Author's Note: I said five chapters, but it looks like it's going to be a bit longer than that. Sorry for the delay. :)
By Everything is Magic
It wasn't a kiss. I just sort of… fell forward onto him, I suppose. And my lips brushed against his, and it was all rather awkward.
And then when I stood up, that fond smile I gave him was accidental. It wasn't a smile of affection, certainly not one expressing my delight at the amount of attention he'd given me, the way he was so… intrigued and impressed by me. Nor was it one of endearment. Alfred wasn't bad, really, but I wasn't so endeared by him that I'd do that.
I've always lied to myself. For as long as I can remember, whenever something occurred, whenever I thought something or realized something that I simply did not want to believe or did not find to be likely, I'd lie to myself about it. Well, all right, not every… single time, but quite frequently. And it was hardly just when these realizations or actions or whatnot were negative. No, quite often they were positive; like a kiss or a smile or… a certain idiot of a superhero showing me affection. I can't recall a time when I wasn't at least a bit cynical. It's best not to get one's hopes up, you know. Perhaps it started as a bit of a defense mechanism. I'm not quite sure myself.
I did kiss Alfred. In retrospect, why the bloody hell not? He was asking me questions like 'have you ever been married,' and… coaxed my sexual orientation out of me and told me his and all that rot. And then he kept staring at me, like… as if he actually rather enjoyed doing it.
It certainly made sense that my cynicism kicked in there though, trying to explain away everything that had occurred as anything but what it actually was. It was, after all, beyond idiotic for me to be doing what I was doing.
Which I now realize was… falling in love.
I was dead, of course. And Alfred is very much alive.
Not exactly a match made in- well, I'm not even dignify that sentence by finishing it.
After that moment, I attempted to distance myself from Alfred. I'd snap at him more often, give him biting retorts, and on the whole act as if I didn't want to spend that much time with him. The insults started out small, calling him an egotistical idiot and saying he was all brawn and no brains and that sort of thing, but Alfred would laugh those off and call me a stodgy old dead guy or something similarly stupid. They just… bounced off of him.
I tried harder. I went straight for his pride, telling him that he was a piss poor hero, that a bit of super strength did not a hero make.
It might have even worked. Alfred had looked hurt, his blue eyes flashing and a frown on his lips. He'd told me to 'shut up,' and that 'you have no idea what you're talking about,' and stormed down to his base. He didn't come back that night. I didn't even see him again until he got home from work the next evening.
I felt awful. I'd been staying with this man for a week, and he'd been nothing but accommodating. He worked his arse off at both of his jobs, and he may have been an idiot, but he was a damn good-hearted one and…
I very much did not like to see him upset.
The day after that, I… made dinner for Alfred. Kiku was out with Heracles, so it was just me and him. It wasn't exactly… the most impressive way of showing that I was sorry, that I did appreciate all he'd done for me, but my resources were somewhat limited. I'd spent all day trying to figure out the oven and stove for it.
Alfred told me that my food, cottage pie cobbled together from ingredients I'd found in the kitchen, was horrible. He could barely choke it down and it tasted radioactive, he said. Honestly! The gall of him.
But… once I assured him that no, I was not trying to poison him, he… wasn't upset any longer. He even reasoned that I'd probably just forgotten how to cook in the long time I'd been dead. I thought this was bollocks, because to me it tasted delicious, but at least he wasn't angry.
And… he even thanked me (before making us both ice cream sundaes to 'cleanse our mouths' or some other such nonsense).
"I'm sorry… about the other night," I finally said, while staring down into my fudge covered sundae as if it were quite fascinating.
Alfred smiled, touched, a bit of caramel sauce on the tip of his nose. "Ah uh… don't worry about it, Arthur. As long as you didn't mean it."
His smile grew, and to use a cliché, my heart skipped a beat.
That night Alfred and I sat on his patio, in his porch swing, and talked. I told him so many things, about my life and my afterlife and the stories wherein. He did the same, relaying tales of his childhood and how Freedom Star came to be and anecdotes of his heroics. He got a bit boasty when talking about his heroics, and I berated him for that. But he laughed it off and teased me right back, just like he'd done before when I'd bickered with him. I found that I… rather liked that.
It was comfortable. I felt… content.
The following evening, Alfred was out late due to participating in a magazine photoshoot. When he returned, he was exhausted, but he still made time to properly show me around his base, which he had yet to really do. He came home early the next day, entering through the base. He was sweaty and still in his superhero costume, having left work a few hours before the end of his shift to battle 'Seismic Wave' (yes truly, he was called this) midtown.
But after he'd taken a lengthy shower, he took me down to his base and we watched a film together on his… rather massive screen. I'd never actually been in a movie theater before, or even seen a film from start to finish, but considering how huge his screen was, I imagined that I was having a similar experience. He made popcorn and carried his couch down into the base (with one hand, bloody showoff), and showed me a film that I could best describe as a… rollicking fantasy adventure, and with a rather prominent love story at that.
It's not precisely what I would have expected from him, but when I mentioned that to him he turned away, his cheeks flushing pink and mumbled something about how "you told me before that you liked to write stuff like this so…"
When the next evening came around, this time he was late. Seismic Wave had made his dastardly self known once more in a hostage situation at the city's largest bank downtown.
I watched it all on the television. Kiku sat next to me, occasionally glancing at his phone and sending text messages (whenever he did this, on the screen Alfred would glance down at a small band he wore on his wrist momentarily to read what Kiku had texted him). It was all quite surreal, knowing that this… intense situation was occurring right at this very moment, as we were watching it. Things like this did not exist when I was alive, quite obviously.
Seismic Wave had taken eight people hostage, holding them in a prison he'd erected from the earth itself (quite obviously, his powers had something to do with controlling rock and earth). Street pavement riveted upward, creating a cave that held them inside.
He reminded Alfred every few minutes, that if he did not find a way to save the hostages soon, it was likely they'd run out of oxygen. And quite expectedly, he was not going to let them go if Freedom Star didn't allow him to leave with all the money he'd stolen from the establishment.
It was when it really, really began to sink in that this was real and that somewhere, Alfred was in extreme danger and fighting to save these people's lives, that I began to fret.
Kiku was calm and cool, as I assume he was used to this. But I…
I found it difficult to watch. The man Alfred fought lifted and threw large chunks of rock and pavement with the greatest of ease, and although Alfred, with his strength, could throw them right back, the earth was this man's strength, so he had no trouble deflecting them. And when Alfred would try to punch through the prison to free the hostages, Seismic Wave would just summon more earth around them, causing the walls to become thicker.
It was awful, and I could not help but look away quite often. At one point, Kiku even gasped, and I noticed then that Seismic Wave had actually captured Alfred himself in a half cocoon of earth. I cursed under my breath and my heart clenched and I… did something that despite being an angel, I… never really did.
Alfred busted free, the rocks exploding around him. He looked scratched up, but otherwise all right.
But he was winded, breathing heavily from hours of fighting this… villain. A police officer darted on screen, over the rubble and up to Freedom Star. He whispered something in his ear.
Alfred looked affronted, quite pissed, actually. He pointed to himself and pursed his lips, and then gestured toward Seismic Wave, his eyebrows narrowing.
The police officer shook his head. Kiku typed something into his phone.
Alfred glanced down at his wrist and sighed, dejected.
That night, when Alfred came home, all he wanted to do was sit on the couch and snack. Seismic Wave had gotten away with his money, the police and Kiku both agreeing that it was better than risking the continuing safety of the captives. The fight had gone on long enough, according to them.
I quite agreed with the decision. Then again, perhaps I… just wanted Alfred safe and at home.
Alfred was not working that Saturday. No interviews, no zookeeping, no photoshoots, no nothing. Two days ago he'd fought the failed battle with Seismic Wave, and he really wanted, more than anything, a day to just chill out and have fun. The battle had brought him down. It's not that he'd never failed to capture a villain before. Of course he had. But this was… the first time that he'd been told to stop fighting, told because apparently, they didn't believe he could do it.
It was a punch to the gut, and to his pride. Even Kiku had backed the decision.
That Friday at work had been a pain. He was used to his coworkers chatting about Freedom Star's latest exploits, babbling on about what he'd done the night before or how he looked on a magazine cover. It was something he'd had to become accustomed to, having to pretend not to react either too positively or too negatively to their comments, to respond to them as if Freedom Star were just another celebrity. Bruce had been surprised at Freedom Star's inability to defeat Seismic Wave. There were many situations in which a villain would escape, he noted, but… he'd never seen Freedom Star forced to give up a fight like that. Katyusha, who worked in the aviary, had remarked that it was no big deal, that every superhero had defeats like this, and that at least the hostages were all right. Alfred had nodded in agreement, as had, thankfully, several of his coworkers.
But Katyusha's brother, Ivan, who did not work at the zoo but was visiting to drop off a lunch for his sister, had a more negative opinion. He thought that Freedom Star was just… getting to be washed up.
Alfred had never liked Ivan.
He spent as much time with the animals, and as little time with his coworkers as possible for the rest of the afternoon. And he was more grateful than ever that Saturday was one of his days off.
Alfred had plans in mind after all; plans involving a day out with a particular angel that had been staying at his home.
When Alfred woke up that Saturday morning, Arthur was already awake. He was sitting, legs crossed, in the kitchen and dining room area with Kiku, who was on his laptop typing up a storm.
Arthur on the other hand, had a needle and thread. One of Alfred's old t-shirts rested in his lap, and he was pulling the needle through with his teeth.
Alfred raised his eyebrows, opening the fridge to grab some orange juice as he did so. He drank it straight out of the container.
"You're sewing Arthur?" He sat down at the dining room table next to the angel, orange juice carton still in hand.
Arthur nodded, the needle now out of his mouth. "Get a glass, you git."
Alfred chuckled. "No need. I'm gonna finish this off right now anyway."
Arthur scoffed, rolling his eyes. Alfred grinned, because honestly it was kind of cute.
"When you just cut the shirts, the fabric frays, if you know what I mean? I've worn this shirt a few times and the hole in the back for my wings is getting stretched and too large. I thought I'd sew a seam around the hole to prevent that from happening more."
He never stopped his swift, easy motions as he explained all of this.
"Sorry, I have no idea how to sew so…" Alfred plopped down the orange juice carton and rubbed off the juice above his lip. "I can do buttons if I have to, I guess."
"It's quite all right," Arthur replied. "It's just that I've been here awhile, and if it's going to be much longer, I thought I should do this."
Kiku cleared his throat. "It's been two weeks and still no sign of Rose or her parents. I've been searching everything I can but…"
"Don't worry, Kiku," Alfred interrupted, gesturing dismissively. "It's cool." Take as long as you want, he almost added.
But he did smile at the news, and Arthur noticed, a pink stain rising on his cheeks. He wasn't exactly scowling himself over the idea of staying on Earth longer.
On the contrary, for the past several days, neither of them had even remembered to bring up the Cooper search with Kiku.
"Hey it's your day off too, Kiku," Alfred said. "You doing anything fun for it?"
Kiku shook his head in the negative. "I was planning on defragmenting the secondary system in the base today…"
"You could always set the defrag to go and then leave. You don't need to be there for that," Alfred reasoned.
Kiku was about to argue back when Arthur cleared his throat. "Your sculptor friend, Alfred told me about him? I… saw in the paper this morning that he's debuting an exhibit at Tri City Nouveau this afternoon."
Alfred's eyes widened, and he reached across Arthur to pat his friend on the back. "Huh, really Kiku? Why the heck aren't you going? Sounds like it's a big deal to him…"
Kiku's cheeks grew scarlet and he glanced away. "I have a lot of work to do and- well he offered me a ticket but…"
"Then go," Alfred cut in, an encouraging smile on his face. "Seriously, you work too hard sometimes. Spend some time with the guy. I bet he'd be really excited if you showed up."
Kiku stared down at his lap pensively for several moments, before finally nodded. "You're… right Alfred. I'm very sorry. I'll go."
The taller man grinned and let out a short laugh. "Don't need to apologize to me, Kiku." He averted his eyes to the angel between them. "Arthur and I are going out today too!"
Arthur started up, dropping the needle and thread into his lap in surprise. "Excuse me, what?"
Alfred's smile grew. "Yep! My clothes aren't working for you, so I thought we'd get you some new ones." He paused. "Also I uh-" his cheeks grew red, "uh—never mind, I'll ask you later."
"You what? Spit it out," Arthur replied, picking up his needle and thread once more. He was… trying not to blush himself, because… Alfred wanted to take him out? Buy him things that he didn't even truly need? It was… nice.
Alfred frowned and looked away, mumbling, "Not in front of Kiku…"
Arthur's blush only intensified. Kiku sighed and shook his head knowingly.
Shopping with an angel required a lot of special considerations. Firstly, Arthur couldn't pick up the clothing he liked off the rack. Neither of them thought it would be a grand idea for a clerk or customer to look over and see a shirt or pair of slacks floating in midair. He had to point it out to Alfred and have him pull it off. Secondly, if Alfred wanted to speak to Arthur, he had to talk quietly or risk looking like he was… a bit off his rocker.
They quickly got used to these accommodations, but there were a few instances at first where Alfred would laugh or respond to something Arthur said in his naturally loud voice, and… people noticed.
Arthur had been taken to a fashionable men's clothing store in uptown. It was the first time he'd been in Alfred's car (a rather nondescript Ford Taurus), and Arthur found that he did not like the feeling of the seatbelt across his shoulder and the top of his wings very much.
But what Arthur noticed first once they arrived at the store, was that it was… very nice. It was the kind of establishment that one would need to have a lot of money to frequent. He knew Alfred had that kind of income, or at least, Freedom Star and Omoikane did, but he hardly understood why Alfred would want to spend it on him when he could probably find nice clothing for a fraction of the price.
It wasn't as if anyone but Alfred and Kiku were even going to see him in the clothing.
Alfred insisted though, and he allowed Arthur free reign of the store, letting him choose anything he wished. At first Arthur tried to find items with low price tags, but upon realizing that there was really nothing that wasn't pricey, he began to just pick out things he liked.
He chose three sweatervests, one with an argyle print that he found to be quite pleasant, several button up shirts, two ties, a jacket (which he thought unnecessary, but Alfred insisted upon), two pairs of shoes, and four pairs of slacks. Not knowing Arthur's size, they picked up doubles of some of them.
"Pick something out a little more casual, Arthur," Alfred said, clothes slung over his arms as they walked to the dressing room.
"I see nothing wrong with these items for everyday wear," Arthur replied.
The taller man shook his head, a small smile on his lips. "Hold on Arthur, I'll go grab you some stuff."
Alfred came back several minutes later with almost double the clothing he'd left with. This was getting ridiculous, Arthur thought, his cheeks staining pink as he registered just how much Alfred wanted him to try on.
"Honestly Alfred… it's not necessary to get me this much…"
Alfred beamed. "Hey, it's no big deal! I've got a lot of money, so I should use it for something worthwhile."
Arthur turned away, his face heating up more. "Y-you… git…"
He blinked, oblivious. "Huh? Whatever, Arthur. Let's get a dressing room."
The problem with being invisible to others, the greatest problem so far, Arthur and Alfred discovered, was sharing a dressing room. They hadn't thought about it until they got to their assigned room, until Alfred realized that he couldn't exactly have Arthur go in the room by himself when to the clerk, only one person had even gone back there.
His face flushed crimson as he stepped into the changing room with Arthur, turning around immediately to face the door. It was fortunate that the room was good-sized for one of its type, but it… did not make it much less awkward.
Alfred exhaled deeply, sliding his eyes closed and trying to calm his heartbeat. He was a hero. He could handle something as simple as Arthur undressing a mere foot or two behind him. It was no problem… no problem at all.
"Oh who am I kidding," Arthur mumbled to himself, quiet enough that Alfred could not discern it. "This is so bloody embarrassing." He pulled a dress shirt on, struggling to button it over his wings. Eventually he just gave up. It would fit, he could tell from the pull of it, and he knew how much space his wings took up when closed.
He slid the slacks and shoes on, both a perfect fit, and he observed himself in the mirror. Barring the prominent bump on his back where the shirt covered his wings and the halo floating above his head, he looked… normal, like any bloke he might see on the street.
He held up one of the sweatervests in front of him, assuming that pulling it on would prove too difficult to bother with, and cleared his throat. "A-Alfred? Is this… all right?"
Alfred opened his eyes and turned around. Arthur looked awkward, tugging at the top hem of his pants and glancing anywhere but forward.
"I-I can't really pull it on fully with my wings but… all the shirts and pants are the same size so, if one fits…"
Unthinkingly he stopped holding the sweatervest up, allowing it to fall into one hand.
Alfred gulped. Arthur didn't seem to get it, but… more expensive clothes did fit better, the cut of them more flattering and… all that other stuff. And it was obvious with Arthur, the way the slacks fell perfectly at his hips, allowing just a bit of his hipbone to jut above them (this all visible since his shirt was open). His skin was smooth and pale. If it had been at all marred in life, Alfred had no idea, but now it was…
He clenched his fists, willing himself not to reach forward and touch him. Arthur's expression was one of confusion, mingled with nervousness and insecurity. His cheeks were stained pink, and his mouth was very slightly open, and his eyes were wide and green, his eyebrows cocked ever so faintly.
Arthur looked… really amazing. Then again, a part of Alfred added, he always had.
Snapped out of his thoughts, he smiled at the angel. "You look great! Really han- just good, they fit you well!"
Arthur turned his face away. "T-thank you… but…"
"Let's get them all!" Alfred quickly grabbed up the clothing, sorting out the items that weren't the size Arthur had just tried on. "Just change back and we can go. Okay, awesome?"
He handed Alfred a shirt he'd dropped, a black t-shirt with a distressed Union Jack emblazoned on the front (oddly thoughtful, Arthur mused). "Look Alfred, I really don't need all this, I'm telling you. "
Alfred pouted. "Geez Arthur, just let me do this for you, all right?"
"Alfred, no one but you and Kiku can even see me."
The taller man frowned. How did Arthur not get it? He just wanted to do something nice for the guy, get him some decent things to wear outside a dress with sandals and an old t-shirt with faded old pants, but he had to argue about it? He… liked Arthur. He wanted to do awesome things for him, because that's what a hero should do for someone they like!
And Alfred was a hero through and through.
Plus, he had… something in mind he wanted to do with Arthur. He'd been trying to work up the courage to do it for several days, ever since that night they'd sat outside, watching the stars and telling each other their stories. And when they'd watched the movie together, sitting close to each other, the way the cushions of the couch sunk sometimes causing them to slide closer, his resolve had intensified. It felt so… awesome.
If he was going to take Arthur on a date, it would only be right for the angel to have the right clothes to wear for it.
Alfred won the argument, and the pair had walked out of the store, two pairs of massive bags in Alfred's arms.
Now they were back at home, and Arthur glanced at the clock; one p.m. Kiku had left already, and he genuinely hoped that the young man was enjoying his time at the exhibit. Even he could tell that Kiku overworked himself. He was sitting at the table again, needle and thread in hand as he created even and far more professional looking holes for his wings in the back of one of his new dress shirts. He had already completed the argyle sweatervest he was so fond of.
Alfred insisted that he do it as quickly as he could, because they had to be somewhere at two.
Arthur had no idea where they were going. Several possibilities came to mind, one or two of which made him rather blush. But it was- probably just some strange whim of Alfred's; a trip to his zoo or some other such idea.
He broke the thread with his teeth and tied it off, satisfied with his handiwork. Within minutes he'd changed, and he knocked on Alfred's door.
Arthur heard Alfred scamper toward the door, and he opened it with a smile. "Hey Arthur, you ready?"
Arthur just nodded, for he found it was all he could do. When Alfred wasn't dressed as Freedom Star, he generally wore his zookeeper uniform or t-shirts and jeans. Today he was… quite spruced up.
He had a crisply ironed black dress shirt, a solid blue tie, and a pair of very nicely fitting slacks. His hair was lightly gelled, but that one strand still stuck up, stubborn.
Alfred was stupidly, ridiculously handsome.
"I-I'm ready," Arthur finally spoke, not even wondering why his voice came out breathy, because he knew. "Where… are we going?"
He had a feeling it wasn't the zoo.
At this, heat rose to Alfred's cheeks. While he'd looked handsome before, he looked… adorable now, blushing bright red. He scratched the back of his head. "I've got- uh… reservations? Umm… for lunch at… this pretty awesome restaurant. I-I asked for a more isolated table, so we can… talk more and uh…"
Alfred bit his lip. He was rambling. He'd been thinking about how to do this for days, ruling out several kind of dumb angel related pickup lines along the way, and here he was, stuttering. Freedom Star would never do this. Neither should you!
He took a deep breath and held out his hand, ever so slightly gesturing for Arthur to take it. Arthur hesitated for a moment before laying his hand atop Alfred's open palm.
"Arthur Kirkland," he tried his damn hardest to be calm, confident, awesome, "If it's… cool with you, I'd like to take you on a date today."
Arthur's eyes widened, and he could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He could say no and end it all. He could tell Alfred that there was no way this would work, so why bother?
That would be practical.
But Alfred was anything but practical, and perhaps some of that impracticality was rubbing off on Arthur. He smiled and squeezed Alfred's hand, and his wings twitched, just a bit, as he let out of a short laugh.
"I suppose, if you insist, Alfred."