“Trick or treat!”
Arthur stood in his doorway for what must have been the three-hundredth time that night and stared down at the tiny ghouls that stood on his front porch. There was a tiny witch in black and purple, a little boy painted green to be some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, and a small fairy creature with curly, glittery wings and a tutu that swung with the wearer’s every move. All three of the costumed children held plastic pails out in front of them and they all wore great smiles—as if this were the best thing that had ever happened to them. Arthur feigned a smile and pulled a handful of sweets from the bowl sitting on the table right inside his house and he dropped a few pieces of the sugar into each of the children’s pails.
“Thank you!” said the trick-or-treaters… or as Arthur liked to call them, clever little extortionists. Every year they took advantage of a holiday with such a rich and interesting background in England and used it to get a quantity of sweets valued at their exact weight in gold—before they consumed that unhealthy garbage that was. If they weren’t careful, all the sweets they ate would make them fat like American children. Arthur scowled and slammed his door shut before returning to his armchair and sitting down to resume drinking his tea.
Soon enough he heard his doorbell ring again and he grumbled as he had to set down his tea once again and answer the door for those damned little gluttons. Arthur grabbed a handful of sweets before he opened up the door. He opened up the door, his head tilted down in preparation to investigate whatever it was that these greedy little ones were dressed as.
When the door opened, he only saw black trousers upon looking down, and at first he felt quite alarmed. However, it didn’t take long for his start to melt back into irritability, because he soon knew who the trousers belonged to.
“Trick or treat, Artie!”
Arthur’s emerald eyes snapped up to meet Alfred’s aquamarines and he sighed.
“I don’t suppose you’re actually here for sweets, are you?” the Brit asked, showing Alfred the handful of goodies that he held.
The American’s face lit up. “I’m not, but I’d be happy to take that off your hands for you if you don’t want it!” Alfred’s usual enthusiasm accompanied him as Arthur stepped aside and let him step inside reluctantly. The elder yet smaller of the two men held out his hand and dropped the chocolate and lollipops into hand of the younger one.
Only then, once Alfred was standing in the light, was Arthur able to see exactly what the stranger of the two was wearing. There was a long, black cape involved, firstly, and the black trousers Arthur had already seen; there was also a white suit top with a red bowtie (presumably a clip on—America, the lazy bastard) and the Brit could also see fangs in Alfred’s mouth when he smiled.
“So, what, Arthur?” Alfred asked with a toothy grin. “Am I not the scariest vampire you’ve ever seen?”
Arthur gave Alfred quite an uninterested look. “Dracula himself would be cowering in fear were he in my shoes at this moment.”
Alfred laughed. “That’s what I was going for!” He paused and inspected Arthur’s nonspirited attire suspiciously. “And what are you supposed to be?”
Arthur snorted disdainfully. “As if I would ever dress myself up so foolishly and run around begging for sweets like a homeless person with an overactive sweet tooth,” he scorned.
Alfred gasped in horror. “You don’t want to celebrate Halloween?” he asked, his voice the definition of shock. “But it’s so fun! Everyone dresses up in scary costumes and runs around getting candy at night from a bunch of different houses!”
Arthur glowered at the young ball of energy. “I know what Halloween is, you bloody git!” he said, feeling rather annoyed at Alfred’s usual ignorance to learn anything at all about England, the gracious country who’d raised him. “We have plenty of Halloween traditions here in England that makes your quest for cavities look like a night at home!”
Alfred raised an eyebrow. “A night at home, huh?” he said skeptically. “That’s exactly what this looks like to me.” He gestured toward Arthur’s evening activities.
Arthur coughed. “Well,” he began, “all of the best of my traditions have been lost over the years… on All Hallows Eve we used to burn nuts in a bonfire, carve Jack-O-Lanterns into turnips, sing songs or prayers to ward off evil spirits, bob for apples…”
Alfred’s face lit up. “I know what bobbing for apples is!” he said happily.
“Very good,” said Arthur sarcastically.
“I’ve played that before,” the younger continued without a care for his elder’s clear disinterest in his explanation. “It’s where you fill up a basin with water and apples and if you can get an apple with just your mouth, you win!”
The Brit scoffed. “It was a much more serious game,” he said as he sat back in his armchair.
Alfred took a seat in the rocking chair that faced Arthur’s armchair, happy that the older one was letting him stick around, even if only to have somebody to share stories with. “How so?” he inquired curiously. He couldn’t see how bobbing for apples could be anything but fun.
“It was used for divination,” Arthur said matter-of-factly. “Mostly for marriage. If you were able to get an apple, that was only half the battle. You had to peel it as well, and in one long strip, then close your eyes and throw it over your shoulder. The letter that the peel made when it landed would be the first letter of the first name of your true love.” He paused. “It was a much different world in the nineteenth century, and the longer you lived the luckier you were. You had to get marriage out of the way in a timely fashion so you could start having children before you were struck by a plague or simply died of old age.”
Alfred hummed curiously for a moment as he thought to himself. “Let’s play!” he said suddenly, and Arthur nodded slowly.
“I’m sure you’re quite concerned about dying of old age,” he remarked satirically.
Alfred rolled his eyes. “We never play any games together anymore, Artie!” he whined. “Besides, don’t you want to know who you’re going to marry?”
Arthur didn’t have time to inform Alfred that he had no plans to marry anybody before the American stood up and sped off into one of the hallways of the Brit’s house.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Arthur called after him as he stood up as well and followed the younger one into the hall. Alfred had crawled into one of his closets and now was emerging with an old metal wash basin—long obsolete since the invention of washing machines—and looked positively elated.
“I found a basin, Artie!” Alfred announced proudly as he stood back up and whooshed past Arthur to speed into his kitchen, his cape sailing behind him festively. He set the basin in the sink and turned on the cold tap for water before busily beginning to scour Arthur’s cabinets. “Where are your apples?” he asked after his investigation heeded no results.
Arthur debated with himself for a few moments whether he wanted to share such privileged information for a game, but sighed in defeat seconds later when Alfred produced a bag of fresh apples from the cabinet above the sink. It looked as if he didn’t have a choice anymore. The younger turned off the tap and brought the basin to the table in the dining room and set it down carefully before dumping the bag of six apples into the cold water. The fruit floated carelessly atop the rolling water and Arthur was feeling rather nostalgic.
“You’ll have to show me how it’s done,” Alfred told the other with a wide grin, his fangs long and threatening.
Arthur sighed and approached the basin of water slowly. “I thought you said you’ve played before,” he groaned.
“I’ve never played it your way, though,” Alfred pointed out as he approached the Brit with a makeshift blindfold—at some point he’d found a spare handkerchief sitting around in Arthur’s kitchen and folded it to aide in their game.
Arthur nodded slowly, a small smile finding its way onto his lips. “Alright, then,” he said as the American put the blindfold around his eyes and tied it in the back. “Watch me carefully, then.” He leant over the side of the basin carefully. Suddenly he felt Alfred behind him and he was immediately startled, standing back up straight and turning toward where he was sure Alfred’s idiotic face must’ve been.
Alfred laughed and held up his hands as if surrendering. “No hands, remember?” he asked as he grabbed both of Arthur’s hands and held them behind his body, almost as if to handcuff him.
Arthur grimaced and leant back over the basin again carefully, choosing to ignore the American’s strange antics as he did usually. He ducked his face close down to the water without getting wet and when he was sure there was an apple beneath him he launched his attack on the helpless fruit. He opened up his mouth to bite down with all his might, creating quite a splash, and emerged with an apple in his mouth feeling rather victorious.
He stood back up and Alfred let go of his hands swiftly. Arthur pulled the apple out of his mouth with his hand and pulled up his blindfold with the other.
“Now that is how you bob for apples!” Arthur said proudly.
Alfred laughed. “Good job!” he said. “Are you going to peel it?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Alfred, there’s really no point to peeling it…” he said softly. “I don’t want any of that ‘true love’. I promise.”
Alfred’s blue eyes pleaded. “You owe it to your culture, Artie!” he said dramatically. “Weren’t you just telling me that the traditions are being lost?” The American seemed to think it was of utmost importance that the damnable apple be peeled.
Arthur groaned. “Get me a knife,” he grumbled, and Alfred beamed, knowing he’d won. He always won. He produced a pocket knife from the pocket of his trousers and flipped it open before holding it out for Arthur carefully. The Brit leaned against the table as he peeled his apple and Alfred sat in one of the chairs, not realizing how long it would take to peel the fruit so precisely.
“Do you have to be so careful?” Alfred asked as Arthur was barely halfway done.
Arthur glared at him. “You’re the one who told me to peel it, you prat!” he groaned.
Alfred fidgeted. “Yeah… but I didn’t know it was going to take this long.”
“You’re a child, Alfred!”
Alfred shut up at this and stared down into his lap, vowing to be quiet until Arthur had finished. A few minutes later Arthur set his peeled apple on the table quite loudly and held up his peel like it was his hunt. Arthur stood up and followed Alfred as he stepped into the middle of the floor, holding his entire apple peel in one hand and pulling down his blindfold with his other hand.
“Here goes nothing,” Arthur said softly as he threw the peel gently behind his left shoulder. He made to remove his blindfold when the hand that was about to slide it out of place was stopped. A bigger hand grasped his wrist and another big hand cradled the side of his face, still a little cold from the chilled water in the basin.
Next Arthur felt himself being kissed, and he was at a loss for a response for several seconds before he melted into Alfred’s gentleness and his free hand clutched at the front of the younger’s shirt. Their lips moved together for minutes before Alfred finally pulled away slowly. His hands lifted the blindfold from Arthur’s eyes carefully to see green orbs cloudy with the warm feeling Alfred’s kiss had instilled in him.
“Look,” Alfred whispered gently, gesturing toward the space on the hardwood floor where the apple peel had landed.
There, in the middle of Arthur’s floor, the peel had landed to produce a perfect lowercase “a”.
“True love,” Arthur scoffed, his voice soft and breathy but still playful. He shook his head and turned back toward Alfred, who smiled at him for a moment before he crept in and bit Arthur’s neck carefully.
“We’d better get married and make some babies before we’re hit by a plague,” Alfred joked, his voice low.
“…Why don’t you just kiss me again, already, you bloodthirsty divvy?”
Alfred didn’t have to be told twice.