~*The Bridge, Part II*~

In which people yell a lot and authoress apologizes profusely for lateness. I start school and two new jobs next week, (please wish me luck!) but hope I can have a monthly update this year, even if they're a little smaller.

Ugh, I'm ashamed by how much this horrible story resembles a soap opera now. I feel like I should introduce an evil twin soon. This is the last chapter for yak-yak; after this, I hope you can keep up. ;)

Two more chapters to go! Please stay with me a little longer.

~*oOo*~

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may!

I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.

In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three:

Now who will stand, on either hand, and keep the bridge with me?


My darling! My love! I want...to match footsteps with you, every day, for the rest of my life...


The kitchen clock's ticking was so loud Mrs. Braginski finally stood up to take the battery out. Katyusha remained at the table, gazing at her lap. Her hands were wrapped around an ice-cold mug of coffee.

"I wish Vanya would come back."

"Wishing does no one any good." Mrs. Braginski murmured, trudging back to her daughter's side after the cuckoo had been silenced. The events of the past several days left her hair prematurely striped white. "I wished your father would stop beating me and he stopped only when I beat him back."

Ice blue eyes flickered up briefly, and then down again.

"He wouldn't touch his dinner last night—when he heard there was no news he just went right back out, wandering the streets," Katyusha fretted, wiping her eyes with a tissue that was starting to disintegrate from overuse. "It's so terrible."

"Is natural. Those closest to the heart bring us the most pain. We all suffer heartache before we die—this is how we know we have lived." Mrs. Braginski reached to take Katyusha's hand in her warm, rough one. "That is why life is still worth living.

"But I do not mind telling you that if Vanya and Joy…"

She trailed off and Katyusha looked up; Alexandria's lining face was set like stone.

And then it collapsed; she slowly buried it in a shaking hand and what little could be seen was bright red with shame. Rather than a sob, a sucking, rattling noise escaped her, which in it was pierced all the sadness too savage for tears.

"Mama, are…"

"Da, da," The woman muttered gruffly, dabbing her eyes. "Now. I would like to know something."

"What is it?"

"Why did you sleep with the Bonnefoy boy?"

Katyusha froze. Mrs. Braginski briefly glanced at her as she rose to take the whistling kettle off the stove.

"…that was just a guess," she remarked, preparing two new cups, spoon clinking against the ceramic. She sat again. "Now to pick the right one. I would immediately think Francis, but playboy though he is, I doubt he'd turn his back on his dear one, bless her soul." She crossed herself.

Katyusha started to cry.

"Hush. We are all ugly, Katya." Alexandria pushed a steaming cup towards her. "The pretty thing to have done was to accept that your Eduard would rather touch a keyboard than his wife and divorce him. Or to have come crying to your mother. But you are so afraid of inconveniencing anyone by the slightest bit you try to solve everything on your own. And then more tears come."

"Will you tell him?" The young woman asked wretchedly, nose and eyes blotchy as more tears came oozing down.

"Nyet. I leave that up to you. Do what gives you peace."

"Mama, I don't want him to divorce me!" She exclaimed frantically, wringing her hands against her heart. "Not now! It's too much…I can't...now, it would kill me!"

Mrs. Braginski closed her eyes and tilted her head towards the ceiling.

"….my dearest one, Eduard and Matvey look alike," she said wearily, effectively shocking Katyusha enough to stop crying. "Think of that. Now dry your eyes. You will rest here and I will go pray."

Suddenly someone started hammering at the door. The two women immediately stiffened, and Mrs. Braginski darted out, patting something underneath her blouse as she squinted through the peephole. Then her shoulders slumped.

"Matthew," She sighed, before unbolting several newly-installed locks. "Perhaps there is news."

Matthew stepped through the second the door opened, clutching his side. To Katyusha's alarm, he was breathing so hard he couldn't answer when she agitatedly pressed him for Ivan's whereabouts. His normally pale complexion was unusually rosy, gleaming with sweat.

The both took him underneath an arm and led him to the kitchen, where Mrs. Braginski gently but firmly pushed him into a chair and a cup of water into his hands.

"S-sorry," he gasped after a few messy gulps, spilling all over his sweater. "I'm—I'm sorry—didn't call—didn't know—didn't know what—needed to tell you—"

"Matvey, where is my son?" Mrs. Braginski asked, in her Tired of This Shit voice.

Removing his glasses, Matthew looked up into Katyusha's eyes and away, his color deepening.

"Ivan….Ivan's gone," He clarified shakily, removing his glasses. "Not answering….his cell. And…."

He took a long, shivery breath, throat aching fiercely. "We got some….information….long story, really weird story, but we think Arthur and Al…heading to Canada. From on the water. We checked in with the FBI…looks like Arthur managed to steal a boat."

"Oh, God!"

Mrs. Braginski frowned.

"Francis thinks he "accidentally" gave Ivan permission to "borrow" my parents' water ski," Matthew muttered, rolling his eyes. "Which is missing. It...it has a navigator, but—"

The young man grit his teeth and pressed his forehead against his knees, knuckles squeezed against his temples. Katyusha hesitated a moment, and then began to smooth his back comfortingly.

"It's insane," he whimpered, voice muffled. "It's a long shot. A tip from a toy…we called the coast guard and they're sending out a chopper to look for them all. But chances are it's all a trick Arthur cooked up to keep us off his trail. I don't. I don't know."

He sat up and wiped his eyes. He looked heartily embarrassed, though mostly just exhausted, what with the ugly bruise-like pits under his eyes.

"And even if Ivan does find them, I'm terrified he's going to wind up getting himself killed." There was a nasty silence. "I...I don't know if he's armed, but I'm sure he'll have to pry Al out of Arthur's...cold, dead fingers before he'll set him free."

"Is that so?" Mrs. Braginski asked, pulling her coat and hat from a nearby chair. "In that case, I may be awhile."

The two looked askance at her. "Supper is in the oven. Should the boys return soon, call me at once. And there's another pan in there so Joy can have three or four helpings….mind you, you might want some yourself, Matvey. You look like a skinny chicken."

She headed to the liquor cabinet, began pouring vodka into a flask, reconsidered, and tucked the bottle in her coat pocket.

"Mama, are you sure you should be drinking in church?"

"Coincidentally, everyone does it. It's called communion." She retorted as she headed out.

At the end of the drive however, she tossed it into a garbage can.

~o*oOo*o~


"Enough."

It was getting dark out now. The sun had mostly sunk in the distance, leaving just a flashing sliver above the sleepy indigo.

Black waves rising and falling like the coils of a sea serpent near their boat dully reflected egg yellow light streaming below deck. Alfred stared out the circular porthole beside him, scratchy rope binding his hand to his side once again.

There was not a hint of a swiveling lighthouse ray in the distance, no rumbling of a passing ship. No pinprick of red in the sky indicating aircraft.

Somewhere the microwave started beeping—Arthur's hunger caught up with him at last and he was fixing instant noodles of some kind. Ramen was something even Arthur couldn't screw up and it'd been some time since he'd eaten, but Alfred knew his gymnastics-turning gut wouldn't hold any of it.

The floor creaked as Arthur approached and he tensed, swiping his palms against his jeans. He thought he could see a dim white speck beyond the faint gold fringe in the blue-black night now. Probably Venus.

The groaning stopped. While the foundation was probably sturdy, it sounded hollow and thin and he half-expected Arthur's foot to crush through it at any second.

"Alfred, enough," Arthur said exasperatedly, as if dealing with a bratty child sulking in a corner. The obvious disappointment made him feel seven instead of seventeen. A second later, his voice became significantly honeyed.

"I have some food…I know you like this flavor. Let me feed you."

The bed dipped and he curled up like a hedgehog when Arthur tried coaxing a forkful of noodles into him, hot liquid dripping on his neck.

There was a sharp, whistling intake of breath. "Alfred." Arthur spat. He could see those eyes frosting over with cold anger. "For God's sake, I'm not trying to poison you."

Lying liar who lies.

Arthur could care less if he were starving. He knew—oh, hell, Alfred thought he knew him once—Arthur was just trying to make nice and worm his way back into Alfred's good side after what happened just hours ago.

"Stop sopping about already. It was just a toy," He chided sternly and Alfred wished more than ever that he had at least a hand free to rip his throat out. "I didn't think it meant so much to you…"

When he remained determinedly unresponsive Arthur let out another dramatic sigh and kissed Alfred's forehead, eliciting a flinch.

"…we'll get you a replacement. Promise. I'll get you all of them, if you like."

But a Mochi was useless for communication without being connected via computer first, and something told him Arthur wasn't about to give him that. He dug his head underneath the lumpy pillow.

Alfred felt the springs rise as Arthur got up and mentally pat himself on the back, but after the microwave dinged he Arthur shuffled towards him again. Judging by the smell of tea leaves, yet another peace offering.

"You should drink this." He offered with hesitant gentleness, the grind in his voice earlier completely absent. "It's peppermint. I know you like it. And it'll help you with your leg pain and any seasickness you might still have." A hand sneaked under the pillow and felt his forehead. A soft tut.

"You're feeling a little warm, love….if at any time you think you might be sick again, call me."

Why? So he could puke all over him? Maybe Arthur would even open the window and he'd dump the tea out somehow.

The pillow was tugged aside and before Alfred could hide his face again a strong hand gripped his head in place. Scowling, he struggled to turn away from the warm cup following his mouth.

"Alfred."

He warily looked up and wished he had not; Arthur was glaring at him and using That Voice. He'd only heard That Voice a handful of times, but it always insinuated that Arthur was at last mad enough to let him really have it.

"I've been very understanding and permissive considering how sudden this was, but you need this. And I want to hear your voice. You owe me that much."

Die, die, die. I hope you eat hot shrapnel, I hope you get eaten by sharks, DIE.

"I swear to...how long do you intend to keep this up?"

My body is over the ocean

My body is over the sea

"This whole unfortunate misunderstanding aside, when have I ever kept anything from you?" Arthur demanded.

I'm drowning Arthur in the ocean

Wow. He was too infuriated to even begin responding to that, but his big mouth opened anyway.

"Well, for starters, I didn't even know you were queer." The bite in his own voice surprised him, more so by the hurt that clung to it like barnacles.

The older man sighed, shaking his head.

"I'm not gay. If you were born a woman, I am certain I would be just as interested in you as I am now."

Alfred flicked him with some difficulty, growling. God. He just wanted to sleep, he was so tired. But sleep was dangerous. Arthur could realize he was a liability and he wouldn't wake up at all. Or if he did, it would be with a pillow over his face. Or him being tossed overboard.

And for all he knew one nightmare might be eclipsed by another, in which Arthur whispered sweet nothings in Alfred's ear while the two of them were slowly submerged in hot tar, hand sneaking up his shirt.

"Or rather, you ARE something that belongs to me."

Despite the uncomfortable warmth of the pallet, Alfred went cold.

He'd really believed that Arthur was going to strip him then and there and—And. "And" would be where it ended. Putting it in words was impossible. "And" told all.

Thankfully after seeing that he'd effectively scared him shitless, Arthur had climbed off him, silent but radiating a grim satisfaction. He tied his hand back up and Alfred hadn't resisted, motionless in the darkening cabin until Arthur came down again, shamefaced and feet dragging.

Alfred wasn't moved. "You're sick as hell."

"Maybe."

Again came quiet and now Arthur's concerned face deepened to a grimace. Without warning he slammed his fist against the wall, face contorting as oddly as if he were seizing.

"Bunny." He said in a deceptively calm voice. "Talk to me."

"Fine. I hope you die. No, wait. I take that back. I hope you get every single type of cancer, including cancer for parts you don't have. And then I hope you burn to death."

He glanced at Arthur's face, longing to see hurt even if it fixed nothing. But Arthur's expression was curiously blank. He sipped his tea, and said lithely, "Seems like someone's being unkind."

"No shit, Sherlock. You just undid everything you ever did for me," he snarled, twisting uncomfortably. He'd been tethered down too tightly; everything ached. His leg was worst of all, burning like an absolute bitch. "Times a hundred! I should have let Ivan tear you apart! After all, you tried to kill him!" He thrashed like an eel.

"And you…you shot Joan, in cold blood! She could be dead! She could be dead—"

"She is." Arthur said pleasantly.

"...and you don't even care! You were aiming for Francis, Mattie's brother! You…wanted to kill Katyusha and her baby?" He wanted to shout, but the words came out feather light and quiet. Almost inquisitive.

"Technically, it was a fetus, not a—"

"Fuck you!" Alfred bellowed, his voice rasping hoarse, scraping. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"

That weird and ugly face again. Arthur looked pained. His bastardized blue eyes were overbright and troubled in the bloodshot whites.

"Alfred. Stop. I've put up with your mouth, but now you're making me upset."

"Upset?! Oh, terribly sorry, old chap," Alfred simpered, voice mock-English and singsong. Arthur always spoke like he was from the fucking UK even though he'd never left the continental U.S. Pretentious shit. "The LAST thing in the world I'd want is for you to be fucking upset! Tut-tut, tally ho and all that rot, you sick, disgusting bastard!"

"Alfred." How many times had he said his brother's name in the last half hour alone? "Alfred. Please."

"You're the worst," he snarled, chest heaving. "The worst, most evil, conniving, selfish—"

SMACK.

Something hard struck his face and he cut off, cheek smoldering. Astonished, he gaped up stupidly.

Chest heaving, Arthur beamed down at him, an awful, toothy grin. Somehow it reminded him of one of Ivan's small smiles, akin to a face so wrung with fury it spelled death.

He was livid.

"Don't call me selfish." The words were choked out, Arthur shaking. "I don't especially…appreciate it. And, I'm getting," he ranted, face looming over Alfred's.

"Just a little…tired…of hearing about…your fucking boyfriend all the time."

Arthur seized his hair and dragged his head up so that the two were nose to nose.

"The bloody hell do you think you are?" He asked quietly, breath hot in Alfred's face, brutal grip tightening. His scalp stung and Alfred cried out, but Arthur did not release him.

"You think you can get away from me? How many times must I tell you? I won't allow it. Did he love you enough to listen when you begged him not to kill me?" He seized his shoulders and jostled them, Alfred's head bobbing like a buoy. "Well, answer me! Answer me! You have an answer for everything—why not now?! Did he stop me from taking you? No! And do you want to know why?!"

Eyes overtaking his face, Alfred couldn't reply, but Arthur abruptly slammed his knee into his chest and knocked the wind out of him. It escaped him in a startled grunt and spared him the trouble of having to try.

Dazed, he almost missed how Arthur clamored over his body for the third time, supporting himself with one hand on Alfred's shoulder. Teeth bared, he leered at his paralyzed sibling, face grotesquely lined from his demented expression. Alfred might laugh if he could move.

Wake up, silly, He expected him to say somewhere.

"The correct answer is, because he's as shallow as a puddle," Arthur tsked sweetly. He tenderly petted Alfred's sweating clavicle, the skin prickling as the touches became rougher and rougher.

"You sweet, stupid boy. You still don't understand. I've been the only one who's ever really wanted you, Bunny, all of you. I've never betrayed you. I never left you behind. There's not a single part of you I don't cherish, not a single part of you I won't love however I please."

His eyes sharpened, narrowed.

"Do you think he'd want you," he wondered aloud, caressing the swollen pink print his fingers left from where he'd slapped Alfred.

"D'you suppose the Russki'd want you…if I spilled….battery acid…all over your lovely face and melted half of it away?" The hand that was smoothing his hair tangled in it again, and Alfred cowered.

"Well? You've such a pretty mouth, sweetie. Where is it? Where is it? Does he love you like I would, if you were missing an eye, had your lips plastered shut, or your nose ripped open?!"

The record in his head went to replay an old jingle—maybe from an insurance commercial. He didn't know. Anything would do. But Arthur began shaking him again, his face creasing a hundred times with rage, and the needle scratched.

Arthur began screaming:

"I'd love you so much, forever, and yet you would be MOONING AFTER SOME IDIOT BOY WHO WOULDN'T GIVE YOU THE TIME OF DAY! IT'S NOT YOUR PERSONALITY HE WANTS TO FUCK, ALFRED!"

Arthur's hands flew to his collar as if he were ready to wring the life out of him. But his words did the job:

"COINCIDENTALLY, IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN PROVING MY LITTLE THEORY, I CAN OPEN UP THE ENGINE AND PULL OUT SOMETHING SPECIAL! AND THEN I'LL DRIVE YOU BACK AND LET YOU SEE IVAN'S EXPRESSION FOR YOURSELF! IF YOU CAN SEE ANYTHING AFTER THAT! WOULD YOU LIKE THAT?! WELL?! WOULD YOU?! ANSWER ME, YOU INGRATE!"

The voice ringed. Might have rippled the water. Somewhere a gull cried.

Alfred just kept staring at him.

Then the spell was broken; Arthur's scorching face slowly began to fall, eyes widening, but he didn't want to see.

'Just close your eyes and no one will see you,' Arthur used to assure him when Alfred wailed that demons were lurking in the closet. 'It's a magic charm. Just close your eyes and no one will find you. You'll disappear.

'And then everything will be okay.'

"Bunny," Arthur croaked, Alfred pushing his head back underneath the pillow. "Fuck, fuck, please don't, I'd never, I just wanted to scare you, I'm so sorry, don't, oh, no, please, don't..."

It wasn't working.

He stared at the metal siding of the bunk, teeth set in something soft. Something hot flooded Alfred's mouth. He couldn't taste it.

Arthur fell over him like a cloud, feverishly raining down pecks everywhere he could. Acid drops contributing to a helpless sorrow festering inside like sour milk, the crater rotting deeper into him.

Hands tentatively touched him and Alfred howled, Arthur jerking back as if he'd been burned. Alfred succumbed to tears, which spiraled into shrieks. With this tearing inside him, Alfred wondered if he might never stop ever and hysteria quickly followed.

It doesn't matter.

Arms slowly wrapped around him, ignoring the flood of panicked whines they produced. He froze, not thinking in words as he awaited the inevitable. In a sense, it'd only be more sadistic for Arthur to not just get it over with. This fear was eating him.

Face curiously wet, Arthur crooned soothing words in his ears and he continued crying. If he didn't move an inch, he was untouchable, safe always inside. Yes, that was how it'd work. Even if Arthur tried touching him and…And, if he didn't move, didn't react, it would be like it weren't happening.

It would end, eventually. Everything did.

Arthur nuzzled his hair and he felt a rush of revulsion when his head was pressed against Arthur's shoulder, more so recalling its comfort when he was small and believed it was a respite from the world. The fuck was that. It changed nothing. There was no safe place, no security blankets. Just stupid people.

Suddenly he saw two small boys wandering around a sunflower field, a scarf twined around both their necks.

Ivan, where are you?

Rocking them both, Arthur continued whispering luminous, moon-soft words and Alfred dully listened, worn out. His heart was blessed too many times to count, kisses still tenderly falling.

"I'm so sorry." Kiss. "My dear." Kiss. "My precious little bunny. I love you. I won't hurt you." Kiss, kiss. "Please forgive me. I'm such a fool. You know I don't mean it." Kiss, kiss. "Let big brother take care of you." Kiss, kiss. "Never fret. I won't hurt you. I love you. I love you so much…." Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss.

It was beginning to sound like a mantra, something you said to the rhythm of drums in a religious ceremony. Alfred hiccupped and Arthur thumbed away tears, never breaking his lulling, near-hypnotic chant. Hopefully it was a prelude to Arthur's guilt overcoming him and his leaving Alfred alone again, and…

And what? Either he'd lose his temper again or he'd have to play along with Arthur just a bit. And Alfred was scared, very scared of what would happen if he gave Arthur the teeniest inch—it'd been bad enough playing nice so he could contact Ivan.

His blubbering eventually slowed, and he lay tired and sick in his brother's arms. Arthur cooed his encouragement, still kissing him and Alfred started dry-heaving a little. At last Arthur paused, reluctantly moved away to snatch up the now lukewarm tea and held it against his lips. But again he refused.

"Al, you should at least drink something," Arthur begged. "I'll get you some water."

Eyes and nose still swollen and clownish, he shook his head no.

Drugged. It was all drugged, he was certain. Take one bite of the forbidden fruit and you'd be lost in a feverish haze, time in a Do-Not-Pass go dimension. He saw a movie once about a deranged nurse poisoning a man she obsessed over so that he wouldn't leave her house.

Movie. Like, that creepy pornographic film Arthur had put in a few weeks ago. On the night he'd been ready to hump a wall, being violently hypersensitive, mouth too dry, blood positively searing and everywhere was just crying out for...

"Please," Arthur pleaded, sounding near tears himself. "Just eat a little and I'll let you be. Promise."

But it wasn't safe. Not safe.

Not even Ivan had been safe.

The two lay like that for awhile. Alfred wondered why Arthur was letting the ship just drift on its own. Maybe he trusted that the tide was taking them in the right direction, or maybe just wanted to maroon them both until Stockholm Syndrome took effect, or some crap.

Arthur cupped his cheek, stroking absently. He didn't stop him.

But the touch was as soothing as it was sickening. Warm affection, compassionate touch, the non-rapey kind, was only too welcome at this point. The discovery helped nothing, particularly when he was frightened to feed the yawning maw inside of him just once. It'd never be satisfied, send spores all over his body.

It was already stirring as Arthur began running the tangles out of his hair, the other hand on his back. He was humming a tune that half-sounded like "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and "Twinkle, Twinkle."

Arthur was squashed against the wall, there being little room available in the bunk without putting weight on Alfred's leg. If he minded, he didn't say.

"...you probably want to use the bathroom now, hmm?" Arthur asked quietly and at last he looked up. "It's been awhile…would you like that? Maybe you do that…I'll change your bandages and get some food into you. Then you can sleep. Perhaps then you'll feel better, love."

The sense of rot increased. But at last he nodded. Arthur kissed his cheek—thankfully avoiding his lips.

"Alright, then," he said, getting to work on the ropes. "Do be good. I have you, dearest, I have you." He said it like it was meant to be a reassurance.

When at last the final knot was untied—he could have just as easily sliced them all, but he probably wanted their reuse—Arthur helped lift him to a sitting position. A moment later, he clamored out, pulling Alfred to one foot.

"Hup," he said incongruously, checking to see that Alfred's balance was sound. "Lean on me. I wish I'd made a better brace for it love, but we'll worry about that later."

The two awkwardly started hobbling towards a tiny little closet. Arthur couldn't seem to stop reassuring him, as if trying to comfort himself:

"You're safe. It'll be alright. Alfred, I love—"

WHACK.

Teetering badly, Alfred nonetheless smashed his fist into Arthur's face. Taken completely by surprise, Arthur went sprawling and Alfred balanced precariously on one very stiff leg, wobbling without his support. But before Arthur could get his bearings he immediately hopped for his life towards the stairs.

"Get back here!"

He frantically hoisted himself up the fourth step, a glimpse of the night sky breathing new hope in him. That hope abruptly died when he felt Arthur grab his wrist and attempt to drag him down.

With a wordless exclamation he grasped the banister for dear life and with his free hand mindlessly socked the flesh behind him. Arthur seized his fist in an iron grip but Alfred continued to flail like a Muppet, feeling Arthur prying at his fingers, nails nicking him.

"Sweetheart, calm down, it's me, please, just calm..."

Alfred fell back, slamming his brother against the opposite rail; he heard a yelp of pain and Arthur's grip momentarily loosened. He slid free.

Adrenaline made him near painless as he limped up the last steps, Arthur in hot pursuit and yelping something.

His eyes flew around the unfamiliar starboard, looking for something even if he didn't know what it was, but Arthur was closing in. So he grabbed the boat rail, staring out at the vast stretch of waves surrounding them on all sides with no hint of land.

They were alone. Alone and in the same boat.

"Wait!"

He very slowly turned, keeping his hands locked tightly around the guardrail. Arthur had skidded to a halt just feet away, holding both his arms out like a mime. His breathing was shallow, eyes both bloodshot. There was blood trickling down his chin from where Alfred hit him, and judging by the swelling by his mouth, there'd be bruising soon.

"Okay, love, okay, I won't make you go back down," he said, annoyingly slowly and Alfred just looked at him, flummoxed. "But it's cold out here….why don't…why don't we back away, some, hm?" His voice went up so high in pitch he probably qualified as a soprano. It was bizarre.

"And you….you have to keep in mind, the…the cold's not good for your leg, I can fetch a heating pad for it, you shouldn't be standing— " Why did Arthur sound so nervous? "Putting too much weight on it isn't. Isn't. It's not good, Bunny, so why don't—"

He dared to take a step forward and Alfred's side noisily fell against the rail, his knuckles whitening. Arthur stopped dead, hands trembling.

"Popkin, why don't we talk some and you can step back a little? Don't want to fall in, do you?" A strangled giggle that sounded all kinds of wrong. He was even wringing his hands.

"Just step away…it'll….it'll be fine…safer….dearest, I promise…"

Oh. He looked at the moon's wavery reflection.

Of course he didn't want to jump ship, but a suicide threat worked once.

With no small amount of effort, his leg protesting as a thick spike of pain clove itself through it, he climbed up and sat on the boat railing, glowering at Arthur. It was too hard to believe that the skeleton gasping in dismay was really him.

Arthur surged forwards, and Alfred tipped warningly back in response. God, he hoped his clutch held.

"We're miles away from shore! You'd die!"

A violent rock of the waves very nearly swept Alfred straight backward into the water, and he squawked, holding on for dear life as Arthur rushed to his side, pulling him off. He responded in kind by automatically kicking his abductor with his right leg, the broken one.

The agony made him scream so loudly it was silent.

Somehow he managed to hold onto the metal, even though he'd collapsed. Arthur was holding his head, smoothing hair away from his sweating face and saying something, but Alfred irritably shoved at him, the pain pulse still intense.

"Help!" He yelled, clutching at the rail for dear life as Arthur attempted to pull him away. "HELP! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HELP ME! THE LUNATIC'S GONNA KILL ME!"

"Shut up!"

"NO! NO, NO, NO! I'M NOT GOING BACK IN THERE!"

Arthur bared his teeth so that his gum showed.

"I'm—for the love of—v-very well, very well, fine, have it your way! But only if I have your word that you'll stop trying to kill yourself!"

Alfred stopped screaming. And Arthur did slowly stand up, his hands sliding away from Alfred's shoulders. He looked bad, exhausted, eyes still bulging and dilated in a mad mask.

A few seconds went crawling past on amputated limbs. Neither of them said anything. The fiery hurt began subsiding to an ache, a bad one, but at least his eyes were no longer watering. Throat ragged, everything sore, eyelids flickering, his head fell weakly against one of the three metal bars. It was starting to warm, but only by the slightest degree; he could see his breath out here. The tide was probably carrying them farther North.

"Arthur, let me go," He pleaded quietly. He didn't think he'd have any real luck after the first thousand requests were rejected, but what else could he do? "Let me go, right now, take me back, right now, or I swear, the moment your back's turned—"

"If you did that, you'd have my death on my hands too." Arthur said monotonously. "I already told you there's nothing left to live for without you."

"You…fucking melodramatic…did you pick up that shit from Twilight?"

"You read those books?"

"No, I—never mind," he snapped. "Take me back. Or just…put me on shore somewhere. Anywhere. I wanna go home, Artie."

"I'll take care of you."

"I don't want to be taken care of by you!" He exploded. Arthur was standing so close, so composed, able to answer glibly when he'd just destroyed the fabric of Alfred's life. Unrepentant. "You're a murderer! And how...how the hell do you live with someone who threatens to...melt your face off?"

Now regret flashed across Arthur's expression. He stooped to touch Alfred, but the younger slapped his hand. After a moment he slowly stood up again, Alfred still clenching the rail like a stubborn two year old.

"I'm sorry," he said miserably. "I really am. I don't...you said you hated me and you don't get to, Alfred."

That edge from before was creeping into his voice and Alfred unwillingly looked up. A muscle was working in the injured jaw, Arthur's green eyes vicious but brittle as he gazed over the waves, foam churning on the surface.

"I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you."

"How?" He rasped, massaging his throat, glasses sliding off his nose. But he didn't dare take one hand off the rail lest Arthur force him downstairs again. "How could you be—like this—"

"Always."

He closed his eyes and fought to keep from getting violently sick. "Bull." He shook his head. "I wanna go home."

"Can I show you something?" Arthur asked, sounding timid now, as if he were the victim and Alfred could have shoved him into the ocean for it. "It might clear things up a bit. I'm not evil, Alfred." His head tilted.

"Or if Arthur really is your fairytale villain, then your brother will be just that. I don't care. Anything for you. Even if everything else has to fall away for us to stay together, then I'll wreck them myself. And of course I don't care about Katyusha's stupid child—I would have shot everyone in that room, Matthew included, before I let anyone take you away from me."

"…..Artie, Artie, your crazy is showing."

"No one will separate us. I've made sure of it. And anyone who makes you unhappy deserves to die."

A pause. His tongue flicked out to lick dry lips.

"But not me. Who else would love you like I would?" He breathlessly answered his own question. "No, it has to be me. Just me. It was only ever me…."

Wow. This was really happening. Huh. He thought this stuff was only ever TV. Alfred painfully huddled in a ball, tried to keep his broken leg as close to his body as possible. He focused on the feel and smell of steel and salty air, willing the sensations to overpower his wounded leg, the sound of inane muttering, and the dread ramming itself through him, desperate to again be voiced and expressed.

"...you said you wanted to show me something?" He asked, if only to silence Arthur. "If it's perverted, I swear I'll gouge out an eye and give you a matching set."

"Wha?" Arthur asked distractedly, blinking. "Oh. Ah, yes."

He pulled out a key from underneath his shirt and unlocked a nearby compartment in the boat, pulling out what appeared to be a thick book wrapped in plastic. Arthur hesitated, staring at the volume with an unreadable expression before he unwound the wrap, placed the book on the ground, and slid it towards Alfred.

Alfred's eyes followed as the key was tucked away again, most reluctantly dropping to look at the book between his feet. It looked old, though utterly unremarkable.

He turned it over and saw stamped in peeling gold letters, the name Arthur Kirkland.

"…you want me to read your diary?"

"Not mine. Check the date."

Mystified, he opened it and glanced at the neat scrawling at the top right corner—some fifty years ago.

"…."

"That was our grandfather's." Arthur explained quietly, staring out at the waves again. "An irregular log of his. You'll remember I was his namesake." His lip curled, although his eyes remained humorless. "It took me many pains to obtain it from police evidence, but I….this is how it's always been."

Police evidence? Why—no. He wasn't going to ask anything anymore, especially about long-dead people he'd never met. It'd be a wonder if his sanity stayed partially intact after tonight.

He flicked through a few pages. Probably just a stupid scam, although the handwriting didn't quite match Arthur's and was very faded. But why show him this?

His gaze bored into Arthur's figure. He kept his distance, but he was probably hoping to distract him so that Alfred could be tossed over a shoulder and carried away.

Hesitantly he began reading, glancing up every couple of words to check that Arthur stayed where he was. That was more pressing than the journal entries themselves, most of which involved descriptions of flora or fauna. The guy obviously didn't relish details of his personal life, most of which were just scrawled in footnotes underneath pictures of fish.

Despite the situation, Alfred found his eyes drooping again after about one page. Boring him to death—so that was Arthur's strategy. Honestly, the droning text was more soporific than warm milk and Arthur's Shakespearean films combined.

Suddenly a line caught his interest, and he reread it to make sure he wasn't mistaken.

"He only mentions in passing that his daughter was born?" He asked incredulously, looking up again at Arthur, who was sitting now and hugging his knees. "Takes three pages to describe a freaking duck and adds his kid's birth in an 'Oh, my wife gave birth to a daughter' line? The hell is wrong with this guy?"

"Keep reading."

Suspicious, he started flipping carelessly through pages until a scrap of paper fell out. The wind was picking up so he had to snatch it quickly before it fluttered over the waves. Some random olde-looking church flyer thing? He let the breeze carry it away, an unusually large body of text catching his attention:

I feel like my heart has been made new, or rather, whatever remained of me has been completely destroyed and a new sense of self has been breathed into me. It is frightening in its magnitude and I feel overwhelmed...but there is also joy, joy and purpose and such overwhelming love heralding inside that even now, hours after my miracle, this silly, large smile is still plastered on my face and my hands are shaking. Helen is not happy—why can't she be happy for once? Today is a day written in gold upon this budding, painfully tender and powerfully devoted heart of mine; my soul has been stolen away and returned to me, both sated and wanting for drink...it drank from bubbling, laughing fountains of what these people must call life. How strange it is that people should be so unhappy when such happiness exists in this world! If this is what madness is truly like, God! My God! Let us all be mad on life!

"….um, did Mr. Chuckles have the stick surgically removed from his ass or a nice night out?" Alfred asked skeptically, letting his chin rest in one hand. "And even if he does bust out a nice Hallmark card, I still don't get how our Grampa has anything to do with…what you've been doing. What you did." It was tough, tough keeping the accusation out of his voice. But even if this wasn't moving in the direction of Alfred's freedom, he wasn't eager to provoke the tyrannical nutjob side of his brother he never wanted to acknowledge.

Arthur's expression did not change. "Read on."

Tonight I went so reluctantly to one of Helen's ridiculous socials. But how strange it is that in even the most mundane and unexpected of events we can find angels smiling; I tremble to think what my stony self should have done had I not chanced upon this slender, sweet, childlike saint! It is a wonder I ever lived without her. A queer thought, to love so desperately upon meeting her just today...I feel her presence cemented in my heart, but nestling upon it as sweetly as a butterfly might...whilst underneath, the happy flower trembles with adoration for this little creature. Darling! Darling!

"This is kinda...forward," He said uneasily, rolling his eyes as he turned the page only to see that the Romantic kept prattling on. "And disturbing." No kidding, since the married middle-ager was already having some royally sick fantasies. Unfortunately he'd seen fit to draw a picture of one in the following pages and Alfred closed the book. Ewwww.

"If you read more carefully, he talks in detail as to what happened when he first met her," Arthur said quietly, hair fluttering over his face. It was longer than usual; he remembered it was around this time of year he clipped Arthur's hair for him, because the man was too cheap for a barber and was hopeless doing it by himself.

"It gradually crept up on him that something was...different, and then it hit him with all the force of a bullet." The waves continued roaring, the boat rocking up and down."I was so apprehensive...and so relieved...when I read his narrative. It made me realize I wasn't alone."

"Oh" was all Alfred said, scuffing his shoe on the deck. "Did something like this...happen to you?"

"When I held you for the first time, as a matter of fact."

Making a noise of dissent, Alfred shook his head again. It hurt.

"There was a time...you looked after Mattie, too. I remember. For all you knew, it was him...and you looked after us both the way you did because you couldn't remember which one it was and then you...just..."

The expression on Arthur's face made the words in his throat shrivel and die.

"I remember," Arthur said, very coldly. "That day very well. I also know you were the baby without the maroon birthmark. And I remember that you sat in the left carrier in the backseat of the car on the way home and that you had the hiccups." A tremor entered his voice. "I couldn't let go of your hand...it was so tiny, kept clutching my finger."

"But Amelia..."

"She was...an experiment." The words were halting and uncertain. "She looked like you...and was a bit similar to you..." He chalked up another mental scar. "I thought maybe I could even marry her in the interest of appearing normal, so long as I could keep you somehow." Yep, there went another one. Alfred was starting to feel like one of those scratch pads used in Geology.

"But I couldn't make her happy. And she wasn't you. So that's why we went our separate ways."

"Fuck. I can't believe this," He exclaimed, slamming a fist against the floor. "Even if I was the only one you...cared about….that way, that doesn't mean you didn't give a crap about your own fucking parents! A teacher, a friend…anyone who mattered a bit to you! You should have looked to them! Not…put all your eggs in one basket like some fucking creepster!"

"Alfred, I didn't have a choice," Arthur said despairingly. "Mother..." The hesitant word shattered a dam and suddenly he was talking. "Mother was always sighing and giving me these looks when I was younger. I didn't like her, hated how she found fault with every fucking thing I did."

Scowling—well, that was one thing about Arthur that never changed—he strode next to his brother, who clung to the railing warningly.

"Other children would cry when their mothers went away, hugged them...I didn't...understand then that was maybe what she wanted from me." The words were grudging and unapologetic.

"But she made me confused; we argued all the time, if you recall any of it...I never gave her an 'I love you' unless Father told me to or it might get me what I wanted.

"I…liked Father sometimes because he liked me, never seemed to look at me like I was odd or scary...didn't mind that I wanted so badly to look after you." He blew upward and ruffled his bangs. "I don't think he understood. Well…actually….never mind. I liked him. Didn't love him, though I knew he deserved it."

"…but at one point, you did look after Mattie." Alfred reminded him. "You did care about him."

"He wasn't you, but he was still my baby brother," Arthur retorted sourly. "But I could have done with or without him, to be honest. Oh," He said, looking at Alfred. "Come now, you don't even know why yet.

"It was only later that I began resenting him...because he was the embodiment of all my shame."

Alfred looked at him quizzically. Arthur shrugged.

"He…baffled me. I felt some instinct to see to it that he was fine, but I didn't want him, didn't need him, and I hated that he looked like you and shared so many things with you. I didn't need anyone but you. And I hated how inseparable you two were, how you spoke your own language at the dinner table and would leave me out of everything."

"….so you flipped your lid because you didn't get enough hugs?" He asked dully, reconsidering his abstaining from diving into the water. "Is that it?"

"I was lonely." The confession was so frank and unexpected that it made Alfred weakly bark out a laugh. Arthur looked at him for a good long while, letting the silence hang something tangible and awful before breaking it.

"And when I realized at about age eight that it wasn't...typical, to favor someone so much over all other family members...people in general…" Arthur's head sagged back and he considered the stars overhead.

"That was when I affirmed that I wasn't normal. I already felt detached from my peers, couldn't care less about the things they liked or relate to them. My classmates said it was because I was just a snobbish, know-it-all.

"But I went to school so blank I couldn't even care when they tormented me. My life revolved around when I got to spend time with you—I ran away from school three times after the new semester started shortly after you were born so that I could see you. That aside, I was nothing but a hollow. I had interests, but you were the only thing sustaining me."

This was the freakiest, most pathetic, and saddest thing he'd ever heard at once.

"...why didn't you ask someone for help?"

"I did," The man said shortly. "I spoke to my teacher and she told me it was a passing phase. That I was what she called an old soul and had different tastes from children my age." He spat into the ocean.

"But I couldn't understand the fixations children had on their parents or friends. I only ever cared about you. The entire school could have gone up in flames and, providing you were untouched, I wouldn't shed a tear."

"….didn't you feel guilty?"

"Much to my consternation, I typically couldn't feel anything unless it was related to you in some way. When I considered my parents and my other brother, all I could sense was an overwhelming amount of...emptiness."

"But that IS a feeling."

"No, Alfred. It's not." Arthur turned his head to examine the waves. "It's a lack thereof. I couldn't tell you the way I felt about you; you were too small to understand, and the last thing I wanted was for you to go around blathering to our family that your older brother sometimes thought about locking you in the attic so no one else would look at you ever."

Alfred painfully fell back on his leg when he automatically started, cold metal touching his back. Their breathing could be heard over the sound of water and that was all.

"It sounds like Mom knew," he said at last, more uncomfortable than he'd ever been in his life. "Guess she must of, with her Dad and all." Suddenly he swore. "She knew and she didn't try to help you? And hey, what happened to him anyway? Did he leave his wife?"

"I didn't want her help," Arthur snapped reproachfully. Only much later would Alfred realize that he'd avoided his other question entirely. "She sent me to God-knows-how-many-stupid psychiatrists and Father was right to say they wouldn't give me any help. They never kept their mouths shut and they were forcing pills down my throat to cure me of something I wasn't sure if I wanted to lose!"

"Bottom line, it's still your fucking fault." He said flatly.

"Because even if your excuse is that you're completely…s-stuck on me or whatever—people get over these things—you…you killed someone, Artie." The truth fell over him like a cascade

of broken glass. "You killed Joan, kidnapped me…even if you mean good, this stuff's evil!"

"Stop it," Arthur cried, his hands flying against his ears. "Stop it, stop it, stop it, stoppit—"

"What's the point?" Alfred asked hopelessly. A second later it occurred to him he wasn't sure what question he'd been asking, or what it exactly meant.

"I have to protect you. Don't you remember how mother used to tell stories of when you first came home from the hospital and I would take you from your room and hide you under my bed so I wouldn't have to share you with anyone?" The hysteric, spastic giggles were exploding from him like bubbly carbonation from a ruptured soda.

"I do. I remember you mattered so damn much to me soon I couldn't sleep unless I were sleeping on the floor of the nursery. When Mother forced me to go to a classmate's stupid slumber party I stole one of the baby monitors so I could hear you breathing."

Hoookay, Alfred could have lived without hearing that one. And approximately 107% of what he'd taken in just this evening. His limbs wouldn't stop wobbling.

"Even when our father held you it just made me so angry," He breathed, eyes flashing murderously. "He wasn't…mother either…neither should have been allowed to touch you ever."

Alfred's breathing picked up and he forced a jingle into his head. Arthur was pacing now.

"It was enough for her to bring you into the world—after that….no. No. No touching you," he whimpered. "Just me. Just me. I want to be your one and only. I have to protect you."

"More like protect your own stupid self-interest!" He sputtered in alarmed disgust. "And I'm sorry, but protect me from what, dare I ask?!" Life had actually been good before Natalya and Arthur decided to dump all over it.

"Me," He said, his eyes like a Basset Hound's. "Him. Me, mostly." Suddenly Arthur hid his face in his hands. "Oh, God, I might as well tell you. You're right—everything's ruined! Everything's fucking ruined!"

"Tell me what?" Alfred demanded.

"The truth." He wiped his eyes. The tears must have irritated his eyes with the lenses in them, because Arthur pulled out the baby blue lenses, eyes grassy green once more.

"You are so precious…I'd KILL anyone who hurt you, SHRED THEM and EAT THEM but I hurt you so badly I should have been punished." He looked up and Alfred was struck by the frantic grief in that face. "Cut to pieces."

What in the world was he talking about? He hoisted himself up one foot.

"….there's still time to make that right," he urged, helplessly holding up Arthur by his shoulders as his brother started sobbing. "You can turn the boat around—"

"What?" Well, so much for that. "No…no, that went…badly, to say the least…but…no…not that…." Alfred let his arms fall and Arthur swayed, pressing a hand against his temple.

"I did something to you. Something horrible when you were very small. I harmed you so badly it touched your very heart. I'm so sorry. It's unforgivable. I've spent my entire life trying to do penance by you, I swear!"

Now he was just trying to be infuriating.

The question was prickling inside, unsettling him. No harm in asking. After all, since he was already fractured in more ways than one, might as well keep the train going until it fell off the cliff.

"…did you, like, touch me when I was a kid? Molest me?"

Arthur jumped as if Alfred had hit him again. "O-of course not!" He stammered, sounding outraged. "Good God, what…" But he couldn't look at him.

"What kind of man do you think I am?" he cried.

Alfred would sooner as not answer that. "Simple enough question."

"Simple enough answer: No!" He exclaimed indignantly.

"The only time I ever tried to…extort sexual favors…" Oh, so that was what they were calling it now. "Was that night. I felt so liberated by telling you the secret I've kept all these years I just …but my word to you, whatever it might still mean: I did not try to hurt you in that way."

Oh. Um. Good?

"….then what'd the heck you do?" He asked, baffled.

"Alfred, don't you get it?!" He exclaimed exasperatedly, hands at his temples. "Why we grew up in that miserable shack? I'm the one who killed our parents!"

~o*oOo*o~

Oh. Alfred blinked.

Well, that settled it. Arthur was bona-fide insane. Maybe Alfred should have taken a hint when Arthur burst through the door and threatened to kill a bunch of people, but this was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Because he was wrong.

Plenty of smart people could be diagnosed later in life as schizophrenics. It happened. But Arthur was past delusional, into legitimate we-need-to-get-you-in-a-straitjacket-and-a-room-at-the-funny-farm crazy. He might wind up sacrificing Alfred to the sun god or something.

"Arthur," He said, with great deliberation. "We went to the hospital and saw Dad die. Mom was already dead. Their car slipped on some ice. Remember? It was cold as heck, the salt trucks hadn't been out...you were home with us. You didn't do anything."

"No. No. That was what I told you two." A bitter laugh. "I never told you two that the policeman spoke to me again."

"…what do you mean by 'you killed them?'" Alfred asked, his voice carrying the bite of extreme anxiety. "Again, you were home with us. Remember?"

Arthur was literally criminally insane and delusional. Probably mentally ill. And that meant that if he were in charge of the situation, he'd probably navigate the two in circles. Maybe he'd wind up killing them both.

"I didn't mean to!" Arthur insisted, voice becoming shrill again. "I...I don't THINK I did, didn't mean to hurt anyone, I just didn't want them leaving the house that night! It…stupid, I know, stop looking at me like that, you prat! They were going to leave me with a sitter who wouldn't let me put you to bed! That part of the night was MINE and she didn't have any right taking it away!"

Alfred's back touched the guardrail of the boat again. Arthur turned and strode to the other side.

"…if they didn't have a car they couldn't go, so I poked holes in their tires. I was surprised and angry that they managed to pull out of the driveway without any hassle...I figured I simply hadn't cut deep enough, considering the tires looked just fine.

"But the official report was this: Two of the tires blew out," he said wearily, turning to glance at Alfred's thunderstruck expression. "Looked later and saw they were the ones I'd meddled with. Stanley swerved OFF the road, and THEN they encountered the ice. He couldn't regain control, and they both died." He threw back his head. "I'm so sorry."

Alfred considered him, then limped to his side and Arthur turned, arms open to receive him in case he fell.

Tottering, Alfred struck him across the shoulder, making the elder stagger back in surprise.

Enraged, Alfred hopped to take another swing, but he slipped on the wet surface and Arthur caught him underneath the arms. This by no means discouraged him from liberally beating every inch of Arthur's skin that he could reach, hollering incoherently.

"You were probably HAPPY that they died, you perverted SICKO! You FUCKING FREAK of NATURE!"

Pain flashed across Arthur's face, though that might have been because a wheezing Alfred was still socking him, leaving bruises everywhere he could. Still, he did not let go until he slowly lowered Alfred to the ground, calm as if with a kitten rather than his sibling trying to throttle him.

"Whatever my feelings were or weren't, I mourned them, mourned what their loss meant for you. I missed Father, who was always kind to me...and at the end, told me what he must have been suppressing all those years. He knew how much I..."

He scoffed. "But I didn't want to hear. And I was convinced I would be taken away to jail forever and then who would look after you? If there hadn't been you, I would've died long ago of a broken heart."

"Maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing," Alfred hissed, painfully rising and refusing Arthur's proffered hand.

"I get it now. You're not sick, just fucking selfish. Like Natalya."

"Bunny, please, listen—"

"No! YOU LISTEN!" He roared. "YOU'RE WRONG! AND DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY?!"

He violently jabbed Arthur in the chest, making him wince. "Loving someone means wanting their happiness more than your own, having a big enough mind and small enough ego to fucking accept that maybe, just MAYBE, they won't find that with you!

"Natalya knew Ivan would have been fucking miserable with her, but if she were going to be chained to a rock and thrown into the sea, she probably would have Ivan tossed in with her! THAT'S NOT LOVE, ARTHUR!"

"I'D DIE FOR YOU!"

"Anyone can die, you idiot!" Alfred protested angrily. "In fact, everyone does! But no one was asking you two to become fucking martyrs! I REPEAT, NO ONE! What Ivan wanted was a peaceful life with a sister who respected and loved him the way he loved her—and he loved her more than she could ever really love on her own! When she didn't get her way and finally got caught, she threw a gigantic hissy fit and killed herself like the evil two year old she was! She couldn't be happy, therefore no one could be!

"And you, you're no better and you know it," He added, taking a deep breath.

"I used to wish so many times that Mom and Dad had taken me with them! It wasn't so much as I missed them, but that YOU were always fucking cutting me open, reminding me to be sad!"

Arthur just stared at him but he was far from finished. "On days I'd be feeling better, when the world was feeling friendly and warm again, you always, fucking always, had to drop little snide comments like 'Isn't it too bad Mother and Father aren't with us?'" Alfred mocked, blue eyes fiery, fists clenched.

"You WANTED me to be miserable because you wanted to feel NEEDED. And you want that more than you want my love, you jackass, unless you really think that kidnapping me was the right way to get it!

"You more or less admit you don't really give a damn about my feelings, considering you shot someone I cared about in COLD BLOOD, threatened the lives of people I love, and dragged me out in the middle of the fucking ocean against my will, where, I might add, we could both get killed! But hey, YOU'RE HAPPY, YOU HAVE A PURPOSE! Who am I to dump on that, even if you DO tie me up, threaten to torture and rape me?! It's all good, CONSIDERING YOU LOVE ME SO MUCH!

"You keep making out like you're some poor, tormented soul with some DEEP love or some shit! Morons like you believe that everything SAD is supposedly DEEP and that fucking MEANS something! EXCUSES anything!

"You remember that batty old lady down the street Mom and Dad never wanted to run into because she would talk their ears off about how her kids never came to visit? I was only FIVE when we left that neighborhood, and I saw three dogs come and go because she kept killing them with her stupid pampering! You call that real love?! You've never loved me, cared about what I wanted, so stop expecting me to swallow that shit!"

He drew breath again, blood rushing in his ears, and it was all he could do to stop charging Arthur, who was the only one who could drive the boat. The elder just stood there, motionless, his mouth a small o.

His eyes were overlarge, sunken in his head.

Alfred had never before nor would he ever again see a face filled with such anguish.

The waves continued to slosh, humming faintly. The quiet continued, seeping into the two siblings. As angry as he was, as much as it continued reverberating inside Alfred and he would have loved to have released it in the form of more violence, the quiet overtook the hate and he looked away from Arthur, who remained paralyzed.

"I love you." He whispered. "Alfred. I love you. So much."

His face glowed scarlet, and not just from rage.

"You said Matthew was the cause of your shame." At last his voice began to falter.

"That's probably because…if it came down to it, if I'd died…he would have made a handy replacement."

He looked up to see Arthur's face, white as death. "And it would have debunked your theory that you'd actually loved anybody."

"I love you!" Arthur insisted, the tears racing down his face. "I love you!"

Alfred pressed his warm brow against the railing. It was a long while before he said anything, listening to Arthur cry nearby. Even now the urge to comfort him was difficult to suppress.

"So what now? You threatened all those people….killed someone…."

"Yes."

He turned. And wished he hadn't. Arthur gripped his shoulders again, shaking.

"How would you like it?" He cried out piteously, hands quivering like gelatin. "Having only one bridge to feelings everyone else takes for granted, what everyone else seems to have from the day they were born?" He swung his head and with a loud crack struck it against the side of the boat, hands shaking as they pressed to the side of his battered face.

"The ability to love things, food, people who do so much for you and so deserve at least a mite of your affection, and despite the fact that nothing's wrong with them, there's only the slightest flicker of reaction?" His voice rose horribly. "A freak of nature? I tried! God, Alfred, I tried!

"How would you like it, when almost all your reactions are nothing but mimicry because you're a walking shadow, fucking empty? How would you like it, if at age five you'd resigned yourself to being a disappointment forever and had no joy in being alive? And with no one to love, because the only relationships you could possibly have would be born upon layer upon layer of lies? When there's not a single person like you in a sea of faces, all of which are condescending, sneering—and nothing, fucking nothing matters—"

Arthur staggered until his body met the bar, and Alfred quickly moved behind him, because it seemed like someone else was ready to go overboard.

"And you're completely…empty…not caring if the sun rises tomorrow or not…"

Somehow, he got his bearings. "And then I held you."

He faced him and Alfred's heart started pounding on overdrive.

"And I'm not...certain if this is a natural part of...this…whatever I have, what our grandfather had, but the moment I held you in my arms, I felt different. In fact, I felt something at all!"

A shaky, watery smile. "As wretched as this feels right now, I'm grateful…so grateful to what swept me away and gave me a heart. It was magical, that moment. The rush was exhilarating—and even if I'd never felt anything like it before, I knew when I held that sweet little life in my hands that I was hopelessly in love with you."

He tipped his head, smile twisted, eyes blissful.

"My feelings haven't changed, nor would you find me eager or able to put them aside. The pain that comes with them is only too worth it, though that they've caused you harm is unpardonable on my part." He hung his head.

"I'm sorry. Truly, I am. I still love you. Even if everyone abandons you or you were to gut me, you're still my person, my favorite person."

What did you say to that?

"….because you don't have any choice."

"No." He shook, huffing hotly through his nostrils like a strained horse or angered bull. "You're wrong. I love loving you."

"But you tried to stop it."

"I wanted to be normal for you."

"You tried for Dad, too." Not knowing if contact was a good idea at this point, Alfred instinctively leaned forward and took a tight hold of Arthur's forearms. "You did, before I was born. You cared about him enough to try. I know it."

Closing his eyes, the older man silently shook his brother's hands off and crossed over to the other side of the boat again.

"Alfred, have you ever walked a bridge," He asked, with a nonchalance that immediately put him on edge, made his spine hot with nerves. "Or maybe looked down from a very large height in a department store, and in both circumstances, wanted to throw yourself off them?"

The teen didn't respond.

"I don't mean to die." A thoughtful pause. "Maybe just for the sake of….oh, who am I kidding, you're Alfred Fucking Jones, I don't need to explain it. You've done a lot of insane shit just for the sake of doing it."

Damn straight. But he wouldn't say that, encourage his own insanity.

"But I don't hurl myself four levels down so that I can smack into the ground and burst into pieces," Alfred retorted, deeply troubled. "And I don't jump off the bridge because I don't know how deep the water is. And it's probably all gross and polluted anyway. And I don't…"

"Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if you did," Arthur mumbled, and Alfred shrank back against the boat, eyes darting around for a weapon. "I would be waiting, in the water. I'd catch you."

After taking a deep, shuddering breath, Arthur seemed to steady himself, and lovingly began:

"I've gotten us this far. Alfred…whatever my motivations have been in the past, we can start over. If it's what you need for assurance...I'll have my…my appendage removed and you'll know I won't hurt you that way. You know I can do it. Now, if you like."

"Appendage?" He asked blankly, before it dawned on him with a sense of creeping repulsion.

"Are you saying you want to be a eunuch?"

Arthur grimaced. "Not especially." His face was now lightly tinged with green. "Ah, I have medication….it would be painful, however. But for you, I'd do it. I will."

"Just…. stop. Okay? Please. Just. Stop."

"Does that mean I don't have to have my cock surgically—"

"I'll do it myself in a second if you don't shut up!"

Arthur smiled again. He looked profoundly relieved.

"I can give you a new life," he said earnestly.

The wind picked up, a light, salty spray misting on them both. Arthur slowly drew closer to Alfred, pulling out a chain from underneath his shirt. For whatever reason, there was a small plastic ring around it. Looked like something you'd get out of a cereal box.

"Anywhere you want to visit, we will."

His hand slid into Alfred's, and the younger felt his stomach unpleasantly curl itself into knots.

"Even if in the unlikeliest of circumstances we get caught, you're entirely blameless, a hapless victim of my handicap." A bark of sardonic laughter. "So why not enjoy yourself? I'd take care of you. I'll bring whatever your heart desires to you. You know I would."

He really, really didn't want to think what means Arthur would use to that end. Maybe he'd make him steal a Faberge egg; see him dragged off to prison on the news. "It'll be just us, the way it was in the beginning. I'd never ask you to lift a finger-just give me some time to get you everything you deserve." Arthur's emerald eyes were shining, an abashed, hopeful smile underneath them. "We'll be together and we'll be happy."

"…Arthur. I can't stay with you like this. Like it or lump it, I'm scared of you now." He slid his hand free from Arthur's, not wanting to look at the other's face. "And I don't want to be locked up all day."

"You can't make me give you up."

"I can." He said, with more firmness than he felt as he turned to face him again. "If you like me so much as you say you do—and if you did you'd totally set me free, by the way—you can't hurt me. But…I could hold a knife to your neck."

"Precisely. Because you happen to have a blade handy and you'll kill me if I don't comply with your demands, of course."

"I could hurt you!" He protested. "After everything you've done, you'd deserve it!"

"It's not that simple."

"But it is. It really is. Yes. Our parents are dead. That sucks. You. You're...confused. That also sucks. But you…" His words slipped and slid against each other, and his voice grew rougher.

"You love me. Or claim you do. This is the part of the film where you realize 'if you love 'em, set 'em free,' pal. Or Alfred goes knife-happy on your ass."

"You still don't have a knife."

"I have that fork from before," he threatened. Technically it was still downstairs, but Arthur didn't need to know that.

"Alfred, I've been certified in martial arts," Arthur said dryly, crossing his arms and leaning on one leg like a stork. "I know how to operate this boat, and how to follow a map not printed on the back of a cereal box. You, on the other hand, have one good leg, and a spoon."

"It's a spork," He shot back snippily. "And eventually, you're gonna let your guard down, Mac."

"Oh? But a hero never hurts the defenseless," Arthur returned, raising a brow when Alfred looked down in his feet. "What, lost interest in that title? You've only been completely infatuated with the notion since you were six years old."

"You're anything but defenseless." His words sounded louder than he'd intended them to be. "And I'm not a hero."

"Well, you've always been mine," he said placidly. "Whether you meant to be or not. And that's just about the most beautiful thing one can do for another."

"I didn't mean to."

"Making you all the more invaluable to me."

Alfred shook his head again, biting his lip.

"….when we were kids, you were my hero. So great. Near the end of the movie the hero makes a badass sacrifice. Please. Let's go back. Set me free. Everything…" As euphoric he would be to have his freedom back, there was one messy dump in store for them, and hell for Arthur to pay once the authorities got their claws in him. "We can try to make amends. Get you help. I'll stay by your side the whole time. You know I will."

Those corpse-like eyes contemplated him quietly, making him feel like a worm impaled on a hook, unable to utter a sound.

"I don't want help. I've only ever wanted you." He took a step towards him and Alfred fell back. He was starting to get pretty fucking sick of this dance.

"Do you honestly think I'm just gonna stay put wherever you lock me up and be nice and quiet?"

"Do you honestly believe I'll cooperate with the hacks who'll try 'curing' me of my feelings?"

"Then keep them. But let me go."

He asked for this without a hint of optimism and wasn't surprised when Arthur again refused to answer. The righteous anger building up inside was caterwauling like a banshee and he might have beating the floor with his fists.

But to his great shock, Arthur cleared his throat, and asked, in a small, cracked voice:

"And? If I did? If it made you happy, do I love you?" He sounded near tears again. "Would you finally believe I love you?"

Alfred's heart nearly stopped beating, before it resumed a frantic pace, both in his chest and throat. Yes. He had to strike while the iron was hot, because there was a chance, there really was hope, because—

Arthur truly did, or believed he did, love him.

It was best not to think about it too much.

"I'd be very happy." The wind played at his clothes. "And yeah. You'd prove to me that you loved me more than anything. That you loved me more than anyone has loved…anybody."

But he had already believed that, he noted sadly. Once, when his affections ran deep for Arthur, even if they'd never been romantic or a mite so manic as Arthur's, that hadn't tarnished the depth of Alfred's adoration or his willingness to step in front of a truck for him. The fact that that love had never been enough for him was crushing.

Arthur remained mute for several seconds. Then—"Alfred. Go and eat something." He looked at the wheel, slung an arm over it for support. "I need a minute to think."

He couldn't resist hobbling over to put his hand on his brother's back, willing with all his might his yearning could be transmitted through touch alone.

"Please."

But to his surprise Arthur shook his hand off. Again, he would not make eye contact.

"Just go." He faltered.

"Actually, I might need…more than a minute."

~o*oOo*o~


Alfred gave him two.

Coincidentally, he'd managed to consume an amazing amount of food in that time. He was going to have major indigestion, and he never got indigestion of any kind. He'd grown up trying to eat Arthur's cooking too fast to taste.

"You were saying?" He asked before he'd even limped up the last step, wiping his mouth. If he gave Arthur too much time to think it over, he'd almost certainly come to the conclusion that the two had come too far to give in now. "You'd set me free?"

Arthur was sitting in the driver's seat, hunched over. If Alfred didn't know better, he'd say the older was severely seasick.

"There would...there would be conditions."

He looked up, flesh stark, arms tightly wound around himself, knees hunched up and pressed against his chest.

"Do NOT think this is easy for me, Alfred." The creature croaked. "I honestly feel a little hysterical right now."

"You don't look it."

He let out a strange, wet noise, hands raking through messy hair. "Typically, I make the better poker face." Suddenly, he pressed his forehead against his knees, fretfully muttered something that sounded like, "No, no…"

"Here." Alfred pressed a water bottle into Arthur's hands and it fell onto the ground. He settled for tucking it in the chair beside him. "It's gonna be okay. Really. You can do this."

"Just—hear me out, please," he begged, and Alfred started shaking his head no almost immediately. Arthur's voice became even jagged, hands sliding into Alfred's. "No, no, just listen, please, just a bit….I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't…try to make you understand…"

The boat started rocking precariously, and water splashed into the front, soaking them both. Alfred yelped and recoiled, but Arthur didn't even move. He just blinked the salt out of his eyes, still staring.

"I want you to love me." His eyes were red, though that was possibly just irritation from the lenses or the salt. "Or just…let me have you and be good to you. I don't care—I'll settle for less. I want you to be happy...I could keep you safe from this stupid, evil shit world that won't love you the way I do."

Alfred just looked back at him, his heart overcome with pity. But if it showed on his face, Arthur refused to acknowledge it. "Safe and happy. And even if I were caught, everyone would admire you and call you courageous, shower you with gifts. But in the meantime I'd provide you with all the affection you'd ever need. You can have your cake and eat it too, darling."

He bowed his head. From his hair or his eyes, salty drops started trickling on Alfred's bare, bandaged foot.

"Let me give it to you. Let me swallow you whole."

And there again was that wildness creeping in, Alfred just shook his head again, because this was wrong, this was frightening and sick and the wrong person and he tried to move away, but Arthur only threw his arms around him and ranted:

"Or swallow me whole, I don't care. Use me, beat me, fuck me, hate me, just fucking let me love you!"

Rocking painfully on his leg and cursing, Alfred pushed him away with a whimper, swaying.

Deranged and feral, Arthur just gazwsed at him, looking like he wanted to fucking eat him or something and—"Life's either a daring adventure or nothing."

Stanley loved saying that.

Arthur growled, pressing a hand against his brow. His teeth were grit. "Oh, Christ, not that line...I really...really don't...no..."

"C'mon," He begged. "Let this be the last favor you ever give me. You're the best brother in the world for even considering making me this happy. Please..."

"I know." The words were sour but resigned and Alfred felt a fresh rush of hope flutter through him. He knew that tone and loved it well. There was a chance yet.

"If I did...set you free..." Arthur looked no better than before, worse even like a drowned rat, but he seemed to be getting his bearings back. "Number one, there's no guarantee that you won't set the police on me."

"I stood in front of a gun for you," Alfred protested irritably. "And even if I hate you so much I can't friggin' stand it right now, I'd do it again."

A small, startled smile appeared on the man's face, accompanied by genuine surprise in his eyes.

"Really?"

Uh-oh. That was a hiccup. Don't get him excited. Don't let him hope. He could practically see the cogs turning in Arthur's head and it

"Yeah," he grunted, looking away.

He could still feel Arthur smiling. But it didn't last long.

"Your saving my life doesn't mean you won't try to throw me in the slammer. I wouldn't like that so much, Alfred."

"Even if I did...chances are you wouldn't get away with a ten year imprisonment," The younger reasoned, face falling as the full implication of Arthur's actions finally began to sink in. Murder. Kidnapping. This was probably all over the news by now. Hell, it might even be national stuff.

"Or even a twenty year sentence. Hell, fifty. Francis, his family and Joan's are all gonna have you in their sights, and even if you do plea insanity, they're not gonna be happy if you get anything short of...of death penalty." The words were terrible and left an acrid taste in his mouth, stain settling in his throat.

"Besides, chances are you just immediately get registered as insane, spend a few months in the nut factory, and then come out same as ever before you hunt me down and kill me."

"How many times do I have to tell you I won't kill you? That I can't?" He asked, anger piercing and buzzing in his voice. "You disappoint me."

"I can't call the police on you, or tell them where you're heading. Not without incriminating you, anyway. All I can mention is that you got scared shitless, dumped me, and sped off in a panic somewhere. It's exactly the sort of thing they'd expect. Happens all the time on Cops."

"Obviously," Arthur sneered, eyes darkening."They have no idea what they're fucking dealing with."

Sensing danger, Alfred hastened to ward it off. "No, no...look, you find a hiding spot amongst those wacky Canadians, chances are you won't ever be noticed...you're a smart guy," He wheedled. "Like you said, you've gotten farther than most people ever would...but even you'd have a job in blending in while trying to restrain me, too. You'd always have to leave...wherever hellhole we'd be in with one eye over your shoulder, and one ahead of you. And," he added, face flushing scarlet,

"If you do love me and know me as well as...you think you do, you know I'd be fucking out of my mind being locked up in some little hole all day. I'd hate you for tying me up, and probably would stop eating."

Arthur looked at him in a way Alfred did not find flattering.

"Hey, it could happen," He snapped. "I'd always be scared stiff of you, always yelling and cussing at you like some wild animal...always crying," He added fervently.

"I'd never let you touch me, and I'd scream so much I'll get sick. You won't be able to take me into a hospital without them finding out, socialist healthcare system be damned, and then I'll die and you'll be sorry."

"You always had a flair for drama, Alfred,"

"I learned it from you." Arthur's face screwed up and he took his hand. "Hey...you know I won't give you away. You also know that I can't live without my freedom. Arthur, I'll die."

"Because you'd get sick out of spite?"

"It's what did Natalya in," Alfred returned quietly, keeping an even face when his brother slowly turned to face him again, eyes downcast, expression tortured. "Arthur, please. Tell me the rest of your conditions."

"….you keep your phone. I'm allowed to call you whenever I like." Oh yeah. Ivan wouldn't be suspicious at all of that. "If you keep me waiting, I will get…unpleasant."

"Fine." He was too keen trying to keep his heart intact to ask him to verify.

"And when I can afford it, you have to come visit me."

"….I can't know that's not a trap."

"If that's the case, why the fuck bother letting you go to begin with?" Arthur demanded. "It's a waste of time, effort, and money, and you'd hate me all the more for giving you a false sense of security."

Alfred's head sagged against the boat, closed his eyes. God, he just wanted to go….where was home? It was not the apartment they had scrimped and saved for, fought so hard to keep, their tiny and pathetic great pride, nor would it ever be again.

His mind drifted away from the tiring sound of water sloshing repeatedly against the boat—some people found it soothing, he found it irritating—to thoughts of rain cheerfully pattering on the roof.

To a warm house with Ivan's smile and soft eyes. Christ, it was cheesy, the best kind of cheesy, their clumsy kisses underneath blankets that they'd played underneath as children and smelled like Ivan. The competitiveness that was too good-humored to be vicious when they played video games and wrestling for the controllers in an attempt to make the other lose. Or the bright-eyed lunacy that inspired Alfred to suggest that they go out and dance in the rain. And then actually do it, though they cracked up at the sight of each other slipping on wet grass to land on their ass.

"You could change your mind."

Arthur shrugged, unchallenging. "Yes. That's a possibility." For a moment the two looked over at the dark, shivering waves.

"…I suppose we could agree to meet in public places, though I'd have to be very well disguised, obviously."

This was getting too complicated too quickly, and he instinctively bucked against the shackles and the bridle Arthur was trying to force on him. But freedom was whispering in his ear, more intoxicating than anything had ever been.

Just worry about freeing yourself first. But just in case…

"It'd be for a brief visit," Alfred warned, his voice very low. "And always in the open. I'm sorry, but..."

"You really ought to trust me more than anyone else," he said reproachfully, and Alfred nearly started banging his head against the railing.

"But..." And there was that clacking sound of teeth grinding again. "Oh, God, Alfred, I don't want to lose you. I'll go insane. Don't you fucking get it? I'll die-!"

"You've endured worse," He encouraged earnestly, limping over to take Arthur in an embrace. "And it wouldn't be a goodbye, and you know it."

He licked his lips.

"It might...be fucked up, but I'll miss you too. I just need you to do this for me."

Not knowing what else to do, he mechanically leaned forward and drew Arthur's hair aside, kissing the man on his brow.

"Please." His voice broke on the word, and he withdrew.

Arthur did not say anything, hollow eyes downcast, staring at his shoes without seeing them at all. Alfred followed his gaze and glanced at the generous dusting of stars in the heavens, speckles of light from long-dead entities just only now reaching Earth. Too many signals too late. The sky was a graveyard of what had once been.

He was sort of impressed with his own poeticism when it occurred to him that it didn't really matter, bear any relevance. The stars he'd dreamed about touching as a child, even a few days ago, were rocks no longer on fire a tremendous distance away. Not mysterious or magical. Just dead, lifeless stones drifting around in a wasteland.

Not everything had to have some deep, intrinsic meaning, certainly not because you thought it might. The man before him had elapsed long ago into ashes, even if he gave the appearance of boiling red.

Arthur turned his back on him, still silent. When he could bear it no longer he impatiently opened his mouth, but just as he drew breath, Arthur spoke at last. "There is one final thing," He said thoughtfully, his voice sturdy even if something crawled beneath the surface. "I request of you before I set you free."

"What is it?" He asked immediately, drawing closer to the man, who was still contemplating the full moon swollen and dancing on the water. "Name it."

His brother did not turn, though it would have been an excellent thing to do. Very dramatic and full of purpose.

Then, he said it, something that might have meant nothing and yet carried all the weight of the world in that moment:

"Sleep with me."


...but I am resigned to this bridge, and to this end.


Next chapter: Goodnight, Ganymede. After that, the epilogue.

Please review and stay with me.

Just until this night is over.