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Fic: Sugarplums [1/5]

Title: Sugarplums
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Francis (FrUK), chibi Alfred and Matthew, cameos of general ensemble
Rating: T
Summary: FACE!family human!AU. Over the season, a somewhat weary Arthur finds himself working for a department store as a Christmas Elf, as a member of floor staff and assisting the store Santa in his Grotto. Pestered by a little lost boy one day he returns the child to his searching (and rather charming) family – and finds himself coming up against two smart, very determined young children who have decided that what they want for Christmas is this real Elf to give their divorced father some of his inherent Christmas magic.
Chapter: 1/5?

A/N: The idea for this fic was originally sparked off by the first prompt for the what_the_fruk’s Christmas thingy: Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, grabbed a few more as the other prompts were released, and melded itself in a rather strange fashion with the movie ELF, which had been on TV sometime around then. The plot seems to have veered wildly off of the original intention, and the timing (rl has been a pain lately) and the writing of this chapter just…made itself difficult, but. I guess, if you’re not too sick of a Christmas-themed fic, here you go?
Warnings, I guess, for mild language and Arthur being less than complimentary towards the general public and small, noisy children in particular. Possibly reflecting some of the author’s opinions upon getting halfway through the chapter and realising she’s writing a story that focuses heavily on young children when she can’t write young children very well.
Deepest sympathies to anyone working in retail around holiday seasons.


*****


I) Bless All the Dear Children


“…Mathieu, où est ton frère?”




Christmas is Hell.




Seven words change Arthur Kirkland’s life. There’s supposed to be a meaning in such things; seven is one of the most magical numbers, a triangle number: seven dwarves, seven tasks, the magical seventh son of a seventh son. Seven words, at the time small and perfectly insignificant, and, truth be told, rather vexing, as they’re not particularly original and they’re posed as a question at a time when Arthur isn’t in the mood to be troubled with questions. But. Seven words – seven magical words – and they get asked whether Arthur wants them asked or not.

“Hey, mister, are you a real elf?”

The query is accompanied with an insistent tugging on Arthur’s seasonal (store-enforced) green leggings, pulling the tight fabric down a little way from its precarious cling to Arthur’s hips and swiftly murdering all of Arthur’s attempts for the past three hours to keep the things above the curve of his arse in a desperate attempt at propriety. (His long-sleeved tunic is short and he has little desire to flash his underwear at his perverted boss and impressionable children – a monumental endeavour, as Arthur will swear blind his boss had given him a particularly short tunic on purpose after he’d told the tosser just where, exactly, he could shove his sodding ukulele after bothering Arthur on his coveted lunch-break with bad music just one time too many the week before.) Down go the leggings – and down, too, goes the last of Arthur’s patience with the shopping-obsessed world on the wrong (in the eyes of those working in retail, anyway) side of Christmas.

Arthur looks down with a sharply disapproving jingle (the bell on the end of his hat plagues him almost as much as the tunic and leggings), fully ready to unleash a storm of politely-worded vitriol on whichever presumptuous snot-nosed brat has decided to wander away from mummy or daddy and bother the nice gentleman busy attempting to stack the shelves with toys – but the words catch abruptly in Arthur’s throat, smacking into one another in a stumbling line and dying before even one of them can leave his mouth.

The boy with his small, probably incredibly grimy, hand still clutched inquisitively in the material covering Arthur’s legs has possibly the biggest, bluest, cutest (and slightly puffy around the edges) eyes Arthur has ever seen on any sunny-haired child. Ever. And his older sister works in the local hospital’s maternity ward.

(Arthur has a distressingly large soft spot for adorable children. Especially adorable children in distress.)

“Are you?” The boy asks, utterly ignorant of the immense ire he’d only narrowly avoided having heaped upon his little head and tugging at Arthur’s leggings once more, his question sounding a little more desperate now. The material is the same colour as the dinosaur on the boy’s t-shirt under the store lights. Why, exactly, the boss considers dinosaur-green as ‘seasonal’ escapes Arthur – but, when Arthur had first gotten the uniform, his flatmate, Kiku, had looked away from his laptop long enough to say the colour (and the tunic’s accompanying crimson red arms and trim) at the least suited Arthur quite well and, if he was into that sort of thing, Kiku had some other specialised outfits that would probably suit his friend even better? (Arthur had politely declined the generous offer to try on said outfits and escaped for work.)

“Am I what?” Arthur sets down the boxed Harry Potter wand in his arms beside the rest of its kind on the shelf, before crouching down to carefully disentangle his little inquisitor’s hand from his clothes and better meet the boy’s gaze. A break is always good for strained nerves and tempers – and discreetly pulling woefully improper leggings back up to their completely-covering-unicorn-briefs place – and this child, at least, seems a little less annoying (he loses points for the tugging) than the other shrieking ankle-biters swarming around Santa’s Grotto on the other side of the floor. The boy’s eyes are red around the edges – a clear sign of tears alongside the still slightly-blotched cheeks; Arthur recognises the sight from his own childhood – but they’re clear of tears now, determinedly recovering.

“An elf,” says the boy promptly. “Are you a real one? With superpowers an’ stuff.”

Arthur just stares at the child. “…Who told you elves have superpowers?”

“Is it secret?” Worry. Talkative worry. “Like a secret identity thing? ‘Cause that’s cool, but it’s not cool if I’m not s’posed to ask, and Papa says it’s rude if I ask person questions and someone’s super-secret superpowers are prob’ly person, right? S’it like that?”

What? No -”

“So you are a real elf?”

“…Yes,” Arthur sighs, if only to abate the growing concern in his companion’s eyes (and because the last child he’d tried to correct over by the Grotto and tell that, no, he was just a man in a special uniform, had burst into tears crying about how Santa wasn’t real. Her irate mother had spent a good ten minutes accusing him of purposefully crushing the dreams of innocent children; it wasn’t an experience Arthur was keen on reliving anytime soon). “Yes, I’m a real elf. A Christmas Elf.” It’s what the uniform’s supposed to be for those working in the children’s/toy department at this time of year, anyway.

“I knew it!” The boy beams, all enthusiasm and heart-stopping sunshine, adorable in his relieved self-assurance. (Puffy eyes all gone.) This one will leave a trail of broken hearts behind him when he’s older, no doubt.

Arthur finds himself smiling back at the child, oddly pleased to have made the boy so happy. It’s a little white lie told the world over, keeping the children’s dreaming going on a little longer, and this little boy’s delight is absolutely charmi-

“Normal people don’t have eyebrows like yours.”

Arthur scowls.




Alfred Bonnefoy is six years, nine months and five days old exactly, and he knows that because he counts it out all by himself regularly and asks his papa to double-check every time. He’s a smart, kind, outgoing boy – traits which his teachers praise him for in his school reports and on parents’ evenings, even if those descriptions are often preceded by ‘loud,’ ‘energetic’ and ‘easily distractible.’

But he’s a smart boy and a brave one, and so, when, out shopping with his papa and his twin brother, Mattie, two weeks and one day before Christmas Day (a whole fifteen sleeps), Alfred finds out that the other two have wandered away someplace without him whilst he was busy looking at the rather shiny Doctor Who display in one of the larger department stores, he remembers exactly what his papa and teachers told him to do and goes and seeks out the nearest responsible-looking grown-up. (After looking for his papa left and right, standing very very still for a long while afterwards feeling very sorry for himself and telling himself that he isn’t about to cry, nuh-uh, because heroes don’t cry and he can’t cry in front of the Doctor Who display because that’s what girls do and he, Alfred Bonnefoy, doesn’t want to be a girl. He is a boy and is going to be a boy and travel in the TARDIS someday, because the TARDIS needs more boy companions instead of girls all the time who probably just buy lots of dolls and shoes around time and space or something and you can only throw a doll at an alien once when defending the planet anyway, but boys’ toys have lots of cooler projectiles and stuff so it’s for the sake of the Earth.)

Finding a responsible-looking grown-up is remarkably hard. Alfred’s in the middle of a department store – there aren’t any policeman or doctors or teachers there, or, if they are, they aren’t wearing their uniforms like they’re supposed to so that Alfred can ask them to help him find where his papa and Mattie have gotten themselves lost. There are plenty of other grown-ups around, in between the shelves and Christmas trees and scary statues of what’s probably supposed to be Rudolph (but looks more like that weird clown that had made Mattie cry at the circus one time), but they all look terribly busy or harassed or angry with lots of bags of shopping or are complaining to their grown-up friends about grown-up stuff and Alfred doesn’t want to talk to them. They’re a little intimidating with how absorbed they are in themselves and their own children; their voices hurt his ears, and the store’s playing Frosty the Snowman in the background and it just reminds him of singing at school, and his friends, and Mattie, and. And. Mattie’s gotten lost and it’s not fair and Alfred’s throat feels tight and hot and nasty and his tummy feels bad. He wants his papa, but his papa’s lost in the same place Mattie is, and Alfred doesn’t even know where to start looking for them both. They’ve probably left the store completely and gone home without him, and gotten ice-cream, and sat down to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol that papa had said they could watch that evening and hide under his blanket when the scary ghost came on that made Scrooge all better. And neither of them will notice Alfred is missing and Alfred will be stuck in this store all night in the dark and the ghosts will come and eat him and he won’t ever get any of papa’s Christmas cake, ever, ever again.

One (two, three, ten – a lot, but because he’s a hero Alfred only ever counts one) treacherous tear escapes Alfred’s eye before he can help it, but he furiously scrubs it away (still not a girl) before anyone can see and laugh at him for it. He’s so busy scrubbing his eyes he completely obscures his sight; the world’s all blurry fireworks because he’s pressed his fists to his eyes so hard, but his hearing’s sharp – sharper – and he hears a rather peculiar sort of jingling from a few aisles away, out of beat with the store music and sounding a little like the time one of papa’s friend’s new babies had got a jingly rattle and started repeatedly hitting Mattie over the head with it. It sounds a lot like that rattle and so Alfred hastily tracks down the sound – whilst papa’s friend isn’t the most responsible of grown-ups (he’s a bit weird and says tomatoes are fruits and keeps trying to give them to Alfred and Mattie all the time), he’s still a nice grown-up, with a nice smile and nice hugs, and Alfred likes him, even if one of his babies is a brat and picks on Mattie lots.

Papa’s friend or his babies isn’t making the jingly noise, though. No – it’s an elf in the Harry Potter aisle of toys, and whilst Alfred is usually deeply suspicious of people claiming to be elves this one looks like a proper elf in green and red and wearing a jingly hat. And he’s looking at Harry Potter things, so he’s cool, and elves must like magic stuff, right? Because Santa’s magic, and –

Maybe magic can find Mattie? Magic can work. Totally. Only – Alfred’s not terribly sure the guy in front of him is an elf, even though he has the clothes, because Alfred has a Batman costume, but he’s not Batman (and doesn’t want to be Batman either because although Batman’s cool and invents cool things Superman’s better because Superman can fly).

The elf turns slightly then, poking around at things on the shelf in front of him, and Alfred catches sight of the guy’s face.

Whoa.

No normal person has eyebrows that big. Ever. Alfred has never seen eyebrows that big. Or. Grumpy-looking. Can eyebrows be grumpy-looking? They’re grumpy-looking eyebrows that aren’t normal, so the guy in front of him isn’t a person and is an elf. Logically.

(Alfred goes over to ask him though, just in case.)




“Ah – excuse-moi, you work here, yes? I was wondering, have you seen a little boy wandering around by himself? My son – my other son, this one’s twin; he appears to have gotten himself lost-”




Children are incapable of staying put.




The tannoy-system is out. Of course, Arthur should’ve expected it, considering he actually has to use the damn thing for once, but no. Sod’s Law works against him once again, and no public announcements can be made in-store because the vocal Polish employee had apparently jabbed one button one time too many with his sparkly pink-polished nails and broken the whole system that very morning.

Toris looks terribly apologetic as he relays the bad news to Arthur at the nearest tinsel-festooned customer information desk, so Arthur manages to control his temper, pinching the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb and inwardly counting slowly to ten.

Arthur’s not high enough up in the store food-chain to get a walkie-talkie of his own to send out a jungle-call that way about a lost child – no, his is a temporary job over the holiday season, one he’ll be glad to be rid of alongside his pain in the arse of a boss.

So.

No tannoys, no walkie-talkies, and one little lost child casually perched on the customer information desk idly swinging his legs back and forth so his heels drum against the wood. He looks a lot happier than he’d been when he’d first come to Arthur – even more so when Arthur had allowed the kid (Alfred, as the boy had brightly introduced himself; Alfred Bonnefoy) to wear Arthur’s elf hat to cheer him up. It’s far too large for him, and makes the boy’s fringe stick out oddly – Arthur has to strongly resist the urge to brush the hair aside, tucking back the longer strands behind Alfred’s ears. (He restrains himself, smothering the urge with his happiness at being temporarily relieved of the evil hat, even if it does mean his rather spectacular hat-hair is now exposed to the world.)

The bell on the end rings out when Alfred tilts his head up to look at Arthur when Toris is done talking, curious. “So we can’t do the voice-thing like God?”

Arthur shakes his head. “No, we can’t do the voice-thing li- Alfred, God doesn’t talk over the store tannoys.”

“Why not?”

“…Because God doesn’t do things like that.” Arthur is woefully unprepared to deal with young children and spiritual questions.

Alfred ventures on regardless. “But why not? Doesn’t He like your store?”

…A very good question and an interesting point, but Arthur has the strong suspicion it’s inappropriate to tell a six year-old that your boss is enough of a wanker to be going to Hell three times over with change to spare. “Because He’s a very busy person.”

“So He gets other people to do it?”

“…Something like that…” Arthur valiantly ignores Toris covering a smile behind one hand. Valiantly.

Alfred just plain doesn’t notice. “You should get Santa to do it.”

“That’s a very good suggestion, Alfred. I’ll be sure to ask Santa about it next time I see him.” Alfred beams again, pleased at the praise – he really does have a lovely smile; his parents must be a sight to behold. Especially after losing him… “Do you want to hop down from there so we can go look for your daddy now?”

“Papa,” Alfred stresses, but hops down with an obedient jingle and takes Arthur’s hand before Arthur thinks to offer it.

In many ways, Arthur quickly realises as he begins to scour the store with Alfred at his side, Alfred is a darling child. He’s bright and friendly and trusting, and asks Arthur to tell him about the North Pole as they walk around together, carefully avoiding people with buggies and/or too many shopping bags. Of course, his inquisitiveness is probably what had gotten him separated from his family in the first place, but it’s…endearing for him to still be so fascinated with the world and all its wonders, asking for stories about the workshop and the ice and proudly announcing that his papa had been teaching him and his brother how to skate and he’s the best at it. Well. Not as good as his papa or his brother (‘Mattie,’ Alfred calls him, sweetly and happily and utterly devoid of the bitterness that still clings to Arthur’s siblings’ names) but still better than tonnes of people.

Arthur compliments Alfred on his (no-doubt, absolutely none) amazing skating skills, but before the boy can reward Arthur with another one of his beautiful smiles his blue eyes catch on something in the distance, widen – and suddenly Arthur is one little boy down, his hand suddenly empty of one much smaller hand, and Alfred is tearing through the crowds shrieking ‘Papa!’ at the top of his voice, jingling all the way.

Arhur trails a little more sedately after – it’s a lot harder to manoeuvre through the crowds when you’re an adult who actually cares when people glare at you (it is not store policy, Arthur has been told on more than one wearisome occasion by one of the supervisors, to deliberately set out to piss people off, even if they do deserve it). Alfred isn’t too far ahead, anyway, swept up in the relieved embrace of a kneeling (rather handsome, Arthur notes with interest) man as blond as he is and already babbling nonsense about his little excursion to him and to the boy who looks almost exactly like Alfred clutching a white well-worn stuffed bear at their side.

‘Papa’ just flicks at the bell on Arthur’s – Alfred’s – hat, half-scolds in a lilting patter Arthur’s still a little too far away to hear and hugs Alfred in close again. The other child smiles too, all but sparkles as his father ruffles his hair – and it’s a small, personal picture of family, warmth in the midst of so many shoppers. It’s good to see.

Alfred’s father pokes at the hat on his son’s head again curiously, just as Arthur steps close. “Alfred, qu'est-ce que c'est que ça? À qui est ceci?”

French.

(Arthur heartily dislikes the world once more.)

“That would be mine,” Arthur says, abruptly startling the man kneeling on the floor with his two sons, snaring the attention of all three.

“…Of course,” says ‘Papa’ as he looks up, and Arthur bristles (just a little bit) at the obvious thread of laughter in the man’s accented voice, the sharp glimmer (Frenchness. Evil, godforsaken Frenchness, don’t these people have their own country? French, and French people, have never been kind to Arthur, and it’s deeply, deeply unfair that they should have darling children to unleash hell upon the world and actually be handsome to boot) in the man’s eyes as he looks Arthur up, down, and up again. (Arthur knows now which parent Alfred inherited his blue eyes from.) And then the tosser smiles. “It matches.”

It is not store policy to loathe customers upon said customers first opening their mouths. It is not store policy to loathe customers upon said customers first opening their mouths. It is not –

“Nice legs,” says the customer, Bonnefoy, and Arthur debates using said legs to kick the customer in front of him before sternly reminding himself that there are children present. Easily distressable children. “Though…I am afraid I cannot compliment the colour scheme.”

“By all means,” Arthur grits out through his teeth, irritated at the way the frog is still blatantly checking him out over the heads of his oblivious children – don’t kick the customer, don’t kick the customer, “please relay your comments to my boss, sir. Feedback is always appreciated.”

“Bien sûr,” the frog sodding smirks, releases Alfred and smoothly stands, all oiled grace and long, tailored lines. Of course the tosser would be poised and perfectly dressed besides being good-looking, having two rather charming sons (now sadly relegated to the category of ‘hellspawn in disguise’), and knowing both facts, check and check. Of course. (The world is terribly, terribly unfair.)

He’s older, the frog (surely has to be, with two children as old as they are – Alfred is…six? Arthur thinks, trying vainly to recall the information from the little boy’s chatter of before), and he stands at the same height as Arthur – a little broader at the chest and shoulders, strong lines rather than Arthur’s sharp. His appraising gaze feels three times as invasive, however and, once more, Arthur dearly wishes for less-clinging leggings, and a much longer tunic. Maybe a large and heavy duvet to pull over his head. “Should I address my comments to Santa, or does he prefer Mr. kink-ah-Claus?”

(Do not kick the customer.)

“Papa,” says Alfred, pulling at his father’s jeans impatiently. “Papa, this is Arthur. He helped me find where you went ‘cause he’s an elf.”

“A real elf?” his brother asks, all soft voice and wide, wide eyes up at Arthur over his bear’s head. He has wavy hair like his father – any primary school could easily cast the child as one of the littlest angels in their nativity play and count themselves blessed.

“A real elf,” Alfred insists, charming in his sincerity and awe, before thoroughly wrecking it all again. “Look at his eyebrows.”

‘Papa’ starts laughing, and ‘Mattie’ joins his brother in staring up at Arthur in wonder. Arthur, utterly awkward in the face of their blatant admiration, settles for glaring at their father – but their father is just as bad, and his type of admiration is even worse, tucked up in the smug curl at the corner of the French twat’s mouth. Arthur has never been fond of being eyed up like a slab of meat – and particularly so at work when he’s expected to remain ‘professional’ at all times, and cannot tell the dickwad harassing him just where to go.

(Do not kick the customer.)

“Forgive me,” says the frog, offering his right hand out for Arthur to shake. So apparently France has been introduced to the basics of social etiquette this past century; wonders will never cease. “I did not mean to make you uncomfortable.”

Arthur takes the proffered limb somewhat gingerly – discreetly trying to eye the man’s other hand for a wedding ring; with this much flirting in public the man deserves a kick in the balls if he’s married – only to squawk when the other doesn’t shake it as expected, instead dragging it up to his mouth to brush a butterfly kiss over the knuckles.

“Any more uncomfortable,” smiles the frog (cat got the cream), “than you already are in that eyeball-burning ensemble, of course.”

(Never mind kicking, Arthur is going to gouge out this bastard’s eyes with his nails.)

Arthur glares, snatching away his defiled hand from the frog’s lips and rubbing it harshly on his tunic. (Children. There are children present.) “I didn’t choose the uniform.”

“A shame,” a put-upon sigh from the frog, and the two boys by his legs look terribly confused, “there’s something a little intoxicating about exhibitionism, don’t you think?”  

Arthur goes pink; he can feel the heat on the back of his neck. “No.

“No? But you wear it so well-”

“No,” Arthur says even more firmly – still pink, pinker, and it’s probably clashing with his green and red get-up wonderfully. Hopefully the fashion disaster will chase the frog to ribbet his poncy woe somewhere far, far away. His hand itches now. “And I would thank you, sir, to please kindly stop-”

“Ah!” Arthur finds both his hands suddenly grabbed in a firm grip, and the perverted glimmer in the frog’s eyes suddenly gone to simple – blessed – warmth. (Arthur sternly tells himself the look isn’t at all charming, but it reminds him far too much of Alfred’s happy smile. The Bonnefoys are all heartbreakers, clearly.) “It is I who should thank you, is it not? For returning Alfred to me safe and unharmed – Alfred,” the man looks down at his jingly-hat-adorned son, “have you thanked…Arthur, wasn’t it?” Arthur just nods, a little dumbly. Why does he always find the weird customers? It is never his day. “Have you thanked Arthur for setting time aside to help you look for us?”

“He’s an elf, Papa.” Alfred sounds as world-weary and put-upon as a six year-old can – nobody ever listens to him. “It’s what elves do.

His father allows Arthur to take one of his hands back so he can lightly rap his precocious son on the head. “Alfred.

Alfred huffs, but does as he’s told. “Thank you, Arthur.” A thoughtful pause. “…Will you please tell Santa I want an XBox kinect for Christmas? And Mattie wants a proper polar bear.” ‘Mattie’ nods fervently at this, before blushing and burying his face in his plush bear’s fur when his father and Arthur look down at him. “You live at the North Pole, right? That’s where polar bears live too, so could you make sure to help Santa pick a cool one?”

“A polar bear…might be a little difficult to fit in Santa’s sleigh,” Arthur says a little cautiously, seeing the boys’ father beside him is apparently just as surprised by the gift-announcement as Arthur is. “There has to be room for all the presents of all the boys and girls in the world, after all.”

Exactement,” Alfred’s father agrees. “A polar bear might sit on too many of the other presents and break them – and that would be a terrible thing, indeed.”

Mattie (is it Mattie? Or is that just a pet-name?) visibly droops.

Alfred looks at his twin, and then back at the two adults. “Even a baby one?”

“The baby ones all want to be with their parents, Alfred.” Long fingers brush through the golden strands of Alfred’s fringe, a gentle pet. Alfred and Mattie should count themselves lucky; their father has a surprisingly soft voice to match those gentle hands, a voice clearly made for story-telling and reassurance – when the man’s not being an irritating idiot. Arthur takes the opportunity to pry his second hand away from the frog – why are Europeans so touchy? EU politics would probably go a lot better if there was less touching and hugging and kissing and ogling, and more deep, serious and meaningful discussion. “It would be cruel to take them away.”

“…Oh.” Alfred subsides to join his brother, lower lip jutting out into something of a pout.

His father sighs at the sight (Arthur has a moment of empathy with him – he has younger family members too – before firmly squashing it flat). “Did you perhaps see something you think Feliciano might like for Christmas on your wanderings?”

Mattie nudges his twin when it becomes clear they’ve lost the attention of Alfred entirely, the other boy utterly fascinated with what looks like a new Hot Wheels track demonstration in a small clearing in the aisles not too far away.

Alfred blinks at the nudge, looking at his three companions blankly. “Huh?”

“Did you see a toy Feliciano might like today?” his father repeats easily enough – Alfred’s short attention span is something his family are well-used to, it seems. Arthur debates slipping away from the discussion, but the moment he shifts one foot he’s fixed with the queerly solemn blue-violet gaze of Alfred’s brother, and that, despite all the other awkwardness, implores Arthur to stay. Children.

“Feli likes food, Papa,” says Alfred – the universe explained. “Can I have a Hot Wheels?”

His twin just ignores him, and tugs on their father’s trouser leg. “Papa. Papa, je vu un livre pour Ludwig. C’est -”

English, Mathieu,” his father interrupts, when Mathieu draws a quick breath in to tumble on with his words. “We have company.”

Mathieu stops short, teeny and aghast at the instruction, before pulling at his brother’s willing arm and whispering something in his ear.

“…It’s about a - a train,” Alfred announces a few seconds later, clearly attempting a translation for his twin. “That’s the one with the special metal roads that are s’posed to go choo-choo but don’t, right? Ludwig likes those.”

“He does indeed,” agrees his father, and both children beam at that. “Where was the book?”

Mathieu raises one hand from its resumed death-grip around his toy bear to point vaguely in the direction of the children’s books and stationery area (conveniently close to the Hot Wheels display) – and Alfred cheers at the sight, immediately seizing Mathieu’s hand and taking off in that direction with a bright jingle and all the breakneck speed small children are famed for.

“Alfred!” Alfred screeches to a halt when his father yells after him – so quickly his brother, unprepared, slams straight into his back, sending both of them stumbling into the nearest shelving and knocking a bunch of boxes of the latest range of lego sets down out of place. “Ah -”

Arthur bites the inside of his cheek – don’t smile – and goes to put the lego back in its place; he would’ve went to the children, checking for bumps and bruises and tears, but they’re already picking themselves up. Alfred is fussing over his brother (Mathieu sporting a worried-looking wobbly lip) enough for everyone and their father is there, eating up the distance in a few long strides, somewhere between fondness and scolding as he brushes down his two sons.

…The man has the most wonderful arse and, as Arthur somewhat distantly realises as he pauses, crouching down as well to restack the shelves and watching (staring at) the other man’s thighs flex beneath the pulled-taut cloth of his trousers, it is far too distracting.

Far, far too distracting, as when Arthur’s eyes finally flick up from their oh-so-subtle admiration of the customer’s rear end and general lower half it’s to find a very amused, very direct glint back in blue eyes, all of it very intent on Arthur’s rapidly reddening face.

Caught.

“Don’t run away,” says the man, and though there’s the chastened chorus of oui, Papa from the two boys it’s Arthur whom their father is still looking at. Arthur has work to do. Away from here, and this man. “It is very busy in here; what would I do if either of you got lost again?”

Alfred resents this description of his earlier predicament. “Papa, it was you ‘n Mattie who went away. I stood right there and I looked for you but you weren’t there anymore.”

Alfred,” says his father again, no doubt segueing into some other explanation or remonstration – but Arthur does his level best to tune it out, averting his eyes once more and willing his flush away as he puts the last of the lego sets (all thankfully undamaged) back in place.

He’s being ridiculous, he knows he is. Hundreds (thousands?) of people come into the store daily, all with their own little goals, what to buy, what to look at, where to wander. Some are quiet, some are loud, some are irritating and some are just hopelessly lost – it’s Arthur’s job to assist them if they ask him for help or if they really look like they need it, and it’s his job to do it with a carefully, neutrally polite expression (through gritted teeth if necessary) if not a smile whatever they – metaphorically – throw at him. (If they literally throw something at him he has grounds to happily call security to get them hauled out for assaulting the staff.)

Customers can stress him; vex him; pester him repeatedly; get lost repeatedly; require assistance with buggies or wheelchairs; lose their children and expect him to find them; ask him for recommendations, and hit on him (to a certain degree), if they get their kicks out of that. There’s little point in making too much of a fuss about a few pointed glances and some not-too-subtly-veiled innuendo – not even terribly good innuendo, really (it’s from a Frenchman after all, or at least from a man infected with the frog germs enough to be ribbeting it at his poor captive children) and Arthur, truly, has already heard all the jokes about his costume/uniform before. (The Christmas season is incredibly, entirely, too long.)

“Have those boxes done something to personally offend you, or are you imagining my glorious visage in their place?”

The question – and a beautifully manicured hand being waved immediately in front of his face – abruptly interrupts Arthur’s mental musings, Arthur instinctually jerking his head back away from the thing so (too) close to his nose.

Said thing only being a hand and not some other lethal weapon, flying shopping bag or leaping bug the action is grossly unnecessary – and leaves him gawking somewhat unattractively up the length of the arm attached to the hand, to the height of Alfred’s (and Mathieu’s) now standing father.

Who, of course (the sodding prick), is smirking down at him. Again. “I thought Christmas Elves came from the North Pole, monsieur, not dreamland.”

“Santa’s Workshop has a great many years of experience of catering to all the bad boys and girls of the world, as well as all the good.” Arthur pointedly ignores the hand offered out to him and pushes himself up onto his feet – floor-height is a dangerous and disadvantageous place to be in a busy department store, and being looked down at is just irritating.

Disappointingly, the customer doesn’t seem at all bothered by the minor display, not even bothering to shrug before letting his hand drop again to his side, still regarding Arthur with that crooked twist to his lips as Arthur meets his gaze head-on.

Stupid French twat. “Christmas Elves, as a result, have learned how to make the lives of those that cross them a living nightmare.”

The area around the customer’s legs is finally free of his children – looking over the man’s shoulder reveals both boys at the very end of the aisle (no doubt told to stay put there on pain of death) investigating the toys on the shelves. (Alfred appears to have found something aimed at toddlers; it’s brightly coloured and plays an annoyingly loud melody when hit, and Mathieu seems very keen on edging as far away from it as his family will allow him to.) No avidly listening children means less delicate hearts and dreams to be crushed – and if the twins’ father mentions Arthur’s outfit one more time it’ll be something else being crushed instead, very hopefully when Arthur aims a direct kick up between the man’s legs.

The customer (wanker) just snorts at Arthur’s response. “Are all the other Elves as articulate as you when it comes to defending their traditions?”

Dry: “We all take our traditions very seriously, but I’m naturally verbose.”

“And inventive.”

Sir,” Arthur stresses the word, his patience at an end and his mind drifting off to the stacking he was pulled away from to deal with this odd little family before him, “is there some way I can assist you today other than entertaining you with a story? Otherwise I’m afraid I must go and return to my work – I’m sure that you can see that it’s a busy time of year right now for all of us.”

“No,” the customer shakes his head. Little strands of his hair fall loose from the ponytail at the nape of his neck at the motion, gold against the cut of the man’s jaw – and though the lines are stronger, and without any of Alfred’s baby-fat, Arthur still has to sit on the impulse to brush the hair back again. (Untidiness – it’s clearly the personal untidiness bothering Arthur, hypocritical as it may be with the bird’s nest that lives on top of his own head.) “No,” and the other man casts a quick glance back over his shoulder to where his two boys are still standing (Alfred still lauding the apparent merits of the toddler’s toy he’d found to his brother, and Mathieu looking more and more unimpressed by the minute), “I have everything I need now. Thank you very much for your assistance.”

And he smiles.

That goddamn (attractive) smile. (Smiles should not be genetic.)

Arthur makes a vague flustered noise, something like a floundering It was no problem meeting a dying Have a nice day in a mutually destructive act of annihilation that produces nothing but a noise that sounds like his vocal chords staging a violent protest and fleeing for the hills – an action Arthur is quick to endorse, nodding his head curtly at the ((handsome) French twat) customer before stalking quickly away with all his hastily-grabbed dignity cloaked around him. (He manages to walk into an exasperated lady with a buggy only in the next aisle and has to profusely apologise for upsetting where some of her bags had been attached to the buggy’s handles and fetch all the items he’d sent skidding on the floor, but it’s the thought that counts where dignity is concerned.

Mostly.

Ish.)

Feliks brings it up later on Arthur’s break, carefully not-quite-hiding behind Toris whilst Arthur has a hot mug of tea in his hands, wary of a possible backlash about the broken tannoy system. Offers Arthur the use of a spare hair-comb, and suggests some hair products Arthur might want to try to try and tame his unruly hair.

Arthur frowns at the suggestions (Feliks noticeably slides even further into Toris’ sighing shadow), idly raising one hand to run it through his heavy fringe – it can’t be that bad, surely? – and. Then it hits him, his hand meeting his hair with nothing to stop it, and no annoying jingle when he turns his head.

Alfred still has his hat.


Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_hitsu
Jan. 4th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)
Oh.. oh Shacha. What have you done.

My face is currently in this very curious stage combining an extremely broad smile with a slightly fallen jaw and tiny tears in the corners of my eyes.

I think you just successfully combined everything I ever loved in fanfics and about his ship and this family ever, ever.

(I will probably hate this comment tomorrow because it's late and I'm tired and also writing this right after I finished reading so this will be overboard emotional and sentimental as hell but)

I can't remember when a piece of writing made me this happy.

I mean it.

Because the idea to stuck Arthur - Arthur - into an elf costume is perfect on itself but you combined it with your usual wonderful writing style, great sense of sarcastic humour that you British seem to master so well, and then with adorableness of the kiddies and then the grace that is your Francis Bonnefoy. Somewhere around the middle of the fic I thought this couldn't make me feel any more fuzzy-warm, but then you brought the polar bears and I was melting and I'm still. Melting.

Ah and the delicious point of views, Arthur's dry tone and Alfred's adorable excitement, and those tiny details and, just everything.

I feel like I'm betraying a lot of masterpieces that I'm holding very tightly in my heart but this fic is right now - yes I'm quite sure - this fic is right now my favourite.

shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)
*flails at* Hitsu, Hitsu, you give me far, far too much credit. I mean - really, dressing Arthur up in an elf costume isn't that far-fetched; honestly, I think a little part of Himaruya's brain must be devoted to 'and what outfit can we dress England up in today~?' because Arthur has so many outfits/costumes compared to other characters it's ridiculous. (And glorious fanservice considering how a good 80% of them show off his rather lovely legs, but that's by-the-by.)

And it's not as though Francis is ever going to be the sort of person who lets either a pretty or really godawful thing wander past him without some sort of comment, either. And Arthur will make himself a target for said comments by reluctantly combining the two, getting so amusingly hissily pissy about it all and then threatening to punch Francis in the nose. And then that's just a challenge, and Francis has to take him up on it for the greater glory and good name of France or other nonsensical rot.

And. And I'm generally rambling because I don't want to say but flail and stammer and dere at you, so! *shuts up and flails quietly*

Edited at 2012-01-04 01:11 am (UTC)
souslelys
Jan. 4th, 2012 12:28 am (UTC)
(ah time to give the new commenting system a whirl)

What I love about your writing, is that you know how to set up a believable premise. And what you've done here, with Arthur and Alfred and Matthew and Francis is set up one of the most endearing premises I've ever read.

You can't help but love everyone, even when they're throwing snide remarks at each other.

I'm not going to try and compete with Eva's comment, but I really do love your snark.

More flailing to come on tumblr ;)
shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
(Honestly, I'm just glad to get this chapter out and finally posted, even though I'm not terribly happy with it and the new LJ system makes c+ping from MSWord painful. It feels too cluttered to me, but...I got what I wanted to happen in this to happen (eventually, after Francis agreed to behave himself) and I'll probably feel a lot better with it when the second chapter gets added. >> But - seriously, the relief; this has been clogging up my APH writing for weeks now and it felt personally insulting since my CLAMP fics have been coming out nicely. ;;;)

I enjoy tormenting Arthur, maybe just a little too much - and I had to go Christmas shopping twice last year due to my brother being an ass and breaking his leg, so I ended up wandering past the departmental stores' Grottoes a few times. So many poor, pissy assistants, and so many sparkly-eyed kids~

Edited at 2012-01-04 12:56 am (UTC)
chibitsunade
Jan. 4th, 2012 12:39 am (UTC)
OH DEAR GOD I WANT MORE!

This...this...it has left me at a loss of words. IT"S SO FUCKING BRILLIANT. OMG the children, they were so cute. I just want to hug them. Francis...omg just aklsdjlkads. Arthur's self control is seriously amazing. Your brilliant!

(end fangasm).
shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
I think it was less self-control and more self-preservation - for both his job (assaulting customers is bad) and his heart (imagine the looks on the boys' faces if he hurt Papa in front of them! Disgust! Dismay! Tears and disapproving looks from tutting passers-by! XD Bitchiness has to be subtle or private). >>
chibitsunade
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Haha, I forgot to mention that your depiction of working during the Christmas Season is very accurate, taking consideration I have worked several years in Christmas retail. (Thankfully no elf costumes, just stupid team building shirts that are several sizes too big.) Hopefully Arthur doesn't have to go through working on Boxing Day (that is if this takes place in UK or Canada etc), I have wanted to take a frying pan to a few people.
(Deleted comment)
shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you~! (...Feliks only really made it in because he insisted he wanted to play with the My Little Pony toys.)
crys_tenkari
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC)
Shacha. Shacha. You continue to make me eeeee in delight which is slightly a problem as this cold I'm coming down with has graced me with a sore throat. BUT. So worth it. This was exactly what I needed to find on my Dash after a shitty day feeling sick and dead at work seriously how bad do I look when my coworkers start to comment that I look ill?.

I am, as ever, in love with your Arthur's perfect levels of snark, his weakness to tiny adorable children, and those carefully-restrained violent tendencies that, by the way, I can tell you from experience that just about all of us working retail have from time to time the wall had it coming and you know it.

I think you're doing delightfully well with Tiny!Al and Tiny!Matt - I had a moment of 'dawwww' at Mattie having an attack of shy and using Al as his personal translator.

Seriously. This perked me right up from an otherwise rather Bleh day. <3
shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
^^^^ You get the special egotistical icon because egos make everyone feel better. FACT.
And you better get better (or be better already) or I'll probably end up accidentally killing you, and, onee-chan, you do not want to put that on my conscience. Too many zombie-rolls are bad for you. You're beginning to pick up the rest of the zombie characteristics and your coworkers are noticing. Do not expose the secret.

...Crys, there is no way in hell you can ever pass off leaving a hole in the bathroom wall as being 'carefully restrained.' XD 'Restrained,' perhaps, in not committing bodily violence against another being masquerading as human, but 'carefully' is well and truly out of the window.

And I'm glad you liked this, dear~ (since you'll probably hear me bitching about the following chapters in the days to come ;;; ).

Edited at 2012-01-04 07:34 pm (UTC)
fireblazie
Jan. 4th, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
Oh, now, this is just fantastic. It's all of the things I love about this family, with Alfred's curiosity (ffft, Arthur's eyebrows - I literally snorted), Matthew's sweetness, and Francis' - well, being Francis. I love this so much, I just. Oh, I can't.

- That the twins are bilingual. kill me nooooow. and Alfred translating for Matthew, I - I - aaaah

- Mental image of Arthur in an elf costume. Can we have fanart of this?

and there's more, I know there's more, I'm trying to gather my thoughts, but you've set up this fantastic environment and the interactions are all so spot-on and I love FACE family fics, I do, I do, they're my absolute favorite, and aaah I don't even know what to say. I'm probably thoroughly embarrassing myself with this comment right now but I am so, so in love with this fic right now, and I can't wait for what comes next ♥
shadow_of_egypt
Jan. 4th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Ahhh, thank you very much! The FACE/CAFE (I actually prefer CAFE because that's the way the pairings usually go in fanfics, but I just get blank looks when I use that acronym so ;w;) family is good (and good fun) for poking at how hopeless they all are both individually and as a unit.

...I believe I would possibly kill (or at least give up the hot chocolate I'm currently holding) to see fanart of Arthur in an elf costume. It probably already exists, somewhere, considering the size, creativeness and rapacity of this fandom, but I've yet to see it/remember seeing it.

And - pffft, for Matthew's sweetness. He spent most of the chapter tupping around with his Papa and inwardly sighing about his brother. And then Arthur came along, so he hid his face in his bear's fur and peeked out over the fluff a bit. Francis and Alfred are just lost causes.
en_snared
Jan. 5th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
(So I just came across this randomly but) this is great! xD I'm loving the little details and the whole premise this thing is set on, and the not-so-subtle hints of Francis and Arthur--although I really want to see how they end up together with how everything is right now. xD Also, little Alfred and Matthew are the cutest things ever <3 I love the FACE/CAFE family so I like where this is going and the characterizations (Arthur's thoughts are quite lol-worthy) and stuff!

/can't make really useful comments

I can't wait to see the rest of this story! :3
seraphoftales
Feb. 24th, 2012 05:35 am (UTC)
Ok. So. This is amazing. This is all kinds of amazing. Up and down and all around amazing. I mean with the Alfred and the Mattie and the Francis~~~ And Engla~~nd. Yes. More please. Yes.
suddenlyapples
Apr. 7th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
Y IS THERE NO MOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE?
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )