It was empty save for the reflections of themselves. Between the mirrors, a feeble sun attempts to weasel its way through the panes of glass in the tall windows only to fall in lines across the elegant floors and decadent walls. Arthur only pretends to like it because the rest of England thinks that France is something of an example of where the world is headed.

In all honesty, he loathes the high heels, heavy coats trimmed with finery and jewels and wishes for something lighter and for less of it -not that he would ever tell Francis this. He prefers to keep the stuffy clothes on then have his dignity ruined by the Frenchman. Down the way, piano echoes in the long corridor. Most likely Roderich's doing (curse the Austrian for setting a mood that Arthur is afraid of.)

Francis' smile is almost breathtaking in the soft afternoon sun as he turns to look at England. "Lapin, you 'ave stopped walking," he mentions, "Per'aps you are lost in ze beauty of my palace, oui?"

" 'Course not!" Is Arthur's automatic -and brutish- response. His voice is louder than the piano but fades quickly to let the soft and tantalizing melody once again float through the hall. "My feet are sore. No thanks to you, letting me get lost in that maze. Bloody git." But Arthur knows the maze better than Francis; he just wants something to complain about.

The laughter is intoxicating as always as Francis raises two fingers to his lips, trying to disguise it, but Arthur knows that France loves laughing at him. He always has. "Shall we continue zen? I 'ave prepared a feast for ze ages, everyone is 'ere." His soft shoes make no noise on the marble. There is just a white shirt with billowy sleeves, a deep blue vest and a red ribbon sitting neatly in the small of his neck. It appears that the nation himself is so far ahead of the fashion that he has given up the gaudy jackets and unnecessary frills.

That, or he can no longer bring himself to care.

Grumblingly, Arthur starts walking again, faster than Francis, his shoes clicking on the tile with sharp taps that punctuate the beautiful music. Arthur only wears them because they make himself and Francis the same height. "I can't believe you invited everyone… You know I don't like to make a big deal out of petty things."

"A birthday is not a petty thing." Francis says, voice hinting on solemn as he strides after his English counterpart.

"It is when it doesn't even exist." Arthur snorts, "England has always been around… I don't even have a birthday Francis, I don't know why you insist on celebrating it every bloody year."

Francis hums. " 'ow old are you turning?"

"Seven-hundred and sixty… four." Arthur guesses vaguely.

The Frenchman shakes his head. "In human years. Is it not an important birthday?"

"I don't know why you bother with human years. I haven't ever felt human."

"Humour me, Angleterre."

Again, Arthur stops walking, his ankle groaning at not being used. Despite the height gain, he suspects that he will not be able to walk by the time he is eight hundred. "I'm turning… eighteen."

Francis smiles at him and Arthur finds himself blushing. "You 'ave grown." He says quietly, "It is remarkable. Almost…" The word trails off.

"Almost?" Arthur finds himself asking.

The Frenchman looks out the window for a moment, watching the sprawling gardens. "Like a butterfly." He says quietly, glancing over his shoulder, "From a rough, uncivilied and horrid little caterpillar to a beautiful and powerful empire."

"Butterflies aren't powerful." Arthur says quietly.

"Non… but they are beautiful." France says without a hint of scorn.

Arthur feels like a butterfly in all this refinery. "If you think this is going to get me into your bed-"

Francis cut him off with a smile and quiet, comforting words. "Do not think me so crude." He says, "It is your birthday, I would not spoil that for you."

England wants to say that it wouldn't spoil it, but only make it better. "Git." Is what he says instead.

"Per'haps." Francis laughs, not bothering to try and hide it this time, "But you are a man now! You 'ave entire legions of women zat will want to bed you. And it is not like you are getting any younger," he winks, "I know a young lady zat would suit you! Beautiful with luscious red 'air and-"

The words trail off when he sees the forlorn look on England's face. Perhaps he has gone to far this time, France knows that Arthur's heart still aches with loneliness from Bess. "Oh Angleterre," He starts, reaching out a placating hand. "I am sorry, you know that I did not mean anything…"

Arthur quietly takes off his large hat, tucking it under his arm, looking away. "We shouldn't keep everyone waiting…" He says, gripping the edges tightly, "It's my birthday after all." A weak smile is all he can offer the Frenchman.

"I know you miss 'er."

"I d-don't." The trip in the words betrays England and he finds he can't stop talking, "S-She… always said she'd be my first dance." The green eyes bow. He always loved her because she would tell him sweet, little lies like that. How she would always hold his hand. How she would always laugh with him. How she would always be there.

France is quiet for a moment. "Angleterre." Instead of reaching out to England, the hand flips over, palm up, "Per'aps… you would dance with me… I know zat she would not mind if your first dance was stolen by me."

"She would mind." Arthur sniffs, cheeks a bright pink. He tosses the large hat away, reaching down and -ignoring the curious look Francis gives him- takes off his shoes. For once, he does not want to feel tall. Removing his jacket last, Arthur looks up at Francis' before taking the hand.

Francis pulls him close, starting to spin them in slow circles, not really with the piano, but his eyes are closed and his head tilted towards the music. Arthur watches quietly for a few moments, head coming to rest on France's shoulder, closing his own eyes, listening to the quiet heartbeat that is too much like his own.

As he takes a deep breath, he smiles. Elizabeth always wore scents of lilies, just for him. "She'd be appalled right now," Arthur says quietly, letting out a long breath, "Letting my first dance be stolen by a Frenchman… the idea is simply-"

"And if it was just a friend?" Francis asks quietly "I am Francis before I am France."

Arthur smiles. "Then I'd call you a liar."


Author's Note

Drabble written for the sake of being written.