I love this fic. I hated it at first, but it's grown on me. A lot because it helped tear me out of a writer's block, but even more importantly, it just… it made me work really hard. For two months. No one will review it because it's long, but I don't care. I wrote this for me, to prove I could still write. And I'm happy with it.

I'd call this fic an allegory for the American Revolution, but it isn't. I don't mirror any events, any specific people. Just international relations and attitudes of the time.

Important: This fic switches between two narratives: one in the past, one in the present. The one in the present is written chronologically. The one in the past is also written chronologically, until the final scene, which predates the entire story. It'll make more sense once you start reading.

It is a typical Friday night. The household is packed, voices laugh, and a low thrum of music beats a relentless rhythm into the inner ear. A drunk girl pukes, a couple of boys smoke Marlboros while they talk to a potted plant, and a group is playing strip poker at the kitchen table, where tomorrow a family will have their breakfast.

All at once the bustle of voices dies down, the amiability of the gathering killed as Arthur Kirkland marches out of a room in the back with a livid look in his eyes.

When Alfred sees what is in his hands, he stiffly turns away from the conversation he's been having. The pleasant smile that has been splitting his face shrinks and hardens. "Hey, baby. What do you got there?" Nervous, he shows his teeth.

"What the fuck is this?" Arthur demands, thrusting the bag forward. Someone turns down the music, and the guests in the kitchen peek out to see what the couple is fighting about this time.

Alfred's face is unmoving, save for a twitch at the corner of his mouth. "…You went into my room?"

It is eerily quiet, for a party of such size.

"Alfred," Arthur growls, "You better tell me why the hell you have drugs hidden in your room."

Alfred scowls. "I'm running a business. What's your fucking problem?"

The bag of pot is thrown at his feet, like an offering at a shrine. "The problem?" Arthur repeats. "The problem is you're fucking lying to me!"

"I wasn't lying to you," Alfred says, pouting. "I just didn't tell you about it 'cause I thought you already knew!"

"Fucking hell you thought I knew!" Arthur ignores all the attention already on their fight and gets louder. "Do you have any idea how this makes me look? I'm an honors student, a fucking member of society, I can't be associated with a drug addict!"

"Whoa, whoa." Alfred steps away from his now frightened-looking conversational partner, his stance growing hostile. "First, I don't fucking do them, I sell them."

"Yes, that's so much better, that you push the drugs on others." Arthur throws his hands up to show how ridiculous he thinks this sounds. "That's like… like being an accessory to murder, but not the murderer! It doesn't make you a better person! You're still hurting these people, supplying them directly with vice!"

"It's marijuana, dumbass, it's not like you can get addicted to it."

"Don't you call me a dumbass," Arthur snaps. His face turns plaintive. "How do I know that's all you have?"

"You call me a dumbass all the time! God, is that 'all I have,' like I'm a fucking drug lord. Jeez…" Alfred tears his hands through his hair while he gathers wit, trying to think of what to say next.

Then he finds it: the Academy Award winner. "You're so…" Dramatic pause. "…Selfish. I'm a man, aren't I? I just want to take care of you! I can't keep up with you, I can't provide for you or feel like your equal! Unless I sell this shit, I'm just another insignificant failure! Tch, besides…"

He puts those big, blue eyes to use, locking them on guilty green. "I only do this so I have money to take you out and stuff, and you aren't even grateful."

Alfred is utterly confident in his argument, now. Though he is playing the part of the anguished boyfriend, he can't help the grin from creeping into the corners of his mouth.

"Don't lie!" is all Arthur can think to shout. What Alfred has said makes his face twist. He never forgets, not for a second, that Alfred isn't as privileged as he is. As a rule, they don't bring money up, but because Alfred just has, Arthur is now floundering.

"I'm not lying. I love you, babe!" Alfred takes the shorter boy by the shoulders, hostility gone. "I love you! I figured you… knew what I'd have to resort to, because of what I am." Again, the money, or lack of. "If I knew all this would bother you so much…"

It is obvious to everyone watching the Arthur is thoroughly cowed. When next he opens his mouth, his tone has entirely changed and is hesitant, soft. "…Will you stop?"

Alfred grins. "Baby, I'd do anything for you."

Arthur tries to scowl at him, to assert his authority, but it comes out as more of a pitiful sulk. Meanwhile, the party has long resumed itself, the guests bored with the fight and confident that they shall be seeing another soon.

By the end of the night, the bag of pot is forgotten. The couple curls affectionately in each other's arms and then heads to Alfred's room ("for privacy"). As they are leaving, Matthew sees the bag sticking out of the back pockets of his brother's jeans.

Arthur Kirkland went to the private school on the hill. The students there wore uniforms, never missed class, and were an all-around representative of the ideal adolescents in society.

Arthur's own uniform was always pressed free of unsightly creases. His classes were meant for those students of utmost intelligence, and he achieved top marks in every single one. He ran the student council much like he kept his uniform, making sure it was smooth and wrinkle-free. Arthur may have been liked by few of his peers, but his teachers adored him, hailing him as God's gift to educators. Nothing they ever said was lost on him.

All to be expected, from a boy who went to school on the hill.

The peak of the hill was where the richest people lived, and thus was the ideal location for an expensive private school. At the bottom of the hill was the public school, filled with children of the working class. The kids there threw wild parties that Arthur never bothered with until Alfred Jones moved to town.

Alfred was both too new to the area and too self-assured as a person to care that the hill was for the rich and that below was rightfully for those beneath them. It would seem an infuriating thing, that someone so low should not just struggle, but refuse to learn his place, except that all could clearly see the roots of his arrogance at a glance: he was a gorgeous boy, athletic, blonde, blue-eyed.

Thus he dared to amble through the swanky shops, to smoke cheap, mass-produced cigarettes, and to nod at the legions of rich kids as they left their glorious private school at the end of the day. Because his smile was so infectious, his eyes so full of good humor, no one ever told him to stop.

Well – almost no one. As a student authority (who had naught but rule over student council, and even they sometimes ignored him), Arthur felt a need to tell the stranger to leave the premises.

"Why?" Alfred blew a waft of chemicals into Arthur's face, delighting when it visibly pissed him off. "I'm not on the grounds. I'm just looking. Looking doesn't hurt anyone, does it?"

Arthur resisted the urge to fan smoke from his face. He would not show weakness to this nuisance. "You're loitering, actually."

The blonde boy gnawed on his cigarette. It tumbled in his teeth like an acrobat. "I'm what? Sorry, I can't hear you all the way down there."

Arthur felt himself turn red. "I'm not that short! And you're loitering, you buffoon, unless you don't know what that means?"

Alfred considered this. He looked at the orange trees, and nodded thoughtfully as if consulting them.

"Are you a cop?" he said, finally.

"No, idiot, I'm too young to be a cop."

Alfred nodded and took another drag. "Then, ah… chill the fuck out, buddy." He grinned at his now sputtering companion.

Angry beyond the belief (though why when this idiot was so beneath him, he had no idea), Arthur spat, "You're uglying up the street, you damn ruffian!"

"Ooh, ruffian." Alfred's glee was manic, and he affected a fake (and rather inaccurate) Cockney accent to drive the spike in. "Speakin' Charles Dickensian, now, ahre we?"

After several minutes longer of quarreling, Arthur finally stormed away. Alfred stayed to watch Arthur fizzle and malfunction every time he looked over his shoulder at him. In fact, Alfred was so thoroughly entertained by the little guy that he returned the next day to continue the fun.

He didn't have to wait long before Arthur joined him at his usual perch, on the street across from the school. "Why on earth do you insist on… persisting?" Arthur demanded, ineloquently. "Is it really all that fun? Do you enjoy gazing at what you can never have? Is it better than attending your own classes, where you prepare for a life serving fast food to the masses?"

Alfred tilted his head back and blew an impressive ring of smoke. "Harsh," he murmured. Arthur stared at him, waiting for a jab, a real answer, but he didn't get one.

"There's a party," Alfred told him, instead. "At this guy's house."

Arthur puffed himself up, trying to assert the fact that he and his shoulders were above Alfred. Too bad he wasn't very tall, or it might have worked. "I don't care. Why would I want to go with you anywhere?"

Alfred shrugged. "Well I figured, since you don't have anything better to do than bitch at a complete stranger…" He smiled slyly.

Red-faced, Arthur told him to go fuck himself and marched away. Behind him, Alfred lamented on the naughty language used by boy scouts these days.

After Arthur finds the first bag of pot, Alfred decides to become craftier with where he hides the others.

Thus Matthew comes to have dozens of drugs hidden throughout his room.

"Hey, you're the kid Mom trusts more, alright? No random searches in your room!" At this, Matthew is struck with a memory of the time their mother actually did find something. She'd been doing laundry when she'd happened across a bag, and his brother tried to convince her he was stockpiling oregano. After ten straight minutes of lie she had stopped him, saying she was too tired for this and he couldn't call her if he ended up in jail.

Meanwhile in the present, Alfred plows on with his arguments as though he thinks Matthew has a say in this. He should know more than anyone that he doesn't.

"Plus Arthur doesn't even remember you exist half the time. But it wouldn't matter even if he did, 'cause you're too much of a boring person to have drugs. Look, if you're really stressed about it, just start locking the door, and like I said, nobody'll care enough to interrogate you about it! So there's no problem for you! If there's anywhere this stuff's not gonna' be found out, it's your mattress." Here he pauses, thinking. "And your drawers. And your closet-"

"Just how much did you hide in here?" Matthew asks, astounded. "I feel like I find more every day!"

Alfred only smiles. "You don't really want to know that." He shoves his hand into Matthew's pillowcase and protracts a bag Matthew has had yet to discover. "I'm gonna' go see Francis and the guys. You wanna' come?"

"We're not supposed to be hanging out with them, I thought."

Alfred shrugs. "You can! And I don't care what Arthur says. Even if he hates Francis, I don't. He's nice to me."

Matthew frowns. "It still seems wrong of you to just go behind Arthur's back like that."

Alfred promptly ignores him, grabbing one of his brother's hoodies off a chair. "Let's go!"

"Wait, Al, that's my-" but his brother has already swept out of the room. With a sigh, Matthew follows him.

After a straight week of scolding, Alfred was surprised to find himself alone.

He winked at a few identically skirted girls, received a few giggles with an "oh, look at that poor trash" undertone, and then pushed away from where he was leaning on the bus stop bench to see if he could spy Arthur inside the fence on the other side of the street. If anything, the fact that Alfred would be touching school property should've brought Arthur out of his hiding place.

Alfred wandered around the building's side and saw some of the older kids getting into magnificent cars, some alone and others with men in black caps behind the wheel. Professional drivers! Someday, Alfred dreamed. If he could only break out into the real world, leave that lame public school and his overbearing mother, then he could make some real money. He didn't know how yet, but he figured all he needed was to smell the fresh air of freedom to figure it out.

He walked up to the fence and leaned his forehead onto it, looping his fingers into some of the many spirals. His cigarette hung limp in his hand, forgotten except when his chest filled with the unpleasant jitters that told him his lungs were in dire need of poison. He recognized Gilbert Weilschmidt getting into a car with two other guys he vaguely knew and waved. The three emphatically waved back, made phony call me hand gestures (as well as some other ones) and drove off.

Alfred waited, forehead becoming stamped with rings of wire until there was only one car left in the parking lot. It sat in a far corner, towards the back, and may have well belonged to a janitor, had it not been so expensive-looking.

Maybe I missed him, Alfred thought. Maybe I didn't notice him without him making a scene over me. (He dismissed that almost immediately, though. He'd recognize Arthur anywhere, caterpillar brows and all.)

Slowly coming out of a daze, Alfred realized that while he had been staring into space, his eyes had been fixed on the lone car. If there was anyone around, they'd probably think he was contemplating stealing it. He wondered if anyone was inside it, if they could feel his eyes borrowing into them. It was one of those tinted-windows deals, so he couldn't tell for sure.

Then one of the car's doors opened. Coming out of it was a familiar hand, followed by a familiar leg, followed finally by a familiar face. Alfred dropped his cigarette.

Matthew thinks that Arthur is now the last person to believe in the perfect romance that he supposedly shares with Alfred. Matthew had once bought it, too, but is finding it hard to hold onto such a belief as he watches Alfred trade intimate whispers with Francis in the corner. Their faces are incredibly close, their smirks secretive, and they are laughing silently at some piece of humor only they are privy to. Perhaps they're even laughing at Arthur.

Francis has hooked his fingers in Alfred's belt loops and is tugging. Matthew remembers about what Alfred said, about Francis being "nice" to him, and thinks that it's probably a little more than that.

Antonio is out, but Gilbert is there, gazing at the two blondes with a smirk of his own as he bites at the mouth of his bottle of beer. Gilbert knows exactly what is going on.

So Matthew decides to grill him. "Hi," he utters. As usual, he is surprised when Gilbert doesn't need to be prodded to reply quickly. Matthew likes how he and Francis (not Francis lately, but at one point Francis) always seem to notice him. It helps reassure Matthew that he's not just a figment of his brother's imagination. (Alfred told him that when they were little. Matthew had been convinced it was true until his dad set him straight. Their mother hadn't even noticed his distress, had called it a game, even.)

Matthew exchanges small talk with Gilbert. He takes an obligatory sip of beer and is insulted when Gilbert's shocked he doesn't cringe at the taste.

"They're gross, aren't they?" Gilbert jerks his thumb at where Alfred and Francis have now sat down. Francis's hand is creeping up Alfred's thigh, and Alfred's lips in turn are nearly engulfing the other boy's ear in an attempt to "tell him something".

"Yeah," Matthew agrees. He stares at them only for a few moments, and then absolutely has to look away. "When did that start, anyway?"

"What? Them, like, getting all cozy?" Gilbert shrugs. "I dunno. Just seemed to happen one day. They supposedly have a lot in common, though I'm pretty sure all they've really bonded on is thinking Arthur's a total wanker."

Matthew frowns, troubled. "Why would they think that?"

Gilbert snorts, rolling his eyes. He nearly finishes the bottle before he realizes Matthew is still looking at him, rather critically no less. "You're serious? Arthur's a fucking asshole! Who doesn't hate him?"

Matthew pouts. "I don't know… Me. And Alfred, I thought." The mention of his brother makes him look up, but when he does, his eyes fall on an empty loveseat.

Gilbert starts tearing open the bag Alfred brought and offers some to Matthew, but the bespectacled boy barely notices. Looking nervously at his watch, Matthew asks Gilbert how long the pair usually takes.

The albino boy snickers. "Not long, knowing Alfred."

Arthur didn't have time to even lift his gaze from his feet before that lout was by his side. "Hey."

Trying to remain calm (and not show how Alfred's sudden appearance had surprised the hell out of him) Arthur finished messing around with his schoolbag and swung it over his shoulder. "…You're practically inside the gate. That's not allowed, you know."

"Yeah, but I'm still not in." Nonetheless, Alfred made a grab for Arthur's shoulder to try and move them along, but the shorter blonde wrestled himself out of the grip and walked quickly away on his own. Perhaps the way Arthur had shaken the other boy off would ward him away (though secretly he hoped it wouldn't).

Alfred remained close, stepping on his heels. Probably on purpose. "I must have missed you, yesterday," he said cheerfully.

Arthur swallowed. He tried to seem as uninterested as possible. "I suppose you did. Lucky me."

Alfred didn't even flinch at that. He just kept on smiling. "Yep."

It frustrated Arthur that he couldn't read an idiot like him. What the hell was "yep" supposed to mean? That he didn't want to see Arthur, anyway? Then why the hell was he still following him? Arthur's face burned at the conundrum.

Around them, the houses and trees seemed to lean in, as if listening to a secret. Someone had dutifully swept up the piles of fallen leaves from earlier that morning, but as it was autumn, a few had wrested themselves free of the trees and lay scattered on the sidewalk before them. Arthur found himself deliberately stepping on the browning ones, enjoying the crackling sound they made when they broke. It was nice to know there were things out there more helpless than even him.

Suddenly, Alfred stepped in front of Arthur, forcing him to stop. Their eyes locked as they came face to face. Alfred's mouth was set, looking for some unfathomable reason very grim. And gosh, was he tall.

"I think you should come to a party with me, and I'll tell you why. First, there are other private school kids there."

Arthur rolled his eyes. "You mean Francis and his cronies? Sorry, but they hate me and I hate them. I spend all day at school with those assholes, so why the hell would I want to waste my time at a party with them?"

Alfred shrugged. "You can just hang with me. If they bother you, I'll make 'em go away. I promise."

Arthur made a step to walk off in another direction, but Alfred blocked his path again. Instinctively, Arthur tugged his bag closer. Idly, he figured it could serve as a buffer if anything happened.

"Second, I think you need to meet guys your own age."

Arthur frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I saw you with that man in that car yesterday."

Alfred was giving him a hard look, but Arthur hardly noticed it. He was too busy trying to gather the air that had just been swept out of his lungs.

He tried in vain to stumble away. He wished the wind would catch him and carry him off, like a leaf, into an indeterminate place far from this. But Alfred followed him.

"It's nothing." Arthur drew a shaky breath as he tried to walk steadily, but the ground moved like ocean waves beneath him. "Th-that's nothing, none of your business, I wanted his company, we were talking about my grades, having – and having a laugh-"

"Hey, hey, I'm not judging." Alfred put his hands up. I really don't care, the gesture pleaded. "But even if you wanted his 'company', he's a little old for you to be hanging out with. I mean, you can't really connect with an old guy-"

"We do," Arthur broke in. "We do!"

"-And as a teacher, he has a power over you which-"

"He doesn't," Arthur denied, walking a little faster. "He's a substitute for Mrs. Quym while she's on maternity leave. He'll be gone soon. Besides, my father's rich. I can have him gone any time I want, so no one has power over me, no one."

Alfred let Arthur go a little further down the gray street, knowing he wouldn't get far. Even if he did, Alfred could probably catch him. Other students had long since spilled into the avenues and flowed past them, a human river which barely rippled in their direction. No one much cared what the student council president did with his time. Nor for his slovenly friend, standing starkly separate from them in torn jeans and a sweatshirt and ratty sneakers. Outsiders weren't worth the time, instead treated like stones in the river, to be eroded without so much as a brush of the hand as the elite waded past.

At a soft touch to his side, Arthur looked up to find Alfred close enough that their clothing brushed. Arthur pressed his head to the cold bar of the street sign he was clutching. "Why do you want me to go to your stupid parties so badly?"

Alfred shrugged. He gripped the metal bar where it was out of Arthur's reach and shielded him, from the stares of the sun and the few straggling passersby alike. "Everyone else ignored me. You came up and had the nerve to tell me to go away." Alfred beamed down at him. "I like that."

Arthur pursed his lips. Staring at the ground, he saw Alfred's old sneakers looked strangely more organic than the well-shined dress shoes placed beside them. "What do you care if I… hang around with… slightly older men?"

Alfred shrugged. "Like I said, everybody needs friends their own age."

Arthur dug his nail into the bus stop and peeled a slice of black paint loose. The metal beneath resembled bare bone. "Would you be willing to… hang out with me?

Alfred smiled warmly. "Haven't I made it clear enough?" With that, he wrapped his arm around Arthur's shoulder, hands snaking up to pry the other boy's fingers free of their crutch.

Feeling weak, Arthur let go of the bus stop, allowing Alfred to lead him where he may.

Alfred crinkles his nose. "No, we're not sleeping together. Where'd you get that idea?"

They're on their way to the convenient store on the corner. Matthew has been dying to pose the question and frankly sees nothing wrong with asking it now. (Alfred is, after all, a popular guy. Even though they are brothers, they are rarely alone together.)

Matthew hovers around his sibling as he stoops on one knee to tie his shoe. He speaks up because he's very afraid that now Alfred has answered him, he is done with the conversation and will ignore him as usual. But Matthew must know. "Gilbert told me that you are. So it's not true?"

The hands making elaborate maneuvers with the string freeze. Alfred looks up at Matthew. "No shit?" He grins. "That's awesome."

Alfred turns back to his lace-tying, without further explanation and having forgotten the question, leaving his brother frazzled. Matthew pushes him for answers. "What's awesome?"

With a final tug at a double knot, Alfred bounces to his feet. He grins at his sneakers, then at Matthew. "If Gilbert thinks we're doing it, that means Francis hasn't given him any reason to think we're not."

Slowly, a single eyebrow ascends Matthew's forehead.

Alfred opens his arms. "I'm totally in there, Matt! Like, the next time you ask me if we're fucking or not, the answer will be yes."

Satisfied, Alfred turns on his heel and continues to march down the sidewalk. Matthew has to run to keep up with his strides.

"So even though you haven't done it yet, you're still into Francis." Alfred's responding smirk says, I think you know the answer to that. Seeing the corner where the store lays fast approaching, Matthew carries on, trying to get Alfred to stay on point. "If you aren't doing it, what are you doing together?"

Alfred hums, further accentuating the cadence in his step. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Matthew pouts. "You just don't seem to be very similar as people, is all. If you aren't doing anything sexual, then what-"

A strangled noise, the type used to ward off the rest of a sentence, issued from Alfred's throat. "Aaah, we're just… hanging out. He shows me stuff."

"Hanging" – isn't that slang for sex? Alfred catches Matthew's look and amends. "He isn't showing me those kinds of things. I haven't seen his dick. Just… stuff. Books he likes. Okay, I mean, we laughed once over a copy of that Karma Sutra thing, but it wasn't anything more than flirty. We didn't try any of it."

Matthew blushes. "I didn't think you would."

Alfred flings the door open without holding it for his brother. Matthew flounders with it, almost smashing his hand as he fumbles his way inside. He is fighting against the hot waves of embarrassment when he catches up to Alfred.

"Okay," he wheezes, "so you're not having sex. But you want to?"

Shrugging, Alfred peruses the stacks of junk food and corny plastic toys. "Yeah, I guess."

"You guess?"

"Scratch that. I really want to." Alfred's voice has somewhat of an edge to it. Matthew can't tell if he's being sarcastic or if he's mad. The latter of which, he has no right to be. Matthew's the one who's been betrayed.

Part of the errand is to get "female supplies" for their mother. The boys halt at the end of the aisle and stare at their target. Quickly, they become unnerved and resolve to get those last.

Alfred picks up a Twinkie, inspects it. His brother is finding it difficult to let his mind wander to such trivial things as snacks. "Where does Arthur fit into all this?" he asks.

Carefully, Alfred puts the pastry back. "Who even cares? I'm so tired of his shit." With a sigh, Alfred stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Did you remember to bring the list? 'Cause I didn't."

Of course Matthew has it. He tries to keep it hostage to distract Alfred, but apparently even running an errand is a more interesting prospect than discussing his love life. A mild struggle ensues.

"Arthur isn't even the same kid anymore," Alfred relents. His brother lets the list fall into his hands. "He's so controlling – like, out of nowhere, too. He's telling me who to hang out with, how to dress, how to act – it's not like he's even out. Those rich brats he goes to school with have no clue he's dating a guy, let alone a… a…"

"…a drug dealer?" Matthew finishes articulately.

"…a poor one," Alfred corrects, less so. He scowls. Matthew finds his brother's aversion to accurate labels both amusing and not: never "drug dealer", because that implies a career, a commitment, and the prospect of relying on this forever scares Alfred. Matthew wonders if that's the same reason he never calls himself "gay" and prefers, instead, the noncommittal "likes guys".)

Alfred rounds up the items on the list with a fervor that suggests he wants badly to go home and be done with this conversation. But Matthew won't let it rest.

"Okay," Matt says, grabbing a box of tissues. "So you don't care about Arthur. Fine, whatever. People break up, sometimes messily, sometimes not." His brother doesn't seem to be listening. With a sigh, Matthew goes on, loudly, "But what about me?"

The rampant rustling of his search through plastic packaging stops, and Alfred looks at his brother with a severe expression. "Uh, what about you?"

"Oh, come on!" Matthew whines. Alfred can't seriously be so dense not to know! "Me and Francis broke up last month!"

Alfred snorts. "He was your tutor."

"Y-yeah, but I had a huge crush on him." Matthew shoves his glasses up his nose. Alfred is making him feel stupid. Nothing new about that. "I still like him, in fact, and I think it's insensitive of you to have him when you already have Arthur."

Alfred grabs a container of liquid soap and shoves it roughly into his brother's arms. "Fine, then – if you're score on how many I 'have,' you can 'have' Arthur!" He rolls his eyes. "Have," he mutters. "Like I own 'em, or something."

Matthew stays in that spot for a while, feeling dumb. The pile of items threatens to fall from his grasp. "I-I – what?"

Alfred shrugs, rushing around to complete the list. "Take him. I'm done and he's a douche, besides."

Unsure how to reply to that, Matthew remains silent. He walks in his brother's general direction, not quite following him, taking whatever he is handed without protest. He tries to devise a response, not just to the Arthur thing but to all that has been said. But he is tired. Perhaps if he approaches the topic from a different angle, or at another time, he can make Alfred see how selfish he is being.

They are halfway home when Alfred curses. "We forgot Mom's fucking Maxi Pads."

Arthur's first party was an ordeal. The house was absolutely impossible to find (it wasn't as though Arthur frequented that area), not to mention that he had changed clothes six times and was already running late. When he finally arrived,Bonnefoy had laughed raucously at his carefully chosen outfit. Why the hell had that French bastard answered the door, anyway? It wasn't even his house!

Alfred, assuring him that Francis was merely drunk and Arthur looked fine, steered the shorter blonde away from his enemy with the promise that alcohol would probably make him feel better. However, being a virgin to hard liquor, Arthur ended up loosening up so successfully that he did a strip tease on a table and then cried into Alfred's lap for a good half-hour.

Thus he ended the night soaking his new boyfriend's crotch while confessing his frustrations at being attracted to someone as brutally crude as Alfred. How charming of me, Arthur later lamented. Alfred must've thought I was quite a prize.

The next party (which took a lot of coaxing for Arthur to agree to attend, after embarrassing himself so) was much better. Though Arthur blushed at the sight of boys cuddling up together, of girls grinding and kissing as they danced, he felt more comfortable as it was a slightly different crowd than last time. A crowd within which he could hold Alfred's hand, and cuddle, and kiss.

At one point, when Alfred's hand was cupped on his lower back, Arthur clutching the taller boy's front, the two swaying, Arthur asked if this was what Alfred had in mind when he first invited him to a party.

"Was I seducing you?" Alfred's mouth curled helplessly into a grin. "Naw, I had no idea you were gay. Though I was hoping – I was really hoping – I mostly just wanted to be your friend, take you to a party more like Feliciano's. You know. Where the regular people are at."

"I see," Arthur hummed. He didn't much care for that kind. Maybe Alfred wouldn't make him go to one of those again – especially since Bonnefoy and company seemed regular guests.

Alfred cleared his throat. "But, uh, just so you know, Francis likes these kinds of parties, too."

Despite his joy that Alfred already knew him well enough to know what he was thinking, Arthur's mood was ruined.

The two boys experienced the dawn of their relationship in small snatches. They would meet up at parties, exchange the awkward flirting of adolescents, and then have sex in a stranger's bedroom. Or not. There were a few times they didn't, and Arthur liked to think that they didn't absolutely require sex to connect as two human beings. (Although the times they skipped it were always more incongruous than they were memorable.)

Watching Alfred hurriedly put his clothes on after a particularly rousing session, wondering what could possibly be rushing him so, Arthur came to the realization of just how little time they spent together alone. He felt he hardly knew Alfred. It was astonishing to realize that just as Arthur was a full-time honors student and council member, Alfred had an entire existence outside him that remained an utter mystery.

So Arthur asked him. "What sort of things do you do when I'm not there?"

"What d'ya mean?" Alfred asked absently, zipping his fly. Arthur pursed his lips.

"I don't know, just… what sorts of things do you enjoy? What do you do with your friends, what's your school like? That sort of stuff."

He expected a list of hobbies.

Alfred stopped wrestling with the laces of his shoe to look up at where Arthur lounged into the bedcovers, still mostly undressed. He was frowning, and the rareness of it unnerved Arthur so that he pulled the covers up tighter.

Then Alfred let out a bark of a laugh, short and incredulous. "It's a life! I can't sum up a whole life for you on the spot like this." He moved from the end of the bed to where Arthur was and kissed him. "You'd better get dressed. Lars is cool about people using his room, but we shouldn't overstay our welcome."

For a person who was so amiable, Alfred forever remained aloof. Sure, he gave the typical hollow complaints of a teenager – mom's a bitch, teacher hates me, stepped in gum today – but the deeper recesses of his mind were an enigma. "How are you feeling?" was usually met with a laugh and a ruffling of Arthur's hair (which he hated). Strong men like Alfred had no need for feelings other than pleasure and displeasure.

Speaking of amiable, Alfred had a bad habit of leaving Arthur alone at parties. The shorter boy knew it was for his own good, yet no matter how many times he met the same group of – incidentally, very nice! – people, he found himself sliding backwards towards the wall, clutching a beer in his hand, getting no friendlier with every sip but plenty sadder. If Alfred ditched him after sex, it was worse. At those times, Arthur just wanted to stay with Alfred forever. Just to lie there, or cuddle, or something. Merely being around Alfred in the afterglow was glorious, even if Arthur just hovered while the taller boy jabbered away with someone else. It didn't matter. Arthur just wanted so badly to be with him.

It was because he loved Alfred so damn much that when that wonderfully cheerful voice told him he'd be right back, Arthur let him go.

Arthur tried to look busy. He stared at the ceiling, the wall, oh, what an interesting snippet of conversation nearby, I'll just laugh at that, not to look like I'm not alone, no, I was genuinely amused… He even tapped his foot to the beat of the beat of the song playing until he grew self-conscious. Perhaps he should just go search for Alfred… Oh, but he got so annoyed last time. Not that he'd told Arthur outright to go away, but he had given him that exasperated look. Arthur didn't want to seem clingy…

Amidst the crowded living room Arthur spotted a familiar blonde head of hair, complete with unruly cowlick, wading through the mass of bodies in his direction. Alight with relief, Arthur called out, "You bastard! Don't abandon me like that!" Though he tried to seem angry, he couldn't keep from grinning. Even when things seemed their bleakest, Alfred always came through…

The boy in question gave Arthur an awkward smile, scratching his neck nervously. "Uh… I'm not Al."

Arthur smirked. "So we're playing games, now? Sorry, 'stranger,' but I've had my fill for the night and don't think that my silly boyfriend, wherever he is, would very much appreciate me fucking-"

The bespectacled blonde was nearly incendiary, the way the heat rushed to his face. "N-no, no, I mean really, I'm not Al! I'm his brother, Matthew!"

It took Arthur a few minutes to remember who that was. Once he did, he was thoroughly horrified with himself, hand flying to his mouth as though to block any other foolish things from escaping. "Fucking hell! I'm so sorry!" Face burning to match Matthew's, he turned his gaze to the floor to avoid looking at the source of his humiliation.

Matthew went to lean against the wall beside him. "Oh, no, no, really, it's okay, it happens a lot! I've heard worse things. My brother's friends with some much, much weirder people."

Arthur laughed, a little too loudly. "You think I'm weird?"

He didn't say it angrily, so, although nervously, Matthew allowed himself to laugh in the hopes it'd diffuse the tension. "Yeah, a little." He heard a sniffle and looked over to see Arthur wiping his eyes. "A-are you crying? B-because I don't think you're weird at all! I was just joking! …an unfunny joke…"

Arthur shook his head, scrubbing his eyes rapidly. "I'm not… crying. Well… I am, but I don't know why! But I do, it's because I'm drinking…"

To calm his sobs, he took a large swallow from his cup. It didn't help, however. "Oh, hell," Arthur half-laughed, half-cried. "I just made it worse!"

Matthew told him to stay put, he'd be right back with something. He wrenched the beer out of Arthur's hands and left the other boy to fan himself and try not to look emotional. He'd hate if this got back to Alfred.

Matthew returned not three minutes later with a glass of water. Arthur eyed it with a humorless laugh. "It's not drugged, is it?"

His boyfriend's brother took this statement very seriously, and after pretending to listen to the profuse denials that followed, Arthur began to sip the water in between calming breaths.

"Thank you," he said after a while, feeling significantly better. "You're certainly the more reliable brother."

Mathew's returning smile had a hint of bemusement in it. "Alfred ditched you, didn't he? He kind of sucks like that. I hate these parties, too."

Arthur nodded, mouth filled with water, then swallowed. "Maybe you can keep me company from now on. I'm not interested in getting to know any of these people, really."

With a helpless grin, Matthew agreed. He looked so much like Alfred that it was almost as good as being with him, but their smiles… Matthew's was a muted version of Alfred's, and it lacked the power to make one swoon.

As the night wore on, Arthur found that he had a lot in common with Matthew – much more so than he did with Alfred. Yet talking to Matthew, however more interesting, lacked the vibrancy, the spark felt when Alfred recounted one of his many tales of rebellion. Stories Arthur pretended to loathe, stories which should have set Alfred apart as a delinquent, and yet only made Arthur fall even more deeply in love with him. Arthur figured he found both of the brothers attractive – they were nearly twins – but the resemblance ended at the physical. Whatever it was, there was something more than looks or breeding that made Alfred Arthur's one and only.

They were deep in conversation when Matthew gestured at his neck. "What's that chain you're wearing, if you don't mind me asking? I've been glimpsing it all night, wondering what it is."

"Oh, this?" Arthur beamed, pulling the rest of the chain out of his shirt to reveal the ring that hung from it. "It's Alfred's class ring. He gave it to me." His expression turned sheepish. "His finger size is much larger than mine, so I have to wear it this way."

"Huh…" For some reason, Matthew frowned. "Can I see it by any chance?"

"Sure, sure." Arthur unclasped the chain around his neck and handed the ring to Matthew, who inspected it. Arthur knew what he'd find there: Alfred Jones, Class of…

"That's weird," Matthew commented, turning it over in his hand. "I could've sworn he didn't get one."

"Really?" Arthur frowned to match Matthew's. "Why ever not?"

"These things are really expensive, for one, and our mom hates giving us money for anything 'unnecessary'." Matthew pursed his lips. "I don't even have one. Al must've found a way to pay for it himself."

Arthur's eyebrows shot up. A class ring? Expensive? But it was silver! Perhaps he'd underestimated how badly people here had it. Feeling self-conscious, Arthur took the ring back from Matthew and hid it under his shirt.

After some time, Arthur felt a tap on his shoulder, and was delighted to turn and find Alfred standing behind him. "You!" he growled, but the bespectacled boy only laughed and curled an arm around his shoulders.

"Hey, babe! Did you miss me?"

"No, idiot, I was having a perfectly nice time with the better brother before you came along."

"Oh, really?" There was humor in Alfred's voice, but the way he eyed his brother then thrilled Arthur. Had he made his ever-cool boyfriend jealous?

The arm slung around him tugged. "C'mon, babe, I want to introduce you to somebody." Arthur scowled up at Alfred (half-heartedly, of course) and then beamed over his shoulder at the other brother. "Thanks for the water, um…!"

"Matthew," he replied, waving back. "See you around, Arthur."

And they would. But not for a while yet. Arthur, snuggling into his boyfriend's side, was unaware that as they retreated, Alfred glanced back at his brother with a hostile stare.

Matthew only shrugged.

There is no party this time, no crowd to witness the finale. It is merely a Sunday; Mrs. Jones is, as usual for a Sunday, at work. Arthur thinks he can drop by his boyfriend's home for the mere intention of a visit. Some alone time. Finally.

When he knocks on the door, it is the other brother who answers. His eyes widen when they take in Arthur, standing there. "Y-you're here!"

"Yes." Slightly confused, Arthur's smile falters. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Without offering a response, Matthew smiles. "So what are you up to these days."

"The usual," Arthur answers curtly. He stands on his toes in an attempt to see over Matthew's shoulder. "Where's that brother of yours? He's always keeping me waiting."

The boy in the doorway hesitates, then throws a look over his shoulder. "Hey," he says, moving to block Arthur's view, "I don't think you should stick around, Al's not he-"

From behind him, a voice calls. "Who is it, Matt?"

Arthur's becoming confused, and because he hates being the stupidest person in the room, he grows irate. "Alfred isn't what?" he asks, though it's quite obvious Matthew was just about to lie to him.

Arthur makes to maneuver around the young man obstructing his path, to follow the sound of Alfred's voice, but is stopped when Matthew stands his ground. "Wait," Matthew says, "Y-you really don't want to go back there."

Arthur stifles the anxiety welling up inside him by giving an angry sigh. "Of course I do! I'm here to see Alfred and he's back there, isn't he? So why wouldn't I want to go? …"

Concentrating on wedging himself between Matthew and the door, he trails off. When he succeeds, he hopes Matthew will simply let him go in peace, but alas a hand snatches the fabric of his shirt before he can head down the hall to Alfred's room.

"Matthew!" Arthur is furious, and he rarely becomes furious with a person as sweet as Matthew. "What the hell are you-?"

"Come hang out with me instead," the twin blurts, and it is enough to silence the both of them. How appallingly inappropriate, at a time like this! Yet there is a spark in Matthew's eyes and he goes with it, elaborating. "B-but not, y'know, not the sexual kind of 'hang out', just regular, you know, being out together as friends. We'll go to a park, o-or a café, or a library! We both love to read, remember? We can, um, we can talk, and uh-"

Arthur puts up a hand to cut him off. "Look. There is no way I am talking to you, let alone going anywhere with you, until you have an answer as to why you're behaving so strangely." Matthew tries to speak, but one severe look from Arthur shuts him up. "No. Take a deep breath. You are absolutely not allowed to talk yet. Do you understand?"

From behind them comes a sigh. "Don't get mad at Matt."

Together, the two turn to find Alfred emerging from the hall. Arthur would be happy to see him, except Alfred is missing some key articles of clothing: his shirt is gone, for one, and the zipper on his jeans has been yanked open. That, especially, gives him pause.

Arthur looks between the two twins. Matthew is looking at the floor, an ashamed expression on his face, hand rubbing vigorously at his neck. Alfred, on the other hand, looks right at Arthur, into his eyes. Though there is hesitance there, his stance is mostly firm. Arthur sees him there, with his shoulders back, his leg bent over the other casually, eyes filled with something that for some reason chills Arthur so that he asks, "What's going on, you two?" even though he knows exactly what is going on. What was happening even as he arrived. What is probably now straining to hear from behind the door to Alfred's room.

"I think we should break up," Alfred says.

As if this is a queue, Alfred's door begins to open down the hall. Alfred doesn't notice until after Arthur does, and by then it is too late to stop the well-manicured hand from pressing the door flat against the wall, from propelling that dreaded figure outwards into the hall.

Francis doesn't even pretend to be surprised to see him. "Oh, Kirkland. You're here." His smile is smug, self-satisfied.

Now Alfred's gaze is heavy, too, filled with shame to match his brother's. "I'm sorry," he states hollowly, repeating lines from a script. "I didn't want you to find out like this."

Arthur wants to believe Alfred. This boy he adores.

But the thing is, it's Sunday. Mrs. Jones's busiest work day. The last day of the weekend. A day Alfred promised not to throw parties because Mrs. Jones gets home late and needs her rest, because school starts the next morning, and it's the only day he and Arthur can be together in peace.

It's Sunday. Alfred invited him here.

"You… you total, utter shit-head!" Arthur wishes he had just about anything in his hands right now so could throw it at Alfred. "You piece of fucking shit!"

He stomps up to the bare-chested boy and jabs a finger at his chest. "Where do you get the nerve, the fucking audacity, to just… fuck this all up?"

Alfred purses his lips like he desperately wants to reply but knows he shouldn't. Bewildered at his silence, Arthur spins around, and sees that even Francis is pretending to inspect his nails. "Cowards!" he declares. "You fucking asshole cowards! You're hiding behind each other and you won't look at me, and why the hell not? Isn't this what you all wanted? Isn't it? To fucking… to show stupid little Arthur Kirkland how awful he's been? Show me, then!"

They won't look at him, so he screams, "Show me!"

Arthur wishes the shove he landed on Alfred's chest would have sent him stumbling back, but it doesn't. Blindly, Arthur tries to punch the taller boy, but is thwarted when Alfred finally wakes up and retaliates, grabbing Arthur's wrists and immobilizing him. He yells at his ex to calm down, but Arthur Kirkland has been too tightly wound for far too long to halt the rapid pace at which he's now unraveling. If he ever stops, he thinks, it'll be because there's nothing left of him.

"Why are you doing this to me?" he sobs, still trying desperately to wrestle free of Alfred's harsh grip. "Anyone! Anyone at all, could have… have anyone…"

He's crying too violently now to understand, but Alfred thinks he gets the gist of it. Softly, like he's scolding a child, Alfred says, "Yes, I could have anyone. But I chose Francis. I chose him for the same reason you despise him." He leans in, and Matthew is awestruck by how childish, how cruel his brother's next words are. "He's just that much better than you."

Arthur's eyes meet Alfred's then, green fires smoldering with hatred. "I wasn't talking about you, trash."

He is released from Alfred's grip and nearly flies into a wall, but he is already far too mortified to be bothered by this. Teeth grit, eyebrows narrowed, Arthur plants his feet and pulls from the very core of his being a scream. "I can't believe you'd do this to me! I am the best you could ever hope for! I am the one who is better than you! I am worth something, and you! You are a god damned piece of trash!"

Spent, he shoves his face into his hands and bawls. Anger is a hot shield, strength, but now Arthur is out of strength. He feels terribly naked, but he's just a boy, god damn it, and Alfred's just a boy, a silly damn boy who broke his heart and it hurts.

Arthur's knees threaten to buckle, but in a last attempt to assert his power he forces himself to stay upright, knowing that to fall to his knees will make him seem too dramatic. Funny that he should worry about his image after throwing a fit like that, but he does.

Vaguely, he is aware of someone (most definitely Matthew) patting his back, apologizing softly. (I wanted to tell you, I really did. You don't deserve this.) Several feet away Alfred still stands, wanting to tell Arthur to leave, but not doing so because of the glares his brother sends his way when he tries to speak.

Eventually, Alfred is the one to leave. With a huffy sigh, he retreats to his room. Francis cringes at the sight of his crying rival before following suit.

Meanwhile, Matthew keeps rubbing in gentle circles. "I know," he says. "I know. They're jerks."

Long after they first met, Matthew waited for Arthur. He didn't mean anything by it – he was still madly in love with Francis. And unlike his brother (who flirted plenty when Arthur wasn't around), Matthew figured himself to be a one-crush-at-a-time kind of guy.

Matthew didn't think it could hurt to be friends with Arthur, even if he was his brother's boyfriend. (Matthew ignored the niggling voice that told him he had bad luck keeping his feelings for male friends platonic. Exhibit A was Francis, his only friend, now slavish love-interest.)

He just needed someone who he could pass the time at these parties with. Francis and Alfred were too busy for him, flitting from person to person like the social butterflies they were.

After about a half an hour of his usual solitude, Arthur finally joined him. Matthew had been catching glimpses of the little blonde with his brother all night, and from the way Arthur's smile had faded talking to Alfred just then, Matt guessed that it was about to turn out a lot like the last time they'd met.

When Arthur came to stand beside him at the snack table, Matthew asked if everything was alright.

It took Arthur a full minute to realize who he was talking to. "Oh, I'm sorry – do you mean me?" Arthur placed his hand on his chest, a slender one too delicate for a regular guy. That was one of the signs Alfred had taught Matthew to look for when he first confessed his orientation. Hands were important: the state of the nails, the amount of calluses, the lightness of the skin. It was such an old-fashioned way of looking at things, so obsolete as to have been taken from an Oscar Wilde work. And yet Arthur was gay, and he had nice hands, so perhaps Alfred's method could be given some credit.

"You don't remember me," Matthew stated, voice flat.

Arthur pulled at his sleeve. It was a nice shirt. The kind people usually waited for a special occasion to wear, which he probably had. "…Yeah, I don't…" He smiled apologetically. "I'm really sorry."

Nervous, Arthur chuckled lightly. Though Matthew wasn't mad – he was too used to this to be cross – he wasn't charmed by this attempt to fix the mood at all.

"You know," Arthur went on, unaware of the other boy's sour mood. "I get… really, really tipsy at these things sometimes. That's probably why I don't remember you."

You had one glass, Matthew thought, exasperated. Nevertheless, he forced himself to smile back and offered his hand. "Yeah. Well, anyway, I'm Alfred's brother, Matthew."

Arthur rolled his eyes playfully and took his hand. "I may be terrible with names, but I can obviously tell you were my boyfriend's brother."

Matthew felt his pulse quicken at that. So he had been remembered. In some way, at least.

"Matthew," Arthur repeated, committing it to memory. "Good name. So, what did we do last time, Matthew?"

The bespectacled boy shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. Like Alfred would, or Francis. "Eh, we just talked. Nothing special."

Arthur nodded. "About what?"

"My bro." Bro? Did he really just say that? God, how humiliating.

Arthur didn't seem to be bothered by his diction. He grew sullen instead, staring at one particular group of friends grinding into each other as though at a club. "…I'm guessing he ditched me then, too."

His voice was laced with a subtle sort of sadness. Matthew gave sympathetic wince. "Yeeeeah… pretty much."

Arthur sighed, shaking his head. "I'm sure I made him sound like an ass, but he's not just that. He's so wonderful to me sometimes. I just wish I wasn't so uselessly awkward around him."

Matthew chuckled. "No, you made him sound great." A lie, but it would soothe Arthur's sense of loyalty at least. "Besides, he's my brother, I know all about him. I don't need you to tell me."

Arthur scowled. "But exactly – you're his brother. You don't look at him through the same eyes I do."

Again, Arthur gazed into the social storm, but Matthew knew that he wasn't really seeing the people there. Instead… "Alfred's a wonderful person. I was doing something that was really bad for me, and he just came along and told me it was alright to stop. He never told me that I had to stop. Just that I could if I wanted." Arthur smiled a private smile. It wasn't meant for anyone present.

"I don't understand my peers. I've got the money, I've got the grades, and still they don't look at me the way they would someone who has all the same things. And then there's Alfred: he loves me in spite of all those things." His lips smoothed into a line. "One man's treasure is another one's trash, I suppose."

Yeah, that was Alfred, alright. Glorious Alfred. But the note of sadness towards the end of Arthur's statement gave Matthew pause.

"You don't think Alfred resents your… your privileges, do you?"

Eyes full of uncertainty, Arthur shrugged. "It's just, the way he talks sometimes…"

With a wave of the hand, Matthew cut him off. "No, no, stop right there. Al talks down about rich kids sometimes, yeah, but mostly he just wants to be one of you. He just hates when spoiled, lazy people have money. And he definitely doesn't resent you, Arthur."

Arthur looked like he desperately wanted to be pleased but was still unsure if he deserved to be so. "How do you know?"

"He's told me plenty about you. I mean, I don't know everything, but he seems to think you know what it's like to be… an outsider. Like him."

"Really?" Arthur couldn't keep the joy off his face. At this, Matthew hesitated; technically, Alfred had told him those things ages ago, when he first hooked up with Arthur. Lately, the flow of compliments had been staved off, but hey, no reason to think Alfred had changed his mind, right? He and Matthew weren't that close. When they talked, it was because they were desperate, often trapped in the house. Maybe Alfred had found someone else to talk to.

"Yeah, totally," Matthew muttered, but Arthur was already pleased just to have heard it without needing it confirmed.

"Do you have a girlfriend, Matthew?" Arthur asked, smiling.

The bespectacled boy coughed and reached back to scratch his neck nervously. "Uh…"

Arthur's gentle smile turned into an amused smirk. "A boyfriend?"

"Not, uh, not really."

"Well." A hand lighted on his leg. It patted him in that affectionate way elderly people did to provide comfort. "You deserve one."

Arthur pulled away, but the ghost of his touch lingered.

It is getting dark when Matthew decides to search for Alfred. He'd been hiding in his room since the fight, and though Arthur had long since left, he'd stayed there. Or so Matthew thought. When he'd gone to tell his brother dinner was ready, Alfred's room was empty. He and Francis were gone.

Matthew dreads how long it may take to find Alfred – his brother is quite the traveler when he's upset. Matthew suspects he'll have to call all his friends, visit the usual haunts, and perhaps even check to see if he isn't already apologizing to Arthur, trying to take it all back. That'll be a problem: Matthew has no idea where Arthur lives. Francis probably knows, but just the thought of seeing the French boy now makes his whole body ache.

All these worries are quashed when Mathew steps outside onto his porch and spies Alfred in the driveway. For some bizarre reason, he is lying down, arms stretched out on either side of him. He looks like a crucifix.

Alfred stares straight ahead. He'd be looking at the sky, but their driveway is inclined too steeply for that to be quite right.

Matthew stands and stares at his brother, slightly in awe he found him like this. How'd he ever get out of his room without anyone noticing?

"What the heck are you doing?" Matthew calls out. He takes his first shaky steps forward. When Alfred doesn't respond, Matthew leaps the rest of the way off the porch and runs to his side.

Alfred smiles blearily. "Brother," he says. Now sure that he is alive, all Matthew can do is roll his eyes. "You idiot," he says, but then he gets a good look at his sibling. Even though Alfred isn't looking at him (still he gazes into the unknown), Matthew can only see the tiniest sliver of blue lining his immense pupils.

Matthew says it again. "You idiot."

Alfred should know better than anyone. He shouldn't, doesn't have a right to, feel bad enough for this to be okay.

Sighing, Matthew grips ay his brother's arm. "C'mon. Get up." He heaves, but the effort yields nothing. Alfred's breath is steady as though he is sleeping, and he is still staring.

But he's no longer smiling. "It hurts, Matt."

Matthew thinks he means the tugging. "Oh, stop whining. I can't just let you lay out here. You've got to get inside."

Alfred's eyelids droop. "What's the point?"

"You won't be lying in a driveway, for one." Matthew stops to study his face. "…Are you okay?"

"No." Alfred's eyes heavily shut. The lids sputter, then pry themselves open again. "Nothing's not okay. Nothing's all I am, s'all I got."

Matthew's frown quirks upwards slightly. "You can still apologize, you know. Try to start over."

"I can't start over, Matt. It's already the end." Matthew wonders if he looks into those stale eyes, can he see what Alfred is looking at? But there's only blackness in his gaze, a bottomless pit.

"I'm so cold," Alfred says suddenly. The words are mere wisps on his lip.

Matthew is beginning to feel eerie. "Then come inside with me. It's warm inside." It's warm outside, too, but he doesn't tell Alfred.

Alfred's responding silence is frightening. Suddenly, the dark of the dying day seems more sinister as it closes around them. The street lamps' humming is the only sign of life.

Determined, Matthew crouches down and grabs his brother by the side. "Alright – get up!"

As hard as he tries, his brother won't budge. "It's not worth it, Matt," he whispers, as if trying to soothe him. "No point." And as he says this, still, his attention is infuriatingly rapt, eyes trained on something that can only be God. Matthew will accept no less for all the trouble he's gone through.

"Al, come on!" Spent, Matthew lets go of his brother with a frustrated sigh. Slumping down onto the pavement, he starts in a heated voice. "What the heck are you even looking-?"

And then finally, Matthew sees as Alfred does. Or close to it: face upturned, following his brother's line of sight, the shyer twin can make out perfectly the town on the hill.

Illuminated in the dark, shadows skirting the corridors where light dare dance, the town above seems to be an image of heaven itself. The architecture isn't quite Baroque, but it is lavish and so white, a color perfect for capturing light even in such stark blackness. Even from a distance it can be seen that the streets are clear. The hedges, perfectly sculpted. The windows and reflections in plants and puddles blur into glittering stars in a galaxy of wealth. The town is not perfect, but neither was any other promised land, and it is. Alfred's promised land. If Matthew were to lie back as Alfred does, the hill will seem to loom at even more impossible a distance.

So Matthew doesn't lie back. He knows what Alfred doesn't: that the place can't possibly be all that he dreams. That nowhere is.

A chill runs through Matthew, reminding him of the late hour, then of the dark, then of the fact that Alfred is still on the ground and hasn't moved though he needs to.

"Oh, Al," Matthew sighs. "We need to get you inside." And then I'll call Mom and tell her everything.

Curiously, the air is growing rapidly colder, but even as it closes in on them Alfred does not seem to be roused to his senses. Instead, his eyes droop, then flutter shut.

"It's so close, Matt, he whispers. "I can see the faces…"

Matthew squints, but can't make much out for the dark. "Really? At this distance?"

"I'm tired." It isn't a statement but a gush of air. "I just want my life to start already. But I'm stuck."

His chest is rising and falling slower now. Concerned, Matthew brings their faces close together. He can't let Alfred sleep here. In fact, he has a feeling he shouldn't be letting Alfred fall asleep, period.

"What did you take, Al?" Slapping the sides of his face makes Alfred's eyes open slightly, but not much. The thick tar of unconsciousness is quickly pulling him under.

Alfred mouths something unfathomable before his eyes slide shut for the last time.

It seemed like months ago – and it has been, now – since Matthew was last alone with Francis.

As usual, Matthew had been playing stupid. He intentionally did the first four problems wrong, and then relished over how the French boy leaned over him to look, smelling deliciously of fine soaps he bathed in (conjuring images of him naked, wet) and the expensive spices he cooked with.

"Mathieu," he admonished, gently. "It's fine if I call you that, yes?"

"Yes," Matthew breathed, voice so saturated with longing that Francis tittered at him. But then his eyes fell to his student's worksheet, and he stopped. By the way he looked at Matthew in askance, it was clear what he thought of those answers.

Matthew shrugged, trying to keep cool. "Guess I'm not so good at this, huh?"

"Hn." Francis's mouth was turned up at the corners, but lacking in the warmth to be truly called a smile. Unsure of where that put him, Matthew decided to lay on some flattery to be safe. He'd seen Alfred do it before, and it always seemed to work for him.

"Can't be helped, really." He tried to appear sheepish, humble. "I'm sure a person like yourself understands the material better, even as a student, than my teachers do."

The way Francis chewed his lip then almost looked like a smile. "Oh, Mathieu," he sighed. "You are so much more than this."

He placed the paper back on the desk and began to stand. Fearful that the session was over, Matthew got up with him. "H-hey, wait I'm really not! I'm so awful at this, I'm so… low, and you're so much… better – I need you!"

A long-fingered hand caressed his face, then. Matthew desperately wanted to curl into that hand, to stay there forever with his eyes clasped shut. But then he wouldn't be able to see Francis's smile.

"I'm not stupid, Mathieu." Oh, how was it a person as vibrant and joyful as Francis could make a smile so heartbreakingly sad? "And neither are you."

The hand began to slide away, and almost without thinking Matthew grabbed it and held it there.

Francis looked surprised for a moment. Then his expression softened. "You are so dutiful, and yet so… lazy. Just like your silly brother. But in a different way."

Lazy? Was Francis confusing his English again? Matthew's brow furrowed as he tried to analyze the French boy's words, to catch his mistake, but all he found was total conviction.

Francis spoke carefully. "You tell me he is a terrible student. Skips class. But you, Matthew, you are skipping out on something else entirely. Your brother will get nowhere because he refuses to sit in a chair and think, while you do nothing but sit and think. You can't go anywhere if you don't move, Mathieu. Even now, holding my hand, you refuse to move."

"Alfred's not lazy," Matthew cut in quickly. "He's motivated in some ways."

In all actuality he thought that everything he'd once told Francis about his brother still held true. However, Matthew could grant him one thing… "He has the drive to go out and take what he wants, and I do, too-"

Their noses bumped. Francis ducked his face, neck stretching to get away, eyes still so, so sad. "No."

Matthew was flabbergasted. "B-but I, just like you said, I moved-"

"Let go, Mathieu."

And he did. The long fingers slid down his face, brushing cheek and tears, and then their fellows were rubbing at the assaulted wrist.

"I'm sorry," Matthew said softly, "I don't know what I was doing."

"It's okay," Francis replied with a shrug. "Backing away is a form of movement." He tried to smile, but it was rough around the edges. "You're going in the right direction."

All this talk of moving had Matthew spiraling. He hated metaphor, he decided.

Besides, he thought. He hadn't even been the one to step backwards; Francis had.

Matthew gathered his things. Francis remained silent. Normally, to see him in such a state would alarm Matthew, but the sting of rejection was too painful for him to put his attention on much else.

Matthew feigned ignorance of the way out of the house – the Bonnefoy residence was large, but not that terribly so – and Francis showed him the way out. He didn't become angry with Matthew and accuse him of trying to steal time. He didn't give away his emotional state at all, really. Matthew figured he must be sympathetic enough to allow him one last bout of faux witlessness.

In any case, Francis used that fake tone of voice, the one he reserved for peers and adults and Matthew when he was humoring him during their tutoring sessions. The moment he heard this fake cheer, Matthew felt an aching rift spread out between them that was far vaster than any of these beautiful houses in Francis's neighborhood.

Francis had been planning to leave Matthew in the kitchen because it had a door out. But just as the teenagers got there, a pair of adults exuding wealth entered the room.

"Francis, darling!" the woman crowed. "Who's your friend?" Like him, she was blonde and gorgeous. Her limbs were long and tanned and blemish-free, and they wrapped around the shoulders of a gentleman who looked as though he could be her father. He looked like Francis might, one day.

As the woman leaned in to kiss the man's cheek, Francis cringed openly and grabbed Matthew by the arm.

"Swee-tie," the woman cried, "where are you going?"

In no time at all they were out in the crisp autumn air. Francis let go of Matthew and left the boy to his dreamy haze – touched! They had touched – to march to a lone tree at the end of the property. It was located right by the edge of the hill, rolling off into several lazy hills before plunging steeply downward.

One hand on the tree, the other in his hair, Francis began to mutter. Matthew snapped out of his trance just as Francis let out a long stream of curse words laced with hate.

He swallowed. "You really don't like your mom, huh?"

Francis stilled. Without looking over his shoulder, he ground out, "That woman is not my mother."

"Oh." Matthew fiddled with his knapsack, trading glances between the gorgeous white house behind him and the even more beautiful boy hunched in anger before him. Try as he might, words wouldn't come. All he could decide was that the tree Francis was leaning against was definitely a maple.

"…I'm sorry," the French boy said finally. He rubbed his eyes, took a deep breath, and turned back to his companion perfectly composed. "I just can't stand to see that woman with my father."

"Oh. Yeah, I can tell." Was that a bad thing to say? Francis's face hadn't moved much that he could tell, so it couldn't have been an awful statement…

"I really miss my mother." Francis bit the inside of his cheek, forcing some emotion down before he dared a tentative smile. "I don' see her often. She and my father disapprove of each other."

It was a strange thing, to have all notions of who Francis was to suddenly disappear. In his place – in his confident, joyful, handsome place – was a boy who was vulnerable.

And he'd been there the whole time. Why was Matthew so surprised to see that?

Francis seemed to have been calmed, but not enough so that Matthew could simply jump on him with prying questions. He had to ease along, slowly.

Clearing his throat, Matthew began. "My parents are divorced too, you know. My dad works in Quebec. I rarely see him. So… if you don't mind me asking… If your mom's not here, then where is she?"

Without replying, Francis turned his head. He looked past the rolling hills, past trees and the school that was out of sight and the people that were equally invisible. He looked past imaginary uniforms and cigarettes and a bus stop where two boys shared a secretive first kiss. He looked down the steep drop, down to the very bottom, down at the base of the hill.