A concept piece - will be expanded. Thanks for reading.


Freddie woke up with a splitting headache and an overall feeling of misery hanging over him. He closed his eyes and tried to sink back into sleep, hangover or no hangover. Drinking let you forget for a little while, but you always paid the price the next morning, when remembering hurt twice over.

Florence was gone – she'd left him, he'd driven her away himself – and he'd lost his title as World Champion. There was really nothing left for him anymore. He laid there and waited.

When the couch cushions – all right, he was on a couch, how had he gotten here? - refused to swallow him, he groaned and tried to drag himself upright. He'd woken up like this more than once before. Take it one step at a time. Get some water. The rest of the world can wait until after that.

"Mr. Trumper," said someone, vaguely familiar, pressing something cold into his hand. "I see you're awake."

Freddie forced his eyes open, working against the grit, and saw the Arbiter standing by the couch, offering him a glass of water. He took it, drank, and worked his throat unsuccessfully until he finally managed to rasp out, "What are you doing here?"

"The world chess championship is over," the Arbiter said. "The Russian and American delegations have left. You are still in Merano."

Freddie continued staring blankly at him. "And Florence?" he asked, knowing what the answer would be but needing to hear it said anyway.

"She left with Mr. Sergievsky and Mr. de Courcey."

"So what, they just – they just left me here?" he demanded bluntly.

"Yes," said the Arbiter simply.

"Then why are you here?" Freddie said. Of all the people involved in this whole mess, the Arbiter was the person he'd least expected to see now. It had always been Florence before.

"There was nobody else here," he said and then, "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit," Freddie said immediately. "How do you think it feels?"

The Arbiter stared at him. "I could not imagine," he said blandly, and then, dryly: "I am sorry for your loss."

"Fuck you," snarled Freddie. He tried to get up off the couch, but his violent headache pushed him back down before he'd even managed to sit up properly. The Arbiter looked at him evenly.

"Perhaps some aspirin," he said. "Would you like anything else?"

I want Florence back, Freddie thought. I want her back like we used to be. I want my title back, I want that Commie bastard never to have existed—

"I want another whiskey," he said. The Arbiter stared at him flatly before sighing and leaving. "Fuck you," Freddie muttered again at his back.

Florence is gone, he thought. Florence is gone, Florence is gone, Florence is gonegonegone—the one thought ran through his mind over and over again, in time with the pulse beating at his temples. His head pounded; flashes of light throbbed behind his eyelids. Florence Florence Florence

He found himself offered another glass of water, which he accepted; he had to resist the urge to throw it in the Arbiter's face, but he knew annoying the only man here who seemed even vaguely sympathetic to him would be a bad idea.

"Would you like to sit up?" asked the Arbiter, voice as controlled as ever. Freddie grunted in vague agreement, and felt himself being pulled upright so he was leaning back against the arm of the couch. At that point, he risked opening his eyes again as he sipped at the water.

"Your aspirin," said the Arbiter, offering him the white pills in his palm. Freddie accepted them and swallowed them down with another swallow of the water – fuck, his throat hurt. "Why are you doing this?" he rasped.

The Arbiter kept staring down at him, the same painfully polite expression he'd used during the tournament, except that there was perhaps a bit more curiosity than annoyance now.

"Someone has to clean up your mess, Mr. Trumper," he said sharply. Freddie grunted and stared at the wall dully, trying to block out the world. At least his head didn't hurt quite as much now.

The Arbiter sighed. "Try to get some rest," he said finally. He stayed a moment longer before Freddie heard his footsteps retreating across the plush carpet and the snick of the door closing.

On the couch, Freddie closed his eyes and waited for the world to make sense again.