Chapter 6 - Midnight
"Can't sleep?" Alfred asked softly.
Arthur jumped up hurriedly, wiping away his tears as he turned away. "My apologies. I didn't mean to –" be in here. I didn't mean to wake you. I didn't mean to be crying.
"Come on, I would have locked the door if I cared." He saw the gun propped up against the trunk, just behind Arthur. "Ah, you saw that, huh?"
"Why did you bother keeping them?" He gestured at it, and the room in general. Alfred knew what he meant. "They don't mean anything anymore."
"Just a sentimental old man, I guess." He laughed and put his hands in his pockets.
Arthur turned towards him and realized that he was dressed in the same clothes he'd been in earlier. "Were you even sleeping?"
"Nah, I couldn't fall asleep either, but I guess I gave up earlier than you. I was just reading and doing paperwork. I just saw your light, is all. I was just a little worried." He smiled sadly and put a hand on Arthur's shoulder. Arthur shook it off.
"I'm not weak, Alfred. You don't need to worry about me."
Alfred looked taken-aback. "I never said you were weak."
"I don't need your help, and I never have."
"I don't think you're weak!"
"Now you're acting like a child."
"I'm acting like a child? I think you're weak? Why were you always trying to protect me, huh?" Alfred actually looked angry, and maybe a little hurt. "You knew I could stand by myself, but you always insisted that I couldn't! 'Alfred, I'll put you under house-arrest so you don't get hurt! Alfred, I'll tell you what to do! Don't disobey me, Alfred!' And the minute you need help, you tell me it's none of my business? You didn't think so a few hours ago!"
He always was good at throwing tantrums, thought Arthur angrily. Little git. "I don't need your help, and I was always looking out for what was best for you! I was much stronger than you, and you know it."
"Looking out for what was best for me!" shouted Alfred, and Arthur was shocked to see tears gathering in his eyes. "What was best for me! You never cared about anything except keeping me to yourself! Of course you were stronger than me; you think I didn't know? Why do you think I tried so hard to get you to recognize me as another adult? You never wanted me to grow up, and you never wanted to accept that I could think for myself!"
"And now you're more powerful than me, and you have everything, you have friends, so why are you yelling at me?" Arthur was shouting too.
"I have friends? Friends? What does that matter? You still act like everything is okay again between us, like you don't even care that I left!"
"I've never thought that everything is okay! You were the one who left me, who didn't care what it did to me! You call it your birthday! For God's sake, Alfred!"
There was a silence that seemed to drag on forever as they both breathed heavily, staring each other down. Arthur was surprised to find that he was crying too – again! – and that Alfred didn't seem to be angry anymore. Instead he looked stricken, as though someone had slapped him across the face.
Suddenly Alfred turned, slapped his hand to his forehead, and paced the few steps to the door and back. "Alright, look," he said without looking at Arthur. "Let's forget this. This is all in the past anyway. Would some tea help you sleep?"
Arthur looked away as well. "It might."
"Come on, then." Alfred walked out the door, his back stiff. Arthur stared at the place between his shoulder blades the whole way down the stairs and tried to not think about how angry Alfred probably was. When they reached the living room, Alfred gestured tiredly at the couch and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned with a pot of tea and two full mugs, though his own smelled distinctly of coffee this time. He set them down on the table, handed Arthur the other mug, and set about making a fire. He finally got it going and sat down next to Arthur, a fair distance away. "So tell me about Lady Di," Alfred said finally.
Arthur looked at the liquid in his cup. "Got any brandy?"
"I'm not letting you get drunk," Alfred told him shortly.
"Fine." He took a sip of the tea, which was scalding hot. He burned his tongue and didn't care. "Car crash. Unclear whose fault it was. She was in Paris."
"No. Died in the hospital."
Alfred nodded and drank some of his coffee. They both looked into the fire. Arthur had no crying left to do. He just felt empty and raw.
"She was a great woman."
A long silence. "I'm sorry."
Arthur nodded curtly. "Me too."
Alfred shifted so there was a little less space between them and leaned forward, away from him. "I'm glad you came over."
It sounded selfish and Alfred probably knew it, but Arthur knew that he meant something more by it. "Yeah."
Alfred looked at him, sidelong, miserably. "I'm always here for you, man."
"I really mean it."
"I know, Alfred." Arthur sighed and closed his eyes briefly. "I appreciate it. I'm sorry about earlier." Alfred nodded and looked back at the fire. Arthur felt a wave of exhaustion roll over him despite the caffeine. Old regrets stirred up by their confrontation had settled at the top of his consciousness. He looked at the back of Alfred's head, his neck, his shoulders. The firelight shifted across his skin, giving it dusky shadows. "I'm sorry I didn't want you to grow up." That made Alfred look at him. "You grew up too fast. I know you just wanted to be as powerful as I used to be." Alfred looked surprised. He sat up straight.
"I just wanted you to notice me."
It was surprisingly honest and hit Arthur somewhere, painfully. He smiled bitterly. "I'm sorry I messed it up, then. Guess I overreacted."
"Look, like you said, we both messed up the first time, right?"
"Yes." Arthur noticed the way the light hit his jawline. Don't go there, Arthur. It's not worth it. "But I did make you hate me."
Alfred looked shocked. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again. Finally, "I never hated you."
"I find that a little hard to believe."
"Hey," Alfred said softly. "I was there too. In the rain. I never hated you."
And Arthur knew that. Hate would have been so much easier to deal with than the strange pity Alfred had given him instead. "I don't understand why you would want to be friends after all I did to you." It came out angry and sharp, not heartbroken. He didn't know if that was a good thing or not.
"It wasn't all your fault. I know I hurt you a lot."
Alfred looked into the fire. There was a long pause. "Kinda still love you, man." It came out slightly cracked.
Arthur felt as if someone had punched him. He was gripping his cup of tea unnaturally tightly. When he noticed, he set it down on the table. He swallowed. "Never mentioned that before."
"Yeah, well, it never really came up, and it wasn't like it mattered. I knew you didn't feel the same way." Alfred was still staring intently at the fire, but there was a flush creeping up his cheeks.
"You couldn't really know that." Arthur felt sick to his stomach.
"Yeah, I really did." Alfred looked away. "Forget about it. Like I said, doesn't matter."
"How did you know, then?"
Alfred looked at him now, and laughed sadly. "Kind of a silly question. You made it pretty clear you were my older brother."
"That's not knowing." Arthur was flushing, and it was becoming noticeable even in the firelight.
Alfred frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"
"Ah. . . ." He swallowed again. This was so hard.
Now Alfred looked curious. "You didn't . . . ?"
"I'm sorry you left," he finally got out. Alfred was still looking at him with those blue, blue eyes. They were encouraging him, and very, very hopeful. "I never really. . . ." He stared at his lap, not seeing anything. Dammit, you're a man, look at him, look at him, don't let him think you're weak, tell him, tell him! A strong arm wrapped around his shoulders and a hand rested on the back of his neck, pulling him close. There was a soft touch on his temple, and he realized it was a kiss.
"It's alright," said a voice in his ear. "Relax." He realized every muscle in his body was tensed. He tried to relax, but couldn't, and suddenly he felt ashamed of himself and he knew he was going to regret this if he didn't do something right then. He pushed Alfred off of him, grabbed his chin, and kissed him.
Alfred gripped his shoulder and leaned into the kiss, his eyes closed. Arthur panicked and pulled away, unbelievably embarrassed. Alfred's eyes opened. There was a light in his eyes that Arthur had rarely seen there before. He thought Alfred was going to do something, but instead he just squeezed Arthur's shoulder tighter. "You sure?" His voice was raspy, and he cleared his throat hastily.
"Oh man," breathed Alfred. "Can I kiss you?"
Arthur blinked rapidly a few times. "Tsk," he said finally, and turned his face away, hiding a smile that was made strained by his nervousness. "Yes, that would be –"
He felt strong fingers slip under his jaw. They tilted his head back around so he was looking at Alfred. Alfred moved in close and kissed his forehead very softly.
"Not what I thought you meant," Arthur muttered.
He kissed Arthur's right temple, then his cheekbone. Arthur closed his eyes and Alfred brushed his lips across his eyelid and kissed his eyebrow. He felt Alfred pause. He had just taken a breath when Alfred's lips touched his own, very tentatively. Alfred seemed to decide that it was alright, and gently closed his lips over Arthur's top lip, and then his bottom lip. Arthur returned the kiss in the same manner. Everything was soft and warm, and he was drowning in it. Alfred put his hand on the back of Arthur's head and dug his hand into his hair. His breath was hot on Arthur's neck as he kissed the exposed place where his neck met his shoulder and Arthur sighed at the pleasant feeling running through him.
He ran his hands across Alfred's shoulders and down his arms and nipped at his ear. Alfred sighed too, and then pressed him against the couch and kissed his jawline roughly and followed the tendons of his neck to the small triangle formed by the lapels of his nightshirt. Arthur shoved his hands under Alfred's shirt and tried to make him gasp, but Alfred got him first and pushed him all the way onto his back. Arthur almost pushed him off again, but then he noticed the way Alfred was looking at him from beneath his glasses and ended up pulling him farther down on top of him by his collar. His glasses banged uncomfortably against Arthur's nose and Alfred took them off. He took liberties in exploring every part of Arthur's torso, but Arthur smiled when he accidentally touched his thigh and blushed.
Eventually they tired and Alfred collapsed on top of him. He resorted to nuzzling Arthur's neck with his cold nose while Arthur protested faintly. He didn't really mean it, but eventually Alfred stopped anyway. Alfred got his glasses off of the table and sat up, still straddling Arthur's legs. He smiled down at Arthur. "We should get you to bed."
"Mmm, what time is it?"
"Like one in the morning."
"Oh." Alfred got off of him and he sat up too. "I suppose it is a bit late –" In answer, Alfred leaned down and slung him over his shoulder, fireman-style. Arthur squawked and slapped him on the back. Alfred winced.
"Set me down! You're being a moron."
"No." Alfred grinned and carried him up the stairs. Arthur angrily watched the floor pass below him and then found himself dumped him on the bed rather unceremoniously.
"Could have killed me," muttered Arthur, and Alfred laughed. Arthur suddenly realized that he wasn't in a guest room. He looked around at all the superhero posters on the walls. There was no mistaking it; this was Alfred's room. He grew serious and looked at Alfred, who was watching him. "Alfred. . . ."
"I'm not trying anything," Alfred told him. "Really." A charming smile. He started to unbutton his shirt as he walked towards the dresser. "I know you were having a hard time sleeping, so maybe it will help if you aren't alone."
"I'm not a –"
"Child, I know, I know," said Alfred hastily, his ears going a bit pink. "I just thought it might be nice."
"I don't think –"
"Look, I want you to sleep with me, okay?" Alfred turned around towards Arthur, blushing deeply and not meeting his eyes directly. "I have a hard time sleeping sometimes."
Arthur had a hard time hiding his smile. "Fine. Just this once." He slid under the covers and turned his back to Alfred so he wouldn't have to watch him strip. He heard his clothes fall the floor and the rustle as Alfred pulled his shirt over his head and pulled on his pants. The noise of the drawer being closed. The bed sank slightly as Alfred slipped in beside him. The light clicked off.
"Goodnight," Alfred whispered.
"Goodnight," Arthur said back, smiling into the darkness. After a while, an arm wrapped around his stomach and a nose nuzzled the back of his neck. Perhaps a minute passed before he felt Alfred relax, and then begin to snore gently. Arthur could still feel the dull pain of grief weighing him down, but it was just a background feeling now. His eyes slid shut, and he felt himself hovering between consciousness and sleep. It seemed to be many, many years earlier, when he had slightly woken from a deep sleep to find a small Alfred huddled against him under the covers. How strange, he thought, that Alfred has grown up, and it feels like things are as they should be. How strange that I always dreaded this. That day in the rain seems so far away. He drifted to sleep, and when he woke it was to a stray ray of sunshine leaking through a closed curtain. He didn't move, just lay looking at the curtain and that bit of light. He could smell coffee and hear Alfred moving about downstairs. He realized that he was going to have to go back home today and feel the grief of his people crash down on him again. It was a hard thing to wake to, but he heard steps on the stairs and then Alfred appeared in the doorway holding a tray.
"Good morning. Breakfast in bed!"
Arthur sat up. He smiled, a hint of sadness in it. "Sure." Are you for real, or just being nice to me? Alfred plopped down on the bed beside him and handed him a cup of tea. He set the tray on his lap and began arranging the plates on it so that Arthur could reach them properly. "I'm not sick," Arthur told him.
"I know, I know, but I always liked it when you did this for me when I sad. I mean, the food always took away any appetite I had, but. . . ."
Arthur kicked him through the covers and Alfred laughed before leaning over and kissing him on the forehead in answer to the unspoken question.
Maybe the world wasn't such a lonely place after all.
. . .
Author's note: Urk. =.= I had a hard time writing the fluffy scenes at the end. Was it too much fluff? I hope you enjoyed it anyway. :)