Title: Haute Couture
Author: Zalia Chimera
Notes: This fic is very much inspired by metallic_sweet's Francis, Eddie Izzard's executive transvestite spiel and a trip to Harvey Nichols in Leeds XD It's different to the FrUK fics I've written so far which have tended towards the more serious side of the spectrum. This is more light-hearted and upbeat, hopefully while keeping them both in character.
Summary: Arthur has never been one for fashion, while Francis revels in the changing seasons.
"Ah, Angleterre, your island is particularly dreary today."
Arthur glares and takes another sip of his Ear Grey tea before replying with casual scorn. "Then sod off."
Francis grins and reaches out to take one of the small handmade chocolates from the plate in the centre of the table, only to have Arthur smack the back of his hand with his teaspoon. Francis gives a soft (and, in Arthur's opinion, entirely over-dramatic) cry of scandalised pain, and nurses his hand, giving Arthur a mournful look. "You are so cruel, Arthur."
"Don't steal my chocolate then!"
They quieten into suspiciously polite silence as the waiter arrives with Francis's double espresso. Francis gives him a starry smile which makes the waiter (lord, he can't be more than twenty) flush and stutter and hurry back to the bar to fetch Francis another one of the little biscuits for his coffee, because it's really difficult to resist Francis when he has that sweet look on his face, sugar with a hint of spice. Francis purrs his thanks. Arthur rolls his eyes and watches the waiter leave and wonders whether the waiter is in the kitchen now having a sexual identity crisis, imagining how Francis's lips would feel against his body, wrapped around his cock, how it would feel to be inside him. It is a reaction that Arthur has seen before and that he still finds a little baffling. Perhaps they all do. Embarrassment he understands; Francis is shameless, but Arthur cannot recall considering gender an issue except in a worried way as a child when priests and bosses had told him to. In the end he is England first, foremost and always.
"-if you did not want to share them."
Arthur snaps out of his reverie and blinks at Francis, who sighs and smiles and takes one of the gorgeous chocolates and pops it into his mouth, much to Arthur's chagrin. "I said," Francis says, rolling the chocolate around in his mouth. Arthur can see it press against the inside of his cheek, "that you would not leave the chocolates in the middle of the table if you did not wish to share them."
"Oh," Arthur says and then shakes his head. "Whatever, frog." Francis is right about his habits though, and entirely too perceptive for Arthur's liking at times.
They finish their drinks as they bicker happily with each other, and Francis takes the last chocolate, biting into it, pink tongue darting out over his lips in a way that Arthur knows is on purpose. He gives a secretive smile and holds the uneaten half of the sweet to Arthur's lips. Arthur blinks but opens his mouth obediently, letting Francis nudge the treat inside, two of his long fingers slipping in with it, brushing his tongue for a moment. Arthur flushes scarlet and slides his tongue between them, sucking hungrily until the chocolate melts and Francis withdraws his fingers. "Idiot," Arthur mutters and it makes Francis' smile widen as he brushes Arthur's cheek with the back of his hand.
Francis blows a kiss to the waiter on the way out and Arthur glares at him as an arm slides around his shoulders possessively and obviously. "Are you planning on coming back for that poor boy tonight?" he asks snippily, giving Francis a suspicious look.
"Only if you care to join me, mon cher," Francis says, smiling slowly, the door of the café closing behind them.
Arthur has never really been one for fashion. He likes his bespoke suits from Savile Row and indulges in the occasional counter-culture movement when he feels the desire, but clothing is clothing to him and he had been glad when suits and military dress became acceptable formal wear for men. It's easier to just look smart and respectable, even if that means that he doesn't stand out amongst the numerous politicians and aides of his government.
Francis though, emerges butterfly-like from each new season and revels in the grand catwalk shows. He thrills with delight when they reach the department store, squeezing Arthur's hand as the doorman lets them inside. He browses the glass cases of jewellery while Arthur goes to check in for the suite that he'd booked six months ago just to make sure that it was available for Francis. The room, when they're led there, is uncomfortably decadent, like the lounge of a very expensive private home where you can't help but feel a little bad about touching anything. But there's a bottle of good champagne waiting on ice for them and in Arthur's mind that instantly improves the whole setting.
The poor woman that has been assigned to be their personal shopper, and who has perfect white teeth and immaculate hair, has no idea what she's got herself into. Arthur is quite sure that Francis knows everything that there is to know about fashion and then some. He has seen the rise of the great fashion houses first hand and he was always closer to his great people than Arthur had ever found it proper to get, and for so much longer. Arthur is equally certain that he has seen Francis' hand in fashion magazines. Not, of course, that Arthur makes a habit of reading those magazines. He merely browses them from time to time when there is nothing else on offer.
The personal shopper brings in a rack of clothes and Arthur has to stifle a laugh at the look of utter dismay on Francis' face at the offerings. The woman chatters happily as she pulls out t-shirts and loose fitting, jeans; the kind which are designed to look faded and scruffy already, all of the clothes the height of fashion at the moment and all apparently a crime against Francis' aesthetic sense if the soft, frustrated whine that escapes his lips is any indication. Arthur almost contemplates making Francis try on the clothing which even he has to admit is more akin to Alfred's casual clothing than anything he would consider the height of fashion, but Francis is using the pitiful expression against him, the one that Arthur is certain that he practises, and so he shakes his head and grabs the woman's attention.
"I think perhaps that ah…" he begins, not entirely certain how to explain this without causing some kind of embarrassment, although now he thinks about it, the embarrassment would mostly be his because Francis is already hanging the clothing back on the rack and shaking his head.
"Non, non, non! Mon dieu. I rue the day that America ever entered the fashion scene." He turns to the woman, lips pursed together as he scrutinises her face. "This is not fashion. I will not have it. I need elegance and… and not baggy jeans which look like they have already been worn and washed. What is the point of that? I want new clothing to look as though it has just come off the dressmaker's doll."
Arthur knows that Francis can ramble like this for some time when he is in such an incensed mood, working himself up into more and more of a frenzied, indignant rage, so he takes Francis' arm, and then the lady's arm and guides them both to the door of the suite. "Go. Find what you want and I will be waiting for you."
The woman looks about to protest; it is, after all, her job to find the clothing for the customer, not to be dragged around by them as they do the choosing, but Francis takes her hand and pulls her away with only a backwards wave towards Arthur as the door closes. He knows from experience how difficult it is to deny Francis when he is like this, a whirlwind force.
Arthur sighs heavily, sure that Francis steals his energy when it comes to these trips. Lord he feels old and impossibly out of touch with modernity. He rubs a hand over his face and goes to open the champagne.
He's halfway through the bottle and feeling pleasantly floaty by the time that Francis and their personal shopper return, a selection of clothes on the rack that is brought in after them. England doesn't even bat an eyelid as he recognises the type of the majority of clothing hung up neatly for Francis to try on, and the staff are too used to odd requests to comment, especially when the women's shirts and trousers and boots that Francis favours in this case, cost more than Arthur cares to think about.
So Arthur reclines on the elegant couch, glass of champagne in his hand and a faint smile on his lips as he watches Francis pick through the clothing, holding them up against his body, matching colours, occasionally asking for advice from the woman who seems a little bemused by his enthusiasm. He chatters the whole time, mostly to himself, extolling the virtues of the clasps on a pair of boots, or dismissing the pattern on a shirt as outdated before he discards it. He does not ask Arthur for advice and that is probably for the best.
Francis emerges wearing a shirt- no, a blouse really, which flares wide at the neck and dips down, revealing a glimpse of chest which makes Arthur's mouth go dry. There's a small frown on Francis' lips as he steps in front of the mirror, twisting and turning life a leaf in the wind to see himself and huffing softly the fluorescent lighting never flatters my complexion, so washed out. He cranes his neck over his shoulder to peer at Arthur, noting the tiny, happy smile on Arthur's face that may be the alcohol and may be something else entirely.
"Mon cher, how does this look?" he asks, voice as serious as if he were directing troops, except Arthur has heard him direct troops and he doesn't sound like that at all. Perhaps, even now, it is a novelty to hear Francis so serious about something without hearing steel and savagery in his voice.
"Wonderful," Arthur replies happily, raising his glass to that. If Francis likes it, then he will take it no matter what Arthur says, and agreeing straight away saves them both a lot of snarling and keeps Arthur from a night on the couch. Francis snorts softly, an amused smile on his lips, and walks over to the couch, standing over Arthur, hands on his hips. Arthur takes another sip of champagne and France dips down to kiss him briefly, tongue flicking out over Arthur's lips.
Arthur hums softly, resting a hand lightly against the back of Francis' neck before pulling himself away, fingers lingering lightly on the collar of the shirt for a moment. Silk. Fine silk and little mother of pearl buttons which glitter in the light. Pretty and he kind of wants to rub his cheek against the cloth but they haven't even bought it yet and he's slightly worried that France will refuse to buy it just to thwart him if he does so. Sometimes the little cruelties are all that they have left.
"I will take it," Francis says with a decisive nod as he saunters back towards the fitting room to change into yet another outfit (black blouse with ruffles like a cravat and slacks which hug his hips and make Arthur want to drag them off him right now) . It's like Arthur's own private catwalk show; Francis parading shirts which show off his chest and little slivers of his wrists enticingly, the heeled boots making his legs look impossibly long and slim, like Francis isn't skinny enough. He always has been, even when slim meant underfed and when Arthur had been considered the more desirable of the two of them. He had used that fact as a knife on more than one occasion, twisting it to see the wounds cut into the self professed country of l'amour, but he is content now to play the caterpillar to Francis' butterfly.
Assuming that Francis allows him to.
He advances eventually on Arthur with a devilishly thoughtful look on his face and grabs Arthur's hand, dragging him unsteadily to his feet and tugging him towards the rack of clothing. He digs through what is there before pulling out a dark green knitted sweater with a rolled neck. "This I think. You will try it on." It isn't a request and Arthur knows better than to disobey. Perhaps he is more sane when he is on his way to being drunk.
He blinks down at the bundle that is thrust into his arms, soft and thick, and lets Francis herd him into the changing room. He can hear the soft laughter of the personal shopper and it makes him colour crimson as he sheds jacket and tie and pulls the sweater over his head. It's surprisingly soft, cashmere or some other expensive wool and really, he could probably knit something himself for less than half the price but… it does look good on him, brings out the green in his eyes, makes him look less stocky.
Francis clucks with approval when Arthur steps out, walking around him with a considering look and then beaming. "Yes, this will do. We will take this as well." And that is that, even if Arthur is the one paying for their purchases in the end. There's a pair of slacks to go with it too, dark grey silk extravagance, and new cufflinks for his suits and a pair of black and thankfully men's boots with a small heel that don't suit him quite as well as they suit Francis but they don't look abominable either and would suit for nice meals out and attending Fashion Week with Francis when he is inevitably dragged..
"I think I look pretentious," Arthur mutters as he moves to pull off the sweater, more for the sake of appearance than any real dislike. The clothing feels distinctly foreign when he is so used to the sharp lines of suits.
"Nonsense," Francis purrs adoringly, beaming, the hungry gleam in his eyes making it all so very worth it. "They suit you just perfectly Arthur."
"Not here," Arthur murmurs because he can see Francis' fingers itching to help him take off the clothing that he'd just put on and then continue, and even tipsy as Arthur was, he wasn't about to let himself be bent over the expensive couch in the expensive room in front of the expensive personal shopper. When Francis pouts slightly, Arthur grins. "They'll never let you shop here again." It's probably a lie. Shops like this forgive a lot if you're willing to spend so much money, but he doesn't particularly want the reputation of being that sort of customer. He's not some rocker or movie star and, much as he hates to admit it, his people adore scandal, especially when it involves people connected to Parliament. But the excuse enough to make Francis turn back to the rack of clothing and begin pointing out what he wants wrapped up to be delivered.
Arthur knows that he'll have a heart attack if he ever looks at the price tags on the clothing (at least half of the store, or it seems that way to him), so he has come to the sensible conclusion over the years that they've been doing this, that not looking is the best course of action. He signs without question the receipt that he is given to charge everything to his account.
He still can't quite believe that he has an account at a fashion store.
They're almost to the door when Francis grabs his wrist and points, his eyes starry and longing. "Arthur. There," he says, tone brooking no argument.
"Yes! We must. Your nails are grubby and…"
"They're fingernails! They don't need to be primped and pampered and polished like…like yours," he finishes lamely and Francis' lips curl in triumph as he guides (drags) Arthur towards the manicure bar and talks to the 'nail technician' and really, what kind of job title is that? What's next? Hairdressers marketing themselves as 'hair redevelopment associates'? It's quite ridiculous and it takes Francis digging his fingers into that spot on his shoulders which makes him shudder to get him to sit down on the salon chair in front of the mirror.
His glare may lessen slightly as another glass of champagne is pressed into his hand. But only because it's a really good vintage and Francis is smiling so brightly like all of his dreams have been fulfilled and Arthur wonders if Francis' fantasies about torturing him have just been updated for the modern age.
The smiley assistant with the perfect white teeth (which Arthur is beginning to think is a requirement for working here) sets to work and makes him wince as she trims and digs bits of wood under his cuticles and is Francis sure that this isn't some form of torture akin to slivers of bamboo beneath the fingernails? He glances sideways at Francis who manages to smile benevolently and chat and compliment the woman molesting his hands. He really does have graceful hands and Arthur just watches them for a moment until a particularly sharp nudge to his skin drags his attention back to the lady tending to him.
He is massaged and poked to the point that he isn't sure that he recognises his own hands, and works his way through two more glasses of champagne to get to the point where he doesn't actually care.
"You should do this more often, mon Angleterre," Francis whispers against the shell of his ear and Arthur shivers at the use of his real name, the one that is all at once more personal and more obscenely shared than any other. Fingers run delicately over his hands, exploring the smooth contours which are normally calloused and rough, and heat presses against his back.
"Idiot!" Arthur protests and this time the flush really is from more than the alcohol and he can see the staff studiously not looking in that way which means they're noticing everything. Francis laces their fingers together, his thumb drawing enchanted circles against Arthur's wrist and he makes a noise that is entirely too pleased for him to just be admiring the state of Arthur's hands.
Francis chuckles softly and whispers something obscene into his ear which makes Arthur glad for well tailored suits for an entirely different reason. "I already called for the car," Francis croons and that is all the encouragement that Arthur needs to tighten his grip on Francis' hand and start making his way to the door.
-Savile Row is pretty much the place to get a suit in London, assuming you have the money. It's a street of men's tailors,specialising in bespoke pieces, and has served some very famous people in the past, including Winston Churchill, Nelson, Napoleon III and the Beatles.
-Harvey Nichols upon which the shop in this fic is modelled, is an upmarket department store, selling designer clothing, house furnishings and food. It's very posh, the kind of shop you feel you need to dress up just to enter.