Rating: T for now(?)
Genre: Slice-of-life, AU
Characters/Pairings: Alfred, Arthur, ensemble cast | Eventual Alfred/Arthur, with other side pairings
Summary: AU. Arthur Kirkland's too busy to start a relationship. Google's solution: Heartstrings, the new online dating service for the Too Busy. He just didn't think the solution would be so literal.
Notes: Multi-chaptered collab fic! Updates may be a little slow, but they'll definitely come. Comments and any feedback are always welcome!
Too busy to chat up people at the pubs after work? Too tired to go through the whole is-she-or-isn't-she mating ritual before asking her out on a date? Too annoyed with guys who seemed interested but were just leading you on?
We're proud to provide a solution, tailored to working, busy individuals just like you.
Presenting to you, Heartstrings! We're an online dating site, catered to too-busy professionals just like you. Join our network and find individuals who work in your area! Our system's designed to help you find other amazing singles in the area for a quick lunch or coffee. Who knows, maybe you might find someone who tugs at your heartstrings. What comes after that? It's all up to you.
Alfred laughed, pushing the cutting of their first ever print advert to the side. Thank god Francis had gotten a little more subtle with his marketing schemes over the years, he thought, flipping through some other old cuttings he had accumulated over the years. It was amazing, Alfred mused, how much good PR you could get in three years with a publicity manager. He supposed Matthew had made the right choice after all, hiring Francis, even though Alfred personally had his doubts about the seemingly perverted (the image had solidified into pure diamond over the years) Frenchman.
He was in, what Matthew called, one of his Moods again. The Moods ranged from nostalgic to nitpicky, whiny to stoned, all with the constant element of utter boredom. Alfred F. Jones had thought starting up a company would be fun, or at very least busy. He never expected the days of boredom which would ensue when updates had just been made, feedback or complaints were running low, and every single other available job had been delegated to someone else. As the self-proclaimed creative and technical genius behind Heartstrings, he'd assumed that there would be... More to his job. More than sitting around scrolling through junk email, searching the web for new improvements to be made on the system, checking out the competition.
Picking up an old picture of him and Matthew, the first press-release of the two young graduates which had started up an "online dating revolution which took the business district by storm" (quote and unquote, Alfred had his first good review memorized by heart), he pushed his office door open. Crossing the narrow hall, he pushed at an identical door, without knocking, to reveal a busy Matthew, typing at his computer.
"Yes Al?" He asked, not looking up. Alfred plopped himself down onto the soft armchair in the corner, waving the cutting around.
"Mattieeeeeee.," He whined, kicking his legs about, where they dangled off one arm of the chair. "I was just looking at our archives and I found this. I can't believe it's been three years, I mean, god, where has all the time gone? And we've done so much, and I just wanted to tell you that I really love you for-"
The typing stopped.
"Okay," Matthew sighed, pulling his glasses off and rubbing at his temples. "Fine, fine, you win. I'll give you another job if you would just stop coming in here every half hour!"
Alfred paused, hand in mid-wave, before letting the cutting flutter to the ground. Grinning, he crossed his arms over his chest.
"Bring it on."
Half an hour later, Alfred was back at his desk, a small stack of vouchers and a list of names in hand. He frowned thoughtfully, scanning the list.
Matthew's instructions had been explicit, to say the least.
"If you want to do something, you have to stick to protocol," he demanded, frowning at his brother. Alfred, for a few moments, wondered if they really were co-owners of the company, being ordered around like this. Still, something to do was better than nothing at all.
"Yes sir," he'd grinned, still swinging his legs on the chair's arm, giving his brother a little salute.
Protocol apparently meant strictly professional and very formal surveys. Heartstrings Corporations was a small company, where departments usually consisted of two people, and one of those two were in another department at the same time. It made for a cosy working environment, which Alfred really liked. There wasn't really any of that boss-subordinate business, and he got to know everyone personally. It usually wasn't too much of a problem, at least for Alfred.
But apparently, there wasn't anyone allocated to gathering feedback on Heartstrings, so that was a new bullet point on the paperwork which detailed Alfred's job scope. They usually let the comments and responses (and complaints) trickle in, but with the sudden increase in Alfred's Moods, Matthew declared that there was a sudden, new, urgent need to gather more information, and no one to do it but Alfred.
Which is how Alfred found himself saddled with a list of names and telephone numbers, and a stack of vouchers for "giving us some of their precious time", as Francis has put it, when Alfred had been sent to retrieve them.
It was pretty impressive how many surveys Alfred managed to complete. For one, as he had come to realise, most of his customers were busy people (or at least, self-proclaimedly so), and the remainder seemed to be suffering from vague delusions that they were not, in anyway, using a dating service at all. Most of the calls were turned down; some at least had the courtesy to tell him that they were 'busy at the moment', but not enough courtesy to wait for him to go 'would it be alright if I called you again later?'
After an hour or so he couldn't be bothered to recite "Hello, good afternoon, is this Mister-Miss-Whoever-It-Is? My name is Alfred F. Jones and I am calling on the behalf of Heartstrings, the dating service you are using. We are currently having a customer survey and it would be great if you could spare us a minute of your time-" (He barely even got to recite anything else after that, to his own almost sadistic dismay) and simply went, "Hey there it's Alfred, you know, the boss of Heartstrings? Yea, that dating service you're using. Just wanted to ask you a few questions about it? D'you mind?" whilst sneaking glances at his office door hoping that Matthew wouldn't walk in whilst he Broke Protocol.
Surprisingly it was the latter that got him a few more responses. Five, to be precise, but hey, five was better than nothing right?
By the end of the day, Alfred's Mood had returned, coupled with the frustration and a sudden surge of empathy for all those phone surveyors that he had rejected in his 25 years.
And that was also when Alfred finally threw down the phone, and like any other young innovator-entrepreneur who started his own business out of scratch, started to question the system.
It wasn't his fault that this wasn't working, phone surveys were stupid. They were boring, they scared most of the privacy-conscious generation of the digital age, and most of the time even those who grudgingly agreed to take the survey after he grovelled at them endlessly gave half-hearted answers that told him more about their unwillingness to take the survey than their opinion on the service.
Alfred drummed his fingers on the table, glaring rather pointedly at the phone as his brain raged on about the situation. A better method of information collecting was required, he decided, before he drove himself crazy and before boredom started to look more appealing than Something To Do.
His glare drifted from his office phone to his computer screen - on the screen was the Heartstrings website, his default homepage on Google Chrome, because he was such a proud father - and felt something in his brain click.
He just needed to think out of the box. How else better to survey a dating service than to actually use it for the survey?
Alfred logged into his account and glanced down the list of names Matthew had given him. Sure enough, the username of each person was listed as well. A few clicks and he had located a Miss Katyusha Braginski, asked her out to dinner, and received an answer within a minute.
This was so much more like it.
"So, hi," Alfred grinned, sliding into the empty seat, after pulling out the chair for Katyusha, who sat opposite him.
"Hello," she smiled shyly, pushing a lock of short blond hair behind her ear. Tentatively, she stretched her hand forward, offering a handshake. "I-I'm Katyusha Braginski, it's really nice to meet you. S-Sorry if I come off as a bit nervous," she half-smiled, biting her lip, "I've only done this once before, you see and my brother is always-"
Alfred laughed, and accepted the handshake, wanting to put her at ease.
"It's no problem! And there's totally no need to be so formal, I mean we're here on a da-" Alfred let out a nervous chuckle. "Well. That's the thing actually. I didn't mean to mislead you or whatever but, eh, I'm actually here on business."
Katyusha frowned, eyebrows furrowing slightly.
"I mean uh." Shit maybe I should have thought this out before I did this...
He scratched the back of his head, and gave a guilty smile. "Sorry. Let's start over." Alfred stuck out his hand this time, grinning what he hoped was a winning smile.
"Hi, I'm Alfred F. Jones and I'm one of the founders of Heartstrings. Awesome to meet you!" He watched as the girl opposite him started to smile, eyes crinkled in mild confusion. "Hi," she smiled again, albeit warily this time. "It's... A pleasure to meet you too, but Mr Jones-"
"R-Right, Alfred. But what do you need with me? I-I mean, I've only used your service twice."
"Right, yeah. But you see, I'm here to collect information from clients, and uh, frankly, I've gotten sick of getting put down over the phone," he laughed, "So I thought I'd try a new approach. And I'll pay for lunch and everything, and after we get my questions out of the way, we can, you know, maybe get to know each other a little. What do you think?"
To be honest, behind his grin, Alfred was a little more than nervous. What if she made a complaint about his how he was being unprofessional? (Not that the complaint could go any further than him, but maybe Matt would catch wind of it, and god, he did not want another 5 hour rant, courtesy of his own twin brother) He didn't properly think this out in the first place, so he just continued to grin and hoped for the best.
After a pause, Katyusha laughed mirthfully, nodding. Thank god, Alfred thought to himself, flooded with relief. He waved the waiter over.
"So what will you have?" He grinned, gratefully.
The second girl didn't go so well, admittedly. A little flushed and indignant from the realization that she was not, apparently, here on a date with him, she left, tugging at her ponytails irritably, muttering about "leading people on".
Sighing, Alfred took out his iPhone, and tapped the Heartstrings application icon, searching for his next "target", so to speak.
Pity, she was actually kinda cute, with those red ribbons on her ponytails, he thought absently, tapping on the date request button for one Feliciano Vargas.
That one went markedly better, Alfred thought. Perhaps not telling them that he worked for Heartstrings, or that he was doing a survey was better, he reflected, hurriedly pulling on his coat after their meeting. It had all gone pretty smoothly, and Al had found Feliciano to be extremely pleasant and sweet. Not quite his type, but at least it made his job easy. The man didn't ask why Alfred was so seemingly obsessed with feedback on the system, and after that, they had chatted amiably about food and what which store in London sold the best gelato.
Till Feliciano's twin brother (Alfred could only assume so, with the two of them looking so extraordinarily similar) came in, demanding to know why the fuck is my phone reminding me that I have a date on Saturday by some stupid dating service and who are you and what are you doing here with my brother?
Alfred found it easier to smile, shake Feliciano's hand and escape before anything else could be said or explained. He understood the messiness of... brotherly spats.
Three down, one to go, Alfred smiled, toying with the app once again.
Arthur Kirkland eh?