So. It's been a while, huh? Feb. 14th, 2011 was my last update. How depressing. Life has been throwing a ton of unpleasant curve balls at me the last three years, and living on one's own makes them all the more fun to attempt to deal with…I will tell you I haven't lost passion for this story, and despite the lack of updates, I have pretty consistently been working and reworking this chapter (as well as the end of the story). I'm pretty sure what direction I'm going in, but then again, I thought I had all the kinks worked out two and a half years ago too…

I won't promise anything, besides the fact that I will finish this. Eventually. I'm working on the next chapter right now, but I'm also going into finals, so yeah. Depending on how much I procrastinate on my studying, I will try to make this story my healthy procrastination pathway. More than likely, though, I'll be working on this over holiday break. Hopefully ~6500 words in this chapter will make up for some of the wait, those who are actually still a) in the fandom b) interested in this story.

Chapter 20

Alfred squeezed the Canadian's shoulder lightly, turning back to face the others huddled off to the side. Francis noted the relief in the child's face as the American met the older men's eyeline.

Flashing a small, reassuring smile, he tucked one arm around his twin's neck, dragging him unceremoniously to the couch. Matthew gagged at the suddenness but didn't resist the action. Alfred moved quicker than he should have been able to, flopping down on his previously claimed cushion with the unsteady Canadian an arm's length behind.

"Alright, enough of this mushy stuff already! You'd think we were part of some kinda soap opera with all this melodramatic speechmaking." He cracked a half smile, leaning into the back of the couch and releasing his startled brother as he went.

Nervously, with the previous conversation still fresh in mind, the older nations hesitated in reaction to Alfred's words. Francis was the first to stir, stepping forward cautiously. Noting the Frenchman's movements and not one to be outdone, Arthur ambled to the chair on the opposite side of the couch. Rolling his eyes at the chuckling American, he slumped himself into the adjacent seat. The Brit fell into his practiced role easily, pressing forward as if the outburst had never happened.

"Please, this is a fraction of the drama you exude on an hourly basis. I'm earnestly surprised you've managed to contain yourself this long." Alfred turned to face the Briton, brow narrowed suspiciously.

"What are you trying to say?" Francis relaxed himself into the final open chair, stifling a small snicker at the younger's distrustful (and yet so oblivious) tone. This was their way of handling things; this was a comfort. Both Alfred and Arthur, as much as they denied it, were very much alike, in this respect most of all. Francis knew where this conversation would undoubtedly end. Why not have a little fun while he was at it?

Dawning his own shrewd leer, he remarked on Angleterre's behalf, nodding in the Englishman's direction.

"'E is calling you a drama queen, mon Ami." Alfred balked incredulously at the Frenchman for a good moment before regaining his composure with a nonchalant puff, turning to regard the Briton.

"Ya know, normally I would take that as an insult, but considering you're the king of all things drama related, I will still take it as an insult because I AM NOT A DRAMA QUEEN." The laughably high pitch Alfred's conversational tone ended on made it difficult to keep back the chuckles swirling beneath Francis' lips, but he managed, in favor of hearing the Brit's sardonic response.

"Oh please. Every other word out of your mouth is some kind of complaint." He paused, closing his eyes smugly, a self-righteous grin spread wide across his features. "More often than not involving food."

Francis smiled.

Oh, this would be good.

Alfred huffed defensively, folding his arms with a pointed glare. "I am a growing boy!"

Arthur snorted at the proclamation, leaning back in his chair with a mumble. "Yeah, growing horizontally, maybe."

Alfred's jaw dropped, stunned to silence at the sheer audacity of the Englishman. Arthur took this silence as incomprehension on the child's part and sighed, raising a heavy brow towards the youth. "…You don't even know what that word means, do you?"

"It means longways, you ass!" Alfred defended, seething with anger. "AND I AM TOO IN SHAPE!"

Arthur raised his hands, attempting to pacify the fuming American, a cheeky smile still spread wide against his lips. "Oh, no, no, you are absolutely right..." He gave Alfred a moment long enough to begin his nod in ascension, before turning his head with a half cough-laugh, whispering to himself with clear intent on the other overhearing." …If 'round' is the shape you're talking about…"

Utterly offended, the boy's face drew up in heartbroken expression. His voice fractured with false hurt, slinging his own comment at the older man, who was still chuckling away at his own cleverness, "Just because your shorter than EVERYONE doesn't mean you have to emotionally wound us every chance you get!" Arthur's haughty expression fell, an indignant grimace painting over it as he leaned forward to confront the American.

"What does my posture have anything to do with this?" Pausing, he reflected on the child's insult, "And that doesn't even make any sense!"

"Your eyebrows don't make any sense!"

Blinking furiously, Arthur emitted an unintelligible noise, his mouth opening and closing in a way that quite resembled a guppy. Francis chortled at the display, turning to share in the absurdity with the only quiet one in the room. The child sat observing the row distantly, a tight expression drawn across his features. The Frenchman could see Mattieu's heart was elsewhere, no doubt dwelling on the day's earlier events.

He needed to change that. Now was the time for laughing, not brooding. It was not good for him.

Besides, there wouldn't be another opportunity for this soon. Not with the situation as it was. They needed to treasure the small moments of peace they had while they still had the chance to.

Dawning an expression of mock horror, he leaned forward around the arguing pair, attempting to catch the child's attention in hushed French.

"Petit, Alfred's comment has reminded me that when we rushed in here, we left all our supplies in the vehicle. Meaning Angleterre has left his eyebrow maintenance kit in there as well. I fear we ALL may be in grave danger."

Francis' comment did the trick. Despite himself, humor touched the Canadian's eyes as he focused on the older man, recognizing his intentions immediately. Pressing his lips together in a tight line in attempts to maintain his composure, Mattieu replied to the Frenchman's comment as best he could, his French hushed to avoid drawing the others' attention.

"What do you mean by that?" Francis buried a smile, returning a look of astonishment to the child.

"Why, Mattieu, surely you know! Without regular pruning, the creatures growing on Angleterre's face will become powerful enough to consume us all! They have claimed seven lives in the past from shoddy groomswork, and without the custom hedge clippers Arthur designed to keep them at bay, we will all unquestionably perish!"

A short peal of laughter burst from the boy at that before he could restrain it, claiming the attention of the two bickering. Mattieu, feeling the room's eyes on him, bit his knuckle to keep the sound. His cheeks burned with bright embarrassment at the surprise laid plain across the others' features.

Alfred's gaze focused on the boy, his shocked expression soon swept away by a warm smile at his brother's much needed lightheartedness.

After Angleterre's recovery, however, he focused dangerously on the Frenchman. A coy smirk slid across Francis' face in response, egging the Briton and the growing tick above his eye on. With false discomfort lacing his voice, the older nation dramatically gestured at Arthur's glare.

"Why do you scrunch your face up so angrily, Angleterre? As if you do not frighten us enough with your regular visage, must you scare away all the little woodland creatures too? What did they ever do to you? Hm?" Much too furious to be offended at the man's comments, Arthur puffed up his chest with self-ordained authority.

"You know very well why! I know you were saying something rotten in that awful tongue of yours. Stop poisoning the only decent child," he paused, giving a pointed glare at Alfred, who responded with an indignant and ignored 'hey!', before Arthur finished without missing a beat, "with your crude comments!"

Francis betrayed an expression of offense and innocence for a moment, taken aback that the Briton could ever insinuate something so demeaning. "I was merely trying to get a laugh from the boy! There is nothing 'poisoning' of which I said to 'im. We were simply sharing a well-timed joke, that is all."

Arthur's frown deepened. "Care to repeat it, then?"

Francis looked at him with an expression of mock contemplation for a short moment, drawing his finger to his lips thoughtfully before rolling his wrist away, examining his fingernail beds in a disinterested manner. "Non, it is a secret joke."

The Briton's eyes became slits, and Francis was joyfully aware of teeth grinding noises emanating from the seething man as he strained against his urge to break something of the Frenchman's.

"A secret?" he could hear Arthur hiss vehemently. Francis was pleased to hear curiosity leaking through the Brit's façade. Brushing his fingers against his shirt, the older man feigned remorse, replying with a tilt of his head, a small pout playing lightly on his lips.

"Oui." Alfred's head perked up at this, catching Francis' focus with an eager face.

"Is it secret from me too?" Arthur turned to the wondering boy with harsh words at the tip of his tongue, but the Frenchman easily interrupted him, smiling widely at the child, an airy tone pushing his voice above his British counterpart's.

"Non, non, just Angleterre."

Arthur floundered, stammering at the offhanded statement, "What? Why only me?"

Francis inhaled deeply, as if preparing for a long and quite obvious explanation. "Because I do not like you."

The Briton gaped for a moment before his face returned to one of complete ire, "…That is not an answer!" His older waved him off, the rage all but ignored as Francis continued mater-of-factly.

"It is all the answer you need, mon Ami." The Frenchman believed he had won this evasion game, his livid opponent sat opposite him air hissing through clenched teeth (something which was generally a precursor to a significant amount of swearing, of which always ended with the man huffing off to go pout to himself over Francis' obvious superiority in the vocal arena). He did not, however, expect Arthur to bite his tongue and face Mattieu, a frown still pulling at the edges of his lips.

"Fine, I don't need to hear it from you. Matthew? Care to share?" The boy was taken off guard by the sudden interest, blanching at the request as his eyes flickered back to Francis for support.


Arthur pushed again, irritation seeping through his tone now. "What was this joke which you found so amusing? Come now. Out with it." Mattieu hesitated, eyes dropping to his lap.

"Uh…I…I'm not so sure you would want to hear it…" The child's voice wavered as he finished, dying in his throat with a nervous look back at the Englishman's raised eyebrow. Arthur remained oblivious to the source of the Canadian's hesitation, his eyes flicking back to Francis, who simply grinned in response.

"Why wo—" As realization struck, the Briton's eyes became saucers and an aghast hiss slipped from his lips as he turned to stare back to Mattieu, appalled.


The boy shrunk into himself, ashamed. Francis frowned at the reclusion. "S-sorry Arthur…"

Angleterre straightened himself in his chair, slipping easily into a chiding tone with a click of his tongue, "You very well should be. You're supposed to be the well-behaved one. Laughing at my expense, really. I expect better."

"What better expense to laugh at, I say," Francis interrupted, plastering a smug grin across his face at the declaration. The expression faltered for a short second as his eyes refocused on the apologetic child, revealing his discontentment of before flashing Arthur a meaningful glance. He continued with the lighter tone of before, his message pointed, "Laughter is 'ealthy for the mind."

The Brit appeared to understand Francis' silent nudging, his eyes softening as they reluctantly rested on Mattieu. Before he could respond, however, the Frenchman continued, "It is good to 'ave a laugh at ourselves every once in a while. It keeps us modest." He paused, his goading smirk returning full force, "Some of us could use more than others, I believe."

Brightening, Francis finished smugly prior to any rebuttal of the Englishman's, "Shall I be the first to help, Angleterre? I will allow you to choose, since I am such a good friend to you with this; shall I compose a quip over your teeny stature or your murderous cooking? I would offer you more variety, but I'm afraid I may become redundant."

Arthur sputtered, no doubt riling himself up for another fight, before the American twin interrupted. Again.

It was truly a miracle that the child managed to survive the Englishman's patience to grown nationhood.

"Wait. I'm still confused. What was the joke?"

"None of your damn business!" Arthur snapped, his ire drawing the younger man's brow up into his hairline.

"Jesus, dude. Keep it up, you're gonna blow up that big vein in your forehead. Get a stress ball or something." Before the seething Brit could retort, Alfred effectively ended their conversation with a disapproving shake of the head before turning towards his quiet brother, plastering up his best winning smile.

"Mattie, whadaya say? Comeon, don't hold out on me! I wanna laugh at Art too!" Francis opened his mouth to answer the impatient boy in his counterpart's stead, but Mattieu cut him off before he had the chance to share his hilarious masterpiece.

"I don't think it'd be very kind to repeat." Alfred sighed heavily at this, flopping back against the chair with exaggerated frustration. Tilting his head he shot a reproachful frown at his twin.

"Ah, you're such a mama's boy! Live a little, will ya?!" Both Arthur and Mattieu visibly bristled at this comment; to the Frenchman's amusement, the Canadian's docile expression fell away, annoyance filling its space.

"I am not!"

Arthur answered nearly simultaneously, his voice overpowering the other boy's weak rebuttal, "I beg your pardon! Just because Matthew behaves like an adult doesn't make him a 'mama's boy'. You could learn a thing or two from him, if it could make it past that thick skull of yours." Alfred glared, ignoring his brother's response in favor of yelling.

"I am very adult! And the only reason my skull is thick is because it's gotta be to protect my super smart brain!"

Francis let loose a contented snigger. This felt almost normal. Almost. Even Mattieu's resigned look at being disregarded made this moment feel mundane. It was a nice break from the chaos.

Overlooking the bickering pair, Francis stood and strode to the shelf holding the pitcher of water. Filling two glasses, he walked to the couch, offering one to his quietly pouting son. The Canadian glanced up, appraising the cup for moment, before politely declining, an uncomfortable look overtaking his continence.

Arthur, pointedly aware of the Frenchman blocking his yelling target, pausing in his rantings long enough to recognize the interface. He blanched suddenly, disregarding his previous conversation.

"Matthew, I apologize, certain common courtesies escape me at times. Will you be needing to…take a moment…?" The awkward phrase hung heavy in the air, as the young man's face reddened. He shifted uncomfortable in his seat. It reminded the Frenchman of when the boy was smaller, of how he would hold himself, squirming about to avoid going to the—

"Um, no, no, I'm fine, I don't need—" It was at this moment Francis recognized the position as well. He chuckled, interrupting the stumbling child.

"Quoi! Mattieu, do not be so silly. Come, let us go to the bathroom, before you burst!" The boy blushed heavier, his neck glowing bright with embarrassment. Alfred stifled a chortle.

Arthur's eyes brightened, and before the Frenchman could hall the mortified boy to his feet, he interrupted. "Alfred, be kind enough to escort your brother instead, will you? I'm sure that leg of yours could use a good jaunt to get the blood pumping again." Alfred opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it, apparently agreeing that a quick stretch was something he needed. Hopping up and leaning heavily on his uninjured leg, the boy swelled with unreasonable enthusiasm.

"Comeon Mattie, the Toilet awaits!" If it were possible, Mattieu got even rosier at this, mumbling under his breath as he outstepped Alfred and passed through the door, leaving the trailing American guffawing in his wake.

In the quiet of the empty room, Francis looked at Arthur incredulously, concern etched in his features. "Was it the smartest to send Alfred with 'im? I'm not sure if 'aving the boy on that leg will 'elp it to 'eal…" The vibrant memory from the tape still clear in his shaken mind, Francis repressed a tremble at the thought of how the wound came to be.

The Briton walked swiftly to the door, peering down the hall after the two boys, ensuring their departure. Closing it most of the way, Arthur took a deep, conspiratorial breath, turning to the Frenchman. Francis recognized the look on his face immediately.

Time was up.

With a sigh of his own, the older man nodded.

"Alright, Angleterre, alright. What is your plan then?"

There was hesitation on the other's part, an obvious search for the correct words, before he pulled his gaze up to face Francis, hopeful determination glinting against his tired eyes.

"Well…There are several different options. I personally would feel more comfortable going with a lighter binding, but my fear is that may not be strong enough for this particular…being. I could try a banishment incantation, but that could just prolong the situation, and it would be rather gray, so that could lead to certain probl—" the Frenchman held up a hand, stopping Arthur mid-thought. Perking a brow at the man, Francis offered a rueful grin.

"Angleterre, per'aps you should try explaining in a way I could better contribute. I am not very well versed in these workings, and I am afraid what you are saying is going right above my 'ead."

Exhaling heavily, Arthur ran his fingers through his hair, consenting. "Alright, because you apparently have the spellcasting knowledge of an infant, I suppose I must begin at the beginning. Have you heard of Dark Magick? I'm sure you have some general knowledge," the Briton grunted, "…Whether it's correct is debatable."

Francis perked up. "You mean to say Black Magic? Yes, I 'ave 'eard of that... It is something which involves bad energies, oui? Something malicious or evil?" Arthur shook his head, obviously torn between berating and educating.

"Magick does not come in colors, but yes, in part. If the caster's intent is malevolent, cursing or hexing another, they would be drawing from dark, otherwise 'black,' energies to move their spell in our realm, thus making the spell 'dark.' It is possible for an amateur caster to mistakenly do this as well, which would lead to what's known as a 'grey' spell. This essentially results in an initially light charm becoming dark, leading to—" The Frenchman held up a hand in protest.

"But I thought you said magic was not colored." The younger man huffed indignantly.

"Grey is a shade!" Francis rolled his eyes. So stubborn!

"It is not. Now I believe you are just making things up as you go along, Angleterre. Not a very effective explanation." The Briton bristled at this, leaning forward and jabbing a finger at his accuser.

"Shut your trap and give me half a damn second to explain, will you? Grey magic is a term used for spells gone awry; something occurring that a caster does not plan for because of less than honorable intent." Francis' brows furrowed, and the Englishman sighed, continuing. "An example of this would be a desire for wealth resulting in a dear relative's death and thus, gaining their inheritance, fulfilling their ambition, but at a great cost. Unintentional, but Dark Magick nonetheless. Therefore, Grey Magick." Arthur paced away from the doorway, rapping his knuckles lightly along the wall as he continued. He sighed softly.

"To a practiced user, what one might consider 'sinister intent' can be circumvented. Utilizing this would enable the spell to remain 'light' without compromising the desired outcome terribly much, though some in potency. It is difficult, but not impossible." The Englishman paused, offering a pointed look. "However, there is another definition…

"In what's known as 'Chaos Magick', Black energies can be used to strengthen the power of a spell, among other things. I, personally over the years, have yet to see a significant influx with the use of it, at least not enough to outweigh the consequences of its practice. If anything, it makes the spell that much more volatile. The more one messes with it, the longer it takes to cleanse afterward, which can result in backlash. Thus I generally avoid it and dabble in lighter magicks."

Francis frowned. This conversation was going nowhere.

"Then why even consider it? If it 'as the potential to 'arm us, why would you debate its use in this situation?" The Briton chewed the inside of his lip, sharing the other's grimace.

"…Well…I fear that with this enemy, whom of which we know NOTHING about, might I remind you, a white spell…might not do it off. Not for good, at least. And with that, it would no doubt return with a vengeance. With a white intent, full destruction of the creature could be nearly impossible, the spell would simply be too weak to accomplish the task. I may have to draw on other energies to undertake this properly. But therein lies another problem; what method to use…"

Arthur paused to himself, leaving Francis to ponder his words. What method? Surely the man would simply destroy the creature. There must be a spell for that somewhere. Something for killing (or rather, protecting from, were they to use this 'white magick') demonic creatures of the night.

Spying the Frenchman's confused stare, the Briton narrowed his gaze on him. "Oh don't be so surprised. This is not like picking any old sweet that suits one's general fancy. The incantation must fit perfectly with the caster and the beast for it to work. Conditions must be met, otherwise it will backfire. Horribly so."

Francis blanched. He did not want to know what would constitute this horribleness. "What sort of conditions?"

Arthur exhaled deeply. "Well, for starters, we have to determine whether banishment or binding would serve our needs best."

The Frenchman perked up at this. "That sounds fairly easy. Certainly a banishment curse would be the best, correct? The creature is sent to 'ell to burn in eternal flame and we are free of it, oui? End of problem." The younger man rolled his eyes, shaking his head condescendingly.

"Ugh, your insinuated knowledge, or rather lack thereof, is the very reason why I question my choice in even telling you these things. I doubt you will retain any of it." Francis glared, grunting in frustration at the rudeness of his companion.

"Well, if you are so savvy on this, then tell me what is so wrong with what I said. It would be much more productive than complaining all the day long over my 'fairy knowledge.'" Arthur growled back.

"Not the same thing, for one." The Frenchman began to protest, but was cut off by the impatient Briton. "NEEDLESS TO SAY, banishment, while displacing the creature from us, would only serve to 'cover the symptoms,' one could say. The monster would remain intact, living, wherever I were to banish it to. But binding, on the other hand, would at the very least result in the loss of its power, if not the total destruction of the beast." Despite the promise in these words, Francis could sense the Englishman was withholding something from him. Anxiety stirred in his chest at the foreboding look the other held on his continence.

"What is it that makes you reconsider this decision, then? There is something that makes you 'esitate…?" Arthur looked down, breathing loudly through his nose before continuing quietly.

"Well…With banishment, it's fairly straightforward. Not simple, no, but less…room for error. With binding…specters will almost always become bound to the caster. Even if done properly."

Francis sucked in a breath through his teeth. Angleterre would be doing the casting…

"But…What does that mean? You would be tormented by this beast if it becomes bound to you?" Obviously this was not something that could be allowed to happen. Arthur hesitated, deciding the best way to approach the anger and shock in the other man's voice.

"Well…it is a possibility. With binding, the caster acts as an intermediate holding for the spirit's energies before proper disposal or transfer. Were it a normal spirit or creature, with something I could reference strength or persistence from, temporarily binding it to myself would not be a problem. Each is individualized, with its own method of disposal and retaining time. With the right preparation, I could easily handle any being." The smugness at this last statement almost annoyed the Frenchman enough to pull the man from his building dread. Almost. His younger's shoulders drooped a little as he continued.

"But…as this thing has no precedent…And, as we've seen, this one is incredibly dangerous…Attaching those energies to myself would be worrisome even in the best situations. Without proper knowledge about the creature, the bind might not hold at all, or be too strong to remove later…The potential of possession still remains quite real, at least in the soul it inhabits. Which, as been noted, can easily lead to much worse affairs with this particular beast…" Arthur's frown deepened. He was keeping something more, something worse, Francis could tell, but he did not push the man. The shock of what had been said was enough.

The Englishman continued, "However…I am not sure there are any other feasible options at this point." Resolve hardened the Briton's tone, a silent acceptance of duty underlying the words, "If that thing is bound, it won't be able to effect anyone else, and with planning on our part, it should be capable of relatively safe transport."

Francis' thoughts raced. Arthur couldn't possibly be suggesting what it seemed he was. Taking on this beast, with the potential to have lasting scars on his soul, and the possibility of it not being able to be removed from him? And if he was consumed by that monster, what then?

If things were to go…awry…the beast being bound to a vessel would at least be contained…It would no longer retain its supernatural abilities, it would just be a general possession; at worst, destroying the vessel would destroy it as well….

"Que non!" The Frenchman hissed under his breath, shaking his head adamantly against the suggestion, as if this would dispel it faster. He gave the Englishmen a pleading look, already knowing the words on the other's lips before he spoke.

In a defeated tone, the Briton breathed, "Francis, all angles must be considered before we proceed. Sacrifices may need to be made to insur—" The older man cut him off, fury in his tone slicing through the quiet air in a sharp whisper.

"Putting your safety on the line goes too far, Angeleterre. Some things must come first."

The Frenchman knew nothing of magick, as previously pointed out in this conversation REPEATEDLY. If the worst happened, what then? Francis would be incapable of fixing this. He could try consulting another country or one of the Briton's countrymen better acquainted to the supernatural, but what if they could not decipher the man's spellcasting? Francis understood enough to know these powers were very individualized; would anyone be able to comprehend the Englishman's enchantments?

…He could be lost, there were just so many things which could go wrong, and as much as the Frenchman hated to admit it…Arthur was just too damn important…

This was insane! The Briton could not expect this foolhardy plan to work. He was letting his emotions for the situation to drive him to singular options. Surely there was some way around it…

"You say the creature must be contained in a temporary vessel before destruction. Must it be the caster? Could it not be another, one other than the person binding the beast?"

Perhaps if he took the monster on himself, Angleterre could find a way to reverse it…And even if he couldn't…If this was the only option they had, it would be better to still have Arthur in control of his faculties. He would be much better prepared to handle the creature than the Frenchman. At least he could help…

The look on the Englishman's face said it all. He shook his head solemnly, sadness touching his usually stoic eyes. "Impossible. Redirecting the specter to another would result in the spell becoming grey. Another's soul would be put in danger because of it, despite well placed intentions. The curse would most certainly backfire in this situation, it is much too delicate."

Francis frowned. There had to be something, anything to use in replacement...

"What about…inanimate objects? They do not 'ave souls, so it would not be malicious to use them to bind it, oui?" The stress of the reasoning was obviously getting to Arthur, his lips pinched into a tight, exasperated line.

"You are not understanding the true dilemma here, Frog. Were it as simple as that, there wouldn't be a problem. Whatever the creature is bound to must speak the incantation for it not to become grey. How do you expect an inanimate object to talk, mm? I can't very well make it spontaneously grow a pair of li—"

The frustration that creased the Englishman's face evaporated in that moment, a powerful thought dawning on him. The relief that spread across the man was palpable. Francis bit back a smile. If it was enough to keep him from slinging insults at the Frenchman, Arthur must have thought of something good.

"What is it? Do you 'appen to know an incantation that spawns lips? That would be quite useful in this situation," he egged on in a playful tone. The Englishman stirred from his musings, his face wrinkling with a mixture of confusion and distaste.

"…What? No. No, nothing like that." A proud smile tugged at the corner of the Briton's lips. "But, I may have found a loophole."

"Oh really? Care to elaborate upon it then? I am truly on the edge of my seat in anticipation." Despite the sarcasm, Francis couldn't deny the pinpricks of curiosity kneading his stomach as he waited for the other to continue. The haughtiness radiating off the man was palpable, but he ignored it in favor of an explanation.

"It is rather brilliant, actually. If I were to seal the spell into the object, there would be no need for a formal 'chant' on its part. It would act like a cursed item; the creature could be bound to it with little more than direct contact…Though, it will be more complex than that, otherwise the caster could be bound as well…" he paused, tapping his chin in thought. "It would also need to be something that could damage it. Better to weaken the monster when activating the binding, that way there is less chance of the spell denaturing mid-cast…"

Eager to add to this new solution, Francis interrupted, "Well…Did Alfred not mention that knives pained it previous? Per'aps if we use it offensively…"

"Yes, that could work quite well to our advantage. However..." Arthur drew a grimace across his features, staring purposely at the Frenchman, "If we do use such a close range weapon…It would mean one of us would have to get close enough to that thing to effectively stab it."

"Yes...We must be careful. The creature, it is definitely formidable at that range…" Pausing, Francis bit his inner lip, sighing lightly. "I believe it would be best to only involve ourselves with this plan. The boys, in their conditions, may…hinder the undertaking."

The less variability, the safer. While that was a superficial reason to keep the children uninvolved, Francis admitted a larger part of him felt guilty. They had dealt with enough of this over the past few days, no need to perpetuate their struggles. Not with something The Adults could handle without them.

Arthur grimaced, nodding slowly. "Yes, it would be best if we kept them out of it…" Glancing at the clock, the Briton frowned forlornly, "We will need to distract them somehow when the time arrives; they are much too stubborn for their own good when it comes to these things…I cannot trust that…" he paused, predicting the other's reaction, "I know you don't want to hear this, but Black Magick, it stains the soul, Francis. As reasonable, as coherent, as normal as the boy seems, a subsequent possession might be something we should be wary of with Matthew…I feel we should keep him in the dark as much as possible, especially with what we plan to do. Just in case."

The meaning behind this last message, that the beast could still be in Mattieu, listening, waiting, it made Francis' stomach twist. He wished he could argue against the man's logic, dispel the fears that swam beneath them, but the older man knew Arthur was right. He was always right when it came to these matters. If he thought it was a possibility…

The Briton felt the need to reassure the Frenchman and break the long silence of his thoughts, "Don't fret. The boy should be fine after the binding. With its powers removed, the bond between them will be broken. Until then, though, any connection that creature has to us it will exploit. We must be cautious and diligent. We can't let our guard down."

Francis felt ice slip down his spine. Arthur was right. That monstrosity would exploit anything and everything it could to get to them…Nothing could be overlooked….

…Could he have been bound to this creature during their last encounter? He did not feel different from it, did not feel as if he were not in control, as if he had lost his ability to govern his own thoughts and actions…But he had been controlled. If just for a moment, he had, his mind had belonged to that wretched creature. He had been…bonded…

Francis barely registered the other continue, pacing as he thought aloud, "It will take me the night to prepare the blade, so plan for tomorrow. Preferably before sunset. It will be best if we can draw it out during a time we can see it fully."

"Oui," The Frenchman nodded, robotically. Arthur paused his pacings, his eyes meeting the other's sharply. Emotion stirred behind the gaze. Francis shifted uncomfortably at his stare, fear prickling his neck at the look. Whatever it was, the man did not act on it, however. After a breath Angeleterre continued his patrol, unperturbed.

"Precautions will also need to be taken to prevent us from being controlled as Matthew has been. The last thing we need is for one of us to be compromised in the mist of the operation. I'm not fully sure how the creature controls its victims, though, so that will make it difficult to determine our plan of attack." Francis nodded, focused. The memory of the kitchen shot clearly to the surface of his mind. Certainly the experience could help.

"Its power seems very reliant upon eye contact. I believe that if we avoid its face, we should be able to attack with little troubles." Arthur brushed off the response, deep in contemplation.

"We do not know that for certain, though…" Agitation spiked through Francis at the disregard. That man, so easy to believe in fairies, can't even trust that the Frenchman could know something of what to do. For a man of so much faith he had very little in his own companions.

Frustration leaked into the response unbid, "Trust me, I do."

The older man, exasperation still heavy in his mind, did not immediately understand the sudden halt to the Briton's march across the room at this refute, the slow turn of his gaze, and the obvious concern threaded through his words.

"How…What do you mean by that, Francis?"

The Frenchman froze. Answering this question truthfully, revealing how close he had become to being overtaken by the beast…it certainly couldn't result in anything good. He could see the suspicion washing the other's eyes as the Briton came to his own conclusions. If he knew, not only would he distrust Francis, feel he were a liability but…Arthur had just given the plan, the only hope to save them to a compromised individual.

The Englishman would be alone. Mattieu, too deeply connected with the beast for there to be any hope of salvation until after it was destroyed. Alfred, too injured to help in any reasonable capacity. He would have no one, the only hope in a situation becoming progressively more hopeless by the minute. He needed the Frenchman to be untainted. He needed him on his side.

So he lied.

"Alfred…'e told me about it…earlier…We spoke…during the cleaning. Yes. 'e was very adamant about this." The Briton eyed the man with confusion. Fear trickled down his chest. Arthur was not a stupid man, and the Frenchman knew this was no foolproof invention. However, making Angeleterre aware of what had happened in the kitchen would only cause problems. He willed Arthur to move on, pressing forward.

"Regardless, I do not see 'ow fighting blind will serve us. We may require a distraction. Per'aps involving someone on the second floor? 'e should not be capable of reaching us there."

The Englishman continued to stare pointedly for a long moment before shaking his head. "No, he can increase his size, that was evident on the tapes." Francis sighed internally; the man would drop the subject.

For now.

"Quoi!" -used as interjections to express shock and disbelief, literally translates to "What."

"Que non!" -"absolutely not!" literally translates to "do not."

I don't know if the amount of research I did for that last section comes across, but it was quite a lot. Also, stayed in Francis' perspective the whole way through! Poor guy doesn't get enough attention as it is…

Wonder if his decision to keep that info from Artie will come back to bite him in the rear later…

PS. I am editing old chapters (mostly for clarity) and posting them on archiveofourown, under the same name I have here. No plot will change, just format and clarity. I am editing dialogue I don't like, but as I said, the plot will remain the same. If you'd like to reread a cleaner version, check it out. Eventually I'll edit this one too, but I'm focused on finishing the story here right now. One day…