But I loved him first!
I loved him first.
He could see them over the other side of the break room. Hands brushing against one another discreetly, they gave each other secret smiles in conversation pauses, and Francis' eyes burned. Next to him were Antonio and Gilbert, whom both seemed more interested in their other halves; one teasing, one placating. But Francis cared neither for their attention, nor their sympathy. The only thing he cared about at the moment was the way Alfred's hand skimmed over Arthur's hip; the way Arthur gravitated around the younger man as if in orbit.
The way he did not do around Francis.
Over the centuries, he had seen Arthur grow from a tiny, obstinate toddler, to a small obstinate man, and he had loved every minute of it. He had never hated him - even when Arthur thought he did. They had battled for so long; complacency deemed it right for them to continue as they always had. And yet, when the constancy of Francis' feelings was beginning to be mirrored by Arthur's, he grew up. The damning hand that struck and then lingered disappeared entirely, in favour of striking Alfred; bit by bit, Arthur stopped arguing with Francis and ignored him entirely. The attention that he was denied shifted to the land of prosperity, and Francis despaired.
Countless eras of endless confession were ruined by the emergence of a blue-eyed boy whose questionable charm stole away the heart of his beloved, and shattered Francis' own. France had once feared many things, but with Arthur's defection, those fears had all but disappeared. Death was no longer frightening, for what was life without Arthur by his side? The last terror that remained was to be forgotten. It was unlikely with Francis' presence, but Francis had never dreamed Arthur would love anyone else, so he believed anything was possible now. It had always been France-and-England, England-and-France. He had lost his other half; son cur, son âme.
And so he gradually began to fade away. Personality withered, heart frozen, he existed without living. Antonio and Gilbert drifted away in search of a third friend who was not made of stone. Before long, he was invisible to most other countries in meetings and his name stopped being called. Nobody seemed to notice that he wasn't around anymore. It hurt faintly to realise that this was what Matthew must have felt like before Gilbert began to bring him out of his shell. He only attended what he had to; he preferred generally to sit alone at home, with a cup of Earl Grey tea and photographs, lost in memories.
And Arthur's eyes started to flicker in concern.
He alone watched as the frog morphed from sociable pervert to miserable recluse, and inwardly, he was anxious. Though Alfred did not know it, their relationship had begun purely to spite Francis for his incessant flirting. Jealous and possessive, Arthur could not bear his slutty disposition and so decided to not even try to be with him. He assumed that Francis would take one of two courses of action. Either he would not care about Arthur's new relationship and get on with his life, or he would rip Arthur away from Alfred and show him how much he meant to him. But, to Arthur's confusion and tremulous dread, he did neither. And although the rest of the world forgot him, although the rest of the world carried on as if he had never existed, Arthur remained aware, anxious and oh-so-uneasy.
So it continued. Arthur dared not voice his concerns to Alfred, for fear he would not know who he was talking about. He was frightened that the entire world had forgotten such an imposing figure; frightened that one day it may very well be him; frightened for the stability of Francis and France itself. He had never been in such a situation. How could anyone, let alone a group of people, wipe a whole person from their memories in such a short space of time?
Francis' attendance of meetings started to decline further. When he did appear, he spent his time bent forward as if in pain, hunched over as he scribbled notes down. His once perfect appearance degenerated into lank hair, dull eyes, and a general air of unkemptness that drove away even the most kindly of countries. He cared not for company, nor for friendship, but Arthur's ignorance of the situation cut deeper than he had ever expected. Perhaps somewhere, deep inside, he had expected his oldest frenemy to notice his disappearance. Yet whenever their eyes accidentally met, Arthur looked away uncomfortably, as if Francis was an embarrassment, or worse still, worthless.
And something within him snapped.
The next day was the most important meeting of the year. Each January, the nations would meet to discuss the aims for the New Year, and the problems of the last. But this time, Francis never turned up. His country's name was called uncertainly, and after a quick silence that yielded nothing, they moved on. Arthur was more than a little worried. Afterwards, he made his feeble excuses to a dismissive Alfred who was more interested in Russia than he. He then threw some clothes in a bag and took the next flight to Paris. Francis would not get away with this. He would not let him disappear.
As soon as the plane landed, Arthur hailed a taxi and paid him double to speed to Francis' house. Lord knows, he had no idea where the man was, as he never answered the phone any more, but his house seemed a good place to start. As he reached the house, his keen eyes immediately logged the state of the garden. Once Francis' pride and joy, it was now almost jungle-like, with numerous weeds choking the roses. Flipping the welcome mat up, he grabbed the spare key from underneath, and with shaking hands, unlocked the door and pushed it open. When inside, he halted apprehensively. The atmosphere was strange. It might have been the house of a bedridden pensioner judging by the mess and the smell. There was bric-a-brac scattered everywhere, and the layer of dust covering the furniture was visible. Arthur checked all the downstairs rooms, and then ascended the rather grand staircase to Francis' room. And froze.
A trembling hand pushed the wooden door open. It creaked ominously, disturbing the
perfect silence inside.
'W-what are you d-doing?'
A lone figure stood in the centre of the room. It looked like Francis before his breakdown; clothes finely pressed, hair tied back in a black silk ribbon, the smell of roses permeating the air. Except for the gun held loosely in one hand. The figure chuckled mirthlessly.
'What I should have done a long time ago.'
The click of the safety catch made Arthur flinch, who felt his stomach drop at the revelation. He said nothing, though he wanted to, as the man in front of him turned. It was Francis, but not quite as he remembered. Eyes that had been lusty were now wild with grief and unhappiness. His skin was deathly pale, bar two spots of pink at the top of sharply visible cheekbones.
'What do you mean?' Arthur gasped.
'This gun is not for show, cher. Now why don't you skip along to your darling Alfred and I'll make this quick, d'accord?'
Arthur's stomach dropped as the pieces fell into place. He had caused this, with his
damnable jealousy. And now Francis wanted to kill himself. All because of an unmanageable envy on both sides. Arthur jumped forward with a cry as Francis raised the gun to his head, trying to grab it from him. Francis dodged his attempts coolly, seeming entirely unconcerned by his distress.
'Now, now, lapin. You should leave me alone now, hmm? Anyway, why should you care? I'm nothing to you.'
At this, Arthur grabbed his lapels as he burst into tears.
'N-nothing? You are everything to me, and I'm sorry I didn't show it earlier. Alfred was a ploy, Francis! A trick, a ruse! I just wanted you to be jealous like you made me for so long
I'm so sorry, love. So terribly sorry.'
As Arthur spoke, Francis' expression morphed from confusion, to comprehension, to anger, to joy. Though he was furious with the way Arthur had gone about things he loved him! Arthur loved him
Well, at least he said he did. His eyes gleamed with mistrust.
'How do I know you are not lying?'
Arthur gazed up tearfully from the lapels. At first he looked, panicked, but then Francis saw determination pass over him. The hands grasping his jacket lifted to untie his ribbon and thread themselves in his hair.
'I love you,' Arthur whispered, and kissed him.
The gun in Francis' hand clattered to the floor as he embraced Arthur tightly. Legs wrapped around his waist as he lifted him off the floor, and he kissed back desperately. A tongue slipped into Arthur's mouth as Francis mapped out every inch of it, teeth licking and nipping at Arthur's lip. The two drew apart only when they were bursting for air. They regarded one another silently, Arthur still wrapped around Francis.
'Now do you believe me?' Arthur whispered.
He knew that they would still have to deal with Alfred. He knew that there would be a lot of pain having to reintroduce Francis to the world; knew that there would be a lot of arguments and anger on the way. But he knew they could do it together.
'Je t'aime aussi.'