What it means to be Human

Alan had insisted on accompanying him down to town. Never mind that it was snowing, never mind that the wind was blowing, never mind that he was sick. The brunet had put his foot down: he was going with Eric, and that was final.

Eric knew better than to argue with his little partner when he was that determined, and so found himself and Alan picking from a selection of vegetables to use for dinner that night. They'd been eating better lately, as Eric had started making a bit of extra money doing odd jobs in town.

"What about these, Eric?" the younger asked, holding up a turnip.

"They're in season, but I don' think they'd be right for what I'm tryin' t' make," Eric replied, coming over to look. "One day I'm gonna teach ya t' cook, Alan. Then you'll be able t' properly pick out veggies." He passed the turnips, instead looking over the onions with a critical eye. "Go look at the green peppers. See if ya see any that aren' squishy 'r spotted, an' grab one."

Alan scurried off, eager to help, and Eric picked out an onion before going over to grab some carrots as well. He tucked them into the bag he'd brought along, heading over to pick up a few extra things as well, and met Alan at the counter. "Good. We're havin' stir-fry for dinner, and this'll be perfect." He added Alan's green pepper to the bag and handed it to the older man working the counter. "That's all for t'day, Thomas."

The man checked everything over. "That'll be three pounds, Eric," he said, sliding the bag back. "Didn't know if we were going to see you, what with the walk and the fact that it's snowing."

"Well, gotta have somethin' decent t' eat for dinner." Eric shrugged, handing over the money.

Thomas turned to look at Alan, next. "And you must be Alan. He mentions you often. Are you feeling better, son?"

Alan was somewhat taken aback. He knew Eric had to have told the townspeople something about their sudden move into the farmhouse, but he hadn't expected concern from strangers. "I'm doing all right for the moment, sir."

"That's good." To Eric, he asked, "Are you heading to Rissa's next?"

"Yep. Got one more thing t' pick up."

"Tell her I've got her potatoes set aside, will you?"

"Will do." Eric waved, reaching for Alan's hand and heading for the door, bag of groceries on his other arm. As they made their way down the snowy street, he explained, "Thomas is Rissa's uncle. Hasn't got any kids of his own, so he dotes on her."

Alan gaped at him, but said nothing, instead just nodding along in understanding. They entered a slightly smaller building, the fabrics on the walls marking it as a seamstress's shop. The younger was distracted for a moment by all the colors and patterns, but looked up when Eric called him over. He was up at the counter with a young woman with blonde hair, holding a wool coat in his arms. "Alan! Come try this on!"

Seeing no harm in following the request, Alan shrugged off his threadbare coat and took the woolen one. Eric beamed, explaining as he put it on, "This is Rissa. She's the one who made the curtains we put in the living room."

"Oh. They turned out lovely," Alan said, still feeling that faint astonishment at Eric's behavior. He buttoned the coat, looking curiously at his partner and wondering what was going on.

"I'm glad you liked them!" Rissa said brightly. She clapped her hands together. "Oh, and that fits you perfectly! I knew it would!"

"What?"

Eric grinned. "It's yours. Consider it an early Christmas present."

"Eric, we can't afford…!"

"Yeah we can," Eric said, still smiling. "Your other coat is wearin' away at the seams. I'd rather ya not get more sick if ya insist on comin' out with me." With Alan stunned into silence once again, he tossed Rissa a few notes. "Thanks, luv. We'll see ya 'round."

Rissa winked. "Anytime. Safe trip home!"

xXx

Alan was quiet the rest of the walk home, thinking. It wasn't until after dinner, when Eric was sitting in the living room reading a book and kneading bread dough for tomorrow, that he finally decided to bring up what he was wondering about. "Eric? About today…" He'd thanked Eric for the coat during dinner. It really was much warmer. But that wasn't what he was worried about.

"Hm?" Eric looked up, book set aside for the moment as he fussed with the dough in the bowl.

"You…treated those people so normally. Watching you, it was like seeing you around the office."

"Yeah, so?" Eric shrugged, tossing in some more flour.

"But they're human. And you've never…" Eric had never been one to see humans as more than a job. He wasn't like Alan, who empathized with their feelings. He did his work properly and souls were nothing more than the stamp on their paperwork.

Eric looked at him, something soft in his eyes. "That's not my job anymore," he said quietly. "An' livin' here, bein' part of a community, I sorta have t' see them as more than a name on a page, right? I think your empathy's rubbin' off on me." He set the bowl aside, getting up and coming over to cup Alan's face in his hands. "I think I can understand ya better, since you've felt like that all along." He pecked the brunet on the lips, and Alan squirmed, laughing.

"You're getting flour all over me!"

Eric ran his hands through Alan's hair, covering it in a dusting of white despite the other's protests. "I guess we'll just have to take a shower, then." He put special emphasis on the 'we', as Alan ruffled his own hair and put a dusty handprint on Eric's shirt and got the other hand onto his hair. He had to jump a bit, but he managed to get the powdery mess into the darker part of Eric's hair, turning it grey. "Oh, you're in for it now!" the older reaper growled, going over to put a blanket over the bowl of dough and coming back to snatch Alan up into a bridal-hold. He marched towards the bathroom, ignoring Alan's flailing. "Oh, no, inta the bath with ya, ya mad thing!"

And if the shower took a bit longer than normal, it wasn't like anyone else was around to know.