Originally posted: Here, for tauruschick12.
Length: 1600 words.
Characters/Pairings: France/muddy ditch OTP. Also, Joan of Arc.
Premise: The first time they meet.
Time period: 1429.
Wrist slashiness: 3/10
Would I like it?: Joan must teach a hopeless, drenched-in-horse-urine France to ~believe in himself~ again. If that sentence made you smile, read on.
This ditch is like me, France reflected. Shallow, and full of trash.
He lay on his back, in the mud, beside a road that hurried through an empty little blight of nowhere. There were trees, and travelers, sometimes. England hadn't burned this bit down, which told France that there was nothing important in it. So it was a good place for a ditch, and a good place for France to be. Cold slurry ran off the cobbles and splashed over his leg whenever a horse trundled by. Sometimes, the horses stopped, and what splashed over him was warm, not cold, and he thought: yes. This is my life.
Just a few more defeats for his starving and bedraggled armies--and defeats were in no short supply--and it would be his death.
He felt for the neck of a bottle, nudging away all the empty ones. They clinked and rolled away down the barren embankment. He was running out of wine; dismal thought. He found a bottle with a bit of slosh left in it and yanked out the cork with his teeth. He spat it aside. He felt it might be something worthwhile if England would take the fort at Orleans before the wine was gone, or else he might be forced to choose between horrifying sobriety, and leaving this ditch, which had provided him with such unquestioning succor and companionship.
Now and then, dogs, or wolves perhaps, strolled out from the tree line and nosed at his boots or sleeve. France supposed that his mélange of horse piss, bad wine, and unquenchable joie de vivre must be irresistible to them. He kicked a bit to show that he was still alive to send them on their way.
He took a swig. For God's sake, it might as well be vinegar.
Then it started to rain. France took it philosophically.
"Sir? Excuse me--my Lord?"
This was some time later. He squinted his eyes open against the gentle patter of raindrops and craned his neck up. "'My Lord?'" he repeated incredulously. "Can't you recognize a beggar dying in the mud when you see one?"
"I know the greatest nation on Earth when I see him, sir. I can't speak to the rest of it."
That seemed worth focusing for, barely; he straightened up on his elbows and peered at the little company. Soldiers, Free Companions, maybe. The one who spoke to him was a slender boy at the front, perched on a black horse. "Clever," France snarled, "Now fuck off, I'm trying to drink."
"Go on ahead," the boy murmured to his escort.
"I'll join you soon. He's no threat to me."
Of course not, France mused, as twenty-something horses clattered by. He was no threat at all to anyone.
The lissome boy slid off his mount and edged down the muddy slope towards France. "You are my nation," he ventured.
"Bonnefoy." France dropped his head back and raised the bottle to his lips again.
"No. My nation. France." The youth arrived at his side and studied him with clear, serious eyes.
He supposed it mattered little enough. "Who told you?"
The boy didn't answer. "I've been to see the king, you know, at Chinon. I thought to find you there."
"I don't have a king. I have a Dauphin," he offered, as he lay back in the mud with a squelch. "An indolent little brat, the son of a madman, who means to run away and hide under Scotland's roomy skirts. I think I prefer the company of this ditch. Its constancy has never once failed me since I met it."
"You're drunk," the boy reproved.
"And I hope I shall continue to be for the brief duration of the rest of my life," France agreed, "If it be God's will." He raised his bottle in a toast. The boy snatched it out of his hand.
"Excuse me," France tried, affronted.
"God has other plans for you," the boy replied. He threw the bottle towards the woods. While France struggled into a sitting position, the boy found the rest of the wine and threw it away as well. France flailed to stop him, and he gently pushed the nation's arms aside. "You need to get up, and come with me."
"I don't need to do--"
"My name is Jeanne d'Arc."
"That's no name for a boy--"
'Sir, I am not one."
France paused, and revisited his first impression. His eyes crawled over this Jeanne: from narrow shoulders, to flat chest, to the small waist, to delicate hips, and then reversed, back up, to that hairless, soft and open face. She blushed slightly.
"Well," France said at last, "Then I have even less of an idea what you want with me. I thought you were the commander of those soldiers."
"A girl? A young girl."
She pushed a section of faded brown hair off her forehead. "I thought perhaps you would have heard of it by now."
"I remember something from a couple of weeks ago, some witch taken away to Poitiers--"
"I am not a witch!" she flared. "I was questioned at Poitiers, and they agreed that I'm not a witch. The--the Dauphin has made me Grand Commander of all the armies in the kingdom."
"Has he," France marveled. "Why on earth would he do such a thing?"
Jeanne's answer was quick, impassioned, and utterly sincere. "Because God has sent me to save you."
France thought about that for a moment, and then sighed. "Of course. Any patriots left in this country would have to be lunatics."
"God warned me that you would be doubtful."
"I'd always hoped my creator would have that sensible streak," he approved. He pinched his forehead and wriggled down into the mud again.
Jeanne crouched beside him and hauled him upright by his tunic. "You have to come with me," she repeated.
He tugged his clothing out of her hands. "Cherie, you aren't pretty enough to get your way by getting rough with me."
She ignored him. "We are going to Orleans, to join up with the army. God has shown me how to break the English siege."
"As willing as I am to believe that God loves me, and hates England, I've seen little to persuade me that His benevolent eye has rested upon me at any point over the past century or so."
"Listen to yourself!" Jeanne cried. "Where is your faith? Your pride? I've--"
"Faith I've enough of, I think, but a man steeped in fetid ditch runoff soon runs out of pride," he interrupted.
"Then get up!"
"Why should I? The ditch makes less irritating conversation than you do." He caught her wrist and jerked her forward. She made a very girlish cry as she tumbled against him. He held her fast. "But of course, even a homely lunatic can persuade with more than just words, yes?" he breathed against her lips.
Her knee slammed between his legs, and her elbow smashed down on the bridge of his nose. She scrambled away from him as he toppled to the side like a felled tree.
It was really all he had needed to make his day complete.
"Don't ever try that again." Her voice trembled in anger.
"Consider your point well made," he mumbled.
She didn’t move as his vision cleared and he sat up again. Then she knelt beside him. "France," she began in earnest, "You must come with me. I can free you, but you must--trust me."
He sounded tired. "Why should I bother?"
She took his hand and clasped it between her own, and lowered her head in sudden reverence. "Because I swear on my life--on my soul--that I will see you restored, or die in your service. My courage will not fail you, sir. You are my nation--my nation, and I will not forsake you."
He watched her uneasily. "Oh, please don't say all that." He wet his lips. "You're much too young for a lost cause."
She looked up into his eyes, and it struck him that he had been wrong about her twice: she was very pretty, actually, in a clear and unornamented away, which had diverted his eye, at first, with its own humility. "Place your trust in me," she pleaded. "Or, if you are convinced that I will fail, just come to Orleans to see for yourself."
France felt an odd, cold flurry of--fear, but he was dimly aware that fear could not exist without hope. It was an absurd, sickly little hope, this thing that had been kindled by a half-mad peasant crossdresser, but he felt himself nodding anyway, and he let Jeanne pull him to his feet.
He staggered heavily. She shrugged his arm over her shoulders and supported him, this girl who was half his size.
"Did the Dauphin tell you who I was, and where to find me?" he asked, remembering his first question in this surreal interview.
She shook her head and boosted him up onto her horse. "God did."
She rode in front of him on the saddle, with his arm wrapped around her waist, and seemed to be without fear of any further molestation. France wondered at her. And his hands stayed where she had put them.