AN: This is kind of mostly fluff, but there's some angst near the end. I tried to make it funny, but I'm not sure I succeeded, so please read and review. These two are fun to write. :) And they're quite adorable. I feel like they'd have quite a joking relationship outside of the angst. (I love your reviews, by the way, everyone on fanfiction seems so nice, especially considering these are some of my first attempts at this stuff.)

Also, this got close to me writing smut. I steered clear with much effort.


-ALAN

It had been... a while, Alan supposed. Eric had tutored him in the academy, and after he'd left it, they'd been assigned as partners. So he'd known Eric for... three, four years now? Three or four years, and Alan hadn't told him about the Thorns. At first he'd told himself Eric didn't need to know, being only his tutor. After they'd become partners, he no longer had that excuse. Then he'd moved onto excusing it with "it's not the right time, I'll tell him later". That failing, he admitted to himself that he just didn't want to tell his partner, at which point he began to actively conceal it.

Eric had never witnessed an attack, through Alan's concerted effort, although he was sure Eric would have noticed that he was a bit weaker than the average Reaper. Alan wore clothing that covered every inch of the branching scars on his body. He made sure he never rolled up his sleeves around Eric, never took off his tie and exposed his neck, even when he spent time with Eric outside of work. He wasn't sure what he'd do when the scars spread to his hands, maybe wear gloves all the time like that Phantomhive butler? He knew William knew about his illness, but as little as William liked to talk to his subordinates, he was sure that there was no danger of the supervisor telling Eric. He also knew that Eric would find out eventually, especially with this...new turn in their relationship.

But unless it became absolutely necessary, he'd continue to hide it from the other man. Eric would be downright furious when he found out, Alan knew that... but still he couldn't bring himself to tell him. He frowned at the stack of papers on his desk, as if they were what was bothering him. Eric had kissed him a few days ago out of the blue, which was what was causing his preoccupation. There was no way he could keep up this if they were going to be... whatever they were. Even so, his honest opinion was that Eric had waited way too long to do that. A thumb pressed unexpectedly to his forehead, smoothing out the furrowed brow.

"Whatcha frowning at, sweetheart?" Alan jumped at Eric's presence behind him. "Did your paperwork do you a terrible wrong?"

"How do you do that?" Alan demanded, referring, of course, to Eric's sudden appearance. The older man had a somewhat irritating and infinitely baffling ability to silently sneak up behind him.

"Magic." Eric said, making a face and waving his hands mysteriously. Alan giggled. His partner smiled fondly. "You're so cute when you do that, Alan."

"I'm not cute!" Alan objected to the use of the childlike adjective.

"Sure you aren't." Eric replied idly, sitting down at his desk, which faced up to Alan's. He put his elbows on the desk, looking at the other man. "What're you doing tonight, beautiful?" Alan glared. He didn't approve of that adjective either.

"Probably not much." He answered, truthfully. He'd been going to finish the book he was reading, but other than that, he hadn't planned anything. "Why?"

"Well, I'm free as well tonight, as it happens." Of course you are. We usually have the same times off. "Would you like to go on, you know, an actual date?" Eric's face showed his usual cocky grin, but his eyes looked a little nervous and embarrassed. "If you want to, that is." Alan could feel his own face light up.

"Yes!" He said eagerly. Eric's smile widened.

"All right. I've got to go to the filing room and organize something for Will, but I'll meet you at the door after work?"

"Of course!" Alan chirped happily. "But you realize you're not fooling anyone when you say you're actually going to organize something?" Eric snorted.

"I'll surprise you someday, Humphries." He said, standing up and striding out of the room. "I'll see you at around six, if that bugger Will doesn't give me overtime." Alan smiled at his parting comment, returning to his papers. Soon he was immersed in filling out a report of the last Reaping.

"Is there any reason Eric is humming?" Grell's voice broke Alan's concentration. He looked up at the brilliantly red man who had taken a seat on his desk.

"Humming?"

"Yes, humming. He's in the filing room, wearing the silliest smile I've ever seen, and humming, loudly and very off-key." Grell grinned wickedly. "Would you have anything to do with that, darling?" Alan laughed at the image of Eric that had popped into his mind.

"I might have something to do with that." He said, raising an eyebrow, still smiling. "How did you know?"

"It's more obvious than that stick up Will's ass. I see Eric finally got around to doing something about it." Grell held his hand up against the light, examining his nails. Alan was smiling again when Grell hopped up and left to bother William.

~Later~

"Thinking again?" Eric's voice startled Alan, how someone so large could move so quietly was beyond him. They stood at the door out of the building, Alan had been watching the snow.

"Will you stop that?" Alan said, holding a hand to the place where his heart had used to beat as though Eric had given him a heart attack. He had, in fact, been thinking, again worrying about having to tell Eric about his disease. How could he possibly do it, when he'd kept it hidden for so long? Would it change the way Eric treated him? Would he even, perhaps, disgust Eric? No, no, Eric wasn't like that, but it was entirely plausible that he would act differently than he currently did.

"As soon as it stops being funny." Eric smirked, pulling Alan against him. "So, never. Don't you have a coat that's heavier than that? It's cold out."

"No, I didn't expect it to be snowing. It's not long to my flat, though. Could we swing by there first, maybe?" Alan asked, tilting his head back against Eric's chest to look at him. He could feel Eric's muscles under the shirt, hardened by years of throwing around a heavy death scythe. He was also sure his were nowhere near as developed-his scythe was much lighter, and easier to handle.

"Sure. Do you want my coat?" Alan shook his head at his partner's question.

"I'm sure snow's not deadly, Eric." Eric chuckled and they stepped out. It was, actually, very cold, but since it was snowing, Alan had expected that. His coat was thick enough to keep out the worst of it, but he still felt the temperature more than he would have liked. Thank god the sidewalks had been cleared of snow by some poor academy students who'd landed themselves in detention, and they didn't have to trudge through the now shin-deep snow. His flat was a little off grounds, though, and probably hadn't been cleared. There were no words between them, and if there had been, neither would have been able to hear them over the howling of the wind.

They reached the end of the snow-less pathways and Alan sighed quietly as they started into the white expanse between the Dispatch Center and his building. This wasn't going to be a whole lot of fun.

"Agh, fuck." Eric cursed as Alan closed the door of the flat behind them. "I hate snow, my pants and my shoes are soaking." Indeed, Eric stood in what appeared to be a great deal of melted snow.

"Snow's pretty, though." Alan said, kicking off his shoes. "You can take off the shoes, see what we can do about them. And the coatrack's behind you, you can hang yours up."

"I have been here before, you know. I know where the coatrack is." Eric said, a bit short-temperedly. He then sighed and amended himself. "Sorry if I'm a bit short, sweetheart."

"That's fine. I'm going to, um, change into something dry. Do you think we could maybe stay here, at least until it stops snowing? I have food and stuff, we can make dinner..."

"Yeah, sure. I want to go back out there even less than you." Eric grumbled. Alan swung into his bedroom, closing the door and locking it. He knew Eric wouldn't stumble in on purpose, but it never hurt to take a precaution. What was he going to change into? Eric would probably expect something less formal, but he wasn't about to expose his scars. He deliberated for a minute, then settled for changing into a different set of pants and a shirt not unlike the one he was changing out of. He buttoned up the shirt all the way and decided not to tuck it in. He looked a little more relaxed, but the shirt's appearance was odd, buttoned all the way up, and no tie. When he tried putting on a tie, it looked odd because it wasn't tucked in.

Ugh. Why was this so hard? Getting dressed wasn't usually this difficult. He'd known Eric for years, why did this matter so much? Alan frowned at his reflection in the mirror, took off the tie, and decided to look odd. He did take the time to attempt to smooth his hair down, however.

"Took you long enough." Eric said when he stepped out of the room. "I almost thought you'd escaped through a window." Alan saw that his partner hadn't had nearly as much trouble with his clothing-he'd unbuttoned four buttons on his white dress shirt and taken off the tie, untucking the shirt as well. He looked much more at ease than Alan felt, although he supposed Eric usually looked at ease. "Christ, Alan, did you change, or just manage to dry your clothes at light speed?" Alan noted that Eric's newly unbuttoned shirt exposed a glimpse of inexplicably tanned neck and collarbones. He wondered idly if Eric was outside a lot shirtless. The thought made him flush. Alan Humphries didn't think about things like that! What was he doing?

"I changed." He retorted defensively. "The pants are a different color!"

"By like, one shade." Two, actually. But that wasn't the point. "Is that what you wear around the house? Come on, that collar looks uncomfortable. You can't seriously wear that usually. It's because I'm here, isn't it? It's OK, you can relax."

"I am relaxed!" Alan stammered. Eric rolled his eyes.

"Of course you are, Alan. That's why you're blushing furiously, standing as though I'm about to attack you, and wearing a shirt that Will would approve of." Alan mentally checked himself. He was standing very stiffly. Eric reached for the collar of his shirt. "Here, just undo the top button. You'll be much more comfortable-" Alan swatted his hand away.

"It's fine. I'm comfortable." He couldn't let Eric unbutton that, no matter how pure his intentions-and he wasn't sure they were very pure at all. If he did, he would see the lone scar that had branched up his neck. It was only barely visible with the top button undone, Eric might not even notice it, but it was enough to make him nervous. The button would stay. He walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge. "Um, I have... uh..."

"Not much." Eric had again pulled his sudden appearance, but Alan had been paying attention and had seen him sneak up. It was definitely intentional, because Eric walked differently when he did it.

"Nice try, Eric. Maybe I'm getting used to you."

"That takes a lot of fun out of it. So, we're going to be eating... jesus, when was the last time you actually put food in this?"

"I go out a lot. Cooking is a pain."

"How is it that you act more like a bachelor than me? You've got all of eternity and you can't take the time to cook?" Eric's words, intended humorously, caused a pang for Alan even as he smiled. Because, of course, he didn't have all eternity. He was lucky if he had another ten years. "...I think we might be able to throw together some kind of pasta. You have these weird noodles and a can of sauce. I don't know how it'll do, but we can try." Eric said after a pause.

It does taste kind of...different... Alan thought as they ate it. It had been fun, cooking with Eric. The taller Reaper had commented on how he hadn't rolled up his sleeves, but had dropped it after Alan had kissed him. That was a good distraction tactic, Eric-wise, though not always the best of ideas if you had something you needed to do in a timely fashion. The noodles had almost scalded to the bottom of the pot after Eric had pressed him back against the wall. The blonde was apparently incapable of just leaving it at a peck on the lips.

"What the hell was in that can?" Eric asked. "It's not bad, but it's really weird."

"I'm not sure. If you'd like to fish around in the trash, feel free. Why didn't we check before we put it in the pasta?"

"You had me... otherwise occupied." Alan was determinedly looking away from Eric, but he could hear the smile in his voice. "I call drying the dishes, by the way, I've only just finished drying off from our snowy hike."

"It was hardly a hike, Eric, it was on flat ground for about half a mile."

"It was bad enough. You're washing the damn things, sweetheart." Alan felt a rush of pleasure at the endearment, as he did every time Eric used it. He wondered, would he still be Eric's "sweetheart" after the other man found out that Alan had been keeping secrets from him? He'd hate to stop hearing the pet name, when it was one of the more tender things Eric said. He had to face it-he should have told Eric long ago. If he had, he wouldn't be in this situation. Although, frankly, he'd never expected to be in quite this situation. A relationship with Eric outside friendship had not been in his plans.

Plans could be changed.

Alan looked at the pile of dirty dishes that awaited them in the kitchen. It wasn't too bad, but it was more than "none", which was his preference. He sighed and grabbed a plate.

"You aren't going to roll up your sleeves?" Eric asked, for the second time that evening. "I mean, cooking I can kind of understand, that sauce was white anyway, but your sleeves are going to get soaked. Don't worry about exposing your wrists, I promise not to jump you." He grinned at his own joke, unaware that Alan was thinking frantically. How could he possibly get out of this one? He rolled up the right sleeve to just below his elbow-the scars hadn't spread to his forearm yet. The left, however... He knew where every scar was, where they begun and ended exactly, and on his left arm there was a single scar, on the underside of his arm, that extended to a few inches below his wrist. He couldn't roll that sleeve up. "Uh, Alan?" Eric said, breaking his silent, invisible panic.

"Mm, yes?" Alan replied as though nothing was wrong, rolling up the sleeve and keeping his arm turned carefully so that the scar was blocked from Eric's view.

"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering why you weren't rolling up your other... but you've done it now, I was..." Eric said lamely. Alan grinned, concentrating fiercely on his arm to keep it turned the right way. Was it weird, that this was more nerve-wracking than dealing with a Cinematic Record? There was silence for a while, but they'd known each other long enough that it wasn't very awkward.

Silence, Alan thought to himself, is a funny thing. You can't tell what the people around you are thinking. He was wondering what Eric was thinking, had he noticed anything, had he written it off? Was he even paying attention? What had he thought about the... date? Did it still count as a date if they hadn't gone anywhere? It was very hard to pay attention to Eric and his arm at the same time.

"Is there something wrong with your arm?" Eric asked, startling Alan out of his thoughts, something that seemed to be happening all too often lately. "You're moving it differently than usual..."

"No. No, it's fine." Alan quickly covered for himself. He handed Eric the last plate.

"...Alan. You've barely moved it the entire time we've been standing here, and when you have it's been jerky and stiff. Come on, did you hurt it, or what? It seemed fine up until you rolled your sleeves up."

"It's fine, Eric." Eric frowned at Alan's rather snippy tone, and put a hand on his arm as Alan tried to roll his sleeve back down.

"It's really not, Alan." Shoot. He's about to find out. What am I going to do I knew this was a bad idea. Eric turned his arm over, despite Alan's attempts to resist, he was just stronger. "Jesus, what did you do to yourself? Wait-" Eric paused, looking closer at the scar. Alan's heart raced. Please let him not realize what it is. "Alan, this looks like... is this... do you have...?" No such luck. Alan yanked his arm back from Eric's now-slack grip and rolled the sleeve back. He almost felt angry, although he knew Eric hadn't actually done anything. Alan prided himself on his rationality, but Eric was making him do all kinds of odd things, and he was feeling very irrational, and even more panicked than before. Eric raised his face slowly to look Alan straight in the eyes, but the brunette looked away quickly.

"Look at me, Alan." There was a quiet command in his voice which Alan found hard to ignore. Their eyes met, two sets of green, and Eric spoke again, his voice quiet. "Why didn't you tell me, Alan? How long have you been hiding this?"

"I had it before I met you." Eric made him feel intensely ashamed of himself. "It wasn't, I didn't... see any reason to tell you."

"Your having an incurable disease is a reason in and of itself. How the hell did you manage to keep this quiet for almost five years?" So that's how long it's been.

"I've come close to telling you a few times, if that helps." Said Alan, trying to sound flippant and failing miserably.

"It doesn't." Eric's words were hard. "How long do you have... left?" He asked, his voice a little gentler.

"I don't know." His partner's face changed to frustration, and his hands shot towards Alan's shirt before the younger man could stop him, pulling the buttons apart. He made a shocked, choked sound at the expanse of scars swirling on the exposed torso. "Eric!" Alan protested, trying to pull his shirt together, but Eric wouldn't budge. He was just staring at the scars as though frozen.

"My god... fuck." His voice was hoarse as he dropped to his knees began to curse fluently, Alan's name occasionally mixed in with the profanity along with the word "no". Alan would have been touched by the level of emotion if he hadn't been so petrified of where this would leave them. Also, Eric was still holding his shirt open, kneeling in front of him, and it was impossible not to find that distracting.

"Uh, see something you like?" He joked weakly, hoping to snap the other man out of it. Eric looked up at him as though he were insane.

"They'd be beautiful if they weren't killing you." He replied bluntly. Alan gulped. His eyes were burning, but he wouldn't cry... Eric must have seen how close he was to it, though, because he stood up abruptly, no longer speaking, and pulled Alan into his arms. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I'm sorry." Alan thrilled a little at the embrace and the fact that Eric had called him "sweetheart" again. That had been... about twice as bad as he'd thought, but better than he had thought at the same time, this thing he'd been dreading. "I'll find a way to stop it, I promise." Alan almost laughed. There was no way to "stop it", but the sentiment made him feel nice. He moved closer to Eric, breathing in his scent.

At least Eric hadn't been repulsed, although, now that it was over, Alan realized that that was ridiculous. What was there to be repulsed about? It wasn't like the Thorns were contagious. He thought about Eric's quick recognition of the scars. Had he perhaps known someone else with this disease? Or had he suspected, no matter how Alan had tried to hide it? As he thought, Eric's arms crushing him into his chest, he felt a familiar burning sensation in his lungs. Oh, darn. This was about the worst time for this to happen, Eric just having found out. In past, Alan would have excused himself to the bathroom, or found some reason to leave and go somewhere else, run an errand, perhaps, to get out. To hide it from this man. But now Eric knew, and there was no way he'd be able to hide a violent coughing fit and seizure from him.

-ERIC

"Eric?" Alan's voice, muffled against his partner's chest, was pained. Eric looked down at him. He was still in shock about the little Reaper's illness, but he knew he had to let him go. Once released, Alan took a breath, which, Eric was horrified to hear, rattled a little in his lungs. "I'm about to start..." He coughed. "...coughing. Don't worry, I'll be..." He coughed again. "...fine." Despite this, Eric couldn't help being worried.

"What do you mean, you're about to start-" His question was answered as Alan lurched forward, his cheeks stained pink again, hacking. Somehow the blush wasn't as cute when Alan was twitching and making sounds Eric was sure no human-or Reaper-should ever make. The coughing was violent, doubling the younger man over, and Eric sank to the floor as Alan collapsed, making sure the other man didn't hit his head. "Alan!" Even to himself, his voice sounded panicked. What a great first date this was turning out to be. Three years since he'd realized his attraction to his partner, and he'd waited this long to ask, and then this.

"E-eric." Alan forced the words out, clearly a job amongst the fit.

"Don't speak, don't make it worse." Eric knew he sounded worried, but fuck appearances right now, he was worried, dammit! "Shh, Alan. Shh..." He crossed his legs, then leaned over and picked up the now-convulsing brunette, placing him on his lap. Alan's hands found his shirt, gripping it like a drowning man might grip a lifeline. Eric's heart almost broke at the sight. Which, actually, would be kind of funny, because usually, an almost-shirtless Alan in his lap, gripping his shirt, would be quite a turn-on. But nothing about this was funny.

It had seemed like hours that Alan was coughing in his arms, but really, it had been under thirty minutes, Eric thought when it was over. Alan, not fully over the episode, was still quaking in his arms. Every time Eric had fantasized about Alan panting, blushing, shuddering, and clinging to him(which he had thought about more often than he liked to admit) it had involved a lot of nakedness, usually a bed, and occasionally some whipped cream, but never a coughing fit and a deadly illness. Fantastic.

"No wonder you're still single if this is what happens on your average first date." Eric whispered in Alan's ear, trying to make him laugh, make him look anything but in pain and exhausted. Thank god I know what makes him laugh. He thought as Alan giggled weakly, a small smile spreading across his face.

"It hasn't been that good, has it?" Alan looked somewhat sheepish, still flushed and raspy from the attack.

"Best date I've ever been on." Eric said. The first part had been good, up until he'd seen that scar.

"You're a terrible liar."

"I'm actually a pretty great liar. I'm just not trying." Alan smiled again at his words. I love that smile. He thought fiercely, And I'm not giving it up. The man sitting in his lap kissed his neck, just a quick brush of his lips, and got up. Did he even know what a kiss on the neck usually meant? Not on the first date, Eric. Alan's not like that. He reprimanded himself.

"Well, I'm sorry that this hasn't been very good-"

"S'not your fault-"

"Shut up, Eric. I'm sorry. This has been kind of... awful for you? And when you leave, you're going to have to wade through a whole lot of snow, again."

"Are you kidding me, sweetheart? I'm not leaving." Eric snorted. Uh, rephrase that, he's not going to take it the way you intend it... Indeed, Alan looked rather shocked and more than a little nervous, a new flush crossing his cheeks as he opened his mouth to object. "I didn't mean like...that. I meant, there's no way I'm trudging back through that stupid snowstorm, and there's even less chance that I'm letting you stay alone after you had a seizure in my lap."

"It wouldn't have been in your lap. You put me there."

"That's not the point." Eric replied. "The point is that you can't just stay alone after that."

"I've been doing it for seven years, Eric." Alan pointed out, in the process, unfortunately, of rebuttoning his shirt. He left the top two buttons undone this time, though, Eric noted.

"Yes, but if I'd known about it for seven years, you wouldn't have been." Eric stood up so that he was no longer looking up at Alan from the floor, but looking down at him. It had never really struck him until now how small his partner was, how delicate. Feminine, Alan had always been, but now that Eric knew that he was sick, he appeared frail as well, something Eric had to protect.

There had to be a way to save Alan.

There just had to be.

"Uh, so... what exactly is the reason you're staying?" Alan broke in. He sounded slightly skeptical.

"You sound like Will. Anyway, don't worry your pretty little head about it." Eric grinned when Alan narrowed his eyes.

"You do realize that those exact words are listed in the pamphlet about sexual harassment in the workplace that we all had to read?"

"I know. That's why I used them. Besides, you know Will requested that phrase be listed because of Grell."

"You actually read it?" Alan said as Eric walked out into the living room and sat down on the couch, motioning for the smaller man to sit next to him.

"No. I listened to Grell read it out loud and comment on how mean Will was." Alan laughed as he took his seat next to Eric, fighting the couch as it tried to slide him towards the other object on it. "It was pretty funny, he had Ron practically in tears." I was laughing, too. "But, alerted by the sounds of someone having fun at work, Will came in and dragged him out."

"By the hair?" Alan laughed at the image. It was a frequent one in the office, but entertaining every time it happened.

"You know it." He smiled and threw an arm over the back of the couch. Maybe, if he moved slowly, he could bring it down and get it around Alan's shoulders? Not like you haven't held him enough already tonight, Eric. Alan scooted himself a bit away from Eric, clearly still struggling to stay in the place he'd sat down in. I love this couch. Eric thought.

"And do you remember my first day?" Alan asked, bracing himself. Of course I remember your first day. I was so surprised that my new partner was you, but I was happy-I'd been worried that I wouldn't see you anymore once you'd graduated. You were really cute, so nervous. "Grell scared the living daylights out of me."

"You spent about fifteen minutes hiding in the bathroom." Alan gave up on battling the couch, sliding into Eric's side. I love this couch so much. Looking down at Alan's face, Eric noticed that he looked rather guilty.

"I wasn't actually...hiding. I was having an attack." Alan's eyes avoided Eric's, which was hard to do, as he was tucked so close to him that their faces were mere inches away.

"Alan. Jesus." Eric sighed. "And you never told me." As Alan was already snuggled against him, he saw no harm in putting his arm around the brunette by his side. Alan twitched nervously as Eric's arm came down around his shoulders, but it took him only a second to relax into the embrace. I can't lose this.

I will save him.