Little Red Flowers

“You don’t have to hide it,” Francis says as he slips into a wrought-iron patio chair, resting his chin on his hand. “I spied you reading that drivel from across the road.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Arthur replies in that strained, haughty voice as he stuffs a well-worn paperback into the satchel on the floor beside him. “You weren’t supposed to be here for twenty minutes, since when are you ever anything but late?”

“Ah, cher, how could I keep myself away?” Francis grins his know-it-all grin. “We Frenchmen, we’d walk barefoot down hostile coastland in the dead of night for love, you know.”

Arthur covers his face with a gloved hand and groans. “Oh dear,” he says, chuckling awkwardly, “I’d hoped you were bluffing.”

“‘Oh, Percy,'” Francis cries in falsetto, his eyelashes fluttering and his lips poised in a longing pout, “‘How could I have ever doubted your lovely love, which my own love did lovingly seek out from the depths of my loving heart to come together in perfect love? That I have discovered you to be a dashing folk hero is only coincidental.'”

“That’s rather a nice bonus, isn’t it?” Arthur sips his drink, regaining composure. “Have you tried one of these? Some new blend they got in recently, it’s quite good.”

Francis plucks Arthur’s cup from his fingers and takes a long, lingering sip of ceylon. Arthur wants to punch the grin off his handsome face, but that’s hardly anything new. “I hope you Englishmen don’t think we’re all as incompetent as Marguerite and Chauvelin,” Francis says, fitting the cup back into Arthur’s outstretched hand.

“We’re all well aware that most of you are far worse. Get your own,” Arthur scowls as Francis licks his lips and makes another attempt at the teacup.

“What? I already drank out of that one, anyway. Fine,” Francis holds up his hands in surrender, “My order’s coming soon, anyway.”

On cue, a moment later someone brings out a pastry so sweet even the sight of it makes Arthur’s teeth ache. He has had the pastry here before; Francis has not. Arthur knows he’ll hate it, and he smiles. Francis does not seem to notice.

“Who are you?” Francis asks, absently checking his fork for spots.

Arthur cocks a bushy eyebrow. “What are you on about?”

Francis takes a thoughtful bite of his pastry; the look on his face tells Arthur the chef does not pass his test, and he tries not to laugh. “I mean,” Francis says, forcing a swallow and moving his plate aside, “Do you imagine yourself as clever Percy, hopelessly in love, or do you fancy yourself Marguerite, the most brave and handsome man you’ve ever known kissing your dainty feet?”

Arthur’s mouth scrunches up. “There’s no proper answer to that, is there? Tell me yours first, I know you’ve read it.”

Francis doesn’t say anything, but he bows down with exaggerated reverence and lifts Arthur’s foot, pressing his mouth to the toe of his polished leather boot. The people at the next table over give him the oddest look, but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, Arthur has never been sure which. He’s still grinning that know-it-all grin.

“Stupid git,” Arthur murmurs, his lips resting on the rim of an empty cup.

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