Author's Note: Gah, I've been dead for some time… And I am now updating this as a zombie. I've crossed lines and joined the leagues of the undead just to scrape off time to work on finishing this chapter. I can only hope this chapter doesn't reflect my… dead-ness… Apologies are like confetti to me, I shower a lot of them to people I consider important, *showers reader with bucket-loads of confetti*. I hope you can forgive this late update.

And of course I have to thank the wonderful people who kept my baby alive while I was away! Thank you to my readers, those who've placed AK on alert, on their favorite list and to those who reviewed last chapter namely:

Liila6241, JewishLolita, RamenNoodlesXD, IV, Gosangoku, meincarrot, Lanaroolz, Ramen is Happiness, TheNinjaWangsta, xxalexisurgodxx, rae1112, Hana1225, MashednotHashed, brokenpassions, alguien22792, Axxi, Sam, LupinandHarry, summasaur, and ZemyxDexion

I hope you like this chapter as much as the last one. Please do continue on with your support. I love you people! 3

Warnings: None in particular, I guess. Though this one is monstrously long… Oh, it includes an SMS conversation. And yep, expect some grammar errors.

Disclaimer: Hetalia is not mine. I do not make money from this fanfiction. I fully appreciate that no one sues me for this.


Answer Key

By Synxailla

Chapter Seven "Get Set"

"Don't fret if you forgot to put you best foot forward. With just the proper tools and motivation, you can make anything work properly."


Alfred was developing a new habit.

It wasn't that different from his usual habit of twirling the pen. It also involved his hands and fingers and the way they moved in elaborate motions around an inanimate object. The only difference was that the inanimate object of Alfred's new habit was a bit more expensive than a pen, more rectangular in shape, and can light up and emit cool sounds… This inanimate object also happened to be the conventional way of wireless communication of the modern times, allowing people to send and receive calls and messages.

In other words, Alfred couldn't stop fiddling with his cellphone.

But the young American wasn't twiddling the object around with any intent on using it to connect with someone over the airwaves, much less putting off said intent indefinitely because he was kind of anxious (read: scared shitless) of how it would go. And the previous statement was a total obese lie.

"Vee~… Alfred, is it broken?" a childlike voice sounded from beside the American. Alfred didn't have to turn to know it was Feliciano.

He knew enough about his friends to realize who was talking to him from their speech patterns… It was a handy skill to have developed. It even allows him to hold half-conversations with his friends while playing video games, not looking up from his epic pixel adventures.

"Hm?" Alfred replied, not looking up from his phone's display. He didn't quite understand what the shorter student was talking about, a minor side-effect of his amazing speech recognizing ability... What did Feliciano think was broken?

"Your phone…" came the Italian's answer. "You keep looking at it and looking all worried. Then you push some buttons and start smiling… Then you close it, then you look at it again and look worried, then you push ―."

"Okay Feliciano, I think Alfred got that he's doing a weird cycle." Ludwig said putting a hand on the brunet boy's shoulder to still him, and abruptly cutting off the Italian's loop.

Alfred colored a bit at that last comment. "IT'S NOT WEIRD!" he protested loudly, and from practice, easily ignored the bunch of other people at the corridor who looked (glared, rolled their eyes) at him because of his loud exclamation.

It most certainly wasn't weird.

So what if Alfred felt his heart clenching at random times for no reason, and instead of seeking stress relief from his usual pen-twirling stress outlet, he found his hand reaching inside his pocket for his phone and scrolling down his phonebook to catch a moment's glimpse of a particular number, and then he'd feel the clenching of his chest loosening, making it possible for a smile to form on his face…? That did not make it weird.

Okay, maybe a little strange… but that's it.

It's only just because Alfred couldn't help feeling a tiny bit nervous when thinking about what he'd say to Professor Kirkland when he finally contacts him; there were just so many possible options. Would he start with a hello? Or should he greet 'hi' instead to try for a less cliché way? The start of a conversation is crucial because… well, Alfred didn't really know why, but people say how you strike a conversation affects the outcome of the whole deal, or something like that.

Dang it.

He should've taken that Sociology class last semester…

And he needed to think of what he'll say after the initial greeting. He wasn't so sure his professor would appreciate him calling up for no reason. He also needed to think how he'll avoid sounding like a dork. And the timing should be put in consideration as well, right? Because Alfred didn't want to put it off too long and seem that he'd taken things for granted and forgot, but also he didn't want to do it so soon he'll appear impatient or too much –he cringed at the thought- needy

But… maybe seeming a bit of needy would earn him points? His professor seemed somewhat affected by some of the long faces he'd been having so far… Or was Alfred reading a little too much into things? The reading thing was a humungous feat in itself since Alfred normally never bothered to read pretty much anything, much less the atmosphere or other people's reaction to it.

And upon admitting that he's a total newbie when it came to such things, it sadly wouldn't be much of a surprise if his hunches in that area turned out wrong and that he could easily end up leading himself on and then being shot down hard…

Um, wait… lead me on… what?

So many worries flooded his thinking, and in the midst of it all, he somehow always ended up checking his phone and scrolling down to that single unnamed number saved in his phonebook… and then without fail, the very evidence that he indeed had his professor's contact information stored and waiting, instantly made all the worries flicker away and a smile to cross his face.

The peace of mind would last for about two to three seconds before the unexplainable gnawing worry gets hold of him again.

"Fine then, we'll term it as 'unusual', would that not offend you?" Ludwig asked with a hint of a smirk, bringing Alfred back to the present.

Upon seeing Ludwig's expression, Alfred came to realize he was indeed acting a bit…unusual. There weren't many things that could get a smirking reaction from his stoic friend. You had to be really amusing for it to have any impact on the German. Ludwig was very easy to irritate, yet very, very hard to amuse.

"If you keep saying it with that expression, it just might." Alfred deadpanned a reply, and sent a flat stare over his German friend, whose smirk only twitched wider.

Being the source of Ludwig's amusement didn't sit very well with Alfred… But hey, friends let friends smirk at them once in a while, right?

The three of them; Ludwig, Feliciano, and Al himself were currently on their way back to the dorm building. They just had their last class of the day (World Literature) together with Kiku earlier, but since the Japanese boy, who seemed not contented with his regular curriculum load, enrolled in some more classes to get dumped with even more work. He still had his elective class with some higher-year students, so the three others went on ahead of him.

"I'm just glad you seem better! You've been looking sad for the past few days." Feliciano suddenly interrupted with a wide smile. "Now you've improved to looking weird!"

Hearing his cheerful friend's comment startled Alfred a bit. He always thought at least one of his friends wasn't privy to his little slump last week. Though if Feliciano of all people noticed, then he must've been pretty obvious. Of all his friends, Feliciano is the one with the least ability to read the atmosphere, Alfred always thought so, and he could even get the vouch of his friend's twin to back up his opinion… If Lovi happened to be in a tolerating mood, that is.

Alfred sent another look at Ludwig that practically screamed "I thought you said you wouldn't tell him!"

It was Ludwig's turn to send back a flat stare of his own which Alfred translated into: "I didn't. You don't give Feliciano enough credit for figuring things out on his own."

Alfred raised an eyebrow, and Ludwig replied with a defensive shrug that said "Hey, it happens."

"But you seem happier now…" Feliciano continued, interrupting again the non-verbal conversation of the two blonds. "Maybe happier than I've ever seen you be."

Alfred's irritation instantly deflated at that comment.

For a moment, he stopped and considered if it was true… His mind's eye suddenly remembered a flash of blinking green eyes. A smile once again graced his lips. He did feel… sort of lighter, after he left his professor's classroom earlier, bearing the fruits of his hard labor (Arthur's phone number) away with him. Aside from the times when he wasn't worrying about his to-be conversation, Alfred always felt a slight smile curving his lips.

Oh boy. Was it ever true…

"But I don't look too weird… right?" Alfred asked hopefully, hand already playing with his phone again.

"Not at all!" the Italian readily answered. Alfred was almost relieved. "Just weird enough."

Alfred's face fell and Ludwig gave a not-so-dry laugh.

Alfred turned and gave a dirty look to his other friend, who was still quietly sniggering. Ludwig seemed to have gotten the message. With one last snort, he schooled his features back to normal and regarded Alfred back.

"Keep on with changing your expression in intervals and staring at you phone with a goofy smile some more, and you'd stop looking weird." Ludwig advised.

"Huh?" Alfred was confused… wasn't that the very reason he was called weird in the first place?

"You'd start looking creepy." And the way it was said in Ludwig's no-nonsense voice somehow made the comment that much more irritating.

"I am so going to bruise your face the next spar we have." Alfred informed his blond friend.

A loud gasp from his other friend jolted Alfred from staring down (well… up actually, just a bit though) the faintly smirking German… Really now, he should've known better than to threat Ludwig with violence in front of Feliciano. The shorter youth looked absolutely horrified and seemed about to cry any moment.

"No! I didn't mean it Feli! Ludwig was just being an ass, it was just an expression!" Alfred hurriedly explained. "If it helps, I haven't been winning against him lately… but I do plan on working on that… but I won't pound him to dust! Honest!"

"Ve! I forgot the book I borrowed from the library! It's due to day too…" Feliciano exclaimed in a whine, frantically searching his book bag and looking ready to cry. He seemed to not have heard a word of Al's hasty (crappy) explanation.

"When did you last have it?" Ludwig asked, instantly taking over the situation before the Italian panicked even further.

The way how quickly all of Ludwig's attention centered on Feliciano was impressive. Alfred thought that whenever he saw it happening, and he'd seen it happen quite a few times. Still, the extraordinary opinion Alfred had for it never faded… Especially as of late when the American felt like he was starting to really understand the feeling of having one person as your sole focus.

The number of times Alfred found himself just staring into space and thinking about when he'll see his professor next was growing in an exponential rate. Not that he minded, quite the opposite really… But he didn't ponder about it too much. Unlike some people, he let nature run its course. He just kept doing what felt natural.

"Uhm… I think I still had it back in World Lit class. I was still looking at the pretty pictures of coliseums before Professor Heracles arrived." Feliciano answered with a thoughtful pout, er, frown. "I should go back and check."

"I'll come with you." Said Ludwig promptly, not so much as an offer as an account of what would happen.

"I can help look too." Alfred said, not wanting to be left out, and wanting a chance to practice his awesome heroic helping skills. He needed to polish it if he ever wanted to continue his mission of being a helpful hand to his professor.

"Thanks guys!" Feliciano answered, pout gone in place of a smile.

"Let's go." Ludwig said and took the lead. He seemed more eager than anyone to find the missing book.

Probably because finding it would get Feliciano out of trouble…

Alfred noticed the German had a knack of getting Feliciano out of a pinch. It took him a while to figure it out to be honest, but constantly being around someone who always came in to the rescue of another particular someone, whom the person is also regularly around of, would eventually tip anyone off of what was going on.

Alfred officially dubbed Ludwig in his head as "Feliciano's own personal hero". Maybe he'd start calling his German friend that, just to see how he'd react. And with the way Ludwig was being uncharacteristically more annoying than usual, he would've deserved a small payback… It wasn't everyday someone could make the serious sophomore blush.

It must be nice to be someone's personal hero…

And so back further inside the building they went… When the three of them were nearing their last class's location, they were intercepted by a yawning tall man with dark, tousled hair. The brunet was walking down the corridor, almost dragging his feet along, much like a zombie…

Alfred quickly replaced the thought with something less… undead. He wouldn't want a repeat of not being able to look under his own bed for a number of nights, like that time after he and Kiku watched a scary video.

"Ah, it's professor Karpusi!" Feliciano exclaimed and waved at the man on the other end of the hallway.

After a few blinks, the World Literature professor seemed to have woken up enough to recognize the enthusiastic boy waving over at him and the two others with him are his students. He walked over to them.

"Ah… Hello there…" The professor greeted them. "It is a nice…coincidence that...I ran in to you…here." the Greek man told them in between multiple pauses.

"Why sir, did you want something from us?" Ludwig asked, unfazed by the older man's strange speech pattern.

"Uhm… Not really." The tall brunet replied calmly… Alfred became confused. One look at Feli's face assured him he wasn't the only one.

"Oh, okay… so we'll just be goin' ahead then?" Alfred looked to his friends who nodded their reluctant affirmatives at him. "Nice running in to you too Professor Karpusi."

The three friends were about to politely side step away from their professor when the educator suddenly said;

"But I do have something I think you may find…helpful." And from out of nowhere, the Grecian produced a leather bound book.

"My book!" Feliciano exclaimed as he was handed the tome. "So I did leave it in your class."

"I found it… under a desk." Professor Karpusi handed Feliciano a leather-bound book. "It has beautiful pictures of classic buildings… Quite a few from my mother's homeland… Very lovely." He said with a wistful smile.

Alfred did know the professor to be a man of many slow words… But sometimes he couldn't help but feel his eyes were drooping close just from listening to the man's drawl. How some people manage to stay awake all throughout his lecture was a mystery to the American… He'd have to ask Ludwig and Kiku some tips on that department.

"How did you know its Feliciano's, sir?" Alfred heard Ludwig ask…

"I saw his signature… on his bookmark…" The professor answered, pointing to a piece of paper sticking out from the book Feliciano was holding.

"Hey, that's pretty clever Feli!" Alfred said and thumped his shorter friend on the back. He ignored how Feliciano would've toppled over if it wasn't for Ludwig who caught and straightened the other guy. "Without defacing library property, you've managed to leave your mark on it…though it's not permanent, but meh..."

Feliciano gave a weak laugh in reply before turning back to the professor. "Thank you for the book sir."

"You're welcome… I'll be… seeing you then." And then the professor drifted off, or rather, away…

"Well," Ludwig began, bringing the issue back on track. "Now that we found the book, let's go return it before the library closes for the day."

Alfred was about to follow when his eyes landed on his friends' walking backs… It was probably the first time he came to admire for real how nice Ludwig and Feliciano looked while walking side by side. They seemed so sure and comfortable with the person beside them, like perfect compliments... He never really fully noticed it before.

The sting of envy he felt was unexplainable, yet so vivid.

Alfred's friends took a couple more steps away before they realized that the American wasn't following them. Feliciano turned to him puzzled, and it was Ludwig's turn to raise an eyebrow at him.

"Something wrong, Al?"

"Nothing. You guys should go on without me." He answered with a shooing gesture. It somehow felt wrong to try and squeeze himself with his two friends after all the thoughts that just passed by his mind… He was feeling more like a spectator than an actual participant in their little quest the longer they dragged on.

"Ve, you aren't coming with us?" Feliciano asked, sounding a bit sad.

"I just remembered I'm kind of banned from the library for the time being." Alfred replied with a grin and shrugged. It wasn't a lie, so he shook the nonexistent guilt away.

"Why? Miss Katherine is a very nice head librarian. She wouldn't make the library off-limits to anyone."

"Not her," Alfred looked Feliciano in the eye "her brother."

It was almost impressive how quickly Alfred saw realization dawn upon his friend's amber eyes. Feliciano understood how compelling Miss Katherine's little brother could be…

"And what have you done this time to incur the great counselor's wrath?" Ludwig asked, his barely-there smirk forming again.

Alfred ticked another mark on his mental tab of the number of teeth he'd be knocking out of Ludwig's head on their next round.

"Please, I don't have to do anything exceptional to make that counselor hate my guts. It's simple philosophical logic. I exist..." Alfred placed the flat of his palm over his chest in a formal self gesture. "Therefore he hates me… It's a vice versa kind of thing you know."

Alfred chose not to mention the guidance counselor had caught him looking at Miss Katherine a little ways lower than where her pretty face was… Honestly though, can he be blamed? Even the girls had a hard time not having their eyes drifting to gaze at those racks. Some with looks of jealousy, others with, well…not so much of jealousy as bordering on drooling with dreamy looks…

"I'm sorry to hear that Alfred…" Feliciano said with genuine remorse as he hugged his book.

"Don't be, I find it a lot boring there anyway… And I only have to wait a few more days before Mr. Braginski is sated enough to not remember he asked me to stay away from the library. Torris is softening him up for me by discreetly adding extra shots of caramel in his morning coffee." Alfred flashed a smile.

"You know, I've been hearing Torris's name a lot lately." Feliciano piped with a thoughtful look, lips pursed. "Just last Friday Lovi came back to our room muttering about rotten bastards and annoying saints… I didn't really get why Torris's name was mixed up with it. I asked Lovino but he looked like he was going to cry. I gave him a hug instead."

"Whatever it was that upset your twin Feli, I doubt that Torris was behind it." Alfred replied, defending the older student. "He's a nice guy. He even offers me milk whenever I visit the counselor's office."

"Milk?" Feliciano asked, sporting a curious look while he hugged his book. "Don't people usually offer coffee in offices? All the design agencies I've been to have always done so…"

"Torris figured any kind of caffeine would only do more harm than good for people about to have a little talk with Counselor." Alfred answered with a shrug. Torris said with a weak laugh he found that out from experience. "I guess milk have calming effects?"

"I didn't know you and Torris are close." Ludwig commented. "I always thought the vice president finds you troublesome for all the extra work you make the central student council do whenever you pull some of your messier pranks."

"Hey, the messiest I got was that victory food fight in the sports complex arena. And it wasn't even on purpose!" Alfred protested. "That cheese burger slipped from my hand and just happened to land on the other team's coach's head."

"None the less, our student council had to apologize to the visiting team and offer free dry cleaning for their stained uniforms." Ludwig sounded like he was reprimanding a troublesome kid brother who's in reality, older than him. Alfred could practically hear the implied "you should be ashamed of yourself" ringing in his ears.

"It was done and the other team didn't press charges. We live to see another day!"Alfred shrugged and smiled.

"Yeah! And I had fun that day too; it was like raining French fries!" Feliciano agreed. "It turned out no problem because president Feliks can talk most people into doing what he wants."

The mention of the central student council president made Alfred think of the unpredictable (often cross-dressing) older student. He always seemed to talk, in like, codes nowadays and Torris, the vice-president was the only one who can keep the other in check. It was unbelievable that Feliks had once been a very shy boy in some part of his past… It seemed like people can change great lengths over time.

And speaking of time…

"You two should go ahead now; there'll be a long line in the library for last minute book returns." Alfred reminded his friends.

Ludwig stole a glance at his own wristwatch and seemed to have decided that Alfred was right. The other two looked at each other and their eyes did the talking between them. A nod from Ludwig sealed the decision. A quick farewell and a wave goodbye later, found Alfred alone… With his thoughts… and the worry loop thing started over again.

The student gave a defeated sigh as he started walking back to the direction that would take him to the building's exit. It looked like it was going to be a long lonely walk…

―X―X―X―

Somehow, Alfred found the perfect distraction from the lonesome walk he was having.

After checking his phone for that unnamed number in his contacts list for the nth time that day, Alfred felt it was time he finalized his plan of what was to be 'the most awesome conversation over the phone ever' as he walked. He got as far as finally deciding a classic "hello" would work better than a "howdy" greeting, when he heard a dry gurgling sound of an obviously malfunctioning machine…

Alfred looked up to see that in the middle of his walk, he somehow made it in front of one of the student copy rooms where the University provided copier machines for the students to use on multiplying various papers for academic purposes. The sound must've meant one of the machines was being used and not functioning properly.

Surprisingly, he didn't remember rigging machines of any kind these past couple of weeks as he'd been busy doing other things. It came as a genuine shock to him when he realized he'd spent most of his time lately thinking and planning out things concerning only one person in particular. He'd been too busy to do anything much otherwise.

His decision of going inside and seeing if he could offer his valiant help to the person in trouble was made even before he heard the voice of the person inside the room.

"Bollocks! Why do you insist on jamming up? Little bugger!"

Alfred froze. His hand already on the knob of the door to the copy room…

He knew that gruff, irritated, melodic voice anywhere… There was no mistaking it. The person inside the room was Professor Kirkland. Alfred had to take a moment to lower the excitement that made his heart do a funny beat-skipping thing.

As quiet as humanly possible, Alfred turned the knob of the door and gently pushed it open enough to slip inside. The soft click of the door closing behind him was lost in midst of all the spitting and sputtering of the (supposedly) state-of-the-art copier and the huffs and grunts of his professor as the man waged an epic tug of war against the paper dispenser.

Alfred's feet moved almost on their own as he silently walked over to the other occupant of the room, who, upon having had his back to him and having been otherwise occupied, remained unaware of the student's presence. Alfred stopped a couple of feet from his professor, a bit impressed at himself for still remaining undetected. The smile that formed on his face since he caught sight of his professor's back from the crack of the door grew into a wide grin.

It was time to see his professor's face again.

"What 'choo doin'~?"

Alfred watched as Arthur jumped from shock and suddenly whipped around with wide eyes to pin him with a doe-in-the headlights kind of stare, giving the student another perfect opportunity to look at those amazing emerald-colored eyes. Staring at them somehow never gets old.

After absorbing the other's initial reaction, Alfred noticed that Arthur's hands were stained with black and his face had little splotches of ink too. The professor had little smudges of black ink on his cheeks and nose, which somehow only managed to make him look…cute… Like a little kid that accidentally got himself dirty from playing.

Alfred caught himself in time to stop giving out a cooing reaction and an 'aww' comment… Mostly thanks to the strange way he forgot how to breathe for a moment upon seeing the older man turn and look at him.

As soon as the professor let go of the papers he was gripping, the paper dispenser let out a rat-tata-rat-tatat sound as it devoured the sheets, acting more like a paper shredder than a paper dispenser… Alfred was a bit amazed at how fast and efficiently it gobbled up the sheets. He had always been fascinated with paper shredders since he was old enough to sneak in to his father's home-office and shred random things in his father's paper shredder. He quickly learnt to bring his own papers to shred after his father complained about a missing document.

Arthur tensed once more as he looked over his shoulder to see the irreparable damage done to the already crumpled pages. The professor's shoulders slumped and let out a groan.

"Oh for the love of ―"

Alfred felt a sting of guilt at seeing the papers disappear into the mechanical mouth of the copier. He almost winced when a burp-like gurgle sounded as the last of the white sheets went into the machine… but since he was suddenly in a super giddy and elevated mood for some reason. There was no room in his feelings for much negative emotions at the moment.

"Whoops?" the student said sheepishly, followed by an unconceivable snort of laughter.

Once again, Arthur whipped around to fix him with a look. This time the professor had his eyes narrowed in a glare and his jaw locked in a grit of ire. Arthur was regarding him with flashing eyes so alight and intense. The student could almost grab hold of the professor's irked aura… Alfred heard himself swallow and felt his heart beating double-time…

The strangest thing was, it wasn't because of fear of any kind.

"YOU HAVE GOT TO STOP DOING THAT!" Arthur exclaimed at him, leaning in up closer to emphasize his message.

All Alfred could do was stare back and take in those expressive green eyes, be fascinated by the way Arthur's chest heaved that much deeper from the force of his shouting, and admire the dust of pink that colored Arthur's huffed cheeks from his irritation.

"Stop doing what?" Alfred remembered to ask, a bit surprised his voice didn't sound as mesmerized as he felt.

"Sneaking up on people." Came the hissed reply.

"I don't sneak up on people." Alfred denied, unable to recall events when he snuck up on others. He usually proclaimed his presence as soon as possible when he saw his friends, calling out to them and waving.

"You frequently do so on me!" Arthur snapped, glare not quite gone.

Alfred blinked at that retort… Now that he thought about it, he did often sneak up on his professor. It wasn't like it was on purpose or anything, more like it was an automatic thing that always came to be… And the end result always ranged from entertaining, to exciting, with bouts of unusual yet pleasant tummy-flips in between. Maybe that was the reason Alfred always did it.

"You're different." Alfred found himself answering with a grin. His professor's eyes widened a flash of a moment before narrowing in a skeptic look.

"Why thank you, I feel so special." Arthur replied, and if the tone of the professor's voice wasn't a dead giveaway, the way he rolled his eyes conveyed his sarcasm clearly enough.

Alfred ignored that part.

"I like the sound of that." The younger man announced with a thoughtful smile.

The professor gave an adorable tilt of his head and regarded Alfred back with a confused look. "Eh?"

"Special" The student replied simply "It has a nice ring to it don't you think?" Alfred watched green eyes widen.

Alfred really thought the word fits perfectly. It's a nice word that could describe many, many things… And he had a wide range of feelings he couldn't quite figure out yet regarding the professor, and if he was to bestow them with a temporary name, he'd call them 'special'. It sounded right.

He left his professor doing a very good imitation of a goldfish (if goldfish can blush) and walked over to the copy machine to push the off switch and tugged at the cord to unplug it from the wall socket… The sputtering of the machine stopped and Alfred looked back and flashed a toothy smile.

"There we go, much better." Alfred said, leaning an arm atop the hunk of malfunctioning metal. The noise had been interrupting him from hearing his professor's voice properly, and that was just wrong…

Arthur turned once again to face Alfred, the Math professor crossed his arms over his chest and gave a very nice flat look.

"Oh yes, infinitely better." Arthur replied, voice sounding tight "Except for the fact I just lost my copies, everything is just perfectly dandy."

"Why didn't you use another copier? Don't you have one of those in the faculty room?"

"Why yes, why haven't I thought of that?" The professor pulled on a mulling face which turned into one of realization before beginning to rant "Ah, perhaps it had something to do with that loooooong queue before the machine there… So I thought, why not use another copier? And I made my way here, since the other copy rooms are further away from the faculty room. With some hard struggles; I managed to get that tin can working with just a small glitch as I was finishing up."

Alfred had to hide a chuckle as he recalled the tug-of-war. If that was a small glitch, he wondered what a bigger one would look like… His amusement was wiped away at his professor's next words.

"Then lo and behold, you come out of nowhere and make me lose track of things, with it, my grip and all the copies I managed to painstakingly produce."

"Wow, you sound like… you're mad at me." Alfred said and couldn't help that a bit of hurt creep in his voice.

And all of a sudden, Arthur's eyes widened with what seemed like abrupt realization and his tensed posture tensed even further before it eased away with the heavy sigh the Briton released. Alfred wanted nothing more than for that dead beat expression to be wiped off his professor's face.

"I apologize about that Mister Jones." The professor once again had his eyes cast aside, a look Alfred was quickly associating with the other man being embarrassed or self-conscious. "I guess I'm a bit frazzled… I didn't mean to… you know, take it out on you." He finished with a hunch of his shoulders.

Alfred instantly felt sorry for his unintentional guilt-trip play. And here he was, planning on making a connection of some kind with the other man through valiant deeds and little lunches, to look out for him since he's new around and… because he simply wanted to. Yet all he seemed to have succeeded on doing was causing Arthur trouble.

Some hero he turned out to be.

Alfred's blue eyes drifted down and landed on the dead machine he was leaning on… And then he realized there may be a way yet to make up for his shortcomings. He hurriedly shrugged his bag off his shoulders and fumbled inside it.

"I know I have it here somewhere…" he mumbled as he continued searching his bag.

"What are you looking for?" Alfred heard his professor ask.

"Something to help out our little… situation." And with a bit more shuffling around his backpack, Alfred finally found it. "Aha!" he said as he fished out and brandished a small rectangular leather pouch.

Arthur blinked back at him. Probably wondering what the bag was for. "How exactly would that help?"

"Watch." Alfred instructed. He popped open the small button of the leather bag and opened it up. His familiar array of tools greeted them back with a reflecting gleam.

"You think you can fix it?" Arthur asked, not sounding cryptic or sarcastic for once, just genuinely curious.

"I can fix anything. With the proper tools and motivation, you can make anything work properly." Alfred declared proudly. He remembered something then faltered a bit "Well, almost anything. I once tried to fix my dad's broken car when I was a kid; I got my longest record of being grounded from that. Turned out, the car wasn't broken…"

Alfred pulled out the screw driver and proceeded to remove the screws on the side of the machine to open it up. He heard his professor stepping nearer him to watch him work. It made Alfred want to do a great job all the more.

"I have to confess," Arthur began as the student was in the middle of delving in the machinery. "For some reason, hearing your earlier story only makes me want to stop you from tinkering with university property all the more."

"Oh?" Alfred asked, not looking up from his job, his hands acquired a matching ink stain as Arthur somewhere along the way. "At least you haven't shoved me away yet. I'll take that as a good sign." At that, he looked up to the British and gave a grin.

"W-well, I figured it can't get any worse…" Arthur replied, sounding irritated but Alfred knew he wasn't, not really. "And you look like you know what you're doing."

"Yeah, I just have a way with fiddling with things I guess…" Alfred replied with a shrug. "There are times when my hands won't stop fidgeting until I can find something to dismantle or assemble."

"You also twirl your pen a lot." Arthur commented.

"Oh, you noticed?" Alfred asked and turned from his work to regard the professor beside him with a smile again. "I'm flattered you bother to give me that much attention."

Arthur once again diverted his eyes away before he mumbled. "It's just that you always sit up front. It's quite hard not to see you…" Alfred thought he looked pretty nice in bashful mode.

It made Alfred chuckle before going back to work… Of course he always sat in front of the class. He didn't want the back of the heads of his classmates to obscure his view of the professor. Arthur looked very much in-zone when he's delivering lectures. It was a sight to soak in. Alfred was always awe-struck by his professor when he's doing his thing.

For a time, Alfred continued on his work in comfortable silence with the solid presence of his professor beside him. He only stopped when he reached an area deep in the machine where it was too dark to see. He pulled out his phone from his pocket and used it as a substitute flashlight, leaving him to work one-handed as his other hand held the phone steady to shine the copier with light.

The wrench in his working hand kept slipping. It was by the third time Alfred almost lost his hold on the tool did he feel another hand take his cellphone from him to steady it and let him have two hands able to work again. Alfred turned to the man beside him with a curious look.

Arthur answered him with a light flush on his cheeks and a shooting glare. A pretty interesting combination, but not unpleasant… not unpleasant in the least. Alfred tried to say so just by giving a silent albeit wide smile, since words refused to come out of him at the time. He was far too busy containing his new-found giddiness.

"I might as well give you a hand right?" Arthur snapped to Alfred's silent gesture. "I don't want you saying I merely watched while you pull the entire work load."

Alfred snorted a laugh. His professor can be so funny at times. "Thanks." He said before going back to work. Arthur angled the light perfectly, and the professor adjusted easily with the slightest prodding. The two of them didn't even need verbal communication to function as a team. It was… pretty awesome.

Soon enough Alfred saw the main problem of the machine's paper dispenser. A small gear was missing from the conveyer system, which probably made the conveyer run backwards. Alfred tried to see if he can find the missing piece. He nudged Arthur's hand a bit to the right and the slighter hand tensed a brief moment before moving fluidly to the direction Alfred needed. Then he saw it.

"There you are, you little stinker..." but the small gear was in a tight place, Alfred had to think for a moment how to get it out. "Maybe the long-nose could reach it." He mumbled softly.

Alfred only needed to take one hand out of the machine to suddenly feel the familiar weight and cold feeling of the tool he mentioned as it landed instantly on his palm. This time Alfred was only able to smile briefly at the man beside him, before he was driven by the knowledge that he was nearing the completion of his job to hurriedly get back to work.

As he predicted, using the long-nose pliers did reach the gear in its enclosed location. Alfred only had to get it back in place and use a substitute bolt to keep it in there and the work was finished.

"Cross your fingers." Alfred whispered to Arthur before he pressed the on switch.

A whirring sound greeted the two blonds, and with baited breath, they stood and waited for something else to happen… Finally, the moving beam of light turned on and scanned the paper left on the top of the machine. A couple of seconds later, a carbon copy of the sheet came smoothly out of the paper dispenser.

"It works…" Arthur whispered by the time a second copy came to join the first one, followed soon after by a third, and a steady pace was established "It actually works!"

The professor turned to regard Alfred with a wide smile. The smile looked so unbelievably happy that the student couldn't help but grin back… Alfred always felt fulfilled whenever he fixed something, but having Arthur help him with this particular project made the feeling multiply ten-fold. He was so happy he could feel his heart madly beating in his chest and almost rising up to his throat.

"We make a pretty good team." Alfred said with a soft smile over his professor.

"What are you talking about? You did all the work." Arthur replied with an accusing smirk.

"Yeah, but I felt like I should give you some recognition anyway. I'm just that generous." Alfred teased back in good humor.

"My, what ever would I do with that over-flowing humility of yours?" Arthur said, lightly smacking the student's shoulder with a folder. "Now shut up and help me copy the rest of these."

Alfred laughed as he accepted the folder. "Right away, sir."

"We're going to need quite a few of them and I need to get them done by the end of the day." Said Arthur as the professor began sorting the pile of paper coming out of the copier.

"What are these papers for anyway?" Alfred asked as he replaced the first page with the second one to be reproduced.

"They're test questions." Arthur replied simply. Alfred almost dropped the papers he was handed.

"Test questions? You mean for exams?" Alfred asked, knowing the answer and yet wanting it not to be so.

"Yes, where else would test questions be used for in a university?"

Alfred felt his brows knitting and any trace of smile being wiped from his face.

"Professor, I'm not so sure me helping you with these is a good idea." Alfred said in a hesitant tone of voice, his blue eyes suddenly landing anywhere but the papers in his hands.

Arthur stopped his sorting at Alfred's words. The professor gave Alfred a scrutinizing look before his green eyes widened in conclusion and he sent over a weak smile.

"Of course, how rude of me to just dump this on you… I can do it myself Mister Jones. You may leave now if you want…." Arthur said with a smile Alfred was quickly beginning to dislike. It looked forced, disappointed and kind of…hurt. "Thank you for fixing the machine. See you in class."

"What? Of course I don't want to leave!" Alfred found himself shouting before he realized it. He got carried away. He didn't want his professor thinking he'd just bail out on him whenever Alfred feels inconvenienced…

"You…don't?"

"Of course not!" Alfred exclaimed. He wanted to help, and by joe he was going to do it! …though the current situation presented a kind of dilemma.

"Oh…" Arthur said, sounding relieved yet confused. "Then why did you say this isn't a good idea?"

"Well…" Alfred began, not so sure how to phrase what he wanted to say. He inhaled once to steel himself and tried "These are test questions, right? They're to be used in determining the grades?"

"The results of the checking would contribute to students' marks, yes." Arthur replied with a small nod and a single blink. Alfred had to get his head back on track and away from how cute the gesture looked.

"I'm a student." Alfred reminded, gesturing to himself. Arthur just looked at him like he was odd and didn't get why he pointed out the given.

"Yes, but you're not a fourth-year Electronics majoring student." Arthur contested "You wouldn't be encountering these questions in your finals. And I'm pretty certain they'll come up with new ones in the coming years so even if you decide to take up Electronics, you'll face different questions."

"Well yeah… But…" Alfred had to take a deep breath to steel himself for what he was about to say next. "How do you know I won't tell other people of what I saw? Or even sneak a copy with me? Most others would keep things like these away… from me."

Arthur looked really confused. Clearly the professor wasn't expecting Alfred to have said that… But Alfred wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he hadn't given his professor a warning and a chance to back out. Every other professor wouldn't have let him near test questions of any kind because of his… reputation.

But they were all up to date with Alfred's not-so-polished background that they take every precaution they can around the spectacled youth even if Alfred had never cheated on his life… Arthur on the other hand was only starting his first month on the job. He deserved a little bit of warning…

"Because I trust you." Said Arthur easily… way too easily that it seemed almost a slip of the tongue.

Alfred felt like the wind was knocked out of him from that comment. His eyes must've conveyed his shock because Arthur took one look at him and his green eyes adopted the same kind of surprised look. Like the professor himself was astonished by his own words… Alfred prayed to every deity there was that the other man wouldn't take those words back, even if it was just a slip.

"You…" Alfred breathed, unable to say anything else.

The problem with slips however, is that they can easily be just outcomes of unwarranted mistakes.

Arthur wasn't looking at him anymore. The professor had casted his eyes to the floor, his flaxen hair blocking his face, hiding his expression… The student didn't dare move. The thought that any sudden movements might ruin the answer for him had suddenly popped, unbidden in his mind. Alfred knew it was a groundless thought, maybe even a little stupid, but it was instinct, and he always listened to his instincts… Besides, he couldn't have moved if he tried anyway.

Finally, two minutes and an eternity later, Arthur lifted his face, looking very much sure of himself, like he had just won an argument of grand importance with a very wide lead.

"I trust you." Arthur's green eyes were alight, practically daring the student to contradict him.

Alfred blinked once, twice… And when it finally sank in, he felt his eyes softening and his lips curving into a warm smile. It felt unbelievably nice to have heard those three words. He felt as light as air, all of his worries being blown away, refreshing and warm at the same time. He didn't really know how much he wanted to hear those words until it happened.

"Thanks." And Alfred made a silent vow to himself never to let Arthur regret giving him that trust, ever.

Arthur cleared his throat with a small cough, "Yes, quite… Let's get back to work shall we?"

"Okay!"

And work they did. Their gunk stained hands moved in harmony as they cooperated in producing the copies of the test questions Arthur needed to deliver back. Alfred never thought mass producing print could be as remotely fun as that. It seemed far too soon when Arthur announced their work was done… Naturally, Alfred offered (whined until agreed with) to help Arthur haul back the pile of copies to the faculty room.

"You look like a chimney sweep." Arthur commented out of the blue when they were in the middle of walking to their destination.

"Well you, good sir, look like a little kid who'd been rolling around, playing in the dirt." Alfred answered, shifting the bunch of papers in his arms for better balance.

"I do not!" Arthur protested in a huff, making the half of the copies he was carrying crinkle a bit. "And if either of us is a kid, that part would no doubt belong to you." The professor said, leaning sharply towards Alfred for a moment to emphasize himself, though to the student's faint disappointment, Arthur leaned back a bit too soon.

He didn't quite get why he was disappointed by a silly thing, so he shrugged it off into a box of things to figure out later at the back of his mind. For the time being, Alfred was busy having fun.

"Yeah, because you act waaaay too much like an old man to play the role." Alfred replied and laughingly ducked away from the glare Arthur sent his way.

The last comment the professor gave stung a bit though… Did Arthur really see him just as a kid? Another wall he'd have to climb over presented itself. He had to show Arthur he was as much as an adult as him, or else how can the professor ever see him as an equal and be friends with him?… Alfred had to consider that factor in his future progress. For now he just wanted to savor the moment.

"You'd best be thankful I have my hands full. I would be so close to hurting you otherwise." Arthur replied and the professor didn't sound like he was kidding one bit, how cute.

"Speaking of hands, it's kind of cool how the ink in ours didn't dirty the papers." Alfred said, changing the subject just in case Arthur stepped up to his threat. "I was worried we'll smudge the copies we made."

"The ink must be quick-drying. They're normally used in copiers and printers to avoid mess." Arthur explained, quickly reverting to his teaching mode. "A while after they are applied, they can't be easily smudged or removed."

"You're saying they'll be hard to scrub off, aren't you?" And some people thought Alfred couldn't read between the lines.

Arthur gave a small shrug. "I expect so…" The professor gave a sigh and looked up over the pile on his arms and gave an uncertain look. "I apologize you have to endure all this. You didn't have to help me from start to finish."

"Don't be sorry about anything. I enjoyed helping out… And all we need to do is scrub harder to wash it off, right? It's not like we need a nuclear reaction or anything." Alfred chuckled at his own smart wit.

"I wasn't talking about the ink stains." Arthur replied, still sounding less than happy. "Not, just the stains… it's ― "

"Hey, it's fine." Alfred cut off gently, and waited until the professor looked back at him before continuing. "I wanted to."

The professor's answering soft smile was enough to make unidentified fluttering objects to flap about around in Alfred's guts.

"Thank you… I appreciate it."

His professor's voice can be delivered in tones of many arrays. Sometimes it's instructing, like when he's teaching Math. Sometimes it's an imitation of irritated, like when he's trying to shoo Alfred away. Sometimes it's sarcastic, like when he patronizes some of Al's cornier lines. Sometimes it's surprised, like when he asked how the student managed to sneak up on him all the time… And sometimes it's sweet, sincere and charming, just like then when he thanked Alfred.

Alfred was quickly beginning to like the last tone best of all… He made a mental note to make sure he'll hear it more often.

"You're welcome." Alfred replied with his own smile. "Anytime you need me."

A delightful moment happened where the two of them just stood, stared, and smiled at each other. Alfred felt like a connection of some kind was ready to grow between them, a bit more and it might've reached something…

"Mon Dieu, what happened to you?"

And then the moment passed, all too quickly. Alfred heard of people talking about moments shattering, but he never knew until then they were serious when they mentioned it.

Alfred looked away from his professor's green eyes to the person on the other side of the corridor. There stood professor Bonnefoy, in his perfect hair and stylish ironed clothes, looking for all the world confused and appalled at them. Behind him stood the double-doors to the faculty room… When did they get here?

"You look like you've been in a bomb explosion." Professor Bonnefoy told them after he swept his eyes once over Alfred and Arthur. "Simply awful."

Alfred begged to disagree with that. They didn't look too horrible… At least Arthur didn't. The Briton looked quite appealing despite being covered in ink and having wrinkled his clothes from struggling in a tug-of-war with a machine. Alfred never got to voice out his opinion though, because Arthur beat him to opening his mouth.

"Thank you for that wonderful comment Professor Bonnefoy," Arthur said in his dire tone of voice "but I don't recall anyone asking for your opinion."

"I was wondering why you ran off earlier. I never thought it was to make yourself look like…that." The taller professor said, making his way over. "You missed Antonio's wonderful news."

It didn't escape Alfred that the other European professor had barely regarded him even though Alfred was standing right next to the Englishman. He wondered why that was… And he wondered why he didn't like Arthur being the sole focus of the other professor's attention.

"I could hazard a few guesses about what it had been." Arthur replied to the long-haired man with a knowing smirk…

"You say that like you had something to do with it." Professor Bonnefoy said, looking at Arthur with a knowing smirk of his own.

"If I did, it certainly wasn't as devious as any of your plans would've been." Arthur replied right back, like easily falling back into a familiar banter routine… Alfred felt a faint clench.

"Mon cher, nothing devious can be used in matters of l'amour." And then the Frenchman flicked his hair dramatically. "I assure you my methods are gentle and… pleasurable."

Arthur just answered with an eye-roll and a snort.

The intensity in the other professor's blue eyes as he looked at Arthur when he said his last words strangely made the earlier fluttering in Alfred's tummy turn into mad boiling. He covered his sudden urge to smack the Frenchman by silently gritting his teeth and hugging the pile in his arms tighter… the action made the papers give a shuffling and crinkling sound, which seemed to have snapped Arthur out of his bantering mode with the French man.

"Why yes. I forgot, how rude of me..." Arthur suddenly mumbled softly to himself, but Alfred heard it clearly. The student must have been becoming more attuned to his professor's voice than he initially thought… It bothered him somewhat though that Professor Bonnefoy also turned his attention to Arthur at that quiet mumble.

Arthur cleared his throat and shifted the papers he was holding to one arm so he could gesture between the two other male standing in the corridor with him. "Let me make introductions…"

The smile Arthur gave sated the unruly feeling in Alfred's stomach somewhat. It made him think less of smacking anyone at least.

"Mister Jones, this is Professor Francis Bonnefoy, I'm sure you've heard of him." Arthur said to Alfred regarding the Frenchman "I knew him from college, we entered the same university in Europe."

Alfred gave a nod and managed a sort of smile over the lanky professor. Arthur turned to Professor Bonnefoy to start the second half of the introductions. "Professor Bonnefoy, this is Mister Jones. He's a student of mine and ― ."

"Yes, I'm quite familiar about him." Professor Bonnefoy said with a charming smile. "He's made quite a name for himself over here, brilliant student too, or so I've heard."

Alfred didn't quite like the way the other professor never addressed him directly. But something told him it would be counterproductive to do anything about it in front of Arthur.

"Mister Jones's marks in my class so far are impressive." Arthur told the other professor; making Alfred feel giddy "He's a very well-rounded and such a helpful individual."

"Oh, isn't that nice?" Professor Bonnefoy's smile widened when he finally turned to Alfred. "Let me thank you for helping out my good friend here, Monsieur Jones. You've been awfully kind." The man then reached forward and before Alfred knew it, the pile of papers in his arms was gone. "Let me relieve you of this. You must be itching to get out of here, hm?"

"No, not really…" Alfred replied evenly.

"Please, it's quite fine. You can be on your way now…" Professor Bonnefoy said, waving his hand in the air in a brushing motion. "Besides, students are not allowed inside the faculty room anyway."

"Yes they are." Arthur piped from beside Alfred. "Students come inside all the time, like those senior girls frequenting your table claiming you to be their "thesis adviser"." From Arthur's tone of voice, Alfred had no trouble guessing whatever those girls' majors were, it had nothing to do with Math.

"Yes mon cher, but those little dears have appointments." Professor Bonnefoy said, turning to Arthur. "And valid reasons." He added.

Okay, Alfred knew a lost battle when he was kept being slapped on the face with it… It doesn't matter, wars are composed of many, many, many battles, and there was no way he was planning to keep on losing the next ones.

Arthur was about to protest again when Alfred spoke. "It's fine. I should be going." Alfred gave a wide reassuring smile to his professor's uncertain look. "I'll see you next time. I had fun."

"Okay! We'll be going in now then." The older of the professors quickly said. And then Arthur was being ushered inside the double doors by a smiling Frenchman and all Alfred could do was wave to him before the doors clicked shut.

It took Alfred a few more moments before he got his feet unglued to the floor to turn and walk away… But all he had to do was to think back on the time he spent helping Arthur in the copy room and walking back with his professor to bring a smile back to his face. That was fun, more fun than he thought it would be… He could get used to that.

Alfred had just turned a corner when he heard footsteps behind him jogging a bit to catch up.

"Mister Jones, wait!" Arthur's voice said, sounding closer and closer.

Alfred turned to face him instantly. "Hey prof, something wrong?"

"No, nothing… I just forgot to give you back this." Arthur turned his palm over and Alfred saw his phone resting on it.

That was odd. Before Alfred had stumbled in the copy room, he couldn't make himself part with his phone if he wanted to. What happened that he easily lost track of the little gadget enough not to realize it wasn't in his person anymore…?

Arthur took hold of the student's hand and handed him the cellphone. "Here."

Oh yeah… Arthur happened. That justified it quite nicely.

"I must've forgotten… thanks." Alfred replied, closing his hand gently over the phone, over Arthur's hand.

"You're welcome." All too soon Arthur slipped out of his hold. "I'd best get back in there, I doubt the Frog even knows where to put those papers. Thanks again for all your help." And with a final smile for the day, Arthur turned and walked away.

―X―X―X―

After Arthur shortly made his return inside the faculty room, he was aware he was wearing another smile, and he was only a bit annoyed that he could do nothing to wipe it away…

Well, that last bit proved no problem since Francis seemed more than willing to spoil his good day for him.

"Really mon cher, must you insist on disappearing every moment I turn my back?" the French was standing by Arthur's table, arms crossed over his chest and foot tapping in an irritated manner.

Arthur wanted so bad to make a crack at the other professor wearing tap dancing shoes for all the annoying clicking the footwear was making on the floor but he stopped himself. He was reminded of the other's rather rude dealing with his student earlier, and it seemed like a much more sensible thing to be irritated about the Frog about at the moment.

"What is wrong with you Francis?" Arthur hissed as he neared the other professor. "I know you act like a right wanker most of the time, but that was utterly inappropriate."

"Pardonneiz-moi?" The Frog had the audacity to act perplexed. "What in croissant's name are you talking about?"

"Don't give me that!" Arthur shot, his glare more heated than the regular ones he gave the Frog. "You practically shoved my student away!"

"Please cher, I did nothing of the sort." Francis said, calmer than Arthur was comfortable with.

"Yes you very well did so!" Arthur snapped, pointing a finger at his former senior. "You didn't have to usher him away so rudely like that!"

Francis remained unmoved for all the accusing Arthur was doing. His blue eyes almost seemed like hard ice when he replied "You were there, did you see me do anything so uncouth to deserve all this lashing out you are bestowing upon me?"

"I am not lashing out!" Arthur defended, irritated that Francis kept evading the real issue.

"Obviously, you haven't been listening to yourself cher." Francis drawled in reply, vaguely waving a hand near his ear. "Which is a remarkable feat since you are loud enough to be heard by the whole room."

That statement effectively silenced Arthur. Slowly, he let his emerald-colored eyes roam around the faculty room… Thankfully, the day have been almost over for the educators that only few have remained in the room and most of them were finishing up and getting ready to head home. The bad news was, Arthur saw that most of those left behind had indeed been gawking at him and Francis, most probably because of their (Arthur's) raised voices.

Arthur worked hard to build his professional image in this place. He couldn't afford to be seen behaving inappropriately, not while he still hasn't secured his place in this new environment yet… Arthur's lips thinned as he forced himself to calm down and stop from speaking out further. He gritted his teeth and berated himself for losing his cool like that.

"Now mon cher," Francis spoke softly, making Arthur snap his eyes back to the older professor "do you think you can stop over-reacting so we can have a conversation where I don't feel you're about to bite my head off everytime you open that little mouth of yours?"

Over-reacting? Arthur thought to himself for a bit… He thought he was well past the part of his adjustment period of not letting his enraged emotions into leading him into doing stupid things. Did he not make a resolve to act more composed and collected now that he'd started his new career as a professor? And he was doing splendid at keeping that little promise to himself, not even letting foul co-professors such as Cranky to affect him. He even managed to keep his not-so-friendly relationship with the Frog discreet from most of the other professors…

Until now, apparently.

"I shouldn't have raised my voice so much like that." Arthur said to the other professor, his green eyes looking away to the side. "I'm sorry."

Arthur couldn't help it if his apology sounded a bit flat… If they weren't in the faculty room with other professors, he might've just walked out on the other man and went someplace where he can collect his thoughts… He had more pressing matters to think about besides his squabble with Francis, because they argue often enough it was hardly a call for worry.

"I completely understand mon ami! No harm done." Francis said loudly with big smile plastered on his face. This seemed to have been the cue for the other members of the faculty to stop their gawking and get back to minding their own business.

As things resumed their usual pace and Arthur felt less and less set of eyes watching him, he was finally able to let his jaw slacken and allow some of the tension to leave his shoulders… only to have the tension come back ten-fold when he heard a pair of clapping hands from someone approaching nearby. Arthur turned around and saw a smirking Gilbert clapping away at them. On either side of the albino were Antonio and Vash. The brunet gave a smile and shrugged while the blond wore a strict, though a bit amused, expression.

"Now that's entertainment." Gilbert said as he stopped his applause. "You guys should've charged for viewing tickets." He sauntered over and leaned against Francis's table.

"For a minute there I thought Arthur would start potty-mouthing you off Francis, but I guess he held it in pretty good huh?" Antonio said with a light laugh.

"It would've been more interesting that way," Gilbert remarked, easy smirk still in place. "I was actually waiting for that part, but you guys stopped before unreasonable punches flew."

"I told you we didn't need to interfere." Vash finally spoke from his place. "They worked things out on their own in the end."

"How much of it have you been watching?" Arthur directed the question at Vash, since the Brit figured the other blond would be the least likely to answer with further embarrassing things. Unfortunately someone else beat the Swiss from answering it.

"Since you said Francis acted like a wanker." Antonio announced happily. "Don't worry though. I'm pretty sure most of the others only started noticing after you shouted that you weren't lashing out."

Francis tried and failed to laugh discreetly. Arthur wanted to dig a hole and curl up inside it.

"Don't look so glum Kirk!" Gilbert hollered as he pushed away from Francis's table to make his way over to Arthur. "People need to let go and lash out sometimes! And Frenchie makes a great shock absorber doesn't he?" Okay, that made Arthur sorrier about his behavior than his flat apology.

"You only say that because I've been your constant baby-sitter whenever you're irrevocably wasted Gilbert." Francis said, joining in the conversation. Arthur took a look at the Frog and noticed that his annoyingly condescending smile was a bit wan than it usually was, making Arthur consider delivering another apology.

"Then that must mean Nanny-Francis would be busy tonight as well." Vash suddenly commented with a look that seemed trying too hard to seem uncaring.

"That's right! We're all going drinking tonight gentlemen!" Gilbert exclaimed, eyes alight with the prospect of consuming alcoholic beverages.

"Why?" Arthur asked, confused. Just last week these people at the welcome party drunk vodka to their heart's content, now they were yet again planning another bout of drinking night?

"Ask Tony, he's buying." Gilbert replied with a smile that said he knew the reason anyway. He gestured his thumb over to the Spaniard.

Arthur looked over Antonio to see the man with a smile happier than his normal ones. "To celebrate Lovi coming back to the greenhouse!"

"I keep telling him he should stop throwing drinking celebrations every single time he's forgiven." Vash murmured from beside Arthur. "But I guess it's his choice on what he wastes his paycheck on… Although it certainly wouldn't hurt him to be a bit thriftier." Arthur could only answer the accountant with a weak smile.

"Congratulations Antonio." Arthur greeted the brunet with a sincere smile. "But I'm sorry. I'm going to have to pass this one."

Arthur listened to the few seconds of silence that greeted his announcement…

"Aw, there you go again! Being a total killjoy!" Gilbert whined aloud. "That is so unawesome!"

Arthur forgone correcting Gilbert's wording (there's no such word as unawesome) in favor of giving a reply. "I couldn't go with you gents even if I wanted to. I have a mountain of work to finish for the night." Arthur wasn't quite finished contemplating if that bit was a good or bad thing.

Gilbert looked like he wouldn't give up that easily, but Antonio cut him off. "That's alright Arthur, maybe next time hm?"

"Yeah, sure." Arthur answered back easily.

"I've placed the papers on your table Arthur." Francis said, flicking a hand over the general direction of Arthur's table. "I've place a panda over it to weigh it in place."

"Thanks…" Arthur said, and after struggling a bit with himself, he added, "and, um, I really am sorry about earlier. I guess I really did over-react."

Francis looked over him for a few seconds with an unreadable expression before it melted into his usual lazy smirk. "I forgive you." he said, all high and mighty. Arthur held himself back from punching that smug face.

"Fine, if you don't want to come suite yourself." Gilbert finally conceded "I'll just tell how our awesome night will go down tomorrow." He turned to the others and said "Let's go you guys! We're wasting precious beer-drinking time!"

"Yeah, you do that." Arthur answered and was about to wave them off when he remembered something. "Oh wait just a moment Gilbert!"

"Yeah?" Gilbert turned back around to face Arthur, his expression clearly conveying how much he wanted to get going already.

"Um, I happen to have a student in one of my classes with the same last name as you." Arthur went ahead and said it. "By any chance, are you related to a Ludwig Beilschmidt?"

A shadow seemed to pass on Gilbert's face, but it went away instantly when Vash came to his side and gently nudged him. Even Antonio and Francis didn't seem too thrilled about Arthur's question.

"Yeah." Gilbert answered without a smirk. "He's my little brother." Then he turned away and walked on.

"We'll be going now, see you tomorrow cher!" Francis called with a smile countering his not-so-cheerful look earlier.

What was that about?

Arthur shook the worry about him maybe having asked something he shouldn't have to Gilbert away. When the time came for it, he'd just have to apologize to him as well… For now he had other things to worry about. Like his mountain-load of work for example…

But what Arthur was really afraid of was that Jones really might be having more of an effect on him than he would've liked.

―X―X―X―

"Are you sure you don't need help with the dishes, Alfred-kun?"

Alfred turned from the sink and saw his roommate peeking from their kitchenette's edge He gave his friend a reassuring smile and waved at him with a sudsy hand.

"I'm fine. Go and finish that project of yours."

"I can't help feeling I'm being… unfair. It isn't your turn in dishes duty." Kiku answered, still hanging around outside the kitchenette.

"They're just dirty plates Kiku, I can handle them no problem… And don't you have a deadline to beat?"

Kiku shifted some more but eventually the other boy smiled back. "Thank you Alfred-kun. I'll be in my room if you need me… and well…" the Japanese boy hesitated again.

"Yes?" Alfred prompted. Wanting to hear what his friend had to say.

"You should probably wash you face again after you do the dishes… There's still some ink on your chin." And with a soft laugh, Kiku went and ducked inside his room.

When Alfred came back to the dorms a couple of hours ago, Kiku was already inside their rooms working on one of his projects with their supper steaming ready on the table… Kiku looked up at him and cracked a smile, asking him about how he got all the black stuff on his face and why his hands looked like they've been dipped in octopus goo (Kiku actually said squid, but Al wasn't particular with the details).

Alfred answered with a laugh that he got into some trouble with one of the copiers… And that was all he said.

As he rinsed the plates, Alfred wondered not for the first time why he hadn't told his roommate the whole story… It wasn't in his intention to lie to his friend, not really. It's just there's something about his earlier experience with his professor that made Alfred want to keep it for himself and not share with anybody.

"Does that make me… weird?" Alfred whispered to his reflection on the last of the plates he was rinsing. Soppy-Alfred gave him back an equally questioning look. "Thanks man, that was very supportive and immensely helpful." He placed the plate down along with the others on the rack to drip dry.

Done with the dishes and nothing left to do, Alfred decided to take Kiku's advice and wash his chin. And then, after washing up, (again) and being officially ink free. He went in his own bedroom and started toiling on his own academic work. As usual, he flew by them with little trouble, and in record time, he was done.

Alfred flopped on his bed and sighed a heavy, yet happy sigh… It had been a long good day. Alfred shifted his position and felt something hit his hand with the movement. He looked beside him and saw his phone… He grabbed it and started his newly developed habit of staring at a particular phone number.

To Alfred's horror, he found the number missing.

The unnamed contact in his phone was nowhere to be found. Alfred checked every memory storage place and couldn't find a match… His growing horror was about to result into full-blown panic when he started scrolling every name one by one in his contacts list, but a familiar name flashed and he caught himself.

One word typed in his phone made Alfred able to breathe properly again.

"Arthur"

There was no last name attached. It was concise, straight-forward… Alfred didn't remember placing a name on his professor's number partly because he didn't know what name to place in. 'Professor Arthur Kirkland' seemed… too much, and anything else didn't seem to fit quite right.

A quick scan at the number confirmed it indeed to be his professor's number. The question was, who placed the name there? The only time Alfred let go of his phone was when he handed it to ―…

"That sneaky chap." Alfred whispered with a fond smile. He flicked his phone up and watched it flip twice in mid-air before swiping it away before it could land on his bed. He was typing an SMS before he knew it. Fully-worded and non-shortened at that.

"Good evening Professor." Alfred said with a smile as he watched the same message he just typed be sent over the network.

A few moments filled with rather pronounced heartbeats later, his phone blinked and vibrated. Alfred couldn't explain the excitement he was feeling from receiving a reply from his attempt at first contact with his Math professor… and so he didn't try.

/Good evening Mister Jones./

Alfred's silly smile fell a bit when he remembered he indeed asked for the other's number, but he didn't remember giving the other man his own.

/How do you know it's me?/ Alfred typed back and sent.

x/Other than you just practically admitted your identity with your last message?/x

/Haha, I walked right into that one didn't I?/

x/Yes. But that's fine, we all have to fall sometime./x

/Wow. That was… pretty enlightening. You'll make a good sheik./

x/Why thank you./x

Alfred let out a soft laugh. Even in written electronic messages his professor could clearly convey sarcasm.

/So, have you scrubbed all that ink off?/

x/With some work, yes. You?/x

/Yep, got it all out! There was that one stubborn spot on my chin, but it was no match for me in the end./

x/Must you make everything sound like… an adventure?/x

/I don't make everything sound like an adventure./

x/Have you heard yourself lately?/x

That last message made Alfred internalize yet again… Sure he was the spirited type of person. But he wasn't normally as hyper as he had been lately. Then again, he never got as down as he did like that time last week… Why was he a mixture of extremes lately? He didn't remember being like that last semester… What was so different this time?

His blue eyes drifted down to his phone, to the sender's name.

Oh yeah…

/Must be because of you. You make things different./

For a while no reply came… and when Alfred was in the middle of typing a new message to make sure he didn't offend the other blond, his phone received a reply, and what it said was:

x/So now we're back to you blaming me for things I know nothing of./x

Alfred felt his chest rumble as another laugh escaped him.

/Lighten up will you? Besides, whoever said making things different was a bad thing?/

x/Now look who's trying to play a good sheikh./x

/Haha, and I just keep on walking into your pit traps don't I sir?/

x/Don't be too hard on yourself. It's not like you could help it./x

/Yeah, I couldn't/

x/Not to sound boorish or anything, but might there be any other reason why you texted me?/x

Alfred had to take a moment to flip and fiddle with his phone before he calmed down enough to compose an answer.

/If I say I did this on a whim, would that sound… weird?/

x/Since when have whims been weird?/x Alfred breathed a sigh of relief.

/I'll take that as a no./ and before he received a reply he sent a message again.

/Hey I just thought of something!/

x/Pray tell./x

/Wanna go hang out tomorrow? Finally get that lunch debt settled?/

x/There's no such term as 'wanna'… it's 'want to'. You're a university student, mind your grammar please/x

/Uhm… That didn't answer my question… did it?/ or was Alfred getting denser by the minute?

x/I can't./x

No two words had ever been so disappointing to read.

x/I'm buried to my neck in work I have to finish for the week./x

But you know what they say, when a door closes, a window glass gets broken by a baseball…or something like that.

/How about next week?/ Alfred crossed his fingers as he waited for Arthur's reply.

x/I still have Monday and Tuesday booked for the passing of preliminary exams./x

/Wednesday it is then!/

x/If that works.../x

/I'm glad we had this chat... So then, I'll see you tomorrow./

x/We don't have a class scheduled for tomorrow./x

/That doesn't mean we won't cross paths right? This school may be big, but it's not gigantic./ And Alfred had a feeling his feet would somehow deliver him over to where the older man would be.

x/Your positive attitude is simply remarkable…/x

/I try./

x/I'm sure you do… As nice as this conversation is, I'm afraid I still have work to finish up before bed. So this is good night./x

/Thanks for putting up with me... Good night./

Alfred was about to place his phone on his side table, thinking the discussion was over when his cellphone lit up one more time. Alfred read the message; it took a while to decipher it. And when he finally did, he felt his blue eyes widened. He never expected the professor to have typed that in.

But as he thought about it, he was only just beginning to learn things about the other man…

He smiled once more before putting his phone beside his pillow instead. The smile lasted even after he removed his glasses and felt his eyes drift close…

"Good night Arthur."

It had been a good long day…

.

.

.

x/ c: /x


tbc

Xai's Corner: How is everyone? It's been so long huh? Well, uhm, I haven't written in Alfred's POV for a while so I had fun doing this chapter. I hope I didn't mess anybody up and kept them in character enough. And as promised, this is the final chapter for the first arc! See? I keep some of my promises!

And yep, I have bad updating issues, sorry about that… It gets worse if I don't have pick-me-ups and encouragement, so yeah, please leave this poor author some reviews.

And just so everyone's well and warned… Next chapter would be an interlude, meaning it doesn't continue the main story line… I plan on closing every arc with an interlude about some of the characters' pasts. After the interlude would be the next main chapter. So, hold on pretty please? Love you people, please keep on with your support!

On a completely irrelevant note, I just watched orphan on cable. I swear when Esther spoke in her accent I was like "Wow, Russia's putting up a standard for crazy cute adorable people." Haha! *shot*

Footnotes:

Germany's height is one hundred eighty (180) centimeters while America's height is one hundred seventy-seven (177) centimeters. I got this tidbit of info from shoutwiki… So technically, Al would be staring up at Ludwig by three centimeters.

Long-nose- aka Needle-nose Pliers. Possibly my most favorite tool aside from the soldering iron. But I'm a bit biased since we mostly deal with wires and small components.

c: - have you guessed what this is? It's a smiley. I couldn't resist. XD


Next Chapter: Gilbert fell in love inside a police station… Surprisingly, the fact that he was high at the time had nothing to do with the falling in love part.