Title: le loup et le lapin
Series: Hetalia (au)
Character/Pairing: France/Canada, mentioned past FrUk.
Author's note: kink meme: historical au with French Revolutionary!Francis going into exile in England, and meeting aristocratic!Matthew and falling in love.
The title means "the wolf and the rabbit."
Massive notes at the end.
Matt is a bit more moe than I usually write him here, but he's been through some seriously traumatizing experiences and come out the worse for them. (No past noncon, though. Think more French Revolution as viewed by a delicate noble. Yeaaah.)
September 23rd, 1793.
Francis took a another swig of wine. At this rate, he'd be drunk by the time he landed. He certainly wouldn't be the only one. It galled at him that Dupont had the insolence to try and fell him. He'd run and told Robespierre about Francis' blood, and now his head was on the chopping block.
He knew it just had to be Dupont, that little sneak. He'd never liked Francis, especially not when Francis had taken his estranged wife to bed with him.. It wasn't his fault that Dupont was an sycophantic impotent fool. She had all but ripped off her blouse and begged him to bed her, and who could refuse that? Not Francis, surely.
Francis was no friend of the nobles, they knew that, or at least he had thought they had. He had assumed his mother's name of Roux to put more distance between his past, but Dupont had somehow dug up his carefully hidden origins, and the despised, yet beautiful name of Bonnefoy that he'd carried. He'd detested his father for as long as he could remember, and his connection to nobility was in itself, tenuous. True, he was the bastard son of the Marquis de Bonnefoy, one who had as a whim, given him his name, but his loyalty had never faltered to the other side.
As it was, the Marquis had been fond of such whims. He'd bring Francis to the table and make him the jest of the evening. He'd berate his manners, make him repeat things and throw down scraps like a dog to feed him, while he kept whatever giggling whore of the day on his lap. All this depended on how much wine he'd had.
If Francis spoke up, he'd be punished. So he learned to smile, and hate in secret. He had personally helped turn in this so-called 'father', and had felt no deep regrets as the blood flowed and the Marquis was no more. His mother had already died in childbirth by then. This one, however, was no Bonnefoy the Marquis rarely kept mistresses long. After that, he would discard them like old clothing. With her expulsion, so had ended Francis' connection with the nobility, and begun the burning hatred to see them felled from their crowns of gold.
But here he was, in the grime and soot of England, barely escaped with his life. Of course, Paris had its own dirt, but to him it was nostalgic, even beloved. If he was there now, he'd lean down and kiss the stones, even if under Robespierre, it was barely recognizable.
Not only his blood had betrayed him, Dupont had brought forth the idea that he was the lover of the bastard son of Viscount de Guilleaume, and had aided in his escape. Two years before, the love between men was decriminalized, and Francis had breathed a sigh of relief. However, that didn't keep men, like Dupont, from finding other excuses to destroy him. (Besides, decriminalized or not, he had a certain cynicism towards this. They'd find a way, they always did.)
And besides, the more blatant crime here was being the lover of a noble: a secret spy, the mole within the garden.
His biggest disappointment was that he'd never even gotten to sleep with de Guilleamue's bastard. If he was going to barely escape with his life at the accusation of being the plaything of some noble's son, the least that could've happened was he actually have gotten a taste of the l'amour.
But oh well. Francis was not a man of regrets, but of revenge. Dupont – and Robespierre's – days were numbered. Eventually someone would tire of their rule, of how close to tyranny and their dethroned kings they were becoming. And then they too would join all those others who had bowed down to Madame Guillotine.
It was only a matter of time. Then Francis would be free to return to his beloved country.
Whenever he was in London, he stopped at Arthur's house. Arthur had distantly been a friend of the Bonnefoy family, and every time they came near each other they would fight, like sparks from two opposing pieces of flint.
Later on the family had reunited for one short summer during a holiday in Paris. He and Arthur had sparred as usual, and one drunken night, they'd even ended up in bed together. Even drunk, Francis' prowess was a sight to be seen, and Angleterre had responded in kind.
However, they were oil and water, and could never sustain much time together without being at each other's throats. Perhaps it had only been
Their friendship was tenuous at best, and could easily go ten years between visits which always spiraled into truly epic fights. As much as Francis liked baiting Arthur, even he would tire of this constant battle and leave, and then Arthur would not enter his thoughts for years and years later, to which the burn had healed enough that the thought of baiting him again would make him seek him out for another battle.
The last time had been five years ago
The maid was new. A young, lithe dark-haired thing with big doe eyes. He wondered if Arthur had taken her to bed. Possibly. He never was sure of Arthur's tastes, given their distance. He'd like to think that as his enemy and friend he knew him well, but in truth he barely knew him at all. Battles revealed much, but it did not incur trust.
But Francis could live with this.
He heard it from afar, the sound of the pianoforte. Had Arthur learned to play? He'd heard Arthur's horrendous attempts before, and it had been a favorite form of mockery, especially with his cooking, which was in itself, a secret hobby. What gentleman knew how to cook? Certainly not this one.
A boy was at the pianoforte, picking out a child's melody. A lullaby, one Francis' mother had sung to him as a child. There was a wild curl from the smooth ash blond hair, his eyes, a shade of light violet, were trained on the instrument before him. He'd heard no word from Arthur about someone like this staying with him, but then he hadn't heard anything from Arthur at all. They never wrote to each other between these visits, for their time together always ended badly, and they would be nursing their wounds and sullen for years at end.
It'd been entirely too long since he'd had a boy in his bed. He'd stopped when the ranks started pulling in on themselves. Decriminalized or not, that didn't stop men from flinging accusations, and Francis preferred his head on his shoulders. Men had certainly gone to the guillotine for less, and it was not above some to make up things, such as his so-called affaire de coeur with de Guilleaume's bastard child. Dupont had gone far in that one, so far as to even fabricate proof of not merely his true name of Francis de Bonnefoy, but long letters of devotion and a shared past from a boy he had never even laid eyes on.
Dupont was an imaginative one. He had to do something, Francis supposed, considering he certainly wasn't spending his time with pretty girls (or boys) in bed.
This one encompassed all the qualities he most liked: a gentleness in manner, a shyness, perhaps speaking of being yet untouched. He loved teaching virgins the sheer amount of pleasure one body could reach with another. They would be so awed of him, dizzy with longing and he would guide them until they were well on the way to being experienced. He even almost felt bad for ruining them for all other lovers afterwards, and making this a one delirious touch of bliss before they'd go off to have cold wives and vapid mistress after vapid mistress. But never too bad, because Francis did not regret. It was not in his nature.
"Lovely playing," he said. Though to be fair, the melody was so simple, a child could have played it. The boy looked up, started, and flushed. His hands fell to the keys, a discordant note played.
"I-I'm sorry, Master Kirkland hasn't informed me that there was to be company," he said. His voice was so quiet that Francis had to strain to hear it. He heard the faintest trace of an accent. French? "I-I was not prepared...I apologize..."
"I didn't know the old bastard had a son. He's been holding out on me," Francis said.
He flushed. "Oh...no. I'm...a guest."
"I see. I'm also a guest. An old friend, if you will. Enchanté."
"Yes, pleased to meet you..." The boy murmured.
Francis slide beside him at the seat of the pianoforte. "What am I to call you? I could give you a few names of my own if you prefer. Like mon amour."
The boy looked perplexed for a moment, and even sad. "You don't remember?"
"Why would I know? I'd certainly remember if I'd seen a pretty face like yours before," Francis said.
"I mean...I thought Master Kirkland must have surely mentioned me. I'm...Matthew. Matthew...Williams."
Francis scooted a little closer. "Matthieu...yes, it's a very fitting name for you."
Matthieu blushed. "Ah...um..."
"A bit regal, soft around the edges. A sensitive name for a sensitive boy, non?"
He was interrupted by a clattering sound, and Arthur made a hasty, infuriated entrance.
"What in the bloody hell are you doing here!"
"Ah, there you are, Angleterre you son of a whore!" Francis said jovially.
"Excuse me, mon petit. I must go talk with my old friend."
"Ah...I will see you later then," Matthieu said.
"I certainly hope so," Francis said with a wink.
Arthur all but forcibly dragged him into the next room. He was utterly seething already, and Francis hadn't even baited him much.
"You didn't tell me you were keeping guests," Francis said. He kept his gaze fixed on Matthieu who had begun to play again.
"I don't tell you things on purpose," Arthur said in irritation.
"Really, leaving these out for your oldest and dearest friend, I'm hurt."
"Friend isn't the word I'd use to describe you. And keep your dirty paws off of Matthew."
Francis chuckled. "You're always so to the point."
"I'm warning you. Don't you go anywhere near him. He's been through enough already with his family dying in that tragic accident."
"Poor thing. I should comfort him," Francis said.
"Some of your 'comfort' is the last thing he needs," Arthur said sourly. "I mean it. Stay away, or I'll break the nose on your pretty face."
"So you think my face is pretty do you?"
Arthur let out a growl of frustration and rage. Francis laughed, while Matthieu looked back, meek and slightly confused. He joined them, hunched down and shy. He lifted his gaze to Arthur in a plaintive manner.
"Please Master Kirkland...no violence," Matthieu said.
"See, Arthur? Matthieu thinks we should kiss and make up. You wouldn't want to disappoint him, would you?"
Matthieu paled. "I—"
"Well I think you should go to hell!" Arthur bellowed.
"Ah, just like old times," Francis said.
"Please don't fight," Matthieu pleaded, looking from one to the other.
Francis took Matthieu's hands in his, which elicited an endearing blush.
"Matthieu, mon cher, it is friendly sparring. Nothing to be worried about. We probably won't even try and kill each other this time," Francis said.
"So says you," Arthur grumbled.
"But please Master Kirkland...can't he stay to eat with us? From what you said, he's come a very long way d'acc – I mean, yes?"
"Across the channel is where he belongs," Arthur said.
"I must agree, but circumstances have lead me to your door," Francis said. "And I must accept your offer, Matthieu. You are truly kind. I'm sure you must be of no relation to this old oaf."
"I can uninvite you anytime I want," Arthur said.
"And surely, it must be tempting, but for now, I hope it's there's a cook and not your...creations."
Arthur opened his mouth for another insult, but Matthieu, for all his quietness, stepped in.
"Elizabeth is a wonderful cook. We're blessed to have her. I think Monsieur Francis' life will be incomplete until he has tasted her cooking...besides, we can't let him go hungry and tired after such a long trip..."
Arthur's look seemed to imply that he was perfectly willing to throw Francis onto the street.
"And Master Kirkland...shouldn't we let him stay for the night—"
"You can stay for the meal, but I'll be damned if I have a wolf like him staying under the same roof as Matthew for even one night."
Matthieu murmured an apology and looked down.
Francis did have to admit that Arthur was certainly astute. One night was all it would take to deflower that beautiful boy. In fact, he thought if he had simply an hour alone with Matthieu, he could charm him right out of his clothes and into his bed.
Eating together did not change Arthur's mind about keeping him overnight. In fact it had, if anything, cemented that thought in his mind. Much to his disappointment, he had been seated as far from Matthieu as possible, and the thought of perhaps a graze of leg on leg, of hand on thigh under the table while Arthur was right there were dashed. Arthur simply knew him too well to make a mistake like that. He had expected being turned away from them, and in truth, it was for the best. He and Arthur reacted like flames and gunpowder to each other. Being in constant contact would only make the situation – and their fighting worse. Matthieu looked sad and apologetic at his leaving, and he took that with him as a prize.
As it was, Francis didn't have a lot of money. He found a serviceable inn on a part of London usually habituated by cutpurses and liars. There was an edge to them, but at least they were more interesting company. Besides, they could be bought more easily. A flip of a coin to tell him should anyone suspicious start watching him. Of course, there was a chance that they'd turn and be paid off by others, but he was willing to take that risk.
Living with nobles had given him a taste for a life he couldn't afford. He was in a state of constant displeasure in the dirty, small, barely furnished dwellings that made up his class. Despite his dwindling purse, he decided to celebrate his landing, meeting with Arthur and his pretty little ward, and the fact that he had both survived Arthur's wrath, and another day.
He drank all night and had a pretty girl on his arm, and woke up on the floor wearing nothing but someone else's shoes. Thankfully his own boots were under the bed. Why he was wearing ladies' boots was the mystery of the drink.
After dressing, he stumbled out into the light of day. There was a crowd around the square. They were packed so thick, that you could only just catch the noose from the scaffolding, and little else. The executioner was little more than a blotch at this distance.
Francis stayed to watch the poor soul meet his end. A good hanging is always a nice day's entertainment. Free, too, and already he'd put a dent in his funds with last night's excursions.
The man was lead to the scaffolding, amidst jeering. The last summation was read, and the noose put around his neck. Everything grew quiet in anticipation, and then the stool was kicked from under him. The man kicked and struggled, and Francis wondered if he'd die in full priapism, as some had been wont to do. It'd add for a bit of added amusement, at at least give the poor soul a bit of comfort in dying.
Nothing like killing a man for daring to get food for his family while the nobles are feasting
Something caught his eye. He looked back to see Matthieu exiting a store. Arthur was nowhere to be seen. Matthieu stared out at the condemned man. All the color went out of his face and begun to tremble.
Francis said his name, but he wasn't sure if he could be heard through the noise of the crowd.
Matthieu broke into a run. Francis took one last look back before following after Matthieu. It was difficult with the crowd, but he managed it, until at the edge of the fringe where the ignored cobbler's shop lead into the less savory parts of town through the alleys.
It was a fair distance from the crowd and dying man that he found Matthieu. He had his head pressed against the wall of the alley just beside the cobbler's shop. His breathing was still heavy.
"Petit, you shouldn't wander. There are cutpurses around."
And worse, he thought, but he kept that to himself.
Matthieu didn't respond.
"No...P-please just. Don't look at me. I'll be all right in a moment..."
His face was red and stained with tears.
"Come on. Don't fuss," Francis said gently. He pulled Matthieu into his arms, and the boy put up no fight.
"Shh...it is all right. It's just some thief. No need to worry."
"Do...do you think it hurt very much? To die..." Matthieu said, his voice trembling.
"I wouldn't know, I've never died," Francis said wryly. "But I can tell you it depends on the way of death. They say the guillotine is as painless as dying in your sleep – even, perhaps, too good a death for the upper class. I cannot say either way."
Matthieu pushed him away, stumbled, leaning against the wall as he stepped forward to nothing and nowhere. He was sick and emptied the contents of his last meal against the wall and floor.
"Oh, peitit...here, I'll go get you some water and then get you home. This heat must have affected you," Francis said..
Matthieu looked up, tired and dazed. He tried to turn away. "Yes...the heat is quite bad today," he said.
He allowed himself to be lead back.
He helped Matthieu out of his clothes, the boy apologizing all the time. Matthieu was bulkier than he would have expected, with wide, strong shoulders, and a body which seemed at odds with his sickly, frail nature.
"Tu es beau," he murmured.
Mattheiu blushed, a deep red, much like the roses he so loved.
He helped Matthieu into bed, despite protests. In his mind he was most uncertainly undressing him, but for the present, he was a gentleman.
"You seem awful prone to independence for a rich boy," he teased.
"I don't like to burden people unnecessarily," Matthieu said.
"It's no burden," Francis said. "I've called the maid for a cold compress."
"I-I'm sorry to be such trouble..."
"You're no trouble, petit. More delicate than I thought, but no burden."
"You don't have to lie to save my feelings, Mon– Mister Francis."
"And you don't have to lie about pretending to be English. Were you about to call me monsieur again? Or perhaps mon amour?"
Matthieu flushed. "I–I–"
"Or perhaps it was Mon chéri? Mon coeur? Or maybe even mon lapin, though really I think mon loup would be more fitting for myself...you're more rabbit than I am, petit."
"Y-you're a horrible flirt," Matthieu mumbled.
"And that I am. I can't help it, really. When I'm around such pretty boys, I just can't help myself."
Or girls, but Matthieu didn't need to know that. Besides, he always felt a deeper connection with boys. Girls could make for an amusing fling, but it was men who he looked to for companionship.
"Master Kirkland will be so angry..."
"Don't worry, cher. I will draw away his anger."
"I don't want you taking the fall for me–"
"But I enjoy sparring with him. I am thick skinned, and do not fear him. Don't worry, petit. Just rest."
"Sleep sounds so good right now..." He yawned. "I feel so drained."
"Do you want me to tell you a story?" Francis teased.
"You could tell me about yourself. What you have been up to these years...why you are here?"
"Aren't you the curious one," Francis said.
"I asked Master Kirkland about you, and he just got angry," Matthieu said. "He told me to forget all about you, but I can't..."
Matthieu flushed, realizing he had said too much. "It's just you're— you're very interesting." He said it all too quickly, his face flushing more and more.
"I am a rogue, a revolutionary, a liar and storyteller. Really, I am not the man you should be dealing with, petit."
Matthieu looked up with a melancholy, a soft sorrow he must have been carrying for some time. "You sound like Arthur..."
"No, Arthur would say I was a liar, a thief, a drunkard, a pervert and a disgrace to society. And that would be when he was sober and feeling charitable."
Matthieu cracked a faint smile. "Yes, that surely sounds like him."
Francis brushed his cheek. "You smile is a far rarer sight than it should be. I must fix this." He winked. "I shall make it my raison d'etre."
Matthieu did not push his hand away."I..." He swallowed and tried again with rosy cheeks. "—I'd be happy– if you did."
"Of course," Francis said. "For that too, shall be my raison d'etre."
"Mmm," Matthieu said sleepily. His eyelids drooped, and he tried to blink to stay awake.
"Don't fight it, Matthieu. You were ill today, and you need rest."
"Will you stay with me...? By my side here," Matthieu said. He couldn't quite meet Francis' eyes.
"How could I ever resist a request from you?" Francis said. "I will stay as long as you wish me to, and as long as it takes Arthur to find his knife, gun, or wine bottle."
Matthieu's eyes fluttered shut. "I'd tell him the truth, that I asked you to stay."
"I'm not sure he'd believe you," Francis replied.
"Then I'd stand in front of you so that he couldn't hurt you..."
"Are you my guardian now, mon lapin?" Francis said, amused.
"Mmmm..." Matthieu replied.
In time Matthieu fell asleep, and as promised, Francis stayed near. There would be little else to do with Arthur gone and no one to spar with, unless he wished to seduce the maid, which he didn't. She was a bit too thin for his liking, and Matthieu was distracting.
He watched Matthieu as he slept. The sadness did not seem to disperse, even when he slept. He never looked truly peaceful, only melancholy in a quieter state. He thought of touching him – and to his surprise, not even in a lustful manner. He did not know how much time passed, only that it was some time, and all of it had been spent in thoughts that shifted from what he would do in the dirty city of London, and then back to Matthieu again.
Matthieu began to stir. For a moment, Francis thought he might wake, but instead he began murmuring something.
"Non...non... S'il vous plaît..."
Whatever he was saying became indiscernible. He rocked from side to side, his hands clinging to the bedsheet. Francis reached out to steady him, and Matthieu failed his arms, trying to fight against whatever this dream-vision held.
"Maman!" He cried. He reached out to nothing, to empty air. Francis took him in his arms.
"Shh, I'm here. I'm here," Francis said. He stroked Matthieu's hair.
Matthieu looked blank, confused, as if he did not know where he was.
"Everything is all right," Francis said in a soothing tone. "It was only a dream."
Matthieu shook his head. "No...it's not...but that is not important."
Francis knew not to press him, even if he was curious, even if he wanted to protect the boy. Matthieu leaned his head against Francis' chest.
"...Arthur hasn't returned yet?" Matthieu asked.
"No. I sent the maid to inform him."
"He's going to be so angry..."
"I won't let him yell at you," Francis said. "I'll keep his anger from you."
He took Matthieu's hand and squeezed it. "Calme-toi."
"I am calm..." Matthieu said. He couldn't look Francis in the eye as he said it. "I am...all right."
"You're a poor liar, Matthieu," Francis said.
"I always have been," Matthieu said. "I'm very sorry..."
"No matter," Francis said. "I suppose going back to sleep is out of the question."
"No...when they come I can never get back to sleep," Matthieu said very quietly.
"The bad dreams?" Francis said.
Of course, he had to be sure that it wasn't evils or a curse rained down on him. He'd heard stories of them, and even seen a Gypsy woman who offered him a few coins to curse his enemies. He now felt vaguely unsettled that he hadn't wished some on Dupont, but then, he was impotent. What worse curse could there be? Surely, even God must hate Dupont to take away his very virility.
"Perhaps then you will teach me at the pianoforte? It's been so long since I played," Francis said.
"I will try...though I am a poor teacher," Matthieu said.
"Nonsense! You're patient and kind and gentle, surely you'll be a splendid teacher," Francis said.
"I...I need to get dressed first," Matthieu said.
"Do you need assistance, cher?" Francis asked. Usually he was more interested in the undressing of clothes, rather than the donning, but a feel was a feel, and he was sure he could manage to find ways to touch Matthieu all over if he was helping.
"If Arthur were to come it...No, I think I must do this myself," Matthieu said. "I'm sorry, and thank you."
"You mustn't thank me for every little thing, Matthieu," Francis said.
"But I am thankful that you're here," Matthieu said.
"Obviously I need to corrupt you more. But I will respect your wishes. I will wait outside the door, lonely and desolate until you appear again and set my heart a soaring." He winked and spun on his heel, leaving Matthieu blushing and sputtering in his wake.
As predicted, Arthur was angry. At some point, he must have drank some wine to calm his nerves because he was also drunk. He did not even bother to put aside his hat and coat before storming in, looking with almost an inhuman fury. Upon seeing Francis seated beside Matthieu at the pianoforte, his expression only darkened more.
"What the hell are you doing here!" He bellowed.
"The heat got to him, and I took him home," Francis remarked calmly. He stopped, his fingers at the keys of the pianoforte.
"Oh, I bet that wasn't all you did you dirty, perverted son of a whore!"
Matthieu looked discontent. He had already looked pale on awakening, but now he looked sallow and drawn. He wrung his hands in his lap, looking from one to the other.
"Let us take our sparring elsewhere, d'accord? Matthieu should not witness our battles, lest they get too bloody."
"Fine with me," Arthur said. "We could take this outside for all I care."
It was only the adjoining room they went to, though. Arthur took one last look back towards where Matthieu was.
"Listen here, I won't have you breaking his heart, you frog–"
"Like I did with you, cher Angleterre when I took your virginity?"
Arthur flushed, but unlike Matthieu's it was a sign of fury, not shy embarrassment.
"That was a long time ago," Arthur snarled. "We were both drunk."
"And yet, I can still remember just how loud your cries were. You yowled like a cat in heat."
Arthur gripped his collar. "You—"
Matthieu had stepped out and tapped Arthur's arm.
"Please don't fight," he said. He looking pleadingly at Francis. "Could you...not aggravate him? I don't want bloodshed..."
"Don't worry, petit. We're just sparring like the old friends we are."
"Friends..." Matthieu murmured. He looked up at them, looking almost sharp in displeasure.
"Francis helped me today. I fainted...from the heat. He took me home and watched over me. So please don't accuse him falsely of such things..."
"Matthew, trust me. He'd do such things given half the chance," Arthur said.
It did strike him that he hadn't taken advantage of things. He could've at least asked for a kiss, considering he had saved him. He didn't regret it, however, after seeing how Matthieu had shaken in fear.
"Certainly you'd know, wouldn't you, Arthur?" Francis teased. Arthur growled.
Matthieu let out a frustrated breath.
"You two are reprehensible. Fine, kill each other, I do not care. You suit each other – deserve each other, even," Matthieu said coldly.
They stopped fighting as surely as if they'd been doused in cold water. He'd never seen such a side of Matthieu. The boy stormed out, probably back to his own room.
For a moment, they simply stared at each other, and Arthur let his grip go on Francis' collar.
"I'll go check on him," Francis said.
Arthur was about to say something, surely a refusal, but Francis stopped him. "It will only take a moment. Wait outside the door if you can't trust me for two seconds, I just want to make sure he didn't go out to the streets in his anger."
"I'll be waiting out the door, counting down the seconds, and if you try anything, anything at all—"
"I won't," Francis said, surprised at how much he meant it.
He knocked at the door. No answer. He opened it, and Matthieu was flying with his face into the pillows. For a moment, he thought Matthieu might be crying, but when he came up, he was dry eyed. He searched out for his lunettes, a guarded expression on his face.
"Perhaps you should go see Arthur, since you are so very close?" Matthieu said curtly.
Little Matthieu turning jealous and petty, who'd have thought? Francis was glad to see he had a little spark in him after all.
"I'm going to be leaving now, I'm sure Arthur has tired of my presence by now," Francis said. "I just wanted to make sure you hadn't gone out angry and were walking the streets of London alone."
"You're leaving?" Matthieu said, sounding like a very small child.
"Yes, I think I've seen enough of Arthur for the next ten years. We can never spend much time together without battling, you see? I could go for a little more sparring, but it seems to distress you, so..."
"Please don't leave," Matthieu said suddenly. "Is it my fault? I am sorry for getting angry and saying things. I'll just keep quiet next time—"
"No, I deserved that, and in truth, I'm glad to see such a side to you."
"But you'll return, right?" Mathieu said.
"Probably not, mon petit. Arthur and I can only stand so much of each other. The bad fights haven't even started yet."
Matthieu reached out and took ahold of his sleeve. He did not say anything, but steadily held onto him, which said much more than words could. He leaned forward to kiss Matthieu's forehead, and brushed aside that stray curl.
"We will meet again someday, petit," Francis said. He gathers the hat and coat left at Matthieu's bedside, a time which seems not hours, but days before, and leaves out the door without another word.
Francis drifted for the next few days. He knew his money was dwindling, but he felt remarkably listless. Exiled from his home, in a smokey, boring place such as London without the wonders and artistic nature of his beloved Paris, he was in poor spirits. Meeting with Anglerre – and Matthieu – had lifted his spirits momentarily, but it didn't distract him from the fact that in a few weeks he wouldn't have a coin to his name and would be kicked to join the street urchins.
Maybe he could charm his way into a wealthy heiress' heart...or simply her bed. He could not see himself a menial worker here, and neither his revolutionary nor ties to nobility, despised as it was, would do any good. Arthur didn't look like he'd be doing anything to help, except perhaps to give him enough rope to hang himself with.
Visiting Matthieu on the sly seemed unlikely. Arthur had a keenness so deep Francis sometimes suspected him of witchery. Matthieu and teasing Arthur had been the only bright spots in his exile thus far, and teasing Arthur only went so far before it got tedious and tiresome.
One thing was sure, however: his coins were slowly dwindling, and he had to find a way to increase them, whether it be to beg, gamble, steal or borrow.
He decided on a walk. On the way, he studied the street urchins for possibilities. He had set his mind that he would choose a child to be his accomplice. He thought children more trustworthy, being less likely to backstab, for their empty stomachs kept them focused on the next meal.
He picked out one of the cleaner looking urchins and gave him a coin, implied that there would be more where that came from if he stayed true, and then he had an errand boy.
The boy's name was George, and his Northern accent was terribly thick. His had reddish-brown hair, a face almost devoured by freckles, and the same stilted, grimy and scrawny body covered by ratty clothes that all street urchins who had been there a very long time possessed.
He looked clever enough, and yet lacked that enterprising gleam, that falseness that some of the more devious contained. Francis knew it well, having seen that very expression on his own face before; he could find a liar in a second, having superior experience in the trade.
George proved worth the coins he had been given quickly. He'd do his job quickly, hungrily looking for more coins. He'd all but camp out at the door of Francis' room, stopping anyone who didn't meet the inspection of "Mister Bonnifoi"
On the first week since he'd landed and met Arthur and Matthieu, he had risen late, a little hungover, and desultory. There certainly was work in London, it just happened to be dirty, smelly and altogether tedious. The thought of splitting his soft hands carrying crates made his nose turn in disgust.
He was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. He hadn't even heard the knock.
"There iz someone to see ya, sir."
"Thank you, George," Francis said.
Matthieu stepped forward until he stood in the doorway. He was flushed, a mix of the walk there and embarrassment, Francis thought.
"Mon petit, to what do I owe this surprise?"
"I...I just wanted to see you again," Matthieu said. "When you left, Master Kirkland was so angry...he's been in an angry drunken stupor the whole time."
"Ahh...you need not worry, for that is how we are. We fight like cats and dogs whenever we are around each other."
"I can see that..." Matthieu said with a wan smile.
He had a book under one arm, and Francis tilted his head to try and read the title.
"Did you come to read to me, cher?" Francis said, amused.
"No...I came for no reason, just to see you again," Matthieu said.
"Then you just happened to bring a book along with you? It must have been a long walk, carrying that."
"Ah, this. I purchased it while I was out. It was my excuse," Matthieu said.
"You shouldn't walk alone these kinds of streets. They're full of wicked people, you know? I stay around here for it is cheaper and the company is interesting, but they might take advantage of someone like you," Francis said.
Matthieu looked down, abashed. "I am sorry. I cannot tell neighborhoods very well."
Francis lifted his chin. "Do not apologize; your innocence is charming."
"I haven't been in London long...it all seems the same to me," Matthieu said.
"Dirty and smokey? Lacking in anything nearing culture? Nothing compared the our beloved City of Lights?"
"I lived in the country," Matthieu said. "It was very isolated."
"Ahhh, a shame. You saw the City of Lights before you left for this cesspool, I hope?"
"Yes...I saw it," Matthieu said solemnly.
"You never forget Paris once you have witnessed its beauty," Francis said, his voice turning warm with fond nostalgia.
"I will surely never forget it," Matthieu said, but his voice still sounded grave.
"You don't have to stay away, however. I have a boy who watches out for things. If you give him something, he will likely walk you home, and they won't attack you seeing one of their own. If you have no coins, some food will also suffice," Francis said. "I'll notify him. He's fairly trustworthy if you're paying him well."
"Now, let us see this volume... Voltaire? You wish me to read you Candide?"
"It was the first I was able to buy here," Matthieu said. "I left behind many books when I traveled here."
"And what a loss it must have been. Hmmm, a satirical novel...and here I was thinking you'd bring me some wicked book of romance with fallen women and–"
Matthieu blushed so hard that Francis broke off into chuckling.
"Rest, for surely you've walked a long ways. My accommodations are humble, but I hope they will suffice," Francis said.
"I do not mind," Matthieu said.
Matthieu laid down on the bed, and Francis pulled the chair until he was beside the bedside. He read it, graceful and proud, his voice quite good in tone for proclamations and readings and theatre. He'd been a favorite in the courts, something of a plaything for his looks, and half noble status. To them, he might have well have been a pet, half-animal and half-human to be ordered at will.
Matthieu watched him in an adoring way. Just the presence of him was a balm to soothe the thoughts of his past. Reading to him was also calming. He could get into a rhythm, and knowing that Matthieu was here, his mind wouldn't be wandering while he was drinking, gambling or flirting to Matthieu. His heath, his safety, his whereabouts, this close, Francis could answer every question.
When Matthieu left, two of the men watched him go. They did it slyly, like any person who wasn't of the nobles and couldn't afford to flaunt it where it couldn't be paid away with gold and influence. He felt something clench deep inside him. He couldn't help thinking: If they ever try to hurt him, I'd kill them.
He'd killed men before. With knives to the throat over a gambling debt, or lead them to the guillotine which in itself, was as good as drawing the blade across their throats himself. He wouldn't hesitate in a moment. To make his point, he draped his arm over Matthieu's shoulder's and leaned to whisper something in his ear. He was rewarded with a lovely rosy blush from Matthieu, and a sharp pointed look back towards the possible usurpers got his meaning across.
Seeing Matthieu lifted his spirits enough to inquire of the lady of the house as to whether he might be of assistance. She smiled back with an enigmatic expression and said she would let him know if he was needed. Should that fail, he could try his luck with gambling, and perhaps even offering his body to the richer women? He'd been whoring himself to nobles for a long time, and knew how to lie to them just enough to swindle and steal before he sent them off to the guillotine.
As it was, it was George who got him a job.
"Mistriss said you were needin' a job," George said. He took a quick look behind him, which alerted Francis that it would an interesting proposal indeed.
"It would depend on the kind of work you were offering," Francis said. "My constitution is too delicate for things like dockwork and menial labor."
"No, it's nothin' like that...just you look like a gentleman and all. People won't suspect ya of things."
"And what kind of things would this entail?" Francis asked.
"Ya wouldn't have to do the thievin'. Just the distractin'. Mistriss said you were a good talker, all charming like. Said you could talk the gold right off a laidy."
Francis smiled. His hands wouldn't be sullied, and he would get the benefits of pay simply by being charming. This was work he could live with.
"I think we have a deal," Francis said.
They started by finding a target. As much as he liked charming pretty women or men, he couldn't quite bring himself to rob them. So it was that he focused on the corpulent nobles whose belt broke regularly, the ones who repulsed him so much, he could easily help part them with their coins.
It would start often with him bumping into them, and then apologizing. He would then start a conversation. It varied between them, but often he would say there was a likeness, and that he was positive his father had mentioned a whatever this noble's last name was. He would link them together, imply old bonds, perhaps a life saved. He would say they looked particularly noble, smile and flatter them as he despised them behind too-big smiles.
And George and his friends would sneak about and lift his purse. Sometimes they'd be so entranced they wouldn't even realize they'd been robbed. Other times they'd notice, and Francis would remark about how the street urchins were so very horrid in this city and should not something be done about them?
Of course he had to be careful which quarter he took to. Too much and someone might get suspicious. As of yet, he had gone blameless and the boys had escaped each and every time, though whether that luck would hold out remained to be seen.
It had been far too long since he'd slept with a boy. He'd had a few of the better looking whores – London women were not quite to his liking, like everything else from this accursed place. He did not know the streets in this sooty town, but a few discreet inquiries lead him down different streets.
The boy was blond and a bit thin, with a wry smile and a coy manner. He aped innocence, but with such a coquettish edge that only a complete dullard would miss its falsity. He was dressed better than the street urchins, with the styles of the day: white shirt and breeches, and the marks left by the last patron on his neck, as telling as a brand. Neither bothered with names as he pressed the coin into the boy's fingers. The boy licked the coin and stuck it in a pocket hidden in his shirt.
His eyes were blue, not violet, and his hair not the color of honey, of ripened fields of wheat, but he would do for the night.
They went through the halls, amidst laughter of drunken men and whores, the sounds of l'amour in beds, against walls and every other surface in this house of ill repute.
The boy started to undress without another word.
He came closer and caught the scent of rosewater to hide the scent of every other person he'd bedded that day. He wasn't bulky enough, yet his hair was soft, and when he touched it, he could almost imagine another form there with him.
"Matthieu," he breathed aloud.
"'Matthieu'?" The boy said.
"It's the person I love," Francis said, realizing it to be true as he said it.
The looked at him, a sideways glance, both enterprising and sly. This boy was everything he'd tried to avoid in an errand boy.
"You'll have to pay me another coin to pretend to be someone else," he said.
For a moment they were just two shrewd businessmen looking down a deal. Francis probably could've talked it down, but in his opinion, whores weren't to be bargained with. They might use teeth when teeth should never be used.
He pulled out another coin and put it in the boy's hand.
Matthieu came regularly now. With his new work, Francis was hardly wealthy, but he no longer worried about joining the street urchins. He had enough to keep his room and board, with some extras. He could afford enough for a bit of wine and gambling to keep things interesting, and books as presents to Matthieu, and incentive to bring him back for reading. Without the constant threat of living with the street urchins, Francis calmed down and lost the tension which had lodged itself deep inside.
He was able to more fully enjoy his time with Matthieu.
That day Matthieu had been oddly shy, as if he was working his way up to ask something important. Francis wondered if it was a confession, and if so, what could he confess other than love? He waited quietly, waiting for the words as Matthieu fumbled.
"Ah...if I may, I must ask..." Matthieu said.
"Anything," Francis said. "Anything you ask I will try and give you. Whatever you wish will be yours," Francis said.
Matthieu blushed. "It's not that... Just– Your errand boy...may I teach him?"
"I don't think he'd find how to use a napkin or how to sit at a royal gathering helpful," Francis drawled. He felt a bit disappointed, but brushed it aside. that confession would come one day. he was sure of it.
"No...reading," Matthieu said. "While we were walking here, George mentioned that he'd never learned. Of course...I suppose it's not surprising, but it seems such a shame..."
"I'm not sure it would avail him much either, but if you feel it is best," Francis replied.
Matthieu lit up with a smile. "Thank you."
He could never resist a smile like that, Francis thought. Matthieu could ask him to kill someone dead, and if he his sad eyes so pleading, if there was a promise of a smile, Francis could only comply.
He was always weak to pretty boys, after all.
It was English reading he was teaching the boy and not French, which Francis disapproved of on principle. However, the thought of how George would butcher his poor native language made him think that perhaps Matthieu was right in this.
Francis contented himself to watch as day by day Matthieu would set out the works which he procured, easy books and chalky stones to draw numbers and letters upon the floor. They'd be swept away by the maid before the day was over, but it'd linger there, those little lessons and Francis would look down, and smile in fond nostalgia. Matthieu looked happier than he had in a while, and Francis contented the stinging nettle of jealousy growing in him that he had a larger part than some street urchin.
Francis ensured however that those meetings were relatively short, as to not dig into the time they shared together. As it was, he already expected an angry drunk Englishmen to come in storming, accusing him of corrupting his ward.
The oddest thing was he hadn't. He'd had Matthieu who he desired very much in his room alone and hadn't even stolen a kiss. He thought Matthieu's goodness must have somehow rubbed off on him, like one rubs away the tarnish in silver.
But no, he thought. He couldn't abide with someone hurting Matthieu anymore than he already had been. Himself included.
Of course Matthieu filled his thoughts in very impure manners, lust-drenched, sweaty daydreams that he lapsed into often, but he had not touched him like he'd touched the whore.
He wondered if the English had any roses this time of the year. Certainly not as good as French roses, but a rose to the pillow.
He thought about sending George to do the job, but decided against it. George would likely sully the rose, twist its stem and crush its petals in his grimy hands. This was a job for himself to do, even if it was far more dangerous should Arthur catch sight of him sneaking around Matthieu's window. Other than that, he did not wish the attention to get mislaid, or George to take too much of Matthieu's heart. He knew the boy loved Matthieu, but he couldn't tell if it was like an older brother or a lover, and did not wish to sprout the feelings, and have George become a wedge between them.
Perhaps a poem too...though he'd have to hunt down some suitable French poetry. His view of English verse was like all things English, distinctly lacking. He and Arthur fought incessantly on such matters when they were talking at all. Some of their bitterest fights had been over Shakespeare.
It dawned on him that Matthieu was different. He was thinking of courting him, rather than simply deflowering him, having a quick affair and finding the next young thing to bed. Was he a changed man? No, it seemed only in response to Matthieu, for he'd seen three lovely ladies this morning and two tall and fine boys and thought about bedding them all with no such gestures.
Matthieu was simply different.
Rather than be horrified at the prospect, he lolled his head to the side and dreamily thought of l'amour, as giddy as a girl on her first season out.
He never left his name, but then he did not have to. Matthieu would know, and too would Arthur should he find such tokens. There were weaknesses in every household, and through George he found them out. Arthur had not, in fact, made any move towards the maid, and her paramour was from his sector of town. If Francis ferried lover's notes, and other assorted things, she would turn a blind eye should he come near and swear up and down to Arthur that no one had called.
Matthieu was slowly opening up under this attention. He was a little less skittish, a little more open. His cheeks were as bright as the flowers he received, and had their genders been reversed, and Arthur not been so opposed, this romance would have almost been legitimate.
Then again, the most interesting form of l'amour was the forbidden kind.
Francis was so caught up in his life, his love that he had almost forgot why he had come here in the first place. All that came crashing back one morning, three months after he had landed. He had been penning a love letter, his pocket full from a nice swindle when a rap at the door distracted him.
"There iz someone to see ya, sir," George said. "Says he iz a friend of yers."
Francis looked up, pleased and expecting another visit from Matthieu, instead to find a fragment of his past standing right there. Hubert Durand, one of the revolutionaries he had drunk with. He was a short man with stooped shoulders and an expression which revealed every expression, of which sullenness usually prevailed. His nose was very flat, except for a crooked juncture between his eyes from where it had been broken once. He kept a scraggly beard to hide a weak chin, and had hair which only shades of earth in its most humble tones could describe. Mud, if Francis was feeling charitable; merde if he was not.
For a moment, he paled, his face paling. He shook this off.
"I'm sorry, my friend, you surprised me. But, Hubert! It's been a while. You left to take care of your family before the worst of it set in."
"And I see you left too, despite your devotion to the cause," Hubert said, a trace of coldness, of scorn in his voice. Hubert never was one for keeping his emotions in check.
"What can I say? I like living, even if it's in a soot-riddled cesspool like London," Francis said flippantly.
"Or your lover," Hubert said.
For a tense moment they eyed each other. Francis forced a smile. "Which one? Really, you must be more specific! I always have at least seven, one for each day of the week. Otherwise it gets so very tedious."
"I see you haven't changed at all," Hubert said.
"You either, my friend," Francis said cheerily. He kept a bright smile plastered on. Hubert was too dull to see how it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Hubert was still a clod, Francis thought. Still too-obvious with his ploys, and possibly on Dupont's side with how chilly he was being to him. With the way he was acting, you'd think Francis would've slept with his wife – which he hadn't, she'd been not nearly pretty enough, and Hubert was more an avoidable annoyance, so sleeping with his plain wife would avail him nothing.
They'd ordered drinks together. Had Francis been a richer man, he would have ordered drink after drink to bring forth the old adage: in vino veritas: In wine there is truth.
"I think you'll be glad to know that Dupont is dead," Hubert said.
Francis shrugged. "I cannot say that I am too distraught over this, but one reaps what they sow."
Hubert was not the most subtle of them. His hand had been opening and closing at his thigh, seeming to be stroking something He would not put it past Hubert for a public case of onanism, but what he truly suspected was that there was something hidden there. A knife, he thought. One to slit his throat.
Between them, many drinks were ordered, but Francis took sips and did not swallow, and only spit it back into his mug on the sly. It wasn't as if it were fine wine to be savored. This weak ale hardly compare to the wines he had enjoyed in Paris.
All the while, Francis made a show of flirting with the whores, to keep Hubert calm. He acted the part of the charming drunk,
"I think I shall have to visit madame chamber pot," Francis slurred, then laughed at his own joke as if he had invented comedy itself. He swayed a bit as he got up, and noted that Hubert stayed a few beats.
Instead of going back to his room, he went outside.
The air was cool, faintly damp from the earlier rain. Francis' mind was clear, and he kept himself focused. He couldn't return after this. If he found George, he could get him to collect things and inform the mistress that he would not be returning.
He heard the footsteps behind him, but pretended he didn't, even whistling like a drunkard and wobbling a little for effect.
"A far better man than you died," Hubert said. There was a sound of unsheathing, and Francis kept up the act. He pretended to almost stumble, and pulled a knife from his boot. He felt the knife embed in his shoulder – no one could accuse Hubert of having a good aim – and he rose up despite the pain with the knife and slashed. Scarlet over his clothes, the wall and ground. Hubert's eyes were wide as he breathed his last. A surprise someone hadn't slit his throat earlier. If Dupont hadn't kept him alive, they surely would have.
"You were always a fool, Hubert," Francis said.
Hubert collapsed before him, his final gasps and curses obscured. Red oozed out of him and pooled on the pavement. He stepped over the body and dabbed at his shirt. He'd liked that shirt, you just didn't get this quality over here.
He looked down, dispassionate at his mortal sin. Even God would understand, no? His children certainly had done a lot of killing, but then Francis was, as he always was, a sinner.
Perhaps he could hire someone to dispose of it. The street urchins would do about anything if you paid them enough. There was always the chance they'd blackmail him, but what reputation did he have to protect? Not George, even if he trusted him, for he had other things for him to do.
No, he would have to deal with this himself. The bridge across the Thames was not that far, and the night was foggy. Finding a way to obscure it was the hardest part. He was able to find some abandoned sacks – and the reason for their abandonment was obvious when he picked them up. They stank of cat piss, and mold. But they would do.
Before he left, he made the sound of a night bird's call – that was their sign when they worked together. It took three series of calls before George heard him over the crowd and came.
"Mister Bonnifoi!" He gasped.
"Hush," Francis said. "Now listen to me. The man that came today was no friend, and I barely escaped with my life. I need you to collect my things, get a doctor and meet me at the Thames. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir!" George said. He ran off, and Francis began the heavy task of Hubert's burial despite the blinding pain shooting through him.
The final splash of Hubert's burial marked a beginning and an end. Perhaps the members of the boardinghouse would think he was the one who had been slain. His ego protested, but his common sense said otherwise.
"A nice night for disposing of a body, non?"
Francis turned to see through the mist a figure he knew all too well. Another ghost of the past had come, for surely a dullard like Hubert wouldn't work alone. Beaumont smiled in a wolfish way. Unlike Hubert, Beaumont was no fool. He was one Francis had hoped to never have on his bad side.
"Hello old friend," Beaumont said. He put emphasis on friend in a mocking manner. They both knew he was no friend of Francis'.
In the light his blond hair had a silvery tinge. His brows were thicker than fashion allowed, but not quite to Arthur's excess. Beaumont always had the look of a fox about him, in the sharp angles of his face, the severe cheekbones and chin, and how he always seemed to look smug, no matter what the occasion. He'd heard rumors that Beaumont had gone far and beyond the patriotism of most when it came to slaughtering nobles. He'd heard often he didn't even wait for the guillotine.
But what was one to say about rumors? He'd spread a few rumors about his sexual prowess and who he had slept with just to make things interesting before. Who was to say that Beaumont had not done the same to give him a terrifying reputation? Francis had always found him somehow unsettling, and had avoided his company whenever possible.
"A vagrant. I was taking care of things," Francis said. "It's good pay."
"Don't lie, Francis. We both know Hubert finally met his end like the fool he was."
Francis looked for a clever remark, but it was then that the light shifted enough to see the pistol.
"Ah, yes. I see you can now see your end. I'm obliged to kill you, given you are a traitor and just killed Hubert, you see. I can't say I'm regretful, however. I've been waiting to take out your conceited, self-serving, noble-blooded carcass for a long time."
"I see you did join your lover after all," Beaumont said. "It was very kind of you to lead us right to him – your attempts at hiding are quite pathetic, but then, you always were too vain to stay in the shadows."
"Your information is erroneous, as always," Francis said.
"Does it matter? People don't escape me, Francis. Think of it as an act of mercy. You'll soon be reunited with him in hell."
"I'm sure I will be seeing you soon enough too, Beaumont," Francis said.
"I'm surprised you didn't kill the boy yourself, given how you feel about nobles. How typical for you to take one as your little whore."
His hands flexed. Perhaps he could throw the knife just far enough to make Beaumont injured too before he died. He would not die pleading and sniveling, but spitting on his assailant. He preferred life, preferred Matthieu's smiles and gentleness; roses and fashions; wit and love and breath and life. These were the thoughts that assailed him: the kisses and love he never would have; the old days when his troupe was if not honorable, then at least interesting and truly believing in their cause, before men like Dupont, Hubert, Beaumont and Robespierre. Fights with Arthur he'd never have, years given freely to Matthieu as they slowly came together, with unhurried touches and kisses and finally their bodies meeting.
Everything he would never have.
Oh, the Bible said one must hate life, hate the world, but he loved it with a passion so much that it made him ache. He stared Beaumont down, grim, and did not allow himself the tears and hysterics of some of the nobles he had watched die, but of those who had gone to their death proudly, without a tear, never bowing their will to their captors until the last.
There came a still, soft voice cutting the dark. "Dieu me pardonne car j'ai péché..."
The pistol shot out as Beaumont fell, a knife in his back – how ironic, indeed. In the last agony, the pistol had been thrust upwards, and instead of a fatal blow, it sank into Francis' already injured arm. He flinched in pain, trying to cradle his arm against a new searing pain.
He'd taken musket balls and pistol shells before, giving him some of his more notable scars. However, it was never the sort of pain one got used to.
"Oh...Dieu me pardonne car j'ai péché..." the voice repeated.
In his falling, Matthieu was revealed behind him, holding a serrated knife, his face very pale. He looked down, as if he could not quite comprehend what had happened, what he had done.
"He...he was going to...I..."
"Matthieu..." Francis said.
"You're hurt..." Matthieu said. He shook himself free of his momentary paralysis, and stepped over Beaumont to reach Francis.
"I'll live," Francis said. He coughed, and tried to smile, but the pain was too great.
"Matthieu...what are you doing here?" Francis said. He clutched at his arm. The shirt had bled through. Of course, the one rule of the rogue: never wear white when killing a man.
His hands were grimy from disposing the body.
Matthieu took note of his shirt. His face grew ghastly white, and he began to tremble. He touched the dried blood, now turned a shade of brown as if he were in a witch's thrall.
"Matthieu, stop it. Don't touch it, you'll make it worse."
"Then it's true...?" Matthieu said.
"Don't worry about them; they won't trouble us anymore," Francis said.
"He was right..." Matthieu said. "I didn't want to believe him, but he must have been right..."
"Matthieu, what are you saying?" Francis said. His mind was fuzzy already from the sharp pain.
"You came here to kill me, didn't you?" Matthieu said. His voice was very low, and very calm. "To get revenge? To take me back to the guillotine? Was not that what you wanted?" The last sounded an accusation, and Matthieu began to step away.
Matthieu put the bloody knife he had used to gut Beaumont to his heart. His hands were trembling so much, that the blade shook in his grasp.
"Kill me, then. Stab me in the heart – it already feels like you have! I am already a damned man, as it is... But please...don't send me to that place. If I have to die, let it be by your hand...I don't want to go alone and slaughtered like cattle..."
"Matthieu, don't do it," Francis said. He limped forward, and Matthieu looked wary.
"I won't harm you," Francis said, soothingly, as if he were talking to a skittish animal. "Calme-toi."
Matthieu looked lost and confused, longing to trust him, and yet unsure if he could any longer.
"There's so much blood..." He said in a whisper. "So very much blood...and I have committed a mortal sin...I—"
Francis pulled the knife from him, and let it clatter onto the ground. The simple act, one he'd done more times than most, sent pain shooting down his arm. He flinched, and Matthieu's hands fluttered over him, worrying and yet not quite touching.
Francis stroked Matthieu with his dirty hands, wondering for the first time whether he had any right to do so.
"No, coeur. I didn't come here to kill you. I won't let them catch you," Francis said in a reassuring tone. He leaned against the wall, and both he and Matthieu together slowly crumpled to the cold cobblestones.
"You see...I was to be put on that chopping block myself, so I came here to clear my name. There was an accusation that I let the son of de Guilleaume, go on purpose, that I was an aristocrat supporter, a mole."
Matthieu's eyes widened.
"F-forgive me. Je suis désolé.I-I got confused, a man came to me said things and I thought—"
"It is all right. Calme-toi."
He put his uninjured arm about Matthieu, and pulled him to his chest.
"Calme-toi," he whispered again.
"I'm trying to be strong but I...I keep remembering. They killed us all. My mother thought I she and I might be safe, because I'm only a... a bastard child, but they hunted us down anyways. They took her...and I never saw her again. An aunt took me...I-I accidentally saw one of the executions before I left...there– there was so much blood...the streets were caked with it– and–and–"
"Shh, petit. You do not need to go on. I know; I've seen many executions."
No wonder he had been so affected by seeing that hanging, and now to be pushed this far by Beaumont, to have to stain his hands. He hoped Beaumont would enjoy the many tortures of hell, for anyone who did such a thing to Matthieu deserved no less.
"I miss everyone so much that it feels like my insides are slowly being scooped out until there's nothing...and yet I know I'll never see them again. Any of them. Were we really evil? Is this punishment from God? Did we deserve to be slaughtered like animals?"
For the first time Francis questioned his actions. He had sent his family members to die, for freedom. He knew firsthand that nobles were selfish, careless and completely self-involved. He knew they cared little for their people, who might as well be cattle for the way they lived, and yet...
What if he had sent Matthieu to the guillotine simply by merit of his birth?
Matthieu was an exception to the rule. He'd never met another noble who'd treat the lower people just as their own, who'd try and prepare everything himself to keep from being a burden, who would teach a little urchin how to read with never implying that he was anything but an equal. He was gentle and kind, he did not deserve such a fate. The thought of sending him to die such a gruesome death made him shudder inside.
"Listen, I'm not going to let any harm befall you . If anyone wants to take you back, they'll have to kill me first," Francis said. "I promise this; I stake my life on it."
He kissed Matthieu's bloody hands, and Matthieu looked down at him, welling up with emotions. He read happiness and sadness, weariness and tenderness all in that gaze.
"Paris is no place for either of us, anymore, it seems. I am not even sure if England is safe for us. This Hubert had every intention of slitting my throat today."
"I'm sorry for being selfish and weak...It seems I can't be any use to you again..."
"Again? What do you mean, petit?"
"It's not surprising that you don't remember me. Arthur and I are relations...I saw you that summer you and he..." Matthieu flushed.
"The summer I deflowered him, yes."
"I followed you around all that summer. You used to give me flowers and say I'd become beautiful and that you'd marry me when I grew older." Mattieu colored. "I saved them all and dried them in books and waited for you to return...When I left I had to leave everything behind but the clothes on my back. I couldn't even bring the bear you gave me."
"You know, I do remember that, but I didn't connect him with you – you'd certainly grown too much."
"I am surprised you remember even that... I never quite got over you. I kept trying to find you...it was my fault you were found out and why they thought I was your lover. My...stupid childish infatuation that nearly got you killed."
"De Guilleame's bastard child," he breathed.
Matthieu nodded sadly.
"Perhaps it is for the best. With this regime, they'd likely have taken me to the guillotine for having too much enthusiasm. The revolution has become something far different than what it started as. I fear that soon those that sent the nobles to the guillotine will too find their heads on the chopping block," Francis said.
"I-I'm so relieved you weren't executed with them. You're the only person I feel happy around and it's always been like that... I was alone for so long and then you came and made me so many promises...I clung to them all because they were all I had." Matthieu choked back a sob and continued.
"Losing everyone was so hard I...I.. The only way I could even survive it was thinking that one day I would find you again."
"Matthieu...We're a pair of bastards together, coeur," Francis said. "Nobody wants us."
Matthieu nodded, trying to smile for him. "I-I want you..." He breathed.
"And I want you," Francis said. They touched bloody hand to grimy hand and held onto each other. Matthieu smiled, and it was as if the fog had receded and the sun had come out from behind the clouds and pushed back the damp, cold dark.
"You're even more lovely when you smile, coeur..."
This won him another smile.
They lay together. Matthieu's fingers were stroking Francis' hair, and he was nuzzled up against his neck.
"I promise I won't leave you, mon amour."
"Really? You mean it, and you're not just being charming?" Matthieu said. He looked like he didn't dare to trust, even as much as he longed to.
"I solemnly promise on the firmament of heaven," Francis said.
"Do not be blasphemous, I already have to pray for your soul enough," Matthieu said.
Matthieu broke from his grip, and ripped at his shirt. His shirt too was ruined, stained with blood and dirt from Francis, but his sleeve had remained relatively clean. He spread apart the remains of Francis' sleeves, and wrapped it in the bandage.
"I am sorry for being weak. I should have done this immediately."
He rose up and offered his hand. Francis took it, and despite being slick with blood, he did not slip and they came up together.
"There must be a physician nearby, surely."
"George was to get them. I'm afraid Beaumont wasn't alone and might have kept him from reaching us."
"Lean upon me," Matthieu said.
"Coeur, it's my arm that's hurt, not my leg," Francis protested.
"You're injured and weak," Matthieu said.
"As you wish," Francis said, faintly amused. As they walked, Francis allowed himself to lean on Matthieu. It didn't lessen the pain, but he found pleasure in the closeness.
"Matthieu...let's run away together," Francis said.
"An elopement? How scandalous," Matthieu said, though he sounded even a bit wry.
"Scandal follows me everywhere I go, like a lover. I say life isn't worth living without some truly good scandals, and if I have to make them myself, well..." Francis said.
"You're shameful," Matthieu said, but he said it with fond admonition.
"Yes, I truly am. It is one of my better qualities," Francis said.
Step by step they came closer. They passed drunks, huddled urchins, but did not even dare to look at them. An injured man was no oddity in this part of town. They were dirty enough that the cutpurses would probably stay away, even if they looked like easy prey.
"Where will we go to?" Francis mused. "The new world?"
"Arthur is still very angry at the colonies for their independence. He'd say going around that lot would teach me bad manners," Matthieu said.
"Well it is not the only one. The Canadian colony used to be French. You would be able to keep your language and your religion."
"It's cold there though, isn't it? It's probably not to your liking..."
"Then you will have to warm me up, then won't you?"
Matthieu blushed, but it was only a faint tinge of rose instead of his usual reactions.
"Have I corrupted you this much, mon lapin? That the thought of being in my bed doesn't make you need salts?"
"Give me a little longer, then I'll b-be properly corrupted," Matthieu said.
Francis laughed. "You are too much, Matthieu."
"When we get there...Please leave the talking to me. .I will explain it all," Matthieu said.
"I don't want you on the receiving end of his rage," Francis said.
"I know you think I am weak...and I am, but I am trying to grow stronger. Please let me be strong for you...I don't want to see Arthur hurting you."
Francis laughed. "Arthur isn't a monster, chéri."
Matthieu's cheeks puffed out in frustration. "W-well even if it isn't that, he might snap and hurt you and I don't want you bruised..."
"I could bruise him back," Francis said. "An eye for an eye."
"I-I don't want you near him," Matthieu burst out. "You're close and you've got history together and— and—"
This only made Francis laugh more. "Coeur, have I made you jealous? Arthur and I can barely stay in the same room with each other without fighting. Yes, these battles are fun for a time but doing that every day would make it tedious. You on the other hand, calm me and make me strive to be a better man," Francis said. He nuzzled against Matthieu's shoulder.
"We are almost there," Matthieu said. "Please be strong for me a little longer."
His cheeks were rosy, and not merely from the cold of the night. Francis wished for a bit of wine to dull the pain, and said a little prayer that George had not been intercepted. He and God were not on the best of terms, for he had not said his rosary in a very long time, and only celebrated the feast days for the sake of more sinning, but supposedly God was supposed to be merciful. Surely he'd be able to listen to a sinner's prayer as well as a saint's.
The physician they found was in the quarter and used to such late-night wounds, and most of all, a few extra coins pressed to his palm and he would keep his silence. Matthieu held to his hands as the physician worked whatever white magic physicians were capable of. He held like the sheer act of clinging to him would wrest him from death's grip.
"I'll live, Matthieu."
"If you do not...I am not sure what I would do," Matthieu said softly. He pushed up his lunettes, leaving a smear of dirt on the rim, and the top of the glass. When he tried to clean them, he found his shirt covered in blood and grime.
"You know, I could never die without knowing how you found me."
"I...I was going to visit you.I met George in your rooms and he told me what happened...I couldn't allow that, so I went," Matthieu said.
"This late at night? Alone? Matthieu what were you thinking?" Francis admonished.
"Arthur said he had a very bad feeling about today, that someone would die. I couldn't get it out of my mind, and I had to see you... "
"For that I am glad, otherwise I probably would be dead now," Francis said. "I owe you my life now, petit."
"Then you can repay me by surviving the night," Matthieu said.
"I'll live," Francis said again. "How could I ever forgive myself if I made you cry?"
Matthieu began to count down holy names: Saint's, the Blessed Mother, God and Jesus, his fingers moving over Francis' fingers as if they were holding a rosary.
Francis thought he had never loved him more, but he had thought that five minutes ago. Each new moment he thought this, adding to the adoration which he knew would only grow as the days progressed.
Arthur was pacing when they came. He stank of drink, and had worked himself into a fine furore when they came to the door, dirty, bloodstained, and leaning on each other like a pain of drunkards.
"Matthew! What the—"
"Francis saved me from a marauder..." Matthieu said slowly. "He tried to stab me, and Francis took the blow for me."
Arthur narrowed his eyes and lifted Matthieu's chin to check every bruise to try and tell if it had been made by violence or love. Francis, as if he had put Matthieu up to this. And yet, Matthieu stayed strong. Francis was proud of him. He kept up the facade, with just enough tremors and meekness to be believable. The boy was far more enterprising than he'd first thought.
But he was not so good an actor as to hide what had transpired between them. As it was said amor tussisque non celantur: love and a cough cannot be hid.
"I-I don't believe we will be safe here anymore," Matthieu said. Surely he had meant I but the we slipped out, for indeed they already thought of each other as entwined as a wife and husband. No vows had been spoken, and yet the thought until death do us part was already ingrained in their minds.
"We? Matthew, there is no we with Francis," Arthur said, his voice cold. "He uses people and then tosses them aside."
"I have been most grateful for your help, but I cannot simply remain your ward forever. I cannot pick up the pieces when the constant fear of being found lies over my head. Today's attack has only made those fears realized."
"You could go up to Scotland for a while. They'll never find you there," Arthur said.
"I have to become more than someone's child, someone's ward," Matthieu said in a gentle, yet firm manner. "I am ever thankful for your kindness, but I must rely on myself or I will continue to be this useless fragile boy who is good for nothing but reading and piano playing," Matthieu said.
"Don't say such things about yourself," Francis murmured. "You've never been useless in you life."
"But I was not strong..."
"There is more to life than strength," Francis said.
Matthieu accepted this argument. Throughout this, Arthur grew silent. For a moment, Francis thought he would shout of Matthieu's ungrateful nature, and he tensed to defend Matthieu, for he'd experienced enough tumult for two lifetimes, but he kept silent. He did not look pleased, and the glance he gave Francis was venomous. Still, he did not lash out at Matthieu.
"All right," Arthur said. "If you want your freedom, I'll give you it. There's no fortune to give you any longer, but I will provide enough for your travels on the condition you keep it tight and don't let Francis gamble it or drink it to nothing."
"Honestly, Arthur, you make me out to be some monster," Francis said.
"You're the monster that's stealing my ward away," Arthur said tetchily.
"And the monster who stole your virginity away, don't forget that," Francis said.
Arthur let out a growl of frustration and stormed out, apparently desiring, yet unwilling to choke his ward's lover in front of him.
Matthieu shook his head. "You just had to mention it, didn't you?"
"I have to make every moment count," Francis said. Matthieu was not placated, and still looked a discontented, so he kissed his cheek.
"We are old enemies, nothing more. Truth be told I think without the drink, we might not have gone any farther than punching each other," Francis said.
"Really, I could hardly tell with the way you're shamelessly charming him," Matthieu said tetchily.
He kissed Matthieu's cheek again. "You're the one I chose. It's inevitable that I charm people as I go on, but it will go no farther than a few idle flirtations."
Matthieu seemed to accept this answer.
"I will be back soon," Francis said.
"Scouting for more?" Matthieu asked.
"No, merely a moment outside," Francis said.
He went outside to smoke his pipe, because at this point he thought Arthur might try and shove it down his throat. Within a few minutes, Matthieu joined him.
Morning itself was already near. There was a belt of light rising on the skies, and muffling out the stars.
"You've already taken care of matters?" Francis asked.
"Arthur is busy ordering the cook and maid to ready things...I figured I would just be in the way," Matthieu said.
"Yes...perhaps it's best to keep out of his path while he's in such a rage," Francis said.
"I wanted to be with you, regardless," Matthieu said.
Francis smiled at him. Matthieu came a little closer, until they were side by side.
"We leave in the morning," Francis said.
"This will be my last night here..." Matthieu said.
"I wish we had more time to rest before we left," Francis said. "You could use some rest after such a rough night."
"Not as rough as you, I dare say," Matthieu said.
"I don't know, you killed your first man today. That's always the hardest kill," Francis said.
"Hopefully my last. I pray God can forgive me for being forced to steal a life..." Matthieu replied.
He brushed along the side of Matthieu's neck, and noted a small white scar there."I'm sure God will forgive you, coeur. But this...was your throat slit before?"
Matthieu nodded. "I was almost caught by Beaumont once before. Well, I was caught, but I barely escaped. He was the one who killed my... my..."
Francis pulled him close with his uninjured arm and held him.
Francis didn't care that someone on the street could have seen them, or that it was a sin. Their lips met together, gentle, and a bit shy. He'd teach Matthieu about passion later, about what heights a body could reach in pleasure. But for now, it was filled with soft wonder and exploration. They would break apart to take a breath and then slowly meet up again, moist lips fitting together as if they belonged fitted together like that.
Matthieu looked up at him, his gaze tender. He breathed words of love, Je t'aime, je t'adore, toujours all melded together, barely coherent. They held close, Matthieu's head nestled into the crook of his neck, his lips scarlet from kissing.
Morning had broke grey and cool. They heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and both looked up, tensing. It was a small, familiar figure who finally stepped out of the fog.
"George?" He said.
"Mister Bonnifoii," he said. He stopped to catch his breath.
"I'm relieved you escaped them," Francis said. He ruffled the boy's hair – something he had never done before, fearing lice, but one he couldn't stop himself from doing.
"They couldn't catch me, though I had to stay underground a bit. Some of the other street kids had to divert them, but I got yer things."
"How many were there?" Francis said.
"About five of em I saw. Richard says there were at least three more."
Eight at least, all who would be descending here soon. He did not worry for Arthur's safety, for Arthur was as mean as they came, iespecially/i when he was drunk, and anyone who tried to battle him in this state would not live long enough to regret it.
However, they did not have much time, for there was no telling if more had come.
"I guess this means you'll be goin'.." George said.
"Keep my things," Francis said.
"For when you come back?" George said eagerly. "I'll find a real good hidin' place and—"
"No," Francis said. "I will not be coming back. They are for you to keep. Matthieu taught you how to read, now take these and make a better life for yourself."
"But I like the quarter. People are interestin' unlike those stuffy old other folks who are only good fer their fold," George said.
"If you practiced, you could become the next swindler to distract the urchins," Francis said.
"I could be just liken you then!" George said.
Matthieu looked at him, brow raised. Francis smiled back, feigning innocence.
"Now George, I have one last job for you. Help Matthieu pack his things, and I'll go have one last talk with Arthur."
"Please be careful," Matthieu said.
"He's not going to murder me, coeur," Francis said.
Matthieu didn't look so sure. But they both left their separate ways and returned into the house.
Arthur was pouring himself a drink when he came in. Matthieu and George were attending to his things, which would not be much. Letters and dried flowers, surely, for Matthieu was attached to the sentimental, the memories more than anything. Some of his clothes, and a few of the books he could not bear to part with. Some with inscriptions lovingly written, with flowing dedications, and other bought on important days. Matthieu would keep every leave and curl of hair that fell on an important day if he could. He clung to these pieces, memories embedded in each one. Here is the leaf I found day you gave me the first rose, and here is the broken chain I found the day I found you again.
He treasured each and every one almost as much as the tokens, which Francis found endearing. Even now he would be giving up necessary things for broken chains and dried flowers whose only value was what they meant to Matthieu.
It would not take overlong, he thought.
"This will be the last time we meet, old friend," Francis said.
He waited for the and my prayers have been answered bitterly spat back with curses, but Arthur simply nodded his head.
"I suppose I should not be surprised that your crowd were such brutes," Arthur said.
"No, no. These are not my kind of men, these are the kind of men who have come in the second wave. Who have taken our kings and become tyrants to rule over us: This is what the revolution has become."
Arthur let out a long exhale. He lit a pipe, and motioned Francis to sit. Francis took some of the offered wine and sipped at it. He'd already had wine at the physician's to dull the pain, but he could always tolerate many drinks. Still, he took it slow, savoring the taste. It wasn't quite as bad as he always said, but he wasn't about to admit that anything English could be good.
"You can't keep your ways if you want Matthieu. I know a promise from you is about as good as snow in summer, so I must be mad to let him go with you."
"I would never forgive myself if I hurt him," Francis said.
"If you ever hurt him, if you ever slip up and start with your charming other people into your bed, I swear to everything holy I will hunt you down," Arthur said. He fixed Francis in a steely gaze, and Francis knew it was not the drink talking – he meant every word. An ocean and a wilderness would be nothing to Arthur, who would relentlessly search him out and gut him, making every last breath agony. He would make Francis beg for death, make it the most merciful end.
"I'd hunt myself down first," Francis said. He took a sip, and then leveled his gaze at Arthur. "I promise this."
"I will hold you to that," Arthur said.
"What you need to do is to go get a woman, Arthur. Or a man, if you prefer. Either way, you're in desperate need of someone to bed, and I'm afraid I can't oblige you anymore, as my loyalties lie elsewhere."
Arthur sputtered, nearly crushing his drink and pipe in a rage. Francis laughed.
"I'll miss our sparring, but I'm sure Matthieu will write once we are settled. Then I can insult you all I want without fear of getting my nose broken."
"And I shall send you pages and pages of insults," Arthur said between gritted teeth.
"My, my. It almost sounds like you're sending me love letters—"
"Francis," Matthieu said. "You promised!" He looked discontent, even a little sullenly towards Arthur.
Francis laughed and pulled Matthieu into his lap. "Arthur and I are merely exchanging the goodbyes of old friends. You know how I can't resist baiting him..."
"You enjoy it a little too much, I dare say," Matthieu said, still frowning.
"I was merely telling Arthur about how he should get over this longstanding secret affection of me, stop his pining and secret love letters, and find a man or woman to bed for I daresay he needs it"
Arthur sputtered incoherent curses, and Matthieu crossed his arms, now fully petulant. He kissed Matthieu's cheek, and together they rose.
"I suppose this is goodbye, Arthur," he said.
Arthur looked sullenly up, and muttered a goodbye which had barely any venom. He rose too, and took Matthieu in an awkward embrace. He did not express affection well, but ended with a few awkward pats on the head and shoulders.
"And you should look after Francis. Chasten him and smack him for me if he misbehaves," Arthur said.
"I will," Matthieu said solemnly.
"If I could stay longer, I would find you someone suitable, but alas, you'll have to just rely on your own, far less cultured sensibilities. I wish you luck on that – you'll need it."
And then he left before Arthur could stop sputtering, effectively getting the last word once and for all.
George was waiting outside, tapping his foot impatiently against the street. He had a cart with him, and a driver with their few things already packed.
"Mister Moody is going ta take ya up the darkest roads where they won't find ya. Then he'll take ya to the ship. One of my lot already talked to the captain and I'm sure it's ready now fer ya," George said.
"Thank you for everything," Matthieu said. "You've been such a help. Without you, we might have died."
George beamed under Matthieu's praise. His chest puffed out. "Just doin' my best for Mister Bonnifoi."
Yes, that definitely would've evolved into an infatuation given time, Francis thought. Oh well. At least he couldn't fault the boy's taste.
"Now you'll take care of the quarter well? Remember what I said: you could be a gentlemen thief yet."
"I'll try my best, Mister Bonnifoi," George said.
Matthieu leaned down to embrace him – an embrace which lasted a little bit too long, by Francis' estimation. Then Francis leaned down to do the same. George was brave and dry-eyed, as they climbed into the cart and under the blanket of what was most likely purported to be produce.
Francis gripped Matthieu's hand between his small trunk. He'd have to buy clothes along the way, of course, but he liked the idea of this brand new beginning. Matthieu angled himself around until he nestled against his chest, and Francis stroked his hair. Despite the rocking – or maybe because of it – Matthieu drifted off against him. Francis stayed awake, listening to the sound of the wheels upon street and the horse's hooves.
It'd been a long night, but they'd survived it together. Now there was only the final escape to elsewhere – that mythic place which location would be wherever Mattieu was. He thought of unspoken vows, and rings – he would buy them rings some day, even if their only marriage was their promise to each other. Matthieu was wedded to him as surely as if there had been a ceremony.
He traced the line of his eyebrows, his nose and lips while he slept and loved him even more.
April 12th 1794
One of the first things he'd done is buy Matthieu a stuffed bear. Matthieu clung to it often, and this had lead to him getting mistaken for being much younger than he actually was. The trip had been a long one, and they had taken refuge in Wales and Ireland before finally setting out for the wilds of the former French colony. There some immigration of English citizens since winning it from the French, and they had thoughts of perhaps setting up a shop – for Matthieu had made him promise to set aside his thieving and gambling, lest it kill him. It was a side he was sad to see go, but he could never take Matthieu's disappointment, so a shopkeeper he would be.
Certainly there were worse jobs out there to be had.
Matthieu had drank in the sights, showing the first bit of wonder in a long time. They had enough to buy a house, and while it would not be as large as Paris, for the time they would be safe. Francis did not think they would ever be able to return to his beloved city, for it would dredge up too many bad memories for Matthieu, and he had sworn he would never leave Matthieu's side.
He thought it perhaps for the best, for as much as he loved Paris, it was likely no longer the city he remembered. Stained with blood, and now under the rule of tyrants...no, it would do no good to defile what good memories he had left.
Despite Voltaire's remarks, he thought it a lovely little place. Perhaps his mind would change when winter came. Their house was mostly unfurnished, but they would fix that. It was a charming little place, with a lovely view of the scenery from the back windows.
"I'm not sure saying I was your son was the best idea. What if they catch us being...amorous?" Matthieu said.
"Then we will say that we are very close," Francis replied.
Francis patted the bed next to him. "Now come snuggle your papa, for he is very cold."
"You know the rules," Matthieu said as he bowed his head. He knelt on the floor, his mouth moving to mouth the words of a prayer as he held the beads of his rosary. Francis would have to look away, and give him his privacy. No lasciviousness was to enter his atonement, and Francis was always lascivious in one way or another. He knew better than to try and grope or flirt with Matthieu until the rosary had been put away. He'd stop speaking to him altogether if Francis did anything that kept Matthieu from his prayers, and Francis would be sleeping alone for several days.
Francis was not one for prayers; the only time he ever found religion was when he had a knife against is throat. Besides, Matthieu said enough for the both of them.
Matthieu climbed in, and Francis pulled the thick covers around both of them.
"I said an extra prayer for you," he said. "Since you never join me in prayers."
"Oh, did you?" Francis said, faintly amused.
"Thank you, but I think there's no worry for you, petit. When you go up to heaven, God will take look at you and be so utterly charmed that he'll forget to even ask about such petty things. Really, what sins could a gentle thing like you have? Too many apologies?"
"Envy, weakness, lust...there is even a man's life on my hands. And I'd still say my prayers...and extra for you, just for that remark," Matthieu said.
"Ah, but I am not worried about my soul. When you are up there, you will look up at God with those beautiful eyes of yours and say but Pére, he is really a good man, please do not be harsh with him and God will have to agree, because anyone looking into those eyes will agree with whatever you ask."
Matthieu flushed. "You're so wicked," he mumbled.
Francis chuckled, and propped himself up, watching Matthieu. "And yet near you I am almost something nearing good. Except when the candles are out..."
Matthieu laughed, and let out a little shriek as Francis snuck his fingers under the shift and blew out the candle.
In the dark they could meet and meld, cares erased and cold forgotten. They were just two bastard children who had found each other despite revolutions and long nights stained with blood.
And he thought, Matthieu beneath him, his hands holding Matthieu's hips tight I am happy and knew that was the only way his life could have gone for that thought to come.
He did not think of sins or the past, but just Matthieu, words spilling out, half-formed and incoherent through the haze of heat, of his heart beating. He'd bedded plenty, and perhaps the physical act, the pleasure was not so different, but the intimacy certainly was. His goal was not merely to 'win' – to prove the best lover they had before he left, but simply to be together.
And after the apex, when they lay together, sticky and yet unfathomably happy, he'd trace his fingers over Matthieu's skin and feel wonder that throughout everything they had found each other through it all. Wonder at the way they fit together, both in body, and spirit. His chest would still be rising and falling, still on the incline from reaching such sweet desire. He could count every rib, every hair and kiss under his navel, his shoulder and chest in no particular order with no goal but to simply touch and feel more of him.
He was still a sinner, though perhaps less with Matthieu's pleas, his prayers and soft ways. He did not worry if theirs was a mortal sin, for he had always been loose upon such things, especially in his understanding of the nature of God.
I loved you more today, and I will love you more tomorrow, he thought. Such things he did not express, but merely murmured sleep well, coeur And after their whispered words of love je t'aime and je t'adore, he would without the order of rosaries or saint's name think a half-prayer of thanks. He was rusty on such things such as prayers, not having said them with any regularity (and not at the edge of a knife) but he figured if God was omnipotent, He could understand.
He was as ever, a sinner, heretic, former rogue and still quite the charmer. Now he was to be the shopkeeper in a new land, and the lover of Matthieu, wedded by promises and unspoken vows to each other.
People could have their elusive immortality, wealth and endless love affairs, for him it was this life he chose. Matthieu beside him.
He chose happiness, and he chose love. Most of all he chose Matthieu and whatever life would be theirs, whether desert or wilderness, slum or castle, it would not matter to him as long as they were together.
I love you more every day
today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow
-Rosemonde Gérard, L'eternelle chanson
I did research, and tried to keep this as accurate as possible, but I'm sure some inaccuracies fell through. I'm sorry where and if they are, but I'll probably just chalk them up to artistic license. (And Hetalia itself is anachronistic, mind you. DVDs weren't around in the 1940s and MP3 players certainly weren't around in the Seven Year's War)
The story begins in The Reign of Terror. Robespierre was very real, while the rest of the OCs are entirely fictional.
Homosexuality was decriminalized during the French revolution, not the Napoleonic Code as is often mistakenly attributed to. This did not however make it "acceptable" and the police would still harass homosexuals for hundreds of years. Soon after the Napoleonic code was instituted in France, Quebec and New Orleans followed suit, despite being no longer France's colonies.
After the Treaty of Paris, there was English immigration increased towards the Canadian colony. While most of the merchants came in the 19th century, it's not unheard of to have some during this era.
For the record, Guillame (or in this case, Guilleame) means William in French. So Matthieu de Guilleame = Matthew Williams, more or less.
The song I associate with this one, as it directly inspired the last scenes is "Cemetery" by Say Anything: I listened to it on repeat whilst writing this.