Title: So This is Christmas
Author: Zalia Chimera
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia or the Characters
Summary: Francis and Arthur hadn't intended to celebrate Christmas that year, but ended up doing so anyway. It isn't quite conventional, but it's their's.
"Arthur, I will be attending Midnight Mass on Christmas eve and I... I know that you are not religious, but I would very much like it if you would attend with me."
And that was how it began.
They'd both initially agreed to not bother with Christmas that year. Arthur had given up on the whole holiday after last year, when he'd ended up trying to catch a train on Christmas morning after his brother had kicked him out of the house and told him to piss off and not come back. Francis hadn't celebrated since the Christmas two years ago when his parents had been hit by a drunk driver (fucking imurderer/i more like, in Arthur's opinion). He just hadn't had the heart for it.
Instead, they'd stocked up on DVDs and take-out menus and a tub of ice-cream, the least Christmassy things that they could find, and that, supposedly, was that.
Except that Francis was standing in front of him now, an awkward, nervous expression on his face and damn it, he never looked shy! How could Arthur refuse him when he looked like that and was asking so sweetly?
Arthur rubbed the back of his neck, looking anywhere but at Francis's face. He hadn't been to church in years, not since he'd been a kid and gone to the Christingle service, mainly because you got an orange with sweets stuck into it. It was admittedly a bigger lure when you were five. "Sure," he replied, "I mean, yeah, I'll go with you. Not like I'm planning anything else on Christmas eve, right?"
Francis beamed at him, positively beamed, all sunshine and softness, and kissed him on the cheek, then the corner of his mouth, then quickly, then slowly and then neither of them left the house for the better part of the afternoon.
"I was thinking," Arthur said later, as they lounged in bed together, Francis face down and sprawled out as was his wont, "if we're going to Midnight Mass this year, we could uh... we could have Christmas dinner too, maybe?"
Francis turned a little to look up at him, a little frown drawn between his eyes. "I thought that you hated Christmas, Arthur."
Arthur flushed, turning away to hide his embarrassment. "I just hate the way my brothers act. B-but it's fine. Stupid idea. It's probably too late to buy anything now anyway." You had to order turkeys in advance, right? And there was less than a week to go.
Francis turned him back round with a hand against his cheek. He was smiling. "I'm certain that we can get enough for a good meal, even if it is not quite traditional, yes?"
A hesitant smile appeared on Arthur's lips. "Yeah. Sounds good." He leaned down to press his lips to Francis's cheek lightly, nuzzling there for a moment. "Guess we're spending the rest of the day shopping then."
Town was predictably crowded so close to Christmas. It was rather daunting really in Arthur's opinion, but, well, he had asked if they could have Christmas and he couldn't back out now. Besides, Francis was probably half done with the food shopping already. He always managed to speed through the supermarket in record time, and charm the pants off the staff to get a little extra from the deli.
"Right," he murmured, looking down at the list with a frown. "This can't be too difficult, right?"
Twenty minutes later he was cursing whoever had decided that green was just too boring a colour for Christmas trees. He'd seen everything else; black, blinding white, neon pink, glittery silver, and he couldn't help but find them all incredibly tacky. The Christmas lights everywhere were flashing like demented fireflies on crack and he was certain that half of the customers were part banshee from the way they were shrieking.
The problem was that he didn't really know where to start. He'd never had a tree or decorations of his own, and Francis had said that Christmas trees weren't all that popular in France. There was a dizzying array of decorations too, and he hadn't though to measure the height of the ceiling so what if he got a seven foot tree for a six and a half foot ceiling?
What if Francis hated it?
What if the whole affair was a disaster and they decided never to do Christmas again?
What if he and Francis broke up, and he was left with a tree and a bunch of fragile glass baubles that he couldn't even bear to look at?
"Oh stop worrying you idiot," he muttered sourly to himself, browsing the pretty decorations. Some of them were utter trash, but the delicate little glass ones weren't too bad. He huffed softly and then stood up straight, a determined look on his face. "Right. Simple. Next year we can get a real tree together. So..."
There was a little tree, just four or so feet high, enough to fit on the windowsill of the lounge in their apartment, and pre-lit with coloured lights. He grabbed a box of coloured baubles and then, after a moment, a couple of the pretty blown glass ones that he'd been admiring earlier.
He paid without much fuss, thankfully, glad that he'd dropped Francis off at the supermarket instead of letting him take the car. After dropping off the tree, he headed back into the fray for the most difficult part of the whole holiday; buying Francis a Christmas present.
Francis was not amused.
He had a list! A list of things to be found and yet he was being thwarted at every turn! No turkeys and none of those sprouts that the English were so fond of! And those stodgy fruit cakes were all sold out and really, it was intolerable!
He ran a hand through his hair tiredly, pinching the bridge of his nose. The smaller shops would be sold out of turkeys too, this soon, but perhaps he could improvise, yes? He was French! Of course he could improvise!
Why on earth, Arthur wondered as he stared around the crowded shop, did Francis's favourite shop need to have such a baffling array of things for him to decide between?
Francis narrowly beat a woman to the checkout queue and got a trolley to the ankles for it. Why was he doing this again?
They finally met up when Arthur pulled into the car park. As soon as Arthur stepped out of the car, Francis practically collapsed into his arms in an overly dramatic manner. "Arthur, mon cher, let us never do that again. I was brutally mauled by rabid children and a woman with a shopping trolley full of beer and chocolate!"
Arthur snorted softly and rolled his eyes, but wrapped his arms around Francis anyway, nuzzling a kiss into his hair until a car honked angrily at them.
"Ah, Francis? The shopping?"
Francis looked up and yelped before dashing off to rescue the trolley which had started to drift towards a rather expensive looking parked car.
Well, Arthur thought, at least they'd survived mostly in tact.
It was Christmas Eve and Francis had been in the kitchen for several hours. Arthur had been firmly ejected after breakfast with promises that no, Francis was quite fine on his own, thank you, and of course the silly iAnglais/i could not be expected to understand how these things worked.
He wasn't entirely sure why Francis needed to spend Christmas Eve cooking, but then, it did smell rather delicious and Arthur's main memory of Christmas dinner involved undercooked Turkey, overcooked vegetables and having to fight his brothers over a spoonful of Christmas pudding. The food had generally been an afterthought when compared to the more obvious problem that by the time dinner came around his dad would already have drunk half a bottle of rum and was less 'merry' and more...
Yeah, decorating the Christmas tree was a much safer prospect than thinking about Christmasses past.
The radio was playing Christmas carols and Arthur hummed along absently as he hung baubles and tinsel and put the cards from their friends up over the fireplace. One from Alfred and Matthew who had gone back to New York to spend Christmas with their family, Ludwig and Feliciano who were in a cabin somewhere in the Bavarian countryside. He'd thought that Feliciano had been going to cry when he'd found out that they would be roughing it, but Ludwig had wanted to go and discover his roots and Feliciano could never refuse him. Gilbert had snorted and refused the offer to accompany them, taking up the promise of double pay at the hospital if he worked Christmas Day instead.
To his surprise, there'd even been one from his brother, an awkwardly worded one, not-quite-but-almost apologising for last year and hoping that he and Francis had a nice day.
He stuck it on the mantelpiece with the others, but behind the glitter and glue creation from Arthur's cousin, Peter.
"It looks almost perfect," came Francis's voice. Arthur turned to see him leaning against the door frame. Beyond him, Arthur could see pans and dishes spread out across the counters.
"Almost?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the other man. "I see. You have problems even with the way I decorate trees. Not up to your standards, frog?" But his words were affectionate.
"Nothing is to my standards, Arthur, you know that. But, one second please."
He dashed off into the bedroom, coming back with a large cardboard box which he supported with both arms. He set it down on the coffee table and out of it, once he'd removed the packing, he pulled something that looked a little like a house. "What's that?" Arthur asked curiously, going over to poke through the other wrapped bundles in the box until Francis smacked his hands away.
"It is my parents' crèche. I had it in storage since..." His smile faltered a little and he turned to put the little house (stable, Arthur realised), onto the windowsill. When he turned back around, he was all smiles again. "Well, I thought it was a good time to retrieve it."
Arthur opened up the wrapping, revealing a little painted clay figured of a man with a crown and a present in his arms. "Oh, like a nativity scene?" he said, the start of a smile curling his lips.
"Ah, oui!" Francis replied, returning to drop a kiss onto the top of Arthur's head and then start unwrapping the rest of the figures. "It is only a small one, but I have happy memories of it."
"Good job it's not much bigger," Arthur said, unwrapping the baby Jesus and setting him into the tiny manger, "wouldn't fit on the windowsill otherwise."
"Indeed," Francis replied, setting the Virgin Mary next to her child. "Be glad that we do not have a proper fire otherwise I would insist on breaking the building's fire code by burning logs until New Year's Day."
"You French are freaking weird."
"Bloody hell, it's cold," Arthur grumbled as they headed up the path towards the church. There were quite a number of other people heading the same way, braving the icy night to attend midnight mass, even some children who alternated between excited and asleep. He had to smile as he spotted a tiny girl sleeping against her father's shoulder.
"It is winter, Arthur," Francis replied with some amusement.
"If I wanted Arctic temperatures I'd go live in Russia or something." He shoved his gloved hands further into his pocket. Francis's slid down next to his, curling their fingers together. Arthur couldn't hide the blush which crept over his cheeks. "O-oi, someone might see."
"If they see, then they see. I am not ashamed," Francis said firmly.
Arthur gave him a slightly startled look at that. He hadn't thought that Francis had been ashamed of him, but when they'd first started dating at least, Francis had been very uncertain about contact in public, and especially when Arthur had dropped him off at church.
He squeezed Francis's fingers and pressed up against his side, feeling his face burn.
He'd thought that Francis might let go of his hand once they got inside, but he didn't, just guided him to a free seat, next to a little old lady who beamed at two 'such nice boys' sitting with her. Francis was soon chatting with her as though she were an old friend, while Arthur loosened his scarf and peered around.
He'd never been particularly religious, but he had to admit that everything looked rather splendid. A huge tree over near the pulpit, and a beautiful nativity scene at the other side, lit up with warm yellow light. It was... peaceful, he thought. He could appreciate the intent behind a building like this, even if he couldn't believe in what it had been built to serve.
He felt a little awkward sitting there, more so when they had to sing and he realised that while he could sing along to the entire back catalogue of the Beatles, his voice went all over the place when he tried to sing 'O come all ye faithful'.
But Francis looked positively radiant in the dim light, his voice deep and warm and Arthur found himself enjoying the experience just for that. He told Francis as much when they linked arms to begin the walk home.
Francis chuckled softly, the smile never leaving his lips. "I am glad that you enjoyed yourself, imon Anglais/i, even if I am certain that lust is a sin."
Arthur snorted. "You never seem to complain about that particular sin when we're in bed... or on the sofa, or in the shower. I could go on."
Francis stopped suddenly, turning to plant a kiss right on Arthur's lips. "Non, and I expected to be indulging more when we have finished Christmas Eve properly."
"Finished Christmas Eve? Francis, it's nearly 1am already! What more can there be?"
Francis smiled secretively and tugged him along. "You will see."
Francis had sat him down on the couch when they got back to the apartment, and gone into the kitchen. Arthur could hear him moving around in there now, and he switched on the telly to some comedy show while he waited. Damn Francis and his need to be mysterious and French.
It wasn't too long till he emerged at least, a tray in his arms, and he curled up next to Arthur on the sofa, sliding the tray over their knees. "What is this?" Arthur asked, eyes widening as he looked over the tray at the multitude of different little desserts. Mini cheesecake and chocolate mousse, little pastries and a slice each of the iBûche de Noël/i that Francis had made for them instead of a Christmas cake.
Francis passed him a spoon and handed over a little pot of ice-cream first. "I thought that since we are having Christmas dinner tomorrow, a full meal now was a little excessive, but this was always my favourite part of Christmas anyway. Desserts!"
Arthur gave him a serious look. "You do realise that you are quite mad, right?"
"It is tradition!"
"You French will say anything is tradition if it involves food."
"Those are the best traditions, Arthur. Now, eat up! We have all of these desserts to get through and the ice-cream is melting!"
Arthur looked back down at his bowl and then deliberately smeared a dollop of ice cream onto Francis's nose. "So it is. Let me help you," he said with a grin as he leaned in to lick it off.
Christmas morning dawned, bright and clear and anything but white, with Francis and Arthur still curled up together on the couch beneath the thick comforter that Arthur had dragged in from the bedroom. He spent several minutes just watching Francis as he slept, before disentangling himself and staggering into the kitchen to make coffee.
Francis announced his presence by sliding arms around his waist and nuzzling his face against the back of Arthur's neck with a mumbled 'morning' and a yawn before he reached out to grab a mug of coffee. They puttered around in silence for a while, neither of them being particularly fond of mornings, even Christmas mornings, with Arthur having cereal while Francis cooked store-bought croissants for them both.
They were mostly capable of intelligent speech by the time they'd finished.
"We should exchange gifts," Arthur said once they were done and he felt awake enough to switch to tea. He could remember waking on other Christmas mornings, bright and early, and rushing down to tear open his pile of presents. There wasn't a pile of presents for either of them this year, just a few small things, mostly from friends to both of them, but he felt the faint stirrings of the old excitement.
"Let me get dinner started and then I shall join you," Francis agreed, pushing himself to his feet and going to put on the vegetables and the small Turkey crown that they'd managed to get hold of.
Arthur had gathered their presents into a pile next to the fireplace. There just wasn't room under the tree for them, although he had, perhaps blasphemously, slipped a tiny Santa hat onto the head of the Jesus figure in Francis's nativity. Francis hadn't seemed to mind, going on to say that he was certain the Saviour would have awaited Santa with as much eagerness as any other child, had such a custom existed then.
Francis entered, wiping his hands on a dishcloth, and flopped down on the rug next to the fireplace, making grabby hands at the gifts. "Presents! Now!"
"Sometimes," Arthur said, shoving the one from Ludwig and Feliciano towards him, "I swear that you're still five years old at heart."
He seemed to be proven right with the way that Francis tore into the paper with relish, revealing a small hamper of food for them both; chocolate and a German stollen, as well as pate and pasta and a jar of Feliciano's home-made sauce.
Alfred and Matthew had bought them tickets to the ballet in two weeks. "Idiot boys," Arthur muttered fondly, putting the tickets away behind the clock on the mantlepiece for safekeeping. He was surprised that they'd remembered, but glad too. They'd both been wanting to go, but the tickets had long since sold out.
Gilbert had given up as usual and bought them both gift cards and a promise to drag them both out for New Years.
And then Arthur passed over his gift to Francis, muttering about it just being something he'd picked up. This one, Francis took his time over, picking apart the wrapping paper slowly until Arthur wanted to tear it off himself.
"Ah, Arthur, this is..." Francis said, staring down at the little box open in his hands. There was an egg in it, a small one on a gold chain necklace.
"I know you were eyeing them up in the jewellers," Arthur said awkwardly.
"Mon cher... this is Fabergé!"
Arthur flushed bright red to the tips of his ears. "J-just put it on, idiot."
He did, but turned around to make Arthur fasten it for him, and he wouldn't stop touching it afterwards, rolling the egg between his fingers, a soft, pleased smile on his lips. "Ah, I feel quite embarrassed by my gift now," he lamented, pushing a large box towards Arthur. Arthur would swear that he was even pouting.
Arthur tried to torment Francis as much as Francis had tortured him, but in the end gave up and just tore off the gift wrap, and gasped at what he saw. He pulled one of the records out of the case, staring at the vinyl with something akin to reverence. "Oh iFrancis/i," he said, flipping through them.
"Do you like it?" Francis asked.
"Do I like it?" Arthur replied. "It's amazing. I've never been able to find some of these! Some of them are isigned/i. Where did you get them?"
"Ah, I know that you like your vinyl, even now, and so I talked to a friend of mine who has been wanting to sell his collection to make space. Roderich, I think you have met him? He and Elizabeth need the space for the nursery and he would much rather they go to someone who will love them rather than just putting them onto eBay." He twisted his fingers into his shirt. "I hope you do not mind?"
Arthur put the record back with a certain amount of reverence and then practically threw himself at Francis, wrapping arms around him and kissing him silly.
They would have stayed like that, wrapped around each other, warm skin on skin, mouths and hands and the radio playing in the background, but eventually Francis had to pull away. "I should check on dinner or else I might as well have left it to you to cook, non?"
"Oi!" Arthur grumbled, grabbing a cushion from the sofa and whacking him with it. "Get back to work then, if all you're going to do is insult me."
Francis laughed and leaned down to kiss him again, smoothing his thumb against Arthur's cheek before heading back to the kitchen.
Even having only bought a small turkey, and the slim pickings that there had been when it came to vegetables by the time they'd done the shopping, there was still quite possibly enough food to last them for a week. Francis had really outdone himself; the roast potatoes were crisp and browned, the carrots crisp and tasty and the turkey golden and juicy. There were even pigs in blankets, one of Arthur's secret favourites that he'd almost forgotten existed.
"Wine, Arthur?" Francis asked, holding out the bottle of white, ready to pour.
A shadow passed over Arthur's face for a moment and then he shook his head. "I really shouldn't. You know I've been trying to cut down."
Francis gave him a serious look. "And you have been doing splendidly. I do not say that enough, I think." He poured himself a glass and then put it back into the fridge, bringing Arthur a glass of cranberry juice instead.
Arthur caught his wrist lightly, and brought Francis's hand to his lips for a moment, grateful. "Thanks."
"Ah... it is the least I could do. Now, we should eat before the food gets cold, non?"
The phone rang about halfway through dinner, and Arthur frowned as he went to fetch it, not entirely certain who would bother to ring them so early. Alfred and Matthew would barely be awake by now.
"Arthur Kirkland speaking."
The voice on the other end was gruff and far too familiar for Arthur's liking. iIain/i he mouthed to Francis, naming his oldest brother, the one who'd kicked him out last Christmas. Francis scowled, but gathered the plates, putting them into the still warm oven so that the food wouldn't go cold as they talked.
"Arthur, uh, guess I should start with Merry Christmas, right?" Iain said, sounding as uncomfortable as Arthur had ever heard him.
"You don't normally bother," Arthur said, the suppressed resentment bubbling to the surface.
A sigh, and he could just imagine Iain shaking his head at the comment. He half expected him to start shouting. Too like their dad, Iain had been. "I know and I regret it. Have been fer a while. But I figured today's meant to be about family and all that so..."
Arthur snorted. "Cathy's been badgering you hasn't she?" he said. He actually didn't mind Iain's wife too much. She was loud enough to put up with his brother at least.
"Aye, that too," Iain replied, and the humour in his voice made Arthur smile a little. "But look, I have felt bad and I should've called earlier. Not expectin' you to forgive me or anything, but I just wanted to say that... I acted badly, an' I'm sorry for that. An' if you ever want to visit, you're welcome. You and yer boyfriend. The kids'd like it."
Arthur felt a lump growing in his throat, because this wasn't supposed to happen. He was supposed to have stopped caring, cut himself off from them and Iain was making things so idifficult/i, and Francis was watching him with worried eyes and...
"I'd like it too," he said, sounding a bit strangled and before he knew it, Francis had grabbed the phone from him and was talking rapidly to Iain while Arthur sat down, trying to make his hands stop shaking.
"Very well," he heard Francis say. "We shall call later in the week, yes? Au revoir." He passed the phone back to Arthur long enough for him to mumble goodbye, before Francis switched the phone off.
"We should finish up, right?" Arthur said, hating how watery his voice sounded.
Before he could stand, Francis had wrapped arms around him from behind, pulling him back against Francis's chest, holding him tightly. He didn't cry, although part of him wanted to. He felt sort of numb inside, but with bright edges of anger and hurt poking out, and the worst was the fine tendril of happiness that was growing that he barely dared acknowledge.
Francis held him just long enough; he always knew how long that was, somehow. He kissed Arthur's cheek, a chaste gesture, and went to retrieve their food.
It was Francis who kept up most of the conversation for the rest of the meal, chattering about what they could do tomorrow, perhaps a trip to the seaside when it would be deserted, while Arthur ate. Francis's voice was relaxing and he found himself nodding along soon enough, replying with monosyllables and then more as he found himself again.
"We can leave the dishes until later, I think," Francis said when they had both eaten their fill. He refilled their glasses, Arthur's with juice (no matter how much he felt like he needed a hard scotch) and his own with more wine, and led them both back into the lounge where the Christmas tree twinkled in the window.
"I never expected him to call me," Arthur murmured, as Francis wrapped them both in a blanket, a box of chocolates open on his lap and within easy reach of them both.
"Iain?" Francis asked. "Put it out of your mind for now, imon cher/i. We have time enough to deal with him later." He flipped on the TV, switching channels so that they wouldn't miss Doctor Who when it came on.
"Yeah I..." Arthur paused, taking a shuddery breath. "You're right. Just... he had to call when I was having such a nice time. Awkward bastard."
Francis laughed, kissing just below his eat. Arthur squirmed slightly and tilted his head to one side to encourage him. "All of your family are," he said, "but I know one that I would not change for the world."
"Oh?" Arthur said, grinning a little more genuinely. He slid his hand against Francis's thigh, making the other man shiver pleasantly. "You always complain about me being grumpy and awkward."
"Only in jest, I assure you! It is... endearing, yes."
"Just my luck to end up with a schmoozer like you."
"You love it, icherie/i."
Arthur smiled. "Yeah. I kind of do."
Francis leaned in for another kiss, just as the familiar music began on the TV. Arthur ducked out of the way, grinning as he pushed Francis's face away.
"Shut up, it's starting!" he said, in the face of Francis's protests. Francis huffed softly, but there was a smile on his lips as he tucked his head against Arthur's shoulder, their fingers twining together beneath the covers.