Author's note: I am so sorry that updates have been taking so long. At first it was because of school, but now I'm just plain stuck, so have this fluffy fic (if only fluffy because it contains cats) as an apology. To everyone who still has exams of any kind left: Good luck!
It didn't start out all that weird. Alfred needed a job, any job, so when he found an ad in the paper for someone to "take care of my cats" and "water the plants" for a couple of weeks, he jumped on the chance. Admittedly, the first phone call was a little weird.
"Hi, my name's Alfred, I saw your ad in the paper–"
"Oh, right. Yes, I'm leaving tomorrow, so if you could start Monday, that would be brilliant."
Alfred paused. "Uh, you don't want to know my qualifications or anything?"
"Not at all. You sound like a nice enough chap. You're the only one who has called, I'm afraid." A sigh on the other end. "Does twenty dollars a day sound fair?"
Alfred's eyes lit up. "Yeah! I mean, do you want me there every day? What do I have to do?"
"Look, would you mind if I called you back in an hour or so? I'm in the middle of packing."
Alfred didn't see what was so important about packing, but he didn't really have anything else he needed to do. "Sure."
The phone went dead and Alfred frowned at it. "Man," he muttered to the phone, "I really hope you're not some crazy British cat lady . . . person."
Three hours later, Alfred hadn't gotten a call back. He didn't want to be rude, but if this guy was leaving the next day, he really needed to know what he was supposed to be doing.
The phone was picked up almost immediately. "Hello?"
"Um, yeah, hey, it's Alfred again. I was wondering if you could tell me what I need to do, and stuff." Alfred winced at how awkward he sounded.
"Oh, thank goodness! I was worried I wouldn't be able to get hold of you. I'm terribly sorry I didn't call you back, but I forgot to ask for your number."
"Oh. Oh yeah." Alfred wondered if this guy was older than he had first thought. On every phone he knew of, it was easy to find the number of the last person who had called you. Maybe he didn't know how to really use his phone – or, even worse, he had a really old one. He said his number nice and slow, and the British man read it back to him every few digits. The British man then gave Alfred his address, which luckily wasn't too far away.
"Alright," the man said, sounding relieved. "The first thing I need you do is make sure the cats have food and water. It's all arranged in the kitchen – it isn't hard to find." Alfred nodded. "Now, they're indoor-outdoor cats, so there's a litter box in the bathroom, but it shouldn't need to be cleaned very often. They would probably appreciate it if you spent a little time playing with them, though. They can get a bit lonely."
"How many do you have?"
The man on the other end hesitated. "Well, two, but you might not see both of them very much. The one with the spots isn't very social."
"The only other thing is my garden. If you water everything once a day in the evening when it's starting to cool off, that should be enough. I'll leave the spare key under the doormat, and I'll pay you when I get back, alright?"
Alfred grinned, though he knew this man couldn't see it. "You can count on me!"
There was a slight smile in the British man's voice. "Alright."
"Oh, wait! I forgot to ask for your name."
"Oh, I'm so sorry." He sounded very embarrassed. "It's Arthur Kirkland."
Alfred grinned. "I'm Alfred Jones. Nice to meetchya."
"Nice to meet you too, Alfred." The phone went dead.
Alfred went over to Arthur's house at about 11 on Monday morning because he didn't want to wait until the evening and then find out that the cats had starved in his absence or something. The key was under the doormat, as Arthur (er, Mr. Kirkland) had promised. It was a nice little house in a nice little neighborhood, and the decor was sort of what Alfred had expected, though perhaps a little more . . . worldly. There were Persian carpets on the floors and a very old looking map of the world on one wall. There were lots of bookcases and lots of books. Everything looked pretty old.
Almost as soon as Alfred set foot in the house, a large, fluffy cat waddled up to him. It had a brown scruff, but was otherwise white. It curled around his feet, and Alfred couldn't resist kneeling down and giving it a good scratch between the ears. It purred and butted against his hand so hard it nearly knocked his hand away. Alfred grinned. "Hey, dude. You're pretty friendly." Alfred took a second look around the room. "Well, maybe you're just lonely. I bet an old guy like Mr. Kirkland doesn't give you much entertainment, huh?" Alfred stood and began to familiarize himself with the house. It wasn't very large, so it wasn't very difficult to locate everything he needed. Overall, despite some interesting curiosities in a class cabinet in the living room, Alfred would describe the place as "quaint."
The fluffy cat started to mew quite loudly when Alfred got near the mostly-empty food bowl, so at its insistence, he located the food and refilled it. The cat immediately began to guzzle it up. "Maybe I should have asked your owner for your name," Alfred told the cat. "Otherwise I'm going to be tempted to just start calling you 'Fluffy' or something equally embarrassing." He gave the house a last look around and then stepped into the back garden.
This Arthur guy clearly had too much time on his hands, or else he did nothing but garden in his free time. The small area was filled with pathways, plants, and a patio just big enough for a few chairs and a table. Two small lawns had been squeezed into the corners. The fence was lined with rosebushes, currently in full bloom. A carefully-manicured garden of miniature proportions had been planted in the center of the space, and it seemed to be occupied by various flowers and some leafy things that might have been for cooking. Alfred had to admit he was blown away.
It was also probably going to take him an hour to water the whole thing.
With a sigh, Alfred turned back to the house just as the fluffy cat squeezed its way out of the cat door. It bounded into the garden, apparently interested in a butterfly that was currently trying to land on some sort of flowering plant. Alfred left, careful to lock the front door behind him and slip the key in his pocket. Sure, it was an easy job, but man, was this going to get boring after two weeks.
After forgetting to water the garden that afternoon (oops; clearly he needed to do everything at once when he went over there), Alfred returned the next day and gave the garden a longer soaking than was probably good for it. While the wilting plants appeared to float miserably in a small lake, Alfred went back inside to feed the cat(s). He still had yet to meet the supposed second one, and was kind of curious if he was ever going to. Animals liked Alfred for the most part, so it was kind of weird that it seemed to be avoiding him.
Actually, Alfred was a little worried. The door to the bedroom was closed; what if the cat had gotten trapped and was currently starving? Alfred chewed on his bottom lip as he looked at the closed door. He wasn't one to go barging into people's business, but . . .
He opened the door and peered inside. It was a little dim, so after a few moments of searching, he flicked on the light. It was a normal enough bedroom – the double bed was neatly made, there was a carved wooden set of drawers on one wall, a closet on the other, and paintings and photographs of what appeared to be England decorated the walls. It was even stuffier than the living room.
No cat immediately appeared, but Alfred figured he might as well check, just in case. He stepped in and peered under the bed. Nothing but some old boxes. There wasn't really anywhere else to look, so he was just about to leave when he heard a soft thump as something jumped up onto the bed. The fluffy cat had decided that the bed was the most interesting thing in the world, apparently, as it sat down and began to knead the brocade bedspread with its paws, purring all the while.
"We're not supposed to be in here," Alfred told it seriously, but it just purred louder and curled up on the pillow. Alfred reached for it, fully intending to pick it up easily, but it immediately stood up and jumped over the opposite side of the bed. Alfred frowned and was about to go after it when a bit of color caught the corner of his eye. He looked at the bedside table and noticed a book with a colorful cover of a man and a woman looking longingly into each other's eyes on a beach while rough waves slammed into the cliffs behind them. Alfred's eyebrows shot up. "Jeez, romance novels? He didn't seem the type." Alfred turned around, prepared to track down the fuzzy cat, when he caught sight of a second, unfamiliar, and undeniably adorable cat sitting in the doorway.
It was smaller than the other cat and had several orange spots decorating its white fur. Its ears folded down naturally, and if Alfred hadn't known better (though who really knew better when it came to cats?), he would have said that it was looking disapprovingly at him.
"Awww, aren't you cute," Alfred said, and reached out to pet it. Its tail immediately twitched very quickly, which gave Alfred pause, and it trotted across the floor and leaped up onto the bed. "Not you too," Alfred complained, as it sat down on the bed and looked for all the world as though it owned the place. The other cat walked over to Alfred, twining around his ankles, and purred happily. "Come on guys, we really aren't supposed to be in here," Alfred told them.
The fluffy cat jumped up on the bed and strutted towards its friend, purring all the while. Alfred lunged for it, but it moved surprisingly quickly out of his reach. The spotted cat was quick to do the same and it darted under the bed. With a huff, Alfred knelt down and peered under the bed. He could see the cat, its little eyes glaring at him from behind a box. Alfred pushed the box out of the way and attempted to grab the cat, earning him a hiss from Mr. Grumpy Pants (as Alfred had decided to call him). Alfred tried to wiggle farther under the bed, only to have it run out of the room altogether.
Half wedged under the bed, Alfred made a face and tried to wiggle back out. As he did so, however, he couldn't help noticing a dusty photo album. Alfred's first instinct was to pull it out and look through it, but he bit his lip and thought about it. This was a strange guy's house, Alfred probably wasn't even supposed to be in the bedroom anyway, and that album really, really wasn't Alfred's business. Alfred forced himself to wiggle out from under the bed and leave it alone.
Maybe another day, he thought wistfully, though he immediately felt guilty.
Brushing dust off of his clothes, he looked around to find that the cats had scampered out of the room of their own free will. With a sigh, Alfred followed them out, closing the door behind him.
It was a very easy job, and he fell easily into the routine. He came over at about the same time in the evening every day, and the fluffy cat would almost always come to meet him. Sometimes he wouldn't see the spotted one at all, but occasionally it would make an appearance, always just far enough away that Alfred wouldn't be too tempted to try to touch it. Watering the garden turned out to be Alfred's favorite part, which was funny, because he'd always thought of gardens as a waste of time. It was surprisingly relaxing to stand there with the hose while the sun set and the cool evening breeze rose up, finally giving him and the garden a pleasant relief from the hot summer air. The cats (or at least he fluffy one) would usually follow him outside and curl up somewhere out of the way of the hose's spray. When he was done, Alfred would turn off the hose and lock up the house before leaving. It became so natural that after that first day, he didn't forget anything.
A week went by and Alfred found himself feeling a little sad when he went into the house. Part of it was that he knew he was probably the only human entertainment the cats got, and they had to be getting lonely. The fluffy cat bounded forward to meet him, as always, and he gave it a little scratch under its chin. "Do you miss your owner?" he asked it, but it just purred in response. Alfred walked towards the kitchen and it followed him, plodding along happily. "You know, I kind of think I might," he told it. "Even though it's silly, because I've never met him." He rinsed out the water dish and refilled it. "It just seems like he must be a nice guy, you know? I guess . . ." he said hesitantly, "It just seems like he must be kind of lonely. No one has come by since I've been here, he doesn't have any photographs around – except for landscapes, and those don't count – and, I mean, he's pretty obviously a single guy with two cats." The fluffy one bumped into his leg and Alfred obligingly scratched it between the ears. "I just wonder if he's kind of sad about that."
Alfred knew it was silly, because you couldn't really judge someone on their house, but the more Alfred thought about it, the more convinced he was. Everything was old, like this guy was stuck in the past. It was all very neat, not to mention the carefully-tended garden, like he had too much time on his hands. He had a lot of books, so he must spend a lot of time alone, reading – which he probably liked, Alfred had to admit that, but he still had to get lonely sometimes, right?
And really, Alfred just wanted to meet him.
It was a Wednesday and Alfred was having a hard time believing that he still had another weekend to go before this guy got back from his trip. Two weeks was a long time.
Alfred had taken to . . . well, not exactly dusting things, but sort of making sure the place looked like it was a little lived in. It made him feel bad that it was so obvious that no one was really living there. A spider kept trying to build a web in the corner of the living room and Alfred kept knocking it down, because he didn't want this guy thinking that Alfred hadn't noticed. So when it occurred to Alfred that the bedroom was probably in a worse state than the rest of the house (though it didn't occur to him that it, at least, was probably free from cat hair), he found himself inching towards its door. The knowledge that he had already gone in there once without finding any dead bodies or anything made him a lot more comfortable with the idea of going in there a second time. Yeah, he knew he still wasn't really supposed to, but what harm could it do?
He opened the door and steeped quietly inside, even though there was no one to hear him. He closed the door behind him, not wanting to repeat the previous week's Cat Fiasco (as he had taken to thinking of it). It looked pretty much the same as before, though maybe a bit dustier. There were no spiderwebs, he noticed. That was good.
Now that he was there, it was pretty difficult to deny that all he really wanted to do was go through that old album under the bed. He hadn't even met this guy, for goodness's sake. Was it such a bad thing that he wanted to at least know what he looked like?
Before he could convince himself it was a bad idea again, Alfred pulled the album out from under the bed and wiped the dust off it. It was leather bound, like the old ones his grandmother had. He plopped down on the bed and opened it.
It started with pictures of a pair of happy parents and a baby. The baby had a cute smile and a tuft of pale hair on its head. Alfred couldn't help smiling back at it. The parents looked . . . well, kind of normal. The pictures were color, which Alfred supposed was a good thing, since that meant this guy couldn't be that old – unless these were pictures of his grandkid or something.
When had color photography been invented, again?
After a handful of baby pictures, the album switched abruptly to pictures of a small, solemn-looking boy with blond hair, before moving into pictures of an energetic boy playing rugby with friends (according to the messily-written caption). Alfred flipped through the album, watching him grow up, but waiting impatiently to find a name. For all he knew, this was Arthur's son and not Arthur at all. Finally, he found it: a photograph of the blond boy, now a man with tousled hair in a cap and gown. Next to it was a photograph of his diploma. It was too small for Alfred to make out the date, but the name Arthur Kirkland was clearly legible.
Alfred's eyes returned to the graduation photograph and he studied it intently. Arthur was looking at the camera seriously, and the green in his eyes was very clear. He had eyebrows that were a little thicker and darker than normal, and a bit distracting. Alfred covered them with his finger and decided that without them, Arthur looked a lot younger and kind of . . . cute. Alfred frowned, because "cute" wasn't the word he had first thought to associate with the photograph. More like "arrogant" – but no, that wasn't right. He took his finger away and decided he actually liked Arthur better with them. Handsome. Yes, that was the right word, even though it seemed kind of strange. Arthur had been a handsome man, if unconventionally so. Alfred smiled. He must have had a good life.
After that, the pictures stopped. It seemed like a good place to end them, anyway, since that had probably been the prime of his life. Alfred considered looking under the bed for another album, but he didn't really want to. Maybe Arthur was a wrinkled old man now, but it made Alfred kind of happy to know what he had been like. He didn't want to ruin that feeling.
Alfred slipped the album back in its place and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him. It was getting late, so he needed to water the garden and get ready to go. Alfred stretched. He had been looking at that album for longer than he had realized, because his back popped pleasantly. Alfred sighed and walked through the house without bothering to flick on a light, even though the house was quite dim. He was pretty sure he could have walked through it blindfolded at this point.
He was surprised to see the spotted cat curled up in the armchair in the living room. After a moment of hesitation, Alfred walked over to it. For some reason, that cat didn't seem to like spending much time inside. As Alfred got closer, he saw that the fluffy cat was curled up next to it, though judging from the way the spotted cat was pressed up against the armrest, there wasn't really enough room for both of them. With a chuckle, Alfred reached in to pick up the fluffy cat, but it mewed in protest at being disturbed. The spotted one raised its head and glared at Alfred, so Alfred let go of Fluffy and put up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, just trying to help," he told it, and after a moment's consideration, it lowered its head and seemed to go back to sleep. Alfred hesitated and very, very carefully scratched it between the ears. It made a little noise, but it didn't move, so Alfred patted it and quietly moved away.
Mr. Grumpy Pants had finally let Alfred pet him. Maybe he was making progress after all.
It was Sunday, which Alfred figured was probably his last day. Arthur had never actually told him when he was coming back, so Alfred was trying to decide if it would be worth it to stop by the next day as well, just in case. "I suppose he does have to meet me at some point pay me," he told the fluffy cat as he scratched it under the chin. It rumbled like a small engine and tried to nuzzle him while simultaneously leaning into his fingers. Alfred smiled. "You know, I've always been just kind of neutral towards cats, but you guys are kinda growing on me. Maybe the next time I get a pet–"
There was the sound of the footsteps on the front steps, and then the sound of a key in the lock in the front door. Alfred stopped scratching and stared at the door in horror. What if someone was breaking into the house? What if someone Alfred didn't know about was supposed to come into the house and do something? What was Alfred supposed to do?
Alfred scrambled to his feet just as the door swung open. A man with tousled blond hair and a rolling suitcase in one hand took a step into the house before he saw Alfred and paused. They stared at each other. Arthur looked very similar to the photographs of him, though Alfred could have sworn his eyes were even greener. Judging from Arthur's expression, Alfred was not quite what Arthur had been expecting. Considering that Alfred had been expecting a man in his 80s, Arthur wasn't quite what he had been expecting either.
The little orange cat had appeared a little distance away and was washing its left front foot as if it had just happened to appear there right at that moment. The fluffy cat, however, stood up and ambled over to the stranger, purring all the way. "Oh," the man said as if that had somehow been a hint. "You must be Alfred."
Alfred laughed nervously. "Yeah. You're Arthur?"
Arthur nodded and closed the door, absentmindedly pushing the cat away with his toe. He looked embarrassedly at the cat, which had returned immediately to twine around his feet. "I suppose I didn't really tell you when I'd be back."
"Haha, no, I guess not."
Arthur cleared his throat awkwardly and suddenly stuck out a hand, even though they were about five feet apart. "Let's try this again. Arthur Kirkland."
After a moment of hesitation, Alfred took it. "Alfred F. Jones, at your service," he said with a weak grin. His heart was beating a little too fast as his brain tried to wrap itself around the situation.
Arthur looked a lot more handsome in real life.
Arthur's eyebrows suddenly shot together. "Blast, I forgot to get money. I'm so sorry, I'll have to pay you tomorrow."
Alfred laughed a little. "Don't worry about it."
"Right. Um, I'm just going to put this in my room, but would you like to stay for bit? I'll put the kettle on."
"Sure." This time, Alfred's smile was a little more natural. "Do you need help bringing anything in?"
"Ah, no, I'm fine, thank you." Arthur waved towards the kitchen table. "Make yourself comfortable."
Alfred watched as Arthur disappeared into his bedroom with the suitcase, both cats trailing at his heels. "I hope you've been good," he could hear Arthur telling them before the door clicked shut.
Alfred went into the kitchen and sat down. He could quickly feel a miniature panic attack taking hold as he twisted his hands together in his lap. He can't be that much older than you, right? But you're just a kid who's home from college for the summer! He obviously has a real job – and seriously, why couldn't he just be old so this wouldn't be a problem?
A door closed somewhere and Arthur walked into the kitchen a moment later. "Sorry about this," Arthur said as he went about making a pot of tea. "I should have actually told you when I'd be getting back. I was in such a hurry when I left – visiting family, you know, which is always about twice as stressful as it needs to be." He smiled apologetically at Alfred and Alfred's heart stuttered. "Did the cats give you any trouble?"
That was a question Alfred knew how to answer. "Nope," Alfred said with a grin. "They've been great! That fluffy one has been super friendly the whole time."
Arthur nodded. "He's like that." As if on cue, the fluffy cat appeared and rubbed itself against Arthur's legs, purring. "Aren't you, love?" Arthur said to it, and the cat purred louder as if in agreement.
"What are their names? I never actually found out."
"Oh, yes, sorry. This one's Lockheed Lightning, though I usually just call him 'cat' because I clearly didn't think that name through. As you can see, he's not exactly lightning fast." He picked up the cat. "Oof, I think you've gained weight. I think we might need to put you on a diet." The cat purred and tried to stretch while still in Arthur's arms, admittedly looking a little larger than its fur would explain. Arthur dumped it on the floor and it trotted over to Alfred to ask for more attention. "The other one's Seafire. He would have been Spitfire, but that was his predecessor's name, and he's not quite that mean anyhow." The spotted cat appeared in the doorway and Arthur smiled. "Actually, for a while I wanted to name him Short Stirling, but he kept giving me offended looks so I dropped it."
"World War II planes?" Alfred said in surprise.
Arthur nodded. "I'm very into history." He poured himself a cup of tea and made to pour a second.
"Oh! I don't want tea. I mean, uh, no thanks."
Arthur looked a little embarrassed. "I should have asked. That's quite alright, I'll probably end up drinking a pot's worth anyhow." He set his cup down on the table. "I'm afraid I don't have much else. Water?"
Arthur nodded and sat down. "So tell me a little about yourself."
Alfred shrugged. "I'm not that interesting. I'm studying science stuff in college." Arthur raised an eyebrow and Alfred shifted uncomfortably. "Chemistry, actually."
"Hmm." Arthur looked mildly interested, which was actually a lot for him, from what Alfred could tell. "You like it?"
"I love it."
Arthur sipped his tea. "You seem to know a lot about planes, though."
"Well, yeah, I had the normal obsession with planes as a kid." Alfred grinned, but then realized what he had just said. "Not that only kids think they're cool or anything! I mean, I still think they're pretty cool–"
"It's alright," Arthur said with a small smile. "I teach history. I'm used to being interested in things everyone else finds boring."
"Wait, no, not everyone thinks stuff like that is boring! I mean, you named your cats after planes! That's so cool!" Alfred knew he was flailing, but he didn't care. "That must be why you have all that old stuff, right? You're like a collector, right? I've always thought guys interested in that kind of stuff were really ho-t-t–" Alfred came to a stuttering halt. "Er, I mean, smart people are cool–" Alfred could feel his face rapidly turning bright red.
Rather than laughing like Alfred had expected him to, Arthur turned a little pink and took a rather long sip of tea. "Well, thanks for the sentiment, at least," Arthur mumbled. "I don't think any of my students think so."
"How old are they?"
Alfred grinned. "I don't think I was exactly thrilled with history back then either. They'll grow out of it."
Arthur's blush faded. "I hope you're right. Do you know what you're going to do when you leave college?"
"No idea," Alfred said happily.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out," Arthur said, and for once, Alfred was pretty sure that he actually meant it.
The spotted cat came over to Arthur, and Arthur picked it up into his lap without it making any sort of resistance. It didn't actually purr, but it sat quietly in Arthur's lap while he petted it. Alfred watched, open-mouthed. "Wow, he lets you pet him? He only kinda let me do that a couple of days ago."
Arthur smiled. "He must like you. He's not the most social cat ever." He scratched it in a particular place behinds its ear and the cat half closed its eyes in bliss. "Once he warms to you, though, he's one of the most loyal cats I've ever had."
Alfred watched them for another moment in silence. "You were really going to name him Short Stirling? That is the cutest thing I've ever heard."
Arthur chuckled, which was the nicest noise Alfred had heard all day. "Isn't it?"
Alfred glanced at the clock and realized how late it was. "Oh, I'm really sorry, but–" Alfred hastily felt around in his pocket and handed Arthur the spare key. "I should get going."
"Oh, thanks. Yes, I didn't mean to keep you." Arthur stood and Alfred did the same. "If you stop by tomorrow after one or so, I'll have your money. I'll pay you for today, of course, for the trouble."
"That's very kind of you, Arthur – er, Mr. Kirkland," Alfred said politely.
Arthur shook his head as he led the way to the door. "It's Arthur. Only my students call me Mr. Kirkland."
"Sure thing, Arthur," Alfred said as Arthur held the door open. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Oh, and Alfred," Arthur called when Alfred was halfway to the sidewalk, "If you'd ever like to drop by – I mean, if you have any free time–"
Alfred turned and grinned brilliantly. "I'd love to. I've grown quite attached to your cats, you know. I think I'd miss 'em."
Arthur smiled. "We'd all love to see you again," he said, and then the door clicked shut.
It was funny, Alfred decided, how quickly he and Arthur had already gotten to know each other.
It was also funny, Alfred thought five years later, that he would have met the man of his dreams during college without even realizing it, and that right after graduate school he would be on one knee, in front of the two cats that had brought them together in the first place, proposing to that very man.
(Who, if you were curious, said yes.)
Author's note: The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was an American fighter plane. The Supermarine Seafire was a British fighter plane and "a naval version of the Supermarine Spitfire adapted for operation from aircraft carriers," according to Wikipedia, while the Short Sterling was a British bomber plane. They were all used in WWII. Personally, I think Arthur would make an excellent History teacher. ;) I hope you enjoyed this!