This one takes place right before Comedy of Errors, but reading Comedy of Errors first probably will make this make a bit more sense.

Chapter Zero

He had never meant to come back to Hearth. Francis liked to think he was beyond the town of his youth. Arthur was quite right in saying they should never near it as it was a trap waiting to pull them back in again.

The place had changed slightly. Just slightly. It still looked too much like Hearth. How had he missed his train exit? A turn of very bad luck, if he must have said so himself. Which he really had to, because there was no one else who would say this for him. His Matthew might. He ought to call him, but he preferred to let the other travel unfettered by his constant worries. Matthew was a good boy, he knew what he was doing.

Most of the time. Which was enough, really.

But the trouble started when Francis decided he could stay in town for a bite to eat. Marcus used to run that wonderful restaurant... or he could pop in on Gilbert or Antonio. Last time he spoke with Antonio was months ago though and Gilbert was not the person to drop in on for quick food before running for it.

He was hungry though. So why not stop at the Store? That would not take long and he would just walk to the city. He did not care how long it would take, he would do it.

Never get stuck in Hearth, you will never leave.

"Fair enough, I coined the phrase," the French left his mouth and into the cold air. He wondered who worked in the Store now, since Fritz had left and neither of his sons had been interested in the job...

"Ah, Tino! Long time no see!"

Tino stood up from where he was slightly bent behind the counter, staring at him in disbelief. "Francis? Ha! When did you come back?"

"Don't say that," Francis waved it off, leaning against the counter. He spoke quieter, as if the town would not hear him that way. "It's more like dropping by. Goodness, you've grown!"

"It's been years," Tino reminded him happily. He seemed slightly hesitant for a moment, but then returned to his previous demeanor. "Are you going to say hello to Antonio and Gilbert? I'm certain they'll be glad to see you... though Antonio might be a bit busy."

"Busy? Antonio?" Francis questioned, pretending to be shocked. "However could that happen?"

"Not my place to say," Tino walked around the counter. "He might tell you, if you stuck around a little."

Francis laughed, it trailing off very quickly. "Ah, I'll keep that in mind. Oh, but Tino! I must say you do look wonderful!"

Blond hair. Francis liked blond hair. He was a firm believer in the words 'blonds have more fun'. And Tino had grown up nicely... Francis was a vocal appreciator of nice things. Why not? Nice things did like to know that they were being appreciated.

"Thanks! Uh..." Francis stroked Tino's hair back.

Which is when all hell broke loose. Or the fact he felt someone grab him by the shoulder. The grip was a little painful and Francis' hand dropped back to his side as he looked toward the person behind him.

"Berwald! Long time no see!"

"H'nds 'ff m' w'fe."

H'nds.... that must be hands. Hands off. Well, do not really have to translate the rest of that, do I?

"Berwald, it's okay. And you need to stop calling me that," Tino pleaded. Berwald did not seem very happy with that, but let go of his shoulder all the same.

"You've grown up so much as well!" Francis tried to say cheerily, massaging his shoulder.

"You've grown too!" Tino protested. "You've even grown a beard!"

"If y' c'll th't a beard..." Berwald grumbled, looking away.

"I see you're more talkative than you used to be," Francis commented to the taller one (deciding to ignore whatever it was he had said) before returning his attentions to the man who was not going to try and crush his bones. "Do you like it?"

"Yes, it suits you!" Tino responded. The fact Tino was not bothered was promising. The fact Tino was not bothered by Berwald was just strange. He remembered a day when the taller one would always frighten him. Most people, actually.

"Glad to see the two of you have finally gotten together," Francis remarked. That finally affected Tino, who blushed. Berwald's expression, as always, did not change. Though he did seem less likely to try and manhandle him again.

Unfortunately it made Francis open his big mouth.

"If you two ever think about opening your sights to include a threesome–"

Which is when Berwald started throwing things at him.

Francis did not know how in Hearth Tino managed to calm Berwald down so quickly. All he knew was that hiding behind the counter meant he did not know which direction Berwald might be coming from. He could really use a mirror.

Tino's head peeked over the counter at him. "Can you hand me the phone?"

"Certainly," Francis handed it up.


Anything to keep my skin intact, Francis sighed, wondering how he could have made that social error. He usually did so well when it came to suggestions. Then again, he was in Hearth.


"Berwald, maybe I should talk..."

Francis tried not to snicker. He succeeded. Remembering Berwald throwing things at him made it very easy. Francis tried to discern what it was that Berwald was saying into the phone, but could not make out hide nor hair of it. He doubted the person on the other end could either.

"I'm sorry Francis, but Berwald doesn't like those sort of jokes..."

Berwald apparently can tell when it was not really a joke, Francis kept to himself.

"Well, I'm certain we can get this sorted out!"

The door opened.

"Berwald, would you care to elaborate on the reason for which you called me?"

"Hey Vash," Tino seemed to respond with a sense of relief. Francis decided to risk standing up to see the situation.

The man named Vash looked at him, then looked at Berwald and Tino, then looked at the destroyed merchandise. Francis could tell exactly what was going through the boy's head.

"I didn't do it!" Francis protested.

"You are under arrest," he said, pulling out some handcuffs. "You can either make this easy on the both of us or, if difficult, I can change my tactics to accommodate your issues."

Francis could see a gun, so decided Vash's way was probably the best way to go. "Bye Tino!" he gave a wave, before being cuffed. Tino opened his mouth to say something, but Berwald walked into the back room and with a concerned look, followed after.

Yes, be concerned for him. Not the one being falsely accused.

"I will have Berwald tally the amount of the destroyed merchandise," Vash was informing him. Francis coughed.

"But I did not do it!"

"I do not want to hear what it was you really did, as it is bound to be worse," Vash grumbled. Did not sound like he was in a good mood. Francis decided to try and play it safe.

"I don't have much money on me."

"And Hearth does not have a bank."

"I knew that."

And Francis knew where this was going. Quickly he tried to think of any excuse which would not be construed as threatening or bribing, but yet somehow lean to his captor's more sensitive side.

Not that this Vash appeared to have a more sensitive side.

"But monsieur!" Francis begged as he stepped into the cell. "I beg thee to reconsider!"

The policeman sighed, then frowned. "The law is the law, Frenchman." He locked the cell. "You said you didn't have the money on you."

"Not as of now~" Francis tried to be reassuring.


"Please?" Francis tried his most pitiful face. He could not be stuck in jail here!

"You don't plead with the law. You plead with the justice when they interpret it."

"And you seem a little young to be part of the law," Francis mentioned. He had no idea why he said it. That certainly was not going to score him any points with Vash. And he was right. The younger man ignored him.

His life could not get any worse. He was stuck in Hearth. And Francis knew this time he was unlikely to get out.

Francis does not like Hearth because there are a limited number of people that it is all right to hit on. The moral of this story? Do not hit on Berwald's man. Ever. Tino might be forgiving, but Berwald definitely is not. And he is the one you have to worry about.

This will be filled with all of the mismatched things in my Hearth AU which do not fit in Comedy of Errors or in the sequel which I am planning. Do not expect updates, just be happy when they come.