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Earnestly yours

Chapter Text

The fire crackled lowly in the oval hearth as the rain fall continued for the sixth day in a row. Arthur could have sworn he was cursed, forever stuck beneath a rain cloud while all his flashy sunny neighbours enjoyed their good weather and good food and really - good everything.
Thunder rumbled in the distance of the stormy night, the weather was particularly worse than usual which in turn considerably soured Arthur’s mood. Ignoring the numb tingling in his face and hands he gripped his quill tighter focusing closely on the letter in front of him.
“Stupid governors, the shit do I know about trade between Spain and the flat lands?” he mumbled to himself, the candle flickering curiously in response.
“Perhaps they just want your insight, the Spanish King has been rather insistent that you become more involved in foreign affairs” Mabel suggested, Arthur starred over his shoulder at her as she made her way across the room to his side.
“Oh so you heard?”
“How could I not Arthur, everyone can hear your shouting in this house” Arthur sighed reclining in his seat, cracking his knuckles.
“He’s getting involved in things that don’t concern him, he doesn’t rule me”
“I hear the King took a liking to you though?”
“You hear only what others tell you, he does not like me as much as he likes what he can take from me”
Arthur could see her move from the corner of his eye “And that’s the throne?”
“He’s rather desperate to grip to any power he has, but he’s losing it here” Arthur added, Mabel’s mouth dropped slightly as she thought of what to say, in the end she didn’t say anything so she patted her dress down and folded her hands into her apron.
“This rooms rather cold sir, would you like any fleeces, the sheep wool has been cleaned of its wine spillage” that had been his brothers fault, he had thrown his wine in a drunken petty rage over something to do with Wales, he couldn’t remember because he was quite drunk himself.
“I’m fine, your concern in appreciated but honestly I’m fine”
“Men always lie, how am I to tell when you’re being truthful” she laughed heartily.
“You don’t have to know when I'm telling the truth that would be asking too much” Again Mabel didn’t really know how to respond, Arthur didn’t have to turn to know her lips were probably pursed in a thin pink line as her eyebrows creased and furrowed together at his dismissive and rather flippant responses.
“Will… that be all this evening Arthur” Arthur watched as the fire began to sputter and burn out.
“Hm? Oh yes, thank you Mabel I’ll see you in the morning, bid Agatha goodnight for me please” and with that she did a courteous bow and wished him goodnight. With Mabel gone the room felt a little colder, though logically he knew it was because the fire was dying Arthur couldn’t help but feel metaphorically it was because Mabel was gone. Mabel was a nice child, a good child, for all his faults she had stayed to help him and never once did she judge him for his lifestyle or choices. Shaking his head lowly, he reached blindly for a fresh log throwing it uncaringly onto the burnt out fire. He turned his attentions back to the letter, rather trivial affairs involving trading between the kingdoms of Spain and England and building stronger relations between states and what have you, really he had only bothered to write a response because Mabel had insisted it would be uncourteous of him to deny them a response.
Really he only read letters sent to him by a select few, one of course had been her royal highness Mary and to a much lesser extent her ‘oh so wonderful’ husband Philip. Letters to Mary had been formal, straight to the point, there was very little substance in them other than making requests of him and telling him that ‘this and that’ was going to happen, and how she was so happy that Arthur had finally taken to her beloved Phillip. He didn’t like him, not one bit, but for Mary he would pretend he was happy.
But she was gone, and as usual Arthur was still alive, he no longer had to pretend to play favourites with Philip and that all suited him just fine.
Letters to Elizabeth were interesting, they were formal as well, but every so often she would put in an anecdote about her suitors or take time to not so politely complain about her cousin’s uncouth behaviour towards her. He loved Elizabeth, in ways that he could not quite say, she was highly educated, and he expected much of her, her reign was still young but he could already feel a brewing storm, somewhere in Scotland with the other Mary, somewhere in Spain with Philip.
Then there were letters to family and friends, no matter how many letters he sent to Scotland the man hardly replied; same for Ireland but he didn’t really know what he expected from those two anymore. Wales was inclined to reply to his letters, but they weren’t warm or familiar anymore and he certainly didn’t giggle with excitement whenever he saw the drab beige letter with Wale’s insignia laying plainly on his desk. Letters to France… well those are best left unmentioned, they normally end up unopened on the fire as additional tinder.
Arthur banged his head against the table trying desperately to focus on the orange hued paper in front of him, but no matter all his attempts he couldn’t seem to focus on the words he was writing. After a few scribbled attempts he slouched in his chair sighing dramatically as the wind battered ferociously at the window, thinking of his brothers made him feel lonely, loneliness made him distressed.
“My God” he whispered leaning into his hands.
It had been a long Autumn period, full of bad harvests and unrest in the capital, the streets were looking more extravagant with wonders from the old world and new world alike, tobacco for instance began appearing in small quantities in some shops, though realistically who could afford that crap. All the while new fruits and vegetables were being introduced to him, things he could never conceive in his wildest dreams, tomatoes, potatoes, pineapples and corn (God really went crazy making foods in the new world), vividly coloured fruit the sorts one could only find previously in the Mediterranean or India were now served to him on the daily at banquets with Elizabeth. He felt rotten, spoilt, but he didn’t complain, who would in his position surrounded by lovely food and beautiful people, men and women a-like he wasn’t all fussy, all the while he slowly began to take his place in the world as he rightfully should.
Arthur rose from his chair, scratching his scalp till it felt like it was on fire. The moon was bright, even though the thunderous rain clouds never let up small glimpses of moonlight glistened in through the coloured glass in the lattices. Arthur swooped up the letter tossing it in the fire with a glare, as much as he wanted to humour Mable by replying to the governor’s letter he couldn’t force himself, instead settling on just spouting some shit when he next saw the man.
Thunder rumbled distantly, the wind rattled the glass in the panes with such violence it felt like they might come caving in at any minute and Arthur didn’t want to be around if they did. He remained a while in the doorway, wondering if maybe in fact he should try to start another letter to save the later agitation and headache. Just as he turned to the dark hallway a heavy knocking resounded through the house.
“Fucking hell!” Arthur complained stomping down the hallway. Mable came tumbling out the kitchen along with Agatha gripping to her frock, they bumbled for a minute at the bottom of the stairs as Arthur watched them shrilly whispering in alarm at who could be on the other side of the door. Another flurry of hurried knocks and Arthur began to rush the pair “Quickly answer the door before they die” with a swift nod Agatha pulled the door open, revealing a soggy courier boy, no older than eighteen dressed in an over-sized rain coat with an ill-fitting hood that hid a large portion of his face. Strands of wet blond hair were stuck to his face and neck as he took in the three figures in the dim candlelight looming over him on the raised doorway.
“Hello,” Arthur greeted as Mable shivered violently from a burst of cold air.
The boy seemed momentarily perplexed, as though he couldn’t quite remember why he was there before he quickly stepped forward pulling back his coat revealing a small satchel.
Digging through it with urgency he pulled out a pristine white envelope with a gold stamped insignia “A letter arrived for you and it simply couldn’t wait” he spoke with a thick northern accent and a lisp but somehow that added to his charm. Arthur frowned studying the letter with contempt, calmly he took the letter not tearing his eyes from the golden stamp.
“Agatha fetch the payment dear” Arthur recognised the embalmed letter, it was from the Spanish courts, he could tell because of the hideously over decorated emblem and the curtly written Latin in the bottom left hand corner. Agatha returned quickly, her heels clicking lightly on the floorboards as she peered into her hand counting the money.
“Will that be all?”
“Yes, Adieu”
“Goodnight” the door slammed tightly behind him leaving the three in a stern silence. The anticipation was too much for Mable who was the first to speak “I recognise that envelope, it’s Spanish is it not”. Arthur rubbed his eyes groaning slightly at the tension in his head “Yes it certainly is”
“I wonder what they want now” Agatha spat.
“Now dear, we don’t know if they want anything” Mable shook her head, her eyes shut fast as she pondered on the contents of the letter.
“Sir shall I make you some tea as you read the letter” both girls stood to attention ready for whatever they were asked of.
“No that won’t be necessary, it’s late feel free to retire now” Mable smiled gesturing with the nudge of her shoulder to the kitchen “We were only playing All Fours, we shall sleep after, we shan’t be noisy” With a shrug of his shoulders Arthur turned up the stairs “Suit yourselves goodnight”
“Goodnight” the girls said in unison before hurrying back to the kitchen.
England waited until he knew the whole house was asleep before he even dared to open the letter, even then he found himself trembling lightly at the prospect of what could be in the letter as he peeled back the folds of the envelope revealing the pressed paper inside. There was a smell about the letter, he almost couldn’t describe it, it smelt of herbs and spices, it smelt ecstatic! Wasting no more time he finally opened the parchment,

To my dearest, Arthur
To my lover who drinks too much,

It saddens me to see our relations fall into such a state of disarray, I cannot help but feel as though this is no more our fault as it is that of our courts.
My court talks, they whisper and connive behind my back, but know they do not speak for me, their words are not true to me and whatever you may hear from them is not what I believe. They see you as easy, as something they can control but I know no man who can control the wind and you are just as tempestuous, violent and free.
I long to see you again, I cannot contain myself, the joy I feel knowing I will see you again shortly has my heart bursting at all corners. To hell with my court, I would slay them all should I have the chance, if it meant I got to spend more time with you cariño, had I but world enough and time.
But our time is always short, and it is short for me now as I leave for England immediately on behalf of my King and country, know it is not my intention to drop by unannounced, I can already hear the good Queen’s howling as she sees me walking down the hall but know it cannot be helped my love. I pray God gives me speed, mi amado,

Truly and earnestly yours,

“Oh Spain” Arthur sighed inhaling the paper deeper into his lungs.
The man was too much, even such a short letter had Arthur smiling and fawning over each carefully written word. He wanted to hold him, to kiss him, to hear him sweetly moan in his arms once more. There wasn’t even one word out of place or scribbled compared to Arthur’s butchered attempt at writing earlier.
But the more Arthur thought on it the more his face began to twist and sour as he reread the paragraphs, after a minute of rereading he let out a loud cry.
Spain was coming to visit!
England looked desperately for a date on the paper, September the third, that was two weeks ago!
A chair went toppling as Arthur struggled to regain his composure, the letter creasing between his clasped fingers, no this wasn’t fair why now! Why when he was struggling so much, why when he was so ill! He began to rationalise in his head, what if this was a good thing, maybe seeing Antonio was just the remedy he needed to soothe his mind and bones, or maybe seeing the man would drive him further to the brink of insanity. Arthur felt sick, carefully he sat on the edge of his bed painstakingly going over the letter again and again hoping his mind was just playing a trick on him in the low light. But it was no illusion, every word was perfectly and clearly written plain on the fair paper, Spain was on his way!
After the truth had sunk in Arthur began to calm down, breathing heavily through his nose as he came to terms with the situation. Tonight, he would rest and tomorrow he would set about a cleaning rota making sure the house was entirely tidy before Spain’s arrival, no stone left unturned. He would also have to write to Elizabeth because if he turned up with Antonio in tow, unannounced, she might just kill them both.

Chapter Text

Arthur wrung his hands together as he watched the back of the courier disappear down the road. It had been a few days since he had received Antonio’s letter and that morning he heard news of a Spanish frigate disembarking in the Thames so made haste with writing his frantic and poorly worded letter to Elizabeth.
He had struggled to make excuses in the letter for the exact reason of Antonio’s arrival and had called for Mable’s assistance to help him write the letter far too many times than he was willing to admit, even going as far as to making both her and Agatha proof read the letter twice before allowing the courier to go.
Arthur had obviously burned the letter Antonio had sent, even if good Bess was understanding of their relationship many others would not. It was better to rid of all illicit implications before anyone else had the chance to know.
“I am surely ruined” England mourned turning from the door.
“I’m sure her majesty will not be angry at you”
“You don’t know her, she’s prone to,” Arthur paused shaking his head “capricious tendencies”
Mable’s small hand rubbed soothingly over his arm, her similarly small face soft and warm with a smile “I’m sure you will be fine”.
All afternoon Arthur lounged and moaned about this and that, writing vague attempts at poetry and scrawling small drawings of the garden over the poetry when he decided it wasn’t good enough.
“Maybe if I write her a poem she won’t behead me”
“Oh Arthur you really are pedantic” Mable sighed from her seat across from him, watching as he impatiently tapped the quill against the table, England paused from his writing to glare at her.
Mable looked beautiful that day, she always looked beautiful but that day she looked particularly more so she had gotten up earlier to make herself presentable for their guest. She was wearing one of her finest dresses, a white under-dress with golden trimmings and a green kirtle which accentuated her red hair which was tied in a long braid that trailed down her back covered in a thin beige mantilla decorated with laced green silk to match her ensemble.
Mable was young and Irish, she had travelled to England at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign changing her name in the process from Ainéislis to Mable as to avoid unnecessary attention. She found herself working in the court as a hostess among politicians, nobility and aristocracy at a very young age and found that with all the sleaziness that perhaps she was too highbrowed for such a roll. Soon after she was introduced to England and eventually after getting to know him moved into his country home to work as the head maid.
Mable did not look kindly on Arthur’s sneer, by then it was midday and all Arthur had done to pass the time was moan and bitch about how ‘she shall surely kill me’, scribble and scrawl on paper and fold said paper into small, rather rubbish boats that he would flick across the room.
Arthur loved Mable, not a sexual kind of love but a platonic familial love that he ashamedly craved from time to time. A kind of harmonious familial love that he couldn’t find from Francis and less so from his brothers, a love he couldn’t expect from Antonio, but a love showered upon him by Mable.
But even Mable’s good motherly nature could not help him, his every thought was consumed with either   Elizabeth or Spain. On the one hand he was beside himself with nerves over what Elizabeth might think or worse yet do, on the other hand though Antonio would be by his side soon to face Elizabeth’s wrath with him and he could kiss him and hold him like he used to, which now he only ever did in his dreams.
Arthur groaned throatily rubbing his eyes, then suddenly stood and ran to the kitchen door “Whatever is it now!” Mable shouted, Arthur ignored her not even turning to look back, the only words he could choke out were “I need alcohol!” the room felt suffocating, small, he needed some air, something to throw back to burn his throat and boil in his stomach.
This drew from Mable, in her state of annoyance, a flash of impatience which she acted upon running after him out the door. Mable was surprisingly faster than she looked even in her little high heels quickly catching up to the bitching man and dragging him backwards by his shirt from the kitchen counter back to the front room all the while the man hissed and pinched at her arm.
“Arthur you’re being rather ridiculous about this, the house is clean, the letter is sent, it was a perfectly fine letter, why can’t you just calm down” she pulled at his ear, pinching and scratching until his ear was red.
“Don’t you think you’re out of place to be pushing me around and telling me what to do” Arthur moaned out in discomfort swatting vaguely at her hands.
Mable threw him a whipped look too which Arthur took in her sincerity, he realised his actions were hurting her and Agatha, his temper was unpredictable and it was hardly their fault that Spain and his councillors decided to make this sudden visit.
Arthur’s eyes wandered over her face once more, “I’m sorry”
Mable huffed in satisfaction releasing Arthur’s ear, to which he timidly rubbed over it “It’s fine, I know it’s stressful, I can see it in your face just try and relax a little bit, it makes me tense just to look at you” she laughed coyly “Oh and, if I’m not bossing you around and keeping you in check who will” Arthur groaned heavily “You’d be surprised how long the list of people is now”
“Hmph, well you’re difficult and impulsive it’s part of knowing you” Arthur hummed in response deciding to ignore Mable’s light jab at him.
“Anyway, I think it might do you a bit of good to get some air”
“That’s what I was trying to do”
“Yeah but that’s by the by” Arthur wanted to tell her she was wrong but she continued doing a small twirl as she stepped back into the living room.
“Do we have everything we need for dinner?”
“Oh well if you’re offering” Mable chimed “We actually don’t have a whole lot, so you can go get your fresh air and what have you and get the ingredients for dinner too!”
“Of course,” Arthur said.
The front door slammed shut and England noticed how Mable jumped nervously looking around as if she couldn’t quite figure out where the slam had come from.
Agatha burst into the room causing the pair to jump in surprise the wind following her pulled and tugged at her skirt.
“Blimey it’s blumin’ freezing out there” Agatha jittered, pulling her over layer to her chest.
“An’ where’ve you been?” Mable asked.
“I was going to the market but I forgot my basket and money, got all the way there before realising”
“Ah, well then Arthur could go with you!”
Agatha smiled over at him “If the young master is free of course”.
Arthur momentarily wondered how much power he still had in his own house “As a bird”
“I think the basket’s in the kitchen, I won’t be a minute” and she disappeared through the doorway.
True to her word Agatha was back a few seconds later carrying her wicker basket, and she was already by the front door, eager, before Arthur could stand.
She could be excitable from time to time, too much for one man to handle which was probably why she was pushing her mid-thirties and still unmarried.
“We’ll be back within the hour hopefully” Agatha called to Mable, Arthur stepped past he and out the house starring dazed up at the sky, grey clouds began rolling overhead.
“We hope”

The walk to market was not as long as Arthur had remembered it being it was only a twenty minute walk but he could recall times it took him hours to walk to Canterbury town’s centre.
He would admit he could be a slow walker. Often he would spend too long looking in the stream for a fish or watching a single bird fly in the sky, this made Agatha admit an admiration of sorts, ‘You’ve seen so much and yet you still take time in simple things, I can’t remember the last time I just looked at something’ then Agatha starred at him, maybe a little longer than she had intended to. She flushed, her chest swelling before remarking on a Tulip on the side of the path which Arthur took great interest in.
Agatha was a beautiful lady for sure, she had long chestnut hair which Arthur had only seen down a handful of times and a slim build complimented by a girdle. Growing up in Oxfordshire had its perks blessing Agatha with a rather desirable accent and good homely upbringings, though the strict upkeep of her father meant that when she left home to work for the courts she was oblivious to the advances she received. Although she was still relatively young (reaching the age of 29 in just three months) Agatha was unwed and had no children, it was rather a wonder to Arthur how she had never married seeing as she attracted a lot of attention when they were out together and maybe it was due to this and her father’s iron grip on her life that any prolonged or unexpected male attention made Agatha blush and sputter stupidly at the slightest male attention.
Although the journey into town was uneventful it was pleasant, spent chatting and laughing about this and that, Arthur telling Agatha stories and tales of things he had seen and done, telling her about Antonio who she had never met.
“And what is he to you?” She had asked quite innocently. England had to stop himself from tripping as he thought about what to say, they were most definitely on ‘okay’ terms as people, but countries not so much, things could be better, a bed-fellow? No that seemed wrong, lover, almost definitely but some things were better left unsaid “We’re just acquaintances” he lied.
Canterbury was bustling in the afternoon, everyone was out doing their rounds in the market place buying whatever they needed or whatever they could afford.
Fishermen were pitching their catches as the prizes of the Kentish coast, each of them trying to out-do each other. Surprisingly (or rather unsurprisingly) there was a lot of fisherman on the coast, there wasn’t much work for the poorer in society other than Cordwainers, Smiths and Weavers.
“What about this Arthur what do you think?” Agatha showed off a small but charming necklace, glistening in the hazy sunlight. It was definitely made of gold that much Arthur could tell, there was a large gem stone ornamented by a ring of smaller gem stones.
“Those little one’s there are sapphires, and that bigger one in the middle is a topaz, brought to you all the way from Brazil” Arthur sneered, he never understood why people went out of their way to show off they had merchandise from the new world, Arthur had seen enough gold and treasure from the new world to last him a lifetime.
Either the merchant didn’t hear or didn’t care about Arthur as he went on explaining the necklace to Agatha.
“How much” she exclaimed hand already reaching for her basket.
“For you lovely lady, five pounds” that was a lot of money but not nearly enough for what he was trying to sell her, he smelt a rat so didn’t think twice about dropping the necklace into the merchant’s hands, giving him a quick ‘thank you’ before pulling Agatha away.
“Arthur why I really liked it”
“I call foul, besides I can get you a necklace the next time I land a raid if you really want one”
“With sapphires?”
He rolled his eyes “If they have one, you might have to suffer with emeralds”
Agatha moved quickly through the stalls after that, knocking things off her items list quicker than Arthur could put them in her basket and pay for them, vegetables, poultry and fruit all lined the basket.
“Do you think we should get some spices or something, maybe some cumin might be nice” Arthur just huffed, he knew Agatha would do what she wanted so it was best to just let her do her thing.
“I’m just going to buy some flowers then we can leave, oh and some fish too, I’ll be right back” she waved off disappearing in a crowd.
With Agatha gone Arthur noticed how loud the street was, vendors shouting over the hustle directing people to them to buy from them instead of their competitors, ‘SWEETEST STRAWBERRIES ONLY GROWN IN KENT’ the guy had a deep nasally voice or maybe it was just a cold, whatever it was it made Arthur want the strawberries being pitched to him.
He eyed the stall from across the street, he could make out the body of the man standing behind rows of bagged strawberries. He was tall, at least six feet two, his shadow blotted out the street in front of him, he had curled brown hair that fell gently around his face, his tanned skin gave away that he was a labourer working in the sun most the day while Arthur himself was pale and shut away most of the time. Even from that distance he could make out the man’s green eyes stealing his breath away.
Momentarily the tall man across the street made eye contact with him, he grinned, and then turned back to the company around his stand.
The man reminded him a little bit of Antonio, with his sweet brown hair and deep green eyes. But though they shared similarities you would never confuse the two, like this man towered over both him and Antonio, and while this man’s hair was ashy Antonio’s was an oaky brown. The man’s green eyes were dull, but Antonio’s were always alight with childish wonder, but most noticeably the man’s smile was gross and perverse compared to Antonio’s who’s smile was warm and delightful.
Realising his train of thought he quickly looked away from the leering vendor, a distraction was what he needed something to clear his mind.
From where he was in the street he could see Canterbury cathedral; the gates were open leading a small bricked lane down towards the open courtyard of the cathedral where people lulled and gazed at it, some even kneeling before the cathedral deep in prayer.
Hanging statues and gaping faces starred back at him but they never blinked, the longer he looked the more faces he saw that he never knew were there. Priests were making their rounds in their black gowns heading towards a funeral service, for a moment Arthur wondered who was being buried before realising pretty quickly he really didn’t give a shit. The only colour on the cathedral was that coming from the stained-glass figures that starred down on the street below, casting human like shadows of red, blue and yellow.
As Arthur trailed his vision down he saw a small congregation of what he mistook at first to be members of the Vatican. In disbelief he double checked and realised his mistake, the group of around five or six men were clothed in mostly red but there were stripes of black here and there that bought the outfits out a bit more.
They really did stand out from amongst the crowd, many people gave them odd looks as they walked by while others simply watched from a distance. The clothing was rich that much was certain, and if the swords were anything to go by they were probably soldiers or hired aids for someone much richer or of a higher status than them. And then as the group turned towards him, Arthur saw it, the insignia of the Spanish courts was imprinted on the chest plate of one of the men.
Suddenly he was overcome with an all too familiar falling feeling, as though he had just stepped off a cliff and was currently plummeting into the sea. There was only one reason Spanish soldiers would be in Canterbury and it wasn’t for sightseeing.
He began looking over the faces of everyone around the cathedral, anyone who caught his eye or just anyone that looked slightly foreign to him in hopes of finding Spain’s face in the crowd, and he did.
He blinked a couple of times before he assured himself it was Antonio standing by the archway to the cathedral,
his shadow stretched behind him along the cobelled street distorting his figure and creeping up the buildings edge reaching towards the roofs, the stoic façade of the cathedral stood mighty and proud behind him looming over them both in wordless wonder. Arthur tried to call to him, tried to find the right words to shout but his mouth went dry and his mind spasmed and he realised rather bitterly that he was tongue tied, the man hadn’t even looked at him yet had stolen every word that had wanted to say.
The spires of the cathedral towers were like skeletal fingers, emerging from behind the rooftops stretching towards the heavens, and then in that moment when the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly onto the bricked lanes and tiled roofs Antonio saw him and smiled a brilliant smile and all of Arthur’s problems seemed to run off him like water dribbling down into the dirty drains.

Chapter Text

Arthur was frozen, he couldn’t quite believe that Antonio was there in front of him, smiling, waving and running towards him like an aimless fool.
If Antonio knew anything it was how to draw attention to himself, quickly most people around him were watching this strange man, dressed in all red and black pushing and shoving his way through the crowd.
He tried desperately to think of something to say, anything at all but Antonio was on him in seconds fawning and hugging him tightly.
“Arthur, you’re here! Why are you here?” 
‘I could say the same to you’ he had wanted to say, but chose to save his attitude “Likewise,” he managed to squeeze out before being swept up into another back breaking hug which he tentatively returned.
“Oh well this is great, this is good, this is nicer than just turning up on your doorstep, you know I wasn’t sure if you’d be in London or here I’m glad I dropped in London before coming here just to check” Antonio rambled on, speaking a bit too fast for Arthur to keep up with him. He found his head bopping a bit as he tried to take in everything Spain was saying to him before pressing a finger against his forehead.
This successfully confused Antonio long enough for Arthur to speak “It’s fine, actually I’m really glad you’re here” that was all he had a chance to say before Antonio lunged forward to kiss his face. 
Arthur made a strangled noise, reeling backwards in shock, drawing a whine of disapproval from Antonio.
“Antonio, love, we’re outside” Spain laughed slapping England’s back lightly “I know we are, I can see” Arthur scowled at the man grabbing his sleeves and pushing, it was like he was deliberately oblivious!.
As he pushed him, Arthur heard Agatha calling out to him moving around the crowd to his side “Sorry it took so long, it took a while to wrap the flowers” she pushed the flowers absently into his chest, expecting him to grab them “And I got the fish too, my hands smell so gross” she lay the fish gently along-side the chicken before finally noticing Antonio starring down at her in interest, his hands folded behind his back.
“Hello, did you need something?” Agatha asked.
Antonio turned to Arthur who shrugged, “Hello my name’s Antonio it’s nice to meet you-,” Antonio stopped as Agatha began blushing brightly falling over her words her hands shook as she wrung them furiously in her dress before presenting them to Antonio which he gently took. 
“Oh master Antonio forgive me, I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known” Agatha then looked at Arthur for agreement or encouragement 
“It’s fine Agatha I’m sure Antonio doesn’t care” the two shared another look before Antonio nodded “It’s fine, Agatha was it?” she nodded “A lovely name, have you just finished up the shopping?” Antonio peered into the basket looking over its contents missing Agatha’s coy and bashful smile.
“Yes, specifically for you though, you should have given me greater warning, so I could have better prepared myself” Arthur moaned, half watching Agatha’s erratic movements from the corner of his eye.
Antonio flinched, not looking up from the basket. He released a nervous laugh picking up the basket to carry before turning back to the two.
“Yeah, I should have, and I tried, but Phillip wouldn’t let me, he preoccupied me with hosting events and parties”
A pang of pity struck Arthur’s heart “That does sound pretty bad, I’d hate to be in your shoes” 
“Well it has to be done, to appease the nobles and the royals, and to try to stop war Arthur” the way he said his name sent a chill up his spine, something about the way he practically spat his name made him uncomfortable.
Arthur decided not to question it “Whatever you say”
Antonio smiled at Arthur noticing his tenseness letting his fingers drift over the others hand, Agatha (with her lack of reading the mood) cut in “It’s getting colder, should we head back Arthur” once more, Arthur glanced over the basket, briefly he contemplated getting some strawberries.
“Yes, lets, are you coming with us?” he turned to Antonio who was aimlessly looking at the buildings.
“If you’d be so kind” Antonio joked, hugging the basket closely to his body setting after the two.

Antonio couldn’t remember the last time he saw Kent but it was just as beautiful as he recalled. As they walked the dirt path back to England’s country estate (mostly in silence) he took in everything he could see around him. He loved the trees; how they bent and arched around each other and the ways the branches creaked softly as the wind rocked them against each other. The foliage around the path was overgrown, weeding its way up the tree barks stretching to a sky they almost certainly would never reach. Through the brambles and briars Antonio could make out the dead-leaf petals of wilting Snow Drops along-side the thriving Viburnum and Cane Apple.
A pair of Robins spun in the air, dipping and gliding; singing to one another, before disappearing in a dash of red into the treetop canopy to make sweet song elsewhere.
“Antonio? What are you looking at man, hurry up!” Antonio chased after Arthur who had somehow walked off far ahead of him, trying to balance the basket in his arms as best he could as not to drop it.
Arthur watched Antonio tussle with the basket in his hands, jumping from foot to foot before sprinting down the track towards them.
“Sorry I got distracted by some Robins” Arthur’s gaze momentarily flicked up to the trees, showing the slightest interest before settling back on Antonio’s face.
“Clearly, we’re almost there come on”
“Lead the way”.
The walk remained uneventful for the most part, Antonio tried his best at getting reactions from Arthur by making jibes at him or making reference to things in the past or to people he’d rather not speak of like a certain stuck up Frenchman; a constant irritation to the Brit. 
On the whole though he was unsuccessful, at first England was quick to shout back defending himself but after a while he seemed to mellow out responding with a rather despondent tone. His eyes were looking ahead but Spain could tell the Brit was miles away his eyes glassy with thought probably mulling over something that wasn’t that important, sometimes he could hear Arthur muttering under his breath earning a curious sidelong gaze from Agatha who had also noticed the change in his mood and Antonio wasn't far off Arthur was still worrying over whether Elizabeth would be gentle when she saw Spain's dear face in front of her.
“Arthur should I start on the dinner as soon as we get back?” England’s head shot up, wide eyed with an expression that Spain couldn’t quite put a finger on.
He struggled for a moment before coming to his senses “Yes that would be lovely dear” and once more Arthur drifted off into his own world again.
Concerned, Antonio turned to Agatha “Is something wrong with Arthur?” he whispered.
Agatha arched an eyebrow peering over at the man lagging behind them “Well,” she began with a sigh.
“Well?” he pressed leaning in closer.
Another tired sigh, “He’s worried about what her majesty will say and do about your arrival”
“Why is there something wrong with me being here?”
“I don’t know sir, you probably know more than me” Antonio presumed she hadn’t meant to come off as rude as she did.
Safe to say Spain felt out of the loop, Agatha knew more than she wanted to let on about what was bothering him. He pouted, before deciding it was best to not press.
“Ah look we’re here” Agatha exclaimed picking up her pace with a slight skip. It was just as quaint and sweet as he remembered it, not too big, not too small the perfectly sized house for someone like England, and everything about it screamed ‘home’ just as though he were coming up on his own house back in Madrid.
Antonio turned to Arthur, but was ignored, instead Arthur just walked on in deep thought leaving Antonio open mouthed behind him.
With another disappointed sigh Antonio resigned himself to walk the furthest behind, trudging in the slightly damp, slippery mud listening to the last bird sing as they finally came upon the house. 

Chapter Text

When Mable opened the door, Antonio was immediately taken aback by her. Maybe it was her strong ginger hair or her thick Irish accent as she said ‘hullo’, perhaps it was her surprisingly clear skin or the way she stepped aside for him to enter the room but he was stunned by her.
Muttering a small curse and a quick ‘hello’ he turned to Arthur expectantly.
Arthur didn’t offer much in the way of an explanation to his strange behaviour, even when Antonio asked again what was troubling him.
‘It’s honestly nothing, would you wait here I have to sort something out quickly’ and with that he ran out the drawing room and up the stairs being swallowed whole into the darkness, and so Antonio was left to his own devices, wandering backwards and forwards around the open room.
Like the exterior of the house, many of the rooms features were similar to how he remembered. Three thick wooden beams that ran across the risen ceiling, decorated with Celtic designs and hung ornaments. The mantel piece was still made of splintering wood, Spain could recall many time he had leant on it and had jumped from the prickle of the surface; he could also think of a few times England had done so and ‘swore to God’ that he was going to burn the damned thing one day - it appeared that day still hadn’t come.
Along the mantle were some ornaments, a pair of handmade clay vases stood at either end of the mantle holding freshly cut flowers one with an 'M' on the front the other with a slightly wonky 'A'. The wood around the vases was damp from where water had been spilt as they were being watered. In the middle of it all was a conch shell decorated by an elaborate scrimshaw, it depicted a ship sailing along a stormy sea and thinking on it Antonio couldn’t recall a time that he had never seen that scrimshaw on Arthur’s fireplace.
The fireplace itself was as grandiose as before, lined with marble finery. The hearth was surprisingly uncleaned with ashes of a recent fire scattered about, concealing the greens and blues of the marble stones beneath, absently discarded on top of a small coffee table to the side of the fireplace (is that a fire hazard?), half concealed by a wooden log was an envelope addressed to Arthur.
Now, Antonio was a man of many strengths, but with every strength came weakness, and one of his biggest weaknesses was curiosity. He knew he probably shouldn’t read the envelope or the letter within, but all the while the small angel on his shoulder told him not to read it, something else hissed in his ear, coaxing him to his knees and to pick up the parchment.
He turned the letter over in his hand, it was beautiful paper, fine and beige, written in an elaborate hand which he immediately recognised to be none other than Elizabeth’s. Oh sure she had many handmaidens and personal accountants who could write her letters for her but this letter was written by Elizabeth’s own hand and rather unlike her it contained many spelling mistakes.
Antonio found himself growing nauseous, he didn’t understand why but seeing Elizabeth’s cold and collected demeanour slip in the letter was quite chilling. He shouldn’t read this letter, and so he slipped it back beneath the log as though it had never moved.
The door burst open earning a rather feminine shriek of surprise from Antonio. Mable fumbled over to the table not taking much notice of Antonio who was scrambling to his feet.
Antonio cast a look out the window hoping it would make him look less guilty of something he didn’t even do, but Mable didn’t even spare him a glance she just set the tray down and began unloading it.
Mable lay an assortment of pastries on the table as he settled down, swirls and curls; icing and raisins for the two to share as they waited for Arthur to finish faffing about upstairs.
The silence that hung in the room was excruciatingly painful, Spain wanted to say something, to start a conversation but he knew nothing of Mable he didn't even know her name before today, his mouth felt dry and his mind felt empty it wasn't like him to be quite so gobsmacked. 
Eventually his mouth moved on its own “So um you’re Irish?” She looked up from her sewing briefly starring at him with a strange intensity before returning to her needle “Aye, I am”
“Where about are you from?”
She didn’t look up “Munster”
“Ah right, I heard it’s nice there, though – I wouldn’t know I’ve never been myself” Antonio drew off into a nervous laugh twiddling his thumbs dumbly.
Mable made a strange light sound, picking up a pastry from the table and settling the needle in between the fabric of her skirt.
“I wouldn’t know, I don’t remember much”
Quickly the conversation drowned out, Antonio could hear the wind rattling the door, ‘Well that conversation was short lived’ he thought dryly to himself.
He tried to find something to take his mind off of quietness, he began tapping his fingers on his knees and pulling at his shirt trying his damned hardest not to appear bored and rude.
A clinking of china pulled him away from his knee, Mable had set aside her needlework and was now looking at Spain, “Sir” she addressed.
Antonio jumped slightly, his mind whirled at the possibility of conversation as though he'd never spoken before, “yes!” he accidentally shouted.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m from Spain” she hummed “Hm, well your English is very good then”
“Thank you, I’ve been learning for a while now”
“Can I ask something that may sound strange to you?”
He bristled again “You may”
“Are you, you know, like Mr. Kirkland”
She was playing with her fingers nervously, “I mean, are you perhaps in similar, how do I put it, circumstances?”
Antonio smiled “If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, yes”
She thought again for a second before shuffling forwards on the sofa “So how would you like me to call you?”
He laughed lightly, Mable noted how his laugh was extremely sweet “Most people just call me Antonio, and I prefer it”
She nodded in understanding standing abruptly, her needles falling to the floor “Would you like some tea?”

“There that’s the last one” Agatha pushed the leather book back in place on its shelf, all alphabetically, of course, as Arthur ordered.
“That took longer than I thought it would” Arthur complained pushing the wooden chair back beneath the desk , he stood taking in the clean room “But I suppose it’s my fault I shouldn’t have made a mess of it in the first place”
“Well you hardly let us come in here, we would clean it more often otherwise” Arthur sneered, he didn’t really like people coming into his bedroom, unless they were coming in to spend the night, which he hoped Antonio would be doing so he, in desperation, asked Agatha to help him clean it.
“I do like to keep some aspects of my life private you know”
“Like young Antonio?”
“Pardon?” he turned to her with a look of fright.
“Forgive me if it’s not my place, but you’ve never mentioned him before to us” no he supposed he hadn’t he didn't want to, in fact he’d been rather vague about the guest he had been expecting specifically because of that.
“Our countries aren’t exactly on the best of terms at the moment, he tends to pop around every now and again though”
“Ohhh, ‘your countries’ eh, thought you were just ‘acquaintances’!” she emphasised ‘acquaintances’, starring wide eyed with fascination and a lopsided grin.
“Did I say that!”
“Most certainly Arthur, I have no reason to lie”
“Yes I suppose me and Spain aren’t exactly acquaintances” Mable lacked the better judgement to make a further comment.
“Wow, the Spanish empire huh? In our house!” she dazed longingly out the window, though longing what for Arthur couldn’t tell.
“And he shook my hand” Arthur shook his head laughing lightly at Agatha’s fevering blush, but after a few moments England heard Agatha gasp in sudden realisation.
“Is that why her majesty might be angry, and why you wrote to her?” her voice betrayed her concern, low and conscious of anyone else hearing.
Elizabeth had already written though, a very concise and cold letter at that. It didn't give away entirely how she felt but to sum up the contents as a whole it was 'I'm not very pleased but do whatever, you bastard'.
“Yes, that’s one reason,” carefully he peered over at the door in mock exaggeration “the other is she simply finds him a nuisance” Agatha laughed holding her hand to her face.
That wasn’t too far from the truth, Elizabeth didn’t like Antonio but for a plethora of reasons one being that he drove her insane, another being that normally when he was around he attracted Arthur’s undivided attention. On the other hand, Antonio was Catholic – Arthur was Protestant and so was Elizabeth though she tended to hold her faith in much higher regard than Arthur personally did. But possibly Elizabeth’s biggest concern with him was his unwavering loyalty to his catholic king Philip which wasn’t unsurprising but for some reason got right beneath his Elizabeth’s skin but what possibly annoyed her most was Arthur's devotion to Antonio in spite of all their problems.
“A nuisance you say, the man seems a saint”
“He has his ways” Arthur mused sliding his hands across his desk, fumbling with Antonio’s letter.

At some point the conversation had divulged into sweet pleasantries, after the initial miscommunication cleared up Mable began to talk and she was unstoppable like a rapid fire piston she shot him questions about his travels as well as inquiring about American colonies and what other countries are like.
“So what of France”
“He can be quite a handful, but he’s a good friend, reliable, depending on who you ask” Antonio gestured upstairs.
“What say you of, Scotland”
“I find him pleasant enough, he’s never wronged me and he’s quite the entertainment to have around especially drunk , but again depends on who you ask”
“You all lead such grand lives, I wish I could say mine had been so intriguing”   
“Do you ever think to yourself you should like to do something more?” Antonio asked, swirling the tea in his cup.
“I can’t say I recall such a time” Mable tipped her head with a curious smile “Tell me about the sea, about sailing, I only ever sailed the crossing between Ireland and Wales myself”
“You’ve never been properly sailing?” Antonio gawked in disbelief.
“Oh gracious me, never, I’m afraid to say I don’t have the tenacity of you or Arthur, all I’ve ever wanted was something simple for myself”
“Oh but it’s so liberating, standing at the helm, feeling the wind cast through you, feeling free” he emphasised throwing his arms out wide.
“I believe you, I do, but people like me aren’t made for that kind of thrill”
“Do you not seek anything?”
Mable began tapping her arm in thought, her eyes cast to the ceiling tracing the beams in the roof, she returned to Antonio with an endearing smile “I seek to be happy, and that I am” Antonio nodded slowly in understanding, she really was a rather sweet thing.
“And you Master Antonio, what do you seek” Mable pressed, leaning on her elbows.
Antonio sat back in his chair taken aback by the blunt return of the question, absently he starred at his hands tracing his fingertips over his palm.
As a country, there were many things they sought, power, conquest, expansion, security; though in a way that all came hand in hand. But as a man he found himself wishing for simpler things, similar to Mable in that he wanted to be happy, but when thinking on what truly made him happy he could only think of one thing; one person.
“I seek to hold the wind” though his smile was sombre and mournful and his voice crackled with hurt, Mable couldn’t help but feel warmed by his gentle words and the way he looked in that moment.
“Ambiguous, well the wind is wild to the touch and hold” she added, pouring more tea into her cup and, even though he hadn’t finished nor asked, poured more into Antonio’s.
He stopped her with a gentle caress “Oh please, no more, I’m not a fan of the stuff” though it was good tea, perhaps some of the best he’d ever had but Antonio, in his old greedy way instead wanted to eat as many pastries as his stomach could handle.
“Don’t over indulge yourself we’ll be eating soon!”
“Speaking of which did you need any help in setting up?” Arthur had somehow managed to re-enter the room without either of them noticing, Mable too engrossed in Antonio and Antonio too engrossed in his sickeningly sweet treats.
Mable turned red then turned white before standing up and brushing her skirts, folding her hands into them “No, no, no, no need to help, Agatha and I have it all handled, right?” she turned expectantly to the other maid who was squeezing her way behind Arthur who in turn was doing very little to move out of her way.
“Aye, we’ll be done in no time” and the pair filed out toward the kitchen.
“You’ll spoil your appetite eating all those” Arthur vaguely waved his hand at the remaining few pastries on the table.
Antonio looked up with a full mouth making no effort for manners, he spoke with a ‘full’ toothy grin “Maybe but I can’t stop myself” a few crumbs fell on his shirt folding into the grooves.
“Well try Agatha might kill you if you don’t eat everything given to you” he reached out gently touching Antonio’s face.
A light touch to his face drew a soft groan from Antonio who made little work of what was left of his pastry and swallowed thickly. Antonio craned his head to look at Arthur, the peculiar angle straining his neck.
Arthur leant in laying a soft kiss on Antonio’s parted lips leaning deeper into Antonio’s resting body the longer the kiss continued.
Arthur slipped a low moan as Antonio pulled him down by his neck falling into the others lap as Spain’s hands desperately clawed at the back of his neck and the top of his back.
A harsh pinch on his back sent Antonio reeling back on the sofa “I really have missed you”
“I don’t believe you I need more proof” Antonio joked pulling at Arthur's sleeves, they were such an easy target considering they were too large on his arms and hung like drapery.
“Good things come to those who wait, besides I think there’s more important things at hand right this minute”
“Oh?” Antonio couldn’t think what Arthur was going to ask so readily prepared himself for anything.
With a deep breath Arthur asked, “Why are you here?”
Arthur noticed Antonio’s shaky intake of breath, before he came out with an obvious curb “I already mentioned in the letter, because Philip told me to” if it weren’t for the initial intake of breath Antonio’s face gave him away, the way his mouth twitched as he forced the words through gritted teeth, the way his eyes diverted away from his face.
“I’m sure it’s deeper than that, no offence but you don’t normally arrive just so unexpectedly”
Antonio continued to look around him and speak through him “It’s true Philip talks about mending relations” Arthur laughed in disbelief “Mending relations, Antonio by all means we’re fine it’s he who stirs the waters”
“Look, I know it’s hard for you to look past Mary” thin ice, thin ice! “But I fear upheaval if things don’t steady soon!”
“What ‘upheaval’?”
Another silence passed, Antonio’s brow furrowed and became more stern and Arthur realised with some fear that there was a urgency behind Antonio’s sudden arrival.
“As I mentioned before they talk, my court”
“As do mine, it’s just gossip” Arthur found himself cut short by a searing sudden kiss and a Spaniard in his lap “No, please just listen for one minute” Arthur’s mouth was certainly sealed for now, especially as Antonio’s own mouth hooved just centimetres away from his, so close, he just wanted to lean into it again.
“They talk of warring with the kingdom of England” that shot Arthur dead in his tracks, no more thoughts of Spain’s lips which were now moving inaudibly against his in a reassuring kiss. But Arthur didn’t feel reassured, he felt cold and hollow and a surge of fear rise in his stomach like bile.
Antonio peppered light kisses against Arthur’s lips and cheeks but couldn’t elicit a twitch, his face was sickly pale in realisation of the severity of the situation he was in.
Arthur’s hands slid from Antonio’s waist as he pulled back slightly just so he wasn’t being pampered with kisses anymore, every inch of his body crawled as he felt Antonio’s hands reach up his shirt to rub soothingly over his aching body. Contrary to the weather Antonio’s hands were warm and surprisingly more effective in calming him than the kisses had been, thumbs rubbing circles over his hips and ribs.
After some moments of calm breathing Arthur spoke “And is it just that, talk?”
“I don’t know, but the thought left me awake at night, I thought that, maybe if there was any way to stop even the possibility of it that it was worth a try” Arthur nodded along taking in every word desperately, there was no way he could win a land campaign against the Spanish empire in his state, let alone a naval campaign.
“So, I talked to Philip, told him that I wanted to pay visit to the lowlands and England to test the political temperatures and actually rather surprisingly he agreed” Spain laughed nervously, aware that his plan hadn’t been that fool proof.
Arthur found himself stuttering at Antonio’s lunacy “And what if he hadn’t of agreed?”
“I would have come anyway, one way or another, if nothing else but to warn you, letters are too dangerous” finally something they both agreed on, Arthur liked to keep his more ‘delicate’ information for private meetings.
To say England wasn’t deeply disturbed by the news would be a lie, even the prospects of war with any country frightened him because he always lost more than he gained. And through his previous wars with the Scots and the French Arthur wasn’t ready to commit himself to another war yet especially against such a formidable military power.
Despite his worries there was of course one up side which was that it seemed, in theory; Antonio had already chosen him. Just having him there by his side and holding him was undeniably more comforting than thousands of gunboats arriving on his doorstep unannounced.
“Arturo, mi amor, I’m sorry”
With a short study of his face Antonio watched Arthur slowly untense in his arms and slowly Antonio eased himself back into Arthur’s open arms to which the man shocked Antonio by saying something he hadn’t quite expected him to say.

Chapter Text

Arthur’s cold response had unsurprisingly chilled Antonio to the bone, he hadn’t quite expected such a candid response from someone who had just been told, ‘Hey my king likes your land and kind of wants to invade it!’ especially when initially, he seemed upset by it.
But there wasn’t much Antonio could do right then, he had to wait till he had an audience with Elizabeth to express how close war really was and then who knows if she’d even believe him.
Dinner, for the most part, had been rather enjoyable actually - the food wasn’t as bad as Antonio had expected it to be. While it was common knowledge at this point to all that knew him that Arthur’s food was less than desirable, Mable’s and Agatha’s cooking was good, he didn’t even have to rinse it down.
The pair had cooked Cottage pie, so much in fact that there was still a hefty amount left over after everyone was served, and rather than seeing good food go to waste Antonio ate another two servings while exchanging light banter here and there.
At one point the questions turned a little more curious and drab talk turned into curiosity at Antonio’s worldly adventures, ‘We’ve heard all about Arthur’s travels but what about yours?’ Agatha had asked, or at least something along those lines, from the corner of his eye Antonio saw Arthur take a swig of his wine.
“You want to know about me?” Antonio asked innocently, the sound of chairs scraping on wooden floor sounded as the two women at the table dragged their chairs forward in utter interest.
Antonio reclined in his seat resting his hands on his now full stomach “Well what would you like to know?”
“Anything and everything makes no difference to me” Agatha swooned, her face a light red as she leant in over the table totally enamoured with the foreign man in front of her. Quickly after that the conversation divulged into that of far off places, wilder than the imagination of the two privately bred women could imagine.
He spoke of battles against rival powers against the Portuguese and the flamboyant French, the powerful Ottomans and the frightful Moorish. With every wave of his arm he felt his audience becoming more and more enthralled in his tale, even Arthur who at first turned his nose up to the stories was now as engrossed as the women were over Antonio’s romanticised tales of grandeur, adventure and murder.
“Oh wow, however did you get out of that one?” Mable inquired.
“I almost didn’t, the whole Galleon was up in flames it was insane, right before the gun powder deposits went off I managed to jump ship and ended up washing up on some small island before a passing Dutch Schooner picked me up”
“Wow, sounds like you owe some Dutch fisherman a favour or two” Arthur joked rocking back on his chair.
Antonio wrinkled his nose at the notion of owing an unpaid debt, he hadn’t admittedly thought about it at the time.
Thank God that Agatha was so bad at sensing the mood and carried the conversation on “Ah, to be so fortunate to see such exotic places and meet such interesting people, nothing exciting much happens here”
Mable wagged a single finger disapprovingly in the maid’s face “Now Agatha, ma mhuirnín be careful what you wish for” she teased Agatha with a shake of her head.
“What? I’m just saying it would be nice if something would happen, like a royal birth or state visit!”
“Do I not count” Antonio joined in on the teasing.
Agatha bristled a fevered blush blooming on her dainty cheeks “That’s not what I meant at all!”
“Do the storms and fields do nothing for you then” Arthur mused, head resting lazily in his palm as he watched Agatha get progressively more and more frustrated.
“Anyway!” she sighed wiping her cheek, “I want to hear more stories!”
“More? Even I’ll run out at some point” he joked, but Agatha was relentless “Oh please, just one more this can’t be it!”
“Agatha don’t press our guest, if he doesn’t want to keep talking he doesn’t have to” Arthur groaned rising from the table.
“Are we dismissed?” Mable asked.
“Well I have plenty of stories just some more sensitive than others” Antonio cut in, eager to let his hosts know that he wasn’t done.
Spain gave England a look, urging the blond to stay as he thought up the next story that he’d tell his audience in his head. England conceded dropping back loudly in his chair, leaning his arms back on the table and resting his head once more.
“So what’s the theme for this story then?” Mable said, collecting the plates at one end of the table.
“May I suggest?” Antonio looked at Agatha brimming with energy “Certainly”
Agatha giggled, a smirk on her face “How about a love story?”
Arthur grunted, a muscle twitching in his neck “Agatha some things are inappropriate to ask”
Agatha had a sweet smile on her face once more “What there’s nothing wrong with asking” she laughed turning back expectantly to Antonio.
Antonio looked between the pair, lingering slightly on Arthur as he thought about what to say “Unless of course that’s an intrusive question” she added dismissively at the end.
“I’m not all that bothered by it”
“I’m not either!” Arthur lied, facing away from the group.
“Then there’s no problem” Mable joined, her and Agatha turning in perfect unison to face their story teller.
With a smile and a nod Antonio began, “Okay, well” he looked fleetingly at the back of Arthur’s head, “, a long time ago I fell in love with someone, a friend, it didn’t happen all at once but then again these things are never so simple. A mutual urm… ‘friend’ introduced us and I immediately thought they were beautiful, but I didn’t fall in love till years later” Arthur listened on intently pretending to be indifferent, in fact he clung to every word as though it were unique, as though nothing more beautiful had ever been spoken.
Arthur didn’t want to look now, it would be too much of a give-away; of course, Antonio must have known he was listening, but he didn’t want to give in to the man’s temptations.
“It wasn’t until one night, where we sat alone in a field of barley watching the stars make rounds above our heads that they spoke so candidly, so openly and freely, they showed me a part of them that I never knew before, a scary part that was exciting all in one. And when I spoke they listened to everything I said, no one had ever listened to me with such intensity and interest, and then they laughed with such heartiness and smiled so serenely and when I tell you I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life” Arthur felt his heart clench at the loving words, emotions swirling in a confused mess.
“And then what happened?” Agatha mumbled, too enthralled to speak any louder for fear of interrupting.
“It was the first time I ever lost control of myself, I kissed them, I immediately apologised but they just smiled” now there were some extended truths, Arthur kissed Antonio that night, Antonio moved in to kiss him first true but pulled away at the last moment, it was then that Arthur pulled him down by his hair into their first kiss which left the Spaniard, red, breathless and fidgeting.
“Aw that’s so romantic!”
“You think?” Antonio asked curiously.
“Yes of course, you know I took you for the romantic type” Agatha added, a spaced out look on her face.
Spain gave a nervous laugh, not too sure what to make of Agatha, she was certainly sweet but sometimes she gave off an overbearing vibe that didn’t sit too well with him.
“I agree, it’s very romantic” Arthur had turned back to the group after he was sure he was presentable.
Antonio smiled, glad he could entertain his hosts with his stories. He returned to the two chirping ladies opposite him at the table, “Well that’s it I’m all storied out for today but I assure you I’m here all week” the pair laughed, standing from the table to clear away the remains of dinner.
“We’ll be sure to press you tomorrow” Mable jested, twirling her skirt in her hand and making off back into the kitchen, her arms heavy with plates.
“As will I” Agatha giggled trotting after Mable with the silver wear and cups.

The pleasantries of dinner had somewhat calmed Antonio’s frazzled nerves and he was able to enjoy the rest of the evening with relative peace. England had many interesting books, including a new map printed on the wall that hadn’t been there on his last visit, then again when was his last visit, it was maybe five… six years ago maybe longer.
Spain had found himself a charming poetry book with flowers stitched in cotton on the cover, in it were a few sonnets and love poems but nothing that sustained Antonio’s intrigue for too long.
The candlelight in Arthur’s bedroom was dim and somewhat ominous, the way the candlelight flickered intensely casting an orange haze on its surroundings set Antonio on edge.
Antonio didn’t need any direction to know which room Arthur’s was; he’d been there time and time again long before Agatha or Mable ever stepped foot in the house and long before they were even born, so he had led himself down the corridor up a rickety flight of stairs – to first door on the left, the room with the view of the apple orchard and the gardens. It was the most secluded room in the house which perfectly fit Arthur’s narrative of being something of a loner.
Antonio chuckled to himself at the memory of Arthur’s red face at the mention that Antonio expected to be sharing his room, ‘and nothing less’ Antonio had boldly declared to him. And Arthur was a weak-willed man and gave no resistance to the tempting offer of sharing his bed chambers with the man.
“What are you laughing at?” Arthur pipped up from the other side of the room. He was half dressed (which held Antonio’s interest more than any book could) his shirt falling down his creamy thighs hiding all indecency from Antonio’s prying gaze, his hair was a mess from raking his hands through his hair in some attempt to style it and his eyes were low and dark with sleep.
“Nothing I think I’m just a bit tired” Arthur quirked a brow but didn’t press it.
“Whatever you say darling, are you going to read much longer? I’m very tired too and want to put the candles out”
“Just a little longer, besides I get to see your face when the candles are lit” Arthur rolled his beautiful eyes causing Antonio to scoff and pout “It’s true”
“I didn’t say anything,”
“You don’t have to”
“Come here” Arthur stood at the side of the bed, his arms outstretched ready to embrace.
Antonio ripped of the bed sheet clambering over the folds of quilt before falling into Arthur’s arms. Arthur fell forwards bought down by Antonio’s weight, collapsing on his lover with a loud groan “Careful you fool you almost kneed my crotch”
“Aw do you want me to kiss it better?” Spain gave a toothy grin.
“Only if you’d be so kind” he joked, half joked, he wouldn’t have opposed Antonio if he did it.
“Hmmm later” he pecked Arthur’s cheek settling down on his chest.
For a while Arthur was content to just lay there, Antonio’s body felt warm against his own as he listened to Antonio’s soft heartbeat, his breath coming out in shallow waves.
“How long has it been since I last held you” Arthur pondered out loud.
“I’d say it was this morning in the front room” Arthur rolled his eyes quipping back “I mean like properly, when was the last time we just lay together” Antonio couldn’t remember neither and resigned himself to just huffing, inhaling deeply into Arthur’s shirt pulling the man closer to his chest so he could reach his lips for a kiss. Arthur hummed pressing down against Antonio chuckling when the man squirmed in light discomfort. Arthur reeled back with a shriek as Antonio’s hands glided over his waist tickling him unrelentingly until he fell backward kneeing Antonio in the face knocking the other back with a ‘uff’.
“Ow” Antonio moaned rubbing his jaw tenderly.
“You reap what you sew”
Arthur could be a royal pain at times, from his tempestuous tempers and surprisingly childish tantrums, often it could feel like Antonio was a governess rather than Arthur’s lover; sometimes even the way Arthur spoke to him made him feel like a mother. Though that’s not to say he hated those aspects of Arthur, they could be rather endearing especially when he was alight with childish fantasy and dare he say he preferred those moments where England was no longer England but Arthur, a man of emotion and love.
A light pet on his knee let him know that Arthur was back up again and, like a child that had fallen and hurt itself, had come crawling back with some look of shame (masked by a faint snicker).
“Sorry, is that any better?”
“You’re cruel Kirkland”
“Guilty love”
There was a tenderness back in the air, maybe it had something to do with the soft lighting and the sleep depravity but Antonio was feeling far more relaxed than he had in a long time. Arthur rocked forward into Antonio falling into the groove of his neck peppering light kisses up his neck.
It was nice, it was nice just lazing around without a care in the world and without a single worry, except there was cause for worry and Arthur was playing the role of the fool pretending that all was right. Bile crept up his throat as he turned to Arthur who was spread so gently on the bed.
“You know I’ve been thinking” he began toying with a loose thread from Arthur’s shirt, wrapping it absently around his finger until it turned an angry red.
“About what?”
“About my King” a long sigh dragged from Arthur who shifted to lean against Antonio’s chest.
“What about him?”
“Well,” the thread broke “you know, about like the war plans and such,” Arthur nodded watching his lover intensely as his head drooped and his eyelashes fluttered.
“If relations don’t improve yes” he added when he noticed Antonio draw off.
Spain thickly swallowed “Yeah if they don’t, anyway I’m worried”
Arthur’s hand caressed his cheek lovingly, dragging slowly down his chin “You seem to be worrying a lot lately”
“I’m serious” Antonio shot. Arthur recoiled at the act, he hated to admit it but seeing Antonio so worked up was kind of attractive to him, at least in the way it was nice to see him serious about something.
Gently, Arthur caressed Antonio’s twitching cheek planting a tender kiss on his plump lips “Antonio, I’m telling you now, nothing is wrong and no one is going to be hurt, everything will be just fine!”.
With a twitch and a meek, docile smile Antonio gripped Arthur’s hands with reassurance, but behind his sweet smile Arthur could see a hint of unease and watched as Antonio moved to speak but fell back swallowing his words.
“Yeah, yeah you’re right, maybe it’s best not to think about it tonight”
“You’re right love, let’s talk about it tomorrow” Antonio shuddered as he felt Arthur’s hand glide over his stomach sinking beneath the covers and over his naval, pushing hastily at the band of his trousers.
Antonio lurched backwards raising his waist with a light moan as Arthur’s hand rubbed down his groin “Maybe even the day after”.

Antonio woke before Arthur the next morning who was slung over his chest holding tightly around Antonio’s middle. He was snoring, lightly mouthing wordlessly on his bare chest; his hair was tousled and charmingly messy falling over his eyes obscuring his feathery blond lashes. Gently, Antonio pushed the fussy hair out of his eyes starring at Arthur’s dear pale face in that rare peaceful moment.
Arthur’s breathing was so soft and shallow, in complete contrast to Arthur’s normally rowdy disposition. Antonio counted every rise and fall of, enjoying the way the sheets shifted in the wake of Arthur’s sleepy movements.
The sun had just begun to rise in the distance the light filing through the gap between the heavy satin curtains; the birds were whistling in the trees. The heavy wind and rainfall that had plagued England the last few days seemed to clear up leaving only a light breeze to rattle the trees, instead Antonio could just make out from the gap the brilliant blue sky that made up for the miserable weather of the last few days.
Carefully Antonio pulled the sheets away and with the greatest care tucked it back around his lover who snuggled deeper into the blankets, almost disappearing entirely from sight.
Drawing back the curtains he was blinded by the harsh morning sun and upon opening the balcony doors was attacked by a biting chill. Antonio had to bite his tongue to stop himself from swearing too loudly, the assault on his body was majorly unpleasant; padding out onto the cool floor of the balcony the chill became more apparent.
As another day dawned new troubles and trials did too. He knew he should be happy to be here, to be away from all the troubles of his court, to be here with Arthur, the man who loved him unconditionally which he had proved once more last night. Even his old scarred body could be loved by someone.
Antonio groaned at the memory pressing two fingers against a bite on his neck. His whole body felt dirty and stiff he really needed to take a hot bath or bathe in a stream before anything else happened today as neither of them had bothered to clean up after themselves.
Despite all the intimate time they had spent together the night before worry still lingered in Antonio’s mind, he couldn’t help but wonder if Arthur was just as concerned but just better at hiding it. Maybe in reality Arthur wasn’t scared of Philip at all, maybe he was stronger than he made out to be, that thought was comforting in a way.
He didn’t know entirely what his king had planned, once more he didn’t know what Arthur was thinking, for poor Antonio the whole situation was very tiresome and stressful and more than anyone else he felt stuck in the middle.
That morning Arthur had awoken to the sounds of the curtains drawing. Presuming either Agatha or Mable had come in to interrupt his morning slumber he instinctively reached out to pull Antonio closer but fell short on the bed. Grunting he blearily looked around the room and there Antonio stood on the balcony very much awake and nude in all his morning glory.
“That’s a nice view” Antonio turned to look at Arthur, catching the man with a gleam in his eyes and spread over the bed watching him.
Antonio reclined against the balcony pushing his body towards Arthur in a seductive display “You think?” Arthur thought so.
“You should come off the balcony, I don’t think you’re dressed for the occasion” his eyes flickered downwards.
“Why afraid someone will see me”
“Perhaps” Antonio closed the doors as he came in, before he could even flip the latch of the doors behind him he felt Arthur snake around his waist gripping tightly.
“Arthur!” Antonio complained, but Arthur didn’t listen he had already reached up to capture Antonio with a kiss.
A harsh knock came from the door drawing Arthur’s attention from Antonio, now he knew he liked to act resilient, but Antonio was enjoying the morning attention and moaned to bring Arthur’s attention back.
“Ignore it!” Antonio begged kissing Arthurs hot cheek.
Arthur was about just about ready to throw Antonio down when Mable pipped up from the other side of the door “Arthur are you awake?”
Arthur hissed at the door, letting Antonio relax into the sheets to hide his indecency from Mable and in a burlesqued gesture of annoyance threw the door open
“What! What is it” Mable, small and meek, entered the room.
Arthur noticed immediately that something was wrong, Mable was normally boisterous and lively but this morning she was pale and sickly. She was hunched over in the doorway, small like a mouse with her hands tucked into the front of her dress doing a small formal courtesy as she shuffled from the doorway into the room.
“Good morning master Kirkland,” she never called him that.
Immediately he began to worry over the directness of it all, all the possibilities of what Mable had to say rushed through his mind before she even finished her greeting.
“What is it?” Antonio asked, he was a bold man, a bold stupid man for sure.
Mable looked around nervously, eyes flittering over the two naked men in front of her before focusing firmly on the floor.
“Elizabeth has summoned you,” she paused taking a deep breath “both of you”.
The two men looked at each other, and though they said nothing they were both equally nervous and shared the same unspoken communication, ‘we’re fucked’.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure it’s alright for me to turn up like this”
“Of course it is, why wouldn’t it be” Antonio looked down at his formal dress and cringed a bit.
“I mean it’s not like I’ll be having a long formal address with Elizabeth you know” Arthur brushed him off patting down his shoulders and arms.
“I know but you look fine and should look fine when you stand before Elizabeth, it’s very important” had it been up to Antonio he probably would have just worn some boring slacks and a plain shirt, he was after all a simple farmer at heart, but he appreciated the compliment none the less.
Behind them both came the hurried clicking of heels and the dropping of leather as Agatha tiredly dropped the last suitcase onto the doorsteps. With a worried look Arthur rushed to her side “I said I’d do it woman” he moved to keep the suitcase upright.
“I know I just wanted to be useful, seeing as I won’t be able to go with you” Antonio could see the hurt in Agatha’s face, she really didn’t want to be left alone, not when Mable was going, it wasn’t jealousy as much as it was loneliness.
Antonio brushed up against Arthur “Here let me help” Just as his hand grazed the handle someone pushed past, moving Antonio to the side to get to the luggage first.
Scowling Antonio looked at the intruder before immediately grimacing, it was Walsingham.
Old, bitter Francis Walsingham now grey with age and saggy with wrinkles studied Antonio momentarily before wiping his brow with the back of his cuffed, gloved hand “Good morning Spain” he greeted dryly.
“Good morning” he couldn’t stand Walsingham, and from what he understood Walsingham wasn’t a fan of him either, he saw Antonio as a nuisance in his countries life causing him to stray from his duties, Antonio saw Walsingham as an annoying itch that wouldn’t go away even after fifty-four years. There were very few people who got under Antonio’s skin the way that Walsingham could it really was an art, an art which his brother had mastered many years ago.
You could cut the tension in the air with a knife, but Agatha in all her ways blind to the tenseness in the air cut in.
“Good morning Lord Walsingham, I hope you’re in good health and high spirits” in an instant Antonio watched Walsingham transform into a pleasant man before his very eyes, with a warm smile and friendly persona he greeted Agatha.
“And good morning to you my dear, you look as lovely as ever” Agatha curled inwards shooting the older man a coy smile with hot eyes.
“You flatter me” Antonio shuddered, Agatha was too desperate at times, it wasn’t that Walsingham was an unattractive man but he was a married, while compliments are fine his odd shoulder touch here and there was not.
Arthur watched the scene unfolding with a light worry, Walsingham and Antonio had never gotten along, what with one being a strongly devout Protestant and the other devotedly Catholic most of the tension between them came out of that and while Antonio had no problem with Walsingham’s faith – hell it’d be a real problem for Arthur if he did, Walsingham had no problem showing his anti-Catholic animosity towards Antonio probably due to his many visits to France.
Ironically though, Walsingham never shared those sentimentalities towards João, maybe he felt some sort of sympathy towards his brother in his struggle for sovereignty, who knows but it irked Antonio!
“You’re looking well rested Francis” Arthur jumped in resting a reassuring hand on his lovers shoulder.
Walsingham looked at the gesture quirking a brow but returned with another pleasant smile to Arthur “And you too, though you always look well ever since I met you” Arthur laughed, a lovely rosy glow dusted his cheeks.
“It’s a blessing and a curse”  
“I wish it was my curse” he joked.
“That’s what they all say” Antonio stepped forward snatching the last bag with unintentional force “We should really get going”

The journey to London was long, much longer than it had ever been before. Due to a series of unforeseen events including the spokes of one of the back wheels breaking and one of the coach horses collapsing the overall journey ended up taking two hours longer than expected. In terms of how long the journey was mentally Arthur felt like he had been stuck inside the carriage confines for decades, the intense silence between Spain and Walsingham made him feel aged by at least a good decade. Had it just been him, Mable and Antonio he was certain that the journey would have taken considerably less time, but in the stoic silence even Mable found herself stumped on a topic suitable enough to break the silence.
In the end nothing was said, not until the carriage broke down in which the whole congregation (spare Antonio) were up in arms swearing, “this is so fucking typical” Arthur had moaned to himself as he stepped outside the carriage. Spare for those two hiccups the journey was rather uneventful, mostly because nothing was said.
“I can’t believe Elizabeth would send Francis to babysit us, it’s demeaning” Antonio complained unloading the carriage. Walsingham had wandered off as soon as the coach pulled up to Arthur’s London residence, apparently he had no interest in lingering and watching over the pair now that they had arrived, ‘do as you wish’ he had said before making off briskly down the wide street.
“It wasn’t for us to decide, besides it could be worse love”
“I’m sure” Spain didn’t seem convinced by England’s encouragement.
“Look,” Arthur finished hauling one of the bags off the coach “When we’ve had our audience with Elizabeth we’ll be able to relax for a while without interruption how does that sound”
“I wish we could axe out the meeting altogether honestly”
“Well we can’t, I’m sorry, she only wants a quick chat it doesn’t have to be anything heavy”
Antonio let out a tired and defeated sigh “Right you are”
“I’m sorry you have to do this, but I’m obliged, I’d see Philip if he asked it of me”
“I know you would, it’s just hard when Elizabeth so openly dislikes me”
“She doesn’t hate you all that much!”
“Don’t kid yourself I see the way she looks at me” he huffed, Antonio rarely ever got this flustered over people who disliked him, he liked to take things in his stride otherwise others would get to him too much. But with Elizabeth it was a bit more complicated, Antonio wanted Elizabeth to like him, or at least tolerate him so that his visits were easier. But the more time went on the more Elizabeth became suspicious and distrusting of him - she simply couldn’t separate him from his king.

The pair didn’t have time to laze around, as soon as they had finished their unpacking Arthur was hurrying them out the door as to not make Elizabeth wait. They hastily made their way to Eltham palace to finally have their long-dreaded audience with Elizabeth, neither man knowing exactly how Elizabeth was going to react to her uninvited guest.
The stone walls were cold and the doors just as squeaky as they always were. Large tapestries and beautifully crafted paintings hung along the walls above the hall’s furnishings, the wooden beams that ran along the ceilings ran parallel to the direction of the palace’s floorboards. Really Antonio was looking for anything to distract himself from the thrumming of his heart in his chest, he couldn’t even hear Arthur nervous chatting and gentle touches anymore all he could focus on were the two foreboding oak doors that now separated them from her majesty Queen Elizabeth the first.
Arthur released a heavy breath shaking his hands at his sides “Okay, okay, okay this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to be more courteous and calm than we have ever been in our lives” Arthur rambled looking Antonio dead on to assure the man knew exactly what to do.
This only made Antonio more nervous “Calm, courteous gotcha”
Arthur collected himself, making a long stride forward knocking ceremoniously on the door in a rhythmic pattern. The doors swung open revealing the grandness of the room, a hall boy stood on either side of the door with their heads bowed towards them as they entered. Large stained-glass windows dominated the walls starring indifferently down at them with flat eyes much like the pair of bight brown eyes that took them in from across the room.
Elizabeth was elegant as always embodying every aspect of the word regal, her stare was as calm as it was calculated reading both men with incredible ease before they even had a chance to say anything. Antonio felt heavy under her stare like he was a child who had been caught stealing from the kitchen and had been called in by the cook to be scolded. Elizabeth was stood in front of a rather grand portrait of the Tudor family which included her as well as her dearly departed sister and brother and their father, as well as the dead queen consort Catherine Parr.
Elizabeth wore a brilliant red kirtle with an extenuated bodice and intricate golden inlays around her neck she also wore a considerably large white ruff which concealed a large portion of her shoulders and stood in stark contrast with the red of her hair which sparkled with an array of jewels which crowned her head. Needless to say she looked like the epitome of high class fashion which noticeably had evolved since Antonio’s last trip to England, long bodices and farthingales now seemed all the rage in London.
The doors closed behind the pair and the room was left in a relative silence as both the hall boys left the room at the flick of Elizabeth’s small gloved hand.
Arthur smiled up at his queen doing a polite bow, desperate not the show any sign of his overwhelming nervousness “Good afternoon my queen” he kicked Antonio in the shin earning a hiss from the wounded man. Antonio took the kick in his stride and bowed to Elizabeth giving the most genuine smile he could muster in that moment “Good afternoon your highness”
Elizabeth smiled ever so slightly but the cool look in her eyes betrayed her feelings, she greeted Arthur with familiarity “My warmest affections Arthur, my love” every word so wonderfully fell off her tongue like the smoothest honey sweeping Antonio up with its genuine warmth and motherliness. With a stiff turn and a tightly pressed lip she looked to Antonio “Good afternoon Spain” cold, like the iciest water in the English channel during winter, Arthur felt himself shiver at the chill he got from the emptiness of Elizabeth’s voice when she spoke to Antonio.
“I’m sorry to drop in so unannounced, I did send a letter but it seems I didn’t send it early enough to arrive with sufficient time” Antonio lied, he had never sent a letter, though in retrospect maybe he should have.
“Bizarre, I don’t recall receiving a letter, it must have been lost at sea with all your other fantasies” Elizabeth mused catching Antonio out on his lie.
Arthur bit his cheek, he should of told Antonio not to say anything when he had the chance now he had to work doubly hard “It wouldn’t be the only thing I lost at sea” Antonio quipped.
Arthur laughed dryly, giving Antonio a ‘please shut the fuck up before you lose your head’ look “Very funny love, always so quick”
“Ashamed, I admit it”
“Indeed” Elizabeth interceded impatiently.
“Anyway, my queen why did you call us here?” he wanted to get straight to the point, there was no need to beat around the bush, plus the more time he could spend alone with Antonio the better.
Elizabeth resigned herself stepping towards the pair with a sweet look “I wanted to welcome once more the arrival of Spain into our great nation” she looked back to Antonio who looked slightly taken aback by her apparent friendliness “I trust the journey wasn’t took taxing?”
“Oh no your highness, it was a good journey, though the channel in the winter is never easy to cross”
Elizabeth smiled “Good I hope you settle quickly and that something good comes of your stay” Antonio didn’t know what to take from that, and from the look that they shared neither did Arthur.
“You’re not annoyed by my untimely arrival?” though he was probably shooting himself in the foot he had to ask.
“I’m suitably irritated but if you’re not a nuisance and don’t cause trouble then there’s nothing wrong with you being here” she was definitely very annoyed.
“I’d never dream of it your majesty” Antonio bowed again to show his honour to his words.
“Thank you for coming so quickly the pair of you, I know it seemed quite abrupt to call you here just for ‘hello’s’ but,” with a mocking look at Antonio “At least I sent a letter” Antonio’s cheeks heated with embarrassment.
“Oh and one more thing, we’re holding an assembly tomorrow, call it a ball if you will - in honour of our esteemed guest, feel free to arrive anytime after six though within the hour is desirable, and please don’t make a scene”
“Never my Queen, thank you for your understanding, adieu” with a final bow the pair turned heel and left as quickly as they could.

“Well I think that went well” Arthur gleamed looking pretty chuffed that they’d both been able to handle that considerably well.
“Yeah she didn’t scream once” Arthur immediately soured not taking kindly to Antonio’s perception of Elizabeth.
From down the hall Antonio could make out the tall silhouette of a figure approaching them, waving obviously to Arthur hailing for his attention.
“God spare me it’s Nicolas”
“Nicolas, it’s been a while!” Arthur exclaimed with a forced excitement brushing quickly by Antonio who in turn pouted feeling ignored and instead looked to make out Nicolas’s appearance.
He was a tall man at least six foot five give or take an inch, he had a strong athletic build that could even be seen through the layers of his clothing - Antonio decided Nicolas could probably snap a mans arm with a click of his fingers if he wanted to. He had short choppy brown hair that he had slicked back in a desperate attempt to show his face which Antonio had to admit was an attractive face. He had a long broad nose and high defined cheekbones that really sculpted his face wonderfully, he was clean shaven with a strong jawline and fine lips that curved into an alluring smile with pale blue eyes that looked tiredly upon Arthur.
“Hullo Arthur it has” he drawled unexcitedly.
“How’ve you been? Keeping well I hope” Arthur kept up the pleasantries but was increasingly eager to just move on and go home and judging by the impatient and tired look on Antonio’s face he was just as desperate to get going. The conversation began to fade out after only a few questions with both parties clearly keen on moving on with their days, it didn’t last long and didn’t have much flavour to keep it going from the start.
Realisation struck Arthur just as he moved to walk away, he had forgotten to introduce Antonio who had sidled up against the wall in order to remove himself from the conversation.
“How rude, I forgot to introduce you both, Nicolas this is Antonio, Antonio, Nicolas” Nicolas looked between them before making a sudden curious turn back to Antonio. Unsure of what to make of the sharp gesture Antonio smiled, hoping a smile would hide his unease at the prolonged held stare.
“Well Nicolas we really must be going, we have things to do” Nicolas smiled down at Spain with a smile that was neither friendly nor forced, but rather something wicked.
“Yes, I shan’t hold your attention for you lack it anyway”
“Haha, fuck you too” Antonio noticed how Nicolas’s coat flared behind him as he made a scene of walking away, the way his legs seemed stiff as he took every step.
“He’s a strange guy huh?” Antonio marked watching his back disappear around the corner.
“But a fine Captain”

Chapter Text

“I don’t think this is very appropriate” Arthur looked at Antonio from where he was sat. The maids were filling the tub with hot water for a bath while others fiddled with some essences and soaps, making sure the bath was the absolute best it could be.
“Nonsense it’s fine, I’m just here to make sure you don’t slip and hurt yourself”
“Oh you’re so kind” Antonio sneered, a deep scowl set into his features as he made his way towards the bath.
“Really what would you do without me”
“I don’t know have five minutes of peace” Antonio sighed watching the last maids scuttle out the room trailing their skirts behind them, the last girl (maybe as young as fourteen) turned around bowed and bid ‘adieu’ pulling the door behind her with a light click.
“Thank you” Antonio called after them, he could at least try to remember his manners.
This wasn’t how Antonio had pictured his evening with Arthur, he wanted something a little more romantic like a candlelit dinner or reading books to one another but no, he was stuck bathing while his lover rather obviously starred as he undressed. With the ball in his name tomorrow he supposed he could understand Arthur’s keenness for them to both bathe to ready themselves for what tomorrow would bring, but Arthur showed no signs of getting in the bath or even bathing that night, far more content with just watching Antonio as he lowered himself into the warm water.
The heat rising from the water was intense causing Antonio’s vision to momentarily haze before he could again get a bearing on his surroundings as to not slip and die from just getting in the bath, that would be embarrassing.
Arthur watched as Antonio hesitantly lowered into the steaming water releasing a shaky breath as the water rushed up around his body pleasantly warming his skin and loosening his tense muscles. Suddenly all the trials of the day; the stress of Elizabeth and the incessant prissy annoyance of Walsingham ran away and Antonio could focus on for once a little bit of self-indulgence, it wasn’t every day that his hosts drew baths for him.
“Does it feel nice” Antonio looked over to where Arthur was sat across the room and snuggled further down into the tub, the water splashing up to his chin.
“It feels amazing I love bathing it’s so relaxing” Arthur walked over to him not bothering to bring the chair along with him and with a strange look in his eyes knelt down beside the bath trailing his pale hand along the rim of the tub starring deeply into Antonio’s face.
“Oh yeah?” he hummed, almost as though he were in a daze.
He loved the whimsicalness of Antonio and his personality; how he looked so sweet talking about the little things he enjoyed. “What is it?” Antonio asked in a quiet voice leaning into Arthur’s soft face when he noticed he had been starring for a while.
Arthur dropped his hand into the water trailing circles on the surface of the water allowing droplets to dribble down his hands, letting his hand glide softly over Antonio’s naked knee.
“Nothin’ I just really like you” Arthur pecked Antonio’s chin.
Antonio smiled nuzzling against Arthur’s cheek caressing the hand cupped over his knee “Oh I like you too!” Antonio fawned laughing sweetly at the comment.
Arthur hummed rubbing his thumb in circular motions over his knee cap letting his fingers slowly slip beneath the water and flattening over his stomach.
Antonio sat bolt upright at the tickling of fingers along his abdomen edging ever closer to his dick starring wide eyed at Arthur's calm expression.
“Arthur, please, the maids,”
“They can’t hear us”
“But they’ll have to clean,”
“And I’m sure they won’t mind” Arthur’s hand journeyed down again, squeezing and pinching at his inner thigh beneath the water. Antonio moaned as the water rippled around Arthur’s wrist as it glided around and as it dove deeper the image of Arthur’s thin pale hand distorted as he moved restlessly in the water. His hips gave an unintentional buck causing water to splash over the sides of the tub dampening Arthur’s legs.
“See Arthur it’s just going to make a mess,” Arthur cut off anything else Antonio was going to say with a kiss drawing back after just a moment.
If there was a God, he certainly hadn’t blessed Arthur nor Antonio with any sense of restraint. Nothing else was said, it didn’t need to be, all Antonio could focus on was Arthur’s hand as it left a blazing trail up his thigh sliding over his twitching cock.






Agatha sighed in the dim candlelight lowering her book to look around the room for the millionth time that day; watching the rain beat down on the windows. Arthur, Antonio and Mable had only been gone since that morning and she had already found herself consumed with boredom at her newfound loneliness.
She had already cleaned the house over twice, dusting down every corner militantly leaving no stone unturned, in fact any stone that could be removed from the floor she had also washed down both sides before slotting them back into the floor. Yes, she was bored, very bored.
Her boredom was only slightly relieved when she received a knock at the door. She was slightly perturbed by the notion of a stranger behind it and even more so by her reinforced notion of the fact she was alone. It took her considerably longer to answer the door than normal even when the knocking became more frequent and louder.
All possibilities ran through her head, a highwayman, a madman perhaps, maybe it was someone there to take her away and no one would ever know what happened to her or maybe it was a babe lost in the woods seeking solace in the nearest house they could find. Despite her worries and after consideration Agatha opened the door.
The man on the other side of the door was clad in a long red coat that covered his face and body, all she could make out were the wisps of dark wet hair poking out from corners of the hood.
“Hullo, is Arthur in?” the man spoke with a thick alluring accent that made her knees shake and her breath quicken.
She found herself dumbstruck as the man smiled warmly at her, far warmer than the wind that chilled her arms.
“He’s not, what do you need him for?”
He threw his hood back revealing deep warm green eyes and light brown skin that glistened in the rain and Agatha was struck instantly by a feeling of familiarity “I need to speak with him”.






Antonio threw his head back on Arthur’s shoulder with a moan, the water rushing up around his neck and torso as Arthur’s hand tossed him hard and fast beneath the water, his other hand splayed over Antonio’s thigh holding it up over the edge of the tub.
At some point Arthur had taken his own clothes of and climbed into the bath with Antonio sitting behind him and cradling his hot body against his own.
“Arthur” Antonio moaned pressing his sweating forehead against his jaw, licking and biting desperately at any skin he could reach, grazing across the vein pulsing in his throat.
Antonio could feel Arthurs hard body pressed against his, grinding up against his lower back. He wanted nothing more than to be reach back and help Arthur along too, but from the position he was in he couldn’t really do much. Instead Antonio had to settle to clinging to the bathtub and dragging his nails along Arthurs legs.
“Oh my—fuck” Antonio cried when Arthur tightened his fist, enough to create a tighter friction that sent Antonio wild.
“That kind of language doesn’t suit you” Arthur teased, breathing heavily against his tan throat.
A short gasp escaped Antonio as Arthur bit and licked at his ear, to which the Spaniard responded by scrapping his nails deeper drawing blood from those pale calves.
“You’re very sensitive today” Arthur mused watching the backs of Antonio’s ears redden with embarrassment.
“Not particularly” he managed to wheeze out.
Arthur only hummed before allowing his occupied hand to dip from where it lay on his thigh to beneath the water, drawing up the curves of his backside. Daringly, he pressed two fingers against his entrance to which Antonio pushed back with a mewl.
“Aren’t you a little desperate?” Antonio whimpered as a finger pressed inside him. He had to bite his lip to stop another louder moan, conscious of the maids only a few doors down. He could feel every movement and twitch of the finger moving in and out of him slowly, and it wasn’t long before the second finger pushed in alongside the first. Antonio was desperate for it he’d admit it, the stress of the day weighed on him heavily and release was a sure-fire way to make him feel better.
“Yes, fu- yes I am!” Arthur shuddered before returning with a smirk.
“What’s this, you’re being so obedient” he picked up the pace with both hands, pushing his fingers harder and faster inside the man while clamping his hand down around the base of his dick causing Spain to arch his back.
A laugh rang out as Antonio cursed loudly, both at Arthur and the third finger that pushed inside him, the dull ache of the initial stretch turning into pain. But along with the pain pleasure bubbled, rising through his stomach and threatening to spill, and when Arthur struck hard near his prostate Antonio was sure he would have cum had it not been for Arthurs tight grip.
“Arthur I,” a soft kiss pressed to the side of his face as he shivered.
“You what?” Antonio groaned, struggling to even think of how to put together a sentence in English as all his thoughts were consumed with the rough push and pull of the fingers in his arse and the grip on his cock.
“What do you want love”
“Please, let me finish” he pleaded, his skin prickled with delight as Arthur began to once move his hand again, the sensation drawing a shrill moan from his bruised lips. It only took the loosening of Arthur’s wrist and he came so hard he felt dizzy, a mixture of pleasure and the wetness in the air.
Arthur felt Antonio arch against him, milking the man for all he was worth until he was sure nothing else would come out, laying light small kisses along his jaw and watching fondly as his lover rode out his orgasm.
With a tired toss of his head, Antonio strained to look back at Arthur. He didn’t have to look down to know he was hard he could feel it against his back, and it wouldn’t be fair if it was just him getting off.
“Getting up so soon?” Arthur quipped watching his lover fumble to gain some leverage to step out of the bath.
“I just thought it would be easier if we got out” Antonio’s legs shook from the exertion of standing, and so immediately sunk to his knees. He watched Arthur, who already knew what Antonio wanted him to do, as his lithe form slunk over the edge of the bath and his clean hand patted his hair. Water trickled down those pale thighs which spread ever so slightly to allow Antonio room to crawl forward.
With one final glance up Antonio watched as Arthur licked his cum laced fingers with one of the most seductive, alluring and sinful faces Antonio had ever seen, driving him forward with the confidence to make his lover crumble in his hands.
Spain shuffles forward face to face with England’s flushed and thick erection and coyly blew on the tip earning him a tut from the impatient man above.
“Hurry it up it’s cold” Antonio couldn’t stop the laugh, how could he, Arthur was just too sweet pouting like a child. Well he wouldn’t keep him waiting in suspense any longer.
Arthur rolled his head back as Antonio took him in his mouth, completely uncaring of who heard him at this point as he let out a long groan as the mouth wrapped around him slid further down.
This time it was Arthur swearing at the intense heat, it was too intoxicating, taking over his mind. Shameless moans and groans tumbled from the blond as Antonio artfully sucked away, running a hand over Arthurs back, raking his nails and driving the blond mad. Antonio’s face was a deep red and his eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, knitting even tighter at every buck of Arthurs hips forcing him to take the man deeper than before.
A wicked thought came to mind, with the intention of driving the blond crazier he began to lower the hand against his back cupping at his arse. A sharp gasp rolled into a groan as Antonio pushed two fingers inside of Arthur at once, curling against the hot walls.
“Fuck you that’s unfair you bastard” Arthur hissed down pulling harshly at the Spaniards hair.
Spain pulled off his cock with an equally cocky grin, his lips slicked wet and somehow redder than his beetroot face “Do you want me to stop mi amor?” well fuck when you put it like that.
When Arthur didn’t respond Antonio let out a strange exhale of breath - almost triumphant sounding and with one last smug smirk up at Arthur’s stern proud face went back to work.
Quickly Arthur realized he had lost all the power in the situation to Antonio and for once he wasn’t fucking complaining. The way he held him against the bath and did as he pleased to him turned out to be a bigger turn on than he’d previously imagined. The way he pressed his fingers inside him made his stomach bubble and the way his tongue licked over his shaft had him arching, pleading and begging for more.
Knotting his fingers in his hair he pulled Antonio’s head toward him in time with him forcing his entire length down his throat. Antonio had to pause for a moment to not let himself choke, through tear stained eyes he looked up Arthur’s name dying on his lips as he saw the blissful state the blond was in.
Leant back and heavily breathing with a dark red complexion rather becoming of him, and eyes fluttering in a lust filled daze Arthur sighed a breath “Please, don’t stop”.
And so he let Arthur set a bruising pace, fucking into his mouth at a brutish speed slipping down his (now relaxed) throat as he added a third finger inside him. Arthur bucked particularly hard at that moaning deeply when Antonio hit something inside of him that almost sent him crumbling to the floor.
“Ah fuck there!” Arthur cried, and so Antonio aimed for ‘there’ striking gold every time, again and again until Arthurs thrusting became more erratic and he came suddenly and without warning in his mouth.
The salty taste wasn’t unfamiliar but he still wasn’t used to it, so after Arthur tiredly pulled off of him he swallowed thickly and committed the look of Arthur in the apex of his orgasm to memory. Arched backwards, red faced and oh so beautiful.
Arthur winced when Antonio pulled his fingers out “That was rotten”
“Yeah well you did it first” Antonio laughed washing his hand off in the bath water reaching up to steal a peck on the lips.
Arthur grimaced at the taste of himself on those lips “Yeah but,” an excuse never came to Arthur quick enough.
Another coy smile “But what?”
“Fuck you”.

Chapter Text

The next day was a dizzy blur for Antonio, there was no real excitement about the lead up to the ball until it came time to start getting ready.
The palace grounds were about an hour coach ride away so to arrive with plenty of time Arthur was insisting they leave two hours before the party so that they were generously early.
Antonio wasn’t particularly fussed about looking too good. From his previous experience in European ballrooms from the Portuguese coast to the Eastern mountains he knew that the more lavishly you dressed the more attention you were likely to bring to yourself and attention wasn’t what Antonio was looking for tonight. When it came down to it Antonio wasn’t particularly fashionable, his aristocracy may be, but he was certainly boyish in his charm, something that drove Francis and João practically insane (not that he really cared what those two thought). So plain attire it was.
Arthur on the other hand, a man without the grace of taste, was worrying over what might impress his queen and the gentry who would be also in attendance.
‘You can tell a lot about someone from the way they dress’ was what Arthur normally used to excuse his need to take two hours getting ready a line that really made Antonio think of Francis. He would tear out his entire wardrobe (which normally would have been colour coordinated from left to right) throwing the garments with little care onto his bed to pick out what may look best for the night.
This obsession of his was new, certainly he had not been preoccupied by the way he looked when Antonio had first met him. In fact, Spain was almost sure that this anxiety to look good was an effect of spending too much time with Francis after all this change only happened about a decade before in which Arthur had been hurt by an off-handed comment from the Frenchman.
Antonio watched as another shirt was flung back at the wardrobe resting limply half in and half out of the shelf. The wardrobe was a pretty brown colour ornamented with great care and skill with briars and berries as well as Celtic designs along the edges of the frame. In a delayed realisation Antonio realised the carvings were much like the ones that decorated the beams along Arthur's roof in his Canterbury house. For a minute he was preoccupied wondering if the same craftsmen had carved both items as well as how he had never noticed how beautiful the wardrobe was before a wild doublet came flying at him.
“Watch it” Antonio whined, a half glare settled on his pretty face as he watched Arthur flail two separate garments in the air.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m just so nervous!” Antonio could at least sympathise with him on that, he was also a little nervous, but Arthur was nervous that he wouldn’t impress, Antonio was nervous that the queen had her eye on him.
He shivered at the memory of Elizabeth’s cool doe brown eyes, he wasn’t too sure what he had done to offend her. Sure he could be a little more courteous with his warnings before he arrived suddenly but other than that he couldn’t think of anything much that would cause Elizabeth to hate him so.
A flash of an old memory of a child Elizabeth crossed his mind momentarily, her bright red cheeks were tear stained as she cried for Arthur to hold her hand instead of Antonio’s. In that moment he wondered if in fact Elizabeth was jealous of him.
He had to stop himself from laughing out loud.
“What’s that look for?”
“Nothing mi amor, please hurry and change” doe eyed with a big pout Arthur returned to his search for the perfect outfit.
Nothing was more childish than Arthur having a tantrum, nothing more childish than his upturned nose, feverish red face or pouted rosy lips, or the light flicker of his eyes as he surveyed the mess of clothes strewn around him, nothing was more innocent than his bent in kneeled position on the floor hands buried in coloured cloth. By the time that four came rolling around Antonio was feeling the weight of the pressure to perform well that night. Arthur had finally managed to decide on his look for the evening, clad in a flattering blue ensemble that glistened in the dying sunlight he began to rush Antonio out the door complaining about being late, hurtling a poor jacket into the corner of the room.
For the most part everything was fine after that. The carriage ride was thankfully a short journey and without any more hindrances the pair found themselves pulling up at the palace. Immediately they were confronted by two things, the first a doorman who swung the carriage doors open before either of them could open the doors themselves. Their second confrontation came from a swooning woman who marvelled at Arthur over his choice of clothes and Antonio for his quote on quote “God given, blessed features” which roused a blush from the man.
“I’m sorry my love but we must be going mustn’t we” Arthur nudged at Antonio.
“Yes, we must, I’m sorry”
“Oh don’t let me keep you two! I’m sure your wives are wondering where you’ve gotten to” Antonio looked at his hand admiring his simple gold band wedding ring smiling with an intense fondness.
“I’m sure they are” Arthur smiled waving the woman on her way.
As they entered the palace they were met with hundreds of starring eyes as a man announced the pairs arrival upon the gallery overlooking the hall. Antonio had to look away, an embarrassed light fluffy blush stained his cheeks as he took in the marble floors that expanded in front of him beneath the flowing wide skirts and poised elegant feet.
Frigid women and shameless men eyed him up taking him in from head to toe and momentarily Spain found himself checking that he was still wearing clothes as their eyes tore through the layers of his clothing.
A hand slid into his and Arthur gave him a soft reassuring smile “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll have a good time”
Antonio wasn’t so sure.

As the night pressed on two things happened. One being that Antonio was increasingly feeling further and further out of his depth, what with multiple women latching onto him trying their best to convince him that they were worth his time. The other more hurtful thing was Arthur had become incredibly drunk, more so than Antonio had ever remembered him being in recent memory. Because of this Antonio was kind of left to fend against the wolves as it were as Arthur tried to socialise to the best of his drunken ability.
“I bet you see loads of really interesting things out at sea” one woman cooed placing a gloved hand on Antonio’s thigh. He shuddered as a second woman leant in, “Yeah I hear that the new world boasts many treasures, would you show us some time?”
Antonio dared not even look at the woman in case he gave her the wrong impression “I don’t think I’ll be around long enough to do that” he laughed, the blonde next to him sighing in frustration.
They’d been trying to coerce him into dancing with them, into holding them, into doing anything other than sit stiffly facing nowhere but forward.
This wasn’t normal for Spain, but neither was being flocked by so many crazed women with so many sexual intentions. In general, English women intimidated him but he was feeling the pressure even more so now that they were flocked around him and pecking at him.
But Antonio was steadfast refusing to humour the women let alone dance with them, if he could just hold out until his lover in all his drunken stupor would return to him!
Antonio heard his name being called from the right and to his surprise and utmost delight he saw a familiar face smiling at him through the crowd. Wales was lightly jogging through the crowd to get to him, smiling with every muscle in his face and seemingly equally as happy to see someone he knew too.
Noson Antonio! It’s been a while!” everything about Dylan was exciting. From the way he spoke, to the way he gestured with his hands and smiled with his eyes, his thick accent and how he glided between words even the way light would bring out the auburn glow of his warm brown hair, there wasn’t a thing about the Welshman he didn’t like.
“It certainly has” Antonio moved to hug the man, thankful that the leeches stuck to his arms tentatively let go to save being dragged with him.
“Excuse us ladies but we have important things to discuss”
“Oh must you leave so soon” One woman tried to latch onto Dylan who artfully moved his arm away.
“Sorry but this can’t wait, good evening” and with that they left the muttering women to themselves.
“Say Dylan, do you actually need to talk about something important?”
“Hmmm? Oh no I just thought it’d be a good diversion” he smiled. The smile of a saint! The brain of a genius!
And so Dylan went on, talking about anything and everything that came into his head. Dylan was like that, he would talk about anything on his mind and everything that was in the room, eventually he will end up rambling about nothing at all but still the calming and enjoyable presence of Wales was welcomed (it certainly beat being hounded by a million starry eyed ladies).
“I’m sorry to interrupt but do you know where Arthur’s gotten to?” Antonio interjected over Dylan’s spiel about his preference of large dogs over smaller lap dogs, ‘they’re just better company’ he had laughed.
Dylan frowned at the interruption, the family resemblance was really in the facial expressions and the eyes other than that their personalities were worlds apart, “I haven’t seen him since he was engaged in deep conversation with the Earl of Sandringham.”
Speak of the Devil and he shall appear, from a gaggle of women out came Arthur stumbling, red faced and nervously laughing and visibly and impossibly drunk. Antonio held back the need to slap the man or slap himself in disbelief he couldn’t quiet decide which maybe a bit of both.
With a harsh tug Antonio pulled Arthur by the cuff of his sleeve to the side of his room where the soft shake of Dylan’s head signified his mirrored disapproval.
“Oh bach, really?” the endearment rolled off Wales’s tongue as he patted his brothers arms of invisible dust, tightening him by the collar pinching his cheeks.
“Lay off will ya – oh Spain I didn’t mean to leave for so long I just got caught up chatting to people, you know how the aristocracy is” he laughed, but Antonio didn’t laugh. He just sighed and hugged himself feeling ashamed and embarrassed of Arthur in that moment. But Arthur didn’t notice, he never noticed when he made Antonio uncomfortable or upset, that or he brilliantly ignored it.
Antonio tried to talk but was cut off by the injection of a fourth party into the conversation, Antonio wished that he wasn’t so bad at remembering names and as he starred in to the cold blue eyes of the man he had met not the day before.
Fortunately a drunken Arthur was there to inform him. With a pat on the back and a caress of his spine which sent shivers running over Antonio’s skin Arthur reacquainted him with the man.
“Antonio love, you remember Nicolas right we bumped into each other the other day.”
“Yes, though it was a brief meeting,” the air was tight between the four, an unspoken tension pulling the air between Nicolas and Dylan.
“Well if you’ll excuse me I’d rather be anywhere else” Dylan didn’t hide his displeasure, turning harshly letting his heels click loudly and brilliantly on the tiled floor.
“Someone’s in a rush” Nicolas mocked following Dylan’s silhouette into the crowd, his eyes lingering on the crowd even after he had disappeared.
“Yeah, - wonder why?” Nicolas rolled those pretty blue eyes in response to Arthur’s comment, though Antonio remained oblivious to what the banter between the two even meant.
“Quite” was all Nicolas could say as he returned back to Antonio with a delighted glee.
Soon after the song changed, couples began breaking off to dance even some women dared to break off with another lady in order to escape clammy male hands.
Nicolas muttered under his breath, the comment going unheard by either of the men in his company but was loud enough to draw the pairs attention.
“What's that!" Arthur shouted over the rabble.
“I said would you like to dance?” he grinned at the way Antonio shrunk back into Arthur.
“No we can’t” Antonio tried to deflect but Arthur rebounded.
“Why not, its only a dance love! Join the festivities” Nicolas joined in with a loud “Yes!” possibly louder than he had intended before rolling back on his heels, coughing and asking once more in a sweeter manner.
Poor Antonio could hardly be the monster of the situation by turning the overly pleased man down and soon found himself being led rather femininely to the dance floor by the taller man.
And so the dance began.
Antonio immediately noticed how elegantly the tall northern lad danced, in fact every aspect of Nicolas was elegant, refined and beautiful as though he were a polished gem with no flaw. The man clearly also thought very highly of himself as he immediately assumed the male role and left poor Antonio to fall into the role of the meek timid woman.
“So Spain, how long will you be gracing us with your presence?” Nicolas was trying to make small talk, but Antonio didn’t feel much up for talking, not when he felt so abandoned, small and alone.
“Till I decide to go I suppose”
“You suppose? So, our Arthur doesn’t control your whole life then?” they turned.
“Excuse me?”
“Aha I’m joking I’m sorry”
“Well it was in bad taste”
The pair didn’t say much else, swerving and swaying to avoid the bodies around them. Antonio’s eyes fixed firmly on the ground eager for the song to change so he could retreat to the darkest corner of this damned palace; all the while Nicolas’s eyes never flinched from him.

Arthur watched Antonio dancing from the other side of the room throwing back a drink as his brother approached to irritate him again.
“Why won’t you listen to what I say brawd?”
Arthur shook his head with a stern look “Because it’s not important, why embroil Spain in your feuds,” was he even making sense anymore, he could feel the alcohol churning in his stomach as he struggled to sustain the conversation. “How can you decide that for him, I just think he should know I'm not trying to get him into anything! I'm trying to avoid it!”
Arthur bit his bottom lip, a concerned stare creeping across the marbled floor to where his lover was twirling and dancing; the subject of his and Wales grief clung tightly to the Spaniards waist.
"He doesn't need to know”
With an uptight lip and a deep calming breath, Dylan scowled deeply in disagreement his throat taut with annoyance.
“Whatever you say England.”

Chapter Text

Arthur wouldn’t remember much from the party - that was to be expected, being so hideously drunk already it was a wonder the man hadn’t lost the ability to speak properly!
He wouldn’t remembered dancing rings around people, pushing Antonio to dance with Nicolas nor arguing with Dylan on the side of the ballroom, no he wouldn’t remember as he’d be too occupied with nursing his throbbing head and vomiting in a bucket. But in his heart Antonio hoped that he’d remember this, the grass rising around his body spread tiredly along the garden, Arthurs fingers tracing his chest gently in small calculated circles his head nestled in the crook of his neck.
“Are you alright Arthur?” Antonio pressed his cheek against Arthur’s temple his heart fluttering when Arthur hummed tiredly in response.
“Do you want to go home?” a sweet chortle “Not yet I don’t think I can stand right now.”
“How are you feeling”
“Prett-y good aha” Arthur threw his head back smiling.
The moon was shining brightly saturating everything with a beautiful pale blue hue, the wind was calm and the temperature tepid but there Arthur lay grinning like a fool; shining like the sun, easily the warmest thing about that cold winter night.
Antonio’s heart thrummed loudly in his ears, his cool hands caressing Arthur’s hot flushed cheeks “You look beautiful tonight”
“You saying I don’t normally look beautiful” Arthur sat up resting on his elbows, quirking a thick brow.
Antonio laughed softly pressing a chaste kiss to his wet lips “You know that’s not what I meant.” 
Antonio ran his hands up the back of Arthur’s shirt dragging his nails over his flushed skin drawing a light moan quickly followed by a giggle.
“Toni that tickles!”
“I just want to touch you” he sighed against his neck, and quickly Arthur’s vague protests stopped followed by whimpers and sighs.
It was rare for Antonio to come onto Arthur, often it was the other way around but something about the innocence of drunk Arthur really enticed Antonio. So, with every ounce of care he let his hands glide across the contours of the Englishman’s back, tracing every curve and groove that he already knew allowing his fingers to dip a little lower when he dared.
Few had seen England like this, not many were as lucky as Antonio to see the blonds gentle and kind side; even fewer had seen England come undone and these realisations made Antonio feel even luckier to have Arthur all to himself. Francis never had Arthur like this, João didn’t get to see Arthur this flustered he knew Arthur didn’t want anyone but him.
Arthur moaned as Antonio’s hand ran up his back and over his shoulder pulling him closer breathing in the sweet smell and muttering into he folds of his clothes “I love you.”
“I love you too!” he exclaimed, his arms firing out in front of him grasping at the cloth on Antonio’s back, his arms blotchy with a marbled flush from the cold night air. The next moment in a flustered drunk frenzy Arthur twisted himself free clambering over Antonio’s body and making an inexplicable mad dash down the length of the garden into the bushes.
By that point Antonio was in a complete state of uncontrollable excitement and as quickly as Arthur disappeared into the foliage he was right after him hot in pursuit. The brush was dense and dark, with only narrow pathways to lead through in a calculated linear path and before long he emerged upon an open Italian styled garden with a grand stone fountain situated in the middle and there perched on it brilliantly white edge was Arthur starring deeply into the water his trouser legs pulled up around his knees, his legs coloured a pale blue in the moonlight spread gently along the fountains edge. But most brilliant of all was his guileless face starring so sweetly, so innocently unto the waters surface.
Antonio made no attempt to mask the shameless expression he pulled as he walked toward him, he felt as though he had stepped into a faeries pool witnessing a private scene that none were meant to see and Arthur the queen of curds and cream of whom he had intruded on.
With a simple expression Arthur turned wide-eyed to Antonio and remarked “I thought I saw a fox, I got a bit excited” and Antonio found himself swept into a different plain of existence; the alcohol finally hitting him as he found himself bent over laughing uncontrollably at Arthur’s complete lack on inhibition and abandonment and all he could feel was a delightfully intoxicating feeling of joy and elation.
“What?” Arthur laughed falling backwards against the chilly stone, one leg slipping off the wall and into the fountains water, the other following suit and falling off into a neat bed of primroses.
The night was beautiful, clear and surrounded in wonder as for the first time in a while both Antonio and Arthur lost themselves. The weight of their countrymen their duties and their worries off their shoulders, both men felt more human than they had in recent memory.
All too suddenly Antonio crossed the stretch between them and they were kissing again with little care given to grace. Every now and then Antonio would burst into laughter which would cause Arthur to go too and they would spend a good while just laughing into each other’s shoulder or neck.
“I wish I always felt this good” Arthur laughed.
“Why can’t you?”
Arthur looked shocked “What do you mean why, it’s because we are who we are, not all of us are lucky enough to be loved by everyone” he trailed off into a laugh, but Antonio was stern.
“I’m not loved by everyone”
“You’re loved more than me”
“I love you” Arthur’s eye glistened.
“Aw- you’re too sweet!” and the conversation trailed off.
In some ways Antonio wanted to ask him, ‘what did you mean you’re not loved as much?’ but he also didn’t want to ruin the mood, the mood being Arthur rubbing over his chest and kissing his hot face. He would make sure to ask him at a different time.


Arthur groaned at the loud screeching noise and the intrusion of sunlight on his face. For a moment he couldn’t remember what language he spoke and sat up abruptly shouting a flurry of French in the vague direction of where the curtains might have been.
His head was thrumming at the blinding force of the sunlight outside, it was a beautiful day with clear skies with speckled white clouds lining the sky and a shadow of a figure stood by the bottom of the bed.
“Morning love” Arthur moaned as he stretched his body his arms clicking above his head.
“Good morning Arthur” Mable said as she fumbled with some linens at the foot of the bed.
Arthur turned over and noticed Antonio missing, the imprint of his figure still clear in the white folds of the mattress. Just as he was about to call to him his head popped from around the corner of the door his hair tussled and messy and a dopey tired look on his face.
“Good morning Arthur” he grinned running his fingers through his knotty hair.
“Yeah good morning love” he groaned again trying to exert enough strength to roll out of bed.
“What are your plans for today” Mable inquired smoothing the sheets out once Arthur was off them.
“Urm, I don’t know we don’t have any meeting or anything”
Antonio craned further around the door “We could just, you know, have a calm day in”
With the intense pain in his head Arthur thought that was a right grand idea, not having to go out and see anyone sounded really ideal.
And so the day progressed with little more than both men lazing around on the sofa watching the clouds roll over through the crossed windows. Eventually the boredom started getting to Arthur, who began fidgeting and fussing until he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Antonio want to sit for me?” he asked.
“You want to paint me?”
“Sure, why not!”
“You paint, since when” this was a new development, since when had the England been big on painting.
“I didn’t know you painted? How long have you been painting?”
“Well I’m taking some influences from Hilliard since I saw Elizabeth’s grand portrait, so probably for the last four years or so”
“Wow” was all Spain could say as Arthur reached for a worn sketchbook beneath the table. It’s hard to accept how much someone has changed when you haven’t seen them for so long, in fact change is what can break the relationship between two countries when time is such a luxury.
As he flipped through the beige pages he saw a few faces he recognised, portraits of Elizabeth adorned many of the pages but also portraits of children, men of the court as well as drawings of flowers before Arthur very quickly and obviously skipped past portraits of his brothers.
“Here we are, so if you just sit on the chair over there I can draw you!” Antonio made no comment of the quick flipping through the pages even though he secretly longed to stare longer and look a little harder at those soft grey lines and leaden swirls. Although Arthur had claimed inspiration from Hilliard there was also a very obvious Italianesque influence that Antonio noticed in the stiff brows and sculpted noses of the faces and in all honesty, he couldn’t wait to see how his portrait would turn out!
Arthur’s drawing was quick, but precise with short flicks of the wrist it almost seemed second nature to Arthur. Antonio was in a precarious spot, he hadn’t sat very comfortably on the chair and dazzled by a ray of sunlight filtering in through an open window. He could hear gulls crying out and the clanking of metal somewhere in the docks and didn’t realise that Arthur had quickly finished the portrait.
“Alright done!” he announced standing abruptly.
“Lemme’ see!” Antonio reached for the book snatching it when it was in reaching distance.
“Easy” Arthur hissed as his hand bent with the snatch.
There was a fast-repeated tap on the door, so loud and harsh that it drew all of Antonio’s attention from looking at the drawing Arthur had just done to looking at the back of an old blistered door.
“Who is it?” Arthur called, his brows furrowed in annoyance.
In came Mable, and for the second time in that week she came in with a letter in hand.
“Arthur its for you” there was no notable worry in her voice this time though which put Arthur at ease as he folded back the envelope.
As quickly as ease comes it can quickly be dispelled and Arthur was frowning and then he was shouting before he screwed the paper up into a tight ball and threw it in a tantrum on the floor.
“Whatever is the matter with you” Spain called as England ran to the door in a panicked state.
“Your brother” he called as he disappeared into the bed room and Antonio could hear the familiar screech of the wardrobes doors and they flew open in a frenzy.
Antonio could feel his eye twitching as he read the letter that had been discarded on the floor,

To my dearest Arthur,

I’m writing to inform you that I’ve dropped by your house on some rather urgent business and it just simply can not wait,
Your unreasonable friend,



Damn that bastard always stepping out of line, and now this interrupting his time with Arthur in the name of a fallacy called business!
Arthur rushed back in the room looking lost and confused “Spain, you know I have to go”
“Well then let me go too!”
“No, its best if you don’t!”
“Why not?” he hated how desperate he sounded.
“Because you know you’ll just fight and what’s the point in winding yourself up”
“So you’re just going to leave me here!”
“Only for a little, I’m going see what is so important to drop by like this and then I’ll leave and come back the same day I promise!”
Spain went silent, there wasn’t much he could fight here it’s not like he hadn’t also imposed himself on Arthur’s hospitality unannounced, the least he could do was listen, at least this once.
“Okay Arthur, but you have to promise to be quick!” he gave his lover a chaste kiss.
“I’ll be back before you know it” he grinned.

Chapter Text

Arthur couldn’t believe his luck or lack thereof luck, what with Port just storming in on him like he owned him. It had annoyed him deeply and he could hardly hide that annoyance as he barrelled up to his front door. His annoyance only grew as he could hear the faint far of giggles of Agatha who he could only imagine had fawned over the tall foreign man begging him all hours of the day to intrigue her with stories of faraway places. In that sense he guessed he could say he pitied João.
Arthur threw the unlocked front door open in some attempt of regaining authority over his house and there he was laying on the sofa drinking a still steaming cup of black tea starring wide eyed at the Brits violent entrance. Well who could blame Arthur he was royally pissed with the man, being the second Iberian to drop in to his abode unannounced in the span of two weeks!
Portugal starred momentarily shocked but never flinched nor made any move to stand from his relaxed position upon the sofa. He was dressed in all his fineries clad in a royal blue, the colour which in Arthur’s opinion suited him best and surrounded in a cloak of deep red which Arthur then realised to be a blanket.
Port’s handsome face softened upon seeing the Brit and Arthur couldn’t help but feel his annoyance flutter momentarily, much like Antonio he found it exceedingly difficult to stay mad at João when the man was nothing but kind to him.
“Hello” he’d missed his voice, he’d missed his warm comforting presence but Arthur had to find it in himself to for once in his life not give in to the man sat so nonchalantly, spread out on the sofa in front of him.
“Yes hullo to you too,” he had intended to continue what he was saying but words escaped him. The absolute arrogance! Much like his anger had receded it came crashing down again swallowing him whole and he felt his heart quicken and his blood rush.
“Who the fuck do you think you are!” That took Port by surprise, and Agatha too who had been kneeling on the floor and upon Arthur’s violent tantrum retreated to the privacy of the kitchen.
“I’m sorry?”
“You should be but I know you’re not, this is so like you Port you can’t just do this, you can’t just drop by like this and expect me to put everything on hold for you” a wicked smile came over the mans face before he returned to Arthur “Oh, but you did!”
Embarrassment heated his face as Arthur was quick to retort with a resounding “No!”
“I didn’t have much of a choice now did I”
João smiled “No I guess you didn’t”
In a theatrical gesture of annoyance Arthur collapsed onto the nearby sofa releasing a strained breath and rubbing his hands over his face.
“You’re an asshole” Arthur unwound feeling all the tension of the coach ride there lift off of his shoulders.
“I know” a silence overcame the pair which was rare, João knew he’d messed up this time but things were out of his control, seriously out of his control. He began tapping his hands on his thighs thinking of the best way to even begin to describe the situation thrust upon him.
“So,” Arthur racked his hand through his hair, “Why are you here”




It had already been two days since Arthur left and Antonio had already been consumed by boredom, so much so that he had left the relative comfort of his temporary home to venture into the great English outdoors. Though he wasn’t alone, a hand had been extended by Walsingham inviting him deer hunting and though Antonio was hardly one for hunting he did enjoy horseback riding and took every chance he got to go riding and Walsingham wasn’t exactly the Gaia to his Rhea but he thought he could bare the man long enough to have an enjoyable day outside the English capital.
The wind was soft and touched his face gently as he rode down the embankment next to the gaggle of gentry. The birds were whistling in the trees but even with the serenity around him he found himself feeling nervous and unsure although he couldn’t explain why. So he tried to buck up and cheer up if just to enjoy himself but no sooner had he actually managed to pick himself up that the cause of his unease reared its head.
In the distance from over a small embankment came Nicolas, looking rather grand and regal on a white stallion sporting a hunting rifle and smiling with all the arrogance in the world, and though he wished that Nicolas wouldn’t notice him he immediately came galloping over calling his name with a cheery smile.
“Antonio it’s so good to see you!”
Nicolas had his usual ‘I’m better than everyone’ look on his face starring down at Antonio from his metaphorical high tower.
“You look nice today, dressed up for the day?” he joked as the pair began to move along with the rest of the congregation.
“Not particularly, I’m out because I have nothing else I’d rather be doing” Nicolas raised an eyebrow at the sour attitude but kept his thoughts to himself.
The hounds began barking and scrapping amongst the trees as a dishevelled deer came bounding out of a bush and suddenly the chase was on. Walsingham cheered and pointed to the prize which turned and made haste through the dense brush, rifles firing after it.
“Should we make chase?”
“You’re free to do as you may, I’ll hold back”
“Why blood and screaming not your style”
“No I’m just not feeling the same energy as they are”
“Agreed, I think I may hold back as well, I like to hunt things that can fight back” Antonio turned his nose up to the sneer choosing instead to allow his fingers to comb down his horses back and enjoy the suddenly much quieter hike.
But it wouldn’t stay quiet for long, as every few minutes Nicolas would feel the need to break the silence filling it with utter dribble about this and that and that and this. Antonio didn’t even known Nicolas all that well, but he really disliked him, something about the way he spoke down to everyone really got beneath his skin.
Even when talking about the most mundane of topics Antonio felt agitated. He spoke of a chess game he had held with the earl of Sandringham and talked only of how he would have redecorated his stately home and the heinous things he would do to his wife should she not be married to the quote, ‘senile coot’. His disrespect for others didn’t stop at the gentry but clearly made its way to the highest offices, speaking ill of Elizabeth and even of Arthur, the man had no bounds.
So, Antonio rebuffed him with simple grunts and huffs to show his disinterest and soon Nicolas got the message, ‘don’t talk to me’.
“Listen, I feel as though we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, I’m not too sure what I did but I’d like to try again”
“No offense but I’m not in the business of making acquaintances with people like you”
“Like me? Care to elaborate” Antonio didn’t reply he just closed his eyes and kept riding forward.
“So childish” his stomach flipped, yes maybe Antonio was in retrospect being childish but he never went against his gut and his gut was telling him that Nicolas is a bad person.
All the small talk died down, and though he desperately didn’t want to be stuck alongside Nicolas Antonio actually found himself falling into the charms of the English countryside. Though they were careful not to stray too far from the group, whom they could see rallying and cheering some distance ahead Antonio was happy to hang back and enjoy the birds and the squirrels jumping about the trees.
“I’m going to take a short break feel free to do as you like” Antonio shouted over his shoulder as he dismounted from his horse to sit on the banks sedge.
There was a crunching sound of stones beneath feet as Nicolas also dismounted from his horse readjusting his saddle with a crack of the leather.
Antonio groaned as he stretched out along the grass, his back clicking and body relaxing from the stiff position he had to hold on the horse. Upon opening his eyes, he realised Nicolas was looking at him up and down and feeling suddenly rather conscious he bought his legs up and bent his knees to hide himself the best he could.
“So where’s Arthur disappeared to?”
“He’s gone on away on some urgent business”
“Urgent enough to not invite you with him?”
Antonio bristled turning on his side to look at the man, what exactly was he insinuating? 
“I don’t know what you’re trying to suggest but,”
“Oh love I’m not suggesting anything”
Don’t call me love” something about the way he said it felt too familiar.
“Why not Arthur calls you it”
“That’s different” Antonio hesitated not wanting to be reeled into revealing too much.
“Oh I’m sure it is” there was that tone again that set itself beneath Antonio’s skin, like he was being looked through.
“You two are rather intimate it would seem” his eyes thinned out “if the party the other night was anything to go by” Antonio felt as though he had just stepped off the edge of a cliff and was plunging in icy cold water. Had he seen them lounging around in the garden? Had he seen them kissing and touching each other? All the horrible possibilities ran through his head as to what Nicolas might know or have seen them do, they had after all been pretty hands on in the garden, someone else’s garden for that matter. Oh God strike him and his lecherous hands down as he had put himself into this situation by being so carless and letting his lover be so careless.
“I don’t know what you mean” he stood turning away from Nicolas, but his hands were stiff and his back rigid as Nicolas laughed.
“I’m sure you don’t, but let me just warn you that you shouldn’t be throwing yourself around like that on another person’s property, lest they or some wayward soul see you copulating next time” Antonio felt a hand on his shoulder and with a sharp turn came face to face with those cold eyes.
Calmly, he spoke, “Wise advice, I shall take it into consideration - if I’m ever in that situation” he could only deny it, too embarrassed to admit.
Nicolas chuckled tapping his hand in firm reassurance on his shoulder “Well that brings me some peace, oh and one more word of advice you should try being kinder to those who extend a hand to you” and with that he mounted his horse followed by a sulking Antonio who waited a firm ten seconds before also mounting and keeping a safe twenty paces behind.


Chapter Text

João was sat calmly and poised in the garden, much at home around the marble statues as he basked on the stone bench in the afternoon sun. From where he was sat he could see Agatha buzzing at the window and every now and then she would turn, flash him a spectacular smile before going back to work (whatever that may be).
Before long Arthur appeared in the gardens doorway, a pale specter who’s skin reflected the sunlight and hastily made his way to the mans side. He was holding a tray of tea and further pastries, as if João hadn’t already gorged himself on enough sweet treats that day and he set it down rather harshly sitting down in a far more gentler manned.
“So as you were saying,” Portugal started, cracking his knuckles and resting them rather nonchalantly on his knee.
“That’s my line, you were about to tell me why you’re here”
“Ah yes, that” he hesitated but still smiled at his friends obliviousness.
He turned an eyebrow raised “Have you really not heard?”
“There’s no need to be so secretive Port, what have you to hide?” Port could just make out the head of Agatha peering over the kitchen sill, not eavesdropping but still her presence was enough to make João unnerved and a little embarrassed.
“England, I have been cast of from my country” the hair on the back of Arthur neck stood on end. Cast out, surely not, how was this possible, no one had the right!
“As you may be well aware, my dear king, Sebastian, died 8 years ago, and I’ve been in a sort of free fall ever since” Arthur was slightly taken back by the sudden seriousness of his friend and a tenderness came over him as he reached out and took his hand.
“Yes, I know.”
“Ever since the Hapsburg rule started ruled by that desgraçada Philip, I have been in nothing but misery, Spain believes this was a great result, that we can be closer now, but his King is killing me and choking me into a forced arrangement, a forced Union with Spain” he took his hand back wringing them together.
“He wasn’t there when Alba ransacked Lisbon, he didn’t feel my hurt, he never has, he doesn’t consider me he just hurts me”
“And all that is terrible Port but what has that to do with you being here” he wanted to be more sympathetic but he’d heard it all before, Spain hurting Portugal and Portugal hurting Spain. He wanted to get back on topic of the whole being cast out of Iberia.
“So I decided to take a stand and for the first time in six years I defended myself! I stood against Albert and demanded that the union be annulled and that him and his tyrants leave immediately, that the only country I stood with was England” he went quiet turning his face away from Arthur in shame.
“It didn’t work, I knew it wouldn’t be simple but Arthur they’re crazy, Albert told me I was mad, that I had been bewitched; that only the devil could drive me away from my Catholic duty. “To sympathise with the protestant cause” they called it and used it as an excuse to imprison me in my own capital - deprive me of my rights and torture me daily.” He began rolling up his sleeves and unbuckling his cuffs to show the result of those days.
Red welts and tears covered his arms, still as angry and red as when they were given. Arthur’s eyes glazed over in hurt and he exhaled a shaky breath softly letting his fingers graze over the painful marks.
“The Spanish did this to you?”
“The Austrians too” anger reared its ugly head and Arthur had to find the restraint to not scream to God of this injustice.
“Devil take them!” he hissed through clenched teeth.
“I don’t know really how long I was down there, but after a while I couldn’t feel my back my arms or my legs I spent most of my time unconcious and cold than I did awake and I was sure that I would finally be taken into God’s hand, that even I surely couldn’t survive that” Arthur cringed, he couldn’t bare to hear anymore. Men with the slightest bit of power have the tendency to be overtaken by it and even the most modest man can be driven to harm when consumed by power. Prince Albert was only ever pleasant to him, to think that that beast hid beneath such an unassuming exterior.
“Your arms look so sore”
“This isn’t even the worst of it, it hurts to even move and yet I had to exile myself across the sea in this state!”
“Is there somewhere it hurts more?”
“Yeah in my heart” he laughed, it was a half joke half truth that Arthur didn’t find particularly funny.
“My back, I was flogged” he answered in earnest.
“Let me see”
“Arthur, I don’t know if that’s,”
“Show it to me!” the demand in his voice shooting through João’s whole body it wasn’t a question and he didn’t need to answer, the anger and frustration in his voice was enough to have him slowly start unbuttoning his shirt.
As he turned his back to him the full extent of the injuries everything came reeling into reality, and Arthur felt like he could entirely imagine the horrors João experienced in the dungeon in Lisbon.
Across what would usually have been Port’s clean pristine skin were deep angry welts and lesions cut across his back, the contours of it undefinable among the swathe of thin parallel cuts. Most of the lesions had begun to clot and heal but some deeper and in more precarious places had clearly been open and torn time and again from movement and due to long exposure had began to become infected and though most the skin appeared healthy and healing some of it had peel away. It was something from a nightmare, something that rivaled the most gruesome things he had ever seen, and he watched people be beheaded. As terrible as beheading could be at least it was often clean and not a drawn out ordeal, but the shear brutality behind all of João’s injuries had Arthur’s stomach making flips.
Arthur’s fingers once more grazed over João’s back causing the man to arch ever so slightly and release a pained hiss.
“Sorry, sorry, I just wanted to know I wasn’t seeing things”
“It’s the awful truth I’m afraid”
“So it may seem” he reassembled his clothing in a somber silence.
“So first they beat you then they cast you aside in exile, who do they think they are”
“They’re my benevolent rulers, and I can’t go back, so that’s why I came here there was no one else I could have turned to, please grant me a temporary shelter!”
“That’s not even a question, of course I will! But I won’t be here to entertain you all the time so you may have to make do with Agatha” the pair turned to look at the window to see Agatha’s red face glowing in the sunlight.
“Oh joy” he joked with a laugh, the soft breeze tossing his hair.


The air was thick with tension as the last of the cutlery clattered onto the plates and as soon as the pleasantries were over Antonio saw himself out. He hated having to play friendly with all of Arthur’s Councillor's, it’s not as though they ever actually enjoyed the time they spent with him, and what’s more for the most part they are all horribly egotistical old weathered men, not exactly the lively crowd he should like to be surrounded by.
How he longed for Arthur to hurry back from his unexpected engagement and save him from the boring crowd, well its not as though they wouldn’t just be lounging around anyway. And who know’s when their time may be cut off, maybe Elizabeth will decide she’s had enough of his presence and banish back to the sunny plains of Iberia, or perhaps Philip will call him back unexpectedly on a matter of great importance. Whatever the reason Antonio wasn’t ready for his time with the Englishman to be over.
“Monsieur!” called out a voice to him from down the long hall. From the shadows a figure emerged, one that he didn’t immediately recognise, what with him being slightly stouter and balder it wasn’t easy for Antonio to discern that the figure was Richard Topcliffe.
Of all those who Antonio hated in the English court Richard Topcliffe was the man he hated the most, his serpentine appearance, his eerie smile and his deep rooted hatred of Catholicism were all reasons for Antonio to not make friends with the man. And the few times he had forcibly conversed with him his perverse nature and unsettling mannerisms often had Antonio edging toward the door or making obvious excuses as to leave.
“Oh, Topcliffe, good evening” he smiled turning and meeting the man half way down the hallway.
“I heard that you were in our fair corner of the world and wanted to see you with my own eyes, it’s been so long a good decade perhaps”
“It has been a long time, I haven’t meant to keep my distance but you know how these things are”
“Yes, often our politics can keep us preoccupied” he smiled that insidious smile that Antonio hated so much.
“Anyway was there something you needed? I should really be heading back”
“Ah yes I came to deliver a message from her majesty, just a light warning that she doesn’t trust you and should you make a nuisance of yourself you’ll be on the first boat back to Spain with the rest of your dogs” Spain didn’t react badly, he knew that was what they wanted, so he played calm.
“Of course it’s not in my nature to insult you or your fair lady”
“Unfortunately sir your very presence is an insult to all that she, our gracious queen, stands for”
“And you may feel that way, but I’m not here to please you or even her majesty Elizabeth, the only person I’m here for is Arthur”
Topcliffe broke into a strange smile which rattled every bone in Antonio’s body “And yet England isn’t here now is he, so someone must keep you in check and unfortunately for you that task has been gifted to me”
“Oh” he didn’t know how else to respond to the fiend in front of him.
“Indeed, I have many methods of keeping people in line and if you press one toe out of line I should warn you that her majesty will not hesitate to hand you over to me, especially seeing as the only person who would stop her isn’t here” suddenly Richard’s hand was on his face running down the grooves of his cheek eyes scanning over his lips. With an lewd grin he ran his thumb along his whole lip daring Antonio to react, but Antonio knew better than to give them what they wanted, to give them an excuse get rid of him.
“Trust me pet there’s many things I would love to do to your pretty red mouth”.
Antonio violently batted Topcliffe’s hand away disgusted that this old man even dare touch him in such an uncouth manner “Unhand me you lech, and don’t threaten me”
“Oh I’m sorry did that sound like a threat” he laughed merrily, as though he was telling a hearty joke.
“It was just a warning” and he turned away as though he had decided the conversation was over and a response not even necessary.
“A pleasure” Antonio mocked pulling a face and wiping his mouth when the man only chuckled as he disappeared around the corner. Suddenly Antonio was praying for the first time in a long time with every ounce of blood in his body that Arthur would come home and save him from this den of wolves.

Chapter Text

Towering spires appeared in the distance as the carriage slowly pulled its way back into dreary London. The sky, as per usual, was a light grey and adorned the first warning signs of heavy rain.
The weather was only set to get worse, that’s what Agatha had said before Arthur had left that morning and often her gut was right at least about the weather.
Arthur worried for his friend’s fragile health. The other morning when he had set of back to Kent he couldn’t have imagined the horrors that awaited him back in his house, nor the tall tales of the Spanish atrocities. But João wasn’t one to lie and neither was he one to exaggerate and even if he did doubt him the multiple wounds that marred his flesh were proof enough that some abuse had occurred. It pained him to leave, but he knew he was leaving him in Agatha’s capable hands, in fact Agatha had already set about cleaning João’s wounds the minute the man had stepped back into the house having been overcome with mother-like tender instincts. Not only that but Arthur had also promised Antonio to leave as soon as he could, it was after all only fair, he had to satisfy his lover lest he incur his wrath.
The sight of his home coming into view was welcome knowing that Antonio was inside waiting for him, the only thing left for him to do that day was report to Elizabeth the new development with Portugal and he would be able to spend the next few days hopefully in peace with the man he loved. Then again, most things don’t normally work out in the way you want them to. So, when Arthur opened the door and expected to see Antonio smiling and waving to him from the living room he was instead met with a stern silence.
“Antonio? Love?” he called out hoping for some sort of acknowledgment.
“Bedroom” a disembodied voice called back.
Arthur could feel the giddiness rise in him at the sound of his voice from the room down the hall and quickly made haste to the bedroom.
He swung the half-closed bedroom door open causing the curtains to billow by the open window which sat propped open on a small metal bar. Antonio was lay spread across the bed on his stomach, a book opened in one hand and using the other hand to prop his face up. From how he lay Arthur could make out the fine curves of his body specifically along his legs and arse which Arthur loved so much. He could see the way Antonio’s eyes drifted slowly away from the book to look at his lover in the doorway and in a fashion that made Arthur go completely dumb he smiled and said softly “Welcome home”. Yes, yes it was only home when Antonio was there, that was most certainly true. Just seeing the way his body basked in the dim overcast sunlight made Arthur wonder how he could ever live a day without having this man by his side.
“I’ve missed you” Arthur’s mouth mimed stupidly as though he were struggling for air before he lightly shook his head and broke into a large smile.

Antonio knew at some point that day that Arthur would have to leave again, the real question was whether he was going to go with him or not. Arthur always had to report every little detail of his life to his queen, it’s a wonder that he never had to report when they made love to her highness though the idea of her pale face wrinkling in distaste made for an amusing image.
Arthur had run Antonio up to date on the story, Port has taken refuge at Arthur’s house because the politics of Iberia had become a bit too much for him. Antonio understood in that regard, politics is messy, and he too didn’t really want to be in those cold palace halls either, but he’d be damned to say it out right. The look on Arthur’s face was easy to read, of course he wasn’t telling Antonio the whole truth but he was too tired and not in the mood to fight about it and so he had easily fallen into the embrace and kisses that Arthur began to pamper him with.
“I can’t believe it’s so late already” Antonio spoke from the end of the kitchen, preparing washed vegetables on a board.
“Dammit Spain we’re rich we can get someone else to clean for us” Arthur sighed watching the man bumble back and forth between cupboards.
“Yes but that doesn’t mean we have to be lazy, besides I miss cooking and it’ll be a nice way to unwind this evening, just wish we had a greater variety of meat”
“Same, but the problem with meat is it goes off quite quick and we have too much as it is to be buying more”
“Yeah we have a whole lot of pork that’s not very exciting” Arthur rolled his eyes so hard he felt they may permanently roll into the back of his skull.
“Suit yourself, it’s not as though you’ll want my help anyway”
Antonio gave a mock gasp followed by covering his mouth with his hand “Witch, you read my mind!” he said.
“Guilty” Arthur gave a meek smile, but inside he was in turmoil. The beautiful domestic scene playing out in front of him made him uneasy, everything was too good. That and the slight lie that he had told Antonio about Port had his mind spinning dangerously and had his stomach wrenching with anxiety. The idea of even seeing out the rest of the day, to go and stand before his queen and confront her on matters of war was impossible, but like always he had to do it. But now that the hour was upon him, he felt quite frightened.
“So what’s your plan on addressing her highness?” Arthur looked struck with fear for a moment before blinking and reasserting “Well I’ll inform her of our anxieties over the possibility of war, the last thing I want and you want right now is a bloody war, I for one have enough on my plate with the bloody French always trying to start a fight” Antonio’s head dipped slightly.
“That’s all?”
“Well, I’ll also talk about João obviously, she needs to know he’s here”
“Of course” Antonio pulled a pouty face that Arthur knew all too well, it was the kind of face he’d make when he had something he wanted to say but he was questioning whether or not he should say it. It was a cute face but God if it didn’t annoy Arthur to no end.
“What is it?”
“What’s what?”
“You look like your bursting to say something”
There was a small voice in the back of Antonio’s head that tried to reason with him not to ask, that he would simply cause an argument and that there was no point in asking, but looking into Arthur’s face and again seeing the unease drew it out of him.
“Are you hiding something from me?”
He didn’t flinch, in fact he answered too quickly “Like what?”
Antonio didn’t know, it was a perfect way to dance around the question, to answer with another question.
Antonio’s face distorted with frustration, just long enough for Arthur to notice before he calmed down “I guess it doesn’t matter, so am I going with you tonight or not?”
Without thinking Arthur answered “Sure”

Arthur spent the entire ride there mentally kicking himself for his slip on the tongue. He had meant to let Antonio know gently that he wasn’t invited, not because Elizabeth didn’t want him there but rather Arthur didn’t. He had boldly lied and now his worst fears of being caught out in the lie were coming true.
He tried to think of a way to worm out of the metaphorical hole he had dug himself into but nothing came to mind, and so he accepted his fate with grace and led Antonio through the dark halls of the palace.
The sun had set two hours before and the only light that illuminated the hallways came from candles in the candelabras that dotted the corridor.
“I must admit I’m feeling slightly nervous” England spoke holding onto Spain’s hand a little tighter.
“What’s there to be afraid of, what could she say that she hasn’t said before?” Antonio reassured.
“Well she could take her anger out.”
Antonio pulled Arthur to the side of the corridor, the door to Elizabeth’s court room was only a few steps away from them. From within they could hear two shushed voices whispering amongst themselves and Arthur’s anxiety spiked; his hands began to sweat as Antonio cupped his cheek.
“Who’s she going to take it out on. You? Or perhaps me?” Arthur sighed looking out the window into the dark courtyard, beyond that lay London alight with candles in the windows.
“Well, yes”
“Arthur, if she wanted to she could stop me from being here. She could kick me out of your country and force you to comply with her. But Elizabeth is an honourable lady and is dogmatic in her belief, and she believes in being hospitable even to those she disagrees with. Until I do something that breaks her rules, I’m free to do as I please and she can’t touch me. And as for you, you’re her beloved nation, her motherland, as much as she has sovereignty over you, she also loves and respects you. And so all will be well.”
Arthur moved to retort but was met with a swift soft kiss of reassurance “All will be well” he repeated, it was all he could say as he slowly made for the door.
With a swift three knock the pair prepared themselves and entered Elizabeth’s court room.

Chapter Text

João knew he had to be dreaming because what was happening to him was so insane that it couldn’t possibly have been real. The chains rattled, the wood creaked, the water ran cold as it dripped from the roof into his open wounds. It hurt, it hurt so bad almost to the point he thought he might be sick, though they hadn’t made him cry, crying was weakness and that was one thing he had never been. There was nothing that these awful men could do to him that would make him cry.
Leather boots paced around him, cold brown eyes admiring the way the blood ran down his aching thighs, marvelling their own handiwork.
João didn’t know the men around him, but he could tell they were getting a sick enjoyment out the way he twitched and groaned when the flog came down.
One of the men reeled back and with a harsh crack of his wrist the bloodied instrument came down on his stomach. There wasn’t anywhere that it hurt nearly as much as on his stomach and the pain had him swearing and spitting through clenched teeth.
“This is such a pity” one of the men spoke from across the room, he was sat relaxed in a chair as a second crack echoed out followed by a muffled moan.
“Things could have gone so differently if you didn’t say anything”
A third man trod forward placing a dirty boot on his bloody shin pressing hard against the flesh till pain exhibited itself obviously on João’s face. The gag around his mouth tightened as the man with the flog decided it might have been becoming too lose for his liking.
“We didn’t have to gag you either but you kept spitting at us, so really this is entirely your fault” João glared at his captors, eyes clouded with hatred.
“You’re not very intimidating like this, barely clothed and bleeding out in your own capital, it’s pathetic really” João didn’t have the strength to properly roll his eyes, tired from the endless beatings.
“And all this because you stood by a heathen rather than your own family!”
That set him off, the anger shot through him as he lurched forward in rage to defend his friend.
“Oh looks like he has something to say, go ahead say it” all João could do was feel himself become more tense with a fresh bout of hate.
“I don’t think he likes us insulting his friend” one laughed.
“Is that true” the closest man’s voice lowered as he swooped in a little too close for João’s liking.
“Are you angry we insulted you and your friend, or maybe” his lips tickled against his face, the softest contact he’d had in days which he hated to enjoy.
“You’re in love with them” the blatant statement shot straight to Port’s brain frying him to his core and he could hardly hide the dismay from seeping onto his face and the embarrassed blush when the man’s hand caressed his face in a mock gesture of comfort.
João didn’t think before doing what he did next, suddenly his forehead was pulsing and the Spaniard was reeling backward, crying in pain from the headbutt he had just received. A string of cursing and worried words escaped the men and briefly João felt fairly triumphant in regaining some power.
But his face paled as his captors face turned to him and he realised his mistake of not remaining calm.
“You have a lot of guts I’ll give you that, but now it’s my turn” in seconds the other two men were standing at the side lines watching with beguiled amusement as João filtered through everything that could happen next.
“If you think it can’t get worse than this then you’re terribly mistaken”
No sooner had the words crossed his lips he reached for his belt and João’s face shadowed with realised terror and he began to pull against his restraints.
His chest was pressed firmly into the ground and a hand clamped over his throat choking him as he tried to scream. He thrashed around to try and remove the men from him but when the third settled over him the weight was too much and his body ached too much and he collapsed beneath the pressure.
The man wedged himself between his legs forcing them apart, grunting and swearing and purposefully digging his fingers into his open wounds causing a muted cry to come from the body beneath him. The heat from the man above him was intense and he could almost taste his heart in his throat as he looked at those unfamiliar brown eyes.
“We’re just getting started.”

João shot up from where he had been sleeping, his heart thrumming in his ears as the last images from his nightmare subsided, the all too painful memories slipping away again to the back of his mind.
“Fuck” he cursed rubbing the balls of his hands over his eyes, the fear and anger temporarily subsiding.
The image was gone but the pain was still there, it was like everything he wanted to forget kept coming back to haunt him. Now even his nights were filled with agony, like there couldn’t be a moment of the day that went by where he didn’t have to think about what happened. It was in these lowest moments where João felt his weakest and that he felt that God must have been laughing at him.
Just as João lay down in the mass of pillows Agatha’s pretty perfumed head peered from around the door illuminated by a warm glow.
“Is everything alright sir”
“Yes, everything’s fine sorry to wake you”
Softly she shook her head, a faint ghostly smile pinching her rosy lips “Oh- no I wasn’t asleep I was just studying!”
“Well, practicing writing, I’m illiterate”
João was visibly shocked “But you’re so well spoken”
“Well my father bred me well in that sense, but he thought it was unnecessary that I read or write. So Mr. Kirkland insists I practice writing and reading every night!” she smiled, the shadows on her face molding.
“Ah, well as much as I’d love to keep chatting it's late and I feel you’re not dressed for the occasion so maybe we should talk about this tomorrow over breakfast!” Agatha looked down at herself and realised she was in her nightgown blushing a deep scarlet.
“Adieu” she half bowed quickly, a ringlet of hair almost catching the flame of her candle before she scurried off into the darkness of the hall.
The room fell back into darkness, the light chatter only brought a brief break from the pain and slowly and solemnly Port turned over in the sheets. But the ghosts of insidious trauma came back time and again, mercilessly haunting him till the sun came up.


Arthur’s eyes flickered nervously as he watched Elizabeth’s white face scrunch in anger, all the wrinkles of age showed on her face, even the mask of her makeup could not hide them.
“I see we have uninvited company” she stifled a sigh.
“Antonio goes where I go”
“Antonio?” her voice boomed loudly through the room, rattling their bones.
“Spain, a slip of the tongue, my apologies” it was taboo to address another country by name in court especially in front of your Royal. Arthur would never hear the end of this from Elizabeth, he was just grateful that Walsingham wasn’t here to witness his foolishness.
“Forgiven, now on with it love, tell me what you’ve seen, and then I will tell you what I have to say”
When she put it like that it almost made Arthur sound like he was spying on people and collecting information to feed back to his queen, just like a loyal lap dog, almost like Walsingham. It was best not to test Elizabeth when she was angry, Arthur knew that, but something was different this day. From the minute he stepped into the room he could tell Elizabeth was on edge, something was weighing heavily on her mind and this made her more explosive than ever. Anything could have set her off.
“Well, I think it best to inform you that Portugal arrived a few nights ago and is currently taking up residence in my home”
“Portugal, that good man, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Antonio frowned, averting his gaze to the floor from Elizabeth who had never removed her heated eyes from the pair. When Antonio turned from her she starred harder.  
“He’s left Iberia due to unforeseen circumstances” Elizabeth’s brown eyes narrowed, so far in fact that he could no longer see the whites of her eyes.
“What circumstances?”
Arthur hesitated “Things of political concern, I do not wish to bore you” the scrapping of heels against the floor startled him and Elizabeth was standing rigid starring with the intensity of a thousand burning fires.
“England don’t dance around the question with me, why is he here”
Arthur steadfastly continued “It’s a sensitive matter that I can’t talk about” Antonio grew confused and turned to look at Arthur who's face betrayed anxiety that had not been there before.
“Lies! Fallacies! Deceit! My heart burns with hatred to know even you would turn against me like this England, first your brothers, then this tyrant next to you and now you too! They’re poisoning you and burning you and turning you, all I have left beside my name, against me!”
“Your majesty with all due respect,” but Antonio’s soothing voice didn’t reach Elizabeth who was too consumed with rage to hear anyone but herself and the man she was directing her unwarranted wrath at.
“My queen what are you talking about?” Arthur cried exasperated.
A spindle like finger pointed accusingly at Antonio, shaking with uncontrollable emotions and unvoiced intent “You, and your people have conspired against me since the very beginning!”
“Pardon me, ‘your people’?” Antonio quoted.
“You and all your religious kind, from the minute Philip lost his grip over England he’s sought tirelessly to reclaim it. Well you can go crawling back to your pathetic spit of land and tell Philip I don’t fear him, nor do I fear the Scots or any of you barbaric lot and that if it’s war he wants he’ll get a war so spectacular that he nor this world will ever forget it.” her fists were clenched white as she shook with the final words, her face was flushed even through all the layers of makeup as she settled from her high.
Arthur’s eyes widened with fear “Elizabeth, we’re not seeking war though”
“We have not, but in the shadows there are whisperers and conspirators who talk of the reinstitution of a Catholic king. I have denied these rumours for far too long for my family and for you, but now those who I held close have all risen against me. I no longer owe any debts to anyone”
“I don’t understand, I haven’t risen against you” Arthur insisted but the time for pleading was over, it had never even been on the table.
“Mary has been thwarted, ousted as a traitor, Spain, tell her allies in your country that there is no coming back from this”
“Mary? What has Queen Mary done to warrant these accusations”
“She plotted and conspired with Catholic rebels to kill me so she could take my throne” Arthur felt sick, the room began to spin in a blurred dizzy tango.
“Wait, what, no, Elizabeth this isn’t possible, Mary loves you” Arthur pleaded, trying to make some sense of the tumbling mess of words in his brain. He had so much to say, so many questions but he fumbled over his words and soon nothing came from his mouth but incoherent gasps and utters.
Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes, though whether they were tears of anger, resentment, hurt, betrayal neither Arthur nor Antonio could tell “I thought so too, but it can’t be denied,” she drew from a table a handful of paper “here are her letters,” she solemnly let her fingers run down the pages before throwing them to their feet “please give them to Philip of whom she has addressed them!”
She turned to the table once more returning with an opened letter and throwing it at Antonio “And lest I forget the letter she had addressed to you!”
It had to be a forgery, or a falsified document, Arthur returned to Antonio’s side to read over the letter with him and immediately noticed the deathly pale glow of Antonio’s cheeks and the abject horror on his face.
“Antonio, let me read!” he took the parchment and flicked it in the air to straighten it out.
Most of the letter was a load of rubbish, nattering on about this or that, about what flowers were blooming in the garden or who had visited her that day. There were mentions of thanks for a gift that Spain had sent her, a small locket portrait of one of her ladies in waiting. The more he read over the words the more semantics he uncovered and soon he felt the blood drain from his face much like his lover as he neared the end of the letter.

In regard to what Lord Babington and I discussed today, I never gave him an assured answer. It is not for me, but God to decide the fates of our island nation. The letters I have had in correspondence with your dear king have been of the most amiable nature in detailing our mutual interests and shared beliefs. But once more, I shall not give an answer as again these matters are best left to God. That being said, as God is my witness I won’t act against the wishes of my fellow countrymen.

It was all in the semantics, while she hadn’t written plainly of her support for the Catholic cause, her refusal to deny these people or expose their plot had made her a sympathiser at least.
“You parade around my palace with such an air or arrogance but I see you for who you really are Spain, a zealot who conspires against me”
“Wait my queen, these letters are damning for sure but against Spain? I think not!” Arthur stepped in throwing the letter to the floor with the rest.
“Yes your highness I implore you to seek reason, I have not written to her highness Mary Queen of Scots in recent memory”
“Seek reason? All my reasoning is in front of you on the floor in shambles!”
“Your argument holds no merit! I never received this letter and I had no clue, you villanise me but I’m no monster”
“Enough!” she ordered, her voice echoing through the chamber and both men stopped their heated arguing. Her thin arms hung lifelessly at her sides as she took in a deep breath to calm herself.
“I have been left to think about this for a number of days, there is nothing that can be said to change my mind, I signed the death warrant before this meeting and if you think it wasn’t a difficult decision you overestimate me” the words weighed heavily on their chests. Execute Mary Queen of Scots? Did she have the right? Supposedly the thought she did!
“Elizabeth please rethink this decision” Arthur begged but he could tell from the sad look on her face that all was over between her and Mary, nothing could stop this pointless execution unless God himself struck them dead.
“No Arthur, you have hurt me, I do not wish to talk on this matter anymore. Spain holds no power in this court, and he should hold no power over you! And Spain” a dreadful look of worry came over him “You will leave this country within next week I’ll give you time to prepare but you must leave. I don’t care how you do it, by boat, by walking or even swimming so long as you are gone by Friday morning. You may hold Arthur’s heart, but you don’t hold England” her voice was commanding, it left no room for retaliation or debate, it was a simple statement to be heard and not answered, and both men knew well enough to keep their lips firmly pursed tight to avoid losing their tongues.
With a resounding bitter scoff, Elizabeth tossed her red hair and nodded toward the door “Get out of my sight, and don’t dare let me set my eyes on you again.”
The men didn’t need telling twice, they left as quickly as they could, and when Arthur moved to ask questions and to protest his lover’s innocence, he was taken aback by Antonio’s crying face.
All through the palace all that could be heard were those mournful cries echoing down the long empty halls.

Chapter Text

The night was long and sullen, there was barely a noise in the house save for the creaking of tired floorboards and the ramblings of drunkards from the docks that came in through an open window. Ornaments sat neatly along the table tops; shelves were packed neatly and pedantically with rows of leather-bound books that Mable had ever so carefully pushed into place and flowers beautifully arranged on the dining table. The lady in question who had so wonderfully decorated the house was brewing tea on an open flame in the kitchen, her clothes a light red that didn’t quite match the mood of the house.
While she didn’t know exactly what had happened she also didn’t think it was her place to ask, after all she was a maid servant and while she and Arthur were better acquainted and friendlier than most master servant relationships they were still just that. So, she knew better than to ask questions when things didn’t concern her. One time she had done just that over something she couldn’t quite recall. It had been a bright summer afternoon some years ago and had something to do with Arthur’s relationship with his brothers which resulted in a lone chair being thrown at her from across the drawing room. Suffice to say Arthur felt rotten about it and had made it up to her a thousand times over, but still she could never quite forget it.
Spain had been the first to arrive home, barrelling through the front door with frightening speed that caused Mable to prick her finger on a sewing needle. Even through her shouts he didn’t stop and went straight to the bedroom where she heard the unmistakable click on the bedroom door locking.
Hours passed before England returned. Differently from Spain England didn’t charge in full force, instead he had knocked three times, which Mable later found out was because he’d given Spain the key and didn’t have a spare one to hand. Arthur was unmistakably drunk, his breath reeked of fermentation and his eyes were tired-looking and sad, his pockets were turned inside out, and he had a yellowish bruise blooming on his jaw. When he entered the house he immediately embraced her which she gently returned and the longer she held him the more he relaxed and as he did that he began to cry.
Drunk Arthur wasn’t her favourite Arthur, it meant she would have to nurse a voluntarily sick man back to health, granted it wouldn’t take long it was still a hassle.
Cutting across the kitchen to the front room she placed the steaming cup by his side, but he was already out of it, his thin arms hanging lifelessly over the edge of the sofa. In that moment she truly saw the dishevelled state of the man, his eyes swollen and red from crying, his lips were raw from biting his clothes were crumpled and he was missing the jacket he had left with that morning.
Vaguely she became all too interested in what could have possibly happened, of the time she had spent with the men she hadn’t really seen them argue and all the possibilities came rushing to her head.
Though she remained quiet, scurrying around the bookshelves, through the rooms and their many windows, down the landing to her own bedroom deciding that Arthur might just want to sleep than have her hover over him. After only a few minutes she heard shuffling down the hall and in curiosity peeked her head out the door to see Arthur shyly knocking on the bedroom door. After a few seconds of stern silence, the door cracked open and Mable could just make out the figure of Spain in the doorway though the lighting and angle didn’t permit her to see his facial expression though she could guess it was of a hostile nature as Arthur began to hiccup and cry. Soundlessly a hand beckoned Arthur in slowly curling around his shoulder and pulling him into the shadow of the room.


There was a dreadful chill in the air as the raven’s over-head cawed in delight overlooking the courtyard. Of course, Spain wasn’t permitted to the execution, it wasn’t as though he was particularly leaping out of his seat at the opportunity of seeing a woman murdered without reason, but still he felt such sadness for her. There was no room in his soul for anything else, anything else he might have felt he gave to comfort Arthur the night before.
Arthur had drunkenly cried for over three hours after he let him into the bedroom saying he was sorry and eventually he fell asleep in his arms in a fashion not particularly becoming of a grown man.
Spain was mad, though at who it wasn't so clear. He supposed he was angry with himself, he was in ways annoyed with Elizabeth and her stubbornness, and yes, he was mad at Arthur for not taking the situation as seriously as perhaps he should have. But what’s done is done, there was nothing that he could say or do that could change what was happening in the courtyard not a few steps away from him. He couldn’t see what was happening, but he could hear the commotion, he couldn’t see him, but he knew Arthur was there.
Where was he now, how did he look, was he stressed out and nervous, was he shivering and cold, he had flat out refused to wear a coat, so he supposed it was his own fault.
It had pained him to have to leave Arthur at the gates with his sad looking arse but even then, he couldn’t leave his feelings back at home as when Arthur reached to kiss his face he stormed away.
The flames of the candles flickered dimly in the chilled corridor as Antonio waited for the execution to be over. The rain was loud and treacherous, shaking the old stone walls with such a force that it sounded like a full on fight.
“Well now, fancy seeing you here” the baby hairs on his neck stood on end as the voice commanded his attention from down the hall.
Nicolas swaggered on up as Antonio pushed off of the wall extending a hand to shake Nicolas’s “Nicolas, good morning”
“Yes well for some more than others” he returned the handshake with a firm courteous shake.
“Indeed” Nicolas’s attire was not fit for an execution, in fact he instead looked like he was about to attend or deliver the most uplifting sermon. He was draped in the most exquisite royal blue robes that complimented his build well, the stitching was laced tightly together with a golden thread and trimmed with a deep red which only set to make the outfit that much more appealing. He was set to attend a monarch’s marriage not one’s execution.
“You’re not dressed for the weather” Antonio remarked, raising an eyebrow in disapproval of the flashy attire.
“Well you know how it is, I’m always dressed to make an impression”  
“Evidently, you don’t think it would have been more respectful to perhaps dress down”
“Why would I do that for someone I don’t respect?”
Something ugly caught in the back of Antonio’s throat at that remark, his lack of respect for the life of another person just set Antonio’s brain on fire.
“Of course, now if I may be so bold, what do you want from me?” he was tired of pussyfooting around, it was no coincidence to run into Nicolas by accident, he may as well come out and say it.
“Astute as always my friend” he chuckled “Is our dear England around?” there was that question again, the question that ignited Antonio’s annoyance back when they were hunting, even now it set a fire beneath his skin that burned angry and red.
“He’s not, but honestly I’m not in need of his company and I’m certainly not in need of yours, so if you’ll humour me by leaving that would be greatly appreciated!”
“Oh? Have I done something to warrant this hatred?”
‘Not particularly no’, was what he was going to say, but somehow the words didn’t come, and he stood there glaring bitterly at that face, that stone cold beautiful face that he so disliked.
“Seems like you don’t have a decent answer to that question”
“Your attitude”
“Your attitude, the way you look down on everyone around you like they’re beneath you, the way you speak so crudely of others, its all unbecoming and not very attractive. If I was obvious in my dislike it was because your obvious with distaste of others, that’s all!”
Nicolas stood calmly and poised, Antonio would suggest he never looked better than he did in that moment, no smirk, no looking down, just a quiet acknowledgement. “Is that all?”
Nicolas arched his back tiredly and let it click before releasing a sigh and resting against the wall, “Do you remember what I said the other week about being kinder to those who extend a hand to you?”
“You haven’t extended any hand! Not even an olive branch” cheering from outside made his blood run cold and drew his attention to the wall that separated him and the courtyard. Thunder clapped and a burst of lightening rung out down the halls, God’s anger obvious in the sublime display of nature and yet all Antonio could think about was Arthur.  
“But I want to, right now if you would permit me so” a chilled hand took his and quickly his attention came spinning back into the room as he found Nicolas’s cold blue eyes in front of him. If he had taken his hand to get his attention it had worked but it didn’t explain the reason that he continued to hold it or the reason his lips curved upwards into a lewd smile.
Antonio shuddered at the unexpected gesture and was about to take his hands away when Nicolas said something truly demented.
“I want you”
Antonio felt his heart in his throat and his pulse in his ears as he ran the three words through his head time and time again but even after running and rerunning them he never really understood what he could have meant.
Nicolas was looking through him though not in the same way Walsingham did and while he was starring the way he always did; when he leered at him it felt way more intense and sinister.
Spain wrung his free hand anxiously in his shirt, swallowing his nerves he replied daftly “What, I’m sorry I didn’t quite make out what you said, can you say that again” surely the thunder had covered over some other part of the sentence that he hadn’t quite heard, because that was such a stupid confession that it was almost too bizarre to be real. The hand holding his now felt leaden, like a million elephants weighing him down, and the other hand on his waist was new and unwelcomed.
“Don’t play dumb now, I said I want you, it’s not too difficult”
The air was heavy, fixed with the weight of the disgust Antonio felt “Ah, yes, that’s exactly what I thought you said, my bad”
“So, what do you say?” was he thick with stupidity? What was he thinking?
“I don’t really know what you expect me to say it’s obviously no” Antonio stepped away taking his hand back with little resistance and straightening himself out. It was hard to explain the look on Nicolas’s face and the effect Antonio’s rejection had on him, clearly he was someone who felt entitled to his lot in life but Antonio wasn’t part of that lot.
“I’m sorry, I’m flattered really but,” Antonio really was tongue tied with nausea and adrenaline “thank you but I have to go I fear the execution is over and Arthur will be waiting, goodbye” he said, his nerves getting the better of him and as he walked away. He found himself setting a fast pace then moving to a light jog before breaking into a mad sprint, desperate to put a good distance between him and the insanity of Nicolas.
The captain just made him uneasy, offended, and on edge, like he would do whatever he felt like when he liked without a care in the world. Nicolas had always made him feel unsafe; something in the way he looked at him or how he talked to him but now with this botched confession of lust he just knew that the greater distance he put between him and that man the safer he would feel.

Chapter Text

The wood of the cell creaked as the day once more wore on, that's if it was even day at all. At some point João had stopped bothering to count the days that had gone past, it’s hard to keep up with time when you can’t see the outside world and harder yet to keep a semblance of sanity when your only company was your captors.
There were no windows in the cell nor the room beyond the cell, the only light he had at all came from the lanterns hung outside iron bars as a constant reminder of his imprisonment.
João lay spread across the floor his back pressed against the wall. This was how he felt most comfortable, from all the trauma and abuse he’d suffered it had become unbearable to sit and impossible to lay comfortably so he had to make do with what agitated him the least.
Port winced when he shifted as he felt blood dribble down his leg. He had been ‘lucky’ enough to receive a cleaning of sorts if you can call being doused in buckets of ice-cold water cleaning, but João knew this would be a means to an end as when they inevitably came back to abuse him again, they wouldn’t dirty themselves as much as if he were still unclean.
It couldn’t possibly get worse than this, though thinking that had been his mistake last time and then they had proved him horribly wrong.
João gritted his teeth in anger at the memory, they had the audacity to not only beat and maim him but then they had indulged in their filthy fantasies. Ever since then the sexual abuse had been constant and had only gotten more depraved. Every day they came down and while they would seem unsure to begin with, they would soon fall into the role of the abuser well. So, when he heard the laughter of men in the distance, he grew restless and fearful. He began to pray in his head, begging God to spare him or even to deliver a swift justice, he had been faithful and true and yet in his darkest moment he had never felt so lonely, betrayed and faithless.
From around the corner he saw the figures of the four Spaniards he’d come to know as his abusers, and with them trailed the tall figure of someone he couldn’t quite recognise.
The jangle of keys and creaking of rusted metal filled the air as the five men stood in the doorway to the holding cell. There seemed to be a hushed clamour before one of the Spaniards laughed an ugly laugh and lead the way into the cell.
“Good morning beautiful!”
Slowly the stranger entered the cell behind them and instinctively João curled in on himself like a beaten dog throwing the most menacing look he could from across the room. This didn’t deter the stranger however who kept his slow methodical pace toward him.
“It’s polite to greet someone when they greet you” João cast his eyes to the cells floor, he hated how weak he felt in the moment, but he’d come to realise that the Spaniards didn’t expect answers from him, only expected his compliancy.
“I suppose though you don’t really know if it’s night time or day time in this place though? But I guess that’s the point eh!” they laughed resting a hand on João’s knee, tapping his fingers in a sinister slow fashion, one two three, one two three, over and over until apprehension settled in Port’s throat.
At this João sought to take in the figure of the stranger to distract himself from the taunting only to notice how stylish the man in front of him was dressed. Even though he was visiting a jail cell he was dressed quite fine in a long navy-blue coat that almost reached the floor designed with intricate golden flower designs. Beneath the open coat he could just about see silk fabrics which he imagined to be pleasant to touch and the glimmer of a silver brooch, the man in front of him was certainly out of place among the dirt around him.
A harsh sting and João’s leg was reeling with pain from a slap across the thigh and he couldn't stop a pained hiss escaping his clenched white teeth, his glare settling back on the tallest of the Spanish men. He could vaguely remember the man being called Adrian but at this point he didn’t really care what they were called, he just prayed that God would gift him with a magic ability to drill holes through people with his eyes.
“Where are you looking bitch I’m right in front of you”
“Really? If I didn’t see you the smell was a dead give-away” João knew better, but somehow he couldn’t stay his evil tongue and he reaped the due reward of his words quickly with another brutal punch.
“Funny as always, that’s good, wouldn’t want to lose that spirit as it’s all you got left. You don’t even have your name anymore” that was true, at least to his captors. They had taken to calling him derogatory names, bitch, bastard, slut, whore, flax-wench you name it, all in bid to strip him of his pride, and in that sense it had worked.
“Devil incarnate” he spat weakly, his throat croaking from the dehydration, what he’d do for a taste of water.
With a quick pushing motion his face was against the cold stones of the cells floor and his body was being touched and pulled in painful directions, his shirt riding up and greeting his skin with the chilled touch of the stones beneath him. The shackles holding him to the wall made a hideous screeching sound as his whole body was pulled against them, the metal pulled taut and as far as it would go.
“Wait!” one of the Spaniards interjected stepping forward.
“What, not going to pussy out again right?”
“No, well, what I mean to say is that maybe we should remove the wall link, not the bonds but the link, it’s quite restricting, Damien here suggested it” he gestured to the finely dressed man who remained to the back of the group.
The man holding him down ran his hand through his hair and laughed “And why would I do that, sounds like a poor idea, what if he tries to run?”
“Scared?” asked the tall man, his voice smooth like honey and somehow familiar.
This accusation seemed to irritate the Spaniard as it sent him reaching for a key, muttering under his breath about hating fucking ‘northerners’.
João felt his hands fall to the floor, the first time they’d been released in weeks, but the release was brief a clamp came down around his throat “If you try to run I swear as God is my witness that I will kill you right where you lay” João made no room to retort only grimacing as a tongue ran along the underside of his jaw and up his cheek.
In that moment, like every time before, João swore he was going to kill them, he would tear them limb from limb with the might of every wind and every storm on this planet. He would burn them to the ground like an angry vengeful God and then he’d live his life true, like every day were his last, he would never take for granted and he would commit himself to an honest life. He just needed a sign, anything, something that proved he would survive this.
But all he saw was the familiar nameless face, and all he felt was the shame of emasculation as he went unheard for yet another day by a God he swore to serve.
But something was wrong, and that ugly face had turned away from him with a shout and was scrambling to get off him accidentally stepping on his stomach winding him. Although his eyes were bleary, he could see the bodies of two of the men on the floor and a third embroiled in a fight with the stranger who was brandishing a knife and fighting with the skill of a swordsman. The man who had been atop him was standing daftly, his stance wide and open and his back to João. There could be no clearer sign than this, the only way he could miss it is if he was dumb or fucking blind, he had to move, he had to act! He had to do something.
The rage surged like a wave crashing down and consuming his being as he jumped the fourth man from behind tightly fastening the shackles around his throat and chocking him with every ounce of strength that his battered body could muster.
His face was pale with fury which contrasted with the others blue one as he scratched at those strong arms around his throat. But try as he may Port was blind in his rage and his arms pulled harder the chain embedding deep into that plump throat. They fell to the floor in a mess of limbs but miraculously João manage to stay on top pressing his knee into his back allowing him to pull back harder and father until there was an unmistakable snap and the body went limp falling soundlessly to the ground.
João gasped falling back onto the floor with loud pants as he struggled for air, he didn’t realise he was holding his breath through the struggle and even though it lasted probably no more than half a minute time moved so slowly that you could have convinced him that he had spent hours strangling that man.
Even on seeing the body dead on the ground there was something inside him that could not be too sure if what he was seeing was true and so in good taste he fists that brown hair and slams the pliant head into the ground several times, revelling in the way the skull cracked beneath his hand and the blood ran between his fingers, blood that wasn’t his own for once.
When all fell still João felt relieved, but the relief was fleeting escaping through the bars of the cell never to be seen again as a pensive feeling set over him. He felt hollow, the hate that drove him forward was gone and he was face to face with the reality of the hell he’d been living and felt an unmistakable emptiness which lead into apprehension over the fifth person, the stranger, who had started the altercation and for lack of better wording, rescued him.
He recognised that figure from somewhere, and that voice he’d most certainly heard before, but even when the figure removed his coat and advanced on him he couldn’t take solace in familiarity.
Fear leaped in João’s heart and he flinched backwards his safety couldn’t be guaranteed and if there was one thing he knew it was he was still stuck in this cell with a dangerous stranger who could do practically whatever they wanted with him. But then a voice he recognised, oh by heaven he recognised it now, a voice as smooth as a polished gem and as familiar as the back of his hand.
“Calm down it’s just me”
“Ned!” João practically cried, the dim lighting of the room had made it impossible to tell who it was, but that voice now clearer and that musky smell of tobacco leaves, it was impossible to deny it was Luuk!
His eyes narrowed as his gloved fingers ran over his shoulder in a comforting gesture “Those fucking animals” he spat.
“That’s one way to put it, you saw them” he laughed, the first time he’d laughed in possibly weeks. While he wasn’t particularly close with Luuk just the comfort of knowing he wouldn’t hurt him was enough to make him completely break down his defences.  
“Why are you here” Luuk settled his coat around João’s body allowing him some decency “I was here on business, then I heard these fine gentlemen talking upstairs about you, we got to talking and they led me straight to you” his face was stoic but Port could tell the Ned was seething with rage.
“Well they won’t be doing much talking now” he assured.
“They won’t be doing much of anything now” Port joked.
João struggled to stand up but pain seared through his lower body causing him to fall heavily to the ground.
Luuk watched him with a pitying stare and decided when he saw the Portuguese man struggle to stand again that he couldn’t watch and picked the man up in his arms.
João protested “Luuk what are you doing!”
“I’m carrying you what does it look like”
“I can walk!”
Luuk scoffed “Yeah sure you can”

They didn’t say much more after that, João was just grateful that his prayers were answered and that someone had swooped in and saved him. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined it to be the Netherlands who saved him but then again, he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Luuk was silent the entire journey from the prison, he didn’t know where they were going but he didn’t care in the slightest, Armageddon could have been occurring and he wouldn’t have given two shits because he was out.
Eventually the dock came into sight and Luuk spoke up “I think it’d be safest if we both left the country right now”
“No, Ned, I can’t leave look at what they’ve done” he gestured wildly to the smouldering sight that was Lisbon "I've got to drive them all out, what else can I do?".
“Exactly and what help will you be all banged up like this,”
He looked down at the ground watching it pass him by wet wood turning to dry wood, his silence speaking volumes as they ascended onto the ship. In a sad raspy voice João responded “But where have I to go?”
“That’s for you to decide” Luuk moved to put João down who shakily outstretched his legs in order to try and stand and while his legs shook slightly he managed somehow to stand (though he looked like a newly born deer). No crew were on the ship which relieved João to no end, it was bad enough that Ned had seen him like this let alone a dozen other people.
“Thank you, for all your help,” he shrugged causing the large coat to fall from his shoulders “and sorry about dirtying you coat”
Luuk grunted turning to the door of his cabin and swinging it open “It doesn’t matter, now get in there so you can clean up” and with a light push João was stumbling “Don’t push me you beast I’ll fall!” 
“You’ll live” he teased.
The room was relatively small and quaint not that that was a problem it was exceedingly better than what he had experienced not an hour before. There was a vanity and desks strewn with maps, jewellery, fine silks and trinkets from years of sailing and next to these trinkets was a basin filled with water a balm of sorts and a wash cloth.
"Do you need help?" Luuk asked honestly.
“I hate needing help”
“It’s no shame to ask for it now and then” Ned glanced down running his gloved hand through his hair in exasperation “you’re only hurting yourself”
That was the truth and he knew it, so rather than fight it he allowed himself to be helped toward the bed.
The moon was beautiful that night as it filtered through the open window, he could smell the spray of the ocean in the air and for the first time in a while he felt free. He almost couldn’t feel Luuk pressing the cloth against his back anymore, everything had become numb to him in the best way and honestly it just felt nice to have a caring touch on him, even if that touch did sometimes press too hard in places. Luuk had given him alcohol to calm his nerves and these leaves which he’d ordered him to eat much to his hesitation. Though he’s glad he forced him to eat them as he felt his body become lighter and he felt every movement of the ship beneath him, but rarely could hefeel the cloth run along his spine. But this didn’t stop him from feeling some things and every so often he would have dramatic flares of pain.
“Ah shit Luuk” Port cursed lurching forward as he was roughly snapped from his daze.
“Stop complaining the worst is over” Luuk sighed wringing the cloth in his hand, the water had turned red and the white cloth was no longer so pure. Luuk looked so tired and restless in the pale moonlight as he went between the cloth the basin and his aching back and even though he looked so tired he never complained.
“This is better than being flogged”
“Well that’s a given” Port sighed resting his arms on his legs looking down at the floor beneath his feet completely mesmerised by the bone sinews of his own feet. Once more he was reminded of his nakedness and flushed slightly in embarrassment at the man cleaning his back and that embarrassment was only heightened when the cloth brushed against his lower back.
Luuk huffed tapping the side of his finger against João’s shoulder “Get up” he said sighing and leaning back to stretch out.
“I need to clean your lower body”
Port flushed a brighter red “Alright”
He stood quickly and tried hard to just stare out the window and ignore the cleaning as it persisted, the pain was particularly intense here and he was hissing in pain as Luuk cleaned the welts.
“I’m sorry”
“Don’t be it’s not your fault” he mumbled through clenched teeth.
Luuk looked over João’s back and rear and cringed slightly. The wounds were deeper here and alongside them there was a litter of bruised finger prints and hand marks around his hips and arse.
Ned spoke up “Maybe you should go to England’s house?”
João craned his head over his shoulder “I don’t want to bother England on such short notice?”
Luuk shrugged throwing the cloth into the basin and moving to the other side of the bed, he reached down to the floor before emerging again and turning back to João. In his hand was a bundle of clothes, plain clothing and nothing particularly fashionable but enough to shield him. 
“Well it’s England or France really”
“Why not your house or Gilbert’s”
“My house is Spain’s house” he noted tiredly rubbing his head “as much as I dislike it and Gil is locked in war”
João slipped the shirt on quickly before hastily pulling on the slacks enjoying the feeling of clothes chaffing against his poor skin, even though it wasn’t pleasant it was a luxury he had missed.
“What would I tell him?”
“The truth, just write a letter, send it off here and then we’ll leave, I know he won’t deny you” Port pondered over those words, it was after all a curious choice of words.
“Probably not, I fear you may be right”
Luuk poured the bloody water out the window into the sea “I’m always right, now buckle down and write your letter we leave at sunrise”



“So you killed them?”
“All of them?”
“Every last one” these were the last words that had been shared between the two as Agatha shook in horror at the story from moments ago. She had been too daring and had asked to know of the events that had befallen João and in his frustration he relayed the story. It had been a long painful and stressful day and João felt he had something to prove to Agatha and in a way himself, so when he was done, he demanded a paper and quill and set about penning a letter to the man, Luuk, from his story.
Agatha sat still patiently as João shook violently, the wind was exceptionally loud that night as it fought with the shutters creating dreadful eerie sounds. The quill fell from his hand again and an exasperated groan followed, this was the eight time in the course of writing the letter that the quill had fallen and the man’s annoyance was now palpable his wrists shaking from the anger as he clenched the board and feather tighter hoping this time it would no longer fall.
There was little Agatha could do to make the process any easier for him, she could barely read let alone write if she could she would have offered her assistance a while ago. So, she helped in the best way she could bringing tea and humming softly and cleaning spilled ink, and if it at all soothed him and his painful hands, she was glad to help.
“Damned thing” he cursed when it slipped once more spraying a helping of ink over the board. With a tenderness that came from her tiredness she dabbed the blotches away from the precious paper “Don’t stress yourself too much, give your body time and you’ll be able to write as many letters as you want” she encouraged him.
“But I should like to write this now, I need to, I want to repay a great kindness”
“Well you’re doing him a disservice by injuring yourself all over again by overexerting yourself sir!”
João looked at her and a flurry of emotions overcame his face, a great feeling of frustration and an overwhelming sense of sadness came over her as she continued her point.
“I just think that you’re burning yourself more than you know”
“I’m not burning though”
“Oh but you are, if it’s not too bold to say”
“Well it is!” he shouted, his eyebrows scrunching together in a way that reminded her all to much of Arthur during his tantrums.
The air hung still as Agatha thought on what to say, clearly, he didn’t want to hear whatever she had to say and clearly he was feeling very defeated “I’m not on fire, I’m fine, I may be useless and I may be bruised and ugly but in the end I’ll be better for it, all you’re experiences make you who you are and what this has taught me is that I should never, ever be so foolish as to let my guard down or speak back to those who hold power over me, so excuse me for saying this but can you please just go.”
Normally this would be the part where she would apologise and leave, but something didn’t permit her to turn and leave, instead she just stared harshly at João who had become rather distressed.
“Just leave me alone, please” his voice cracked weakly as he rubbed his thumbs over his eyes pressing back any tears that might have fallen.
The mellow light from the candle gently curved over João’s hands making them glow a soft gold and in that same light his eyes glistened a brilliant glassy green and Agatha decided that this man was too beautiful to believe he was ugly. Finger tips grazed his bare shoulder and he turned suddenly to meet her softening gaze, and if the women couldn’t become any more surprising she said something that he could never have expected her to say.
“It’s okay to cry if you want” she braced against the air as she expected a harsh and volatile reaction or maybe even a swift painful slap but she watched as those golden green eyes lightened with welling tears and his mouth let out a broken sob. Tenderness swooned her gentle heart and with little care she abandoned her position and held his crying head in her hand threading her fingers lovingly through his hair and cradling him like a delicate infant. Through reliving those dreadful weeks and realising that he would never quite be over what has happened, for the first time in his life Portugal well and truly wished that he would just die. Once more, for the rest of the night nothing else was said only the cries of João could be heard throughout the house, when they weakened they would start anew and fresh tears would brighten his red cheeks and it remained like that until the very first rays of dawn broke through those shutters.