He's a Keeper

Chapter Twenty: Inclusion

The transition from England to America had been difficult, but Arthur was surprised at how well Alfred had managed to make him as comfortable as possible. When he arrived at Alfred's cozy flat, there was a litter box for Excalibur, a safe for all of Arthur's important documents (especially the ones that kept him in the country), and even an electric kettle plugged in next to Alfred's coffee pot.

He had been tired and sore, but most of all he had been grateful that it was finally happening; they were taking the next step in their relationship, and it was heartwarming to see all the effort his lover went through to make him feel at home. Alfred had waited on his every beck and call, taking his suitcase and adding it to the unpacked pile of boxes that had been mailed previously (he had played it smart and mailed the lighter things, and brought the more heavy things onto the airline with him, even still it had cost him a pretty penny). The American had kissed him senseless and carried him to the bed, rubbing his shoulders and feet until he was a sleepy puddle and ended up dozing the rest of the day away.

"So, how are you feelin'?" Alfred asked him. It was late April, the wind was damp and cold and Alfred had left a window cracked open for fresh air, forgetting to close it as the late Friday evening began to settle over the small town. Alfred pushed a mug of hot tea towards Arthur, looking worried and grateful all at once. "How's your stomach?"

Arthur wrapped his fingers around the mug, breathing in the wafting steam from the liquid and relaxing. "It's fine, poppet, I assure you." He had only been America for half a week, unpacking and filing paperwork and speaking to immigration representatives. It felt so surreal, and while Alfred was away at class or working in the small mechanic shop for extra money, Arthur would unpack his boxes slowly, going over each item and wondering if he would have to put it back in that box any time soon. "You do wonders for my nerves."

Alfred smiled widely, reaching across the table to brush his hand against Arthur's. "I'm tryin'. I don't want you ta feel uncomfortable or not welcome or anything! This is your place just as much as it is mine." He smiled his dimple deepened smile, just staring at Arthur and sighing happily. "I'm just… I almost can't believe you're actually here. Forever; for good. Yanno?"

"I know exactly how you feel. I can scarcely believe it myself." Arthur smiled over the lip of his mug before taking a long sip. Alfred had gotten better at preparing a good cup of tea. "I think what I'm more worried about is you, love. You're always working – I just… I worry that you might be pushing yourself too hard."

The American coughed and dipped his head. "Aw shucks, Arthur. I'm not workin' all that hard – I've seen worse days. But… I dunno, it seems now that you're here; I'm countin' down the seconds until I get to come home and see you again. I mean, you're here all by yourself and I just feel bad that I can't be here ta keep you company and… well yeah." He fidgeted in his chair and scratched the bridge of his nose. "I mean, I know you're alright by yourself and stuff, but well – I mean, I want you to meet my friend here at school. I'm sure you guys'll get along and maybe then you won't be so lonely when I'm not around 'coz you'll have a friend and -"

"Alfred, love, dearest, calm down." He chuckled lightly and gripped one of Alfred's outstretched hands. "So you'd like me to meet one of your friends. Alright. I'd love to."

A relieved sigh fell from Alfred's lips. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"

Arthur made a show of thinking very hard, only stopping to laugh when Alfred began to whine in protest. "Yes, yes, but I never tire of hearing it."

"I could tell ya all day, but I think I'd rather show you."

Arthur's tea went cold and forgotten; the night spent writhing between the sheets of Alfred's bed – their bed.

That weekend Alfred had intended for them to visit the ranch, but after much deliberation, Alfred decided against it, much to Arthur's surprise. "He's probably busy with Gilbert," Alfred said, tossing his cellphone onto the short couch in his open spaced living room. "They should be working on replacing some of the fence posts in the south field. So we'd prolly be in the way." Arthur frowned. More like he would be in the way. "And Kiku's free today and tomorrow, but not next weekend, so it works out better this way anyhow!"

"And… Kiku is your friend?" he asked hesitantly, and when Alfred nodded enthusiastically, he said dryly, "Most of your friends seem to have the strangest of names…"

Alfred laughed. "Ah, yeah. Kiku is an exchange student from Japan. He's going to be here until December… but I dunno. I'll be sad when he goes back to Japan." He snuffed at his nose and shrugged. "But yeah, I don't wanna think about that right now. He's gunna be coming over in a couple of hours, but you know if he seems real quiet or anything, it's just 'coz that's the way he is – no offense or anythin'."

"Ah, that's fine. I don't know why you think I'd take offense?" Arthur picked up a near-empty box, pulling out a handful of hangers that he'd forgotten to put in Alfred's closet. "Also, I'm glad to see these boxes dwindling. I've lost 'Bur in them several times. I think he's still mad at me for that on board flight…"

"He's a cat. Cats ignore everyone." But when Arthur sent him a quick glare, Alfred laughed with an unsure smile. "Want me to help you unpack while we have time? Get ridda the boxes and all that."

"That would be lovely, and dare I say, deserve a reward?" He smiled mischievously, pressing a finger to his lower lip. Alfred perked up and pried the empty box from Arthur's fingers to throw away, leaning in close to hopefully steal a kiss, but Arthur leaned away with a chuckle. "Now, now, the point of a reward is to issue it after the work is done, love."

Alfred pouted and broke down the box so it lied flat. "Well… can't I just have one to get me started? You know, for some extra motivation."

The American looked absolutely cheeky and Arthur sighed in disbelief. "What? You need one right now? A promise of kisses later means nothing?" Arthur picked up another box and opened it; more clothes.

"You're so mean." Alfred sidled up next to him, pulling out a suit set covered in plastic from the box and draped it over an arm. "Don'tcha know by now? I want kisses from you all the time." He let his chin fall to Arthur's shoulder, his nose tickling against the Englishman's ear. "I want kisses now, later, and next week and yesterday and fifty years from now." Alfred placed a dry kiss to Arthur's cheek, standing up straight with a grin. "Is that so bad?"

Arthur turned loving green eyes onto Alfred, setting the box down onto the ground carefully and reaching out to touch the American's face. And suddenly he realized, as his fingers brushed against the sun loved skin along the apple of Alfred's cheek, that no longer would he have to reach out only to touch the flat screen of his computer. No longer would he have to spend lonely nights thinking about what he'd like to do or say to his lover, wishing he could just hold the American close and never ever have to say goodbye ever again.

He could feel himself choke up, his happiness welling up from the very cradle of his stomach. "No… no it's perfectly alright," Arthur managed to rasp out, his hands sliding behind Alfred's neck.

"Arthur? Are you okay? You look like you're gunna cry all a sudden." His free hand came up to cup Arthur's cheek, his thumb rubbing beneath Arthur's eye gently. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Arthur leaned forward and touched his lips to Alfred's, kissing the American's lower lip softly and then sighed. "In fact, everything is right. So very right." His hands slid down to wrap around Alfred's shoulders, pulling him into a hug and tucking his nose into the crook of Alfred's neck. "I never want to say farewell to you ever again."

Alfred dropped the suit he was holding onto the floor by their feet to hold Arthur closer. "Then don't."

They stood in their honeyed embraced for a long time, simply rocking back and forth and giving each other reassuring squeezes and pats until Arthur thought he was going to drown in the thick atmosphere of the room. He pulled away with a sniff, patting Alfred on the face before wiping at his own. There were no tears, just a frog in his throat and an overwhelming feeling of belonging. "We should… ah, get back to work. Your friend should be over soon and I'd hate for him to see this mess."

"Yeah." Without warning Alfred kissed the tip of Arthur's chin. "I love you."

"I love you too, poppet," he responded with a happy breath. He didn't think he would ever say goodbye to this man again.

At first Kiku confused Arthur. The Japanese student was quiet, just like Alfred said, but he always seemed to be thinking about something, his dark eyes sliding from the television screen to Arthur and then back. Arthur tried not to let it bother him and instead pretended to be interested in watching Alfred play whichever game they had chosen. But even still he found he couldn't focus on the zombie slaying on the television screen.

He wished Kiku would say something, because as much as he reveled in the quiet, this was becoming far too uncomfortable. "So Kiku, uhm, what do you study?" he asked desperately when the match on the video game ended and Kiku set down his controller.

"Graphic Design," he answered and Arthur had to concentrate on his words, deciphering the accent and allowing the words to digest. It reminded him vaguely of his attempts to understand his old boss, Yao, when he was upset. Kiku's dark eyes bored heavily into Arthur and he finally said, "You are Ahfred's… ah..." Kiku's face creased in thought for a moment. "Husband?"

Alfred choked on nothing, grabbing Arthur and pulling the Englishman's head to his chest in a panic, as if to protect him from such an absurd statement. "No! I – I mean, he's not my husband. No-not yet, or well, I mean, oh my God. Arthur is my boyfriend Kiku!"

"I did not mean to offend. I guessed the wrong word." Quickly Kiku leaned away from them both, his hands up and palms facing forward. "I'm sorry."

Arthur didn't know if was appropriate to laugh at that given moment, but an amused chuckle escaped his lips as he pried himself from Alfred's grip. "No offense taken. But, well I suppose I'm surprised that Alfred told you of our relationship."

"Ah, yes. A rong time ago… I hope that doesn't make you uncomfortabor…"

"No of course not!" Arthur stood up, rolling up the sleeves of his jumper to his elbows and huffing with determination. "In fact we've been horrid hosts, allow me to amend that. Kiku would you like anything to drink? Do you like tea? I've quite the selection to choose from, if you'd like."

Kiku hesitated, picking up his controller and twirling the joystick beneath his thumb. "If I may… ah, do you have green teas?"

Arthur tapped his chin. "Yes, I believe we do. Just wait here, I'll go on ahead and make it. You two enjoy your game."

After a few minutes of decapitating zombies in a companionable silence, Kiku turned to Alfred with a tiny smile and said, "I rike him."

"I told'ja you would."

Alfred's toes dug into the blankets of the bed, rocking back and forth as Arthur's fingers traced along the muscles of his thighs. The night was cold and Alfred had a blanket draped over his shoulders, their sighs and moans making the air in the room thick and warm. Alfred arched his back, letting his hands find purchase on Arthur's thighs behind him, pushing himself upwards and falling back down the length of Arthur's cock.

"Hnn, shit…" Alfred cursed softly, gasping as he continued to ride Arthur doing his best to keep his voice down as to not disturb his downstairs neighbors. "I'm – I'm gettin' so, auh…"

Arthur's hands spread across his stomach, his fingers inching down until they dragged over his erection, grasping it and beginning to pump along the shaft. "Go on, now," Arthur said airily, biting his lower lip and dragging it through his teeth. Alfred bounced up and down without rhythm, his face flushed, and words chopped and hoarse. He came with a silent groan, his knees buckling around Arthur waist before falling down onto Arthur, the Englishman's cock slipping out of him with a sticky noise.

He carded his fingers through Alfred's sweaty hair, placing dry kisses to his lover's forehead before asking, "Are you ready for the finish?"

Alfred chuckled and rolled off of Arthur, relocating himself to the blankets and raising his hips into the air with his face into a pillow. "Yep," was his cheeky response.

"You…" Arthur chuckled as he climbed behind Alfred, carefully guiding his cock back into Alfred's entrance and pushing himself in deep. His arms wound around Alfred's torso, hands coming upwards to grasp at the metal chain around Alfred's neck. "I can't believe you still wear this," Arthur breathed out against the American's back, the pads of his fingers rubbing against the glossed metal of Alfred's dog tags – the same ones that Arthur had bought him nearly two years ago on a whim.

"'Course I do." Alfred pushed against Arthur. "Are you gunna screw me or what?"

Arthur dropped his forehead to Alfred's back, beginning to pick up a quick rhythm as he kissed at the skin before him. When he bought those dog tags, never did he even dream that he would be right here; doing this with someone he loved so dearly and tenderly. He had been so blindsided by this love, and if he could go back to the very first day that he began to think of Alfred as maybe more than a friend – he wouldn't change a single thing.

Everything was absolutely perfect just the way it was.

Alfred's father had greeted him enthusiastically when they finally found the time to visit, three weeks after Arthur's move. They were welcomed inside and sat down at the kitchen table, out of the late April chill. Arthur had been shocked and confused, shaking Alfred Sr.'s hand as vigorously as he could. "So this is it, huh? Yer gunna stay here?" he asked with a worried crease in his brow.

Arthur looked to Alfred before responding. "That's my intention, yes." He opened his mouth to say something more, but closed it again when he couldn't think of anything at all.

Alfred's pa looked between the two of them, seeming conflicted but unsure, his flaxen hair golden in the orange kitchen light. "I guess… I'm jus' happy that you're gunna be serious about this whole thing." It was late on a Saturday evening and Alfred Sr. cracked open a can of beer and handed it to Arthur. "I know I ain't got no right to tell you two how to live yer lives – and Alfred I know yer gunna be twenty here in a couple months, you're an adult but it's jus'…" He paused, drawing in a long breath in preparation. "I'm sure your Ma would be proud of ya – both of ya. So, I guess I am, too."

"Aw shit, Pa." Alfred hid his face in his hands, peeking through the gaps of his fingers to look at the clock on the wall. Arthur thought the American looked like he was torn between crying and laughing. "You… you don't gotta go all mushy on us."

"I know." Alfred Sr. pursed his lips for a moment. "I just… wanted ta say it now, 'coz, well, I was thinkin'… You know Gilbert, right Arthur?"

Arthur's brows furrowed in confusion, taking a sip of the watery beer before shaking his head. "I don't believe I've met him, no. But I've heard of him often."

"He's a good family friend," he said, prying open the tab on his own beer. "Alfred you remember that he had that woman back in… what country was it?"

"Hungary. Elizaveta I think her name is."

"Yeah, that's the one. Gil came over the other week, drunk as a skunk an' jus' grovelin'. I was worried n' all, but ya know he's been waitin' for this woman to come to the U.S. for well around five years. And then he got this letter in the mail… it wasn't pretty."

Alfred's blue eyes caught Arthur's for a moment from across the table. "What do you mean? Pa, what happened?"

With a long, uncomfortable groan, Alfred Sr. took a drink and set the can down onto the table. "It turns out that 'bout three years ago, this woman got knocked up by some guy and ended up marryin' him and had two more kids. That whole time she didn't wanna tell Gil, 'coz… I don't know why ta be honest. Maybe she was afraid of hurtin' him, or thought maybe she could get away – I dunno, either way he was fuckin' mess, and I just thought… it's so easy ta lie like that and… I worried fer ya Alfred. I know I didn't have a reason to, but still. I'm jus'… glad it didn't turn out like that."

Arthur and Alfred sat in an astonished silence as Alfred Sr. picked up his beer to drink at it once again. "I can't believe it," Alfred whispered at long last. "That whole time? She had kids and a husband and everything? That's just… what? Is Gil gunna be okay?"

"Yeah, I think. I think he saw it comin' yanno? But still, it's downright awful. He's been spendin' a lot of time with Antonio and Father Feli to take his mind off things, but you know how it is." He sighed and sat up. "Anyway, why don't you two get settled? Church in the mornin' and I know Feli wants ta see ya both again."

Alfred looked down at his boots as his father left the kitchen, heading to his own room with the can of beer in hand. "This is just… it's crazy – I can't wrap my head around that," Alfred told Arthur, standing up slowly and leaning onto the table with a frown. "I mean… how can you be so… dishonest? I just – poor Gilbert…"

"Perhaps. I can understand why she would do such a thing, I think. I've done it myself, you know." Arthur pushed his can of beer away – he'd dispose of it in the morning – and stood, taking Alfred's hand into his own and leading him off to Alfred's old room.

"What?" Alfred paused in his steps, but Arthur continued to tug him along until they were within the confines of Alfred's room. "What do you mean? Arthur?"

The Englishman cocked his head to the side. "Why do you look so worried? I simply meant… the withholding of information like that. Just… remember I never told you I was gay? Not until – well, you remember. It's just… far easier to reign yourself in and pretend when you're simply writing letters and such." He smiled lightly. "I suppose that's what makes us a bit more special than others. I was never dishonest with you or you with me."

"I guess." Alfred made a hopeless sound. "I still feel bad, yanno. I mean… what Pa was sayin' – that coulda been us and –"

He was cut off by a simple kiss from Arthur. "No use in thinking about such things," he said softly. "Now, I don't know about you, but I'm tired and I'd rather be awake tomorrow morning when we see your pastor again. So… if you don't mind…"

Alfred chuckled and grabbed the day bag they had brought for a change of clothes, unzipping it and pulling out their pajamas for the night. "Alright, alright. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you either way."

Listening to the long sermons wasn't exactly Arthur's favorite thing, but he had to give props to Feliciano for making it bearable. He had been greeted by Toris, spending the few minutes before the sermon amiably catching up. He sat between Alfred and a young woman with loose braids in her hair – she looked familiar, but Alfred didn't introduce them and Arthur simply shrugged it off, instead watching Alfred's finger drift across the pages of the old, timeworn hymnbooks. It was a nostalgic feeling and Arthur found that, even though he didn't believe exactly what was being preached, there was something wholesome about it – and for that, he could appreciate it.

"It was great to see you again, Arthur," Toris said as everyone began leaving for the day, "If you guys are ever in town let me know. We could hang out and watch movies or whatever you'd like, okay?"

"That sounds brilliant." Arthur smiled, shaking the brunet's hand once more in farewell before turning back to Alfred. "Well, should we go –"

"Alfred! Arthur! It's so wonderful to see you here!" Father Feliciano rounded up on them, smiling genially and grabbing Alfred by the wrist. "Arthur if you have a moment, I'd like to speak to Alfred in private."

Arthur, somewhat confused, nodded and watched as Feliciano dragged Alfred back to one of rooms in the back. He shrugged and turned back to the crowds, hoping to find someone familiar.

"What's going on?" Alfred asked when Feliciano shut them in his small office, normally used for speaking to visitors to the church and discussing fundraisers.

Feliciano smiled widely, his brown eyes nearly shut with the force of his grin as he picked up a single piece of paper from the desktop. "Do you by any chance remember that story I told you all that time ago? About the one thing I've always regretted not doing?"

Alfred frowned, scratching at the back of his head. "Uh, well, yeah I sure do. But… why'd you drag me all the way in here?"

He thrust the paper towards Alfred, the pastor's hands shaking with an unbridled excitement. "I did as you said, Alfred. I did it. I wrote him and… and – he wrote me back! He remembers me and oh! My heart almost exploded! His name is Ludwig, and he has two children – two sons, and he's widowed and… oh he says he missed me all these years and Alfred I – I can't begin to thank you enough for this." Feliciano's voice caught and he pulled the paper to his chest. "I'm so happy this happened."

Alfred smiled and pulled his pastor into a tight hug. He knew the feeling all too well, and with confidence he said, "Then is all you gotta do is keep writing, and be honest. If he keeps writing you back, well… then you'll know that he's a keeper."

- End -

Unimportant Notes: Ahhh my gosh and this is it! Thank you so much everyone! I never expected anyone would like this when I tacked up the very first chapter, and even now I'm just… very overwhelmed. You are all fabulous and just so great! I don't think I could ever thank you all enough. :D

I hope that you all enjoy the future works that I ever decide to put up just as much as you did this one. Until then, thank you!