A/N: Dear god, I hope there's not a solid line between what I wrote of this three months ago and what I wrote this weekend—it seems like forever since I've written anything Hetalia. If they're OOC, please tell me, because I've gotten rather scarily out of touch with these characters!
And now, to fic info.
I go with America's canon age of 19 in this one, and it's sort of AU-ish, but only certain extremely minor aspects are twisted to go with the La Rose Noire universe (*cough*Francis and Alfred living in the same town*cough*). I've actually attempted a crapton of stories with this universe, both fanfiction and original, but only two of those have actually been completed; one is getting published and the other is on your computer screen right now.
I have a status update in my profile, sort of explaining what's been going on lately if anyone is interested, but for now, I think I owe you guys this, so I'm going to shut up.
And as always, reviews are greatly appreciated! :D
Francis woke drenched in cold sweat.
The dream had come again.
The heat was searing, smothering, the air choked with smoke and orange flames licking at his body. His heart was racing, eyes nearly seared to blindness, skin bubbling in the flames. But that wasn't what destroyed him.
He was watching Jeanne burn.
The flames engulfed him as he watched the ropes holding her corpse to the stake give way, and Francis screamed, watching the blackened shell collapse to the ground. Her skin was dripping from her bones, sunken, melting black eyelids oozing open, exposing two pupils like the searing orange coals remaining of the stake, the final ashen wisps of her hair blowing away in the wind.
Fallen to her knees, she slowly began to rise, reaching for Francis, her hand crackling and black. "Sauve-moi, mon amour," she hissed, voice gurgling and choked. "S'il te plait, sauve-moi..."
The coals glowed brighter, and Francis was petrified, screaming silently, backing away desperately. She crawled toward him, lurching to her feet, the crackling of bones and the creaking of melted flesh echoing in Francis's ears.
"Pourquoi n'as-tu pas me sauver?" she growled, coals flaring, stabbing straight through his blue eyes to his soul.
He could've saved her.
He turned to run—he always did—but the demon Jeanne had him by the wrist, hand clamping down with burning pain in the smoky gloom of flames and heat.
She dragged him back, corpse crumbling, drenching him in flames, and he screamed. He always screamed, as she was strangling him and burning him and blaming him for everything.
But this time it had been different.
He'd forced his eyes open, gazing upward, and a pale golden light was hovering over him, the tips of soft white feathers brushing his face. A cool hand came to rest on his shoulder, gentle and soft in the scorching heat of Jeanne's flames.
Francis's eyes slid shut, body going weak, the glimpse of green eyes, golden hair, and pale skin like lilies chasing away the horror of Jeanne's death as a soft accent murmured words of love in his ear, and the angel's full, feathery wings lifted the both of them from the flames.
The second his feet left the ground, Francis jolted awake with Jeanne's screech of rage ringing in his ears, his heart slamming against his ribs, gulping air in ragged gasps.
Green eyes, blond hair, soft white wings.
Golden sunbeams flooded through his curtains, cascading across the bed and smattering onto the floor. A soft breeze rippled the branches of the budding rose bush outside his window, and Francis let out a quivering breath, forcing his eyes shut to blink away the image of the demon Jeanne and running a shaking hand through tangled blond hair.
But it wasn't as hard as the other mornings—the times he would wake in terror in the dead of night and be forced to lay trembling for hours until the sun rose to save him, still feeling her hands clamped around his neck, still feeling the flames licking at his skin.
A new savior had found him today.
The fleeting ghost of emerald eyes and cool hands seemed to linger beside him in the room.
He could almost hear the angel speaking—still whispering to him, too faintly to hear. The tiniest featherweight lifted from the bed and the invisible ghost of a soft wing came just close enough to his face to be sensed.
With a soft breeze of warmth that rippled the curtains around his window and brought the tiniest hint of lilies flowing through the room, Francis's angel was gone.
He'd never told a soul about the nightmares. Gil and Antonio would only worry—Matthew even more so. Francis had many friends, but confidantes were hard to come by, and so, he suffered in silence. It had been years since the dreams were this terrible, but still, he dragged himself from bed, dressed, brushed and revived his shining blond waves and headed out the door.
On Saturdays, the business at his little corner cafe was always a bit slow in the mornings, but it was a welcome way to rid his mind of Jeanne. The air was thick and fresh, saturated with spring rains yet to come, and glistening with brilliant sunbeams that cascaded through the trees to drench the world in golden light. The walk across town was short and refreshing—much better than any pile of papers on international relations. He cringed to think of the mountain of work on his desk that he'd been putting off since the last world conference, and promptly shook the image from his mind.
For the moment, he had far nicer work to do.
La Rose Noire had been his cafe for ten years now, a pleasant distraction from the stresses of being a nation. Here, he was simply Francis—not France, with duties and relations and extensive problems to be sorted out. Here, he was just Francis, who made the best coffee in town and laughed with the customers like they were old friends as he took their orders, and who would sit and chat with the lonely ones when business was slow.
He loved it.
Opening shop was always pleasant; on brilliant days like this morning, the front room was silent and warm, the dark booths shadowy. The painted golden script on the window shone in the sunlight pouring in from outside. Francis smiled, flipping on the lights, removing the closed sign in the window, and heading back into the kitchen to get the first batch of croissants started.
It was pleasant, sitting here at the counter with the delicious scent of baking wafting from the kitchen behind him, and the murmur of talk and laughter from the few customers filling his ears. No worries; no paperwork; no nightmares; no Jeanne.
Francis looked up suddenly, swearing he caught the slightest hint of lilies with the thought.
He sighed and glanced back down at his book, before resigning himself to the preoccupation taking hold of his mind. It was strange, waking to feel the warmth at his side, as though the angel was lying next to him in the bed. Had he merely been dreaming, still thinking of it?
No. It had been far too real to have just been imagined. Somehow it wasn't startling, to wake with an unseen guardian beside him. It was strangely comforting, the ghost of feathers and the gentle, unhurried whispers. The angel had hardly lingered after he'd realized its presence, before slipping away into the sunbeams.
Green eyes; blond hair; soft, cool hands.
He wished he could recall more than the blur of light and shadow in his mind.
Even the vision of beautiful emerald eyes was beginning to slip away.
The bell on the door jingled unexpectedly, and Francis nearly jumped as he was jolted from his reverie. Glancing up to smile at the customer and call out a warm greeting, a grin suddenly broke across his face and he stood from his seat behind the counter.
"Alfred, salut!" he laughed, as the American rushed over to grab him in a hug and nearly knocked the wind out of him. Alfred chuckled, patting his back.
"How've you been, dude?" he laughed. "It's been forever since I've seen you."
Francis smiled, shaking his head as Alfred finally released him. "You saw me at the last conference," he said with amusement. Alfred rolled his eyes.
"That was a month ago!" he protested. A teasing smirk quirked his lips. "And plus, you spent the entire time driving Iggy nuts, so it doesn't count." The smirk faded, replaced with an earnest smile. That was Alfred—always sincere when he knew it would count. "Seriously, how are you?"
Francis just chuckled, but it flickered slightly at the sudden thought of the nightmares—of Jeanne. Alfred noticed. An accusing eyebrow was already inching toward his hairline.
"Pas mal," Francis shrugged, moving back behind the counter.
The eyebrow ascended further.
"I'm just... having trouble sleeping," he finished, somewhat awkwardly. The eyebrow halted, but Alfred still eyed him with slight concern. Francis cleared his throat after a moment, breaking the troubled silence. "Your usual?"
Alfred's slight frown didn't suit his sunny face at all, but it faded slightly as he nodded and Francis went to fetch a steaming mocha coffee from the kitchen, and topped it with a mountain of whipped cream.
He was still waiting at the counter when Francis reappeared, and the Frenchman laughed, handing the eager Alfred his coffee and a few napkins. "Eager, are we?" he joked, and the American grinned.
"For Francis's awesome world-famous coffee? With good reason."
He leaned back against the counter with a glance around the cafe, to the few early-rising Saturday customers, and then back to Francis. At second glance, he really did look tired; there were shadows beneath his eyes when he wasn't smiling, and his skin had a strange sallow tinge. Alfred regarded him for a moment longer, then sighed and stood straight, glancing at Francis over his shoulder.
"What d'ya say we sit down?" he asked, picking up his coffee from the counter. Francis looked over the customers, and then nodded, knowing what was coming. He followed Alfred over to the corner booth by the window, bathed in warm morning sunbeams and smelling faintly—so faintly he could have imagined it—of lilies. In a moment, the scent was gone as quickly as it had come, and Francis turned to Alfred, sliding into the booth and leaning back against the soft, dark leather.
Alfred still regarded him with slight concern. "What's goin' on?" He took a sip of his coffee, wincing as it burned the roof of his mouth.
Francis briefly toyed with the notion of lying, but quickly shoved the thought from his mind. "Nightmares," he murmured after a moment's warm silence.
Alfred's brow furrowed.
"They're back?" he asked, concern etching small lines in his forehead. Francis nodded.
"Oui, Jeanne is back," he said quietly, glancing out the window to the brilliantly sunny morning beyond. "But..."
Another tiny whiff of lilies.
"Something happened this morning."
Now Alfred's eyebrows rose again, beginning their ascent toward his hairline once more. "Really, dude?" he inquired curiously, cracking a small smile. Another sip of coffee.
And then the entire far-fetched story was pouring out of Francis's mouth. Unusually for him, Alfred listened in silence, pushing his glasses up his nose and watching Francis intently. As he finally faltered, fading into silence, Alfred remained quiet for a moment, eying him cautiously.
"Pourquoi?" Francis asked after a second, unsure.
Alfred still looked spooked, blue eyes wide. "You're sure it wasn't a ghost?" he whispered worriedly.
Francis burst out laughing.
"Non," he chuckled. "It saved me. And... I felt its wings. It was there."
This time the soft scent of lilies lingered longer before fading away.
Alfred smelled it too. Francis smiled, closing his eyes, breathing it in. It lingered longer now, and the American slowly relaxed.
They sat in silence, listening to the murmur of talk and reveling in the warmth of the sunshine. Finally Alfred took another sip of his coffee, and set it down thoughtfully, watching Francis.
"You look happy," he said, flashing an honest smile. "Better than after the other times."
Francis shrugged, gazing out the window to the golden morning beyond the swirling French letters. "I was rescued last night."
Alfred chuckled, shaking his head. "That angel must really care about you," he said, as though deep in thought, and in a second his eyes sparked, as though a lightbulb had just flicked to life in his mind.
A mysterious smile dawned on his face, and Francis suddenly felt suspicion take root in his stomach.
He glared at Alfred halfheartedly, but just as he was about to open his mouth, the bell on the door jingled and another customer stepped into the cafe.
"Duty calls," the American smirked teasingly, motioning to the customer, before standing and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Francis crossed his arms in half-joking exasperation, watching him skip out of the cafe.
He was left with a creeping notion Alfred knew something he didn't.
Francis twisted in his sleep, groaning, closed eyelids flickering and body slicked with sweat. He was terrified. The heat was unbearable.
Again, she was searing him into blackness. His skin boiled, tears evaporating before they left his eyes, scream dying in his raw throat. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't think—he fell to his knees, Jeanne tugging him downward, spiraling into the choking black smoke and scorching flames.
Black spots were closing in, and he turned his dying gaze upward, suddenly catching sight of a golden glow of hope.
Beautiful emerald eyes...
And then cool fingers laced with his own.
"Sorry I'm late, love," the angel murmured, and swept down to break his fall.
The other soft hand came to rest at his waist, the angel pulling him close against his body and holding him tight. A stroke of mighty wings and Jeanne's hand was slipping, clutching at his leg, and then his ankle, with bruising force, screaming in rage. Francis cried out in pain, feeling his bones snap beneath her blackened fist, but the angel's lips brushed his ear gently, the soft whisper calming him. "Shhhh..." the angel breathed, smiling softly against the side of his face. "Don't be frightened." Feather-light lips pressed a slow, gentle kiss to his ear. His pain ebbed away as he was rescued from Jeanne's grip. The angel kissed him again, lips smooth as silk and cool on his skin. "I'll keep you safe."
Francis woke peacefully that morning, blue eyes slipping drowsily open to be greeted by the sunshine flooding through his curtains.
Again, the angel lingered beside him in the bed, a soft, invisible ghost of weight warming him like he lay drenched in a sunbeam. The sunbeam left a featherweight trail of warmth over his chest, and the ghost of a hand rested against his shoulder.
The angel was holding him.
He could nearly feel its chest rising and falling against his side, and he smiled. Warm lips lingered beside his ear, whispering to him, just barely far enough to be untouchable. He didn't move, didn't speak—just smiled, closing his eyes and resting there in the angel's arms until he felt the soft breeze of feathers and the sunshine vanished, once more leaving him alone in the room.
Every single night, Jeanne dragged him down in her fiery, blaming grip, and every single night, the angel came to save him. It was extraordinary, how quickly Francis felt himself fall into a routine of gentle touches and brilliant green eyes, to be woken in the mornings by a soft kiss to his ear or a soft, ghostly hand rubbing tingling circles into his shoulder. Fleeting whispers of sweet nothings remained just too soft to be heard; the warm breeze of lilies stirred by soft white wings brushed at his curtains, and faded with the presence he'd become so used to in the past month.
He began to find himself holding the angel when he woke, something incredibly warm and soft—and so beautiful—resting in the crook of his arm, chest rising and falling against his side. The angel's touch was like the sunshine, warming him gently, bringing a soft smile to his lips as blue eyes flickered open.
Even after all this time, he couldn't quite distinguish his imagination from memories of the dreams.
Two days before the world meeting, the monstrous pile of untouched paperwork on international relations had been weighing on Francis's mind more heavily with every passing hour. Thankfully it had been his turn to host in Paris this time; he had no last-minute flight arrangements to make, and no hotel reservations to throw into place.
He'd sighed, checking in on the three young women who had yet to leave for the evening, and gone to shut off the ovens in the kitchen. Even here, in the haven of everything he loved, the responsibility of being a nation had found him.
La Rose Noire had closed early that night; he'd walked home across town, forced himself into his office, and worked all night to complete the mountain of paperwork he should've finished ages ago. By the time he rubbed bleary, bloodshot eyes and shook himself awake enough to move, the sun peered over the horizon in a cascade of scarlet beams. He'd capped his pen, dragged himself to bed, and collapsed of exhaustion.
For the first time in nearly a month, the angel hadn't come to save him.
Now, he sat in the world conference room, doodling on his notes and wondering how, exactly, he'd managed to keep his stress-worn sanity intact for this long. The din of the other nations was giving him a pounding headache.
America and Germany argued, Russia had long since gone scrambling for the hills in an attempt to escape from Belarus, Romano fought off Spain and the northern Italy twin, and China griped about the immaturity of it all to the strangely silent United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Francis didn't know what had happened. Arthur had been acting a bit odd all day, keeping his distance from everyone—not even saying a word to France. He spoke less to the other nations, none with Francis, and more with America. He watched them closely, alert for any flick of green eyes toward him, or a gesture, or a word.
He hated being avoided by England.
By the time the meeting finally adjourned with another two months' worth of paperwork—this time on global economics—France was bored, perplexed, and thoroughly exhausted. Eight hours of Alfred's rants and Germany's shouting were even harder to suffer through without Arthur in the chair beside him to complain and bicker with.
As much as he loathed to admit it, without England, he was lonely.
He considered trying to catch up to Arthur as the Brit gathered his things and hurried for the door, but sighed, rising from his chair and shaking his head. It was no use chasing him, when green eyes hadn't so much as flitted his way since the beginning of the meeting this morning.
Alfred noticed, and shot him a questioning look from the head of the table, but Francis just gave him a weary smile. The American chuckled, shoving the rest of his papers irritatedly into his uncharacteristic briefcase and coming over to join him.
"You really need to start doing your homework earlier," he observed with a touch of smugness, smiling at Francis as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He sat down nonchalantly on the table, loosening his collar and tearing off the tie.
Francis grinned and shook his head.
That was more like the Alfred he knew.
America examined his face for a moment, before sighing and crossing his arms. "When I can tell you're exhausted, that's saying something," he stated matter-of-factly. "And I'd say you look like hell, but you never look like hell, so I'd rather just say you look like you need a drink," the American finished with a grin. Francis couldn't help the smile that spread onto his face as well, and sighed, forcing the remainder of his paperwork into his overstuffed briefcase and slamming it shut before it could explode.
"Oui, I won't dispute that," he yawned, standing and stretching languidly. "Did you have a place in mind?"
"When don't I?" Alfred grinned, hopping off the table and smiling when Francis laughed.
"Lead the way," he shrugged, before adding evilly, "If they have not found out that fake ID of yours yet."
Alfred deflated, scowling at him.
"Was that really necessary, dude?" he groaned, and Francis laughed, following him out through the conference room doors.
The bar was small, warm, and clean, on the outskirts of Paris. Low golden light drenched the place, the warm murmuring and laughter lulling Francis into a wonderful sense of security. It had been a few years since he'd come here; the last time had also been after a world conference he'd hosted, and he'd spent nearly the entire time drinking with England and unable to quit laughing at him, until he'd hauled the Brit's ass back to his hotel and ended up crashing with him. Arthur had pleaded with him to stay—he didn't want to be alone, please, Francis had to keep him safe from the dreams—
They hadn't talked for weeks over the incident, and it had never been mentioned since.
Francis shoved the memory from his mind.
As it turned out, Alfred's French had improved slightly, but his heinous American accent still made Francis cringe when he struck up a conversation with the pretty barmaid over their orders. She just giggled and waved it off, laughing again at the look on Francis's face before darting off to attend to some other customers.
When Alfred turned to Francis, it was with a strange look of concern, the dim lighting of the bar glaring in his glasses lenses. Blue eyes watched him intently for a moment before Alfred spoke.
"What happened to your angel?" he finally asked.
The question caught Francis unarmed, and he looked down into his glass of wine, swirling it thoughtfully. "Je... Je ne sais pas," he finally murmured. The words left him feeling strangely empty when no flicker of lilies floated to meet them. He ran a hand through his hair, helpless against the flashes of the nightmares rushing at him from the shadows.
Heavy silence fell between them; Alfred took a sip of his beer, the sound of thick glass meeting wood the only break in the quiet murmurs of other conversations. Francis let his mind wander through the snippets; one woman had gotten a promotion, but she hated her new boss; another older man had hurt his hip; a young man at the corner table sadly fingered the long row of stitches in his girlfriend's arm. She'd just been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt.
"He'd better come back tonight," Alfred muttered, more to himself than Francis, but Francis nodded, taking a sip of his wine. He still had the fleeting notion Alfred knew something about the angel that he didn't, but he was far too exhausted to dwell on that tonight.
"Oui," he murmured, and he couldn't help the warmth returning to him when the faintest hint of lilies whispered sadly against his face.
He swore he was in Hell. He couldn't do this anymore—couldn't watch her burn. She was collapsing, corpse falling to pieces, blackened and oozing, and he screamed her name. She couldn't be gone. His eyes slammed shut, tears streaming down his face, fists clenching, falling to his knees in flames and ashes. Jeanne crawled at him from the shadows, and he knelt rooted to the spot, unable to stagger back, feeling her dead, crackling fingers clench on his wrist and grief clench on his heart—
Thin, cool arms and soft white wings enfolded him from above, and her hand fell away with the smooth lips at his ear. "I'm sorry, love, I'm so sorry," the angel whispered, holding him close. Francis had never heard him sound so broken as he did now, breathing gentle against the side of his face, soft feathers engulfing them. "I'm so sorry for everything."
When he woke, the room was warm, sunshine falling through swaying bushes and across his face to flicker gently behind closed eyelids. Peaceful. The room was quiet, save for the muffled drone of a lawnmower three houses down, covers twisted pleasantly around him.
A warm body shifted drowsily against his side, and a smile tugged at his lips.
He could feel the angel this morning. Beautiful, and real, and solid and warm in his arms. Soft feathers tickled at his side as one warm wing slid clumsily over him beneath the covers, resting over his shoulder and making him sigh softly in contentment, gently curling around the slim body against his chest.
Neither spoke as he pulled the angel close, reveling the rise and fall of his breaths and the warmth of his body, beautiful and fragile in his arms. Francis smiled as the angel nuzzled his face against his neck, soft, cool lips tracing sweet nothings against his skin once again. Seconds became minutes, which stretched on.
Sunlight still flickered aimlessly over the two of them, lying together, feeling each other's heartbeats. Only now did the final words of last night's dream echo in Francis's mind: "Please, love, don't open your eyes."
He didn't, until the angel sighed softly, leaning to press a trail of kisses over his jaw, and the fading scent of lilies left him alone in the room.
The next day at the cafe slid by in a haze. The lilies nearly never left him, mingling with coffee and roses and chocolate and baking, and somehow he couldn't help but feel like something had finally fallen into place—like the sweet scent belonged here, and so did the angel. His angel. He smiled at the thought.
When he collapsed into bed that night, it was a gentle, pleasant descent into darkness, and while he braced himself for Jeanne, instead his eyelids flickered, and opening them found him lying on his back, gazing into a misty blue sky of soft clouds overhead. Sunbeams warmed him; tall grass tickled his back pleasantly, and beneath his head was something soft, warm—he nearly jumped when it moved, and then smiled to see the angel sitting up, cradling his head gently in his lap.
The angel watched him for a minute in silence, gazing down at him with those beautiful green eyes, framed by long, deep golden lashes. Seeing him framed in the sunbeams, there was something unearthly, impossibly beautiful in the play of the lights and the shadows.
Francis recognized this meadow—though from where or when, he couldn't be sure. Tiny wildflowers grew rampant; century-old trees stretched their gnarled branches toward the sun, with the slow, steady rush of the sea echoing in the distance.
Warm, gentle hands stroked his hair tenderly, and Francis smiled, closing his eyes to melt into the angel's touch.
"You're beautiful, love." The soft murmur ghosted over him, and he opened his eyes to meet the angel's gaze, smiling softly up at him and reaching a careful hand to touch his face. The angel smiled, chuckling softly, closing his eyes and leaning into Francis's touch slightly. His pale skin was as silken as the lilies he smelled of.
Francis smiled, rubbing gentle, lazy circles into the angel's face with his thumb. "So are you," he murmured softly back.
"Nah," the angel breathed, shaking his head and letting a gentle hand rest against Francis's cheek, the other still playing with his hair. He stayed silent for a moment, as Francis shifted slightly in his lap, the Frenchman's hand moving to cup the slight fingers on his face. He smiled, dappled sunbeams falling over them as the breeze ruffled a willow's branches. "You'd make a much better angel than I do."
Francis shook his head, letting his eyes slip closed to revel in the warmth of the angel's hand and the golden glow of sunshine that seemed to radiate from him. Emerald eyes, messy blond hair, smooth pink lips.
He was so warm, so gentle, so beautiful. Francis let himself melt into the angel's touch, feeling afternoon turn to twilight around them and himself slowly drifting into the darkness once again.
When Francis finally woke the next morning, he felt better than he had in months. With the lily-scented breeze drifting though the room and the ghost of feathers brushing his face, it finally fell into place what was different.
The gaping void Jeanne's death had left in his chest was gone.
The angel's warmth had taken its place, instead.
La Rose Noire closed early again on the first Friday in June; once again, Francis had managed to leave his paperwork until the very last moment, and now, he would pay the price. He sighed, flipping the sign on the window to closed and untying the apron from around his waist as the setting sun's light streamed in through the window.
The tinkle of the bell on the door made him look up from wiping down the tables curiously, about to ask what he could do for the customer who'd ignored the sign, but then he stiffened, recognizing the man. It was his boss.
"Bonsoir, monsieur Bonnefoy," he said, not coldly, and Francis straightened up, wadding the damp cloth in his hand.
"Bonsoir," he greeted in return, nodding. "What can I do for you, sir?"
His boss sighed, folding his hands behind his back awkwardly. He gazed around the little cafe, taking in the loveworn dark booths, the fresh bouquet of black roses in a vase beside the cash register, and the painstakingly-crafted lettering on the window. Francis watched him cautiously, knowing something wasn't right.
Finally, the man spoke. "It's... it's been a over a decade, France."
Francis's stomach plummeted.
He knew what was coming, and come it did.
The cafe had gone on for long enough; it was a risk on its own, and ten years was just simply too much time in which not to age. He'd be needing to move again, soon. It was also distracting him from his work; two world meetings' worth of unfinished paperwork until the last moment was just two too many. The personification of France needed to be healthy and well-functioning to handle his duties responsibly and with ease.
By the time his boss left with a hand to his shoulder and an awkward apology, Francis wanted to scream.
This was the part that killed him inside, every single time. Saying goodbye to everyone he knew, packing his bags and moving to the other side of the country. He'd spend a good five or six years abroad, long enough for people to forget his face, and then find somewhere new to settle down where no one knew his name or his cafe. And then he'd start over again—start with a bouquet on the counter, and lettering on the window of an old building on a corner of the town square.
He had until the end of this December to get his affairs in order and say goodbye to La Rose Noire and everyone he knew. La Rose Noire was as immortal as he was—but that didn't make killing an old friend any less painful. Barely eight months of sanctuary were left for him and his cafe.
The walk home seemed longer than usual. Now that he knew he'd be leaving before the year was through, all the little things seemed all the more precious; the minute cracks in the sidewalk beneath his feet, the laughter of children playing as their parents tried to reel them in from the sunset's intoxicating light, the lawnmower from three doors down sputtering to a halt for the evening.
Half of the paperwork he managed to struggle though would be either illegible or a totally senseless gibber of Franglais when he looked back at it in the morning, and after countless agonizing hours of hacking away at the pile, he left the office to tumble into bed; the digital clock at his bedside flashed 3:07 AM.
Tonight, when he opened his eyes, twilight was just beginning to fall over their meadow, the angel lying warm beside him. Deep emerald eyes flickered open, pale skin shining in the brilliant violet light of the sunset.
Francis sighed as the angel turned to face him, closing his eyes and melting into the warmth of the soft hand on his cheek.
"You're late, love," the angel murmured gently, concern in his voice. "And you're exhausted."
Francis just nodded wearily, reaching blindly for the angel's warmth and letting his hand come to rest on his smooth, pale shoulder. "I have paperwork to do, and I have to close my cafe before the end of this year." He shook his head, rubbing circles into the angel's skin, reveling in his warmth and the softness of the feathers his fingers brushed. "I know it's too obvious that I never age, but I just can't leave it. It gets harder every time." Blue eyes flickered open, meeting the angel's sad gaze. His wonder at their unearthly beauty would never fade; rich green, laced with gold and deep sea blue at the edges. His hand moved from the angel's shoulder to his face, rubbing softly along his jaw. The angel hummed softly, leaning into his touch and closing his eyes, a small smile on smooth pink lips.
"It's my only escape," Francis whispered, taking in the angel's impossible beauty. "Except for you."
Green eyes flickered open again, the twilight playing softly on his features. The sad smile returned. "What if I'm just a figment of your imagination?"
Francis chuckled, sliding his arms around the angel's soft body and pulling him close, letting the peaceful warmth wash over him. He smiled into soft, messy blond hair, shaking his head.
"If you were, you wouldn't ask me that," he whispered. The angel chuckled and sighed softly, hands smoothing over his chest, one coming to rest over his heart as he buried his face in Francis's neck. Stroking the soft down feathers where the angel's wings met his back, Francis smiled when he shivered, hands on his chest tugging at his shirt involuntarily. He nuzzled the angel's cheek, breathing him in.
"Although I suppose that might be a good thing, because then I could keep you forever," he breathed, and the angel's eyes slowly rose to meet his. They took his breath away.
"Keep me... forever," the angel repeated carefully, studying him. Francis smiled softly, still stroking his feathers, reveling in the shiver and the quiet giggle that the angel gave, curling closer to his chest. Their eyes met, and Francis smiled.
"You've gone and made me fall in love with you," he whispered, gently running his thumb over the angel's soft lips.
The words hung in the air between them for a moment of silence, and then the angel kissed his fingers softly, green eyes watching him from below long golden lashes. Francis's heart skipped a beat beneath his palm. He pulled him closer, watching green eyes flutter shut again, a soft smile quirking his lips as Francis leaned down and kissed him.
The angel hummed softly against his mouth, kissing back, hands clenching in Francis's shirt as he stroked soft feathers again, teasing him gently. A soft sound escaped his lips as Francis carefully slipped his tongue past them, tasting a ghost of sweet tea and smiling into the kiss. The angel broke away after a few moments to trail feather-light kisses over his jaw and nip gently at his collarbone. Francis chuckled lowly, kissing the angel's messy hair lovingly and slipping a finger beneath his chin, leaning down to capture his lips again, not even stopping for breath.
Francis woke slowly, late that morning, eyes fluttering open drowsily, the ghost of the angel's touch tingling on his skin and the heat of his kiss on his lips. Sunshine greeted him, a drowsy smile tugging at his lips at the warmth pressed close in the crook of his arm. It took a moment to realize that the angel was here, warm and solid beneath the covers, soft, messy blond hair brushing his face. He wasn't dreaming; he smiled, pulling him tenderly closer and pressing his face to his neck, inhaling the lilies. The sunlight from the window fell dappled across his face, skin nearly glowing under the warm light. The angel stirred drowsily, chuckling softly, smiling and running lazy fingers through his hair as Francis sucked a trail of gentle love marks into his neck.
Green eyes finally fluttered open, and suddenly, Francis had forgotten how to breathe as the realization came crashing down on him.
The second the angel's gaze met his, he froze, and it took Francis a moment catch sight of the tears in his eyes. He reached up to stroke the angel's down feathers slowly, trying to pull him close again, reassure him as he tried to figure this out. He still couldn't break away from those beautiful eyes.
"...Arthur?" he breathed in disbelief, and green eyes snapped shut against tears. Francis was in shock, running tentative fingers over the side of England's face—still as smooth as he remembered, warmth emanating from beneath his palm.
But England— Francis bit his lip, gazing down at the angel on his chest. England never loved him. England hated him, shoved him away and hurt him and burned Jeanne at the stake out of spite.
Had all his years of helpless love truly been in vain?
The angel's—Arthur's—words echoed in his mind; "I'm so sorry, love. I'm so sorry for everything."
No, they hadn't.
"I-I'm sorry," Arthur spluttered, wrenching himself free of Francis's arms and fleeing the room, faster than Francis could even call for him to come back.
The absence of his warmth beside him left an empty void in Francis's chest once again.
The past night had been ridden with nightmares, and no angel had come to save him. But this time, the second the world meeting had adjourned, Francis leapt to his feet to catch Arthur before he could escape out the door. He wasn't getting away—not again. Francis caught his wrist, and he stopped, hesitantly letting himself be pulled back and turned to face him.
Even now, the green of those eyes caught him unarmed. Silence reigned as the two looked at each other for nearly a minute, before Francis finally forced down the lump in his throat and managed to find his voice. "Arthur, I—"
Arthur swallowed, looking away, and Francis just sighed, taking Arthur's chin in his hand and leaning down to kiss him softly, holding him close. Arthur froze for a moment, before kissing back, sighing softly and clinging to Francis as he broke the kiss.
"For a minute I thought you really were just a silly dream," he murmured, burying his face in Arthur's neck and breathing him in. The ghosts of love marks from two days earlier remained; Francis nipped at them gently, sucking until they were pleasantly red. The Brit blushed, pulling away slightly to meet his gaze. The look on his features was almost defensive. Francis's heart sank in his chest at the sight.
He'd been wrong.
He'd been wrong this time, again.
But just before the moment Francis had been about to set Arthur free from his arms, the look faded, and he was gazing at Francis the same way he had been nearly every night for three long months. With the look that spoke everything he would never hear from Arthur's lips. Every doubt in his mind melted with the smooth palm cupping his face gently, and he sighed shakily, leaning into the touch. His eyes slipped closed as Arthur leaned upward to capture him in another kiss.
This one was longer, and neither of them parted for air as their tongues battled playfully for dominance. Arthur was smiling now, seeming unable to keep it off his face, and as he finally broke the kiss to lean against Francis and rest his head on his shoulder, he chuckled quietly. But then the smile faded to a sadder one, and he kissed Francis's neck, almost as an afterthought.
"I'm sorry for all of this, love," he murmured. Francis's heart nearly skipped a beat at the familiar pet name, and he laughed softly, shaking his head.
"Non, cher, thank you. For... everything. For saving me."
Arthur blushed again, burying his face in Francis's shoulder again and eliciting another quiet laugh. "That's just what the Britannia Angel's for," he mumbled. "I guard the nations and give help when it's needed."
Francis smiled, pulling him closer, rubbing his back gently and reveling in his scent. "A guardian angel," he murmured, kissing his face through his smile. "Mon ange gardien."
A moment of silence hung in the air before Arthur's murmur broke the spell.
"Yeah," he agreed thoughtfully, looking up to meet Francis's eyes with a small half-smile. The look of overwhelming happiness in beautiful emerald eyes made the warmth in Francis's chest swell and nearly burst. Arthur slid arms around his neck, leaning up to kiss him softly. "Yeah, I guess I am."