Character(s)/Pairing(s): FACE(S?) featuring FrUK. In this chapter: Prussia, Switzerland, Spain, implied Spamano and GerIta
Warnings: AU, Slash, Action/Adventure, Implied Past Mpreg, Character Death
Summary: After a series of lawsuits forces him and the rest of the Supers into retirement, Arthur Kirkland 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?
Chapter 1 Sentenced to Domesticity
Supers Remove the Masks -- Americans Rest Easy
By DANIEL HAMMERSMITH
Published November 5, 1999
It was the case that changed the nation. Nearly two years ago, a local citizen -- whose identity was withheld from the public -- shocked the world by filing a class action lawsuit against none other than Captain Invincible after the Super foiled his suicide attempt causing the civilian to sustain massive injuries -- among the most severe a broken neck -- in the process. The plaintiff demanded that Invincible be held responsible for his medical bills, citing that he did not want to be saved and that the Super only caused him unbearable pain and stagger debt thanks to his "heroics."
Captain Invincible, who had remained tight lipped throughout the litigation, seemed to remain confident during the proceedings, certain that the judicial system would find him innocent of any wrong doing, only to be stunned when the court ruled in his victim's favor.
It was the first case of its kind, but would not be the last.
Less than one month after the first suit had been filed, Captain Invincible found himself being served yet again, this time in a joint suit filed by the passengers of a local train that had practically been derailed by Invincible. According to Invincible, he had been attempting to prevent the train from falling off of the tracks as a large section of the bridge had been decimated by the explosives wielding menace Bombs Aweigh. This stunt, however, resulted in a majority of the passengers sustaining injuries ranging from minor to server.
Soon a proverbial flood gate was opened upon the Super community as numerous suits and court summons were brought against those who had once claimed to protect the people. Overnight it seemed as if the vocal minority that had previously spoken out against the potentially destructive presence of Supers had boomed into a thunderous majority. The public, however, was not satisfied with simply tying up the empowered populace in litigation. Groups of concerned citizens quickly banned together in hopes of putting a stop to a group that had, to them, out lived their use.
As many critics cited, the Superheroes on a daily basis caused more destruction than they actually prevented. Car collisions, train wrecks, and even the demolition of entire buildings were common occurrences during a typical brawl that would occur during a Super's attempted apprehension of would be culprits.
"We have professionally trained men and women paid to take down crime," one citizen commented. "They're called the police!"
And what of the Super villains? Many Supers argue that their existence is necessary in order to handle their empowered -- and often times mentally unhinged -- adversaries, but therein lies another set of problems. Where was the Super villain prior to the creation of the Superhero? Studies have shown that before Roman Warrior's first sightings there were no megalomaniacs wielding freeze guns or shrink rays in the hopes of holding the world for ransom or threatening to tear down society brick by brick.
"The Supers create the Super villains," said the leader of the Anti-Super society NORMAL. "It's their way of making the public believe they're indispensible, but with enough training and state founding, a typical police officer can easily handle any super powered threat they can throw at us."
Although seemingly reluctant to voice an opinion, the federal government eventually relented to the demands of the citizens by creating the Super Relocation Program. Under this new legislature, all Supers will be required to retire from their crime fighting ways and refrain from using their superpowers while assuming new identities as average citizens. In exchange for adhering to the new law the Supers will avoid jail time and any financial responsibility for their past deeds.
Now, on the brink of the new millennium, it seems that the 90s have at last taken down one last out dated industry. The public can now look forward to a bright future safe from men and women mistaking themselves for gods.
Arthur didn't want to take another phone call. Even though the shrill sound of the phone ringing off the hook was like nails against a blackboard in his ears, his hand could not be bothered to so much as touch the cold plastic. He honestly didn't think he had it in him to answer the phone one more time and listen to another sob story from a woman raising two children on her own whose house was broken into or a retired war veteran living on a fixed income with a flooded basement and having to explain to each and every one of them why Insuricare would not be able to cover their claim.
He hated this job, hated it with a fiery passion so intense that at times he felt certain it would burn a giant hole inside of him, and every second of every minute of every hour of every long miserable day he regretted accepting this position.
Yet, he hadn't had a choice, because the day they'd all went into hiding Francis's parents had cut him off and they were still planning for a wedding that seemed less and less likely to happen and they were struggling to pay back Arthur's student loans after the stressful lawsuits had forced him to drop out of graduate school and were looking at a rent that was beyond their reach and had discovered that Francis was a carrier of a one in a million gene among male Supers that allowed them to get pregnant, because he had taken a test and it had turned out positive. So on the day that his case worker handed him a brochure for Insuricare saying that he could only get him as far as the interview, Arthur had seen the desk job and steady income as a blessing from above.
Now after over a decade of working at an office so gray he'd have to slit his wrists to remember what colors looked like, of sitting in a cubicle that was as far away from a widow as possible, of staring into a computer screen he was certain was killing his brain cells day by day, Arthur was finding it hard to believe that he had ever been remotely excited to be a claims adjustor for a soul sucking organization such as Insuricare. Yet if anyone ever asked him why he hadn't quit yet, he'd be able to name four reasons right off the bat.
With a frustrated groan, he finally willed himself to grab the damn receiver (mindful not to crush it in his grasp no matter how good it'd feel) before answering with an incredibly dull "Insuricare, Arthur Kirkland speaking."
"Angelique did the funniest thing today," Francis's voice practically gushed from the phone's earpiece and Arthur let out yet another groan.
He didn't hate Francis's phone calls, but he was frequently annoyed by them, particularly when Francis opened up with an anecdote about something the children did. That usually meant that Francis had broken something or replaced something or was looking to buy something. Whatever the cause, it would inevitably cost Arthur more money than they had and he would then be forced to remind Francis once again that he was not living off of a trust fund anymore.
"I'm sure it'll be a right stitch," Arthur droned.
"She was watching that puppet show -- what is it? -- Sesame Street, and the trash monster came on screen and Angelique looked at him and said 'Dada! Dada!'" Francis was practically howling with laughter and Arthur found himself frowning distastefully into the phone. "You see, it is funny because you are both grumpy and have big eyebrows."
"That's not funny."
"It is hysterical."
"I'm not laughing." Craning his neck upward slightly, he looked around the rows of hallway to make sure none of his supervisors were on the floor. The last thing he needed was to be caught on another personal call. "Listen Francis, I can't really talk right now. What's the real reason you're calling?"
"What would you say if I told you we needed to buy a new dishwasher?" Francis asked casually, too casually.
"I'd say that's four hundred dollars that we can't afford right now!" he practically hollered. "What the bloody hell happened to the one we just bought last month?"
"Nothing. It is fine," Francis said and Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. "But the vacuum is broken."
Francis had always been the lucky one of the two. Born to a modestly rich family, he hadn't need a job or a loan or (an abundance of) help from any government agency to support his Superhero work. He had lived off of his family's wealth and only needed the various costumes that he'd manipulated away from that poor Italian supplier to fight crime. Then the crusade against Supers had hit the media and Francis, not wanting them to hear it from someone else, had outted himself as Monsieur Élastique to his parents. They cut him off faster than one could open a bottle of Chardonnay, leaving Francis to drawn in a sea of depth and paternity suits (all of which were thrown out once the DNA tests proved that he had fathered none of his alleged children).
Arthur had always felt horrible that he had had nothing to offer Francis other than the addition of his own debt and legal troubles. He knew he couldn't return Francis to the lavish lifestyle he had been born into, but he could promise him that he'd always be there as emotional support. Looking back, however, Arthur suspected that it had always been financial support that Francis was interested in, because as soon as they had gained a bit of financial stability, Francis took advantage of the situation, mainly by changing jobs whenever a new impulse struck him. One day he was a travel agent, the next it was data processing, and the next he was looking to work in the restaurant industry. At long last he had settled on something, photography, but he worked infrequently and spent most of his time at home giving him plenty of opportunities to wreck the house.
It was partially Arthur's fault, because there were times he forgot that Francis was not a househusband. No, a man such as Francis was not made to spend all day long locked in a house mending clothes and dusting furniture and he let that fact be known by breaking every appliance in the house. Whether it was constantly confusing the washer and dryer ("Which one is top loading and which one is side loading?") or putting dish soap in the dishwasher ("Soap is soap! It should work!"), Francis was useless at anything that didn't involve shopping. And cooking.
"How did it happen?" Arthur asked, struggling to keep his voice as calm and even as possible unless he draw unwanted attention to himself.
"I was vacuuming boys' room -- you know how messy that floor can get -- and then poof! Smoke."
"I think there are a few large holes in your story. You don't go from vacuuming the floor to smoke."
"Well I am going to buy a new one. I saw a commercial for one the other day. It is bagless and goes around corners easily and-"
"And if it costs in the triple digits it's out of our price range," Arthur cut in. "Just... use a broom for now."
"But I have allergies!"
"My skin is delicate."
"Since when!" It was at that moment that Arthur saw his boss approaching, his blond head of hair peaking over the drab gray rows of cubicles like a shark's dorsal fin cutting through the waves. "Francis, I have to go. I see my supervisor coming."
"Alright. I have to pick up the boys anyway. I will see you at home."
"Yeah, right," Arthur muttered, hanging up the phone as quickly as possible. It wasn't quick enough, however, as a second before his receiver could land back on its cradle, the man was already standing in front of his desk.
"Kirkland!" The one word was said with so much force and volume that Arthur actually found his desk shaking from the aftershock. "Why did you authorize approval on the Lopez account!"
"Their car was stolen, Mr. Zwingli," he managed to say, still startled from Zwingli's spontaneous arrival. "They're a single income family and they need-"
"I don't care," the man barked, hand slamming down against the dull wood surface of Arthur's desk. There were times that Arthur wondered if Vash Zwingli had ever been a Super. He cut such a startling image with his permanent frown and dedication to authority. Yet Arthur always shook those thoughts away. Zwingli was far too bureaucratic and neutral to ever dawn tights and a mask to fight for good or evil. "I don't care about their car and I don't care about your excuses. This is a company. We make money. How are we supposed to make money if you keep approving every sob story and hard luck case that passes under your nose?"
"I... I'm sorry." The words tasted bitter on his tongue. He rarely apologized and the idea of doing so because he had helped people made him feel sick inside. Moments like this he could clearly picture the part of himself that had once been Captain Invincible crumble away bit by bit in utter shame.
"You should be," Zwingli continued to fume. "Now stop being such a damn bleeding heart. This is a business! People who can't perform professionally are dead weight on the pay roll." He turned to stomp away, but stopped suddenly, as if remembering something important at the last minute. "And no more personal calls. This isn't a hair salon. Save the chit chat for when you're out the door." And this time he did stomp away, seemingly kicking at the half wall of Arthur's cubicle on the way out, knocking over a few pictures along the way.
It looked like so much fun. As he sat on the patch of grass watching the other kids from between the gaps in the chain linked fence, Alfred couldn't help but imagine himself in their place. No, he'd be better than all of them. He'd be the best.
Track team? He could do that with his eyes closed. Alfred could just imagine himself running laps around the track. He wouldn't need to stretch or even get into position. The second the whistle blew he'd be off, feet pounding, wind whizzing through his hair as he made it around the track once, twice, three times before the other kids could even make it past the bend.
Football? Not a problem. He'd intercept any throw, block any pass, and always be the one to catch the ball and go sprinting towards the end zone for an instant touchdown. No one would be able to even lay a finger on his jersey.
Baseball? Child's play. He was already a dynamite hitter, everyone knew that. It was all about timing after all, and his sharp eyes could keep up with any pitch. Crack! The ball would connect perfectly with the smooth wood of his bat and even before the ball went airborne he'd have already rounded all three bases and slide home with only a cloud of dust and the dirt on his cleats to prove that he had made the rounds.
He could do all of it, he could do anything, except that he wasn't allowed to do anything. His parents would have a fit if they'd ever heard of him showing off his talents, they'd probably end up having to pack up all their stuff and change towns if Alfred ever let loose and allowed himself to use his full speed. That's why every time there was a physical activity he'd have to sit out. Whenever it came time for gym class Alfred was always forced to hand in fake doctor's notes with forged signatures giving some dumb medical reason to excuse him from the day's workout.
Alfred peeled his eyes away from the football field were a group of boys were busy kicking a ball around and instead focused his attention on tearing up fists full's of grass and throwing them into the wind. It wasn't fair. Being born with powers that he had to keep hidden was like living life as only half a person.
"Do you see the car yet?"
Alfred turned his gaze towards the pile of floating clothes hiding under the stone steps leading up to science building before craning his neck towards the road. He didn't see any familiar cars passing by, so he simply shook his head. "Not yet."
"Do you see anyone coming?"
He knew what that meant. Apparently some kids wanted Mattie's homework and instead of taking action, instead of allowing Alfred to help, instead of using his awesome force fields to fight the bullies off, Mattie had responded by disappearing. Alfred was annoyed, but he was also jealous. Mattie could use his powers and not get caught, but Alfred couldn't do anything (except put the occasional thumb tack on an unsuspecting substitute's chair. Classic). It seemed like hiding was a talent they both shared.
A car horn honked just as Alfred was about to sprinkle some grass unto an unsuspecting ant pile. He looked up just in time to see a dark green mini-van pulling up to the school gates. "Ride's here," Alfred announced, tossing the blades of grass at what he assumed was his brother's head before grabbing his backpack.
Mattie was visible again before a single blade could touch his hair, but he still shot Alfred an annoyed glare before picking up his own things. "Not funny."
"Race you to the car?"
Mattie's frown softened, turning more tired than annoyed. "What's the point? You always win."
"Bonjour les garcons," Francis sing songed as the twins scrambled into the van, Alfred climbing into the front seat while Mathieu slipped into the back. "How was school?"
A soft "okay" and an exaggerated groan of "lame" were his simultaneous replies. He chuckled to himself as he pulled out of the school parking lot and back onto the road.
"Papa, Angelique's throwing her baby crackers again," Mathieu reported dutifully.
"Hey Pops I've got something for you to sign," Alfred boasted, his voice clearly indicating that he wanted something Francis couldn't give him.
Glancing into his rearview mirror, Francis could clearly see that Mathieu was right and that Angelique -- chubby cheeks covered with crumbs and globs of barely chewed food -- was ready to throw another fist full of crackers. At his side, Alfred was focused on digging around in his book bag, no doubt looking for the papers he had been talking about. "Mathieu take those crackers away from her. I am sure she has had enough anyway. Alfred, whatever it is I cannot look at it while I am driving."
"Alright, I'll just read them to you," Alfred volunteered, shuffling papers as he spoke. "Football season is already over, but try outs for next year's team will be starting soon. All I need you to do is sign right down here and-"
"Non," Francis said as he came to a gentle halt at a red light. A crossing guard marched out into the middle of the street, brandishing a red sign in the air as a row of school children walked safely behind him. Francis sighed, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel as his eyes swept over the busy intersection.
"Okay, not a football fan," Alfred said confidently, considering Francis's answer only a minor setback as he reshuffled his papers. "How about baseball? The season's already started, but I talked to the coach and he said-"
"How 'bout track?"
"Non!" Francis let out a long sigh as the last child stepped safely onto the sidewalk and the light finally changed to green. He wished that Arthur were here with him. Arthur was so much better at playing the bad cop than he was. If Francis had his way, he'd give the children everything they asked for and more. He needed Arthur to be the stern voice of reason. Being level headed and restricting just didn't suit him.
"S'il vous plaît Papa," Alfred whined and Francis felt a knife twisting in his heart. He couldn't resist his children when they spoke French. "You have to let me do something! I promise I'll hold back. I'll only be the best by the tiniest bit."
"Alfred F. Kirkland-Bonnefoy, you ask me the same thing at least once a year," Francis chided. "And each time I tell you the same thing: no. It is just too dangerous." He frowned as he adjusted his review mirror so that he could get a better look at Mathieu. "Do you know what happens to children with superpowers?" he asked them both.
The twins responded with uniformed eye rolls and practiced groans. They'd heard this before, mostly from Arthur, but it was all very routine by now.
"They get taken away," Francis finished when neither boy answered. "Men in suits come to their homes in the middle of the night and steal them out of their beds! Then they are locked away and never seen again."
It was a slight exaggeration, but not enough of one for Francis's comfort. It had been a little more than ten years ago when the government had once gain buckled under the pressure set upon them by the small minded and frightened public and passed a law forbidding all Supers from "breeding" (as they coldly put it) and making the offspring of Supers illegal. The day the new law was passed, something inside Francis had shriveled up and died knowing that yet another freedom had been stolen from him. At the time, neither he nor Arthur had been considering another child, but to know that the choice had been taken away from them was a sickening feeling.
Worse still was the knowledge that their children were no longer safe. Suddenly the powers that the twin had exhibited almost from birth were even more of a danger and could result in them being ripped away from them.
When the abductions started, the "men in suits" did not come in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the day disguised as child service agents removing the children to place them in "foster homes." Those foster homes were just government facilities where children were taken to be studied and monitored and trained to use their powers. It was said that the adducted youths were supposed to be returned when they reached eighteen or learned to use their abilities effectively, but Francis had never heard anything about their release.
The twins had been toddlers when it all started, old enough to begin to display their abilities but not old enough to understand how to control them. Francis still remembered how he and Arthur had stayed up night after night for at least a year pacing the house wondering when someone would come to take their children away.
That day never came and although both Arthur and Francis were eternally grateful, they knew that it was only a matter of time before the normal facade slipped and their family was torn apart.
But Alfred and Mathieu could not remember those dark days and could not truly grasp the fear that lurked in the hearts of their fathers. As far as they knew, Arthur and Francis were just hiding -- hiding them, hiding themselves, hiding a world of possibilities -- but Francis slept soundly at night knowing that it was all for their own good.
"I am sorry Alfred, but it is just a risk we cannot afford to take," he told him, glancing over to see Alfred's face crumble under the weight of disappointment once again. "Perhaps we can try to find something else for you to do." It was an empty promise. After all, there was no way that Alfred could use his speed without drawing unwanted attention towards the family.
He was thankful that this was one issue he'd never have to fret over with Angelique. It had been about two years ago that Arthur and Francis had felt that they were ready to have another child. Of course the government's restrictions on reproduction among Supers meant that the natural option had been firmly taken off the table. Yet the harsh regulations on the Super community were not without its (odd) benefits. Now that defending the world against the threat of super powered men and women was the top priority among Americans, the idea of same sex marriage and adoption didn't seem to be as great of an issue.
That didn't mean that the adoption process was any easier. The extensive background checks were agonizing and for a while they had thought that their previous career choices would eliminate them out right. Yet a miracle seemed to have occurred as the names "Captain Invincible" and "Monsieur Élastique" did not show up on their files (the Relocation Program must have been more thorough than Francis gave them credit for), but still it was not smooth sailing from there as the couple had to search through dozens of bright eyes and smiling faces to finally find the baby who would be a perfect fit for their family.
And then there was little Angelique. The moment she had been placed in his arms Francis knew that she was meant to be theirs. Angelique had been the child of a young woman who had come to the (no doubt painful) conclusion that she would not be able to care for her child after the father had walked out on her. Angelique was perfect and beautiful and sweet and wonderfully uncomplicated. It wasn't as if he resented the twins or their abilities. Francis loved all of his children, but he would admit that there were aspects to each that he appreciated, such as Alfred's confident nature and Mathieu's polite disposition. He'd be lying if he said he didn't consider Angelique being powerless as a blessing. It was nice to have an infant who didn't crawl away at lightning speed the second you turned your head or one who disappeared from sight in the middle of a bath.
Of course with the addition of Angelique came the concern as to whether she would fit in among her siblings. Francis knew that the boys loved Angelique, but there were times when it seemed that sparks of jealousy would fly around her. Not for the attention that she would receive from Arthur or (more likely) Francis, because the boys were at the age where they wanted more independence then affection from their fathers. No, it seemed that the twins resented Angelique for the burden that she would never know. Even now, Francis caught the sight of Alfred (and Mathieu!) pinning unsuspecting Angelique with an envious stare.
He shook his head wearily as he pulled into their driveway. Parenthood was certainly a challenge that all his years of costumed crime fighting had not prepared him for.
Thank goodness the day was almost over. After being stuck in his shabby little cubicle for nearly eight hours, being crammed in his little shoebox of a car in hour long bumper to bumper traffic had only helped to add to the tension building inside of him and made the tie wrapped around his throat feel even more like a noose.
When he finally pulled into the driveway, he started to feel human again... that was until he stepped on Alfred's skateboard and nearly broke his neck. Yes, his next battle for the day would be of the domestic variety, because as he had learned over the years handling a family was like walking through a mine field.
Stepping inside the single level home, Arthur still remembered clearly the days when his arrival would be met with much fanfare and fuss. Before the boys had been born, Francis would greet him with a long throaty kiss that would say "thank you for doing this for us" more clearly than words ever could. When the twins were younger the first thing he'd hear as he walked in the door were duel cries of delight before he would be bend down to find two pairs of bright blue eyes staring up at him fondly, asking him questions about his day, telling him they'd missed him, and wrapping their small arms around him as best as they could.
Today... today there was no one. The boys were most likely locked away in their room doing homework or avoiding it as best as they could, while Francis busied himself in the kitchen with dinner. The only "welcoming" sight he could find was Francis's bloody bird flapping its little wings from inside its cage and singing its usual song. That damn pigeon always tweeted up a storm whenever there was the slightest disturbance in the house, which was quite often.
Setting down his brief case by the door, Arthur made his way into the kitchen where he found Francis -- as expected -- standing over the stove fretting over patties of ground beef sizzling within a pan. Francis's full concentration was on his task while Arthur's eyes zoned in on his hair. It was pulled back into a short pony tail, tied off with a single blue ribbon as shorter loose strands of hair fell free from their confines to frame Francis's face. The sight sent a strange thrill through Arthur's body. It seemed that the only time he could bring himself to feel excited about Francis was when he wore his hair up.
It wasn't because Francis wasn't still attractive -- time had been very good to him, especially when one considered that Francis was now on the other side of forty and barely had any wrinkles or laugh lines to be seen -- but because when Arthur saw him this way he was reminded of his Monsieur Élastique days. Francis had always tied his hair back when fighting crime and just that slight glimpse into the past was enough to light a small fire within Arthur's belly.
He snuffed it out -- because dear God was he tired and not at all in the mood -- and greeted his husband instead with a quick peck on the cheek. Truly marriage was a force of unimaginable evil if it had the ability to make sex with a man whose body could bend and contort into any shape seem like a chore.
"You're making hamburgers?" he commented. Francis hated the American idea of "comfort food" and usually refused to cook anything that even tipped toe into that category unless he was feeling particularly generous. Or guilty.
"Oui," Francis sighed. "Alfred is in a bad mood."
"Oh," he said quietly, guessing right away what could have caused this. He sighed as he headed for the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. "What team was it this time?"
"All of them," Francis said mournfully. "I spoke with him, of course, but he was still upset. I am hoping this will brighten his spirits a bit."
Arthur merely rolled his eyes at the comment as he took a long swallow from his drink. It was typical of Francis to use food as an emotional band-aid and if he had noticed the irony, then he had yet to show it.
It was at that moment that baby Angelique decided to chime in, kicking her legs and chattering non-sense loudly as if to say "I'm here! Look at me!" to her preoccupied parents. "Yes, Angelique, I see you," Arthur laughed as he reached over to caress her soft brown cheek with the back of his hand.
Francis cleared his throat in a loud, dramatic fashion and tapped his skillet with the edge of his metal spatula, effectively drawing Arthur's attention firmly away from Angelique's cooing figure. "Do not touch the baby!" Francis chided. "Your hands are probably filthy."
"What makes you think I haven't washed them yet?"
"You never do."
Arthur huffed as he finished off the rest of his beer before heading to the sink to scrub at his hands. "Oh calm down," he grumbled. "One little touch isn't going to cause her entire immune system to shut down."
"You do not know what germs you may have picked up during the day."
"I work in a bloody office, Francis!" he snapped. "It's not as if I'm wandering through the junkyard rolling around in garbage all day."
"It is better safe than sorry. We do not want to have to rush the baby to the emergency room just because you want to prove a point."
"Yes, I'm sure I'm going to accidentally infect her with smallpox just because I forget to wash my hands once," he grumbled as he turned back towards the refrigerator to grab another can of beer. "I'll be in the den reading the paper."
"Fine Captain Morgan," Francis snipped. "I will call you when dinner is ready."
Why did that name seem so familiar to him? Arthur felt his frown deepen as he read over the news article for what must have been the dozenth time. There was something about this particular story that had caught his attention, but for some reason his mind couldn't place it. According to the paper a local man, Berwald Oxenstierna, had gone missing two weeks ago. Oxenstierna had last been seen on his way to work, but had failed to return home. Quotes from his friends and family all regarded this behavior as "unusual" and wished only for Oxenstierna's safe return.
He hummed, tapping the brim of his beer with the tips of his fingers. Over all it was not an unusual story -- people went missing every day after all -- but that name...
"Alfred, put the video game away."
"How come Dad gets to read the newspaper at the table, but I can't play video games?"
He muttered a quick "just a minute" in response, because this was going to gnaw at him all night and it wasn't as if he were in the mood for hamburgers anyway (although he would admit that they did smell good). His eyes slowly drifted to the small black and white picture printed beside the article with "Have you seen me?" typed out underneath. The man in the picture appeared to be around his age with light colored hair cropped short and swept mostly to the side. A pair of wire thin glasses sat on the bridge of his nose and his stony gaze was...
That was it. He was a Super. Berwald "Stonewall" Oxenstierna hadn't been a big name among the Super community and Arthur hadn't really had much experience working with him, but he had heard a few things here and there about him. Stonewall had been a man a few words, his tight lipped nature and massive figure enough to send even the most harden foes into terrified quivers. The last Arthur had heard was that the giant Swede had settled down with some Finish bloke and started a family.
He wondered what could have happened to old Stonewall. Had he really just up and disappeared? Had the years of isolation been too much for him? Or was there something else at work?
His musings were cut off when his newspaper was suddenly yanked away. He looked up just in time to see Francis's arms stretching out from his end of the dinner table like twin hoses to grab his newspaper and Alfred's hand held game and Arthur was mildly annoyed to admit that he released a petulant whine that could easily rival Alfred's own cries of displeasure.
"Naughty children," Francis teased as he retracted his hands back to their usual length. "You can have your toys back after dinner."
"Very funny," Arthur droned, giving his beer an annoyed tap. To his dismay he found the drumming of his fingers was met with a hollow tinkle. He sighed, pushing himself away from the table and the plate of half eaten food before him. "I'm going to get..." His words came to a steady halt at the sight of Francis's irritated gaze. "... a glass of water."
"Mathieu, you have not touched your dinner," Francis noted as Arthur made his way past the boy and into the kitchen.
The boy muttered something too soft for Arthur's ears to detect as he headed to the sink, rinsing out the last remains of beer from within his can before loading it into the specially placed recycling bin under the sink. Arthur sighed, tired green eyes flickering towards the clock mounted on the wall before switching to gaze out the window at the quickly setting sun. He was tempted to grab another can anyway, but he supposed it would be best to cut himself off for tonight.
With another sigh -- this one more irritated than the last -- Arthur grabbed a glass from the top cabinet, poured himself a glass of water, and headed back to the table.
"When can we have pancakes for dinner again?" Matthew was asking just as Arthur re-entered the dining room.
"The next time Papa forces me to cook," Arthur said only half joking. Years of living with Francis had helped to improve his skills in the kitchen, but not by much. Arthur could now make breakfast well enough to be eaten, but it still wasn't exactly pleasing to the palate. Not that Matthew cared. As far as Matthew was concerned pancakes and waffles were just an excuse to consume bottles of maple syrup whole.
"Well if we have pancakes again, I want them to be chocolate," Alfred put in as he grabbed his third hamburger.
"That does not sound like dinner anymore," Francis chided.
Angelique gurgled and slapped her hands against the plastic tray of her highchair, annoyed that Francis was no longer giving her his undivided attention. Her frantic kicks and squeals clearly expressed her message of "I'm still here! I'm still hungry!" to them.
"You'd better get to work on feeding the baby before she cracks that highchair in half," Arthur smirked, reaching to take a sip of his drink only to stop himself when he remembered it was only water.
"Well, maybe it would help me to concentrate if you did more than just pick at your own plate," Francis returned pointedly.
Arthur sighed, poking at his half eaten hamburger and plate of chips. His mind was full of too many things to focus on eating, but he decided to just finish off the rest of his meal anyway. It wasn't worth risking a potential fight in front of the children.
He hadn't done more than finished off the rest of his burger when there came a knock at the front door. The sudden disturbance caused Pierre to erupt into a fit of vigorous tweets and Arthur briefly considered shoving the damn bird into cupboard for the rest of the night.
"I'll get it," Alfred offered automatically. Arthur didn't even have the time to register or move an inch before Alfred reach the front door, his eager cry of "Uncle Gil! Uncle Tonio!" echoing from the entryway.
"What are they doing here?" Arthur groaned, gathering his plate and making ready for his escape. A visit from Francis's friends was the last thing he needed tonight.
"It is Wednesday," Francis said simply.
Ah yes, card night. And their night to host no less. Perfect. Arthur wished that Francis would remind him of these things instead of just expecting him to remember.
"Well, well. If it isn't old Cap'n Crunch himself," Gilbert snickered as he entered the dining room. "How's life on the Good Ship Guppy going Cap'n?"
"Ha-ha," Arthur droned, doing his best to clear the table as quickly as possible without making his efforts too obvious. "Very funny Gilbert. I'm sure you stayed up all night coming up with that one."
"Actually, he came up with it in the car," Antonio supplied helpfully as he sat himself down in the chair Alfred had abandoned.
"Aw, you didn't bring your chopper, Uncle Gil?" Alfred whined.
"She's in the shop kid, but I'll bring her around next time," he promised, slipping into Arthur's seat at the head of the table. Arthur gave him a very pointed stare when he reached over and grabbed a fist full of chips off of Matthew's plate before rustling the boy's hair. "How's life been treating you Wonder Twin?" he asked between mouthfuls of food.
"Um, good," Matthew whispered, his cheeks burning bright red at the attention.
"Aw, look at the baby!" Antonio cooed, his green eyes fixed on Angelique who was herself too preoccupied by the food Francis was spooning into her lips. "Ay amigo she sure is getting big."
"Not as big as Old Eyebrows here," Gilbert sniggered as he continued to pick off of Matthew's plate. "This guy used to be rail thin, now look at him. Married life sure has made you soft around the middle, huh?"
The plates had turned to dust in his hands before Arthur even realized he had been clenching down on them. Forced retirement, work and personal stress, and fifteen years of Francis's cooking (and if he were being really honest with himself, the now nightly ritual of packing away at least six lagers before bed) had resulted in Arthur's once lean form turning a bit doughy. He still had his strength -- he could easily lift the car clean over his head if he tried -- and was quite agile still, but he certainly didn't look like Captain Invincible anymore, a fact that became all the more frustrating when he looked at his present company. Gilbert, Antonio, and Francis -- Awesome Eagle, El Infierno, and Monsieur Élastique -- were all older than him and yet they looked as if they hadn't gained more than a few pounds since they'd been off the job. Arthur on the other hand had put on at least thirty. It didn't seem at all fair.
"Do not make fun of Arthur," Francis chimed in. "He has just learned to appreciate my cooking. After all, what man can resist fine French cuisine?"
"Or baking," Gilbert said, a wistful gleam in his eyes. "Remember the cream puffs?"
Antonio chuckled having somehow managed to swap places with Francis so that he was now the one spoon feeding Angelique. "Or the pain au chocolat."
"Chausson aux pommes."
"Would you two like to stop reminiscing about my husband's cooking?" Arthur huffed, sweeping up the last bits of broken dishes from the floor. "This is starting to get a bit odd."
"Geez Pops, I thought you were a Superhero," Alfred said, skepticism and disappointment clear in his voice. "Didn't you do anything besides bake?"
"Alfred, cher, at that time I was unemployed, bored, and very rich," Francis explained wistfully. "If I was not fighting crime or making love, then I was cooking."
"Inappropriate," Arthur muttered, not that anyone was paying him any mind. As usual Antonio and Gilbert had swooped in and completely captured his family's attention. The house was starting to feel a bit too crowded. His eyes once again flickered to the clock and then out the window, deciding at last that it was sufficiently late enough. "I think I'm going to head out for a bit," he announced as he loaded the last dish into the dishwasher (mindful not to allow himself to as much as chip a single one).
"Now?" Francis asked, twisting around in his seat to pin Arthur with a questioning look. "But it is so late. Do you not have work tomorrow?"
"I won't be gone too long," he promised. "I just figured I'd go... hit the gym." Arthur grimaced as the words slipped out of his mouth. He had practiced that excuse since before work, but now that Gilbert had shown up... Well, Arthur just knew he had set himself up for yet another fat joke.
Sure enough, he was greeted by the sound of Gilbert's laughter the moment his unfortunately worded sentence had finished. "That sounds like a good idea, Artie. You should really work on losing that spare tire."
"Aw, don't go Dad," Alfred said. "Uncle Gil's gonna tell us some war stories."
Gilbert smirked, leaning back in Arthur's chair as a too smug air gathered around him. "Yeah and I've got a great one too. It's about the time that Iron Skillet and I took on the Atomic Emperor. Man, did that Iron Skillet have a nice-"
"Inappropriate!" Arthur snapped.
He felt a slight twinge building behind his eyes. He wished that Francis wouldn't bring his friends over. They were such a terrible influence on the children. Although, he had to admit that it was nice some times to see the other retirees. In a small way it reminded him that there were others like him out there and that they hadn't all just disappeared into thin air. Arthur frowned, pushing that thought aside as he quickly stepped into his bedroom and picked up a duffle bag stowed away in the back of the closet before heading towards the door.
"I'll be back in an hour or two," Arthur promised, hurrying out before Francis could even reply.
"I am afraid gentlemen that your drink choices for tonight are severely limited," Francis announced as he gave one last survey of the kitchen. The table had been cleared, the dishes put away, and the children were either in bed or their rooms (even little Angelique, much to Antonio's dismay) which meant that the three were able to unwind a bit more. Unfortunately it seemed that Francis had once again neglected to restock the supply of adult beverages on his last shopping trip, a fact that he knew Gilbert would not be pleased with. "Your choices are Chardonnay or one of Arthur's beers."
Sure enough, Gilbert released a long groan in response. "What does old Eyebrows drink?" he asked wearily.
"Coors," Francis sneered, glaring at the sliver can in distaste.
"I'd rather drink piss-water," Gilbert spat. "Although with that stuff, you might as well be drinking piss water. I thought you'd fixed Artie's taste buds. Why'd he start drinking the cheap stuff?"
"Because we are on a budget," Francis told him, not bothering to hold back the distasteful shuddered that coursed through his body at the very utterance of those words. Even after over a decade of living as a regular middle class member of society it was hard for him to think of himself as the type of person who had to clip coupons, reheat leftovers, and shop for sales. Twenty years ago he was the type of man who would buy things without looking at their price. He had been raised to be extravagant and, in many ways, frivolous with his spending. Not anymore. Not ever again.
"I'll take a glass of gay fruit juice," Gilbert relented.
"I'll take a glass," Antonio piped in.
Francis shook his head as he took down three glasses and pulled out their last bottle of wine. He really needed to remember that there were actual adults floating around the house the next time he did the shopping. Then again he probably wouldn't be able to stretch it with Angelique going through a bag of diapers day, the boys being at an age where they were starting to eat twice their body weight a day (Alfred in particular), and Arthur was still carrying out his tea addiction, which they were running low on...
What is the matter with me? Why am I still thinking like this?
He gave his head another firm shake as he headed back into the dining room and distributed the glasses among his friends. "So Gilbert, how is your brother?"
"Married," Gilbert answered dully. There was a shimmer of bitterness in his red eyes as he watched Francis fill his glass. "Disgustingly married. Man, Ludwig and I used to be a team, equal partners in the fight against crime and all that shit. Now he spends all of his time with his wife. It's like he's forgotten all about his own brother."
"You two were partners?" Francis smirked, turning his attention over to Antonio's glass. "I always thought of you as the sidekick."
Gilbert's eyes darkened, the old wounds seeming to reopen at the mere mention of the word "sidekick." "We were a team," he stressed. "Awesome Eagle and Iron Eagle."
"Really? Because I remember his face being in the paper more often," Francis chuckled. "And he always did get top billing in the headline, he was always the ones reporters turned to for interviews and photo shoots, and let us not forget the action figures."
Gilbert's only response was to guzzle the golden contents of his wine glass as if it were grape juice. Francis smiled to himself as he pulled out a seat across from Antonio, who was currently busy shuffling the deck of cards.
"Gilbert, amigo, don't worry about your brother," Antonio assured him as he slid five cards to each of them. "Being involved with each other is what married couples do, it's natural. And it's sweet to know that they're still so affectionate after all these years. I bet he and Feli are like newlyweds, huh? So cute!"
"Sickening is more like it," Gilbert muttered, his glare now fixed on the cards grasped in his pale hands.
"Ah, it's been a while since Lovi and I have had a chance to see them," Antonio sighed wistfully into his own hand. "We've just been so busy with the new store. By the way, Francis, we're having an event at the cafe next week. Do you think you can come by and take a few pictures?"
"Well, I shall have to see if I can fit you in," Francis laughed, hoping that the sound wasn't too obviously forced. He hadn't had a client in nearly a month and was considering not giving Antonio a discount. No. He couldn't do that. Lovino was too scary.
"God you guys are dull," Gilbert whined. "This is exactly why I haven't gotten married-"
"Of course it is."
"Marriage just sucks the life right out of you and turns you into an unawesome pussy," he went on. "You're whipped, Ludwig's whipped, even Francis has been sucked into this whole marriage scam." A sad look crossed his face as if Gilbert were reliving some tragic event. "I still can't believe it. I mean, yeah you got some awesome kids out of it, but you just had to settle down with the world's biggest stick in the mud."
Francis smiled at his friend's little tangent. He had to admit that there were times that even he couldn't believe that he was living such a conventional life: married with three children, living in a house in the suburbs, and driving a minivan. It was an image that would have been enough to make the young Monsieur Élastique weep with despair, but Francis could honestly say that he loved his life. He loved the little house that he had spent years renovating and painting and decorating until every inch of it felt just right and felt just like him. He loved his children; all three of them were everything he could ask for, even though fifteen years ago the very idea of having children was enough to turn his stomach inside out. And Arthur...
"Ah, Arthur is not that bad," Antonio put in helpfully, pulling out two cards before taking two more from the deck. "Besides, they make a nice couple."
Gilbert snorted, changing out only one of his cards. "Yeah, well at least I know that Francis is still his usual crazy self in the bedroom."
"Well of course," Francis laughed, giving his hair a flip just for good measure. "You know me. Arthur and I, we are like teenagers!"
The lie tasted bitter on his tongue. The lack of passion that had elbowed its way into his marriage was probably the worst thing in his life. It was hard to think that they were the same pair that had come together with so much passion and fury. In the beginning, when they had both donned masks and costumes in the hopes of keeping the world safe, their nights together would be intense and desperate, knowing that every moment needed to be savored since any time could be the last time. When the world had come crashing down around them, things had slowed down, had become less frantic, but the need for support and comfort that those dark times had brought out was enough to make their attachment grow stronger.
Retirement and marriage, however, had been a cancer on their relationship and as flexible as he was, Francis soon found there were roles that even he couldn't fit into. Outside of crime fighting there were two things that Francis excelled at: cooking and love making, but those things weren't good enough for Arthur. As time dragged on, Francis started to realize to his growing horror that Arthur did not want a French lover, he wanted a wife. He wanted to come home to a warm meal, a clean house, and groomed well behaved children. Even though Francis had sworn that he would never be "Mrs. Invincible" he had tried, he truly had, to do everything in his power to give Arthur what he wanted. It only seemed fair considering that Arthur had been forced into a job he hated in order to support the family (and it had only been because Francis had been heavily pregnant at the time that he had not suffered the same fate), but even when he gave everything he had in him, Francis found that he was no good at being domestic. He could cook and he could tend to the children, but for the life of him he could not clean.
He continued to fumble with his share of responsibilities and Arthur continued to grow more and more frustrated (because if Francis could not handle the chores in his spare time, then it would mean than an already worn Arthur would have to do them himself) and it was likely that very frustration that had lead to the abrupt end of their love life. Being in a dry spell was painful for him, especially since Francis was so accustomed to having sex around the clock. It had been months since they had done anything more than fall asleep next to each other and Francis felt the lack of physical contact like fire ants crawling through his veins, but what could he do? Despite what most may assume, Francis was not one to stray when he had made a commitment and a year ago, he would have said the same about Arthur.
Loath as he was to admit it, he could tell that Arthur's mind was wandering. Too many times Francis had caught him with a far off look in his eyes or simply sitting quietly in the little den he had created, filled from wall to wall with reminders of the past, gazing at nothing. It was a problem that he could see snowballing out of control in no time at all, but he was at a loss for how to deal with it. Tearing Arthur away from his past would feel too much like taking away another part of his husband's life, but to do nothing...
When did I become such a coward? he thought miserably. When did we stop communicating and started avoiding each other?
"Hey Francis, are you gonna stay or what?"
He blinked, his mind slowly coming back to the present as Gilbert's voice drew him out of his musings. "What?"
"Your hand? Are you gonna stay?"
With a weary sigh, he nodded. "Oui. I will stay."
AN: I imagine that this is the chapter that makes or breaks my story. I know a lot of you are probably iffy on the whole mpreg thing (I get it, it's an acquired taste after all), but I can assure you that it will not be used to an uncomfortable level in this story, meaning that the issue of male pregnancy will only be discussed in passing/past occurrences. No one will show up pregnant, give birth, or anything else along those lines.
Once again, I'm hoping I didn't discourage anyone from continuing on with this story, because I truly appreciate the enthusiastic feedback I received for the prologue and would love to share the rest of this fic with all of you.