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Morbid Curiosity & Eccentric Wonder

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“Your family are lovely people…” Arthur admitted, brushing the coarse and dark hair of the man before him, feeling nothing but absolute peace as he looked down at the man’s face, speaking to him like he would an old friend, “Your niece is a darling, and very mature for her age.”

Arthur frowned as he looked down at the man’s face, “Hmm… I know you want to look professional, I’m doing my best here, I’m not a hair stylist… But, at least we have the major parts done. And you seem comfortable. I wish I was this comfortable when I get my hair done.”

Arthur then placed his gloved hands on his hips, staring at the man, pondering. He wondered what else he could do to perfect his work, and make this man look presentable.

But then, Arthur smiled, “You seem like a really sweet man, and your family speaks only the best of you— I wish most people I knew were this good. Although, I know I have the advantage here, eh?” Arthur chuckled as he then walked around the metal table, his shoes tapping on the marble flooring. “My friend, Francis, who I told you about earlier—He’s constantly nagging me to go out more, apparently, since I’m going to be thirty in less than two years; I’m wasting away. Ironic, eh? I know! He can’t say shit, he's older than me and he’s prolific with women! It’s hypocritical of someone like him to give me shit for being single!”

Arthur laughed, pulling on the white blanket that was covering the man’s modesty and scarring, “Apologies, it was starting to slip—But! Do you get it!? Now that I think about it… He’s a player, I guess he wants to get me back in the game too, you know? Since he seems to love it so much,” Speaking like this seemed to grant Arthur some form of clarity.

Arthur then picked up the man’s hand, before running his fingers up the arm, noting the pigmentation and feel of the muscular and firm arm, “Although, the Frenchman does have a point; it has been a long time for me… But, with good reason, you know. You know I’d tell you the whole story if I could, but you know that I’m on a time limit, shame, innit? You’re such a good listener... I can go on forever with you.”

Arthur smiled down at the man, inspecting his work, but once again, Arthur found himself unsatisfied with the hairstyle, and so, Arthur returned to the man’s head. “I know you’ll mess up your hair when you get dressed, but I at least want to know what looks good on you…” Starting over again, Arthur picked up the comb from his roller-table, which stood next to the table, where Arthur’s new friend laid, “Do you think I could start dating again—do I really have to, guess is the question I should be asking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of men, and I know how to have a good time… Just… Is it worth it, is it worth the risk? Because… I saw your entire family out there… And… They just want to see you again…”

Arthur couldn’t even think of a way to finish what he was going to say, and just stared down at the man’s face as his own paled, “It shows every time, you know… The pain of loving someone so much… I wonder how much other people think about it… How quickly everything can crumble once that person is lost…” 

But then, Arthur frowned when he noticed something in the man’s eyes, frowning, Arthur leaned over his face and inspected the man’s face, and suddenly, the anxiety disappeared as Arthurs attention to detail took over, “Hmmm… We may have to fix up your eyes a little too, let me readjust your caps…”

Murmuring to himself, Arthur placed his hands on the man’s face, pressing against the close lids of his eyes, to fix the uneven elevation of the cap which sat under the eyelid of the man’s right eye, making sure that it wasn’t obvious that caps were being used to replace the mans decayed eyeballs. “Does that feel any better?”

Arthur couldn’t help but laugh, asking a corpse a question was a fruitless endeavour, but at least it helped Arthur in not feeling so alone as he performed his craft of preparing people for their final viewing…    

Arthur spent another half an hour with the corpse, reapplying makeup, readjusting the sutures applied to keep the jaw fastened shut, and making sure that the corpse looked as ‘alive’ and ‘fresh’ as he could manage. Arthur then called a colleague in to help dress the corpse in a suit. Then, Arthur fixed the man’s hair again, and once he was completely confident with his work, Arthur signed the paperwork to allow him to be moved into the casket he will be viewed in.

Arthur had finally begun to clean up, he sanitised the embalming table and cleaned all of his equipment with sanitisers, and had even begun to brew himself a cup of tea, for him to have while he waits for the next embalming patient to be rolled through the doors. But instead, the doors to Arthur’s own embalming room opened to reveal someone who was not Arthur’s next assignment.

“Arthur…” A meek voice murmured as Arthur removed his long surgical gloves, Arthur looked over to the door to see the funeral homes newest intern, Kiku, peering into the embalming studio, where Arthur had been working. “I need you to sign off on someone before they’re cremated.”

“Right,” Arthur murmured as he unbuttoned his lab coat, revealing the black suit he wore underneath. Arthur remembered his days as an intern in England, regulations were so strict back then: Arthur felt like he couldn’t even go to the bathroom without prior approval from the mortician or funeral director in charge. And so, Arthur had to qualms about helping Kiku feel as comfortable as he could. “Do you have the papers ready?”

“Yes, the widow filled them out when the body was handed to the crematorium,” Kiku explained, “I’ve done what I need to do, I just need you to sign it off.”  

“Right… So, tell me, how are you finding the crematorium?” Arthur asked, chuckling like a senior looking down upon the young man, reminiscing about his own experience as an intern.

“It’s different…” Kiku admitted, “But the people there are nice. They’re letting me take care of more deliveries, but of course: I need permission before putting anything in the oven, and I can’t find the others anywhere. So, I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“No problem at all, I’m not busy,” Arthur replied, shoving his hands into the pockets of his suit as Kiku escorted him across the lush courtyard of the funeral home, before silently making it past the security doors into the crematorium.

But after a few minutes of silence, Kiku broke, “I looked over his papers and everything seems fine, he encountered no dangerous diseases and seemed to only suffer bradycardia later in life, and he died at 76 of lung cancer…”

“Did he have any implants or installations?” Arthur asked as Kiku then led him into the crematory room, where a line of crematory ovens stood, with one in use. But it was the one in the middle that Arthur was interested where a long wooden box was placed in front of, waiting to be slid in and the burning to begin. Kiku then handed Arthur a clipboard with yellow paper, before hesitantly removing the lid of the box, revealing the corpse inside.

Arthur frowned as he looked at the form the widow of the deceased filled out, bradycardia was what intrigued Arthur the most, seeing as how the widow ticked ‘No’ to any items being installed in her late husband’s body. Sceptical, Arthur took some green disposable gloves out of his pocket and approached the corpse, without a single second of hesitation, Arthur placed his hands on the corpses rubbery and discoloured chest and began to massage, trying to not take note of Kiku’s obvious flinching…

He’ll learn, Arthur told himself as he felt more around the chest of the old, fatty corpse for what he suspected. With each inch of pressure applied, he could feel the softened and putrefied matter underneath the skin sludge around. Arthur internally noted that this corpse had been left alone too long as it is, and his embalming fluid mixed with putrefied body matter had begun to leak into the box, the smell was almost unbearable, even for someone with as much experience as Arthur. He needed to be cremated, immediately.  Arthur pushed hard, ignoring the smell and noises that came with his actions, because Arthur knew exactly what he was looking for, and why Kiku may have missed it.

And finally, he found it, and kept applying pressure to the area to keep the irregularity in place.

“Scalpel.” Arthur ordered, keeping his hand against the one spot on the man’s chest, where he felt an irregularity in the corpse. Within seconds, a scalpel was in Arthur’s free hand, and he cut a line across the chest of the deceased and then wriggled his hand inside of it, rooting around for a while before pulling out something that looked like a metal lollipop, leaving the man’s chest open, dark and bloodless.

“There we are…” Arthur chuckled, inspecting the obvious pacemaker, not even phased by the human flesh that transitioned to his glove.

“I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I missed something so obvious!” Kiku exclaimed, clearly embarrassed by his rooky mistake. “This is shameful of me, I’m so sorry!” He knew the consequences of a pacemaker being left in a corpse during cremation, the small device may have exploded and broke the machine, which is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s ok, you’re learning still…” Arthur explained as he placed the pacemaker and his dirty glove into a bag, before throwing them into the bin. “I won’t tell anyone about this, ok?”

“I’m so sorry,” Kiku apologised as he nodded.

“Just, don’t be afraid to really have a feel around when checking the deceased, press hard and trust me, after another month: your squeamishness will be gone,” Arthur explained as he signed the form for Kiku, granting him the permission to perform the cremation.

It was just another normal day for Arthur, seeing love in it’s most painful form; when it is lost. He could see it every day, especially when he walked from the cemetery to the funeral home, seeing the people dressed in black in the distance, gathering like a depressed murder of crows among the hundreds of grey gravestones, to watch their loved one descend into the earth. As he watched the streams of tears come from the spouses, the parents, the children and the best friend of those departed, Arthur couldn’t help but wonder; how strong will that individual’s absence be?

Arthur was one of those individuals with the morbid and Godless mindset of ‘nothing happens in death, you go underground and the rest of the world forgets about you.’ That’s what’s going to happen to him, and everyone who’s buried in the small New York funeral home and cemetery.

Arthur then returned to the funeral home, and walked past the viewing room, where he saw his latest work, lying out for his family to view. Curious, Arthur entered the viewing room, where he saw the funeral director, Gilbert, standing at the back of the funeral service.

“The family gives their compliments to the mortician,” Gilbert admitted as Arthur stood next to him, standing with his back straight and his hands connected in the middle, hanging loosely.

It was their way of saying ‘compliments to the Chef’, and it never failed to make Arthur smile, “I’m glad…”

The German chuckled, but his eyes did not leave the grieving family, “How sad is this? His granddaughter has just announced her first pregnancy to the family right after he died. He’s just missed being a great-grandfather…”

“Mm…” Arthur agreed, “Shame…”

“Yeah…” Gilbert sighed, before taking his eyes away from the family long enough to look at Arthur, “Oh, Francis wants to know if you’re coming to his housewarming party.”

When he first discovered years ago that Francis and Gilbert knew each other, he was surprised, but then again: he could see them get along greatly. Both were eccentric, had taste and courage, especially when it came to their friends. There was also the fact that they both have degrees from the same medical school hanging in their offices, but for completely different services. But, this also meant for Arthur that Francis had a set of eyes on him when he was at work, and he knew how much the Frenchman loved to keep track of Arthur, like a concerned mother keeping tabs on a teenager.

“Yes,” Arthur replied, knowing that Francis would give him hell if he didn’t at least turn up to his new home and say hello, and after years of friendship, Arthur supposed that he owed Francis that courtesy, even though Arthur has already seen the Frenchman’s new house.

“Good, I’ll see you there with Elizabeta,” Gilbert replied, “Oh, how’s Kiku going, by the way?”

Ignoring the mistake that Kiku made earlier, Arthur answered, “Very well, he said that he finds the crematory ‘different’.”

“Don’t we all?” Gilbert chuckled, “God, wait until that boy sees what’s left of a pedestrian after a car accident…”

“Hooo…” Arthur grimaced, remembering the horrific experience of embalming someone for viewing after they died at the hands of a driver’s mistake. There was even one time where Gilbert had to help Arthur literally sew someone back together after forklift accident left them in pieces. “Although, he is very respectful of the bodies.”

“He’s Japanese, he oozes respect,” Gilbert pointed out, “He even asked if he can light an incense in the embalming room.”

“Not in my bloody embalming room,” Arthur grumbled.

“That’s what I told him,” Gilbert chuckled, “But I let him do it in my office. It’s pretty calming, actually. I’ve started even buying some fragrances for it.”

“Of course,” Arthur muttered, “Do you know when the next delivery is coming in?”

“For you? Your next one should be here in an hour,” Gilbert murmured, glancing at his watch, “A fifty-five-year-old female, cause of death: drowning.” Sadly, Arthur had been doing this job for so long: his first thought was; dammit, water-lungs.  

----

“Guys, I know you’re all terrified, but don’t worry: YOUR HERO IS HERE!” Alfred cheered, putting on his most charming voice, listening to the exaggerated response, Alfred continued, “I don’t care about that, I can do anything! Trust me! I’m the Hero, all you guy’ve gotta do is back me up! It’ll be no problem.”

Alfred riled himself up, ready to go in for the big one, he took in a deep breath as he listened to the response, leaning forward, “Yeah, OK, so the problem ain’t so little, it’s nothing we’ve not handled before, right?! We can do anything as long as we believe in ourselves, it doesn’t matter who says we’re not good enough! I just happen to know how to use my powers, it’s not your fault that you haven’t caught up yet, lil bro.”

Alfred was ready to go, literally about to burst from the pent-up energy. He was so ready for this, he couldn’t wait for it to be finished, just so he doesn’t have to think so much about it, but then again, he knew that once he was doing with this, he was going to be doing it all over again.

But he knew that he could keep in character.

Alfred yelled, screamed, gasped and grunted; loud enough for the people in the next room to hear, Alfred threw fake punches.

“I GOTCHA NOW!!”

Alfred listened to the other people speak, waiting for his cue to chime in.

Alfred’s voice was exaggerated, on the verge of yelling, and boyish as he continued, “No one can stop a real hero! The darkness has nothin’ on me as long as we- I mean—SHIT! – URH, fuck me running!!”

“Alfred, if you want that blooper-reel, you’ll have to stop swearing.”

“Uuugh come on!” Alfred whined, pushing away his microphone, staring out at the unimpressed producers who were sitting next to his recording booth, “Can’t you just bleep it!?”

“That’d work once, but not every single time, we have a target audience here!”

Alfred rolled his eyes and huffed as he removed his headphones, getting his script to read through the last bit. The rest of the episode was easy for Alfred, it was only this line that the end that confused him a little bit! He was going to do it perfectly in the next take!

“I dunno, can I change it up a little bit?” Alfred asked.

“No, just try again.”

“Come oooon,” Alfred whined, “I can come up with something way better, I can improve this and fucking kill it.”  

“Alfred, you’ve only stuffed up the line once, you’ll be fine,” The producer explained, “Just try the scene again. Ready, right from the top of the page, aaaaaand… Go.”

And so, Alfred read through the lines again, performing with the same amount of energy and gusto that he put into every single take, every rehearsal and every reading. Alfred felt like he was the hero, just like his character. He was born for this role, he could feel it, and so; he put his heart into it and gave it all he got.

Alfred saw himself as a man full of energy, energy that had to be constantly exerted, either through exercise or performance, he never wanted to slow down: he just needed the rest of the world to catch up with him.

The second take was better, but the director felt that Alfred could do better. And so, with a smirk, Alfred showed him and did exactly that. Finally, everyone was satisfied with the recording and Alfred was free to go.

Alfred was one of the lead voice actors for a popular cartoon for kids, a good gig for a 26-year-old. Alfred felt on top of his game as he left the studio and walked down the bright, colourful and animated halls of the network headquarters, which was littered with the wild and unusual faces of popular cartoon characters: one of which Alfred voiced.

The American always had a spring in his step whenever he finished recording an episode, he felt accomplished and important, because he knew that the show wouldn’t be complete without their hero.

When he finally rode the elevator down to the foyer of the building, Alfred saw more people than he expected. Dozens of middle-schoolers walking around, their laughter echoing through the large space. It always made Alfred happy to see kids running around, being carefree and having a good time – if he could go back, he would have taken advantage of that free time.

As he walked past the group of kids, who were obviously on a school-tour of some kind, one didn’t see where he was going and ran right into Alfred’s back, surprising him. Alfred turned back to see the kid looking up at him with a surprised and embarrassed face, his puffy cheeks had gone bright red as his friends started laughing at him. But, Alfred couldn’t help but notice the t-shirt that the kid was wearing… Alfred couldn’t help but smile, recognising the charming smile and cool pose of his own character.

Instantly honoured, Alfred smiled as his eyes lit up, looking down at the child with warm and kind eyes, and ready to make the kid’s day, he quickly thought of what to say. Smiling, Alfred winked at the kid and said in his character voice, knowing that if the kid was truly a fan, he’d recognise it. “Hey, watch out, Bud, you don’t know who you’re gonna run into.”

And instantly, the kid’s face tightened and his eyes widened, recognising the line as Alfred made his way to the glass exit doors, as the kid was called back to his class.

That was perhaps the highlight of Alfred’s day, and maybe even the highlight of the kid’s too.

The feeling was so amazing, he recounted the experience to his best friend, as they jogged on the treadmills at their local gym, where they usually met up to do sessions together.  

“You should have seen the kids face too! He looked so shocked and happy!” Alfred explained, panting slightly, “He looked like me when I was little, but not as fat!”

“Come on, you weren’t that fat when you were little!” Matthew sighed, readjusting the bobby-pins in his hair, which he used to pin back his blond bangs. Alfred would have fought Matthew on this, but he was too preoccupied turning up the speed on the treadmill and breaking into a run, as though he could run away from the thoughts of returning to that size. Besides, Alfred could tell that Matthew was only saying that so Alfred didn’t feel so bad about his former weight, which was a pointless endeavour.   “Hey, you’re gonna burn yourself out!”

“No, I won’t!” Alfred promised, trying his best to hide the strain in his voice, quickly wanting to change the topic, “How was work?!”

“Fine,” Matthew replied, “A six-year-old nearly bit my finger.”

“Haha!” Alfred laughed, always loving Matthew’s stories from the dental office which he worked at.

“The little shit had sharp ones too and was pushing and squirming in the chair too!” Matthew explained as Alfred kept on laughing though the burning of his leg muscles, “And his mom just softly said to him ‘don’t do that, sweetie’ – like that fucking helps! I usually love kids, but that boy pushed me.”

“Kids, man,” Alfred scoffed, thinking about the kids who love him and the character he voices. He is always so overjoyed to see kids with toys or merchandise of the show, it made him feel like he was making an impact, like he was doing something right. The feeling of self-riotousness was addictive, it was just the kind of thing that Alfred needed to get up in the morning, the satisfaction was worth anything.

“Oh, also, do you remember Francis, you met him at my 26th?” Matthew asked, breaking up a minute built on their silence and panting.

“Oh yeah! The French guy!” Alfred replied, “He was cool!”

“He’s having a housewarming party and asked if I could bring you,” Matthew explained, “So are you free on Saturday?”

“Yeah!” Alfred answered, loving to take the opportunity to go out and have some fun, maybe he can even find a potential date… Francis did mention the last time he saw him that he has a lot of gay friends… It’s been around a week since he’s broken up with his last boyfriend, granted: it didn’t last very long, but not many of Alfred’s relationships do and now Alfred was ready to move on.  

“Cool, I’ll let him know,” Matthew replied, “He liked you, said you were funny.”

Finally, Alfred’s legs and lungs couldn’t take it anymore, and he jumped, positioning his legs on the edges of the treadmill, continuing to let the track run underneath him as he panted and drank some water.

“Urh, fucking hell…” Alfred wheezed, exhausted and drenched in sweat, his racing heartbeat pulsing through his chest and into his ears. He could have gone so much longer, he felt like he should have gone for much longer than that! That was pathetic in Alfred’s eyes.

“See, I knew you’d burn out!” Matthew pointed out, continuing to jog, huffing from the increase in strain.

“Well at least I can say that I have impressive stamina, I’ve lasted that long, I could probably go even longer if I tried” Alfred chuckled as he wiped his neck with his blue gym-towel, winking in a way that he knew that Matthew would get what he was implying to, and what he also meant by ‘stamina’.

“Dammit, Alfred…” Matthew grumbled, breaking into a run on the treadmill, as Alfred returned to a brisk walk, building up strength to return to jogging again, still wearing his signature grin, knowing that Matthew was internally sighing over the brazenness of Alfred and his sexual exploits. “You only just broke up with a guy last week, don’t you think you need some time before you jump back into it? ‘Embrace the single life,’ you know?”

“Really? We were only together for like, a month,” Alfred explained, “It doesn’t matter that much. He stopped being fun. Plus, he was kinda clingy, too much for me, and he was so boring.”

“God, you are cruel!” Matthew hissed.

“Not cruel, just picky…” Alfred grumbled, “I want someone to keep me interested.”

“Ok, you’re not cruel, but childish,” Matthew pointed out, smirking. Only Matthew could get away with calling Alfred out like that, he’s been there for Alfred for so many years, Matthew could say anything to Alfred and get away with it. He’s more valuable to Alfred than all of his former boyfriends combined. “Just be careful, Alfred…” Because he knows that Matthew truly cares about him, probably more than most of them ever could. He’s known Matthew since childhood, ever since Matthew moved with his family from Canada—trust in Matthew has been one of the only constants in his life.

“I know, I know,” Alfred replied, before breaking into a jog, “I just gotta find the right one, you know?”

But Matthew sighed, “I get it, I get it. But you’ve got to be careful in the search too.”

Alfred frowned, considering Matthew’s statement, and while he understood exactly what Matthew meant, he couldn’t help but think about how he can’t help but have a little fun while he does it… Who knows, they could be right around the corner, he just needs a man who is going to keep Alfred’s interests for long enough to make him invested. It can’t be that hard, right?

Chapter Text

It wasn’t very often when Arthur would get a corpse that left him wondering what to say… But, then again, what could he say to someone who took their own life? He can’t help them by saying anything insightful, but casual discussion felt so unnerving. Nothing could be done to ease the dead; the most Arthur can do is fix them up for their final encounter with the living… And suicide corpses are usually notoriously messy and hard to fix. But knowing that someone had gone through enough suffering to decide that life wasn’t worth it anymore was a harsh reality that Arthur came face to face with more than he appreciated. However, it never failed to make Arthur uncomfortable when he thinks about how someone had willingly brought themselves to Arthur’s care. 

Especially when it is someone so young… And so dangerously close to Arthur’s age.

“I’m very sorry for your loss, my name is Arthur Kirkland, and I’m going to be the mortician who carries out your embalming, I promise you and your family that I will only treat you with the utmost of care and dignity during this process…” Arthur murmured, looking at the baseball stitching of the recognisable autopsy Y incision made across the deceased man’s chest, and the lime green pigment of the man’s abdomen. “I’m going to rebuild the back of your skull… and clean you up, make you prim and proper… You seemed to like that in all of the photos your mother gave me… I will do your handsome face justice.”

Arthur stood back and looked at the corpse, before lightly taking the dead man's firm arm into his hand, watching the blood drain from the vein. Arthur supposed that in less than an hour, the body would be ready to receive the embalming fluid. So, Arthur figured that he may as well start to work on fixing the man's cracked skull and ugly head-wound… For this, Arthur was going to have to put back together the back of the skull like puzzle pieces, and then pull back the face and skin in order to conceal it. He wanted to get that task out of the way before beginning all of the other work he needed to do.

And so, Arthur walked to the head of the table, wheeling the small table that held his supplies. He stopped before the head of the deceased and took it into his hands, tilting it upwards so he can inspect the damage, wondering how much denture adhesive he’d need to put the young man’s skull back into shape.

“Consistent with a fall… Landed right on the back of the head, cracking the skull in multiple places, internal bleeding, loss of brain-matter, it wouldn’t have taken long at all…” Arthur murmured, “Although, the report did say that they found a lot of alcohol in your stomach. Did you go on a bender and make a rushed decision, or was it to just numb the pain? Or, was drink a part of the issue in the first place? It doesn’t help much, does it?” Arthur cringed at his disrespect, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry… Suicides always make me nervous…” He continued to softly apology as his trembling hands released the man's head, his eyes widening as he took a shaken breath.

“I always wonder what pushes someone to do something like this…” Arthur sighed, leaning over the corpse. His eyes narrowed as he tried to imagine the shape of the man’s face—after the skin is pulled back onto the skull. The autopsy people purposely left his face peeled down so Arthur can rebuild the skull.

“Was it because you felt alone…? Were you alone at the wrong time, and it all just drained away… Did your demons win that day? Were you too alone?” Arthur asked as his eyes blankly scanned over the pieces of skull that had been cleaned and laid out on a tray for him. All Arthur needs to do is put back what he can, and use the adhesive to fill any gaps and glue everything together. “Because I can honestly relate to that… Some days I won’t go until dinnertime without saying a word to anybody… Well, anybody who’s alive, at least… I am the one to talk to about solitude…”

But, Arthur would be lying if he said that he didn’t find his solitude refreshing… He had even come to prefer it in some instances. He didn’t enjoy the intrusiveness of some of the people he was around for certain periods of his life, so times that he could say what he wanted without consequence was a blessing to Arthur – because the dead don’t betray him. The dead don’t judge him, the dead don’t criticise his every move or make him feel stupid or like he’s some kind of morbid freak.

“But, everyone who I spoke to about you said that you were social, were you silently suffering?” Arthur asked, “W-Were you really alone inside, and only pretended to be fine?” Arthur sighed as he stepped back, tightening his hands into fists, “You didn’t speak about it, you thought you could handle it all alone, that you didn’t need others for company---” But Arthur quickly shook himself out of his trance, “I’m sorry, now I’m just being disrespectful, forgive me. I forget who I’m speaking to sometimes…”

Even when he was quiet, Arthur continued to walk around the body, and once all of the blood was drained, he swapped it with embalming fluid, and then he began to set up the denture adhesive that he was going to use to put the skull back together.

But, Arthur couldn’t stay quiet for long, and as he began to put pieces of skull back together like a puzzle.

“There’s a friend of mine, Francis, who talks to me like I’m a fucking hermit who needs his help,” Arthur admitted, speaking as though he was just catching up with someone over coffee, “He has planned this housewarming party tomorrow night, and he’s been constantly checking if I’m coming.” Arthur chuckled as he sighed, “God bless him, but I wish he’d stop trying to mother me, and trying to drag me out of the house. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great friend, and I am happy to see him and see him occasionally, but I’m not a fucking charity who needs to be set up with every gay guy he comes across. Even though some of them were nice, I just need to find my own man, you know. I have taste, and it’s not like I’m deprived, I live one train ride away from inner New York City, there are gays everywhere once the sun goes down! I just need to find one who’s willing to put up with me!”

Arthur usually felt more comfortable once he was in his element, and this was his element, preparing a dead body for their final viewing. Turning what entered his workroom as a decayed, post-autopsy corpse into the image of their former selves, in the illusion of sleep for their family.

Arthur can do anything with to fix the corpses that are put in front of him: he’s reattached heads and limbs, covered gunshot wounds, stitched gashes, restored someone to recognisability after being left for so long in a freezer. As soon as a body is laid on Arthurs table, there is a guarantee that they will look as good as new when they leave it – or at least, as best as an embalmed body can look. Embalming does not preserve a body forever, it merely slows down decay for a certain amount of time. He’s a mortician, not a miracle worker, nothing lasts forever.

Despite how much time had passed, Arthur still couldn’t stop thinking about the circumstance of the death of the man before him… It bothered him more than any other suicide he’s cleaned up before, because it left him shaken, and relating to the corpse more than he should. He felt like he had lost a friend, and he was on the verge himself.

“Did someone try to help you?” Arthur asked, frowning, remembering the way he watched the man’s girlfriend wail in despair during the consultation. It was a sorrowful sight that Arthur had become used to, among many. “Did your girlfriend… Did she… Did she try to help you, did she even know that this was going on? Were there any signs that you could see? Did you keep secrets? Did you speak to someone, did you try to make it stop? Or did you just accept that it was coming…?” 

Arthur had to stop and place the piece of skull back on the table, needing to take a short break and to gather his thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I just need some tea,” Arthur muttered as he walked over to the desk that sat in a hidden corner of the embalming room, where Arthur had his kettle and laptop set up. After removing his gloves and throwing them in the bin, he removed his surgical apron and laid it out on another table, before he flicked the switch on the kettle as he took a seat and crossed his legs. Despite being away from the body, he couldn’t stop staring at it, and only listening to the kettle chime once it was finished pulled Arthur away from his trance.

With his fresh cup of tea, Arthur walked around the embalming table, inspecting the body again, rehearsing his plans in his mind again. Arthur was dressed in a black fitted suit, one of which he felt very professional in, as it was always best to look and feel professional when speaking to the families of those he was about to work on. It only made the end results of Arthur’s embalming much more special.

Sipping his tea, Arthur stood by the man's feet, recognising some form of rigor mortis setting in, so he knew he’d have to fix that at some point—preferably before he’s filled with embalming fluid.

Arthur also figured that he may have to mix cosmetic shades if he’s going to match the man's skin tone. He figured that he should look through more photos of the deceased before settling on that. Then he’d have to follow up the deceased’s mother and girlfriend about delivery or collection of the clothes they want him to wear when he’s buried. There’s so much to do, and he’s barely been dead for three days!

“I have a lot of work ahead of me with you, chap,” Arthur murmured, “But don’t worry, I’ll do my best… Thank you for not falling too hard, I suppose.”

Arthur sighed before blowing the steam from the surface of his tea, before taking a small sip, narrowing his eyes as he continued to circle the body, planning what he was going to do with every imperfection or abnormality he would have to fix. But his head and face were Arthur’s biggest concern, he’s lucky his brain wasn’t too badly damaged, otherwise, he’d be buried without the whole thing!

Finally finished with his cup of tea and a short break, Arthur put his surgical apron back on, before slipping on a new set of gloves. Ready to return to work, and pick up where he left off: reconstructing a skull.

Where he knew that he was going to continue to have this morbid, depressing and interesting discussion with the corpse.

-----

Since the second he received the script for the next episode the studio was going to be working on, Alfred marched to the producers without saying a word, and took a seat before their table, struggling to find the words to say. He was too pissed to even register their less-than-impressed reactions to Alfred’s body language and demeanour – they should be used to Alfred’s attitude by now because this wasn’t the first time that Alfred has had issues with the script.

“What is it now, Alfred?” The director asked, who was the only person who seemed remotely interested in Alfred’s latest complaint, probably because he was the one who had to deal with it the most.

“Why does Hero act like such an idiot in this episode?” Alfred asked, “Plus, the episode is barely even about him, why is he suddenly the comic relief!?”

“Because the episode isn’t centred on him,” The director explained, “Besides, wouldn’t it be interesting to see the hero take a different role? Let the side-kick have some development for once?”

“Sure, Ben can have some development, that’s fine – but not if it’s the Hero being made fun of,” Alfred grumbled, taking a bitter sip of his coffee as he crossed his legs. He was still pissed at his character being made a fool out of, it didn’t make sense to him! Why would they build up such an awesome character, who was one of the few openly gay characters on the TV Network at the moment, who is such an icon to kids everywhere—have to turn around and be made to look like an idiot for an episode, it felt like a personal jab at Alfred. It was a personal jab at Alfred, intended to piss him off.

His character was always prideful, ambitious and determined, it was not like him to be made the butt of jokes, of course, Alfred let a few slide sometimes – depending on the writing and comedic timing— but this episode was ridiculous! the only time that Alfred’s character is on screen for that episode, is leading up to an embarrassing moment for him. He wasn’t like that, he was a teen hero in disguise, he was a popular guy in his school, proud of himself and who he is! Who would dare try to embarrass him?! It didn’t make sense to Alfred! Therefore, it had to be a conspiracy against the actor!

“I just don’t get it, why is Hero being embarrassed and targeted like that, when he’s supposed to be a popular kid with a secret.”

“Yeah, but this episode isn’t about him.”

“Lazy writing, in my opinion,” Alfred grumbled, watching as the two producers, who had recently been silent, gasped audibly, which only served to make Alfred smirk. Well aware that he was behaving like a diva, “I dunno… It just doesn’t really make sense to me.”

“Yeah, well if you take it up with the writers, you’ll leave the building with their feet up your ass,” The Director explained, “We’re not changing it, no matter how much you bitch and moan. You’ll just have to swallow it up and make-do, sorry pal. Besides, whatever happened to heroes being humble?”

Alfred wanted to think of something to say back, but everything that came to mind seemed to warrant a firing, and Alfred can’t lose this job. So instead, he glared at the director and took back the script – he wasn’t going to let the Director have the last laugh, he swore it. He’ll make the recording process hell, and Alfred could guess that the Director already knew that. 

Determined to not give up, he made his way to the writer’s office, and actually did attempt to bring up his grievances about the script to the writers, besides, he knew that their door was always open – and so Alfred instantly suspected foul-play was involved when the door to the writer’s office was closed and locked. Instantly, Alfred knew that the fucking Director had something to do with this, he must have warned them about Alfred’s pains. What an asshole.

Buuut, he’s still the asshole who pays Alfred’s bills, and so Alfred supposed that he may as well make do, and translate his frustrations into acting and push it through his character. He wanted the sound department to be concerned with how loud Alfred screams when his character has slime thrown on him by his little brother – who this episode was actually about! Not the hero who had more control of his powers than his little brother! Urgh!

It irked him all the way home, where he just sat on the couch, reading through the script. But, despite how much he hated it, he couldn’t just refuse to learn it, that’s too petty – even for him. 

So, Alfred crossed his leg over his knee and got to reading while drinking some water, one of the few things he allows himself to binge on during the day.

The more he re-read the script, the more pissed off he became, he hardly had anything to learn because his character was hardly on the screen, this episode barely involved him! How is that fair, in all of the episodes about the hero, his little brother always gets a fair amount of screen time! What is this bullshit!? Alfred couldn’t help but feel somewhat cheated and petty from the creative direction this episode had taken. Alfred’s character is one of the favourites, why embarrass him like this?!

It didn’t even take Alfred an hour until he had all of his lines learned, which felt odd for him. He had so much time spare, he didn’t know what to do with it. He could check his tinder and maybe organise a last-minute date… Nah… Or maybe an ex of his would be interested in a temporary re-kindling? Ugh, that’s a huge ‘No’ to…. Why would he bother to put so much emotional and physical effort into a one-nighter born from boredom? That was too desperate, even for Alfred – but it’s not far from what he has done in the past.

So instead, he went with the next best thing: he messaged Matthew, and within the hour Alfred was chilling in Matthew’s apartment, watching TV. Alfred’s world was finally at peace, and he could be himself. There was no need for Alfred to project his personality onto Matthew, or try to impress him—he has already seen enough of that to last a lifetime. 

“Have you had dinner?” Matthew asked, still eating from his bowl of spaghetti.

“Yeah,” Alfred lied.

“How was work?” Matthew asked.

“Pretty shit, Hero is hardly in this episode, and when he is: he’s being completely made fun of!” Alfred whined.

“Of course you’d take that personally…” Matthew muttered.

“Well, yeah I did! They do it just to piss me off!” Alfred complained, “The writers probably did it cause I said their work lacked substance a month ago.”

“You work for a fucking kid’s show, what substance do you need?!” Matthew chuckled.

“A fair bit—we’re shaping kids minds here!” Alfred pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest, trying his best to not spill his drink in his dramatic position.

“I guess…” Matthew murmured, “Just don’t say anything about the writers, and you’ll be fine.”

“Well, I impressed them and they didn’t give a shit, they know my voice range and they don’t give me anything to work with! And when I bring it up or suggest changes to the script that fit the character better, I’m suddenly the asshole. But whatever, I know they wouldn’t have a show without me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, like, 99% of the merch has Hero on it, and who’s the Hero—me,” Alfred scoffed, smirking as Matthew burst into laughter. 

“Oh God, Alfred!” Matthew chuckled, slapping his knee. “You come off as such a dick, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Alfred winked, deciding to take that as a joke. 

“Oh yeah, speaking of dicks, I ran into that ex of yours… Ugh, fuck, I don’t even remember his name… He spoke to me and asked how I was going, didn’t mention you once—no shocker there,” Matthew grumbled, “He was working as a waiter near my work, God, I don’t even remember his name, I met him twice…”

Even Alfred was stumped, “What did he look like?”

“Black hair, tall, green eyes.”

“Still not helping.”

“I think his name started with an ‘M’.”

“Look, it doesn’t matter, I’ve dated a lot of guys with black hair!” Alfred snapped, “Besides, I probably wouldn’t remember him, even if you got his name.”

“That’s… Kinda concerning…” Matthew admitted, watching Alfred frown as he angrily sipped his soda, refusing to look at Matthew and give in to his concerns. Because he knew that once he looked into Matthew’s eyes, he would be locked into a deep and meaningful conversation about his love-life and sexual activity, again.

“Shut up.”

Matthew muttered, chuckling nervously, “Duuuude, I think you may have a problem.”

“Come on, no I don’t. I just have some fun. Besides, I’d remember the guy if I saw his face, I’m not that heartless.” Alfred shrugged, feeling his heart race as he crumbled under Matthew’s judgemental stare. He felt like a kid being scolded, he knew that his activity was bad and that it wasn’t productive—but it doesn’t do him any harm! It makes him feel good and pumps up the esteem a little, and that never hurt anybody!

He can’t be that bad! Sure, Alfred had his flaws— he had an entire list of flaws, but he just reminded himself that everybody did.

“Now that I think about it, can you even hold a serious relationship?” Matthew asked, “I’ve never seen you actually try to keep someone around, even the ones you seemed to really like!”

“But—”

“You’re just going to isolate yourself, Al,” Matthew explained, “I’m worried about you.”

“I know…” Alfred sighed, running his finger along the edge of the can of his soda, frowning as he thought more and more about it. He knew that Matthew only had the best intentions, and it was coming from a place of honesty. He couldn’t deny it, he was easy to lull into bed, and sometimes even Alfred didn’t want to wait to make a bond before getting with someone… It was shameful when he thought about it.

But nothing was wrong with him, Alfred was fine as he was—he just liked to have fun. Alfred would understand completely if Matt was talking to him about a drinking problem, but this was just a roast about how Alfred changes partners more than he changes jeans.

Alfred didn’t even want to look at Matthew, knowing that his Canadian friend was giving him ‘the look’. It was a look that Alfred had become so accustomed too, he could feel it. He could feel the weight of Matthew’s narrowed eyes from behind his glasses, he could even picture how the Canadians nose would scrunch slightly, and his lips pursed. But, even without seeing the look on his treasured friends face, Alfred could feel the judgment.

“God-dammit,” Alfred hissed, glancing at Matthew to see that he was indeed giving Alfred ‘the look’. “Matt, don’t look at me like that.”

“Fine, you do what you want.” Matthew sighed, returning his attention back to his dinner, “I don’t want to nag you.”

------

As Arthur expected, Francis’ housewarming party was just like any other. People stood around with glasses of champagne or wine, discussing their adult lives over some light music. Francis had decorated his new house a bit more since Arthur had seen it, he added pieces of modern art to the walls, added a nice black leather couch, and even some candles. The party was being held in the kitchen and living area, which led out onto a deck in the back garden, where the majority of people were spending their time. The interior was very monochrome, with a few spots of carefully chosen colour, which very much fit the Frenchman’s modern and artsy aesthetic.

But like other parties, Arthur found himself drifting further and further away from the others, like a castaway alone on a raft, watching the ship sail away without him. He started his night chatting with Francis and some of his colleagues, but as Francis moved between groups of people, Arthur started to drift away, finding everything around him less and less interested. Why was he even here? No one wanted to come up to him and chat, and Arthur promised Francis that he wasn’t going to speak about corpses tonight, so there goes pretty much everything interesting about Arthur.

Arthur was dressed in all black, his usual aesthetic wasn’t too far away from the funeral grab he had to wear every day for work.

Arthur found himself standing by the kitchen counter with a glass of red wine, watching groups of people chat and socialise like this was a school reunion, and Arthur was the loner. It wasn’t anything that Arthur wasn’t used to.

However, he couldn’t help but watch Gilbert stand beside his wife, Elizabeta, a beautiful Hungarian woman with long brown hair and stunning green eyes. They’ve been married for five years, right before Arthur got his job at the funeral home. This was probably the stage where they were thinking about settling down properly and having kids…

But, as Arthur watched them, the more he couldn’t help but think – what would Gilbert do if she died?

Arthur knew that Gilbert was one of a section of morticians who refused to work with people they knew, but would he make an exception for her? Would he want to be the last one to see his wife in her natural state? Or would he want her to be embalmed at all? Arthur figured that they must have settled this already, considering their marriage and Gilbert’s career, they’d know each other’s wishes and have it in writing. Arthur could picture Gilbert sitting them down within a month of their marriage and went through all of the options with her. He’d want to make sure that she understood everything and was happy with her decision.

But then, that had Arthur thinking what would Arthur do if Gilbert or Elizabeta ended up on his table, or even Francis? Arthur had never been confronted like that before… But then again, Arthur knew that he would embalm his own mother if he had to because he knew that he would do the best job. Besides, he would be able to say goodbye in a way that no one else could comprehend… Perhaps Arthur would take the opportunity to have his friends on his embalming table…

He thought about this more as he watched Gilbert and Elizabeta smile with their friend, linked by the arms. They looked so happy together, he could only imagine how tragic it would be if one of them suddenly passed… Granted, Arthur would be devastated if he lost someone he knew, but then again, he has a job and he does it well—and if he was faced with the job of embalming someone he knew, then he would make it his duty to give them the best service he’s ever performed. Someone has to handle their bodies, and Arthur would prefer to handle it himself and speak to their corpses like he’s never been able to speak to them before.

“Arthur!” Francis chirped, sneaking up on Arthur from behind, nearly scaring Arthur to death, and all of Arthur’s morbid thoughts evaporated as his eyes narrowed at Francis, unimpressed with the chuckling Frenchman. “Hah, I could see you trying to disappear again, I have someone I want you to meet.”

“Francis…”

“No! No!” Francis grumbled, taking Arthur by the hand and leading him to the backyard, “You’re not going to be a fly on the wall this time, you’ll like them, trust me!”

Arthur rolled his eyes and took in another mouthful of his wine as Francis led him past the glass door and onto the wooden deck, which overlooked a nice garden area, but the only source of light came from the dozens of candles and outdoor lights that Francis had set up. Arthur’s wine was nearly finished by the time Francis led him to the railing, where two blonde men stood, holding their own beverages and watching them with curiosity behind their glasses. They were both blonde, and could pass as brothers, Arthur could only wonder what Francis was getting him into now.

“Matthew, Alfred, this is Arthur, he’s an old friend of mine,” Francis explained as he gestured to his friends, the slightly taller blonde with the warm violet eyes and round glasses, whom Arthur assumed was Matthew, extended his hand first to politely shake Arthur’s.

“Nice to meet you,” The young man said, revealing a sweet Canadian accent. He looked more adorable than anything, perhaps Francis was onto something introducing him, the Canadian was tall, well groomed and dressed nicely… 

And then his friend spoke, “Heey! Nice to meet you, I’m Alfred!”

Instantly, Arthur could tell why Francis introduced them because the second that guy opened his mouth; a goddamn rainbow fell out.

The more Arthur looked at him, the more his gaydar raged out of control. The golden blonde was well groomed, fashionably dressed in black slimming clothes, as well as that, he stood with a hand on his hip and was also wearing the smile of an Oscar winner. Even after a few seconds had passed and the two men had checked each other out, Alfred continued to stare deeply into Arthur’s eyes as they shook hands, and Arthur couldn’t help but wonder whether his own homosexuality was noticeable too. The American was staring at him with a glistening shine in his sky-blue eyes, which were hardly hindered by the warm glow of the lights around them, and it only made Arthur wonder whether Francis had said anything to Alfred about him, perhaps he was in on this.

Alfred would have been promised someone good-looking, smart, funny, and fun—all things that Arthur felt he wasn’t. He wasn’t even allowed to talk about the one thing that made him slightly interesting to people: corpses, apparently it’s not ‘party-friendly’ enough for the Frenchman.

“Arthur,” Arthur replied, smiling to both the American and the Canadian. “Nice to meet both of you.”

“So, you’re English?” Alfred asked, his eyebrows raising in intrigue.

“Yes, I’m from London,” Arthur answered, “I’ve been living in New York for around four years now.”

“Oh my God, that is so cool!” Alfred exclaimed. 

“Yeah,” Matthew shyly agreed, leaning back as though to let Alfred take the lead of the conversation, which seemed to work fine with the American, who seemed to be happy to run the show.

“I’ve actually been to London a few times, it’s a real romantic city,” Alfred explained, “I absolutely love it over there, the Tower of London was fucking sick.”

“Yeah, it is interesting,” Arthur admitted, trying so hard to hold himself back from speaking about the fate of medieval corpses and the various torture methods; knowing that such horrors would probably keep by bubbly American up at night.

“God, I love your accent,” Alfred pointed out, his smile widening with interest, showing his set of perfect white teeth. Even Arthur had to admit that the young man was very handsome, alluring even—he seemed to catch Arthur into his bright blue eyes like a fly in a web. “I don’t really know many British people, but I am literally obsessed with the accent, it’s gorgeous.”

So was he, Arthur thought, and he held this opinion of Alfred throughout the night. But oh God—the guy talked a lot.

He ended up retelling his entire trip to London, what he did, what he thought about it, Arthur is even sure that Alfred told him what he ate at some point. While what Alfred had to say was interesting, he definitely said a lot.

But there was something about Alfred that intrigued Arthur, and it’s what kept him from simply making an excuse to leave the conversation and never return. He was vibrant and intense, and almost everything about him stood out, like a splash of neon pink on a white background. Everything from his laugh, to his smile to the way he locked Arthur in with his eyes. Arthur could see that Alfred was enjoying himself, despite being oblivious to the fact that he hardly lets Arthur have the time to tell his own stories. However, Alfred had kept the two distracted enough, that they failed to notice when Matthew and Francis disappeared. Sounds about right for Francis’ matchmaking.

But Arthur didn’t actually mind it, while Alfred did control the majority of the conversation (to an annoying level), Arthur still found him interesting. And he wasn’t bad to look at either, so Arthur supposed that he may as well cooperate, even if he doesn’t speak to the young man after this night. Besides, Arthur couldn’t deny that he was intrigued by the way Alfred looked at him, and how he would lean in to speak to him. It was interesting and something that left Arthur tingling in the knees. There were even times where Alfred would momentarily raise his eyebrows while smiling at Arthur, even checking him out—not subtly either. It left Arthur wondering what the hell Francis had said to Alfred about him! He could only hope that he doesn’t leave Alfred too disappointed.

Arthur couldn’t help but wonder how Alfred would react if he started talking about corpses with him, would he find it interesting or be turned off by it? Would he leave? Because Arthur was told on multiple occasions that he does ramble about his experiences in the funeral home, and it makes him come off as ‘morbid’ and ‘a little scary’.  Apparently bodily fluid and decay was not something to be brought up in normal conversation, especially when being set up with a potential date. So, Arthur held back, deciding that if Alfred was truly interested in him, he will want to find out more details about his life later.

But Alfred didn’t ask him for any details; he only asked for Arthur’s number, which he gave him; hesitantly. Arthur wondered whether the American texts as much as he talks, and Arthur had Alfred’s number saved into his phone too.

Maybe this arranged meeting may turn into something someday, or it could not. Arthur knew that the chances were that he wasn’t what Alfred had hoped for, and he his life would not change at all.

Arthur left before midnight, satisfied with how the evening went. Out of every man that Francs had attempted to set Arthur up with, Alfred was one of the more interesting, and certainly one of the louder ones. Arthur only hoped that Francis wouldn’t be too upset when he learns that Arthur wasn’t overly keen to see him again.

But even with those thoughts, there was something unique about Alfred… Maybe the American was just too pretty...   

Chapter Text

“I think I was just attracted to him— you should have seen him; this man was so pretty. He looked like an angel, a model, even.” Arthur explained, readjusting his stance slightly as he leaned over the pale corpse of a young woman, sewing the skin across her shoulder back together, which had been cut open during the car crash that killed her. “But fuck, he talked a lot. And that was a bit of a wet-blanket. I was so tempted to ask him: should I take notes?”

Arthur chuckled slightly, before dropping it when he looked at the woman’s face, her jaw was fastened shut with sutures and her eyes glued shut with plastic caps retaining the natural shape, but she still looked like a corpse that had been completely drained of blood. Arthur had planned to replace her blood with embalming fluid after he finished sewing her wounds back together.   

“I don’t know what it was about him, but there was something about him that caught me… But whatever, I don’t have plans to text him, and he hasn’t texted me, perhaps the adequate feelings are mutual.”  Arthur explained, “I don’t know… I don’t know what Francis could have said to him about me. He seemed far too excited and keen, he was also loud and talked too much—there’s only so much that a gorgeous face can do for someone.”

That gorgeous, model-like face… And those really pretty sky-blue eyes that glistened in the slightest of light from behind his thick black-rimmed glasses.

“Besides, I’m not looking for anyone—I already have all I need. Besides, I’ve seen what love can do: just look at your husband—forgive me, but he loves you so much and his pain is extremely visible, and I can tell already that he is not going to be ok for a long time… I’m sure that you already know that.”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed as he got back to sewing, threading the thick thread through the cold skin of the corpse, slowly putting her back together. Since her husband, or rather widower, is still picking a dress for his wife to wear to her funeral, Arthur has to completely cover his needlework with wax and thick cosmetics in anticipation for anything. It wasn’t a task that Arthur hadn’t done before, but it was a tedious one, especially since her skin pigmentation was going to rely heavily on the makeup—Arthur cannot risk letting someone leave his embalming room with a noticeable patch of discoloured skin.  

“You and your husband married very young,” Arthur pointed out, “I can only imagine what he is going through right now. He looks like he hasn’t slept since the day you died—this has destroyed him. I have seen men break and lose control during these times, and I can only hope that he survives this. I have embalmed both members of a marriage before, because one died of cancer and the other couldn’t take the pain. I don’t want to do that again…”

“Arthur,” Gilbert announced as he entered the embalming room, surprising Arthur, who immediately returned to his work before Gilbert spotted him, thankfully he hadn’t heard Arthur speaking. “The widower of Mrs. Lewis is here, he wants to speak to you.”

Arthur sighed as he backed away from the corpse, removing his gloves, surgical mask and gown, revealing the fitted black suit he wore underneath—he had been expecting Mr. Lewis, as he has yet to decide what outfit he wants his deceased wife to wear to her funeral, perhaps he has finally made a choice.

Arthur took a deep breath as he and Gilbert made their way down the bright hallway, passing the windows that looked out to a large and beautiful garden, where the sun had risen over the horizon.

“He’s distraught, so be prepared to console him, I’ve escorted him into your office,” Gilbert admitted, choking after he spoke. Arthur immediately knew why, Mr and Mrs Lewis were a young couple, only married for two wonderful years before a drunk driver took Mrs Lewis’ life, and scarred Mr Lewis for the rest of his.

“Are you ok?” Arthur asked.

“I’m fine,” Gilbert replied, “It’s just… It’s always upsetting when we aren’t filled with elderly. So many young people recently…”

Arthur sighed, but he couldn’t help but agree, there have been a large amount of people under fifty who have been brought into the funeral home over the past week. It was worrisome, but at the same time – Work is work, and Arthur had a job to do, and he was not going to let anything get in the way of that. He saw it as providing a service to the community, the community of the living, and the dead.   

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Arthur admitted, “Solider on.”

“Right,” Gilbert replied, “Be careful with that morbid attitude, Mr Lewis would not respond well to that… God… Just looking at him makes me want to cry.”

Arthur couldn’t help but wonder why on earth a guy as sensitive as Gilbert became a funeral director. He empathised too much, he became too emotionally involved and Arthur has seen it destroy him time and time again. Whereas Arthur knew that in order to do his job as long as he could and to the best of his ability, he had to be emotionally kept under lock and key— and constantly under strict control. But then that also meant that Arthur sometimes forgot how to switch out of this mode.

Finally, Gilbert opened the door to Arthur’s office, and closed the door behind him.

Arthur’s office was small, decorated with the same red carpet and while wallpaper as the rest of the funeral home. Arthur’s dark wooden desk and computer sat in the back centre of the room, right in front of a wall where a painting of the garden behind the funeral home hung on the space of wall between two tall windows that overlooked the gardens, and the graveyard.

The young man was sitting in the guest chair on the other side of Arthur’s desk, his eyes had become sunken and dark, and he constantly looked like he was on the verge of tears. He hadn’t changed since Arthur met him at the first consultation a few days ago. Immediately, he rose from his chair to shake Arthur’s hand.

“How are you going?” Arthur asked as he shook Mr Lewis’ trembling hand.

Arthur’s question was answered when he looked into the young mans eyes, and saw the pain… It was a look that Arthur had grown used to—the pain of grief and love being lost. In all it’s glory, Arthur had seen so many people suffer from their grief, some barely making it out alive.

Even when he was out of the funeral home, Arthur could still feel the butterfly effect of grief in it’s most powerful form.

“I’m surviving…” Mr Lewis answered, even though Arthur could see that he was, barely. Arthur then noticed, in Mr Lewis’ free hand, he was holding a long black dress. And all Arthur could do was pray that it wasn’t strapless. “How is she…?” The man’s voice told Arthur how utterly broken he was, like he was about to break into tears all over again. Death had completely torn the young man apart.

“She’s going fine,” Arthur replied, not sure of how he should respond. He was never fantastic at the customer service aspect of the job. “There’s been no complications, the… the wounds are being covered nicely.”

“Oh fuck…” Mr Lewis choked, finally losing control over his tears, and before Arthur knew it, the taller man had taken Arthur into his arms, where he immediately started sobbing into Arthur’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur whispered, “I’m really sorry.”

“I just can’t believe she’s gone,” Mr Lewis sobbed, his hot breath against Arthur’s neck, “I still wake up in the middle of the night, and I think she’s there, until I go to hold her and… and... and then I remember seeing her… And I…”

“Shhhhhh,” Arthur cooed, trying his best to console the man by returning his hug, and running a delicate hand down the mans’ shoulder—internally vowing to not rest until Mrs Lewis looks as good as the day she was alive.

No amount of training or experience in consoling people experiencing grief has ever given Arthur the preparation to deal with someone who has been broken. Who is? Every situation is so different, and everyone handles it differently…  

“I don’t know what to fucking do, I don’t know where to go or how I’m going to keep going—everyone keeps saying that everything is going to be fine, but no—no it’s not. I’m not going to be ok, Sally was my first crush, my first love, my first everything—and now she’s gone,” Mr Lewis continued to sob, holding on tightly to Arthur. “I’m so sorry for this, I’m so sorry, but I just can’t take it anymore!”

“No, take all the time you need, I understand that this is an awful time for you,” Arthur explained “I wish I had the perfect works to make it ok for you. Being who you are, you will be strong, you will be brave and smile and hide a lot of your hurt inside because, well, it’s what you think that people are expecting.”

“Mm…”

“Go ahead, be sad, scream and scream against God, ask him why, be miserable for a while and even be mad at him, he can take it. And don’t let anyone else’s expectations about how you should be acting or reacting or feeling or thinking have anything to do with the reality of what is going on inside of you.”

“I…. I just miss her…”

“Love isn’t ended by death,” Arthur whispered, “We do not get over grief, but it does not remain the same. It is about holding on while letting go. But don’t hesitate to reach out when it becomes too much.”

Arthur could not stress that enough, he has seen so many people enter his funeral home, who he could instantly tell was struggling with the loss of their loved one, and was going to continue struggling unless they reached out for help. Grieving people were vulnerable in Arthur’s eyes, they needed to be looked after properly so they can properly heal, and Arthur would never hesitate to tell someone to not be afraid to reach out for help when the pain becomes too much to bare.

“Thank you, I… I brought her dress… It was one of her favourites…” Mr Lewis explained, hesitantly passing the piecing of black clothing from his hand into Arthur’s, as the man continued to rest his head on Arthur’s shoulder. “I can’t stop thinking about it… One moment we were crossing the road together, I was looking at her, smiling at her, holding her hand, and then I look over and I see the truck… and… If only I kept looking at her face…”

“Do you remember it well?”

“Yes… Well…” Mr Lewis whispered, “Hold on tight to those you love, or God will take them away…”

This statement made Arthur’s eyes widen, never before had a client given Arthur advice like this… It was somewhat concerning, as well as ringing true to Arthur’s logic. He had seen so much grief over the past few years, he knew that his heart was a dangerous thing to play with, because anything can break it into pieces…

-----

As soon as Alfred entered the large recording booth, he put his Starbucks iced Americano on the small table beside his microphone and headset. He looked passed the wall made of glass, seeing the sound director, who was sitting at the sound desk—reading the script. It didn’t really seem to matter that Alfred was ten minutes late, he needed his coffee.

“Character polls are out, looks like little Johnny boy is getting more and more popular with the fans, especially since the end of the last season,” Alfred’s co-worker pointed out as he was standing by his own microphone, and was reading through the script, which had been set up on readers underneath the microphone. “I think soon he’s gonna be the fan favourite, especially with the upcoming development.”

Alfred burst into laughter as he placed the bulky headset on his head, careful to not ruin his hair, “Dude, there’s no way you’re the favourite, the kids love Hero!”

“Hero’s a huge bitch, and you know it,” Alfred’s co-star chuckled as the American continued to laugh, “Boy, you’re smitten with you’re on character, you can’t tell that he’s an asshole!”

“Hoo! Someone’s bitter!” Alfred cooed.

“Bitter?!” The co-star asked, still joking around with Alfred, “Oh you jerk!”

“Oh yeah, I’m the fucking worst!” Alfred chuckled, winking at his co-star, “Hero’s the big brother, what big brother doesn’t like to be a big pain in the ass!?”

“Oooh, you don’t have a clue, you’re just an only child,” The co-start pointed out.

“Alright you two, quit joking around,” The director explained as he took his seat by the sound editor, who was already sitting at the sound desk, which stood right outside the recording room where Alfred and his co-star were already standing in front of their microphones.

This was just a routine reading, Alfred and his co-star were going to rehearse their lines together, just to get a feel for the script, memorise lines and see how well it works when spoken out loud. Alfred loved these moments, when he could speak his lines and he wasn’t confined into the tiny recording booth, and he had another person to act with. He could move around and express himself with his movements as well as his arms, besides, he looked far more dedicated when acting next to someone else.

This process always made Alfred feel special, these sessions were only for the characters whose voices are used most in the episode, and Alfred has been in nearly every single one. It was his time to show off his prowess and vocal skills.

And so, he did, with the script on a stand in front of him, Alfred read through the conversations with his co-star, he even added some of his own lines – knowing that they would probably be added to the script.

Alfred loved episodes like this, episodes that focused on Hero, his brother and their Russian robot cat named Koshka, who are trying to find their father, who was kidnapped by the aliens who occasionally try to invade earth, starting with the small city that the brothers lived in while trying to maintain his life as a popular boy at school! It was a wild show, and Alfred loved it with every ounce of his being – he was Hero, he loved his character like a child.

This episode was about the brothers following a clue that they found in the video their father left them, which led them to the forest on the outskirts of the town—where they find a cave, that has been hiding a spaceship where aliens have been watching the city, and answers questions set up in the previous few episodes! It was a big one, it was emotional, it had action and answered questions! Alfred loved it! Alfred was happy with this one!

“DAD!! DAD!! COME BACK! PLEASE!! GIVE HIM BACK TO US!! PLEASE!” Alfred’s co-star cried in his child-like voice, sounding like he genuinely was about to burst into tears, like his young character really was stumbling in the dust, chasing after the ship that was flying away, back to the mothership, which was now hovering just above the city. But the young boy looked up and saw a figure standing in the hole of the mothership, looking down at the world below, a figure with the same wild hair shape as the brothers beloved father.

“Johnny!! Look at me, Johnny!” Alfred recited, putting on a firm voice that he only ever reserved for serious moments. He imagined his character falling to his brother’s side, taking him into his arms, happy to see him alive, even though both brothers were covered in cuts and bruises.

“I—I—” Alfred’s co-star gasped, his chest raising and falling as he breathed rapidly, leaning in closer to the microphone, “I saw Dad!! Dad is up there! In the Mothership!! He’s up there!! I saw him!! He’s up there!!!”

“Don’t worry, we’re gonna get him back—we’re gonna find a way up there and get him back!!” Alfred explained, “They can’t stop us, they can’t hold us back forever! They’re waiting for us to give up and stop trying—but we will never stop trying, we will never leave them alone! We are going to get him back! I promise!”

And as Alfred read the remaining lines of the script, Alfred imagined Hero and his brother sitting together in the dust, struggling to come to terms with what had just happened, and what this meant for their future. Then the camera pans out, with the brothers still remaining in the focus of the shot, revealing the destruction of the forest around them.

“Aaaaaaand, cut, that’s a rap!” The director called, “You two did well. Alfred, good job on the climactic scene, nice to see you practice the crying voice.”

 “Thanks,” Alfred replied proudly, smiling and tilting his head, “I don’t think we’re gonna have much trouble memorising this thing. The writers did a good one today.”

“Why, cause Hero looks good?” Alfred’s co-star asked.

“Yup!” Alfred chuckled, “This is gonna be a good episode, the reactions gonna be fucking great. The kids are gonna love this, Koshka was so damn funny in this one—I fucking love how these guys have a cat that speaks in a deep Russian voice.”

“It is funny, yeah,” The co-star agreed, “And how it’s all improv, so no one other than Russians have a clue what he’s saying.”

“Haha!” Alfred laughed, “I would love to know what that cat says, I have a Russian friend, so maybe I’ll have him translate for me sometime.”

At this, Alfred’s co-stars face paled slightly, and he gritted his teeth a little as he spoke, “Maybe don’t, keep it as a secret.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” Alfred asked, but even when his co-star sighed, Alfred kept on smiling like a child.

But still, Alfred couldn’t help but wonder whether the producers knew what the Russian cat was saying, they would, they wouldn’t let the voice actor get away with saying whatever he wanted, right?

But those thoughts quickly became less concerning to Alfred, especially when the sound director told Alfred how well he did. Beaming, Alfred agreed with everything they said, he was getting better and better with every episode! No wonder his character was the favourite, and he had every right to gloat about it.

With that huge boost to his ego, Alfred left the studio with a bounce in his step, and his confidence oozed out of his smile, he felt like the hero, like the captain of the team—the star player. He was on an absolute high as he spoke with the producers, who had approved of the initial recording, and arranged for Alfred to properly perform his recordings the very next day, he just needed to have the entire script memorised. That was no problem for Alfred, and he knew it.

However, whenever Alfred looked at his phone to check his messages, he couldn’t help but sigh—he still hadn’t heard anything from that British guy he met that weekend…

It was a shame, Francis really spoke highly of Arthur, to the point where Alfred was even excited to meet him… And it wouldn’t be a lie for Alfred to admit that he really liked what he saw, everything from the Englishman’s pretty face and accent, to the way his ass looked when he walked away, even the guys soft gothic-vibe intrigued Alfred. Alfred wouldn’t have minded taking him out at all, because he left the American salivating and painfully curious…

But still, Alfred was going to wait to hear from him, he was not going to play keen—not for anyone, no matter how thirsty they made him feel. Besides, even if Arthur choses to never message him, it’s not like Alfred would be hung up on it, he can easily get a date with someone else.

Whatever. It’s Arthur’s loss, Alfred told himself.

 

Chapter Text

“I wonder… I always wonder whether dying is as simple as switching off a light, or whether it’s a process, like switching everything off systematically…” Arthur murmured to himself, sighing as he stood over his latest client, counting the gunshots that littered the mans chest. “Did you know what had happened to you, or did it end too fast for you to react?”

Arthur could imagine it, dying in the line of sprayed gunfire, an innocent bystander and witness to a shameful crime—he didn’t deserve to die. He shouldn’t be lying on Arthur’s table, half covered by a white cloth with dried and mutilated bullet wounds in his chest. It was an injustice, it was wrong—but it was a wrong that Arthur had to deal with constantly, it was the reality that the life of someone he loves can be stolen away by someone else’s bad decision… So many deaths happen because of someone else’s bad decision, and it’s never fair… All it does is leave those who loved them in pain, and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it.

“You shouldn’t be here…” Arthur muttered, his voice was unsteady as he took in a sharp breath, “I am so sorry that this has happened to you. This was not meant to be your time. But fate has brought us here today, and I have a job to do. I swear, I will do the best that I can to remove your wounds, and give you back to your family looking as good as new for one last meeting.”

Arthur looked at the man’s chart, seeing that the people in autopsy identified four gunshots, and Arthur accounted for all of them. But since the man’s family had already provided the suit, Arthur was confident that he wouldn’t need to perform any cosmetic work to the ugly wounds.

“It’s such a shame that we have so many young people dying…” Arthur sighed, after reading the mans age, which was also noted on the chart. “Too many young people, you’re barely older than me….”

With this, Arthur sighed as he started to circle around the corpse, double checking for any other wounds, or any other fixes he’d have to carry out, “And such a violent death too…”

The gunshot holes were scattered around the chest, with all blood in the holes were completely dried up and dark, with deep purple bruising formed around the holes, which were made worse by the surgeons who had to pick out the bullets. The corpse had already started to become discoloured, and the man was barely off the autopsy table.

The man died during a robbery, and the shooter was already arrested and awaiting court, so there was no need for the corpse to remain above the ground. And so, as soon as the bullets were removed and the body was identified, the corpse was handed over to Arthur. Arthur met with his family, who were still barely grasping the reality of what happened… So much love had been crushed by this death, it was fast and so shocking, no one really was prepared to event think about this death. They barely knew what he wanted for his funeral. So much had to be organised and no one knew what to do.

Once again, Arthur found himself standing before a family in tears, with his own heart breaking inside. It only cemented further his ideology of what death does to people, and how grief can turn a formally strong person into fragments of their former self.

Arthur’s eyes flickered as he looked to the corpse, unsettled by the look in the mans eyes. Instantly, Arthur decided that he was going to take care of the corpses eyes immediately—looking into the eyes of the dead was one of the few things that made Arthur uncomfortable. Even by that point, the man’s eyes had become clouded and blue. He relied on the corpses to fulfil a need to talk, a need to vent—but looking into their eyes was too much for Arthur to deal with—he did not want to be the last person to look into someone’s eyes.

So quickly, Arthur slide plastic caps over the man’s cloudy eyeballs, and glued the lids shut.

“No offence,” Arthur murmured, “I just shouldn’t be the last one to stare into your eyes. I am doing you a service, I didn’t know you, please don’t take it personally.”

Even though there was no way for the corpse to reply to him, Arthur found it calming to speak, to say all that he knew that he wouldn’t say out loud—he didn’t speak to enough people anyway.

Arthur was about to begin suturing the corpses mouth shut, but then he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, at first Arthur elected to ignore it, even after the phone vibrated again as a secondary reminder. But then, it happened again, and Arthur knew that it wasn’t going to stop until he answered, especially because he had an idea of who could be messaging him. Sighing, Arthur removed his gloves and checked his phone, and as he thought: Francis.

First Francis sent: Do you want to do dinner tonight? I have the night off and I know you’re not doing anything.

And then his second message: I’m right aren’t I?

“Goddammit, Francis,” Arthur grumbled. The Frenchman was right, Arthur had no plans, and couldn’t think of a good enough reason to decline that would satisfy him. Francis never gave up on him, if Arthur postponed a meeting with him, Francis would make it his mission to make sure that Arthur made it happen. He was relentless.

Why the hell does he do that?

But then, Arthur looked to the corpse, and quickly the answer came, like came the answers to questions that bothered him, once again the corpses seemed to work. They helped him find the answers when he couldn’t figure it out himself, or he was too anxious to ask someone who breathed. “He cares…”

And so, Arthur replied: Shut it, frog. What do you have in mind?

----

“Oh God, Arthur. Can you try to not look like a mortician?” Francis asked as he watched the Englishman sit down on the seat across from the small dinner table that the two shared, where two wine glasses and a bottle of wine sat. Arthur couldn’t deny Francis’ point, Arthur did practically live only in black clothing, it was the only colour that he felt worked for him, besides, he could wear everything he owned to work. “You always look like you’re ready to go to a funeral.”

Even though Arthur knew Francis was right, he didn’t want to give the Frenchman the benefit, and so Arthur scoffed as he crossed his arms and legs, fully proud of the fact that he showed up to their dinner outing dressed completely in black. “Yeah, yours. Fuck off, will you? I just sat down, and I’m not in the mood.”

“Oh really, what’s going on?” Francis asked, intrigued as he poured Arthur a glass of wine.

“A corpse today came in with gunshot wounds, it’s so unfair, you know…?” Arthur began, “All he did was attend a liquor store when an asshole with a gun tried to commit a robbery, and killed him as he rang the police. Four bullets to the chest, one practically cutting through his heart. It wasn’t fair, he shouldn’t have been on my table, he didn’t deserve that…”

“That…” Francis muttered, actually being taken aback by Arthur’s admission, “That is really… sad…”

“He was young too, barely thirty…” Arthur murmured, “Then last week, we had the suicide of a young man and then a car accident that stole a young wife in front of her husband, all of these people were so young… All of them come to me and I see what is left behind… Every day, I see more and more people get destroyed by loss.” Arthur’s face started to tense and his grip tightened on his shoulders, he even began to look around the room, looking at the faces of the innocent and young restaurant goers – will they all die soon? Will they all end up on Arthur’s table? What would they all look like dead? What would kill them?

Now these thoughts were starting to make Arthur think… First his friends at Francis’ party, and now strangers…  He started to imagine what the people around him would look like as corpses on his embalming table…

“Oh…”

The look on Francis’ face brought Arthur’s thoughts to silence, he could see what Francis was doing—he was worrying. “It’s just been a rough few weeks.”

Francis wouldn’t get it, he’s a doctor with an outstanding record, he doesn’t know death like Arthur does. Francis fights off death, but Arthur takes care of what’s left behind when it comes...

“I’ll say… Arthur, are you ok?” Francis asked.

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“What upcoming plans do you have?” Francis asked, his tone of voice changing in a way that made Arthur freeze. Francis’ icy blue eyes stared right through Arthur’s façade, and instantly, he knew what Arthur’s answer was.

“Not too much…” Arthur admitted, trying to make light of his reality, he had nothing, nothing but his work.

“Exactly. Every time I meet you, nothing has changed.” Francis explained, “I’m getting worried about you, you’ll shut yourself out and all you’ll have are those corpses. I’m saying this as your friend. I’ve watched you shut people out, and I’ve noticed you becoming more and more… quiet. Even with Alfred, when you met him at my party, you barely spoke.”

“But he didn’t shut up.”

“And you let him get away with that,” Francis pointed out, “Two years ago, you wouldn’t have put up with that. Have you heard from him, by the way?”

“No.”

“Have you reached out to him?” Francis asked.

“No.”

“Well.” Francis sighed, “Why don’t you give him another go, what did you think of him?”

“He was pretty, I’ll give him that…” Arthur muttered, his lips rimming the glass of red wine, inhaling the pungent scent. “Just leave it…”

“But just think about it, you’re not changing at all and I’m worried about you being alone, and with all of the dark stuff you see every day and how you’re coping with it, I think you need to look at branching yourself out a little more. When I met Alfred, I instantly saw that he was a ray of sunshine, I think he can do you some good. Just tell him to shut up next time.” But then, Arthur frowned as he watched Francis chuckle, “What happened to the Arthur I met in med-school? The one who attended the mortuary department, who was loud, rude and unapologetic about it?”

That was the old Arthur, the one who hadn’t seen the true side of death. Arthur attended a medical school in France for a year, studying in the mortuary department, which was where he met Francis. It turned out that Gilbert studied there for some time as well, before Arthur came to the school, and had met Francis as well. All three of them were connected without even realising it, until they all settled in America seven years later.

“He grew up and got a job,” Arthur grumbled. “I know what you’re saying, and I appreciate the concern.”

“If you appreciate it, you will act on it, right?” Francis asked.

“Don’t push it.”

“It’s been a while since you got laid too.”

“Oh fucking—”

-----

Game night, it was the monthly Saturday night that Alfred looked forward to, almost as much as he looked forward to Saturdays where episodes of Alfred’s showed aired. It was game night, Hockey night, the night where Alfred and Matthew let their American and Canadian rivalry flare. It was a sport they played in high school, and one of the things that drew them closer as friends, so of course whenever there is a USA vs CANADA match, the young men get together with beer and buffalo wings.

Of course, when Matthew answered the door to his apartment, he was wearing that cheesy Maple Leaf knitted sweater, it reeked of Canadian. But Alfred couldn’t talk, he purposely worked his outfit for his loyal colours with a red sweater, white buttoned up shit and blue pants—he was just as weak to patriotism as Matthew, he just did it in style.

“You big fucking nerd,” Alfred gasped as Matthew let him in, while wearing a huge grin, like he was feeding on Alfred’s reaction.

“You know you love this sweater!” Matthew replied, before tossing Alfred a can of beer, which he caught easily. “Game starts in ten, the wings are cooling off in the kitchen.”

“Sweeeeet~!” Alfred cooed loudly, smelling the mouth-watering scent of those buffalo wings from Matthew’s kitchen bench, which sat a few feet behind the couch where the friends were going to be watching the game. “Dude, I did the best script reading today, I kicked absolute ass, I’m going in tomorrow afternoon to do the recording!”

“Oh cool!” Matthew replied.

“Would you wanna watch the episode, it’s a reeeally good one.”

“Don’t think so,” Matthew replied, “It’s a kids-show Al, I can barely sit through one episode, I watched one like I promised.”

“Come ooooon…” Alfred whined, wrapping his arms over Matthews’ shoulders as the Canadian started to move the chicken wings from the rack and into a large bowl. “It’s gonna be so good! Please, please, please watch itttt!”

“Al, I have missed four seasons of it—get off me,” Matthew protested as he weakly shrugged himself out of Alfred’s hold, which was enough to shrug off Alfred, who laughed at Matthew’s protesting as the Canadian walked away with the bowl of buffalo wings. Matthew surely knew that Alfred absolutely loved to nag his best friend, his reactions were just too funny.

Alfred fell on the couch next to Matthew as the game started, and slowly began to drink more of his beer.

“Have you heard anything from that Arthur guy?” Matthew asked.

“No,” Alfred replied.

“Oh wow, wonder why,” Matthew sarcastically exclaimed.

“What!?” Alfred asked.

“You wouldn’t let the poor guy speak, you spent half the night talking about your experience in his country,” Matthew explained, “Didn’t you see me try to get your attention? You can’t call me your wingman if you can’t let me wing, dammit! I saw Arthur try to get into the conversation sometimes, he’d get a few words in, and then you’d start rambling on about something new. Oh my God.”

“He was pretty hot though…”

“Oh God, you’re the gay Joey Triviani,” Matthew gasped, before snapping when Alfred laughed, “That’s not a good thing, man.”

“Hey, why the hell are you on my case?” Alfred asked, leaning away from Matthew as he stared at him with a confused glare, Matthew hadn’t snapped like that at him for a long time.

“Remember when I told you I saw your ex a while ago…?” Matthew asked.

“Yeah…”

“He said some things about you… Things that I didn’t really want to know, and things I’m sure that you wouldn’t like to hear.” Matthew began, sighing as he crossed his arms over his chest and sunk deeper into the old brown couch. Seeing Matthew like this made Alfred care less and less about the game, which was in its starting minute now, the look in Matthew’s eyes chilled Alfred to the bone, and made him feel like a child about to be scolded. “Why did you two break up?”

“Matt, I’m not even sure of who the guy is, remember?”

“That just makes this even more concerning. You hurt this guy, really fucking bad…” Matthew explained, and Alfred’s heart sunk further into his chest, as the list of possible exes that Matthew could be talking about suddenly got a lot smaller. “You didn’t even say anything to me, you just said to me ‘yeeeah, it wasn’t working,’ like it was no big deal, like you didn’t crush this guy’s heart into pieces.”

“Come on, he can’t still be bitt—”

“He called you poison, he may not be hurting over it anymore, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t harbour any anger towards you, his pain has become unanswered anger that has festered into this, into him approaching me and spilling all your dirt!” Matthew snapped. The anger in Matthew’s voice actually stunned Alfred somewhat, but Alfred quickly shook it off, not wanting to lose this debate. Sure, he’s made mistakes in past relationships, but it doesn’t mean that he deserves to be spoken to like that!  

“I’m not that bad now, come on,” Alfred replied.

“You’re not taking this seriously, when was the last time you took any relationship seriously?!” Matthew snapped, “Don’t play games with people, Al, or you’ll be the one getting hurt someday.”

It was those stern words from Matthew, a side of Canadian which was rarely seen, that made Alfred want to disappear. Matthew was one of the few people that Alfred never wanted to disappoint, Matthew’s opinion meant the world to him, because he was there for Alfred when no one else was when he went through the worst years of his life.

“I’m saying this because I care about you, you are better than this,” Matthew explained, “I’m just thinking… What else does your behaviour say about you? Are you still ea—”

“Just, leave it, ok? I know I was wrong,” Alfred admitted, “Please… I don’t want to have to go through all that shit again. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want you to be mad…”

“Just… Start taking relationships more seriously… Please… You worry me, a lot. I know you…” Matthew replied, finally returning to his softer side, the side that Alfred was more familiar with. But while the Canadian’s voice was soft, his eyes were still wide, he was taking this request seriously – and it was a look that Alfred couldn’t ignore. 

And so, Alfred returned Matthews glare, fully accepting responsibility, for both his past and Matthews request. He can do anything he puts his mind to, if anything—this will prove that he is an even better man than before!

-----

Even twenty minutes after Alfred and Matthew started to focus on the game, where the pair had already missed the first goal (which went to Canada), the mood was still off. This match wasn’t the same anymore, the mood had been somewhat soured, Alfred could only liken it to the feeling of accidently stepping into water when wearing a favourite sock, one part was still nice, friendly and warm, whereas the other part was dampened.

But it wasn’t Alfred’s fault.

It wasn’t Alfred’s fault that he has bitter exes, and it wasn’t Alfred’s fault that this one chose to run his mouth to Matthew! Alfred was more pissed than anything, that this guy chose to try and ruin Alfred and Matthews historic friendship. There’s no way Matt would abandon Alfred over shit his ex said, they’ve been friends long enough to withstand some unflattering details. Alfred knew Matthews secrets, now it just so happened that Matthew knew one more of Alfred’s… He just hoped that it would stay that way.

Alfred was too nervous to even touch any of the buffalo wings, and those were one of his favourites. He felt like he couldn’t move, his heart was racing, despite the fact that his body had become totally still. Slowly, Alfred started to feel slower, and worse. He started to feel as though he was drifting away, further and further away from the world around him. He wanted to look to Matthew for help… But… Was it worth facing those disappointed eyes again?

Right when Alfred and Matthew started getting into the game, and things started to feel more normal, Alfred felt a vibration from his back pocket, which instantly stole Alfred’s attention. He quickly answered the vibration and checked his phone, before frowning.

“Well would you look at that?” Alfred asked, his eyes widening as he read the received message, and instantly, the positive attention made Alfred’s heart race from the rush.

“What is it?” Matthew asked.

“It’s Arthur,” Alfred admitted, as a wide smile curved across his lips, and a familiar spark was set alight within him as he showed Matthew his phone, “He’s texted me.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t know if this is a symptom of me getting too engrossed into my work, or if I’m becoming a serial killer,” Arthur admitted, before chuckling over the fact that he was holding a scalpel, in which the blade was stained with clotted blood, that had been transferred when Arthur made the incision into the corpses stomach. “I just… I keep seeing people around me, and wondering what they would look like in your position, my dear…”

With this, Arthur leaned over the corpse that he was working on, this was a woman, barely in her fifties, cause of death: cancer. Granted, it did not match with the bloody and young deaths that Arthur had been dealing with recently, but it was a morbid change that Arthur was willing to welcome.

“I even could imagine my friends lying before me like you today. And I’d imagine that you’d like as much as I that it doesn’t happen,” Arthur explained as he pried apart the wound he created with the scalpel, before using tools to make sure that the small wound stayed open long enough for Arthur to take the nozzle of a vacuum-like machine, designed to empty the stomach and bowel contents of the corpse. But his mind was somewhere else, he was reimagining everything… Seeing how people would look when lying on Arthur’s embalming table.  

Even though this somewhat worried him, speaking to the corpse about it made him feel better.

“It’s not that bad,” Arthur decided as he stuck the nozzle into the wound, “It’s just my imagination running wild, right? I’m just scaring myself.” 

And so, Arthur went to work, telling himself that everything was going to be fine. He had to be sane, especially for tonight, where he was going to be meeting Alfred for dinner. He still resented the fact that he let Francis pressure him into asking Alfred out, even if it wasn’t a specified date—Arthur felt as though he was going on one. He had the butterflies in his stomach, the sweat on his palms and the anxiety in his heart. But then, Arthur shook those feelings away, reminding himself that he only sent that text to Alfred in order to shut up Francis—Arthur honestly didn’t think that Alfred would be interested!

The machine jolted somewhat, as something thicker pushed itself through the nozzle, surprising Arthur back into reality, “Sorry, I’m a bit distracted. I’m meeting someone tonight… I… I’m a bit nervous actually.”

Just saying it out loud, even to someone who couldn’t reply, made Arthur feel better about it, “I just hope my evening isn’t spent sitting there listening to this guy talk all night. I’m not going to let him get away with that again… Honestly, I just did it to shut Francis up…”

Arthur found himself staring at the corpse as he pondered over whether he really meant that… Once again, the corpse gave him some sort of clarity, the clarity that talking to others didn’t really provide.

“Perhaps I am a little glad that he said yes…” Arthur admitted coyly, “Perhaps a little push was what I needed to reach out… This could be my shot to make a better impression, you and I both know that I am not the silent type. I’ll have that guy eating out of the palm of my hand, ha-ha~”

Arthur grunted as the vacuum started to make empty noise, telling Arthur that the stomach and bowels were completely empty, which was confirmed when Arthur angled the nozzle differently. Turning off the machine, Arthur muttered, “I wonder how creeped out he’ll be when he learns what I do as a living. Let’s pray that he doesn’t ask while he’s eating.”

Arthur was used to receiving that type of reaction, apparently, he doesn’t describe his work ‘delicately’ enough for some people’s tastes. Sometimes he does tend to vent and babble when it comes to his work, especially when someone asks him a question with an intriguing answer. He gets too into his work for his own good, and it tends to drive some men away... They just can’t handle what happens to people behind the doors of a funeral home, and just how much contact someone can have with a dead body, they all tend to link what Arthur was saying with their own deal relatives. Arthur understood why, but yet he didn’t change.

Arthur frowned as he looked to the corpse, as he finished stitching back together the small incision wound, “Should that be concerning?” 

Of course it is, of course it’s concerning, Arthur rationalised, rolling his eyes as he leaned against the embalming table. He then started to prepare the body to be filled with embalming fluid, which involved in setting up the veins with a machine, and pulling up his surgical mask, tightening it around his head. This combined with the high ventilation of the embalming room, Arthur should be well protected by the formaldehyde used in embalming fluid.

“I think there may be a fair few things about me that may be concerning, actually, now that I think about it…” Arthur mumbled as he set up the embalming fluid, “I wonder if Alfred is ready for this mess that is me, Hm? I’ll be sure to let you know tomorrow, madam.”

He found it funny, imagining already the different ways that Alfred’s face could change when he admits that he works for the dead. Usually their faces change dramatically within the span of a single second, they go from looking completely fine, and for half a second, they look like a deer in headlights, confronted. Then they either become briefly fascinated, or disturbed; whom are usually the most sensitive to death.

And so, with the machine running, and pumping embalming fluid through the veins of the corpse, Arthur had some time to himself. It left him time to ponder over what he could do for the woman before him, in terms of hair and makeup. What would he need to do about the slight discolouration on her face, he also needs to make sure that the family is happy with any of the funeral arrangements. So far, Arthur had the dress that the family wanted her to wear, the hall in the funeral home has been booked for tomorrow afternoon, they’ve chosen the casket, and they have made it known that her wish was to be cremated. It was Arthur’s job to deliver on their wishes, and do all he could to make the experience of planning a funeral as smooth as possible.

Within the hour, the corpse was back in shape, filled with embalming fluid instead of blood. Now the woman laid for Arthur on the embalming table, her thin and wrinkly body prevalent with lupus rashes, which was common for the form of cancer that killed her. 

“Arthur…”  A quiet voice said, as the heavy door to Arthur’s embalming room opened, and Kiku looked in just far enough for Arthur to recognise him. It had been a few days since Arthur had seen Kiku, not since he was finished with his experience in the crematory section of the funeral home and cemetery. Perhaps he’s back to embalming.

“Oh, hello Kiku, what’s going on?” Arthur asked, pulling down his surgical mask far enough for him to speak loud enough for Kiku to hear. After this, Kiku stepped into the embalming room.  

“I… Gilbert and I have a three-hundred-and-forty-pound man in rigor mortis, we’re having trouble fixing it, and Gilbert asked me to get you, I don’t know what to do,” Kiku admitted, stuttering slightly and in slight shock. So, Kiku must be shadowing Gilbert, that makes sense, Gilbert is one of the main funeral directors, and the one in charge of his experience—besides, Gilbert seems to really like the young man. Arthur assumed that it must have been Gilbert’s evolving fatherly nature.    

“Oh.” Arthur murmured, somewhat stunned by the situation, and by the realisation of what it meant that he’d have to do to help fix it. “Right, give me a moment.”   

----

They agreed to meet at 7:30pm for dinner and drinks at one of the local restaurants, just dinner and some drinks, it doesn’t mean that this needs to evolve into something right away, Alfred told himself as he walked through the doors of the restaurant. The place wasn’t that fancy, some families were having dinner, some friends were getting bites and it wasn’t too busy. It seemed fairly comfortable and had a warm atmosphere, with the waiters carrying around particularly nice looking hearty hamburgers and fries, as well as stakes and pastas. All while this happened around a square shaped bar that stood on a platform in the middle of the restaurant.

Immediately, Alfred spotting him sitting at a small table by the window, reading the menu with dark, expressionless eyes, which only further added mystery to their deep green hue. Like the first time they met, Alfred felt that same physical attraction, but Alfred had to remind himself to control his mouth this time, and according to Matthew: he also needed to control his thirst.

“Hey!” Alfred cheered as he pulled out the chair across from Arthur’s and took a seat, catching the Englishman’s attention, rather abruptly as it seemed. “How’ve you been?”

It took Arthur a few moments to process what Alfred had actually said, and in those moments, Arthur’s thick eyebrows rose and his back stiffened, “I’ve been fine, how about you?” Like the night they met, Arthur was dressed completely in black, which further confirmed Alfred’s impression of him being ‘soft goth’, although, he seemed to be dressed rather formally, like he was about to attend a funeral.

But still, Alfred couldn’t deny that Arthur was looking like a hot piece of – “Yeah, I’ve been pretty good,” Alfred started, “Had a busy day—does anything on the menu look good?”

“They seem to have a fairly large burger selection…” Arthur pointed out, “You know, I’ve never actually been in this place?”

“Oh?” Alfred asked as he picked up the menu himself, “I don’t live in this area, so I haven’t been here either. What made you want to pick it?”

Momentarily, Arthur’s eyes widened, like he was surprised by something, “I don’t know, I just thought that I may as well try something new, but I did know that this was a burger place. Besides, you’re American, I thought you’d be into the décor, as well as the menu.”

So, did this place remind Arthur of Alfred? Arthur didn’t need to say it, Alfred could totally tell!!

But, Arthur wasn’t wrong, the décor was nice and worked to Alfred’s fun and American aesthetic, it was themed with red and white stripes along the walls, all of the furniture was either red or dark wood, American sports memorabilia on the wall and televisions above the bar broadcasting different sports channels. It was in Alfred’s taste—perhaps he should consider showing Matthew this place.

And the menu was nice too—even for Alfred, who didn’t choose to eat out very often. The menu did have a few dishes that he knew he was weak to. It was meals that he was weak to during his teenage years, years that made him cringe to even think about, so he focused all of his attention back to Arthur.

“You’re not wrong about any of that,” Alfred admitted, “I’m liking what’s on this menu…”

“Mm…” Arthur murmured.

“Have I told you what I do as a job yet?” Alfred asked, smiling at the Englishman as the waitress poured the pair two glasses of water.

“No, what do you do?” Arthur replied, finally resting his menu on the table, after gesturing to the waitress that they weren’t ready to order yet, and then all of his attention was finally on Alfred.

“Well, I voice act for a cartoon show, it’s gotten real popular, started up a few years ago,” Alfred explained, as he tried to figure out a way to explain the plot without spoiling every single surprise, “It’s called ‘Hero and Johnny,’ it’s about two brothers who got powers from their fathers science experiment gone wrong—but it went wrong because he was kidnapped by aliens during the experiment! So now Hero and Johnny have to go through high school, where Hero is the most popular senior in school—so he’s gotta maintain his perfect reputation, whereas Johnny is getting used to high school. And at the same time, they have to stop the aliens from destroying the city! They also have a robot cat living with them and their mom, which only speaks in Russian, I still don’t know what he says—I kinda love it!”

“Oh, that’s—”

“But yeah, the show has literally blown up with kids and preteen audiences, just last month we got approved for a third season!”

“I was going to say: that sounds really interesting, so what’s this character’s voice like?” Arthur asked, leaning forward slightly, so he and Alfred could speak closer, and block out the noises of the rest of the restaurant more easily. From this distance, Alfred could further analyse the deeply green colour of his eyes, and he could now notice the small spots of hazel closer to his iris, as well as some little freckles that spotted his pixie nose.

“He’s a high school senior, so his voice isn’t that too far away from my own. He’s just as loud as me though, hahaha,” Alfred explained, using his characters voice, becoming high from the satisfaction of seeing Arthur’s bold eyebrows raising in intrigue. Arthur was interested, this was exactly what Alfred craved, and so he was going to be willing to give.

“Haha! Doesn’t sound too different from how you normally sound though!” Arthur pointed out.

“I can do other voices,” Alfred pointed out.

“Oh my God, show me,” Arthur replied, his eyes widening in interest as he rested his head against the palm of his hand and rested his elbow against the table.

“Now, I love to do this thing where I take beloved characters and have them say some fucked-up-shit,” Alfred explained.

“Oh, this will be brilliant.”

Alfred purred using his throat like an overzealous cat while flashing Arthur a smile, and then he began to speak, “Hoo-Hoo-Hoo-Hoo, the wonderful thing about Tigger’s, is I don’t give a fuck!”

“Oh my God!!” Arthur gasped.

 “Fucking up bitches is what Tigger’s do best! Hoo-Hoo-Hoo-Hoo, I’ll bounce your ass!”

“I did not expect you to target Winnie the Pooh, oh my God!” Arthur wheezed, “That was my childhood!”

“My Mom loves Winnie the Pooh, so you can’t imagine how upset she was when I showed her that, now check this out—” And then, Alfred switched characters, “I am so Gay.”

“Not Kermit!!!” Arthur wheezed, his head falling into his hands as his shoulders jumped in laughter.

Then Alfred switched again, deciding to do a character who he knew that he could use to get away with butchering Arthur’s accent, “Heheheheeheee, what’s wrong Arthur? Don’t hide that pretty face from me~”

“Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!” Arthur groaned, wheezing over Alfred’s Stewie Griffin impression.

“Like, ZOINKS!” Alfred exclaimed.

“Oh my God, how many voices can you do?” Arthur asked.

“So many, so, so many,” Alfred replied, “I love it, it is so much fun—name someone and I’ll do it.”

Without hesitation, Arthur replied, “Elmo.”

“Hiiii everybody!” Alfred replied, imitating the beloved’s character as best as he could, “Let’s get fucked!”

“Oh, I am so regretting that!” Arthur laughed, leaning back in his seat as he tried to control his laughter.

“Do not get me started, I can do so many voices!” Alfred explained, “I love doing Eric Cartman, Winnie the Pooh, Chief Wiggum as well as other Simpsons characters, and oh my God, Shaggy and Scooby Doo are some of the favourites. I’ve even started practicing Donald Trump.” 

“Oh Lord, don’t you dare,” Arthur hissed, to which Alfred laughed.

“Hello, are you two ready to order yet, or do you need a few more minutes?” The waitress asked.

“I am, how about you?” Arthur asked.

Alfred had barely even looked at the menu, but he had spotted an old favourite dish, and so that’s what he chose, and so, Alfred and Arthur were left to their own devices again once the waitress left.

“So, tell me, what do you do?” Alfred asked, resting his chin on top of his joint hands while he rested his elbows on the table.

At this question, Arthur’s smile faltered only slightly, “I work in a funeral home.”

“Wait, what? What do you do?”

“I’m a Mortician,” Arthur answered, “I prepare people for their funerals and guide the families through the process.”

“So, you work with dead bodies?”

Now Arthur’s smile had now completely faded, and Alfred could tell that Arthur was anxious over how Alfred was going to react. But Alfred didn’t change his face, he was too into being dramatic to let Arthur out of his misery.

“Yes.” Arthur stated firmly, changing his posture into a straight and formal position, as though to tell himself that he was not anxious over how Alfred was reacting.

“Whoa… That,” Alfred started, before letting his childish smile show, he couldn’t hold himself back any longer, “That is so cool!!”

“O-Oh?!”

“Like, call me a bit morbid—but that stuff has always been fascinating to me, what’s it like?” Alfred asked, instantly becoming as excited as a child, and it seemed like Arthur could tell—he didn’t seem prepared for Alfred to react so enthusiastically.

“What do you mean, what is it like? I prepare bodies for funerals for a living,” Arthur explained, but despite the substance of what he was saying, his face had gone bright red. “Although, it is a satisfying job in some sick way—I return people to their grieving families in good condition, so everyone can say goodbye one last time.”

“Whoa… That’s actually pretty nice…” Alfred admitted.

“The process to prepare someone is long and uses a lot of tools, there’s a lot of procedures too, and everything also depends on how the person died,” Arthur explained. Alfred couldn’t help but notice how relaxed Arthur had become since he started talking, he was leaning back in his chair and holding his drink, like he was chatting with an old friend by a fire. “Every case is special to me, because I meet their families, I learn about what they liked, I see their photos and I am the last one to see them in their natural form, before they undergo embalming.”

“What exactly is embalming?” Alfred asked.

“Embalming is the process of using chemicals to preserve remains and delay decomposition, so the body can remain suitable for their funerals, for religious reasons or for medical and scientific purposes. I also use cosmetics on the body to make them more presentable, you know?” Arthur explained, “People are so afraid of what death does to a body, that we need to make them look like they’re asleep. Bodies don’t decompose so fast that they’re so unsightly after 72 hours, sure, there are changes, and it also depends on the location of the corpse—but they will be noticeably dead during the autolysis stage of decomp.”

While Alfred didn’t exactly understand the last part of what Arthur said, he was still so intrigued by what Arthur was saying. This was so unique and interesting to Alfred, that Arthur had even left Alfred to sit in silence and listen.

“Embalming is never really a requirement, but in more traditional funeral homes, like the one I work at, if someone wants the full funeral package of a viewing, makeup, a casket, a suit, the flowers, funeral homes do have a right to say that the body needs to be embalmed. It is not a legal requirement or a matter of safety,” Arthur explained, before thanking the waitress as she placed down the pair’s meals.

Arthur had ordered nice-looking grilled fish and fries meal, whereas Alfred ordered a burger with fries, and it was larger than Alfred expected, which slowly filled Alfred with dread. But, this is dinner with someone interesting and handsome, Alfred should at least pretend to be fucking normal—

“I’m sorry for rambling about this, it probably isn’t a topic for dinner, hm?” Arthur chuckled as he picked up the fork, whereas Alfred was struggling to figure out where to begin.

“Well, it’s really interesting, I’ve never met someone who’s worked with bodies before,” Alfred admitted, “It is so interesting! So, you just embalm bodies and prepare them?”

“Yes and a bit more, I am hired by a family as a funeral director, I meet them and they tell me about the person and what they wanted, I look over their written death-plan, if one was provided. I then help the family arrange the funeral in our funeral home, the body is then delivered into my embalming room, where I prepare them. I also take the families requests and make sure that they happen for the funeral, and I also arrange what happens to the body after, whether they are buried, placed in a mausoleum, or are cremated,” Arthur explained, “Our funeral home provides all of those options.”

“Do bodies smell?!” Alfred asked.

“Yes. How much they smell depends on how long they’ve been dead, where they’ve been and what was inside. But it’s manageable, we have good ventilation and the smell can be masked before the funeral, so it’s not bad for the family,” Arthur explained, before eating some of his fish.

This was funny to Alfred, they were discussing such a morbid topic like they were weekend plans. Granted, Alfred hardly had a filter, and it seemed like Arthur didn’t have one either.

“So, like, what happens if someone dies in an accident, and they don’t look right anymore?” Alfred asked.

“If the family wants a viewing, then we do our best to sew the person back together and do them up and hide any visible scars. Once we had to put a man back together after he died in a forklift accident which left him torn into pieces, it was horrendous,” Arthur explained, even chuckling as he dipped some of the fries into provided sauce.

“God, wow.” Alfred gasped, before eating a few of his fries, slowly, “That is really interesting, I’ve only been to two funerals—but I was a kid back then.”

“Mm,” Arthur murmured.

“So, why did you come to America?” Alfred asked, now completely hooked on Arthur and his story.

“Funnily enough, I came here to do an apprenticeship in a funeral home in Philadelphia for two years, then I worked back home for a few years, but then…” Arthur had paused for only a second, but it was long enough for Alfred to notice, Arthur was thinking about what to say next, “I just wanted to move, I wanted a change; you know? And someone who I knew happened to be one of the head directors at the funeral home I currently worked at, and he offered me a job. He had already seen my work and convinced the other directors to hire me, so I moved over four years ago.”  

It was interesting, and Alfred couldn’t help but sit in silence and listen to Arthur talk. It was the least that he could do considering how much he talked during Francis’ housewarming party. Alfred was honestly happy that Arthur wanted to see him again after that. Alfred started to ask Arthur more questions about his experience in America and what it was like compared to everything back home.

Alfred didn’t realise just how fast the time had gone, everything that Arthur said had Alfred interested. He had a fascinating career, handsome face, exotic accent and charming personality, he was a lot of things that Alfred liked. And by the end of the night, Alfred could feel the butterflies swarming in his stomach as he and Alfred walked down the street, towards where they had parked their cars.

It was a particularly dark night, and the tight street was lit by the cooling glow of the street lamps, very few people were walking down the same street as their pair, who walked together while bundled together in their warm coats.

Alfred still badly wanted to ask if this was a date, did Arthur ask him out on a date, or is this just two gay guys going to dinner together? Of course, Alfred wouldn’t mind if this was a date, it had gone well. Usually, Alfred would hesitate to state that it was a date, but that was with other guys, back before Matthew called him out on his antics. Alfred wouldn’t mind going on another one…

“So, this is me,” Arthur gestured, point to the black car that the pair were passing, “Thank you for tonight, I had a good time.”

“Me too,” Alfred replied, smiling as Arthur stepped into him for a short and friendly hug, where Alfred’s heart was racing far faster than Alfred liked. “So, perhaps we can do this again sometime?”

Arthur smiled as the lights to his car flashed, momentarily lighting up Arthur’s face, “I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

“I guess it went better than I thought it would…” Arthur admitted, while suturing the mouth of his latest client shut, forcing the thick suture needle behind the bottom row of teeth, sending it through and out to the bottom of the chin, he then sent the needle through that same hole, but made it so the needle came out in front of the bottom row of teeth. Then he was easily able to pull the thread so it pulled the mouth into a closed position, where he then sent the needle under the top-lip, bringing it back out through the left nostril, and then through the septum and out through the right nostril, where he then tied the string and tucked it in the nose.

“He definitely seemed to be on his best behaviour, maybe he realised that I barely got a word in during our first meeting,” Arthur explained as he lightly rubbed some moisturiser on the lips and eyelids to prevent them from drying out, which could be caused by the extensive amount of disinfectant Arthur used to clean the body before he started working. “He was… really sweet too…”

Arthur shook his head as he brought himself back to his task, sliding in eyecups over the deceased’s eyeballs, before gluing the lids shut. 

“And he still has that gorgeous face,” Arthur admitted, “I don’t know, if he wants to go out again I would say yes. The ball is in his park now, I’m not going to do the asking, as my father said ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’. I guess all I can do now is wait, if he is interested and if he wants me, he will reach out to me. If not then, oh well.”

But that thought made Arthur frown, Arthur hadn’t waited for a man to contact him in years, and it brought back so many memories—as well as a sense of dread. Arthur looked to the corpse and wondered what was going on inside of him, and whether it was something for him to worry about…

Arthur rationalised and calmed himself down, realising that he felt just like a teenage girl waiting to hear from her crush.

It was then that Arthur’s eyes widened, “Yes, a crush, that’s all it is,” Arthur sighed as he glanced at the corpses’ face, “I don’t need to worry, it’s just a little crush. I’ll be fine. I don’t need to worry.”   

People never die gracefully, they’re never left lying there all prim and straight with a peaceful expression, that’s only what people see on TV. When Arthur receives a real dead body, their clouded eyes are lopsided, their jaws are hanging wide open, sometimes even flies have managed to cultivate in a mouth before Arthur is given the corpse. Like the corpse that Arthur had received that morning, a 46-year-old woman who died of a stroke.

Arthur had met with her family a few days ago, and he was preparing her for tomorrow’s funeral, where then she will be buried in the cemetery behind the main building. This was one of the more straightforward cases, there were no issues, no one in the family was being especially hard to deal with, and they didn’t have any requests that were out of the ordinary for Arthur. However, he watched people in love suffer, he watched the family hold each other and cry in the background, and then go right back to pretending that everything was ok. However, that was normal for Arthur, he had become so used to seeing suffering and pain when love is lost.

It felt so normal, and now because of that, now all Arthur could think about was Alfred. He found himself thinking about the way that Alfred looked at him, and especially how his eyes lit up when Arthur spoke about his work – curiosity and wonder can really steal a man’s attention. Arthur wondered how long Alfred would be able to put up with Arthur’s lack of filter, or whether Arthur’s crush on him lasts. What if it doesn’t go away?

Arthur swallowed loudly as he walked over to the shelf, determined to being preparing the embalming fluid and the machine, not wanting to think about it anymore. He grabbed everything he needed and returned to the corpse and prepared for the embalming fluid to be run through the body; replacing the blood which had recently been drained out.  

But, it was still hurting Arthur, and as the butterflies in his stomach turned into anxiety, he found himself staring blankly at the corpses cold and emotionless face. “It will all be ok, right? I’m just worrying too much, I think too far ahead for my own good and it makes me anxious when the thoughts get unsettling. Yes, yes.”

By this point, Arthur was stuck in his imaginary conversation, and as always, the corpse helped him find his answer, “I will be fine if I just deal with things as they come, and it could be worth taking a small risk.”

And so, Arthur lifted the surgical mask over his mouth and nose as he got into his work and transitioned the embalming fluid into the corpses’ veins. He first did this by creating incisions in the veins and pushing through a small tube. He worked slowly and delicately, not wanting to have to start over, he was dedicated to his craft and was determined to make sure that every corpse on his table will be given the top treatment. He felt like he somewhat owed the corpses, because of how much non-conventional therapy they offered him. They made him feel less alone.

“Who knows, I could maybe even have some fun,” Arthur muttered as he taped off the entrance wound to keep the tube in place, and then turned on the machine, which buzzed as it began to pump in the embalming fluid.

-------

Alfred had to admit, his night with Arthur was pretty nice, albeit uneventful by Alfred’s standards, but still—he was a nice guy, pretty handsome, and oh God; he has a cool job! He was interesting, charming, had a hot accent and his laugh was so cute! Alfred could feel a crush start to develop, next time he sees Arthur, he wanted it to be a date. He was in and he was rearing to go…

But… Arthur seemed really mature… Even by the way that he stood, Arthur had an aura of maturity when he stood with his hands clasped together and his back straight. Arthur did have the element of maturity that Alfred found intriguing, but how far would a mature man be willing to go with a guy like Alfred?

But then again, it’s not like Alfred isn’t anything to be impressed by! He’s fit, has a good job, is great with kids and is pretty funny in his own opinion!! So what if he has a past, ha-ha, who doesn’t?!

Alfred’s attention was stolen from him by the over-powerful ring lights, which were finally properly set up by the camera crew. Alfred was sitting on a table next to his co-star, right in front of two bowls and a bunch of craft supplies. A small camera crew and the producer were standing behind the camera, obviously going through everything before they can finally start filming.

This wasn’t the first time that Alfred had been included on the Networks YouTube channel, which likes to show people all of the behind the scenes work that goes into everything, as well as post fun videos of the cast, like this one. Last time Alfred was on the channel, he was tasked to walk around the entire studio in a small tour of the area where his show is written, voiced and animated. It seemed to be a good idea too, it showed kids all of the hard work that goes into their favourite shows, and who knows: maybe Alfred inspired a few to look into the career area themselves. He liked to think about that, about perhaps meeting a kid someday who was so deeply impacted by the show, that would be a dream come true.

As soon as Alfred read the email for this video idea, it instantly smelled of a Buzzfeed rip-off—the video is going to be the stars of Hero and Johnny making slime while answering fan questions. It was going to be fun and easy—just what Alfred liked. Plus, he’s always wanted to play with slime.

“Alright guys, this is ‘The Cast of Hero and Johnny play with slime and answer questions,’ are you two ready to go? You got yourselves sorted out with the intro?” The producer asked, putting his thumb up as Alfred and the co-star confirmed. “Starting in three, two, one…”  

“Hello everyone!” Alfred cheered, instantly changing his persona into the one he liked—confident, bubbly and ready-to-go, the personality that he thought all of the kids liked, “We are Alfred and Justin, we voice Hero and Johnny from—”

“Well—”

“Yeah, Hero and Johnny, ha-ha!” Alfred continued, chuckling a little with his co-star. “That wasn’t a hard one.”

“And today, we’re gonna be answering your questions, while playing with slime!”

“Alright, so let’s get started,” Alfred exclaimed, clapping his hands together as he looked over the supplies, “now we got our glue, detergent and some food colouring and mix ‘em all together in a bowl.”

“Let’s do it!”

So as Alfred and his co-star started to make the slime in their separate bowls, the questions started coming.

“Hi guys, my name is Kyle, and I live in Ohio! I am starting High School soon; do you have any survival tips?” The producer read from his phone.

“Well, Kyle, you’ve just got to be yourself.”

“Yeah, don’t panic over high school—Just do your best, respect your teachers and as Justin says, be yourself. Trust us, Kyle; once you start high school, you’ll get used to thinks within a week, it’s not as scary as movies and shows make it seem, you don’t need to be scared, and if you ever are: don’t be afraid to reach out to those you trust for help and advice, you’ll be fine, bud.”

“What were you like in high school?” Alfred’s co-star asked.

Suddenly, Alfred froze and his face paled, like he had just been hit. He tried to think about something good about his high school days, but there wasn’t anything there, there was nothing good about high school for him. The only good thing that came out of Alfred’s high school was his friendship with Matthew—all of those other bastards could rot in hell!

Alfred stared blankly at the bowl of red goop that he was stirring with a fork, and all sorts of dark thoughts and horrid memories swirled through his head, he was sure that he may have started sweating.

But Alfred quickly returned to smiling as he pushed all of the angry feelings away, praying that his pain hadn’t shown on his face, and so he turned to his co-star, “This isn’t about me.”

“Oh wow, never heard that before.”

“Alright, I think we should re-do that!” The producer chimed in. Alfred breathed deeply before taking a sip from his water, praying that he hadn’t done anything that was too noticeable.

And so, to cover for this, Alfred smiled as he returned to his normal bubbly self, “Yeah, sure! No problem!”  

----

He was supposed to be having lunch, but Alfred could barely muster up the effort to get up and get his food, instead he sat in the building’s cafeteria, watching his phone in near complete silence and stillness, like he had become a statue. Alfred didn’t even know what he was waiting for, whether it was for the social media people to put up the video so he could check it out and distract himself for six minutes, or to receive a message from someone.

He’d like for at least something to happen, so he could stop staring at his background image of the statue of liberty and his multitude of gaming apps. He hated this, he usually spent lunch upstairs in the studio, fooling around with the others or playing games, but ever since that discussion about High School, Alfred wasn’t able to immediately keep up his bubbly persona. Every bad memory was creeping up on him again, dragging him further and further down into his dark state. Not even his reiteration of ‘it’s over, high school is over now, and you haven’t seen those people in years, if they saw you now, they’d kiss your ass.’

He was still sinking, the empty feeling in his stomach worsening, bringing back the endless bad memories. He was sinking deeper and deeper down into his depression, and slowly the world around him became more and more blurry, which only served to make Alfred feel even more alone and empty inside. Suddenly, Alfred’s phone vibrated in his hand, revealing a message from Arthur. ‘Yes, I really did have a good time too, I’m sorry for the late reply, I had a lot to work on this morning.’

The text message pulled Alfred back to reality, and he had to admit, he was happy about it. Arthur had come through for him right when he needed the distraction. It was the perfect timing, and Alfred’s face lit up as he wrote his reply.

‘Yeah, no problem! What’re you up to?’

Alfred smiled as he leaned back into his chair, and now the darkness was receding further back into Alfred’s mind.

Luckily for Alfred, Arthur replied quickly, ‘I’m on break, I have had a very big day today, What about you?’

Alfred responded, ‘I’m on break too, Today we actually filmed a video for YouTube where I made slime and answered fans questions. I should start rehearsals for the next episode after lunch.’

'Oh wow, that sounds interesting. Certainly sounds more fun than what I’ve done today’

Alfred smirked as Arthurs admission instantly unlocked his morbid curiosity, he had never met someone like Arthur before; he was so curious as to what Arthur was going to say after he asked for more information, and he quickly received Arthur’s reply: ‘I can’t really give too many details about the people I am currently working with, it is a matter of respect. But a lot of people have died this week, I am fully booked to Friday. Seems like Cancer is the cause of death of the week. But there are not as many young people this week, which I am relieved about, we have had a lot of young people come through here recently.’

Alfred responded; ‘Oh wow, that’s awful, I’m sorry you’ve gotta see all that.’

Arthur’s response came so fast, Alfred wasn’t sure whether his own message had delivered before he received Arthur’s response. ‘Don’t be, I chose this.’  

-----

It was another lonely day, well, lonely in the conventional sense of the word. However, in Arthur’s mind, it was eventful, he spoke to many people, even though none of them were able to reply. He had spoken so much about everything that had been going through his mind over the past week, his throat had begun to ache a little.

But after his lunch, and when he had to finish his conversation with Alfred, Kiku asked Arthur for help with dressing a corpse.

“A 32-year-old woman, cause of death was drowning. I have completely embalmed her and I’ve gotten her into underwear, but I can’t get her dress on her,” Kiku explained as he opened the door to one of the embalming rooms, “This is the first corpse that Gilbert has let me completely embalm by myself, but I don’t know what to do about her dress, it’s tight and I am so scared of ripping it, or making it not look right on her. Are you sure you’re not busy?”

While it was true that Arthur already had a corpse waiting for him in his embalming room, but he knew that is wasn’t going to putrefy in the next twenty minutes. Besides, he knew what stress Kiku was going through, everyone’s first corpse needs to be perfect, otherwise it feels like a failure. Arthur was actually very humbled by the fact that Kiku came to him for help.

“No, it’s no problem,” Arthur replied as Kiku showed him the corpse. Arthur narrowed his eyes as he stared down at the woman’s perfectly embalmed and made over face, Kiku had seemed to do everything right, and it was a humbling sign of Kiku’s ever-growing improvement. The young man who entered the funeral home as a young apprentice was slowly becoming a full mortician. And Arthur couldn’t help but be proud of him.

He just hoped that Kiku learns how to deal with tragedy than Arthur did, and that he finds a more conventional and healthy coping mechanism…  

But Arthur quickly returned to the task at hand, seeing that Kiku had laid out the woman’s black cocktail dress on the table besides, and Arthur immediately saw what Kiku’s problem was.

“I am so hesitant to do anything about this dress, I tried putting it on over her head and legs, but it always gets tight around the hips. This is a family that Gilbert is working with, and they told him that she used to wear this dress and they’re really hoping that she lost enough weight before death to wear it again,” Kiku explained, crossing his arms over his chest. “I really don’t want to tell him I can’t make her dress work. It’s too tight to cut and tuck underneath her as well. I don’t want to make him tell the family to pick something else.”

“I think I have an idea,” Arthur muttered as he picked up the dress, feeling the stretchy material, sighing when he noted that it was shaped like a tube, with no zip at the back, “In the drawers somewhere, there should be a sewing kit.”

“Oh! Really!?” Kiku asked, bouncing as he started to search all of the drawers and cabinets that were littered around the embalming room. Arthur continued to stare at the dress, and then at the body, wondering if this risk was worth it—but then again, it’s not like the family is going to pick her up and check if her tube dress is still perfect. Arthur should be able to make the dress work…

Normally, morticians will either dress the corpse completely, or if that is not able to work, then some will cut off the back of the clothing and tuck it underneath the corpse, so it looked like they were wearing it. And if neither method was going to work, then the mortician can request that the family provides another outfit for the corpse to wear, it was something that Arthur had only had to do a few times in his career, but it was extremely awkward and even distressing for some families.    

He knew that people were easily distressed while grieving, but some people were ridiculous.

“Found it!” Kiku exclaimed, revealing a small plastic package that contained a small sewing kit.

“Alright, now pass the scissors,” Arthur instructed, before he began to use the scissors to cut directly along the back of the dress. When he was finished, the laid the dress over the body like a blanket, “I am going to take liberty for this if it goes wrong.”

And so, Arthur instructed Kiku to stand on the opposite side of the corpse, where Kiku assisted Alfred in turning the corpse to one side, where Kiku pushed one end of the dress under the corpse, before letting her lay on her back again. They then rolled her onto her other side, where Arthur pulled the section of dress underneath her body, before pulling over his end of the dress. “Now hold her up like this.” And so, Kiku held onto the body and let Arthur pull the fabric together and secure the end with a safety pin, where Arthur then prepared the thread and string. With a delicate hand and precise eye, Arthur quickly sewed the dress shut along the woman’s back, constantly looking over her shoulder to check if it was still fitting the corpse right. Arthur was determined to make this work, both for the family of the deceased and for Kiku, who deserved a flawless record—Even though Arthur had already excused his mistakes in the past.  

Kiku’s success mattered to Arthur, it mattered a lot because Kiku is the first apprentice Arthur has seen since joining the funeral home, and he wants to make sure that Kiku leaves feeling as good as Arthur did. After his apprenticeship in Philadelphia, Arthur had a whole new perspective on his career, his future and himself. It worked for him in the best way and set him up for the future.

“Alright, there she is, put her back on her back and let’s readjust the dress,” Arthur explained, before he helped Kiku slowly lower the corpse back onto her back, where the morticians started to adjust her dress, making sure that it wasn’t too tight and looked right.

“This actually looks really nice,” Kiku pointed out. “She looks nice in it…”

“Yes… She does…” Arthur agreed, standing beside Kiku with his arms crossed as the pair inspected the corpse, “You’ve done very well.”

“But I didn’t even know about the dress…” Kiku sighed, “I couldn’t have done it without your help.”

“Buut, you’re the one who embalmed the body, and you have done very well,” Arthur explained, gesturing to the corpse. Arthur was honestly very proud of Kiku, but yet, Arthur couldn’t help but wonder… “I have one question for you.”

“Yes?”

“Do you talk to the corpses?” Arthur asked.

“Not really. No.”

“Oh.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes, death isn’t what Arthur was used to… Sometimes it wasn’t still, it wasn’t structured and it wasn’t manageable. Sometimes death was ugly, unrelenting and harrowing, even for someone with the experience of Arthur, whose knees became weak at the sight of the new corpse on his table.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, I really am…” Gilbert sighed, and now Arthur completely understood why Gilbert wanted to come with Arthur to view this corpse. Usually Gilbert would give Arthur a clipboard with all of the information about the corpse, and a time to meet with the family so the funeral process can begin. But this time Gilbert insisted on coming with Arthur to be introduced to the body.

It wasn’t like anything that Arthur had seen before, it was a woman, perhaps early twenties, Arthur couldn’t tell. Her neck had been gruesomely hacked open, there were deep cuts across her face and one of her eyes had even been mutilated as it appeared. But that wasn’t the worst of it, because as soon as Gilbert pulled down the blanket to reveal the rest of her body, Arthur gasped when he was that her stomach had been completely torn to pieces, ripped like a lion had torn her to shreds. Her corpse resembled the embodiment of rage, of vengeance, of passion… 

“Who did this to her…?” Arthur asked.

“… A co-worker… All we need to know is that the man wasn’t ok, and she paid the price…” Gilbert whispered, lowering his head as he joined his hands in the centre of his body in respect.

“Mm...” Arthur murmured.

“Now… The family are reasonable, they’ve stated that if an open casket is not possible, then it’s fine. But they want us to try…” Gilbert explained, “If anything, I think you are the man for the job.”

And so, Arthur went into work mode and slid on a disposable glove before waving his hand over the body, “We need to start by sewing this up, and her neck; since it looks like a lot of veins and arteries have been sliced up, and then we see how she reacts to a high dose of the embalming fluid. If her discolouration does not improve, I can mix something up to resemble her skin tone, using her photos as a reference.” Then Arthur waved his hand in front of woman’s face, his own eyes widening has he looked into the black hole which the woman’s right eye had been reduced to. “We may need to make her a new eyelid out of wax, and simply slide it over her wound after removing all of the flesh from the area—an eye-cap should do fine in returning her eye-shape, thank God he only did in one eye. Maybe I can make an eye-patch out of flowers, perhaps suggest that to the family, that’d look lovely if they’re willing to appreciate it.”

“Arthur—”

“As for the rest of the wounds on her face, I—I can stitch everything back together and cover the wound in wax and then paint over it with the makeup. I can add colour and moisture to her lips… It’s a bit more work than I’m used to… But I can probably do it, I’d just… I’d just need time an—”

“I’m going to help you with this,” Gilbert pointed out, “You’re not doing this one alone.”

“Gil—”

“I know you prefer to work alone, but this is a big and distressing one… And if you do it alone then you will be completely overbooked and other families may miss out,” Gilbert explained as he took his own pair of disposable gloves out of his pocket and put them on his hands, “Do you think we will need Kiku for this too.”

“Do you think he’s ready to see a murder victim…?” Arthur asked, “Especially one of this degree? Has he dealt with gunshots yet?”

“Kiku is going to be fine…” Gilbert replied, “Now, get everything ready and I’ll arrange for him to shadow us at some point today… Judging by what you said, you and I should be in here for up to six hours, if we work efficiently.”

“Right,” Arthur murmured as he walked over to his supply closet, where he knew he had multiple units of protective gear hanging. He already knew that this was going to be a tough day, especially when he heard the door to his embalming room close as Gilbert left him alone with the corpse.

Arthur slowly turned, dread filling him; as though he was expecting the corpse to be looking at him. This death wasn’t the bloodiest that Arthur had to clean up, he had reattached limbs before. Arthur had witnessed sadder deaths, like children and teenagers. But… But Arthur hadn’t seen a death so violent and… harsh.

“I’m sorry…” Arthur whispered as he slowly staggered over the to the corpse. He had seen an innocent man who was shot for simply calling for help, he had seen pedestrians run over by someone who should have never been behind the wheel, and he had even seen stages of post mortem mutilation by animals. But never before had Arthur seen such an aggressive murder before… He had seen so many people die needlessly, die in vain, or die because of someone else’s mistake or evil. “You shouldn’t be here… But I’m still going to do the best I can for you, and I can definitely say the same of Gilbert…”

But the longer Arthur stared at the corpse, he thought less and less about his work… “Did you know that there was something wrong with that man? Sometimes people pay dearly for the simplest kind act… Being a friend to someone who didn’t deserve it, I suppose is your case. It’s deeply unsettling that anyone can have the capability to just snap…”

Arthur sighed as he looked over the wounds again as he slid the sleeves of his surgical gown along his arms. “Do you think you were targeted, or did you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time?”

Suddenly, Arthur was forced to be silent when the door to the embalming room opened and Kiku ad Gilbert walked in. Arthur held his breath as he watched Kiku pause, and his eyes widen as he took in the sight of the corpse. It made Arthur nostalgic, remembering the first time a corpse really took his breath away… He remembers it greatly, a boating accident killed a 63-year-old man, he was cut all over and the corpse had long water exposure… It was ugly. Kiku stared at the corpse for around a minute, his eyes remaining widely set, his mouth hanging slightly open in surprise, until Gilbert put his hand on Kiku’s shoulder.

“Are you going to be alright?” Gilbert asked.

“Y-yes,” Kiku replied, standing straight with his head held high, pushing back any squeamishness or anxiety, and was ready to get to work. He puts his duty above everything else, he will eventually get used to the sight of the corpse, everyone eventually gets used to the sight of every corpse.

“Have you dealt with anything like this before?” Arthur asked.

“Not… Not to this extent…” Kiku admitted, “I’m ok. I’m going to be fine, tell me what to do first.”

“Get into gear, and then… Gilbert and I are going to start sewing together her middle before putting in the embalming fluid… so…” Arthur sighed, every task seemed so gruesome… “Would you be ok with cleaning the eye-wound? We plan to make her a new eyelid from wax, and see how it goes.”

“Interesting…” Kiku muttered, “Then yes, I’m fine with it.”

“We want the surface around the eye to be smooth, perhaps shave the flesh down to the bone and empty the socket, and fill it with cotton or something,” Gilbert explained as he got into gear, and as everyone in the group mentally prepared themselves for the big day ahead.

And like that, everyone found their station by the corpse, Arthur and Gilbert stood by the corpses’ stomach, and were working with threads and needles to sew her back together from the inside—so they could easily sew back together her skin, securing her body enough to hold embalming fluid. They were working slowly and methodically, with as much respect at they could provide. Meanwhile, Kiku was lightly scraping as the clotted blood and flesh away from around the eye socket, careful to not scrape the bone.

But slowly, the impact of the silence started to show, it was getting harder for Arthur to concentrate, and slowly, thoughts about the corpse became lesser and lesser.  He wanted to speak, he wanted to think out loud and let the corpse help him find the answers… And this time, he wanted answers about Alfred…

“Do you usually speak to the corpses you work with?” Arthur asked, looking up at Gilbert, breaking the daunting silence.  

“Not usually, I will say some things out of habit, but usually I have music playing when I’m working,” Gilbert admitted. This actually answered a question of Arthur’s, because during the night, the funeral home becomes dauntingly quiet, and sometimes, Arthur can hear the faint noise of a piano playing through the halls of the funeral home. “I prefer classical. It keeps me focused.” 

“I started doing it after I’d work with Gilbert and listen to his music,” Kiku replied.

“Can we put something on, the silence is killing me,” Gilbert pointed out, before looking down at the corpse and grimacing, “Oh.”

“I don’t mind it,” Arthur murmured, supposing that some kind of noise was better than nothing.

“The girls mother told me she played violin since she was twelve,” Gilbert murmured as he took off his dirty glove before reaching under his surgical gown to fish for his phone, “I have a violin playlist.”

“Maybe she would like that,” Kiku pointed out.

And so, Gilbert started to play a violin playlist, and Arthur had to admit; music was a nice addition… It was nice to drain out the noises of what they were doing, now Arthur understood completely why Gilbert would play this music, so he doesn’t have to deal with the noise too. But it didn’t do much to help with Arthur’s thoughts, if anything, his mind became louder and more unsettled. Now he was occupied with thoughts about the corpse, thoughts about Alfred and now the music.

He couldn’t help but think—would he go out with Alfred again, granted, Arthur did have a nice time with him, but… what would happen if Arthur got more attached to him…? That could be dangerous.   But then, Alfred is a really good guy, Arthur can’t just ignore him from now on, he deserved better than that…

----

‘Hey :)’ Alfred sent, hoping that he wasn’t being too keen as he sent this text to Arthur, ‘I was wondering if you wanted to get lunch together tomorrow. There’s a cute Italian place near my house, I think you’d like it.’

Alfred put his phone back into his pocket, before focussing back on the microphone set in front of him, and after glancing down at the script again, he looked to the sound techs who were sitting at the station behind the glass.

“We good to go, yeah?” Alfred asked as he readjusted the headset around his hair, hating how it always pushed back a fair chunk of his bangs, it hindered his looks.

“Yeah, go ahead, Al,” The sound producer replied. “3… 2….”

“Hey—dude, you notice the huge spaceship in the sky, or nah?” Alfred said, reciting lines in his characters voice, even acting out the motions a little in adjusting his stance and moving his hands a little. He now had the persona of his character, a confident teenager, who was a real hero. Alfred would give anything to have a life like his characters, and so, Alfred put his all into providing him with a passionate voice. “Mm, Riiiiiiight, well, once you’re done playing hop-scotch, we’re gonna go up and take a look at that and kick some alien butt!”

“Bu—But, oh dammit!!” Alfred’s co-star sighed, using his child-like voice, “Really!? They had to pick tonight to try to invade—Tonight, of all nights!!”

“Take your frustrations out on the aliens, little dude,” Alfred chuckled.

And so, Alfred continued the rest of the recording without any flaws, although the pair of actors had to start over a few scenes a couple of times. Other than that, it was a successful recording, and it left Alfred feeling good about himself, he was back to his bright and bubbly self again, and the incident regarding his high-school and the slime was in the back of his mind—nothing was wrong in Alfred’s world.

Alfred’s day only got better, because when he looked at his phone, he saw that Arthur had responded to his message with, ‘Yes, that sounds nice. What time and what’s the address?’ Alfred smiled and quickly typed out his answers, and sent it to Arthur, his knee tapping with glee when Arthur responded quickly, confirming that he’s happy to go out with Alfred again.

And then, Alfred typed, ‘So, can I call this one a date?’ But, the longer he stared at the text message, the more unsure he became… Should he say that? Is this really going to be a date, would Arthur want this to be a date?

Alfred remembered the way that he and Arthur talked the last time they met, they laughed together and had a really nice conversation—Alfred would be shocked if Arthur didn’t want to date him. But is it too soon?

This thought made Alfred frown with confusion as he sat down in the chair behind his microphone stand, and the conversation between his co-star and the producer became nothing more than static.

When has ‘too soon’ ever been a concern of his? If Alfred wanted a man, he went and got one, not concerned at all about the speed of the relationship—why did he care so much about this one? It left him a little perplexed and confused, but at the same time; the anxiety was exhilarating, he hadn’t felt this way about someone in ages! It was nice! It made Alfred feel mature and smooth, wondering whether someone would be interested enough to date him. It was interesting for him.

But, Alfred decided that he’d want to focus on that when they’re in person, he wants to see the way Arthur looks at him when he talks. If it’s positive, then Alfred will peruse him harder. 

“Alright, Alfred, I think we’re good for today, you both did a good job,” The producer explained, to which Alfred nodded in response as he took a drink from his water bottle.

Alfred was already debating going to the gym today, so he supposed that’s what he could do with the rest of his day, he did have a big meal last night that he wanted to try and work off. He hadn’t been in a few days and was starting to feel too sluggish.

“Also, next weeks script!” The producer explained, before he tossed a booklet made of paper onto Alfred’s lap. “The synopsis is: the boys find another clue as to what exactly happened on the night they got their powers and their father was taken, and this happens on the night of Hero’s prom. This episode will contain a fair few flashbacks, so get ready to put on slightly younger voices.”

“Oh great,” Alfred muttered, he hadn’t done Hero’s younger voice in a while, so he knew that he’d have to practice it. Which involved more time standing in front of the mirror, doing vocal exercises, because the voice of the younger version of his character involved a lot of effort. It left his throat sore sometimes.

“It’s not too much,” The producer noted.

“Does Hero take someone to Prom or…?” Alfred asked, his eyebrow raising at the producer. It was because of Alfred’s doing that Hero is considered a canonically gay character, so of course he was curious to see how far the network is willing to carry this important part of his characters identity.

“He’s not taking anyone,” The producer admitted.

“What? Why?” Alfred asked.

“Because no relationships have been built with any of the other characters yet—”

“But we’re missing a perfect opportunity here to really do something different! How many shows do you know have had gay characters being gay at prom—and don’t say Glee!” Alfred snapped, “This is a perfect opportunity to do something different!!”  

“And going alone to Prom isn’t shown much either, everyone is so obsessed with finding someone to go with—”

“And Hero, one of the most popular guys in school, can’t?” Alfred asked.

“Well, you tell me, name a character he should go with, where the relationship doesn’t impact the rest of the series!” The producer pointed out, “Name another gay character for him to go with.”

“I think I found our problem here then,” Alfred muttered, before taking another sip of his drink. This had pissed him off, why the hell would they not give Hero a date to prom, it makes sense to! It would be different to the prom episode of every other show! So why would they not take the opportunity to have an openly gay character attend prom with another gay character!? It’s not that controversial, really! Straight shows throw the whole ‘guy asks girl to prom’ thing in everyone’s faces constantly!

What Alfred had said obviously struck a chord with the producer, as he had paused to read Alfred’s cold expression—surely, he sees why Alfred would take this personally!

“I’m gonna talk to the directors, they’re already talking about adding a scene where Hero is dancing with a boy, nothing is hidden, nothing is left up to the viewers determination—he dances with a boy and there is nothing else to it. Everyone knows that he is gay and there’s nothing wrong with it. Calm down, Princess,” The producer grumbled as he made his way out of the recording booth where Alfred and his co-star were still in. The co-star didn’t even look up from his script as Alfred huffed and got out of his chair before exiting the recording booth.

To Alfred, he had every right to be upset because representation mattered a lot to him, it was something he was starved of as a child and so he never wanted another child to feel as isolated as he did…

Representation was the difference between a child being ridiculed for their differences and embraced because of them. It wasn’t fair, and always left Alfred feeling bitter and hurt—other shows show off straight people like it’s no one’s business, but yet, this innovative show didn’t think to embrace a character’s sexuality at such a big event, like prom! What were they so afraid of?! Granted, when it was revealed that Hero is a gay character, the network got a few letters from self-righteous conservatives, who think that their ignorant, selfish, stupid letter will change anyone’s mind!

Just thinking about it made Alfred huff, enough that no one even looked at him as he exited the studio – fucking hell, they probably all knew, they all knew that Alfred would be upset over this! Why they fuck would they do that!? If a show has a gay character, let them be gay: what’s so hard to understand?!

Alfred refused to be a part of a show that teased a gay character, only to fail to deliver! That wasn’t fair and baited audiences, especially teen audiences who were probably looking for influences and looking for answers! Alfred wanted to be the one to provide those answers, and provide guidance to those kids… those kids who were just like him…  

 

Chapter Text

“Hey! You made it!” Alfred exclaimed, when he finally saw Arthur as he approached the table in the small Italian restaurant.

Arthur smiled at Alfred, even chuckling a little as the American rose from his seat and pulled out Arthur’s chair for him, to which Arthur accepted, and took his seat; somewhat touched by Alfred’s gentlemanliness.

The restaurant was small, cute, and very Italian. Arthur and Alfred were seated in the outdoors portion of the restaurant, which sat under a roof which was decorated with vines, grapes and red sashes. Alfred and Arthur were sitting along the side of the area, right next to the metal decorative fencing and small bushes that separated the restaurant from the busy street.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Arthur explained, running his fingers through his hair as he spoke, “I entered the wrong address into my phone, and then there was traffic—”

“Hey, hey; it’s ok!” Alfred replied, “It’s ok, I swear!”

Arthur smiled as Alfred laughed shyly, instantly Arthur could tell that Alfred was trying to be charming… It was cute. The American would chuckle softly and play with his golden hair or his glasses as he listened to Arthur speak—he may as well jump on the table and pose, it wasn’t like Arthur would mind. He was still as gorgeous as the day they met—Arthur paused at this thought, intrigued by his attraction to the American before him. He could only hope that he doesn't ruin this.

“How’s your week been, was there anything really interesting?” Alfred asked.

“A lot of bodies, a few violent deaths, sadly…” Arthur sighed, “I saw my first brutal murder corpse.”

“Whoa, what?” Alfred asked, frowning with concern as Arthur crossed his arms over his chest, wanting to sink further into his chair as all of those feelings returned, and he felt as though he was staring down at that same corpse as he looked into Alfred’s eyes.

“A brutal murder on a young woman who didn’t deserve it…” Arthur sighed, his eyes darkening as he stared at his foot as he crossed his legs, partially because he didn’t want to look up and see the sad look in Alfred’s eyes. He needed to fiddle with something, so he reached to the glass of water that had been poured before Arthur arrived, and he started to play with the rim of the glass, trying his hardest to not crumble. “Brutally murdered by someone she knew, someone she trusted. The poor thing didn’t stand a chance…”  

“Oh, Arthur,” Alfred sighed, and Arthur’s eyes widened when he felt soft fingers touch his hand and guided it back down to the table, “I’m so sorry…” Arthur then looked at Alfred, before being caught in the American’s eyes, where Arthur could see how sincere Alfred was, and it made his heart race when he felt Alfred softly run his fingers over Arthur’s hand. “Are you ok?”

“I… I’m fine,” Arthur replied, but the intensity of Alfred’s stare did not lessen, and Arthur found himself feeling as though he had stepped into a confessional, and his racing heartbeat did nothing to help him. “I’ve seen worse injuries before, but then, I’ve never seen something so brutal. Sometimes it gets a bit hard… But… The death industry is the worlds most successful industry for a reason, everyone dies…” At this statement, Arthur crumbled a little as Alfred turned Arthur’s hand and held it—to which Arthur returned the hold, surprised to feel that Alfred’s hands were very warm, well, warm compared to corpses, even though his skin was a little bit dry.

“Look… I don’t know much about the death industry, or grieving, or anything really… But if you ever need someone to talk to, I’ll be there,” Alfred promised, as he flashed Arthur a really small, but sweet and sincere smile. All of the animation in Alfred’s face was gone as he stared into Alfred’s eyes, he wasn’t trying to be cool or confident anymore, he just wanted to be there... And that was all Arthur wanted, so he nodded.

“Thank you,” Arthur replied, “Now, tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Yesterday we recorded a new episode and got a script for another one,” Alfred replied, “And, here’s the thing, my character is gay. He’s proudly gay and is often looked to as an example of LGBT representation in media, which is a very important thing for me, you know?”

“Don’t worry, I know,” Arthur replied, “Representation is important.”

“So, in this episode, it’s Prom. You know how in every single show which has a prom episode, the prom is so important and everyone has to have a date. I was thinking that our prom episode would have Hero asking a guy to prom and him having his own experience, that’s no different to any of the straight couples. But no. No word of Hero asking anyone to prom, the producer said that the directors want to show him dancing with a guy, but that is nothing compared to all the shows with only straight people!

“You do make a fair point,” Arthur agreed.

“Like, if you’re gonna have a gay character, let them be gay, dammit!” Alfred hissed, “I would have killed to have a gay character to look up to when I was a child, it would have made my life hell of a lot easier.”

“When did you find out you were gay?” Arthur asked.

“Hah, I’ve always known, Mom makes this joke that I came out of the womb doing jazz-hands. Let’s just say that they weren’t very shocked when I officially came out of the closet – Geez, like I was in a closet in the first place,” Alfred replied, “It just always felt right for me to prefer boys, it made sense to me. Girls are pretty to look at, but I’m good. What about you?”

At this, Arthur smiled and tried to clench his hand, which was what reminded him of the fact that he and Alfred were still holding hands, but he didn’t let that end it; the warmth of Alfred’s hand was too nice for Arthur to let go of, “I got my first boner watching a guy sing ‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon… I knew since then, even when I tried to date girls to shake it off. When I was fifteen, I finally came out.”

“Oh my God, I love that,” Alfred admitted.

“Are you two ready to order?” The waiter asked, to which, Alfred and Arthur hands parted as both men looked at the menu. “Or do you need some more time?”

Arthur hadn’t even looked at the menu since he sat down, whereas Alfred had time to make his decision before Arthur arrived. But Arthur quickly spotted a favourite of his on the menu, and so both men made their orders then, and once the waitress was gone, they looked at each other again and smiled.

Arthur then couldn’t help but note how much better Alfred looked now compared to when they met, he wasn’t trying to impress him anymore, and his smile was as sincere as his eyes, which made Arthur’s heart melt a little…

Alfred was staring at Arthur with this look, he looked as though his heart was racing at a thousand miles an hour... Arthur could see their blue glistening from behind Alfred’s glasses, and how they narrowed when Alfred smiled slightly, pigment showing on his cheeks. He looked cute, he looked peaceful and sincere, like he wasn’t pretending to be impressing anyone. Arthur knew already that he preferred this kind of stare, it was far better than the overly-energetic one that Arthur saw when they first met. Was this the real Alfred that Arthur was seeing?

“I was wondering whether I could ask you something…” Alfred said, his voice even sounding sincerer, rather than the energetic cheerleader-voice that Arthur was used to hearing. “Are we—”

“Excuse me, are you Alfred Jones?” A woman asked as she and a man approached Alfred and Arthur’s table. Frowning, Arthur looked to a small figure that stood behind the mans legs, barely noticeable, if not for the little hand that clung to the mans pants.

“Um, yeah!” Alfred replied, smiling up at the pair as they both glanced down to the mans legs, and when he stepped aside, a small boy was revealed. The child couldn’t have been any older than seven, and his shyness was well pronounced, by how tightly he held onto his father’s pants, and the bright colouring book that he held in his free hand.

“This is Jason, and he is a huge fan of Hero and Johnny,” The mother explained, “He is especially a huge fan of yours.”

“Oh really?” Alfred asked, smiling down at the child, his eyes lighting up with joy, “Hi Jason, it’s so nice to meet you.”

“Awww, don’t be shy, Jason,” His mother cooed as she rubbed the black hair that sat on top of the small boy’s head.

“As soon as we walked in here, he saw you and got so excited!” The father explained, “He’s home from school a lot because of his immunity issues, and every time he insists on putting on DVDs of the show. He’s really a huge fan, he even brought his favourite colouring book.”

After this, Arthur glanced at Alfred’s face, which was oozing from Alfred’s overwhelming joy—the man looked like he was about to burst into tears. 

“Do you wanna say hi, Jason?” The mother asked as he touched the shoulder of her overwhelmingly shy child, who seemed like he was going to crumble at any second. “It’s Alfred, he’s Hero!”

“Hey Buddy, you’re you doin?” Alfred asked, putting on a voice that Arthur had never heard before, and sounded exactly like the kind of voice heard in cartoons, it was nostalgic in a way.

The child reacted almost immediately, and clutched his book even harder, and even attempted to hide his beaming smile.

“Oh Lord, help me, he’s so cute,” Arthur cooed before laughing with the boy’s mother.

Then the kid took a few steps closer to Alfred and reached out his arms for a hug. Instantly, Alfred slide off his seat and onto one knee so he could effectively return the child’s hug. Even from the odd angle, Arthur couldn’t help but smile when he saw how happy Alfred looked as he spoke with the little child, it was so precious and heart-warming, even for someone like Arthur.

He’s so good with kids… Arthur thought, smiling hopefully as he melted into his chair, watching as the child even asked for Alfred to sign his colouring book, to which Alfred happily agreed.

“I’m so sorry, but can we please have a photo of you two?” The child’s father asked.

“Of course!” Alfred replied as he placed his arm around the boy and held him closely, as he and the child looked and smiled at the camera. It was so precious, Arthur couldn’t stop smiling as his heart raced while watching Alfred talk with the child and his parents. Alfred’s love for children was so obvious, as well as children’s returned love for Alfred.

“Thank you so much, sorry for interrupting, please enjoy the rest of your day!” The mother exclaimed, waving at Arthur and Alfred as she and the father and child started to make their way further into the restaurant.

“That was so sweet to watch,” Arthur pointed out when Alfred finally returned to his seat, after waving at the child one more time, “You are ridiculously good with kids…”

“I know, I love them, kids and dogs are my weaknesses,” Alfred replied, his cheeks going pink in the cheeks as he brushed his hand through his hair. “Kids are just… They really make me happy, I can’t wait to have some of my own someday…”

“That is … Lovely…” Arthur murmured, his heart racing as he leant his head against his hand, before falling into a brief moment of sombre eye-contact with Alfred.

“Do you want kids someday?” Alfred asked.

“Yes…” Arthur responded, his voice coming out more desperate than he liked. Before his eyes widened, before he remembered the grief of parents… There would be no worse grief than that of a parent over their child… The pain, misery and emptiness were worse than any other kind of grief that Arthur had ever seen… It made Arthur’s heart hurt to even consider himself going through the same thing. While it was true that Arthur wanted to care for children someday, was it worth going through the risk of losing them and going through that pain?

Luckily for him, Alfred didn’t notice the momentarily pained look on Arthur’s face as he was taking a drink from his water. But when Alfred looked back at Arthur, he only saw the Englishman return his smile.

As well as Arthur’s heart racing from the joy of having these moments with Alfred, he couldn’t also help but feel dread, was he falling for Alfred? The idea of that made Arthur freeze as he found his eyes moving down to stare at the cutlery that sat on Arthur’s end of the table. His heart was racing, but it wasn’t only his feelings that were driving it. His hands became cold and his face paled somewhat as Arthur felt an anxiety that he hasn’t had in a long time.

“You feeling ok?” Alfred asked.

“Yes, I’m fine, sorry,” Arthur replied.

“Still shaken from that corpse?” Alfred asked.

“Well…” Arthur sighed, frowning, “Yes and No. I’m used to it, I see corpses and hear about death every time I go to work, I am used to it. But then there will be cases that leave everyone feeling a bit… But then again, death happens every day, I’m going to see a new bunch of new bodies on Monday, so what I need to do is soldier on.”

“This is probably a dumb question, but is it dangerous?” Alfred asked.

“Dangerous?” Arthur asked, “Bodies are not dangerous, even the ones who died from infectious diseases and have that decaying smell, that’s a misconception—especially in Western culture, where contact with the body from non-funeral directors is extremely limited because of the stigma and fear of dead bodies. Dead bodies don’t spread disease as easily as living bodies do, because the dead don’t cough or sneeze or shit—well, there is shit sometimes—But, the World Health Organisation says that even if a body dies from a harmful virus, in most cases virus’ can only live in the body for a few hours at most. However, there are more concerns with bodies where the virus is spread through fluids, like the Ebola virus. But, the only real danger with my work is embalming fluid, where we use formaldehyde and other chemicals.”

“Whoa…” Alfred gasped, “I didn’t know that. Like, I’ve never met anyone before you that’s even seen a corpse outside of the funeral viewing.”

“But that’s perfectly understandable, no one wants to see a corpse so casually outside of the funeral,” Arthur chuckled. “It’s just, what I have noticed is that when someone dies, their bodies are so quickly removed from view. Whereas in some cultures, the funeral process is done completely by the family, sometimes the corpse will remain inside the family home for a long time! I just feel like Western culture isn’t very death positive.

“Death positive?” Alfred asked.

“Yes, more positivity about death. It’s based around breaking down the current societal feelings regarding death through discussion, gatherings, art and innovation, and that the discussion of our inevitable deaths is not morbid but a curiosity about the human condition.”

“Oh yeah?”

“For instance, compare our death rituals to those of say… Mexico. Mexicans have embraced death as a part of life. This can be seen in modern day traditions like “the Day of the Dead” which honours those who have died, it’s a celebration. It’s not meant to trivialise the loss of a loved one but is a reaffirmation of their belief in the afterlife, which eases the grief,” Arthur explained.

“Holy shit, hah, I’m not gonna lie. I’d listen to you talk about this stuff all day, it’s way too interesting,” Alfred admitted as the waitress returned and set down their meals on the table. Arthur had ordered a seafood pasta dish, whereas Alfred got some chicken and salad with a nice-looking dressing.   

“If you don’t stop me, I just may,” Arthur chuckled.

In that moment, he and Alfred shared another look, it was just like the one from before, sincere and deep, immediately Arthur found himself drawn into the intoxicating colour of Alfred’s eyes. But then, the feeling of dread returned, and Arthur focussed on his meal.

“Tell me about yourself, where did you grow up?” Arthur asked.

“I was born in Virginia, I’m an only child. Do you remember Matt? He was there when Francis introduced us,” Alfred explained.

“Yes.”

“He came down to Virginia from Canada and we met each other in middle school. When college time came around, he and I decided to move to New York, originally, I was doing an arts degree but then I really got into voice acting and was lucky to have found a job acting for a show as the lead,” Alfred explained, “Meanwhile Matt has just graduated dental school and is working in a children’s clinic.”

“Aw, that’s really nice,” Arthur replied.

“Yeah, we’re really good friends,” Alfred explained. And then, Alfred and Arthur found themselves staring at each other in silence, softly staring at each other as they ate.

But quickly, Arthur noticed something odd, “You’ve barely touched your food.”

“Yeah… I’m not sure how I feel about the dressing,” Alfred admitted, chuckling as he frowned at the meal before him, picking at it with his fork, “But the chicken is nice. Are you enjoying yours?”

“Oh yes, I am weak when it comes to seafood,” Arthur admitted, smiling as he waved his fork a little, which had a small cube of fish covered in the creamy sauce.

“Let me guess, fish ‘n’ chips?” Alfred chuckled.

“Oh shush,” Arthur cooed.

“So British.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t get a burger and fries, American,” Arthur retorted, smiling wider as Alfred laughed.

“Oh Lord, I used to be weak for burgers,” Alfred admitted, even sighing a little, “I still like them, I just feel like I’ve gotta spend an hour in the gym after even looking at one...”

“Are you kidding me? You’re so fit!” Arthur exclaimed, gesturing at Alfred with his arm as the American chuckled and blushed bashfully.  

Now that Arthur really looked at him and looked in his blue button-up shirt which was covered in small white dots, where his biceps were visible, Arthur could see that he was fit. So much so, Arthur could feel the heat gathering in his cheeks when he wondered what Alfred could look like under that shirt. The shirt was somewhat fitted and gave Arthur a good idea of the Americans body shape, and Arthur would be lying if the thought of what was underneath that shirt didn’t make him salivate a little bit.

“So, have you got any plans for the weekend?” Alfred asked.

“Not really, I plan to spend tomorrow relaxing, maybe do my groceries as I prepare myself for Monday, yourself?” Arthur asked.

“I have a script to learn,” Alfred replied, “The one that I was complaining about earlier.”

“Ha, good luck with that,” Arthur sighed, “Your show is for kids, right?”

“Yeah, for a younger demographic. We have audiences ranging from seven to fifteen… Ha, I’m still so happy from seeing that kid earlier,” Alfred explained, “When a kid recognises me, it must mean that they’re really a fan, because my face is only on the networks YouTube Channel. So that kid would have had to find the YouTube Channel and watch the videos with me in it enough to recognise me.”

“What videos are you in?”

“I’m only in two so far: I took a vlogging camera and did a tour of the studio, and just this week I was in another one with my co-star where we made slime and answered fan-questions,” Alfred explained, “So far everything’s going great! Ha-ha, I should show you the show sometime.”

“Ha-ha, maybe,” Arthur muttered, not wanting to admit that he wasn’t too keen, however, he has debated looking up clips. Perhaps then he could understand what Alfred talks about a little bit better. “Perhaps I will have looked it up a little bit by the next time we meet.”

“There will be a next time?” Alfred asked, smiling as he leaned against his hand while resting his elbow on the table.

This left Arthur a little bit surprised, where the hell did that reaction come from? Instinctually, Arthur became a little defensive at Alfred’s amusement, huffing as he crossed his arms over his chest, while looking to the side, “Well, if you want to.”

“I’d like that a lot! I’m sorry, your reaction is just too cute!” Alfred replied as he smiled brightly, “I’ve been needing to ask you, actually…”

“Hm?”

In an instant, Alfred’s demeanour changed slightly, and for the first time Arthur saw the way Alfred’s eyes and lips narrowed as he recoiled slightly in shyness. Alfred looked like the kind of guy who didn’t know what shy was, but yet he still managed to look so sweet. “Is this a date?”  

So… He’s been thinking too…

Should this be considered a date? In the moment, Arthur didn’t mind at all. But when the feeling of dread returned, instead of looking away, Arthur returned Alfred’s stare. Did Arthur look as nervous as he felt? Not wanting to wait for the silence to get awkward, Arthur followed his heart, ignored his anxiety and spoke, “I wouldn’t mind if it was…”

“Mm… I don’t think I’d mind either…” Alfred agreed, smiling widely as he leant forward slightly to better his eye contact with Arthur, “Would you like to go on another sometime?”

“I’d like that…” Arthur replied, leaning forward himself. In a moment of bravery and experimentation, Arthur winked at Alfred, before feeling a shiver run down his spine when Alfred responded positively.

“So, perhaps we should organise to go out again,” Alfred suggested. He had grown confident and did not hide his feelings for Arthur in his smile anymore. His eyes narrowed and darkened from behind his thick rimmed glasses, as his smile widened. Arthur could tell that Alfred liked what he saw, and now that it was confirmed that there was something between them, Alfred wasn’t restraining himself as much.

Arthur hadn’t been looked at like that in years, and he would be lying if he didn’t admit that he really liked it. It made his heart skip a beat… The way Alfred looked at him gave Arthur a jolt of energy and made him feel more alive. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time…

Besides, Alfred was gorgeous… Who wouldn’t swoon when someone like him showed interest, and for the rest of the afternoon, to the point where their plates had already been cleared, but they remained and talked.

“Do you like sports?” Alfred asked, “Matt and I are obsessed with Hockey, whenever there’s a game with the US or Canada broadcasting, we both meet up at someone’s place and watch it together. But I used to play football in school, it was really good and I’m still a huge fan of it. You should see me during the Super bowl, Matt says that I’m a different guy.”

“That sounds fun, I used to follow soccer religiously, however, since I’ve moved here I haven’t had much time to pay attention to it,” Arthur admitted, “My father is a hardcore Manchester United fan. I remember when I was small, he’d wrap me up in the team scarf and have me on his lap when he dragged me to a game.”

“Aww, that’s really cute,” Alfred replied, “What kind of movies do you like?”

Arthur wanted to make a joke over this date becoming a game of ’20 Questions’, but then again, the two men were learning about each other, and it happened that Alfred had more questions. “I sometimes watch horror movies, especially those ones that deal with demons and ghosts. It’s ironic, considering my work, isn’t it?”

“Ooooh God, I can’t watch horror movies without squeezing the life out of whatever poor soul is next to me!” Alfred exclaimed, “But I love action movies!”

“You seem like the kind of guy that would be into action movies,” Arthur chuckled. But as he started to look around the restaurant, he couldn’t help but notice the growing crowd. Considering how he and Alfred had already finished their meals, perhaps it was time for them to move on. “Maybe we should move along, we’ve finished eating and I can see people waiting to be seated.”

“Oh shoot, you’re right,” Alfred admitted as he and Arthur started to rise from their chairs as they both put some money on the table to leave as a tip.

Arthur smiled as he and Alfred left the restaurant and started to walk down the street, passing where they were seated in the outdoor area, where a new couple had already been seated. But once Arthur looked up at Alfred, the American was already looking down at him, with that same smile across his thin lips.

They decided then that they would text throughout the week and decide there when they can meet up again. Arthur had to admit, he was excited about that.

“So, we’ll know before hand that it’s a date, right?” Alfred asked, chuckling as Arthur stopped in front of his car, which was parked along the street.

“I’d like that…” Arthur replied, his heart racing as he leaned against the door of his car. Arthur’s heart was racing, it was racing faster than it had in years, Arthur was sure that soon he’d end up as one of those people on his embalming table. The way Alfred looked at him made him feel alive, and excited for what could come next.

And then Alfred licked his lips, “Can… Can I kiss you?”

Arthur’s eyes widened as his cheeks reddened, his entire body froze up when he noticed Alfred lean in closer to him. Arthur wanted to kiss him, he really did, and once again Arthur ignored his anxiety and sense of doom, and replied, “A little bit, yes…”

And so, Alfred stepped in closer and tilted his head in a way to allow their lips to softly meet, and Arthur accepted the kiss by reaching up and placing his hands on Alfred’s shoulders, even standing on his toes to give himself just a little bit more height to make the kiss easier.

Alfred’s lips were softer than Arthur anticipated, and immediately took him by surprise as Alfred then placed one of his hand on Arthur’s cheek, steadying him as their lips moved slightly, rubbing against each other. The kiss was soft, innocent and left Arthur tempted to reach for more. But, the American resisted taking it deeper, as did Arthur. This left far more to be desired as the two slowly parted, their noses softly brushed as they slowly pulled away from each other, locked in the eye contact. Arthur’s heart was in his throat at this point, he held on tightly to Alfred’s shoulders, fearful that he was going to fall over if he didn’t.

“So, I’ll see you again soon?” Alfred asked, smiling when Arthur nodded.

“Oh definitely,” Arthur replied, smiling as he rubbed Alfred’s shoulder slightly before finally letting him go and returning to his original height, chuckling when he realised just how short he was when compared to Alfred. When Arthur stood up straight, the top of his head was the same height as Alfred’s lips.

And with a small goodbye, Alfred and Arthur parted ways, and Arthur decided to pick up some food before going home.

“Oh my God…” Arthur whispered, feeling his cheeks burn as he thought about Alfred and what had just happened.

Arthur really did come to like Alfred, he was surprised since meeting him at Francis’ party, Alfred had shown him that there was something more there than a pretty face. Perhaps there could really be more there between Alfred and Arthur…

But instead of being overjoyed at the possibility of getting a new boyfriend, Arthur was filled with dread, and was instantly concerned over making sure that he doesn’t ruin it with his morbid realism…       

 

 

Chapter Text

“I don’t usually do that, I don’t usually let people kiss me that early into the relationship,” Arthur admitted as he started to rub the hardened muscles of his latest client’s arm, treating the rigor mortis. “He just… He really had me charmed, I just couldn’t say no to him. And the kiss wasn’t bad either.”

Arthur smiled and even blushed a little just remembering it, “I just hope I don’t ruin It with … well…”  Arthur sighed, remembering that there is a reason why Arthur has been so single for so long.

“I guess it was lovely to get the attention for once…” Arthur admitted, smiling as he felt the heat in his cheeks intensify. “The way he looked at me made me feel alive. My heart raced, my knees buckled, my blood burned… I think I’m starting to really like him. And I’ve let him kiss me, so I’ve only dug myself into a deeper hole.”

Arthur sighed and put his hands on his hips, hearing his surgical apron crinkle from the pressure. The man before him was 46 years old and died in a car accident. Arthur only had a few bones in his legs to fix, a few gashes to cover and some discolouration to fix. This wasn’t a huge job, and Arthur should be finished by lunch, unless if Arthur gets distracted by too much talking.

And so, Arthur got to work, and continued to describe his date with Alfred. As he washed the man’s body, Arthur discussed the way Alfred stared at him, and how good it made him feel to have someone looking like that again. “Mm, and I can’t express enough how much of a pretty face he has, he could easily be a model. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing, being so keen for me…”

Arthur sighed again as he dabbed dry the man’s face, deciding that he was going to start suturing the mouth and capping the eyes. The faces of the dead were never peaceful, for instance; the mans eyes were slightly crossed, and his mouth hung open, revealing the extremely dry teeth and gums inside. Arthur immediately got to work on the eyes, not wanting to risk looking to deeply into them and forming a connection to the corpse, which should belong to the last family member to look into his eyes.

But before Arthur started to suture the mouth, Arthur decided that he wanted a cup of tea before committing himself to the embalming, since he had no time for breakfast that morning. But then, when he opened up his little box of teas, he was reminded that he needed to grab some more from the breakroom.

“Dammit…” Arthur grumbled as he started to remove his safety gear and readjusting his black suit, he was determined to have his morning cup of tea, “Apologies, I’ll be back in a moment.” Arthur said to the body before leaving the embalming room.

The path to the break room was a simple one, he just needed to pass all of the other embalming rooms, pass two of the six viewing rooms that the funeral home held, and before he reaches the main reception room, there’s the breakroom, where Arthur knew that there was an ample supply of tea bags, which Arthur often took a couple of handfuls to keep in his embalming room.

But, as soon as Arthur closed the doors to his embalming room, he saw a figure standing in the hallway, directly in front of the last embalming room down the hallway. And as he got closer, Arthur saw that it was Gilbert, dressed in most of his embalming gear, except that he had taken off his mask and gloves. His hands were on his face, and he was pacing, looking as though he was about to break into hundreds of pieces. It was concerning for Arthur, because he had always known Gilbert as a strong and confident figure, what could have broken him like this?

“Hey.” Arthur said when he was close enough to get Gilbert’s attention. It was then that Arthur saw the extent of Gilbert’s pain, the look in his eyes was as telling as a book. Gilbert was barely holding back tears. “What’s going on?”

Gilbert sighed deeply as he pressed his back against the wall, looking at Arthur with defeat staining his face, “A kid…”

At this, even Arthur’s breath was taken away and his posture stiffened, his eyes widening as he gasped, “A…”

“A seven-year-old boy, died of cerebral edema. He hurt his head one day at school and didn’t tell anyone, so no one thought anything of it, until his mom tried to wake him up a few days ago… and… and he didn’t wake up…”  Finally, Gilbert broke, and his first tears came, and the man before him crumbled.

“Oh…” Arthur gasped, unsure of what to do, should he give Gilbert a hug?

“I’m sorry, it’s just a bit hard… It’s a kid, and, and Liz and I are trying for one and it’s not going so well,” Gilbert admitted, losing more and more control as the tears kept coming. “I just looked at that kid and broke…”

 “Why did you take this one?” Arthur asked, knowing that Gilbert has been the one assigning all clients recently, so he would have done this knowing that he was going to be dealing with the corpse of a child.

“You’re booked, the other embalmers are on leave, and I don’t want to put Kiku through this...” Gilbert explained, “I started the process and put the caps in and closed the mouth, but I just need some time to breathe.”

Arthur’s face remained blank, but he could see by the look on Gilbert’s face that he was suffering deeply, “…Do you need a hug?” Arthur asked, and after Gilbert stared at him for a few seconds in silence, he replied softly and came into Arthur with open arms and let the Englishman give him a hug.

“Thanks…” Gilbert replied as he squeezed Arthur just a little tighter, perhaps the hug was better for Gilbert than he expected. And Arthur even found himself feeling a little bit better during the hug, perhaps they both needed it. But, Arthur could feel that Gilbert was still struggling, and he could tell that he was trying his hardest to stop crying. Even Arthur was struggling to not begin crying himself, just the idea of a dead child hurt his morbid heart, it’s the weakness of every mortician.  

Arthur couldn’t stand this sight, someone he knew in grief filled him with more pain than the usual sight… There was no way Arthur could call himself Gilbert’s friend if he allows him to return to that embalming room.

Within a matter of seconds, Arthur knew what he had to do, and tilted his head slightly so he could whisper directly into Gilberts ear, “Let me do it.”

“What?”

“I have a 46-year-old man who died in a car accident,” Arthur explained, “Swap with me, I’ll take care of the child.”

“Arthur, are you sure?” Gilbert asked, pulling back so he could look at Arthur, but they were still holding each other, showing just how close they were in height, except that Gilbert was only taller by a few inches.

Arthur swallowed before replying, “Yes. Let me take care of it, I can do it.”

“But…”

“I know what I’m doing,” Arthur explained, he doesn’t have any children in his life, nor does it look like there will be in the near future: he’s better equipped emotionally to handle this. “I can handle it.”

Arthur could tell instantly that Gilbert wanted to take the offer, he could see it in his eyes, but Gilbert’s professionalism was holding him back from taking it so easily. But Arthur wasn’t going to let him get away with that, “But—”

“We’re swapping, go into my embalming room and finish off mine, I have only massaged out the rigor mortis and placed in the eye-caps, he just has a real nasty leg injury.” Arthur explained as he began to walk past Gilbert, who was left standing stunned in the middle of the hallway as Arthur placed his hand on the doorknob to the embalming room. “Please, let me do this for you. But do be a dear and get me some tea if you can, I have a little jar in my embalming room that needs new teabags.”

“Arthur…” Gilbert muttered, his eyes narrowing in sincerity as he took a deep breath, “Thank you.”

Arthur turned to face the door and closed his eyes as he slowly pushed it open, dreading what was waiting for him inside. Out of every corpse that he’s dealt with in the duration of his career, children were always the hardest.

When Arthur opened his eyes again, he saw the shape of a little corpse lying on the cold embalming table, and the Englishman’s heart instantly dropped into his stomach. The feet of most corpses would reach a few inches off the end of the table, however, this one barely crossed the halfway point of the table. Arthur swallowed deeply before pulling back the white blanket, revealing the small body underneath. His face was incredibly small, but the baseball stitching along the back of his head was telling of the investigation of his brain following his death, which would have found the cause of death. His skin had gone pale and his abdomen had gone lime green, it only made him look sicklier on top of his scrawny frame. But still… He looked like a cute child. He would have been so full of life and energy, he looked like the type of kid who’d be constantly active and happy… Arthur could only imagine the missing space in his parents lives now that he won’t be around anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur began as he started to get the embalming gear on, taking out a surgical gown, disposable gloves and a surgical mask. He then walked over to the desk, where he read through the papers with information regarding the child and the body. As well as this, there were photos of the child, which only confirmed Arthur’s impression of him as being an active child. “Gilbert has had to go and take care of some things. So now I shall be taking over your embalming, I hope you don’t mind. My name is Arthur…” 

Arthur felt like he was going to cry, his eyes were already on the verge of releasing tears. It was rare for him to work with children, and it was still so incredibly painful. Such a young life cut short, what would have he done when he was older, would have he saved lives, would have he changed some for the better? What impact would have he made on the world if he hadn’t died at seven years old.

Looking through the medical records, Arthur read how they believe that it was a brain injury that happened at school which set off the time-bomb in the little boy’s head. According to his parents, he showed all of the signs of having a brain injury, however, they didn’t know anything about brain injuries, so there was no way they would have known… They only found out about the brain injury when the boys friend came forward and said that he had fallen from the playground, and was even unconscious for a few minutes, but because he woke up before they could get a teacher; they thought he was fine… No one would have known what was coming… No one knew that the boy was dying…

“I bet you were—are such a kind young man,” Arthur cooed as he began to set up the equipment to drain his blood, usually with corpses, Arthur didn’t hesitate to use past-tense, but with this child, it didn’t feel right. Arthur supposed that even he was having a hard time processing the fact that the child before him was dead… “I bet you have so many friends at school, you look like you are such a popular boy! Yes? Do you like to play sports, or video games? How about both?”

Arthur cringed slightly as he stuck the needle into the boy’s vein, beginning the process of draining out his blood, his eyes watering enough to blur his vision, making him pause to wipe his eyes before properly inserting the needle. “Apologies…”

Arthur couldn’t help but wonder, would have this child known about Alfred’s show? He was close to the age of the child who approached Alfred at the restaurant… He could imagine how distressed Alfred would be if he learned that a young fan passed away.

In curiosity, Arthur returned back to the desk and looked through the photos of the child, and surely, Arthur found a picture of his wearing a t-shirt with the same characters on it which were on the fan’s colouring book. Oh no. Oh no, he was a fan.

“You know… I happen to know the man who voices Hero…” Arthur explained as he walked to the corpse, smiling down at him like a teacher as he took an anti-bacterial wipe to clean the skin. “His name is Alfred, he’s very kind, funny, handsome and rather loud—isn’t that just like Hero? I’ve heard that he’s like that.”

Arthur couldn’t help but smile, imagining how happy Alfred would have been to meet this young fan, but then, Arthur’s heart sank again when he remembered that he never could… And it hurt. Arthur had been struggling for the past few weeks to not get attached to the corpses, and now this was happening.

Arthur took a deep breath and shook his hands in order to ease the tension inside of him, “It’s going to be ok… Your mummy and daddy love you very much…”

The machine beeped, telling Arthur that the blood had been drained, and the little boy was ready to receive the embalming fluid, but before he could, Arthur knew that he had to do the ugly job of removing the stomach contents.

This was going to be a hard day, but at least Arthur saved Gilbert from having to go through it.

----------

Alfred knew that he was going to be disappointed today, granted, it was better than he thought it would be…

“Look,” Alfred sighed, crossing his arms over his chest as he and the other cast stood around where the director sat with the animators, playing the animation of Hero dancing with a boy at prom. “It’s a good thing to show Hero being ok with his sexuality, but we don’t even know who this guy is, he has no voice, he doesn’t even have a name.”

“The writers are thinking of adding him in as a new character later,” The director pointed out, his voice sounding less than impressed with Alfred, but Alfred didn’t care, he was going to stand up for his character, no matter how petty he made himself look. They hadn’t started recording the episode yet, so there was still a small window where Alfred could change things.

“So, Hero won’t be the only LGBT character, it’s about time.”

“Come on, he’s not the only one,” The director pointed out, looking back at Alfred.

“True, he’s the only one with a real role, and who appears regularly, and who is actually confirmed as LGBT. You don’t get it, you don’t get how much representation actually matters,” Alfred complained, ignoring the sighs of the people behind him. He didn’t care what they had to say, because he knew that none of them understood what Alfred meant, none of them understood how much it hurts…

“We’re working on it, and so far, we’re better than the other shows on the network in terms of representation,” The director explained.

“But we could be doing so much better, where’s a lesbian character, where’s a trans character, where’s the cultural representation too?!”

“Oh, don’t you start on that!”

“I will!” Alfred snapped, “None of you have any clue what it’s like to be underrepresented, to the point where you are targeted because of it!” Alfred bit his tongue, preventing himself from going on a full-on rant, so instead, he tightened his hands into fists and held his breath, waiting for whatever the director wanted to say.

“Alfred, we get that you want to create the perfect show where everyone is represented, but we can only do so much with what the show is about,” The Director explained, “We can’t just add people in left, right and centre without having to edit what we’ve planned already. You and I both know that Hero wasn’t going to be gay if you hadn’t intervened.”

Alfred added confidently, “And look how much good that’s done for the show.”

“Yes, it has done the show a lot of good, but we can’t just keep making changes whenever you see it fit, if it’s not going to work!” The Director explained, “If you wanna write your own show and have everyone be from under the rainbow flag then go right ahead!”

“Jesus Christ, I was saying that for the better of the show,” Alfred grumbled, huffing, “I’m just sayin’ that what representation we have has brought the show up in the ranks! But what do I know, I just voice!?”

This wasn’t what Alfred wanted, the lack of representation that he saw everywhere drove him crazy. As far as Alfred knew, the show had so many fans because of Hero’s representation, there were kids out there who related to Hero! It drove him crazy to imagine how many possibly LGBT kids feel confused and alone because they don’t see anyone who they can relate to! Or how many kids are being bullied for being different, and are struggling to survive, like Alfred did…

He felt like he had some kind of duty to them, a duty to make sure that all kids felt accepted and that they were normal, no matter what. He didn’t want any other kids to suffer like he did. It wasn’t fair.

Even with this anger, Alfred remained compliant and went through the recording without another complaint… Although, he did leave a comment, every now and then throughout the recording session. He could tell that he was being a pain in the ass, but he did not care. Alfred didn’t care whenever he could see the Director or the producers sigh whenever he opened his mouth and didn’t say something that was on the script. But Alfred saw himself as an advocate for representation, he was an advocate, he happily aligned his name with any positive movements or societies or charities that helped children—what else did these people expect from him? Did they seriously think that Alfred wouldn’t make some noise when he sees a wasted opportunity for someone to be represented? Alfred wasn’t going to let them get away with missing the mark when it comes to representation, it wouldn’t be fair! This show was meant to be progressive, and this episode was bullshit when it came to that, they were shy in letting Hero be who he really was on camera. Why were they holding back?

Alfred’s mood hadn’t gotten much better since the recording finished, he was bitter that he hadn’t gotten the changes he wanted in the episode. But, he did what he could, and he should at least be proud of that.

But, at least texting Arthur while he worked out at the gym after work made him feel at least a little bit better…

Alfred messaged him first, ‘So we just did the recording, they didn’t change a thing about the episode in terms of representation. Kinda bummed.’ As soon as he sent his text, Alfred put his phone back on the floor, and returned to lifting weights on the bench press. For a moment, Alfred was worried that he had put too much weight onto the barbells as he lifted the metal rod and felt the pressure on his shoulders and back. But after a few pained presses, he felt fine.  

“So, how’s things with Arthur going?” Matthew asked, suddenly looming over Alfred and offering his support to the weight of the barbell. “Also, man, you’ve put way too much weight on, you’ll break something!”

“I’m fine!!” Alfred wheezed, before he finally managed to rest the barbell on the support, only then could he finally process and reply to Matthew’s question properly. “You could tell I was texting Arthur?”

“Whoa, were you?” Matthew asked, smiling. “How’s it going?”

“Really, really good. He’s so sweet, interesting, and funny!” Alfred replied, “Aaaaand, we kissed for the first time on Saturday~ Which was our second date.”

“Ooooh, that’s different for you!” Matthew pointed out.

“Yeah!” Alfred replied, chuckling as he adjusted himself on the bench press, so he could view Matthew more easily, “I’m not playing around with this one, I’m taking what you said seriously, no more playing around with people, or I’m only gonna hurt myself or someone else. I’m gonna take this seriously, and god, Arthur’s perfect for that. I’ve gotta thank Francis for setting us up.”

“Oh yeah?” Matthew asked, smiling as he leaned against the barbell.

“He’s handsome, kind, funny, mature, has a stable job, and, oh my God, he’s so interesting!” Alfred explained, “He works as a mortician.”

“What?!”

“Yeah!!” Alfred replied, “How cool is that!?”

“Whoa…” Matthew muttered, chuckling nervously, “I can’t imagine what it’d be like working with dead bodies all day, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Even when I make someone’s gums bleed with flossing, I get queasy!”

“Yeah same, but the way he talks about his work is so damn interesting!” Alfred explained, “Like, if I’m gonna have a serious relationship with someone, I want it to be him.”

“That’s really good, I’m happy for you,” Matthew replied, “Sorry I haven’t been around much, things have gotten crazy at the clinic, with school starting up again soon. All the parents want their kids to see a dentist before returning to school, but of course they’ve gotta do it on the last week of the summer! We’ve gotta catch up, and I wanna hear about everything!”

“Oh yeah, and I’ve got a lot to say! I’ve had a wild few weeks!” Alfred replied.

“But, you look like you’ve been doing great, is everything else fine…?” Matthew asked.

At this question, Alfred couldn’t help but smile. He was feeling good, he was feeling better than he had in a long time and he was not afraid to show it, “Yeah, I’m going really good. It’s all good!”  

Matthew’s smile was reassuring, and only made Alfred feeling better. But then again, both men had probably realised that Alfred was experiencing a high period, where his mood and habits were only positives. It was the times where it seemed like nothing could get Alfred down.

“That’s good, do you wanna get dinner after gym at my place?” Matthew asked, as he started walking back towards the treadmills, where his towel and drink bottle were still sitting in position.

Without hesitation, Alfred replied, beaming like a child about to meet Santa, “Yes!!”

“Now, get some of those weight off, or you’ll crush your face!” Matthew pointed out when he finally returned to his treadmill.

Alfred obliged, deciding to remove a couple of pounds from each side of the barbell, which made the weight a lot easier to manage. And once he was finished, he checked his phone, happy to see that Arthur had responded with, ‘Aww, sorry to hear that.’

So, Alfred responded, ‘Yeah, somethings just can’t be changed, I guess. But I gave them a headache over it. How’s your day going?’

Alfred then decided that he was going to press twenty-five times before he will check his phone again. If Arthur has texted him, then Alfred will text him back, but if he hasn’t texted back, then Alfred will do thirty more before checking again, and keep on raising the number of presses my fives each time.

‘It’s been a bit hard, I will admit. I’ve had to do a lot today…’ Arthur replied, immediately, Alfred sensed that something was off.

And so, he responded with, ‘Was it hard? Do you need to talk about it?’  

With that, Alfred returned to his workout, and completed thirty presses, despite the fact that he felt like his arms were about to fall off after number ten, but he persisted, feeling the sweat drip from his forehead. But then finally, he finished and checked his phone and saw that Arthur replied with, ‘Sometime, yes… But I’ll be busy for the next few hours. I’ll message you again tonight.’  

‘Alright, message you then, good luck!’  Alfred replied, hoping that he had made Arthur’s day at least a little bit better... Alfred could guess that he was dealing with another difficult corpse. Alfred couldn’t imagine how hard it must be for Arthur to see so much every single day, surely he would have gotten used to it… Alfred was sure that he would never be able to do that. Alfred had never really experienced grief before, he only lost two grandparents when he was small, so he couldn’t imagine what it would be like. How does Arthur handle seeing so many sad people, or seeing what dead people look like? Sure, he looked fine when speaking to Alfred about his work, but there’s gotta be more to it. At least Alfred could try to help him as best he can.

It still made Alfred’s heart race to think about their kiss. It was softer and sweeter than most of his first kisses, to be perfectly honest, usually Alfred would have done more with someone before the second date. But then again, Alfred wanted his patience to be translated as maturity to Arthur, he wouldn’t want to jump into bed with Alfred so soon! Alfred wanted that aspect of himself to change, he wasn’t going to be easy, eager or overexcited about a new relationship anymore—he wanted to start taking things more seriously, and it was going to start with Arthur.  

Granted, this may have been Alfred’s overexcited, ambitious and impulsive personality kicking in and making things seem better than they were, but that kiss had put Alfred in such a good mood: he didn’t care. He kept exercising as thoughts of that kiss pushed him on, it was so pure and innocent, Alfred couldn’t help but liken it to middle schoolers trying it out for the first time—but at the same time, the kiss was energising, and set off some kind of spark between them, well, at least according to Alfred, it did. It left the American hanging for more, and perhaps that’s what Arthur intended, perhaps that’s a method of keeping a man keen, and boy, it was working. Alfred hadn’t felt this kind of excitement over someone in such a long time, and he has had dozens of partners in between.

Perhaps Alfred was finally growing up. 

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes Arthur’s curiosity got the best of him, and he would give into the temptation to do something that he’s been thinking about since entering the funeral industry. Today’s exploration was the casket, which was one aspect of the funeral life that most people dread, because of it’s association with one’s final resting place.

Arthur, however, found it quite comfortable. Anyone who says that a casket doesn’t look comfortable is a liar. The interior lining was soft and warm, and the pillows were perfectly fluffed, creating the perfect angle for Arthur to lie down and play on his phone. His curiosity had gotten the better of him when he went on lunch break, and so, Arthur climbed into one of the display caskets and closed the bottom half of the lid so he could lie in peace.

Perhaps it was just his morbid curiosity getting the better of him, but Arthur felt at peace while lying in the casket. He felt as though he could just close the lid and disappear forever. Granted, he had already decided to be cremated through alkaline hydrolysis when he eventually dies, but perhaps being buried in a casket wasn’t such a bad idea, despite how environmentally unfriendly the method was. But, he understood why some people preferred to be buried in an air tight compartment after being pumped with embalming fluid, people are afraid of decay—afraid of the fact that someday the vessel of their soul will become a putrefied mess. But it was a fact of nature that will never be prevented, no matter how much formaldehyde is pumped through their veins, or how air-tight the casket is.    

The more Arthur thought about it, the more he found himself thinking about his death… Sure, thinking about one’s own mortality was a perfectly sane thing, but the amount that Arthur thought about it was a little questionable… He thought about how he would be handled, how his body would look during cremation, and how the people he knew would feel. How would Alfred feel if he suddenly died, were they close enough for Alfred to feel something powerful if he suddenly passed away?

In fact, what would Alfred want to have done to his body when he dies? Arthur thought as he checked his phone to see if Alfred had responded to his message, which he hadn’t. Would Alfred want a classic American funeral, with an embalming, a viewing and then a burial. Or would he be modern and prefer a cremation through either the traditional method or alkaline hydrolysis? Hell, does the guy even know what alkaline hydrolysis is? Would he want Arthur to manage it? – but then that would mean that Alfred would need to die before Arthur retires for that to happen.

“That was a dark thought,” Arthur murmured to himself as he laid flat in the casket, staring at the plain white ceiling of the display room, with his phone in his hands as the clutched them together over his chest, lying there like a real corpse would. If he closed his eyes and stayed still for long enough, perhaps he really could become a living corpse.

Arthur felt himself sinking further and further into the pillows of the casket, and his body seemed to become stiffer, like it was sensing that the end was near. But yet, Arthur’s heart was racing at a million miles an hour. He couldn’t help but feel like something was coming, like he was lying on train tracks and could hear the rumbling getting closer and closer. Was it his sense of impending doom that the casket has triggered, or just his anxiety kicking in again?

“And right in here is where we keep our display of caskets,” a voice said as the door to the display room began to open. Thankfully for Arthur, the heavy weight of the wooden door made it slower to open, and gave Arthur the time he needed to reach upwards and pull down the lid of the casket, completely closing himself in.

Arthur lied as still as a corpse as he listened to the noise of people walking around the display room, and Gilbert continued to talk, “The majority of the caskets are made in-state and come from a local manufacturer, and we also have a selection of caskets imported from Europe.”

“Dad never specified whether he wanted to be cremated or buried, so which method would you recommend?” A woman’s voice asked.

“Well, it really comes down to personal preference, as well as budget,” Gilbert pointed out.

“What are most people doing these days?”

“If you want to follow trends, we have noticed a rising popularity for cremation over the past few years, it’s more environmentally friendly than a traditional burial as well as a cheaper option. And the funeral home has had an alkaline hydrolysis cremation machine installed very recently, so now that it an option as well.” Gilbert explained, and Arthur froze when he heard Gilbert’s voice coming from right outside of the casket that Arthur laid in.

“What’s alkaline hydrolysis?” The same woman’s voice asked.

“Alkaline hydrolysis is a method of cremation that uses water, potassium hydroxide and a lower heat than cremation, how it works is that the body is placed in a stainless-steel chamber, and those ingredients, as well as pressure reduces the body to ashes, which are delivered back to the family, and an excess oil which is then disposed of down the drain. This process is also known as Resomation and Biocremation,” Gilbert explained.

“So, does that mean that it’s more environmentally friendly?”

“When compared to cremation and traditional burial, yes,” Gilbert explained, “The process uses less energy, has significantly lower emissions and a study has proven that the method creates a carbon footprint that is four times smaller than that of cremation.”

“Hmm, that is interesting, we will definitely take a look at it.”

“I can explain the process to you in more detail later, if you’re interested,” Gilbert replied, and Arthur became paralysed with fear when he felt the casket move slightly, and the lid was pried at from the outside.

Light filled the casket when the lid was open, and Arthur was met with the sight of Gilbert staring down at him with a confused and shocked expression. Arthur could have died right there, Gilbert and Arthur stared at each other for a few moments in silence, both unsure of what to do or what to say. But when Gilbert’s client started to speak to him, Gilbert closed the casket lid and returned Arthur to the darkness, where the Englishman was still paralysed with fear.

------

‘I want to die. I was lying in a casket and the head funeral director opened it and found me while he was showing around some clients.’

Once Alfred saw Arthurs text, he couldn’t help but chuckle as he replied, ‘What the hell were you doing in a casket!?’ Accompanying the message was a group of laughing emoji’s.

‘I was curious! But I will admit that it wasn’t bad.’  

The mental image of Arthur lying in a casket was cuter than Alfred expected, of course Alfred wasn’t surprised that Arthur would do that kind of thing. It’s so morbid, but it was such an Arthur thing to do, and the fact that he felt embarrassed by getting caught was adorable and hilarious to Alfred. He could only imagine what it looked like.

“Alright, Al. Your mic’s on, let’s take it from the top again, ok?” The director asked, his voice echoing through Alfred’s small recording booth. Alfred then rose from his seat and put his phone in his back pocket before he reached for the headset which was hanging right above the large microphone.

“Right,” Alfred replied once he adjusted the headset and took his position in front of the microphone, flipping a few pages of the script which was positioned on a stand in front of him.

“Good, recording in three, two, one…”

Alfred was sure to wait a few seconds before starting, immediately switching into his characters voice, “HEY! What’s going on here?! What is this stuff!?”

Alfred listened and waited for his cue to chime in again, and he kept doing so for the duration of the scene. While he was acting, all of Alfred’s outside memories and thoughts were gone, he became his character almost completely, right down to the changing of his posture.

He did what he could to make the lines work in his favour, even to the point where he’d swap around the structure of a sentence because he felt it matched him, and his character, better. Much to the grief of the director, whom would sometimes make Alfred go back and do it again.

They just didn’t get it, Alfred told himself, there was no way these half-assed people would be able to understand just how much Alfred was attached to his character. Alfred related to Hero hard because the character was exactly what Alfred wanted to be… He’d give anything to give high school a second go, but in Hero’s shoes… He wanted to be the popular one, the hero, the confident one with nothing holding him back, and so Alfred became that through his acting. At times he could really feel it, it gave him a rush and gave him at least ten years of his life back.

Alfred has been told that he acts too much like his character, by people he works with, and even Matthew—but Alfred takes it as a compliment. Alfred couldn’t believe his position, usually voice actors dream of getting such a great first-role, the title character of a show on a popular children’s network!!

There were even times that Alfred gets so into his acting, he’ll hit the hanging microphone with his head as he jerks forward in expression, he hates being woken up from his fantasy like that. Despite it being pretty funny.

By the end of the recording, Alfred and the sound team were satisfied by Alfred’s work and Alfred left the studio with a spring in his step. As soon as the door to the recording studio closed, Alfred took his phone back out of his pocket and saw a couple of notifications and messages.

The latest message was from his friend, Ivan, who he met a few years ago, who was currently living in Russia, ‘Hello Alfred! I may be coming to America for work sometime, maybe I could spend some time in New York and we can hang out!’

“Oh God, yes!” Alfred hissed, responding positively to Ivan’s message. He hadn’t seen Ivan face to face in years, but they still messaged each other from time to time. Instantly Alfred’s mind was full of memories of parting with Ivan, which was always a blast. Now he wondered whether Ivan could translate what Koshka says—Then Alfred will go to work the next day and tell everyone!

The second message was from Arthur, he was still talking about the casket, ‘I’m even tempted to buy one myself just to lie in one. But I wouldn’t be buried in one, it’s not too environmentally friendly.’

“Interesting,” Alfred muttered, how would Arthur prefer to be handled when he dies? Then that got Alfred thinking about what his wishes would be… After learning that getting buried wasn’t an environmentally friendly option, Alfred will need to think about different options. Maybe that’s something he can ask Arthur about on their next date. So, Alfred responded to Arthur’s text, apologising for the delay, and asking whether Arthur was free anytime soon.

But then, the next text made Alfred freeze, and brought his heart to his throat. It was from a contact that Alfred hadn’t heard from in ages, and the contact name wasn’t even a proper name… It was a code, DTF… Down to Fuck… ‘Hey handsome, long time no see <3 My ‘roommate’ is out of town this weekend, wanna come over and have some fun? Just like old times. It’ll be you, me, Netflix, and a whole lotta lube. You know you want to.’

Alfred knew exactly what this person was talking about. This guy’s boyfriend (probably, knowing him) was going out of town and was asking if Alfred wanted to come over and fuck for a weekend. It wasn’t the first time that Alfred had done this with this person, hell, Alfred had even done this with many other people, single, not single, or not sure. The Alfred before now would have happily replied with ‘Can I come over now?’.

But Alfred now had a reputation to fix, and a loyalty to keep. He can’t just agree to fuck another guy after asking when Arthur can go out with him again—it’s that kind of behaviour that got Alfred in trouble in the first place. It’s the behaviour that Matthew would roast him over, and Alfred wasn’t going to give him any more coal to add to the flame.

Alfred was tempted… He stared at his phone for an entire minute, pondering over what to say and what to do. He shouldn’t do it, it’s not fair on Arthur, what would Arthur say if he found out Alfred fucked someone else, even at this early stage of the relationship…? The fact that Alfred was even struggling to say no to the offer was concerning. Alfred loved the attention, he loved the fact that someone was reaching out for him, for his body and for his skill, it was the kind of attention that Alfred craved like a drug… Perhaps that’s what made him so easy…

With this realisation, Alfred frowned and wrote out a reply to the text, hating how much he was struggling to actually type and send the message, ‘No, I’m good thanks, I’m not that kind of guy anymore.’

Alfred was not expecting such a fast response, nor one so salty, ‘Boo’

“Oh, wow,” Alfred grumbled, that was rude. Perhaps that shows how the guy really felt about Alfred…

------

Arthur couldn’t help but smile when he saw Alfred’s message, he couldn’t deny that he was happy that Alfred wanted to see him again. Sadly, Arthur is busy with the funeral home until Saturday, so he let Alfred know that he is happy to do something then.

To say that Arthur was going to be busy this week is a massive understatement, he has two funerals under his wing on nearly every day of the week, he has family members calling him hourly asking for updates or to give their requests for something. While Arthur takes care of everything from the funeral homes position, there is still a lot to do—thank God the funeral home is rather large.

Arthur could feel the pressure, even as he was embalming a man, who’s funeral is in five days: he’ll still be preserved then, it will be fine. Thankfully the man didn’t die in any spectacular fashion, there were no wounds for Arthur to cover, no body parts that he needs to sew together and no massive discolouration. Just another cancer-death of a man in his late fifties. Currently Arthur was waiting for the embalming machine to finish pumping embalming fluid into the mans body, replacing the blood which had been drained earlier.

But even with all of the work around him, Arthur was still stressing over something else, “When two people have a mutual crush on each other, and that crush has been acted on, does it mean those two people are together?”

Were he and Alfred exclusive now? Did he and Alfred cross that line the moment they kissed in front of Arthur’s car? Was it too late to go back now, or was there still another line for them to pass?

Arthur hadn’t felt so strongly for someone in such a long time, he couldn’t help but liken himself to a deer in headlights. It was a feeling of dread that made him sick in the stomach and made his palms shake, just the thought of it made him nervous, like he was sinking. All he could think about was pain, suffering, loss, depression, spiralling out of control, confusion… He could feel it all again, the crash and burn, the spiral downwards and the unhealthy coping mechanisms Arthur found himself picturing it all… Seeing it… He even choked on a little bit of breath, as his hands felt heavy where he stood, like he was about to sink into the ground.

He knew that grieving was a process, people handle it differently—Arthur handled his own grief differently, but… It clings… Arthur entered the funeral industry and watched people suffer from grief before being shoved head-first into it… Now as he sees it in front of him every day, it was a constant reminder of Arthur’s relationship with death.

It has been pointed out to Arthur in the past that his career has made him somewhat of a servant to death, and he does see how that could be true… He is the one who is there to help the living pick up the pieces after death has reaped… Perhaps this was why Arthur felt as though he had a special relationship with death. He was one of the few who had completely accepted the fact that he was going to die, and awaited it with contempt.

But, despite how much Arthur’s morbid dread shook him, that pesky attraction to the American man refused to remain unanswered. He still gave Arthur a feeling that he craved… How could he stay away from that?  

Arthur looked back to the corpse, seeing that the machines light was indicating the final moments of the embalming fluid process, a warning for Arthur to start preparing for the ending of the embalming fluid process. After this is finished, Arthur will need to clean the body again and sterilise it, then perform any cosmetic changes, adjust the eyes a little maybe, and then dress him in the suit his family provided. Then he will be ready for his funeral later in the week…

But Arthur still couldn’t get Alfred out of his mind, even while he was working with the corpse, “I want something with him, I really do… I really, really do…” Arthur explained, “He’s different than what I thought he was, he’s handsome, funny, kind, fantastic with kids, and so… Heh… He’s full of life…”  Arthur couldn’t help but smile at that statement, and internally thank the corpse for the enlightenment, “He makes me feel special…”

Granted, Arthur had been on dates with men that Francis has set him up with before, and they’ve made him feel special, but no one has managed to do this as well as Alfred. He had something that Arthur could relate to, even though he didn’t exactly understand what it was, it was something that made them connect so easily, like the draw between two magnets.

“But… I’m still…” Arthur muttered, chocking a little on his words as he started to mix together two skin pigments in an attempt to find a shade to match the mans skin, “Scared…”

Would his sense of dread get the better of him this time?

The thoughts tormented him as he slowly applied the thick pigmented cosmetics to the mans skin, impressed by how well the colour matched. With the pigment, he removed any discolouration brought upon by death, and managed to restore at least somewhat of a life-like complexion. He knew the family would be pleased with the result.

It plagued him as he worked and moved throughout his embalming room, despite how hard he tried to remain focussed on his work, his thoughts still felt like a ball and chain attached to his ankle

Arthur just couldn’t remain silent for much longer, “I don’t know what to do,” The feelings of dread and anxiety plaguing him throughout the hour. “If I leave him alone and not take this further, I will suffer, but if I keep going… and…”

Arthur stared at the corpse like he was listening to a teacher, all Arthur wanted was guidance and support, he needed something, anything, to help him choose. But in his heart, Arthur knew that he didn’t want to give this up, he wanted to believe that Alfred was worth the risk…

Even as he dressed the corpse, Arthur struggled to think clearly, so many thoughts were swimming through his head, to the point where he had to pause with a half-dressed corpse laying on his cold embalming table. Arthur took a deep breath and closed his eyes, before looking down at the corpse, “I may as well see what happens, right?” Arthur asked, seeking his answer from the corpse and even though the corpse could never reply to him, he felt as though he got at least some mental clarity from the body. It was a dependency on the company of corpses that Arthur had developed over the years of his career, it made him feel as though he could say or ask anything that was on his mind, and the soul that watched him work would guide him towards and answer. He didn’t know how to explain it, nor did he want to explain it—he liked it as it was and it was not causing any harm, according to him.    

“Yes… I shouldn’t hide, I shouldn’t let my fears hold me back from trying…” Arthur muttered, nervously chuckling, as though struggling to really make his decision, “Better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all…”

--------

“Hey! Arthur!” Alfred cheered, speeding up his walking once he caught the sight of the Englishman standing at the bottom of the steps before the Museum of Natural History, where the pair had agreed to meet up and begin their walk through Central Park. It was a nice date idea.

Just like every other time he had seen him, Arthur was dressed completely in black, which in itself was hardly appropriate for the post-summer weather, he wore a black buttoned up shirt that was rolled up to his elbows, black tight jeans and shoes. He was almost a stark contrast to Alfred, who wore his brown leather bomber jacket, a white and red baseball shirt underneath, a pair of blue jean shorts and white and blue converse. Alfred couldn’t have found the differences more entertaining as he and Arthur hugged warmly.

“How are you?” Arthur asked, squeezing Alfred for a few seconds before letting Alfred go.

“I’m good, I’m good,” Alfred replied, smiling down at Arthur as the two commenced their walk, “Hey, how about for another date, we go into the museum?”

“That would be nice,” Arthur agreed, “In all my years of living here, I haven’t actually been in there.”

“Oh yeah?” Alfred asked, “I’ve been in a couple of times, it’s pretty cool. How far away from here do you live?”

“Not too far, I catch the train in,” Arthur replied, “It’s too much of a hassle to find a park.”

“True that, I barely found one myself,” Alfred admitted, “Have you been in Central Park though?”

“A few times, I think it’s nice for a stroll—but fuck, it gets crowded,” Arthur chuckled as the couple started on their path.

Almost instantly, Alfred and Arthur were surrounded by people and trees, the tall trees liked the boarder of the wide walkway, while people moved in all sorts of different directions, some were jogging, some were walking and others had prams. Admittedly, coming here on a Saturday probably wasn’t a wise idea, but Alfred wasn’t going to let that interrupt their date. In fact, this gave Alfred an idea… Alfred reached out for Arthur’s hand and after a few seconds of hesitation, he took Arthur’s hand into his own, and once Arthur reacted and looked at him, Alfred explained, “So I don’t lose you.”

Thankfully, Arthur didn’t seem to mind as he smiled and looked to the ground, but even with that effort, Alfred could still see the pink pigment on Arthur’s cheeks. Arthur didn’t know what to expect when he took Arthur’s hand, but the result surprised him; his hands were as soft as they were cold, which contrasted against Alfred’s body heat.

It was … nice. Alfred hadn’t taken the time to hold a partner’s hand in a long time, most of his relationships up to now had been rushed or sexually-driven, he hadn’t had a third date that involved walking in forever. But, while it was different, Alfred liked it because it felt like progress, like he was getting somewhere—it even made him feel mature. Like he could stick up his middle finger to those who looked down on him.

But that also means that Alfred and Arthur still need to have a proper talk, are they an exclusive couple or not? Is Arthur taking his loyalty as seriously as Alfred? Are they on the same level? 

“So,” Alfred chuckled, “What have you been up to this week?”

“I’ve had a busy week, most days had two funerals, then next week will be the same. I’m embalming at least three people a day,” Arthur explained, sighing as their hands swung between them, “I did five on Thursday.”

“Oh damn, how long does it take to embalm someone?” Alfred asked.

“Everything depends on the body,” Arthur answered, “If it was a simple death with no scarring or repairs needed, embalming can take under three hours, however; if the death is horrific and I need to put things back together it can take up to six hours.”  

“Wow…” Alfred gasped, letting his curiosity get the better of him, “What’s the weirdest thing a family has ever asked for you to do?”

“Hah…. Some families have specific requests and will become irrational if it is not possible, sometimes I am even asked to defy physics,” Arthur replied, chuckling.

“Oh yeah?”

“I completely understand that when people are going through extreme grief, sometimes the littlest of things matter. If not, then all hell burns over! A few years ago, I had the corpse of this one woman, she had a peaceful death so everything should have been normal. But her children, all six of them, wanted me to put her in this little red dress that she wore when they were children.” Arthur explained, before pausing for a moment to sigh, “The dress was a size six… The woman who died was a size sixteen.”

“Oh noooo,” Alfred gasped as Arthur nodded, confirming to Alfred that this was really true.

“They wanted me to do the impossible, it’s not physically possible!” Arthur explained, “In the funeral industry, with clothing we either dress the corpse properly, or we cut the back of the clothing open and lay it on top of the corpse and tuck the rest under, I have even sewn tight clothes onto the corpse. But none of those methods were going to work in this case. When I told the children this, they utterly refused to accept it, a group of six people in their mid-forties to late-fifties crying because I can’t bend physics. They demanded that I get it done, the sisters were ruthless!”

“Wow, that’s kinda rude!” Alfred pointed out.

“I don’t hold anything against the family of the deceased, they’re grieving and their judgement is clouded,” Arthur explained, “So… I did it, I did what I could and I eventually got that dress on the corpse, and it was horrid. There were lumps everywhere, the seam wasn’t holding on, it hid none of her modesty and looked like a complete joke. I refused to let her leave my embalming room like that.”

“So, what’d you do?”

“I took a photo of her and met with the eldest son, who I believed was the most mentally ‘together’ and who I knew would convince the others. So, I showed him the photo and he cried, I explained to him that I cannot let her leave my embalming room looking like that. He agreed, even saying ‘she’d haunt us all if we let her meet God like that,’ and he agreed to find new clothes for her to be buried in and told me that he would deal with the siblings.” Arthur replied, his eyes widening as he retold the story. Alfred could only imagine what that experience would have been like.

“Oh my God, woooow!” Alfred laughed, “I’m sure glad that turned out well!” 

“Now, tell me more about what your work, what do you do?” Arthur replied, “What is a day like in the shoes of a voice actor…?”

“Well, my days are pretty unpredictable, it really depends on when I’m needed,” Alfred explained, “But one thing is constant: scripts. Every week I am given a new script to memorise before the recording next week. But what happens is that first there’s a rehearsal recording, so the producer can check if there’s anything that they want to add or change to the script. If changes are made, we are notified and given the new script, if not, then we learn the new one. And then we do private recordings for our own characters, sample some lines and stuff.”

“Mm.”

“And then there are paired recordings, for characters whose dialogue relies on each other, like a fast-paced conversation, and then we do the full recording of the episode, and at some point, the minor characters come and do their lines,” Alfred continued, “And by that point, the whole episode is recorded, so it’s up to the animators to put it all together.”

“Oh.”

“And that’s when we receive the next script for us to learn for the week after the next,” Alfred continued.

“But how do you remember everything?” Arthur asked.

“When we record, a copy of the script is in front of us for reference,” Alfred admitted, “Plus, the episodes themselves are around fifteen minutes long and there’s a lot of action scenes, so it’s not too much of a stretch.”

“Oh, well I suppose that’s pretty good,” Arthur admitted, “I’ve been tempted to check it out, maybe I should see an episode or two so I can understand what it’s about.”

“Oh sweet! Please tell me what you think!” Alfred gasped, “I suggest you start in season two, we went through an art-style change and so it looks so much cooler! But season one built up so much of the main story! And season three has been going great, it’s very funny now and there’s new characters! Hah, can’t you just watch the whole thing?”  

“What’s the age demographic?” Arthur asked.

“Kids to preteens…”

“No.” Arthur muttered, “I’ll watch a few episodes to entertain you, and I decide from there if I wish to continue.” Just the way Arthur sounded when he said that made Alfred laugh loudly. Alfred would understand completely if he wasn’t that interested in his show, but Alfred would love it if Arthur gave it a shot, and even liked it!

“Sure, sure!” Alfred chuckled. Then Alfred smiled when he felt Arthur tighten the grip on his hand when they passed through a tighter group of people. He didn’t need to do anything bold in order to make Alfred’s heart race, and he was definitely happy with his choice to turn down a weekend with his former fuck-buddy to be with him.  “But you know, the show’s gotten real popular, it’s one of the favourites of the network!”

“Oh yeah?” Arthur asked, his eyebrow raising with intrigue.

“Yeah,” Alfred replied, “Maybe we can watch it together, eh?”

“Hah, riiiight,” Arthur chuckled, “You’d talk too much, besides, what actor watches his own show?”

“Well, how do you know that they don’t, do you know any actors?” Alfred asked, “Plus, I can give you good commentary and behind the scenes facts.”

“Maybe another time…” Arthur explained through his teeth.

“Yeah, I know, it’s a kid show, but I’ll make sure you come around to it!” Alfred explained, “In a couple weeks I’ll be going through contract negotiations, the show’s been greenlit for a new season!”  

“Oh, that’s good, so you play a main character, right?” Arthur asked.

“Oh yeah! The real main character! They wouldn’t have a show without me!” Alfred explained, soaking in the attentive look in Arthur’s eyes, like the idea of Alfred being essentially to the show intrigued him. “I’m in every episode, voice a good amount for it, and sometimes I’ll even lend my voice to other shows on the network if they need a little extra! Yeah! Haha! They’d be screwed without me!”

“That’s bold of you to say,” Arthur pointed out

“But warranted,” Alfred replied, “I’m the one who suggested that my character be gay, and now the network is being praised for inclusivity! Soooooo, they kinda owe me one! I want to have them show more real-life issues faced by young people who are struggling to figure out who they are—cause most of our audience would be nearing that age!”

“Mm, you explained that to me in the restaurant…” Arthur pointed out.

“Yeah… And then that kid came up to us…” Alfred sighed happily. That kid really made his day, that and then the kiss from Arthur combined made that probably the best day of that month!

It wasn’t long before they had reached the opposite side of the park, where they both stood before the water of the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis Reserve, marvelling at the large and still body of water.

Then, Alfred looked down at Arthur and pondered, what would happen if he kissed him… It was definitely something that Alfred wanted. He couldn’t help but notice the way that Arthur’s eyes listened in the bright light of the sun, or how his porcelain skin stood out against the darkness of his clothes, and how his hair moved in the light breeze. Arthur was staring out at the water, and Alfred curiously wondered what was going on inside his head, what things could he be thinking about then? Could it be able Alfred as well?

Within a minute, Arthur’s eyes found their way to his, and the couple stood in silence and stared at each other, hand in hand before the large body of water, listening to the world move around them. Green met blue, like how the water met the grass and before long, the two men started to lean into each other, like couples would do to whisper sweet nothings, but neither of them really knew what to say. Alfred’s heart was racing and his thoughts clouded, he hadn’t felt this way in years, and it left him full of eccentric wonder….

Alfred couldn’t help himself anymore, he leaned down in just the right way to encourage their lips to angle in the right way. Arthur seemed to respond positively, tilting his head upwards to meet with Alfred, and his eyes narrowed.

“Do you want to kiss me?” Arthur whispered, his voice intoxicating Alfred more and more with every word.

“May I?” Alfred asked, chuckling under his breath as he brought his free hand into the others, so the pair stood opposite each other, their lips so close to touching, it was almost torture for Alfred to not pounce on him there.

But Alfred didn’t have to, Arthur lifted himself slightly and their lips were brought together. Instantly, Alfred could see the fireworks light up between their lips, and both men found themselves linger on the peck for far too long. So, Alfred took it a step further by not ending the kiss, but moving his lips a little, encouraging Arthur with a squeeze of the hands to do so too. The outside world had become nothing but blurs and white noise to him, nothing mattered to Alfred anymore but getting more of Arthur’s soft lips…

Their kissing became warm, tender, and far purer than anything Alfred had done in the past, it was intoxicating and alluring. Even feeling Arthur’s tongue grace across Alfred’s lips sent a shiver down his spine. Alfred couldn’t control his hands anymore and let them slowly slide up Arthur’s arm as he deepened the kiss, curious to get more of a taste of his English date. It was good, he tasted of lemonade and his spit was cool to the touch, it sent Alfred wild, craving more…

But before he could, Arthur placed his hands on Alfred’s shoulders and released their lips from their tight lock, sighing as he rubbed Alfred’s nose against his own.

“As much as I’d love to kiss you more, we need to remember that we’re in public…” He murmured, going bright red in the cheeks.

“Oh… Heheh,” Alfred chuckled, even becoming slightly pink in the cheeks, whereas his heart was racing…

Chapter Text

“What is it like to die?” Arthur asked, his eyes running along the blade of the scalpel that he held in his hand, his voice monotone and his eyes blank. “How would have you preferred to die? If you could choose?”

Arthur doubted that the grandmother of six, who died peacefully and surrounded by her family would want to change anything; she had the death that others dreamt of.

Today Arthur woke up with dark thoughts swimming in his mind, and it seems like they followed him to work. He stood by the corpse with a figurative black cloud engulfing his head, and Arthur felt as though it could swallow him whole. It was a darkness that Arthur had become used to, it would follow him everywhere and bring dark thoughts and ideas with it, and make Arthur want to do things that were less than helpful.

Arthur’s curiosity over what it was like to die only got worse, and more tempting.

If Arthur Kirkland was to choose the method of his death, he knew that he’d want something fast, but not fast enough to kill him before he could completely reflect on the situation. He wouldn’t want too much pain, but enough to really feel it happening. He wondered what it was like to feel the life drain away, to feel his soul lift away from his physical form. He didn’t care about what happened after death, he’ll deal with whatever comes: it was only the method of death that made him morbidly curious.

Could he jump in front of a train on the New York subway? No, that would cause way too much of a mess and disrupt the system and possibly ruin a million people’s days, he didn’t want to be a bother, especially in death. Besides, it would be a hell of a job for the poor soul who has to put him back together if he can be put back together. It wasn’t worth the effort, pain or disruption.

Arthur shook his head and woke himself up from his dark trance, remembering that he had a job to do right now, he can’t let his thoughts disrupt him today; he has four corpses he needs to get through, and he’s not going to let his inner darkness stop him.

But as he worked on the woman before him, he could feel the thoughts growing stronger in the back of his mind, where they remained and continuously annoyed Arthur, like an itch.

“Now is not the time for suicidal thoughts…” Arthur grumbled, before he looked down at the grandmother’s face, which had been neatly prepared for her viewing, “Did you ever have those moments of weakness, has death ever tempted you?”

Arthur couldn’t imagine it, the woman’s family described her perfect life and perfect death, she was what so many people strived to be: peaceful, stable and happy.

“Death tests me every single day…” Arthur admitted, sighing as he pressed his hands against the edge of the metal embalming table. “I think about my own death, and wonder whether it’s worth waiting so long for it, when I can just so easily bring it upon myself… As my relationship with death gets stronger, so does its hold on me… I’m starting to think more about death than I do my own life…”

Except when he’s with Alfred, that’s seems to be the only time when death isn’t holding Arthur by the wrist. Alfred seemed to have some kind of effect on him, the American made him feel alive, especially after that kiss in Central Park, mmm…

Just thinking about Alfred’s lips sent a shiver down Arthur’s spine and brought a smile to Arthur’s lips, he wanted more. As he got closer to the American, his anxiety and fear lessened, it was perfect! His sense of dread, his sense of fear and doom were getting lesser, and Arthur couldn’t be more relieved. He used to be scared of falling for Alfred, now he believes that he may be doing just that…

What will happen when Alfred dies--- no, Arthur shook his head, refusing to give in to the dark and morbid pattern of his imagination, he was happy to picture himself and Alfred kissing, he didn’t want to think about Alfred’s corpse! He doesn’t want to do that anymore! Not to Alfred! Not again! He wanted to regard Alfred as sacred ground, once Arthur decides to think about the American man, then his morbid thoughts are not allowed to intrude. And if they do, Arthur will change the focus of the darkness onto himself and his own death. He wants to preserve Alfred’s image, better than any embalming process ever could.

Arthur frowned and returned his focus to the task at hand, completing the embalming of the woman before him.

“I’m sorry for being so quiet, I have a lot on my mind…” Arthur chuckled, before readjusting this surgical mask, before placing the tip of his scalpel on the woman’s wrinkly and lime green abdomen, “It’s a man, you see… A man who can make a mortician feel alive…”

With a smile, Arthur pressed the scalpel through the skin, deep enough to puncture the stomach, which was confirmed once Arthur heard the gas inside release. It was moments like this that made him thankful for the embalming rooms superior ventilation, so he won’t have to smell the stomach contents for more than a few minutes.

Arthur was quick to set up the vacuum and place the nozzle in position inside of the stomach before it started to suck.

“I was told that you had an extremely peaceful life,” Arthur advised, “You also died peacefully, and even your family seems to be comfortable… But then again, you are somewhat of a milestone of age, perhaps your family has already mourned you. There is nothing wrong with that, it just meant that they are better prepared. Believe me, I would much rather deal with a family that accepted death before it happened than a family that cannot cope…”

Arthur has seen the worst of it, everything from partners suffering a complete meltdown, to children who don’t understand what death really means, and they ask questions that no one has the heart to answer. Arthur has seen enough tears flow to fill a swimming pool.

Granted, there are hundreds of thousands of embalmers in the world, and they all handle the constant assault of grief differently. Some meditate, others disassociate, and there are others that just see it as part of the job.

Arthur angled the nozzle around and moved the vacuum through the stomach and bowels, making sure to empty out everything. Until he heard the empty sucking noise of the vacuum, indicating that the body was empty of any remaining matter.

“You surely knew that your death was coming, right?” Arthur asked, “You had years to think about it, reflect on your own life, you welcomed the grim reaper with open arms, right? I feel like I’m at that stage too, if death came knocking at my door, I’d let it in and offer some tea, hah…” 

Arthur continued to speak as he started to stitch her back together, “I have accepted the fact that death will come, I am not afraid of it. Is that weird? I have lost boyfriends in the past because of that way of thinking, I swear, some men just can’t handle a little bit of morbidity…”

Arthur chuckled as he remembered the faces of some of his former boyfriends, everyone was always surprised by Arthur’s career. Granted, his job never ruined Arthur’s relationships, Arthur was always the one that did that. He always let his fear get the better of him, he’d think too much and it would kill whatever magic he had for those men. It was a vicious cycle that kept him alone… Perhaps it was good that Francis had convinced Arthur to give Alfred a second shot, Alfred was better than he thought, maybe now Arthur can start to chase his demons away. It made him hopeful… For once.

But sadly, he knew that this was just an emotional high, whenever he thought about kissing Alfred he became like this: he felt as though he could extinguish his issues like they were no big deal. And once he starts to get back into the rhythm of work, his fear and morbid attitude will return with a vengeance.

After another forty minutes of work, the corpse was ready to be stored for one more day, and then she will be placed in the viewing room for her family to say their final goodbyes. And once the body was collected from the embalming room, he met with Gilbert.

Gilbert looked like he had recovered from his pain brought upon by the dead child, but it seemed like there was something new bothering him. His violet eyes narrowed as he saw Arthur coming and closing Gilbert’s office door behind him, and he tried to crack a smile.  

“You finished just in time, the next family is just arriving now,” Gilbert explained.

“Is something wrong…?” Arthur asked, “you look tense…”

At this, Gilbert sighed, his hands meeting his cheeks, before brushing the hair from his face, “Am I that readable?”

“A little, yes,” Arthur answered bluntly, at this the German sighed.

“The next corpse I’m having you work on is of someone I knew…” Gilbert sighed as he handed Arthur a paper file, which Arthur knew contained the death certificate, medical reports stating cause of death, medical history, a briefing of final wishes, and photos provided by the family.

“Oh.” Arthur murmured, right: Gilbert doesn’t like to work on people he knew. “I’m sorry to hear that. Were you close?”

“Not really, I only met him a few times, he’s my little brothers grandfather-in-law,” Gilbert explained, “It still counts as someone I know, and I just can’t do it. But I promised them that you are going to provide an excellent service.”

“You are not wrong about that,” Arthur agreed.

“Good,” Gilbert replied, leaning forward as he gestured for Arthur to sit, “What have you been up to lately, it’s been a while since we’ve chatted.”

“I’ve been going well,” Arthur replied, “Yourself?”

“I’ve been ok,” Gilbert replied, but Arthur couldn’t help but wonder: was he really alright? Arthur still hasn’t spoken to Gilbert about how he acted when there was a child’s corpse in the funeral home. He had never seen Gilbert break like that, and the fact that he related the death of a child to his own difficulty to conceive was worrisome. By the look in Gilbert’s eyes, Arthur could tell that the German was thinking about it too. “Have you been up to anything interesting lately?”

“Well… I’ve actually been seeing someone…” Arthur admitted, praying that his cheeks were not showing how much heat had gathered to his face by just admitting it.

Sadly, it looks like Gilbert noticed this, he smiled as he leaned forward, “Oh yeah? Tell me about him.”

“I don’t know if you would have met him, he was at Francis’ housewarming party,” Arthur admitted, “His name is Alfred.”

“Oh wow, are you telling me that one of the guys Francis has introduced to you is actually getting somewhere?” Gilbert asked.

“It looks like he is, we’ve been on a few dates and things are going nicely,” Arthur explained, watching as Gilberts smile grew, “He’s very sweet and he’s a voice actor for a children’s show. He can imitate all of these voices really well, and he’s funny too.” 

“Haha, a children’s voice actor…” Gilbert muttered in amusement, “He works for the beginning of life, and you work for the end of it.”

“And we’re meeting in the middle,” Arthur pointed out, chuckling at the irony himself.

“Perhaps that’s a good thing for you, being with someone like that,” Gilbert admitted, “He’s Alfred, right? Francis pointed him out to me at the housewarming party, and he even told me that he was planning on introducing the two of you.”

“Yes, it is Alfred,” Arthur confirmed, nodding his head slightly.

“Nice, I’m glad you two are going so well,” Gilbert replied, “He seemed like a pretty nice guy, I think you two would go well together.” Gilbert then glanced at his computer and frowned, “Ok, the family is being escorted into your office, I know them, so I’ll walk with you.”

“Alright,” Arthur replied as he and Gilbert rose from their seats and left Gilbert’s office and made their way towards Arthurs, which was just over in another hallway, and not far from the boardroom. The funeral home was as quiet as a graveyard, except for the soft playing of the piano coming from one of the viewing rooms, where a funeral was taking place. It was sombre, as well as very calming and lovely, and deeply complimented the sunlight that came flooding in from the windows on the ceiling.

“They’re a lovely family,” Gilbert explained, smiling when he saw Arthur open the file and begin to look through the basic information, “They’re Italian, so there will be a lot of family members at the funeral, but only a few are going to be involved in the planning… Ha… Romulus, everyone called him Roma, he was a great man, even within the few times I had seen him, he had made such an impact.”

“How so?” Arthur asked.

“He was the kind of old man who treated everyone like family, even Elizabeta and I, we stated no gifts for our wedding, but he gave us a slow-cooker, that we still use weekly,” Gilbert chucked, “And oh, how much he loves Ludwig is so sweet, Ludwig tells me about how welcome he makes him feel at Feliciano’s family functions, when he’s surrounded by people yelling in Italian, he will come and speak to him in English.”   

“How sweet,” Arthur replied, sighing when he saw that this was another illness death, what a shame, it seemed like his immunity was weak to begin with… It would have been only months, even weeks between the time where he was well and the time that he was dead.

“How is their grief…?” Arthur asked.

“They’re all very sad…” Gilbert sighed, “You will see tears during this meeting, especially from the grandsons. Sadly, Ludwig couldn’t make it today, so Feliciano will especially be upset.”

“How long are you planning on staying?” Arthur asked.

“As long as I’m needed… I promised that I would still be involved… I just don’t want to work on the body.”

Mm… Gilberts rule, he does not work on the bodies of people he knew. It was an intimacy unlike any other, the relationship between a mortician and a corpse was special to morticians like Alfred and Gilbert. Except that they viewed that relationship differently, but they had their similarities. Gilbert was afraid of that intimacy, whereas Arthur embraced it and even craved it. It was like his own little therapy.  

Finally, the pair reached Arthur’s office, and they could see the receptionist walking with her back to the two funeral directors. They could even hear the cluster of noises coming from inside Arthur’s office, and once the door opened, Arthur could see a group of people standing in his office. The first thing that Arthur noticed was how obvious it was that everyone in the room was related, the signature dark hair, the olive skin, the wide eyes, as well as the unbearable signs of grief. Everyone in the room had experienced a cold and painful loss, that was too sudden for anyone to really prepare for.

“Hello everyone, thank you for coming,” Gilbert started, “This is Arthur, he’s going to be looking after you and Roma.”

“Why aren’t you able to handle it?” A voice asked, bitterness in the undertone, this came from an Italian with darker hair and narrow green eyes.

“Lovino…” A softer voice murmured, this came from another Italian, who Arthur could guess was a brother to the one who spoke. But his hair was of a slightly lighter, somewhat auburn tone of hair, and eyes to match.

“It’s ok,” Gilbert sighed, “It’s personal, but I don’t work on people I know. But Arthur is, in my opinion, one of the best morticians in New York, maybe even on this side of the coast. I can guarantee that he will look after all of you and Roma, I trust him, I’d trust him with my own affairs if the time came.”   

At this confession, Arthur’s eyes widened, he had never heard Gilbert describe him like that before. Granted, on the funeral homes website there is a description of Arthur that states his professionalism and recognition in the field… But to hear something so personal coming from his boss and friend warmed his heart somewhat.

The younger Italian brother seemed to notice this, and despite the sadness in his eyes, he smiled at Arthur sweetly, “Have you not heard that?”

Arthur chuckled, surprised that he had been called out like that, he was sure that he was gone red in the face as he scratched the back of his neck and stared at the floor. But then his professionalism took over and he straightened his back before extending his hand towards the brothers.

“I am honoured that Gilbert regards me so highly, and I promise you that I will live up to it,” Arthur explained.

-----

“Calm down, Alfred, everything’s going to be fine, haaaah,” Alfred grumbled as he stared at his image in the mirror, but despite his words: He hated everything he saw looking back at him in the mirror.

Alfred was having a bad week, an ugly week, where not even his confident persona or self-affirmations could save him from a crippling self-esteem. He hated every inch of himself with a burning passion, and he knew that there was nothing he could do to stop it. It would happen every once and a while, he should be used to it by now, but yet it still hurts every single time and only gets worse as he finds more flaws in himself. He felt like everything mattered, every little issue he found pushed him closer to the edge and looking at himself in the mirror only made it worse.

He didn’t want to go to work today, hell, he didn’t even want to leave his bathroom. He was trapped in a dark cycle of periods where he feels good about himself, where he is free to eat whatever he wants and be as confident as he wants, and a dark period where he hates everything about himself, and not even the attention from others could help him… Well… conventional attention, at least. During times like this, he knew that he would go out at night and let anyone who gave him enough attention go wherever they wanted, but he can’t do that anymore.

“Don’t even think about it, you easy, slimy piece of—Urh!” Alfred growled, slamming his fist down on the tanned marble of his bathroom bench. What piece of shit thinks about fucking others when he has a partner – wait, is Arthur his partner?

Would he even want to be Alfred’s partner after he learns what a piece of shit Alfred is? All the awful things he’s done, his unhealthy behaviour, his mood swings? Who would want to deal with that? Alfred would drop someone like that in a heartbeat, but then again, he knew he was easy when he was in this awful mood.

Alfred felt ugly, guilty, shameful and angry over everything…

He texted the producer, announcing that he was having a cough and needed to rest his voice, and luckily for him, the producer didn’t fight it. After all, Alfred technically wasn’t lying, his throat was burning and sore, and voice acting would only make it worse, he knew from experience.

Alfred sighed as he pressed his back against the wall before sliding to the floor, and his position brought his head right next to the rim of the toilet bowl, where his forehead rested when his head fell forward.

Even after going through this for years, Alfred never learned how to handle it. Sure, he did attend therapy for years, and he was honest with them. He just never felt that what they were saying stuck with him. But then again, a lot of his memories of that time were blurry, he barely remembered any of his therapist faces, or what he spent his days doing, all he knew was that he suffered in silence for years, before his family finally discovered his habits and intervened. There was a lot of intervention, a lot of appointments, and a lot of pain… All of that effort for nothing, Alfred is still sick, Alfred still hates everything and he didn’t feel like he could be helped in the long run.

He knew that this time would pass, the depression would subside and Alfred would allow himself to act confident and normal again, he could continue the façade of a happy man and continue to wear his mask for the people around him.

Alfred’s stomach growled, but he ignored it, he didn’t even want to get up from the floor, feeling that if he got up he would just fall down again. He felt dirty and gross, his hair was greasy and his face was drained, so he got on all fours and crawled for a few seconds to the bathtub, where he put the plug on the drain and turned the water on.

Once the bath was filled with steaming water, Alfred undressed and slid in, hissing when the hot water touched his skin. But he ignored the pain and slid into the bath, laying in silence with a tense look on his face, feeling the water continue to burn him. It stung constantly, and only worsened whenever he moved. He lifted his hand out of the water, seeing that his skin had gone a deep pink. Turns out the water didn’t make Alfred feel any better, now he was in pain on the outside and the inside. He didn’t want to move and get the soap or put a cool bath bomb in, those usually made him feel a little better, especially when he left the tub covered in glitter.

But eventually, the water cooled, but Alfred found himself staring at how his body looked from above the water, distorted, ugly, flat, nothing that Alfred liked. Alfred closed his eyes and slid further into the water, letting his head go in too, where the heat then made his face tingle. It actually felt nice. He kept his head under the water holding his breath and keeping his eyes tightly closed, he could feel his hair floating just above the surface, and all Alfred could hear was the numbing sound of submersion and any soft banging that came from Alfred’s feet rubbing against the surface of the tub.

He could have stayed under the water for longer, he wanted to at least. But his instinct kicked in, and Alfred pushed himself out of the water, sucking in a deep wheezing breath, desperate for air. He breathed deeply multiple times, feeling the coolness of the air inside his lungs again made his hands tingle.

Alfred finally got out of the bath, and when he passed the window in his bedroom, he couldn’t help but notice what a lovely day it was outside, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

Alfred checked his phone as he walked into his bedroom, but when he saw the notification for a text message, he froze, seeing that Matthew had sent a text confirming that he was still coming over tonight! Alfred thought he was coming on another day!

“Shit!” Alfred hissed, as he furiously rubbed his hair dry with the towel as he paced around his bedroom, dressed only in a pair of grey track-pants.

But it’s Matthew, Matthew has only been good for him since they were kids! Matthew coming over is a good thing! But the idea of it filled his heart with dread, would Matthew be able to tell he was going through a sour mood-swing? Would he find out what else Alfred has been doing? Just the idea of it made Alfred shiver, he doesn’t want to disappoint Matthew again… But then again, Alfred hasn’t been doing that bad, he was worse in the past!

The more Alfred thought about it, the more he rationalised that he hasn’t been doing that bad, in a general sense, this is the first time he’s felt really bad about himself since he’s met Arthur, and that was ages ago! Things are going well!

And then Alfred’s phone vibrated again, and once Alfred’s checked and saw that it was a message from Arthur, for the first time in forty-eight hours, Alfred smiled.

‘Hello, I know it’s not been long since our last date, but I’m thinking that it would be nice if you and I went to the Museum of Natural History at some point, would you want to do that?’

“Oh my God, he’s too cute~!” Alfred sighed as he fell onto his bed, laying on his stomach as he stared at the phone and replied.

‘Yes! That would be fun! We should do that sometime!’

Wow, Arthur was making him happy, and once Alfred watched the three dots at the bottom of the conversation, meaning that Arthur was typing. Suddenly, Alfred’s insecurities were the last thing on his mind.

‘And maybe I could have you over for dinner after…?’

At this, Alfred’s eyes widened and his heart raced, but for multiple reasons.

‘Ohh, that would be nice!’ Alfred responded, praying that Arthur would continue to message him, perhaps he’s on break.

‘Are there any meals you like?’ But before Alfred could respond. ‘I suppose I should ask when we should do this.’

Alfred thought for a moment, knowing that he would have to go to the recording studio and do his lines on Saturday, since he has missed todays recording session and needs to make up for the lost time. But that meant that he still had Sunday free.   

‘I’m good for Sunday! If you want to do this weekend?’

‘Yes, that would be nice, let’s pray that it isn’t too crowded.’

‘Honey, you’re talking about New York, it WILL be crowded.’

“Oh my God!!” Alfred gasped, rolling himself into his blanket like a child when he sent the text before he could proofread it, he’s just called Arthur honey! Does he like that?! Would he take it the way Alfred intended?!

Alfred felt like a teenage girl with her first crush, his heart was racing and the smile on his face could not be contained. The more he thought about Arthur, the better he felt, the darkness had subsided at least a little bit—Arthur was the perfect distraction. Alfred was more than happy to keep texting with Arthur if it meant keeping himself distracted, Arthur just made him smile. Granted, the minutes between Arthur’s texts was torture, he was panicking over what Arthur was going to say, and he was upset that his mind returned to the pain he was feeling inside.  

‘Fair point. What are you doing today?’

So, no comment on the Honey, Alfred could only hope that meant Arthur didn’t mind the remark, that’s a good sign. Alfred bit his lip as he responded, ‘I’m at home, I woke up with a sore throat. No acting for me today!’

Luckily for Alfred, Arthur responded fast, ‘Lucky you. So, do you want to confirm for Sunday?’

‘Yes, I want to see you on Sunday.’  

Perfect, he has another thing to look forward to, he had something important to work towards, he cannot let Arthur see him like this, and if he is: then he will hide it to the best of his ability, especially while they’re having dinner. He can’t let Arthur see this side of him, he would never want to see him again! Just the idea of Arthur knowing made Alfred afraid, afraid of losing Arthur, right when he’s just gotten him. Well… Kinda has him… Maybe that’s something that can be talked about on Sunday!

Alfred’s heart was racing, he hadn’t expected to feel happy today, now he has hope of acting normal when Matthew comes over, because he has something really good to talk about! Alfred gripped his phone tightly as he shuffled over to rest his head on the pillows and held his phone close to his chest as he watched Arthur’s typing.

‘Nice! I’ll see you then I’m afraid I need to go back to work, I’ll message you later!’   

Dammit!

-----

While messaging with Arthur really helped improve Arthur’s mood, he couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room, he still felt like shit as he relaxed on the couch, waiting for Matthew to arrive at his house. He glanced at the pizza menu that he left lying on the coffee table, knowing that the last time he ordered pizza from that place, he ate two in one setting… that was not a fun night…  

He then started to try to focus on the TV, watching pre-game chit-chat and stats, stuff that never really interested him – he watched for the game, not for the math. However, he knew that Matthew would be all over this if he was here. As Alfred glanced at the clock, he heard the doorbell ring.

Alfred took a deep breath as he pulled himself from the couch, telling himself that everything was going to be fine as he made his way to the front door. Matthew makes him happy, it’s a good thing that he is going to be seeing him tonight.  

“Heeeey!!” Alfred cheered as the door opened and he let Matthew in. Alfred was going to be as bright as sunshine tonight, no matter how much he was screaming inside. But then, he knew that he could talk to Matthew, he could always talk to Matthew about his problems—but he will when he needs to, Alfred is perfectly fine handling it alone! But it was nice to remember that he has a friend he can count on.

“Hi!” Matthew cheered, as he made his way inside, carrying a plastic bag, “Oh shit, I missed the stats! I brought snacks!”

“Snacks, I thought we were ordering pizza?” Alfred asked, frowning.

“Well, if we don’t eat them I will leave them here.” Matthew replied with a coy, but knowing smile. Like he planned for this to be the case.

“You don’t have to.”

“I know, but I will,” Matthew replied as he tossed the bag on the table and took a seat before Matthew joined him. “So, you’ve gotta tell me, how’s things with Arthur?”

“Oh God!” Alfred sighed happily as he fell back on the couch, sitting on the side opposite to Matthew’s. “So good, I’m having dinner at his place on Sunday.”

“Ooooh,” Matthew cooed, “That sounds nice, how do you think things will go with him later?”

“I… I’m actually feeling pretty good about it, we’re taking it slow, I think,” Alfred replied, hugging one of his pillows as he smiled like a teenage girl talking about her crush.

“You think?”

“Well, we haven’t talked about it yet. We’ve kissed twice and have established that we are dating, but if he wants to take it further: I don’t know… I think I’m going to ask on Sunday,” Alfred explained.

“Will you ask him to be your boyfriend?” Matthew asked.

“I suppose, I don’t know, is it too early to ask that?” Alfred asked, being a little nervous to admit this insecurity, he was so used to diving into relationships headfirst, he didn’t know what was the ‘normal’ timeframe.

“I don’t know, I suppose it’s about how he feels, how to the gays do it?” Matthew replied as he chuckled to himself before continuing, “You’ve been dating for a month, right?”

“Yeah, we’ve only kissed and held hands, though…” Alfred admitted, “I’m not used to this, I don’t know how to take it slow, and I’m praying that he doesn’t realise that anytime soon, hahahaaaaa~!”

While he was laughing, he was honestly afraid of Arthur dumping him, and he knew that Matthew could tell that.

“Dude, Arthur was cool, he probably wouldn’t dump you for something petty, you’d have to fuck up bad for him to break up with you,” Matthew explained.

“Yeah, I guess… He’s just… ahh… He’s hot, mature, really fucking smart and really kind. And he is super interesting, I could listen him talk all day!”

“Wooooow, I never thought I’d hear you say that you’d listen to someone else all day,” Matthew pointed out, flinching when Alfred gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.

“Hey!” Alfred whined.

“Oh! The game’s starting!!” Matthew hissed, tapping Alfred’s arm in excitement as he adjusted himself in his seat, “This is continuing during the breaks!”

“Oh yeah!” Alfred agreed enthusiastically.

He knew that he could always rely on Matthew to lift his mood, even when the Canadian didn’t realise it himself.

Chapter Text

“What advice would you give your grandsons if they were like me?” Arthur asked bleakly, staring down at the corpse of the Italian man, whose kind family Arthur had met yesterday. They wanted to have a viewing of him, more family are flying over from Italy, so the funeral is going to be early next week, and then he’s going to have a cremation, so embalming is not only beneficial, but is part of the funeral homes policy.

He said once that he’d want to have his soul will always belong to Rome, so Lovino and I will fly his ashes to Rome and release him there, Feliciano admitted to Arthur.

As it turned out, the corpse before him had a wonderful relationship with his grandsons, he was so family orientated, more family and even childhood friends were flying over from Italy to say goodbye and will even join Feliciano and Lovino on their journey to say goodbye. It was that kind of family love that always made Arthur smile, he wished that more families were like this when experiencing the death of a beloved member. The Italians took Gilberts word and trusted every word that Arthur said, they took every recommendation and did not fight him on anything, it had to be one of the best experiences with the family of the deceased that he has ever had. He learned so much about Roma as well as the family he cherished, no wonder Gilbert seemed to care so much about them. Even Arthur felt like a member of the family.

What would Roma do if he knew that someone in his family was thinking that way that Arthur was? If he knew that a member had a dark cloud constantly lingering above their heads, following them like a storm that was on the verge of exploding into a natural disaster.

Arthur could guess what he’d do: he’d try to help them, try to talk to them and understand what exactly was going on inside their mind, maybe even try to convince them to get help… Sure, that’s what a loving grandfather would do, it’s his job to worry.

“Would you have helped if you knew of my thoughts…?” Arthur asked, knowing that Roma’s photos showed him as an outgoing and bright man, with a spirit and smile that shown brighter than the sun. He was his grandson’s teacher, their father figure, their rock when they needed it, he was such a huge influence in their lives and now he’s gone. Arthur could only imagine how broken the Italian brothers were behind closed doors. He knew that Feliciano was taking it hard, every time they spoke; the Italian had a hint of defeat in his voice and sadness in his eyes, and Lovino wasn’t much better than him. They were the ones handling the funeral matters because they spoke the best English, and with their combined efforts they were pretty much fluent.

Arthur took a deep breath as he cracked his knuckles loudly, feeling the dark cloud inside his head become a storm. Thoughts about his own mortality were becoming harder and harder to deny, painful memories kept coming like waves, slowly eroding what barrier Arthur had put up with every crash. And the thoughts the storm brought were only becoming darker, it was already established that if Arthur could be the orchestrator of his own death jumping in front of a train wouldn’t be an option; he’d be more of a public nuisance than a tragedy.

Arthur cracked another finger, hard enough for the pain to take him out of his trance, and back to the corpse before him.

“I don’t know what to do, not with you, but with what’s going on inside my head…” Arthur admitted, looking to Roma’s face, praying that the kind old man’s soul could hear him. “I don’t know what to do, and it’s only getting worse…”

What was something that helped him get better…? And then the answer came to him, Alfred, Alfred makes him feel better—but there was no way Arthur could tell him about this, he’d think that Arthur’s crazy! He’d dump him on the spot! Either that or he’d be too concerned and it would become an issue for them. It seemed as though if Arthur was to speak, his demons would have ruined yet another relationship of his. Besides, Alfred was a band-aid, and band-aids can’t fix gashes.  

Arthur’s eyes narrowed as he looked to the ceiling, knowing that the one he was calling for was there somewhere, “What would you do, Allistor?” Arthur hadn’t said that name in years, it stung to say it out loud. “You are the reason I took this path after all…”

Arthur still remembered it, the sight that formed his relationship with death and changed him forever… The dark bedroom, the light coming in from the thin curtains creating a silhouette for the shape of Arthur’s beloved brother... Arthur hissed before looking down to Roma, looking for any kind of guidance.

“I know I need to tackle this, I know, I know,” Arthur cautioned, knowing what the grandfather would have said. Even just looking at him made Arthur feel a little bit better, and his anxiety lowered, it was the same calming and confirmation of secrecy that made Arthur comfortable enough to get straight to work. He was determined to make this man look as though he was merely asleep, he wants to make sure that the Vargas family has a meaningful send-off for their beloved Roma.

“I just…” Arthur stuttered, looking at the corpse always gave him a compulsion to talk, to end the painful silence, because Arthur could tell that it wasn’t good for him to be alone with his thoughts. “I feel like these feelings are following me, that it’s waiting for me to slip up enough so my relationship with death can be realised. I am not afraid of death, I have accepted that it is inevitable and is due to come at any time.” 

Something had to be wrong about this picture, just being around a corpse was making Arthur feel better, it made his decisions easier to make and he felt more confident about them. Besides, he had the confidence to say whatever he wanted, they were going to take his words to the grave, or the ashes.

“There is also a man in my life, and judging by my history, I’m worried about how long he is going to stick around,” Arthur admitted, “I always push men away because… Because I don’t want to lose them the way I’ve seen others lose their loved ones. It tears at me more and more every day. But I still love my job. Oh God, I love my job, hahahaha, but it’s going to kill me. Hahahahaha…”

Talking to the corpses gave him a sense of solidarity, a sense of companionship and even guidance in some kind of morbid way, it felt like the dead were always pointing Arthur in the right direction. Arthur could picture the thousands of people that he has embalmed standing behind him, trying to show him the right way. It was a calming thought to know that Roma was going to be with him too.

And so, Arthur started the process, and the first step was to clean the body and to do that, he removed the blanket that was covering most of his body, before taking a pair of scissors and cutting a line down the hospital gown that he was brought to the funeral home wearing. Arthur noted that the discolouration, while it wasn’t the worst that he had ever seen… Hah, even in death the Italian was still ridiculously handsome, his hair didn’t even have that many greys. Arthur chuckled, wondering how good he would have looked in his youth.

He knew that this wasn’t going to be a long, process, he was newly dead and there weren’t any signs of trauma or any wounds that needed repairing. It was going to be a simple job. After cleaning the body, Arthur sutured the mouth shut and glued the eyes closed, before vacuuming the stomach and bowels.

“Do you think death sets you free?” Arthur asked, “Can your soul go wherever it wants, or is there really a God out there waiting for you? Do you feel alone when you die, or do you see everyone who is living or dead? Does death bring peace?”

Arthur knew that his burning questions were not going to be answered now, not even the guidance of a corpse would be able to point in to those answers. There was only one way...

But he could feel something coming from the corpse, another hunch that Arthur couldn’t explain. It was a cry for Arthur not to, was it Arthur’s instincts, or was Roma really trying to reach to him from beyond the grave?

------

“You did… really well…” Gilbert admitted, sighing as he brought his hands to his middle, standing respectfully as he and Arthur watched the viewing take place at the other end of the viewing room. As promised, a crowd had shown up to give Roma a final goodbye...

All of the seats were filled during the service, and now everyone was lined up before the casket that Roma was lying in, dressed in his finest suit. Beside the casket was a display of roses around a picture of Roma who was smiling brightly. Now Arthur understood why everyone loved him a little better. 

“Thank you,” Arthur replied, “I wanted to live up to your glowing review.”

“You always do,” Gilbert admitted, “I’m just sorry that I didn’t tell you earlier.”

“Heh…” Arthur chuckled, before both funeral directors went silent when Feliciano approached, with a tall blonde man hooked by his arm. Arthur immediately recognised him as Gilbert’s younger brother, Ludwig. The young man had a stern face, but still resembled some aspects of Gilbert, like the shape of their eyes and noses. His hair was bright blonde and puled back with gel, and his eyes were the brightest blue that Arthur had ever seen.

“How are you feeling?” Arthur asked Feliciano.

“Better,” Feliciano admitted, smiling sweetly as he leaned against Ludwig’s arm, “We all want to thank you, Roma looks really good. Ha-ha, I bet he would have loved it too.”

“There’s no need to thank me,” Arthur replied, “He was a good listener.”

For a moment Feliciano frowned, but he seemed to quickly brush off Arthurs comment while the Englishman was internally screaming over his slip-up. The Italian then looked to Gilbert, “I don’t know if I have told you this, Gilbert. But once Roma knew you were a mortician, he said that he’d trust you to handle everything, he knew you wouldn’t let us down. He was right.”

Gilberts smile widened, “Yay, he won’t haunt me!” Arthur, and it seemed that also Gilbert, was relieved that Feliciano laughed after he said that.

Even though Arthur really did enjoy embalming, it was really moments like this that made Arthur’s job worth it. Seeing a family reunite because of the death of a loved one and help each other cope with the pain, it was the kind of thing that chased Arthur’s bad thoughts away. It showed the dark cloud that there is a way to feel love and connection through death, and it isn’t all bad, death can bring people together too. People cope with death differently, Arthur did not cope well with the deaths in his life, but that’s what pushed him to become a mortician, to see others go through the process as well, and even heal from it. He could tell just by looking at the family that they knew Roma would have wanted them to heal, and they were going to.

This funeral was wholesome, quiet and while there were a few people who broke down into tears (Lovino being one of them, followed by Feliciano while he was trying to comfort him), it was a successful funeral, and in Arthur’s opinion: that’s what Roma would have wanted.

But then, Arthur started thinking about Alfred, wondering what he should make for him when he comes over for dinner. It was a moment of confidence and a good cup of tea that convinced Arthur to ask him to come to his house, he still couldn’t believe he actually did that. What was Arthur expecting of him? Would Alfred be expecting sex? Granted, Arthur wouldn’t mind giving it to him… Arthur was very keen to see what Alfred had to offer him. But that would mean that their connection will become deeper, and Arthur questioned whether he was really ready to take it there. He had a bad mental reaction for weeks after he last slept with a man, the thoughts wanted to make him hate the idea of becoming attached to someone. Because physical attachment is one level before emotional attachment, and Arthur considered that dangerous territory. He still wasn’t sure if he and Alfred could consider themselves as a couple yet!

Arthur frowned, remembering how he’s already decided to give Alfred a chance, that he wasn’t going to let the dark thoughts ruin this relationship—and yet here he is submitting to them. Good one, Arthur.

Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought.

-----

Alfred was feeling better since yesterday, he woke up not feeling as awful and knew that he was fine to go to work. He ate well last night and wasn’t feeling anything, so he looked at himself in the mirror checking how he looked at every angle. For once the only thing he could think was ‘alright,’ but he knew that he needed to go to the gym to work off the pizza he had with Matthew.

But other than that, he didn’t completely hate himself, he had his bicep muscles that he could flex nicely—hopefully Arthur likes that.  

Alfred couldn’t stop thinking about their upcoming date, it was Friday morning and Alfred was already getting impatient. The hypersexual inside of him was salivating and tapping his foot in painful anticipation—wait, what if this isn’t that kind of date?

Well, if Arthur wants sex, he’s gonna get it; that’s for sure. The ball is in his court. Ha-ha, literally.  

Alfred couldn’t help but wonder what Arthur would be like, is he a bottom, a top, or a versatile? Oh God, what would he sound like?  Those thoughts made Alfred’s heart race, so much so that even he would call himself desperate. But when he thought about it, Arthur probably doesn’t want to yet, they have barely made out, and Arthur doesn’t look like the kind of guy who’d jump into bed with someone, he wasn’t a guy like Alfred. He will initiate it when the time is right, when the moment is perfect.

Alfred could feel his heart race when he thought about it, thought about taking Arthur into his arms, falling back onto a bed, using hands, lips and tongues. Then comes the moment of truth, the moment where their bodies connect and sparks fly. The energy between them would come alive and Alfred would be in heaven again, Alfred shivered when he heard an Englishman-toned scream of ecstasy roll through his mind. It made him tingle all over, like a horny teenage boy, his hunger was becoming insatiable. But Alfred’s fantasy was quickly ended when he realised that he needed to get to work!

“Hey, Jones,” The producer said the moment Alfred walked through the door, script in hand. “How’s the throat?”

The building where Alfred worked was tall and had many levels, many of which housed the production teams for different shows. Today Alfred’s day was going to start in the boardroom of the Hero and Johnny section of the office, where they were going to go through the next episode with the writers. Alfred knew that those writers knew of his voice capabilities he wants to make sure that they take advantage of it. Usually actors do not attend these meetings, but Alfred has always managed to get his foot in the door, he has contributed so much to the plot and to the development of the characters, he should be listed as a screenwriter in the credits. Alfred’s producers used to tell him off for attending, but now it feels like they’ve just accepted it, perhaps they’ve finally accepted Alfred’s role in the team, or they’ve gotten tired of fighting him.

The boardroom was small, with a large TV screen in the centre of one wall, and another wall was lined with windows that overlooked the city. The large oval table stood in the middle of the room and was surrounded in chairs. So far, it was only the producer who had come.

“Much better, thanks,” Alfred admitted, “I’m happy to make up for lost time on Saturday.”

“Sure, thanks,” The producer replied, “We just went over Johnny’s lines.”

“And his are recorded?” Alfred asked, intending to listen to the recordings and follow the tone when he goes over his own lines, since they usually did things in tandem, so both actors would be able to be in tune with each other.

“Yeah, most are recorded, his private scenes are all done, we just need the ones with you and other characters,” The producer explained.

“So, what’s the meeting about today?” Alfred asked as he started to take a seat in the boardroom.  

“Alfred—” The producer began, before sighing once Alfred had gotten comfortable, and flashed the older man a devilish smile.

“What?” Alfred chuckled as he crossed his legs and placed his script on the wooden table, further confirming that he had no plans to leave, “I’ve attended enough of these meetings to get the jist of it.”

“How many times do I need to tell you that these meetings are for writers and producers?” The Producer asked, the amusement quickly fading from his face.

“You’ve told me a lot of times,” Alfred answered, “But how many of my ideas have you guys used? I thought you guys’d be appreciating my help a little bit more. I think I’m needed here, even though I’m not credited at all for my contributions. But hey, you said so yourself, I’m an actor—even though you admit that my idea of making Hero LGBT did help with ratings, hmmmm…

“What do you want, an award?” The producer asked.

“Nah, I’m just saying…” Alfred pointed out as more people started to enter the boardroom, none of them seemed to be surprised to see Alfred sitting there with a smug smile on his face. He could almost read everyone’s thoughts as people walked in and saw him, ‘Oh Lord, it’s him again,’ ‘He’s back,’ ‘Oh my, I wonder what genius idea Alfred will have for the show now, I should give him my fucking job!’ – Ok, maybe not the last one. But it was what Alfred felt like he deserved, he went through hell yesterday, so he wanted to show them and himself that he was stronger and ready to rock and roll.

“So, we have the same fly on the wall?” The head writer joked, looking at Alfred.

“I’ve come here enough times,” Alfred chuckled.

“Alright, so, in the end of the season it was agreed that the boys manage to save their father from the aliens, we just need to find a way to tie everything in nicely,” The head writer explained, “I’m thinking we can apply Johnny’s new powers, have him grow a little more in power. So he and Hero are at a similar level when the next season begins.”

“He does have the huge development coming up, where he gains control over his strength,” Another writer pointed out, “Perhaps that can be vital to freeing their father?”  

Alfred was tempted to chime-in, and perhaps ask about what his character was going to do to contribute, but he knew to wait for the right moment. These people knew where Alfred’s alliance laid, they weren’t going to ignore his character if they didn’t want to hear Alfred’s complaints.

“Perhaps he can save Hero too,” One of the writers pointed out, “Have the second last episode end in a climax where Hero tries to handle things by himself, but he’s overpowered?”

“Or maybe he sacrifices himself?” Alfred suggested, not liking the idea of Hero being dumb enough to put himself into a dangerous situation. Even though he has done that in previous episodes.

“But still, he would do it out of brotherly love, whether he sacrifices himself or goes in alone,” Another writer pointed out, “They do have that blow out scheduled in the next couple of episodes, maybe we can refresh that argument of Hero never giving Johnny a proper chance.”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s pretty cool,” Alfred replied, “Have a huge kickass ending, maybe have more cast appear, a huge moment with all of their powers. How about both Hero and Johnny use their powers in sync?”

“Yeah! I know that the animators could do something visually stunning with that concept!” Another writer agreed.

Geez, these people love to complain about Alfred and his interference, but they sure love to gobble up his ideas like birds to pieces of bread. Alfred glanced at the producer, not surprised to see that the older man was already glaring at Alfred, to which Alfred grinned with eyes that said, ‘Hey Asshole, aren’t you glad I came?!’  

“Should someone die?”

“Oh God no, come on!”

“How about Koshka?”

“No way in hell are you killing Koshka, he’s my favourite!”

And then Alfred chimed in, “Do you guys write what Koshka says, or does the voice actor have free reigns?”

“We write what the cat says,” The head writer announced, smiling at Alfred as the others shared glares. “And I’m not telling you what he says.”

“Oh dammit!” Alfred chuckled, slapping his knee, “It’s driving me crazy!” That reminds him, Alfred needs to check up on Ivan about his trip to America, Alfred wants to build a compilation of Koshka’s quotes of Ivan can translate! And then when Alfred sees the head writer again, he can quote some of the lines! Judging by how the writers have reacted, what Koshka says has got to be funny!

“Think of it as a writers Easter Egg,” The head writer chuckled.

“Gahh, everyone has said that!” Alfred whined. He’s gonna find this damn Easter Egg and blow it wide open, he’s not going to be left out of a good joke.

-----

Alfred was supposed to be eating right now, but he was too busy catching up on script memorising, there was still things he needed to catch up on, since he did no reading yesterday. He could smell the food and he could feel his mind creeping back to it, but he only wanted to continue reading.

But he could still feel that damned food call for him, and before he knew it, he was munching down on the nice pasta dish that the buildings cafeteria offered, and it was nice. Nice enough that when Alfred finished the entire meal within minutes, he was determined to get up and buy seconds.

Come on, there’s no problem wanting seconds… Alfred’s internal voice whined as he carried his tray towards the line where he knew he’d have to part with his dishes, and once he placed his tray on the conveyer belt, he saw it disappear into the kitchen. Alfred couldn’t help but eye the trays as he passed the entrance to the cafeteria, wanting even more to get some more of that delicious lunch. But his rationale and yearning to stick to his diet won, besides, he has a script to practice. Besides, he still needs to go to the gym, and he doesn’t want any other unnecessary things to burn off. And anyways, Alfred was still feeling good about his progress, he already feels so much better compared to yesterday, it’s getting easier for him to manage, who knows; maybe he could be completely better someday! He just needs to work on a few particular things! Matthew and his parents would be so happy to hear that! And Arthur would be impressed to know about the struggles Alfred has faced and how he’s overcome them!

Alfred returned to the office of Hero and Johnny feeling higher than a kite, sitting down comfortably on the decorative couches, reading through his lines to himself.

He was in his own world, not caring when groups of his co-workers passed without even noticing him, he didn’t care about that anymore. Alfred was in the mood the focus and ready to go. However, just like lunch, there was something on his mind, and it was only pulling him further and further away from the script. This time it was Arthur.

His mind was trailing into thoughts about how he’d start the boyfriend talk with Arthur.

‘Hey, um, do you wanna be exclusive?’

‘Can I be your boyfriend, please?’

‘Do you want to keep this casual, or do you want to consider a commitment – I know we haven’t fucked yet, but consider it, please.’

‘Fucking marry me, you gorgeous bastard!’

The last one made Alfred chuckle, his mind completely taken away from his script; Alfred was no where near marriage and he knew it. Alfred didn’t want to tie himself down like that, especially not to Arthur. Ha-ha, for someone with a history of committal issues, Alfred seems to love to think about getting married, but then again: Alfred was going to leave his committal issues behind! He was so excited for his first proper relationship, he couldn't help but to think too far ahead! This was a new chapter in Alfred’s life that he was going to embrace!

“Oh, shit, the script…” Alfred muttered, finally deciding to put his focus back into studying his script.

Chapter Text

“Oh my, so Alfred has made it to a dinner at your house?” Francis asked, twirling a finger through his hair as a devilish smile curled across his lips as Arthur rolled his eyes and sipped his tea.

“Yes, he’s better than I thought,” Arthur admitted, his eyes scanning around the small coffee shop that the pair agreed to meet at. “I enjoy being around him.”

“What is so good about him? This is the month and a half mark, this is the point where I see you start to break down,” Francis admitted.

“I do not!’ Arthur snapped.

“Yes, you do. I’ve seen you do it. You talk about them differently, you start to change, and then the next time we meet, you tell me that you broke up with them,” Francis pointed out, leaning forward as he spoke, his eyes alight with intrigue, “But you don’t tell me what does it. What made you change your mind about those men?”   

“There’s a list,” Arthur grumbled.

Self-doubt, depression, awkwardness, visions of death, fear of loss—just the usual.  

“You’re just picky, but at the same time I’m also pretty worried about you,” Francis admitted, “It goes downhill right when things start to get interesting…”

“Well, things just happen, you know,” Arthur explained, sighing as he ran his fingers along the rim of the teacup, “I change my mind about them and I end it before either of us get too attached.”

“Do you think that maybe you give up too fast?” Francis asked.

“Maybe,” Arthur replied, “I just start to look at them and see something different, something I don’t like, and I can’t un-see it. It gets to the point where I don’t want to do it anymore. Their touch became unbearable, their eyes unrecognisable and I didn’t think I could keep going like that, so I put us both out of our miseries.”   

Francis’ face told Arthur that he was listening intently and was deeply thinking about every word Arthur had said, analysing him, trying to read further into what Arthur was saying. It was his little way of trying to understand Arthur, rather than just asking the right questions.

“What changes about them?” Francis asked.

“I’m not sure if it’s something about them that changes,” Arthur admitted, “I think it’s me that changes.”

“Are you just not ready for commitment?” Francis asked.

“I want a commitment, I want someone I should be able to call a partner, but when it’s right in front of me, it’s suddenly not what I want anymore, and I panic,” Arthur explained.

“Perhaps you just haven’t found the right one yet, but there’s no harm in trying to push past it, right?” Francis asked, frowning with concern. And Arthur knew exactly what he meant; that Arthur wasn’t trying to look past it, that he wasn’t going to try to make it work. “Do you think it will happen to Alfred?”

“I don’t know, so far things have been really nice. His reaction to my job was good, he’s interested in what I have to say and he himself is very interesting,” Arthur admitted, “And at the same time, he’s so gorgeous, I was surprised when he chose to go out with me.”

“Oh, don’t cut yourself too short, Arthur,” Francis chuckled, “Do I need to remind you that you’re beautiful again?”

“Please don’t,” Arthur chuckled, “I hope I don’t ruin this one, I am tired of running away from people who only want to care about me… I’ve lost some really good people because of it.”

“How have you been going with other things…?”

Arthur decided to be honest, and blunt, “I still feel dead inside, almost constantly.”

“Is it as bad as it used to be?” Francis asked.

“No, not exactly,” Arthur replied, “I just feel like an empty shell, that there is nothing there underneath my skin, and that nothing matters.”

“Have there been any more bad thoughts?” Francis asked, leaning in closer to Arthur, seeing the pain in Arthur’s eyes.

Arthur knew what he was talking about, and once again, he answered honestly. Arthur knew that it wasn’t in his best interests to lie to Francis, there was an entire saga that revolved around their friendship and Arthur’s mental health that took place last year. It was a dark time in Arthur’s life, and he couldn’t deny that Francis helped him get through it, and now the Frenchman can read Arthur easily, and can tell when he is in pain, so there was no use in lying to him. “Some.”

“Arthur.”

“But I’m handling it, it’s not that bad,” Arthur explained.

“If it gets any worse, please tell me,” Francis asked, “Please, we don’t want to go through what happened again, have you had any of those urges?”

“No,” Arthur admitted, shaking his head. He didn’t want to admit that these talks always made him extremely nervous, it was picking at old wounds and bringing back horrid memories of a time where Arthur didn’t control himself, and let his pain get the better of him. “And don’t worry, I’m handling it, but I’ll tell you if it gets worse.”

Francis could tell that there was a lot on Arthur’s mind, he could see it in the way the Frenchman stared at him. His sky-blue eyes would narrow in analysis and his face would be devoid of anything but pure concentration: Francis would look at Arthur like he would a patient. But Francis knew when to not poke Arthur for more answers, talking about things like this always made Arthur emotionally shut down; because talking about his problems seemed to only make them more pronounced. Arthur’s eyes become as empty as his expression.

“Enough about me, what’s going on with you?” Arthur asked, “How is your work going?”

For the first time today, Francis’ expression faltered before falling completely, as though Arthur had said something sad. This was the first time that Arthur has seen Francis react like this, usually his work was just fine. Francis was an angel in Arthur’s eyes, he had a flawless record when it came to his patients, this was amazing, considering his work with cancer patients. Perhaps things weren’t as perfect as Arthur thought. “I fear that my record is not going to be perfect anymore…” Francis sighed, but Arthur could tell that there was more that Francis was thinking about, and his record was the least of his worries, “There is a patient, a girl, that I am really worried about.”

“Mmm…”

“It’s only getting worse… No matter what I give her, the cells just aren’t cooperating…” Francis explained, “And her parents show me so much faith, they believe with all their hearts that I can help her—but… I don’t know if I can…”

Arthur could see exactly what Francis was going through, and why he’s having trouble accepting it, “Are you afraid of losing her?”

“Of course, I am, other doctors envy me for not having a patient die on me yet, but I feel that it could come any week now…” Francis admitted.

“What are you worried about most, your record, her life, or how her parents will react?” Arthur asked.

“I think it’s the last two,” Francis admitted, sighing, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to face them. Whenever I give her parents bad news, they only hope more and put more and more faith in me. She is in pain, but they keep telling me that I can fix her.”

“I think they’re as scared as you,” Arthur pointed out, “Have you discussed with them the growing possibility that she won’t make it?”

“I have, but I can barely get a word in before her mother is inconsolable, and her father is babbling about other options and what are the chances of another option working,” Francis explained. “It’s hard, it’s hard for me to look at them and think about what I can’t do, I can’t fix her, I can’t give them what they want, no matter how much faith they put in me.”

“Well, I often see people who don’t want to accept that their loved one has passed on. Children refusing to sell their elderly mothers belongings, people blaming others for their losses, or blaming themselves.” Arthur explained, “I think when you sit them down and have a full-length discussion with them about it, they will start to see it. I think they know it’s there, and they know that there isn’t much else you can do, but I don’t think they’re ready to admit it. I think they need to hear it from you so they can be ready to accept it themselves. You’re a doctor, and it sounds like they trust you.” 

Arthur and Francis were professionals in their own fields, but both were related to death. Francis was the one who saved people from death, whereas Arthur was the one who relied on it.

“I know…” Francis sighed, “I need to do this…”

“I could provide tips on grief counselling, if you want,” Arthur offered. 

“I’d like that.”

----

While work was stressing him out, Alfred knew that he could at least look forward to his date with Arthur. And when the date finally came, Arthur did not disappoint.

The Museum of Natural History was bigger than Alfred expected, and more enjoyable as well, but then again, perhaps it was Arthur being there that made it special. For once, Alfred’s mind wasn’t filled with things that made him worry, he was at peace when he looked down at Arthur, seeing the shorter Englishman’s face as he read the plaque before a display.

Perhaps this date will make Arthur think that Alfred is knowledgeable, mature and interesting, but then he supposed that he would find out what Arthur thought at dinner.

They spent two hours together, just walking around the museum and stopping to look at anything that interested them.

Arthur seemed energetic today, he was the one to reach for Alfred’s hand whenever something caught his attention, and practically dragged him to it like an excited child. It was cute. Perhaps he has been needing this date as much as Alfred. It was just another layer of Arthur that Alfred wanted to uncover.

Arthur’s hands were soft and very warm to the touch, whenever Alfred found himself looking at them, he couldn’t help but be surprised when he reminds himself that those delicate, doll-like hands touch dead bodies. But he only touches them with gloves, Alfred would hope so. Alfred was surprised with how comfortable Arthur was with hand-holding after their date in central park, granted, Arthur was the one to grab for Alfred’s hand to lead him somewhere, but it was Alfred who kept holding on once they had moved on.

Alfred had to admit, it was nice to take the time into appreciating someone’s hand. He wasn’t exactly the type of guy with the patience to get all cutesy with a guy before getting intimate. Perhaps this was Alfred learning to appreciate the little things, maybe taking things slow wasn’t as boring and draining as Alfred thought. He didn’t need to impress Arthur with his bed-skills in order to earn this type of intimacy. Maybe he just wasn’t shaking up with the right people in order to think that way in the first place—

“What’s on your mind?” Arthur asked, tilting his head and frowning as he looked at Alfred, catching the American’s attention as they stared at a display showing the solar system.

“Nothing,” Alfred replied, “Just got a little zoned out.”

“Right, I do that too sometimes,” Arthur admitted, “I’m thinking I’ll cook risotto and chicken tonight.”

“Well, I can help you out, the dinner is for both of us,” Alfred suggested.

“That would be nice, I’ve already seasoned the chicken and chopped up the ingredients for the risotto, it’s got mushrooms, onion and rosemary in it.”

“That… actually sounds really nice,” Alfred agreed, “Are you a good cook?”

At this, Arthur laughed, “I leave much to be desired, I have made a lot of meals that end up laced with charcoal.  But I have been making this risotto for years, I’ve mastered it!”     

“Well, then in that case; I’ll look after the chicken!” Alfred replied, and for the first time in a long time, he was genuinely excited for a meal.

Once again, Alfred and Arthur had another wholesome date. Wholesome was the only way that Alfred could describe it, Alfred had only ever experienced this type of date with Arthur. Arthur wasn’t approaching Alfred with high expectations, he wasn’t keen to get anything sexual from him. It was nice to be able to relax, to breathe.

Arthur was the kind of guy that Alfred would bring home to his mom, he was sensible, dressed well, had an established career, and had the grace and touch of a gentleman. It even made Alfred’s heart race a little.

The rest of the date in the museum was nice, but once they ran out of things to do, they noticed that the crowd was really coming in.

“Would you like to come back to mine and start preparing?” Arthur asked, “Maybe we can pick up some dessert on the way to mine.”

“I like the sound of that,” Alfred chuckled as he leaned against the railing of the balcony, that overlooked the foyer of the famous museum.

Would it be wise to ask Arthur to be his boyfriend here? Or should he wait until they’re back at Arthur’s house?

“You’re zoning out again,” Arthur pointed out, tapping Alfred on the shoulder, bringing him out of his internal trance. “Is it something with work?”

“Hah, yeah, it’s not much though, I’m fine. Promise,” Alfred chuckled before taking Arthurs hand boldly, watching his face flush, “Now, I parked my car a couple blocks down, you came by train, right?”

“Sweet!” Alfred said as he started to lead Arthur down the stairs, excited for the next stage of their date.

--------

“How’s the risotto going?” Alfred asked as he peered over to take a look at the dish that Arthur was looking after next to Alfred. Immediately Alfred’s mouth started to water as he saw the combination of the risotto that was cooked in chicken stock, then mixed with mushrooms, onion and rosemary, the smell was intoxicating, and Alfred was excited to eat it with the chicken that he had removed from the pan a few minutes ago.

Arthur’s house was nice, it was an incredibly small single bedroom house with bricked exterior and covered in lush greenery, Arthur even kept a nice rose garden in the front yard. Once Arthur opened the door, he said to Alfred that the bedroom and bathroom were upstairs. The interior walls were painted white and there wasn’t a stain to be seen, a few pictures of scenery and photos of people who Alfred assumed was members of Arthur’s family. Most of the furniture that Alfred had seen followed a dark brown and burgundy aesthetic, and Alfred had to admit, it definitely fit the aesthetic of a mortician. The house was incredibly neat and there wasn’t a spec of dust to be seen. Alfred had to admit, he was impressed. It was definitely neater than Alfred’s apartment. 

“Just a few more minutes, I’d say,” Arthur replied. “You can pick which piece you like.”

“Aww, aren’t you a gentleman?” Alfred joked as he turned around to face Arthur’s kitchen bench, where their plates and the plate of cooked chicken sat. Alfred placed both pieces of chicken on both dinner plates, before taking a sip from his glass of wine, before remembering that this glass is all he’s going to have tonight, since he’ll be driving home tonight. That is… unless Arthur asks him to stay. “What’ve you got on tomorrow?”

“Early funeral, I need to be at the funeral home at 4AM to make sure everything is perfect for this sunrise service,” Arthur explained.

“Damn!” Alfred hissed, hating the idea of having to wake up so early, and was thankful that it wasn’t him who had to do that.

“Mmm… Ms Kohl wanted to go down as the sun rises,” Arthur explained, “I need to make sure everything is in order, make sure that the body is correct and everyone is awake enough to carry out the job.”

Alfred looked back at Arthur, staring at him as he swayed his hips a little as he continued to stir the risotto. Alfred couldn’t help but wonder how Arthur would react if Alfred was to suddenly hug him from behind, would he appreciate it? Or is it too early for that kind of thing? Ugh, this kind of questioning was one of the things that Alfred didn’t like when taking things slowly, and when combined with this anxiety: the experience was daunting.

But it was nice to visualise, he’d creep up on Arthur from behind, then slide his hands across Arthur’s sides before meeting in his middle, Alfred’s nose would be in the back of Arthur’s head and rubbing against his soft hair. Would Arthur chuckle, lean back into him, or tell him to piss off? Anything but the latter would be nice.

But Alfred refrained and finished setting up the plates as Arthur brought over the pan with the risotto steaming in it. Alfred had to admit, it smelled delicious, and when combined with the chicken on the plate: it looked delicious. It wasn’t the kind of food that Alfred usually ate, but it was a nice change.

“Did you have another busy week?” Alfred asked as he and Arthur took their seats at Arthur’s small circular dining table, sitting across from each other.

“Mmm, the death industry is never slow,” Arthur answered, “People just keep on dying.”

“Well, at least you’ll never run out of customers,” Alfred joked.

“That is very true,” Arthur chuckled as he rose his glass of red wine to Alfred slightly, indicating a small toast that Alfred returned, before the pair finally started to eat. And the meal tasted as good as it looked, the risotto was nice and flavoured and went perfect with the chicken, Alfred even enjoyed the mushrooms.

“Did you have a busy week?” Arthur asked after finishing his first mouthful.

“Kinda, I had Tuesday off, so I went in yesterday to finish a few things off,” Alfred explained, “Other than that, it was just a normal week. Hah, it’s kinda like your industry, more and more episodes just keep coming.”

“Oh yeah,” Arthur chuckled, “Except that you work for the beginning of life, and I work for the end!”

“Yes!!” Alfred agreed, “How fascinating is that?”

“Very, we make quite the duo, don’t we?” Arthur asked, smiling suggestively as he picked up another piece of chicken with his fork. Oh Damn, Alfred thought as he watched Arthur place the food in his mouth, before sliding the fork through his teeth, his eyes still on Alfred. Was this a hint?

Perhaps he should take the opportunity.

“Hey…” Alfred muttered, digging his fork in the risotto as he resumed the eye contact with Arthur, “I’ve had a couple of really good dates with you, and I was thinking that maybe… We can…”

Arthur’s eyes widened and his pupils dilated, his mouth hung open a little and his face tensed, sensing what was coming from Alfred, who knew now that he has to go big or go home, there’s no backing down now. Fuck it, if it’s too soon then it’s too soon, he can take it if that’s the case. But he felt this in his heart, he wanted to make him and Arthur a thing. And he could only hope that Arthur wanted it too. Both men had their hearts in their throats it seemed, both staring at each other in nervous silence.

Why the fuck was Alfred so nervous?! He can easily ask a guy in a club to come back to his place for a fuck, but he can’t ask a decent man for an official relationship. What got Alfred’s priorities so messed up?! Say something!! But then again, Arthur looked just as nervous as Alfred, Alfred was sure that he could even see a little hint of fear in Arthur’s glistening eyes.

“Official?” Arthur guessed.

“Yeah,” Alfred admitted, sure that his cheeks were going pink, “If it’s too soon, I—”

“Yes,” Arthur replied, rather flustered himself, his own cheeks going slightly pink. “Yes…”  

Alfred couldn’t stop smiling as he watched Arthur adjust himself in his set, trying to avoid Alfred’s gaze as his smile only got wider. This was a step in the right direction, definitely, Alfred felt like he had picked the right moment to ask.

Alfred has a huge reason to get better now, and not fall back into bad habits.

And so, Alfred finished his meal and had the ice-cream that they bought on the way home for dessert. Then Alfred and Arthur found themselves laying on Arthur’s couch, Arthur was relaxing underneath Alfred’s arm and his eyes were on the TV.

It had been probably a good hour and a half, and he and Arthur hadn’t moved, they simply were too relaxed to. The longer the couple spent lying on Arthur’s couch, they could feel themselves sinking into the thick burgundy cushions. It wasn’t that Alfred minded, he was so comfortable, and Arthur was like a hot-water bottle attached to his side and lying comfortably under his right arm.

How can he look so calm? Alfred asked himself, his heart was racing as he glanced down at Arthur, feeling the urge for physical contact creep up on him, Alfred was feeling far too domesticated, he hasn’t been this comfortable or casual with a boyfriend in a while. But he knew because of Arthur’s need for an early rise that his chances of getting a sleepover were slim, but that didn’t mean that nothing could happen between them tonight.

Alfred glanced down at Arthur again, to see that Arthur was already looking up at him, perhaps whatever British show they were watching on the TV wasn’t the most interesting thing in the room anymore.

Alfred had instantly forgotten the name of the show once he looked into Arthur’s eyes as they were illuminated by the light from the TV. Seeing him this close, Alfred couldn’t help but notice the symmetricity and the doll-like features of Alfred’s face, his wide eyes, small lips and pixie nose. He looked good enough to kiss and was close enough for it too. But once Arthur readjusted the way he sat and leaned in a little more and parted his lips, Alfred knew what the moment called for.

And with that thought, Alfred closed the space between them and let their lips meet lightly, fitting together as nice as puzzle pieces. They stayed in the same position for a few seconds, where Alfred could really feel how soft and warm Arthur’s lips were, and then his lips spread over Arthur’s and the Englishman’s head tilted in the right way to allow their kiss to deepen. Alfred closed his eyes as he felt their hands fall into position with Arthur’s softly running through the Americans hair and his shoulder, while Alfred’s rested on Arthur’s back and the other swung over to hold Arthur closely. They moved more, eager to reap the rewards of their new exclusive status, Alfred held Arthur tightly and Arthur returned it with enthusiasm in his kissing.

Arthur pulled his lips from Alfred’s, but as the couple breathed they looked into each other’s eyes, and before Alfred could say anything, Arthur took the lead and lips migrated from Alfred’s cheek and then down his jaw bone.

“Mmm,” Alfred murmured as he tiled his head back and gasped to allow Arthur to kiss his neck. Alfred wondered what Arthur thought of his cologne, he supposed that Arthur liked it, judging by how the kiss deepened within moments of it beginning. “Wanna come up here?” Alfred asked as he lightly patted his thigh.

“Ahh,” Arthur murmured as he rose onto his knees and straddled Alfred’s lap. Once he was in position, their eyes met and Alfred’s heart raced, seeing the lustful glaze over Arthur’s eyes, and the curve of his seductive smile. Arthur finally returned his lips to Alfred’s, where they fit so perfectly. From this new angle, Alfred laid his head against the thick sofa cushion, with his face directed at the ceiling and let Arthur’s hands rest lightly on his face, keeping their lips together. Like before, they were kissing deeply, but at a much slower pace.

Alfred smiled against Arthur’s lips as his hand travelled down the Englishman’s back, surprised by just how petite he is compared to Alfred.

“Heh,” Alfred chuckled before letting his lips relax for a moment by only peppering Arthur’s lips with light kisses. They had been kissing so hard, Alfred’s lips were still tingling and traces of Arthur’s taste remained in his mouth. “That was good.”

“Mm, it was,” Arthur replied, the buzz of excitement and attraction lingering in his voice. And for a few seconds, all they could do was stare at each other and smile, wondering what other wonders they could make. It was an explosive make-out session, and Alfred couldn’t help but wonder what else Arthur had in store for the American. But then, Arthur glanced upwards, probably at the wall clock, “Oh shit.”

“Hm?” Alfred muttered, looking to where Arthur was looking, noticing that the time was quarter to eleven. Suddenly, Alfred’s eyes widened once he remembered how early Arthur had to wake up the next morning, “Oh shit, yeah!” Alfred chuckled as he and Arthur slowly rose from the couch, a little stiffened from their relaxing, and still high from their kissing, “You need to get some sleep.”

“So worth it,” Arthur chuckled behind Alfred as the American collected his jacket and wallet from the kitchen bench.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Alfred explained as he and Arthur started to walk towards the front door.

“Don’t worry it will be fine,” Arthur replied coyly as he opened the door for Alfred, and the men found themselves staring into each other’s eyes for a moment too long and found themselves at the mercy of each other’s lips all over again. However, Alfred showed restraint and parted from the kiss the moment his foot made it past the door.

“Go to bed immediately,” Alfred ordered, pointing at Arthur as the started to walk down the Englishman’s dark driveway, flashing him a charming smile.

“Will do, but send me a text when you get home, let me know you made it,” Arthur replied, before closing the door and leaving Alfred to get into his car. Once the door was closed Alfred found himself staring at Arthur’s door and smiling, even when he noticed a light from the room upstairs turn on.

“Haaa…” Alfred gasped, still feeling the rush of it all, and he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

Oh Lord, he prayed that he doesn’t fuck this one up.

Chapter Text

“You went through a real nasty bang, didn’t you…?” Arthur sighed sympathetically as he brushed the young woman’s thin blonde hair from her face, putting her uneven dead expression on display. “I’m so sorry that you didn’t make it out. But, at least the medics say it would have happened fast, and that you wouldn’t have had the time to realise what was happening. Just a flash of light and then nothing… That’s a death that some people dream of, you know? Anyone would want to die like that.”  

Arthur knew that he had a lot of cosmetic work to do, and it was going to be a very hard job: but the family has insisted on an open-casket viewing. So, Arthur must deliver to the best of his ability, or die trying to convince the family to go with something else.

The facial wounds ranged from easily fixable, to devastating. Arthur knew that he could easily repair the cuts about her eyebrows, but the gash across her nose disfigured it greatly, and Arthur knew that a lot of wax and maybe even a prosthetic would be needed. Then there was the massive would on the side of her head, which came from a massive shard of glass that came from when the other car crashed into her side of the car. Arthur questioned whether a viewing was actually possible, even if Arthur could fix all the wounds, would she still look like herself?

Arthur used to ask why all of this effort was necessary, because when he thought about it: hours of his time and effort was going into making someone look perfect, when they’re only going to be on display for a few hours. Only then to be either burned to an ash or buried under the ground to decay as nature intended.  Arthur has seen tens of thousands spent on the preparation of a body, and even more on the funeral itself. Arthur would ask himself whether spending that much money on saying goodbye to someone was worth it? How would the deceased feel if their loved ones spent an amount equivalent to a college education on their funeral? He could write an entire book on the capitalistic aspects of the funeral industry.

But after a while, Arthur came to understand why people valued extravagance and perfection in a funeral, in a way, at least. Everyone has their reasons. Some people tend to believe that if they do not spend enough money on the funeral of a loved one: it would show that they didn’t value them in life. Which was stupid, but Arthur has seen people get criticised for not spending enough on a funeral, and it was only distressing for everyone involved. It seemed that even in death that money makes a difference. Others spend a large amount of money simply because they can, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Arthur returned to the corpse and began to plan his strategy. Just by looking at the nasal cavity, Arthur could tell that suturing the mouth closed via the thread method wasn’t going to work and would only cause further damage to the nose.  Arthur knew that he was going to have to be delicate in this one.

And so, Arthur got to work, he cleaned the corpse thoroughly and brushed her hair back before capping the eyes closed, making sure that the blood was being drained from the body as he worked.

“You wouldn’t have chosen to die, yes?” Arthur asked, as he wheeled his tray of wax and cosmetic tools to the embalming table, “I always have been curious about those who choose to cross the line… If someone found themselves in a situation like yours and could chose to live or die, what makes a man pick death. However, my dear, sometimes life isn’t an option. I wonder if you knew that.”

Arthur found himself slipping further and further into his dark curiosity, and before he knew it, he was stitching together an open wound and no topic was off limits. It had been like that for the past couple of months, “I took it a step further with a man I like recently. I keep on telling myself that I’m not going to ruin this one, but the more I say it: the more daunting it becomes, because I know that I’m going to have to prove it somehow.”

Thinking about the way he and Alfred kiss on their dates brought heat to Arthur’s cheeks and made his heart race at an alarming rate, “He’s just like any other man, right now I’m happy with where we are, but what happens when we reach the point where I usually break. I have a history, you see. A history of running away, of giving in to my inner demons and losing good relationships because of it…”

Arthur sighed as he looked to the corpses shut eyes, internally he was screaming for some help, for someone to take his hand and guide him to the answer. “Should I try to fight it for Alfred?”

While it is true that Alfred has so far made him very happy, there was always the little demon sitting on Arthur’s shoulder that was hell-bent on ruining it. That was the case in every relationship. As soon as Arthur started to get comfortable with someone, he’d think more and more about death, to the point where he can’t see himself as a living being anymore. He would lash out and become cold towards his partner with almost no explanation, and then end things before they got too serious. It was a horrid habit that Arthur always promised himself that he would shake, ‘next time, next time’ he would tell himself. But he never did.

 “What kind of man lives a life hoping for change but never acts on it? You’re right,” Arthur agreed, feeling as though the answer had come from the corpse, “I should at least try a little harder than before. It’s not going to get better all by itself, now will it?” Arthur peered over the corpses face, staring at it with intense interest, “Even if Alfred and I break up for different reasons, and least I can say I tried.”

Arthur chuckled, “Hah, maybe then I can actually get my shit sorted out. Maybe I can become a healthy and functioning adult!”

Arthur knew that he should be fine, he had a good education and a stable career, it wasn’t like he was struggling to get started. He wasn’t even thirty and he had his own home. He knew of other adults who were struggling with student debt and trying to find a home, and he was lucky. Lucky in everything except the social department, it seemed.

But then again, most adults didn’t have a relationship with death like Arthur’s or felt the temptation to meet it.

It seemed that death had been with Arthur since he was small, he had encountered everything from deaths in the family, to near-death experiences of his own. It was like death had it’s claws in Arthur the moment he saw a dead body for the first time… Ever since that cold discovery when Arthur was a small child, his life had never been without death in some form. It was like death had been following Arthur all along, and it was only natural for him to work with it.  

The embalming room was painfully silent, if a pin dropped; Arthur would know. And that was how he liked it, he was the only one making noise and nothing could take him away from his thoughts, which was both a blessing and a curse, depending on his mood.

Within the hour, Arthur manages to fix all minor cuts on the corpses face and had begun to work on the massive headwound. He decided to clean the wound more thoroughly, which revealed the deep cut, and even some exposed skull and brain-matter—this was going to be a hard-fix. But the more Arthur thought about it, he figured that he could do a basic clean up on the wound and position the pillow in the casket to hide it, it should be fine as long as no one moves her head.

But that nose still remained as a massive concern, he didn’t know whether he’d need little bits of prosthetic, or an entirely new nose, and the funeral is next week, he can’t give her an entire new nose in that time-frame. He’s just going to have to make this work.

Arthur’s perfect silence was interrupted and even a little spooked by a knock on the door to the embalming room, “Come in!” Arthur watched as the door opened and Gilbert peered inside and smiled when he saw Arthur and continued to walk inside the embalming room, keeping his hands in the pockets of his black blazer.

“Hard at work?” Gilbert asked casually.

It wasn’t unusual for Gilbert to roam around the embalming rooms, and see how everyone was doing with their clients, but Arthur had to admit: it’s been a while since he’s paid Arthur a visit. 

“Just the usual, however, this nose injury is giving me a bit of a headache,” Arthur explained, as Gilbert circled the corpse, peering at the nose injury that Arthur described.

“Wax pieces should fix that fine,” Gilbert pointed out.

“Yes, I’m going to see how it works,” Arthur replied, “My concern is making her not look like she’s just gotten a botched rhinoplasty.”

“It should be fine, she naturally had a thin nose to begin with,” Gilbert explained, peering at the pictures of the deceased that Arthur had spread out on his desk nearby, “I know you can do it.”

“I won’t let them down,” Arthur muttered, getting back into his work as he felt Gilbert circle around the embalming table, watching Arthur progress.

“How’ve you been going lately?” Gilbert asked, “How’s things with Alfred?”

“Good,” Arthur replied, “I had him over for dinner on Sunday night.”

“Oooh, for dinner, eh?” Gilbert asked, chuckling and turning Arthur’s statement into an innuendo.

“Not like that,” Arthur replied firmly, “We haven’t actually done that yet. I would have, if I didn’t have to be here at 4 the next morning.”

“Oooh, sunrise funerals…” Gilbert muttered, “So, what’s Alfred like?”

“He’s bright, bubbly, funny… Pretty handsome…” Arthur muttered, “I just… I feel like his energy rubs off on me, call me weird; but he makes me feel alive.”

“Awwwwww!” Gilbert cooed, “How cute! I never heard you say that about a man before, this one must be special!”

“Well!” Arthur hissed before biting his tongue, not sure how to retort Gilbert’s cooing as he felt the German stand behind him and look over his shoulder.

“Hmmmm,” Gilbert muttered in a higher pitch, waiting for a proper response from Arthur.

Arthur wasn’t going to deny that Alfred was special, and it has been a very long time since Arthur had given Gilbert these kind of details about his love-life. “I suppose he is in some way, this is the first time in a long time that I’m going to take a relationship seriously.”

“Are you looking for a husband now?” Gilbert asked.

“No,” Arthur replied, going slightly pink in his cheeks as he lowered his hands, realising that he was too distracted to place a piece of wax onto the woman’s distorted nose. “I haven’t even thought about getting married, let alone to Alfred.”

“Well, there’s no rush, everyone seems to be getting married later these days,” Gilbert pointed out, “I proposed to Elizabeta at thirty-five, to some people that seems late, but hey: you’ve got to do it when it feels right, no matter how long it takes.”

-------

‘So, dinner on Saturday night?’ Alfred texted to Arthur as he walked into the elevator of the studio building.

‘Sounds fine, I can do pick up and drop off if you like?’ Arthur replied.

‘Ooh, that would be great, I’ll send you my address.’ Alfred replied with a big smile on his face and he quickly followed up that text with another that provided Alfred’s address.

“Sweeeeeet~!” Alfred chirped, relinquishing the time that he had alone in the elevator to do a little fist-pump into the air. He loved spending time with Arthur, and was even excited for another dinner-date, Arthur knew how to put Alfred in a good mood. Everything about Arthur got him excited, he was interested in Arthur’s work, his history and his opinions; he was unlike anyone that Alfred had dated before.

Alfred couldn’t wait to take it further with him, Alfred thought about it and his entire body tingled with excitement; he was waiting for Arthur like a child waited for Christmas. Perhaps their upcoming date will be the time when they finally take the next step, considering how they have been together for nearly two months now. Surely Arthur was feeling it too, maybe that’s why he offered to drop Alfred home… Interesting…  Alfred couldn’t help at get excited at the idea.

The elevator doors opened and Alfred strutted into studio office, knowing that he caught eyes as he walked by, either because of his good looks, or how he had an obvious bounce in his step. Alfred knew that the entire office could tell that he was excited about something, but none of them dared to ask; otherwise Alfred would delay everyone with his babbling! They all knew him too well!

Alfred quickly made his way into the recording booth, where he could see the director standing just behind the glass wall that allowed the voice actor and the recording crew to see each other. Alfred still couldn’t erase his smile as he walked over to the mic stand and started adjusting the height of the microphone and the reading stand.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” The director noted, speaking into a microphone that sat on the sound directors desk, so his voice played in the recording studio.

“Yeah, I gotta date on Saturday,” Alfred admitted.

“Still Arthur?” The Director asked.

“Yes! It’s still Arthur, we’re going great!!” Alfred pointed out loudly, “Hell, I completely forgot you knew about him, I forget who I’ve told.”

“You talk to a lot of people, Alfred,” The director pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I just get really excited,” Alfred huffed, “Besides, anyone who’ll listen is interested, right? You guys are my friends and this guy has started to really grow on me. Arthur is really something, he’s interesting, handsome, funny, and oh my God, he’s got the prettiest set of eyes. I swear to God, I’m taking him to the next function, you guys’ll love him, I—” Alfred explained before looking up at the signal board that was placed about the window, and the light for ‘Mute’ was on, which meant that he had just been talking to nobody. “RUDE!”  

Suddenly the light for ‘Mute’ was switched off.

“You were saying?” The director asked.

“Come on, man, unprofessional,” Alfred snickered, knowing just how the ruffle the director’s feathers.

“Look who’s talking: personal relationships are not a discussion topic for when you’re recording,” The Director explained.

“But we’re not, we’re preparing to record, and you asked what was making me so happy,” Alfred explained as he put on the headset, “But yeah, I’ve got a date with Arthur on Saturday, and I’m really fucking excited for it.”

“Good for you, now, we’re gonna start off with the scene where Hero sneaks onto the alien ship to investigate,” The director explained, “It’s page six.”

“Right!” Alfred explained as he placed the script onto the reading-stand, before flipping to the right page. Smiling when he found the right page, seeing the header for ‘SCENE 2’, Alfred remembered exactly how the scene went, and what to say.

Alfred coughed a little as the lights for recording came on and the director read out the scene notes for referencing, and then the words “Three, two, one…”

“Ah, sorry Johnny, but I’ve gotta do this alone, bud. Ack, what part of the ship is this anyway? Oh man, aliens, the last thing I need right now… Hang on… Those weapons, who gave them those? Since when do they have blasters that are that huge?! Ugh, how much effort would it take to build an alien translator, Remind me to ask you about it when I get you back dad.” Alfred acted, his eyes narrowing with determination as he acted as though he was a teenager, sneaking on board of an alien ship like some kind of super cool secret agent! He could imagine standing behind a pillar as two lizard-like aliens made their way past, probably on some kind of patrol of the storage area where the Hero was hiding. He was voicing the inner monologue and knew that his voice would be edited later on to sound more ‘thought-like’ but Alfred liked to act as though he was in the situation himself, and that he was speaking to himself.

He imagined the aliens walking away as he peeked past the corner, before dashing to the other side of the hallway and hiding in a new room.

“I need to—” Alfred began, before pausing to look through the window and at the director, who glanced at Alfred in confusion once the American stopped talking, “What’s Hero wearing in this? Is it the super suit, the black spandex space suit or his casual clothes?”

“What the hell, Alfred?”

“What?! It helps with the visualisation, you know!” Alfred pointed out loudly.

“Fine, let’s say he’s in the black suit,” The director explained. Now that Arthur had the visualisation in his head, it made the scene easier to imagine. His blonde Hero was hiding behind a pillar, dressed in a tight black suit that hugged his entire body, with blue electric lines running down the side. The suit was specially made for him to fight in anti-gravity situations, and when the need arose, a helmet would automatically cover Hero’s head and provide oxygen.

“Alright,” Alfred replied, “Do you want me to start over?”

“Yes, and try to fix up the voice a little, he’s supposed to be serious but not as serious as you’re doing it,” The Director explained. That was just confusing… Serious, but not as serious as Alfred was doing, what the hell does that mean? How serious is Alfred meant to sound? Alfred thought he was doing just fine.

“Really? I thought I was doing fine,” Alfred pointed out.

“Well, yeah, you were doing good. Just try to remember that this is a kid’s show, try not to sound too serious,” The Director explained.

“But the scene is serious,” Alfred pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest and angled his hip a little.

“Alfred. Just do it. If it doesn’t sound right, we’ll do it again,” The Director explained, obviously becoming tired of Alfred’s interference, but Alfred didn’t care—he was gonna pester the director for as long as he felt like doing it: this was his show too.

“Fine, fine, I’ll give it a go,” Alfred replied, taking a sip from his glass of water before starting again, “Ah, sorry Johnny, but I’ve gotta do this alone, bud. Ack, what part of the ship is this anyway? Oh man, aliens, the last thing I need right now… Ah this feels stupid, how the hell do I sound less serious while also remaining serious?!”

“You were doing fine, Alfred,” The Director sighed, and in the corner of his eye; Alfred could see the director rubbing his forehead in irritation.

“I dunno, I feel like it’s the script too, it feels too simple.”

“Don’t try to change the script, again,” The Director grumbled.

“Alright, geez, I was just trying to help!” Alfred whined.

How would Arthur feel about this script, Alfred wondered as he readjusted his headset, would he agree with Alfred or side with the director? Granted, he is nowhere near the target audience of the show, but surely; he’d have some kind of taste, he seems like the kind of man that has a lot of taste: his house certainly vouched for that.

“Alright, are you ready to go again?” The Director asked, firmly.

“Yeah, sure,” Alfred responded as he fixed his stance and brought his face back in line with the microphone. He coughed a little and returned to his ‘Hero’ voice, “Ah, sorry Johnny, but I’ve gotta do this alone, bud. Ack, what part of the ship is this anyway? Oh man, aliens, the last thing I need right now… -- Ack, fucking shit—”

“Alfred!”

“I’m sorry, that was my fault, my bad!” Alfred apologised quickly, “I just got a little side-tracked!” Side-tracked by Arthur, it seemed that once the Englishman entered Alfred’s mind, he’s refusing to leave, Alfred tried to get back into the mood of the scene and imagine his Hero performing the actions, but Hero had morphed into Arthur.

Alfred could feel his cheeks heating up when he imagined Arthur being all bad-ass like Hero, but it worked nicely, Arthur was a strong-willed guy; he’d have to be for his line of work. Who wouldn’t look up to a guy like him?

“You ready to go again?” The director asked, snapping Alfred out of his daydreaming.

“Y-Yeah, sorry about that,” Alfred apologised again.

“Alright, go again, from the top.”

“Ah, sorry Johnny, but I’ve gotta do this alone, bud. Ack, what part of the ship is this anyway? Oh man, aliens, the last thing I need right now… Hang on… Those weapons, who gave them those? Since when do they have blasters that are that huge?! Ugh, how much effort would it take to build an alien translator, Remind me to ask you about it when I get you back dad. I need to find a map or something, this place can’t be so huge and not have a map somewhere! -- Ah! Man! That was toooo close! If they catch me now, we’re all doomed! I prooobably should have left a note for mom, but then if Johnny finds out where I am, he’ll wanna come too! Urh! I can’t lose here, I can’t get caught here! … Huh?”

“Cut!” The Director announced, “See? That was good! Now, go through it one more time for a backup recording, keep it exactly as how you just did.”

“Alright,” Alfred replied, bracing his voice for another recording.

And once again, Alfred did the recording well, and the Director was happy to send him off to pick up the other script and rehearse with his co-star. But, once Alfred left the recording booth, he spotted someone who he rarely saw.

“Max!” Alfred chirped, catching the mans attention, he was the voice actor for Koshka, and read out all the Russian lines, a thing that had been driving Alfred crazy with curiosity since the first season. “Hey man, what’s up?”

“I’ve been fine, how about you?” He asked.

“I’m good, but hey, could you tell me what Koshka’s being saying lately? There’s been a lot of lines, but none of them are written on the script!” Alfred explained, jumping right into it. “It’s been driving me crazy!’

“I.. Um,” Max chuckled nervously, glancing around him.

“Noo, don’t say it, we want to keep it as a surprise,” The director stated as he closed the door to the studio. “It’s a secret, even from you Alfred.”

“Oh come on!” Alfred sighed.

Oh well, he’ll just have to wait until Ivan arrives in a few weeks and have him translate for him, then the director will just have to deal with the fact that Alfred will know his precious secret.

Chapter Text

Black blazer jacket, black jeans, button-up white shirt – too formal Jean jacket, jean shorts, red t-shirt – no, what the fuck? Black blazer jacket, blue jeans, t-shirt – looks weird together, and when he takes off the blazer, it will be too casual, this is a date; not a barbeque.

It was normal for people to struggle with picking something to wear on a date, but Alfred questioned whether most people did it to this extent. Lots of clothes were spread all over his bed, and this was the sixth outfit that Alfred had tried on. He wanted to look good for Arthur, but he also wanted to fit the occasion. Alfred checked out his latest match, and stared at himself in the mirror, turning to look at himself from all angles. Before deciding that his pants weren’t sitting right on his thighs, but he did like the quirkiness of the planet print on his button-up short sleeved shirt. If he finds something that works with the shirt, he’d be confident enough to wear it on the date.

Arthur may be Alfred’s boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean that Alfred doesn’t have to wow him anymore. He’s got to keep him keen.

Alfred could already guess what Arthur was going to be wearing tonight; black, black and black. But Alfred wanted to be at least a little more colourful.

The more he looked at himself in the shirt, the more he liked it: it wasn’t too tight, but still showed off the good things about his body. The shirts main colour was blue, with a light pattern of colourful planets and stars, and it complimented well with Alfred’s mood, except for the fact that he was stressing over what he could wear with it.

“Hmmm, hm-hm, hmmmm,” Alfred hummed to himself in tune with the music that he was playing in his bedroom, as he looked through what other clothes he had spread over his bed, looking for a pair of pants. Usually he’d be singing along with it like a karaoke, but his mind was a little too occupied for that right now.

Now he was wearing a pair of fitted black jeans, and once he rolled them up past the ankles, he was happy with his look, finally.

But now that step one was completed, Alfred then spent twenty minutes trying to get his hair right. Never had Alfred been so picky and self-critical, and it was to the point that he was starting to annoy himself. He could never just push it one way and call it a day, he had to fuss over every little detail, like this was going to be the night that decides his fate, and if he doesn’t look right; it’s over.  

Once he was satisfied with his hair, Alfred looked at the clock on his phone and nearly screamed when he saw that Arthur was due to pick him up in ten minutes. And even though he didn’t know for sure if Arthur was going to come home with him, he wanted to make his room spotless, and so, that resulted in Alfred frantically putting his clothes back in his wardrobe while he put on his shoes.

And then suddenly, he heard the doorbell ring as he resorted to throwing his remaining items in the wardrobe and forcing it closed, before lightly jogging to the front door.

“Heeey!” Alfred chirped once he opened the door and saw Arthur standing there, pink in the cheeks and wide in the eyes, with a smile that made Alfred melt. And as Alfred guessed, Arthur was dressed in his signature colour. But he looked nice, dressed in a black button-up shirt and black pants, but he could always get away with it, black looked nice on him, and seemed to make him look even more petite than he already was. 

“Hello!” Arthur replied, waving a little as Alfred reached for the house keys that he kept on a small table by the door. “Are you hungry?”

“You bet I am!” Alfred explained as he grabbed his bomber jacket from the hook behind the front door before making his way out. He wasn’t lying, he had been so anxious over the date, he skipped lunch. He smiled at Arthur and even placed his hand on the Englishman’s back as he led him down the stairs of his small apartment complex, “Did it take you a while to find my door? You could’ve just texted me to come down.”

“It was no trouble,” Arthur replied as he smiled, leaning into Alfred’s touch, which made the American’s heart race. “How was your day?”

“It was fine, I got to sleep in, I went to the gym and that’s pretty much it,” Alfred replied, “Yourself?”

“I got my grocery shopping done and wrote out my schedule for next week, there’s going to be a lot of funerals,” Arthur explained. “Business is booming, sadly.”

“Awww,” Alfred cooed as Arthur unlocked his car, and he and Alfred got in. “So, where is it that we’re going again?”

“Oh, hadn’t I told you?” Arthur asked, “There’s a nice Japanese place around here, I think you’ll really like it.”

“Ooooooh, nice, I haven’t had Japanese food in ages!” Alfred explained, smiling widely as Arthur started to drive away from Alfred’s apartment building.

Arthur had a nicer car than Alfred expected, it was sleek and black on the outside with warm black leather seats on the outside. Alfred wasn’t at all shocked over Arthur’s dark aesthetic, but Alfred couldn’t help but wonder what he’d look like with a little more colour…  

Alfred always loved the drive to Manhattan, and as Arthur drove deeper into the city, Alfred couldn’t help but get more and more excited over where Arthur could be taking him! It must be a really nice place, especially because of the nice part of town that Arthur is taking him through. How romantic of him, but still, Alfred will insist on splitting the bill!

Finally, Arthur parked along one of the streets, and started walking Alfred down the bustling Manhattan street, many people who were perhaps on their way to a dinner too. Finally, Arthur pointed out the restaurant as they crossed the street, and it looked nice, Alfred could just picture the fancy and delicate looking Japanese meals they were going to have. Luckily for him, Japanese food was always easy for him to eat.

Arthur held the door open for Alfred as they entered the red restaurant, being greeted with warmth from an indoor heater. The restaurant was painted almost entirely red, which was intensified by the warm orange glow of the hanging ceiling lights, the wall was littered with exquisite and detailed Japanese art.

“Whoa,” Alfred muttered as Arthur confirmed that they were a table for two, and as the pair were seated at a small wooden table by the window, Alfred asked, “How do you know about this place?”

“I’ve been here for a work dinner before, it was just a place that I couldn’t forget,” Arthur admitted as the waitress poured some water after handing them menus. “You look nice.”

Alfred’s cheeks heated up as he smiled at Arthur, happy that all of his fussing came out in his favour, “Hahaha, thanks! You do too!”

A moment of silence befell them as both men lifted their menus to look, Alfred instantly went to the sushi and soup sections of the menu. “So, what have you been up to?” Arthur asked.

“Just the usual stuff, recording, rehearsing and stuff—buut, I’ve been asked to record a new version of the shows opening theme!” Alfred explained, happy to see Arthur’s impressed reaction, “Like, I sang the opening theme already, but they want to make a cooler and darker version for the season finale to give a recap of the season! It’s gonna be so cool!”

“Wow, do you sing as well?” Arthur asked

“Yeah,” Alfred replied, “I could’ve totally been a singer, but hey; when you find your calling, you’ve gotta stick with it!”

“Well, I’d love to hear it sometime,” Arthur suggested as his eyebrows rose, his fingers weaving together as he leaned against his elbows. “What kind of songs do you like?”

 “I’m a little addicted to Arctic Monkeys,” Alfred admitted, thinking about how many times he’s recorded himself singing to ‘why’d you only call me when you’re high’, although; his favourite version of the song will always be when Miley Cyrus sang it, unf. “And I love to sing Bruno Mars’ stuff, he’s amazing, and just, oh there’s a lot. And Sam Smith, I struggled with him at first, but I eventually got it.”

“Wow,” Arthur gasped, “I’ve never been able to sing like that.”  

“It took a whole lot of practice,” Alfred admitted, “So yeah, I’m gonna start recording the new intro next week, I’m thinking I’ll get to unleash my inner Artic Monkeys on them, cause the intro song is usually very cheerful, and exciting.”

“Oh,” Arthur replied, “I’ve seen some of the art for the show, but I still need the time to watch it, not to mention that I still need to find it online.”

“Really?!” Alfred beamed, “There’s clips of Hero and Johnny on YouTube, and hey; you’ll probably find the videos I’m in if you look hard enough, and hell, I can even give you my DVDs if you want!”

“Sure,” Arthur chuckled as his eyes returned to the menu, “I don’t know whether I want to go with ramen or a don dish…”

“I know I’m going to go with sushi,” Alfred admitted.

Within a few minutes, Alfred and Arthur ordered their meals and drinks, and returned to the conversation. Alfred pressed her elbows against the table and lifted his hands to support his head as he leaned forward, looking at Arthur with a soft smile. “So, how’s your week been?”

“It’s been fine,” Arthur explained, “But I have been rather stressed, there’s been a lot going on in the past few weeks, there are few morticians working, we have an apprentice and there have been events that hurt everyone.”

“Hurt everyone?” Alfred asked, growing concerned by the sad look in Arthurs eyes, and Alfred could tell that Arthur was thinking of something painful.

“We’ve just had some hard bodies to deal with this month,” Arthur explained, sighing as he crossed his fingers together and straightened his back as he took a deep breath, “We don’t often see horrific homicide victims, or violent suicide, or kids…”

“Aww, I’m sorry,” Alfred replied, instinctually reaching for Arthur’s hand, feeling them immediately untense under his touch. “Do you need to talk about it?”

“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine,” Arthur replied, smiling softly, but Alfred worried whether there was something behind that smile, a cry for help maybe. But Alfred wasn’t sure, and that worried him a little bit.

But Alfred knew from his own experiences that pushing Arthur now wouldn’t help, “Just reminding you, if you ever need to chat, give me a call.”

“I know,” Arthur replied as one of his hands slid out from under Alfred’s before placing it on top, sandwiching Alfred’s hand between Arthur’s, momentarily distracted by the waitress delivering their bottles of Japanese beer and two empty glasses, but once they thanked her and she left, Arthur continued. “I’m just trying to sort things out myself, you know? Besides, I’ve been doing this for so long, there’s bound to be a few experiences that even shake me from time to time.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Alfred agreed, “What was your first body like?”

“The first body I ever saw, or the first one I worked on?” Arthur asked, not even blinking as he took a small sip from his beer bottle.

“Whoa what?” Alfred asked, “When did you see your first body?” At this question, Arthur’s hands tensed again, and Alfred could guess that he had touched a nerve. What could have Arthur seen to trigger a reaction like this from a mortician? What sight could hurt a man who works with bodies daily?  But after a few seconds of silence, Alfred could tell that Arthur wasn’t keen on answering, so he needed to back off and fast. “Oh, I mean at the funeral home, who was your first client?”

Almost instantly, Arthur improved, even though Alfred new that Arthur wasn’t dumb enough to believe Alfred’s attempt at recovering the conversation, “It was just an older gentleman, died of heart failure, this was back before I moved to America. It was hard, because up until then, I always had someone either assessing me or assisting me. The process itself was rather daunting, I likened it to riding a bike alone for the first time, he was heavy, the discolouration had started, and he had a big meal before his death, so there was a lot still in him for me to clean. But I got through it, and the family was pleased. I was the youngest mortician in the funeral home at the time, and I think I defied all of their expectations.”

“That’s how you make your mark, defy expectations,” Alfred agreed.

“Mm, they were probably all waiting around outside of the embalming room, seeing how long it would take me to come out and ask for their help,” Arthur explained, a nostalgic look in his eyes as he chuckled softly, “But I never did.”

“Haha, fuck yeah,” Alfred chuckled.

“I’m shocked that you show no reaction to my descriptions,” Arthur pointed out.

“Yeah, I guess you can say I’m kinda morbidly curious,” Alfred admitted, “But I can tell that you love your work, sometimes you become so eccentric in your descriptions. Besides, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to work in a funeral home, I think everybody has.”

“Everyone has some kind of morbid curiosity, I feel. I’ve had little grandchildren ask if they can see the body getting ready.”

“Ha!”

“And that’s not even close to this one kid who asked me all these gross questions, like whether I had to cut his grandfather open, and what colour he was inside. I was rather disturbed,” Arthur explained.

“Well, did you answer him?” Alfred asked.

“What!? Of course, I didn’t!” Arthur hissed as the waitress returned with their meals and placed them accordingly. Arthur had ordered a great-smelling ramen noodles dish, with meat, vegetables and an egg submerged in a broth, whereas Alfred got a small sushi platter. “That’s hardly anything, you can have some of mine if you like.”

“Thanks, perhaps in a bit,” Alfred replied as he watched Arthur start to eat, while he was still wondering which piece of sushi he should have first.

“So, when you finish recording for a season, what happens next?” Arthur asked.

“The recording for the season finale should be starting in a few months,” Alfred explained, “It’s not completely confirmed that we’re getting this next season—but it really looks like we are. We’re gonna be going into contract negotiations in a few months, the higher-ups have just got to pan everything out and whatnot.”

“Interesting…” Arthur murmured, “What’s the contract negotiations like?”

Alfred swallowed his first piece of sushi before replying, “Usually it’s pretty fine, we talk about what hours we’re expected to put in, there can be some discussions about pay, they give us an explanation of what the new season is going to be about. And we go through the terms of the contract, for instance, in mine—and don’t tell anyone I said this, but my contract states that I am not allowed to provide my voice for any other media other than ones that they’ve approved.”

“Does that mean you can’t do other things?” Arthur asked frowning as he twirled more noodles with his fork.

“Nope, I’m not allowed to voice characters for other networks, or do anything for other medias, like podcasts and stuff, that isn’t for the network,” Alfred explained, “They just want to keep my iconic voice, you know? Big companies don’t like to share.”

“That sounds about right,” Arthur muttered, rolling his eyes, “I’ve heard some horror stories about contracts, especially in the entertainment industry.”

 “What, are you not bound to your company?” Alfred asked, “Do you have a contract?”

“Well, of course I have a contract, but, I mean… I also can’t just go and embalm a body somewhere else,” Arthur pointed out with an amused chuckle, that was cute enough to make Alfred’s heart skip a beat. And then, Arthur started to laugh, “I won’t go running an underground embalming business in my backyard! When they first met, Arthur didn’t smile much, in fact: Alfred’s not sure if Arthur smiled at all during their first meeting, and now he was sitting across from him and watching him laugh and smile…

They continued to talk throughout their meal, Alfred learned that Arthur was a fan of murder mystery-shows which made sense, considering they watched one when Alfred was at his house. He wants to own a cat, but he’s only been putting it off because he knows that if he goes to buy one; he’ll come home with three or four. He absolutely loves the snow, but not when he has to deal with the inside of his shoes getting wet. Nothing annoys him more than when people are not only ignorant, but impatient, which Alfred does not doubt that he’s experienced; judging by some of the people Arthur had told him that he’s worked for.

Before Alfred knew it, they were bickering over who was going to take care of the bill, and while it wasn’t as expensive as Alfred was expecting, Alfred still put up a good fight, and ended up being the one who paid the bill. While Arthur vowed to take care of the next one.

“So, where in the world have you travelled?” Arthur asked as he pulled his car out of the parking space, starting the drive back to Alfred’s house.

“Um, I’ve been to Mexico, Canada and Australia, they’ve all just been short holidays though,” Alfred explained, those trips were meant to be happy memories, but he couldn’t help but cringe when he thought about them, hating the boy who he was back then, he shouldn’t have left the damn house, let alone got on a plane. But still, while he had some fun, he couldn’t help but remember just how much he hated himself. “Yourself?”

“I was born in England, but I lived in Scotland for a few years when I was young, I did a six-month exchange in a medical school in France, and I’ve travelled throughout Europe, staying in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Poland, and then there’s also America.” Arthur explained.

“Whoa, I’ve always wanted to go to Europe,” Alfred admitted.  

“If you do, go for a long time and see as many countries as you can, it’s well worth it,” Arthur explained, “Although the ten-hour bus-rides were an absolute hell.”

“Ten hours on a bus?! That’s nearly the flight to Australia!” Alfred pointed out.

“Well, people use buses to travel cheaply around Europe!” Arthur exclaimed, “It’s fucking awful, but I’d rather pay 40 Euro on that than spend 150 Euro just to get to a destination nine hours earlier. But hey, with a budget like a student, I should have just bloody walked!”

Alfred laughed, “You know, you’re really funny!”

“What?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah!” Alfred confirmed, still giggling, “What, don’t you think you’re funny?”

“I never put much thought into it,” Arthur admitted, and even in the scattered lighting provided by the street lights of Manhattan, Alfred could tell that he was blushing.

“So, you don’t even try?” Alfred asked, “Damn, I’ve gotta try so hard to get a laugh out of some people.”

“But you’re a bubbly guy, anything can probably make you laugh,” Arthur pointed out.

“Not everything!” Alfred replied.

--------

Alfred couldn’t help but smile when Arthur parked his car in front of Alfred’s apartment and got out of the car with him, but then again, Alfred did say that he could come in for some dessert, even though what that dessert was is yet to be defined.

But Alfred supposed that it soon became clear, as Arthur gave in and kissed him softly as he started unlocking his front door, opening it easily and stepping inside.

Alfred did not end the kiss there, and neither of them moved as they deepened their kissing and placed their hands on each other’s bodies, letting Alfred absolutely melt into the kiss. They kissed slowly and sweetly, the taste of their dinners still lingering on their breath. Arthur’s tongue was cool to the touch, which contrasted with the heat that was gathering in his cheeks. Finally, the moment came where they had to part, and they both stood by the front door to Alfred’s apartment, breathing the same air deeply, and then they caught the looks in each other’s eyes. Their hands were still linked, and Alfred’s other hand rested on Arthur’s shoulder.

Arthur’s eyes almost glowed in the dim light of the entrance stairwell, and the way he looked with his mouth slightly agape left Alfred craving more…

“Do you want to stay the night?” Alfred asked, his breathing low as he stared into Arthur’s eyes, wanting to capture every second of this precious moment.

“Yes,” Arthur replied.

And with that, it was like a bomb exploded, as soon as the front door was shut, Arthur was pinned against the wall before he could even finish kicking off his shoes, being kissed by Alfred with a burning passion. Arthur broke the kiss and gasped loudly as Alfred pressed against him, and once Arthur hooked a slender leg around Alfred’s waist as he kicked off his shoe, Alfred grabbed his leg with one hand, and his thigh with the other and lifted Arthur off the floor with almost no effort at all.

“Ah!” Arthur gasped before swinging his arms around Alfred’s shoulders and hoisted himself up on Alfred, letting the wall and the Americans body pin him in place as they returned to kissing deeply. Alfred had never envied, or adored Arthur’s bodyweight more than he did now, and it drove him to only kiss him deeper.

Arthurs nails dug into Alfred’s shoulder blades, and gasped as Alfred’s hips moved, meeting with his in the middle, but sadly their clothes were in the way. In a moment of rest, Alfred caught a glimpse of the look in Arthur’s eyes, where Alfred could instantly see that Arthur was weak for him, Arthur wanted him, bad.  

“You’re so hot,” Alfred whispered before going back in to kiss Arthur, just as deeply as before.  

“Al—” Arthur moaned, before being cut off by Alfred’s kiss.

Arthur grabbed at Alfred’s shirt, and had even managed to undo a few buttons from the top before Alfred tightened his grip on Arthur and pushed himself off the wall, carrying Arthur and taking the opportunity to get a good feel of his ass. Arthur instantly clung to Alfred for dear life and yelped in surprise as the American carried him to the bedroom, but that didn’t stop Arthur from kissing and nipping at Alfred’s neck.

“Mmmm~” Arthur hummed as Alfred made his way into the bedroom, thankful that he had cleaned his mess from earlier.

Alfred sat on the bed, leaving Arthur straddling his lap, where Alfred was quick to start unbuttoning Arthur’s shirt. “Alfred.” Once Arthur’s chest was exposed Alfred lost control and kissed all over the soft and lily pale skin, making Arthur gasp as he stretched his back, but Alfred was relentless, he tightly held Arthur and kept him in position. “Alfred, fuck.”

“How do you want me to do this?” Alfred asked, letting Arthur slide past him and kick off his other shoe as he crawled along the bed, where Arthur was fast to lay on his back and smile at Alfred. Alfred watched him eagerly as he quickly removed his shirt and shoes before laying on top of Arthur, pressing his petite body into the mattress in just the right way to make him gasp.

“Do you have protection?” Arthur asked, his breathing heavy as Alfred relaxed on top of them, their chests finally meeting.

“Yeah,” Alfred replied as he peppered kisses along Arthur’s jaw. “Can I top?”

“Yes, I’d prefer it, actually,” Arthur answered, “But I need to warn you, it’s been a while.”

Alfred couldn’t help but smile, happy to hear that Arthur was a bottom, which was handy for Alfred, because he always loves to top, and he had been daydreaming about topping Arthur for ages now.

“Oh, you just keep getting better,” Alfred admitted as he resumed with their deep kissing, before Arthur’s arms hooked over Alfred’s head, keeping him close. Gravity was on their side this time, and when Alfred rocked his hips in just the right way, rubbing their clothed crotches together in just the right way, and Arthur would gasp against his lips.

“Oh my God, get these pants off…” Arthur gasped, huffing as Alfred then started to kiss down his chest as he shuffled down the bed, before finally reaching Arthurs belt as his lips kissed a line down Arthur’s stomach. Arthurs hands gripped Alfred’s hair, “Alfred…”

Alfred sat up once Arthur’s belt buckle and pants were unzipped, and with a hungry smile across his lips, Alfred tugged the pants down, watching as Arthur lifted his hips to assist with it, seemingly surprised when his underwear had slipped away with his black pants. Alfred now found himself on his knees, staring down at Arthur, who laid on the bed before him in nothing but a pair of grey socks.

 “You are so sexy, you know that?” Alfred asked, his voice husky as he stared down at Arthur as he started to undo his own belt, knowing that Arthur was watching him eagerly.

“Hmm,” Arthur mewed, rolling to the side a little and closing his legs, going bright red in the face, he was so slender and pale, like a porcelain doll. Alfred’s heart was racing as he finished undoing his pants, sliding them down as he returned to his place on top of Arthur as he kicked his jeans off the side of the bed. Arthur welcomed him back with a deep kiss as his arms hooked around Alfred’s shoulders, keeping him close enough to feel Arthur’s heartbeat against his chest.

And then Alfred slid to the side and planted his lips against a soft section of Arthur’s neck, where he continued to kiss, but harder. Arthur gasped loudly as his nails dug into Alfred’s back, which only intensified as Alfred started to suck, intending on leaving a mark.

“Alfred!” Arthur gasped, and Alfred let go of the Englishman’s neck with a loud ‘pop’ exposing a mark for Alfred to be proud of, and which he knew was only going to be the first of many for both of them. 

Foreplay was usually something just meant to make Alfred hard, he never intended on being brought so close to the edge, not when he knows that the main event was still to come. But when they touched more and explored each other’s bodies more, Alfred found himself falling further and further into a state of pure bliss.

“Alfred!” Arthur gasped, holding onto the pillow tightly, his knees quivering a little as Alfred moved slowly, using his fingers to prepare him. Arthur wasn’t lying when he said that it had been a while, but if anything, it made Alfred more excited.

Alfred was on his knees, as hard as a rock and ready to go, all he needed was for Arthur to give him the greenlight. He listened to Arthur’s breathing and let that guide him as he slowly moved his two fingers past the thick ring of muscle for a second time, coating the entrance in even more lube. This moment was relatively calm compared to the wildness and passion that was happening ten minutes ago, but Alfred knew that the moment he got himself between Arthur’s legs, he was going to make it a night to remember.

But why not start right now? Alfred was intrigued by the way Arthur reacted when he touched him more, and besides, Alfred was feeling greedy. He shifted his position to allow him to get his face at the same level as Arthur’s thighs and ass.

“What are you doing- Ah!” Arthur gasped when Alfred kissed him on the cheek again but adding a little bit of teeth to it. But Alfred didn’t stop it there, while he kept kissing around, his free hand snaked across Arthur’s inner thigh, being sure to leave a little tingling sensation with his nails.

“Mm, you have such a cute butt,” Alfred chuckled, his smile widening as Arthur quivered and his hole tightened around Alfred’s fingers, which happened again in response to Alfred’s answer. Arthur looked gorgeous; Alfred was caught on the way his back curved when he let out a long moan.

Alfred could have stayed like this for much longer and stoke himself to the sight of Arthur getting fingered.  “I think I’m ready,” Arthur pointed out as he pushed his head out from under the pillow and let Alfred’s fingers slide out as he fell onto his back and spread his legs for the American, staring at him with a look in her eyes that said, ‘come and get it’.

Alfred smiled as he quickly slid the condom on, and found his position between Arthur’s legs, and once he entered him, Alfred found that they fit together as well as puzzle pieces.

"Ah-Ah!"

"You ok?"

"Yes, start moving..."

Quickly, they found their rhythm and while it hurt a little at first, within a couple of minutes they had completely engulfed themselves in the heat and passion of the moment. Alfred pinned Arthur in place on the mattress and let his libido speak for him, it was like he was on fire from the pain of Arthur's nails dig into his skin, or his teeth sinking into his skin. 

To Alfred, this was as good as getting high. It had been much longer than Alfred would go without having sex, so doing this with Arthur was as much of a relief as it was a release and a bonding experience. The sexual fiend within Alfred was back, and Arthur knew just how to please him.

Time became lost to them, as Alfred kept up his rhythm, he couldn’t tell whether he had been going at it for a few minutes, or fifteen, but it didn’t even matter, as Arthur kept fuelling the burning fire with Alfred as he took Arthur with all the strength he had, craving the sound of Arthur’s delicious moans. Alfred held onto Arthur tightly and groaned as Arthur cried out his name while raking his nails down the American’s sweaty back.

“Alfred! More! I’m going to—cu— Fuck!” Arthur cried, Alfred lifted himself up enough to look into Arthur’s eyes, which had become clouded with pleasure as he stared at Alfred. “Ha~”

Arthur was getting close, and Alfred could feel it, he was struggling to breathe, he was shaking as he dug his nails into Alfred’s back, enough to even hurt. But that just made Alfred go harder, wanting to give the Englishman the best night of his life, he knew that he was capable of doing that. Besides, Alfred didn’t blame Arthur for reaching the edge fast, he did say that it’s been a while for him.

“Come on, baby, cum for me,” Alfred purred, his voice husky as he leaned into Arthur, giving the panting Englishman a hot kiss on the lips.

“Fuck, Alfred, fuuck!” Arthur groaned. He wheezed and trembled as he scratched down Alfred’s back and curled into Alfred, before releasing a deeper cry as he threw himself back against the pillows.

Alfred looked down and smiled, knowing that he did well. And the night has only just begun.

“Fuck, sorry…”

“No, it’s fine, you said that it’s been a while…” Alfred replied, purring as he passed Arthur some tissues to clean the mess he had made on his abdomen. “Besides, I’m not planning on letting you go just yet, if you’re cool with that…”

Arthur rose his eyebrow in curiosity, but his smile told Alfred that he knew exactly what Alfred was meaning, “Oh yeah?”

“That is, if you’re up for it…” Alfred purred, leaning into Arthur for a kiss.

Arthur cupped Arthur’s face once their lips parted, and caught the look in his eyes, “Try me.”

After Alfred let Arthur catch his breath for a few more minutes, and after getting him a glass of water, Alfred manoeuvred the Englishman’s thin legs to rest against his chest, bringing Arthur’s feet into the air before he slid on a new condom. “Ready to keep going?” Alfred asked as he leaned forward, pressing against Arthur’s legs.

Arthur smiled, the life returning to his eyes, “Yes.”

Alfred reapplied the lube and then resumed, but this time he had the perfect view of Arthur. He watched the way Arthur’s body jolted a little when Alfred did a hard thrust, how Arthur’s breath quickened, how his hickey was so pigmented and noticeable, and how he struggled to find anywhere to keep his hands. But the main thing that Alfred focused on was the way that Arthur was staring into Alfred’s eyes; he was watching Alfred with the same amount of intensity that Alfred was watching him, and Alfred couldn’t help but wonder what Arthur was noticing about him.

Arthur was worth the wait, Alfred concluded.

 

Chapter Text

“Fucking hell, Alfred,” Arthur grumbled, tilting his head to get a better look at his neck in the mirror, grumbling as he counted the collection of red and purple marks. Just looking at them, Arthur remembered the way Alfred gave them to him, pinning him down on the soft bed and sucking on his neck like a hungry vampire, possessive and powerful enough to make Arthur weak in the knees. God, that man is great with his mouth…

He couldn’t be mad, it was so worth it…

Just thinking about that night gave Arthur goose-bumps, and as he started to apply cosmetics to his love bites, he couldn’t help but think about the night more. He remembered the way Alfred looked at him with darkened and hungry eyes, he looked at Arthur like he was going to devour him whole; and he just about did. It was a whole new side of Alfred that Arthur was very impressed by, Arthur gave him a night to remember, and Arthur did not leave disappointed. Arthur would have believed that it had just been a wet dream if he hadn’t woken up the next morning in Alfred’s bed, with bits of condom packets littering the floor by the side of the bed. But then of course, there was the evidence that littered Arthur’s neck.

It was dream-like to wake up next to Alfred. It was peaceful, sombre and the sunlight that came in through the bedroom window, and it gave the room a golden glow, which was almost other-worldly in atmosphere and feeling, especially after the night they had. In sleep, Alfred looked like an angel, his hair became unruly and fluffy to the touch, and he lazily pulled Arthur closer into his arms. Arthur wasn’t surprised that Alfred was a cuddler.

Normally Arthur wouldn’t be worried about his hickeys showing, but the last time he walked around with fresh hickeys was back when he was in university— before he started coordinating funerals for a living.

The makeup was working well, and Arthur knew that this was necessary for him to use it, he knew that if this make up could fix up a corpse, it could fix this. He couldn’t go to a funeral with a line of hickeys down his neck. Arthur was meant to be working on a corpse right now, but instead he’s in the bathroom trying to cover the line of hickeys that decorated his neck.

Suddenly, the bathroom door opened, and Arthur froze as Gilbert walked in.  

“Shit.”

“Oh wow,” Gilbert gasped, pausing to look at Arthur and the cosmetics that he was applying, while wearing his signature smirk, he looked like an older brother preparing to tease, “Looks like the corpses aren’t the only ones with discolouration…”

“Mm,” Arthur mumbled, internally screaming as he put down the cosmetic sponge and started to cover the concealed mark in powder, “Bloody Alfred, I have so many funerals this week.”

Arthur shivered, imaging what kind of reaction he’d get from mourners if he turned up to their loved-one’s funeral covered in hickeys and love bites. Like some kind of hooligan. It was improper and disrespectful, even though it represented a fantastic night. He would have to caution Alfred next time, he does not want to empty the cosmetics stock.   

But Arthur had to admit, he’s not shocked that Alfred is the type of man who loves to leave a mark.

“Wooow, how many did he leave on you?” Gilbert asked, stepping in to take a closer look, and Arthur prayed that he had done a good enough job covering up. “Should I be concerned?”

“No, it was good,” Arthur admitted, before sighing once he saw the look in Gilberts eyes, “Say it.”

Gilbert breathed loudly through his smirk, “Someone got laaaaaaaaaid.”   When seeing Gilbert like this, Arthur couldn’t help but be reminded of a college boy. It was almost hard to believe that Gilbert was in his late thirties, he had such a young spirit and it could be seen in his smile.

“Yeah, yeah,” Arthur rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t able to hold back his smile. “I’d say that our date on Saturday night was very successful. I took him to that Japanese place where we had our work dinner last year.”

“Ohhh, how nice,” Gilbert replied, “So things are going really well with him?”

“Yeah, it’s nice. He’s a nice guy,” Arthur explained, tilting his head to get at the last patch of purple skin. Arthur could feel his hand tremble as he patted the cosmetic on his skin, just talking about Alfred like this made Arthur anxious. It had been a very long time since he had spoken to Gilbert about a relationship, it almost felt weird--- but there was still an element of comfort to it, Arthur had something nice going on in his life, and he was happy to be able to share it.

“Heh, I suggest you put some powder on the face, you’re going a little bit red,” Gilbert chuckled, looking at Arthur’s reflection, leaning in with a cheeky smile, “You really like him, don’t you?”

Arthur had been praying that Gilbert wouldn’t notice the heat that gathered in his cheeks, but he should have known better than that. “Yes…”  

Gilberts smile became humble as Arthur looked away from his reflection, and he could feel that Gilbert was still staring at him and thinking. Perhaps Gilbert was thinking about what he knows about Arthur’s past: perhaps he is similar to Francis, in noticing his pattern of pushing people away when they get too close. Gilbert’s attention to detail always took Arthur by surprise, he notices things about people, and about Arthur, that he didn’t expect him to.

“As long as he keeps making you happy, and hey, if you want: I can order more makeup to come in your shade,” Gilbert joked. Arthur groaned as he finished powdering his neck, satisfied that he had done a good enough job to completely conceal his hickeys. “Or you could just tell him to leave them somewhere else.”

“Oh my God,” Arthur gasped, chuckling as he started to pack up the makeup set.

“But I’m glad you’re doing well, I always thought that you needed to go out more,” Gilbert chuckled.

 “How are Feliciano and Lovino doing?”

“They’re doing fine, they’re in Italy right now,” Gilbert explained, “Ludwig says that the house has gone so quiet, he has started playing story-time videos just so there could be a voice in the background.”

“Aw, when I need background noise at home, I just leave the television on,” Arthur admitted.

“Yeah, he does that too, but he just feels like there needs to be a continuous voice too,” Gilbert chuckled, “I think Ludwig has realised how much he has gotten used to the behaviour that he used to complain about. Oh, he talks so much; even during the news he is still chatting—I don’t even know who he is talking to half the time.”

“Hah, absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Arthur pointed out.

-----

“Now… What am I going to do about you?” Arthur asked, his hands planted firmly on his hips as he stared down at the casualty before him. A car crash brought this mangled young woman to Arthur’s embalming table, where he was going to prepare her for her final time in the sunlight. Arthur was glad that he had managed to completely cover his hickeys, because the family of his latest client were devastated. Her body had been left in storage for a few days so the cause of death could be determined, so they were relived for their precious loved one to be under the care of a funeral director.

“Scars like this used to make me so nauseous,” Arthur admitted as he ran his gloved finger over the bold baseball stitching which closed the Y incisions across the woman’s torso. “But I’ve been doing this job for so long and have seen this stitching on hundreds of other bodies, so now I don’t really feel anything anymore.”

Actually, there’s hardly anything makes his skin crawl anymore, there hasn’t really been much that has made him squeamish during his training either. He had seen the most disgusting corpses in various stages of decay, but those didn’t shake him.

“I was actually one of the few students in my class who had seen a body before going to mortuary school… But I never admitted it.” Arthur explained, sighing as he started to process of cleaning the body with disinfectant, “I saw my first dead body when no one ever should, and it is the most vivid memory I have…”

On cue, the memory was there, and Arthur found himself sighing and closed his eyes, seeing his brother lying on the bed, with his legs dangling off the side.

Arthur sighed as he leaned over the table to get a look at the corpses resting face, “Your father mentioned that your brother was shot, did you ever see his body? I understand that you were a child, but I was a child too when I found Allist—”

He paused, now he was becoming being rude and intrusive, the poor girl is dead, Arthur shouldn’t need to bring up another tragedy for her family. And even then, he shouldn’t speak about his own experiences. Besides, Arthur always tried to keep up with common curtesy, even when he was alone with a body. He could feel eyes and ears on him as he worked, like a ghost was standing behind him. Even though the person was dead, he didn’t feel so alone…

-----

Another promotional activity, a time where Alfred got to meet fans and promote the show, it was one of his favourite parts of being one of the networks influential voices. He had been invited onto podcasts and kids talk shows on both radio and TV (all with the agreement or production of the network, so it’s not a breach of his contract), and it all made him feel a bit like a celebrity, even if it was just for his voice.

This would have to be his second time on KidZ FM radio, the first time was when the show first started and the network wanted to get its name out there, but now it was ‘due to popular demand,’ oh yeah, that stroked Alfred’s ego just right. The show had been such a hit, that test audiences were asking for more involvement on the radio, this was just what Alfred wanted.

He was all set up in a nice comfy chair with a headset on his head and a microphone in front of his face and a paper in front of him with the outline of what’s going to be talked about, the show, take some calls, and then a game of ‘guess that laugh’, and Alfred’s segment on the radio show is done. It seemed good, people were anticipating the news of Hero and Johnny’s next season, so there’s gotta be some hype around that, and Alfred is good with working up hype.

“So, Alfred welcome back to the show!” The show’s host, a Danish man named Mathias exclaimed, smiling at Alfred as the intro music died down.

“I’m so glad to be back!” Alfred cheerily replied.

“Yeah! And I’m glad to hear that Hero and Johnny has been going so well! You guys must be so happy about that!”

“Oh yeah, totally, we all worked so hard to make this show what it is, and we’re so happy that everyone is enjoying it,” Alfred replied, “Aaaaand, it looks like we may be getting a new season.”

“Yeeesss, you have no idea how many people have been asking me, ‘is there going to be a new season, my kid really wants to know!’ But hey, I can’t say anything, that’s up to you guys—”

“Yeeah, it’s up to the big guys upstairs, you know,” Alfred replied, “If it were up to me, there would have been ten seasons, two spin offs and a movie!”

“Knowing you and your dedication, I do not doubt it,” Mathias pointed out, “After the last time you were on the show, I got many letters from parents and kids alike wanting to know how you got this job when you’re so young, how old are you now, twenty-six?”

“Yeah, I just turned twenty-six,” Alfred agreed, “Well, the thing is, listen up kids, you’ve got to put your best foot forward. I know that it’s scary to act like your best when you’re screaming inside, it’s just like doing a class presentation, confidence is key. And if you have the drive and dedication, and you put it towards your dream, you can do anything.”

“Some good advice,” Mathias pointed out.

“And granted, there may be times where things don’t go the way you want them to, it’s bound to happen to everyone at some point, there will be mistakes and mishaps, but there is always a tomorrow and so there is always another shot,” Alfred added. “If you love something, you’ll find a way.”

“Is that your advice to any kids who want to get into showbiz?”

“Not just showbiz, anything!” Alfred replied.

“That’s some solid advice,” Mathias pointed out, “Now, it’s the start of the new school year, what advice would you give to those who are just starting school, and are a bit worried?”

“I always that starting at somewhere new is the perfect opportunity to learn about yourself. School… School is… Well…” Alfred began, but froze a little bit, he’s live on radio, he should not be freezing right now, he should not be thinking about his school experience right now—they don’t matter, you’re helping kids be better right now!! Stop it, fucking say something!! “School will be full of ups and downs, there’s no way to avoid that. But having the strength to push through it will help you grow and learn more about yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s true.”

“But, you know, school is only so many years. Just remembering that really helped me when times got tough… Middle-school was the worst for me, I was the fat drama-nerd, with big glasses and braces, I had no social skills or coordination to speak of,” Alfred admitted, trying to hide his internal crumbling, but for once, it felt right to admit this.

“Really?!”

“Yeah,” Alfred sighed, “I guess I’m proof that anything can happen. And that what you do in school does not define who you’ll become.”

“I think that’s a good thing for anyone to keep in mind, especially any kid who’s going through a rough patch,” Mathias pointed out, “KNOW, speaking of growth, how much development are we going to see in the season finale?”

“Oh yeah, we’ve started working on it, and oh, you’re all in for a treat. It’s gonna be good, I’m so ready for it! I really hope everyone likes it!” Alfred replied, returning to his chirpy self in almost a heartbeat.

“Now, how after the break we’re gonna take some calls, the line is already blowing up, so feel free to call…”

Alfred had started to zone out as Mathias recited the shows outtake sequence, he almost crumbled on live radio. And then the realisation dawned on him, he just admitted that he used to be fat on live radio. Alfred felt like he was going to be sick, he started trembling in his seat as his vision blurred. He didn’t know what was going on around him anymore, all that he could think about was the embarrassment, what are people gonna think of him!? He doesn’t want to be remembered as that lame kid anymore, he killed that lame kid years ago and he just fucking brought him back!! And now everyone who listened knows about it—FUCK!!!

“Alf—”

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Alfred stated as he quickly rose from his seat and marched out of the recording studio, forcing his way through the surrounding office and down the hall, making his way into the first bathroom he saw, relived that it was private.

His heart was racing and his knees trembled so bad, he could barely hold himself together, he was about to crumble into little pieces, like a pathetic sand castle after a good kick! 

He never wanted anyone to know about that, he didn’t want anyone to know who he was in middle school, that kid was supposed to die!! He wasn’t meant to exist anymore, but Alfred just let the world know about him!

Alfred hated that kid with a passion, people walked all over him, he never did anything for himself, he existed to suffer and his memory alone infuriated Alfred—that kid shouldn’t have existed, and Alfred was ashamed of the fact that he used to be that kid! He was meant to be a strong hero, not weak and never was—anyone who met Alfred after high school was supposed to have the impression that he was untouchable and nothing else!! Alfred had managed to keep it up, but now he’s fucked it over—now people are gonna fucking ask!!

Years of torment and suffering had just gone down the drain the moment Alfred opened his mouth, and Alfred opened his mouth again, but this time fingers went in.

There was a heavy knock on the door, “ALFRED, are you ok? We’re on in five!”  

Shit!! Alfred had tears running down his face and pain in his throat, he’s just fucked himself over even more—fucking piece of shit!!!   

He got up from his knees, clinging to the toilet for support before he flushed, destroying the evidence of his peril. He was supposed to be perfect now, he’s changed, why isn’t he perfect yet, Alfred wondered this as he checked himself in the mirror, and he hated absolutely everything…

 But he still got out there, he returned to the microphone as the last song in the break was ending. He had become so good at pretending to be fine, it was an art, and so everything seemed completely normal once the show started up again, and Alfred, despite still screaming inside over gut-wrenching pain, he smiled.

Chapter Text

“You are nice and safe in my care, I promise… You know I’m not a liar.” Arthur whispered, his eyes going blank as he walked through his embalming room, “I prepare the dead for their last encounters as a living, I know what I’m doing, as do my colleagues.”

Arthur couldn’t remember what the corpse looked like, or even if there was one. He felt lost and disorientated but at the same time, he felt calm.

“I’d trust them with me…”

He could only liken the feeling to standing along a coastline, feeling his feet sink into the sand as the last layer of a wave engulfed all below his shins…

“It will all be over soon…” He chuckled softly as uncoordinated hands landed on his desk, where the shelves of chemicals stood on the wall above him, formaldehyde was in the containers that stood out the most, so bright and colourful… like pungent cordial.

Arthur looked back, and there wasn’t even a body on his embalming table, who the hell was he even talking to? No matter. He straightened back right as he heard his kettle chime off, letting him now that the water was ready for tea. And so naturally, he made his tea.

As he poured his tea, a sick and twisted idea came to mind, one that made him smile like a crooked man. “Surely a joke like that would push someone over the edge…”

Surely, he’s going mad.
He’s losing his gip.
He’s got to be crazy!

But perhaps Arthur is crazy…

“Like jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge… and into a whirlpool of piranhas… Heh, now that’s a body that not even I can fix…

Arthur had become something of a Mad Hatter, or rather, the Mad Mortician, he didn’t know where this increase in his comfort with death had come from.

He skipped the milk and sugar for his teas, and instead went for the shelves, where he picked the chemical of the prettiest pink colour, the formaldehyde and poured it in with his tea.

The smell was like a punch to the face, chemically and strong.

“You know I’m not a liar,” Arthur repeated as he walked over to the embalming table with his toxic cup of tea. “I would trust my colleagues with my own body. Gilbert knows my next of kin, he would make a pretty good educated guess of how I’d like to be treated prior to the discover of my death-plan– if he looks in my desk, he’ll find it. Any well-educated mortician would have a death-plan.”

With his crooked smile still in place, Arthur shuffled up onto the embalming table, as sat with his leg straight as he stared into the cup of tea. The steam of the tea radiated the poisonous fumes of the formaldehyde and it was already making Arthur nauseous.

He had read about it; one ounce of this stuff can kill a healthy adult. If Arthur doesn’t drop dead from respiratory failure or fall into a coma, he would suffer from convulsions, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and vertigo, just to name a few nasty side effects. Surely, he’d put enough in that he wouldn’t be able to feel those gross and nasty things. Even just being around it is bad, it’s what makes his job so dangerous, it can cause cancer after long term exposure. But that was just a reality that morticians accept, like how a fireman accepts that they could die in a fire someday—a mortician could get cancer.   However, it looked like Arthur was going to be facing the more immediate side effects…

Arthur took a deep breath, holding his toxic tea as he sat on the embalming table, his legs laid out on the cold metal surface. He didn’t even know what the plan was, he came into this with no plan, he just followed every instruction given to him by his inner voice, his demons.

He had given up; his mind had gone blank and his heart as cold as his fingertips. He had nothing left to fight for, he didn’t see his life heading in a bright direction, death had become so close to him; it was welcoming him home.

He saw flashes of blood, of death—he pictured what his brother would have looked like on the embalming table. And quickly it became too much for him to handle, and he lifted his cup to his lips and started to drink the tea that was laced with formaldehyde. It burned so badly, Arthur nearly cried as he slowly started to lower his back onto the embalming table, feeling the tea spill down his cheeks, burning the skin as he felt his heart race…   

“AH!” Arthur gasped, breathing for air as he sat up, shocked to feel the sensation of soft sheets entangled in his legs, and a heavy but warm arm across his lap. He was breathing heavily, coughing, and struggling with the images he just saw. As he coughed some more and looked around the bedroom, he started to slowly convince himself of the reality that it was just dream. The cooling air chilled his bare chest, and his racing heartbeat could even be heard in his inner ears, he couldn’t even hear how deep and loud his breathing had become. His entire being was shaken to the very core.

“Arthur, babe, you alright?” Alfred groaned tiredly, stretching the arm that was laying across Arthur’s lap. Arthur looked down at Alfred, to see the American laying closely beside them, his eyes slowly starting to open and register that Arthur was sitting up. His hair was a mess and the blanket barely hid the Americans naked body, telling of what had gone on before the pair fell asleep.

“S-sorry, I, I just had a nightmare,” Arthur admitted, smiling a little as he felt Alfred’s hand crawl up Arthur’s abdomen, before rubbing his sides softly.

“Aww…” Alfred sighed, pulling Arthur back down to lay beside him, where Arthur happily obliged. He was back under Alfred’s arm, and there he felt so much warmth and comfort. “What happened?”

“I… I was lost, I suppose,” Arthur admitted, “It’s ok. It was just a dream, I’m fine.”

“You sure, you gasped for air real hard there—scared the shit out of me,” Alfred pointed out as he tightened his hold on Arthur, bringing him closer and deeper into his warmth.

“It’s ok, I promise,” Arthur replied softly, closing his eyes as he felt Alfred’s arm snake further around him, before his hand rested between Arthur’s chest and the mattress.

“Alright, if you’re sure,” Alfred replied, his hot breath warming the back of Arthur’s head.

“I’m sorry for waking you,” Arthur apologised.  

“Aw, no, don’t be sorry, you had a bad dream,” Alfred replied, “Do you usually have bad dreams?”

Arthur pondered, “Not really.”

“Aww~” Alfred sighed, and Arthur could tell that he was starting to fall asleep again. He was getting comfortable again and his breathing deepened and slowed and the room quickly feel back into silence.

Arthur knew that he wasn’t going to be falling asleep so quickly, he was shaken and worried by what he had seen. That was a pretty fucked up dream, he was going to kill himself—but he felt so fine about it. It was a concerning look into what was going on deep within Arthur’s mind and made him worry about what other scenarios that his mind will choose to show him next.

But, eventually he did fall asleep again, and woke to Alfred’s alarm clock going off, since he had a schedule to keep this weekend. Alfred was quick to roll out of bed and turn off his alarm, and despite his efforts, the disruption still woke Arthur.   

 “What are you doing today…?” Arthur murmured, rolling onto his back as he heard Alfred move around the bedroom.

“Meet and greet, young fans, it’ll be awesome,” Alfred replied as he walked by the bed, only wearing his underwear, “I should be done by 2, so we can go to lunch, yeah?”

“Yes.”

They have been a couple for over three months now, and things were going nicely. They had reached that stage where they were comfortable with each other’s homes, they often cooked dinner at Arthur’s house, or ordered food at Alfred’s. Arthur just supposed that Alfred didn’t cook.  

Arthur enjoyed the view of Alfred getting dressed, and undressed, very much, and it became apparent to him that he was really starting to get close with the American… But there was something odd about him, he got nervous when conversations about the past or when mealtimes came up, but Arthur figured that he was just a strange guy. Nonetheless, Arthur was beginning to look past all that, he did love to invite Arthur to lunches, and it seemed that Alfred knew the best places to go because of his work.

“Just gimme a few minutes and then I’ll drop you home, kay?” Alfred asked as he crawled over the bed, stopping once he was hovering on top of Arthur.

“Ok, I’ll get dressed then,” Arthur replied, smiling once Alfred leaned down and gave him a small kiss on the lips before launching himself off the bed and disappearing into the bathroom. Arthur sat up and started collecting his clothes from the bedroom floor, recalling what events led for them to be there… Arthur melted a little on the inside as he bent down to pick up his black shirt, remembering Alfred undressing him, and throwing this shirt onto the floor.

Things were getting interesting now, Alfred was close to breaking the record of how long Arthur had lasted in a relationship in the past few years. Something about that fact both intrigued Arthur, and terrified him. Alfred didn’t have any major flaws, nothing for Arthur to blame the fall of his feelings on, and he knew that it was only going to be about time before his demons came back, and Arthur’s promise of keeping thoughts about Alfred positive will become harder to keep. 

Arthur quickly got dressed into the clothes that he was wearing the night before, so his work clothes, which perfectly fit the aesthetic of a mortician. Alfred emerged from the bathroom soon after, freshly washed and dressed in a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a red flannel—he looked far too cute, it brought Arthur’s heart to life.

“What do you think?” Alfred asked, catching Arthur staring.

“Really nice…” Arthur replied.

“Nice~!” Alfred chirped, happily twirling for Arthur, showing him the outfit from all angles. Alfred smiled like a model, and posed like one, he definitely had the physique of one, the defined arms and skinny body… actually, the longer Arthur looked at Alfred’s body, with how much time he spends at the gym, why is he still so skinny…?  But then again, Arthur can’t talk; he’s the definition of a scrawny twink.

Nonetheless, it was going to be a relaxing day for Arthur, he and Alfred left Alfred’s apartment and he was dropped home by 10 in the morning. And he could spend a few hours relaxing before going and meeting with Alfred at 2:30 in the afternoon for their lunch date.

----

Being around kids brought Alfred to life, more than anything else he had done in his life. His love for making children smile beat any of his anxieties or addictions, he’d do anything to make a kid smile. And luckily for him, kids seemed to gravitate towards him and just naturally got along with him, from when they’re little to near adolescence. 

The director always let Alfred do his own thing during meet and greets, there was no point in trying to keep Alfred to one place, he was just gonna ignore it when he saw something that interested him.

It was a special screening for the lead up to the finale of the season, so there were going to be more events like this, especially when the finale is ready.

“So, what’s your brothers name?” Alfred asked a kid, probably seven or so, who seemed a little bit nervous when talking to Alfred, but he mentioned an older brother. The kid was called Devon, and he seemed pretty nervous, and it didn’t look like he was interacting much with the other kids around him. He was quiet, and alone… So instantly, Alfred gravitated towards him.

He had motioned for the kid to come towards him, towards where the displays were, and so they’d be away from the main screening of pre-shows and behind the scenes works, and thankfully, he realised it was for him, and he came over.

“Alex…” The boy murmured.

Alfred lowered himself, so he could see the boy eye-to-eye, and so he could see that Alfred wanted to be his friend. He knew that little things like that mattered a lot to kids.

“And how old is Alex? Is he here?” Alfred asked, giving the little boy an encouraging smile.

“He’s seventeen… He drove me here… He uses mom’s car,” The boy explained.

“Where is he now?” Alfred asked.

“I don’t know…”  Devon replied, shrugging and clinging to himself, nervous.

“Do you want us to help find him?” Alfred asked, letting the kid see his concerned expression, sighing when the kid nodded silently, it was then that Alfred realised how much anxiety and fear the kid must have been going through. He was small, and in a large group of loud and energetic kids, he’d feel like a ghost, Alfred knew that feeling all too well. “Alright, what is he wearing? What colour is his hair? We can even announce his name if you like.”

“He… He’s dressed in black, brown hair… His shirt has a skull on it…” Devon explained.

“Ok, no problem, let me just ask the security guys to keep an eye out, we’ll find him in no time!” Alfred promised, before rising and motioning over someone from security, where he then explained the situation. Once everything was clear to the security guard, Alfred returned back to the kid’s height, “See, all’s good, stay by me until we find Alex, ok?” Alfred smiled once he saw Devon nod. “So, do you watch the show?”

“Whenever I get home from school…” The kid admitted.

This only made Alfred’s smile widen, “Yeah? That’s really cool, I watch it whenever I can, but then again, I already know what’s gonna happen.”

“How?” The kid asked, his eyes widening. It hadn’t clicked yet that he was speaking to the main voice actor.

“Well, I work for the show,” Alfred replied, “Do you have a favourite character?”

“Hero…” The boy replied, “He’s funny, strong, fast, and the Hero…”

Alfred couldn’t hold back his smile, he was grinning widely, he could only pray that the kid saw it as friendly, and as he said, in Hero’s voice, “Right answer, man. I’m the Hero.”

At this, the kid’s eyes lit up with childlike wonder as his mouth opened slightly wider.

“Hey, is this the guy you were looking for?” The security guard asked, drawing the pairs attention over to him, where he stood with a slim teenager, that fit Devons description.

“Alex!” Devon chirped, his demeanour changing completely, “I met Hero!”

“God, mom told you to stay by me!” Alex pointed out, before looking to Alfred, “You the voice actor?”

“Yeah,” Alfred replied, nodding as he rose from his place in front of Devon, “I just noticed the little guy standing by himself.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” Alex replied, before holding out his hand for Devon, who happily went over to him and took it.

“I met Hero! He’s Hero!” Devon explained, he had become a completely new kid, he was happy and bubbly, and it brought joy into Alfred’s heart to see that his brother brought him so much confidence and joy.

The meet and greet finished on schedule, the audience received the episode really well, so now Alfred will be working on the finale. He’s already recorded the redo-version of the opening sequence, and he’s so pumped to get the final script.

He couldn’t help but feel so happy as he tapped the steering wheel of his car as he drove down the street, approaching the restaurant where he was going to meet Arthur for their lunch. And by the time he arrived, he was overjoyed to see Arthur already standing at the entrance.

Of course, he was all in black, but it was his colour, he looked so sexy in it!

“Hey!” Alfred chirped, taking Arthur in for a hug before giving him a cute kiss on the lips. Having a boyfriend was another thing in Alfred’s life that made him so happy—even though he may have a shitty track record when it comes to men, just having someone there gave him a buzz.

“Hi!” Arthur replied, smiling up at Alfred, “How was the event?”

“Great, I met so many people, I’ll tell you all about it when we’re seated,” Alfred explained as he and Arthur walked to the reservation desk. The restaurant was Vietnamese, and Alfred has eaten here before, and was comfortable with everything from the ingredients to the portion sizes. It was small, but very articulately decorated, with artworks and statues, telling of the Vietnam heritage.

He stood there, his hand instinctually reaching for Arthur’s, his heart racing once it was accepted… This was so good! His day couldn’t get any better, unless if he and Arthur have sex somewhere after!

But then that all came crashing down once he saw a familiar set of eyes lock contact with Alfred’s, and once the American was recognised, those eyes turned venomous… It was a man who Alfred knew, who Alfred broke to pieces with many mistakes. A man whose heart Alfred stomped on… Those eyes only told Alfred that bad things were going to happen if he stayed, and would only get worse if that man was Alfred’s waiter.

“We can’t stay here!” Alfred gasped, tightening his grip on Arthurs hand as he rushed out the door, pulling Arthur along.

“Whoa! Alfred!” Arthur gasped, surprised, “What the fuck?!”

“We shouldn’t eat in there,” Alfred explained, before his heart filled with terror, what the fuck was he going to tell Arthur?! Arthur looked surprised and pissed off, and Alfred didn’t blame him, but… But the risk was too much.

“Why not?” Arthur asked, his brows curving into a frown as he released his hand from Alfred’s grip to cross his arms over his chest. “What is going on?”

“I—I um, I knew one of the waiters in there,” Alfred admitted, “An ex-boyfriend.”

“An ex? Oh, come on, what are we, sixteen?” Arthur asked, “Having an ex as a waiter is not something to freak out over, we may not even get him.”

“Oooh, no, no, he’ll make sure he serves me, fuck, he’d probably spit in our dishes or sprinkle rat poison,” Alfred joked… kind of.  

“What? Come on! What’d you do, cheat on him?” Arthur asked.
Alfred realised too late that Arthur meant that as a joke, and his instinctual reaction failed him.
“… What?”

“I…” Alfred stuttered, his hands shaking as he struggled to even look at Arthur’s face, which only told the Englishman of his guilt.

“You cheated? How many times?” Arthur asked, the hurt staining his face, and just from that, Alfred caught a glimpse into Arthur’s past.

“Look, it was a year ago, and it was really bad, I made mistakes.”

“Plural.” Arthur grumbled, the disappointment showing on his face, and that felt like a kick to Alfred’s stomach. “And just last year? Have you cheated on any others?!”

“Arthur, babe, I’m not like that anymore,” Alfred promised, reaching forward to place his hands on Arthur’s shoulders, terrified that he was going to run away. “Those were all mistakes I made, I was wrong and it hurt so bad. I’ve learned my lesson—”

“I swear to God, if I learn that I am some kind of side-boy, I won’t forgive you!” Arthur snapped, giving Alfred an angry glare, but at least Alfred could assume that Arthur wasn’t going to run away. But now Alfred was terrified that Arthur’s image of Alfred had been tainted or dirtied by this scandal.  

“I’m not gonna do that to you, I never would, I’ve learned,” Alfred replied, “I don’t do that anymore, I really like you, I don’t wanna ruin this. Please… I haven’t done anything to you, and I won’t. Please…”

Arthur stared deeply into Alfred’s eyes, assessing him, and it was breaking Alfred’s heart. He’s never or isn’t planning on cheating on Arthur—all of those mistakes were in the past, granted, he cheated in his last relationship—but that was before he got called out for being a narcissistic asshole!

Internally, he was screaming, begging for Arthur to not give up on him so soon, not when things have started to get so good between them…

He could tell that Arthur was worried now—this seed of doubt had been planted in his mind, and it was making Alfred panic. He doesn’t want to lose Arthur, not now, not like this.

“Fine…” Arthur sighed, “I… I like you too… and… and you deserve a real chance with me, but I swear—”

“I know,” Alfred gasped, so relieved as he quickly pulled Arthur in for a tight, and rather desperate hug, “I’m sorry, but I changed, I’m not like that anymore.”

“You better not be…”  

 

Chapter Text

Words failed to explain what Arthur was feeling the moment he learned about Alfred’s past, he felt like he been tripped while running. Sure, Alfred promised that he changed, that he wasn’t like that anymore, and he could be telling the truth, but Arthur watched more Jeremy Kyle than anyone really should, and that man’s stance on cheating is very clear.

‘Once a cheater, always a cheater,’ Arthur thought, it’s a quote that everyone swears by, partners are dumped because of it. The only problem was that Alfred hadn’t cheated on him, or at least Arthur didn’t have any proof of it.

His vision of Alfred had been tainted, it was like the glass window with his view of Alfred had been hit by some dirt, and it was on the side that Arthur couldn’t clean. It bothered him, and as time passed, it only started to bother him more. It was like an itch that he couldn’t reach, and sent his insecurity through the roof.

The confession left Arthur feeling uneasy, even the morning after he learned about it. Sure, he and Alfred had sex that same night, and it was really good, but once Alfred left to go home, Arthur felt different. Arthur laid in his bed naked, his body still tingling from Alfred’s presence, but his heart was hurting.

The feeling even stuck with him once he went to work. Now he wasn’t sure which thing was making him more anxious, Alfred’s confession or his nightmare. But once he stared at the shelf with the chemicals and formaldehyde, he felt queasy.

But he swapped one nightmare for another as he turned to look at the corpse that laid out on his embalming table, “Should I stay with him?” Arthur took a deep breath as he slowly walked over, hearing the embalming machine doing its job. “I mean, he’s a repeat offender, he’s cheated more than once, and I’m sure he’s done it to more than that one guy…”  

Arthur was taken aback, the idea of leaving Alfred made him sicker than the idea of Alfred cheating on him. “Alfred hasn’t actually done anything, at least, he better not have.”

It’s a flaw, but then again, it’s a massive flaw. Arthur has been cheated on in the past, and he’d give anything to avoid going through it again, but would he go so far as to dump Alfred because of his history.

It hurt to think about it, he could imagine the pain on Alfred’s face if he dumps him based on an assumption, it’s got to be some kind of discrimination… probably…. Is it?  

“Perhaps I should watch my back around him…” Arthur muttered, as he nervously circled the embalming table. Arthur started getting ideas, ideas of locking away his heart before Alfred proves himself. But, how can he prove himself? Could he ever prove himself? Cheaters are sneaky, especially ones with experience.

Arthur shivered, “I hate this, I keep thinking of him as a villain, and it really hurts…”       

Arthur felt his expression fall once he looked to the corpse, an answer hadn’t come to him. Usually he’d talk more and then comes to a conclusion that he’s comfortable with, since he didn’t feel like he came to the decision by himself.  But this time, he could really feel the loneliness and the sadness, he’s a man talking to a corpse about his relationship, and that reality only became sourer as Arthur found himself internally begging the spirit behind the corpse for something.

“He- He hasn’t done anything wrong, to me, at least … as far as I know,” Arthur stuttered, “Oh God, I’m already starting to assume, aren’t I? Maybe I should just—no, he makes me really happy, and I can’t just dump a guy because I think he may cheat on me! But it’s driving me crazy, am I a side piece, is he going to be tempted easily?” He grumbled to himself as he gripped his hair, “It’s actually starting to drive me crazy, oh my Lord, why?!”

Arthur leaned over the table, staring at the dead woman’s face, “You were married, your husband loves you so much and was devastated when you died, you have teenage kids—what would you do if you knew that one had a boyfriend who has cheated in the past?! My pride won’t let me ask my own mother, so I need you right now!

The woman’s corpse did not move an inch, which Arthur was not shocked over, but it didn’t stop the pain. This was a young woman, beautiful and had the curliest black hair Arthur had ever seen, in photos, she smiled like a supermodel and obviously loved her family more than anything. Would she protect her kids from a partner with a past, or give them a shot?

Arthur thought that he’d get some answers today, but now he’s more confused than before, and it wasn’t just because of his dilemma. This corpse wasn’t giving him an answer, when every other one cooperated, at least in Arthur’s mind, they did. The spirit helped him reach the answer.

“Why aren’t you helping me? Every other corpse helps me reach an answer, why not you?” Arthur asked. It didn’t make sense, she had golden reviews when Arthur spoke to her husband and saw her children. This was a beautiful woman who really was taken too soon by an extremely strong allergy reaction. The death was a freak accident, there really was no reason for her spirit to not point Arthur in the right direction. She wouldn’t be vengeful… But then again, Arthur was a mortician, not a medium.  But are spirits there when the body is being embalmed? – that’s another question for another day, that Arthur is not ready to acknowledge yet.

Arthur started breathing deeply, staring at the corpse as if something was going to change, as if the dead woman was going to give Arthur the best advice he had ever heard—but even Arthur, in his state of stress and anxiety, knew that would be too good to be true.

“Come on… Give me something, give me a feeling, give me a sign, every other corpse does…” Arthur begged softly, still stunned by the loneliness he was feeling.

It was the type of loneliness that drained him of energy, and made him feel like he was sinking. He had been avoiding this feeling for years through talking with the corpses, but now it seemed that its effect was wearing off, Arthur was going to be alone again.

Why though? Why was this happening now? Right when he felt like he needed it the most, the spirits are not guiding him like they used to. It was like he had just been kicked out of the room and the door locked behind him, now he’s left there alone with a dead body.

Arthur stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling now, he as shutting off emotionally all over again, he was being forced back into the state of loneliness and self-doubt that he had escaped from when he started talking to corpses. “I have spent so much time talking to you, why are you silent with me, why are you all silent with me? What…?”  

He sighed, staring at his black business shoes, “I just… I don’t want to be alone again. Alfred is scaring me, and now all of you re scaring me.”

Arthur shivered as the door opened, and Gilberts voice asked him, “Hey, Arthur, how’s things with Mr Tarry’s body, her husband is here to speak to you.”

“… Right,” Arthur murmured, slowly turning back to look at Gilbert, seeing his head poking through the small gap in the door to Arthur’s embalming room. He couldn’t fix his expression to look more normal, and so Gilbert instantly caught on.

“What’s wrong?” Gilbert asked, pushing himself past the door and closer to Arthur, “You look upset.”

“I’m fine…” Arthur muttered as he turned his back to Gilbert and looked back to the body, wanting to run and hide when he felt Gilbert put his hands on Arthur’s shoulders from behind.

“Arthur… Come on, you know you can talk to me about anything,” Gilbert muttered, “Not just as your boss, but as your friend.”

“It’s nothing, I’m just stressed out,” Arthur lied, partially.

“Too many clients?” Gilbert asked, but Arthur could tell that the German was holding back in his questioning.

Arthur wanted to confide in Gilbert, but he knew that if he did, the German would only become more worried about him. Arthur knew that he had a lot of concerning thoughts in his head, thoughts that would make people who care about him worry and ask for him to get help. But Arthur didn’t have time to ‘get help’, he tried doing it to recover from the trauma of finding his brother dead… He doesn’t want to have to sit down and explain his life to another therapist or psychologist. He was meant to leave all of this pain in England, but now his older demons have crossed the Atlantic…

------

Despite the scare from Arthur finding out about Alfred’s past infidelities, Alfred was over the moon. Recording for the final episode of the show has begun and Alfred was more than satisfied with the how everything was coming together. While Hero was a taken prisoner by the aliens, he still manages to find a way out of the cage and to rescue their friend—no one holds Hero back!!

He felt like a champion, so much so, he showed off more than usual at the gym, much to Matthew’s dismay. But at least he commented that Alfred was looking healthier! That ‘oh hey, you actually look really good! Really healthy!’ Had been replaying in Alfred’s head since he heard it yesterday.

He felt really good about himself, so good that he emptied out the old prop-foods from his fridge and pantry, and replaced it with things that he knew he was going to eat! He bought lots of sauces and non-perishables—and even followed some Asian recipes that he could try to cook with Arthur! He enjoyed eating with him! Especially when they made the meal together!

Alfred knew that his loving nature was in full swing! He could scream over Arthur and how hot he was, and how happy he made Alfred feel!

But he had to acknowledge that this was normal for Alfred, at this point of time in the relationship, Alfred is head-over-heels for his partner… But it also meant that if Arthur didn’t keep Alfred’s interest past this point… it was when things started to go wrong, and it was usually when Alfred would slip…

Alfred shook his head, before pausing to adjust his headset—he wasn’t even gonna go there, he’s not going to cheat on Arthur. He can’t do that again, not to another sweet guy like him. Besides, it’s not like Alfred could see himself losing interest in Arthur anytime soon, anything that comes out of the mans mouth has Alfred caught. He’s so interesting and smart, and has probably the coolest job out of all of Alfred’s exes! He’s got Alfred hooked like a fish!

Arthur’s hot, interesting, good in bed, funny—he’s a catch that Alfred wasn’t keen on letting go of anytime soon!

“Alfred, ready to go?” The director asked, catching the attention of the daydreaming American.

“Right, yeah!” Alfred replied.

“So just do your classic ‘battle noises’ yeah?” The director asked.

“The one that annoys the shit out of people…” The co-star chuckled.

“No, it doesn’t,” Alfred hissed, while keeping his voice and face cheerful, “I think you’re just a bit bitter that Hero is still fan favourite.”

“Of course, he’s the favourite, this is a kid show, they gravitate towards the loudest and brightest coloured character! They don’t care about the characters personality, or his voice,” He pointed out.

“Hey! Do you know our audience at all!?” Alfred asked, frowning.

“What are you, kids?” The director snapped, bringing both actors back into formation, Alfred adjusted his headset as the older man nodded his head at him, “Go on, Alfred, do the lines.”

“Alright,” Alfred replied, smiling as he tried to not notice the co-star scoff. Poor man, the pressure must be getting to him, always getting second best ahaha.

And so, Alfred performed his lines, using his iconic voice and iconic laughter as he did. His entire character was iconic and special to him, so he did all he could to put the best energy into his performance. And it worked, his good mood and elevated self-esteem made his job of being an eccentric young hero extremely easy. He could feel himself projecting his own energy into his character, and not the other way around.

He was Hero, and Hero was him, that’s how he always thought of it, and it was never more relevant than it was as Alfred acted. He became the character and put all of his energy into giving a good performance, even if it was only his voice that they needed.

“Good job,” The director exclaimed after the sound technician turned stopped the recording and the light inside the recording booth was turned off, indicating that the recording had ended, “That’s good, both of you did good today.”

Alfred was beaming, and things just seemed to be going his way. He and Arthur are good, his friend Ivan is coming over from Russia and having dinner with him and Arthur tonight, Alfred’s recording of the season finale is going great and soon contract negotiations will start for the next season.

Alfred checked his emails as he left the recording studio, intrigued to see that he’s received another email from his agency in regards to that audition in LA, it’s 2 weeks away now, and they’re asking Alfred if he’s still interested in auditioning.  Alfred thought for a moment… But realised that he’s happy where he is, and he’s so sure that his contract with the studio will be renewed, so he wouldn’t be able to audition for anything else anyway. And so, he elected to not reply to the email, while he was confident that he was secure, he could probably use this as leverage against the producer to get a better pay or more creative control over the show.

Now that he was looking at his phone, he decided to double check his messages with Ivan, to confirm that Ivan's plane is landing in the afternoon, and once Alfred checked his phone, he was happy to know that he had so much time to go back to his place and clean up, as well as buy enough food to make his kitchen look like he functions like an adult. He could not wait to see Ivan, it has been years since they last hung out, now that Ivan has become an engineer in Russia, his time has become really precious.

-----

“So, how is the job?” Ivan asked, smiling as Alfred handed him a beer from his fully stocked fridge, before handing another one to Arthur.

“Really good, we’re wrapping up the final episode of the season!” Alfred exclaimed happily as he opened Ivan and Arthur’s bottles before opening his own, “And actually, I have something that you could reeeally help me out with, with your Russian.”

“Oh God, do you need me to trach you a phrase, you know how you are with pronunciation…”

“Oh, you tried to speak Russian?” Arthur murmured, amused.

“Not that, and rude…” Alfred muttered, “But, there’s a Russian character on my show, and I have no clue what he’s saying, and I need you.”

“Ohh, haha, Da, I can do that.” Ivan answered, smiling sweetly.

“Yes, I’ve seen a few episodes of the show and it is rather interesting…” Arthur murmured before he took a sip from his beer. At this Alfred’s eyes widened and the curve of his smile deepened at the news.

“Really?” Alfred asked, seeing Arthur’s eyes widen and his posture stiffened, “You hadn’t mentioned that you watched the show.”

“I did a bit of looking around, yes,” Arthur admitted with a little smirk.

“So, can I show you the sections?” Alfred asked as he pulled out his phone and moved over to Arthur and Ivan’s side of the bench, putting himself in between them as he searched through his camera roll for the video. Once he found it, he turned up the volume and made sure that Ivan could see the robotic feline character, Koshka. “So, his name is Koshka—”

“Cat!”

“Yes, I know that one,” Alfred chuckled as he played the video, “I got a bunch of lines from the first seasons up to now, I just picked little clips.”

And so, Alfred played the video, and Koshka started talking, and Ivan promptly translated, “The Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, yes?”
“How old are you, twelve years?!”
“No, no, no, not back in that dark cave, noooo!”
“I leave for ten minutes, literally, and this happens.”
“…. It was not me.”

But then suddenly, Ivan froze, and missed a few translations. “Go back … Replay all of them, I think I heard wrong.” Alfred did as Ivan asked and went back to the part before he missed the translation, and once Koshka said the first line that Ivan missed, the Russian hissed, “… What…?”

“What is he saying? Is it still Russian?” Alfred asked, frowning with confusion and concern, but a feeling in his stomach told him that something was wrong, and that didn’t feel so good.

“Yes… It is Russian…” Ivan muttered, “Which character do you voice?”

“Hero…” Alfred muttered, instinctually reaching for Arthurs hand, and holding it tightly as Ivan seemed to think hard about the translation, “Is he saying something offensive, racist?”

“Mean…” Ivan muttered, “Play it one more time, keep going through them…”

Nervous, Alfred played the section again and let it continue.

That sound is almost as annoying as Hero’s voice actor.”
"Diva, diva, that man is a Diva. Not you kid.”
“That’s why you don’t behave arrogantly, perhaps your actor could take some notes.”
“That voice, please just shut up!”
“Urrrrhhh, you just sounded like every annoying character EVER.”
“Just hearing you make that noise made me cringe so hard, I broke my spine.”

Alfred’s expression was dropping with every line, and it was only made worse by the realisation that every line was directed towards Alfred, or Hero, or was even a jab at both of them. It hurt, and felt like a slap on the face. Was Koshka really insulting him for the entire season.

“Your actor could take some of that sweet, sweet silence!”
“Oh look, here we go again, yap, yap, yap, we heard enough of your inclusivity arguments when making this damn episode.”
“Shuuuutttt Up Al-boy.”
They even addressed him directly, but distorted Alfred’s name so he wouldn’t pick up his own name…

Alfred squeezed Arthur’s hand tightly, fighting off the feeling that he was going to cry, he couldn’t believe this—this was their game! Everyone in the production was in on this, the writers, the other actors and the producers and director—they all knew that Alfred was being criticised and insulted!    

Have they all really been feeling so annoyed by him all along? Are they the only people he annoys? What if Alfred annoys everyone but they’re too nice to say.

“Alfred, I’m sorry,” Ivan apologised once he completed the last mean translation, seeing that Alfred had been left shattered and hurt.

“Alfred…” Arthur murmured, tilting his head to look at Alfred’s face, seeing that he was struggling to keep himself together. Alfred didn’t want to cry right now, he didn’t want to show Arthur and Ivan just how bad this hurt him…

“I’m fine…” Alfred lied, trying his best to put on an amused smile, “How about we watch some TV and decide what to eat, ok?”

“Ok…” Arthur murmured, but in his eyes, Alfred knew that Arthur could see that he was hurting…

Chapter Text

Arthur had a sinking feeling in his stomach since the moment he arrived at Alfred’s apartment, and it never went away, especially after the reveal of what the mysterious Russian character in Alfred’s show had been saying.

How mean… How petty… How … hurtful.

Alfred wasn’t very good at hiding his disappointment, the American barely looked up at the TV as the three men sat down at the couch and chair with their beers, Alfred just kept staring at his and Arthur’s linked hands. It was sad to see such a bright man be stomped on like this…

Alfred seemed to look much more adult like this, the light in his eyes had dimmed, his expression was a lot narrower; rather that lifted and bubbly, and even his voice had gone down a few tones. It was like he had been slapped in the face with cold hard reality, but it was a reality that no one saw coming, and which was totally unfair. Alfred was enjoying himself and living as his bright and bubbly self, and they had to be talking shit about him in a foreign language on television. It had to sting to be the subject of such bitter and petty gossip.

But then again, Arthur was surprised to learn of Alfred’s past infidelity, perhaps he really is this diva at work—no, Arthur had to tell himself to stop thinking about that, he had to remind himself that he was going to take Alfred’s side and give him a proper chance. No assuming is allowed. No matter how much it makes Arthur internally itch.

It made Arthur’s heart hurt in a way that he didn’t expect it to, this wasn’t the empathy that Arthur was used to feeling, Alfred wasn’t grieving someone who had passed, he was grieving his workplace relationships, or even his pride—Arthur was so out of touch that he couldn’t even tell anymore. But he could see something in Alfred’s eyes that told Arthur that he was in some kind of pain, and that it wasn’t going away.

It was bothering Arthur, he couldn’t put his finger on why—well, of course it was because he cared for Alfred, and he had as much empathy as a professional mortician could get. But this made him realise that he shouldn’t have professional empathy when it came to Alfred, he really shouldn’t, this man is his boyfriend, he’s meant to be mourning with him, not just feel sorry for his loss, without even knowing what he’s lost for sure.

It seemed to be becoming more common for silence to driving Arthur crazy, he didn’t understand anymore: he used to feel at home in the silence, the silence of corpses used to seamlessly guide him toward inner peace. But slowly, his home was starting to grow spikes. And now, staring at Alfred, it was worrying him, Alfred did not belong in silence, silence and Alfred didn’t work together at all – what the hell was Arthur doing with a guy like that, why did he feel so at home with a guy like that?  

Alfred was still wearing the look of a man who was screaming on the inside, Alfred said that he was fine, that he wanted to just move on with the evening, but Arthur would see what bullshit that was. He could see just how much it hurt… Arthur remembered watching Alfred’s expression as Ivan started translating, he was smiling at first, his eyes wide with excitement, hands up and ready to go… But by the end, his expression had sunk like his heart, he looked like a child who just saw his puppy get kicked. His face was showing Arthur all of the vulnerability that Alfred had been hiding under that bright and energetic smile… It was painful to see, even for Arthur, who sees suffering daily…

“I need to go to the bathroom…” Alfred muttered abruptly as he got off the couch and walked back through the kitchen and into the hall, making his way into the bathroom in his bedroom. He left Ivan and Arthur alone in the living room, with some comedy news program playing on the TV, within seconds, both the Russian and the Englishman looked at each other.

And Arthur could see what Ivan was feeling.

“Do you think it was bad of me to say the translation?” Ivan asked meekly, his fingers rimming the top of his beer bottle, of which he had hardly drank out of.

“No, you did the right thing, he deserved to know…” Arthur sighed, “I just can’t believe they were doing that…”

“So rude, mean…” Ivan muttered, “I feel like me saying it hurt him, I feel like I… How you say… Bused the bubble.”

“Close, but they were the ones who said it, not you, you were helping him, he’d know that.” Arthur explained, “Thank you for being so honest about it, I don’t know what I would have done.”

“I have never seen Alfred be so quiet, he is not the quiet man.”

“How long have you known Alfred?” Arthur asked.

“I did a semester in New York during university, right before Alfred dropped out,” Ivan explained, not realising just how much his admission shocked Arthur, despite how much Arthur let his initial reaction show in his eyes before he reigned in his control. Alfred dropped out of college? He never mentioned that, should have he? Ivan seemed to quickly notice Arthur’s surprised reaction, “It was for health reasons, I think.”

Health reasons? Well, there’s nothing shameful about dropping out of college for his health. But then again, should he have to tell Arthur something like this? Why was Alfred taking so long in the bathroom? Why does he always take so long in the bathroom? Arthur, shut up and talk to Ivan.  

“Ah, right, yes,” Arthur muttered.

“He likes you, a lot,” Ivan admitted, and Arthur could tell that the Russian was terrified of digging his own grave, he was just trying to mend anything he said. Ivan was just wanting to do good, and Arthur wasn’t helping him feel better.

“I… Thanks…” Arthur replied softly, “But, really, thank you for being honest with Alfred. It’s obvious that this has been going on for so long, he needed to know.”

Just why have Arthur’s co-workers been like this? Why are they getting away with talking shit about him in Russian on TV? What if Alfred really is this annoying Primadonna at work, like they made him out to be? Arthur already was shocked to find out that Alfred had cheated in previous relationships—now this, what else did Arthur not know about Alfred, he has so many unanswered questions about Alfred, but yet he finds his heart becoming more and more attached to the American that—Arthur, stop.

Almost a minute of silence passed between the pair, and every second was eating away at Arthur more and more. Once again, silence was screaming at him to leave. “I guess I am just shocked too…”

“I was so surprised,” Ivan admitted, “I didn’t believe it at first.”

“Exactly, you even looked surprised,” Arthur confirmed before looking back to the kitchen, seeing that Alfred still hadn’t come out from the bathroom in his bedroom. It hadn’t been too long, but it was long enough for Arthur to notice… Again… He’s in there for so long, again…

“So, how did you and Arthur meet?” Ivan asked.

“Through a mutual friend,” Arthur admitted.

“How nice,” Ivan replied.

“What was Alfred like, while in college?” Arthur asked.

Ivan chuckled before he began softly, “The same as he was before he found out about the Koshka, bright, bubbly, loud, so very, very gay.”

“Pfft, that sounds about right,” Arthur chuckled. “I think this has hurt him, but he’ll get over it.”

“Mm…” Ivan murmured in agreement. But Arthur could see that Ivan was worried, and that there was something else about Alfred that Ivan knew, and Arthur didn’t. Perhaps it has something to do with why Alfred dropped out, but does that mean that this has something to do with his health? Why was this worrying Arthur so much?

And like that, Arthur and Ivan returned to their awkward silence, watching the TV but not really concentrating on it. Arthur couldn’t help but notice Alfred’s absence with every passing moment, and it got to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” Arthur muttered to Ivan as he finally got off the couch and marched by, through the kitchen and into Alfred’s bedroom, where he saw that the bathroom door was closed, but the bathroom light was peeking through the space at the bottom. Arthur sighed quietly as he brought his knuckle to the door, and knocked, but not before he could notice some kind of notice… it was like heavy breathing, like Alfred was in pain. “Alfred, it’s me, are you ok?”

“Ah—shit, yeah,” Alfred’s surprised voice came from inside the bathroom, ‘Sorry, just give me a second.”

“What’s wrong? What are you doing?” Arthur asked, becoming worried as he tried to move the doorhandle, only to see that Alfred had locked the door.

But immediately after the toilet was flushed, the door opened, and Alfred really did look like he had just been on a run, and was passing it off like he hadn’t. His smile was nervous, his posture was straighter than normal, and he moved by Arthur and shut the door quickly, but not before Arthur could get a whiff of something off in the bathroom. Granted, Alfred’s bathroom had always smelled weird to Arthur, but not this weird!

“Alfred,” Arthur sighed, taking Alfred’s hand as he looked up and into his eyes, “Please talk to me, you’re worrying me.”

“I…” Alfred sighed, looking almost as hurt on the outside as he did on the inside, which was all Arthur wanted, he wanted to see Alfred’s genuine feelings, so he could try to help him. “Yeah, that, that hurt me pretty fucking bad. I all knew that they were salty, but Jesus.”  

“I know,” Arthur sighed, “I’m so sorry, that is so mean of them.”

Alfred nodded, “So shit of them, I can’t believe they’d do that, they know how much I love that show, and they’re insulting me on it—yeah, it’s in Russian, but still!” Alfred hissed, and Arthur could see the tears returning to Alfred’s eyes. “I try so hard with them, I try so fucking hard, but like with everyone who I fucking try with, turns out they actually hate me!”

“I don’t hate you…”

“I mean, but, yeah, you know what I mean though,” Alfred pointed out shaking his head. To Arthur, Alfred even looked a little disorientated, but incredibly shaken and stressed, like he was just caught doing something he shouldn’t have, and was desperate to hide it. It only made Arthur worry more.

“I know, but you will need to talk to them about this, that is not on,” Arthur explained firmly, squeezing Alfred’s weak hand. “This isn’t fair on you, if they have issues then they should have spoken to you directly, not taken it out like this, like children.”

“Even reminds me of the kids I went to school with, except this time, I’m not Alfred Faggot Jones,” Alfred sighed, before looking into Arthur’s eyes, and Arthur could see there the bitterness and anger that was left behind from those words.

“Oh…” Arthur stuttered, taken aback by Alfred’s admission. But he was also deeply hurt, was Alfred really teased like that when he was younger? “Did… did they really?”

And Alfred kept going, “Or Alfred Fat-ass Jones, Alfred Fucking-Blimp Jones, or Alfred Fuck-off Jones, or Alfred Flab-flab-flab Jones—”

“Alfred, you’re crying...”

“I’ve got so many more of those names…” Alfred admitted, his voice breaking as he really did start to cry. “So fucking many…”

“I…” Arthur stuttered, seeing Alfred break down in front of him like that, like everything that Alfred wanted Arthur to see was being destroyed, the funny and bubbly man was breaking away a little bit.

“You know how fucking cruel kids can be,” Alfred sighed, “Turns out adults aren’t much fucking better, at least they don’t beat you up.”  

“Did they really?” Arthur asked, feeing his heart break at the idea of Alfred being the victim of such abuse, let alone abuse by his own peers during school. Arthur could relate at least a little bit, he was teased for his eyebrows, teased for looking feminine, teased for his height, teased for getting upset easily when the teasing was happening… But no one had ever laid a hand on him. He can’t imagine what type of bullying Alfred had gone through, especially as Arthur put more and more pieces of the puzzle together. And it was hurting him more and more to think about, he didn’t want to see Alfred in pain.

This pain was different to the one that Arthur has to console every day.

“Come here…” Arthur sighed, standing on his toes as he pulled Alfred in for a tight hug, where he could feel Alfred’s fragility as the American broke down in his arms. Arthur soothed Alfred, whispering to him and patting his head softly. “Shh, it’s ok. It’ll all be ok…”

“How though? It’s never is ok with me, nothing I do is ever ok,” Alfred whined, squeezing Arthur tightly.

“That’s not true, you are the brightest person I know, you light up the room and are so fun to be around, it’s not your fault that those people can’t treat your respectfully. Please don’t let them hurt you.”

Arthur closed his eyes and just kept holding Alfred, feeling his heart race as the American held him in his arms, it was more intimate and closer than Arthur had been with another man in years. Arthur could smell him, feel his heart race and his muscles tighten, he was being held like he was really needed, and it was making Arthur’s heart race. And in a way, that scared him.

-------

Alfred tried to ignore the horrid inner voice in his head, they were telling him so many mean things, mean things that he had been trying so hard to not acknowledge. He didn’t sleep last night, even with Arthur laying in bed beside him all night.  

He wasn’t just upset about what Koshka had been saying, it was the fact that they’re all fucking in on it, his co-stars, the producers, the director, the sound people—they’re all fucking giggling amongst themselves at this fucked up Easter Egg, all at Alfred’s expense. They were just another group of people who were stabbing Alfred in the back, making fun of him, hating him. It was basically just like high school again, it brought up memories of being taunted and teased, having things thrown at him in the hall, being beaten up after confiding in someone who he thought was his friend about a crush he had on a boy. All the years of suffering were coming back, and the suffering didn’t end after he left school, he still is suffering, really.

It broke Alfred more than he wanted to admit. Alfred’s therapist told him to not let his bullies stay in his mind, because that’s what they wanted, and Alfred tries so hard every day to follow that mantra, but as he waited in the elevator to get to the level of the network recording studio, it was thrown out the window.

The moment the elevator doors opened, Alfred’s tension poured out like the bloody elevators in The Shining, he stalked out with a blank expression, and the impact of the atmosphere was almost instant. People who he would smile at just got his stare, like he wanted to cut them. He was annoyed, he was upset, he was thinking so many ugly thoughts about himself and it was showing on his face.

And then the director walked out of his office, and he found himself right in Alfred’s firing line, “Alfred—”

“Sup, Mu’dak.” Alfred hissed, putting on the best Russian pronunciation he could, even pumping up the accent over actual accuracy of the word. But judging by the directors’ face, he got the message loud and clear.

“What?”

“Mu’dak is Russian, for asshole.” Alfred hissed, he was actually happy to see the director’s expression fall even more as some of the writers started exiting the director’s office, obviously coming out of a meeting. Perfect, now there’s attention on this. Alfred wasn’t going to cry, he wasn’t going to cry, he better fucking not cry!

“What the fuck, Alfred? What the fuck are you doing?” The Director hissed, lifting his finger to point at Alfred. Which only pissed Alfred off even more, he’s worked so hard for this fucking show, he loves his show, it’s his pride and these people have been insulting him through it, like a sick inside joke, where Alfred was the punchline.

“I should be asking you that! I have a friend from Russia who was over this weekend, and so I showed him Koshka’s lines and what the fuck?” Alfred replied, finally, his confidence returning, fuelled by his anger and hurt. The shield of confidence was back and bigger and better than ever, he was not going to let these people shatter him now—even if he’s screaming on the inside. He’ll be the biggest asshole in the fucking building if it means hiding his pain from them.

“Ok, sure, you were bound to find out at some point, yes—we’ve been taking the piss, Alfred,” The Director admitted.

“Taking the piss, you’re all talking shit about me behind my back!!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, no one said anything about that!” The Director snapped, “I’m sorry, but when you walk around in here and act like you own the fucking place, people are gonna notice, and gonna be pissed off! Think of it as an Eater Egg.”

“Fuckin what?” Alfred hissed. “An Easter Egg, no, no, no, that is some fucked up Easter Egg.”

“Alfred, you need to calm the fuck down!” The director yelled.

“No, seriously, that’s so fucked up!”

“Come on, it’s not like people are gonna know!”

“No! I know people who studied Korean because of that unicorn in Adventure Time, kids are gonna want to speak Russian cause of Koshka! BUT STILL, that was so shit of all of you!!”

“Please, don’t act so dramatic, Alfred. You’re too easily offended! Seriously!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Please, you’re acting like we said the worst shit in the world, no, we were taking the piss, you really deserve it, you can’t act like a fucking ass and expect people to still kiss your ass.” The Director pointed out.

“How do I behave like an ass?!” Alfred snapped, crossing his arms over his chest, “You guys are more than happy to take my ideas and give me no credit for them, but you still all talk shit about me!”

“You behave arrogantly on a daily basis, you undermine our writers constantly, you act like the goddamn CEO in our meetings; where I have told you is for production team only! Yes, we encourage actors to express themselves—but not because we’re not representing enough LGBTUVWXY-and fucking-Z groups, or the message isn’t positive enough, or because you think we need to make this shit even fucking gayer for Hero! The world isn’t so black and white, not everyone is part of a minority, and we can’t satisfy them all, I agreed with making Hero openly gay, and I fought with executives to make it happen, but I think it got to your head, and you think you have more creative control than you actually have.”   

“Seriously?” Alfred snapped, not wanting to hear it, no, he doesn’t want to hear this bullshit. “Seriously?! So, you all think you’ll talk shit behind my back without me ever finding out.”

“Granted, we knew that you were going to find out at some point: you’re an asshole, not an idiot.” The Director explained, “But I don’t know, judging by how you act like the fucking best person on earth and that everyone has to like you, we thought you’d take it as it was: a joke. But no, we forget that you’re such an easily offended drama queen, who claims to be all about inclusivity, but will knock down anyone’s ideas which aren’t yours!”

“Well, sorry about caring for the development of this show, for making it fucking good!”

“You’re making it a fucking pain in the ass, do you read the reviews?!” The Director asked.

“Yeah, the kids like Hero, and me, and the show, that’s all I need to read,” Alfred snapped, becoming defensive, but he was also curious. He couldn’t help but notice the crowd that was slowly forming in the area around Alfred and the director.

“Yeah, but the parents say that Hero is literally todays Caillou.”

“Don’t you fucking say that!” Alfred hissed, actually feeling like those words had slapped him in he face, “What do you fucking mean, the parents?”

“Yeah, remember, when you first started, we told you that parents review the show too—granted, they aren’t the target audience, but they look after our target audience, so of course parents get a say! And Hero is fucking annoying!”

“And no one told me!!”

“Of course not, you learned about us taking the piss and you’re reacting like a princess!!” The director pointed out, “In fact, a lot of what Koshka says is based on parent reviews, everything that Koshka says about Hero’s voice is from a parent review.”

“What….?” Alfred asked, actually stepping back.

It is true, parents do send reviews in, and they are saved and read by producers… Purely because parents are the ones who let their kids watch TV, and buy their kids the merchandise, but parents didn’t watch the show, they weren’t the ones whose minds were being formed by what media they see, the kids are. And so that’s why Alfred never really focussed on them, so much so that Alfred completely forgot that they were even a thing, now he’s starting to think that may have been a mistake.

Alfred was angry, so much so that he could barely hear what else the director was saying over the ugly thoughts that were screaming at him. But this time, the thoughts were yelling at him, yelling at Alfred for being such an asshole, for being so stupid and annoying and … and … and fucking pathetic.

“I just…” Alfred stuttered, feeling like a train that was running out of steam, and turning into a disaster than had been long awaiting to happen. He wanted to forget all of his, he could feel all eyes on him, everyone was waiting for him to respond but he couldn’t. He couldn’t keep being angry, he just wanted to run into the bathroom and throw up all his anxiety, the only problem was that there was nothing inside him to even throw up, so it wasn’t going to be easy, and Alfred would probably tire out before he feels better. And that always just makes him feel worse. Oh God, everyone is looking at him, he shouldn’t be thinking about that now, he needs to scrape whatever dignity he has off the floor with one of those tools used to force gum off the bottom of diner tables and retreat into the fucking trash-can. That’s how he felt. “Look. I’ll finish the seasons, I’ll stay till negotiations and we’ll see where we go from there.” Alfred snapped as he pushed himself past the Director, retreating further into the studio, feeling everyone staring at him as he walked by, like the fucking freak he was.   

“You talk like you’re still the boss, you may make it to negotiations, but if you keep this shit up, you won’t have any control at all, I’m warning you, Jones! No more bullshit games!” The Director snapped, his last words thrashing at Alfred’s back like a whip.

Alfred felt everyone looking at him, even when he closed the door to one of the reading rooms, that was decorated with characters on the wall and beanbags in the floor. It was at that moment that Alfred unleashed his tears, and tore himself to pieces.

So stupid, so fucking stupid for thinking that he was the right one, he really has been an asshole all along, a loud and stupid fucking asshole! He really can’t do anything right! Nothing he does works, even when he tries to do good or when he tries to stand up for himself, he becomes the laughing stock of the entire scho—office.  

But this time, his confidence won’t be resolved through going on the diet of his life, getting pretty isn’t going to solve his problems now, and having sex with everyone isn’t going to solve his problems either, hell; it’ll only make him feel like a dirty whore, which he only ever felt like when he was caught cheating, but all he wanted was the attention!! Stop thinking about that, Alfred cringed so hard that he physically shook as he pressed his back against the door and slid to the floor with a painful thud—he can’t make them like him, they’re never going to like him, he will never be above them or their equal!

Alfred’s face fell into his hands, he felt volatile and dangerous, to himself—he knew what he should do, his therapists all told him to watch out for these things—but he was told that years ago, he  knows what to do now based on instinct—right?! He shouldn’t keep hurting himself or hurting his body, but it was the only way that he knew to punish himself for being such an embarrassing fucktard.

This was his dream job, and he’s ruined it! This was supposed to be his show, but he let it get to his head: of course, these people weren’t going to give him what he wanted.

He was a fool for thinking that he could get what he wanted from them, the only constant positives in his life now are Matthew, the only kid in school who stuck up for him, and Arthur… Arthur…. The one who seemed to make Alfred’s pain go away…

 

Chapter Text

Seeing Alfred so broken, hearing the American cry in his arms like that… Thinking about it felt so surreal, like he was still trying to process that he was the one Alfred sought comfort from. But he supposed that the real reason why it has shaken him so bad, was that it was a cry of hurt, not a cry of loss.

Arthur had been trained in consoling, but he had also lost almost all of his empathy. Seeing Alfred cry only reminded Arthur of widows or children of the departed, where he often felt nothing but professional sympathy—unless if it was an extreme case.

But it seemed that those feelings had triggered something deep within Arthur, and it caused waves. He had been avoiding relationships like this for years, whenever someone got close to him, or showed emotional reliance on him, he’d shut down—but he knew that those men would handle it, but Alfred… He’s not so sure. How would he handle it if Arthur shut him out? If Arthur showed resistance in getting closer, if Arthur put up his emotional armour…? 

The only man who has every really made it through that emotional armour and who knows the real Arthur is Francis, and the Frenchman has learned to read Arthur. Granted; he’s learned to read Arthur way better than the Englishman liked. And he saw this intuitive nature of Francis kick in the moment Arthur entered the café and spotted where he was sitting.

“Did you go to work today?” Francis asked as Arthur pulled up a chair and sat next to him by the small circular table, “I ordered you Earl Grey.”

“Oh, thank you,” Arthur muttered, before addressing the Frenchman’s question, already knowing where this was going, “No, I don’t work on Sundays.”

“Oh Arthur, you are a mortician in every sense of the word, if you were straight you’d be sleeping with Morticia Addams,” Francis joked.

“I’m gay and I’d sleep with Morticia Addams,” Arthur muttered, chuckling a little with Francis over the exchange. It was just like normal; Francis tries to roast Arthur on his fashion-sense, but Arthur has none of it.

“You look dressed for the part, I don’t think I’ve seen you wear any colours other than shades of black and grey for almost two years,” Francis pointed out, referring to Arthur’s buttoned up black shirt, black cardigan, black jeans and black boots.

Thinking about it, Arthur’s closet was very dark, but that’s what worked for him, he just didn’t think that coloured matched him like they matched someone like Alfred or Francis, who never shied away. “Please, every time you see me you make comments like that, you need to find something else to read me for, love~”

“Then how about that depressed look you have in your eyes…?” Francis muttered, leaning in closer, pressing his elbow slightly against the wooden edge of the table, intrigue alight in his eyes, trapping Arthur in like a fly in a spider’s web. “Got you…”

“Well…” Arthur muttered as the pair thanked the waitress for delivering Francis’ coffee and Arthur’s Earl Grey, “I’ve been having dreams again…”

“Oh?” Francis replied, his eyebrows raising in worry, all humour being sucked from his expression or tone of voice. “How bad are they?”

“Pretty bad,” Arthur answered, “You know I’ve had nightmares about almost every relationship of mine.”

“Even me.”

“Even you, yes.” Arthur replied, “My senses are screaming at me to run from Alfred and put up my barriers again, but I’m scared to, I’m scared of hurting him. I’m scared of what me pushing him away would do to him…”

“That’s already different from your past relationships, if it was another man; you would be here telling me that you broke up with him, how long have you been with Alfred now, four months?” Francis asked.

“Nearly five…”

“See, that’s already a record length for you, yes? You’re becoming attached to him,” Francis pointed out.

“But my dreams are trying to sever it…” Arthur admitted.

“What have you dreamt, if you’re ok with telling me?” Francis asked.

Arthur already knew that it was wisest to be honest with Francis… “Bad ones… One night, I dreamt that I jumped off a bridge, another was seeing Alistair again, and—and I even had one where I drank formaldehyde in my tea…”  Just thinking about it made Arthur put down his cup of Earl Grey. Francis seemed almost too shocked to speak, those were far worse than the ones that Arthur had told him about before, because Arthur was never the one dying in the dreams. “Last night… Last night I had the worst one I think I’ve ever had…”

“Oh God…” Francis whispered, clearly, he wasn’t expecting to hear something like this…

But Arthur continued, now that the vision of it was playing in his head, he has to say it, maybe it will help him understand. “A body was in my embalming room, it was covered by the shroud, as always, everything felt normal, I didn’t even feel like I was dreaming, everything was normal and accounted for. I didn’t even question anything as I took my clipboard, I skimmed through the name, I don’t even remember if it said anything or not. But then I saw that the cause of death was Heartbreak.”

“Heartbreak?”

“Heartbreak.” Arthur confirmed, “So then I take the shroud off, and it’s Alfred, it’s fucking Alfred, lying there as cold as a corpse on my embalming table…”

 “What…?”

“Alfred… Alfred is lying there dead on my table, but he looked so perfect, his hair was combed, his expression was peaceful, like he was sleeping, like he his mouth had already been sutured and his eyes glued with the cap. All I have to do is clean the insides and drain him… I…”

“How did you feel, seeing him lying there…?” Francis asked, sucked in to Arthur’s story, even reaching out to touch the Englishman’s hand, Arthur hadn’t realised that he was trembling right up until that point.

“I…” Arthur stuttered, “I started yelling, shaking him… I refused to believe it was real, I couldn’t breathe… I fell to the floor and wheezed before crawling to the door, I was suffocating as I reached for the handle, but the doors were locked. I was locked in my own embalming room with Alfred’s corpse.”

Even saying it, Arthur gripped Francis’ hand tightly, trembling badly as his vision clouded, he was so shaken by that dream, just thinking about it brought everything back—the stress, the pain, the adrenaline, he was reliving it all.

But he continued, there was more left to this dream, and it was only going to get worse. “But then I eventually get back up and return to Alfred, he’s still fucking lying there dead, but now it doesn’t hurt so much to look at him—internally I’m screaming, I am freaking out inside, I’m asking myself why as I start setting up my equipment—”

“You don’t…”

“I do. SO… I set everything up, and…” Arthur closed his eyes and turned away, imagining it again was actually making him feel sick, “I cut him open… In the abdomen… Cause, you know, I need to remove stomach contents and… and—”

“Oh, Arthur… Are you ok?”

“No, I’m not. I cut his abdomen, but it’s all so blurry, I see his red and pink and purple insides, it’s all bloody and wet and awful, I feel like a med-student again.” Arthur then brought his hands to his face and roughly rubbed his cheeks and stretched his eyes, as though he was just waking up, but the look of concern on Francis’ face remains clear as day. “I am taking way too long to cut into him properly, his abdomen is like cutting into tough steak, I have to really drive my scalpel in—It was messy, his blood clots were all over my gloves and apron, I felt like I was going insane, whenever I’d look back at a cut I made, it was gone, I was going around in circles. I start to scream… I don’t even know what I’m screaming for, I’m screaming just for anything to happen, I am crying out Alfred’s name and sobbing like a right old mess…” 

Arthur glances at Francis, and for the first time in years, he is in silence…

And so, Arthur felt like it would be best if he told Francis how the nightmare ended, “I look at Alfred’s face again…” And the first of Arthur’s tears start to fall down his cheek, “He’s staring right at me…”

“Oh my God…” Francis gasps, as though the mental image of it shook Francis to the bone, never before has Arthur seen the Frenchman so horrified or concerned by Arthur’s words. It was even shocking Arthur, usually dreams that he had about his partners was seeing them shot or in a car crash—Nothing this graphic or dark. Not even the nightmares that Arthur has about his brother’s death can compare to this.

“He’s looking at me, those same blue eyes, but they look dead, he shows no emotion, no feeling for me or what I’m doing. I’m standing there with my hands on his fucking organs and he’s just staring at me, staring into my fucking soul.” Arthur shivered, feeling cold all over. He could still feel those eyes staring at him, even when he is reimaging it. “I start screaming, and I wake up still screaming.”  

“Whoa…” Francis gasped, he looked shocked, “That is another level of concerning, please tell me that you’re going to speak to someone about this, this isn’t ok anymore, a line has been crossed.”

“I know…” Arthur replied, before downing almost a whole mouthful of the hot tea. “But what can be wrong with me?”

“I see a lot of emotional issues…” Francis pointed out.

“I’m a fucking mess,” Arthur agreed as he ran his fingers through his bangs, taking a deep breath. Not even he could downplay the seriousness of what he was experiencing, that combined with his concerning thoughts…

He didn’t feel safe in his own skin, is Alfred safe around him—is he even good for Alfred, is Alfred good for him? All he can think about is Alfred cheating on him, on top of that, he knows nothing about him. Why did he drop out of college, why did he never tell him? What was Alfred’s life like during high school? Was it really as horrid as Alfred made it seem to be—what kind of person was he at work?

So many burning questions about himself and about Alfred left him feeling like he was running in mental circles around his own mortality…

He can’t ever let Alfred know that this is happening to him, Alfred is fragile enough as it is, even Arthur can see that… Especially is Arthur pushed him away too hard, Arthur found himself latching onto Alfred as hard as Alfred was latching onto him. He doesn’t want to hurt Alfred, he doesn’t want to leave him, but he’s becoming so scared of where everything is going.

He spent the rest of his afternoon chatting with Francis, they had planned to get lunch together before Francis has to start his shift at the hospital. But they never ended up leaving the café. They became so engrossed in everything, or really, engrossed in Arthur’s life, where he finally spilled everything, like a rambling drunk. He told Francis about what he knew of Alfred’s past, how scared his is of Alfred hurting him, and how generally shocked he is by the fact that he’s giving Alfred the opportunity. He doesn’t want to leave Alfred, but at the same time, he needs… He needs… context.  

He felt Francis feeling at least a little bit better, it always felt better to talk to a friend, no matter how hopeless it felt. He got almost everything off his chest, and got an outsider’s opinion.

Even when he was sitting at home at night, with the TV on and a mug of tea in his hand, he still found himself thinking about it.

“You’ve been pushing men out of your life for as long as you can remember, ever since you saw your brother dead. You know as well as I do that this is your defence mechanism, you scare yourself into breaking up with these men because you keep telling yourself that they’re going to die and you’ll have to deal with that trauma all over again if they get too close. Remember when we became friends, and you had that dream where I died in a car crash? I think Alfred is starting to break that barrier down like I did, but this is stronger because you have different feelings for him than you do for me, and deep down, you’re terrified, even if you don’t consciously think about your terror.”  

Arthur had a lot to think about, and it left him wondering whether he will get any sleep tonight, and if he does: what on earth will he dream? He was almost too scared to find out.

But suddenly, a knock on the door shook Arthur out of his statue-like state.

Confused, Arthur uncurled himself from his position on the couch, and with the warm blanket still draped over his shoulders like a cape, he shuffled to the door.

“Hello?” Arthur asked as he peered through the peephole, only to see Alfred standing outside, shivering, or… shaking? How cold is it? Is he carrying wine? “Alfred…” Arthur said as he opened the door wide enough to offer Alfred the space to come inside if he takes the offer, “What are you—”

Arthur was cut off once Alfred stepped inside, and with no hesitation, the American took Arthur into his arms, giving him an immediately heated kiss. Arthur instantly melted, letting his blanket drop, revealing his black pyjamas as a kick from Alfred’s foot slammed the door shut behind him.

Alfred’s nails were digging into Arthurs sides as he forced his smaller partner to back against the wall, where Arthur struggled to even get a breath in, he seemed to have no permission to do anything other than kiss Alfred back. Arthur’s heart was crying, but it still felt so good and right, there were so many things that he was scared of, but he still would let Alfred take him any night.

“Fuck me,” Alfred whispered against Arthur’s lips.

“Will do.”  

And just like that, Arthur’s feet were off the floor, and being carried to the bedroom in Alfred’s arms.

-----

It was like walking into a lion’s den, Alfred felt vulnerable, weak and embarrassed as he walked by all the eyes of people in the network. The writers, the voice actors, sound editors, cartoonists, all of their eyes were on him, but once they noticed him looking back at them, they all pretended that they were doing nothing.

He felt like he did in school, isolated, alienated, a sceptical… He wasn’t even the fat, ugly and ultra-gay kid anymore—but he still feels like shit. Maybe it’s not his appearance that generally gets people to dislike him, maybe he really was an asshole. Or nothing about his appearance or sex appeal can change. At least he’s not being beat up anymore, these people aren’t the little monsters that Alfred went to school with, no, these people are snakes.

“Alfred,” The director muttered as Alfred passed his office, the door was open just enough for Alfred to peer over and see the director standing by the doorframe, his hand gesturing for Alfred to come closer. Despite his gut screaming at him to run in the opposite direction, Alfred came closer, surely, he can’t embarrass him anymore than he did yesterday.

“Hey…” Alfred muttered as he meekly entered the office, and the Director closed the door behind him, before returning to the desk chair behind the large dark-wood desk. Alfred never really came into the Directors office, but being in here showed Alfred a different side to the director. The walls were covered in promotional posters for the show, and other shows that he’s worked for, and even some pop-vinyl figures littered his desk, it all made the director seem younger than Alfred remembered. It even made the guy seem a little bit cool. Like the kids that used to terrorise Alfred.

“I… I think we need to talk about yesterday…” The director murmured as Alfred took a seat on the opposite side of the desk. “Look, I hate the way that turned out, I hate for anyone in my team to feel singled out or bullied, or discriminated against.”

“Well…” Alfred muttered, rolling his eyes at the irony.

“I think both of our behaviours led to this.”

“How did my behaviour lead to this?” Alfred asked, frowning.

“Your behaviour, disregard for others, disrespect for authority and others, overstepping out boundaries, the list goes on, but I digress,” The director explains, “We should have done things to address this behaviour rather than make it an Easter Egg in the show that’s at your expense. For that, I apologise on behalf of everyone.”

“Hm…” Alfred muttered. This felt like a trick, every anxious bone in his body was screaming at him to not trust these people, they’re all fucking snakes!

“I want to make you comfortable here again…” The Director sighed, “I’ve already spoken to the others and have taken down ideas on how things can be improved here, including team exercises, more policy on freedom of expression, more openness in episode planning, because it really looks like we’re gonna get the greenlight for another season.”   

Oh, Good for them—they’re gonna use his voice for their own gain, and they’re just gonna keep talking shit about him, just this time it will be amongst themselves—and there will be no way for Alfred to find out. 

All Alfred could do was sit there and listen to this talk about corporate fairness and both the behaviours of Alfred and of the team. All it did was remind him of the times in school, where Alfred had to sit in the principles office with the kids who tortured him! He’d sit and listen to the principle try and defend those stupid kids and try to teach all of them how to behave together—ALFRED HAD NO PROBLEMS BEHAVING, HE DOESN’T NEED THIS TALK!!

It was triggering, taking Alfred back to everything, and it was making him more and more uncomfortable by the second.

It was like he as sitting on an ant’s nest, and all of the little ants were crawling over his skin, he wanted to itch, he wanted to scream and move away from this. Nothing was clear to him now, the director trying to make amends flashed and for a second, Alfred saw the principle trying to pacify Alfred’s torture. If Alfred participates with team building bullshit, it will feel like being asked to spend time with the kids who pushed him down the stairs and broke him arm. All of his senses were screaming at him to run, to get out of here.

“Look, I just wanna finish this season, then I will need to think about it,” Alfred finally said, after realising that he’s been quiet for uncomfortably long. “I didn’t think that you guys would do something like this to me.”

“I’m sorry but, all we did was put personal and professional criticisms to air,” The Director explained, “Maybe try looking at this from another perspective, we didn’t say anything truly insulting, did we? All we really did was call you a diva and say that Hero’s voice was annoying, we never meant to truly hurt you. I understand that you’re upset, but I am seeing you mope around and this is really making me worry about you, I think we’re all interpreting this differently.”

“Yeah, I think we all are.” Alfred agreed.

They think he’s being too sensitive, that he doesn’t have the right to feel hurt by this?! Alfred felt like the metaphorical ants on his skin were starting to bite him. 

“Alfred, if you want to take the day off to think about things, you can…” The Director pointed out, “Just please take all things into consideration.”

“Right,” Alfred muttered, deciding that he will take up the directors offer of having the day off, he couldn’t stand to be in this snake-den-ants-nest any loner, he stood up and headed for the door, and left the network office with no words spoken to anyone.

He felt like the target again, and he already accepted that these people were going to talk shit about him the second the elevator doors closed.

But while he was in the elevator, he checked his emails on his phone, and found that he hadn’t even checked his emails since he opened the last email, the one about the audition in LA… The more Alfred thought about it, the more tempting it became.

He’s always wanted to go to LA… He was told previously that he has a Hollywood smile, maybe he’d fit in there, maybe even if he just tried, he could have a shot to do something great, something greater than this—LA is where dreams are realised: even for those shamed in New York.

Maybe even someone like him can have a shot…

He was angry, bitter, hurt, he wanted to give this a real shot, the offer was looking too tempting for Alfred to resist—he saw a way to get out of this pattern of abuse and pain that the east side of the US had given him all his life. Maybe the West will give him a real shot…

He told himself that he could do it as he stepped out of the elevator and deeper into the car park, he could really ace an audition in LA… Maybe make the cut, maybe get a job, maybe move, maybe start anew…

He couldn’t think of anything but the positives, and as he read through the email again, he decided it was worth a shot…

I’m in. He wrote in response to his agents’ email, sending it off with no hesitations, he couldn’t hesitate—not in this state of mind. He wasn’t going to let anything hold him back, he wanted to push the bad feelings away so bad, he didn’t want to think of feel anything.

He didn’t know what exactly he was feeling, all he knew was that it was strong, he felt like he could do anything, which probably meant it was dangerous—but was it really, sure, his therapists told him that, but that was back when he was a teenager! While he was losing is weight and suffering in school.

And so, he went for a run the second he got home, he ran for miles, before he nearly collapsed, but all he did when he got home was drink some fruity tea as he watched TV, wanting to watch anything to distract him. He barely moved from his spot or stopped drinking fruity tea until he felt sick from it… that was a lie, he didn’t stop until he was sick from it. He seemed to forget that his body had limits.

His cupboards were empty, his fridge was empty, but he was still as high as kite… Maybe he could do weed while in LA, lord knows what the stuff would do to him, he has done ecstasy before, at a few parties right before he dropped out of college, that fucked him up bad. But that’s a whole other league, yeah? He never made a habit out of it, true, it triggered a fucked meltdown that even made Matt scream at him— Just thinking about it made Alfred cringe hard enough to nearly fall from his couch.

But… by the end of the day, when the moon started to rise, he couldn’t help but feel… empty, lonely, like a void needed to be filled deep inside him. It was a yearning that he recognised, one that usually made him feel ashamed for acting on.

But that was only when he was single and easy for men to tempt, or keen to tempt men, he was craving intimacy and pleasure, something he knew where to get satisfied…

And so he bought a bottle of red wine and drove over to Arthur’s house, not even bothering to tell him that he was coming, if Arthur was home, surely he’d be keen to entertain; especially with what Alfred had in mind for their evening.

He was shaking by the time he got to Arthur’s door, it was both from the bitter autumn air and the adrenaline in his stomach, he heard noises inside Arthur’s house and eventually, the door opened.

Alfred wasted no time, Arthur was in his arms faster than he could even ask Alfred what was doing there, Alfred slammed the door shut with his foot and put the bottle of wine down on the table behind Arthur, before kissing him hard enough to force his back to the wall. Arthur looked so hot, Alfred didn’t want to waste a second with this, he needed that hot body to press against him, that tongue down his throat and nails digging in his skin now. He didn’t want words, the only words he knew he needed were.

“Fuck me…” He asked, with his mouth pressed against Arthur’s.

“Will do.” Was just the response he needed.

And so, he carried Arthur to the bedroom, and let his needs take the lead.

He ravished Arthur, and Arthur ravished him. Within a few minutes, they were locked together, hungrily kissing and moving their bodies together.

“Alfred, fuck!” Arthur gasped, rocking his hips against Alfred, taking the American in as he laid out on his back, his hands gripping Arthur’s hips firmly against Arthur’s hips, guiding the Englishman around his lap.

“Yes, Arthur, fucking ride me, mm,” Alfred moaned, pressing his head back against the pillows as Arthur pressed his hands firmly against Alfred’s chest, using it as support.

Alfred saw a majestic sight in Arthur, as the Englishman stretched and tilted his head back, giving his hips another hot rocking, and fuck, Alfred’s heart just about exploded watching him. Arthur was making his heart race so hard, it was beginning to hurt. It felt so good and warm, Alfred was going to break, it was bringing him back from his lows and remedying his wounds. Arthur was giving it to him better than anyone had before, and oh God, it felt so fucking good… He could feel something in Arthur that none of his former partners had.

He set a fire in Alfred’s heart, and when he was with him, nothing could drag him down. Arthur was there for him, he held him when he was so scared, Arthur hasn’t forced his way in, Alfred let him in because Arthur wasn’t there to exploit his weakness or make him feel ashamed of them. Arthur made everything ok…

Alfred stared at Arthur, his eyes laced with joy and passion, he couldn’t help but smile as Arthur rode him with such skill and passion, and fuck, felt so fucking good… He gasped out as he ran his hand up Arthur’s back, picking up the beads of sweat off Arthur’s skin, which only told Alfred how keen the Englishman was to please.

“Fuck!”

“Yes, keep going!”

“Alfred!”

Arthur threw his head back and screamed, digging his nails into Alfred’s chest, and it was just about the most beautiful thing that Alfred had ever seen, he was so star struck and mesmerised, Alfred felt his whole body go numb.

He couldn’t hold back anymore, he’s not the type to lay there and let his partner do all the work, besides, he wanted to hear Arthur scream. He rolled over, taking Arthur with him—he pressed himself on top of Arthur, adjusting the Englishman’s legs to give him the best angle to thrust right in and…

“AAAH!!!” Arthur screamed, his face contorting and going red, before he wringed his arms around Alfred’s neck, pulling him in close for a deep kiss as Alfred kept up the movement, thrusting into Arthur again, and again, and again—he could feel Arthur’s screams of pleasure through his lips.

Alfred’s heart was racing at a million miles an hour, he felt alive, he felt loved, he felt gorgeous again, and he had Arthur to thank for all of that. Oh, how Arthur made him feel so good, even when he wasn’t around.

Internally, Alfred was breaking, and after one more little kiss and an accompanying thrust, Alfred stared down at Arthur’s face, watching the hot Englishman pant and whine, feeling so good because of Alfred, it was the perfect mix…

“I love you…” Alfred whispered, watching Arthur’s eyes widen, and for a moment Arthur’s expression was unreadable, like he was taken completely off guard. But Alfred kept moving, kept rocking Arthur’s body with all he got, watching his face as Alfred’s words mixed with the pleasure in Arthur’s mind.

Arthur wasn’t responding, he wasn’t speaking, even when Alfred slowed down his thrusting, all that came from Arthur was… hyperventilating…?

Chapter Text

Arthur wasn’t sure if he heard those words right… He almost didn’t want it to be real.

One second, Arthur was getting fucked, good, and then next thing he knew…

“I love you.”

Arthur felt like he was suffocating, he couldn’t breathe as Alfred kept fucking him. Arthur was choking on his words, he had no idea what to say back to Alfred, he knows what Alfred said, he’s just in denial, a denial that was stupid and couldn’t last a minute. Saying that he loved Alfred back was like signing a contract without looking at the terms and conditions, he wasn’t ready to give Alfred all that commitment yet! The idea even scared him, Arthur knew that there were things that Alfred wasn’t telling him, things about his past and could even be about his health! Arthur could just tell that Alfred was a ticking time bomb, and that’s not to say that Arthur is a ticking time bomb himself! Fuck! Arthur felt like his bomb was going to explode first, he can’t be having an anxiety attack while Alfred is fucking him, oh God, what a nightmare.

He just kept lying there and kept looking pretty, and then everything was going to be fine. He had to keep moaning, keep letting Alfred know that he’s still doing good despite the internal screaming. Keep moving his hips, when they cum, it will be done and Arthur will be able to think about this. Oh God, Alfred…  Keep moving like that… Oh fucking hell, Alfred… Why did you have to say that…?

It only lasted a little longer, Arthur pushed himself to the edge, he pushed himself and Alfred finally finished. Thankfully, Alfred was a good boyfriend and was determined to make sure that Arthur finished happy too, despite how long it took… Arthur’s mental state really impacts how he finishes a sexual session.

Alfred was still not going to let Arthur roll over, once Arthur was finished and cleaned, the American slowly kissed his way up Arthur’s chest, before resting against him, chest to chest. Alfred then closed the space between them with a kiss, and, breathing deeply through his nose, Arthur kissed back. No matter how he was feeling, Arthur was never going to turn down a kiss like that…

It was warming through Arthur’s entire body, and left him tingling for a few seconds after their lips parted. Despite the niceness of the kiss, Arthur’s worries did not go away, but they just intensified.

“How was that?” Alfred asked.

“Good…” Arthur replied, “You never answered my question, what are you doing here?”

“I didn’t even let you finish the question, really…” Alfred chuckled, keeping in his position on top of Arthur, despite the fact that Arthur felt the Americans body completely relax.

“Exactly… While I don’t mind the surprise…” Arthur muttered.

“Hah, right, yeah…” Alfred chuckled as he rolled off Arthur’s chest and pulled up the blanket. “I just had a weird day, I needed you see you.”

“Oh.” Arthur muttered, his expression faltering only momentarily, and his conversation with Francis returned to his mind, Arthur was terrified of Allred’s emotional reliance on him, and now Alfred was here, naked, in Arthur’s bed, admitting that he needed him after a bad day.

That did nothing but worry Arthur, he needed more time, he needed to make sure that he was ready for this, but… love. Love was a new barrier for Arthur to break down, he barely understood the feeling itself, let alone whether he was ready for it.

When Arthur looked into Alfred’s eyes, he could see that love in them, and it only confirmed with Arthur that Alfred’s feelings were real. And that only deepened the sinking feeling in his stomach, Alfred really is in love with him, and all Arthur could do was pray that Alfred doesn’t expect him to say it back. But who is he kidding? Of course Alfred is going to want to hear it back! He may say it again, and then what will happen when Arthur isn’t distracted, or can’t get out of the conversation? He doesn’t want to blow Alfred off, but at the same time, saying that he loves him will create the commitment that Arthur was so terrified of.

And so, Arthur did what he could and yawned loudly, “Well, I think you’ve put me to sleep, I was about to go to bed before you came knocking…”

“Yeah?” Alfred chuckled pushing himself up just a little bit more to give Arthur a little peck on the forehead. “How was your day?”

“Fine,” Arthur replied, “I do however, have a busy day tomorrow…”

“Oh damn, I hope I didn’t keep you up too much~” Alfred purred as he laid next to Arthur, hooking an arm over the Englishman’s middle as he snuggled up next to him. Arthur was feeling queasy, he could feel another ‘I love you’ coming, maybe Alfred wants to make sure that Arthur had heard it.

“How about we go to sleep, hm?” Arthur asked, immediately rolling onto his side, facing away from Alfred. However, he just couldn’t resist backing up into the warmth that radiated from Alfred’s torso…

Luckily for Arthur, Alfred just silently cuddled him, and within a few minutes, Arthur would hear the sleepy breathing coming from the American, and Arthur then started to hope that he wasn’t going to have a nightmare tonight.

------

The more he thought about it, the more it worried him.

“I can’t say I love him,” Arthur admitted, saying it out loud really hit him hard, and it hurt. He immediately looked down at the corpse on his table, and for once; he was relieved to see the corpse of an old man laying there, not looking at him. “It’s not like I don’t think I ever CAN love him, I just don’t think I’m ready to give him that commitment...”  

Arthur was praying for something, surely an old soul like the man before him could give some good guidance. But once again, Arthur found himself stuck.

“Come on…” Arthur sighed as he moved to reposition the corpses head and check for his complexion, so he can build the right cosmetics formula. “Don’t give up on me too. Why are you all so quiet on me all of a sudden? Did I offend somebody!?”

Arthur huffed as he turned around to focus on his cosmetics table, where he created some mixes of pigmented creams and mixed a few together before swatching the different mixtures of colours on a small flat metal plate, before returning to the corpse, fuming.

“I just don’t understand what’s going on!” Arthur huffed as he put the metal plate next to the corpses face, trying to see if any of the pigment mixtures he swatched worked with the complexion. All he wants to do is give the corpse more of an alive colour. 

“Do I need to repeat myself, do you not understand what I’m saying?” Arthur asked, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, if I am honest with him and say that I don’t want to return the ‘I love you’ it’s going to be awkward and he’ll probably be hurt! But if I lie to him, I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep it up, it’ll be like throwing myself in a snake pit, where I’m the fucking snakes. And even if I tell him the truth, how long is he going to wait around for me to figure my shit out before he packs up and leaves me!? Fuck!”  

Arthur was only getting more irritated by the silence. He used to feel so sure of his relationship with the dead, he used to think that they were on his side, that they were looking after him. But now Arthur can feel their eyes on him, but there was no advice or guidance anymore, now the feeling only gave him anxiety. Such a raging anxiety, that Arthur could feel his knees weaken underneath him, like they were about to give out. He felt lost, alone and hurt, he knew that it wasn’t safe for him to be left alone with his thoughts, and so he was so comfortable with the feeling of spirits watching him… But have they left him…? Why?

There was nothing about this corpse that was bothering him, it was a pancreatic cancer death, so it wasn’t something ugly or devastating—the family wasn’t too hard to handle, they had all accepted the death and were handling it in a way that didn’t concern Arthur. He should be able to handle this with no problem. But ever since he had noticed the lack of guidance as his fears accelerated, everything just felt so much more… heavy.  

Arthur looked down at the corpse, and decided that he needed to do something about this, he needed his anxiety to calm or he wasn’t going to get any work done. And so, he did what he wanted, he didn’t need the spirit t guide him as he removed his surgical gloves and reached under his apron to take out his phone from his pocket.

He then began to pace around the embalming room as he looked through his contacts, before making the call and putting it on speakerphone.

And thankfully, he answered after a few seconds, “Hello you~”

“Alfred, hi,” Arthur replied, smiling.

“Is everything ok?” Alfred asked, perhaps he’s noticed the anxiety in Arthur’s voice better than Arthur had hoped.

“Y-Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you,” Arthur replied, “Please, tell me what you’re up to.”

“Well, I’m actually at work right now,” Alfred answered, but in his voice, Arthur could till tell that Alfred was wondering whether something was going on with Arthur. But at least he wasn’t asking about it. Thank God.

“Oh, am I disturbing you?” Arthur asked, bringing his hand to his lips.

“No, no, I’m alone right now,” Alfred replied, “I’m just doing a script reading in one of the spare rooms, I can’t be around the others right now.”

“How is all of that going? We didn’t have much opportunity to talk last night,” Arthur pointed out.

“Oh yeah, we didn’t,” Alfred agreed, “Um. The director tried apologising to me, but I think it was all managerial bullshit, you know?”

“Mm, just wanting it to be on the record,” Arthur muttered.

“Exactly!” Alfred agreed, “I just… I haven’t decided what I’m going to do… There… There is actually something that I need to tell you about…”

“What…?” Arthur asked.

“So… I got an email from my agent, proposing that I audition for a new show.”

“Oh! That’s really good.”

“Yeah, I’m so pumped about it,” Alfred replied, “But the thing is, it’s in LA…”

“LA? LA as in Los Angeles…?” Arthur asked, his eyes widening.

“Yeah, California,” Alfred confirmed.

Wait… So does that mean that Alfred is going to Los Angeles for the audition, or does he have to live there?!

“Alfred, what does this mean?” Arthur asked.

“I’ll meet up with you so I can explain everything properly, it’s gonna be fine, I’ll need to fly to LA for the audition in… ten days.” Alfred admitted.

“Alfred, when did you agree to this?” Arthur asked.

“I’ve known about it for over a month, when I thought everything was fine and dandy at my current job, and so I agreed to do it,” Alfred replied, with a little tinge of salt in his voice.

“But what happens if you gt it? Will you have to move?” Arthur asked, frowning in worry.

“I… I don’t know,” Alfred replied, “But if I’m good enough, maybe we’ll work something out, I’ve submitted my voice work for other projects in different states before!”

“Alfred…” Arthur sighed, his heart filling with doubt, what the hell was Alfred thinking? Was Alfred’s impulsivity really that intense that he’d apply for a job, where the interview is on the other side of the country?

“Hey! It’ll be fine! Would you want to come to LA with me?”

“Wait what?” Arthur asked.

“Like a short holiday, while I do my audition?” Alfred asked.

“No, I can’t, I have to work. God, Alfred, please think before you make a decision like this again, that is incredibly impulsive, even for you,” Arthur replied.

“You sound like Matt…” Alfred pointed out, “I know, it was rushed and kinda on a whim, but cool things tend to happen when you go out on a whim, you know? It’ll be ok, Arthur… Don’t panic.”

“I’m not panicking.” Arthur replied, with a little more salt in his voice than he was intending to have.

“Arthur…” Alfred whined, and Arthur could imagine him pouting, “Wanna come over, we should talk it out… It’ll be fine…”

“Fine…” Arthur replied.

“So, why’d you call?”

“Just… I’m with a corpse.”

“Right.”

“I just need…” Arthur began, before taking a deep breath, “I just want to talk to someone…”

“Is it a bad one?” Alfred asked, “How’d they die?”

“Cancer, it’s nothing ghastly, I should be able to handle it fine, I’m just taking a break from it. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I want to hear your voice…” Arthur explained, swallowing the big pill of feelings in order to admit that. He may not be ready to return Alfred’s ‘I love you’, but he’d be a fool to admit that he wasn’t at least a little bit of the way there.

-----

“Hello baby, hello little boy, are you happy to see me? Yeah? Are you happy to see me? Are you happy to see Uncle Alfie?” Alfred cooed, his voice going up a couple of pitches as his heart melted. Fuck, he loves dogs, he wants a dog so bad—especially a dog like Kumo, Matthew’s absolute mother-fluffing-cloud of a dog, a white Alaskan Malamute The fluffiest dog that Alfred had ever seen, and that was always happy to see the American come through the door of Matthew’s apartment, or to see him at the park, where Alfred sometimes joined Matthew on walks.

“Dude, you change into a completely new person in front of my dog,” Matthew pointed out as he handed Alfred a glass of water.

It was another game night, but while it wasn’t America verses Canada, it was still a team that they mutually liked, and so, why not watch it together, they had been for years.

“I know, he’s just so cute,” Alfred gasped, as he took Kumo’s face into his hands and vigorously rubbed the fluffy dog’s beautiful hair. “You just had to pick the fluffiest thing in the universe.”

“He’s gotten so fluffy after his last haircut, now that it’s cooling down, I’m gonna let him stay as a literal cloud on paws.” Matthew explained as he sat on the couch, next to where Alfred was meant to be siting, if he hadn’t slid on the floor to give attention to Kumo.

“Awwwww…” Alfred cooed, still running his fingers through the dog’s fur, loving how he was doting on this dog so much, while it was remaining completely calm and normal, like getting this much affection and attention was expect from it—perhaps Matthew does spoil Kumo more than he claimed he did.

“Oh, and um, I’ve got a bit of an update for you…” Matthew started, smiling in a way that made Alfred’s eyebrow raise in curiosity.

“Oh?” Alfred asked, immediately sensing that this had something to do with Matthew’s love life, and he could already tell that he was definitely correct.

“So, you know how I’ve been taking up night classes to pick up French?” Matthew asked.

“Yeah…” Alfred replied, his eyebrow rising as he pulled himself up from the floor and onto the couch, so he could sit by Matthew. “So you can speak French to your grandparents, right?”

“Like, to refresh my French, yeah,” Matthew confirmed, his smile widening as his cheeks started to burn, which really got Alfred interested, he could anticipate what was about to come. “But… the student teacher, Marianne, she’s the cutest girl I think I’ve ever set eyes on. She-she’s from France, she’s always got her hair up in this cute little bun with a bow, she wears dresses with little high-heels, she’s just adorable to look at—I can’t stop looking at her! She’s so damn, cute and little, and sweet, and she has the cutest accent! One time she caught me looking at her and she smiled back at me and even did a little fucking wave and my heart literally fucking exploded.”

“Oh my God, that’s so cute!!” Alfred burst, excitedly clapping his hands, overjoyed over Matthew’s crush on a pretty girl. Just by looking at Matthew, Alfred could see his overflowing joy in his eyes, Matthew’s smile had become contagious.

“Yeah, and this is so funny because, you know I’m a pretty tall guy right—she’s tiny!” Matthew giggled, “She’s literally right at my shoulder, she’s so fucking cute, when she comes up and talks to me, I wanna scream, she’s so beautiful and—Aaah, I could barely concentrate since she joined the class—cause she’s in University to become a teacher!”

“Shit man, I’ve never heard you talk about a girl like that before,” Alfred admitted, “You have a real big crush on her.”

“I do, dude, I do,” Matthew agreed, “Buuuut…”

“Oooohhh?”

“I may have asked her out… And she said yes!” Matthew explained, practically vibrating from the excitement.

“How?!” Alfred asked, determined to get all the details.

“Ok, so I was the first to arrive in the class, and she was already there, setting up for the teacher and stuff, and I just… I said to her that I really enjoyed her being in the class, and then I asked her if she wanted to meet up sometime before our next class—so we’re getting dinner on Friday!”

“FUCK YES!” Alfred cheered.   

“Ahhh! I’m so excited—is it too early to bring flowers?” Matthew asked.

“Dude, fuck, yes, and this is coming from me,” Alfred replied, referencing to the times where he’d rapidly hook up with people and form romantic (or sexual) relationships with people incredibly quickly—Although, he waited a while before becoming intimate with Arthur, but Arthur was definitely well worth the wait.

Matthew was the more… normal friend of the two, at least when it came to relationships, he had more friends in high school, even when he lost a few after becoming friends with Alfred. Even some girls at their school had a crush on Matt, he was the handsome and fit friend of the pair… So Matthew’s relationships lasted longer, and upon reflection, they were more … healthy than Alfred’s usually were… Alfred would be lying if he didn’t say that he was envious of Matthew… but not even that envy could stop Alfred from being genuinely excited for Matthew when he does find success. Despite everything, Matthew has been there for Alfred every time he fucked up and every time he stuffed up himself or someone else up—Matthew was there when Alfred had completely broken himself and nearly destroyed his body, and for that, Alfred owes Matthew the world…

“Haha, right, I’ll save it,” Matthew chuckled nervously as he tightened his hands into fists. “I’m so excited but so nervous at the same time, she’s literally… Like…”

“Hm…” Alfred murmured, trying to read Matthew’s expression.

“Literally when I look at her, I just think, God, she’s my dream girl…”

“Well, you always have dated girls who are cute, and pretty short.”

“Hey, short girls just really like me, I’m a fucking tree,” Matthew laughed, “But just, she’s been in the class for over a month now, I have some of her social medias and… I did a bit of Instagram stalking…”

“Dude…” Alfred groaned.

“When I get my phone off the charger, I’ll show you her, she’s so sweet and pretty looking, she looks like an actual princess.”

“Wow… She really sounds like something…” Alfred replied, chuckling a little before taking a sip of his water. It had been a while since Matthew has gotten into a girl, he could’ve sworn that Matthew had his last girlfriend when he was still in dental school.  “How old is she?”

“Twenty-two—so she’s a little bit younger than me, but she still said yes!” Matthew answered, “I’m only four years older than her, like, my parents have a bigger age gap.”

“I dunno man, you may still classify as a cradle-snatcher, or a sugar daddy if you’re into that~” Alfred joked, chuckling as Matthew attempted to push Alfred over for the shitty jokes. “Oh, but there is something I need to tell you…”

“What?” Matthew asked.

“So… You know how I told you about those emails I have been getting from my agent about the audition?”

“The one in LA?”

“Yeah, and since shit has kinda hit the fan at my current job,” Alfred sighed, “I replied to the email and said that I’ll go to the audition…”

Matthew’s expression dropped, “Wait, so you’re going to LA for this thing?”

“Yeah.”

“What if you get the job—shit, Alfred, will you move to LA?!” Matthew asked, his eyes widening in worry.

“I… I don’t actually know, I want to see how things go before I ask questions.” Alfred replied.

“Look, Alfred, I know you’re feeling a bit shit about the thing about Koshka, I’d be pissed as fuck too, but you don’t need to consider moving to LA for a different job! Can’t you ask if you can work for a different show, or resolve your disagreement?!”

“Like, I’m not gonna move, I’m just going to audition and see how I go! Like, my agent has been nagging me about this audition for months, clearly he thinks I’d fucking rock it!”

“But what happens if you do rock it? What happens if you get the job, Al?” Matthew asked, shit, Alfred hadn’t anticipated Matthew reacting like this, “Would you move away?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t really want to move away, I’ve lived here for so long, here I’ve got you and Arthur, I don’t wanna lose that. Like, maybe we can arrange a thing where I fly to LA for recordings, but live in New York!”

“Alfred, economically and business-wise, that’s an awful idea, unless the profits they get from your voice acting are astronomical,” Matthew explained, “I think they’d want you to move…”

“Shit…” Alfred hissed, “Well, I’ve sent my voice files of read lines before, maybe we can do that.”

“But how vital is live direction, live editing, how many times do you have to do retakes?” Matthew asked, clearly he’s already thought about this more than Alfred has… Shit.

“Look, I’ve still got lots of questions to ask.”

“Fuck! You do!” Matthew replied. “Dude! LA is on the other side of the country, I love you, but man, ask this shit!”

“No, Matt, I’m going to—It’ll be fine, I’ll move if the pay is fucking fantastic and that’s it.” Alfred explained, but then his expression dropped, just how much would it take to make Alfred move to the other side of the country...?

“Have you told Arthur?”

“Shit…” Alfred sighed, his head falling into his hands, “No…”

“AL…”

“I know, I should…”

“Fuck… Just… Like… I don’t want to hold you back, if moving is really the right thing for you, then I’d support it, but I will only do that if it really is the right choice for you…” Matthew sighed, once again proving to Alfred that he was the responsible one of the pair. He was perfect compared to the mess that was Alfred… To this day, Alfred wondered why Matthew stuck around, the Canadian boy always stuck around, even when being friends with the fat gay loser that was 13-year-old Alfred was practically social suicide. It was a question that Alfred felt pointless in wondering, if Matthew was gonna dump his sorry ass, he would have done it by now. Over ten years of friendship and dealing with all of Alfred’s shit…

“Thank you, but I will admit, I sent my response email out of spite, and now I’m in it and I can’t back out…” Alfred admitted, “Like… If I have an offer for a new job under my belt, maybe I can ruffle a few feathers with my current network, but I guess it all depends on how the audition goes.”

“But Alfred, don’t sell yourself short. You’re a fantastic voice actor, you have an amazing range, and you sing really well, if you feel like you will reach your full potential in something, go for it. But just… you’ve built such a life here, and suddenly starting again on the other side of the country would be such a hard thing, and… I’m not going to lie to you… With your mental health history, something about that has me a little bit worried….”

“I know, I get why, there would be a lot of adaptability, and it would be so hard to do alone…” Alfred admitted, “I don’t blame you for being worried or having some doubts, the more I think about moving, the more it worries me too. I really hope I either flunk this, or am able to make a compromise.”

“Don’t purposely flunk it if you with you will get a great opportunity from this, you know what kind of reputation Hollywood has, imagine if you joined a super popular network and kept voice acting. Don’t sell yourself short and settle for something easy… Aaah, I suppose we really don’t know anything until we see how your audition goes.”

“You are right about that.”

“But… you should talk to Arthur…” Matthew added, his eyes widening as he stared at Alfred, giving him the look of a disappointed parent, like Alfred should have known better, and Alfred got it, he really should know better. He should have told Alfred about this before, he blurted out I love you during sex, for fucks sake. And Matthew knows about this too, so of course he’s judging Alfred hard for this right now.

“I know… I should really talk to him about it…” Alfred admitted, “I don’t want to lose him, I’m not ready to lose him, I love him, you know…. I just. I don’t wanna fuck this up with him. You know me, I usually royally fuck up my relationships, but this time, I am scared of losing him, I don’t want to lose him…”

“I know you don’t…”

“I just…” Alfred sighed, “Shit… I hope he won’t be mad at me…”

Chapter Text

Arthur felt drained, tired and absolutely done, and to top it all off, he was sure that a cough was coming on the horizon. All of this shit about Alfred, all of this shit about Arthur’s mind and heart—how had he not given up yet? For fucks sake. He’s sure it was his own stubbornness that kept him going, his stiff British attitude was making him keep his head up high and saying ‘carry on, bitch.’

Determined to not let his oncoming sickness think it stood a chance, Arthur made his way to the nearest supermarket on his way home from work, determined to buy as much vitamin C that he could get his hands on.

It was rare for him to come on a weekday, he usually saved his weekly shopping for the weekends, where he could leave and the sun is still up. But this time, it was a quick little mission, so he knew that a few minutes in the store wasn’t going to impact his evening too bad, the traffic wasn’t going to go anywhere.

But no matter what Arthur tried to distract his mind with, he just couldn’t stop thinking about Alfred, and that stupid decision he made—why did he accept that audition all the way in LA?! What if he gets it and they ask him to stay, is he prepared to do that? Would he and Alfred have to break up…?

Something about that idea didn’t sit well in Arthur’s stomach—would Alfred dump him for a job opportunity, would Arthur be prepared to make the long-distance work if Alfred doesn’t dump him?! What does that say about their relationship if they really did decide to go for a long-distance relationship? It’s more commitment that Arthur wasn’t prepared to give, he’s already shaken to fuck just by hearing Alfred say that he loves him!

Despite the bustling people and families who migrated through the supermarket, Arthur still felt incredibly alone and cold within himself, he felt like he was nothing but a ghost dressed for his own funeral, he probably had the expression of someone in that position.

He just couldn’t get the feeling of dread off him, it felt like he was walking with a ball and chain wrapped around both his ankles, it was making moving and even breathing heavy tasks. He was dragging behind him haunting memories, haunting anxieties, haunting feelings and haunting fears for the future—he just wanted it to be six months later, where either fate has come to collect him or he has worked his way through this and is feeling better.

Arthur just didn’t know which issue was causing him more anxiety, Alfred having the possibility of moving away and dumping him, the dead ignoring him, and then there’s also Alfred saying that he loves Arthur—Alfred is the cause of two thirds of his pain, but it’s not like the guy planned to sabotage Arthur’s mental state. 

Arthur just made his way to the juice aisle, trying to not internally complain about the ridiculous size of most American chain supermarkets—he’s lived in America for years, he’s lost the right to complain.

But then, Arthur froze when he saw a familiar face standing in the supermarket, carrying a plastic basket with some food in it. He was alone too, perhaps even as alone as Arthur, but there was something hopeful in his face as he stared at the drinks that were displayed across from the shelfing where the juices were.

It didn’t take the man long to notice Arthur coming, and when he did, the violet eyes noticeably widened from behind his round glasses.

“Oh, Arthur, hi!” Matthew replied, chirpy as he gave Arthur a small and friendly wave.

“Hello,” Arthur replied, waving back as he started looking over the juices, but he and Matthew found themselves standing close enough to not talk. “How are you?”

“I’m doing well, what about you?” Matthew replied.

“I’m fine,” Arthur replied, “Just collecting some vitamin C, I’ve been sniffling all day at work.”

“You’re a mortician, yeah?” Matthew asked, smiling and making a knowing ‘aah’ noise as Arthur nodded, “That’s pretty cool—Alfred told me.”

Arthur smiled, shielding all of his feelings, perhaps this is how Alfred has been feeling; hiding the pain through a sweet smile, Arthur wouldn’t know what that felt like, because he never bothered to pretend that he was fine, he just never said anything. “Of course, he did, and he told me that you’re a dentist.”

“A children’s dentist, yeah,” Matthew replied.

“Aww, how cute.”

“Yeah, when they’re not biting my fingers and laughing at it,” Matthew pointed out.

“Well, if my clients did that, it would probably mean the end of the world,” Arthur chuckled, his little gag even made Matthew laugh, perhaps this is why Alfred was so comfortable around this man, he’s calming and nice to just stand next to—what is he like in providing emotional support?

“No one wants that,” Matthew replied, still chuckling a little from the line.

Francis has described Alfred and Matthew’s relationship as ‘twin-like’, and while Alfred tends to be more problematic and dramatic, Matthew always balanced him out.
So, Arthur knew that there was a high chance that Matthew knew more about Arthur’s relationship with Alfred than Arthur did, because there was no doubt that Alfred has told him things. Alfred would have spoken to Matthew like a sixteen-year-old girl would talk about her crush to her most trusted friend-- Arthur wasn’t mad at that.  Alfred is allowed to vent to his friend, lord knows as well as Arthur that the guy would need it, just by how much stress and emotion Arthur has seen radiating from Alfred in their over five-months together.

But Arthur just couldn’t help but be curious… What would have Alfred said to Matthew about his ‘I love you’, does he even know that Arthur heard him? – probably not, since Alfred has been acting perfectly fine, and Arthur doubted that he’d keep a secret like that for long.

“So, what have you been up to? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” Matthew pointed out.

“My life revolves around my work, and now Alfred is there too, so that’s been how I’ve been spending my time,” Arthur replied, trying once again to be causally funny, but he wasn’t sure if this one landed as well as his joke about the dead biting did. “What about you?”

“I work a lot too, and I’ve actually been taking night classes for French,” Matthew explained.

“Oh really?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah, my grandparents speak it, and I thought it would be nice if I brushed up, y’know?” Matthew replied.

“That’s lovely,” Arthur pointed out. Perhaps he should pick something up—oh, but the more that the thought about it, the more that he realised that this was an awful idea, he’s far too busy, and relinquishes on the time that he could spend in bed.

But suddenly, Arthur had a thought: Could he ask Matthew about what Alfred was like in college…? They’ve known each other for so long, surely Matthew would know Alfred probably better than the American knows himself. But Arthur knew that it would be intrusive to ask…

“Al told me that he had Ivan over, I’m sad that I couldn’t catch up with the guy while he was in New York, but I had to go to my parents that weekend,” Matthew pointed out, breaking what was well on its way to becoming an awkward silence between them.

“Oh, yes,” Arthur stuttered, surprised that Ivan was brought up the moment that Arthur thought about Alfred’s college experience. “He was an interesting man, he must have been fun during college…” Don’t do it, Arthur, don’t fucking do it— “What was Alfred like during college?” – fuck you, Arthur, you just couldn’t leave it!

And just like Ivan, Matthew’s reaction was… thought-provoking more than anything, “Ha-ha, he, erm, God, that feels so long ago.”
Why is Matthew nervous, could this have something to do with why Alfred dropped out? Or perhaps, Matthew is nervous because he’s trying to figure out what Arthur knows already, meaning that he’s wondering what Alfred has said.
He’s too much of a good friend, he’s trying to not tell Arthur something that should come from Alfred. That was the only hint that Arthur needed, he needs to hear this from Alfred, not from Ivan or Matthew… This is obviously something big enough to come from only Alfred…

So many more questions were going through Arthur’s mind now, and it had him wondering whether it was really his place to know about what happened during Alfred’s college. Is it his place to ask, would Alfred be ready to tell him—well, Alfred has said that he loves him already, Arthur’s not sure what is off limits to him after something like that.

And then Arthur realised that Matthew was staring at him, like he was waiting for Arthur to speak. Arthur then found himself chuckling out of instinct.

“Sorry,” Matthew apologised, which terrified Arthur for a second, why the fuck was Matthew apologising!? “I said, did you go to college or straight to medical school?”

Oh, thank God, he’s just really Canadian.

 “I went straight to medical school, and then to mortuary school.” Arthur explained, “I worked in a funeral home in England for a few years before coming here.”

“Yeah, that’s so cool, I went into dentistry right away.”

“Why dentistry though?” Arthur asked.

“They were always nice to me, I was born with a real fucked up set of knashers and had braces for years. But, I don’t know, I only really seriously considered it when I was in my teens and it just… happened. I know it’s probably not as thoughtful and as interesting as your reasons for becoming a mortician.”

“Oh, you know, just the casual calling for death and to ease the suffering of mourners…” Arthur chuckled, knowing that’s the simplified version of his story. If he wanted Matthew to know the full story, he’d have to take the Canadian to dinner.

 

------

“Come on, Al, don’t back out on me now, man!”

“No, I’m not backing out, I’m just saying that I need to think about this, I accepted the audition on impulse!” Alfred pointed out, holding the phone to his ear as he paced back and forward in his bedroom. His Agent was calling him to talk about his audition in Los Angeles, which was one of the main things that Alfred couldn’t get out of his head. Perhaps now will be his opportunity to clear up some questions he has before he and Arthur go out for dinner tomorrow night.  

“Jesus, you’ve known about this thing for ages, how was it impulse?” The agent asked.

“You know what I mean, I thought that the team at Hero and Johnny were cool, but turns out they’re all a bunch of assholes, I didn’t need this audition before I found out about them.”

“Well, that’s showbiz, bud,” The agent pointed out, “Now, when do you want to fly out to LA?”

“Maybe the night before the audition?”

“Why not the day before? Or earlier? Don’t you wanna see the town and look around before you audition?”

Alfred rolled his eyes, this was just like talking to his mother; he asks a question and when Alfred answers, he says what he really thinks. “I guess.”

“Decide if you really want to move there. I feel like you’ll nail this thing if you put your heart into it,” The Agent explained, knowing exactly how to get Alfred into the spirit, but sadly, there was too much going on in Alfred’s life for a little confidence boost to solve all his emotional issues.

“It’s gonna take a lot more than liking the place to convince me to move there…”

“Yeah, but for an opportunity like this…? This is a step up from where you are now, you could end up singing more original songs, playing a stronger character, and the chances are that this show will have an international audience! And besides, you’ll be in Los Angeles, you know, Hollywood and shit, this could open the door for so much. You’ve gotta grab LA by the balls before it grabs you.”

Alfred frowned, “What the hell does that even mean?”

“You know it’s every dramatic young queer’s dream to make it big in LA, I remember you first sending in your audition tapes, you said that you were prepared to do anything to reach the next level—this is that opening. So: that is you preparing to take LA by the balls. Now, LA grabbing you by the balls is this thing falling through and you wishing that it went different.”

“Y-yeah, right, how do I not get grabbed by the balls, I guess is the thing, huh?” Alfred muttered, he knew that he didn’t want to miss this chance, but there was so much keeping him in New York, was it really worth grabbing his chance at LA while it was available…?

“Don’t do drugs, kid.”

Alfred groaned, “Dude, this is a network owned by a kid’s channel, I’m not gonna snort cocaine before screaming into a microphone.”

“Haha, you never know, Californians are a confusing bunch,” The Agent admitted.

“Didn’t you go to college in Sacramento?”

“Exactly, I know what I’m talking about!” the Agent pointed out with a deep chuckle, “Look, I usually don’t chase my clients with things like this, usually if they don’t reply to an offer, I will leave them be. But with you, I sent these people your tapes and they requested you. You know this, they want to see you in the flesh and hear you out. This is what those people at Hero and Johnny weren’t wanting to give you.”

“I know… I read your email, I just have a lot that I need to think about.”

“Boy, you’re just moving to the west, you’re not gonna be in the middle of Russia!” The agent pointed out.

“Hey! It’s still a big move!” Alfred snapped.

“Right, right,” The Agent replied, “So, I’ll book the tickets and let you know how it goes. Now… How’re you feeling? You don’t sound as bubbly as usual.”

“I… The idea of having to move away, if this thing goes well has be a bit… caught off guard…”

“Aaah, right,” The agent sighed, “Look, just keep your head up high and your dreams ahead of you, talk to those you love about this, you’ll work something out.”

“Yeah…”

“Alright, I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta go, I’ll call you again before LA, ok?”

“Ok, talk then, thank you.” Alfred replied before the phone was hung up, and he released a deep sigh as he fell back onto his bed, feeling the world spin around him.

What if Alfred loves LA?

Could Alfred and Matthew set up skype and still watch hockey games together?

What will Alfred’s mom say?

There were so many things about this that had Alfred struggling to decide, but he knew that the biggest was Arthur… If Alfred chose to move, would Arthur stay with him? Would he suggest that they try to make long distance work? Is it worth even trying? Alfred knows that he loves the guy, he’s become so attached it hurts to even think about leaving his side – yes, it has only been five months, but Alfred was deeply struggling with this. Arthur is the longest relationship that Alfred has had in a long time, is this beautiful thing really worth throwing away for a new show, a new start… a new life…?

Alfred sighed as he rolled off his back and returned to his feet, his insides aching as he wandered out of his bedroom like a hapless zombie.

He was meant to be memorising a script right now, he’s got to have the entire thing down-pat by tomorrow, but Alfred couldn’t even bring himself to pick it up. This is the last episode of the season, and maybe even the last ever episode that Alfred would do with this network. He is terrified of it, honestly, he felt like he was going to start crying when he saw the set of papers in the corner of his eye.

Could he go for a run to clear his head – there’s no point, he’s already done that twice and it didn’t do shit—he could order food and just lose it, nah, he doesn’t even have the motivation to binge…

He hasn’t felt this lost in years, but never before has he had a choice like this to make.

Maybe he could ring Arthur, his voice would really help, maybe Alfred could even try to say ‘I love you’ again. Alfred just couldn’t believe that Arthur didn’t hear him the first time he said it, how fucking awkward. But he knew that he had something with Arthur that he was so scared of losing, so much so, that he’s hesitating to go to the other side of the country.

Now Alfred really couldn’t wait to see him again.

Chapter Text

There was something unsettling in the air that surrounded Arthur, it was harder to breathe and the air felt thicker as it passed through him. It was like walking around with a ball and chain latched on both his feet. It was hard to smile, hard to feel the warmth of his body or the bodies of anyone who touched him. He felt alone, even when he was standing in a room of people.

Arthur felt like a ghost.

He never understood why, but some days he just woke up feeling like this, like there was nothing to look forward to, no point in going on. But he did know that he was feeling this way because of depression, he couldn’t pretend that he didn’t know this, but what confused him was what triggered it. It’s been like this for years. Usually, it starts with a nightmare, where his psyche plays with the idea of suicide, or he sees someone he cares about die, or he relives the moment he saw his first dead body – or a mixture of the three, and the darkness just continued to follow him around all day, or until something distracted him enough to make it disappear for a while. Usually it would have to be something funny or something he really enjoyed.

“I guess it may be because I’m thinking about a lot of things…” Arthur admitted as he run his scalpel along the abdomen of his current client, a thirty-year-old woman who died from anaphylaxis, leaving behind a husband and two young children, who had all told Arthur about what a fantastic and understanding woman she was. Perhaps people aren’t so great when they’re dead. Once again, Arthur was feeling nothing. But he still kept talking, he couldn’t do this alone. “My nightmare last night did have Alfred in it… I ran from him and jumped off a bridge, what does that fucking say about me?!”

Arthur sighed, hating the fact that he had to say that out loud to feel better about the fact that he had a dream where he killed himself in front of his own boyfriend. 

“I just… I felt that rush of absolute-fucking-panic when I saw him looking at me with those longing eyes, and I could just tell that he was about to say ‘I love you’ again, and… I ran before I could hear it, and jumped off the edge of a bridge, there was a large drop with concrete and some trees below it. I have no idea where we even were, when I think about it, it may have been in California, it just had that vibe to it…” Arthur rambled, before he quickly stepped away from the body and ripped off his gloves so he could run his fingers through his hair.

He was thinking about it again, the moment he looked into Alfred’s beautiful eyes, he felt the sense of dread and adrenaline of panic overwhelm his entire body, Arthur gasped as he closed his eyes, feeling his knees buckle as he imagined the drop. He could feel it all over again, how his heart raced and a tingle ran all the way up from his feet to his hands, like he really was falling. And the mental image only aided the physical illusion, he saw the ground get closer and closer and closer—before the end.

But, at least he’s safe in the knowledge that he’d instantly regret it if he dropped himself from a high place, he had enough time to think about his decision and regret it before he hit the ground, and it was awful.

He could only imagine how horrible Alfred would feel, and the idea alone made Arthur cringe hard enough to drop to his knees, and made him start to hyperventilate. He could only think about what would happen after, as if he had already dropped and was now thinking about it. Like he was really dead.  

“Oh God, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!”  

“Arthur!” A voice snapped, pulling Arthur immediately out of his nightmare and back into the real world, where he could feel the air cool his sweaty skin. And then he felt the touch of hot hands on his shoulders, where he was moved like a mannequin to face the person who called out to him.

Arthur’s heart sank when he realised that not only was the person real, but Gilbert. And it must have shown on Arthur’s face, as the Germans concern only seemed to grow with very passing second, “What are you doing?! Why are you screaming?!”

“Screaming?” Arthur asked, pushing himself out of Gilberts gasp, but his stammering and unbalance seemed to only make it worse. He felt dizzy, and like he was going to throw up.

“Why?” Gilbert asked, his voice stern and authoritative. “You’re freaking me out here, Arthur…”

“I…” Arthur sighed, feeling as though he was a child being faced by the stern parent. He knew that he had to fess up if he wanted to prevent this from becoming a huge mess. “I was having a… moment.”

“Moment?” Gilbert repeated, “You worry me, you have been worrying me for a while now, and I think this has made it concrete, so to say.”

“What do you mean?” Arthur asked.

“I don’t want to push you into talking about stuff with me, I know that sometimes things get difficult and it’s easy to feel alone or helpless. I just want you to know that you’re surrounded by people who care about you,” Gilbert explained, “I can tell that you’ve been struggling, you were good a while ago, but now you’ve gone right back down again, and maybe even worse than before. Just tell me, are you ok?”

“I don’t know.” Arthur replied, crossing his arms over his chest, “There are things that I’ve been dealing with since I was a child, it fluctuates in difficulty.”

“So… It’s hard right now?” Gilbert asked, one eyebrow rising curiously, but not lacking at all in concern.

“Yes…” Arthur sighed, “But I’m managing though…”

“Are you?” Gilbert asked, “You were just screaming… You better not have unhealthy coping habits.”

“No, of course I know that doesn’t help at all…” Arthur replied.

“Does Alfred help you?” Gilbert asked, “Does he know?”

“No… Yes… I mean—Kind of, and no, in that order,” Arthur explained, “I don’t even know how to begin to explain what I feel and how I am… I feel like I’m just … baggage…”

“You’re not baggage…” Gilbert sighed as he took Arthur by the shoulders, and made Arthur look into his eyes, “Sorry for the touching, but I consider us friends, correct me if I’m wrong—But you are not baggage, don’t call yourself that, you are smart, witty, funny and a good person, you bring so much happiness to your friends and peace to the people you work with. I could see that from the moment I met you, please don’t let yourself be rained on by this doubt. I can see that there is a lot going on inside your head right now, but please, don’t let it hurt you…”

With this, Arthur’s first realisation was, Gilbert would be upset if he died too. So would Francis, so would Kiku, hell, Matthew would probably feel the sting too… There were people around him that he barely considered who would miss him just as much as Alfred would. How selfish of Arthur, to think about how he would entrust his corpse to Gilbert, but not consider just how hurt his friend would be by his passing…  

“I…” Arthur sighed, before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, it hurt to realise these things… “Mm… Thank you… I really appreciate you being there for me…”

“Do you talk to anyone about these things?” Gilbert asked. “Anyone professional?”

“Somewhat professional, although not in the exact category… Just Francis,” Arthur admitted, knowing that Gilbert would understand what type of man Francis was, and how he is such a brilliant and supportive friend. “He has really helped me over the years with this… He’s seen me push away so many people… But yet he… He stuck around…”

“He’s that type of person, he’s not a quitter,” Gilbert chuckled, “And I like to say that about myself too, so if you ever feel like you’re having another crisis, and you need someone to just listen or keep you company, let me know…” But then, the German paused and glanced at the shelving, which contained multiple bottles of colourful liquids, “I’m not sure if being around so many chemicals is wise for you.”

“Oh, don’t start on that,” Arthur sighed, “You know as well as I do the risks that we agreed to take with this job.”

“But what if the exposure is making it worse?” Gilbert asked, lifting his finger to silence the Englishman before he could even start. “Let me research it first, and then I will get back to you, but for now…”

“What…?” Arthur asked, becoming more anxious by looking at Gilberts expression, it worried him to think about what was making the German think so hard. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I don’t think being here is helping you…” Gilbert admitted, “Take the rest of the week off…”

“What?” Arthur asked, firmly, “I have four funerals to run, six embalming’s, appointments—”

“Let Kiku and I take care of it…” Gilbert sighed, “Besides, two of the others are finishing their leave and are returning tomorrow, so we will have the extra pairs of hands. Please, I think you need the time to find your bearings again. I can see that you are low on sleep, you are too stressed out. You are an amazing embalmer and funeral director, but I don’t want you to be so run into the ground that you start screaming again, you may give me a heart attack.”      

“Gilbert…” Arthur exhaled, his shoulders dropping like his heart. He must have really stuffed up in order for Gilbert to tell him to stop working for the week…. Just how much of Arthur’s behaviour had been telling Gilbert about how bad Arthur had been feeling and what was going on in his state of mind? How long has Gilbert been taking these mental notes about Arthur?

Perhaps it was Arthur who just wasn’t observant enough… That’s a tough pill for the Englishman to swallow…

----

‘Hey, Alfred!

We firstly just wanted to say that we are so excited to meet you and to carry out this audition, we have heard a lot of good things about you and your tapes make you an awesome candidate for this role!

Now, onto business. Please find attached the character information, summary of the show as well as some lines we want you to memorise, we also should warn you that there is an improv section of the audition, so be ready for anything~!

As you know, the show is called ‘Creep Factor’ and basically, it’s like High School Musical mixed with That’s so Raven and Hazbin Hotel (but if anyone asks, say ‘Monster High’, cause Hazbin has swearing in it and that’s not on the whole ‘corporate brand’—oohhh myyyyy~). It’s a quirky, jazzy show aimed for preteens that is easy-going and doesn’t have a dominating plot, but rather; a new situation for each episode—but these characters are aware of pervious episodes.

Now, you are auditioning for the part of Archibald (Archie) Swayne, a ghost teen who is stuck reliving his high school years for the hundredth time. He loves to crack jokes and play around, but is way smarter than he looks (one would get like that from attending the same classes for the hundredth time). Some notes: He chooses to stay at the school so he doesn’t have to face living life as a young ghost by himself, because he was left alone after he died (which will be explored at some point in the show, probably around the end of the season).

We hope that for the duration of the audition that you are calm, confident and ready to wow us, you are more than welcome to bring anything you need that may ease anxiety (anything but alcohol or illicit substances, of course). We have you booked in for 3:45pm, we will be sending you a future email regarding the date and any details we may miss in this email. Please note that we have been in contact with your agent, and he will update you of anything new or important before you make your fight.

This audition is not an opportunity to negotiate recording schedule or payment, don’t get too cocky, nothing ruins an audition faster. We’re sorry, but you have no clue how many people don’t know this.

We hope to become friends with you in the future and continue working with you, even if this series isn’t successful, we have your tapes on file.

Thank you for choosing to audition with us.

Regards,’

 

Alfred read over the email and was stunned, he was not used to such chilled and friendly language from a production team. The people at his current work emailed him like… well… work, but these guys seemed to be wanting to get casual with Alfred already. It was thrilling, and made Alfred excited as he opened every attachment offered in the email.

He still couldn’t believe he was doing this, but he remembered what his agent said, he was seizing the opportunity and… ‘Grabbing LA by the balls’, or whatever that weird man said.

Alfred then read through everything, and even printed off the papers for his lines to practice, despite the fact that his fingers were going numb from the anxiety, he wrote a reply to the email, thanking them for their attention to the matter and for the lovely email. Alfred never did this for anyone who he worked with, cause of ‘professional language’ and all that bullshit, he was down for a chat, not a briefing.

He was still asking himself whether this was really what he wanted to do, but the more and more he read the lines, character bios and summaries, the more he fell in love with the concept. Alfred even audibly gasped when he read the part which says that this role requires a singing voice! He will get to sing for this show! And they hint at news songs being a regular thing! How great! Alfred loves to sing and rarely got the opportunity to do it before!

Oh God, this was dangerous, he was falling more and more in love with this LA job, his entire life is in New York, can he really pick everything up and move to the West Coast for this job? Everything looked so good, and he’s been looking up things to do in LA as well as what the cost of living was, and it all looks manageable if he budgets well. But apparently the food is expensive, but it’s not like he spends much on food already, pffft.

But then he started thinking, what was he going to do about his friends? He’s never lived so far away from his home-base, his ‘network’ before. Would he cope as well (ha, if he can call it that) if he’s away from his parents, Matthew, and Arthur… Oh God, Arthur is probably still mad at him, is he even mad at him—fucking probably, he has an irresponsible fuckwit for a boyfriend, who accepts an audition for a job on the other side of the country. Alfred wouldn’t be shocked if Arthur was mad at him for this, he certainly seemed angry when Alfred first broke the news.

Alfred sat back on the couch, but kept his laptop open and on the coffee table, next to where the printed copy of his line sat. Alfred heard his stomach grumble, but his ignored it, feeling too tense to move. His happy elevated spirit deflated a little—he had fallen into the trap of thinking about losing Arthur.

“Nah, don’t be silly, Arthur would understand,” Alfred told himself, “Arthur moved from England to here, surelt he’d get where I’m coming from about this. About wanting to leave everything behind…”  Alfred frowned a little, why did Arthur leave England, again? “Ahh, I can’t think about this now!”

He can’t let himself get distracted, he needs to figure out how seriously he is going to take this: is he going to just go ‘fuck it’ and give this thing all he’s got? Is he going to be chill, let the audition happen and if he gets it; he gets it? Or is he going to cancel this thing all together and find another voicing job in New York.

Hm… or he could suck up his pride and try to mend the relationship with his current network, the people who made fun of Alfred behind his back, and even shared insults about him on television—No… No…

Going back to them would not be good for Alfred, he’s in a constant state of high-anxiety whenever he enters the fucking building, let alone recording with them. He’s done. He gave all of his energy and passion to that show, and it all went to waste by them, he’s worth more than that! Screw them!

Now what…?

“Damn…” Alfred grumbled. Sinking deeper into where he sat, even bringing his knees up to his chin and holding them close, curling himself into a ball. “What am I gonna do here?”

Could the company be linient and let him be based here and send audio, or just fly to LA for times of the year that they need him? Is that really so much to ask? It didn’t help that he was told to not ask about scheduling in the email, but could something like this really be so off limits? Maybe if he asks really nicely, they’ll give him an idea of what to expect…? Maybe he should write them an email--- shit, but that shows insecurity and lacking of dedication to the job, but would they really read into that.

“Fucking stop it already…” Alfred growled, becoming tired of the thoughts that raged through his mind, and constantly asked questions that he couldn’t answer. He was slowly driving himself crazy, and it was only pushing him further off his recovery path.

He wanted to call Arthur and ask if he really was mad, but he knew that Arthur was working, and he knew that I would be the same with Matthew.

He was all alone there.

He has to make this choice and be happy with it, otherwise he knew that he’d be struggling with this for as long as he lives.

 

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until Arthur had finished his morning cup of tea that he realised that he’s not meant to be going into work today, Gilbert’s orders. It was a difficult thing to think about with cringing, that Gilbert caught Arthur in such a weak moment, that he had to be sent home for the rest of the week. But it’s not like Arthur couldn’t afford the sick-days.

It wasn’t normal for Arthur to be home on a weekday morning, but it made him feel out of place, like he was breaking into his own home. It was quieter than he remembered, even with the late morning news-show playing in the lounge room, as Arthur sat by the counter with his laptop. He didn’t have any plans for the day, and it felt weird, often he’d have at least something planed for days off or weekends, but today… He was stuck.

He gathered all of the emails and the documents that he had on his laptop, about his upcoming services or scheduled embalming’s and meetings, and forwarded them all to Gilbert. At least Gilbert knows that Arthur is willing to come back if needed…

In the corner of his eye, Arthur saw his phone go off, and saw that it was Alfred, responding to a message that Arthur had sent last night, advising him that he has the rest of the week off.

‘Why do you have so much time off? Is everything ok?’

“Oh shit…” Arthur muttered, realising that he probably should explain to Alfred why he needed to take these days off, or at least why Gilbert felt that it was appropriate, but that doesn’t make it sound any less… Distressing…

But still, Arthur replied to Alfred, ‘Hard to explain, would feel better if it was in person.’

Almost instantly, the three dots showed on Alfred’s side of the chat, showing Arthur that the American was already working on his response.
But what ended up coming through was shorter than expected, judging by how long the typing emote played before the response came through.
‘Wanna come over and talk about it?’

Arthur stared at his phone for a moment and pondered, perhaps it would be best for Arthur to be around someone like Alfred, perhaps the positivity would rub off on him and make him feel a little better. 

‘Yes, I would like that.’

He was already feeling better after sending that message, besides, Arthur wants updates on Alfred’s situation.

And it seemed like Alfred was having the same idea, ‘It would be best for us to meet up, there’s a lot that I want to talk to you about.’

‘Oh, I bet… Is it about LA?’

‘Yeah…’

Arthur bit his lip, pondering over it. Something deep within Arthur’s heart told him to worry, that he may not like what news Alfred is going to give him…

He hated this, he hated feeling like he was hanging in the balance, but he knew that this wasn’t his call to make, it was Alfred’s.

And so, Arthur responded, ‘I’ll be there soon.’

He kept his word, once Arthur was showered and his emails were sent to Gilbert, and then drove right over to Alfred’s. He didn’t want to admit just how much he was craving the contact, how badly he wanted someone to talk to, to hear him out – not necessarily about what happened to him yesterday or in general, deep down he couldn’t ignore the fact that he needed company.

“Arthur, heeeey!” Alfred chirped once the door to the Americans apartment opened, Alfred was standing there, bright as sunshine, with a big smile on his face.

“Hi,” Arthur replied as Alfred stepped into him, boldly bringing Arthur in for a kiss, before widening the door enough for Arthur to pass by him and into the apartment. Arthur went back in for another kiss, relinquishing the fresh feeling it brought him.

“Mm…” Arthur murmured, as he brought his hands up Alfred’s neck and up to his face.

“Hey there…” Alfred chuckled against Arthurs lips.

In that moment, Arthur opened his eyes as he pulled away from Alfred, and he got a good look at the Americans eyes. There was something in there that Alfred was hiding, and that look didn’t subside as Arthur lowered himself from standing on his toes, “Is everything ok?”

“I was gonna ask you the same thing…” Alfred muttered. “Want a coffee?”

“Yes…” Arthur muttered, closing his eyes as he embraced the feeling of Alfred run down his fingers down his spine, he hated how much little things made him worry, and how shit would make him overreact and overthink, and probably make him freak out all over again.

This then turned into a sinking feeling, which only got deeper as he watched Alfred turn on the kettle and prepare two mugs, opening and closing the fridge quickly after snatching the milk. Usually Arthur wouldn’t notice these little things about his behaviour, but now that he was nervous, he just couldn’t help himself.

“What do you have in your fridge?” Arthur asked.

“Nothing, no, not that, just, food, you know,” Alfred replied.

“But you open and close it so fast, is something off in there?” Arthur asked.

“With me, probably.” Alfred chuckled, his eyebrows raising as the kettle went off.

“Right…” Arthur muttered, “So… Who wants to go first?”

“You, I want to know why you’re not working today, or, for the rest of the week,” Alfred replied as he poured the boiled water into the mugs.

“Well…” Arthur sighed as he took a seat on one of the bar stools by the counter, his fingernails softly tapping on the grey exterior of the counter surface. His brows arched as he tried to think of a way to go around it.

Arthur looked up at Alfred, and he could see the worry grow in the Americans eyes, even past his glasses. He could tell that Alfred was already sensing that something bad was about to come from Arthur, and of course he didn’t have a clue; the guy hardly knew anything about Arthur’s worries…

“You’re freaking me out a little…” Alfred chuckled nervously before taking a sip of his coffee, which Arthur could tell that the American was regretting instantly, judging by the slightly pained look on his face and the quick blowing that followed. “Is it bad?”

“No, not too bad,” Arthur replied, not confident in his answer, “I have just had a hard couple of weeks, I’m not sleeping well, not coping very well with my stress, and… I started yelling while I was working, and Gilbert heard and got worried about me…”

“What type of yelling? Wait, were you yelling at a corpse?” Alfred asked, frowning in confusion as he leaned against the counter, his elbows supporting his position against the countertop.

“NO, not necessarily, I just was so into my head that I didn’t realise I was screaming—“

“Screaming?” Alfred asked.

“It’s not that bad.”

“Sounds pretty bad…” Alfred muttered, “I… I don’t know what’s going on with you, I… I don’t want to push you to talk to me, but I just want you to know that I’m there for you. Granted, I don’t have all of the context on what made you scream bad enough to convince Gilbert to give you the week off.”

“I mean…” Arthur muttered, removing his hands from his coffee mug, instead planting them firmly against the counter, his heart beating so loudly that he could feel it in his eardrums. “Ok, I get it, you have tried to hear me out and listen to me, even when I talk about nothing.”

“But it doesn’t come out as nothing to me,” Alfred replied, “Arthur, I love you.”  

Arthurs breath cut off right from that moment, and the moment he processed the words he felt the colour drain from his face, that was not what he needed to hear.

And judging by the look on Alfred’s face, as the American started to read Arthur’s reaction… This wasn’t what he needed either…

“I… Thanks…”

-----

“Thanks…” Alfred repeated, his smile faltering as it daunted on him that this was Arthur’s response to Alfred confessing his love. He could see it on Arthur’s face, he was dreading this, hating it, he could only imagine how awkward and backed-into-a-corner Arthur was feeling… 

Alfred felt like he was sinking, like he was one big idiot. And then he remembered, Arthur did hear him the first time he said it, he just didn’t respond, he pretended he didn’t hear.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur replied, his eyes looking anywhere but at Alfred. Alfred’s sinking feeling only worsened; his heartbeat was racing as fast as his mind. This wasn’t something that someone should panic over, but Alfred… Alfred wasn’t processing it well…

“I…” Alfred replied, trying to not show how hurt he was, he didn’t want to be hurt, he shouldn’t be hurt.

“Are you upset?” Arthur asked.

 “I’m ok!” Alfred snapped, “I’m ok, you don’t love me.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Well, what is it like?” Alfred replied, hating how desperate he sounded. His voice had gone high and he could just tell that he was going a little red. “But it’s ok, it’s no big deal, it’s not a big deal at all!”

“No… It’s not…” Arthur replied.

“I mean, love means a lot to me,” Alfred replied. “I love you.”

“Alfred…. I care about you, but I’m not ready to say that…” Arthur replied, “I’m sorry, you are obviously caught off guard.”

“No, I’m fine!” Alfred replied, “I’m fine, that’s all it is. Just shut up.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up!” Arthur snapped.

“Don’t snap at me!” Alfred replied.

“Why do love me anyway, you’re moving away, aren’t you?!” Arthur replied, “I don’t know what is going on, or how I feel about you!”

“You’re that confused!?” Alfred asked, “And I know what’s going on, I wanted to tell you that I am gonna do that audition in LA, and I really am considering moving!”

“Then what happens to us?”

“I don’t know, I thought it would be fine if you loved me…”

“Jesus Christ, Alfred,” Arthur sighed, “Don’t be like that! I’m perfectly allowed to not want to say that! You don’t know what I’m going through at all, I won’t lie to you and return this, it doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to keep going, but I don’t see what the point is if you’re going to get up and leave to Los Angeles!”

“You are mad at me for accepting the audition!” Alfred pointed out.

“Of course I am! You made such a big decision on a fucking whim, because you were mad at some bastards who made fun of you in Russian! But hey, you do whatever you want!” Arthur replied.

It was then that Alfred noticed that Arthur was slowly cracking; he hadn’t seen this type of emotion in Arthur before… Alfred couldn’t deny that he looked so gorgeous… His heart was still beating so loudly, even though it had sunk down into his stomach.
He really was in love, even though he had been hurt by this.

“I mean, I get that you don’t have to love me back! I’m an adult, I can handle that! Just, let me react to it, fuck!”

“Don’t be snappy!” Arthur snapped in a way that made Alfred freeze, “You hurt me by accepting the audition without even telling me about it, Alfred, it pretty much told me: whatever happens, happens! You know? I thought we were in a relationship, a proper relationship! This is my first one in so fucking long, I’m not even sure of how it works anymore, but I’m sure you’d tell me about such a fucking huge opportunity when we’re over six months in!  I want to talk with you and make it work, maybe I can fall in love with you, but now you’re telling me that I may have to do it from the other side of the country! Is that fair?!”

“Arthur—“

“And you have the fucking balls to act wounded when I won’t say ‘I love you’ back!?”  Arthur replied, then he sighed, “You’re scaring me, Alfred… You’re asking for so much from me, that I don’t know what I’m going to do, I make myself panic, and…”

Maybe this is Arthur’s way of saying ‘I love you’ Alfred thought, but then again, it was more likely that the man was just shakier than Alfred knew. He wasn’t stupid, Alfred could see that Arthur was hiding things from him, but it’s not like Alfred’s not hiding anything either.

They’re both messes who happened to find each other.

Now Alfred couldn’t help but feel a bit like an asshole here… He was going to run off and had no clue how he was making Arthur feel about it.

“Do… Do you really want to start over in Los Angeles...?” Arthur asked softly. “Were you really hurt that bad by what they said about you?”

“It’s not just about what they said…” Alfred admitted. “And, I don’t know… This opportunity kinda just came at me, and I couldn’t ignore it…”

“Please, please think about it…” Arthur muttered, “And don’t play me.”

“Arthur, no I’d nev—”

“I don’t mean that you’d do it purposefully.” Arthur added, before chuckling softly, “Heh…”

“What?”

“I’m the one who can’t say that I love you, but I’m the one whose heart could be broken,” Arthur chuckled.

Oh, now Alfred felt like a real asshole, his head was so high in the clouds, he didn’t realise just how much strength he was asking of Arthur. He was asking for a partner to buckle up and accept his choices—choices that Alfred wasn’t even sure if he wanted to make yet.

It was this type of anxiety that left him stuck in his cycle of self-loathing and abuse against his own body. Now, confronted like this, Alfred found himself frozen…

He had no clue what to do, Arthur was standing there, expecting something meaningful to come from Alfred, but all he got was a pathetic, “I’m sorry.”

“Right.” Arthur muttered.

Alfred wanted to talk more, but it seemed like Arthur wasn’t in the mood for it, he looked troubled as he was already. Alfred could tell that there was so much more going on in Arthur’s life that was bothering him. But all he could think about was how he looked right now, and how all he wanted to do was give him a cuddle and beg for forgiveness.

But he knew that he couldn’t just forget about this idea. It’s the job of a lifetime, and he can’t just let the ship sail off without him.

Chapter Text

Arthur still wasn’t sure what he wanted; he didn’t know what he currently had… But fuck, the idea of losing Alfred did something to him, it made him worried. However, what made this different was that his worry was something different, every partner he had has managed to make him worry, be it about something real or not—and then he’d leave them. But with Alfred, he couldn’t help but recognise the fact that he wanted the opposite.   

Alfred’s flight to California leaves in a week, he will be gone for five days, and then he will come back to New York and will have to wait for a while to learn the outcome of his audition. It unnerved Arthur deeply, because he had no doubt in his mind that Alfred would excel at the audition… He’d wow all of them with his skills, personality and range. For a guy with clear issues, he sure was charismatic…   

Alfred would see the opportunities he has in California, and then leave Arthur… The one-time Arthur didn’t want to run away from a relationship, and it’s with a guy who’s most likely going to move to the other side of the fucking country. It was probably karma finally coming back to bite Arthur.   

Arthur just hoped that he didn’t ruin whatever chances he had with Alfred by calling him out yesterday… While Arthur knew that he was totally justified in not wanting to tell Alfred ‘I love you too’, he did feel that he perhaps did take it too far, and then Alfred took it too far, and it became a small mess that still makes Arthur cringe.   

“What in the fuck am I doing…?” Arthur muttered as he placed his hands on the edges of the embalming table and stretched back, lowering his head to be parallel with the table, staring at the wheels, he continued, “I was perfectly fine where I was…”   

Was he, though? Was he ever fine to begin with – he was subsisting socialising for confessions with corpses, in what universe is that healthy?   

Never before had he felt so alone, even when standing in a room with a corpse. Usually the corpse would give him some kind of company , but even now the lifeless body had the energy of … well… A lifeless body. It was another thing that came back to bite Arthur in the ass right when he thought something was going well, now his connection to the dead was beginning to get severed.  

“Please give me some kind of sign that you’re all still looking out for Allistor, please…” Arthur muttered—now this had to be some kind of madness, he hadn’t felt this stressed or weirded out by talking to a corpse since he first started, the natural feeling of it had dissolved and all that was left was shame.  
He felt like he owed something to the dead, and the obsession had become so strong, that he had become a mortician, just so he could feel like he was contributing to giving the dead a perfect opportunity to finally say goodbye, and maybe, just maybe… Arthur’s brother would have a peaceful rest…  

It was starting to bother him that everything he knew was starting to fall apart, the only consistency in his life was the love for his job, and he was thankful to have that.  
But everything else, every issue that he didn’t expect to have seven months ago, was starting to flare and now it was becoming too large to ignore.  

Arthur stood back, wanting to get away from the intensity of his thoughts, it seemed to only be getting worse the longer he stayed around bodies, like the therapeutic effect was gone and replaced with anxiety-inducing power. He then turned around and walked back to his desk, flicking on his kettle with one swift movement of his arm, this followed with him taking his favourite mug, and throwing away the dried out tea-bag.  
As he waited for the kettle to boil, he sat down at his desk and began to take out his tea, which was when he finally had the opportunity to look at his phone, where what he saw made his eyes widen:  

Francis Bonnefoy – 15 minutes ago 
Can you please call me, I’ve got some bad news, I don’t know what to do.  

Francis Bonnefoy – 20 minutes ago 
Missed Call 

Francis Bonnefoy – 30 minutes ago 
Missed Call 

Arthur nearly dropped his phone in attempt to call his friend back as quickly as he could, and as he expected, Francis answered within the first few rings.   

“Francis, hey, what’s going on, is everything ok?” Arthur asked the moment the dial tone ended , and he heard his friend draw a breath.   

“A few months ago, when we were at brunch, and I told you about a patient of mine… the one who I didn’t think I could save, and… who se parents… who se parents weren’t handling it well…?” Francis began, “I lost her, Arthur, I lost her…”  

“Oh…” Arthur replied, sighing deeply, hating to admit t o himself t hat he was relieved  that it was about a matter with Francis’ work . F rancis had him worried about something far worse. “I-I’m so sorry to hear  th at…”   

“I took your advice and gave them the talk about the possibility of her dying a few months back, but sadly, I don’t think they took it to heart…” Francis sighed, and Arthur could hear the pain in his voice, “Perhaps because they were migrants and there was a slight barrier in the English, or they didn’t want to believe it… They treated me like I could save her, like I had to save her…”   

“But…you’re only a man, granted, a great man, you rarely lose a patient, but…” Arthur pointed out.   

“I know… but we lost her overnight, and I don’t even know how to face them…” Francis admitted, “I need a man with experience here…”  

“Well, isn’t this ironic…” Arthur chuckled softly, smiling a little when he heard Francis breathe a small sigh, knowing that he had managed to make the Frenchman smile. “Firstly, you know to offer your condolences.”   

“Of course.”   

“You know that you did all you could,” Arthur pointed out.  

“Yes, and for a long time I’ve been wondering about how they are paying for it…”   

“Francis, try to not ramble, especially not about that.” Arthur added, before continuing, “With what I’ve heard, I take it that they see death very negatively, that it’s very painful for them right now, and will probably continue to be painful for the rest of their lives.”   

“Yes, and I have no idea how to even begin consoling them...” Francis sighed, “I currently have everyone avoiding the room, we cannot have them be disturbed right now as they process it and begin to say goodbye.”   

“Ok, it’s good that you’re giving them privacy, but do not avoid the room for too long, especially you. Do not be ashamed of this, you did all you could, but this was unavoidable. Do not be ashamed of being unable to save her, but do not let this come across as coldness, that would be the last thing anyone wants.” Arthur explained, he knew that this day would have to come at some point, Francis was never too good at dealing with grief, either within himself or from patients.  
“Another thing to do is not avoid talking about it, anything is better than nothing. You know how to first explain the death and offer any after-care services you offer and listen to anything they say.” 

“Right...”   

“And another thing, now this one will be hard, when you apologise for their loss, don’t leave it open for them to respond. You know what I mean?” Arthur asked, remembering seeing how awkward it is when someone rambles into an apology over a death and the one with the loss ends up feeling awkward, and it made some sense, what are they expected to say, ‘I’m sorry too?’ or ‘Yeah, this sucks ’. “This is going to be hard, Francis, it’s always going to be hard.”   

“But I couldn’t save her.”   

“You did all you could, and that’s what matters.”   

“I think it’s harder for men like us because we don’t have children, only a parent can really understand this powerful bond that your patent and her parents had. Their hearts would have been roaring to protect this child at all costs, everyone says that a parent would lay their life down for their child. Parenting is wearing on their hearts now, it’s an unbearable sadness that I’ve seen destroy people. Show them genuine kindness and empathy, because believe me, throughout my career I have been both surprised and I have been disappointed by the handling of a child’s death, the people around the parents really make a difference...”  
Arthur sighed, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts, before realising that he may have been going about this the wrong way. Francis has gone through grief training, he knows how to handle a situation like this, but something about this case was different...  
“I know you have the means to really support these people right now, I think you are just scared, you feel like their faith was misplaced. But you know damn well that you were the man for this job, but the disease was just too strong, it happens, and it was not your fault.”  

“I...”  

“Francis, this is not your fault.” Arthur repeated, seeing that he had finally struck the right chord, “Yes, these people had their faith in you, but it was not misplaced, even if it resulted in a loss. You gave her those last moments with her parents and she passed in peace. They are not going to hate you for losing this fight.”   

“... I think I needed to hear that, I guess that’s what it really is. I don’t want them to hate me for this.”  

“And they won’t they saw how much you cared and how hard you tried, and I think they need you right now.” Arthur explained.   

“You’re right, I’ll go sort this out now...” Francis replied, and Arthur then heard the Frenchman take a deep breath.   

“Please, go and take care of this,” Arthur finished, before smiling as he glanced over to his own work, the corpse on the table, a reminder of his own impending matters to deal with. 
“I’m proud of you, Francis.”  

“Thank you, Arthur,” Francis replied, “I’ll see you soon.”   

And with that, the phone call ended, and Arthur found himself in complete silence again, and it took him a few seconds to realise that he’d have to turn on the kettle all over again.   

But at least now he could say that he was feeling a little better now...   

--   

Usually when Alfred and Matthew met up at their favourite downtown sports bar for dinner and beer, it was usually on a good occasion, like a birthday or a promotion, but this time something felt different about it. And Matthew wasn’t going to skip past the opportunity to state why.   

“… You’re leaving, in a week…” Matthew sighed, before taking a swig from his golden frothy beer,  “You and I haven’t been apart in years…”   

“I know, but hey, I’m just gonna be west for a few days!”   

“And then what?” Matthew asked, leaning over the bar edge a little to look Alfred in the eyes, “You and I both know that if you put effort into this audition, then you’re gonna nail it—and while I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I support your endeavours 100%... It’ll just be a huge adjustment.”   

“It will be, for both of us…”   

“I’ll miss you…”   

“Hey! Don’t say that, don’t you say that!” Alfred chirped as he reached over to pat Matthew on the back a couple of times, “No matter the distance, you know you’re still my best friend, so don’t give me that bullshit!”   

“It isn’t bullshit! I’m scared shitless!” Matthew replied, “How did your chat with Arthur go, you mentioned that something happened?”   

“Yeah… Um… He got kinda mad at me… I think…” Alfred began, his brow furrowing as he thought about his exchange with Arthur a few days ago. It hurt Alfred badly, but there were some things that needed to be said that day, no matter how bad it hurt. “It made me realise that I was being a bit of a jerk. Here I was, starting this really good relationship, and right when Arthur is getting comfortable, I throw this on him out of nowhere.  You know what I mean? ”   

Oof ,” Matthew replied.  

“I know...” Alfred sighed, rolling his eyes, “But I had it coming, he has a point. I test him emotionally constantly and didn’t even realise it.”   

“You test everyone, that’s just what you do,” Matthew pointed out, “But it never comes across maliciously, I think you do it to make it clear to yourself that you’re in this relationship.”  

“Jesus, are you writing an encyclopedia on me?” Alfred asked, taken aback a little by Matthews observation.   

“I may as well, I’ve been hanging with you long enough to notice your patterns.”   

Alfred chuckled, knowing that he was rather easy to read, the bubbly personification that he takes on is very easy to read.   

“But you know what I mean? Like, you’ve resolved some of your issues since high school, but it looks like others have taken their place...” Matthew admitted, looking down at the bar surface, his eyes hiding deeper thoughts.   

“I know you’re worried about me,” Alfred admitted, “But I’m fine, I know to reach out if it gets too bad for me to handle, and it hasn’t reached that point. I promise, I won’t leave you out, even if we’re on opposite sides of the country.”   

“Yeah...” Matthew muttered, before chuckling, “Honestly, when you said California, my first thought was about how much you’d love it there, the sun, the bright atmosphere, the vibes... I think you’d enjoy it, and I sincerely hope you do.”  
Alfred smiled as he patted his best friend on the back, but Matthew wasn’t finished, “And I know things will sort itself out with Arthur, and no matter what happens, you’ll be fine.”  

“I dunno , I genuinely hope that he’d come with me, but I know that’s too much to ask for from a 6-month relationship, and one where I’ve been so goddamn needy and pushy with him.”   

“I’m sure he doesn’t mind too much, at least this tells us that he’s willing to give this thing a shot, otherwise he would have left you already.” Matthew pointed out.   

“That is a fair point, but I won’t say that I’m in the clear just yet, I could still land in LA and see a break up text,” Alfred explained, “It’d be another dose of karma for me, considering the amount of times I’ve broken up with people over text. Fuck. I am such an asshole.”   

“You’re learning, and that’s a step up...” Matthew muttered, earning a glare from Alfred, he didn’t appreciate Matthew confirming his statement, but at least that’s the honesty that Alfred needed. Matthew doesn’t kid around with Alfred in terms of his behaviour  

“Enough about me,” Alfred announced, “You mentioned seeing Marianne a few times?”   

Yeeaaah ~” Matthew chuckled, smiling into his beer, which told Alfred everything. “We’ve been seeing each other a lot over weekends, and always go to dinner together after the night classes... It’s been really good, she’s so cute and sweet, smart and funny. I feel like a kid again; my heart starts racing whenever I think about her.”   

Naaawwwww ,” Alfred cooed, loving every bit of this. It was rare when Matthew made a connection with someone, much less a woman. He was clinically single, and so to see him get warm and fuzzy over a girl he’s seeing gave Alfred so much joy.   

“Like, she wore one of my hockey jerseys and no pants one morning after spending the night at my place, and it was just... the cutest and hottest thing I had ever seen...” Matthew explained, his eyes widening as he explained the situation to Alfred, where he could see that the Canadian was imagining it. His eyes were lit with genuine joy. There was something different about this.  
“I’m gonna ask her to be my official girlfriend when we see each other next-- You should meet her before you go!!”  

“Yeah! I’d like that a lot, let’s make it a double date,” Alfred suggested.   

He didn’t know whether Arthur would like the idea of a double date, but he knew that there would be no harm in asking, at least it would give them another opportunity to talk. All they’ve done is text each other a few times since their last meeting where some of Arthur’s grievances were aired out.  

“That sounds good!” Matthew agreed, before pausing, pondering for a moment before he looked at Alfred, his eyes showing something different, something that Alfred didn’t recognise , but he could tell that there was something Matthew wanted to say. “Can I tell you something?”  

“You know you can.”  

“My dad told me that when he met my mom, it was something special, something instant. Something in his heart told him that he was going to marry her as soon as he got to talking to her and seeing her more.” Matthew began as his fingers fiddled with the dripping condensation on the side of his beer glass. This was going somewhere, Alfred could tell.  
“I think I’ve got that feeling...”   

“Whoa.”   

“I know! I know it’s dumb, and far-fetched, but I found myself looking at her and just... with no hesitation I think to myself: Fuck, I could marry you. I didn’t feel this with any of my exes, but with her it was so fast... It’s so stupid to think like this so early, I think I may just want to hurry up and get married before I’m thirty--”   

“Are you calling your dad stupid?” Alfred asked bluntly, intending to cut off Matthew’s spiraling self-doubt.   

And Matthew was instantly derailed, “N-no.”   

“Then why would it be so insane for you to feel the same way about Marianne? If you feel something special, then take that step and make it official with her. All you can do is see if the feeling grows or if it fizzles out, you don’t need to make yourself worry like this. The only thing that’s far-fetched is that this advice is coming from me, the serial romantic failure!”  

“Hah... Yeah, when you put it like that...” Matthew muttered.   

“And so far, she seems great! She would be the type of girl that you’d wanna marry! But that’s for you to decide later, don’t rush this thing, she sounds really special . So, is she here on some kind of work visa?”   

“Yeah, she’s going to be here for a while, so we don’t have to worry about her having to leave,” Matthew explained.   

“Perfect! So, ask her to be official and just chill out! If this feeling is real, then you’ll be fine!” Alfred cheered as he pat Matthew’s back.   

“Yeah... Yeah... It will be fine,” Matthew agreed.   

“Exactly!” Alfred replied, before lifting his beer glass and not putting it down until he had finished his drink. “Now, tell me... What’s she like...?”   

Chapter Text

When Alfred first approached the idea of a double date, Arthur didn’t know how to react, so thankfully it was done via text, otherwise Alfred would have seen Arthur’s reaction of utter silence. It wasn’t like he didn’t like Matthew; it wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend time with Alfred...

It was what this said about them, and about what they’re going to be—especially if they talk about the fact that Alfred is leaving for his audition in less than a week.

But he figured that this would be fun, a fun evening and a look into more of Alfred’s life, and only a fool wouldn’t recognise how close Alfred and Matthew were. Arthur remembers first mistaking them for brothers upon first meeting them, so he knew that Alfred was keen to meet Matthews girl, even Arthur was upon learning that she’s French.

“Hey,” Alfred asked as he opened the front door open for Arthur, allowing the Englishman to pass by him and exit his home.

Arthur had spent so much time mentally preparing for what the double date was going to involve, that he had forgotten to mentally prepare himself for seeing Alfred for the first time since their small argument in Alfred apartment. He wasn’t ready for their tension to reflect the bitter winter air, he could just tell that there was so much that needed to be said, but it was just far too cold to dwindle on it and stand outside like this. And so, as soon as Arthur looked his front door, he and Alfred rushed to the Americans car, trying their hardest to not slip on the slightly frosted ground.

But once Alfred and Arthur found themselves sitting in the car, Arthur finally relaxed and looked to Alfred, “Hello, how are you going?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going well, the past few days have been pretty stressful...” Alfred admitted, avoiding looking at Arthur’s face, and Arthur could tell that it wasn’t just because Alfred was starting to back out of the driveway. Something was bothering him, and it didn’t take Arthur long to want to pry at it.

“Packing?”

“Hm, yeah.” Alfred responded.

“Do you not want to talk about it?” Arthur asked, sinking in his seat a little, hoping that he hasn’t severed some type of tie that he had with Alfred before their small argument a few days ago. Yes, he had noticed that Alfred was quiet, even though text, but he didn’t think that it was going to impact Alfred that deeply.

“I mean, if you want to, I don’t mind.” Alfred muttered.

That was when Arthur realised what was going on, Alfred thought that Arthur didn’t want to hear about him preparing to leave. It did hurt Arthur’s heart a little, but when he thought about it, he couldn’t really blame Alfred for feeling that way, Arthur has reacted badly to what should be good news, it’s an opportunity for Alfred to travel as well as a fantastic work opportunity.

“Alfred, please, tell me about it,” Arthur asked softly, hoping that Alfred couldn’t tell that Arthur was feeling bad about it.
But from the little glance from the side that Alfred gave, perhaps he could tell.

“I don’t wanna hurt you.” Alfred admitted, “I don’t want you thinking that I’d give up on us just because I’m going to be moving away for a little while if I get this job... And yeah, I am a bit stressed over everything, even packing.”

“Alfred...” Arthur sighed, “You don’t need to stop talking about California because of me, you have every right to be excited, you should be. And I should be happy for you.”

“Are you?”

“Yes. I thought about it a lot, and I think my anger came from a fear of losing you,” Arthur admitted, his eyes widening as he spoke, he had turned off his filter, and his words even surprised him.

“But you have a right to be pissed off, I’m asking a lot of you emotionally and I sprung this on you without ever bringing it up,” Alfred replied, smiling softly, like he was still hanging off the words Arthur had just said.

“I was just surprised...” Arthur admitted, he wanted to go further, he wanted to ask how hard they were going to try to make their relationship work if Alfred really did have to move to California, would trying to go long-distance be worth it? It would be hard, really hard, and he was never a fan of going long-distance with someone, especially someone who he had just been dating for six months. It was just ironic, the one that admitted love first, Alfred, is the one to go.

But, from what Arthur has just observed, he couldn’t help but feel that while Alfred says that he won’t give up, Arthur couldn’t help but be scared that this was just wishful thinking from a hopeful guy. Alfred was eccentric, and while he seems like he is prepared to give long-distance a go, will he when he’s actually faced with the reality?

Arthur could feel it coming, and it was hurting…

“So, have you met Matthew’s girl? I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten her name…” Arthur muttered, wanting to change the conversation to a lighter topic as Alfred continued to drive, turning onto a busy road. Arthur leaned a little more towards the window, where he watched the passing cars whom were stuck in the traffic going the opposite direction. After all of these years in America, he still hasn’t exactly gotten used to the road differences, especially when he was the passenger.  

“Her name is Marianne, she’s Parisian,” Alfred pointed out, “And no, this will be my first time meeting her. Hang on, you’ve gone to school in France, yeah?”

“Yes, I did a semester of my medical school there, literally just because it was an option, and the French have so many different views of death and the macabre, it’s where I met Francis, actually” Arthur replied.

“Oh yeah, maybe you can speak some French with her?” Alfred suggested. “I can’t get over how you met Francis in France, and then both ended up living in America.”

“Yes, although, Francis has lived here much longer than I have – and oh, heavens no, I cannot speak French to Marianne, I am mediocre at best, all of my classes were taught in English,” Arthur explained, “Besides, I was twenty when I did that, I don’t even speak French for Francis, but at least he doesn’t give me shit for my pronunciation...”

“Haha, got it.” Alfred chuckled, smiling as he kept his wide eyes on the road. Arthur found himself staring, wondering why he hasn’t had too many thoughts recently about what a handsome man Alfred was, especially from the angle being in the passenger seat gave him. Perhaps it was the stress, the panic of Alfred having to leave soon, maybe even the fast-paced sex, nothing had really allowed Arthur the time to sit and look at Alfred’s face…

If they really did break up because of this long-distance thing, Arthur knew that he was going to miss him…

Arthur hated how much was hanging in the balance over Alfred’s audition, Arthur had to remind himself that Alfred was going to return home after the audition and wait until he hears anything. But only a fool would deny that Alfred had the talent to pull off the roll, especially with what Alfred has told him about this new show.

“So… Do you know where you’re going to stay in Los Angeles…?” Arthur asked, wanting to pick up the conversation again, and show Alfred that Arthur wasn’t afraid of hearing news about this. Because this made Arthur realise just how little he knew about Alfred’s upcoming trip.

“Um, just a hotel, a nice one. Right in the heart of LA,” Alfred explained, his smile widening. “I could be able to see the Hollywood Sign while I’m there.”

“Do take photos.”

“You know me, I’ll take too many.” Alfred chuckled, “But yeah, my agent set me up with it, it’s right by a cool nightlife area of town, there’s a pool, a bar, it’s so fancy! Like, way too fancy for me, I’m not worthy of the fucking air in that place.”

With that, Arthur started to laugh, just imagining it. But in his heart, Arthur knew that Alfred would be just fine in a place like that, even though the man wore his heart on his sleeve.
But there was just something about this that made Arthur feel a little unsettled, whether it be the location, Alfred’s past, or the fact that Arthur isn’t going to be there, something was making Arthur feel like he was sitting on eggshells…

------

Finally, they arrived, and once Alfred and Arthur entered the elevator to go up to Matthews apartment level, he took Arthurs hand into his.

He would hate for Arthur to know how nervous he really was about this LA thing, he really didn’t want to lose Arthur, especially following how well they’re doing. Alfred wants to improve on everything that Arthur has told him, about his behaviour and his impulsiveness… Alfred just wished that he had more time to show improvement before he left for his audition.

His biggest fear was Arthur realising that he didn’t need Alfred as much as Alfred needed him…

The ride in the elevator was short, and before Alfred knew it, they were being let in through the front door of Matthew’s apartment, where the smell of beef and wine filled the air. Alfred was already overjoyed at the fact that Matthew was dating a Frenchwoman.

“Hey, sorry, the kitchen is in some chaos right now,” Matthew cautioned as he led Alfred and Arthur through the entrance of the apartment, where Matthews dog came barrelling down the hall with the grace of a sack of potatoes, lumbering towards the guest. While Arthur backed away a little, Alfred was more than happy to embrace his furry friend.

“Hello Kumo, hello Baby-boy!” Alfred cooed as he gave the dog nice and firm pats on its fluffy white fur, which was long enough for Alfred’s fingers to almost disappear into with each touch.

“Hello! Dinner should be almost ready!” A sweeter voice charmed as a shorter figure sped out from the kitchen, patting down her dress before she approached Alfred, Arthur and Matthew, her heels making a tapping noise on the hardwood floor as she walked.

“Matt, don’t tell me you’re making her cook!” Alfred chuckled, as Matthews cheeks burned.

“I’m helping!” Matthew replied as the shorter lady reached to shake Arthur’s hand first.

“He tries his best. I’m Marianne,” She said, her French accent giving her a soothing charm, almost like Francis’ but much, much cuter with her sweet tone of voice. “It’s so nice to finally meet you both.”

She wore a sheer baby pink, floaty long sleeve shirt which was paired perfectly with black high-waisted pants. She was beautiful in an effortless way, but had a cute charm to her. She had minimal makeup on, and her hair was tied into a cute messy bun.

Another thing that Alfred noticed quickly, was her height, as even with her heels on, her bun was barely taller than Matthews shoulder.
Matthew would never admit it, but Alfred knew that the Canadian had a preference for shorter women, which was funny, considering how the man was already as tall as a tree. It was ridiculous, but cute, especially with how quickly she latched herself to Matthews arm.   

After spending a few minutes sitting and having wine with them, Matthew and Marianne could easily be mistaken for high school sweethearts, with how they complimented each other stories, added things to what the other was saying, and smiled while the other was speaking. It was soothing for Alfred’s soul to watch his best friend be so smitten, especially with what hellish relationships he has had in the past and how good of a person he is.  

“So, Arthur, what do you do for work?” Marianne asked, right after Arthur mentioned something about his work.

“I actually work as a mortician,” Arthur admitted, his eyebrows raising, and Alfred could tell that he was waiting for Marianne’s reaction. And it seemed to be worth it, as the Frenchwoman gasped.

“With the dead?!” She asked, “Wow, that is a lot, sorry, I’m trying to think of the right thing to say, I’ve never seen a dead body before.”

“No problem, um, I’m not sure how many ‘wrong’ questions there are to ask a mortician,” Arthur chuckled.

“So how is work going, Arthur?” Matthew asked, as he reached for the wine bottle that the couples were sharing, and poured another glass for himself and Marianne, before offering more to Alfred and Arthur, which Arthur accepted, but Alfred turned it down, being the driver tonight.

“Yes, well, it’s going about as well as a funeral home can go,” Arthur explained, and Alfred could see the cogs in Arthur’s head turning, the Englishman was probably searching for something appropriate to say. “Not anything out of the ordinary!”

“Do you get a lot of weird questions?” Marianne asked.

“Usually they come from me,” Alfred chuckled.

“Yes, I’m very death-positive, so there isn’t much that I won’t talk about,” Arthur explained.

“Oh, interesting,” Marianne muttered before she took a small sip of her wine.

“So, Marianne, when did you come over from France?” Alfred asked.

“Almost a year ago, I am still studying, but now I’m a student-teacher,” Marianne explained, “And then I started volunteering to help with the French night classes, which is where I met Mattie.” She punctuated her statement with a little shimmy in the Canadians direction.

It took all of Alfred’s energy to not burst, Mattie.
Matthew was already staring at Alfred, knowing that he was never going to hear the end of it.

“How about we get dinner?” Matthew asked, keen to excuse himself from the table.

“Yes, it should be perfect by now, we made Beef bourguignon~” Marianne explained with a smile as she stood up to join Matthew, who tried to tell her to remain seated, but the little Frenchwoman wasn’t going to have it.

“Ooooh, Fancy~” Alfred chucked, frowning once he heard something vibrating, suddenly Arthur took out his phone and glanced at it, and with a slightly worried look, he placed his hand on Alfred shoulder.

And then, as he started rising from his seat, he explained, “I’m sorry, it’s Francis, I should take this.” And he was off before Alfred could say anything more.

Before he knew it, Alfred found himself sitting at the dinner table, alone, watching Matt and Fran across the counter, serving dinner into bowls.

“Do you guys need any help?” Alfred asked.

“No! We’re good!” Matthew replied.

From this position, Alfred couldn’t help but feel like a fly on the wall, watching the couple mutter to each other about little things like the portions and whether it had sat for long enough, or if it needed to be heated again. It was cute little domestic things, and to the unaware eye, Matthew and Marianne could easily pass as a married couple with how they fretted over each other.

With all that they had been through together, according to Alfred: Matthew deserved the best woman in the world. Matthew was the kid who stuck with Alfred when no one else did, who saw through Alfred’s bullshit and knew that something was wrong, who never gave up on him… And Matthew had been through some shitty relationships himself, with women who didn’t care enough or took advantage of his kindness. But… Marianne seemed good, with the others, Alfred was able to tell right away if they were bad news, he could smell toxic behaviour from a mile away (his own tendencies may or may not be able to assist him in this), but Marianne was giving off good and wholesome vibes to the American.  

She could very well be what Matthew needs…

“Hey, did Arthur say that he was speaking to Francis?” Matthew asked as he set down two bowls of nice-looking beef bourguignon on the table.

“Yeah,” Alfred replied, “I don’t know what it’s about…”

Matthew sighed a little, but quickly forgot it once Marianne sat down next to him. “It looks fantastic, you did great.”

“Yes, but you helped,” She chuckled shyly.

“Just a little bit,” Matthew added, leaning in closer to her.

Alfred just couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit… awkward. He could feel the fluff and warmth radiating from Matthew and Marianne, that it made him question all of his romantic choices… Had he ever been in love like that, could he ever be in love like that? Sure, he gets clingy when he likes a guy, but he couldn’t help but look at these two and feel different about it. They seemed… genuine…. Not rushed… Hesitant and cute, like a couple of innocent high-schoolers in the midst of prom.

All Alfred could really do from here is pray that Matthew’s heart doesn’t get crushed… When the Canadian falls, he falls hard…  

“So sorry about that,” Arthur chirped as he returned to the table, before accidentally dropping his phone, ruining his attempt to slide back into his chair.

“Is everything ok?” Alfred asked once Arthur returned to the surface.

“Yes! Yes, he just needed to talk,” Arthur explained, “Oh my, this looks great!”

-----

What was it about Matthew and Marianne that made Arthur feel cold inside…?
They were more affectionate and loving with each other in the space of a few hours than Arthur is sure that he’s been with Alfred throughout the entire relationship – and they didn’t even do any real PDA!
It was the way that they looked each other throughout the evening, how she didn’t hesitate to wipe away any food that dripped on his chin, even when Arthur dropped his fork off the table, he noticed that his hand was resting on her thigh from underneath the table.
How the hell have Arthur and Alfred been together for twice as long as them and be not nearly as affectionate?!

But then again… it’s not like that’s a bad thing, Arthur still really liked Alfred, but didn’t need to show it like that… At least… According to Arthur. Did Alfred want that type of lovey relationship, is that why he told Arthur that he loves him…?
This set a seed in Arthur’s mind, a seed that was telling him that he probably wasn’t doing enough for Alfred, that he wasn’t enough—no wonder he is looking for opportunity elsewhere.
Arthur shook himself out of that negative mindset… but the seed had still been planted.
What would Arthur do if Alfred wanted that type of love and affection, that Arthur just couldn’t ever see himself providing…?

It was almost stressful for Arthur to think about, and the wine wasn’t easing these concerns at all. But hey, at least now he wasn’t stressing over Alfred leaving for Los Angeles in a few days…   

Before Arthur knew it, the evening had ended, and after a few kisses’ goodbye, Alfred was helping Arthur into the car, as he had lost a little bit of his balance in the cold and sudden rainfall. The car was freezing, and so Arthur was sitting there shivering as Alfred turned the keys and the engine came to life.

There was an unexplained silence between them, the air was heavy with some type of heavy sense, of which Arthur couldn’t really put their finger on it. Perhaps they both were comparing their own relationship to that of Matthew and Marianne’s.

But then, the silence was broken by Alfred going, “Straight people, am I right?”  

That caught Arthur so off-guard, he couldn’t help but burst into a loud laugh. “HAAAA!!”
It was a laugh that he hasn’t heard in a while. It was deep and uncontrollable, he even screamed a few times as Alfred pulled out of the driveway.

But… At least that eased a few of his worries about how Alfred saw the situation.

Chapter Text

Arthur could hear Alfred audibly sigh from the passenger side of the car, just to remind Arthur that the time had finally come. Alfred was really about to get on a plane, fly to LA and audition for a new show…

But of course, Arthur wasn’t going to let his own boyfriend go to the airport alone, Arthur vowed to be there for Alfred, especially after realising that Alfred was keeping quiet out of it for concern of Arthur’s feelings.
At least that told Arthur that Alfred was at least somewhat willing to make this thing work. This was going to be the Americans test, if he manages to keep up communication with Arthur and is on his best behaviour, then Arthur will have some kind of indication as to what type of long-distance partner Alfred was going to be. But so far… so far it seems rather positive.  

It wasn’t like Alfred wasn’t dedicated… Arthur could see that in the way that Alfred looked at him, and since having dinner with Matthew and Marianne, Arthur was a little more comfortable in relation to Alfred’s feelings. He could at least hope that he was reading the atmosphere correctly and hasn’t found a false hope. – NO, stop it, stop thinking like that.
Arthur took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the steering wheel, he could recognise the oncoming emotional weakness, he was stressed and so of course his anxiety will take advantage and make everything feel worse...

“Cold, isn’t it?” Alfred asked, looking out the window and at the falling snow, it was true, it was getting very cold outside, but even still Arthur knew that this was an excuse to end the silence between them, that had been going on for the past few minutes.

Arthur then started to think about Alfred’s audition, and he didn’t have a doubt that Alfred was going to be the brightest man in the room, he just had that type of aura radiate from him—all eyes were going to be on him, even when he stands amongst a crowd. Be it his beauty, uniqueness, talent or charisma, Arthur didn’t have room to doubt that Alfred wasn’t going to be the best man in the room during the audition.

“You’re going to do great; I know you will,” Arthur admitted, not realising that he didn’t even say anything about Alfred’s comment about the weather. “I’m not sure if I told you that enough before now. But… I want you to know that I think you’ll do really well; I want you to be confident…”

“I… Thanks,” Alfred replied, chuckling a little. Arthur could tell now that he was starting to feel his anxiety rise. Had Arthur really not made these feelings known? He wanted to keep going and keep giving Alfred this encouragement, but he could tell that Alfred was feeling anxious, his shoulders had become a little closer and his hands were clasped together in his lap.  

“Hey, you’ll be fine. Are you nervous?” Arthur asked, darting his eyes between where Alfred sat and the rode, he could see the airport getting closer and closer, it was a shame that all of the traffic was prolonging the journey. Arthur was already dreading finding a park, but at least that’s more time for them to spend together, despite the impending flight deadline getting closer.

“A little, yeah, I have never been to LA before, I’m a little nervous about finding my way around,” Alfred explained.

“Just stay safe, ok?”

“I know, I know,” Alfred replied, “LA is still as dangerous is New York?”
That sounded more like a question than a statement...  

Arthur frowned, thinking of some contradictory things he had heard, “Isn’t it more?”

Alfred paused for a moment as well, before looking to Arthur with wide eyes, “Should have I looked that up?”

“I don’t know, you’re not planning on staying out late or walking around alone out of the tourist places, are you?”  

Alfred was actually really cute when he looked worried, his eyes became wide and his bottom lip quivered a little, like he was a child.

“No.” He chocked.  

“Then you should be fine,” Arthur replied as he turned into the car parking complex right by the airport. “Just… I want you to be smart about this, not like you won’t, I’m just saying that—“

“You can’t help but worry~?” Alfred asked, his cute voice sending a shiver down Arthur’s spine. Alfred’s fingers danced across his shoulder before tickling his cheek a little.

“Is that really so unwarranted?” Arthur asked.

“No, I get it…” Alfred agreed.

“So, have you been practicing your lines?” Arthur asked.

“Yup! And I’ve been practicing my singing—“

“Do you have to sing for this role?!” Arthur asked, his eyes widening. He knew that he had heard something about Alfred having a singing ability, but he didn’t know that it was going to extend to this job!

“Yeah!” Alfred chirped, “I’ve been given a list of songs, and they’re gonna pick any one of them for me to sing on the day, but they’re all popular songs, I literally already sing them in the shower, you know?” And then Alfred went quiet for a moment, “I’m sorry, did I not mention that?”

“I don’t know if you did… But that sounds great,” Arthur replied, keeping his smile on for Alfred’s sake. “I will have to hear you when you come back, ok?”

“Yeah, yeah, I will,” Alfred replied, “I’ll dress up all fancy and serenade you~” Alfred chuckled, the American looking around for a parking space with as much energy as Arthur was.  

“That won’t be necessary—“

“I’ll give you some good old razzle dazzle,” Alfred chuckled deeper.

“Oh God, don’t say that,” Arthur sighed, but his smile pulled through, especially when he knew that Alfred was looking at him, smiling as though he was enjoying watching Arthur’s reactions. Arthur didn’t really know why, it wasn’t like he animated himself very much, perhaps he may and not realise it—He shivered a little, cancelling any oncoming overthinking, now was not the time for him to start questioning everything.

Questioning himself and his feelings at a time like this would not be a good idea.  

-----

Arthur’s heart was swelling as he and Alfred walked into the airport lobby, he was thinking through everything that he wanted to say to Alfred. He had to remind himself that Alfred was going to only be gone for a week, he shouldn’t be panicking… But he was.

Alfred had just checked in for his flight, it was leaving in little more than an hour, but it would take Alfred ages to get through the monumental security line. The time for Alfred to leave was getting closer and closer, and it seems like the mood was starting to reach both of them.

It wasn’t a goodbye, but yet Arthur’s heart was in his throat, telling him to panic and hold Alfred’s hand just a little tighter. Like he could still convince Alfred to stay here.
Something about just letting him go felt wrong.
Does Alfred want something, some kind of gesture from Arthur, something to leave the American wanting more…?

Arthur had never experienced something like this before, it was yet another hoop for Arthur to find his way through, a challenge for him to overcome. How does one go about something like this? This could be the second last time Alfred will need Arthur to take him to the airport.

“Are you feeling ok?” Alfred asked as the couple stepped forward a little more in the queue to check in.

“I’m fine… Just…”

“Awwwww, Arthur,” Alfred purred as he put his arm around Arthur, this would be comforting, if it wasn’t for the obvious barrier that their winter clothing gave them. It didn’t help Arthur as much as he’d like, “Are you saying that you’ll miss me?”

“Maybe.” Arthur muttered, wondering whether that’s what it really was.

‘Maybe?” Alfred asked, and Arthur could just imagine the Americans eyebrow raising quizzically, to which Arthur grimaced in anticipation. “You’re too cute, I’ll be back before you know it.”  

Before Arthur could even respond, Alfred surprised him with a little kiss. It was a moment that left Arthur’s eyes wide open with surprise, but it was a nice surprise, reassuring even.

Arthur’s cheeks were burning, and he was sure that he was going red, he was too pale not to be going as red as a tomato right now. And as though to make it worse, Alfred went in for another, and then another, and another, Arthur knew that this wasn’t going to stop, that the American was getting too carried away, Arthur was almost at that level himself. But he cared too much about PDA to let that happen, and so his hands met Alfred’s shoulders and he lightly pushed, muttering, “Hey… Come on, we’re at an airport”

“I’m gonna miss you,” Alfred purred, curling his arms around Arthur’s middle, keeping the couple direct and as close as possible, Alfred had entered some kind of mood, and it was making Arthur’s heart race, far more than he had anticipated. It was like it was finally hitting Alfred that he was going to be separated from Arthur once he passes the gates, and is trying to get his final fill now. Not like Arthur minded too much. “Besides, if there’s any place where it’s socially acceptable to kiss in public, wouldn’t this be the place?”

“You’re the one who just told me that you’ll be back before I know it…” Arthur pointed out, snickering a little as he stared into Alfred’s eyes.

“I think I was saying that more for myself than you, I know you’ll be fine,” Alfred admitted, chuckling nervously.

“What makes you think that?” Arthur asked.

“I mean, you’re way more composed than me… Mature,” Alfred explained, his mind wandering a little as he stared into Arthur’s eyes, “I just know that you’ll handle anything better—I mean, I’ll only be gone for a little over a week, but I just…”

“Hey…” Arthur muttered, seeing Alfred’s anxiety rising. Arthur had never really seen Alfred like this, sure, he’s seen the man be vulnerable when confronted, but never like this. Arthur… He hasn’t had anyone hold him to such a high regard before. It was sweetening.   
And so, Arthur got onto his toes and placed his hands on Alfred’s cheeks, and after one more kiss, he promised, “We’ll talk about everything when you get back, everything will be fine…”

“I’d like that…” Alfred sighed, “If I pass this thing, we’ll have a lot to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about that now, and don’t other-think it,” Arthur explained.

This advice coming from an anxious mess of a man like Arthur was pure irony, Arthur knew that he needed this type of advice.

Perhaps there was something in Alfred that told him that Arthur had this need, “You too, be sure to relax a little, ok? I’ll call you when I land.”

“How sweet of you…” Arthur purred.

Wow…

This felt like such a… such a… couple-thing, Arthur would have expected this type of thing from Matthew and Marianne… Did those two always have a fluffy feeling in their hearts?   
It was cute, Arthur felt cute, and for a moment, it felt like that world just consisted of the two of them—where was this sap before Alfred had to catch a flight?

Arthur felt Alfred’s shoulders drop as he sighed, obviously now the American has realised that the time has finally come.

“How much time do you have?” Arthur asked.

“About an hour.”

“Ok, you need to go now, security will be chaotic…” Arthur admitted as he pulled himself away from Alfred. His mind raced, trying to find anything else for him to say, anything that he wanted Alfred to take with him… But he just couldn’t, and so, after one more kiss. Arthur let Alfred go.

------

Alfred had never felt like such a tourist, even for a different city within his own country. He never thought that one coast could be so different from the other, especially for a season like winter. His steps were faster and his breathing was heavier as he stepped from the portable hallway that connected the plane to the main airport.

He would be lying if he said that he hadn’t wanted to go to LA for years. But he never imagined that it would be for something as wild as an audition. He thought the position he had in New York was perfect for him, but apparently not, the past few months have been full of many surprises for Alfred, and now he was here to experience what kind of surprises that LA had for him.

While his heart was based in New York, he couldn’t help but be at east a little amazed, there was absolutely no snow, no bitter winds, no coats needed. He was mesmerised by it, he wanted to go out and explore the dry city since the moment his plane landed. Once he was in the line to collect his checked-bag, Alfred connected to WIFI and sent varying ‘I’ve landed’ texts to Arthur, Matthew and his parents.

It was almost surreal, the ride into the main city from LA X was Alfred’s first look into the city, and so far, he really liked what he saw. It was a world unfamiliar, but yet, so similar, the presence of American flags at almost every corner certainly reminded him that he was still technically home, but the weather reminded him that he was on the opposite side of it.

“So, where’d you come from?” The taxi driver asked once he pulled on the freeway.

“New York,” Alfred replied.  

“Oh yeah?” The cab driver asked, his eyebrows raising, “But then again, I see a lot of East coast folks come here for the warmer weather.”

“Yeah, I can totally see that,” Alfred admitted, he even knew a few people who had done just that. “I’ve never actually been to the West Coast before, and I’m here for a few days, is there anything you’d recommend?”

“Well, why are you here?”

“An audition.”

“Oh, of course you are,” The driver chuckled, “Let me guess, you’re making a fresh start? Wanna be famous?”

“Eh… Fame isn’t really my thing, and, in terms of the new start thing… I dunno, I don’t really know what I’m doing at all, I thought I had it good where I was, but apparently not. I didn’t even think I’d accept this audition when I first heard about it a month ago… But here I am…” Alfred explained.

“Huh, what were you doing in New York?”

“Voice acting… For a kids show,” Alfred admitted, before shuddering, “I was the main character and I thought everything was fine with the guys I worked with, apparently not and now I don’t think I can show my face there without having a meltdown…”

“You know… I’ve driven people who had nothing with them but their suitcase, who could barely afford to pay the fee. Then a few years later, I will see their face on some billboard or on my TV screen.” The driver explained as Alfred slumped in his seat and looked out the window. LA was busy, but people weren’t rushing nor bundled in coats or keeping to themselves like the people of New York would. It was weird to watch, the city had an entirely different vibe to what he was expecting, or what he was used to. He didn’t know what to make of it at first, but he could recognise that his urge to explore was becoming harder and harder to tame. He needed to run so bad, his knee had begun to bounce—or maybe that was just the anxiety.
“What I mean to tell you is, don’t panic, let the city guide you some way, it might lead you somewhere unexpected—but if you really belong here, it will guide you to happiness. If you get this job, will you be moving here immediately?”

“I think that choice is gonna be on me,” Alfred admitted, “It’s hard cause I’ve been in New York for so long, I grew up in Virginia, I’ve always been such an East-Coast kinda guy.”

“Really?” The Driver asked, before taking another glance at Alfred, “You look like a Californian, I’ve gotta say.”

“How so?”

There was a laugh before he explained, “The golden hair, the youthful look in your eyes, and I’m sure you have a pretty big smile to match, and for Christ’s sake, you’re wearing a fucking button-down with bears on it.”

Alfred sunk a little deeper into his seat, damn, he didn’t think that the driver was going to go for his outfit, “I thought it worked…”
He wasn’t sure if his choice of wearing a dark blue button-down with a print of small white bears said anything more about his relationship with California, than it said about his sense of style.  
But now he could at least see where the driver was coming from… A little bit… He did always get told that he had a face for Hollywood, despite being a voice actor.

“But I think if you give this place a chance, you could like it if you do more here,” The driver explained, “Is anything keeping you in New York? A partner?”

“Yeah, a boyfriend, who I really fucking like…” Alfred admitted.  

“Ooooh, there it is, a love, a love can make you do so much,” The driver explained, “A love can make you move and make you stay…”

At least, Alfred thinks it’s love, Alfred was still stinging a little from their argument, even though he had been called much worse things by previous boyfriends.

“I—yeah, I need to think about it, I don’t wanna lose him,” Alfred admitted, guessing that he should spill his soul a little. Reflection was a good thing, and Alfred knew that he sure could use some of that. “But just… I think I can do better than the job I had in New York.”

“What was wrong with it?”

“Well! About a month ago, I thought I was on top: and that people liked me and I was doing well, but turns out that the studio was full of people who loved to talk shit behind my back!” Alfred gossiped, letting his shoulders hang a little looser, it had been a while since he had vented about the drama surrounding the ‘Hero and Johnny’ crew—because he was sure that Arthur had heard enough of it. “Turns out that it was their inside joke to talk shit about me on a TV show, but disguise it by using Russian.”

“Bitches,” The driver scoffed.

“I know, right!?” Alfred agreed, revelling at the validation, “Like, fuck me!? Fuck all the work I put in putting that show on the map, I made the show what it was because I cared about the work that I put out there for the good of kids; but sure, talk shit!” 

“I hope you find better than that,” The Driver admitted, “You seem like a fun guy.”

“Thank you!” Alfred replied, still a little bit huffy from just thinking about the stress that the crew had put him through.

“You know, I’m not saying I have an eye for talent, but I think you would do much better here than you would in New York.” The driver admitted, “Get that boyfriend of yours to buy a plane ticket before you make it big, haha—what does he do?”

“A mortician.”

The driver chuckled heard enough to nearly spit out his chewing-gum, “OHH shit, a dead bodies type of guy.”

“Yeah—and looking at him, you wouldn’t be shocked,” Alfred admitted.

“Really, with a rainbow-flag like you?”

“Hey!”
Alfred pouted, but he couldn’t help but smile at least a little bit at the driver’s observation, but then again, Alfred had never been good at hiding any hints of his flamboyance, it was just who he was: he had learned to grow into it. The truly daft just saw it as a lot of charisma.
“Good one…”

“And he supports you?”

“Of course, he does,” Alfred admitted, before remembering their argument. While Arthur was supportive of him; it didn’t come without its pain to him, Alfred hurt him without even realising—how easily will Alfred be able to accidentally hurt him from across the country? Will Arthur be as forgiving and nice? It hurt because Alfred knew, that without a doubt, that he and Arthur had the potential to be something great together, he just wished that there wasn’t this risk that Alfred knew he had to take. “I know he thinks I’m going to do good in this thing. I don’t know, it makes me so nervous to think about.”

“Hahah, but don’t worry, you know that you’re going to be fine, no matter how the audition goes. Just by being around you for this short time, I can tell that you are loved, despite how people at your former job used to treat you. You have your boyfriend; you have your friends and you have your family; chosen or not. Just keep being who you are and you will find your way, just don’t let the panic lead you astray.”  The driver than pulled into the kerb, “There’s your ride…”

“I… Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that.” Alfred muttered as he got out the cash to pay for the trip, not even caring about the amount, he liked what was just said. And whether it was a tactic to not make Alfred think about the price or not, it helped, and at this point: Alfred was willing to take any help that he could get.

He had spent the entire last month wondering whether he was going to be ok, whether he was going to be able to get on his feet quickly enough to keep up with the expenses of life in general. But with the nice words of a stranger to lift him up a little, Alfred strolled into the hotel and checked in.

The hotel was almost dream-like. Marble everywhere, accented with a red colour scheme, with accents of green scattered around the place. It felt very ‘old Hollywood’ in Alfred’s opinion. He checked his phone and saw that the address where his audition was taking place was literally down the road, he could walk there. He was also close to a view of the Hollywood sign, according to hotel brochures, hell, he was just a short trip away from the walk-of-fame—there’s at least a few activities he could do.  

As he entered the hotel room, he sighed. He couldn’t believe that the time has finally arrived—he’s here, he’s in Los Angeles to have an audition for a new show, for a lead role.

He didn’t think that it was going to come to this, but he had to admit that if he gets this role, that his life will change. And so, whether it’s for better or for worse, he’s going to put his heart into this stupid thing.

Chapter Text

Alfred hadn’t expected anxiety to hit him as hard as it did the moment he sat down in the casting room. It was obvious that every guy in the room was there for the same reason; this audition. Even though he was confident that this role was made for him, he couldn’t help but feel swallowed-up and small when in this room of other personalities— some of whom he even recognised from the voice-acting scene, some even appeared as guests on Hero&Johnny. 

That meant that anyone could recognise Alfred from his role and connect the dots. 

Right when Alfred thought he would never want to feel small… At least the auditions were private, so his presence wouldn’t be announced… Who knows, some of these guys may eye-up his role when it inevitably becomes available. A little pit formed at the bottom of Alfred’s stomach, a lot was resting on this audition… His job, his current living situation, hell, even the circumstances of his relationship was dependent on this damn job. 

It was also the fact that no one at his current job even knew that he was in California that was bothering him a little bit… Is that shady? — no, Alfred’s covering his back, he’s already decided that he’s going to leave— how can he show his face and talents around a group of people who clearly talk about him behind his back! And try to minimise it!? 

Alfred took a deep breath, feeling himself start to sink again… 

He was nervous, anxious… He just wanted to get this done already so he could explore LA more, maybe meet some people at some cool places, just to get his mind off of everything that was making him think harder than he wanted to about things that upset him. 

There seemed to be a few cool bars and clubs down the street from where he was staying. 

Alfred took a deep breath and stared at his lock screen, which was a picture of the family dog, who still lived with his parents in Virginia. It was the same background that he had throughout college, even when he changed phone, little Teddy was always smiling at Alfred through the phone. It was comforting. 

He then unlocked his phone, and sent a message to Arthur. 

I’m waiting for them to call me in for the audition, I’m starting to feel nervous now 

“Alexander Ross,” the director called, and a guy stood up and followed him inside the audition room, meaning that Alfred had at least another 20 minutes to wait before he was called in. Dammit, and he had come early. 

Alfred looked as soon as his phone vibrated, happy to see that it was Arthur responding to his message,

It’s ok to be nervous, this is a big thing for you. I know you’ll do fine, we’re all thinking of you. 

This lifted Alfred’s mood a little more, it was nice to see that kind of support coming from Arthur, it was something special, seeing as how they were both sitting in the no-mans-land of their relationship, unsure of which direction it would take. Alfred was amazed that Arthur hadn’t fought him in his choice nor tried to tell him to stay in New York and put up with those jerks at his job. Did this mean that Arthur was thinking about the long term? Or is he already preparing to end things between them? 

Instead of thinking more about that, Alfred responded to Arthur’s text. 

Thanks… I’m just trying to remain positive.
Keep thinking happy thoughts
This is driving me nuts  

Alfred started to stare around a little more, thankful that some of the guys had parted into groups, chatting. For once, Alfred didn’t mind not being the centre of attention. 

Hey now, don’t spiral. It will be ok. Even if you don’t get it, we will all know that you tried your best. 

Alfred read Arthur’s message and made a bit of a face… It was really just that winning was his only option here, there was no way he was going to return to that studio in New York with those jerks. LA was already wrapped around his heart, he liked it and the people in it. Granted, he had only been there for just over 24 hours. Maybe it was the anticipation or excitement of possibility, but something about this city had something that filled Alfred with wonder… 

It was the shining weather, even in the approaching winter, it was how everyone was so beautiful, it was how things just felt so causal. Unlike the hustle he was used to anywhere in the vicinity of New York City. He was falling in love with LA already, and this was dangerous but fantastic at the same time. 

He supposed that there really wasn’t anything that he could do about his feelings for the city until he learns the outcome to his audition— and that really depends on how he does during it. If anything, that enlarged the nervous lump in his throat and made his feet feel like a little heavier. 

Right, I’ve just gotta remember to breathe in, and out, again and again

Easier said than done lol 

I think I should be in soon. Thanks 

He was thankful that he had been left alone, talking to the other guys here probably wouldn’t give him anything but insecurity. But he had faith in his best trait, his personality, the personality that he had spent so many year perfecting. He wanted to be charismatic and funny from the moment he entered the audition room. He wanted to exhale the personality of his character, a jazzy but heavily-grounded adolescent ghost in a haunted high school, who can bust out a note at the drop of a hat.  

Alfred knew the songs that he had to sing, and he knew that he could sing them well. 

He’d also have to sing them for Arthur when he returns to New York, and tell him all about how his audition went, whether it goes as well as he hopes it will, or if it sinks harder than the Titanic. Either way, Alfred could see Arthur as part of his future. 

He just needs to not fuck that up, and maybe a move won’t be out of the question.

“Alfred Jones.” 

Great, now everyone and their mother knew that he was here to audition, and judging by the looks on the mens faces, they had all heard of Alfred and his work. Perhaps he was a threat. It was both invigorating and intimidating to feel this way. But he didn’t let this mixture of feelings show, he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing his hesitation as he stood up, flashing a bright smile, his eyes meeting with the guy who called him. 

He was led into a large room, where a camera and a microphone had been set up, it was an audition set up that Alfred was familiar with. 

“Hey, how’re ya’ll doing?” Alfred chuckled, giving a small nod and wave, already semi in-character. Loving the idea of making a stand-out first impression. He just couldn’t help himself, he had to own the room, especially in a situation like this. 

And they seemed to react well, “Very well, and you, Alfred?” 

“Great, great!” Alfred replied, keeping up the chipper personality. 

“Now, firstly, we’re just gonna take picture of you…” The man who led Alfred in explained, and pointed the camera in Alfred’s direction. Alfred was quick to smile, with a wink, just to make himself a little more memorable, and a little more like the character he was auditioning for — he could imagine his character smiling like that for school pictures. 

“Alrightie, now let’s get this show on the road.”

“Wanna drink of anything, Alfred?” 

“Haha, oh my God, your shirt has lobsters on it, I fucking love it. And your rainbow pin— awww.”  

“We’ve heard a lot of good things about your work, Alfred, can’t wait to hear about what brought you all the way over here.” 

Alfred was beaming by the time he made it behind the microphone, these were the people he’d be working  with, and already they’re friendlier and more relaxed than the assholes he’s used to back home. Alfred was only more motivated to excel at this thing… 

He needed this to work out for him…. He needed this job…  

 

————- 

 

Arthur could only assume that Alfred was auditioning now… And he could only wish luck to him … even if it means that he has to move to the other side of the country— who knows what good a new show could do for his career, certainly more than what the current show is offering him. 

While Arthur didn’t understand the ins and outs of voice acting, he could appreciate the passion that Alfred had for his job. 

Even though it was causing him some anxiety. 

Sure, he and Alfred may be comfortable with giving long distance a go — but how long will that last?!  Arthur will be on his own again before he knows it, and Francis will return to trying to set him up with any gay man that he finds on the street. 

It was nightmarish to think about — and made Arthur snap out of the spiral of negative thinking, he was going to drive himself crazy if he kept that up for much longer. He had to tell himself that he would know already if he and Alfred weren’t going to find a way to make the distance work, they had to, if it got to that point. Arthur just had to try to be a little more positive. He knew that he shouldn’t think like his world was about to change for the worst. 

He had to be positive, because he was about the stand and watch yet another funeral… He couldn’t let his negative attitude hinder his ability to work. 

Later that day, he was standing by Gilbert, as the pair watched over the reception of the funeral of their latest client. A grandfather, a family man… HIs crowd was big and the attendees were of varying ages. He has many children, therefore many grandchildren, who were happily entertaining each other as the adults spoke amongst themselves about more serious matters. 

There was a little girl, whom wore a cute black dress with a bow in her fluffy blonde hair, who was clearly the youngest of the bunch. She struggled to keep up with the other kids, who were at least a few years older than her, perhaps they were cousins, considering the way that they left her behind as she struggled to keep up with them. It was almost like watching a newborn deer struggle to keep up with the rest of the herd, but he thought nothing of it. 

“You did well, he looked great,” Gilbert muttered. 

“Thank you,” Arthur replied, “I appreciate an easy client, no injuries, hardly any touch-ups required,” and then he chuckled a little, before he joked, “He was practically still warm when he arrived on my table.” 

Gilbert seemed to appreciate the joke, “A whamp-bam-thank-you-mam funeral. From what his children said, he seemed to be like that, very to-the-point, and wanting things done quickly, so I think we did him a good service.” 

Arthur smiled, that made him feel better about everything, like he had done a good deed for the dearly-departed, which he valued. “It seems like the family are taking this really well…”

“Even the children, do you think they understand what’s going on?” Gilbert asked, his brow furrowing at the thought, clearly he had been watching the children as well. 

“Obviously some may comprehend it, at least a little,” Arthur admitted. “What age do you think a child would understand what something like this means? What death means?” 

It was one of those questions that never had an answer, it really depends on the parents and how they handle those situations. Arthur learned when he was six, when a grandparent passed, and his father read him a story that followed the life of a rabbit, and it ended with the rabbit dying. Before leading into the conversation about the fact that everything has to die someday, before saying that his grandfather had passed too. It was a soft introduction, and thankfully it happened before Arthur could learn the lesson in a traumatic way. It would have been devastating for an eight-year old child to have that conversation, after finding what he did in his brothers room. 

“I don’t know, great, another thing Liz and I will have to deal with…” Gilbert replied, “Hopefully, surely, haha. You’d think that if anyone would know, it would be me.”

Something was bothering Gilbert, and anyone who cared would pick up on that, “How is that going, by the way?” 

“We’re still trying…” Gilbert muttered, his expression faltering a little before he continued his explanation, “I… I am a bit worried, nothing is happening, she wants to go to a doctor.” 

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Arthur replied. 

“But what if I’m the problem?” Gilbert asked, “What if I’m the one who can’t do it, what if we can’t do it at all?” 

“You two love each other more than I’ve seen a lot of other couples, you are going to work together to find a solution. With the doctors help or not. But I think going to the doctor is a very Liz thing to do,” Arthur replied. “I’m sorry to hear that you’re having some issues.” 

“It’s ironic, I’m a funeral director, I deal with dead people all the time, but I can’t make a baby!” 

Arthurs eyes narrowed, it felt almost weird to hear that sort of analysis, coming from someone usually so up-beat and cheery, “Now you’re starting to sound like me.”

“That’s why I’m telling you, because I don’t know who else I could talk to… who else would understand what I’m feeling and why I’m so frustrated?”

“Have you told her that you’re feeling frustrated?” Arthur asked.

“I don’t have to, I think that’s why she’s started pushing to go to the doctor, she wants a solution quickly.” Gilbert answered. 

“And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with just getting another opinion,” Arthur pointed out. 

“I guess I’m also bitter — she and I were so careful to not get pregnant for so long and now here we are, actually wanting one, and nothing is happening. It’s driving me insane,” Gilbert admitted. 

“But at least you’re trying now,” Arthur added, “You’re trying and you’re doing all that you can, and now a doctor getting involved is just another step-up. I know I have never been in your position, I probably will never-ever be in your position. I just want you to know that I’d support you.” 

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” Gilbert thanked, before straightening his posture, “I guess I just really needed to say it out loud.” 

“No, I get it,” Arthur replied. 

He knows exactly where Gilbert was coming from, he had reached the point where this issue was creating enough pressure that it became unbearable, and he needed to say something. Arthur took it as a compliment that Gilbert sought out him to talk to. 

“How is everything with Alfred going? Does he have that audition-thing today?” Gilbert asked. 

“Yes.” Arthur replied, “He should be in there already, or done, I’m not sure what time it was.” 

“Great…” Gilbert replied, “Have you two spoken about what you’re going to do if he gets it?” 

“I think?” Arthur asked, frowning a little, “I think we’re both opening to seeing how we go… I mean, I am willing to try long-distance.” 

“Wow, that’s different,” Gilbert pointed out. 

“I know,” Arthur replied, “It does worry me, but… You know… We need to find out next step.” 

“Good point.” Gilbert muttered. 

Arthur knew that he would probably do the same when he reached his boiling point, he often imagined what it would be like to go into Gilberts office and spill his guts about why he talks to his embalming clients, that he is alone and doesn’t know what to do. But that was before he met Alfred, and while he came with his own very clear issues, Arthur found a new thing to focus on, which made him panic a little bit less… Hopefully it remains that way. 

And just like that, Gilbert and Arthur returned to their professional demeanour, like they hadn’t just had something like a heart-to-heart. Arthur smiled a little, watching the proceedings of the reception, knowing that his relationship had just been a little more reinforced.

 It was just the little boost he needed that day.