The handcuffs were latched around Alfred's wrists. He didn't struggle, he barely spoke up- rather he remained concerned, watching Arthur be fussed with by a few men as he slowly dipped in and out of consciousness.
Francis and Ivan were quickly there within moment's notice, informed by one of the assisting gentlemen. They seemed to had rushed, making their entrance on the scene with no coats to shelter their black tie evening wear. Francis was in a silent frenzy, with no words or sound to express his internal fear but the facial expressions to tell the whole story. He pushed the other men out of the way and was down on his knees at Arthur's side immediately, scooping the man into his arms and brushing a hand under Arthur's bangs to check for fever. He proceeded to inspect around Arthur's eyes and his pulse rate, going about the ordeal as if it was secondhand practice for him.
The display left Alfred with a million questions…. Who were these people, and this man to Arthur? Why was Arthur so sick, and what in this life pushed him to edge of the ocean? His blue eyes narrowed in a curious intensity, watching the 'affection,' for lack of a better word, melt over Francis and Arthur, as Francis began lightly slapping Arthur's cheek whispering, "Arthur, you're okay, wake up. Arthur, wake up, come on now…."
Soon Arthur stirred back into consciousness, rubbing his head and looking up at Francis in a daze. Francis smiled, with what Alfred could only imagine was relief. He felt the same way, seeing those eyes open back up…. There was no need for death now, not after that whole ordeal. Francis helped Arthur sit back up, and the Englishman was quickly being tended to by Ivan and the others, with a coat and blanket wrapped over his shoulders and an offering of some warm tea from a hot flask.
Without warning, Francis was to his feet and in front of Alfred, grabbing him and shaking him by the lapels. "What made you think you could put your hands on a sick man?!" His face was fuming with rage, yet Alfred continued to watch Arthur without consequence. This struck Francis like a cold ice pick to his raging fury, only creating hot steam. "Look at me when I told you, you filth! Tell me what you thought you were going to get away with, huh!?"
"Francis, enough!" The voice of Arthur chimed through, weakly, but noticeable now. He was glaring daggers at Francis for the man to calm his fury, and Francis merely returned the hateful look. "It was an accident."
Alfred smiled subtly.
"An accident?! An accident, you say, how cou-"
"I was leaning over the railing… really far to see the uh… uh… um…,"
"The propellers," Alfred added.
Arthur nodded immediately, "y-yes! The propellers. Uh… but I uh, much to my embarrassment, slipped, and I would have gone over board!" Francis let go of Alfred, listening to the explanation with earnest yet disbelief. "If Mr. Jones here hadn't been present, that is. He saw me and saved me… and almost went over himself. That's why we were such a mess."
The gentlemen all present were stunned into silence by the simplicity of such a misleading situation. They looked Arthur over, then Alfred, then Francis who ran a stressed hand through his bangs. "He uh…," Francis began with a nervous laugh, "just wanted to see the propellers! Bien sur!" He laughed out loud, the rest of the rescue team joining in with amusement as Arthur sat, his face growing red and temper growing thin like a bothered cat. He gave Alfred a cold look, mouthing 'propellers. Really?' Alfred shrugged.
The master of arms turned to Alfred, their eyes battling for the truth. "Well, son, was that the way of it?"
Alfred could see Arthur silently pleading for discretion with his eyes, and Alfred didn't falter. "Yup. That was pretty much it."
The master of arms stared Alfred down a bit longer, but eventually smiled wide and threw his arms in defeat, accepting the tale as was. "Well, in that case, the lad's a real hero! Good for you, son, well done! So it's all well and back to our brandy, eh?" Alfred was uncuffed and he rubbed his wrists dismissively as the cold metal left them. He sighed, shoving his hands back in his pockets as Francis got Arthur to his feet and moving. Yet before they could exist the scene, the master of arms was quickly at their heels. "Ah…, perhaps a little something for the boy?" he whispered, rubbing his fingers together to gesture reward.
"Oh, yes," Francis replied. "Ivan, give him some cash. A twenty will do."
Arthur stopped, appalled. "Is that the going rate for my life?"
Francis paused, biting his lip. A heartstring was clearly tugged, and Alfred noticed in the anxious lines on the Frenchman's face. The whole thing was completely entertaining in its own way…. Yet the American boy stood upright as Francis turned and re-addressed him. "Perhaps you could join us for dinner tomorrow, to regale our group with your heroic tale?"
Alfred didn't know what to answer, in all honesty. He stood, rather dumbfounded by the notion of a first class meal, as well as a 'retelling' of a story that never truly occurred…. His eyes flicked to Arthur again, just for a moment, and Arthur in turn nodded from under his jacket. Alfred smiled. "Sure, count me in."
"Merveilleux," Francis smiled, turning back and leading Arthur inside with an arm over the Britishman's shoulder. Nobody seemed to question the odd display of affection… it only seemed to strike Alfred as iffy.
Ultimately, Alfred was relieved. He let out a long sigh, the entire crisis seemingly diverted with ease. As Ivan passed to follow the crowd, Alfred tapped his shoulder, "can I bum a smoke?"
Ivan smoothly drew a silver cigarette case from his jacket and snapped it open. Alfred took one, then another, popping it behind his ear for later. Ivan continued to light Alfred's cigarette, but his disposition remained somewhat cold and stoic, despite the charming smile he was sporting towards 'the hero.' Finally, he spoke… as few words as he ever did seem to speak. "Interesting that the young master slipped so mighty all of a sudden and you still had time to take off your jacket and shoes, hm?" He popped the cigarette case back in his coat pocket and returned inside.
Alfred remained still on the decks, unable to shake the chill that was beginning to fester….
Arthur was a rather frigid mess that night. While Alfred felt relief, Arthur could feel his body shaking in his clothes, and made short work in undressing for bed. Although a custom for sleeping in some sort of nightwear, he didn't make any strong point to get re-dressed… rather simply covered himself in a sheet and moved into bed with a shiver. He turned out the light.
It wasn't long, however, that his door was being knocked upon, and Arthur wriggled himself further in the sheet. Francis let himself in, turning on a small desk lamp next to the bed. He moved and sat down near Arthur, touching the Englishman's foot under the sheet gingerly, which in turn curled in retreat of the contact. Francis let out a deep breathe. "Arthur…I know you've seemed melancholy, and I don't pretend to know why." Arthur didn't stir. Francis continued to pet the other man's foot through the sheet, making gentle and comforting circles. With little response, he soon pulled something from his pocket and shifted it in his hands; a large, black velvet jewel case. "I have a gift for you. I was planning on saving it until we got to America, but I thought perhaps, tonight, a reminder of my feelings for you…."
Arthur shifted slightly, peeking out from under his nest. Francis smiled at the little rabbit-like shyness, and removed the prize from within the velvet box. Inside was the necklace… 'The Heart of the Ocean' in all its glory. It was a huge, malevolent blue stone glittering with an infinity of scalpel-like inner reflections. Arthur suddenly shot up in bed, staring at the rock with a feeling of overwhelm. It took Francis by surprise, more so that Arthur was nude than by the sudden thrust of movement. "Francis… My God… is that-"
"A diamond. Yes. 56 carats." Francis took the necklace and gently hooked it around Arthur's slender throat. They stared at each other, as Arthur reached up to glide his fingers along the jewelry. Francis smiled, "It was once worn by Louis the Sixteenth. They call it Le Coeur de le Mer, the-"
"The Heart of the Ocean." Arthur bit his lip, staring down at the bed, still gently touching and feeling the fine details of the necklace around his neck. He was overwhelmed.
Francis let out a soft, warm chuckle and brushed a strand of hair behind Arthur's ear delicately. "It's made for royalty, and we are royalty, Arthur. You and I…." His fingers moved, and he brushed his knuckles tenderly along Arthur's jaw and down his thin neck. He was unguarded by his attraction, and Arthur watched Francis' hand with a rising and falling chest. There was an moment of endearment they shared, expressed through gentle contact and touches… The Frenchman moved forward, gently pushing Arthur down into the bed with himself on top, and lacing the Englishman into a soft kiss, followed by another, and another. Soon, they were writhing against each other through the sheet, there hearts pounding. The room fell into a quiet mix of heat and muffled pants, but the passionate silence rang loudly in Arthur's ears like an alarm. He pushed Francis away, covering his eyes with his arm and gritting his teeth. Francis learned over him, his face warm, out of breath, eyes heavy. "What is it?"
Francis seemed dumbstruck. He touched Arthur's forehead. "Do you feel sick again?"
"No, I just can't," Arthur replied. Yet he didn't ask Francis to move, nor did he struggle…. There was a sense of urgency Francis could sense, but it was as if Arthur was afraid to retaliate in fear of instigating violence.
The Frenchman's blue eyes grew soft, and he moved Arthur's arm from his face. "When we get to America, I will make you healthy, and we can start our life together. Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that what we planned? I will buy us a big manor…, love can thrive in secrecy."
"That's not what I'm thinking about, just-…," he closed his eyes, coughing.
Francis immediately took Arthur into a tight embrace. Was he really losing Arthur's love already? "Arthur, there's nothing I couldn't give you. There's nothing I would deny you if you would deny me. Open your heart to me, Arthur…."
The necklace weighed heavy around Arthur's throat.
It was Saturday, April 13th, 1912. Arthur was dressed and well, and he began his day unlatching the gate to the third class decks. Compared to the upper class, it was a loud and boisterous place. There were mothers with babies, kids running between the benches and yelling in several languages and being scolded in many more. Old women were yelling, men were playing chess, girls doing needlepoint and reading dime novels…. Three boys were shrieking and shouting, scrambling to chase a rat under the benches with a shoe trying to smack it. All these things were a familiar yet foreign world to Arthur…. He seemed quite taken to it as he progressed, searching out his main target.
Lovino and Antonio were growing more and more acquainted with one another. They were struggling with their connections between Italian and Spanish, either boasting or arguing about the minor differences or traditions. However, Antonio's eye quickly caught sight of Arthur, a nobleman among peasants, a sunflower among lilies. Tall and beautiful, but short lived…. It was a central attraction, as he fussed over to Alfred who was making comical sketches with the little Lili to entertain himself.
Antonio bumped his shoulder, getting his attention. He looked up… green met blue again, the line of sight filling the entire vibrancy of the Atlantic around them. A hush fell, and Arthur suddenly felt self conscious as some of the other passengers stared openly at this prince, some with resentment, others with awe. He swallowed his abashment and walked right to Alfred, who in turn quickly stood up in address. "Hello, Mr. Jones." Lovino and Antonio remained floored. It was like beauty and the beast.
"Could I speak to you in private?"
"Of course," Alfred smiled, motion Arthur forward so he could follow.
They walked side by side, passing people reading and talking and steamer chairs, some whom glanced curiously at the mismatched couple. Alfred too began feeling self conscious, being out of place as Arthur was before now that he was on the upper deck. They both shared their anxious awkwardness with a nervous chuckle. Finally, Arthur began, "Mr. Jones, I-"
"Alfred… I feel like a complete fool. It took me all morning to get up the nerve to face you."
"Well here you are." Alfred laughed.
"Here I am. I…. I want to thank you for what you did. Not just for-… for pulling me back, but also for your discretion." Arthur fiddled with his cufflinks nervously.
"You're welcome, Arthur."
"Look, I know what you're thinking." He stopped, Alfred stopping a few feet ahead and turning back to see him. "Poor, foolish, rich man…. What does he know about misery?"
Alfred put his hands in his pockets and stared at Arthur long and hard. He breathed deep. "Nope. Not what I was thinking at all. What I'm thinking is what could have possibly happened to this man that hurt him so much he thought he had no other way out?"
Arthur bit his bottom lip and walked over to the railing, leaning over it and looking out to the ocean. "It wasn't just… one thing. It was everything. It was them, it was just their whole world, and I was trapped in it like an insect in amber." Arthur suddenly began rushing, clasping his hands tight within his tense energy. "I just had to get away! Just run and run and run… and then I was at the back rail and there was no more ship. Even the Titanic wasn't big enough. Not enough to get away from them, and before I'd really thought about it, I was over the rail. I was so furious, thinking that I'll show them! They'll be sorry!"
Alfred guffawed. "Uh huh! They'll be sorry, 'course you'll be dead."
Arthur lowered his head with a long groan. "…Uuuhn, you must think I am a total fool…."
"That penguin last night," Alfred began with a small smirk, slipping his hands into his trouser pockets, "is he one of them?"
"Penguin? Oh! Francis…," Arthur grimaced, leaning more onto the rail. "He is them… in a sense."
"What's a guy like that do?" Alfred took his turn, leaning against the railing next to Arthur, his back to the ocean as he stared into the emerald of Arthur's eyes.
Arthur simply rolled them, thinking about how to word his response. "Well uh," Arthur began, awkwardly fiddling his fingers, "he is brilliant in business and the arts and uh… local societies in Northern America and Europe and such so he gets by with his dues."
Arthur grew nervous. "Yes… quite. That is… about it really."
"So these 'societies,' are they why you're going to the states?"
"No, not really."
"You are a really uncomfortable talker."
Alfred laughed, running a hand through his hair and looking across the decks. "You're not hard to read. It's obvious when you're not telling the whole truth. Why lie to me?"
Arthur flushed through his ears in abashment and stood up straight, "why, I'd say I barely know you now do I, Mr. Jones?"
Alfred continued laughing, "aw, what, a last name basis? Two steps back, not a step forward, huh? Look," he shrugged his shoulders, "I've got nothing' against you, but last night wasn't the prettiest for me either, y'know? I pulled a man over the back end of a ship and watched him cough up half a lung of blood onto a clean deck. No thanks are necessary, but I will admit that I'm an awfully curious and nosy person sometimes." Alfred caught himself, thinking through his last statement to ensure honesty. "Most of the time."
Arthur stared hard at Alfred. The sincerity goated his own honesty. He laughed awkwardly, rubbing his dimples with his hands and leaning back over the railing. He couldn't believe he was about to admit it but, "Francis and I… are pursuing a life together." His voice was small and distant. It carried over the waves.
Alfred stood silent for a moment. "…Eheh… what?"
"We're uh…," Arthur began again, his voice growing quieter and quieter with every word he spoke, "…starting a life with each other in the states…."
Alfred thought for a second. "Like a business partnership or somethin'?"
"Well that's what we'd like everyone to believe isn't it?"
fred didn't know what to think. "So like… you two… are like this?" He asked, crossing his fingers. "Like that, but like… but like this, too?" He started wiggling his fingers together, snickering to himself.
Arthur socked Alfred in the shoulder, "Oi! I get bloody enough about it!"
"I didn't even know that was a thing!" He shoved his hands back in his pockets, grinning ear to ear in amusement at Arthur's distress. "Don't be like that, I'm not judging' you, I'm just teasing." Arthur groaned, pouting and staring blankly off into the distance under visible distress. Alfred let out a loose chuckle here and there. "Look, I've been all over. I've seen my share of strange things, trust me. That ain't that strange to me, I was expecting to hear you and him were black marketers or something." Arthur didn't respond. Alfred smiled, watching the defensiveness melt away as quickly as it came. "If I loved someone, I would be less defensive of myself and more defensive of them." Arthur remained quiet, directing his eyes further from Alfred's. Alfred's eyes furrowed, a tinge of sympathy. "… so that's it. Why're you with him?"
"A man like me…, it's either go with Francis or die in the gutter because of this… this thing inside me." Arthur touched his own chest gingerly. "I can't afford my life, but he can… so…,"
"So he's your ticket to beating whatever nasty illness that is."
"Don't say it like that, it's not that repulsive." Arthur huffed, glancing to Alfred. "I'm not using Francis…, I love him, I truly do, and what he's doing for me, I can't ever repay for. He is well off, and he's willing to make it so I am too. He cares about me that much, that's more than I could ever ask. We've had some wonderful memories together, he's not just a means to survive."
Alfred nodded. "Can two fellas have a life in the states?"
"I don't know. Probably no more so than two 'fellas' in Europe. I don't mind a life of secrecy though, I'm used to it. We can't ever wed but… he gave me this," Arthur started, pulling a sizeable diamond ring from his coat pocket.
Alfred's eyes shot wide. "Woah! Look at that thing! You would have gone straight to the bottom!" They both laughed as Arthur put it back in his pocket. Alfred let out a few more soft, childish chuckles, cocking his head at Arthur. "So regardless of how nice it all is, because of everything this guy has done you feel like you're stuck on a train you can't get off."
"Then just don't be with him."
Arthur looked at Alfred with disbelief. "It's not that simple."
"Sure it is."
"Oh, Alfred…, please don't judge me until you've seen my world."
"Haven't judged you far, have I? Besides, I'm going to be getting a look at that world tonight I suppose. That fancy dinner and all." Arthur didn't respond. "Do you love him?"
Arthur blanched, "Excuse me?"
"Do you love him?"
"Why the hell would you be… asking me that?"
"It's a simple enough question." Alfred smiled.
"It's not very appropriate!" Arthur looked around for something- anything to change the conversation over. He quickly grabbed Alfred's sketchbook from under his arm, "what is this silly, little book you carry around with you?" He marched off with the book and sat down, flipping through it, slowing down as he continued. "These are… these are quote good…"
"Just some sketches. Didn't think much of them is Paris." Alfred followed nonchalantly.
Arthur sat stunned, skipping through the images as Alfred sat next to him. Each sketch was something sentimental about humanity… an elderly woman's hands, a sleeping man, a brother and sister soaring over the ocean against the ship's rail. All the faces were luminous and alive. Suddenly, some loose sketches fell out and both men darted to grab them, Alfred only managing to snatch a couple in the air, but the rest flew away over the rail.
"Oh no! I'm so sorry! I truly am!"
Alfred snickered. "Well… like I said, didn't think too much of them in Paris. I just sort of spew them out. Besides, they aren't worth a damn." To make a point, Alfred threw the two pages in his hand over the rail with a snap of his wrist.
Arthur watched in shock and amusement. "You're deranged!" He laughed, turning back to the pages in the book as Alfred rejoined him. It was then he stumbled upon some unfinished sketches of nudes. He became transfixed by the languid beauty. The nudes were soulful and real, with expressive hands and eyes. They were almost uncomfortably intimate…. "Are these drawn from real life?"
"Yup. That's the great thing about Paris. Lots of girls willing to take their clothes off."
Arthur began studying one picture in particular. A woman posed half in sunlight, half in shadow. Her hand lied at her chin, open like a petite flower, languid and graceful. "You liked this woman. You used her several times."
"Yeah…, she had beautiful hands."
"I think you must have had a love affair with her," Arthur replied coyly.
"No no!" Alfred laughed, "just with her hands. They always seemed so relaxed, even if she herself wasn't."
Arthur closed the book and stared long at Alfred before murmuring, "…Alfred, you see people, you really do."
Alfred smiled, "I see you."
"You wouldn'ta jumped."
I apologize for this update taking so long, I sincerely do. Please forgive me!
Here's the deal, I started writing this fanfiction in the summer, but I am almost at the end of college's first semester so I've been super busy with my education, as well as a web series I'm working on that is due to be showing at the end of January. Between that and some other life related things, I just haven't had time to write for the fun of it.
But here is chapter 5, and to make things easier, I've already begun chapter 6. Hopefully there won't be another ridiculous lack of updates like that again. Thanks for baring with me, and I hope you enjoy!
P.S: As always, your reviews are incredibly inspirational and every time I get one in my inbox, it encourages me to sit my butt down and keep writing. Thanks for the support. Don't hesitate to remind me!