AN: Well, here I am, breaking my fanfic cherry. Or orange. Or grapefruit. Hopefully you'll enjoy. Edited the formatting and everything to look quaint.
Once there was a highwayman whose caliber was incredible, and because few could touch him his head was hinted to have a prize attached to its retrieval. His tongue was as swift as his horse's gallop, his swordsmanship was nothing to denounce. Difficult to catch, the highwayman would loot at night and soothsay by day. Some say that was part of his charm; he could snatch away life savings and then make the poor soul believe it was for the better. Lost riches were an opportunity for others to flourish, and flourish the highwayman did. He, being a petty criminal, didn't stay in one place for very long and his horse, black and strong, was a sight whispered about behind closed doors the day after he struck. They said that nobody could touch the rogue without being put in a shallow grave. They speculated he was a phantom, a demon, or perhaps a saint.
Tonight he rode again, infamous pistol and rapier tucked away securely at his side. The excitement of approaching loot thrummed through his veins and warmed him against the gusts of wintery wind against his person. The moon was large, round and golden as if God Himself was giving the crook His blessing. He wasn't a spiritual man in the least but there was one that's blessing he absolutely needed. Opulence could not give him the same joy that the presence of his beloved gave him, nor could a God he couldn't see. The adrenaline proved him living, his love proved him better, and his trade denied him eternal blessings.
The path he traveled was lit like a ribbon under the full moon's light. Up ahead he could make out the too familiar town where his beloved waited. He'd worn his own markings into the dirt path in the frequency he traveled it, nights spent in quiet contemplation to keep him sane until arms could wrap around him by the only person that knew him completely. He was more than a mythos under that adoring attention. The man's thoughts always kept him occupied until he would have to slow his horse to a trot upon entering the town's borders. It would be instant, the curve of lips in an unguarded smile when the two storey building stood at attention off to the side. The Inn always appeared rough in comparison to the man in his smart traveler's clothing and frothy lace, constructed of dark knotted wood. There were no lights on in the first floor and the windows were barred so he went to the side.
Cloaked in the darkness of the night and attention focused on the window above, he didn't hear the low creak of hinges from the nearby stall house. A man in love, even such a capable crook as he, made errors and often the repercussions were severe.
Matthew was a stable boy that was unforgivably quiet. He had grown up with the low building caring after the horses. Caring for the innkeeper's son. That night he had heard the black beauty's gait on the cobbles near the Inn. Knowing it had to be the highwayman (it was rare people other than he traveled at night) the boy had risen, using his placidness as a tool to spy. His was a nature that had Matthew often overlooked but he was polite and dedicated and he loved Alfred. Patience would once again be his arrow.
Nobody saw the hurt in those eyes or the jealousy that heated his blood.
He stared on as if frozen, expression hallow as Alfred made himself known at the window where the horseman waited. (Waited…he'd waited for so long.) And from where he stood clutching the thick wooden door he could hear, as he always heard, that deep voice calling up to the bright-eyed boy.
"Kiss me once for luck my darling; I'm after a prize tonight! Grant me your blessing? The devil himself couldn't keep me from returning to you, and return I will, my crown and treasure intact when the sun begins to shine…" He paused, looked hesitant for a brief moment. "If something should arise and keep me, don't fret. I'll wait until the protection of the moonlight as I have tonight."
The words were heard by the stable boy who formed a plot instead, wanting that affection silenced
Moon and night were more forgiving than the silent man's scorn and illuminated the unnamed man's golden hair as he stood steady in the stirrups to get closer to the youth. Hand outstretched (one that had killed, stolen and gambled), he found the window a foe rather than friend, barely able to touch the fingertips of his lover. A frown came to his face and he tilted his head back to look at the blond haired youth just out of reach.
"Francis, hold steady" Alfred seemed to step back for a moment into the recesses of his room before coming back with a single red rose. "Father found them and got rid of them. I managed to save one though…" The rose was a deep red and smelled sweet when Francis brought it to his nose.
He quietly mourned the bouquet he'd given the proud boy not long ago. There had been more, red as rouge and soft to the touch. The petals that brushed across his face were smooth enough that he could pretend they were the affection he'd pleaded for. Above him, Alfred was smiling, a hint of worry in those open eyes of his. Francis just shook his head and tucked the rose away. I'll be back he promised silently, sitting back on the polished saddle. He spared the Inn one last look as he turned his horse in the direction they'd come, none the wiser for the figure that had slipped away to spoil their reunion.
Alfred's eyes remained on the retreating man. He watched that thin ribbon of road until the Frenchman was no more; nodding to himself as he backed away from the window, Drawing his curtains he hid beneath the sheets for a good while before his eyes closed. He dreamt horrible things and wept privately; knowing nobody would see him now. Misery, it seemed, loved company even when unawares.
Matthew had once cared for a captain's horse for over a week's stay in that small town. As meek as he appeared he was fast to make allies with the man that enjoyed his ego being sufficiently stroked by such a capable youth, no matter how quiet. They had something in common in their dislike for the highwayman, Matthew for his lost love and the captain for the laws Francis kindly disregarded. The highwayman, in short, had become a nuisance. The blond bandit was the slippery kind and had evaded the captain and his troops many times.
The army, while efficient, didn't always see what was right under their noses. The captain had complained in avid detail how the thief was smoke in the night.
It was Matthew's duty to point out the candle.
By the morning the stable boy had wired the surly captain, telling him what he had heard. He revealed, with reluctance, that the Inn owner's son was being seduced by the rogue. The captain, influenced by his hatred for the highwayman, seemed to be more than interested in using this information to sway his enemy's cooperation. He'd promised, curtly, that he would not harm the lover. Blinded by his obsession for the landlord's son Matthew had agreed and with that ended transition.
The Reds would arrive at sundown. The only guilt niggling at his brain was that Alfred would most likely see his lover being dragged away to his fate. He would be there though, ever faithful, to comfort him and in time he would win the prize of Alfred's heart.
Alfred had been instantly taken with the flashy traveler from the moment he'd stepped foot inside his father's Inn. A dutiful son, he'd donned an apron and swept the floorboards thoroughly like the daughter he was sure his father had always wanted. The first words out of the guest's mouth had been colorful swears or what Alfred had assumed were mal-intended with the tone he'd spoken in upon finding himself seated on the (clean) floor. He sounded so incredibly improper then, was vibrant… Instead of helping up the man he'd knocked over he stared, rather openly. Francis, being Francis and French had just turned that elegant head to the side with an expectant look.
"Consider me charmed…" He had smiled then, half-teasing as he picked himself from the floorboards.
The younger boy had no chance but to fall in love with the man, kicking and screaming and swinging his broom about like a madman (all in his head of course). That evening, the conman had charmed his way into Alfred's good graces. It was the least he could do, Francis had cajoled. 'A chance to knock you off your feet as you've done me, cheri.' The highwayman always got what he set his eye on and the young blond with the impossibly blue eyes made him warm. Refusal was a waste of time and Alfred was miserable at suppressing his interest for long.
Their relationship from that point on had been clandestine; moments were taken in the night after candles had been snuffed and the innkeeper could no longer spy. He rode to the Inn. Some nights, some blessed nights Alfred would sneak him upstairs to embrace in ways that would surely promise them eternal Damnation. Sometimes he would wait for him at the side. Then there were nights when the boy's father became suspicious and Alfred couldn't come out at all. He would wait by his window to dutifully wait for the tell-tell signs of Francis' horse racing along the road.
Today had been strangely absent of the lively man. Alfred was ordered to work by his father amid silent protest, slipping away whenever he got the chance to peer out of his window for any reassurance at all, finding nothing. The sun was just beginning to set over the hills, turning the sky and land alike a soft shade of purple that contrasted the stark white of the snowy scenery. The boy's heart felt heavy, fretful like it was trapped though he couldn't place his paranoia. Never would he say that he was worried for the older man; he wasn't some doting damsel and Francis was too conniving to ever get himself caught… despite this, something felt horribly wrong. He was toward the back of the Inn finishing off his chores when the Redcoats finally arrived under the command of the captain Matthew had called upon.
Arthur Kirkland had been predisposed to hating the man by being comically British, therefore disliking the French. To him, the thief was a flighty, promiscuous man that on a whole was lacking any semblance of morals or sophistication. He would wear ornate things and speak with a serpent's tongue – in the end that was all he was. He'd seen Francis go from one person to another, using them until they were dried husks of the individual they used to be. Now he was at it again.
He trusted the quiet stable boy; if Francis wasn't here yet he would just have to be patient and wait for their guest. A man of thinner frame, Arthur still appeared imposing in the parlor of the Inn. Badges gleamed in the lamplight as he settled against the doorframe to investigate the place his contact had sent him. Drab. The walls were dark, and not in the saturated forest tones that he enjoyed, rather reminding him of a brothel he'd gone to once while off-duty. They'd entered the establishment without warning, red uniforms prim and proper, muskets strapped to code. His men, a bit forceful (but he commanded them to be forthright soldiers to serve King George and the Queen), had gone to drinking the innkeeper's ale unattended.
Now that they're properly distracted... He pushed off from the frame to head over the indignant youth he'd seen pacing the back upon the battalion's arrival. This must've been the boy Matthew had mentioned the frog seducing; his suspicions confirmed when bright blue eyes flashed in displeasure.
"What would your name be, lad?" The captain's expression reminded Alfred of how a tamer would look at a wild beast that needed a bit of breaking. Uneasy, he remained silent and put on the front of defiance. The man didn't look physically overpowering, but his rank had given him confidence that made him seem condescending. It was different than how Francis was larger than life – his lover was charming. This man was… he didn't have one word to describe his dislike for the officer.
Sensing that the boy would be trouble the Redcoat gave a clipped sigh. Stupid boy was probably simple if he'd fallen for Francis' wiles. He stepped forward, polished boots making a dull sound against the worn floorboards. The boy seemed to be trying to back towards the counter space without it appearing as if he were retreating at all. Being the more experienced observer between the two, Arthur saw that he was slowly advancing on a set of cutlery.
"Boy, I wouldn't do that if I were you," he paused, gloved hand dipping toward his hilt faster than Alfred could grab for his impromptu weapon to pull out a revolver. It shined, black and mahogany – well taken care of, well to itake care of/i, as Arthur pointed it at Alfred's pretty head. Behind him two of his boys finally made an appearance. "About time" came the terse greeting, eyes trained on the thief's lover. "Now, as I was saying. You, poppet, are going to help us put a very bad man away."
Alfred's eyes widened marginally in shock, strong hands gripping the wooden countertop behind him – he couldn't compete with a gun and stood down from attempting to grab a knife. If he cooperated, or pretended to, perhaps he could figure out an alternative plan. Worrying the inside of his cheek he looked away, unwilling to vocalize defeat. He spoke of nothing, lips set in a line – sharp for his youth as the captain's men strode forward to bind him quickly, gritting his teeth in mild pain when they spared no compassion for the muscles in his arms.
"Gag him, too. He's mute now but we can't guarantee he'll stay that way, men." Obedient to orders, a foul strip of burlap was bound at his mouth and tied taunt, eyes prickling at the corners at the frustration he was feeling, the tug of the knot that had caught some of the fine blond hair at the back of his scalp that would pull sharply if he moved suddenly. The captain, pleased, gave a tiny nod and stepped out of the way of the staircase.
Alfred silently willed his lover away as he was shoved roughly by the men toward the freed space, the threat of that revolver ending his escape prematurely keeping him mildly compliant. He didn't see his father as he ascended the steps and had to control his breathing as panic settled deep within. These men wanted Francis. They couldn't possibly justify killing the older man… him, perhaps. He fraternized, but no; his father was innocent. He would make sure the man lived.
He winced when the soldier's fingers gripped tightly into the tender crook of his arms, a muffled noise barely escaping the coarse fabric. The blond couldn't even look behind him to glare at the captain; he'd learned after the first attempt at looking brought a sharp pain to his back as something pressed in warning there, instantly placating him. The wooden floors groaned in protest for him underfoot and he felt a thrill of righteous anger when Arthur's clipped command had them in his plainly decorated room. There was a narrow bed with sturdy posts, a few papers scattered on a writing desk and a threadbare rug in a deep blue he'd remarked once to resembling the hue of Francis' eyes. He was shoved forward, shoes catching on the edge and wrinkling it.
"Don't make too much of a mess," came the reprimand from the captain. Alfred finally caught his eye and the medaled official's lips curved upward mockingly. That bastard… "Look at this view, son. It's quite nice. Tie him to the bedpost so he can't wiggle away. Give him a view – we are gentleman after all."
Captain's orders were followed of course, to the T. The boy was tied to his own bed, the coarse rope holding strong against his wrists and the dully shining wood. Initially he struggled without trying to hide it, always too stubborn for his own good. When Arthur stepped forward he stilled, staring at the man with the vivid green eyes, breath catching in his throat. He didn't even chance blinking, unsure of what the man would do. It wasn't noticeable, the way that Alfred flinched when the slightly shorter man stopped short of touching chests. From the way Arthur was acting, smile swift, it was debatable if it had genuinely gone unnoticed.
The Redcoat seemed to be enjoying himself, spending a moment to look from the captive boy to the gently sloping road that curved through the hillside. Arthur could see it now: the highwayman, that stupid, insufferable man too proud for his own good coming on his horse, unawares. His men would shoot him down like the meaningless trash he was, and then this dear, sweet, stubborn boy would be free of his spell. It was part of the bargain with Matthew of course. Whatever happened after tonight didn't concern him, but he did like the quiet understanding of the stable boy. He wondered if he was watching in the shadows.
A hand went to brush over that amber blond hair. It was probably soft to the touch, just like his skin – he really didn't care enough to remove his gloves in order to confirm or deny. After all, he wasn't interested in wooing the pathetic boy who had fallen over an old rival. He chuckled instead, tapping a single finger along a fair cheek. "Can you see the road? Midnight's approaching, boy." He hurried along, looking much too pleased. "I want you to keep a good eye out for that horseman. That robber that seduced you is wanted in several villages for the looting and killing of innocent souls." Alfred had to breathe deeply through his nose to keep himself from gagging on his own spite. You're a liar!
"There, there... All you have to do is sit here, poppet. Oh, and I'll have to ask a favor. Hold this for me, no? That's a good lad." Arthur's tone of voice feigned sympathy as he brushed his mouth over the youth's cheek in a chaste kiss, taking the musket from his back, setting it so it rest against the swell of Alfred's ribs, heavy metal pressing against the course cloth of his shirt. It was as if Arthur were gloating to put the gun so close at hand. Heart beating strongly in his chest, he stared at the man's vivid red uniform and imagined other red things he would like to see run.
The captain had his back turned to the captive. His window was just a few feet away from where he was unwillingly tied. The men that had accompanied their captain kneeled by it now, shouldering aside the heavy drapery to get a better view of their target. Quietly he worked, attention torn between the ache in his wrists and shoulders and the waning sunlight that sent a chill over the room. The promise Francis had left him with not even a day ago resonated and he knew that he would come riding down that thin ribbon of road once moonlight was his only companion. Somehow the redcoat knew as well though he couldn't begin to fathom how he'd discovered that.
Francis, wonderfully flamboyant and free-spirited man that he was would have no clue that the one window he planned on visiting tonight would result in a chest full of musket balls. Arthur would probably whisper for his men to stand down while he took out that handsome revolver and shoot him down for his own sick sense of justice. Alfred's heart clenched at the thought; mind suddenly lively with plotting amends. If he could just break free he'd have a chance of turning the musket on them. He sucked in a quiet breath, steadying himself as he attempted to wiggle from his binds with renewed fervor. Wrists flush with the bedpost it didn't look good; having to clench his jaw at the rope rubbing his skin raw. He wouldn't dare look down in fear of it being more noticeable that he was trying to get away.
It was questionable if having a large clock to chime off the hour, minutes, and seconds was a blessing or a curse. Located downstairs, the grandfather clock worked unhindered by the troop's presence and drove the landlord's son into a more frantic state. He barely felt the pain in his wrists now, well worn from the subtle tug and pull against the rope that kept even his fingers immobile. To the captive, every sound – every tic and rustle rang like a triumphant bell toll. In addition, he was unsure of the slickness blossoming from his wrists, not knowing if it was simply sweat or blood, but he didn't think of stopping. Nothing seemed to turn the men's attention and for a brief moment he prayed. Please let me step away from this. Let Francis escape just once more.
The trio of Redcoats was talking amongst themselves in hushed tones, watching the hillside and the cobbled street below. Pinks and purples had slowly deepened into navy and pitch and the moon that had been so prominent the night before shone like a promise from some higher power. Alfred almost gave himself away when he managed to free a finger that brushed against the trigger. Immortality would be meaningless without the other man. He paused though, closed his eyes. The musket still weighed heavily against his back and another chill ran through him, foreboding. He'd barely heard it at first, not above every other nuance but it was there and more obvious by the passing second. Below them the grandfather clock sounded with a midnight chime. As if playing to a duet, the beginning clip clops broke the silence of the night. His eyes strained behind his spectacles as he searched that silvery band of road. They continued to converse, they hadn't heard.
He stood up straighter, the finger that had wriggled loose tracing the trigger to gain purchase. It was strange, realizing that the heart thudding in his chest would soon take an infinite skip. Alfred's hand shook, or it would have if he hadn't been bound and with one last reassuring look out the window he knew what he had to do. The blond wouldn't be stepping away from this situation alive, but if his beloved got another chance at least part of his prayers could be answered, however lowly they were. Six, seven, eight – he couldn't tell if he was counting chimes or his pulse – nine, and there he was over the crest of the hill. Everything ceased at the sight of the impressive mare racing down that well-traveled road. Mounted, Alfred could make out that Francis was sitting tall. He was alright… A voice broke the silence and reminded the youth that this would be a homecoming like no other.
"There's that ingrate. Ready your guns."
Alfred obliged the captain's orders, finger poised. He took one good look at the approaching form, knowing that if he didn't act now that Francis would unknowingly head toward his demise. The briefest hope that they would be reunited one day flashed behind his eyelids as his finger pulled the trigger in one swift movement. The final chime was muted by the sound of the musket firing, hitting its mark and clattering to the floorboards. The restraints held true and kept the boy from following. Outside, unknowing of what had transgressed in his lover's room, Francis took the shot as omen to turn around. Over the hill he went to safety, far from the redcoat's ire.
The next morning word of what had happened reached the highwayman's ears from a nameless stable boy that he couldn't help but trust. Ashen and ready for vengeance he returned to the crest of the hill, weapons brandished. He no longer had anything to lose. Every time he'd set out before it had been with caution, the promise of that open grin greeting his return acting as a failsafe to his recklessness. There was no failsafe according to his source. His sweet Alfred had been slumped over like a ragdoll by his own hand and the older man was feeling particularly wrathful. He would take down the King's men himself without remorse or die trying.
With that less than soothing thought he sent his heel against his steed to urge her forward, the faster to his destination the better. His attire was noble and poised but there was madness in his eyes. Francis didn't see him as he rode, didn't see the vivid flash of color as he shifted from behind the old barren trees. He himself wore red and the anger that coursed hotly through him clouded his usual talents for observation. It was Arthur, irate from a delayed capture that set up his shot just as the Frenchman passed him down the road, shielded by the thicket. One, two, three – a direct hit to the back, upper torso. Ironic that the lovers would have matching bullet holes to accompany them in their solitary pine boxes. The captain stood on spot as he watched the horse spook and throw the dying man …perhaps already dead, the beautifully costumed body landing in the dirt. Blood pooled and the rapier fell just short of his lifeless fingers.
Seeing no movement the captain finally stepped forward, humming a child's lullaby under his breath. He stooped to pick up the jeweled rapier, turning it over in his hands before looking down at the fair-skinned man, careful to avoid stepping in the mess. For a moment Arthur stared unblinkingly as if finally seeing something of mild importance, kneeling on his haunches to get closer to the unseeing set of eyes. "It was a good game, old friend. All things come to an end though. I know you'd understand, y'nancy." His lips curved into a deprecating sort of smile and he stood back up to his full height, shaking his head. Arthur didn't know what happened after one died and didn't care to find out any time soon.
Horse gone and life light extinguished, there were no venomous words for the soldier as he took the dead man's sword. Arthur had his own prizes. He would complain later, in his older years, that the lovers haunted his dreams. Not once did he regret.