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Eric, as a general rule, is a big believer in the power of positive thinking.

Put your best face forward, a spring in your step, and keep a good attitude, and you'll be able to work through practically anything.

University, he had decided with great conviction and dedication, was one of these situations.

There would be work. There would be long nights. There would be multiple- not endless- situations that would be generally unpleasant, but these would not overshadow the excitement, the new people and what he's going to learn.

That is an active choice he's made, and he will remind himself of that when things get hard. He will not fall down, because partial scholarship students can't afford to fall down.

Literally, in Eric's case.

But things aren't hard yet. Actually, things are pretty damn good- He's about to move into his new apartment with four other people that he's never met, and he couldn't be happier to. New people, as far as Eric has convinced himself, are new opportunities.

Hand on the door-handle. Deep breath.

It's okay.

"Hello?" He calls cheerfully, hailing his bags through the door, hoping that at least one other person is here.

"Good morning."

Well.

This man certainly does not seem the picture of socialisation.

Eric tries not to show the abrupt shift in his mood in his face, but dear God, does that take some effort- The other man in the flat sits at the table in the kitchen area, sipping coffee, dressed in all black, and doesn't eve look up from his phone to talk to him.

Eric refuses to let this man's demeanour- or his vaguely intimidating middle-class accent- kill his spirit. First impressions don't mean all that much, and even if they did, there's three other people moving in here. There's no way in hell all of them are going to be insufferable.

"My name's Eric," He tries again- maybe he's just a little socially challenged is all, "I'm a literature major."

"William," He replies, looking up. He has strong features and dark hair,  and his eyes look vaguely judgemental. His thin mouth doesn't approach anything near a smile, "Law. You don't happen to know anything about the others coming?"

Eric shakes his head, "Not a clue," He says, "You?"

"I just heard that we're meant to have a fashion major, some kind of science major and an English major," William replies dryly, "Would you like any help taking your bags to your room?"

It's not all bad- While William does appear to have the personality of a damp towel, at least he seems decent, "Oh, cheers, I-"

The door opens again, and a more lithe frame stands in the doorway, dragging bags through- they're also dressed almost entirely in black, but it all seems much more deliberate than William, with the red text on his sweater, unbuttoned coat and skinny jeans, the black complimenting his black hair and, much more strikingly, his black eyes.

"Is this where I'm meant to be?" He asks, sounding breathless.

Eric smiles, "We're waiting out on an English, fashion and science major."

He nods, still breathless as he drags his bags through the door, straight past Eric and William, "Hey, we could help you with-"

"I'm fine, thanks," He insists through grit teeth, dragging his bags through to one of the bedrooms, "None of these are taken, right?"

"The first one on the left is, none of the rest." William calls, hoisting up Eric's bags, "Just say if you need any help."

"I'll be okay!" He calls through the door, having already made his way to one of the rooms.

Eric frowns a little, bewildered, grabbing the other half of his bags, "He seemed kind of... Hurried." He says, realising that he really doesn't know anything about who just came through the door.

"Probably just shy," William replies, somehow sounding assured while being completely toneless, "Where do you want me to take these?"

"Uh, wherever's free and closest, I don't mind," Eric says nonchalantly- He's beginning to feel more at ease with William, even if just slightly. He wonders if maybe he sensed Eric's shyness in a similar way, "Thanks for the help."

"Don't mention it," He insists, "I got here a few hours ago, I got everything done then. Would you like me to help unpack?"

Eric's a little taken aback at the offer, "Uh, I'll be alright," He replies, suddenly very protective of his privacy, "Thanks for the offer."

"No problem," William replies, dry as ever, walking out the door, "It's nice to meet you."

"You, too." Eric smiles back, watching the door close behind him.

He sighs, sitting on the floor beside his bags.

The next two people to arrive better be fucking incredible.

~*~

Eric sighs, looking around his room- everything unpacked and in its new place, and, if he says so himself, he hasn't done too bad of a job.

He remembers the other two arriving at some point while he was unpacking- hopefully he won't come across as too rude, with having completely ignored them for the time being, but the other guy probably won't have left his room, considering how he was acting before.

He shakes his head- he's overthinking. Just relax.

"Sorry for disappearing," He smiles, walking through to the living room, "Hey, guys."

"Oh, don't worry about it, I'm sure you were just busy," A tall woman says, completely unphased- she has long, red hair, her red-coated lips in a warm smile and dark eyes creasing, sat prettily in the corner of the sofa, long legs crossed and her back straight, her red coat looking as if she'd simply shrugged it off and abandoned it upon sitting down. There's a slightly smaller man sat next to her, much more spread out and relaxed looking as he looks at his phone, with obviously dyed blonde hair and a black undercut, "It's lovely to meet you- Eric?"

Eric nods, glad that William already introduced him, apparently. The other woman smiles again, "Grell."

The other man looks up, grinning happily, "Ronnie," He replies- he has bright blue eyes, framed by thick, plastic glasses, and Eric has to wonder if there's any actual glass in them, "Sorry, I just had to sort some stuff out," He says vaguely, gesturing to his abandoned phone, "You good?"

Eric smiles, not quite sure if he should sit on the sofa or not, so he just chooses to hover awkwardly, "Yeah, I just got done-"

"Al, come sit down!" Ronald says suddenly, gesturing for someone to come over to him from the kitchen. Eric looks over, curious-

Son of a bitch.

The very same man that arrived after Eric walks leisurely in from the kitchen, holding two cups of tea, seemingly completely at ease around everyone else. He smiles politely at Eric, handing one cup to William and sitting next to Ronald, "Did you two meet each other already?" Ronald asks.

"Not properly," Eric replies honestly as Alan sits on the table, and he decides to give up trying to understand any of what's happened between them- he wonders if William knows, he did seem very good at understanding people. He just tries to put it past him, "I'm Eric."

He smiles, "Alan," He replies. His voice is quiet and calm, but he still carries a very definite presence, "You must be the other scholarship student?"

"How'd you know?"

"Well, it wasn't going to be me, was it? I'm dumb as shit." Ronald jokes, and Grell giggles- they've already latched onto each other, clearly.

"What are we all studying?" Alan asks it openly as small-talk, but it's clearly aimed at Eric- assuming that Alan is also a scholarship student, it makes sense.

"Teaching English as a foreign language," Ronald replies, without a trace of hesitation, "I've always wanted to travel, and I wanted to teach, so it makes sense, right?"

William nods, "I suppose it does," He replies simply, "I'm taking law."

Grell winces a little, "Sounds tough," She says, "I'm taking fashion photography- I mean, why not spend four years learning about something you love? What about you, Al?"

Alan takes a small sip from his cup, "Astrophysics." He says simply, and Eric feels a sense of inadequacy settle over him- of course the other scholarship student would effortlessly outdo in everything he possibly could, "What about you?" He asks, looking at Eric.

"Uh, English Lit." He replies, feeling a little embarrassed now.

"Oh?" Alan says, his eyebrows raising, "How come?"

Eric feels like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders, "I'm just really into creative writing- especially poetry-"

"Poetry?" Alan repeats, wrinkling his nose.

"What's wrong with poetry?"

Alan shrugs, "Nothing, I just find it tends to be overly pretentious and elite."

Eric almost wants to point out that both things could easily apply to an astrophysics masters, but holds himself back. The goal was to make friends, and it's not too late to try and turn this into some kind of friendly rivalry.

"I suppose a lot of the older poetry is," Eric muses, for the sake of avoiding a fight, "But I think it's changing a lot more."

Alan nods, looking pensive, and Eric wonders what he's thinking about- to be brutally honest with himself, although frustrating, there isn't a single thing about Alan that Eric hasn't found completely fascinating. He doesn't seem to exist on anyone but his own terms, which he finds both admirable and near impossible in equal measure.

Grell grins, and it's hard to tell if its confident or mocking, "This might just be interesting." She murmurs vaguely, and Ronald laughs a little, like it's some kind of inside joke.

"What are you trying to say?" William asks, neither aggressively or playing along, and it comes across as strangely cautious.

And, with that one simple question, Eric understands what Grell means perfectly- everyone here has very different personalities, to the point where they'll either blend together perfectly, or clash horribly. 

Grell just shrugs, grinning knowingly and taking a sip of her tea, and somehow even the red lipstick that stains her cup is perfectly shaped, "Wouldn't it be more interesting to find out for yourself?"

Eric had always been convinced that women like this existed only in songs about summer romance and 80's spy films that usually either end in death or romance, but today has already taken his expectations and handwritten a personal 'fuck you' all over them, so he really shouldn't be surprised at this point.

One thing is for certain though, and that is that Grell might actually challenge Alan's place as the most fascinating person here.

Eric suddenly feels a little embarrassed by himself- he shouldn't be talking about people he just met like this.

Alan  is smiling to himself on the table, and he clearly understands exactly what Grell means- maybe it's just a mutual understanding between people with confusing and borderline impossible personalities, "When's everyone's first class?" Alan asks, and Eric feels like it's aimed at him, somehow.

"Wednesday." He replies, trying to act normal about it.

Alan gives a smile that almost feels condescending, "Monday."

Is he for fucking real?

 Sure, it makes sense to feel a slight rivalry with the other scholarship students, but to actively ignite it is something else entirely-

It's always short people that try their hardest to cause the most chaos. He should know this by now.

Eric tries to act with grace, smiling at him, "Good luck for then."

Alan seems hardly phased, "You too, for Wednesday," He replies, "I hope it goes well for you."

And hopefully by then, Eric will have figured out what to make of his new roommates.

Chapter Text

It's been two weeks, and Eric has never felt more strangely bonded to a set of people with quickly in his life.

Then, never before has he been asked if he has modelling experience and if he speaks English as a second language by two different people in the space of two minutes.

"How's the essay coming along?" Alan asks for the third time that week, coming out his bedroom with his glasses pushed up into his hair, sleeves of his oversized flannel rolled up over the top of his t-shirt.

Eric stops typing momentarily, "four-thousand and fifty three words," He replies, "So not far off done. Grade to beat?" He asks, referring to the essay Alan had gotten back the other day.

"A minus," Alan replies smugly, looking in the fridge.

"Not bad for the first essay," Eric congratulates genuinely, "Too bad I'm gonna crush it."

"Oh, I'm so scared of you and your iambic pentagram," Alan mocks, scowling at an empty box of potato salad, "Fuck's sake, Ronnie..."

"Pentameter," Eric corrects, restraining laughter, "And yeah, he's eaten the whole house, you might as well clean out the fridge while you're there."

Alan rolls his eyes, throwing himself onto the sofa opposite Eric, taking off his flannel, showing his thin, acne covered forearms, "He better be coming back from class with the shopping done, I'm hungry as all hell."

Eric holds back a laugh, "Why don't you just do it?"

"Why don't you?" Alan retorts, "Because you have an essay due at midnight and you started two hours ago?" He teases, only somewhat joking.

Eric throws a cushion at him, still reluctantly grinning, and Alan just laughs, unbothered and walking back towards the fridge, "You're just mad because it's true."

"Oh?" Eric starts, raising an eyebrow, "And when did you start yours?"

"Seven in the evening," Alan smirks, taking a bite of a strawberry, "So, I'm beating your procrastination record and your grades, right?"

"It really is everything with you, huh?"

"Not with me," Alan corrects, turning back the fridge, "With us. Jesus Christ, Ronnie..."

Grell comes in through the door from class in a flash of reds and brown, mildly amused, "What's he done now?"

"What hasn't he done," Alan mumbles, ruffling the back of his hair, "How was your assignment?"

Grell beams, dark eyes shining as she pulls Alan in for a hug, his black curls just barely peaking over her shoulder, "You did such a good job modelling for me, darling- And Ronnie, too, I had no idea he could be so arty- then, I suppose it does just come naturally to some people-"

Alan just smiles knowingly at Eric- Grell could, and quite easily would, talk for England with minimal effort purely just by thinking aloud, and, as endearing as it may be, it was best to leave her to it until she'd apparently talked some sense into herself.

"Anyway, enough of me, what's your essay on?" Grell asks Eric, sitting down and stretching, kicking her heels off.

"The Prelude by Wordsworth," Eric mumbles, and catches a glace of Alan's wrinkled nose, "What?"

"He's a stuck up bitch!" Alan insists, and Grell snorts in an adorably ungraceful way, "What kind of dickhead writes their autobiography the same way that the Greeks wrote about gods?"

Eric laughs triumphantly, while Grell snickers to herself, "Thanks for the counterargument, Al," He teases, typing a quick note for himself, "How'd you know that, anyway?"

Alan wrinkles his nose again, "I took English literature for a-level, it was horrible."

Eric rolls his eyes, "Don't be bitter."

"It's not being bitter if you're right."

Grell laughs again as she walks towards the kitchen, "Alan, darling, that sounds pretty bitter to me," She says, "And I can be pretty bitter when needs must."

Eric just looks triumphantly at Alan, having won this one, tiny victory. Sure, Alan might be surpassing most of his grades with about half as much effort, but he'd willingly prove him wrong in any situation.

If he wants a rivalry, he better be ready to commit, after all.

~*~

Alan welcomes in the new week hunched over the toilet for ten minutes, heaving his guts out while Ronald hammers on the door from the hall.

"Alan? Everything okay?" He asks, returning to the other side of the door after a short two minute break.

Alan sucks in his breath at the question, "Peachy!" He says with apparently a little more conviction than he can handle, choking up whatever could possibly be left of his stomach, his eyes watering and throat burning.

He hears Ronald press himself a little more against the bathroom door, "I really don't think you should go to class today, Al..."

Class had actually not even entered Alan's mind yet, amidst throwing up and William pestering him with a thermometer (still lying unused on the windowsill), but make no mistake, unless he literally dropped dead on the bathroom floor, he was going to his morning lecture, and he was going to learn something, because God knows that he didn't get a scholarship to sit sick at home.

"I'm fine, I just..." He grabs the thermometer, putting it in his mouth, "I don't know, I ate something fucked up..." 42 degrees.

"Al..."

"I'm fine." He looks at his phone, grabbing his toothbrush. Seven minutes max until he has to leave, "Lord knows I can't cook, I probably just, like... I don't know, but I'm fine."

There's a momentary pause, and Ronald sighs, giving in, "Will left you a glass of water in the kitchen before he left."

Alan finished brushing his teeth, holding onto the edge of this sink with shaky arms, forcing himself to look in the mirror.

God, he hopes no one thinks he's hungover.

He just sighs, accepting it for what it is and walking into the living room to grab his bag and some water, met with the sight of Eric on his phone in front of the toaster, the whole house oddly quiet now that almost everyone had left.

Eric knows the exact look that Alan gives him- 'don't try any shit'- and he just turns back to his phone, "There's, uh, some paracetamol by your water if you want it."

He sees Alan look at it for a moment out the corner of his eye, and then just swallow the painkillers almost in a sign of defeat, "Thanks."

He sounds the complete opposite of grateful.

"You seem stressed out." Eric says gently, trying to offer Alan the opportunity to talk.

"Really? I love throwing up at seven in the morning to the serene ambience of Ronald hammering on the door and yelling that he's desperate for a piss." Alan says dryly, pouring the rest of the water down the sink,  "I wonder why I might possibly look bad."

Eric falls silent again, slightly guilty, and Alan turns to face him suddenly, slightly desperate, "Do I look hungover?"

The question takes him completely by surprise, "No, not at all," He lies, "Just a bit under the weather."

Alan sighs, turning back to the sink, "Good..." He mumbles, and Eric's pretty sure that he's only choosing to believe Eric for his own sake.

Eric gets a proper look at Alan while he's at the sink, and he really is looking worse for wear- huge, dark circles against pale ashy skin, eczema patches on his neck, hands and arms standing out even more than usual, his eyes looking tired.

At this point, he knows Alan well enough that he's going to his lecture, and after that he's doing his assignments, and he might go to bed at a reasonable time. Alan brands himself as a hard worker, but it seems much more damaging than that.

But again, that's not his business.

”And you’re right, I was asking a stupid question, I’m sorry.” Eric says quietly, just trying to ease the tension a little, and hopefully make Alan feel better.

Alan puts his glass in the sink with w little too much force, and puts on his shoes and bag with a little too much conviction. Eric just assumes he's annoyed because he's been thrown so off track. 

Sure, he feels a little guilty for assuming, but there's obviously some explanation for it, and he can't help but worry about him.

"I have to go," Alan announces roughly, "Or I'm going to be late."

"Take it easy," Eric calls out the door before he can think about it to stop himself, and Alan just ignores him.

He just decides to trust Alan. 

Probably just a tummy bug.

Chapter Text

"Isn't it a little late for you to be up?"

Eric sees Alan's silhouette jump slightly as he speaks, sat on the sofa, facing the window, the street lamps and passing cars glowing through the glass, but he doesn't turn to face him, "I could ask you the same thing."

Eric raises an eyebrow, "I can't sleep, I was going to get a drink." He replies simply, "So, what are you doing up at three am?"

Alan sniffles a little, still with his back turned to Eric, "I, uh, wound up sleeping for a pretty long time when I got in." He says, like it's some kind of confessional, "I, er... I have a pretty bad fever."

While Eric doesn't doubt that Alan is sick- only he would admit that he has a fever the same way he'd admit that he killed a man in cold blood, after all- his suspicions aren't fully satisfied, "Turn the light on."

Alan's right next to the light. It's inconspicuous. It's unassuming. It's sneaky.

Except it's totally not, because for fucks sake, he's sat on the sofa with the light off at three in the morning and won't look at Eric.

"Um, sure," Alan says, sounding almost as if he has a cold, fumbling with something before he hits the light switch, and he finally gives in.

"Jesus Christ, Al-"

"Oh, fuck off," He replies without a moments hesitation, dabbing at his nosebleed, "It's just a fucking nosebleed."

Just a fucking nosebleed.

Eric decides that he'll take Alan's annoyance as a good sign.

"I mean, fucking hell Humphries, I knew you were kind of clumsy-"

Eric pretends he doesn't see the brief flash of relief on Alan's face when he smirks, "Actually, this is nothing to do with what I've done," He insists, "I just get them sometimes, that's all."

Eric still smirks, rolling his eyes, "Sure, sure," He jokes, looking in the cupboards, "You want anything? I mean, considering you won't be able to reach on your own."

"Fuck off," Alan shoots back reflexively, and grins, "What'd you get on your paper, by the way?"

Eric restrains a laugh, slightly embarrassed, "A C."

Alan laughs triumphantly, "I knew there was a reason you didn't tell me." He replies nasally, tissue still pressed to his nose.

Eric rolls his eyes, "God, Alan," He sighs, joking around, "How come you hate me so much?"

Alan raises his eyebrows, slightly surprised, "I don't hate you." He says softly, but matter-of-factly.

Eric stares at him for a moment, eyes wide- That was a shock, as if the whole of this encounter hadn't already been surprising enough.

"Oh." Is all Eric can say after a moments pause, holding onto a box of blueberry muffins like they have therapeutic properties, "I didn't know that." He adds, completely unnecessarily.

Alan doesn't reply, looking at the floor, apparently embarrassed.

"Would you like a muffin?" Eric blurts suddenly after another moment's silence, turning pink.

Alan stares at him in complete disbelief, and had it not been for how incredibly embarrassed he was, Eric could have laughed at how ridiculous the situation was.

Alan just sits on the sofa, staring at him with blood pouring down his tired, pale face.

Eric is still holding a box of muffins.

The light flickers slightly, and an ambulance speeds past the apartment.

"Maybe later." Alan eventually declines, too stunned to come up with a sarcastic reply.

Eric nods, turning his back to Alan as if he's putting the muffins down, desperately trying to stop blushing.

"Wait," He says suddenly, turning back around, "If you don't hate me, then how come you completely blanked me on our first day? And then effortlessly outdid me in everything?"

Alan laughs quietly, embarrassed, "I was totally in over my head!" He exclaims, "I mean, all I could see that you were everything I'm not- you already seemed so optimistic and sociable, and I was barely even coping with the fact that I'm in uni," He becomes acutely aware that he's rambling, turning pink, but he's also very aware that now he's started he can't exactly stop at this point,"And then you were a scholarship student, too, which just made you a better version of me, and all i really had to hold above you was being a better student, which I barely am to begin with... Ah, shit..." He mumbles, pressing a tissue to his nose again.

Eric tries his hardest to process what he's just heard- he'd always seem Alan as some annoyingly effortless overachiever , he couldn't even begin to think that Alan might have been intimidated by him, "Wait, wait, wait," He says, shaking his head in confusion, "Do you actually hate poetry?"

Alan furrows his brow, "Of course, I said I was overwhelmed, not that I have no taste."

Eric gives a bittersweet sigh. Yeah, maybe that one was pushing it a bit, "You've got to like some form of poetry."

Alan thinks for a moment, "Wilfred Owen's quite good. Stuff like that- I just don't see why you'd hide what you want to say with so much imagery that it's downright impossible to understand what's trying to be said. I mean, if it means that much to you then just say it."

Eric laughs, "That's so like you to say something like that."

Alan walks towards the sink, wetting another tissue, "Shut up." He plays along, "You think this has stopped bleeding, right?"

"Looks it," Eric agrees, "I would get someone to look at that."

Alan shakes his head, "It's nothing, I get these all the time."

Eric frowns, "Sure, but you were pretty sick the other day, too-"

"It's nothing."

Eric throws up his hands, "Alright, alright, calm down," He says, "Just wanna check up on you, is all."

"I don't need help."

There's a brief, tense moment of silence, and Alan walks towards his room, "G'night."

Eric hears his door close and sighs, frustrated with himself.

Maybe he just needs to learn to mind his own business.

~*~

"Where's Alan?"

Ronald looks at Eric expectantly, despite Will literally sitting next to him on the sofa, "What?" Eric exclaims, "I don't know what he's doing every minute of every day."

Grell shrugs, walking out the bathroom, hair up and taking off her makeup in her pyjamas- a loose band shirt and shorts, "He's probably just in the library or hanging out with someone, or something like that," She reassures Ronald, "Why are you getting so worked up?"

Ronald sits down, frowning, "He's just been pretty sick, it's kinda weird of him..."

"No the fuck it's not," Eric retorts, "You're seriously underestimating how stubborn he is."

Even William cracks a smile at that, "You sound like you have experience."

"Because I do," Eric replies, barely even thinking about it, "He's fucking immovable."

Ronald laughs, "Yeah, but so are you, so watch your mouth."

Eric knows that Ronald's right, and to argue with him would only prove his point, "Why are you asking me, anyway?"

Ronald shrugs, nonchalant, "You're the most likely to know," He says, like it's a well known fact, "You spend the most time with him."

Eric doesn't know why that makes him blush, and his better judgement tells him it might just be better to stay ignorant, "Not really," He mumbles, "He doesn't even really like me."

Grell gives an unceremonious snort of vague amusement, "Bullshit."

Eric looks at her, surprised, while William nods in agreement, "If he didn't like you, why would he take the time to torment you so much?"

Eric laughs, genuinely oblivious, "Think about what you just said, Will."

Grell sighs, shaking her head and taking a sip of tea, "Just drop it, he's not gonna get it."

Eric knows that she purposefully said it that way to aggravate him further, and, out of spite, chooses to ignore it yet again. He's both prideful and spiteful, and Grell manages to bring both out in him consistently.

Alan swings through the door, coffee in one hand, binder tucked over the other arm, right as thunder starts to rumble outside, like a far off murmur of some other storm.

"Where were you?" Ronald asks casually, as if he wasn't just interrogating Eric about it barely ten minutes earlier.

Alan looks a little taken aback by the question, "Uh, studying," He says, throwing his coat on the back of a kitchen chair, "I have a test coming up."

Eric gives him a knowing smirk, and Alan barely even acknowledges it, "I actually, uh, have some other work to do, I'm gonna disappear for a while- I'll be in my room..."

Ronald frowns, waiting for Alan's door to close, "Do you think something happened?"

Grell shakes her head, "He probably just has something on his mind is all- he's probably just been worrying about it for a while he'll be alright by tomorrow."

William frowns, skeptical, "I hope so," He says, "He has been quite distracted as of late."

Ronald shrugs, "Hopefully it's just stress from assignments. He does tend to push himself."

Eric bites his nail- none of these explanations seem at all right to him. Yes, Alan could be distracted and distant, but he doesn't lie, and it's painfully obvious that he is, so the question is why. From what he knows of Alan (which, admittedly, isn't all that much), it takes a lot for him to outright lie about anything, and although he knows it isn't his business, if still worries him.

William notices immediately, "Something wrong, Eric?"

He feels his face go warm at the idea of being honest with William- or anyone here about what's going on his mind right now, "Nothing, nothing, he just... Didn't seem right, I guess."

Ronald and Grell share a knowing look, and Eric pretends not to see.

"Just ask him," William replies coolly, "If he wants to tell you, he will. If not, it's not your business to begin with."

"Yeah, but it's not that easy," Eric says, getting heated, "It's like- we'll, you know-"

William raises an eyebrow, "So you know that you shouldn't be wondering?" And Grell gives a little cackle.

Eric rolls his eyes, about to stand up to knock on Alan's door, but at that exact moment, he sees Alan damn near speed out of his room and into the bathroom, head hanging low and totally unreadable.

Eric stays silent, precariously caught between having prepared to speak and being totally caught off guard, while Ronald doesn't even seem to think, just letting out a troubled, "Al?"

Alan, as expected, completely ignores him, slamming the door, and they hear the shower start shortly after.

A tense silence settles over the room, Grell, Eric and Ronald all sharing concerned looks.

Whatever had happened, it must have been pretty damn awful.

Chapter Text

Alan has never sat down in the shower before, but it seems a lot of things are going to change.

He gives a shaky breath, letting the water get caught in his eyelashes and stream down his face, blurring his vision.

Yes, it's just water.

He doesn't even try to do anything about it. He just sits there, hugging his knees, black hair plastered to his face and neck, and tries his very best to feel nothing.

In all fairness, he's doing a pretty okay job, but it's a very unpleasant nothing- the kind of nothing where you're not really sure if it's actually happening. It's probably the little details that do that for him; the too bright, artificial lighting. The dull hum of the fan. Soft chatter outside the door.

He just doesn't quite feel on the same plane of existence as the people behind the door.

He raises a hand to his neck. Still swollen. There's really not much to be done about that, and combined with the bruising and illness, the outlook really isn't good.

Dear god, the bruising- he barely noticed before, but his legs are covered in them.

There is no denying it, there is something wrong.

Even Alan can't deny it, at least not to himself.

He traces the fresh bruise on his hip. He knows where that came from, and it's only from about an hour ago.

He wonders what they're doing with that test sample now.

He sighs, hot water still cascading done his face and blurring his vision. It's far too hot, actually, and whether or not it's intentional is beyond him, or anyone else who might ask.

He holds his knees even closer to him. Right now, three things are very clear to him:

One; he is undeniably sick, and whatever it is is bad.

Two; bad as in, aggressive treatment and time off school.

Three; sick as in, "We need a bone sample, Mr Humphries," and, "Do you want the numbing cream?" and, "Do you understand what leukaemia is, Mr. Humphries?"

He gives another, weighty sigh.

For the first time in years, he feels well and truly helpless.

The universe will have it's way with him, and he will stand by and watch.

He didn't make this decision, it was made for him.

As stubborn and determined as Alan is, he fully understands that there are forces far larger than him at work. They might not have good intention- or any intention, not really- but he cannot fight them. He cannot reckon with them. Sadness and disbelief will get him no where.

For Christ's sake, just get over it.

He actually says aloud. He doesn't realise until there's water in his mouth as he hisses it at himself, and it throws him back into the real world with almighty force- the real world where he- Alan Humphries, full time student and overworker, is faced quite brutally with the prospect of cancer.

He knows very acutely that time management should not be his major worry of the future, but he can't quite bring himself to fully process his actual health just yet. Give it a day or two, he assures himself, and then you'll feel normal.

Well. 'Normal'. How he assumes he should feel would be the best explanation. There really isn't a  way to feel normal about any of this.

He gives yet another sigh, reaching up and turning off the shower. If he wants to feel normal (read: not potentially cancerous), he needs to make some kind of effort, he says to himself decidedly, as if acting like everything's fine will somehow stop the inevitable.

He towels off his hair. Dries himself off. Clothes on. Shaving? Shaving seems like a reasonable thing to do right now. Maybe not sensible, but certainly reasonable.

Alan is known for being both sensible and reasonable, but it's hardly fair to expect him to be both at all times.

For example, attempting to shave in a misted over mirror isn't at all sensible, but it won't stop Alan for the simple fact that he really doesn't care enough to focus on the task at hand.

He stares at his blurred, watery reflection in the mirror.

He knows he must look like hell, because he's looked like hell since the beginning of the month, but it's a lot easier to pretend otherwise when he's a vague, blurry reflection.

He sighs, running his hands through his head and opening the door. He really shouldn't have to mentally prepare himself to leave his own bathroom, but again- lots of things are about to change.

Oh, and of course.

Just the man he wants to see.

Eric just stares down at him, warm, honey-brown eyes deeply worried, and saying absolutely everything his mouth isn't.

Alan stares back up at him almost defiantly, meeting his eyes as if daring him to speak, daring him to say exactly what's on his mind, because he knows exactly what he sees-

While Alan stares at a well built, well fed and well cared for man, he knows damn well that all Eric sees is a sickly, fragile boy, skin raw and ruined by blunt razor blades and hot water.

They don't speak, but words really don't have to be shared for this conversation.

Alan sighs, walking into his own room.

Bedtime.

~*~

At two in the morning, Eric decides he's had enough of hearing weird noises and shuffling from Alan's room and knocks on his door.

No answer.

"Alan?"

Pause.

"No."

Eric sighs, shifting awkwardly on his feet- he did not come prepared with conversation. Or anything, really. "I, uh, saved you some food, since you didn't say if you already ate. I could bring it to you."

'Nice one, Eric- just announce you left him food at two in the morning- nothing strange about that-'

There's another pause and yet more suspicious shuffling from the other side of the door, "Is it going to waste if I don't eat it?"

Eric raises an eyebrow, "Nothing is going to waste as long as Ronald lives here."

Alan gives a watery laugh, slightly muffled by the door, "True."

"Should I bring it in-"

"No."

Eric ruminates a while, wondering what Alan's doing in there- well, other than crying. He can pretend he isn't, but it's more than obvious he is, and that, above all else, is what's worrying Eric the most.

"Is everything... Okay?"

He tries to find a better way to put it, but he can't help but feel like he's thrown himself way out of his depth.

He hears a very faint sniffle, and then a thick, defiant, "Everything's fine, what do you mean?"

Eric is in no place to scold him, because he knows that he's just as bad, but there's no way in hell that he can just leave him on his own when he so desperately needs someone.

Eric sits down, back against Alan's bedroom door, "Sounds like you had a rough day." He replies simply, "And I'd hate to have you upset and alone."

He hears Alan sit against the door too after a slight pause, and he takes a sigh, "I guess," He admits, which is a miracle in itself, "I'm... expecting some bad news."

He's not going to get anything close to an actual explanation out of Alan, but he really doesn't expect one, but he has more than he thought we was going to get, and that worries him on some level, knowing Alan as he does, "That sucks," He says after a moment, and mentally kicks himself for giving such a weak reply, "Definitely bad news, or...?"

"Basically," Alan replies bleakly, "It's looking really bad... like, really really bad..."

He gives another melancholic sigh and falls silent again, and eric leans a little more against the door, "Hey, it'll work out," He assures him, trying his hardest not to pry, "There's not that much that can take you out, surely?"

Alan gives a weak laugh, followed by a sniffle, "Maybe this can."

Eric shifts awkwardly again, feeling like he might have done something wrong- what, exactly, is a mystery to him, and insecurity isn't an emotion he's used to feeling, or plans to get used to, but somehow Alan has a little something that brings it out in him.

That's embarrassing, to say the least.

"How's your day been, anyway?" Alan asks suddenly, his tone soft, "I'm tired of talking about myself."

The question startles Eric a little, mainly out of distraction than anything- he'd been so wrapped up in worrying about Alan that he hadn't fully been paying attention.

But then, he reasons with himself in a very strange and certain kind of mood, that would be the point of turning the conversation to Eric.

Alan's a lot smarter than he every really gives himself credit for.

"It's been a very normal day for me," Eric replies, musing, "Ronnie broke a plate while you were out. That's about it, really."

He can practically hear Alan's smirk through the door, "Did you get your assignment back yet?"

Well, it's nice to see he's brightening up, at least.

"Fuck off," Eric replies, joking, ".... A minus."

Alan laughs, still just as watery and wavering, but a lot more genuine, "A." He counters, "You were almost there, too."

Eric smiles along, at peace with the knowledge that Alan can't see him grinning, "You do it on purpose, I swear."

"Of course," Alan replies, still sounding a little teasing, and Eric's glad that he could at least get him to smile, "That's the point."

He has to admit, knowing that he's at least helped Alan a little makes him feel a certain kind of warmth in his chest that he can feel warming his face, and is again more than grateful for the door between him and Alan.

He's really been doing a lot more blushing that usual these days, and he can't think of one single reason why.

"Are you going to bed soon?" Eric asks gently, "I'm not trying to get rid of you or anything, it's just pretty late, and since you're upset and all..."

He waits for Alan's fervent denial of ever being even remotely sad, but it never comes.

Instead, there's just a small, tired pause, and then a hoarse, "Thank you. I really appreciate it, you know..."

Eric almost wants to say it's out of character for Alan, but he can't help but feel like it's more just something he never saw in him, and for some reason he feels oddly close to him now.

"So I'll be, uh. Going to bed now."

Eric jumps a little, startled, "Sorry, I'm just tired," He replies quickly, embarrassment still being a little foreign to him, "Sleep well."

"You too," Alan replies through the door, "Thank you for worrying about me."

"It's nothing," Eric replies, face getting warmer and warmer, "Sleep well."

And on a very  real level, he is genuinely worried about Alan.