A/N: Italicized sentences indicates that they are speaking French.
Courting is hard, Alfred Jones thought dismally. He sat in his chambers as it rained outside. The weather matched his mood perfectly, and sadly, his relationship as well. His recent attempts to woo his beloved had backfired when it began to rain, ruining their picnic. Alfred could always arrange for another date, but it was difficult considering all of their rendezvous were in secret. Society tended to frown down upon homosexual couples – especially between a student and tutor.
Alfred slid further down his chair. His beloved in question was a scholar from Cambridge, Arthur Kirkland, who was known for his wisdom and fiery temper. There were many girls that desired a beautiful man with fair hair, a lean form, and emerald eyes. It was sheer luck Alfred had won the man's attention with his intelligence.
Originally, the Jones family hailed from the New World, but Alfred was studying to go to school in England. His parents had considerable amount of money, so when Professor Kirkland contacted them about the possibility of personally tutoring their son, they heartily accepted.
Arthur was a good teacher, but Alfred's eyes often wandered from his books to Arthur's backside to admire the curve of Arthur's back, the shape of his calves, and his round rump. He especially enjoyed watching how Arthur's pale cheeks turned rosy whenever their eyes met. It wasn't long before Alfred noticed that Arthur's hand lingered when he placed it on his shoulder to bend down and inspect his work, or when he smiled fondly at Alfred in a way that no lady ever saw.
It was Alfred who approached Arthur first. However, Arthur was a shy man who often retreated from Alfred's advances, leading Alfred back to his current agonizing thought: courting was hard.
But not impossible.
Recently fashion had been influenced by France, and the idea of masquerade balls had become increasingly popular. Alfred knew of Arthur's fancy for dancing and romantic notions, so he wrote up an invitation to be sent to Arthur at once. As he wrote, an idea struck him. In order to feel he was truly gaining Arthur's heart, Alfred thought that perhaps a game of trust could come into play, but without Arthur knowing it. Alfred decided he would change his appearance enough to not look like himself, and then seek out Arthur during the night, hoping his beloved would recognize his heart.
He brushed aside the slight guilt he had of putting Arthur to a test, but it could be fun. Then again, it could not be.
Shortly after arriving at the ball, Alfred decided that high society was not for him. He felt completely out of place and scratched his arm anxiously. He fidgeted with his clothes while in the corner that he had retreated to, watching as people piled into the hall. It wasn't his outfit or anyone else's that bothered him, but just the atmosphere that everyone was on airs to be better than him.
Many of the guests were wearing flashy outfits like that of a peacock. Some women were going so far as to wear tails that had a similar representation of the bird. Their masks covered their faces completely, allowing people to shed their former inhibitions and blossom into someone else for these precious hours. Alfred wished he could join them in their gaiety, but he was on a mission.
It had taken some time, but he was able to tone down his outfit from being too flashy. It would be too obvious otherwise. Arthur constantly commented on Alfred's showy attitude, so Alfred also tweaked his personality slightly. Instead of being the center of attention, he stayed to the sides and people watched until he could find Arthur.
But for now he continued to fiddle with his clothes. He wore a blue tuxedo with coattails that had white, glittering trim to match his white gloves. Before leaving he polished his black shoes and remembered to wear a black hat to cover his blonde hair and his cowlick; that would be a dead giveaway for Arthur. Finally, his mask was white with blue red feathers and star beads following along his cheekbone under his eyes.
As Alfred stood and tried to spot Arthur, he thought that perhaps Arthur might be flashy tonight as well and there was a good chance he'd want to pretend for a little while too. It never hurt to be someone else, if only to step out of a stressful situation for a few hours of relaxation. Alfred couldn't blame him, especially since he was doing it too. However, as time wore on and the ball had long been underway, Alfred's resolve dwindled as he realized there weren't any short, blonde men at the party. A few taller, bulkier blondes here and there, but Alfred knew Arthur wouldn't go to such extremes.
He looked around casually as he stayed away from the dance floor. Men and women danced joyfully together, talking and laughing and drinking wine as music filled the space. Their attitude was like that of another tutor Alfred knew. Arthur was once schooled by a Frenchman named Francis Bonnefoy who, since Arthur had finished his studies, would occasionally pop in to tease him. He had taken a liking to Alfred and often struck up conversations with him about philosophy and politics. Alfred couldn't deny that he enjoyed these visits.
However, Arthur would become irritable when Francis was around, even to Alfred, and would hasten away long before his allotted time was up. Alfred had mixed feelings about this. He certainly liked Francis well enough, but hated Arthur leaving. Then again, he didn't think Arthur had to act so possessive just because someone took notice of him.
Alfred found that he had been thinking for too long and realized that he still hadn't found Arthur. Then a man with shoulder-length blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail entered his field of vision. He was extremely flashy indeed, and had a few men and women on each arm. Alfred smiled to himself, knowing that he had found Francis at least. The Frenchman was always smooth, attracting anyone he wanted.
Alfred left his spot to at least say hello. He had no intention of possibly asking him if he had seen Arthur, thereby cheating. No, not at all.
"Bonjour," Alfred said. Francis had taught him French to help in his studies. It wasn't that Francis didn't know English, it's just that he preferred his native tongue instead. Therefore, it was a rule that French was spoken whenever he was around. "Enjoying yourself?"
Francis smiled at Alfred. "Oh, yes. Lots of lovely ladies."
"And the men?"
Francis chuckled. He took Alfred's hand and pecked the back of it. "Always…"
Alfred flushed slightly at the gesture. He looked around the room to play it off. "Have you seen anyone familiar?"
"But of course; why don't you join me for a little while?"
Alfred glanced at Francis. Francis' costume consisted of a red jacket with gold trim over a white button up shirt and blue pants; under his chin was an especially ruffled ascot, and his gloves had a bit of glitter on them. His mask sparkled as well as red and blue gemstones that faded up into the high, crown like top of his mask. It was one of the more impressive and exquisite masks he had seen that night. Alfred was blinded by the gems and couldn't look Francis in the eye, although he did notice something peculiar about the man.
Francis laughed, running a hand over his chin. "Do you like?"
"Well…it's different. I don't think it's all that bad." Alfred smirked. Francis averted his eyes, almost as if he were touched by Alfred's compliment, even if it really wasn't one.
"Dance with me," Francis said suddenly. The partygoers on his arms whined, but he ignored them to take Alfred out to the dance floor.
"Oh, but I'm… Okay."
Alfred only wanted to dance with Arthur, but maybe he'd cover more ground by moving around the room. At balls, especially a masquerade one, all bets were off on who danced with whom. There were already many same-sex couples dancing together on the floor. In truth Alfred wasn't a dancer, so he was the last person that wanted to attend a ball. He did this for Arthur.
As he had written up the invitation, he imagined seeing Arthur all dressed up and his eyes alight from the social stimulation. Just thinking of Arthur's excited expression when Alfred would ask him to dance pushed him to really go all out in this event. He smiled to himself as he remembered Arthur's eager reply.
"That smile… Is it reserved for me?" Francis asked curiously.
Alfred chuckled, feeling his face heat up again with blush. "No."
"Oh, then have you been struck by love?"
Alfred's face grew hotter, and even the tips of his ears burned slightly. "Maybe, but I don't think they feel the same."
"How do you know?"
"I've made efforts, but…"
"Ah, she is shy. They are always worth it in the end. I am certain she is very lucky to have a man like you after her heart."
"I wish I knew… That's why I'm here – for her."
Francis smiled in a strange, gentle way. Alfred didn't know Francis very well, but he didn't think the man could ever look so tender. He figured he had to be affectionate to some degree, but was he ever that sincere?
"Are you in love?" Alfred asked.
"Possibly." Alfred raised an eyebrow. "I am not sure yet. She…means something to me, that's for sure. But, I don't see her here tonight. That's bothersome considering she invited me.:
Alfred sighed. "I feel the same. I invited my special person and they are not here either…"
"Then, let's dance until we find them."
Alfred smiled. He was relieved. Spending time with Francis meant he wouldn't have to spend time alone, wandering about the room and staring at people far too closely. The night wouldn't have turned out that great if he had.
His goal was to see if he could understand Arthur's heart, and it seemed he had found his answer. His tutor wasn't here. Arthur didn't care enough, and his words were meaningless. He probably played him off in his reply, only meaning to tease him like he would a child. It was pitiful to see something as fragile as their new relationship get off to this kind of start. Alfred had had such wonderful ideas in mind for their future. Now, it was all for naught.
Time wore on and the night turned late, but Alfred and Francis continued to dance. They talked about simple and casual things, preferring to keep everything light given their wounded prides at the moment. Alfred enjoyed laughing. It kept the pain at bay.
"How are you?" Francis asked after a time. They had retired to a table outside where they could get some fresh air. Many of the guests had taken off their masks by now, but were still drunk off of the wine and continued on with their new personality.
"Tired, but good." Alfred replied. He wished he could revert to speaking English. Speaking French for so long made his head dizzy, and he knew it wasn't from all of the dancing. "No sign of your beloved?"
Francis shook his head sadly. "Maybe my disguise was too good…"
"Maybe mine was too."
"Did you hide yourself for a reason?"
"Well, I changed how I looked in hopes my beloved would still find me based on my heart, but if I can't find her then…"
Francis studied him for a moment. He was rubbing his chin in an eerily familiar way. Alfred knew Arthur did the same movement when he was deep in thought, but he couldn't remember ever seeing Francis doing such a thing. Maybe it was a leftover habit from rubbing his beard that was no longer there.
"Would you like to speak English?"
"Yes." Alfred smiled, relieved once more. "I was getting tired of French."
"So, you are not Francis." That was certainly not a heavy French accent; it was English.
Alfred's mouth fell open. He leaned over and pulled the man's mask off. Brilliant green eyes and thick eyebrows were hidden under it. Arthur smiled at Alfred in a cocky sort of manner. He must have felt so proud to figure it out before Alfred.
"What?! You mean, we danced the entire time?!"
"It would seem so." Arthur crossed his arms and put one leg on top of the other. "I thought you were Francis from the way you approached me so casually and started speaking such fluent French."
Alfred blushed, thankful once more that his mask hid his red face. "W-well, you were acting an awful lot like Francis, so I thought…"
"Is this not a masquerade ball?" Arthur asked and Alfred looked down at his lap. "Were you not pretending to be someone else?"
"N-no!" Alfred looked up in a vain hope that Arthur believed him, but his cocky smirk was still firmly in place. That bastard was too good at deducing things. Then again, he was a tutor for a reason. "Okay… But just to…"
"To test me?"
Alfred slid down in his seat like a bratty child that was in trouble. Well, he was in trouble. He didn't want his boyfriend to find out that he had played this game on him, even if he had initially thought it a bad idea.
"I'm sorry," he started, "I know I've been bad at courting you and I was worried that you would…"
"I would what?" Arthur asked. He didn't sound angry or even the slightest bit upset, but rather he almost sounded playful. "Alfred, the rain from the other day was not your fault and I do not blame you. All of your other attempts have been admirable, even this one. Although, I advise you to never do such a thing again."
"O-okay…" Alfred lifted his head slowly.
Arthur's expression had softened by now. He leaned forward and took Alfred's mask off, tossing it aside and then caressing Alfred's face. "That's better. Your eyes are lovely, but I prefer to see all of you if I am to believe that smile of yours."
Alfred laughed nervously. Here he had tried to woo Arthur, but he felt he was the one being wooed.
The couple rose from their seats and joined the remaining guests inside to finish off the night together. They danced together, faces free of their façade, and from their masks. Arthur was laughing, finally able to enjoy himself the longer he stayed with Alfred. It was a nice change of pace. Arthur, who was so shy and distant with his emotions, constantly scared Alfred of his intentions. And while his method wasn't ideal, he still got the desired effect in the end.
He knew he would never need to pretend to be anyone else ever again after that night.
Hoshiko2's cents: By the way, Francis never showed up at the ball. He found a hot little mama outside and took her home for the evening.
Thank you Zo One for betaing. Also thank you america-loves-england (Foreign Compromise) for providing me with the artwork for my piece in the USUK Anthology.
This is part of the LJ usxuk Anthology which, if you haven't seen by now, is amazing and filled with tons of USUK fics accompanied by artwork. I suggest you go and see them as mine is a poor example of the quality of art and stories inside.