— 5. Romantic Comedy —

"I don't need your help finding clothing, you know," Arthur commented, pulling to a stop as they approached a red light. "I can manage perfectly fine on my own." In fact, Arthur thought, I'd probably manage better without your rabid fans tailing us around.

"Yeah, yeah," Alfred murmured, waving his hand around nonchalantly, "but where's the fun in that? C'mon, Arthur. Lemme help you." Alfred winked. "It'll be way more fun with me around."

Arthur skeptically assessed his passenger with a long and hard stare, one thick eyebrow raised in such a comical way that Alfred had to dig his nails into his fist to keep from laughing. That definitely wouldn't have helped his cause in the slightest.

"No," Arthur decided as he turned his gaze back to the road, continuing again as the light turned green. "Don't you have better things to do anyway? Like interviews and shows you have to attend?"

Alfred laughed. "It's Saturday, Arthur," he said, as if that explained everything. Arthur knew plenty of hardworking people in Hollywood who had to go into the office, so to speak, on a Saturday—and even on select Sundays too. These actors had it easy.

"Plus," Alfred continued, oblivious to Arthur's skeptical look, "When I told you my weekend was free, I meant it. Today and tomorrow."

"Well then sleep or something," Arthur suggested. "Or go do… I don't know, those actor things. Like running half naked in slow motion through the ocean." Arthur stiffened ever so slightly as that specific image of Alfred passed through his mind, and he coughed a bit to cover it up. Those tight glutes pumping through the salty waves was not what he needed in this thoughts at the present moment—or ever, if he could help it.

Alfred shot Arthur a quizzically amused glance. "You think that's what actors do?" The blue-eyed blonde couldn't help but laugh at the absurd idea. He hadn't been to the beach in weeks, and even then, it had been only to film some silly beachfront commercial. It had been ages since he actually went to the beach to enjoy himself.

"Well," the artist amended, "maybe not exactly that, but you get my drift." Arthur rolled his hand over the steering wheel and guided the car into a soft left turn. "Tell me where I can drop you off, so you can get to doing what you want, and I can get to doing what I want."

There was a moment of silence in the car long enough for Arthur to glance over to see if Alfred had heard. The artist was about to repeat himself when Alfred replied quietly, with unexpected timid sincerity, "What if this is what I want?"

"What?" Was Alfred actually being shy? No. Never. "Come again?" Arthur asked, needing to make sure his ears hadn't deceived him.

Alfred stared out the window, pretending to be in a deep and dramatic contemplative silence when in reality, he was just counting the ideal number of seconds before pulling his next move. You know, for the best effect and all. Finally, after six seconds and a small sigh, Alfred turned his persuasively shining eyes to Arthur, pouting for added effect.

"Please, Arthur," Alfred pleaded, "Let me come with you. I've got nothing better to do, and isn't this weekend supposed to be about getting to know me anyway? And letting me get to know you?"

Alfred slumped down in his seat, looking like a dejected kid who was denied candy by his parents. "Plus, do you know how long it's been since I've actually gone shopping? Like, you know, outside?" he asked quietly. "Everything always magically ends up in my closet without my foreknowledge, or I always have to order anything I want from the Internet." Alfred turned his puppy-dog eyes to Arthur to seal the deal. "Pleeeeeeaase?"

Arthur stared at Alfred for a moment, then turned back to the road with a sigh. He massaged the bridge of his nose with one hand as the other artfully controlled the wheel, a flurry of haphazard thoughts crisscrossing through his mind.

What was Arthur doing with this ridiculous notion that he could (and should) actually get to know his acting charge—and that he would survive it? This weekend of adventure had barely even started, and Arthur already had a blazing headache. More shopping wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend a relaxing Saturday afternoon — and that was before Alfred had expressed his desires to tag along. Buying clothes that were tailored to the "current fashion" was an experience hard enough when Arthur was by himself, so he couldn't even imagine how humiliating and exhausting it would be to do it with someone whose every clothing choice ended up on "What to Wear" lists all over the nation.

Arthur should have seen that this whole weekend plan had been absurd from the start. But so was all of Hollywood, and that never stopped anyone. Alfred seemed quite intent upon the matter. Plus, that little dejected pout of his looked so pitiful that Arthur couldn't help but feel a deep sympathy for the poor actor's plight. Maybe there were more dimensions to being a famed star than Arthur previously thought.

Wasn't that what this weekend was supposed to be about, anyway? Alfred had said so himself: this weekend's agreement was about getting to know each other.

Arthur sighed. They had to start somewhere, right?

"All right," the artist conceded, rolling his eyes with vaguely amused exasperation. "You can come. But!" he added, before Alfred could say anything, "You'll need to disguise yourself somehow. I don't want to have another paparazzi encounter today." He glared at the actor for good measure. "Agreed?"

Alfred shot up in his seat with a vigorous nod, his mood instantaneously changed. Just like that, Alfred was back to his normal, energized self. "You got it, boss!" he said, grinning widely as he gave the artist a reassuring thumbs up. The actor held steadfastly onto that wide grin despite Arthur's lack of reaction, and eventually, it won out. Arthur gave a small chuckling sigh and shook his head, unable to believe the ridiculous concessions he was making today.

"All right, Jones," the artist spoke. "Where to?"

Without missing a beat, as if he had almost planned the whole thing from the start, Alfred quickly pointed to the approaching corner, knowing exactly where he wanted to go from here.

"You'll want to take a right up here," he murmured. And as Arthur took the turn, he missed the triumphant twinkle that briefly passed across Alfred's shining blue eyes.

"Dude, what—"

"Put this on," Arthur muttered, handing a bag over to Alfred. He had left the actor seated in the car in a remote corner of the parking lot for only half an hour before returning with what seemed to be a bag of clothing in his hands.

Alfred laughed. "I don't need anything else to add to my vast wardrobe," he commented, digging through the contents anyway out of curiosity. "What is all this?"

"Your disguise," Arthur answered, sliding into the driver's seat once again. "I said I wouldn't want anyone to recognize you if you came with me, remember? So I went ahead and bought clothing that I'm quite sure you would never wear."

So that's why Arthur had told Alfred to wait! It all made sense to the actor now, who had been sitting in the car with unquenchable curiosity ever since Arthur had cryptically gone off on his own with nothing but the information of Alfred's clothing sizes. But the artist had promised he'd be back soon, so Alfred had stayed. It was surprising how much Alfred was able to trust and take Arthur at his word. Perhaps that was because Arthur was one of the few people in the industry who Alfred knew would never lie to him, with good news or bad; he just told it like it was, and that was refreshing, as things always seemed to be around the artist.

"Never wear?" Alfred chuckled. "How do you know what I would and wouldn't—"

Alfred paused as he pulled out a puce-colored sweater vest with turquoise designs periodically stitched on in truly horrendous patterns. Where in the world had Arthur even found this thing in a place so fashionable as the Beverly Center? This color and style was definitely so two-thousand-and-never. Elizaveta would have fainted—and that thought actually made Alfred laugh.

It began as a small chuckle, but escalated into a full on guffaw by the end. Alfred couldn't help himself. God, this weekend was going to be great and ridiculous; he could already feel it. How long had it been since he had worn something that Elizaveta didn't approve? It wasn't as if he couldn't do so; he just never had the chance to, and it was easier just to listen than to decide for himself sometimes.

This outfit (which included a pair of capri shorts cut off at exactly the wrong length, especially for Alfred's model length legs) should have made Alfred puke, honest to God. But instead, he actually found himself liking it quite a bit. It had its charms, and though he would never deem it good fashion by any means, he was surprisingly excited to wear it. It was the symbol of complete freedom returning to him, after all, even if only for a little bit. And this freedom wasn't even something he knew he had wanted until Arthur had come along.

Without a thought to the matter, the actor began to undress right there in the car. He untucked his shirt from his pants and was halfway through pulling it off his head before he heard Arthur sputter from the seat beside him.

"Wh-What do you think you're doing?" the artist yelped, surprised at Alfred's boldness. Of course, it made sense, since the actor probably spent as much time almost fully unclothed in public as he did clothed, hence the lack of embarrassment. Still, that didn't make it any more stomachable for Arthur, who was finding it suddenly very hard to breathe within the confines of the small car.

"What do you mean?" Alfred asked, lowering his shirt a bit, just enough so that he could look over the edges at Arthur. The moment he saw that crimson face and trembling green eyes staring right back—at Alfred's flexed stomach muscles, that is—the actor immediately understood the situation. His eyes narrowed a bit, and a devious smile returned to his lips, though they were hidden from Arthur's view by the semi-upturned shirt—not that the artist was exactly looking up there anyway.

"Enjoying the show?" Alfred chuckled, his voice only as teasing as any generally good-humored actor would get. Now wasn't the time to give away too much about his more devious side.

"What?!" Arthur stammered, eyes widening in alarm as he looked away, a deep crimson tingeing his cheeks. "Pah. Don't flatter yourself, you twat," he muttered. "I just—I err, wasn't expecting it. That's all." Arthur cleared his throat and opened the door, stepping out once again despite the fact that he had gotten back in just a moment ago.

"Just hurry it up," Arthur chided, trying to cover up his flustered complexion. "I'd like to be home for tea."

Alfred bit his lip to keep from laughing as Arthur slammed the door and made to lean against it, back turned to the car's interior. The actor had never seen Arthur's face that red before, nor had he ever witnessed someone so utterly riveted by his abs as the artist had been just a second ago, all fangirls included. It was clear that Arthur was at the very least attracted to Alfred's body, if not to the actor's personality as well. But that was already half the battle, and the rest Alfred was confident could be done over this weekend, just in time to clinch the contract by Monday. Signed, sealed, delivered, neat little British bow and all.

Arthur heard scuffling from within the car as Alfred changed, and he had to resist the strong urge to turn around and take a peek. This wasn't like him, to be so utterly unable to withstand the physical attractions of other men. But Arthur was quickly learning that Alfred wasn't like other men, both in looks and in personality, though Arthur couldn't quite place his finger on what was different just yet, or decide whether or not he liked the change.

After all, like had been shown today, Alfred could be a stubbornly annoying little git about things. But on the other hand, he was a caring, well-meaning, drop dead gorgeous annoying little git who had a smile that could send blood rushing to Arthur's face and a body that could send blood rushing to… well, Arthur's pants were uncomfortably tight at the moment, and that didn't happen often to the usually well-disciplined Brit.

When the door opened on the far side of the car, Alfred released a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. His face was still red, but at least his heart was a little calmer. Despite his best efforts, Arthur had been unable to rid himself of the image of Alfred's flawless, chiseled body, close enough inside that car for Arthur to touch, or even to lick… Well, that was an absurd thought, and it certainly wouldn't be happening any time soon.

Scratch that. It wouldn't be happening any time ever.

Alfred was just another bratty, spoiled actor—and one with a mysterious and vaguely dangerous history with makeup artists to boot. But that was all. Arthur didn't even trust the kid, though oddly enough, he had to force himself to remember that.

"So? What do you think, Arthur?"

Arthur could hear the smile in the actor's voice, and he shivered as it melted down into his soul. Alfred had the perfect radio announcer voice, and it was a shame that he worked in a medium where there were external sensory distractions from that flawless auditory sugar. Then again, if he didn't, then it'd be a shame not to be able to see that delectable body of his, with that gorgeous face that could humble even the highest of Gods. There was simply no winning with this one.

Arthur took a deep breath and turned around, not sure what to expect. He quickly did a once over of what he could see over the top of the car, before walking around the front to Alfred's side to get a full body view.

"You look… wow," Arthur commented. "Wow…"

And then he burst out laughing, leaning on the hood of the car as he became weak in the knees. Arthur had to wipe tears from his eyes, as Alfred stood there, perplexed at the artist's mirth.

Alfred took a step forward, and Arthur held out a hand to stop him. "Don't worry about it," Arthur murmured through his receding laughter. "You look perfect. That is to say," he added, looking up at Alfred, "that you look nothing like yourself whatsoever."

That was completely true. Alfred knew he would never wear these clothes of his own volition, simply because nothing like it even existed in his closet to pick from. Elizaveta would have killed him if she knew, but that was part of the fun.

The actor did a mock full-circle fashion turn for Arthur before gauging himself in the reflection of the car's windows. He couldn't help but laugh as well at how ridiculous he looked. Alfred's own Gucchi sunglasses really did not go well with Arthur's pick of a pageboy hat.

"Well, you do have a way with clothing, if nothing else," Alfred muttered, putting his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts and feeling around, wholly unused to the cheap material. "Let's just hope that this is what you picked out for me because your fashion sense is good enough to tell you that this outfit absolutely sucks, man."

Arthur stood up and frowned in mock offense. "Excuse me? Do you doubt my fashion?" Arthur scoffed. "Have you not seen what I wear to work?" The artist crossed his arms and regarded Alfred with a cool stare. "I dare say my clothing choices are brilliant, thank you very much. I look fantastic."

"That you do," Alfred murmured, eyes twinkling with sincerity. It caught Arthur off guard and he immediately lost the sense of his jokingly affronted act. His cheeks burned bright red again, though he pretended not to hear.

Alfred had said a lot of stuff like that over the course of their week together so far. But the actor seemed to complement everybody at work as some part of his morale boosting system or something, so Arthur didn't deem it to be anything special. It was best to ignore silly little things like that anyway, lest Arthur take them the wrong way. Him and his silly little betraying hormones.

The artist cleared his throat and kicked the pavement a little before managing to gather his thoughts fully. He shifted to the trunk, rummaging around a bit for his stuff as he struggled to move on from these awkward moments with Alfred. Worst of all, they seemed to be only awkward for Arthur, as Alfred seemed unfazed by these absurd statements. It was just a caring and nice quirk of his, nothing more. So why did they always affect Arthur so much?

"Your outfit is almost complete," Arthur murmured, hoping that the quietness of his voice would hide the discomfort in his tone. "Just let me take care of a few last minute things, and then we can be on our way. Can you come over here?"

Alfred stepped around the back as he heard the sound of gloves snap onto Arthur's delicate hands. Ah. The makeup. They couldn't ever forget that, could they?

Arthur emerged from the trunk with some eyeshadow in hand, other materials set aside on top of his bag. He gently took Alfred's sunglasses off, ignoring as best as he could the feeling of his fingers brushing against that soft skin he had quickly come to know so well. This time, something was different, as if the air between them was charged with a different brand of electricity than the usual, making it harder to push aside. But Arthur had briefly turned himself onto work mode, which made ignoring everything easier, including this ridiculous attraction he had to his acting charge that was manifesting itself at the worst possible times.

"You know the drill," Arthur murmured, getting up close to Alfred's face without any flustered compunctions this time. "Stay still."

Alfred did as he was told, his eyes roaming that look of concentration that he had come to know so well in the past week. Arthur had this habit of working with his lips slightly parted, breathing softly through his mouth instead of his nose. Alfred wasn't sure the artist even noticed when he did that, but Alfred sure did. It always made him want to lean forward and close that little distance left between them just so that he could nibble on those lips and see for himself whether or not they were really as soft as they looked.

Alfred swore he ought to get a medal for his incredible discipline.

Arthur licked his lips, another habit that sometimes manifested itself as he worked, especially when he was concentrating on a particularly difficult task (and another habit that made Alfred's cock twitch as he watched, unable to alleviate himself—yet). The artist's thick eyebrows furrowed and he leaned even closer, which was hard to do in this instance because it required him to be on his toes.

"Lean down a bit, will you?" the artist murmured absentmindedly.

Alfred complied, timing it so that he went just a little bit lower than necessary, "accidentally" brushing his lips against Arthur's cheek. The artist stiffened, and Alfred could feel the Briton's cheeks burning as he pulled back. But to Arthur's credit, he only froze briefly before clearing his throat and continuing on with his work once again, as if nothing had happened. Arthur's "all work and no play" mode was really something incredible if it enabled him to keep his concentration despite Alfred's devious tactics.

"Sorry," Alfred murmured sheepishly, giving Arthur an apologetic look as the artist turned back to the trunk for different supplies. Arthur didn't reply, but it was clear that he had heard. He turned back to Alfred and gently moved the actor's face over a little to the left and a bit higher.

"No lower than that," Arthur murmured, and that was it. No further comment.

Alfred had to take a moment and really admire the artist for his work discipline. Not many people could just move on from a close encounter with Alfred like that—in Alfred's humble opinion, of course. That ability was quite unique to Arthur.

In a few more moments, Arthur placed the last of his supplies in his bag and slammed the trunk shut, taking off his gloves and stuffing them in his pocket to toss in the bin later. He stepped back, absentmindedly nodding here and there as he admired his work from afar.

Before Alfred could ask questions, Arthur pulled a small mirror from his other pocket and held it up with confident satisfaction, as if that would answer everything. Alfred stared at his own reflection, blinked a few times, and his eyes widened. He touched his own face and pulled down on his cheeks so that he could see his eyes more closely. That sort of ruined the effect a little bit, but it didn't deny the fact that there was even an effect to be had in the first place.

"Woah…" Alfred breathed, turning his face back and forth. Something about the makeup had dimmed his eyes so that they were darker and less noticeable. They were nothing like the bright and piercing eyes that Alfred was so famous for having, and even when he tried to grin with that twinkling touch, it was far less magical and squeal inducing than he was used to. It miffed him a bit that he had suddenly lost a lot of his cheery charm, and all at the hands of some makeup artist who was clearly too good at his job. But then again, he couldn't deny just how awesome it was at the same time.

"I regret having to do that, but you've got to admit that it's cool." Arthur gloated, a smug and satisfied expression on his features as he closed the mirror and returned it to his pocket. Changing the look and feel of an actor's eyes was not particularly difficult, but making plain eyes stand out was far easier than making stunning eyes seem normal. That was work for the true masters.

Arthur seemed to be in a much calmer and better mood than he had mere minutes before. He also seemed to have forgotten completely about Alfred's accidental brush against his cheek, though the sensory memory was still there. But there was little to nothing in the world that could distract Arthur from congratulating himself for a job well done—because if he didn't do it, then who would? And judging by the remnants of awe that could still be found in Alfred's expression, by God did Arthur deserve it.

Arthur brushed his hands together and glanced over Alfred's makeup one last time. Satisfied, he playfully yanked down on the front of Alfred's cap for good measure.

"You know, you don't look too bad like a normal person," Arthur commented as he began to walk off in the direction of the Beverly Center once again.

"Hey, at least it takes makeup to make me look average, rather than the other way around," Alfred shot back, all in good humor.

The actor was still struck a bit by how good Arthur was at his job. It didn't show all that much to the naked eye, because most of the Hollywood public was used to seeing the products of post-makeup and effects and taking that for normal. But Alfred could feel in his bones just how special Arthur was, and not just because of the Briton's professional prowess. There was something about that confident, no-nonsense and dry-humored attitude that attracted Alfred. Something about it that made him want to learn more about the artist. Something about it that made him want to transcend their professional relationship to something bigger, better.

Something about it that made him want to break Arthur down until that confident attitude begged him for mercy.

"All right!" Alfred exclaimed as he stepped in through the main doors, falling back into his act. "First stop, McDonald's."

Arthur shot Alfred an odd look. "McDonald's?"

"Yeah!" Alfred rubbed his stomach and frowned. "It's lunchtime and I'm starving."

That wasn't exactly what Arthur had been confused about as he had tried to fit the picture of greasy fast food with Alfred's stunning physique, but he went along with it anyway.

"Well, I don't think they have one here. This is a little high-end for McDonald's, don't you think?"

Alfred's frown deepened. He glanced at the map of store listings and sure enough, there was no McDonald's to be found. Yet here he was, genuinely hoping to take a little break from all the high-end dining, all acting aside. McDonald's had been his favorite haunt when he was young, back when things were less complicated (but also less fun).

Well, he was hungry anyway, and they had to eat somewhere. "Does pizza sound okay to you?" Alfred asked, figuring that to be second best.

"Uh… yeah, sure. Anything works." Arthur had somehow forgotten his hunger in the face of all these crazy, out of the ordinary events. But now that Alfred had mentioned food, the grumbling ache in Arthur's stomach informed the artist that eating was probably a good idea.

"Great!" Alfred replied. He grabbed Arthur's hand and bounded off before the artist could react. They took a turn and were well past the Macy's men's store before Arthur's mind caught up with his actions.

The artist made to withdraw his hand from the actor's grip, but it was too awkward a move to pull off. Alfred didn't seem to notice anyway, so Arthur—after much internal struggle—decided to let it be. The touch wasn't uncomfortable exactly, but the context sure was. Arthur had seen and worked on way too many romantic comedies to take this situation in any other light, and it made his chest, not to mention his pants, uncomfortably tight at the thought. Moreover, it disturbed him greatly that these physical reactions were even happening in the first place.

Pizza, Arthur thought. Keep your mind on the pizza. Alfred seemed to be doing that, and it looked to be working wonders for him and his one-track mind.

Little did Arthur know, the track of Alfred's one-track mind was focused solely on the artist instead. Despite his outward appearances, Alfred was paying keen attention to the feel of the artist's hand in his. Alfred had never had the privilege of touching them before, or of being touched by them without something frustratingly placed in between. They were softer than he imagined they would be, and smaller too. Alfred had felt the hands of other artists before, but they were well worn by rough use and constant exposure to foreign chemicals. Arthur's conscientious care of his own hands made it an immense pleasure for Alfred to hold them, and Alfred made a note that whatever he did later on to and with the artist, in bed or otherwise, he would at least be careful not to damage those magnificent hands. It'd be a shame otherwise.

When they arrived at California Pizza Kitchen, Alfred let go of Arthur's hand with ease, as if the whole thing had been natural from the beginning. He proceeded to get them a table, seeming not to notice (though he did notice) as Arthur cradled one hand with the other, staring at them both as if they suddenly were bright purple and had sprouted four extra digits.

Now that it was gone, Arthur had to admit that he missed the warm feeling of Alfred's fingers wrapped around his—not that he exactly wanted it back, either. Arthur rarely touched people directly with his fingers, as a force of habit, and he wasn't exactly sure of his opinions on this specific experience just yet. It simply felt… odd, like something he had felt in bygone days, but had long since forgotten the feeling of.

"… thur? Arthur."

The artist glanced up, snapping out of his thoughts as he came eye to eye with concerned blue looking down at him. It took a moment for everything to come back to Arthur, especially since Alfred's eyes were so different from the usual that it was temporarily disorienting. The artist blinked, and Alfred smiled at him.

"C'mon. I got us a table," he said, holding out his hand to lead the way. Arthur glanced down at the proffered limb with his trademark skeptical raised bow. Then with an amused huff, Arthur brushed past the actor and followed after the waiter himself.

Psh. As if he needed the extra help. He wasn't sixty yet.

Alfred was stunned only for a few miliseconds before he stuffed his hand back in his pocket and turned around to follow. Had Arthur actually refused him? This Briton was just enigma after enigma.

The actor had thought that for sure, after that warm handholding experience, no matter how brief and uneventful it had been, Arthur would have at least been persuaded to try it again. Maybe Alfred was losing his touch, literally and figuratively. Or maybe, in a more interesting idea, Arthur was immune to it anyway.

Now that was a thought. Perhaps gaining Arthur's physical attraction had been only a small fraction of the battle, or perhaps not even a battle at all. The remaining mental and emotional attraction seemed really to be the greater challenge. The artist had proven to be quite strong-minded in other situations, and there was no reason his regard toward Alfred would suffer any different fate.

So maybe it would take more than just this one weekend to win the artist over. Maybe it'd take a week or two. Maybe it'd even take a month. Rarely did it ever take Alfred more than that to gain someone's warm affections, for he really was quite charming when he wanted to be. But Arthur had a knack for surprising the actor in ways he could never predict, something Alfred had learned well in just this past week alone. So honestly, who knew what could happen?

Alfred couldn't help the sense of excitement that bubbled up in his heart as he pulled himself into the booth across from Arthur. What would the artist say next? What should Alfred say next? How should Alfred go about things to gain the best out of the situation? An endless list of these questions zapped back and forth across the actor's calculating mind, but there simply was no easy answer. For the first time in a while, Alfred would have to rely mainly on trial and error, and likely, he'd have to deal with a lot of failure as well. Arthur was just too unpredictable, and by definition, Alfred would never get used to this unpredictability.

This challenge, instead of frustrating him, made him happy to no end.

"What are you grinning about?" Arthur asked, giving Alfred a half-amused, half-bemused look. His hand was still tingling, but his head was also throbbing and his stomach was also grumbling, so Arthur was resigned to the fact that his whole body would be unhappy at the moment. The hand was nothing special.

"Food!" Alfred replied, licking his lips as he imagined the satisfaction of the final conquest once it came. He was sure Arthur would taste absolutely delicious. Even better than McDonald's.

Arthur regarded the actor with some silence before replying. "… You really are something else," he observed, his tone making it clear that he had not meant that as a compliment, despite the small quirk of a smile that tugged at the corner of his lips.

As are you, Alfred thought, though he instead meant it as the highest of compliments. Anyone that could entertain and intrigue Alfred so much, especially only after a week of knowing him, was indeed someone special. Outwardly however, Alfred only grinned and replied, "What can I say? I aim to please." He then settled further into his seat and pulled out the menu, quickly glancing it over before making his decisions.

"You know what you want?"

Arthur was still perusing the menu, but he put it down at the sound of Alfred's question. He shrugged and replied, "Well, I'm not really all that hungry. I guess I'll just have the mushroom and spinach on toast. If you're ready, go ahead and order."

The artist was mildly puzzled at Alfred's "you asked for it" look, but only briefly so. It made perfect sense once Alfred started rattling off the seemingly infinite list of things he wanted to order, throwing Arthur's dish somewhere into the mix. The artist almost went slack jawed in amazement, and the only thing that was preventing him from doing so was the knowledge that he would look utterly stupid doing it.

"Err… is there another guest coming that I don't know about?" Arthur asked semi-jokingly once the waiter had departed, clearly just as confused. Surely, Alfred couldn't put away all of that by himself.

"Nah," Alfred replied, shrugging. "Told you I was hungry." And for some reason that Arthur could not fathom, the actor actually seemed proud of that.

The food came quicker than expected, and true to his word, Alfred began to wolf it down, only pausing for conversation and sips of his coke. Arthur ate slowly, most of the time distracted by just how much Alfred could eat. When he finally decided to ask the actor about it, Alfred only replied once again that he was simply hungry.

There was no use mentioning that this was the first time in years Alfred had been unrecognized in public, or the first time in ages he had eaten a greasy meal (the restrictions on his diet courtesy of Gilbert the "awesome" beautician and Ludwig the maniacal personal trainer). There were parts of his life that Alfred wanted to reveal to Arthur in order to gain sympathy, but there were other parts that honestly, when he really looked back at it and thought about it, were too sad to share. He usually never minded them though, for they were small sacrifices in exchange for infinite wealth and a whole lot of power.

Nevertheless, it was in moments like this when he had a rare chance to break free from it all that Alfred felt a pang of nostalgia hit his heart. When he was young, McDonald's had been all he could afford to eat sometimes. And though that life had been materialistically shitty compared to what he had now, it had also been high in privacy and freedom. Everything came at a cost, though most of the time, Alfred's life was brilliant enough that he completely forgot that fact.

Alfred laughed as Arthur made some offhanded comment about how this meal all ought to be recorded and sent to Ripley's Believe It or Not—and surprisingly, when he had laughed, Alfred hadn't even been acting anymore. Though his mind was still afloat with devious plans and crafty ideas, and his actions still guided by such thoughts, the actor was also truly enjoying himself in a completely different sense, independent of the thrill of Arthur's chase and challenge.

Of course, he didn't even realize it was happening as it happened. This specific brand of happiness was something Alfred hadn't experienced in a long while, and it would be a long while before his twisted and tired mind would even come to recognize what it was.

"You all right in there?" Alfred called, standing outside one of the fitting rooms of Express Men, the fourth shop they'd visited so far. He had taken on a ridiculous central London accent just "for the betterment of the disguise," and though it surprisingly sounded almost completely legitimate, Arthur could barely take him seriously all the same.

"Stop that, will you?" Arthur chided through the door. He was wearily unbuttoning yet another shirt that didn't fit quite right. Lowering his voice, Arthur asked as an afterthought, "Where'd you learn to do that, anyway?"

Arthur could hear Alfred's laugh through the door, though the actor had enough sense to change it from his usual, so as to decrease the risk of being recognized.

"What, you mean the accent?" Alfred whispered back in his regular American voice, "I learned it from you." Alfred had said it as if that were the most normal skill in the world. Arthur, on the other hand, froze momentarily upon hearing the answer. That feat was actually quite impressive, though Arthur would never admit it.

Many actors tried their best, but accent acquisition was a tough skill. It was rare for an American to do a British accent even remotely well, and even rarer for them to have enough knowledge not to mix ridiculously different accents like cockney and the Queen's English together, resulting in a tragic butchery of Arthur's beloved language. And though Alfred's accent wasn't exactly perfect (which wasn't to be expected by any means from just one week of passively learning it off and on), it could have fooled most people, and that wasn't just any little thing to scoff at.

When would Alfred stop being so impressive?

Arthur shook his head in wonder as he pulled off his last shirt and tossed it aside. He frowned at the meager set of clothing he had picked out to try on. None of them had worked. Well, it wasn't that they hadn't worked; it was just that they weren't exactly all that different from Arthur's usual day-to-day clothing. They were just far more expensive and, dare Arthur say, a bit less good-looking as well.

What did one wear to a Hollywood party? Arthur didn't go to many of those, though he wasn't exactly remorseful about that. He liked his peace and quiet, thank you very much. If he desired to go to these absurd gatherings of too many bodies packed in too small a space with the heater somehow turned way up despite the hot California weather, then sure, he could. Admittance wasn't exactly exclusive past a certain point of drunkenness, not that Arthur even needed things to escalate that far to gain entry. He did have a certain famed presence in the movie industry, and he had probably worked with most of the actors in attendance at those parties. He simply didn't see the need or have the desire to use this connection for such… stupid and mundane purposes. If he wanted a headache, he could count a billion other ways to acquire one.

Of course, now in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to attend at least one or two of those this past year, even if they weren't necessary. At least that way he would have known what to wear this time around.

The artist ran his hand exasperatedly through his hair and heaved a heavy sigh. "Ugh, this is hopeless," he muttered, massaging is temples. Arthur thought he had spoken quietly enough, but apparently, Alfred's eagle ears had picked it up anyway.

"Ha!" Arthur heard from the other side of the doorway. Alfred had been waiting for Arthur, ever stubborn, to admit defeat so that he could take over and pick the clothes instead. But so far, Arthur had held out.

"Given up?" Alfred murmured, a jokingly teasing tone to his voice.

"Never," Arthur shot back, though to be honest, he was close to it.

Why was he going through all of this shopping anyway? It was absurd. Arthur liked his own style fine, and he was quite happy with his closet. He'd feel proud wearing almost any of that to a party. It was just that he was finding a lot of dissatisfaction when he compared anything of his to anything of Alfred's. How could he ever forgive himself if he showed up to some social event that could very well matter to his career, only to be outshone by some kid? Argh, this materialistic attention he suddenly had to pay to everything was so frustrating!

Arthur gathered up all the items of clothing, took a deep breath, and opened the door to step back out. He gave Alfred a very exasperated look, and the actor only grinned back, quite sure of his imminent victory.

"How was it?" Alfred asked with a smirk as Arthur plopped all of the tried clothing on the rehang rack. Arthur only glared back in reply. Then after a moment, he sighed and plopped himself down too, into one of the waiting chairs beside the changing stalls. The artist began to massage his temples, groaning quietly to himself. This headache was getting to be unbearable, and Alfred's antics, though cute, weren't exactly helping.

Alfred stood by for a second, torn between the possible choices for his next move. He could goad Arthur a little further, but then that would just serve to rile up his artist even more, which wasn't the goal—well, not yet. There'd be plenty of time for that later, soft mattress and all. And definitely with a lack of clothing instead.

Perhaps he ought to play the nice card this time, like some kind and caring boyfriend. He certainly looked the part in this ridiculous outfit at least. Plus, Alfred was taking pity upon the artist, who seemed to be suffering quite a bit from what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend. Alfred was enjoying it plenty, and he felt just a little bit bad that Arthur couldn't do the same. The game wasn't all that fun if the other person wasn't at least a little into it too. This situation, on the other hand, just left a sour taste in Alfred's mouth.

"Hey," Alfred murmured warmly, his still-Britished voice devoid of any of its recent teasing humor. He ruffled Arthur's hair very gently, giving the artist a pseudo head massage, though he pulled away before Arthur's pained mind could really register much of it. "You stay here a tad and relax, all right? I'll be right back."

Arthur mumbled something vague in reply, though it didn't look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Alfred chuckled in spite of the situation. Most people looked utterly horrible when they were bemoaning their pains, but Arthur actually looked kind of adorable doing it, like some sweet senior citizen that was just getting a little bit too old for his grandchildren's antics. It was hard to believe sometimes that the artist was only twenty-four years old.

Alfred was gone for what felt like years to Arthur, who was still sitting in the chair and massaging his temples with his eyes closed upon the actor's return barely fifteen minutes later. Arthur felt a weight in the seat beside him and blinked briefly to see what it was. The light seemed extra strong as everything slowly came into focus, and out of that shining brightness came Alfred's beautiful face, framed to perfection, like some sort of cheap VFX halo. Arthur blinked again, and then he could have sworn his heart had sputtered and almost ground to a halt.

Jesus Christ, that smile.

Arthur cleared his throat and flailed around a bit in an attempt to get a hold of himself and his erratically palpitating heart. He jolted up in his seat, immediately regretting the decision as a spike of pain shot through his head. All the blood suddenly rushing to his cheeks certainly wasn't helping either.

"Hold on," Alfred murmured, rummaging around a bit. Then he held something out to Arthur and said, "Here, drink this."

The artist glanced down at the hand, which held two tablets of what seemed to be painkillers—Advil, if Arthur identified the pill correctly in his pained and weary haze. There was a water bottle in Alfred's other hand too. Where in the world had the actor managed to get all of this on such short notice?

"Thanks," Arthur murmured, doing as Alfred advised. He relished in the feel of the refreshing water rushing down his throat, seeming to chase the pain away with it. The relief wouldn't be instantaneous, of course, but Arthur's mood was already in a much better state. Alfred was being so kind once again. How had the artist ever doubted this kid's sincerity in the first place?

"Where'd you get this?" Arthur asked, sitting up fully now and stretching his neck.

"Most women carry them around," Alfred explained. "All I did was ask one of the salesladies after I explained the situation." He grinned at Arthur, who suspected that there might have been a little bit more to the story, but decided not to push the matter. He was thankful that the actor was so surprisingly resourceful.

"Also," Alfred added, with a mischievously smug smile like someone with a good surprise up his sleeve, "I brought you these."

The actor reached behind him and gathered up a bundle of clothes before turning back to Arthur. These were the set of pieces that his keen and Elizaveta-trained eyes had noticed the moment they had walked into the store (which Arthur had made the decision to enter, but only after Alfred had subtly and painstakingly laid down the persuasive groundwork for it).

Alfred knew in his heart that these pieces of clothing would be perfect for Arthur, despite the fact that he had never seen the artist dressed in them before. But Alfred could imagine it—and he could also imagine slowly peeling each piece right off again too, but that was for another time. Nevertheless, it stood that Arthur would look drop dead gorgeous in these, and Alfred was dying to see it.

Arthur regarded the clothing with a frown then a heavy sigh. He glanced at his watch. "No. I'm going home for tea," he muttered, making to stand up. Arthur also wanted a hot bath, and to go to bed and never wake up again, among other things.

Alfred placed a gentle but firm and pleading hand upon Arthur's shoulders. He was really desperate to see these clothes in action, especially these tight, tailored pants around that delectable ass, and desperate times called for desperate measures.

"Please, Arthur? I know these would look brilliant on you." He blasted the artist with the most persuasive puppy-dog pout he could muster. Arthur didn't look quite convinced though, so Alfred added, "I don't want you to leave here empty handed. You don't want to have gone through all of this suffering for nothing, would you?" Alfred leaned in and lowered his voice. "I know you're fed up with the shopping, but I swear these will work." Alfred smiled a little, though he faltered just at the right moment to make it seem innocently unsure and unconfident.

"Don't you trust me?"

That was the key question, wasn't it? He had given Arthur no reason at all in this past week not to trust him. Alfred had even gone out of his way to get the artist painkillers just now, for God's sake. Arthur had to see the lengths to which Alfred was going just to gain his favor. This was hard work (but fun work), in Alfred's opinion. Still, he'd never had to think this much on any weekend before in his life. Arthur had to appreciate that, even if, you know, he didn't quite know about it, and he ought not to. But still.

Arthur blinked at Alfred. Did Arthur trust him? Maybe not completely just yet, considering the prejudices with which he had entered into their relationship, but there was definitely something there, something growing and developing, ever so slowly. Alfred could see it in the artist's eyes day to day that Arthur's opinion of him was slowly changing. The artist just had to see the answer for himself first before he could confirm it to anyone else.

Alfred held out the bundle of clothes questioningly one last time, a soft encouraging smile upon his lips and gentle pleading in his eyes. Arthur felt something swell inside his heart, though he couldn't readily identify the emotion. Nevertheless, it felt warm, and it becalmed his headache, so that was enough for him.

With an exaggerated sigh to prove just how much he was beleaguered by this onerous burden of one last go at the clothing, Arthur accepted the bundle and moved off to the changing rooms. Alfred would have feared that he had angered the artist with his stubborn insistence had he not seen at the last minute the small smile upon Arthur's lips right before the door closed behind him. Alfred resisted the urge to air guitar as he had won yet another small battle.

Inside the changing room, Arthur eyed the bundle with skepticism. There was a burgundy, almost wine-colored button-down shirt, made of pure soft cotton. It was paired with some tight black slacks and a gray jacket, the perfect combination of stylish and sexy and the best balance between casual and well dressed—that is, for any man who wasn't Arthur.

Under certain lights, the artist knew that this dark purplish red could go very well with the green of his eyes, and the gray had little flecks of black that would complement the trousers wonderfully. But color wasn't the issue. Did the cut of the jacket really suit his bony shoulders? Would the weight of the slacks actually hang well on his thin hips? These were the true questions that determined the merit of each of Arthur's outfits.

Arthur pursed his lips and breathed. His headache was already feeling a little better, and the water had helped immensely. This last little thing couldn't hurt, no matter how much he doubted it. Because oddly enough, he didn't doubt Alfred this time, and that made the decision for him.

With the image of Alfred's sweet smile at the forefront of his mind, Arthur proceeded to change into the outfit, not looking up even once at the mirror. He didn't want to see, just in case Alfred was wrong and it really did look terrible. Arthur's unique physique wasn't exactly easy to shop for, which was why the artist was so particular about going through this experience only at a few very select shops, and more importantly, about going through this experience by himself. Alfred was the first person he had ever shopped with. Not even Francis had ever done this with him before.

Arthur unlocked the door to the changing room and stepped out once he was done. With a small déjà vu memory back to Alfred's change in the car, Arthur lifted his arms and spun around in a small circle.

"How do I look?" There was a small hint of "Are you satisfied now?" laced into his question as well.

Alfred blinked several times, absentmindedly placing down the magazine he had been mildly perusing as he waited. The actor stood up slowly and muttered "Wow" in a very sharp exhale of breath, reinforcing Arthur's feeling of déjà vu. Next thing they knew, Alfred would start to laugh, and then Arthur would sadly learn that he looked just as odd in this outfit as Alfred did in his current one, and all these pains would have been for naught.

However, that didn't happen. Instead, Alfred took a few more steps forward until he stood right before the artist, his expression dripping pure awe as his eyes continued to take in every detail of the outfit.

"Blimey," the actor exclaimed breathily, which threw the artist off to no end. But before Arthur could find any suitable reaction, Alfred continued, "Have you looked in the mirror yet?"

Arthur shook his head, and in reply, Alfred spun him around so that he came face to face with the large full body mirror that was at the end of the walkway. At first, Arthur didn't even recognize himself, and when he did, he had to resist the strong urge to rub his eyes.

Alfred was right. This outfit was an incredible fit on Arthur. The jacket was cut at just the right length, and it was tight enough around the waist that it showed off Arthur's slim figure. The hemming of the shirt made it so that the folds fell perfectly when it was tucked into Arthur's pants. And the pants… oh the pants. Alfred was very glad that Arthur's body hid Alfred's own reflection in the mirror, because the actor's eyes were almost permanently glued to that ass. He had to bite his own lip to keep from making any noise.

"Wow, do I have great taste or what?" Alfred finally said smugly, once the initial awe had worn off. As he walked around Arthur to examine the outfit completely from all angles, Alfred heard one of the women who worked there whistle in appreciation before walking away to put clothes back on their racks. She did it quietly enough that it was probably only meant for her ears, but Alfred, and surely Arthur, had heard anyway. And that made Alfred grin.

"You'll get this, right?"

"Yeah…" Arthur replied absentmindedly, his eyes still transfixed upon his reflection within the mirror. "Of course…"

What Arthur did with makeup, Alfred had done with these clothes. Little did the artist know that a lot of it was influenced by Alfred's overbearing fashion consultant, but Alfred had conveniently left out that little detail. What could he say? He liked being the object of Arthur's admiration, even if it was for skills he didn't really possess. Hollywood was a dog-eat-dog world.

"All right," Alfred grinned, clapping Arthur on the back. "You go and change out of those, and then we can call it a day." The actor winked and added, "Until the party, that is."

Arthur groaned. He had somehow momentarily forgotten about that. Still, the shopping was basically done, so hopefully the worst was already over with… Oh, who was he kidding? This was Hollywood they were talking about. The parties for sure would be the worst of it. But at least he'd look great as he suffered.

The artist receded back to the changing room with a chuckling sigh, at least in a much better mood than he had been in mere minutes ago. Although he still had a Hollywood party to look forward to, for the moment, Arthur was surprisingly content. Alfred had that effect on people; his exuberance and happiness was contagious. Perhaps it was exactly what Arthur needed in a friend.

Wait—friend? Nah. Who needed friends? All Hollywood people needed were connections; thus, all friendships were superficial, at best, and Arthur didn't want to disguise any of those. He'd call them like they were, meaning that Alfred was nothing more than another stepping-stone in his career. And as a policy, one ought not to get too close to people whom one was using for ulterior gains.

The actor banished the thought from his mind as he proceeded to change. As he folded the last of the Express clothing, ready to take them out for purchase, the Briton chanced to take a glance at the price tag. Jesus, no wonder these clothes fit and felt so well; they might as well have been made out of gold threads considering their costs.

Arthur sighed. If it had been just him, he never would get these. A regular burgundy shirt, no matter how nice it felt, should never cost that much. There were much better places to spend one's money, like, say, Maybelline. But he couldn't deny that these really did look good, and if he wanted to compete on the level of Alfred Jones, then they might have even been a necessity.

Well, with the money that Arthur made, he could comfortably afford this and more. It just felt wrong to be putting so much into something so unimportant, in the face of greater things, like makeup.

Arthur stepped out of the changing room with clothes in hand, having reasoned with himself well enough that he felt fine with buying these now. But before he could precede anywhere else, the artist almost bumped directly into Alfred, who had just then come bounding back with a grin on his face. There were three bags in his hands, all of which Arthur eyed with a very confused look.

"I went ahead and bought your things, plus a few other items I thought would work too," the actor explained in reply to Arthur's expression. "You can put the ones you tried back on the rack, since identical ones are already in here." Alfred was practically beaming with pride at his job well done. He ought to trust his instincts more often, if they led to good things like this.

Arthur blinked in surprise. "You bought them for m—?" The artist cleared his throat, realizing how stupid he sounded. "I mean, of course," he corrected. "It's the least you could do after the pains you put me through today."

Alfred laughed, and despite his hard exterior, Arthur hoped that Alfred could see in his tone of voice that Arthur was somewhat joking in his complaints. Well, it was true that Arthur wasn't exactly going to argue against Alfred spending his money. After all, he was the richer one, so it was only right that they spent proportionately on this expedition. That is to say that Alfred could pay for the food and the clothes to make up for the burdens of time and frustration that he imposed upon Arthur with his stubborn desires, and in return, Arthur would pay for gas—not that he minded those stubborn desires in the first place, but who was counting?

Still, Arthur couldn't help his smile as he took one of the bags from Alfred (for the actor refused to give up the other two, ever the kind gentleman). The artist quickly perused through the contents, noting that these again were items he'd never think to try on, let alone buy. But Alfred had a solid record so far, and the gesture of buying it really was kind on Alfred's part, even if monetarily, it made the most sense.

Even as they walked out of the store, Arthur was still stunned at how quickly and eagerly Alfred had done everything today, from the acquisition of Advil to the kind choices of clothing. It was definitely above and beyond the call of duty, almost as if the kid knew how much of an annoyance he could be to people, and thus tried his hardest to make up for it. That thought made Arthur frown. He didn't want to think about it that way, and he didn't want Alfred to think of himself in that way either.

"You know," Arthur started out of the blue as they walked out of the front door, "I don't say this and mean it often, but… thank you."

"For what?" Alfred replied, feigning complete ignorance. He had taken his hat off and put his sunglasses back on when they had stepped back outside, so the artist couldn't see it as Alfred's eyes watched him carefully.

"For… I don't know." Arthur stopped and turned around, trying to pick his words carefully. He wasn't really the sentimental sort in this sense, and this whole conversation felt awkward already. But it also felt necessary, so Arthur kept with it.

"Thank you for being you, I guess," Arthur replied lamely. And before Alfred could say anything else, the artist added teasingly with a smirk, "You're not such a bad person after all."

Alfred laughed and cheekily stuck out his tongue in reply, but his mind was elsewhere. Just like that, the moment had ended, but it had given the actor great and new insights into the mind of his artist. Despite how hard Arthur tried to hide it, he really was a sentimental soul. Alfred catalogued that fact into his growing encyclopedia of all things Arthur Kirkland, knowing for sure that the knowledge would come in handy later.

"Don't let that get to your head, though," Arthur chided as he put his items away in the trunk. "You're not even close to my level." And with that, the actor got into the car, knowing that Alfred would soon follow.

And Alfred did follow, with a chuckle and a shake of his head. After his experiences today, he knew now for sure that he'd follow Arthur all the way until the bitter end, and that it would be completely worth it no matter the outcome. He knew he'd gladly take up this challenge and follow Arthur until one of them ended up broken from the effort of the chase, until there'd be no chase anymore because there'd only be one man left standing.

However, never even once did it ever cross Alfred's mind as he slid in beside Arthur that not everything had to end in broken remnants and sorrow. It just wasn't the way he had learned the world, especially Hollywood, to work. Everything either had to break or be broken—and Alfred had no plans to come out anywhere but on top.


1. You'll notice that Arthur has a mix of British and American English, like how he uses some American idioms but references other things by their British name. I figured this was most accurate, considering how long he's lived in Hollywood and worked in a very international industry.

2. VFX = visual effects.

3. Alfred wears contacts most of the time in this fic. He only wears his glasses when he wants to present a certain sort of nerdy/geeky or bookish image, but in general, he likes to keep the eye area free so that anyone he looks at will get the full effect of his gaze, and not have any glass in between possibly dampening the effect.

Author's Comments:

Hey all!

First, if you can't imagine Alfred with a central London accent, don't worry; I can't either. But I felt like that was exactly what he'd do, so I had to put it in there, despite the fact that my imagination couldn't quite process it. OTL But if people like you are out there who can't imagine it either, then at least I'm not alone. ;w;

Second, and more importantly, I'm sorry I've been MIA. Thank you so much for your infinite patience (especially poor Haku; I love you bb ;3;). I tried really hard getting this chapter in on time for Christmas (Happy Christmas!), and I've been writing non-stop these past few days! Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to get the next chapter in soon, but hopefully it'll be soon after New Years (maybe in the first week of New Years? But it'll be tough ;A;)!

I know I've been neglecting this fic for ages, so I figured out a way to make it up to you guys by finagling it to have tons of smut next chapter. ;w; This is why I'll try to write it soon, because lemme tell ya, that chapter is where all the smut is gonna be. So much smut. Such kink. Much domination. Wow. Everywhere. And by god I am SO excited to write it.

Gotta try to finish this fic before Haku's birthday rolls around again! Yosh!

Happy reading,