Calling would have been the right thing to do. Alfred had made the gesture, and so it was up to Arthur, who was hardly blameless in the whole situation, to do the same in return.
But by Monday Arthur still hadn't called Alfred. At that point it had been an entire week; what would he say? "Er, sorry it took me so long. I've been too busy with ill-feeling and self-recrimination?"
The Portia in his head - or the other Arthur, perhaps, since it was his voice - told him to just do it. We could clear up this misunderstanding, or at least clear the air and get everything out, with one phone call, it said. Make the call!
Still, Arthur didn't do it. He did stop glaring around the office, and the staff began to cautiously creep back into his orbit.
By Tuesday the timing was no better. And Andersen had worse in store for him. He buzzed Arthur at nine fifty-five, just as Arthur was getting ready for his department review with Lili, and asked him to come to his office to talk.
Lars looked dreadful. His hair lay flat and lank upon his head, which it never did, and the skin around his eyes was pink and puffy.
"Did you just get in? Are you ill?" Arthur said, as soon as he saw him.
"Yes, and no. I have - I have a family emergency and need to leave early today. I'll be out tomorrow, and probably Thursday as well."
Arthur sat and leaned forward. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?"
Lars swiped a hand across his forehead. "Just keep things going. I've cleared my schedule, except for - can you cover my hearing tomorrow? Jones? There won't be a problem with the court, any more than when we switched the first time. I can call and clear it with Al. Francis Bonnefoy will be there - nice fellow - but my appearance is not something I can trust to an associate, no matter how excellent."
Arthur sat back and forced his jaw closed, else it would have hung open. Yes, this would be that week, wouldn't it? He could hardly have avoided hearing about it, even if he'd actually been trying to avoid it. "Can you not continue the hearing?"
Lars shook his head. "I agreed to the date and Ludwig finagled it with the court. I'm not sure how he managed to get such an early hearing date, but I don't want us to be at fault for messing with it. Plus we busted our asses getting everything ready and signed and agreed and notarized in time."
"Er," Arthur said again. "I would, except ..." He daren't continue.
Lars leaned forward and clasped his hands. Rather, he wrung them. "Can you please tell me, Arthur, why you dropped the case?
Arthur took a deep breath. "Lars, Alfred Jones and I had ... we had an attraction, and a disagreement over that, thus my transfer of representation to you. And since then we have had certain relations, which, while they do not continue, should preclude me ethically from working on his case." He winced inwardly, waiting for Lars to express shock and disappointment at the very idea of Arthur doing such a thing.
Astonishingly, Lars only shrugged. "Well, if it's not still going on, then there shouldn't be a problem. Unless you don't think the two of you can deal together for the length of time the hearing will take?"
Arthur's jaw did drop at that. "No, civility is not the issue, of course."
Lars leaned back in his chair and cupped his chin in his hand. "Then as long as Al is amenable, I'll notify the court." Arthur started to say something else, but then Lars's face crumpled like a piece of tissue in his fingers. "God, I think my marriage is failing. I think my wife wants to leave me. I need the time off to - to see if we can't work things out-"
"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that-" Arthur began.
Lars hiccupped and waved, asking for a moment to compose himself. He did, somewhat, and continued. "You know, we see it every day, but don't know how it feels until it happens. I'll never take a client's feelings lightly again. But I'm also going to do what I can to stop it. Amy agreed to go down to French Lick with me for a couple of days ..."
Arthur's chest tightened with emotion, for Lars, for himself, for Alfred. Selfishness and empathy went together quite easily, he was discovering.
"Of course I'll attend the hearing, if Alfred Jones does not disagree," Arthur said, though his stomach did a flip-flop at saying it.
"Thank you, thank you," Lars said. He gave a weak laugh. "You know, I can't say that romance has made you any fun. You've been a holy terror for weeks."
"What?" Arthur cried, and then he sighed, past embarrassment. "I have," he admitted. "Sorry about that."
"No problem. Some people, when they go, do it kicking and screaming. Love is like death in a lot of ways. But as long as you're okay." At Arthur's nod, he swung forward in his chair. "I'll have Veni get you the file."
Lars arranged it all, and then he was gone. Arthur resolved to not stress himself overly about the situation, and to not even look at the file until the following morning. Kicking and screaming, indeed. He had strange dreams that night.
Though he did sleep. The next day he was on time again. He did his other necessary work, and when he deemed it the necessary moment, he laid the file squarely on his desk and plucked it open with two fingers - almost like Alfred had treated the dissolution pleading at lunch that day. They were more alike than Arthur had thought, weren't they? He ignored the now-familiar heartache and guilt that churned in his stomach and forced himself to read the file.
It was complete and ready to go: the terms he'd hashed out with Alfred and F.H. weeks ago had been accepted with only very minor edits. All that remained was to meet everyone at the courthouse at two in the afternoon.
Arthur walked over to the court, leaving in time to arrive fifteen minutes early. There was a crushing breeze, as befitted the Windy City in March, but the sun was shining and the temperature fair enough to put springtime smiles on the faces of the pedestrians around him. Arthur couldn't say for sure if the weather lifted his own mood, but at least he wasn't openly shivering when he arrived at the courthouse and took the elevator up to their assigned courtroom.
Alfred was already there. Of course he was, because Arthur had been one-quarter hoping he would be and that they could talk, but three-quarters hoping he would arrive late and save Arthur the need to say ... whatever it was he needed to say.
Alfred looked tired, but no number of undereye circles could keep him from looking wonderful to Arthur's besotted eyes. When he spotted Arthur it seemed he smiled brilliantly, but by the time Arthur blinked the smile was gone as if it had never been there. A sober expression had taken its place.
"Well, here we are again," Alfred said. "Hello, Arthur."
"Hello, Mis- Hello, Alfred," Arthur amended, knowing it was far to late to resume Mister Jonesing him. They shook hands, those warm, wonderful hands. "I hope you are well?"
"Not fantastic, but I'm present," Alfred said. He pushed his glasses up his nose with a finger. "Is Lars okay? He said he had a family emergency ..."
"I hope so. I haven't heard from him," Arthur admitted. He fiddled with the file to keep from staring at Alfred, from trying to read his every minute change in expression.
Alfred hmmed, as if clearing his throat. "You know, your partner's a nice guy, but I wish I'd kept you as my attorney all along." Arthur glanced up at that but Alfred was looking away, seeming to fidget some himself.
Arthur thus wasn't sure how to read that statement. Did he wish he'd never been so moronic as to fire Arthur, or that they'd never acted on their attraction in the first place? And there, once again Arthur had already managed to start second-guessing everything to do with the two of them.
He cleared his throat as Alfred had - peas in a pod, they were. "Listen. I would like to say that I am-"
"Aaaaaah, Alfred. And Arthur! Together. All of us together again."
Of course that loud voice had come from Bonnefoy, who'd just stepped off the elevator. He was slicked back, shaven and professional for the occasion, and wearing a black suit like he was going to a funeral.
"Hi, Frannie," Alfred called.
Arthur glared at Bonnefoy out of habit, then swallowed over the lump in his throat. "Perhaps we can talk later?"
Alfred nodded. "Yeah, sure. That would be good."
Bonnefoy hugged Alfred and stuck out a hand at Arthur with a very white and very sly grin. "I hope I didn't interrupt you two?"
"By no means," Arthur said, shaking Bonnefoy's hand. He let the you ass hang there unsaid, but present in his tone.
They chatted generally and compared notes about the case for a minute or two. The elevator dinged again and disgorged more passengers.
Arthur stared: it was Ludwig Beilschmidt, another, shorter man he did not know, and an exceptionally stunning and noticeably pregnant woman. This, then, must be Mariel Jones. Arthur realized he'd never seen her photo, because he'd never looked for it. He didn't know what he'd expected - he'd always imagined some vaguely blondish, faceless woman - but she was neither of those things. She was tall and had glowing, medium-dark skin and a profusion of chestnut, corkscrew curls tumbling from a knot at the back of her head. Her brown suit was nearly the exact color of the one Arthur owned, but of course the color looked much better on her.
Alfred had gone stock-still. He stared at nothing, at a point just past the newcomers. His hand gripped the back of Arthur's sleeve and Arthur nearly jumped.
"That's Mariel. And Felix," Alfred said through a rictus smile.
"Ah," Arthur said, and glanced back at the group. So the other man was Felix: unlike Mrs. Jones he was indeed vaguely blondish, with shoulder-length hair. He also looked vaguely surfer-ish. He was chewing bubble-gum. "The tall gentleman is Ludwig Beilschmidt."
"He looks like a bodybuilder," Alfred grated out. Still he held onto Arthur's sleeve, but his grip had relaxed somewhat. "So, Arthur. If I tried to kick someone's ass in the courtroom, do you think they'd arrest me?"
Alfred's tone had taken on a dreamy quality. Surely he wasn't thinking about taking on Sch- oh, right. Well, best to nip that in the bud. "Much as I might wish to root you on, yes," Arthur said firmly. "For assault and battery. And most likely fine you for contempt."
"That's too bad," Alfred said. He breathed out long and slow, and released his grip on Arthur's clothing. "And thank you for saying that."
Bonnefoy had gone over to greet the newcomers. Of course: he and Mrs. Jones were acquainted. He hugged her and smiled at Beilschmidt's obvious frown, and the more Beilschmidt scowled, the more Bonnefoy fussed. "I'm sorry we have to see other again like this," he was saying.
"Me, too," Mrs. Jones said. She glanced past Bonnefoy towards where Alfred stood with Arthur. She bit her lip and waved at Alfred, mouthing hello. Her dark eyes were wide and sad-looking.
"Hi," Alfred said in a low voice. The scary smile was back.
The door to the courtroom opened. Several people exited, followed by the bailiff. "The state will hear Mariel Jones versus Alfred Jones," called the bailiff. "The Honorable Elizaveta Hedervary, presiding."
They filed into the courtroom. Arthur had worked with Judge Hedervary before. She was firm but fair, and though the description was perhaps cliched, you could say no better thing about a judge.
Everyone was entered into the record and settled, and the judge got straight to business. "I have a full docket today but I hear this one is supposed to be easy. Mr. Jones? Mrs. Jones?"
Alfred and Mrs. Jones both nodded and mumbled yes, your honor.
The judge put on reading glasses and looked at the files before her. "You two must really want to be divorced. It's exceptionally rare to see a dissolution with this much property go as quickly and smoothly as this."
Yes, your honor, their replies echoed.
"There is a pregnancy involved, your honor," Beilschmidt added.
"Yes, I see that. Here are the affidavits of paternity, and Mr. Jones's release of paternal rights. The marital agreement has been notarized and properly entered?"
"Yes, your honor," Arthur said. He felt a little pedantic. "I have a file-stamped copy if you need one."
The judge waved him off. "No thank you, Mr. Kirkland. The court keeps very good records."
She had very few questions overall; her full docket was obviously on her mind. Once or twice Arthur or Beilschmidt had to clarify a point of property, but otherwise the hearing proceeded more routinely than Arthur might ever have suspected when he'd initially taken the case. He glanced now and then at Alfred, to see how he was holding up. He appeared relaxed if attentive, and perhaps only Arthur noticed how white his knuckles were, and how he kept catching himself from biting off the end of the ballpoint pen he was rolling between his fingers.
Arthur also noticed how Mrs. Jones kept shifting in her seat. Such might have been attributable to gestational discomfort, but then she often glanced their way.
With a speed that might have been unanticipated in even a lesser case, the judge soon pronounced their dissolution equitable and complete. She signed the order and handed it to the bailiff. Everyone stood.
Everyone, that was, except for Alfred. Arthur tapped his shoulder to get his attention, and Alfred looked almost shocked to see everyone watching him. He scraped back his chair and jumped to his feet.
"Is this it?" he whispered to Arthur.
It was a question Arthur had heard from him before. His finger itched to caress Alfred's cheeks, to rub some color back into them. "This time, yes. As soon as the decree is entered, anyway."
They were dismissed by the bailiff and everyone exited the courtroom as quietly as they'd entered. They stood in the hallway, and Arthur supposed this was the time he should tell Alfred what he wanted to say. As soon as he got rid of Bonnefoy. And as soon as he thought of exactly what it was that he wanted to say.
"Why don't you go outside for a few minutes? Please? I don't care, just go," Mariel Jones was saying. She was talking to Felix, who did not look happy to be ordered away. Wearing a sulky expression, he joined Ludwig Beilschmidt in the elevator. When the elevator doors closed, Mariel Jones walked over to where Arthur stood with Alfred and Bonnefoy.
"Hey, Mare," Alfred said.
"Hi." She nodded at Arthur and Bonnefoy with a shy smile and then looked at Alfred. "Al? Will you please sit with me for a few minutes?" She nodded at some sofas in a small waiting area down the all.
"I guess. Sure," Alfred said with a suspicious-sounding sniff.
Mariel sagged visibly and took both his hands in hers. "Thank you, baby. God, I just want to say ... I don't even know what I want to say but I'll try."
"Me, too," Alfred said. They walked down the hall and sat, holding hands and leaning close, talking in low voices.
Bonnefoy tapped Arthur's shoulder and jerked his head in a "let's go" motion. Arthur nodded and followed him into the elevators. His stomach turned with queasiness, though he'd eaten nothing for lunch. He'd missed his chance. But then, Alfred absolutely needed to talk with his wife - ex-wife, now - more than he needed to listen to Arthur.
"Good luck, Arthur," Bonnefoy said as the elevator descended. Arthur prepared a glare but Bonnefoy wasn't even looking at him, was looking at himself and fussing with his hair in the mirrored elevator wall.
"With what do I need luck, F.H.?" Arthur said.
Bonnefoy shrugged. "Just politely wishing you luck. See you later. I'll call you when we're having a party, oui?"
He nipped out through the elevator doors as they opened. Arthur was left with only Bonnefoy's yellow ponytail and black-clad back to glare at as he sauntered out the courthouse turnstiles.
Arthur shook his head. He stood there in the lobby for a few moments, wondering what he should do. Should he wait? Should he -
No, to stand around waiting for Alfred to finish talking to the woman with whom he'd spent eight years would only look foolish and desperate. His original idea, to leave Alfred in peace to deal with his life as he needed and to deal with his own life in return, was still the best idea.
He left the courthouse. As he went down the steps he noticed that man, Felix, lighting up a cigarette directly under a "No Smoking Within Fifty Yards of the Entrance" sign. Arthur had always used to hate those signs with a bloody-minded passion.
Arthur kept walking. He did, however, tap a security guard on the shoulder and point Felix out to him as he passed.
Arthur went back to work. He managed to only wonder what and how Alfred was doing every half hour or so, which was an improvement over the previous week.
Lars came back at the end of the week. Things were better, he said. Not perfect, but better. They were taking life day by day. Moment by moment.
Christian, of all people, called and asked Arthur to go out on Friday. Arthur turned him down. He had a painful and bittersweet wank Friday night. Saturday he tidied and made scones for Portia's visit with her Yong. They arrived around two. It was always five o'clock somewhere so Arthur had made wine available, but they started with tea.
Yong was different from what Arthur had expected; he was polite but boisterous and friendly, and like Portia looked younger than his years. He wore his hair in a long ponytail and carried a smartphone with a bejeweled Hello Kitty cover on it. He protested to see Portia dip her scone - so they'd turned out a little hard - into her tea. He seemed a fitting counterpart for Portia, who had been known to overwhelm quieter men.
By three they'd moved onto the wine. Arthur drank slowly, not wanting to let the alcohol relax him into maudlin behavior. It was lovely to see Portia happy, but having her here as part of a couple put Arthur's lonely state into sharp relief.
At three-thirty the door intercom buzzed. That happened so rarely Arthur was surprised into staring at the door with raised eyebrows until the intercom buzzed again. "Pardon me," he said, arising. "Strange; I'm not expecting anyone."
He said hello into the intercom and nearly jumped out of his socks when he heard Alfred's voice in reply.
"Hi, it's Al. Looks like you're home. Can I come up for a few minutes?"
"Uh," Arthur said in lame reply. He glanced back at Portia and Yong and they looked quickly at each other so as not to be caught staring. Portia began to whisper something, presumably explanation. Arthur pressed the reply button. "You didn't call-"
"Because I figured the only way to get you was to corner you in your den, ha ha."
Still Arthur stalled. He was in his socks, he had company, his heart was racing fit to make him faint and ... he had no idea what to do. "How did you find out where I live?"
There was a sigh on the other end of the intercom. "Old-fashioned sleuthing. You're in the phone book, Arthur. Listen, if you don't want to-"
Arthur shook his head to clear it. "No, no, of course. Come on up."
Arthur looked back at Portia and Yong, who were quite studiously not looking at him. "Ah, sorry, but this shouldn't be long-"
Portia blew out an exasperated-sounding breath. "Stoopid, this is your home. And you definitely need to talk to him."
"Should we leave?" Yong asked.
"No, I need reinforcements, haha," Arthur said. Moments later there was a knock at the door, and Arthur took a deep breath and opened it.
And Alfred was there, wearing jeans and a brown bomber-style ski jacket with a number fifty on the breast over a stars-and-stripes tee-shirt and under a hesitant smile and he looked - wonderful. "Hi. Oh, God, you have company. No wonder you were - want me to go away?"
At the sight of him, Arthur felt as if a switch had flipped on somewhere in his brain, lighting up his body, loosening his tied tongue and brain. "No, don't be foolish. I already said to come up, did I not? You've met Portia Galati, and this is Yong Soo,Portia's gentleman friend. This is Alfred Jones, a - well, I confess I'm not sure how to describe you, Alfred."
"As long as it's nice. Hi again. Good to meet you." He came inside the door and waved at Arthur's company, then stood looking around for a moment. He spotted something on the wall to the left, Arthur's wall of knickknacks, and took a few quick steps for a closer look. "Ooh, are these your souvenirs, Arthur? What awesome stuff! Are these your clay lemurs from Madagascar that you were talking bout?"
Even Portia, who saw those weekly, wouldn't have remembered them. Arthur had mentioned them very briefly to Alfred that night at the bar. Arthur's knees almost gave out as he fell more irrevocably in love than ever.
"Yes. Yes, they are," Arthur said.
Something in his voice or demeanor spurred Portia to stand. She dragged Yong up with her.
"We are definitely leaving you two to be private," she said.
Arthur and Alfred both protested, but she held out her palm in a talk-to-the-hand gesture. "No. Come on, honey." As they passed on their way to the coat closet, Portia made kissy-face at Arthur and then looked at Alfred. "If you manage to hang around that long, maybe we can all do dinner. It'll have to be your restaurant, since we don't have reservations anywhere. Your treat?"
"Absolutely," Alfred said with a grin.
"Goodbye," Yong said after they'd grabbed their coats, and then they were gone.
"So," Alfred said. He had his hands in his pockets and he was rocking back and forth on his heels, another of his teenagerish postures.
"So," Arthur echoed. He opened his mouth to speak, but Alfred beat him to it.
"I tried to look for you after the hearing, but you were gone," he said.
"I felt awkward, because you needed to talk to your wife. And I was hurt," Arthur admitted. Clarity had given him the gift of communication at last.
Something had given it to Alfred as well. "Yeah? Me too," he said. "Because you never called. But I came over anyway, because I thought you were worth pursuing. You're kind of a jerk sometimes, though, Arthur."
Arthur was more warmed all over by that worth pursuing than he was offended by that jerk. "And you are a twit," he replied. "I was trying to give you space to deal with ... whatever feelings you had. I got the idea that my being around was not helping you emotionally. It certainly wasn't helping me."
Alfred sighed long and slow, visibly sagging with the release of air and whatever tension had been trapped in it. "You're right."
Arthur only looked at him: to verify that would be overkill, and he didn't want to speak and possibly jeopardize their truce in communication.
Alfred pulled off his coat and raised an eyebrow at the chair sitting in front of Arthur's Louis Quinze. Reminded of their second-to-last meeting, Arthur nodded. Alfred hung his coat over the chair. He plopped himself onto the sofa.
"Wine? Tea?" Arthur stirred himself to ask.
"Not right now, thanks." Alfred crossed his legs, showing socks to match his tee-shirt. "I've warned you that I'm not good at this. And it seems it's always a bad time to really talk for us, anyway. But I'm sorry about that night at the bar. I always had a thing for you, Arthur, though I was trying not to push it. But, well, when I learned I wasn't the father of Mariel's baby I just sorta ... went a little stupid."
But, but but. Arthur knew the feeling. He sat next to Alfred. "I appreciate you saying that."
"Oh. That's good. I'm glad." Alfred did not look at Arthur but watched his own fingers, twiddling in his lap.
Arthur continued. "I had a thing for you, too. And I should have kept a better distance, not only because of our legal relationship, but considering the loss of your marriage and ... everything else as well."
Alfred waved and sniffed. "Unfortunately, our marriage was over months ago. I mean, I worked days and she worked nights. We hardly saw each other, this past year. I guess I just didn't realize we were growing apart so much? Obviously, she found someone else. I thought they were just friends, and she thought I didn't care.
"But it was me, too. Like that night we got together. You and me. I was - I was feeling guilty and stuff. Being with you and liking that, when, like, she wouldn't even talk to me and it was all my fault that I didn't - I didn't love her enough to keep her happy."
"Oh, love," Arthur said at the catch in Alfred's voice. He pulled Alfred's head down to his shoulder and patted it. He'd was learning more about Alfred's marriage in these few minutes than he had the entire two months of their acquaintance. It was overwhelming and freeing at the same time. How had he ever thought Alfred full of TMI? And he himself thought his heart was on his sleeve, but he had probably been as transparent as a brick. "I was so jealous and put-upon, too. Pardon."
"Ooh, I like it when you talk to me like that, Arthur," Alfred said, and Arthur pinched his ear. "Ow. But seriously. We talked a lot on Wednesday. When she filed for divorce she wouldn't discuss it because she knew she was pregnant and totally panicked. She sort of knew it was Felix's all along but she couldn't prove it. Her lawyer didn't even know and she just let him call the shots. I'm still ticked about that. And I'm definitely pissed at Felix but I guess I have to move on."
"What else can you do?" Arthur soothed, rubbing the hair behind Alfred's ears. There had been nothing sinister in their divorce all along, only human emotions, human failings making them all behave foolishly.
Alfred twisted his head to look Arthur in the eye. "I'm kind in love with you, Arthur. Can we try again, maybe? Now that we're on the same page, at least, even if it's not a clean one? I can't promise to talk about my emotions this well all the time, but can you be nicer to me, you think?"
Yes, yes, yes. Arthur laughed sincerely, the light inside him turned up to level fifteen. For all their hearts were cracked, perhaps both of them might prove to be worth the pursuit. "I will promise no such thing, you ass. But yes, we can try again. Because I'm sort of kind of mad about you."
"I hope that's a British 'mad'," Alfred said. He pulled out of Arthur's clasp and sat up. He leaned in close. "Can we try again, and do it with sex? You make me really hot."
Yes, yes, yes, Arthur thought again. "How about we take it a little more slowly," Arthur actually said. "You are much too used to getting what you want."
"Already you're not being nice to me," Alfred pouted. But he leaned in for a kiss, and Arthur indulged him in that. And again it was better than Arthur had imagined in the moments before it. There it was, that spark, this time with open, admitted feelings ignited behind it. Would there ever come a time when it wouldn't feel so to kiss Alfred? Arthur hoped not.
They adjusted themselves on the sofa so they could snog more comfortably. And Arthur told himself that simply making out was taking it slowly, no matter if his nether regions felt otherwise. Alfred's did as well, but both of them managed to ignore those facts in favor of snuggling close and saying meaningless things in soft voices.
"Did you know it's my birthday tomorrow?" Alfred did point out during a brief respite.
Arthur consulted his head-calendar. "So it is. But it's too early to wish you happy birthday, so I shan't."
"So needy!" Maybe Arthur wasn't exactly being nice, but he wasn't being not-nice, either. He was being himself, and vowed that from this point on, any pages written in their relationship would contain nothing short of that. He owed it to both of them. He didn't want to have The Preciseness In Speech talk with himself.
Arthur's resolve to take things slowly, however, only lasted until about halfway through dinner: Alfred was just so ... attractive and charming, speaking Japanese with Yong and making Portia snort her wine by telling her how Arthur's scones were so hard he'd at first mistaken them for souvenir rocks from Antarctica or something.
Arthur managed to keep his hands off Alfred until they exited the restaurant, where the doorman told them "PDA, boys," and their cabbie, an Asian woman of indeterminate age, simply shook her head at them in the rearview mirror. She didn't seem overly scandalized at their teenagerish behavior in the back of her taxi.
But Arthur was giddy, so happy he could have Alfred, guilt-free. His body wanted to throw a party. A sex party.
Back at his home Arthur did manage to make love to Alfred slowly, at first, anyway. Wrapped in his sheets, wrapped around each other so tightly Arthur could barely move, he barely moved, opening Alfred until he was convex, arched against Arthur's pillows. He looked well there.
"I do love you, even if you are very silly," Arthur whispered as he fucked him even sillier, and Alfred made wanton and reciprocal-sounding noises. And afterwards they skipped the cigarette and kept the afterglow confined to Arthur's bed.
At one point Alfred confessed, "If you hadn't let me in today, I was going to stand in front of your building holding a boom-box like John Cusack."
"I'd've never heard you," Arthur said, nuzzling Alfred's ear.
"I know. Good thing you let me come up."
"Hmm," Arthur said, drifting off. Just before sleep, he had a thought. "What song would you have played?"
"Probably Affair of the Heart."
Arthur considered that. "It would have been a good choice," he mumbled.
He didn't care what Lars said: he was having fun, and planned to do so for as long as he could.
Arthur wondered how it was that, during their long winter, he'd ever wished for warmer weather. It was only the beginning of July and already they'd had weeks of oppressive heat, the days unrelentingly humid and in the nineties. That was much too close to boiling, Arthur's British-born brain kept trying to tell him.
He stood under the covered porch in F.H. Bonnefoy's backyard, sipped the last of a formerly icy margarita with a "Happy Fourth of July!" sign stuck in it, and tried not to sweat. He also tried to avoid staring too long at anyone in particular, because most of the party guests were naked.
It had been billed as a "clothing optional and discouraged" party. Being a party pooper from way back, however, Arthur was keeping his shorts firmly on.
Of course Alfred had gotten into the spirit. He was unclothed and chattering away at Bonnefoy's (also naked) wife, unselfconscious as the day he'd been born. Arthur kept a tight grip on Alfred's fingers at his side and tried to re-follow the conversation, which had lingered too long on the plight of the Chicago Cubs.
"Their farm system is deep. Give them a few years," Chelle Bonnefoy was saying in her French-African-Hawaiian-accented voice. Like her Gallic husband she gestured with sweeping movements as she spoke, sending her various body parts bouncing about. "To be a true Cubs fan, you have to be patient."
"How can anyone be patient when they keep trading their best players away?" Alfred protested.
Arthur was almost glad for the interruption when Bonnefoy (also naked) sauntered by, followed by a (naked) girl carrying a tray of drinks. Bonnefoy leered at them all, showing only a small frown at Arthur's shorts.
He gestured at the girl next to him. "Anyone need their refreshments refreshed? So warm today! The ice melts almost before it hits the bottom of the glass, yes? Oh, if you are afraid of a sunburn, Arthur, we have plenty of sunscreen."
"I am quite comfortable, thank you," Arthur told him. He did toss back the dregs of his margarita and traded the glass for a fuller, colder one. That one had a plastic Uncle Sam stuck into it.
"Ooh, can I have a sip?" Alfred asked.
"You may have one of your own, my dear," Bonnefoy told him with another leer. Arthur had to resist the urge to stand in front of Alfred.
"Not until after I have a swim. I'm a crappy swimmer when I'm drunk."
"You do many things very badly when you are drunk," Arthur pointed out, but he handed over his drink. He'd never used to like sharing beverages, but when you'd swapped as many body fluids as they had, it sort of ceased to be a problem.
He watched Alfred sample the margarita and make a face at the alcoholic kick. It wasn't a bad face - it was very cute, in fact - and when he returned Arthur's drink he had salt stuck to the corner of his lip. Arthur wanted to lean forward and lick it off, but not being the exhibitionist everyone else clearly was, contented himself with brushing it away with his thumb. Alfred grinned at him and squeezed his fingers.
Arthur's heart skipped a beat; still he was unused to the idea of being so comfortable with someone he desperately cared for, someone who wanted to be with him in return. It was rather breathtaking.
Alfred was far from perfect, but then so was he. And he'd discovered that even after only a few months, intimate relationships of the sort they were conducting came with their own, unexpected issues: annoyances and changed expectations, things that required discussion or at least honesty, things that were still not easy for either of them.
And little things. Like, Alfred hated his alarm clock. Once he'd sneak-reprogrammed it to wake Arthur with dialogue from Star Wars. Arthur had given him the Controlling Your Impulses With Other People's Things Talk, and Alfred had countered with a You Blow Things Out Of Proportion lecture. Arthur had spent an hour sulking and trying to re-record his voice exactly as he'd had it. Perhaps he had blown it out of proportion, but still. And there was worse to come: horror of horrors, Alfred did not care for Indian food.
But then, the things Arthur might have expected to be problematic had turned out to be not so much. For one, their relations with Alfred's ex-wife and her new husband were polite and, thankfully, infrequent. And he didn't let Alfred's ridiculous fortune, even as depleted as it was by his divorce, bother him: he had his own home and successful career to worry about. He understood being an overachiever and never resented extra time Alfred spent at work; it would be hypocritical, given that he'd had to clear case files from his sofa so they could sit together and eat Thai takeout in front of the TV.
Portia was learning these things as well. She'd managed to stay the course with Yong, for nearly as long as Arthur had known her to keep any man.
She was supposed to be coming to the party, in fact, though he could not see that she'd arrived. As if on cue his phone buzzed and Arthur pulled it from his pocket. That was a benefit to wearing clothing among the naked: he had somewhere to put his things.
It was a text from Portia. can you tell htem we're running late sorry? And are you wearing clothes?
Yes and YES, Arthur texted back.
"There's one good thing about being naked- you can enjoy a party without being a slave to technology," Alfred teased.
"It was Portia. They're running late. And you're just jealous because you wish you had somewhere to keep your own phone, addict," Arthur told him.
"Never fear, Alfred; I could help you stow your phone if you really wished," Bonnefoy said, to an accompanying salacious giggle from Chelle.
Arthur narrowed his eyes in what he hoped was a fierce glare. "You're just begging for a furtive shove into the pool when you least expect it, Bonnefoy," he said.
"Your empty threats don't frighten me, Englishman," Bonnefoy told him with a raised eyebrow.
"You guys are too cute," Alfred said. "Like lawyers in love. I just know if it wasn't for Chelle, I'd be out a boyfriend right now 'cause you'd have, like, run off together long ago."
"Then I am doubly glad I have her," Bonnefoy said, raising his glass in a salute. "To love!"
"Cheers," Arthur said, as everyone said it. He drank, and held his glass for Alfred to take a sip, and then he did kiss him, quickly, unable to resist lime and salt and Alfred.
To love, to affairs of the heart: he'd never given second chances, but he'd given Alfred second and third and been given them in return, and most of the moments so far had been worth it.
Thank you so much for reading if you've made it this far! Thanks to the original requester for the prompt on the Hetalia kink meme. All comments, concrit, etc. are loved and appreciated, especially since this was never beta-read. I tried to write this like an "original romance" with the characters; man, are they screwed up or what?
Also, on the kink meme I had different names for some of the side characters but that seemed to take people out of the story more than having guest "nations" dropping in, so I changed them back to canon/fanon names. :)