Character(s) or Pairing(s): France/England. In this chapter: Russia, Prussia, Spain, and mentions of others.
Warnings: AU, Human Names, Slash, Action/Adventure, Character Death, Crossover with The Incredibles
Summary: After a series of lawsuits forces him and the rest of the Supers into retirement, Arthur finds himself trapped living a mundane suburban life. When adventure calls he's quick to respond, but how will it affect the rest of his family?
Prologue The Glory Days
A Tribute to the Caped Crusade
By DANIEL HAMMERSMITH
Published October 27, 1996
It all started in the late 1950s. The city of Rome was not looking to make history yet again, but the valiant avenger who had emerged from within its twisted sea of columns and concrete seemed to have other ideas in mind. Roman Warrior was his name -- a patriotic, if simplistic, moniker -- the man who would become an inspirational figure for an entire country, if not the entire world. With his earliest sightings, Roman Warrior was considered nothing more than an oddly dressed Good Samaritan with a flair for the theatrics. Yet as time marched on the level of his heroic deeds escalated and soon the masked man with the garish choice in clothing was confirmed to be what many shuddered to conceive: the world's first Superhero.
In many ways, Roman Warrior was the epitome of what all Supers would strive for, both in prowess and in temperament. Considered by many to be a living colossus, the patriarch of the Superhero community possessed astonishing strength, enhanced senses, invulnerability, and was even capable of levitation. There was also a softer side to the world renown crime fighter who had a fondness for children and a keen flair with the ladies.
While the Roman Warrior may have been the first of his kind, he was most assuredly not the last. In seemingly no time at all, more super powered men and women -- known to the public as "Supers" -- began to emerge, dawning masks and capes in an effort to improve public safety. Soon the world was swept up in the Superhero craze and the idyllic Fifties were soon dubbed "The Golden Age of the Super Man."
Yet it was not meant to last. It was 1970 when the inevitable happened: the Roman Warrior, completely without warning, disappeared. Rumors abound as to the cause of the first Super's sudden retirement -- and for many, the disappearance meant the loss of the true spirit of heroics -- but as the world sat back and wondered, the Super community exploded with a new generation of costumed men and women who strived to uphold the ideals that their icon had embodied.
Now thirty-six years later, a new batch of Supers has emerged to save the world. Members of the Super community, who chose to speak exclusively to our paper, discuss their careers and give the public a sample of what life is like wearing a mask.
"Being a Superhero can be summed up as the worst job I've ever had," says the British born iconic avenger, Captain Invincible. "The hours a horrible, its murder on your personal life, and there are no health benefits. At the end of the day you count yourself as lucky to come home with just one broken bone."
Although not every Super's outlook is as dour in regards to their chosen profession. The Spanish Super, El Infierno, a cheerful soul in spite of his violent name, sees the brighter side of a life lurking in the shadows. "Well, we have these powers so it's only right that we use them to help people," says El Infierno. "And amigo do you ever feel good inside when you look back at all the lives you've changed just by doing what's right."
"Well seeing how I was born with so much awesome, I feel it's my duty to share it with the world," says Awesome Eagle, who agreed to speak with us when his partner, Iron Eagle, could not be reached for a quote. "Kids are always coming up to me askin' how they can be like me and I tell 'em its all genetics."
Genetics indeed seem to be a key factor as the number of empowered individuals has been on the rise since Roman Warrior's first appearance. Whether these special individuals had always existed and were merely hiding amongst us or if they were the byproduct of scientific experimentation is a mystery that has yet to be solved. What is certain is that these people born with spectacular gifts will undoubtedly look to our current crop of heroes for guidance.
"Image is everything in this line of work," says the charismatic Frenchman, Monsieur Élastique. "The way we present ourselves effects how the public views all Supers. We must set a good example, for the sake of the future generations if nothing else."
Arthur let out a frustrated groan as he crumpled the paper in his hands. It figured that he would be misquoted yet again. Dour outlook indeed. Hammersmith had completely neglected to print his own feelings of pride and achievement in regards to his work, choosing instead to ramble on for three full columns about Monsieur Élastique in order to inflate his ego by discussing his recent charity work, his impending movie deal, his newest costume (not that he designed any of them himself, mind you), and only mentioning Captain Invincible again in order to make note of their famed "rivalry."
Rivalry. Arthur grimaced at the term. Such labels made it seem as if the two were nothing more than school children trying to one up each other and not two grown men working for the same goal.
"Sensationalist media," Arthur grumbled to himself as he tossed the wad of paper into the trash. "They'll print anything to sell a paper."
Not that he had the time to dwell on such matters. He had an appointment to keep and time, as usual, was not on his side. With a curtsey glance to his wrist he saw that he was already running late and quickly grabbed what he needed before heading out the door. He allowed himself a moment to make sure he had everything, patting the breast pocket of his coat in particular, before sprinting out of his dorm and towards his car.
No sooner was Arthur behind the wheel and on the road did his dashboard come alive, a small display screen mapping out the roadways zoning in on something as the radio scanner crackled and chattered at him. Of course. Of course there would be a crime in progress at that exact moment. After all, fortune had never been in his favor. He briefly weighed his options before reluctantly increasing the volume to listen closely to the report. Apparently there had been a bank robbery downtown and the culprits who were currently being perused by the authorities were heading his way. From the display screen, it seemed that they were only a few blocks away.
Arthur gave his watch a quick glance deeming that if he were quick enough he could still make his appointment with a reasonable amount of time to spare. He had to pull over into a nearby alley to do so, but with the press of a few buttons and peeling away of his own cumbersome layers, his well worn old boat of a car was transformed into the Invinc-obile and plain Arthur Kirkland disappeared underneath the vibrant blue and red costume of Captain Invincible.
Peeling out of the alleyway at breakneck speed, Captain Invincible was amiss to realize that even with his hasty transformation, the bank robbers were now retreating further and further away. It seemed that he would have to commit a number of traffic infractions if he wanted to catch the crooks and be on time for his prior commitment. Punching in a few more buttons allowed Invincible to shift into high gear. It was only thanks to quick reflexes and years of practice that he was able to nimbly miss colliding with any of the other vehicles on the road. Not that any harm would come to the Invinc-obile in such an incident. No, it was the other car that would receive the brunt of the damage, the resulting collision being akin to a tin can being stomped into a sidewalk. It was an incident that he had, unfortunately, witnessed firsthand in his earlier, more reckless days as a Super and one that he was careful not to repeat.
His eyes flickered towards the display screen once more to see that the subject of his pursuit was less than a block away, a fact made all the more apparent from the shrill wail of police sirens creeping ever closer. Rounding the corner onto the nearby avenue, he was easily able to spot a beaten down old clunker with a young man wielding a clearly illegal weapon hanging out the side window being tailed by the police. Conversely, his polished navy blue custom vehicle with the large white I decorating the hood was equally hard to miss by the crooks or the authorities, which resulted in the police easing up on their pursuit while the would be escapees turned their guns on the (bullet proof) Invinc-obile. Such recklessness.
Fortunately for them he did not have the time to entertain the fleeing robbers. With a flick of a switch, his front hood lifted slightly, revealing a harpoon that had been until then tucked away underneath the engine. In a flash, the harpoon embedded itself into the broken down trunk in front of him. It was then only a matter of grinding to a sudden halt and dragging the clunker with him. The youth hanging out the window was more than a bit shaken up in the resulting crash and no doubt the one behind the wheel hadn't fared much better, but that was fine. The Invinc-obile hadn't sustained so much as a scratch.
Glancing at his watch for just a moment, Invincible felt certain that he had just enough time to have a quick chat with the police, just to make sure they had everything under control. That was what he told himself at least. As soon as he stepped foot out of the car, he was greeted by a sea of cheers and applause from bystanders and onlookers. At that moment he supposed he had been a bit too harsh in labeling superhero work as "the worst job I've ever had."
"Thank you, Captain Invincible," one of the officers enthused. The others were busy cuffing the bank robbers and surveying the goods tucked away in their vehicle. "We couldn't have done it without you."
"All in a day's work," Incredible replied in his typically heroic aloofness. He gave a quick nod to a group of excited youths who were currently cheering and waving towards him, before turning his attention back to the crime scene. "I trust you have everything in order."
One of the more excitable young officers responded by practically slamming one of the now cuffed thugs into the hood of her squad car. "We've got it from here Captain," she chirped eagerly.
Invincible gave her an unsteady smile just as the police scanner within the Invinc-obile came to life once more, this time announcing a nearby tour bus robbery. Wonderful. Something else to eat up his time. Giving his wrist watch a curtsey glance, he decided there was still enough time left for him to see to the second robbery and make his prior arrangement.
He gave the crime scene one last glance before hurrying back to the Invinc-obile. Shutting the door and strapping himself in, he made ready to take off when...
"Here we go. Yay!"
Captain Invincible was ashamed to say he actually jumped out of his skin at the unexpected voice. Getting the drop on someone like him was a rare feat indeed and the fact that it had been a small child who had surprised him was nothing short of humiliating. Turning to the passenger seat, he was startled to find a fair haired boy sitting beside him, nearly bouncing out of his chair with barely contained excitement. The child was wearing what looked like a reproduction his costume that had likely once been a pair of pajamas, an oversized scarf wrapped around his neck, and a cloth mask over his eyes.
"What the... how did you...?" he found himself stammering in what was most certainly an unheroic manner.
"I'm ready to go, Captain Invincible," the boy told him, a heavy Russian accent coloring his every word. "I will be your First Mate in crusade against crime."
It was the accent more than anything that brought the memories flooding back to him. He had met the child before, at a fan convention that he had (reluctantly... and regrettably) made an appearance at. The child had been easily the most exuberant fan there, which was no small feat in itself, taking up the majority of Invincible's time asking questions and demanding autographs. Invincible vaguely recalled the child making statements about wanting to be his side kick, but he had brushed it off as just another childish quirk. Apparently he had been very wrong.
"I... Ivan?" Invincible began hesitantly. From the way the child's eyes lit up, he saw that he was right. "Ivan Braginski? From the convention? What are you doing here?"
"I came to watch you perform your heroic deeds," the boy said eagerly. "It has always been dream of mine to watch as you punish bad men for evil ways, breaking every bone in their bodies to itty bitty pieces in the hopes that one day I may be able to do the same."
There was any uneasy feeling in the pit of Invincible's stomach at the child's admission and now more than ever he wished to rid himself of the little boy's presence. "Well, that certainly is a nice thought, but as I told you before that that isn't going to happen. I work alone."
"But I can help you," Ivan pleaded. "I may not have powers, but -"
"But it's time for you to go home," he said. His words were a bit sterner than he'd intended them to be, but time was still not on his side: there was still a criminal for him to catch and an appointment to keep. At the moment, gently reminding this child that he was attempting to play a dangerous game was not high on his list of his priorities. Pressing the button on his dashboard, the side door popped open and little Ivan was ejected from his seat.
He spared a quick glance over his shoulder to make certain that the boy was alright -- a bit shaken up, but fine otherwise -- before speeding off to apprehend another criminal.
He found the man on top of the roof of a nearby apartment building. The roof of all places. It was an original idea, he'd give him that, but at the moment it seemed not only a bit silly but incredibly inconvenient. After all, Invincible could not fly, and would therefore have to climb up the fire escape, or bother to go inside the building and use the stairs or the elevator, just to apprehend the man and on a day where he was in an extreme time crunch he did not feel up for the detour. Yet he knew that as a rule (as a Super, really) it would be in bad taste to break the man's neck just for wasting his time.
Still as the sun continued to sink into the horizon, Invincible found himself struggling to reel in the annoyed grunt building in his throat. Not that the man himself was any less abhorrent. Honestly, how could anyone not want to punch a man who was squatting on the top of a building rifling through stolen handbags?
"Alright friend, let's cut to the chase shall we?" Invincible began, not bothering to hide the weariness or frustration in his voice. "You've committed a crime and you've caught me in a bad mood. So what's say you make things easy on yourself and just allow me to hand you over to the authorities?"
The man responded to the sudden intrusion -- and the appearance of a famed Super no less -- as one would expect: by jumping out of his skin and scrambling away. Yet it came as no surprise when the man didn't surrender immediately and instead reached behind his back and pulled out a gun. As he watched the thief level his weapon, aiming directly for the middle of his chest, Invincible couldn't help but wonder when these fools would learn that he was, in essence, bullet proof. Sure a slug to the chest would sting like hell and leave a nasty bruise, but it was something he had learned to shake off over the years.
This was why even as the man cocked his weapon Captain Invincible continued to approach him. In his experience, intimidation was the best weapon. It was likely the man wouldn't shoot, would realize that he was trapped alone on the roof with Invincible and make a profound mistake which would allow this to all be over quickly.
However, before he could find out if his theory were correct, a single fist attached to an impossibly long, thin arm seemed to rocket out of nowhere and hit his potential attacker square in the jaw. The force of the blow and its unexpected appearance was enough to knock the robber off his feet and cause him to collapse in a heap on the ground.
Invincible turned his head as the arm snapped back, setting itself into place at the side of a Super clothed in a purple and white body suit. "Élastique," Invincible practically sneered. He should have expected such interference from the likes of him.
Of course, Élastique was not at all fazed by the sight of the other Super or the malice in his voice, and responded by flashing one of his usual smug smiles. "Captain Invincible," he said by way of greeting. Élastique spared a glance to man now lying in pain induced haze and his forgotten weapon at their feet before allowing his grin to widen. "Well, it looks like I arrived just in time. You should thank me."
Invincible huffed as he bent down to grab the gun and pointedly crushed it into a wad of twisted metal in his hands. "I had the situation under control."
"Oui, if you by under control you mean that you were looking to get shot in the face."
"Yes, I'm sure that concern for my well being was your chief motivation for interfering where you are not wanted."
"Typical Captain Invincible, always the one man team."
"As opposed to you and your glory hogging?" he huffed. "Why don't you go call your publicist so he can find a more photogenic crime for you to stick your nose into?"
"Ohon, it sounds like someone read today's newspaper," Élastique sing songed. There was a twinkle in his eyes -- a light shade of blue that was only mildly obscured by his violet mask -- as his smirk turned hungry. "Jealous are you?"
Clearly having his cheeks turn a faint pink as he muttered a curse under his breath was not the correct way to respond to Élastique's little quip, but that was exactly what he did. The move also had the unfortunate side effect of allowing Élastique an opening to reach down and grab the unconscious man by his collar. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Invincible snapped.
"Finishing up," Élastique said, his voice dripping with fake innocence. "I do not have all night."
"Yes, I'm sure you're due back in make up any second now," he sneered. "You must reapply the powder to your nose or else the camera crew may catch you in a bad light."
"Ah, you know me so well," he tittered, dropping the limp body in order to give the strands of blond hair not tied back and framing his face a haughty flip. "Fine, you finish up here. I am sure there are plenty of people happy to be rescued by moi."
He groaned, a single gloved hand reaching up to message his temple. Élastique always did have that sort of effect on him. "You need to be more serious," he chided.
"And you need to be more..." In the blink of an eye Élastique had stretched himself, wrapped his body around Captain Invincible's waist, looped around his neck, and slid between his legs, before finally restoring his body to its normal proportions and standing less than an inch from Invincible's chest. "... flexible."
Invincible couldn't be bothered to suppress the shudder that coursed through his body at the still lingering memory of that faint caress and the heat of Élastique's breath wafting against his cheek didn't make things any easier. "I hate it when you do that," he managed to grind out from between gritted teeth.
"You love it," Élastique practically purred as he swaggered towards the edge of the roof. Invincible made sure to keep his eyes trained on the horizon and most certainly not on Élastique's lithe retreating form. "Adieu Capitaine."
By the time he had pulled up to the restaurant, he was probably a good forty minutes late. Arthur knew he should have felt guilty, but at the moment his only concern was to make certain that his table had not been given away. Not that he held any delusions that his reservations hadn't been thrown away by now. After all, not only was he unreasonably late, this was also a five star restaurant and Arthur knew he'd be lucky if they allowed him to even walk through the door. The snooty bastards running the place could probably smelled the minimum wage on him.
Needless to say he was stunned silent when he approached the maitre de’s counter and found that his table was still ready. Well, perhaps he shouldn't have been too surprised, especially when the host mentioned that his dinning partner had already been seated. Sure enough, when he entered the luxurious establishment – along with the aroma of food that cost more than his parents made in a year and the sound of a pretentious string quartet serenading the diners -- he was greeted by the sight of a blond man, sipping at a glass of wine and looking far too pleased with himself.
"Good evening, Francis," Arthur greeted dully as he approached the small table situated at the far end of the restaurant. Clearly Francis had not been perfectly on schedule himself, evident from the fact that their table was practically staring at the doors into the kitchen and were likely to be slammed the second one flung open. Still, it was nice to know that they'd at least be dinning there tonight. "You're looking groomed as always."
Francis tore his eyes away from his glass long enough to pin him with a critical gaze. "Arthur," he said simply, copying Arthur's tone and inflection perfectly. "You have rubble in your hair."
Arthur was embarrassed to admit that for a moment he did indeed look scandalized, but he told himself it was only because he was usually more careful about such things. It had nothing to do with the opulent surroundings or his present company. "Well, there was an incident," he grumbled, brushing away the few grains of dust still clinging to his blond hair.
"I'm sure," Francis sighed, motioning for Arthur to take a seat. Arthur did, but not because Francis told him to. "I already ordered. And since you are the latest, I think you should pay for dinner."
It was unfortunate that Arthur had been sipping from his glass of water when Francis had said this, because he nearly choked at what he sincerely hoped was a tasteless joke. "Me?" he sputtered, coughed really. "With what money? Need I remind you that my income primarily consists of student loans and Top Ramen coupons?"
"There are coupons for Top Ramen?"
"Oui Monsieur Bonnefoy," he said, in his most annoying imitation of a French accent. "I know it pains you having to step down from your ivory tower to dwell among the little people and sully your delicate sensibilities with our meager problems, but -- if you can wrap you bourgeois mind around this -- not all of us were born with a silver spoon between our lips."
"I was not born with a silver spoon," Francis sniffed, before pinching the bridge of his nose and adding (in what Arthur could only assume was supposed to be an English accent), "Mister Kirkland."
"Terrible," he snipped, then added, "Your parents own a bloody vineyard."
Francis shrugged. "A small one."
Their fight was temporarily put on hold as a waiter swung by to take Arthur's order. He didn't exactly have time to read over the menu, but Arthur managed to scan the list of overly priced entrees and ordered the cheapest thing he could find. When the waiter began to tell him about their wine selection, Arthur was humiliated to have Francis interject with a scandalized "Arthur are you sure you are of age?"
He flinched, willing away the red seeping into his cheeks. "I'm twenty three, you twit!" he growled, before deciding that it may be best if he didn't drink anything for the evening.
Once the waiter was gone, Francis cleared his throat before discretely retrieving a small pad and pencil from within his jacket. He gave a quick glance to their surroundings, before flipping the pages in his notebook. "How did you do tonight?" he asked in a low voice.
"Pretty good," Arthur said, his voice equally hushed. "Caught two bank robbers, a tour bus thief..."
"That was my thief," Francis corrected.
"Just because you punched him, doesn't mean you got him," Arthur chided.
"Really? Because it sounds like I did most of the work," he smirked.
Arthur rolled his eyes, leaning back in his chair in order to give his breast pocket a discrete (albeit self conscious) pat. "Fine, have it your way," he relented. "It's not as if you'd be able to top me. I did manage to stop a jumper and rescue a train full of people."
"From something you nearly caused, I'm sure."
Arthur managed to hide his flush by taking a quick sip from his glass, but it was clearly not enough to dismiss Francis's suspicions. "Well it was one of Bombs Aweigh's explosives that had caused the tracks to be destroyed, but that's not important."
"Ah oui, a bomb wielding costumed terrorist running loose in the city is only a minor concern."
"You don't understand, there was this little Russian boy -- Evan or Ivan or whatever -- who kept popping up out of nowhere and getting in the way! He distracted me. I had to have the bloody police take him home just so..." Arthur's words came to a gradual halt at the look of utter boredom stayed fixed on Francis's face. "Fine! Dock points against me," he huffed. "Let's hear how you did."
Francis responded by giving a long sigh, his blue eyes looking down at his notes sadly and leaving Arthur thoroughly satisfied. "Not good I am afraid. Even with the bus thief I only managed to intercept one jewelry heist and stop a mugging in the park. But in my defense, I was trying to keep our reservations."
"Your priorities are in order, I see," Arthur droned. "Well, I say that makes me the winner."
Another dramatic sigh was his reward. "I suppose that means I'll be picking up the tab tonight after all."
The late October air was crisp against his exposed skin. Winter was creeping up on them quicker than even the weathermen could predict and the slight chill that ran through him was yet another thing to add to his list of reasons why they shouldn't have left his car behind. But Francis had insisted they walk to their next destination, citing that the second Arthur slipped behind the wheel, he'd spend the rest of the evening listening to the police scanner. Not that one could really blame him for wanting to do his job, but he relented anyway. Tonight was one night that he owed Francis his full attention.
Arthur gave his coat another pat before stuffing his fists deep into his pockets. He briefly wondered what everyone else was doing tonight. He imagined Iron Eagle perched on some roof top scanning the alleyways and streets below him as Awesome Eagle talked endlessly about one thing or the other. He pictured El Infierno peeking into windows and smiling at happy families, while still trying to be mindful to any cries of terror or screams of pain. Far away he could practically see Bombs Aweigh plotting his next heist as Red Dragon counted his gold and Iron Skillet planned on taking down the Atomic Emperor. All this was happening somewhere in the night as he and Francis roamed the streets as if they didn't have a care in the world.
Just two ordinary people on an ordinary night.
"Where are we going?" Francis asked suddenly, drawing Arthur out of his musings. "Somewhere nice I hope."
"Actually I'm heading down to the diamond district," Arthur said. "I heard that some of the local crime bosses were planning on making a move on this quaint little jeweler--"
Francis responded to his joke by sticking a foot out in front of him, causing Arthur to stumble and nearly collide face first into the side walk. "That is not funny," Francis snipped bitterly. "You are with me tonight, Arthur, your mind should be as far away from our work as possible."
"I wish there were reporters here to catch you saying that," he chuckled. He rounded the corner and was pleased to find Francis doing so as well, keeping in stride with him without seeming to realize where they were. "The oh-so heroic and charitable Monsieur Élastique does not like to discuss work matters in his off hours. It gives 'im quite ze 'eadache!"
"This is why I normally reframe from associating with children," Francis huffed, tossing his hair over his shoulders in a haughty manner. "You are so prone to jealousy. Simply because Monsieur Hammersmith found me to be the more interesting topic for his article you have to turn into the green eyed monster."
"Hammersmith was clearly taken in by your over the top French accent and cheese eating grin. Honestly what did you do to get him to mention that your popularity with the ladies is 'second only to Roman Warrior's legendary status' or to say that you are the 'fashion icon of the Superhero world'? He only printed one bloody quote from everyone else, yet he dedicated an entire page to you!"
"What can I say?" Francis tittered. "I simply have a way with reporters. People tend to feel drawn to my warm presence. I do not have the disposition of a hardened war veteran, like certain Supers I know. Besides, you are exaggerating, mon cher. You were quoted twice! And there was a particularly cute one at that."
Arthur felt his eyes actually widen when, in that instant, Francis reached into the folds of his jacket and pulled out the very paper they had been discussing. "You were carrying that with you the entire time?" he sputtered, marveling at how the man was able to thumb through the pages without breaking his stride. "You truly are a glutton for the spotlight."
"Ah, here we are," Francis said, going on as if Arthur hadn't spoken a word. "Right here, in the closing comments." Francis cleared his throat dramatically before, in a clear, practiced voice reading, "'When asked where they see themselves in the years ahead, many Supers respond that they will continue fighting the good fight, yet one such hero has other plans in mind. "We cannot keep living as vigilantes forever," says Captain Invincible in his usual somber tone. "Someday, we will all have to go the way of Roman Warrior and take off the mask for good." When asked to elaborate, Invincible's response is uncharacteristically sentimental. "Call me old fashion, but I'd like to settle down. Perhaps even start a family."'"
By the time Francis had finished reading his own words, Arthur's face was an unsightly shade of red. He was thankful that it was dark and difficult to see, but that didn't stop Francis from laughing and cooing over the quote that Arthur had given so long ago that he had forgotten all about it.
"So cute!" Francis gushed between fits of laughter. "Captain Invincible wants to play house. Tell me, will Mrs. Invincible be the perfect little housewife? Will she fetch your pipe and message your feet after a long day in the office? How many children will there be? Two? Three? Perhaps you should get a doggy? Yes! Train him to get your slippers or the newspaper."
Arthur came to a halt then, jamming his fists so deeply into his pockets that the fabric actually began to rip. "I'm glad you find this all so amusing."
Francis took in a few calming breaths as he came to a stop beside Arthur, folding the offending paper in his hands. "Oh Arthur, do not be so uptight. It is cute, that is all."
"Cute" certainly wasn't a term that Arthur was accustomed to having associated with his name, not even when he was a (admittedly) bushy browed toddler wrapping blankets around his neck and declaring himself Roman Warrior, but that was neither here nor there. He cleared his throat, hoping to once more erase another blush from his cheeks and regain some composure. "Yes, well, look around," he instructed. "Do you know where we are?"
To his credit, Francis actually did as he was instructed for once, twisting around and inspecting the intersection they had stopped in with a critical frown. "We are in a very bad neighborhood," Francis tsked. "Honestly Arthur, I thought we just talked about this."
"Look at the street sign you git!" Arthur snapped wearily. Already this whole situation wasn't going as he'd envisioned and he suddenly feared that it would soon all spiral downhill.
Francis looked up at the twin green signs marking off the sidewalk as being the corner of "Thirteenth and Washington," words that he read with a noted lack of recognition. Arthur tried not to look crushed.
"This is where we met," Arthur supplied finally. "You mistook me for a prowler and punched me in the jaw. I responded by throwing you into a parking meter."
"Ah, oui," Francis said at last, his voice more fond than bitter and Arthur took that as a good sign. "Fortunately I bounced back, non?"
Arthur allowed himself an awkward chuckle, barely audible over the sound of his own heart hammering in his ears, as his fumbling hands reached into his coat pocket. Francis didn't seem to be catching on to anything and that worried him. Francis was anything but dense and always had a keen sense for romantic gestures, so if he wasn't tuned into this one (as pathetic as it was) then Arthur was really in trouble.
"Francis, I..." Arthur began, but words suddenly failed him. The carefully practiced speech that he had prepared was evaporating in his mind and only brief snippets of it still lingered. Something about destiny and timing or something having brought them together. Francis was giving him a dubious look and Arthur knew that he had to act quickly if he wanted to stay afloat. "Oh bugger," he breathed, seeing that all pretense of romance was lost. "Francis, I want you to marry me."
This time Arthur's fingers managed to steady themselves long enough for him to actually grasp the ring he'd stuffed into his coat months ago in between his thumb and forefinger. When Francis only continued to stare, Arthur decided to get down on one knee in order to emphasize his point. "Please marry me?" he said finally. "I... I find you so damn annoying, but you understand me and I understand you and sometimes when you're not around I start arguments with random people just to fill the void, but it's not enough because when we snap at each other there's more behind it than just pure animosity and I suppose what I'm saying is that I don't think I'd ever be able to find anyone else like you so... please say you'll marry me?"
Francis still looked stunned and lost and Arthur was bracing himself for the inevitable "no" forming on his lips.
"Arthur," Francis breathed, his voice unusually quite. It was weird. "That's a woman's ring."
He flinched back in shame at the observation. "It was my Nan's," he admitted. "I couldn't afford a new one."
A soft frown creased Francis's brow. "You want me to be Mrs. Invincible?"
Something inside of him shriveled up and died and suddenly Arthur felt a pain that was ten times worse than a dozen bullets to his gut. "You're rejecting me aren't you?" he asked, lowering his arms regrettably. "I'm sorry I asked."
Francis's hand reached out to him then, grasping the fingers that still clung desperately to his Nan's engagement ring, as the uncertain look lingered on Francis's face. "I want to say yes, but..."
"But..." Francis shook his head. "I cannot be Mrs. Invincible."
Arthur raised a confused eyebrow, not at all certain where Francis was going with all of this. "Well... I'm not really..."
"And you cannot be Captain Invincible," Francis cut in. "Not all the time. You must promise that you will put me first, not always but when it counts."
Arthur smiled, a genuine smile -- a gesture that was so rare to him that his cheeks actually stung a bit -- as he pressed the ring onto Francis's finger (as well as he could). "Francis, you'll always come first for me."