"Does this mean a lot to you?"
Alfred looked up with a tilt of his head curiously, watching Arthur straighten out the hymnals on the side shelves. "Does what?"
Arthur gestured absentmindedly to the whole church, not even bothering to look up from his current task. "This whole thing."
It had been a few weeks since Arthur had saw Alfred's panic attack and he had decided to give the boy some space. He wouldn't crowd him and wouldn't question him. But this one thing, the thought of what could be the reason as to why Alfred was using the church, was starting to eat away at Arthur. He was finding himself drawn in to Alfred's whole being, as lame as that sounded. That wild, frightened look that bestowed Alfred's face all those days ago…Arthur didn't want to see it resurface again.
It worried him.
Alfred shrugged, flipping through some notebook from his backpack as he propped his feet up on the kneelers below him. "You mean religion and stuff?" Arthur remained silent, hoping Alfred would take the quiet as a yes. Alfred pursed his lips and let out a large exhale through his nose. "Not particularly, I guess. I mean, I'm not really sure. My family's not really religious or anything so I never had to go to church or pray or anything, but I'm not completely stupid to the idea. Why?"
Arthur felt something twitch nervously inside him for a moment before he continued with nonchalance. "I'm just curious, I suppose. You do come here quite a lot. It is only natural for me to be a little curious."
Arthur continued stacking the books up neatly for a few minutes before Alfred shuffled around to get comfortable. "I don't really know if there is a God up there, or if we're all on our own down here. I've never given it much thought because…" He faded off. It kinda scares me to think about it. "But who knows? We'll all find out when we die."
Arthur looked up to see Alfred stretch his arms over his head and give a contented grunt at feeling his back pop. He ran his fingers over the binding of the hymnal in his hand. "So then why does this building interest you so much? Why do you come here?"
Alfred blinked his large, blue eyes towards Arthur, something setting behind them wearily. He slumped forward, his shoes making a loud echo against the floor before Alfred raised his eyebrows indifferently. "Why do you?" he countered. Usually whenever they got near the topic of why they went to the old, gothic church, both of them would get defensive and steer the conversation away. Alfred had no doubt that Arthur would react with the same anger and stop talking altogether.
Instead, his gut churned uncomfortably seeing the Briton furrow his brow and stare long and intently at the book in his hands. Arthur bit the inside of his cheek before muttering, "It makes it bearable."
Alfred sat up instantly, eyes wide and watching Arthur with serious surprise. He'd never expected that. He'd never expected any kind of answer, honestly. Arthur seemed to be a pretty secretive guy. To finally say something remotely shallow to why he was always so grumpy, well, that just set something precariously on edge inside Alfred.
"Religion does?" he asked quietly after a moment. Arthur pursed his lips and shook his head, sprouts of hair tickling at his ears as he did so.
"Not religion, and not so much the building. Just…" he paused, looking at Alfred who stiffened considerably under the strong gaze he was receiving. Arthur took a heavy breath and frowned in reluctance. "Being able to occupy myself."
Alfred blinked. That was it? And here he'd thought he was going to confess something huge to him, or at least make a reference to Alfred's presence. Alfred winced, something in his stomach fluttering at that hopeless thought. No sense thinking about something that would never happen. He and Arthur weren't that close. Yeah, they'd been talking for a while now, but that didn't make Alfred a necessity in Arthur's life. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair dejectedly. What are you thinking about now, you idiot?
"Jeez, don't you have hobbies?" Alfred asked, slumping his torso across the back of the bench.
"I do," Arthur muttered. "Sewing, gardening, baking–"
"Painting your nails," smiled Alfred. He stopped his chuckles immediately when Arthur glared darkly at him. "Yes, yes. Baking. Go on."
With a little more cynicism in his voice, Arthur continued, stacking more books on the shelf. "I just can't seem to get into them anymore. They can't hold my interest long enough to keep my mind from drifting like you – like being here can," corrected Arthur quickly, air getting clogged in his throat momentarily.
Alfred pretended like he didn't hear that slip up. "Why not?"
"I have no bloody idea," Arthur sighed, dusting off the corner of a book where cobwebs met the pages.
"So you choose to clean out of everything you could do?" Alfred asked incredulously. "Not my cup of tea," he mumbled, sticking his tongue out and pointing to his mouth with a gag.
"I works, doesn't it?"
Alfred shrugged. "Beats me." He shifted. "So what are you trying to distract yourself from? It has to be something big to want to clean," Alfred asked, wondering if he was treading in too deep of waters too soon. By Arthur's rigid posture and painful grip against the book in his hands, he could tell that he was.
"I don't believe I'm entitled to reveal that part of my personal life," Arthur said with a bite to his tone. He all but slammed the book against the shelf before spinning on Alfred with an unappreciative gaze. Alfred fidgeted.
"I'm not gonna laugh, Arthur–"
"I never thought you were going to laugh!" Arthur snapped.
"Well, what do you think I'm gonna say?"
"It's not what you're going to say; it's what you're going to look like," Arthur seethed, quickly shutting his mouth and turning away. With a grumble, he began to stack the books more vigorously, not even bothering with the curious eyes lingering on his back.
Pity, sympathy, apologies – Arthur didn't want to hear those anymore. He got those enough at Peter's funeral. With Alfred – at least with Alfred, he didn't want to see such a sadness floating about in the depths of his eyes. Not Alfred.
Silence reigned down between them once more, nothing but the sound of angry stacking being heard. Arthur, for a moment, almost thought Alfred had left, since he'd never heard him be this quiet before. Not usually.
"I'm afraid of the dark."
Arthur paused. He cast a confused look over his shoulder. "What?"
Alfred wasn't looking at him anymore, his back turned and his gaze focused on the large cross hanging above the pulpit. "I'm afraid of the dark. I know; me. You'd never think someone as heroic and handsome as me would be afraid of something so stupid. And it must really not make sense considering that this place's lights are on the fritz or something. Sitting alone in a dark, spooky building doesn't seem like someone who's afraid of the dark would do."
Arthur shifted, his black shoes scuffling against the hard floor as he watched the back of Alfred's head curiously. "But it's not so much the dark I'm afraid of." Alfred paused, taking a shaking breath and looking up towards the stained glass above the organ, Mother Mary looking down with a gentle expression, holding baby Jesus like he was some precious gem. Alfred hesitated a moment before laughing a little, rubbing at his face. "It's what's in the dark that really gets me."
Arthur let the words sink in before he frowned. Why was Alfred talking in puzzles? "What do you think is in the dark?" Arthur asked lowly, seriously.
Arthur set the hymnal down and took a hesitant step forward, unsure what he should say to such vague but depressing comments. This was the closest Alfred would ever be to revealing his reason why the church was his sanctuary. How could it be his sanctuary if he was afraid of the dark and the church was a poorly lit environment? Unless…the church wasn't a sanctuary for Alfred at all.
Arthur bit his tongue. Then why come somewhere if he was afraid of it?
"What happens in the dark, Alfred?"
Alfred stilled, holding his breath for a moment as he tried to find the words to answer. Alfred shifted around in his seat so that he could look back at Arthur with a nervous, little smile. It made something ripple down Arthur's spine wearily at such a face.
"I'll get what I deserve."
Alfred stopped and glanced at Arthur curiously when seeing the Briton standing outside of the church with another cigarette. As he approached, he took note of the change in direction the smoke was being blown. Alfred grabbed at his backpack strap and tilted his head curiously.
"Did you scrub the benches again?" he asked disappointedly.
Arthur fiddled with the cigarette in between his fingers before leaning his head back against the coarse material of the building. "No."
Arthur shook his head, blowing more smoke above him. "No," he reiterated. Alfred raised an eyebrow and scratched at his head.
"Then what? Change of scenery or something?"
Alfred huffed, his shoulders heaving with the confused air being released from his lungs. "You just wanted a smoke?"
Arthur remained silent, debating inwardly if what he was about to do was okay. Of course in the natural sense it was. But he wasn't used to doing things like this anymore and it made him somewhat uncomfortable. Alfred shuffled forward and bent forward, giving Arthur a very endearing sight of his large, blue eyes blinking up at him at an angle.
"Is it safe for me to go inside at least?" Alfred asked, feeling a bit impatient.
Arthur let his gaze linger on Alfred's for another moment before he inhaled a rather large puff from his cigarette, coughing slightly and snubbing it out against the church. He straightened, fixing his collar and looking away. "Are you hungry?"
Alfred looked a bit surprised before narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "I guess."
Arthur tried his best to appear casual but inside he felt like every nerve was hooked up to the wrong spot. He pursed his lips, unable to look at Alfred directly. "Well I'm famished. I'm going to get myself some lunch. Would you care to join me or go inside?" Arthur hesitantly looked back at Alfred before he jumped, Alfred giving him the most suspicious face he could muster. Drat, did that sound like an ultimatum? "N-not that you need to go with me. I'm well aware of where food establishments are in the area."
Alfred continued to stare, his eyebrows shooting up into his hairline with a sense of amusement. He smiled sheepishly, slowly. "No. That sounds cool. Yeah, I could get a bite to eat. You paying?"
Alfred laughed, pretty surprised. He hadn't expected that a few weeks after the whole hymnal stacking incident happened that Arthur would invite him to lunch. Maybe the stuffy old Briton wasn't as closed off and bitter as he seemed to be. Well, whatever. Alfred would take any opening he could get to see Arthur in a different, less depressing environment. "Cheapskate."
Arthur strode past Alfred with a nervous grumble. "Moocher," he countered, heading off into the city.
It had been so long since he'd been one on one with someone, aside from having the distraction of cleaning to lean on as a crutch. Alfred was going to be his guinea pig. If he could sit and have a cheap little lunch with Alfred, then that was proof that there was enough of him left worth saving.
Arthur felt his skin crawl as his wrist was engulfed in Alfred's bigger hand, the excited teenager pointing animatedly towards a fast food joint. Arthur scowled, immediately struggling, digging his heels into the cement in a futile attempt to stop.
Oh God, not McDonalds please.
Before he knew it, he was sitting in front of Alfred who was gobbling up his food in the most atrocious way possible, staring down at the garbage America insisted was food. He winced when Alfred swallowed a particularly large bite of his burger, eyes nearly rolling into the back of his head.
"I haven't been here in forever! Great idea, Arthur," Alfred said with his mouth full, grinning. Arthur blandly wiped a french-fry away from him with a frown, looking back at Alfred unamused.
Alfred slurped from his soda and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Well aren'cha gonna eat?"
Arthur grimaced, poking down at his own meal. Was it even edible? "I suddenly don't have an appetite." Alfred's ears perked up at this, sliding Arthur's tray towards him with a laugh.
"That's a bummer, man. You wouldn't want all this food going to waste, though, right?"
Arthur sighed and kneaded his temple. "Sure, whatever. Go mad," he instructed with a wave of his hand, giving Alfred the go ahead to consume his food. He wasn't hungry anyway. It was just an excuse to lure Alfred away into a more public environment. Aside from Arthur's foot constantly tapping under the table, he was thinking that he was doing fairly well.
A crash to their left made Arthur jump briefly, looking down at a toddler eating some toy that came with his meal. His mother was scolding him, apologizing to Arthur as she dragged her child away. Arthur watched with a thrumming heartbeat, feeling offhandedly nervous at the encounter.
No, perhaps he wasn't as ready as he'd previously thought.
"Cute kid," Alfred muttered under all the food in his mouth.
Arthur simply took a long sip from his straw, letting the cheap and bland dispenser tea seep into his taste buds. "Do you like kids, Arthur?" Alfred asked curiously.
Arthur heaved a breath. "I am immersed in your presence weekly, aren't I?"
"I'm not a kid," Alfred pouted, sticking his lower lip out in the most childish of ways. Arthur rolled his eyes and rested his hand on his jittering leg.
"You're still in school?"
"You're still a child."
"That's the dumbest load of shit I've ever heard. What if I was wrinkly and still in college?"
Arthur swirled his straw absentmindedly, unsure of where to focus his eyes. There were people everywhere. Where was he supposed to look? "Then you still have the mind of a child," he put simply.
Alfred groaned in annoyance, dipping a fry in ketchup and waving it accusingly in Arthur's face. "You know, you really need to rearrange how you think of people. If you really thought I was a kid, you would treat me differently."
Alfred settled back in his seat, fidgeting and chewing on his fry. "You wouldn't take me seriously and stuff. I can tell you don't look at me like I'm twelve or something. People don't look at twelve year olds like that."
Arthur's eyes darted back towards Alfred, insult on his tongue ready to fall, when he stopped, getting caught up in those two, know-it-all orbs staring at him. His words died in his mouth leaving him only there to glower with heat crawling up his neck in silence. Alfred stuck his chin up in victory and slurped from his soda.
"I knew it."
Arthur pretended to ignore the loud smacking Alfred emitted by turning away with an indignant scowl. He placed his chin in his palm and watched the many patrons indulge themselves on fatty meats and grease. This whole placed reeked of cholesterol and food and it was all uniquely Alfred.
Arthur wanted to vomit.
"Hey," Alfred spoke up quietly after a long period of chewing.
"What?" Arthur asked listlessly.
Shaking his soda and only hearing ice cubes, Alfred ran his tongue over his lips. "Um…Well, I don't want to sound all mushy or anything." Arthur glanced back at Alfred with distrust. What was he about to say that made him squirm uncomfortably like that and sound mushy? Alfred picked at his half eaten burger in annoyance. "I guess I can just say it or something. Get it over with and stuff."
Arthur sat up, fingers running over the material of his pants over his jiggling knee. Alfred huffed and slumped into his chair. "Thanks," he said quickly. Arthur almost had to strain his ears to catch the word.
It was Alfred's turn to look away. "Well, I mean thanks for cleanin' and stuff. Not for cleaning, really. I actually don't care about the cleaning…" Alfred pulled at the strings on his sweatshirt. "But for talking to me I guess." He peeked up behind his glasses curiously, watching Arthur watch him. "Nobody really talked to me before when I went into that church. I guess I wasn't expecting anybody to talk to me when going in, but it's a big place and it's dark and quiet and…"
Arthur looked down at his drink. "Lonely," he supplied.
Alfred laughed apprehensively. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. So thanks." He paused. "That's all." Alfred quickly stuck his straw back into his mouth and went back to trying to finish his meal and failing horribly at it. Arthur frowned at his drink and took another sip.
He didn't want to be thanked for something like that.
He didn't deserve those thanks, not even remotely as much as Alfred did.
Arthur had been having nightmares recently.
He felt jittery for days, his stiff demeanor showing promisingly when he lit the candles around the church. It was raining again. Rain always bothered Arthur since the day of Peter's accident. It had been raining that night in April as well. He still needed to go to the store too, his refrigerator nearly empty for a whole week.
The match shook in Arthur's hand as he reached up to light the tall candles by the podium where sermons were given. He couldn't help but be in a bad mood and had prayed to a God he didn't believe in anymore that Alfred wouldn't waltz his way into the church that afternoon.
By the heavy sound of the doors behind him, Arthur knew that his prayer wasn't answered.
He heard Alfred shiver and shake as he walked up to his bench, soggy and soaked from the walk from his school to the church. Arthur silently wondered why Alfred never took a car or the bus. It was an awful amount of walking to do in a day, Arthur understood.
It took the general ten minutes for Alfred to situate himself to the room, Arthur knowing that if Alfred wasn't talking after ten minutes then he was having one of his petrified days.
"Why are you lighting candles?"
Arthur cringed. Damn.
"It looks nice," Arthur muttered, blinking back the blurred vision in his eyes. He hadn't been suffering from nightmares since the initial impact of losing Peter started. Why they had resurfaced now, he hadn't a clue. All he knew was that he hated being in his house and needed to clean or think about cleaning twice as much.
"Man, you're old. There's an invention called electricity," Alfred joked making Arthur grit his teeth and push his migraine away. Alfred's voice was like nails on a chalkboard to him. When seeing that Arthur wasn't going to respond, too busy lighting more candles, Alfred leaned back on his bench.
"It's really coming down out there. I had to run a little bit."
"It didn't do any good," mumbled Arthur, casting a glance over his shoulder at how soaked Alfred looked.
Alfred chuckled lightly, flipping a wet strand of his bangs. "Yeah. But the buses don't run this late, so what can I do?" he shrugged.
"Yes they do."
"The buses still run," Arthur said stiffly. He caught the slight dip in Alfred's voice as the boy tried to laugh it off.
"Arthur, I think I'd know when the buses ran."
I don't think you do, Arthur thought, lighting another string of candles. He hated how jumpy Alfred could get at the most random of topics. It was all well and good before, but it was nearly December and the whole 'defensive' act was starting to get deep under his skin. He tried to remind himself that this was good for him; being immersed in Alfred's neutral presence was supposed to help him somehow.
It didn't help so much now that he'd forgotten how exactly it was helping.
"Do you need any help?" Alfred asked as cheerfully as he could. He kept his gaze on Arthur as the shadows danced across the floor from the lightening outside, giving the shapes and faces from the glass paintings a near ominous look on the floor and benches.
"I can help, Arthur. It's no big deal." Alfred stood up and moved towards Arthur a bit, the Englishman tensing. He winced at the abrupt movement to look at Alfred, his headache pulsing just beneath the surface. Reluctantly, Arthur agreed.
"Fine. The matches are over there." With that, Arthur went back to his current task. He wanted silence. He wanted to focus on the flame dancing before his eyes and burning away the pain in his skull and festering memories behind his eyes.
Meanwhile, Alfred hummed quietly under his breath as he spun the match box in his hand, pulling it open and lighting one. He walked up to the stage and leaned up on his tip-toes to light the red candles in the holders on the wall. He hadn't lit candles in ages. At least, not since…
He gave an airy laugh, shaking his head slowly and sticking his tongue out in concentration. He was barely tall enough to reach them; he wanted to scoff at how insistent Arthur was to light them. If Alfred could barely reach them, then Arthur had no chance.
"Where do I put this when it's used?" Alfred asked, shaking out the fire before it burned his finger.
Arthur didn't look away from the candles in front of him, merely pointing back to a metal offering tray filled with many burnt matches. Alfred hoped off the stage and chucked his match into it, lighting another one. He leaned back against the offering table and began to light the three white candles in the center.
"It smells like smoke in here," Alfred commented, sniffing in distaste.
"You're lighting matches, genius," Arthur sighed.
Alfred shook his head. "No, I meant like cigarettes. Were you smoking inside?" Alfred asked curiously. Were people allowed to smoke in churches? Or was that, like, a big no-no?
Arthur blew out his match with a frown, rubbing at his forehead. "I can't simply do it outside toda–" he stopped when seeing Alfred lighting the center candles. "What are you doing! You can't light those!" Arthur yelled, scowl deepening as he briskly made his way around the benches.
Alfred looked up in surprise, eyes wide and confused before he moved away, bumping the table and knocking the tall candles over the side. They clattered against the floor ungracefully, the fire catching on the cloth draping over the side of the table.
"Shit," Alfred breathed, stumbling over his feet and falling on his butt. Arthur's throat clenched as he began to swat at the growing flames, wondering why he ever trusted Alfred to light candles. Such a simple task and he couldn't even follow it. Maybe he was just a child.
"You can't light the white ones!" Arthur barked over the flapping of his coat against the fire. Alfred darted for his backpack, pulling out a water bottle and pouring it over the fire. With a few stomps here and there, there was nothing left but broken candles and a smoldering table cloth.
Alfred exhaled wearily, rubbing at his face with his sweatshirt sleeve. Arthur composed himself a little, swiping his hair out of his face before settling a deeply angered glower on Alfred who visibly flinched. "You." Just one word, but it had a powerful effect.
"I didn't know," answered Alfred in his defense.
Arthur clenched his fists at his sides. "What do you mean you didn't know? How could you not know! Everybody knows that the middle candles are always lit first. If they weren't lit, you weren't supposed to light them at all!"
"Well how was I supposed to know that!" Alfred defended. "I already told you that I don't know a whole lot about churches–"
"This isn't a church thing, Alfred. It's a common sense thing."
"That's not true," Alfred frowned hesitantly, unsure if he was wrong or not. The dangerous way Arthur was looking at him made him feel unconfident with his answer.
"I didn't set the white candles up. They're supposed to be for Sunday. Now I have to go out and buy new ones on my own salary." Arthur seethed, glancing down at the pile of ashes and broken wax. "Look at the mess you made!" he gestured.
"I said I was sorry," muttered Alfred with a wince.
"No you didn't," Arthur growled.
"Well I am. If it's such a big deal, then I'll buy them for you."
Arthur shook his head and let out a hardy exhale through his nostrils. He ran his fingers through his hair roughly before saying, "Don't. I'll do it. You'll probably find a way to screw it up."
Arthur noticed the brief flicker of pain across Alfred's face before the blonde scowled with the best intensity that he could, which, coincidentally, wasn't that much. "Calm down. Why are you so mad? It's just candles."
"No it's not!" Arthur erupted, fisting his hands in his hair and letting out an aggrieved groan. "It's you!" he screamed, Alfred curling in on himself in horrified surprised. "It's too hard, I can't do it anymore. It's you and this damn church and these candles and-" Arthur kicked at the mess below him, looking up with his eyes glossed over with as much water as the clouds contained outside. "And it's Peter," he choked, burying his face in his hands.
Alfred remained silent after Arthur's outburst, afraid to say anything, but at the same time wanting to say something to get that look off Arthur's face. He shifted his sneakers against the chunks of candle beneath him and bit his lip. Who was Peter? With a tentative hand, Alfred reached out to perhaps give Arthur an awkward pat on the shoulder, but he was stopped short by an exhausted and frustrated voice.
"Go home, Alfred. I don't want to look at you."
Alfred watched Arthur for a long time, his words scraping at something inside of him before he nodded. Alfred drug his body over to his backpack, not even bothering to sling it over his shoulder, as he disappeared out into the rain. When Arthur finally regained his senses, he felt miserable for a totally different reason.
All that over stupid candles, huh?
Alfred's feelings had to be worth more than a pile of ash on the floor of a church.
When Arthur had come in to clean three days later, he found that Alfred didn't decide to show up. Guilt silently ate away inside of Arthur as he polished the offering bowls. He worked longer than he'd originally planned, waiting to see a mop of wet hair walk through the large doors so he could apologize for his very ungentlemanly outburst.
He didn't get the chance.
Arthur walked back to his apartment, walking up the stairs and unlocking his door, when Antonio decided to peek his head out from his own apartment across the hallway and call out to him.
"These are for you," he chirped, though confusion was evident behind his eyes as he handed Arthur a pile of white candles wrapped in a red silk cloth. His confusion only amplified when Arthur cursed and hugged the candles tightly to his chest, not even taking note of the card with big sloppy letters written on it that fell to the floor.
"I'm not going to bite you, Alfred. I said come here."
Alfred kept his stance by the doorway, looking uneasily towards Arthur who was sitting with his leg crossed over the other on the stage. Arthur had his usual indifferent expression on, no longer that grieved face nor the one filled with blistering anger. Still, after a week of staying away from the church, Alfred couldn't help but feel cautious when the urge to sit on his bench finally won out over his weariness of Arthur's anger.
He switched his weight to his other foot, grabbing at his backpack straps tightly.
Arthur sighed, not knowing that yelling at Alfred would make the boy so on edge. "I promise not to yell, lad. Now will you come over here?"
Alfred frowned, but unwillingly started to make his way down the aisle at a snail's pace. He paused. "Did you get my candles?" he asked cautiously.
Arthur nodded. "Yes, they were quite lovely. They're on my kitchen table as we speak."
Alfred raised an eyebrow. "I didn't mean for you to…I mean, they were supposed to replace the church's candles."
Arthur forced a pointed smile onto his face, wondering just how authentic it looked. "I was joking."
Alfred looked away. "Oh." He stopped awkwardly when he was a foot in front of Arthur, looking down at him behind the lenses of his glasses. Arthur's gaze never faltered. "Hi," he mumbled.
"Hello," Arthur replied back. He uncrossed his leg and sat up properly, his chin coming in line with Alfred's collarbone. He pursed his lips expectantly. "What I am about to do will supersede what just happened a thousand times over. You may not look like I will hit you or yell at you any day after this, and will stop bothering me about my smoking habits."
Alfred frowned, opening his mouth to say something, probably a question, before he was cut short when a hand tugged him forward into a warm chest, Alfred losing his balance and leaning shocked up against Arthur. Arthur buried his face into the crook of Alfred's neck, hiding his red cheeks and ears, twining his arms roughly around Alfred's back in hopes that this would appease the attention-starved blonde.
Alfred blinked in confusion, the smell of laundry detergent, cigarettes, and paprika overtaking his senses. Was Arthur hugging him?
Arthur, who rarely smiled and laughed and touched people and cared?
"Why aren't you doing anything?" Arthur grit out, embarrassed. God, he didn't know how to do this sort of thing. Alfred quickly but hesitantly wrapped his arms around Arthur, nearly sneezing when Arthur's hair tickled his nose.
This actually felt kinda nice. You know, when you got past the whole awkward touchy-feely-in-a-church feeling.
Arthur shut his eyes, leaning into Alfred's returned embrace. His mind screamed 'Peter,' trying to remember back to how easily he could do this with his brother, but every cell in his body screamed 'Alfred.' This wasn't like hugging Peter at all. Alfred felt different against him. He smelled different and was warmer and just made something crumble inside of his chest.
Arthur sighed. Why hadn't he tried this before?
After a long moment, Alfred tried to crane his neck to get a look at Arthur. "Hey. You didn't fall asleep, did you?" he asked, cheeks tinged red.
Arthur's eyes shot open abruptly, tossing Alfred away as he stood on shaking legs, straightening his shirt. Alfred winced and glared at Arthur from his spot on the floor before getting to his feet.
Arthur wagged his finger down at Alfred with the best frown he could muster. "W-we're even now."
Alfred cracked his neck and rubbed his still itching nose. "Sure." He wasn't complaining. He mulled another sentence around on his tongue. "So are you gonna tell me about Pet–"
"No," Arthur snapped.
Alfred pouted. "Why not? You made such a huge deal about it."
"The candles," Arthur corrected.
"Named Peter." Alfred watched as Arthur looked away, looking torn. This Peter guy was obviously a sore spot to Arthur. Alfred secretly hoped Arthur would tell him, so at least he could maybe do something about it. Like kick Peter's ass if he was harassing Arthur or something. "Please? You know I won't laugh."
"It's not that you'll laugh," Arthur sighed.
Alfred offered a small smile before pivoting his feet and turning away. "It's how I'll look, right? Then what if I don't look?"
Arthur wanted to snort at how childishly amusing that was. He gulped down the ball building in the back of his throat and bit his cheek. This was it. If he really wanted to get better and move on, he needed to confide in someone. And who better than that someone to be than neutral Alfred who played both for the children's side and adult side?
It all started with four fateful words.
"Peter was my brother…"
"Look at that," Alfred gasped, peeking his head out the doors to see the heavily clouded sky pouring thick globs of rain onto the city.
"It's raining cats and dogs, alright," Arthur muttered, breathing against a mirror and wiping it down with a napkin. It had been nearly two weeks since he'd discussed Peter with Alfred, and the nightmares miraculously ceased. He told him about getting a call from Peter after school on a mysterious number that he couldn't recognize, saying that he was going to be going home with a friend that afternoon. Arthur had agreed and said he'd pick him up later. The next thing he knew, some officers were at his door informing him of an accident at the park earlier, Peter's tiny body found crumpled under the front of a car, gone.
The rest came easy. How he'd stayed cooped up in his house, angry and devastated, relying on Antonio and his Italian roommates to look after him for nearly six months. After feeling guilty for all of the care he was getting for being a useless pile of bitterness, he had offered to clean Antonio's church, hoping to take his mind off the incident. Though he told Alfred about the incident, he left out key names and locations, wanting to be as vague as possible.
Alfred had been honest and hadn't looked at him the entire time. And even afterwards, the American had made sure not to look at Arthur, just in case he saw what he was hoping wasn't on Alfred's face. The next time the boy came into the church, he was all smiles and jokes, as per usual.
It was like a large weight was lifted from Arthur's shoulders, feeling rather grateful for Alfred just listening to his sob story. He didn't know what was so compelling about Alfred, but Arthur didn't question it. Alfred was the balm that temporarily took the sting away from his wounds. He hoped that with applying Alfred enough, his scab would clear entirely.
"I thought it was going to go down earlier," Alfred grumbled, shivering. "How am I supposed to walk home in this? I'll drown!"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You're exaggerating. Why didn't you bring an umbrella?"
"I forgot it."
Alfred bit his lip and checked his phone, seeing that it was almost seven. He needed to get home soon. He'd stayed longer than usual at the church in hopes that the weather would lighten up, but that never happened. Now he was stuck with darker skies and a wetter surrounding. He crinkled his nose. Not good.
"Ah, you're afraid of the dark, huh?" Arthur spoke up when he saw Alfred's nervous demeanor, as if the information just clicked. He lowered his voice to be a little more courteous. "That's terrible. I apologize."
Alfred frowned and peeked his head out the door again. "You think I can make it to the North P Street in fifteen minutes if I ran?" Alfred asked honestly.
Arthur snorted. "You couldn't make it there in fifteen minutes if you hailed a cab." He paused, seeing the displeasure ripple across Alfred's face. "I apologize once more."
"Dude," Alfred breathed, twining his fingers through his hair.
Arthur stopped his cleaning momentarily to glance at Alfred. The boy really was terrified of the dark, wasn't he? "You act as though a ghost is out there to get you." Arthur bit his tongue as Alfred's eyes widened, his face paling and lips peeling back in horror. "There's no such thing as ghosts, Alfred."
"You don't know that."
"You don't know that."
Arthur sighed, going back to wiping the stained mirror taken down from Antonio's office. "If you're really that frightened, you may stay at my place until the rain lets up if you wish."
Alfred practically jumped up and down in relief. "You're serious? If you're not serious, then I'm going to have to stop talking to you. You're serious, right?"
"Yes, yes. No please desist your chattering until I'm finished."
Alfred pretended to zip his lips with a grin. Whew. What a load off.
By the time Arthur was finished cleaning for the day, it was nearly eight. All the while, Alfred silently pondered nervously if Arthur had been truthful about letting him come over. If he just made him stay till the sun went down just to tell him that he had to walk home, well, then someone was going to find Arthur's body in the quarry in a few days. He pulled his backpack tighter as Arthur flicked off the light switches, darkening the already intimidating building. He sighed and opened the door.
"After you, madam."
Alfred scowled but skittered out the door. He would've made Arthur go first and be the lady, but he really didn't want to be the last one in the church. Arthur locked the doors with the spare keys Antonio had given him and tightened his coat around him, briskly making his way down the streets towards his apartment.
"Why don't you drive a car, man? You wouldn't have to walk in the rain every day," Alfred complained, holding his backpack over his head much like an umbrella.
"You know why I don't go near vehicles," Arthur muttered stiffly, trying to ignore Alfred's comment. Alfred thought about it before remembering Peter and wrinkling his nose. Oops. His bad.
"Do you live close? Please tell me you live close."
"A few blocks away."
"Belt up or I'm not letting you follow me at all," Arthur quipped, already feeling somewhat on edge about letting Alfred over. He'd barely known the boy a handful of months and he was already inviting him to his apartment? Was he even allowed to do that? Granted, Alfred was an adult from what the teenager told him, but still…he was in school.
"We're here," he idly commented, walking up a flight of murky green stairs. Alfred sighed in relief, nearly soaked to the bone again.
"Oh, thank God."
Arthur pulled his keys from his coat pocket and began to unlock his door when the door behind him opened. Alfred turned with surprise to see a familiar face holding a garbage bag. He snapped his fingers, trying to pull a name from his head.
"Hey, you're in my class, aren't you?" he blurted. "Uhm…Uh…Fargo. No, Felton – Felicino!"
The boy laughed, that vacant stupid look appearing back on his face. "Feliciano. Ve…What is Alfred doing here?"
Arthur tensed, finally getting his door unlocked. Leave it to Antonio to send someone to take the garbage out now. He was probably staring through his peephole for hours, waiting to see when Arthur would get home. Uggh, The creep.
"Have you looked outside? It's like a Tsunami out there," he laughed.
Feliciano looked over the apartment platform out over the stairs to see the rain reflected in the lights above the apartment parking lot. "Or God is crying," he joked, not perceptive enough to see Alfred's face fall, knuckles turning white as he held onto his backpack for dear life.
"Don't dillydally, Alfred, or I'm locking you out," Arthur chided, tapping his foot impatiently. He just wanted to get inside. Both Alfred and Feliciano looked back at the Briton before each other.
"You know Arthur?" Feliciano asked.
"Yup. We're pretty good friends," Alfred smiled. He paused, looking towards Arthur for confirmation. "We're friends, right?"
"Get inside," Arthur sighed irritably. It was freezing.
Alfred turned back to Feliciano. "Yeah, we're friends. Well it was nice seein' ya, Farquad. Have fun taking the garbage out."
Feliciano waved with a bubbly laugh before it was cut off by the screaming of his brother telling him to shut the door. Arthur shook his head and locked his door, hanging his keys on the hook.
"Make yourself at home, I suppose. Just don't make a mess," Arthur instructed, slipping off his coat and meandering into his kitchen.
Alfred was left standing alone in the small, yellow living room, glancing around at all the old lady knickknacks on the walls and the nicely vacuumed carpet under his wet shoes. Was he supposed to take his shoes off? Alfred shrugged, leaving them on and placing his wet backpack by the door. He whistled impressively when he walked in front of a large cabinet by the radio, peering into the glass with raised eyebrows.
"A bit of an alcoholic, are you?" he called out when seeing dozens of liquor bottles ready to have the life sucked out of them.
"There's nothing wrong with a drink every now and then," Arthur responded back, trying to find any beverage in his refrigerator to serve to his guest. Damn his lack of shopping.
Alfred snorted quietly to himself. "Yeah, if you mean every day of your life," he snickered. Straightening up, Alfred began to look around the room at all the quilts and antiques and picture frames.
Arthur was busy pouring some sort of soda Antonio had stashed in his cupboards reluctantly, knowing this or water would be the only things to serve Alfred. After all, he wasn't going to pop out the brandy and start taking shots. He popped the cap back on the soda and was in the process of putting it away when he heard a heavy thump.
Arthur jumped, getting off his tippy-toes and looking towards the arch between the kitchen and his living room. He frowned. "If you've broken something already," he warned, sighing heavily and making his way into the room. He stopped abruptly, looking down curiously at Alfred on the floor, his arm holding his torso up by gripping the couch. He blinked at the way Alfred was looking at him, frozen to the floor.
"What're you doing?" Arthur asked genuinely, not quite sure how to take the large eyes and crinkled eyebrows shot his way. Alfred opened his mouth like a gasping fish before he stumbled to his feet, body shaking like mad, as if he'd just fallen into a tub of ice water. Arthur furrowed his brow in slight concern. "Alfred?"
"I have to g-go. Thanks for letting me come over," Alfred breathed in a rush, scuttling to get his bag and tear the door from its hinges. Arthur balked, darting after Alfred as he nearly fell down the flight of stairs down to the parking lot.
"Alfred, hold on one moment! You need a ride!" He cursed, seeing the boy ignore him as he started to pound his fist against Antonio's apartment door. He cursed under his breath, eyes darting back to the darkness of the parking lot, no longer seeing a flash of blonde amongst the rain.
After a long moment, Antonio finally answered his door, cringing at the glare Arthur was bestowing him. "Yes?"
Arthur growled. "You're too slow," he grit out, turning on his heels and storming back to his apartment. Stupid Antonio. If he'd been a moment quicker, Alfred would've had a ride at least.
Arthur sighed and ran a hand over his face. Well that had gone atrocious. And here he'd been a little excited to have someone over after so long. He stared at the two cups on his counter before he poured them out in the sink.
Perhaps he was just a terrible host.
Alfred had been quiet the next few times he'd come into the church. He was having those days again; the days where he didn't talk and only looked at his shoes. He'd been muttering a lot more to himself and had been wiping his hands constantly against his pants as if to remove something. Arthur tried to be as reasonable as possible, but after so long, he only got frustrated.
Here he'd confessed about the darkness in his past, and yet Alfred still refused to confide in him. That just wasn't fair. Alfred said he considered himself friends with Arthur, so weren't friends supposed to be there for each other and all that mushy garbage?
"Do you need a tissue?" Arthur asked pointedly, trying to keep the cynicism out of his voice. He wouldn't admit it aloud, but Alfred snubbing him stung a little bit. He was upset.
Alfred didn't look up, but immediately stopped his incessant rubbing against his pants. He continued to mumble under his breath, though.
Arthur frowned before placing his chin in his palm and crossing his leg. He had finished cleaning early today, practically nothing left to clean in the church. He was running out of excuses to keep coming here unfortunately. "Why don't you play a song, Alfred?" Arthur glanced towards the organ. "You haven't tried playing in a while."
Alfred continued his even paced breathing, staring at the back of the bench in front of him.
"Just one song, Alfred. It's rather boring in here today."
Arthur sighed, lowering his eyelids and pursing his lips from the offering table where he sat. "What was the one you played before? I can't quite remember. Oh, yes, I do actually. Something about a ballgame, correct?"
Alfred stiffened, breathing picking up slightly. He swallowed heavily and hunkered down into his shoulders more.
Arthur sat up, resting his hands behind him on the table. "I don't remember all of the words, and I can't sing very well. Music would make it sound better, don't you think?" When Alfred continued to ignore him, Arthur scowled. This was no fun at all. He was tired of this depressing air lingering about. "Something about crackerjack. Let's see," Arthur pondered. He slowly let a tune drift into his voice, quietly, though. "Root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win it's a shame. For it's one," Arthur narrowed his eyes as Alfred flinched. "Two," he said louder, feeling positively suspicious when Alfred gasped. "Three strikes, you're out," he finished gruffly.
Alfred's hands went back to rubbing with twice as much vigor as before. Arthur hummed to himself and hopped off of the table, strolling over to the bench next to Alfred's. Arthur sat down on the end, feet splayed into the aisle as he watched Alfred rocking back and forth ever so slightly.
"You don't seem to like that song," Arthur commented. "I thought you liked baseball."
Alfred shook his head, mumbling something about his hands. Arthur looked at Alfred's hands. They looked perfectly fine to him.
He sighed, letting go of his indifferent façade. "Are you alright?" he asked seriously. Alfred bit his lip. "Alfred, I'm serious. You know you can tell me. I won't laugh," he paused. "Or look. Whatever's wrong, it's not healthy. For heaven's sake, you come to a place every day that makes you terrified."
Alfred hesitantly glanced over at Arthur.
"Just tell me. Perhaps I can help. It's a long shot, but at least I could try. It's not good to watch you act like this. What are you afraid of?" Arthur coaxed, frowning.
Alfred shivered and winced. "You'll hate me."
Arthur furrowed his brow and shook his head insistently. "No. I would never do that." The realization of this sent something warm trickling inside Arthur's abdomen. He could never hate Alfred?
Alfred chewed on his lower lip. "I can't," he breathed.
"For goodness sake! Trust someone else for once, why won't you? Peter was the worst thing that's ever happened to me and you managed to convince me that telling you would help. And it did. Just tell me so I can help you – and stop rubbing your hands!" he snapped, snatching Alfred's raw hands away from his pants. He shook them in front of Alfred's face. "There's nothing on them. Look."
Alfred stared with wide eyes at Arthur for a long while before the Briton relaxed. "You're worrying me, lad," he admitted reluctantly.
After a long moment of silence and inner debate, Alfred pulled his shaking hands from Arthur's hold and dug around in his jacket. He gulped and looked back at Arthur with a weary smile. "I-I can't tell you…unless it's over the phone," he said quietly.
Arthur blinked at him. He was going to ask why, but stopped himself at the look on Alfred's face. Instead, he dug out his own cell phone and fed Alfred the numbers who typed them into his phone with trembling fingers.
"Right now?" Arthur asked in confusion. Why tell him over the phone when they were a foot away from each other? Alfred nodded solemnly and pressed talk.
Arthur waited until a vibration in his hand triggered that Alfred was calling him from his phone. He sighed and was about to answer when something caught his attention and he went rigid. Arthur felt something inside him squeeze as he looked down in shock at the number on his caller id.
The phone fell from his hand as shocked green eyes darted to Alfred in questioning. Alfred looked absolutely hopeless at the face Arthur was making. He knew this would happen. After hearing Arthur's story with an unfamiliar phone calling him from the park and looking through the picture frames at Arthur's house to see that Peter wore the same face as the boy Alfred had seen get in an accident over half a year ago, he knew that without a doubt, that was his phone.
He had let Peter use it moments before he died.
"I didn't mean to," Alfred tried to reason desperately. Arthur barely heard the words against his ears, too busy staring at where his phone had been. He had memorized that number, hating it. Why did it show up when Alfred was calling him?
"It was an accident, I swear. I was going home from school and he just ran up and asked if he could use my phone really quick, so I let him. I didn't think it would hurt anything," Alfred pleaded, standing up. Arthur took a step away.
"That was your phone?" he asked incredulously.
"I didn't know he'd get that distracted. He just wandered into the streets with it!" Alfred looked panicked. Arthur nodded slowly with a constricted throat. Yes, Alfred couldn't have known that would happen. It wasn't…really his fault, he supposed.
Alfred rung his hands together, wiping them against his shirt. "I don't know why I didn't move," he muttered guiltily. "I saw the car. I saw how fast it was going, but my legs wouldn't move. If I just stepped forward and reached my hand out, I could've stopped it. But I didn't. I didn't even warn him." Alfred's chest hitched as his face crinkled with hurt. "I didn't lift a finger and let him keep walking. I let him die."
Arthur gripped his hand over his heart and looked anywhere but Alfred. This was bad. This was horribly, utterly bad. He never anticipated that Alfred would confess to aiding in Peter's death, and not helping him even when he knew he had enough time to get Peter out of the way.
He let Peter die.
"Disgusting," Arthur muttered making Alfred look horrified. Arthur felt ill. He couldn't see straight, and just being in a room with Alfred made him want to vomit.
"You need to go," he ordered, jaw clenched painfully tight as he willed himself not to smack the blonde across the face in his anger. He let Peter die.
Alfred choked on air, withdrawing into himself as he looked desperately at Arthur. He didn't want him looking at him like he knew he would; like he despised Alfred's very existence. "Arthur–"
"I said get out! I can't stand to look at you!" Arthur growled, wincing. He wished he hadn't poked his nose into Alfred's business. He was better off not knowing.
Alfred bit out a frustrated sob, trying to see past the blurring tears in his eyes. "If I can't even get you to forgive me, how can I expect him to!" he yelled, gesturing towards the image of Jesus painted on the glass, staring down at the spectacle with hollow eyes.
Arthur barely registered that Alfred had fled from the building, out into the rain to go God knew where. He could barely hold himself upright as he leaned against the bench and gasped.
This hurt. Knowing this hurt.
It made sense as to why Alfred always looked frightened when entered the church. He was seeking solace and hoped to anything that if there was a God up there, that he could miraculously forgive him for purposely not saving a child. It wasn't a sanctuary for Alfred.
It was fodder for his last attempt at mercy.
"Arthur?" Antonio asked, looking up from getting his mail. He stared in surprise seeing how drenched the Briton was, at how his feet were lagging and his body was slumping. "What happened? You look awful."
Arthur furrowed his brow weakly and began to fish his keys from his pockets without a comment. He fought with them a moment before they slipped from his hold and fell against the ground. He stared, not even bothering to pick them up as Antonio cocked an eyebrow.
"Arthur?" he repeated, unsure.
The Englishman felt it all fall apart then with a rough gasp, dropping down to his knees. Antonio scuttled around to face his neighbor and held his shoulders with surprise as Arthur angrily sobbed. He gripped at Antonio until his fingers hurt and his throat became raw, uncaring if he was making a scene in front of his whole duplex. This sucked.
"Not Alfred," he choked, shaking his head against the material of the shirt in front of him. Why did it have to be Alfred of all people? There were billions of people out there; out of everyone, fate had to be cruel enough and make it Alfred?
Antonio looked up helplessly at the two Italians watching the scene unfolding in his arms, unsure what to do. He just complied and let Arthur bawl in furious gasps until there were no more tears left, two simple words chanted from his lips desperately like a mantra.
Arthur wasn't sure exactly how long had passed since Alfred's confession, but he finally willed himself to go back to clean at the church. He had stayed up many nights pondering what he would say, but in the end was won out by the pained face he had seen on the boy.
Perhaps he knew why it was Alfred who had been put in that situation.
For if it had been anyone else besides neutral Alfred, Arthur knew he wouldn't have been able to forgive them.
He was right. In the end he couldn't hate Alfred after all.
Aside from the little bit of anger that lingered, Arthur had been willing to attempt to move past this. He needed to make it clear that he at least didn't hate the boy. But day after day, Alfred never showed up. Arthur began to feel a little antsy, remembering that Arthur was his third strike. If Arthur couldn't forgive him, then Alfred assumed any God up there wouldn't be able to by default. He didn't even want to think what Alfred would do now that he thought he was a lost cause of guilt and misery.
So that's where Arthur was today, swaying impatiently on his feet and listening to the church hymns being sung with such an atrocious organ player. He had attended the Sunday services, hoping to see Alfred amongst the many faces.
As Antonio closed with a prayer, Arthur immediately made his way out of his seat, eyes darting about the mass of people. After five minutes, he gave up and growled, heading straight for the robed Spaniard with a frown. Antonio looked genuinely astounded.
"Arthur! What a surprise seeing you he–"
"Where's Alfred? I thought you said he comes here every day," Arthur snapped impatiently. Antonio smiled, handing his offerings over to the Lovino.
"He does. Every school day."
"What?" Arthur hissed. "You mean I just stood through your boring sermon for nothing?"
Antonio laughed. "I've never seen Alfred attend in my life. He just likes coming in during the week and sitting inside by himself. But I'm flattered that you came in today to–"
"Oh, save it." Arthur turned and started heading for the doors. Well that had been a waste of his time. Before he left, he paused to look up at the painting of Mary with baby Jesus. He furrowed his brow and placed his hand against the baby's head. "He's not at strike three yet. It was a foul ball."
With that, he went outside to smoke a pack of cigarettes and brood.
Arthur stood feeling like a total idiot outside of Feliciano's high school. He had been waiting there for nearly an hour, wondering when class let out. He knew Alfred would try to get a ride from his friends or take the bus, knowing that he was apparently afraid of cars as much as Arthur was.
So instead he watched the different faces of students make their way outside as the school day had ended.
Arthur pursed his lips and felt something in his stomach squirm when he saw that familiar blonde cowlick meandering down the walkway. Arthur pushed off of the fence and began to make his way towards the teenager, the feeling spiking when Alfred looked up in surprise. They both froze, the numerous bodies of children still moving every which way around them.
Before Arthur could say anything, though, Alfred was halfway down the street. Arthur cursed and followed after him. Why did Alfred have to be so fucking fast?
"Would you stop already!" Arthur yelled in irritated, nearly falling over into a pile of garbage cans.
"Just go away!" Alfred answered back, making his way across the street. Arthur grit his teeth, annoyed that Alfred wouldn't even let him explain himself. It wasn't like he was going to track Alfred down just to spit on him and to tell him to go to hell or something.
"You're being ridiculous!"
"No, I'm being totally reasonable!" Alfred said, apologizing to a woman for bumping into her. Arthur felt his lungs burn with the desperate need of air. He knew he should've have eaten before coming here.
"Just stop so I can talk to you."
Alfred shook his head. "You don't need to say anything. I already know enough from how you looked."
Arthur growled. "Now you're just being unreasonable!" As they rounded a corner, Arthur felt his breath catch at seeing Alfred making his way across another street, not looking to see traffic starting to move. He felt something rumble in warning deep inside his chest as he strained to reach out and grab onto Alfred's hood, yanking the boy back.
They fell in a painful pile against the cement, chests heaving and lungs burning. Arthur sat up, wincing at the weight of Alfred against his stomach. Alfred groaned, rubbing at his head.
"See? It's just that easy," he muttered depressingly. As easy as reaching an arm out, and yet he couldn't even do that.
"That wasn't easy at all," Arthur defended, legs aching from the force he'd asserted. Alfred refused to look at him as he sat up, dusting off his pants. He was sure to have bruises. Nearly suffocating under the awkward tension, Arthur leaned forward and took Alfred's wrist in his hand. Alfred looked up at him in confusion as Arthur stood up.
"Let's get you cleaned up."
Alfred reluctantly allowed himself to follow Arthur as he watched his back in puzzlement. What did he mean 'cleaned up'?
"Is it gone yet?" Arthur asked for what seemed like the millionth time. Alfred sighed awkwardly, wanting nothing more than to remove his now red hands from Arthur's hold.
"There wasn't anything there to begin with."
"I'm just making sure," he said, kneeling in front of Alfred who was sitting on his couch and scrubbing at his hands with a wash cloth. He was going to wash all the blood off Alfred's hands once and for all. Even though there was never anything there when Alfred wiped his hands against his pants, Arthur wanted to double-check just to be sure.
"This is stupid," Alfred mumbled, feeling somewhat embarrassed sitting with his hands in Arthur's for nearly twenty minutes. He was unsure what compelled him to allow himself to be led up to Arthur's apartment again, only sure that it was stupid thing to do. There was no running away now.
"Nonsense." Arthur placed the wash cloth back into the soapy bucket by his knee and clasped Alfred's hands tighter. "There. Is that clean enough?"
Arthur ran his thumb over the scars on Alfred's palm, wondering how harshly he had held himself accountable all this time. Such a heavy burden to be placed on someone as cheerful as Alfred. It didn't seem right. "I'm still upset, you know."
Alfred stiffened immediately.
Arthur continued to gingerly examine the hands in front of him. "After all, you did explain that you were at least partly the cause of Peter's death," Arthur murmured, brow creasing. Alfred gulped, nodding with guilt.
"I'm sorry," he said again, hoping to somehow appease Arthur's angered feelings.
"I know. And that's why I will not hold it against you."
Alfred crinkled his nose. "Arthur–"
"I will be upset for a while, though," Arthur continued, twining his fingers against Alfred's experimentally. "That's only natural. And it will take some time to completely forgive and move past this, but I am willing to try." He paused. "I don't think Peter would blame you, so neither will I."
Alfred clenched his eyes shut tightly, slumping forward and knocking his forehead against Arthur's. "That's not fair," he whined. "You're not supposed to say that."
"Says who?" Arthur asked, flinching under Alfred's breath fanning his face.
"You're just not. I did something bad. You're not supposed to be nice to me," Alfred desperately tried to reason. Arthur scoffed and looked up, noses brushing and eyes meeting.
"Well then you'll just have to forgive me."
Alfred pursed his lips, eyes stinging slightly before he loud out a heavy breath and wrapped his arms helplessly around Arthur's back. Arthur smiled slightly, encasing Alfred's sore hands in his own. "Are you going to cry now, crybaby?"
Alfred sniffled into Arthur's sweater. "No," he denied childishly. Arthur leaned his head against Alfred's and inhaled, still liking the feelings of Alfred's hugs over anyone else's. He paused.
"Do you smell like smoke?"
Arthur furrowed his brow. "You've been smoking?" he asked incredulously.
Alfred leaned back slightly and sniffed. "I thought I'd take your approach to things." A smack resounded at the back of his head making Alfred yelp. "Hey–"
"Children shouldn't smoke."
Alfred frowned. "I'm not a child."
Arthur smiled against the pout in Alfred's voice, feeling Alfred's fingers tighten around his own. And for the first time, Alfred didn't seem neutral anymore. There was nothing childish about him as Arthur looked into those stubborn blue eyes.
"No, I suppose you're not."
"Are you done yet?" Alfred complained, leaning back against the organ.
Arthur didn't pay the blonde any mind. "Just one moment. I need to fix something." Alfred looked past him at the white candles he was setting up. He leaned back to admire his work, straightening the red silk on the table before nodding. "Alright, it's finished."
"And it's beautiful," Alfred humored him sarcastically, hopping down from his stool and swiveling on his feet. "Now can we go? I'm starving."
"Like that's anything new," Arthur muttered, rolling down his sleeves. For some odd reason, today wasn't chilly or raining. It had been good to see a little bit of sun in the sky for once. Alfred followed after Arthur, ignoring his comment.
"Where would you like to eat?"
Arthur cringed. "I'd rather cook for you."
"I'd rather die."
Arthur glared at him making Alfred laugh. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. At most I'd rather get my fingernails ripped off."
"That can be arranged if you don't shut your trap," Arthur warned lightly. He opened the door, gesturing for Alfred to go out, knowing he never liked to be in the church alone. Alfred moved forward before he stopped, making Arthur raise an eyebrow curiously.
"You go ahead. I just remembered that I forgot something."
Arthur paused. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Just wait outside. I'll be right out," Alfred said with a smile, turning to head quickly back down the aisle. Arthur watched after him hesitantly before stepping outside. Alfred made his way until his stood under the large glass painting of Jesus, light pouring him around him making his eyes no longer look accusing.
Alfred paused. Had they always looked like that or just recently?
He leaned forward towards the offering table, feeling under it to where he knew Arthur kept the card. He pulled it out and looked at his sloppy 'sorry' written on it. He turned it over and let his eyes linger over the words written on the back in a much neater handwriting that was simply Arthur.
Alfred smiled and placed the card against the candles, flipping it over so a big "Thank you" was displayed. He grinned up towards the painting and snickered to himself.
"You know, Arthur says he's still mad at you. But I somehow don't believe him. I think he's just mad that for a while I was more concerned with your forgiveness than his. He's kinda bitter like that. But I know that he's forgiven you."
Alfred shifted his feet, looking away slightly. "Please look out for Peter up there. I know Arthur's too stubborn to ask, so I'll ask for him. I'm sorry if that sounds selfish, but he's a good kid." Alfred paused, biting at his lip as he fidgeted. "I really am sorry."
Coughing awkwardly, Alfred ran back down the aisle and flipped the light switches off. He looked back at the empty church with a lingering gaze before he went outside. Arthur was leaning boredly against the wall, watching Alfred behind his lowered eyelids.
"You didn't have to do that, you know."
Alfred shrugged a little embarrassed. "Yeah, I know. But I wanted to."
Arthur stared a moment before taking Alfred's hand in his own. "You're stupid."
Alfred laughed and let himself be dragged by Arthur down towards the streets. "It takes one to know one."
Arthur sighed, but couldn't help the small smile gracing his lips. For every one person, they had a matching puzzle piece that went with them. His fingers flexed over Alfred's, knowing that he'd found his piece. Arthur wasn't one to thank people, but he couldn't help but think that something, somewhere was leading him to that church.
And when Arthur glanced over his shoulder as Alfred blabbered away about nothing in particular, he couldn't help but let his jaw drop as he saw a little blonde boy with large eyebrows waving at him from the pathway of the church. He felt his heart clench and rubbed at his eyes, looking back to see nothing more than drab cement.
No. Couldn't be.