Author's note: Sorry for the lame title. ^^; This was intended to be a oneshot, but I just kept writing . . . and writing . . . so now it's a very long two-parter. :) To be clear: The chick-flick and science fiction movie do not exist. If they do, it's complete coincidence.
Arthur heard the door slam, and then Francis's voice, loud and charming. He was clearly talking to someone else, and Arthur heard a quiet voice give a small reply. The door closed and Arthur heard footsteps approach – two pairs, one subtle and unfamiliar.
"Arthur!" said Francis happily. "I'd like you to meet Matthew. Matthew, this is Arthur Kirkland."
"Hello," said a quiet voice.
Arthur smiled. "Hello. A pleasure to finally meet you."
"Matthew," Francis added quietly, "If you'd like Arthur to see you, you can let him touch your face."
There was a small silence. "It's fine if it makes you uncomfortable," Arthur said. "I don't really need to–"
"No, it's fine," said the quiet voice, and he felt a hand take his own and guide it upwards. "I normally wear glasses. I was just taking them off."
"I see," said Arthur, and he felt soft hair brush his fingers. There was Matthew's earlobe; there was the line of his jaw. He guided his fingers across the planes of Matthew's face carefully, slowly, letting his mind build the picture for him. "Your hair is even softer than Francis's," he mused as his hand brushed against a bit of fringe. He heard Francis chuckle in the background. There were his eyebrows, his nose. . . . Satisfied, Arthur let his hands drop and sat back. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Matthew said, and Arthur could hear him fumble a little as he put his glasses back on.
"I'll get us something to drink, shall I?" said Francis. "Please, Matthew, have a seat."
There was a slight rustle as Matthew settled into the couch on Arthur's right, perpendicular to his own armchair. "So how did you and Francis meet?" Arthur asked kindly. "I know work, but Francis never explained it."
"I work down the hall from him. I'd seen him around, sometimes, but we ended up sitting across from one another at a meeting. He asked me to dinner afterwards."
Arthur nodded, his head propped up on his hand. "I see. That is Francis, always the forward type." He smiled.
Footsteps approached from the direction of the kitchen. "Arthur, I just got you some water. You always complain when I try to make you tea." Arthur made a face, but he didn't deny it; it was true. He heard the clink of his cup of water being set down on the side table. "And lemonade for you, Matthew."
Francis sat down. "So, Arthur, how has your day been?"
"Not particularly eventful," Arthur replied, resisting Francis's attempt at small talk. Francis had been stupid to ask; his days were never eventful.
"Did you work on your sweater?"
"A bit." Arthur tried to glare in his general direction without accidentally hitting Matthew.
"Arthur's knitting a sweater. It's really quite complicated. It has, what's that called?"
"Right, all over it. His last project was a scarf. He's gotten quite good."
Arthur sipped at his water just for something to do. He'd forgotten how much he hated trying to be polite. He frowned at the compliment.
"I see," Matthew said, not taking the bait either.
"And how has your day been, Francis?" Arthur asked, pointedly.
"Oh, I had a lovely lunch with Matthew," Francis purred, "and then we went to the movies. It was a romantic comedy. You would have liked it, Arthur. It was about this single mother, her daughter had just gone off to college–"
"And let me guess, she falls in love with her neighbor who's been there all along. Or maybe the postman."
"Er, oui. The neighbor. Well, anyway, you'll never guess what happened next. It was going great but then–"
"Her daughter comes home unexpectedly with her new boyfriend and the mother has to cover up her new relationship, but then the daughter finds out in the end, and she's really happy for her mum, and they all live happily ever after." There was dead silence. Arthur scowled. "What?"
"That was . . . surprisingly good, Arthur," Francis said quietly.
"You even got the daughter's new boyfriend," Matthew added, sounding impressed.
"You only have to see a few of those things or read a few books like that before you start picking up on these things. It's really not that difficult," Arthur said with a frown.
"Have you ever seen the science fiction movie where they find a new dwarf planet in the solar system, and they go to explore it?" Matthew asked curiously.
"No. Does it turn out to be a damaged colony of aliens that promptly kill the entire crew except for a few people, and they have to single-handedly destroy the planet, and or alien ship, before they can reach Earth?"
Matthew let out a little surprised breath. "Repair the core of the alien ship practically at gunpoint, actually, but yes."
"I see. That must have forced a lot of unbelievable coincidences between our technology and theirs, then."
"Yes. The plot point was that we had actually invented a lot of things based on accidental transmissions from their planet, and had then simply gone on a simply different direction."
"I see." Arthur nodded. "Adds the emotional connection, I suppose. It's a good sell for why we would want to save them."
"You know," Matthew said, "That's one of my brother's favorite movies."
"Oh?" Arthur asked, not really seeing how this was related.
"Alfred?" Francis asked curiously.
"Yes," Matthew said to both. "I think . . . you might like meeting him."
Francis actually let out a snort of laughter. "Ah . . . excuse me, cherie. I hardly believe that Alfred is Arthur's type."
"Why not?" Matthew asked. There was the hint of a challenge in his voice. Ah, so he does have spunk, Arthur thought with a smirk. Francis needs a bit of that to keep him in line.
"Well," Francis said, slightly defensively, "Alfred is rather loud, and very talkative. Arthur can't stand people like that." (Oh good, Arthur thought. Francis takes Matthew seriously enough to feel threatened by him. He won't brush him off like he usually does.)
"Alfred is loud, yes, but he quiets down when he's only talking to one person. Besides, he's not cruel. He'll listen if Arthur tells him he's bothering him."
"Then why doesn't he listen to me?" Francis asked irritatedly.
"Because you're mine," Matthew said simply.
There was a pause. "You and your brother have a strange way of justifying things," Francis said, but Arthur could hear the smile in his voice. There was a slight intake of breath and rustle of cloth, and Arthur could tell that he had just kissed Matthew. Arthur scowled but didn't say anything. It was clear that Francis and Matthew had their relationship figured out, and he wasn't going to interfere with that.
However, there was only so long he was going to something like that go on. After a few moments too long of silence, Arthur cleared his throat. "Well, I wouldn't be opposed to meeting him, as long as you don't try to set us up."
"Oh, that would be wonderful then," Francis said, his voice a little too throaty for Arthur's comfort. "When do you think he would be free? Next Saturday, say? Lunchtime?"
"I think so," said Matthew.
"Excellent. We can all make a date out of it, non?" Arthur could practically hear Francis grinning, and suddenly he wondered if this was going to turn out to be a very bad idea.
On Saturday a bit before 1 o'clock, Arthur was pacing back and forth in front of his armchair in the living room. Francis had gone to pick up Matthew and then come back to pick up Arthur, because Arthur still hadn't been ready when Francis had left nearly twenty minutes earlier. The door slammed open and he heard Francis's hurried footsteps. "Arthur? Where are you?"
"Where I always am," Arthur said sharply, and turned his head to where he knew Francis was standing, just inside the doorway. "I assume Matthew's with you?"
"He's waiting in the car. Do you have your cane?"
"I'm not bringing it," Arthur said in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Not–? Where is it?"
"In my bedroom. I don't need it."
"Of course you do," Francis said dismissively, and Arthur scowled. "Don't you want to be on time? I thought you hated being late!"
"Don't you dare get it," Arthur growled as he heard Francis's voice recede into the back of their apartment.
"I'll just keep it in the trunk for when you decide to stop being an imbecile," Francis said, suddenly at his side again. "Now come on."
"I'm coming," Arthur snapped, and navigated his way around the coffee table and through the short entrance room as quickly as he could. He felt Francis at his side, and then Francis took his elbow and led him through the doorway, down the hall, and into the sun.
He could feel it on his face. Francis released his arm so that he could navigate the steps on his own, but once he reached the bottom he hesitated. Francis reappeared and guided him off the curb and into the car, and then they were off.
"How's the weather?" Arthur asked from the back of the car.
"Sunny, a few clouds," answered Matthew from the front seat. "Nice."
"Ah." Arthur turned his head towards where he knew the window was. He remembered the view; there was the supermarket, just past the gas station. They were turning a corner now, past the last of the residential buildings. They'd go over the freeway to get to downtown, and from there it would be a few blocks to where they were going . . . but he was getting ahead of himself. "So tell me," he said, turning towards Matthew, "What is Alfred really like?"
"Well . . . he likes to talk a lot. He smiles pretty much all the time and gets excited easily. He really likes science, and science fiction, and movies in general. He really likes fast food, too, but he works out a lot."
"Huh. What does he look like?"
"Blond hair, blue eyes – like me, I guess. But his hair isn't as soft."
Francis chuckled. "Good to know," Arthur said wryly, and couldn't completely hide a smile.
They pulled up. Arthur managed to get out of the car and up onto the sidewalk without killing himself. "It's over here," Francis said, and put a hand on Arthur's elbow to guide him across the busy sidewalk and into the restaurant. When they got inside, Arthur turned his head constantly, trying to orient himself. "There's a fourth person in our party, a Mr. Jones? Has he arrived?"
"Yes, your table is just over here. Right this way."
"Jones?" Arthur asked as Francis led him deeper into the restaurant.
"Yes. We're half-brothers."
Arthur jumped; he had already forgotten that Matthew was there. The constant wall of noise was disorienting him more than he had expected. "I see."
"Ah, Alfred," said Francis suddenly, and they stopped. "How good to see you. Arthur, why don't you sit next to Matthew." He deposited Arthur on one side of their booth.
"I'll sit on the end," Matthew said helpfully, and Arthur obligingly scooted over until he was against the wall. He felt more relaxed with something solid next to him.
"Alfred, I'd like to introduce you to my good friend Arthur."
Francis's voice came to him from a diagonal; so Alfred was in front of him, then. He stuck out a hand quickly, hopefully before Alfred could do the same. A hand took his. It was large and warm. "Hello," said Arthur.
"Hey," said a voice he had never heard before. There was a smile in that voice, and warmth. "I'm Alfred Jones."
"Arthur Kirkland," Arthur returned, and the hand released his.
"Hey Mattie! How ya been?"
"Fine. I'm glad you could make it."
"Yeah, me too. Hey, Francis. Long time no see."
"Hello, Alfred. I'm sorry to keep you waiting. Arthur was being unusually stubborn."
Arthur scowled in his general direction. "Actually, I believe Francis was being the stubborn one. I do apologize on his behalf."
"Oh, pardon me, did I say unusually? Because he is always like that."
Arthur was fully prepared to lunge across the table and throttle Francis by hearing alone, when Alfred laughed. It wasn't a chuckle. It was a full-throated laugh that made Arthur want to join in. How long had it been since he had heard someone laugh that hard? "You guys seriously live together?" Alfred asked, still laughing. "How does that work?"
"We manage," they both said at once. It came out with less venom than Arthur had intended, and for some reason instead of making a face at Francis he felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth.
Arthur turned his attention to the person in front of him. "Matthew tells me you like movies."
"Yup," Alfred said happily. "Crazy about them. I own pretty much every good movie made. Ever."
"That's quite a claim," Arthur said. "How do you know, if you haven't seen them all? I mean, I assume you haven't seen them all. . . ."
"Well, of course not, but that's where the 'pretty much' comes in." Arthur could practically hear Alfred grinning. "Besides, by the time I'm dead, who knows? Hey, dude, are you going to look at your menu, or what?"
Arthur blinked. He felt Matthew freeze next to him. "Uh, I usually ask for a recommendation, or order the special if Francis is paying." He paused. "I would have a very hard time trying to look at my menu, unless they come in Braille now."
There was a moment of silence. He can't seriously be this dense, can he? Arthur thought worriedly. Even if both Francis and Matthew neglected to tell him, it's not that hard to figure out.
"Why would–? Wait, you mean you're– Oh woah, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to–"
"You can say it. It's not like it's news to me," Arthur said, trying hard not to smile at the ridiculousness of the situation.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't realize you were blind–"
"Is it really that hard to figure out?" Arthur began to drum his fingers on his leg, a nervous habit he had picked up. It helped drown out the noise and vibrations he didn't care about, he found. "Francis did have to lead me here by the arm." (He could hear Francis mutter something something about his cane. He ignored him.)
"Well, yeah, but maybe he was just being protective or something? I don't know."
Arthur sighed. "Well, I'm sorry if you were led here under false pretenses. Despite my best efforts, Francis seems to be trying to set us up on a double date."
"Yeah, I gathered that, but hey, this is really just about meeting another person, isn't it? We can decide if it was a date later."
Arthur's hand stilled. We. What did "we" mean? "We" as in "We are definitely not on a date, so there isn't going to be anything to decide later," or an honest we, as in, "Hey, you're a person too. Let's just enjoy ourselves."
"May I get you something to drink?" asked a waitress.
Francis sighed. "Nothing for me. Matthew?"
"No thank you."
"Me neither, thanks," Arthur said.
"A coke, please," Alfred said. "Extra large."
"Would you mind if we ordered now, too? We're ready," Francis said sweetly. Had they really been waiting that long? Arthur didn't know.
"Of course. What can I get you?"
Arthur zoned out while the others ordered. Finally it was his turn. "Can you tell me what the special was, again?" he asked apologetically. She described it to him. It sounded expensive. "I'll have that." She left. He could feel Francis's glare on him. He smirked at him. He knew that Francis knew what he meant: You make me come here, I make you pay.
Francis asked Matthew something and Arthur immediately tuned both of them out. "So Alfred, what is your favorite movie?"
"Ooooh man, I have no idea. There are way too many. I mean, like, The Titanic is so classic, but . . . maybe Once Upon a Time in Mexico? I mean, if you've seen some of his other films, you get what he was playing off of, and he did such a good job . . . but can anything really beat Citizen Kane? Oh man, and . . ." Alfred quickly became lost listing titles, second-guessing his own preferences, even when he decided that he'd have to at least do it by genre. "But then there are the ones that have no genre!" he said. "It's really just impossible."
Arthur nodded. "I completely understand."
"Yeah. I used to have favorites, but then every time I thought I'd seen the best movie ever, I'd see one that was better or just as good." There was a pause. "Do you actually like movies, or were you just being polite?" It sounded like an honest question.
"Well, I liked them, but not enough to be able to carry a conversation about them." He shrugged. "Sometime it's just nice to hear someone else talk."
"Ah." Alfred seemed to think about that, because he became unusually quiet.
"You know," Arthur said, "I can't actually see you, but I do have a way of telling what you look like."
"Really?" Alfred sounded excited, so Arthur skipped the if-it-makes-you-uncomfortable speech.
"Yes. I can touch your face. I call it seeing, because it's the closest I can get now."
"You should take off your glasses, Al," Matthew said.
"No," Arthur said. "Leave them on. I'm curious about what kind you wear." So he wears glasses too, hmm? He reached out his hands. "Guide me to you. I don't want to punch you in the face."
Alfred chuckled and Arthur felt that warm hand on his again. "I get it."
Arthur's fingers settled on something soft and something cool. His hair; his temple; his glasses' frames. His fingers drifted downwards, across Alfred's mouth, and then up to his ears again. He ran his fingers along the rim of Alfred's glasses. The frames were thin. The lenses were in a roughly rectangular shape, but they were slightly rounded and they curved downwards slightly. Not too square; they probably looked elegant on him, with his long straight nose. "What color?" he asked.
Arthur nodded and gently slipped them off. He set them on the table between them and leaned forward again, not needing Alfred's guidance now that he knew where he was. He brushed thumbs across his eyebrows, then down the slope above the corner of his eyes. They weren't too deeply set, nor too wide or large, but neither were they small. As he ran his finger down the inside of his nose, Alfred blinked and he felt eyelashes brush his hand. Not particularly long, as Matthew's had been; thick, though. He found himself running a finger along their edge and blushed. Alfred had kept his eyes perfectly open, but had anyone done that to Arthur, he knew that he would have started and backed away. He withdrew his hands and cleared his throat. "I hope you'll forgive me for not putting your glasses back on, but I don't want to poke you in the eye."
Alfred chuckled and Arthur could hear the slight click as he picked them up. "It's fine."
Arthur swallowed, suddenly aware that Francis and Matthew had gone quiet some time ago, and they were probably staring at them, at him. He normally didn't take so long or go so in depth, but he'd been curious. That was reasonable, wasn't it? "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
"Not at all. That was really cool. Do you do that to everyone you meet?"
"Not really. Only when I expect to see them more than once." He blushed, realizing what he was implying. "You are Matthew's brother, after all."
"So you did this to Mattie?"
"Do we . . . look . . . different to you? Because people say we look like twins, but we're not. 'Cept for the hair, of course. We're both blonds, though, so even that's not so noticeable if I haven't had a haircut in a while."
Arthur didn't have to think about that. "No, you look very different to me. Maybe it's just because I can only see the details, not the whole picture. Your noses, for example, aren't the same, so I focus on that when I think of you. Your jawlines are also different, though that's more subtle." He hesitated. "Besides, just like everyone else, I think, I don't really see you. I see my impression of you, including what expression I associate with you, the sound of your voice. . . . I just depend more on that aspect of things than you do."
"Huh. So you must really have to think about this stuff."
"Not really consciously, anymore."
"When did it become natural? I hope you don't mind me asking, but . . . I take it you haven't always been this way. When did it happen?"
"Oh." Arthur had to think about that. "Three years? Give or take."
"Ah, 'kay." Alfred didn't ask for more.
"Ah, food," Francis said happily, and Arthur sat back. A plate was placed in front of him. He quickly found his silverware and unwrapped it from his napkin. He put the napkin on his lap and hesitated. He turned his head, trying to sort out the sounds from their table. He had heard the clunk as something was placed in front of Matthew, but he hadn't been paying enough attention to see if Francis had gotten his food. There was a slight clink that could have been a fork. But Alfred . . . Alfred definitely didn't have his food yet. Arthur sat back.
"Don't bother to wait for Al," Matthew said. "He always orders double everything, so his food always comes late."
"It's worth the wait, as long as they actually double everything," Alfred said playfully.
"If you're sure," Arthur said.
"I am," replied Alfred.
Arthur started eating. Alfred's food didn't come too much later. Matthew, Francis, and Alfred joked and laughed, but Arthur was content to simply listen and eat. Lunch was over far too soon.
"I'll walk out with you," Alfred said as everyone began to shift around and stand up.
"Of course," said Matthew as he slid out of the booth. "You were saying you finally sold that couch?"
"Yeah! 50 bucks, but it was on its last legs, so better than nothing, right?"
Arthur scooted to the outside of the booth and stood up hesitantly. Their voices were already retreating, though they hadn't gotten far.
"Last legs? Literally?" asked Francis with a chuckle.
"Aw, no! Don't roll your eyes at me, Matt. I didn't mean to, honest!"
Arthur followed them closely, probably too close for their comfort, but he didn't want to get separated. There was a sharp noise beside him, probably silverware hitting a plate; he felt movement in the air and sidestepped what was probably a table.
"Sure you didn't," Matthew said. He was farther away than Arthur had expected, and he took a quick step forward. He caught the back of someone's shoe and he stumbled with a grunt.
"Hey there, easy," said Alfred, and he felt a firm hand on his arm. "Let me help you out."
"Thank you," Arthur said, turning his face towards him.
Alfred guided him quickly through the rest of the restaurant, and Arthur couldn't help letting out a little sigh when they stepped outside. Francis and Matthew had started up a conversation, but Alfred had remained quiet. He led Arthur across the sidewalk before he stopped and let go of his arm. "Glad to be out of there, huh?"
"A bit," Arthur admitted. "Thank you," he said again. "I appreciate it."
"Arthur," Francis called, and Arthur turned towards him. "You might want to look up a bit. Alfred probably finds it strange that you're talking to his chest."
Arthur scowled and turned back to Alfred, raising his head a bit. "How tall are you?" he demanded.
"Uhhh, I dunno? Six-something?"
Arthur reached out an arm and hit muscle. Okay, Matthew hadn't been lying when he said that Alfred worked out. Well, that was nice. For Alfred. Right. He hastily ran his hand up Alfred's shoulder, trying to make it not look like he was going about it too appreciatively. Okay, there was his shoulder. He continued up Alfred's neck and to the top of his head. Arthur angled his head correctly and pulled his hand away. "Better?" he asked stiffly.
Alfred chuckled. "Yeah, lots."
"You could have told me."
"Sorry. I didn't want to . . . I don't know, bother you."
"You don't need to worry about that. I appreciate the bother if it keeps me from embarrassing myself."
"Got it. I'll keep it in mind." Arthur could tell he was smiling.
"Come on you two, let's get going," called Francis. Alfred put a hand on Arthur's back to guide him lightly to the car. He stopped, and Arthur put out a hand and felt metal. He turned back to Alfred.
"It was nice to meet you."
"Yeah, you too. Maybe we can do this again some time. If you want to contact me, Mattie can probably tell you more than you want to know. And he can always give me your and Francis's number."
Arthur smiled. "Right. Thanks."
Arthur got in the car and closed the door. "You seemed pretty taken with him," Francis said. He was probably winking.
"Yeah, he was nice. I liked him. Not in a romantic way," he added hurriedly, "But as a friend. He seemed to have the potential for good conversation."
"I think he liked you too," Matthew said. "He's not normally so relaxed around people."
"Relaxed?" Francis asked. "You generally get more vocalwhen you are comfortable, cherie, not less."
"Yes, well, Alfred is very different from me," Matthew said. "He talks more as a means of a defense."
"Are you sure he does not simply like to hear himself talk?" Francis asked, and Arthur felt an urge to punch him, for Matthew's sake. Sometimes Francis was Francis, even if he was a little better around Matthew. "I do not mean that I dislike your brother. I enjoy his company. I just generally find that talkative people talk because they like to." Matthew said nothing, but Arthur could tell that he disagreed.
Francis dropped Arthur off back at their flat before he went to spend more time with Matthew. Arthur closed the door behind him and thought for a moment. Alfred, hmm? He went back to his armchair, fished his knitting out of its bag, and started on the next row.
Arthur did end up calling Alfred, though not without a little reassurance that he wouldn't be doing something unwanted. During one of the countless times when he had seen Matthew that week, Matthew had mentioned that Alfred had been asking about him – how he had been doing, whether Matthew had seen him recently. Matthew gave Alfred's number to Arthur and kindly suggested that he call him, so Arthur did.
"Hey, Alfred here."
"Hello. It's Arthur." He fidgeted nervously, picking at the arm of his chair.
"Hey! I've been waiting for you to call. Listen, do you want to meet for lunch? Tomorrow, I mean, not today. Oh, duh, it's already past lunchtime. Haha."
Arthur wondered if he had accidentally dialed the wrong number. Did Alfred sound nervous? "Sure, I'd be up for that. Where do you want to meet?"
"What do you like?"
"What do I like?" Arthur thought about this. "Someplace quieter than yesterday."
"Done. Do you like Mexican food?"
"Uh. I don't know if I've ever had it."
"Woah. You don't know if you've ever had Mexican food? Okay, that's where we're going."
"Ha, okay," Arthur said. He was smiling. "What time?"
"12:30? It's this little place called Luz del Sol. I'll just meet you outside."
"Sounds good. I can meet you there."
"Great. I'll see you then!"
"Goodbye." Arthur hung up sat back with a smile. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad.
"Mon ami, I don't see why he couldn't have picked you up. This is your date."
"Francis, I told you, it's not a date. I don't want him to pick me up."
Francis sighed a long-suffering sigh. "Very well. I will be at lunch with Mattie, so call me when you are done."
"Thank you for driving," Arthur said stiffly. He got out and slammed the door behind him. He found the curb, stepped up onto it, and put his cane out in front of him. He made his way across the sidewalk and stopped when he hit wall. He leaned against it, trying to look nonchalant. He didn't have to wait long.
Arthur turned his head towards the sound. "Hey."
"How are ya doin'?"
"Fine. How are you?"
"Great. Come on, I'll lead you inside." He took Arthur's elbow and steered him through the door.
The restaurant was very small. Arthur could tell from the way their footsteps echoed off the walls. Alfred had promised him quiet, and he had delivered; there was perhaps one other group there, possibly another couple, possibly a quiet family. Alfred pulled out Arthur's chair for him, turning it into a gentlemanly gesture, not a condescending one. "This place is tiny," Alfred said as he took his own seat, "But I swear it has the best food. It's not just burritos and salsa. It's real mexican food, with lots of other stuff."
"I see," Arthur said. "What would you recommend, then?"
"Hmm. The sopes, maybe? Their burritos are good too, though, different than what you normally get."
"Uh, nothing too adventurous. A burrito sounds good."
There was the click of footsteps – the waiter, presumably. "What can I get you to drink?"
"Extra-large sprite for me."
"Water's fine," Arthur said.
"Still need a bit of time to decide?"
"Yes, please," said Alfred, and the waiter left. Arthur listened to Alfred flip through the menu for several minutes. "Okay, I know what I want," Alfred said finally, and closed the menu. "Do you want me to go through the burrito options?"
"No, I trust you. Whatever you think would be good."
"Cool." Alfred sounded happy. "So, what have you been up to?"
"Oh, not much." Arthur shrugged. "I've been doing what I usually do. Knit, listen to books on tape."
"You and Francis are roommates, right?"
"Yes, unfortunately," Arthur said with an exasperated sigh. "Not that he's a bad person for Matthew," he added quickly. "I've just known him for a very long time."
"I see." Alfred grinned. "You'd think you'd like him to be able to put up with him for that long."
Arthur snorted. "You would think."
"How long have you been roommates?"
Arthur sighed. "Oh, a long time. Off and on. He was my roommate for a year in college, too. Worst experience of my life," he added dryly.
Alfred chuckled. "So tell me, is he going to take care of Mattie okay?"
Arthur thought for a moment. "He seems to . . . genuinely care about Matthew. A lot. I think he wants it to work."
"That's good to hear."
Footsteps, the rustle of cloth, and a movement in the air. "Are you ready to order?"
"Oh, yeah. Sopes and a chimichanga for me, and a chicken burrito for my friend."
"Okay. Would you like the chimichanga with rice or beans?"
Arthur could hear the smile in the waiter's voice. "I can do that. It will be out in a moment." The waiter moved away and Alfred turned his attention back to Arthur.
"Do you have something you're really passionate about?"
Arthur had to think about that for a second. "Like a hobby?"
"I suppose literature," he said, fiddling idly with his napkin. "I still 'read' all the time, in the only way I can. Books on tape and the like. Is it movies for you?"
"No, actually. Science. I love figuring out how things work."
"Doesn't that detract from your enjoyment of science fiction?"
"No way! It makes it cooler. I mean, sometimes, yeah, they mess up really basic chemical reactions or what would make the superhero mutate or whatever, but it's still like wow, this could really happen, or wow, they did such a great job with the special effects." Arthur could tell he was grinning. "I'm such a geek, I know, and I should care more about them getting it right and everything, but they just do such cool stuff with it. I hate it when people think that science is somehow unimaginative, or keeps people from imagining."
"Huh. I'd never though about it that way before. I've always been more drawn to fantasy."
"Yes. I like it because I know it can't happen, actually. It's a nice escape."
"Science fiction is kinda like that for me too, because I know it's not probable."
Arthur smiled. "I see."
There was a slight pause. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but . . . what's it like, not being able to see?" Alfred sounded hesitant.
"It's fine, I'm over it at this point. There are certainly a lot of limitations, but . . . it's not as difficult as I thought it would be, I suppose. Or at least, it's gotten a lot easier. The amount of information we can pick up even without sight is pretty amazing."
"Yeah? I mean, I still can't really figure out what you're aware of and what you're not, you know?"
"Well, let's see." Arthur let his attention drift about the restaurant. "There's a couple sitting at the table diagonal to us, behind your left shoulder. The door to the kitchen is behind me, over my right shoulder, and it is an actual door. The floor is made of tile. The restaurant itself is long and narrow, so we're . . . I'm not very good at distances, but two tables from the front door. It's made of glass. You still haven't taken your silverware out of your napkin."
"Wow, there really isn't a whole lot I can add to that." Alfred sounded impressed. "I mean, the wallpaper is this kind of ugly pinkish color, so you're not really missing out, you know?"
Arthur smiled, pleased with himself. "Ah."
"It's actually really cool that you don't wear sunglasses. I would hate not being able to see your eyes, even if it doesn't mean anything to you." A slight movement in the air was all the warning Arthur had before Alfred's hand cupped his cheek and a thumb rubbed across his eyebrow. Arthur jerked backwards, knocking some of his silverware onto the floor in the process, and the hand fell away. "Woah, I'm sorry," said Alfred, and he sounded almost . . . hurt?
"It's fine," Arthur said. He leaned over and began frantically feeling around for his silverware. He could feel himself flushing. Dammit Arthur, can't you just relax?
"Here, I'll help." There was the scrapping of a chair against the floor and a kind of pressure near him; Alfred was close by, on his hands and knees if the sound of his breathing was anything to go by. There was the clank of metal against metal. "Found 'em. I'll put them on the table, okay?"
"Thanks," Arthur muttered, and pulled himself back upright. Alfred sat down and there was an awkward silence. Arthur put his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands, willing his blush to go away. Damn. You just have to mess up everything, don't you?
"Sorry for the wait," said the waiter cheerfully, and Arthur sat back. He heard the clink of plates being set down. "Enjoy."
"Thanks," said Alfred, and there was the click of silverware against ceramic. Arthur organized his silverware and touched the edge of his plate. It was warm. "You can just pick it up with your hands," Alfred said around a mouthful of food. "They don't put any fancy sauces on it or anything."
Arthur took a tentative bite. The tortilla was soft, clearly fresh, and it was filled with rice, beans, chicken, and . . . was that mango? He took another bite. Fresh avocado, too.
"What do you think?"
Arthur swallowed. "It's very good," he replied, and meant it. He hesitated. "I'm really sorry. I overreacted. I'm . . . just not used to being touched."
"It was my fault. I shouldn't have done that. You were just being so touchy-feely the other day." He chuckled nervously.
"No, you're right, it's fair. Just . . . give me a little more warning next time?"
"Anyway, what were you going to say?"
"Oh, right. Just that you have really pretty eyes."
Arthur frowned. "I hardly think so. I imagine having milky-white pupils is rather creepy."
"Nah. It's . . . mysterious." There was a teasing tone to his voice.
Arthur snorted. "Mysterious? Never heard that one before."
"Yeah, or maybe mystical? Besides, it doesn't effect your irises. I never met someone with green eyes before."
"Yeah. That's part of why I'm glad you don't wear sunglasses, too. It looks really good on you."
"Oh." Arthur blushed slightly in pleasure.
Their conversation drifted from what Alfred's life had been like growing up with Matthew to what Arthur's life was like with Francis. Alfred revealed a love of burgers, french fries, and anything greasy. Arthur admitted that since moving to the states quite some time ago, he had missed being able to get fish and chips wherever he went.
Alfred walked Arthur out. "I should call Francis," Arthur said.
"I can drive you home."
"Yeah. I know where you and Francis live, 'cuz of Mattie. I've dropped him off before."
"I wouldn't want you to go out of your way."
"Psh, it's not that far. Besides, I'll get to talk to you a bit more."
Alfred's hand was warm on his shoulder. It felt nice. "Okay. I'd appreciate it."
Alfred filled the drive with easy talk, and Arthur was fully relaxed by the time they pulled up to his apartment building. "Do you want me to walk you up?"
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Okay. So, I'll see you again?"
"Yeah, of course," Arthur replied unthinkingly, and then realized that no, it wasn't of course. They hadn't talked about it at all.
"Was this a date, then?" Alfred sounded hopeful. Really hopeful. "Is that what we're thinking?"
"Sure," Arthur said, and he felt something warm grow in his chest.
"Great! I'll see you later."
"Yup. Bye." Arthur heard the car move away, and then he headed for the apartment complex. His cane gently swept the ground in front of him, back and forth. First date in more than three years, huh? Not so bad. Not so bad at all.
End Part I