The trill of a telephone echoed throughout the room. Arthur's head snapped up, gaze flitting to the phone. He stared at it momentarily, willing it to answer itself, willing it to leave him be. Tonight was his night to enjoy. Alone.

The air was charged with the tension of an oncoming thunderstorm, the howl of wind, low but persistent. Arthur had not a doubt it would carry in a fair amount of pounding rain. Perfect weather to turn in for a deep and cleansing sleep, not perfect weather for answering late-night phone calls.

He stared silently at the phone and the cradle upon which it rested. One ring, two rings, three rings─ Pick up you bloody useless answering machine. A twinge of satisfaction curled about Arthur's shoulders as the ringing halted. Good machine, good electronic jigamawhatsit─

The phone sprang back to life, renewing its shrill tone as it called for attention. Arthur shoved himself violently away from his desk, momentarily whirling his arms for balance as the chair tottered in reaction to the show of force. He growled and steadied himself, rising to his feet before taking up an anxious trot towards the disturbance.

He pressed the 'On' button and settled the phone between his ear and neck, arms free to be crossed in irritation. "Whatever you're selling, I'm not buying it."

"Great, fine," the voice on the other end retorted, a slight slur outlining the words. "I'll be sure not to drop off those thin mint cookies courtesy of Girl Scouts."

"I- Wait, what? Who is this?" Arthur scoffed.

"Story of my life," the voice muttered. "It's me, Matthew, the one with the beavers, the maple syrup, the Winter Olympics."

"Oh, well," Arthur was wary. It was out of character for Matthew to speak in such a sarcastic matter. "Are you sure this isn't Alfred?"

An exasperated sigh, "If I didn't need your help right now, I'd hang up on you."

Help. Arthur, he liked to help; if only to lord it over other nation's when he needed a favor in the future. "And what, pray tell, kind of help are you in need of?"

"Alfred help."

"Ah," Arthur put on his best customer service hot line voice, sickeningly false and high, "I'm sorry sir, we don't handle Alfred problems in our department. If you'd like me to transfer you to─"

"No," Matthew cut in, "no transfers. This is the correct department, I've called here before and gotten help."

"Fine." Arthur bowed to his own curiosity over the situation. "What is it this time?"

"I've got to catch a flight, pronto. Usual red tape stuff I've got to deal with, you know the drill."

"And you can't simply throw Alfred in the overhead?"

"Believe me, I would if it could."

"What exactly is that supposed to mean?" Arthur bristled.

"Nothing, nothing. It's- uh, booze. Booze talking. Booze is really talkative."

You're a bit of a rude drunk, Arthur thought to himself as he strained to hear past Matthew's voice, listening for the white noise of clinking glass and mirthful chatter. He heard the faint rumble of chairs, possibly being stacked, but no indication otherwise to suggest Matthew might be at a pub. "Where are you?"

The rustling of a palm being placed over the mouthpiece momentarily met Arthur's ears, though he could hear Matthew speaking to what he presumed to be a passerby. The mouthpiece quickly shed its muffled quality. "The Rabbit's Foot. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes." Arthur knew all too well, for he had spent many a night there himself in an attempt to drown out his grievances.

"I hope you're close, because they're closing up shop as we speak."

"It's about ten minutes or so from me, nothing too far."

"Great, see you in ten minutes, then!" Matthew's voice, while still touched with liquor, sounded not nearly as harsh as it had in the beginning of their conversation.

"Oi, splash out on a taxi and send him here." Arthur was not charitable enough to actually fetch Alfred.

"... Can't hear you, reception is pretty poor in here," Matthew blurted in a single breath before the distinct silence of an empty phone line took the place of his voice.

Arthur unfolded his arms, sighing as placed the phone back in its cradle. He pulled on a fitted dark overcoat as he made for the door. Momentarily he paused in the act of toeing on his loafers, realising he had not the faintest idea of why Alfred needed to be babysat to begin with, or for how long.

He eventually shrugged himself back into motion, snatching the keys to his vehicle from a ceramic bowl that rested by the door. It wasn't as if he could call Matthew back and ask what the conditions were, he had already committed. Or at least, they were already expecting him. And Arthur was a man of his word, his own honor too dear to become besmirched by something as silly as refusing to make sure Alfred didn't unknowingly become a drug mule or international jewel thief for a few hours.

A pleased smile glanced across Arthur's lips as he opened the door, the cool rush of the night kissing his skin. He could handle this.

Severe lack of Alfred in this chapter! How horrible. Alfred is in every single chapter after this, though. This chapter is also shorter than the rest, being roughly 1,000 words while the other chapters all range from 4,000 to 6,7000. Overall this story, if I recall correctly, is about 20,000 words long.

It's available in its entirety on my livejournal, but like my other fics I am slowly moving it over here. As a warning, this fic really runs an emotional roller coaster, but hey, I like that in a fic! If I get around to it, I'll post the next chapter tonight. If not, then tomorrow.