Hello and good to see you, reader! Apple Fairy here!
So this is for the asakiku comm on Lj for the fanworkathon! Sorry I'm a bit late orz
Just some warnings:
Humans names are used, and this is an AU. Also, Kiku's personality is a bit different here. Somewhat cynical and childish. I'm sorry for this in advance orz
But if you can enjoy this fic just a little, then that's good! Thanks for reading! Hope you like the fic!
EXTRA: This fic has been translated into Vietnamese as well! Please see my profile for more info.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Hetalia
The Butterfly and the Gentleman
Story by Apple Fairy
He was able to count that approximately two thousand, three hundred, and forty five seconds had passed by in which, no, he had not moved from his armchair at all.
No, wait. Two thousand, three hundred and forty six.
Arthur Kirkland sighed loudly from his seat, and slumped a bit, closing his tired eyes. The fireplace crackled on lazily, and outside the sun was setting against a snowy landscape. He had an open book on his lap, which he had picked up out of curiosity and then gave up on shortly after. Some story of a knight fighting in the name of a fair maiden and fighting off evil doers and it was all so boring and drab and he just didn't care.
There certainly was a lot of that these days. Not caring.
He opened his eyes.
They say a man lives his life until he is satisfied. But what makes a man satisfied, Arthur wondered. Becoming rich, raising a family, seeing those children raise their own families, and then living peacefully until then.
He looked to above his mantelpiece, above the fire. There were picture frames, and in each of those picture frames showed how he had done all of those things.
Arthur Kirkland was raised into a rich family. Not blue bloods, but moreso gentry and that was fine with him. He had inherited his father's shipping company, and had enough money to mingle with the nobles without anyone saying otherwise. He could remember this much, by looking at an old family photo, him and his brothers gathered around their father. His mother had died sometime after his youngest brother had been born. He hadn't been much close to her anyway, so it's not to say he was sad anyhow. And his brothers hadn't bothered to stay in contact with him, which was also fine because they were beastly things anyway.
Arthur wasn't much for keeping close contacts, either, always staying a safe distance in relationships.
He looked over to the picture by it. Black and white, both the subjects in it were stoic faced. A young woman with a flowery hat and a stern gentleman carrying a cane in the other hand.
His fiancé and him.
Well, his wife and him.
It was an arranged marriage. She had a title, yet no money, and he had no title, yet a lot of money. It was decided for both of them, and he didn't mind it so much. She was a pleasant enough girl, despite some things. French and somewhat sharp-tongued, but he managed fine despite that. There was no love, it's true. But that's not to say he hated it.
Glancing over to the next picture, he could see them again, but older, surrounded by two young boys. His sons; Alfred and Mathew.
Yes, well what could he say about them? They were twins, and his only children. Different as night and day as well. Alfred had always been an unruly child; loud and boisterous and a handful. Mathew was the exact opposite. He was just like his mother, pleasant, yet shy and soft spoken. Next to his brother, he always seemed to disappear into the crowd.
They had both grown up to be respectable men. Mathew was running the family business now, as well as recently married. Alfred, however, was taking life at his own pace. Frequenting gentleman's clubs, taking to the horse races, those sorts of things. Last Arthur had heard, Alfred had got himself into some get-rich-quick scheme over in America with some other friends. He didn't bother to keep up with the details, however, and kept his hands out of the affair. Besides, Alfred seemed to stay out of trouble and never listened to his father anyway, so what else could be done?
And for their mother, yes well…
She was dead. Has been for five years now.
Arthur looked at the last picture then. The most recent one. Once again, in black and white, the only stern face there was his own. He was sitting in a chair, surrounded by his older sons, one at each side. It seemed then like his life was complete.
Yes, well, this was what men wanted, right? A nice fulfilling life, to live my days in peace from now on. He had outlived his own wife, and knew his sons would also outlive him. Technically he was retired now, and the only thing left in his name was this very estate and all the benefits that came with it. He had a vast fortune, many servants, even much more acquaintances and colleagues. He had accomplished a lot in his life, had traveled a lot, and has seen what the world can offer him.
He has lived. So what was there left to do?
He blinked out of his stupor, straightening himself in his seat. Two thousand three hundred and fifty five seconds had passed by. It was as if this was all he could focus on now. What was there left to do? He had retired early, but that's what he wanted, but even now he wasn't sure what he wanted. When catching up with friends, it all felt so dull. He had considered taking on another wife, but it would be too scandalous and what would be the point? He had lived and now life had nothing to offer him. Everything was just so dull and boring.
He sighed loudly once more. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked on, and he counted each one of those seconds. He took the book off his lap, set it next to his cold tea on the side table, and got up. Walking to his mantlepiece, he looked at the clock's face, noting the time.
Outside, the sun had already set.
He blinked. Is this how his life would be like? Dull and boring, boring and dull. Waiting for the day of his death, only looking back on his previous achievements. No, even thinking on that, when had he ever been truly alive? Like, felt like he was living, felt like he was breathing and feeling or something.
He dashed away such childish thoughts. It wasn't like he was at an age to want something like that. He was a respectful gentleman, and he wouldn't get so carried away. He decided to be content with this life, and at least enjoy what time he had left.
Arthur blinked once more, at his reflection in the clock's glass-covered face. He focused, and it was then he noticed the clock was one hour off.
"Dad, you need to get out of this house."
With the pulling apart of the curtains, letting the sun in, he had said this. Words just as overpowering and annoying. Arthur held up a hand to cover his eyes from the fierce light, holding his teacup in another. When his eyes adjusted to the brightness, he could clearly see Alfred standing in front of that window, his arms crossed, frowning. Oh, not this again, Arthur thought to himself.
"Would you stop standing there as if you own the place? Sit down, and finish your tea."
"Only if you hear me out."
He held back an exasperated sigh. When he heard his son was coming back to England, he thought it would be nice to have tea with him, to catch up, but no. Alfred always had to butt his nose into things, make everything his own business. No such thing as a peaceful afternoon that did not entail digging into his own social life, or lack of thereof.
"I told you, I'm fine here. It's peaceful."
"You mean boring."
Arthur glared at him, and it was then Alfred sighed, rolling his eyes, finally taking his seat opposite of him. Honestly, the boy knew nothing of manners. Or had being in America made him this way? Arthur really couldn't say at this point.
"I'm just saying," Alfred began, taking a scone and biting into it, "you need to get out of this house. Instead of sitting here all day, get out and do something you know? I worry about you sometimes, I mean, after mom died."
Arthur frowned, a pang going through his heart. He had no need to mention that. He ignored this though, and decided to tackle a different part in that sentence.
"And what would you suggest I 'go out and do', hm?"
This wasn't the first time Alfred had confronted him on these matters. There were various times he had dragged his own father out to go 'enjoy the town' to 'live a little'. Plays at Covent Garden, the Crystal Palace, pubs and taking him to go hunting. It was all wild things that Alfred enjoyed, yet Arthur did not. Oh, yes, there had been a time he had enjoyed such activities, but these days he just felt so…uninterested. Perhaps, even jaded. At least the boy cared, yet nothing really caught his eye. So, it was then that Arthur decided it was useless, and he would be content living as he was now. The only problem was, was that Alfred refused to see this as well.
"I have just the solution!"
Arthur looked up from his teacup, to see him digging in his suit pocket. Soon, Alfred pulled out two tickets, a grin on his face. Arthur took the one handed to him, reading what was written there, in its Victorian lettering.
The Secrets of the Orient
The date for the show was also written there, as well as two illustrations of a fan and plum blossoms. A circus? Now he wanted to take him to a circus? He sighed, and placed the ticket on the table, sliding it away from him.
"I'm not going to one of those blasted things."
"Why not?" Alfred exclaimed, "What's wrong with the circus?"
"It's chaotic and outlandish. I'm not going."
"Oh come on, it'll be fun! Don't be so gloomy!"
He held back another sigh. It's not being gloomy as it was being sensible, he wanted to say. And honestly, what would be so fun about the circus. A few clowns performing here and there, perhaps a man taming an elephant; honestly he doubted that would really catch his interest. He looked back to his son, who was frowning, obviously displeased with the whole scenario.
"So," he spoke slowly, "You don't want to go."
"That should be obvious enough."
Alfred sighed loudly again; there seemed to be a lot of heavy, frustrated sighs between them. Stilted awkward feelings that would never be resolved. A lot of heavy atmosphere. Ever since Alfred's mother died, it seemed to feel that way. Especially after he had left for America.
But it was in Arthur's nature to keep a healthy distance from anyone. Even his own child.
It was then Alfred smiled, somewhat tiredly though. He squared his shoulders and crossed his arms. Leaning back in his chair, and Arthur knew what these mannerisms led to. If anything, his son was a great negotiator, his words so smooth and convincing if he tried. And these actions, showing he had confidence, a big ego, were the warning signs to his spiels.
"Tell you what, then" he began, "if you go with me, then I promise I'll stop bothering you so much."
"Look, I know you hate it when I try to get you to go outside. And you know what? It's kinda grating on my nerves too. So then, why not just make this easier for both of us, and just stop it altogether. Let's make this the last thing we agree on, and then cut it off there."
With this, he made a cutting motion with his hands as he spoke, eyes fixed squarely on him. He was a prime businessman at this point, and Arthur wondered vaguely why he didn't let him inherit the family business.
Oh that's right; because he had turned down the offer.
"…And if I refuse?" He asked, taking another sip of his tea. He was used to this sort of talk from his son; the boy had tried to talk himself out of a lot of things growing up. So he cut to the chase of the deal, not bothering with the pretty words. Neither the hidden passive-aggressive attack either.
"Then, this stuff will never end, will it? It's your choice, dad."
Arthur frowned, not at the answer, but how bitter his tea had gotten. Before it had been just fine, but suddenly it tasted so bland. He put it down on his saucer, and looked up. Alfred was waiting for his answer, smiling, an eyebrow raised. Cocky and self-assured.
Arthur wondered to himself for a moment. Honestly, the only change in his days was Alfred's persistence. And just as he had said, yes, he had grown weary of it. One more outing, and that's it. Did that also entail Alfred to stop visiting altogether? Ah, what a sad thought. Left all alone, even abandoned by his own son. Mathew and his wife would be coming back from their honeymoon in Germany soon, but he would be so preoccupied trying to learn the ropes of the family business. I could stay and help him with it, but oh, what's the point, I'm so tired these days anyway…
Arthur had decided to live his days peacefully from here on out. Family or no family, what he did know was that Alfred was not making his days anything close to quiet.
"Alright then. I'll go."
Arthur reached over, grabbing the ticket, and when he looked up he could see Alfred smiling.
"I knew you'd say that."
"It says here that all the performers are from the Orient." Alfred was saying, the clatter of horse hooves on cobblestone a heavy noise in the background.
"They've got trapeze artists, and an elephant tamer and everything!"
Arthur looked up from his lap. The two were seated in a carriage, bound for the location of the circus. Outside, it was night, yet the city was bustling. It was London after all. Across from him, Alfred was perusing the playbill he had received with the tickets, his eyes bright as if he were a child.
"How did you hear about this circus, anyway?" Arthur asked, deciding to strike up conversation. Alfred looked up at him, and adjusted his glasses. They would've made him look scholarly, yet his personality ruined the image entirely.
"Oh yeah. I heard about it from some of my pals back in America. These guys had first toured America and now they're going around Europe, I heard. They told me it was a good show, so I got interested, ya know?"
"Is that so." Arthur responded, looking out of the carriage window, as it bumped along. Outside, he could see various people headed in the same direction as them. Suppose everyone had the same idea. He had been so out of touch with society, he honestly had no idea how popular this circus was. He looked back to his son, and held his gloved hand out.
"May I see it?"
Alfred frowned, as if a favorite toy of his was being taken away. But he muttered a sure, and gave it to him. Arthur looked over to the exaggerated words, the sketchy drawings. So, the proprietor was named Yao Wang. Arthur found his eyes being drawn to someone's caricature drawn in the corner, though. A handsome man, with short black hair, a chrysanthemum placed behind an ear. His eyes were just as dark as his hair, and underneath him, in fancy lettering, the name 'Madame Butterfly' was written.
"Who's this fellow?" Arthur asked, somewhat distantly. There was something about the pictures powerful gaze that just caught his eye. Alfred leaned over, looking with him.
"Oh, him." He smiled, "The Madame Butterfly. I heard a lot about him." He sat back in his seat, hands in pocket. Arthur noticed the name; like the opera. He knew the story, yes, but he wasn't focusing on that right now.
"He's a swordsman or something like that. See, it's like he does all these amazing tricks with his uh…what was is it called- 'katana'? Yeah, yeah. In one part, even, he takes his sword like, so" Alfred posed at this point, as if he was holding a blade.
"He balances a vase at the end of it, tosses it in the air," He jerked his closed hands at this, then began swinging his arms around, "Does all these slashes and stuff, and then," his arms suddenly stopped, back to their previous pose, "he catches the vase! Not even dropping it! Isn't that so amazing?"
Arthur was only paying some mind to the whole pantomime, instead still focusing on the man on the playbill.
"Yes," he muttered, half-heartedly, "quite exciting, really." Then he frowned, and looked up at him. "Don't jerk the carriage around so much; act your age."
"You weren't even watching, were you?" Alfred pouted, slumping in his seat.
Eventually the two reached their destination, the amphitheater, the hustle and the bustle of the crowd loud. The night was cold, and Arthur brought his coat closer to him. They got to their seats in a timely fashion, and after a few more minutes, and stragglers, the lights dimmed. (Arthur was surprised to see they had gas lighting. How advanced; he supposed he hadn't really given them that much credit.)
The show began.
"Welcome, one and all! We, the cast, humbly thank you for choosing us to entertain you tonight, and-oh! How we shall! Tonight you will witness many amazing feats, exciting performances, and things beyond your wildest dreams! So, tonight, my dear audience, I ask that you banish any thoughts of your normal life and to please- join us as we experience the Secrets of the Orient!"
Oh, what nice, cheap words the ringleader used, Arthur thought, exasperated. From where he could see, from their three shilling seats, the ringleader was a Chinese man, with long dark hair. He could already tell he was charismatic, probably as good a business man as his son. The audience applauded, and the man bowed, and with another smile, the lights dimmed again. And while this should've created an atmosphere, Arthur instead shivered, hugging himself into his coat. The amphitheater was too cold, not good enough protection from the weather, and the effect of the circus was lost on him.
He did watch though, the many acts; the band began playing, and he watched the trapeze. Two sisters, 'Lotus and Plum', daring the heights, yet appearing graceful and beautiful under pressure. People gasped, and awed and Arthur didn't understand their amazement.
There was an act featuring a man from Thailand, taming an elephant, making it perform many tricks. He looked peaceful and wore glasses, and while Alfred seemed to like the act a lot, Arthur didn't share his enthusiasm. None of the performers caught his eye; not the tall Asian fellow, who performed on horseback; an equestrian Arthur guessed. Neither the young man with the bushy brows who did magic, mostly firework shows.
None of these acts caught his attention. Perhaps if he had been younger, he would've been amazed. Or perhaps he was just hard to impress. In any case, Arthur was ready to deem this whole thing a lost case; it was nice that Alfred tried, but it was just another futile attempt. He was already planning how to live the rest of his days, without Alfred coming by to bother him all the time. His life would be peaceful once more and things would return to how they should be, just as he wanted.
Boring, lifeless, yet peaceful.
But just as he was losing faith, the Asian youth taking his bow, exiting the stage, the band stopped playing altogether. Lights dimmed once more, and Arthur could hear the ringleader's voice speak once more.
"This is the final act of the evening, ladies and gentleman! The one we've all been waiting for; I humbly present to all of you, our one and only: Madame Butterfly!"
The crowd cheered, and a man appeared in the center of the stage. It was then Arthur felt his breath catch in his throat; the man from the playbill, in the flesh.
Despite his feminine stage name, he was a man, albeit a terribly handsome man. Wearing a short kimono top, with one of the sleeves pulled down, an obi, pants, and riding boots. There were butterfly patterns on his sleeves, a sash tied around his neck. His sword was tied around his waist.
He was enchanting. Arthur couldn't take his eyes off him.
When the clapping died down, Madame Butterfly smiled, a sly smile, and behind him a girl appeared, with a cart of various items on it. Arthur recognized her as 'Plum' from the trapeze act.
"Good evening, everyone!" He spoke, voice deep and smooth, "Tonight I hope to amaze you all with my skills and abilities." He bowed, and raised his head once more. "Please watch carefully."
As Plum grabbed an apple, he placed a hand on his sword hilt, the same arm that was unclothed.
"As you can see, I have no sleeve on my sword arm; this is to show you that I have no tricks up my sleeves." He smiled, and a soft chuckle emitted from the crowd.
At that moment Plum threw the apple at him and, in an instant, he unsheathed his sword, and with a slice the apple was cut in two. The slices fell behind him with a soft thump. It happened so suddenly, Arthur was amazed he had sheathed his sword once more. As if nothing had happened.
"I assure all of you, that everything I do here tonight is real."
A chill went up Arthur's spine. He gulped and suddenly he heard something loud and constant. Th-Thump. Th-thump. Th-thump.
And so the act continued as such, as Plum threw next a melon, an orange, and even a teacup! All of these things he cut in two, with quick flowing motions, his sword sheathed once more when its job was done. There was something graceful in his motions, something striking that Arthur found intriguing. It was as if the whole world around him just disappeared, and all he was left with was that constant thumping sound, that he had no idea where it was coming from.
Th-thump. Th-thump. Th-thump.
Plum threw a bouquet of roses at him, and he cut that as well, the stems falling in a nice clump next to him. Madame Butterfly grabbed the remaining petals, and threw it in the air, the rose petals falling all around him. He bowed, the crowd cheered, and Arthur finally realized what that incessant sound was.
His own heartbeat.
…how long had it been since he heard that?
When the cheering died down, and some other stage hand took away the remaining pieces of Butterfly's act, he smiled once more and next to him, Plum was retrieving a large china vase.
"Now this," he motioned to the vase she held up for the audience to see, "I will not cut; quite the contrary. This is something I will try not to break in any way, shape or form. Please, observe."
The band played up once more, for suspense. Butterfly held out his sword, and Plum placed it on its flat edge, balancing it. There was something in this image that Arthur found himself liking. The handsome man, his beautiful form. Standing proudly, although delicate was his situation. With a flower behind his ear, he seemed feminine, yet with his exposed muscled arm and chest, he was very obviously a man. Beautiful, graceful, calm, striking, just…
Breathtaking. It was at that moment, Arthur also realized he had been holding his breath. For once he was noticing these different things, perhaps things he had been blocking out. His heartbeat, his breathing, the very things that made him alive. The world seemed a little brighter, colors more vibrant, sounds much louder. And through this new world, all he focused on was the swordsman, the Madame Butterfly, and his beautiful form, his astounding act.
Just as Alfred described, Butterfly did indeed throw it in the air. And he did swing his sword, though it didn't seem just like flailing rather it looked like dancing to Arthur. Fluid motions he kept his eyes on, and the vase fell down, and in one fluid stroke-
-he caught it. Effortlessly.
The audience, clapped, and Arthur found himself joining them. From the corner of his eye he could see Alfred looking at him surprised, but he didn't care. All he could see was Butterfly throwing the vase once more, catching it in his hand, and bowing. He raised his head, and Arthur couldn't stop looking at those dark warm eyes. Plum took the vase from him, and walked back to the cart with it.
"And now, my final act of the evening, and for the circus as well." He spoke, and Plum was grabbing a revolver from the cart, "I will be shot at, but I promise all of you, I won't be harmed. Rather, if I can get a volunteer from the audience?"
A lot of hands shot up, and although Arthur wanted to join them, it was too late, as someone was chosen. From the stands out walked a man with short choppy blond hair, a scowl on his face. Butterfly asked his name, and he said it was Vash.
"Well then, Mr. Vash," Plum handed him the revolver, and it seemed to fit well in his hand, "If I may ask, do you know how to use one of these?"
"Of course," he said gruffly.
"Then if I may ask that you shoot at me. Ladies and gentleman, as I said I will not be hurt. I aim to slice the bullet in half."
People gasped at this, and Arthur felt a clench at his chest. Will you really be okay? What if you miss? I'm worried for you.
And so, Butterfly put some distance between them, unsheathing his sword. It gleamed in the light, and Vash cocked the gun, aiming.
The band went silent.
There was a long silent moment, and Arthur found himself waiting on the edge. Which was silly; it was all just a performance, he barely knew this person, why should he care? He didn't even want to be here in the first place, why was he caring now? Why was he caring for some random stranger, who just swung his sword around a few times and got some reaction out of people? Honestly he was being silly he was being…
But, oh how was he supposed to explain it! It just happened; somehow he was getting some reaction out of him, and his heart was pounding, and his face felt hot, and he was breathing and feeling and…
…and he was alive.
The gun was shot, a sharp crack in the midst of the silence, and time seemed to slow down, and Butterfly sliced, and in an instant a small clink was heard. Plum walked behind them, grabbing something from the ground, and held up two items.
The sliced bullet.
The crowd erupted in cheering, and Arthur found himself standing up and clapping as well. He could feel his heart thumping away, and the blood flowing through his veins and through all these signs he could feel he was alive. After so long, he felt alive.
Butterfly shook hands with Vash, taking the revolver back. He bowed, and smiled, and Arthur found himself gazing at him.
He was brought back to reality when Alfred clapped down on his shoulder, making him sit back down. He hadn't realized he had been standing for that long, and he felt a wave of embarrassment then.
When he looked back, Butterfly was gone, and in his place was the ringleader giving his goodbyes; thanking everyone for coming, to please tell family and friends about your experience, etcetera, etcetera. Arthur could barely hear the band playing and couldn't even feel others around them getting up to leave. He felt his stomach drop and suddenly the world seemed dull again.
Madame Butterfly was gone.
"…And when he cut the flowers, did you see that? It was amazing! Just in one cut, can you believe it?"
Alfred slumped in his seat, and frowned, the carriage bumping along. He could feel a headache growing in the back of his head, and he sighed dramatically, which his father probably couldn't hear because he just wouldn't shut up.
"Oh, yes, and when he balanced that vase, that was the most splendid part! No, no, when he cut the bullet in half, that was even better-"
"I didn't even know it was possible for a sword to cut a bullet, how do you think he did it anyway, I mean really-"
"What?" Arthur stopped talking then, looking annoyed. Alfred didn't like being glared at like that, and so he glared back in return.
"I heard you the first time; he was amazing. I understand, okay?"
Honestly, what had gotten into him? Before he had all been grumpy, as usual, didn't even want to go to this thing. And now he was acting like a child and wouldn't stop talking and just ugh.
Alfred should've realized that this was the exact reaction he wanted to see, but at the moment he was too annoyed. But he would realize it later, when it was too late. Or maybe it was the right time.
In any case.
"…Say," Arthur piped up, changing the subject, "how much longer are they in London?"
"Oh yeah, I heard this was their last night." Alfred mentioned off-handedly, staring outside the carriage window. He didn't see the sad look in his father's eyes then, who looked down to his lap, as if his heart had been broken.
The rest of the carriage ride was silent.
That night the mansion felt larger then usual.
From his bed he could hear the clock ticking on. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
Arthur Kirkland blinked, then put an arm over his eyes, trying to fall asleep. Outside the crickets chirped, the moonlight streaming into his bedroom. He tried to calm himself, relax his muscles, tried to fall asleep, but nothing was happening. He felt restless.
He sighed into the quiet bedroom that was much too big.
Had he not noticed before, how large the mansion was? He was a wealthy man, of course he would have such a big estate, but everything felt so empty. All that was there was him and his servants, and suddenly Arthur felt alone.
There's something about the feeling of loneliness. It makes you think. Rather, there is no one else to talk with so you are stuck with yourself and suddenly one becomes restless. Arthur had never felt alone, or at least, the feeling of loneliness. Things felt dull then, too silent, too big. His mind felt impatient and so did he and this was when he began to realize his predicament, what his life amounted to. What would happen from here on out.
Alfred had said goodbye to him as he was dropped off at his hotel. That might be the last time they saw each other. Mathew would be so busy, when would there be time to see him. And…
…And his wife was dead. She had died long ago and suddenly life felt dreary.
I could reach out to people, he thought to himself. Oh, but no, it wouldn't be the same. Rather, right alongside that loneliness there was a hunger. Some craving that he wanted to satisfy but he couldn't.
Something had happened tonight. Something amazing and beautiful, and for once he felt like life was breathed into him.
He was revived, awake, could feel, was alive. But with this newfound feeling, he realized much more. How his life was, how it would be. Things seemed to crash down on him and it all felt so hopeless and bland. He was alive, but what was he living for?
Yes, Arthur Kirkland had a hunger then. A hunger for what caused this feeling. He had a taste of what had revived him. He wanted it now before it slipped out of his grasp.
Arthur Kirkland wanted the Butterfly. That beautiful, graceful Butterfly.
It was too early to say he was in love. Rather at this point it was not love but rather fascination. Why was it he was so attracted to this man? What exactly caught his eye? He needed more. Now, before it was too late.
Arthur got up then, frustrated and unsatisfied. His heart was thumping and he could feel it. If he could have the Butterfly no more, though, does that mean he would cease feeling it?
His whole life Arthur Kirkland kept a safe distance; at this moment he was finally reaching out. But could he catch him? Rather, as Alfred said, this was their last night in London. And he had no idea what hotel the troupe was staying in. They would most likely leave in the early morning and God knows what railway they would use.
But he knew where they were headed.
He got up from his bed, walked to his desk, picking up the playbill that he had kept. His eyes lingered on the Madame Butterfly, but he finally looked at the locations.
Well then. That was quite a ways away. Would he really follow after them for such a length? Also what a rash and ludicrous idea to follow a circus troupe to see one man. Who he probably wouldn't even see face to face! And what would he even say to him if he was able to talk to him? Any option sounded crazy; he would look like a fool. Arthur placed the playbill back on his desk, walking back to his bed.
He wouldn't do it. He was going to go to sleep, banish any more of these insane thoughts, and go on with his life.
But, honestly, what was left for him here anyway?
Arthur stopped in his tracks, looking back to that bed.
When one is lonely, the mind goes to work. Sometimes it creates, sometimes it scrutinizes, but right now, it was remembering.
Arthur is a distant man, ever since the day he was born. No one has said this to him, except one woman, as she lay dying.
His own wife.
It was an illness that took her. It happened a lot in those times, so he did not curse it. No, instead as she reached the end of her days he did stay by her bedside. The very same bed he had to this day. She was a vivacious woman, perhaps due to her French blood. However, then, she seemed tired. Tired and pale and just not herself.
He held her hand, her limp hand. She asked where the boys were.
"I've told them. They're on their way."
She smiled bitterly. "I'm afraid I won't last that long."
He frowned, told her not be foolish. This was just the sort of relationship they had. She teased him, he scoffed. It wasn't fighting, as it was the only way they could communicate. Something like friends, with unspoken words between them. Things that didn't need to be said, but were understood.
"We had a good life together didn't we, Arthur? Two boys, and many years together."
He was always reluctant to reach out, and she knew that. And she never pried but kept her distance, giving him the distance he needed. She knew the type of man he was. There was no changing it, and that was fine. However…
"Arthur?" she coughed then, and he looked at her worried, but there was nothing he could do. "Could you do one more thing for me?"
"What is it?"
"Say you love me."
He looked at her a little shocked. They had never said they loved each other. Perhaps she did once, maybe, he couldn't rightly remember. But still, to make such a request…
He would respect it though. It was her last wish.
"I love you."
She frowned a little then, eyebrows cocked as if saying 'really that's the best you can do?'
"Ah, as always…you can be so cold."
She closed her eyes then, and for a moment he thought she sighed. But no, rather, she had taken her last breath. Behind him, the door to their bedroom opened, Alfred and Mathew rushing in. Saying things like 'we're here', and 'how is she'. Arthur turned to look at them.
It was the first and only time they saw their father cry.
Arthur blinked out of the memory, and realized he was tearing up. He wiped away those tears.
He was cold, it was true. He had known it for a long time; but it had been the first time someone had said it to him. And now, with his renewed vigor, he wondered if this was temporary. This feeling of being alive; would he go back to being 'so cold'? He'd had a taste of being alive and he wanted to hold onto that feeling for as long as he could.
And he could only do that if he caught the Butterfly.
It was foolish. Ridiculous, completely insane. As if he was some kind of loony. There were many reasons to not do it, but they payout was more than worth it. If it meant taking a risk, then Arthur would do it. He finally felt like he was alive.
So then he would go out there and start living.
That morning the staff found a letter written by their master, yet no master. It detailed how the estate would be given entirely to Alfred, as would the staff be entirely employed to him. Please, do not seek me out, he had said. Thank you for all your years of hard work. I've left the payment beforehand.
This was my own choice.
Morning practice is the worst.
At least, that's what Yong Soo always said.
"You know, like getting up early," he sighed, "I can't stand it."
He yawned then, stretching his arms. A tall fellow, with dark black hair. The equestrian of the circus, and one could tell, with how hay was sticking out of his hair. Next to him, Mei picked it out for him, stifling a laugh.
"I guess he's giving you a hard time again?"
"Who? The horse or Yao?"
She laughed, and Kiku watched them half-heartedly as he ate his rice. They were all seated for lunch, which would only last for so long until rehearsal, and then the show for the evening. He was half paying attention to his fellow troupe members, and family, instead focused on what he should do after lunch. He'd have to sharpen his blade of course, for it was getting dull as of late. Practice his strokes, and then Yao wanted to talk to him about changing up the act a bit. Which was fine, because how else would they draw in a crowd? Rather, he worried if he would increase the risks of his acts, and if so, that's when he'd have to put his foot down and say-
"No way, you noticed it too? Kiku's admirer?"
He heard his name then, and looked up, confused.
Mei and Yong Soo both looked at him, and then back at each other. It was Mei who spoke up first.
"Oh, um, I thought you saw? Or knew? Your admirer?"
He was honestly perplexed by this. Yes, he's had fans, they've all had. (Mei probably more than the others). It wasn't uncommon for him to receive letters of praise, or flowers for a job well done. But to say he had an admirer, like one single person…
"What, you never noticed?" A voice came from the side then, as their magician entered, Xiao. He was young, but talented, yet always had a taste for gossip. Which was why Kiku saw him as the best source of answers about this supposed 'admirer'.
"No, I suppose not. Who is he?"
"Well, there's always this guy, hanging around for your acts. Like, sometimes he's not there for ours, but he's always there for yours. It's weird." He blinked, then looked to Yong Soo, as if he was remembering something. "Oh, yeah, and the ringmaster wants to see you."
"Huh? Right now?"
Once more, Kiku tuned them out. A man always watching all of his shows? All of them? He tried to think about the audience, if there was ever any face that was always there, always constant. And while Yong Soo was leaving, grumbling about something Mei began to describe him.
"Yeah, like, he has this shaggy blond hair, and these thick, thick eyebrows. I've seen him since um…our show in London?"
Kiku frowned. They've traveled and performed at two cities since London. What sort of man would follow a circus troupe at such a length? To watch his shows? No, no, perhaps it was only someone who looked familiar. There couldn't be someone out there like that, not at all.
"Kiku, be careful, okay?" Mei was saying then, a pleading look in her eyes. She was a cute girl, with flowers in her hair, and the worry in her eyes really made her look just like a younger sister. "We don't know what this guy wants, after all."
"I'll be fine," he assured her, smiling ruefully. Honestly, he wasn't so much scared as surprised such a person existed. Or even if he did exist.
Kiku banished the thought from his mind. It was silly to wonder about such a person at all.
However, at the act that night, he couldn't help himself looking around the crowd for the man Mei described. Shaggy blond hair, thick thick eyebrows. Amongst all these faces, young and old, he didn't see not one person fitting that description. Obviously they were jumping to conclusions, there was no such 'admirer'-
There, in the third row, near the middle. Thick eyebrows. Blond hair. A man, staring intently at him. He met his gaze.
The man was the first one to break it.
Later that night, he asked Xiao what he would notice about the man.
"Hm, well I guess he wears really expensive looking clothing. Also, he looks British. And he's been at every single one of your shows."
"Has he asked for me? Has Yao said anything about it?"
He shrugged, muttering a no. Kiku frowned.
What in the world was going on? Had he a stalker? A wealthy stalker? Or perhaps a rich man, who was bored? Or maybe he wanted to join the circus. Kiku found the last one amusing; there was no way Yao would let him. He hated Westerners.
So then, who was this man? He always watched, but caused no harm, and didn't look like he wanted to. The days, and shows grew on then, Kiku keeping a close eye on him. Who are you, Mr. Admirer? Why do you watch me, and only me? What business do you have with me?
You don't look unstable, and you don't look bored. Far from it. You look…you look as if a spell had been cast on you. Enamored, enchanted, captivated.
The thought sent a chill up Kiku's spine. And not a pleasant one.
It was at the fifth city that he finally approached him.
After the show, after everybody left, just as the troupe had packed up their stuff, and some of them left to transport it, and some others left for the hotel, it was then. As Kiku had already changed, and was following after the others, he heard a man call after him. When he turned to look, his breath caught in his throat, body suddenly alert, and maybe a little surprised.
It was him. His 'admirer'.
"Ah, you're 'Madame Butterfly', right?" He asked, as he reached him, just a tad bit out of breath. Kiku looked back at his fellow performers, their faces worried. He motioned for them to go on without him, though, and turned back to the gentleman. Oh my; his eyebrows were indeed as thick as Mei described.
"That's me." He smiled, "Is there anything you need?"
He guessed the man wanted an autograph perhaps. Maybe he wanted to shake his hand. Maybe he wanted to kill him; Kiku honestly had no idea. Though, he wasn't scared for his life, for his skills as a swordsman weren't merely for the show. And he was equipped with his katana at the moment for he couldn't be at ease unless he knew where it was at all times. Though, this man didn't seem hostile, or mean any harm, so he merely watched him, intrigued.
"W-Well, um," he stuttered, and looked away from Kiku, cheeks flushed. Kiku didn't know if it was because of the light jog he did to get here, or because the man was embarrassed. At that moment, however, he reached into his coat pocket, and Kiku tensed.
Though, there was no need, for the man pulled out a card. A business card, and instinctively, Kiku took it.
He frowned, looking at it, and when he looked up he could see the man blushing even more furiously. As soon as Kiku met his gaze, he looked away.
"I-I'm a big fan of your show. I-I just wanted you to know I-I admire you a lot." His voice got quieter at the end of his sentence, and he coughed. Kiku processed the details of this moment. A business card, saying he admired him…
"Oh, yes, well." Kiku explained, then, "I'm sorry, but I am already employed to this circus. My apologies."
"Oh, no!" Arthur exclaimed then, "Th-That's not what I'm here about!"
Kiku frowned, perplexed, and tried to reassess the situation. Saying he admired him, offering a business card, embarrassed, a rich man…
He glared at him then, angry. This wasn't the first person to ask him about this (though they were always women) and certainly he wouldn't stand for this.
"I'll have you know I don't offer those kinds of services." He spat at him. Arthur took awhile to understand what he meant, and when he did, he appeared shocked, shaking his head.
"No, no that's not what I want! You think, I…? No! It's not like that! I just-"
"I just wanted you to know I like you!"
Kiku's eyes widened then. This man was a complete lunatic. He mustered up a smile though. He was always polite to the public, before anything else.
"I see then. I'm very happy to hear that. Please continue to watch my show." He bowed his head a little, still holding the card in his hand. Before he even let Arthur respond, he turned around then, walking away. He took one last look at the business card, and frowned.
He tossed it over his shoulder. Right in front of Arthur. He didn't even bother looking over to see the man's reaction.
That night, his fellow troupe members asked him about the strange man, about what he said, and what he wanted. Kiku explained that the man was simply obsessed, completely bizarre, and would probably lose interest in him eventually. Kiku knew he had already done the same for him.
However, he was still there, in the crowd, watching him. At this point, Kiku was getting annoyed. What do you want from me? Why are you always here? How can you afford to have all this time to waste? What is your story?
Gradually, annoyance became curiosity, but only a smidge. And while he had considered telling his older brother, he decided against it. It wouldn't hurt if he kept him around for a little bit longer. But only a little bit. Only for a while.
However, there was one day, one day in particular, that Kiku finally saw something different. Only a hint. Only a little bit.
Yao needed him to run an errand. Drop something off at the postal office for me. I haven't the time, your relatives are busy, etc. In which, Kiku didn't mind, as his sword arm was feeling tired and any sort of rest was welcome. So this small break he was thankful for, and so he went into town. Kiku didn't like westerners; he shared his brother's sentiments. He didn't bother making relations with them, and he also didn't like the looks he received whenever he walked amongst them. Though, the family needed the money, so he put up with entertaining them. They could look at him; but no more than that.
He was well-versed in the ending of Madame Butterfly. He would not end up like her.
However, while he usually disliked them, there was one moment when one intrigued him.
While he was walking down the street, avoiding puddles along the way (it always rained here, it was neverending, really), he saw him. Across the street, at a café, sitting at an outside table. Newspaper open, with a teacup in front of him, and a sandwich. His eyes were downward, his hat in his lap, and with a careful hand he grabbed the teacup. Took a sip without his eyes ever leaving the paper.
For some reason, this subtle scene caught Kiku's eye. It was as if he was any other person in the world, a normal man, living a normal life. He seemed human for a moment, like an average person, just like him. Rather than some stranger, someone who he couldn't understand, and didn't want to understand, he was…himself.
This moment of calm indifference stuck in Kiku's mind. Which was strange, because honestly, the man was just having lunch, what was there to be amazed at? Perhaps it was because he got a glimpse of his private life and saw he was no different from himself.
He didn't want to ponder it too long. Rather, it was none of his business, this man did not catch his eye, and he will probably lose interest eventually. So Kiku turned his head away, pretending he never saw him, and walked away.
But the scene just wouldn't stop nagging him. His half-lidded eyes, careful hands, the messy blond hair. He tried to get the scene out of his head, but couldn't. It just brought all these questions. Who are you? Why do you follow me? What is your story? The questions grew and grew each day, and they filled his head to the brim, and he couldn't handle it. Suddenly there was a new reason to be annoyed with Arthur Kirkland.
You give me all these questions, yet I never get answers. How dare you catch my interest? How dare you be so fascinating?
Then, one day, he received a letter. Handed to him by Xiao. At first he held the unsealed envelope in his hands, confused. No address either. He looked up at his younger brother, and he wore the same bored expression as always.
"Your admirer said for me to give it to you." He explained. Then he tilted his head to the side, "Or do you want me to throw it out?"
Kiku shook his head, without second thought. "No," he explained, looking down at it once more, "I will read it."
To think, the man would be using his siblings to send him letters. How clever of him. Behind the amphitheater they had rented, he read it by himself:
I believe we've met once before, but didn't talk all that much. I'm sorry, but I was too embarrassed, and I would like to request an opportunity to see you again. Rather, if I could have a moment of your time, would be enough. I really do admire your work and would like to learn more about you.
….A complete and utter madman this person was. Kiku frowned at the words, somewhat in disgust. Far off, the noises of the stage being put together for tonight's show were heard. He almost ripped it to shreds, but thought against it. Suddenly, a craving was beginning to form in Kiku's mind, something he wanted, so very much.
No, Arthur Kirkland, you don't understand. I don't want you to learn more about me. I shudder at the thought. Yet I get shivers just thinking if I can get to know you.
Yes, it was what Kiku always wanted. Answers to his neverending questions; as neverending as the rain in England. Yes, yes, this was his chance. Find out more about him, satisfy his craving to learn about him. It's not often someone would catch his eye; so why not indulge himself at this moment? Just this once. Just a little.
He folded the letter, and slipped it into his kimono sleeve. He heard someone call his name, and he knew it was almost showtime. And he knew he would see his 'admirer'.
Oh yes, he had plans for him.
After the show, just as the audience was filing out, and the others got ready to help pack up and turn in for the night, Kiku dashed off without word. Calling back that he would be quick, don't worry, he'll catch up later.
Searching through a sparse crowd, catching sight of a top hat, he grabbed the man's shoulder. Yes, he knew who it was already. There was a way he walked, slowly, as if waiting for someone to catch him.
He turned around, and his eyebrows rose.
Kiku paused for a moment. Butterfly. Well, he suppose the man didn't know his real name, so that's what he would have to respond to for now. And why not? It added a mystery to him, and he found that amusing above all else.
He smiled at Arthur, a somewhat sly smile. Reaching into his kimono sleeve, he pulled out the folded letter. Suddenly, the gentleman's ears were red.
"You wanted to talk to me?"
"I have time. So, talk."
"Please don't waste my time."
He was so quick to get to the point, it caught Arthur off guard. Which was exactly what Kiku wanted. He wanted to rile the man up, make him flustered, get some reaction out of him. Perhaps it was because he had gotten on his nerves so much earlier. Or maybe it was because Kiku didn't like Westerners. Or maybe it was the fact Kiku was just that type of person.
However, Arthur did not falter; instead he composed himself, cleared his throat and adjusted his hat, his gaze steady.
"Yes, well, I won't then." He answered, with pride. Kiku watched him carefully. Ah, he should give the man more credit. But then again, wasn't that why he was here? To learn about him? He held back the want to smile.
Teach me, Arthur. I want to know you.
"Your show tonight was very, um, beautiful. You changed up the act, I see."
"Yes. Do you like the change?"
"Well, blindfolding yourself during the vase bit…isn't that dangerous?"
"I can handle myself just fine. Though, I've noticed…"
The air was chilly around them, but not cold. It wasn't yet time for winter, but the season was approaching. Kiku noticed the man was wearing gloves. How strange; it shouldn't be that cold. Oh, who knows; perhaps the man was dedicated to traditions and proper etiquette. His eyes were lingering on Arthur's hands, and suddenly he looked straight up at him.
"How many of my shows have you seen anyway?"
Arthur remained unaffected by this. He frowned however, and looked downward.
"I've honestly lost count."
Kiku smiled at this, somewhat bitterly. At least he was truthful. "Quite the fan, aren't you?"
"If you're wondering, I mean no harm." Arthur explained, "I just…I like watching you is all."
Kiku found this hard to believe. 'Just liked watching him'. No no, his intentions couldn't be that innocent. Surely there was some ulterior motive, something else he wanted. He would find it out too. He refused to just accept it there.
"Just like watching? Really?" He asked, somewhat mockingly. The gentleman noticed this, frowning.
Kiku paused for a moment, standing in his costume, the air cold on his exposed arm and chest. He considered the man for a moment, with a coy tilt of his head, then smiled another mocking smile.
"You're quite interesting, aren't you?"
Arthur blushed at this. Ah, although the man is prideful, he gets flustered easily, Kiku noticed. How cute. And before he could speak again, Kiku went on.
"I like you. After every show, come see me."
"If you want to continue these conversations, I mean." Kiku began to rip up Arthur's letter then, and let the pieces fly into the wind. Arthur watched this, bewildered. Ah, yes, how Kiku loved to see this man display emotion. It was entertaining.
And just as the last strip of paper fluttered away, a voice broke in.
"…Alright then. If you will have me then I-I suppose I will come see you."
Kiku smiled once more.
"Good then." He patted Arthur's shoulder then, and turned to walk back to his siblings. They would need his help, and he would hear Yong Soo's complaints for ages, but he had gotten what he wanted. He was feeling pretty alright now.
He turned around. What did he want now?
Arthur looked to the side, somewhat embarrassed, but managed to say what he wanted to say.
"I…I don't know your name."
Kiku blinked, and sighed heavily.
"You haven't yet earned the right to know it."
And with that, he walked on again, without turning back to see him, though his head was filled with anticipation. Yes, he would look forward to their meetings. For his own reasons though, to satisfy his own craving. Whatever Arthur's fate was, he honestly could care less.
And so, the days continued on as such. After each show, Arthur would wait for Kiku, and they would talk. Of various things, meaningless things, and meaningful things.
"You mean everyone in the troupe is a part of your family?"
"…I didn't know it was possible for a person to have so many siblings."
With this Kiku glared at him.
"Some of them are cousins or distant relatives, I'll have you know."
Arthur apologized, but it was only on the third try that Kiku forgave him.
Yes, Kiku learned a lot about the man as the days went on. Just as he wanted.
"And your son's wife?"
"Oh yes, a fine enough girl, though a bit eccentric. Though, he was always a bit of an easy going fellow, so I suppose it all works out in the end."
With each tidbit of information he got, suddenly Arthur Kirkland was being fleshed out into a human being. He had a family, plenty of opinions, and a good enough sense of morals. He was a person then, however…
"Why me? Why do you watch only me?"
However there was one part of Arthur that he couldn't reach to. A part that he never explained fully, that he avoided most of the time. And this irritated Kiku. Arthur, at the moment, frowned.
"You know what I mean. Why is it that you only watch my show? Why the interest?"
Arthur looked away from him, adjusting his top hat, his eyes adjusted at the horizon. It was after the afternoon show, the weather cloudy. They were situated outside the mess hall. The other troupe members didn't know about Arthur and Kiku's talks, which was why Arthur was reluctant to meet him there. And why Kiku insisted, because he loved to see Arthur flustered.
There was something in the way he expressed emotion that was just fascinating.
"That is…you put on a good act is all." Arthur explained. Rather blandly, which is why Kiku frowned at him, unsatisfied. He decided to shake him up a little then, try to get to the bottom of this. This can't be his only reason. He can't be so innocent.
"Although, Butterfly, I do wonder why you ask that so much…" Arthur sighed, and it was then it hit Kiku, with the mentioning of his stage name. Ah, perhaps that is his reason. Yes, that must be it, there's no other explanation.
"…Have you seen the opera, Madama Butterfly?"
"Answer the question."
Kiku smiled, or moreso smirked. Oh, yes, it was all falling into place. I've got you now, Mr. Admirer.
"You say it's because I 'put on a good act', but I refuse to believe that's your only reason."
The gentleman didn't look shocked at him for this blunt confession. Neither did he look hurt, or confused. Rather he looked like he understood, and for some reason this irritated Kiku even more. I like to see you flustered, or riled up. Don't look so calm. I'm not sure why, but I want to get a reaction out of you, and I want to be the cause of it.
"Then," he spoke slowly, cutting into Kiku's thoughts, "what do you believe is my reason? Why would I come to see your act, city after city?"
Somehow, he was turning his questions around on him, and suddenly it was Kiku who had to answer. No, but this was fine. It was like a guessing game. He'd gotten to know enough about Arthur Kirkland, except for this one part, and he aimed to figure it out. The man was just daring him. He could tell.
Kiku wouldn't falter at this point. After all, he was so sure of himself right now.
"You are enchanted with me."
Arthur's face went red after this. Kiku smiled.
Just what he wanted.
"It is like Butterfly and Pinkerton. He was taken by her, and took her all for himself. And she allowed it. Is that it, Mr. Kirkland? Am I your 'Madame Butterfly'? Are you my 'Mr. Pinkerton'?"
"…Don't be daft." Arthur told him, plainly, face red. He was staring at him face on, but Kiku knew he just needed an extra push to break.
"That's it, isn't it? You want me all for yourself? You find me exotic. Like a pet. Do you aim to pin my wings, as he did hers? Will I end in tragedy with you?"
"Why would I pin your wings when I'm so enchanted by your flight?"
It was Kiku's turn for his face to turn red. Arthur smiled then, or moreso smirked, and he felt as if he had lost some sort of contest. He hadn't expected for him to fight back.
The man had pride.
"Also," he went on, "that's not it. I don't find you 'exotic' or anything of the sort. I'm not as much a coward as Pinkerton was, either. Have some more faith in me."
"Then why do you watch my act? What other reason could you have?"
Arthur paused for a moment. Inside, Kiku could hear his relatives and siblings bustling up for rehearsal. He'd have to go soon. But he waited on Arthur's answer, on how he had looked away again. What a strong profile. What green eyes.
"You haven't yet earned the right to know it."
Ah, what a worthy opponent, what an interesting man.
Germany had some very cold winters. It was one of the rare chances Kiku got to see snow, so of course he'd go out for a walk. With his dog Pochi. (Who was an honorary member of the circus, if only because Kiku had him since he was a child). It was night, cold, dark night, and Pochi almost blended in with the snow. He walked ahead, paws silent, and Kiku brought his coat closer to him as he watched him carefully. In his arms, he carried a parcel, full of tobacco. He had run out on the way here, and decided to get some while he was out.
They had long since left England, had traveled some ways, and were now in Germany. It was a long tour, that's for sure, but it put food on the table, and there was nothing left for them in Asia anyway.
Besides, Kiku liked his family. He had no complaints.
Though, he was surprised Arthur was still around. Though, not that he didn't like their talks. Rather he was learning so much about him, and somehow Arthur had managed to learn of him. It was something like friends. Well. 'Something' like friends.
These days as of late, he's even been giving gifts. Somewhere along the way he learned Kiku's favorite type of tea, and got him a basketful of that. He had also gotten him roses, and such, which Kiku used in his acts anyway. He always said 'it's for a job well done, d-don't think about it too much'. Though Kiku knew better.
And teased him for it constantly. It was just so fun to see the man riled up.
Though, he's been scarce these days, Kiku noticed. Sometimes Arthur just wasn't able to see him after each act. Said he was 'busy'. Which Kiku knew as ludicrous, because he'd noticed a long time ago the man was unemployed. Perhaps he was sight-seeing?
Kiku chuckled at the thought.
In the meantime, Kiku was heading back to his hotel, the room he shared with Xiao and Yong Soo. (It was cheaper that way) When he got there, he'd be sure to take a nice bath, smoke a bit, then go to bed. Yes, that sounded sublime right now.
Up ahead, Pochi walked on, his fur thicker than usual. Kiku did so love the dog. It was his companion after all. Though, while watching him, he looked on ahead to see a man slumped down against a wall. His shoulders were covered in snow, his head downward. Kiku frowned. Probably some drunkard. Not his problem. So he walked on, ignoring him.
But Pochi did not follow.
He looked back, confused, to see his dog sniffing at the man. Who, in turn, patted his head.
It was when he raised his head that Kiku noticed not the bruises first, but the green eyes. Such green eyes.
At first, Arthur only smiled at Pochi. Then he looked up at Kiku, and under the street lights, Kiku finally saw each and every bruise and cut on Arthur's face. Who, despite the wounds, smiled at him.
"Butterfly." He said softly.
Of course he would rush to his side. Any sane person would.
It's not as if he was worried. That quickened beating of his heart was not his, no.
No, of course not.
"You look like a complete and utter mess."
"Ouch! Do you have to be so rough about it?"
"Honestly, you only have yourself to blame."
Kiku bandaged the cut on his admirer's face. There were about two. And he had a black eye. The other one that was fine was slightly red, as if something had been thrown in it, like sand. He had forced the man to take off his jacket and waistcoat, and from the top of his shirt, he could see hints of bruises on his chest. He grabbed the wet washcloth, and began cleaning around the other cut on Arthur's cheek. He hissed. Why did he use soap of all things, it made it sting honestly!
"Can't you give me some brandy or something so this won't hurt?"
"I don't drink."
Arthur glared at him, and Kiku pretended not to notice. Though he did 'accidently' nudge on his black eye, and the pain alone made Arthur stop. Kiku was smoking his kiseru as well, the smoke clouding in Arthur's face. Although it smelled sweet, there was too much at once and he felt as if he would gag.
He sighed then, and decided to let Kiku finish. He looked around himself, not really turning his head, but taking in his surroundings. They were in a small bathroom, fit for a peasant. Next to his foot was Pochi looking up at him, wagging his tail. After Kiku had checked him over back there, he had pulled Arthur up by the arm (the one that was aching the most too), and dragged him over to his hotel room. Which was empty, but he did spot two other beds, and was wary about the situation. What if someone found him? Was he allowed to be in the Butterfly's room-
He just realized.
He was in the Butterfly's room. And he was caring for him. Yes, it hurt; but by God, he was caring for him.
He could feel the blood rushing to his face. Suddenly, he felt embarrassed. And he hadn't any idea why. Yes, his body was aching, and things hurt, and would hurt even more in the morning, but he was with the Butterfly now, who was caring for him.
God, he felt like he was on top of the world.
This pleasant feeling was cut short when he noticed Kiku was unbuttoning his shirt.
"Wh-What are you doing?" He yelled as he scrambled away, his hands going over his chest. His face was even redder then, and yet Kiku stood there, unperturbed. He took the kiseru out from his mouth, balancing it between two fingers, casually. Pochi had scrambled out of the bathroom in the commotion, leaving for the bedroom, and leaving them alone.
"I was looking at the wounds on your chest."
"You could've just asked!"
"We're both men, aren't we?" Kiku asked, and he was smiling then, amused by Arthur's flustered state. The gentleman noticed this, and looked away. Kiku chuckled.
"You're like a shy schoolgirl, it's funny. How old are you now?"
"A-Anyone would be embarrassed."
It's like he wanted all the blood in Arthur's body to rush to his face, honestly. He didn't know he could even blush this hard, let alone blush at all. When was the last time he blushed anyway? Perhaps when he was a child, when his brothers humiliated him, maybe then. It had been so long. Each time he spent with the Butterfly, Arthur learned he could express so many emotions, like it was an ability laid dormant until now. And while he was thankful, he just wished he wouldn't take so much amusement at his expense.
"You know, you could at least tell me what put you in this state." Kiku was saying, as he crossed his arms, head tilting to the side. He began smoking once more, blowing out a puff of smoke. Suddenly Arthur felt like he was a young boy in front of the prefects all over again. And while he knew why he was put in this state, he just couldn't bear to tell him.
"I…I can't tell you that."
"I-I just can't."
Kiku narrowed his eyes at him, and Arthur pretended not to notice. Good God, how was he put in this situation? He was just heading back to the inn he was staying at, but he was so tired and thought he'd just take a rest, a short rest, sure why not. But then there was the dog, and he thought he was dreaming when he saw the Butterfly, but it wasn't a dream…
Or maybe it was. Maybe this is all a dream. He's still out there, in the cold, dreaming all of this. After all, the Butterfly was being so kind to him, this surely must be a dream…
"Boxing." He suddenly blurted out. Kiku looked at him, confused.
"I was boxing. F-For money." He glanced up to him, "Underground type of stuff."
Kiku raised an eyebrow. Suddenly, Arthur felt embarrassed to admit it, as if he was doing something wrong. Which he was, but still. And for another split moment, something in the twitch of Kiku's mouth made it seem as if he was…worried. As in, generally worried, like some sort of legitimate concern. However, this subtle emotion was soon gone, replaced with coy indifference once more.
"I thought you were wealthy though." Kiku pointed out, bringing his kiseru to his mouth once more. "Or was I wrong to assume?"
Arthur shrugged off what he had seen before. This was a dream anyway. He was probably only seeing what he wanted to see. He decided to answer him.
"No, well…I did bring a lot of money with me, but a lot of it has run out. And well, I thought I might as well make some money somewhere."
"…No wonder you wear gloves all the time. I suppose you couldn't get a more sensible, proper job?"
"For the amount of time you lot spend in these cities? It'd be impossible to find. And besides, I can hold my own in a fight; I used to box at my old university."
Kiku raised an eyebrow at this, and smirked. He knew what he was saying with his expression. No words were needed for that.
"I won this match, I'll have you know. The man just fought dirty, is all. That's the last time I take on a Prussian."
"Is that so? I didn't think such a gentleman as you could be so rough." Kiku remarked, still smirking. Arthur frowned.
"Anything to get by. Please don't underestimate me."
Kiku held back the want to laugh. He was just neverending fun, this man was. My, if he could stay by his side, he wouldn't mind. He was beginning to grow on him, he had to confess.
But of course, only for his own benefit. Yes. His own. Of course.
He turned around, back to the bathtub, and turned the faucet. The sound of pouring water was loud then, and he turned his head around, looking at Arthur over his shoulder, holding the pipe to the side of his mouth.
"You heard me; strip."
It seemed as if Arthur was going to have to go the whole night red-faced at this point. He gulped, trying to keep his cool.
"May I ask why exactly?"
"You reek of sweat and beer. And some warm water would be good for your wounds." With this Kiku walked forward, taking his pipe out of his mouth with one hand, placing the other on Arthur's cheek. Oh. It felt so warm, and nice…
"After all, aren't you still cold from the snow?" He whispered, smiling once more. Arthur's heartbeat quickened then, and it was like the first time he saw his performance all over again. He felt alive, felt something, felt something wonderful. He wanted to close his eyes, and hold the Butterfly's hand there, and make sure he never let go. But, instead, he dashed away such ludicrous thoughts. He jerked away from Kiku's touch, who only smiled mockingly in response.
"I'm fine with taking a bath, but you don't need to be here while I do it." Arthur scolded, "I can bathe myself just fine."
"As you wish." Kiku chuckled, the bathwater still running. "I was only joking anyhow."
Arthur almost began to breathe a sigh of relief as Kiku left the room. He began unbuttoning his shirt then. There was just something about his words and actions that made him flustered or angry or…well anything really. He made him feel. That was true. And while he should've found it annoying, it was something he was already used to. Because there was another person who made him annoyed or angry, someone who was able to get some response out of him, able to break through his cold shell.
Used to be. There used to be someone.
He ceased thinking these thoughts, not because they were painful, but because he was getting a headache. Ah, what was his opponent's name again, that lout? Oh, he couldn't even rightly remember. He was such an annoying man, always snickering and hitting him where he knew it would hurt. He even threw sand in his face, the nerve! Arthur was a well enough fighter, but not when it came to fighting dirty. This was nothing like his school days. He supposed he'd have to step up his ga-
"Oh, you're back, Kiku?"
Arthur could hear voices at the other side of the door. Ah, so he was right; Butterfly was sharing the room with someone. Two someone's it sounded like. It was then Arthur realized the predicament he was in, once more.
"Yes. I came back awhile ago actually. And you two?"
"Big brother said he wanted to see how German beer tasted like." A younger, more bored voice stated. Arthur recognized it as the troupe's magician.
"It's so awesome, Kiku! You should try it while you're here!"
"Is he drunk?" Kiku asked.
"He is." Xiao answered.
"Hey, hey, do I hear the bath running?"
Arthur could feel his breath catch in his throat then. Oh no, no, no. This did not bode well. Not well at all.
"Yes," Kiku answered smoothly, not a hitch in his tone at all, "I was about to take one actually. If you excuse me."
And suddenly the bathroom door was open once more, and Kiku rushed in, closing it and locking it in one go. Yong Soo was saying something, but neither of them heard in there, only focused on each other. Kiku was frowning then, displeased, as if something had gone wrong. He turned back to the door.
"Xiao, make sure Yong Soo gets to bed alright? You know how father would react if he knew about this."
There was some grumblings of 'you could at least help you know', but shortly enough Xiao could be heard coaxing Yong Soo into bed. Who was now singing Korean folk songs, rather loudly. Then he could hear him picking up poor, confused Pochi, cooing foreign words to him. There was chaos on the other side of that door, but Kiku pushed that out of his mind for now, and looked back to the injured Briton in front of him. Who seemed rather flustered once more.
"I'm…not supposed to be here, am I?" He whispered. Kiku sighed.
"It's against circus rules to bring civilians into our hotel rooms. Although we are family, rules are rules."
There was another moment of silence between them, and Kiku stepped away from the door then, walking past Arthur, turning the bath faucet once more. It was to a suitable height and he turned to look at Arthur.
"You're just going to have to hide out here until they both go to sleep." He told him, in hushed whispers. It was just how they would have to talk now, rushed and quiet.
"And until then?"
Arthur's face went red, but Kiku held up a hand before he could protest. "It'll look suspicious otherwise, if no one gets in the bath. It's that, or I bathe in front of you."
The blush extended to his neck by then, and he gulped. Oh god, what sort of dream was this anyway? It was much too racy, but…well they say dreams are the subconscious at play. So was this what he subconsciously wanted? Some sort of contrived scenario that led to some erotic type of scene…
Before he could even finish that thought, the Butterfly was slipping off one of his suspenders. Arthur jerked back once more.
"Would you stop doing that!" He whispered frantically, his hands flying to protect his chest once more. Kiku sighed loudly, as if annoyed.
"Well then, hurry up. I'll turn around if you want."
And he did, somewhat angrily, and Arthur was suddenly grateful. At least he knew when the teasing went too far. He was considerate about that.
In any case, Arthur did strip, and it did hurt a bit because there were quite a lot of bruises. Already, huh? Oh, this was going to hurt bad in the morning…
And, no, Kiku couldn't resist the urge to peek, not even a bit. It was just a glance over his shoulder anyway. And he wanted to see how bad the bruises were, maybe. Not that he was concerned or anything, heavens no and…
Oh my. He's quite well-built, isn't he? Slender, yet somewhat muscled. Kiku looked around once more, ignoring the blood rushing to his face. Must be too hot in here. Yes, that must be it.
Suddenly the sound of water splashing, and Kiku turned around to see Arthur in the bath water, knees to his chest, face red. He smirked.
"Would you like me to scrub your back?"
"I told you I can bathe myself just fine." Arthur huffed, grabbing for the soap. The mood felt lighter then, despite the situation. Why, if Kiku liked to see Arthur flustered, then he had just hit the jackpot. He walked over, and sat next to the bathtub, back turned to his admirer.
On the other side of the bathroom door, there was still some loud noises. Yong Soo's voice carrying on, the ruffling of sheets, heavy sighs from Xiao. Yet, there was only the sound of water splashing and the occasional breathe in of smoke between Kiku and Arthur. It was a bit peaceful, some sort of comfortable moment from such a situation. Like they were fine with this if only because it was the other they were with. Had they already reached this level of intimacy, Arthur wondered. How long had he and the Butterfly been together anyway? It felt like his life before the circus was so far away, some other distant time rather than a few months ago. So much has happened, so much was happening. He glanced to see the back of his companion's head.
Yes, if it hadn't been for him none of this would be happening.
His fascinating nature…ah, even Arthur himself wasn't sure why he was so attracted to him. There was something about him that just made his heart burst. Was this admiration? Was he in love?
He couldn't rightly say. All he knew was that he wanted to be by his side, and he wanted to stay there.
"You're an idiot, by the way."
…Despite his sharp tongue, mocking attitude, and cunning words.
"…What makes you say that?" Arthur asked, not at all hurt by his words. He had a thicker skin than that.
"Why are you fighting for money anyway?"
"It's just something on the side."
"Please don't avoid the question."
Arthur was quiet for a moment, and Kiku blew out another puff of smoke. It smelled sweet to the gentleman, something exotic. He liked it.
"…Circus tickets aren't cheap, you know."
Kiku felt flattered then. Like…happy, or something. Hearing this made his heart jumped. He frowned however, and sighed loudly and dramatically.
"All for me then? Really?"
"…You really are an idiot."
"Then it seems to me," Arthur went on then, leaning back into the bath, "you've decided to take care of an 'idiot's wounds."
"Anyone would. It's just common courtesy."
"Thank you, by the way."
"For taking care of me."
Kiku was silent for a moment and he turned to look at Arthur. Who blushed profusely, and in a quick motion crouched over to cover himself.
"You said you wouldn't look!"
"I want payment for taking care of you."
Arthur couldn't believe what he just heard. Payment? So then it wasn't some act of kindness then? He frowned then, reasonably irritated, hugging himself to cover up his naked body.
"I don't have a lot of money." He stated harshly, but Kiku remained calm. Ugh, he wished he wouldn't stare so much, it was embarrassing.
"That's not what I want. I want answers."
Kiku turned around then, to the relief of Arthur, and took another drag from his pipe. The smoke twirled in the air as he talked.
"Why do you watch me? Why do you follow me? What do you want, what is your reason?"
Arthur blushed then, and he looked away. Ah, he was a terribly crafty man. Using this moment to his advantage, to get the answers he's always wanted. And who was he to deny him? There was a feeling of gratitude for him, for taking care of him, and it was common courtesy to repay him somehow…
Well, no. Actually maybe he didn't want to tell him out of obligation. Arthur glanced to him, and realized, maybe it was finally the time for the Butterfly to know.
"You fascinate me."
Kiku remained still, not saying anything. Arthur decided to not wait for a response and went on while he still had the courage to.
"Before I saw your show I wasn't really…all there, I suppose. Life was rather dreary. It's just I…" He coughed. How could he word this without sounding stupid? Well, he had already called him an idiot, so I suppose it was fine to keep up that image anyway. Besides, this was all a dream, he was convinced. What did he have to lose?
"…I suppose I had lost the will to live. Not to say I wished to take my own life or anything, but…I just couldn't see the point in it."
Kiku didn't say anything, not even taking a smoke.
"…And then I saw your show. Your act, specifically. And something just…sparked. Does that make sense? No, no of course not, just…I felt something. After such a long while, I felt something."
"What did you feel?"
"I said, what did you feel?"
Arthur considered for a moment, his hands on his knees, the bruises on his knuckles. He studied this for a moment, and finally, "Admiration, perhaps. Or fascination. Interest. I just wanted to know more about you."
Kiku didn't say anything.
"I'm not quite sure myself. I'm still trying to figure it out. I just knew, back then, I needed you. I-I mean!"
Arthur coughed then, ears hot. Honestly what was he even saying! Sure, this was a dream, but he could at least remember his manners and pride.
"I mean, I…I needed to see you again. W-Was what I meant, sorry." He corrected himself. He glanced to Kiku, who still wasn't moving, his back still turned to him. He could at least react somehow. Did he think he was a lunatic? Was he flattered? He'd gotten the answers he finally wanted, so how would the Butterfly respond?
"Butterfly?" Arthur said, leaning to see the side of Kiku's face, "Are you alright?"
The sight he saw caught his breath. The Butterfly was blushing. Flustered, and embarrassed, staring into his lap. It was a completely different expression then what he usually saw on him. Sneering, bored, somewhat annoyed. No this…this was different. It was like he was a completely different person at that moment, and…Arthur found it quite endearing.
Suddenly, Kiku turned to look at him, glaring, face still so red.
Kiku frowned, looking at Arthur as if he was a fool, and turned his head away from him. The gentleman found himself amused at this; now it was Arthur who was amused as Kiku's expense.
"You're blushing. I didn't think it was possible." He smiled. He leaned in again, trying to get a better look at Kiku, "I've never seen you blush."
"Wh-What did you expect from such a confession as…as that!"
Kiku glared at him once more, the anger burning hot on his neck. Arthur was smiling though, smiling so softly.
"You're very cute right now."
With such a gentle and happy expression, Kiku wanted to say the same words to him. But of course that would be crazy of him, so he held back the want to, and instead snapped something back.
"Please don't flirt with me, I'm not interested. Also-!" He went on still glaring directly in front of himself, "…No one's ever said that to me before, s-so it's only natural I would react this way. Please don't get carried away."
The embarrassed and flushed Kiku was such a pleasant sight at that moment, Arthur couldn't help himself but be surprised at this.
"But it's such a magnificent act! And you're so beautiful!"
"No, no, let me finish." Arthur went on, finally being able to say what he's felt for Kiku. Suddenly he was in such a good mood, and he was smiling the whole time, as he talked. "Honestly, the first time I saw it my breath was just stolen! To this day, even, I don't mind seeing it. I could just watch you over and over again. I mean, the talent you have is-"
And on he went, and Kiku's blush just wouldn't subside because of it. He as annoyed then, so very, very annoyed. Honestly, this man and his affections! Didn't he say he wasn't interested? No, but it was as he said before. He admired him, had 'brought him to life' in a way. My, to think that he had affected someone so much, and that they were so sincere and attractive and-
No! No, no, no what in the world was he thinking, the man was a nuisance and nothing more. Especially now, when he just wouldn't shut up. Kiku cast a worried glance to the door. The noise had quieted down, and it sounded quiet in the bedroom. So were his brothers asleep? He looked back to Arthur who just went on complimenting him and he just had it. He just had to shut him up and he did the first thing that came to his mind.
And maybe it was something he had wanted to do for awhile anyway. Just maybe.
He kissed him.
Suddenly, everything was quiet. The whole room was silent and Arthur's eyes went wide, Kiku's hand on the side of his face.
The weather outside was cold. The bathwater had gotten cold. And yet the Butterfly's kiss was so warm. He closed his eyes, and everything felt so right then.
So very right.
Kiku was the first to pull away. Arthur gulped.
"And what was that for?" He whispered.
"To silence you."
Ah. Right. He shouldn't really expect a sudden love confession of some sort now. Kiku wasn't really the type of person for those sorts of things, was he? Of course he would react this way, frowning, dissatisfied, and wholly uninterested. No, but it wasn't as if Arthur was heartbroken, but more so trying to figure out why he would be. Something was moving in his chest now, something he recognized as his own heart. It was pounding, and he just realized he wanted more then. More kisses. More warmth. More of him. More of the Butterfly.
More, more, more.
This went beyond admiration and interest. This was something else, something new, and before he could reach an understanding of these feelings, Kiku kissed his cheek, making his breath catch in his throat.
"Don't tell me I stole your first kiss?" He whispered. Arthur felt like he should've moved away then, but stayed where he was, frozen and nervous.
"Of course not."
Really. Arthur has kissed before, it's true. His wife for one thing, sometimes, not many. And…well, now that he's thought about it, it's not as if he's had a beau before, has it? It just wasn't something he got caught up, or was interested in. Courting someone, being stupidly in love to the point of self-destruction. Growing up, it was something he had heard about, but never actually did. Falling in love. Being in love.
Oh. Oh! It all made sense now!
He glanced to Kiku, then looked away, shyly. It made sense now, it all made sense. What he was feeling, what had happened with only one kiss.
He was in love. Arthur had fallen in love. Head over heels for the Butterfly.
"Or is it that…that was your first kiss with a man?" Kiku said to him, waking him out of his realization. He could feel his face getting hotter and their faces were still so close. The whole world around them just disappeared and all Arthur could think of was their kiss, was that, yes, he had kissed a man. He thought for a while about this, but found he didn't care. Honestly, he had abandoned society entirely how was he to care about their ideas?
He looked back to Kiku who was smiling mockingly at him once more. Ah, yes, even this expression he didn't mind so much now.
"Look away." Arthur told him, "I want to get dressed."
"As you wish."
And so, he did, standing on the other side of the bathroom as Arthur dried and got dressed. He took another drag from his pipe, and the scent in the air was so sweet then. They exchanged small talk of how his brothers had gone to sleep and it was then Kiku said:
"You know what that means, yes? You can't stay here."
"I know that much. I'll leave as soon as I'm done." Arthur told him as he buttoned up his waistcoat. Kiku turned to look at him, feigning indifference.
"Better now. Thank you."
Not that Kiku cared at all, really. Really.
Soon, Arthur was dressed again, looking better than before, despite the wounds on his face now. But they would heal. He would be fine. He was okay now, okay with a lot of things. He smiled then.
He was in love.
"You know," Kiku spoke, balancing his kiseru between his fingers, swinging it back and forth, "you're smiling."
"You never smile. But you're smiling now."
A moment passed between them, Arthur not sure what to say. He was alive now, that's for sure. He's experienced a wide array of emotions since he began this 'journey' of sorts: amazement, fascination, annoyance, embarrassment, exasperation, bewilderment, loneliness…
…and now, finally, he was discovering happiness. For once, in a long while.
He found his eyes drawn to Kiku's kiseru then.
"It smells wonderful, by the way."
Kiku glanced to it, then back, head tilting to the side.
"Do you smoke?"
"Would you like to taste it?"
"I suppose if you don't mind."
Kiku took another drag from it then, and then walked towards Arthur swiftly. In a quick motion he grabbed one of his coat lapels, pulling him forward, and kissed him once more, hungrily. If this was still dream, as Arthur still believed, then it was everything he wanted, every single one of his subconscious needs answered. He wished to never wake up, if this was the case. Let him freeze to death outside, he didn't care.
Arthur closed his eyes.
Ah. It tasted wonderful.
"My dear, come back to bed."
He looked back to her, from the window. The gentleman was already dressed, taking his morning tea, the tray resting nearby. It was bright in the room, but she looked at him with clear eyes, her hair a mess of auburn curls. She had just woken up, and even that she made beautiful.
He could see her naked figure embraced by the sheets. He wasn't embarrassed at all, not even flustered. It wasn't like they made love out of love anyway.
"It's already nine," he told her, taking another sip of the bitter tea, "You should be getting up anyhow."
"Come back to bed. Let's rest for a little longer."
"The boys' governess is coming soon and I want to greet her. Can't forget manners. It's her first day, after all."
He frowned, and she sat up, holding her hand out. "Please." She said, eyes soft, smiling with those red lips. There were always these small ways she cared for him, tried to loosen him up, coaxing him to slow down, just for a little. It was where they clashed, her too carefree and him always strict and uptight. But sometimes, just sometimes, he caved. Not because he loved her, no, but because he respected her.
He placed the teacup down then, and took her hand, kissing it.
This was one of those times.
Arthur blinked awake then, the sunlight bright. He frowned, covering his eyes with his arm. God, why did this place not have curtains or something, honestly…
He got up then, yawning. Looking at his pocket-watch, he saw the time. Nine'o'clock.
Oh, how ironic.
When was the last time he dreamt of her? It had been so long since then. She had been a good mother, a decent wife, and…a wonderful woman. Memories of that time seemed like decades ago…
Arthur sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. He stopped thinking about her. He never felt well when he thought of her. Sometimes it got to be too much and he couldn't understand it, and he would just break down and stop.
So he stopped thinking about her. At her funeral he didn't cry, and the boys always tried to talk about it, but he couldn't understand. He didn't want to. So, instead he got up, headed for the bath, trying to keep his mind preoccupied with other things. He didn't want to think about her.
He's tried not to think about her for five years now.
And yet, the dreams wouldn't stop. There were so many things he was remembering now. Like the first time they met, after learning they were to be wed; her stinging words: I hope our children do not inherit your thick eyebrows. The time they argued about how they should raise their children: Yes, I taught Matthew French. I told you, it's a beautiful language, and they should learn it. What do you mean I can't teach Alfred? But what he was remembering most of all were the silent things, the things she did without word, but with much meaning to them. The tea she poured him when he was up at the middle of the night working, the rose garden she insisted on because she knew it was his favorite flower as well. Even at the parties they would go to, her hand on his arm, showing they were together. Ah, there was even one carriage ride back he remembered…when he was especially tired, somewhat inebriated, cheeks flushed. He kept nodding off, and she, sitting next to him asked if he was fine.
He assured her he would be fine. She frowned though, and took him by the shoulder, forcing his head down on her lap. The driver must've been so confused when he heard a ruckus then, the master resisting something, but then soon as quiet.
He'd heard the staff whispering the next day of the scene the driver had seen that night. Opening the door to help the lady out, to see the master resting his head upon her lap, asleep. She held a finger to her lips, her other hand resting on her husband's head, smiling mischievously, telling him to be quiet, do not wake him.
It was quiet a spectacle.
Yes, Arthur was remembering so much right now. But remembering wasn't the bad part, no. What was bad was after he finished recalling something. The realization that she was gone, the bitter end to all of these occurrences.
She was gone.
When she had died, he kept the engagement ring. The wedding ring she was buried with, but not the engagement ring. People had wondered why he didn't keep a cameo of her perhaps, or had a locket with her picture in it. The ring was enough though. He still had it to this day, and when he was finished resurfacing old memories, he would reach into his pocket, twisting it between his fingers. A memento of her.
He wondered why he was remembering though. Was he getting that old? Was it because of what he'd been doing these days? Or was it because he's fallen in love?
Ah, yes. Speaking of that.
He hasn't told the Butterfly. Not in fear of being rejected (though with any one-sided feelings there is always a fear of that), but instead because he wasn't sure how to go about doing it and when the time would be right. And also because he's pretended it's never happened too.
The kisses, he means. Kiku hasn't mentioned anything about them since that day. It was honestly a bit infuriating to Arthur, because it was extremely childish and cold of him. Yet he kept his tongue because then he would have to profess why he cared so much; which he wasn't ready for yet.
That's not to say, however, things hadn't changed between them. They had. Something had, he could tell. Butterfly seemed…happy to see him now. Albeit subtly, but he did, he could tell. He asked him about the boxing, and he seemed nicer.
And Arthur was smiling more these days. He was smiling. God, when was the last time he smiled anyway, it felt so foreign to him. Perhaps because he was happy these days. Yes, so very happy.
Especially seeing as today the Butterfly asked to be taken to his room.
"You've seen where I lay my head at night," he had said, "and besides, I have time today. So, is that fine?"
He was a bundle of nerves at that point however. An afternoon with him, all by themselves, in a room…no, that's not to say he was planning anything, per se, but it was an embarrassing thought nonetheless. Perhaps they could take a bit of tea by the veranda, talking of this and that, this and that. It was the nervousness of a man in love in front of his beloved.
Arthur could afford nice rooms. Not as nice as to say they had gas lighting or that it was expected for one to bring their servants with them, but at least it wasn't something above a pub, with only an itchy blanket for comfort.
Yes, it was fine enough, and he had his own bed to himself, so he was fine. However, he wasn't fine when taking the Butterfly there.
"Your legs are shaking." He had pointed out, as they climbed the staircase to the second floor. Arthur gulped, bringing his hat closer down, despite the fact he was in front of Kiku and he couldn't see the blush on his face.
"Yes, well, these are somewhat shaky stairs, so…" He could already tell Kiku was going to tell him they weren't, so he changed the subject. "Are you sure it's okay for you to be here? Your boss won't worry?"
"You mean my father?"
He had gotten to the top, and when turning to see Kiku, he saw him smiling a mischievous smile at him.
"Let me worry about that."
For some reason, a shudder went up his spine.
The troupe was in France now, some place by the sea. Arthur disliked France. It just happened to be that all the people he disliked were French, and here he was now. Also, one of his brother's beastly friends was French and he had never quite gotten over it.
But he supposed that if the troupe wanted to stay here, he had no say did he? And besides, he could speak French just as well, and…
And the world disappeared anyway when he saw Butterfly. So what did it matter?
He fumbled with the key for the door. When the door finally opened, he led Kiku inside, who set to inspecting the room.
"Better than ours." He said first.
"You think so?"
"Well I always have to share my room, so I suppose I'm easily impressed."
He sat upon the bed. Slightly cushiony, mostly firm, he looked up and his face was kind then. Ah, there was something in that look that set Arthur's heart pounding. The whole afternoon, to themselves, just each other. Ah, I could confess my love now, Arthur thought. It's perfect. Outside his window, the sound of the ocean was a sweet lull, the breeze thick and nice. In the country of love, with time to themselves, he could confess his love right now, and it would be fine. Yes, it was a nice thought. Kiku patted the place next to him on the bed, motioning to sit with him. Arthur gulped. It was now or never.
He struggled to take off his coat then, nerves on edge, and in this struggle something fell out of his pocket with a series of sharp thunks on the hardwood floor. They both looked to the source of the sound and Arthur felt it was like an omen then, like something bad was about to happen.
His deceased wife's ring, the one he carried with him.
It might've been a perfect time to confess. But he did recall then this was the country she was born with, and quite suddenly the date. Something about today was special, something he had forgotten. He had abandoned society, and somewhere along the way he had also abandoned his previous life. But today, it came back for him came to remind him of what used to be.
No wonder he had been dreaming of her. It all made sense now.
The date of her death.
He blinked out of this realization when he saw the Butterfly bend over, picking up the ring in front of him. Gold, with a diamond. It sparkled in the sunlight, and Kiku held it up to get a better look. Ah, what a strange image: his current beloved holding the ring from his previous wife.
He hadn't told him. Well, he had dropped hints, and assumed Kiku would figure it out, but he had never told the full story. He felt nervous then, and something else he couldn't quite pinpoint. Some sort of feeling gnawing at his stomach, something big and bothering. He held his hand out.
"Give it back."
Kiku looked at him quizzically, but Arthur stood his ground.
"A gift for someone? It's too small for you to wear." Kiku smirked at his own joke, but Arthur wasn't in the mood to laugh.
"Please give it back."
"Why?" Kiku asked, examining it, "Is it that special?"
"It is. Give it back."
It was then he realized what the feeling was. Panic. Over protectiveness. The ring was indeed special, especially on this day. He wanted it back, he didn't want Kiku to know, and he didn't know why he was feeling so anxious now when he had been so happy before. Like someone was watching him, like something was wrong and he wanted to fix it. Now, before it was too late.
Kiku stared at him though, not moving anytime soon. His eyes looked to the ring again and back to him.
"Who's was it?"
Suddenly, Arthur felt his stomach drop and he gulped. Kiku was smart; of course he would deduce that. He couldn't bear to see Kiku with that ring then, and looked toward the window, his coat still in his hand, limply.
"Where is she now? You never told me."
A lump in his throat then. It was like all of gravity was pulling down on him. Or perhaps things were crashing down on him, heavy truths and confessions.
"…Dead. For five years now."
From the corner of his eye he could see Kiku turn his head towards him, but couldn't see his expression. He needed the ring back then, needed some time alone. To stop remembering her, to push her from his mind as he always had.
"…You know my mother is dead as well."
Oh, good. A change of subject. Arthur focused on this then, feeling something bothering him in the back of his mind, which he tried his best to ignore.
"S-sorry. May I ask how…?"
That explained a lot actually.
Arthur frowned then. Now that he thought about it, he didn't know a lot about the Butterfly's background. He knew about his family, but not where they came from or how they got here. Or how they got in this line of business, or where the Butterfly learned his swordsmanship or about his upbringing or anything. He didn't even know his name yet! He decided to focus on this subject then, and turned his head to begin asking Kiku questions, but stopped. His eyes widened as he saw Kiku had put on the ring, staring at his hand, a thoughtful look on his face.
He felt something burning at his neck then, and knew it was anger at once.
"Take that off!"
Kiku jumped, looking at Arthur surprised.
"You heard me; take that off, and give it back at once."
Kiku paused for a moment, his face as calm as ever. It was like he was thinking about something, making a decision, and he twisted the ring around his finger.
"She was that special to you?"
"Your first love?"
There was no love. Nothing romantic, or passionate. It was more so like something they put up with, and then settled with, and there was no falling in love. But it wasn't hate either, and it wasn't that they were bored either. It wasn't friendship, it was more than friendship, but he never could really tell, and he didn't want to right now. He tried to quell the anger in the pit of his stomach, and answered calmly.
"Not…exactly. She was just…special. As you said. Now can you please-?"
"…Were you sad?"
Kiku looked at him then, calmly, the ring still glinting on his finger. Arthur could feel annoyed then, wanting to just walk over and take it off his blasted finger himself. But he stayed where he was. Kiku's eyes were gentle, caring, like he was sympathetic. Or that he understood.
"When she died." His voice barely a whisper. This seemed to be the hidden question then. Was he sad when she died? Well, he cried. An appropriate response. But honestly, he had put it all behind him already, and besides what else could he do? She was gone. Life went on. He had already washed his hands of the whole affair. So Arthur shrugged.
"I…I suppose. I'm fine now though, so could you please-"
Kiku took his hand then, pulling him forward, and before he could react to this, he could see Kiku placing the ring in the palm of his hands, folding Arthur's fingers over it. To keep it safe, close to him. He looked up at Kiku, confused. His expression was strange then; knitted brows as if he was worried, pursed lips like he was concerned. He opened those lips then, his voice careful and gentle. Like he too could tell how easily breakable this moment was.
"You seem troubled."
Arthur couldn't stand looking in his dark eyes, then, the very eyes he had grown to love. He still felt like something was wrong, terribly off, that something didn't feel okay. There was something in his gaze that dared him, and right now he wanted to be left alone, to forget, to let it all go.
"Do you want to talk about something?"
What was this now? He cared? Honestly, he would've been happier had the subject been anything else but this. Such genuine concern though, it seemed like the Butterfly did have a heart.
"No." He managed to say, Kiku's hand still on his own, his grip tight and firm. "I'm fine."
"It's always good to be true to yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean to say, is if you're sad, then say it."
Sad? Was he sad? The lump in his throat, the heaviness in his stomach, was this sadness? He'd cried over her, he was through and done and ready to move on. He'd gotten over it a long time ago, honestly. Arthur Kirkland was a man who kept his distance. This was just another case of that; just as she said:
He was just 'so cold'.
"I have no idea what you're talking about. Please, let go of my hand."
Kiku sighed heavily then, annoyed. Arthur frowned and looked back him, and his face was mean then. Glaring, exasperated, his gaze sharp.
"You know, this is what I hate about you. You're never honest with yourself."
"You heard me. You're just too confused with yourself. No, maybe it's that you're afraid to get close to people?"
"Cold." Kiku had spat out, "You are always so cold."
Just as she said, not exactly, but the same message. Cold. So cold. And while before, Arthur hadn't been sure what to say to her, not even given a chance, when faced with this scenario again, he knew exactly what he wanted to say.
"Like you're one to talk!" He yelled, tearing his hand out of Kiku's grip. "You yourself are just as cold as me!"
"At least I'm honest with myself!" Kiku shouted back, not even flinching in the face of Arthur's anger anymore. "Is it really that scary to admit it? Is it?"
"That you're sad! That you had gotten attached!"
It was just a marriage. He was fine. Over it. She was special, sure, but he was okay. Fine. Just fine.
"I can see it plainly, that you're not fine." Kiku was saying, frowning, "It's not good to bottle up your feelings."
How did you do that?
See my exact problems, the ones I didn't want to see myself.
"If you're sad, then say so."
He glanced to her, the shade of her parasol darkening her face, despite the sun shining that day. They were taking a walk, together. Her belly was swollen; six months in, probably. She seemed much too large for just one child though, but he wasn't thinking that now. She smiled at him.
"Why marry me?"
"It was decided for us, wasn't it?"
"I mean, why didn't you go against it? Especially after how I treated you?"
The birds chirped around them, and he looked towards the lake they walked by, the surface shimmering. Perhaps he could take her rowing later. Maybe.
"…I didn't mind you so much."
She looked happy then, her lips just as red as ever.
"Why not just say you liked me?"
"Don't be daft."
She gripped his arm, and without word, he put a hand over hers. The little acts of kindness between them, when words weren't enough.
"I wish," she sighed, "You would be more honest with yourself."
And then, he was crying.
At first, Kiku couldn't believe what he was seeing. Perhaps a trick of the light, and yet it was true. Those were tears coming out of Arthur's eyes, who looked just as surprised. He sniffled, wiping his cheeks with his sleeves. Five years. Five years he had gone without crying, without thinking or dreaming of her. So how, now of all times, had it come back to him? Because he couldn't lie to himself anymore. He'd never gotten over it.
He still missed her.
That's why he had lost all meaning to live. It wasn't that he had gotten bored, but rather he's been in mourning. She had been annoying, she had been headstrong, somewhat lazy, a little selfish. She had been mischievous, she had been exasperating, she was the one who understood him. His wife, his light, the light that had flickered out. He had gotten attached. He had reached out. It's true, Arthur was cold.
But she was the warmth to contrast that.
And now, it was cold once more. The lump in his throat got bigger then, and he couldn't help himself. He looked to Kiku then, through a mist of tears, and nodded.
"I'm sad, then. I'm sad."
He cried. The tears that he couldn't cry at the funeral, or when he saw his sons' sad faces, or the many years later when he realized how alone he was; all here now. And Kiku, with kind hands, helped Arthur on the bed, and laid his head on his lap. Keeping a hand on his head, telling him it was going to be okay, it's going to be alright. Just let it all out.
Perhaps he understood. Perhaps it was because he knew how it was like to lose someone close. Maybe it's because he could tell something had been wrong these past few days. Was that why he asked to come here? Had he planned this? There were all these thoughts swimming in Arthur's head then, as well as old regrets and sad feelings. So much was going on, and Kiku's lap was warm, so he just decided to let it all out, just as Kiku said to do. In his mind it was loud, and they stayed like that until everything was quiet once more.
So very quiet.
"Are you alright now?" Kiku asked, his voice tender and a whisper. He brushed the hair out of Arthur's face, whose eyes and nose were red. He sniffled. Ah, there was something about a good cry: made you light-hearted, yet made you feel so much better afterwards. He stayed where he was, not even bothering to get up. He was comfortable there, anyway.
"Better." He sighed a shuddering sigh. He looked up to this man who had seen him at his most vulnerable, had been able to coax him out of his own lies. How did he do that? Had they been with each other that long? He could feel the ring still clenched in his fist; small, barely noticeable, but forever a presence.
"Why did you even bring that up?" Arthur asked, slightly bitter, but more so curious. Honestly, the way the Butterfly was acting was so strange today, anyhow. Caring, considerate, and troubled…it wasn't like him. Kiku, when asked that, sighed, placing a hand on Arthur's forehead. Ah; it felt slightly cold to the touch.
"Because I was worried. I was worried about you."
Ah. He was…worried. About him. He thought about him. He worried about him. He could remember back to her face, her words, and mannerisms. She was gone. The warmth he needed was gone. And he missed her, it was true, as much as he denied it before. He looked up to the Butterfly though, his lovely face, and sympathetic gaze.
She had been an understanding woman back then. She knew they weren't in love. He wondered vaguely, what she would've said if he told her he had fallen in love with someone. Knowing her, she'd look interested, and then giggle.
"Well then, go catch them, while you still can."
Would you approve, my dearest? Because I believe I've found someone new, someone I want to make happy and take care of.
He's right here. He's right here, and I want to catch him.
"Yes. I don't believe you've ever told me."
It was a few hours before the show, and the night was dark and cold, all the stars visible. They were in some smaller town now, rural but not too out there. No amphitheater this time, they had to make do with a tent. Crude and bad for the cold weather. Right now, too, Arthur was outside Kiku's changing tent, waiting for him, back turned to it. The lamplight from inside cast a stark shadow of the Butterfly's figure, and it took most of Arthur's willpower to not stare. The sound of rustling clothes added a subtle noise to their conversation.
"Would you like me to tell you it?"
"I'd like to know."
"It's Madame Butterfly."
Arthur frowned, and while he couldn't see Kiku's face, he bet he was smiling now.
"I mean your real name."
There was a moment of silence then, save for the sound of Butterfly tying his own obi. Finally, he opened the curtain to his tent, and Arthur looked back at him. He motioned him to step inside, and when Arthur was too shy to, he grabbed him by the coat and pulled him in anyway.
"Shush. They'll hear you."
Arthur was surprised the troupe didn't know about him yet anyway. They had done so much sneaking around, but there was bound to be some slip ups right? Or perhaps the Butterfly had talked to them himself, and this was all just a secret from the ringmaster. Arthur couldn't rightly know, because Kiku wouldn't tell him. He would just smile his mocking smile, keeping it all to himself.
Speaking of that, they were so close right now! It was a tent meant only for one person, and in the mirror in there, Arthur could see his reflection, standing in front of the Butterfly. Only a little taller and…and oh god he was completely bare chested. And close. Oh god.
He admired the muscles on Kiku's back only for him to snap his fingers in front of his face.
"I don't believe I said you could stare."
"You want to know my name?"
A sudden change of subject, and he could see Kiku pulling one sleeve over his shoulder, leaving the other one down as usual. Arthur nodded.
"Then how about a game?"
He could see in his other hand was the hairpin he always wore. He held it up for him to see. A chrysanthemum, yellow and bright in the light.
"You know what this is?"
"A chrysanthemum. What about it?"
"This is my name."
Arthur looked at him confused. He knew this was a lie, had to be. But Kiku smiled then, reassuring.
"In my language, I mean. Where I'm from." He told him, putting the flower in his hair. He turned around looking at himself in the mirror, making sure everything was alright. Arthur had a sudden urge to wrap his arms around his waist, and to hold him close, but thought wiser of it.
"And you're from…?"
"You should know that by now." Kiku told him tiredly, like he was dealing with a child. "This is a game- learn where I'm from, and translate that word, and you have my name."
Kiku looked at him over his shoulder, smiling a smile that made Arthur's heart pound.
"Simple enough, yes?"
Kiku felt satisfied with himself then. It wasn't really a game as much as it was a test, he knew. He was testing him. Seeing how devoted the man was, even though at this point he had already proven that quite well. He just couldn't trust him that was all. He had trouble doing so. Even now, he still doubted his intentions were pure yet…
…Yet he liked having him around. That was true.
He placed a hand on Arthur's cheek then, who jumped back a little in response.
"What are you doing?"
Kiku looked at him slightly annoyed, and sighed. "I still don't understand why you're so adverse to my touch."
"It's not…it's not you it's just…"
Of course, Arthur was raised in a well-to-do household. Learnt manners and customs and such. Repressed feelings and words were common where he was from. He'd never had a beau. He'd never 'carried on' with a lady (or even a man). When he had made love to his own wife it was more so out of obligation than passion. Kiku could already tell this was his predicament, and sighed.
"…Not exactly 'improper' just…a bit sudden."
"So then, if I told you I wanted to hold you, would you let me?"
Arthur blushed, and shook his head. "O-Of course not! Just…can't you be more subtle?"
"It's an expression of love. Is there something wrong with that?"
Arthur's heart skipped a beat, yet Kiku remained as calm as ever. He pushed Arthur out of the tent then, getting out of it along with him. His sword swung on his hip, and before Arthur could say anything, he spoke.
"Rather, instead of worrying if it's 'improper' why not just 'act'?"
Ah. To just 'act'. Without worry of customs or manners, but to just do what you wanted to. He hadn't thought of that. He rather liked the thought, and he could already see the Butterfly walking off. He called to him.
"I'll 'act' after I learn your name then!"
Kiku stopped. Slowly he turned to look at him. Ah, perhaps that was his 'prize' for winning the 'game'? He smiled.
"I look forward to it then."
He wasn't there for the other acts. As usual. Kiku wasn't surprised about that; perhaps he was busy trying to win the 'game'. Had set off to find out where he was from, how to translate the word 'chrysanthemum' so he could call him by another name, a proper name. Not that Kiku disliked it when he called him 'Butterfly'; it was cute in a way. In any case, it wasn't the fact that he wasn't there for the other acts that surprised Kiku, but rather the fact that he wasn't there for the majority of his. Not when he cut up the various small items, not when he balanced the vase, he wasn't present for either of those parts. However, just as he was about to begin the last part of the act, he could see Arthur in the crowd then; struggling past others to get to his seat, just barely sitting down. Looking frazzled, tired, breathing a sigh of relief as he sat down. And for some reason, Kiku felt spiteful then, somewhat petty, but played his part. The perfect actor.
"If I could get a volunteer from the audience?" He asked, and a million hands shot up, like they always did. Maybe there was something exciting in the way that one was offered to shoot at one, guaranteed there would be no consequences. It was quite scary, really. His eyes searched the crowd. It honestly didn't matter who they chose; it all mattered on the bullet really. It was made of weak material so it would be easy to cut; it wasn't as if a sword could really cut one in half. It was just another secret to the act.
So, as his sister stood behind him with the revolver, and he searched it was then his eyes lay on the one person he had never chosen. Who he knew would be the right time to choose, to test him, to see if he was up to the task. He raised his hand, and pointed at him.
"You, there, sir." He spoke confidently, "In the top hat."
Arthur's eyes widened. Him?
Time seemed to stop between then, and between them something was happening. Slowly, Arthur got up from his seat, the other spectators watching him. At first, he was surprised. Then, he understood. Then, he was angry.
But he didn't show it. Neither of them did. For all eyes were on them, their very audience.
He walked down the steps and was handed the gun. Kiku asked him his name, all a pretense really, and he told him. Despite the history between, none of these people knew, and so they acted like complete strangers. It was surreal in a way.
"Well then, Mr. Arthur," Butterfly asked, all the scripted words, even Arthur knew them well "If I may ask, do you know how to use one of these?"
"…I do." he said. Arthur had gone hunting before, knew how a gun worked. What he wasn't prepared for was who he was going to shoot at.
His beloved, the one he loved, who put him in this very situation.
"Then if I may ask that you shoot at me. Ladies and gentleman, as I said I will not be hurt. I aim to slice the bullet in half..." Kiku said, and Arthur knew all his lines well, but wasn't expecting what would come next.
The crowd gasped, and Arthur looked at him surprised, as if he had been betrayed. He'd never done this part of the act blindfolded. It would be much too dangerous, too risky, and it took all his will to not ask him what the hell he thought he was doing. But Butterfly remained calm, as he made some distant between them, unsheathing his sword. From behind him, his sister took the sash from around his neck, and placed it around his eyes.
"I assure all of you, I will be safe. Now, please, Mr. Arthur…shoot at me."
The band and crowd became silent, and they all waited for Arthur's action. The revolver felt heavy and lethal in his hand. His heartbeat felt loud in his ears, as he stared at his beloved in front of him. He gulped, and held up the gun, cocked it, and felt his knees shake.
I love you.
I love you and I don't want to hurt you. So why did you put me in this situation? Are you cruel? Are you testing me? Do you not know how much I love you?
Then perhaps I should tell you.
He shot, the sound loud. Quickly, Kiku moved, and Arthur closed his eyes, unable to see what would happen next. He heard a tiny clink, and a sheathing of a sword, and after a moment, the crowd cheered. He opened his eyes, and he didn't look at Plum to see the severed bullet, like everyone else did. No, his eyes focused on the Butterfly, who was lifting the blindfold, staring at Arthur in the same manner. He smiled.
They would have to talk later.
"What the bloody hell was that?"
"Please, don't yell."
"I'll yell if I want to! What was that? Choosing me, and blindfolding yourself? I could have killed you!"
"But you didn't."
"But I could have!"
Kiku sighed loudly, looking away from him, crossing his arms. They were in an alleyway, the building he was leaning against the very same inn he was staying at. Inside, he could hear voices and talking, laughter. There was a bar bellow the rooms, and he ignored this for now. There was a very angry Englishman in front of him, and he'd have to deal with this.
The moonlight was their only light. A soft blue shade colored them. He spoke.
"I didn't do it to provoke you, if you want to know." He told him. Arthur frowned.
"Then, why? Why choose me?"
"Because I trusted you." He told him simply, avoiding his gaze, looking down to their feet. He caught a glimpse of Arthur's hand and wanted to hold it, but held back this want. No. He didn't feel anything. This thumping in this chest, he didn't want to know what it was. He wanted to remain stupid to these feelings, wanted to ignore them.
"Yes." Kiku sighed then, faking exasperation, "Why does it matter so much, anyway-"
His heart jolted at hearing his name. Not from his relatives or family like he was used to. But from him, his 'admirer'. He looked at Arthur, who still looked somewhat frazzled. He took in a big breath, though, and his face softened. He didn't smile. But he looked calm, and concerned.
"You have a beautiful name, Kiku."
"Don't worry about it. Just…just let me talk."
Kiku stayed quiet then, suddenly feeling vulnerable, against that building, Arthur standing in front of him. He wanted to pull him closer then, close the space between them, because it was just so cold that night. Arthur's face was flushed, and he put a hand on Kiku's face. So warm.
"I love you, Kiku." He whispered, his face coming closer to his, "I love you. That's why I didn't want to shoot at you."
Kiku was quiet, still trying to comprehend this moment. He'd always had an inkling. But to have him confess it, he-
He couldn't think any longer on it, for Arthur was kissing him then.
This wasn't their first kiss. But it was a kiss out of love, of passion, and Kiku closed his eyes, kissing him back. And Arthur pulled him closer, tasting him, breathing him in, 'acting' just as he said he would. Kiku broke it off, catching his breath, his heart pounding in his ears. It was like a surge of energy had shot through his body, and he wanted more. So much more.
"Wait, wait," he struggled to say, "H-How long…Why…?"
"Does it matter?"
Kiku was silent, except for his shallow breaths. Arthur went in for another kiss then, and Kiku shivered, letting him. Arthur kissed his neck then, and Kiku whimpered, his hands wrapping around him, pulling him closer, and it felt so good. So very, very good.
"Kiku," he breathed his name, "Kiku."
"Do you love me?"
His eyes shot open, and he tried to think about it. Did he love him? He was still trying to get over the fact that he loved him, was kissing him so lustily, was being so assertive, he just couldn't think. His mind was blank, and Arthur was still kissing him, any place he could; his lips, his neck, his collar bone. Partaking in a meal he had resisted for so long. Kiku couldn't focus, but he didn't want to, he wanted this to last forever. He closed his eyes, and moaned as Arthur sucked on his neck.
"You don't love me?"
Finally, he regained his sense, pushing Arthur away. "I don't know!" He yelled, breathless, trying to compose himself. "Please, try to control yourself, honestly!"
Arthur breathed heavily, his whole body alert. Never in his whole life had he done that. He rather liked it, but when Kiku raised his voice, he should've gotten flustered. Apologized, and tell him he had no idea what came over him I'm so sorry. But he didn't; he didn't want to, because for once Arthur was acting, and there was no stopping him.
"You don't know?"
"I…I'm not sure." Kiku told him, and frowned then, glaring. "And if this is the sort of attention you wish to give me, then I'm sure that I don't."
"Wait, I don't-!"
"Do you just want to bed me? Is that it?"
"Not unless you love me."
Kiku blushed then, and looked at him confused. Arthur's face was just as flushed and he spoke his words carefully, and with love.
"I…I won't try anything like that unless you love me and want to."
Kiku looked away, shyly, suddenly flattered. He cared. He was considerate. Not taking what he wanted so cruelly, but instead listening to him. He took in a shuddering breath then, and gulped.
"But you want to? If I allowed you? You would make love to me?"
"…I would. I want to."
The world was loud around them; crickets chirping, laughter and voices from inside the bar. Distant sounds of folk music, and yet there was no noise between them. A gust of wind blew past, the leaves of trees rustling, and the world went on without them. Other people living their lives, unknowing of their story, and this moment. It was just them, no audience, and Kiku stepped forward. Not slowly, but fast, and his lips were on Arthur's then, hungry and wanting. Arthur held him close once more, and it was warm between them, hot and active and they wanted more.
He whispered in his ears then, something in Japanese. Not English, and the language sounded so exotic to Arthur. He didn't know what he said, but Kiku pushed away from him, telling him good night, and he was gone.
Kiku knew it was cowardly of him. To say it in words he wouldn't understand, but it was all he could manage now, his pride too much. Maybe later, he could say it properly.
Christmas was approaching, one of the busiest times of year for the troupe. It was all Kiku talked about these days, working hard and complaining.
"I can't see you today." He told him, worn out, "Maybe later."
Not to mention, the big city they were going to perform in also had some theatre troupe going through, which was never a good sign. Arthur had been around the circus enough to know there was always was a rivalry between these different sets of artists. He stayed out of it though, which was bad, because he needed to ask Kiku something. The posters they had distributed always kept him up to date as to where they would be going next, but the ringmaster was still deciding on the next location after the Christmas boom. He had to ask him or else he would lose sight of them.
Also, he wanted to know his answer to his affections. Not that Kiku was any close to professing them.
But one night, after one of his shows, Kiku had approached him, still in costume. He was worried for him, because it was so cold, it was snowing. They were in Russia now, and he had an impulse to wrap a coat around him, to keep him warm.
"Tomorrow night. I want to see you." He told him, his breathe clouding around them. Arthur frowned. Tomorrow would be their last night here. Ah, good timing; he could ask them what town they would be going to next. He nodded.
"Alright then. Where shall we meet?"
"My room. After the show."
Arthur felt all the blood rush to his cheeks then, eyes widened. Kiku looked confident though, and went on.
"I want you to get me something too."
Arthur raised an eyebrow, questioning. But why not? A ring. It sounded nice, romantic, simple. A ring. Like he was proposing to him. He blushed at the thought. It was impossible for men to get married…and just the thought was strange. Men; getting married. But he rather liked the idea anyway. He titled his head to the side, and could see Kiku was shivering.
"Why a ring?"
"Is there a problem with that?"
"…I don't suppose not."
Kiku put a hand around the back of his neck then, and pulled him forward into a heated kiss. Arthur was so surprised he didn't even have a chance to close his eyes. When they parted, their breath intermingled, Kiku whispered his hotel and room number, and then pulled away.
"I'll see you there."
And he walked back into the amphitheater, rejoining the troupe, leaving Arthur there in the cold. But he felt warm then, oddly happy, just a tad nervous. He wasn't sure what to expect. But he knew he was happy then, and in love. Madly in love, head-over-heels. He nearly skipped back to his own hotel. The cold Russian winter couldn't bother him now.
The next day he spent so much time looking for a ring, the perfect one, one he would like. He had finally settled on something silver, with a small green gem. Subtle, and pretty. He kept the ring in his coat pocket all through the show, sometimes reaching in to make sure it was still there. And afterwards, when he went to his hotel, knocking on the door quietly, he held it in his hand.
Why a ring, he wondered still. He'd never asked for gifts until now. Not that Arthur minded, especially when Kiku opened the door. Clad only in a kimono, which hung loosely on his shoulders. Without word, Arthur took his hand, slipping on what he had asked for. He kissed his hand, and looked up at him smiling.
It seemed like they both knew what this was leading to. Behind Kiku, Arthur saw only one bed, a room to themselves, a cold winter outside. And Kiku grabbed his hand, forcing him inside, closing the door behind him. It was dark in that room, no lights, and he pushed Arthur against the door, kissing him forcefully.
"I love you."
Arthur felt like he should've been surprised, but he wasn't. Rather, he was happy to hear this, and smiled. His feelings were returned. His love was needed. He kissed Kiku again, and when he broke away, he glanced to the bed.
"I want you."
So forceful. But then again, it was all he needed, and in one motion he picked up Kiku as if he was his bride. Kiku, who was startled at first when Arthur placed him on the bed gently. The only light came from the window, the curtains only slightly parted, outside the wind howling as snow fell. Just them now. All alone, to themselves. Arthur looked at him, and Kiku could see he looked slightly scared, perhaps nervous. And who could blame him, when he felt the same? But with a gentle hand, he pulled him closer, kissing him softly, and it went from there.
They made love.
Soft, gentle love. At first, confused and bumbling but then sweet and slow. Kiku had to tell him what to do, but they eased into it. And it was the most wondrous feeling Arthur had; something new, and exciting and passionate, and he clung to Kiku. Everything had led to this moment, and Arthur wondered vaguely what would happen after this. Perhaps he could carry him away from this, take him back to England. Take care of him every day, stay by his side. Or perhaps Kiku would want to stay in the circus, which was just as fine. He was willing to accept anything now, he was so at peace.
He felt alive.
Afterwards, he cuddled into his chest, tired and full, and Kiku absentmindedly played with his hair. The ring glinted on his finger, and outside was still the quiet howl of the wind, crying. It was quiet in the room, save for the ticking of a clock, somewhere. His own pocket watch, probably on the floor with his discarded clothes? Or did the room come with its own clock? He couldn't be bothered with thinking on it for too long. He closed his eyes, listening to Kiku's quickened heartbeat.
"I love you." He whispered. Kiku didn't say anything, and he looked up at him. Life felt good now. He felt complete. But there was something off in his beloved's expression. Like he was worried. Or scared. He frowned at this.
They spoke in whispers, not in the fear of being heard but more so because they felt they had to. It was a dear moment, something fragile and whispers just felt appropriate. Everything felt good to Arthur, life was perfect, he was happy. But something felt wrong in that moment, in Kiku's words his expression. Something hidden, and off, like a crooked painting. Something he couldn't see, something he was cautious of. Like this was a moment for only so long, like something was going to happen, something bad.
"Don't lie to me." He told him kindly, reaching up and brushing the hair out of Kiku's face. "Tell me what's wrong, love. It's alright."
Kiku frowned, and looked away, ignoring his gesture of compassion.
"It's just…I'm so happy it's scary."
"If you're happy then you should be happy."
What Arthur couldn't see, what he would see later, when it was much too late, was that he wasn't the only one learning from this. Yes, Kiku had helped him come alive again. Yes, he had learned to feel again, to care, to fall in love. He was complete now. Arthur was alive, was content, had reached the end of this informal 'journey'. But there was one thing about love he hadn't considered. One must not just watch over their heart, but also their partner's.
Arthur was fine. Kiku was not.
"…I'm sorry. Please, don't worry about it." He told him, kissing his head. Arthur didn't push it then, and closed his eyes. There were reasons as to why Kiku always pushed him away, always made him jump through all these hoops. It was because he was scared. Just like Arthur, keeping his distance, somewhat bitter and frightened. He wouldn't fall in love. He couldn't. Too much pride, too much fear. He had his reasons, his past, and he would learn from his mistakes. But this man was being so sincere, so sweet; he didn't know what to do at this point. He kept pushing him away, but then pulling him back. He was a mess of contradictions and confused feelings. Arthur was reaching out; it all depended on Kiku now to take that hand, to love him back.
But he was scared. So very, very scared.
He climbed on top of him then, catching Arthur off guard. He kissed him roughly, and they made love again.
"I love you." Kiku gasped, "I love you."
Arthur gripped onto him, fire coursing through his veins, and at once he gasped and kissed his love. He never wanted this night to end.
In the morning, he was gone.
He thought perhaps he was in the bathroom washing up, but he wasn't there. Maybe he had gone off to run an errand, but all his belongings were gone. The bed was empty from his side, the room cold, and suddenly Arthur felt cold too.
The sunlight streamed into the room, lighting it up only a little. Only Arthur's discarded clothes on the floor, the messed up sheets of the bed. His pocket watch kept ticking on. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
He breathed in, breathed out, and his chest felt tight. He gulped, and a lump formed in his throat. Alone. He was alone.
The Butterfly, his Butterfly had left him. Just like Pinkerton had abandoned Butterfly.
Ah, discarded just like that. Was this really a temporary thing? Had he lied when he professed his love, even in their moments of passion? What sort of moment was this, what had happened, where had he gone wrong? He had gotten him his ring, and Arthur realized then it wasn't meant as a gift, but rather a keepsake. A memory of him, and nothing more.
Oh! No, I believe I can still catch him, but-!
Right, he had never asked where they were going next, did he? Ah, yes, that's right. It had completely slipped his mind.
Arthur slipped down on the bed, pulling the sheet around himself. The room was so cold, his fingers and toes numb. The ticking of his pocket watch on the floor went on. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Absentmindedly, he began to count them, all by himself in that room.
By the fifth tick he thought to himself "So that was that. This was it."
This was how it would end; he had Kiku, and Kiku was gone. Just as he wanted at the start of the journey: to see the Butterfly, to meet him, to become alive once more. And hadn't he accomplished that? On the twentieth tick, he thought to himself perhaps he could go back home now; assure his sons he was fine, that he was better now. Go on with his life, and live the rest of his days satisfied. But on the thirty-fifth tick, he frowned at this idea.
…It wasn't enough!
He didn't want that anymore. It wasn't about himself anymore. It was about Kiku, about how he had fallen in love. He wanted to know what was wrong, what had happened, wanted to know why Kiku had left. And most importantly, he wanted him back.
On the fiftieth tick he was already getting dressed. On the seventieth he was already determined. On the hundredth, he knew he was in love. On the seventh hundredth he was already planning on how to chase after him.
On the thousandth, he found the note.
On the bedside table, easy enough to miss. There was some ink stains on it, obviously written in a hurry. He picked it up, reading it carefully.
First of all, I'm sorry for leaving so suddenly. You must understand, though, that I had to. You probably can't, but please don't worry about it.
I did love you. Understand that. I still do.
If you do as well then…
A long series of scratch outs then, like he hadn't been sure what to write. Finally, in clear letters after all the chaos of the haphazard black:
He spent another three hundred ticks re-reading the letter. It was like he was issued a challenge, like he was being tested. And it felt like the last one, the last obstacle he'd have to go through. This was it. It all depended on him now.
Arthur tucked the letter in his breast pocket. Close to his heart.
He picked up his pocket watch, as it ticked at two thousand three hundred and fifty five seconds. He slipped it into his pocket, and put on his hat. He cast a one last glance to the room, and finally left. The door closed shut behind him.
He didn't care what he'd have to go through now. He'd chase him to the ends of the earth if he had to. To make him understand, to make him realize. He had helped him live.
Arthur wanted to live that life with him.
The end! Thanks for reading!
Ah, and sorry for such a length! I worry it might've dragged on at points, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying. I actually had a longer ending planned out, where Kiku sends out hints to Arthur as to where he could find him. Like a scavenger hunt, and Arthur's meets other Hetalia characters through this journey, but I decided to cut it in fear of dragging on the fic. Also time restraints orz
But if you guys enjoyed this fic even a little, it would make me so happy! :,D
Also I'm sorry if there are some historical inaccuracies. I took some artistic liberties with this fic (for example, Kiku's stage name – the opera really got popular in the twenties, although it had been released in the late Victorian era) so I'm sorry if that bothers anyone.
(There was a lot of research on circus' done with this fic, tho: Namely I bought and read the book The Circus and Victorian Society by Brenda Assael. It's a good book if one wants to see how the circus influenced it; quiet interesting.)
Also I had plotted out Kiku's past, but I purposely wanted to keep it a secret. Yep.
Also I know the prompt giver asked for only scandal but nothing outright. I'm sorry if I went a bit far, though with the sex scene orz
But yeah, that's the fic! Thanks for reading!