Author's Notes: This one seems longer than the last. Oh boy. Yet again, take a deep breath and try not to be overwhelmed by the size. It's finally done! : ) Any spelling mistakes I will fix later.
"How come you never have any visitors?"
Arthur sighed deeply, knowing that even though Alfred wasn't a perceptive chap, he'd still eventually figure out how alone Arthur was whenever the room was full of young teenagers. God, did that make him feel old.
"I like my privacy," he explained instead, hoping his answer would suffice. Judging by the snort Alfred emitted, Arthur presumed not.
"Nobody likes privacy that much. C'mon, spill it. I know you want to."
Arthur scowled at the blonde's suggestive eyebrow movements before conceding. They'd danced to this tune before. No sense carrying on when Arthur knew Alfred would continue to pester and use his puppy-dog eyes to get his way. Arthur was still thoroughly perplexed as to when he lost his immunity to such tactics.
"I work a lot and don't keep close connections to people. Occasionally I will go out to lunch but it's rare considering the bunch of tossers I work with." He scowled as a certain Frenchman who would remain unnamed flashed into his mind.
Alfred was silent for so long that Arthur became curious if the boy had already moved onto something else. Heaven knew how tiny his attention span was. He glanced over to see Alfred giving him the oddest look he had ever seen.
"Wow. That's…really pathetic."
Arthur bristled. "Excuse me?"
"Man, that's so sad. So you're basically saying you're a workaholic who doesn't have friends? Cut me to the core, dude. I'm cryin' for ya." Alfred patted at his heart sympathetically.
Arthur flushed, mortified. He didn't much like the idea of gaining any sympathy from someone like Alfred. "Don't do me any favors."
"So, what? What about your family? You gotta have family," Alfred inquired, leaning forward against his bed sheets.
Arthur pursed his lips. "My parents are no longer living. As for my relatives…my brothers are back in Europe. Needless to say, we do not get along. If they were here, the circumstances wouldn't be any different."
Arthur flinched when seeing a small trace of grief flutter behind Alfred's eyes. He frowned stubbornly. "Don't look at me like that," he ordered. He didn't like the feeling of Alfred feeling sorry for him. "Don't you look at me like that. I already explained that I do not mind. I enjoy my privacy."
Alfred shifted. "But…that's gotta suck and stuff! You're tellin' me you live alone with no friends or family?" Alfred's eyes bugged. He couldn't seem to wrap his mind around this.
"I have a dog."
Blinking, the American relaxed somewhat. "Oh. Well that's something at least. I didn't know you were a dog person."
Arthur sighed. "You don't have to be a certain kind of person to like dogs."
"So what's his…her? Its name? Where's it staying? Since…you know," he drifted off, motioning to Arthur's legs.
The Briton paused. "I had to give him away. There's no one to take care of him while I'm here."
Arthur literally jumped when Alfred fell face first into his mattress with an agonized groan. "That's horrible!"
"It is not. I wasn't that partial to him," Arthur lied to ease the distressed boy.
"You're kidding! I don't believe you. That's man's best friend we're talking about!"
"No, it's not."
"And why is that, lad?" Arthur asked, crossing his arms.
"Because when you get out and leave me here, I'll feel bad," came the muffled response against a pillow.
Arthur paused, somewhat jarred. "Pardon?"
Alfred kept his face hidden, though his ears looked like brightly lit cloves. "…When you get out of here and leave me, at least I'll still have friends from school and stuff visiting. You won't have anyone. And that sucks."
It took a good thirty seconds for Arthur to finally comprehend the meaning behind Alfred's words. Was he – was he checking up on him? Was Alfred actually somewhat mildly concerned about him? Arthur placed his hand over his heart as if the action would make it slow down at this sudden realization. Alfred was concerned for him. And furthermore, he thought Arthur was getting out before him. Arthur wasn't sure he liked that assessment but remained silent. When he received no response, Alfred peeked out from his pillow.
Arthur took that as his cue to say something. "Well…" he pulled at his collar nervously. "If-if I do find myself becoming…lonely, I perhaps could come and – come back and visit you possibly?"
Alfred blinked slowly before pushing his face back into his pillow. "I wouldn't make you do that."
Of course. That had been a stupid thing to say. Arthur tried to seem distracted with the fringe of his shirt. "Right. I wouldn't want to bother you–"
"You wouldn't be bothering me! I just don't want to bother you."
"Me? How would that bother me?" Arthur raised his eyebrow.
Alfred shrugged. "You know. With your legs and all…"
Arthur could feel the familiar bite of anger boiling inside his abdomen. This stupid boy always knew how to drag it out somehow. "Listen here, I'm not made of glass. You don't have to keep looking at me like I'm some pathetic cripple who can't even feed himself."
"I don't do that," Alfred denied with a frown. Though he denied it, Arthur could still see something floating in the back of Alfred's eyes that said he believed otherwise.
Arthur scoffed. "Oh, please. Don't think I don't notice how you look at me when I'm moved or try to stand up or even walk. I'm not that daft, boy. You look about ready to spring out of bed and find a cane for me."
"Hey, you should be lucky I care at all! When you can walk up a flight of stairs, I'll take your word for it," Alfred defended and sat up. The mood had shifted from sympathy, to something slightly warm and perhaps a little bashful, to an awkward tenseness. It felt like day one all over again. Was there really no progress in civility between the two?
"Well don't trouble yourself. The sooner I get out of here the better. I can't believe I even offered to…" Arthur trailed off and glared at the wall, teeth grit. He couldn't even stand to look at Alfred. It would be his pity that crippled him, not his accident in the end.
"Oh, don't be like that. You're being immature."
"Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black."
"…Yeah, I don't even know what that means."
Green eyes glanced over towards the teenager watching him in the bed and scowled. "Look, do us both a favor and just – just keep to yourself for the remainder of our stay. It would do us both some good." He quickly wretched his eyes away before he could fully comprehend the confusion and, was that hurt?, in Alfred's eyes.
Silence stretched on for a good moment before the sound of cloth against sheets reached Arthur's ears. "Fine."
Arthur heard a loud crash ahead as he was being wheeled down the hallway. He shifted and furrowed his brow. That sounded very close to where his room was. Distant shouts and another crash made the nurse wheeling Arthur pick up her pace slightly, confusing the Briton.
He sighed, realizing it had to have something to do with Alfred. The boy was always causing trouble. When the nurse pushed Arthur through the doorway she jumped, a bedpan flying right past her head and out into the hallway. Arthur flinched before shifting his vision to the mess about the floor. There were scattered peas and potatoes, even a bowl of soup sloshed against the tiles. Arthur looked down and noticed an inhaler by his wheelchair, pills sprinkled in here and there on the white tiles.
Oh God. What was going on now?
Alfred was breathing heavily, arm out defensively by the window with tears streaming down his face. He was glaring daggers at his nurse, the one who he used to bite when given his medication early in his stay. Despite the absurdity of the situation, Arthur couldn't help the jolt of nervousness that reached him at the thought of Alfred starting to refuse his medication again. They'd had a deal.
"What's going on?" he asked cautiously.
The young looking nurse, Alfred's nurse, heaved a heavy sigh before risking a glance towards Arthur and his aide. "It's a bad day."
Arthur hated those days. Even though Alfred got on his nerves a lot, he had somehow snuck into his soft spot in the long time they'd been staying together. Oh Lord, he'd never admit it aloud, though.
"He's not going to take them. Could you get a broom?" she asked the nurse behind Arthur who nodded and made to leave when Alfred bit out a frustrated sob.
"It's not fair! You said I could if I was good. Fuck! I was good, wasn't I?" he demanded, cheeks red and eyes puffy. The sight wasn't something Arthur liked to see.
"What do you want me to do?" the nurse said with little interest, nails running through her hair. "I can't make it stop raining."
"But you promised!" Alfred yelled, looking near desperate. He kicked at his bed. "I took your stupid medicine so let me go outside!"
"It's. Raining," the nurse annunciated. She looked worn down, obviously not wanting to deal with Alfred's frustrated temper tantrum.
"I don't care. A little water never killed anybody," Alfred tried, his voice quivering. He couldn't do it anymore. Those pills made him sick and he had to take them twice a day now because he was congested or something and now when he was finally going to go outside, it was raining. It wasn't fair. He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head. Why wouldn't they just let him outside? Just for a minute?
"Look, just get into bed and I'll have this mess cleaned up and bring you some more food. You can go outside in a couple of days if it's not raining anymore," the nurse tried to reason. Alfred took a step back, his shoulders shaking.
"It's not fair."
"Life's not fair," the woman countered. Alfred's face contorted into something almost painful as he let out an agonized moan.
"Just let me outside…I can't stay in here anymore. I'm going crazy, please. I'll take every pill, eat every vegetable, compliment even the worst person on the staff, just please."
"Thank you," the young nurse said as Arthur's aide returned with some cleaning supplies. Alfred huffed when seeing the woman ignore him. She didn't even care, did she? She thought it was funny to see him squirm in this white walled prison. He sniffled and ground his teeth together.
"God, somebody kill me."
Arthur felt his chest swell with something horrifying hearing those words muttered from Alfred's mouth. The stuffy room felt even harder to breathe in with this disbelief fluttering through the Englishman's bloodstream. Alfred really was just a child, wasn't he? He was immature and selfish and just plain bratty. Arthur wished he could stand so he could slap him across the face.
"You promised, Alfred," Arthur said lightly, hoping to get Alfred's attention. With the anger in his tone, Alfred had no choice but to look at the frowning Briton by the door. Big blue eyes blinked back tears and stared confused towards Arthur. Arthur just watched him with a level gaze and picked up the inhaler. "You promised."
The nurse glanced between the two, completely left out and perplexed, before Arthur started wheeling himself towards his bed. The nurse who had been with him was at his side in second, though he batted her away. With pain radiating down to his kneecaps, Arthur hauled himself onto his mattress with heavy breaths. He flexed his toes experimentally before resting his head back against his pillow. He couldn't wait till he could do that without the pain.
"Alfred, get into bed," his nurse instructed, broom in her other hand. This brought the blonde's attention away from staring distantly at Arthur before settling on the frowning woman. "I'm sorry, but I cannot permit you to wander around unsupervised. Into bed," she pointed.
The lump in Alfred's throat bobbed as he thought over his options. He could continue to scream and argue and cry until he was breathless (which coincidentally didn't take that much), or he could crawl into bed and suck it up despite the ache in his chest at the rainy sky. Although he wanted to keep yelling at the nurse to vent out his frustrations, the urge was dampened by the look of sheer disappointment across Arthur's face.
Begrudgingly he flopped onto his bed and wiped at his nose with the sleeves of his shirt. To say that it was awkward while the nurses cleaned up the mess on the floor would've been an understatement. It was brutal to sit on his bed and avoid eye contact with the staff as they mopped up his mess, but it was much worse feeling the pressure at the side of his face where Arthur was no doubt staring at him.
When the women vacated the room Alfred was left feeling like an utter child, fidgeting like mad and pulling at his sheets to distract himself. The silence pressed on with astounding vigor, pushing down on his skin and making it harder to gain access to air into his lungs. When a voice reached his ears, Alfred stilled.
Alfred blinked down with blurry vision at his feet before managing to move his tongue. "What?"
He looked up hesitantly to find that Arthur was not looking at him anymore, but staring at the wall by the door. The look on his face made him nervous. Arthur frowned to himself and let out a puff of air through his nostrils. "You're a spoiled brat."
Alfred opened his mouth to say something before he shut it just as quickly. He looked away and ran his tongue over his lips, unsure of what to say. The absolute irritation in Arthur's voice sent tremors rocketing down to his core. "I just can't sit in here anymore," he explained after another long string of silence passed between them. Alfred clenched his fingers over his calves and hoped that Arthur would understand the reasons behind his action.
Not that it mattered. He shouldn't care what Arthur thought about him. He didn't – that's right – he didn't care what Arthur thought about him.
The Briton scoffed. "Welcome to the club."
Alfred glanced back over at his roommate who still refused to look at him. Arthur watched the inhaler in his hands, examining everything about the discarded medicine that should've been in Alfred's system by now had it not been for the rain. He scowled. Damn rain. It was ruining everything he was doing to help…to help an innocent boy out of the hospital.
"You're not in it," Alfred countered with a sniffle.
"I'm a senior member, boy," Arthur snapped, eyes sharp as ever.
"It's not my fault you're old–"
"That's not what I meant and you know it!" Arthur shot up in bed with a wince, teeth grit in aggravation. "That's all you do, don't you? Make smartalic comments when the mood strikes you and stomp around when you don't get your way. Why don't you grow up? You don't take anything seriously." You don't take me seriously. Arthur frowned at the inhaler in his hands.
"I-I do too–"
"No you don't! You never do, Alfred! You're just a spoiled brat who doesn't know how good he has it. If you'd just take your damn medication and cooperate then maybe, just maybe, you could be out of here in a matter of weeks. Days even! But you don't care about that do you? If there's anything slightly alarming with a situation you evade it like the plague. You avoid it and cause problems for everyone around you." Arthur paused to fill his lungs with the much needed oxygen as he watched Alfred's large eyes get even larger, shoulders slumping back like a wounded animal. "Well you know what? I don't care anymore. Do what you will, Alfred. You don't have to live up to the deal we made. Take your medicine, don't. It doesn't matter to me either way."
He placed the inhaler on the nightstand by his bed before turning his head away. If Alfred wanted to kill himself, fine. Let him.
"Don't worry," Arthur cut him off with a cold voice of indifference. He was fed up. "I won't rat you out to the staff for sneaking out."
The conversation died instantly.
No more frustrated words. No more sympathetic excuses. No more yelling. No more defending. Nothing but lone sniffles few and far between as they accompanied the hollow pattering of the rain against the window.
The night dragged on longer than Arthur cared to admit. He rolled so his back was facing Alfred and pretended to be asleep as the blonde gagged on his own mucus buildup. He bent the pillow over his ears to block out the noises and clenched his eyes shut, not allowing himself to feel sorry for the boy. And yet with every cough something broke apart inside of him.
You're spoiled, Alfred.
The first time Arthur had been able to walk himself to the bathroom instead of using a bedpan was the first time Arthur walked back in on a nurse and doctor finishing up Alfred's chest examination. The Briton hung onto the rod that assisted his short little walk as he stared at the people feeling down Alfred's back and asking him to breathe.
Arthur paused, eyes glancing briefly over the tanned skin of Alfred's arms and abdomen. He was not lying when he'd said he liked to play sports outside a lot. Arthur quickly glanced away and made his way towards his bed when Alfred peered up behind the fringe of his bangs at him.
Physical therapy was a bitch, as well as the current nutritional and pain reliever pills his doctor was throwing at him, but after all this time he'd finally been making some progress. No more bedsores. Arthur wanted to fall to his knees and thank whoever was watching over him but knew that would probably be a bad idea. They'd probably shatter under his weight anyway.
"Now take one more deep breath," the doctor instructed. Alfred sighed, just wanting to put his shirt back on. It was freezing and he hated the cold with a passion. And the doctor just brought more cold with him; his stethoscope, his hands, etc.
He inhaled in, flinching when the cold disc of the stethoscope touched his back, before slumping forward and coughing. It sounded heavier much to Arthur's chagrin. He shook his head quickly. No, he said he didn't care what Alfred did anymore. He didn't.
Arthur looked up as the doctor straightened, frown pulling at his lips. He felt himself still as the man and nurse exchanged a quick glance. The doctor leaned back up and straightened his coat out, nodding down towards Alfred who thankfully started to put his shirt back on. "We're going to have to do that thing we talked about, Alfred, I'm afraid," the doctor informed.
Alfred stiffened, eyes staring intently at his sheets, making no move to his doctor's statement. The man patted his shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds. We'll do it tomorrow morning, alright?"
Alfred continued to stare at his mattress before slowly nodding his head, as if he didn't want to agree but was forced too. Another pat to his shoulder and the man and nurse vacated the area. Arthur hunkered down into his own bed and felt the familiar nagging of curiosity at the base of his skull.
Yes, he and Alfred had been fighting a lot recently, but Arthur still couldn't help but feel interested in Alfred's health. He silently wondered to himself if Alfred still cared about his.
Wanting to take an indirect approach after a while, Arthur pretended to be indifferent and opened the water bottle by his bed. "What was that all about?"
Alfred didn't respond, still frozen in the position he had been in when the doctor had left. He looked exhausted and Arthur couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him. Alfred had been coughing most nights so he barely had gotten any sleep. Large craters were the outcome of that resting under his eyes. Arthur had some of his own, but not nearly as bad. When Alfred coughed he stayed awake as well.
After a minute the blonde finally straightened up a bit, though his eyes remained on that one spot on his mattress. "It's not getting better."
Arthur paused before swallowing the water in his mouth. "Yes, I've been aware of that. You haven't been taking your medication for over a week now. It's not surprising."
Alfred's eyes were somewhat distant, as if he couldn't cope with what his doctor had told him. Arthur narrowed his eyes slightly in suspicion. What was plaguing his mind?
Just when he'd been about to open his mouth and ask, Alfred spoke. "They're going to stick a needle in my back."
Arthur stared. "A what?"
Alfred's breath shuddered, as if the realization had just started to hit him in waves. "A needle. They're going to stick a long needle in my back tomorrow to get to my lungs to – to drain some of the fluid buildup. It's to release…release some pressure or something."
Ah, so that was it. Arthur had suspected such. He leaned back against his pillow. "Well isn't that lovely," he said blandly, masking his satisfaction with apathy. "You should be happy. You won't keep me up anymore with your God awful wheezing."
Alfred's eyes widened in horror as his shoulders shook. "I can't do it. I can't sit and let someone stick a huge needle into my lungs when I'm still awake. They can't do that!" Panicked blue eyes sought out surprised green for some form of bizarre comfort. "They're going to stick a needle in me," he clarified in terror.
Arthur shifted, unsure of how to respond. He was supposed to pretend to be on bad terms with the boy, never expecting him to freak out over a mere needle; a procedure that only needed to be done because of Alfred's own stupidity.
"You'll be fine," Arthur informed, waving off Alfred's panic easily. Alfred coughed harshly into his fist and wiped it off on his sheets making Arthur grimace.
"No. I can't do it. Tell them to put me out."
"It's none of my business what you do anymore. I told you that myself. And besides, you're a big chap. You'll do fine. Something as trivial as a needle shouldn't scare you–" Arthur choked back his words and nearly fell out of his bed when Alfred was in front of him in a second, looking as desperate as ever.
"Arthur, you have to understand. You do, don't you? You know what it's like to go through surgeries and stuff. I've seen them prepare you for some. Imagine going through all of that awake," Alfred reasoned, grasping at Arthur in some small plea to get him to understand. The Briton felt his head spin when Alfred's hands brushed against his own. He inhaled sharply through his nose and forced coherent thoughts through his mind.
Weakly, he tried to snatch his hands away to no avail. "Comparing extensive hip and knee surgery to a needle in your lungs doesn't even relate. They are on completely different levels."
"No they're not. No they're not," Alfred shook his head. His grip tightened on Arthur who tensed at the warmth over his hands.
"They are. I understand that you've never done anything like this, however, it's no reason to be–"
Alfred leaned in and frowned, halting Arthur's speech. "I don't want to. I'll take my inhaler. I mean it this time."
Arthur stared at him with perplexity. "That-that may be so, but I don't think it would make any difference. You still have to undergo this procedure, Alfred."
The look of sheer distress that radiated behind Alfred's eyes made Arthur visibly cringe. With a sense of frustration, the American crawled off Arthur's bed and made his way dejectedly back towards his own. He curled up and kept his back to his roommate who was chewing at their bottom lip with a frown.
It will be alright, Alfred. You'll be fine, don't worry, Arthur reassured himself in his mind. At this point in time he couldn't say that to Alfred, but at least he could think it to himself.
In the morning when Arthur awoke, Alfred was nowhere to be seen. He straightened himself out and began to read up on one of the many books he had brought in by one of his neighbor's on a favor. Being on disability leave from work had given him a lot of time to relax so to speak and do things he didn't normally get a chance to do.
The afternoon rolled around and still no sign of Alfred. Arthur patiently sat quietly and smoothed over every wrinkle on his sheets. By the time the nurse came in to change the linen, Arthur had cracked and asked her quite casually where Alfred was.
She informed him that his procedure had some complications. The attendant who performed it had been slightly inaccurate causing a collapsed lung.
The room was silent the rest of the day.
"Rain, rain, go away…" Alfred muttered to himself as he stared out the window at the clouded sky. He now hated October. It was one thing to make him spend his nineteenth birthday here, but it was another to keep him away from the one holiday where he could stuff his face with candy. He sighed lightly, chest feeling heavy the past few days.
"I want to go outside," he whined.
Arthur didn't reprimand him for it anymore. He was no longer angry with Alfred for the trivial fights they'd been having, and considering how unfair it had been for his own progress to grow while Alfred's declined rapidly, Arthur found it impossible to scold the boy any more than necessary.
"Be patient," the Briton offered instead. He found his eyes lingering longer against Alfred's dismal frame more often than he used to. Even melancholy, Alfred still managed to capture all the brightness in the room.
Alfred's shoulders slumped and he yawned. His movements had been slower the last few days; he was impossibly tired. "I know."
Arthur patted his thighs lightly on his sheets before mulling over what to say. It had been awkward between the two of them since Alfred's near panic attack. The blonde had been acting somewhat distant, which was understandable, but still.
"We could play a game if you want," Arthur offered. He didn't really know any games, but if it would distract Alfred from spiraling into a pit of boredom where there were alligators at the bottom. Alligators called depression.
Alfred lolled his head to the side, still staring out the window. He didn't respond at all except for a small hum in the back of his throat. Arthur sat up. "We could play a game," Arthur repeated, eyes drawn solely on Alfred's slumped frame. That got the boy's attention finally.
Alfred turned his tired eyes to look back at Arthur curiously. He eyed him suspiciously. "What kind of game?"
"I don't bloody well know. What sort of games do you American children like to play? Marbles or I spy?" Arthur scratched at his head drawing a blank. He probably should've thought about any games before suggesting it. Alfred let out a small chuckle at that, the mirth behind his eyes captivating Arthur.
Well at least the boy was still capable of smiling.
"You really are old, aren't you?" he asked.
Arthur frowned, prominent scowl lines lining his face. He'd gotten used to them when he was small, never smiling that much. Perhaps that was why he was put into a room with Alfred. Yin to Yang or something like that. "Please don't start guessing my age again. I already informed you that I will not say. Who knows what you consider old."
Alfred grinned a lopsided grin. "Even a month older than me is old."
"My point exactly."
The room became silent once more, the cold air permeating around the dull corners of the room, rain tapping against the glass as if it wanted to get someone's attention. Alfred looked back at the glass and stared a long while. "We could play truth or dare," he muttered.
Arthur paused. That sounded like a horrible game. You either had to let out a secret about yourself or do something positively ridiculous. He couldn't say no when Alfred looked back at him with a yawn, a heavy breath being torn from inside him. With a sigh, he caved. "Sure, yes. We can play truth or dare."
"I'll start first then," Alfred said, shifting around so he could face Arthur. He winced a little but settled down, ignoring the slight knitting of a concerned brow at the action. "Truth or dare, Arthur?"
"Truth, obviously." No way was he risking Alfred daring him to do something like streak down to the nurse's station or eat his next meal in a bedpan.
Alfred rubbed his chin in thought. "How old are you?"
Arthur choked on his air, fingers curling into fists at his sides as Alfred snickered a sly laugh. "Sodding wanker. You did that on purpose!" Oh, he felt his face heat up with indignation. He already felt old; it wasn't like he wanted another person who was younger than him to see him as an old man.
"You walked into that one yourself," commented Alfred.
Arthur struggled with himself before conceding. Damn it. "I'm older than twenty-five but less than thirty-five."
"Hey, that's not specific enough," whined Alfred with a pout. "You're not playing right."
"Feel lucky I gave you an age limit at all. You've been bothering me for months about that and I've not even paid any mind to your questions. Truth or dare?" he asked quickly when Alfred's mouth opened to retort. The boy grumbled.
"Do you expect to leave this place?"
Alfred stilled, wide eyes darting over Arthur's serious face. He wasn't expecting something so somber for his first question. Was this retaliation for the age thing? "What?"
Arthur leveled his face and looked seriously over at Alfred. "Do you expect to leave this hospital?"
Alfred fidgeted under such a strong look. He'd never noticed how hard and intimidating Arthur's eyes could be. Usually he was busy not taking Alfred seriously. But this…this sort of made him nervous. Alfred bit his tongue and looked away. He was silent a moment before turning back to Arthur with a plastic smile resting on his lips, no signs of it reaching his eyes. "In one way or another, I suppose."
Arthur narrowed his eyes at that answer. He was dancing around the question. Something nagged at the back of his mind that Alfred was merely toying with him but he shook it off when Alfred started to ask again. "Truth or dare."
"Are you married?"
Arthur snorted at that question. His life revolved around work and alcohol. How could he possibly squeeze the time in to get married? "No."
Alfred tilted his head. "So…what? You just never met the right person?"
Arthur sighed. "I don't have time for anything of the romantic level. From going to the office, to paying bills and all of that other adult stuff, I can barely juggle my life as it is."
Arthur glanced over to see Alfred looking at his socks, something disappointed yet slightly…relieved? He pursed his lips. Nonsense. Don't look for something that's not there, old chap, Arthur thought and ignored the hard thrumming of his heart.
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
Alfred blinked and looked up at him with a smile and raised eyebrow that made Arthur's ears catch fire. "I don't remember picking truth."
"Pish posh, you were going to choose it anyway. I didn't want to waste any syllables on you," explained Arthur easily with the wave of his hand.
"No, as a matter of fact, I don't. I don't have time for a girlfriend. Sports and school and…hospital bills and stuff keep me away from that." Arthur noticed how Alfred stumbled over the word 'hospital' but didn't pay it any mind. He wanted to slap himself for feeling relieved at hearing this information. Ugh, the boy was still in high school for crying out loud!
"Do you get lonely a lot?" Alfred asked sincerely. Arthur looked out at the rain through the hem of his messy bangs and answered honestly after a long moment.
"Me too," Alfred whispered, not even bothering for a question to be thrown back at him. Arthur felt like he was sinking in this dim room. Neither looked at each other for a while and just let it sink in. If they were both together now, then why did they feel so lonely?
Alfred let out a small cough that pierced him down to his very core. Even the small ones hurt these days. "How did you hurt your legs?" he asked lowly, glancing back towards the Briton, eyes lingering over the two lumps just beneath the covers. He still didn't know. Plane crash? But then why did nobody else come to the hospital? Only one casualty didn't make sense. Collapsed building? Car accident? Ship wreck? All of them led back to the question of why only Arthur would be here, no other casualties.
He waited as patiently as he could, which wasn't his strong suit, before realizing he was holding his breath in anticipation.
Arthur slowly looked up at the blonde waiting for his answer before he forced a small frown on his face. "I don't remember picking truth."
Alfred hesitated. "You were going to, though," he stated confidently. How could Arthur choose dare? He didn't look like a 'dare' kind of guy. Alfred almost wanted to laugh if his chest didn't feel so heavy.
"As a matter of fact, I was going to choose dare, you git," snapped Arthur. Alfred recoiled.
Arthur felt his stomach churn in horror for what he was saying. No, he would never choose dare with Alfred deciding his fate! God, what had he done to evade a question? He nodded solemnly. Alfred shrugged his shoulders and sat back.
"Alright. It's your funeral."
Arthur shut his eyes and gripped his sheets. What was he going to make him do? Make an inappropriate move on one of the nurses? Put pudding on his tuna fish sandwich for lunch? Shave his eyebrows off because Alfred was 'tired of looking at them. They look like you glued your pubes on your face.'?
"I dare you to…"
Arthur winced. What? Dared him to what?
Arthur looked at him incredulously. What did he say? Alfred noticed the confusion on the other male's face and shrugged again in response. "You heard me. That's a pretty harsh dare you know. That means a lot more checkups which totally suck, and a lot more walking around which means I get to call you old some more because you'll be using a cane. And you have to eat healthier for your strength to build up, and we all know how shitty healthy food tastes. You should feel real sorry you picked dare with me around. I was going to go easy on you and make you eat that centipede that's been trying to crawl through that window for a week, but I decided to bring out the big guns. I bet you're regretting it now."
Arthur gaped at him, not knowing how to react. He hadn't expected that in all his years. Alfred squirmed uncomfortably under his gaze with a frown. "Well? What are you waiting for? Go eat an apple or get some sleep or something. Or are you going to go against the rules that are set in stone for truth or dare?"
With a helpless nod, Arthur sat back against his pillows, watching as Alfred sighed and looked back out the window.
He just didn't get this boy. One minute he was goofing around and making fun of him, the next he had to go and say something like that.
Arthur pulled at his fingers under his blankets with an embarrassed frown.
He just had to pick dare.
Arthur had come to regret his dare more and more as the days piled up. It seemed as though just being dared to get better had a huge impact on his health. Walking was much easier now, only with a numbness radiating in his kneecaps. He hadn't felt this good since…well, since his accident.
And yet, as he felt himself getting better, Alfred had felt himself getting worse.
It was like the Yin Yang thing again, and Arthur wished with all his might that he could've picked truth. He felt guilty when he stood up to open the window or walk to the bathroom and make his bed. He felt guilty because where Alfred had been able to do all of those things before easily, he hadn't done so for the past week. He simply sat in bed all day, most times asleep or just coughing himself awake. He looked terrible, that glow he'd previously had when walking into the hospital now dulled.
Arthur was stealing his glow and he didn't want it.
He tried to talk a lot with Alfred whenever he was awake. He found merely talking to him to be a task in and of itself. Alfred didn't smile beaming smiles anymore, and his voice didn't dance with laugher but now rested at a low, hoarse pitch. He did seem genuinely happy for Arthur's practical miracle recovery but said nothing when Arthur mentioned how it was his turn to do it.
Arthur had tried almost forcefully to play truth or dare with Alfred again, hands framing his face as he frustratingly yelled at the boy who refused with a smile. The nurses even had to come in once to pull him away, nearly kicking them.
Where he should've been happy, he was frustrated.
He hated feeling like this.
On this night in particular, Arthur realized somewhere deep down that Alfred actually meant something to him. And that just made this whole situation a million times worse for him.
Arthur opened his eyes slowly, blinking away the sleep that fogged his vision. He felt that familiar pull inside of him and he groaned. Damn middle of the night bathroom breaks; they always made him feel like an old man – which he totally wasn't yet. Grumbling to himself, he sat up and rubbed at his eyes, hoping to adjust to the darkness.
With a small yawn, Arthur put his feet to the floor, ready to make another round to relieve himself when something just felt odd. He paused, wiggling his toes and looked down at the floor. It took a good ten seconds before Arthur grasped that his toes were wet. He blinked confused, looking at the tiled floor at the shining liquid all over the floor, the moonlight reflected on its surface.
"What in the…" He heard a noise to his left and jumped, seeing nothing but the darkness beyond the doorframe. Arthur swallowed the spit gathering at the back of his mouth before turning his attention back to the moist floor. The closer he got, the easier it was to see that it was just water. He sighed in relief, not sure exactly what he thought the liquid was but glad to see it just being water.
He paused. But why was water all over the floor? He looked up to see the nightstand empty, the water bottles gone. Did Alfred dump them on the ground? Arthur frowned to himself. Great, now he was going to have to get someone in here to clean it up. He glanced up to glare at Alfred but stopped.
That was it. That was that odd feeling he had when he awoke.
There was no stuffy breathing or snoring or coughing. No whirring of the humidifier and no restless rustling of sheets.
There was no breathing whatsoever.
Arthur sprung to his feet, slipping on the water and falling on his ass, soaking himself. He didn't care, though. He scuttled quickly over to Alfred's bed to see the covers torn back and the mattress empty. He stared with large eyes and a rapid heart at where Alfred should've been. Arthur tried to calm himself and tried to bring logic into the situation. Maybe Alfred was just in the bathroom. That would make sense. Lots of people went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
…But not a lot of people spilled four water bottles all over the ground and turned off their very loud and very necessary humidifier before doing it.
The odd feeling morphed itself into something akin to fear.
Where was Alfred?
"Alfred?" Arthur called out quietly into the room. He stood up, ignoring the iciness of his now soggy clothes clinging to his body. He looked in the cabinet, looked in the bathroom, under the beds, out the window; nothing. Alfred wasn't here.
Arthur let out a shaky breath and gripped at his hair. He only did that when he was severely stressed out (which happened to be all of the time. That was why his hair was always in disarray). Alfred wasn't here. Why wasn't Alfred here? Was he out doing something stupid again?
"In one way or another, I suppose."
Arthur grit his teeth when remembering Alfred's words. If he was planning on doing anything that he would regret later, Arthur would just kill him himself. Calming himself down, Arthur tried to think clearly. He willed his knees to stop shaking, from apprehension and moving around on them for too long. He hadn't moved that quickly before and his joints were starting to ache.
Suddenly he snapped his fingers and let his eyes dart to the door. Of course! He'd heard a noise earlier when he had awoken. And judging from the wet footsteps leading out into the hallway, Arthur knew exactly who had made the noise. Following after the wet footprints, Arthur bit his lip and let his hand trail along the wall for support.
"Where are you, Alfred?" he asked to himself when he stopped at a stairwell. The footsteps faded away and dried up in front of the door. Arthur hesitantly pushed open the heavy door, praying that no one heard him leave his room, and looked up at the spiraling stairs in the dimly lit corridor. He gulped, knowing this couldn't go anywhere nice or easy.
By the time Arthur was almost at the top stairs, he was breathing heavily, legs aching and spine curling over. He couldn't walk that long, especially up that many stairs. He wanted to go back or stop and just pass out against the cool steps, but he couldn't; not when another door was so close.
Yes, he'd passed many doors leading out into the various floors of the hospital, but Arthur had a dreading suspicion that Alfred had not gotten off on another floor. Instead, the Briton tried to restore his breath and pushed against the cold door with numb fingers, blinking back as raindrops smacked against his face in the darkness.
"Alfred!" he yelled, green eyes desperately seeking out that mop of blonde hair and those two impossibly blue eyes. He scrambled off his knees when they buckled under his weight. Cursing, Arthur moved forward and shivered. He was soaked and in so much pain – and just where the hell was Alfred?
"This isn't funny!"
Nothing, he couldn't see absolutely anything. Arthur's face contorted into something painful before he lost his footing and fell to his knees. He was panicking now. He didn't know what to do. Arthur ran his hands over his face and was about to let out a frustrated yell when a sneeze to his right caught his attention. He shot up, ignoring the resistance in his spine. "Alfred?"
Arthur quickly tried to scramble to his feet but found himself unable to. Instead, he crawled his way over past the sound of pouring rain to see Alfred resting has back against a cement block, drenched the bone and shivering like mad. If it wasn't for his trembling shoulders, Arthur honestly wouldn't have known if he was alive. He quickly wrapped himself around the boy, screaming profanities and bitter exclamations.
"What have you done?" Arthur yelled until his voice had nearly gone. He was shaking Alfred and blinking back the burning behind his eyes when seeing Alfred crane his neck to look up at him, curling into the warmth that was radiating off Arthur's body.
He stared a long while, as if he didn't know where he was, before smiling. Arthur felt something snap like a twig inside of him and he fell forward, forehead pressing against Alfred's, both soaked and shivering. He shut his eyes and shook his head, breathing warmth across Alfred's cheeks as he spoke through blue lips. "What's so funny?"
Alfred stuttered over his breath before shutting his eyes. "You did it. You…walked up a flight of stairs."
Arthur gaped, staring incredulously at the boy in his arms before gritting his teeth and burying his face into Alfred's hair. "I hate you. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"
To prove a point…to go this far to prove a point for Arthur, he now knew that Alfred wasn't just some stupid kid who pulled pranks and had a short attention span. Stupid kids didn't sit in the rain and wait to see if their roommate could prove them wrong and show him that he really wasn't brittle like glass. He was well enough to walk.
He was well enough to leave.
Arthur flinched at the word. He silently buttoned up his shirt in the restroom, being as quiet as possible to hear the nurses gossip outside his door.
"Why do you sound so surprised? Of course he would get it. He was on the rooftop for hours just sitting in the rain," harshly whispered another nurse. She sounded angry but sympathetic. Arthur wondered silently if that was the woman who he'd found to help get Alfred down.
"I'm not surprised…" faded off another voice. "It just sounds harsh. He already has such a hard time with his breathing now. What about with–"
"Shh, shh!" the nurse shushed harshly, pushing her hands to shut the other woman up as Arthur begrudgingly opened the door. The women looked at him, eyeing him from top to bottom in his new attire. He looked down at himself with warm cheeks self-consciously.
In a button up white shirt with a green sweater vest, black pants and nice dress shoes, Arthur Kirkland looked much different than he did in his previous hospital garments.
"You look very nice, Mr. Kirkland," the woman commented. Arthur hesitantly nodded before grabbing his cane. He knew Alfred would make fun of him for using a cane, but his legs still hurt from that journey up the staircase. Just thinking about it made Arthur flinch, chest tightening. His body still felt numb from the rain.
Alfred was too nice and stubborn for his own good. He knew that Arthur had to use the restroom in the middle of the night every night. He knew he would get up on the right side of the bed as he always did. He knew these things and had everything set up the way he wanted.
The water on the floor to get his attention.
The humidifier turned off to make Arthur realize the absence of usual noise he always complained about.
The wet footprints to lead him to the stairwell.
The boy was an evil genius. A ridiculously ill evil genius…
Arthur sighed and handed the women his folded clothes. They took them tepidly and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Are you excited?" a nurse asked him as they walked back down the hallway to his room. He pursed his lips and stared at the tiles below him.
"I never thought I'd get out," he muttered to himself.
The nurse nodded politely. "That's understandable. You've been here a long time. I'm sure there's a lot of things you want to catch up on."
Arthur offered a small smile before turning away, walking into his room. He paused at the doorway just as he always did for the past few days. The room still had the two beds, that same window overlooking the courtyard, and many pudding cups hidden under Alfred's old pillow. Arthur snorted at that. He still didn't understand why the boy insisted on hiding his desserts.
He walked over to his bed and sat on the end of it, glancing over to where Alfred used to sit, grinning and staring at a bottle with the utmost concentration.
"Hey. How do you suppose they get this little ball in here? They must put it in beforehand, right? Or maybe they make the bottle and then put the marble in. Like cut a hole in the glass and slip it inside."
Arthur let out a shuddering breath and shut his eyes. He was very cruel to him when he'd first arrived. Who could blame him though? His body had been in constant pain, the thought of being crippled playing on a loop in his head, and a seemingly annoying boy squabbling to no end. Of course he wouldn't like Alfred when he arrived.
But now that the room was empty, he kind of missed the incessant chatter.
"Mr. Kirkland? We just need you to sign some forms before you leave. Would you like some help down?"
He looked up at the woman, being broken out of his silent reverie, and waved her away. "No, that's alright. I can manage."
"Would you like me to hold the elevator for you?"
He smiled. "No. I think I feel like taking the stairs."
Ah, life. Back to the old grind. To the mundane ritual that was work and grocery shopping and bills. Only this time, Arthur did it alone and with quite a bit more liquor.
He grumbled and looked outside into the snowing streets, people already cheery and looking forward to Christmas. He didn't feel cheerful one bit. As he swallowed the last bit of his eggnog from an office party he insisted that he didn't want to attend, Arthur rubbed his fingers over his eyes.
He was tired. He was so impossibly tired of doing this that it made him sick. Arthur almost wished he was back in that sterile prison but he shook that thought away.
He could walk and function again and that was all he needed. There was no point wishing to be back in a hospital with a completely different but still repetitive ritual. Arthur slipped on his coat and began to make his way down the staircase. A lot of his coworkers, even that annoying Frenchman, had noticed the way he commuted around the very tall building. Where he used to take the elevator from his office on the twelfth floor, he now took the staircase every day.
It befuddled a few people, and when he'd first arrived back with his cane people advised against it, but he had done it so much now that no one questioned it.
Arthur made his way down the streets slowly, joints still raw and would always be until he died from his injuries. He hated the cold more because of it. It had been so long since his accident, but it still felt like yesterday. Like yesterday a face with round blue eyes stared down at him and tried to race down the hallway on his old wheelchair. Arthur scowled, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets.
He wished he had never left his building that day. If he did, then he would never have experience that pain. The pain of metal on bone and flesh tearing as easily like paper; the pain of meeting someone he knew he couldn't be around for a long time.
The pain of feeling even more alone now than he'd ever felt before.
"Merry fucking Christmas," Arthur grumbled and lit a cigarette. It was some warmth at least.
He pulled his collar up tighter around his neck and glanced up at a large building down the street. His pace slowed.
Why was he walking towards the hospital?
Arthur felt something squirm in his stomach in horror at the giant, white monster. He hadn't been there since he'd been released. There was no point in going back to that place. Well, except for…
Arthur growled and turned on his heel, intent on heading back in the opposite direction. Instead he found himself walking into a waiting room up to a front desk and putting his cigarette out on his shoe. The tiny woman at the desk just stared up at him behind her narrow glasses as his fingers left sweat marks against the countertop.
"Can I help you?" she asked, unsure of what to make of Arthur's anxious and lost expression. He tapped his fingers against the desk nervously before shaking his head. She raised an eyebrow. "You don't?"
He paused before nodding. "Is there…Is there an Alfred Jones here?" he asked, voice cracking. Boy did he sound confident.
The woman turned her attention to the computer screen and let her eyes gloss over something as she typed. She stopped when she got to the bottom of a page after clicking her mouse. "Oh. No. I'm afraid not. He's gone."
Arthur didn't hear the words, he just saw her lips moving. His head spun for a minute and that nervousness building in his chest pooled into something heavy and cold. He fidgeted with his coat. "W…I'm sorry. Did you – could you repeat that?"
"Alfred Jones is no longer with us."
"O-oh. That's what I thought you said…" Arthur's throat closed on him and he smiled at the woman, eyes wide and looking across at the waiting room with confusion. Alfred was gone? He – right when he found the nerve to come visit him, he'd died? He completely forgot all about the pain in his legs when the tsunami that was his worst fear consumed his chest. "T-thank you for your time," he said, eyes pooling over with tears as his lip quivered and his knees buckled.
The woman gasped and looked over the side of her desk that Arthur was clinging to, his whole body shaking with sobs.
"S-sir? Are you alright?" she asked, moving around the side to try and console the distraught Briton. He couldn't help it. He'd never felt this sad before. He hadn't felt this sad when his parents died, or when his brother kicked him in the nuts with a steel-toed boot, when he had to give his dog away, nor when he received the news that his job was relocating him from England to America.
Everything had piled so high, it was bound to fall sooner or later.
And so he wailed with all eyes on him, a soothing hand rubbing at his shoulders that did little to help how he was feeling.
"I sh-should've…I…nggh…I shouldn't have picked dare," he choked out, burying his face into his hands. The confused woman looked at him without an idea in the world to do as he clung onto her arm.
"I don't know what you're saying, sir. Is there anything I can do?"
He shook his head. No, there wasn't anything anyone in this world could do.
That one voice saying his name tore through his distressed cries enough for Arthur to shut his yammering mouth. He sniffed, headache radiating behind his eyes as they puffed up and became red. The Briton looked up over the nurse confused at Alfred, clothed in warm winter clothes and staring at him with absolute astonishment.
"A-Alfred?" Arthur blurted in confusion. Alfred scratched behind his head awkwardly.
"Yeah. What're you doing crying on the floor?"
Arthur blinked, a trail of snot and tears covering his face making Alfred grimace. He glanced between the woman and Alfred before pushing himself away, rubbing at his face as his cheeks lit up like Christmas lights. Arthur got to his feet and noticed all the people in the waiting room looking at him as he rubbed his sleeve to make himself look more presentable.
"I-I thought you were gone," Arthur stated dumbly.
Alfred raised an eyebrow. The woman straightened up and looked back at Alfred curiously. "Yes, what are you still doing here? You were supposed to have checked out hours ago."
"My ma's got a stomach virus or something that's going around. She's been in the bathroom throwing up and pressing her face against the sink," Alfred explained, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Arthur sniffled, looking at the nurse as if she just announced she was Jack the Ripper.
"You – you meant 'left the hospital' gone? Not 'gone' gone?" he asked, feeling humiliation sting at him now. Oh, he must've looked like a fool. Judging from Alfred's and the nurse's faces, he could safely say that he did.
"'Gone' gone? Like dead?" she asked with a hand on her hip.
Alfred raised his eyebrows into his hairline looking positively amused. "You thought I was dead?"
Arthur took a step back, stuttering defensively with a frown. "N-no."
"Then why were you crying?" Alfred asked, a sly smile slithering onto his lips. Arthur's face heated up.
"I – I–" Arthur literally shook with mortification as Alfred snickered. "I just remembered that I have somewhere to be. Good night," he blurted, spinning around on his feet and making his way quickly for the doors. Arthur pushed them open and stumbled into the snow, hoping to get as far away as possible. Well, Alfred looked surprisingly fine. That was good. Jolly good. Now he could live the rest of his life without worrying.
"Hey Arthur! Wait up!"
Arthur stiffened and jerked his neck to see Alfred making his way towards him, the light from the hospital doors illuminating his form and catching Arthur's breath in his throat. Alfred stopped right in front of him, cheeks and nose red from the cold. "Shouldn't you be inside where you won't catch pneumonia?" Arthur asked dryly, keeping his distance. Alfred tilted his head with a grin.
"Dude, I'm fine. I'm not going to catch pneumonia from talking to you outside for a minute."
"You could," Arthur murmured.
Alfred rolled his eyes. "You're being ridiculous. I'm fine. If I wasn't then they wouldn't be letting me out today."
Arthur relaxed, that familiar feeling of relief flowing through his veins. Did Alfred make a miracle recovery too or did he just start cooperating and his sickness went dormant? Alfred coughed into his glove making Arthur frown. Probably the latter of the two. "Christmas came early," he muttered.
"Hm? What was that?"
Arthur jumped, heartbeat picking up. "I said that I have to be somewhere early tomorrow. Good to see you again, lad. Have a lovely holiday season," he said, trying to walk away again when Alfred's hand snaked around his elbow, halting him. He looked over at Alfred wearily with his trademark scowl as Alfred smiled at him.
"Were you coming here to visit me?"
"No," was the immediate response.
"You don't have to lie. I won't laugh. Scout's honor."
"Come on, Arthur–"
"I said no, you little–!"
Arthur stilled when arms slid around his back, looking down to see the top of Alfred's head as he was embraced in a hug. Arthur looked around, hoping no one was witnessing this embarrassing display before he sighed and wrapped one arm around Alfred's shoulders awkwardly.
"You're not like glass, huh?" Alfred laughed into Arthur's coat.
"I already told you that many times," Arthur grumbled, white puffs of air streaming from his lips in the cold night.
Alfred leaned back up enough to look at Arthur clearly. "Narrow is all you need right?"
Arthur stared before rubbing a hand over his face and shaking his head with humor. "I suppose so."
"I think you were faking."
Arthur scoffed and peeled away from Alfred's octopus-like arms. "Oh, please. I couldn't fake that if my life depended on it."
Alfred rocked back on his heels and laughed. "I bet you could."
Arthur pursed his lips and gazed up at the hospital riddled with many lights from the various rooms. He wondered if he could spot their miracle room. Deciding against it, Arthur stopped looking. Tightening the coat around him, Arthur began to move to leave when a snowball hit the back of his head. He fell onto his face in a pile of snow, turning to glare at Alfred who was laughing like crazy.
"You think that's funny?" Arthur growled.
Alfred shook his head and waved his hand in apology, leaning over to offer a hand to Arthur. "Hey, truth or dare?"
Arthur paused, staring at that hand before looking up at Alfred's face who looked honestly curious. "Truth." He wouldn't make the same mistake again.
"Why did you really come to visit me?"
Arthur couldn't deny it as he took Alfred's hand, pulling the boy down on top of him with a laugh of his own when Alfred face-planted into the snow. "Misery loves company, love."