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Mews Actually

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He could get used to this thought Edward as he went to the kitchen for his third coffee of the morning.  It was only 10am but it was already hot in London, the sky a clear crystal blue and the windows were open bringing in the fresh morning air before the heat overpowered the city later in the day. Thank god he didn’t have to shoe horn himself into a suit and tie and squeeze onto the Central Line he thought. At home he could pull on his old khaki shorts and a pink polo shirt and have done with it. He didn’t even need to worry about his hair, no laborious attempt to flatten and control his curls with a ton of product, instead they tumbled freely across his forehead.

Picking up his coffee and congratulating himself on not having the second cinnamon swirl in the packet he went back to his desk which he had positioned so it faced out onto the cobbled mews street where he lived. Sipping his coffee, he peered at his email squinting and then picked up his glasses. Its no use denying it Edward he said to himself, you need these to read. He began to engross himself in the day’s emails; his boss Sir Robert wanted him to take on a contract negotiation for a new client “Lothian holdings”.

Hmmm that was a surprise he thought. His boss was very unhappy with him because it was entirely Edward’s fault that everyone was working from home for the foreseeable future. The Chamber’s in Lincoln’s Inns were beautiful with mullioned windows, sloping floors and low ceilings that Edward didn’t always remember to duck his head for. For some weeks there had been strange noises in the roof and eventually Edward had gone up there to investigate and found a colony of very rare horseshoe bats. Sir Robert had been all for smoking them out and killing them, but Edward had indignantly insisted that they call the Bat Conservation society. This had led to two earnest looking young women coming to the office to inspect the site and shortly after that by a formal letter instructing them that the bats could not be disturbed as they were about to give birth and furthermore, that the office should be emptied of people to ensure their complete peace. Sir Robert had been apoplectic, and Edward had endured a prolonged haranguing about the damage being done to the business and Edward’s career in particular.

Perhaps things were looking up and sir Robert had forgiven him, after all he was the best trainee at the Chambers. He was always the one coming in early and working late though perhaps he thought ruefully that was more to do with his complete and utter lack of lovelife.

Just then, he heard a vehicle reversing down the streets followed by a motorbike. Someone must have rented out the place opposite he thought, it had been empty ever since the charming French family who had lived there had left 4 months ago. He’d enjoyed many a summer BBQ in their herb filled court yard garden the previous year and even more late-night kisses with Louis’ younger brother Antoine when he’d come to visit for a few weeks. He’d asked Edward to come back to France with him, but Edward had refused, Antoine was charming, but it wasn’t love, he’d never come close to loving anyone and seeing as he spent every waking hour at work he couldn’t see that changing anytime soon.

The removal van drew up outside the pale blue painted house and a white motorbike stopped alongside it. Edward didn’t know a lot about motorbikes, but he recognised a Ducati when he saw one. Nice! He’d harboured a faint desire to have a motorbike when he was 18 but his father absolutely refused and now he could buy one himself, he somehow had never got around to it. The person riding it was wearing navy blue leathers and a navy and white helmet. As Edward watched they dismounted and dropped the kickstand to rest the bike before pulling off their helmet.

“fu…” Edward let out an involuntary exclamation, he was looking at the most beautiful young man he’d ever seen. The man placed his helmet on the bike and looked around, blond hair gleaming in the sun. He walked over to the guy who had just jumped down from the removal lorry, unzipping his jacket as he went. Edward watched, staring unashamedly as the jacket swung open to reveal a tight white t shirt underneath. They had a conversation with the young blond guy waving his arms a lot and then the removal man went around to the back of the truck and opened the door. The young man walked back to his bike and took another look round, his eyes coming to rest on Edward gawping through the window.

“oh crikey” muttered Edward frantically trying to behave as if he had in fact been looking at the laptop screen all along, before casting his eyes up again to see if he was still being observed. He felt himself go red as he realised he was, and he risked a smile which was returned, then the young man turned on his heel and went over to the removal lorry and began unloading boxes.

Edward sat there in agony. Should he offer to help? It would be the neighbourly thing to do but he did have work to do and he might get in the way? And what if he dropped something? Something valuable? He could be clumsy; his Aunt Maud had never let him forget the time he’d dropped the porcelain Wedgewood tea set left to her by her mother. His sister still called him Lumpy Clumpy because of it. How about taking over some coffee? They would probably want coffee, right? he could take coffee and biscuits over and whilst there casually find out his new neighbour’s name.

He went into the kitchen and made a pot of coffee and rummaged in the biscuit tin; biscuits didn’t last that long in his house, he was terribly prone to nibbling while he worked which is why he spent so much time at the gym. He took down a couple of mugs and added them to a tray along with the biscuits, sugar and milk. Balancing the coffee pot on the corner and remembering to remove his glasses, he carried the whole lot out into the warmth of the street and over the cobbles

“hello” he hovered at the garden gate and called through the open door “I brought coffee”

“just a moment” responded a voice and then the young blond man was walking towards him, smiling broadly

Edward smiled back and just as he did, he heard a bark and a small white fluffy dog shot out of the door

“argh” Edward jumped with surprise and lurched forward knocking the coffee all over the young man who yelled in shock as he was doused in hot coffee

“oh gosh, I’m so sorry, p p please let me get you a t.. t.. tissue” Edward wanted to faint with embarrassment, his stutter that only came out in times of stress coming to the fore

“its fine” said the young man frantically stripping off his t shirt and clearly trying not to wince “really no harm done”

Edward tried hard to keep his thoughts together and not let his mouth drop open at the sight in front of him. Here was someone who evidently spent as much time in the gym as he did, and he tried not to stare at the hair now damply clinging to his chest

“D…did you burn yourself?” he asked

“No though I definitely feel warmer than before” he said

“l.. let me wash your t…t….t shirt” said Edward thankful that if everything else failed he could at least rely on the manners drilled into him by his grandmother “it’s the l..least I can do”

 “thank you, that would be kind” said the young man and then he held out his hand “my machine won’t be plumbed in till later I think, I’m Alfred Paget by the way” and he flashed Edward a look through dark eyelashes of the bluest eyes Edward had ever seen

“Edward Drummond” said Edward holding out his hand and making a mental note to be cool for once for Christ sake. Unfortunately, one hand was not enough to balance the rest of the tray and it slid to the floor with a resounding crash

“oh shhh…...sugar!” said Edward in dismay

Alfred bit his lip trying not to laugh

“it isnt your day is it Edward?” he said with a smile

Edward shook his head thinking that it very much was his day if Alfred had come to live opposite him.

“g… give me your shirt” he said trying to remember he was actually a fully qualified lawyer with a mortgage and an ISA “let me wash it and b…bring it back later along with a pizza, I assume you don’t want to co…cook on your first night after moving in”

“no” shuddered Alfred “I think all I will want to do tonight is have a nice long hot shower”, the way he said this made Edward’s stomach lurch and imagine fleetingly he was under the shower with him

“well um yes” he said, as flustered as if Alfred had seen straight into his mind “sh…showers are always good and gosh is that the time? I must get back to work, I will see you later Alfred”

And he fled back to the safety of his house forgetting he’d left the tray and smashed contents on the pavement

Alfred watched him go, a smile dancing on his lips. What an absolutely adorable man he thought. His shy smile and sweetly confused demeanour contrasted beautifully with an almost ludicrously handsome face and what looked like a hard-muscled body underneath those clothes. Oh, he would very much enjoy sharing a pizza with him he thought, though he told himself sternly he must not read too much into it, he couldn’t be certain Edward liked boys. He bent down and began to pick up the smashed china on the ground, he could give them back to Edward later.

Edward bolted through his front door and tossed the t shirt into the washing pile before running upstairs

‘idiot’ he berated himself ‘idiot!’

He splashed water onto his hot face

‘what must Alfred think of him?’ he’d had the chance to go over there and make a good first impression and instead he’d thrown coffee over him, stuttered and stammered, and then dropped the tray on the floor. He must think he was the clumsiest fool on the planet. He lent his head against the mirror and groaned, why did these things always happen to him?

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Alfred kept checking the time all day.

He should have been focused on the mammoth task of unpacking his boxes now that the movers have left. He had had spent the whole day trying to get them to move all his furniture into just the right places, only to realise it still felt all wrong.

But then again, everything pretty much felt all wrong. That was why he had to move and start again.

It didn’t help that he picked the hottest day of the year to move into his new flat. It was in a nice enough place, in fact he was really proud of himself for having done very well considering the increasingly bonkers real estate world of London. And that was just the house. When he signed the lease, he had not expected that the place came with a cute albeit terribly (and adorably) clumsy neighbour just across the cobbled Mews…

…who had promised to come over for dinner.

They didn’t actually agree on an exact time, though.

Funny, that – he came here to leave his boy troubles behind and he lasted about 2 minutes before he noticed him, Edward, staring at him from his own flat.

No, he wasn’t staring… Maybe Alfred wanted him to? Well, it was hardly a surprise, on top of his clearly to-die-for personality, there was only one way to describe Edward: insanely fit.

And if there was one way to describe Alfred at the moment, it was single and not pleased about it.

Diver came up to nuzzle against his leg, waking him from his thoughts. Aptly named, after a long ride in the lorry, the dog really couldn’t help lounging at poor Edward that morning, resulting in the whole coffee incident, and it was all Alfred could do to save the situation before he scared Edward away forever.

But he couldn’t be mad at his pup.

‘Just us again, eh, D?’ he said, giving his dog a good petting and more scratches behind the ear than the little minx deserved after such an appalling first impression on the cute neighbour.

Catching sight of his reflection in the oven door, and realising he probably reeked of sweat and dog, he decided it was time for that good shower.

 

Why hadn’t he learned to cook? Now would have been the perfect time to remedy the awful embarrassment of Edward’s first encounter with his new neighbour by impressing him with a homemade pizza splashed with extra-virgin olive oil and a good wine to go with it. Alas, he was a busy lawyer and he had no time to do any of that. In fact, he was glad of the mountain of work he had had to do all day even if he only got about half of it done for being distracted by glimpses of Alfred, who was so painfully gorgeous it really was no surprise Edward had been reduced to a stuttering mess earlier.

After a cold shower, fretting for about twenty minutes about which shirt to change into, and giving up on taming his curls with any product in this heat and humidity, he decided that seven pm was the appropriate time to make his appearance as promised. He remembered to get Alfred’s freshly washed shirt that he was supposed to be returning, grabbed a perfectly chilled summery red wine from his pantry and stepped outside, ignoring the ridiculous pace at which his heart was beating.

Stop it, Edward, this is nothing like that, you’re only meeting your new neighbour. Maybe he’s straight anyway. Maybe he’s taken. Why wouldn’t he be?

‘Ugh,’ he mentally slapped himself and tried to focus on not dropping the glass on Alfred’s doorstep.

Ding-dong.

Edward waited, balancing on the balls of his feet in a funny mix of excitement and nervousness.

He could hear barking from inside. And he could see the lights were on. However, Alfred wasn’t coming to the door.

He rang the bell again.

‘Coming! Coming! One moment!’ Alfred called, and Edward smiled. ‘Coming right away--- Diver, down, honestly, what’s up with you today? Just a sec!’

And Edward, thinking he had cooled down from his earlier ridiculous state, was reduced to a speechless, wide-eyed, jaws-on-the-floor idiot when the door opened, revealing a dripping wet Alfred Paget wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.

‘Uhhhh---’

‘Sorry,’ Alfred laughed, panting from his having hurried straight out of the shower and down the stairs, apparently. ‘I didn’t know when—’

‘I c-can come back l-later…’ Edward uttered, wanting to do the exact opposite.

‘Rubbish, come in, come in!’ Alfred ushered, allowing Edward inside the house. ‘Sorry about the mess. I think it will be some time before I sort out all my stuff. And there is pretty much nowhere to sit – I want to paint the walls tomorrow, so I thought I’d leave the furniture covered. The only horizontal surfaces I can offer are the floor, the kitchen table, or my bed. Soooo…’

‘PIZZA,’ Edward blurted, possessed by God-knows-what. Really, he was the least smooth person on Earth, he cursed himself. ‘I mean… uhh… I didn’t know what you liked, I haven’t ordered or anything, I mean, are you gluten free or allergic to something, maybe you’re a vegetarian—’

‘I’m not allergic to anything and I’m not a vegetarian. But I wouldn’t mind going easy on onions, and by easy I mean having none at all.’

‘Good. Then uhhh…’

Alfred had to smile at the effect he was clearly having on Edward. ‘How about you order while I get dressed? I’ll be back in a sec.’

Edward nodded and tried not to stare like a creep throughout the interaction and while Alfred left to go upstairs.

‘Ffffff…’ he began but, feeling ashamed as he made eye-contact with Alfred’s dog, he finished ‘…fudge.’

He ordered from his usual place he knew didn’t have the fastest delivery time in the city but the quality was well worth the wait.

And wait he did. Alfred was gone for no more than five minutes but it felt like an eternity, seeing as every time Edward closed his eyes he would see Alfred’s nearly naked body in front of him. To busy himself, he walked around the place, settling by the window that faced his own house. He could see a lot more of his own place than he thought – perhaps he should invest in some thick curtains…

‘Penny for them?’ Alfred asked when he returned, making Edward jump. He was now wearing a blue pair of shorts that made his bum look fabulous and a thin white shirt that he didn’t bother buttoning all the way up. Edward had already seen him shirtless – twice. This was progress, even.

‘Dinner is on its way,’ Edward replied, happy to see his stutter was gone, despite being floored for the third time that day by Alfred’s appearance. ‘And—here’s your shirt.’

Edward handed it to Alfred, who took it with the most charming smile Edward had ever seen.

‘Thank you. And the wine?’

‘On the kitchen counter. I didn’t want to risk dropping it, as I’m so prone to dropping and smashing everything today.’

Alfred laughed. ‘Just as long as you’re not breaking any hearts… Though I suspect you do.’

‘Uh—I…’

‘What kind of wine is it?’ Alfred asked, walking away from the bomb he had no idea why he dropped, hoping to keep the conversation casual.

Planeta Ceresuolo di Vittoria,’ Edward said with perfect diction. ‘From Sicily. Goes well with pizza and pasta and anything Italian.’

‘I’m impressed,’ Alfred said, secretly making Edward’s heart skip a beat. ‘Do you speak Italian?’

‘I have to. Well, Latin. I’m a lawyer.’

Alfred was intrigued. ‘Are you?’

‘Guilty as charged!’ Edward tried to joke and instantly cursed himself for sounding like the unfunniest arsehole in the whole wide world. But Alfred sniggered, whether genuinely or to make him feel better, he didn’t know.

‘Well, there is only one task we must do: find my wine glasses in one of these boxes.’

They took to ad hoc opening likely carton boxes but so far only found plates, shoes, books, and an unlabelled box that Alfred grabbed from Edward at the last moment before he could open it and took it promptly upstairs returning as if nothing had happened, some more books, a battered old typewriter, a vinyl record player, and finally—

‘YES! The glasses!’ Alfred rejoiced, just in time for the pizza to arrive. He washed up the kitchenware they would need for dinner and set a makeshift table for two on a larger carton box labelled “winter clothes and gym stuff”, while Edward paid the delivery guy.

They settled on the floor, poured wine and got a slice each for starters.

Edward raised his glass. ‘Welcome to your new home!’

Alfred clinked his glass against his. ‘To a new home!’ They drank, alternatingly stealing glances from each other and blushing completely when their eyes accidentally met. ‘This is… very good. The wine. And I’m starving so…’

If Edward was honest, the last thing he could think about was eating when he watched Alfred take a bite and lick his finger with lips that looked like heaven. He quickly pretended to be incredibly interested in the rim of his wine glass and desperately searched for something to talk about.

‘So… how come you’re here? I mean, where are you from?’

‘I’m from north Wales, originally, but I’ve lived in London for as long as I can remember. Never had the accent or anything but my parents still live there. I miss them terribly, of course, but… London was calling.’

‘What is it that you do?’

‘Like, my job?’ Alfred asked. ‘I’m a writer.’

Edward had to laugh. ‘I’m sorry,’ he fumbled to apologise. ‘It’s just… aren’t writers supposed to be, you know… like… shabby and weird and have their beard grown down to their knees?’

Alfred almost choked on his dinner for laughing. He took another sip of wine.

‘Well, sorry to disappoint you,’ he said. ‘And… thank you? I think? I have my bad days, believe it or not, but I haven’t quite got the whole G. R. R. Martin look down yet.’

‘What do you write?’

‘Well, theoretically, I’m a novelist. But while that is in the works, the day job has been publishing stuff that actually pays the bills – articles, opinion pieces, show reviews, book reviews, relationship advice columns, that sort of thing.’

‘I’ve always wondered who write those things. Do you have to be qualified to hand out advice to strangers in magazines?’

‘Not as a requirement, no. As long as you can be amusing and seemingly insightful, you’re good to go. It’s all just entertainment… so sue me!’

Edward laughed at the lawyer joke – okay, maybe it was out of pity but Alfred did make him feel better. Much better. He could hardly tear his eyes away from him, his exposed chest, his half-wet blond hair, his long eyelashes… of his suddenly sad blue eyes.

‘In fact, I’m probably the last person I would ask for relationship advice,’ Alfred added.

‘You’re probably still far ahead of me.’

‘I doubt that. In fact, that’s part of why I moved here. Bad break up.’

‘Crikey. I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. I’m not. Well, anyway, now that I finally managed to convince a publisher to put a little faith in me, I get to spend the next four months finishing my novel. It has to be in bookstores by Christmas.’

‘What is it about?’

‘It’s…’ Alfred thought how to describe it and how much he wanted to give away.

‘What – at least give me the genre. Come on, I got you wine and pizza! Is it a crime story? Fantasy? Adult fiction…?’

‘No! It’s… it’s a romance story, okay? It follows in the tradition of Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s a whole Richard Curtis rom com, in the form of a book. There. Now laugh.’

Edward bit his lip to stifle a stupid grin. He really didn’t think he could be truly head-over-heels with anyone until that day. He may never have been in love but… maybe that wasn’t so impossible after all.

‘Well I’ll be the first to read it,’ Edward said in encouragement and Alfred found he had to look away because there was something too overpowering about maintaining too long an eye-contact with Edward. ‘And until then, I’ll be the number one fan of your columns. Where would I find you, which magazine?’

‘Uuuh, you probably don’t read it.’

‘Try me.’

Alfred considered Edward for a moment. ‘I mostly freelance but at the moment I’m working for QX,’ he chanced.

‘Cool!’ Edward said, pretending very transparently to know it.

Alfred smiled, seeing though him. ‘You don’t seem like the type to read it on the tube.’

Edward was found out. ‘I’m sorry. I literally have no time for anything but my work.’

‘I doubt that,’ Alfred said, not being able to help feasting his eyes on Edward’s obviously modelesque physique. His abs were visible through his shirt, for crying out loud. And his curls… Alfred wanted to just reach out and grab them.

Oh, he was just a hopeless romantic. How many heartbreaks until would he learn???

‘No, it’s really just the rat race from dawn till dusk. I’m never home, only to sleep, really. Well, not now – there’s maintenance in the office so we’re working from home for a few weeks, it’s all just a huge mess, and it’s my fault, well it’s not strictly speaking my fault, it’s because of the bats and--- nevermind.’

Saved from further embarrassment of his own making, Edward shut up when Diver got bored and demanded attention in the form of loud barking and climbing onto Alfred’s lap.

‘Ohh who’s a good boy…’ Alfred cooed to him, rubbing the dog’s tummy. ‘I’m sorry about earlier – he’s usually a well-behaved puppy. It’s probably the excitement of the new house. And he’s getting rather cranky – aren’t you, Diver?’

A grumpy bark was his response.

‘Maybe I should go,’ said Edward, not wanting to outstay his welcome. ‘I’m sure you had a long day.’

Alfred was hardly able to hide his disappointment but he managed a friendly smile up at Edward, who was already standing.

‘And another long day awaits tomorrow.’

‘Oh right,’ Edward said, getting an idea. ‘Do you… need a hand? To paint the walls.’

Alfred cheered back up very quickly. ‘Only if you can spare the time…’

‘I can. I’ll make time.’

Alfred beamed. ‘Then… Yes. Thank you! That would be brilliant! I’ll make sure to be properly dressed this time.’

Edward went crimson in the blink of an eye, awkwardly muttered something like a farewell, and scarpered back home.

Great, now he had to work all night to catch up on the new client he was supposed to be taking on because he was certain he would not be missing a chance to use painting his walls as an excuse to spend more time with the dashing guy next door, Alfred Paget.

Chapter Text

Alfred woke to Diver whining insistently by his bedside, squinting in the sharp morning light until he could just make out the time blinking red on his alarm clock. Barely seven. He groaned and fumbled with the blankets he’d scrounged from various boxes and lumped into something resembling actual bedding, yanking them over his head and burrowing deeper into the mattress.

Diver barked sharply and Alfred peered out from his blanket cave to level him with a glare. “Jesus, D, I’m sleeping.”

More than sleeping , a snide voice in the back of his mind chirped, and Alfred flushed at the thought of the rather vivid dreams that had danced through his mind all night. Warm brown eyes and soft curls and a smile that screamed innocence and brilliance all at once… a new muse, perhaps.

Perhaps , the voice scoffed, and Alfred knew his own denial was preposterous, for the tight heat unfurling in his chest was so obviously aimed towards his new neighbor. It wasn’t as if he was oblivious to what it meant, or what he wanted (and God, did he ever want ), but rather that he was cautious. More cautious than he needed to be, for certain.

But with the way it had all gone sour last time…

Alfred shook himself and sat up suddenly, struggling with his blanket mound and cursing his late-night mind for craving warmth. Diver bounced around his box-cluttered bedroom, clearly far more rested than Alfred and equally as hyper as the day before. Alfred rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stumbled to the kitchen, glad he’d had the sense to set up his coffee maker the night before.

As he waited for his daily dose of caffeinated goodness, the rumble of the aging coffeepot he’d nicked from Mina thrumming in his mind, Alfred closed his eyes and wondered just how he was going to handle an entire day with Edward.

He needed paints first, and to find some shirt he didn’t care about because there was no day he was getting through it unscathed, and oh goodness, what if Edward just went shirtless? Alfred would die , breath lost forever and mind a slave to the Greek-statue levels of chiseled abs he’d caught a peak of the night before –

– and they’d get nothing done if Alfred kept getting distracted.

Maybe the coffee would snap him from the fever dream lingering from their pizza date (date? Was it a date?) because there really was a lot to do and none of it would get done if he was constantly ogling at his posh, awkward, and definitely straight neighbor.

Halfway through his coffee and decidedly more awake than earlier, Alfred realized that he and Edward had made the same mistake as last time (the one that meant Alfred got to answer the door in nothing but a towel, which was simultaneously the most awkward and most convenient way to start his completely unsubtle flirting process) and forgot to set a time. Or exchange numbers.

Alfred sighed and watched Diver stare into his empty food bowl, having scarfed his breakfast in near record time, as usual, feeling rather envious for his simplistic little life. Diver didn’t have to deal with breakups and moving and infuriatingly cute neighbors and guilty hesitation.

He took another sip of coffee and wondered just how he was going to survive the day.

It seemed most logical to just knock now and hope Edward was functional enough this early in the morning to give him a time and means to go pick paints, but the other, less logical bit of Alfred was fully prepared to show up at his door in leather with his helmet tucked under his arm like some 50s bad boy flick. Just because he wasn’t ready for something big didn’t mean he couldn’t primp and prune and show off a little.

So, leathers, then.

He grinned to himself before unbidden bitterness rose in the back of his throat. Will had always liked his leathers.

But Alfred wasn’t going to be thinking about that mess today, not when he had a house to paint and a cute boy to admire and a perfect, one-time-only chance to deliver a hopefully less awkward and completely jaw-dropping day.

The problem with living so absurdly close to Edward was that Alfred was already starting to catch glimpses of him every time he looked out the window, and the vision of half-awake Edward with messy curls and little but a jumper and boxers in his kitchen was exactly that – a vision. And completely distracting. And utterly wonderful.

Alfred, from his new post just underneath the sill of his front window, was beginning to wonder just how smart his entire concoction was. He’d sprayed his leathers with some of the perfume Harriet had given him as a joke one Christmas, trying to alleviate the rather horrific odor the suit had accumulated and really only succeeding in making it worse , somehow. So the suit was flung wide upon over a drying rack constructed from the backs of his kitchen chairs, and Alfred was forced to wait until the terrible flowery scent faded enough to not immediately incapacitate Edward.

Excellent flirtation tactics, Paget .

At least this gave him the chance to hover just out of sight (hopefully) and pray that Edward hadn’t seen him standing slack-jawed in the window. But, considering Alfred’s luck, he definitely had. And he was definitely judging him for it.

“I’m screwed, D,” he said, nearly breathless and beginning to be quite upset with himself for acting so… so…  

Diver began to bristle at the door and Alfred groaned into his hand, not quite awake enough to deal with Diver’s antics, but the clink of his mail slot made him jump enough to bump his head on the window sill. He muffled a yelp, clutching at the budding bruise and eyeing the slip of paper on the floor. Not even an envelope, but Diver wasn’t going nuts over it, so Alfred flipped it over and nearly melted.

Hey Alfred,

Sorry for neither setting a time nor exchanging numbers last night. Must have slipped my mind. I couldn’t tell if you’re up, but I wasn’t going to wake you, so here is my proposal, delivered to you rather archaically, but delivered, nonetheless. Meet outside at 9 to grab supplies and then we’ll tackle it together? I’ll have to take a call at 2 but other than that, I’ll be around to help out. As you know, I’m very clumsy and therefore fairly useless in artistic settings, but I can keep Diver under control and supply snacks.

-    E

So, Edward was apparently brilliant. And not bad at writing, either. Actually, rather wonderful at writing. Of course, he’d have to be, what with being a lawyer and everything.

And oh, was Alfred screwed.

He’d always liked smart guys (who wouldn’t?), but when fate intervened and threw endearing and beautiful and articulate and awkward on top…

Alfred grinned, dopey and feeling rather cliché, with Edward’s stupidly intelligent note clasped to his chest. “D, I’m telling you, I’m screwed .”

Though the leathers did make his ass look great (and didn’t smell much like anything anymore, thankfully), they were sweltering, and with the sun beating down on the front walk as if it had some particular gripe with Alfred’s romantic exploits, he was beginning to regret his plan. Of course, the midmorning light was piercing enough to blind Edward as he walked across the street, which gave Alfred some hope that he couldn’t see the way he was swiping beads of sweat from his brow.

“Rather hot, isn’t it?” he called.

Edward chuckled and bounced lightly on his toes. The curls were combed back neatly and Alfred felt like going into mourning. “That may be an understatement. What’s with the suit?”

“We’re going to get paints.”

“I – uh, I have a travelcard –,” Edward stammered, suddenly flushed. The heat, most likely, but some self-satisfied part of Alfred was whooping in triumph at the idea that he had caused the blush.

“Nope!” Alfred said cheerily. “I’m feeling antsy and it’s high time you get on a motorbike.”

Edward grinned and followed Alfred dutifully as he made his way to his garage, tossing the keys between his hands. “Who’s to say I haven’t been on one before? Maybe I’m an experienced… motorbike-er-ist.”

Alfred snorted. “Considering you just said ‘motorbike-er-ist’, I’m gonna say no.”

He could feel Edward’s eyes on his back as he swung over the seat and brushed some pollen from the mirrors. It was a delightful feeling, and kind of a relief, after all the weeks he and Will spent glaring at each other. He shook himself.

“Here, you take the helmet.”

Edward took the proffered contraption hesitantly. “Won’t you need one, too?”

“Hopefully not,” Alfred chirped.

“That’s a terrible mindset.”

It was exhilarating to drive with the wind whipping his cheeks for once. George had pounded the need for a helmet into his head from the day he started hanging off the back of his older brother’s own bike, but it did feel wonderful to have a cool breeze running through his hair. And it offered a distraction from Edward. More specifically, the way Edward’s arms were wrapped tightly around his waist, hands clasped over his stomach, the sleeves of the leather jacket Alfred had forced him to wear just smooth enough for Edward to have to really squeeze to keep from falling off.

“This is fun!” Edward called.

“I know!” Alfred shouted back, voice lost to the wind. He smiled to himself and swung around a corner just fast enough to make Edward squeak.

“Fuck, that was fast .”

Alfred slowed enough to know Edward could hear him. “God, I have to get you out to Wales sometime. My brothers and I used to gun it down the roads outside of town.”

“Sounds absolutely terrifying,” Edward breathed, fingers digging into Alfred’s leathers, “and very, very fun.”

Alfred grinned and sped up again, heading for the hardware store he knew had the strangely specific shade of blue he wanted. It was the kind of blue that matched the color of the infamous Paget family eyes and reminded him of summer days along the shore. He just hoped Edward wouldn’t question going so out of their way.

They pulled up along the curb and Alfred hopped off, feeling rather giddy again (and whether it had more to do with the helmet-less ride or the way Edward’s hands caught his hips as he dismounted was up for debate).

“Careful getting off. It’s even worse than getting on.”

Edward, visor flipped up to reveal those shimmering dark eyes, winced at the memory of that fiasco. Alfred bit back a smile and Edward pulled the helmet off with a quick tug, cradling it under his arm with a level of steaminess Alfred had previously thought unachievable by anyone other than, like, Clint Eastwood.

And Alfred couldn’t breathe .

Edward blew a curl from his eyes, nose scrunched up and brow furrowed in momentary concentration. Alfred thought that distant morning curls were too much to handle, but no , up-close helmet curls were far, far more devastating.

He bit his lip and reached out to flick another stray curl back from his forehead, eyes lingering on Edward’s for just a moment longer than what fell within the constraints of ‘platonic’, pointedly flicking them down to his lips and tilting his head. (Alfred was really quite experienced in the art of flirtation.) “You’ve really got the helmet moves mastered already.”

Edward grinned and swung off the bike rather elegantly. “And dismounting doesn’t seem too bad.”

“Goodness, we’re going to have to get you a bike of your own soon, aren’t we?”

“Perhaps!”

Alfred, having practically cried over picking paints and just barely surviving a second helmet removal, was feeling drained before the painting even started, but seeing Edward crouched down to let Diver lick his face, Alfred’s jacket riding just too high on his hips, was all the revitalization he needed.

“Diver really likes you,” he commented, mind drifting into domestic fantasy and hand drifting too, dribbling soft blue paint onto the plastic sheeting they’d laid out already and cursing under his breath.

Edward glanced over his shoulder, a brilliant smile crossing his face and making Alfred’s stomach flip. “I like him, too. Oh, you good there?”

“This is going to be an absolute mess,” Alfred sighed, looking down at the drops of paint with resignation.

“Better get started anyway.”

Of course, getting started meant that Edward had to run back to his place to change into a more paint-friendly shirt, leaving Alfred to try and catch his breath for a minute.

He desperately needed to get himself under control, because as beautiful as Edward might look with helmet hair and flushed cheeks and as happy their easy banter made Alfred, it was entirely too soon to just start… making out with him.

“Help me out here, D,” he said hopelessly, but Diver did little but pant and perk up at the sound of footsteps on the front walk. Alfred jumped back up from where he had plopped onto the floor, managing to keep from instantly flinging himself at Edward as he slipped in through the door in a giant, worn out t-shirt. The man could really pull off anything .

“Ready to go?”

Alfred clapped his hands decisively. “Let’s do it.”

Hours of painting and chatting and blasting some of Alfred’s strangest music selections passed in a blur, leaving behind a surprisingly even paint job and relatively little mess. Of course, it also ended with Alfred and Edward splayed over the floor, Diver curled between them, quiet for once.

“So, I’m thinking we just lay here for a while?” Alfred suggested.

“I’m starving, but moving isn’t really an option right now,” Edward sighed, nodding.

“Maybe Diver will bring us food.”

Edward snorted. “I don’t trust anything Diver brings me.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Alfred laughed, reaching down to scratch between Diver’s ears. It seemed Edward had the same idea and as their fingers brushed, Alfred swore he heard a sharp inhale. Or maybe it was just hopefulness playing with the air.

Alfred rolled his head to the side, gazing at Edward’s regal profile with a vague adoration. Their fingers stayed overlapped and Alfred wondering he was imagining the sense of peace that had fallen over the room, mingling with the stench of paint and the soft wheeze of the air conditioning.  

Chapter Text

Edward couldn’t recall a more blissful few days. Work, which had always been the number one priority in his life, had slipped onto the back burner as every day he’d gone over to help Alfred with the house. Emails pinged into his inbox and he read them cursorily or mostly not at all. How could he bring himself to care about paragraph 12 sub section 4 clause 97 of a contract between two obscenely wealthy tax avoiding companies when he could be with Alfred, talking and laughing and feeling relaxed for what felt like the first time in months?

The sun had shone every day making the stripped oak floors warm as the sunlight spilled onto them causing the hairs on Alfred’s arms to glint gold and amber. The sea shore blue Alfred had chosen for the living room looked perfect and it seemed silly now they had started not to do the other rooms too. More motorbike trips had followed to get various colours; a cornflower yellow for the small bright kitchen, racing green for the wet room, and a soft dove grey for the bedroom. The bedroom was the last room they had painted, Edward methodically starting in the corner of one wall and working down while Alfred as always started haphazardly in the middle. When they’d finished, flopping down onto the bed, Edward had shyly produced a bottle of champagne and glasses.

“I thought we should toast the house” he had said smiling at Alfred, hoping the blushing in his heart wasn’t showing on his face.

Alfred had beamed at him and deftly opened the bottle

“to the house” he said, “to us” and he clinked his glass with Edward who stared at him with a dazed look, surely, he didn’t mean?? “and our DIY abilities”

‘Oh, stupid Edward’ he had admonished himself, ‘of course he didn’t mean that’

 

‘Just say something Alfred’ whispered his brain as he watched Edward take a sip of champagne, ‘tell him’

‘I can’t’……….

Alfred wanted to do nothing more than taste the bubbles of champagne on Edward’s tongue, to slowly run his hand through those curls and drag him forward to lick the drops of champagne off his lips but he just couldn’t

He was almost sure that if he did Edward would sigh into his kiss, put his arms around him and pull him in close, but he was not 100% certain and after what had happened with Will, he was still to raw, too lacking in confidence, to try.

And so, he gazed at Edward over the top of his glass, willing him to understand what he wanted but Edward either did not understand, or if he did, did not want to do it.

 

Monday morning

Edward’s phone was shrieking at him as he swam up through his dreams

“h…hello??” he fumbled for it, dropping it on the floor and launching himself over the side of the bed to get it, catching his foot on the bed frame

“ow”

“DRUMMOND” Sir Robert bellowed down the phone “where are you?”

Hmmm Edward sensed that saying ‘at home’ was not the right answer

“tube problems Sir” Edward reached for the standard excuse of every late to work Londoner “I shouldn’t be long”

“Miss Kerr and I are waiting Drummond, we both have better things to do this morning than wait for you to decide to turn up”

“yes, I know Sir, I’m sorr…”

“just get here Drummond, now!”

“I will….”

But Edward was talking to a dial tone, Sir Robert had hung up

Shit, Edward lay back for a moment with a groan and then got up, why the hell was he meeting Sir Robert this morning anyway? Were the chambers now free to be used? and who was Miss Kerr? His brain was still full of Alfred and sunshine and soft blue eyes

Checking his emails, he saw he had 147 unread ones, some of which had subject titles like “URGENT FOR MONDAY’S MEETING” and “CHAMBERS REOPEN” and “DRUMMOND RING ME URGENTLY”, this last one was from Sir Robert’s PA, a sweet and endlessly patient girl called Mina.

He threw himself rapidly into shower and quickly lathered shampoo into his messy hair as the water cascaded down; clearly, he needed to do some very rapid reading. Rinsing off, he soaped up his body, rubbing vigorously while he considered his options of getting to work fast. It was going to take at least 45 mins by tube and a probably longer in a taxi; he lived very much to the west of London and the chambers were on the other side of the City

unless of course….

 

“brrrrinnggg”

Alfred raised his head up from his pillow where he’d been happily dreaming about Edward, who the hell was that at this hour?

“BRRRNNGG”

Bloody amazon he thought, why could they never just leave things in the safe place they were forever imploring him to tell them about

He pulled on his dressing gown and stumbled downstairs, tugging the door open crossly

“ye…?” he began and then the words dried in his throat

On his doorstep looking exactly like a male model dressed as a lawyer, was Edward. Alfred tried very hard not to let his gaze rake over inch of him, but he didn’t quite have the willpower. Edward was dressed in navy trousers and a white shirt that stretched just tight enough over that broad-shouldered fantastic body that was keeping Alfred awake every night with thoughts. He had his suit jacket over one arm and in the other he carried a laptop bag.

“sorry to wake you” he said as Alfred scrabbled for words, “but I need to ask a favour”

 

“Sir Robert, Miss Kerr my profound apologies for keeping you waiting” said Edward smiling inwardly as he heard a motorbike roar off.

Alfred, once he got over the shock of being woken up, really it had taken him several seconds to close his mouth thought Edward, had pulled on some clothes and driven him rapidly through the traffic, cutting down side lanes and weaving skilfully in and out of cars, buses and lorry’s  in such a way that had Edward clinging on to him very tightly. Not that clinging to Alfred who smelt faintly of sweets in a way that had Edward wanting to just dip his head down and trail kisses along his neck, was a hardship.

 

Miss Kerr took the hand he offered and looked up at him “please no need to apologise” she murmured “I am sure it couldn’t be helped and do call me Florence”

“I am sure it could have been” said Sir Robert balefully

“the tubes were terrible Robbie dear” Florence cooed at him “my cleaner texted me to say she would be late, so don’t be cross with Edward, I am sure he will make it up to us”

Edward smiled at her, she seemed very pleasant which made a nice change from a lot of the thrusting corporate dick heads he had to deal with.

“the central line is always difficult” he said

Florence nodded and then said, “Edward you sit by me” and she patted the sofa next to her that Sir Robert used for his very important clients “Robbie speaks very highly of you and I’m sure you’ll be able to help my stupid brain understand these contracts, they’re so complicated!”

Edward suppressed a grin at the fact that she called Sir Robert, Robbie whilst also registering that it clearly meant they were family friends

“ill do my best” he said, crossing one leg over his knee and flipping open the folder on his lap “now how familiar are you with contract law?”

“oh” Florence waved her hand “a know a little…. but it would be so helpful if you could explain it to me”

“of course,” said Edward “as your lawyer I’m here to help in any way I can”

After an hour, Florence looked at her watch

“I really have to go” she said “but thank you so much Edward, you have been so helpful, really”

“I’m pleased to help” said Edward smiling at her

“oh, before I go” she said, “we’re having an event to celebrate mummy’s birthday on Friday, you must come Edward, after all you’re going to be part of the family” and she giggled “that’s how we think of all our staff, part of our family”

“of course,” said Edward politely not at all caring for being described as ‘staff’ “I’d be delighted”

 

Alfred looked out of the window and then at his phone for what felt like the 1000th time that day. He missed Edward. He still felt he deserved a reward for not just dragging Edward into his house this morning and ripping the clothes off him right there and then, really had ever a man looked SO perfect? And then to add to his torture, he’d had Edward pressed up tightly against him as he drove him to work. Those arms, which he firmly believed he was designed to be snuggled up inside of, wrapped around him and his face pressed so close he could feel Edwards breath on his neck. At Edward’s chambers, Edward had dismounted and pulled a tie out of his pocket, hurriedly putting it on as he thanked Alfred profusely

Alfred had tried to work when he got back but all he’d done if he were honest was stare out of the window and dream of Edward, scolding himself for behaving like a lovesick fangirl. Now the shadows were lengthening down the mews and Edward was still not home. Suddenly he jerked his head up, he could hear footsteps and then Edward himself came into view walking with his jacket over one shoulder and his other hand in his pocket, the hair that had been so carefully ordered this morning was beginning to break free and a little curl was flopped over his forehead. Alfred’s immediate thought was to rush out, but he realised that would look weird, he wasn’t Edward’s husband or boyfriend, flinging his arms around him and saying, “good day at the office dear?” would look beyond strange.

As he got level with Alfred’s house he turned to look, and Alfred tried desperately to seem as if he wasn’t staring. Edward gave him a little wave and Alfred waved back, suddenly feeling absurdly happy, he opened the window

“drink?” he asked

“oh, I’d love to” said Edward “though I should work on these papers…” and he looked mournfully at Alfred

“why don’t you work on them and I came over in an hour with a beer and some food? I assume you haven’t eaten?”

“that would be wonderful” said Edward brightening up

Alfred smiled at him “ill see you in an hour”

 

90 minutes later and Edward was tucking into spaghetti bolognaise

“this is amazing” he said between mouthfuls “I’m starving”

“Dolmio’s finest” said Alfred solemnly “id like to say I made my own sauce out of sundried tomatoes and passata, but it came out of a jar though I did add red wine”

Edward laughed “I don’t care” he said “its hot and tastes amazing and that’s all I need”

Alfred took a huge swig of beer to cover the heat that flooded his body at the phrase “hot and tastes amazing” it seemed literally everything Edward said reminded him of sex and he was rapidly becoming a mass of lust

Maybe he should just go for it he thought

Edward was still busily tucking in, wolfing down food in a way that made Alfred feel ridiculously protective of him. He watched as he twirled a forkful of spaghetti and then ate it, sucking hard at a stray strand so it disappeared between his lips

“I wondered if you’d like to come out Friday” blurted out Alfred

“sorry I’m busy” said Edward still swallowing down his food

Oh, Alfred went red, he was being given the brush off

“but maybe another night?” Edward carried on “it’s just a stupid work thing but I have to be there. Saturday?

Alfred smiled shyly at him “I’d like that”

“it’s a da…deal then” said Edward

 

Friday night

The Kerr house was a 4-storey white stucco townhouse in the heart of Kensington. Fortunately, it was August and still very warm even though the nights were drawing in; by 8.30 it would be dark.

Edward knocked at the door and was then his mouth dropped open in shock as it was opened by a half-naked beautifully groomed young man

“umm….” Edward didn’t now what to say but the young man smiled at him

“Mrs Kerr’s guests are all in the garden Sir, if you come this way”

And he led Edward through the house and out through a huge conservatory into a garden lit up with fairy lights and solar humming birds.

Edward looked around him in confusion, he was in a tuxedo as the invitation stated and so were all the other male guests but the young men scurrying round with trays of food and drink were shirtless and a good few had no proper trousers either, and instead were clad only in some very tight shorts or jodhpurs.

“Edward” Florence broke off from the group of people she was talking to “I’m so glad you came”

“Florence” Edward politely kissed her on both cheeks “this is rather um…. rather err…. different” and he indicated the half-naked young men

“naked butlers” laughed Florence “mummy said she’d had enough of daddy spending time in lap dancing clubs, this is her revenge”

“but…but” said Edward “this isnt any better is it?”

“well” said Florence taking a sip of her drink “they’re not gyrating round poles or waving their bits in your face, are they? so I think it is better”

Edward shook his head, he really didn’t think it was, he thought it was tacky and rather vulgar to say the least.

Seeing his evident uncomfortableness Florence laughed more gently “Edward” she said “no one is being coerced into this, they get well paid! come on, lets get you a drink, we have a bar set up and you can have anything you want”

Edward nodded wondering how long exactly politeness would demand he stayed before he made a run for it and turned around crashing straight into a young man carrying a tray of champagne

“oh, my goodness I’m so sor…. oh my god, Alfred?”

Alfred, for it was he, stared at him horrified, both oblivious to the fact that Edward’s shirt had been engulfed in champagne and was now clinging wetly to him

“you” Florence’s voice broke into the silence “don’t just stand there gawping, get him a cloth”

“its fine” said Edward “I’ll just go to the loo and dry off” angry both at Florence’s tone and more irrationally angry at Alfred “

will you show me where they are?” he said to Alfred who was still staring at him white with shock

“erm yes, this way” said Alfred trying to gather his wits

Once around the corner Edward caught up with Alfred and grabbing his wrist gently pulled him into a dark corner of the garden. Now he could see him properly, he could see Alfred was wearing only a pair of small, very small, red shorts with red sneakers on his feet. Edward tried very hard not to stare and to supress the green-eyed monster rising in his brain at how many people had seen Alfred wearing so little clothing.

‘you have no right to be jealous’ said his rational side ‘you hardly know each other really’

But his rational brain was losing out to his primitive brain which was shouting

‘mine mine stop looking’

He pulled himself together and fixed Alfred with a look

“what is going on?” he asked, “What are you doing here?”

“loos are over there” said Alfred not looking at him

“Alfred, I don’t need the loo” said Edward impatiently “I want to know what you’re doing here dressed in next to nothing?”

“I need the money ok Edward” said Alfred belligerently “we can’t all be lawyers and earn a squillion pounds an hour”

“I thought you were a writer?” said Edward frowning

“oh, Edward please” snorted Alfred “as if writing could pay the bills! Only the likes of JK Rowing earn money from writing!

“but surely your articles are published?” said Edward feeling as if the world had tiled on its axis

“they are but when as the last time you paid to read something on line?” said Alfred angrily “people want free content; Edward I earn peanuts! My parents pay the rent on my house”

Oh

Alfred looked close to tears of humiliation and Edward’s heart wrung with pity

“here” he said taking off his jacket and gently settling it around Alfred’s shoulders

“embarrassed to be seen with me looking like this” spat Alfred at him

“no I thought you looked cold” said Edward softly “Alfred I’m so sorry I had no idea things were so difficult, you should have said”

Alfred bit his lip

“I have to go Edward” he said his voice flat and sad “I’ll get into trouble, we don’t get breaks and if they think I’m slacking I won’t get paid”

“you don’t get breaks?” said Edward “but how long is your shift?”

“about 8 hours, Edward it’s fine, honestly”

“its not fine” said Edward angrily “it’s illegal”

“Edward don’t make a fuss”

But Edward had already turned to leave, striding through the crowd with Alfred on his heels

“excuse me” he said to the nearest waiter “where is the person in charge of all of you?”

“um over there” he said pointing to an overweight man wearing a white dinner jacket and scarlet cumber band

“Edward Edward please” said Alfred urgently “just don’t”

But Edward would not be deterred

“Excuse me” he said to the man “I understand this is your company”

“It is” The man drew himself up to his full height and looked squarely at Edward “And who are you?”

“I’m Miss Kerr’s lawyer” said Edward “and I am telling you if you don’t start treating your staff properly, I will call the tax office! I’m sure they would be very interested in your set up for which I’m certain you have all the correct paperwork” he added sarcastically

The man laughed

“everyone here is self-employed” he said gesturing at all the young men “their tax is not my business”

Edward snorted “yes of course they are”

“Edward please” Alfred was hanging onto Edward’s arm trying to drag him away “please leave it”

“this guy a friend of yours?” the man cocked his head at Alfred

“yes, sort of, Edward come on” hissed Alfred

“I see”

The man reached into his pocket and pulling out his wallet, peeled off a handful of notes

“Here”

 The man threw the money at Alfred

“Take it, you’re fired, I don’t want to see you again”

“you can’t…” began Edward

“oh, but I can” said the man, he pointed at Alfred “self-employed like I said, now get out”

“but” Edward began

“Edward come on!” said Alfred “please just leave it”

Edward gave the man one last glare before following Alfred

“Thanks Edward” said Alfred slumping against the wall “thanks a lot”

Chapter Text

As Alfred slumped miserably against the wall, Edward vaguely registered the other guests beginning to mutter amongst themselves, staring while trying to appear as though they weren’t, evidently keen to know what was going on whilst appearing unconcerned.

He found that he didn’t much care what these ridiculous snobs thought, though. He was too focused on the way Alfred was blinking rapidly as though to keep himself from crying, and on the sharp twisting feeling of guilt in his chest.

 

Great work, Edward , his brain sneered. Really bloody brilliant.

How could he have been so stupid as to think he could help Alfred by marching up to his overweight, red-faced employer and shooting his mouth off about being Miss Kerr’s lawyer and correct paperwork and all the rest of that rubbish? Of course he had been trying to help, but, if he was being entirely honest with himself, could he really say that he had not also been trying to show off for Alfred, just a little? Striding around the place as if he was a bloody hero in a cape, just because he happened to have a law degree…

And now it seemed that, rather than actually winning Alfred reasonable working conditions, all he had accomplished was to get him fired.

This beautiful, funny, witty, kind and frankly gorgeous man, who he had spent the last weeks fantasising about, who kept him up at night, plagued with images of snogging the living daylights out of him. Hours upon hours wondering how to sweep Alfred Paget off his feet - but all he had done so far was publicly embarrass him and fail him.

 

“Oh g-god….Alfred…..I….I d-didn’t m-mean to….”

Wonderful, now his stress stutter was back, apparently. Nothing sexier than a man who loses you your job by being a reckless and impulsive wanker, and then stutters at you, is there, Edward Drummond?

Alfred sighed and shrugged, not meeting his eyes as he ran a hand frustratedly through his hair. Focus, Edward , Edward told himself harshly, trying not to stare at the deliciously tousled blond locks and wonder if that was what they would look like if Alfred had been writhing against the pillows underneath him all night. This was not the time.

“It’s done, Edward,” Alfred said shortly.

Edward felt another sharp twist of guilt as he slid down the wall to sit on the ground next to him.

“I really am so sorry,” he said quietly, gazing at Alfred with big eyes, silently imploring the other man to meet his gaze.

Alfred sighed again, finally turning to meet Edward’s eyes, his face softening as he looked at Edward through his ridiculously long and beautiful eyelashes.

“It’s alright, Edward,” he responded, mustering a little half-smile to reassure him. “You don’t need to freak out, or beat yourself up about it. I know you didn’t mean to. You were trying to help. And I’m grateful.”

“Yes, clearly I’m an excellent help,” he answered sarcastically. “Edward Charles Drummond, offering his services as lawyer and life-ruiner extraordinaire.”

Alfred sniggered slightly, and Edward looked at him in surprise.

“Charles?” Alfred repeated. “Well, that’s definitely one to file away.”

Edward felt himself blushing. “Yeah, well, don’t go spreading that around.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Alfred responded, his beautiful blue eyes widening innocently even as a mischievous grin began to spread across his face. “I shall take that secret with me to my grave.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Edward muttered, unable to keep from grinning in return, despite himself, his heart fluttering in his chest.

The laughter faded from Alfred’s face suddenly, as if the realisation of the mess Edward had put him in had just hit him all over again. Edward couldn’t stand it, seeing him so glum and despondent when he usually seemed to radiate sunshine and warmth. And it was his fault….No, bugger this, he wasn’t going to sit there and let Alfred be miserable.

 

He jumped up abruptly.

“C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

Alfred, still sitting with his back against the garden wall, looked up at him in surprise.

“Edward, aren’t you a guest at this thing? You’re meant to be staying for your client, aren’t you? Won’t people talk if you just disappear this early?”

Edward shrugged. He couldn’t really seem to bring himself to care all that much.

“I’m sure Miss Kerr, I mean Florence” he amended hastily, remembering what she had said in the meeting “will manage quite happily without me for a while. And I’m certainly not leaving you to head back home alone when you’re upset and it’s my fault.”

He extended a hand towards Alfred, waiting patiently, and Alfred glanced up at him for a moment before reaching forward hesitantly and placing his warm hand in Edward’s. Feeling a spark flare in his chest at the touch of Alfred’s skin on his, Edward pulled him into a standing position rather clumsily, so that Alfred stumbled towards him slightly, somehow ending up with their faces barely an inch away from each other.

Alfred looked at him. There was something soft and gentle in his gaze, something uncertain that made a delicious sense of warmth curl deep within Edward’s chest. They looked at each other, and for a moment Edward struggled to remember how to speak.

 

He was saved - or interrupted? -  by the sudden arrival of Florence Kerr on the scene.

“Is everything alright, Edward?” she asked, her voice light and chiming in a very deliberate and affected way. “I heard there was a little bit of a debacle going on - I hope nobody has been upsetting you?”

“No, I’m fine, thank you,” he responded, forcing himself to tear his eyes away from Alfred and look at her. “But Alfred here isn’t feeling his best, so I think I’m just going to make sure he gets home safely.”

“You’re leaving? Now?” Florence asked, her forehead creasing slightly in a frown.

He nodded, biting his lip absentmindedly. “I am - if that’s alright,” he added hastily, not wanting to appear in any way rude.

There was an awkward little pause, and then she sighed a little. “Of course. You do what you have to do, Edward. I wouldn’t want to stop you from helping your friend.”

Friend. That seemed a strange way to describe what Alfred was to him, it felt wrong in some way - but perhaps he was just being a ridiculous idiot. What else should he call him?

“Thank you,” he said to Florence, doing his best to smile at her as he shook himself mentally. “I’m sorry to have to leave early - and of course I’m very grateful for the invite…” Oh god, he was rambling, falling over himself to make sure she didn’t think him rude. Bloody poncy public school his parents had forced him to go to….

 

There was a sudden sharp intake of breath from Alfred that made Edward turn back to him in a panic. He was bent over, clutching his stomach and contorting his face in a heavily exaggerated expression of agony.

“Ow, Edward, it hurts,” he whimpered pathetically. “I feel like I might….” He grimaced, swallowing fiercely and pressing a hand against his mouth.

“Oh gosh!” Florence exclaimed, sounding highly alarmed. “Yes, take him home, Edward, hurry, he’s clearly not well enough to be here!”

Edward nodded obediently, but he frowned suspiciously at Alfred as he grasped his upper arm gently. He had been upset, of course, but he had not shown any sign at all of feeling physically ill. This seemed rather a sudden turn for the worse….

“Take care, Edward, I’ll see you in the office!” Florence called as she retreated hastily.

 

Edward nodded without looking back at her, still frowning at Alfred. Alfred shot him a quick grin and a wink, and Edward huffed out a quiet laugh.

“You don’t feel sick at all,” he said in an undertone as they walked out of the party.

“Nope, but you promised to take me home, and then you were spending a long time chatting,” Alfred answered, crinkling his nose in disapproval. “I was only trying to speed the process up a bit.”

Edward attempted to look disapproving, but he was not entirely sure he was managing anything other than amused adoration.

 

“Fine, fine then, Mr Sneaky” - Alfred sniggered and gave him a look that asked are you for real? - “do you want me to call us an Uber?”

Alfred shook his head, still grinning. “No need, I came on the motorbike,” he said lightly. “Plenty of room for both of us, as you know.”

“Ah,” Edward said, his voice cracking slightly even as he tried desperately to keep his tone casual and his face neutral. There was just enough space, but as he remembered, it had been rather a tight squeeze on the seat. It had been difficult enough to control himself and stay calm the other day, pressed up against Alfred, arms wrapped around him, feeling the hard muscles of his stomach under his shirt as he’d clung on for dear life, catching the sweet scent of his skin. But now….well, the thing was, Alfred wasn’t wearing very much. Hardly anything at all, in fact - just a pair of practically non-existent and sinfully tight red shorts, his shoes and socks, and Edward’s jacket draped over his bare chest, which was a little too large on his comparatively slight frame, and which was giving Edward thoughts.

God, he couldn’t possibly wrap his arms around Alfred while he was wearing - or rather, not wearing - that! What if his jacket gaped open, and he found himself pressing his hands against the soft, warm and flawless porcelain skin that he had fantasised about so much? How on earth would he pretend to be calm? What if Alfred felt his, erm,   reaction against him? What if he just completely forgot himself and started softly kissing the back of Alfred’s neck, or gently nibbling his earlobe?

“I….erm….are you sure you feel well enough to go on your motorbike, Alfred?”

Alfred raised one eyebrow. “I don’t actually feel sick, remember, Edward? I’d just like to get out of here sooner rather than later, is all.”

Edward could have kicked himself for giving such an idiotic excuse for his hesitation.

“R-right, it’s just….w-won’t you be cold? I mean you’re n-not really….” he cursed himself again, wishing he could sink into the floor as he gestured vaguely at Alfred’s scantily clad body, feeling the heat rush to his cheeks as he stuttered.

Alfred shook his head at him gently, smiling.

“Honestly, Edward, did you think I was planning to ride home in this? That would be a bit rough on my thighs, don’t you think?”

Edward felt his face growing even hotter .

“N-no….I….”

Grinning at the look on his face, Alfred tugged on Edward’s arm gently (Edward felt his heart bounce in his chest), pulling him over to where the motorbike was waiting, and bending over to retrieve a plastic bag which was sitting next to it.

“I’m just gonna go find somewhere to change. You can wait here, I promise I won’t be long.”

 

Alfred set off at a gentle jog into the night, and Edward exhaled loudly, leaning back against the motorbike and willing himself to calm down.

It’s just a ride home on a motorbike, Edward. It’s not like he’s propositioning you , he chastised himself. But then again, the way Alfred had looked at him just now, tilting his head to the side and smirking, had almost seemed like, possibly….flirting? But no, he reasoned, with a definite sinking feeling in his stomach, much more likely he was just reading too much into things, seeing what he wanted to see.

 

Lost in thought, he was a little taken aback by Alfred’s reappearance a few minutes later.

He couldn’t stop himself from inhaling sharply as he took in what Alfred was wearing. Sure enough, he had disposed of the tiny shorts, and his chest was no longer bare - but Edward wasn’t entirely sure that Alfred’s new outfit was much less likely to give him a heart attack.

Motorbike leathers. Alfred was wearing motorbike leathers. And it seemed to him that perhaps they were a size or two too small for him….for surely they were not supposed to cling to anyone that tightly?! Feeling his face burning again, he hastily raised his eyes to Alfred’s face, wishing there was a bucket of cold water on hand. Or five.

“Thank you for the jacket,” Alfred said lightly, proffering it as he reached Edward.

“Hmm?” His brain seemed to be working in slow motion.

Alfred grinned. “You lent me your jacket, remember? I appreciate it, it was really sweet of you.” He was still waiting for Edward to take it.

“Oh….I….” God, how was it possible for his face to get even hotter ? Hesitantly, he reached out to take it, another shot of molten heat quivering in his chest as his fingers brushed slightly against Alfred’s. “Th-thank you.”

Alfred was looking at him, smiling slightly as if he could guess what Edward was thinking. Why can’t I just sink through the floor? Edward pondered, as he pulled his jacket on quickly, avoiding Alfred’s gaze. Is that really too much to ask?

Clearing his throat and still looking amused, Alfred swung his leg gracefully over the bike and Edward caught his breath. “Ready to roll?” he asked, bending over the side of the bike and straightening up again with a helmet in his hand, which he offered to Edward.

Edward stared at him. “That’s yours,” he said, puzzled.

Alfred shook his head, grinning, and threw it to Edward, who caught it reflexively. “Looks better on you.”

Edward swallowed. He really should be telling Alfred off for not practicing motorbike safety properly, he supposed, but he was feeling a little bit lightheaded.

Buckling the helmet under his chin with trembling fingers, he carefully swung his leg over the seat. He tried to sit so that there was space between them, not entirely sure he trusted himself - but Alfred immediately reached back, grasping his arms gently and pulling Edward insistently towards the warmth of his body.

“Hold tight,” he murmured, before flicking the bike swiftly into gear.

 

Edward didn’t need telling twice, as the wind whipped past them, ruffling Alfred’s beautiful golden hair as he zoomed recklessly around corners, whooping in exhilaration. Edward grinned to himself, thankful that Alfred seemed so much happier and lighter than he had been earlier in the evening, revelling in the sound of his gleeful laughter. Truth be told, it was a relief to be given such a convenient excuse to curl his arms around the other man.  

Alfred felt as warm and soft against him as he remembered. He could feel the hard muscles of his chest even through Alfred’s shirt, and even though he had been trying to put a reasonable, appropriate amount of space between them, somehow he seemed to have ended up with the warm firmness of Alfred’s backside pressed against him. He smelt a little bit like cinnamon, and it was all Edward could do to restrain himself from burying his face in Alfred’s neck, inhaling his scent deeply and peppering kisses along his pale skin.

Instead, he directed all his efforts into breathing in and out normally, praying to whichever gods might be listening that Alfred could not feel the evidence of his obvious excitement against him.

 

He could not have said whether the journey back home had lasted seconds, hours or days, but suddenly Alfred was bringing the bike to an abrupt halt and dismounting gracefully in front of his house.

A little slow on the uptake, Edward dismounted hastily too, stumbling a little before righting himself as per usual, feeling an absurd sense of disappointment and loss that Alfred had moved out of the circle of his arms.

He pulled the helmet off, blowing at his ridiculously chaotic curls which seemed to have fallen all over his face again. He thought he heard a small intake of breath from Alfred as he proffered the helmet, but then wondered if he had merely imagined it.

 

“Thank you for lending me your helmet,” he said quietly, flashing him a smile.

Alfred was silent for a moment as he took the helmet, eyes flickering down to it and then back up to meet Edward’s.

“Any time,” he murmured.

There was another beat of silence between them. Edward had the strangest feeling that the air was heavy with unsaid words, and he didn’t quite know which ones to start with.

“I really am sorry, you know, Alfred. About what I did earlier. I didn’t mean to screw things up for you so badly. I’m a complete idiot - God knows why anyone ever let me into law school.”

Alfred gave a little half-hearted laugh. “I mean, it’s not great - but I know that you were trying to help me, and I really do appreciate it. Maybe next time, though, you might like to try thinking first, and righteous and heroic indignation later?”

Edward blushed furiously again, cursing himself as he looked down at his shoes. “I’ll work on it,” he muttered.

“Hey, no need to beat yourself up too much,” Alfred said, grinning and poking Edward’s arm gently, evidently unaware that even that minimal contact was sending shivers up Edward’s spine. “After all, it was a pretty crappy job. Maybe you did me a favour - now I might be able to find one that pays more and suits me much better.”

“I’ll help you,” Edward responded determinedly, making the decision on the spot. “I’ll help you find a new job, Alfred, I promise. And I won’t rest until you’ve got a job that makes you as happy as you deserve.”

Alfred looked rather taken aback, gazing up at Edward with those tantalising blue eyes. His mouth was slightly open, as though he was trying to find the words to respond.

“I….thank you, Edward,” he said finally, sounding much less sure of himself than usual.

There was another shivering moment of silence between them as they looked at each other, Edward battling the urge to surge forwards and press the entire length of his body against Alfred’s.

 

After what seemed an eternity, Alfred broke the silence. “I should probably go, Diver….he’s been alone for hours…”

“Right, of course, yeah,” Edward said, nodding furiously, feeling his face growing hot again as he wondered if his thoughts had been obvious on his face.

Alfred gave him a sad little smile, before turning around and walking up the steps towards his front door. Edward watched him go, feeling that there had been something missing from the conversation, something that maybe he could have grasped, if he had only remembered to reach for it.

 

“Alfred!” he called out without thinking, following the overwhelming instinct which told him they were not quite done.

Alfred turned, so quickly it was almost as though he had been waiting for Edward to call him back. “Yes?”

“I was just….I was just wondering if we were still on for tomorrow evening? You said you wanted to go out somewhere, right? Or am I in the time out corner now, for being such a colossal idiot tonight?”

Alfred grinned, his entire face seeming to light up. “No, you’re not in the time out corner. And yeah, I’d still love to go out somewhere.”

“Excellent,” Edward grinned back at him, feeling relief seeping through him.

“I hadn’t really thought much about where, though - I could look up some restaurants and text you?”

“No no, don’t worry, I can sort something out, if that’s alright,” Edward said. “And it will be on me. Least I can do after making such a cock-up of everything tonight.”

Alfred grinned wider. “What did you have in mind?”

“Um…” Crap, he hadn’t thought that far ahead. “It will be a surprise. That alright?”

Alfred laughed. “A surprise, huh?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Sure, that’s alright with me. I look forward to being surprised.”

Edward was teetering on the edge of panic for a moment, wondering what he could cobble together before tomorrow, but as Alfred smiled at him, turning those beautiful eyes on him again, the feeling vanished, replaced by a warm sense of contentment in his stomach.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, great - I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Alfred nodded, shooting him one last dazzling smile as he placed his hand on the door handle. “Good night, Edward.”

“Good night, Alfred,” he breathed, as Alfred turned the handle and vanished.

 

***

Six thirty on Saturday evening saw Alfred in front of his hallway mirror, nervously running his hands through his hair again, despite the fact that it looked near enough flawless.

Truth be told, he had spent a ridiculously long time grooming himself, giving himself pep talks, and trying to settle on the perfect outfit for the evening. He was definitely losing the plot a little bit; he had even tried asking Diver for advice.

“What do you reckon, D?,” he’d asked, holding up two shirts. “The navy blue, or the grey?”

Diver had just tilted his head in puzzlement, wagging his tail silently.

“Thanks for your help, D,” Alfred had muttered.

 

He really shouldn’t be getting so worked up about this, he knew that. They’d never even explicitly clarified that it was a date, for god’s sake! He should probably be feeling irritated at Edward right now, in fact, rather than feeling so nervous and giddy - after all, the man had managed to lose him a job last night, in his fit of (admittedly rather sexy) indignant heroism. But then, he had been ridiculously apologetic and adorable afterwards, making sure Alfred got out of there before he was humiliated any further, promising so intently to help him find a new job that made him as happy as he deserved (he grinned to himself at the memory). Not to mention, of course, the adorably awkward way he had stuttered and blushed before finally climbing onto the bike behind Alfred, and the frankly heavenly feeling of Edward’s warm, strong arms wrapped tightly around him. In fact, at one point, Alfred could almost have sworn he had felt something brushing against him from behind, something that suggested Edward might be just as excited as he was….

 

It really did seem like the signs were pointing to ‘date’, and perhaps if Alfred had been feeling as confident as usual, he might have already made a move.

But he had suffered enough blows to his self-esteem recently. There was the humiliation of admitting to Edward that he pathetically had to depend on his parents for rent, taking whatever demeaning jobs he could get to make it easier.

And, on top of that, he was still reeling from what Will had done to him. Will, whom he’d trusted, who he’d believed had cared about him.

 

Alfred had been with him for years, ever since Will had come into the cafe where he’d been working as a uni student, trying - as always - to scrape a little extra cash while he did his creative writing degree, which he’d adored but which always seemed to lead to precisely zero jobs.

Tall, dark, and broad-shouldered, a few years older and with a lot more experience than he had, Will had swaggered into the cafe while Alfred had been on his shift at the counter, and flirted outrageously with him while ordering his coffee - including an announcement that Alfred was ‘the most gorgeous little thing he’d ever seen’. Before leaving, he had audaciously picked up a notepad and pen belonging to the cafe, scribbled down his name and number, slid the note towards Alfred, and winked at him before sauntering out.

Alfred had been absolutely besotted with him from that moment, constantly putting him on a pedestal, ignoring all of the warning signs and making excuses for Will’s behaviour despite the quiet concern from his friends and family. And there had been a lot of warning signs.

Will was away for work and hadn’t called or even texted in days? Well, he was a busy man, he had a lot on his plate.

Alfred occasionally received confusing texts from him that weren’t connected to any conversation they were having, and seemed to be meant for other people? Well, Will had plenty of friends and work contacts, and his long work hours exhausted him, it was easy to make a mistake.

Will was frequently short-tempered, yelling at Alfred and insulting him when he got home? Well, his work was exhausting, his colleagues frustrated him no end, it was no wonder he was a bit tense.

He told Alfred he was overreacting whenever Alfred brought any of this up, insisted he was imagining faults that weren’t there? Well, he was probably right, Alfred definitely had some insecurity issues to work on, he was probably getting paranoid. And if Will was angry at him, then perhaps Alfred needed to work on infuriating him less.

 

The wake-up call came only when Alfred returned from a weekend in Wales where he’d been visiting his parents, helping take care of his dad whose leg had been bothering him again. He was heading back home earlier than he’d planned, and he hadn’t texted ahead to let Will know, planning to surprise him and try out some rather naughty ideas.

Things hadn’t quite gone as he’d envisioned on that fateful evening, though.

Alfred had dropped his bags by the door and called for Will, not seeing him. The only response had been some quickly muffled noises from the bedroom. With a sudden clenching feeling of dread in his stomach, he had hurried to the bedroom, flinging the door open, only to be confronted with the sight of a naked Will and an unfamiliar woman who was also naked, covering herself with the sheets and giggling.

He remembered immediately turning around and walking back out the room, thinking vaguely through a haze of pain and humiliation that it was lucky he’d just got back from his parents, and thus already had a suitcase packed.

A few moments later, Will had hurried after him, still shirtless but hastily pulling on a pair of jeans.

“Babe….I didn’t expect you back so early…..I’m sorry, I guess this must be a bit of a shock, I probably should have mentioned I’m bi….”

Alfred had turned back to him incredulously, feeling suddenly as though all the fury he should have been feeling over the past years had come rushing to the surface at once.

“You think my problem here is with you being bisexual, Will?” he had spat. “If you really think the issue here is me being biphobic, then you are both an idiot and a bastard.”

Turning around, he had swung his bag over his shoulder and grabbed the handle of his suitcase which was still waiting by the table.

“I’m going back to my parents’. I’ll be back in a few days to collect the rest of my things. I don’t really give a shit where you go, but you need to be not here by the time I get back.”

Leaving Will speechless behind him, he had opened the door, turning to Diver who was sitting quietly waiting for him. “Come on, D.”

Well, at least someone here loved him, he’d thought as Diver happily trotted out at his heels, wagging his tail.

 

The humiliation had hit him in waves after he’d turned up on his parents’ doorstep only a few hours after he’d left. As he’d told his parents the story, clutching in his shaking hands a mug of tea that his mum had forced on him, choking on sobs, he had caught the look that passed between his mother and father. It was clear from their faces that he was the only person in the room who was in any way surprised at Will’s cheating. When his numerous siblings heard the news, they were quick to offer their sympathy, hugs, and threatening remarks about his ex - but once again, it was obvious that everybody had seen it coming but him.

For the first two or three days, texts arrived from Will almost on the hour - some defensive, some pleading, some furious and threatening. Though Alfred had itched to reply, he had deleted each one after reading it, and after three days he’d finally worked up the strength to block his number.

His parents had eventually come back with him to help him collect the rest of his things from the flat - though he suspected they were escorting him more out of worry that Will was still waiting there. Thankfully, he had cleared out just as Alfred had told him to, and Alfred had packed up his life into boxes, knowing he could never stay in a place that held so many memories of the man who had hurt him so badly.

He would be forever grateful to his parents for all their help, including finding him such a wonderful new apartment in central London.

And apparently, it was true what they said about every cloud having a silver lining. It was only after he had packed everything up that he had finally gotten an email back from the publisher he’d been desperate to hear from, and discovered that they were really, truly willing to put their faith in him if he could deliver a full novel manuscript in time for Christmas.

And of course, he could never have dreamed that as soon as he moved to his new flat, still reeling from heartbreak and humiliation, he would find….

 

There was a light knock on the door and Alfred jumped slightly, pulling himself out of his painful reverie. Glancing at the door, he ran his fingers completely unnecessarily through his hair yet again, his heart already pounding in his chest.

“Wish me luck, D,” he whispered. Diver barked, wagged his tail, and padded after him to the door.

 

His breath caught in his chest slightly as the door swung open to reveal Edward standing there waiting, wearing rather tight skinny jeans and a burgundy woolen jumper that fit him just closely enough to hint at the sculpted chest beneath.

“Hello,” Edward said sheepishly, a beautiful, genuine smile lighting up his face.

“Hi there,” Alfred responded, feeling suddenly breathless as his eyes raked over the planes of Edward’s face.

It was strange how quickly a feeling of calm contentment stole through him in Edward’s presence, how relaxed and safe and easy everything felt.

Obviously, Edward was a masterpiece - those luscious curls, those gorgeous dark eyes flecked with green, the shy smile on those full, soft-looking lips. But it was more than that, somehow - there was something about Edward that seemed so gentle, honest and open. It was as if he was utterly incapable of lying and deceiving, even if he tried. He couldn’t have been any more different from Will if he’d tried, which was a blessed relief.

 

“Sorry, I know I’m a bit early,” Edward started bashfully.

“No, no, you’re fine,” Alfred responded, grinning back at him. He couldn’t help it - Edward’s adorable smile was infectious. “Did you want a drink? Wine?”

“Wine sounds lovely,” Edward smiled. “But it might have to be a quick one, because I just got a message saying our Uber is due to arrive in about five minutes.”

“I think I can manage that,” Alfred answered, gesturing with his head as he started to move towards the kitchen. Edward padded obediently at his heels. “So, where is it the Uber is taking us?”

Edward flashed him a grin. “Didn’t I say it was a surprise?”

Alfred blinked, slightly taken aback. He’d assumed Edward had only said that to give himself thinking time. “Well, yes, but....”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”

Alfred pouted, trying to ignore the tingling heat flushing his skin at Edward’s unaccustomed mischievous tone. “Spoilsport.” Edward laughed and flashed him another smile, and he felt his heart flip over in his chest.

 

“So,” he said, shaking himself a little, wondering how Edward was able to dazzle him so completely with just one smile. “How did work go the other day, anyway? After I so nobly raced you there, risking life and limb? I gather your boss didn't actually murder you - what was he so worked up about?”

“Oh, there was a very important and high-flying new client, and I was keeping her waiting,” Edward mumbled, a beautiful blush spreading across his cheeks. “Florence Kerr - you know, the woman who came to check if we were alright at the party last night? It was her family hosting.

“She came to check if you were alright, you mean - not sure if she really gave a toss about me,” Alfred responded, amused, grinning as Edward flushed even darker. “She seemed a little…. Intense.”

Edward gave a small, rather scandalised smile, as if he couldn't quite believe he was having such an unprofessional conversation about a client. “She is a little bit intense,” he admitted. “But from what I can gather, she's much easier to deal with than her father, who's head of their family estate. She's an old family friend of my boss, so unlike me she's not intimidated by him at all, in fact she seems very fond of him - she calls him ‘Robbie,’ though I'm not entirely sure he cares for that much!” Edward grinned as he took a sip of wine. “But all in all, she seems like a nice woman, and very friendly and welcoming.”

Alfred raised an eyebrow slightly, fighting an instinct to facepalm. He'd seen the way Florence Kerr had cooed at Edward last night, batting her eyelashes, her disappointed pout when he'd told her he was leaving. He definitely wouldn't have called it ‘being friendly’ - more like ‘flirting so obvious it could be seen from space.’ That was the main reason he'd intervened, pretending to be ill - he'd been possessed with an urge to distract Edward before he was pulled in. Alfred could hardly blame her for hitting on him, of course, and he hadn't been able to help feeling a bit smug when Edward had chosen to accompany him home rather than taking the bait.

Apparently, though, Edward was actually clueless enough to have somehow missed the bait entirely. It was hilarious - not to mention adorable. He bit his lip to keep from giggling, and changed the subject.

“How come you didn't know about the meeting the other day, anyway? Did the emails get lost in your inbox or something?”

“N-no, I just….” Edward's face was suddenly turning pink again. “I just got a bit distracted, that's all,” he muttered, looking determinedly down at his shoes instead of meeting Alfred's eyes.

“I see,” Alfred said, grinning and quirking an eyebrow again, wishing he could see what was happening in that gorgeous brain.

 

There was a moment of silence as Alfred tried again not to giggle, before Edward spoke again, with an air of desperation to change the subject.

“How about you? Any new writing projects this week?”

“Yes, actually,” Alfred said, smiling at Edward over the rim of his glass as he took another sip of wine. “My boss has told me I can focus on a theatre review, and she gave me a list of options which all sound amazing, so that's awesome.”

“That's great!”

“One problem, though,” Alfred continued, grimacing. “The company budget is pretty shit at the moment, so they can't pay for my ticket. And they've spoken to the theatres, and all of them are only willing to give me a tiny discount. They're still all pretty expensive tickets, it's gonna set me back. If I could score a free ticket it would be amazing, but,” he sighed, “no point in wishful thinking, right?”

“Yeah, that is annoying,” Edward answered - but Alfred noticed that his words were at odds with his tone and facial expression. He was grinning to himself, his beautiful dark eyes alight with mischief, as if he was delighting in the fact that he knew something Alfred didn't.

 

Before Alfred could ask what was so funny, Edward’s phone buzzed. He took it out of his pocket, glanced at the screen, and then looked up at Alfred with another little smile that made his heart flip over in his chest.

“Good sir, your carriage awaits,” he announced. “Well, your Uber anyway.”

Alfred grinned, hastily putting the empty wine glasses in the dishwasher, bending down to give Diver a farewell scratch behind the ears, and following Edward, who held the door open for him. He tried not to swoon. Come on Paget, pull yourself together.

 

Edward opened the door of the Uber for him as well, but while Alfred slid into the backseat, Edward went to open the front passenger door, saying something quietly to the driver that Alfred didn’t catch. Alfred saw the driver nod and say a few brief words in response, before Edward said something that was clearly a ‘thank you’, closed the door again, and came to join Alfred in the back seat.

Alfred looked across at him - his dark eyes were shining, his beautiful lips curved up in that mischievous little smile again. It was all Alfred could do to restrain himself from lunging across the space between them and pulling Edward towards him by the shirt collar.

“You’re still not gonna tell me where we’re going, are you?”

“Nope,” Edward said, grinning wider. “I told you, it’s a surprise.”

Alfred sighed dramatically. “You know, I was the one who suggested we come out for this….evening, in the first place.”

He hoped Edward didn’t notice him suddenly changing track mid-sentence - he had been about to say ‘this date.’ Perhaps he was being ridiculous, but he still didn’t want to be presumptuous and make things awkward. After all, neither of them had actually referred to it as a ‘date’ out loud yet.

Luckily, Edward didn’t seem to notice his hesitation. “I know, but I’m the one who’s trying to make up for being a colossal idiot last night, and I’m the one who came up with the idea.”

Alfred huffed, and Edward laughed. “If it makes you feel better, you can tell me some more about your writing on the way. Do you have anything you’d absolutely love to write, but you haven’t got the chance to yet? Dream topic for an article: go.”

Alfred didn’t need much telling, launching into an explanation of all the writing ideas he had written down in notebooks, most of which hadn’t been unpacked yet.

Edward was looking at him with a fascinated little smile, asking him to elaborate on his travel writing bucket list, giggling at his jokes.

He couldn’t help but remember the way Will had rolled his eyes whenever Alfred started to gush about writing, thinking he couldn’t see. It had made him feel a little smaller and a little more stupid every time.

But Edward….Edward was so sweet and so genuine that it almost hurt.

 

The ride seemed to be over far too soon, and Alfred had a ridiculous desire to just stay in the backseat of the Uber and talk to Edward for hours. But Edward had already opened the car door, leapt up, and was proffering his hand to Alfred.

“Sorry to cut you off,” he smiled. “But would you like to see your surprise now?”

Alfred crinkled his nose, and Edward laughed. Overcome with curiosity, he reached out to take Edward’s hand, feeling a spark of electricity at the slightest touch of his skin.

 

“Where are….?” He turned around, and his jaw dropped as his question was answered before he asked it.

They were standing in front of the Almeida Theatre, one of his favourite venues in London. Not only that, but there was a huge banner hanging over the beautiful facade of the building, advertising the production of Hamlet that was currently playing there.

“Will this do?” Edward asked, grinning as he withdrew two tickets from his pocket with a flourish.

“Oh my god,” Alfred murmured, feeling a delighted grin spreading across his own face. “Edward….how on earth did you know that this is perfect for me?”

Edward ducked his head a little. “Well, I remembered you telling me that this was your absolute favourite Shakespeare play. Plus, you told me while we were painting the other day about the time you performed in this at uni, and how much you loved that, so…..I thought you might enjoy it.”

Alfred stared at him, feeling rather overwhelmed. It felt odd, after so long with Will, to have someone who actually listened to his endless rambling about writing and literature, who cared about what he said.

Another thought struck him and he nearly gasped. “This production was on the list of shows I was given that I could review!”

Edward grinned. “Yes, I thought it might be.”

“But….Edward….” The ticket prices !, he wanted to say. There was a reason he’d nearly cried when he’d looked up the prices of the shows on the list his boss had given him, and this one more than all the others. Instinctively, he reached towards his pocket to pull out his wallet. Edward seemed to read his mind.

“Nope, don’t even think about it,” he said firmly.

“But -”

“You don’t pay when you’re with me, ok? Besides, it’s the least I can do after I buggered everything up last night, alright?”

Edward was looking at him intently, firmly, and Alfred felt a shiver go up his spine.

“I….alright, fine,” he muttered. “If you insist.”

“I do,” Edward said, grinning.

“Thank you,” he added.

“You’re very welcome,” Edward murmured, smiling at him softly. Alfred felt his heart do yet another backflip as they looked at each other.

“Well, come on!” Edward said suddenly, breaking the spell. “Let’s go in, it would be a bit disappointing if they locked us out!”

 

Alfred followed him into the foyer, still gazing around in a happy daze at all the Hamlet posters as Edward politely presented their tickets for inspection. How was it possible Edward would do something this sweet?

“Hey Alfred, would you like me to get a program for you?” Edward asked, breaking Alfred’s reverie.

“Hmm?” Alfred looked at the programs, wincing at how overpriced they were on top of the already ludicrously expensive tickets. On the other hand, he would rather love to have a souvenir of this evening.

“Oh...they look lovely, Edward, but you really don’t have to….”

“I want to, though,” Edward responded, grinning. “One program, please,” he said to the front of house woman, who giggled a little breathlessly as she handed it over. “Thank you very much,” Edward said, clearly noticing nothing out of the ordinary. Alfred grinned to himself a little, struggling not to roll his eyes.

 

“Shall we head in?” Edward asked, turning to Alfred and gesturing with his head. Alfred nodded, still feeling a little overwhelmed.

As they sat down, Alfred stared around the beautiful theatre, feeling a giddy excitement rising in his chest. God, it had been years since he’d been here, and even longer since he’d seen this, his favourite Shakespeare. And of course, he’d never in his life been to the theatre with such wonderful company.

“Hey, do you mind if I have a look at that?” Edward asked.

“What?” Alfred asked stupidly. Edward nodded at the program clutched in Alfred’s hands. He’d forgotten he was holding it.

He felt himself blushing. “Oh, of course!”, he said, handing it over.

“Thank you.” Edward looked down at it for a moment, frowning slightly. Without warning, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a glasses case, flipped it open, and pushed a large square pair of glasses onto his face - and Alfred very nearly choked.

“Edward….what are you…?”

Edward looked up in surprise. “Oh, did I never tell you? I have to wear these ridiculous glasses to read properly. I try not to wear them if I don’t have to, though, they make me look pretty stupid.”

Alfred forced himself to close his mouth, realising how stupid he must look right now. Unlike Edward….God, how was it possible for him to look even sexier than before?

He swallowed, counting to ten in his head before he blurted out something like You are never taking those off again, in fact when we get home you can take off everything else except those.

“No, they suit you actually,” he said instead, wincing as his voice cracked slightly.

 

Suddenly, the lights began to dim, as an announcement started playing over the loudspeaker, reminding people to turn their phones off.

Edward hastily handed the program back to Alfred, beaming at him excitedly.

As the lights came up onstage and the audience was plunged into darkness, Alfred suddenly felt hyper-aware of the warmth of Edward’s body next to his. There was an armrest between them, but they seemed to have decided to share it, elbows brushing against each other, and Edward’s entire leg seemed to be pressed up against Alfred’s.

 

Alfred breathed out slowly, trying to calm himself down.

He really did love this play. But he was starting to think that he might need to choose a different one to review for work after all.

It looked like he might have a bit of difficulty focusing on the acting tonight.






Chapter Text

Alfred didn’t think he could bear to tear himself away.

He still couldn’t quite believe how wonderful the evening had been.
The acting - and everything about the play, really - had been incredible, and he had revelled in letting the familiar language of the play wash over him, as enthralled as ever as he found each new little nuance that he hadn’t spotted before.
But the play itself wasn’t what was making him giddy.

On the very rare occasions that he’d persuaded Will to come to the theatre with him, Will had always sat next to him sighing and tutting, rolling his eyes, walking out into the foyer for ‘urgent phone calls’, just to make it as clear as possible that Alfred was making him waste his time.
But being at the theatre with Edward….
Alfred had turned to look at him about a thousand times, desperate to know what Edward was thinking. He had sat there, eyes wide as he stared at the stage, utterly compelled. A couple of times, sensing Alfred’s gaze on him, Edward had looked back at him, beaming, and at one point during Ophelia’s heart-wrenching mad scene, Edward had mouthed a ‘wow’ at him, eyes shining with genuine awe.
During the interval, when they went to the bar to get drinks, Edward had raised the question of whether Ophelia was actually mad, or faking it just like Hamlet, asking Alfred what he thought.
Alfred couldn’t quite believe it; not only did Edward seem just as enamoured by Shakespeare’s endless mysteries as he was (and nobody had ever cared as ridiculously much about Shakespeare as he did), but he was also asking for Alfred’s opinion, he genuinely wanted to listen and considered Alfred’s input valuable. Alfred had scarcely been able to remember what that felt like, until tonight.

And now, here they were, sitting at the marble countertop in Alfred’s tiny kitchen, drinking Alfred’s speciality bourbon hot chocolate, still discussing the evening. Alfred was silently marvelling that Edward was still showing no signs of boredom or wanting to leave, but seemed happy to keep chatting, heedless of the time creeping by.
And it was getting late; Alfred’s quirky little blue spiral clock above the fridge was ticking close to 11:30. Part of him longed to just ask Edward to stay the night already - wasn’t that the next logical step at this point?
A flush crept over his skin at the idea that his persistent fantasy - Edward’s warm body twined around his in bed, Alfred’s fingers buried in his soft brown curls - might actually have the potential to turn into a reality.
He shook himself, trying to force himself back to the present moment. He was being stupid, getting his hopes up - nobody had ever even clarified that this was a date, for God’s sake! And even if it was, wasn’t sleeping with somebody on the very first date breaking one of those unspoken dating rules? Not that he gave much of a toss about that, personally - if Edward were to actually ask him, he would probably be ready and waiting in the bed in a heartbeat. But even if Edward was remotely interested, he seemed like the kind of man who wouldn’t want to rush into something like that. And perhaps if Alfred was being sensible, he wouldn’t rush into something like that either - not so soon after Will.
He tried not to sigh audibly as he looked back at Edward, forcing himself to focus on what he was saying, smiling at his animated expression as he kept theorising about the play.

“God, but Hamlet treated Ophelia terribly, for somebody he was supposedly in love with, right?” he was saying.
Alfred grinned. “You really liked Ophelia, didn’t you?”
“Well, I haven’t seen it since I was at school, so it’s all new and exciting to me, cut me some slack!”
“It was written around 1603, Edward, so I would hardly call it ‘new,’” Alfred teased.
“Oh, shush,” Edward responded, poking out his tongue. Alfred sniggered.
“But seriously,” Edward continued, “Ophelia deserved much better than Hamlet! Besides, he seemed to feel much closer to Horatio than he ever did to Ophelia. Like, he trusted Horatio with all of the secrets he never trusted her with, he let Horatio in on his musings and his private thoughts, which he never allowed Ophelia - it’s almost like Horatio was the only person who truly knew him. And of course, it was Horatio’s arms that Hamlet died in.”
“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story,” Alfred quoted in a murmur.
“See? They must have been very close friends,” Edward responded.
Alfred looked at him, his breath suddenly hitching in his throat, wondering if he could possibly be reading the subtext right here, or if he was just imagining what he wanted to hear.
“And do you think that’s what they were to each other? Friends?” Alfred breathed, gazing at Edward, some part of him knowing that this conversation wasn’t just about the play anymore.
Edward stared back at him, dark eyes meeting blue. “Well, you said this was written around 1603, right? So…. I suppose they might not have known what else to call it.”
Alfred swallowed. “So…. close friends.”
“Very close friends,” Edward breathed, leaning in slightly.

Alfred blinked, wondering in a daze how it was that Edward’s face was scarcely an inch from his own. He could see the greenish flecks in Edward’s eyes, the freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, and god, his lips looked so soft. And was he just imagining it, or had Edward’s eyes just flickered down to his own lips?
If he just leaned forward a fraction of an inch….

A sudden loud bark from Diver startled them both, and Alfred jumped away from Edward, nearly spilling his hot chocolate all over himself.
Diver immediately began pawing at him, jumping up and whimpering insistently.
“For god’s sake, D, what do you want?” Alfred sighed. He loved his puppy dearly, but at the moment he couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed at him, wondering what might have happened if he hadn’t interrupted.
Edward chuckled, and Alfred wondered if he was merely imagining the slight edge of disappointment in his voice.
“Diver’s pretty excitable, isn’t he?” Edward said, smiling down at him as he continued pawing at Alfred’s jeans and whimpering.
“Sorry, he’s being a bit silly,” Alfred said, frowning down at Diver as he stood up on his hind legs, resting his front paws on Alfred’s jeans and gazing at him with big imploring eyes. “You’re being a bit rude in front of our guest, you know that, D?” he said sternly. “It’s because you’re hungry, isn’t it?”
“Oh, hey, do you want me to grab some food for him?” Edward asked, making to stand up from his chair.
Alfred looked at him in surprise, once again taken aback by his thoughtfulness.
“Oh, no - don’t worry, Edward, there’s no need, you’re a guest -”
“No, no, I’d like to help!’ Edward said, standing up properly and shooting Alfred a smile. He felt his heart turn over in his chest yet again. “Honestly, just tell me where his food and bowl are, and I’ll sort it!”
“Ok,” Alfred said, grinning a little as he thought to himself that Edward looked so enthusiastic and genuine, he was almost like an oversized puppy himself. “D’s stuff is all in the laundry - middle shelf, on your left as you walk in.”
“Great!” Edward said, turning to Diver, clapping his hands and beaming at him. “Come on Diver! Who’s hungry? Who’s a good boy? Is it you? I think it is!”
Diver barked happily, wagging his tail furiously as he followed Edward into the laundry, Edward looking for all the world as though the pair of them were going on an exciting adventure.
Alfred stared after the two of them, a dopey grin on his face, hoping it wasn’t ridiculously obvious how much his heart was melting.
God, he’d never felt like this about anyone before.

He listened to the beautiful sound of Edward chatting at Diver from the laundry, giggling to himself at the carefree silliness and joy in Edward’s deep voice.
A few minutes later, Edward was back, carrying a sleepy-looking Diver in his arms, scratching gently behind his ears.
“He polished that off pretty quickly,” Edward whispered, grinning. “He seems pretty content now, I think he’s ready for bed.”
“Yep, I think so too,” Alfred said, smiling at the sight of his puppy curled up snugly in Edward’s arms. “Give him here, I can take him.”
Edward passed Diver over carefully, trying not to disturb him too much. Alfred took him gently, Edward’s warm hand brushing against his slightly.
They looked at each other for a moment, as though neither was quite sure what to say. Alfred wished he could rewind time to that tiny, magical little moment before Diver had interrupted.
“I should probably head home, it’s getting a bit late,” Edward said quietly, with a sheepish little smile.
“Right, yeah, it is getting late,” Alfred said, curling his arms tighter around his puppy. He was longing to suggest that Edward just stay with him for the night - but he couldn’t seem to get the words out. “Here, I’ll walk you out.”

Walking Edward to the door, Alfred shifted his sleepy puppy awkwardly to one arm so he could open the door with the other.
Edward stepped out, turning back to Alfred and smiling softly.
“Thank you so much for everything this evening,” Alfred murmured. “Seriously. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself this much.”
Edward ducked his head, grinning. “You are very welcome.”
“I’ll see you soon?”
Edward nodded. “Definitely.”
“Cool,” Alfred breathed, feeling a dorky grin spreading over his face again. “Goodnight, Edward.”
Edward smiled at him softly. “Or, as Horatio would say - ‘goodnight, sweet prince’,” he murmured.
Alfred stared at him, feeling his face growing hot. Was Edward just quoting the play to show him that he’d listened and enjoyed? Or did he mean….
Edward shot him one more shy little smile, then turned and began to trudge across the road to his own mews house.
Alfred watched him go, breathing out slowly to try and calm himself. Closing the door gently, the huge dorky grin still firmly in place, he looked down at Diver, still dozing quietly in his arms.
“I really am so screwed, D,” he murmured.
***

Edward stared absent-mindedly at the new email from Peel on his laptop screen, not actually taking in a word of it. He’d found himself completely unable to focus all day, his mind full of nothing but Alfred Paget, as usual.
He could have never imagined the weekend to be such an emotional whirlwind. In the space of just two days, he’d lost Alfred his job - which should according to all logic have made Alfred refuse to speak to him, but it seemed the man was such an angel that he’d already forgiven him - and then, somehow, he had ended up taking Alfred out on a date which had been more joyous and wonderful than he ever could have imagined.

Except…. was it even a date? It wasn’t as if either of them had ever actually specified that. It had certainly felt like a date, with the easy intimacy of their laughter, the seemingly casual way their legs had pressed up against each other during the play, elbows constantly brushing and sending shivers down Edward’s spine every time.
And that conversation afterwards as they’d sat in Alfred’s kitchen, the conversation that had seemed to have so much more bubbling under the surface, so many words left unsaid. Edward had been so acutely aware of the spiral clock in the corner ticking closer and closer to 11:30, knowing he should leave but secretly praying that Alfred might ask him to stay the night. And there was that tiny, fragile little moment, before Diver had abruptly come in and shattered it, that moment when he had suddenly found himself leaning in a little….and Alfred’s lips had been so close….

And now, here he was, sitting here at work, wondering if he was an idiot because he was getting his hopes up for no reason, or if he was an idiot for missing an opportunity that Alfred had been offering him. Well, either way, he thought to himself gloomily, he was an idiot - and far too oblivious for his own good sometimes.
And of course, on top of all this, he had just had to blurt out that he was going to help Alfred get a new job, overcome by a sudden ridiculous wave of chivalry. The idea was all well and good in theory, of course, but now Alfred had put his faith in him, and the fact of the matter was that he was going to have to figure out a way to follow through on his promise, even though he had absolutely no clue where he would even start looking. Why did he always have to go saying these things without thinking about them first? For god’s sake, wasn’t that how he’d managed to lose Alfred his job in the first place?

A light, flirtatiously amused little cough distracted Edward from his reverie, and he jumped slightly, looking up to see Florence Kerr standing there smiling at him, wearing a red dress with a rather low neckline, blonde curls tumbling down over her shoulders.
“Penny for your thoughts, Edward?” she asked, tossing her head slightly so her curls flew as she sat down gracefully on the other side of his desk.

Edward smiled at her politely, hoping it wasn’t incredibly obvious what he had been thinking about. He just wanted advice on whether or not he should have grabbed Alfred, kissed him, and carried him off to bed the other night. Florence seemed very nice and friendly, but Edward wasn’t quite sure he felt comfortable enough with her to ask her about that.
In fact, seeing as she was an important client, it was perhaps best if she didn’t realise that he had not, in fact, done much work to speak of since he had come in this morning, having been too distracted by thoughts of golden hair and sky-blue eyes.

“You don’t look much like a man who’s daydreaming about contract law, I must say,” she said amusedly.
Dammit. He could feel himself blushing.
“I…. I might have been a bit distracted today,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention that to Peel, though.”
She grinned at him conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, I promise not to tell Robbie - as long as you promise not to let my father know I’m here. He’s on the phone, yelling at somebody as usual - I’ve only just managed to give him the slip. God, it’s nice to have a little break from him for once.” She twisted her face in a grimace, and Edward felt a twinge of sympathy somewhere deep in his stomach. He certainly knew what it was like to have a father that you couldn’t stand.
“I won’t let him know you’ve escaped, I promise,” he said quietly.
Florence looked at him strangely, as though somewhat taken aback by his obvious sincerity.
“Thank you,” she said, after a beat of silence. He nodded.

“So, what were you daydreaming about?”, she asked him, smiling. “What is it that’s got you distracted?”
Edward chewed on his lip, thinking. He still didn’t really feel comfortable confessing to her about his feelings for Alfred - besides, he wasn’t entirely sure that sort of thing was particularly appropriate to share with a client - but then again, she clearly trusted him enough to let herself be a little vulnerable in front of him, to share her honest feelings about her father with him. Perhaps he should give her some honesty in return - if not the whole story, then at least a bit of it.

“Do you remember my friend Alfred? The one who was at your family’s party the other night?”
She furrowed her brow slightly. “The one who was ill?”
“Ill…...? Oh, yes, that’s right,” he said quickly, as he remembered Alfred’s sneaky little ruse. God, he hoped that didn’t sound as unconvincing as it had felt.
“Anyway,” he went on hastily, “Alfred was really down the other night, as well as feeling ill. I’d just managed to lose him his job, you see,” he said sheepishly, feeling a fresh lurch of guilt as he looked down at the floor.
“You lost him his job?” Florence repeated, sounding bewildered. “But…. Edward….are you sure it was actually your fault -?”
“Quite sure,” he said, sighing, furious at himself all over again. “I stormed up to his boss when Alfred told me he wasn’t getting any breaks, I just wanted to give the man a piece of my mind, make sure he was aware that what he was doing with his employees was illegal and he could get in huge trouble for it. But I didn’t manage to intimidate the man at all. All I achieved was getting Alfred fired, because his boss thought he was the one causing the hassles, and that he’d put me up to it.”
There was another beat of silence as Florence traced her eyes over his face. “I’m sorry things turned out like that, Edward,” she said quietly. “But it was very…. gallant of you, trying to help him like that.”
He felt himself blushing again. “Actually, I think it was a bit more idiotic than gallant,” he responded. “And there’s more.”
“More?” Florence repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“I did say I’m a bit of an idiot,” he said sheepishly. “The thing is, I was feeling really guilty about what happened, and so after Alfred and I got back home, I may have…. I may have promised him that I would find him a new job, one that suited him perfectly.” He looked down at his feet again.
“Well,” she says, sounding somewhat taken aback. “That was very kind of you, to promise him that. Sounds like you’re a pretty great friend.”
Edward winced. He really wished she wouldn’t keep referring to Alfred as his ‘friend,’ even though it was just the truth. He didn’t really have anything else to call it, no matter how much he wished he did. He knew Florence was probably completely oblivious to the way he felt about Alfred - but it felt a little bit like she was rubbing it in that Edward hadn’t got anywhere with him.

“The problem is,” Edward said, shaking himself a little as he tried to force his mind back to the conversation at hand, “I don’t have any idea how to find him a new job that would suit him. I mean, I don’t even have any clue where to start looking.”
“Well, what is he qualified for, Edward? What is it he does?” Florence asked, raising her eyebrow slightly again.
“He’s a writer,” Edward answered. “That’s what he loves doing more than anything else.” He smiled to himself a little, remembering the passion in Alfred’s voice as he had told him about his dream articles the other night.
“Hmmm….” Florence said, tilting her head a little as she looked at him, eyes slightly unfocused as though she was deep in thought. “You know, I’m fairly certain I heard Robbie saying something about needing a new temp to write for the firm. In fact, he needs a new temp fairly urgently, I think. Perhaps your friend - Alfred, isn’t it? - would like to do an interview? It would certainly be much better paid than that demeaning little job he was doing at the party, I would imagine….”
“Florence…. that’s….” Edward started, slightly stunned.
“I mean, I suppose that might not really be the type of writing job he’s looking for,” Florence said. “But it sounds like he’s more than qualified for it, and I’m sure Robbie would be delighted to have someone who actually knows what they’re doing. Anyway, it’s just an idea,” she said hurriedly, looking down.
“Florence….” Edward breathed, feeling a grin spread over his face. “It’s an excellent idea.”
It was true that Alfred’s first love was writing fiction, but surely, he would be fabulous at temping, even if it wasn’t long-term - he was sure to impress Peel with his talent. Plus, Florence was right, a job like that would be better paid than the humiliating job Edward had got him fired from. It might not be Alfred’s ultimate dream job, but Peel would certainly value him more than those dickheads ever had. Not to mention, if Alfred were to get the job - and why wouldn’t he? - he and Edward would be working in the same place every day. He wouldn’t have to wait for hours before he could see Alfred anymore, missing him and watching the clock impatiently all day - hell, he might even be able to see him through his office window! It wasn’t likely to do wonders for his productivity, but….

Beaming as he felt butterflies fluttering in his stomach, Edward reached out instinctively to grasp Florence’s hand in gratitude. “It’s a brilliant idea, Florence - thank you, thank you!”
She seemed slightly taken aback by his taking her hand. She looked up at him, her face no longer carefully composed as it usually seemed to be. There was a strange, vulnerable look in her eyes that Edward couldn’t quite make sense of.
“You’re very welcome, Edward,” she murmured, squeezing his hand back slightly.

He was about to draw his hand back, when the door suddenly opened behind the two of them, and he heard a deep, gruff voice snapping at them.
“Florence, for god’s sake, girl, don’t just wander off like that!”
Both of them turned, and Edward saw a red-faced man built like a stocky bulldog scowling heavily at Florence. Her infamous father, he assumed.
“Edward Drummond, sir,” he said, standing up quickly and holding out a hand politely. “I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.”
“Yes, yes,” said Kerr dismissively, barely sparing Edward a glance. “Florence, hurry up, we’ve got a meeting to get to. I’m a busy man, as I’m sure you know, and I certainly don’t have time to go chasing around after my daughter all day.”

Edward frowned. He’d gathered that Florence didn’t exactly see eye to eye with her father, but he would never have imagined the man would be so rude and patronising to his daughter, an adult woman - and in front of other people, no less!
He opened his mouth, ready to defend her indignantly, but Florence muttered in an undertone, “It’s fine, Edward, I’m used to it.”
“Well?” Kerr demanded, holding the door open and gesturing impatiently.
Florence sighed. “Yeah, I’m coming.” She turned back to Edward, giving him a little half-smile. “I’ll see you later, Edward.”
“Thank you for your help,” he called after her, watching helplessly as her father practically shunted her through the doorway. “I really do appreciate it.”
She smiled at him again, a little more genuinely this time. “You’re welcome.”
“Oh, for god’s sake, come on,” Kerr muttered, pushing her none too gently in the small of her back. “We’ll talk later, Drummond,” he called to Edward over his shoulder as he left, as if it were a mere afterthought.
“I look forward to it, sir,” he responded. Kerr, luckily, was already out of the room, and thus seemed to miss the sarcasm in Edward’s voice.

The office silent again, with no sound other than the ticking of the clock, Edward sighed and sat down heavily, running his hands through his somewhat chaotic curls.
He felt a little guilty, leaving Florence alone to deal with her clearly obnoxious father - he hadn’t even tried to defend her properly. But then, he hadn’t been all that much help the last time he had tried to stand up on someone else’s behalf. And it seemed Florence hadn’t really wanted him to get involved. But still, he didn’t like the feeling of being useless.
Sighing again, he clicked back to the Word document which really should have had more words in it by now, given how long he had been sitting here. He really did need to do some actual work, as opposed to just sitting there fantasising and agonising.
He stared at the screen in front of him for a moment, chewing on his lip as he drummed his fingers lightly and absentmindedly on the keys.
You know what, I’ll work in a minute, he thought to himself, as he picked up his phone and, smiling to himself slightly, began tapping out a text to Alfred.
***
Until very recently, Florence Kerr had been convinced that she had had quite enough of men.

It had been only a matter of months since she had escaped the rather toxic relationship with her last ex, Callum.
Her father had gotten along quite well with him, but perhaps she might have saved herself a lot of pain if she had taken that as a warning sign a little earlier; after all, it was usually true what people said about birds of a feather.
Callum had constantly tried to control Florence’s life, from commenting on what she ate, to telling her which friends he didn’t want her seeing, to disapproving of the way she
dressed or cut her hair. Towards the end of their relationship, it had seemed that every day he had another undermining comment or backhanded compliment for her, gradually chipping away at her self-confidence until she felt she barely even knew who she was anymore.
No matter what she did, he had always made her feel that it was never enough; he was always suggesting that perhaps she just didn’t care enough, wasn’t committed enough to him. She had frequently found herself apologising for things, without even really knowing what she was apologising for. There was always something.
Eventually, there had come a day when Callum had told her that he was leaving. She wasn’t the right woman for him, apparently, because she didn’t appreciate him enough. According to him, Florence had never followed any of his ‘advice’ or listened to his ‘opinions’ properly. Apparently, she had taken his love for granted, and never adequately proved her love in return.
Not like Holly. That was the woman who Callum had announced he was leaving her for. That was all Florence ever found about her, really. Her name, the fact that she was apparently a better girlfriend than Florence in every single way, and the fact that she was the reason for Callum leaving. Well, part of the reason. She supposed it was mostly just that Callum had decided, for reasons best known to himself, that he objected to her, that she wasn’t good enough for him and never had been.

For the first few weeks after the breakup, Florence had dwelled obsessively on trying to figure out where she had gone wrong, what mistakes she had made, how she could have been a better girlfriend for Callum, what she could have done differently to make him stay.
It was only when her friends had started laying it out in front of her, spelling out clearly every single time he had belittled her, demeaned her, ignored her needs and wants and tried to control her, that she suddenly understood just how trapped she had been.
Suddenly, the humiliation had hit her with the force of a punch to the stomach, making her feel winded. She had always pitied those women she heard about, the ones who were in abusive relationships. But she had always been a little baffled too, wondering how they were missing the obvious solution - why didn’t they just leave?
But hindsight was a bit of a bitch, it seemed. Or maybe it had been a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. It was only now that she had some proper space from Callum that she truly realised how much he had taken from her over the course of their relationship, how much he had sapped her of her self-confidence.
He had taken so much from her, and it seemed that all Florence was left with was the realisation of what a fool he’d made of her. The humiliation of realising how often she had tried to apologise when there was nothing to apologise for, of knowing that she hadn’t ever thought to tell him that he could go fuck himself, but instead had clung to him until he had left and broken her heart first.

And so, Florence had sworn she was going to stay away from men, for a while at least.
But then, from out of the blue it seemed, Edward Drummond had come along.

He was beautiful, of course, ridiculously so - that was obviously the first thing she had noticed. Those chaotic brown curls always flopping over his forehead, those thoughtful dark eyes flecked with green, the freckle on his face, those chiselled cheekbones - not to mention the way his jumpers seemed to cling to the chest underneath….
Perhaps she had just been feeling cynical still after the Callum disaster, but she had to admit that her initial thought when seeing Edward for the first time was that she had found the perfect man for some rebound sex to make herself feel better, and to help her get Callum out of her system.
It hadn’t taken long for her to change her mind, though - in fact, she had realised how wrong she was pretty much as soon as Edward had opened his mouth. Edward Drummond, it turned out, was not meaningless rebound or one-night-stand material at all. The way he blushed slightly when he spoke, stumbled apologetically over his own words if he thought there was the slightest chance they might be misconstrued as rude or blunt. The way he smiled so shyly, his awkward honesty…. there was just something so endearingly genuine and sweet about him. He was like an antidote to Callum, with his quiet, gentle manner, and the way he seemed so utterly determined to help his friend.
Florence knew she was flirting with him, at least a little. Perhaps that had been deliberate and calculated at first, at least to some extent. But now, she felt like she could scarcely help it. Surely it was just a natural reaction, when a man looked like that, and was absurdly intelligent and a sweetheart on top of it?
And just now…. he had been so open and vulnerable with her when he had told her what was bothering him, more open than Callum had ever been in the three years they’d been together. He was just so thoughtful and caring, always trying to help people. She hadn’t missed the way he’d glared at her arsehole of a father when he’d started barking orders at her and patronising her as usual. In fact, it had looked like he’d been about to jump in and defend her, before she had hastily stopped him, knowing full well that her father was a powerful enemy to make.
Not to mention the way he had positively beamed at her, his entire face lighting up at her advice, and the way her heart had seemed to flip over in her chest when he had suddenly reached out to grasp her hand, his hand warm in hers, his dark eyes soft and comforting…..

“What the hell was going on in there, anyway?” Her father’s gruff, barking voice intruded on her somewhat giddy thoughts, pulling her reluctantly from her reverie.
Florence shrugged, tucking her long blonde hair behind her ear as she avoided his eyes. “I’m not sure what you mean, Dad.”
“Bullshit,” he snapped. ‘Don’t play games with me, girl. I’m not blind - you were sitting there, holding the boy’s hand and looking at him with an idiotic, lovestruck expression on your face.”
She felt her face burning. “He was just saying thank you, Dad,” she muttered. “Edward was upset about something, and I was trying to help him, that’s all.”
“‘Edward’,” he sneered. “I didn’t realise you were on first-name terms with the staff now. That’s all Drummond is, in case you’ve forgotten. That’s what we’re paying him for. He is supposed to do things for us - or for me, anyway. We don’t do things for him, you stupid girl.”
She stayed silent, trying as always not to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he was hurting her.
“I’ve seen, that look on your face before, Florence,” her father went on. “You want to fuck him, don’t you?” Her face was beginning to feel like a furnace, but she kept her gaze fixed on the ground and her mouth shut, determined not to dignify him with a response.
“Ah, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?” he went on relentlessly. “You’re already convinced that the sun shines out of his arse, aren’t you? Let me guess, he’s in love with you in your little fantasy world, isn’t he? Should I start sending out invitations to my daughter’s wedding?” He barked a laugh, while Florence continued feigning deafness.
“You’re so naive, you know that, Florence? You never learn. You thought the same thing about Callum, you convinced yourself he loved you, you thought the two of you had something special” - his tone dripped sarcasm - “and look where it left you. You let him make a complete fool out of you, girl - not that you’ve ever needed much help in that department. And now look at you, you’re doing the same thing all over again. You’re so desperate for love and attention, you’d do anything, you’d fuck anyone, just so long as you could delude yourself into thinking that they cared about you.”
Despite her best efforts to pretend his words weren’t affecting her, Florence couldn’t help but suck in a sharp breath as her father’s cruel words hit her like a blow to the stomach.
He smirked, evidently revelling in the triumph of tearing her down.
“You’re pathetic, you know that, Florence? Honestly, I’m ashamed to say that you’re my daughter.”
She bit her lip hard, trying to stifle a sob and determinedly avoiding her father’s eyes so that he wouldn’t see that hers were filling with tears. She did not want to give him the satisfaction.
“Now get a move on, we have a meeting to get to. You’ve kept me waiting long enough today as it is.”

***
“Seriously? You think you might have found me a new job already?”
“Well, I’ve found you an interview, at least,” Edward replied. “But I don’t see why you wouldn’t get it, the post needs filling urgently, apparently, and you’re more than qualified and more than talented enough.”

Alfred stared at him over the rim of his wine glass as Edward shrugged and snuck some of the leftovers from their Chinese takeaway to Diver, who was curled up on his lap.
He was feeling a little overwhelmed. He had certainly been touched when Edward had so determinedly promised to find him a new job, but if he was honest, he hadn’t really expected him to be able to follow through, no matter how much he appreciated the gesture. And certainly not so soon.

“And when would they be able to interview me?” he asked, trying his best to keep his tone casual.
“I’m pretty sure Peel said you could come in and do the interview tomorrow, if you’re available and you’re willing,” Edward responded, looking at him with big brown puppy eyes.

Alfred chewed on his lip, thinking. In all honesty, whenever he had dreamed of having a writing job, temping for a contract law firm had never really been what he’d envisioned. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could do the job; it just didn’t sound particularly likely to enthral him. He had never really wanted to end up stuck in a corporate office job.
But then again, it would pay better than the humiliating job Edward had gotten him fired from, and he sure as hell could do with the extra money. And temping, by definition, wasn’t a long-term thing - this could just be something to tide him over until he found the perfect writing job, surely? And there was no point being falsely modest - Edward was right, he would be good at this….

“You don’t have to do the interview if you don’t want to, of course,” Edward said, watching him anxiously. “Obviously the last thing I want to do is make you feel pressured. But….it would be really nice, actually. Seeing you every day at work, I mean.” He smiled at Alfred shyly.

Alfred felt his heart melting at the earnest expression in Edward’s dark eyes. It was all he could do not to lean in right there and then and crush his lips to Edward’s, sliding his tongue between his lips. His hands itched with the desire to reach out to him.
Well, that decided it, he supposed. He couldn’t think of any particularly convincing counter-argument right now.

“You know what? Yes. Yes, I will do the interview tomorrow. Why not, right?”
Edward beamed at him, his whole face lighting up. “Amazing! Just a sec, I’ll text Peel right now!”
He pulled out his phone and tapped out a quick text. It buzzed and lit up with a reply barely a moment later. Edward scanned it and looked back up at Alfred, grinning.
“10am alright for you?”
“Yeah, of course,” Alfred answered, slightly dazed at how fast this all seemed to be happening.
“Great!” He tapped out a quick reply, and beamed at Alfred again, who felt his heart skip a beat. “I would wish you good luck, but I know you don’t need it.”
Alfred felt himself blushing, grinning as he looked down at his lap. “Oh, shush, you.”
“I have to be in the office earlier, so I won’t force you to get up and come with me earlier than you need to,” Edward said. “But if you swing by my office at about quarter to, I can walk you to the interview? Maybe help calm your nerves? Not that you need to be nervous, of course….”

“I’d like that,” Alfred murmured, smiling softly.
“Great! Then it’s settled.” Edward pushed the plate towards him. “D’you want the last spring roll?”

A comfortable silence settled between them for a moment, as Edward took a sip from his wine glass, scratching Diver behind the ears, and Alfred chewed the last spring roll, looking at him thoughtfully.
“Hey, Edward?”
“Yeah?”
“How’d you find out about the job vacancy, again? Peel?”
“Um, no,” Edward answered, glancing up at him. “Florence told me, actually.”
“Florence?” Alfred repeated, his brow furrowing slightly. “Your new client? The one who came to check on you at the party? The ‘intense’ one?”
“Um, yeah, that’s her,” Edward responded, a little awkwardly. “Though she’s not that intense - she’s really nice, actually. And really helpful. She asked me what was bothering me, and I explained that I’m an idiot who managed to get you fired, and that I was trying to find you a new job. And I told her you’re a writer, and she realised there was a job opening that would suit you really well. She seemed really keen to help,” he said, shrugging.
“Oh,” Alfred said lamely. “That, um…. that was nice of her.” He tried to ignore the sudden sinking feeling in his stomach as he thought of Edward confiding in her, remembering the way she had batted her eyelashes and cooed at him the other night. It probably didn’t mean anything; Edward had probably just been ridiculously kind and friendly as usual.
A slightly awkward silence fell, which Edward broke after a few moments.
“So…. ice cream?”
“Always,” Alfred grinned.

 

***
The next morning found Edward sitting in his office, once again entirely distracted as he glanced eagerly at his watch, waiting for Alfred to arrive. He could scarcely wait to show him to Peel for the interview - there was no doubt in his mind that Alfred would be hired on the spot, and he was so excited on his behalf, as well as feeling ridiculously proud.
God, he just hoped Alfred wasn’t going to be late - if he had one flaw, it was that punctuality wasn’t exactly his strong suit. It would be a terrible waste to give Peel a bad impression for such a trivial reason.

The office door opened behind him, and he spun eagerly on his chair, opening his mouth to greet Alfred - but it wasn’t him. It was Florence.
He frowned, realising immediately that something was wrong. She was barely meeting his eyes, and she looked pale and worn out, almost as if she hadn’t slept. Her eyes were red-rimmed.
“Hi, Edward!” Her voice was hollow, overly bright, and her broad smile didn’t reach her eyes. “I just came by to wish your friend luck, I know he’s starting his interview with Robbie pretty soon and -”
“Hey, hey,” Edward interrupted, standing up and moving closer to her. “Florence, are you alright? What happened, what’s wrong?”
“Hmm?” she said in the same overly bright voice, still determinedly avoiding his eyes. “Nothing, Edward, I’m fine, why do you ask?”
He frowned at her. “No, you’re clearly not fine. What’s up? Penny for your thoughts?”
She half-laughed as he echoed her own words back at her, though it sounded more like a sob.
“Really, Edward, it’s not a big deal, I…. it’s just my dad being, you know, my dad, and….”
Her face crumpled even as she tried desperately to shrug off his concern, tears beginning to spill down her cheeks.
Rather alarmed, and not entirely sure what to do, Edward put an arm around her awkwardly, rubbing her shoulder in what he hoped was at least a somewhat soothing gesture.
To his surprise, she curled her body into him, rather more intimately than he had expected, reaching up to twine her arms around his neck as she buried her face into his chest.
“Sshh, shhh, it’s okay, Florence,” he murmured, returning her hug. “It’s ok, you don’t have to listen to him….”
She let out a choked sob, burying her face even deeper into his chest. Not really having any clue what to do, he rubbed circles into her back, wondering where Alfred was and what on earth was happening.

***
Alfred was not the best at managing time. He had left the house at a reasonable hour, utterly determined not to be late for this interview - and yet, somehow, he still seemed to be hurrying into the law offices at the last minute.

He exhaled, trying his best to focus and calm his nerves as he checked the text that Edward had sent him again.
Walk straight down the corridor when you get in, and my office is the second-last door on the left.
Despite his building anxiety, he smiled to himself slightly, feeling his heart rate slow down a bit. It was alright, Edward was going to walk him over, encouraging him and cheering him on like he always did. And then with any luck, if he managed to keep his head and sound impressive enough, he would actually get the job, and then he would be seeing Edward at work every day, rather than glancing through the window for hours, bouncing up and down impatiently waiting for him to finally get home from the office.

He stopped near the end of the corridor, arriving outside Edward’s office door.
Grinning, he reached out for the handle - and froze as he saw what was happening inside.
Edward wasn’t alone. He was standing there, his back to the door, arms wrapped tightly around a blonde woman with her head buried deep in his chest.
Alfred felt a searing stab of jealousy and pain in his chest, as the blonde woman lifted her head slightly, looking towards the door, and Alfred recognised her. Florence. The one who had been flirting with Edward so obviously at the party. The woman who was apparently so nice and so helpful. Alfred had thought Edward was completely oblivious to her, but as he watched him rubbing circles onto her back, it occurred to him that maybe he had just been blind and naive, seeing only what he wanted to see until it was too late to pretend otherwise. With another stab of pain, the vivid memory of walking in on Will naked in bed with that woman came back to him. Wouldn’t be the first time you were a blind idiot, would it? he asked himself viciously.

Before he could fully process what, he was seeing, Edward suddenly turned around, as though sensing his presence behind the door, his dark eyes meeting Alfred’s blue.
Stifling a choked sob, Alfred turned away, not wanting to see pity or annoyance in Edward’s face, or irritation at being interrupted.
Blindly, he began walking away from Edward’s office, needing to put some distance between them.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“See, with this method you can use 50% less ink, or have an efficiency rate of 200% with the same resources. Understand?” Mr Penge (the floor staff manager) finished describing to Alfred in meticulous detail his carefully perfected art of stamping the law firm’s logo complete with Mr Peel’s signature on outgoing contracts.

When Alfred read the job description, he didn’t expect it to be nearly as creative as progressing with his novel but he expected there to be more writing in a writing job. Certainly more writing than stamping at any rate. When he had agreed to try for the job in the first place, he also expected it to be a good thing to work in the same place as Edward, instead of it being the cause to be on the lookout for when he could go to the loo to pee or cry or both without bumping into the man because of whom he was completely heartbroken. However, now that he had listened to Mr Penge’s instructions, the jolt of pain he felt every time Edward walked past his and Mina’s desks might not be the most hellish aspect of this new corporate life of his.

“Understand, Mr Paget?” Mr Penge asked again, glaring at Alfred as if he didn’t speak English.

“Ye-es,” said Alfred, not sure whether Penge was trolling him, being the new kid, to break him in, or whether he was actually for real.

“You’re confused,” Mr Penge sighed.

“No, I underst—”

“Let me explain again, Mr Paget. So. The contracts must all bear the Peel & Partners Solicitors’ official stamp before being delivered to the contracting parties. The privilege of stamping them will be one of your tasks whilst you are fulfilling your temporary position. Now, you could make an amateur mistake, as most of our new employees make – or old, as a matter of fact,” and here Mr Penge shot a scolding look at Mina, who avoided his eyes, “and dip the stamp on the ink pad between stamping the stamp on the designated stamping area on the bottom of the printed contracts. However, that consumes both more time and resources than necessary. Therefore, I advise you to observe the following way of stamping.”

Mr Penge took the stamp on the desk and demonstrated his Nobel-prize winning method:

“You take the stamp, dip it GENTLY on the ink pad, then GENTLY to avoid bleeding through the paper stamp it on the designated stamping area on the contract, then, instead of dipping the stamp on the ink pad again, you raise it to your mouth, Mr Paget, and breathe on the stamp, like so…” Mr Penge sighed with absolute concentration on the stamp, “with which movement you can reactivate the ink on the stamp, and thus GENTLY stamp the next contract in the same go, or shall we say in the same breath, as the previous one without wasting ink. To summarize it: pad, contract, breathe, contract. Pad, contract, breathe, contract. Say it after me, Mr Paget: Pad…”

“Pad…” Alfred heard himself repeat it.

“Contract…”

“Contract…”

“Pa— Oh! No, it’s NOT the pad, it’s…”

“Breathe.”

“Good! Yes! And…”

“Contract.”

“Indeed, Mr Paget!” Mr Penge rejoiced proudly. “I can already tell you shall be an excellent asset to the firm.”

“Why, thank you, Mr Penge,” Alfred politely said, shooting Mina a frozen look behind their manager’s back that said a thousand words, which made her have to stifle a laugh behind her mug of coffee that said in curly pink font “Who run the world? Girls!”

“Excellent! Tomorrow, I shall teach you how to print.”

“Yes, I’ve actually used the printing mach---” Alfred began but faltered under Penge’s glare, and changed course, putting on a winning smile. “Sounds great, Mr Penge!”

“Good. Right. Now… as you were…”

Alfred collapsed dramatically on his rolling chair that sported unidentifiable stains (hopefully just coffee and lipstick from its previous owner) once Mr Penge left them at last, banging his head against the surface of his desk, groaning.

“He’s not that bad…” Mina said comfortingly. “Well… not all the time.”

Alfred sat up, sighing. “Tell me I haven’t got Peel & Partners stamped on my forehead.”

“You haven’t.”

“How do I know you’re not lying to prank me?”

“No stamp stain. Honest.”

Alfred was about to laugh but a secretary came out of a meeting room and through the door that swung open he could just catch Edward’s scratchable and lickable back muscles that showed through his thin white shirt that was just not too tight to be immodest or unprofessional, and his perfectly shaped and biteable backside hugged by fashionable grey trousers…

… and Florence walking up to him and telling him something Alfred was pretty sure did not need to be told while placing her hand on Edward’s bicep.

‘Oh!’ Mina exclaimed and once the meeting room door closed he looked down to see he had snapped a pencil in two with his bare hands.

And he thought the job interview was bad.

Just yesterday, very nearly running late from his job interview, he followed Edward’s instructions and walked straight into Edward’s office, straight down the corridor as he said, straight up…

Straight.

That’s all Alfred could think about, really, as his world turned upside down. He had been wary of falling for the next guy so soon after William but… there was no denying he had been getting so many signs from Edward that he liked him! They went on a date, a magical, dreamy, perfect date, and… well, it was never defined as a date but… wasn’t it one? And what were those small smiles, and the secret-hugs that lasted too long, and the touches on his arm, and the conversations… the conversations that lasted for hours, and…

Alfred really thought they had something.

But, as instantly apparent from the sight that greeted him in Edward’s office yesterday, Edward was just friendly with him, whereas with Florence Kerr, he was… very, very friendly…

Alfred backed right out of that office, and instantly his vision blurred when tears welled in his eyes. He hadn’t even realised just how much he had grown to care about Edward. But apparently, he did, a lot. A LOT a lot.

He checked his watch – two minutes until he was due in Mr Peel’s office for the interview. God, he needed to pull himself together!

“Alfred!” Edward suddenly appeared in the door, beaming. “You made it! I was beginning to worry! Let me walk you to… Alfred? Are you… are you okay?”

Alfred tried to suck it up and smile at Edward like nothing was weird at all.

“Yeah! Yeah, I am. Okay. I’m good. Spiffing. Why?”

“Well… are you… crying?” Edward asked lamely, moving to place a hand on Alfred’s shoulder but he moved away.

“No, of course not! Not crying at all!” Alfred laughed wetly.

“Really? Because I thought that’s what they call it when tears are flowing down one’s cheeks… Seriously, are you alright? Has something happened? Shall I go and try to reschedule your interview?”

“What? No! No, no, no, no…” Alfred tried to brush it away, glancing in the mirror of a glass door and seeing just how red and teary his face was. “Oh… wow… yeah, no, I’m not crying. This isn’t crying it’s… I came on the motorbike, you know, and the wind was crazy. The dust of the roads, woah! Completely dried my eyes, it was just… I’m not crying. No way. So, uhhh…”

Edward still looked suspicious but didn’t push it, as he spotted Mr Peel walk into his office on the other side of the foyer by the lifts. He turned back to Florence, who Alfred noted was hiding her face from the door.

“Florence, uh, I’ll be back in a sec, okay?” Edward said to her over his shoulder.

“S-sure. Of course,” she said wanting to get out of sight of any intruders.

Edward left her for Alfred’s sake.

“If you’d like to freshen up, the loos are there,” he told Alfred in a gentle tone, seriously concerned but he had to be a helping friend and a strategist here. No mistakes escaped Mr Peel.

“No, it’s fine, really,” Alfred said, drying his eyes and blowing his nose discreetly behind a domineering indoor plant that reached the ceiling. When he resurfaced, save from a little redness under his eyes, he looked perfect.

More than perfect, Edward thought, as his eyes scanned Alfred’s appearance. He was wearing a navy blue suit with matching trousers, a light blue shirt, buttoned up this time, and his tie was tucked behind a waistcoat that didn’t look too much at all. On the contrary. He was very chic. And very sexy…

“Mr Paget?” Peel’s secretary, Miss Wilhelmina Coke called from the boss’s office.

“Yes! That’s me,” Alfred said, trying to focus on anything but the insanely gorgeous man in front of him that Edward was – insanely gorgeous and straight. Straight, Alfred, straight. Forget it.

Edward, fighting off the urge to just stay right there and stare at Alfred forever in that outfit (or, said a naughty voice in his head, free him of it one piece at a time…), walked him over to Peel’s office, wishing him good luck, and before he knew it, Alfred was sitting in front of his potential future boss.

…who was very intimidating.

Really, Alfred wouldn’t have minded if his voice didn’t threaten to break every time the image of Edward swam back into his mind, Edward embracing the fashionable, rich, beautiful, tall, blonde, flirty, helpful Florence so tightly just moments before.

“… your CV is very impressive, Mr Paget, though lacking in work experience in secretarial jobs.”

“Isn’t that why the temp job was created, Mr Peel?” Mina asked before thinking and blushed immediately. “I… I mean… work experience is what we offer to… uh…”

“Right you are, Mina. Right you are… Now, Mr Paget, a final question before I must leave for a meeting with Chicago: ethics is a keystone of our company. I would like to make sure that each and every man,” Mina coughed ever so softly in the corner, “and woman, of course, whom I employ adheres to strict rules. We have an absolute zero tolerance on anything underhand, be it as small as stealing someone else’s lunch from the fridge. Understand?”

“I do, Mr Peel, absolutely. Edward, uh, Mr Drummond mentioned this aspect of the firm, in fact he was quite proud of working for such a respectable and admirable supervisor such as yourself,” Alfred heard himself say, no, not say, kiss up.

“Good man, Paget. So, I want to make sure there are no conflicts of interest at all, between my employees and our clients.”

“Certainly.”

“Or between our employees, as a matter of fact.”

“Certainly… Um… could you please elaborate on this, Mr Peel? Just so we are absolutely on the same page.”

“Well, I simply mean we wouldn’t want the dynamics of the in-house staff to be compromised, much less lose our clients confidence because some of our colleagues have a personal misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding?”

“Yes, well, you know, rivalry between former university friends who both end up here, nasty competition between siblings who defend opposing sides of a contract, or worse, love budding between co-workers! Oh, that sort of nonsense will not be tolerated, I find it only causes trouble and meddles greatly with work. I hope that won’t be a concern with you, Paget.”

Mina was scribbling fast, hiding behind her notebook.

And Alfred swallowed dryly.

“No. Of course not, Mr Peel.”

That night, he did the only reasonable thing he could and cry himself silly on his couch while a rerun of Downton Abbey was playing on his telly. He scratched Diver’s ears after saving him from yet another fatalistic attempt at licking up the chocolate chip cookie crumbs off his lap.

“Don’t you know it’s not good for you, D?” he sobbed at the sad little dog. “I know it looks good. Even d-delicious. Even the perfect thing for your loneliness. But it’s bad for you. Bad. It doesn’t love you back, it doesn’t care that it hurts you! You know, D?”

Diver was just looking up at Alfred with huge sad eyes as if in sympathy but probably not getting a word of what he was saying. He only saw that there was food here, his human that fed him, and a ton of snotty and teary paper tissues around him.

Alfred glanced at his TV and saw some irritating character was marrying another irritating character and switched it off.

Diver gave up his attempt at having a taste of chocolate and scooted up so that Alfred hugged him. He barked as if in question.

“Don’t even ask, D. I completely botched it. Peel was terrifying and…”

His phone rang.

“Gosh, who is it now?” he grumbled. “Hello? Oh. Miss Coke? I mean yes, of course, Mina. Yes… Ahem… Ahem… Ahem… Oh. Oh?” Alfred stood, forgetting Diver was in his lap.

The pup fell on the carpet and shot an indignant look at his inconsiderate owner.

“Sorry… Oh, no, not to you, Mina, my dog was… Never mind. Yes, a small one. Fluffy. Yes, I have pictures. Listen, Mina, focus: I got it? Seriously? I did??? …Of course I’ve a tone of surprise! I was a disaster in there… oh, stop it, you’re… you’re too kind… Oh, do stop, not at all… Yes, of course, catch that bus home. Alright! Yes! See you tomorrow! Bye now! Bye-bye… bye!”

Alfred found he was beaming by the time he put down his phone.

“You hear that D? I got the job!” he said shocked but happily to his dog, who kept staring sternly at him. His high spirits, however, soon dwindled. “Oh God… I got the job,” he repeated with a lot less enthusiasm as it occurred to him that he was due at the law firm where he would have a front row seat to the budding romance between Florence Kerr and his…

“Edward!” Alfred said, jumping at the knocks that rattled his window.

Through the glass, he could see Edward beaming at him and waving for him to open it.

Alfred wiped his face on the back of his hand and went to open the window for him.

“Congratulations!”

“You heard?” Alfred asked unnecessarily, kicking himself immediately for the stupid quip.

“Want to celebrate? My place, I’ll just have to get out of this sticky shirt and take a shower. The tube was a nightmare just now! So, say, at seven?”

“I would…” have loved to under normal circumstances but I can’t get the image of you and that Florence woman out of my mind. “Actually, if you don’t mind I’ll stay in, have an early night for once. I’d like to show my best face at work tomorrow, right?”

Edward’s smile faded somewhat.

“Oh, that’s too bad. But I understand,” he said in such a way that Alfred’s instinct was to pretend he joked about not going over to Edward’s and say he’d bring the food, too.

But he just stood there and awkwardly nodded.

“Yeah, so… I guess, I’ll see you in the office!” he tried to say in an upbeat way but that also probably came out totally wrong.

“Right,” Edward muttered, stepping away from the window disappointedly. Before Alfred could close the window, he stopped though. “Are you sure nothing bad happened earlier? When you arrived at the office.”

“I’m sure, Edward. I’m fine, it was just dust in my eye.”

Edward watched Alfred’s face and he wasn’t entirely convinced but clearly Alfred didn’t want to talk about it, if there was something troubling him.

“Okay… Goodnight, Alfred!”

“Goodnight, Edw- Mr Drummond,” Alfred said with an easy wink, and that seemed to do the trick. Edward giggled sweetly (making his heart ache with it) and went home.

That was yesterday, and today it wasn’t even lunch time yet before Alfred had fantasised about sticking the company pens in his own eye ten times just so he wouldn’t have to see Florence follow Edward around everywhere.

“You!” he heard someone bark at him. A bulldog-like pudgy man approached his desk. “Tell Peel I have to go but I’ll see him about the last clause first thing.”

“I’m sorry I’m not Mr Peel’s secretary, sir, his—“

“Don’t you take that prissy little tone with me like a poof. I haven’t seen you here yet. Do you know who I am?”

“I don’t know who you are but I know I am not Mr Peel’s secretary,” Alfred said in a decisively less delicate tone, rising from his chair, much taller than this vile man.

“Now look here, you…”

I’m Mr Peel’s secretary!” Mina said from the other desk. She was more surprised than others that she spoke up like that.

“Of course you are,” Kerr sneered at the anxiety ridden girl. “Just tell him. The clause. Fucking interns…” he muttered to himself trotting out of the office with heavy steps.

“What an awful little man!” Alfred complained, sitting back.

“Alfred, that was Mr Kerr. THE Mr Kerr.”

“Oh.” Well, that can’t mean anything good. Well done, Alfred, you enraged a very influential and nasty person on your first day. And the father of Edward’s potential/probable girlfriend, too.

“Paget!” Mr Peel called his name coming out of the meeting room, leaving Edward and Florence alone in there. He dropped a few papers and handwritten notes on his desk. “Type these up for me, please, and I’ve send you an email about an email I’ll send you about an email about the emailing list from finance to which I’d like you to reply in an…”

“…email, sir?” Alfred guessed, he thought humorously, but Peel’s face didn’t seem to be physically capable of smiling.

“Quite. Right. I want the reply by noon, Mina will show you where to CC me and where to BCC me, and the typed documents by two at the latest. PDF, password protected. Do you think you can manage that?”

“On it, Mr Peel!” Alfred said very confidently. After all, it was just one email to write and a few pages of notes to type up. He made his living out of typing much more difficult things.

Well, not yet, as his bank balance lamented, but he knew how to type.

He did not account for the fact that Peel’s cursive seemed to resemble the spidery writings of 18th century handwritten letters, only with much more wavy lines than actual words.

Mina helped him get used to it, telling him about what each lazy curve meant, and his abbreviations.

He was starting to get the hang of it, when the meeting room door opened again, at last, revealing Edward, chivalrously holding it for Florence, who seemed to throw her hair about as if she was filming a shampoo commercial at every other step.

“Did you want to get coffee perhaps?” she asked Edward. “Robbie won’t miss us until later.”

Edward hesitated, glancing longingly at Alfred’s desk, but at Peel’s glare from behind Alfred (which he did not see), he agreed to go, of course he did, a coffee sounded excellent!

Edward shot him an apologetic look and tailed after Florence Kerr like a smitten puppy. Probably. Alfred couldn’t see them once they turned the corner for the lifts but not seeing them only made his imagination worse. But he definitely did hear the mechanic bell of the lift, the sound of the doors opening, and their conspiratorial laugh drowned out by the lift closing.

Alfred groaned out loud.

“She’s single, you know,” Mina said.

“What?”

“The blondie. Florence Kerr. She’s single, and I got her number. I mean her work number in the database…” Mina corrected herself, turning red in the process.

Alfred frowned.

Oh.

“Oh, no. No, no, I, uh, actually, it’s not the blondie I was looking at but the tall, dashing, perfect in every way brunette she kept touching absolutely unnecessarily.”

The penny dropped for Mina after a second’s delay. “Oh. OH! Oh my God, I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay, Mina.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve made you uncomfortable now, haven’t I?”

“No, you really haven’t—”

“I am not usually this awful at this, I knew of all my gay friends were gay before they told me, in fact I’m— and Mr Dru—”

“Mina stop! It’s fine! …wait what about Edward?”

Mina’s phone rang just then, distracting her completely. After hearing clearly from her words that this was going to last a while, he went back to actually getting done the tasks Peel told him to do.

She was still on the phone with someone very important by the time Edward got back from coffee. Alone.

He flung his suit jacket over one shoulder casually and walked straight to Alfred’s desk.

“Hello, Mr Paget,” he said cheekily, his smile bringing out his dimples.

“Hello, Edward,” Alfred replied, trying to focus on his screen and not on Edward’s perfectly modelesque physique that was not well-hidden by his outfit. He even sat on the edge of his desk, and Alfred found that incredibly hot, and kicked himself for it. “You were gone for a long time for a coffee.”

“Coffee? Oh, yes, I mean, that’s just supposed to be soft skills, you know. Though it’s very easy with Florence, she’s actually pretty clever and fun to hang out with – you’d like her too if you spent some time with her.”

“I didn’t know being an escort was part of your job description,” Alfred said before thinking. “You could borrow my outfit, from the party, if you’re using your charms on your clients. Get you there faster, eh?” he tried to joke to rectify the situation but felt sick. What was he doing? Encouraging that Edward hit on that… that… HER?

"You’d like to see me in that?” Edward heard himself say. His mind SCREAMING at him (unaware that Alfred’s was screaming just as badly), he scrambled for something else, literally anything else that’s actually polite, to say: “Speaking of which, how are you finding your first day here?”

“Oh, you know… it’s alright.”

Edward sensed it again – Alfred’s smile did not reach his eyes. There was something suddenly melancholy about him.

“Alfred, I don’t mean to overstep but if you’d like to talk about things with someone, just know that I’m…”

“Drummond!” shouted Peel from his office.

“…Here!” Edward shouted back, getting off Alfred’s desk and nearly standing at attention.

With an apologetic look at Alfred, he scarpered back into Peel’s office obediently.

 

Florence sighed with relief once she had kicked off her stilettos at home, massaging the pain out of her soles.

She loved fashion and enjoyed it, now that she was rid of her ex that told her what to wear or what not to wear, but sometimes she couldn’t deny there was nothing more inviting than the thought of changing into her comfy pyjamas and settling into bed with a good book for company.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true, she thought giddily, remembering the coffee date with Edward.

Ed. Ed-ward. Eddy? Did he like Eddy or Ed? No, she preferred the full name, so fitting for him. Edward. Edward. She didn’t know men could be like this! He was so fit for starters! But it was also his personality. So kind and attentive… listening with genuine interest… Comforting her when she told him about her difficulties with her father and other things her best friends don’t really know or care about… Of course she still didn’t fully trust him not to be just putting this on so he could get into her knickers but… Something told her that wasn’t Edward.

 

Across the city, Edward seemed to be on someone else’s mind, too. Only his mind, though Alfred wished it was on his body that Edward was.

He had no idea he had it this badly for Edward. His crush was instant, though stupid given the fact that Will shattered his trust in men and in his own confidence, but it couldn’t be helped. But as he had got to know Edward more, gosh… and since their Shakespeare outing (not a date not a date not a date) Alfred had been smitten, now he admitted to himself. Absolutely smitten.

Sure, his heart was aching from jealousy of Florence, but right now, even after a long, long shower after his first day at the law firm, he was lying on his bed still in only his towel wrapped around his hips, and wholly unwholesome thoughts of Edward started to fill his mind, and other parts of his body…

Okay, so he was single. And Will neglected him a lot. And so he learned to survive these times… his eyes fell on the lower drawer of his bedside table.

Well, he could… He had a stressful day… And he had all that pent up tension because of Edward – he was always right there, in his fitted suits or curly bed hair in the mornings and Alfred imagined what it would be like to rip that shirt off Edward’s toned body and let him do whatever he wanted to him right on his desk at work…

He removed Diver from the room with an apology and within a few minutes he was pushing his favourite toy into himself – it wasn’t like the real thing and it was certainly no substitute for Edward, but he had needs.

The box Edward almost opened when they were looking for wine glasses when Alfred had just moved in held his collection of various useful items but this amount of heartbreak and frustration called for his favourite toy, an anal massager he could control with a little remote controller. He relaxed and focused on nothing but the pleasures building in his body more and more and more...

Just as he was completely lost in the sensations, the doorbell rang.

His eyes snapped open.

What!? Who can this be at this… perfectly reasonable hour of five to seven. Fuck.

The bell rang again. Clearly, whoever was there was not leaving. Then, Alfred remembered he his Book Depository order was due to arrive today, according to the tracker. Damnit. He really didn’t want to have to go to the post office, which was open in exactly the same hours as his own office shift, so it would have been impossible to collect his precious new books!

Ah, but… Fuck, if he stopped now, he’d have to start all over again with… preparations that were needed so that he could enjoy his trusty machine.

Unless…

Well, he had done a full birthday picnic of his aunt’s in Hyde Park once with a butt plug in him on Will’s request when things were still new and good and wild and they were going right to a club afterwards.

So he could do 20 seconds signing an order completion form and shutting the door in the delivery guy’s face.

He made his decision, pressed the off button on the remote controller, got up, threw on a pair of tracksuits and a large jumper that hid signs of his having been bothered at the wrong moment, opened his bedroom door though which Diver of course ran in at once like the rebel he was, and walked downstairs, faltering at the bend of the stairs as he felt it still THERE, but somehow making it to the door.

Well, if life could be like a movie, he thought, he might get lucky and the delivery boy was sexy and wanted to come in…

... WELL, the person standing on his doorstep WAS sexy but it wasn’t a delivery guy.

It was Edward.

“W—wha—uh—Edward!?” Alfred stuttered, hiding half behind his door, now acutely aware that here was the man that he had been thinking about beforehand that led to the fact that he was standing there with a sex toy still in him, pretending to be normal.

“Hey there!” Edward said with a big smile, completely unaware of anything weird.

“W-what are you doing here now?” Alfred asked, though it was hard to formulate coherent, human sentences.

“Well, I just wanted to see how you were doing. I had to stay in a bit late to finish up a project but I just thought I’d drop by. May I come in?”

“Um… I… I am a bit busy right now, actually…” Alfred swallowed.

“Oh, come on, it was your first day! You must have some questions or…”

“No, I’m good, actually.” More than good.

“But…”

“Listen, Edward, I’m sorry, it’s just really not a good time…” Alfred said much too gently for a man who couldn’t stand up straight without his prostate being prodded in just the right spot.

“Then, maybe later? I’ll come over with wine or you can come over to mine, I’ll cook some pasta or we can order in, whichever you prefer,” Edward offered still so hopeful and supportive Alfred’s heart broke for him.

But the fact remained Edward was still wearing that tight lawyer outfit of his and Alfred was pretty sure if he squinted he could see his nipples through the thin white fabric every time Edward inhaled.

“I really don’t think so, Edward. I have writing to do and… and laundry! Yes,” he spotted a basket of clothes nearby and went to pick it up to hold it in front of his crotch because despite his loose jumper, his preoccupation was obvious. But at least he no longer had to stand cowering behind the door as if he had a corpse to hide lying in the kitchen.

“Ohh, writing!” Edward perked up at that, leaning against the door frame casually. So cool, so boyish, Alfred loved this relaxed version of Edward, with is curls coming loose from the heat and his tie loosened too… Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck… “Glad to hear you are progressing with your novel. I’ll be the first in line when it hits the shops.”

“Yes. Writing. So, if you don’t mind I’d like to aaahh…” Alfred suddenly jumped as he felt the toy vibrate.

He didn’t do anything, he left the controller upstairs…

Oh no.

No.

Diver.

“Are you okay, Alfred?” Edward asked suddenly concerned.

“Ye—YES… Um. Yes.” The vibration stopped and Alfred could stand a little taller, though having difficulty masking his rugged breaths.

“Are you sure, I mean… Earlier in the office, I thought you looked a bit off. You know you can talk to me about stuff, right? I know it’s just chance that we happened to be neighbours but I think we’re friends, good friends, so I am here for you, honestly. Is it your ex? Family? Was Peel stressing you out?”

“What- WHAT?” Alfred nearly shrieked as another few seconds of vibration surprised him, as evidently Diver upstairs thought his controller was a chew toy.

“What was that?”

“Wh-what was what?” Alfred asked on a less than even tone, gripping the handles of the laundry basket for dear life.

“Is your phone buzzing?” Edward asked, feeling for his own in his back pocket.

The vibrations stopped and Alfred could breathe again. Phew.

Edward frowned at this, mistaking Alfred’s long pained sigh. “Are you having difficulties of some sort?” he asked.

“N-no! No. I am not,” Alfred said honestly. He was quite the opposite, enjoying himself very much and very inconveniently.

“Okay. I don’t want to butt in, I just thought you might need me,” Edward said, and Alfred had to bite his lips. How was this happening??? “To talk. Not necessarily about issues but about Shakespeare. That’s only one play down, so many more to go!”

“Yes… I…. I may have been stressed,” Alfred added because it was easier to give an answer. “But it’s fine now. So, um, if you don’t mind I’ll…”

“Are you sure you’re not coming down with something? Are you not hot in those clothes?”

“No, not at all.”

“But you are sweating a little, are you sure you don’t have a fever? Here, let me check,” Edward said, and without further ado, laid his hand on Alfred’s forehead, stepping so close Alfred could feel his scent and his breath on his own skin, and, fuck, Edward’s face was stunning as he concentrated so seriously on taking Alfred’s temperature: Alfred couldn’t help but imagine dropping the laundry basket, kissing Edward, until he tore off Alfred’s stifling clothes and replaced the toy with himself, and they would do it everywhere in his new house, and Edward’s…

Edward actually cupped his face with his other hand.

No.

No.

This was too much.

Alfred bit his lip and stepped away determinedly.

“Seriously, I’m fine. But thank you. But now, please… I’d like to be alone,” he said decisively and firmly, finally getting Edward to understand that he needed to back away, and that if he was going to be this gorgeous, he was going to have to do that elsewhere. But here Alfred was 2 seconds away from actually jumping Edward.

So, though he saw a little frown on Edward’s handsome face, he had to close the door and run away.

Back upstairs.

To kick out his dog.

And finish something.

 

That’s weird, Edward thought.

He couldn’t understand what he had done but Alfred seemed to have… gone off him. Well, that is if he was ever ON him at all.

Or maybe he was really just busy or tired… but Edward still couldn’t work on anything back in his own house for being distracted by the fact that Alfred preferred to spend his time alone. And that he didn’t need Edward there… Tried as he might to think about all the reasonable causes behind Alfred’s behaviour, his heart still clenched at the idea that Alfred didn’t want him there. And he wished that night at the theatre back…

Or maybe Alfred needed space… sure… that’s reasonable… And Edward decided maybe he should allow him to have that so he decided not to show up on his doorstep uninvited anymore, even if it filled him with just utter sadness, finding he was missing Alfred more and more each day.

 

A Week Later

“Ohh, that’s strong,” Alfred’s eyes bulged after the first sip of his coffee.

“Sorry, was that wrong?” Mina asked worriedly.

“No, not at all, on the contrary! Thank you, you really didn’t have to,” Alfred said, putting down his cup on a stack of post-it notes.

“No, it’s to pay you back for the lattes yesterday. Plus, you look as if you could use it.”

“You’re not wrong there…” Alfred sighed.

He didn’t think he’d have any difficulties in this temp job. But a week in and he had muscle fever in his right hand from typing and clicking on things all day, his eyes were red from staring at emails on his screen for 8 hours so much so that he kept borrowing Mina’s eye drop until she had to buy more, and his biological clock was not getting used to reasonable bedtimes suitable for someone who had to be in the office at 9 sharp, every day, especially that there was no escaping Edward there. He had the pleasure and pain of drooling after Edward like a lovesick teenager spotting his crush in the school hallway, pathetic, really, but then he went home and though Edward usually stayed a bit longer at work to finish up his things, he would soon arrive home, with a little wave or a hello at Alfred, who was basically caught staring – pining, really – every single day, from his windows. And then Edward didn’t have the decency to buy proper curtains. It was as if he wanted Alfred to watch him work at his laptop or cook dinner or walk in and out of the shower and around his bedroom in various states of undress.

Weekend could not come soon enough.

“Hello, it’s Mina, isn’t it?” Alfred heard Florence Kerr’s voice from the next desk. He got to know Mina somewhat over the past week and noticed she had a nervous disposition and was prone to getting flustered easily, but Mina turned the colour of Florence’s stylish red dress in an instant.

“Y-yes, it me. I mean, yes I is. I mean…”

Florence laughed sweetly. “You have a pretty name. Is Robbie in?”

“No, sorry, he just left half an hour ago. He’s spending the weekend in Sussex but he will have limited access to—”

“Oh it’s alright, I’m not really here to see him. Edward and I are going out to dinner tonight. I hope the light coming from his office means he has not left the premises.”

Oh God, Alfred thought, her dress is no coincidence, it’s definitely for a purpose. For Edward.

“Yes, Mr Drummond is still in. Shall I ring him?”

“No need. It’s Friday evening, after all. He’s probably not in an important call just now, right? I’ll just get him myself.”

Florence did her trademark shampoo commercial hair throw again and walked to Edward’s office in such a way that the knocking of her heels drove a jolt of pain into Alfred’s chest like hammers.

Okay, every day hit a new low. But somehow, this Friday evening was the worst of the worst as Alfred had to watch Edward leave the office to take Florence out to dinner, barely glancing his way at all! It was as if he was uncomfortable around Alfred, or ashamed to even come over and say hi…! Or maybe he, like any bi or straight guy, could not think with his brain and manners when Florence Kerr was in front of them in a third date kind of red dress and batting her eyelashes and throwing her hair and…

Alfred couldn’t do this.

He could not do this.

He was still seething, saying this to himself, drinking a glass of wine, alone at home.

It didn’t help that it was quite late and the black windows of Edward’s empty house were staring at him as if they were mocking him.

Edward was still out on his dinner. With Florence.

He had to find something. Another job for starters. And then another flat, probably.

Motivated by his overwhelming feelings and a second glass of wine, though he had been rather defeatist and hopeless about it, he sent his CV and portfolio to a ton of the best newspapers out there that should be happy to take him on. He had a cramped left hand from pressing Ctrl+C Ctrl+V so many times at work, writing Peel’s soulless emails for him, losing brain cells with each send button pressed! He wasn’t writing, he was scissoring texts together, doing the job of a moderately well-programmed bot. The idea of leaving Will and starting anew was that he would be able to concentrate on his creative work, after all! So, there. CVs sent, for what it’s worth. Worst that would happen is he wouldn’t hear back.

 And then, he settled into bed with his laptop and progressed faster than ever with his novel.

Feeling much better about himself now, he was ready to turn in for the night, when he became aware of noises outside on the cobbled mews…

Curiosity getting the better of him, he stepped carefully over to his bedroom window, spying on the street.

Edward was arriving home… but not alone.

He was with Florence.

“Thanks for the ride home again, Florence. I could have taken the tube, you know,” Edward seemed to say.

“Nonsense, it’s my pleasure,” she replied, running down a hand on Edward’s arm again. “I really enjoyed tonight, Edward.”

“Yeah it was pretty great. I never really liked sushi before but count me a fan now.”

“I’ll remember that!” she laughed enchantingly.

“Well, uh, this is me,” Edward said, stopping at his door, fumbling with his keys. “So, goodn—”

But Edward’s words were cut off when Florence kissed him.

Alfred gasped and had to look away, close his curtains, and go back to hide in his bed, hide from the world, himself and his quick tears, shut the world out, not wanting to see if she earned herself an invitation inside Edward’s home, though to no avail as he would not get any rest knowing another was holding and kissing Edward in their arms right across the narrow street.

Chapter Text

This was not how it was meant to be thought Florence. Instead of returning her kiss or even responding to it, Edward’s mouth remained firmly shut and then he was gently but firmly unwrapping her arms from around his neck and taking her hands

“I’m sorry Florence” he said softly, his brown eyes unhappy “I just….” And he looked at her sadly

Oh! Florence’s face flooded with heat. She had just made an almighty fool of herself

She looked down and her eyes filled with tears

“don’t you find me attractive?” she whispered

Oh god thought Edward as he watched the tears spill over and run down her cheeks

“it’s not that” he said hastily “you’re a very beautiful woman Florence”

Florence looked up at him, eyes brimming with tears

“but then why?”

“it’s not you, its me” said Edward

Florence laughed mirthlessly

“oh, Edward if I had a pound for every time, I have heard that” she said, and two more tears rolled down her cheeks

“it really is me” said Edward frantically, he just could not cope with crying women, he really couldn’t. He just ended up saying anything to get them to stop

“have you?” began Florence hesitantly “I mean are you getting over a breakup?”

Hmmm Edward considered this, he kind of was he thought. He glanced quickly over to Alfred’s house shrouded in darkness; he really thought Alfred had liked him and he missed him so much, but it seemed he was wrong, Alfred did not want him after all.

He nodded

“yes”

“oh Edward” said Florence sympathetically touching his arm “I had no idea you should have said”

“oh well...” Edward shrugged “I didn’t want to bore you with my troubles”

“nonsense” said Florence seeing a new road opening ahead of her, she would help Edward heal his heartbreak and he would see that she was just the women for him “what are friends for?” and she grinned at him

Edward smiled back, grateful to have averted a full-on sobbing break down “why don’t you come in for a bit?” he said, “have coffee?”

“id like that” said Florence “and you can tell me all about your ex”

“um hmmmm” said Edward wondering how to explain that Alfred wasn’t an ex because he’d never been an actual but that didn’t mean he wasn’t aching and pining for him.

He opened his front door and ushered Florence through

“after you” he said politely unaware of Florence’s triumphant smile as she passed into the hallway.

 

Over the road, Alfred had given up any semblance at dignity and was howling along to Celine Dion while Diver snuggled up to him

“he he he doesn’t want me D” he choked “of course he doesn’t, he’s perfect and I’m just me”

Diver put his head mournfully on his lap

The tears ran unchecked down Alfred’s face and dropped onto Diver’s soft brown fur

“IM ugly D” he sobbed “and stupid”

He closed his eyes and slumped sideways, clutching the throw he’d pulled around himself, how could he have been so ridiculous to think Edward liked him? Edward was gorgeous, clever and sweet and thoughtful. He deserved the world, not someone like him, who was temping in an office and relied on his parents to pay his rent. Of course, he’d prefer the blonde, beautiful, elegant and charming Florence Kerr.

Memories of Edward flooded his mind; nobly rushing to tell Alfred’s boss how wrong he was to treat people badly, the splodge of paint on the end of his nose that Alfred had gently wiped off, his beaming smile as he’d disclosed he had theatre tickets for him, his slightly alarmed look at the idea of going on the back of Alfred’s motorbike, the soft pink that tinged his cheeks every time he looked at Alfred which is why he could have sworn…..

No! no more Alfred he said to himself sternly as he scrubbed at his eyes, time to come to terms with the fact that Edward was just not interested and too good for him anyway.

 

God what a mess thought Edward wearily after he’d finally sent Florence on her way in a taxi. She’d clearly been angling to stay the night, but he was not having that added complication.

He simply didn’t feel he could tell her he was gay and so he’d made up a story about a girl called Frieda he’d been dating since school from his home town which is why no one knew about her who had broken up with him by text whilst on a gap year in The Gambia

Florence had listened with wide eyed sympathy as Edward spun what sounded even to his ears an increasingly unbelievable tale. However, Florence had drunk it all in, listening with her head on one side and occasionally touching his arm sympathetically.

“poor Edward” she’d said when he eventually ran out of words “dumping you by text! What a bitch!”

“well yes it wasn’t fun” he said wishing already that he hadn’t made up so many lies. He was very bad at lying and worse at remembering them.

“no wonder you’ve been put off women” she said

“hmmmm” said Edward non committally wondering how he could get Florence to go so he could go and bang his head against a wall “well anyway it’s late, I should call you a taxi” resisting the urge to add “you’re a taxi” and then giggling because that joke was always funny wasn’t it

“I could crash here” said Florence hopefully

“ah well um no I mean wont you need clothes and things; I mean you can’t really go into the office like that” said Edward taking in her dress which wasn’t so much enhancing her cleavage as announcing it on the front page

“I suppose…” said Florence

“definitely better besides we don’t want co-worker gossip, do we? I mean think what Mr Peel would say!” said Edward eagerly grabbing his phone

The taxi arrived and he’s sent Florence off with a hug, feeling bad about telling so many untruths but what else could he do? He didn’t want the office knowing about his private life (alright Mina knew but she just knew, he’d never told her) and he’d wanted to let Florence down gently, however he had a horrible feeling, he’d just made things worse.

 

Monday morning

“Alfred are you OK?”

Edward was shocked at Alfred’s appearance; his eyes were red rimmed, and he looked pale and exhausted

“I’m fine Edward” Alfred focused on stirring his cup of what passed as coffee in the kitchen

“are you sure?” said Edward worriedly “you really don’t look it”

“I said I’m fine” said Alfred “can I just squeeze past”; the office kitchen was tiny, and Edward took up rather a lot of it

Edward steeped back but as he did, he knocked Alfred’s arm and hot coffee spilt onto his forearm

“ouch! Shit” Edward jumped as the hot liquid scalded him and he brought his arm to his mouth to soothe the burn

“I’m sure Florence will kiss it better” said Alfred acidly

“Florence?” Edward looked at him puzzled

“did you enjoy your date with her?” Alfred’s hands were shaking, and his brain was screaming at him to shut up, but he couldn’t

“date?”

“date Edward” snapped Alfred “where two people who fancy each other go out together and end up kissing outside the front door”

Oh! The light dawned on Edward as he looked at Alfred’s pinched and angry face. He went over and closed the door in the face of a surprised mina who was just heading in

“sorry mina” he said, “I need a minute” and then he wedged a chair under the door handle

“Alfred” he said, “were you looking out the window the other night?”

Alfred’s hand began to shake more violently slopping coffee everywhere, he nodded

“yes, I was, so there’s no need to pretend Edward”

“ah….” Edward let out a breath “I think you should put this down” Edward removed the coffee cup from Alfred’s trembling hand

“Alfred whatever you thought you saw, you didn’t OK?”

“I don’t think I saw anything Edward, I did see you kissing her” said Alfred angrily “the same as I saw you cuddling her the day of my interview”

Edward closed his eyes briefly, so that was what had been going on. Oh Alfred, he thought, why didn’t you say anything.

“Alfred you didn’t see me kissing her” said Edward gently “what you saw was her kissing me”

“it’s the same thi…. oh” realisation flooded Alfred’s face

“you mean?”

Edward nodded

“she kissed me; I did not kiss her back”

“oh” Alfred flushed and his heart began to bounce uncomfortably in his chest at the look on Edward’s face “You mean…you’re not interested in Florence?”

Edward shook his head “no I’m not, she is really not my type” and he smiled hoping Alfred would understand what he meant

“oh” Alfred felt he really should come up with something better than ‘oh’ every time Edward said something, but the problem was, words were difficult! All he could think was that Edward was not interested in Florence, thank god, thank god. It didn’t of course as he told himself sternly necessarily mean he was interested in him but at least he wasn’t going to have to put up with them cooing over each other in the office

“does she know that Edward? That you’re not interested”

Edward sighed “I told her I was getting over a breakup to get her to back off”

Alfred frowned “why didn’t you just say that you weren’t interested?”

“she was crying Alfred” said Edward looking confused “what was I supposed to do?”

Alfred’s mouth twitched into a smile “crying women not your speciality?”

“no” he bit his lip “they get so upset, and the tears and everything! I told her I was so upset by my breakup that I’d gone off women”

But then did that mean that Edward had been interested in women in the past?? Alfred sighed inwardly, why must everything be so confusing and difficult? Perhaps he should just ask him? after all he’d just been telling Edward he should have told Florence the truth.

He opened his mouth but just as he did there was a loud rap on the door

“Edward, Alfred, there are a queue of people out here who are going to break the door down if they can’t have coffee” shouted Mina “open the door”

“whoops” said Edward with a grin “best let them in before they get a battering ram” he paused, he wanted to reach out and take Alfred’s hand and ask him if he was now OK and perhaps arrange a date but now did not seem the ideal time. Perhaps he would pop over to Alfred’s tonight.

 

Alfred went bac to his desk feeling happier but still also very confused. What did Edward mean by ‘told her I’d gone off women?’ had that just been a lie to get her to go away? Was he, and the thought appalled him, some kind of experiment, while Edward figured himself out? His mood was not enhanced when he opened an email entitled “team bonding event”. There were few things more guaranteed in life to send one’s stomach plummeting reflected Alfred than an invitation to any kind of corporate away day experience

“get to know your co workers better, find out what makes them tick, what are their biggest dreams? Their deepest fears? A true team has no secrets!”

“Alfred?” it was Mina “have you seen the email about the team event?”

Alfred nodded “it looks horrific”

Mina giggled “don’t let Mr Penge hear you say that; this is the highlight of his year”

Alfred frowned “really? I would have thought he’d hate that type of ting”

“oh, he does” said Mina “but on the other hand, he gets to spend the weekend watching us all and gathering up all kinds of evidence to hold over our heads throughout the rest of the year. My advice is be on your 100% best behaviour otherwise you’ll appear in his little black book”

“god” Alfred slumped over the desk “is there anything to look forward to about this event Mina?”

“honestly? No”

 

 

Chapter Text

Edward walked down the cobbled street as the shadows lengthened, one hand carrying his laptop bag, the other swinging a bag from the local delicatessen contained wine, olives, cheese, and bread. He had resolved he was going to go to Alfred’s right now before he even went home, ask him over for dinner and talk to him properly. No more shilly shallying Edward Drummond he told himself sternly, this is the time to get your arse in gear!

Taking a deep breath, he knocked on Alfred’s pale blue front door which opened at once almost as if someone had been watching him walk down the road.

“Edward” alfred smiled at him “come in”

“I won’t” said Edward and immediately Alfred’s face fell

“because I want to invite you to mine for dinner…if you want, I mean I thought after today we should talk…I mean of course if you’re busy and……”

“Edward I would love to” said Alfred trying to interrupt the flow of awkwardness from Edward

“oh” Edward beamed at him and Alfred felt his heart flip; how did he do that to him? “great, give me an hour and then come over”

“will do” said Alfred unable to keep the huge smile off his face “I’ll bring some wine”

 

 

An hour later and Edward was hoping up and down with nervous energy running through everything in his head. Bread warming in the oven, food laid out, the wine opened to breathe, candles lit – all check. Bang on time the doorbell rang and Edward ran to open the door; Alfred stood on the doorstep in a navy blue shirt, hair neatly arranged, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth even though his shirt was open at least one button more than most people would consider decent.

“Alfred” Edward smiled at him “come in”

“thank you” Alfred felt suddenly shy. Edward was dressed in just a t shirt and jeans and his hair was ruffled up making alfred immediately wonder if that was what it looked like first thing in the morning or possibly after rubbing against the pillow during sex. He looked ridiculously hot and Alfred felt his heart rate increase even further. Please, he sent up a silent prayer, please let tonight end well, please let him want to kiss me.

He went into where the table was laid with candles and wine and mentally punched the air! Surely Edward wouldn’t be going to this effort if he didn’t want him?

“This looks nice” he said, and he tuned to Edward who blushed and looked at him shyly

“I brought some um…. you know for dinner”

Edward gestured at the table wondering why he couldn’t words

“wonderful” said alfred with a grin “I just fancied some ‘um’ for dinner tonight” but the look he flashed Edward showed he was only teasing then he sniffed

“is something burning?” he asked

“oh crikey” Edward dashed into the kitchen “the bread!”

Alfred followed him just in time to see him rip the oven door open and look inside with dismay as the smoke billowed out

“oh” said alfred trying to hide a smile at Edward’s woebegone expression “it doesn’t matter…” and then the smoke alarm began to beep loudly

“fuck” Edward swore and grabbed a tea towel, flapping at the alarm frantically until the noise stopped “sorry” and then he stubbed his toe against the oven “fuck!” he swore again

Alfred gave up trying to hide his smile; Edward looked ridiculously adorable with his panicked expression

“Shall I pour us some wine?” said alfred with a grin “I think you need it”

“thanks” said Edward “I’ll just get rid of this” he said looking sadly at the incinerated bread

“where are your glasses?” asked alfred

“up there” said Edward pointing to the top shelf

‘great’ thought alfred, they were just out of reach; he stood on tiptoe to reach the top shelf cursing the fact that they were pushed to the back and his fingertips were grazing the glasses, but he couldn’t quite grasp them

“here let me” said Edward coming up behind him to reach over his head

Oh, Edward was now very close in Alfred’s personal space and as he got down two glasses and set them down on the side his right arm grazed Alfred’s side. Alfred flinched at the touch as if he had been burned and then turned around so that he was now looking up at Edward, their faces inches apart

“thank you” he said softly

And there was no mistaking the look in Edward’s eyes as alfred felt his heart jump into his throat

“alfred” murmured Edward

And then he cupped Alfred’s face with his hands and almost unbearably slowly brought his lips down on Alfred’s his tongue gently flickering over his lips before pushing in.  He heard Alfred moan softly and he burrowed deeper into the kiss, his hands moving down over Alfred’s back to pull him even closer. Eventually, reluctantly he pulled away from the kiss and rested his forehead against Alfred’s, his breath gently ghosting his mouth, his eyes closed.

Alfred clung on to Edward feeling that if he didn’t, he might just fall over; he giggled with happiness and Edward tightened his hold on him. This felt so right! Alfred fitted into Edward’s arms as if he’d been built to do so; his head was just the right height to rest on Edward’s shoulder and drop little kisses against his neck. He heard Edward sigh and pulled back so he could look at him

“what is the matter?” he asked

Edward shrugged his smile lighting up his face

“I was just thinking I should have done this the first time I saw you”

Alfred laughed

“well that might have been a little forward” he said winding his arms around Edward’s neck “but definitely the second time you saw me”

Edward nodded

“I will just have to make up for it now then”

he said with a grin and ducked his head down to kiss alfred wondering how he would manage to drag himself away from his lips ever again. Alfred tasted as sweet as summer rainbows and his warmth penetrated all the way to Edward’s heart. He was home with this man, thought Edward this was where he belonged.

Alfred was just wondering whether it would be too forward to try and get Edward’s t shirt off, Edwards’ body felt sinfully good against his, when Edward’s phone rang, “mama mia” singing out across the kitchen

“oh my god” Edward mumbled around Alfred’s kiss and groped for his phone trying not to pull away. He terminated the call and carried on, his fingers straying to the top button of Alfred’s shirt and beginning to unbutton; the phone rang again insistently, and Edward swore,

“sorry Alfred, it’s my mother, she can be very persistent”

“no worries” said Alfred nuzzling into his neck “why didn’t you answer it? I promise not to distract you” and he began to gently bite Edward’s neck

“hello? Mum?”

Alfred busied himself with little kisses and then the doorbell rang

‘fucksake’ alfred groaned into Edward’s neck, where they never to get any peace?

“shall I get that?” he mouthed at Edward who nodded distractedly at him

Alfred sighed and padded off towards the door but not before he heard a “WHAT?” from the other room, Edward’s phone call did not sound as if it were going well

He tugged open the door and stared in shock, he must be seeing things! there on the doorstep was a young man looking so like Edward, they could only be related. He was wearing shorts, a very loud shirt and his chaotically curly hair was held back with a headband

“Hi” the young man smiled at hm with Edwards smile “I’m looking for Edward”

“he’s err….”

“Daniel” Edward suddenly appeared behind him, his tone of voice not at all welcoming “why the hell didn’t you let me know you were coming? Mum’s only just let me know”

Daniel shrugged

“phone ran out of power”

“what all the way around India?”

“geez Eddy calm down, I only need to crash tonight”

Alfred looked from one to the other, he’d never seen Edward look so down right pissed off, Daniel saw him looking and winked at him

“so, can I come in then?”

Edward sighed

“I suppose so”

“thanks dude”

Alfred stood back to let him pass and looked questioningly at Edward

“my cousin” said Edward stiffly

“oh” said alfred “he looks a lot like you”

“he’s irresponsible!” said Edward vehemently “always in trouble” he sighed “so typical of him to turn up right now!” he looked at alfred “I’m so sorry” he said, “I wanted us to have a lovely night and now….”

“relax Edward” said alfred “we’ll have other nights” and he smiled and reached up to kiss him “lots of them”

“um hello?” a voice shouted from the other room “Eddy? Where can I dump my washing?”

Edward sighed heavily again and taking Alfred’s hand, led him back into the other room; Daniel was already sprawled on a chair tucking into the food

“sorry” he said mouth full “I was hungry”

Edward looked at him stonily

“help yourself why don’t you?” he said

“I will thanks…oh!” Daniel’s expression changed as he took in the candles and the champagne glasses “ah sorry you too were having a date night, weren’t you?” he grinned “well well you got a boyfriend at last steady eddy?”

Edward mentally counted to ten, Daniel had always been able to push his buttons. The son of his mother’s sister, and a few years younger, he’d been spoiled rotten leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Edward had spent many nights listening to yet another girl wailing “but whyyyy edward whyyy?? what did I do?????” after Daniel had dumped them

“come on Edward” said alfred sensing Edward’s growing annoyance “why don’t we go to mine while Daniel sorts himself out?”

“good idea” said Edward  

“you mean you don’t want to hear my tales from India?” said Daniel with a smirk “I am hurt eddy”

“I think I’ll live” said Edward glacially

Daniel laughed “have fun then, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do”

“that leaves literally nothing” muttered Edward as he followed alfred out of the door

 

As they crossed the road, alfred squeezed his hand

“don’t worry” he said, “plenty of privacy at mine” and he grinned

Edward smiled at him

“I’m so sorry” about Daniel he began but alfred shushed him

“now” he said as they went through the front door “where were we?” and he pushed Edward gently against the wall “I think about here” and he leaned up to kiss Edward, winding his fingers into his curls

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The walk from Edward’s door to Alfred’s was countable in seconds, or on this evening in bashful steps and brief giggles, yet it felt like an eternity in itself.
Alfred was still dizzy from their kiss in the kitchen, despite the crude interruptions.
‘I… I r-really a-a-apologise for Daniel, he’s always doing this, showing up on our family’s doorstep unannounced after months of backpacking on the other side of the Earth and, and, and…’
‘It’s alright, Edward,’ Alfred ended his stuttering rambling, laying a calming hand on Edward’s shoulder and looking up at him with a reassuring and absolutely smitten expression. ‘I don’t care about anything else right now…’ he said, hand sliding seductively down to Edward’s chest before adding: ‘But you.’
Under Alfred’s hand, Edward’s heart was racing a mile a minute.
‘Maybe I should go back to make sure he doesn’t destroy my house…’ he muttered stupidly.
Alfred’s dewy eyed face was clouded by the tiniest of frowns. ‘If you don’t want to come in, I understand…’
‘No, I want to, believe me, I do, it’s just… this is usually where I ruin things.’
‘Ruin things?’ Alfred repeated with a giggle. ‘I don’t see how you can do that. We’ve had enough disasters as it is. So?’ he said, hand on the doorknob, ready to turn it, eyebrow quirked.
Edward got over his apprehensions and nodded. He may have been terrifyingly awkward sometimes but far more than that he really, really liked Alfred.
And Alfred’s heart soared and he opened his front door very carefully – and just as Edward meant to ramble on some more, he placed a finger on his lips to indicate silence. And then he waved for Edward to enter quietly… and closed the door veeeery gently.
Ah, Diver. They could see even in the dark that he was sprawled luxuriously on the couch, fast asleep.
Edward nearly laughed out loud but they had to stay quiet, otherwise the dog would surely be the one to end the evening, or at least his owner’s chances of getting anywhere with the handsome hooman living next door.
Alfred pointed to the back mouthing “Garden?” then to the ceiling “Or upstairs?”
Edward bit his lips… if he could have said anything out loud he would have very politely made it clear he had no intention of taking advantage but it would be more sensible to go upstairs---
Alfred was already halfway up the stairs, waving for him to follow.
‘Crikey…’ Edward muttered and went upstairs with Alfred, to the bedroom he had helped him paint.
Alfred shut the door quietly, giggling.
‘I feel like I’m a teenager sneaking upstairs at an ungodly hour!’
‘Ha, yes, well, we wouldn’t want to wake the sleeping dragon.’
‘Did you just call my adorable puppy a dragon?’ Alfred pretended to scold him, making Edward instantly panic and curse himself, prompting Alfred to do some quick damage control. ‘I’m only joking! Hey… Relax… To be fair, D has done enough sticking his nose into our affairs.’
‘Right, when he jumped on me so I got coffee all over you first thing…’
‘Or after we went to the theatre…’
‘Yes, that…’
‘God, I could have sworn you were about to… to…’
‘Kiss you?’
‘Yes.’
‘I was. I wanted to, Alfred.’
‘Did you?’
‘You have no idea. I’ve wanted to kiss you ever since I looked out my window that day you arrived and got off your motorcycle, looking like a dream. I thought I’d been overworked and you were a figment of my imagination for a sec!’
‘Is that the kind of thing your unconscious imagines?’ Alfred teased him.
Edward covered his grinning, blushing face behind his hands.
‘I remember…’ Alfred said to him sweetly. ‘I remember thinking I’d be free from boy troubles here after my ex but then there you were, in your glasses, and completely gorgeous and…’
‘Smitten.’
‘Smitten?’
‘Yes. Instantly, it was like…’ Edward imitated a shot to his heart with finger guns.
‘Then why didn’t you say anything?’ Alfred asked, stepping closer in the dark.
‘I tried to…’
‘You could have been more specific! And here I was going absolutely mental thinking you’re about to announce your engagement with that Florence Kerr…’ Alfred said, imitating her flirty hair throwing very accurately.
‘Florence? No way! As I said, she’s not my type,’ Edward stated firmly, laughing.
‘Does she know that?’
‘Uhhhhh…’
‘Oh you…’ Alfred shook his head and stood on the tips of his toes to kiss Edward.
Edward smiled into the kiss, holding Alfred close – it was even more perfect than he had imagined, and he HAD imagined it, a lot.
He breathed in the moment, resting his forehead against Alfred’s.
‘I… I don’t know why I never… Well, aside from Diver totally ruining the moment at every step,’ he explained bashfully. ‘I’m not like you, it doesn’t come easy to me.’
‘What doesn’t?’
‘I don’t know… to make moves…’
Alfred giggled sweetly again. ‘I’ve noticed. You’re cute. And surprising, I mean you look so… you know. Florence must feel up your biceps about a hundred times a day!’
‘No, no, no, that’s just… She does that?’
‘Yes! Yes, she does! To no avail apparently… A normal human reaction to being around you, I’d say, but she’s still not allowed to do that anymore or else expect my wrath!’
Edward laughed, shaking his head, though. ‘No, I… no. Plus, I get such stage fright around you, I mean, you’re you.’
‘Me? I am me, thank you. Who else?’
‘You know what I mean… You’re…’
Edward could not find the words so he kissed Alfred warmly again, not wanting to let go this time as Alfred deepened it so willingly, hands roaming to places now, flush against each other at the hips, heat spreading to nether regions…
‘W-We d-don’t have to…’ Edward mumbled against Alfred’s lips.
‘No, we don’t…’
‘If you think…’
‘I know. But---’
‘Yes.’
‘Yes.’

 

It was way past Edward’s usual time to wake up but he was still in Alfred’s bed, for the first time since the gorgeous man picked this street to move to and consequently his heart in which to set up tent as well. The sun was shining brightly on their entangled and very naked bodies.
In the end, it was Edward’s phone buzzing with a text that woke him. And he, ever the responsible lawyer who had a separate shrine just for his ties in his closet, could not ignore it and routinely reached for it in the back pocket of his trousers that were lying on the floor by the bed.
His screen read “Text from Daniel:
“Hey Eddy, hope you’re not too shagged (lol) to read (btw I think I sat on your glasses, sry). Your mum just called and they’re coming over for dinner on Saturday as they haven’t seen me for ages blah blah blah. Thought you should know. P. S. Banging (lol) show, perhaps you should remember to close the curtains next time because you can see EVERYTHING from your house! Woah srsly if it’s nothing serious between you, I’d tap that. (fire emoji)”
Edward lay back on the pillow with a groan. Alfred forced his eyes open despite the shining bright sunlight to have a look too and ended up face planting back on Edward’s shoulder in a fit of giggles.
But Edward wasn’t laughing along, as he nearly threw his phone on Alfred’s bedside table. In fact, that heavy sigh of his sounded very troubled.
‘What?’ Alfred asked, pushing himself up and playing with Edward’s curls absent-mindedly. ‘If he saw us, I’m not ashamed of what he saw…’
Alfred wasn’t lying, he wondered whether he’d be able to stand on his legs and have his knees actually hold up after the night they had. It was always the quiet, shy ones…
‘A-are you s-sure?’ Edward still asked even as he had the corner of the condom’s wrapping in his mouth and Alfred was now straddling his hips.
‘Oh, my God, Edward, yes, for the dozenth time, YES, just f—’ Alfred’s words faded into a loud, throaty moan as Edward slid slowly into him at last and there was no need to beg anymore as Edward’s passion was unleashed as he grabbed Alfred’s hips, shoved him against the mattress and gave him what he wanted until they nearly fell off the foot of the bed.
Edward bit his lip at Alfred’s flirty reminder of their amazing night but he remained somewhat preoccupied.
‘What is it?’ Alfred asked, concerned.
‘Nothing, I just… my parents,’ Edward replied with a shrug.
Alfred sensed a nerve had been touched on and cuddled close to Edward, ready to listen.
‘Your parents what? Are you on bad terms or something?’
‘No, not exactly. I mean it’ll be annoying sitting over dinner while they praise Daniel even though he’s a right beast! He’s a good chap, don’t get me wrong, he has an incredible mind for business, which is how he’s been able to travel the world with nothing but a laptop and a backpack, but crikey…’
‘Beast? Chap? Crikey? I’m sorry, aren’t you younger than me, old sport?’
‘Stop…’ Edward tutted, play-shoving Alfred’s shoulder in the gentlest way.
‘Is that it? That your parents might prefer to talk to your rascal of a cousin at dinner?’
‘No, I just… nothing, I just don’t have that kind of relationship with my parents, that’s all.’
‘Well, then all the more reason to invite them for dinner. So you can hang out, make it all better. I’d love to meet them, too…’
Edward’s “Oh” was less than pleased.
‘What?’
‘I… I’d love that too, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon, really. I’m sorry.’
‘Why not? Oh, come on, out with it,’ Alfred nagged him to no avail. ‘Fine, you know what, how about we make a deal?’
‘What sort of a deal?’
‘Well, since I showed you mine and you showed me yours,’ Alfred winked, ‘I can tell you a story and you can tell me yours. So we’re even. How does that sound?’
Edward could not say no to such an angelic pair of blue eyes, no way. How was it that they oozed hunger and passion the night before when Alfred was looking up at him so sinfully but now he was an image of innocence?
‘Okay,’ he said at last.
‘Alright. What would you like to know about me?’
‘Well… When you first moved here… You mentioned your ex… That you moved all the way here from him. I was wondering what happened. You’ve got admit, we’ve seriously miscommunicated and I can’t help but feel it’s because of this, something I’m missing. It’s like, as if there were gaps in the way you behave and I can’t keep up. I want to keep up.’
Alfred pulled his mouth reluctantly even though had no intention to refuse.
‘I mean, the last person on Earth I want to think about right now is Will, but okay…’
‘You don’t have to.’
‘No, I’d like to clear the air. Particularly because it explains why I was the way I was about Florence… I met Will at university, he was older and more experienced, and he wasn’t just a brief affair in spring break, you know. We dated for quite a while. In hindsight, I should have seen the signs but I didn’t listen to anyone else and we were in love. At least I was, until… Well, basically, he had been cheating on me the whole time. I was such an idiot not to see it but he had me under his spell. I think I just didn’t want to believe it so I was blind to it willingly. I certainly wished I was blind when I came home to him in bed with some woman.’
‘Oh, bugger.’
‘Yes, grandpa, bugger,’ Alfred teased Edward again, to lighten the mood. ‘And he thought I had a problem with his girlfriend-hook-up-whoever-whatever being some girl, which is crazy, like he didn’t even get that it was the cheating part, full stop, that bothered me. Bothered? Insulted, crushed, broken me! I had trusted him. And he just… didn’t even respect me at all, really. I just couldn’t believe it, all those years I put into our relationship, and yet I felt like I hardly knew him. He never believed in me at all, I always used to accommodate him, I didn’t have any time to work on my own dreams at all, he never cared about which plays are my favourite or whether my editor liked my articles, but it was okay because… Truth is, I don’t know anymore. I left at once, I went back to my parents for a bit and then… here I am.’
‘But, Alfred, that’s… that’s horrible. I’m so sorry...’ Edward comforted him, holding him close under the sheets, which really helped.
‘It’s okay, it’s over. I wasn’t really in love anymore by the time that happened, but it was still so shitty, you know? And literally the second we were over he started posting sluttier and sluttier stuff on social media. It was pathetic. But still painful. There, now you know why I was so afraid of making a move just yet and why my emotional comfort exercise at work is to imagine Florence’s hair being caught in an electric fan.’
‘Because you thought I was bi?’
‘No! Not at all. In fact, I thought you were straight! Because you’re so cryptic! You never actually said anything about your love life or yourself, and I was still trying to heal. You’ve got to admit, you’re confusing.’
‘Me? I am the least mysterious person in the world!’
‘Talk about self-awareness,’ Alfred laughed heartily. ‘You’re flirting with me, painting my house, playing with my dog one second, then you go out for coffee with Florence the next, you take me out on a date, then you’re snogging her on your doorstep…’
‘Oh. Okay, if you put it like that…’
Alfred laughed more, before turning serious. ‘I just had a harder time trusting you, I suppose, after Will. I just didn’t want to do anything unless I knew where I stood.’
‘Understandable. And… Have I dissolved your doubts?’ Edward asked, glancing down at their nakedness in the bed.
‘I’m not quite sure, remind me again?’ Alfred asked very flirtily, and Edward was very willing to go in for more kisses and rolling around on the sheets, until…
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
‘Oh, nooOOOoooOOoooo, D, not nowwwww!’ Alfred groaned. The poor dog was scratching at his bedroom door, probably hungry like a wolf by now!
Edward wasn’t cross at all, he was as adorable as much as he adored the puppy, despite always pulling focus at the wrong moment.
‘Let me,’ he told Alfred, got his underpants off the floor, put them on (under Alfred’s constant staring), and opened the door to a very indignant and very hungry Diver jumping around him and into his arms at last so that he could be fed.
Alfred popped into the shower quickly and joined them in the kitchen in five minutes, in nothing but a towel around his waist, just in time for the coffee machine to rattle happily, fresh pot ready.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ Edward said. It wasn’t his kitchen to use after all.
‘Mind? You’re amazing! I lo…’ Alfred replied, biting his tongue before he said too much suddenly. Coffee, he needed coffee indeed.
Diver barked at him, clearly still angry for being abandoned since last night.
Alfred’s apologies were only truly accepted once he had given D some of his treasured cheat day sausages. They didn’t even realise there was anything odd about Edward staying at his place, cooking breakfast and moving so comfortably there, as if he had lived there with Alfred for years.
‘More pancakes?’
‘No, thank you,’ Alfred replied, watching Edward at the oven. He was still in nothing but his underwear, showing his insanely fit body now sporting hickeys, and his hair was a mess, curls sticking in every direction.
And though his back muscles made Alfred believe in God, it was still obvious he was being avoidant.
‘So…’
‘Maybe some jam? Or fruit, let me get you more fruit…’
‘No, thank you, I’m full. And you, you’re stalling.’
‘Whaaat?’ Edward asked, overacting badly.
‘Stop cooking more mountains of pancakes and sit with me, please,’ Alfred asked, patting the bar chair next to him.
Edward turned off the oven and did as told.
Alfred took his hands. ‘What’s up with your parents? Why don’t you want them to come visit?’
‘Nothing, it’s just… We’re distant and very formal with each other. They don’t even know I’m gay.’
Alfred sensed something like this from Edward’s massive reluctance but it still hurt.
‘Really?’
‘See? That face you’re making, this is why I didn’t want to bring this up, certainly not now. I’m not in the closet exactly. We just don’t ever talk about this. But, as the years pass, it’s more and more…’
‘Awkward?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Okay, well, I think you should do as you see fit. You don’t owe them your coming out. You didn’t owe me, even though it would have saved us some time!’ Alfred winked, getting Edward to smile a little again.
‘They’re not hateful, they’re just… I don’t know, they’re of a different generation. They say things that are a bit…hm…’ Edward pulled his mouth. ‘I haven’t found the right moment yet.’
Alfred sighed sadly. Out of the periphery of his eyes he saw Diver was about to use his sofa cushion for flossing so he walked over while they were still talking, Edward following, coffee in hand. It was so casual, Alfred almost missed the actually insanely big topic Edward just happened to bring up after their first night:
‘Of course ideally I’d want to find the man of my dreams and get married and my parents would be there in the front row and hug me and wish me luck and it would be like in the movies but… It’s not like I’ve ever been able to hold down a relationship for long enough to be as serious as that, or at least I’d never really been… in love b---’ before, Edward wanted to say but he managed to turn it into... ‘B—but it’s not that I’m scared of my parents, it’s just they’re not the ones I call when I’m dumped, okay?’
‘What? You? Dumped? Sorry?’ Alfred asked, trying to push away images of him and Edward marrying. For now.
Edward groaned into his coffee cup. ‘You’d be amazed.’
‘Well, I’m here to stay Mr Drummond,’ Alfred said with that flirty look in his eyes even as he peeled D off the cushion and sat on the sofa. ‘But… should I stay out of the way when they come?’
‘No, in fact I would love for you to be there. But it’s not fair to ask, going back into the closet is humiliating.’
‘It’s only for a couple of hours.’
‘Even for that long. It’s awful, I can’t ask this of you. You’d have to be my friendly neighbour, not my….uh… well…’
‘Boyfriend?’
Edward gasped, the word hanging in the air between them so clearly. ‘Boyfriend?’
‘Yes,’ Alfred replied happily.
Edward grinned like an idiot. ‘Okay,’ he said simply. Boyfriends. That’s what they were now.
‘Don’t worry, I’m a good actor,’ Alfred added, batting his eyelashes like an old-fashioned primadonna.
Edward went over to the sofa and kissed Alfred, his boyfriend. And again. And again… until D got bored and left them to make out on the sofa for a long while. Somehow, they ended up lying on it, Edward’s grinding making Alfred’s towel come loose…
… until a pebble hit the window.
Edward nearly jumped when he was met with a widely grinning Daniel right outside the window, in hideous sunglasses and a shirt that had trees on it.
‘Oi! Edward!’ he shouted through the glass. ‘You’re out of milk, I’m just going to pop into a shop, yeah?’
Edward groaned. ‘Just GO awaaaAAAAYYYY,’ he shouted at Daniel.
‘Did you want anything? Coffee? Newspapers? Condoms?’
‘LEAVE US!!!’
‘Alright, alright, I’m going now!’ Daniel said, snapping a picture before heading down the cobbled Mews.
‘Hang on,’ Alfred suddenly said, jumping up, hastily fixing his towel, and a collar on Diver, who was scratching at the front door. Alfred ran after Daniel, shoved the leash into his hand, thanked him, and then ran back home, to continue what he and Edward had started, without interruptions this time.
‘Are you sure? Knowing Daniel, he might not bring D home in one piece,’ Edward warned. ‘It’s a milk run now but I’m pretty sure they’ll show up in New Zealand in a month.’
‘Good,’ Alfred said, pulling Edward back down on the sofa with himself. ‘More time for us.’

 

‘You did it.’
Mina said this first thing without looking up from her laptop, before Alfred had even sat on his chair on Monday morning.
‘Uh, hello, Mina, you look nice as well. Peel in yet?’ Alfred quipped with forced nonchalance.
‘You. Did. It.’
‘What.’
‘You did it, you had sex – OH MY GOD, Alfred, did you and Edward finally hook up, then?’
‘SHHHH!!! What??? How??? No, I…’
Alfred had heard about Mina’s magical sixth sense – he and Edward had spent the whole weekend in bed (Daniel kindly dogsitting next door), sometimes talking about this and that, too, between other activities. He learned that apparently Mina figured Edward was gay on his first day, and he helped her out of her many failed dating experiences with men and women loads of times. But they could never agree on whether to use 12 pt or 12.5 pt spacing on Christmas Party Invites.
‘Pfft, please, don’t even try to lie to me, Paget,’ Mina insisted.
‘I’m not lying.’
‘Okay, this whole week’s worth of coffee runs says you came to work together on your motorbike but thought it would look too suspicious to actually arrive together so you are parked a street away and he’s about to come with the next lift after you in three… two… one…’
‘Hello Mina!’ Edward said in a very cheery greeting, swinging his suitcase happily by his side.
‘Hello, Edward!’ Mina said extremely pleased with herself. She handed a dossier to him as he passed. ‘The Chicago reports, for Mr Peel’s 12 o’clock meeting.’
‘Cheers, Mina – and hey, new hair?’
‘New blouse.’
‘Ah.’
‘Too.’
‘Oh!’ he rejoiced, glad his compliment wasn’t misplaced after all. He couldn’t stop smiling. He stopped at Alfred’s desk. ‘Uh, good morning, Alfred…’ he said very formally, but failing at it miserably.
‘She knows,’ Alfred said darkly, not pleased he was on coffee duty for the whole week.
Not that he didn’t use it to his advantage.
‘Latte?’ he asked, entering Edward’s office one day without knocking and closing the blinds with one hand, balancing the coffee in the other.
‘Alfred?’ Edward looked up from his desk. ‘But I didn’t order any---’
Alfred cut him off with a kiss, pulling him close by his tie for good measure.
‘Alfred…’ Edward moaned, trying to keep his voice down but loving it too much. ‘If Mr Peel comes in… you know he doesn’t like it when colleagues date…’
‘I know but Florence was flirting at you so hard in that meeting room earlier, I just had to…’
‘Alfred? Are you… jealous?’
‘No, I’m not, I’m just…’
Alfred may not have admitted to being jealous exactly, as Florence had no chance with Edward, but she should really stop touching Edward, HIS boyfriend, and throwing her hair every five minutes from one side to the other. And she should really wear longer skirts!
Edward had half a mind not to tell her to stop if it did THIS to Alfred, or so he thought as Alfred shoved him against the desk and started grinding against him on very important contracts.
Mina only agreed not to start an office gossip about what she saw when she walked in on them if they invited her over to the dinner on Saturday.

 

‘Would you stop stressing?’ Daniel asked Edward, who was currently dashing between the oven and the sink and the cupboards and the dining table like a madman, curls a complete disaster from the steam they’d been exposed to during hours of cooking. ‘Seriously, and this may be because I’ve been making friends with your boyfriend’s genuinely awesome little puppy lately, but even I’m starting to worry about you, mate.’
‘I would stop stressing if you’d put the cutlery on the table, please?’ Edward said without missing a beat. ‘And stop snacking from the fruit, that’s decoration!’
‘Can’t you smell something burning?’
‘WHAT?’
Nothing was burning of course, Daniel was just messing with Edward, digging himself even deeper in Edward’s bad book.
‘The veggie curry is here!’ Alfred announced happily as he came back to Edward’s house carrying a heavy clay pot. It wasn’t too heavy for him to kiss Edward before bringing it straight to the dining room.
‘See, someone knows how to be of help!’ Edward told Daniel with the defiance and pride of a man not covered in cake icing.
‘You should get changed, Edward, it’s almost time. I’ll clean up here,’ Alfred said when he returned, already getting an apron. ‘And Mina’s on her way, she just texted.’
‘Already?’ Edward looked at the clock horrified.
‘And do something with that hair, Eddy,’ Daniel added.
‘Okay, you know what---’ Edward began, waving a spatula at Daniel before Alfred got between them.
‘Stop, stop, this is not the time. Edward, put that spatula down, Daniel, please stop riling up your cousin.
‘I’m doing you a favour, mate,’ Daniel told Alfred with a grin. ‘Though by the looks of it he doesn’t need to be riled up. Oh, hang on! I totally forgot! I took pics from the other night. Check these out…’ Daniel whipped out his phone to show Alfred, prompting Edward to absolutely lose it and go on a rant about respectability.
‘… and therefore I find this behaviour unacceptable, and especially that Alfred is here, who’s—Alfred?’
When he stopped ranting and actually turned back to his boyfriend, he saw him and Daniel very close, looking at their phones.
Alfred looked up as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar, clearly getting the pictures from Daniel.
Edward’s mouth fell open in betrayal and shock!
‘What, I just… the pictures aren’t bad… we… Bluetooth…’
Alfred was saved by the doorbell. He sent Edward upstairs to get ready and opened it himself, to see Mina standing on the doorstep wearing a lovely dress and a big smile.
‘Mina!’ he exclaimed happily, hugging her. ‘Come in, come in…’
‘Finally, women!’ Daniel’s first words were. He was still licking icing off a spatula. ‘Hello, Mina, good to see you again.’
‘And you,’ she said, giving Daniel a kiss on the cheek. ‘You look so tan!’
‘And you don’t! Peel still keeping you slaving away in the office all day?
‘I’m not slaving away… well, not always. My job has its perks,’ she said cryptically, thinking guiltily about her ongoing crush on a certain blonde individual.
Edward returned downstairs, too, all clean and dolled up in a shirt and blazer, hair under control.
‘Will I do?’ he asked Alfred and his reply was a kiss so passionate Dan and Mina started making gagging noises.
‘Sorry,’ Alfred said after peeling himself off his boyfriend, not at all sorry. But he frowned when he glanced at the fully laid dining table now. ‘Edward?’
‘Hm?’
‘There’s an extra chair.’
‘No, there isn’t. My parents are certain to have “accidentally” bumped into an attractive young woman friend of theirs who just “happens” to be single and thought she’d enjoy dinner at mine…’
‘Hm, not because your cooking is so excellent, I’m guessing.’
‘What’s wrong with my--- Oh, stop it. But, yes. You’re guessing correctly,’ Edward said darkly. ‘Got it, everyone? My parents don’t know about us, and we’d like to keep it that way for now.’
Daniel rolled his eyes. ‘If you say so… but you know what I think, I don’t think you should be scared of them.’
‘Alright then, Daniel, do they know about your fling with that Italian jockey? Or that soldier from Illinois? Or…’
‘Okay, okay, shut up. I just like to change it up sometimes. Sometimes. And if I called home everytime I hooked up with someone, my phone bill would amount to more than my plane tickets. Anyway, Charles and Frances are not my parents.’
‘Precisely,’ Mina cut in before another fight broke out. ‘That’s why Edward gets to decide this.’
‘And in the meantime, I shall try to be as charming as possible,’ Alfred said in encouragement.
And the doorbell rang right on time as the clock struck seven.
Edward shot Alfred a last apologetic look, put on a wider than natural smile as he did when meeting new clients at work, and opened the door on his parents.
Alfred did not know what to expect but he guessed his own family’s unconditional love and closeness (and chaos) was not the norm and it certainly wasn’t for the Drummonds. Edward shook hands with his father and accepted a polite little kiss from his mum but other than that their affections were largely expressed verbally in a few hellos and how have you beens.
Edward went to close the door.
‘Oh, wait a minute, Edward, dear, Florence is just coming, she just left her purse in the backseat.’

Alfred and Mina shared a dark look.
‘Florence?’ Edward asked, wondering whether anyone else might have heard the sound of a record screeching to a stop.
And sure enough, Florence Kerr strutted into Edward’s home in all her tall blonde bombshell ways. She was in an expensive, spaghetti strapped, white dress draped low in the front but leaving all her back bare at the same time. Clearly, she did not come to this family dinner wearing a bra but by the tight way the incredibly short skirt part of the dress was hugging her body she can’t have been wearing any knickers either.
She threw her long, luscious blonde hair from one side to the other.
‘Hello, Edward.’
A loud clatter sounded as Daniel threw the spatula in the sink blindly and came forward to shake Florence’s hand.
‘Oh, hello?’ she said, taking in the tan, half-unbuttoned shirt wearing lookalike of Edward’s now going in for a kiss on each side.
‘Hi. I’m Daniel. Edward’s cousin.’
‘Hello, Daniel,’ she replied, surprised but still in full flirt mode.
Daniel kept beaming at Florence smitten, among other things.
Alfred cleared his throat.
Edward jumped, waking from his shock. ‘Uhm, yes, mum, dad, do you remember Mina?’
‘Yes, how are you, dear?’ Frances said, greeting her.
‘And uhm, this is Alfred, my new neighbour and now colleague. He was kind enough to help with dinner, I hope you don’t mind.’
‘Oh, hello,’ Charles said while shaking his hand, before turning to his son. ‘The more the merrier, they say. Though we did say family dinner…’
‘Well, you invited Florence, dad,’ Edward replied without missing a beat.
‘We just bumped into her, honey,’ Frances was quick to say quite obviously lying. ‘We all know dear Robbie, and we thought it would be fun if we all got together.’
‘Let me guess, mum, you just ran into her now?’
‘Oh, yes, quite coincidentally.’
Wearing that? Alfred wanted to ask quite testily but he really wasn’t all that bothered just yet as Daniel seemed to be more than keen to tie down Florence’s attention, judging by his hand her smaller back as he led her into the dining room.
He would have thanked the heavens out loud if it weren’t for something odd… Mina seemed suddenly so downcast. That’s weird, as far as he could tell she and Daniel were nothing more than friends… Unless…
‘Mina, are you okay?’ he asked her discreetly before following everyone else to the table.
‘Yes. Fine,’ she replied grumpily. Clearly, nothing was fine.
‘Gorgeous, you know you shouldn’t crush on someone straight.’
‘Just shut up, Alfred, please,’ she retorted, taking a bloody seat for this stupid dinner at last.

 

Edward definitely did not say anything even remotely funny, yet Florence, who was sitting next to him at dinner, giggled wildly for the hundredth time and touched his arm, no, she grabbed his bicep and ran her hand down Edward’s arm slowly.
How did Alfred finish his glass of wine so quickly? To be fair it was a miracle he hadn’t broken it into smithereens just from the force with which he was holding the fragile glass, or that he hadn’t straight up grabbed his knife and shoved it through Florence’s “dress” if you could call it that!
Pretending to be just friends with Edward in front of his parents was one thing. He hadn’t signed up for not being able to do anything while Florence flirted her head off for Edward!
Edward was fully aware of how angry and uncomfortable Alfred felt and made sure to shoot many apologetic looks his way across the table but that was the best he could do.
‘Peel tells me you’re branching out to the US,’ Charles brought up during the main course, Alfred’s curry.
‘That’s correct,’ Edward replied.
‘Robbie is so pleased with Edward, he carries our case, too, he’s just the best,’ Florence was quick to say, hoping to get good points.
‘Uh, yes, but… Alfred, he’s just started, and Mr Peel was not short on praises when I last discussed the weekly reports with him,’ Edward replied, turning away from Florence in favour of Alfred.
‘I’m just his writing temp, Edward…’ Alfred muttered shyly.
‘Oh, Edward always does this – don’t you, Edward?’ Florence tried to regain his attention. ‘So gallant! He’s such a good friend, too! Remember when poor Alfred came down with something at the party and you offered to take him home? And that’s after standing up to his awful boss! Aww, you were so heroic!’
‘Uhh, yes, right…’ Edward stuttered, put on the spot, turning away from Florence again much to her disappointment. ‘But Alfred, he doesn’t need my help, he’s a brilliant writer. Mark my words, he’ll be the next J. K. Rowling.’
‘You’re a writer, dear?’ Frances asked kindly.
‘R-right, I am. That is, when I’m not writing Mr Peel’s emails,’ Alfred tried to joke.
‘What do you write?’
‘I’m working on a novel at the moment. My first. If all goes well, it will hit the stores by Christmas.’
‘What is it about? Surely a real book, not some silly romantic comedy that’s a dime a dozen these days, I hope?’ Charles asked, almost making Alfred choke on his mouthful of curry.
Charles didn’t even mean to be mean at all. His tone suggested he was inviting Alfred, and others, in on the joke. Except he hit the nail on the head…
‘Oh, Charles, do stop it, you know I love my Bridget Jones at Christmas,’ Frances shooed him.
Mina was the only one who was watching what was going on between Florence and Daniel all this time: he was feeding a bit of curry with his bare hands to Florence, nearly doing very vulgar things as he used his thumb to push the piece of naan into her mouth.
‘DANIEL,’ Mina blurted out suddenly. Going red, she tried to save face: ‘We’ve been here for an hour and you still haven’t told us about India.’
Daniel sat back in his chair politely, though not before licking grease off his thumb, still gazing at Florence sensually.
‘Well, what would you like to know?’
‘Everything, darling,’ Frances said, ‘But must you eat with your hands?’
‘Oh, right, bad habits are hard to break…’ he said, sensually licking his fingers again, definitely staring right at Flo, who seemed to really like this display and completely forgot about the ever indifferent Edward on her other side. ‘I travelled India for so long… I saw plenty of beautiful things, the food, the architecture, the culture… the women…’ he winked at Florence Kerr in front of everyone, ‘But I am glad to be back home, particularly with this delightful company…’
After Daniel’s tall tales about India, accompanied by many oohs and ahs by Florence, who switched to touching Daniel’s arms every 30 seconds now, someone suggested it was time for dessert.
‘Let me,’ Alfred said, standing before Edward could, and gathering everyone’s dirty plates. ‘It’s good to see you sat down at last, you’ve been jumping up all evening, sweeth… mate,’ he added at the end awkwardly to take the edge off his coupley, lovey-dovey tone.
‘Didn’t you like the curry, dad?’ Edward fretted, as soon as Alfred left for the kitchen.
‘It was a bit too spicy for my liking. I hope dessert is not as exotic.’
‘Now, now, Charles,’ Daniel said, clearly grabbing yet another opportunity to give the hots to Florence. ‘You should be more open to new delights. I certainly am.’
‘I can’t help it, I like what I like. And where was the meat?’
‘It’s because of me,’ Mina muttered apologetically.
‘We thought we wouldn’t make separate foods just because Mina’s a veggie, dad – Alfred’s idea, and I agreed.’
‘How odd you young ones are, I say.’
‘Oh, you do always exaggerate so, Charles,’ Frances rolled her eyes. ‘The other day we went to an Italian restaurant and the teeniest bit of garlic send him raging at the poor waiter.’
‘Well, I specifically asked for no garlic!’
Frances tutted at her silly old husband.
‘It’s hard to find a decent restaurant these days, isn’t it?’ he went on. ‘What’s the world come to when you can’t get a good old simple game pie anywhere anymore? Everywhere you go it’s kebabs and curries and pizzas with mountains of garlic! I can’t take my clients out for lunch anymore without the odours spoiling a deal!’ he laughed, not noticing the other guests were a bit uncomfortable at this but he was being nothing more than a grumpy middle-aged man. No harm. Until he added, ‘Gentrification, my foot! Perhaps you should consider moving to another neighbourhood, closer to the law firm, Edward, this area is going to the dogs, too.’
‘Why, what’s wrong with this place, dad?’ Edward frowned.
‘The price of real estate is falling, for good reason. The communities are getting more and more… interesting here. That neighbour of yours, too…’
And he did a limp hand gesture.
Cold embarrassment washed over Edward, and even Daniel didn’t know how to respond to that.
It was at this moment that Alfred returned as if nothing had happened.
‘Who wants dessert, then?’ he said much too cheerily – making Edward suspect he had heard. He placed a croquembouche on the table, definitely forcing his smile. ‘And champagne? Champagne anyone?’
‘Yes!’ Daniel jumped up, taking on Alfred’s energy, too, to pull focus. ‘This evening does call for it, doesn’t it, Alfred?’ he added, pouring champagne for everyone.
‘What, why?’
‘Well, didn’t you say the other day that you got a call back from Attitude UK?’
‘Really, Alfred?’ Edward turned to him at once.
‘Y-yes,’ Alfred admitted.
‘What!?’ Mina shrieked.
‘Why didn’t you say?’ Edward asked, conflicted between shock and happiness.
‘I was going to announce it later,’ Alfred shrugged. ‘I start next month.’
‘But… Alfred…’ Edward had to strain himself to control himself and not jump Alfred right then and there. ‘That’s amazing! Congratulations!’
‘Yes,’ Daniel agreed loudly, standing and raising his glass. ‘To Alfred!’
They all drank to Alfred’s success.
Dessert next…
Flo grabbed a cherry decoration and sucked cream off it, keeping Daniel’s eye contact all throughout.
‘That was very gallant of you there,’ she purred into his ear while nobody paid them any attention.
‘It’s only right, isn’t it?’ Daniel replied quietly to Florence, jealous of that cherry…
‘Hmm… so gallant and such a gentleman you are…’
‘I hope you’re not about to tell me I’m as boring as Eddy.’
‘I haven’t decided that yet.’
‘I am not, I assure you.’
‘Prove it.’
Daniel licked his lips and grinned. ‘Um, excuse us, I just have a souvenir from India that might interest Florence, but I think it’s still in my suitcase so just do continue without us. Florence?’
They went upstairs before anyone could even notice – with the exception of Charles, the designated driver, too much champagne had been consumed and Mina and Edward were making sure to talk Alfred up as much as they could after that ghastly moment courtesy of Edward’s father earlier…
But that was the thing… just as they started to run out of words, they could hear soft but unmistakable thumping sounds.
Rhythmical ones.
From upstairs.
‘Uhhh, DAD, soooo…’ Edward said panicking massively. ‘TELL us all about your… Uh… the new greenhouse!’
Charles seemed too preoccupied by his account of how they rebuilt the garden to notice tell-tale noises upstairs.
Florence’s laugh sounded from upstairs, and Dan’s, and more thumping.
‘MUSIC?’ Edward said ‘Would anyone like some music?’
Something crashed, interrupting Charles’s droning on.
‘What was that?’ he asked.
‘Nothing, just the, uh, the cat,’ Edward improvised.
‘Ah, you have a cat? No wonder I was feeling my allergies coming on!’
‘Um, Mr Drummond--- Charles, if you are, perhaps it’d be better if we moved to my garden!’ Alfred grabbed the opportunity. He had no intention of listening to a second more of either the greenhouse story or the noises upstairs, but his annoyance was nothing compared to how miserable Mina looked. ‘It’s not as imposing as yours is by the sounds of it but it’d be a shame to miss out on this lovely weather. I say let’s take the champagne and go outside.’

 

This, they did, and indeed it was quite pleasant to lounge about in Alfred’s neat new garden that Diver hadn’t had the chance to destroy yet. He got an open fire going to set the mood.
‘Thank you,’ Edward whispered discreetly to Alfred, wishing for the night to end so he could kiss his gorgeous boyfriend at last. He had been spoiled all week and he was starting to lose the ability to go for too long without Alfred’s lips. ‘The fairy lights are a nice touch.’
Alfred beamed up at him, heart fuller than ever before. He had equally enjoyed their week of dating thus far but he was also constantly terrified. He knew he had it badly for Edward, he couldn’t help it, but that meant that Edward had the power to really hurt him. He was a heavenly boyfriend, too good to be true, really, and Alfred feared something that would shatter that image indeed. But as soon as he was with Edward, he forgot about all that nonsense and allowed himself to be happy again.
And surely, despite its smaller bumps, the evening was going down pretty well.
‘…I disagree, love, the parents should have the right to pull their children out of these lessons,’ Charles responded to something Mina said.
‘My mum told me she doesn’t believe in the Moon landing, parents can be wrong!’
‘That’s an entirely different matter. I don’t see why we should be forced to do this, it’s so unnecessary.’
‘What is unnecessary?’ Alfred asked, sensing what this was about already.
‘LGBTQ-inclusive relationship education,’ Mina supplied, hardly masking her annoyance. But then her crush was currently banging her friend just across the street, so her temper was quite justified. ‘Charles is against it.’
‘I’m not against it, just not for primary school children!’
‘Nobody’s teaching children about sex!’
‘Oh, well, really, Mina dear!’
‘Well, no one is! It’s just to prevent them learning hate first and then bullying others!’
‘Even so. Let kids be kids, then begin with this whole queer business…’
Alfred had sworn not to mess up the night but he couldn’t stop himself: ‘Excuse me--!?’
‘Hellooo!!!’ Florence’s voice approaching from the gate interrupted them. She was still fixing her dress when she rounded the corner of the house, but she had not been able to cover reddish marks on her knees.
‘Heeeey hooooo where is every---OH, there you are!’ Daniel added as he appeared as well in a fit of giggles, his buttons half-done up wrong. ‘Sorry, what have we missed?’
In the momentary distraction, no one noticed Diver peeing on Mr Drummond’s shoes.
‘Charles!!!’ Frances exclaimed, jumping up from the garden bench, her husband following suit.
‘Shit,’ Alfred muttered, though doing nothing to remove Diver at all. He vaguely offered his bathroom where Charles could clean up but he and Frances opted for leaving as it was quite late anyway, and no doubt they were tired of arguing with Mina. That, or whatever it was that convinced them to leave, Alfred didn’t care, he just wanted them out of there before he outed Edward because of a nerve touched.
‘What was that about?’ Daniel asked.
‘Well, you would know if you had been here and not… elsewhere, with Florence,’ Mina snapped.
‘What, we were just…’
‘We know what you were doing, Daniel, the whole of London knows what you were doing, spare us the details,’ Edward backed her up.
But it was Florence who retorted, not at all trying to be charming now.
‘Hey, you know what, you don’t have the right to be jealous, you haven’t paid attention to me all evening!’
‘Jealous? I’m not jealous, Florence, perhaps I should have been clearer before but you were crying and I couldn’t find a way, but I really, really hope you didn’t just have sex with my cousin to make me jealous because I am gay, Florence, I am gay and I’m dating Alfred, and I love him, so you’re free to do whatever you want, just perhaps not during dinner with my parents in my home next time.’
Edward blurted it all out so quickly that the silence that followed was all the more palpable.
Oh God, what had he done? It didn’t escape him that he just confessed to being in love, actually in love, with Alfred.
‘Edward,’ Alfred uttered, and Edward thought he was going to hear it now, something about it being too soon and wanting a break because he was too much and Alfred surely didn’t feel the same yet and…
But that never came.
‘Edward,’ Alfred warned again, pulling at his shirt sleeve, and wearing such a strange expression on his face… looking at something over Edward’s shoulder…
Edward turned. And saw his father standing in the garden once again, quite obviously astonished. This is where he was supposed to hug his son, tell him it’s okay and that he and Frances were looking forward to inviting him and his boyfriend over for a dinner in return… Of course, he didn’t say anything like that.
‘Dad…’
‘Your mother left her purse,’ Mr Drummond said curtly in the end, grabbed the bag off the garden bench and left quite quickly.

Chapter Text

One week later

 

“are you sure your parents don’t’ mind?” asked Edward for the umpteenth time trying not to wince as Alfred took the corner at least 20 miles an hour faster than Edward personally would have considered safe

“they honestly don’t mind’” said alfred gently “they are really keen to meet you and we could both do with a few days in the country”

“well as long as you’re sure”

Alfred reached over and patted Edwards leg “I’m sure” he said

 

Inwardly he was still raging at Edward’s parents and their behaviour both at the dinner and after. Edward was the perfect son; kind, considerate, intelligent, generous, never put a foot wrong ever and all that was negated by the fact his parents simply couldn’t accept the fact he was gay.

After the excruciating moment in the garden when Edward’s father had overheard him declare his love for Alfred, there had been silence for a long time broken eventually by Florence who had laughed bitterly

“you didn’t think to mention that to me then Edward?”

“I’m really sorry Florence” said Edward miserably “I didn’t know how to say it, I mean you were so keen…”

“ha” Florence pulled her skirt down as far as she could which was not very far given its brevity “don’t put tabs on yourself Edward, you’re not all that, I was just being nice”

But everyone could see she was deeply upset

“Flo babe” Daniel put a hand on her arm, but she shook it off

“I don’t need your help either thanks Danny boy. Mina do you fancy a cocktail? I would very much like to get out of here”

Mina’s face lit up

“yes, that sounds brilliant” she said “I’ll get us an uber”

“good, I’ll wait outside with you”

And the two of them left

 

Edward collapsed into a chair and put his head in his hands

“why do these things happen to me?” he asked his voice muffled

“oh honey”

Alfred perched on the edge of the seat and put his arm round him stroking his hair

“none of this is your fault”

Edward buried his head in Alfred’s shoulder

“then why does it feel like it is?”

Alfred looked helplessly at Daniel who disappeared off and returned a few minutes later with glass

“here” he said to Edward “whiskey, you need it”

“I don’t usually” began Edward

“drink it” said Daniel firmly

Edward nodded, downed it in one and then sighed

“I suppose I should call my father”

“no” said alfred firmly “not tonight everyone is to upset. Sleep on it, leave it till the morning”

Edward nodded

“I doubt that I shall sleep” he said forlornly “I never do when I’m stressed” and then he yawned

“well you seem tried to me” said Alfred “come on let’s go to bed”

Somehow Edward made it up the stairs yawning all the way and then stood there docilely while alfred undressed him. It was not the passionate tearing off of clothes that usually occurred but to alfred there was a sweet intimacy in him unbuttoning Edward’s shirt and helping him out of the sleeves that tore at his heart.

He pulled back the duvet

“in you get” he said “I’ll be back in a sec”

Edward slid into bed and turned on his side, his eyes already closed

Alfred padded downstairs to find Daniel loading the dishwasher with glasses

“leave it” said alfred “I’ll do it in the morning”

Daniel smiled at him ruefully

“that didn’t turn out quite as anyone expected” he said “I’m sorry for Eddie, his dad can be a bit of a dick”

“so, it seems” said alfred drily “luckily I don’t come across too many dinosaurs like that, my parents have been nothing but loving and supportive”

“He’s never been good enough you know” said Daniel concentrating heavily on rinsing out a champagne flute “whatever he did, he could never please them, I told him he should stop trying but you know, he just thinks one day they’ll go ‘you’re amazing son, we love you’. They never will you know and they’re morons because of it. Edward is the best son anyone could have”

Alfred felt a lump come into his throat

“you’re not quite as much of an idiot as you make out, are you?” he said to Daniel

“wellllll” Daniel grinned and shrugged “you mustn’t tell anyone though; you’ll ruin my reputation”

“your secret is safe with me” said alfred solemnly “can I ask you a question though?”

“sure, fire away”

“have you drugged my boyfriend because he started snoring almost as soon as he got into bed”

Daniel laughed

“let’s just say I added a little herbal something to his whiskey, seriously alfred its nothing that will hurt him, he just needs to sleep and knowing what a stress monkey he is, he won’t without a bit of help”

 

Sadly, although Edward did sleep, the morning did not improve matters. His father refused to accept his calls, and as the days went on, Edward became more and more upset.

“he hates me alfred” said Edward as they lay in bed, Edward’s head resting on Alfred’s chest

“he doesn’t hate you” said alfred “he’s just struggling to come to terms with it”

Personally, he though Edward’s father was behaving appallingly and if it were anyone else, he would have told them they should tell their father to shove it. But Edward was not anyone else, he was Edward, his kind sensitive Edward who was really hurting and so he bit his tongue and reassured him that his father would come around, it would just take time.

“what you need” said alfred winding one of Edward’s curls around his finger “is a holiday”

“a holiday?” Edward sat up “I don’t have time for a holiday alfred! I have so much work on! My cases…. contracts are at a critical stage…I can’t just swan off and…”

“I meant just a weekend away” said alfred gently pushing Edward back down and resuming his curl twinning “you know we could go to stay with my parents in Wales, its right by the sea with a load of mountains around, very peaceful, you’d love it”

“are you sure your parents won’t mind?” asked Edward trying not to sound too eager, mountains and sea sounded like heaven. He missed the fresh air, it was the one thing he disliked about London, everything was so hemmed in by buildings “I mean is there room?”

“oh yes there is room” said alfred with a grin “let me just call them”

 

As they turned the last corner and crested the top of the hill, Alfred pointed

“there” he said “there it is, Plas Newydd”

Edward’s mouth dropped open

“your parents live there? Wait! Did you grow up there?”

Alfred nodded

“uh huh”

“but….” Edward closed his mouth again; he couldn’t think of anything to say.

He was still quiet as Alfred sped up the drive and up to the front of the house. It was enormous; 3 storeys high and extending out as long as it was high with hexagonal wings at either end. The pale grey frontage was lined with mullioned windows and ivy and wisteria trailed up the stonework.

“you were brought up here?” said Edward as Alfred braked to a halt

“I was” said alfred breaking into a huge smile “what do you think?”

“I think” Edward took a breath “I don’t know what to think!”

“lord Alfred!” they heard a voice from behind and a dark-haired man of about 30 with a sun-tanned face wearing green cords and a wax jacket “I heard you were coming for the weekend”

“um LORD Alfred?” said Edward feeling very dazed and a not a little confused

Alfred went red

“I don’t use it” he muttered “I mean it’s embarrassing. This is Harrison who looks after the estate, Harrison this is Edward Drummond a dear friend of mine” he gestured vaguely at the man who was smiling at them both “are my mother and father in?”

“I think they went out on for a ride my lord” said Harrison

“ah OK then we’ll just go in and wait”

“very good my lord, shall I ask Cook to do tea while you wait?”

By this point alfred was so red his white t shirt was reflecting pink

 “no um its fine we can make our own tea, come on Edward”

And he hurried over to the car (the bike could not hold their bags) and dragged out their cases

“so, when were you going to tell me then my lord?” said Edward mock sternly

“oh god you’re not pissed off with me, are you?” said alfred still a deep shade of crimson “its just a stupid title, it doesn’t mean anything, and no one uses it anyway except on the estate and….”

“Alfred alfred it is fine” said Edward with a grin “in fact you know, its quite sexy really…my lord” and he dropped his voice to a husky whisper and Alfred’s insides melted

“we could you know while my parents are out” he said reaching up to gently nip Edward’s ear

Edward grinned

“we could….”

“ALFRED MY BOY” there was a bellow from over Alfred’s left shoulder

Then there was a clatter of hooves on gravel and two horses galloped up

“or maybe not” sighed Alfred

“plumpy!!!” Alfred’s mother a small blonde woman jumped down from her horse clad in jodhpurs and a jumper and enveloped alfred in a hug

“mama don’t call me that” said alfred wriggling “you’re embarrassing Edward”

“no darling I’m embarrassing you” she said cheerfully releasing her son before turning to Edward and hugging him in the same way

“you must be Edward” she said “I have heard so much about you”

Edward returned the hug feeling slightly tearful, his parents had never been great huggers even when he was a small boy

“alfred” the tall silver haired man who was presumably Alfred’s father also hugged him and then turning to Edward shook his hand vigorously

“delighted to meet you Edward, now you understand that I wont stand for my boys’ heart being broken again, if you do, I will have to find you and kill you”

“umm….” Edward quavered under the glare from the blue eyes so like Alfred’s “I won’t hurt him, I love him”

Alfred’s father broke into an uproarious laugh

“I was just kidding Edward; I wouldn’t really kill you and I’m glad to hear you love him, now let’s go inside have tea so I can interrogate you about your intentions towards alfred and whether they are honourable”

“PAPA” said alfred crossly “leave poor Edward alone”

“I’m just teasing alfred” said his father with a grin “come on let’s go inside, Ill get Fletcher to bring the cases in” and he went inside limping Edward noticed and began to shout for Fletcher whom Edward presumed was some kind of servant

“sorry about that” said alfred slipping his hand into Edwards “they can be a bit full on”

“no no it’s fine” said Edward “I mean it’s not as if your dad would really kill me anyway hahahaha”

“mmmmmm” said alfred non commitally

“what does your father do again?”

“papa? He’s retired from MI6”

“what like James Bond? so he probably could kill me if he wanted to” said Edward in alarm

“well probably but he didn’t kill Will, so I think you’re OK”

“not very reassuring” muttered Edward as they went inside

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“…and then I said to old Wellie, the day I can run a marathon would come sooner than me giving up on Charlotte!”

Henry, Alfred’s father had just finished yet another one of his incredible stories.

It was quite a surreal experience to be dining in an actual Grade I listed building with an actual marquess whose painted portrait was hanging on the wall behind him; although in the painting he wasn’t wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a loud, purple cravat that spectacularly clashed with it as he was for this dinner. Somehow, Edward thought uneasily, it made him all the more intimidating.

Never had Edward been more relieved when Alfred’s mother suggested they move to one of the sitting rooms for brandy and card games, he no longer had to worry about not using the correct one of like 8 different spoons and forks for the right course – Alfred whispering what to do in his ear very helpfully and then whispering what he would like to do to him at night very unhelpfully.

Soon enough Mrs Paget – or Lady Anglesey as the servants (servants???) addressed Alfred’s mum – had already won at too many rounds of blackjack so they were just lounging about by the fire (electric, to preserve the late 18th century fireplace) and chatting in a more relaxed manner.

Well, the Pagets were.

Edward was still sitting straight-backed on the sofa next to Alfred, imagining all the horrible ways in which Alfred’s dad might kill him.

‘Would you like another drop, dear?’ Charlotte asked him kindly.

‘Nn-no, thank you, Mrs—Lady—I mean—’

‘Call me Charlotte, dear,’ she put Edward out of his misery and poured him more brandy. ‘And do sit back. We don’t bite – Henry, no, the Moscow spy gang story can wait!’ she said before Henry could do any more than bite his tongue disappointedly. She turned back to Edward: ‘Our home is your home.’

‘Thank you, uh, Charlotte. It’s just I’ve never done this before.’

‘What, eat dinner?’ Henry joked.

Edward allowed himself to crack up as the others but it wasn’t easy. ‘No, um… I have never met the parents, as they say.’

‘Really?’ Alfred asked.

‘Yeah, I can’t say I’ve had a relationship long or serious enough for that.’

‘Ah…’ Henry scratched his chin. ‘So what’s wrong with you?’

‘Papa!’

‘He’s just kidding, plumpy,’ Charlotte said.

‘Don’t call me— never mind,’ Alfred said defeated and knowing it. ‘It was a long drive here and I need to facetime Dan and Diver. Shame he doesn’t do well on long car journeys, poor pup. Anyway, goodnight, I’m going upstairs.’

‘Me too,’ Alfred’s mum said, standing and wishing everyone a good night as well.

Before Edward could follow, Henry asked him to stay for a minute more.

That couldn’t mean anything good, could it?

Well, at any rate, Edward found himself alone with Alfred’s ex-MI6 agent father.

‘Care for one?’ Henry asked, offering a cigar from a gilded box that must have been over a hundred years old if not more.

‘Uh, no, thank you, I don’t smoke.’

Henry’s eyebrows shot upwards.

‘But these are original Romeo y Julieta cigars, the kind Churchill himself smoked!’

Edward froze like a deer in the headlight and gulped under the marquess’ cold gaze.

He looked at the cigars, knowing he had never smoked anything in his life, then back at Henry who was still so stern Edward felt the muscles in his bottom tense, then at the cigars, and Henry and…

‘Uh, I guess one couldn’t hurt…’ he muttered, resigning himself to it all.

Henry almost snapped Edward’s fingers off by closing the box just before he could reach it.

‘Lesson number one: stand up for yourself, son. No need to prove yourself to anyone here. And you’ll need your wits about you if you want to get with a Paget. See? I don’t even smoke either,’ Henry said, putting the gilded cigar box back on the coffee table. ‘Well, not so much anymore. Don’t tell Charlotte.’

‘Your secret’s safe with me, sir.’

‘Henry.’

‘Henry.’

‘No, no, I was just testing my name, I haven’t allowed you to call me that just yet.’

‘Sorry, Mr Paget, I’m—’

Henry just eyed Edward until he noticed himself.

‘Okay… um… right, wits, yes, thanks Henry, just as soon as I find them in the toilet where I think I ought to flush myself.’

Henry laughed heartily. ‘It’s alright, Edward. You’re doing far better than the others.’

‘Am I?’

‘Sure you are!’

‘You’re not just pulling my leg again, are you?’

Henry went solemn and serious in an instant.

‘What, what have I done, sir?’ Edward asked in panic at once.

‘Nothing, nothing… only I am still quite sensitive about… it all.’

‘What all?’

‘Alfred didn’t tell you?’

‘Tell me what?’

Henry leaned forward – somehow the room seemed darker and the shadows on his face longer in the firelight.

Edward listened.

‘It happened in East Berlin on a cold winter night in 1986…’

 

 

Half an hour later, Edward scurried into Alfred’s bedroom in tears.

Alfred rolled his eyes and sighed.

‘Seriously? That made you cry?’

Edward tried to pull himself together but he was sniffing like a little boy.

‘I’m sorry it’s just… so…’

‘Listen, the bullet barely grazed the Russian’s dog and if it hadn’t been for the Trabant breaking down he would have got away before they could interrogate him more – nails grow back surprisingly fast – and in many respects Papa’s leg was the price of saving all those orphans—’

‘No, it’s not that…’

 

 

Edward was quite pale by the time Henry finished the story of how he lost his leg by pulling up one of his trouser legs to expose metallic machinery.

‘Now why did I tell you this story, son?’ Henry asked laying a hand on Edward’s shoulder.

‘So that I never joke about legs again?’

‘Not quite. In fact I rather like leg jokes. I’m thinking about releasing a book of all my best ones. My ancestor’s legacy is Waterloo – mine will be this.’

‘Then to… to teach me never to mess with Alfred’s heart?’

‘No. If anything this teaches you not to mess with me. But I don’t think you will. That’s my point. I only tell this story to people who are very close to me. Family, or as good as. And that’s you. Alright?’

‘Henry, I…’

‘Alfred told me about your folks, Edward. Now, since I’m retired, it’s technically illegal for me to do anything about it. Anymore. However, just know this: I just sat through hours of Alfred praising you without having to try very hard. You are infuriatingly remarkable, Edward. You know, for the first time in years I saw the Alfred we used to know: happy, enthusiastic, full of life and confidence. And that’s down to you, son. You really are a good man and if I were your father I would not cease to boast about you until all my friends told me to shove it. I’ll say this: give your parents time. But if they never come around… fuck ‘em, it’s their loss.’

Edward was speechless and he knew if he so much as tried to say thank you he’d burst into tears.

Henry very tactfully stood and left, allowing Edward the privacy he needed and to go upstairs with his dignity intact.

 

‘Aww, you…’ Alfred said once he learned that Edward was emotional because of his dad being so welcoming, NOT because of the gruesome story from his spy days. He caressed Edward’s arms in comfort and kissed him warmly. ‘You’re so sweet, did you know?’

‘It’s just really hard. I’m scared I’ve lost them forever.’

‘They’ll come around.’

Edward sniffed and huffed – he had much less faith about that.

‘You know what would cheer you up?’ Alfred said, getting ideas.

‘Um… I’m not sure, Alfred, now that I know how easily your dad can keep an eye on people, I’m not sure the room isn’t wired or secured with CCTV… actually, maybe I should leave…’

Edward started to the door. But Alfred was quicker:

‘I haven’t given you permission to leave.’

Edward turned around incredulously. ‘Permission to…?’ Alfred had such a strange and rather naughty look in his eyes… soon enough Edward caught on. ‘Oh… I’m sorry…’

‘I’m sorry…?’

‘I’m sorry… my lord.’

Alfred wanted to tear Edward’s clothes off right away at the sound of that. He did NOT know he liked this but apparently it did things to him when Edward did it.

‘Come here, Mr Drummond.’

Edward had to laugh but… surely this was it, a little joke and they’d leave it… but Alfred was quite serious.

So Edward fought off his self-consciousness and went along with it.

He stepped closer to Alfred obediently.

‘Good.’ Alfred bit his lip, thinking about what to do next. ‘Now… take your shirt off.’

Edward obliged at once.

‘No, no, no, wait— what do we say?’

Edward smirked, still not quite believing they were doing this. ‘Yes, my lord.’

Alfred smiled in satisfaction. ‘Carry on.’

Edward unbuttoned his shirt, one by one, almost infuriatingly slowly, testing Alfred’s patience and enjoying the obvious effect he had on him.

‘And now, my lord?’

‘Ah, I did not say you can speak when you’re not told to.’

‘I apologise, my lord. Perhaps I ought to be… punished?’

Alfred’s eyes widened. He did not expect Edward to be so good at this?! To be fair, Edward seemed just as surprised at his own words as soon as he said them, swallowing dryly. But it was out there now.

Alfred pulled himself together.

‘Turn around, Drummond.’

Edward did so.

He did not move even though he wanted to all the while Alfred stood flush against his back, and then reached around his hips to undo his belt and slip it out of its hoops. He expected him to move on to unzipping his trousers but no, Alfred did something completely different:

‘Hands, please.’

Edward was a bit confused at first but he caught on soon enough as Alfred guided his arms behind him and tied his belt around his wrists.

‘Alfred…’

‘Excuse me?’

Lord Alfred.’

‘Better.’ Alfred said, heart pounding. They were really too far in now to stop, probably. Not that he wanted to. Edward thought he’d heard Alfred do something behind him before he instructed again: ‘Turn around, Drummond.’

‘Yes, my lord,’ Edward said and he faced Alfred: Alfred, who was stark naked, his bathrobe lying in a heap by his feet on the carpet.

Edward really wished Alfred had taken off his trousers as he was bursting from desire now.

He leaned in without thinking.

‘Ah, I did not say you were allowed,’ Alfred said, with difficulty controlling himself but it was so worth it. He was nearly panting from excitement and they hadn’t done anything.

‘I’m sorry, my lord,’ Edward whispered hotly, his breath dancing against Alfred’s lips but never touching. ‘I’ve been bad, your lordship… so bad…’

Alfred made a mental note to ask Edward the next morning as to where he got all this from – he did not seem like the type! – but now was not the time.

‘That’s right, Drummond. You’ve been most insolent…’

‘Let me make it up to you, my lord.’

‘You would like that, wouldn’t you?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ Edward breathed, nearly drooling on the carpet.

Alfred smirked, excitement coursing through his every nerve. He reached out to run the gentlest fingers down Edward’s chiselled chest and abs, his skin so perfect and he could feel his heart pounding… he raised Edward’s chin.

‘Ah, I did not say you could look at me.’

Edward really, really thought he might come right then and there if Alfred said one more thing to him like that.

‘May I look at you, my lord?’ he asked, eyes strictly on Alfred’s eyes, and his voice he noted was shaking.

Alfred dragged it out, licking his lips before speaking: ‘Yes, you may.’

Edward’s gaze feasted upon Alfred’s gorgeous body and all he wanted was to…

‘May I touch you, my lord?’

‘…no. No, you may not.’

This only made Edward want it more. ‘Please, my lord… may I kiss you?’

Alfred was playing with him but he couldn’t help himself: ‘Yes, yes, you may.’

Heady relief washed over Edward from head to toe as he leaned in and tasted Alfred’s lips at last, deepening the kiss before long – the waiting having made it all the more precious.

He moved on to Alfred’s neck, his hands still bound behind his back so he had to put all he had into his kisses only.

As it got more and more heated, he also realised that unlike him Alfred could touch him wherever he wanted to and though he knew he was in safe hands the knowledge that he was at Alfred’s mercy filled him with such excitement he had never felt before. Not that he had ever done anything like this.

Alfred was moaning from every little sensation from Edward’s kisses, his tongue driving him absolutely mad with desire…

‘Kneel.’

Edward didn’t need to be told twice.

He trailed hot wet kisses down Alfred’s body until his knees were on the carpet and he was level with Alfred’s hardness.

He looked up at him with dark eyes.

‘May I, my lord?’

‘May you what?’

‘May I…?’ Edward didn’t know how to say it – saying “yes my lord” was one thing but he really didn’t know what he was doing!?

‘Ye-es?’ Alfred urged him, eager to play but more eager to move on to actually doing it.

‘May… may I… uhm…’

‘Oh, just do it.’

 

 

‘Good morning, sleepyhead,’ Alfred whispered against Edward’s lips in the morning. They hadn’t exactly spent the night on sleeping but he was kissing and licking Edward’s skin before they had even opened their eyes after a nap.

Edward sighed himself awake, smiling against Alfred’s lips.

‘Good morning… my lord…’

Alfred went red, giggling with Edward.

‘Well… I’ve never done that before.’

‘Can’t say I have either!’

‘Haven’t you? You seemed such a natural at it… always the quiet ones,’ Alfred joked, now making Edward blush.

‘I can’t believe how easily you broke!’

‘Not so easily!’ Alfred protested. ‘I resisted being led into temptation valiantly, I’ll have you know… It was very, very hard…’

Sounds of cars coming up on the gravel sounded outside and many different voices. Alfred sat up, intrigued.

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ll check,’ Edward offered, much more of a morning person than Alfred. He found his underwear on the bedside lampshade and went to the window. ‘Um, Alfred, is there some kind of an event this weekend?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There are like a dozen cars outside? And people. Is it some posh do? Because I haven’t brought any fancy clothes.’

‘What…?’ Alfred asked, getting up to have a look as well. His face lit up when he saw the crowd below. ‘Oh! That’s just my close family.’

‘Alfred, there are like thirty people arriving here.’

‘Yes. Just my brothers and sisters.’

‘Thirty?’

‘No, just… twenty-two.’

‘What.’

‘Well, ten full siblings, and then eight half ones from daddy’s first marriage and four from mum’s.’

‘Alfred…’

‘And that’s most of them and their partners, spouses, kids, my nieces and nephews, you know. Just the close family.’

‘Alfred?!’

‘Don’t look at me, I didn’t know! Mama must have invited them when I called her to say we were coming.’

‘Alfred, not that I have learnt anything about you that isn’t incredible and makes me even more crazy about you but I have to ask now: are there any more big surprises in store?’

Alfred laughed, though he saw Edward’s point.

‘I’m sorry, we’re a bit of an unusual bunch.’

‘Yeah, you can’t pay rent one day but the next you take me to the castle you grew up in, your dad is a spy…’

Ex-spy.’

‘…then I only realise you have more siblings than makes a football team when they’re all on the doorstep and I shall have to somehow make them like me in about five minutes!’

‘Edward, Edward…’ Alfred stepped close to hold Edward and calm him down. ‘You are amazing. There’s no reason they wouldn’t adore you. Like I do. In fact… you know what you said at the garden party…’

Edward thought back to that fateful night and knew at once what Alfred meant: he had full on confessed his love for Alfred. It had been a few days since then and it was still hanging in the air between them.

‘… I love you, too.’

Edward looked up at Alfred and his heart swelled at the sight of his beautiful, eager, honest face lighting up with a shy smile. Alfred had been badly betrayed by his ex not long before he walked into Edward’s life – well, rode into it on a motorbike and sinfully tight riding gear. And yet now he was so open and loving, because of Edward.

He didn’t remember ever being so happy.

‘Alfred…’

‘I know it’s all very fast but—’

Edward kissed Alfred, pouring all his love into it.

‘Plumpy!’ Charlotte’s voice came from the corridor and Alfred sighed in annoyance. ‘Everyone’s here! Come down for breakfast, dear or shall I tell Harrison to save you some eggs and toast?’

‘No, mum, we’ll be there in a minute!’ Alfred told her loudly and that meant that they really had to get ready for another day at the Pagets.

 

 

And goodness, what a lively crowd they were! If Edward thought Henry and Charlotte were eccentric, they were nothing compared to all of Alfred’s siblings: from Emily who arrived with no fewer than seven purebred poodles each dyed a different colour and named after a Broadway legend, to Clarence who was wearing very short denim shorts paired with a corduroy blazer, an impressive pointy moustache, and a monocle.

Edward wondered if they were all wizards trying to dress as muggles for his sake but he didn’t dare ask. Alfred didn’t need to find out just how much of a nerd he was just yet.

They were all free to make themselves a plate of breakfast from the table laid with eggs, toast, sausages, coffee and all one could want and then walk around or sit anywhere freely and chat. Everyone seemed to adore Edward indeed, and he agreed to going riding, rowing, hiking, and to a Kingsman marathon in the movie room before he had even got himself a cup of tea.

However, after a while he had to take out his phone to start taking notes to remember all the names of the numerous Pagets.

He was just jotting down “George – tweed bowtie, tattoo” when an Instagram notification popped up on his screen:

‘Oh, you have reception?’ Alfred said over his shoulder. ‘I never do. Probably the ghosts.’

‘Ghosts?!’

‘Only that Victorian child rattling her chains in the attic—Hey, is that Mina with Florence?!’ Alfred grabbed the phone to see it better.

‘Seems like it,’ Edward muttered, still more preoccupied with spooky ghost children?!

‘But that’s…’

‘The Eiffel Tower.’

‘They’re in Paris!? I thought they only went out for a drink!’

‘Well, you know, I’d rather Florence do this,’ Edward said with an weak little shrug as if it didn’t upset his need for being liked by everyone after noticing he was tagged and the hashtag “forgetyouEdward.” ‘It’s probably one of those we-don’t-need-men trips… so glad she’s found a friend in Mina.’

‘Right… a friend…’ Alfred giggled as he scrolled to another slide in which the girls were having an unmistakably NOT platonic dinner, or at least he couldn’t say Mina had ever fed him, a friend, dessert with her own fork.

A bit of tea came out through Edward’s nose as he coughed from surprise.

‘Well, that’s Mina’s broken heart sorted… and Florence’s,’ Alfred remarked, grinning.

‘Right… oh, but...’ Edward was more cautious to rejoice.

‘What?’

‘Lothian.’

Alfred’s smile also faded. ‘Shit, you’re right. Lothian.’ If Florence’s parents were anything like Edward’s…

‘Woah, who are those hotties?’ someone asked from behind them, checking out the Edward’s Insta feed, too.

‘Go away, Bertie!’ Alfred said shoving his youngest brother away without hesitation.

‘Spoilsport!’

‘You’re twelve! Shouldn’t you be still playing with Barbie dolls?’

‘You’re one to talk, bro!’

‘Shut up.’

Albert ducked and fled before Alfred could grab him and literally put him in a bin! He didn’t need his stupid little brother embarrassing him anymore than all his siblings and his parents already had. ‘Sorry about him, Edward, you know, puberty.’

‘Why are you “one to talk”?’ Edward asked suspiciously.

‘Ignore him, he’s an idiot. So Florence and Mina…’

‘Alfred?’

‘Nothing…’ Alfred lied and crumbled under Edward’s eyes before long. ‘Fine, Bertie was probably uh… referring to… uh… the fact that I had my first boyfriend when I was 11.’

‘WHAT?’

‘Shush, mum and dad don’t know-- HEY is that scrambled egg? Hmm, delicious!’ Alfred said and escaped more interrogation in favour of breakfast.

Will the surprises never end?! Edward had so, so, so many questions and it was only the beginning of the weekend.

Chapter Text

December

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas, I won’t even ask for snow”

Mariah warbled her way at top volume as Edward hung nervously around the jewellery counter at Liberty’s. He’d always loved Liberty’s ever since he’d discovered as a small boy that it was constructed using the timbers of real ships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. He’d always imagined that at night secret ghost sails sprung up and ghost sailors roamed the dark twisted staircases.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t sure of what he was doing, he’d never been surer in his life, it was just the woman on the jewellery counter looked terrifying. He just knew he would have to go through a halting embarrassed conversation where he had to explain that no he didn’t want a ring for a woman, he wanted one for a man and yes it was an engagement ring.

‘Come on Edward’ he said to himself ‘you can do this! You face down corporate lawyers in board rooms every day, it’s just buying a ring’

‘Yes’, whispered his brain ‘but there are rules in those rooms….’

‘It’s for alfred though’ thought Edward and he squared his shoulders and went over

The woman immediately scooted over to him, she was all Edward’s worst nightmares; young, beautiful, poised

“can I help you sir?” she asked

“um….”

“are you looking for something in particular?”

“well umm….” Edward could feel himself going red and cursed his tendency to blush

“is it a present?”

“um sort of”

“is it for a special person?”

“ring” blurted out Edward

“ooo” she cooed “well we have a lovely selection of rings for women” she turned to indicate a tray of diamond rings “have you been together long?” but she turned back to empty air. Edward had fled around the corner. This was no good he thought, he needed to help

 

Half an hour later, Daniel sauntered in

“eddy boy” he said slapping him on the back “you owe me! I was you know, busy” and he winked

“yes yes” said Edward rolling his eyes “you do know it will fall off one day, don’t you?  I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t your help”

“relax” said Daniel laughing inwardly at how uptight Edward was always was, well except around Alfred. Around Alfred he melted like a happy puppy, it was very sweet “I’m here OK? Come on” and he shepherded Edward back to the jewellery counter

“hi” he said leaning on the counter and beaming at the woman “my cousin is a bit shy; do you have any rings for men?”

The woman unconsciously touched her hair and pushed her chest forward

“for men? Signet rings or…?”

“more like engagement rings” said Daniel with a grin while Edward hovered behind him looking awkward “he wants to propose”

“oh well isnt that lovely!” smiled the woman “I’m so glad marriage is for everyone now”

“well maybe it’s not for everyone” said Daniel dropping his eyes down to her cleavage and clocking she wore no ring “I’ve not bene tied down yet, well not in marriage anyway” and he grinned again while Edward behind him tried hard not to sigh too heavily while the woman giggled and simpered the way women always seemed to around Daniel

“well you never know I could be the one to tie you down” the woman fluttered at Daniel

“give me your number and let’s see how good you are with knots” said Daniel getting out his phone

“look I’m sorry to but in but could I look at some rings please?’” said Edward tetchily “I’m on a bit of a deadline”

“sorry sir” said the woman finishing tapping her number in “I think I have some ones that would be perfect over here”

Twenty minutes later Edward and Daniel walked out of the shop with Edward carrying a liberty bag containing a black velvet box

“he will love it” said Daniel “honestly eddy its perfect”

“but what if he doesn’t say yes?” said Edward worriedly

“he will” said Daniel confidently

“but what if he doesn’t?” said Edward

“Edward” Daniel swung round and grabbed him by the shoulders “alfred loves you, god knows why given you’re a permanent ball of panic, but he does. He’s going to say yes ok? OK???”

Edward slumped “ok, it’s just he’s you know….”

“I know” said Daniel “come on, let’s get a drink”

“a drink?” said Edward “but it’s the middle of the day! I must go back to work! I couldn’t possibly...”

“you can have an orange juice then” said Daniel “now come on”

And Edward allowed himself to be taken into the nearest pub

 

Alfred sat daydreaming at his computer; he and Edward had had a most diverting evening with some scarves and a bottle of baby oil, who knew learning all those knots he’d learned in scouts would have come in so handy? He and Edward hadn’t meant to move in together quite so quickly but with Daniel still ‘staying’ at Edward’s and Edward having one too many early morning naked woman shower encounter with Daniel’s latest squeeze, it had just seemed the easiest thing to do. To be fair Daniel paid rent, kept the house reasonably tidy and they only occasionally had to go over and tell him to keep the noise down. It was as if he and Edward had already been together for years even though it was only months. He couldn’t imagine being without him.

“penny for them?”

Mina smiled at him from over her computer where two Father Christmases perched along with a silver tinsel bow. Astonishingly she and Florence seemed to be some sort of item as far as alfred could tell, Mina didn’t talk about it much “I don’t want to jinx it alfred” but yesterday Florence had arrived to meet her after work looking stunning in a little black dress and Mina had blushed and smiled as they went off to them

“can I ask you a question?” said alfred “and do you promise not to laugh?”

“well I will try” said mina “as long as you know it is not anything too mad like ‘should I ask Edward to marry me’?” and she laughed

Alfred immediately turned a fiery red and Mina gaped at him

“oh my god I was joking Alfred!! Seriously, you want to marry Edward? Oh my god! OH MY GOD!!!” and she flapped her hands around excitedly

“shhhhhh” hissed alfred looking round “I don’t want everyone to know!”

Mina scooted her chair around her desk and came to sit next to him

“you are really serious?” she said looking at him earnestly

“I am” said alfred “I love him Mina, I never thought I would love anyone like this. He makes my heart burst when I’m with him. I want to be with him forever”

“oh alfred” mina took his hand with tears in her eyes “then ask him, ask him!”

“you really think I should?” said alfred

“YES!”

 

“I can’t believe you got us a table at Ciros” said Edward looking round

“the title or more accurately papa’s title does come in handy at times” laughed alfred

“it does” said Edward “how is he by the way?”

“oh, they’ve asked him to come back and help out for a few months with some secret thing” said alfred with a grin “mama isn’t too thrilled, but you know papa!”

“oh yes” said Edward with a laugh “he asked if I had anyone I needed killed on WhatsApp the other week, he’s so funny with his jokes”

“yeeees let’s say they are jokes” said alfred looking at the menu

“wait they are, aren’t they?” said Edward in alarm “I mean I said he could bump off that Monmouth guy we lost that environmental case to last week, I didn’t mean it alfred!!”

“hmmm” said alfred scratching his ear and making a note to tell Henry Edward had been joking “well as you say you know papa…anyway what do you fancy?”

“you” said Edward dorkily, a huge smile splitting his face and Alfred’s heart melted all over again. How could he not love this man? He hoped his telephone instructions had been clear; when they brought the champagne over the ring should be in the glass

Alfred smiled sweetly back, and Edward felt his heart turn over, he was doing the right thing

“excuse me a moment” he said to alfred “I need…you know”

Alfred nodded

Edward hurried off to the entrance where the maître d’ stood

“can I help you sir?” the man asked

Edward nodded eagerly and beckoned him back so that alfred couldn’t not see them

“I want to propose tonight” he said

“congratulations sir” said the maître d’ “and you would like our help?”

“yes, when you bring over the champagne we ordered, can you put this in the glass for my my my boyfriend” he squared his shoulders as he said the last word defying the maître d’ to comment

“of course, sir” he said “but…”

Edward stuck his head around the corner, alfred was looking around for him

“here” he said thrusting the ring at him “take it, I have to go” and he scurried back to his seat, his heart pounding

The maître d’ looked after him sighing and then pulled a box identical to the one Edward had given him from his pocket. Well the customer was always right….

Back at the table, both Alfred and Edward struggled to focus as they ordered their food

“so, any big new cases coming up?” asked alfred scrabbling around for something to say as he discretely wiped sweaty palms on the tablecloth

“um maybe” said Edward “I mean probably yes there always are but…oh the champagne is coming”

The maître d’ and a waiter were heading towards them, one with an ice bucket containing champagne, the other balancing a tray with 2 champagne glasses

“messieurs” said the maître d politely putting down the glasses

Alfred looked at his glass and frowned, this wasn’t right!

“monsieur” he said turning trying to subtly catch the eye of the maître d’ “monsieur”

“alfred”

“what? OH!”

He turned back to see Edward kneeling on one knee in front of him

He began to shake as Edward took his hand

“alfred Paget, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. You are my journeys end Alfred; will you marry me?”

Alfred felt a lump form in his throat so enormous he could barely breathe let alone speak. He nodded furiously

“yes” he managed to gasp out “yes, yes

At that, Edward choked back a sob and then taking the ring from Alfred’s champagne glass slid it on his finger while the restaurant broke into applause

“thank you” he said “thank you, thank you”

Alfred smiled at him ignoring the tears running down his own face

“look in your glass Edward” he said

“in my…” began Edward and then he looked down, there laying in his glass was the twin of the ring he had brought alfred

“you were going to ask me too” he said wonderingly

Alfred broke into a smile

“I was” he said “but it seems you beat me to it”

oh” said Edward “oh” and he began to laugh

“here” said alfred “let me” and he slid the ring onto Edward’s finger “there” he said kissing him

“I love you alfred” said Edward

“and I love you too”

 

Epilogue

“for the seventeenth time Edward yes, I have the ring” said Daniel as Edward hoped up and down with nerves at the front of the church

“OK OK, it’s just….”

Just then the church doors opened with a loud creak and the congregation stood

“here we go dude” whispered Daniel giving Edward’s hand a squeeze, it’ll be fine”

Edward turned to watch chocking back tears as alfred walked up the aisle, his parents on either side of him followed by an assortment of tiny pagets looking cherubically adorable. Mina and Florence sat together caught his eye and winked at him and Edward smiled

“you next” he mouthed and they both blushed

Alfred made his way up the aisle until he stood next to Edward who smiled at him shyly, his heart thumping as they joined hands

“dearly beloved” began the vicar “we are gathered here today to witness the joining in matrimony of Alfred and Edward. If any person present knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage, he or she should declare it now”

There was complete silence and then the church door scraped open at the back, revealing two figures. Edward’s mouth dropped open

“mum, dad” he said in shock “but…I mean…what are you doing here?” they had sent them an invitation of course but had had no reply

“I went to see them” said Daniel “I thought this had all gone on long enough, I explained that you were weird but basically good and really really loved alfred and that well they should come”

“Edward” his mother came towards him “we’re sorry, both of us can you forgive two stubborn old people?”

“oh” Edward held out his hand to his mother, but she wrapped him in a fierce embrace

“I’m sorry my darling” she said “so sorry”

He turned to his father who to his utter astonishment did the same, hugging Edward against him and muttering a gruff ‘sorry’. In the congregation there were surreptitious sniffs and awwws

“ahem” the vicar coughed “could we get on?”

“yes of course” Edwards parents both shook Alfred’s hand and slipped into the pew next to Alfred’s parents

The vicar nodded and smiled at alfred and Edward

“Edward, do you take Alfred to be your wedded husband, to live together in holy matrimony and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him, for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do” said Edward smiling at alfred

“and do you alfred take Edward to be your wedded husband, to live together in holy matrimony and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him, for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do”

“Edward and Alfred have pledged their love for each other and have expressed their commitment before this gathering of friends and loved ones. They have given themselves completely to each other and declared it publicly by the giving and receiving of rings. I therefore pronounce you husband and husband, you may kiss”

“I know that bit” said alfred leaning up to Edward kissing him gently

“I present to your Mr and Mr Paget Drummond”

 

The end