In the past week, everyone has wanted to know what Alan's name is.
Between the girl in General Affairs that had released his scythe -- a wink, and an, "Alan, is it? I see..." -- and filing his reports with Administrative where he had been faced with a look of rather pointed interest -- "Humphries, Alan? ...Oh."
It had started anew in the morning, at breakfast, with the girl who ran the register in the staff canteen.
"Yes, I should have a full account of credits."
Then she had just stared at him; in fact, she had looked him right up and down with a critical eye, though she didn't seem displeased.
"I see," she had said, and then turned away, giggling.
Breakfast had tasted rather bitter this morning. Alan has never enjoyed being mocked, and it really hasn't happened since before exams.
"Are you Alan?" asks the girl who releases his scythe to him, a different one than the last time.
Alan eyes her warily.
"Oh, I see."
"It's an uncommon name."
"No it isn't."
"Well," she says, pursing her lips with a hidden smirk, "don't want to be late for your reaps, reaper."
Alan goes on his reaps and finishes on time; none of them are terrible, for which he is grateful. He meets Eric for lunch.
The same girl is at the register.
"Hullo, Alan," she says, somehow indecent yet perfectly polite. Alan just looks at her helplessly, and when she sees the look on his face, she actually laughs.
"Truly?" she says, and then looks over at Eric with an expression far too sultry for a weekday afternoon. "That'll be one pound fifty, Senior Slingby."
Eric pays for his lunch and sits down with Alan at an empty table.
"Everyone is asking my name," he says, staring down at his sarnie and glass bottle of milk.
Eric just looks at him with a raised eyebrow and takes a rather enthusiastic bite out of the lambchop he's ordered; he pulls a flask out of his inside pocket and takes a generous gulp.
"I have no bloody clue."
"You're being paranoid," Eric says simply.
"No, I'm not."
"Why would everyone want to know your name?"
"I have no bloody clue," he repeats.
Eric takes another sip from his flask, and tucks into his lunch.
"They are, though," he insists, staring at Eric for validation.
Eric just shrugs, as if completely absorbed in his lamb, and Alan makes a frustrated sound.
"Sod it," he growls, and leaves his uneaten lunch there to screech his chair out and walk away.
"Is your name Alan?"
"Yes, it bloody well is!" he shouts at the cashier who's relieved the last girl of duty. She just smirks too.
It's been another week, and the entire staff of General Affairs, the canteen, and basically any female coworker has asked him his name. Some of them have asked him twice, as if just to hear it for themselves again, like returning to a freak show to confirm that the oddities were real.
"Alan, is it?"
"No. My name isn't Alan," he says.
The girl in question looks at him in surprise as they pass each other in the hallway.
"It's Senior bloody Humphries! Now be off with you."
She scurries away in a fright. Alan is not a senior, but he's also no longer a junior.
"Humphries," says a familiar voice.
"Yes, Senior Spears?" Alan blanches.
"You are not a senior. Don't terrify the staff."
"No matter. Do not misrepresent yourself."
"Of course, Senior."
William T. Spears continues down the hallway, and Eric walks by him, nodding. Then he makes a face at Alan.
"What was that about?" he asks in a hushed voice as they walk in the other direction together. William has a reputation for impeccable hearing.
"I don't know," Alan sighs miserably. "I told that woman I was a senior in a rather severe fashion and then she just fled."
"Well, I just...I'm not a junior and..."
"C'mon," Eric says, patting Alan's shoulder. "Let's have lunch."
"No," Alan says, frowning as he remembers their last conversation, "I'd rather not."
He turns on his heel and walks away, deciding to go home and eat his own bloody lunch in his own bloody kitchen, and feel more bloody lonely than he already does.
"Leave me alone."
The footsteps cease abruptly, and Alan whirls around in his chair to glare; then drops his gaze in embarrassment.
"Senior Sutcliff," he says, his face heating, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize--"
"Oh, you're so delectable when you're furious Alan, dear. And stop calling me senior. It makes me feel old."
Alan clears his throat, and manages, "Well, Grell--"
"Eric Slingby," he trills, "the cad...has been spreading terrible rumors about you, my dear."
"Eric?" Alan squeaks. "Why would he do that?"
"Oh, I know how close you two are," Grell says lecherously, taking a few more steps to perch on Alan's desk and cross his legs. "But really, darling, how very garish."
"I don't understand."
Grell laughs softly. "Eric has had every woman in the division," he says, fluttering his eyelashes, "including moi several times over."
Alan can't recall his face ever burning so hotly in his life.
"But never you, darling?"
No, he was wrong. Now it's worse.
"Of course not," he breathes. "Eric isn't like...that..."
"And why not?" Grell asks plainly, tilting his head to the side and pursing his lips at Alan in curiosity.
"He doesn't...we're not..." Alan stutters. Then he frowns and says, "Because we're not that way."
"Oh, but you are, my darling, are you not?" Grell asks easily, smiling deviously at Alan as if he knows exactly what's happening.
"Not toward Eric," he says, fighting off the accusation. He turns away, blushing still, and adds, "I have to go. Good night, Sutcliff."
"Now you even sound like him, Alan. How dreadful."
"Your husband to be, Mr. Slingby."
Alan whirls around to look at Grell and shake his head in exasperation.
"Whatever you have, or have not heard," he grits, trying to remain polite, "that is not the case between us."
"And why ever not?" Grell asks innocently, tapping his rouged lips with a single lacquered fingernail.
"Because I...don't like men," Alan blurts out.
Grell looks at his reprovingly and shakes his head.
"Tsk, Alan dear, tsk tsk."
He hops off the desk and breezes past Alan dismissively.
"And here I thought you were interesting."
Fantastic. Ace. The best. Eric has shagged Grell even.
Alan can't help but wonder if it's just because he's hideous, or because he doesn't wear make-up.
"Let me buy you lunch," Eric says, meeting Alan in the hallway.
"I'd prefer to eat at home," Alan says irritably.
When Eric doesn't respond, Alan looks up at him, and sees that he's hurt his feelings.
"Alright," he sighs.
"What's going on?" Eric asks as they walk to the canteen.
"I don't know," Alan says, shaking his head. He's ready to spill, ready to confide his troubles, when the girl -- a different cashier altogether -- looks between them and says, "Are you Alan?"
Alan tells Eric thank you, to eat the sarnie, and that he's leaving, no offense, mate.
Alan decides, right then as he loosens his tie, he needs a bloody good shag.
Alan is at least a wine bottle deep, and he's feeling rather carefree. It's a rowdy party one can get lost in, and he's gotten very, blissfully lost, a girl on his arm that's looking rather hesitant.
Oh, no matter, better to just have another glass of wine.
She drinks too, and then looks a bit more relaxed.
"Ronald," Alan says, leaning heavily against the bar, "is your name Ronald?"
Ronald looks at him as if he's mad, but then sees the girl and smiles.
"Why, yes it is," he says, grinning. "What are you on about, Humphries?"
"I don't know why," Alan says over the din of conversation, "but apparently everyone in General Affairs knows my name."
"Well, mate," Ronald says, swinging his arm around Alan's shoulders, "me too."
The girl, Ronald, and Alan all have a rather good time.
Well, until Ronald and the girl disappear, and Alan is left alone. Again.
And the bartender asks him his name, and then laughs.
Alan has another glass of wine, and sees a familiar fall of red hair.
"Grell," he slurs.
Grell looks behind him from where he's talking to a good looking chap from Spectacles, and raises his eyebrows.
Alan is too far gone to even realize how awful he must appear if Grell Sutcliff is giving him a look.
"Excuse me, darling," he says charmingly to his friend. "But...well, you know, young ones...how they are."
He takes Alan by the collar and drags him back to the bar.
"Alan, dear, what in the bloody hell have you been imbibing?"
"You know!" Alan crows, pointing at what he thinks is Grell. "You know my name!"
Grell stares at him and sighs.
"William!" he cries loudly, and the room nearly goes silent.
William T. Spears turns around, and when it doesn't look like he's about to demote anyone, the white noise of conversation starts up again. He walks toward Grell and Alan, and looks at both of them critically.
"Yes, Sutcliff?" he asks.
"Take this one home, my love," Grell says. "He's in an improper state."
"What in the--"
No one else is close enough to hear, and though Alan is, they both seem confident he won't remember.
"Take him home, put him to bed on the settee," Grell says into William's ear. "I'll make my farewells and be home shortly thereafter to--"
Whatever Grell says is low enough so that not even Alan can hear, and William flushes.
"Very well," he says, drawing back and clearing his throat.
Alan doesn't quite realize where he is, or what happened, until he groggily opens his eyes in a very dark room on an unfamiliar settee to the sound of faint voices from behind a closed door.
"Junior Spears, you've been very misbehaved," -- smack -- "now read me rule Number 1, Section D of the Regulations manual, you insubordinate whelp."
A moan. "Please, Senior Sutcliff, I--"
Alan pulls a pillow over his head and focuses on trying to suffocate himself; unfortunately, it's rather impossible.
He wakes up the next morning fumbling for his glasses, only to realize they're missing and that his suit smells like stale cabernet. He manages to slip silently out the door to the sound of very loud snoring and a sleepy, mumbled rebuke in the next room.
"Is your name Alan?" asks the Materiels Department girl.
"No," he says.
She just stares at him and then clears her throat. "Oh. Well, what's your name? I can try and find your glasses that way."
"Alan," he says, "Humphries."
"You're not very nice," she says, sticking out her lip disdainfully. She disappears behind the desk and into a back room.
"Looking for these?" Eric asks, a pair of glasses hanging off of his fingers.
"Yes!" Alan says, and seizes them to slide them back on.
"Found them on the table after Knox and your bird left," Eric says.
"My bird," Alan scoffs. "Well. Not so much."
"Watch out for Knox. He takes 'em like they're a free scone on a Friday afternoon."
"Oh, Eric," says the girl as she returns. She flutters her eyelashes daintily and clasps her hands. "After the other evening," she clears her throat, looking at Alan as if to drive him away, but Eric just stares, "I thought you might want to--"
"Reap!" he says suddenly, and grabs Alan. "Must go reap!"
Alan is whisked away by Eric and they end up in the hallway.
"That one," he whispers, "is mad."
"Buy you lunch."
"Fine, but I'm not going through the queue."
Alan starts to consider changing his name after a few weeks. They're still asking it, and it's gotten to the point where it's the same girls, the same tone of voice, the same giggles.
"Mate," Ronald says one day, "sorry I stole your bird. No offense."
"None taken," Alan sighs.
"I'll make it up to you," Ronald says. "My place. You a one lady type of bloke?"
"No," Alan says hesitantly.
The truth is, Grell was right: Alan is a no-lady type of bloke.
"Brilliant!" Ronald exclaims. "See you at 6."
At 7, Alan is wondering how he got so many bruises on his neck, and why the bruise-giver is now giving Ronald the same bruises on his neck.
There are two girls, Ronald, and Alan. One of them is the girl from that night, and Alan cannot honestly remember her name.
Not that it matters, since for once, no one has asked for his.
They're both on Ronald, one of them in his lap and the other at his neck, and Alan has to admit, it's at least close to a good shag.
"You want to watch?" Ronald says, grinning at him.
Alan just nods, and reaches into his unzipped trousers to stroke himself.
Ronald comes three times, the girls each twice, and Alan not at all as one of them turns to the other, gives Alan a sideways look she thinks he can't see, and says softly, "Is that...?"
Her friend just nods.
"I'm changing my bloody name."
Eric looks up in surprise from where he's studying a report on his desk.
"I'm changing," Alan says, stamping his form 'complete' hard, "my name."
"Why?" Eric asks.
"I hate the name 'Alan,'" Alan says, stamping the next form even harder.
"I hate it," he repeats, a third complete, as if with every stamp, he hates the name more.
"I like that name," Eric says softly.
"Well, I don't," Alan replies. "I'm changing it to..."
"What?" Eric asks, apparently genuinely intrigued now.
"I don't know."
"How about..." Eric falters, and then thinks harder.
"How about...you keep the same bloody name," Eric says, frowning mildly at him.
"How about you tell me what's wrong?" Eric replies evenly.
"I don't know what's wrong," Alan says, stamping the fourth form hard. "Everyone asks me my name and then laughs. And then, the other day, when I was--"
Alan abruptly snaps his mouth shut, which of course immediately snares Eric's attention. He stops everything he's doing now to look at Alan.
"When I was... "
"Spit it out."
"When I was with Ronald and his two girlfriends," Alan says emphatically, "no one wanted to know my bloody name then, did they?"
Eric just looks at him.
"You like women?" he finally says, but his face is serious.
Alan doesn't care.
"I'm taking my bloody vacation time," he says. "Sod this."
He asks William for a week off. William unsurprisingly says no, seeing as how winter is one of the busiest times of the year, and asks if he's ill.
"I'm not ill," he says, feeling like he's going mad.
William looks at him for a moment, steepling his fingers on the desk, and then says, "Please retrieve me a pen."
"What?" Alan replies, dumbfounded. Everyone knows Spears is rather difficult, but this tops it. Surely having a junior with as much experience as Alan, soon to make senior, would preclude him from doing such menial tasks as--
"Now," William repeats. "Quickly."
Alan wonders, as he walks down the hallway, whether he's done something to smite the creator. Had he gotten pissed and shagged a demon? Reaped a saint? He's not sure.
And then, just as he's about to forcefully yank open the storeroom closet, hoping to bend the hinges as his own personal revolution, he hears something.
"Oh god yes..."
"Harder..." a female voice says.
Alan stands and stares.
The universe has to be joking. But no, it gets worse.
"Perfect...you feel perfect...oh--" and then the voice fades away as it gets quieter.
Eric is shagging someone in the sodding supply closet.
He goes to turn the knob, simply not caring anymore, and then freezes.
"Must you really say that?" says the feminine voice.
"Well, everyone else seems quite fine with it," comes Eric's voice.
A sound of disgust. "Very well, just finish it."
Thud, thud, thud...yes yes...thud.
Alan rolls his eyes.
"Oh god, Alan...Alan..."
"I'm not Alan, but--" a faint gasp, "--oh, oh Eric, I'm going to..."
Alan can't seem to remove himself from the door.
Run, his mind is telling him, get out. But he still can't move.
Get out, it's screaming, as he hears the rustle of clothes, the doorknob turning.
And then Eric and he are face to face, and Eric's jaw drops.
He finally turns and runs.
His mind says he should go back to Spears's office, should be professional; he doesn't listen.
That's why...that's why everyone has been asking his name. Eric...Eric...what is he thinking...why...
"Aw mate," Ronald says, giving Alan a sympathetic look, "everyone knows that."
"If you're a girl, and you fancy Slingby, well...the one thing you have to do is..."
"You just have to let him say 'Alan,' of course," says the new girl in Materiels. "I've heard it that way, anyhow. That Eric Slingby quite likes the name or some such, and well, it's a small price to pay for that size of--"
"Darling, you really didn't know?" Grell says silkily. "What a sweet boy you are. Eric is a complete and utter gentleman until the bedroom. And of course, that's the best sort. But really, you didn't know that--"
"I required a pen, Humphries, not terror."
Alan just stares at William. "I hear you had an incident," he says, "for that I apologize, though it was not my intention to upset you."
Alan wants to tell him it was, that Grell probably put him up to it.
"Alan," he says, and Alan looks up in surprise at William, "occasionally, conflicts arise in the workplace, and I must do what is prudent in order to end them."
"Lunch on me?"
Alan jumps out of his skin and he's sure his heart stops.
"Eric," he breathes, turning around sharply, "don't sneak up that way."
"Well," Eric says, shoving his hands into his pockets self-consciously, "I wouldn't if you hadn't been missing for three days."
"It has not been three days," Alan says emphatically.
"Yes it has," Eric replies.
Alan mentally does the math; yes, it does add up to three days.
"You've been doing your reaps alone," Eric says softly.
"Yes, well, they don't ask for my name," Alan says, getting up from where he's been reading to walk away with loud, heavy footsteps.
The librarian gives them a resentful stare, and Alan disappears into a row of books.
"I'm researching," he huffs. "I'll see you at the debriefing this afternoon."
He winds around two shelves, stops when he doesn't hear Eric anymore, and slides a book out randomly.
It's a book in bloody Latin. Alan doesn't know Latin; Eric knows Latin. As if any of his slags...his slags (Alan thinks this in his mind emphatically)...would know that.
He shoves it back onto the shelf and walks further away from the main library into the shadows, and slides another book out.
It's a book of poetry; love poems mostly.
"How ridiculous," he says softly, slamming it shut. "How absolutely--"
"You used to like poetry," Eric says simply, standing there at the end of aisle.
Alan doesn't move, doesn't look at Eric, clutching the book.
"You don't like it anymore?" he asks, walking up and getting close, gently taking the book out of Alan's hand. "Just like you don't like your name?"
"No," Alan growls halfheartedly. "I don't like poetry, I don't like my name, I despise all of it."
Eric opens the book and looks through it, a slightly confounded expression on his face, but reads a few lines anyway: "There was a time, I need not name..." he looks up and raises his eyebrows at Alan, and then keeps reading, "Since it will ne'er forgotten be, When all our feelings were the same, As still my soul hath been to thee."*
He shuts the book slowly and just stares at the closed cover.
"That's nice," he says quietly.
"Why did you do that to me?" Alan finally says, turning away. "Why did you humiliate me?"
"I didn't mean to," Eric says, "I'm sorry."
"What did you mean to do then?"
"I meant..." Eric takes a breath, and then gets close to Alan, slowly turning him around. "Alan... I just wanted to say your name."
"Why didn't you say it to me?" Alan shudders. "I despise it now."
"No," Eric says, shaking his head with a pained look on his face. "No, it's a wonderful name. It's your name..."
"I couldn't," Eric says simply. "I just..."
"You don't like men, Eric," Alan says rationally. He can feel his throat tighten; he hates his name, the book Eric's holding, this entire conversation.
Eric doesn't deny it, which only fuels Alan on.
"Is that it?" he asks, scowling. "You'd want me in the sodding supply closet too, if I were a woman? Add me to your roster?"
Alan knows he's spouting nonsense now, but he's angry -- angry at Eric for putting him through weeks of humiliation; angry that he's angry at Eric at all, since it's possibly the worst feeling he's ever experienced.
"No," Eric says, his voice angry now too. "I want to kiss you, just as you are."
That stops Alan's tirade, and he snaps his mouth shut.
"You what?" he finally blurts out.
"I want to bloody well kiss you, you daft prat."
"In a supply closet?" is all Alan can say dumbly.
"Yes," Eric says, moving toward him. "In a supply closet, in a library, in my flat, in your flat, in our office..."
Alan is still staring at him.
"I don't care where," he says, frustrated, "I just want to--"
He's interrupted as Alan kisses him, and their arms wrap around each other desperately.
"Alan... Alan," Eric murmurs, cupping Alan's face.
"Eric," Alan answers in a disarmed voice.
They pull back to look at each other, and then kiss some more, sloppy and fast.
Finally they stop, and their bodies are pressed together, Eric's arms wrapped tightly around Alan, who blushes fiercely.
"You feel nice," Eric says simply.
"So do you," Alan replies quietly, biting his lip
"I like your name. Don't change it."
"I'm not going to bloody well change it," Alan grumbles.
"Good," Eric whispers. "Buy you lunch?"
"I'm not going through the queue."
"I have a better idea then," Eric says, pulling back. He runs affectionate fingers over Alan's jawline and smiles. "I need a pen. Do you know where the nearest supply closet is?"
"Sod off," Alan whispers.
And with that, they go off to locate some pens.
* Poem is Lord Byron's, "There Was a Time, I Need Not Name"