Pairing(s): Francis/Arthur (France/England)
Rating/Warnings: R, for language and an eventual, not particularly graphic sex scene.
Word Count: 16,000 words.
Summary: One day, you turn around and your entire perspective on the world changes. Flatmates!AU.
Notes: Forever ago, I promised to deanon on this. Then I promptly forgot all about it (— I blame Sherlock fandom, personally, I was blown away, what can I say). I've not gotten the chance to make all of my thanks on the kinkmeme, due to the lack of comment space; but here you go: every person who took the time to read and/or leave me a note over there — and those were some of the most thoughtful, insightful, beautiful feedback I've ever gotten — made my September a lot better and easier and warmer than it would otherwise have been. I've been blown away by every single one. Thank you. I loved writing this, ridiculously so, and you've made the experience even better. ♥ (There is actually a story behind the title. It involves Eddie Izzard, and many bizzarely skewed meanings.)
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(a study in laundry-making, toast, the art of sticky notes, and falling in love.)Excerpt from Francis Bonnefoy’s master thesis on History of a mutual obsession: France & England from Hastings till WWII:
… Franco-British past history consists of Events — Joan of Arc burning at the stake, the evacuation of Dunkirk, Austerlitz and Waterloo — some with tremendous impact on each country’s political stance, some entirely without, each shaping both Nations into a continual comparison with each other. However, in order to understand the very unique relationship existing to this day between France and England, it is necessary to account for them not merely as political and European nations, but also as the hosts to different cultures, different systems of value, different customs, which in turn influence — whether positively or negatively — one another.
Beyond the chronology of historical happenings, it is the little things — Shakespeare’s Henry the V and French clothing during WWII, tea and snails and crumpets and frog thighs, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, Voltaire and Edward Prince of Wales, weather reports and telegrams and cross-Channel correspondences, influence and prejudice and stereotypes — the events of everyday life — that are the witnesses of the mutual influence of French culture and English culture upon one another…
— from the Introduction
On a sticky note pinned to the thesis’ pages, in Arthur Kirkland’s handwriting:
What a great load of well-phrased CRAP.
This is how the morning goes.
Arthur wakes at nine, by which time Francis is long gone, with a pot of fresh coffee left on the countertop. Arthur eyes it distrustfully — but the kettle’s out and they re-stocked on Earl Grey last weekend, and his morning bad mood dissolves in volutes of white smoke and the smell of lemon. There’s iced beer in the fridge and bread in the pantry, all last night’s dinner’s dishes in the sink waiting for a wash, Francis’ stupid sweet black cloves left on the table with his lighter (he’ll miss them, today). There’s a sticky note up on the windowpane, yellow-white against the glass.
(Francis discovered the wonders that are sticky notes in his second college year, and ever since litters them everywhere, with little messages of don’t forget the milk everyday truth; Arthur takes them down and reads them absently, piling them up on the table until there’s enough of them to sweep into the trash.)
They read I’ll be home late tonight and It’s supposed to rain today and It’s your turn to cook, if you go for Indian takeaway again don’t go to the one down the boulevard, you don’t know what they put in their meat; when Arthur cleans sometimes he finds abandoned ones in unlikely places, under the sofa, in the seams of their two leather armchairs, wedged under doors, the unfinished parts of dislocated word-games.
He eats carefully, the way he always has because when he was little his brothers jostled him when he reached out for the jam. It’s different, here: Francis doesn’t like marmalade (blasphemy! a little snarky part of Arthur’s mind points out, every time) and stocks the shelves with disgustingly sweet chocolate paste, and his only morning visitor is the one pigeon who peeks at the window, cooing and petting, with a white rim over his beak and grey-dusted wings. But he eats carefully, philosophically, and gathers his crumbs after him, on the pads of his fingertips, lost in the pockets of the denims he pulls on, where they’ll gather for ages until he picks them out for laundry.
The bathroom smells of cologne from when Francis spent an hour grooming himself earlier; there’re clothes on the couch and history books on the coffee table and Arthur picks them mechanically. The flat carries traces of Francis everywhere, when he’s gone: it’s in the hair lotion bottles lined up on the bathroom sink, the neat, shiny shoes on the living-room carpet, the fashion magazine half-open on the couch cushions. When he goes to work, Arthur will leave traces of his own, mixed with Francis’, all over their flat, like exhibits at a crime scene.
(They were roommates through college because of an administration glitch, and money is tight after that, so they find a flat to share, on the fourth floor of a well-loved 80s brick building in downtown London. There’re cracks in the ceilings and the wallpaper is blue but peeling, and somehow, the first evening, they degenerate into a screaming match over whether Francis’ class books or Arthur’s CDs should be in the shelves above the telly. Which sort of figures, especially when you know them a little but not quite so much as to understand how they’ve lived together so long and not killed each other yet.
Except the next day Francis makes salmon buns for lunch, and Arthur smacks his arm and says pass the pepper, please, and maybe that’s how it begins: in the kitchen, in the morning, with mismatched paper plates and Francis’ ankle brushing Arthur's every time he stretches.)
The afternoon is Arthur’s. Francis has class in the morning but is too busy working on his master thesis to get a job at least until Christmas, or so he says; so he’s usually home early, except when he goes to the library or out to pick up in the evening. Arthur stays from ten-thirty till five-thirty in the music store he’s been working at since they first got the flat, which makes it a little over a year now; the pay’s good enough for rent and food and the occasional délicatesse, as Francis calls them, and his boss is a surly, balding man who keeps giving him overstock. (He let him take home old Billie Holliday vinyls last winter, and Francis fell in love without a word, so Arthur has a pretty good idea what to get him for Christmas this year.)
He spends hours with Dylan or Bowie or the Stones, headphones over his ears or around his neck as he sorts CDs and rings up costumers; he’s had his share of invites from those who found him swinging his hips round the shelves to Leonard Cohen or Louis Armstrong. He says yes sometimes, just because.
He eats lunch at Yao's around the corner, in the second booth starting from the door, scalding his tongue with tea and inevitably making sweet-sour sauce stains on his lap because he forgets the paper napkin. He always, everyday, picks up a pair of takeaway treats for teatime; there's a kettle in the storeroom and his boss is almost more British than he is. He sells records and partitions and music magazines, and only feels a little left-out when his fingers graze the travels' guide he keeps under the counter.
Three days a week there’s rehearsal with the band, four streets down in the chilly, early October evening air. He arrives to find Alfred laughing at something stupid, Tino and Toris speaking quietly over music sheets, and Natalia silent, fiddling with her saxo; he kisses her hand in an old-times routine, and she almost smiles. Then Alfred demands to know why he can’t do the hand-kissing thing too, and Arthur says Be my guest, if you want her to have your guts for a necklace, and Toris looks up with an alarmed expression, which is usually the sign that they’ve got to begin playing right now.
He comes home at eight to find dinner prepared and kept warm, Francis working away at his deck, stretching, smiling, waving him off with a hush or the hint of a tease that Arthur doesn’t even mind, he feels so good. (Once, one evening when he stayed out late to grab a beer, he found him asleep on his notes, blond hair splayed everywhere; Arthur eased his reading glasses off his nose and dragged him off to his bed, shutting the light off with a smile he’d stubbornly refuse to ever admit to, in the morning.)
Francis’ girlfriends (or boyfriends, for that matter, but Francis’ boy-relationships tend to last longer than anything between one night and a week, and are therefore rarer) usually like Arthur. He’s the considerate flatmate who’s always up early on weekends and sensibly lays out tea and toast and jam out for them; reads them their morning horoscope in the newspaper and lets them steal Francis’ shirt (the green one, the one he’s got tens of because he says it makes his waist look slimmer.)
Francis exactly calls one tenth of them again. Arthur has got it down, in diagrams.
“She break up with you again?” Francis asks from the doorway.
“T’rn the fuckin’ lights down,” Arthur blares, and then rolls and promptly falls off the couch, or very nearly. There are three empty bottles of beer on the carpet and one on the couch, on the cushions, one standing upright on the coffee table like a funny soldier and two presumably half-open, on the floor, pooling little puddles of beer on the parquet slats. Francis wrinkles his nose in disgust.
“Tosser,” Arthur says.
“St’p making that face,” Arthur says.
“You’re drunk,” Francis says, “and so very British.” He comes into the room prudently, glass clinking against his shoes (he takes them off, lines them up neatly by the door.)
“Shut up,” Arthur instructs, “am not,” and then: “didn’t br’k’p with me. I br’k’p with her,” he answers, somewhat disconnectedly, to the question of forever ago. He pushes his face into the cushions sullenly. “Was cheatin’ on me.”
“And you were stupid enough not to see what was right in front of you,” Francis comments laconically.
“Fffuck,” Arthur appears to consider the rest of the sentence for a moment, “you.”
“Anytime,” Francis says absently, slinking into the kitchen for the ready-brewed hangover remedy they keep in the pantry. Arthur is a lightweight, is ridiculously skinny, especially with those frayed denims and soft faded t-shirts he insists on wearing — so he’ll be hangover in the morning anyway, but Francis would be very glad to wash away enough of his bad mood to avoid a fencing match with the kitchen knives tomorrow.
He comes back out to find Arthur muttering a bleary B’tter off with’t her at the telly remote.
“I’m sure,” Francis murmurs, and hauls him off of the couch, dragging him up into a sitting position, one arm around the shoulders, pushing the brim of the glass against his lips. “Drink up — all of it, love, or else I’ll ram it down your throat — you’ll thank me tomorrow, see.”
“Piss off,” Arthur grumbles, but drinks obediently.
There’s a brief scuffle as Francis attempts to wrestle him into his room; gravity makes a heroic win, though, by tumbling them both back down onto the couch in a nice bustle of tangled limbs.
“Y’re heavy,” Arthur giggles, which doesn’t make any sense since he’s the one on top. Francis tries to push him off in the hope of salvaging his nice jacket and shirt, and then gives it up as a lost cause and knocks his knee in Arthur’s abdomen, just out of spite.
“Budge over,” Arthur grunts, settling in. “Sod off, man, go die in a ditch — except even the ditch wouldn’t have you, ah ha,” he says, and falls asleep like a stone.
There is a pause, just there.
“The things I put up with for you,” Francis murmurs, finally, pushing blond hair out of his mouth. Somehow, his fingers get tangled in it.
Arthur’s sexuality is a… complicated matter. He considers himself as bisexual with a slight preference for girls — mostly because girls have breasts and thighs and he likes the skirt thing. But then sometimes he falls in love with the sight of furling toes poking out from pooling jeans, regardless of gender, so. So there’s that.
He keeps it a secret, well-hidden, British, safe. Alfred knows, but that’s only because he (Alfred) walked in on him (Arthur) and another guy (José) in a concert hall closet eight months ago. Francis doesn’t, because then he’d know everything about Arthur, and that — Arthur isn’t quite sure how he feels about that.
Nothing happens. There isn’t anything meant to happen. Anything. Ever. And even if there was they don’t remember it in the morning, anyway.)
There’s a moment.
Francis can pinpoint it to the minute, the second, the intake of breath, the exact moment when It Changes, shift and re-alignment, the afterburn of revelation. He catalogues for nights afterward, calculates the situation into mathematical sections, articulates it into enumerations and lists to give it perspective/sense/value/anything, really. The finished product, after much digressing and butchering and a complete re-enactment of numbers, goes something like this:
item a., evening rugby match on telly, the screen blueish, flickering, because the rain outside patters on the wire
item b., i., dinner on the coffee table, consisting of spaghetti and meatballs and the sweet-sauce that only Francis knows how to make — just — right
item b., ii., one pint of beer, half-drunk, foam on the brim
item c., Arthur, curled on one end of the sofa, under a blanket, tired, sleepy, cheeks dark with warmth and cheap beer, eyes half-lidded and soft, one hand furled out to the side, and
item d., pinkies. almost. touching.
And this: (unlisted, because listing requires comprehension and Francis has only a very vague and terrifying inkling as to what it means) the sudden flaring want to inch across that last centimetre of cushions and link their little fingers together.