Slender arms wrapped around Eric's waist as Alan leaned up against his partner's solid back. Sighing and closing his eyes, the smaller shinigami rested his head against Eric's shoulders and took strength in the warmth that he found there. Around them both, the flat was silent. A soft crackling fire that was dying in the hearth provided the only sound that filled the air other than their breath. Familiar, warm, safe. This was home, a refuge after everything that had happened at the office. It had been a very long day.
The Shinigami Dispatch Association was severely understaffed. A recent bout of illness had undermined more than a quarter of their workforce. Those who were still in good health were left to pick up the slack. As a result, everyone was being heavily overworked. Double shifts, approved overtime and even situations with collections that would have normally fallen outside of protocol had all become commonplace over the last two weeks as people scrambled to keep up with the assignments that they had not known they would be responsible for. Many of the people who were used to working with partners suddenly found themselves handling collections on their own.
For Eric, it had been an annoyance. With his excellent technique and history of overseeing other shinigami in the company, he was used to being sent out in the field when things like that happened. Instead, much to his surprise, he had been assigned to pick up the excess paperwork that the other departments had generated. Alan, accustomed to working on his own, had been sent out into the field instead.
Alan was skilled, but too much work and not enough rest quickly took their toll on him. In the middle of his assignment, he had collapsed in pain. Even though the incident was little more than a memory, it was more than enough to color the atmosphere of the apartment. All of the comfort and warmth that the quiet moments afforded them seemed tempered with the uneasy realization that neither knew how much longer they might have left to spend together.
"I thought you were resting," Eric said, his voice quiet as he slid a book back into place on the shelf in front of him. His eyes drifted idly across the titles of the other novels that surrounded it. Even though coming home from work normally came as a relief; it did not seem like much of one just then. His thoughts were clouded by everything that had happened that day, weighing down his enjoyment of the comforts of home.
Neither of them would discuss what happened. They had talked about it before to the point of exhaustion. No amount of frustration on either of their parts would change what had already happened and would inevitably happen again. They both knew that if their situations had been reversed, Alan at a desk and Eric in the field, the attack might have been avoided. That thought pained Eric in a way that few people knew. This was even more so for the fact that no one had told him what had happened to Alan until hours after the attack had ended. It was not the first time something like that had happened and it would not be the last.
When the workday had concluded, they had gone home. Home was defined more by wherever they found themselves than by one single, solid location. Tonight, home was Eric's apartment. It was small, barely more than a collection of rented rooms that made up the top floor of a townhouse. Inside, a well-worn and eclectic collection of furniture played staged to the clutter of his belongings. The meager accommodations did not matter to either man; their thoughts were elsewhere. More than a week had passed since Alan had seen the inside of his own house, which was larger and more comfortably furnished. It was not as though they had planned to go home together. Somehow, that was just how things always seemed to happen. Wherever one was, the other was certain to be. For them, that was as natural as breathing.
Against Eric's back, Alan pressed his face into the rough fabric of his partner's suit jacket. His voice was quiet as he breathed, "I couldn't sleep."
Slowly, Alan's thin arms loosened as Eric turned around to look at him. Reaching out, the supervisor wrapped his large hands around his lover's shoulders. He pulled the smaller man closer to him. Eric watched him with soft eyes, looking for any sign of discomfort or distress. "How are you feeling?"
"My chest hurts, but it isn't as bad as it was earlier. I'm sure it will be better in the morning." Alan leaned forward, pressing his face against Eric's chest. The taller shinigami let out a deep sigh of resignation. When Alan spoke again, his voice was painted with bitterness. "I hate this. I hate this pain, this feeling. I hate everything about it. When will it end? Sometimes, I just wish-"
"Stop that." The response was immediate. Eric's hands tightened their grip on the other man's shoulders. Swiftly, Eric leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the top of Alan's head. His eyes closed as he buried his face in the soft hair, losing himself in the feeling of having Alan so close. When he spoke, his voice was rough, every emotion that he felt showing through in the words. "Don't talk like that. Don't even think like that. We're going to get this figured out. Just hang in there. You're fine. You're going to be fine. You'll see."
"You're always so positive, Eric," Alan said, leaning heavily against his broad chest. "You're always saying things like that, and I love you for it, but this is the third time this week that it's happened."
For a moment, Eric's arms tightened around the man he loved, holding him close. Then, just as quickly, he let go and turned away. Alan's arms fell away from around his waist as he took several steps forward, putting distance between them. Eric could not look at the man that he wanted so desperately to save. Not just then.
Eric hated the thorns of death. The disease was a curse, eating away at Alan one small piece at a time. Each time that he had an attack; Alan suffered more than he had during the previous incident. Every moment that passed moved him closer to the day when the thorns of death would finally claim his life. It was painful to watch someone so full of life being broken down in the way that Alan was slowly starting to become. Eric loved his stubbornness, his determination and the tenacity with which he approached every new day. These things had captivated Eric even before he had come to desire Alan, before he had known the man that would become his everything.
Nearly as bad as the illness itself was the fact that there was no real hope that Eric could give to ease the pain. There was hope. Precious, beautiful hope. But Eric would never be able to tell him that. All that it would take to save Alan was one thousand souls; a thousand lives and a thousand existences, all taken and eliminated for the sake of saving a single person. The price was immeasurably high. Was it worth it? Without question. All that Eric had to do was look at Alan and he knew that every step he took brought him closer to saving him. No matter what the cost, he would succeed. Anything less was not even an option that he would consider.
Alan did not know. If Eric had anything to say about it, he would never find out. When the time came and the cure delivered, his actions might be discovered and the truth revealed. Until then, he would keep Alan in dark about what it was that he did when he left him to go out for the evening. There was no doubt in Eric's mind that Alan would not approve.
Trusting and kind, Alan never asked where it was that Eric went when he insisted that he had somewhere to go or something to do. Alan never wondered. In truth, it was not the fact that he had become a murderer that bothered Eric. It was more so the fact that he could not even tell Alan, no matter how much he might wish to give him hope. He hated the flimsy excuses, the lies that he had to give if Alan ventured so far as to ask where he was going. He hated keeping secrets from him, even when it was the only way that he could try to defeat their silent enemy.
On nights like this, when it seemed as if there was nothing else in the world but the two of them, Eric could not help but wonder what would happen if he failed. It was too easy to picture Alan dying, one of the attacks pushing him so far that his body simply gave out even when his heart and mind rebelled. Eric could easily picture that pale skin and those pale lips painted completely white by death's grip. Though the images came to him half-formed and close enough to chill him to the bone, he could never bring himself to finish that train of thought. It was too painful to consider. That was why he pulled away. He could not stand to look at Alan with all of those thoughts running through his mind. He could not dwell on them, especially not after what had happened at work.
Eric took a few more steps and rearranged some of the books on the bookshelf, hoping the motion looked casual as he tried to change the subject. "You haven't eaten since lunch. Are you hungry? I can fix you something, if you want."
"No, I'm not hungry." The reply was quiet, but the words seemed loud in the silence of the apartment. "I think I will go lay down again for a while."
Eric did not look away from the bookshelves, still unable to meet Alan's gaze. "Okay."
After a long moment, Alan spoke. "Eric?"
"Will you come with me?"
Eric did not turn away from the books until he could hear the sounds of Alan's bare feet walking across the wooden floor that led down the hall. Composing himself, Eric turned and surveyed the living room before walking down the hall.
The bedroom was dark, the curtains drawn over the single window. Light from the lamp that Eric had left lit in the living room trailed down the hall, lighting the edges of the wooden furniture that stood inside the small chamber. He could barely make out the shapes of the wardrobe, the small nightstand and the bed itself. That mattered little to Eric; his eyes would adjust. He walked through the room to the far side of the bed, pulling off his jacket and tie as he went. He tossed them both over the moth-eaten living chair that had been crammed into a corner. He had not bothered to undress from work when he had gotten home; he had been too focused on the well-being of his partner to care what he was wearing. Now, as he kicked his shoes off and sat down on the bed, being able to remove them felt like pulling a heavy weight off his chest. At home, work mattered little. Not bothering to look behind him, he let himself fall backwards onto the mattress. He stretched one arm out to the side.
Alan scooted over from the other side of the bed, tucking his head against Eric's chest. Immediately, Eric's arm reached up and wrapped around his lover's slender shoulders. Everything felt perfect when they were together, as if all the pieces of the world came together in the nearly silent sounds of their breathing. Against the thin cotton of his business shirt, Eric could feel Alan's lips moving as he whispered, "Thank you."
"Mm," Eric replied. Through the darkness, he could still make out the fine features of Alan's face against his chest. Despite the chaos of the day, he looked peaceful now. His lovely face was framed by strands of dark hair, lips parted slightly as he rested so close to his beloved. His glasses were gone; they had been placed on the nightstand in preparation for sleep. The soft heat of Alan's breath against Eric's chest was reassuring, another indicator of the safety and hope that could only be found in the confines of that apartment. In that darkness, Eric wished that he could let go of all of the dark thoughts that had occupied his mind for most of the day.
What would life be like if Alan were no longer by his side? Try though he might, Eric had a very difficult time imagining that. Memories from before the two of them had met seemed vague and out of focus, like something from another life. It was strange to think that there had been a point in his life when Eric had not known him, when he had not spent every waking moment wishing there was more that he could do to help him. In Alan, he had found a purpose. It was bittersweet and painful, but the tragedy that had brought them together had also given Eric a reason to fix many of the problems that had plagued his life before the two of them had met. He could not imagine a world in which the man he loved was not at his side. It would be as if a piece of him were missing.
Even so, Eric was painfully aware of the fact that the illness that they both hated was not the only thing that could take Alan away from him. The trust that Alan placed in him, so complete and unquestioning, might be the downfall of them both. If he were ever to learn the truth about what Eric did when he ventured out on his own, he would leave. No matter what the reasons behind the actions might be, Eric was a murderer. Blood stained his hands as well as his thoughts. He knew that no amount of goodwill could ever overrule the fact that he had taken innocent lives knowingly and willingly. He did not want to see the look that would come across Alan's face were he ever to learn the truth about the very person that held him so carefully at night.
If Alan ever did learn the truth, even if it drove him to hate him, Eric knew that he would continue to try to save his partner. There was no doubt in his mind that Alan would leave him if he came to know what Eric had done. He had thought about that more than once. The pain would be immense, almost unbearable. However, so long as Alan was alive, Eric would survive. At least until he had found a way to end his lover's suffering and cure the thorns of death. Nothing mattered beyond that any more. To him, Alan was the single most important thing in his life. For a shinigami, work was life. For Eric, work provided a means to an end. Alan was his very existence.
"Are you okay?" Alan said, the quiet inquiry colored with deceptively casual concern. The object of Eric's thoughts opened his eyes, but he did not look up towards the taller man. Instead, Eric watched as the man's green eyes followed the motions of his own hand as it ran across the folds of the fabric on his shirt, smoothing the wrinkles and frowning when they did not flatten.
Shifting slightly on the bed, Eric pulled him closer. Letting his eyes slide shut, he murmured, "Don't worry about it."
Alan's eyes turned to look up at him, not fooled by the avoidance. The anxiety in Eric's voice bothered him. Eric was unfailingly strong in the eyes of those around them. Confident, out-going and charming, he was a man that knew how to take charge of his life. Everyone else saw him that way. Only Alan who knew him as he truly was. Kindness and a good heart were hidden behind the tough exterior and often careless attitude that Eric showed to others. The toughness was only partially an act, however. Alan never enjoyed seeing him brought down to that level. That was even truer because he also knew that his illness was to blame. He hated the thorns of death and what it did not only to himself, but also to the people around him.
Reaching out with the slender hand that had been toying with the fabric of Eric's shirt, Alan brushed away a tear from the man's cheek. Fingertips drifted down skin as he traced the contours of his face, feeling the contrast between smooth skin and rough stubble. Even with the conflicted expression on his face, Eric was a handsome man. Though his chest hurt and the lingering after-effects of his latest attack still coursed through his body, Alan felt completely comfortable in his arms. Nothing would ever take him away from that warm embrace. He would not let it.
Eric turned his face to the side, kissing Alan's fingertips. Reaching up, Eric covered Alan's hand with his own, sliding their fingers together as he pressed the man's slender palm and fingers to the side of his face. The feeling was intoxicating as he slowly pulled that hand back down to circle his waist. Eric rolled onto his side, turning to look at him.
In the closeness of the dark room, it was easy to study all of the fine features of Alan's face that he loved so much. Even though the light was dim, he could make out the slight curve of smiling lips and the familiar slant of green eyes. Alan watched him with as much concern and care as Eric himself felt just then. Leaning over, Eric captured his lips in a kiss. The hand that was not wrapped around Eric's waist came up to bury itself in thick blond strands of hair as the other pulled the taller man closer. Heated breath and familiar lips pulled the two of them together as they lost themselves in the sweetness of the kiss. Eric could feel every ounce of stress and worry drain out of him as every nerve in his body focused completely on the sweet sensations of his lover's mouth on his own.
Though he could not control the future, Eric knew that moments like that were their own kind of perfection. They were something precious that he should treasure. He would deal with whatever eventualities might come to pass. Just then, however, Alan was there. He was happy and alive at his side. The sweet warmth of his body, the scent of his hair and the feel of his soft lips told Eric all that he needed to know. Alan was his. So long as that fact remained true, Eric would do his best to care for him in whatever way possible. That was all that mattered.
The kiss ended. Eric pulled Alan up against him. He wrapped both arms around the smaller shinigami's slender body and tucked Alan's head underneath of his chin. This was all that he could have ever possibly wanted.
In the darkness of the room, they lay together listening to the sounds of their own breathing in the silence around them. Moments passed before Alan whispered, "I am glad that you are here with me."
"This is where I was meant to be."
Author's Note: Eric and Alan are one of my favorite pairs for Kuroshitsuji. They're actually tied with Sebastian/Ciel for my number one favorite at the moment. I'm getting ready to write a collaborative, multi-chapter story that focuses entirely on Eric and Alan. As such, I wanted to go back through and do a little of my own, first. Home is a rewrite of an older story (also titled Home, if it sounds familiar), but it's more than twice the length. I do hope you enjoyed this little character study. Please look forward to more Eric/Alan goodness from me in the future! These two really break my heart. RIP, Reapers Slingby and Humphries.
Thanks go out to my beta reader, Mosstar.