|The Road To Recovery
Author: All Galimatias PM
"I can't believe you were stupid enough to leave them this long," Arthur said, tone more reprimanding than insulting. "I mean, I knew you were a sadomasochist, but really."Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Hurt/Comfort/Romance - England/Britain & France - Words: 5,346 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 44 - Follows: 1 - Published: 10-25-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7493863
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"You look like shit," Arthur said almost conversationally, lingering in Francis' doorway, eyes watching the Frenchman with a concern that belied his words.
Francis snorted and made a conscious effort not to curl up in the chair he was sitting in; it would bring far more pain than it was worth. "As usual your concern is touching. How did you get into my house?"
A faint satisfied smile gracing his features, Arthur shrugged and moved forward into Francis' living room, pausing to take off his shoes before he did so. Francis had been telling him to do it since they'd had houses, and it was the first time he had obeyed of his own will and without prompting. Raising one eyebrow, Francis promptly winced as he aggravated the cuts on his face, dark red pieces of dried blood falling into his eyelashes. He let out a groan of disgust, blinking rapidly as he couldn't move his hands up to brush the stuff away. Giving it up, he shot Arthur a glare that dared him to comment before closing his eyes and letting his head rest against the back of the chair.
For a few seconds, Francis just quietly relished being able to close his eyes without hearing screaming. Then he tensed, and his eyes would have flashed open had there not been someone else gently holding them closed as alien fingers carefully brushed away the disintegrated crust of blood. The hand left his face and he opened his eyes to regard Arthur. The other nation looked back at him with careful neutrality, an expression which wasn't as potent as it should have been because of the simple fact that Arthur was almost sitting in his lap.
"Why aren't they healing?" Arthur asked flatly, eyes moving away from Francis' and roving about the rest of his face instead. The injuries a nation sustained during a war were often countless, but they should all fade quickly. Usually very quickly, once a war was over, but that did require someone to have tended to the wounds-
"They haven't been treated," Francis replied simply. "I'm in no condition to do it myself, and there were no volunteers. People have their own concerns."
Arthur looked at him for a few moments more before he moved backwards, pausing half a meter away and continuing to appraise Francis.
"Where's your kit?"
"Medical kit, frog, where is it?"
"Do you want me to just ransack your house?"
"In the cupboard above the sink, in the kitchen."
Victorious, Arthur slipped out of the room towards the kitchen. "Why did you move it? Wasn't it upstairs for however many decades?" he called back, opening the cupboard and successfully hauling out a huge first aid kit, one that would allow a nation to cater to almost injuries. Going to a hospital always required awkward explanation and occasionally a spell in prison while they tried to figure out the identity of the man with four gunshot wounds and a broken leg, as well as why they weren't dead yet.
"Too difficult to get to," Francis replied, cautiously stretching out his legs. His skin felt too tight for his body, aching and complaining as he moved.
Arthur made a soft noise of acknowledgement as he re-entered the room, carrying the first aid kit and dropping it besides Francis' seat. Then he left the room again, this time coming back with a dish of water and a clean cloth.
"I can't believe you were stupid enough to leave them this long," Arthur said, tone more reprimanding than insulting. "I mean, I knew you were a sadomasochist, but really."
Francis let out a weak laugh. "Have you missed that in the past few years?" he teased, lips turning up as Arthur went red.
"You have," Francis said quite gleefully. "I've missed you too, rosbif."
"Shut up, you insufferable bastard," Arthur scowled, advancing on Francis with the now wet cloth. "Don't move."
Francis went obligingly still, watching Arthur lean over him with a sort of detachment that was uncharacteristic of him. He flinched slightly as the cool cloth met his forehead.
"It's too cold," he complained, smiling as Arthur huffed.
"Belt up," he said firmly before his concentration centred on the task at hand completely and he stopped paying attention to what Francis' was saying.
Francis closed his eyes and allowed himself to be soothed by the gentle movements of the cloth over his forehead, relaxing into the touch despite himself.
"You really are a mess," Arthur said softly as he pulled back. "I've cleaned up the blood, but all your cuts are reopening…" he trailed off and Francis felt him move away.
"This will sting," Arthur said a few moments later, and Francis could hear the sound of liquid moving about in a bottle.
"Fine," he nodded and then felt completely un-warned as the rubbing alcohol met the open cuts on his forehead. Letting out a hiss, his nails bit into his palm as he clenched his fists.
"Sorry," Arthur said, spare hand briefly touching Francis' as he continued to work. "It'll stop in a minute."
Cool cream touched his skin a few seconds later, the numbing pleasure compensating for the earlier sting. As Arthur wrapped bandage carefully over the cuts, Francis wondered why the other nation was doing this. It wasn't as if neither had tended to the others injuries before, but that was always on a battlefield when there was no other choice. Arthur had never sought him out after a war had ended, just to check he was okay.
"Done," Arthur said with satisfaction, and Francis' eyes blinked open. "Where else?" he asked as he moved away.
Francis considered the question. 'Everywhere,' he wanted to say. "My arm," he said instead.
"What's wrong with it?"
"It's broken," Francis replied flatly.
Arthur was back next to him in a heartbeat. "Why didn't you tell me that first?"
"Because it was so nice to have you so close to my face," Francis teased, before his expression settled into something more serious. "In any case, it's been like that for days. I could wait a few more minutes."
"I'd punch you if I didn't think your stupid frog body would break even more," Arthur muttered, fingers already working on Francis' shirt buttons.
"Arthur, is now really the time for this," Francis almost sung, grinning as Arthur spluttered.
"Shut up," he protested. "Try not to be a pervert for once in our stupidly long lives."
"I am not a pervert. You're the one exploiting a weak and vulnerable French-" Arthur did hit him, carefully on the shoulder where there were no other injuries.
"I'll leave you to sort yourself out," he warned. "I don't have to be here." It was a hollow threat, Francis was sure.
"I would," Arthur replied as he eased Francis' shirt carefully off him.
Somehow, Francis had managed to coerce Arthur into sleeping in his room. Using his- relatively- good behaviour during the day as part of his argument he'd coaxed the Englishman into his bed, swearing blind that he wouldn't touch him. He was briefly grateful, in a strange way, for his still sore injuries, as they convinced Arthur more than anything he was safe from a night of groping or more.
Francis dutifully kept his hands to himself, for the better part of ten minutes anyway. Carefully, he moved his unbroken left arm to wrap around Arthur. To his surprise, Arthur didn't react viciously. Emboldened Francis pulled the smaller man towards him, tugging their bodies together.
"You're injured," Arthur said softly, his back to Francis.
"It's fine. You did a good job," Francis replied, his breath ghosting over Arthur's ear as he spoke.
"Was that a compliment?" Arthur asked, and Francis could hear the smirk in his voice.
"Maybe," Francis replied, pressing a gentle kiss to Arthur's neck, sighing as Arthur froze next to him.
"Not happening, Francis," Arthur insisted, making to move out of their shared bed. Francis didn't let his arm unwind from round the Englishman's waist, keeping him trapped.
"Okay," he said easily. "But I'm not letting go of you."
Arthur let out an irate noise, but didn't complain.
Francis was almost asleep when he felt his arm shift. Too drowsy to realise that Arthur was probably trying to escape again he didn't resist, feeling his arm move up Arthur's body stopping draped over his shoulders.
Waking up enough to wonder what Arthur was thinking, he kept breathing evenly in a façade of sleeping as Arthur traced the back of his nails affectionately up and down Francis' arm. The moving fingers halted over one spot, the same place where there was a small burn. Arthur had paused there earlier, but denied it as he rubbed cream into the damaged skin. Now he moved to lightly kiss the area, leaving his lips against the skin for a few moments before he sighed and moved back to curl against Francis. The latter remained still as he felt the tension drain out of Arthur as he slipped into sleep.
He tried to think back to when the burn had first appeared, to what it symbolised. When he realised, his breath caught. Mers-el-Kébir.
"Oh Arthur…" The words came out as a sigh and he buried his face into Arthur's neck. "Why do you always have to make things so difficult for yourself?"
After the fall of France, on the third of July, 1940 Britain launched an attack on part of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, killing 1,297 French servicemen. The two nations were not at war at the time, but the British feared that the fleet would fall under the control of the German navy; this could have tipped naval superiority in Germany's favour. Relations between France and Britain were strained for sometime, but the action told the watching world of Britain's resolve to keep fighting.
(On November 27th two years later, the French deliberately sank their fleet in Touloun to prevent it from being captured by the Nazi forces during the takeover of Vichy France.)
Francis woke up with the pleasant surprise of having Arthur's warm body still against his own. With a smile he rested his head in the curve of Arthur's shoulder, for a moment content just to relax comfortably. Then he remembered his still aching injuries, particularly his arm, and his revelation the night before.
"What am I going to do with you?" he asked the oblivious Arthur, gently easing himself upright. "Miserable creature," he said, half to himself, leaning against the head board and threading his fingers through Arthur's hair, combing it gently.
"Getoff," Arthur slurred into the pillow his face was pressed into, moving his head slowly from side to side in an attempt to dislodge Francis' hand.
Ruffling Arthur's hair in a way that he knew still irritated him, even after a few thousand years, Francis grinned. "Do I still get you as a nurse maid today, rosbif?"
"You're obviously feeling better," Arthur replied, rolling lazily away to give Francis a glare.
"You could wear a uniform today," Francis continued as though he hadn't heard him. "I'm sure I have a lovely one-"
Francis was cut off as a pillow hit him full in the face, almost sending him falling back off the bed if it weren't for the fact that as quickly as he'd attacked him Arthur had darted forward to keep him upright.
"Forgot you were still broken," Arthur said, face red and eyes filled with barely-veiled concern. Before Francis had a chance to reply Arthur slipped out of the bed, heading for the door. "I'm getting a shower," he called back as way of explanation. "Which means that you've got about twenty minutes to make some of that disgusting French food you call breakfast, if you can't be bothered waiting for me."
"Thank you for your most charitable warning," Francis replied cheerfully. "I will take it to heart."
"Piss off," was the simple response, followed by the bathroom door closing with a defiant thud.
Francis grinned, moving his legs round to slide off the bed but pausing as he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror. He looked better than he had in ages. Overnight his cuts had started to knit themselves closed, burns and bruises fading away. His arm felt better too, it was almost painless to move his fingers and the limb itself was actually functional. Francis took the time to briefly be thankful for a nation's healing abilities.
Eyes catching on the near invisible burn on his left arm, Francis felt his mood deflate slightly. He knew perfectly well that it wasn't a good idea to tackle almost anything with Arthur head on; he'd have to work his way round to it.
Then, remembering Arthur's threat to cook, Francis swiftly got dressed and went downstairs to make them both breakfast.
Half an hour later saw Francis giving the ceiling of his kitchen confused looks. His bathroom was on top of it and that was the room Arthur had yet to come out of, the water still running audibly. Since showers had been invented Arthur had been renowned as the sort of person who was in and out of them in ten minutes tops. The fact he had taken three times as long as usual, and still wasn't out, was slightly worrying.
Francis gave the breakfast spread a considering look- it'd be a shame to let it go to waste… Francis gave the ceiling a final look, this one accompanied with a grin, and left the kitchen.
He debated momentarily on calling out Arthur's name, but decided after half a seconds thought it was more fun to catch him unawares. To his surprise, the door was unlocked; Arthur had to have something on his mind to forget something like that under the same roof as Francis. Perhaps the same thing as whatever was keeping him under the shower…
Grinning slightly, Francis quietly pushed the door open, eyes automatically going to the shower. He blinked. The water was running, but the shower was empty. Glancing round the rest of the room, Francis met a pair of horrified green eyes.
"Git, get out of the bathroom!" Arthur ordered, frantically. He was only half-clothed, lacking in his shirt, and Francis' eyes dropped down from his wet hair clinging to his face to take in his chest.
Francis was littered with scars and cuts all over his body, most half-healed and some remaining relics from the First World War. Arthur's body had chosen to represent the effects of the war on his country with an entirely different type of injury; burns. The once pale expanse of Arthur's chest was red and blistered, dead skin peeling away.
"Arthur, why the hell didn't you tell me?" Francis snapped, anger stifling the feeling of having the centre of his own chest ripped out. He moved forward, tilting a weakly protesting Arthur's head back to examine how far up his neck the burns travelled. Not far enough for Arthur's usual shirts, and his uniform, not to be unable to cover.
"Ta toi," Francis said, one hand covering Arthur's mouth before he pulled back to run his gaze over the burns. He felt sick.
Arthur didn't reply, picking up his shirt and starting to slide it on.
"Don't you dare," Francis all but growled, jerking the shirt away.
"Please tell me you've cleaned it."
"But you didn't bandage it?"
"Francis, for God's sake-"
"No speaking," Francis cut across.
"You're being ridiculous-"
"Quiet." Francis let out a sigh and pressed a hand to his temple, absently running the other briefly through Arthur's choppy blonde hair. "Come on," he said firmly, half-dragging Arthur from the bathroom and down the stairs to the kitchen. Arthur let out soft, muted winces all the way and for each one Francis felt his throat tighten, making it harder to breathe.
"You're going to open-"
"If you say one word about any of my injuries, I may be forced to kill you."
It was only the threat of being tied down that had convinced Arthur to stay still, Francis was sure. And he would have done it too, if the stubborn idiot had insisted on being so stupid...
They were both in Francis' living room, sprawled along the length of his sofa. Twisted together in a way that maybe should be unpleasant but was instead completely comfortable, the sort of position you get into and know that you will never find again if you move, the two lay against each other in silence, ignoring the faint twinges from their respective injuries. Francis' fingers were gently threading through Arthur's hair, too contemplative even to relish in the fact Arthur was not protesting.
Treating Arthur's burns had been unpleasant. Not only because of the plain nature of the task, the reflexive nausea that the injuries prompted, but because of Arthur's attitude. Francis was forced to both coax and coerce Arthur into compliancy, the Englishman displaying a shocking amount of resistance. Eventually he fell silent, quietly allowing Francis to finish treating him without protesting.
"You didn't want me to know." Francis' voice broke the silence.
Arthur shifted a little bit, and Francis watched the white bandages wrapped around his torso rise and fall with his breathing.
"No," he agreed quietly. "I didn't."
Francis could hear Arthur considering his answer, knew him well enough to know even before he opened his mouth that what came out of it would be a lie.
"I didn't want you to worry."
"That's not true. If you didn't want me to worry, you would have let me treat you. You wouldn't have protested; you wouldn't have been so selfish."
The lack of opposition to his words hurt more than anything else. "Tell me the truth, Arthur."
"I don't want them to heal."
"I don't want them to heal. I didn't want them to heal. Whichever."
"Why not?" Francis asked softly, none of his stress and worry carrying in his tone. He kept his voice carefully even, because he knew that talking to Arthur when he was like this was the same as trying to coax a rabbit into trusting you. Speak too loud, or in a voice too unforgiving, and both will bolt.
"I don't know." The response was flat. Arthur's voice was a muted mix of guilt, frustration, misery and the ever-present strength that let him face his own problems and forced him to try and do it alone.
"You don't know?"
"No. I just know that I didn't want them treated. I don't want to mend."
Francis considered this, still gently stroking through Arthur's hair. "Can you guess?"
Silence met his words. "Arthur?"
"Maybe because I know my people are still hurting," Arthur said, as if unprompted. "Every single family has lost someone. If not a child, sibling or parent, a friend. Everybody knows someone who's died. Parts of me lay in ruins because of bombs. There still isn't enough food, everything is still rationed. I don't want to feel like I'm whole and healthy when England isn't."
"I don't think so," Francis replied quietly, tone speculative, ignoring how Arthur stiffened.
"You don't think my nation is worth that much to me?"
"On the contrary, I don't think it's worth that little. Arthur, you know that if you thought your people weren't strong enough you'd be determined to be strong for them. That's what you've done all our lives. You know that your people have done well and that they're more than resolute enough to keep going till things get better. That's not it. What else?"
"A reminder," Arthur suggested, thinking aloud.
"Of the pain? The loss? We're all going to remember that with or without physical scars."
"Or of what has been done. To make sure even if I forgive, I do not forget."
It was why they existed in a perpetual state between being friends and enemies, Francis speculated with a sense of resignation at their joint stupidity. Both knew the other much, much better than they knew themselves. And to be good friends, people always need to be enemies. Because when one starts to hate themselves, the other can fight this opinion as furiously as they can fight anything else.
"What?" Arthur said, recognising the enlightenment in Francis' sigh.
"You're blaming yourself," Francis said, turning himself to bury his face into Arthur's hair and closing his eyes, hand moving to meet the other round the Englishman's waist. "Oh you idiot," he said softly.
"I am not," Arthur replied, his own hands prying at Francis' tightly entwined fingers in an attempt to banish them.
"You are. You're not forgiving yourself for the war. Because it means your people are hurt, because of the pain and the loss."
Francis felt Arthur stop moving, considering what he was saying, and his mind went back to the night before and the healing mark on his arm. "And you don't forgive yourself for making other people's hurt either. Mine. The Axis'…" Francis trailed off, something else coming to mind. "And the other Allies. The nations you fought with. The ones that came to your aid. "
He pulled an unresisting Arthur closer. "Arthur, you can't punish yourself for every person that died. Every person that died fighting for you, or against you. Or the people you didn't save. It's not your fault."
"Maybe that's what we're for," Arthur said softly. "Maybe we exist so we can take the blame and let our nations move on without their past mistakes and crimes staining them red forever."
"We're human too, Arthur. Not as human as our people, granted, but we're still people. If you try and take all this guilt for things you couldn't have stopped or changed, and don't forgive yourselves for the things you did wrong, it'll crush you."
"Do you think I'm without blame? Honestly, Francis? Do you really believe there were no chances to stop this from happening?"
"No. But not all those choices for a different path were yours to make. Even the ones made in your name, by your bosses, weren't things you could decide."
Arthur was shaking.
"There's only some sense in forgive and forget, Arthur. We can't forget, because that would be an insult to everything the world's lost. But we must forgive, because otherwise we'll lose everything else."
It hadn't taken long after that for Arthur to remember he didn't look prolonged human contact and rapidly escape Francis' embrace. He only moved to the other end of the sofa though, which Francis decided to count as progress. Now they were both half-looking at each other and half very pointedly doing the opposite.
"So why didn't you tell me?" Arthur said eventually, the question Francis had hoped they were ignoring breaking the silence.
"About this?" Francis gestured at the rest of him with the tone of someone who knew precisely what was being asked of him and was only playing for time.
Francis stretched his arms out, one sideways and one up against the back of the sofa, in an overly relaxed way. "I don't know," he replied with a smile that was both amused and self-deprecating.
Arthur snorted derisively. "I don't believe you."
"You rarely do. I told you when you arrived. Nobody was available. You have your own problems." He glanced pointedly at Arthur's chest.
Folding his arms defensively in front of him almost subconsciously, Arthur shook his head. "Francis, you are many things. One of them is selfish. One thing that you are not, despite all evidence to the contrary, is stupid. Those two things combine quite well. You wouldn't care what I was doing if you wanted me here, and nor do you lack the intelligence to know that I'd come."
It was always so very worrying when Arthur became serious enough to be honest.
"You should be."
Francis sighed, and looked away from Arthur's sharp green gaze. When he looked back a few seconds later, Arthur was still pointedly staring at him.
"No, I'm not letting it drop," the younger nation said flatly, settling further into the cushions.
Glaring at him, Francis let his head drop back against the arm-rest. "But I'm sick," he whined, knowing perfectly well what the response would be but saying it anyway.
"I don't care. Talk to me."
"What if I don't want to?"
True. Francis liked talking about himself. Arthur was always the one whose thoughts were acquired with as much ease as drawing water from a stone.
"I was waiting."
He could feel Arthur looking at him. The unspoken question between them wasn't 'For me?' They both knew perfectly well they never waited for each other. Not to say that they ever left the other behind. More dragged them- kicking and screaming- to wherever they wanted to be. Less wasted time, you see.
"For closure, I think."
"Yes. I know the war is over. I'm just… Waiting for it to stop."
He pulled his head back forward to take in Arthur's expression. Carefully concerned.
"Not the war?"
"No. I don't know, really I don't. Just- You know how all stories end?"
"That's what I'm waiting for. The last sentence before the story ends. The last page. The end."
Arthur didn't say anything, watching and listening quietly.
"We've lived through so many generations. So many people. And they've all had endings. They all died. And we're still here."
The words were untangling in the air they were both breathing, letting Francis think them through.
"I'm tired. I'm waiting for things to stop being so complicated, for things to stop leading onto each other and causing problems and problems and problems. We barely survived one World War. And when that finished, I was just expecting things to stop… being for a while. But everything kept on coming. A second war. Everything is still going. It's relentless."
His tone was even and steady, but he could feel Arthur looking straight through his composure.
"We've got a longer story than most, Francis. That doesn't mean it's endless."
"It feels like it will be."
"Don't be so daft," Arthur said as he stretched his legs out, nudging Francis hip with one foot. "We're not fallible. Surely you've figured that out by now?"
Francis thought of crumbling empires and half-forgotten faces. "I have."
"And as you say, we've just survived a war. Don't tell me you didn't fight tooth and nail the whole way through it? Even when you thought you were failing? If you wanted a conclusion, truly, not only when you're feeling sad and philosophical, you wouldn't have bothered."
"I was hardly the hero in that last chapter though, was I?"
"Don't you dare," Arthur said abruptly, back-handing Francis' unsuspecting foot from where it was resting by his elbow. "Don't you dare."
"Talk like that. Idiot. You couldn't have been a hero. You're a nation. Nations can't be heroes. Whatever Alfred prattles on about, whatever I say when I'm less concerned about both our well-beings, we're none of us heroes."
"So what are we then? In our own stories, if we're not the heroes?"
"Protagonists. With lots of character development."
Francis let out a startled laugh. "Really?"
"Sure. We always think we're doing the right thing, don't we? And expect people to root for us."
"Fair enough… What about in each other's stories?"
Arthur considered this. "Depends. That fluctuates rather a lot, doesn't it?"
"Yes… So what about us then?"
"What do you think?" Arthur asked swiftly, tone sharp and defensive. Francis ignored it.
"At the moment, allies, I suppose."
"Well I'm certainly not being your sidekick."
"Or a damsel in distress?"
Francis glared at him. Arthur smiled in response.
"What would you say, then? What are we in each other's stories?"
Smile fading, Arthur seemed to consider something. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and then finally said, "Idiots."
Francis stretched out on the sofa then turned to place his feet on the floor and stand up, turning round to face Arthur.
"And you call me unimaginative?" he said with a faint teasing smile.
"You are," Arthur responded as he held out his hand out to be pulled off the sofa, looking at Francis expectantly.
"I've changed my answer," Francis replied, ignoring the comment as he met Arthur's raised hand with his own. Tugging Arthur upright a little harder than necessary, he caught the other nation as he overbalanced and then didn't let go.
As Arthur began to protest, the heels of his hands and the backs of his fingernails pressed against Francis' chest as he tried to push away, Francis leant down a little to press a kiss against Arthur's forehead. "I think we've always been love interests."
Arthur sighed, tilting his head up to look at him directly. "You think so?"
"Mm. There's always been a potential, hasn't there? Even when we fight."
For a moment, neither of them did anything. Then Arthur inhaled slightly and blew very unromantically into Francis' face, startling the Frenchman enough for him to release Arthur and have the younger nation slip away.
"Bloody romantic," Arthur told him over his shoulder as he went through the doorway.
"You know it's true, rosbif," Francis all but sung with a grin, trailing after him.
"Yes, well, be that as it may," Arthur responded without looking back, in the hallway and halfway to the kitchen; Francis would be more worried if he didn't think Arthur was just trying to escape him.
Grinning, Francis grabbed the retreating Englishman's arm and spun him round. Arthur raised an eyebrow, managing to look at him with both the impression he had better places to be and quiet invitation. The expression was endearing in its familiarity.
Francis was sure that the look on his own face was one Arthur recognised, though he wouldn't be able to guess exactly what it was that Arthur saw in him. Using his grip on Arthur's arm, Francis pulled the Englishman back towards him and kissed him again, hands slipping round to interlock behind Arthur's back as he was pulled closer.
And if this wasjust story, that'd be its end. But it's not, it's their lives, their very long lives with an end only a long, long time away. Before then, more guilt and pain and regret; but Francis was committed to making sure Arthur knew he never blamed him. And as for closure? Francis could probably live without that too. Just so long as he had Arthur. For every single one of his inconclusive ends and every single tangled beginning.