The Art of Being Emotionally Detached
The Art of Being Emotionally Detached(and constructing the perfect coffin for your loved ones)
He was introduced to the man through a friend of a friend of a distant cousin to whom he had not spoken with for years. Why he was introduced, he did not know; perhaps it had something to do with the fact that half of his living family, and the one female acquaintance he cherished too much to sully with his more carnal tendencies, thought him to be suicidal based upon the sheer dreariness of his writing. Perhaps it was for the fact that he was too much of a Casanova to have a proper courtship of one of the local French women (or men, because honestly, why should he settle for one when he could snare both?).
Whatever it might have been, this English creature fascinated Francis Bonnefoy to no foreseeable end. Fascination, however, never boded well for a man of his tastes. So he was unsure of whether or not it was a good thing his friend of a friend of a distant cousin to whom had he not spoken with for years, Jeanne, had introduced him to Arthur Kirkland.
The man was seven years his junior, feisty as all things untamed, had the vocabulary of a politician, the grace of a royal but the couth of a street urchin when he was having a peculiarly bad day. He came from a lineage of pirates, holy men, doctors and women that paid respects to Druidism (and some of who were closet witches and followed their worship of things, supposedly against Him, pertaining to the Order of Cromwell, or so it was claimed). There were also rumours that he was related, through a married aunt long since deceased, to William of Orange. Shakespeare was someone he could quote on command, but he was loathe of Dickens. And like any other well-bred English gentleman, he was also loathe of the French. Something like that was to be expected.
Arthur Kirkland fascinated him to no end.
Surely enough, once they truly met and had a chance to properly converse, he realized almost instantly that they were polar opposites. He drank whiskey with breakfast while Bonnefoy drank coffee. Kirkland drank tea for the rest of the day while he chose to drown his afternoon in glass after glass of Chardonnay. Bonnefoy was a revered writer of fiction depicting loss, sorrow, star-crossed lovers and ill-fated travels, and as for Mr. Kirkland?
Arthur Kirkland, despite his lineage, his intelligence, his sharp tongue and wit alike - a man that had the makings and shortcomings of a great politician - was not revered for any of those things. He had the skill for it, and it was something he was aware of. But he had no care to make his living that way.
No, he did not do any of those things for Arthur Kirkland built coffins to ensure his stay on earth was not penniless.
And this, above all else, was what fascinated Francis Bonnefoy the most about this man to whom he was introduced through Jeanne.
"Francis," she had said suddenly, plaintively, one afternoon as they strolled arm-in-arm along a boardwalk. It was late in the fall when the conversation had occurred, a week before he was introduced to Kirkland via Jeanne, the woman with whom he walked. The petite blonde glanced up at him, a frown tugging thin lips downward. "Do you ever get terribly lonely?"
"Never, my dear," he had replied with a short laugh that said otherwise. While he could not explain to her, for she was a daughter of a rich Marquis and should not be exposed to such banalities of the life of a bachelor such as himself, he considered it the best way he could. He could not outright say that it was in the warmth and contact of another human's flesh - be it a woman or a man - that he sought solace and comfort in, a way to expel the harrowing loneliness he experienced every Godforsaken moment of his life on Earth. "I have found different sorts of engagements to take part in that, even if only momentarily, relieve that sense of emotional quarantine."
"So, you seek comfort in sex?" Jeanne had asked bluntly, the edges of her mouth inching upwards once more.
Francis had blinked, turned his gaze forward to stare out at the gray body of water they were passing, and then patted her white gloved hand comfortingly with a vapid expression. "You are frighteningly perceptive, darling."
"Not entirely true; I just know you well enough by now."
And that she did.
The first time he caught a glimpse of the Englishman, before ever being introduced to him, was when he was seated in a café in Trafalgar Square, sipping a cup of coffee beneath the canopy of the small, quaint establishment. Summer, 1923. It was drizzling, as it had been for the past week of his stay - and if it continued any further he was going to go insane. There was a man seated next to him that reeked of body odour, stale rye and pipe tobacco. He had writer's block and an approaching deadline. He was not amused.
And there was another man there at the café, a man that looked just as detached as what the writer felt. Except he was an idiot for he had not sought refuge beneath a canopy, but for some reason sat in the mist in a fine-looking suit that was slowly being ruined by the never ending inclement weather, arms folded tightly across his chest. He stared blankly out across the square with his lips set into a tight grim line. All meanings of the words 'desolate' and 'melancholy' sprung to mind as Francis studied this stupid man, seated there in his handsome tweed suit that was getting ruined by the disgustingly English weather. This stupid, oblivious man that had captured the elusive attention of the Frenchman.
Looking at him, Francis found he finally wanted to write.
Looking at him, he did not know at the time that this was Arthur Kirkland.
It would be another week before he emerged from his hotel room, looking like hell had chewed him up, batted him around and had then grown bored.
The entire seven days had been spent writing, chain smoking and sleeping for two hours a night. He had typed up ninety-five pages, and had written out forty-seven by hand. One night alone was wasted on drinking himself silly and mourning the fact he could not make a fist for the way his fingers cramped in rebellion. His hands were covered in ink stains, embedded into his flesh like a carving, as was his fine white dress shirt. Splattered black and blue. He was in desperate need of a shave, some good wine - maybe he would call for a bottle of Armagnac or Chardonnay - and a prostitute who knew what it was she was doing.
But he didn't necessarily need them in that order.
That needed to wait for a little bit longer, since he had run out of ink ribbons for his type writer and writing everything by hand no longer appealed to him. But he had been in the process of writing a steady scene when that final hand cramp sprung at him by surprise, catching him off-guard.
Appearance be damned; he was going to go out and purchase some more.
It was almost winter, still November 1923 - regretfully enough - before he was finally, somewhat formally, introduced to the man by the name of Arthur Kirkland. He had been mentioned fleetingly, and mainly in passing conversation, by Jeanne and some of her friends; the Englishwomen she talked with, friends from across the Channel, every now and again over the telephone - something Francis still didn't quite understand.
"Oh, he's a splendid individual," Jeanne told him one afternoon as she sat by the window, darning a hole in the heel of one of Francis' socks. A bachelor who could not fix his own clothing - a truly pitiful creature. "A perfect gentleman, if not a little bit eccentric."
"Eccentric, you say?" Francis had inquired around his cigarette, not even glancing up as he clack-clack-clacked away at his typewriter. "Aren't all those English-speaking hooligans eccentric in some way?"
She gave an unladylike snort at this, setting down her patchwork before shaking her head ruefully. "He reminds me of you, in a way."
"So now you're insulting me?" he had asked with a low hum. "Clever woman that you are; so backhanded at times."
"If I was insulting you," she had said, standing and going over to sit beside her friend, "I would have called you an awful writer not worthy of the praise you've been given. I would have called you a terrible conversationalist. And I would say to you that my friends think you're terrible in bed."
Jeanne laughed before getting up to go over and sit once more in front of the window, returning to her darning of the socks of a pitiful French bachelor. "That would be if I was insulting you, Francis," she hummed. "However, I'm not. You're a wonderful writer (if not a little bit too depressing for your own good); you start and carry on excellent discussions, and according to Catherine and Magdalene you're very good in be-"
"Enough, enough; I understand what you're getting at." Spluttering and laughing, Francis had pulled away from his writing machine and moved to crack each finger individually. "Tell me, Love, what's this 'Arthur Kirkland' individual like, especially for him to remind you of me?"
"I don't see why I should tell you when he's going to be here in a little while," she had commented idly, setting down the fixed stocking and then standing with a rueful smile. "Papa has some business to tend to, and he needs to consult Mr. Kirkland about it."
This caused the writer to perk up a little. "Business? Is he a lawyer or an accountant or something?"
"No. He's a coffin maker."
Francis stared at her.
There were no words to use for this situation, and he was supposed to be a master of them.
"I-Indeed," he had surmised, stiffly turning back to his typewriter and wondering just what the hell he was getting himself into.
Dinner was an awkward affair, and were this one of his books, it would have ended tragically with the master of the house choking to death upon finding out his beloved wife was having an affair, a very scandalous one, with the butler next door. But it didn't end that way, because he quite liked Jeanne's father. And her mother had died in childbirth, so there was nothing sordid to speak of.
He didn't like Arthur. He was too polite. He made Jeanne giggle in a way he didn't like. He was too British.
And he most certainly did not like his Eyebrows for they were monsters.
The next time he met Arthur Kirkland it was once again in that same little café in Trafalgar Square. This time it was not raining, nor was he suffering from writer's block whilst seated beside a man that smelt of body odour, stale rye and pipe tobacco. In fact, he was quite alone and content to be so. He was reading a battered copy of "Le Gaulois" as he drank his coffee, black and sugarless. The world around him felt and sounded as though it had been muted by the approaching winter.
To his surprise - he could not decide if it was pleasant or unpleasant - Arthur was the one to approach him.
Sitting down across from him, the green-eyed man peered closely at the French writer. Then his eyebrows knit together. "You … you were that man at Mister Romée's dinner, were you not?"
"Yes, I was," Francis replied tersely. He set down the novel he was reading upon the table and stared blandly at the Briton. "You … you're Arthur Kirkland, the coffin maker, are you not?" He mimicked his hesitant speech pattern with a smirk.
Arthur seemed mildly surprised at Francis recalling this, but he nodded all the same. "Indeed I am," he murmured. "And who might you be?"
"Francis Bonnefoy." He did not extend his hand to reciprocate the gesture of the Englishman. Eyes narrowed and he could already tell they had gotten off on the wrong foot. Splendid.
"So, Monsieur Bonnefoy," he said with the slightest trace of a sneer on his pale, narrow face. "What is it you do for a living? Sell remnants of shrapnel from the Great War on the corner during the day and then switch to prostitutes at night? I would not put it below a Frenchman to do so."
Listening to what the man said - in his posh English accent, with his trim black suit and bowler hat, his walking stick leaning against the table and a cruel, amused look in icy eyes - Francis merely smirked. "No better than those that swindle jewels from their dead grandmother and body parts from the dead to give to doctors for they are not good enough to perform honest work amongst honest men."
The line of the Englishman's mouth tightened, and Francis knew he had struck a nerve. He smirked before picking up his novel and turning back to reading his book, ignoring the Briton as he huffed, stood, and stormed off, the sound of his walking stick clacking on the cobblestone.
'An excellent start to the day,' the writer thought, sipping his coffee.
An excellent start, indeed.
Francis desperately needed to get laid, but he had not slept in three days, so it might not have been one of his most brilliant ideas.
So instead of going out and unwittingly soliciting a minor, he remained in his airy studio apartment, looked out through the glass, double doors that displayed Paris to him like a trophy, chain smoked until he was hacking and drank wine until the room was twirling around him like a carousel.
The next time they saw each other, Francis said nothing to Arthur for he was penning a letter to mail to his little brother, Mathieu, who now resided in Northern Québec under a newly obtained French-Canadian citizenship. He had moved there after the Great War, shell-shocked and a wreck that was desperate to get away from the ruins of his beloved Beaumont Hamel, the beautiful, picturesque village where they had grown up. It was a pity to see a boy as beautiful, as emotionally delicate, and talented as he shattered like a frozen flower.
(-and so young, oh God, he was only fifteen when he enlisted!-)
His nose pressed so close to the paper it was a wonder he had yet to smear the ink, he did not see the hesitant attempt at approaching made by the Briton. Did not see the brief look of frustration. Did not see his expression falter before he pivoted sharply on his heel and made to cross the street, narrowly missing being stricken by one of those new contraptions called automobiles.
Francis just kept writing.
January in Paris was a lonely month, so Francis spent the short days and long nights glued to his typewriter and wine bottle(s), seeking nothing other than succour in words that never seemed to stop flowing from him.
(On the other side of the Channel, Arthur spent January building coffins upon coffins and silently wondering where that Frog had disappeared to as he sat before a woodstove and drank his tea in that sullen way of the British.)
Trafalgar Square seemed to be where Arthur Kirkland frequented the most, so he couldn't help but wonder if the coffin maker lived in that area.
Seated in the café he had claimed as his own whenever he was in London, Francis did nothing besides calmly sip his cooling coffee. He had taken to sitting indoors now, as it was not the warmest out anymore. It was December, after all. The interior of the quaint little shop was warm and cozy, and he sunk down easily into an arm chair situated before a fire place. A log burned, crackled and let off a heady-smelling smoke that was almost as intoxicating as the wine that had given him a hangover to contend with.
Wine in endless vats was what kept him sane during the Great War, and it was not nearly as easy to give it up as he had initially thought.
(Maybe he just did not want to give it up)
The door to the café opened and he shivered at the brush of Old Man Winter throughout the place, as did the few other patrons of the late evening. He had forgone another drinking binge instead to seek out something warm to dive into instead of a warm someone to sink into.
"Do you ever go back to France, Frog?"
Perking up out of him semi-conscious state, Francis turned his head a little, smirking lazily at the Briton before turning his gaze back to the fireplace. Enchanting. The fire, that is. Those Eyebrows were still as hideous as ever.
"On occasion," he murmured. "It depends on who remains in my beloved Paris to bother me."
Arthur took a seat in the arm chair beside him. "Ah, you really must be French then," he said in a musing sort of voice. "Constantly retreating when you know the coast is clear." Francis gave him a sharp look, but said nothing.
Neither man said anything for the longest while, only Kirkland finally breaking the silence when a waitress approached him inquiring as to what he would like to order. A cup of Earl Grey with two spoons of sugar, and two blueberry scones. Butter could be left on the side of the plate. The words rolled off his tongue as though he had been born speaking the order.
"Come here frequently, do you?" Francis asked, eyes never leaving the fireplace.
"Almost as often as you do," Arthur replied shortly, falling silent once more. The waitress returned a bit later with his tea and two scones, butter on the side as he had requested.
"It's the only part of London I like," said Francis suddenly, startling the both of them.
Looking over at him, the coffin maker blinked slowly. He then turned to look back at the fireplace. "I would agree with you, but you're French," he said smoothly, sipping his tea daintily.
And Francis smiled, even if only a little bit.
The times he randomly encountered Arthur Kirkland were numerous, and as he believed coincidental. He found he ventured to England far more often than before, something Jeanne said she found intriguing and she tried to press the writer for a reason why.
Francis would not answer her because he could not formulate an excuse that sounded logical enough.
Maybe it was because he enjoyed their arguing; the fact that they could not agree on anything. He almost enjoyed being called Frog - and maybe Kirkland got a kick out of being called Eyebrows. His face did turn quite the interesting shade of plum upon being first called the name, after all.
All of it sounded crazy, anyway.
It's not very often that Arthur takes an interest in Francis' writing, but when he does it's a genuine occurrence that leaves the Parisian feeling slightly unnerved but very flattered all the same.
Francis would like to consider it a sign of an awkward friendship going the right way.
It was March, 1924. He was out for a walk, trying to clear his head so that he could get back to writing. Unsure of where he was or even worse how he had gotten there in the first place, Francis just wandered. Wandered uselessly and aimlessly throughout London. No real plan in mind about how he would get back to his hotel; he would just find his way whether it was in a few hours or days. It would not be the first time.
As long as he did not end up dead in a gutter, he would be alright.
That thought soon changed to praying for a gutter to fall dead in when he happened upon the presence of Arthur Kirkland. Perhaps he had been cursed without realizing it? Cromwell supposedly ran in his family's bloodline.
Instead of the usually immaculate suit he was normally spotted wearing, Arthur wore a pair of faded trousers and a loose white shirt. A jacket, thick and suitable for the cold weather, hung on his body, unzipped. Francis stopped dead in his tracks and prepared to turn around to head in the other direction, when he was stopped by the coffin maker calling for his attention.
With a strained smile he obliged him and pivoted sharply on his heel, stalking over to the elfin Briton.
"A wee bit out of your element, are you not, Frog?" Kirkland called with an amused expression, a hammer in one hand and a saw in the other. His clothing was covered in woodchips and the Frenchman realized that he had caught the man in the middle of working. Or he had been caught by the man in the middle of working.
Francis shrugged and then spread his arms. "I knew where I was at one moment," he said flatly. "And then the next I have no idea where I am at all. This place is harder to navigate than the catacombs beneath Paris."
"You're just an imbecile," Arthur said flippantly, heading towards the rear garden of a quaint-looking house. "A complete, fucking tosser and a bleeding imbecile." That was the thing about England - everything was so quaint. It drained the creativity from him, bleeding him dry with its fanciness and pleasantness. And its Englishness.
Unsure of why he did so, and why Arthur allowed him to, Francis followed behind him, listening as the dead ground crunched beneath his feet. It felt like he was walking on the bones of corpses long-since decayed. Bodies left behind in trenches that had not grown over because evil could not be nullified with a little plant life.
He gave a mental pause, thinking about this. That was a line he could use while writing - not too shabby.
Following him through the backdoor of the house and down over a flight of stairs, the Briton held the door out for him, a gesture that surprised the writer. Was he supposed to be going into this man's place of work? Wasn't it one of his own, unspoken rules that everyone seemed to abide by - that no one, under any circumstances, was to enter his writing room? No one was to even breathe in the air he did, day after day, and potentially steal his creativity. But then again you did not need much in terms of creativity to build a coffin.
Stepping into a dimly lit basement, Francis felt a shiver pass through his body as he set eyes upon an unfinished coffin. It was long and sleek, but still rough around the edges. A work in progress - much like the stack of paper locked in a safe in his writing room, back in Paris.
"And this is what I do for a living," Kirkland murmured, walking to stand beside the box of pine and running a gloved hand along the edge like he would the spine of a recently-sated lover. There was a tender look in his green eyes that seemed to reflect what little lighting was in the basement-converted-to-a-woodshop. They were luminescent. When they locked on him, he shivered again and Francis felt terrifyingly lucid for the first time in years. "I build coffins for those that need them."
"Do you charge much for them?" The question was out before he realized he was speaking.
Arthur glanced to him, smirked and then shrugged. He was indifferent. "It depends on who is buying them; I charge based on the financial situation of the family. If they can pay for it and not feel the pain of parting with their pounds, then they shall pay. Royally; it is not the easiest to part with one of my lovelies once I've finished creating her."
Francis wondered if Arthur had been in love before, and if he had been, was it ever with another living, breathing person and not the box you put them in once they stopped living and breathing?
Watching Arthur carve coffins helps ease Francis' nerves better than the drinking ever did.
He was in Kirkland's kitchen, staring out into the man's garden. It was spring - May, to be precise. May, 1924. Trees were almost in full bloom and a garden, albeit small and insignificant like most other gardens tended to by the British, was beginning to come to life. Blood red roses grew there. Francis was nursing another wine-induced hangover. Arthur was still in the basement carving coffins and unaware that the Frenchman had left Paris for the sake of visiting him. Unaware that the writer was standing in his kitchen, uninvited and brewing him a spot of tea.
Well, he was visiting London. Not Arthur.
Removing the teabag from the cup he had made for the coffin maker - Earl Grey, two sugars - he picked it up and cupped the bottom with the heel of his palm. He was afraid to be holding the cup, petrified the bone china would shatter with too much (invisible) pressure.
Turning and heading to the basement door, a startled yell left him and the teacup hit the floor and shattered, spilling scalding hot liquid everywhere and staining the hem of his gray trousers. Arthur stood before him, slack-jawed and wide-eyed.
"Bonjour?" Francis offered weakly as a way of asking forgiveness for shattering the porcelain teacup.
He bent down to retrieve the broken pieces, and when he stood Arthur's hand was quick in the act of boxing him on the ear. A startled curse left him. He accidentally clenched his hands at the sensation, the flesh of his right palm slicing open on a thick, sharp-edged shard. There was another curse that left him, this one a little viler than the last and in his native tongue, none the less.
"You bloody fucking git!" the coffin maker raged, cheeks flushed with ire. He was positively livid and Francis, for some inexplicable reason, felt his heart sink a country mile. "That was my goddamn favourite teacup and you broke it! Oh, you louse; I ought to belt you!"
And so, instead of being angry over the fact that Francis was standing uninvited in his kitchen he chose to throw a temper tantrum over a shattered teacup. Truly, he had his priorities settled out quite well.
Blood dripping from his hand, the side of his head throbbing as his ears rang viciously, and as he watched the Englishmen retreat back to the basement without another word, Francis Bonnefoy realized he was in love.
'Well then,' he thought, mind drawing a blank as he watched the sanguine pooling in the palm of his hand. It stung.
At least he could feel that.
(Sitting and fuming in the basement, Arthur was angry for a whole different reason; not mourning for a teacup he had a duplicate of, but angry for the fact that he had had no warning to prepare for Bonnefoy's arrival and greet him properly because the man was, really, his only true social interaction outside those he dealt with through his line of work. And he longed for the days the two of them spent at the café, arguing over politics and the state of the economy. Longed for the walks they would take through various parts of the city. Longed for the afternoons spent in his workspace, Francis sitting there and penning a story by hand while he whittled away at the wood contentedly, his gramophone playing softly somewhere in the house.
But not the Frenchman - there was no way he longed for him, right?)
The teacup incident was never spoken of again, but the two men felt infinitely closer after the outing they had to the Natural History Museum. Given the Briton's slight mental instability and coffin-fetish, and the Frenchman's depressive, and downright alcoholic, tendencies, perhaps it was for the better. Arthur had suggested it in the first place, saying to Bonnefoy that just going to that café all the time did not constitute as knowledge of London. With little to no argument, the writer had sighed and shoved his work away for the day, lighting a cigarette with a grumbled curse.
"Fine," he had snapped irritably. "We shall go to this museum, but it had best be worth it."
Kirkland had merely smirked, knowing well that his companion had been looking for an excuse to get away from the typewriter, even if it was only for a little while.
Francis was fascinated by all the things he saw, a wonderous look taking space up on his face was he explored each exhibit with a childlike eagerness that made Arthur give a small smile, an odd fondness dangling from the corners of his mouth.
"My little brother would love this place," Francis said suddenly, as they stood in an exhibit filled with medieval replicas. "History fascinates him."
"You have a little brother?" inquired Arthur, looking up at the taller with a curious murmur. "How old is he?"
"He'll be twenty-five in a month," he replied succinctly, not looking to his companion but at the armour of a Paladin. It shone beneath the gallery's lighting and Francis thought it to be very handsome. "He's living in Canada now. You know, that land of perpetual winter across the Atlantic. Poor thing needed to leave France after the War."
"So young," he said quietly. "How old was he when he enlisted?"
"Fifteen," Francis said in a flat voice. His eyes looked dead all of a sudden and his shoulders had slumped. "I remember trying desperately to talk him out of it. But, he said if I was going then he had to enlist as well. Maman was in a state of despair unlike any other."
There was silence between them for a few moments. Then: "How did he make out after the whole mess?"
"Not well. Shell-shock; permanent wounds to his body. He was taken as a prisioner of war during Beaumont Hamel after watching our family get slaughtered," the Frenchman said in a toneless voice. It was so easy to shove his emotions so that they fluttered a few miles beneath the surface. He had, long ago, perfected the art of being detached. "He was somehow released a month or so later - actually, I think he got away from the Krauts. Then he spent two months scouring France for his infantry and evading the Germans, only to end up finding them and fighting once again, this time at Vimy."
"Jesus," Arthur breathed. It didn't even sound like a word.
"Mathieu breathed in gas at the Ridge, and now he has the nerves of a paranoid cat and the lungs of an eighty-year-old chronic smoker," said the writer with a sigh. "And because of the shrapnel he took in his right thigh during the second battle of the Marne, he's never without pain and is constantly addled by morphine. He has a wife, though; a darling little German girl - believe it or not - that loves him to bits, whether he's drugged all the way to Cloud Nine or not."
"Are you proud of him?" he asked quietly. "Of what he achieved?"
Francis considered this, and then gave a singular nod. "More than anyone else knows. He spent the entire War sober, unlike me. I had a bottle of wine - or five - for every advance."
Suddenly, Arthur looked bitter. "I never got to enlist for I was too busy helping my father build coffins," he said. "And my younger brother copped out and fled to America, like the bloody turncoat that he is."
They said nothing else, just continued to stand there, thinking about their respective siblings and studying the shining armour of the Paladin.
(By the time they got to the Ancient Egypt display, they were discreetly holding hands.)
August, 1924. Finding Arthur asleep on the sofa, Levi's (sent to him from America by his turncoat of a brother) rolled up to his mid-shin, covered in woodchips and his white dress shirt wrinkled only reaffirms Francis' growing affection for the stupid Brit.
"Have you ever been to see the Crown Jewels?"
The question took him off-guard. Slumped a little at Arthur's kitchen table, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, he stared blankly at the Briton before shaking his head no. Bad idea; his stomach turned and he tasted wine when he shouldn't have. "Never," said the writer with a sigh. "But I suppose you intend on changing that?"
Arthur gave him a crooked smile as he buttered a piece of burnt and slightly mangled toast. "Of course I do," he said, picking up his cup of tea and moving to sit across from his sort-of friend, sort-of something else. The younger man kept his gaze elsewhere.
Bashfulness was endearing when he wore it, Francis decided with a smile he kept hidden behind the rim of his coffee cup.
So they walked from Kirkland's little home just around the corner for Trafalgar Square all the way to the Tower of London, the English Gentleman pointing out various places and recounting the history as though he had been trained from birth to do so. For some reason they took the long way and managed to go past Buckingham Palace, Francis pausing to look at the sprawling home for the British Royals with an expression of muted awe.
It was nearly dark by the time they got to the Tower of London; they were exhausted, their feet sore. But it was worth it, the man of Gallic descent decided, as they stood before what he could honestly say was the most beautiful caché of gold and jewels he had ever seen.
Leaning in close to the shorter man, he smirked, "What would happen if I tried to make with the loot and run?"
"I'd be making you a coffin," Arthur replied in a flat voice, smirking lightly. "And you'd be paying with the jewels you took."
They lingered there in the Tower of London, exploring the building from top to bottom and learning the bloody history of the place until daylight was extinguished. It was only when the sky beyond the fortress of sorts was pitch black and the guards told them it was closing time that they finally chose to leave. Exhaustion plagued both of the men, and Arthur openly leaned upon the taller man, head on his shoulder and his eyelids drooping slightly. It was the sleepiest he had ever seen the coffin maker, and there was a dull blush on his usually waxy cheeks.
Francis felt his heart flutter briefly as they approached a cab, the writer helping his sort-of friend, sort-of something else, slide into the back before he got in as well and gave the driver the directions.
A smooth ride took them from one end of London to the other, Francis finding himself slipping in and out of a slight doze as Arthur was curled in against him. The cab was almost at the Englishman's home when the Briton did something that floored him and amazed him all at once. He moved with a sort of hesitancy, fingers moving along the stubble on his chin, exploring with an innocent look of fascination. Green eyes were unfocused and time had suddenly stopped.
And then, in the back of a moving cab in an area of London he was not familiar with, Arthur Kirkland kissed Francis Bonnefoy for the first time, of his own accord.
Francis didn't know if he would ever stop smiling, or if Arthur's cheeks would ever lose the red hue they had picked up.
It was the end of November before they slept together - a miracle if there ever was one, considering there had been a fragile tension forming between them since mid-October. The feeling of lying with Arthur and knowing he had no intentions of leaving afterward made him both nervous and excited for it was something he had never experienced. Normally, it was fuck and go. No hanging around and basking in the so-called afterglow that came with sex. Pay the nameless prostitute, and leave.
None of that fairytale nonsense.
But lying in the Englishman's bed beside him, curled into the heavily-breathing man's side, Francis felt incredible. He felt like he was high on a cheap opiate. Everything going on in his head felt so cogent that it scared him (although it also felt as though his brain had been fried and was in the process of being rewired as he lay there, perfectly sated and at ease).
Idly, he ran his hand down along the coffin maker's back, feeling the stickiness of his skin as they still came down from that high. His skin was so smooth. That spot between his shoulder blades, where there was a little dip, did he kiss it already? That didn't matter. Rising despite his body feeling like jelly, he levered his weight onto his elbows and pressed a kiss to the spot in question before curling back in against his smaller frame and placing his cheek upon the dip beneath his right shoulder blade. He could feel the expansion of his lungs as he inhaled; could feel them shrink as he exhaled. He could feel his heart still pounding. His heart was pounding, as well. It felt as though it were about to come out of his chest altogether.
Arthur said nothing to his lover, but instead reached around awkwardly from where he lay and somehow managed to take Francis' lily white, soft hand in his own lightly tanned, and wickedly calloused one.
It was midnight, and Francis couldn't help but love the way the moon bathed their entangled bodies.
When they got up the next morning, Francis was no longer Arthur's favourite person because he ached in ways he had never thought possible.
"You were the one that kept telling me to go harder," the Frenchman commented, completely blasé to his companion's dire lower back pain. "And who was I to deny you the pleasure of the experience of being forced into a mattress?"
Cheeks reddening, Arthur smacked Francis before curling in on himself with a huff. "My mother must be rolling in her grave right now," he grunted. "Knowing what we did last night."
Flopping back onto the bed beside him, the writer stretched languidly, like a cat. "Maman was buried in chains and weights to prevent any rolling," commented Francis tonelessly. "Because, honestly, she'd be in Russia now for the amount of rolling she would have to do over my voracious sex life."
To his surprise Arthur laughed and stretched before dragging Francis back on top of him and kissing him soundly to silence any further banter that might have left him.
Being in Paris without Arthur near him made Francis Bonnefoy feel like he was on the verge of going crazy.
As long as he managed to get the Englishman there for Christmas, then he would be happy. Otherwise, the wine would be his best friend once more and he would kill off the main character in his latest novel just to be spiteful.
But by the end of it all, Christmas went well for Francis had managed to get a passage for him across the Channel and into Paris, where he would remain until Old Christmas Day. His present to the coffin maker - a new set of carving tools, each with his name engraved into either the blade of the object or the handle. Arthur had purchased for him a new typewriter. One that still had all the letters and unworn keys, and did not make a worrying sound as it progressed in typing.
His bottle of Chardonnay remained locked away in the cupboard in his basement, with the exception of when it managed to escape, along with a few friendly bottles of Port and Armagnac, on Christmas Eve and the two men drank themselves stupid, laughed endlessly over the news and some foolish story being told on the radio, and made love until the first, scant light of dawn made itself known on the horizon.
"I don't want to go back to London," Arthur murmured quietly. It was a gray morning and the world around Francis felt bland and he didn't like it, not one little bit.
Not only was it gray, but it was Old Christmas Day, which meant Arthur would be leaving in a few hours to catch the train at the station. The train that would take him to Dunkirk, where he would eventually get a boat and he would find his way back to London.
"Then don't," Francis murmured sleepily, bundling the smaller man to his chest and defiantly holding him there.
Arthur was silent for a moment before he rolled over, turning his back to the partially-open window that let in a cold draft. He buried himself in Francis' torso and looped their legs together as he tucked his head under the writer's chin.
"I'm sure I can find a passage back later on in the week," Kirkland hummed; the man holding him only half-heard what he said for he was beginning to drop back off to sleep. "People that need coffins built soon can tell their dying whatevers to hold the fuck off for a few more days, right?"
"Of course they can," Francis murmured into his hair. He liked how their ankles were locked; liked being pressed skin-to-skin with nothing obstructing the feel of his smooth flesh. "Of course they can."
Arthur liked to throw glass things, curse fluently and hiss in something that sounded vaguely Latin when angry. His cheeks turned carmine, his eyes would blaze and his nostrils would flare as he would lunge for the object in the room that appeared to be the most fragile (little did he know, it was his lover that was the most breakable thing in his presence) and he would launch it at the man when he came back from being gone all night with little to no warning, looking like hell and reeking of booze. He would hurl words like daggers - intended to emotionally maim and cripple - aiming straight of the cavity of his chest and would grow angrier as the man being screeched at would take it - and then some - with glazed eyes and a gaze of pure emotional detachment.
Francis, on the other hand, simply brooded, drank copious amounts of wine and smoked a little too much, and then he would proceed to fuel his rage into something a little more productive - his writing. Sometimes sex, but mainly his writing (although nothing beat a little bit of angry, make-up sex).
Sure the man drove him to lengths of wanting desperately to take his head and jam it between the door and its frame, slam it, repeat; Francis would never be able to lay a hand on his English lover.
No matter the temptation, he would never be able to hurt him.
Francis lay on his stomach as Arthur peppered apologetic kisses down along his back, lips brushing against each scratch mark there.
"My favourite war wounds," he would chuckle hazily, blinking sluggishly as they shared a cigarette.
At this the Englishman would chuckle and slide a hand around to his front and slip it down further, obviously relishing in the soft, surprised keening sound that left the writer as he twisted his wrist in a way that was just right.
Some lazy kisses and languid strokes later had Francis on his knees, face flushed and buried in the pillows, writhing and begging in a way that sounded too delicious; slim fingers on one hand were digging into the mattress and fisting at the bed sheets, while his other hand snaked around and was pressed firmly against the coffin maker's lower back. In a voice that was hoarse and broke frequently, the Frenchman ordered his lover to go faster, harder, deeper. The reaction when he obliged him was golden.
He bit his lip, babbled incoherently (-Christ, Arthur, oh God, that feels amazing don't stop don't ever stop-) and just completely lost his sense of place, time and self. Felt like he was drifting and slipping out of his body - out of every pore - until the warmth overtook him and he just went blank.
Francis couldn't help but love the feeling of being split open and touched in ways he had never before experienced by his lover. Being handled roughly and tenderly at the same time. Not being afraid of it.
Trust went a long way.
Arthur was moving in with him. It felt as though Francis had lost part of his mind and Jeanne couldn't stop laughing at how excited he was over it. Like a child at Christmas.
There were times when he wondered why his lover never inquired about the scar that ran from the bottom of his left calf right up the back of his leg to where his knee joint was. Or the one along his hip, the one that extended from the top of his hipbone, up over his side and settled right below his ribs.
But something like that might have been for the betterment of their little corner of the universe.
Revisiting the Great War was not something Francis was good at.
The only time Francis contemplated physically harming Arthur Kirkland was when he destroyed his caché of wine. It was April, 1925 when this occurred. Every bottle, no matter what the vintage, was demolished. It was like "A Tale of Two Cities" all over again, when the streets of Paris ran red with wine. Except it took place in his garden.
He came very close to putting his lover into one of his own coffins, but instead told him to get the hell out and go back to England.
Arthur laughed at him, and pointedly ignored the request, choosing instead to go and sit in his den, smoking his pipe and working on a new design for the casket of a local Marquis due to pass on soon. The laughter rang in his ears, even as he sat in silence in his writing room, smoking himself sick.
"It's a damn shame, you know," Arthur commented quietly as the two men stood at the back of a funeral congregation. It was for the Marquis - not Jeanne's father, but one of his acquaintences. Arthur had been commissioned to build a coffin plated with white gold for the man. An extravagant request and he did not see his lover for almost a week because of it.
Glancing to the body with its waxy white face, its perfectly coiffed hair and its immaculate black suit, Francis just hummed. The dead were no longer human to him. Like a carcass was dinner to a vulture, the deceased had no meaning to him.
All the same, Francis gave his lover a comforting squeeze on the elbow. "I suppose it's tragic when someone passes on, even when you don't know them."
A strange look was directed his way. "I was talking about the coffin," he said shortly. "It's a goddamn shame to see such a beautiful casket get shoved six-feet underground after all the work I put into the beauty. So tell me: why would I give a bleeding fuck about the dead guy? I'm just here to get my payment and go before I tear up over the near-blasphemous waste of a good coffin."
Laughter was startled out of Francis and he had to be dragged out of the church lest he offend someone important.
Arthur was in the basement, where Francis once kept his casks of wine, carving a coffin as the author sat off to the side, clack-clack-clacking away at the typewriter he had dragged down there with him. It had grown to be his favourite place to work, alongside the steady slicing-sounds made by his long-term companion as he slaved his talent out over yet another pine box.
It was November, 1929.
Sitting back and taking a momentary breather from his writing, Francis Bonnefoy watched as his lover meticulously performed his art before him with diligence and precision. His eyes were narrowed; jaw set and tense as he scooped out a small, exterior ledge above a larger one. There were wood shavings in his hair, on his clothing, on the floor. He was a beautiful mess, in his humble opinion.
"You've been working on that coffin for days," Francis commented from where he sat, sipping from a goblet of mineral water for he never did pick up the wine after the grass in his garden was soaked white and red and covered in shattered wine bottles that day in April, four years ago. So hard to believe they had been together for so long. "Who is it for, Love?"
"Someone special," murmured Kirkland distractedly, not once glancing up from his toil.
At this, he arched a brow. "Oh? Someone special?"
"Indeed," was the reply he got. "Someone special that I argue with daily; throw vases at when vexed by him. Someone special that is the only person that has bedded me in five years, and is someone that I hold dear to my twisted, perverse little heart."
Francis felt as though his hearted had stopped beating for a brief moment, but then he smiled and laughed. "My morbid little coffin maker," said he as he stood, stretching luxuriously as he sauntered over to the man in question.
Tearing himself away from his work, Arthur smiled and leant his weight upon the edge of the table he worked at. He allowed the older man to pull him against his chest, kiss him and touch him gently before easily lifting him to set him down on the table, back to the coffin. Lips and teeth moved from his mouth down to his neck, where he sucked and kissed gently. Arthur ran spindly fingers through shoulder length, curly blonde hair, removing the black and red ribbon from it. "For you, however," he murmured as Francis slid a hand up under his shirt, "it is free of charge and you may use it when the time arises, God forbid it is not earlier than fifty years from now."
The two stood there in a comfortable silence, the sounds of vehicles passing in the street above them the only noise reminding them they were in the real world, a world that was going downhill as economies around them collapsed.
"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove," Francis said suddenly, pausing with his lips against Arthur's collar bone. Green eyes were suddenly trained upon the writer of purely French tragdies. Blue eyes were closed as he recalled the Sonnet his coffin maker had recited to him, one night over dinner several years ago. "O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. It is the star to ev'ry wandering bark, whose worth's unknown although his height be taken."
"Sonnet 116," Arthur murmured, pulling Francis up for another lazy, lingering kiss. He was smirking when he pulled away. "I didn't think you were capable of remembering something by Shakespeare. Didn't you tell me that yourself, Frog?"
Bonnefoy smirked. "Maybe I did, Eyebrows," he purred lowly, biting at his chin. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Arthur rested back against the coffin - the one he had made for the man standing before him - and stared up at the ceiling. "If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved." Another firm kiss was bestowed upon him, this time to the corner of his mouth.
He found himself vaguely trying to recall if they had ever made love on the basement floor.
There was a first time for everything, right?
Aaaaaaaaaaaa this is my first time writing a FrUK fanfic, but they just so happen to be my second OTP, next to USCan/CanUS. I WAS KIND OF NERVOUS ABOUT THIS AT FIRST. But then I said fuck it 'cause I needed a slight distraction from Third Crazy cause lmao I've been PUKING UPDATES LATELY WHAT IS THIS, threw on some French music, Florence + the Machine, and some Good Old War and I just wrote non-stop last night and today and here you go, a little Alternate Universe where France is a novelist à la Jean-Paul Sartre, and England is a coffin maker that could be more but chooses not to.
Thanks for dropping by and reading! -hearts-