Title: twelve pomegranate seeds
Series: Hetalia (AU)
Character/Pairing: France/Canada
Rating: PG-13
Author's note: kink meme: historical au with French Revolutionary!Francis going into exile in England, and meeting aristocratic!Matthew and falling in love. / Hetalia Random Pairing Generator: France/Canada - Death & Exoticism
this is what happens if like, Cinderella and Poe had a kid. With a splice of mythology. No, really. Yes, Poe + Revolutionary France is anachronistic, but bear with me here, it's a stylistic thing.

I listened to "Waltz For The Damned" from the KH II soundtrack:

.

The nobles dance, careless of the happenings outside their castle walls. They are many-colored feathered birds, peacocks strutting. They giggle and laugh, careless of what surrounds them. The ballroom floor is checkered, for the nobles love playing at human chess. Matthieu is as always, a pawn when he is pulled into these games.

Matthieu isn't a noble, merely a serving boy. He's luckier than the girls, who get groped at every opportunity. Worse happens to them, he hears.

The man waltzes in at midnight. The witching hour, the moment to be feared. He wears a black cloak, and a skull mask. A red cravat gives the impression of a sliced open throat. At yet tied back at his neck are golden curls. He is a mix of grotesque and angelic, beautiful and horrible and Matthieu can't take his eyes off of him. Outside it storms, and perhaps another plague has come and gone. Outside is a world away that Matthieu has forgotten as the man who looks like Death dances with once woman and then another.

He leaves before the dawn has come, but before he does, he meets Matthieu's gaze. His eyes are the blue of a clear sky on a sunny day. Matthieu feels entranced, a shiver down his spine.

And then, a breath, a blink, and the man is gone.

.

The party continues on into the next night. The man comes again, and Matthieu watches from his corner. The man who plays death for the nobles is a good dancer, graceful and sure of himself. Each lady he takes in his hand seems thrilled at the attention, laughing as they twirl together. They are happy to dance with death.

Matthieu can't help but be jealous of them. He watches until a lordling scolds him for not moving on with his tray. When he sleeps, he still hears the haunting sound of that waltz on and on.

In his dreams, it is he who is dancing with the man, and not the ladies. The dream ends with a vision of the man before his bed, whispering mon amour, I have finally found you.

.

He notices the package in the morning when he has no time to see it. He's already late as it is (always late as it is) and it gnaws at him all day, with the curiosity, and the fear that it will be found. The first break he gets, he races back to find it unmolested.

It is a set of clothes of the sort he has never owned before. Pants not of the thick, coarse material he's always had, a shirt made of some soft material – silk? They are in earth tones, greens and browns. The outfit is completed with an embroidered green mask.

On it is a note. He squints at the fancy script. Wait for me, chéri. Soon you will have your crown.

His stomach flutters in anticipation, in nervousness all day.

.

He feels nervous as he walks in. Someone is bound to notice him. Matthieu the serving boy, playing at being a noble. Estelle, a one of the serving girls holds out a circlet of flowers.

Here you go, monsieur. I was instructed to give this to you.

He takes it with shaky hands and a nod. He tries to remind himself that a lot of nobles feel thanking the servants as beneath them. They should live to serve them, after all.

He realizes that it is Spring he is dressed as. He hears the nobles murmur over this new show.
Death comes in at twelve, as before. Instead of dancing with the ladies, he waits at the edge of the dance floor. When he catches sight of Matthieu, he comes his way.

I've been waiting for you, chéri.

His voice is beautiful, rich and sensual and soft. He holds out his hands Waltz with me, chéri?

He takes Matthieu's gloved hand that hides the callouses and wear of a servant's life. He kisses his hand, and Matthieu blushes scarlet under his mask. It isn't a large enough mask to hide his face completely like the man's. The man chuckles, and Matthieu just turns a deeper shade of red.

Matthieu feels awkward, as if he might trip and fall, ruin this pantomime with his clumsiness. If he wasn't wearing gloves, he might have not even taken the man's hand, for fear of sullying him.

But the man leads him with a grace and assurance. His hand is around his back, and Matthieu finds himself lost in the music. The steps come, instinctual, and he follows the man all through the dance.

He can tell that the man's eyes are blue through the skull mask, but he can tell nothing else. They sparkle with fondness, and a certain affection. And yet, there seems something sad in his manner, past the mockery of his dances with the women, which they were too dense to realize as a wry joke played at their expense.

And yet, this is no mere charade played, the man holds him tight throughout the dance, and when the music ends, he seems reluctant to let go of his hand.

Chéri... I must leave now. Wait for me at the bottom tunnels. You know the ones, right?

All the servant children know of them. They play in them until they grow old enough to take on more menial tasks, and grow into their life of endless servitude.

Y-yes...I know of it...

Before the cock crows, I'll come to take you away, chéri.

Matthieu nods, unable to speak over the lump of caught emotions in his throat. No one has ever wanted him enough to send him clothes, to sneak him into the dance floor like a noble, to steal him away. Nobody has ever wanted him before.

At the edge of the dance floor, he cups Matthieu's cheeks. The nobles are politely clapping for the end of the charade. Death and Spring have come together, and now they part.

I promise I will return.

Matthieu nods again, this time managing a soft I believe you

.

He waits at the tunnels with nothing but a lantern. He does not change from the outfit that the man has given him for he knows he will only be able to take the clothes on his back. It is of no matter, he has never had anything worth keeping. No mementoes that spoke of a lost youth, no broaches or rings, combs or stones. He hasn't even the memories to back it up, only the knowledge that at one point in his life, he came to this castle.

Everyone assumes that he was a cast-off child. The lower classes were prone to such grisly behavior. Matthieu assumes it too.

But with this man, he will have a new life. He will no longer be a servant with no family ties of his own, no one to want or claim him as their own. A home. Fine things would be nice, but not necessary. He'd live with this man on the streets, huddled up for warmth as snow fell around them. He'd follow this man anywhere.

Doubts creep in as the minutes go by. Perhaps he is cruel, perhaps he will harm you, perhaps...

Matthieu rejects these cynical thoughts before they settle into full out panic. The man's eyes were too kind for him to ever be a monster. Perhaps he keeps the mask on because of an accident, because he is deformed. Matthieu steels himself for the revalation. He will accept the man whatever his face and name turn out to be, no matter how disfigured, no matter how sullied his reputation is.

He is so lost in himself, that Matthieu lets the lantern drop in surprise as the horse seems to materialize in the night, made of shadows. The flame instantly goes flickers out.

Hurry, chéri, the man says in a low undertone.

It takes some tries, for Matthieu has never ridden a horse before, but the man helps pull Matthieu on. He's amazed by how dizzyingly high it is. The man urges the horse out, and they speed away into the woods that surround the castle.

As they ride away, Matthieu takes one last look. The castle is in flames, and even from here he can hear the sound of a revolt.

The servants are calling for their master's heads on platters.

Matthieu clings a little tighter to the man. No one has ever shown him kindness in his past home, and yet they were not needlessly cruel, other. No one has tried to rape him, and every slap he got was usually deserved. He has no loyalty to them, and yet he has never wished for their deaths either.

The black horse gallops into the night.

Don't look back, Matthieu.

It's the first time the man has used his name.

Wouldn't want to turn into a pillar of salt anyways, Matthieu mutters. He lays his head against the man and tries not to focus on the fact that everything he has ever known will be ashes before sunrise.

.

Matthieu does not know how long they have been riding. He falls asleep sometime in before dawn, and wakes sometime during the night. A whole day has passed without his knowing it. The man is taking care of the horse, and they are somewhere in a clearing. He can tell that much from the wan light the campfire gives.

Did you sleep well?

Matthieu nods sleepily and rubs at his eyes.

He has not taken off his mask yet.

Matthieu feels shy, the full realization of what has happened setting in. He takes peeks at the corner of his eye.

The man chuckles. You must have been really worn out to sleep that long.

What time is it? Matthieu asks in lieu of the other burning questions. Who are you? and What's your name?

The man sits by the fire. I'd say at least somewhere around eight.

I suppose you have questions... The man smiles. Well, chéri. We must be leaving soon, but I can answer a few...

Y-your name...sil vous plâit...

So simply calling me "Death" does not suit you? Hmmmmm. I didn't think you'd be such a picky one...

Matthieu flushes. Even a peasant like himself realizes that he's being shamelessly flirted with. He veers between apologizing and simply standing his ground, his mind torn between the two choices.

I can't resist any request by you....The man says. He leans back, thoughtful.

My name is Francis de Bonnefoy.

Matthieu holds the name close to him, as if it is a gift, a flower. He breathes in it, feels the texture and taste of it. No longer is he simply 'the man' or Death.

Monsieur de Bonnefoy...

No no no, do not be formal with me. Francis, he says.

F-Francis, Matthieu starts. He flinches in an ingrained response to mistakes.

Matthieu, did they hurt you? Francis reaches out to touch his cheek instead of slapping it, as Matthieu is used to when he is corrected.

I am of the lower class...they treat me like any other of the rabble.

Matthieu...you're hardly 'rabble.' Now don't say such things!

I'm sorry... Matthieu says.

No need to be sorry. It's my own fault for ever letting you go.

Matthieu looks to him, but he does not elaborate on this. Francis has known him before? He gathers his courage, but is unable to look at him as he asks the question.

Must you keep it on? The mask...even if you're scarred, I want to see you.

What?

Matthieu cannot tell the tone, or read his expression. All he can see is the death's head, which he interprets as anger.

I mean...I'm sorry to have said anything—

Francis tilts his head. Do you think that like Psyche and Eros, we can only meet in pitch dark rooms? That if you spilled the candlewax trying to find me, I would turn into a bear again and go to the castle east of the moon and west of the sun?

I thought...you might be hurt.

Francis removes the mask. Far be it from monstrous or scarred, his face is reminds him of paintings of angels he has seen in the church. There are dark circles under his eyes, and his golden curls have gotten tangled in the ride, and yet he is without a doubt the most beautiful man – no, person Matthieu has ever seen.

His face heats and he looks down.

I take it I'm not horrible, chéri? Francis says teasingly.

No, you're not... Matthieu mumbles, blushing even more.

But you said...

Yes? Francis says.

You seem to know me...

Francis half smiles, seeming only amused.

It's a long story, petit. I'll tell you soon. But now, we must travel.

Matthieu rises as Francis undoes the bridle. The black horse nickers. The second time up is easier, and they ride into the dark again, dirt kicked over their fire to conceal them a little better, should anyone be tracking them.

Everything behind him is ashes and dust and rubble.

.

Matthieu is able to stay awake until several hours later, when there is the lights of a town in the distance. They pass a guard on the edge of town and no one stops them. Matthieu's heart beats faster with every person they pass, even though he is innocent of any crime. He isn't so sure of Francis, though. All he knows is his face, his name, and that Francis must know him, somehow in the blank space that is before his time in the castle. Every other detail is wrapped up and paused, Scheherazade-like in the telling.

They find an out of the way inn. Matthieu doesn't catch the name.

Francis flirts with the barmaid as he gets some wine, and tips the innkeeper a little more for silence. Matthieu feels sullen when he rests. The shabbiness of the room doesn't bother him, but the way Francis looked at the barmaid does.

I am sorry for such poor accommodations. Soon I will take you back to where you belong, Francis says.

I'm used to it Matthieu replies. He's not quite ready to forgive him yet.

Matthieu climbs into bed, his face averted.

Oh, chéri. So this is what you look like when you're jealous.

Matthieu doesn't respond. Francis leans to the dusty floor, takes Matthieu's hand and kisses it.

You're so cute. Acting like a simple flirtation with a barmaid really means anything. You are my life, chéri. Before sunrise she will simply be another woman I charmed to get better drinks, but you will still be here at my side.

Matthieu flushes and looks up at him. He brushes the back of his hand against Francis' face, and feels the coarseness of his beard.

So I am forgiven?

Yes, you are forgiven.

You know, petit, I am a flirtatious man by nature. If you get angry everytime I charm a lady, you're going to be angry most of the day.

Matthieu's mouth twists into a grimace, and Francis laughs.

Petit, petit, you own my heart and always have. Do not worry; I will not stray from you.

Matthieu bites his lower lip. Can I hear the rest now?

Yes, but first let me get undressed.

Francis takes off his cloak, his gloves and boots. Matthieu watches in mixed shame and fascination. Francis seems to take undue pleasure in this, and even put on a bawd just for him. It makes him flush and think he'll have to say his rosary for hours to atone for this.

Francis takes off his belt, but leaves his shirt and pants, presumably for Matthieu's own benefit. He lays down beside him and gives Matthieu a look of such affection and love that Matthieu hides his face under the covers.

Come out petit, wherever you have hidden, Francis teases.

Matthieu peeks out, his lunettes lopsided above the covers. Matthieu rights them and kisses his nose.

I suppose it is now time to spin the rest of the tale?

Matthieu nods, enthusiastic, and Francis draws him closer.

I had a lover some years ago by the name of Marianne. She and I were two of a kind, and enjoyed each other's company. Eventually, though, she got married. She found some poor rich sop who was naive and thought he could own her...Regardless, she got it into her head that she had broken my heart, though she assumed this likely because she broke hearts the way fashions and seasons change. Every year there'd be a new string of lovers who she had jilted, cast away and were left wanting.

His fingers stroke Matthieu's hair as he speaks.

She got it into her head that her first child would be a girl, and out of some other whim – she was always having whims of some kind or another – she decided that this child would be betrothed to me. I played along for there was nothing one could do but play along with Marianne and her whims.

And then, one day you and your brother were born. We laughed it off, her other lover and I. She was so sure she would bear twin girls and betroth one to each of her lovers, but she gave birth to twin boys instead. Like I said, she was a very silly woman.

Matthieu reels at the news. I...I have a brother?

Oh yes. I remember him as being quite a hellion. You don't remember him at all? Francis queries.

Matthieu shakes his head. No...I remember nothing before staying in the castle.

Ah...well, you were young when it happened.

France looks off into emptiness. There are cracks in the boards, and a cool wind blows through, and the candle at their bedside flickers. Near to Francis he barely feels it. They make a large inkstain of a silhouette on the wall, until it looks like they have become one creature.

He smiles, wistful at old times.

Marianne was very, very beautiful, and people tended to forgive all her silly whims for that.../I Francis sighs in dreamy reverie at the thought. Very talented too, and elegant and witty.

Do I resemble her? Matthieu asks.

Hmmm, perhaps a little. Your hair is very soft like hers, though the color more resembles her husband's. You're living proof that at that time, at least, she was faithful. I think your temperament is more like his as well. He was a very gentle person, but high society has never been kind to the truly good. We are too wicked, you see?

Matthieu can't imagine Francis as being truly bad. Mischievous, charming and full of the sort of lusts that would make a priest disapprove and threaten hell, but true wickedness seems beyond him.

You're not wicked... Matthieu protests.

I see you gained his naivety too, Francis says. But he ruffles Matthieu's hair. But then, how could you not be, being shut up there all that time.

He kisses Matthieu's forehead. That is enough for tonight.

Matthieu makes a sound of protest, but Francis silences him by pressing a finger to his lips.

Not all at once, chéri. You need some time to think.

Matthieu doesn't protest after this. So many things run through his mind. He looks at the stranger lying beside him and wonders at the secrets he keeps.

.

They leave before dawn. This time, Francis does not rush, but keeps a steady pace. Matthieu has already begun to tire of riding. What at first felt like such a wonder has now become tedious, nauseous and painful. They're miles away from anyone. The path is quiet, and dry. The dust chokes his throat. He supposes it could be worse: they could be going through driving rain and muddy ruts.

He leans up against Francis and touches his back.

Francis, will you tell me more? Matthieu asks.

Only when it is dark, Matthieu. When we bed down I will tell more of the tale. Only then will it be safe.

Matthieu can't help but think it'd be safe here, where they are sure there is no one, or the sound of the clop-clop-clop of hooves, but he doesn't press the issue. Surely, Francis knows best with all his experience.

Instead he settles against Francis and listens to the way his body sounds. His mother wanted to betroth him to Francis at birth. All this time Francis has been looking for him. He thinks I am Francis' and feels warm and safe inside. It is the closest to a home he can ever remember.

.

Matthieu become anxious by the time they reach another town. Francis seems adverse to sleeping in the open, though Matthieu isn't sure if it's because he's picky or he's afraid of being attacked. Possibly both. Either way, soon they are in another, inn which if possible, is seedier. This time, there is no barmaid, only a middle-aged innkeeper. Matthieu breathes a littler easier this time.

He's so eager to hear more, that he personally helps with the laces at his collar, the cloak, and every other part. Francis is smiling at him the same way he did at that barmaid, suggestive and charming. His fingers shake and his face heats. He can't look Francis in the eyes.

The spin in the tale this time is not love, but death.

Francis...why were you there that night?

I have not told you yet? You could say I was warning the nobles, but they thought it was a pantomime. It wasn't for nothing, though. I finally found you.

But, they called for their heads, they set the castle ablaze.

That is the world we are in today, chéri. America has thrown off its former colonizer, and the country has decided that it no longer needs a king. There will be much bloodshed, and it is no place for someone like you,Francis says. His jaw sets in determination, and Matthieu thinks he will not bargain on this. We could go to somewhere else, like the Orient. We might even meet your brother and Arthur along the way if we are lucky.

Is it hot there? I cannot take the heat well...

On second thought, perhaps Spain, or Switzerland. Either of those would have pleasant enough climates. I hear there are plagues in the Orient, and I do not want to take such a chance.

Wherever you go, I'll be happy,Matthieu says.

Francis levels a tender gaze his way and says nothing. Matthieu could stay here a long time, just basking in quiet and warmth, but he knows that Francis will soon say until tomorrow, mon amour and then all the wonderings swirling in his mind will have to go unanswered for another day.

Are you a really a revolutionary?

Only partly. My goal was to find you again, that has always been the first thing on my mind...this was a...how would I say it? A diversion. The shallowness of the upper classes had begun to bore me.

I suppose that's the last of the tales and you won't spin anymore for me? Matthieu says.

Yes, petit. You must wait for the rest.

They reach the sea before the next night. Matthieu has never seen it before. He frolics like a child in the salt spray, the sand squished between his toes. He laughs too, laughs like he hasn't in years. Perhaps ever, for he has always been soft-spoken and has rarely had a reason for mirth.

Come on, Francis!

Francis strips off his shirt. His chest is scarred, and covered in bond hair. He keeps on his pants – perhaps for Matthieu's benefit. Matthieu looks down, shy and yet sly, and splashes Francis.

You do know this means war, Francis says, conversationally. He bends down splashes Matthieu with a truly magnificent crest of water. Matthieu's lunettes are spattered with salt-spray. He giggles and shrieks as Francis grips him from behind. He's got a strong grip, and even as Matthieu laughs and tries to struggle free, Francis holds tight.

I'm not letting you go, chéri, Francis whispers in his ear.

Matthieu's face heats at the pressure and feel of him against him so close. There's even a graze of his beard against his cheek as he whispers. He's aware of himself, of Francis, and aware too of the feel of his skin, slick with seawater. Thoughts bubble up, the kind of unknown that he's only faintly glimpsed between the servants, the nobles, and sometimes a mixing of the two. A lord and a chambermaid in a closet with fumbling and nervous giggles; a stableboy and milkmaid out in the hay; the lord and lady together under the sheets at night. He's witnessed these by accident, though only once has he ever spied too men together.

A thought of what Pére Juste would say, of what God would say to this bubbles up, but he swallows it back. He's too happy to be guilty, and truth be told, he can never give up such bliss for heaven, even if it damns him for all eternity.

He regrets it later, only slightly, though, when he's desperately itching at his skin and his skin is red and peeling.

A little further inland there's some fresh water that will help, Francis says sympathetically. He pats Matthieu on the back, and Mattieu cringes.

Je suis désolé, mon chéri.

Does this mean you've tell me extra today, since I'm hurt?

No, no France replies, faintly amused. I can only tell you a little each night. But tomorrow, we will get you some butter for your injury

Mmmmn, Matthieu replies.

Chéri, do you want to know about me or yourself?

It is a hard choice. He wonders about himself, but he craves more of Francis like he craves air.

Tell me about...yourself.

Oho? I shall tell enough for a book at this rate.

I'd read it... Matthieu says, looking up.

Francis smiles. So you would.

Hmmmm...For the first twenty-two years of my life I was a charming rogue with a handsome smile who flitted from gathering to gathering. I was quite popular, not surprising, given that crowd. I was utterly reprehensible, but quite charming about it.

Matthieu laughs. Tell the truth, Francis.

That is the truth, Francis says, feigning hurt. I was a shallow youth who happened to have many affairs with many beautiful women. I grew into a slightly less shallow man, with more regrets, yet no less flirtatious for the years.

But can't I ask details?

I was a noble, low enough to enjoy the prestige of a title and money without actually having to deal with any responsibility. I wiled the first twenty-two years of my life with affairs with women and men, parties, and traveling from here. I spent some time in England, though it did not suit me, and Spain, which I enjoyed quite a bit more. After that, I met you, and everything changed.

The smoke rises up and the fire crackles. Matthieu shifts so he's a little closer to Francis.

Are you cold? Francis murmurs.

A little, Matthieu replies.

Francis wraps the blanket around them like a cocoon. Matthieu rests his head on Francis' shoulder, content. Their legs brush as they try to accommodate the blanket, which is small at best, and their bodies. Knees jut out, and feet get cold as they curl together. Eventually, they find a comfortable position where there are no spaces between them, save for the space of bodies themselves – that's one barrier that has yet to be breeched.

Matthieu opens his mouth as if to ask the words will you...?but Francis takes this for a question of another kind.

And that, mon cheri, is all the details you are going to get for now, Francis says.

Not even a little more? Matthieu says, look up as cutely as he can.

Not even a little. I will resist no matter what cute expressions you use against me. Though heaven help me if you use tears against me...

Matthieu lays on his stomach that night, itchy from sand and listening to the sound of waves and France's breathing. It's a chilly night, but warmer near Francis who feels almost as hot as standing near the hearth. The stars line the sky and Matthieu does not think of wishes, but of what their names are, and if Francis will teach him this as well. Perhaps he can even keep him up a little longer to find out each and every one.

.

Matthieu wakes to the scent of mussels cooking over the fire. He rubs at his eyes and searches for his lunettes. Francis pulls the out of a pocket and hands them to Matthieu. The world comes into focus as Mattheu puts them on, murmuring a thanks. Francis smiles at him. His hair is tied back as he moves the mussels over the flame. they are impaled with a stick, with a stack of shells beside him.

Good morning, beau, Francis says. Perhaps there will be fish later, none were biting.

It smells good, Matthieu says.

The sky is still pink, and the sand is moist with dew. The air is chilly, and gooseflesh spreads over him. Matthieu rubs at his arms. His belly growls, and he rubs that too, trying to soothe it. He's gone many a long time with little food. Just because Francis has spoiled him thus far doesn't mean he's forgotten already what it means to be hungry.

It's almost done, Francis says.

Matthieu sits by the fire, knees to chest tucked under his chin, his hands clasped on them. Francis turns the mussels over, and when he has deemed them ready, he takes moves them away with the stick and pours water over them.

There's plenty more in the stores, I went collecting last night, Francis says.

Thank you, Matthieu says. F-for this. And everything. He looks up, a bit shy at Francis. His protector. His.

Anything for you, mon amour, Francis says. He hands a stick to Matthieu, and he picks at the charred flesh. The first taste is smokey and salty. He's never had this before. It is a first, like many things he has experienced with Francis. He likes the way it lingers on his tongue, this new taste. It's warm without being scalding, and a bit chewy.

I prefer to sleep late, but while traveling, one does what they must, Francis muses. He takes a bite of his own mussels, and sits barefoot, across the fire from Matthieu.

I've always risen early, Matthieu says. This is of course for chores, menial tasks. Stoking of fires and readying of meals for the nobles.

When we get somewhere safe, we'll sleep in as late as we want. And eat breakfast in bed, Francis says.

Won't it be dirty, though? With crumbs spilled? Matthieu asks, even as a little rise and thumpdump fall of his heart comes, even as he loves the warm, golden image of them together.

Yes. And then we'll clean each other up. It will be glorious, Francis says.

Is it a hint of something he hears in Francis' voice? He cheeks tint rosy as he tries to unravel what that something is.

We'll travel soon. There's a wharf about half a day's journey ahead, Francis says. He brushes his gold hair from his face.

Will we take the beach? Matthieu asks hopefully.

Sorry, mon amour, it's too hard on the horse. But we will see many beaches together. So many that you will tire of them.

I don't think I will ever tire of beaches, Matthieu says wistfully.

Even with the sunburn and itchy skin, he loves the sound of the sea and the new taste of mussels and the promise of fish later to be eaten smoked and salty, new across his tongue.

Oho, trust me, you will, Francis says.

Matthieu looks out to where the horse is tied. Her dark flanks rise and fall as she bends to take a deep drink of water from the pail Francis has set out for her.

Does she really not have a name? Matthieu asks.

I'm afraid so. I only just purchased her as a fresh mount before I came there. She's proven quite faithful and sturdy, Francis says.

Noir, Matthieu says, after little contemplation. It is night he remembers the first time he saw the horse, saw Francis in his death's mask.

A fitting name, Francis says.

.

They set out some hours later and travel until the sun grows unbearable on Noir's sleek, black hide. Then they take refuge in the scraggly trees nearby. Matthieu stays close, even in the heat. Dusty and sweaty and tired, he nods off on Francis' shoulder until it has cooled enough, and Francis gently wakes him.

They came to a small settlement near the wharf before it reaches night, when twilight is still gently lingering in the sky. They rent a night for what will be the last on these shores.

Francis leaves to secure passage, and Matthieu lies back and thinks. Francis is still elusive, and yet this only makes him want to know more. If it takes his whole life, he will find out the missing pieces of Francis and himself.

The shutters are still open, and Matthieu lays back and lazily draws together the stars. His fingers make lines, and through the lines are woven a web which he will catch every wish.

He doesn't wish for much. Before in the castle all he had were wishes, but now he has Francis.

He wishes for Francis' safe return, and for their safe passage. He wishes for time, but not for wealth or power. These wishes turn to prayers, and he thinks he might ask for a set of rosary beads. He has asked nothing of himself since leaving, but if he can win God's blessing, a safe wind for their passage, then he will kneel until his knees bleed.

Francis returns some time later, Matthieu is unsure of the exact amount. It has felt like hours, days months and years. The twilight has disappeared in this time, so perhaps it was a quarter of an hour.

Matthieu gets up, as eager as a puppy and embraces him. His arms are thrown about his neck, clasped at the back and he nuzzles there, inhaling the scent of him.

Did you miss me, coeur? Francis asks.

Matthieu nods, flushing.

Francis chuckles. What a welcome.

Francis undresses and Matthieu sits back, trying not to squirm like a child in his eagerness. He could swear that Francis is prolonging the undressing for bed, just to torment him. When he finally settles down, Matthieu has to stop himself from tugging on Francis' shirt.

Where did I last leave off on yourself?

I had a brother, and my mother was Marianne.

Ah, that! Francis exclaims.

I went from the joking betrothal to being your guardian. Literal when she died in childbirth a few years later, supposedly, it was another man's child, but I'll not speak ill of the dead. Besides, that was a few years later. You see, all this time, I had never met you. I had been visiting a friend in Spain for some years, and returned when you were about five. I still remember that meeting very clearly: You looked up shyly at me and called me 'Papa Bonnefoy', took my hand and snuggled close to me later. You even convinced your mama that I should be the one to ensure you said your nighttime prayers. You and your brother pleaded out quite a few stories out of me before you went to sleep.

Papa? Matthieu says.

Yes, that's what you called me.

So that's what I am to you...a son? Matthieu says. He feels numb, like the first time he can remember being slapped.

No, no, no. Petit, you have always been here. He traces a line over his heart. Through every love, I would never forget that I had failed you. You were always there, slumbering in my heart. All it took was one look for those sleeping feelings to arise and change. You grew up so very beautiful...

...Really?

Do not question l'amour! Really, Matthieu. You've no sensibility at all. You must feel the emotion as it takes you. He gestures with his hands as he does, and nearly falls out of the bed at this. Matthieu can't contain the giggles.

That was...undignified, Francis says.

Matthieu leans up and kisses his cheek. Papa should be more careful then, he says.

So I will, Francis says.

Francis brushes aside this bit of embarrassment as if it were nothing. That is one thing about Francis, even in the worse faux pas', even in a scandal, Matthieu thinks he would simply laugh it off.

You too, didn't have exactly fatherly feelings towards me. You took to the joke of betrothal, and every time I'd leave you'd wave your little finger at me and say 'don't forget me, Papa Bonnefoy. Wait for me and come back and marry me when I'm old enough'. You got so jealous whenever I'd charm ladies at gatherings. It was quite adorable. You had me all picked out for yourself and were just waiting to grow up and claim me.

And then you found me, Matthieu says.

And then I found you, Francis repeats. He takes Mathieu's hand in his and kisses it, tender and sweet. When he looks at Matthieu, all he sees is love, and not the love of a father.

He left the castle at a moment's notice, no thought to what could happen to him, running away with a stranger in Death's mask.

Death took him, but he came willingly, and has never regretted it, not a moment.

Hades fell for Persephone, but did she love him back? Matthieu thinks that had he been given the pomegranate, he would have eaten twelve, not six seeds, even if it meant the world above would be nothing but constant winter.

Maybe he's loved Francis all along. He tries to look for hints of memory, but there's nothing but the first days he came to the castle.

He reaches out his hand to Francis, offering himself. He looks up at Francis in wonder, the unspoken words teach me on his lips.

Every sensation is new to him. His clothes being peeled off, kisses pressed to flesh. Francis is experienced, and yet he returns each kiss with eagerness, and arches his back to try and feel more of him. He isn't afraid, only inexperienced. He lets Francis lead him to this new place, pushing aside thoughts of sin. The ecstasy Francis brings out from his body with every kiss, every touch and lick of his tongue is too great. He's too in love to think straight

.

In the morning before they leave, Matthieu holds to Francis' arm – for Francis confessed last night between kisses that he always sleeps in the nude and was only clothed for Matthieu's sake – that there was one question left.

Francis, why was I taken? Why did we have to be apart for so long?

That is a mystery I've never quite been able to uncover, mon coeur. Your mother broke a lot of hearts and your father, despite being a gentle man, was a gambler at heart. They must have made powerful enemies. After many years of searching, it was mere chance I spied you off the dance floor, Francis says.

Perhaps he will never know. But Matthieu accepts this mystery, with an end which is happy, if not entirely resolved. He readies himself for breakfast, dresses and washes himself. Francis draws a line across Matthieu's throat with his finger, in a light, promising manner.
Mon amour, if we had any more time... Francis stares at him in a way that is hungry. Matthieu has never known the feeling of being desired before. No one in the castle ever thought him beautiful, and in truth it is something he is thankful for.

Though perhaps it is for the best...I think you kept up the whole inn last night with your cries... Francis says.

Matthieu flushes. I-It felt good, he mumbles.

At this rate we may have to go far into the country to keep the neighbors from rioting against us, Francis says teasingly. He takes Matthieu's wrists in his hands and holds them as he kisses him once, then with a murmur of oh, only one more twice. Two turns to three and then four, and Matthieu is blissfully pressed to the wall before Francis stops himself.

Tonight, he murmurs I'll make it up to you – to both of us – tonight.

They walk a little apart to breakfast, because Matthieu thinks that even if their hands brush, they will be against the wall, ripping at clothes and finishing what they started in their rooms.

.

Salty sea wind stings at his cheeks.

Do we have to leave her behind? Matthieu says.

I'm afraid so, Francis says.

Matthieu pats her flank sadly. Can we have someone take care of her until we return? I don't want someone riding her into the ground or cutting her up for her soup.

I will tell the horse trader if she ever gets used for such things, I'll hunt him down and cut out his innards for making you cry, Francis says.

Matthieu looks at the lands around him. France is all he has even known, and even that has only been a slice of the world around him.

We'll return, won't we? Matthieu says uncertainly.

When the bloodshed is finished, we will find a little house and live happily. By then we will have seen a large amount of the world – or at least, safe places. I do not think I could take losing you again.

Matthieu leans back into Francis. Nor could I. he feels Francis press begin to subtly touch him. He looks up to reproach him, but Francis winks.

I have experience in such matters, Francis says. He moves just so no one can see, and presses a kiss to the back of Matthieu's neck. Against him, he whispers and tonight more lessons, non? You are so very behind on lessons...

His mind flashes to last night, and the new word of sensuality he has just begun to realize. He flushes, remembering the eagerness of last night. He has always guessed with Francis' charming that he would be rather inclined towards this, but he did not realize the same enthusiasm lay within himself, sleeping, and just waiting to be uncovered.

Yes, please teach me well, Papa, Matthieu replies.

He watches the gulls rise through the air. He feels a content settle, like feathers slowly falling down to the water. This is what he wants from his life. Simply to stay with Francis, to be loved and taught, kept and in turn to adore. Perhaps he will meet his remaining relatives while they travel, or when they return. Perhaps not. Either way, he knows that Francis is his home, his raison d'etre.

He stays close and memorizes the last view of what has been his home. And then he looks to Francis, touches his cheek, free of its death's head and thinks this is mine. Francis and him share a secret smile and he thinks that he must be thinking the same.