Here it is! Sorry for the wait but summer got me caught up. Now we can move on to see how that bet is going... Enjoy and please review!
The Tragedy of Jeanne d'Arc
Japan dreaded seeing America's face that morning. Ever since he had gotten out of bed, he could already see the blond approaching him, a gloating smile on his face and his blue eyes twinkling in satisfaction. His only defense was trying to act like he had no idea what America would be talking about but in actuality, that wasn't even an option either. Everyone in that house would know what America would be talking about and there was no way that Japan could ever hope to avoid it.
After all, France's walls weren't soundproof.
The only option left: accept defeat.
That was what he was prepared to do as he sat at France's glass dining table, staring down into the cup of tea that France had been too kind to make for him and listening to the sounds of the Frenchman preparing breakfast.
"It can't be that bad, Japon," France said from the kitchen, glancing at the other nation over the counter. "Losing a bet isn't as terrible as you think. Besides, Amerique won't rub it in too much."
"Francis-san, pardon me for saying so but you have no idea," Japan sighed. "Alfred-san has been feeling very strongly about this bet and nothing will make him happier."
"Ah, oui, he did seem very excited about it when we talked last night," he could practically hear the smile on the Frenchman's lips. "I am sorry, mon ami, but I see his point as well. After all, Monsieur Heiwajima seemed rather eager to stay by his side all night…"
"I realize that…"
"Then you are upset about the money?"
"A little," the Asian nation sighed. France's kitchen timer went off in the other room and the creaking of the oven door was soon heard. "I don't quite understand it… but then again, I don't understand why he was right in the first place. They have always hated each other so why is it that they…?"
"People change, mon ami," France smiled, appearing with a tray of freshly baked pastries. "Sometimes the heart grows fonder of those that we least expect when we least expect it." He gently set the tray on the counter and turned to his espresso machine, grabbing several mugs as he did so. "The way he looked at Gilbert when you brought him here… I know amor when I see it."
"His name is Orihara Izaya now," Japan corrected, a sad smile on his face.
"Ah, yes, that is strange, non?" France noted as he messed with the espresso machine. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"No one does," Japan let out another sigh. "He only remembers fragments from before but nothing else."
"I see," France suddenly sounded quite subdued and the entire house went silent for a moment.
Japan fiddled with his cup, staring into the liquid inside. If there was anything that he and France had in common right now, it was that strange feeling of alienation. The two of them, along with other nations like Spain and Italy, had been so close to Gilbert before he had disappeared and to find him living a completely different life with no memory of them at all was more than a shock. He had no idea who any of them were. How could that even happen, especially to a nation of all people? Most of all, they all shared the same fear, that if he were now a completely different person then their relationship with him would never be the same. The fear that no matter what happened, it probably would have been better if Gilbert had truly been dead; at least then their friend wouldn't be so lost to them.
But that was selfish and Japan knew it. They were lucky to find him at all, memories intact or not. All they could do for now was help him along and maybe he would find more than just mere puzzle pieces of memories.
The silence was broken by the sound of footsteps against marble and suddenly, France's mood had increased greatly.
"Ah, that could be Amerique," he snickered from the kitchen. "He's probably very excited to give you the good news."
Japan felt his lips twist into a grimace. Hopefully it wasn't America. Maybe, by some show of luck, it would be Shizuo or Izaya coming down those stairs. If that was the case, then he would be spared for at least a while longer.
"I know what you're thinking," France said in a sing-song voice. "I wouldn't count on it if I were you. Our two lovers are probably sleeping in after such a… passionate night."
Sure enough, Japan could see the all-too-familiar ahoge bobbing up and down before America even entered the dining room and all that followed after was just as he had dreaded before.
Even before America rounded the corner, it was painfully obvious that he would have a gigantic grin plastered across his face. His expression could have lit up the entire room. His lips were stretched out into a Cheshire grin and his baby blue eyes were twinkling with sheer and utter joy. A cold feeling spread across Japan once those eyes were laid upon him; it was like a wild dog had just set its sights on its weaker prey.
"Hey, Kiku," he said with a sly grin, sidling up to the table. "Did ya sleep well last night?"
"I slept well enough."
"Oh really?" the blond nation's grin widened enough that it seemed to threaten to split his face in half. "Cause I couldn't get to sleep. It was kind of hard, you know, with all of that love-making going on down the hall."
Japan's face turned a deep red. "Why don't you just come out and say it?"
"Because I want to have fun with it first," America smirked. "Let's see, how did it go again? Ah yes! 'Oooh, yes Shizuo, right there! Ohhhhh yes, yes, fuck me harder!'"
"That didn't happen!"
"Oh, were you paying attention the whole time? You little pervert."
Japan's entire body was probably red by this point. "N-no! Of course not! Y-you know my room was right next to Izaya-san's!"
America only laughed in response.
"Amerique, stop picking on him," France chided from the kitchen. "Do you want me to tell Arthur about your behavior?"
America's expression soured. "C'mon Francis, no fair! Fine…" he turned to Japan, now a bit deflated. "Pay up."
"Fine," Japan sighed, fishing out his wallet. "I still don't know how you got that in the first place…"
"I told you, body language," America smirked as he was handed a sizable amount of cash. He let out a low whistle as he flipped through it all. "That's a lot of yen… well over a million." His smirk returned as he looked at a mortified Japan. "Nice doing business with you."
Japan shook his head; he was going to hate explaining the sudden withdrawal to his boss. "I still don't understand how you got any of that. They've always hated each other… How on earth could they just change like that?"
"Like I said before, people change," France mused.
"Not to mention all of the unresolved sexual tension," America snickered. "You should have been there, Francis. It was so thick, you probably could have cut it with a knife- no, a chainsaw."
"I still don't understand…" the Asian nation frowned.
"Ah, hate is as strong as love, mon ami," France sighed, waving a hand in the air to emphasize his words. "Both emotions are so passionate that the lines between them blur from time to time. For instance, Angleterre and I clashed quite a bit back in the day but every now and then, we had a few moments of passion. The heat of our bodies helped us to forget that…"
America's amused expression disappeared completely. "Dude, no, gross. I don't need to hear about my boyfriend's past escapades, especially when they involved you."
France only smiled in response. "Have it your way, mon ami."
America shuddered. "Great, now I can't wipe that image from my mind… blech."
"Imagine how I feel…" Japan muttered under his breath. America hadn't been the one that had to sleep next the love-making couple the night before and the images of Shizuo and Izaya contorted in suggestive positions were definitely not welcome in the nation's mind.
"Please, grab some breakfast," France interjected from the kitchen. "We don't have to wait for the other two so by all means, dig in!"
"Yeah, they might need time for a morning quickie," America snickered as he sauntered into the kitchen, leaving Japan mortified once more.
"Oh come on, Kiku, get over it!" the American responded, sounding just a tad annoyed. "It happened, ok? They had mind-blowing sex and they're together now. Is that so hard to understand?"
"You don't know them like I do," Japan sighed as he got to his feet. "But… I can get used to it, I suppose…"
"Great!" America chirped. "Then you'll also be getting used to that sizable gap in your wallet!" He only got a venomous glare in response.
"Okay, that's enough," France said, smacking America upside the head with a potholder. "Stop bragging and eat. I've heard enough bickering for one morning and that's saying something considering how many mornings I've spent with dear Arthur after our passionate…"
"Dude, I get it," America interrupted, looking thoroughly disgusted as he grabbed a few croissants. "I'm done so you can stop going on about fucking my boyfriend, okay?" He turned to the espresso machine, filling a mug before heading back into the adjoined dining room. "Almost making me lose my appetite…"
France snickered under his breath as he handed Japan a plate. "I think that got him to shut up, didn't it?"
"Yes," Japan nodded, not mentioning how shutting up America had come at the risk of scarring the Asian nation as well. "It did…"
"Good," the Frenchman smiled, guiding Japan to the pastries. "Now, let's just relax and eat while we wait for them to drag themselves out of bed, non?"
"By the way, should we say anything?" America asked from the dining room, his voice slightly muffled by the amount of bread in his mouth. "You know, about their really loud love-making and such?"
"I wouldn't recommend it," Japan frowned, putting some sliced French bread on his plate as France slid some jam his way. "Arigatou, Francis-san."
"Kiku is right," France nodded, picking up the tray of pastries and carrying it out to the dining table with Japan in tow. "For all they know, we were fast asleep. I say that if they want us to know, they will talk to us. If they don't, let's remain quiet. If they wish that we do not know, it's best that we respect their wishes, right?"
"So zip it?" America asked and the other two nodded. "Well, in that case, I'm going to need more of these…" he grabbed a few more pastries and went to work on wolfing them down.
Not too long after they had agreed to hold their peace, the sound of footsteps on the marble stairway greeted their ears once more and France immediately perked up.
"Ah, someone's up," he smiled into his espresso as the footsteps neared. "Remember, Amerique, no blabbing."
America pouted and stuffed another croissant in his mouth.
As the footsteps grew closer, Japan quickly tried to make it look like as if he wasn't expecting whoever it was; as if he wasn't curious about how and why those two had chosen to get together, especially in the way they had. The goal was to act natural and if either of them wanted to say anything, then it would be perfectly okay to talk about.
The footsteps slowed and Shizuo appeared from around the corner, slowly approaching the table. Japan nearly had to bite his tongue and he could sense that America was desperately trying to do the same thing, considering how much coffee he had just taken a swig of. The bodyguard didn't look exhausted at all, his eyes were clear and he looked like he had been very well rested. However, the appearance of his clothes and his hair were a different story. His shirt was rumpled like he had tried to put it on in a hurry and his hair, which looked like it had been smoothed out a bit, stuck up in different places, looking as though someone had been running their fingers through it repeatedly.
And there wasn't much thought to who that someone could be…
"Ohayo gozaimasu, Heiwajima-san," Japan greeted, forcing a smile as he once again tried to force the image of Izaya and Shizuo copulating out of his mind's eye.
"Ohayo," Shizuo mumbled in response as he took a seat, reaching for a pain au chocolat and completely ignoring the mug of espresso.
"Did you sleep well, cher?" France asked, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
Japan nearly gagged on his drink, not for the question but more for the term the other nation had used. Did France want to be beaten to death with his own dining table? Thankfully, the pet name and its meaning sailed completely over the bodyguard's head.
The implications of the questions itself, however, did not.
Shizuo seemed to turn a little red and tried to hide it by taking a bite out of the pastry in his hand. "I slept fine. Izaya's awake, by the way."
"Oh, we know…" America mumbled under his breath, a smirk teasing at his lips. Japan quickly delivered a kick to his shin, keeping a straight face all the while. "Ow!"
Shizuo eyed the two of them suspiciously but went back to munching his pastry.
"I noticed you don't seem very interested in the espresso," France said, changing the subject as quickly as possible. "Coffee not your thing, cher?"
"I don't drink coffee," the blond responded. "Too bitter."
"Sweet more your speed?"
The bodyguard nodded in response.
"Then I'll go get some juice," France said, getting to his feet. "I believe I have some orange juice in the fridge, if that'll work."
"Thanks," Shizuo mumbled around the pastry.
Japan glanced between the two as France sauntered out of the dining room. What on earth was he planning, referring to Shizuo in such a way?
"So Izaya recovered well?" America asked, trying to make his digging as casual as possible.
Shizuo rose an eyebrow but proceeded cautiously. "Yes, he did…" he glanced at Japan, who couldn't help but swallow hard. He may have been immortal but being on the wrong side of an enraged Shizuo was a terrifying thought for almost anyone. However, those bronze eyes went back to focus on America and Japan let himself breathe again. "He woke up in the middle of the night. He seemed fine to me this morning so there shouldn't be too much to worry about."
"Oh, I'm sure," Japan winced at the tone of knowing in America's voice. "That kind of thing can be hard on us, you know, dying and coming back. Takes a real toll…" Not to mention having sex with someone that has the strength of Superman…
"He seemed to take longer than you did, coming back," the bodyguard noted, once again completely missing the implications of what was being said. "When you…" he paused, obviously still coming to grips with what death meant to nations. "…died, you came back in minutes like nothing had happened. Why couldn't he do the same?"
"I noticed that too," Japan nodded, thankful that the conversation had been steered away from the subject of sexual intercourse. "It's possible that it's taking longer due to him adjusting to his former life. It seems to be that as he remembers more, his body changes accordingly. That could explain his hair and his regenerative abilities are slowly catching up."
"That's never happened before," America frowned, his focus also off of digging into boudoir-related activities.
"None of us have gone missing for twenty five years," Japan pointed out. "Nor have we had some bizarre bout of amnesia. Whatever happened to him, it somehow changed his body and now it's trying to get back to what it was before."
"Yeah, but what does that mean?" America asked, looking both irritated and confused. "It sounds good but it doesn't really make sense at all…"
"I'm not sure how to make sense of it either," Japan frowned. "It's just a hypothesis, seeing how the only person who has experienced it has also suffered extensive amnesia."
Across from them, Shizuo slowly munched on his pastry, tossing confused gazes between the two as they discussed the plausibility of Japan's theory. After a while, he growled and turned his attention down to his plate, trying to drown out the theory-laden babble across from him. For once, he was finding himself wishing that Izaya would show up out of nowhere and interrupt the current conversation because there was only so much more of it that he could take. If he wanted to sit and listen to someone going on about something he didn't quite understand, he would have stayed in Ikebukuro and listened to Shinra yap.
It wasn't as if he didn't care about the abnormalities of Izaya's current situation; in fact, a lot of what Japan brought into question began to concern him. If Gilbert disappeared twenty five years ago and somehow forgot everything, why did Izaya have memories of his childhood? There was no mistaking that he had aged throughout his life, considering that Shinra knew him from middle school. Then there was the issue of the memory loss itself. How could someone suddenly forget everything about their life and live as someone else for twenty five years? What had even caused the memory loss in the first place? Those jumbled thoughts were so worrying that he needed to push them away for fear that he might get to upset over them. It was so frustrating when he couldn't figure something out; it made him feel so stupid and more than useless, like the time where Shinra thought it was a good idea to give him a Rubix cube. Plastic never really stood a chance against his strong fingers…
As if the universe had answered his unspoken prayer, France swept back into the room with a glass of orange juice in hand, distracting Shizuo even further from the conversation taking place in front of him.
"Here you go, cher," the Frenchman grinned, placing the glass on the table with an excessive amount of grace. "You will probably like this a lot more than espresso."
"Thanks," Shizuo mumbled and took a small sip of the orange liquid. It was a bit bitter but sweet enough that he could tough it out.
From above him, he saw France glance over his shoulder, those bright blue eyes focusing on the entryway.
"Ah, there you are, mon ami," the Frenchman greeted brightly and then entire dining room fell silent. "I'm sure you slept well?"
"Like the dead," Izaya's voice wafted through the air and Shizuo could almost hear the smirk in the informant's voice. "You're France, I assume?"
"Oui," France's voice may have faltered a bit but if it did, Shizuo barely caught it. "Please, take a seat. We can catch up over breakfast."
"Gladly," Izaya sauntered over to the seat next to Shizuo and lowered himself into it, flashing his bodyguard a sly grin. For some reason, he had chosen to slide on his jacket. "Morning, Shizu-chan."
"Mornin'," Shizuo mumbled, turning his head to look at the informant.
There was a strange mischievous glint in the informant's eyes, completely different from the usual scheming glint that they usually held. It immediately made the blond think of someone that wanted to keep a secret and take pleasure in it, pressing a finger firmly to their lips and hissing out a, "Shhhh." Shizuo nearly rolled his eyes. Of course the flea would think that keeping their relationship a secret from everyone else would be entertaining… Izaya gave him a quick wink and turned his attention to the food on the table, humming as he spread jam on a slice of bread.
Across from them, Japan and America were watching intently. Once Izaya had entered the room, their conversation stopped dead in its tracks and they took more time observing what he was doing and how he interacted with Shizuo. After all, body language tended to change after sharing an intimate night with someone and for these two, it had probably changed dramatically. The lack of cursing and name-calling upon the two seeing each other was not entirely surprising and the look they shared seemed to confirm even more that their relationship had shifted from what it had been before. However, the silence caught up to everyone and Izaya felt eyes upon him so when he looked up and cocked an eyebrow at the two nations, Japan and America had to quickly avert their gaze.
"Nothing, just a bit surprised," America replied and Japan eyed him suspiciously. He better not… "You two are being awful civil this morning."
There was a break in Izaya's mask, even if only for a second. His smirk faltered and then returned to normal but his hand flew up to his neck, clutching the fur on his hood close to his skin. Next to him, Shizuo flushed a little.
"Ah, well, dying must have left me more exhausted than I thought," the informant said, trying to shrug off the question. "Besides, I'd rather eat first as opposed to have him chase me around on an empty stomach."
"That's not all you'd do…" America muttered and received another kick from Japan. He deserved it for tipping his hand like that…
Izaya shot another suspicious gaze at them but shrugged it off, turning his attention to his breakfast.
"I'm sorry we had to get reacquainted this way," France apologized as he took his seat at the head of the table. "But emergencies are emergencies, non? We're all glad that you recovered nicely and I for one am glad to see you after a very long twenty five years."
"Thank you for your concern," the informant purred as he sipped on his cup of espresso. "Spain told me about you. He said we were friends."
"Thick as thieves," the Frenchman chuckled, his eyes holding a far off look to them. "I don't think I could ever remember entering a bar without the two of you glued to my sides…"
"That's a concept that I'm still getting used to," Izaya sighed. "I don't normally drink."
"Lost your taste for it, mon ami?"
"Far from it," Shizuo snorted from next to the informant. "Couple of nights ago, he was drunk off his ass…"
"Oh?" France's blue eyes twinkled. "Antonio got to him, didn't he?"
The bodyguard shrugged. "I guess."
"I should have expected," France nearly guffawed, leaning back in his chair as he did so. "Tell me, was he nearly the handful he used to be, mon cher?"
Shizuo only shrugged but next to him, Izaya tensed, narrowing his eyes at France's terminology. Across the table, it suddenly clicked in Japan's head just why France had been using such an affectionate term towards the bodyguard.
"I mostly behaved myself, right Shizu-chan?" Izaya purred, firmly clapping his hand around the bodyguard's thigh. Next to him, Shizuo started to turn a deep red. "Maybe I don't get too rambunctious on my own."
"Yeah, you do enough of that on a regular basis," Shizuo managed to snort, taking a drink of his juice to try to cover his face.
America wasted no time in releasing the loud crow of laughter that had bubbled up inside him. He sagged in his chair, long legs stretching under the table, and looked like he was about to asphyxiate due to his crowing. Next to him, Japan hung his head with a sigh. He considered America a great friend but he could be so emotionally taxing… Not to mention the second-hand embarrassment.
"No, Francis, he hasn't changed a bit," America managed to choke out between guffaws. "Still an annoying asshole and a handful to boot."
Izaya shot him a death glare, his grip still on Shizuo's thigh, but remained silent.
"Don't worry, mon ami," France reassured him from his end of the table. "I find that fact very comforting."
Izaya merely rolled his eyes in response but seemed to relax. Even for him, it wasn't very surprising that being a little shit signified that he was, in fact, okay. He released Shizuo from his grip and turned his attention back to his breakfast, opting instead to rest one ankle on top of the bodyguard's. Unsurprisingly, the blond next to him once again turned a deep shade of red.
"So, what's the plan for today?" the informant asked, shifting the subject away from himself. "I'm sure that everyone's planning to take off after one night, just like we have been doing, and telling me last minute?" He might have been bitter about being ill-informed. Might have been…
"Actually, no," America grinned when Izaya rose an eyebrow in response. "Thanks to that train incident, there's been another change in plans. It's obvious that these people have somehow been one step ahead of us so our best bet is to lay low for at least another day before heading to the Netherlands."
"And that leaves us to do what?" Izaya was beginning to look testy and Shizuo was thankful that his hand was no longer wrapped around his thigh. "I doubt you're going to let me go sight-seeing."
"Yeah, sorry," the American gave him a sheepish smile. "All part of laying low, ya know?" The informant rolled his eyes again but America only chuckled at the action. "I need to make a few calls in the meantime. I can think of a few people that will not be happy that we're behind again…"
"Let me guess, Arthur?" France purred and America nodded. "Ah, timing has always mattered to him…"
"Tell me about it," the American sighed. "He's going to be crawling up my ass over it, I can tell you already…"
"In that case, I'll call Ludwig-san," Japan joined in, briefly meeting the informant's eyes. "He'll want to know as well."
"Yeah, Kiku, take the easy one…" America grumbled under his breath and began to pout, picking at his food.
"So what do we do for now?" Shizuo asked, fixing the American with a questioning stare. He may not have been as restless as Izaya was but even he wasn't looking forward to being stuck inside all day.
"I think you two just have to put up with being inside all day," America put his hands up in defense when Shizuo shot him a glare. "Sorry, dude, but you two are far too noticeable and they know that we were heading towards Paris. We're just going to have to deal with it for now."
Shizuo grumbled something under his breath but went back to his breakfast. Next to him, Izaya let out a heavy sigh and nursed his espresso, eyes tired and a pout on his lips. As the rest of the table finished up breakfast, Izaya's eyes wandered over to France, who was currently enjoying a pastry and chatting excitedly with the other nations. As he looked on, Gilbert's words came back to him.
What on earth could this nation know?
Not much else was shared over breakfast aside from small talk and catching up. France asked questions like what he had been up to in the past twenty-five years. Izaya hadn't been looking forward to that line of questioning and kept his answers short and simple to discourage any further prodding. Eventually, France gave up on digging and the table fell into silence until everyone finished. France went around the table and gathered up everyone's dishes, bustling into the kitchen.
"Don't mind me," he said as he walked off. "Better get to wasting the day away!" As he passed Shizuo, he squeezed the bodyguard's shoulder, letting the touch linger for a few seconds longer. "Maybe you can see Paris some other time, non?"
This time the bodyguard definitely noticed the pass and fixed the Frenchman with a glare. France only gave him a sultry smile in response and glanced at Izaya, who had become quite rigid in his seat. Across the table, America and Japan watched in anticipation, Japan looking mortified and America looking strangely excited. France gave a friendly smile to the bodyguard and released his shoulder, turning back towards the kitchen.
"No worries, cher," he said as he walked off. "I don't tend to chase after those that lack interest in me, especially if they have their eyes set on someone else." With those last words, he waggled his eyebrows at the bodyguard and disappeared around the corner, leaving Shizuo flushed.
What on earth did that mean? He glanced at Izaya. Did France know about the two of them? After all, they hadn't been very quiet last night so it wouldn't be out of the question…
A snort of laughter pulled the bodyguard out of his inner monologue and he fixed his eyes on America, who looked like he was about to blow a gasket with the amount of laughter he was holding back.
"S-sorry," the nation choked out and got to his feet, pulling his phone out of his pants' pocket. "I… I gotta call Arthur…" he stifled another giggle and walked off, snorting and cackling all the way.
Shizuo opted for shooting a glance at Japan, who looked mortified to even meet his eyes.
"Um… I… um…" the Japanese man stuttered, trying to avoid the bodyguard's gaze. "I need to… call Ludwig-san." He slowly got to his feet, almost as if he were trying to avoid startling a wild animal, and edged away from the other two, slowly retreating from the dining room. "E-excuse me…"
Shizuo watched as he nearly bolted out of the doorway, confusion etched on his face. What on earth was going on? Was there something going on that he didn't know about? He slowly turned to look at Izaya, who was looking slightly less bewildered than he was.
"Do you have any idea…?"
"What that was about?" Izaya finished and shook his head. "Not at all." He soon got to his feet, walking around Shizuo and to the kitchen.
"Where are you going?" Shizuo asked, grabbing the informant's wrist. What was with everyone taking off like this…?
"Just… to the kitchen," the informant said absentmindedly, trying to shake the bodyguard off. "Need to talk to our host about something. Why, do you want some more of what you got last night…?"
Shizuo glared at him, his face turning red again. "Shut up… I just…"
"Shhhh," Izaya placed a slim finger on the bodyguard's lips, looking down at him seductively. "I won't be long, Shizu-chan, promise. I'll be back~." He slipped out of the bodyguard's grasp and sauntered off towards the kitchen, disappearing around the corner in a second.
At the table, Shizuo put a hand to his face, feeling the heat on his cheeks. "Stupid flea…"
It was no surprise to Izaya that France didn't hear him enter the kitchen. After all, he had trained himself to be stealthy seeing how his line of work called for it nine times out of ten. Leaning up against the counter, he silently observed the Frenchman, who was currently loading up the dishwasher. Despite being hundreds of years old, he only appeared to be in his mid-twenties, his graceful features permanently trapped in between boyhood and adulthood. The only other thing that made him look slightly more his age was a light amount of stubble that traced his jaw line, darker at his chin and lighter near his cheeks. Every move he made was made with the upmost grace and if one observed him long enough, they might be able to catch that strange gleam in his eyes, one that signified that he was much more experienced than he seemed.
"Don't think for one second that I didn't hear you come in, mon ami," that clear voice actually caught the informant off guard; he was certain that France hadn't heard him approach…
"I'm not used to people knowing I'm around when I don't want them to," he replied, feeling rather impressed that the nation could tell. "How could you tell?"
"You don't live for hundreds of years without learning how to listen for someone," France turned to him, a bright smile on his face. "I used to be a great empire, you know." He paused to close the dishwasher and grabbed a towel, using it to dry off his hands. "Was there anything you needed?"
"I actually wanted to talk to you about something," Izaya watched as the Frenchman's eyebrows rose slightly, more out of amusement that surprise. He also had this knowing look on his face and the informant couldn't help but feel troubled. Had he been expecting this?
"Go ahead, mon ami. I'm here to listen."
"It's a personal question," Izaya said flatly. "I understand that you may trust the others but this isn't something I want either of them to hear."
"And what about your friend, the one dressed like a bartender?" France asked. "Does he know about this private matter of yours?"
Izaya paused. France was digging for something, he had gone through enough time dealing with smooth-talking scumbags and yakuza officials to recognize it when he saw it. After all, it was one of his best tactics. "To an extent," he opted to answer cautiously.
France only nodded in response and walked towards the exit, motioning for the informant to follow him. "There's a place where we can speak in private. I'm sure you'd appreciate that, no?"
Izaya nodded and followed the nation out of the kitchen, turning the corner into the dining room. Almost immediately, he noticed that Shizuo had left, probably retiring upstairs for the time being. He could hear America's voice from just down the hall but as far as he could see, everyone else was well out of sight. France led him past the stairway and down another short hallway, turning into a room to their right. It appeared to be some sort of study, filled with shelves and shelves of books. Multiple lounging chairs dotted the room and a mahogany desk sat in the corner, adjacent to a large bay window, books piled on the seat.
"Take a seat," France said, motioning to one of the chairs as he closed the door behind them. "We don't have to worry about being interrupted here. Now, tell me, what is your relationship with that bodyguard of yours?" His face grew bright when Izaya eyed him suspiciously. "You may have been absent and currently an amnesiac but I've known you long enough to know what's on your mind."
"So you want to know about Shizu-chan?" Izaya sighed as he took a seat.
"Oui," France smiled. "You two seem to have an interesting relationship."
"That doesn't even begin to describe it," the informant snorted, staring out the window. "We've hated each other since the day we met and not much has changed since then."
"So then why is it that he's here with you?"
"A mutual friend of ours wanted him to come with me," Izaya explained. "He thought I needed protection."
"I see," France's blue eyes glinted with mischief. "For someone that hates you, he's been doing a fantastic job at keeping you alive." Izaya remained silent. "I'm assuming your relationship has changed?" The silence continued as the informant glared out the window. "So it has. Is this part of your question?"
"I'm leading up to it," Izaya sighed and turned to face the other man. "Until recently, everything between us has been so simple. We've always hated each other. That's how it's always been. And then I have to travel around the world with him and everything changes. Suddenly, we could be in a room together and not want to kill each other. After a while, it seemed like…"
"You didn't even mind having him around, like you wanted him around?" France picked up from where he trailed off and the informant shot him a glare.
"You can drop the act," he snorted. "You know something, I can tell. You're just waiting for me to get there."
Another bright grin broke out on the Frenchman's face. "You still know me too well. As I understand it, you and he have taken your relationship to the next level."
Izaya narrowed his eyes at the other man's words. "What do you mean?"
"Mon ami, my walls aren't soundproof," France's grin grew even more when the informant's face flushed.
"We were that loud?" Izaya let out a sigh when France nodded. "And everyone knows?" Another nod. "Fantastic."
"Sorry, mon ami, but these things happen," France shrugged. "Now about that question…"
"I'm leading into it now," Izaya's gaze trailed back to the window. "I started to think about where this is going to go because I already know that this is more than just a one-night-stand. Once we reach the Netherlands, I know I'm not going back to Ikebukuro and I know that he won't be able to even dream of staying away from Tokyo."
"You don't have to stay with us, you know," France assured him. "Everyone just wants to see you again, especially Ludwig. If you have made a home in Japan, then you don't have to stay. You can always explain to him…"
"I understand but even then, there are still a few issues," the informant pointed out. "I'm immortal and as much as I hate to admit it, Shizu-chan is definitely human."
France's features had suddenly become tight and it seemed like he had paled a bit. "And why bring this up to me?"
"Gilbert said you would know."
This piqued France's attention. "He talks to you?"
Izaya nodded. "He knows I can trust you."
"Well, he would know about my expertise in this particular matter," France's eyes started to hold a strange, far-off look to them. "I'm sure you're familiar with Jeanne d'Arc, more commonly known as Joan of Arc?"
"I passed history class so yes," Izaya responded. "You knew her? Personally?"
"Quite personally," a wistful smile graced France's lips. "I loved her. She was a wonderful and very beautiful woman. She dedicated her life to protect me, to fight for me. She was truly the love of my life."
"What happened? Did it work out?"
"She died," France sighed. "You should know the story by now. Burned at the stake for being a 'witch.'" He paused, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm sorry, I don't tend to talk about this much…" He took a shaky breath to try and compose himself. "I have had many a lover but Jeanne was one in a million. I don't think I'll be able to find anyone like her ever again. What more do you want to know?"
"What should I do?"
France let out a sigh and leant forward, looking down at the ground thoughtfully. "Mon ami, there's only so much you can do in this situation. Getting romantically involved with mortals is by no means forbidden but it's also not strongly recommended. Whoever it is that you get attached to will eventually die. It is the nature of human beings. But…" he held up a finger. "I would be lying if I told you that the time I spent with Jeanne weren't some of the happiest days of my life. Is it worth it? I'll let you make that choice. But be warned, while I spent moments with her in total bliss, I have had to spend the rest of my life trying and failing to get that feeling back. It's a decision that can't be made lightly."
"I see…" the informant mumbled, casting his eyes down at the ground.
"I can say that you do seem happy with him," Izaya looked up to see a warm smile on France's face. "Don't let a good thing pass you by, mon ami." There was a pause. "Are you scared?"
"All my life, I have observed human beings and their mannerisms. Humans are very selfish and hurtful creatures. I guess that's why I've always found them so fascinating," Izaya mused, turning towards the window again. "At a young age, I noticed that people are usually crushed by love. It ruins them, destroys them, and ultimately causes pain, no matter how happy they might have been. That's why I decided to love all of humanity. By loving all humans, I could completely avoid getting hurt by just one person because there would be a multitude of others, right?" He looked back to France, letting out a tired sigh. "And now, I can only focus on one person and no matter what route I choose, it will destroy me. So yes, I'm scared. I'm scared of getting hurt."
France let out a sigh, his face solemn. "Think on it more. But please, don't let this pass you by. I've known you for a long time and believe me, mon ami, you deserve to be happy." He slowly got to his feet, heading towards the door. "I'm glad you felt like you were able to confide in me. Please, feel free to roam around the house. As an old friend, you are welcome to every single nook and cranny here."
"I think I will stay here for a while longer," the informant responded. "I need that time to think."
"Of course," France smiled and opened the door, stepping out of the room.
France turned back at the sound of the informant's voice. "Yes?"
"Gilbert… he says thank you."
A warm, nostalgic smile spread across the nation's face. "Anything for an old friend."
And with that, he closed the door gently behind him, leaving the informant to his thoughts.