I'm sorry this took so long, but here it is - the tenth chapter of Broken. Thanks for sticking with me, guys! All of you are fantastic!
Sometimes people comforted themselves by believing in their own lies.
There was a fine line between what was true and what wasn't. Arthur knew how easy it was to blend both to create paradoxical truthful rumors - and how disgustingly easy it was to make others believe in them. Half-truths, half-lies. Lies. Truths - Arthur always believed in what he knew was the truth. He never doubted his perceptions – if it was the truth, then it was the truth. Lies were for the pathetic who could not bear to stomach the truth and to Arthur, there was nothing more cowardly than that.
If he had killed his parents, then he had killed his parents. It was Arthur's darkest secret - while he had hid it away, there was never a moment where he didn't believe it.
It had been his truth for years.
"You…" Alfred frowned, looking more confused than horrified. "You what?"
"I believe you heard me just fine, Jones. I was the one who killed my parents."
"But you couldn't have," Alfred said, sounding certain. "The fire was an accident. Everyone knew that. I mean, it was on the news and stuff."
Arthur snarled at the American, green eyes blazing with desperate anger. "That's because I wasn't even a suspect in the first place."
"How could anyone suspect you? You came out all covered in soot, looking so…"
"Do not finish that sentence."
Alfred acquiesced, falling silent.
Arthur suppressed the shudder that ran through him. All of a sudden he was reliving the memories again, tasting ash and running through flames that were licking his ankles. He was shielding himself from the deadly heat, searching for Peter - he knew his parents hadn't made it -
And all of a sudden Alfred was shaking him, looking concerned. "Dude, y'alright?"
"I…yes, I'm fine."
Alfred sat back, hands resting tentatively on Arthur's. Arthur liked the feeling of Alfred's hands – they were large and warm, enveloping his smaller ones perfectly. The Brit flushed and looked away – was the American even conscious of what he was doing? No, apparently not. Those blue eyes were wide and pleading, waiting for Arthur to continue.
Arthur knew it was now or never.
For fifteen minutes he spoke levelly, looking at anywhere but Alfred. He wasn't sure why he couldn't meet Alfred's eyes. It was as if the American held everything good in the world, and Arthur was afraid of changing that by burdening him with the filthiness he possessed. Arthur felt unclean, tainted - it was disgusting. He was nothing like Alfred, who radiated sunshine and happiness.
"Everything was becoming too much," Arthur said slowly. "I confess, my shell was beginning to crack. Everyone envied me - they thought I was the epitome of perfection. None of them knew what I felt inside. I loathed my brilliance, I loathed everyone who loved the way I shone. I especially loathed my parents. They didn't love their son - they loved his achievements."
Alfred nodded, giving Arthur's hand a reassuring squeeze.
"…I realized that if I wasn't happy with something, I could just destroy it," the Brit confessed bitterly. "And why not? I was a wreck. The insanity was building, and the anger that came with it made me…" Arthur paused, "…do things."
"Little things at first." Arthur smiled dreamily all of a sudden, reliving the memories. "Pins on the garage so that we would be late for social functions; ruining the garden whenever the Dukes came to visit...they were childish pranks that lads carried out, but it satisfied me for a little while. It gave me the chance to defy the hierarchy, to prove that I was alive and mocking the world for their ignorance."
Alfred blinked in surprise. "Where did you get these ideas from?"
"The Bad Touch Trio, of course. After putting up with their bloody tricks all the time, you'd think I would start utilizing some of them."
"Nevermind." Arthur shook his head, remembering that Alfred was never with him in high school. "What happened next was that…I wanted more. The sensation of destroying was addictive, and I became greedy. I wanted to do something deadly, something extreme that would frighten everyone."
Alfred felt a chill in his gut that had nothing to do with the rain. "Do you mean to say that…"
"Yes." Arthur's expression was unreadable. "I was the one who started the fire."
"But…just how exactly…there were arson specialists there, Artie. If you started the fire, wouldn't they have known?"
Arthur smiled wanly at the American's innocence. Oh, poor, naïve Alfred. "Do you really think I would commit arson without prior research? I know how to make things look like an accident, Jones."
"You…you did it." Alfred seemed breathless, the realization sinking in.
"I did." Arthur's voice was filled with regret. "And it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life."
Arthur watched as the flames spread rapidly, unable to help the gleeful laugh that escaped his lips. Yes, this was what he wanted. He wanted to burn those despicable antique vases, gold-trimmed curtains and silver cutlery that mother appreciated, as well as his father's collection of first-editions. Those oil paintings of his ancestry could turn into crisps for all he cared – they would be rolling in their graves, but that didn't matter. Since his own parents were never proud of him, what would disgust from his dead forefathers do?
The fire continued to blaze, swallowing carpets, mahogany tables and shelves. Smoke appeared in grey clouds and Arthur stumbled backwards, coughing and choking at the acrid was when a thought hit him – how was he going to stop the fire? He had learned the ways of making the fire look like an accident, but there was nothing he knew about halting it when necessary.
Arthur's head snapped back up, for the first time realizing the magnitude of what was happening. Everything was being consumed by the inferno – nothing was going to be spared. If nothing was going to be spared, then that meant…
What had he done?
"Mum, dad…" Arthur scrambled towards the door, ignoring the burning shelf that came painfully close to setting his clothes on fire. "Peter…Peter!"
The fire followed him as Arthur burst into his parents' room, expecting to see them frantic – but alive.
Only that they weren't.
Arthur stared in horror at the lifeless bodies of his mother and father, at the burning debris that surrounded them. The room's wooden ceiling had collapsed, engulfing their owners with it. His mother's eyes were still wide with desperation, her skin red and raw. Next to her was his father, his mouth open in a silent scream.
No…this wasn't right. All Arthur wanted to do was to give everyone a little scare, that was all. This wasn't what he wanted. Arthur never wanted the blood of his parents on his hands. He slid down the door, still too stunned to accept what was happening.
He had murdered them. He had murdered his very own parents, and there was nothing else left but to allow the fire to kill him as well.
What about his little brother? Was Peter still alive?
Arthur used the last vestiges of his strength and forced himself to stand, ignoring the rush of vertigo that swam into his head. At this point, Arthur would do anything for his younger brother - even if that meant he would have to escape this fiery hell and live with his sins for the rest of his life.
"Sir, there's someone here to see you."
Ludwig looked up from his files wearily. Ever since he had been promoted to be one of the newspaper's editors, life had been incredibly busy. There were always people to see him - and by people, Ludwig meant all sorts. They ranged from the city's causal inhabitants to important men in suits - most of the time, they had a request.
"Does he have an appointment?"
"No," his young assistant, Eduardo said. "But he insists it's important."
"That's what they all say."
Ludwig sighed heavily, removing his glasses and taking a sip of coffee. The boisterous American, Alfred, had introduced coffee to him - it had been helpful in keeping the fatigue at bay, leaving him to crave for more. Gilbert would have a fit if he ever found out – the albino was a diehard supporter of beer.
"Send him in."
"Right away, sir."
Eduardo returned a while later with a tall man by his side – Ludwig gave him a onceover, trying to assess the man's motivations before any words were spoken. With his auburn hair, sunglasses, cigarette and dark jacket, the man looked like he had stepped out the pages of a fashion magazine. Regular citizen – student – working adult, perhaps? Fairly wealthy, perhaps leading an easygoing life –
"You're an editor?" the man asked, removing his sunglasses and folding them with a light click. His eyes were jade green, framed with familiar-looking thick eyebrows.
"May I help you?" Ludwig questioned tersely in return.
"I hope so." At this, the man's confident voice seemed to falter. "You see, I'm looking for some people I haven't seen for a long time."
Ludwig fought to keep a neutral expression on his face. "Perhaps you should contact the police. We are reporters, not private investigators."
"No, no – that wasn't what I had in mind. Look, hear me out. I'm searching for Arthur and Peter Kirkland, the survivors of the Kirkland fire disaster." He scowled a little, as if the idea annoyed him more than anything else. "London's a huge place - contact numbers, emails - I have none of that at all. If I could have something reported on the tragedy's anniversary – which happens to be today, I might add – there's a chance they might read it and be able to contact me."
Arthur Kirkland. That name sent a jolt of recognition through Ludwig. "Why should I grant your request?"
"Because it will be in the public's best interest to remember what had ripped the Kirklands apart," the man stated bluntly. "If it suits you, view it rationally as newsworthy information instead of a stranger's request."
Ludwig considered this carefully from both angles, knowing what the man said was true. While he could easily find out where Arthur and his brother were staying at through Gilbert, that would be an invasion of privacy. However, if this was done meticulously, Ludwig knew he could help this man and have a story. It was killing off two birds with one stone - there would be no harm in it.
"What is your name? How exactly are you related to the Kirklands?"
The man smirked triumphantly. "I'm Allistor. Allistor Kirkland. Relationship…well, I suppose you could call us long-lost cousins."
Alfred sat there, unable to say anything for a long time. He wasn't sure who was shivering – was it Arthur, or was it him? In the icy rain, he couldn't really tell.
"And that's that," Arthur said with finality. "Everything was my fault."
Some part of Alfred seemed to spring back into awareness. Cursing at himself for spacing out, the American growled out, "No, it wasn't. I admit those were some pretty bad decisions, but not everything's to be blamed on you."
Arthur looked up, his eyes filled with so much wild hope that it made Alfred's heart ache. Abruptly, he shook his head, dullness once again clouding his face.
"I've listened, and I know that you're not responsible for the whole fucking tragedy. You were hurt, you were angry - no one was there for you, so you did what you could to make people realize what you felt. You expressed yourself in the wrong way, that's all."
"And look what happened. Now I can't bring them back even if I tried."
"Arthur…" Alfred sighed heavily at Arthur's bitter tone. The hands he held were icy under his touch – Alfred took the initiative, tentatively slipping his fingers between Arthur's and feeling relieved when they weren't slapped away. It was probably his imagination, but Arthur seemed to be squeezing back. "People make mistakes all the time. Some just cost more than the rest and are…impossible to fix, y'know?"
"Have you ever made a mistake that you wish you could fix?" Arthur asked forlornly.
"...Will you tell me about it?"
There was nothing but sincere curiosity in Arthur's voice. Alfred felt the wheels in his head turn, feeling a pang of worry hit his chest. Arthur had sacrificed a lot by telling Alfred his past, but was Alfred ready to do the same?
He swallowed thickly. That wasn't even a question. He could and he would, but now wasn't exactly the best time. "Yeah. I'll do that – but we should get out of the rain first. Wouldn't want you getting sick."
Arthur blinked, as if he had only realized that they had been sitting on a wet puddle for the past half hour. "I don't fall sick that easily."
"But it's freezing!"
Arthur chuckled. "That's how cold it gets here. I'm used to it."
"Y'know, our encounters always seem so…wet." Alfred pulled a face. "First you fall into a swimming pool, and now this."
"An astute observation," Arthur said drily.
"Where are we gonna bond next, eh? The sea?" Alfred teased, enjoying the way Arthur seemed to squirm uncomfortably under his gaze. He was enjoying seeing the Brit's embarrassed reactions more and more, although he wasn't sure why. "A bathtub, maybe?"
Pink dusted across Arthur's cheeks, seemingly even more obvious to Alfred since their faces were so close together. "Shut your trap, wanker." He huffed a bit and gave an awkward cough before mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like 'although that would be nice'.
"I heard that," Alfred said in a sing-song voice.
Arthur scrambled up, obviously embarrassed. The American laughed, feeling genuinely pleased.
Perhaps he could truly be Arthur's hero.
Might've been a bit careless in this chapter. Sorry for any inconsistencies/typos/grammar errors.