Author's note: Last chapter. :) Btw, no, I never specified which state they're in, because I don't think it really matters this time around.
Also, is it just me, or am I super setting-oriented? I've realized that I pretty much always have these two going into houses and places like that, and I always have a floor plan in my head. At some point I think I might draw them out, just to see if I'm actually clever or if it's all secretly the same floor plan being repeated over and over. 'orz Does it bother you to have everything so building-centric?
Oh, and Happy Holidays! :D
The first day of classes was uneventful. Arthur had luckily gotten out of teaching Freshman English, so most of his students seemed relatively interested in what he was saying. Before he knew it, the day was over. Alfred was coming over for a movie that night, so he went home, did what he needed to do to prepare for class the next day, and cooked himself dinner.
Alfred showed up with a collection of DVDs under one arm and a grin. He gave Arthur a one-armed hug, complete with a kiss on the nose, and asked, "How were your classes?"
"Fine," Arthur said with a bit of a blush. He opened the door wider and invited Alfred in. It wasn't as if Alfred bothered to knock anymore, or as if he needed to, but Arthur still liked to greet him at the door.
"No trouble-making students?" Alfred asked as he spread out their movie options.
"Not so far." Arthur sat down on the couch and lay his head back with a sigh. "I think the summer spoiled me a little, though. I usually take a summer job." He drew his feet up onto the couch and curled up.
Alfred joined him a moment later. He put an arm around Arthur and nuzzled his hair. "Mm," he said with a smile into Arthur's hair. "Is some of that spoiling my fault?"
Arthur smirked and rested his head on Alfred's shoulder. "Maybe."
"So, to celebrate your first day of teaching at a new school, what would you prefer: Alien or The Day After Tomorrow?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Really, Alfred?"
Alfred was grinning as he picked out Alien. "Come on, we've been watching chick flicks for aaages."
"You had better be willing to let me hide in your shoulder during the scary parts," Arthur said dryly.
"It's the least I can do as the hero," Alfred said with a wink.
It should have been no surprise to Arthur that sometime later, Alfred was the one hiding his eyes in Arthur's shoulder, whimpering. Arthur patted him on the back with a sigh. "It will be over soon," he said with a motherly cluck of his tongue. "Come now, you can't hide for the entire movie." Alfred just whimpered in response.
Arthur fell back into the routine of teaching quickly. He and Alfred developed an unofficial movie night on Fridays, with Tuesday as their normal date night. Really, though, Alfred would wander over to Arthur's house whenever he felt like it, which was at least once a day.
Arthur tended to his roses in the morning as he always had, but now Alfred only ran by on the weekends. Now there was always at least one of Arthur's roses in the vase on Arthur's dining room table, courtesy of Alfred. "You shouldn't leave them all outside," Alfred told him. "They brighten up the whole room, don't you think?" Arthur smiled, for he couldn't agree more.
About a month into the semester, Arthur was standing at the front of his class as he usually did, looking at his notes idly. He always arrived a few minutes early, and class wasn't to start for at least five more minutes. He sighed a little. His eyes may have been on his notes, but his mind was elsewhere. It was a busy week for him. He and Alfred were going on a date the next afternoon, which was unusual for them, but they had both wanted a break. He had laundry to do, too, and he needed to buy cat food . . . A few more students trickled into the classroom. He glanced at the clock. Three more minutes.
Another student walked in. Just before the door closed behind her, someone caught it, pushed it open, and called, "Jamie, wait up!"
Arthur's head snapped towards the door. Standing there, half in and half out of the classroom, was Alfred Jones. For a moment, Arthur was so shocked he thought he was imagining things. What was Alfred doing there? "Alfred?" he blurted out.
Alfred looked over at him and blinked. He pushed his glasses up a little higher on the bridge of his nose and grinned. "Hey, Arthur. I didn't know this was your classroom."
Arthur stared at him while he tried to process this information. Alfred didn't appear surprised at all. He turned back to the girl he had been trying to catch up to, who was looking expectantly at him. Alfred handed her a piece of paper. "Here's your test," he said. "Sorry, I forgot to hand them out at the end of class so I've been trying to catch everyone in the passing period. I figured you'd want it back now, since you got the highest grade in the class." He laughed.
She blushed a little and took it from him. "Thanks, Professor Jones."
"Call me Alfred, please. And don't thank me! You did great." Alfred turned back to Arthur. "I'm not interrupting your class, am I?"
"No, class hasn't started yet," Arthur said automatically without looking at the clock. He continued to stare. Alfred was a teacher. At the same university. How had he missed this?
"Hey, you okay Artie?" Alfred asked. He had let the door close behind him and was now standing next to Arthur, hands in his pockets.
"What class was the paper from?" Arthur asked faintly.
"Hmm? Oh, Quantum Mechanics. This year's my first time teaching it."
"Oh," Arthur said.
"How's this class treating you? I see a couple people from my Physics III class, yeah guys?" He waved to several students who were sitting in front of them and winked at them. The students smiled and a few of them waved back. Actually, Arthur noticed, most of his class was smiling. And staring. Well.
Arthur cleared his throat. "As nice as it's been seeing you, Alfred, I think it's about time–"
"What kind of stuff are you guys reading in this class?" Alfred asked the class, interrupting Arthur without so much as a blink.
"English," called someone, which got a few giggles. "Shakespeare," said someone else. "Chaucer." "Milton." "Gulliver's Travels."
Alfred nodded. "Well, Artie here is the best person you could have to be teaching you about that stuff. He may not act like it, but he completely loves what he's talking about, and he knows his subject. Don't be too hard on him, either, okay?" He winked at the class. "He's a really nice guy."
"How do you two know each other?" one student piped up. Arthur tried to glare at the student in question, but they didn't even seem to notice.
"We're neighbors," Alfred said without a second of hesitation. "And, speaking of," he said, turning back to Arthur, "We're still on for tomorrow, right?"
"Right," Arthur said. His cheeks were rapidly heating up, but he tried to ignore it.
"Great," Alfred said. He grinned, and just for a second, Arthur caught something in his eyes that felt like it was meant just for him. "See ya around." He waved and walked out the door.
"Bye Mr. Jones," chorused some of the class. The door clicked shut and Arthur stared at it for a moment too long. He looked at the clock. They were starting class four minutes late. He frowned and cleared his throat.
"Now then, about A Midsummer Night's Dream . . ."
Alfred started stopping by Arthur's classroom on a regular basis. It turned out that on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, he taught a class just before Arthur's, but had a free period during it, so he felt free to make Arthur's class start as late as possible. Arthur did what he could to encourage Alfred to leave so class could start on time, but he found that he really enjoyed seeing Alfred in the middle of the day. It was such a nice little break from everything that he had to do. It wasn't long before he noticed that Alfred was actually letting his class out early just so he could come talk to Arthur. It had made Arthur blush and tell Alfred to let out his class on time, but when Alfred laughed him away, he couldn't help but feel a little proud that Alfred would do something like that for him.
The semester continued at a surprisingly fast pace. Arthur and Alfred were still as comfortable together as they had been before, but Arthur felt like after that first time Alfred walked into his class, their relationship had subtly shifted. All the vague fears Arthur had had that Alfred was too young and lived with his parents completely evaporated. It had made Arthur realize that Alfred wasn't exactly the person he had thought he was. In fact, he was better.
"Why don't you ever invite me over to your place?" Arthur finally asked one night when they were curled up on the couch after watching a movie.
Alfred immediately looked a little guilty. "Well, it's pretty messy. You keep your house so neat . . . Mine would probably give you heart attack."
"Nonsense," Arthur said briskly. "I want to see where you live."
"Maybe Sunday? After I have tomorrow to clean it up . . ."
"No, let's go now." Arthur stood up and brushed himself off. "I don't want to see your house after you've made it look presentable. I want to see your home."
"Artie," Alfred pleaded.
Arthur purposefully did not meet Alfred's gaze, because he knew that one look at those big blue eyes would be enough to make him retract whatever he had just said. "Come on. You've seen me wet and miserable having a temper tantrum, and I can't see your house?"
"Fine," Alfred mumbled. His shoulders slumped forward dismally. He shrugged on his jacket and put on his shoes. "Just . . . don't yell at me, okay?"
"Alfred." Alfred looked at him. Arthur took his face between his hands and kissed him sweetly. Arthur looked into those blue eyes and smiled. "I'm not your mother. I'm not going to tell you want to do." Unless it's our house, he mentally amended.
Alfred smiled. "Okay. Then let's go."
It was dark out, and the street looked peaceful with the lighting from its regularly-spaced street lamps and the soft glow of a partially full moon. They walked quietly, with a little humming from Alfred. When they reached his house, Alfred opened the door and flicked on a light. He held the door open for Arthur and smiled. "Come on in."
Arthur stepped inside and looked around. There was a nice little entrance hall with a tiled floor, like in Arthur's house, but other than that they had very different floor plans. There were hooks on the wall for coats, and coats Arthur had never seen were hanging off of it haphazardly. A pile of shoes sat underneath it. Alfred toed of his shoes and nudged them over to join the pile. "Come on in," he said as he walked farther into the house. "I'll give you a tour." Arthur followed him.
"I'll show you my room first, since it's the worst, haha," Alfred said. His laughter sounded nervous.
"Alright," Arthur said. He winced as he had to step over a pile of what appeared to be dirty laundry to get into the hallway. Alfred pushed open the door to his room with his foot and Arthur followed him inside.
The mess was, well, kind of ridiculous. The closet door was open, as were several of the drawers of his dresser to varying degrees. Clothes hung out of the drawers haphazardly. It looked as though he had emptied his closet onto the floor in front of it, and then hung up other things on the hangers – namely a suit jacket and a collared shirt, neither of which Arthur had ever seen him wear. The bed was unmade, though it was tastefully decorated with white sheets and a navy blue comforter. The walls were mostly empty, except for a large map of the United States on one wall. A giant poster of the night sky covered the ceiling. Alfred saw him looking at it and pointed to it with a smile. "It's glow-in-the-dark. I've had it since I was a kid."
Upon further examination, Arthur could see worn corners and crease marks. He smiled. "I didn't know you were interested in the night sky."
"Oh, yeah! I love space and all that stuff. The year before college, I spent most of the money I earned over the summer on this autographed photo." He walked over to his bookshelf and pulled down a framed photograph of the moon landing.
Arthur took it gingerly. He could barely make out the second half of the signature, but it finally clicked: Neil Armstrong. He blinked. "Wow."
Alfred laughed. "Yeah, probably not the most practical thing ever, but I saw it online and knew I had to have it. I wish I could have been there," he said wistfully. "Anyway, my study's over here."
Arthur almost wanted to linger in Alfred's room. Now that he was starting to see past the mess, he could see all kinds of things that probably had stories of their own: A three-foot-tall alien statue in one corner, a miniature replica of some sort of space ship, a model of the solar system. However, with a last glance, he followed Alfred out of the room.
Alfred's study was messy more in the papers-strewn-everywhere way. The walls were more poster-heavy, but mostly with what seemed to be references: The periodic table, a string of DNA, and diagrams of other things Arthur didn't recognize. The living room was filled with video games and related items. All in all, Arthur thought with a little smile, it felt a lot like what he had expected Alfred's house to feel like.
Alfred led him back to the entrance hall and to the other side of the house. "This is the kitchen," he announced.
Arthur looked around with a little frown. There were dishes piled in the sink and an old pizza box sat on one of the counters. The room itself wasn't exactly dirty, but it certainly wasn't organized.
"That's the dining room." Alfred pointed into the adjacent room. "It's neater 'cause I barely go in there." Alfred made to turn away, but Arthur didn't follow him. In the center of the dining room table, sprawling out towards the ends and up toward the ceiling, was a structure made of plastic rods and spheres. Papers cluttered the table around it, but they had all been carefully cleared away from its base.
"What's that?" Arthur asked curiously.
Alfred came back and peered over his shoulder. "Oh, that's the structure of a molecule I'm working on. I started it on my desk, but it got too big so I had to move it in here." Alfred laughed a little. "Boring, right? But it's a fun hobby."
"Boring?" Arthur repeated absently. "No, I wouldn't say so." He walked into the room and began to slowly walk around the model, eyeing it with interest.
"Really?" Alfred asked, surprised. He followed Arthur at a distance. "Do you know much about stuff like this?"
Arthur shook his head. "Nothing. This really represents something in real life?"
"Yup," Alfred said. "Crazy, right?"
Arthur gazed up at it. "How long did this take you?"
Alfred shrugged. "I really have no idea. I've been working on it off and on for about a week."
"Do you do things like this with your students?"
Alfred chuckled. "Nah, I don't teach this kind of science. Like I said, it's a hobby. I'm really more of a physics guy. You want a snack?"
"Oh, sure," Arthur said.
"We can cuddle on the couch with some ice cream. I'll try to clean up the living room after my last gaming session, haha . . ." Alfred's voice faded as he moved into the adjacent room. Arthur gazed at the structure for a moment longer. Alfred really was interesting. He seemed so contradictory: Messy, yet structured; childish, yet sometimes too mature for his own good.
What Alfred had said finally made its way to Arthur's consciousness. He blinked. "Wait, Alfred," he said, hurrying back to the kitchen, "When you said 'ice cream,' you didn't mean–"
Alfred grinned at him and held out a carton of mint ice cream with two spoons stuck in it. "Want a bite? Sorry, but the bowls are all in the dishwasher. I keep forgetting to run it."
"You can't honestly expect me to eat ice cream out of the carton," Arthur said weakly.
"Oh come on, live a little," Alfred said as he took his hand and pulled him towards the living room. "This is the making of a romantic movie, right here."
"No buts," Alfred told him. He scooped up a spoonful of ice cream and held it out to Arthur. "This is delicious, and if you don't have some you're going to say that you need to leave soon, and then I'm going to have to finish it all by myself and be lonely." Alfred looked at him with sorrowful eyes and Arthur tentatively took the spoonful of ice cream offered to him. "Plus, maybe one of these days once I've cleaned out my house, I'll say, 'Arthur, why don't you come over and eat a carton of ice cream with me and spend the night,' and you'll say, like this but more British, 'I'd love to, love,' and then I won't have to give you up when we're done eating this carton of ice cream, because it's almost gone." Alfred hooked an arm around Arthur's waist and pulled him closer. Arthur smiled to himself and took another bite of ice cream. "What do you think?" Alfred breathed into his hair.
Arthur gazed out the window thoughtfully. "Well, it's getting late." Alfred made a small whining noise, but Arthur cut him off before he could say anything. "It's also chilly outside, but it's warm in here with you, except for the ice cream, of course – why we're eating this in autumn, I don't know – and I don't really feel like walking all the way home." He paused. "Love, would you mind terribly if I stayed here tonight?"
It took a moment for this to sink in. "Tonight?" Alfred squeaked.
Arthur looked up at him with a slight frown. "Is this a bad day? It is the weekend tomorrow, after all . . ."
Before Arthur could say anything else, Alfred kissed him – and again, and again, until Arthur was laughing because Alfred's breath and fingers were tickling him. "Tonight would be perfect," Alfred said, and Arthur could tell that he was grinning.
"You know if I do, I'm going to have to help you clean your house tomorrow morning, hmm?" Arthur asked innocently into the skin of Alfred's shoulder. Alfred just chuckled.
The semester gradually drew to a close. One day, as usual, Alfred stepped into the classroom the moment the passing period started. Arthur was waiting for him, of course, with that day's notes in a neat pile on the table at the front of the room and the work they were discussing lined up neatly next to it. "Hello, Alfred," Arthur said with a gentle smile. He was having a good day. The weather was warmer than it had been, which meant that he had been able to be out in his garden. His roses wouldn't last much longer, of course, but their final blooms were as beautiful as their first.
"Hey, Arthur," Alfred said, but his smile was weaker than usual.
Arthur noticed. His gaze sharpened. "How are you? Is something the matter?"
"Nope, I'm fine. You?"
"Are you sure nothing's wrong?" Arthur asked with a frown.
Alfred laughed hurriedly. "Oh yeah, nothing's wrong. I'm fine. Did you sleep okay?"
"Yes, thank you," Arthur said with a last suspicious glance at Alfred. "And you?" He eyed the notes on his desk. Had he forgotten to write down the date of that one event he had been going to mention in class today?
"Yeah, I slept fine, ha." There was a silence, which was unusual for Alfred. Arthur watched him with concern. Clearly something was up, even if Alfred denied it – especially if Alfred denied it. A few students walked into the room and took their seats.
"Oh, Professor Jones?" asked someone. Arthur watched as a student asked Alfred a question. He almost immediately tuned out what they were saying. They were nearing the end of the semester, which meant more stress for his students and a few weeks of frenzied work for him. It also meant they were nearing Christmas. He wasn't sure if Alfred celebrated or not, but he wanted to get him at least something to celebrate . . . well, just to celebrate. However, he still hadn't decided what he was getting him yet.
Arthur glanced at the clock. It was almost time to start class. The student had finished talking with Alfred, and Alfred was simply standing next to him, looking at his shoes. Arthur smiled a little. He reached out and touched Alfred's shoulder lightly. Alfred looked up. "Are you sure nothing's wrong?" Arthur asked quietly with an encouraging smile. Alfred looked back through worried eyes. Alfred took a deep breath.
"Um, class," Alfred said loudly without looking away from Arthur. He paused, and then tore his eyes away from Arthur's concerned gaze. "I, um. I guess I wanted to say, thank all of you for sticking with us all year, and. Well." He took a deep, shuddering breath, turned back to Arthur, and reached into his jacket pocket.
Arthur frowned at him in confusion. "Alfred, what–" His breath caught in his throat as Alfred pulled out a small, black velvet box. He put a hand on the table to steady himself. "What is that?"
Alfred knelt down on one knee. There was sudden, absolute silence in the classroom. "Arthur," Alfred said, "I know I can't speak as poetically as the authors you like to read, and I don't know half of what you're saying when you talk about them, but I do know–" Here Alfred paused a little and took a breath. "I do know that you are the most wonderful person I have ever met. I can't list everything, but you can write so well, and the way you smile, and your garden is the most beautiful one I've ever seen." Alfred smiled. "I know because I've seen it, and I've seen your roses, and I've seen how much you time you put into caring for them day after day. I love you, Arthur, and – and I want to put that much effort into taking care of you every day." Alfred opened the lid of the tiny black velvet box. "Will you marry me?"
For a moment, Arthur's mind went absolutely blank. Then thoughts started tumbling through it, thoughts of the future, worries, anxieties, and above it all–
"Yes, of course, you git," Arthur said. He was blushing, and he knew it, so he put a hand over his face, but he couldn't stop smiling.
The classroom erupted into cheers. Books were thrown, high-fives were given, and bets were paid out. Arthur didn't hear any of it because Alfred was standing up and smiling at him. Alfred held out a hand and Arthur took it. "Well then," Alfred said as he slid a gold ring onto Arthur's finger, "I guess we're going out to dinner tonight, huh, my fiancé?" He broke into a grin and Arthur threw his arms around him. He wanted to kiss Alfred so very much, but settled for burying his face in the crook of his neck and breathing in deeply. Alfred chuckled into his ear, and then he wrapped his arms tighter around Arthur's waist and swung him around in a circle.
"Alright, put me down," Arthur said. Alfred complied. Arthur began to push himself away from Alfred when he finally caught sight of the ring. He stopped resisting and just looked at it. It was a band of solid gold, with a small green gem set into the gold itself.
"It's an emerald," Alfred said. He hadn't stopped smiling. "It reminds me of your eyes."
"It's beautiful," Arthur said. He smiled up at him. "Thank you."
Alfred just grinned. He intertwined his fingers with Arthur's own, and somehow the gesture seemed at that moment to be more intimate than even a kiss.
"Do you really mean it?" Arthur asked more solemnly. "About getting married?"
Alfred looked surprised. "Of course! Otherwise I wouldn't have asked. Didn't you know? You picked one of the few states in the US where our marriage is legal." Before Arthur could protest, Alfred pecked him on the cheek. "But even if it wasn't, we would elope."
"I'm not sure that would be considered 'eloping'," Arthur muttered, but he was smiling. For the first time, they both looked at the classroom. It was in chaos. "I suppose I'll have to cancel class today."
"You sound so sad about it," Alfred said with a grin.
"Well, I wouldn't want to let the valuable time they spent walking here go to waste . . ." A twitch of Arthur's mouth betrayed that he was joking. Alfred laughed. "Alright," Arthur called out to the classroom. It took a few minutes, and he knew he was blushing and smiling, which made it more difficult to act serious, but he eventually had the attention of a few of his students. "Class is dismissed. We'll discuss last night's reading next class."
There was a cheer and a general stampeded of students out the door. As each one of them left, they yelled out a "Congratulations!" Alfred laughed and waved at them all. When the last one had finally left, the two of them looked at each other.
"Well then," said Arthur.
"Well then," said Alfred. He stepped closer so that their noses were nearly brushing. "May I kiss the bride?" he breathed onto Arthur's skin.
"I hardly think–" Arthur began, but there was the beginning of a smile in the corner of his mouth, and he even let Alfred dip him down and kiss him, just how he knew Alfred had always wanted to. Arthur straightened, a little breathless and laughing, and kissed Alfred again and again. All in all, he decided, moving here had been the best choice of his life.
And somehow, what this had all really started with was a garden of roses just waiting to bloom.