I will fight the good fight until then. ♥
... Have the fic I wrote when I shoulda been working.
Title: The Great Elevator Massacre of 2010
Summary: In which the major superpowers of the world get into an elevator… and never get off. And no, that is not a euphemism.
Deanoning from the Hetalia Kink Meme – a request for “elevator hijinks.” All humor jabs are made with the utmost of affection and adoration, for reals. ♥
The Great Elevator Massacre of 2010
“Hey,” said Germany. “This elevator isn’t moving anymore.”
There was a pause while everyone took stock of this, having been interrupted in their conversations (and in some
They were mighty. They were victorious.
“Oh fuck,” England said at last, “it really isn’t.”
They were eight.
More specifically, they were eight nations in a tiny metal elevator with a 2,000 pound weight limit and tinny, half-hearted jingle music that issued in from a speaker in the corner. England secretly thought, immediately upon the revelation that the elevator had in fact come to a grinding halt, that maybe America’s fat had somehow conquered the weight limit alone and—
“I’m not fat,” America insisted. Feeling that this wasn’t emphatic enough, he added, “You’re old.”
Okay, it wasn’t a very secret thought.
“Well, someone had to have broken it!”
“Are we stuck in the elevator?” wondered France in delight.
Japan, who had a strong affection for wires and other things of a mechanical and miniature nature, inched toward the elevator panel and began examining buttons. To do so, he had to creep around Italy, who wailed and threw himself against the elevator doors in passionate and desperate fear. “Ve~, what if we run out of air, Germany, what if we run out of air?”
“We won’t run out of air,” Germany said flatly.
“I’m hungry! We’ll starve to death!”
“No. We won’t.”
“There are so many things you can do in a stuck elevator,” France purred to the nearest ear.
The nearest ear happened to be Russia, who was rather glad he didn’t get stuck on the elevator alone (because that would not be any fun). He merely shifted closer to America, who had access to the only food in the cramped metal box (a pocket of chocolate bars and peppermints) and was less likely to molest him. Also, Russia liked America in the same way that little boys liked the ants they burnt on the sidewalks in the summer. Only with a little more pizzazz, and outer space.
“I need a drink,” England announced, which was about as helpful as fuck all.
America told England just how helpful that was.
He was the first person to receive bodily injury in what would become known as the
“My ear,” whimpered America.
“Pasta,” whimpered Italy.
“Obviously we have to do something about this,” Germany said, ignoring the pitiful noises coming from the corner of the elevator. “Is there an Emergency button on that panel, Japan?”
Japan shook his head in negative. “It appears someone has… disabled the button. With some kind of chewing gum.”
Poland, who was actually the first nation to arrive, like, totally early, sat in the conference room. He blew a few pink bubbles while he waited.
Oh my god, like, everyone was so late! He would just have to take this opportunity to do his nails.
“Dastardly,” America intoned, having apparently recovered long enough to sound cool and paranoid at the same time. He was ignored.
“Why are we in such a hurry to get out?” France murmured, gazing from under his half-lidded eyes at the group. “This is the perfect chance to embrace love in the literal confines of—”
“Does anyone have a cell phone?” demanded Germany.
There was a collective shuffle as the nations checked their pockets and made “hmm” and “oh” noises. Germany, who in actuality was having his cell phone repaired (it had suffered in an incident involving boiling water, a kitchen whisk, and porn) and hadn’t made provisions for a second, resisted the urge to bang his head against the elevator wall. It was a valiant effort.
“I’m afraid mine is getting no reception,” said Japan in regret.
“Love is best sent in letters, not through telephones! Like the great Napoleon to his beautiful, esteemed wife—”
“Bloody thing’s dead again. Fuck your U.S. Cellular, America.”
“Heroes speak eagle!”
Russia held up his cell phone. It was unfortunately smashed beyond repair (and slightly bloody, and there was a story there no one wanted to know).
“Pasta,” whimpered Italy.
“Right,” Germany said with absolute calm. The wall beckoned to him ever more fondly.
Heroes speak eagle.
This was actually America’s code, you see. It meant: “I had a really cool cell phone that was shiny in the sun and used a lot of awesome ring tones, like Star Wars and Jurassic Park and Cellular Bells, but there was this whole thing yesterday where I put it down on the garden bench, and you know it’s what, a hundred degrees this summer, so I went inside for a milkshake—or four—and when I came back out, this really huge awesome eagle was flying away with it—oh my god, I am so Sandra Bullock in The Proposal here, right? But anyway, I chased it and called to it, and I think it understood me because it dropped my cell phone! But it was in the lake.”
England cursed for a while.
When that didn’t help, he attempted to kick the doors open. They were steadfast and refused to budge. So he kicked them some more.
It at least made him feel a lot better.
“Yes,” continues France, “think about it. Locked away. Seven nubile men. Alone, without any way to satisfy their… appetites.”
“Ve~, I know,” sobbed Italy. “I know exactly what you mean.”
America would have offered them some chocolate, but he decided against it. Italy was weak. France was… French. If it came down to survival of the fittest and who had the most sustenance in this new, cramped territory, he’d have to be strong. Resolute. He’d have to ration.
He nervously shoved half of a bar into his mouth and chewed.
England, meanwhile, continued to scream obscenities and crunch his heel against the doors. Japan watched nervously; it was very impressive what tea deprivation could do to one.
“Is there no emergency exit hatch in the ceiling?” asked Germany to no one. But it wasn’t to be so; apparently the designers of this elevator had never watched a single American spy film.
Russia was being very quiet.
Sometimes he liked to do that. Be very quiet.
(America smelled like capitalism and peppermint. It was very nice. Someday, Russia would like to pluck his eyeballs out and wrap them in the bacon of the Motherland.)
This was actually very catchy music.
“Wow,” said Finland as they passed the 15th floor door, “it sounds like someone’s really banging on something nearby.”
Sweden grunted. He wondered when his wife would need a break; he could sorely use one, but it wouldn’t do to look weak. Not in front of Finland. Although it was Finland’s fault his spine was aching so badly. It just didn’t seem right when Finland was the wife—
This was about the point Sealand decided to catch a ride on his father’s back.
Yeah, that went over like gay goat sex in a church.
Minutes passed. Discussion happened and failed. The elevator opted not to budge an inch. France attempted to take off his pants twice, but was deterred once by Germany’s bark and the second time by England taking excessive action.
“I’m reasonably sure he’ll recover the use of that,” England informed everyone after he’d finished. In the corner, France joined Italy in the whimpering squads. “If he doesn’t, good riddance.”
The rest of them collectively wondered how long they would last before becoming the next victim.
“Excuse me,” Japan said politely, “but I’m starting to worry about something Italy said.”
They looked at him.
“No one’s come to get us yet… What if they opt to leave us here?”
“No one would be that mean,” protested America.
“Or that cunning,” England added.
China looked around at the conference room, devoid of any other superpowers.
And he smiled. Oh, he smiled.
It was a dog-eat-dog world. And China had in fact eaten dog.
“I need the hands of healing!” shrieked France, writhing on the floor.
Germany sighed, and at last gave into the temptation to bang his forehead on the wall. It felt surprisingly good. “Does anyone have any other ideas for getting out of here?” A roar of voices. “One at a time!”
“Better. Japan, you go first.”
Japan cleared his throat graciously. “Thank you… As I was saying, I believe we could escape if we all combined our efforts into one titanic, superhuman feat. By putting our strengths together to become one cohesive, striking machine—”
America interrupted. “Hey, I saw that anime. Can I be Red?”
Japan gave that serious consideration.
Germany felt his strongest link begin to crumble. He stifled another sigh and turned to England, who gave him an unreadable look that at the same time spoke volumes. It basically said: Ask me, and I’ll send a third victim to the carpet grave.
Which meant that no, he didn’t have an idea. Germany turned to Russia in pure desperation.
Russia smiled innocently. He had been standing very still, so as not to alarm anyone. “You could become one with me.”
“Okay,” said Germany, and then immediately revised his words. “Okay as in I heard you, not okay as in let’s do it.”
“In Soviet Russia, you trap the elevator.”
Toward the end, you tend to reevaluate. Bond.
“Here,” said America, offering England a peppermint. “You know, I really didn’t mean to make you cry during the Revolution.”
England took the mint. “And I didn’t mean to keep you in dresses until you were taller than my waist.”
America kind of wished he’d kept the mint. Or maybe given it to Russia.
Germany banged his head on the wall a few more times. The novelty had already died, along with his patience.
Still, there were more important things to think about. A tiny keen at his feet made Germany pause; he looked down and then slowly slid to the floor beside his friend, perhaps his best and greatest friend, no matter what else he’d said. Italy looked at Germany woefully. He did this without opening his eyes, which was very impressive.
Next to him, Japan settled in quietly. And they were as three once more, alone and yet together, enduring in the end.
Outside the elevator, a small crowd had amassed.
Lithuania paused on his way up the stairwell, peering inside the open doorway and into the corridor where the group was sitting. They were staring at something—when he leaned into the corridor further, he could see it was the elevator doors that were closed.
“Um,” he said, “I’m pretty sure it’s not coming.”
“Shh!” hissed the lot of them.
“We’re listening,” Greece informed him, eyes wide.
“It’s so touching,” Hungry said, tears in her eyes.
“It’s hilarious. I didn’t know America wore dresses. That little slut. We should’ve financially gang-banged him when we had the chance.”
“Screw the meeting, this is better than Eurovision!”
Lithuania hesitated—he was pretty sure Poland was waiting for him at the top of this monstrous skyscraper—but then Belarus offered him some popcorn, which was unprecedented. He blushed, glanced down at his shoes, took stock of how they were perfectly good shoes for an ex-Soviet girl, and then accepted.
“I’ll tear down the doors that are keeping my brother and I apart,” she told him calmly as he sat beside her.
“… In another minute.”
“Wait, guys,” said America, lifting his hand up in the air. He paused for dramatic effect. “I got this. I’ve got this.”
The nations looked at him.
You know, thought England with a sudden surge of hope, cradled protectively in the his skeptical hands, he does have that super strength going for him. If anyone could pry the doors open, it’d be America…
The crowd shifted, parting for the self-proclaimed hero as he made his way to the elevator doors. He studied the metal plating, nodding to himself and making a few “ah” noises that sounded very positive. England edged forward, peering over his shoulder. Japan’s dark eyes widened in amazement at this Western feat. France cooed.
“Aha!” cried America. He beamed, eyes bright with divine inspiration. “I knew it!”
“What?” demanded Germany.
America jammed his finger against a button. “The people who built this skyscraper put a Floor 13 on here! That is so unlucky! Haven’t they watched the horror films?!”
“Damn it to buggery,” said England. “We’re going to die in this meat locker.”
“Seriously, it’s really bad! B-but don’t worry, guys, I’ll protect you. Heroes protect people, even from vicious elevator gremlins that bust out of the w-walls and eat your babies…”
Germany’s forehead hit the wall again. Hard.
When the end came, it was swift and brutal.
There was a ping as France’s buttons flew into the air.
And then, there was only screaming.
No one ever spoke about the
“You know,” said Canada miserably, as he stepped out of the smoking remains of the elevator, “my cell phone was working perfectly fine…”
IGNORE THE NOT FUNNY. IGNORE IT.
And because obviously all I need are more WIPs... Yes. >.>
A warning to the wise: this will not be a pretty story, but nevertheless it is a love story. And it will focus on Matthew and Alfred more and more, but Francis and Arthur decided they were going to be pushy bastards and steal the entire prologue.
Pairings: Canada/America, England + France, minor Finland + Sweden
Warnings: AU, Murder, Necromancy (and other dark stuff)
Summary: Here rests the tale of two soulless monsters that went searching for death and instead found life. It was, Alfred insisted after the fact, what he had meant to discover all along.
"I loved you madly; in the distasteful work of the day, in the wakeful misery of the night, girded by sordid realities, or wandering through Paradises and Hells of visions into which I rushed, carrying your image in my arms, I loved you madly."
- Charles Dickens
Prologue: The Dead Children Under the Tree
The name Kirkland means, in Old English, “church land.” In a way, Arthur has always found that to be ironic. He equates the inappropriateness of it to a fly trap or the strands of a spider’s web that glisten too faintly to be seen until the insect is already caught—people trust a man with a good name, no matter his intentions. It’s the nature of humanity to believe in the sacred.
It is also the nature of humanity, Arthur knows, to burn bones until they crack and enclose corpses in boxes to shelve them under sun-ripened layers of soil and decayed root. These are abhorrent practices. One of the first things his mother teaches him as a child, huddled in the shade of the gorse shrubs as summer slinks back to England like a kicked dog, is that people are ashamed of their own mortality. The bishop tells stories of living forever and then creeps down to his tomb come twilight; the noble covers his coffin in effigies to mask the inevitable rot of his features; and even the stable boy with red frost in his lungs expects a few coins to keep his eyes shut, so that he never has to see what’s to come next. Vanity, Arthur’s mother murmurs to him, smelling like flour and meat, is the sin you can always count on.
Like clockwork, it is.
Or a match that’s sure to catch flame.
Arthur Kirkland loves his mother. He is born from her in the late rains of March and finds, in the midst of a perpetually gray world, her rosy face to be his salvation. From the time he learns to toddle around on pudgy legs, she is his guidepost, his north star, the altar he curls up on at night. Their family is an isolated one, unable to make and keep acquaintances for very long. Arthur’s father is a tall, stately man that has no patience for the inadequacies of children. He is also a tailor, however, and that is something Arthur always carries with him—a clever set of fingers, nimble and swift, that can mend large, stubborn holes.
Arthur never has to ask what his mother is. There isn’t a proper word for it in an acceptable English or romantic language. She exists without a title, going about her business in the fashion of her ancestors; like a doctor, she dispenses happy and unpleasant news that lends toward a mixed reception from the rest of their neighborhood. They are needed, but shunned. Reviled, but given food and refuge.
During the day, a little boy may throw stones at Arthur’s head from behind the trees. At night, Arthur may watch that little boy’s mummy beg for her stillborn back.
There are, of course, provisions: there is a fee (jewelry is accepted if you do not wish your husband to know); you must read the instructions, dearest girl; do not attempt to feed it your own milk; the corpse’s mouth must be shut upon time of death, for any opening means its only breath is no longer caught in stasis; and above all, always know that there is no going back, this is forever. Gifts cannot be returned once they are given. Life is a parasite.
And if these conditions are met, Arthur will watch from the crooked-open door as his mother bends over the bundle given to her.
Like clockwork, like a match that catches flame, a child will begin to cry.
One day, a little boy is sitting on the outside gate when Arthur tumbles out to lose himself in the woods.
It’s rare enough that Arthur goes still. He scans the boy with shrewd eyes: limp blond hair resting on his shoulders, pale eyes a milked blue, a sickly flour to his complexion. Arthur’s been around the deceased long enough to know when someone teeters near that line. He approaches the gate slowly, a thunderous scowl set in place.
“I suppose you’re being curious,” he says.
The sick boy laughs, and he doesn’t sound so much like he’s dying (though he is). “You’re fairly short to be a spawn of dark forces. Is your maman home?”
Arthur knows some French, though it grates at him. He thinks, however briefly, that while his family may be unwelcome, this boy’s foreignness must be even moreso. They are near the same age, but they aren’t the same. “No. Well, she is, but I don’t think she’ll see you.”
“Then you can take her a message.”
“Who’re you to give one? All right, then. Let’s hear it.”
The gate creaks a bit as the blond boy tumbles down to his feet. He is, as Arthur dreaded, much taller indeed. “I’m Francis Bonnefoy. If you tell her, she’ll know my maman. Tell her for me…” He hesitates, and fingers his lip.
“Well, out with it!”
Francis glares, jutting out his chin. “Tell her for me, that after I’m gone and maman comes to beg, I won’t be coming back. Don’t even try! I don’t want to be like one of them. Monstres.”
Oh. So it’s like that. Arthur furrows his brow and feels a bit bad, really. “You know,” he tells Francis, “that you’re too old, don’t you? She couldn’t do it even if she wanted, I think.”
Francis looks at him.
When he sits in the middle of Arthur’s garden and begins to sob, they inevitably become best friends.
“You must understand the balance of everything,” Arthur’s mother teaches him. “Nothing in this world is given for free. There’s always a price you pay and rules that must be followed.”
She draws a tiny hut on the floor. Arthur gazes at it and then back up at her green-glass eyes.
She smiles. “If you build a house, you understand that it will be with you, or someone else, for a very long time, don’t you? And that you have to invest to build it, earn up money, and maintain it so that it stays strong.”
Arthur scans her face and nods once. He understands.
“People are the same,” she says then. “And the things I do, that’s very much the same. It’s a long-term investment that requires care. Only, a house you can burn. A house, you can tear apart.”
Arthur, because he’s clever for a child, states this: “People, too, can be torn apart.”
His mother says, “Not the people I make.”
“Do you think you have magic?” Francis asks him, as they’re building stone walls down by the riverbed. His white fingers are muddied and swollen, but he’s been laughing like an idiot for the whole time. They aren’t so different in height anymore.
Arthur hands him another slab of rock. “What do you mean?”
“Like your mother. Nécromancie.”
This is the first time Arthur’s heard such a word; it doesn’t fall very well on his tongue or his heart, and so he never uses it again. “I don’t know,” he says instead, frowning a bit. “Sometimes I think maybe. Sometimes I think maybe not. Once,” he adds, “I thought I brought back a sparrow.”
Francis coos at him. “Maybe when you’re older, you can try owls—”
“Shut up, frog face!”
There is a little pile accumulating at their feet; they hardly know what they’re building, but it’s coming along well. The same could be said of their friendship. Francis makes kissy noises at him, and Arthur shoves him hard, and the two of them grapple until they’re thrashing in the shallows, stringy wet hair flying in their faces. Arthur punches Francis in the cheek and spits like an angry cat, and still his friend laughs, eyes fever-bright and alive, still alive.
When they’re lying on their backs, staring up at the sky and panting, Francis gives a last chuckle. “When you’ve moved on from owls,” he gasps, “then maybe you can do cats. And then small horses.”
“I don’t think so,” mumbles Arthur tiredly.
(He dreams about molding people out of mud, sometimes—making a shape and finding a reason to give it breath.)
When Arthur is eleven, a gentleman from London comes all the way in the dark of night carrying a black bag with him.
There is a small opening in his bedroom wall through which Arthur watches everything and anything; he imagines his mother leaves it there for him, to let him glimpse her world. Or maybe she doesn’t know about it at all. But tonight, he observes her open the bag, close her eyes in weary defeat, and shake her head.
“I’m sorry, sir. It can’t be done.”
He begs. He bargains. He throws down gold.
“You would be holding a monstrosity,” she says, before shutting the door in his face. “You’re not the kind of man who could learn to love it.”
Francis can’t stand the taste of tea, but he’ll force it down if Arthur’s mother gives him a cup. Unrelentingly, Arthur finds vicious amusement in putting Francis in that position. They’re kicking at each other under the table, solemnly sipping a strong breakfast blend above the fray, when Francis states, “I think I’d like roses.”
“What? Speak up, bloody frog.”
“I’ll tell, and your mother will box your ears and pinch your tongue.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I was saying,” Francis continues, a little curl of cream on his lip, “that at my burying, I think I’d like roses.”
Arthur drops his tea cup. It shatters on the floor.
The sharpest memories that Arthur has of his father either involve books or needles. Many nights, when his father sits at the table to dine with them, he instead invests his time in reading the book laying out at his elbow as he methodically scoops peas into his mouth. They are fine with this; it’s the man’s way.
The other memories are of watching his father in the shop. Sewing, patching, mending, darning, cross stitching, knitting, embroidery. Arthur never goes near him, but he likes to hide behind the counter and will stay there, hours at a time, knees cramping, his gaze caught quick by the flash of the needle and twining thread. By the time he’s sixteen, he knows all about how to measure an inseam and he’s never even touched the measuring tape.
Then one day, his father puts down his handiwork. He rests a half-finished embroidery of a Cornish hen in his lap. “Arthur,” he calls.
Arthur silently comes to him.
“If I teach you,” his father says, ever calm, “you have to promise me that you’ll never go into your mum’s work. Do you understand?”
He learns to sew.
Spring is uncommonly warm, and Francis becomes quieter and quieter.
“You do know his time is coming, don’t you, love?” Arthur’s mother asks him softly, winding her strong hands through Arthur’s short, sandy hair. He nods miserably and feels an iron ball begin to form in his belly. It rolls and grows bigger and bigger every time he sucks in air.
He has never asked her for anything. Not once. Not when his little bunny died with its legs spinning, not when the other children blamed him for Theo’s sickening fall when chasing him down for torment. There are lines Arthur feels intrinsically in his veins, and these are lines he doesn’t cross.
But even though they squabble, and insult, and rub each other’s noses in the dirt—save for his mother, Arthur has never loved someone quite as much as he loves Francis Bonnefoy.
He asks her.
When she says no, he cries into her dress until all the water is out of him.
While he’s busy watching Francis, the rest of the world is watching them.
For Arthur, it’s a way of life. From birth, he’s known their stares and been flung in the damp grass and called names by the school children. He knows they fear him; it hovers around them like a rank perfume, and he’s not sorry that he can’t always make friends. People are despicable and ignorant. A woman that cries in gratitude for the return of her child may frantically defame his mother the next day, clutching a still-cold body to her bosom, proud to imagine her own innocence as long as the thing draws breath and ages like a normal human being.
Their hatred and misery is nothing new.
But, even so, there has always been a balance.
Arthur will be eighteen in three months.
He goes to bed pondering this, though he still isn’t sure exactly what it means, and dreams about fields full of gnomes and spark-bright flowers. In his dream, there is a hole in the meadow that goes down as far as it takes to reach the other side of the Earth, and in that hole, there is a beast. A beautiful, ash-reckoned beast.
He is staring into that hole. He is thinking about what to feed it.
There’s a heat that radiates strong from the gaping yawn, so thick and cloying that Arthur wants to step back. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to move. He just looks the beast in the eye; it looks back at him.
A snap in the void, and the grasses begin to curl into small marbles at his feet. Arthur reaches out his hand, down down down.
Something rushes at him.
The house is on fire.
A house, you can burn. A house, you can tear apart.
Bubbled like cream, this thought overruns Arthur’s mind as he frantically pulls on his loafers and wraps his wool coat around his shoulders like a cape. The wood crackles and snaps elsewhere in their mediocre dwelling, a swan song that can’t find its pitch. The flames eat hungrily at the rafters. The world is black and yellow-red, like someone’s heart being burnt in the fireplace.
Arthur bellows for his parents. There is no answer.
The hall’s lime-green paint is peeling and smoking as he dashes down it, calves feeling the sting of embers that leap out to touch him. Arthur doesn’t think about running through fire; he simply does it. The door to his parent’s bedroom is already broken open, and that should be the next clue, but there isn’t any time to process it.
His father—thick eyebrows drawn as if perplexed, eyes glassy-pure—is on his back in bed with his arms flung open. A sticky black splatters across the sheets, glistening against the firelight.
Arthur wrenches the knife from his breast and howls.
(People, too, can be torn apart.)
His mother is in the front yard.
His beautiful, sweet mother.
Arthur puts his coat over what’s left of her to hide her shame.
He rocks over her, weeping with his fingers in his mouth, burning as the house does from some unholy hell within him. He begs why, and why him why not him too to finish it.
He must be there for hours.
He must grieve enough for a thousand parents lost.
He must imagine killing them all in their beds three times over.
He must always whisper how he’s going to cut the children they begged his mother to make apart into slivers, still living, still sustained.
Dawn taps him on his shoulder at last, and with her comes the sound of hoof beats coming fast up the road. Arthur looks to the sound, tear-stricken face pale in the morning, and thinks that they must be returning for him at last. Surely, surely. He feels the knife that violated his father in his hand and isn’t sure if he plans to defend himself or not; it is the human inclination. He’ll go for their jugulars and eyes.
However, the horse is tawny and familiar. Astride her, Francis is cloaked in black, his cheeks starkly white and lips imbued with soft blue. There’s fear like a veil on him, but it lifts as he sees Arthur, a desperate cry escaping him. He nearly falls off the horse in his haste, pebbles flying under his shoes as he runs.
“You tea-drinking bastard,” he gasps, throwing himself against Arthur and enwrapping him. Arthur closes his eyes. “Mon dieu. I didn’t know, I didn’t know—Arthur, you must know, they’ll kill you if they find you—”
“It’s not a dream,” whispers Arthur. “But I still wish I’d wake up.”
They go by horse and head for the south. Further toward the sea.
There isn’t time to secure provisions or clothes, and all that Arthur had was destroyed in the fire, but Francis isn’t without some funds. They purchase new shirts in the next town over, as well as apples and bread, and keep going. The horse is sold a week later when they still haven’t found work. Francis murmurs sweet nothings against her neck before letting her go.
Arthur feels numb.
“You shouldn’t have come with me,” he tells Francis, hollow inside and out. The only line to the world he has left is fading before his eyes without medicine or attention, death leaving its thumbprints in Francis’ wasting cheeks. “Your family. Your whole life. It’s all wasted now.”
“There isn’t that much left of it,” Francis says vaguely. He gives Arthur a showy smile full of mirth. “It’s not like you to care about me.”
Arthur looks at him.
“I care,” he says at length.
They are silent as they walk. Then, Francis takes his hand and doesn’t let go.
A year passes almost so slowly that Arthur doesn’t notice when it’s gone. They find work on a merchant ship—though he’s scrappy, Arthur’s a good hand with a knife and rope, quick to climb the rigging and silent when ordered to carry cargo aboard. The sea life agrees with him. Or as Francis says, “You’re mostly mad enough for the ocean to like you.”
Francis cooks. He may be sickly, but he can make gruel appetizing and that’s worth its weight in gold on a long voyage.
They manage, like this. Working until they blister in the heat of the day, and pressing close together at night to snap and scorn at each other. Francis speaks of pretty girls on the shore that fluttered their eyelashes at him, and pastries he sees in windows, and good wine they must try. Arthur speaks of revenge, of returning someday and laying waste to his hometown, transforming it into kindling. It’s his favorite dream. The images fester in him like a living snake twitching in the ground, so near to the taste of fresh air that it can’t stop withering.
“They’ll have already forgotten about you,” is Francis’ hushed scold, between the creaking of the boat and the loud snores of the crew. They are so close that their breaths intertwine.
“Then I’ll make them remember.”
“It won’t make you happy.”
Arthur scoffs. “Nothing will do that.”
Francis curses him in his native tongue. Then he laughs, abrupt and fond, and makes a smile that Arthur can see even in the dark. He never says what’s crossed his mind.
They’ve docked in a coastal town in the Americas when Francis dies.
There’s a storm lashing out above the deck, but Arthur’s nestled in the galley below with his friend, peeling vegetables and complaining about the weather. He’s cranky; he had a nightmare last night about his father. In the same token, it’s given Arthur a spot of homesickness that hasn’t vanished, an idea that won’t get out of his head.
“You know, what we really ought to do is open a tailoring business.”
“Hm,” says Francis.
“I’m serious, you froggy bastard. Are you even listening to me?” Arthur half-turns to study him with a critical eye. “Are you going to be ill? You look pale. Bloody hell, at least get sick in the barrel, we just swabbed the floor.”
Francis makes a little sigh.
Then he sinks down to the floor, head bowed like he’s praying, and he never gets up himself again.
“No,” says Arthur.
“No, no, no, no, no!”
The thunder crackles and the waves bash against the side of the ship. Someone is howling in fury, tossing and turning and churning out the sea, and Arthur feels the drumbeat in every inch of him that spurs it. He drags Francis’ limp body to the doctor’s cabin and finds it empty—the men are out drinking on the town, of course it’s empty—of any living person. That’s good, thinks Arthur, mind working as quickly as the light is moving through particles in the air around him, moving things into place, into this moment, making him faster and stronger and more clever. It is the storm that moves within him as he locks the door and heaves Francis onto the surgeon’s table.
“Francis. Francis, Francis.”
Nothing, not a breath, not a heartbeat. Francis is nothing now.
Bone and muscle and tissue and half-digested remnants.
He coaxes color into that face, stubble coarse under his fingertips. But he does not open the mouth, no—the lips must remain shut, that last vital bit of oxygen caught between teeth and tongue. Yes, he remembers, he remembers this. This is in his blood, this is the boil that’s working to a frenzy in him, this is what he should have always done. He is his mother’s son. He is a man possessed.
“No,” he moans into Francis’ still-warm throat, tears scalding his skin. “No, no, love. Not you.”
There is something wild in him. Something—
Arthur fixes his mouth onto Francis’ and pushes that trapped breath back into his lungs.
Like clockwork, like a match that catches flame—
He thinks: Please.
Francis shifts under his hands.
Yes. Yes! thinks Arthur, frantic joy twisting around his chest and squeezing tight. He rears back, eyes wide and shining with grief, a terrified smile growing. Yes, yes, I always knew I could do it—
Francis’ eyes are open.
They are open and they look into Arthur’s.
They are open and they look into Arthur’s.
They are open and they look on forever.
The grief utterly wracks him, so involved it is, and he curls up on the surgeon’s table with its old blood stains and scarred notches, clutching Francis’ shirt and weeping against the warmth of his chest. The sluggish track of his heartbeat struggles beneath his ear: dunk dunk dunk.
“I’m so sorry,” sobs Arthur. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
Francis says nothing. His breathing sounds rusted and thin; there isn’t a voice left in him to use. He hasn’t stopped staring at the ceiling, eyes half-clouded by death, for an hour’s time. Sometimes he shudders as if about to cry. Other times, his throat works and a low, animalistic whine issues, something inhumane and grotesque, based on nothing but a physical instinct.
Arthur strokes his face, his chest, his hands. He puts water into him, medicine, more breath to stoke the others. It’s no use. Francis is alive.
But not all of him.
“Why babies?” Arthur had asked his mother, once.
She smiled and kissed his nose. “It’s not always babies. The youngest and the oldest, dearest. They’re the ones closest to death, and so they’re more willing to part from it. Too far in the middle and you don’t know the way back.”
“But they might. Some of them.”
“You wouldn’t ever know for sure.” Her smile had been sadder than he recalls it truly being in the memory. “And wouldn’t that be awful, Arthur? To be stuck in the middle in a body that no one could break?”
The wild flowers had been blooming that summer.
“It’s a shame to see you both leave,” the first mate says, glancing at Arthur inquisitively. He hands the small knapsack that’s remaining of their things down the ladder, unable to help it when his gaze wanders past to the figure slumped on the deck. “Are you sure Francis is going to be all right?”
Arthur nods, sickly shadows erasing any comfort he could give. “Yes.”
Yes, I fill fix him.
He does not force a smile, but he turns away before their crewmate can read the agony in him. “It’s just a little bit of sick. He’ll be sunshine come next Sunday.”
Francis is looking at the water. Arthur bends, hauls his arm up over his shoulders, and lifts. They are in Virginia, and this is where they will remain.
He will try again. And again.
He will keep trying until he finds a thread. Some way to pull Francis back into his body, to make things right. Arthur owes him a boon.
Arthur owes him his life.
Or his death.
They’ve saved up quite a bit of their earnings from the past year, and there’s a tailor’s shop in town that takes in Arthur as an apprentice. It soon appears he needs little teaching, however, and he becomes one of their most asked-after handlers. Arthur dislikes the monotony, but they need the money. “I’m so sick of dresses, you have no idea,” he tells Francis at night, crossly nursing his sore fingers.
Francis watches the leak in the corner of their roof.
“Good night,” Arthur tells him, every evening without fail, and gives him a kiss that is unlike any other kiss. Sometimes, he swears the light gets a little brighter in Francis’ eyes. Other times, he hates himself for believing the lie.
There are books about these things. Witch craft, whisper the people, demon plagues and curses and the squeal of pigs in the dark. They don’t understand: the unnatural already exists within themselves. Arthur doesn’t mind if they don’t understand, so long as he can procure the materials and resources he needs through shady, back-alley deals and curiosity shops and gnarled women hidden in the bayou down south.
He learns. He practices.
He’s good at it.
(“But not,” he tells Francis, lifting the spoonful of soup to his friend’s slack lips, “good enough. Not yet.”)
Here is a little lesson about breath-giving.
“There are three rules,” Arthur announces as he dusts the bookshelves in the study, apron strings tied around his waist. Placed near the window so that he may look at the swallow feeder, Francis says nothing. He’s a captive audience, but Arthur imagines that he mustn’t mind. “And if these rules aren’t followed, it damn well falls apart. I wonder, why is it always three? Surely I’ll come across a fourth rule sooner or later, because it bothers me. No, I daresay I’ll make one up.”
Rule one: No one over six or less than seventy.
This isn’t something set in stone, but Arthur likes having the numbers for perspective. He works for a little while at various doctors’ clinics, masking as a volunteer or a secretary, and practices on small children or elder folk newly shoved through death’s door. Had he more of a conscience, perhaps he wouldn’t subject them to their state unknowingly, but surely anything is better than death? (Almost anything.)
They will someday die, after all. All things die.
Rule two: The only way to kill a ‘breathed’ is to wait a long bloody time.
His mother had always said they were virtually indestructible, but no one had actually tested it on the babies in the village. Always lingering at the back of the mind is a warning that, if wrong, you’ve damaged someone irreparably. But Arthur doesn’t care so much about that anymore, always keeping the watered veneer of Francis’ pale face in mind. He doesn’t harm the babies (never), but he squirms his way into a position as a night guard for a jailhouse in Georgia, and there is a man that is seventy-eight there who has never left because he killed his family and his neighbor’s family (and was found floating in the water, humming to himself as the red slicked away to the ocean). Arthur beats his head in, brings him back while the blood is still hot between his fingers, and does every test he can think of. It’s no use. He is left with a bubble of gut and dismemberment: the arm removed stays removed, the bullet holes lodged in the brain hardly put a shadow in the man’s eyes, the poison rots his teeth but not his heart, lungs aren’t needed to breathe, water bloats him but eventually drains, there is nothing that Arthur can do to silence him.
He prays that death had been soon in coming, anyhow, and goes home to Francis. That night, Arthur breaks every mirror in the house. They move the next day, high up, as far north as they can go without hitting British territory.
Rule three: What they remember of life before being brought back is sparse, at best. Some never recover their memories. Another incentive to focus on children alone.
He’d asked. They’d answered.
“I’ll give you a whole new life,” he tells Francis.
Rule four: Never give breath to someone you love. It is cruel.
Eleven years pass like this.
Arthur imagines his life like a waterfall, grown from a trickle of water. Once the momentum is caught, he can’t stop himself. He practices the art here and there, more like his mother had (accountability, letting people know what they’re getting into), and even if that means they must move every few months to stay safe, it’s worth it. He feels closer to her. Closer to Francis.
Or, perhaps it’s simply something to do.
Taking care of Francis is a full-time job, but Arthur manages best he can. Sometimes he catches himself thinking of Francis as one might a lump of bread dough: nothing more than the potential to be complete, one step away from being thrown. When he can’t see his friend anymore, Arthur sits with Francis in the study and accounts for their past, talking until his voice is hoarse and tears spill out of his eyes, and Francis is Francis again, impossibly precious and worth the burden.
Francis changes very little, throughout time. He moves a little more (perhaps) and learns to eat using his own two hands (though he doesn’t always know when to stop). He never speaks. He never notices Arthur.
And at some point, in those eleven years, Arthur stops looking to bring him to life.
And starts looking to send him to death.
It is all because he loves him.
“You know that, don’t you?” Arthur whispers, fingers combing through Francis’ long hair. He likes to pull it back in a tail, like how he thinks his friend would want it: fashionable, for the times. “You’re my only happiness and my worst mistake. All that time we wasted… I wish I’d made more use of it.”
He kisses Francis’ cheek.
“I will be unbearably lonely without you. But, maybe I deserve that.”
Yes, it is the loneliness that does it.
Aching, molding inside of Arthur’s heart chambers, sticking to him like clotted veins or wax to a plant—he thinks he will go mad with it. His house is so empty despite Francis, and his chest so hollow. He rarely speaks to anyone; his temper is far too short for small conversation, though he knows how to be pleasant. There is a disconnect from the rest of the world. To be honest, Arthur creates it himself. To love someone is to lose them again, to bring them into his nightmare.
He has already learned that lesson.
He is so lonely, and he always will be.
It is raining and the roads are pitted in mud. Arthur trudges along the bank toward the small house they have out of town, his black coat high around his ears. His steps are slow. He feels very heavy, like the sky, like the droplets of water, like the sea pressing into the land.
He is thinking about Francis and time.
There are days when all Arthur can daydream about is getting on a train and going somewhere far away, all by himself. A train that drives him straight into the ocean. A long way down. Sinking deep into the mulberry black. But then he imagines Francis sitting in his reading chair, gazing out the window until his bones splinter and become dust, and he can’t do it. He owes a boon. He’s created a monster of himself, and now he must live with himself, as well.
There is a gnarled, blackened tree at the base of the hill. The water’s growing higher; it pools into the drainage area and leaks across the street. The world is full of despairing, sewage-logged things that don’t know where they’re going or how they will get there, such as small river rats paddling and the croak of bugs. Arthur steps onto the cobblestone as he passes, an askance glance at the tree giving him pause.
There is something at the base of the trunk.
There is something… not alive.
This is where the story begins.
There are two dead children under the tree. Made black by mud and white by bone, made more than two by some savage animal or man. One looks up at him, a glassy marble of white-blue, as infinitely perfect as a doll that’s been left in the yard. Arthur isn’t sure where the rest of the childishly round cheek has gone. The other clutches the dirty, matted fur of a teddy bear with what few fingers have been left on their joints. Their nightgowns are tangled and torn.
In death, in pieces, they are curled around each other as though warding off the evil and injustice of the world. It is their fate to be abandoned, likely washed into the drainage and taken by the rats.
Their lips pursed as if keeping a secret.
Arthur breathes out mist. He takes off his cloak.
He crouches down.
He begins to collect them.
end of prologue
lkajsds. The world can stop attacking me now, plz?