January 12th, Berlin,
11.31pmFeliciano gave a long stretch to work the travel-induced crick out of his neck once he and Ludwig were stood in the man's living room, their suitcases still at their side. Muscles a little looser, his eyes roved reluctantly over to the unfinished decorating project before them. The Italian walked up to the pile of frames heaped in one corner and lifted a few experimentally, studying the gleam of their varnish and turning to consider the different hooks fixed to one wall as he held each frame.
"I will finish all of this, I promise," he said, turning to give the German a smile. The expression faltered momentarily as he looked down to consider the sheet he was stood on, "It's dusty."
"You were gone for a considerable time," Ludwig noted.
"Yeah, I was," Feliciano placed the frames back on their pile and went to grab his suitcase, which Ludwig quickly took from him as the Italian threatened to overbalance, "But that's over now," he grabbed a cabin luggage bag instead and followed the German to their bedroom, where he paused and gave his own bed frame a stunned look.
"You forgot about it?"
"Kind of," Feliciano agreed, striding over and running a hand over the frame through the delicate fabric of the enclosing curtains, "I didn't realise you had put it together, after everything that happened."
"It's very beautiful," Ludwig said by way of explanation, pushing the handle of the suitcase down and coming to stand at Feliciano side, close enough that their arms brushed against each other, "You were right."
"Of course I was," Feliciano said, giving the man a teasing little grin. The man's hands found the opening in the curtains and he climbed onto the bed to settle against the mound of pillows, arms outstretched either side of him.
"I always liked this bed," Feliciano said in a tone suggestive of lazy satisfaction.
"Ah!" Ludwig, in a far less graceful motion joined his lover, the mattress sinking a little as he did so and encouraging Feliciano to roll over and rest upon one of Ludwig's shoulders, "Don't fall asleep yet, I have something to tell you."
"Ve? What?" Feliciano raised an eyebrow, eyes already hazy with sleep, "What about?"
"About our argument."
At the words the Italian came further to his senses, albeit reluctantly.
"I thought we were okay now."
Ludwig nodded, hand resting on Feliciano's waist, "We are. I just wanted to be in our own home, in private, when I told you this."
"What?" The Italian shuffled about on the bed enough so to able to study Ludwig hard, his own expression turning a little desperate at how indecipherable the German's manner was, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Ludwig made a noise that almost resembled a laugh, fingers slipping beneath the band of Feliciano's jeans, "Nothing at all. I wanted you to know that when you threw your pants at me-"
"I'm really sorry I did that. They were clean, but it was still rude, I know."
Ludwig shushed the man.
"Let me finish," earning himself a nod from the Italian, he continued, "When you threw those pants at me, I remembered," he said, in a tone that suggested relief and satisfaction.
"Remembered what?" Feliciano said, brow drawn, "Ludwig, you're not making sense."
"I remembered," Ludwig said, unfazed, "When you gave me your pants back then," the German joined his lover in frowning, "Or at least, I think so. I wonder if my memory is confused, because I remember that they were, well, bloomers."
His expression turned wide eyed at the speed with which Feliciano moved away to sit bolt upright on the bed. The Italian cupped his mouth with his hands, returning Ludwig's stunned look. A moment later and his eyes were teary and bright and a muffled sobbing came from behind his hands.
"Oh, you remember," the man said, his voice trembling, "Oh, you remember when went away to fight."
"Yes," Ludwig got to his own knees and without hesitation pulled his lover to himself. Feliciano's cries changed after a time to laughter, his hands falling from his face to clutch at the German's t-shirt, twisting it out of shape. Ludwig pulled back enough so as to kiss the man's face and the tear tracks there.
"So do you see now?"
Feliciano frowned, eyes bright from crying.
"No? See what?"
"You see how I needed you, treasure," Ludwig said, the pet name causing Feliciano to let one of his clutching hands stroke a little instead, "How I needed you back then, and still now."
January 12th, London
Alfred was able to catch himself just before he began speaking when Arthur's front door swung open before him and he was faced with a man with dirty blonde hair and gigantic eyebrows. The words ready to trip off his tongue, he spotted how the man was evidently Arthur, but with deliberate mistakes. The look the other man was wearing, that Alfred had been steeling himself to be one of confusion and hope was instead nonplussed. Likewise the man's eyes were brown and his hair slightly wilder.
"Yes?" The man said in a deep and gravelly voice.
"Yes," James raised one large eyebrow at the man, arms folded across a chest considerably wider than his brother's, "Do you know where he is? He left me a message asking if I'd come down south to feed Winston for him 'cos he'd be gone a fair while and also check no kids piss in his front garden. I already wanted to come and give him a seeing to after that phone call of his," he gestured with a nod back into the house, "But he's already fucked off."
"Oh. Wait, Winston?"
"Oh, right," Alfred shrugged lamely, "I don't know. I thought he'd be here," as he spoke, the American felt doubts and questions rise within him and added, with suspicion, "You're not lying, are you? You know, to cover for him? If he's just hiding from me, tell me."
James gave Alfred a straight-faced, unimpressed look.
"You really think I'd do my brother a favour?"
"You came to feed his goldfish."
The Scotsman shook his head firmly, "I came to give him a seeing to. Winston's probably out to sea by now. And Arthur's an idiot if he thinks it's kids who piss in his garden: it's him, when he's steaming," upon seeing the American's perplexed look, he added, resentfully, "Drunk."
"So you're not covering for him?"
"Not a chance. But," he added, as though recollecting, "His wardrobe doors were opened, I saw, and half his clothes are missing. So he's definitely gone somewhere, and I'd say it's somewhere far away and pretty cold – he left his shorts and cozzie. You can rule out Oz."
"Thanks. I better keep looking."
Already closing the door, James gave a parting snigger.
"I wouldn't bother, if I were you."
"Ah! Wait though," he opened the door a crack and Alfred turned back to face him once again, "One other thing. The shirt's gone."
James seemed taken aback by the response, studying Alfred before saying with greater emphasis, "The shirt. His pride and joy. He's had that thing in his wardrobe since '66. He wouldn't take that just anywhere, wouldn't risk losing it. He's got to be going somewhere special if he wants that with him."
The American tried to keep his expression neutral, as opposed to hopeful, "Right. Thanks James."
"S'fine. See around pal."
January 13th, NYC
The Englishman, Alfred saw the instant he unlocked the door to his penthouse, was precisely where he had expected to find him: sat upon his massive blue sofa, arms hooked over the back, watching some trashy day time TV. The American caught the scent of coffee on the air but dismissed the fact in order to return the gaze Arthur sent him instead.
"Morning. I let myself in."
"I can see that," Alfred carelessly threw his jacket onto a hook by the door and joined Arthur on the very edge of his sofa.
"Did you miss your flight? I didn't expect to get here before you did."
"I decided to take a flight the next day and then that evening I went to your place. I saw James and he told me you'd left him with Winston."
Arthur gave a nod, turning back around to grab the remote control and turn off the television.
"Has he killed the poor thing already?"
Arthur gave a shrug, "I wouldn't worry: Winston the goldfish came from a long line of Winstons before him," the man gave the American a half-heartedly propitious smile, "Should I piss off?"
"Not necessarily. I don't know why you're here though, after what I said."
"Because I care about you and that's a double edged sword because I'm obviously the bloke who's also winding you up in the first place. Still, here I am."
"Yeah," Alfred repeatedly softly, "Here you are. Are you staying for a while? James thought you were."
"If you'll have me."
"Yeah," Alfred nodded coolly, "It's fine."
"I have a present for you, by the way. That's the main reason for why I'm here even though you said you wanted space," Not allowing Alfred a chance to question the man's claim, the Englishman hopped off the sofa and returned from Alfred's bedroom a couple of minutes later with a plain white carrier bag. From the bag he carefully removed a vaguely familiar red pullover. Alfred tried to place the shirt, but found himself only able to assume that it was "the shirt" to which James had alluded.
Arthur smiled wistfully, holding the item up by the top of each shoulder and revealing the name "Hurst" and a number emblazoned on the back, "You don't understand. I was... Well, I was touched when you gave me that jersey of yours a while back. So," he held the shirt out a little towards the other man, "I decided I wanted to give you this. Being a bit of a delinquent I sort of swapped the genuine article for a fake one after the match. You told me you thought that jersey of yours was lucky, right? Well, I consider this shirt to be very, very bloody lucky."
"It's a jersey from when you won the Soccer World Cup?"
Arthur's hands appeared to give a violent twitch, "Don't call it "soccer". Please. It causes me physical pain."
"Okay, okay, "football"," Alfred studied the thing and then, afterwards, Arthur's face and the genuinely pained and strained expression there, "Why?"
"Because," the man said, the fingers of one of his hands giving the shirt a fond pat, "As long as you have this, you have my soul. You have every part of me. It's my promise that I belong to you."
With a bemused smile, the American reached out and took the shirt by the shoulders.
"Are you gonna let go?"
Alfred tried, delicately, to pull the shirt from Arthur's grasp to no avail. The Englishman's eyebrows seemed to contract with each effort to tug the shirt free.
"You really need to let go if you want me to have this."
"I know," finally, teeth gritted, Arthur let go, leaving Alfred holding the pullover up in front of himself at such a height as to hide his growing smile from the Englishman. Placing the jersey over the arm of the sofa, he sighed and pulled Arthur against himself, the man instantly tensing, shoulders raised up about his ears before he settled against the other man with what sounded like a relieved exhale.
"Okay, okay. It's a deal. You're mine, I'm yours – we have a special relationship."
"Thank you," Arthur said in a whisper against his neck. Alfred gave the man a firm pat on the back.
"It's just how it has to be," he said, with certainty, "You were right: we're meant for each other."
"Yes. We really are."
The Englishman still sprawled in an undignified manner upon him, cheek to his chest, Alfred gave a snort of laughter, which earned him an embarrassed and affronted look from Arthur.
"What? I was just thinking about how gay we are."
Arthur seemed to consider the words, "As in that horrible new definition of "rather crap and stupid" or as in the older meaning of "homosexual" or the older still one of "quite happy and jovial about things"?"
"Oh. Then yes, we are," Arthur agreed, the words reverberating up to Alfred through his ribcage. The American gave a grin.
Jammy sod – Incredibly, possibly unfairly, lucky person.
"The 1992 World Conference" – Personal canon and a reference to my other US/UK fic "Al and Artie do Blackpool". Considered the worst ever World Conference long weekend due more to an unfortunate concatenation of events as opposed to failures on Berwald's part.
That postcard – Another reference to "Blackpool".
Trollied – Very drunk
Cozzie – Swimming costume, generally referring to women's swimwear.
"Soccer World Cup... '66... Hurst" – Arthur gives Alfred the football shirt of the player who scored the 4th and final goal of the 1966 World Cup, the only World Cup to date that England have won (much to Arthur's despair, no doubt). The final was England versus Germany.