Arthur's consciousness slowly bubbled, his sleep-dusted eyes opening to find a dimly lit room. Half his body felt as if it were pinned by sandbags, the weight causing his lower limbs to numb. He blearily blinked his eyes and decided he was momentarily trapped between sleep and wakefulness, resigning himself to simply relax and enjoy the ride.
After he allowed his mind a few moments to warm up and begin its regular functions, he attempted to sit up. The weight continued to hold him down. Arthur paused, an inkling of panic beginning to stir. Toes were wiggled as he checked to make sure that there was nothing wrong with his nerves. They responded.
His mind shot back to the previous night, cobbling together bits and pieces of memory until they formed a portrait. He had been minding his own business, ready to go to sleep, and the phone had rung. Arthur groaned loudly as it all came back to him.
How he had gone to pick up the wasted Alfred, taken him home only to discover he was an overly-affectionate and rather sick oaf of a man. Alfred's breath as it flicked along his neck, the overtly enticing actions he had put into play when he wanted the last beer in the fridge.
But worst of all, how Arthur had taken advantage of all that. He had realised, or accepted, Arthur was mortified to find he was unsure of which it had been, that Alfred had drank to the point where he had no control over his own decisions. And Arthur had used that for his own desires, with complete disregard for how Alfred may have felt.
He raised his head from the pillow as best he could, chancing a glance at his chest. There Alfred lay, still fast asleep, his face serene and unworried. Arthur moved his hand to give Alfred's hair a quick pat, but his hand refused to touch him.
It hovered above Alfred's head, trembling slightly. Arthur pursed his lips, drawing them into a thin line. What right had he to touch Alfred after last night? He'd already done as he pleased while the other was terribly inebriated, to dare to touch him while he was vulnerable with sleep would only add to his wrongdoings.
But he wanted me to hold him, Arthur reminded himself. Alfred had still wanted his affections, had specifically asked for Arthur to hold him. His hand relented, lowering itself to warily run over Alfred's hair. Arthur wondered if this would be the last time he would touch Alfred. Surely the moment Alfred had awoken and recalled the night before, he would refuse any type of physical contact that did not involve kissing with the use of one's fist.
Urged on by what was to come, Arthur continued to pet Alfred, unabashed now in fondness. He snaked his fingers through the tresses, winding the tips of Alfred's hair around his fingers, allowing them to slip away and become fleeting curls that bounced once before returning to frayed waves. It saddened Arthur that he hadn't been able to touch Alfred in such a tender way in over two hundred years, and that it was very unlikely the event would happen again for another few centuries.
Arthur shook his head. No, I'll be lucky if he even speaks to me in the next half-century.
Cautiously, Arthur trailed his hands along Alfred's bare back, noticing how tepid Alfred's bare skin felt against his palms, his fever having broken when he slept. When Arthur's hands brushed along the elastic band of Alfred's boxers, he quickly drew them back to the base of Alfred's neck. He hardly trusted himself not to begin fondling the other.
Arthur sunk his head back down and looked to his alarm clock, which blinked on and off, the bold red numbers proposing that it was eight am. The power must have gone out during the storm. He looked to the window in a vain attempt to judge from the light filtering through the drapes, but the thick and woven fibers blocked out the majority of sunlight.
He hadn't checked the clock since before he had left to haul Alfred home, but Arthur assumed it must have been early afternoon, judging from the lack of morning birdsong. It wouldn't be long before Alfred rose as well, and the day of reckoning would begin.
Arthur debated over what the appropriate reaction would be to Alfred's accusations. He could deny it rather blatantly, point out the several times throughout the night that Alfred had tried to come on to him, and that it was really Alfred's fault.
But that was wrong. Beyond wrong. Alfred had been asking for sweet, pure affections. He had a desire for others to love him, as did most. Arthur had taken that need and abused it beyond a point that could be forgiven. Arthur refused to play the blame game, and moved on to his next option.
It would, in theory, be best to admit his crime, and to then accept what punishment he was given. In practice, to boldly admit that his actions had been abhorrent and offensive to human nature would seem almost... pompous. Arthur knew that with his manner of speaking, one that did not carry humility well, he would have to risk sounding almost proud of what he had done.
Sheets rustled as Alfred began to move, Arthur's body turned to a slab of petrified stone as it happened. More rustling of covers, the whiney yawn of a man who does not want to wake, and then Alfred looked up; straight into Arthur's face.
He squinted at first, pulling the back of a hand over his eyes to help clear them. He groped at his face for a moment, feeling for the familiar wire frames of his glasses. Arthur waited for his mind to piece together the fragmented and drunken memories of last night, waited for the anger to play across his features.
Alfred shot Arthur an accusatory glare, the threatening effect somewhat hampered by his pouchy cheeks and incorrigible case of bed-head. "Where are my glasses?"
"They fell during the night, they're on the floor somewhere," Arthur responded in the most subdued voice his could muster, his heart bucking in his chest.
"Okay." Alfred took Arthur's words at face value and disentangled himself from both the sheets and Arthur's body.
He dropped to his hands and knees, hands scanning the panels of the floor like a metal detector. Soon he had found his glasses, hiding in the clear, but still too difficult for Alfred to find without the use of touch. After affixing them to their regular position, Alfred stood and gave himself a pat down. Arthur was beyond puzzled.
"What are you doing?"
"Checking for bruises, broken bones, all the fun stuff," Alfred said through another yawn.
Arthur decided not to press further. He was still waiting for the confrontation.
"Pants, pants, pants," Alfred said to himself, "Always floating away in the night."
Arthur stared dumbly at Alfred. Was he going to pretend last night hadn't happened? Arthur supposed it was the easiest option one could think of in such a short amount of time. To simply repress the incident, to shove it into the damp and dodgy recesses that occupied the back of one's mind was viable. For a period of time, at least.
A tinny noise floated through the air. It sounded like someone playing the piano, but as if the noise were being compressed, forced out of a space that was too small to contain it. While the notes were strung together in a familiar tune, the name of the song refused to leave the tip of Arthur's tongue, much to his frustration.
Alfred perked up and looked to the doorway. He padded over to the bed and shoved the duvet back, pulling the topsheet from the bed in a single yank. Before Arthur could protest that he was making a mess of things, Alfred was wrapping the light linen sheet around his waist, creating a makeshift sarong to cover his bare legs. He walked towards the door, the sheet pooling on the floor, creating a wake of red as he went.
"What's that noise?" Arthur asked.
"Matthew." And Alfred was gone, the sheet sneaking around the corner with him.
Arthur rolled his eyes as the name of the song formed in his mind. Maple Leaf Rag. Alfred was always such an oddball.
Relieved of Alfred's weight, Arthur climbed out of bed and straightened out the blankets as best he could, deciding there were more important things at hand than a well-made bed.
He pulled the drapes away from the window before turning to look the room over. It looked the same as it always had. There was no poisonous mist fogging the air, no blaring signs that an atrocity had been committed. Simply a tidy, if not stark, room.
Arthur tugged at his ear. It would be best if he gave the room a thorough search. Not that he would find anything, there would be no accusatory notes left by mystery people claiming to know what he had done, no evidence of what had transpired. But the act felt necessary. Now he needed to figure out where to start.
He tapped his foot nervously as he scanned the room again. Maybe he should do a search of the entire house, backtrack Alfred's steps to make sure absolutely nothing was missed. Without a second to waste Arthur was out the door, walking lightly along the chilled wooden floors of the house.
Being as logical as one could be in his situation, Arthur set a route straight for the door. Striding along with a falsely confident air, Arthur was struck by the sound of words. Low, almost whispered. Conspiratorial.
Arthur rocked back on his heels as his error became obvious. He had left Alfred alone, with a phone, with Matthew on the other line. In all likelihood, he was probably recounting his harrowing evening to the other, having only pretended to have suffered a blackout until he was no longer within earshot of Arthur.
Cold sweat beaded on Arthur's forehead as he sprinted silently on the balls of his feet to the bathroom, determined he would catch Alfred blubbering away to Matthew.
"It feels like there's a Highschool garage band playing in my skull, I swear─" Alfred caught Arthur's riled expression in the mirror and turned, his face stricken with surprise. "─A really talented garage band. One that specializes in smooth jazz and ambient tunes," he went on, fumbling his words as they left his lips.
Arthur's expression contorted into one of confusion. Why was Alfred whispering about garage bands and having them located in his head? The silence that followed Alfred's comment was so hollow Arthur could hear Matthew's response.
"Ask Arthur if he has any aspirin around."
Alfred nodded at the phone, but kept his eyes on Arthur. They were scanning Arthur's face, concocting words in a mad rush. He spun away and spoke into the phone, "Why would I need any of that? Here I am, talking about music, and you're talking about aspirin. Sometimes I don't know what to do with you." He quickly snapped his phone shut with a mumbled promise to call Matthew back before setting it beside the edge of the sink.
Arthur raised an inquisitive eyebrow, thrown out of his element for the time being. Alfred ignored it and tugged his pants from the shower rod, the jeans having taken on a stiff and unyielding quality that he attempted to shake from them.
"Why don't I throw those in the wash for you?"
"But I need pants."
"I'll find something for you to wear."
"Hm, guess I can't argue with that." Alfred shrugged in what appeared to be a thankful gesture, if such a shrug were possible, and handed his jeans off to Arthur.
"After you," Arthur smiled sweetly, hanging the jeans over his arm and skirting around Alfred to urge him out. He palmed the phone once he was completely behind Alfred.
"Where to?" Alfred questioned as he plodded along ahead of Arthur.
Alfred did not pick up his pace. Instead he hesitated in his steps, waiting for Arthur to move ahead of him before following. Arthur chalked the action up to Alfred's little act, pretending as if he could not remember ever having visited such a room.
Neither spoke as Arthur entered the guest room, Alfred taking up residence in the doorframe. Arthur set the jeans down on a sealed box, hiding the phone beneath them so that Alfred would not notice it. He went to the box in which he had found the shirt from the previous night, quickly managing to pull a nightshirt made from a faded floral print. Alfred would have to make due.
Arthur gathered the jeans and phone back into his arms along with the nightshirt. He held it out to Alfred with a face that said beggars can't be choosers. Alfred took it without a word and pulled it over his head, slipping the sheet from his waist and stepping out of it.
"You can leave that there," Arthur said, breezing past him. "Would you like some breakfast?"
Arthur chewed on his lower lip as he made his way to the kitchen. He hadn't given any thought to what he would do if Alfred refused to acknowledge the night before. Maybe it was his way of saying that he understood it had been a moment of weakness on Arthur's behalf, and was willing to forgive. Lord knew the boy couldn't articulate such a concept into words.
He gave the kitchen counter a quick pat with his hand to indicate for Alfred to sit. After convincing himself Alfred would not disappear if he were to be left alone for a moment, Arthur took the jeans to the small alcove that held the washer and dryer, throwing them in and turning the machine on. He stared at the phone he was left with.
The phone glinted as he rolled it from hand to hand, evaluating his options. If he discarded it, it would lessen Alfred's chance of reaching out to Matthew. However, if he was determined enough he could still use the home phone. Arthur squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head violently. Trying to silence Alfred was selfish and immoral; it would only exacerbate the situation exponentially.
He went back to the kitchen and squarely placed the phone before Alfred, who looked up at him with disconcerted eyes. He was trembling slightly, back curving into a noticeable hunch. Alfred looked so small and unsettled that it burned Arthur's throat, his arms twitching with the need to wrap around Alfred and tell him about how everything was alright.
But nothing was alright. Things were beyond repair, both of them in varying states of denial, and neither with a clue of what to do.
Arthur turned away and grabbed a stepping stool, positioning it under the smoke alarm so that he could remove the batteries before starting on their first meal of the day. He did his best to ignore the small electronic noises that sounded as Alfred dialed his phone, each beep causing him to feel as though a noose were being tightened around his throat.
"Hello?" Alfred asked the phone.
A small voice answered him.
"I call you and all you want to do is talk to him? Harsh, bro." Alfred laughed and stood, approaching Arthur with the phone held out. "The bell tolls for thee."
Arthur shuddered at Alfred's choice of words, but took the phone from him, cupping it to his cheek. "Arthur speaking."
"Hey Arthur, it's me," Matthew said. "Do you think you could take this call into another room, or at least away from Alfred?"
"Of course." Arthur made his way out of the room with an uneasy wooden step, keeping Alfred in his sight the entire time.
"So how was he?"
"H-How was he? What kind of a question is that?" Arthur paled and flushed all at once, did Matthew already know what had happened?
"A normal question, I guess. He wasn't too much for you to handle or anything, right? When he's drunk he can kind of be all over the place, but I figured if anyone could handle him it'd be you."
"Mm, yes." Arthur's heart fluttered. False alarm.
"Great, I knew I could trust you."
"That's me." Arthur laughed weakly, watching Alfred tug at the hem of his nightshirt. "Matthew?"
"Why did you send him here without any spare clothes?"
The line went silent for long enough that Arthur began to think the connection may have broken. Matthew's voice started up again.
"I thought he had some there."
"My mistake," Matthew mumbled softly. "It's just that with the way he talks about you, I assumed he'd have a change or two there."
Arthur's horror, and interest, were equally piqued. "How does he talk about me?"
"Oh, you know," Matthew said vaguely.
"I don't. Enlighten me."
The line again lapsed into silence, but one much more shallow. Arthur could hear a hem, a haw, an internal debate being waged in Matthew's mind.
"I think I've said enough. Too much, actually. Anyway, I simply wanted to make sure things went alright. Can you put me back on the line with Alfred?"
Arthur observed Alfred as he pulled his knees up, covering them with the nightshirt, stretching the fabric. He had not the heart to chide him for it. "Sure."
Arthur passed the phone off to Alfred as he slipped back into the kitchen, setting his eyes on the fridge and ignoring the questioning noise from Alfred, trusting he could figure out what to do next. He was not let down.
"Finish your parent-teacher conference?" Alfred said playfully into the mouth piece.
Arthur began to pry open the lids of plastic tupperware containers in his search of something that Alfred could eat without getting sick. Half of food looked like pig's slop, the other half like foreign delicacies no one really ever ate, not matter how good they claimed it to be.
His mind drifted from food to the one side of the brotherly conversation he could hear.
"What did we do last night? Well, uh, not much."
Arthur straightened and looked over his shoulder. Alfred was looking directly at him, expression unsure of if he had given the correct response. Arthur gave a jerk of his head in approval; he wouldn't dispute it. Alfred smiled back, the glimmer of his teeth clenching Arthur's heart. He turned back to the counter and squeezed his eyes shut. Playing make-believe was much more difficult than he thought it would be.
A carton of eggs caught Arthur's attention. Sunny side up eggs were simple and quick, add in a side of toast and one would have a classic breakfast. He quickly cranked the stove top to life and set a skillet over the flame, adding a pat of butter for good measure.
Arthur watched with disinterest as the butter began to melt, forming a sizzling pool that popped and spit at him. He cracked two eggs and tossed the shells in the sink, staring glumly as he saw one of the yolks bleed into the white. Scrambled eggs it was.
He popped the bread in the toaster and returned to the eggs, whisking them about as best he could with a spatula, folding them at odd intervals. His vision was glazed and inattentive, ears still listening to Alfred's voice.
"So where are you?" Alfred asked casually. His eyes widened at Matthew's response, but his voice quickly recovered as he spoke, "Right. You're in Canada, of course. I meant it as more of a 'where are you in Canada?' kind of question."
The eggs turned an unappealing grey color as Arthur shoveled them onto a plate, the toast popping up burnt. Another culinary failure. He set the food and basic silverware on the table before Alfred and took a seat at the opposite end, not a pang of hunger biting at his own stomach. His arms folded on the table as he leaned forward to see what Alfred would think of the dish.
Alfred speared the eggs onto the burnt toast and took a bite, speaking around the food as he continued talking to his brother. He didn't choke, gasp, pretend to heave, or make any noises resembling a wretch. Arthur was left in a state of near-awe at how willingly Alfred gobbled up the food, too thrilled to remind him how inappropriate it was to speak with his full mouth.
After a handful of minutes, the plate was cleared, save for a coat of crumbles. Arthur raised a hand to rub at his mouth, obscuring the genuine smile that was battling for supremacy. It was a step in the right direction, feeding Alfred. Arthur was proving that he did care about the other's well being, taking the time to make sure his body was nourished.
Arthur idly traced his finger over the damask pattern of the tablecloth as Alfred chatted away with Matthew. His words pertaining to the night before were unspecific, lacking in any sort of detail. If he did remember the night before, he was putting on a most convincing front.
Alfred's conversing came to a halt, gaze becoming fixed on Arthur. "Mother Hen wants to talk to you again." He slid the phone across the table.
Arthur held the phone to his ear. "Yes?"
"Mind stepping out one last time?"
"Not at all," Arthur replied easily, returning to the living room where he could carefully watch Alfred.
"Alfred's flight doesn't leave until next week, I need you to keep him until then."
Arthur had no words to respond to Matthew with. He wasn't going to keep Alfred, he couldn't keep Alfred. It wouldn't be safe to do as such, and there were other, better options available. If Alfred had to stay around, Arthur would set him up with a nice little bed and breakfast inn, where his every need would be seen to. Not cooped up with a man that would manipulate him.
"Arthur, you know I'm not one to impose, but you have to let Alfred stay with you."
"I'm required to do no such thing," Arthur snapped back.
"No. Never. Why can't he stay with one of his friends? I'm sure he's got loads of mates he can shack up with on short notice."
"There's you, for starters."
"And am I in England at the moment?" Matthew's voice was strained with frustration.
"No, but that's not the point─"
"That's exactly the point. Who else is he going to stay with? And don't say a hotel, he'll wander off, get wasted, and end up in a storm drain."
Arthur's thumbnail made its way to his mouth, teeth nibbling away. "Last night wasn't a one time thing?"
"No," Matthew admitted sadly.
"Matthew, if you want me to look after Alfred, you're going to have to explain the situation to me."
The line crackled as Matthew breathed a sigh into the phone, a distorted noise sounding at he switched the phone to his other ear. "Fine."
Arthur walked to the linen closet as he waited for Matthew to pick his words. Since Alfred would be staying with him, he may as well set up a bed on the couch. As he carried fresh linens to the couch and began to create a makeshift bed, he wondered which of them would be sleeping on it.
"Before I forget, give Alfred some aspirin when you can, his head is killing him," Matthew mumbled.
"Why can't he ask for it himself?" Arthur snapped the topsheet into a smoothed plane and proceeded to tuck the excess into the cushions.
"Because he's paranoid about looking weak, or sick, any of that stuff."
"I'll give him some once you tell me what's going on."
"I'm getting there," Matthew whined under his breath. "Promise not to tell Alfred any of this."
"I won't tell him."
"Alfred likes to get drunk, real drunk. As I'm sure you noticed, it makes him pretty lovey-dovey."
"And he knows this, of course," Arthur added.
"That I am not so sure of. Whenever we drink, we don't exactly talk about it in the morning. I don't know if he blacks out or what but─"
"Why not keep him from drinking?"
"It's not that easy," Matthew snorted. "Alfred gets what Alfred wants, and if he wants to get smashed, he's going to go all out."
Arthur could understand that line of reasoning, it was too solid to argue against. He shifted to a previous, but related, subject. "Never mind all that. What is it that he says about me?"
"Telling you about that wasn't part of our deal," Matthew groaned.
Arthur didn't give Matthew a vocal argument. If he failed to respond long enough, he knew Matthew would panic and fear that Alfred would be set free to roam the streets and drink as much as he pleased without a guardian. He counted the seconds as they went by, staring openly at Alfred as time passed. It only took ten seconds for Matthew to crack.
"He acts like you two are best friends," Matthew confessed.
"He does what?" Arthur's voice was disbelieving.
"It sounds ridiculous, I know. I always figured he was lying. If he has enough to drink he tells anyone who'll listen about how famously you two get along, about the domestic adventures you have. Before I called you last night, he was saying that you and him have movie nights at least once a week."
Arthur was baffled, and only too willing to hear more. "What else does he say?"
"If we're drinking at home he points to things and says they're gifts from you. He'll say a throw rug or set of coasters is from you. He'll pull the shirt from his back and happily inform me that you gave it to him. But it's not from you, and it's─" Matthew's voice cracked as he began to cry, "And it's stupid. All of it, this is all so stupid and I don't want to deal with it anymore."
Arthur was stunned by Matthew's emotional outburst. He hadn't the faintest clue Alfred was claiming such things. "Don't cry, Matthew. I'll hold things down here, keep an eye on Alfred. You go do something nice for yourself. Like, like play hockey, or speak French. Those are kind of your 'things', right?"
"Right," Matthew sniffled.
"Would you like me to put you back on with Alfred?" Arthur questioned gently.
Arthur hurried to pass the phone off to Alfred, who was sitting with his head in his hands, hangover refusing to fade. He shoved it at him as if they were participating in a relay race, turning back to the living room to give the brothers time alone.
He drifted about aimlessly, straightening hanging art that was perfectly level, running fingers over recently dusted pieces of furniture. Arthur paused at the thermostat, recalling how Alfred had been shivering earlier. The house did seem a bit chilled, not by much, but enough to cause a man without pants to shake. Arthur cranked it to seventy and smiled to himself. That would stop Alfred from trembling.
He returned to the kitchen, unable to keep himself from hovering around Alfred, listening to the friendly jabs that were exchanged. To avoid suspicion, Arthur took Alfred's plate and ran it under a jet of tepid water. His hands moved in the practiced motions of cleaning as his mind became clouded.
Arthur could not say with any certainty exactly how to react to what Matthew had told him. Alfred hardly struck him as a heavy drinker, and to think that he would begin to brag about a nonexistent relationship with Arthur, no matter how intoxicated he happened to be, was pure lunacy. Matthew must have been exaggerating.
Matthew always had been the more neurotic of his North American colonies. Quiet, reserved, empathetic to boot, but to a point where every occurrence in the world led back to him. With his exorbitant amount of sensitivity, he took every problem on with the intention of solving it. When he couldn't, it would invariably lead to endless tears.
His newest project must have been Alfred, trying to fix every fault he found in his brother. With his inability to be brutally honest, Matthew had probably gone about his 'helping' with such thoughtful chosen words Alfred took them more as compliments. Matthew must have been coming to the understanding that Alfred couldn't be fixed. Arthur furrowed his brow. If it was possible to fix Alfred, he would have found a way long ago.
Alfred's words interrupted Arthur's increasingly bitter thoughts, "I'll talk to you later, little man."
Arthur dried his hands on a worn tea towel, using the action to mask a flicker of bemusement. Matthew, while not by much, was the taller of the siblings.
Alfred laughed at Matthew's unheard response. "We don't know for sure which one of us is older, and until then I'm going to assume it's you. Now go do your Canadian thing." He turned the phone off, and his lips formed fleeting, unspoken words. Arthur thought it looked like 'olive juice', but that would be bizarre, even for Alfred.
"What makes you think you're the 'big brother'?" Arthur questioned.
"Easy enough to figure out. See, I have a theory," he began to explain. "The first child is always a kind of experiment."
"I'm not sure I want to know anymore." Arthur worried the theory might be something more suited for a science fiction movie.
"Too bad. Anyway, the first kid is the one you test. With all different kinds of parenting methods, seeing what works and what doesn't. In return for the all the mistakes that kid has to put up with─"
"This is ridiculous," Arthur cut in. Alfred was never a child-rearing test subject to him.
"C'mon, hear me out. Since the first kid gets all kinds of things tested on him, he doesn't turn out all that great. He's the one who makes all the mistakes and gets in trouble. That way, when the second child comes along the parents know what to do. Not to mention the second kid will be so horrified by their older sibling, they'll do everything within their power to end up the total opposite."
"What are you trying to say?"
"That the first child is the bad one, and the second is the good one."
Arthur grimaced at Alfred's blunt conclusion. Did he really think of himself as the one who was expected to be a handful, to be the one that was always a harbinger of bad things to come? Perhaps he felt the need to be the one to make mistakes, that way Matthew could learn from them beforehand, see what would become of him if he were to trod the more dangerous of paths. Either way, Alfred's reasoning was unsound and bordering on pitiable.
Arthur didn't wish to dwell on such twisted ideas. "If you'll excuse me, I'll get you a little something for your headache." He pushed himself from the table and opened one of the cupboards, fishing a small bottle from it.
He opened it and poured a few small white pills onto his hand. Alfred whistled a loud, screeching tune, merely making noise in the silence. Arthur stood, staring at the pills in his hand, but not quite seeing them, instead picturing Alfred's bubbly smile and matching laugh in his head. He turned back to Alfred.
He looked nothing like Arthur's mental projection. His eyes were blank and unexpressive, lips settled in somber line, no longer whistling. Arthur filled a glass with water and handed it to the waiting Alfred. Arthur was sure he was only imaging that Alfred looked worn down. He was, after all, Alfred.
The person who always had a smile to spare, the one who could take no offense to disparaging remarks. A being without problems. Arthur watched Alfred knock back the pills and down the glass. His little Alfred, nursing a hangover.
When had Alfred even begun to drink more than a pint or two of beer? Last night had to be a one time thing, regardless of what Matthew said. Alfred simply wasn't capable of such vices. He was a little bumpkin, free of worry and responsibility, and he certainly didn't make up drunken stories about what fine pals he and Arthur were.
"Are you done staring?" Alfred interrupted.
"Er, right." Arthur was unaware that he had been staring. His thoughts overtook his tongue, "Are you okay?"
Alfred looked taken aback by the inquiry. "Yeah, of course I am. I always am."
Arthur brushed the back of his hand across Alfred's forehead, noting that the fever had not slinked back. "Are you being honest?"
Alfred's cheeks reddened, lower lip jutting out in a childish pout. He was ruffled. "Stop being a weirdo."
"You should probably go back to bed." Arthur gently tugged Alfred to his feet and led him to the living room, motioning at the couch.
As he watched Alfred solemnly make his way to the couch, sitting down without a hint of pizazz, Arthur could no longer deny that something was indeed wrong with Alfred. He was, without doubt, a lonely boy. No friends beyond Matthew, only a sea of acquaintances he could not turn to in times of need. If only he hadn't grown up so quickly, been so hasty to cut his ties with Arthur for freedom.
He wouldn't be sitting there if he had, worn out from illicit activities he may or may not have remembered. It was impossible for him to be unaware of his behavior while drunk, regardless of his memory. Alfred had set himself to live a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and destruction, no matter how well the United States as a nation was doing itself.
Arthur had never wanted his little colony back more in his entire life, and silently promised to prove himself worthy of Matthew's misplaced trust, to repent for what he had done to Alfred, and most of all, to help Alfred. He took a seat next to Alfred and readied his words.
"What?" Alfred peered around the room for the TV remote.
Arthur sat perfectly still, horror dawning on him as his thoughts would not translate into sound. "It's going to be okay," he said dumbly.
Alfred stopped looking around the room, his upper body twisting to face Arthur. "Everything is okay. Stop getting so worked up─"
"No." Arthur flung his arms around Alfred, forcing the other's head against his chest, hastily stroking his hair, the act more nerve wracking than comforting. "I am going to get worked up, and so should you."
Arthur was done with Alfred pretending things were hunky dory. He wanted to see Alfred express emotion beyond a forced happiness, to let his guard down and cry without the aid of alcohol. If confrontation was the quickest way to tears, Arthur was going to wield it as if it were a blade.
"Do you have any idea what kind of things you'll do when you're drunk, the things that you say?" Arthur whispered harshly, angry with both Alfred and himself.
"Mind coming down from your ivory tower?" Alfred struggled against Arthur's hold. "You're not exactly a model citizen when you've had a bit to drink."
"I'm not as bad as you, not by a long shot. If you want affection, tell someone. Don't drink and drink until you can't hold yourself together and blindly latch onto anyone that'll hold you close." Alfred shuddered in Arthur's arms at his piercing words, clearly unhappy that the topic had been brought up.
"Why do we have to talk about this?" Alfred stopped moving in Arthur's arms, voice tapering off into a sigh.
"How much do you remember in the morning, after you've been drinking?" Matthew might not have had the nerve to ask, but the question was immeasurably more important to Arthur.
Alfred didn't answer. Tears leaked from his eyes, soft sobs filling the room. He clutched at Arthur with frantic fingers as his crying strengthened. Arthur cooed loving words that felt foreign, but not wrong, to his tongue. His hands trailed from Alfred's hair, settling on his back, stroking rhythmically to the rise of fall of Alfred's chest.
He pondered the meaning of the tears. They were not a definitive answer, purely a physical manifestation of distress. Was Alfred crying because he could remember, or because he was unable to, and too embarrassed to admit it? There was no way to pry further without Alfred becoming suspicious, on the off-chance that he truly had no recollection of the night before.
After several minutes, Alfred had calmed to a point where the only noise he emitted was the occasional shuddering breath. Arthur removed his arms from Alfred and stood, the other reaching out to hold his hand as he did so.
"Now, now," Arthur soothed, giving Alfred's hand a pat. "You needn't worry about where your love and attention will come from anymore."
Alfred weaseled his way under the covers, still holding onto Arthur's hand as he did so. "Can I get that in writing?"
"Whatever your heart desires," Arthur assured, kneeling to tuck the sheets up to Alfred's chin. "While I'm gone, get a bit more shuteye. And I don't want to come back to an empty house, alright?"
"Where are you going?"
Arthur used his free hand to brush Alfred's untamed hair away from his face, savoring the sensation as the individual strands flicked across his skin. Where was he going? The grocery store, first off. He'd buy all the sweets in the store, every last package of biscuits. Anything he thought would give Alfred the slightest bit of joy.
He'd buy Alfred throw rugs and coasters, certainly clothes as well. Everything Alfred had bragged of, Arthur would make a reality. Each purchase Arthur made, each smile his gifts brought to Alfred's face, would help mend the gap between them.
Alfred squirmed restlessly under the covers. "I won't let you leave without answering me," he said, drawing Arthur's attention back.
"Out," was Arthur's only response. He didn't want to spoil the surprise.
Alfred eyed him, an unusually needy look in his eye. "I-I think I feel my fever coming back."
Arthur rested his palm on Alfred's forehead. It felt no warmer than that morning. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. You should probably stay."
Arthur readied himself to chastise him for malingering in his sickness when he was struck by Alfred's words. Of course the sickly man knew he had no fever, he'd never admit it so openly if he did. And that look in his big blue eyes, pleading for Arthur keep him company.
Arthur cursed himself, seeing his own inability to clearly state what he wanted playing out before him. That boy was a knack for picking up all his bad habits.
Arthur looked down at himself, still clad in pajamas. Not exactly clothes that were welcomed at the stores he planned to visit. He cast a glance at Alfred, whose feet were squirming anxiously beneath the covers. He didn't care about what Arthur was wearing, if he had taken a shower yet, or that he looked like a knackered old man. He simply wanted Arthur not to leave.
Arthur was more than happy to oblige.
Without speaking, Arthur moved to the corner of the room where the plush red chair he always sat in while embroidered lay. It had many pleasant memories connected to it, from embroidering Alfred's name on his bloomers, to telling fantastic tales while Alfred was perched in his lap. Arthur wanted to add more warm memories to the collection the chair already held.
He dragged it across the floor, placing it beside the couch. Alfred's feet continued to kick, but now with a jovial sort of excitement. Arthur settled back in the chair, his pajamas wrinkling and he moved about. He snuck a hand over the armrest, and Alfred was quick to grasp it in his own.
Arthur pulled Alfred's hand up and pressed a caring kiss to the back of it, smiling against the skin as he heard Alfred laugh softly. He lowered Alfred's hand, but kept it clasped in his own, thoughtlessly squeezing it again and again, as if mimicking a slow and steady heartbeat.
"Are things really going to be alright?" Alfred asked, his eyes fixated on Arthur's face.
Arthur gave a solitary nod before turning his head to meet Alfred's gaze, their hands still joined. "Yes, Alfred. Everything is going to be alright. I promise."
Little birds were hired to fly by with a banner that said "Fin" but they took the money and flew the coop.
I think I'll set up a Q&A styled format for this week's notes.
Q: Olive juice?
A: 'Olive Juice' has the same lip movements that 'I love you' does. Alfred was saying the latter.
Q: Whatever happened to Alfred's original shirt, the one that turned him into a headless beast as he tried to get out of it?
Hounds carried it away in the night to clothe their babies.
Q: Bloomers weren't widely used when Alfred would have been a wee ickle colony, so Arthur wouldn't have stitched anything into them.
Q: I like that top you're wearing.
A: How did you get my number that is not even a question
Q: Is there anything you wanted to fit in to the story, but ended up having to cut it?
A: I wanted to Alfred to say he had swine and bird flu, thus acquiring the super sickness 'flying pig flu', but I never got a chance to put that dialogue in. I also wanted to make a joke about Arthur going to Tesco's in his pajamas.
Q: That ending was balls.
A: I KNOW. I don't like to write without an ending in mind, and so originally I had a decent ending. However, after adding smut I had to change the ending up and couldn't really get it to work right.
Q: Does Alfred remember what Arthur did to him the night before or not?
A: I left that unresolved on purpose. You, the reader, are supposed to come up with your own conclusion regarding that.
Q: Now what?
A: Go brush your teeth and make you bed.