Matthew tapped his pencil against his teeth and looked down at the book open on the table in front of him. It was very late and he was exhausted, in the way that left you with a dull, pulsing headache and dry, burning eyes. He had no sort of timekeeping device within reach but the brownish, light-polluted city sky, along with the near-silence of the street outside, told him that it was the deepest, stillest part of the night. He yawned and tried to turn his attention back to the book. He wondered when Gilbert would be home. It wasn't the first time he'd been out ridiculously late. Matthew frowned at the words on the page. He was a translator by trade, but his career arc had been a disappointing one. He'd had such high hopes when he'd started out: plays, poetry, literary novels, new editions of the classics… Instead, he was stuck with a cheap thriller, one that was so dire he was ashamed of the fact that his name would appear on the title page.
He was naturally shy, but found that he gained confidence when he was communicating in French, the language he had spent so long learning and perfecting until only his accent betrayed the fact that he was not a native speaker. He had always loved languages at school and had been fascinated by the idea that it was possible to say the same thing in so many different ways. His twin brother, Alfred, on the other hand, was untouched by Matthew's enthusiasm. Where Matthew spent hours writing pages and pages of perfect French, Alfred either used Google Translate or didn't do his homework at all. He failed his French GCSE and remained resolutely monolingual – at any rate, he was of the opinion that everyone should speak English. Matthew could vividly remember his first oral exam, the one that had convinced him to make a living in another language. He had gone in trembling and almost sick with nerves, his throat closing up. But when, at the teacher's prompting, he had begun to speak, the words had flowed out as clearly and effortlessly as if he had been speaking English. For the first time in his life, he had felt proud of achieving something that was not immediately dismissed or overshadowed by Alfred.
Another yawn broke his train of thought. He couldn't wait up any longer. It was too late to focus on what he was doing and Gilbert probably wouldn't be that bothered about seeing him anyway. Lately, their relationship had been causing Matthew some trouble. They had been together for four years and living together for three but Matthew couldn't help but feel that they were drifting apart. Slowly, almost one-by-one, they had left off their little romantic gestures until there was practically nothing left. The vase of flowers that Gilbert had always taken pride in replenishing every single week had lain empty for months, ever since the last bouquet had wilted in obscurity and Matthew had thrown it away. Gilbert hadn't woken up early to make him pancakes in a long time. They no longer fell asleep in each other's arms – instead, they slept and woke on opposite sides of the bed, a great chasm between them. Kisses were rare and when they came they were always short and passionless, placed somewhere neutral like the cheek or brow.
Sighing, Matthew stood up, wincing at the pain in his back that came from being hunched over his work for so long. He went through to the bedroom and quickly dressed in his pyjamas, shivering as the cold night air numbed his skin. Once dressed, he climbed into bed and picked up his favourite book from the bedside table, intending to read a little before turning the light off. It was a slim volume of poetry, interesting in itself, but made more so by the story behind it. The name on the cover said that it was written by someone called Pierre Dubois, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was a pseudonym. The poet's life was a complete mystery. No-one had ever seen a picture of him and he had never made any television appearances or given any interviews. No-one knew where he lived, apart from that it was in France. The only thing people knew about him was his voice, since he had made a few recordings. Matthew adored the poetry and was fascinated by the man behind it. It had never been translated into English, or indeed any language, and Matthew occasionally fantasised about being the one chosen for the job. It was unlikely, he thought, but not impossible. He yawned for a third time and this time his eyes remained closed. The book dropped from his unconscious hand onto the floor as sleep abruptly pulled a shutter down over his fevered mind
He was woken by Gilbert's arrival but didn't want to say in anything, so he kept his eyes closed and his breathing even. The bed creaked slightly as Gilbert climbed in, but that was the only sound. There was no goodnight kiss, no gentle hand smoothing his hair back from his face, no whispered 'I love you.' A strange and uncharacteristic irritation came over Matthew. This had been going on too long. In the morning, he would ask Gilbert why he'd been out so late. He'd shrug and make some excuse about having to stay on at work or meeting some friends and Matthew would drop the matter, even though these answers never satisfied him. He was upset. He was exasperated. And yes, he was beginning to feel suspicious. He desperately didn't want to think that Gilbert might be being unfaithful to him, but the idea made a discomfiting amount of sense. He felt a sudden surge of desire to know the truth. He knew where Gilbert kept his phone. It would be so easy to have a quick look, confirm or hopefully deny his suspicions and put it back in place before Gilbert woke and noticed its absence.
Before he was fully aware of what he was doing, Matthew found himself with the sleek shape of Gilbert's fashionable phone in his hand. Every part of him was screaming to put it down, telling him that it wasn't worth the risk. Cheating or not, if Gilbert caught him looking through his phone, they would be history within a matter of minutes. Still feeling like he was sleepwalking, Matthew carried his prize into the bathroom and locked the door, horribly attuned to every tiny sound that could give him away. Once there, he looked down at the screen and saw that it was passcode locked. Damn. He'd forgotten about that, the most obvious obstacle. He tried Mattie. Access denied, although he bitterly realised that it wasn't a big surprise. He tried Awesome but again had no success. Now he was nervous. If he got it wrong one more time, an alarm would go off, but if he left it as it was, Gilbert would see that someone had twice tried to hack in. Hands shaking, he tried Gilbird, the name of Gilbert's first pet. The login screen fell away and was replaced by a page of apps. Immensely relieved, Matthew tapped the messages icon. There were a few from him – unromantic things, asking when he'd be home and if he could pick up some milk on the way. There were some from his brother, which Matthew didn't bother reading and some from… Wait, who was 'Roddy'? Gilbert had never mentioned him before. He had a look through them, bile rising further in his throat with every one he read.
Hey cutie, you free tomorrow night?... Love you xxx… Yesterday was so awesome! So it was true. His nightmare had become reality. Rage robbed him of all caution. He pressed the contact and raised the phone to his ear. He had a few things to say to this 'Roddy' character.
'Hey Gil. Couldn't you get enough of me? Or are you asking about your coat? You left it here.' The voice that answered was thick with sleep. Even though Matthew had never met the man, he had a vivid mental image of him waking up, squinting at his phone and smiling when he saw his lover's name on the caller ID.
'I'm not Gilbert,' Matthew replied, not quite sure of how he was going to proceed.
'What? Oh my God, has something happened to him?' The languid voice took on a note of genuine panic.
'Don't be so surprised. You were always going to get discovered at some point.' Matthew had no idea where all this strength was coming from but it drove him to be ruthless and savage.
'Discovered? What do you mean? Wait, who is this?'
'I'm Gilbert's boyfriend. Don't act like you don't know.' On the other end of the line, he heard a rustling as this mysterious other person sat up. Matthew pictured him again, imagining his face twisting with horror as he realised he had been found out.
'You're mad. I'm Gilbert's boyfriend. Unless he's somehow been cheating on me. Which I find very unlikely.' This threw Matthew a little. Was it possible that Gilbert had lied to both of them?
'He lives with me. We've been together for four years.' Matthew couldn't bring himself to say anything more. His heart was breaking. Across the city, Roderich was in a similar state, except that for him, there was no 'other man'. That was him.
'I'm so, so sorry,' he said, beginning to cry. 'I had no idea.' But Matthew had already hung up. He sat in the corner of the bathroom, sobbing silently, the phone discarded on the floor beside him. At the same time, Roderich was burying his face in his hands, overcome by shock, undeserved shame and despair. He felt as low, dirty and defiled as Matthew was hurt and betrayed. Gilbert's lies had simultaneously destroyed two lives.
'I talked to Roddy last night,' Matthew said the next morning, breaking the silence that usually palled their breakfast table.
'Who?' Gilbert asked nonchalantly, refusing to look at him.
'Don't. Please. I know about him.' Matthew tried to stop his voice from cracking. 'He didn't know about me. You betrayed both of us. Why? Just tell me why.' Gilbert stared at the table in shame.
'I'm sorry, Mattie. I'm so sorry. I don't know why I did it.'
'But you didn't just do it once. This thing with him has been going on a long time. I suspected it but I didn't want to be right. Seems I was.' Gilbert looked to be on the verge of tears and Matthew felt his heart harden and contempt replace the love that he hadn't felt in a long time. 'Wasn't I good enough for you?' he asked, his voice returning to its usual softness as his anger was replaced by sadness.
'I'm so sorry,' Gilbert repeated. 'I was a complete idiot. I should never have done it. I'll do anything to make it up to you, absolutely anything.' Matthew spoke his next words carefully, knowing that they would change the course of his life.
'Go out. Come back in three hours. I'll be gone by then and I'll never see you again.' Gilbert seemed to finally understand that there was no use in pleading and went out, leaving Matthew alone with his tears. He had a call to make.
'Hey bro, how can the hero help you today?' Alfred's effusive greeting rang too loudly in his ears.
'Alfred, I need you to come and pick me up.' Matthew sniffed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
'Bro? What's wrong?'
'I'm leaving Gilbert.' Alfred was astonished.
'What? Why?' Matthew didn't trust himself to speak.
'I'll tell you when you get here. Just come.'
Matthew only had two suitcases and was determined to travel light. Everything in the flat was full of memories that, with his knowledge of Gilbert's infidelity, were forever tainted. He took his laptop and the book he was working on; most of his clothes – he didn't have many; a couple of ornaments he'd liked and bought on their various holidays. He slipped his beloved poetry book, along with a few others, into the top of his bag and zipped it shut. Then he sat down on it and waited for Alfred to arrive. He keenly felt a chapter in his life coming to a close.
As soon as Alfred came to the door, Matthew fell weeping into his arms.
'Bro? Bro, what happened? What did he do?' Alfred was horrified. He had always been protective of his twin and it pained him to see him upset.
'He cheated on me!' Matthew wailed, inconsolable. Alfred was furious.
'What? Where is he? I swear to God I'll…'
'No, Al, don't get involved. I just want to forget all about him. I just want you to take me away from here.'
For the whole journey to Alfred's flat, they sat in a silence that ached with half-begun thoughts and words neither of them knew how to express. Alfred's face was drawn into a severe frown as he continued to wish death on Gilbert and Matthew stared out of the window, sometimes welling up as he saw happy young couples walk by. He glanced at the back seat where he had put his bags and they seemed paltry in comparison to what he'd had. A whole flat full of possessions and the only ones that had held any value were right there, in two small cases. So lost in his thoughts was he that he took a moment to react when they drew up in the carpark behind Alfred's block of flats. Still not speaking, they went inside. Matthew managed to keep himself together until they were in Alfred's living room.
'I don't understand,' he said, crying again. 'How did I not see it? How could I not tell when he stopped loving me?' Alfred held him tightly. It had always been this way, protector and protected, ever since Alfred had forced his way screaming into the world and Matthew had silently slipped out a few minutes after. Even though they weren't identical, they had still forged a special bond together.
'I don't know Mattie, I don't know. But you're better off without him.' he said comfortingly.
'It took me so long to trust him and then he does this! I gave him everything and he threw it away like it was worthless. Well, maybe it was. I mean, I'm not really that good at keeping people interested and…' Alfred shushed him, seeing that his brother's low self-esteem was about to hit the bottom.
'That's not true. The fault lies with him, not you. He was lucky to have you and a fool not to see it. You'll find someone far better, I promise.' Matthew didn't believe him but let himself be soothed by the tender words. He had always had such problems with trusting people and the betrayal had destroyed all his unsteady confidence, smashed it to powder and left him with nothing.
That night, in the unfamiliar surroundings of Alfred's spare room, he got out his book and tried to focus on the beautiful lines that had always calmed him. But now the hopeless hymns to frustrated love rang horribly true. Tears clouded his vision and splashed down onto the page. He put the book away. He wouldn't get any reading done tonight.
Author's Note: Hey guys, I hope you enjoy the new story! The 'main' story is going to start in Chapter 2, but I wanted there to be some background. Please don't hate me for making Prussia the bad guy – sometimes there's just got to be a villain and I do love him really.