Alfred was perfect. No surprise there- he was simply built that way. From the arch of his brows to tips of his toes, every inch of him sculpted to impress. And of course Matthew was very impressed. Alfred passed as human in every way: hair, skin, mouth, body leaving no hint of his android origins. Alfred’s model was the newest and first absolutely lifelike line yet. The line itself went as far as having different facial structures and body types for each unity sold. These androids could be custom built for any purpose and could serve your every need.
“Even sexual ones,” Francis had told Matthew when he’d given the android to him as a ‘birthday present.’
Matthew hardly believed that his well-meaning father had bought Alfred for him as a glorified sex toy. In all honesty, he knew that Francis had his heart in the right place with the extravagant gift. Francis worried overly much about him, and Matthew’s own tendency to maintain a relatively small group of friends had never made sense to his social-butterfly of a father.
Matthew’s lack of a love life certainly didn’t put his father at ease either. 'Though really,' Matthew thought when the gift was given to him, 'wasn’t getting an android companion almost… insulting? Buying a companion for me as if I can't find my own?'
Because of this, he was spiteful at the very idea of Alfred at first, having only turned him on purely to use him for housework.
Things were different now.
He had fallen in love.
- In the Beginning -
The crate sits in his living room unopened for a couple of days before Matthew even decides to open it. It was more of a coffin than a crate to be honest- a big human shaped metal affair. It was smooth and sleek, impressively cut- all to house a lifeless doll body. The more he thought about it the creepier it seemed. This sort of thing had become so normalized through the years, with people keeping these big crates to house their androids to recharge or store during low usage seasons of the year. Matthew would probably tuck this storage coffin, as it appeared, into one of his father's storage rooms since it would hardly fit in his apartment.
After edging around the coffin for a few days, Matthew knows that he'll have to relent and turn on the android. He'd hurt his dear father's feelings otherwise. Despite all the hype about this new android line, Matthew gasps when he opens the crate for the first time. With most androids, almost instantly all the ways they aren’t quite human are suddenly in focus. Their mouth isn't set quite right, or their joints are a little stiff-looking, or their body proportions are just a little off.
Not now, not with his new ‘companion’. The android looks merely asleep, as though he'd laid down for a nap and someone accidentally shoved him into an android shipping and storage container. Even worse he’s only wearing a thin pair of boxers, and Matthew can tell how real every part of him looks. The android is a bit stockier, but he's well muscled and toned for all of that. He has a handsome face and the kind of toned arms Matthew would expect to find on an action hero. In fact, the overall build and design of the android makes Matthew flush in embarrassment... and feel a stab of inferiority. To have a body like this he had to work for it, but this android would just wake up with it.
After he's gotten his fill of ogling the poor android, Matthew sits back onto his butt on the floor as he carefully reads over the setup instructions. All in all, the steps are relatively simple, and after he's certain of all that he needs to do, he reaches down to press the release that makes the final clear glass covering over the android slide open. For a moment, Matthew holds his breath as nothing much seems to happen before finally the android’s eyes blink open. The android slowly sits up, and he gives Matthew an expectant smile.
Matthew is struck by the lovely color of his eyes, the humanness of his smile, and he feels his cheeks go warm again. At last, though, he could see a difference- it was around his eyes. Lovely as they were, no expression touches them, and Matthew feels a little bit of tension ease. That distance in Alfred’s eyes looked like a hard counterpoint to the warmth in the curve of his lips- a perfect pearly white smile. The eyes had almost a flat empty look, and Matthew tries not to feel too glad for it. After all, if Alfred were too human putting him to work would be difficult, and that is all Matthew woke him up for.
When Matthew doesn’t say anything, the android finally says, “Am I functional then?”
Jolting from his thoughts, Matthew looks back down at his list. He really shouldn't let a damn android embarrass him. “Oh! Right! Sorry! Your locomotion tests and stuff.” He raises his hand in front of Alfred’s face. “Watch my finger so we can test your eyes first okay?”
Alfred does, following the finger this way and that. Blue eyes track his movements easily, and after that, Matthew makes him stand up and walk around the room. Matthew gives him short quick commands, prompting Alfred to move his arms and head and legs. The instructions tell Matthew what sort of things to be looking for, but as Alfred walks and turns and moves, everything seems to be in order. If perhaps, Matthew tests him longer than necessary- just to watch the smooth, easy, natural way of moving he had- then that was no one's business but his own.
Okay so, Francis is entirely too rich for his own good, but on the other hand, he had an excellent eye for quality.
“Alright,” Matthew said finally. “You’re good now. So, um, I have clothes for you.”
“Wait!” the android says, turning those strange eyes- beautiful but empty- back towards him. “You haven’t given me a name yet.”
Matthew blinks at him- he hadn’t even thought about that at all. The surprise stills his tongue for a moment as he thinks about it because of course, he couldn't just call him 'android' all the time. Unable to get his brain to work, Matthew starts to ramble. “Oh, well, um, you were really only supposed to be for working around the house. I haven’t thought- I mean you’re like a butler or whatever so um maybe Alfred.” There, that was fair enough, right?
It's a half-hearted way of naming at best, but still, the android’s smile grows. “Alfred. I like that name. Thank you.”
“Um, you’re welcome,” Matthew said. Oh jeez, everything about this moment was awkward. At least he could comfort himself that this was just an android. An attractive and well built android, surely, but still an android. Androids don't understand awkward. “Could you put some clothes on? My father left some for you over there.”
Alfred nods and goes to look, turning his back on the other for a moment to pick the clothes up.
“Your father?” he asks as he pulls the clothes on, all smooth, natural movement. "What's his name?”
“Francis,” Matthew supplies. “He bought you for my birthday gift.”
Alfred turns to smile at him as he pulls his pants up. “So we share a birthday! How lucky!”
Once again, Matthew is unsure. “No… not quite. My birthday was a few days ago. I just got around to opening you now.”
He has the appearance of being crestfallen by that news, and Matthew tries to puzzle out if it were normal for androids to refer to the day they were switched on as ‘birthdays.’ Matthew as been raised around androids all his life, and he's never heard one say such a thing.
“Well, close still.” He smiles once he’s finished pulling on the simple outfit- pants, sucks, and a button up shirt- that Francis had left him. “What is it that you need for me to do for you, sir?”
Matthew shakes his head instantly and holds out his hand, ever polite. “No calling me sir. My name is Matthew. You’re here for the housework and stuff so that I can have some free time to myself.”
Alfred nods to him and smiles, giving him a firm, warm hand shake. “Alright, then, Matthew. I’ll get to the chores. If you’d show me the house, and what I should do.”
So Matthew does, happy at least that this much too expensive gift would be put to good use. After a few days, Alfred finds a rhythm, knowing where everything is, knowing what all chores he needs to do, and how to accomplish them. Matthew gets used to having the android in his apartment, bustling around and getting things done. The strange distance in Alfred's eyes, the lack of whatever it is that make humans different from androids making it easy to use Alfred as a butler. This situation might work out better than expected...
The first time Matthew wakes to find Alfred hovering in his room is terrifying. He has never woken to his new ‘companion’ nearby so the hulking figure in his room scares him senseless. Fear seizes him, and he jerks roughly awake, hand instinctively grabbing for his hockey stick that he knows is somewhere to his left.
Alfred rushes forward, worry coming over his own expression. “Matthew what’s wrong?!”
Simply responding to his own horror, Matthew realizes, but it doesn't stop him from hitting him in the face with a pillow. “What the hell man?! You were watching me sleep!!”
He’s too sleepy and blindly confused to remember that this is an android, that he’s newly turned on, that he probably just doesn’t understand enough etiquette to know why this is unnerving. All Matthew can process is that someone was breaking a very reasonable social taboo against hovering over someone and watching them sleep.
Getting struck with the pillow clearly startles him, and Alfred freezes for just a moment. After a moment, a playful smile comes to his lips. “Pillow fight?” he says, and Matthew tries to get over the fact the smile doesn't touch his eyes at all.
“No! No!” Matthew says, pushing at his chest. “Just! It’s creepy as fuck to be watched while you sleep!”
Alfred tilts his head in confusion, his brows furrowing. “I was asleep in my container, and many many people saw me sleeping. I don’t understand why this is bad?” Of course he doesn't understand- oh, joy, having a conversation about the inherent differences between androids and humans first thing in the morning. Just what Matthew needs.
Though his heart is still beating way too fast for comfort, Matthew sits up and runs his fingers through his hair. After he rolls the question around in his head for a moment, he tries to explain. “But you’re not human. You’re different. I’m human, and humans don’t like that.”
“Different?” Alfred is moving closer now, expression turning into something more open, more thoughtful... more curious. “How is it different?”
Alfred communicates this curiosity not just with his face but with his eyes as well, a fact that gives Matthew pause. Curiosity? Is that part of the android's programming?
“Well,” he says slowly, trying to take his question seriously. “Your sleeping and my sleeping is different. Your sense of self and mine are different.” He takes a breath, seeing more questions in his eyes already. “What is it like for you to charge, Alfred?”
Alfred charges once a day, every day, for about an hour. It’s designed to look like human sleep, Alfred’s eyes closed and body relaxed.
“I’m off,” Alfred says back, curious still. “Everything is just black.”
Matthew nods and takes a breath. “For humans it’s different. Sometimes it’s black, but sometimes we dream. Sometimes we see things in our heads while we sleep, and we toss and turn. Sometimes we have nightmares or intense dreams that are all... well, super personal. Like our mind scripts a movie just for us. It’s not as easy as coming on and going off. It’s… intimate to watch a person sleep.”
Alfred is clearly processing this, though Matthew can't tell what he's thinking from his expression. "So you dream, and you see things? Any kind of images or thoughts put in your head?” He pauses. “It takes you a long time to fall asleep every night. I noticed. I wondered why.”
“Anything and everything,” Matthew agrees. “Usually it’s things we’re scared of, or things we like, or things we watched. Things we put in our head.” He can’t help but turn red at the next question, and he sighs. As nice as Alfred's work always is, the android's tendency to hover was a little overbearing. “Yes, and it’s harder to fall asleep when you linger around. It makes me self conscious that you’re so focused on me.”
Leaning closer, Alfred is studying Matthew’s face and his head as if he can see through to his brain. Matthew has never seen such an intense expression of concentration and interest on an android’s face as the one Alfred wears. Matthew turns red despite the fact that Alfred is supposed to be just a machine. He tries to lean away from him a little, the intensity almost too much for him.
“Self-conscious?” He frowns, and he says, "I know what the word means but not how it feels. It's like... theoretical knowledge. Tell me about it.”
“It’s like… I have a sense of self. A sense of ‘who I am.’ I know what I like and how I feel and what I like to do. So I have a sense of myself. It’s different for you, isn’t it?”
Alfred is listening, rolling this over and over in his head. “A sense of ‘who I am.’ I know who I am. I’m Model KX-FLM6614 named Alfred and I’ve been assigned to house work.”
Matthew shakes his head and smiles at him anyways. “That’s not the same. It’s like….” He moves to kneel in front of him on the bed, trying to get himself more even with Alfred who is still hovering over him. “I’m Matthew. I like to play hockey and I like to read. My favorite book is Anne of Green Gables, because my mother read it to me a lot as a child... it’s nostalgic. On Saturday mornings, I like eating pancakes and watching bad TV shows on the SyFy channel. I hate being stared at too much and I hate rudeness." His smile turns into a grin. "Oh, and being watched while I sleep is on the list of things that I don’t like, because... it's just weird I guess.”
There’s a long moment of silence, Alfred’s eyes moving. It’s strange- it looks as though he’s scanning a page of a newspaper, but there’s nothing in front of him. Matthew realizes he’s thinking very hard about this, trying to work this puzzle out.
“I…” he says finally. “I don’t know what I like. Working is my job, and having something to do is nice. But when I’m finished and you’re not here… I sit on the couch and wait for you. I don’t like anything…?” Even saying something that a human would find rather sad, Alfred simply seems... intrigued, still curious about this whole idea of a self identity.
Matthew takes in a sharp breath at this revelation. The image of Alfred sitting alone on the couch waiting in the silent house unnerves him and makes him feel a bit guilty. “You can watch TV while I’m gone, you know? That’s perfectly alright. And here, how about this: I’ll let you read some of my books and stuff. Maybe you’ll find something you like.”
Alfred’s answering smile is rather brilliant. “Oh! As long as you think it’s okay. I’ll finish my work, and then I’ll do things you like.”
Despite this being the most convincing smile yet, the whole statement has a weird, inhuman ring to it... The thought of deciding to spend you free time enjoying someone else's hobbies is a little strange, but it is a bit of progress in the right direction.
“And you won’t watch me sleep anymore because it makes me uncomfortable... right?”
With a nod, Alfred e says, “No watching you sleep, and staring makes you blush.”
Matthew blushes darker at this but nods. “Yes precisely. Now let me get ready for work.”