"You know," Arthur said, shooting Alfred a brief glance, "if you keep staring off into space, people are going to think that you are crazy."
Alfred frowned at him. "What people?"
"I'm just saying." Arthur shrugged his shoulders. "It's not a good habit to pick up on."
"I'm just thinking about how I've completely lost my mind." Alfred scowled slightly. "I just don't get why it took so long. You'd think I'd start seeing my dead brother right after he'd, well...died."
"I'm not -"
" - Dead, I know." Alfred rolled his eyes. "We can continue this conversation all day long but it all comes back to one thing - you need to get back into my mind and I need to forget this ever happened."
"I can't go back into your mind Alfred," Arthur sighed. "I'll tell you why? Because I never came out of there in the first place!"
"Prove it," Alfred challenged, narrowing his eyes slightly.
"Fine." Scowling, Arthur thought for a moment. "Alright," he said at last, "if I came out of your mind, then why aren't I...dressed as a superhero? I don't believe that you could create an imaginary friend without some link to those stupid comic books you're obsessed with."
"Was obsessed with," Alfred corrected. "I outgrew those ages ago. And as for why you aren't dressed as a superhero - well that's obvious. I'm the only superhero in this room!"
Arthur snorted and resisted the urge to smile.
"Also, you're not an imaginary friend! You're the ghost of my dead brother." Alfred paused. "...That my mind created."
"Okay fine," he grumbled. "You're determined that I'm not real? Fine whatever. I'm going to look around the house."
"I don't think you can," Alfred responded. "I mean...would that even work? You leaving the room when I'm not there...I mean, if I wasn't there you wouldn't be there...right?"
Arthur rolled his eyes and stepped into the first small room in a tiny, narrow corridor in the apartment. The room looked practically empty, save for a small bed, a cabinet and a wardrobe.
"That's mum's room," Alfred told him, poking his head through the doorway.
"This is so...weird," Arthur muttered. "How does she stand it? You know how obsessed mum is with ornaments, and pictures, and decor..."
"Was," Alfred corrected. "That obsession kind of...disappeared."
"God," Arthur muttered, shaking his head. "I just can't imagine her living in this house...it's so dark and miserable. Can't we just...tidy it up a bit?"
Alfred snorted. "You can do that," he responded. "I have some homework to finish."
Arthur's jaw dropped open slightly. "I'm sorry," he spluttered. "Did you say you have some homework to finish?"
Alfred shot him an odd look. "Yes."
"But..." Arthur gaped at him for a moment. "You never do your homework!" he exclaimed, at last. "You always used to try and convince Mattie or me to do it for you!"
"Yes..." Alfred's eyebrows raised slightly. "And in case you hadn't noticed, Mattie's gone and you're dead."
Alfred left the room, leaving Arthur staring after him. The - not dead - boy followed shortly after, his eyes taking in the drab exterior of the house once more.
"Maybe I could by some flowers..." Arthur cocked his head to the side, a contemplative look crossing his face. "Mum always did like tulips...do you think she'd like some, Alfred?"
"From you?" Alfred snorted. "Sure, I'm sure she'd love some flowers from her dead son."
Arthur's jaw clenched slightly. "Why are you acting like such a brat?" he demanded. "Okay fine, you think I'm not real - don't blame me for that!"
Alfred didn't answer for a long moment. "I don't," he finally muttered. "I just...well, you can't be real, right? Ghosts don't exist."
Arthur opened his mouth to reply, planning on something along the lines of, "well, I'm NOT a ghost, so..." but instead he simply shrugged and gave his brother an awkward smile.
"I honestly don't know," he sighed.
Alfred frowned slightly. He sat himself down on the floor, spreading three books out in front of him. For a minute he simply stared at them, his eyes roaming across them as if they were foreign objects.
"Wouldn't you prefer to sit on a table and do that?" Arthur asked, frowning slightly.
"I prefer the floor," Alfred responded, softly. He made no move to start his work; Arthur watched him and frowned in concern.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"Um..." Alfred hesitated. "Well...look, I know you aren't real but..." Alfred chewed on his lip for a moment, looking uncomfortable.
"Yes?" Arthur prompted.
"...Um, maybe we could...maybe we could talk a bit." Alfred swallowed, before quickly adding, "you know, before you go back into my mind, where you came from."
Arthur opened his mouth, intent on telling his younger brother off, but stopped when he saw the hopeful glint in Alfred's eyes. He let out a loud sigh; he really needed to learn how to say no to the boy.
"Okay fine," he sighed. "Let's say, for the sake of this conversation, that I really am dead, okay?"
"Well then...has it gotten any easier for you?"
Alfred pushed his books away and sprawled out across the now empty space. He glanced at Arthur and shook his head.
"Not really," he sighed. "I mean...I thought it would, at the beginning, and I still think it will sometimes - except I guess it won't, seeing as I'm now seeing a figment -"
"Alfred," Arthur snapped, cutting him off mid-sentence. "If I can't say that I'm not dead, then you can't say that I'm not real!"
Alfred rolled his eyes. "Oh fine," he sighed. "Fine, fine, you really are a ghost. Okay then - how's heaven, hmm?"
"How should I know?!" Arthur snapped. "Stop acting like a smart-arse! Ask me a proper question!"
"Oh, I don't know," Alfred retorted. "I mean, what am I supposed to ask you if you don't even know that you're dead? It kind of ruins things a bit, doesn't it?"
Arthur made an annoyed noise and glared at Alfred; Alfred scowled back at him, his chin jutting out stubbornly.
"Fine," Arthur finally ground out. "I'll ask the questions then. Tell me - when exactly did Lizzie and Francis get together?"
Alfred stared at him for a moment. "You're joking," he said at last, his voice dead-pan.
"Oh come on, tell me," Arthur pressed. "I bet that damn frog went running into that bitch's waiting arms the moment I was gone, didn't she? I bet she was all over him -"
"Okay, Artie, you sound crazier than I am." Alfred paused as Arthur shot him a venomous glare. "Yeah okay, I can't say that you aren't real - sorry, I forgot. But seriously, calm down! And why are you calling Lizzie a bitch? She's your best friend!"
"Language," Arthur reprimanded.
"But you said -"
"I'm not ten," Arthur responded, stiffly.
"Neither am I!"
"Anyway." Sitting up straighter, Arthur's scowl deepened. "Lizzie was my best friend until I saw her eating Francis' face off."
"Ugh!" Alfred visibly recoiled. "What the hell Artie?! I don't want to know that!"
"Well, then answer my question! When did they get together?!"
"Wow," Alfred muttered, shaking his head slightly. "Never took you for the jealous type - anyway, they got together ages after you died. This year actually - and before that Francis never dated. I'm not even joking - that's five years of no dating."
"...I don't believe you."
Alfred nodded his head. "Yeah I know - it's a very big feat for him, isn't it?"
"You're telling me that Francis - Francis Bonnefoy, the biggest man-whore in this universe stayed single for five years straight?!"
Alfred shrugged. "I guess he really cared about you."
Arthur blinked, not really sure what to say to that. It was...nice, he supposed. It probably would have been a whole lot nicer if that little statement hadn't been shoved into a conversation about his apparent demise.
"Nice chat," Alfred said, suddenly. "So...are you going back into my mind yet?"
Arthur sighed. "You aren't crazy Alfie."
"Don't call me Alfie," Alfred shot back. "I'm not a kid anymore."
"You still call me Artie," Arthur pointed out.
"Artie isn't a kid's name."
"Neither is Alfie."
Alfred snorted. "Oh trust me, it is."
The door suddenly opened behind them, causing both of them to jump. Alfred's hand jerked forward, sending papers flying everywhere.
"Dammit," he cursed, quickly moving to rearrange everything.
"Alfred?" his mother's voice called out. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, mum," he responded. "I'm in the living room."
Arthur sat forward in anticipation. His mother was home - surely his own mother would be able to see him. There was no way that she'd walk straight past him like everyone else had - there was just no way...
But as soon as she stepped into the living room, looking pale and ragged, and nothing like the cheerful women that he remembered, she glanced straight past him, as if he wasn't even there.
"Hey," she said to Alfred, smiling tiredly. "Have you had anything to eat yet?"
"I'll get something later," Alfred told her. He shot a brief glance at Arthur, before dragging his eyes away.
"Don't stay up too long," she told him. "You have school tomorrow, don't forget."
All the while as this exchange was taking place, Arthur looked on, desperate to be noticed. This was his mother - how could she not know he was there...?!
"I'm going to go and take a shower," their mother told Alfred, removing her coat and slinging it over the sofa.
"Sure thing," Alfred responded.
As soon as their mother had left the room, he turned his head, glancing over at Arthur who was gaping at the now empty doorway.
"...She didn't know I was here..." Arthur whispered, his voice disbelieving.
"Okay that proves you're dead," Alfred told him, although there was a hint of sympathy in his voice. "Doesn't prove that I'm not insane though."
"Maybe she just can't see me," Arthur muttered, shaking his head in denial.
Alfred sighed. "Or maybe I should just go and see a psychiatrist..."