Francis, dishevelled and wild-eyed, stared down at Matthew. Eyes roved over the bandaged arms, the matted hair, to meet Matthew's own. He flinched at what he saw there not only was there the anger and sadness he had expected, but also a wretched hopelessness that hurt Francis infinitely more than the punches he had recently been dealt. Thoughtless though he may have been, he had never intended to hurt the little blonde. One drunken fiasco on a lonely night had led to his angel attempting to leave this world, and for that, he could never forgive himself.
Unlike Matthew and his brother assumed, Francis did return his feelings. He had noticed a fleeting understanding in Arthur's eyes during the situation outside, that, while also showing accusation, noticed a kindred spirit. For while Arthur condemned Francis' foolish actions completely, he was also a man in love with the boy he raised; a man whom had for a long time buried those emotions for fear of rejection.
Francis' feelings had developed later than Arthur's. Arthur had already been struggling as he entered the nineteenth century, yet Francis (while holding a soft spot for the boy), had not registered Matthew as any kind of sexual being until World War One. Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele these battles had shown Francis a different side to Matthew. Not only was he incredibly grateful for the help provided, but the fighting had shown such courage, such strength of spirit, that he could no longer class him as a boy. Matthew was a man. The beginnings of love bloomed in his chest, but he turned away.
Within the next few years, Arthur and Alfred were together, but there was one defining factor to the beginning of the relationship. Alfred had confessed first or at least, triggered a confession from Arthur. It had been clear to all and sundry for a long time that they would end up together, and eventually, they did. For most other people, this would have been a green light, but for Francis, it was not. Not only had he never noticed any inkling of romantic feelings from Matthew (therefore making it improbable that there would be any confessing occurring on the younger's part), but he was also frightened that the man would turn from him forever. So, fearful of rejection, blind to Matthew's advances and unwilling to be labelled a pervert by the one person who never condemned him, Francis for once stayed quiet.
He attempted to block the stirrings in his chest with drinking, gambling, other men, and yet, nothing worked. Nothing could dissipate the growing love. Francis knew that the next time he saw him, Matthew would not escape with his virtue. And that is why, almost paralytic, he had called Matthew on June 31st. He remembered dialling the number, remembered hanging up, but the conversation had wiped itself from his mind. When he listened to the recording Alfred had shoved in his face, Francis had almost vomited. Desperate to protect him from his own libido and out of his face after three bottles of wine, Francis had not only crushed Matthew's hopes in one fell swoop, but belittled him and mocked him for his lonely existence. Francis knew that that existence was partly his fault too; after handing him to England, he had never visited the little boy, leaving Matthew to internalise the new, reserved culture entirely alone. No wonder he didn't know how to interact normally, with the dysfunctional pair for which he had been the subject of pass the parcel.
Francis looked up from his silent reflection only to find Matthew staring at him exactly as before. He opened his mouth to speak, faltered at the unwavering gaze, and steeling himself, began to speak once more.
'Mathieu, I am so dreadfully sorry. I do not, under any circumstances, expect you to forgive me, but please hear me out.'
He paused, but when Matthew did not respond, continued once more.
'I am a selfish man, Mathieu. A blind, stupid, selfish man. I did not ever expect your feelings towards me to change, and so I hid my own.'
A gasp, short and quiet.
'I have spent over a century now waiting, hoping, and praying that you would feel the same. But I never noticed you already did. I was frightened, Mathieu, frightened that if I confessed, you would hate me forever. And yet, my retention resulted in
this. If I had known, that phone call would not have been made, for I would already have been by your side. Believe me ange; you cannot hate me any more than I hate myself.'
His voice tapered off into nothingness, and he hung his head, feeling the sting of bitter tears beginning to form. Before he could gauge Matthew's reaction, footsteps behind him made him look up. Alfred was striding towards him with Arthur by his side, whom had a placating hand on his shoulder. Alfred's eyes no longer held hatred; there was still anger, but a true sympathy there too that made Francis' heart ache.
'Look Francy-pants, I'm still pissed off at you with what you did to Mattie an' all, but
I don't hate ya. You'd best look after him, shithead.'
And with that, Alfred flounced forwards, kneed Francis in his
crown jewels, and sauntered out of the room.
'Mattie, I'm just out here if you need me!'
Arthur turned to follow him, with a delicate smile of encouragement towards the two.
'Matthew, if he starts getting too
physical, you may call me. I've still got a good punch or two in me.'
The door snapped shut, and they were left alone. Francis was clutching his crotch area, grimacing, but ignored the pain when he saw the glimmer of amusement in Matthew's eyes. He limped up towards the bed to sit by his side, waiting silently for Matthew to speak.
'When you say 'feelings', what do you mean?'
The question was evidently leading, phrased carefully in Matthew's hoarse voice. Francis stared openly into his eyes, and spoke with the most emotion he could muster.
'Je t'aime, Mathieu. Je t'aime tellement. Je ferai n'importe quoi pour toi. Je mourais pour toi.'
Silence reigned once again in the little hospital room, pressing down heavily on Francis while he waited for a response. Suddenly, Matthew smiled. It was the most beautiful thing Francis had ever seen.
'Je t'aime aussi,' he said, pulling Francis forward to kiss him.
The kiss was soft, chaste, and unlike anything Francis had ever experienced. It felt like warmth, it felt like love.
It felt like hope.