Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and I'm making no money from this!
A/N: er, so… here's a new chapter thanks to the kind readers who encouraged me to keep going with this AU despite a long period of inactivity. Hope this is ok. Thanks OTL!
It was the middle of the week, and all was mundane in the 4th floor lunch room. Things had usually been mundane in the accounting eating space – until somebody stumbled onto the fact that some poor fool was supplying free donuts and baked goods in the hopes of gaining office popularity. From then on Heta Corp employees from different departments would descend on the small lunch room to get a share of the goods before they were all gone.
Gilbert Beilschmidt stuffed another donut into his mouth just as the noontime crowd arrived and tried to filter in through the single doorway. The white-haired employee raised his head from the mostly empty box and laughed. "Hey late birds! Should've been earlier to beat the awesome me. Which one of you dumbbells keeps buying these things, anyway?" Crumbs flew from the guy's mouth as he quickly ate the last donut.
"Oh man that's good! Maple flavoured! I love that shit!"
"You ate them all? You pig!" Elizaveta scowled heavily as she clawed her way through the pack.
Groans and upset mumblings sounded from the group of employees as most of them milled away leaving just a few hanging about to finish their lunches at the two lone tables.
Feliks sat on the edge of one said table and sipped at a protein shake. "So, like, did you hear about it? I totally saw Mr. Kirkland… smiling… when he came into the building today."
Elizaveta gave a spooky shiver. "Ooo. That's unreal." She appeared suitably disturbed as she took a seat and peeled open a tupperware lid.
Saya Chelles gave a disbelieving scoff from where she sat starting on a salad. "Wow. That's… an interesting tidbit if I ever heard one."
"Did somebody say TimBit?" A whispery, Canadian voice sounded from the doorway, though no one really took notice when it entered the room.
"I still say there's a spy." Gilbert said loudly.
"Ah… a spy, eh...?"
"Don't any of you listen to him! Gilbert is full of it." Elizaveta took a moment to glare at said lounging guy, before continuing. "There is no spy coming to sabotage Heta Corp! And what does that even have to do with Mr. Kirkland?"
The lounging East German's eyes bugged open wide and he pointed wildly, half laughing and half disbelieving at the bunch of co-workers. "You guys are so naïve! Our one greatest defense is slowly being infiltrated! It won't be long before the eyebrow man takes a dive off the deep end and sells this whole place off."
Saya gulped. "H-hold on. You're implying-"
"Che," Elizaveta tutted disappointedly. "Things are mostly the same as always you know. Just last week you joined the betting pool about when his new assistant would leave. Heck – you started it!"
"Heh," Gilbert chuckled in recollection of all the bets he'd collected. "Still, there's something fishy here."
"I think that's just my tuna sandwich." Saya Chelles shook her head. "Alfred is doing a good job."
"Now that you mention it… Maybe too good a job." Gilbert squinted in distrust.
"So like, what do you think the deal is with the boss and his assistant?" Feliks asked his Hungarian friend, slurping up the last of his shake.
"Well, I-I mean…" Elizaveta flustered as everyone looked at her expectantly. She caved and gained a decisive, starry-eyed look. "Isn't it obvious? He's got to be a long lost relative of Mr. Kirkland's, come to renew their estranged relationship!"
Gilbert gagged. "How the hell is that half-assed angst obvious?"
Elizaveta stabbed a fork into her leftovers. "It makes more sense than your fatalistic mumbo-jumbo!"
Gilbert and Elizaveta were notorious for having spats and disagreeing with each other just for the sake of disagreeing. So it wasn't so surprising that by the end of the lunch hour two warring factions of 'Team Spy' and 'Team Bro' had sprung up into existence and anyone who was within listening vicinity was promptly forced to choose a side.
Feliks offered to make t-shirts.
Francis popped his head into the lunch room. "Everyone~! The Boss is coming."
Arthur Kirkland stood in the large 8th floor boardroom having seen out a large group of associates from an extremely successful meeting just that morning. Heta Corp landed a spectacular new multi-million euro account and the CEO could not be more ecstatic with how things were running today.
All the same, the CEO managed to contain the almost uncontrollable urge to whoop –Though not even that could have stopped the boss from a celebratory stroll throughout the building, in which he finished up back where he started, humming with hands stuck casually into trouser pockets, looking out the boardroom wall of windows down onto the city below.
If he could liken the satisfied feeling to anything, it probably would be like being the ruler of a vast and sprawling Empire.
Arthur snorted to himself and wondered what Jones would have to say about that.
Gradually, Arthur's humming came to a stop, and his thoughts took a different turn.
He had never before paid so much attention to his previous secretaries that he had known any of their names, or had even gone far enough to think about them much – but then again, Alfred F. Jones was the type who commanded attention either because he was being loud, annoying, or daring in some manner.
Mr. Kirkland smiled amusedly at the image. A second later he caught himself doing it and tried to frown instead. His reflection in the window betrayed a confused expression more than anything else though, and he was forced to look down at nothing in particular, thinking.
As much as he hated to admit it, the boss had become… accustomed… to the assistant's constant chatter, and even started seeking it out – if only to be able to berate something useless the other ended up saying. It was a bit alarming to examine, but in the back of his mind he knew he felt …comfortable…
It was a strange turn of events that out of all the underlings, associates, and everyone else in between, the copiously busy CEO would find the most camaraderie with his unexpected American assistant.
On a good day he might even acknowledge it as friendship of sorts…
And today being the good day it was, it was Mr. Kirkland who, come noon, allowed himself a pause when he headed out of the office – looking up from his day timer at Alfred F. Jones.
"Well? Don't just sit there."
"Hmrf?" Alfred glanced over.
"I fancy some lunch occasionally. Preferably before the whole hour goes higgledy-piggledy."
He didn't catch the American's deer-in-the-headlights expression with a burger already half-way in his mouth, or the charming one a moment later as he swooped to grab up his belongings and follow.
As he walked ahead, Arthur was holding the little schedule book close to his face to try and ward off the embarrassed red tinge burning there.
From that point on, it turned out to be the beginning of a very good week.
By Tuesday, Arthur Kirkland was starting to doubt his earlier predilections on the definition of 'good' and bemoaned why he hadn't considered 'hopelessly distracting' instead.
The stretch into a different era at Heta Corporation took shape into a long string of what could only be called miscommunications; all of them commencing with the harmless placement of a hand on the back of his chair.
"-and we don't even have a use for another printer copier. By the way, the Russian e-mail spam problem?" Chomp. Smack. "I'm still on it, though we'll likely need to bring in PowerCOM to-"
Smack Pop Chomp.
"But before it goes through it's got to clear with Accounting." Crack. Pop.
Mr. Kirkland trailed his gaze up from the unassuming hand to his male secretary's face.
The relentless gum cracking in Arthur's ear made deciphering whatever Jones was expounding on for the last half hour a total lost cause.
"Right. Good." The CEO cleared his throat and hunkered down to peer over the report Jones had repeatedly jabbed at while standing next to him.
Daily meeting ended, Alfred made to bang the office door closed behind him, as was his customary way, but at the last second a thoughtful expression passed over his face.
The American gave the boss a quick salute, blue eyes decisive behind his glasses as he decided, quite amazingly, to quietly shut the door.
"…Bloody hell." Arthur uttered in shock.
The entire remainder of the day the gesture continued to draw the secretary appreciative glances from a surprised Mr. Kirkland.
By the next morning however, the pleasantries faded and gave way to a growing ebb of suspicion. As wonderful as a considerate and smoothly running office was, there had to be the impending catch 22 waiting to spring simply because it wasn't just any secretary behind it, but one Alfred F. Jones.
It was Friday when the British executive's office door was opened once again at a soothing decibel and said Alfred F. Jones strode inside licking slowly at an envelope. Arthur made sure to hood his eyes in a stare which he hoped to convey the message; 'I'm not sure what it is, but I'm on to you.'
Alfred just licked the envelope again – overkill really, the damned glue would never hold anymore – and mimicked Mr. Kirkland's own stare right back at him. The American grinned and borrowed the boss's (preferred brand of) stapler, sidling away.
The grand mahogany door shut with a gentle thump and the hair on the back of the CEO's neck stood on end.
"So what's the problem, you said you needed my help with something?" Alfred piped up, skirting a glimpse around the too-cramped filing room.
"It's this cabinet. Merde." Francis muttered a few incomprehensible curses. "It takes two to- well. Let me show you. Come! See?"
"Oh. I see what you mean."
Francis Bonnefoy was a human resources connoisseur, and with that in mind it was an expected phenomenon that his priorities – first and foremost – lay with the employees. So, naturally his interest concerning Monsieur Kirkland's assistant soared to new heights when the junior employee walked through the golden elevator doors of Heta Corp with his hair neatly trimmed (at some point over the weekend) and his glasses lenses recently polished. The attractive change warranted what proved to be a very tempting investigation.
The Frenchman beamed suggestively to himself, one elegant finger scratching the stubble on his chin.
"How does anyone put anything in here? This thing is huge!"
…That was how the Boss found the H-R director joyously observing as Jones purposely bent over into a filing cabinet.
Mr. Kirkland finally reached the end of his string.
"All right, that's enough!" Arthur strode imperiously into the filing room, authoritative voice making the two employees look around from what they had been doing. Or planning to do, in Bonnefoy's case. Mr. Kirkland could only imagine the illegalities.
"Out with it." The British man frowned impressively. "Who is he?"
Bonnefoy's silky eyebrow arched in fervour.
"Who's what, Arthur?" Jones righted himself.
Arthur stared horrified at the American for an alarming second – taking in the haircut and fresh face – before he crossed his arms and tried to put practicality first.
"Look. There's no need to beat around the bush here. Who is it that you're trying to impress?"
Francis felt delight. "Oui, who is it, Alfred?"
Alfred crunched down hard on the candy he'd happened to be eating and blankly shifted his eyes back and forth between the two slightly shorter men. His cheeks began to colour hot red.
"Don't let the frog misinform you, Mr. Jones." Arthur spared the Frenchman a baleful glower for existing at the inopportune time.
"Is it another company? Because I can tell you right now you won't find anyone to pay you better than Heta Corporation!" Mr. Kirkland looked troubled and flustered. "Not to mention your salary is already exorbitant as it is."
"Can you blame him?" Bonnefoy crooned woefully, interrupting Alfred's aborted attempt at an explanation. Investigating sometimes meant stirring the pot. Or in this case, the CEO. "He is still young and the young are always searching for bigger and better-"
"Five percent raise."
Jones's eyebrows shot up and he opened his mouth. "H-"
"I hear ten is barely the minimum these days…" Bonnefoy cut in.
"Done!" Mr. Kirkland declared, and, at that settlement, the thick-eyebrowed man's shoulders relaxed making him appear euphorically at ease compared to his state of arrival. "Right then. I suppose… Carry on." The British man nodded at Bonnefoy, turning to take his leave.
"Oh, and Jones?"
Arthur watched the now swagger-filled employee attentively for a moment, and then ducked out, his voice drifting in as he trod away. "It's past tea time!"
Alfred let loose a gush of breath, ecstatically grabbing the stack of folders from the long-haired Frenchman's hands. Francis winked.
Normally the over-packed heavy duty filing cabinet needed at least two people to be opened and closed. One to heave while the other smashed down the tops of the overflowing folders so the metal drawer could careen out.
Alfred whistled as he dragged the thing open in one solid motion and stuffed the Frenchman's files inside with such force and alacrity that Francis gained a few sweat beads.
"Ah- Merci, mon ami."
"Hey, anytime Francis!"
"And where are you off to now, hm?" Bonnefoy wondered idly.
Alfred paused on his way out, hiking a thumb. "To get Mr. Kirkland some coffee."
Francis adored his job.
"Argh, come on. Son of a-!"
Long brunette hair went flying as Elizaveta Héderváry ripped a stubborn piece of paper free of the huge multi-purpose photo copier printer which was the bane of the Sales department.
The plastic and metal monstrosity was infamous for being unreliable and guaranteed to chew your print outs the first 2 times. Currently, Elizaveta was struggling with a paper jam something fierce, the mega-unit refusing to spit out any pages of her important document at all.
Feliks came to see why the Hungarian woman wasn't at the water cooler, along with Gilbert in tow (who promptly pointed and laughed at the predicament). Somehow Francis the H-R director appeared too, and pretty soon almost the entire department was up from their cubicles or offices clustering around the printer room to see what the commotion was about.
"Okay. Who's the genius who decided to photocopy his ass?" Elizaveta cracked a mangled paper where an unfortunate black and white image was burned onto it (and now the rest of the employees' minds) forever.
Gilbert, Francis, and surprisingly the Spanish supervisor – Antonio – each had faces holding separate varying degrees of transparent guilt, feigned innocence, and just flat out blockheaded self-absorption.
"…What's the date stamp on that?" Antonio asked sheepishly.
"Never mind!" Elizaveta groaned and tossed the paper away. "But somebody's got to fix this thing."
Obviously that had been the wrong thing to say, because all of sudden Gilbert was rolling up his sleeves and only their small circle of employees made the unwise decision to stay and watch the oncoming bloodbath, the rest booking it to the safety of their desks.
"Back up ladies and Polish! It's Gilbert Time."
The employees took turns prodding at the machine's control pad or jimmying the paper trays with stupidly dangerous articles (i.e. scissors).
"Victoire! My hand! It has grabbed hold!"
"Of my thigh!" Somebody else cried.
"Hey guys!" Alfred F. Jones popped his head in through the doorway. "There was no one answering the internal line so I-…" The assistant took in the chaotic scene. "Woo. Looks like you've all been through a war."
The group of bedraggled employees looked back at him from their various contorted positions around the hulking machine. For reasons unknown, Gilbert had his pants down part way in what was likely a half-baked plan to photocopy his ass again.
Alfred raised both his eyebrows. "Anybody call maintenance yet?"
"That was my next idea." Gilbert yelled.
Someone threw a tomato-shaped stress ball at his head.
The week had spiraled into its usual course at Heta Corporation, and soon it was Wednesday and after hours when Arthur Kirkland shut down his computer, packed up his briefcase and grabbed his coat.
Alfred was still sitting at his work station, scribbling notes onto a paper while occasionally referring to something on his computer monitor. The bespectacled man must have noticed him when he came out though, because he saved his work and stretched momentarily.
"Hey, Arthur." The assistant greeted. "If you're not in a complete rush to join the traffic, could you give this outline a once-over? I think we can get this going first thing tomorrow."
"I think I can spare a few minutes." Arthur intoned wryly and set down his briefcase, going over to provide the requested proofing.
While reading, Jones's began to thump a rhythm on the table, presumably to humour himself as he waited for Arthur to finish.
The CEO swatted his hand down onto his assistant's, stilling the incessant drumming. Satisfied at some peace, finally, the older man kept Alfred's hand firmly in place and leaned over the assistant's shoulder to peer at the text with more concentration.
…It was a few moments later that Arthur slowly realised he had been reading in absolute quiet without any kind of chatter for enough time to make it near the end of the page.
The green-eyed man turned his head and glanced curiously. Alfred was looking straight back at him, making Arthur acutely aware of how blue the younger man's eyes really were.
Alfred blinked and turned his gaze to his computer screen, the glow making the secretary's skin appear more pink than usual.
A tickling movement of fingers underneath his palm drew the British man's attention down to the desk. He noticed that he was still lightly holding Alfred's hand captive.
The Boss quickly relinquished the American's hand, straightening up slowly and taking a step back into breathable space.
Arthur wasn't blushing. Certainly, absolutely not. It was just unseasonably warm in there and that was all.
Jones chanced questioning blue eyes on his employer. "Arthur?"
Arthur felt his cheeks heat further. "I… that is, the report looks fine. I, ah, trust your judgment."
Alfred instantly chuckled at that and stuck a pen behind his ear. "You really must be tired. It's been a long day."
"…I suppose so." Arthur rearranged the jacket thrown over his arm, not having much of a reply. He settled on giving a half-hearted wave, nodding goodbye. "Good evening, Alfred."
A large smile immediately began to tug at the American's lips.
Arthur ruffled at some of his unruly fringe awkwardly, trying not to look directly at the other. "What? What's that smile on about?"
"You called me Alfred." The smile became fully fledged, blue eyes very nearly turned upwards behind glasses.
Arthur swallowed and shook his head. "Come again?"
"My name, you actually said my name." Jones was grinning now, and for once in the many months he had been working at Heta Corporation, the American had chosen to whisper. The anomaly was spoiled, though, because with the darkened room and the emptiness of the building every word they spoke now sounded loud and clear.
Arthur felt his blush return full force. "Y-yes, well… it's your bloody name or isn't it?"
Alfred didn't answer, just favoured the boss with an amused expression, before turning back to the glow of his computer, smile lingering. "Have a good one, Arthur."
Somewhere in between reaching the car park and thumping his head onto the steering wheel…
Arthur Kirkland found himself secretly acknowledging that Alfred F. Jones was very, very easy on the eyes.
End part 4
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