A/N: Sorry for the long wait. I've been busy with life and my other fics. Thank you for all the wonderful feedback! I never knew there is so much love for this pair! I was astounded to check my story stats and find that this fic has the most alerts out of all my stories. The number is in the three digits now and I seriously nearly flipped. I love you all (even you lurkers out there!) :'D
This chapter is sort of long again, which is odd because it wasn't supposed to be OTL
Disclaimer: I don't own Hetalia.
Extra Notes: Belle = Belgium, Angelique = Seychelles, Katyusha = Ukraine
It's Not Me, It's You:
Francis counted to three before he unlocked the door to his apartment. He walked inside with his eyes closed, counted to three once more and then slowly opened them. His apartment was as he had left it. In fact, it even looked cleaner than before. The carpets had been washed, the wood polished and the glass dusted. Francis had anticipated chaos, not order and he couldn't believe that Gilbert had achieved this level of order in the two weeks he had been away. After cooking—which he was completely useless at—keeping the apartment neat was the duty that Gilbert most often neglected. Francis usually overlooked this because of Gilbert's long hours working to get the bar set up. He wondered what had caused his temporary muse to do a 180°, but had a sneaking suspicion that money was involved. As much as he would have liked to believe that Gilbert had done this for him—to make him happy—Francis knew the other man well enough by now to know this his 'good deeds' all came with price tags. He was thinking about what Gilbert could possibly want from him now when he heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Gilbert poked his head around the corner and broke into a wide grin when he saw Francis standing there.
"You're back!" he said, as usual, too loud. "I thought at first it was the cleaning lady. She's late today."
So that explained the spotless apartment. Francis knew that this shouldn't have come as too great a surprise.
"So how was Paris?" Gilbert asked as he strolled over.
"As it always is—beautiful and full of tourists. But it was nice to finally have a real break. Where did you find a cleaning lady?" Francis said.
"Phonebook," Gilbert said casually.
Francis was still suffering from slight jetlag so he decided to save his critical comments for the next day.
"Well, at least the apartment looks good," he said. "Did you miss me?"
Gilbert snorted. "Are you serious? For two weeks straight I had this whole place to myself. No 'writing time', no snooty comments about my awesome wardrobe and no stupid errands. I was in heaven."
"Then maybe I should go on holiday more often," Francis said, his tone only slightly bitter.
Smirking, Gilbert walked closer to him. Francis held up his bag, expecting him to take it and was shocked when Gilbert leaned in to kiss him. It was surprisingly soft, with tenderness that Francis didn't know he possessed. What was most significant though was that the kiss said everything that Gilbert didn't aloud.
Gilbert stepped back, still smirking and said softly, "Welcome back."
Francis refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing how pleased he was. "I suppose that's one way to say it," he said coolly before dropping his bag in Gilbert's arms. "Put this and the rest of my luggage in my room. I'll be in the kitchen."
Gilbert chuckled as he reached down to pick up the rest of the bags. "Yes boss," he said.
Not bothering to correct him, Francis went to the kitchen and received his second surprise of the say. On the middle of the table sat an unopened bottle of wine; tied around the neck was a bright red ribbon. It was clearly a welcome back present and he didn't have to think for a second to know whom it was from. He picked up the bottled and saw that it was a 1995 Bordeaux Blend, straight out of Napa Valley—both a good year and grape type.
"He's trying too hard," Francis said to himself, but he was smiling. "Though I could never say no to such a gift. I suppose I should say thank you now." He took a glass from the cabinet and poured himself a drink.
He was lazily flipping through the large stack of mail that had been left for him on the table alongside the wine when Gilbert came into the kitchen.
"I see you found the wine," he said.
"I did and I must say that you have a lovely taste in gifts," Francis said. He set his half-empty glass on the counter and walked up to Gilbert until their faces were only inches apart. Then he leaned in further to whisper against his mouth, "I don't say this often but thank you." Then he kissed him, not sweet or soft, but hungrily and needy. He backed him up against the wall, wanting something that he had denied himself not just for two weeks but for more than two months. Gilbert reacted almost instantly, kissing him back just as fiercely, just as demanding. He reached up to tangle his hands in Francis's hair, long fingers tugging at the red bow that held everything perfectly together until it unraveled. The ribbon fell—immediately forgotten—from Gilbert's hand to the floor and he twirled those dark gold locks around his fingers, loving their feel—their silky softness—against his skin. Francis seldom let Gilbert touch him and he had never let him touch his hair except on the night of the award nominations. For that short moment he had let down his guard and given Gilbert a peek at his long-suppressed wanting nature, only to slam down his defenses minutes later. That had been over two weeks ago but it had been on Gilbert's mind ever since. Now, as Francis pressed him harder against the wall, their tongues sliding over each other, he wondered if his waiting was finally over.
Francis was thinking along the same lines. While on holiday, he had finally decided that he didn't care what Antonio thought or said. Gilbert was no Arthur. He wouldn't cry or whine if Francis didn't give him what he wanted. He wouldn't fall in love with him and then leave him. And, most importantly, he was only temporary. So Francis would do what he wanted with him and what he wanted now was to have him on his back on the table, writhing in pleasure and screaming his name. He sucked on Gilbert's lower lip and then bit down on it, not gently, the muffled moan that escaped Gilbert's mouth falling beautifully, wonderfully, deliciously on his ears. His hands were just reaching down to begin unbuttoning Gilbert's shirt when he heard the sound of the front door opening.
"Francis!" said a cheerful voice that belonged to none other than his editor. "I know you're here! Where are you hiding?"
Immediately, Francis pulled away from Gilbert. He reached down to snatch the red ribbon from the floor and tied his hair back. Then he grabbed his glass from the counter, threw back the remainder of the wine and then quickly refilled the glass, hopping it would explain his flushed features.
"Say nothing," he whispered to Gilbert, who was still leaning against the wall, his eyes dazed and face equally as red.
Less than a second later Angelique burst into the kitchen, sporting her trademark twin tails as well as a wide grin.
"There you are," she said happily."Welcome back!" It took her two leaps and a step to reach Francis.
"Hello, darling," he said, sweeping her into a tight hug. "And it's good to be back."
"I see you found my gift," she said proudly.
Francis raised an eyebrow. "Gift? What gift?" he asked.
Angelique smiled up at him as if she found his confusion endearing. "The wine of course. I spent a pretty penny on it so don't expect a Christmas present this year. My goodness Francis, you take your first real vacation in three years and run off to Paris for two weeks. I can't believe it but I actually missed you. Antonio did too. I stopped by his place yesterday and I found him looking at his watch with such intensity that I had to ask what in the world he was doing and he said that he was counting down the minutes until your plane landed. Isn't that the sweetest thing? I'm betting that he'll be here in no more than ten minutes."
Francis only nodded. He had barely heard anything Angelique had said. He was staring at Gilbert, who was looking almost sheepish now that the truth was out. Angelique finally noticed that he wasn't giving her his full attention and reached up to tap his arm.
"Hello? Earth to Francis. I'm trying to tell you how much your friends missed you. Are you even listening? What are you looking at?" She spun around. "Oh, it's you," she said coldly, having just only noticed Gilbert standing there. She and Kirkland had never gotten along but that didn't mean she had to approve of his replacement, especially when said replacement was only a temporary but seemed to be having the strangest effect on her friend and favorite client. Francis's writing style was changing. When she had first noticed it and mentioned it to him he had quickly reverted back to his natural style. However, since then, it had been slowly shifting to something that she wasn't sure yet if she liked. Francis still wrote wonderfully but in all the years she had known him, despite all the different people he had been with, his writing style had always been more or less consistent. He changed muses—the sources of his inspiration—but this almost never affected his final product. Even with Kirkland, it was not that Francis had written differently, but that he had written better. At the moment, the changes were barely noticeable but if he kept up as he was critics' tongues would start wagging and the readers would start scratching their heads, wondering why the last quarter of the book sounded so different from the rest of it. So, although Francis's new boy toy—she secretly enjoyed the media label—might have done nothing to directly offend her, she still harbored a slight dislike for him and what he was doing, even though he most likely didn't know he was doing it.
"Yep, just the awesome me," Gilbert responded smoothly to her chilly look. "Just hanging out here. Being awesome."
"Now that Francis is back I expect you both to work extra hard to make up for all the lost time, okay?" Angelique said.
Gilbert grinned. "Don't worry, I'll make sure to keep him working very hard," he said.
Francis glared at him over Angelique's shoulder but quickly smiled when she turned back around to face him.
"At least he has a good work ethic," she said.
At that moment they all looked up at the sound of the front door slamming open.
"Francis? Are you home?" said an excited voice.
"Oh, it's Antonio. And right on time," Angelique said happily before running out to greet him, leaving Francis and Gilbert alone in the kitchen.
"You lied," Francis said as soon the door swung shut.
Gilbert smirked. "You assumed."
"I take back my thank you."
"I could care less about your thank you but I'll keep the feeling of your tongue fucking my mouth."
Francis narrowed his eyes. "Enjoy it because that's the last time that will ever happen," he said before he strode out of the kitchen.
"So he says," Gilbert said, the grin on his face nothing less than mischievous.
"I have a surprise for you," Antonio said the next day in a sing-song voice.
Francis had stopped by the restaurant to give him some documents from Gilbert, who had rushed out the door as soon as the clock had struck 12. He had been halfway out the door when he had asked if Francis could drop the folder he had left on the table off at Antonio's. Before Francis could say no, the door had slammed shut. He had been severely tempted to leave the papers where they were—his small form of revenge for Gilbert tricking him the day before—but he had already been planning to visit Antonio so it wasn't as if he was going out of his way.
Francis now dropped the folder onto Antonio's desk and said, "I'm not sure I can handle any more surprises this week. This is from Gilbert by the way."
Antonio picked up the folder and flipped through the documents inside. "So you're running errands for him now?" he asked amused.
"No," Francis snapped. "I just thought, since I was coming over here anyway, I might as well bring them with me. I'm being nice. Remember, I'm not completely heartless."
Antonio chuckled and slipped the folder into a drawer. "I know you're not. You just pretend to be."
"Just like you pretend to be an oblivious moron?" Francis shot back.
Antonio only smiled in response and settled into his chair. "So, do you want to hear the good news or not?"
Francis sighed and sat down on the edge of Antonio's desk. "Tell me now, before the suspense kills me," he said dryly.
"You know my friend, the artist? He's finally available to work for you. If you end Gilbert's contract tonight, he can fly in from Greece in tomorrow. Isn't that great?"
Francis said nothing. He pushed himself off the desk and went to the wall where Antonio kept his awards and certificates. He could faintly see himself in the large glass case and frowned at his reflection. This news was surprising but what was most shocking was how it made him feel. He should have felt elated, gleeful, even relieved, but, instead, he felt cold and crushed as if Antonio had dropped a bag of bricks on his head.
"You are happy, aren't you Francis?" Antonio asked. "This means no more having to deal with Gilbert. I thought you would have been jumping up and down by now."
Francis turned back around to face Antonio and answered, choosing his words carefully, "It's not as if the thought of being rid of that irritant doesn't fill me with joy but I can't let him go, not now. We finally have a good system set up and I'm writing well enough that, at this rate, the last book will be done by December. To switch now would throw everything off schedule. I need Gilbert until I'm done with the book and then I'll get rid of him." He was not quite sure he could believe the words coming out of his own mouth. How many times had he fantasized about kicking Gilbert and his planet-sized ego to the curb and finally having someone who would work without complaint, be polite, considerate, neat—basically everything Gilbert wasn't. Now, the last thing he wanted was a new muse. Gilbert was his, until he finished the book of course. That was the most important thing: the book, his writing and the awards of course. Gilbert was just another means to help him achieve his much deserved reward and acclaim. At least this was what he told himself.
"Are you sure?" Antonio asked, struggling to keep the smile out of his voice and off his face. "There's no guarantee that I'll be able to get this guy to come back in four and a half months. This could be your only chance to switch."
"It's a risk I'm willing to take," Francis said.
"Okay then, I'll let him know. Wow, and I thought I was the one with the surprise."
"Guess you don't know me as well as you thought."
Antonio knew Francis better than he knew himself but he didn't say this and only smiled and said, "So how goes the celibate life? Unless you and Gilbert…"
Francis snorted. "No, we haven't and just because I'm not sleeping with him doesn't mean I'm celibate. I'll have you know that I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the most charming woman in Paris—a university student by the name of Camille. I don't think I've seen anyone with lovelier legs. She thought it was wild and romantic—being involved with an older man and all but burst into tears at the airport when I was leaving. She gave me her number and address but they must have fallen out of my bags on the plane. I will miss those legs though."
Antonio shook his head. "Always the heartbreaker you are," he said.
Francis smirked. "And don't forget it."
In Paris, Francis had slept soundly each night, waking up when he pleased unless he had company. He had hoped that the time off would have been good for him and although he felt refreshed in body, in mind he was still restless and unnerved. He couldn't pinpoint the source of this mental stress but it was slight enough that, at first, he could ignore it and settle back into the daily motions of his life.
The two weeks he had been gone hadn't made Gilbert any less obnoxious or tactless and he still hadn't learned how to cook but, for the first time, Francis viewed these mannerisms, while still highly irritating, as a part of who Gilbert was and he accepted them. Little by little, he was accepting Gilbert and more and more he felt a strange reluctance to finish the book because, when it was done, they would be over and Francis had no more excuses to give Antonio.
His new-found comfort with Gilbert didn't keep them from bickering, however. One night they had a particularly nasty argument that ended with Gilbert storming out of the apartment, yelling expletives over his shoulder.
"That little fuck," Francis hissed after the door had slammed shut. He glanced down at his laptop and saw that in the two hours that he had been sitting there he had written less than a paragraph. When he reread what he had written he found that not only did it make little sense but he had skipped a whole chapter. Angrily, he deleted all the text on the page and then shut down his laptop. He had a terrible headache. He didn't expect Gilbert to be back before midnight so he turned off the lights and went to bed early. He couldn't believe it when he woke up the next morning and saw that the time on the bedside clock was 5:00 a.m.
"Not this again," he groaned, sitting up.
Knowing that there was no point staying in bed he got up and went to find his 'jogging' attire. Before he left, he peeked into Gilbert's room and saw that the bed was empty. Gilbert rarely stayed out past four and Francis couldn't help but feel apprehensive. He hoped that he hadn't gotten into a fight or ended up in jail because he wasn't in the mood to go to the hospital or go downtown to post bail. If Gilbert wasn't back when he returned he would call around, but until then, Francis forced him out of his thoughts and went to the park.
The old woman wasn't surprised to see him. The ducks didn't care.
"Francis…Francis. Francis. Fran...cis…cah. Francis!"
"What?" Francis yelled finally.
"I'm bored," Gilbert said. He was lying upside down on the couch with one foot hanging over the backrest and the rest of him in danger of sliding off completely.
The clock on the wall read 8:00; they had finished early that evening. Francis had a headache and hadn't been able to write more than two pages before throwing in the towel. He still had a whole week to finish the chapter before Angelique would start harassing him.
"Don't you have a barstool that you could be passed out on now?" Francis asked.
"That place is closed for renovations and everywhere else sucks," Gilbert said.
"What about your business buddy?"
"Visiting him brother. And of course Belle and her brother had to go to Vegas for a week. Fuck my life."
"Well those are my only suggestions. Now shut up. I'm reading."
Francis was actually engaging in his favorite guilty pleasure—reading Elizabeta's blog. Officially, the blog was written by 'theangryfryingpan' but he had known it was her ever since she had posted a scathing entry five years prior about his penchant for occasionally putting his hair in rollers before bed. The only person who had know he did this was his muse at the time, a loud-mouthed Polish man with more thought for horses than literature. Less than a week after he had quit, Antonio had reported seeing him and Elizabeta sitting together at a café. Even then Elizabeta had been head over heels in love with Roderich—probably dreaming every night about an engagement ring that would most likely never come—so it was unlikely that they had been there for a romantic meeting. Francis had had Antonio do some research and they had discovered that his ex-employee and Elizabeta were old friends. The next day the entry had appeared on the blog, the late night comedians had had a field day and Francis now only had rollers put in his hair at the salon. However, as much as he personally disliked her, Francis couldn't deny that Elizabeta had a talent for finding scandalously good gossip; not just about a select group of people either, but everyone—Francis just happened to be one of her favorite targets. Somehow, Antonio had managed to evade her all these years.
The most recent blog entry dealt with the suspiciously hasty marriage of a reality TV star and her boyfriend of barely three months, who had recently filed for divorce from his wife of seven years, with whom he had three children. Theangryfryingpan speculated that one of the reasons for the speedy nuptials was the recent wedding of one of the TV star's sisters and her own recent split from her third boyfriend in two years, who had gone on to marry an Italian model in a lavish ceremony.
'Looks like someone has a little green-eyed monster. A sex tape might have brought you to fame , hun but perfect ass-sets won't buy you love,' theangryfryingpan said and Francis could practically hear Elizabeta's voice, dripping with sarcasm. She gave the marriage two and a half months. Her predictions were always scarily accurate. The entry had only been posted an hour before but there were already over a thousand comments. From time to time, Francis would even leave one, anonymously of course.
He looked up at the sound of a shout followed by a loud thud and saw that Gilbert was no longer on the couch and was now lying in a heap on the floor.
"I'm so fucking bored," Gilbert said into the carpet.
Francis decided to show him some pity. Sighing, he powered down his laptop and stood up.
"Get off my floor. We're going out to eat," he said.
Gilbert lifted his head up from the carpet. "Really? Where? Antonio's?"
"No, it's a surprise."
"Is this like a date or something?" Gilbert asked grinning as he got to his feet.
Francis rolled his eyes. "Sure, if you want it to be," he said.
"I wish I had known earlier. I would have brought you a present," Gilbert said.
"Another bottle of wine?" Francis said as they stepped into the hallway.
"Depends on what you're offering this time—ouch! What was that for?" Gilbert whined, rubbing his arm.
"I know this place," Gilbert said when they arrived at the restaurant. "I've never been here before though. Their prices are too damn high."
"It's the price of quality," Francis said, stepping out of the car.
"Here you go on about 'quality' again."
"Do you want to go back to the apartment?"
Gilbert ignored the threat. "So how are we getting in? This place always has at least a three week waiting period for a reservation."
"Maybe for people like you," Francis said smugly. "I'm acquainted with owner."
"Which means you fucked him, right?"
Francis opened his mouth to fire back a snappy retort when something caught his eye.
"Odd," he said. "It's Friday night and the parking lot is deserted. Where is everyone?"
"Are you sure that they're even open?" Gilbert asked.
"All the lights are on. Let's go inside."
They found that the front doors were unlocked and the large fountain that graced the middle of the waiting area flowing. Behind a small desk stood a young man who frowned when he saw Francis and Gilbert.
"Excuse me sirs, but we're closed for tonight," he said in a fake British accent. Francis had lived with Arthur for almost three years and knew when someone was trying—and failing—to sound more sophisticated than they actually were. Personally, he found nothing appealing about the accent.
"Then why does it look like you're open?" Gilbert asked.
"The whole restaurant has been booked for a private event and, unless you have invitations, I must ask you to leave."
"No one tells me to lea—" Gilbert began.
Francis cut him off. "I'm a personal friend of the owner," he said calmly. "Is he here?"
"I'm sure you are," the man said with a slight sneer, "and no, he is not. Now you must leave at once."
"Is there, like, a problem over here? Ryan, why are you speaking in that weird accent?" said a voice. They all turned to see a finely dressed man with short light blond hair and striking green eyes walking towards them. "Omg, Francis is that you?"
"Nice to see you again, Feliks," Francis said. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the stuck up man had gone pale. "Seen Elizabeta lately?"
Feliks Łukasiewicz, the owner of the restaurant—the world famous Pink Pony—tossed his blond hair and laughed. "You'll, like, never forgive me for that, will you Francis? I seriously had no clue Lizzy had it out for you."
"She still does."
"Wait, are you two talking about Elizabeta Hédeváry? Miss Evil Incarnate?" Gilbert asked, butting into the conversation.
Feliks frowned at him. "I totally don't know who you are."
"You should. Gilbert Beilschmidt."
"The name doesn't ring a bell. Are you like a German chocolate maker or something?"
"He's working for me actually," Francis said.
"Whoa, Really? What happened to Arthur?" Feliks asked.
Gilbert scowled and wondered if everyone in the world knew goddamn Arthur Kirkland.
"He quit," Francis said shortly.
"Bummer. And I was going to ask him how he, like, grew his eyebrows so big," Feliks said. He turned back to Gilbert. "Ya know, I used to work for Francis too. You should totally watch out."
Gilbert shot Francis a look but Francis was too busy examining the intricate floor designs to notice.
Feliks continued, "We had this, like, huge falling out back then but we're BFFs now but not really because Toris is my BFF but if I had to choose a second one it would be Francis. He even helped me jumpstart my business. Too bad he'll never forgive me for 'selling him out' to Lizzy. Omg Francis, do you still wear those hair—"
"So what's going on here tonight?" Francis asked quickly. "Who in the world has enough money to rent this whole place out?"
"You remember Toris's ex-boss?"
"Ex? Toris quit?"
"Well maybe if you, like, visited more than once a year you would know that Toris quit six months ago," Feliks said. "He works as the manager here now. Can you believe it? I thought he would never leave that place."
"Same," Francis said. "But Braginski let him go that easily?"
"No way. Toris had to call all these people and file a bunch of annoying paperwork before he could finally escape but Braginski is still after him. He comes by here all the time, always asking for Toris like a major creep and even followed Toris home a bunch of times. The guy just doesn't get the message. So yeah, anyway, he comes in here yesterday, acting like a total serial killer of course, and says that he wants to book the whole restaurant for his older sister's bachelorette party tonight. At first I was like, 'hell to the no' because first, he's insane and scary as fuck and second, I have people who've been waiting for a month just to get a table in here. Then he told me what he was willing to pay and even when the customer is a certified Mr. Hyde there's a certain amount that you just can't say no to. So as much as it made me feel totally gross, I said yes. The only good thing about all of this is that he won't actually be here cause it's, like, you know, a bachelorette party. Toris still bets he shows up though, like Freddy Krueger on Halloween."
"That's actually really frightening," Francis said. "Has Toris ever considered a restraining order?"
Feliks flipped his hair again. "I told him to get one but he said it was a waste of time and money and probably wouldn't do anything. Sometimes I don't know what's wrong with him. If he had one then I would have had a legal reason to say no to Braginski but now we have to deal with him and the rest of his cuh-razy family."
"I'm guessing that we can't stay then," Francis said.
"Omg, of course you can," Feliks said happily. "I'll put you in one of the back tables. How could I saw no to my favorite former boss? I almost miss calling you that, boss."
Gilbert felt his eye twitch when Feliks said the title. He viewed 'boss' as his own personal address for Francis. It sounded completely wrong to hear someone else say it.
"Really? That's great," Francis said.
"It's no problem. Hey Ryan, two menus," Feliks said to the man behind the desk.
"My name is Josh, sir," the man said weakly.
"Omg, why do you keep talking like that? Stop it, it's so weird," Feliks said before reaching into the desk and taking the menus himself. "You two can follow me."
The Pink Pony was not an exceptionally large restaurant—it could hold up to 50 people max—but it made up for this with its sheer elegance. The gold bordered ceiling, which had been brilliantly painted to depict various mythological creatures—the largest and most prominent being the Pegasus—was held up by four ionic style white marble pillars. According to Feliks, the light pink and gold glazed floor tiling had been designed in Tuscany. Pale silk curtains had been strewn across the windows and added an air of simplicity and romanticism to the setting. Tonight, a large banquet table stood in the middle of the restaurant. It had been decorated with sunflowers and long white unlit candles in golden tapers, which were positioned at both ends as well as at the center of the table. Name cards had been placed in front of each chair.
"I still can't believe Arthur's gone. He was like your best," Feliks said as he led them to the back. "And I can't believe I haven't read about it on Lizzy's blog. Oh shit, you're not supposed to know that."
"Thanks to you, I've known about her blog for years," Francis said. "And yes, it is strange that she hasn't mentioned it yet, especially since she found out weeks ago." He had expected a scorching entry following the award nominations but when he had checked the blog there had only been a small snarky post about his wardrobe that night. It wasn't like Elizabeta to let such a story slip through her fingers and he wondered if she was planning something else.
"So how did it happen? Did Kirkland just up and leave? Did he throw things? Remember how I threw that brush at your head? It all seems so silly and stupid now. Did he cry? He always seemed like the type to cry," Feliks said nonchalantly, unaware of the angry glare Gilbert was directing at him.
"I would rather not talk about Arthur right now," Francis quietly, but firmly. "He's not my favorite subject at the moment."
"Oh I totally understand. I remember it took us months to finally talk to each other again but all's well that ends well, I guess."
A door on the side of the restaurant opened and out of it hurried a man in a dark suit; he looked nervous and frantic as he approached them.
"Feliks, they'll be here any second," he said quickly. "Oh, hi Francis, what are you doing here? Who's this? Where's Arthur? Did you two have another fight?" The questions all fell out of his mouth in a jumbled, rapid stream.
"He and Kirkland broke up, Toris," Feliks said before Francis could answer. "This is his new guy, Gilbert. He's not a German chocolate maker by the way. I'm putting them in one of the back tables."
"Oh, okay, good," Toris said distractedly. He kept glancing back and forth between them and the front of the restaurant. "Look, I would stay and chat but I'm sure Feliks has already told you who's coming tonight and they'll be here soon and I have to meet them at the front. Enjoy your meal!" He hurried off, nearly bumping into one of the tables.
"I swear he's on the verge of a mental breakdown," Feliks said. "I would have had him stay home tonight but Braginski specifically asked that he be working. Damn it."
Feliks led them to a small table tucked around a corner and shielded by a long drapery so they were hidden from site.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, setting the menu's down on the table. "I have to make sure Toris's head hasn't exploded yet. Do you want your usual Francis?"
"Of course," Francis said. "And take your time, we're in no hurry."
"Feliks! They're here! They're here!" called Toris, his voice verging on hysteria.
Feliks sighed, "Gosh, I just know this night is going to, like, end up flipping insane." He pushed the curtain aside and walked quickly back to the front.
"If I had known it was going to be like this, I would have just gone to Antonio's," Francis said.
"Who's this Braginski guy anyway?" Gilbert asked.
"You must be living under a rock if you don't know."
"Stop being a snot and just tell me."
Francis scowled at him and said, "He's the owner of one of the world's largest oil and gas companies. The headquarters are in Moscow but he has a building here in the city as well so he's around often."
"What makes him such a freak?"
"He's not the most…pleasant person to work for, or so I've heard. There are rumors that he has his own underground criminal organization—a post Cold War KGB—that don't hesitate to get rid of people causing them problems or getting in their way."
Gilbert gave a low whistle. "Fuck," he said. "And your buddy was working for him?"
"He was actually Braginski's personal secretary, believe it or not. I cannot imagine what he had to go through. He was with him for almost six years and is somehow still sane, for the most part," Francis said.
"This guy sounds majorly fucked up," Gilbert said.
"I have heard that he's more mentally unstable than actually malicious but I don't feel personally obligated to find out if this is true. Enough about Braginski though, what do you want?"
"Are you paying?"
Francis rolled his eyes. "Obviously. I asked you here, didn't I?"
Gilbert pretended to blush. "And it was so kind of you to do so," he said. He flipped open his menu and began scanning the appetizers. "By the way, I was just wondering if everyone in this city has worked for you."
Francis held back a groan; he had been expecting a question like this.
Gilbert continued, "Just how many people have had the honor of calling you 'boss'?"
"Why does that suddenly matter?" Francis asked.
"It doesn't," Gilbert said, his face still hidden by the menu, "I was just curious…boss. And did you take Kirkland everywhere with you because everyone seems to know him so well."
"We were together for almost three years, what do you expect? What's with all the questions?"
"I already told you, I was just curious," Gilbert said evenly. "I'm just beginning to think that I have pretty big shoes to fill considering how amazing Kirkland seemed to be."
Gilbert finally set down his menu and Francis saw that his eyes were dark.
"I can't decide what I want," he said. "Order for me, I'm going to the bathroom."
He stood up and pushed past the curtains before Francis could stop him.
"What was that all about?" Francis said to himself.
Gilbert glared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, ignoring the scalding water than flowed over his hands. He didn't understand why he had suddenly gotten upset but he did know that he was tired of hearing: "What happened to Arthur?" followed by a look of sympathy whenever he introduced himself. Once more Elizabeta had fucked him over. If she had posted about Francis and Arthur's break-up on her stupid secret blog then everyone would know that they were officially over and the annoying questions would stop. He couldn't help but think about what she had told him on the night of the award nominations, although he still refused to accept anything that came out of that woman's mouth. He had known what he was getting into when he signed up for the job. He had read the contract. He was temporary and once he had paid off his debt he and Francis would be done. It seemed like such a simple, straightforward arraignment, which was why he was confused about the spike of anger and jealousy he had felt when Feliks had casually told him that he too had worked for Francis. For some reason, the thought of just being another person for Francis to use and then let go of made him feel ill, which made no sense at all. The only thing he was supposed to feel was glee whenever he learned he had paid off another part of his debt. He was there for the money and nothing else. The most important thing was the bar, as well as proving to his grandfather and brother that he wasn't a certified idiot and failure.
Gilbert looked down at his hands and saw that they were bright red and pruning. He shut off the water and dried his hands on the Egyptian cotton towels. Just as he stepped out of the bathroom, the door to the women's bathroom opened and a beautiful woman with platinum blond hair came out, her dark blue eyes widening when she saw him.
Gilbert gave her his best smile and said, "This must be my lucky day. I don't normally meet such lovely women by the bath—" Before he could finish, the woman had grabbed him by his neck and slammed him against the wall.
"Who the hell are you?" she snarled.
Gilbert struggled to understand what was happening. "I-I'm—"
"Shut up!" the woman hissed. "I don't want to hear your voice. Toris! Toris! Get over here now! Hurry!"
"I'm here Natalya!" Toris said as he came around the corner. He gasped when he saw Gilbert against the wall and Natalya glaring daggers at him. "What's going on here?"
Natalya turned to face him, her eyes fiery. "Who is this?" she asked. "Does he work for you?"
"N-no, he's a customer! He's here with a friend of mine!" Toris said.
Natalya's frown deepened and he almost flinched from the angry aura radiating from her.
"You promised my brother that there would be no one else here tonight," she said slowly but venomously. "You gave him your word and now you've betrayed him."
"I-it's not like that! I h-had no clue that they would be here tonight. It was c-completely u-unexpected!" Toris said quickly.
"Then why are they still here? You should have sent them away immediately."
"I-I would have but, like I said, one of them is an old friend and benefactor. I couldn't just send him away. Can you understand that?"
"No, I cannot," Natalya said. "And neither will my brother when I tell him. I will call him now."
Toris paled. "P-Please Natalya, t-that's not n-necessary. You w-won't even notice t-them. I swear. They're j-just h-here for a quick meal. T-There's n-no reason to call I-Ivan."
"You lied to my brother and now you want me to lie to him as well?" Natalya said, her voice low and dangerous.
"No! Of course not! I-I will tell him myself, afterwards. B-But right now we're all here for your sister. N-No need for her night to be interrupted, right? Feliks promised your brother that he would do everything to make her happy and that's what we're going to do. I promise to let nothing ruin her party."
Natalya nodded towards Gilbert, who had been uncharacteristically silent during the whole conversation, mostly because he was struggling just to breathe. "So what about him?" she asked. "And the other one, your friend?"
"Feliks purposely gave them tables in the back so they wouldn't disturb you. You'll never have to see them, I promise."
Natalya looked thoughtful for a few seconds then she suddenly released her grip on Gilbert, who slid down to the floor, gasping for air.
"If I see either of them again, I will call my brother. Is that clear Toris?" she said. "I'm only doing this for my sister because when she is happy, my brother is happy. If either of them is angry, I will be angry, understand?"
Toris nodded, relief spreading through his body. "Yes Natalya."
She brushed past him without another word. When she was gone, Toris leaned down to help Gilbert off the floor.
"I'm so sorry about that," he said. "Natalya is not the most social person. She can be really sweet though."
Gilbert looked at him like he was crazy. "Ok, sure but I think she was about three seconds away from ripping out my windpipe."
Toris shook his head. "You just surprised her; that was her natural reflex."
Now Gilbert was sure that he was crazy. "I'm going back to my table now," he said.
"If I can't make it, I'll ask Feliks if he can get your orders," Toris said before heading back to the party.
Francis was casually flipping through the menu when Gilbert got back to the table. He looked up as Gilbert sat down.
"Where have you been? I heard yelling," he said.
"I just met a beautiful woman, but I think she's crazy," Gilbert said.
Francis smirked. "Most of them are. Anyway, while you were gone, I picked out a few things you might like. I wasn't sure if you were allergic to anything so some of them have peanuts. I know you're not picky so I took everything into consideration. Honestly, I should just order you everything. Ha, I'm not that nice though."
Gilbert was only half listening to Francis. He was watching him as he spoke, suddenly noticing little things that he had overlooked before, such as, when he smiled, the corners of his eye crinkled slightly; he had a habit of touching his ear or playing with a loose curl of hair when he was nervous or confused; across his nose was a light smattering of pale freckles that were only noticeable if someone looked very closely; his eyes were more violet than blue; he was both pretty and handsome with grace that didn't detract from his masculinity. Gilbert didn't know why these features stood out to him at that moment but he saw them and couldn't look away. Francis finally noticed he was staring.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his eyebrows knitting together, which they did whenever he was concerned about something. "First you walk out on me and now you look like you just found out a big secret and don't know how to handle it. What's up?"
Gilbert blinked and tried not to blush. "Uh, nothing. Just thinking about that crazy bitch. Tell me again what you picked."
Natalya Arlovskaya was unhappy. This was a common emotion for her, but at that particular moment, she felt especially displeased. Her brother's unrelenting infatuation with his former secretary was the only reason he had chosen this venue for their sister's bachelorette party. Why such an occasion was even necessary—a bachelorette party—Natalya didn't know. She glanced around the table slowly, frowning at the mindless girls who her sister was silly enough to consider friends as they giggled loudly and picked at their food—all on some diet or the other— and talked about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they had wasted on clothes and vacations. If Natalya ever married—and there was only one man on earth she desired enough to wed—a bachelorette party would be the first thing she would say that she didn't need. The only reason she was there that night was because her brother had pleaded with her to attend and she could never resist Ivan anything, especially when he begged. Now, not only did she have to deal with ten irritating women, but there was also the issue of the man she had encountered by the restroom. Toris had promised that neither he nor his companion would disturb the party but she didn't trust Toris's judgment; he had already proven himself a fool by quitting a job that was coveted by countless people across the world, herself included. Natalya felt a spike of anger as she remembered how casually and inappropriately the man had spoken to her. He was a troublemaker, no doubt, and she would rip out every strand of that white hair of his if he even dared look at her again or do anything to ruin the night.
"Natalya! Nats!" said a shrill voice in her ear.
Natalya suppressed the urge to scream. She had already said multiple times that she disliked being calls 'Nats'. She was a person, not a bug, and they should refer to her by her given name. She turned, glaring, to the woman who had called her.
The woman paled slightly when those dark eyes focused on her but then she put on her best smiled and said, "The girls and I have been talking and we've realized that there are no strippers at this party. You can't have a bachelorette party without male strippers."
"I don't know the types of parties you attend but there will be no strippers at this one," Natalya said firmly.
The woman dared to speak up again. "But we're bored and there's nothing to do here. Katyusha wants them too."
Natalya glanced at her sister, who was shifting nervously in her chair. "Is this true? You want male strippers here?" she asked bluntly.
Katyusha's cheeks reddened. "Well, I, it was just a suggestion and I thought, perhaps, maybe, it would be, uh, nice to have them," she said softly.
"Our brother would never approve," Natalya said. "For you to even suggest it is ridiculous."
Katyusha blushed even harder. "I was, uh, thinking that we wouldn't tell him."
"You want me to lie?" Natalya asked surprised. Toris asking her to lie was one thing, but now her sister? She had a strange feeling that this night was going to end in brilliant chaos and who was she to stop that?
Tears appeared in the corners of Katyusha's eyes. "I-I know it sounds terrible and I hate doing it but you know how Ivan would get if he knew. It's just a little bit of fun."
"Yeah Nats, a bit of fun," the woman from before said.
Natalya gave her her deadliest look and the woman sunk back into her seat.
"And who is going to pay for this entertainment?" she asked.
"I'll take care of it," another woman said from down the table. "My father just added more money to my bank account. I'm set for the next six weeks."
"Do, do you have a place in mind?" Katyusha asked shyly.
The woman nodded and pulled out her cellphone. "My cousin got married last week and her bachelorette party was ah-mazing. She gave me the number for the place she used. I'll call them now."
But when the woman dialed the number, she was informed that all the services were booked for the night and would not be available for at least 48 hours. An offering of more money was only able to bring that down to 24 hours.
"Well that was a dead end," the woman said as she dropped the phone into her purse. "And I don't know anywhere else."
None of the other women knew of any such establishments either.
Katyusha visibly deflated in her seat. "And, and I was really looking forward to them," she said.
Natalya guessed that peer pressure was more the reason for her eagerness but said nothing. Her sister was getting married and was going to be 30 in a few months. It was about time that she started standing up for herself and stop crying. Unfortunately, when her sister was upset, her brother was as well and Natalya hated when her brother was upset.
"I think I know where you can find your entertainment and for free too," she said.
"Really Natalya? You do?" Katyusha asked, sitting up in her seat.
Natalya nodded and said, "And the best part is that they're already here."
Francis knew something was wrong immediately when both Toris and Feliks came around the corner, although the looks on their faces would have been enough to let someone know that they were about to receive some very bad news.
"We need your help," Toris said, looking at the floor.
"More like your bodies," Feliks said.
Francis stared at him.
"Are you proposing a foursome?" Gilbert asked. The beer bottle in front of him was only half empty so alcohol could not be blamed for the stupidity of his question.
"What? Like, no way," Feliks said. "We don't want your bodies, the girls do."
Francis narrowed his eyes. "What girls?"
"The ones here for the bachelorette party," Toris said quietly. "They've…they've requested that you…play the part of male strippers."
Francis's jaw dropped. Even Gilbert looked shocked.
"You're kidding, right?" Francis asked even though he could see the seriousness on their faces.
"I'm so sorry Francis," Toris said.
"Isn't there anything you can do?" Francis asked, beginning to feel irritated.
"When Ivan paid he said explicitly that anything his sister wanted she was to be given and if he found out that she was unhappy, it would make him unhappy," Toris said.
"Which basically means he'll torture us, kills us and then burn down the restaurant with our bodies inside," Feliks said.
Francis stood up from the table. "This is absurd," he said. "I'm going to go talk to these people."
Toris paled. "That's not a good idea. You don't want to make Natalya angry."
"You might want to listen to him Francis," Gilbert said. "That girl is scary."
"I don't care if she's the grim reaper. I don't strip for just anyone." Francis pushed past Toris and Feliks and strode towards the center of the restaurant. They both followed him with Gilbert bringing up the rear.
A collective giggle rose up from the table when the women saw him. One even whistled. A woman with long blond hair stood up from the table and walked towards him slowly. He assumed this was Natalya.
"They've been waiting for you," she said. "You still need get dressed though."
"More like undressed!" one woman yelled. There was more giggling.
"Actually, I just came out here to tell you that neither I nor my companion will be taking our clothes off for you ladies tonight. Find yourselves some professionals," Francis said.
"We aren't asking for your services. We're demanding them. You have no choice in this matter," Natalya said.
Francis drew himself up to full height. "Do you know who I am?" he asked.
Natalya didn't even blink. "No and I don't care. Now, if you don't do everything my sister asks, I will have you castrated."
"Oh Natalya, don't be so mean!" A woman with the largest breasts Francis had ever seen stood up from the table. As she walked over to them, everything bounced and he found that he couldn't tear his eyes away.
"Hello, I'm Katyusha Braginski and I'm the one getting married. I'm sure neither of you were expecting this and I'm so sorry for putting you in such a position but my friends and I would very much enjoy having you, well, entertain us," she said sweetly. "Please?"
"I'm in," Gilbert said.
"Wait, so what do we get out of this?" Francis asked, tearing his eyes away from Katyusha's chest to face Natalya.
"You get to stay a man," she said. She nodded at Toris and Feliks. "And these two idiots won't have their restaurant burned down."
"I knew it," Feliks whispered.
Francis glanced at Gilbert. He was still staring at Katyusha. Francis reached over to pinch his arm.
"What was that for?" Gilbert whined, rubbing his arm for the second time that night.
"What's your decision?" Francis asked.
"I already said that I'm in. This actually sounds like fun."
"Yes, fun," Francis said dryly. He turned back to Natalya. "Fine, we'll do it."
"Good," she said unsmilingly. She went over the table and came back with a pile of clothes in her arms. "These are your costumes." She shoved them at Francis. "Go change."
The 'costumes' turned out to be nothing more than a black apron, a shirt collar and white cuffs.
"Whoa, you guys are, like, the sexiest waiters I've ever seen," Feliks said snickering when they stepped out of the bathroom.
"Why can't you two be the ones doing this?" Francis hissed, struggling to cover his exposed backside. He didn't normally have a problem with nudity but only when it was on his terms and he wasn't being threatened.
"They said we weren't, like, hot enough," Feliks said. "Which is totally untrue. I think you're hot Toris."
"Uh, thanks Feliks," Toris said before he turned to Francis. "I'm really sorry for this again. The party is only supposed to go until 11 so if you can just last a few hours that would be great."
"A few hours? I can go all night long," Gilbert said grinning.
Francis was tempted to hit him. Instead he sighed and said, "Let's just get this over with."
They were welcomed back at the table with hoots and whistles.
Gilbert rubbed his hands together. "So who's first?" he asked.
Nine hands shot into the air. Natalya stood off to the side, watching the events with a bored look. Katyusha squirmed in her seat, her face bright red.
"I'll call the bride-to-be," Francis said.
"That's not fair!" Gilbert protested.
"As if I care. Don't forget, you still work for me. Now go make one of these other ladies happy," Francis said before walking off.
"Nice ass," Gilbert called after him.
Francis turned around and winked. Gilbert grinned and then strolled over to where Natalya was standing.
"I think I've found my first customer," he said.
She gave him a blank look. "I would keep moving if I were you," she said.
"No need to be so cold. Eventually everyone says yes to the awesome me."
"You have three seconds to walk away."
"I love when they play hard to get."
"Three…two…one. Times up."
Natalya reached down to grab Gilbert through the apron. He grunted as her hand squeezed him painfully.
"I told you to keep moving," she hissed. Her grip tightened and Gilbert bit his lip so as not to cry out. "So keep moving or I will rip off your testicles and shove them down your esophagus. Are we clear? I said, are we clear?"
Gilbert whimpered and nodded quickly.
"Good," Natalya said. She released him and he nearly fell backwards. "Get out of my sight."
"What happened to you?" Francis asked when Gilbert walked past him, his face bright red. Francis was currently straddling the blushing bride-to-be and only barely resisting grabbing her ample chest.
"Don't ask," Gilbert said weakly before he hobbled down the table.
"Uh, sure," Francis said. He then turned to the woman in front of him and asked in his most seductive voice, "So tell me, what's the name of your darling fiancée?"
"E-Eduard," she squeaked.
"Well, tonight I want you to forget all about Eduard. It's just you—" he reached up to touch her lips with his index finger "—and me." He brought the finger to his mouth and kissed it. With his other hand he brushed his thumb against the underside of her breasts and she shivered beneath him. "And I think we're going to have a fun time."
"I-I had n-no clue it was going to be like this."
Francis smirked. "None of us ever do," he said.
At that moment Gilbert jumped up onto the table.
"I just can't choose which of you ladies to attend to first," he said. "I think I'll let you decide amongst yourselves." He spread out his arms and yelled, "Who wants me?"
"I do!" one woman shrieked.
"I saw him first!"
"Pick me! Pick me!"
"I'll give you $100 and take you home with me!"
"I'll give you $200 and take you home with me!"
Gilbert stood there grinning as the woman called out their rising offers.
"$5000! I have a twin!"
"$6000 and I'll make you breakfast in bed!"
"$10,000 and I've been told that I give the best blowjobs this side of Lake Michigan!"
Francis almost burst out laughing. Gilbert knew how to sell himself, that was for sure, but he hoped that these women knew that he was the only one Gilbert would be going home with that night.
"Wow, your offers are all very tempting but I just can't make up my mind and this apron is getting awfully hot," Gilbert said, teasing the tie at the back of the apron.
"$20,000 and you can have my dad's Mercedes!"
"What's going on in here?"
Everything suddenly went quiet and they all turned to see a tall man in a long dark coat standing at the front of the room. He was accompanied by five muscular men, all similarly dressed. The man who had spoken had a smile on his face but seemed anything but pleased.
"I hate my life," Toris moaned from the corner.
"I-Ivan!" Katyusha gasped. She rocketed out of her seat, sending Francis to the floor. "O-Oh no! This, this isn't what it looks like!"
"I know exactly what this is my dear sister," Ivan Braginski said. "And I'm very disappointed that you would engage in such lewd activities. You, on the table, get down. Now."
Gilbert jumped down to the floor and scrambled to stand next to Francis.
"I came here expecting to find my sisters and their friends enjoying a quiet dinner and I am very upset with what I've just witnessed," Ivan continued. "Where is Natalya?"
"I'm here, brother," Natalya said, stepping to the front of the table. Her voice was suddenly sweet and loving.
"It was your job to make sure that nothing got out of hand," Ivan said.
"Oh, I did my best but they all wanted this and I'm only one person," she said. "You know I would never want to let you down but once it started I couldn't stop it."
"It's not Natalya's fault," Katyusha said. She was on the verge of tears. "It, it was my suggestion. I, I thought it would be…fun. P-Please don't be angry Ivan."
"I'm not angry," Ivan said, still smiling. "And I know neither of you is to blame."
Natalya rushed up to him and he flinched as she reached out to grab his hand.
"Thank you, my darling brother. You are too kind," she said.
"T-Thank you Natalya, but something still needs to be done about this," Ivan said. He pointed to Francis and Gilbert. "Kill those two."
Francis wondered if he had heard right. Next to him he heard Gilbert whimper. The men who had come with Ivan began walking towards them.
"No! Please don't hurt them Ivan!" Katyusha said, her eyes bright with tears. "Please!"
"They disrespected you Katyusha and I will have them punished for it."
"No! It wasn't their fault! Please just let them go! Please!"
Toris stepped forward. "No one is going to lay a hand on Francis or Gilbert," he said loudly and firmly. There was a stark contrast between his previous look of terror and the angry glare he wore now.
"I, like, totally second what he said," Feliks said. "But I'm still going to stand back here."
Ivan smiled wider. "You're so cute when you're all determined like that Toris. Now step aside."
"No," Toris said. "This is Feliks's restaurant and you have no right to come in here and threaten our customers."
"Actually, until 11, this is my restaurant," Ivan said.
"You want your money back? You can have it. Just leave us alone."
"I like this side of you Toris. It's a shame you didn't show it more when you were working for me."
"I regret every day that I worked for you, but I'll come back if you promise not to hurt my friends."
Feliks gasped. "Omg Toris, what are you saying? Are you serious?"
Natalya looked furious. Ivan was visibly delighted.
"Really? You'll come back and be my secretary?" he asked gleefully.
"Only on the weekends and only if you promise not to hurt Francis or Gilbert."
"Toris, this is completely insane," Feliks said.
"I'm doing what I have to," Toris replied.
"I won't have my men kill your friends if you work for me three days a week plus weekends," Ivan said.
"Two days a week plus weekends and you've got a deal."
"Deal," Ivan said. He turned to his men. "Now escort these two outside."
"You didn't have to do that Toris," Francis said, although the relief in his voice was clear.
Toris gave him a small smile. "Actually, I did. If you can ever forgive me for what happened tonight I will be forever grateful," he said.
"I already have," Francis said. "I swear I'm dedicating my next book to you."
Toris laughed. "Thank you."
"We will show you out," grunted one of Ivan's men.
Francis gave him a wary look.
"Don't worry," Toris said reassuringly. "If there's one thing I know about Ivan is that he keeps his promises." He leaned in to whisper in Francis's ear. "But please call me tomorrow morning. I won't be able to relax until you do."
The man nudged Francis and Gilbert towards the door.
"I will definitely not be telling Lizzy about this Francis," Feliks said behind them.
They walked past Natalya who gave them a mocking scowl and Katyusha who gave them a teary smile. Ivan didn't even look at them.
"Wait, what about our clothes?" Gilbert asked.
"Shut up," Francis hissed. "We'll get them tomorrow." He smiled up at the man walking behind him. "Would you be kind enough to call us a car?"
"Of course," the man said. He turned to one of his associates. "Call a car for these two."
The other man pulled out his cellphone and promptly called for a taxi.
"Thank you very much," Francis said as they stepped outside. "You can go now. We'll just wait here."
One of the men moved to stand by the door of the restaurant. The others formed a tight circle around him and Gilbert.
"Although we've been asked not to kill you, we've been instructed by Mr. Braginski to give you his gratitude," one of the men said.
"Fuck," Gilbert whispered.
"Is, is this really necessary?" Francis asked quickly.
Someone cracked their knuckles.
"And there's nothing we can do to persuade you not to do this?"
"O-Okay," Francis said. "Please just not my face."
Francis winced as he set the icepack on his nose. Next to him, Gilbert was spitting into a cup, still trying to clear the blood from his mouth.
"Can't you do that in the bathroom?" Francis asked.
Francis sighed and leaned back against the couch. It was miracle that they had made it back to his apartment, although his reputation was most likely forever ruined. They had had to walk through a lobby full of people bruised and bloody, wearing only their 'costumes'. Elizabeta was going to be very happy in the morning.
"How's your finger?" he asked.
"I think it's broken," Gilbert muttered.
"I told you not to fight back."
"Just don't talk to me. I want to forget that this fucking night ever happened."
Francis nodded then regretted doing so as pain shot through his neck.
"I can't believe the one night I try and do something nice, I get the shit beaten out of me," he said.
"I appreciate the gesture," Gilbert said, "but next time, let's just go to Antonio's."
"Fine by me. Do you think I'm going to need stitches on my forehead?"
Gilbert leaned over, wincing, to examining the cut. It was crusted with dried blood but didn't look like anything a Band-Aid wouldn't fix.
"Nope, you'll be fine. Want me to help you take care of it?"
"If you would be so kind."
After the cut had been cleaned and disinfected, Gilbert smacked a Band-Aid on it—causing Francis to groan in pain—and then leaned in to place a kiss on the spot.
"There. Feel better?" he asked.
Francis gestured that he should come closer and then he kissed him on the mouth, gentle enough so that neither of them felt discomfort from their injuries.
"I do now," Francis said. "Now help me to bed."
"Is that an invitation?" Gilbert asked, pulling him to his feet.
"Are you serious? 95% of my body is covered in bruises. I can barely lift my head. And you have a broken finger."
"I'll take a rain check then."
Francis smirked as they limped slowly down the hallway together. "You do that."
A/N: I think next chapter should make a lot of people happy ;3 Also, I've finally decided to have the setting of this fic be Chicago. It's a big, metropolitan city that's not NYC. Yay! :D The Lake Michigan comment should make more sense now, lol.