Inspired by Five for Fighting's awesomely awesome song, 100 Years. /sob/
Also yes I know I'm behind on Songbird, but tumblr is really distracting and I'll update that soon asdlkfj;aasdkl
this is unedited, my beta's away for a little while~ ; w ;
disclaimer: I'm just trying to contribute to the ame/can fandom, okay? ; A ;
(Fifteen, there's still time for you
Time to buy, time to lose yourself
Within a morning star)
. . .
Alfred is sixteen and Matthew is fifteen and they are both unhappy in one way or another. Matthew Williams is a sullen boy who lives in a rundown apartment with his older brother. Alfred is a frustrated photographer who just wants a subject that's worthwhile. The latter runs into the former at a small part situated somewhere in the outskirts of town.
Alfred is kneeling down to take a photo of a wilted plant when he hears Matthew say: "It was wasteful for them to build this all the way out here." The parking lot is empty save for a single car, which Matthew presumes to be Alfred's. He himself walked.
"I just want to take pictures," Alfred says with a shrug, his camera clicking several more times. He finally looks up from the viewfinder, in time to see the other boy wrinkle his nose.
"It's a dump," Matthew says bluntly, because it is. What might have been beautiful rows of flowers are now lines of dead life. The fountain in the middle is cracked, dirty, and not working. The small amount of water left floats with leaves and insects.
Alfred stands up. He presses a button before showing Matthew the first picture he took - the one of the wilted plant. Amidst the gray, decaying leaves sits a bright red ladybug. "Maybe you just aren't lookin' hard enough," he suggests, and then closes the picture.
Matthew is staring at him with eyes that seem to question his sanity. Then he laughs, and the brief awkwardness dispels. Soon enough, Alfred joins him, their laughter escalating, echoing in the empty park, until Alfred feels tears prickling at his eyes - Matthew's laugh is just so contagious. "You're good," Matthew comments softly, eyes twinkling in mirth.
"Thanks." Alfred suddenly feels self-conscious. He adds, as an afterthought, "I'm Alfred," sticking his hand out for a shake.
Matthew takes it and finds that their hands fit nicely together. "Matthew," he returns.
Alfred decides that he kind of likes this kid.
. . .
A flash. A whir.
Matthew turns around at the noise, whipping his hands behind his back, almost tripping on a weed in the process. He is greeted by another flash, which effectively stuns him. He stumbles and falls-
-only to have a pair of hands grip his shoulders, steadying him. "Whoa, there," says a voice that's rather close to his ear, and the Canadian shivers.
Alfred is trying hard not to burst out into chuckles. His camera dangles around his neck by a black strap, swaying ever so slightly. "Sorry." He scratches the back of his neck sheepishly, but his tone isn't very apologetic.
Matthew frowns, his vision still swimming with white spots. He takes off his glasses to rub at his eyes, trying to make them go away. "I don't like getting my picture taken," he says crossly, and then reaches with a hand for the unguarded camera.
"No can do!" Alfred cradles the device close and turns his body defensively away from Matthew. The smaller boy ends up grabbing his forearm instead.
"Delete it!" the wavy-haired blond gripes, albeit half-heartedly.
Alfred makes a clicking noise in the back of his throat. "It's my camera, so I get to do whatever I want with it," he proclaims.
"That's an invasion of my privacy!" Cue another attempt to grab it. Alfred, again, evades his hand. "Alfred!"
"My camera," Alfred repeats, smug. "Plus-"
"Seriously, delete it!"
"-this is the land of the free, babe," and he grins and doesn't falter until a few seconds later when he realizes exactly what he said.
They both fall into an awkward silence - Matthew looks stunned and Alfred is inwardly kicking himself for being an idiot. Matthew begins hesitantly, "Um." He turns away too, face red, unable to look the other in the eye. "So. What are you doing here, eh?"
Alfred silently congratulates Matthew for being the first to recover. He fidgets with the shutter release of his camera and still is inwardly beating himself up for his slip up. "Pictures," he replies, as if it answered everything. " 'bout you?" He dares to steal a glance at the other boy. Matthew's blush hasn't completely faded away yet.
"Me?" Matthew has an expression of panic for a second, before he puts on his mask of indifference again. "Oh. I left something here yesterday."
Alfred tilts his head at this. "What'd you leave?" he asks, making a big show of tapping his chin and examining his surroundings. "I can help you look!"
"No, it's fine." Matthew toes the ground, tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear. "You- You should keep taking pictures. That's what you came here for, right?"
He holds an awkward stance: Half turned away from Alfred, eyes resolutely locked on the ground...an arm hidden behind his back? Alfred moves to step around him, curious, and asks, "What's that?"
Matthew mimics his movement, Alfred steps forward again, and they walk around in a sort of cycle until Alfred says, "Matthew."
"I have to go." Matthew turns around on his heels, bringing the mystery item to his front and away from the other boy's prying eyes.
Alfred is about to call after him, but then he catches a glimpse of a black trash bag, and he understands. Barely withholding a grin, he lifts his camera and takes another picture.
. . .
The convenience store smells strange. Alfred crinkles his nose as he walks through the sliding doors, grabbing a basket on the way. It's much too hot to be wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and a bomber jacket, but Alfred is too fond of his jacket to really go anywhere without it. He makes his way to the snacks aisle, because that's where he knows he'll find some chips and soda to help keep him caffeinated for tonight.
After a brief debate with himself to either choose Doritos or Cheetos, he finally tosses both bags into his basket. When he walks out of the aisle, he bumps into a familiar-looking person. "Matthew?"
He has to do a double take; is it just him, or does Matthew suddenly look older? He looks taller and his hair is longer. And he certainly didn't have that stubble before...
"Hm?" the Matthew-look-alike inquires, tilting his head at Alfred. He says something in another language - Alfred thinks it's French and realizes he's doomed, because out of all languages, he absolutely sucks at French.
The way that the man speaks, almost in a sultry fashion, is the factor that convinces Alfred that this isn't Matthew. He tries to imagine the shy boy saying something remotely seductive and fails. But he blushes at the thought.
"Francis?" comes a soft voice, and then Matthew - the real Matthew - appears beside the doppelganger, three bottles of syrup and a box of pancake mix in his arms. At first, he doesn't notice Alfred, but Francis says something in French and gestures in front of them.
"Uh." Alfred feels awkward, standing there. He waves. "Hey, Matt."
Matthew reddens and sort of curls in towards the man named Francis. "Hi."
"You like syrup?" Alfred gives a crooked grin, eyeing the blond's armful of confections.
Tightening his hold on the items, Matthew says flippantly, "You like taking pictures of other people without their permission?"
Alfred laughs, which only serves to make Matthew's face redden even more. "Touché," he relents, catches sight of a clock hanging on the wall, realizes that he's late for his meeting with Gilbert, and adds, "I gotta go, but it was nice seeing you, Matt."
He cheers to himself when that draws a smile from Matthew - it's small, but it seems to brighten up the blond's whole face and-
He shouldn't be thinking this.
"You too." Matthew gives a small wave and steps aside to let Alfred through. When the American has left for the checkout center, Francis turns to his younger brother with a smirk.
"And who was that?" he asks in French. "A special friend, Matthieu?"
"Just a friend," Matthew mutters. "And he does not." He makes sure to be firm, appalled that Francis could even begin to think of such an idea.
He and Alfred only met - what? Three days ago? - and he was sure that the other was completely straight. And, there was always his condition...
"If you say so." And Francis is smiling widely, but there's also a cautiousness in his eyes. This has always been a sensitive subject, no matter how light he tried to put it.
Matthew waves him off. "Don't worry about me," he says, dumping the syrup and pancake mix into their cart.
He shouldn't like Alfred, anyway.
Not in a time like this.
. . .
"Why, pray tell, are you going out with a trash bag at this ungodly hour?" Francis queries with sleepiness still laced in his voice.
Matthew stops halfway through the doorway. "It's ten in the morning," he points out.
"It doesn't feel like it." Francis groans, his head thumping loudly onto their small dining table. "Merde."
The bottle of wine sits, empty, at the counter.
Matthew shifts uncomfortably before continuing on his way out, leaving his brother sulking.
. . .
The park is as filthy as ever. Matthew stands in front of the fountain and surveys the area, trying to gauge how much time he'll be spending here today. At least Alfred has stopped coming, and he doesn't have to constantly-
-and of course he was the worst fucking timing ever.
The trash bag in his hands is already half full and barely concealable, so he finds no point in trying to hide it anymore. He turns around and braces himself for the sight of Alfred standing there, guileless, a camera ever-present around his neck. "Is that trash?" He sounds incredulous, perhaps a little amused, his gaze moving up and down from Matthew's face to the bag clutched in his hands.
"If it is?" Matthew counters evenly.
"I dunno, it's just pretty weird. What'cha doing here?"
Alfred's expression switches to one of surprise. He gestures around them. "Cleaning the park? I thought you thought it was a dump."
"Maybe that's why I'm cleaning it." Matthew adds in a mumble, "I haven't got too long left, anyway, so I might as well make use of myself."
"What was that?" Alfred asks.
"Okay." He slips the strap off his neck, sets his camera carefully on the grass-covered ground, and then makes his way over to the other boy. "Let's get to work, then!"
Matthew blinks at him, bewildered, and asks, "What do you think you're doing?"
Alfred rolls up his sleeves busily, tilting his head at Matthew. "Helping," he says, as if it should be obvious enough. He picks up a crumpled aluminum can - God knows how long it's been sitting there, rotting - and promptly tosses it into the trash bag that Matthew holds in his hands. "So," he continues conversationally, seeming not to mind the way Matthew is just standing there, befuddled, "do we have a plan for this, or are we just going to toss in every piece of garbage we find?"
After a few seconds, Matthew finally finds his voice. "Today," he says quietly, clears his throat. "I was thinking that I - we -" the word tastes oddly satisfying on his tongue "-could finish picking up trash sometime within the next two days. Then we'll have to deal with the dead plants...and that fountain..."
Alfred hums to himself, plucking old candy bar wrappers from the ground. "I think we can get all the trash by tomorrow," he thinks out loud. "It'll be much easier, since we're working together."
Matthew unfreezes himself from his spot before walking over to Alfred, picking up a crumpled piece of paper that he missed. "Sounds good," he says quietly, though he doesn't believe his own words. Surely Alfred has something better to do than work on a silly project with him...
"I don't see you around at school," Alfred speaks up a little while later. "Are you in the same grade as me?"
"I'm fifteen. My brother home schools me."
"Was he that guy I saw a few days ago?"
"He seems cool."
"Wait until you actually get to know him," Matthew mutters darkly.
Alfred beams, because that sentence implies that he may have the change to get to know Matthew's brother. And if someone wanted you to meet their family, that meant you were considered a friend, right? "Is that an offer?" he laughs.
Matthew turns to busy himself with a banana peel. He doesn't give an answer.
Alfred's smile only widens.
. . .
Matthew can't believe he's still here.
They work everyday in silence, shoulders occasionally bumping, hands sometimes brushing. Alfred attempts to make some conversation but Matthew only gives one word answers.
"You know what would be easier?" Alfred says wonderingly.
Matthew pauses to look up at him.
"I'll be right back, okay?" Alfred smiles brightly and drops the trash bag, running to his car. "Stay here!"
Matthew nods dumbly after him, watching as he pulls out of the empty parking lot and out onto the road. Within seconds, he's speeding back towards the city. Matthew finds the will to move his legs and picks up the forgotten bag, a sad sort of smile tugging at his mouth. He resumes picking up trash, tossing in wrapper after wrapper, pretending that his eyes aren't watering.
Alfred isn't coming back.
It's his own fault, anyway - he shouldn't have expected much.
With a long, weary sigh, he situates himself on the edge of the dirty fountain, dropping the back beside his legs. He wipes at his eyes with his forearm, almost knocking his glasses off. He tells himself that he shouldn't care this much for some boy he met over a week ago, but there's a part of him - a sliver of himself that's just desperate for friend - that sincerely wishes Alfred would come back.
He's never had any close friends, really, and frowned upon the notion that friends were important. He's glad, in a way.
He sits there for what seems like hours, until the silence is broken by a rumbling of an engine in the distance.
"Matt! I'm back- Hey, are you okay?"
Matthew glances up, disbelieving, as he sees Alfred jogging across the grass, carrying a plastic bag. "I got more trash bags!" he hears him crow. "And some snacks, too. I thought you'd be hungry."
Matthew, despite himself, manages a shaky smile and lets Alfred sit next to him. Lets him in.
He knows it'll only hurt more in the end, but Alfred's returning smile warms him to the bone and makes him feel more safe than he's felt in years, and he can't help it.
. . .
"Awesome." Alfred spreads his arms out wide, an irresistible urge to dance around invading his thoughts. So he does - he finishes tying up the last trash bag, places it on the sidewalk among the other full ones, ready to be picked up by the garbage truck, and pulls Matthew over by his hands and spins them around in a dorky dance that he would only feel comfortable doing around Matthew.
"A-Alfred!" Matthew stumbles over feet - he isn't sure if their his own or Alfred's.
The response he gets is a laugh from Alfred as they move rapidly across the trash-free ground.
Alfred slows down, holding the smaller boy carefully as they eventually come to a stop, standing together, trying to catch their breaths.
"You - idiot," Matthew gasps, cheeks flushed. His vision is still swimming and he only ends up going cross-eyed.
Alfred laughs again, tousling his hair. "You liked it!" he teases, but he feels shaky too.
"Don't let us - fall!"
Matthew speaks a second too late. Alfred sways precariously to his right and tries to balance himself, but only ends up falling to his left instead, bringing Matthew down with him. Matthew lands on his back with a loud, "Ow!" and Alfred would have fallen right on top of him if he didn't catch himself.
They stay like this for a while, trying to recollect themselves - Matthew still clutching tightly at Alfred's shoulders and Alfred holding himself up with his forearms. Their foreheads are almost touching; Matthew feels his heart skip a beat when he realizes how close they are.
"Get off," he mumbles.
"You're the one who has a death grip on me, Mattie."
Matthew scowls at the nickname before complying, letting his arms fall loosely beside his head.
Alfred rolls off of him, landing on his back a foot away.
"Don't call me that," Matthew says, turning on his side to flash Alfred the most serious look he could muster.
"Why not?" Alfred turns, too, propping his head up with a hand. He pokes Matthew's cheek, mostly as an impulse - he's not quite sure why, but he's been getting urges to touch Matthew lately. "You can call me Al!"
"But we're friends, aren't we?" Alfred resorts to pouting like a child. "And friends shouldn't have to be so formal with each other."
"I know nothing about you, besides your name," Matthew points out.
"We can fix that," Alfred insists. "I'm Alfred F. Jones. I'm sixteen years old and I was born in New York. My favorite color is blue and my favorite food is hamburgers. I've always wanted to be a superhero, go out into space, and then meet an alien, but I like sleeping and photography, too. We moved here only a few weeks ago, but I'm already liking this place better than my old town. I'm usually not this productive, but I think cleaning this park is fun because I get to hang out with you." He grins then, looking proud of himself. "Now you know a ton about me. Can I call you Mattie yet?"
Matthew pulls himself up to a sitting position, shaking his head adamantly.
Alfred sighs loudly, exaggeratedly, and sits up as well. "Can you tell me something about yourself, too?" Another shake of the head. Alfred groans. "Fine. Be that way." He only manages to ignore the other boy for a good thirty seconds before he speaks up: "Now that we've taken care of the trash, we should probably start working on those weeds."
"I can go out and buy some flowers," Matthew says pensively. "We could take out the dead ones and replace them."
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Alfred decides to add, "Mattie."
Matthew slaps his shoulder, but it's half-hearted. "You hoser," he mutters, tone sour.
Alfred insists on calling him Mattie for the rest of the time they're together, and each time, Matthew would respond with a dry, "Yes, Al?"
He knows Matthew isn't too pleased with this new development, but Alfred thinks he can see the seams of that carefully crafted mask slowly starting to unravel.
This might just end well.
. . .
Matthew buys some sunflower seeds because they remind him of Alfred, somehow.
(Almost at the same time, Alfred buys some yellow tulips because it reminds him of the way Matthew's hair shines in the sunlight, and because he's been brushing up on flower symbolism lately.)
. . .
"We did it."
The short statement hangs in the air courtesy of Alfred, and Matthew only stands beside him, silent.
"Fuck, Mattie, we did it." Alfred cups his hands around his mouth and lets out a long, drawn-out whoop, promptly disturbing several birds that perched themselves on a nearby tree.
"Do not start dancing again," Matthew warns. "And don't get too confident yet. We've still got the fountain to clean up."
"Aw, can't you stop and appreciate this for a little while?" Spreading his arms out, Alfred makes several wild gestures. "I mean, this is pretty good! We managed to clean up the trash, pull out all those weeds, and plant new flowers. And it only took, what? A week?"
Matthew shrugs. "Give or take." He surveys the result of their work, and a wave of satisfaction does come over him.
They pulled out the weeds two days ago and managed to finish planting all of the seeds they bought. The flowers would take a while to bloom, and Matthew could imagine what it would look like: a combination of sunflowers and tulips and forget-me-nots and gardenias and lilacs.
"We," Alfred begins seriously, "should go out and celebrate."
This startles Matthew and he snaps his head to stare at the other boy. "What?"
"You heard me." Now Alfred looks slightly embarrassed, but he forces himself to continue; heroes didn't back down, after all. "We could go out for lunch-" he glances down at his watch, realizes what time it actually is, and revises himself, "-or dinner."
Matthew's brain short-circuits for a moment as he tries to comprehend this.
If he's to say yes - hypothetically! - would it be a date?
The idea both thrills and terrifies him at the same time.
"Um," he starts hesitantly, "I'm...not sure if..."
"C'mon, Mattie." Alfred slings an arm semi-casually around his shoulder, pulling him to his side. "We've been working so much, and it'll be fun! I'll drive you home afterwards so you don't have to walk."
Matthew's cheeks are starting to resemble tomatoes. "I can't," he says, guilt gnawing in the pit of his stomach. I'm sick, you see, and if I get any closer to you then I'll only end up hurting you, and that's the last thing I want to do.
"Are you busy?"
"Y-Yes. That's it." Matthew pushes away the disappointment. "My older brother had something planned for us tonight."
"Oh." Now Alfred looks dejected.
Matthew tells himself resolutely that he will not cave in to that kicked-puppy look.
To his own chagrin, he does.
He decides to compromise. "But we can go out for lunch on Saturday, instead...?" he offers furtively. Four days should be enough for him to gather his wits and be able to look at Alfred without his cheeks flaring, right?
Alfred's face brightens up quickly. "Yeah, that sounds cool!" he exclaims excitedly. "Do you have a phone?"
Heart beating loudly in his ears, Matthew recites the seven digits - numbers that were known only to Francis...and now Alfred. He adds the other boy's number, too, and watches with a slight sense of satisfaction as the name pops up at the top of his contact list.
"I'll call you, okay?" Alfred is grinning that same goofy grin. "To make sure you don't forget!"
"I won't," Matthew mumbles. Oh, he really won't.
His heart is still beating like a drum by the time he gets home.
. . .
Perhaps he should have proposed to go out for lunch in a week, not just four days.
Matthew's stomach churns as he tries to swallow his breakfast. Francis is out at work; he's been alone at home hundreds of times before, but somehow, he feels lonelier now.
He keeps his phone in his pocket, actually charged and on. He's never had a use for the device before, but he feels a spike of happiness whenever he sees the screen light up, signaling a text from Alfred.
(He kind of likes it.)
The TV is playing a re-run of Titanic and Matthew, having nothing else better to do, sits down with a plate of pancakes. By the time rescue comes and Rose is trying to wake Jack up, Matthew has lost all semblance of control and sobbing his guts out, his pancakes sitting on the coffee table, ignored.
As the movie draws to an end, he grabs a blanket irately from the closet, plops himself back down on the couch, and snuggles into the blanket, sniffling and wiping at his eyes the whole time. He falls asleep to the credits rolling.
. . .
"Matthieu?" Francis walks through the front door and the first thing he sees is the young blond curled up on the couch. "Are you feeling sick?"
When he gets no response, he sighs, picking up the remote and clicking the TV off. He unbuttons his jacket with a hand, reaching down and feeling Matthew's forehead with his other. The skin feels warm under his hand.
"Matthew." He shakes his shoulder gently. "Wake up, mon cher."
Matthew babbles something incoherent, turning over. Blearily, his eyes blink open. "Francis?" he murmurs.
"How long have you been asleep?" Worry tugs at his older brother's voice. He pulls the blanket down a few inches to get a better look at him.
"Dunno." Matthew's eyes are distant and Francis can tell that he's not really in a normal state of mind right now. He sniffs. "How dare he. How dare he die."
Francis knits his eyebrows together in confusion. "What?"
But Matthew has already returned to his dream world, eyes clouding before slowly drifting shut again.
Perturbed, Francis stands there for a few seconds, before shaking his head with a small chuckle and walking off to make dinner.
. . .
"So," Francis begins semi-casually. A smirk pulls at his lips and Matthew reddens.
He throws a book at his older brother. "Don't say a word."
He's never watching Titanic again.
. . .
His phone has rung for a grand total of twelve times, thus far - he knows, because he's been counting. Matthew just lets it sit there on the counter, watching in slight fascination as it vibrates every minute or so.
"Aren't you going to answer that?" asks Francis as he slips on his uniform.
"I think I'm going to throw up."
"Is it that boy we ran into at the store?"
"Ah." Francis smiles. "You shouldn't be ashamed, Matthieu. You don't get to choose whom you fall in love with."
"F-Fall in love!" Matthew stares at his brother incredulously. "I-I'm not, and he's- he's straight-!"
Francis raises an eyebrow. "Has he ever said so?"
The question hangs in the air almost ominously and Matthew refuses to answer, because the answer would be no, which would thus give Francis's statement a chance of actually being correct.
Francis reaches over and tousles his hair. On cue, the phone vibrates again. "It doesn't necessarily have to go become something more," he elaborates gently. "It can be platonic. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, oui?"
It helps him feel better. Somewhat.
Francis says, "Answer him, mon cher."
Taking a deep breath, Matthew does.
. . .
"Matt!" Alfred exhales loudly in relief at hearing the other's voice. For a second, he was worried about Matthew forgetting or something!
"Hi, Al," comes a much softer voice.
Alfred finds himself grinning like an idiot. "I thought you forgot, dude." He laughs, and the wind snatches it away as he drives down the street with his windows down. "Where d'you live again?"
There's a brief pause from the other end of the line. "You're on your way?"
"Well, yeah." Alfred chuckles sheepishly. He would be an hour early... But in his defense, there was nothing to do and he got restless! And spending an extra hour with Matthew surely wouldn't hurt, right? He liked being with him and... "I've been driving around, trying to get a hold of you for the past half an hour."
He hears Matthew make a surprised noise. "Y-You hoser!" More shuffling around. "You shouldn't do that, you're wasting gas and polluting the environment." He thinks he can detect some guilt in his voice; Alfred laughs.
Honestly, I care about you a lot more.
"Just tell me your address, Mattie," he chirps brightly.
Matthew recites the street name, and Alfred makes a U-turn, realizing that he's been going in the complete opposite direction.
"Thanks, I'll be there soon, okay?" He has to hang up then, because a squirrel darts out onto the road and he has to use both hands to steer the car away from it. When he's driving normally on the empty road again, a bubble of laughter escapes him. "Watch it, squirrel!" he yells back on a random whim, and laughs some more.
. . .
"Ah, Alfred! Come in, Matthieu just went to retrieve something in his room."
It still kind of creeps Alfred out how much the two brothers look alike, despite the obvious age difference. He resolutely pushes that thought away and pulls the best smile he can, stepping into the threshold of the apartment.
Francis is wearing a uniform - Alfred recognizes it as the garb that some chefs wear at a particular bistro downtown. He makes a mental note of this.
"Francis, have you seen my..." Matthew trails off upon seeing Alfred standing there, grinning that grin that never seems to leave his face. "You're early," he says accusingly.
Blinking, Alfred answers, "But I called...and you seemed fine with it!"
But Matthew is already heading off into another room, leaving Alfred alone with Francis again. The older brother sighs in exasperation, turning apologetically to their guest. "Please, excuse his uncouth behavior, he really is happy to see you."
Alfred looks at him disbelievingly. "Yeah?"
"Oh, yes." Francis looks genuinely sympathetic, adjusting the cuffs of his shirt. "Since he hung up from your phone call, he's been quite jittery."
Fascinated by this newly discovered information, Alfred leans in a little closer. "...Really?" he says, still not believing it but still wanting it to be true at the same time.
"You should have seen him two days ago, he-"
"I was what?" Alfred would have absolutely loved to hear more, and he thinks that Francis mightn't have had any qualms about sharing more, had Matthew not re-appeared in front of them again. His expression looks extremely delicate, as if he might burst out in anger at any wrong word, but Francis either misses it or doesn't care.
"I will not be home until eleven, so you two behave, all right?" He chuckles, kissing his younger brother's forehead.
Matthew's glare intensifies. So does his blush. "We're having lunch. In the afternoon."
Francis only laughs and brushes past them towards the door, but not before giving a discreet wink to Alfred - and in return, Alfred feels a little bit giddy because Matthew's brother seems to have no problem with this, and maybe this relationship could end up working, after all.
. . .
"God, I know, I know, I screwed up big time, but please... Please call me back, Mattie?
. . .
"Come on, Matt, at least come back to the park, fuck-"
. . .
Francis doesn't question the way Matthew trudges into the kitchen every morning for their daily lessons with bloodshot eyes. He wordlessly hands him a plate of pancakes and tells him to open up the math book to page so-and-so, all the while trying to push away his own guilt.
He should have seen this coming. He should have tried to stop it, not encouraged it. God, what kind of brother is he?
Francis feels these accusations every time Matthew's sullen indigo eyes meet his and kicks himself each time.
. . .
Deep down, part of him was expecting it, expecting this to happen yet when it did, he felt no desire to stop it.
There were fingers tangled in his hair, gentle, caressing. Their lips fit perfectly.
Matthew stares blankly at the filthy fountain. A bucket of dirty, soapy water sits beside his feet with a sponge. The fountain is not even halfway to being clean yet and his arms hurt - so does his chest, his mind, his head. The sun beams mercilessly down on him and sweat is beading at the nape of his neck; it doesn't help his utterly miserable mood.
"I hate you," he mutters to no one in particular. Then he sets his face into a frown and stands up, yanking the sponge from the bucket and resolutely kneeling down to start scrubbing at the fountain.
His knees are raw and his hands are sore and his cheeks are puffy when the sun suddenly seems to disappear. Matthew halts his scrubbing, pushing his glasses back up his nose with his forearm and looking behind him.
Alfred is standing there and Matthew almost knocks the bucket over in his haste to scramble to his feet.
"W-Wait!" Alfred grabs his arm, effectively stopping him.
His touch burns, almost sears his arm.
"I know that was really out of line, what I did, but... Damn it, Matt. Look at me."
Matthew refuses to.
Alfred grips his chin, starting to get impatient, and growls, "Matthew."
And Matthew doesn't realize that he's crying until Alfred's hold suddenly loosens and he finds himself being pulled closer, warm hands on either sides of his cheeks and a thumb brushing away his tears, smearing and dampening his cheeks. "God, I'm just so sorry..."
Fingers curling into the American's shoulders, Matthew squeezes his eyes shut. For a second, the embrace is almost loving. He whispers harshly, "You don't get it."
Then he pushes the American away and turns around, leaving without another word.
. . .
The fountain is sparkling.
Dumbfounded, he stands at the spot where he left his bucket the day before, eyes fixated upon the angel with the harp, its mouth opened, a hand outstretched, as if mutely calling after an unknown other.
Matthew buries his head into his hands and cries - cries for the angel, cries for himself. He cries for anything and everything until the tears stop and all he feels is a sense of emptiness because Alfred is not there anymore-
With numb fingers, he pulls out his phone and punches in the familiar seven-digit number. Alfred picks up on the third ring. Before he can begin to speak, Matthew says quietly, "Can we talk?"
There's a few seconds of silence from the other line and, just when Matthew is about to hang up because he can't stand the thought of Alfred hating him, the answer comes: "You're at the park?"
Matthew laughs, although the sound catches in his throat. He smiles, but his lips tremble. "Maybe."
. . .
It's not fair, Alfred thinks, the way Matthew sometimes comes off as a cold, heartless person and sometimes comes off as a lonely boy who's just waiting to be a hero.
He decides that at the moment, Matthew is the latter, pressed against his side as they sit together in front of the fountain, hands laced, the setting sun's rays dousing the grass in warm splashes of the last hues of sunlight.
"I want to, but I can't," Matthew told him, and Alfred asked, "Why?"
Matthew hasn't answered him since then, but he hasn't fled, either, and Alfred will wait a hundred years if that's how long it'll take for Matthew to finally open up to him. He's worth it.
He hears the other take a shaky breath. "I'm not healthy."
"Are you calling yourself insane?"
"Not mentally ill. Just..."
Alfred gives a reassuring squeeze of his hand, and the rest of the words tumble out of Matthew's mouth: "I have cancer."
. . .
The sky is beautiful above them. Alfred normally has never cared for stars, but when he has Matthew beside him, warm, breathing, just being there, everything finally seems so acute.
They lay together, the blades of grass slightly obscuring his view of Matthew when he turns his head sideways to glance at the blond. Matthew is staring up into space.
Finally, Alfred dares to say, "How long do you have?"
He sees Matthew's eyes flutter shut. "I told them not to tell me." The Canadian cracks a smile. "Knowing your own death day doesn't exactly help you keep a positive outlook on life."
"That makes sense."
They lapse into silence.
He feels Matthew's fingers tighten around his. "You know what's stupid?" the other begins, voice shaky. "I've always wanted to live a hundred years." He laughs, but at the same time his shoulders are racking with silent tears and he curls in on Alfred's side. "I-I-"
Alfred turns and holds him, placing a hand on Matthew's shoulder and holding him closer. "That's not stupid, Mattie," he says into his hair, because it isn't. "I've always wanted to be a hero. At least yours is plausible."
He feels Matthew smile into his chest. "Difference is, you've already achieved yours."
. . .
The ice rink is crowded with teenagers - most of which Alfred recognizes from his grade. They seem to recognize him too, eyes sparing him passing glances before eventually straying to the Canadian beside him.
"Do you know them?" Matthew mumbles to him as they step onto the rink.
Alfred wobbles a little, but catches himself. "Some of them."
"Aren't you worried that they'll...you know..." Matthew looks down pointedly at their joined hands and tries to subtly pull away.
Rolling his eyes, Alfred pulls him closer instead, almost causing them to fall. "No," he says flatly.
"You're a big moron." But his words are empty.
They stay out until Alfred's fingers start to go numb - Matthew chides him for not bringing any gloves - and resort to leaving for a coffeehouse a block away. The boy working at the register winks as he slides Matthew's cup of hot chocolate over to the Canadian; Alfred doesn't fail to notice. When Matthew isn't looking, Alfred swiftly kicks the silver-haired teen underneath the counter. He might have done more if Matthew wasn't still there.
As they leave, Alfred puts an arm around Matthew's shoulders and leaves the place with the barista seething behind them.
When Alfred pulls up to the driveway of Matthew's apartment complex, he turns to the other boy. "Can I count this as our first date?" he inquires with a teasing grin, and Matthew mutters something in French. Before he gets out of the car, Alfred gently takes his chin in hand, draws him close, and kisses him. And Alfred, in that one fleeting moment, feels a sense of normalcy, until Matthew has to pull away for air and Alfred is staring into his indigo eyes and realizing that they might just not get to grow old together.
Alfred doesn't say these thoughts out loud. He bids the other a good night and doesn't drive away until Matthew has disappeared inside the weathered building.
He managed to uphold a mask since Matthew first told him that he had cancer, but now there's no one else around; Alfred loses grasp of his mask and it isn't until he's home that he realizes there are tears rolling down his cheeks.
. . .
Alfred can't help but touch Matthew's hair every time he sees him and feel the soft strands between the pads of his fingers. Matthew, head in his lap, shoots him a curious glance. "Is my hair that appealing?" he asks dryly.
"Yes," Alfred answers with a blink.
Matthew chuckles at his silliness; Alfred just leans down, kisses his cheek, and whispers, "You're beautiful."
There's a flyer sitting on his desk when he wakes up, along with a note from his mother. I found this last night, it reads, I thought you'd want to enter.
It's an advertisement for a photo contest - the theme is supposedly beauty and Alfred frowns, because it looks amateur and when he visits the website, the submissions consist of girls doused in make-up. It doesn't look like a photo contest, it looks like a popularity race.
He stuffs it somewhere in the depths of his backpack and forgets about it until he accidentally knocks over his bag, spilling its contents on the hallway. Matthew stops to help him pick up loose pieces of paper and spots the brightly-colored flyer. "You should do this," he comments off-handedly, skimming over the words.
"It's tacky," Alfred tells him.
"There's prize money." Matthew dangles it in front of his face. "Plus, it'll make your resume look good or something."
Alfred takes it from his fingers and puts it back in his pocket. "I looked on the website, where other people already submitted their entries," he says. "They're all pictures that girls took of themselves. That's not beauty."
"Doesn't that make you want to do better?" Matthew asks. Humming in thought, he adds decisively, "On Saturday, we can drive around. I'll help you look for something."
Alfred normally doesn't like entering contests, but this gives him an opportunity to spend time with Matthew. And knowing their situation, he wants to be with Matthew for as long as possible.
So he says yes.
. . .
They end up at the park. Alfred has his camera around his neck and practically jumps out, runs to the other side, so he can open Matthew's door with an exaggerated swing of his arm.
Matthew nudges him but doesn't complain, even smiling as he steps out barefoot on the grass.
After taking a few practice pictures, Alfred turns to the Canadian and says, "You should be my subject."
Matthew almost scoffs at the idea. "The theme's beauty."
Alfred raises the camera to take a picture of Matthew contrasting quite nicely with the green of their surroundings, but Matthew smothers the lens with the palm of his hand just as the shutter clicks. "No."
"Hey!" Alfred pouts, side-stepping. "You still can't touch my camera."
"And you still can't take pictures of me."
"Aw, you're no fun." Alfred points his camera at a tulip and takes a picture of that instead. "Mattie," he whines afterwards, "how am I supposed to find something 'beautiful' when there's just a bunch of garbage around here?"
Matthew shakes his head. "Maybe you just aren't looking hard enough," he recites. Then he points to the fountain, at the mute angel. "How about that?"
Alfred obliges. (He makes sure to get Matthew in the shot.)
. . .
They stay until it's well past eight, laying out a blanket they brought and leaning next to each other, surrounded by roses and tulips.
"Are you..." Alfred begins, choosing his words carefully. "Have you thought of chemotherapy?"
It takes a few minutes for Matthew to finally reply. "Not really. Francis has mentioned it more than once, but with Francis having to work while still home schooling me..." He shrugs. "I think he's been saving up for a while, but I wish he wouldn't. Our lives are hectic enough without the extra effort."
Alfred feels his chest throb. Matthew's words upset him slightly. "Don't you want to keep living?" he says quietly. "There are people who'll miss you, Matt. Haven't you- Haven't you at least thought about that? Francis will miss you. I'll miss you."
Matthew stays silent for the longest of times, and so does Alfred, though he can't help but feel a little angry. Then Matthew sighs, his shoulders slumping, head lowering. "What kind of a question is that?" he asks through gritted teeth. "I don't go through a night where I'm not scared of waking up not being able to move, of slowly wasting my life away in some hospital room, getting sicker every day." He sniffs, yanking his hand away from Alfred's and wiping at his eyes. "I can't get through ten minutes without thinking how perfect you are and how you're the only one who makes me feel this much of a mess. Every time I see you, I come closer to the realization that I might love you, and fuck-"
The impact of his words hit Alfred hard, and he doesn't know whether to feel giddy or guilty, because he's known for a while that he's in love with Matthew, but it's Matthew that's sitting there, crying, Matthew that he doesn't know how to make feel better. He gently pulls the other closer, and Matthew's fingers curl into his shirt and he buries his face into his shoulder.
"I want to be with you," the Canadian chokes out, "I want to go on dates and watch movies with you. I want to wake up every morning without having to worry about dying. I want to keep seeing you, being with you, and eventually get married, and we can even get our own house and live happily ever after. I want to grow old with you, Alfred, I want to spend the rest of my life with you." His voice carries a tone of desperation that tugs at Alfred's heart. He whispers, "So yes, I've thought about it, you idiot," before he's falling apart at the seams and he can't stop control himself anymore.
"I'm sorry, Mattie," Alfred whispers into his hair. His grip tightens around him. "God, I'm so sorry."
. . .
He enters the picture of Matthew for the contest. The entry form asks for a caption, but he leaves it blank.
. . .
He doesn't tell Matthew.
. . .
Alfred approaches Francis outside the restaurant with a timidness that he never thought he possessed. He hands Matthew's older brother an envelope. "I- I know it might not be much," he mumbles. "But I care about him."
Francis opens it, only for his eyes to widen. "What is this?" he asks softly.
"He told me that you were saving up for a chemotherapy session for him. I won the money from a contest, and I wanted to help out with that."
"I cannot possibly-"
"No, I want you to!" Alfred refuses to take the envelope back, putting his arms up. "I'd just like it if you didn't tell Mattie about this."
Francis eyes him warily, but at the same time, there's a sense of gratitude in his eyes. He puts a hand on Alfred's shoulder, says quietly, "All he's ever wanted was a friend, and you gave him much more. Thank you for that, Alfred."
The American blushes a little. With a smile, he says helplessly, "I just love him."
. . .
Matthew appears at his doorstep.
Mildly surprised, Alfred lets him into the empty house. "Did you walk?" he queries, slightly concerned since their houses were a fair distance away from each other.
"I needed exercise, anyway." Matthew sits on the couch and Alfred sits next to him. A few seconds later, Matthew speaks again: "Francis told me we had enough for chemotherapy."
Alfred can't help but grin. "That's great, Matt!" Knowing that he helped achieve this makes it even greater. "When are you starting?"
"A week, maybe." Matthew shrugs. "We haven't cleared up the details yet." He pulls his legs up on the couch, curling in beside Alfred. "I'm gonna have to shave off my hair."
As if on cue, Alfred runs his fingers through his honey-blond strands. He hums in acknowledgement.
Matthew shifts to look up at him. "I won't have any hair for a while."
"Aren't you..." He trails off, seeming troubled, before revising: "I'll look weird."
"How many times do I have to tell you this?" Alfred cups his chin, making cerulean blue meeting with bright indigo. "You. Are. Beautiful." He punctuates each word with a kiss: two on either sides of his cheeks, one on the lips. "And I love you."
Joy floods his veins when Matthew murmurs, "I love you too."
. . .
Now that Matthew thinks about it, they really have made a difference to the park. What was once old and decaying is now vibrant and full of line - he can barely wait until the flowers begin to bloom.
"I have the- Oh my god, Alfred, what are you doing."
His boyfriend is currently wading in the now-clean water of the fountain, seemingly unconcerned over the fact that the bottom half of his jeans is soaked. Matthew sets the picnic basket hastily on the ground before hurrying over.
"Come on, Mattie!" Alfred says jubilantly, gesturing for him to join. "I thought we were celebrating!"
"Bathing in a fountain isn't exactly my idea of celebration," Matthew says, but spending time with Alfred is, and so he lets himself be helped over the edge and in.
They end up trying to splash each other, running and almost slipping more than once around the angel in the middle, and by the time they get tired, the sun is setting and the first few stars are becoming visible. Alfred resorts to peeling his wet shirt off and tossing it carelessly aside; Matthew, after some cajoling, does the same, and they eat on the picnic blanket like this.
Dusk turns to night and Alfred is laying on top of Matthew, lavishing him with kisses. Matthew isn't protesting, arms looped around Alfred's neck and pulling him down closer, fingers digging slightly into the fabric of his shirt.
Under the moonlight and hidden away from the eyes of the rest of the world, they make love, and while it isn't in a bed like Matthew might have preferred, it's spur-of-the-moment, it's so like Alfred, and it feels right. When Alfred raises the blanket over themselves, Matthew feels a surge of warmth, of love, of safety, and he isn't afraid of anything anymore, because when they're together he feels invincible, untouchable.
They lie there together, basking in the afterglow, deaf and blind to time.
Alfred remembers the first day that Matthew opened up to him, the first day that he was able to get past that cold front, the first day that he realized he could sit there and just listen to Matthew for hours, the first day he realized that he was in love. He remembers quiet, uncertain words: "I've always wanted to live a hundred years."
(He really is in love.)
So when he hears the bell tower in the distance tolling twelve for midnight, officially marking the day July first, he seals his promise with what seems like their thousandth kiss(making way for perhaps a millionth), whispering with a sense of finality that neither of them can't, don't, won't deny: "Here's to eighty four more years."
Tulips- Hopelessly in love
Forget-Me-Nots- "Remember me forever"
Lilacs- First love