenchman held tight to his friend's hand. "Anywhere away from here, as long as I'm with you, then I shall be happy. I am already happy, Alfred..." He added softly, wiping at his eye for a moment before lifting his head and looking straight on, towards the new experiences that awaited them. Francis was running on adrenaline-- he was taking two steps for every one large one that Alfred took, wanting to stay close to the man's side and not fall behind. At the other's excited exclamation, Francis looked up and met the man's gaze, matching his joyful expression. "It is amazing," He admitted, giggling like a little child but not even caring because he was with Alfred, and Alfred would never judge him, he knew that for certain.

"Ran away? Why did you do that?" He echoed, glancing up at the sky as he considered an answer, the endless bright blue immediately reminding him of Alfred's eyes. "As for myself, yes I have. To come to America, I ran away from my father." He admitted, not wanting to dull the other's happy mood but at the same time not wanting to lie to him. Alfred had asked a question, so he would receive an honest answer. "It was... liberating. My mother supported me and my decisions, but my father didn't. He didn't want me to study English, he wanted me to improve my French vocabulary and also learn Spanish. I disobeyed him by coming here, but... it was a good decision. A wonderful decision." He smiled, a look of true, content happiness upon his face. "It brought me to you, Alfred, and that is enough for me forever."

Alfred had never heard anyone make such a delighted, overjoyed little noise in his life. Like a sweet little child would, overflowing with so much glee that it could hardly be contained. That giggle of Francis' had Alfred's heart fluttering, and he once again couldn't help that urge from coming back. So powerful, so tempting it ached, but he still simply had no idea what he wanted so badly to do. This urge was entirely new; he'd never felt it before their perfect world had been shattered, shattered along with the Frenchman's heart. And now it was always there, nagging and tempting Alfred every time Francis smiled, or laughed, or cried, or said something beautiful. But once again, he stayed completely oblivious to what on Earth he craved so badly to do, Alfred shooed the familiar urge away. "Well," Their hands swung between them so naturally that Alfred was certain it'd feel awkward and strange if the constant contact was missing. "I ran away because I didn't like all the rules..! I didn't like getting in trouble for being bad, I didn't like being told to stop, come inside, don't do that, be proper. I was an unruly kid, I'll tell you; Mom had her hands full with me." He chuckled softly in memory, fallowing Francis' gaze and watching the gentle flow of the sky and clouds above their heads. His parents were long gone. Mom got sick, and suddenly there was no one left. Dad was off fighting, and Alfred waited every day for him to come back, expectantly sitting on the front porch like he'd magically appear if he hoped hard enough. It took the boy far to long to realize no amount of waiting and praying and hoping would bring Dad back. It wasn't as if Alfred no longer had a family. Oh, no; he wasn't alone. There was always going to be someone to look out for him. And he always had to be there for someone. Matthew and Alfred came as a pair, and they could only survive together. So they began their teenage years without parents and only each other and, somehow, they got along just fine. Alfred blinked up at the sky, a bit of reality dawning on him. For the first time in his life, Alfred had no family. The Matthew he knew and loved was dead. His baby brother would have never hurt Francis. His brother would have never hurt him. He would have never hurt anyone...

"Your father?" He questioned, his voice softened some as he looked down at the other. What a strange, intoxicating, numbing effect Francis had on Alfred. Being without a family hardly hurt at all; he'd barely even realized how alone he was when Francis was with him. Francis made it better. He was more family than Alfred could have ever wished for. "It brought me to you, Alfred, and that is enough for me forever." The Frenchman hadn't had it easy either. Making the decision to give up your family sounded even more painful then loosing them. "Francey.." Alfred smiled again. He simply couldn't help it when Francis looked so happy. "You softie. Quit tuggin' at my heartstrings, you'll make me cry." He joked fondly, only letting go of the other's hand to throw an arm around his shoulders, pull him into one of his affectionate side hugs. "'M sorry about your dad. But, in a way, I'm glad it happened. You wouldn't be here, you would have never met me without him, yeah? Shit happens for a reason." It was in Alfred's nature to say such a thing, to be an optimist and make light of a situation, but this time it really was true. Would their bond ever have gotten this strong if it wasn't for the horrible things that Matthew had done? The houses began to thin and become more sparse around them as they neared the edge of town, and Alfred lightly nudged the Frenchman, grinning some at him. "So if we're going to run far, far away from this place, we're gonna have to find another way to do it other than walk. What do ya think?"

Francis was stuck on Alfred's smile. He had never really realised it until now, but the casual expression had become a part of his life. It was like the sun-- warm and comforting, providing, familiar. Homely. It made him feel at ease, and without it, he sensed that something was missing. Without Alfred's bright sunny smile, Francis' world was plunged into darkness. "Really, that was the reason?" He looked intrigued, a smile upon his face. "Perhaps you could be called a rebel then, Alfred. It's a dignified title, in my opinion. Why follow the crowd when we can go our own way and be so much more?" Shifting his gaze from the sky, he met Alfred's cerulean orbs and felt his cheeks colour. "It seems that you have been this wonderful way ever since you were a child. Never one to conform... I like it. I'm sure that your mother understood." Francis smiled, doing his very best to try and replicate the joy that was in Alfred's own. He watched with interest as Alfred then turned to look up at the sky. It was so vast, so large... they both had an urge to explore and escape so, with this wide world around them, who knew where they would end up? "Oui, my father." He answered simply, but in a soft voice, not at all being rude but just providing a short answer. His father... how many years had it been now? Ever since he had started studying English, the man had hardly spoken to him. Ever since his dream of Francis learning Spanish, marrying and settling down had gone up in smoke. Well, he had tried to marry, but... that hadn't worked out. Perhaps married life wasn't meant for him, and he should be a traveller instead. But what about Alfred? What did the American want out of life? Francis made a mental note to remember these questions for later, wanting to ask his friend when the time was right. He was brought back to reality by the sound of Alfred speaking his name. Well, his nickname, anyway. That adorable, friendly little pet name that the American had for him. Whilst Alfred was addressed as 'love', 'dear', 'darling' or 'friend', Francis was simply 'Francey', and it was a name that he adored. "Oh Alfred, now please don't cry, you'll start me off." He joked softly, releasing a bout of airy laughter as he smiled back at his friend. His arm immediately moved to hold the other's waist, helping to press their bodies closer together, joined at the hip. "Don't be sorry, mon cher, it was not your fault. And besides, his views of America are completely inaccurate, so why should I listen to him anyway? He's the one missing out on these wonderful people and beautiful scenery." Francis' eyes, however, wandered towards Alfred for a rather long moment as he spoke, rather than the few buildings that surrounded the two of them. "But you're right," He continued, tearing his eyes away from the man next to him. "We must have been destined to meet, Alfred." God, what was wrong with him? He internally berated himself harshly-- why had he looked at the American when he had said that? Yes, Alfred was attractive, but Francis couldn't say that, that wasn't something that he could admit again! Not after the incident in his bedroom after Alfred's shower. Besides, they had left the apartment and all its memories behind. No more relationships like that-- there was to be no more love for Francis, he just couldn't unlock his heart again like that, not when it was still so broken, only in the process of mending. And God, Alfred, poor darling Alfred. Francis couldn't imagine how he was feeling after having his heart shattered by Arthur. Enough! He told himself, tightening his grip upon Alfred's hip. No more thoughts like that, you've left it all behind now. It's time to start a new life, a new journey with Alfred.

Francis smiled at his thoughts and also the nudge, looking up at Alfred happily. "I think that... you're right. But how will we travel? A... car?" He couldn't think of much else-- a bus wouldn't go far enough, and Alfred was right, they couldn't walk forever. They were only human, after all. "Did you have an idea?" He questioned softly, figuring that Alfred must have some kind of plan for them. If not, then they could work something out together.

"Hmm..." Alfred wet his lips, drummed his fingers on Francis's shoulder in thought. "A car... That's not a bad idea. But we'll run out of money; renting and gas, it costs too much." Voicing his thoughts, he paused, then came up with something. "That's it. We'll catch a train. I mean-- getting seats on a train half way across the country isn't cheap, but..." He trailed off, grinned, flicked his sapphire orbs down to Francis, rebelliousness glinting in his eyes. A look like that could only mean one thing. Mischief. Alfred was up to no good. "Or we could hop it." Voice lowered to a playful whisper, the American leaned in a little like he was giving Francis the rundown of their top secret mission. "We're not gonna spend a dime on transportation. We're gonna hop in one of the boxcars and not get caught doin' it, and then we're gonna let the train decide where we go. Whaddya say, Francey?"


Translations:

Une désordre? - A mess?
Tu es un beau homme, Alfred - You are a beautiful man, Alfred
Mais, mon cher - But, my dear

A/N: So, we didn't quite get there in time for Christmas, but we did work our socks off to get this chapter out in time for New Years..! Kind of XD Perhaps this can suffice as a belated Christmas present instead.
This was a long one-- we hope that it was enjoyable for you all! We're certainly enjoying writing it together ^^

As always, thank you so much for reading, and please do let us know what you thought in the comments below.
Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas to you all!!

Chapter Text

A/N: It's finally here! Time for a spot of freight-hopping.

Warnings: None!


Oh, this was what bad boys did. Bad boys ran away, they skated by, hopping trains and stringing quarters. But Alfred wanted to be a bad boy. He wanted Francis to feel it too; how wonderful it felt to rebel, to write his own story, to break the rules. He wanted to see Francis' eyes light up in the way they always did when he could hardly contain his happiness. He wanted to watch his chest rise and fall a bit quicker as the breathtaking feeling of freedom swelled in his heart. He wanted the cool summer wind to flow through those long blond locks of his, he wanted him to close his eyes as the setting sun made his skin glow and he wanted to hear him say how happy he was that he didn't take his life, because he loved living.

A happy sigh escaped Alfred's lips at the thought, and he closed his eyes for a moment, bowing his head forward and letting it touch Francis'. "Talk to me. Tell me what you want." Alfred wanted freedom. He wanted to explore, he wanted to throw away their past and allow them to make their own story. But more than anything, he wanted Francis to be happy. Francis, the only one he trusted. His best friend. His home. His family. The man he'd take a bullet for without a moment's hesitation. The only person in this entire world that he loved. This wasn't about himself. This was about Francis. This was his escape, this was about making him happy. And if Alfred's vision was different than Francis', so be it. They'd do whatever made him smile. No more worrying. No more pain, no more heartbreak. No more having to constantly shower someone who didn't care about him with material things, love they never wanted. No more feeling unwanted, alone, fragile, broken. None of that for Francis. The American opened his eyes, offering the Frenchman a gentle, reassuring smile. It was a smile that wordlessly said that Francis was even more important to Alfred than freedom.

"We don't... have to go with my plan. Not if you don't want to. Hell, if you told me you wanted to turn around right now, then that's what we do." It was obvious by the smile tugging at the corners of his lips and the affectionate softness in his eyes that Alfred was being sincere. When you cared about someone as much as Alfred cared about Francis, their happiness was all that mattered, nothing else.

Francis let out a gentle sigh, exhaling slowly as he delighted in the feel of Alfred's soft fingers upon his shoulder, watching as Alfred licked his lips. "That's true... you're right, Alfred, we don't have enough money to afford all that." He hummed softly in concentration, trying to think of a new solution when the American posed one himself. "A... train? But Alfred, those are so terribly expensive. I-I don't know if we can afford to do that either..." He trailed off as well, meeting Alfred's gaze and catching that rebellious look in his eyes. The Parisian found himself curious as the man leaned in towards him, voice hushing to a soft whisper, as if he were about to spill all the secrets of the world with Francis.

"Hop it?" He echoed in the same soft tone, looking up at Alfred with the same mischievous glint in his eyes. "That sounds like a good idea." A playful smile formed upon his lips. "And it won't cost us a dollar. I say yes, Alfred." Oh, this felt wonderful. Francis felt so liberated. With Alfred, everything was just so easy. He wasn't uptight, wasn't cruel, wasn't seeking to exploit anyone. He just wanted to have fun and help people, and didn't mind bending some of the rules along the way. Well, neither did Francis. What Alfred had described sounded wonderful. No painful decision making, they would simply let the train take them to another place. They would be free spirits, riding on the wind and rising with the sunset. No house or home to be seen, except for with each other.

Francis was broken out of his daydreaming when he felt something soft again his face. Blinking in surprise, he saw that it was Alfred's forehead, pressed up against his own, so close that their noses were mere millimetres apart and Francis could feel the man's breath upon his lips as he spoke. When the question was proposed to him, he was momentarily at a loss for words, something that didn't generally happen to Francis. But with Alfred, it somehow seemed to be a frequent occurrence. "What I... want?" He echoed softly, gazing across into the American's cerulean orbs. "I... nothing in particular, just to..." He paused, trailing off and going quiet for a moment before taking a shaky breath in. "I want to get on that train with you, Alfred. I want us to travel, to escape and go far away from here."

He broke to smile, a light chuckle leaving his lips as he raised his brows a little, almost in disbelief of his own words. "Can you imagine? You and I will be happy. That's something else that I want, Alfred. For you to be happy, and... and for your heart to mend." As he spoke those last six words he dropped his gaze, as if they shouldn't have been uttered in the first place. They felt almost forbidden, those words, because, even if they ran away, they were tethered to their hearts by chains, and if they didn't heal, then how could Alfred and Francis ever hope to do so? The Parisian's forehead was now brushing Alfred's nose-- he could feel the cool metal of his glasses, a welcome sensation to his burning face. When had he begun blushing..? Daring to look back up, Francis was greeted with such a sweet smile that he couldn't look away, couldn't do anything but immediately smile back. The coolness from the glasses had proved to be a short-lived relief, as the Frenchman's face was now burning once again. "I'd like to, it's a very good one. It won't cost us anything, and we'll have a little private carriage all to ourselves." He said playfully, feeling quite excited about the prospect of hitching a ride from a boxcar of a train. "As for turning around, I definitely don't want to do that." Francis smiled, turning a little and readjusting his hand around Alfred's waist before beginning to walk once again.

Francis felt his cheeks colouring as he was met with Alfred's gaze, those two sapphires sparkling at him, even whilst the rest of his head was lowered. "Oui," He chuckled softly. "I do, Alfred." His expression changed slightly, becoming more sincere. Alfred had to know his feelings, and that meant that Francis needed to be open with him. "I want that too, really, I do.." Once again, he found himself tongue tied. "You and I will be happy", Alfred had said. Both of them, together. All of those wonderful things that Alfred had described and talked about doing, he wanted to do with Francis.

The Frenchman felt his heart swell with warmth as he made this connection, and took Alfred's hand within his own. "Thank you, mon cher. We'll do all that together and much more. I promise you." It felt so right when they were close like this, gazing into each other's eyes and talking. The Parisian couldn't help but join in with Alfred's laughter, nodding his head in agreement. "It definitely is; much classier." He winked back at the American in a playful manner, taking his arm in exchange for his hand as he was steered in a different direction, towards the train station. It felt quite strange to suddenly be around people again after spending a whole evening, night and morning alone with Alfred. He found himself clinging to the American, as if he were afraid of their surroundings. "A-Alright," Francis leaned in towards the other, making sure that he could hear every hushed word he said. "We'll stay close together." He nodded as if to reassure himself, though that playful glint was still bright within his eyes and there was an excited smile upon his face.

How on earth could he not smile? It was like Francis had stolen the words from his lips, the thoughts from his mind. When the Frenchman looked up, he was met softened eyes, glittering with delight, and a warm, joyous smile. With a bashful chuckle, Alfred looked down, dipping his head slightly. "You know I was thinking the exact same thing, don't ya?" He didn't lift his head, just his eyes, meeting the Parisian's once again. "I want to get on that train with you, Francis. I want us to travel, to escape and go far away from here." His words mirrored Francis', but they expressed exactly what he wanted to say himself. "You and I will by happy. That's what I want, Francis, for you to be happy, and for your heart to mend." The American was tempted to lift the other's chin as he looked down, tell him it was all okay, but he resisted, instead smiling in gentle reassurance. As cute as that blush of his was, what was there to be embarrassed about? They were thinking the same, feeling the same, after all. Francis wasn't alone.

"That's right," Alfred laughed, happy to see Francis being playful, joking and relaxing and smiling. "Our own little carriage! A boxcar is far more classy than normal, boring seats on a train, right~?" He teased, winking. Quite satisfied with their plan, Alfred steered the Frenchman in a slightly different direction, towards what he knew was the train station. "We have to be sneaky," The blond explained in that playfully hushed voice, guiding the other to sit with him on the wooden bench where passengers waited to board. "When the train comes, just follow my lead, okay?" Excitement bubbled in his chest, and he saw it in Francis' expression too. How wonderful this was going to be. Just the two of them, breaking the rules, living their lives to the fullest, letting the road decide where they went.

More than an hour must have passed, but it felt like no time at all. The two men simply talked about everything and nothing at all, enjoying each other's company and letting their worries slowly fade away. It wasn't until the harsh sound of metal on metal, heavy wheels running on a railroad, filled Alfred ears was he jerked back to reality. Oh, right; they were going somewhere. Where, God only knew. But as much as both he and Francis would be entirely satisfied just sitting there and talking for the rest of their lives, there was much more to see and do. The American shot Francis a thrilled grin, squeezing his hand. "Okay, okay, follow me." With gentle urging, Francis was lead away from the bench, away from the other people waiting to board, and into the slight thicket near the train tracks. As the train rolled into the station, Alfred ducked into the bushes and gently yet protectively hid his friend too.

"We have to wait until everyone gets on. That means the conductor too; he can't see us." Alfred explained their mission with a twinkle in his eyes, and he gestured to the back of the train, the open, unused boxcars attaching themselves there. "When we hop this train, it's gonna be moving. This isn't going to be easy, and we have to time it perfectly so we can get in one of those boxes as it comes by." Alfred mentally agreed with himself that if, for any reason, Francis wasn't able to make it onto the train or was caught, they would stick together. Alfred was going to be by his side through this; this mission could only be a success if they both made it.

Francis didn't even feel the time passing, despite his nerves. Talking to Alfred set his mind at ease, and he felt calm. They talked until the time to board began approaching and Alfred shot him an excited grin. He could hear the train approaching-- the sweet noise of their escape, the wonderful thing that was going to carry them off across America, far away from this place that they had once called home. They were starting anew. No difficult relationships, no burdens, no worries; just the two of them with the world as their oyster. He squeezed the other's hand in return and eagerly followed after him, holding tight to his hand as Alfred ducked down into the bushes and pulled Francis down with him.

In any other situation he would have been fretting about his hair, but he was so excited and so high on adrenaline that he couldn't quite bring himself to care. "We do? Alright..." He cast a glance towards the station, watching as people boarded the train, before following Alfred's gesture and eyeing the boxcars. Looking up at the other man, he gave his hand a squeeze. "Could you... go first, Alfred? Show me what to do, and then I'll catch up with you." The sound of a whistle signified that the train would be on the move soon, the conductor heading back towards the train, preparing to board.

"Yes..." He whispered, not allowing himself a glance at Francis. A glance at Francis meant getting lost in his eyes, it meant the rest of the world fading when they began talking. It meant missing the train. It was a familiar pattern Alfred had noticed; the other was distracting him more and more these days. It could be anything; he could be smiling, or laughing, or talking, or doing nothing at all, and Alfred simply couldn't tear his gaze away. It was dangerous, really. Alfred had been sure he'd bump into a tree or a pole when they were walking earlier. He'd found himself unable to lift his gaze to anything other than Francis'. And then the other day, too. In an effort to pour coffee, Alfred had nearly spilt half of it all over the countertop, simply because he was too focused on Francis' lulling, sweetly accented voice. But today he'd resist! For this essential moment, at least, he could stay focused.

"Wait for it..." Francis may have to run a little in order to catch the train. But he could do it. He was strong and, even more importantly, he was motivated. The conductor got on the train and the door closed, and suddenly the metal beams that turned the heavy metal wheels began to turn. With one last reassuring squeeze to Francis' hand, Alfred stood and ran, jumping up onto the dusty wooden floor of the last boxcar. He fell to the floor, the hay serving as minimal cushioning, the sudden feeling of being on a solid, still surface causing him to loose his balance. But it was no matter; there were more important things to worry about.

"Francis!" He called, the train speeding some. Alfred sat on his knees, chest and head sticking out of the car's gaping opening, the speeding wind already tousling his hair and shirt some. Alfred offered out his hands to help the other up, reaching in for the Parisian. Francis wasn't the only one high on adrenaline; Alfred's stomach was twisted into knots, his head was spinning. His heartbeat sped with each heavy sound of metal on metal, each even puff of steam that spiraled into the air.

The Frenchman had to make it. There was no way Alfred could ever leave him behind, back here in this painful town, all alone again. No; all he wanted to do was to help his friend onto solid ground, pull him away from the opening and the danger, wrap his arms around him and tell him how relieved he was that he was safe now. But Alfred couldn't daydream about what he hoped would be the near future now. This moment was too intense, too critical; hesitations or distractions were risky. Alfred worried and waited-- it was all he could do-- eyes round and hands out and heart pounding as the surroundings blurred with the train's speeding pace.

Hearing the other's soft whisper, a bright smile appeared on Francis' face. "Oh Alfred, thank you. Merci beaucoup." He whispered back softly, squeezing his hand and looking up at him. The man looked so alert, so focused upon concentrating, his cerulean orbs watching the train like a hawk. For the sake of not breaking Alfred's focus, Francis kept silently, keeping quiet as he crouched down next to the American, waiting patiently until it was time. God, he could wait for hours if it meant he could look at Alfred. The man's face was somehow so... so captivating. Francis felt completely drawn to his gaze despite the fact that it wasn't locked with his own.

"Wait for it..." He echoed softly, watching with ever-growing nerves as the conductor disappeared inside the train. When the wheels began turning, it made him jump with a strange mix of excitement and fright. Far too soon, Alfred's hand left his own and he watched in wonder as the American began running, a blond blur with eyes as blue as a September sky. He jumped, launching himself sideways and jumping into the boxcar. Francis felt his breath hitch, knowing that it was now time for his part. For a horrible moment, the Frenchman thought that Alfred might have fallen out of the other side or something dreadful like that, but was soon reassured as he saw that same blond head poking out of the window with his shirt, one of Francis' own, flapping madly in the wind.

Knowing that he had to hurry and not get caught up in the American's appearance, Francis hastily stood up. However, he did so with a soft cry, half crouching down again as a sharp pain shot through his scalp. His hair had somehow become tangled in the bush they had been hiding in, a few locks caught in one of the branches. Desperately pulling at his hair, Francis tried to free himself, willing to pull the whole lot out if it meant that he could get away from the plant. With a final harsh tug to one side, he managed to break free, though not without part of his hair ripping clean out, tangled up in the bush.

With tears in his eyes, he stood up fully and began sprinting for his life, breaking into a speed he didn't think himself capable of. He could see Alfred in the distance, hands outstretched towards him. Dieu, I'm not going to make it, he thought, feeling his heart twist fearfully as the boxcar headed further and further away. Then, all of a sudden, he heard Alfred calling his name. Oh, that voice... who was he kidding? He could never leave that beautiful voice behind.

Pushing himself to his absolute limits, he reached up, arms outstretched towards the man. "Alfred!" He called back, surprised to hear that his voice sounded almost as if he was crying. And then, all of a sudden, his hands met the American's and he held on for dear life, looking up at him with teary eyes, one hand grabbing the train as he desperately tried to climb up. His backpack weighed him down heavily and in a terrifying moment he thought that he would fall to the ground and be left behind. Their surroundings were now speeding by, and Francis was terrified. This was not an emotion that he experienced often. The majority of his feelings were indeed happy ones (well, they used to be, at least), which made this situation all the worse. "Alfred, please, help me!" He cried, scrambling at the side of the train and looking up at his friend with desperation in his face.

If Alfred thought he was scared for his friend a few minutes ago, he was terrified now. Worry and hope mixed uncomfortably in his chest, and all he wanted to do was to pull Francis to safety. Oh, but was he slowing? Or was the train speeding, making it impossible for him to catch up? The American risked a half-second glance as the blurring ground. If Francis couldn't make it, he promised himself that he was going to jump. Even if he broke a few bones and got even more beat up than he already was, at least he would be with Francis. To his surprise, worry, and utter delight, Francis began to ran faster. If it wasn't for the desperate look on his face, the way he cried out his name, Alfred would have smiled and cheered him on.

He reached out further, eyes round and chest rising and falling quickly, even if he wasn't the one running. Alfred was sure there was no better feeling in the world than the contact between their hands, that slight touch meaning both of them were no longer helpless. "Francis..!" He cried, gripping his hand. Taking his other hand meant the possibility of lifting him to safety, but it also meant the Frenchman had to trust him. The only way to hold onto Alfred's hand in a situation like this meant he had to let go of the speeding train. Finally, both their hands met, and one of Alfred's moved to grip Francis' wrist.

With every ounce of energy he had, the American stood and used his strength and gravity to heave Francis up. Alfred was just as desperate, tears beading in his own eyes as he struggled to lift Francis into the train. And suddenly it worked; gravity was no longer needed, but it still worked to pull Francis up, and suddenly both the American and the Frenchman crashed to the wooden floor or the boxcar. Alfred immediately feared that, if they lost control, one or both of them could fall out of the opening opposite of the one he'd just pulled Francis through. Gripping the other in desperate resistance to such a horrible outcome, Alfred moved into the boxcar until their backs sunk into a bed of hay, and the doors were too far to be a danger to either of them.

Alfred let out a heavy sigh, relief washing over him. This sense of relief was nearly as strong as the one Alfred had felt pulling Francis from the edge of the roof the day he'd nearly ended his life. Oh, but this was better, because this time, there was only happiness to couple their relief. "Francis..." He sighed happily, holding his friend as close as he could to his chest, hand resting on the back of his head. "H-Holy shit, Francis..!" He laughed this time, breathless and overjoyed and oh so relieved. "Are... are you okay? Oh my God, I had no idea you could run so fast..! God, you're amazing..." He breathed, laughed, sighed. Francis was was okay. He was okay, he was safe. They were together.

Oh God, he was falling. He was going to die, his hand had been moved from the train. He didn't want to die, not now, not when he'd found this hope-- all of a sudden there was warmth. Alfred's hands needily grasping his own, holding on tight. Francis felt the fingers close around his hand and move to his wrist, moving as he was pulled up and up. Looking towards Alfred, Francis gasped as he realised the man was standing up, not holding onto anything but the Frenchman's body.

Then suddenly, he was falling, but not backwards, not into the path of the train track. Not into death. He was falling forwards, landing on top of Alfred as the two of them rolled into the boxcar and ended up on the floor. Francis could feel the American's arms tightening around him, and he hastily shuffled his backpack off, pushing it into a corner where it was safe, before holding him back tightly. They had... survived? He blinked in disbelief, feeling his eyelashes press against Alfred's clothing for a moment from where his head was buried into the man's shoulder. He could still breathe, still move, still talk-- wait, could he even speak?

"Alfred...?" He said tentatively, sounding to be in a state of disbelief. A smile crept onto his face as he registered the voices of Alfred and himself, slowly lifting his head to come face-to-face with the other, the other's hand still resting comfortably upon the back of his head, fingers nestled within his hair. His hair. Oh God, how much of it was lost? Was he bald? Lifting a hand, he hesitantly touched the front of his head, feeling the soft locks make contact with his skin, and then proceeded to burst out into laughter.

"Oh-- oh, Alfred!" He giggled, holding the other close. "I'm fine, I'm fine..! But what about you? Dieu, you must be so strong! However did you lift me up like that?" Feeling giddy with excitement and disbelief, he wiped at his eyes. "I-I thought I'd die, Alfred, but you saved me. You saved me again, merci, merci beaucoup..." He rambled on, holding the other close and shaking his hair. "My hair, it got caught in the bush. I couldn't move, couldn't get it out. I thought that we would be separated..." At this, he sunk forward, laying his head upon Alfred's chest, leaning on one side so that he could still see. "I thought I'd lost you..." His hand shifted, gripping the American tightly, as means of a beautiful, safe reassurance. "Dieu, I must have a bald patch now." He laughed, still in disbelief.

Francis was clinging onto to him, quivering, his breath was coming out too fast and Alfred could only assume his heartbeat was no steadier. Unwelcome worry washed over the American again, who immediately assumed the worst. Oh no. What if all this stress, a second near-death experience, was all just too much for poor Francis? He was still healing; he shouldn't be jumping trains..! He shouldn't be worried about being abandoned, loosing his only friend right now, let alone his life..! This was too much excitement for a man who'd just lost everything, too much for anyone, really, what had Alfred been thinking..!--Francis was laughing. Their eyes met, and the Frenchman dissolved into a fit of those sweet, relieved giggles, his wobbly smile and the fact that he was here at all making that urge come back, stronger than ever.

"How did I lift you up? How did you run so fast..?! I honestly thought I'd have to bail from this train, but then you went and beat it..! With a backpack too! Damn, Francey..!" He praised, sincerely proud, giddiness, excitement, and disbelief matching between the two of them. "I wouldn't let you die.." He breathed over Francis' rambling, voice light and playful, meaning serious and true. Alfred just laughed, pulling the other tight into his arms again, smiling and just enjoying the feeling of being so close to Francis. Oh, he was safe. Thank God. Alfred's heart fluttered strangely as Francis laid his head on his chest, his words nearly inaudible over the thundering pulse of the American's own heart in the ears.

"Wait-- your hair got tangled in a bush? And you yanked it out? Jeez, Francey!" He laughed, knitting his eyebrows and letting his free hand carefully stoke the Parisian's long, soft hair. "It's just a little thinner here, no bald spot. Your hair is enviable as ever~" Alfred reassured him, fingers rubbing light, gentle circles against Francis' sore scalp. "Oh, poor guy... that's gotta hurt." He cooed gently, clicking his tongue in affection and pity. "Maybe..." A soft chuckle fell from the American's lips. "Maybe we should have just gotten tickets..!"

If Alfred would pay a little less attention to Francis for just a second, he'd look around and take back his words. The view from the gaping openings on either side of the boxcar was breathtaking, nothing that could be seen from a window. The rails and roadsides blurred right in front of them, and the landscape stretched beautifully across the opening of the car like a painting on a canvas. The blue of the sky and the gold of the fields, dotted with the green of trees, all enhanced by the late afternoon sun, glowing orange and hopeful on the horizon. Such a view was stunning, and breathtaking. Yet Alfred still couldn't tear his gaze away from the Frenchman resting against his chest.

Once Francis started laughing, he just couldn't stop. Giggles flowed freely from his mouth, filling the air, almost sounding in time with the clickety-clack of the train wheels as they travelled. "I didn't have a choice!" He exclaimed, doing his best to speak through his never-ending laughter. "I had to catch you up, Alfred! Besides, my backpack has the first aid kit in it. I couldn't leave you alone without it." Despite his reasoning, beneath his words Francis was blushing madly in response to being praised so much.

Opening his mouth to speak, to laugh again, to do something to distract Alfred's gaze from his burning cheeks-- and then he spoke. It was a soft voice that he spoke in, the words so tender and gentle that Francis thought he would cry. "I... I know, amour. Thank you. I would not let you, either. Truly, I wouldn't..." He simply lay there, silent and content, letting his words drift into the air, only moving when Alfred spoke again. "Oui, I know." He sighed. "It's a tragedy! My poor hair.." As he spoke, it was clear that he was partly joking. Yes, he cared greatly about his appearance, but he wasn't so self-centered as to completely freak out over a little piece of lost hair. "Joking aside, I don't think that it's that bad... is it?"

He paused as he felt Alfred's soft hands travelling through his locks, feeling his breathing calm slightly. Having those strong hands performing such a gentle movement felt wonderful to Francis, as if Alfred was sacrificing something in order to be so kind to him. He whimpered at first, his scalp feeling too sensitive to touch, but then he was able to relax some as the movements continued, knowing that Alfred was doing this in order to help him. "Thank goodness. That feels nice..." Exhaling happily, he smiled. "It did hurt, oui, but what you're doing is helping me."

The Frenchman's soft, pained whimper made his heart ache, his eyebrows knit slightly. "Sorry, sorry..." He murmured, lightening his touch slightly, continuing to massage the gentlest of circles into Francis's sore scalp. And there Francis went again, bringing back at urge, making Alfred's heart flutter in the strangest, most foreign way. "I'm glad it feels nice... That's kind of the idea..." Why did making Francis happy always bring on a such landslide of emotion? The American brushed it aside, labeling the emotion as his own friendliness and his fondness for his best friend.

His laughter soon died down and, relaxing into Alfred's touch, Francis sighed softly, sensing the pain slowly begin to fade as it was replaced with a feeling of comfort. "Ça va bien, ami." He said gently, a light moan falling from his lips as he closed his eyes for a moment, becoming lost in the feel of his friend's soft hands. "Oh, Alfred, it feels so good-- merci beaucoup, cher..." The sore, red spots upon his scalp were still tender, but the pain was dull and Alfred was somehow managing to make it disappear as his hands worked. A smile made its way onto his lips. "Mm, if I am to be pampered like this then I won't worry so much about my lost hair."

Francis lifted his head a little and broke into another fit of laughter, shifting so that he could see the American, meeting his gaze. "Maybe we should have bought tickets! Oh, but Alfred, just look at the view.." He couldn't help but turn to the side once more, looking out to the world beyond the place they could currently, temporarily, call home. Francis stared out of the door, completely in awe, all the while squeezing Alfred's hand.

"Don't you think that it's just breathtakingly beautiful, Alfred..?" He asked softly as he turned back to the American, surprised to find that Alfred was already looking back at him, rather than the outside that was rushing past the two of them. He inhaled slowly, looking across at the American with curiosity and... something else in his eyes. "A.. Alfred..?"

"Don't you think it's just breathtakingly beautiful, Alfred..?" Francis's voice was so soft and breathless, so beautifully accented. His voice was like a lullaby, something that Alfred could easily drift to sleep listening to. For once Alfred didn't want to look out into the distance, nor take in the view, because the sight before him fit Francis' description just fine. Sky blue eyes softened behind thinly wired glasses, and when both he and the Frenchman realized he was staring, Alfred could come up with no explanation or excuse as to why other than the fact that Francis was beautiful.

"Hm..? Oh-- yeah." He managed, somehow snapping out of his daze and tearing his eyes away from the Frenchman to look out the opening of the boxcar. He took a double-take, and then his expression softened again in the same affectionate way it had when he looked at Francis, the faint smile gracing his lips growing. "Yeah... it is, isn't it?" Alfre breathed. He stood, his shoes making a soft tapping sound as he crossed the wooden floor of the boxcar to the edge of the side opening. Alfred placed a hand on its rusted metal frame, tilting his head slightly as he gazed out into the land he called his home.

In Alfred's eyes, there was a short list of things that were simply beautiful. No thought or opinion required; the sky was blue, the leaves were green, and some things were just beautiful. All of these things, they were all facts. Some things were factually beautiful. Things like the American's homeland; golden and stretching for countless miles, the green of the trees and plants blending with the fields and the colour-soaked sky, everything drenched in warm, soft sunlight. Things like Francis' smile, his laugh, the way he used to look at Matthew, so much love in his deep blue eyes. Alfred let out a dreamy sigh, eyelashes fluttering. His hair, the colour of the golden fields of wheat before them, blowing gently in the breeze. "It sure is pretty, ain't it?" Alfred was content just gazing out into the distance for some time, feeling more at peace than he had in a long time. There was no place in the world he'd rather be right now, he realized. No one he'd rather be with than Francis. He didn't want to share this with anyone other than him.

Francis had been looking at Alfred for a while now, after turning away from the spectacular view outside. There was a long, quiet moment where the American simply stared at him with those blue, blue eyes. Francis felt as if he were drowning for a moment, becoming lost in the depth and the colour and the beauty, until Alfred (after what had seemed about a thousand years), spoke. However, when he did so, turning away from Francis and commenting upon the view, Francis did not reply back, for he had found a beautiful view of his own.

The things they saw from the boxcar's open door.. Francis saw them right in front of him. Alfred's tousled blond locks, cared for but somehow carefree, waved in the wind just like the fields of wheat stretched out before them, a part of the land reaching high above where they stood. His eyes were as blue as the sky above, flecked with darker spots of sapphire here and there. They were like a maze-- Francis couldn't count the amount of times that he'd found himself lost deep within them with no means of escape (not that he wanted to leave), until Alfred spoke and provided him with a new distraction. Everything about the man just seemed to draw him in further. He had never had a friend quite like Alfred before.

When the man stood and moved over to the side of the boxcar, holding onto the metal, Francis immediately rose and followed him. "Alfred, mon cher," Twitchy hands shifted to touch Alfred's side, wrapping a strong arm around his waist. "Please be careful. I don't want to risk you falling out." He said with a soft, nervous laugh to accompany with movements, also holding onto the side door in order to keep them both secure. Feeling content that Alfred was safe, Francis followed his friend's gaze and looked out as the landscape rushed by them. "Yes, it.. it really is beautiful, Alfred." This was a side of America that Francis had not seen before, and he had to admit that he loved it. Alone with Alfred in such a beautiful setting.... could he ask for more?

It was Francis' subtle gesture of looping an arm around the American's waist that set loose a tidal wave of countless emotions inside of him. There was the usual, of course; pleasant electricity zipping through his veins, making his heart quicken. But that was nothing uncommon. He felt that way every time Francis made contact with him. What was different this time was the sudden and familiar feeling of safety. Even if Alfred knew he was plenty safe without Francis' arm tight around his waist like it was, there was something about the gesture that made Alfred feel protected, like his safety sincerely mattered to someone. He enjoyed it for a moment, accepting other's touch and smiling warmly at him. "Don't worry, Francey, I'll be fine..!" A bit of an evil idea popped into Alfred's head, and he simply couldn't resist. Francis had been ridiculously worried when Alfred merely stumbled into a chair-- oh, imagine how he would react to this.

The blue-eyed blond smirked lightly, playfully, shifting out of Francis' hold and causally lifting a hand to grip an iron handle on the edge of the boxcar's opening. "You don't want me doing anything risky, huh? Risky... like this?" Whilst gripping the handle and keeping one foot on the edge, Alfred fearlessly swung out of the opening of the boxcar.

Immediately, his heart leapt and fear mixed with adrenaline and pure joy, his unbreakable spirit shining brightly in his watering eyes. The wind whipped his clothes and hair around and, unable to contain himself, he laughed, howled, and whooped, grinning wildly. The sun, almost as bright an golden as Francis' hair, was in his teary eyes, and all he could see were the speeding, glinting tracks, the blur of trees and fields, warmly colored, streaked and blurred like a watercolor painting. An exhilarating moment passed, and, once Alfred had decided he'd given Francis enough of a heart attack, he swung back inside, laughing breathlessly and smiling so much his cheeks hurt. "You've gotta try that, Francey.."

Having contact with Alfred once more put Francis at ease. Despite knowing that the American wouldn't do anything to hurt himself, he still became unnerved when they were apart. Being close to Alfred created a sense of comfort, of warmth. The man was almost like a safety blanket, wrapping around Francis and keeping him safe. He was like a cup of pleasantly hot coffee-- Francis could sip and sigh and feel the warmth spreading all the way down to his toes and the tips of his fingers. "Just please be careful, mon cher." He urged gently, blue eyes dating around, checking that everything was sturdy, that nothing could break upon contact, that nothing could put Alfred at risk. But, then again, Alfred could quite easily put himself at risk, as Francis soon learned.

"Non, I'd like you to--" He broke off with a gasp, watching as the man swung out and was swept up by the wind. "Alfred!" He began, looking terrified. "Cher, please..!" His hands covered his mouth as he stared at Alfred, long since having left the American's waist. But then he began to really look at the other man. His windswept hair, sparkling glasses that reflected the sunlight as the sun and scenery rushed by. And his smile. His large, fearless, excited smile-- the grin of a thrill-seaker.

Far too soon, Alfred was back inside of the boxcar and Francis could no longer stare at the man who had been flying through the sky only moments before. He caught him with yet another gasp as Alfred swung inside, feeling the satisfying weight of the man against him before pulling back to check that he was still in one piece. When all limbs were confirmed to still be in place, Francis allowed a smile to settle upon his face, lightening his features. "You--" He broke off to laugh joyously, shoulders rising. "You scared the life out of me, Alfred. But it did look like fun. Perhaps if you taught me?" His smile grew as he spoke.

"Yeah, sure! It's super fun--" Alfred turned his head slightly as something caught his eye, half-buried in the hay. "Hey Francey..." Alfred walked from the opening of the boxcar to the opposite end of it, across from Francis, and began rummaging through the hay curiously. Lying the on the worn wooden floor was an old guitar case, neglected and beaten up. The American knelt down, unlocked it, and lit up when he found an old guitar collecting dust inside its case. He laughed, carefully pulled it out and turned around, quite proud of his discovery.

"Look Francey, I found us a guitar!" He strummed the strings, sending a few pleasant notes floating through the warm summer air. "Oh man, I haven't used one of these since grade school! You don't know how to play, do you, Francis?" He asked, genuinely curious. His best friend seemed like the kind who could play an instrument or sing. But then again, it was only an assumption. "Oh, I know a song! Uh, let's see, it goes like..." Alfred began to play the chords, his fingers well practiced despite the years as they strummed and ran over the metal strings. "Brace yourself, my friend, I'm gonna sing." He warned playfully, grinning as he lifted his gaze and winked at Francis. Alfred really wasn't a terrible singer. He wasn't great, but where he lacked in skill he excelled in spirit and motivation.

"Oui, cher? What is it?" He enquired softly as the other man called to him. As the American gently pulled away, Francis turned and curiously follow his movements, watching him walk. Upon seeing the guitar case, Francis let out an airy laugh. "Oh, what a find, Alfred!" He praised, looking pleased. Upon hearing the strum of notes, he appeared to be even more impressed. "And it is still in tune, too. Zut alors, it has certainly been a while for both of us, then. But... I may recall a few chords." He added with a smile, moving towards the other man. When Alfred announced that he was going to sing, his smile grew. "Oh cher, I would be honoured to hear you." Once more, that delighted laugh of his rang out, filling the air. Francis heard the first few chords and immediately began moving gently to the beat. When Alfred began to sing, Francis' heart skipped a beat and he thought that it might just stop there and then.

"...I'm born to run,

Down rocky cliffs,

Give me grace,

Bury my sins," There was a smile in his voice as the lyrics of the upbeat song fell from his lips, filled with the happiness that overflowed inside of the American.

"Yellow hills,

And valleys deep.

I'll watch them move,

Under my feet.

Stranger things,

Have come and gone,

To see the world,

And take the throne." He quieted his voice for a moment to create playful suspense, smiling at Francis, singing like he was speaking the song to him as his eyes glittered happily.

"Don't hold back...

Oh I, won't hold back..!" Alfred couldn't hold back his joy any further. He was so happy, so happy to be home; lost in his own home. So happy to be with Francis. So happy that he was happy.

"I'm gonna live my life like I'm gonna die young,

Like it's never enough, like I'm born to run!

I'm gonna spend my time like tomorrow won't come,

Do whatever I want, like I'm born to run!"

As Alfred sung the chorus, he spun and stepped around the dusty wooden floor, smiling wildly and letting his bangs fall in his eyes, only to whip them off to the side as he moved to the beat of his own music.

"I wanna see Paris,

I wanna see Tokyo!

I wanna be careless,

Even if I break my bones!

I'm gonna live my life like I'm gonna die young,

Like it's never enough, like I'm born to run!"

His moves were immediately thrown off as he became distracted with listening, a huge grin creeping onto his face as his ears were filled with the wonderful sound of Alfred's voice. Francis already thought that Alfred's speaking voice sounded beautiful, but this.... this was just magical. Soon enough, he gained his rhythm back and continued to move to the beat, allowing his body to do the work as his eyes locked upon Alfred, focused completely on him.

That grin was still fresh upon Francis' face; he was so happy that it was shining right through him and seeping into every action and expression. He danced all the way through, carefree and high on happiness, enjoying every verse, chorus and bridge, even joining in when it came nearer to the end. As Alfred spun around him, Francis only followed, twirling round and round, laughing gleefully as they twisted and turned, at one with the music. He didn't even care as he became a little dizzy, he only blamed it on the excitement and simply kept moving.

Francis couldn't recall why he was dancing so freely. Something about the music just made him want to keep moving forever, to laugh and dance and listen until his feet dropped off and Alfred's fingers could strum no longer. It was a wonderful feeling, and he relished every second of it. However, soon the song ended and they both came to a halt.

Upon the song's ending, Francis exclaimed joyfully, moving forward to envelop Alfred in a warm hug. "Oh, Alfred! You--" He tripped over his words, hardly knowing what to say. "That was incredible! You are such a wonderful musician, amour, I mean it. Your voice is just beautiful." His eyes were shining with delight, and he gently pulled back from their hug in order to gaze up at Alfred. "I... I adored that. It was the most fun I have had in a long time. Thank you, Alfred." He smiled; a sweet, warm, heartfelt smile that tried to convey all of his emotion in one single look, just for the man standing before him.

Alfred had his favorite song memorized down to the last word, note, chord. This song came easily, out of habit, much like breathing. But upon seeing Francis dance like that, so naturally, elegantly, so carefree, he stumbled over his words and placement of his fingers. And along with his favourite song, he forgot how to breathe for a moment. The slip-up didn't matter, for it just gave them another reason to laugh, and Alfred continued singing, strumming, watching Francis as he let loose and swayed to the music. "Beautiful?!" Alfred gasped, setting the wooden instrument onto a nearby bed of hay.

"You know what's beautiful? Your dancing! And were you singing a little near the end there?" Alfred returned the hug, and the two of them just smiled, laughed softly, caught their breath and continued to step in an uneven circle. "Get used to it, buddy; we're gonna have so much fun-- you're not even gonna know what to do with yourself."

"Well, I couldn't dance if there wasn't any music, now could I, cher?" He questioned with a smile, feeling his face flush at the compliment. His eyes softened. "But thank you, Alfred." As they began to dance slowly together, he laughed. "Perhaps just a little, but I can't really sing. Piano is my passion," He shrugged. "But I... suppose I know a little guitar as well." Despite it already having reached his ears, Francis' smile seemed to widen even further. "Oh, fun sounds nice, but as long as we're together, Alfred, they'll always be something to do." He giggled, turning the man around in a circle.

And there went Alfred's cool. There went his ability to breathe again. He could barely remember his own name. Francis's smile. So filled with pure happiness, joy, delight. Alfred realized then that it wasn't just Francis' lips that smiled. His whole face lit up. Faintly dimpled cheeks, skin warmly coloured with life, his eyes crinkled happily, twinkling like stars. "You're welcome." He spoke softly, returning Francis' smile, although it wasn't a fraction as beautiful. No one had a smile as breathtaking as Francis', Alfred concluded.

He took the other's hand in one of this own and, on a whim, began to slowly turn and spin around the dusty wooden floor. "Don't hold back... no I, won't hold back..." His voice was softer, slower this time. These lyrics were meant only for Francis' ears, whereas before, Alfred had sung them at the top of his lungs for the world to hear. "I'm gonna live my life like I'm gonna die young, like it's never enough..." The American left it at that, wishing for Francis to sing the last five words, turn his song a beautiful mess of a duet.

Their eyes locked for a few beautiful moments, indigo colliding with cerulean in a mess of blue hues, before his hand was suddenly taken up by Alfred's own. He found himself dancing once again, but... this time was different. They were still carefree, but their moves were more gentle. Francis found himself gladly following after Alfred's movements. It was nice to be led, for once, rather than to lead as he usually did during dance, and when Alfred began singing once more, Francis was filled with a wonderfully warm feeling. It radiated through his whole being, just as the American's words sunk deep within his mind.

"Like I'm born to run." He sung out gently when he heard the pause, ending the song with a warm, joyful smile that was only for Alfred. Their dance still continued on, and Francis chuckled at how bizarre it all was, that they were waltzing on a boxcar travelling hundreds of miles across America.

He had the sweetest voice. The harmony of his soft singing made up for the lack of instrument; that one line was music enough as it was. There was the strangest feeling in Alfred's chest then; warm and cold and pleasant and frightening, starting in his heart, pooling in his stomach, slipping through his veins and making his pulse pick up pace, the wind leave his lungs. Even as he was breathless and confused with this new terrifying, foreign feeling, Alfred continued to smile, slowly turn and spin around the floor of the boxcar. Francis should let someone else take the lead for once. Treat him like he deserved to be treated, appreciate him at last. Francis, of all people, deserved it. "What's so funny?" When he spoke, his voice was playful and breathless, far quieter than it had been a few moments ago. He nearly laughed the words himself. Francis always seemed to do this; leave him without air, breathless. It was the strangest thing, how his raw beauty stole all the oxygen from Alfred's lungs.

There was something about his soft blond hair, falling down around his face in golden waves and curves, each lock curling gracefully at the ends. And his eyes, royal blue and deep like the afternoon sky, half-veiled by thick eyelashes. Without fail, Francis' eyes always left Alfred breathless. So did his hair, and his flawless skin, and his winning smile. Or maybe it wasn't his looks at all. Maybe it was just Francis, Francis and his pure soul, big heart and beautiful way in which he saw the world that took the American's breath away.

"... How could anyone hurt you..?"

The thought crossed his mind, and he hadn't even registered it as the simple, answerless question slipped past his lips in a whisper. His eyebrows creased together ever so slightly as he tried to make sense of it. Francis had to be the kindest person on earth. He gave love to everyone, just because he wanted everyone to feel wanted.

Francis exhaled softly, running a hand through his hair. "There was a time before... I knew that we weren't working after a while of dating, and I planned to end it, but..." He shook his head. "It seemed that she thought differently about how we should break up. Instead of her talking to me, I found her in bed with Gilb--my ex-boyfriend." He finally raised his eyes from the floor and met Alfred's blue, blue gaze.

"S-So I..." His voice wavered slightly. "I'm familiar with this feeling, Alfred. Not that it makes it any easier, but... many people have hurt me in the past. I'm nobody special, so why shouldn't it happen to me?" Closing his eyes, Francis tightened his grip upon Alfred's hand and smiled gently, feeling tears brimming behind his lids, though he quickly blinked them away. "You don't have to be sorry, cher. I don't know what I did either..." He admitted softly.

He listened as Francis spoke, eyes searching, eyebrows knit, furrowed slightly. How could she do that? How could anyone do such a thing to someone like Francis, someone so good and kind and wanting nothing more than love. Alfred was aching again, wishing again, and that urge was back again. For the second time he'd said them, the words, but with more disbelief in his voice, eyes conflicted, saddened, appalled and confused. "How can anybody hurt you?" Alfred didn't understand it. It made him sick and angry that anyone dared to treat Francis so cruelly, for no reason at all. Why was it always the sweetest, most good-hearted of them that got hurt, that were beaten down by the world?

"I'm.. sorry, Francis." The Parisian had told him not to apologize. He did anyway, because he had no other words, none that meant enough, anyway. "I..." A short, weary laugh. "... I don't understand it. Really, I don't." He wanted Francis to look at him. He wanted their eyes to meet, even if Francis' were glazed with tears, and he wanted to promise him he'd never be hurt again. Not ever. Alfred wouldn't allow it. Later, he decided. He'd make Francis understand just a little bit later.

Alfred wanted to speak, wanted to correct Francis when he'd said that he was a normal person who was bound to get hurt. He wanted to make him understand he was far from an ordinary person, that he was so much more, and he wanted to make it clear to him that Alfred would never let anyone hurt him ever again. He wanted to speak, he did, but Francis' next words had Alfred captivated, confused, curious and aching despite not having the slightest inkling of what had been done to his best friend. All that registered in the American's mind was that this, with his brother, hadn't been the first time he was broken. Francis had been shattered before, he'd been broken prior to Matthew, and Alfred's heart sunk when he realized that it was more than likely Francis himself had to gather up the pieces of his own heart.

Yet somehow, despite it all, Francis had done it. He'd healed, learned to smile again, spread love again, become the Francis that Alfred had so easily been drawn to. He was strong-- with a heart of gold and a soul of diamond-- and everyone who knew anything knew you couldn't break diamond with just one blow. Not even with two, Alfred hoped, because he didn't think he could repair diamond.

Francis was the kind of man that would anonymously leave roses in lockers and on desks of strangers, just so they could assume it was someone else's kindness that was responsible. The kind who always listened, never judged. He was everyone's shoulder to cry on, everyone's backup plan. Any problem, Francis would make it better. He'd hold your hand and wipe your tears and only send you off when he knew you were no longer hurting. He never expected 'thank you's, let alone any of his kindness returned, and he never seemed disappointed when no appreciation came. Francis was the kind of man whose reward was the happiness of others.

But... had he ever needed a shoulder to cry on? Was there ever anyone who offered to take his hand, wipe his tears, hold him and take away the hurt? Had anyone ever done anything special for Francis? Had... anyone ever told him he was beautiful, ever promised to take care of him, ever said they loved him and meant it?

Was Alfred the only one who'd ever thought up such questions?

"I'm sorry, I just..." He chuckled softly, still smiling, although now it was softened further; almost a sad smile now. "... It doesn't make any sense to me." Francis deserved to be treated like a prince, treasured, appreciated at the very least. Instead, he'd gotten his heart smashed to dust. "Mm... Francey... can you play something on the guitar..?" He murmured curiously, swaying slowly with the other. Alfred tried to change the direction of their conversation. After all, wasn't it him who'd suggested they leave all their pain behind? "... Play a song and maybe... sing the words too?"

Upon hearing Alfred's question, Francis' eyes immediately flickered to the guitar. "You want me to play, Alfred?" The words fluttered softly out of his mouth, delicate and new to him. Never before had he been specifically asked to perform for somebody else. But despite this, his lips fluttered into a soft, daring smile. "Oui. Oui, d'accord. I shall."

Alfred looked thrilled to hear this. "You're gonna play for me? Oh, I'd love to hear what you've got! You play any other instruments, Francey?" The air was cold and the wind was cruel in the too-big space between Alfred and Francis. The Frenchman stumbled over the strings, and there was a subtle flash of memory-induced pain over his face. Alfred wanted nothing more than to hold him again, tightly and safely, murmur sweet things to him and make him forget. Francis would laugh, laugh so much tears fell from his intoxicating indigo eyes, and they'd be the only tears of Francis's that didn't make Alfred's heart crumble.

Francis felt a strong sense of relief, somehow. Never before had he spoken to openly about his past relationships; not to anyone. Besides, he had not wanted to go into details of such painful memories, not when Matthew had been so safe and warm in his arms, surrounding him with love and showering him with kisses and just making life perfect. But now all of that was gone, and Francis was slowly unravelling, bit by bit. He had already been broken, that was for sure, but he was learning how to value himself, how to talk to Alfred about the past and all that had happened to them. After all, they were in it together, both of them ruined, and Alfred had saved Francis' life.

He had been there from the beginning, back when everything was been beautiful, then again as the dream turned into a nightmare. Alfred had been the one to shake Francis from his sleep, wake him up and tell him that everything was alright, that he was loved, that hope was not lost. And he was still there now.

Managing a soft smile, Francis raised a hand up and touched his hair, fingers trailing through the locks. He paused a moment to touch his scalp, imitating Alfred's earlier movements, the way that his hands had caressed so gently, so lovingly, as if he were the most important thing in the world. Suddenly, the ache in his chest wasn't so bad anymore. The pain dulled, just a touch, as he thought of Alfred.

"It's alright, cher. Don't think about it anymore..." He said gently, leaning forward as he met the man's gaze. His fingers climbed Alfred's body, flitting through the air until they landed upon his cheek, fingertips pressing gently, delicately. "I don't understand it either, but... these are bad memories. Let us make some new ones together, oui?" His smile grew as he pulled away. The guitar was already in his hands by the time Alfred spoke and, looking up, he flashed another gentle smile. "Oui, cher. You did for me, so I shall return the favour. As for instruments... just the piano, and a little violin. Oh, and guitar, of course. A little." He laughed nervously, feeling apprehensive about playing, but wanting to all the same.

"I can play the guitar just a little, but-- zut alors, it has been a while." He chuckled softly, reluctantly separating himself from Alfred and reaching down to take the guitar from where it lay in the hay. His hands brushed over it fondly, giving the strings a gentle strum as he remembered, relishing the sound. Memories of Paris flooded his mind, of Anneliese and laughter, her harsh but playful reprimands as Francis stumbled over the stings, struggling to remember chords and patterns. Even after her, he had still continued to play, just quietly to himself. His father had called it all a waste of time, but still Francis had continued. And now, faced with the chance to make Alfred happy, he thanked his younger self for spending all those nights pouring over sheets of music.

"You made a seat..! Smart!" Alfred plopped down on the dusty wooden floor, looking up at Francis like a child anticipating being read to.

It took a moment for Alfred's words to register. "A seat..? Oh-- oh, oui, I could not stand and play, I don't think." He explained, feeling himself flush as he remembered how Alfred had played, dancing around the boxcar as he confidently sang and strummed.

With the guitar nestled in his arms, Francis gently kicked a nearby box onto its side, then proceeded to roll it over with his foot, creating a seat for himself. He gazed down at the guitar for a long moment, thinking, considering, before he inhaled slowly and smiled, nodding to himself. And with that, with Alfred settled, Francis began to play, strumming along as he began the song, feeling a shudder pass through him as he registered the sound of the opening chords and finally began to sing.

"When you try your best, but you don't succeed," He sang softly, in a quieter, more gentle tone than Alfred has used, but still just as meaningful.

"When you get what you want, but... not what you need," He faltered for a moment there, taking a deep breath.

"When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep.

Stuck in reverse..." Francis trailed off, hitting the high notes with an accuracy that surprised him. Sure that the unfamiliar look was evident on his face, he quickly continued, his trembling fingers moving to strum a little faster.

"And the tears come streaming down your face,

When you lose something you can't replace.

When you love someone, but it goes to waste..." His voice faltered a fraction as he thought of the men that they had left behind.

"Could it be worse?" And just when Francis was starting to believe that this was all a terrible idea, that he had chosen the worst song to sing to Alfred, his fingers began working on autopilot and his suddenly played a bright major chord, continuing on a little louder.

"Lights will guide you home,

And ignite your bones,

And I will try... to fix you." As Francis spoke the final line of the chorus, voice tender, he dared to look up, shifting his eyes from Alfred's feet to his face, blue meeting blue in a beautiful, sudden moment that left Francis feeling breathless. However, on his fingers strummed, dragging his voice along as the next verse began. It felt good to sing again. To feel himself move with the music as he danced was one thing, but to actually creating it himself was another thing entirely. It felt beautiful, like he was achieving something significant.

"And high up above or down below,

When you're too in love to let it go.." Again, Matthew filled his mind. The man who had crushed his heart, even now, still lurked somewhere deep within Francis.

But if you never try you'll never know,

Just what you're worth..." And then, Francis realized. Alfred was the one behind this whole trip, the one who had suggested that they run away, who had stayed with him whilst he cried, the one who had brought him safely onto the train. Without Alfred, Francis would... where would he be? In his apartment, nearing unconsciousness as he downed shot after shot, dying inside a little more with every one he swallowed, dead to the world? Without Alfred, Francis would not be on this train. He would not be happy, he would not be smiling. And if he went far back enough in his mind then, without Alfred, Francis would be dead.

Now feeling unafraid of the past and only wanting to make Alfred happy, he opened his mouth wide and sung out with all his heart, meeting the other's eyes, happily belting out the song until the final chorus, where he lowered his voice to a softer level. He wanted Alfred to hear him, to understand his words. And he wanted Alfred to smile that beautiful smile of his, blue eyes bright and shining, always shining. He wanted the sunshine that resonated through Alfred to make itself appear all at once. He wanted Alfred to know that he was loved.

"Lights will guide you home,

And ignite your bones,

And I will try... to fix you." Just like that the song was over and there were inexplicable tears in Francis' eyes and a lump in his throat and suddenly he couldn't breathe so he just lowered his head and sat there quietly for a moment, blinking away in effort to see clearly again. When he had regained composure, Francis lifted his face up to meet Alfred's gaze and smiled a sweet smile edged with nerves.

"Was that... alright, Alfred?" He enquired softly, feeling insecure and suddenly needing to know whether he had done the right thing or not. Whether his song had been a success or whether he had crushed Alfred's heart even further.

When Francis began to sing, chills ran up Alfred's spine and his heart melted. In fact, all of him seemed to melt at such flowing pattern of sound. Like an angel. Even and smooth, high pitched in some parts, a little lower in others. If Alfred was told he was to loose his ability to hear, save but maybe a few things, Alfred would choose to hear Francis' singing over any other sound in the world. That, yes. That, or his laugh.

The song wasn't happy, he noticed. It was desperate, grim, beautiful, and it reminded Alfred far too much of all that had happened to the two of them, to Francis. Their eyes met at the final chorus, and the air was gone, gone with Alfred's cool and composure (The only think keeping him from melting into a puddle on the floor of the boxcar).

"A-Alright?" There were tears down Alfred's face, and he didn't try to wipe them, because he hadn't the tiniest idea that he was crying. "Francis..." He barely laughed, breathed the word. "That... was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard." He wanted to hear Francis' song again. He wanted his voice, his sparkling eyes, his small smile. Won't it be hard to sing tomorrow if Francis leaves? The thought made him ache, Alfred's eyes producing yet another round of tears.

"'Alright'?" He spoke again in disbelief. "You sounded wonderful..."

Francis had breathed a slow, relieved sigh of content once the song was finished, but now his breath hitched as he continued to look at Alfred, really look at him, and he realized with a start that the man was crying. Alfred was crying. Eyes going wide, Francis let go of the guitar, only remembering at the last second to catch it, not even bothering to look at the instrument as he placed it down upon the floor of the boxcar. No, he was far too preoccupied with dropping down and falling forward onto his knees in front of Alfred. There were many things that Francis could deal with well; oversleeping, receiving bad results, unexpected situations... however, he could not deal with tears. And the fact that they came from Alfred's blue eyes just made his heart ache all the more.

"Alfred," Francis began, trembling hands making their way to the man's cheeks once again; however, this time, they did not hesitate. They flew upwards and pressed (insistently yet with no pressure) onto Alfred's face. "Mon amour, you are crying..." His voice dropped to a whisper, his thumbs slowly working to free Alfred's face from the tears that just kept flowing, little diamonds falling from two large sapphires. Alfred's eyes were so blue that it almost hurt. It hurt Francis to think that such a beautiful man could be reduced to such a state as this, that he could be injured by words, actions, sounds... it just didn't seem fair.

He wanted Alfred to be happy forever, for his sunshine smile to light up every room and spread across the world. Those September sky eyes shouldn't be weeping, they should be crinkled with joy. Which is why Francis was baffled when Alfred began to speak. "Beautiful..?" He echoed, disbelieving for a moment. It seemed so long ago now that he had been singing, though it couldn't have been more than a minute or two. Time passed slowly when Francis looked into Alfred's eyes, but somehow everything else just... disappeared, as if he was the only thing in existence. Francis liked it that way, to be focused completely on Alfred.

He shook his head as Francis stated the obvious, his own hands lifting to cover the Frenchman's on his damp cheeks. The American's lungs were too busy trying to keep up with the sobs that wracked his chest to bother with making words, and it took a few moments for Alfred to speak. "No," Didn't Francis understand? He wasn't upset at all. He was stricken with awe, amazed, overwhelmed with emotion. It was entirely justified, Alfred realized. Who wouldn't cry after hearing the voice of an angel? "They're good tears, Happy tears."

Francis relaxed at hearing this. "Why... merci, mon cher." A soft smile played at his lips. "You are happy, then, mon Alfred?" He said the words without thinking. My Alfred. They just seemed natural to him. Alfred wasn't his, as such, but Francis felt responsible for him in a strange, beautiful sort of way. He wanted to make him happy, to please him, to make him laugh and smile and just enjoy life. "It is... rather hard for me to tell." He laughed, a rather hollow sound, worry present in his deep indigo orbs. "I do not like to see you cry, Alfred..." Still his thumbs continued to work, gently wiping away the American's tears, striving to take away the pain and the hurt and all the sadness, even if Alfred was happy in this one moment. Because Francis wanted him to be happy forever.

"Yes..! Yes, Francey, I'm so happy..." He smile was watery, but it was there, as bright and happy as his sparkling blue eyes.

There was something about the way Francis touched him so gently, spoke to him with such reassurance in his voice that made Alfred certain that, even if the whole world was burning around him, he'd be okay. Simply because Francis was here, and because he said so. Alfred's chest felt light, warm, his shoulders fell slightly and a relaxed sigh drifted from his lips as the Frenchman's fingertips so gently caressed his scalp.

"Mmhm..." Alfred hummed in response, his eyelashes fluttering in blissful content. Francis didn't even need to tell him, nor try and convince him to forget their agonizing past. How could Alfred think of anything else, anything other than Francis right now? He was all he saw, all he heard, all he felt, and all Alfred wanted to be was closer to him. As Francis pulled away, Alfred hands instinctively drifted out, his now empty arms craving to be filled again.

After a second, Francis' lulling, accented voice began to click in Alfred's head as words, sentences, messages with meaning, and he snapped out of his daze, blinking a few times and letting his arms fall to his sides. "Oh. Oh, right, yeah..!" He shook his head a little, laughing it off, pushing aside curiosities about what on earth that spell he had just been under was. "Damn..! I didn't know you played all those instruments! Four, oh wow!" Francis looked slightly confused, and Alfred clarified, grinning. "Your voice; it counts!"

"That's it," He breathed softly, feeling himself relax as Alfred did. The sigh that slipped from Alfred's lips made him feel content; a strange, warm feeling arising within his chest. He watched as the man's blue eyes softly fluttered closed and he settled into peacefulness once more. "That's it, mon chou. Just relax; I'm here now. It's just me, no-one else..."

A smile settled upon his face as he felt Alfred lean back against him and his hands began to flit about, gently caressing the man's cheek. His skin was so soft, Francis found it difficult to take his hands away. Eventually, however, he knew that he must to fetch the guitar, though he sensed how difficult the movement was to perform. Not only for himself, but for Alfred as well. There was a sense of longing in the American's actions.

He turned back to Alfred with a gentle smile, moving a hand to adjust his hair once the guitar was securely balanced in his arms. "It does?" Looking pleasantly surprised, he raised a delicate eyebrow. "I didn't know that, Alfred! You are clever." He smiled once more, by now his face aching a little from the mess of emotions they had been dealing with together. Francis had lost count of he many times he'd laughed, sobbed and smiled during the past day. Was it even possible? When he thought about what he had been considering a little over twenty four hours ago, he found it strange and suddenly held tighter to the guitar, as if it would somehow tether him to the ground.

Why was Francis looking at him like that? Like there was nothing else in the entire world to see, like the bright stretch of land and sky around them wasn't rushing past and the earth wasn't spinning and the planet wasn't filled with billions of people? Why was Francis looking at him like that? Like everything was still. Quiet. Like it was just the two of them, like Alfred was the only one who mattered.

He didn't question anymore. He couldn't think to do so, because his mind was filled again, filled with thoughts of the man in front of him and nothing else. He was intoxicated, hypnotized, and he didn't give a damn about anything else in the entire world other than Francis Bonnefoy. "I don't like to see you cry either." Alfred's fingertips curled over Francis' hands, and he took them in his own, gently pulling them from his checks. Their four clasped hands drifted downward to Alfred's lap where they stayed, connected naturally.

"God, I'm sorry," The American laughed, shook his head, and rolled his eyes a little at himself. His hair blew softly in the wind, his skin was warmed by the setting, orange sun, and his smile seemed to glow. "I just couldn't help it..! Francey; I had no idea you could sing like that!" He praised, shaking his head in amazement as he wiped at his eyes once more, chuckling as the tears fell. "You're incredible..!"

It didn't even matter about the song anymore. Francis just wanted to be sure that Alfred was alright, that he wasn't still breaking. He wanted the man's heart to be whole once more, whole and happy, just like it had been before this nightmare began. If Alfred could be happy, then Francis would be too. And so he smiled, feeling inexplicable tears form in his own sapphires as he gazed across at Alfred. "Then... these are tears of happiness, Alfred?" He enquired softly, shuffling a little closer on his knees towards the other man.

Francis lowered his head, looking down at the floor of the boxcar, their boxcar, for a few moments. "It is not just that I don't like it... I simply cannot bear crying," He said, lowering his voice to a whisper before lifting his head once more, finding the confidence to do so. He remembered the warmth in Alfred's eyes, within his arms, how it felt to be pressed up against his chest in an embrace. "I cannot bear you crying, Alfred. When you're sad, I..." He shook his head, holding the man closer. "I cannot." Their hands, closely connected, held tight as Alfred spoke, telling Francis what he felt.

"We feel the same way, then, perhaps?" Again, a soft whisper. Why Francis was being so careful, speaking so quietly, he didn't know. Was he scared of something? Of hurting the one person that he had left, his only light shining brightly in a world of darkness. "Alfred, please don't apologise, mon cher. You have nothing to apologise for..! Crying is..." He paused a moment. "It is a natural human reaction. I cry at music quite often. And that particular song was rather sad, although it means a lot to me. But please, do not be sorry."

He flushed soon after at the American's compliments, feeling his cheeks turn red. "Merci beaucoup, Alfred, cependant..." He paused, shaking his head. "It is nothing. I just wanted to say that you are wonderful too." He murmured gently. "So, so wonderful..." The air was light in the boxcar, even as the sun began to set, casting their surroundings in darkness. Francis inhaled, exhaled, inhaled; concentrating on keeping his breathing even, although he wasn't quite sure why his voice was shaking in the first place. "Please, you must remember that for me, oui?"

Francis turned his head, looking out to the world, to the outside. Beyond the boxcar, nothing even seemed real anymore. Anything outside of their little world just rushed by at hundreds of miles an hour, blurred and irrelevant. But Alfred? Alfred was clear. Alfred was in focus. Francis could see him so clearly, could feel how blue and perfect his eyes were, even as the light began to fade around them.

Exhaling once more, he let out a soft laugh, giving the American's smooth hands a gentle squeeze, feeling how the tips were calloused from where he played guitar and had built up strength. "It's quiet here, isn't it, Alfred?" Another gentle pause; waiting, taking everything in, taking time to appreciate it all. "Peaceful. Do you like the quiet?"

"Mhm..." It was strange, Alfred thought, how much trouble he was having at doing something as simple as looking away from Francis. "... You know... I think I do." Quiet didn't mean silence. Silence was deafening; it was when nothing was being said or done, nothing was happening; that kind of silence made Alfred uncomfortable, it made him want to drop something or say something, anything, just to fill the air with a bit of noise. But quiet he liked. When soft words were exchanged, gentle, whispered messages only meant for two pairs of ears mixing with the sounds of the outdoors and the air rushing past, forming a delicate melody; that, Alfred liked.

"Really?" Francis said softly, moving to sit beside Alfred; two pairs of feet now dangling off the edge of the boxcar. When their hands had disconnected, there had been a strange ache within his chest, a longing to feel close once again. And so he had shifted, moving close to his friend once more. When they had first met, Francis would never have guessed that Alfred enjoyed the peace and quiet. He had always been such an outgoing boy, always talking loudly and laughing, always making some kind of noise, always having something to say. But over time, he had learned that sometimes, just sometimes, Alfred liked to be the quiet one. He liked to have his own space every now and then, though he thrived on people. Sometimes Alfred liked to speak more softly, just like how Matthew sometimes raised his voice. This wasn't a frequent occurrence, but sometimes the twins seemed to trade a trait of their personality with the other.

However, Francis had learned that the brothers didn't really need to borrow each other's traits, as they had their own. Matthew, at heart, was a very confident young man who knew what he wanted, just as Alfred sometimes longed for wings rather than the spotlight on the stage. Francis was the same. In that moment they were not holding hands, but simply being close to the American put Francis at ease, somehow; it always did.

The deep orange of the sun seemed to melt into the horizon as Francis and Alfred struggled to look at anything but each other, their skin warmed and bronzed from the glowing light of the sunset. Alfred shifted from his position then, carefully letting go of Francis' hands and sitting on the edge of platform. His elbows rested on his knees, hands clasped loosely as he looked out into the endless stretch of fields, his hair gently blowing in the wind. "What are we gonna do, Francey?" He should have sounded panicked as he asked the question, but his tone was light, thoughtful. "We're not finishing school, we've got no family, nowhere to live..."

He looked at his best friend then, with eyes sparkling happily. "We can do whatever we want, Francey... there's nothing holding us back..." It should have be terrifying, but it just somehow wasn't. Alfred was in love with the idea of not having a single thing holding him back from living his life. Their lives. They could throw a dart at a map and travel wherever it landed, just for the hell of it. If they wanted to, they could have ridden that train forever, just let it take them wherever it so pleased. There was nothing they couldn't do, nowhere they had to be, no place they couldn't go to. All they had to do was decide what the next step was.

But amongst all of Alfred's wild, breathtaking ideas of freedom, there was one thought that nagged and interrupted them all. He's going to go back. The American didn't want to think about it. Francis can't stay, he said so himself. He's going to leave, go back home to France. Alfred's eyes flicked downward for a moment. He didn't want him to go. Couldn't he just forget about it? Couldn't he just... no. It didn't matter how close the two of them had become. France was where his best friend belonged. It was his homeland, the place that would never turn its back on him, somewhere he fit in perfectly, looked and spoke and behaved like everyone else. The man loved France, that was clear enough. Alfred could never make him stay here, on the other side of the planet.

The American had gone quiet without noticing, and now it had become the silence that Alfred couldn't stand. "Hey... you won't... go back anytime soon, right?"

"I don't..." He broke off, biting his lip, because he did know. He knew where he was going to go, where he was going to end up. "We can rent a hotel, just for a few nights. I don't know where this train is headed, but there's bound to be places nearby, where I could look for some temporary work." Not Alfred. Alfred didn't need to work, Alfred didn't need to worry, because Alfred hadn't got them into this terrible mess.

"Perhaps a restaurant, a bar, a club, a store..." He whispered softly, closing his eyes for a moment before opening them up again, looking towards Alfred with a soft smile. "Perhaps we could get off in the morning, or the morning after that. Whenever we want, Alfred. We'll stay in a hotel, just for a few nights, perhaps. It might not be five star, but we'll get by, won't we? We always do."

A hint of nervousness crept into Francis' voice. Could they even afford to do that? How much did hotels even cost in America? They had around $1000, but... would that be enough? Was that enough money to keep Alfred safe, to keep him in comfort? Francis didn't know, but somehow he would make it work, no matter what it took. For Alfred. "We don't need to graduate, Alfred. We're nearly done with our senior year, we're... Dieu, we're almost eighteen." Eighteen. It didn't seem right. Would he attend college when he was back in France? He didn't know.

He didn't want to think about the future right now. He didn't want to think about anything but Alfred.

"We'll figure it out together, Alfred. I'm not going back just yet, that's for sure. Not today." He whispered, a promise spoken softly to the wind. Francis took Alfred's hand gently within his own, giving it a reassuring squeeze and securing their promise, before setting their intertwined hands down upon his knee. "Not today..."


Translations:

Cependant - However
Ça va bien - That's good

A/N: A rather abrupt ending to this. There is SO many French words dotted about in this chapter, please forgive us if we've left any out or got anything wrong. Previously translated words can be found in earlier chapters.
This chapter took longer than the others, we know, but hopefully it was worth it for the plot! This was a bit of a fluffy one ^^
There is no set schedule for chapters, but you can expect one from us every few months.

As always, thank you for reading and sticking with us!
Do let us know what you think of the story so far.

Chapter Text

A/N: We're back! After a long and unexpected hiatus, the story continues! (I blame the editor :P)
Please enjoy~!

Warnings: None


A sigh fell from Francis' lips as he dipped his head, letting it rest on Alfred's shoulder. Frowning, he saw a blue thread next to his hand, a stark contrast to his dark jeans, and immediately attempted to pick it off. However, the thread was still attached to his jumper, and as it was pulled a whole load of the bottom section began to unravel.

"Oh, merde..." Francis cursed, tutting at himself. "Imbécile. Alfred, look what I have done. And this one is my favourite..." His annoyed expression turned to one of sadness as he cradled the threads, before his face suddenly lit up; eyes brightening. "Ah, I packed a sewing kit in the first aid box, of course!"

"Aw, how'd you manage to do that?" Alfred pouted, but the light in his eyes was a dead giveaway that the only thing that'd caught his attention was how, dare he think it, cute Francis was when he huffed over his clothes. Didn't the guy know he could look good wearing a trash bag? He was Francis Bonnefoy, after all.

"You brought a first aid box? Damn, you're smart; I didn't even think to bring one..!" What was Alfred thinking? What if Francis got hurt while they were off seeing how much they could make out of life? But of course the Frenchman had thought ahead; he was smart as well beautiful. Matthew and Arthur probably don't think so... Well, it made enough sense; Francis had taken months to realize that Matthew was being unfaithful. But then again, love did strange things to people. It left the most brave and confident breathless and shaking, the most wise with nothing in their heads but their love's smile and the sound of their laughter. Francis had simply been blinded by love; that didn't make him stupid, not in the slightest.

"Of course," Francis spoke softly, but with meaning. "We must have one; what if you got hurt again, Alfred? And your bandages are going to need changing soon." Francis took Alfred's hand tenderly, hardly thinking upon the action but just knowing that he needed to be close to the other. "I have to take care of you."

Of course. He'd forgotten. Alfred had bloodied his own hands whilst confronting his twin brother who'd so cruelly crushed Francis' heart. The American couldn't help but blush lightly as the smaller so carefully, tenderly, held his injured hands and spoke to him like he could protect him from all evil, everything that could ever harm him. But Alfred, of course, was hardly thinking of himself and his own safety. "Hey... don't worry about me. I'll be fine." Didn't Francis know that it was all for him, all about him and him alone? Alfred wouldn't have injured hands if it wasn't for Matthew's cruelty, Alfred's craving for revenge. After all; Matthew had nearly broken Francis, his best friend. Francis and that sweet, warm smile of his that never failed to take Alfred's breath away.

Rushing to his feet, Francis was (regrettably) forced to let go of Alfred's hand as he went to the far corner of the boxcar where their belongings were safely stored. Grabbing the first aid kit from the floor, he returned to Alfred's side and sat down, beginning to remove his jumper without a second thought. Penny in the air... "I must have caught it in that bush, along with my--" And the penny dropped. He broke off, suddenly remembering where he was, and looked towards his friend. There was a light blush staining his cheeks. "Alfred, do you mind if I..." Francis didn't know why he was being so hesitant. He had never acted in this way before, not when it came to exposing his body. It wasn't as if the American had never seen his bare torso. In fact, he had seen it that very morning.

Even so, it still felt strange to actively undress in front of his best friend. "I just need to mend it, alors... is it alright?" He almost whispered the last words, finding the courage to look Alfred in the eyes. Perhaps it was the fact that no-one usually paid him any mind when he took his shirt off. When he changed for gym, no one batted an eyelid, because no-one cared what he looked like. At least that's what he thought. But Alfred? Alfred was different. Francis could feel the way his eyes followed his body, how certain movements made the man's breath hitch and his cheeks flush, how he pretended not to look, perhaps even actively tried not to, but was unsuccessful every time. Because perhaps, Francis thought, he himself was the same.

"Ah, right, along with your... hair..." Alfred met Francis' eyes, and then it was quiet, save for the accustomed sound of heavy steel wheels against railroad. He looked so... shy. Unmistakably, completely, utterly shy. Alfred had never taken Francis as the shy type. But then again, Francis probably didn't know that Alfred could appreciate-- and maybe even prefer-- the quiet to the loud. "Oh, uh... you've gotta... take your top off, don't ya?" Was his intelligent reply, eyes a bit round. He saw shirtless guys all the time. At practice, in the locker rooms, at the beach; they were nothing new. Then why did just the idea of Francis taking off his clothes right here in front of the American make his heart flutter so madly?

"Ah-- yeah! Yeah, no-- do what you've gotta do!" Alfred waved him off, smiling reassuringly (and slightly nervously), despite the pink of his cheeks. He sat forward, elbows on his knees again, a far away look in his deep blue orbs and that ever-present smile on his full lips again. But how could his eyes not linger? The American peeked like he was taking an exam he wasn't prepared for, eyebrows lifting slightly as he peered out of the corners of his eyes. But just like taking exams he hadn't studied for, just like cheating, Alfred wasn't as sneaky as he thought he was when peeking at the topless Francis. But God, it was worth it. Because the way the soft, warm light of the sunset highlighted ever dip and curve of the Frenchman's slender torso and chest had Alfred's heart skipping around and his stomach fluttering.

It's got nothing to do with Francis, Alfred told himself. Nothing to do with Francis... as a person, nothing at all. It was just a fact, plain as day to anyone who could see, that Francis was a whole new level of gorgeous, especially like this. With his wavy blond hair brushing the tops of his bare shoulders, his frame somehow small and elegant, whilst simultaneously being toned and well-built...

Alfred blinked back to reality. Judging by the red of Francis' cheeks, he'd absolutely been caught staring. "I'm sorry, dude..!" Alfred tried, turning towards the other a little. "I didn't mean to stare, but... you know, I could hardly help it. You really do have a great figure." He complimented, still blushing and attempting to overcome his own shyness at being caught.

Flashing a soft smile in thanks, Francis lifted his arms and pulled the fabric up over his head. After removing his jumper, he set it upon his lap before reaching into the first aid kit and selecting a thin needle and a blue thread. On any other day, he would have been a little disappointed that the shade of the thread was not the same as his clothing, but on this particular occasion he was slightly distracted. See, the act of removing the shirt itself was not too difficult, but the events that came after that were another story entirely. Francis tried, he tried so hard to act natural and keep his composure, to get on with his sewing and pretend that everything was fine, but how could he when Alfred was looking at him like that? Despite his best efforts to ignore the stares he was receiving, Francis soon found himself slowly turning from a pale colour to a brilliant red as a hot flush crept up his body.

However, just when Francis thought that he could bear it no more, Alfred exclaimed in sudden apology. Jolting in surprise, the Frenchman narrowiy missed stabbing his thumb with the needle. Blushing, he turned to Alfred, somehow finding the courage to meet his gaze. "I-It's alright." Was it alright? Francis had so many questions. He knew that he should thank the American, but couldn't quite find the words to do so

Alfred had been staring. Clear as day, he'd been staring. So all that there was to do now was to own up to it and attempt to save Francis a bit of embarrassment. Hold on. Francis? Embarrassed? Shy? Since when was Francis hesitant to strip off his clothes, flirt and flaunt himself? Since when did he blush and stutter and grow flustered over such a simple thing as being shirtless in front if a friend? And why had it taken Alfred so long to realize that there was something, something strong and yet so fragile between himself and Francis; a bond, something like a magnet that the American just couldn't explain? Something that felt a little too intimate to be considered just plain friendship?

"No problem.." He breathed. What was wrong with him? Why did seeing a friend topless have such an absurdly powerful affect on him? His heart was racing, his hands were slightly clammy and his eyes were simply glued to Francis' smooth, golden skin and God, he wanted to touch him. Alfred wanted to wrap his arms around him, get rid of the small distance that kept them separate, hold him against his chest and protect him from all the evils of the word, from cruel words and terrible deeds and people like Matthew Williams. He wanted more than anything to touch him; what a strange, confusing urge that was. To want to make him feel safe with words. Feel beautiful with touches alone. Their eyes had met again, two pairs of blue; one like the ocean and one like the deep afternoon sky, just after the sun melted away into the horizon.

Then all of a sudden the contact between their eyes was broken, and it took Alfred a few moments to realize that he was the one being stared at now. And God, the look in those evening-colored orbs. Like he was looking at the most awe-inspiring, most beautiful thing on the planet. He was looking at Alfred's arms and torso with such a powerful awe and hunger in his eyes that it nearly scared Alfred. Because he'd seen what this kind of connection did to people. He'd seen how a fascination, an obsession, a deep connection with someone only resulted in heartbreak and pain. One way or another, if you got too close and too connected, you'd end up hurt. And as much as Francis mattered to Alfred, mattered to him more than anyone or anything, there was no love, Alfred told himself. Love was too dangerous. There'd be none of it; no love for Alfred.

"Francis..." Another near whisper, a light squeeze of his hand. "What's with the staring?" He chuckled softly, expression sincere and gentle. "I ain't even shirtless." He joked lightly, the pad of his thumb running the smooth skin of Francis' hand. "How's the shirt coming along? You fix it?"

Francis realized with a start that their roles had switched, that now, as Alfred had so politely informed him, he was the one staring. Hurriedly, he averted his eyes from the American's body and met Alfred's gaze instead. "No, earlier, I just..." Memories of Alfred wrapped in a clean white towel, golden skin glistening with droplets of water that made their way down his torso slowly, as if savouring the sensation of his body. "White is a nice colour on you." He finally said, indigo eyes flitting over his shirt once more. White was so pure, so perfect, just like Alfred was. A shining angel; Francis' guardian. What he didn't add was that the shirt itself was nice too. How the fact that it was Francis' meant that it was just a little too small and sat just a little too close to Alfred's skin. That it highlighted the man's capabilities, his power; strong muscles visible beneath the material. How it made Francis want to reach out and touch--

"I'm sorry." He finally said, remembering suddenly how Alfred had questioned his staring-- surely the man had been looking for an apology? Averting his gaze, the Frenchman looked down at his jumper which he began to fix once more. His previous jolt a few moments before had caused some more of the stitching to come out. "I shouldn't have been staring either, but as you said," A brief hesitation. "It's hard not to." Those few last words were spoken in a whisper, as if they weren't quite meant to be heard, just as Francis suddenly felt his skin prickle as a visible shiver ran through his body. Without thinking, he squeezed Alfred's hand before quickly returning back to reality.

With a final stitch, snip and knot, he had mended his jumper, lifting his arms up and exposing his entire torso for a brief moment before the pale skin disappeared behind the fabric. "There; perfect." He looked pleased, a soft smile of relief upon his lips as he settled into the soft fabric.

Alfred had long since given up keeping his eyes off of Francis. In his defense, he was interesting; interesting and beautiful (although that was obvious). But he was interesting to Alfred in ways he could hardly understand himself. The American hadn't a clue when he'd become so fascinated with every tiny habit and mannerism of Francis'. The way his deep blue eyes flicked between Alfred, his own hands, and the landscape before them, how his hair fluttered delicately over his cheeks, the way his lips moved as he spoke. Francis (to Alfred, if no one else) was fascinating. He could sit and watch him, study him, for hours.

The blond chuckled at the way Francis looked so pleased with himself after mending his jumper, finding it undeniably cute. "You fixed that quick, Francey! I had no idea you were so good with a needle and thread." Alfred would never admit it, but his compliment was mostly given just so he could watch Francis grow shy and flustered over his words again. As Alfred continued to watch the man, he picked up on the small details, ones that brought on that silly, unknown urge once more.

Francis looked up, tearing his eyes away from the jumper for a moment to meet Alfred's gaze instead. Just as predicted, his blue sapphires widened at the compliment, an embarrassed smile tugging at his lips. "Oh, it's... it's nothing, really." He felt himself blushing. "But thank you, Alfred. If you ever have anything that needs mending in the future then I'll happily oblige." He added with a slightly wider smile than before. Finding the chance to do something nice for the American always made Francis happy-- he felt as if he were paying him back for everything he'd done for the Frenchman, everything he'd helped with.

Looking out to the world beyond their own, Francis saw the sun slowly making it's way down the sky as it began to set, part already hidden beneath the horizon. "It's getting cold... it'll be dark soon. Alfred, I think we should work out where we're sleeping before the sun goes down completely, don't you? Because it'll be dark soon." He repeated, taking the man's hand once more and giving it a squeeze, as he had previously let go of it to resume his sewing. At that moment in time, Francis needed to hold him, needed to be held. Francis had a few fears: being abandoned, a world without love, bad things happening... there were more, but perhaps the most key was that he feared the dark. Now, he was aware it sounded childish (which is why he didn't tell people about it), but there was something about the way shadows simply engulfed things that terrified him. Darkness had power-- it could deceive and alter, change and obscure.

Francis liked to be in the light, out where things were clear and nothing was hidden. He certainly didn't like dark wide open spaces, which is why, as they sat in an unfamiliar location with only natural light that was diminishing by the second, he began to get nervous. Sweat formed upon his brow and his hand became sticky, though he refused to let go of Alfred's own. Suddenly the air around them seemed a lot colder.

"Hey, you're right," Alfred squeezed Francis' hand, noticing how it'd grown slightly clammy. "It is getting dark, ain't it? It's about time we hit the hay.." Alfred could hardly understand what there was to be afraid of, though. It was only the dark, only the night-time, only the outdoors. And it was only Alfred, who would protect Francis with everything he had, no matter what. Didn't the Parisian know he would always be safe at Alfred's side? "Come on," He murmured, standing up and taking Francis' hands as he did so, helping him to his feet.

There was more studying then, Alfred's ocean blue eyes skating over the Parisian's handsome features. "You're afraid." He understood, squeezing his hands in subtle reassurance. Francis didn't seem like the kind to be afraid. But after all that had been done to him, after all he'd been though, he had all the right in the world to be weary of how the world may treat him next.

"Hey.. it's okay." There was reassurance in Alfred's voice, his eyes, his smile once again, which warmed the air that had grown cold as the sun set over the fields. "Let's find somewhere to sleep for the night." Alfred turned to the shadow-draped interior of their boxcar, tapping his chin as he playfully inspected their options. "I don't know about you, but a bed of hay sounds pretty damn comfy right now!" Alfred said, optimistic and sunny as always. When he let go of Francis' hand this time, he looked back at him and offered a reassuring grin. Alfred knew well that Francis needed the comfort, and he would be more than willing to offer his hand again soon. "You see? It's basically a five star hotel!" Alfred said as he patted the hay into a shape that resembled a reclined chair. "Oh, and look, look! I came prepared!" Alfred crouched down further, dug into his bag and brought out a worn blanket. "Just in case it gets cold, you know?" The American decided to test out his creation, letting himself fall back into the bed of hay, pulling the blanket up under his chin and letting out a happy hum and sigh. "Ah, perfect. Like sleeping on a cloud."

"Yes." Francis nodded eagerly, standing up along with Alfred and never once letting go of the man's hand. It was only when they were both on their feet that Francis noticed how the American was looking at him, checking him over with those deep blue eyes until he figured it all out. Lowering his gaze, Francis spoke. "I'm sorry. It's pathetic and-- and childish, I know..." He cleared his throat, aware of how shaky his voice sounded, and tried to stop his hands from trembling. Alfred, his best friend-- no, scratch that, his only friend, had just discovered one of his biggest fears. And what a stupid fear it was. What was he going to say? How would he react, knowing that Francis was scared of such a childish--

"It's... okay?" Lifting his head, the man gawped as he repeated Alfred's words. "You mean it?" Looking thankful and relieved, Francis flashed a nervous smile back in return, giving the other's hand a squeeze. "A bed of hay sounds nice and warm. I--" He broke off as Alfred's hand slipped from his, immediately feeling his heart start to race, but then the man turned and flashed him a smile, and everything seemed alright again. Yes, his heart was still pumping out a million beats per minute, but his fear had manifested into a sense of calm.

Tuning back in to reality as Alfred began to speak, Francis laughed. "Well, I'd certainly give it five stars myself. The blanket comes included with the room, I expect?" He gave another laugh, the sound filled with happiness. "But in all seriousness Alfred, thank you. I actually only brought one blanket." He admitted a little sheepishly, now berating himself as it was so cold outside. Well, he thought if Alfred gets cold then I can at least give him the jacket in my bag.

Alfred opened his eyes, clear and blue and filled with happiness as he looked up at the ceiling of their boxcar. There was a pause as he squinted curiously at the rusted metal, having noticed something. "Huh. I wonder..." Alfred stood again, craning his neck back to look at the ceiling above his head. He seemed to realize something, and as he looked over his shoulder at his companion there was a knowing twinkle in his eyes. "Hey Francey; why don't you go to 'bed' and get comfortable? I'll be right back." The American waited for the Frenchman to do so, and then quickly slipped off to the opening of the boxcar, peering out. He grinned when he found what he was looking for, and, gripping one of the beams of the metal latter attached to the side of their boxcar, swung himself out and began to climb. Francis watched with a wide smile as the American collapsed back into their new 'bed'. "Is it as exoptable as it looks?" When Alfred gave a positive answer he looked even happier. Following the American's gaze, Francis looked up at the ceiling. "What is it, cher? Is there something up there..?" After being advised to lay down on the bed once his friend had risen, Francis did so, but not before fetching another blanket from his own bag and draping it across his body. Gazing up at the spot that Alfred had been so intrigued by, he tried to spot what was so special about it, yet was unable to see. "You know, I don't see anything out of the ordinary about this ceiling, Alfred. Would you care explaining?" He turned to where the man had been standing, figuring that he had gone to the other side of the boxcar to retrieve something, yet there was nobody there.

"A-Alfred..?" Oh God. Where had the man gone? There was no way that he was hiding-- Alfred wouldn't do that to him, and besides, the boxcar was too small for such a game. Unless he was hiding in the shadows? No he told himself adamantly no, no, forget the shadows, forget them, it's fine... He could feel his breathing begin to quicken. Where else could Alfred be? Had he fallen out of the side door?

There was no fear in Alfred's heart as the wind threatened to knock him off of the rushing train, only a rush of excitement and triumph as he reached the top and his suspicions were put at rest. What he found was something like a trap door, one that was made to vent a closed boxcar. Alfred bit the tip of his tongue as he tugged at the edge of the door, finally realizing that it slid open. With all his strength, he grabbed the rusted handle and slid the door open. Suddenly, there was a gaping, rectangular hole in the ceiling, the moonlight pouring through onto Francis and their makeshift bed. Alfred looked down into the boxcar, meeting his best friend's wide-eyed gaze with a grin. "Our five star hotel has even got a sun roof, now would you look at that, Francey!" Alfred laughed, his eyes twinkling like the stars around his head.

Just as Francis was about to spring up from his 'bed', he was almost blinded by a sudden, brilliant light coming from the direction of the ceiling. Looking up with a gasp, he saw Alfred hovering above him, bathed in moonlight with a crown of stars above his head.

"Alfred," He gasped, feeling a single tear fall from his eye and slide down his cheek, one that he didn't even know had formed. "Oh, Alfred." All of a sudden he began to laugh. The shadows in the boxcar were no more-- light filtered through every part of their little world. "You... you scared me. Dieu, I was... I was terrified." He continued to laugh, wiping at his eyes. "How silly I am. As beautiful as our sun roof is, please don't do that again, mon cher. I would like to keep my sanity if you don't mind."

Alfred knelt by the edge of their 'sunroof', smiling down at Francis. His heart ached when he noticed the tear that rolled down his cheek, when he heard Francis' confession to being afraid. The American felt the oddest mixture of joy and sorrow when he realized just how much Francis cared for him. So much that even the slightest suspicion of him getting hurt or leaving had him terrified and in tears. This wasn't the first time this evening that Alfred had felt that familiar urge come on again. "Yeah, you are pretty silly." Alfred agreed teasingly, winking behind his thin-rimmed glasses. "Alright, alright. I don't wanna give you a heart attack. No more surprises." Even as he said those words, that mischievous glint in his eyes remained. Yet another reckless idea popped into his head and, being who he was, Alfred decided to run with it without thinking twice. Judging by his playful smirk and slight shift in position, it seemed the blonde was up to no good as usual. "No more surprises... after this..!"

With a laugh, the American stood, took a few steps back, then ran forward and jumped through the trap door in the ceiling of the rusty boxcar. His landing was a success; both feet on the wooden floor, no part of him inured. But the success was short-lived, as the moment his feet hit the floor he stumbled forward, loosing his balance from all the momentum it took to jump through the ceiling. Alfred gasped and let out a little yelp of surprise as he fell down onto the bed of hay. It took him a second to realize that he wasn't the only one who'd toppled over onto the makeshift bed; Francis lay underneath him, a victim Alfred's surprises once again, chests pressed together and their faces mere inches apart. Alfred blinked down at the Frenchman with rounded blue eyes, shocked and still processing what had just happened. When he did, he promptly burst into laughter, the sound clear and joyous and booming.

Standing up, Francis folded the blanket up and dropped it onto the hay, ready to be used when his friend climbed back down from the roof. "No more surprises." He agreed, glad that Alfred was being sensible. Then, for a moment, he looked elsewhere and his gaze (for once) was not fixed upon the American. Francis gazed up at the sky, too distracted by the stars above their heads to notice that the man was speaking again until it was already too late. Earlier on, Alfred's grin had caught the corner of his eye, that sudden playful flash of white teeth, but it hadn't been enough to make Francis worry about what might happen next. No, he didn't worry until he heard those words and saw the man disappear for a moment before he was running and jumping down, down towards the ground-- "Alfred--!!" In what he later figured must have been a protective gesture, Francis flung his arms open as wide as he could, hoping, praying that the American wouldn't hit the ground. As soon as the man's feet successfully hit the floor his arms dropped upon instinct and instead reached forward, reaching out for his friend, reaching out to check that he was okay because the Frenchman certainly wasn't, not with his heart racing at such a speed. And then, all of a sudden, Francis himself was falling. The impact came in two parts; the first as his back hit the pile of hay and the second as Alfred fell on top of him.

His hands flew upwards, grabbing onto Alfred's back with a choked gasp as the breath was knocked out of him, rendering him motionless for a moment afterwards. When his eyes were able to focus again, he saw that the American was hovering above him, their faces close and their bodies pressed flush together. If it had been anyone else, then Francis might have found this situation comical-- he may have even laughed and teased the other, making some kind of joke out of the situation. But this was Alfred, so Francis could do little more than blush.

"Holy shit..! Oh, Francey, I'm sorry, dude..!" Alfred feared he really would give poor Francis a heart attack one of these days, what with his relentless jokes and pranks and surprises. "Are you okay, buddy?" He laughed, hoping he hadn't shaken his best friend too much. Thank goodness they landed on the bed of hay; Alfred would have never forgiven himself if he'd knocked Francis to the floor, accidentally hurting him. After all, he had promised that Francis would always be safe with him. In order to keep that promise though, Alfred thought, he really had to be more careful. More careful, yes, and far less reckless.

He now realized just how stupid he'd been; he could have slipped whilst running, or fallen right off the top of their boxcar. He could have misjudged his aim as he threw himself through the opening in the car and injured himself that way. And if even if he made it though the trap door, there was the possibility of hurting himself or Francis whilst landing. Anyone else would have been shaken with the realization of how lucky they were to be alive after such a stunt, but Alfred felt nothing but joy and triumph. Ever the optimist, his first thought was to focus on the positives. "Did you see me, Francey? That was awesome! I can't believe I pulled that off!" He cried happily, grinning down at his companion. It was then that he realized he still had Francis pinned beneath him, their bodies pressed flush together atop the makeshift bed. Alfred found himself blushing, immediately moving to get off of the poor guy. Jeez, he'd probably been crushing him; both Alfred and the scales knew he was no lightweight. "A-Ah, sorry, dude." He apologized, chuckling sheepishly as he gave Francis some space.

At first, the American didn't seem to notice their predicament. Alfred really is unique, Francis thought to himself, looking up at the other man. There's something about him... some part of his childish innocence still remains. Unlike Francis. Francis, who was mature and hardly had a fraction of innocence to speak of, who knew what it felt like to leave a life behind in search for a newer, better one; for another chance. Francis, who knew what it felt like to want to leave life behind full-stop, to want to end it all himself in search of peace. But none of that mattered right now, because right now in this moment Alfred F. Jones was laying on top of him and he was laughing about it. He seemed ecstatic, immediately beginning to talk in a casual-- albeit worried-- manner, a mix of exclamations and questions falling from him lips.

"Oui," He gasped, managing to speak again, managing to breathe once more as he got over the shock of what had just happened. "I'm okay." However, Francis looked dumbfounded. Did Alfred not realize the position that they were in? It certainly seemed that was the case from the way Alfred was laughing obliviously.

The Frenchman simply lay there, red-faced, quietly listening as his friend rambled on. He didn't want to speak for fear of upsetting the American-- he deserved to have his moments of enjoyment, after all. However, very soon it turned out that Francis didn't need to intervene at all, because then came the blush, the realization. Both men gazed at each other for a brief moment, and all of a sudden Francis felt himself shiver. "It's alright, it was only an accident. And I must say, that was a very spectacular jump, dangerous as it was." He spoke with a gentle smile, filled with a silent understanding. When Alfred climbed off of him, Francis practically moaned in satisfaction, his eyes fluttering closed for a moment. It wasn't that Alfred was heavy, but having the weight of anyone fall onto you from a height was bound to be uncomfortable. He was so relieved to be able to breathe again that he hadn't been able to prevent the sound from slipping past his lips. It had only been a soft sound lasting a mere moment, but Alfred was not stupid-- they both knew that he had heard it, and in that moment Francis just wanted the boxcar to swallow him up entirely. His face immediately blossomed into a deep, red flush, and the breath that he had been so eager to inhale lodged in his throat, choking him. He looked mortified, his eyes going wide as saucers as he stared up at the ceiling, raising a hand and clamping it over his mouth.

Yeah. Alfred had heard it alright. And while he'd never gotten to second base with anyone at all, he wasn't a foreigner to the sound that slipped from his friend's lips. He was overcome with the strangest combination of emotions then (though he often did feel odd mixtures of emotion around Francis). Confusion, embarrassment, and God, that urge. It was back at full force, and Alfred resisted whatever it was, once again brushing it off as best he could. What'd happened just then. Had he... accidentally touched Francis somewhere sensitive? Or... oh, Alfred understood now.

"Y-You know if I was crushing you that badly you could have just said so... feels better now, huh?" Francis looked mortified. Sure, moaning in response to anything other than the obvious tended to be embarrassing. But it was just Alfred. Why would Francis care so much about his image in front of Alfred? After all, the American had seen Francis at his worst, his absolute lowest point, and still didn't leave his side, didn't even think of it. "Hey... it's not a big deal, buddy.." Alfred knew he wasn't being all that convincing. So maybe just... return the mood to a calm, neutral one that would put Francis at ease. Uncharged of all the sudden tension between them.

The sandy blond took his place on their hay bed besides the Parisian, pulling up the blankets to cover their legs. It was peaceful, here in their boxcar. After such a long day, their makeshift bed felt comfortable and inviting. The blankets were itchy and littered with bits of hay, but they fought off the chilly bit of cold that swept through the car and nipped at their skin. But perhaps the best part of the scene they'd created for themselves was how Francis looked right now, drenched in moonlight, nearly glowing. Now it was Alfred's turn to blush and look up at the sky. They just lay like that, side by side, staring up through the open trap-door. If the sky was any colour other than black it wasn't noticeable. The bright stars made it darker in contrast.

Something to break the silence. Anything. "..Are you cold..? Alfred asked, partially turning onto his side to face Francis. The American knew he didn't need an excuse to cuddle Francis. Even before the Frenchman needed to be held and comforted, he would never turn down cuddles or any kind of contact for that matter. But for tonight, he felt he should try to think up a reason for them to be close. Even if Francis no longer needed him as a source of comfort, Alfred wanted to wrap his arms around him, hold him against his chest and protect him from the cold and the danger. Alfred chuckled softly. "Alright, for real this time; no more surprises. You need rest.." The last sentence was soft as Alfred resisted taking Francis' hand, forcing himself not to touch the Frenchman.

Oh, that stutter. If Alfred's stutter didn't make Francis feel guilty, then nothing else could. Just knowing that he had made Alfred nervous was enough to knock the Frenchman off course. Alfred didn't get nervous; not ever. Except when he did. When he's being himself, Francis thought as he blinked up at the ceiling of the boxcar, because underneath all that bravado, Alfred was only human. Being the hero didn't mean that he didn't have emotions. Although they were roughly the same age, with the American being a few days older than the French, Alfred had little sexual experience. Francis knew this to be a fact. Why, the man had openly admitted that he was a virgin when asked (and Francis knew that Alfred wasn't the type to lie about that for the sake of pride), something that Francis understood and accepted. No, scratch that-- he didn't understand. Not really. Taking pride in being a citizen of le pays d'amour, the Frenchman believed that he understood love and relationships very well, however, he was no psychologist. He didn't understand why everyone didn't just swarm around Alfred, such a kind, good, wonderful, attractive man, asking him out on dates. Surely, if they had been, then he would be with someone right now? There'd be a significant other in Alfred's life-- someone who loved him, and someone that he loved back.

It wasn't even the subject of his virginity-- Francis just couldn't believe he wasn't fighting potential partners off with a baseball bat. But then Francis remembered Arthur. Had... Alfred been waiting? For him? Because Francis had certainly been waiting for Matthew. If that was the case, then it would explain why Alfred didn't have anyone. Like Francis, he thought he'd figured out the puzzle of love, thought he'd found the missing piece that made him complete. However, they couldn't have been more wrong, could they? It seemed that the two of them would need to keep on searching.

Francis watched as Alfred tried to figure out what had happened, the confusion visible in his face as Francis sneaked a glance over. However, as Alfred searched for a sensible justification, Francis couldn't help but think that if the American was a little less innocent then it might have occurred to him that having an attractive body pressed up against you was enough for anyone to emit some sound of enjoyment. Especially when it was Alfred; Alfred with his kind smile, tight shirt and massive strength, hovering above Francis as if he were prey... But Alfred was far too considerate to really act like that, of course. He was a gentleman at heart--a far better one than Arthur could ever dream of being.

Francis finally managed a nod, bringing his hand down from his mouth to rest by his side once more, allowing his voice to be heard. "Oui, it feels good." He was quick to add. "Not that you're heavy. It's all muscle, you know, and that weighs a lot more... but thank you, Alfred." Francis hadn't even apologized, and yet the American was still ever-kind, ever-reassuring, so quick to tell his friend that everything was alright, that he shouldn't worry.

As for Francis' own words, he was pleased to hear that he wasn't stuttering as much as he thought he might, perhaps because seeing Alfred nervous didn't make him feel the same way too much, but rather just made him feel sad. He needed Alfred's smile-- needed it to survive. And he hadn't been flirting with Alfred when he had complimented him. Not at all. This practice, he suspected, was one that had irritated Matthew very much. The fact that Francis, whilst smitten with one person, had the capability and compassion to share love with others. It didn't make him a cheater. It didn't make him a liar. It simply made him human, made him feel good-- who wouldn't jump at the chance to make someone else happy? Perhaps the rest of society just didn't feel confident enough to act in the way that he did? But for Francis, it wasn't even a matter of confidence-- the practice was simply a part of him, and such a big part that even now, even when he was broken and ruined and hurting and spoilt, he could still compliment and he could still make people happy. So he clung onto that trait with his life.

Alfred's exes, his long list of crushes, Arthur; they'd given him butterflies. They'd given him sparks, waves of joy. But in these past couple of days, Alfred felt everything he had before, but multiplied a thousand times. Now he felt stampedes. Explosions, fireworks. Towering, enormous, goddamn tsunamis of happiness that made the ripples of joy of his past relationships laughable. Francis held a magnifying glass to every one of Alfred's emotions, it seemed. There was friendship, there was romance, and then there was whatever he and the Frenchman shared, more powerful than both combined. It was incredible, Alfred thought, how humans bond, connect, love, over pain they suffer through together. The American shot Francis a playfully sarcastic look as he added the compliment, quickly sugarcoating his relived words as if to be positively certain Alfred wouldn't be offended by them. "Are you calling me fat..?" He replied in a high-pitched, airy, playfully imitative tone. The blonde sniffled, made his eyes round and misty, only to drop the act a moment later with a faint laugh. "You're welcome, Francey."

There was a moment just then, as he looked over at Alfred and caught his gaze, a moment between them. An unspoken connection. Francis could see that Alfred understood. He knew how sorry Francis was, he knew about the man's reluctance to say so for fear of causing a scene. And from the look of his smile, he didn't mind. He was willing to forgive Francis for another mistake, and that made the Frenchman happier than he could ever begin to explain.

"Fat?" He looked shocked for a moment before noticing Alfred's tone of voice and the playful look he was being given. "Of course I don't think you're fat, mon cher-- you're beautiful." He cooed softly, moving to caress Alfred's cheek as he feigned an upset expression. "Si gentil..." He gave a little laugh as he murmured the words. Relaxing a little, Francis let his muscles go slack and lay down fully on their bed of hay, shifting over a fraction to make room for Alfred as he approached. Their ceiling was still open, stars twinkling above their heads. "Cold?" He turned his head in response, facing the boy as he spoke. "Just a little, cher. Et toi-- are you cold?" Studying him for a moment, Francis understood. Alfred was holding back. Why, Francis didn't know, but he was, and that simply wouldn't do. No, he and the American were friends-- the best of friends. He wanted Alfred to be honest with him, to be himself, to be comfortable. To be at home with Francis.

They laid side by side in the comfortable silence and the cool of the night, the bed of hay somehow very comfortable. Despite this, Alfred sat up at Francis's reply, smiling a little. The American shouldn't be as pleased as he was with his friend's reply to 'Are you cold?', but he had his reasons. "Nah, all this 'muscle'..." He looked down at himself for a second with a playful smile, winking as he met Francis' gaze again. "...keeps me nice and toasty. Check this out," Slipping that beloved bomber jacket of his off of his shoulders, Alfred showed it to his companion. "The fuzzy black wool lines the whole inside, you know..! 'Bout the warmest thing known to mankind." With that being said, he draped the jacket over Francis like a blanket and laid back down, satisfied.

Allowing his eyes to slip closed for a moment as they gazed up at the stars, he felt his muscles truly relax, feeling free of worry for a few blissful moments, They opened once more as Alfred spoke, the Frenchman turning to his friend and following him with his eyes as he sat up. "Indeed." He laughed, feeling his cheeks warm slightly as he registered Alfred's wink. "I'm glad: I wouldn't want you to be cold." But how could Alfred ever be cold? Since the day they had met, ever since Francis could remember, Alfred had worn that trusty brown bomber jacket of his. It must have been very special to him, whether it had been a present from someone else or just a very nice purchase Francis didn't know, but he understood how important the item was to Alfred. It was somewhat of an unspoken custom between them-- whether they were out and about or at school (he sometimes wore it over his uniform despite regulations), Alfred was never far from his beloved jacket.

Francis made to sit up as the American showed him his jacket, wanting to demonstrate his genuine interest by making the effort to look properly. "Really? Oh là là, no wonder you love it so much--" He broke off as the jacket was draped over him, looking confused all of a sudden. "Alfred...? Cher, what... what are you doing? This is your jacket, I couldn't possibly..." He trailed off, a deep blush upon his face. He knew how much the item meant to Alfred; how special it was that Alfred had chosen to lend it to him. However, despite not wanting to be rude, the Frenchman couldn't help but worry about his friend. "Won't you be cold? Here..." Shifting closer, Francis beckoned the man to lie back down and, once Alfred was close enough, adjusted the material so that the jacket covered both of them. "Perfect. Thank you, Alfred." He said softly.

Feeling a tiny, miniscule twitch from the boy's hand, Francis carefully reached over, first letting his fingers brush over Alfred's wrist as a form of warning and to give him a choice, a chance to pull away, before he let their fingers intertwine. "I will rest now as you requested, amour," He spoke softly, enjoying the warmth of Alfred's skin against his own. "Though you need to more than me." It was true. Alfred had been in a fight today, though Francis didn't plan to say so directly. Such a horrific occurrence should not be mentioned again unless Alfred brought it up himself; the poor boy didn't need any more reminders than he already had etched upon his body.

Feeling a sudden wave of protectiveness surge within him, Francis gently rubbed the pad of his thumb over the skin of Alfred's hand. It was soft, he noted. "But first... we should enjoy our beautiful sunroof for a little while, non?" Francis turned his head with a smile, admiring the stars above them once more. His smile only grew as he gazed upon them, tilting his head back a little further in order to see a larger expanse more clearly. In fact, they mesmerized him so much that he switched languages without even meaning to, completely entranced. "Les étoiles... ils sont si beaux. Je ne sais pas comment voir les constellations dans le ciel, mais... je sais à quoi ils ressemblent."

Looking over at Alfred once again, he laughed. "When I was back home, I used to stargaze sometimes, and I always read horoscopes in the paper. You and I..." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "We're both Cancer. Now, what did the papers used to say...?" Closing his eyes, he smiled. "Alors... Cancer. Tenacious, très imaginatif, fidèle, émotionnel, sympathique et persuasive. Nous sommes profondément intuitive et sentimentale. Notre détermination persistante est dit être notre meilleur attribut." A light laugh followed as he looked to his friend, nostalgia shining in his eyes as they opened again and he spoke, oblivious to his own words. "Qu'est-ce que tu penses, Alfred? C'est vrai?" Even the man's name was spoken with an unintentional French highlight to it, light and questioning as his eyes searched the American's, curious as to the man's opinion.

Alfred replayed the moment Francis had accepted the jacket over and over again in his head. How he responded to a kind gesture very time without fail. The Frenchman would loose his cool, grow flustered and speechless-- perhaps more often when it was Alfred who was treating him kindly, showering him with the compliments Francis himself was so well known for passing out to everyone just for the sake of being the good person he was.

How absolutely ridiculous it was that his brother and Arthur couldn't see Francis' true intentions. His compliments were designed only to make people happy, only to bring a little light into their lives. How could anyone misread his kindness so badly? They'd called him disgusting, called him a man-whore, a cheat, a liar, every word in the book. But all Alfred saw was beautiful, inside and out. Especially now, as he failed to keep his eyes off of Francis as his friend gazed up at the stars. Oh, and then that language spilled from his lips. His voice was hushed, warm, melodious; his accent disappearing as he spoke his native tongue. And even if Alfred could speak a word of French, he would have been too entranced to process a word spoken to him, too lulled by the sound of Francis' voice, the language itself like the song of a siren.

The American took a steading breath as Francis switched back to English, turning on his side, facing the Parisian and looking at him with adoration-filled cerulean eyes. "Yeah... our birthdays are both in July, huh?" He whispered, not about to let his too-loud, inelegant voice and bulky accent ruin the calm that filled the air as Francis nearly sighed out his first language. Alfred simply laid there, silent, chest swelling with the same nostalgia that filled Francis' eyes, a delighted, sweet smile tugging at his lips.

The American knew he should have been embarrassed when his answer to Francis' question was nothing more than a dreamy sigh. "Hm...?" Alfred just didn't want his friend to stop talking. Really, he could fall asleep to the sound of his voice. The sandy blond laughed quietly, smiling in a rather shy manner. "Not a word, buddy, not one word." He admitted with another quiet chuckle at himself. Francis really was recovering, Alfred thought. He was smiling again. Finding beauty in the little things he had nearly given up, like sunsets and songs and stars. He was trusting again, trusting Alfred enough to speak in his own language in front of him, simply because he knew the American would never judge him for it.

"...What'd you ask me, Francey..?" Alfred hummed in question, keeping his voice soft and quiet as to not tamper with the atmosphere. God, Francis' voice really was like a lullaby. Alfred's eyelids began to grow heavy, the lovely, content feeling of being sleepy filling his chest and beginning to cloud his mind. With what little energy he had left, Alfred brought up the edge of the blankets and his own jacket over Francis' shoulders, wanting to be certain he wouldn't be cold tonight. He didn't bother bringing his hand back, allowing his arm to comfortably drape across the smaller's torso.

The American tried to fight sleep, but it was no use; something about being this close to someone he treasured as much as his beloved friend put Alfred at ease. He sighed, eyelids fluttering, a soft smile remaining on his lips. And without much thought at all, he spoke. "...Mm... Francey? You know I love you, right?" His whispered words were honest, sincere; he genuinely hoped Francis knew they were true already. Of course Alfred loved him. Platonically, of course, is what the American told himself as he pressed a sleepy goodnight kiss to the Frenchman's soft, golden hair.

"Not a word...?" Francis echoed, both sounding and looking quite confused at his friend's words. He didn't understand what the other was talking about until he looked at Alfred properly. Really looked at him. The soft tone he used, the way his eyes weren't as wide as usual, the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest... the man was tired; so tired that he couldn't concentrate enough to hear Francis' words properly. It wasn't surprising, considering the day that two of them had had. Right now, Alfred just needed to rest-- Francis should have noticed that already. Here he was, wittering on about star signs and asking Alfred questions when the poor boy just needed to sleep.

"It's alright, amour. Nothing important-- but oui, you are right that our birthdays are both in July. We can talk about it tomorrow.." Smiling gently, Francis noted how Alfred's eyelids were slowly slipping further and further closed with every passing second. It was quite endearing, really. "Now," He lowered the tone of his voice considerably, making his speech softer and more delicate than usual. "We should sleep, I think. It must be getting late, and I'm certainly tired..." His words were meant to ease Alfred into sleep-- to let the other know that it was alright if he couldn't stay awake.

Francis knew for a fact that Alfred liked to look after everyone else; he liked to be the hero, perhaps too much. The Frenchman knew that Alfred would sacrifice his own comfort if it meant making someone else happy, and he didn't want his friend to hold off sleeping just for the sake of talking to him. After their long, event-filled day, it just wasn't fair. So Francis lay still as Alfred adjusted the blankets and jacket over them, tucking them in for the night. He found himself pleasantly surprised when Alfred did not withdraw his hand, finding comfort in the gentle weight and pleasant warmth of his arm. In response, Francis moved a little closer to Alfred, turning a little towards the side until they were close, laying shoulder to shoulder. "Bonne nuit, mon chou..."

Just as Francis was drifting off to sleep, he heard Alfred emit a soft sigh and speak once more. 'You know I love you, right?' The words echoed in his mind, making his eyes go wide and his cheeks turn a shade darker, just for a moment, before he settled back down again. "Oui, Alfred, I do know... and I hope that you know the same. I love you too. I really do love you. And I'm grateful for the jacket.."

And with that he turned fully, rolling onto his side, and kissed the American's cheek in turn without hesitating. It was a rather messy kiss, lacking the grace and finesse of Francis' general movements, but it was sincere. With just the two of them in the room, Francis was himself. There were no airs and graces, no flirtation, just pure, brilliant emotion. It spoke meaning, lasting for a second or two before his lips fell away and his head settled upon Alfred's shoulder, their blond locks becoming one beautiful flow as he drifted off to sleep.

Later, Alfred thought, he'd worry about it later. He'd worry about the way his stomach fluttered, his cheeks warmed, and his heart sped at Francis' touch and words later. In an attempt to distract from the dusted pink over his cheeks, Alfred grinned, looked up at the stars as his eyes opened once more, and tried to talk it off. "Jeez, you Europeans. So lovey-dovey all the time." The American couldn't say he minded the oddly timed kisses. Or the word-twisting accents, the foreign customs and phrases. Looking, sounding, being different, in Alfred's mind, was attractive. Of course, Arthur was on the wrong side of the ocean too, but there was something about Francis. The bits of foreign language tossed into conversation had Alfred confused, lulled, and absolutely entranced. Francis was a whole new level of different, and Alfred loved it.

"Oh, thank you.." Alfred chuckled as Francis so sweetly tucked him in and made sure he was warm enough. Was Matthew out of his goddamn mind? Alfred found himself struggling to think of one trait that made Francis less than perfect; what was there to hate? A sleepy smile crossed his lips."Hey, it's no problem. I trust you with it."

I trust you with it.

"Here." The jacket was handed to him, heavy in his arms. "If I'm not back by the time it fits you..." Round, shimmering blue eyes stared up into the softened orbs of Alfred's father. "...Then it's yours." The man's deep, warm chuckle filled the room as Alfred put the leather jacket on, his fingertips barely peeking out of the sleeves when he straightened his arms. "...But you will be back before then... won't you, Dad?" Alfred's voice was full of childish innocence, optimism hanging off of his every word, even at such a young age. The man smiled a bit sadly as he noticed a second little boy, peeking out from behind the corner with misty amethyst eyes.

He beckoned the second child over and ruffled his hair. "You can't win a war overnight, boys. But... just don't grow too attached to that jacket of mine, son; I may be back for it sooner than you think." Alfred didn't know it yet, but that wink and that grin of his Dad's would become his own trademark expression by the time he reached young adulthood. But right now, the only thought going through his mind was of his father coming home sooner than later, and how that promise sounded so much better than getting to keep any old bomber jacket.

"Take care of your Mom, boys. Look after each other. And while I'm off being a hero," The boy giggled softly as his father mussed up the sandy hair. He knew what his Dad was referencing. Alfred always called him that; a hero. "You'll be one too, yeah?" The boy nodded, gave his father a salute and looked up at him with eyes full of innocence, admiration, and so, so much hope.

Alfred had lifted his arms. Dropped them to his sides. Turned, squinted, spun, stopped. Stared at his own reflection. And then the lump in his throat became too big to swallow, his lashes could no longer bear the weight of the stinging tears that filled his cerulean eyes that so perfectly matched his father's. The bomber jacket fit him. It was his now, just like his old man had promised. The weight of the thin black wool and heavy leather was easily supported on his broad, muscular shoulders. The bottom of the jacket stopped at his hips, no longer baggy and too-large. At last, his hands, which were now large, slightly calloused and worn could be fully seen, the sleeve's cuffs stopping perfectly at his wrists. The jacket fit him like a glove; no piece of clothing could look as natural on a person as the bomber jacket looked on Alfred. But in his heart, as he stared at the person in the mirror that looked all too much like his father, Alfred knew he would burn his precious jacket if only his Dad would come home.

But now, years after that hope had died, the jacket was both his most treasured possession and his most precious memory. He hardly let anyone touch it, let alone wear it. But Francis was special. He trusted Francis. As the American drifted off to sleep, his soft smile grew as Francis kissed his cheek and returned his affectionate, truthful words. "...'Night, Francey.." He murmured sleepily, finding himself entirely content with the two most important things in his life so close to him. The everlasting symbol of his father, his hero, and Francis.


Translations (this chapter has the really long ones XD):

Merde - Shit

Les étoiles... ils sont si beaux. Je ne sais pas comment voir les constellations dans le ciel, mais... je sais à quoi ils ressemblent - The stars... they are so beautiful. I don't know how to see the constellations in the sky, but... I know what they look like

Alors... Cancer. Tenacious, très imaginatif, fidèle, émotionnel, sympathique et persuasive. Nous sommes profondément intuitive et sentimentale. Notre détermination persistante est dit être notre meilleur attribut - So... Cancer. Tenacious, very imaginative, faithful, emotional, friendly and persuasive. We are deeply intuitive and sentimental. Our persistent determination is said to be our best attribute

Qu'est-ce que tu penses, Alfred? C'est vrai? - What do you think, Alfred? Is it true?

Si gentille - So nice

A/N: If any of the translations are incorrect then please do not hesitate to correct us! Unfortunately neither of us are native speakers, but we do our best.

And yes, that title was designed to be a reference to Wicked because it's a got a fantastic soundtrack and I might have been listening to it when this was being edited (so if there's any mistakes then it's probably because I was jamming out :P).

Thank you for reading and supporting us!
Please do tell us what you thought below in the comments-- we'd love to know.

Chapter Text

A/N: Some rather unsettling truths are discovered in this chapter, so please be aware of the warnings listed below.

Please enjoy!

Warnings: Dub/con elements, non/con elements, implied rape.


Wine had been his favourite beverage ever since he could remember.

Even as a young boy he had enjoyed taking tiny sips from his mother's glass, delighting in the comforting flavour as it slid down his throat and warmed his stomach. For Francis, it wasn't even about the alcohol. He wasn't searching to get drunk, he just enjoyed the taste, how it perfectly complimented a nice, quiet evening in with a book, or a loud, fun-filled night out with friends. Wine was delicious.

Which is why he was questioning his current situation and how he had ended up at this party with, not a nice, full glass of wine, but a can of cheap beer in his hand.

Well, strictly speaking, it wasn't even in his hand anymore; it had been deposited (or rather dropped) on a cabinet nearby, the remaining contents shaking with the beat of the music that echoed throughout the house. It was a loud, pounding track with a heavy bass that seemed to be lasting hours.

How long had Francis even been at the party? He wasn't quite sure anymore, but it had to have been at least at hour or two.

He'd arrived with some friends, all of them eager to have a good time, have a drink and perhaps find someone to make-out with. Despite the majority of them being underage, the alcohol flowed freely and he'd had a can of beer pressed into his hand upon arrival. The can bouncing upon the cabinet was not the same one (he'd already gone through two or three since they first arrived, but he still felt in control. He wasn't drunk yet, and he didn't plan to let himself get that far, either)-- no, this particular can had been offered to him by someone else; a senior in the year above him.

They hadn't spoken much before, but Francis recalled seeing him around the hallways, remembered his sweet smile. That evening, though, they had spoken quite a lot and, as the empty cans increased, had found themselves becoming quite close indeed, and not just in a mental sense. After about an hour of talking, the two began to kiss rather passionately, eventually moving upstairs together in effort to find some peace and quiet.

This is how Francis found himself sprawled over a bed with this man hovering above him, tangling his hands in chestnut locks and gazing into amber eyes every now and then as lips moved from his own to the smooth skin of neck.

"Louis," He breathed his name, chuckling softly. "My dear, if you keep that up then I'm going to have marks all over my neck tomorrow. I know that I'm too delicious to resist, but even so..." Breaking their contact, Louis looked up and raised a delicate eyebrow, his amber eyes meeting blue.

"You're a right charmer, aren't you?"

"Mm, is it too overwhelming for you? I could always turn it down a notch or two."

"Who said I was complaining?" He purred, leaning up for another kiss. After indulging Francis for a few moments with the brief contact, he pulled away and sat up, taking a long drink before pulling his shirt off and throwing it across the room, where it landed on the floor. "It's getting hot..." Noticing that his partner was staring, he clambered back onto the bed and straddled him with a grin. "Why the blush? You're no prude, are you? I know that you understand this stuff, Francis, you're no child."

Francis felt himself blushing. "It's not that I don't understand, but.."

"Well, what is it then?" Louis' face fell. "Am I not good enough for you? I should have known..."

"What? No! No, it's not that at all! God, Louis, don't say such things..." Francis shook his head, looking appalled. "You're far out of my league, so much so that I have to wonder if this is a dream. You're gorgeous, dear, you have the prettiest eyes that I've ever seen, and such smooth skin..." As he spoke, his hands began to roam gently, caressing the other's sides.

"You think?" The brunette smirked slightly. "Well, if you think that I'm above you, then perhaps I should teach you the basics of my league? I'd love for you to be on my level. Let's get your shirt off, for a start," Francis looked apprehensive as he began to slowly undo the buttons. Had it been any other situation, Francis would have begun to lament how little regard Louis' rough fingers had for the quality of the fine shirt. Alas, he was rather preoccupied with other, less innocent thoughts. At the forefront of his mind, however, was the notion that this was a very bad idea indeed. "And then I'll show you why this is most certainly not a dream... your mind couldn't possibly predict the things I'm going to do to you."

Hesitating, Francis shifted around on the sheets, voice faltering as he began the protest.

"My dear, I'm... not so sure. You're very beautiful, yes, but--"

"Then do what I say." Louis cut him off, boldly meeting his gaze. "You trust me, don't you?" His lips twisted into a smirk as he finally managed to pull the shirt off and press Francis down into the bed. Francis found himself flinching, shaking his head.

"No, it's not that I don't, I just.. I don't think that we should... we've only just met properly, Louis. Don't you want to get to know me before--"

"I know you already. You're hot, and I want you right now, so stop talking and just let me take care of you. Besides, you can hardly refuse me now, not when we've come so far already..." He pressed his bare torso against Francis' own as a reminder and waited until the man gave a hesitant nod.

"Good boy. Now, just trust me..."

Being 'taken care of' was a very loose term indeed. In fact, Francis couldn't have felt less comfortable in the moments that followed after. There were no warnings and no reassurance, just pure, hot lust. Lips that choked the very breath from his lungs, fingers-- nails-- that dug into his wrists, preventing movement, preventing independence, another body smothering his own and it was too hard, too hot. It was only when his cries of 'slower' and 'stop' or 'you're hurting me' were met with 'shut up for a minute' and 'you're so whiney' did Francis truly realise the mistake he'd made.

He'd asked for this, and now it was happening he hated it, hated the way that he couldn't move, couldn't stop, could barely breathe and no no no no this wasn't happening he hadn't wanted it like this and where was all the romance that he'd so dreamed about, the love that he'd so craved--

Awake. Francis woke up screaming, flailing, pushing the blankets off of him, desperate to get away. It didn't even make a difference when he opened his eyes to view the boxcar once more because he couldn't see, not through the tears that were pouring down his cheeks and blurring his vision. He lay down, sobbing and trembling, throwing punches at the air and crying out "Stop, please, stop, stop--" over and over, still waiting for the man in his dream to finally listen, to pay him some attention and treat him like a human being again.

There had never been peace like this before.

Somehow, in the cargo car of a rusty old train, Alfred felt more at home and content than he could ever remember feeling anywhere else. Maybe it was the endless, rolling fields, flowing past outside the boxcar's gaping opening for his exploring. Perhaps the wonderful blanket of peace and tranquility draped over him was woven by his company; his best friend-- his only friend-- finally at ease and happy and at Alfred's side; a place where he'd always be safe. And for that reason, Alfred was peaceful.

Even the slightly shaky ride and the grinding sound of wheels against track didn't disturb the tranquility.

But Francis' scream; that did. God, did that do the trick.

A gasp left his lips as he jolted awake, he sat up quickly, eyes round and practically overflowing with concern. The dots connected quickly in his head as he realized the reason for Francis' panic was a night terror (and not any real danger, thank God). For fuck's sake, hadn't Francis been traumatized enough in the last few days? Hadn't he suffered enough, cried enough? 'Stop, please, stop, stop--'

"Francis.." Alfred was at his side in a second, searching his tear-soaked face. At the moment, it didn't matter what the contents of Francis' nightmare was; Alfred just needed it to stop tormenting the poor man. His heart ached at the sight of him so broken, so desperate, pleading and begging for an invisible danger not to hurt him. Alfred's hands closed around Francis' fists as he swung them around in a futile attempt to defend himself from whatever was causing him so much terror.

"..Francis, Francey, hey.. Francis, it's me.. shh, shh... Francis, look at me, it's okay." He brought the Frenchman's shaking hands to his chest, holding them over his slightly rapid heartbeat. One hand held Francis' own and the other went to cup the back of his neck, the pad of his thumb nothing but gentle against the side of his jaw. He realized that, in that moment, more than anything, Alfred wanted to take Francis into his arms and hold him against his chest until he stopped shaking, stopped sobbing, stopped begging for the safety he already had. He wanted to rock him gently and stroke his hair and kiss away his tears and there was no time to concentrate on why the hell he wanted to touch Francis so badly because there were far more important matters at hand.

"No one is gonna hurt you. You're safe, Francey, look at me; I won't let anyone hurt you.."

Away, away-- Francis wanted to be away from bed, the covers that restrained him, the chilly air that he blindly defended himself against with wildly thrown punches. Whatever lurked in his nightmare, Alfred realized, was out to get him, and Francis wanted to be away from it. Did he want to be away from Alfred too? The last thing he'd wanted to do was to satisfy his urges and pull Francis into arms, only to frighten him more, give him another reason the thrash and cry and plead for freedom.

But suddenly, there was no decision to be made; Alfred's body seemed to move on its own and veto any protests his brain rushed to think up as the American lent forward and embraced the other tightly. One arm looped his back, the other curled around his head, hand covering Francis' damp, closed eyes so he couldn't see whatever threatened to hurt him, whatever Alfred would never let touch him.

Don't push me away, he silently prayed. You don't have to fight, you don't have to be afraid... let me protect you.. let me make it better. The words echoed through his mind; Alfred didn't even realize it as they slipped past his lips, hardly a whisper, barely reaching Francis ears. Dad had told him to be a hero. He'd told him that, to do what's right, the bad guys had to be brought justice, had to pay for their wrong doings. It was his Dad's job, and it was Alfred's job, to bring justice to those who deserved it. But Dad never told him what do to when it was all switched and upside down, he'd never prepared him for that.

When undeserved punishment was upon someone entirely innocent; what was Alfred supposed to do them?

He was great at standing up to bullies, great at spotting the villain, even if that villain was his own brother. But what was he to do now, when all the unnecessary anguish was upon the least deserving person? He wished he could do more than comfort Francis. He wished he could venture into his dream and fight off whatever was hurting him. But when his hope was impossible, he was back to comforting; the only way he could help Francis. In the end, it didn't matter what method was used; as long as he'd stop crying like that... "It's okay... shh, you're okay, you're okay..."

A figure blurred his vision. There were hands over his, fingers touching his face and neck, a voice speaking in his ear and all the while Francis resisted, fighting to get away, to escape, because this wasn't going to happen again, he wasn't going to let it. He knew he was awake, knew that something was trying to hold him down, subdue him-- wait. He knew that voice too; but it wasn't Louis'. It was more familiar, yet more foreign at the same time.

With a start, he realised. Alfred. He was with Alfred, in America and not France. Louis was not here, Louis was not with him, and all of a sudden Francis began to cry for a different reason entirely. Alfred was here-- Alfred would protect him.

Feeling himself be scooped up into the man's arms, Francis immediately curled into himself, though he didn't resist any longer, instead clinging onto Alfred's arms, his body, anything at all. There was a hand over his face, blocking his vision, shielding and protecting him from the outside. He could feel his eyelashes brushing against it, stuck together and damp with tears. Alfred's hand was warm, surprisingly so.

'Don't push me away. You don't have to fight, you don't have to be afraid... let me protect you.. let me make it better.' The words were soft, but Francis heard them clearly, those gentle utters of reassurance over the sound of his sobs. His arms settled around Alfred's back, pulling himself closer towards the man. It was as if they were one; every part of Francis pressed against Alfred, holding him near and keeping him safe. The pain was in his chest; that awful feeling of betrayal lurked deep down within his heart.

Struggling to calm his breathing, he concentrated on the feel of the American against him, the safety that he represented, and the words that he was saying. Listen, he told himself. Listen to him. You're okay. He's telling you that you're okay. They rocked back and forth at a slow pace, holding each other close. It was as if Francis was a small child being calmed down and Alfred's words were acting as his lullaby. However, Francis did not go back to sleep.

Instead, he reached one trembling hand up to his face, took Alfred's own, the one that was shielding his eyes, and gently pulled it down. He met a brilliant blue gaze that became clearer after Francis blinked and another bout of tears slid down his cheeks, allowing him to see again. There was still fear in his eyes, but it was clear from his ever-steadying breathing that he was beginning to calm down.

"Alfred." His voice sounded strained, emotion welling up and catching in the back of his throat, soon escaping in another sob. A mix of joy and sadness and relief and pain and happiness and disgust and dieu merci he was safe. "Oh, Alfred, you're here..."

The sight of the man set him off again, his free hand gripping the other's tightly. This wasn't fair. It had been months since he'd thought of that night so vividly. Up until the previous night, his dreams had been filled with joyous things, thoughts of his love and his friends, the ones that he was so lucky to have. But now the nightmares were re-surfacing.

Francis said his name, and Alfred's heart felt as though it would burst.

He looked up at him like that, with tears in his eyes and on his cheeks and Alfred had never struggled so hard in his life to resist the familiar urge that just wouldn't quit. He looked so small, so desperate for the security and love he so obviously deserved and Alfred wanted to give it all to him, wanted to never let anyone else touch him or get close to him ever again because he didn't trust anyone but himself with Francis Bonnefoy.

"I thought that I was back there, in that room with him..." It had never bothered him so much before. Perhaps it was because that same feeling had resurfaced... the feeling of being used, made to feel insignificant. Louis had done it, and now Matthew and Arthur too. It was like a grand game of chess-- they were the players and he was a mere pawn, one of many whose only purpose was to be manipulated and made use of in order for the player to win. A sacrifice. Is that all he was?

"With who?" Was all Alfred could ask, finding it hard to speak, as if the ruthless waves of emotion that crashed over him had stolen all the air from his lungs. "Who?" Alfred was furious. With who, he didn't know. Someone had hurt Francis-- again, someone had hurt the most golden-hearted man on the face of the planet and Alfred hadn't the slightest clue who it was that'd had the nerve to lay a finger on his Francey.

Alfred took a slow breath to steady himself, all the while holding the Frenchman protectively against his chest like the world was out to hurt him.

"...Was it Matt?" He wondered out loud, his eyebrows creasing together and his hand drawing slow, comforting circles over Francis' back, over the worn leather of his own bomber jacket that coverer it. "...For Christ's sake, has he not caused you enough pain? Dammit, this isn't fair. You've cried enough over him." Alfred knew the nightmare was something like a memory, a memory of someone hurting him. And Alfred had assumed the star of the Frenchman's night terror was none other than his own twin brother. After all, it was ridiculous enough that Matthew had thought up a reason to hate Francis; some cruel justification for hurting him.

The idea that Matthew may have not been the first to do this didn't even cross Alfred's mind. Francis was good-hearted, kind and loving by nature-- the sole idea of what Matthew had done, that he could somehow find the incentive to hurt an angel like Francis, was still extraordinary to him. The inclination that not one, but two people had found it in their stone-cold hearts to hurt Francis was simply unfathomable. It didn't even cross his mind, so he assumed it was Matthew who was once again the reason for Francis' pain. But regardless of who'd hurt him, Alfred kept his eye on what was really important in this moment. Francis.

Drying his tears, taking away his fear, making him feel a little less alone and a little more wanted again. That was what mattered.

Halting his anxious questioning, Alfred focused on comforting Francis, understanding that the man needed reassurance. "Shh, shh..." He was gentler now, just as furious, but some things couldn't be fixed by fighting. "Of course I'm here.. Francey, I'm here, you're okay..." Francis was too close to the edge of the boxcar, and it was making Alfred nervous. "...Come back to bed, it's safe here."

He guided the Frenchman back to their soft bed of hay, sat back against it, then took the smaller into his arms, in his lap. Alfred's head was no help, as every thought was drowned out by his heart shouting orders, convincing Alfred to do what he felt like doing every time. So, he crossed his arms around his friend's shoulders, dipped his head and nuzzled his face into his neck, daring to allow himself one faint, comforting kiss to the crook of his neck.

"...Francey, Jeez... I'm awful sorry you had to go through that..."

Nightmares like those-- nightmares with thrashing and crying and begging and screaming-- Francis was far from deserving of nightmares like those, nor any at all, he thought.

"...Do you want to talk about it..? You know you can, you can.. if you want. I'll listen.. I'll make it better..."

Francis could feel the anger in Alfred's voice, could feel his utter disgust. He thought that this was Matthew's doing. The Frenchman knew that he should explain, but he struggled to find the words. How could he say this in a way that wouldn't break Alfred's heart even further? How did he tell him that there had been another terrible partner in his life?

Unable to find the words, he simply didn't speak, allowing Alfred to just rock him and vent his own frustration. The American's own words brought tears back to his eyes. It was true. He'd been caused enough pain before he came to the United States. Did Matthew have to add to it?

He wondered, if the Canadian knew the truth about his past-- but of course, he did know. Because Francis had told him everything. Everything that had happened to him. Matthew had been kind and sympathetic as always, but deep down, the Frenchman now understood that all of that tender emotion he had been shown must have been false. Matthew didn't care-- he never had. The only one who cared was Alfred. This was why, as they sat down together once more, Francis decided that he would explain, because Alfred deserved to know what had happened.

Their bed of hay was comfortable, soft and still with a lingering warmth, but it was nowhere near as comfortable as Alfred was. Just being held in the man's arms, having caring arms wrapped around him and a warm, tender kiss pressed to his neck was enough to calm him down. Francis welcomed Alfred, holding him close as he settled in his lap.

'Do you want to talk about it..? You know you can, you can... if you want. I'll listen.. I'll make it better...' He considered the other's words, pausing for a mere moment before nodding because yes, he did want to talk about it. He didn't even know how he would begin, but he knew that Alfred would make it all okay again, that he wouldn't be judged. Not when it was just them in their boxcar, in their little world, arms wrapped around each other so securely that Francis felt nothing in the universe could pry him away from Alfred. They wouldn't be allowed-- Alfred was protecting him.

Giving a slow, careful nod, his hand sourced Alfred's and he squeezed gently. "I'd like that... I should explain everything."

Taking a breath, he looked down at their joined hands as he thought of what to say and how to say it. "It.. wasn't Mathieu." Francis spoke in a small, rather hesitant voice. "It wasn't him. It was all before I met him, before I met you." Before things were good, he thought.

"He was a man called... Louis. In the year above me. We met for the first time properly at a party after I'd just turned seventeen. We started kissing, and ended up alone, upstairs somewhere. It... it wasn't his fault because I gave my consent, though I didn't.. really want to.. but he asked and I nodded so he didn't... he didn't force..."

Francis trailed off, squeezing Alfred's hand, gripping it tightly within his own. He hardly knew what he was saying, the words just falling out of his mouth as he was overcome with emotion. "I shouldn't have agreed, but I was naïve and.. and new to how it all worked, how it was supposed to be. He must have seen that... how fragile I was. That I didn't know how to refuse because I'd never had to before, I'd never..."

Breath catching in his throat, he looked around as a reminder of where he was, remembering that he was safe from harm, that Alfred's arms were still wrapped around him. "But he hurt me.. he didn't listen, not like a partner should. He should have cared..." Another shake of his head. "You don't treat your partner like that. Not even once... you use love and respect, gentleness..." There were tears in his eyes again, and he let them fall. "But that's not the worse part. The next day... everyone knew what had happened. I.. I must have been limping and Louis probably told someone because everyone knew. Some of the students.. they called me a slut and a... and other horrible things. Even my friends... they judged me too. So I found Louis and I asked him to date me. Because if he was my boyfriend, then I thought it wouldn't be so bad anymore."

He gave a half, painfully empty laugh.

"He agreed. We dated for a month or two before I ended it. I couldn't... I couldn't stand letting him hurt me anymore. I couldn't keep pretending. There was no love between us... he just wanted to use me.." Francis trailed off, this time burying his face into Alfred's shoulder. His hands were shaking. "I had a dream about that first night. I.. I don't know why, but I did and it just terrified me. The thought of being back there again. W-With him..." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Alfred, you... you didn't need to be burdened with all of this..."

"Not... Matt?" He repeated the words numbly, not sure what to make of them. But suddenly, he was all too sure of what they meant. It was just what he'd feared, just what he'd thought the world wasn't cruel enough to do to Francis. Matthew hadn't been his first heartbreak, had he? And, judging by the crying and the screaming and the haunting nightmares that seemed to follow his best friend, Alfred feared that whomever had broken Francis' heart first hadn't done it gently.

Maybe... maybe, he'd managed to hurt him even more than Matthew had.

The mere inkling made Alfred dizzy with rage and protectiveness and something that burned and fluttered, all boiling furiously inside of him as Francis spoke, his voice too small for Alfred's liking. "...Didn't force..?" Alfred gently coaxed Francis to continue his trailed off sentence. "... Francey, what'd he do to you...?" Alfred had to know. He had to because, right now, nothing mattered more to him than Francis, and nothing was of higher importance than his happiness. If no one had cared enough to try to make it better, to listen, to give their sincere comfort and love after so much heartbreak, then by golly Alfred had his work cut out. Francis deserved to be loved as much as anyone; more than anyone.

The American couldn't make Francis forget about what had been done to him, how many people had toyed with his heart and so carelessly broken it. But he could do his best to remind Francis that he was loved, that someone cared. No one could hurt him now, not on Alfred's watch.

Francis' eyes matched their view from the makeshift sunroof perfectly; a lovely deep blue, sprinkled with bits of light where his eyes, misty with tears, bore delicate reflections like two glass marbles. He was beautiful when he cried, beautiful when he was afraid, beautiful when he was broken. But he was perfection when he was happy, and Alfred wanted nothing more than to see Francis smile again and mean it. Jokes and grins wouldn't do right now. Alfred knew exactly what he had to do.

"Francis.." He murmured as he listened (as much as he couldn't bear what he was hearing), tightening his arms around the smaller and bowing his own head slightly so it met Francis'. A careful hand brought the blanket up over the Frenchman's shoulders, and when Alfred held him like this, surrounded him with warmth and protection, not Louis nor Matthew nor anyone else who'd danced over the pieces of Francis' heart could touch him. He held him like nothing else mattered, like the world was out to hurt him, like he had right after the Parisian was pulled away from the edge of the rooftop. Eyes closed, eyebrows knit, Alfred just listened, whispered his name every so often, pain in his emotion-thick voice.

Francis finished, and thank God because his heart ached and Alfred wasn't sure he could even begin to fix damage as bad as this. The Frenchman buried his face in his shoulder, his hands were shaking, and Alfred was a hair away from giving into that urge (not that he had the slightest clue of what every ounce of his conscious was begging him to do). Instead of giving in to the irresistible temptation, he took Francis' hand in his own larger, warm one, held it against his chest, over his heart.

"Fuck..." He choked, the same humorless laugh that had escaped Francis leaving his own lips as he cursed. "...I don't know where someone-- anyone, can find it in their stone cold heart to... to hurt you like that. Use you like that, fuck..."

Burdened? God, no-- Francis meant the world and more to Alfred, didn't he know that?

"Francey... Francis, look at me." One hand on Francis' shoulder, gently pushing him away only to lock eyes with him and draw him closer than he ever had before, just with one look. And just when he had his attention the words failed to form on his lips and the emotion that filled his heart couldn't translate into English. So he just spoke, and hoped what his conscious told him he had to say could bring a bit of comfort to Francis.

"He... can't hurt you. No one can, because you're with me now... and..." He swallowed, wet his lips. "...and your days of being used and hurt are over. No more." He wouldn't allow it. But as the words tumbled free of his lips, Alfred came to the realization that if he didn't trust his own twin brother with Francis' heart, he wouldn't be trusting anyone. "...I promise. I promise."

How was Alfred going to ensure that Francis found the love he so deserved when he couldn't even trust anyone with him?

Francis' throat was dry. He felt sick. Never did he think that he'd be having this conversation, that he'd be having to explain this to his dearest friend; his only friend. This horror show that was his past, it was something that Francis thought had been buried a long time ago, back in France. But now it had found its way into his dreams, instead.

"Not Matt." He repeated in a quiet voice, hardly seeming to notice his own words as he shortened the Canadian's name. Of course. Matthew. Alfred hadn't know about Louis, nor would he ever have if Francis had not been willing to tell him the truth. He could have lied-- could have left it all in the past and refused to speak of it again; but this was Alfred. He couldn't lie to the man, it just wouldn't be fair. No, Francis wasn't like that, he didn't try to cover things up. He had an open personality, wearing his heart on his sleeve just like Alfred.

However, the fact that Alfred was so open presented Francis with another challenge. Both of them had been hurt, and if the Frenchman told his friend the truth then it could backfire badly-- Alfred was still very fragile, though he tried not to show it. But Francis could read emotions well, even now. He could see how his smile didn't quite reach his ears, how his eyes had lost a touch of their sparkle and that sadness was now present in its place. He wanted to fix the American.

"I was naïve, and... unclear in my decision. I didn't exactly agree, but... I didn't disagree either. But he shouldn't have... that's not how consent works..." He trailed off, shaking his head as he moved closer to Alfred. "S-Such an awful man. I thought he was so beautiful, and he was, on the outside, at least-- eyes like a sunset and a smile that.. that..."

Lips on his. Teeth gripping, tearing, harsh and relentless. Growls of lust and pain and salt tears drip, dripping down and falling onto skin, marked and thin and almost broken, the blood waiting to rise up from underneath, blue and dark.

Francis closed his eyes tightly, remembering.

Every movement felt like someone was slowly hammering nails further and further into his back and sides, and it did not cease. Francis was forced to say something in the end, despite having spent the last few minutes biting his lip so hard that he could taste something metallic and warm.

"Louis... please, can you slow..." But his request was never heard as the man continued at his own pace, drawing a cry from his younger partner's lips.

"Shh, don't ruin the mood. Relax your muscles. How can I do anything when you're tense like this?"

"Wait, I... I can't yet. Please, dear, just give me a second to-- oh!"

"There, you didn't need it, see? You can do it. If you just listen to me," His nails bit into the skin of Francis' wrist, and the younger desperately shifted until their two hands were intertwined, squeezing it tight. Desperate for some semblance of comfort. "Then it'll all be fine. Just like that..."

"No, I-- oh God, wait, stop... stop, please Louis, stop..!"

Louis sighed, muttering to himself before addressing Francis.  "God, you're such a whiney little bitch. Will you never shut up? You've been complaining all evening, Francis. Don't ruin my night-- I could have found someone else who wouldn't have complained, you know."

There were tears in Francis' eyes now, falling down his cheek as he turned away to the side, still as tense as before. Whiney? Was he not doing it right? Was he making it feel bad for Louis?

"I'm sorry, but.. you're hurting me... I don't know what to do, you know that I'm... new to this..."

Louis sighed, continuing on. He could see that this wasn't going to work unless the other became more tame. Trust him to get stuck with a virgin. What to say, in order to make his partner more compliant?

"Look, it's fine. I'll teach you, or something. Just relax, okay? For me? It'll feel good in the end. Promise. But for now," Leaning down, he looked into Francis' eyes, hanging over him like a shadow as his voice turned dark, threatening, and the happiness quickly dissipated. "Just. Be. Quiet. I only like my partners vocal when they're not complaining."

Shuddering, Francis nodded. Louis leaned down to press his lips to his partner's, who complied happily in search of some comfort as they continued on. However, the man's own kiss was cold and without passion, nor any other emotion at all.

Francis opened his eyes again with a quiet intake of breath, almost gasping. He had been silent for a while, simply remembering, cataloguing the memories in his head. He felt grateful that Alfred had allowed him peace and the time to think for so long.

"You asked what he did to me. He was loveless. He had no interest in building a relationship between us, nor any kind of bond. I was just... conveniently there for him to use. But he had no care for how... I was feeling, or what he was doing to me. It was all about him. Even when he did pay me attention, I see now that his caring attitude was just an act. It was... false." He trailed off and began shaking his head, suddenly appearing more aware, almost regretful of what he'd already said.

"Alfred, you don't need to know, it's... not nice to make you hear such things. Just know that it was wrong, what he did. Dieu, the things I have learned of love since then." Looking up, Francis was met with that brilliant, blue and oh-so-sincere gaze, 'Your days of being hurt and used are over. No more', and he smiled, taking the other's hand and squeezing it tight.

"Alfred. My dearest friend, I wish to ask you a favour. Make another promise for me... promise me that you won't do the same." There were tears in Francis' eyes as he spoke, struggling to get the words out. "Don't be foolish like I was. Don't let anybody ever hurt you. I promise to always protect you, but... others can be cruel. There are people out there who will want to take advantage, but you must not let them, Alfred. Don't let them take away what is yours. Please promise me that. Don't be naïve as I was."

There was a desperate, pleading look in Francis' eyes, a true need to make Alfred understand, to protect him as much as he could. Francis wanted to take Alfred into his arms, wrap a blanket around the two of them and just disappear. He wanted to leave the cruel world behind, along with all of the bad people in it, and just be with his friend, the one person in life that truly mattered to him. But that, of course, was impossible. They were stuck with this dangerous, harmful world, so Francis had vowed to make it into something beautiful. Alfred; sweet, perfect, darling, kind Alfred had to be protected. Francis wasn't about to let him make the same mistakes as he had. No, he was far too precious for that to ever happen. If Alfred got hurt, then Francis would never forgive himself.

"..Fuck." Alfred certainly hadn't intended on cursing. It wasn't like there weren't other, better things to say in a sensitive situation like this. I'm so sorry. That would have worked. That sounds awful. An appropriate response. But Alfred couldn't say those things, because he wanted to say them all, and on their own they hardly meant anything at all. Simple, bare minimum sentiments that sounded like they could be printed in a factory-made card you'd find in a gas station or bookstore. But Alfred's one filthy word spoke so much disgust, hate, affection, love and protectiveness that nothing else could have possibly said enough.

"I wouldn't do the same." A misunderstanding. Alfred had assumed that when Francis had asked him this favor, this promise, well-- he'd assumed the Frenchman was bidding him not to be like the cruel bastard that'd taken everything from him. It was only when the Parisian went on did Alfred realize he was being warned about people like Louis, about being on the receiving end of such abuse.

There was a foreign feeling in his chest like his heart was a tub of ice cream and Francis was the hot sun at the sight of that desperate, pleading gaze of his. "...Francis, you're worried about me? Honey..." Melting, he was melting. "...After all the shit you've been through..." Like the words had raced to get past his lips again, tumbling over one another and failing to cross the finish line in time. "...Let someone else protect you for once. Jesus, Francey, I..."

He opened his mouth like he was going to finish his sentence, but the air and the words kept getting stuck in his lungs every time Francis so much as looked at him, and Alfred hadn't the slightest clue why. "...You're worth more than just an example of what not to get into."

Hearing the swear, Francis flinched, not used to hearing such a harsh word come from his friend's sweet, innocent mouth. That one syllable held so much in it, so much raw emotion, and Francis was able to hear the tremor in Alfred's voice as it shook with something powerful, some kind of sadness or anger or dread. Something strong enough to render Alfred almost speechless.

Upon instinct, Francis clutched more tightly at his hand as the man spoke again. "What?" His blue eyes were wide in shock. "Alfred, I wouldn't dream of.. I know that you would never..." Francis trailed off. It wasn't something that should even be said; it didn't need to be clarified. The fact that Alfred felt he needed to say that made Francis feel ill and compelled him to go on with his warning. His need to speak was so intense, he felt like he was going to explode. Like a firework on the Fourth of July, primed to go off at a certain time, but that time wasn't soon enough, he needed to speak before then and suddenly the words were just pouring out of his mouth.

'Honey...' Hands formed fists, going tight in the back of Alfred's shirt where they had moved to, clinging onto him. His breath came oh-so-quickly, but it still felt like there was never enough of it to fill his lungs. Francis was burning.

"If I don't look after you," He whispered softly in response. "It feels like I'm neglecting a part of myself."

Meeting Alfred's gaze, he took a sharp intake of breath and suddenly found himself drowning in blue, blue, blue. So much blue. Every time Francis looked into Alfred's eyes, it was as if he was doing so for the very first time. He was not wearing his glasses (as Francis had stirred him from sleep in a hurry) and the pools of blue were so clear without their usual lenses covering them it was almost blinding. A soft, gentle blue hue flecked with specks of sea and sky, his eyes were like a beautiful landscape painting of the Atlantic.

"You protect me everyday, Alfred. You value me like no-one else ever has before-- not with the same strength of emotion. Life is this... this grand sea of emotion, and if I am a boat sailing along then you are my sails. You are my structure, my mast, my steering wheel, my flag, and your breath is the wind that pushes me along. As long as you are alive and well and close to me, I can continue to move. But once the wind stops..." His breath hitched. "The boat is still. She may topple and break her mast; rip her sails on the rocks. With no-one to steer her, she is lost to the waves, just as I would be lost to life without you. So please, stay with me, Alfred. Stay with me forever." He smiled gently-- hopefully-- a hint of fear still in his eyes.

"You don't have to think of me as an example, but rather as a lesson. I didn't intend it to be this way. I haven't thought of that night in so long, it was a shock to recall everything so vividly... I thought that I'd succeeded in forgetting. But old memories will resurface..." He said almost regretfully, a sad kind of smile upon his lips. "It's a warning of sorts... a reminder of your value, because sometimes, dear Alfred, I think that you forget just how much you are really worth."

There was a moment where they just looked at one another, blue on blue, hearts wide open, everything silent like the grind of rails and wheels and the howl of wind wasn't there at all and Alfred shivered, even if he knew by now that he could never be cold with Francis so close.

They didn't sleep for the rest of the night. Not that there was much of it left. They stayed awake; stayed up and talked. It was endless, it was too short, and Alfred could hardly believe how natural it felt, just exchanging words for as long as the unholy hours of the morning could stretch. This was no passing period smalltalk, no cheap gossip or brief conversation. It was open-heart surgery, trusting one another with fragile and long-buried secrets, stories that they wordlessly agreed would never leave this boxcar.

Alfred strummed the guitar for a little while, and as nicely as the wooden instrument sat in his arms and lap, Francis fit against Alfred like two pieces of a puzzle and Alfred wondered if the Frenchman felt as complete as he did when they were close like this.

When the sun rose, Francis had taken his seemingly permanent position sitting in front of Alfred, leaning back on his chest as he allowed the American to play with his hair. Said American was as gentle as anything, of course, a faint smile on his lips as he watched his own fingers smooth over and glide through the perfect rivers of gold that Alfred didn't realise he adored so much until this morning.

He'd gather all the hairs into a tiny ponytail, let it go, make a few loose French braids down either side of his head, only to carefully comb them out the moment he finished, and then he'd start all over again. It seemed to be relaxing Francis, comforting him, just as their early morning full of talking had. And what more could Alfred ask for than the happiness of his most beloved friend?

It felt nice to talk into the night, only the sounds of nature, their own soft voices and the gentle strum of the guitar filling the air. In a strange kind of way, the sounds actually appeared to harmonise with one another, and the whole atmosphere became very natural to Francis. At one point he feared that he might be hurting Alfred with his weight, that perhaps his elbow might be digging into his chest, but it soon became apparent as he observed their position just how comfortable they both were.

The sunrise was beautiful. As it tiptoed its way up into the sky, Francis couldn't help but glance upwards, turning his head a little from where it rested upon Alfred's shoulder to see the man himself. A set of sapphires framed in gold, he was still as beautiful as ever. Francis wouldn't deny that Alfred was a very attractive man, and seeing him like this, bathed in fresh, golden sunbeams from the early morning sky, his soft hair the first thing to greet the new day, he looked even more so.

Somewhere along the way Francis had lifted his head up so that Alfred could play with his hair, gentle fingers twisting this way and that, creating delicate little patterns before erasing them and starting over, never seeming to tire of this game.

"So, when are you thinking we bail?" Alfred asked with a bit of a playful edge to his voice. It was just last night when he'd pulled off that stunt of his and assured Francis he'd be more careful, and yet now he wanted to jump out of the train; he was reckless again. What could he say? He was Alfred Jones.

"Don't get me wrong; I love our train, but there's gotta be more to see out there." A closed-lips chuckle, a content sigh sounding through his nose as his hands lowered to loop around Francis' waist. He hugged him from behind, resting his chin atop his shoulder as he closed his eyes happily. Oh sure, he wasn't so blind as to what they must have looked like (like a couple, that's what), but they'd been cuddling like this all night, for God's sake, what harm was a little more of the closeness that came so naturally?

"Let's play 'Guess which state we're in'! Hmm... I think it's a little warmer. Maybe we're headed to one of the Southern ones!" Alfred chimed, looking like an excited puppy as he gazed out of the gaping opening in the side of the boxcar. Really, it didn't matter. None of it mattered, Alfred realized, as long as he was with Francis. As long as he kept finding new ways to make him smile. As long as he could protect him from the Matthews and Louis' of the world, and finally treat him like he so deserved to be treated. But even like this, when it was just himself and Francis and they had the whole world at their fingertips, something deep inside his heart wasn't satisfied.

No, more than that; this emotion that Alfred chose to ignore-- the same one that was constantly urging him to do... to do something-- was crying out for attention, impatient and unsatisfied and always wanting more, wanting to be closer to Francis in a way that Alfred couldn't even understand himself. The blond simply didn't trust this emotion, just like he didn't trust anyone with his best friend, because it was unknown and it was strong.

So, Alfred shooed it away, back into the depths of his heart, and ignored it once again.

"No, no, I understand." Francis replied as Alfred began to speak." Mm... perhaps soon. We should really find ourselves found breakfast and a warmer place to spend tonight, don't you think? Though I must agree with you and say that I will miss this old place." He looked around their boxcar as he spoke, a loving, appreciative tone in his voice.

Feeling warm arms wrap around him and a chin rest atop his shoulder, Francis titled his head until it pressed against Alfred's and adjusted his hands, moving one down to touch his friend's arm whilst the other travelled up to tangle in soft golden locks that were shorter than his own.

"Guess which state?" He echoed, smiling. "Unfortunately, American Geography is not my strongest subject... though perhaps we could be in Kansas by now? Je ne sais pas." He laughed, still slowly combing his fingers through Alfred's hair as the man had been doing to him before, delighting in the feel of such smooth, silky soft strands against his fingers. "What do you think, Alfred?" His voice was soft, as it had been the entire time, Francis being mindful of the fact that the American's ear was so close to his mouth-- he spoke in tones that bordered on whispers.

It felt nice to be this close to him. A sense of comfort radiated through Francis, along with a strange kind of... urge. He immediately pushed it away, not wanting to dwell on more questions but rather simply enjoy that moment that they were sharing instead. Questions could be answered later. Right now, Alfred was the most important thing in his eyes.

Alfred was no doctor, but he knew that a racing heart, lightheartedness, and something like queasiness in his stomach couldn't be good. And as much as he wanted to keep Francis so close like this, he was afraid of these feelings without a name, these symptoms with no diagnosis.

So, he slowly pulled away from the other, instantly regretting it the moment his arms were empty and Francis' hand wasn't in his hair. There was a brief moment where the American paused, wide-eyed and regretful, before quickly picking up the conversation again and trying to shake the desire to be close. He couldn't go back to the lovely position they'd been in before. But maybe that was for the best; an emotion that was both unknown and strong couldn't possibly be safe.

"Breakfast sounds amazing right about now." Alfred admitted, rubbing the back of his neck and chuckling in a boyishly cute fashion. "And tonight, we should find an inn or something. Camping is fun, but not every night, you know?" He spoke pleasantly, but deep down he couldn't shake the emotion that felt as though it was eating him away. He shouldn't have pulled away from Francis, because it was almost as if the closer he was to the Frenchman, the less angry and demanding the emotion was, the less it hurt.

"Oh yeah, this old thing," A soft chuckle sounded from his lips as he glanced around the boxcar, somehow elegant and homey despite the fact that it was nothing more than a huge, rusted metal box. The American realized it then; Francis had that effect on things, didn't he? He could make anywhere feel like home, just by being present.

Alfred let his gaze fall back onto Francis, and then he couldn't look away. Generally, it was difficult to look away from beautiful things, but Francis was like a sunset that never dipped below the horizon, glowing and breathtaking and never seeming to dim and set for the night. Perfect skin, smooth and soft and Alfred knew this because he'd wiped away Francis' tears, he'd held his face. And the Parisian wasn't the only one in love with his hair. Alfred's hands practically itched with the temptation to draw his fingers through the long, sun-colored strands like he had just a few moments ago (before he'd so stupidly backed away out of wariness). God, and the blue of his eyes, deep and endless and soft but piercing; Alfred wanted to look into them forever.

His own eyes, the color of the sky on a warm, cloudless day, continued to trace over Francis' features; he didn't even pay any mind to the fact that the Parisian had gone silent.

What a.. pretty nose bridge, Alfred thought, tilting his head a bit like he was standing in front of a sculpture or a painting at a museum, simply admiring. ...It bows away from his face only slightly, and the tip is so nice--damn pretty, if you ask me-- and then if you look lower...

Alfred gulped. His lungs felt tight and he didn't know how he was still breathing. He hadn't really noticed Francis' lips before, not like he was now. And all of a sudden, like finally understanding the beauty and meaning in a painting, Alfred was mesmerized, staring, and it was no question as to what he was looking at.

...Holy cow, do you have perfect lips... Alfred noticed it all. The indents on the corners, the lovely profile, lifted cupid's bow, how his upper lip stretched wider than the lower and, when he smiled... God, how could Alfred even describe such a thing? All of Francis' features were nothing short of perfect, both the ones on his face and in his heart, and Alfred absolutely could not understand how anyone lucky enough to win Francis' affection would want to to anything but treasure every bit of him.

Stop staring, you'll weird him out. Think of a state, Al, come on... "Hm..? Oh, I don't know... maybe Wisconsin or something..."

That's up North, dipshit. Jeez, maybe he's French enough not to notice your slip-up.

Francis wasn't one to pride himself on his intelligence, but he knew he wasn't an idiot either. In fact, he was a very observant man indeed; sociable, good with people, friendly. However, the trouble began with the fact that Alfred wasn't just any old person. He was special. Alfred said things, did things, and they didn't have to be big things, mind you, but they were somehow enough to set Francis' heart aflutter, to warm his chest and colour his cheeks and skew his perception.

With Alfred, it wasn't as easy to read the mood so simply, because with him, it was as if thousands and thousands of emotions were all flying about in the air at once, and that was too much for Francis to deal with, too much for him to process all at once. What scared him most was the fact that Alfred was just one person. Was it even possible for one person to have all that power, to have such a profound effect on Francis?

It must have been, because Francis hadn't been able to read the mood clearly around Alfred since they had found each other. This was mostly to do with the fact that Alfred wore his heart on his sleeve a lot of the time, so there was no need to look underneath what was being displayed outwardly upon his face. But now that they were alone together, things were different. Their world was far more intimate now, things were shared between them that they both knew would never pass the other's lips again. Secrets. There was an... unspoken agreement not to repeat these words to anyone.

Francis felt comfortable, there in Alfred's arms, but returning to his observant quality, he knew that something wasn't quite right. He was trying his absolute best to read the mood, but the buzzing in the air made it difficult, so instead he just looked at Alfred. Francis felt the man shifting and recoiled his hand, though it did linger helplessly in the air for a few moments, sitting up to support his own weight. Fingers clenched into a loose fist to ease the sudden shock of having such an empty hand, and blue stared into blue, observance registering shock. However, the moment soon passed as Alfred began to speak again.

"Oui, it does, doesn't it? And I agree. Our adventures in the countryside are over for now, I think." He chuckled softly, fingers flitting about restlessly in his lap as he sat there, still adjusting to the new space now that Alfred's arms were no longer around him. Their eyes met once more and Francis smiled gently, nervously, unsure what emotion was being conveyed between them.

Looking away rather sheepishly, Francis broke their gaze and touched his hair, taking a few moments to adjust it before lifting his head again and returning his eyes to Alfred's face. When he did, Francis inhaled sharply, feeling his muscles tense up a little. Alfred was still staring, those blue eyes seeming brighter than ever as they practically bore a hole into Francis' face. Was he being... analysed? No, not quite, there was something else in those bright eyes of Alfred's. It was... admiration. He was being admired.

He could feel his throat growing dry, feel his own eyes going wide and his muscles start to tense further at the sudden realisation, preparing to look away again before he was released from his gaze. He started when Alfred spoke, flinching slightly where he sat.

"Wisconsin." He repeated dumbly, giving a little nod in agreement. Now was not the time to worry about American geography. "Perhaps it is."

Alfred told himself to snap out of it, to stop staring, especially when Francis was staring back, meaning he'd been very much caught.

"I-I'm sorry." Alfred tore his gaze away and forced himself to look out of the opening of the boxcar. "Damn, my bad, dude, I didn't mean to stare, I just..."

Be honest. When did being honest start feeling like such a risk?

"...You're just really goddamn pretty is all, I have no idea how people aren't always staring at you and choking on their words and bumping into shit. D-Do you get stared a lot..?"

Curse his stutter. Curse his big, rambling, cursing mouth. Curse his racing heart and pink cheeks and his weak attempt at returning to a casual conversation after so blatantly (and probably creepily) staring down the poor Frenchman. Alfred sighed, pushed his fingers through his wheat-colored hair and forced himself to look out, away from Francis.

"Sorry." He muttered again, and he nearly winced at how much he reminded himself of his brother just now, mumbling apologies like he was. Eyes down to his own lap, fidgeting hands-- oh, now he was nervous too, great-- then back up, and Alfred blinked a few times, creasing his eyebrows.

Francis couldn't help but wince as the apologies tumbled out of his friend's mouth once he realised what had happened. "Alfred... Alfred, please, it's alright."

'I just...'

Francis bit his lip, waiting for the man's next words. When they came, he didn't believe them; in fact, he didn't speak for a few long moments. Now it was Francis' turn to stare. "Pretty..?" There was his proof-- Alfred really had been staring at him. "W-Well, I..." He touched his face; suddenly self-conscious, nervous, feeling more aware. Every nerve was on fire. "Not really, no. No." His voice became a touch flatter. "Not... not ever. Never in such a... beautiful, spontaneous manner."

Francis, be stared at? No, that wasn't right. Francis was the one who did the staring, who handed out the genuine compliments that seemed to come so easily to him. It was a gift, really. He saw the good in people, and wanted to share that-- a beautiful sentiment. At least, if his words were well received. The fact that Alfred had done the same thing seemingly accidentally was extremely endearing to the Frenchman.

Francis' own cheeks were as warm as Alfred's by the time they finished speaking. After hesitating for a moment, Francis whispered. "Thank you. There is no need to apologise for such... kind words." He was pretty. Alfred thought that he was pretty. His heart raced in his chest, and he raised a hand to cover it, a tiny smile tugging at his lips.

Alfred looked as if he was about to reply, but suddenly became distracted, turning his head to face the world outside.

"Hey, Francey..." Standing, he placed a hand on the edge of the boxcar's opening to steady himself, looking out down the track. "...I think we're stopping." Fields were still there, but in the background now. The scene framed by the rusty boarder of the boxcar's door was now covered with small homes, shops, roads and, on occasion, people. Suddenly, the train had stopped, right on the edge of God knew what town they were in.

A voice made him look up. "We are?" Sure enough, they were in a quaint looking town. "You're right, Alfred! How pretty..." Remaining seated on the floor as the American began to pack up their belongings, Francis smiled, sitting quietly as he admired the landscape.

"Well would you look at that, Francis, I think this is our stop." He allowed himself a slight smile (despite still being very much embarrassed about a few minutes ago), stooping to sling the old guitar across his back and grab his small bag of belongings. Everything would be fine; Francis would forgive Alfred for staring like he forgave everyone for everything, they'd be okay and--

Opposite to the opening Alfred was standing in, a second door was thrown open that neither of them had even known existed, in the wall the other side of the boxcar.

The two of them instantly looked shocked, eyes going wide and mouth falling open slightly as the men climbed onto their boxcar, invading their safe haven.

"That one's empty, go on and start loading up cargo in there!" A foreign voice called to the man who'd opened the door. He didn't seem to notice Francis or Alfred at first, but their luck was short lived as the man glanced up. There was a fleeting silence and then--

"Damn freight hoppers!"

"More? How many?"

"Two."

"Well, what are ya waiting for?! Get 'em hitchhikers!"

Suddenly the man was joined by a second worker who jumped up onto the floor of the boxcar, and Alfred knew they had to move if they didn't want to get into serious trouble.

"Run..!" Alfred jumped from the boxcar onto the side of the tracks, turning back only to hurriedly signal Francis to follow. He looked to the side and another man ran towards them, gaining on them quickly.

"Come on, Francey, jump! We gave to get outta here now!"

Jumping to his feet with a startled cry, Francis grabbed his bag and Alfred's jacket, leaping from the boxcar as Alfred beckoned him down. The moment his friend was down, Alfred took his hand and began to run, straight into town.

"Get back here!"

Fear turned into exhilaration as they were chased, his heart pounding as they ran like the wind, whizzing past strangers who stared with wide eyes and hands over their mouths in surprise. Alfred let out a laugh, one that Francis surely recognized now as one of pure excitement and thrill.

"Zut alors, where do we go?" Francis panted, looking around frantically as they continued to move. "Alfred, should we hide? Are they following us? Are they--"

When Alfred laughed, Francis stopped in the middle of his sentence, at first looking quite shocked before bursting out into laughter. He felt his fear evaporate and be replaced with happiness. It was all alright. Alfred was still with him. They'd figure this out together. He clasped his hand tighter, letting a laugh slip past his lips.

"Quickly, in here!" Francis called, nodding his head at one of the buildings. "Let's hide!" He took Alfred inside the store, sounding breathless as he yanked open the door and walked inside, still holding the man's hand. It was a bookshop, endless shelves crammed with novels and comics and everything else imaginable stretching out in front of them. Francis turned to Alfred with a smile, exhaling slowly. "I think we're safe here."

Alfred may have paid more attention to the rushing footsteps just outside the bookstore's entrance if he hadn't been so busy being mesmerized by a certain someone who seemed to glow when he was flushed, winded, and smiling. "Yeah.." The American let out a soft laugh, not meaning for it to come out as breathless as it had. He only hoped Francis couldn't tell that it wasn't the running that'd taken his breath away.

"In here!" One of the trainmen shouted, snapping Alfred out of his trance. His round eyes met Francis' for a second, exchanging a glance.

"Okay maybe not..!" To follow was a string of hastily whispered curses, the two of them scurrying around for a moment trying to find places to hide before they were discovered. Alfred could have been scared, but how could he be when this was all so thrilling, when Francis was smiling like he was finally living? The American ducked behind the bookshelf, pressing his back to the many spines of old, yellowed books. "Francey!" Alfred hissed in a hushed whisper, glancing around in an attempt to see where the Parisian had gone off to hide.

His heart sunk when he found the Frenchman in plain sight without a hiding spot, nor a second left to find one, as the trainmen had already burst through the entrance to the bookstore.

"I could'a sworn those hoppers ran in here." One growled, glancing all about.

Alfred knew he was safe-- he was hidden fully out of sight--because he was good at sneaking around and staying out of trouble after he'd caused it.

Oh, but Francis-- what would he do? With his easy-to-spot hair and blatantly different voice, he stood out like a sore thumb! Alfred peeked worriedly through the spaces between books, holding his breath as the trainmen glanced over at the Frenchman. Dammit, what if they arrested him? What if they took him away, what if they sent him home? Suddenly, getting into trouble wasn't so much fun now that the possible consequences weren't all on Alfred.

"Hey... aren't you..?" One of the men asked with narrowed eyes and slow, suspicious steps towards Francis.

Alfred's eyes rounded as he took in a sharp breath of the sweet, crisp, dusty smell of old books. A single bead of sweat formed on his forehead as a second man advanced towards Francis.

"That's him alright! I'll bet you a million bucks that's one of the guys!"

How on earth was Francis going to get out of this? Alfred's heart was pounding, his hands twitched, and then the worry in his heart caught fire. It smoldered, burned, and Alfred's chest was filled with the familiar heat of protectiveness. He grit his teeth as the men took another step forward, throwing all kinds of accusations (most true) at poor Francey.

The American positioned himself near the edge of the bookshelf, about a second away from blowing his cover in the name of defending his best friend. In the worst case scenario, they would both get dragged off by the cops, but at least that way they'd still be together.

"Well, freight hopper, what do you have to say for yourself?! And where's your friend, huh?"

"Merde..!" Francis couldn't move. He found himself rooted to the floor, suddenly stricken with an unmistakable sense of panic. He had been so sure that they were safe inside, but the men had followed them. Those few seconds of deliberation about what to do next cost him a lot. Alfred was already hiding, Francis could hear his voice calling his name and turned round to flash a nervous smile at the man, all the while racking his brains for an idea. The men were coming-- he could hear their footsteps.

Thinking fast, Francis grabbed a book off of the shelf and threw it open, just as the doors of the store hit the wall with a sudden thud. Exhaling slowly, Francis crossed one leg over the other and raised his head, looking towards the door with a confused expression. The men drew near to him and began to speak, throwing accusations and goodness knows what else, but Francis just stood still, looking more and more confused by the second.

When they had finished speaking, ending with a question directed towards him, he paused a few moments before speaking.

"Excuse me?" However, the voice that came out when he spoke was not his usual, strongly French accented tone, but a harsher sounding American accent.

"Are y'all quite finished with these accusations, or is there more? You gon' accuse me of somethin' else? Robbin' a store, perhaps?" He paused once more, drawing himself up to his full height (which was still rather small, but intimidating nonetheless) and looked between the men with an unimpressed expression.

"No? Didn't think so. 'Ere I am, minding my own business and reading about our great nation's past," He waved the book he was reading in the air, glancing up at the section he was standing in. It read 'History'. "When I'm rudely interrupted by you two wisecracks 'ere, saying somethin' 'bout fright hoppers?" Frowning mightily, he placed the book down on a nearby table, folding his arms. "Now, I don't know 'bout you boys, but my Mama taught me to be kind to folk, not go around accusing 'em of committin' serious felonies without any real evidence. Are ya sayin' that ya think I look like I'd commit a crime? Is that what you're sayin' to me, boys? 'Cause I don't very much appreciate that." He tapped his foot, cocking his head to one side in impatience.

"Well? I don't have all day. If you're quite finished, then I'd like to get back to this 'ere book."

Alfred had seen Francis at his lowest. He'd seen him broken, he'd seen him lost, he'd seen him miserable--but he'd never seen him genuinely afraid, not like this. The American clenched his teeth, chin lowered and eyes narrowed and he didn't care what they did to him if he intervened. As long as they got the hell away from Francis.

However, just as he was about to sacrifice his hiding place and enter the scene, he heard someone speak. The person's voice rang with the same accent as anyone else's there. He sounded confident, he sounded terribly offended, he sounded suspiciously like...

"Francis..?" Alfred breathed, eyes round as he peeked through the books at the blond, suddenly coming to a realization. As the irritated, offended voice filled the bookstore, Francis' lips moved with the words-- he was speaking, forcing an accent, and playing the role of an innocent customer.

Suddenly the fire in his chest was quenched as his mood instantly shifted, brightened-- he could hardly hold back his laugher. Alfred could hardly contain himself, his lips pulled back into an ear-to-ear grin and laughter lines creasing under his eyes as brilliant blue filled with the tears that came with laughing much too hard.

"Holy shit--" He laughed under his breath, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth and muffle his laughter; he didn't want to blow Francis' cover, not when he was on a roll like this! Oh my God, is that really what I sound like to you?

By now there were tears running down his cheeks, he couldn't even breathe, and he feared if the trainmen didn't leave soon then that signature, booming laugh of his would escape his lips. If the American's loud laugh could make an entire classroom of bustling students turn to look at him, there was no way he could get away with letting it loose in a quiet bookstore without earning both of them an arrest. So God was Alfred relieved when the conductor shared a glance with his staff, took off his hat, and nodded apologetically to Francis.

"Sincerest apologies, sir, we must have the wrong guy." The man who'd suggested they look in the bookstore received a light slap to the back of the head for being so foolish before they left, talking amongst themselves about where to search next.

Still standing with arms folded and a powerful stance, Francis gave a slow nod. "I'll accept your apology, but ya be careful now, ya hear me? The guy you're lookin' for might've had a good reason for commitin' such a crime. Go easy on 'im, boys, when ya find 'im." With another nod, Francis turned and picked his book back off the table, going back to reading it until the men left the store and biting his lip all the while to quell his amusement.

The tiny bell that hung above the entrance to the bookstore gave a crisp, victorious little ring as the train's crew walked out the door, and Alfred finally let loose the laughter he'd been holding in.

Clutching his abdomen, Alfred stumbled back into the bookshelf behind him, grinning widely and squeezing his eyes shut, barely able to get out Francis' name through his hysterical laughter. "Fra-- Francey!" In no at all time his companion had joined him, and the American wrapped his arms around his shoulders, laughing into his light hair. "That was hilarious! How did you--"

He had to take a second to compose himself before continuing. "Is that really what I sound like to you? Holy shit, you totally fooled them!" Larger hands moved to his shoulders as he pushed away just enough to look down at the Parisian. He decided that, after such an excellent performance, Francis deserved some praise. "You were amazing! You had the whole act down, dude, you even had me believing you for a second there! That was--" Another fit of laughter, their foreheads meeting and Alfred's eyes closing in delight as he smiled brilliantly. "That was incredible!"

A loud, bellowing laugh split the air and Francis jumped slightly, turning around to face Alfred, startled to see that he was laughing so hard, though soon found himself joining in with his friend. He smiled at the way the American held his shoulders and leaned in close, feeling little vibrations against his scalp as his friend voiced feelings of happiness and amusement.

"Mon dieu, Alfred, that was terrible. I do apologize that you had to hear that horrible attempt of an accent." Giggling, Francis wiped at his eyes. "How on earth did that work?! I mean-- that sounded nothing like an American! Luck must be on our side. But I nearly blew our cover; I was almost laughing myself." His own hands, hanging loosely at his sides, reached around the American's back and came to rest upon his shoulders, Francis keeping him close in an affectionate hold. It felt nice to be with Alfred again.

"I was so terrified when they came in that I couldn't move at first-- I just didn't know what to do! I thought we were going to be arrested. You were smart to go and hide, Alfred." He smiled once more. "Honestly, though, how did they not see through me? I was just trying to copy a voice that I'd heard on the television before, that's all." Laughing to himself, he shook his head. His smile widened as their foreheads met, letting himself gaze into Alfred's eyes.

Despite his relaxed voice, Francis was blushing lightly, feeling embarrassed from the praise he was receiving and the fact that Alfred had heard him with a voice so far from his own natural tone. "Well, it gave us a laugh and an adrenaline rush, at least, and we made it out alive." Pushing his feelings of awkwardness aside, Francis reached up and carefully wiped at Alfred's eyes, tears of laughter still gathered at the edges of his bright sapphires.

"Perhaps we should just have bought tickets... though I wouldn't want to give up our little boxcar for the whole world. A shame that we had to leave it behind, but it just wouldn't do for us to stay there forever. Speaking of which, we should probably check into a hotel soon. Do you think we should stay here for a little while before we do so? Just in case they're still looking in this area?"

"After the talking to you just gave the two of them?" Alfred raised an eyebrow, still grinning madly as he tousled the shorter's hair. "I think we'll be alright, Francey. They won't be coming back in here, or bothering you, for a long while."

"Alright, then. As long as you're sure." His anxiety seemed to melt away at Alfred's reassurance, bringing a genuine smile to his face.

"I'm sure. Now, are you sure you're ready for our next adventure? We may have saved a little money by not buying train tickets, but we're not millionaires just yet. I present to you: 'The Quest For Cheap Accommodation!'" Alfred made a show of bowing extravagantly before extending his arm outwards. Francis took it with a laugh, linking it with his own. The reminder that they had a limited supply of money should have scared him, but somehow being with Alfred alleviated that fear. For now, at least.

"I am indeed-- now let's hurry, or they'll all be booked up!"

"Booked up? But Francey, it's still morning!"

"This is a new town, Alfred-- who knows what it's like here!"

And with that, they made their way out of the bookshop, arm-in-arm and still high off the thrill of it all as they laughed and debated the customs of hotels as if it were the most interesting topic in the world.

To them, perhaps, it was-- this marked a new chapter in their journey, and neither one could have been more excited about being alone together, far away from the clutches of those who wanted to hurt them.


Translations:

Dieu merci - Thank God

Je ne sais pas - I don't know

A/N: And we're back with another update! Apologies for the wait, but life is busy as ever. This fic will continue to be updated, although there will be no set schedule for the release of new chapters.

Our apologies to any potentially offended native Americans-- accents like the one Francis was trying to imitate are notoriously difficult to write in text, you know? XD

It's a good job Alfred was able to laugh about it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read our work. We'd love to know what you thought!

Chapter Text

A/N: This chapter is a mixture of sweetness and sadness; both a joy and a difficulty to read through, I think.

Please enjoy!

Warnings: None


"Wooow..." The American breathed in sarcastic amazement as he and his companion entered their recently rented, run-down, cheapest-of-the-cheap hotel room.

After all, they had to save their money; they only had so much, and they'd rather buy their free time and their days off together with what little they had rather than a fancy, five star suite.

"Have you ever seen anything as classy and sophisticated as this..." Alfred gestured all around him, stretching his arms wide and tossing his guitar and shoulder bag onto the age-old couch at his right. "...this palace of ours?" He gushed, twirling around to face the Frenchman.

Once upon a time, Alfred used to crack jokes and behave ridiculously in the name of earning the attention and friendship of as many people as he could, for the sake of popularity, but now he was funny for one reason and with one sole purpose in mind-- to hear Francis' laugh.

"Oh, don't just stand there, Monsieur!" Well aware of how hopelessly terrible he was at pronouncing even a single word of the Parisian's language, Alfred did so anyway, all in the name of his beloved friend's amusement and entertainment.

The American breathed an overdramatic sigh of contentment, a playful bounce in his step as he circled the Frenchman, slipping his bag off of his shoulder and helping him out of his jacket like a gentleman, adding both items to the pile of their few belongings on the couch.

"Come, let me give you the grand tour!"

The American put an arm around the man's shoulders, and began to venture around their-- put simply-- dump of a trashy hotel room, jokingly displaying every flaw like he was parading the Frenchman around the interior of a mansion.

"Aaah, and here..!" They stopped in front of a small, dusty window, plastic blinds partially broken as they hung over the thick, clouded glass. "A view fit for a prince like yourself,"

With a flourish, Alfred drew the blinds, only to reveal the brick wall of the building next to the hotel. "Behold!" He cried through his laugher, finding this all ridiculously entertaining. It just kept getting better and better! In the end, though, this whole thing couldn't possibly be enjoyable if Francis wasn't laughing with him, he knew that.

It was common knowledge that, when someone laughed, they were happy. And when Francis' heart had been so carelessly shattered before-- twice before-- he'd been robbed of his happiness and, thus, his laughter.

Alfred wanted to bring it back.

He wanted to make this man laugh so hard his cheeks ached and he couldn't stop smiling and could hardly breathe; he wanted him to laugh again, to find happiness again.

Maybe he could never fully repair Francis' heart, not when he'd given the key to it away twice, only to be cruelty mistreated, but he could try. And he wouldn't ever stop trying to heal him. All he wanted was to make him happy and make him laugh again until he'd done all he could with his partial access to Francis' damaged heart.

Alfred took his hands, spun his companion around in their tiny hotel room and watched with a familiar swell of his heart as the Frenchman smiled, his hair fluttering about his face as they spun.

Somehow, despite all this praise of the little apartment being purely sarcasm, Alfred found himself loving it. Just a tiny bit.

But what was so special about a shitty little apartment?

Oh, of course.

He knew what. It was him. It was always him; all he had to do was be there, and Francis could make Alfred adore anything from the world's cheapest hotel room to a rusty old boxcar. It was extraordinary, really.

"I know you're excited, but our tour isn't over just yet! I must show you the master bedroom!" He let go of just one hand, prancing off with Francis' other in tow. "Ta-da!"

Just as expected, the room was as impressive as the rest of the apartment. It was small, one bed that looked as though it could barely fit one person (let alone two people) centered against the back wall, and covered in chipping paint.

"Shall I test it out for you, my good sir?" The American backed away, but before he let go he bent at the waist and pressed a kiss to Francis' hand.

It was a playful, impulsive, lighthearted little thing. Alfred was only going along with the act-- that's what his  head told him, at least. But his heart-- no, the rest of his body responded entirely different to the gesture. His cheeks flushed. His knees felt weak. His stomach twisted into knots and his heart felt heavy and light at the exact same time. Alfred ignored every single one of these strange and, unnecessary, really, reactions of his; for the show must go on.

"Ah~!" Alfred sighed contently as he threw himself back onto the bed. It creaked under his weight and, suddenly, he was tipping backwards slightly. A sickening crack could be heard as the bed's support splintered, shattering and causing the whole thing to break practically in two. All Alfred could do was sit there in the sunken middle of the bed, gripping the sides of the mattress for dear life, eyes wide in shock, and let his mouth hang open.

"Holy shit." He half-scoffed and half-laughed, looking up at Francis with raised eyebrows and a smile tugging at the corners of his open mouth. "Dude! I think I just broke the--" The already destroyed beams underneath him groaned and crunched in agony before suddenly snapping further, sending Alfred even closer to the floor as he let out a surprised yelp.

When they had first arrived in the room, Francis had been unimpressed, to say the least. He'd known that the little money they had paid wasn't going to buy them a castle, but he'd expected a little more.

However, as time went by and he had a proper look around their new accommodation, he decided that it wasn't all that bad. They had four walls, a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep on.

After staying in the boxcar for a night with hardly any supplies, let alone a real bed, this could actually be considered as an upgrade for the two. And besides, how could Francis feel anything but elation when Alfred was making such a joke out of their whole situation?

The Frenchman was barely able to stiffle his giggles as he was led around the room on his companion's tour, finding even the smallest of things absolutely hilarious. From the practically opaque window to the squeaky door to the rips in the fabric of their sofa, he couldn't stop laughing.

They danced along the floor, hands intertwined, with the sound of the creaky floorboards as their music. "The master bedroom!" Francis echoed, eyeing the bed with a smirk and a dramatic gasp, finding himself soon joining in with Alfred's game. "Why, it's beautiful! Just perfect for a couple of royals such as ourselves. Indeed, do test it out, my noble Prince!" He smiled, suddenly feeling his heart lurch as the tender skin of Alfred's soft lips met his hand.

For a mere moment, his expression faltered to be replaced with one of awe at his friend's action. It had been so casual, so smoothly executed, and yet the effects of it were so great. It was as if Alfred had thrown a stone into a pool of water, the ripples travelling outwards across Francis' body as he felt both hot and cold at the same time.

However, the moment was soon gone, and Alfred had surely not detected any change in the Frenchman's expression as it had been such a brief occurrence.

Before Francis knew it, Alfred had thrown himself backwards onto the bed.

The sounds that followed after he did so did not sound good at all.

"Ah... Al--" Francis soon found himself cut off as more awful noises erupted from the bed, creaks soon transforming into loud cracks and snaps. "Alfred!" He cried as the man threatened to sink into the bed, gasping at the sunken middle as he extended his hands to help the man out. However, after a few seconds had passed and it became clear to Francis that Alfred was not in fact hurt, the man couldn't help but feel a smile tugging at his own lips.

"Quickly now, get off before it--"

Another crack later, and Francis burst out laughing as the mattress dipped further, almost touching the floor, as the final remaining supports of the bed broke. He put a hand on the bent matress to support himself, hardly able to stop laughing. It wasn't so much the matress breaking, but his own perfectly timed words combined with the expression on Alfred's face.

Once he had composed himself, still wiping the tears from his eyes, Francis looked down at his friend with a wide smile as he clutched at the stitch in his side.

"Dieu, I can hardly breathe..! How did that even happen? Must've been a terribly weak mattress--" He broke off again, still giggling. "You just-- and I--"

Falling over his words, Francis sat himself down on the side of their ruined bed. He caught his breath, feeling slightly guilty for his laughter.

"Oh, Alfred. Are you alright? Mon pauvre petit chou..." Reaching his arms down, he pulled the American back up until he was sitting next to him, the mattress staying where it was as it was stuck between the broken pieces of the bed, though it sprung back up a little with the release of weight.

"We shall have to take the mattress out and lay it down on the floor to sleep. That won't be so bad!" He stood with a smile, feeling quite elated after that unexpected entertainment and accompanied bout of laughter. "Just like being back in our boxcar, only... softer." Alfred was his first priority; right now, the state of their bed and how they would fix their mess in terms of finance was unimportant compared to making sure Alfred was at least a little comfortable tonight. All that Francis could do for him, he would.

Together, they managed to pull the mattress-- which was by some miracle no more beaten up than it had been upon their arrival-- out of the lower bed's remains and lay it down flat on the floor of the living room, carefully arranging the sheets and pillow on top of it. Francis exhaled, standing back and admiring their work.

"There! C'est beau; perfect for us. We'll reimburse the owner somehow, of course, so I think that we'll have another good night's--" He broke off suddenly, eyes going wide as saucers as he saw... something darting across the floor, scuttling along the floorboards. Something small with a tail and--

"Ahhh!!" Francis let out a startled scream, standing still for a mere moment or two before dashing across the room to where Alfred was standing. He grabbed onto the man's arm for dear life.

"Une souris, Alfred!! A mouse, a mouse!" The Frenchman was jumping from one foot to the other, as if scared to stand flat on the ground.

He wasn't scared of the creatures, as such, but hated the thought of one being close to him or his friend, so the idea that there was one or perhaps more in their very room terrified him to the core. They were so small, they could hide anywhere... alright, so perhaps he was scared.

"A... mouse?" Alfred asked as he turned to Francis, put both hands on his forearms in a simple, protective manner as he scanned the floor for any such creature. The little thing must have scurried away at all the ruckus Francis had made at the sight of it; Alfred didn't see any mouse at all. But he believed the Frenchman; after all, the poor man looked absolutely terrified. Maybe a little comic relief would distract Francis from his fear.

"So you're not afraid of jumping onto a moving train, but a little, itty-bitty mouse scares you?" Alfred smirked lightly, cocking an eyebrow. Francis was awfully cute and endearing when he got all flustered and embarrassed. He had this little habit of his; pouting and looking away, lowering his eyebrows and blushing despite the fact that he was trying to look irritated all the while.

Just for the sake of earning himself a glimpse of that face again, Alfred clicked his tongue softly, knit his eyebrows and pouted down at the Frenchman.

"Aww, is Fwancey afwaid of mowsies?" If the Parisian had wanted someone who didn't keep him on his toes and didn't mess around, he should have picked someone who wasn't Alfred to be his best friend.

Suddenly, the American pointed behind Francis at the floor, faking a surprised expression and crying, "Holy shit, it's right behind you!" The way Alfred's expression switched back to an amused little smirk right after would make it easy for Francis to figure out that there was nothing behind him at all. But what Francis wouldn't figure out was how Alfred played the trick on him with the sole purpose of having yet another excuse to be close to him.

Alfred had barely figured out that bit of truth himself.

The poor Frenchman had eventually calmed down, and Alfred had given in to those round blue eyes darting over the floor, the slight part of his full lips and the way his chest rose and fell quickly with the aftermaths of Alfred's little scare. "You're okay, Francey, it's gonna be alright."

He chuckled softly and offered him one of those smiles; the ones that lit up a room and made whole crowds go quiet, only this one was was just for Francis. If it was enough to distract him from his (adorable) phobia, than it was worth it.

"You're safe now, little-- no..." The American smirked as he thought of something, finishing his sentence in a sweet coo. "...petite souris~" He was no good at French, really, but everyone know how to say 'small' and Francis had just (unintentionally) taught him out to say 'mouse'. Neither words sounded too twisted on his tongue despite it not being meant to form French words at all, which pleased him, because such a cute, appropriate little nickname really was too good to pass up.

Alfred snickered softly, idly lifted a hand and tucked the light blond hair that had drifted into those bright blue eyes behind Francis' ear. "Petite souris-- that's got a nice little ring to it, don't you think? Nice little rhythm; I think I'll keep it. It suits you, petite souris~"

Francis couldn't help but blush red, fear forgotten in the midst of his giggles.


Francis and Alfred were setting into their crappy little apartment rather nicely. They'd dragged the mattress off of the broken bed frame and into the living room (they were not staying in the bedroom, Francis had insisted; no way would he risk a mouse crawling onto their mattress as they slept), put away their little belongings and tidied up the place as best they could.

"Are you still shaken up about that mouse, Francey?" Alfred chuckled, picking up on the way the Parisian mumbled in French and looked nervously across the floor, his legs folded as he sat on the couch so nothing would be nibbling at his feet.

The American walked up behind the backrest of the couch, slid his hands over the fabric and then onto Francis' shoulders, squeezing reassuringly. "Why don't we go out? Go do something fun, something that'll get your mind off of the mouse, yeah?"

Alfred bent down a little, tilted his head besides Francis' and tried to meet his eyes. It almost seemed as though he was denying him access to eye contact. Nor was he... replying to anything Alfred said.

"After all, it's our first night in God knows where; we should celebrate! Don't you think, Francis? Francey? Petite souris~?" No-- he couldn't be angry with Alfred for teasing him earlier... could he?

The American wrapped his arms around Francis' shoulders from behind, lost the teasing smirk and instead replaced it with a gentle, persuading, concerned expression.

"Baby, what's wrong..?"

Francis was quietly sitting on the sofa, thinking to himself. He had been rather embarrassed when, after spluttering out a reply and protesting that the mouse was far scarier than the train, he had proceeded to jump six feet into the air, shrieking all the while, in response to Alfred's joke. Sitting cross-legged, he bent his head and looked down towards his lap, twisting his hands together.

"Petite souris." He closed his eyes.

He was a small child back in France.

His plate lay broken on the kitchen floor, and his father was scowling as he cleared up the shards of china.

"It's pathetic that a boy of your age should act like this. Do you want to be as pathetic as that tiny little creature for the rest of your life? Do you?"  The man rose, standing tall, taller than his son even as the boy sat on the table, as far away from the floor as possible.

The mouse had run across the room whilst he was eating and he had upturned his plate in fear whilst jumping onto a higher surface. That's where he'd remained; perched on the edge of the table, fingers gripping the sides to hold himself steady.

Francis rocked back and forth, sitting with his knees brought up to his chest as tears fell from his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Papa, I didn't mean it!" He wailed, burying his face into his knees. The fabric of his trousers was wet with tears, little dark patches forming where the drops had fallen, and another unmentionable liquid. He was ashamed, expecting a reprimand, head bowed and eyes squeezed tightly shut as if that could serve as a means of escape.

There was a pause before he heard a rather regretful sounding sigh, but didn't have time to think upon it more before he felt warm arms around him, lifting him up.

"You have to learn, Francis, that these little things aren't going to hurt you. There's nothing to be afraid of, alright? You'll learn in due time. Now," He walked across the room, shards crunching underfoot with every step, and placed him down on the carpet floor of the next room. "Go and find yourself some shoes so that you don't cut your feet, and I'll sort out this mess. Alright? There's a good boy."

Francis didn't know what had been going through his father's head that day, but the show of compassion had struck a chord within him. It was uncommon for the man to express such a thing, after all. Love was expressed towards his father through obedience, as opposed to a lot of tactility. It was his mother who always awarded him with hugs and kisses. From that day on, his fear, although still present, dissipated considerably.

However, when Francis left home to travel to America, he bore much resentment from his father and once again felt helpless, much like the small child that he had once been; fearful and afraid. Thus, the fear resurfaced with the loss of his father's trust in him.

Francis started, suddenly coming back to reality as he felt warm hands upon his shoulders. Alfred... sweet Alfred. This man was special; he didn't mind about Francis' fears, he didn't think him weak nor pathetic, he didn't insult him.

His father had been wrong; America was a good place. America had helped teach him English, and without English... well, he and Alfred would never have met. Never have been able to communicate, at least, and their communication was so dear to him that he just couldn't imagine a world without it anymore. Nor did he want to.

The Frenchman turned his head away, sighing deeply, before opening his mouth to speak, stopping when he felt his heart lurch into his mouth.

Baby.

As much as he loved terms of endearment, this wasn't one that Francis tended to use himself, though he understood the meaning well enough.

"Baby..." He whispered it to himself, just under his breath, as Alfred awaited his answer. The word, though practically a cognate to the same term in his own language, felt strange and foreign upon his tongue.

Raising his hand, he tucked a piece of hair behind his ear, catching the side of his face in the process. His cheeks were warm and most likely red; a furious blush. Wasn't that a term reserved just for lovers? Did it mean something else in American culture?

"Nothing." Francis finally spoke. "Nothing's wrong at all." He turned his head, meeting Alfred's gaze with a tender smile and marvelling at those blue eyes that lay like jewels, deep pools, in the smooth of his face.

Suddenly, he was aware of how fast his heart was beating. Surely Alfred could hear it, being so close to him? A hand of his moved to touch an arm that was wrapped around him. The room was hot but his hands so cold, despite the heat that rushed through his body like a bullet through paper. And Alfred's arms were warm and comforting, fitting perfectly around him.

"Let's..." It was hard to think, hard to breathe when Alfred was so close and Francis could feel the man's breath against his hair. "Let's go out. This room is far too hot-- my hair is going to frizz. I saw somewhere on the way here, une discothèque-- a club, it looked like. Why don't we have a drink or two? We've saved quite a bit of money, what with that genius idea of yours to hitch a ride. We can afford to relax a little."

And so, it was decided that the two of them would spend the evening at a bar. Francis briefly considered changing clothing, but soon decided that he was not looking to impress anyone. His jumper and jeans would do for tonight.

The place Francis had spotted on their mad dash from the train station was more recognisable now, what with its bright neon lights and illuminated sign, colourful letters boasting words which read: 'Cupid's Arrow'.

It was impossible to miss the place, really, and the two spotted it from a few minutes away as they walked towards it, hands playfully linked together.


When they arrived, the two sat down, blending in with the other young people-- mostly couples or groups of friends who sat talking and drinking, or stood dancing, some popular track playing in the background. The hours flew by as the two of them conversed, laughing and joking and drinking together into the night.

Francis was on his way back from the bar again now (which round was this, again? Their sixth? Seventh? Somehow, it didn't matter), yet another two glasses of JD and Coke in his hands. He had just received the barman's number-- a little piece of paper with a few scrawled digits tucked carefully into his pocket, not because he cared about looking after it but rather because he wanted it hidden from sight, namely Alfred's-- but didn't plan to call the man that night.

Despite his attempts to explain that he wasn't really looking for a relationship, he had received it nonetheless, accompanied by smiles and a murmur of "Call me when you change your mind".

He returned to their seats with a sigh and placed their drinks down, before offering his hand to the American. Right now, he didn't want to be with anybody other than his friend.

"Alfred, come, let's have a dance." He was not too drunk yet, and wanted to have some fun before the night was out.

Now, though Francis was not too drunk, he wasn't exactly sober, either. His mind, though fairly coherent, was tired and his perception skewed by the alcohol in his system. He held tight to Alfred as they danced, laughing out loud as he was twirled about. A sense of warmth filled him as he looked up at Alfred, sharing a grin with the taller man. Francis felt good; this was a new chapter and a new journey. Everything was going to be alright for them.

Going out for the night had been the best goddamn idea in the whole world. There was something about the beat of the music and the swing of hips and the whoops and laughter of excitement that somehow both relaxed and exhilarated Alfred, and with Francis here, well, how could he ever want tonight to end?

"I saw the bartender hitting on you," Alfred commented smugly over the music and voices, waggling his eyebrows and nudging Francis encouragingly, even if the thought of his friend going home with someone tonight had him boiling with something akin to defensiveness. "No surprise there." After everything that Francis had already been through, after how the men of his past had treated him-- ha, like hell would anyone be taking him home tonight.

Francis was too good for all of them, anyway.

Lucky for Alfred and every guy who did a double take at the sight of the Parisian, that hot, fiery feeling in his chest was extinguished by the beat and the alcohol. Francis' long, blond hair drifted into his face as he moved to the music and smiled up at Alfred, whose hazy mind struggled to crack the code of what that haunting, nagging urge could be. And boy, was he sick of resisting whatever it was he wanted so goddamn badly.

Francis was having a fantastic time. Opening his mouth to speak, to tell Alfred just how happy he felt, the Frenchman was suddenly cut off as a second figure entered into his realm of vision.

A woman with fiery red hair, wearing a tight black dress and heels that were far too high for any normal human to be able to walk in, stepped between them.

Francis stopped, time stopped, as he stood still and watched the woman press a kiss to Alfred's lips, and a piece of paper into his hand.

Winking, she turned away and stalked back to her group of friends without a second look.

Just like that, it was over. 

Just when Alfred thought he'd figured it out exactly what that urge was, his mind was wiped clean as the beat of the bar slowed and all that could be heard was the soft clacking of too-high heels. Suddenly all he saw was green, the lusty, determined green of eyes that were startlingly close to his own and reminded him faintly of a certain Briton's loveless orbs.

His breath was stolen and his heartbeat replaced by the sound of heels as the woman's lips met his, as the piece of paper was pressed into his palm.

Alfred's eyes didn't close with the kiss, and remained wide open as the stranger slowly pulled away and winked, making the American's throat run dry as he stared in her wake.

"Wow." He raised his eyebrows, blinked a few times, the bar returning to its original speed and volume as the moment faded to a close.

Alfred chuckled briefly, a bit breathlessly, looked down at the piece of paper in his hand.

"Well, it looks like you aren't the only one getting numbers tonight..! Shit..." Alfred laughed, looked back at Francis, his not-so sober mind missing the clenched fists and narrowed eyes. "...You know me; there ain't nothing wrong with a little confidence, but wow..! What was that?"

It felt like Francis had been shot and given a thousand dollars all at the same time-- his muddled mind sending his heart mixed emotions. Some woman, some stranger, had just kissed Alfred-- his very best friend, the person he cared about most in the world-- without even uttering a word.

Now, if it had been Francis, the situation would have been entirely different. Francis had more experience than this man, he knew the workings of love inside and out, had been kissed and kissed others more times than he could remember. More times than he cared to remember.

But Alfred... how much did he know? How much had he experienced? Did he know a good kiss from one with zero meaning?

For a few moments, Francis was still as these questions whirled through his drunken brain, staring up at Alfred until an amused smile crept ever-so-slowly onto his lips.

"That," He spoke in a low tone yet clear tone, one eyebrow raised, loosening his fist that had clenched without him realising until he felt nails bite into the skin of his palm. "Was not a kiss."

Somehow, the statement failed to throw Alfred off-course.

"Oh?" Maybe if he'd had one less glass of bourbon he would have backed off of the subject and moved on, but the alcohol tempted him to move closer to Francis and ask, "Then you must know what is, then?". 

There was enough alcohol in Francis' system for him to speak without thinking properly.

"Oui, biên sur." He purred in confirmation, already moving closer towards the other man, joining in with his movements and wrapping slender arms around his torso.

"After all, I am French. Kissing is my forte."

Tempted still, Alfred returned the little smirk, let an arm loop around Francis' waist, and all of a sudden something told Alfred that maybe it wasn't the alcohol this time that was tempting him to say what he said next.

Leaning in close enough so that Francis could taste the whiskey on his breath and hear the husky whisper of his voice, Alfred spoke:

"Show me?"  

There was something about the beat of the music and the swing of hips and the whoops of laughter and excitement, Alfred thought. There was something about the cloudy blue of Francis' eyes, about the fullness of his lips and the pink of his cheeks, the way it felt to hold him close. There was something that told Alfred to do what he did, something haunting, nagging; an urge. The urge that he'd been resisting up until this moment.

How had it taken him this long to figure out what it was he wanted to do?

I want to kiss you.

Francis was beautiful when he cried, but Alfred wished he'd see such beauty a little less. Flashes of the man sobbing sparked through his mind, looking a broken-hearted, beautiful mess, and Alfred knew then he would never be the one to crush him like that.

I want to kiss you.

Francis really hadn't the slightest clue how bewitching the sway of his hips was, did he? Nor how angelic of a laugh he had. How had Alfred had earned both? Just by strumming a little song on a guitar as abandoned and mistreated as Matthew had left Francis?

I want to kiss you.

He had fit in Alfred's arms so perfectly that night in their boxcar, hid his tear-streaked face away in the wool collar of the American's beloved jacket that he'd gladly give up a thousand times if it kept Francis warm. He really couldn't believe that someone had the cruelty in their heart to do something like that to his sweet Francey, something pitiless enough to bring him nightmares even now.

If no one else would treat him right, than Alfred would.

I want to kiss you.

His little scare with the mouse. The way he looked into the sunset. The little show he'd put on to get out of trouble with the cops. His pout when Alfred teased him, how red his cheeks got when he blushed, how persistent he was with that hair of his, how he smiled when he was shy.

Alfred's urge had been there every time, all along, and now he knew what it had been telling him.

I want to kiss you.

And suddenly, the urge was gone.

Suddenly, the world had stopped turning. Maybe Alfred was drunk off his ass but he swore Francis' lips were the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted and he craved nothing more. 

It didn't take Francis too long to notice, even through the haze of emotion, that this was no ordinary make-out.

Kissing was, to Francis at least, an art form. It was to be carried out with care, with feeling, meaning and passion. Kisses were beautiful; a spur of the moment occurrence, but something so practiced and so beautifully human that it couldn't help but seem planned. They were full of love.

But, when their lips collided, there was no hesitation. It was messy, it was rushed, but it was happening, at long last. Francis did not think; he only did, only felt.

Was this what he had been waiting for? Was this going to fulfil the urge that he had sensed for so long? This feeling... he had known it before. He pulse was racing, his skin was flushed yet he felt cold as a winter's night, needing Alfred, needing his warmth and his body and his soft, soft lips against his own.

Without him, the world wasn't complete. Alfred was the last piece of the puzzle, the final chapter in the book, the reason that Francis was even alive.

In that moment, Francis understood.

Love.

He was in love with Alfred. This beautiful man who had picked him up from his darkest point, who had shown him the light and reminded him of just how beautiful the world could be, who had turned a monochromatic existence into something colourful and bright. Francis looked up at Alfred and saw his whole life before him, saw a man with whom he wanted to spend eternity.

Withdrawing a little from where their lips met, he began to quietly giggle. And he called himself an expert of love. How had it taken him this long to see what had been right in front of him all along?

Every little thing that Alfred did were things that Francis noticed, and he adored them all. How he put others before himself, like the time he had given up his jacket for Francis. How he only showed himself to those that knew him properly, offering those rare, genuine smiles that the Frenchman so adored. How he was kind and caring and gorgeous and gentle and careful and loving and loveable.

Francis had learned a long time ago that the feeling of being in love was not something that one could describe, but he tried nonetheless, every single time.

When he had fallen in love before, it had felt like he and his partner were the only two people in the world.

With Alfred, it felt like the world stopped entirely.

That time itself ceased to tick for every second they looked into each others eyes, just so they could catch a glimpse of each other for a few moments more. So that Alfred and Francis might fall further in love with each other, that one of them might take advantage of those few extra seconds and take the time to analyse those emotions, to realize how they truly felt.

Well, Francis, although quite by accident, had finally made that realization. And now, he wanted to hold Alfred in his arms for a hundred thousand years and fill his ears with the sweetest words imaginable, to tell him how much he meant and how much Francis appreciated every single thing he did and loved every part of him. That his heart throbbing in his chest for the man and his kiss-bruised neck were proof of their passion for each other. That he loved him.

There was silence save for their heartbeats and the quiet sounds of lips moving against each other, a little needy and a little mindless and Alfred wished he had less alcohol in his system, because he wanted to kiss Francis slow.

With that stranger woman there had been a spark, but with Francis there was the goddamn Fourth of July.

The night became a blur of loud music, laughter and dancing as the whiskey and the Francis' lips-induced high finally kicked in. 


"Ugh..."

Alfred had seen more graceful mornings than this one.

This one was a special type of new day that made Alfred wish he didn't have to wake up all. Not until his hangover had passed, that was.

Discombobulated, the American began to slowly come to his senses.

Light, blinding light-- God, would someone turn that thing off? It was giving him a killer headache. Wait-- that was sunlight. Was he outside? Fabric... a couch? He was inside. Thank God. Warmth. Breaths, but not his own.

A pleasantly heavy weight on top of him. The familiar scent of wine and cologne and something sweet.

"Nn... Francis..?"

He opened his eyes.

Big mistake.

The light was unbearable now, and he groaned in pain, rolled over and with a sudden thud the warmth and weight and scent was gone. The thump had snapped Alfred out of his twilight state, and he sat up with a gasp, looked down at the floor through lopsided glasses.

A still very unconscious Francis laid there, next to the couch, his hair in his face and his shirt rumbled and unbuttoned. Alfred stared for a moment, then looked forward, groaning.

"Dude..."

The blonde took off his glasses and rubbed his burning eyes, trying to organize his thoughts.

They'd somehow gotten themselves back into their hotel room. But shit, Alfred hadn't a scrap of memory to prove it. He had to think-- what was the last thing he remembered? A woman with fiery red hair and searing green eyes. Loud music. Coke and whiskey and dancing and laughter and Francis--

Francis?

His heart began beating faster, but he wasn't so sure it was in a good kind of way. This was the same kind of racing pulse he felt when he knew he'd gotten himself into trouble, he thought. Maybe he should stop trying and just accept that he didn't remember anything about what he and Francis had done last night. But, being Alfred, he ignored the little voice inside of his head that told him what to do and, for curiosity's sake, wracked his brain for memories. And then one by one, they began to come back to him.

The space between them had been non-existent, a relieved giggle of delight, an arm around his waist, the curve of his back, bits of French, his lips on his, and good God what had he done. He'd kissed him, hadn't he? He'd kissed Francis Bonnefoy.

I want to do it again.

Alfred shooed the thought away, instead focused on more pressing issues, like how on earth he was going to salvage their friendship.

Terrified of loosing his beloved companion, the American clenched his jaw, glancing back down at the zonked Frenchman.

I kissed those lips.

I wish I could remember exactly how they felt.

Alfred swallowed thickly, biting down on the inside of his cheek.

It never happened. Alfred didn't remember a thing. Not dancing with him, not holding him, not kissing him. Not a single scrap of memory.

It was a lie of course, but it was his story, and he was sticking to it. Anything, God, anything to save their friendship. He'd screwed up terribly, after all.

Then why am I not sorry?

Understandably, taking a tumble to the floor had stirred Francis awake and, before the man could come to his senses, Alfred let himself fall onto his back and turn away from him. This way, when he 'woke up', he could look even more discombobulated than he had been, making his story of I can't remember a damn thing even more believable. That, and just a bit of time would give his cheeks a chance to turn back to their natural colour.

The plan was fool-proof. All Alfred could possibly hope for was that Francis didn't have any reconciliation of making out with Alfred, drunk in a bar and high off of the music and each other. For his own sake.

Knowing Francis, that probably wouldn't be something he'd take lightly.

"Mm..."

When Francis opened his eyes, he was greeted with a view of wooden boards. It took him a few moments to decipher that this surface was, in fact, the floor. The ground beneath him was hard and uncomfortable; in a way, this was a good thing. The fact that he was clothed and not tangled up in someone else's limbs with his face pressed into their hair always promised a good morning. However, if not in a bed, then where exactly was he?

Blinking, he raised his head and tried to look around.

Big mistake.

It was morning, of course; the sun was up and hell-bent on burning his retinas, it seemed.

"Merde..."

With half-closed eyes, Francis rolled himself onto his back, a groan falling from his lips to accompany the familiar ache in his skull. Come to think of it, his head wasn't the only thing that ached...

Raising a hand, he felt around to his left until his fingers connected with the fabric of the couch. Only, this couch was warm and soft and... moving?

Recoiling with a start, the shocked Frenchman forced himself up into a sitting position to investigate further, trying to ignore the pounding in his skull as he did so.

Alfred.

Of course. The man was sleeping on the couch and he had grabbed his back instead of the furniture itself. The simple explanation served to somewhat calm him down, for a short moment.

Somehow, Francis found the strength to get to his feet (using the couch as a support and the promise of a nice black coffee as a way to bargain with himself), and peered down at the sleeping figure. His eyes began to finally adjust to the light as he did so, and he was able to make out his features more clearly. But, even with blurred vision, there was no way that Francis would ever have missed the collection of red marks that decorated the tan skin of Alfred's neck.

Another, near silent curse slipped past his lips as the memories came flodding back to him. The music, the alcohol, the laughter, the dancing. The kiss.

Or, rather, the kisses.

God, what had he done?

"Ça putain de whisky..." He murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. Nothing good ever did happen when he drank, after all. Because, it was all the fault of the alcohol, wasn't it? It had to be.

With a groan, he walked-- stumbled-- away from Alfred and made his way over to the tiny little mirror that hung upon the wall of their room, and Francis could only stand and stare in shock as he took in his own appearance.

Swollen, kiss-bruised lips, crumpled clothing, mussed hair-- someone had clearly been running their hands through it-- and the same forest of hickeys that Alfred had upon his own neck. He swallowed, forced to look away from the mirror out of... what? Shame, guilt?

Last night, his heart had ached and he had been so curious, so lustful for him, wanting to taste Alfred's sweet lips no matter the consequences. And sweet they had certainly been; every millimetre a new--

He shook his head, groaning in frustration. Poor Alfred. Thank God that Francis had been too drunk last night to confess his love to the man. Perhaps he could just brush this aside? Yes, that's right! This wasn't a big deal. They had both been drunk, after all, and it hadn't really meant anything. Alfred would surely think the same-- maybe they'd even laugh about how ridiculous it all was together.

But before Francis allowed himself a victorious smile, he stopped. What if that wasn't the case? What if he hurt Alfred by making it out to be a joke?

Worrying his bruised bottom lip with his teeth, the Frenchman frowned. Maybe he could just pretend that it hadn't happened at all.

Turning around, he squinted in the American's direction and cleared his throat.

"Alfred..?"

It was a rather feeble call. If the man was as passed out as Francis was some mornings after an eventful night, then it was going to take a lot more than that to wake him up.

But, somehow, Francis didn't want to get any closer to the man. He hadn't been able to control himself last night, what if he did something else terrible? The way he had felt the previous day was powerful... he didn't want to think about it any more. This man was Alfred F. Jones. This man was his friend. This man was not somebody that he could ever have. Alfred was his only friend in the world, their relationship wasn't allowed to manifest into love, it just wasn't allowed! What they had in that moment was Francis' only hope; his constant.

If that ever changed, then his whole world could fall apart. Losing Alfred would destroy him.

Hearing the sounds of movement and the quiet murmurs of speech from his friend, Alfred knew that he needed to make a move, and soon.

What was he going to do otherwise; just lie there?

Forcing the blush from his cheeks, Alfred proceeded to fake waking up, humming softly and turning onto his back. Would you calm down?  The instruction was mostly directed towards his racing heart. Stay cool. He really had no problem getting out of trouble and keeping his head, even under pressure. He could sweet talk and charm his way out of almost any mess he'd got himself into. So why did now, alone with his best friend and with no real crime committed, was he unable to keep his cool?

Consciously, he urged himself to relax, folding his hands behind his head and tossing a charming, lopsided grin in Francis' direction.

"Hey, Franceypants. How's the hangover treatin' ya?" Now, his smile was hardly fake. How on earth could it be when Francis looked such a mess? Such a adorable, perfect mess. No one could pull off the 'Hungover-and-just-woke-up-on-the-floor' look quite like the Parisian could. His hair went in all kinds of directions, his clothes were rumpled, and he had sleepy little creases under his eyes. Not to mention how that embarrassed stance proved that he hadn't the slightest clue how lovable he looked just then.

Alfred wanted him back on his chest, tucked under his chin, resting peacefully where no one could hurt him.

"Dude, do you remember anything from last night?" He didn't want to lie to Francis. He really didn't. But better the sacrifice of one truth instead of their entire friendship.

"Because I don't remember anything after that chick kissed me and gave me her number..! I was so out of it." Bullshit. He remembered one more thing. He remembered finally discovering what he'd always wanted to do so badly, he remembered finally satisfying his urge. What he didn't remember was stopping.

"Hey, so--"


Translations:

Mon pauvre petit chou - My poor little dear

Petite souris - Little mouse

C'est beau - It's beautiful

Une discothèque - A club

Oui, biên sur - Yes, of course

Ça putain de whisky - That fucking whisky

Magnifiqué - Magnificent

 

A/N: Thank you so much for 1000+ hits! Watching that little counter go up is an absolute delight, and it means the world to us to know that people are reading and hopefully enjoying our story!

I hope that this chapter was slightly easier on the eyes-- slowly but surely I'm learning how to format properly, and there's fewer large blocks of text than usual. I'll get there eventually!

As always, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated :)

Chapter Text

A/N: This chapter certainly marks the start of a new beginning... but for who? And for better or for worse? Looks like somebody's got some decisions to make-- and fast.

Please enjoy~!

Warnings: None


Alfred had known that running off with his best friend would be a fantastic experience, but he'd underestimated himself even then.

The last-- what was it-- (the exact date mattered little to the pair much these days) couple of months had been, undoubtedly, the best in his life. He'd laughed more than was probably healthy, crossed off nearly every idem on his to-do list, enjoyed the perfect medium between tranquility and thrill he hadn't known existed. And, by golly, there wasn't anyone else he'd rather spend this time with other than Francis Bonnefoy.

Francis, with his glowing smile and crinkled eyes and little shake of his shoulders whenever he laughed. His vibrant, intricate, impossible-not-to-adore personality that had-- finally--had a chance to mend and recover after all the that horrors had been undertaken by the Frenchman before they'd made their getaway.

Every day Alfred grew a little impossibly closer to Francis. Impossibly more captivated by the way his lips moved as he spoke and smiled at the same time, impossibly more aware of the details, such as the bit of soft facial hair he'd unintentionally grown (Alfred reminded him often of how damn well he pulled it off; how he'd never met anyone that could look both cute and handsome simultaneously before he knew Francis).

Alfred was impossibly more grateful that the Parisian was safe now, no longer with someone who'd treat him like he was the monster or sex object he certainly was not. In fact, Francis Bonnefoy had entranced Alfred so much that, when this exact moment hit, the moment the two of them sat in their little apartment reminded of their depleted cash, reminded of their inevitable separation, it hit him like a goddamn train.

"There ain't much left, huh?"

A deep intake of air through the nose, and Alfred raked his fingers through his hair, let his hand settle on the back of his neck as he sighed heavily.

"Alright..."

Green dollar bills sat stacked in wrinkled bundles on the teeny-tiny table they shared meals at. Alfred picked up a stack, the paper crinkling as he lifted it in what should have been a satisfying sound if it weren't for the circumstance.

"Let's say this is mortgage." Alfred set the cash aside. "And this," Another, smaller, bundle of money. "Let's call this our food budget."

A few more piles: for bills, a couple of other necessities, and soon Alfred had divided out all of what they had left into separate piles.

He leaned back, chair protesting as he did so. "I'd say this'll last us... a month."

The white noise creak of a dusty ceiling fan, round and round, the sound of the two men breathing, sighing, thinking silently. He'd known this freedom wasn't free. Alfred had known they'd run out of money eventually. He knew they'd have to abandon this life, this paradise of theirs they'd crafted together sooner or later. He just wished it didn't have to end so soon.

"...Francis." The Frenchman looked numb. He looked like a little boy, trying his best to be brave as the nurse prepared a needle for his shot. He didn't think the American would notice the glaze of his eyes if he looked down like he was. He didn't think Alfred would be able to tell that something was hurting him. Francis was wrong to think that.

"Hey... what is it? We still have a month, Francey, right?" Alfred slowly reached across the table. He took the blond's hand, his own warm and large, secure and promising. The Frenchman didn't even say anything. All Alfred could do was watch as his friend gathered up all the piles, took about eighty percent of the bundle, and set it aside on the table.

The American's heart felt heavy enough to crush him. He knew what this was. He knew what this was, and he'd hoped, prayed that, somehow, Francis would have forgotten about this bit of reality.

"That's..." Alfred nodded weakly to the tall wad of cash, clenching his jaw as he fought back the burn of tears, trying to hide it with a faint, humourless chuckle. "...That's your flight home right there, isn't it, Francey?"

Suddenly, that month had turned into mere days.

Alfred squeezed the Frenchman's hand. He didn't want him to go. He wanted him to stay. If he knew nothing else, he knew that was truth.

Arthur's eyes were the same ruthless green as the restraining, cruel money placed before them. Alfred wanted to fling those worthless pieces of paper out of the window, turn around and take Francis into his arms, pick him up and spin him around until his cheeks ached from smiling and he forgot how to speak English and he'd tell him he could stay, they could stay, they could stay together for as long as they wanted to.

But the fan kept creaking, rotating, round and round. They kept staring at the money, kept breathing, Francis' hand kept shaking slightly beneath Alfred's.

"There's no choice, is there?" So, what now? He'd go back to France. Go back to his family, attempt to explain to them why he'd dropped out of high school. If they were furious with him, Alfred wouldn't be there to stand up for him, no. Oh, he wouldn't even be close to there-- he'd be on the other side of the planet, without much of a means of contacting Francis at all, without a family (he could never go back to Matthew), and without his reason.

"We're going to be okay, Francey..." Alfred leaned forward, he took Francis' hand in both of his own, a watery, sad smile on his lips and his misty, ocean eyes searching the Frenchman's. When he spoke, this time, the lump in his throat reduced his voice to nothing more than a choked whisper. "I promise you, it's going to all be alright..."

Francis was silent for a long, long while, considering what to say next as he lowered his eyes to the ground. How many days had he been preparing for this moment? It felt like months. Countless hours spent wondering, clutching at words, secretly saving singular dollars and hiding them from Alfred, building up a stash and keeping it secret from his sweetheart, before adding it to the pile that morning whilst Alfred was not looking.

All that, now narrowed down to eight syllables. Never before had Francis imagined that a single sentence would be enough to ruin a relationship, but he felt as if he was about to do exactly that.

"The ticket... is already booked." His voice was hollow; empty and almost devoid of any emotion at all. It had to be that way, or he thought he might just burst into tears.

He'd scrimped and saved for all the wrong reasons, hadn't he? Not for them, but for himself.

"The money has already been transferred via my debit card, I just need to pay that into the bank and it'll be done." Nodding to the pile of bills, he grit his teeth. He wanted to set fire to those dollars. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning."

Silence. He'd done it. He was going ahead with this; he was going to leave his best friend and go back to France. But why? Alfred was perfect, and yet that was exactly Francis' issue. Alfred was perfect, and the Frenchman was falling deeper in love with him every single day. But it just couldn't be, so now he needed to get as far away from the American as possible, to protect him. Friends didn't fall in love, that was the rule, and he couldn't ruin the one relationship that he treasured most; the one good relationship that he still had left.

No-- instead, he would spend the rest of his days talking to Alfred through the glass screen of his phone. He would let them drift apart (for what relationship could function without a physical aspect to it?), and then, perhaps one day, when Francis had succeeded in silencing the desires of his heart, he would return. He would meet Alfred again and maybe, maybe they could go back to how things were before, but they could never be lovers.

His hands felt numb as Alfred squeezed them, as if he wasn't really present in the room. He could not bear to meet the other's gaze, too scared to see what he might find there. Anger? Sadness? Disbelief? Fear? Whatever it was, Francis was certain it was not a positive emotion, and he couldn't quite deal with the fact that this was his fault, that he'd done this to Alfred, even if he knew deep down in his heart that it was for the best.

So, instead, he sat in silence, staring at the ground as tears blurred his vision and his nails unconsciously dug into Alfred's hands, awaiting his reaction.

Tomorrow morning.

They were more like a pair of fangs than two words, sharp and venomous as they pierced his heart and poisoned his blood with venom. It was too soon. Any time was too soon. Alfred could have thought of himself, of the fact that he'd be entirely alone once Francis left, but he didn't. No, he couldn't, not when all he could think about was the fact that he would be too damn close to that Louis bastard, not when all he could imagine was how Francis' father would react to seeing him again, to hearing what he'd done. It'd been all Alfred's fault; he was the one that suggested they be runaways.

Something horrible gnawed at Alfred, kept telling him that letting Francis leave him was going to put the Parisian in danger somehow, was going to hurt him, but... maybe Alfred was being selfish. Maybe he wanted Francis to stay because he needed him, and not the other way around.

"God, Francis..." Alfred's elbows rested on the table, the Frenchman's hand held tightly in his own, his head bowed to meet it. "I knew this was going to happen someday, but... God, I'm... I'm going to miss you."

That night wasn't the same as the others. This one wasn't carefree; it wasn't wild and wonderful and joy-filled. A tremendous weight bore down on them as they tried to enjoy the last night they'd spend together, but such a thing was impossible, and they both knew it.

They laid besides one another, not touching, just looking. At first, they'd faked sleeping. Perhaps if they stayed awake, the night didn't have to end. Tomorrow would never come, and Francis would never have to leave. But then their eyes met, and neither of them could bear to look away. So they just laid there, breathing, memorizing, until Alfred gave in, rolled over, took him into his arms and held him like he was never going to see him again. The thought made him sick, because it could very well be true.

Francis had expected the relief to come flooding through him immediately after he'd spoken to Alfred, but it never did. Instead, a heavy, sickening feeling had welled up inside him, one that he guessed was there to stay. When Alfred took the Frenchman into his arms, the emotion only got worse, but he still embraced the warmth of his body and didn't resist in the slightest. It was the last time he would ever feel this way, after all.

His arms reached up, wrapping around the American in response. "Alfred..?" He whispered, keeping his voice light and low as he buried his face into the man's chest, inhaling deeply, desperate to remember every detail of his body. It was the first word to break the silence since they had entered the room together.

"Will you please come with me, to the airport..? If you'd rather not, then I... I-I understand..." The lump in his throat was growing larger by the second, but he stopped himself from speaking before it began to affect his voice. This time was more precious than ever, and he refused to waste a single second on tears. Francis didn't quite understand the reason why he had made such a request, but it felt right. Alfred would be the last American that he held in his arms before he flew off into the sky, the last kind face he would see for a long while.

He exhaled slowly. It felt right. Didn't it? This was all for the greater good; for Alfred, and perhaps for Francis too. After all, seeing the American at peace would make him feel the same way. Once he was out of the way, the man would be free to move on. He'd find a partner, he'd graduate, perhaps even buy his own house a few years down the line, his own car. Things would get better, these feelings would one day subside, and then they would meet again.

Yes, Francis told himself, closing his eyes and swallowing down a sob, face buried into Alfred's chest so that he would not suspect a thing. We'll meet again. And that thought was what he would cling to until those words became his reality.

Sleep was sparse that night. How could either of them sleep when the dread of separating loomed over them like a time bomb?

Alfred was reminiscing again. Thinking about how Francis looked when he thought no one was looking. How he looked when he just woke up; hair a mess, creases under his eyes, barely awake. Or how he sung French songs in the shower, played with his hair in front of the mirror, stole glances at Alfred. The American would miss these little things about Francis the most.

Was this really the last time he'd wake up besides him? Alfred looked down and felt the sight of the Parisian's eyes, dull and puffy and red from crying for the best part of the night, make his heart ache.

"Hey..." God, what Alfred would give to see him smile right now. Why was it that Francis' expression matched that of his when Matthew left him? "...Did you get any sleep?" Alfred placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezed, and let his thumb rub a slow, comforting pattern over his skin.

No matter how much he tried to resist, Francis could never lean away from Alfred's touches. Something about the man just made him want to stay in his arms forever, and he gladly let the American rub his shoulder. Sighing, he closed his eyes.

"Do I look that tired, ami?" It was a weak attempt at a joke, but then again, Francis was not exactly at his happiest. "I think that I managed an hour, perhaps... though, I cannot be sure. I kept waking up." He admitted, opening his eyes to meet Alfred's gaze. It was so blue, Francis felt like he was drowning.

And he was.

He leaned into the other's chest so that he would not have to look upon so beautiful a face. "And you, amour?" He bit his lip; he'd made a promise that he wouldn't call the American that anymore. "Did you sleep at all..?" Francis thought that he already knew the answer. Every time he had stirred, he'd felt Alfred do the same. Neither of them had really succeeded in getting any true rest. Somehow the quiet of the night had unsettled them, more than anything.

Left alone with their thoughts, it was difficult for the two men not to think up on the future. Francis readily admitted that he had prayed for the morning not to come, so that he might spend just a few more hours with this perfect man, wishing and wanting, before they parted and his dream vanished forever.

Sighing, he rubbed at his eyes and rolled over, away from the American, climbing out of the bed. He was wearing a simple pair of trousers and a t-shirt, and shivered in the cold morning air. "I should just... double check my cases." This was unnecessary, as he'd already done so mentally about twenty times the previous night, but he had to get out of that bed or he feared he might just stay there forever. Francis spent a few minutes hovering around the room before he turned to the man still laying in their bed.

"How about some breakfast, amo-- ami?" Again, he bit his lip, this time breaking the skin. "I'll cook for us." It was a weak attempt at an apology, of sorts. Francis could sense how unhappy Alfred was to see him go, surely because he was losing a friend, and wanted to try and make it up to him in some way, shape or form. Breakfast was a start, wasn't it? Though Francis knew that he could never even begin to try and fully apologise for what he was doing, he would continue with his small, kind gestures right up until the end. He hoped that this would at least put a smile upon the man's face. Francis was a good cook, and Alfred appreciated nice food, after all.

No, no, baby... Alfred wanted to say, but he censored himself just as Francis had. The Frenchman had bit back what he wanted so badly to say because he'd rather draw blood on his lips then let such dangerous words escape them.

It doesn't have to be like this. You don't have to go, nothing has to change... But they both knew it had to. They both knew today was inevitable, and Francis was being the most sensible one here. Distancing himself, behaving a bit too formally, putting up a wall around his heart because the poor thing was beaten and fragile enough as it was without the pain of loosing his best friend.

No, you don't have to make me breakfast, not out of obligation. No, you don't have to check your flight because you won't be going anywhere, not today. No, you don't have to keep standing there, shivering and miserable and trying not to cry. Come here, let me hold you, let me make it better, let me make you smile again, if nothing else, I need to remember your smile--

"Okay." That morning was just as painful as the night before. Breakfast was flawless (this was Francis' cooking, after all) but any last meal with the Frenchman tasted vile on the American's tongue. Possessions, shared belongings, and memories were carefully placed in the same run-down duffle bag Francis had ran away with slung over his shoulder. It was agonizing to think about the beginning of their paradise, to think of the fact that it was about to come to a sickening halt in a matter of hours.

"What will your, ah... Dad say, when he finds out why you're home a few months too early?" Would he yell at him? Hit him? Kick him out into the streets, leave him helpless to wolves like Louis and stranded thousands of miles from the one person who would always protect him? Alfred's jaw clenched, and he looked down at the sidewalk for a moment. "Sorry. I just..." He blinked, sighed shakily and offered a weak, sad smile. "...worry about you, is all."

"I don't know." It was an honest answer, but one that made Francis suddenly feel sick. Over the last few days, he had hardly even spared his parents a thought. Alfred was the only person that he had been thinking about for... weeks now, it seemed. He had always envisioned going back to his home in Paris, to his mother and father, but was that even a possibility anymore? Surely his mother would accept him, but what of his father? He didn't want to dwell on the thought. He wanted to take Alfred's hand in his own, but didn't.

"I worry too." The words were spoken quietly as he looked down at the ground, hardly daring to meet the other's gaze. "So please, you don't have to apologise."

And with those words accompanied by a last, knowing glance, they looked away from each other and tried not to focus on the way their hands were twitching for comfort at their sides.

The train would take them straight to the airport. But, if all went well, the train would shut down, the next five planes would be delayed, and there'd be a massive tornado warning forbidding all departures. If all went well. But things weren't looking well at all as the train began to approach them in the distance from their spot at the station.

"Wow..." Alfred chuckled weakly. Humour was only going to make it sting more. But he couldn't stand the silence, and if there was even a sliver of a chance of making Francis smile, then it was worth it. "It's so strange, riding where we're supposed to and having to pay to get on this thing, right, Francey?"

"It definitely is." He chuckled in response as they boarded the train that had sped up to the station. This is it, he thought, as the doors closed behind them.

By the time they were seated, Francis was gripping his bag so tightly that his knuckles were white and his nails were biting into the skin of his hand. There's no going back now. This is the end. Despite it all, Francis allowed himself to lean into Alfred's shoulder, just once more. He wanted to memorize every curve of his muscular torso, every shade of his hair, every line of his face, every dip in his skin and every colour in his eyes. All of him, all at once, so that he might remember him forever, and all the moments they shared.

I love you, Alfred F. Jones. Alfred's ear was just there... he could whisper those three little words oh so easily, if he wanted to. And oh, did he want to. He wanted to tell him right then-- no, he wanted to stand up in his seat and shout it so that every person in the carriage might hear. The driver would stop the train and they would go back, return to how things were before when they were broke and free and together.

But it was not to be, for the ride to the airport was much too short, the plane ticket had already been booked and Francis refused to let Alfred ever know his feelings. Despite all of that, it physically hurt him to step off of the train. He almost stumbled as he saw the airport building up ahead, real and large and looming over them like death.

And Francis was dying inside.

If you stayed in freezing water for long enough, the sting would go away and you'd be left with nothing but numbness. Nothing but the realisation that you were going to die anyway, so you may as well just close your eyes and focus on not feeling.

If Alfred had to describe what it felt like dropping Francis off at the international airport, then that'd be it.

"Francey..." It was busy in there, the lobby filled with people all rushing to get far, far away from here. And for that reason, Alfred and Francis seemed entirely out of place.

"I..." What was there to say? They were thinking the same thing, feeling the same scalding numbness, Alfred knew because the Parisian's deep blue eyes were dull and watery, his hair had fallen in limp blond strands over his face and he looked small again. Francis was his life line in the endless, freezing waters of the ocean that was about to separate them, but he wouldn't hold on with the fear of sinking Francis too. Alfred had to let him go, even if it meant drowning himself.

Their last embrace was sickening. They were both holding on too tight, yet not tight enough to keep them together. Alfred didn't have enough time to memorise every little thing he adored in this man, he didn't have enough time time to realize he'd committed those little things to memory weeks ago.

"I'll see you again. I promise." But in how many years? How much would they have changed by then? How much would they have forgotten about each other by the time Alfred's promise was fulfilled?

A shaking sigh, their chests pressed together, and yet Alfred was too numb to notice how their hearts were beating in sync.

"Say something..." Anything, anything but goodbye. Please, not goodbye.

I'm drowning, drowning--

"Francis..." Their little bit of contact felt like the last little breath of air he took into his lungs before the freezing ocean water engulfed his head, his whole body, and he couldn't breathe when Francis pulled away and shifted his bag on his shoulder and looked so numbly up into his eyes and muttered exactly what Alfred couldn't bear to hear.

"Goodbye, Alfred."

And that was it. No sweet French motif, no nicknames. Just two syllables that made up the most beautiful name in the whole wide world. What would happen next in this terrible journey of theirs? Alfred was now broken because of Francis. He would need money fast if he was going to provide for himself. Would he get a job? How could he afford another night in a hotel? Would he sleep rough instead? What about the bare essentials: food and water? Clean clothes? What did Alfred think of him now that he'd done this, now that he'd ruined everything they had?

Francis closed his eyes. Prevented everything that they might have had. He needed to stop this, he would not do this to himself in front of Alfred. Now was not the time for such thoughts. He had to wait until the plane had left the ground, had to wait until it was far too late, until he could no longer go back and fix everything. Until Alfred was out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind, as much as the thought sickened him. Until the Atlantic was between them and Alfred was safe once more.

It was this collection of thoughts that gave Francis the strength to turn around, turn away from Alfred, and begin the journey that would take him home as he lined up to board the plane. But... what even was home anymore? Home was neither France nor America, so perhaps something else? Something that Francis didn't quite understand. Maybe he didn't have a home at all. But it was alright.

He clutched his ticket. He'd figure it all out on the plane back to Paris, where he could be sure that neither his stupid words nor his careless actions would further damage Alfred's poor, fragile, broken heart. The American was like a large, broken tower, swaying in the wind. One push, one false move and he one day would topple. Francis couldn't make that move-- it'd break them both. He had to leave before their relationship developed further.

Little did he know that he was causing dear Alfred more pain by leaving than he would have if he'd stayed.

Was it that easy for him? No. Of course saying goodbye in such a cold, formal manner wasn't easy for Francis. But it was necessary.

Alfred sunk below the surface of the water as he watched the Frenchman walk away, something twisting in his chest and screaming that if he didn't stop Francis now he'd never see him again, that he'd drown in this miserable ocean, that he'd be forgotten by the one person he needed to be remembered by. But maybe this was for the best.

And then, he was out of his sight. The people that hustled around Alfred talked words, mixed with various beeps and background music, rolled their wheeled suitcases over polished floors but without Francis' familiar, accented voice in the mix there was nothing but limp silence in the air. Alfred couldn't stand it. And so, he left.

The sidewalk was beginning to freckle with the first drops of rain. Alfred didn't mind. He was dead already-- a little more cold water wouldn't do anything. And besides, he was too deep wallowing in aching memories to worry about a little rain.

Francis.

The name plagued his mind yet mended his heart, and everything, every little detail, came falling down upon Alfred as he walked further and further away from the airport.

The American wondered if he could ever learn how to describe how furious he'd been when he'd been told just the extent of heartbreak monsters of men had caused Francis, sweet Francey, in the past. And he was curious; could he ever describe the way he felt as Francis curled up against his chest that night in the boxcar, warm under the blankets and safe in his arms?

Oh, Francis had such a way with words. Even when he was so flustered that he fumbled over them and practically forgot English altogether, he had a way with words.

A way of making Alfred want to sweep him off his feet, spin him quickly to make him laugh then slowly to make him sigh. The Parisian had a knack for making Alfred want want to take him by the hand and lead him out of the bar so they could dance in the streets instead, drunk off of each other's lips, dancing to the beat of their own song and laughter.

Alfred didn't need a king-sized bed or a five star hotel or a fancy car, not if he had Francis. He'd settle for a mattress on the floor as long as Francis was sleeping beside him. He'd be happy with a shitty motel room as long as he had Francis there to make believe with him as they danced across the creaking floorboards. He'd take their run down boxcar any day as long as he was able to look from a hole in the ceiling down at Francis' starry-eyes, glowing smile and moonlit face all over again.

Alfred wanted his arms full again, right in that moment. He wanted Francis' slightly parted lips and round, blue eyes whenever the American complimented him. He wanted his sing-song voice, his slender chest, his full lips and dimpled cheeks. He wanted him back right now, he didn't want to drown because without him there was no hope, no oxygen, no home, and fuck it all was he in love with Francis Bonnefoy.

Alfred stopped dead in his tracks.

Rain trickled down his cheeks (or perhaps they were tears), but he paid no mind. How had it taken him so long to realise it? How had he taken the fact that he hated the thought of anyone else with Francis lightly? How had he overlooked his urge to kiss him, ignored everything inside him that screamed to be closer to Francis?

And then the numbness fled, icy water shocking Alfred back into reality.

Francis may never feel the same way about Alfred. The Parisian may not need him like Alfred did, he may not want them to stay together. But if he never went back now, he'd never know.

There was still time, Alfred thought as he turned, heart pounding, and began to run back toward the airport as fast as his legs would carry him.


There was still time, Francis thought as he took another step further in the queue, further towards the front desk and the place where he would board his flight.

If Francis left now, if he threw his bag over his shoulder, jumped out of that queue yelling what a mistake he'd made, ripped up his ticket and ran back across the airport then maybe, just maybe, he would be able to find Alfred before he left.

A sudden urge to smile twitched at his lips.

That sounded just like the kind of thing that Alfred might do... but, of course, he himself would not. America was his home, after all. No-- Francis would move on, he would find new friends, and he would find a new place to fit in. That was the plan, after all.

He was powerless to reverse his decision now. His feet were stuck fast to the ground. Even if they hadn't been, he refused to let himself turn around to look nor take even one single step backwards, because if he did, then he knew in his heart that it would start a chain reaction of movement that he would not be strong enough to fight against.

For, if he saw Alfred in the distance, walking away from him, then he knew he would run back to the man.

However, if he didn't see Alfred-- if the man was already gone-- then Francis thought that his heart might just stop in his chest. He would die right then and there if he knew for certain that Alfred had already left. In truth, he would be content to do so, for what was a life without the one he loved most in the world, the only one who he knew would protect him and remain his friend, no matter what happened?

This was the life that Francis himself had chosen to live. One without Alfred's laughter, and thus one void of joy altogether.

His cheeks were wet.

Raising his hand, the one that wasn't clutching so tightly the handle of his bag and that damned ticket, he let his fingers trace the skin there until he found the source. The tears should not be there; Francis was so numb already that he did not think he was capable of showing human emotion anyone. But, as they ran down his cheeks, he proved himself wrong. He was human still, despite all that he'd done to break up such a perfect relationship, even as he knew he now needed-- no, he wanted-- that relationship back.

The very one that he was destroying.

"Alfred."

He did not notice how that single word brought stares from those around him, how they started at his tears, concern in their faces. No, he hardly saw them at all, for his mind was occupied only with thoughts of the man he'd left behind. Francis knew now that Alfred could not be here any more, for this place was dark and cold and too large, and Alfred's sweet, sunny smile could light up the whole room. Happiness radiated from his face like sun beams through the clouds, powerful enough to brighten any situation.

Even when he was breathless Alfred still sounded joyful. Wheezing laughter would break through his gasps for breath as the two of them giggled like schoolchildren, just like when they'd jumped off of that train.

Francis' own breathing was becoming more and more difficult, as if somebody was slowly, slowly sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. He hoped Alfred was outside, out in the cool air, free as he had always dreamed of being, free from burdens without Francis to hold him down anymore. No longer did Alfred have to worry about Francis.

His weak knees, aching heart and constricted lungs were of no bother to the American any more, and he was glad for that. This was his punishment for breaking them apart; he would now suffer in silence, all on his own, with no hero to catch him when he fell.

He choked on a gasp of that ever-diminishing air.

"Alfred, please forgive me..."

And fall he knew he would, for with every breath he took he felt his resolve crumbling into pieces before him. But he would ignore the urge to go back, just as he had prevented himself from calling Alfred love and dear and darling hundreds of times over. He had the memories of the old days locked away safely within his fragile heart, before everything fell apart, back when it was safe to use such terms of endearment.

Before he realized that he was in love.

Francis closed his eyes.

Alfred would stay with him forever, if only in the form of a memory. He almost thought he could hear him then, beautifully breathless with that radiant smile upon his lips, blond hair tousled in the wind and arms strong and ready and waiting, longing, to hold him closer than he'd ever been before. Francis' love would be confined to memories as beautiful as Alfred himself was.

Alfred had seen the movies. He'd read the books. He'd watched the plays. He'd witnessed time and time again how people would screw the rules, obligations, and responsibilities, just to be with the one they loved. And, like any sensible person, he'd thought it was ridiculous to be so impulsive.

Until now.

Until this exact moment, until he threw the doors to the entrance of the airport open like he'd done so to the exit of the school the day he'd thought Francis had cheated on his brother. He'd been an idiot. He was an idiot. An idiot ignoring what was most important, ignoring all the signs that practically spelled out what he didn't want to understand out of fear of it being true.

The American ran through the airport, not caring as he was suddenly being chased by guards. Nothing was about to stop him now. He'd made a mistake, the worst one in his life; he'd let Francis go. And God did he pray it wasn't too late to fix what he'd done.

Running was by no means an easy task, not for Alfred, but he didn't allow himself rest until he'd reached Francis, more relived to see him again than he was to stop sprinting.

"Francis," He wheezed, coming to an ungraceful halt not ten feet from the Frenchman, who'd turned around with a start, his eyes round and misty, eyebrows knit. Some other boarding passengers stopped to stare along with the two guards who'd caught up, but Alfred couldn't care less. Hands on his knees, Alfred attempted to catch his breath and confess everything he so had to say all at the same time, which, unfortunately, wasn't working out too hot for him.

"Listen to me, I... damn it, I'm so out of shape." Alfred pointed to the gate in a weak gesture, panting heavily. "You can't... can't get on that plane. You can't go... back to... to France. I need you, I..." He chuckled breathlessly, shaking his head. "I'm an idiot, you... Fran... Francey, listen, I..."

All the times he'd told himself to hold back, the times he'd ignored his urges, the times he'd seen Francis falling apart in front of him and chosen to do nothing in the fear of ruining what they had-- no more. Not when the person he wanted more than anything else in this whole damn world was less than a dozen feet from him, not when this was his last chance, not when Francis looked so terrified and desperate and beautiful--

"Oh, fuck it." He'd never understood those love-stricken idiots in the movies, books and plays until he was one. Until he'd closed the distance between them, taken Francis' face in his hands and kissed him, right in the middle of the international airport.

Time stopped.

A terrifying mix of disbelief, tension and pain rose in his body as he locked eyes with the American. His head was still reeling from the fact that Alfred was even standing there, a million thoughts and questions running through his mind, when the man of his dreams stepped forward and their lips collided.

Francis had once thought that kissing Matthew was the sweetest thing in the whole world, but oh, how wrong he had been. This was a completely new, near indescribable feeling that the expert of l'amour had never even come close to in his life. It was as if he and Alfred were two magnets being pulled apart-- since meeting each other, they'd been suppressing an urge that they both so clearly felt. But now, whatever had been keeping them apart was long gone, and they were free to crash into each other and embrace like two long lost lovers.

The feeling was so intense, he thought that he might just pass out. But he didn't, of course, he couldn't, not when those soft lips were finally, finally pressed against his own.

The bag that had been previously held so tightly in his hand slipped away as his muscles went slack. His ticket too, creased from how Francis had been holding it, left his grip and fluttered to the floor like the worthless piece of paper that it was. It had taken him far too long to figure out that he did not need a plane, he did not need to leave, because he was already home.

Alfred was his home.

Wide blue eyes remained open as they kissed, almost disbelieving, before they fluttered shut and his arms wrapped tightly around the American. His revelation had brought him to tears, and he broke the contact between their lips with a choked sob of pure relief. Hardly able to form a coherent thought, let alone speak, he buried his face into the crook of Alfred's neck and just cried.

The realisation that he had almost torn them apart forever came like a smack to the face. Who had he been kidding? Someone like Alfred could never be confined to a mere memory, not whilst he was still here; he was just too special for that.

Eventually, Francis raised his head again, kissing the other once more purely because he now could without fear, and because he missed how they fit so perfectly together. "Je ne veux pas aller." The words were quiet, accompanied by a shake of his head, and meant for Alfred alone.

Fresh tears brimmed in his eyes. "Je me suis trompé. Je... je ne besoin pas de París, n-non..." It was getting hard to speak, even in his mother tongue. English was, consequently, out of the question, but as he looked into the deep blue pools of Alfred's eyes, he hoped that he'd understand. "Je t'aime. Je t'aime beaucoup, Alfred. Plus que quiconque j'avais avant..."

The look Alfred was giving Francis could have made anyone melt. His eyes, softened behind thin wired glasses flicked between Francis', his eyelids fluttering sightly like he'd never seen anything more breathtaking in his life. And in that moment, he was sure he hadn't.

The Frenchman went on whimpering those quiet, relief-overflowed words in his native language, and Alfred replied by slowly bringing his hands up from the nape of his neck to hold his face, caressing the warm, damp skin of Francis' cheeks.

"...I love you."

How was is possible for three words to be so hard and easy to say? How was it possible to mean something so much, how was this not a dream? Alfred had been rescued from the icy water he'd nearly drowned in, rescued by this moment, by this realisation that Francis was finally his. Not Matthew's to be lied to, used, and carelessly broken. Not Louis' to be pinned down and permanently frightened.

His own.

His own to be treasured and protected and cared for and loved like no one else could, like no one else ever would because Alfred wasn't going to give him up.

Their foreheads met and Alfred freed one hand to take Francis', bringing it between their chests and pressing it to the space above his racing heart as if to say: You see, I feel the same as you do. I can hardly breathe either, can hardly control my relief and joy and yes, Francey, that thing you feel; it's yours now.

"I love you." He hardly said the words this time, his lips hardly traced them, only loud enough for Francis to hear. Oh, and Francis, his Francis deserved them the most, and now something was burning inside of Alfred like warmth and bliss and home and he was suddenly unable to keep a smile off his face.

"Damn it all, I love you, Francis." He wasn't going to leave him. He was going to spend the rest of his days making Francis feel like a prince, and if he wasted all his money buying little things for the Frenchman just to make him smile, then so be it. The thought of them being broke and homeless and together sounded a thousand times better than living in a massive mansion, rich and alone.

"...I'm... I'm going to buy you roses every day." He laughed softly out of sheer joy, murmuring sweet bits of nonsense and promises between loving little kisses all over Francis' face.

"And I..." A gentle kiss to his cheek. "...am going to hold you as you fall asleep every night, wake up with you every morning..." Alfred couldn't stop the tears that welled in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. In fact, he didn't even try to stop them.

"...I'll never let anyone hurt you ever again, I'm never going to leave you lonely..." A loving kiss to his forehead, then between his eyes, upon each dampened eyelid... Alfred couldn't get enough of him, murmuring bits of laughter and sighs and I love you, and You're so beautiful, and I'll make you happy, between each touch of his lips.

The American drew the smaller man into his arms and held him tightly, lips pressed to his soft blond hair and eyes closed as he swayed slightly from side to side.

Francis may not have been able to speak English in that moment himself, but he could certainly comprehend it. Every beautiful word that left Alfred's lips brought tears to his eyes, and he could hardly believe that such sweet things were being said to him and him alone.

His hand trembled as the other grasped it, the understanding that they were now free to hold each other without fear of consequence making him smile wider than he ever had before.

"And I will send you off to sleep with a kiss every night. I will wake you with breakfast every morning, and I'll never, ever leave you again. I can't, not now. Not now I know that you feel the same way I do." Alfred looked blurry through his teary vision, so he wiped at his eyes, gazing across with love in his eyes.

They kissed again, for the hundredth time, and Francis never wanted it to stop. If he could stay like this forever, lips pressed against Alfred's own, then he would live a blissful life. He understood now, that this was the power of love. He was prepared to sacrifice everything he had for Alfred if it made him happy, regardless of what the consequences might be.

However, such a thought made him start suddenly. All the things that he had been worried Alfred would go through, the trouble of finding food and shelter, they would now go through together.

"Oh Alfred, mon amour..." Oh, how good it felt to call freely him his love. How good all of this felt, to have the American's arms wrapped around him and to do the same to him, to bury his face into the man's soft, warm chest and feel the steady beat of the heart that was his.

"Where shall we live, how shall we survive?" As in love as Francis was, he could not help but let his thoughts drift back to reality a little. However, even as he spoke he smiled at the pronoun we. It was the two of them now, together against the world.

"As long as we are together, then I do not mind where we are..." He whispered into Alfred's chest, delighting in every word, every term of endearment. "I'm staying with you now, no matter what, I promise you, Alfred. I am never leaving you again. You know that I never wanted to go in the first place... I just didn't want to hurt you." He took a shuddering breath, pressing his ear to the man's chest again, comforted by the steady heartbeat that told him yes, he's really here, holding you, because he loves you.

Risking their survival seemed like a small price to pay in return for living with Francis Bonnefoy at his side.

"I'll get a job." Alfred held Francis like he was saying goodbye, like he'd never have to say goodbye again, one hand on the back of his head, the other secure around his torso-- he adored how Francis hid away in his chest and neck like Alfred was his sanctuary.

"Maybe two, maybe three. You'll sell your old apartment, we'll slowly make money, and then we'll buy two tickets to France."

It was then when Alfred realized that he didn't have to censor his emotions anymore, he didn't have to ignore his urges. The American pressed a kiss to the crown of Francis' head, stroking his hair soothingly.

"I'll do whatever needs to be done, and as long as we're together, as long as you're happy, that's all that matters to me."

"We'll get jobs. We're doing everything together from now on, Alfred. We're a team." A duo, a pair...

A couple.

Francis felt like his heart was going to burst. Never before had he been so happy that he'd locked his heart away, because only Alfred had the key now. Alfred was the only one who could kiss him, hold him, say that he loved him.

The American was a perfect gentleman in his own right with his kind gestures and playful smiles. The way he addressed the strangers all around them without a care in the world, that sheer confidence, because in that moment he felt more powerful than ever. Francis shared, understood and embraced that feeling of pure hope, the knowledge that things were going to get better now, that this was the start of something new.

"I'll do whatever needs to be done, as long as we're together, as long as you're happy, that's all that matters to me."

The idea that Alfred was willing to sacrifice everything for him brought tears to his eyes once again. Francis clung to the man's arm, leaning into him without a hint of shame as they wrapped each other around the waist.

"You'll really go back there with me-- back to París?" He didn't say home, because home was no longer one place, but instead anyplace where Alfred was.

"I... I..." He didn't know what to say, and simply shook his head in amazement, disbelief, joy, surprise, pure emotion.

Leaning up, Francis ceased his walking and chose to voice his gratitude in form of a kiss, for he was now able to do so when there were simply no words. Their hearts both spoke the language of love, and they communicated just perfectly with their chests pressed together, beating out a matching rhythm in perfect harmony.

However, a feeling of guilt that he'd almost ruined everything still wracked his heart.

"B-But I... I still can't believe that I nearly left. Oh, forgive me, Alfred... I-I understand now that... that I love you too much to ever let you go again." The thought of being apart from Alfred now made him feel physically ill. He needed the other in his life, he wanted to be the one to shower him with endless compliments and gifts, embraces and kisses.

Closing his eyes, he allowed his breathing to slow. It was all alright, because no matter how many mistakes he made, Alfred wasn't going to leave him. Not now, not tomorrow, not in six months. Never. Because this wonderful, beautiful man, Alfred F. Jones, was not like any other man. With Alfred, Francis knew that he would not be kicked to the side, nor forgotten, nor abused. He would not be hurt or made to feel regretful or guilty.

No, with Alfred there would be only love. Pure, incomprehensible love that would have him weak at the knees and make his heart thump and his palms sweat just from the sheer emotion that he saw in the other's eyes. Love that would not fade nor falter, but remain forever, until the end of time itself. For if their love could survive what they had already been through, then Francis knew it could survive anything.

Alfred was in shock.

He'd almost left Francis go. He'd almost let him go looking so small and pained and exhausted from a night of all tears and no rest, he'd almost abandoned him, almost let him walk out of his life, let him be unhappy, so why was Francis begging for forgiveness?

"It doesn't matter anymore, Francey. I'm here... I'm here. You don't have to apologise anymore." He wanted to get him out of this airport. He wanted to take the most important person in the world by the hand and rescue him from the plane that had almost swallowed him whole, wanted to whisk him away back to their crappy, homey apartment and hold him in his warm, safe arms until he drifted asleep out of pure exhaustion and relief to Alfred's gentle kisses and sweet little words. And it was only then when he realized; he could.

"Let's get out of here, Francey, come on." Alfred reluctantly pulled away, silently promising that he'd hold him again soon. He was ecstatic that he could make that promise. He picked up the Frenchman's bag, them took his hand, pressed a slow, knee-weakening kiss to his forehead, then pulled away.

"That's all, folks! Hope you enjoyed the show!" He called out to their audience giddily, who stared back with a hint of shame. With an overjoyed smile, Alfred turned and walked away from the gate, so, so incredibly grateful he wasn't leaving alone.

Francis could't help but giggle, casting shy glances behind them to the crowd of spectators as some of the braver few began to openly applaud. Francis doubted they understood what was going on, but that could surely recognise love, and love was all that they really needed to recognise.

"I love you, Alfred."

Neither of them would ever tire of that declaration.

"More than anything in the world, did you know that? And I'm never going to stop loving you until my heart ceases to beat..." The sheer joy Francis felt compelled him to speak his heart.

"Yeah, I know," The American grinned back, the grin on his face bright enough to rival the very sun itself.

"And neither am I."

It didn't matter if they were broke, nor if their next shelter was hundreds of miles away, because they were together, and they would follow each other to the ends of the earth.


Translations:

J'avais tort - I was wrong

Je ne besoin pas de París - I don't need Paris

Je t'aime - I love you

Je t'aime beaucoup - I love you so much

Plus que quiconque j'avais avant - More than I ever have before

 

A/N: *Squeal!* So, this chapter ended with some lovey-dovey fluff that's so sweet it'll give you all cavities! But it's worth it for the happy ending, isn't it?

However, this is by no means the end of the story. There is far more to come, as well as some new characters to meet? Can you guess who they are?

 

As always, we hope you enjoyed the latest chapter in our work! Thank you for all of your wonderful support- that hit counter just keeps going up and up, and we're both absolutely thrilled by it!

Please do let us know what you thought and/or if there are any heinous mistakes in that chunk of French used ":D