Author: Tinstars PM
America thought it would be funny to turn the device on himself. What's the worst that could happen? Y'know, aside from accidentally falling in love with your friend. This is my continuation of "America's strange invention" from the end of Comic Diary 8.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - America & England/Britain - Chapters: 6 - Words: 32,655 - Reviews: 134 - Favs: 405 - Follows: 77 - Updated: 08-11-10 - Published: 06-15-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6054000
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This is the final chapter. It contains heavily implied non-explicit sexual situations. Hope you enjoy!
America tossed about as he thought of the next day, waiting for sleep to overtake him. He was going to meet with England, of course, but they would keep looking for a cure. No holding or touching or any of that. Just good, old-fashioned magic.
And America could deal with that. Despite having been within reach of a solution only to have it taken away yet again, he would do what he had to do.
He woke up to a strange sensation, as though his chest was being constricted by some invisible barrier. He stood in front of the mirror and pressed a hand to his nightshirt, but all he could feel was his heartbeat speeding up whenever he thought about trying to make it through the day. He'd been through such a barrage of intense emotions over the past week, he was almost surprised that he could still see himself. The scar on his forehead was barely visible now, but the longing in his eyes was more apparent than ever. He leaned against the glass and took deep breaths. A thought echoed through his mind.
Feelings that already exist.
His eyes opened slowly as the rhythm of his heart pounded erratically. Was it true? More importantly, was it enough?
On the way to the meeting, he tried to shake off his confusion. His head was already a jumbled mess, and there was no way he'd be able to face these few remaining days if he wasn't able to sort himself out a bit.
When he walked into the meeting hall, England was already in his seat. He was looking off into space with deep concentration. When America sat down, England greeted him with a small gesture of his hand before spacing out again.
As America got settled, the constriction in his chest seemed to tighten further. He became hyper-aware of the position of his body in line with England's. His feet and his hands tingled and he imagined himself moving just a little closer to the left, and brushing his pinky against England's. He almost jumped in his seat when the meeting was called to order, severely flushed from his wandering imagination.
He kept it together as the meeting wore on, but the struggle was greater than ever. Now that he had considered the possibility of being with England, there was no where else his mind could go. Meanwhile, England continued to smolder with an intensity aimed at no one in particular. By lunchtime, it was hard for America to breath. He was so twisted up inside that it was becoming physically painful. He watched achingly as England left the room.
"Is something troubling you, America-san?" Japan asked after setting his prepared meal on the table.
America groaned and slumped in his seat, still watching the door that England had left through. "I don't know what I'm gonna do. Why did I have to think up that gun in the first place? Life was great until now. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty damn awesome. I thought I had everything I wanted. Now…it's all wrecked. I don't know how I'll be able to get through this. All because of one little slip of the finger."
Japan studied him for a long time. "America-san…" he started to say. He opened his mouth several times, carefully forming something in his mind, but unable to communicate the thought aloud. Finally, he turned his chair with unexpected deliberation and stared America down. In response, America sat up straight and listened, surprised by Japan's sudden forwardness. Japan took a deep breath and finally said what he wanted to say.
"America-san, love is not a weapon."
America stared but Japan just nodded and returned to his food.
He sat in his seat and tried to think about what Japan had said, but it didn't stick. The words just hung in the air, blocked by his stubborn mind. In his head, he went over the incident with the gun several times, imagining what might have happened if he'd just been a bit more careful. After exhausting that thought, he started to feel restless, so he walked over to one of the open windows and looked outside.
It was a sunny day. There were birds in the trees and people on the street, strolling along and talking and living their lives. The sky was covered with wisps of clouds, and the world was beautiful. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, thinking about a time when his life had been simple, but something became clear. Those moments that seemed trivial now had felt like insurmountable hurdles at the time. Bruises and cuts from a run in the woods would fade over time, but it still hurt like hell when you got them. And even in childhood, there had always been one person on whom his happiness and dreams depended. It had never been simple.
Of course, the complexities of his childhood didn't really help his situation now. Throughout the rest of the meeting, the tension in America continued to grow. Even though he and England hadn't actually spoken a word to each other all day, it felt like they were completely entangled in each other.
By the time everyone started leaving, America felt like he was going to burst. He walked to a nearby fast food restaurant and bought the largest burger they made, but he barely ate any of it. And when it was time to meet with England, he was no longer sure of his ability to make it through the day. The walk down the hallway to the end of the building felt like it took hours. The walls stretched out further with every step, but he suddenly found himself standing in front of the door. He stared at the doorknob for several minutes, waiting for his heartbeat to steady. It didn't, so he took a deep breath, opened the door and walked inside.
The lights had been turned off. There were no candles lit this time. A good amount of natural light still shone through the large windows. The table was pushed against the wall, leaving a big empty space with both of the chairs already in place, facing each other on either end of the room. England stood by the table, flipping through the pages of a book. He glanced up when America entered the room.
"Have a seat," he said simply, without explanation.
America sat down on the nearest chair and folded his arms. He looked around and tried to figure out what England was going to do. He felt a little nauseous at the thought of something as intimate as the previous evening. Maybe it really was time to end these little meetings. If it was already this difficult to sit in a room alone with England, it probably wasn't going to get better anytime soon.
England picked up the book he was looking through and carried it as he sat down in his seat.
"I'm surprised you haven't asked what we're doing today," England said, still looking down at the book now in his lap.
"Uh, what're we doing?" America asked, feeling the hairs on his neck prickle at the sound of his own anxious voice.
"I'm going to trace your energy. I'll establish a force field for protection and then I'll be able to study your aura. This should help me to see if you've been cursed, and where the energy is concentrated."
America nodded. "Kay."
England tilted his head at America's quick, unquestioning reply. "You'll have to keep your arms at your sides. And no moving."
"Sure thing." America put his arms in place.
"Give me a moment. I'm trying to find the proper incantation for a small scale force field." England held the book up and flipped through more pages.
America waited patiently, watching England's face closely. He saw that the sadness had returned to England's eyes. There was a heavy air to his expression and America felt devastated because there was nothing he could do about it. He observed and waited like he always did, just one beat short of reaching out to touch and comfort the man he loved. England looked up from his place in the book, as if he could feel the intensity of America's watchful eyes.
America could imagine himself reaching out, but he couldn't make himself do it. All he could do was smile back at England. So he put everything he could into that gentle smile. All of the love and camaraderie and admiration he could muster. He knew that a smile could only convey so much, but it was the best he could do. He thought about everything they had been through together and smiled because he just wanted England to stop being so sad.
At that moment, something in England snapped. His eye twitched and he let the book fall from his hands. It hit the floor with a heavy thud, pages spread out and crinkled, but England didn't seem to care. He slowly stood up and approached America, circling around his chair and looking at him from all different sides.
"W-what about the force field?" America asked.
"Don't need it," England replied huskily as he focused on America's left side. "Stay still."
England leaned over, hovering just above America's ear, supposedly examining his aura. That tension in America's chest had spread to the rest of his body. He felt England's breath on the side of his face and almost flinched, but stayed facing forward. Suddenly, he felt the tip of England's nose dragging along his cheek with an unbelievably light touch. He closed his eyes and let out a shaky breath. When he opened them again, England's face was nearly in front of his, scrutinizing him.
He gulped and England moved closer. Soon America couldn't see anything else. His pulse was racing and his skin was on fire where England had brushed against him. Now England was sliding to the left, nose pressing soft against his cheek until finally the corners of their lips touched. England inched just a little bit further to the side and both men pushed forward, meeting each other in the middle. Their mouths crashed together in something that wasn't so much practiced as a meeting of flesh against flesh. They pulled back and glanced at each other briefly before tilting their heads and meeting again in something more definable.
The rush was unbelievable. America couldn't even berate himself. At this point, "self-control" didn't mean anything. He was kissing England and, for some reason, England was kissing him. England's lips were incredibly soft but his movements were deliberate and hungry. America almost lost himself in the intensity of England's draw, but eventually started to push back eagerly. England pulled away just as the shock was wearing off. America let out a soft whine, but England was only repositioning himself, swinging a leg over to straddle America's lap.
Now they were completely pressed against each other. England trailed gentle kisses along America's neck until their lips met again. Their bodies moved with their fervor, shifting and pressing as if they could meld together. Instinctively, America put his hand on England's hip to hold him in place, digging under the layers of clothes so that he could brush his thumb against warm skin. How could a former-empire have such slender hips? England moaned into his mouth and reached up to thread his fingers through America's hair.
America couldn't get enough. He loved the feel of England's hands caressing him. The pushing and pulling and demanding. England's soft moans and their palpable shared enthusiasm. Having a tangible England moving against him was better than a dream could ever be. Even the tension in his chest had dissipated, leaving an abundant happiness in its wake. However, there was one little thought pestering him. It got louder and louder, disrupting his enjoyment until he couldn't ignore it anymore. He gently pushed against England's chest and let out a few breaths, trying to catch his body up with his mind.
"I…I can't do this," he whispered grimly. A pain shot through his heart as the words came out.
England tried to appear calm, but his eyes couldn't hide the truth. It was as though his worst nightmare had come true. "Why?" he asked, voice aching at the thought of being betrayed yet again.
America looked up at the ceiling, unable to deal with the heartbreak in England's voice. He whispered slowly. "It's just…it's not fair. What if this isn't real?"
England seemed slightly puzzled, but his concern dialed down severely. He placed his hands on either side of America's face. "Oh Alfred," he said with total affection. "What do you want?"
America closed his eyes in concentration.
"Don't think about it," England interrupted. "Just tell me. What do you want?"
The trees behind the windows were dark, but the fading light from the sun radiated behind England, creating a warm glow around his face. "I want you," America replied simply.
England sighed and nuzzled his face against America's neck. "Then you have me," he whispered. America could feel England smiling against his skin.
And there it was. No turning back. He nudged England's face and kissed him warmly, finally prepared to deepen their relationship.
They held each other until the sun went down, kissing and creating their own warmth and light in that tiny room. Eventually they managed to put the room back into its proper place, which took substantially longer than normal due to England's sudden knack for ending up on top of the table. When the room was tidy and the books in place, they left the building hand-in-hand.
England awoke to the sound of muffled voices. He cracked one eye open and immediately shut it again. He felt absolutely no desire to move from his spot, pressed comfortably against Alfred's warm chest. It had taken him far too long to get there. However, the noise was too loud to ignore. He listened closely.
"So, is there any new information or what? I'm not really sure why you called." America's voice was much louder than he probably intended it to be. There was the mildest hint of irritation in his tone – the kind that one would only be aware of if they'd spent decades listening to his inane babbling.
"There, um, there is something we need to tell you, sir. W-we thought it was time to…to tell…ah…"
England didn't recognize the voice on the other line, beyond the fact that he was American and sounded quite nervous. For another minute or so, the mystery man rambled and stuttered without saying much of anything, and his voice from the phone became increasingly faint. Suddenly, another voice came across the cellphone speaker, loud enough for England to hear very clearly.
"Why're you pestering this poor man, Jones?"
England knew that gruff voice. It belonged to a man named Boomer. He and Alfred had met several years ago through the military and he was one of the few people outside of special operations who was aware of Alfred's real identity. He was loud and forthright and America loved him for it, though England didn't particularly care for his abrasive attitude.
"Hey Boomer! What're you doing over there?" America asked, barely bothering to whisper anymore.
"They asked me to talk to you about this issue they've been having."
"Oh? What issue?"
America titled his head back against the pillow. "Huh?"
"Seems you've been calling about a certain gun you took from them."
America grumbled slightly in his response. "Oh, yeah. Well, I wouldn't really say 'took' like it's a bad thing. I mean, it was my idea."
"So you were reckless, like always…"
"There was no safety on the damn thing!"
Boomer continued. "…and now you're trying to fix your mistake."
America sighed. "I was."
"Well, I'm here to tell you something, Al. I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say. Ready? Here it is: there is no such thing as a gun that can make you gay."
England almost started at this, but managed to stay still. He turned his head slightly to hear better. Alfred paused for some time.
"S-sure, I know that. It just makes you fall in love, like some kind of weird love beam, right?" America laughed nervously. England was now completely alert.
"Huh? No! There is no gun that can make you homosexual or fall in love or hump a tree. It. Does. Not. Exist."
America's laugh was even more nervous. "Uh, yeah it does. I have it. I held it in my hands. Look, I went on a tour of the lab and they told me it was still in the testing stage, but I wanted to have one anyway. And maybe I shouldn't have taken it, but it's totally real."
Boomer sighed audibly. "Do you live in some fairytale world with elves and unicorns and little green aliens? You're not in a movie, Al. You are not the lord of the rings and you definitely aren't a pretty princess. This here is the real world."
It took all of England's concentration not to speak up and protest the presence of Tolkien in this bizarre conversation. He was starting to connect the dots and could feel an angry heat erupting inside him.
"Besides, the way these folks tell it, you barged into their work one day and blabbered about one of your crazy theories. And then the next time you came back, they tried to tell you the project only existed on paper, but you didn't believe them and refused to leave until you had a copy of what they were working on. According to them, the gun you took was a prototype from a different project. Knowing you, I'm a bit more inclined to believe their side of this mess."
America's breath hitched. "So…what does this gun do?" he whispered fearfully.
Boomer paused. "Nothing! It's non-functional! Just a lump of metal, only for design."
"Nothing. It doesn't do anything." America seemed to be talking more to himself than anyone else. His voice was strangely quiet now. "So, why didn't they just tell me that in the first place?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe they were intimidated, or confused about protocol. Or maybe they didn't want to face the possibility that their own country is a complete dumbass."
Even though he couldn't see America's face, England could picture it very well. It was probably that same pout he'd been using for centuries, cheeks puffed out and red, whenever someone scolded him. Boomer started up again with a heavy sigh.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Al, you're a good guy. I know you didn't mean any bad by it. You get carried away sometimes, but that's just who you are. You imagine what could be instead of what is and, well, I think you've achieved a lot on account of it. That's why I fight for you. That's why I'm your friend."
"I know," America whispered.
"Well now, since you know what you need to know, you can stop bothering these fine people." He chuckled. "I just hope you didn't do anything stupid because of that gun."
America let out the most awkward laugh possible. "Ahahaa, nope everything is perfectly fine and normal and I'm great, so thanks for telling me and I'll call you later goodbye." He dropped the phone onto the side table and settled back into the pillows.
England felt that this was as good a time as any to address his pressing dilemma. He sat up and climbed on top of America, positioning himself above the startled nation.
"You thought a gun made you fall in love with me," he spat viciously.
"Oh," America replied, twisting his fingers in the sheets. "You heard that, huh?"
"A gun? You came to me for help because you thought a gun put a love spell on you."
"W-well, not exactly a spell, per se…"
"Did you…did you think…" England gasped. "Were you thinking that when we made love?"
"Heh," America smiled uneasily, sinking further and further into the mattress as England hovered over him. "To be honest, I wasn't really thinking about much last night."
England sat back and groaned in frustration. "Only you. This entire situation would only be possible with you. Of all the people in the world, I had to fall in love with a complete fool. So tell me, did you do anything 'stupid'?"
America smiled sheepishly. "Never. Although, would I win any points if I told you that I'd been planning to call the scientists and tell them I didn't want a cure anymore?"
England stared at him and his expression softened slowly. In the back of his mind, he was still riding the bliss of the previous night, and the anger was getting tedious. "Perhaps." He slid down to America's level and kissed him on the cheek. "You're lucky; I've decided to be 'nice' this morning."
America kissed him several times and settled in beside him, slowly stroking his fingers through England's hair. "I'm sorry."
England grunted and moved closer to America. His sensible self still wanted to be angry, but it was difficult when his physical self was being caressed by Alfred's fingers. He knew that he had every right to be yelling and kicking up a fuss, but after so many years of longing, Alfred's actions seemed trivial. He'd never thought that they could actually be together; he had dreamed and occasionally hoped, but never really thought it would come to anything, yet here they were. They lay side by side for some time, cuddling and listening to each other breathe. England blinked slowly, on the verge of falling asleep, when he noticed America staring at the ceiling with a stunned look on his face.
"What's the matter now?" England asked.
"I realized something," America replied trance-like.
"Hmm?" England said.
America turned to the side and held England's gaze. "If the gun didn't do anything…then that means I'm really in love with you. Like, completely in love with you." He reached his hand out and cupped England's flushed cheek. "I think…I think I have been for a while."
England looked into his eyes steadily. He wrapped his hand around America's and kissed his palm. "Then it's a good thing you realized it. A few more decades of waiting and I would have been very cross."
The sound of Alfred's gentle laughter calmed his heart.
"I'm sorry," America said when he'd quieted down again. "I'm sorry about everything. I know I've probably put you through hell, but I swear I'll make it up to you."
"It's alright, love. As long as we're together, I'll be happy," England replied softly.
America scrunched his face. "I know, but I feel awful about this. If I'd just told you what happened to begin with, you would have set me straight. Uh, so to speak. Then you wouldn't have had to waste all that time researching and helping me with my nonexistent problem."
England froze and a grimace of guilt flashed across his face.
"…What? What is it?" America asked.
"I, er, well, I…I may have a little…confession of my own." England's grin was painfully guilty. America was baffled. What the hell was going on?
"You can tell me anything," America insisted.
England hesitated, glancing around shiftily. "You see, the thing about it is…when you came to me asking for help…I, erm…I knew there was nothing wrong with you. Nothing that magic could cure, anyway."
America's jaw fell slack. "What? Wait, what? How? Why were you helping me, then?"
"Well, I would have been able to sense it. A-and I thought that perhaps you would work out the problem along the way. Sometimes these things work themselves out if you keep thinking on it." England still sounded like he was hiding something. America stared at him until he started to feel extremely uncomfortable. "Alright, alright! I…I thought it might...make us closer. I just wanted to spend more time with you." He spoke in a very small voice, looking away shamefully. "Do you know how long it's been since you asked for my help? Not in politics, but personally? The feeling of being needed…by you…god, it's been so long. I couldn't let it go."
America studied him carefully.
"I know, I'm pathetic," England said quietly. "A pathetic old fool in love."
America leaned forward and gave him a gentle kiss. "You're not the pathetic one here. I just wanted to understand. I always thought you were the last person who actually wanted to spend time with me."
"Alfred…of course I want to be around you. I mean, you are rather loud and strange at times, and you have no respect for your elders, but we've shared so much. I always invite you over despite your constant insulting of my cooking, don't I?"
America thought about it. "Then why does it always seem like you're mad at me?"
England sighed. "Well, our history isn't perfect. And we don't always, er, overlap."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. It could be worse, though. We haven't driven each other completely crazy yet." America leaned back and put his arm around England's shoulder. England nuzzled his arm and they sat in pleasant silence for a bit, until America's mind got back on track. "Hey, wait. If you knew there wasn't any magic in me, then what were all those books about? And the spells and stuff?"
England laughed nervously again. "Er, well, most of the spells were just mild charms. For luck and so forth."
America considered this. "Well, what about that potion that made me go all wacky?"
England flinched. "That…that was actually an old cure for scurvy. No magical properties whatsoever."
America's eyes widened. "…what? Then why did it make me all crazy?"
England shrugged. "I've no idea. It must have been your own mind."
Slowly, America raised his hand and rubbed his head. "What is wrong with me?"
England shook his head apologetically.
"Okay, then what about that one spell that did work? Cause I didn't feel anything that night."
England looked more guilty than ever. "That was a sedative. Essentially. I just wanted you to stop worrying."
America stared at him blankly. "You drugged me with magic? Wow, this relationship is off to a great start."
England cringed. "I know, it was a terrible thing to do and I'm sorry. I had a moment of weakness."
"And the divininination stuff?"
"Ah. That was all real. No point in faking it, really. The readings apply regardless of the root of the problem, and I thought they could be useful."
America sighed, vaguely relieved. "Well, I guess we both went about this the wrong way."
They studied each other. They both knew that they'd committed worse offenses against each other, and that the worst could be yet to come, but there in the light of the morning it didn't seem so bad.
"I think we'll be okay." America slid his hand behind England's back and pulled him close. "So, what's that I heard you say? About being in love with me?" He grinned slyly.
England pushed him away half-heartedly and turned red. "Of course I'm in love with you. You'd have to be pretty bloody stupid not to see it at this point."
America's grin got bigger. "And is that why you attacked me like that yesterday?"
England gasped. "Attacked you? The way I remember it, you kissed me too!"
"Yeah, eventually. But I was the one sitting down in the chair. You were the one looking at me like I was a delicious juicy steak."
"I was tracing you energy!" England shouted indignantly.
America quirked an eyebrow. "With your mouth?"
England wanted to slap the grin off his face, but decided to kiss it off instead. When America was suitably quiet, he responded softly. "After the tarot reading, I didn't know what to think. I kept…imagining you with other people, and I couldn't handle it. When you looked at me like that, I thought it might be the last opportunity I had."
America smiled softly at him and brushed his thumb against England's temple. "How long have you had feelings for me?"
England closed his eyes. "You don't need to know that." America was extremely curious, but he didn't press it, and England curled against him. "Do you remember during the war, when we spent those long stretches waiting to hear from our boys?"
"On the joint missions, yeah. I was scared, but you were always cool as a cucumber."
England chuckled gently. "I was completely terrified. When it was just the two of us, I would imagine how many steps would be involved in removing your uniform. Not the wisest line of thought, but it managed to keep me sane."
America shot him a very serious look. "Do you remember how many steps you counted?"
"Why?" England asked with suspicion.
America smirked and whispered in England's ear, "Cause I've still got that uniform at home…"
England smirked back, his voice a low rumble. "Then we should test it out soon. You do know how I strive for accuracy."
America flipped him onto his back with ease and started to nibble on his earlobe, trying to coax more of those soft noises from England's lips. "Fuck," he whispered, "you even moan with an accent." England groaned in response and wrapped his legs around America's waist, pulling him closer.
The alarm clock buzzer sounded abruptly, ripping them apart. They both turned and glared at it with unbridled hatred. America slammed his hand on top of it so hard he completely dislodged the power supply.
"…they won't care if we miss one day, right?" America asked aloud.
England nipped at his jaw. "Won't even notice we're gone."
They grinned and disappeared under the sheets.
"Where are they?" Germany said, standing at the front of the table. "They know we can't hold the meeting with both of them gone!"
"I called Arthur's phone earlier this morning, but he didn't answer," Canada replied.
The meeting should have begun fifteen minutes prior, but neither America nor England had arrived. The rest of the nations were fidgeting restlessly, ready for the day to begin.
"Has anyone called America? Honestly, what could they be doing that's more important than work?" Germany scratched his head and starting looking through his official directory.
"I think I know what they're doing," France purred.
"Don't be obscene," Germany insisted. "I'll call America." He approached the secure conference phone, turned the speaker on and dialed America's number. It rang several times until there was a click. A few nations leaned in, vaguely interested in what was happening. Before Germany could speak, they heard several beeps, like the person holding the phone was pushing buttons.
Suddenly, an angry voice was broadcast over the speakers.
"How on earth do you shut this bloody thing off?"
It was England's voice, coming through America's phone. The rest of the nations perked up. There was a chuckle in the background, and another voice that sounded further away.
"You make the most adorable face when you're frustrated," America said.
Germany reached down to press the button that would end the call, but a group of nations lunged at him, throwing their hands out to protect the phone.
"Shhh!" they all whispered sharply at each other.
"Don't give me that smirk, lad. I'll show you frustration."
"Is that a threat or a promise?"
Germany made another vague attempt to end the charade, but the other nations were holding strong.
"Here, fix it." England's voice became further away and there were several shuffling sounds.
"You should really learn a thing or two about technology, old man. The world's gonna leave you in the dust." America's voice was much more clear now.
"Perhaps. But first I'll have to deal with your insolence."
There were sounds of struggling and moving sheets, followed by moaning and other heated noises. The phone slipped from America's fingers and onto the mattress with a soft thud.
"Nnngh…ahh Arthur…oh fuck yes, right there-"
Germany finally broke through the nations blocking him and stabbed at the button, cutting off the call. There was an instant of silence before the chaos erupted. Some nations immediately started babbling to their neighbors about how it had probably been going on for ages. Others were blushing and cringing on behalf of the missing party. Some seemed completely indifferent, while others were tired of all the attention being given to those two fools.
France was giggling ecstatically and planning new ways to collect blackmail material. Canada was nodding along, but seemed genuinely pleased about something. Romano had gotten a mysterious binder out and was making marks in it, talking loudly to his brother about having some money to collect. Japan sat alone in his corner next to two empty chairs, and couldn't have looked happier about it.
Germany sat down and started to think about how much time it would take to rein in his colleagues, let alone gather the two missing nations. He sighed with defeat and took out his pen.
"I'll just mark them absent."
Thanks to Erin and Jean for their help.
And a boatload of thanks to everyone who commented/reviewed/read! AAaaaahh!