Title: Shifted In Flight
Summary: My contribution to the 2014 USUK secret santa. My prompt was "accidentally meeting under the mistletoe" which I may have taken some artistic liberties with...
"If you could direct your attention to the lovely ladies in the aisle for just a moment, they're gonna help me explain the safety features of this Boeing 737," Alfred sucked in a breath as he got ready to deliver the speech he had already given three times that morning, and would give another four times tomorrow.
"To properly fasten your seatbelt, place the metal clip into the buckle. To release, lift up on that very same buckle. Your seatbelt needs to be worn low and tight across your hips," Alfred continued, offering up his best smile as he said, "Just like my Grandma wears her support bra."
He paused for laughs and got a chuckle or two from some young ladies sitting up front.
"Now, if you don't like the jokes or service on this flight, there are six ways off this aircraft, two forward exit doors, two over wing window exits and two rear exit doors. The disco lights on the floor will lead you to these exists.
"If you dig past the day old newspapers and banana peels, you should find a safety information card in the seat back pocket in front of you. Take it out, and if you're in the mood to humor me, go ahead and pretend you're reading it for a few minutes."
Alfred paused for a moment as his two female counterparts ruffled through their props until they came across the most stunning airplane accessory.
"In the event of a water evacuation," Alfred started up again, letting the two ladies slide their life vests over their heads. "Everyone gets their own flattering teenie-weenie yellow Northeast Airlines bikini. Place it over your head, wrap that strap around your waist and pull down on the red tab to inflate. If you like doing things the hard way, or you're just into this kinda thing, go ahead and blow into the red tube at your shoulder and your life vest should inflate."
The two young women who had been laughing before were howling now, yet the stern businessman that sat to their left held firm in his obvious bid not to laugh. There was an elderly women a few rows back that looked absolutely mortified at the sexual innuendo Alfred had loaded into the pre-flight safety speech, but most people were sat with a smile on their face, glad to have someone attempt to brighten the otherwise incredibly dull lecture.
"Flight attendants are now coming by, hoping you'll tell them how good looking they are, and also making sure that your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright and locked positions. Ladies, they'll also be checking that your purses match your shoes and that your lovely Prada and Gucci bags are stored completely under the seat in front of you, leaving you absolutely no leg room.
"Please remember that this is a no smoking, no complaining, and no squabbling flight this afternoon. However, it does happen to be a 'Please' 'Thank you' and 'You are such a smokin' flight attendant' flight. Speaking of smoking, it's never allowed on board. There's a $2,000 fine for tampering with or disabling the lavatory smoke detector so I'm gonna go ahead and ask that you don't do that. If you wanted to pay $2,000 for your airfare, you should've flown someone else."
Did that last joke finally get a chuckle out of businessman Scrooge? Hard to say. As soon as Alfred blinked that familiar scowl was right back in place.
"We don't expect a change in cabin pressure, believe me if we did, I certainly wouldn't have shown up for work today, but if needed, four oxygen masks will drop from the compartment overhead. Pull down on the plastic tubing until its full extended, pull the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.
"If you're traveling with small children… I'm sorry." Cue additional laughter. "But if you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, go ahead and secure your mask first before helping anyone else."
"Well, that's it for the spiel, so sit back and relax, or sit up and be tense, it's totally up to you, and enjoy your 3 hour and 48 minute flight into sunny Orlando, Florida. My name is Alfred, and on behalf of our flight crew and everyone at Northeast Airlines, welcome aboard!"
It was half past eleven when Alfred finally had his key in the lock to his apartment. What he didn't quite expect as he started to turn the key, was for the door to open on its own, or to find his boyfriend standing there in one of his old Michigan State hoodies and a pair of plaid pajama bottoms.
"Arthur, what are you doing up?" he asked with a grin as he leaned down to give him a kiss on the forehead. Arthur ruffled a bit but eventually accepted the gesture.
"I haven't seen you in almost a week," the shorter man replied as Alfred made his way to their shared bedroom. Arthur followed and watched as Alfred swiftly unbuttoned his uniform shirt and tight black slacks. "I made one of the frozen lasagnas you like for dinner. You can heat it up in the microwave whenever you're ready."
Alfred beamed, and though he was exhausted from 10 consecutive hours of flight, he bounded over to his boyfriend in nothing but his white tube socks and matching briefs.
"You're the best," he told Arthur as he placed a palm on each side of the man's face. He leaned in and placed a brief but sweet kiss on his boyfriend's lips. As he pulled away and Arthur's eyes we're just fluttering open, he smiled again and said, "Why haven't I married you yet?" Arthur blushed in response and averted his eyes to the floor.
Alfred pulled on a pair of Batman pajama pants and a plain white t-shirt before scurrying back to the kitchen, Arthur not far behind. As the off duty flight attendant removed the leftovers and stashed them in the microwave, his boyfriend went about preparing himself a cup of tea.
"Alfred," Arthur said at some point and the man in question was able to tear his eyes away from the timer on the microwave for just long enough to hum in response. "Alfred, I was wondering if this Christmas we might…" He seemed uncertain as he poured hot water from the electric kettle into a mug and wrapped his hand around it. "If we might be able to spend Christmas together this year," he finished, still looking uncomfortable as he shifted from foot to foot, looking up hesitantly at his boyfriend.
The microwave beeped but Alfred didn't take his eyes off of the man in front of him. It was unusual for Arthur to ask for anything so sentimental, and it made it that much more difficult for Alfred as he squeezed his boyfriend's shoulder and replied.
"Oh baby cakes, your timing is terrible. We just filled out December shift schedules last week and I figured since I get the overtime and we're saving up for that trip to visit your parents you wouldn't mind."
It felt like a punch to Alfred's gut as Arthur frowned and shrugged the man's hand off his shoulder. He turned his back to Alfred as he went about disposing of his teabag and adding a bit of cream to his tea. He held his head high but his voice sounded small as he said, "I really wish you'd consulted me first."
"Arthur…" Alfred tried his best to sound contrite and consoling but it didn't seem to have much effect. "Baby, I'm sorry, I didn't know it'd bother you so much. I mean you spent last Christmas alone when I had to work and everything was fi-"
"It's not fine, Alfred! It's never been fine!" Arthur had angrily turned to face him, and in doing so, some of the tea had sloshed out of his mug. Neither of them mentioned this though as Arthur was concentrating all of his energy on an effective glower and Alfred was struck dumb by the fact that his very rarely expressive boyfriend was crying.
"Chickadee…" Alfred tried again, pulling out a term of endearment he only ever used when Arthur was visibly distressed or in pain. Arthur stilled at that, and did not back away as Alfred moved closer. "My little chickadee," Alfred said softly as he gently peeled Arthur's wet fingers off the mug one by one. He eased the mug onto the counter as he took a rag and started to wipe off his boyfriend's hand in tender strokes. "What's wrong?"
Arthur bit his lip but did not resist as Alfred wrapped his arms around him, rocking them gently back and forth. They stayed like that for a moment, Alfred silent as a lamb and Arthur's breathing easing out over time. At long last Arthur sighed as he rested his head on Alfred's shoulder.
"This is what's wrong, Alfred," he said quietly, still gloomy but not quite as uncertain. "That I haven't seen you in a week and the moment I do, I lash out at you."
"Arthur," Alfred tried, but was silenced.
"No, Alfred, it's true. I only get to see you once, twice a week at best? Most nights I go to bed alone and I don't even know what time zone you're in…" The shorter man paused there and leant up to find his boyfriend staring at him intently. He blinked and looked away, his voice becoming little more than a whisper as he said, "I love you, Alfred, but this is weighing on me. I… I don't think I can do it anymore."
They stood there silently, Alfred no longer rocking them to-and-fro as he was now the one in distress. After a minute, maybe two, Alfred wasn't sure how long he'd taken to digest those words, he spoke up.
"A-Are you breaking up with me?"
For a while Arthur said nothing and Alfred's heart sank at the fact that Arthur hadn't immediately denied the statement. But eventually he did speak, in that not-quite posh but still refined accent that Alfred didn't realize he loved so much until he was presented with the possibility of losing it.
"I can't take the lonely nights anymore, Alfred," he said quietly, clearly uncomfortable for having to admit such a weakness. He looked up at the American as if he would have some sort of solution for this, but of course he didn't. Part of being a flight attendant meant sleeping in strange rooms, on strange beds, by yourself, at least four nights a week. As much as he wanted to voice a solution, when he opened his mouth, nothing came out, and Arthur smiled sadly as Alfred clamped his mouth shut.
"I'm sorry, Alfred, I… I hope you understand."
"I understand," Alfred found himself replying almost breathlessly, yet he made no move to let go of Arthur as the circumstances seemed to imply he should.
"I think we should… stay together until the end of the holidays, for convenience's sake. That should give you enough time to," Arthur paused to exhale. "To find a new place to live."
Alfred nodded, like a robot or a doll, even as inside his heart was telling him to argue, to make some sort of promise he knew he wouldn't be able to keep. He couldn't do that to Arthur. He hadn't known he was hurting and he certainly didn't want him to go through that again. So he swallowed his true feelings and squeezed Arthur just a little tighter as he breathed, "Alright."
That night, as he slept in the guest bedroom, on a strange bed, by himself, Alfred desperately tried to think of a way to fix everything before the end of the holidays.
December 25th 7:00 AM
"I'm heading out now," Alfred told his boyfriend-turned-roommate as he slipped on a festive Santa hat before heading toward the door. Arthur appeared in a dark red robe, one that Alfred had given him as a Valentine's Day gift last year, along with a few other less than savory gifts.
"Where are you going today?" Arthur asked in mild interest, stopping in front of Alfred to pick a piece of dust off his uniform. It seemed odd that Arthur still did things like adjusting his tie, or patting down his hair, but Alfred didn't dare question it. He kept each strange gesture in a mental box labeled 'Hope' that he reached into whenever he was feeling doubtful about his plan. But today was the day, and he prayed that Arthur's mindless ministrations weren't so mindless.
"I've got an 8:45 to Chicago, a 1:30 to Dallas, a 5:15 to Oklahoma City and then a 7:30 to San Diego."
"Ending Christmas in sunny San Diego?" Arthur said with an ever-so-small smile splayed across his face. "I don't suppose you could box up some of the warmth and send it over?"
Alfred let out a jolly laugh and grinned.
"I'll send some overnight."
Alfred stood there, staring, racking his brain for something else he could use to continue the conversation, anything. But before he knew it, Arthur was checking the time on the DVR and saying, "You'd better get going if you're to make that 8:45 flight."
"Right!" Alfred grinned, extending the handle of his trusty carry on and unlocking the door. "I'll be back late on the 27th," he said as he opened the door. His roommate nodded as he made a mental note. At that point Alfred probably should have stepped over the threshold and out of their apartment, but something was stopping him. He almost wanted to lean in for a goodbye kiss but he knew that certainly wasn't on the table. It hadn't been for at least a month, but hopefully by the end of today…
"Merry Christmas, Arthur," he decided on at long last as he stepped through the doorway and into the hallway.
"Merry Christmas, Alfred," he heard in reply as he walked toward the elevator, a shy smile appearing on his face.
December 25th 9:00 AM
The two hours in-between leaving Arthur and initiating his plan were some of the longest of Alfred's life. Still, he had to make sure Arthur thought he was well and truly gone on his way to Chicago or wherever it was he'd listed off in a fit of improvisation. But by now he should have been gone and Arthur would most definitely not be expecting him to knock on the door to their apartment, changed into a warm wool sweater Arthur had lovingly knitted him two Christmases ago that he knew Arthur loved to see him wear.
"Alfred?" Arthur asked, visibly puzzled, as he pulled the door open wider than just a crack and stared at his ex-boyfriend in clear confusion. "What are you doing here?" He glanced at one of the clocks and then back at Alfred. "Did you miss your flight?"
"I didn't have one," Alfred said, trying to sound as confidant as possible even as his heart was pounding a mile a minute just like the time he'd first asked Arthur out.
"Didn't have one?" Arthur asked befuddled. "But you just told me an hour ago-"
"Back in October," Alfred cut him off, and Arthur was apparently so at a loss that he didn't even berate Alfred for doing so. "Just after we… you know." It was still hard for Alfred to say "broke up" aloud. That made it feel too real. "I put in for a transfer, from flight attendant to gate agent."
"Gate agent?" Arthur repeated, his eyes widening just a fraction as if he thought he understood the implications of that term but didn't dare get too excited on the off chance he was wrong.
"Yes, a gate agent. You know, the person who pisses people off by making gate change announcements and scans boarding passes as people get on the plane? The person who doesn't board along with them? The person who can go home to their amazing boyfriend, every night?"
"Alfred?" Arthur whispered, confused and still non-believing even as his eyes now widened to the size of dinner plates.
"They made the transfer two weeks ago. I've been living in the Motel Six down the street to keep up the charade until now. I wanted to surprise you."
"Oh, Alfred…" Arthur spoke softly as he closed his eyes and frowned, but Alfred recognized it as that happy sort of frown- the kind Arthur pulled when he wanted to smile but he couldn't because he was upset with Alfred.
For his part, Alfred took the opportunity while Arthur had his eyes closed to dig around in his pocket for the small sprig of mistletoe that he'd kept hidden away since he'd left that morning. He held it above their heads and hoped for the best.
"Arthur," he said, and waited for the man to open his eyes before he used his free hand to point to the small plant. Then he leant in, as nervous a teenage boy on his first date, and met Arthur's trembling lips, hoping to kiss away the worry. For a moment he was terrified as Arthur made no response, but then slowly, gradually, Alfred felt the kiss being returned, and he let his shoulders sag as he pulled away with a small smile. Arthur had a tear dribbling down his right cheek, but this time Alfred was sure it was because he was happy rather than sad.
"Arthur, I love you and I've missed you, and I never want you to feel sad or lonely ever again," he spoke tenderly as he brought his arm down and wiped away the tear that had made its way to Arthur's chin. "So if you still want to spend Christmas with me, heck, if you still want to be with me, I would be honored, because there is nothing I want more than to spend Christmas with you, Chickadee."
By then several tears had made their way down Arthur's face, and even a little dribble of goo was leaving Arthur's nose to join them, but Alfred didn't mind because Arthur was nodding his head 'yes' over and over and that's all he needed to know.
"Merry Christmas, Arthur," Alfred whispered as he gathered the man in his arms, tears, mucus, and all.
"Merry Christmas, Alfred," came the mumbled reply from the man he would never have to leave again.