Alfred walked into the studio grumbling. Behind him Francis was flouncing around chattering about brushes and paint quality. Alfred was not nearly as enthusiastic about the painting class, but Arthur had promised he could start little league if he went. He loved baseball.

So here he was.

There were clumps of fathers and sons waiting around. The studio was felt airy and cramped at the same time. Tall wooden cubbies held finished pieces. Large easels stood at attention through out the room. Chairs and benches were pushed against the wall. Sunlight poured in through the windows.

Francis paced between the remaining easels. He reached out and touched a few before turning away. Finally he stopped in front of one.

"I think this is a good easel," he chirped, "what do you think?"

Alfred looked at it. He shrugged. He didn't know anything about art. How should he know if it was good or bad? Green paint was stuck to one of the easels. Alfred picked at it. Everything seemed to be coated in the stuff.

"It's a piece of wood. Does it really matter?" was his reply.

Francis shrugged, "Not all easels are the same. Some have better tension in the-"

Alfred tuned him out as Francis went out about the qualities of easels. There was a crossbar that Alfred used to stand on and get a better view of the room. He didn't think their would be so many guys interested in smooshing paint around.

"Good morning class!" A short man came into the room with a bounce.

"My name is Feliciano Vargas!" He introduced himself clapping, "And I'll be your teacher! We're going to have a great time together. Who here likes art?"

Most of the others raised their hands. Francis put his up. Alfred half raised his. He guessed he liked art. He liked coloring, but he had never gone to a class to learn how to color.

"Fantastico! I love art too! Today we're going to start with a gray scale. Do any of i bambini know what that is?"

None of the kids raised their hands.

"No?" He peered around the room, "Ok then! Everyone come here!"

Mr. Vargas quickly gathered everyone around and showed them how to make a 'gray scale.' It was just white to black with a bunch of different grays in between. It looked pretty easy.

"And while your painting I want everyone to think about their first black and white painting. I'll set up a still life next class."

Alfred looked at the blank canvas. It was white. He was kind of worried he'd mess it up. He looked over to Francis who was also staring at his canvas. He took a deep breath, "What are you gonna paint?" He haltingly asked.

"Ehh," Francis mumbled, tracing the outline for his gray scale, "I'll have to see what props he puts out. I've been struggling with painting fabric though."

The Frenchmen looked over at Alfred and gave him a brilliant smile. "What would you be interested in trying? In a beginners still life there are usually blocks, balls and cones."

Alfred stared at his paint brush and shrugged, "I don't know."

Alfred couldn't remember how Mr. Vargas had started his gray scale. When he did it looked so easy. He watched Francis mix the white and black paint together to make a middle gray and fill in his middle block. He had three of his seven blocks all ready done.

Biting his lip Alfred quickly copied him and filled in the ends of the scale with pure white and black. Then Alfred mixed the two together and painted the middlest block gray.

The two worked silently. Francis would mix a grey and Alfred would follow. They went from the lightest to the darkest.

Mr. Vargas came around and helped Alfred when he got frustrated with two of his dark grays. They were suppose to be the other way around, but every time he tried to fix it they stayed the same. Francis had tried to help him, but Alfred snapped at him and said he could do it by himself.

"Alright class that's the end for today!" Mr. Vargas exclaimed, clapping, "I can't wait to see you next week!"


Next class there was a still life was waiting for them when they arrived. A bunch of white cones and balls and blocks were sitting on white lace. Some of the props were up high, others were down low or on their side. At one end was a bright light that threw deep shadows across the white scenery.

The class began to pull out their paints. Mr. V put on music in the background.

"You just pick a small part of it to paint," Francis whispered to him, "not the whole thing." He held his hands up making a square with his fingers. Then he started moving his arm around and humming.

Alfred looked down at his hands. Then he looked back at Francis'. He made to L's, but when he put them together they made a triangle.

"Um," Alfred mumbled. The older man looked down.

"Ah you do it like this," he squatted down and flipped one of Alfred's hands around. His wrist was all twisty.

"That's uncomfortable," he grouched.

Francis hummed again, "try it with your other hand."

Alfred flipped his hands around. It felt much better. The boy looked up shyly at Francis, "what do you do now?" he asked.

"Now you looked through it and see which part of the still life you want to paint."

Alfred stuck his eye up close to his square.

"But I can see everything," he giggled.

A warm hand tugged his fingers away from his eye. Alfred squirmed and Francis let go.

"You have to move it out a little," Francis explained.

He looked through the square again. Now he saw pieces of cones and a ball. He moved it over and saw cones and blocks. The cones looked funny. He wasn't painting any cones.

He moved his square around until there weren't any cones in it. Francis was puttering around his easel. He looked kind of disappointed.

Alfred took a deep breath, "so how to do I keep it there and paint?"

Francis turned back to him, smiled and bounced on his heels a bit. "Well you have to use your memory. I'd say start in the center and when you get worried just check again!"

Alfred nodded, but made no move to start. All the white made him feel like he was going to make some mistake and then he'd never be able to fix it and his painting would be terrible and he hadn't even started yet.

He heard a wet sound next to him and turned to look. Alfred's eyes widen and he snorted. He clapped a hand over his mouth. Francis was attacking his canvas! He was streaking gray paint all across it! Francis turned. His eyes were serious. Alfred thought he was going to get yelled at, but instead Francis chuckled.

"I don't like why canvases," he explained, "they make me nervous." Then the blond flipped his long hair and went back to slathering paint in zig zags. When the canvas was mostly covered in light gray paint Francis grabbed his rag and began rubbing at it.

Alfred decided he was going to do the same thing. He raised the large flat brush to the emptiness of the canvas and slashed down. A wide gray stain divide the pristine canvas in half. Alfred stared at it. Then he did it again, and again, and again.

When he lifted the brush the perfection of the white canvas was gone. Instead was a half ruined thing waiting for Alfred to make it beautiful. Humming he rubbed his rag across the stretched fabric like Francis had. Nothing to be worried about.

Alfred watched Francis paint. As his brush moved delicate gray lines began spider webbing across the page. Francis' brush dipped into a light grey color and slowly began shading in a ball. The boy mimicked his movements. The two worked in silence, staring at the odd assortment of balls and blocks.

It took Alfred a while to realize how he thought something looked wasn't how it actually was suppose to be painted. He had to repaint a block four times.

When he got home that night Mattie asked him what he'd learned in the class. Without even having to think about it he replied, "That painting is hard."


Alfred didn't dread going to painting class like he thought he would. Actually, he kind of liked it. It helped him let loose for a while. Alfred dunked his brush into the black paint. It clung to the white bristles. In the still life the shadows were tucked in tight to the ball, barely more than a dark halo under the object. But not in his painting. Instead they were like a dark mirror image of the ball.

Alfred looked up when the music paused. Once he was in the zone he didn't even notice the music until it was gone.

"Scusi," Mr. V gleefully exclaimed, "It's break time everyone!" and went prancing out of the room. Alfred assumed to heat up some pasta.

The very first class Alfred had caught his teacher devouring a big bowl of ziti behind an easel. Since then he found him eating pasta during almost every break. The boy was sure one day he was going to see noodles sticking out of his teacher's ears.

Alfred around to see a small Japanese boy sitting with a hand held game. He put his brush down, interest piqued. The boy was facing away from another Asian man and frowning ever so slightly. Alfred had never had his own video game before, but he sure did like them.

Alfred quickly headed over so he wouldn't get roped into talking about each others paintings with Francis. He liked painting, really he did, but there was only so much he could take! Francis didn't seem to understand break time meant taking a break from art.

When Alfred rounded the side of the boy's easel he saw a interesting representation of the still life. The boy's picture had great shadows and highlights, but it didn't seem completely real. Alfred looked at it closely. It was kind of like looking into a hazy dream. Man, he wanted to be able to paint like that!

"Wow," he said without meaning too, "that sure is nice."

The boy looked up. His face was blank, but he shrugged, "Thanks."

"Why are you taking an art course if you can paint like that?" Alfred asked.

"My nii-chan doesn't like how I paint," he said slowly.

Alfred made a little oh sound. He didn't know how to pick up the conversation after that. Should he say I'm sorry?

"The guy I'm here with is really good at painting. I'm not."

The other boy was quiet for a while. His fingers moved on the buttons, but he was barely looking at the screen. Alfred was in awe. He was a cool painter AND an awesome gamer?! This kid must be a superhero or something!

"Do you like video games?"

Alfred nodded quickly, "I love them!"

The boy slid over on the bench, "You can share with me if you want..."

"Awesome!" Alfred cheered, "Thanks dude!"

The two sat engrossed in the game for the entire break. The other kid let him try it out a few times. He died pretty quickly each time though. He needed to practice. If only he could get one! When Mr. V clapped for class to continue Alfred pulled himself away reluctantly.

"That was a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing."

The dark haired boy nodded. As Alfred was about to leave he realized they'd never introduced themselves!

"I'm Alfred by the way!"

"Kiku."

"Well Kiku, it was nice to meet cha!" Alfred smiled as he scurried back to his spot.

When he started painting again he stared at the still life for several moments. He dipped his brush in the white and corrected the shadows around his ball. It still looked a little funny, but the shadows weren't as severe as they were before.


The weeks passed quickly for Alfred. Painting quickly became something that he looked foreword to going too. Arthur and Francis noticed that Alfred wasn't lying as much and he was doing his homework every night. For each good deed they gave him a sticker. The chart that was stuck to their stainless steel fridge was filling up with quickly.

Before the spring ended Alfred had earned enough to get the rocket ship. He knew because counted everyday after school.

The day he got his last sticker Alfred bounced around the kitchen all afternoon. Arthur had tried to get him to stop, but he just couldn't help it. He was so excited! He wasn't sure when he was gonna get to pick his prize so he didn't want to venture to far away. Just in case they forgot, he could remind them.

Matthew bounced with him at first but after an hour of circling the kitchen island he got bored. He wandered off and returned with his library book. He sat at the kitchen table reading with Arthur while Alfred bounced.

The sky was still blushing red and purple from the winter sunset when Francis walked in the door.

"Salut mes amours!" Francis exclaimed whirling into the kitchen.

He twirled Arthur out of his seat and pulled him into a deep kiss that had Matthew and Alfred running for the door.

"Papa!" Mattie whined.

"Eww!" Alfred joined in.

Neither man responded so the boys figured it'd be best to avoid the kitchen for a while. They built forts in the living room. Matthew pulled out the couch cushions and made a roof out of pillows. Alfred had dragged the coffee table over and draped blankets between it and the sofa. Then he had booby trapped it with exploding pillows.

"This way I'm super safe inside 'cause only I can get in and out!" He said hopping around the traps.

"I'm not doing that," Mattie replied sitting at the front of his fort. Mattie's fort had a clear entrance with lots of pillows. The boys tossed beanie bags at each other.

"Boom!" Alfred exclaimed, "I gotcha!"

Matthew gasped and clutched his chest. He groaned once before laying still in the entrance of his fort. Alfred cheered and quickly crab walked, hopped and shimmied out of his fort. He pranced over to Mattie's fort.

"This land is conquered in the name of- AH! Mattie!" Alfred toppled over and Matthew sprung up and tackled him.

"I LIVE!" Matthew chomped his teeth together on Alfred's shoulder. "I'm a zombie warrior! I'm going to eat you up! Om nom nom!"

"Boys!" Francis called, "Dinner!"

Both blond children sprang up and took off, racing for the table. They hurtled through the kitchen door. It slammed against the back wall with a bang. Alfred nearly slipped on the tiles as he rounded the island. Matthew pushed ahead of him and crashed into his seat.

"I win! I win! Boo-yah!" Matthew cheered and danced around his chair.

"I just let you win!" Alfred argued. Matthew ignored him and kept dancing, quietly singing, "I won. I won!"

Arthur set a plate of potates down. "No fighting please," he said.

"Sorry!" The boys chorused together, grinning up at the man.

Since Francis made dinner Alfred helped himself to a massive roll, a thick piece of steak, three big spoonfuls of cheesy potatoes and a handful of raw peppers. The plate of food nearly came up to his chin! Compared to Mattie's sparse pickings he had a mountain of food.

"Alfred don't you think you have a lot of food?" Arthur asked.

The child looked up. There were pieces of potato stuck to the sides of his face. He shook his head.

"I'll eat all of it," He said. "Don't worry."

He started to talk to Mattie about making treasure maps for their next great adventure. Alfred was on his best behavior at dinner. He couldn't wait to get his rocket ship. He wasn't going to mess it up!

The meal went mostly smooth with only one glass of spilled milk from Alfred. He quickly jumped up to grab a rag and mop it up. The first time he'd knocked something over at the table he'd started to cry. He couldn't even clean up the mess himself. Not anymore. Now he was a really big boy!

"Sorry!" He exclaimed, running over to the rag drawer, "I can clean it up!"

Francis rose to grab the carton of milk while Alfred cleaned the mess.

"Good job," Francis said as he righted the fallen plastic cup. Alfred smiled at the praise, "thanks." Quickly new milk was poured and the meal continued.

After the family cleaned up Matthew disappeared. Alfred wanted to also, but he was dying to know when he was going to get his rocket ship. He puttered about behind Francis while the adults were spoke quietly. They looked really serious and Alfred didn't want to interrupt them. After a few minutes, Alfred tugged on Arthur's coats.

"Yes, Alfred?" Arthur said.

"Uhh well..." Alfred started slowly, slightly uncomfortable with asking for his rocket ship, but determined none the less. "I was wondering when I could get my rocket ship? Cause my sticker chart is all filled up and uhh..." he trailed off.

Two pairs of eyes flew to the fridge.

"By George!"

"Congratulations!"

Arthur swept Alfred up into his arms. Alfred was bounced and he was laughing, "I thought," he giggled as he was danced around the kitchen, "you knew and weren't gonna give it to me."

The little boy was plopped down on the floor. Arthur left the kitchen yelling behind him, "Of course not! I've got it right here."

Matthew popped his head inside, "What's going on?"

"I'm gettin' my rocket!" Alfred cheered.

"Cool! Does that mean we're finally going to the moon?"

"Uh-huh! Moon 'splorations here we come!" Alfred exclaimed. The boys raced off into the living room to being exploring. Arthur and Francis watched from the kitchen doorway smiling.

"We'll be ok," Francis said, pulling the shorter man into a hug.

"That we will," Arthur replied.