The City of Paris was everything Arthur Kirkland had expected. Immense, vociferous and - above all else - French. Call him a British man to the end but he preferred the meandering streets of London to the cramped roads of La Ville-Lumière. But that's not to say he was completely opposed to French culture. Despite their terrible military history, supercilious culinary views and general "French-ness" Arthur would not scoff at their wine.
Arthur was a connoisseur of fine drinks, from the heavy ales of Germany to the bitter spirits of the north; Arthur had them all. He wasn't an expert per say - The International Wine Guildhad rejected his application for sommelier for the fourth time last week - but he knew the difference between a 1973 Barolo and a 1982 Bordeaux Merlot and could tell the vintage and place of origin from one sip. So, in order to further his knowledge of wine and show the world that the English weren't tasteless barbarians who drink to get drunk, he decided to tour the vineyards of the French countryside.
Not that his trip was only for his love of wine, oh no, there was a much bigger reason that Arthur was practically fleeing his country. Back at his flat on Blackfriar was his ex-fiancé. Though he seriously doubted that Alfred was still living there. After their fight where Alfred had claimed that Arthur was a bastard and he never wanted to see him again, Arthur wasn't really expecting a welcoming party when he got the guts to return to his home.
Things had been going so smoothly and then one day Alfred started acting very weird and promptly broke-up with Arthur. At first, Arthur didn't believe him, thinking it was his insipid American humour kicking in. Only when the golden engagement ring was thrown to the ground did he finally get that Alfred was serious. Without a word, he had packed his things, told Alfred to leave before he returned from his trip, and left.
And now he found himself on the Seine, sitting on a bridge, feet dangling over the dark waters as he sipped a glass of wine, his small suitcase propped under his arm. People moved all around him, ignoring him due to his slightly hobo-ish appearance, though a few stopped long enough to inspect the label on the wine. Overhead, the sky sparkled with satellites and airplanes, the light emanating from the city too bright for the stars to shine through. Down the river, the Eiffel Tower shimmered brightly. Arthur scoffed, downing his wine. The Tour Eiffel held nothing to the majesty Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge or the Cambridge.
He reached for the bottle and he was surprised to find it empty. Wondering how he could've drunk so much and not feel remotely less depressed, he struggled to his feet. Straightening his sweater-vest, he reached into his trench coat pocket, pulling out his worn leather wallet. He fished out a few bills, intending to pay a cabbie to take him to his hotel. As he turned, a man slammed into him, sending him flailing backwards. His back contacted the banister and he clung to it, barely saving himself from flipping over and diving into the river.
Swearing, he unclenched his hands from the stone and went to grab his wallet. In the moment that followed, he heard nothing but the quiet 'plop' as something plunged into the water. Wheeling around he stared into the murky depths of the river, catching a glimpse of his wallet before it was swallowed by darkness. Each item within flashed by in his mind's eye: his passport, his tour schedule, a couple hundred Euros, a driver's licence, his credit card, a few expired giftcards and a Super Shopper card from his local grocer's.
He leaned against the railing, counting backwards from ten. As if his luck wasn't bad enough in the first place. Wondering vaguely if his hotel card was in his pocket, he fished in them. A sigh escaped his lips as his fingers found nothing but lint and few coins. Now what was he going to do? He was stranded in the middle of a foreign city with nothing to his name but an empty bottle of wine and a suitcase with two shirts and a book. He knew he needed help but he didn't know anyone in France and his brother was currently exploring Northern Canada. That only left one person he could call on for aid.
Telling himself this wasn't crawling back, he set off to the nearest payphone. Picking the receiver off the main console, he gave the mouthpiece a quick rub with the sleeve of his jacket before feeding his coins into the machine. As he dialled the number to his flat, praying that Alfred was still there, he froze on the last digit. He really didn't need his help. With these few coins he could buy a snack, maybe the hotel would remember him, he did pay in advance.
While his mind weighed possible options, his finger unconsciously hit the last button. Only once a very tired voice crackled through the earpiece did Arthur snap out of his deliberations. "This better be important…" Arthur's brain stopped all functions, "Hello?" the voice asked again, "This better not be a prank call or I swear I'm going to kill whoever-"
"Al, it's me." Arthur wasn't sure if there was a more feeble way to start the conversation. Alfred was on the phone. His partner. His ex-fiancé. His lover. He could hear the heavy breathing on the other side, "Al?" He tried again.
"Arthur," Alfred said quietly. As Arthur listened, he could hear him crawl out of bed, stomping out of the bedroom. He could see Alfred standing in the middle of their living room, nothing on but those ridiculous eagle boxers he always wore. "Why are you calling?"
I'm still in love with you. Please take me back. "I'm stuck in Paris and I just dropped my passport and wallet into the river." He turned his back to the prying eyes of the pedestrians. "Do you think you could help me?"
There was a groan from the other side of the phone, but as far as Arthur could tell it wasn't Alfred. "You shouldn't have called." Alfred said, tone strangely firm.
Arthur leaned his forehead against the dirty glass of the booth. "I know I shouldn't be calling you," He said, his free hand forming a fist, "But there is no one else!" He yelled the last three words, attracting him even more unwanted attention. Shirking off some pondering gazes he closed his eyes.
"You have a brother," Alfred said, "Did you try calling him?"
"Matthew's in the tundra. I can't get a hold of him."
There a pregnant pause before Alfred spoke. His voice had lost its grave quality and now sounded a little more relaxed. "Well," A smile twitched at Arthur's lips. This was the Alfred he knew and loved, "Arthur, I could maybe…"
"Alfred?" Arthur's heart stopped. That was not Alfred's voice. It was deep, tinged with an accent he had heard only once in his lifetime and that was when he had his first drink of vodka, "Who are you talking to?" The voice came closer to the phone. Arthur listened in a stunned silence. He was sure that was the sound of light kisses and that was definitely the hint of a moan from Alfred.
Gone two days and Alfred had already found someone new. Was he really that bad a lover? Has Alfred really been that unsatisfied with him? Did Alfred really work that fast? Or was this the product of a long-time affair that was only now coming to light? Arthur sagged against the booth, suddenly feeling very small.
"Arthur? You still there? Get off me Iv…" Alfred asked, chuckling quietly.
Images of Alfred being held by tall, faceless man - in his apartment even - flared up in Arthur's mind. He clutched the phone, doing his best to keep his calm and not smash the receiver into a thousand pieces. He placed his hand over the mouthpiece and had a little spasm of unintelligible rage, then slowly lifted the phone back to his ear. "Iv?" He ground out.
He could almost see Alfred flinch from the restrained fury in his voice. "My new… my new… roommate." Lying through his goddamn teeth. "Yeah, roommate. Listen, I gotta go, good luck and everything. Send me a postcard." The line went dead.
Arthur stared at the handset from which a dial tone was droning. Calmly, he hung up the phone and backed out of the booth, picking his suitcase. He only made a few steps before the leather case fell from his hand. "Fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck." He exploded, "Fuck you Alfred F. Jones! FUCK YOU!" This outburst was followed by a yell of incomprehensible rage. Arthur bent over, hands on his knees as he wheezed for breath, his lungs burning.
At least people were giving him a wide berth now. Crouching he wrapped his arms around his legs and buried his face in his knees, trying to ignore the warm pricks at the corners of his eyes. He hated how he still wanted Alfred. He hated the monster of jealousy that was growing in his gut. He hated how he felt so helpless without him. He hated how the bottle of wine wasn't doing it's job.
The rest of the world was not sympathetic to his plight. A car honked at him and he could hear the driver yelling at him in French. People were gathering now, the horn was still blaring and a boat was on the river, a loud wedding party taking place on its deck, adding a throbbing beat to the chaos. Arthur didn't move, just lifted his hands and clamped them over his ears, trying think through the din. Maybe if the car hit him, he'd get severe brain damage and end up in a coma for rest of his life. Vegetables could still drink, right?
Before he could bash his head into the front of the car, two hands had grabbed his shoulders, hoisting him to his feet. A new, much calmer, French voice joined the noise and confusion. He kept his eyes closed and his hands over his ears, the unfamiliar touch somehow comforting amid the havoc of the street. The quiet rustling of leaves and the gentle whisper of the water soon replaced the roar of the avenue. The hands pressed down, making him sit. Finally daring to open his eyes, Arthur removed his hands from his ears.
He was under a bridge, sitting on a grassy hill that dipped into the Seine. Above, people still milled along, but the sound was somewhat muted now. He sighed, rubbing his temples. "Que faisiez-vous sur la rue? C'est pas un bonne idée, particulièrement en la nuit."
Arthur glanced to his side, wondering if he was just imagining the voice. The man beside him was the kind of man you would imagine you would find backstage of a modern production of A Midsummer's Night Dream waiting to come out and seduce the audience with his simple line of "The course of true love never did run smooth." His long blond hair was pulled back into long ponytail that hung limply over his shoulder. The handsome face had an angled chin covered in a light dusting of five o'clock shadow and his blue eyes peered worriedly at Arthur. His tall, lanky body was wrapped in a black turtleneck and dark, slightly tattered jeans and a cream coat was draped over his shoulders. Beside him was a lumpy duffel bag, worn with use.
"Monsieur? Écoutez-vous?" He waved his elegant hand in front of Arthur's face, frowning. Arthur had never seen such a French-looking man, which really didn't help with his already incensed mood.
Arthur grabbed the waving hand, making the Frenchman jump. Smirking, he decided to release a little of his anger. "I can't understand you because you speak a bloody language that no else gets or cares about. I hate your country, I hate your language and I hate you, you stupid French bastard." He cackled, revelling in his own brilliance. If there was one thing he loved to do, it was insult people, and it was even better when you could do it in a dialect they didn't understand.
An elegant eyebrow quirked. "Don't you think this 'bastard' deserves a thank you? Or are you really so English that you can't thank me properly?" The Frenchman ripped his hand away from Arthur's getting to his feet, "Monsieur?" He folded his arms over his chest, shaking strands of hair out of his eyes.
Arthur scrambled to his feet, his chortles stopping at once. "I…" But there was nothing else in his mind. When he insulted people, they weren't supposed to talk back. That was cheating.
Scoffing, the man stalked up the hill, snatching up Arthur's suitcase - which he had apparently picked up while Arthur had his meltdown - and, in a sudden violent movie, lobbed it at the smaller man. It caught him in the gut, send him flying backwards. He slide down the incline and stopping only a foot from the edge of the water. As he rolled onto his stomach, groaning, he caught his reflection in the water. His face red with embarrassment and a spot of dirt on his nose.
Back up the knoll, the Frenchman was laughing, golden hair shining in the streetlight. "Ah, c'est le karama, non?" He carefully moved down the hill, grabbing the scruff of Arthur's coat and heaving him up and plopping him down on a bench. "We're even now and we can start our meeting again. I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot as you say. Don't you agree, Sourcils?" The change in the man's comportment was unnerving. Not one minute ago he was a brooding, angry frog, and now he was Mister I'm-so-charming-I'll-be-in-your-pants-within-the-next-hour.
Arthur didn't trust him - and not just because he was French. "What the hell?" He asked, shuffling away from the man, clutching his suitcase to his chest, scared the man was going to rip his shirt off and shag him right there. "What's going on?! Who are you? You almost killed me there!"
"Well," The man tucked his hair behind his ear, smiling, "You were yelling profanities in the middle of the street, then crouched in front of a car. I simply moved you and then you yelled at me and then we ended up here." He gestured around the dingy street.
Scowling, Arthur stood, drawing himself to his full height. "Profanities? Well, pardon my French." He said, inflicting every word with as much scorn as possible, "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go drown myself in a bottle of Merlot."
He began to walk away. "I have two tickets to Rome." The Frenchman called after him, but not rising from the bench, "Want to come?"
Cursing his own sense of intrigue, Arthur wheeled about. He took a deep breath, pulling a face at the musky smell of cars and the Seine. "You're seriously offering me, a total stranger, to come with you on a trip to Rome?" Folding his arms, he raised his eyebrows.
Around them, the street continued to move. People pushed by Arthur, talking, laughing and gambling about, enjoying the rich summer night. A gentle breeze played with his coat, nudging him forward. Sighing, he ran a hand through his short hair. Something told him he was seriously going to regret this. "Why the hell not. Let's go."
The Frenchman jumped to his feet, grabbed Arthur's hand and pulled him to the main road. He threw out an arm, hailing a taxi, which immediately rounded the corner and parked. Opening the door, he stepped back, offering the seat. Arthur hesitated and took a step away from the cab.
"What's wrong?" The man asked, waving off the driver's inquiring words.
"I don't even know your name." Arthur said, clearly playing for time. Leaning against the taxi, the tall man shook his head, hair flopping into his eyes while he laughed mockingly, "Forgive me for wanting to know the name of the man who's whisking me away to Rome, if that even where you intend to take me!" Arthur spat at him, his cheeks burning, "For all I know, you could be taking me to Siberia and intend to sell me to the Mafia!"
"Francis Bonnefoy." He bowed his head, "Happy?"
Francis Bonnefoy. This man wanted to take him to Rome. This man was offering him nothing more than a train ticket. They had no other ties. He could leave, say no, and forget this ever happened. One trip to the British Embassy and he could have all his papers in order.
Wondering if the wine had really been that strong, Arthur he stepped forward and clambered into the taxi. Francis climbed in after him, telling the driver a few directions. They both sat back in their seats, saying nothing and not looking at each other. Francis reached into his pocket and pulled out two rumpled tickets.
"Arthur." Francis looked over. The small Brit was staring out the window, his eyes reflecting the streetlights, "Arthur Kirkland."
"It's nice to meet you," A smile tugged at his lips as they neared the train station, "Arthur Kirkland."
Explanations and translations
Que faisiez-vous sur la rue? C'est pas un bonne idée, particulièrement en la nuit. - What are you doing on the road? It's not a good idea, especially at night. (no shit)
Monsieur? Écoutez-vous?- Sir? Are you listening?
Ah, c'est le karama, non? - Ah, this is karma, no?
Sourcils - IT'S A SURPRISE. SHHHH. Don't go looking it up XD
Arthur and Matthew are brothers while Alfred is related to neither of them.