Hello, everyone! I had originally wanted to write an 1812 fic where the invasion was successful and resulted in Matthew's death, but I ended up churning out a human AU instead. A depressing human AU.

Warnings: major character death, language, angst (like whoa), sadness, AU, possibly saccharine (sap, sap, sap, sappy sappiness), flashbacks all over the place

Pairings: AmeCan, mentioned FrUK

Disclaimer: Well, of course nothing is mine (woe).

Notes: Maria is no one. Or, if you'd like, Mexico. Oh, and please review!

"Hi, you've reached Matthew Williams. I'm really sorry I can't make it to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I promise I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks!"

"Hey, Matt. Jesus, I've called like three times now. You still at work? I just wanted to tell you not to worry about picking up dinner on your way home, 'cause I ordered some pizza. I tried to make lasagna, but that was a total fail, so pizza. Hurry up and get home, I'm bored. …Oh, and love you!"

Alfred ended the call and lazily tossed his phone onto the couch. He had been home from his shift for about three hours now, and the pizza he had ordered was cold. What was taking Matthew? He'd agreed to a movie night tonight, and Alfred already had a huge slew of horror films picked out (Matthew would probably insist on watching a comedy later, too, so he had a few of those as well for him to choose from). He sighed turned on the television. He'd watch MythBusters until he got home, he supposed.

There was a firm knock on the door and Alfred thought it was just like Matthew to forget his keys.

He rushed to open it, "For Christ's sake, Matt, at least remember to turn on your pho—Oh. Uh… what can I do for you?"

In the doorway were two police officers. Alfred felt sweat build on his forehead, and his fingers begin to tremble because these officers were looking mournful, sympathetic. Did something happen to someone in the building? Were they going to warn him about a potential neighbourhood threat?

"Mr. Jones?" one of them asked.

"That's me," Alfred informed him.

"I think you should sit down."

Alfred moved aside to let the officers in, directing them towards the beat up old couch that Matthew was always saying they should replace.

"Seriously, Al, one of these days I'm just gonna take that chesterfield and leave it on some curb and you'll never find it and then you'll have no choice but to get a new one."

Alfred moved mechanically, mind a thousand miles away. Maybe… was Matthew hurt? Was he going to be okay? Did something happen? Did he do something? His guts were squirming in a way that was alien to him, his palms sweaty. Please don't let it be anything too bad.

"Mr. Jones, Mr. Williams had you and a Mr. Bonnefoy listed as his only emergency contacts or family. I…" She cleared her throat, made eye contact. "I'm very sorry, but Matthew Williams passed away en route to the hospital today. It was a driving accident, a collision with a truck that had pushed his car into a tree. As far as we can tell at this point, it was no one's fault; it was most likely due to icy driving conditions... I am very sorry for your loss."

Alfred was hearing her, but in a detached, far away sense. Blood was pounding in his ears and her voice sounded like it was echoing. It all felt so surreal, this was the furthest thing Alfred reality, it wasn't even something that would happen in his worst nightmares.

Alfred's mouth moved but Alfred didn't know he was speaking. "I'm …what? Where's Matthew?"

"We're very sorry," she repeated, glancing at her partner quickly. "He's currently in the city morgue—"

"B-But I, he was—he said he'll see me soon, that we'd have a movie night tonight?" He didn't even know why that had come out so high pitched near the end, why he had said it like a question. "I got pizza…"

She moved forward to put a hand on his shoulder. "He didn't suffer; he was already unconscious when he passed. It would have been like falling asleep…"

It was clear she was new at this, that she was struggling, that she didn't know quite how to deal with Alfred. Alfred was fixated on how she said the word asleep, because Matthew was most definitely not asleep because when one falls asleep, they tend to wake up, and Matthew can't do that because he's fucking dead.

Oh… Alfred felt his heart begin to jackhammer in his chest, like it would break through his sternum, fall out of him and bleed out on the carpet.

What were his last words to Matthew? Oh god, he couldn't remember-

"Oh god," Alfred said, the words exhaled in a single shuddering breath. His eyes were wide but he wasn't seeing. He wanted to yell at the officers, he wanted to blame anything, demand that they tell him the truth, demand to know how doctors could have dared let Matthew slip away from them. He wanted to blame Matthew. He wanted Matthew in front so he could grab him and demand how he could have finished with the world this way, without having the decency of giving him any warning, without giving him any lovely parting words that were supposed to make this okay, were supposed to make this less painful. He couldn't have so quietly slipped away (quietly, like he did everything else, a ghost flickering in and out of existence but this time it was permanent and—and what was happening to him now—was he going into rigor, would he then cool, soften, rot? Would they lay him down in a bed of roses, poppies, lilies, maple leaves and then lower him into the frozen ground—)

And suddenly the reality of the situation came crashing down on Alfred, his universe having caved in on itself, leaving nothing, everything dead along with Matthew and Alfred made a sound that was almost inhumane, an anguished cry of complete and utter pain, confusion, horror.

The officers offered words, empty, rehearsed words, but Alfred was not listening, all he heard was static, like his ears were stuffed with cotton; he wasn't even aware of how loud his own sobs were. He wanted to die, he wanted to sink into the earth and be nothing, just so he wouldn't have to feel what he felt now.

Eventually, the officers were able to coax him into the squad car. Alfred had stopped wailing, but his tears were falling steadily, and he idly wondered at that, wondered if he could cry himself dry.

The drive to the station was in frigid silence and Alfred was not allowed to see the body (he didn't yell, cry, make a fuss, he knew why they said no, Matthew was too horrific, too mutilated to be seen yet, and Alfred thought this detachedly, numbly). He was given some of the things Matthew had on him: a phone (he had it turned off, he's so forgetful sometimes) and a bracelet Alfred had gotten him years ago (with a maple leaf charm that Matthew had always said was a bit feminine but he never took it off anyway).

Matthew's fingerprints were all over the phone's cracked, shiny surface and for the longest time, Alfred simply stared at them.

He was driven home (again, in complete silence) and he was trembling when he opened the door (because it was so dark, so quiet—to think at this very moment they could have been huddled on the couch together watching some cheesy horror flick) and his eyes latched onto a picture on the end table, one of the two of them, grinning widely in front of Niagara falls.

"Hey, Matt, do you know if anyone has ever survived after falling off the ledge?" Alfred asked, staring down over the railing.

"I don't know, Google it," Matthew had replied absent-mindedly, a rosy blush of happiness across his cheeks as he watched the excited tourists through fogged up glasses.

And suddenly Alfred's knees gave out and he was gasping for breath, hiccuping wetly, wailing into the empty, empty corners of his desolate apartment. He was alone and he felt scared, he felt empty, powerless, useless.

Many hours later, Alfred's phone buzzed, and he wanted to let it keep ringing, he wanted to hurl it into the wall, shatter it to pieces, because that was not Matthew calling. It never would be.

(He had looked at the last text message he had received from Matthew—this random little kid gave me a daisy on my way to work today. Isn't that cute? :D—and that had done nothing for his mood).

The phone had been ringing for three minutes straight now, and it was obvious the person on the other end was not about to give up. "What," Alfred snarled as soon as he pressed answer.

His cousin's voice filtered through, "Alfred—Francis is… I heard—h-heard what happened. Oh, oh, god, Alfred, I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. He—Matthew—" He broke off, and Alfred knew he was crying as well. Arthur had known Matthew since Matthew was a child; Arthur had been like a big brother to him. "Alfred, I'm on my way over. I'm coming to pick you up and you will stay with Francis and I for as long as you need."

Alfred stared into space, only half-listening to Arthur.

"Alfred, please say something."

Alfred wanted to say that his eyes hurt, they were puffy and red, and that his nose was running and that his heart felt like it had shriveled up and died and that he felt like he might go crazy, because this type of pain seemed unbearable. "It's not fair," he said instead. It was a childish, silly thing to say, but it was true.

Arthur was silent for a moment. "No, it's not," he agreed. "And it doesn't make a lick of sense. I'll be there soon, Alfred, we're all here for you. We love you, lad."

"Okay," Alfred said. "I… I don't feel like talking, but stay on the line, please."

"Of course, Alfred."

Alfred contended himself with listening to Arthur's hitching breaths (pretending it was Matthew, Matthew breathing and alive and well) until Arthur knocked on his door.

"I'm sorry I called you a dumb fatty," a five-year-old Matthew told him. "I was just mad, so I was mean. But you're not actually a fatty, or dumb." He smiled at him hopefully. "So don't cry."

Six-year-old Alfred sniffled. "It's okay," he said. "I'm sorry I called you a baby for having a teddy. It's a …cute bear and I didn't mean it."

Matthew beamed at him. "Thanks! His name is Kumajuma and he's a polar bear. They live up in Canada!"

"…Are you from Canada?" Alfred asked, not entirely sure where Canada was. Somewhere north, probably.

Matthew nodded vigorously. "Yup! Canada is the coolest place!" Matthew's eyes had positively lit up and Alfred couldn't help but grin in return, his tears drying up. "Oh, I'm Matthew, by the way." He extended a tiny hand.

"I'm Alfred."

Arthur was with him in the guest room, saying he'd stay as long as he was needed, but Arthur's voice was thick, his own eyes were red and Alfred knew that look on Arthur's face, had seen it many times throughout his childhood. It was a face he made when he suddenly saw everyone as a baby, as something he needed to take care of. It was the look he had when he wanted to hold something and explain away all the wrongness in the world and make it all better, but he simply couldn't, because he himself couldn't make any sense of it, either, he himself was a baby. It was a look of utter helplessness that Alfred could now fully empathize with.

"There, there, lad." As much as Arthur's heart was in the right place, he had never been one who was able to comfort someone, never able to find the proper words. That was always Francis' forte.

But there was no comfort to be had from Matthew's cousin and Arthur's lover, because Alfred could so vividly remember when Francis had fallen to his knees in a fit of sobs, and Antonio had pulled him into a tight embrace. It was clear that in Francis' mind, what he saw was the toddling infant that used to follow him around by grabbing onto the hem of his coat, whose soft voice had whispered Papa.

"I am not your Papa, chéri," Francis had always said with a laugh. "Je suis ton frère."

Alfred could hear Francis' sobs from the other room, could hear Gilbert and Antonio's hushed words and he wanted to yell, "Shut up shut up shut up, you're making it worse, shut up," but instead, he continued to stare blankly out the window.

"If you need to talk," Arthur was saying, "We're always here… You know that, right, Alfred?"

Alfred didn't say a word, choosing to bury his face further into the comforter.

Only when he heard Arthur get up and leave, quietly closing the door behind him, did Alfred allow the tears to fall again.

"Will you marry me?"

Eight-year-old Matthew blinked up at him, face scrunched up confusedly. "…Why?"

"Because!" Alfred said. "If we're married, that means we can live together and that means we can do whatever we want, so we can even stay up really late and watch scary movies together!" He said it in one big rush, with that kind of confidence that only children had, a kind of assurance that no matter what they decided to do, it would happen and they would not fail at it.

Matthew looked absolutely perplexed. "Alfred, you know that we have to be grown-ups to get married, right? And that married people have to have kids and…a-and kiss and stuff…?"

Alfred wilted on the spot and slowly went to sit on the swing next to Matthew. "Oh," he said dejectedly. "But, um… you still wanna? If I ask again when we're grown-ups, is that okay?"

"Alfred! Didn't you hear me? We have to kiss if we're married."

Alfred blinked at him. "Yeah, so?" He swung his swing sideways, close enough to touch, and quickly pecked Matthew on the cheek. "That's easy."

Matthew blushed five shades of red and gripped the chains on his swing so fiercely that they would leave indentations on his skin. Alfred noted that he almost looked on the verge of tears, and when Matthew got up and stormed off, Alfred immediately chased after him. "Mattie, wait! Why are you mad? Wait up!"

He caught up to Matthew and grabbed his arm. "Mattie, I'm sorry! But why're you mad?"

Matthew whirled around and exclaimed, somewhat desperately, "You don't just kiss someone, Al! People don't just do that!" His tiny hands were clenching, and his brows were furrowed, and he looked as if he were struggling to find a way to convey his feelings to the boy in front of him. "You can't just kiss someone and not mean it," he said finally.

"But I did mean it!" Alfred said, shocked that Matthew would think otherwise. "You're my best friend, Mattie. I kissed you because I wanted to and because you're the best friend ever and that I l-love…" He faltered, but only for a second. "I love you, Mattie. Because you're my friend."

Matthew had looked incredulous when Alfred had first began speaking, but now his expression was that of wonder, eyebrows raised, mouth open in a small 'O'.

Alfred didn't know what to make of that face, and he felt a hot blush stain his cheeks, and he felt silly and childish but then, amazingly, Matthew moved in to gently peck Alfred's nose (and what a weird place for a kiss!, Alfred had thought).

"I-I love you, too, Al. I'm really glad you're my friend." He paused. "Everything would be a lot less fun without you."

The two boys grinned widely at one another, enjoying the feel of this sudden proximity, of laying their feelings out in the open without worrying about being made fun of.

From then on, declarations of love were commonplace between them.

It was three a.m. and Alfred was wide awake. He felt numb, hollowed out. "Please," he whispered into the darkness, "please, please, please give him back." Begging a god he hadn't believed in for years. "I'll do anything, but make it a lie, make it go away, give him back, please," he hiccupped wetly, and in the back of his mind he was aware how pathetic this was, how demeaning.

But he was long past caring.

Memories, the same ones that he had always enjoyed looking back on fondly, were haunting him, tormenting him. Every time he tried to think about something else, his brain threw up a wall, always looping back to Matthew.

"Please," he said again, helplessly, unable to stop himself.

"Ha! Three to one, Al, now what!"

"Oh, whatever," a fifteen-year-old Alfred panted. "If we were playing football, this would be a whole 'nother story. I'd whoop your ass so bad, Matt."

Matthew stuck his tongue out at him. "You're all talk." He tapped his stick against the pavement. "And football sucks."

Alfred narrowed his eyes. "Hockey sucks."

"...Take that back."

"Not until you admit that football is the greatest sport known to man."

"Oh, you wanna go, tough guy?"

"I think I do," Alfred said, grinning, dropping his stick onto the ground. Matthew barely had time to drop his own stick before Alfred tackled him onto the ground.

"Ah—Ow! No fair, Alfred! That hurt, it's cement!"

"Oh boo hoo," Alfred said. "Don't start cryin' now, Mattie."

Matthew growled and flipped them over. Soon they were a jumbled mass of limps, laughing and giggling as they rolled on the ground, vainly trying to pin the other.

By the time Alfred had Matthew pinned (for the time being), they were both flushed from laughter, happy tears gathered in their eyes.

And, in a sudden, terrifying rush, Alfred realized how close they were, and all those weird inappropriate feelings he had tried to bury for the past few months (months? Years?) seemed to be bubbling to the surface. Matthew's smile was dazzling white, his face sweaty, eyes glistening merrily, hair spread out in a gold halo and Alfred felt a hot sweat that had nothing to do with the summer heat break out across his back, on his palms, on his forehead, and his heart thudded weirdly.

Every inch of him that was touching Matthew suddenly felt tingly.

Startled, Alfred started to hurriedly move off him, but Matthew caught him by the front of his Superman T-shirt, and Alfred was yanked so harshly forward that their foreheads nearly collided.

"M-Mattie?" Alfred asked, confused. Matthew had an expression in his eyes that he couldn't even being to decipher.

Matthew stared up at him for a few moments (horrifying, long moments). Then, falteringly, slowly, he brought his other hand up and cupped the side of Alfred's neck.

Alfred was wide-eyed and Matthew looked a little shocked at his own actions, as well. But before Alfred could jump up and run away, lock himself up in his room and worry about what this means for him, for them, Matthew spoke:

"Kiss me."

And Alfred's mind stalled, reality seemed to fracture as his wildest (but most carefully hidden) fantasies seemed to come true in a single moment, and not knowing what it would mean, or caring for that matter, he bent forward and gently pressed his lips against his best friend's as a million butterflies fluttered to life in his stomach.

Matthew's lips were a little chapped, but still soft and faintly tasted of the minty chap stick he used. He wanted to push his tongue between the seam of those lips, but his frazzled mind decided that maybe that was too much, too soon, so he pulled away. His own lips tingled.

He noticed that Matthew was beginning to smile and Alfred, relieved beyond belief, smiled back down at him.

"So…" Alfred began.

"So," Matthew said, pulling him down for another kiss.

Alfred let Francis and Arthur and the others completely take over any and all preparations for the funeral; he wanted no part in it. And he thought that he was a horrible, shitty person and an even worse boyfriend if he didn't even have the strength to do this, to make something special for Matthew, so that everyone else could see how special he is.

The funeral speeches made him want to act out, made him want to yell, you didn't even know him, when did you ever even notice him, because none of them really knew Matthew, they could all say that he was loved, that he was kind, that he was charming, but how many of them knew Matthew prefers blueberry jam over strawberry, that Matthew had cried during Finding Nemo, that Matthew's favourite flower is the forget-me-not, that he worries too much about things that are out of his hands, that he has a mean streak he keeps tightly coiled up inside him. How many of these people knew anything about anything.

Distantly, Alfred realized he needed to stop thinking about him in present tense.

"…Hey," twelve-year-old Alfred began hesitantly, "this is probably a really stupid question, but… what do you think happens when we die?"

Matthew shrugged, "Nothing, probably." Upon seeing the somewhat devastated, scared look in Alfred's eyes, he rushed to add, "But who knows, eh? The universe is even weirder than we give it credit for."

Alfred woke up slowly, the remnants of the memory slowly dissolving away. Becoming nothing, like Matthew.

Did you really think the universe was all that weird, Mattie? Did you really think anything was possible, that maybe we could continue on instead of descending into oblivion? Alfred thought. It's probably dark where you are, huh?

And because he could, and because in these dark moments where Alfred tried to sleep (in Arthur's spare room, or sometimes Kiku's, never his own, the bed was far too big), Alfred would decide reality was whatever the fuck he wanted it to be, because no one could judge, no one could pity him for dreaming in these little hours during the night. That's what night was for.

"I dream biggest when I'm around you, Al. I guess your imagination is contagious."

So Alfred dreamed. He imagined Matthew was lying across from him, facing him, moonlight caught in his hair, the feeble glow of the streetlamps smoothing over sinewy muscle. Matthew's eyelashes cast long shadows across his face, his eyes were half-lidded and glimmering and his lips were pulled into a gentle smile.

"Hey, sweetheart," Alfred whispered. "I missed you."

Matthew didn't say anything, but his eyes sparkled brighter.

Alfred made no move to touch the illusion (because in the back of his mind, he knew how it would shatter, and oh, how devastating it would be to lose Matthew a second time) so he instead stared at Matthew, until his vision blurred, and when he blinked the tears away the dream was broken and Alfred was left staring at dead air.

When Alfred returned to his apartment, to fetch some basic living supplies, he wasn't sure if he could bear it. He took Kiku and Katyusha with him (Arthur would stay with Francis), and it took a tremendous amount of courage for him to actually step past the threshold.

"Our apartment!" Alfred exclaimed, placing the last of the boxes onto the floor. He then proceeded to collapse bonelessly onto the couch.

"Our apartment," Matthew agreed, placing a couple of smaller boxes onto the dusty coffee table.

"You better be grateful," Alfred huffed, "since I carried all the heavy stuff in."

"My hero," Matthew said, bending down to give Alfred an Eskimo kiss. Alfred laughed and gracelessly pulled Matthew onto the couch with him.

"Al!" Matthew exclaimed. "Ugh, this chesterfield is gross. We should get a new one. We should try craigslist or something, eh?"

"Chesterfield," Alfred said, grinning up at him. "Eh."

"Oh, hush," Matthew replied in mock-exasperation, playfully hitting Alfred over the head with a throw-pillow. "I don't make fun of your accent. Like when you say soda."

"Because that's what it is, Matt: soda."

"It's pop, Alfred. And it's not a freaking 'beanie', either, it's a toque."

Alfred rolled his eyes. "Nah," he said, "you just talk weird." This time he was able to doge the pillow, and grabbed Matthew by the wrists, flipping them over so that he was pinning him to the couch.

Alfred leaned down, eyes hooded as if he were about to kiss him. But instead, he pressed his lips against the shell of his ear and said, "Say beanie."

Matthew's face did some interesting twitches as he tried not to laugh.


Alfred sighed dramatically, moving so that he was sitting on Matthew's pelvis. "Well, you asked for it." A split second later, he was pulling Matthew's sweater up, tickling every bit of exposed skin he could reach.

"Oh—god, Al—NO!" Matthew managed to gasp out between giggles. "Please, Al—you bast-bastard! Ahaha—ah—"

"Say it~ Say 'beanie', Matt," Alfred said, moving to tickle Matthew's ribs, where he knew he was sensitive.

"It—It's a goddamn toque! Ah! Stop, please!" He was laughing so hard he was having difficulty trying to breathe, and his voice was coming out in breathy pants.

Alfred made a sound like a buzzer, "Eiiigghhh," he said, "wrong answer. Try again, Mattie."

"Oh, fuck!" Matthew gasped. Tears were beginning to escape the corners of his eyes. "Beanie! D-Damn, it, beanie, it's a beanie!"

Alfred immediately moved off him (and well out of range in case Matthew decided to hurl something at him), laughing. "Oh, man, Matt, the look on your face!" He inspected the other man, disheveled, panting, with a rosy blush adorning his face. "I gotta say, it's kinda hot." And for good measure, he added, "Eh?"

Matthew glared playfully, lips having twitched into a bit of a smile. "I'll get you back for that, Al."

"I'm sure you will," Alfred said. "Now get up and help me arrange our new home."

"Home," Matthew repeated wistfully, eyes sparkling as he watched Alfred rip open a box of kitchen supplies.

And suddenly, Alfred was furious, throwing everything of Matthew's he could find into the quickly rising heap on the living room floor. Clothes, books, pens, knickknacks, everything. He was angry, he was hurt.

Damn you, Matt. Damn you for doing this.

But when Alfred grabbed a familiar old polar bear, his eyes softened. Kumajirou.

He took a moment to survey the mess around him. Broken plates, papers strewn in every direction, notebooks covered in Matthew's doodles were ripped apart, clothes littered the ground and hung over the furniture.

He suddenly felt extraordinarily tired.

Kiku, who had been watching with sad eyes, finally spoke. "Alfred-kun? Will you be okay?"

No. Nothing will ever be okay again.

Alfred brought the ratty old polar bear to his face and inhaled deeply. He held it tightly against himself.

When he was ready, minutes later, Alfred tried to compose himself, drying his eyes on Kumajirou's soft fur. "I'm sorry," he told the two others. "I'll just go pack up my clothes now."

He did everything with a single hand, the other hand still gripping the polar bear close to himself.

"Well I don't even see the need for you to talk to her! I thought you broke up on bad terms!" Matthew was shouting.

"She just wanted to make it so that we didn't hate each other, so that we could be in the same room without one of us making an excuse to leave! She was just trying to patch things up."

"Oh, please," Matthew hissed. "Even you aren't that oblivious. She was fucking hitting on you and everyone could see that. She wanted more than to just 'patch things up.'"

Alfred fumed; he could hardly believe something so trivial had escalated into a shouting match between the two of them, and he couldn't believe Matthew was acting like some sort of jealous girlfriend. Did Matthew really think so little of him? Did he actually think that he would leave him for Maria?

"Matt," he growled. "I don't say anything when Gilbert stands a little too close to you, so I really don't think you're in a position to be saying anything now."

Matthew folded his arms across his chest, eyes narrowing. "Gilbert and I are just friends," he said acidly.

"Just like me and Maria are trying to be!" Alfred said, exasperated. "Matt, there is seriously nothing for you to be worrying about! Why're you so rattled by this? You know I love you."

Matthew's shoulders slumped and his eyes lost a bit of their hard edge. "I… I know, Al. I just…" He ran a hand through his hair, looking off to the side. "When she was talking to you—touching your arm and stuff—she looked right at me. Like—everyone could see what she was trying to do… it was humiliating."

Alfred sighed heavily. "Shit, Matt, I… Are you absolutely sure? Because I swear I wasn't getting any weird vibes from her."

"Yes, I'm sure, Al. Ask anyone else who was there, I'm sure they'd agree with me." Matthew was hugging his arms around himself, his oversized hoodie bunching up, making him look smaller than he was.

Alfred moved to gently pry his arms away from himself and hugged him tight. "Aw, man, Matt, don't let stupid shit like that get you. I love you. Love, love, love you."

"I love you, too," Matthew said sullenly. "And I'm sorry for acting like a dick." He caught Alfred's gaze. "I'm seriously sorry."

"Ha, it's okay, Mattie," Alfred said cheerfully, ruffling Matthew's hair (which earned him a growl without any real irritation behind it). After a moment he added. "Hey, guess what?"


"We just had our first real fight as a couple."

Matthew hummed in thought, swaying a bit in Alfred's arms. "It wasn't so bad," he said.

The aftermath of that party was playing in a loop in Alfred's mind. Feliciano had invited him to go out, "Come on Alfred, Luddi and Lovi will be there and it will be very fun!" Alfred knew they were worried about him, because he never went out, and he felt pathetic because he should be going out, living his life, because isn't that what people did? Go on with their lives?

He declined Feliciano's offer, feigning fatigue.

"It's very normal to feel this way, Alfred. But it's been months and you barely talk to us. Keeping everything bottled up isn't healthy."

Alfred wanted to say that he agrees, that he should be getting over this, that everyone that ever was and is has had to deal with death, that death is as natural as life, that you should kindly return the smile of the grinning skull, but he can't. He doesn't understand why something so inevitable hurts so much for so long. Look at all the other billions of people who have lost loved ones, how much stronger than him they must be, because they were actually able to do something in memory of their dear ones, they were able to get on with their lives.

But what was life without Matthew. What was life without the person that made the sun shine, the world spin, the stars sparkle. Matthew had woven Alfred's dreams into reality, had made Alfred's smiles brighter and now he was making Alfred's tears harsher. He wanted to hate himself, wanted to tell himself to get over it already, to realize Matthew was just another blip in the web of time, just like anyone else and he was gone now, but time would still keep ticking forward.

But then again, Matthew wasn't really like anyone else. In a trillion galaxies and an endless number of centuries, there would not be another Matthew.

Alfred blinked away tears as he sat, slouched over on Arthur's couch. "I… know I've been ignoring everyone," he said, "but… every single fucking thing reminds me of him." He lifted his head to look Arthur in the eyes. "Everything at home, all his books, his foods—the fucking half-finished bottle of fucking syrup—the clothes—oh—" Alfred's voice cracked but he was beyond caring at this point "—they smell like him, and it's almost like he's still there, Arthur. I can't, can't—" He broke off, not sure what he was trying to say, not sure how he could even attempt to explain how he was feeling when he himself couldn't get any firm grasp on his emotions. "I don't want him to be nothing, Arthur. I want to be able to hold him again, to listen to his voice—to just—just have him here, just his presence. I wish, I wish I could believe in heaven or some shit like that, because that's what I want for him." He lowered his head into his hands. "He can't just be nothing."

Arthur sat silently for a few minutes as Alfred angrily wiped at his eyes, likely trying to find the right words. "Alfred," he said eventually, "just because he's gone now, doesn't make his time here any less special… It… It doesn't make the fact that he did exist, and the fact that he loved you more than life itself any less real." He sighed sadly. "He can't really be dead if you keep his memory alive."

I'll just never have the chance to make new memories, Alfred thought, but he nevertheless felt a sudden surge of affection for his cousin, the man who had practically raised him, because he was trying while most others would give him pitying looks and awkwardly back away.

"Thank you," Alfred said sincerely, lifting his head up and actually looking at him. At least he didn't have to feel alone in this.

Arthur looked a bit astonished but mostly relieved, and he managed to muster up the faintest hint of a smile.

The lead up to their first time together was an excited, adrenalin fueled blur. They had fooled around before, sometimes even in the locker rooms after hockey practice or under the bleachers after football, but this was completely new territory for both of them.

They'd be closer to each other than they'd ever been, and the idea was as terrifying as it was enthralling.

Alfred was graciously given the lead, and he fret constantly about whether he was doing it right, whether it hurt, whether they should stop (although, he really, really did not want to stop now, now that they had come so far, now that it felt so amazing—more amazing than anything he'd ever felt in his life).

But Matthew didn't complain, and instead urged him on, and Alfred couldn't believe how commanding he could be. He felt a euphoric sense of pride that he could reduce Matthew to this wanting, moaning mess.

Matthew smelled of sweat and Irish Spring soap and Alfred thought the scent was the most wonderful thing in the world, and that nothing could compare to it. He felt a huge surge of affection for the other boy, and he buried his nose into wavy hair.

"Mattie," Alfred gasped, embracing him tightly, leaving not an atom's space between them, perhaps thinking that if he hugged hard enough, he could make them one, never to be separated. "No one will ever be able to love anyone as much as I love you."

The following day, Alfred visited Matthew's grave.

It was a place he had been avoiding, because he had thought what's the point, the only thing there is a rotting corpse, nothing but fat, gluttonous maggots and disturbed earth.

Well, that's kind of morbid, eh, Al?

There were flowers by his headstone, and that made something in Alfred spark, something close enough to happiness that he almost remembered what it felt like. There were sunflowers and lilies and roses and tulips. There was a crude drawing done by a child's hand messily taped to a rose, a drawing of a child receiving a piggy-back ride from a stick figure in a red hoodie.

Oh, Peter, Alfred thought fondly.

He knelt down onto the dewy grass in front of the stone, Here lies Matthew Williams, not dead, but changed, because he lives in us, his dearest ones, and placed Kumajirou (the fraying stitches were repaired, he had received a good wash) next to the stone.

"I thought you'd like the company," Alfred said, and he may have sounded stupid, because he knew Matthew wasn't listening, and this whole ritual may have been misguided, but in the end, what did it matter.

What mattered was that Alfred found it comforting. He could admit that to himself. It was comforting to talk to Matthew, as if he were still an important part of his life (because he was, because he always would be).

"I'm pretty sure his name is Kumajirou, by the way," Alfred said. "Not Kumamura, or Kumajiji, or Kumataro or whatever the heck else you decided it was. Y'know, I never got how you were able to make up such crazy names, anyway."

Wind was rustling the grass softly, the leaves on the trees sounded lovely as they shivered in the breeze. It was peaceful, and not too long ago, Alfred would have found this calmness entirely inappropriate (because how dare the universe not commiserate with him, how dare it not just die along with his heart, his Matthew). But now, these surroundings reminded him of him, quiet, soft, gentle Matt.

"It's nice here," he said. "Well, as nice as a cemetery can get, I guess. There's even a willow tree."

Under a willow tree, Matthew had pressed his ear against Alfred's chest, smiling when he heard the familiar thump thump thump.

"Thump, thump, thump," Matthew had said and Alfred had laughed.

Something in the pit of his stomach warmed at the memory.

After long minutes of staring at the marble headstone, he began tracing the letters—M-A-T-T—he traced an 'I' over the 'H'—E. Because he was more than just his name, not just Matthew Williams, not just what that silly stone told the world he was, he was Mattie, the person that made Alfred's heart ache, the person that made him laugh and cry harder than he ever knew he was capable of. The person that made silly faces at puppies to get them to excitedly wag their tails, a person whose dream it was to road trip up to the Yukon and kiss under the northern lights, a person who switched to French when angry enough, a person who loved so hard that Alfred imagined that he could still feel it, Matthew's touch, Matthew's words imbedded into his bones, into the gently thudding organ behind his ribs. Matthew's smile, sealed in the corners of Alfred's lips, the feel of his bony hips seared into the palms of Alfred's hands, the sound of his laughter tucked behind Alfred's eardrums.

And maybe, Alfred thought wistfully, in one of these eleven dimensions there was a universe, a timeline, where Matthew was still with him. And maybe that way, nothing that exists could ever cease to exist.

Or something. Alfred realized his thoughts were starting to border on ridiculous, or at least plain whimsical, but he was smiling now, a sad sort of smile, but a smile nonetheless.

"I miss you so much, darling. I love you. I'll never stop loving you. I'm so lucky to have met you. I…" He didn't know how to finish, lost the ability to articulate himself. So he pressed a kiss against the tombstone. "Bye, Mattie, sweetheart. I love you more than life."

He didn't bother wiping his eyes and turned to leave, smile soft at the edges, delicate, but there. Seasons would change, people would change, Alfred himself would change, but Matthew would remain, just as he always was.

"Mattie," Alfred gasped, embracing him tightly, leaving not an atom's space between them, perhaps thinking that if he hugged hard enough, he could make them one, never to be separated. "No one will ever be able to love anyone as much as I love you." His voice was so sincere, passion and awe behind each word.

Matthew laughed breathily in his ear. "Don't be silly, Al. I'll always love you more."