(A/N: -Edit: Miyaka Minamoto pointed out that I wrote "Albert" at one point instead of Alfred, so this is an edit to fix that error-
"I wanna scream 'I love you' from the top of my lungs, but I'm afraid that someone else will hear me." I was inspired by this line from the song "The (Shipped) Gold Standard" by Fall Out Boy. As ideas evolved in my mind, I realized this story relates better to the song "My Skin" by Natalie Merchant, and so I have named it. I hope you all enjoy this, so let the tale begin.)
Three voices sang along loudly to the radio blasting "Livin' On A Prayer" as the convertible rounded the corner. Once the chorus came on, their vocals became terribly off-key; it was impossible to belt many of the lines without sounding tone-deaf.
"Will you all stop that atrocious howling?" Roderich pleaded, rubbing at the minor headache that was forming. God knew he hated rock music, or any other genre for that matter, except for classical. "You're going to shatter my glasses."
"That's why you get them built to withstand it, like I did with mine!" Alfred joked as he high-fived Gilbert, the two friends nearly in hysterics.
"Road, Gilbert!" Elizaveta shrieked from the backseat as the driver nearly rode the curb, pulling away just in time.
"Relax, babe," he replied in a smooth voice, his red eyes focused on the pavement. "I'm too awesome to crash my car."
"I'm not your 'babe'", she retorted with a pout and folded arms.
"Gilbert, put the roof up. Elizaveta's hair is whipping my face."
"No way, Rod! It's still August, and we're going to keep the top down for as long as we can!" He removed a hand from the steering wheel and twirled his arm like a siren, whooping all the while.
"God!" Gilbert skillfully maneuvered the car away from the curb it nearly hit. "Don't just scream all of the sudden, Eliz! You want us to crash?!"
"You want me to sock you one?!" Roderich had to restrain her from lunging at the driver, for if she succeeded, they would crash.
"Chill, Eliz," Alfred tried to reason as the car pulled into the parking lot for the makeshift football field. "You'll have plenty of time to kick his ass during the game."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Gilbert stated playfully as he parked the convertible in a space adjacent to the field. Roderich swiped the strands of Elizaveta's hair out of his mouth once the car had come to a full stop.
"Elizaveta, you really should cut your hair."
She flipped her light brown locks over her shoulder as they all exited, answering, "No way! It's almost to my waist, and I love having it fly everywhere during sports."
"Rod's just jealous," Alfred teased. "He's dying to grow out that drab black hair."
"It's all a part of his master plan to become a mermaid!" Gilbert cackled.
"Eliz better lock her doors! Rod the mermaid's gonna steal her hair!"
"Oh, like you boys haven't been after these tresses for years."
"You know it, babe."
"Hey!" Alfred yelled, grabbing the football from the trunk and thrusting it over his head. "Are we gonna throw this pig or not?"
"Throw the pig, throw the pig!" Gilbert chanted as he raced his friend onto the field. "Al and I are a team!"
"I guess that leaves us, Roderich." She motioned for him to follow her onto the grass.
"No thanks," he declined, discomfort evident in his voice. "I'd rather not get covered in mud."
"That's the whole fun of the game!" Alfred called over to him as he and Gilbert threw the ball back and forth. "Why do you think we came out here after that monsoon yesterday? And why do you think Gil brought towels so we don't mess up his upholstery?"
"Get you prim and proper ass over here!" Gilbert demanded.
"Come on!" Elizaveta dragged the Austrian along with her, whether he wanted to play or not.
"All right, let's set up," the albino declared before passing the ball off to Alfred to start the game. All got into their positions, preparing for the deployment.
The ball was in play once Alfred chucked it through his legs to Gilbert. He then ran down the field as his teammate prepared to toss it back. He managed to do so before being tackled by Elizaveta. Alfred ran, and with the girl down and Roderich unwilling to pursue him, he scored a touchdown.
"Score!" Gilbert shouted as he slipped out from under his female friend, meeting his teammate with a chest bump.
"Rod, you have to actually try," Elizaveta chastised, wiping the mud on her jeans. The only one still clean, minus his shoes, was Roderich. "If you're not going to help me, then sit out."
"Gladly," he answered as he moved to stand on the sidelines.
"Wimp!" Alfred and Gilbert taunted.
"Whatever, I can take you two down on my own."
"Bring it babe."
Elizaveta responded by punting the football through the goalpost all the way down the field, the pigskin bouncing into the alleyway opposite the lot. "Goal!"
"Damn," Alfred cursed, "that got distance."
"Oh come on, Eliz. That doesn't-"
She shut Gilbert up with a harsh tug on his grimy jeans that brought them down around his ankles. "Oh, that does it!" he shouted as he chased her after scrambling to get his pants back up. Alfred chuckled at the playful shrieks sounding in the commonplace scene before him. He then remembered that the game ball had bounded to the other side of the street.
"Hey, Rod!" he called out, realizing the other two were having too much fun to listen to him. "I'm gonna go get the football, okay?"
Roderich nodded in response, soon returning his gaze to Elizaveta and Gilbert's frivolity, envy clear in his dark brown eyes. Rod, Alfred thought, applying what Elizaveta had said to the situation, she's right; you've got to actually try in order to win.
After looking both ways, even though it wasn't necessary since it wasn't a busy street in these slums, he crossed over into the alley. The elliptical ball stuck out from behind the graffiti-covered dumpster against the left brick wall. He smiled as he bent down and picked it up, cooing, "There you are, baby. What are you doing all the way over here?"
It was then that the pale feet in red stilettos caught his attention. They were sticking out from the ratty, gray blanket behind the dumpster, a subtle form resting on its side underneath.
His sky-blue eyes in awe, Alfred cautiously leaned over and lifted up the tattered cloth from the other end. Slowly, he revealed the figure lying beneath, stopping just above where the neck met the shoulders. Wavy locks that looked once golden, a color like his own, were now dirtied and matted. Her hair was longer than his, but only rounded the length of her chin, framing the jaw line.
She was delicate and beautiful, like a porcelain doll; her eyes closed peacefully and smeared with dark makeup. The childlike lips looked painted red, and she breathed in hitches through the small gap between.
Carefully, he reached out his hand to stroke her flushed cheek, afraid she would crumble under his touch in her frailty. The moment his fingers made contact, he fiercely pulled back, surprised by the fervent surface.
"Hey Al!" he heard Gilbert yell. "What's taking so long?"
"G-Guys!" he stuttered, enthralled but frightened by his find. "You've got to see this!"
Three sets of feet scuttled across the asphalt and ran into the alleyway. "Al, what's the deal?" Gilbert asked, his eyes widening once he noticed the person that lay in the corner. "Whoa."
"Oh my god," Elizaveta gasped, putting her hands to her face. "Is she alive?"
"Yeah," Alfred affirmed it, kneeling by the figure's right side. "She's definitely breathing, but I think she's sick. Her skin is hot to the touch."
"What should we do?" Roderich inquired, unsettled by the discovery.
"My guess is that we find out her identity first," Gilbert suggested, pulling at the cloth from her left. "Maybe she's carrying her driver's license or at least a school ID… Oh, Jesus."
The albino had swept the blanket away, and the sight before them was shocking. The girl was scantily-clad in black leather shorts and a taut, deep-scoop neckline camisole, with sparkling red sequins catching the fading daylight. The bright red stilettos clicked suddenly with the rest of the image in Alfred's mind.
"A… prostitute?" It was a question for no one but the open air as he stared closer at her face. If he were to remove all of the cosmetics, she would look pure, a true gem. How could she be a prostitute?
"No way!" Gilbert shouted, as stunned as any of them. "She's a real-life whore!" This last comment was all Roderich could take as he stepped to the other side of the dumpster, appalled.
"I don't think we're going to any ID on her in these clothes," Elizaveta stated the obvious, leaning closer to the body.
After studying the figure, Gilbert frowned, confused. "That's weird."
"What?" Alfred asked, eyeing the dog collar and tag around the tramp's neck. Something was written on it.
"If this girl's a whore, shouldn't she be more… curvaceous? She looks like one of those 'lolis' in that Japanese kid's comic books."
"She can't be that young," the Hungarian girl argued. "Just because she's flat doesn't mean she's a child. She looks at least fourteen."
"Hey guys," Alfred addressed them as he fondled the silver dog tag, "I think there's a name on this." He lifted the tag slightly to get a better look, squinting to read the engraving. "It says 'Matthew'. …Oh, god."
"A male prostitute?!" Elizaveta shrieked.
"Oh, that's sick," Gilbert moaned, backing into the dumpster in his alarm. Roderich looked just about ready to vomit.
Alfred's eyes saddened with pity as he placed the blanket back over the boy's body. "You guys, the point is that he's ill. He needs medical attention."
"Are you crazy?" Gilbert shook his head before continuing, "Do you have any idea how suspicious we would look if we brought a whore into the hospital, or to a doctor much less?"
"Well, fine. Help me pick him up and we'll take him back to my house."
"Alfred, you can't be serious!" Roderich cried, his animosity obvious in his tone of voice. He placed a hand over his throbbing forehead and closed his eyes. "Look, let's just forget we ever saw this and go home."
"What the hell, Roderich?!" Elizaveta roared, her green eyes blazing. "You seemed all for helping him a few minutes ago!"
"Yeah, Rod!" Gilbert agreed, looking for any chance to fight on Elizaveta's side. "What's your problem?"
"B-But he's a prostitute!"
"And that makes it okay to turn a blind eye?!" The Hungarian was fuming; Roderich hadn't seen her this furious in a long time.
"Rod," Alfred addressed him in a low, flat tone, one that his friends rarely heard, "what kind of people would we be if we let this guy suffer just because he's a tramp? If he was anyone else, would you help him? I don't know about you guys, but I can't abandon someone in need of a hero. And by God, this guy needs a hero."
Roderich sighed and accepted fate, no matter how much he disagreed with Alfred's overzealous sense of justice. "Fine, but I don't want to touch him. Pass me the football instead."
Alfred nodded, throwing the pigskin to his friend. "Elizaveta, help me carry, um, Matthew." He glanced at the collar again to make sure that was the right name. "I'm afraid I'll hurt him."
"He's not made of glass, Al," she responded, but complied and assisted in lifting the boy encased in the gray blanket. They made their way across the road back to the parking lot and placed him in the middle backseat. Once everyone with mud on them toweled the muck off and threw the rags into the plastic bag in the trunk, along with the football, they piled into the car. Alfred and Elizaveta sat in the back with Matthew in between, and Roderich sat in the passenger seat as Gilbert put the car in drive. This was the best arrangement at the moment since Rod didn't want to be near a whore, and Eliz was too pissed off at him to sit next to him.
"So, Al," Gilbert began once they were back on the open road towards the suburbs, "how are you going to explain this one to ol' Artie?"
"Dad doesn't come home until eight," his blonde friend informed him. "That gives us time to get Matthew here out of his tramp clothes and into normal ones. It'll make it a lot easier to convince him."
"So we're lying to him?"
"Of course! He'd freak if he knew the truth. We'll say something like he ran away from his abusive father and caught a fever living off the streets. If the kid starts spouting stuff about prostitution, we'll tell my dad that he was traumatized so much that he has delusions."
"What do you plan to do with him?" Elizaveta asked, referring to the boy whose dirtied hair she was stroking. Her expression was one of heartrending compassion.
Alfred thought a bit before answering, "First, we get him better. Then we'll go from there."