Hey folks~ This one shot is for Oni-at-heart for being my 600th reviewer and it's ridiculously long if you couldn't tell by the word count. Altogether about 25 pages on my word processor. Lordy did I enjoy writing it though~ I can't remember the last time I liked writing something so much, so thank you forever for the prompt! I hope you guys enjoy it as well~ Usually I put the prompt at the beginning but I'll put it at the end this time.
Random factoids that might be useful to know: In this story Ivan is about 23, Alfred is 19, Katyusha is 25ish, and Natalya (yes I know it's usually spelled with an i but I prefer to spell it with a y) is 19. It's supposed to take place somewhere around 1954/55-ish. At least that's what I was going for.
Disclaimer: I do not own Hetalia or anything attached to it.
Ivan stares out the window looking over their backyard into the garden. His sister Katyusha is tending her sunflower patch. He loves them more than any of the other flowers in her garden. She had offered to let him have a corner to grow his own but that he would have to wait. Too late in the season now... He very much is looking forward to having his own little corner of sunshine. His dear big sister seems to find hours of solace among hers.
"Big brother, will you be sitting in on the lesson today?"
Ivan turns and smiles faintly at his younger sister. "Not today Natalya. I'm going for a walk soon. Do tell Toris I say hello."
She blows air into her cheeks, releasing it slowly. Finally she walks over and hugs him tightly. "You and your walks. What is there left to see? You go walking every day. Surely you have gone everywhere."
His smile grows and he pats her head fondly. "One never knows, do they? Make sure you pay attention. I'll expect you to review what you've learned for me."
She nods. "Yes big brother."
"And do try to be nicer to Toris, won't you? He does mean well."
Natalya scowls deeply. "He's a fool. He's the same age I am, what right does he have tutoring me anyway? I just do it because it pleases you big brother."
Ivan sighs and shakes his head. "Please then, for my sake, be nice to him." She stares at him stubbornly, neither agreeing nor refusing. "...Well I'll be going then. Make sure Katyusha comes in to eat soon. I believe she's been out there since this morning."
Natalya glances out the window. "She's getting strange here. Always out there with her flowers. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with her."
A deep pang goes through Ivan's chest. "Don't say things like that. You know perfectly well to say such things is..."
Natalya looks away stubbornly. After a moment she hugs him again. "Have a nice walk. Tell me if you find anything interesting. I love you best."
Ivan looks down at her and pats her back. "Study very hard, alright?"
She nods once then lets go. "Goodbye big brother."
Ivan grabs a small bag and walks from the room, heading towards the front door. A clock tells him that Toris is due to arrive soon. He really wishes his sister would warm up to the poor boy. He obviously has feelings for her and it would do her some good to open up her circle of people. Her childish crush on Ivan was something she should have outgrown long ago. He is hoping she'll come to at least befriend Toris, though she seems oddly stubborn towards the idea.
As Ivan walks past the small gate, flanked by two high hedges, he glances back at the house. It is lovely, quite large for a home in the country. Too large. There is so much space and not enough to fill it. He hates it. There are many things he hates.
Ivan hates that the three of them were viciously uprooted from their home in the USSR and forced to the United States. Where was there room for them in this country? The only place for them is their too large house. Sent here by their Papa—a General in the Soviet army so cold he might as well be winter—after the death of their Mama. Where their father is remains up in the air. They hear from him so infrequently.
He hates that Katyusha has had to go from being 'big sis' to 'little mama', maintaining the house and trying to keep the three of them together. Money isn't an issue. They have enough of that to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. (And yet despite Papa's hidden assets abroad his Mama and sisters and himself barely had enough to eat. So much for the bastard being communist) The main issue is that his big sister has been forced to care for her youngest siblings instead of moving forward, perhaps finding a husband or some form of work. It is not unheard of though quite discouraged in this age it seems.
He hates that Natalya has become so introverted that she only speaks to her brother and sister and most recently infrequently to Toris. A bright, pretty girl arrested in her development by circumstances beyond any of their control.
And he hates Mama, who died. For dying in the way she did.
But perhaps most of all Ivan hates that he lives in a constant state of emptiness. There is nothing to fill the void within him, nothing for him to do. He wants something...perhaps someone to make him happy and to ease the sense of isolation.
With a start Ivan looks around him. Where is he...? He hasn't been paying attention and now he finds himself on a path he has not traveled before. He can't help but smile to himself. 'See Natalya, no matter how many times you roam the same place you are bound to discover new places.'
He walks a while longer, the scenery becoming more bleak as he continues. He is contemplating turning around when a flash of faded yellow up ahead catches his attention. Curious, he decides to check it out before heading back.
Soon a very wilted and tired plot of sunflowers comes into view. It is baffling really, so random. What are they doing here? Some scattered seeds that had found root in this peculiar location by pure chance? Poor things, they look terrible...
Ivan approaches them, reaching up to touch one of the fading petals. It is then that he notices movement in the middle of the flowers. He stares. A tanned back is turned to him, the owner patting at something, murmuring softly. Very silently, Ivan moves just a bit closer until the words become audible. "Please, come on now, you can make it. Don't die... It hurts so much when you die."
The words are oddly moving. Before he knows it Ivan has opened his mouth to speak. "Are you alright?"
The figure pauses before turning to look back at him curiously. They stare at one another, sizing each other up. The man is painfully thin, face and hands smudged with dirt. His hair perfectly matches the color of the sunflower's petals. Overall he looks like a vagabond in need of food and shelter. However his eyes, one of the most dazzling shades of blue Ivan has ever seen, shine brightly with warmth.
"Hello, and who might you be? Did you come to see? How troublesome... Though I guess its been a while since anyone has come."
The man stands, flashing a weak smile at Ivan. He wears nothing but a pair of worn pants, held up around his thin frame with a piece of cord. When he moves to scratch the back of his leg with one foot Ivan notices he is barefoot. "Well? Is that why you came? I would ask you don't make a mess of my bed please. The police, reporters, and general riff raff made a terrible mess of it already if you couldn't tell."
His bed...? Were these his flowers then?
"Ah, I...I'm sorry. I don't know what you're talking about. I came across this place by chance."
The man's eyebrows raise and his smile deepens, a dimple appearing in one cheek. "Oh...? I see. Mm, that's good... Yes that's nice. I don't suppose I could bother you for some water? I'm terribly parched."
Ivan nods slowly and reaches into his pack, pulling out a canteen of water. "Here. You can have as much as you would like."
The man licks his cracked lips as he takes the canteen almost reverently. "Thanks, that sure is swell of you. Most people are so unkind these days."
He starts to walk around, looking at the sunflowers critically. "Let's see, let's see..."
He finally stops in front of a particularly wilted one. He touches it gently, stroking it. Then he leans down and pours some of the water on the ground near the base.
The words of shock and confusion lodge themselves in Ivan's throat and all he can do is watch as the man repeats this bizarre ceremony again and again until the water is completely gone. "Ah, that really hit the spot. Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it!"
Ivan struggles until he finally manages to get some words out. "Why did you...?"
The young man stares at him for a moment, really looks at him. Finally he nods. "Okay, because of your kindness I'm going to tell you a secret. I guarantee you'll think I'm a liar but it's the truth. Despite how I might appear I'm actually the spirit of this sunflower patch."
A near hysterical giggle escapes Ivan. The man smiles and shrugs one shoulder as if to say, 'no big deal, I knew that would be your reaction.' Ivan stares at him. "You can't expect me to believe that."
The man shakes his head. "I don't expect you to believe anything. I just thought I'd tell you the truth."
A smile continues to play on Ivan's lips, threatening to turn downwards into a frown. Was this man trying to play some kind of trick on him? "Right."
The man turns his back on him again, returning to his sunflowers. "Look at them... aren't they sad? They never get enough water and I'm always dying of thirst these days. And after that big to do a while ago they were trampled which was terribly painful..."
That is something that catches Ivan's interest. "What did happen if you don't mind my asking? You mentioned police and reporters?"
The man looks at him again. "Mm, a man committed suicide, over there." He gestures with a nod of his head to a spot at the edge of where the sunflowers began. "Slit his writs."
Ivan feels bile rise in his throat at the mention of suicide. He's not sure he can hold it, a very intense image flashing before his eyes, and then he has it under control. "...Did you know him?"
The man crouches down, tracing a circle in the dry earth. "Yes actually. He was my previous caretaker."
The blue eyes glance up at him. "He wasn't a very good one."
Ivan stares at him, taken aback. His guardian perhaps...? Is that why he was out here?
The young man looks up at him, tilting his head. "Blood becomes brown after a while... and it stinks. Did you know that? People always try to make blood sound so romantic but it's not... Not at all."
Once again the feeling of bile rising up.
Hold it... Hold it all in. Everything...
"Да... Yes. Yes I know." His voice is weak even in his own ears but the young man seems to hear.
"...I thought you might." He stands, clapping his hands to rid them of some of the dirt. "I'm sorry. I suppose you don't really want to hear about any of that do you? It is sort of a grim topic of discussion. Especially for a first meeting."
He offers a sheepish smile. He absolutely fascinates Ivan. So strange... "That's... quite alright. What is your name? Do you live around here?"
After a thoughtful pause the man holds out a hand. "Alfred. You can call me that I suppose. It's not my real name but it's what the last one called me and it's as good as anything."
Ivan grasps the hand hesitantly. It's very warm. He gives it a firm shake. "Not your real name? Well I suppose it's not my business one way or the other. I'm Ivan. That is my real name. If you were wondering."
Alfred flashes him a grin, the dimple reappearing again. "Nice to meet you Ivan. As for your other question I live right here."
"Oh? Does this property belong to you or...?" Ivan is trying to sort things in his mind. If the man who had killed himself—a slight shudder at the thought—was his guardian is this his land? But Alfred is shaking his head no.
"I live here. Right here specifically. With my sunflowers. I can't leave them. The second I get out of seeing range I get a little... Well it's not good. So I'm afraid I'm always stuck here."
More of the talk of being a sunflower spirit. If Alfred wasn't saying it so very seriously, so very casually, Ivan would think he really was making fun of him. But he seems to be quite sincere. This makes Ivan feel unsettled. Perhaps the man has become deranged after the shock of losing his guardian. Insanity makes Ivan very, very nervous.
Alfred tilts his head. "I know you don't believe me so I guess I won't say it again." He pulls out a small bag from his pocket and opens it, pulling out a sunflower seed. He splits it with his teeth, eating the small seed. Instead of spitting the shell to the ground he starts to chew it, then swallows.
He offers the bag. "Care for one? They're very fresh. I mean, they usually taste better but... Well, if you couldn't tell things aren't exactly at their best."
Ivan reaches out hesitantly. Alfred is so friendly and doesn't seem to give it a second thought. This is the warmest anyone has ever treated him since moving to this country. It is certainly the first of any kind of gift he has received. Finally he takes one of the sunflower seeds. He follows Alfred's example, hesitating then chewing the shell. "Thank you."
Alfred laughs cheerfully. A carefree sound. "You didn't have to eat the shell. That's just something I do. It's a waste for me not to after all. If you want any more I'll eat your shells."
Ivan feels his face become warm. Why is he so strange...? Still, he takes another seeds, which have a somewhat dirty taste to them that is not unpleasant, cracking it with his teeth and scraping out the seed. He hands the shell to Alfred, expecting him to laugh or reject it. Tell him he obviously hadn't gotten the joke. He takes it. For some reason as Alfred sticks it in his mouth and starts to chew it Ivan's heart starts to race.
"So...why are you dressed like that?" Even for the countryside in the dog days of summer it seems a bit skimpy.
Alfred shrugs, putting the bag of seeds away. "This is what he gave me to wear. My caretaker."
The guardian? "But surely you have something other than that to wear?"
Alfred shakes his head. "Nah, not that it bothers me much. I love the sun. I don't mind."
Is it possible Alfred is poor or had been (currently is?) in an abusive situation? He seems old enough to possibly be independent but one could never say... "If I were to come tomorrow... would you be here?"
Alfred laughs. "Told ya didn't I? I can't exactly leave."
"...Right. Would you mind if I visited you?"
"Eh? Really? Nah, not at all! Though if you come you should definitely bring some more water with you. I feel really sick all the time and that would help a lot."
Ivan nods, figuring he would bring some food as well. He's so skinny... "Of course."
Alfred beams at him, so much light in that smile. "Great! You're a real great guy, I'm serious. Plus you have a cute accent. What is that?"
Ivan coughs, suddenly self-conscious. "...Russian."
He winces, waits for the disapproving look of distrust. It never comes. Alfred nods slowly. "Russian... Cute, it's really cute."
Ivan feels tongue-tied for a moment. "Ah...Thank you."
Alfred gives him a wave. "Well, see you tomorrow then Ivan with the Russian accent."
Ivan waves back meekly. Alfred turns and starts to disappear into the sunflowers, pausing to murmur something to one. Ivan hesitates, feels like maybe he should stay longer, then turns and begins to walk away. When he has gone on a while he turns back. The sunflower patch is almost too far for him to see it properly. There is no trace of Alfred. Maybe he is crouching down or towards the back? For an irrational moment he almost runs back, just to prove to himself that Alfred is there, that he actually met someone. He resists and keeps himself walking homeward without looking back.
When he returns Natalya is there to greet him at the door, hugging him fiercely. "I missed you big brother!"
He pets her hair distractedly. "Is Toris still here?"
She shakes her head against his chest. "Did you find anything interesting on your walk?"
Ivan opens his mouth to tell her about Alfred. The words freeze in his throat. "...No. Nothing today. How about you tell me what you learned? I would like that."
Natalya nods and releases him, taking hold of his hand. "I'm getting very good at reading English Ivan. I'll show you okay? Oh... and Katyusha never came in for lunch even when I told her to."
"No...? Let me go get her and then you may show both of us how well you read."
Natalya pouts, looks like she wants to tell him not to bother. She says nothing, simply lets him go. Ivan walks to the back of the house and into the garden. "Katyusha?"
She looks up from a bed of roses, smiling. "Hello Ivan. Have you gone for your walk yet?"
"Yes. Natalya tells me you haven't been in to eat. How about you take a break and listen to her read English over lunch."
She wipes away the sweat on her forehead. "Fwoo, alright, sounds like a plan. I guess I totally lost track of the time!"
Ivan helps her to her feet and she rubs at the small of her back. She glances around the yard looking satisfied. Ivan follows her gaze. They stop on the sunflowers, standing tall and proud and lush. "Katyusha, after lunch... do you think you could tell me how to take care of sunflowers?"
She raises her eyebrows questioningly. "Of course, if you would like. They're regular sweethearts, sunflowers."
Such a charming girl. Once more Ivan's heart aches for her imprisonment. The two make their way towards the house when Ivan looks back. Something seems different. "Katyusha... didn't you used to have buttercups?"
She looks at him distractedly. "... Oh? Ah, yes. I got rid of them. They just didn't seem to fit in anymore. I'm going to replace them with something else."
"I see. Well Natalya is waiting for us." The two enter the house, for a while forgetting all about flowers.
Ivan shifts through old boxes in their attic. In particular he is searching for the one containing his old clothes. Alfred is smaller than him but he's certain somewhere is a box with clothes from when he was younger. He finally finds it. Whoever had packed it hadn't done a very decent job of it. The clothes are all disheveled. Not that it matters.
After a moment of searching he pulls out a pair of pants and a shirt. He had even found an old pair of shoes, though he's not sure if they will fit Alfred. Any other garments will simply come from what he currently owns.
He puts everything back in place and quietly walks down the stairs and to his room where he adds the clothes to a bag filled with some gardening tools Katyusha shouldn't miss, a little food, and the biggest jug of water he could find. He wonders if he should bring an umbrella as well, for shade. Though really Alfred is being ridiculous staying in the sun all day. There is no shade in that spot.
Ivan looks out the window, the sun dipping beneath the horizon and turning the sky ablaze. Why is Alfred weighing so heavily on his mind? He has just met him... But he is rather strange. Surely it is curiosity. Still, the prospect of seeing him again makes Ivan's heart beat just a little bit faster.
Ivan feels a bit self-conscious carrying the bag out with him the next day. Luckily Natalya is already in the middle of lessons and Katyusha is in the garden so neither see him sneak out with it. With some uncertainty he retraces his path from yesterday, which he had carefully taken note of on his return home. Still, he feels relief when he finally spots the tired patch of sunflowers.
He looks around but there doesn't seem to be anyone around. He had tried his best to arrive at the same time too... Oh well, no matter. He has time to wait.
Ivan puts the bag down and starts to look through the bag. He takes out a pair of gloves. Perhaps starting with weeds is the simplest way to begin. And there isn't much chance of him messing the task up. He kneels down, gently touching the bent stalk of a sunflower that seems to be looking down at him. "Привет. Пожалуйста, оставьте себя в руках."
"My, you just jump right in, don't you? You haven't even asked permission to touch yet."
Ivan jumps and turns. Crouching just behind him is a smiling Alfred. "Ah... I-I'm sorry. I didn't... You startled me! Where did you come from?"
Alfred crawls forward to sit next to him. "Well, I was watching you. Sorry I didn't come out immediately. I just wanted to see what you were going to do."
Where had he been hiding? "Oh... that's alright. Um, I'm sorry I was so presumptuous. I just... my sister, she gardens. And I thought... Well I asked her how to..."
Alfred's grin grows. "Oh yeah? That's really kind of you. I appreciate it, really. Did you bring water?"
Ivan nods. "Yes. I brought a few things. You can look through the bag. It's all for you... or the sunflowers."
His face grows hot. Surely this must seem strange. They barely know each other. Alfred, who seems completely unperturbed, stands and walks back towards the bag. Ivan turns away, nervous to see his reaction. "Can I... would you mind if I did some weeding?"
"Eh? Yeah sure, you can touch the flowers all you want. I can tell you mean us no harm."
Ivan starts pulling weeds, making sure to grab them at the base and get all of the root as Katyusha had instructed, listening as Alfred digs through the bag. He hears a murmur of appreciation at one of the items. He tries to concentrate on his task but finally is compelled to look behind him. Alfred stands half naked, pulling on the new pair of pants Ivan had brought.
Despite having the immediate desire to turn away for propriety and privacy's sake, Ivan can't seem to take his eyes off of the smooth, jutting hip bones, the sun-kissed skin that betrays no tan lines. His body is beautiful. It is perfection.
Alfred has paused, head tilted to the side. As if letting him get his fill. But no, he blinks rapidly and pulls them the rest of the way up, laughing. "Oops, guess I should have warned you."
Ivan finally pulls his eyes away, face hot. Of course he hadn't been showing his body off, he had been shocked. "I apologize. It was rude of me to stare. I...didn't expect it."
Alfred pulls the shirt over his head. It's a touch baggy but fits him well enough. "Understandable. No harm done. An umbrella? I only wish there was enough rain to need one of these things."
Clearing his throat softly, Ivan cautiously turns back to look at him again. "I thought you could use it to escape from the sun."
Delight suddenly appears on Alfred's face. "Hey, neat idea! I never thought of that before."
He laughs and shakes his head at his own lack of comprehension, popping the umbrella open. "Perfect. You really exceeded any and all expectations I had. I mean, even just a little water would have been good you know."
Ivan turns to face him again. "How could I not do more knowing you were out here all alone? I guess I just..."
Alfred beams at him. The sun is in that smile. "I like you Ivan. Care to be friends with a little ol' sunflower spirit?"
That again... Ivan smiles despite it. He can't remember the last time he had a proper friend. "I would like that very much Alfred."
By the time Ivan walks through the front door of his home he is sticky with sweat and coated in dirt. His hands ache. Still, the sunflowers are now weed free. As the two worked together Ivan hesitantly put forth details of his life in the Soviet Union, before he had made the move over. Each one is picked up and shared only after excruciating deliberation. Alfred is an attentive audience, prompting him enthusiastically and listening in a way no one has ever listened to him. They shared sunflower seeds and philosophized over whimsical things of no consequence such as: Is the sky capable of love? Alfred thinks it is.
Everything about Alfred is wonderfully fresh and exotic in a way that defies exoticism. Leaving him was terribly difficult and already Ivan is counting the hours until he can go back. Despite assuring him again and again it would be alright if he came home with him, Alfred had simply shaken his head and thanked him kindly for the offer.
Katyusha does not seem to notice his extensive absence. Natalya questions him but Ivan finds himself defensive of Alfred's existence. He does not want to share it quite yet. With more impatience than he has ever shown her in his life, Ivan brushes her off and retreats to his bedroom. When he looks through the bag he notices something for the first time. The only things Alfred had taken were the shirt, pants, umbrella, and the jug of water (best to water in the evening, Alfred had told him, as the sun can burn the flowers in the middle of the day).
The food lies untouched.
"I don't need to eat food. In fact if I try it makes me violently sick," Alfred tells him. He sits on the ground, holding up the umbrella and watching Ivan make a hole in the ground.
Ivan adds some fertilizer to the hole as Katyusha had demonstrated before turning around to face Alfred. "You must eat something. And I don't just mean sunflower seeds. If not you'll end up in a hospital."
Alfred closes the umbrella and sets it aside. He makes his way over to Ivan and leans down on his knees. "The sunflower seeds are different, that's more like rejuvenating my energy naturally. Besides, you're feeding me right now."
He runs his fingers through the fertilizer and sighs with satisfaction. "A lovely meal too. My last caretaker never fed me. He just gave me water. I don't think he knew anything about gardening."
While Ivan appreciates Alfred's oddness it is starting to frustrate him. "I'm really concerned about you. You spend so much time in the sun and I never see you actually drink or eat anything substantial. I'm amazed you haven't collapsed. I might be forced to take you to a hospital myself."
Alfred is quick to shake his head, still running the fertilizer through his fingers. "Oh no, don't do that. I'm not asking you to believe me but please respect the way I live at least. I can't actually leave this spot. Well I can... but the result wouldn't be pretty. To even be out of eyesight of my sunflowers causes discomfort and the farther I go from them the more pain I experience. Wandering too far can lead to excruciating agony and even death. They're my link and to be apart from them is like the destruction of my heart."
Ivan reaches over and touches the hand sifting through the soil. Alfred looks at him and smiles. "Please try to understand."
"...I won't make you do anything you don't want to do. I'm just worried about you." And he is, he worries about Alfred almost every second of the day.
Alfred leans against him for a moment. "I promise if you continue to treat these sunflowers with care you will see I will only blossom and thrive."
Ivan is tempted to touch him more. Instead he pulls his hand away. "If that is true then I will not worry anymore."
Alfred smiles. "Besides, you're the only one who can see me right now."
Ivan starts a new hole in the ground. "Oh? How is that?"
Alfred lies on the ground, lifting the shirt so his stomach is pressed against the warm earth. "Flower spirits can choose whether we want to be seen or not. But even if we choose to show ourselves we can only be seen by special people who are drawn to us. Only a specific kind of person can see each spirit, depending on various factors. When you first saw me I wasn't guarding myself because no one had been coming around for a while and I thought it couldn't hurt. Now I've restricted it so only you may see me."
Ivan pauses. "...Why?"
Alfred turns on his back and gives him a cheerful smile. "You're the only one I want to see me right now."
Once again his heart begins to beat quickly. So he is special to Alfred?
Alfred reaches over and touches his wrist. "If you were to try and show me to anyone else it would be a mess. They wouldn't see me and would think you were crazy. And that's no good, right?"
A small chill goes through Ivan and for the first time he wonders if it is him and not Alfred that isn't quite sane.
Keep it inside. Hold on tight where no one can see.
Alfred smiles softly at him before looking up at the cloudless sky.
As the days begin to stack and blend together there is no denying that Alfred just keeps looking better and better. The worrisome thinness that existed before is completely gone and now he is soft and adequately plump. His skin and hair seem to have a luster that they had not possessed before. His eyes, if possible, are even brighter. He is the picture of health. And not once in their entire time together has Ivan ever seen him eat or drink a thing (other than the sunflower seeds of course).
It is becoming harder for Ivan to deny that there is something decidedly different, perhaps otherworldly about Alfred.
The two sit together, Ivan resting the umbrella on one shoulder, Alfred leaning against the other. Now that the sunflower patch has been nursed back to health there is only very general maintenance to be performed each day. The rest of the time is spent in musing or in comfortable silence.
Ivan breaks their peace with a question that has been plaguing him. "Where do you go to at night Alfred?"
Alfred looks at him. "I told you didn't I? I can't leave. I curl up and sleep in the roots during the night."
These responses are starting to bother Ivan. Does Alfred not trust him? Is that why he won't answer his questions seriously? "Please answer me honestly, just for once. What if I were to stay with you? Would you simply spend the night here to prove a point?"
Alfred stares at him for a long moment. He rubs his forehead and mutters to himself. "It's always so much harder when they don't believe me..."
This legitimately upsets Ivan. This whole charade is most likely one of two things. Either Alfred is playing a game with him, which is hurtful, or he is insane, which is an unacceptable answer for Ivan.
Finally Alfred lets out a slow breath and stands, brushing himself off. "I really didn't want to have to do this but... I don't want you to think I'm lying to you or purposely trying to deceive you so let's just do this. Please believe me when I say I am not doing this to spite you. I just don't want to upset you."
He reaches his hand down and Ivan takes it. He feels nervous after that speech. "What are you going to do?"
Alfred keeps his hand in his, smiling cheerfully at him. "We are taking a walk. We'll go as far as we can. Sound good?"
This is a first. Perhaps this means he can get to the bottom of all of this. "Да. Yes."
He closes his hand around Alfred's, enjoying how warm and rough it is. His hands always feel cold.
At first it is no big deal. They walk along in silence. Alfred has his head held high. It makes Ivan nervous. As they get further down the road Alfred suddenly turns. The sunflowers are just barely visible. He nods once and turns back, face set in a grim but determined expression. "Come on."
His next few steps seem to physically drain him but he continues. Soon he starts to waver as he walks, clenching his teeth and breathing hard through his nose. Ivan tries to stop but Alfred pulls him onward insistently. It is not long before he is truly alarmed as Alfred begins to slump against him.
"Keep going." The command only serves to panic him more. Alfred's voice sounds so pained.
"Alfred, please, I don't-"
"Keep going I said. No problem." He smiles at him but it is so forced it is painful to look at. Still, Ivan keeps going, supporting the other man. There is something about Alfred, a severity he has never seen before that commands obedience. Ivan can hear a dull roar in his ears. He is too afraid to stop.
They haven't gone much further when Alfred starts to hack violently. He falls to his knees, heaving and coughing. Alarmed, Ivan quickly crouches by his side, a hand on his back. "Alfred!"
Alfred holds a hand up to his mouth. A moment later he pulls it away. There is something black in his palm, too dark to be blood but of the same consistency. And still Alfred continues to choke and cough away.
Ivan's mouth feels very dry and a wave of intense nausea rolls over him. He closes his eyes to fight it back, blind panic threatening to take over. A hand clutches weakly at his shirt and Ivan opens his eyes. Alfred looks up at him, his usually bright eyes darkened in agony, a strand of black liquid running down his chin. Help me, his contorted face screams.
Swallowing hard, Ivan steels himself and gathers Alfred in his arms. For a moment logic screams at him, a hospital, medical assistance. And then another thought exerts itself more powerfully. No, to the sunflower patch. With grave determination and a focus he has never experienced before, Ivan takes off back the way they came, running as quickly as he possibly can while holding Alfred.
Be okay, please be okay. Don't die. Don't die!
It would be too unbearable.
When the sunflowers come into sight Ivan gets a second burst of adrenaline, sprinting towards them as if his life depends on it. No, as if Alfred's life depends on it, which it very well may. Finally he reaches them and collapses. He holds Alfred tightly, so very tightly. "I brought you back, I brought you back Alfred. Please, say something... Please don't die!"
Alfred turns his head, his breathing calming but still shallow. He frees an arm from against Ivan's body and weakly reaches out towards a sunflower, touching its stem. "I-I'm back... It's okay, I'm back."
Content, he slumps against Ivan like a dead weight. Ivan's chest feels tight. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Alfred tries to laugh. He is only half successful. "Nah, don't be. I chose to do it right? Anyway, I'm the one who's sorry... I didn't mean to traumatize you or anything."
Ivan shakes his head, just grateful that Alfred seems to be improving. He tilts Alfred's chin up, gently wiping away the black liquid and trying not to think about what it resembles. "I believe you."
Alfred gives him a very meek smile. "Glad to hear it. I mean, I know that must have been pretty extreme for you."
Very gently, Ivan presses his forehead to Alfred's. "No, that's not what I mean. I believe that you are a sunflower spirit."
At this point there is no doubt left in Ivan's mind. How could he be anything less?
Alfred's expression seems to brighten. "I'm glad... Then I'll believe in you too. Anything, anything you tell me I will believe as absolute truth."
Ivan hugs him again, waiting until the body in his arms no longer trembles.
I am holding the spirit of a sunflower patch. Those words run on a loop and he finds it is easier to surrender to the idea than he thought it would be.
Alfred is once again in a state of perfect health. He doesn't speak of their walk and Ivan does not wish to bring it up.
It baffles him, Alfred's existence, now that he has dedicated himself to believing him. Is he something of magic and fantasy?
"Are there many more of you? Do all flowers and plants and whatnot have spirits?"
"No, not all. I couldn't tell you what makes that difference, why some have them and some don't. I'm old but I'm not that old, so much of that knowledge is lost to me." He shrugs, not looking like he himself cares one way or the other.
Ivan feels a little silly asking his next question. "What is it like?"
Alfred thinks about it, chewing on a sunflower seed. "It's like being connected to the Earth... It's like always and never being alone."
A cool breeze blows, causing the sunflowers to sway gently. The air smells sweet today. It is getting late, though the sun gives little indication. Oh the wonders of summer. Admittedly Ivan does love that, the delightfully long and warm summers here.
"I never had very much fun with my last caretaker," Alfred murmurs suddenly, breaking Ivan's thoughts.
"Your caretaker? What was he like... if you don't mind my asking?" Alfred never spoke of him after that first day and Ivan did not want to impose considering the circumstances of his death. Still, it has been nagging at him for some time, the desire to hear Alfred say that he is superior to that man. An inexplicable jealously that he doesn't quite understand.
Alfred pulls out his small bag of sunflower seeds and offers them to Ivan. He takes a few and pops one into his mouth. Alfred sucks on one. "Yeah I don't mind. He was a strange man. Older than you, though I have a pretty vague handle on what you consider old or young. Though I know you are definitely on the younger scale right?"
He lightly nudges Ivan who smiles. "Yes, young-ish."
Alfred chuckles. "He liked to talk about literature and all sorts of boring things. He'd read a lot, liked to write down things I said. He gave me the name Alfred. I think he named me after someone he talked or read about but I never paid much attention. Very nervous and paranoid. I guess that's why he planted me out here. I think...he was what you would call weak."
Ivan hands him a few of his shells and Alfred takes them, chewing on them. There's still something oddly thrilling about it. "Mmm, let's see. He treated me weird. Not bad mind you. Though like I said, not nearly as well as you treat me."
Ivan feels deep satisfaction at this statement, careful to keep it from his face. "I see."
Alfred sighs. "I don't know what happened. I guess it was my fault in the end. He sort of... Well, he didn't treat me as well as you but he treated me like... I don't know, I was something special."
He can't help but shine at this a little, Ivan notes. "Still, there was only so much I could take. It got creepy after a certain point. But what could I do? Back then no one came around so I couldn't exactly get away. I was stuck. And then one day he said three little words to me. I suppose I shouldn't have, I really shouldn't have, but I couldn't help it. They were so ridiculous. I laughed at him. And then he pulled out a pocket knife, pressed it to his wrist..."
Ivan's stomach churns and he tries to ask Alfred to stop. He doesn't want to hear, doesn't want to-
"He said to me 'Then let me give you the last thing I have' and he slit down one wrist, then the other. I just stared at him. What was he doing, god what was he doing? Damn psychopath. He was so..."
Ivan can see it, see the blood, everywhere, sliding down the wrist. So very vibrant against the snow...
No, not the snow, soaking into the earth to be absorbed like rain into the roots of Alfred's sunflowers. Into him. He feels repulsed for a moment. Alfred touches his arm and when he looks down into his face the feeling of repulsion fades. That's not quite true, it is simply transferred to the caretaker.
"He abandoned me." Alfred finally says, meeting Ivan's violet eyes. "The people who came bent the sunflowers, broke them, hurt me so badly. I was afraid. It didn't occur to me to try and escape until it was too late. And most of the people who came, I had no wish to go with them. I thought maybe I would try to stick it out, see how it went. Then you came. I'm quite grateful. Seems it's not the end for me yet. Life, it's so invigorating!"
He laughs suddenly. "Well that's over and done. Who wants to think of that?"
Ivan wants to tell Alfred how much he adores him in that moment. The words stick in his throat. He will find a way to express them someday.
In bed that night Ivan lies awake, staring into the dark. His hatred, his pure loathing for Alfred's former caretaker churns within him. How much contempt he feels for the filth who had abandoned Alfred, made him dirty. Who had killed himself...
He gags in the dark and has to close his eyes, take deep breaths.
Alfred told him he had laughed at the man after he had said three words.
I love you?
A cold sweat breaks over his body. If he were to say those words would the spirit laugh at him as well?
When had he fallen in love with Alfred? No matter how much Ivan dwells on it he can't seem to pinpoint the exact moment.
Maybe he has always loved him.
Ivan looks at him thoughtfully. "Are you the sunflowers? Are the sunflowers you? Are you separate entities? Are you one and the same?"
Alfred gives him a slow, knowing smile. "Yes."
Alfred's head lies on Ivan's lap, watching the lazy, cotton white clouds go by. "You know, I think I've never met someone I like as much as you. Our meeting must have been destined, don't you think?"
Ivan brushes a strand of hair from his face. "Yes. I think so."
With a smile Alfred looks back at the clouds. "That one looks like an apple. Apple tree spirits are rather sweet, you know?"
"I was unaware. And what are sunflower spirits?"
A pause. "Well what do you think?"
Ivan thinks about it, doesn't say quite everything he actually thinks. "They are very playful."
"You got that one right on the dot. Hm. That one looks like a cloud."
Ivan chuckles and Alfred grins.
Ivan gently strokes one of the now completely healthy, strong green stems. He picks a caterpillar off then caresses a lush leaf. These sunflowers are like Alfred's second form. To nurture them is to nurture Alfred. To touch them is to touch Alfred.
It occurs to him, quite suddenly, that he is the one keeping Alfred alive and healthy. It is only by his hand that the spirit is thriving.
It is like he is Alfred's god.
His eyes slide over to Alfred, who lies napping comfortably in the sunlight. If he is god then who is Alfred to deny him? Ah, but he is a loving god. An adoring god. A god that wishes for nothing more than Alfred's complete well being.
Ivan is also a jealous god. The thought of past caretakers causes a slow aching hatred in his heart. He doesn't want to share him with anyone else. Not ever.
Ivan stands, gently touching the vibrant yellow petals. He leans the flower forward and lightly kisses its black center. A dark, sightless eye.
Alfred stirs for a moment in his sleep and is then still.
Ivan is the only one Alfred reveals himself to. He is special. The feeling of someone being solely his to love and care for makes Ivan's chest tighten painfully.
Natalya stares out the window at her sister, eyes narrowed. "Big brother, I think we should find a way to get big sister out of the house for a while. She spends too much time in her garden."
Ivan walks towards the window and glances at his sister. "She looks so happy though."
Natalya clutches his arm. He finds it less tolerable than he used to. "But it's all she does. And you know what's strange? I was looking around yesterday and a lot of the flower beds are wilting. As much time as she spends out there isn't it bizarre? At times I wonder if all she does is care for her sunflowers. They were perfectly healthy."
"Maybe they are her favorite. I myself am quite fond of them." So very, very fond...
Natalya scowls. "I hate sunflowers. I think they look ugly and arrogant."
Ivan looks at her and she takes a step back. "What is that look for big brother?"
Ivan blinks. "What look Natalya?"
She purses her lips. "You looked like you wanted to hit me when I said that. Do you really like them that much? Sorry I said anything."
She huffily looks out the window. Ivan is taken aback. Had he looked like he was going to hit her? He just can't understand how one couldn't think of sunflowers as anything but beautiful. "...I'm sorry. I really didn't mean it. I guess I was just surprised is all."
Natalya eyes him for a moment before reaching out once more for his arm. "It's fine. I know you didn't mean it. But I'm still worried about big sister. Sometimes I wonder if she's going insane."
In a flash Ivan has a hold of her wrist, squeezing the delicate bones tightly. "Don't you ever use that word to describe Katyusha! Don't even say it. That is a word-"
Natalya looks at him with knowing eyes. "It is a word reserved for that woman. I know. I'm sorry big brother."
Slowly, very slowly, Ivan loosens his grip. He feels sick. Natalya rubs her wrist, staring hard at the ground. "I love you big brother."
He stares at her for a moment before looking back out the window. "I love you too, Natalya."
The words feel empty as they leave his lips.
The way he looks, the way he sounds, the way he smells.
The sparkle of his eyes, the warmth of his smile, the soft glow of his skin.
He is all Ivan thinks of anymore.
Something is wrong.
Natalya clutches her heart. "Toris, I think something is seriously the matter."
How low she has sunken, speaking of such things to Toris. But there is no other. And she feels a heavy weight of foreboding.
Toris looks up from the book he has been helping her with. "What do you mean Miss Natalya?"
She stares at things he cannot see. "Katyusha never asks me to rub her back anymore. She's pretty heavily endowed which gives her back problems. At least once a week, often twice, she always asked before, 'Please rub big sister's shoulders Natalya.' It was burdensome but I did it because she's big sister. But she never asks anymore. Why?"
Toris blushes softly. "I-I'm afraid I wouldn't know Miss Natalya. Have you discussed it with her?"
Natalya frowns. He's such a fool. "No. All she ever does is garden anymore. Obsessively. And big brother is disappearing too. His walks are so long these days and he comes home later and later. Even when he is home he is distant. This house is so empty, getting more empty all the time."
Toris takes her hand. "That's awful Miss Natalya. Is there anything I can do to help? Should I try talking to Mr. Ivan for you?"
Natalya pulls her hand away. "Forget I said anything."
Toris tries to protest but she sharply shakes her head. "I do not need anyone's help. Especially not yours."
She is completely alone.
Mama, this is your fault.
The thought of touching Alfred sends sharp pangs of desire through Ivan's body. And he thinks about it so much these days... It is all he can do to keep his hands off of him.
And then he thinks, why restrain himself?
'God' is ready for a show of devotion.
The day is slightly cooler than the one before. Perfect temperature. Any hotter and it would be difficult to breathe. Ivan approaches the sunflower patch. Alfred wanders among them, probably murmuring sweet nothings to them. He hasn't noticed Ivan watching him yet.
Alfred tilts his head, eyes closed. A moment later he reaches down for the bottom his shirt, slowly peeling it off to bask beneath the sunshine. Ivan licks his lips. His mouth is suddenly very dry. It has been quite a while since he's seen that much of Alfred. The once frail body looks so strong now.
Thanks to him. He is the one who has restored Alfred to this glorious state.
Silently he crosses the remaining distance. He stops a few feet away from Alfred, who does not turn upon his arrival. "Hello Ivan, you're a little earlier than usual. It's a great day isn't it?"
Ivan breaches the last few feet remaining between them and embraces Alfred from behind. His lips immediately sink to Alfred's neck, pressing against skin that tastes like sweat and dirt. Just like he imagined it would. Soft kisses are reverently distributed along the length of his neck and down his shoulder.
Ivan's hands begin to wander, and he waits for some kind of protest. Alfred has become very still but he does not tell him to stop. With a little difficulty he unties the makeshift belt. After that it is so easy to slide his hand under the material. How grateful he is, as his wandering fingers make contact with sensitive flesh, that spirits are fully anatomically similar to humans.
As Ivan begins to stroke Alfred, he brings his mouth to his ear. "Is this alright?"
Alfred reaches up and grabs the hand that isn't preoccupied, placing it over his heart. "If it wasn't I would have already disappeared."
Ivan kisses his neck again before sucking hard, leaving a possessive mark. He whispers against his skin, "I want you so badly Alfred. Let me have you. Let me swallow you whole."
Alfred smiles slowly. "Mmm ask and you shall receive."
That is good enough answer for Ivan. The spirit is finally, finally going to be his. He retracts his hand and turns Alfred around, kissing him deeply as he slides the baggy pants from around narrow hips. Alfred presses up against him playfully. There are too many layers between them. Ivan begins to strip his clothes away impatiently.
The two of them soon stand bare beneath a sky of intensely perfect blue, nothing but the sunflowers to block them should a straggler happen to come by. Not that it seems likely. A laugh builds in Ivan's chest but never quite makes it out. There is something so wonderfully surreal about this moment it is nearly laughable. But as he presses Alfred against himself the only sound he is capable of making is a moan.
Ivan's hands wander across the expanse of Alfred's body, mapping out what belongs to him. The skin is warm, weathered, divine. Perfect, as he had originally perceived.
As their tongues intertwine they sink slowly. In mumbled words Ivan offers to put something—not quite sure what—down for Alfred to lie on, Alfred assuring him he would prefer to be in direct contact with the ground.
Ivan takes a moment to explore Alfred's body with his mouth, leaving love marks wherever he can. It belongs to him, this body, this spirit. He pulls away and sticks his fingers in his mouth, stroking Alfred again with his other hand as he sucks on the digits. Alfred watches with a lazy smile. He looks so beautiful it's overwhelming.
Ivan leans in to kiss him again, slowly pressing one of the fingers into Alfred. Alfred squirms against him for a moment but makes no pained sounds or actions. Perhaps a bit overeagerly he presses in the next finger. Alfred gasps and runs his fingers through the dirt beneath him. The look on his face is of total enthrallment.
"Alfred... your last caretaker, did he ever do anything like this to you?" The question is like pure acid on his tongue.
"Nn, no... No not... not him. I would never let him touch my body like this. Mmm, not ever. I didn't want him to touch me. Not like I want you to. Come on Ivan, give me more."
Heat flushes Ivan's entire body. The words alone make him harder. They are exactly what he wants to hear. He slides a third finger in, impatient to enter Alfred.
He sucks on one of Alfred's nipples, teasing it with his tongue and teeth to pass the time. The spirit hums appreciatively. After what feels like too long Ivan determines Alfred is ready for him.
Spreading Alfred's legs feels like a sacred ceremony. He tilts his pelvis up and begins to enter carefully, savoring the moment with his entire being. Alfred's breathing quickens, his fingers raking more insistently through the dirt. Once he has pressed in fully and Alfred seems adjusted he pulls out and rocks in smoothly. He pauses for a moment, trembling. Alfred truly will belong to him now.
Pressing his face against the crook of Alfred's neck Ivan begins to move steadily, building a slow rhythm that gets progressively quicker. Alfred moves with the momentum of Ivan's hips, arching against him as lusty sounds fall from his lips.
Ivan cherishes each sound like a treasure as he looks down at his sweet sunflower spirit. He feels an overwhelming sense of adoration and possessiveness. He strokes his cheek gently. "Alfred I..."
Fear overwhelms him, mixed with an unfamiliar madness that lurks in the darkness of his mind and soul. To release such a thing... is it worth the risk? He feels sick but it is overwhelmed by the hot pleasure that is consuming his body.
He tries again, the words feeling heavy and dangerous. "I love you."
Alfred opens his eyes curiously. A sharp, icy sensation encases Ivan's heart for a moment as Alfred starts to smile. If he laughs Ivan knows something delicate inside of him will break, unleashing that darkness that even now is rising to the surface.
But Alfred does not laugh. He reaches up to entwine his fingers in Ivan's hair, leaving dirt particles that will have to be brushed out later. The pain and pressure alleviates as Alfred pulls him down into a slow, sensual kiss. He has passed. He has won. Alfred really is his and his alone.
Ivan feels tears well up for a moment and holds them back. Never has he felt such purifying relief before. He loves him, and no one will ever love Alfred the way he does.
Ivan runs his tongue along Alfred's neck and strives to penetrate ever deeper, joining their bodies as closely as he can. What he desires, what he is working towards, is creating a bond. The same bond that Alfred shares with his sunflowers. Not knowing where one begins and the other ends. He wants to become one with Alfred so very desperately, to not only possess him but to be a part of him and vice versa.
Shining with perspiration under the noon sun, not even attempting to restrain his cries of rapture, Ivan vaguely wonders how he would appear to a passerby. If no others can see Alfred he must look utterly deranged. A raging, lewd lunatic among the sunflowers. Not a single part of him can muster the strength to care. Perhaps he looks mad. Perhaps he is mad after all.
The smell of dust heavy in his nose, Alfred's body moving and grinding against his own, a feeling of completion, of worship and of worshiping...
If this is insanity he will gladly fall into its dark abyss.
Mama, is this how you fell too?
For a single moment Ivan feels he truly has become one with Alfred, their bodies moving in perfect sync, hearts beating together, lust and pleasure intertwining into a perfect knot around them. When Alfred comes he gasps Ivan's name. Ivan rocks into Alfred a few more times before finishing himself, body taken over by sensation. The two lie spent in each other's arms, lethargic and content in the afterglow of their lovemaking.
"It really is beautiful today," Ivan murmurs softly. Alfred makes a sleepy, indistinct sound in response.
A long stretch of silence follows. Ivan nuzzles Alfred, whispering softly into his ear. "Belong to me and only me, alright Alfred? You don't need anyone else. I love you so much."
He thinks Alfred has fallen asleep until he tightens his grip around Ivan, pulling him closer.
Natalya sits alone, back perfectly straight, hands folded neatly in her lap. Her face is blank, perhaps her mouth turning downwards ever so slightly. She listens to the ticking of a clock above her head.
Where has her big brother gone and who has stolen him away?
Alfred sits between Ivan's legs, his back leaning against Ivan's chest. He lazily reaches back holding out a sunflower seed, popping it into Ivan's mouth.
Ivan cracks it between his teeth, sucking on the shell before eating the thin seed. Alfred turns his head and Ivan presses their lips together, using his tongue to slide the shell into the other's mouth. Alfred pulls away and chews on it, swallows.
They repeat the process in silence.
"Toris told you he can't come today, right? Let me go on a walk with you big brother." Natalya holds on to him, face determined.
Ivan does his best not to lose his temper. "Not today alright?"
She stamps her foot angrily. "Well when? When can I go?"
Ivan rubs his temple. Sometimes she can be so irritating. "Natalya... Look, we all have things we do to escape for a while. Katyusha has her gardening, I go on my walks, and I'm sure you have something personal you do as well."
Her jaw sets into a severe line for a moment. "And what exactly are you escaping from? From me? From this house? From Mama? What! I want to know! Because quite frankly both of you are escaping so much these days that soon I think I might lose both of you altogether. It's fine for you. You're obviously both quite happy wherever else you are. Well what about me?"
Silence rings. Perfect, unbroken.
She repeats herself softly. "What about me?"
Ivan doesn't know what to say. "It's not you Natalya. I'm not trying to leave you behind."
Angry tears well up in her eyes and she hugs him, pressing her face into his chest. "It feels like you hate me now."
He strokes her hair, softening in a way he hasn't in ages. "Shhh, that's not true. I could never hate you. You and big sister and... Well you are the most important people in my life. All we have is each other."
She holds on to him tightly. "Sometimes I wish you hadn't covered my eyes that day. Sometimes I wish you had let me see what you and Katyusha saw. Then I could understand what the two of you are always trying to run away from. Then maybe I would be too busy running to be lonely."
He hugs her fiercely. "No! Never talk like that. If you had seen that... Never say such things Natalya."
She rubs her face against him. "Stay home today. Please."
Reluctance starts to creep up on him. The desire to abandon her to go to Alfred... He resists.
It is the first day in almost three months he does not go on a walk.
It is pure agony.
"I'm sorry I didn't come yesterday. My sister... I'm sorry." Guilt nags at Ivan. He had left Alfred alone.
But the spirit seems unfazed. "Ah, yes it was strange not seeing you. Though you don't have to apologize. My last caretaker came every other day, sometimes every third day. Usually he didn't come at all on what you call 'weekends.' Don't feel obligated."
Ivan embraces him. "It's not about feeling obligated. I missed you."
He kisses the spirit needfully. And when Ivan starts to slide his shirt off, Alfred lets him.
Another day. Another cooling day. Summer is waning.
Ivan speaks of inconsequential things, mostly just enjoying the day and the company. Alfred smiles warmly at him, listening attentively as ever. But suddenly the smile vanishes and a moment later Alfred does too. Ivan stares. Never has Alfred disappeared in front of him, though he has made allusions to it. In a moment of panic Ivan feels like he has suddenly awoken to his own disturbed fantasy. That Alfred is a figment of his imagination.
As he looks around desperately for a shred of evidence he suddenly notices a figure walking towards him. He freezes in shock. He has never seen a soul out here. As the person approaches it soon becomes apparent it is a man. And he is not walking down the path but from over a rise of land. He pauses a moment when he spots Ivan then continues. When he gets close enough, Ivan sees there is a slight frown on his face.
The man stops a few feet away from Ivan, appraising him coolly. "Hello."
Ivan stands slowly, face carefully guarded. Once he is at his full height he realizes how much shorter the other is. "Greetings."
The man raises an eyebrow, looking up at him. "Well. It's been a while since that troublesome business. What brings you here, a sense of morbid curiosity?"
He has an English accent. A very cultured one that screams of good breeding, high education, and a gentlemanly superiority complex. His eyebrows are strange though. Ivan decides he doesn't much care for him already. "нет. Er, no."
He mentally kicks himself for the slip and firmly shuts his mouth.
The man folds his arms then looks at the sunflowers, eyes roaming them. "Then may I ask what you are doing here?"
Ivan feels his body tensing defensively. "How is that any of your business?"
Admittedly, despite his height, the man does carry the weight of authority when he straightens, green eyes flashing. "As it so happens, sir, it is most certainly my business. My name is Arthur Kirkland and I own this property. You are trespassing."
An uneasy flutter begins in Ivan's chest. "Oh. I apologize. I'm not doing anything wrong."
Arthur walks past Ivan. "Hmph. You've been taking care of them haven't you? How in heaven did you snag yourself a new caretaker way out here you bloody thing?"
Uneasiness descends over Ivan. That last sentence had definitely not been aimed at him. "What did you just say?"
Arthur glances over his shoulder at him. "No need to play dumb. I've known this particular patch of sunflowers has a spirit attached since that unpleasant business with the suicide. Not that it will show itself to me. What does it have to be concerned of I wonder? Don't like me eh?"
He tilts his head. "So what is it? Male? Female? What's its personality like?"
Ivan feels his throat closing. "I... have no idea what you're-"
Arthur snorts. "Please do not play that song and dance with me. I have seen spirits, fairies, the mystical all my life. And I know how they are. One does not randomly start taking care of a patch of flowers in the middle of nowhere just because they feel like it. Unless they're particularly strange. I won't assume you are mad you know. I myself have a rather obnoxious rose spirit at home. Bloody thing tricked me. I smelled one of the roses once and now I'm his bloody servant. He's a real pervert too. He kills my sense of propriety. And the worst part is that he's French, God help me. Francis. That's his name. What about this one? Has it told you a name? Of course it's not its real name. None of them tell their foolish keepers their real names."
Ivan looks at him stonily. Alfred's reaction suggests he doesn't want this man to know anything about him. Still, he is curious. "I... I'm not his caretaker and he didn't trick me into anything. I've chosen to do this."
Arthur nods once. "So it's a male. I don't know why but sunflower spirits usually are. Hmm... Not his caretaker though... That's interesting. I would have thought he would have recruited you immediately, being stuck out here and all..."
He studies Ivan carefully. "Different flower spirits tend to have certain personalities. Roses are usually romantics and often perverts, daisies are rather simple and shy, lilies are elegant, and sunflowers... Well. Sunflowers tend to be on the playful and cheery side. But I'll warn you, most flower spirits have some bite to them and sunflowers in particular tend to have some maliciousness in their mischief. You have to be careful."
Ivan's eyes narrow. "He's perfectly pleasant and sweet."
Arthur reaches into his pocket and pulls out a box of cigarettes. He taps one out, raises his eyebrows at Ivan questioningly. Ivan shakes his head 'no' and Arthur puts the box back in his pocket, fishing out a book of matches. He lights one, pressing it to the tip of the cigarette then shakes it and lets it fall to the ground. Ivan watches nervously until Arthur crushes it under his boot.
Arthur inhales deeply then expels slowly. "Hmm well I just thought I should let you know. I won't tell you to stop coming as long as you're not causing problems. It's your life. I wonder... have you been eating the sunflower seeds?"
Arthur chuckles then takes another long drag. "Ah. That's it then. Still, strange he hasn't assigned you as his caretaker. Mm, maybe this one isn't all bad. Or it's particularly tricky."
Ivan snaps. "Alfred is not-!" He quickly shuts his mouth.
"Oh, so his name is Alfred? Nice enough name. Well who knows. I'm sure you know him better than I do."
Ivan wishes he could tell the man to leave but the last thing he wants is to provoke him. If he is the landowner he can easily forbid him from coming back. Not that he would listen but it could be problematic.
Arthur turns back to the sunflowers, blowing a smoke ring. "Oi, Alfred. I hope you only have the noblest of intentions. I can't stand bratty spirits." The sunflowers waver in a soft breeze. "Hmph, still won't say anything?"
Arthur turns away from them. "Well, I'll be on my way. Remember that I did warn you if anything goes wrong. I'm not saying that this is an evil spirit but I promise you no matter how sweet he might be, he is always more concerned with his well being than yours. Just look at his last caretaker."
A heavy silence follows the words. "Here, I was going to do this myself but now I'll leave the decision up to you. Do what you like, it has nothing to do with me."
He tosses the book of matches, which lands at Ivan's feet. "Don't cause problems and try to keep yourself out of trouble."
Ivan stares at the matches. An overly cheerful smile that borders on creepy appears on his face. "Thank you Mr. Kirkland. I will certainly do what I think necessary."
Arthur drops the cigarette and crushes it as he had the match. "...Hm. What was your name again?"
The smile doesn't budge. "Ivan Braginski."
Something registers on Arthur's face. Ivan can see it. "Ah. So you're one of the Braginskis. Interesting."
Ivan doesn't like all the things carefully tucked into the word 'interesting'.
Arthur nods once. "Cheers then Ivan. Alfred. I can't wait for winter."
He turns and begins to walk away. Ivan watches him go, feeling an intense dislike towards him.
Once he is well out of sight Ivan scoops the matches up, glaring down at them. Arms wrap around his waist. "What a regular prick. Don't listen to him Ivan. Bastard doesn't know what he's saying. You're the one who decided to come. I have never made you do anything right?"
Ivan rubs one of his arms soothingly. "Don't worry, I would never think anything like that. Even if there are other spirits out there that are, I know you aren't. He doesn't know the first thing about you."
Alfred pushes his face against his back. "No, he doesn't. It's true, a lot of spirits can be manipulative or mischievous but it's not like we're all like that. And I had nothing to do with my caretaker's death. That was his decision. That was-"
Ivan turns and hugs Alfred. "Shhh, it's okay. I know. ...Alfred, do you mind if I ask why he mentioned the sunflower seeds?"
Alfred is quiet for a moment. "Does it matter?"
Did it matter? Ivan thinks about it. He's curious, but does he need to know? "No. If it's nothing important I don't care."
Alfred smiles brightly at him. "Forget about him. He gives me a super creepy feeling. I used to have to hide from him all the time. It's rather eerie you know, meeting the few individuals who can see you even when you don't want them to."
"Why is that? I didn't expect to meet anyone who actually knew about such things."
Alfred shakes his head against Ivan's chest. "Some people have a gift. They're very annoying and total menaces to our kind. Most of them try to exploit us or treat us like trophies. That's why we usually choose who we want to associate with."
Ivan brushes his fingers through his hair soothingly. There is one more thing he needs to ask about. "What he said about the winter..."
Alfred stretches up and kisses him lightly on the lips. "We won't talk about that now."
And that was that. Still, once the seed of worry is planted it begins to grow within Ivan and flourish.
Arthur sips a cup of Earl Grey, observing the greatness of nature on his porch. He feels at peace.
"Bonjour Arthur, when did you return?"
So much for that. Arthur scowls as a naked blond man appears at his side. "I got you clothes. Expensive, nice clothes. Can't you have the decency of wearing them Francis?"
Francis laughs flamboyantly. "But I much prefer to be naked. Care to become drunk on the sweetness of my scent?"
"Absolutely not you filth! I can't stand you! I will burn the dead remains of your rose bush when winter descends and celebrate around the flames."
"Oh, how rude! You don't mean it my sweet ange. I know you will revive me like a fabulous phoenix in the summer." He kisses him on the cheek.
Arthur wipes it in disgust. "I wish you would stop that! There is no way that sunflower spirit is worse than you. Though he has definitely ensnared that young man."
Francis kneels and rests against Arthur's knee, smirking up at him. "Oh? Good for him. Pauvres, peu de tournesol. It is terribly difficult for them to get caretakers. Most flowers use their seductive scent or pollen, like I did with you. But sunflower spirits can only use their magic by getting people to eat their seeds. Much like fruit plants. C'est si terrible. I am glad I don't have to work hard to get myself a devoted servant."
Arthur glowers at him. "You make me sick. You all make me sick. I wish I couldn't see any of you."
Francis strokes his knee, smirking. "You don't mean that mon cher."
"I do! Selfish creatures, making my life miserable." He covers his eyes with his arm.
He feels Francis's weight on him and he frowns. "Get off."
Arthur's face is tilted up and he grimaces, keeping the arm firmly in place. Francis caresses his neck. "Ne dites pas cela. Il blesse mes sentiments."
Warm lips are pressed against Arthur's own and he lets it happen with resignation. It's exhausting to resist.
The weighty scent of roses lingers in the air.
Natalya looks out the window. Watching her sister has become her pastime. She watches the way Katyusha laughs, how her face lights up with delight, how she talks to herself.
Her eyes narrow.
"Big sister... you've gone completely insane."
Saying it out loud is a relief. It makes it sound more tangible.
And then she thinks of Mama and she hates big sister.
The days are starting to get shorter. Alfred refuses to speak of the oncoming change of seasons. Simply smiles and tells him not to worry about it, to enjoy the rest of summer.
"Alfred, won't you tell me what's going to happen?"
"In time Ivan. In good time. Stop worrying so much. How about we take a nap together?"
When Alfred looks at him so sweetly how can Ivan refuse?
The petals start to brown, the stems begin to wilt. Alfred doesn't say anything but Ivan can feel him becoming frailer every time he holds him. The luster and color slowly seeps from his hair, skin, and eyes.
Ivan is concerned. He is also terrified.
Alfred is enthusiastically talking about something. Ivan can't seem to concentrate on what he's saying. He tries his best but it's too much. He grabs Alfred, fingers digging into his skin. "Are you going to die?"
There is no hiding the desperate edge of panic in his voice. Alfred blinks those wide blue eyes slowly. "What do you mean?"
Ivan grits his teeth. "You know what I mean Alfred! When the sunflowers die will you die too?"
A pain, a searing agony unlike anything he has ever experienced pierces Ivan's heart. His grip loosens for a moment then tightens harshly. "No! You aren't allowed to die!"
Alfred gives him a lopsided smile. "Ah, come on now Ivan. Something like that isn't for you to decide. It's not like I want to. I guess I made that seem a little dramatic, let me explain okay? How about loosening up just a little first?"
After a long pause Ivan convinces his fingers to relax. Alfred takes one of the hands in his own. "There we go. So, okay, yes, when the sunflowers die I will too. But during the winter I'm not necessarily going to die. What's going to happen is when the weather gets too cold to tolerate I'll go into hibernation. Come spring or summer, whenever the weather is warm enough, with luck I'll be able to rejuvenate and come back. If not... Then I'll die."
That doesn't comfort Ivan at all. "It isn't good enough! There has to be a better way. Please, tell me Alfred! Tell me!"
Alfred puts his hands up. "Hey, it's alright. Calm down Ivan. I'm a tough spirit. I've weathered a lot of winters. I haven't always had a caretaker. I should be fine."
A caretaker... "Alfred, if I become your caretaker isn't there something I can do?"
Alfred waves his hand airily. "Come on Ivan, don't worry about it."
"How can I not? I can't even stand the thought of you dy-" The word chokes off in his mouth. "I refuse. If there is even a single thing I can do to prevent that I demand you tell me!"
Alfred looks at him a moment, head cocked to one side. "It's not like being my caretaker will be much different than what it's like now but... I like that the two of us are friends. If I make you my caretaker it makes the relationship seem so stiff."
Ivan quickly shakes his head. "No, I promise. Everything will be exactly like it is now. I'm begging you, let me protect you."
Alfred laughs softly. "Guess you just have to have your way don'tcha? Fine. I'll tell you exactly what to do before I hibernate. Until then I don't want to talk about it anymore. Deal?"
Ivan pulls him close, kissing him. "Сделка."
A chill hangs in the air as evening—which seems to come alarmingly early—descends. The leaves have not started to fall off the trees yet but they have been painted vibrant reds, yellows, purples, and oranges. Autumn is inevitable.
Alfred looks dreadful. Dark circles under his eyes, a certain slump in his posture as if he too is drooping, and he's as thin—perhaps thinner—than when Ivan first met him. It breaks Ivan's heart every time he sees him.
Alfred presses close to him, shivering lightly. "I think it's time. Usually I would hang on longer than this but... I don't want you to have to see me waste away any more. "
He takes out two bags, one of them being a familiar sight to Ivan. He hands him this one first. "Here, these are for you. Feel free to eat them at your leisure. And this one," he hands the second one to Ivan. It is much lighter. "This one has the seeds I'll be sleeping in. I'm abandoning this patch here and will reside in these. Once you plant them and they bloom I'll wake up again. Easy right?"
Ivan takes them and holds them close to his heart. "...What if I do something wrong?"
Alfred manages a chuckle and touches his face. "You worry too much. It will be fine. You took such good care of me Ivan. Thank you."
He leans up and kisses Ivan softly. "This is our last day together for a long time. Is there anything you want to say?"
Ivan looks into his face, burning it into his memory. He kisses him softly on the forehead. The thought of being separated from his beloved Alfred hurts. And what if something goes wrong? What if he never sees him again? "I love you. I love you so much. And... I want to tell you about Mama."
"For a long time Mama was perfectly fine. She was always a bit strange. She used to tell us sometimes that she could see things that most people couldn't. Spirits, she said. Especially spirits of the dead. Still, even though life wasn't always easy and even though Mama was a bit odd we all did our best. When Wold War II hit it was exceptionally hard on her. It was hard on everyone but... She got really strange. Much worse than anything we had ever experienced before. It was like she was always being tormented. At first it wasn't anything we couldn't handle. We simply kept her inside on days she acted odd. Stopped having people visit. Papa wasn't home often but he tended to be less tolerant of her behavior. He was..."
A pause of lengthy silence that said it all. "Once the war ended everything was a disaster. So many people had died, the country was in shambles, the bitterness was so thick you could taste it. It was a nightmare. Still, we persevered . But Mama... Whatever was left of Mama broke. She was completely..."
The word, so difficult, so ugly. "Insane."
"It wasn't her fault. Everything was a disaster. Her world just fell apart. She was haunted by her visions, her spirits. It was so hard to see her like that. Our Mama was gone. Katyusha and I tried to pick up the pieces as best as we could but we were so young. Children. What were we to do? It was so hard, the neighbors talked, but who cared? The whole country was mad then.
"A little over a year passed in this way. A house with an insane Mama and no Papa to be found. We tried our best. We tried so hard. It wasn't enough. It was never enough. One day the three of us, Katyusha, Natalya, and I had gone for a walk. It was one of Mama's good days. In fact I hadn't seen her so serene and lucid in so long. I thought perhaps she might be getting better. She even recognized us. Told us to be careful when we went out. She smiled."
The quiver in his voice is unmistakable. "We, uh, we came back a little while later. I was ahead, just by a bit. It was cold. It had just snowed. I saw that the front door was open so I hurried to make sure everything was alright. And it was cold."
Staring, staring, lost in time, seeing what was always just beneath his eyelids. "I noticed the red. She looked like she was sleeping. An angel in the snow. 'I have to tell her she can't sleep in the snow' I thought at the time. I remember the thought so very perfectly. How ridiculous it was. She looked so content, so at peace... It was cold."
A hysterical edge to the words now. "The red, I noticed the red. I couldn't stop staring. I just couldn't put together Mama and the red, how they were connected. What they meant. Until Katyusha screamed. I would do anything to prevent her from seeing. To hastily cover her eyes as we covered Natalya's. It was too late, I didn't. I couldn't bring myself to see that it was blood."
Nausea, wait it out, hold on. "...An angel surrounded by red in the snow. Katyusha screamed and I knew she was no angel. She was Mama. And Mama was dead. Natalya, who had lagged behind, called out 'What?' We managed to cover her eyes in time, to keep her from seeing. In covering Natalya's eyes I finally noticed something was wrong with Mama's eyes. She had... To her eyes, she had... No, I can't. I can't. I think I'm going to be sick."
A moment of recuperation. "...We went to a neighbor. It felt wrong to leave the body out like that though. I went back even though Katyusha begged me not to. I had to cover the body. It was eerie...I thought for a moment Mama might sit up and beckon to me as I tried to cover her. Beckon me to join her. I stared at the body for a long time. All the red. So much red inside of Mama. So much... It was cold. My fingers felt numb. She had slit her wrists and pierced her eyes. Or I suppose it must have been the other way around."
A psychotic giggle escapes followed by a low sob. "Papa came back. We stayed a while longer. Another year. It runs in the blood someone said. The madness. And so he banished us to America. He had hidden assets abroad. Could have taken Mama out of that hell but didn't. Still, this hell isn't much better. If the spirits of the dead hadn't tormented her the American's would have."
Alfred shivers. "Spirits of the dead frighten me."
Ivan looks at him. Somehow the confirmation of their existence is crushing. "There was nothing I could do for her. Nothing. Insane, tormented, in the end it doesn't matter what it was. There wasn't-"
He holds his face in his hands, shoulders shaking. A sound of total despair.
Alfred holds him. "I'm here."
Ivan buries his face against Alfred's neck for a long time. When he finally pulls away the collar of Alfred's shirt is damp. Alfred caresses his face. Ivan takes one of his hands, grasping it too hard. "I've never told anyone about that. Not ever. I wanted to share it with you. I wanted you to know. And I wanted to say it because... sometimes I wonder if you're nothing more than a figment of my imagination. It terrifies me that I might be just like her."
Alfred gave him a rare, serious look. "That Arthur man knew about me right? You're not insane. When you see me again next summer perhaps you'll believe me."
Ivan gives him a kiss, long and passionate and insistent. It is only his body's need for air that finally, reluctantly, forces him to break away. "I will miss you every second we are apart."
Alfred gives him one last smile, managing to recapture some of the sunshine that used to be embedded in every flash of teeth. He stretches up and kisses Ivan's nose. "My Ivan. My sweet Ivan. I'm in your hands okay? Turn around now."
Ivan tries to take in everything about Alfred, the way he looks and smells and tastes. The small gestures and quirks. The whimsy and beauty. Everything that makes Alfred his. "I love you."
"Please turn around now."
Ivan nods once and finally turns away.
Ivan hears a thump. When he turns the clothes lie on the ground. With shaky hands he reaches down and picks them up. They're still warm, Alfred's scent lingering on them.
Knowing the seeds are tucked away safely, Ivan cries for the second time that day before mournfully returning home.
Ivan spends the next day in bed. Why bother getting up? He touches the bag of seeds in which Alfred is sleeping and eats one from the other bag.
Misery seeps into each bone, cell, and particle in Ivan's body and he wonders how he'll survive the winter himself.
Autumn brings crisp days and the heavy scent of spice. The world outside begins to die. Natalya thinks it is a lovely season.
Big brother no longer goes on walks. Big sister no longer gardens. Both of them always seem lost in a world of unhappiness.
Natalya is still alone.
Toris points to the bag that Ivan continuously wears around his neck. "I've been wondering Mr. Ivan. What do you keep in there?"
Ivan puts a protective hand over it. Toris, the second generation Lithuanian American. He doesn't seem to know that he should hate Ivan and his siblings. "None of your business."
Toris laughs lightly. "Sorry, guess I shouldn't be snoopy."
Ivan relaxes. Why can't Natalya like him?
Autumn to winter. It becomes possible to see one's breath in the air. The sting is still there, the ache for Alfred. But much to Ivan's surprise it has eased. His depression isn't so complete. For the first time in ages he and his sisters begin to spend a great deal of time together again. Katyusha makes baked goods and gifts for them. To Natalya a new apron. To Ivan a scarf, pink of all colors. She asks Natalya to rub her shoulders again. Natalya reads to them, sometimes taking a break from English and taking out Soviet newspaper clippings she had smuggled into the country with her. Many are so worn they are falling apart. The three play in the snow and sometimes they even watch the small black and white television that usually stays hidden away in a cupboard.
Their house still seems too big but it recaptures a small glow of warmth that holds off the cold of the world outside.
And all the while Alfred remains close to Ivan's heart.
Katyusha claps her hands. "Okay you two, are you ready to get planting?"
Spring has finally arrived. The last few weeks proceeding it the house had been filled with a buzz of anticipation and impatience. It had made things somewhat tense. But now that the weather has finally started to stabilize and become mild the mood is relaxed.
When the weather had started to show signs of improvement Ivan approached Katyusha about that spot she had promised for him to grow sunflowers. He was anxious to start and to do everything perfectly correct. Katyusha assured him she would help him once the season was right. He made sure to emphasize he had his own seeds ready so that she wouldn't try to give him any.
Natalya stands next to Ivan, holding on to his sleeve. She has no interest in planting anything but it seems that this will be the only way to spend time with her siblings anymore. Ivan is planting sunflowers and she knows after observing her sister for so long sunflowers will be her main interest though she will plant much more than that. She insists on planting bluebells. Pretty, small flowers. Her siblings can keep their ugly sunflowers.
Katyusha tells them how to plant the seeds, what they need to do to take care of them and raise the chances of getting the most sprouts. Her voice is warm and calm. She is truly in her element. They spend the morning preparing the flower beds and sewing the seeds. As Katyusha helps Natalya with hers Ivan whispers to the seeds. "Grow up strong. I'll do my best but some of this is up to you Alfred."
He places each one into the ground lovingly, with the greatest care. He misses Alfred so much.
Impatience is waiting for a flower to grow.
The first green sprouts, proof that the seeds are alive and growing, bring tears to Ivan's eyes.
The gentle sprouts slowly become thick stocks. Ivan diligently weeds as Katyusha instructs.
Healthy green leaves begin to uncurl and spread. Ivan adds extra fertilizer.
The stems grow, tall and proud. More leaves. The beginning of a bloom. Ivan waters. Katyusha says lots of moisture is important at this stage.
Still no sign of Alfred. Ivan feels the beginning pangs of doubt.
Katyusha's eyes shine brightly and she grasps Ivan's hands. "They've bloomed Ivan! Our sunflowers have bloomed!"
Barely awake, Ivan blinks then hurries to a window. The buds, which have been so shy, stand in full bloom.
Katyusha stands beside him. "They're so cute! How lovely they look this year..."
She suddenly clears her throat and Ivan looks over at her just as she turns her back to him. "U-um, I have to run an errand. I thought I would take Natalya with me. We don't get enough quality time. So enjoy your alone time alright Ivan?"
He touches her shoulder and she turns to smile at him. "Please be careful Katyusha."
Her smile falters for a moment then returns nervously. "Oh, if I'm with Natalya it should be fine. She has a scowl that could make Stalin back off."
Ivan raises an eyebrow at her and she bites back the smile. "Y-yes. We'll be careful dear, don't worry."
Ivan waits until his sisters leave the house, his heart pounding in his ears. The second they have disappeared from sight he runs to the backyard, standing in front of the sunflowers, half of which stand open to the sky. His eyes scan them. Nothing. Frustration and a sick sinking feeling overcome him.
He puts his hands over his eyes. "Where are you Alfred?"
A moment later someone is prying his hands away and the next thing he knows he is looking into the bright face of Alfred. "Good morning Ivan! Did you miss me?"
Ivan lifts Alfred off the ground, exclaiming with pure joy. He seals their lips together, holding the spirit as tightly as he can. He pulls back, face flushed. "Alfred, my Alfred, I was so afraid... Here you are моя дорогая! It took you so long. I thought..."
Alfred smiles sheepishly. "Sorry if I scared you. I suppose I slept in longer than I should have."
He looks around. "This place is really pretty. I like it a lot better, I can tell you that much."
As Alfred looks around Ivan looks at him. He is nude, body looking as it did in its prime last summer. There are no hints of decay or mistreatment. How he misses this body, the warmth of this man.
He pulls Alfred close, nuzzling him. "I was so lonely without you. For a while I thought I might die."
Alfred pats him kindly. "I'm sorry to have put you through that. Trust me, I would avoid it if I could."
Ivan kisses the top of his head. "I forgive you."
His hands start to stroke Alfred's body, hungrily reminding themselves of every curve and detail. He leaves small kisses down his neck, licking his collar bone. "Shall we become fully reacquainted Alfred?"
Alfred grins and puts his arms around Ivan's shoulders. "It only seems proper. We have so much lost time to catch up on."
Soon Ivan has Alfred pressed against the fence surrounding the property, Alfred's legs wrapped around his waist. Gasps and moans puncture the air as they come together in a clash of mouths and bodies and pent-up lust.
And once again Ivan remembers what it is to feel complete.
Ivan brings Alfred fresh clothes. The two of them talk of many things, sharing sunflower seeds. It is as if their months apart never existed.
Arthur sits on his porch doing embroidery. He coughs as smoke is blown at him. "Would you cut that out! What kind of flower smokes?"
Francis grins at him. "Oh mon amour, do not worry yourself over such things."
He takes another drag of the cigarette, blowing smoke into the air. Arthur scowls. "You are disgusting."
Francis chuckles and winks. "Then why did you not destroy me when you had the chance eh? You know you adore me."
Arthur does not say anything. Just frowns sharply. For a moment he remembers the Braginski boy. He hopes that he has not befallen the same fate as himself. Francis's thorns have already embedded themselves too deeply to remove and there is no escape.
"Ivan dear? May I speak to you about something?" Katyusha smiles hesitantly at him.
Ivan tilts his head. "Of course big sister. What is on your mind?"
"Well, I was thinking that gardening has seemed to replace your walks which were always your escapism before. So I thought perhaps we may split up the day. I'll take the garden in the morning and you in the afternoon?"
Actually, Ivan has been struggling to find a way to suggest such a thing to his sister in a way that doesn't sound suspicious so this solution is perfect. "No, I wouldn't mind at all. But what about Natalya?"
By the look on her face it's apparent she hadn't taken her into consideration at all.
Natalya touches the blooms of her bluebells. They're quite pretty. So delicate and subtle. She suddenly frowns and stands, brushing herself off. She strides over to Ivan's sunflowers and glares up at them, hands on her hips.
"What exactly is so great about you anyway? I think you're ugly."
The giant dark centers stare blankly at her. Her lip curls up in a snarl. "What are you looking at?"
Natalya misses winter already.
Ivan lies on his bed, staring at the ceiling. The musical chirp of crickets is quite loud tonight. He turns and reaches under his pillow, stroking the bag there. One seed. One single seed that Ivan had refrained from planting just in case rests inside.
Alfred had resided within the seeds had he not? Ivan had been brooding over it for a while now. He hates being restricted to one place with Alfred. Especially now when he has to be so much more cautious around his sisters. He can feel Natalya watching him sometimes.
Perhaps as long as Alfred is near the seed he will be able to walk around without being in pain. Then he would be able to take him places. Even as close as inside the house would be nice. Into his bedroom...
Closing his hand tightly over the bag, he decides to ask Alfred about it soon.
Alfred sits on the ground, face upturned to the sun. He hears the brushing of footsteps against the lush grass. Still his eyes remain closed, basking in the heat until he feels a shadow pass over his face. He grins. "I was wondering when you were going to come say hello."
He finally opens his eyes and looks up into a face eerily similar to his own. "Mm, you're pretty cute."
The other looks down at him, face flushing slightly. He wears clothes that are a bit too baggy for him, much like Alfred wears. "Hello."
Alfred pats the ground beside him. "Have a seat. What are you going by currently?"
After a moment of hesitation the other sits, warily studying Alfred. "Matthew. And you?"
They look each other up and down, curious and distrustful of one another.
Matthew finally speaks. His voice is terribly quiet for a sunflower spirit. "I was a bit alarmed when I felt your presence at first. But I thought because you were one of my kind I would meet you before I made any requests of Katyusha. I had her remove a buttercup spirit last summer."
Alfred smiles. "Oh? Buttercup spirits are obnoxious. What did he do specifically?"
Matthew shakes his head. "He was horrible. Feliks. Ugh... He whined and said stupid things and had an annoying dialect. But, um, that's not the reason. He wanted to get close to Natalya. He wasn't actually after her, he was interested in her tutor. Toris I think? He was hoping to get to him through her. But she's dangerous. I can't even begin to imagine what would happen if she found out about us. I don't like Natalya. And she really doesn't like us."
Alfred frowns slightly. "I noticed. Do you think she's a threat?"
Matthew pauses, considering. "I haven't decided yet."
"Hmmm. So, Katyusha is your caretaker?"
Matthew nods. "Yes, I actually asked her to arrange it with Ivan to split the day. So she knows about you... I hope you don't mind."
"Not particularly. Though I doubt I'll tell Ivan about you. Hm...So she's your type? I wonder...voluptuous women?" He laughs.
Matthew blushes. "N-no! My type is...cute and innocent girls. Ivan is your caretaker. What's your type?"
Alfred tilts his head, grinning. "Emotionally or mentally unstable men."
Matthew hisses through his teeth, wincing. "Oh, that's a rough one."
"I don't mind. I like 'em that way. It makes life more interesting."
Matthew shakes his head in disbelief. "I could never handle that."
"Which is why you probably attract cute, innocent girls." He reaches over and tousles his wavy hair.
"Hmph. ...Katyusha has told me how much she worries about him. Ivan. Is he that bad?"
Alfred scoffs. "Are you kidding? He's so perfect I can't even begin to believe how much I lucked out. There I was, abandoned and hurt out in the middle of nowhere. I was sure it was finally the end. The thing about my type is I'm usually not in very stable hands at any given time so I've had a lot of troubles. But this time there was no weaseling my way out like in the past. Then Ivan just walked on up like a dream. I knew I had to have him the second I met him."
Alfred gave Matthew a sly grin. "I tested him just to be sure, and he exceeded my expectations so thoroughly it was stunning. I haven't had a caretaker like him for longer than I can remember. So I set about making him mine. It was so easy to seduce him. He wanted me to. And it wasn't difficult to make it seem like he was the pursuer. Who serves who? That's what it breaks down to every time. Do you know Mattie? Mind if I call ya Mattie?"
Matthew is taken aback. "Er, I...No?"
"Great. You know Mattie, I've noticed that my type tends to fall into one of two categories. They either think I'm god or that they are. I prefer the ones that think they are. I don't mind stroking an ego but it's so much work when they expect something from me other then some devotion. I just want to have a good time. Besides, it's harder with the ones who think I am. They see the strings. People like Ivan, they think the very strings that move them are in their hands. They're less likely to become horrified at their lack of power because quite frankly they don't even realize they have none."
Matthew runs a hand nervously through his hair. "You sound dangerous. Maybe I should be worried about you."
Alfred raises his eyebrows. "Huh? What on earth for? I'm not dangerous. I just know what I like. And I like caretakers who utterly adore me and play into my hands. They're the best."
Matthew fidgets. "I still prefer cute girls. I never have such weird problems."
Alfred snickers. "Oh come on. Pretty little girls, sweet and trusting that adore you. I bet they treat everything you say like golden sacred truth. You're a more mild version of me. Besides, I've never bumped another flower spirit. Don't pretend to be so superior. You are among friends."
He leans way back and smiles at his sunflowers. "Isn't that right?"
Matthew considers something. "...Aren't you afraid he'll go too far someday?"
Alfred shakes his head. "He loves me. Says it all the time. Isn't that sweet? I can't remember the last time I had one that said they loved me. The last couple have been less then impressive. He's cute. Oh man, he's great with sex too. It's been way too long since I've had someone I was willing to-"
Matthew squeaks. "I don't want to hear it!"
Alfred leans in close, smirking. "Oh? Don't tell me you didn't take a peek the other day. Do you ever-"
"I think you don't realize what you're missing out on. But to each their own. So, care to be brothers?"
Matthew thinks about it then shrugs. Alfred seems bizarre but if that is the case then best to be allies. Who needs enemies like that? Especially because he likes it here and he likes Katyusha who knows how to care for him very well. No need to mess any of that up. There was room for one more. "Alright then."
They each pull out a sunflower seed from their patch and hand them off. Eying each other carefully they slowly put them in their mouths. After much deliberate chewing and a very showy job swallowing them they stick out their tongues to prove it is not hidden.
A moment later they smile at one another, their magic holding a small influence over each of them. The ritual assured that there would be no treachery between them unless they let the effects wear off.
Alfred leans back. "So, has Katyusha told you much about their past?"
Matthew nods. "Yes, she told me all about it. Tragic isn't it?"
"Mm, yes. I knew it upset Ivan quite a bit. If I had known I suppose I wouldn't have talked about my previous caretaker in front of him."
"Oh? What happened to him?"
Alfred grimaces. "He killed himself. Cut his wrists. He was a failure if I've ever seen one. Nothing likable about him. Boring, pathetic, not even attractive. It was a fluke I was even with him. Then he took me to that god forsaken plot and planted me in the middle of nowhere. Then you know what he did? He had the nerve to say the three stupidest words that have ever been strung together. 'Set me free.' As if I would. Especially after he took me way out there where no one ever came around. I laughed in his face. How was I supposed to know the idiot would kill himself. It was grotesque. I absorbed some of the blood through the roots and it made me sick for a week. Disgusting. Then all those people came and injured me so badly I couldn't even think straight enough to nab a new caretaker."
Matthew shudders. "Sounds horrible."
Alfred brightens. "It all worked out. I got Ivan. He's all mine and I have no intention of letting him go. It was so fun, my game with him. He fell into my web so completely. I really do like him. And you like your Katyusha don't you?"
Matthew nods. "Oh yes. I've spent a lot of time on her."
Alfred leans against him. "You and me Mattie, we got a good thing. We work together we can keep it going just fine. I am worried about the sister but... Well, I'm sure between lil' old me and lil' old you we can find a solution."
The two lean against each other, discussing pasts details and caretakers and homes in tones as soft as a summer breeze. They reveal their real names to one another. And they sit beneath the golden sun, waiting oh so patiently for their beloved pets to come and play among the sunflowers.
Привет. Пожалуйста, оставьте себя в руках-Hello. Please, leave yourself in my hands.
Pauvres, peu de tournesol-Poor, little sunflower.
C'est si terrible-It's so terrible.
Ne dites pas cela. Il blesse mes sentiments-Do not say that. It hurts my feelings
моя дорогая-my dear
Alfred is the spirit of a sunflower garden that Ivan meets and becomes obsessed with. Ivan thinks he's the one entirely in control of the cheerful, sweet young man but really it's Alfred calling most of the shots in their relationship.
Ivan is so self-conscious whenever he slips into Russian, and is so bitter about his treatment in America, because he has been living in the hostility of the U.S. during the peak years of the Cold War.
Toris, the second generation Lithuanian American: I set it so Toris was born in the U.S. Ivan thinks he 'doesn't seem to realize he should hate Ivan and his siblings' because a great deal of Americans and Lithuanians hated the Soviets during this time.
AN: Manipulative Alfred...awesome? haha Ivan's mother and Alfred's previous caretaker weren't based on actual characters in the series. Everyone else was. Did anyone catch that Ivan's Papa was General Winter? -laughs- I really would have loved to have written a reference to the moon landing but that was in '69 and a lot later then I wanted to set the story. Too bad.