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An Angel on Princess Street

Chapter Text

Of all the alcoholics that came to this dark and dirty pub on Canal Street, the most prominent of them all by far, was Arthur Kirkland. If he hadn’t had a job and kids to attend to at home, Arthur would have probably spent every waking moment inside the establishment until he was forced out for closing time. By then, he’d likely sit and weep until the barman came around to open it back up for the night, letting the patrons of the twilight enter for the medication they needed to withstand the dreariness of their lives for another day.

The already cheap drink was made even cheaper by the fact that Arthur was a lightweight; it took only a dribble for him to start flooding the troubles away. His usual drink of choice was the stuff of pirates, hard shit for hard times while sailing upon a sea of tears, rum. Despite the fact that Arthur usually opted for the stronger stuff, regardless of the actual alcohol content of the drink, he seemed to always succumb to intoxication after just one glass.

“Another one…barkeep.” Demanded Arthur after a brief hiccup, pounding his empty glass on the bar to make a point. There was a moment of silence as annoyance flashed in the bartender’s eyes. Pulling out a wad of cash, Arthur clumsily displayed it, eyes bleary. With a wry smirk, the bartender accepted the payment and did just as Arthur asked, handing him a drink that seemed to be worth much less than what had been paid. Even if Arthur had noticed the cheating tactic, he didn’t protest. If he had to pay a little bit extra to get his medicine, so be it. It was worth it.

Now that he had his beer goggles on, Arthur paused to look around the pub’s interior. It hadn’t changed much since yesterday. A couple of woman his age toasted their drinks and denounced men while a group of underage kids tried hard not to look suspicious while they drank beer. Arthur turned back to glance at his own drink and was mortified by the reflection glaring back at him. Who was that sullen looking man with such a pained expression? Tilting his head to one side like a curious puppy, Arthur tried to smile. The result was unnerving. He decided instead to devour the man within the drink, tipping his glass and gulping it all down again. A hellish burn that was so sweetly addictive rushed down his throat, adding to the fiery anger swirling in his belly.

“It’s all her fault you know.” Said Arthur, shifting on the stool and looking up. The bartender grunted in what seemed to be vague approval.

“Women.” He mumbled.

“Damn woman.” Arthur took another sharp swig of his glass and winced, leaning over and coughing into his fist. Arthur pounded his chest and sniffled, not from sadness but from the sudden shortness of breath he had found himself with “Ah…I… used to have a wife you know.”

“Mmm.” Nodded the bartender, focused on getting a particularly stubborn stain out of the bottom of a beer glass with a rag filthier than the streets of Manchester.

“I met her while I was on vacation out of the country.” Said Arthur. A sad sigh escaped him and he glanced up at the ceiling, staring up and lifting the glass to his gaping mouth.

“She died?” asked the bartender.

Arthur looked back at the other without taking a drink, eyes wide. He gave a short laugh full of anguish. “Ha. No no no no no.” He said. “No, nothing of that sort. Although…”

“Left you for a better man?”

“Hardly!” scoffed Arthur, scowling and narrowing his eyes in disgust. “Better man. Oh sure, if you think a dustpan is better than a vacuum than feel free to ‘upgrade’! Makes absolutely perfect sense to me!” he said, gripping his glass tightly again and draining the contents. He looked down at the emptiness and could feel a similar sense of hollow being within his heart. Arthur turned away and withdrew another wad of money, placing it on the bar and tapping the wood with his knuckles. “Let’s keep this conversation going…”

Getting the message, the bartender quickly served Arthur his third drink of the night. He wondered how much longer this charade was going to last. Arthur seemed to be making less sense every minute and once the bartender returned with a refill, the poor soul started spilling his guts again.

“In spite of everything…how…cruelly she left me. I supposed I’d be lying if I said I never wanted to see her again.” He said, slumping over onto the bar sluggishly, playing with the indents on the glass. “And I know I can say the same for my kids.” He said, shaking his head and taking a sip to get the courage to talk about this painful experience some more.

“How could she. Maybe I wasn’t the prince of all husbandry, but how could she be so cruel to our kids. I’m no asexual creature, they have her DNA too you know!” he ranted, shaking his head. “Leaving me with damn kids. Damn kids with her damn face that I have to stare at every day, reminding me that she’s not here.” He said, hands shaking in anger. Another quick chug.

“But- mmmm, alright. Alright.” Said Arthur, hiccuping. Listen, mmm, don’t get me wrong, I love Atthew and Malfre- Uh. Affew. Math. My sons. Two of them.” He said, holding up three fingers.

“Uhuh.” Said the bartender, focusing on his stubborn stain again.

“Alfred…Alfred is my first one.” Said Arthur with a smile. “He’s 16…and he’s a pain in my rear end if there ever was one. A big, fat rear in the literal sense.” Arthur laughed and shook his head, squinting. “I mean, it’s like, it’s like, every time I get something new to put in the cupboard for groceries and what…whatevernot you know, you know what I’m talking about. In any case, Alfred looks at it, gets his grubby hands on it and, WOOSH, it’s all gone down his greedy gullet. Absolutely nothing left for anybody else, or maybe he leaves the crumbs.“ Arthur tilted his class up, holding his finger up to pause the conversation as he emptied it. A slow exhale escaped him as he shook his head.

“Where was I…ah yes, so like I was saying, what was happening is that essentially, I told him. I told him, ‘Don’t you have absolutely ANY consideration for the rest of this family you great fat pig? There are other people in this house besides you, even though God knows it’s a wonder how we can manage to fit in here with your lard ridden disgusting body waddling about.” Spat Arthur, licking his lips and looking down at the empty glass, tilting it up once more to get at the last few droplets.

The bartender nodded noncommittally and Arthur felt his cheeks redden. “Well…okay, perhaps I’m…extending the truth to a certain extent, but he is a little frustrating to deal with, surely you understand what I’m talking about? Well even if you don’t have kids, it’s alright.” He rambled. “He’s such a problem…but…” Arthur slumped on the bar again with a sigh, smiling gently.

“I wish you could see his smile…Alfred he…he…” A brief burp escaped him. “Well for one thing it’s much better than Matthew’s, even though that child rarely smiles, Good. But in any case, Alfred, oh when we’re not having a go at each other he’s almost always laughing and joking around.” Said Arthur. “Fun loving and all, but I only wish he would learn that play time needs to be put aside for some hard work as well.” He said, reaching into his wallet and pulling out the last few bits of paper, practically throwing them at the bartender.

The bartender looked disdainfully at the crumbled bills. “Haven’t you had enough?” he said at last, provoking Arthur’s wrath.

“No! I’m not DONE yet!” whined Arthur, slamming his hand down on the bar hard before hissing. “Aahahah…that hurts.” He said, blowing on his hand before knocking on the bar again. “What is this…oak? Cedar?” he asked.

“This is your last one.” Growled the bartender, growing irritated with Arthur’s presence already. He filled the glass up and handed it back to Arthur.

“Last bit. Ha.” Said Arthur, tracing the pattern of the wood with his finger. “I’m almost done anyhow.” He said, shrugging as he drank half in one go and sighed. “M…mmm…Matthew.” He said. “Now there’s a no trouble child. Perfect kid. Brings home straight A’s, works hard, he’s just like me. So mellow, easygoing.” He purred.

“But he gets easily confused. Sometimes he likes to think that he’s the adult.” Said Arthur slowly, narrowing his eyes and straightening up. “I can do whatever I bloody hell want to do- he can’t give me silly advice or take matters into his own hands. How dare he…little daydreamer. Whatever makes me happy makes me happy! That’s the final word!” he exclaimed, nodding as though he had said something quite poignant before turning the glass upside down, the rest of the drink disappearing into his mouth.

“Alright, that’s it, out you go.” Said the bartender, lifting the partition so that he could literally drag Arthur out of the pub if necessary.

Arthur weakly tilted his head and groaned, suddenly jumping to his feet and stumbling forward. “Ugh…get…just get away from me.” He said, shaking a fist and immediately using that hand to grab onto the bar so that he wouldn’t fall over. “I don’t need your help.”

“Are you sure?” asked the bartender, wary of how Arthur wobbled.

“You heard me the first time, brother!” spat Arthur, clutching his forehead and shaking his head. “Just give me a second…” Arthur mumbled incoherently as he checked his pockets to make sure his wallet and car keys were still there, as well as his cell phone. Find everything in its proper place, he took a deep breath and stomped his way out the door.

As soon as he made his way onto the sidewalk, Arthur bumped into someone, flying back like a pinball. His back slammed back against the door he had just closed and a pang of pain rocketed up his spine. “Ugh! Terribly sorry. Ow…” As a result of the sudden movement, Arthur found his stomach disagreeing loudly and he doubled over to hug himself. “Oh dear… that’s not settling very well right now oh…” he whined.

“Oooh I’m so sorry, are you alright?” asked the man, peering close. Arthur’s vision was so bleary, he couldn’t make out any features of the person who had bumped into him, but he could tell by the voice that it was definitely a male.

“I’m fine, ugh, really, whatever, carry on with your day…evening, night. Sir.” He said, taking a deep breath so as to not vomit all over the stranger. He shook his head to try and clear it and reached for the keys in his pocket, stumbling towards his car.

“You’re not thinking of driving are you?” came the voice of the stranger. Arthur yelped in surprise, his keys dropping with a jingle to the sidewalk. Of course he was thinking of driving, how else was he supposed to get home to make dinner for the kids? He sure as hell couldn’t flap his arms and fly.

“Wah- Well, what’s it to you?” he grumped, bending over to pick his keys up.

“Ha, from the way you look right now, you look likely to kill a poor soul.” Said the stranger sadly, voice growing louder and accompanied with footsteps. “Including yourself, don’t you think you’re better off waiting until tomorrow?” Arthur was quiet for a moment.

“I appreciate your concern.” Said Arthur carefully, trying hard to sound sober. “However, I am not that drunk.”

“Oh come on…there’s a nice motel not too far from here that I can take you too, and it’s pretty cheap for a-”

“Are you a prostitute!?” snarled Arthur, turning around and pressing himself back against the car. The stranger had put his hand on Arthur’s back as he spoke and the unfamiliar gentle gesture unnerved him very much so. Arthur could see the hurt confusion in the stranger’s eyes as he struggled to realize Arthur’s reaction.

“What!? N-No I only meant-”

“I have a WIFE!” hissed Arthur in disgust. “Get out of here you…you filthy little bilge rat!”

“What a terribly unlucky woman.” Snarked the stranger back, surprising Arthur with how venomous it had been. “Maybe I was wrong. Go on and get in the car, hopefully she’ll be freed of you by tonight.”

Arthur froze, feeling a lump grow in his throat as he heard the stranger turn and strut away. He could clearly hear that controlled storm of rage with every footstep clamping down on the sidewalk. Arthur shuddered. He felt like an idiot.

“Yeah well…at least I’m freed of you…crazy git.” Mumbled Arthur to himself, even though the stranger was a long ways out of earshot. He shoved his keys inside the lock and climbed inside the car, hiccuping and groaning as he put his seatbelt on and went on his typical routine. He popped a stick of spearmint gum in his mouth, chewing to try to wake himself up a bit.

As he pulled the car into gear, Arthur’s mind already started to wander and think about what would be best to bring home. Chinese? No. Pizza? Perhaps. Maybe it would be best to call them. Reaching into his pocket, Arthur quickly dialed the younger of his two sons, Matthew. Sure, he had seen many campaigns on being on your phone while driving, but seeing as how he was already drunk perhaps flirting with Death would make it blush and spare him.

Matthew answered on the fifth ring. “Yeah…” he said, speaking so softly Arthur had to strain to hear.

“Mafflrewred.” Slurred Arthur, groaning and shaking his head, trying to remember how to pronounce his son’s name.

“Dad.” Said Matthew weakly. “Where are you?”

“Where I always am, dear boy?” he chirped, sitting upright suddenly. “But don’t you worwor- worry.” Arthur cleared his throat. “And keep Alfthew away from the biscuits, I’m driving home with food. Well I mean I will..be GETTING the food soon, yes.”

“Wha? Dad be careful- “ Matthew sniffed. “Oh my gosh- we’re gonna be orphans.” He gulped and sighed heavily before exhaling long and hard. Arthur felt an overwhelming curtain of shame simply crush him.

“Aha…don’t…don’t say that.” Said Arthur, mind so bleary he couldn’t tell which was the brake and which was the accelerator anymore.

“Where is that jackass already?” said Alfred in the background of the phone, amid Matthew annoyed moans. Arthur tightened his grip on the wheel.

“I’m coming…I’m coming…” he said, hand shaking as he took his own deep shuddering breath. A gasp escaped Arthur then. Orphan. He was the only thing his kids had. Why?

Because of her.

Because of his dear, lovely wife.

He felt his eyes stinging, heavy from the weight of salty tears that blurred his vision, his heart pounding. This was too much to bear, this agony, this hollow pain. A strangled pathetic weeping noise escaped Arthur. He slammed his hand against the steering wheel in frustration, honking the horn and swerving.

“Dad…Dad!”

“Why…my little flower…” he sobbed, leaning forward and feeling the sleepiness overtake him. The cell phone dropped from his hands and he leaned forward, wanting to reach out to his wife. The speedometer arrow turned wildly and the car surged forward violently. There was horrendous crunching noise of metal scrunching up like an accordion. The car stopped so suddenly that Arthur, already so close to the windshield, bashed his skull against the cracked pane and succumbed to the blackness.

Chapter Text

“Let me make my damn phone call!”
“Sir, please.”
“I can remember the number this time- in fact, I never forgot it!”
“Sir, I’m going to need you to-”
“It’s the phones fault! All the keys have gone wrong. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be!”

Arthur scowled as his hands tightened around the bars of his cell. He was beyond furious, wishing to almighty heaven that he could just summon some magnificent strength and pull them apart. “AUGH! You useless piece of macaroni!” he shouted, rattling the bars with an angry kick before sitting down onto the bench to sulk. The officer watched Arthur warily as the resounding clang of metal dissipated before he took a deep breath and confronted Arthur.

“I’ve given you more than enough chances to call both your attorney and your relatives and you were unable to contact them. You’re not getting the phone again.”

“Of course I couldn’t contact them!” exclaimed Arthur looking up and crossing his arms. A hiccup escaped him before he continued. “You’ve crossed a wire wrong, that’s what you do- purposefully sabotage me so that I’m forced to sit in these abominable accommodations.”

“Sir!” Snapped the officer sternly, making Arthur flinch and lean back a bit. “If you enjoy having free reign to a telephone.” The officer continued. “Then you should have thought about that before driving while intoxicated. Now if you don’t stop making a fuss, I will come in there and handcuff you again. Do you understand?”

Arthur swallowed hard and lowered his head, wanting so much to rise to this injustice, but his shoulders still ached from being handcuffed before. To compromise between an act of defiance and submission, Arthur said nothing, refusing to answer the officer’s question while at the same time remaining calm. Calm on the outside at least. Within his head was a storm of emotions that threatened to capsize his brain and mentally drown him. Satisfied with the response, the Officer turned tail on him and went back to his post nearby.

Arthur resigned himself to do what he was supposed to be doing in the first place, sit in this dank, miserable room and think about the actions that had led up to this sad point in his life. Arthur was furious at the officer for being such a git, but he was even angrier at the tree that had just teleported in front of his car, causing the crash. Most of all, he was frustrated with himself. A sigh escaped him as he gingerly brushed his fingers against his bandaged head, feeling his skull throb at even the softest touch.

He had awoken from his blackout with a white light shining directly in his face, the force of the brightness nearly burning his retinas out. Although Arthur had been dazed and confused, he was very much alive and the man with the flashlight was relieved. In fact, the man with the flashlight had been so cheerful for Arthur’s survival that he had instantly broken out the handcuffs and slapped them on Arthur, shoving him into the backseat of his police vehicle. With every wail of the sirens, Arthur cried wearily in tune with them, for every piercing screech pounded his weary brain harder and harder.

Arthur hadn’t put up much of a fight while being processed; he was used to this sort of thing. What seemed to have triggered his volcano of rage was the tone in which one of the officers spoke while restating Arthur’s criminal record.

“Mmm. Astounding, it’s this bloke’s third count of driving under the influence in this year alone.”

“Christ.” Commented the female officer. Arthur looked up, balling his hands up into fists behind his back, the chain of the handcuffs rattling. “How many in the other years?”

“Tch.” Said the first officer, closing the folder and exhaling. “You don’t wanna know.”

“How DARE YOU!” Arthur snapped, lunging forward. He had forgotten that his hands were both bound together and tied the back of a chair. He screamed out as he tripped over his own legs and collapsed to the floor like a pile of cookie crumbs. “You have NO clue who the hell I am!” he said, flailing and trying to figure out which way was up. “Do you hear me?! I’m the bloody Reaper!”

“Oh god.” Said the female officer with a sigh, putting her hand on her face to try to hide her smile. “Put him in the drunk tank until he calms down.

“Calm?!” exclaimed Arthur as two other guards approached him from behind and disentangled him from the chair. “I’ll show you calm, I can show you exactly what calm is if you get these STUPID handcuffs off me!” he said, shaking as he was lifted by the floor. He wavered on his feet, unsteady. “I said, getitoff! My shoulders are going to fall off!”

His whining was ignored and Arthur was shoved inside of an empty cell and left alone so that he could seize and hiss like a child throwing a tantrum. After realizing that nobody was paying any attention to him, Arthur’s energy eventually ebbed. His mind, while still foggier than a day in London, cleared just enough for him to realize what he had to do.

Arthur needed to make two very important phone calls for the sake of his liberation. One to his son Alfred, so that he could explain what had happened let them know that he was alright, and another to his attorney, Antonio, so that he could get the hell out of here and back to his family.

While Arthur had managed to convince the officer in charge of supervising him that he was rational enough to make a phone call, the reality was that he could barely dial the right combination of numbers to reach anyone on the planet. After about a dozen failed attempts, the officer had lost his patience and took the phone back until Arthur sobered up completely, something that probably wouldn’t be happening until morning came.

But Arthur was so tired he seemed beyond the need for sleep. He was in a state in which he was so exhausted, his brain could do nothing but continue chugging a slew of toxic thoughts that poisoned his being. How had it come to this yet again.

“Caramba Arthur, you just don’t know when to quit do you?”

Arthur’s eyes flew open and he looked up with a gasp. A relieved grin spread on his face in spite of his situation and he flew up to the bars. “Oh Toni, thank goodness you’re here, I-”

“Ay, no. You shut up.” Snapped Antonio in cold irritation as the guard opened up the cell for him. He walked in with a frown frown, glaring at Arthur with such an intensity that Arthur felt as though he would be made someone’s bitch tonight.

Arthur backed away and cleared his throat, averting his eyes from the smoldering stare. “Oi…listen-”

“I said, shut up! Cállate!” insisted Antonio angrily. “What the hell is matter with you, ah? Seriously, I want to know. Are you crazy? Hmm? Are you?”

It seemed typical that Antonio would ask Arthur questions while simultaneously demanding his silence. Truthfully, Antonio was at heart a pretty easygoing and kind of mild mannered kind of guy, at least, until he was pushed too far. In all honesty, Arthur couldn’t blame Antonio for being so irrevocably angry with him and his frequent antics.

Still, Arthur felt like a child being publicly scolded by his furious mother. Coughing lightly to try to ease the awkward tension in the air, Arthur realized that there was another pressing matter that hadn’t occurred to him until now. “How did you know where I was?” he asked quickly, before Antonio could silence him again.

Antonio sighed deeply and shook his head. He crossed his arms and glared at Arthur. “Oh, you want to know? You want to know how I found out your estupido ass was in here again? Guess, just guess.” He ranted, panting hard, his cheeks flushed a light red.

Before Arthur could start playing Jeopardy with Antonio, the lawyer had caught his breath and continued on passionately. “I got a call…from Matthew, in tears Arthur, TEARS, because he said that you were on the road, so drunk that boy could smell you through that phone and BOOM. Nothing. That boy thought you had died. Then Alfred in the background trying to calm him down, and it’s not working Arthur!” exclaimed Antonio, leaning in close. He licked his lips and shook his head, pulling back and putting a hand on his head.

“What hurt me the most is what Alfred said. You wanna know what he said?” asked Antonio.

Arthur felt his throat go dry, his heart pounding in shame and humiliation, knowing that he deserved every decibel of Antonio’s shouted berating. “Yes.” He said hoarsely.

“Alfred said, and I quote Arthur.” Said Antonio, pausing and lifting up his hands as he caught his breath again. “ ‘Don’t worry Mattie, this is just like last time.’ What kind of shit is that?”

Arthur closed his eyes and shuddered before looking up. “Alfred and Matthew.” He gasped, biting his lip for a moment and turning around, feeling anxiety build up in him so much he couldn't stand still. “They’re not alone are they? I mean- Oh god…”

“Thanks to me, no.” Said Antonio with a huff. “I called one of my friends to look after them, make them dinner, and help them relax. Tch, Arthur, I don’t know, you’re lucky you still have them after all of this!” he said, anger rising up again. “Look at you! You’re here, stinking of cheap alcohol while god knows what happening to them at home, Ay ay ay ay.” Said Antonio, shaking his head back and forth and groaning. “I don’t know how you can live with yourself. You so selfish.”

“Selfish!?” exclaimed Arthur having had enough of Antonio’s brutal beat down. “How dare you say that I’m selfish, after all that I’m doing for them!”

Antonio sucked his teeth in disgust. “Please, Arthur. I think, that when Hana left you, she should have taken them away with her because I have no clue how they’re not dead yet.”

Arthur felt his heart ache, this final blow finally leaving a wound upon him. How dare he mention her name. How could he speak it with his unworthy tongue and mention that moment. Arthur looked down, panting softly, as though he had literally been punched and felt the air escape his lungs. He found the cracks on the floor remarkably interesting and focused his attention on them, following their wayward paths with his eyes.

Antonio seemed to have regretted this overly violent dig almost instantly, especially after seeing Arthur’s reaction. “Pardona me…” he apologized softly, approaching and putting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “That was too much. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Arthur said nothing. He was too embarrassed to even speak, green eyes having grown dull and sad, swimming in a wet pool of his agony.

“You didn’t deserve what happened to you.” Continued Antonio. “No one does. I can’t even imagine how upset you are. It’s just…” he swallowed and took a deep breath. “I hate to watch you throwing your life away like this, like it just means nothing.”

Drip. Down went a tear, not because Arthur was crying out of sadness, no of course not. It was gravity, that greedy demon, pulling down on him, tugging on Arthur’s stomach, digging at his eyes and making everything droop and sag. He swallowed hard. He knew that Antonio had seen the little puddle and was grateful that his friend didn’t mention it. A pat on his shoulder and Arthur found himself able to sidle away from the edge of insanity, licking his lips and shuddering a bit.

“They’re in good hands, for tonight.” Said Antonio. “I swear to you Arthur. I never would have come here, if I had even a little bit of thought that maybe Alfred and Matthew wouldn’t be safe. I would have stayed there overnight myself and came here in the morning.”

Arthur nodded quickly. “O-Of course. I wouldn’t want them to see me like this.” He muttered. “Thank you- so they’ll be well fed and watched over during the night?”

Antonio nodded with a gentle smile. “Si. You don’t have to worry about them, okay? Now, listen.” Antonio’s smile faded as he started to get serious. “Listen, it’s going to be really hard to get you out of this mess this time, my friend.” He said honestly. “At the very least, it’s going to be a while until you get your license back.” He said.

“Oh dear.” Said Arthur closing his eyes. “It might take a while to fix the car anyhow…” he said. “Until when?”

“Six months at the least.” Said Antonio. Arthur’s eyes widened.

“Excuse me? Six months!” exclaimed Arthur, scoffing. “How am I going to look having to take the underground everywhere?”

“If everyone else can get by on it, you can too.” Snapped Antonio suddenly, narrowing his eyes in irritation at Arthur’s gargantuan ego. Arthur meekly waited for Antonio to say something along the lines of how Arthur should have thought about that possibility before driving the car while drunk, but was infinitely grateful when it didn’t come.

“Can you get me out of here?” he asked.

“I’ll try.” Said Antonio with a nod, his voice sounding solid. That confidence gave Arthur a little bit more faith in his situation. Now he was sure that Antonio would be able to pull him out of this mess. “You’re going to have to stay here overnight though.”

“What!?” exclaimed Arthur. “But- why can’t you get me out of here now?” he asked, wary about spending a night in jail. Antonio shook his head.

“You’re still drunk, so they’re not going to let you go.”

“But the last time.”

“The last times, I drove you home.” Said Antonio firmly. “And the way your car is now, I’d have more luck driving you home in a banana.”

“But theres-”

“Oh…so NOW the underground is good enough for you?” said Antonio bitterly, averting his eyes and folding his arms. He exhaled sharply. “Forget it okay? It’ll do you some good to wait here until the trial.”

Arthur could hardly believe his ears. “W-Woah woah, wait just a minute, are you kidding me?” he said, feeling the blood start to rush through him. “First you say overnight and now I have to wait until trial? You can’t be serious! You’re just being…being a great big ASS!” he exclaimed, looking up and scowling.

Antonio stood his ground. “Listen, it’s not to punish you, it’s-”

“Let me call Alfred on your phone.” Said Arthur suddenly, holding out his hand.

Antonio paused, forgetting what he was about to say and laughed instead. Arthur wasn’t quite so sure what was so amusing about his request. “You’re joking, no?” said Antonio with a smirk.

“No.” Said Arthur stiffly, through gritted teeth. “I’m not.”

“Then, you must be out your damn mind.” Said Antonio, exhaling and unfolding his arms. “Like I’m going to let you-”

“LET me?” roared Arthur. “That’s MY son!”

“And it’s MY telefono!” countered Antonio. “Besides, YOU were the one who said that you didn’t want them to see you like this! Don’t you think you’ve done enough to them tonight?”

“You know what, I don’t care! Shut up! Fuck off! Just fuck off Antonio.” He said sulking like a child denied a candy bar. “Get out of my face, get out. Go away, you piss me off.”

Antonio laughed hollowly, shrugging his shoulders. “Oh yeah…oh sure, yes, fuck me, fuck me the one who’s been helping you this whole time. Guard!”

As the officer came back and opened the door for Antonio to leave, Arthur found himself shaking again. What did Antonio know? Absolutely nothing!

“You’re going to end up alone Arthur.” Said Antonio. “They gonna take you’re kids, you gonna push me away and then you going to be all alone with no one but yourself to blame.”

Arthur hugged himself even tighter, saying nothing. He flinched when he heard the rattle of the cell door slamming shut. He shook lightly. Even if Antonio was right, it wasn’t as thought it would even matter in the end.

After all.

Arthur was quite used to being alone.

Chapter Text

When Arthur awoke, he found the incredible yet familiar pain in his head so annoying that he had forgotten where he was. He reached out to the side to pick up a cup of water on the nightstand but found to his surprise that no matter how much he groped the empty air, he just grasp his fingers around the cup. Opening his eyes reluctantly, Arthur’s firsthand view of the mold growing on the ceiling of his cell prompted the memory of last night to come forward to him in a rush.

Recalling that horrid arrangement of events made Arthur sick to his stomach. The way that he had behaved…it just wasn’t like him. Arthur was still fuzzy on the details of his encounters but judging by the emotions that resurfaced, it was probably best if he didn’t try to hard to remember just how badly he had embarrassed himself.

The first thing he had to do was get out of this disgusting place. His back was already aching from sleeping on the hard bench with a blanket that had made toilet paper seem warm and toasty. Arthur wished so badly to get back home as soon as he could and plop his rear in a comfy chair just to sleep the hours, days, weeks and years away. An overwhelming sense of fatigue weighed him down. Even though he was in an incredibly uncomfortable position, there just seemed to be something preventing him from moving a muscle. Although Arthur didn’t feel frozen…there was a certain stiffness about him. It was as though the struggle of trying to get through every day with almost robotic intention had prompted the formation of rust on his very being.

It was incredibly hard for Arthur to get the motivation to even lift a finger. He swallowed, slowly raising his arm and gripping a bar of the cell tightly, trying to pull himself up. “Excuse me, please.” He muttered softly, trying to get the attention of the nearest guard.

Evidently pleased by Arthur’s flip in demeanor, the guard acknowledged him and approached the cell. “Yeah?”

“Can you please…let me out now?” asked Arthur softly, touching his other hand to his head. The bandages seemed loose and his clothes felt sticky. Evidently, his fitful sleep had been accompanied with nervous sweating. Arthur could only imagined how pathetic and foul he looked, not to mention smelled.

“Afraid not, Mr.Kirkland.” Said the guard. “There has been a bail set for you, but I can’t release you unless it’s been posted. It’s going to be £5,000. Cash only. The lawyer set it up for you the night before.”

Arthur felt the pang in his head intensify. Five thousand pounds was nothing for him, but cash only was what made this situation even more problematic for Arthur. Antonio must have known that it was impossible for Arthur to be able to put up that kind of money if he was stuck in the cell. That must have meant that…he intended for Arthur to stay.

Concerned by Arthur’s silence and feeling much more willing to be helpful now that he wasn’t behaving so bratty, the officer coughed lightly and continued. “You have anyone else that can post it up for you?”

“Ah…yes.” Said Arthur, still seeming lost in his own self-pity. He looked up and nibbled his lower lip before taking a deep breath. “May I make a phone call?”

“Are you sure you remember it this time?” said the guard with a friendly grin, turning around to get it.

Arthur didn’t smile. “Thank you.” He said, taking the phone through the bars. Looking at the number pad, Arthur took another deep breath, so that the oxygen could at least help his gunked up brain as best as it could. He took his time dialing the number, deliberately pressing every key slowly and mumbling it aloud to make sure that it was absolutely right. The only variable present now that could possibly bite him in the ass would be if it was too early in the morning, then the boys would be too sluggish to answer the phone after being shaken out of a lovely dream.

Arthur heard the phone ring once. Then twice. On the third ring, Arthur squeezed his hand into a fist and closed his eyes, trying to use psychic energy to get someone to the phone as soon as possible. Fourth ring. Arthur felt his whole body tense up, his breathing growing ragged. Fifth ring. Arthur wished he could just squeeze in through the mouthpiece and travel along the electrical wires. Sixth Ring. If they didn’t pick up, they had better be dead.

A pause. As soon as Arthur heard his own voice on the answering machine, he hung up. The phone damp in his sweaty hand, bandages on his forehead already peeling away on their own accord. The officer came forward to take the phone back.

“No! No- wait.” Begged Artur, holding up a hand. “Let me just call one other person. Please, just, one more chance to try them instead. One more.”

The guard folded his arms and nodded. “One more.” He agreed, standing close and watching Arthur carefully.

Arthur nodded back quickly and punched in his house number again. This was literally his last chance to get out of this sordid little hell hole. His meager family was the only thing in his life that he could even barely rely on anymore.

As the phone rung again, Arthur glared at it in desperation. They were going to pick up. They just had to. Otherwise…

“Allo?”

Arthur was speechless

“Allo? Who is this calling?”

A Frenchman. A man who ommited the H entirely and converted the TH and S into an animalistic Z sound. Of all the people that Antonio could have left his children with, it had to be someone from the land of chocolate, sex and coffee. Feeling a strange sense of aggressive nationality overtake him. In his response, he took great care in enunciation, radically different from his normal crude manner of nonstop complaints slurring into one another like a great big smoothie.

“THiS. IS. ArTHur.” He said carefully, as though the other was both slow and hard of hearing. “Let me SPeak. to Alfred.”

“Oooh! Arthur!” said the Frenchman. Arthur winced visibly at how badly the other had butchered his name in that thick frog accent. “Are you on your way home now? Antonio told me that you had missed your bus back home from your holiday yesterday!” gushed the Frenchman cheerfully.

Arthur sputtered in confusion. “My…holiday.” He repeated, feeling both embarrassed and relieved that Antonio hadn’t told his friend the truth about Arthur’s absence. “Aah, actually there’s been another snag, I’ve uh..managed to get my wallet nicked so I- can you put my son on?” he said, not exactly eager to spin up a story only to eventually suffocate on his own web of lies.

“Oh no!” exclaimed the Frenchman in sympathy. “No no no! That’s horrible! You have just got to stay out of the dark alleys of Italy, they’re ruthless there. Aaah still, I’d love to go to Italy sometime…” he gushed. “Their art is just incredible. Oh I’d want to go to a museum and see the work of all the great masters, no? And the architecture! I’ve heard that it’s just so beautiful!”

Damn romantics. “Italy is certainly a fine place.” Said Arthur truthfully. “The Colosseum is an astounding sight to behold even now.” Catching the look on the guard’s face, Arthur grew frantic about the nature of this chitchat, not even listening to what the Frenchman said back other than the fact that in the midst of all that chatter, he had introduced himself as Francis.

“Francis!” interupted Arthur. “Listen- I’m calling from a pay phone and this is my last coin, so I’d really appreciate if you’d let me speak to Alfred now.” He said, patience wearing thin.

“Ah! Oh but of course, here you are.” Said Francis. Arthur was instantly blessed with the voice of his elder son.

“Sup pops.” Said Alfred.

Arthur took a moment and sighed softly, smiling and already feeling his heart warm up. Even though Alfred was still home, Arthur already felt he closeness of his son brightening his mood. “Heey…” he said softly, so grateful to hear Alfred again. It had felt like years since Arthur had even seen him. “How are you doing?”

“Oh me?” said Alfred with a snicker. “Oh yeah I’m cool, just kinda wondering why the heck you left me and Matthew all alone to starve and shit while you teleported all the way to Italy.”

Arthur flushed red again. “Oh- Alfred, I’m not.”

“It’s a joke man!” interrupted Alfred. “You know, kinda like you?”

Arthur could just see that cocky grin Alfred probably had on even now. “You watch you mouth when you’re talking to me!” snapped Arthur suddenly, his initial enthusiasm ebbing. Alfred was quite annoying at times, always stepping out of line and making it so terribly hard to love him.

“Whatchu gonna do about it?” countered Alfred. “Why should I listen to some dude sitting in a crusty old cell somewhere?”

“Because this ‘dude’ is your father!” exclaimed Arthur. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Getting riled up would do no good and he was already starting to feel dizzy from the blood pulsing in his head. “Alfred please…I’ve had a really, really terrible night. I have a headache…the car is wrecked, and I need you to come pick me up.”

“So you DID crash the car.” Noted Alfred so bluntly that Arthur winced. Snorting, Alfred went on. “Yeah, I thought that’s what I heard before the phone died. So. What? Are your legs broken or something? Can’t you walk home?”

“No. I. Can’t.” Snarled Arthur through clenched teeth, wounded at how cold and selfish Alfred was. Of course, he didn’t know why Alfred’s actions even surprised him anymore. This was a constant struggle. He knew that teenagers just couldn’t help but be egocentric, something to do with their brains not being fully developed, but it still hurt. “Alfred, listen. I am begging you, literally begging you now. Just listen to me for once. Just pretend. Can you do that? Pretend, please that for once you’re actually a good kid if you can’t be one. Pretend. Just for today.”

Arthur heard Alfred suck his teeth before huffing and snickering again. Everything just seemed to be a joke to this kid. “Fine, whatever.” Agreed Alfred. “But seriously, why do you nee me?”

“I need you to bring money?”

“Like I have any.”

“Well.” Said Arthur with a sniff. “You do know that wouldn’t be the case if you got off of your fat ass and got yourself a job.” He said, scowling and gripping the phone tightly. “As you know, there’s plenty of work available for you. You’re just too lazy to get up and do the work. You like to eat don’t you?” Arthur nodded his head and leaned forward, putting his finger down as though trying to demonstrate how serious he was to Alfred, even though the other couldn’t see him. “Food costs money, so next time you want to stuff your face and disrespect me, make sure that you have all of your own groceries all set and ready. You need to go out. Make it happen. And stop being such a leech!”

Silence. One of the loudest silences Arthur had ever heard. Oh, he knew this boy, this cretin, did not dare just hang up on him. “HELLO!” he snarled into the phone, ready to reach through and strangle someone.

“Yeah!” called Alfred back, gasping. “I’m still here!” came Alfred’s voice in a defensive whine. “Shit…” he added in an soft undertone that Arthur chose to ignore for the sake of continuing on. Alfred was impossible to control.

“Anyway, here’s what I need you to do.” Said Arthur. “Go to my bedroom and lift up the mattress, there’s an envelope there full of money. “I need you to take out £5,000 and put the rest in a new envelope, then seal it. DON’T you DARE take out any more than that and think that you can have an endless snack party. That money is for emergencies only and-”

“5000 pounds?” said Alfred, sucking his teeth again. “Pft, I could get you double that if I took a hose and sucked my stomach out.” He said, in a tone that Arthur found rather strange, almost mocking. Although he didn’t quite get it at first, it suddenly hit him and he laughed softly.

“Oh-! Right you are, ahaha! Oh the dangers of raising a boy in America, maybe that’s why you’re so thick in the head and the thighs. Anyway, come as soon as you can, don’t dawdle.” Said Arthur, in a much better mood now that he knew he was going to come home.

Alfred paused before replying. “Aha, yeah, okay. Lemme just find some change for the train.” He said, speaking a little quieter.

“I love you.” Said Arthur, his smiling growing bigger. He waited and waited for Alfred’s response, only to hear the phone beeping, indicating that Alfred had hung up on him. Had he even heard it? His smile became harder to maintain as he handed the phone back to the officer and which was worse, Alfred hanging up without responding to the love, or hanging up before he had even heard it. 

Chapter Text

Arthur’s heart pounded in his chest as the minutes went by, pulsing in time with with his headache as emotions surged through him with violent intensity. Alfred was such a troublemaker, Arthur was fairly certain that his blood pressure would be in a much better condition without the boy. Such disgusting thoughts made him feel ashamed, however, and he concluded that this pain was probably some well deserved karma for the things he had done, even though Arthur perceived himself as the innocent victim in this situation. He exhaled and closed his eyes, trying to focus on breathing and telling himself that he would be okay, if not now, then eventually.

Arthur wished that he had a watch or clock to focus on. Not being able to know what time it was was incredibly disorienting. Of course, this endless confusion he felt was likely the result of this brutal hangover that was grower harsher with every passing moment. Now would be a great time for that glass of water he had wanted.

Suddenly, the wonderful sound of the cell door opening reached Arthur’s ears and he stood at attention, looking like a deprived dog who had just heard the hints of its master coming home.

“You’re free to go.” Said the officer. “Your bail’s been posted, you just need to sign a few papers at the front desk and that’s it.”

Arthur smiled and gave the guard a stiff nod as he left the cell, escorted by the officer to the lobby of the building. Despite the rude ending to the phone call between him and Alfred, Arthur was nevertheless overjoyed to see his blonde bespectacled son leaning forward in a chair, body scrunched together tightly as he hammered away at a video game. He was completely engrossed, biting his lip as he maneuvered the controls. Giving a much more honest smile in spite of the circumstances, Arthur signed a few forms to authorize the bail and walked over to Alfred.

Alfred didn’t look up right away, completely focused on his game. “Come on Come on…Damnit- Dad’s Heart…ugh, stop spawning so much crap.” He muttered furiously. It sounded like utter nonsense to Arthur who felt relatively ignored. Seeing that he wasn’t going to be noticed, he stepped even closer, casting a shadow over the device. Alfred’s reflexes froze up when he tried to adjust. “W-No no no Ah! Damn. SO clooose.” He whined, ragequitting and putting the game in his pocket. Alfred sighed and stood up then his game hazed eyes cleared a little as he drank in Arthur’s form.

“Wow, you look like shit.” He said, with honesty as hard as a hammer.

Arthur’s smile dimmed in embarrassment and he promptly shushed Alfred. Looking away, he reached out to take his son’s hand only to have Alfred dodge the touch and stick his hands in the pockets of his jacket, looking around with his signature smirk. “So, I gotta say man, out of all the police stations you’ve been in? This one has to be the nicest.” He continued, maintaining the same volume.

“You keep talking like that.” Snapped Arthur. “And you won’t be getting any breakfast.” Arthur hooked his arm around Alfred’s elbow and hurried him out before his big mouth found anything else to add. “Of course, it’s not as though skipping a few meals would harm you none.”

“Well, the jokes on you man. I already ate.” Countered Alfred in a mocking tone, rolling his eyes and sticking his tongue out at Arthur. Arthur didn’t seem amused.

“I see- so I tell you to come right over here to pick me up and you decide to stay behind and stuff your face instead.” He grumbled.

Alfred huffed in exasperation and looked down at the sidewalk, his smile evaporating in an instant and his body stiffening in absolute annoyance. Arthur noticed Alfred locking up and took a deep breath to reevaluate himself, changing the subject.

“So, what did you have for breakfast then? Did that Francis cook for you?” he asked.

“Yeah-. Yeah.” Said Alfred, almost seeming as though had been caught off guard. “Um..I think he made pancakes.”

“You think?” repeated Arthur with a laugh. “Oh Alfred, don't you even look at what you’re eating anymore? I’m surprised you haven't accidentally swallowed a fork yet!” he exclaimed, patting Alfred on the back with a grin. Alfred looked up and snorted

“The fork doesn’t taste as good as what’s on it.”

“I’m just kidding you.” Said Arthur, squishing close to Alfred and grinning. “Don’t worry about it alright? Besides- I’d just die myself if you choked to death.” He said, getting a lost look in his eyes. Alfred was deeply disconcerted by the dramatic change in Arthur’s tone.

“Augh…dude relax!” he exclaimed in discomfort, edging away from Arthur as though he might be infected. Arthur went after him and pulled him close again, his arm around Alfred’s waist.

“You boys are the only ones I have that are important in my life…” he said softly. He smiled as they paid the fare and started to wait at the platform for the train to come. “I’m obligated to love you.” Said Arthur with a smile. “But even if I wasn’t, I would still love you.” He said, bumping his head to Alfred’s affectionately. Alfred smiled thinly, tolerating this closeness for a little bit before jolting away suddenly. “Trains here.” He said, though with how loudly the train rattled on the tracks, his announcement hadn’t really been necessary.

Once the screeching of the train had stopped and passengers spilled out, Alfred and Arthur made their way inside as well. “Do you know who else loved you?” asked Arthur softly, grabbing onto a pole to keep his balance.

Alfred shook his head and huffed, having an ominous feeling. “Pop.” He said, squinting and seeming just a little bit sickened by the turn in conversation. “Pop, don’t.”

“Your mother.” Said Arthur, looking past Alfred and sighing. “So- just don’t worry.”

“I don’t.” Said Alfred, although Arthur noticed that Alfred let go for a moment, rubbing his sweaty palms on his pants before holding the pole again, gripping so tightly that he didn’t even so much as lean when the train started to move. Arthur lowered his head and let the moment fester like an open sore, wishing he had something more comforting to say.

The train made its first stop and while barely any people left the train, a whole crowd piled in, laughing and chattering happily amongst themselves. Their clothes were vibrant and detailed, billowing fabric in bright colors. Arthur shifted in annoyance when a decorative paper dragon on a stick smacked him in the cheek while the newcomers squeezed their way in. None of them seemed to speak English, at least not at the moment. Arthur felt his mouth go dry, hoping for the next train stop to come as soon as possible so that he could get away from these people.

“Oh hey!” said Alfred with a grin, much to Arthur’s dismay. “Was there a parade around here or something?” he asked the foreigners.

There was a brief pause before the young woman with the paper dragon spoke up. “Chinese Pride.” She said, bobbing her head in an eager nod. “We gather here every year and theres a lot of food, dancing, art, for three days!” The Chinese girl tilted her head and observed Alfred with interest before her thin pink lips curved into a smile. “You look like maybe you’re a little bit Chinese…?” she suggested, looking up.

Alfred laughed. “Oh man, really?” he asked, grinning brightly. “Man even you can’t tell us apart, I’m half Japanese on my mom’s side.” Alfred shifted so that he could focus further on the conversation. “Dude, we’ve been all over the place since my Dad used to travel a lot.” He chattered. “But I’ve never been to China! I’d totally wanna go there sometime!”

The paper dragon girl giggled back, her eyes scanning Alfred’s body again and looking away for a moment before she met his eyes again. “Would Chinatown be good enough?” she said softly, “My name is-”

“Look! It’s our stop!” said Arthur suddenly, nodding his head at the Chinese crew with a stiff smile. “Pleasant talking to you.” He said, pulling Alfred away as fast as he could while the rebellious son tried his best to drag his feet.

“Wait! Your name was-!”

The doors closed and although Alfred could see her mouth moving, he couldn’t hear the words over the blare of the train’s announcement. The smile on her face faded, her paper dragon wilting on the stick and the train quickly moved out of the station and the two were separated, likely to never meet one another again. Arthur let go of Alfred and they began their climb to the ground above.

Arthur took a deep breath and sighed happily. “Ah, Princess Street. Home sweet home.” He purred, pleased to see the familiar neighborhood. He tried to take Alfred’s hand again, to which Alfred reacted much more violently.

“Don’t touch me.” He said, angrily tearing his arm away and picking up the pace to dart ahead. Arthur huffed in indignance but knew exactly what this was all about.

“What?! Alfred, we had to get off!” he said, catching up to Alfred with a jog. “I couldn’t just miss our stop, I’m sorry!”

“No you’re not! She had time to tell me her name if you would have shut your big mouth! I know what stop we get off!” snarled Alfred back.

Arthur stuck his finger in Alfred’s face, leaning in close. “Don’t you talk to me like that. You do not talk to me like that, do you understand?” he said in hushed tones.

“Just shut up already!” spat Alfred , prompting Arthur to flush red, trembling with anger. He stopped in his tracks and grabbed Alfred, panting hard.

“You…” repeated Arthur. “Do not. Talk to me. Like that.” He said. Alfred kept his head down. Arthur had never hurt him, or rather, Arthur had never hit him.This was no big deal and he just wanted the matter to drop.

“Kay. I’m sorry.” He said, offering a phony apology that Arthur didn’t believe for a second. Thankfully, Arthur was just as eager as Alfred to let it drop and they started walking again.

The pair shuffled along without speaking for a while as they treaded the bath they knew by heart right up to the doorstep of their house. “You remembered to lock the door, right?” said Arthur, touching the handle.

“Yea…”

Arthur turned the doorknob and it opened without need for a key. Arthur paused and threw Alfred a withering look. Huffing in annoyance, Alfred shoved his way past Arthur inside the house. “Who gives a fuck anyway…kick some ass…” he mumbled.

“Home. Sweet. Home.” Said Arthur between his teeth as Alfred rushed to the bathroom and slammed the door shut.

Chapter Text

Arthur gave a weary sigh, his heart aching after having to deal with Alfred being a difficult little cretin. He looked forward very much to seeing Matthew, at least that child, though rough around the edges as well at some points, was much better behaved than Alfred. Matthew was relaxed and easygoing, not nearly as quick to talk back as Alfred. It seemed that second time was the charm when it came to producing a good child.

Suddenly, Arthur felt his face flush with a deep sense of shame for having such thoughts of favoritism among his children. Hearing Alfred huffing angrily in the bathroom, Arthur felt a sort of regret that he didn’t let him and the Chinese girl socialize a bit more. Still, having had a few chips on his shoulder with China that he had yet to brush off, there was no way he was going to open up old wounds for the sake of a silly teenage romance that would probably only prompt even more rebellion from Alfred. A blast of pain echoed from Arthur’s forehead, and he recalled that Alfred hadn’t even asked if Arthur was okay at all. Arthur wasn’t sure if this throbbing headache was from his injury or from the hangover, but he knew the cure for either. A nice cold beer.

Making his way into the kitchen, Arthur spotted Matthew sitting at the table and was overcome with emotion, rushing over. Finally, a child that would heap upon him the sympathy and respect that he deserved. “Heeeeey, how’s my Matthew?” he cooed eagerly, completely enveloping Matthew’s head in a tight hug, swaying back and forth.

The sudden hug attack surprised Matthew, who only let out a gasp as soft as a mouse squeak in protest, his voice barely audible underneath the layers of love Arthur piled on. “Mmm—Daad…” he whined softly, wiggling a little to try to break free.

“Oohh, I missed you so much.” Cooed Arthur, pulling back and ruffling Matthew’s hair, pushing the bangs out of his face.

“Dad…” whined Matthew sleepily, bringing his hands up and trying to fix his hair with mild annoyance. “I’m not a…not a..baby. Not a baby.” He said. Arthur growled playfully.

“Of course you are, you’re my baby. My baby baby baby.” He said with a grin, making Matthew wince and shy away with embarrassment. Licking his lips, Matthew brought his bottle up, a cute plastic water bottle with the shape of a polar bear, and drank eagerly. He exhaled sharply when he brought it down again, his eyes watering.

“What do you have in there this time?” asked Arthur curiously, reaching for the bear.

Matthew pulled it close to himself, hugging it tightly with a wildly territorial look in his eyes. “Nothing you want!” he exclaimed. “Umm…it’s just…um…uh, mocha, I think- what do you call it.” Matthew tapped the table a couple of times, trying to remember just what he wanted to say. Matthew had gotten a little bit more forgetful as of late, and like Alfred’s snark, the symptoms had started only after Hana had left. “Java. Bean. Latte…Cough…Coffin-”

“Ah- Coffee. Don’t hurt yourself.” Said Arthur gently, patting Matthew’s head and backing off. He never had a taste for the stuff, disliked even the smell.

“Yeah, that thing.” Said Matthew, looking down and circling his finger around the top.

“Come on, Matthew- aren’t you happy to see me?” said Arthur, changing the subject and shaking Matthew’s shoulder. Looking alarmed, Matthew looked up and offered a weak smile, then covered his mouth with his hand and looked down again. Just as well. Even though Arthur adored Matthew, adored that boy with all his heart, he couldn’t stand to look at that smile of his and Matthew knew this well.

“Uh- of course I am.I’m just, food. It was really good. Cakes. Francis made pancakes. They were the best.” He said, speaking in a queer manner that sounded like excited chatter and an easygoing sigh at the same time.

“Ah yes, Francis.” Repeated Arthur, looking up and peering around. “Is he still in the house? I should go thank him, where did he go?” he asked.

Matthew yawned and lowered his head on the table lazily, as though he wanted nothing more than to just take a nap right there in the kitchen. “Noooooo cluuuue.” He snoozed, holding his water bottle between his thighs.

Arthur shrugged then, patting Matthew on the back before going over to open the fridge for that ice cold beer that he needed. That he definitely deserved.

Right when Arthur brought the can of beer to his lips, Alfred came in. He stopped in his tracks, staring in disbelief at Arthur nonchalantly tipping the can to drink, turning from him to the depressed looking Matthew at the table and back to Arthur.

“You look a little sick.” Noted Arthur, frowning in concern and licking his lips.”You alright? Like a cup of tea?” A smile spread on his face as he put down the can and walked around the counter.

“Nah Nah…I’m..” Alfred sighed softly and shrugged. “Whatever…”

Arthur was quiet for a moment, reaching first for the porcelain kettle shaped like a cat with it’s paw up, then turning and picking up the metal kettle with a trembling hand instead. He didn’t say a word as he filled it with water and put it on the stove, lost in thought, almost lost from this world. What brought him back to Earth was the sound of the refrigerator door opening. He looked up and saw Alfred searching around in the fridge.

Arthur pounced forward. “What are you doing!” said Arthur, immediately closing it, nearly slamming Alfred’s hand in the process. “You already had breakfast and I’m making you some tea now! Relax!” he huffed. “Maybe…I’ll give you a biscuit. Just sit down.”

Matthew looked up then, rubbing his sleepy looking eyes. “Oh come on Dad…Alfred didn’t have-owwowowwwwwow!”

Alfred had taken the liberty and violently pulling on a curly flyaway hair on Matthew, who howled softly in pain until Alfred sat down next to him and let go. He leaned forward and rubbed his head. “Wait…yeah, you did…” he said weakly.

Alfred plopped his hands on his cheeks, elbows leaning on the table, looking bored. “Yup.” He said, blowing a hair out of his eyes. “You just forgot again.” He said.

Matthew dipped his head and sighed, taking another drink from his polar bear bottle, lingering as he drank, suckling like a baby in need. Alfred watched him for a moment, before he reached forward and gently pulled it down out of Matthew’s mouth with a soft pop. “Easy tiger.” He said.

“It’s all gone anyway.” Said Matthew, shaking the bottle, tiny droplets noiselessly splashing around inside.

“Hellooo! I’m back!” came a voice from the door. Arthur stiffened, recognizing that voice from the phone. The Frenchman. He stood up straight and turned around then. “Francis?” he called out. “Just wait there, I’m back from Germany, so I just want to thank you, but…” he fussed, picking up his beer and walking over to meet his savior at the door.

Francis sighed lightly, carrying bags of groceries in both hands. “Oh no no, it was my pleasure to take care of them overnight, I just had gone our to-….to…” Francis stopped talking when he looked up and saw Arthur, letting go of the bags, his jaw dropping slightly in shock. Arthur scrambled forward to make sure they wouldn’t tip over and spill everywhere.

“Oh! Let me help you!” he said, using one hand to steady the bags and pull them out of the way. As far as he could tell, nothing seemed broken, but he wondered what was it about himself that had rendered the other suddenly speechless. His dashing good looks? “Wow…haha, I didn’t expect someone to do this errand for me, thank you.” He said, appreciating Antonio’s choice in caretakers.

“Germany…” said Francis softly, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes at Arthur, as though he suddenly needed glasses. “You said you were on the bus from Italy.”

Arthur’s mind quickly whirred into gear to patch the tear in his web of lies. “Uh-see, what was going on is that, the bus made a stop in Germany before coming back here, ahaha…those detours and that German-Italian love affair, yeah?” he chattered with a weak laugh.

Francis stiffened and offered a forced tight lipped smile, trying to force a fake laugh as well. His eyes darted down to the beer in Arthur’s hand and the smile dissipated into a solemn, disapproving stare. Misinterpreting his gaze, Arthur pointed to the can. “Where are my manners…would you like one? Or perhaps some tea? I just brewed a batch.” He offered with complete kindness. “I just really want you to know I appreciate what you’ve done for my boys here.”

Francis’ smile flickered for a moment, but the mention of the boys made him seem very agitated. “Ah…no thank you, I have to go.” He said suddenly, turning around and practically galloping down the front steps with a quick wave.

Surprised and confused, Arthur walked out after Francis. “Wait! Um- Don’t you want to stay a little longer?” he offered.

Turning around at the bottom of the steps, Francis looked completely mortified. He tried to hide it with a laugh and a vicious nod. “No- I’m fine- I’m actually running late, maybe I’ll see…I’ll…” He shook his head and off he went at a brisk walk that turned in a jog.

Arthur was tempted to call out again but Francis was already out of earshot, and even if he wasn’t it seemed that he would pretend to have not heard him. He sighed softly, shaking his head. What had made Francis so jumpy all of the sudden? He had seemed perfectly collected and more than sociable over the phone. It didn’t make much sense to him. Closing the door, Arthur brought the bags into the kitchen, clinging to the beer in one hand, nursing it before it got too warm. It was still such a kind and wonderfully unnecessary thing for an impromptu babysitter to do, stocking the pantry…

In the kitchen, Arthur could see that Alfred and Matthew seemed to have helped themselves to the tea. A thin smoke of steam billowed from the top of Matthew’s special water bottle as he delicately nursed it while Alfred laid his head on the table and waited for his to cool down, blowing the paper tab back and forth.

Arthur was just surrounded by weirdness.

Just when Arthur had finished his beer and was cracking open a second one, the phone rang. “I’ve got it.” He said, though neither of the boys had moved even a fraction of a centimeter that would indicate they had intended to pick it up for him, even though the phone was right beside them. Rushing over, Arthur picked up the wireless phone, helping himself to a sip of beer to moisten his throat. “Kirkland Residence.”

“You…fucking idiota.”

Oh how Arthur wished he had checked the Caller ID. 

Chapter Text

“Hey Shit-Breath! I’m talking to you!” snarled the voice on the phone.

It was Lovino. Antonio’s crude fiance and the likely cause of the lawyer’s newfound need to curse at Arthur all the time. Taking a deep breath, Arthur plastered on a fake smile, trying to come out with a bullshit excuse as to why exactly he was home. Finding that his voice seemed to have disappeared for a moment, he chugged his beer.

“Ohohoho, man…Antonio is going to fuck you uuuuuup when he gets home.” said Lovino, almost gleefully. “ So. Mister, “I’m drowning in my own sad life like some fat pathetic Russian guy. Why don’t you spit it out? Or do you swallow instead, like with all that crappy beer you drink?”

Lovino’s mocking chatter was more than Arthur could take. “Sorry! I’m not here right now.” He said, covering his mouth. “Kssh-You’re breaking up. Please, kksssh. Leave a message, after the beep. Ksh. Beeeeeeep.” With that, he slammed the phone down into the receiver. It was only now that he realized he had mixed up two phone excuses into one nonsensical nightmare. Staring at his can of beer, he thought of Russians again and considered switching to vodka for the rest of the night. He moved to open the refrigerator, but paused when he closed his hand around the handle, staring at the lucky cat teapot, covered in dust.

“Stay.” He whispered.

She didn’t answer. Or maybe she wouldn’t answer. She was deaf, or maybe he was. Taunting him, a flickering mirage in his desert of despair. Then, she was gone. The damn cat was still there, along with the curse inside of it.

Arthur let go of the refrigerator, leaving a sheen of sweat from his palm on the handle that he rubbed off on his shirt and reaching up to grab a box of cookies from the pantry instead. The vodka wasn’t worth it. Or maybe it was. Arthur would go for it after this beer, he couldn’t let things go to waste after all. Especially not with Matthew’s craziness going on.

Alfred stared at Arthur, wondering how his father could be so incompetent and hideously stubborn. He looked down at the beer can in Arthur’s hand and then up at his flushed face, saying nothing but managing to exude an aura of refined disgust. Unfortunately for him, Arthur caught turned around and, catching the mood associated with that look, felt a vein of rage burst within him. “Oh shut up.” He spat, sitting down at the table with the two of them, emptying the box of cookies into a dish. “It’s not as though it was for you. No one calls for you, so mind your own business and eat the damn biscuits.”

Alfred lowered his head to the dish of cookies, grabbing a handful and leaning back. “I didn’t say anything.” He said, snapping a cookie poignantly, before shoving the rest of it into his mouth and stuffing another cookie into the other cheek like an anxious hamster.

Matthew seemed unfazed, as though he considered Arthur’s logic to make perfect sense. Still…that silly smile on his face as he played with his bottle was just…too taunting. Arthur paused, seeing him grin a little wider, and start giggling. Matthew turned to Alfred, pushing him gently. “You don’t have any friends.” He sang. His taunt came out so gently that Alfred just rolled his eyes and smirked, seeming as though he was pleased with Matthew demeaning him. Arthur ground his teeth, gripping his beer a little tighter as Alfred reached out for more cookies.

“Neither do you Matthew.” Said Arthur suddenly. “And you’re certainly not going to make any more friends with me if you keep going through my things.” He snapped. Matthew seemed stunned and almost visibly shrank. He knew exactly what Arthur was talking about, but didn’t understand why he had brought it up seemingly without provocation. The disappearance of Matthew’s smile put Arthur a little more at ease. Everything would have been fine, but then Matthew had the audacity to talk back.

“I was just trying to help.” He said sheepishly, clutching his bottle to his chest and looking up. “It’s a waste of money and I don’t like it when.”

“I don’t care what you don’t like about me!” shouted Arthur, slamming his fist on the table and making the cookies rattle. Alfred paused before slowly sliding the dish towards him, munching quietly. Arthur cleared his throat. Seeing Matthew smile riled him up but…he didn’t like to see his boy cowering either. He spoke softer. “Just stop acting as though you’re better than me.” He said. “I try my hardest for you two.” He sighed and lowered his head to the table,

“Ok.” Said Matthew, his voice barely about a whisper. He glanced at Alfred and shook his bottle at him, splashing Alfred’s glasses with tea. “Stop being a vacuum and leave some cookies for me.” He said solemnly, nibbling on the edge and washing it down with his tea. Without warning, Alfred smacked Matthew’s water bottle, causing a surge of tea, thankfully not boiling anymore, to shoot up into Matthew’s nose. Matthew gave a strangled cry of frustration and stood up with a whine, Alfred laughing triumphantly and Arthur pretending as though he wasn’t seeing anything, playing idly with the tab on his beer can.

“I’ll stop being a vacuum.” Said Alfred, picking up another cookie and biting it violently. “Soon as you stop being such a baby with your stupid bottle!”

Matthew slowly took off his glasses, now sprayed with flecks of half chewed cookies, and gave a huffy shove to Alfred before going to the sink to clean up. Right when Matthew was drying off his face, the phone rang. Wanting an excuse to be transported away from his present circumstances, even if it was only in thought, Matthew picked up. “Hello?” he said sleepily.

“Ah-” came the voice on the other side, seeming stunned by the sound of who had picked up. “Matthew? That’s you, yes? It’s Francis.”

“Frraaaanciiiiis.” Cheered Matthew softly, so pleased to be on the phone with this man of all people. Alfred looked up, abandoning the last cookie and jumping up over to Matthew, peering in curiously.

“Francis? Oh shit- you just disappeared didn’t you?”

“Where did you gooooo?”

“Yeah, crap- are you okay?”

Francis laughed softly at the way the boys doted on him. “Oh- yes yes of course. I’m fine. “I really sorry for having to leave right away- I would have said goodbye to you two but I just couldn’t bear it!”

Arthur looked up in annoyance, not moving, but paying close attention. He reached out for the last cookie on the plate, staring at it before slowly putting it into his mouth, chewing carefully so that he could still hear the conversation.

“You weren’t afraid of Dad were you?” asked Matthew gently. “He doesn’t bite that hard.”

“You’re coming back sometime soon right?” said Alfred eagerly. “Cause like, Pops goes to ‘Italy’ all the time.” He said.

“Oh…” whispered Francis. There was a brief pause. “I’d love to come back. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that.”

Arthur felt a pricking across his skin that made him want to jump up and wrap the phone cable around his neck until it snapped. The cable that is. Or perhaps both. He leapt to his feet and in one swift stride he scooped up the phone from Matthew. “Give me the phone.” He said, even though he had already taken it from them. “And drink your tea.” Taking it off speaker, Arthur held the phone to his ear and walked out of the room, leaving his beer in the kitchen. “Francis?”

“Yes.” Said Francis with an air of disdain so sharp Arthur could already feel his ego bruising. “So, Italy, Germany. You two must think that I’m an idiot do you?” he snarled. “How did you even think you could be clever enough to get such a trashy lie past me!?”

Arthur was too exhausted to play this game of excuses. “Listen, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have act so high and mighty.” He grumped. “Besides, what business is it of yours whether I’m in Cocomo or Costa Rica?”

“Because.” Said Francis. “I don’t think you were in such a tropical paradise last night, unless you find cockroaches and cocktails exotic.”

Arthur could feel his blood freezing over. That reference was so strange…Sure, it might have been simple enough to tell that he was just a drunk, having met Francis on the steps foggy eyed and with a beer in his hand. “How- How would you have idea where I was last night?”

Francis laughed derisively. “Maybe your addled brain doesn’t remember me.” He spat. “But you could have prevented all of this. I tried to stop you, and you acted like an ASS. “

Arthur shook visibly, he could anticipate what was coming up next, as Francis raised his voice. No. He instinctively raised his hand to drink only to find that he had left his potion of protection, the beer, behind. His heart pounded in his chest and all he wanted to do was run away, but he dutifully closed his eyes, shaking, to take his punishment now.

“You have a wife…” continued Francis. “HA. What wife? It seems that she left you long before. That woman must have been cruel beyond measure to have left her children with you.”

Arthur could feel the tears welling up uncontrollably in his eyes, dripping down his cheeks. His body felt empty, like a casing with nothing inside, a heavy feeling of dread trying to drag him to hell, a place he has tried so hard to avoid going back to ever since he moved out of his own father’s house. His throat was dry, and his anger felt weak. “Ffffuck you.” He whispered, trembling, a brief vision of happiness blazing through his mind, reminding him of what his life was once like so that he could remember his current situation was bleaker and hopeless still. “Why did you run away?” he snarled.

“You fool.” Hissed Francis in contempt. “Drinking before noon right after he gets out of jail for being uncontrollable. I hope Antonio does a horrible job. I hope he gets you sent away to jail for years, because Alfred and Matthew don’t deserve someone as wasted and wasteful as you!”

“Shut UP!” cried Arthur furiously. “You’ll NEVER take my kids! They’re all I have left anymore!” Arthur hung up the phone and flung it with all his might at the couch, gasping. He was sweating all over, his body tingling with sickening adrenaline, his stomach aching and heart racing. That last part wasn’t supposed to have slipped out. The last thing that he wanted was sympathy and yet deep down that was all that he desired. All he happened to see was constant pity. He sniffed and took a deep breath, rubbing his face with the sleeves of his jacket and holding his head. He felt so hot….Beer.

He took the walk of shame back into the kitchen. Alfred and Matthew quickly acted as though they hadn’t been rubbernecking into the hallway to see what was going on. They said nothing to Arthur or each other, staring down at the table, not wanting to leave the room.

Arthur came back to his beer, closing his hands around the now warm can. Alfred looked up slowly, from the beer to Arthur. “Dad?” asked Alfred.

“What.”

Alfred’s eyes went wider in concern as Arthur slowly lifted the beer to his lips. “I love ya.” He said quietly, dropping his gaze again.

Arthur stood quiet for a moment and then tipped the beer, downing the rest of it in one swig and tossing it in the bin. “I don’t believe you.”

 

Chapter Text

Dinner was a silent affair. The chicken was dry and the rice, undercooked, but Matthew and Alfred knew better than to offer criticism when Arthur was in this state. Alfred didn’t eat much, just pushed his rice around and cut up the chicken with his fork. Matthew washed every bite down with a swig of water from his bottle, a sort of anxious tic that he tried to do as discreetly as possible before stopping completely after Alfred gave him a long stare. Arthur’s dinner was a screwdriver, an orange juice/vodka mix, and a bacon sandwich, which he ate sprawled out on his back on the couch watching Doctor Who reruns.

“Leave the dishes in the sink and I’ll do them.” Said Arthur, hearing the sound of the chair scraping across the kitchen floor as Alfred got up. “Just go to bed. It’s a school night.”

“Mmkay.” Mumbled Alfred, dumping the extra food into the garbage. He paused and wandered over to the couch. He leaned over and stared at the TV, staying silent so as to not interrupt the important ramblings that Arthur seemed to be so engrossed in. Once it cut to commercial, Arthur felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle and he looked up, blinking in confusion at Alfred. Alfred held tightly onto the couch, swallowing hard and leaning over. “I love you, Dad…” he said weakly.

Arthur exhaled slowly, chewing over the latest bite of his sandwich and washing it down with his drink. “I know, I love you too. “ He said, sitting up with a groan. Alfred hugged him from behind tightly, pressing his weight on Arthur’s shoulders, staying relatively silent, just enjoying the contact for a moment before letting go and pushing his glasses up his nose.

“So then freaking act like it! Damn” he said jokefully, grinning as he sauntered to the bathroom. Arthur snorted, rolling his eyes.

“Alfred, please. You’re the one who needs to ACT LIKE IT.” Snarled Arthur. “Stupid Git…” he mumbled, flopping back down on the couch. Alfred’s grin melted away faster than butter in a microwave and he ducked into the bathroom, the sound of the bathtub turning on right away. Matthew lingered behind, taking a long thoughtful drink of water.

The muffled sound of the phone ringing startled Arthur, looking around in confusion as he tried to find the source of the sound. He sat up again, patting the cushions and finding the phone that he had thrown here during his conversation with Francis. No longer the imbecile, Arthur carefully checked the Caller ID.
[ CARRIEDO, ANTONIO CALLING…]

A deep sigh of resignation escaped him. He had known that it would be coming, so he might as well face it now. He still needed Antonio to defend him when his day of court came. Maybe if he picked up the phone and sounded as pathetic and weak as a wounded animal, Antonio would take some pity on him. He pressed the button to answer and coughed lightly.

“Heh…hello…” murmured Arthur softly into the phone.

“I’m going to kill you.”

So much for that plan. It did seem pretty unlikely that the Spanish man, after having known Arthur all these years, wouldn’t see through this ruse and unleash the verbal beatdown that Arthur knew he deserved. Knowing that fighting it any longer would be pointless, Arthur exhaled and flopped back onto the couch.

“Can’t you see that I’m already dying? I thought it was clear to everyone else that I’m in hell.” Moaned Arthur. Antonio had used to be much more sympathetic to his plight. Lately however, his patience with Arthur was growing thinner every time he ended up in trouble, which was often. Arthur supposed that it wasn’t really Antonio’s fault for feeling this way, especially since Arthur rarely made an effort to cut down on his drinking even after it led to something terrible, like a bar fight or a car crash. “You’re so rude and mean now…that fiance of yours is a terrible influence.” He grumbled, slurring his words and rolling over on the couch.

“Leave Lovi out of this.” Said Antonio with a snarl. He wasn’t about to allow Arthur to change the subject. “He’s the one who came up with the Italy idea in the first place, which of course, doesn’t matter anymore now, since Francis told me EVERYTHING!” Arthur shrank back from the phone with a wince and bit his lip, the shame welling up as he tightened his grip on his drink. Drat….Antonio wasn’t supposed to know about that. It took a moment for him to recover and take a deep breath.

“I-I never asked you to make up stories about me anyway…” said Arthur softly, still in disbelief about how all the connections that had fallen into place. “It’s a small world after all, its a small, small world…” he sang shakily, sipping his drink and closing his eyes, gasping as he tried to still his trembling.

“I- I just can’t believe you.” Said Antonio, in a voice so soft that Arthur almost wished he would go back to cursing. “You could have prevented all of this. He tried to stop you. He invited you to a motel to sleep it off.”

Arthur shook hard, trying to push these thoughts out of his mind even though he knew for a fact that Antonio was telling the truth. His voice stalled for a moment as he tried to get a word in edgewise. “…A-An..Antonio.” He stuttered. “My kids-”

“STOP using Alfred and Matthew as an excuse!” interrupted Antonio, making Arthur flinch. “At the end of the day,” continued Antonio. “They were still alone! You’re always leaving them alone, even when you’re there you’re not even the real you. Don’t you understand Arthur? You could have died! Then finito, eso es. Thats it, your kids are alone, your life is over, no more houses to sell, no more places to go. Lights out, and you would have wasted everything!”

Arthur was angry that his soft shuddery gasp was audible over the phone, which meant that Matthew might have heard it too. He covered his mouth, hearing Antonio gasp softly. Arthur knew that he had heard it too. This was absolute nonsense. Utter stupidity.

“Alfred…there better be some hot water left for me.” Grumped Matthew in the background, pounding on the bathroom door.

It was all useless.

“Ssh…Arthur. You could have called me.” Said Antonio.

So dumb.

Arthur took a deep breath and hugged himself with his free arm. “I know.”

“You could have listened to Francis.”

Idiotic.

“I know.”

“You could.”

“BUT I DIDN’T OKAY?” shouted Arthur angrily, finally bursting under the pressure being pushed down upon him, sitting upright. “I didn’t, I get it! I didn’t, I could have, I should have. But I hadn’t, because I wouldn’t, I. MESSED. UP.” He ranted, gasping hard and leaning back into the couch. He had known the whole time that he was wrong. He knew it, and although he wished with all his heart that he could just hurl a pocket watch into the air and go back in the to stop the idiotic past Arthur, the likelihood of that happening was about as good as Alfred turning down ice cream. Antonio paused and all Arthur could hear was the slight echo of his own ragged breathing, sounding so mangled and pathetic. Arthur could hear a mumbling in the background of the phone that he recognized as Lovino.

“Yeah- he’s a fucker and it’ll be a pain in the ass, but you’ll find something nice.” Chattered the italian in the background. “Plus, I want you to talk his ear off and be annoying as shit as usual.”

When Antonio finally spoke up again, his voice was quiet, a pinch of worry within it.

“This is really bad Arthur…sabe? Really, really bad. I told you not to leave. When people get out of jail before a trial, they get worse punishments…I could have gotten you on probation maybe if you had stayed but…caramba this is going to be really hard now. A lot of work and..I can’t guarantee that it’s going to be fixed this time. I’m sorry Arthur but.”

Antonio sighed in resignation. “I don’t think that I can help you anymore.”

Arthur gasped softly. “No-…no no Antonio you can’t. You can’t leave me alone like this.”

“Arthur…” said Antonio. “You’re my good friend, and I don’t want to leave you. But I can’t help you keep ruining your life.” He sighed. “Maybe…they’ll force you to go to rehab and things will get better.”

“Antonio no. No no. No no no no no no. No no. No.” Chattered Arthur in a panic. “You can’t.” He said, gasping hard. “I have the money. You know me. I have the money- it doesn’t matter, I can. I can get out of this. I’m not a drunk. I just need to cut down- just a little. “

“You still don’t understand.” Said Antonio. “Arthur, ever since she left you’ve become an alcoholic. Now… now you’re turning into a black hole and bringing everyone around you into this deep sucky space thing. It’s not about the money, my friend…I’m not going to be apart of getting you out of trouble for you to go back to your old ways again. Francis told me that when he saw you…after the other night, already having a damn beer in your hand. Dios mio, he just couldn’t believe how stupid you are.”

“Yo Toni.” Said Lovino in the background.

“Lovino- wait un momento okay?”

“Nah nah, make HIM wait.”

Antonio sighed softly. “Hang on Arthur, I’ll be right back, don’t hang up.”

Arthur wasn’t even paying much attention to the dim chatter on the line, looking back and seeing that Matthew was still waiting. “Alfred!” he called, not getting up from his seat. “Get out of the bathroom already!”

Right when Arthur made that declaration, the door opened, a thick cloud of steam pouring out. “Yeah yeah, whatever, I’m out!” he huffed, wrapped in a towel and pushing past Matthew to his room.

“You look like a lobster.” Sniffed Matthew in annoyance, going inside and pulling aside the shower curtain. “Alfred!” he whined. “The tub is full of your old water! What am I supposed to do?”

“Drink it, you fish!” called Alfred from his room.

“You pig.” Matthew groaned in disgust and closed the door, clinking the lock shut.

“Arthur? You there?” came Lovino’s voice on the phone.

Arthur’s attention was brought back to the phone conversation again, his mind rattling from the stress. “Y-Yes…I’m here.” He said with a nod. “In any case….”

“Kay, so listen up, cause I’m not going to repeat myself. Antonio’s sick of your shit, but…I managed to convince him that if you help us both out, he’s not gonna leave your ass out to dry.” Chattered Lovino, classy as usual.

“Sounds fair to me.” Said Arthur. “How much do you want?”

Lovino snickered. “Oh no no no you shit-faced bastard. This shit is better than money. Okay, first of all, I’m gonna tell you the easy part first. There’s like three things you gotta do for us, ok?”

Arthur closed his eyes and shook his head. “Fine fine…you don’t hear me complaining…”

“Okay, first, you gotta find my brother a good house in our neighborhood. I gave him your email and shit so get to work on that.” Demanded Lovino. “Second, quit being such pansy and stop drowning yourself in shitty beer.”

“That second part is giving me deja vu…” growled Arthur sarcastically.

“I don’t care if it gives you a fucking boner, man.” Said Lovino with a laugh. “You keep on getting blitzed to hell and that’s it, we finito, done, no more Toni for you.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Mumbled Arthur. “What’s your last wish, since I’m such a magical fairy.”

There was the sound of shuffling as the phone seemed to be passed over and Antonio picked it up. “Okay…the last thing you need to do, is let Francis move in with you.”

Arthur paused for a moment, then smiled. His grin spread painfully across his face and sharp hollow laughter escaped his lungs in an unpleasant barking noise. “Oh Antonio…stop messing with me and tell me what you really want so I can go to bed.” Antonio didn’t share in the laughter, and at that moment, Arthur felt a chill run up his spine.

“I need you to take Francis into your house for me.” Antonio repeated slowly.

Now Arthur was unsure if he had heard Antonio correctly. “Ahem, do you mean Francis- as in.”

“Francis. Francis Bonnefoy, he was there at your house last night and today and he was there when you could have-”

“So uh- by help and why.” Stammered Arthur, chattering to interrupt Antonio. “Does he have a disease?” he asked, trying hard to hide the contempt rising in his voice. “A mental issue?”

“No Arthur,” grumbled Antonio, annoyed by Arthur’s audacity to act snooty in this situation. “ He’s just homeless.”

“Homeless!?” exclaimed Arthur. “You mean- you mean he’s…he’s a bum!?” Arthur hadn’t even bothered to check if anything had been stolen around the house. A panic arose within him that Antonio promptly beat down.

“No less a bum than you!” Snapped Antonio. “He’s a victim of circumstance- and one that managed to cover your ass when you weren’t there. I know you two went back and forth with some nasty words, but I know that Francis could put it aside if you’d let him stay with you.”

Arthur sputtered. “Another person…I can’t believe you’re asking me this.”

“Francis is my best friend Arthur.” Said Antonio. “Of mine and Lovino’s. We’re like as close as you and I am you know? Like brothers. Please, he wouldn’t just lie around the house all day, he can cook and clean and maybe make it easier for you so you don’t have to worry about things while you’re quitting drinking.”

Arthur tuned out the last two words, coughing a bit over them and looking around. He hadn’t noticed much when he first came in since he had been preoccupied with the mindset of “Drink, Drink, Drink, NOW.” But the house really did seem more organized that it had been when he left it the night before the last. Still, the prospect of having to live with someone he had fought so furiously with made him feel awkward, ashamed even that he had given so much grief to someone who had done nothing but try to help him.

“So…” he said, sighing. “Essentially, he’d be like an unpaid nanny.”

“Si, living there with you until he can get back on his feet would be payment enough. He’s going to be back there tomorrow morning.”

Arthur was alarmed. “What! So soon?” he exclaimed.

“If there’s a third party living with him, I think I can convince a judge to be a little easier because you’ll have someone else supervising you.”

“Ugh…” snarled Arthur. “You’re making it sound as if he’s going to be MY nanny as well.”

“Since you act like a child, yeah, why not.” Said Antonio, unaffected by Arthur’s rage.

Arthur took a deep breath. He looked up, Matthew came out of the bathroom in backwards pajamas and moaned softly, stumbling forward and bumping his head into the closet with a loud clatter. “Mmmokay…” he huffed, rubbing his forehead and leaning against the wall to find his way back to his room, swinging his beloved water bottle.

“Fine…” said Arthur. “I’ll do it.”

Chapter Text

Arthur wasn’t sure what he had expected to happen this morning. What he certainly hadn’t looked forward to was waking up to the thrill of the doorbell echoing through the house. He jerked with a start, instantly awake and alert, frozen as a wave of fear washed over him. Breathing softly, he waited for someone to pound on his door with rage rivaling that of the devil, roar at him for being so absolutely pathetic and lazy, unable to do something so simple as to open the damn door. When no such invasion came, Arthur looked up and remembered that he wasn’t 14 anymore, wasn’t in any danger of being flogged for not being responsible enough. He was in his 40’s now; his father had been dead for almost 15 years. Arthur sat up and waited for his heart to calm down, panting and wondering who had the audacity to ring the bell so early in the morning. He turned and took a look at the digital clock beside his bed. It was 1 in the afternoon.

Oh.

Even though his brain was foggy and swimming in drunk gunk, Arthur tried his best to gather his thoughts despite the wicked hangover. Thank god he was already dressed. Arthur hadn’t even bothered stripping down when he went to bed last night, in fact he couldn't even recall actually actively going to bed and more than likely probably simply stumbled into his room and managed to pass out on his mattress. Neither Alfred nor Matthew had wandered in to rouse him awake and say goodbye before going to school. They knew the drill. Arthur held his stomach and sighed, leaning back into the pillows and closing his eyes once more, just trying to grasp at that last few nuggets of relaxation that were just beyond reach.

Ding Dong.

Sighing in resignation, Arthur got up and took a quick look in the mirror. He looked like a haggard mess, but there was no time to shower before opening the door. The last thing he needed to get into trouble because Francis went back to tell Antonio that Arthur wouldn’t hold up his end of the deal. He stared at himself in the mirror. Take in a homeless man, quit drinking and find a house for someone so Antonio wouldn’t leave him behind when it came to this upcoming court case. It was impossible, especially when the only thing that Arthur knew he could confidently do was find a good house on Canal Street, where Antonio and Lovino lived.

When Arthur saw Francis through the window, he was caught completely off guard. He had seen this man twice before, so nothing about his appearance had changed, but this was the third time Arthur’s perception of Francis was altered. The first time, he had assumed that the man was a nosy little prostitute looking to score some cash. The second, a charming if not chattery caregiver of his children. And now, with Arthur having learned that Francis was actually a homeless man -for god knows how long- he tried his best to see some lazy drug addicted bum, but to his surprise could perceive nothing but a normal looking person. Francis didnt have a shopping cart filled with cans and bottles to recycle. No huge garbage bags filled with the only possessions he had left in a sad miserable life. No layers upon layers of dirty ripped coats and fingerless gloves with black fingernails. No desolate look on his face, but an earnest hopeful one in the autumn chill. The only thing that Francis carried was a messenger bag about as big as a Halloween pumpkin. It made Arthur wonder if maybe Antonio was playing a trick on him with this ‘poor homeless Francis’ routine.

Arthur found his judging session suddenly interrupted when he noticed that Francis had turned his head and caught him staring through the window, but not opening the door for him. A knowing smirk crossed his lips that made Arthur flush in embarrassment and pull away. He took a deep breath, adjusting his shirt once more. It struck him as rather odd that he wanted to make a good impression on someone who probably couldn’t even afford Arthur’s cheapest pajamas, not to mention someone he had cursed out more than once before. Still, if this man was going to be living under his roof for a while, it would probably be best if they started anew on good terms.

Plastering on a smile as fake as the leather on the couch, Arthur opened the door and grinned at Francis. Francis was evidently either a flamboyantly happy person at heart or simply wanted to mock Arthur, because he was smiling back just as foolishly.

“Arthur!” he purred, sauntering forward and pulling Arthur into a hug, a sudden intimate expressions that actually startled him. “OOoh you and Antonio…you two.” He muttered, pulling back and patting Arthur’s shoulders. “I know we got off on the wrong foot but you have absolutely no idea how much this means to me. Thank you.” Arthur was wary of Francis’ enthusiasm. He coughed lightly, his smile having lost much of its luster.

“Oh…yes yes it’s fine.” He said, trying to hide his real feelings. He just couldn’t get an accurate read on just what Francis was all about. He almost seemed two faced with how quickly he was able to shift from happy and friendly to a snarling demon, yet despite Arthur’s experience with horrible people like that, Francis’ anger at Arthur seemed justified rather than randomly cruel.

Francis’ blue eyes sparkled in delight. “So, we can put everything behind us, no?” he gushed, adjusting the strap of his bag and letting it slide off his shoulder. “I help you to stop acting like an imbecile and everyone stops treating you like one. Where can I put my things?”

Too stunned by the chirped insult to respond to it, Arthur shakily pointed down the hall. “U-Uh…you can just drop them off in the master bedroom I suppose.” He said. Francis nodded brightly and practically skipped off in the direction where Arthur had pointed. It was now that Arthur started to think harder about where Francis would end up sleeping. Although his room had a queen sized bed that had been cold and lonely for years, he wasn’t certain he’d be too comfortable allowing it to be warmed by the company of a stranger. On top of that, Matthew and Alfred already slept in the same bedroom, so it wasn’t as though he could squish them together to make room.

On the topic of his sons, Arthur thought about what their reaction would be to these new living arrangements. Judging by the way they acted the day before, it seemed likely that that would be more than happy to accept him as their own, especially if it meant that he would be cooking more often. Arthur furrowed his brow and walked into the kitchen. Of course…that didn’t mean that he himself was a bad cook. Maybe sometimes he didn’t pay much attention anymore, or ordered out a lot but he did try his best. Even if it meant trying to wring out the few droplets of love he had left in his heart, Arthur always made sure that his boys at least had a good supper. The thought reminded him that they would be coming home from school in a few hours, so it would probably be wise to get the meal started, especially now that there would be a meal for four.

Arthur came back to reality to find that his hand was on the refrigerator door, ready to dull his rambling mind by flooding it with the numbing bitterness a good cold beer provided. Just when he was about to close his hands around the can, he felt an ominous prickling on the back of his neck. Quickly switching to grab a nearly empty carton of orange juice, he turned around and found himself face to face with Francis.

“I put my bag in the closet.” He said with a gentle smile, reaching into the refrigerator past Arthur and grabbing the beer he had originally gone for. “Oh, I suppose I should give you your rations now.” He said.

Arthur flushed in embarrassment. The way Francis spoke made him feel like a dog that needed to wait to be fed. He snorted at how ridiculous that sounded, clutching the orange juice to his chest and trying to pretend as though drinking the beer had never been his intention. “Rations…” he repeated with a huff, chugging the last of the juice and crossing over to toss it into the trash. “I didn’t realize I was in the midst of a war.”

“Why of course you are!” said Francis earnestly, shifting the beer from hand to hand idly. “You’re right in the battlefield, desperately trying to win the war in your mind.” He gushed.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Oh quit trying to sound poetic. There’s no such thing. I’m perfectly fine.”

“You’re more delusional than I thought.” Said Francis, fiddling with the tab. Arthur stared hopefully, starting to feel a little anxious. Truth to be told, the orange juice hadn’t quite quenched his thirst. But he couldn’t exactly give the other the satisfaction that he was too weak to resist.

“I’m not an alcoholic.” Said Arthur, ruffling his hair and looking away with a sigh. “I only drink because…because…” Arthur lowered his head, he couldn't think of a reason that he was comfortable telling Francis yet. It made him feel worse and only made the craving stronger.

“Yes yes yes you can quit any time you wanted to.” Said Francis, setting the beer on the counter and leaning on it.

Arthur glared at Francis. “Antonio’s a stupid git.” He huffed. “I mean it, I don’t have a problem and even if I did, it’s not anyone’s business but my own.”

“Oh stop whining and relax.” Said Francis, straightening up. “I’m the last one to support a completely dry spell! In fact, I make it a point to have a glass of wine every night before bed.” He winked and ran his hand through limp, blonde hair. “For my health you know.”

“Oh…really?” said Arthur, feeling some of the tension dissolve a bit at that confession. “I’m honestly surprised someone in your position could afford that kind of routine.”

Francis’s smile didn’t waver but seemed a little more solemn. “Ahh, Arthur.” He sighed, tossing the beer through the air to Arthur, who caught it eagerly. “I didn’t say it was a big glass and it certainly wasn’t good wine. Still, much better than beer. It’s no wonder you’ve got quite a belly.”

The idea that Arthur was anything other than slim or fit deeply unsettled him, especially when he so frequently and harshly judged Alfred for his oblong waistline. He looked down in horror, as though to confirm to himself that he wasn’t a whale that somehow learned on to walk on land. Arthur scoffed, glaring back up at Francis. “I most certainly do not have a belly!” he exclaimed, opening a beer.

FSSSH!

Swearing, Arthur stumbled back. His ingrained reflex of opening a beer as soon as it was in his hand had caused him to forget that Francis had shaken up and THROWN the beer at him, thus making him the victim of a very wet hand, beer overflowing onto his fingers and onto the floor.

Francis snickered into his hand. “There you are, half a beer sounds good enough to start you off”

“Mother of…You’re going to clean this-!” snapped Arthur, but to his surprise, Francis had already taken a sponge from the sink and gone down onto hands and knees to sop up the puddle. He swallowed and looked down, bringing his hand up to lick the beads of beer up like a kitten. “Up…” he finished, stepping to the side so he was out of the others way. The can of beer felt so light. Damn him, all that wasted goodness. If Francis hadn’t been in the room Arthur probably would have gone down and lapped it up off the floor until it was licked perfectly clean.

“Back when I tried to quit smoking.” Said Francis, getting up to squeeze the sponge out in the sink and returning to clean the rest of the mess. “I’d bend them down the middle and make them into two pieces. So…one had a filter and the other didn’t, but whenever I needed a smoke, I’d only take half.” He stood up, squeezing the sponge into the sink a final time and getting a paper towel to dry his hands silently. After a moment Francis whispered softly, ominously as though he had been transported back to those dark times. “It was absolutely horrible.”

“But!” he said, flipping moods like a coin, grinning at Arthur. “It was so much better than cold turkey. Literally too, have you ever tried it? Dry powdery meat and a gravy with a texture like jam. UGH! And that was back in Roubaix, I wouldn’t risk my life trying the British version.” He offered Arthur his own paper towel, for the hand still dripping with beer, his smile gentle. “But in any case, no more ashtrays…”

Arthur took the towel, crumbling it up in one hand, refusing to put down the beer to do a better job. “I suppose that makes a lot of sense.” He said. “After all, it would only be foolish for someone who was homeless to continue wasting money on rancid cancer sticks when they should be saving up to get a home.” He said, shrugging.

Francis’s smile completely evaporated, replaced with an ugly look of disgust. “I can only agree…” he said with clenched teeth. “Just as foolish as someone destroying their liver and their children by overindulging in silly water.”

Arthur stopped drinking in shock. Was that…supposed to be a dig at him? He slammed the empty can down on the counter and snarled, already irritated by the fact that he hadn’t had enough. “Somehow I find it hard to imagine that you have the best interests of either my organs or my children in mind.” He said after a moment of pondering, trying his best to keep his temper under control, squeezing the can.

“Oh, I believe that.” Said Francis, looking up, his fingers tensely gripping the edge of the counter. “You have no imagination at all. You can’t even imagine a world where you’re a hopeless bum.”

Arthur laughed hollowly, slowly approaching Francis, who stepped back. “Hate to remind you about it, but the only bum here is…YOU!” he shouted. Francis flinched, holding tightly onto the counter and remaining tight lipped.

“You don’t even know the first thing about me to be reminding me about anything.” Said Francis softly, staring right into Arthur’s eyes.

“What is it? Huh?” chattered Arthur. “What exactly is Antonio’s plan anyway?” Is it that I’m supposed to be inspired by your failures in life? Be reminded not to make the same mistakes you did?” he ranted, continuing to advance while Francis kept retreating backwards. “Am I supposed to just, look at you and think. ‘Wow, if I don’t shape up I’ll end up like this hopeless miserable degenerate.’ ?”

“There is nothing wrong with me.” Said Francis firmly, straightening up and refusing to back away anymore. Arthur bumped into him, their chests touching. He stumbled and put his hand onto the counter, right over Francis’s trembling fingers. As soon as they touched, Francis stopped feeling so afraid, pulling his hand away and folding his arms. “What happened to me was never my fault and it has nothing to do with this. It doesn’t define who I am.” Although Francis was speaking sternly, he didn’t seem to be talking to Arthur at all, but rather appeared to be repeating a personal mantra. “I have a job, I earn money.”

“So you have a job.” Grumbled Arthur, smirking. “Tell me then…How have you managed to reach this age…and yet still don’t even have your own house?”

Francis laughed. “Ah…so you mean to tell me that as soon as you could fling newspapers all of the sudden you could afford rent, food, electricity…”

“Of course not!” said Arthur, turning around and rubbing his head, still feeling a little achy. “That’s foolish! But, that’s because I had the help of my parents supporting me while I saved up enough money to move out! So I want to know what exactly is SOOOO special about-” Arthur paused, stopping in his tracks.

Just like that night that he had gone into the car, Arthur had made another verbal slip thanks to intoxication meddling with his mind. Changing things around and rerouting neurons. Making him temporarily believe things that weren’t true even though they should have been. Say things that were only half right. He had a wife. He had the help of his parent. More specifically, his father. Even more technically, saying that Arthur’s father had “helped” him, was being extremely generous. Arthur turned around, wobbling on the spot.

“I’m sorry.” He said, staring at the floor. It had become shiny where Francis had cleaned it, enough to highlight the fact that the rest of the kitchen, which had seemed fine at first, was wretchedly filthy and needed a good mop. Arthur could see his desolate reflection on the floor, face distorted by the extreme perspective so that he could see all of his worst flaws clearly. He couldn’t stand looking at himself. He didn’t think he could meet Francis’ eye.

“It’s alright.” Said Francis shakily, which made Arthur feel even worse, knowing that his childish drunken outburst had had an effect on the other, even if Francis was trying to hide it. It wasn’t alright, it would never be. When Arthur lifted his gaze up just a bit, he caught sight of the lucky cat teapot in the corner of the counter. It would never be alright, okay, good, or even fine. Not when everywhere he looked, he was reminded of the absolute devastation that was his life. He covered his face.

“Please make some supper…The kids will be home soon.” He mumbled, slinking out back to his bedroom, where at least he could return to a nightmare that wasn’t real.

Chapter Text

Although Arthur wanted nothing more than to sleep the rest of the day away, he just couldnt manage to get comfortable no matter how much he tossed and turned in bed. It was far too cold, there was a bitter chill that enveloped him from the inside out, a frozen feeling that not even the thickest of quilts could remedy. Eventually, Arthur finally admitted to himself that there was no point in trying to rest anymore, and got up to check his email.

Arthur had the faintest of hopes upon turning on the desktop and logging in that he would be greeted to an inbox as empty as his life, but was instead faced with hordes of offers for the houses he was selling that were so pathetic he was loathe to waste his time responding. Still, he had his reputation as a realtor to protect, and so spent the next half hour copy and pasting the same gentle refusal to the hopeful wannabe homeowners. On any other day, Arthur would go through this task without even wincing, but his argument with Francis had given him some insight he wasn’t too happy to have. It wasn’t fair.

He sent out the last message with a pit in his stomach. He wondered how many of those people had prayed for him to have mercy, to get a break in their life for once. Arthur thought about how many managed to work a job while being homeless only for the costly expenses of homelessness itself to keep them from securing a house for any more than a pittance. He tried his best to shake those thoughts from his head. Francis was just messing with him. It was impossible to be poor and miserable unless you brought it upon yourself. He just hadn’t tried hard enough. He was making excuses. That’s exactly what it was. Arthur was so far gone in trying to justify his judgement that he didn’t even realize his own hypocrisy.

As Arthur sifted through the rest of his email he noticed a message from an unfamiliar name and a generic “Hi!” title that had somehow managed to bypass the spam filter. Just when he was about to delete it, he took a closer look at the name. Feliciano Vargas. Vargas...Lovino Vargas. This must have been the brother he had mentioned. He’d have to take a look at it.

[ “Hi! :) This is Feliciano, Lovino’s brother. He told me that you’re going to find me a house near him right? Yay! I’m so excited! :D We’re driving up from Germany tomorrow to live with my brother and Toni, so be sure to find something quick before Lovi gets too mad! LOL I’m just kidding~ But we want to see you soon ok? I want my own house near my big brother so I can bother him every day! I want something with a big bedroom, and maybe a smaller one or two smaller ones… but I talk better in person so can you come to the house tomorrow night? ]

Arthur was sure that if he could cringe any harder he would implode into himself and create a hole in the entire universe. No wonder Lovino needed to help his brother like this...He could only imagine any other professional treating this like a joke. Still, he had no choice in this matter.

[ Hello Feliciano,

Assuming Antonio and Lovino have already given their approval, I would be more than happy to come tomorrow night to discuss these matters in person. Is 8PM a good time?

-Arthur ]

Simple and to the point. Arthur could only imagine what it would be like talking to this man in person. Probably no better than interacting with a child, or worse, a teenager.

Speaking of teenagers, Arthur wondered how Francis was doing about supper for when the boys came home from school. He had finished up his work already, so at least he would be able to go the rest of the day without having that worry gnaw at him in the back of his mind. Just as his thoughts wandered to the construction of a good well deserved sandwich, what Arthur saw next stopped him in his tracks and made him want to throw up instead.

“Oh! You’re back.” said Francis with a smile, turning around as though nothing had happened. He had tied up his long blonde tresses in a ponytail with a rubber band, but Arthur wasn't all that concerned about something as trivial as a hair in the meal. His eyes were firmly trained upon the white apron Francis was wearing. He was still talking, but his voice sounded far away and muddy, as though he were underwater. Arthur stared hard at the delicate flower embroidered in a corner of the fabric, feeling the blood drain from his face. Francis faltered, whatever he was chattering about falling by the wayside. "Are you alright?" he asked, taking a step forward.

Arthur took a step back, standing rigid, his jaw locked tight. "Take. It. Off." Arthur felt his heart pound louder as he spoke and he covered his mouth, shaking his head as he stared. "I know! I know! Just...I'll find you another one! Just not that one!" He fussed, anger and panic swelling upon within him in a hurricane of emotions that were simply too much to deal with rationally.

Francis moved his hands behind his back to untie the apron. "Alright." he whispered. "I understand. I'm very sorry Arthur. It's alright." he said, continuing to talk in a soft gentle tone. Arthur felt his heart ache even more upon seeing how carefully Francis folded it into a tiny, neat bundle. "I didn't realize how important this was."

Arthur hesitated for a moment, then darted forward to get it back, hands shaking as he stared at it, the flower, every single thread in place. Not a single mark on it. Good...Arthur had no idea what he might have done if Francis had stained it. “It’s, It’s fine.” He looked up and swallowed, meeting Francis's eyes at last. "Yes, thank you, well...Any other apron in the closet is fine! I'd appreciate it if you didn't tunnel through everything and go rifling-"

"Nobody was rifling Arthur!" interrupted Francis, putting his hands on Arthur's arms. Arthur went stiff as a statue, acting as if Francis had punched him. "It was the first thing I saw in the closet. I'll get another one. Ok? That is alright, yes?"

Arthur's eyes were trained upon Francis, but he didn't seem to see him. He gave a soft nod and Francis let go of Arthur at last, walking out to the closet. "That's alright..." said Arthur at last, once Francis was out of earshot.

Arthur walked toward the stove, arm outstretched. A soft smile spread on his face. “Don’t worry, you take your time with supper. You don't have to rush...my little flower." he whispered. Arthur could see Hana, see her smiling back at him, reassured. The apron, a pristine white. Hana determined to keep it that way. It was every careful second, combined with her and Arthur's love, made meals that were ambrosiac, every evening a treasure. Her soft lips moved but no sound was heard. No. He was too drunk to hear her. No. He wasn’t drunk enough. He needed to wash away the gunk, so he could listen to her again, to see her clearly before him, her beautiful face in clear view. A vision that taunted him with something that was there, and yet intangible. Arthur tried touching her cheek, only to grope nothing but air. She was gone. She had left him. Left him and the kids. It was all nothing.

Arthur looked down, horrified to see droplets of water marring the surface of the apron. Quickly, he moved to wipe them away, but more speckles replaced them.What made him feel even worse was realizing that it was his fault, soiling something so sweet and beautiful. What an absolute imbecile he was. Yet the rain kept pouring, rushing down his cheeks and dripping onto the apron. Lowering his head, he buried his face in it, finding himself transported even farther.

The wonderful scent of the past, he could still grasp a thread of it. A whiff of happiness from long ago. He pressed his wet eyes into the fabric, as though he believed the simple cloth could be used as a portal. So that he could dive headfirst back into the sepia memories of perfection. Soon. Soon he could return to the time when things were alright. His wife was here and loved him. His sons were obedient and loving. He was happy

But he couldn't get there yet. He was in still between worlds, unable to stay grounded in one reality. Damnit. He needed more. He needed to drink more to be able to transport himself there.

Lifting his head at last, Arthur was dismayed to find not Hana, but Francis standing before him, eyes clouded with concern. What made matters worse was that he felt Francis's hands on top of his own and the contact nearly burned. He was trying to take it away. The apron. The memories. His joy.

"Arthur." said Francis. "I'll put this back where I found it."

Arthur slowly let go of the apron. It didn't really matter much anymore. That piece of cloth was meaningless when it came to his dwindling happiness. He'd never get it back, it was really that simple. He definitely needed another drink even though he was unsure if he wanted to see her again and be taunted by something he couldn’t have. At least he could create an illusion where he could pretend.

Francis returned just as Arthur was opening the refrigerator and rifling around. He rushed over to try and take control of the situation. "Arthur, no!" he scolded in distress, as though Arthur were a child. He slammed the refrigerator shut just as Arthur pulled out an unmarked glass bottle filled with a clear liquid that Francis was fairly sure wasn't water. He held out his hand for it. "Give it to me." he demanded, looking pale.

Arthur could only give Francis a blank glare, unscrewing the top. He shook his head then and cleared his throat, standing up a little straighter. “If you want some you don’t have to be so rude about it, although I honestly doubt that you would care for something as useless as this.”

Francis frowned. “Are you talking about the alcohol or about yourself?”

‘Both’ thought Arthur inwardly, swirling the liquid around. “Listen.” he said. “I’m willing to bet that this is practically nothing but water.” Francis looked bewildered, squinting at Arthur. "Let me explain, this is all Matthew’s fault.” Francis’s confusion elevated to pure shock.

“What does Matthew have to do with anything?!” he exclaimed.

“He’s wasting money.” said Arthur, plopping the bottle onto the countertop and having the decency to get a glass instead of drinking it straight from the bottle. At least he had some remains of class left. After he filled it halfway, he turned, offering it to Francis, who wrinkled his nose.

"Taste it." insisted Arthur. Cautiously, Francis took the glass in his hand, taking a little sip and wrinkling his nose even more in disgust, turning away.

"It tastes like nothing! What kind of cheap garbage is this?" he complained, picking up the bottle and examining it. It was supposedly 100% proof, which seemed to be a gigantic lie.

"It's not. It's Matthew." said Arthur.

“It’s...oh my.” Francis repeated, covering his mouth in horror. This family was much more out of line than he had initially realized if it had gone this far. Francis thought about that little bottle that Matthew had seemed to hold onto as tight as a security blanket.

“Yes...little wanker’s always tossing it down the loo, as if he can control me.” scowled Arthur, pouring the rest out into a glass for himself. “Just pissing it away like nothing...He has no right.”

Now Francis was simply just confused. “He...what? Drops it in the toilet?”

“What else did I say?” growled Arthur in irritation, downing the vodka and grimacing. “Tch, what a waste. “See I’ll explain. Matthew...bit of a prat sometimes, so he’ll dump this out and fill it back up with water. Heh, most of the times I’m too smashed to notice, so at least he’s clever in that regard.”

“Sounds as though he only really cares about you.” said Francis, relieved to hear that Matthew wasn’t going along the same path of his father. “If you’re so worried about wasting money, you shouldn’t be buying that to begin with.

THUNK. Arthur dropped the bottle into the wastebin in order to avoid dignifying that with an answer. “You know who else wastes a lot of money in this house? Alfred. That tub of lard just won’t stop eating no matter what. He’s worse than a vacuum cleaner.” As he spoke, Arthur opened the refridgerator, getting out a packet of sliced ham, a head of lettuce and a tomato, his arms completely full.

“Ah...let me do it.” said Francis, grabbing the tomato as it slipped out of Arthur’s grasp. “You want a sandwich, is it?” Francis leaned over to grab the knife and start to cut the tomato since he was feeling a little peckish himself. “I can make a few more for when Alfred and Matthew come home, as an afterschool snack.” he mused with a smile.

“Are you deaf?” Arthur huffed. “I literally just told you how huge Alfred is and you want to give him more food?”

“Oh shut up you swine.” groaned Francis in annoyance, his knife gleaming as it sliced through the fruit, red juice spilling. “Your beer belly is just begging for me to pop it.”

“Don’t you dare try to call me poppet!” countered Arthur completely missing the point. “Are you sure you’re not an prostitute?”

“Idiot. I suppose that big hard head of yours has more bone than brain.” grumbled Francis.

“In any case...you don’t know Alfred like I do. You don’t see the way he gets over food...it’s disgusting. You would think he’s some sort of starving flea ridden street kid. Haven’t you seen that waistline?” ranted Arthur, leaning against the refrigerator and crossing his arms.

Francis bit his lip as he continued cutting. “Listen Arthur.” said Francis. “Alfred may not be like any of those boys in the magazines with their airbrushed abs, but why would you want him to be? Why do you care so much about something as so trivial as a number on a scale?”

Arthur shook his head. “Listen, it’s not as though I want him to go out and lift weights, I’m not that kind of father, but at the very least he should learn to control his appetite. It’s sad to look at the way he carries on.”

“Well, at least you know he really is your son.” said Francis with a cutting glare that shook Arthur to pieces. “Here’s your sandwich.” Francis’ voice had grown softer when he realized how Arthur had taken his harsh words. “Eat, you’ll stop feeling like ass. Bon appetit. ”

With Francis patting his back, Arthur slowly felt himself grounded again. Thinking it over, he wondered if maybe he was just being irrational because of low blood sugar. Arthur took a nibble of the sandwich. It...tasted like sandwich. A really good sandwich. His eyes flew open and he chewed faster savoring the bite he had taken. “Hey this isn’t all that bad…” he admitted.

Francis smiled then, nodding. “It’s all in preparation and presentation.” he cooed, slightly braggy. “I knew you would enjoy it, after all I am the ultimate in cooking, no one can resist my artistic blend of culinary expertise.”

“It’s just a sandwich.” mumbled Arthur with a smirk, taking another bite and walking out of the kitchen. For some strange reason, he was impervious to haunting gaze of the lucky cat teapot as he passed by. This time at least.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Alfred and Matthew dragged themselves up to the stairs leading to their house, exhausted. Mondays were bad enough on their own, but a Monday after a weekend dealing with their pitiful alcoholic father was simply unbearable. Alfred moved slowly, almost reluctantly as he sorted through the keys. "Well, time to open the portal to hell." he huffed, rolling his eyes.

Matthew shook his head with a frown. "Come on Alfred…maybe Dad's asleep. He usually is anyway."

Alfred rammed his shoulder into the door and listened carefully. "No, he's in the kitchen." he said, sounding even more disappointed after Matthew had introduced a glimmer of hope.

"Hmm? Alfred? Matthew?" called a voice that most definitely wasn't Arthur. Alfred and Matthew simultaneously looked up in utter shock, their eyes widening behind their glasses when Francis popped out from the kitchen to greet them with a smile. Either they were hallucinating or their glasses were remarkably filthy, because there was no other possible way that Francis, the kind and caring man who had made the horrible weekend a bit less unbearable, was standing before them yet again. Not only that, but he was carrying a tray with two ham and cheese sandwiches and extending it out for them. When Alfred and Matthew didn't move Francis laughed softly. "Go on, I'm not a ghost. It's an afterschool snack for you two.

"An afterschool snack?" said Alfred with a grin. "Oh man, call off the ambulance Mattie, 'cause I think I died and went to heaven." Alfred leaned forward, taking a big bite and moaning in appreciation, bouncing on his feet. "Mmm! This is really good. What the heck did you put in this?" he exclaimed, closing his eyes and taking another bite, completely involved in the moment.

Matthew was a little more timid, taking a tiny nibble off of the corner of his sandwich and giving Alfred the side eye. Finding the sandwich to his tastes as well, his sad pout transformed into a small smile. "Thank you. We haven't had an afterschool snack in a long time." he said. Alfred opened his eyes and turned his head to look at the wall and nod, his expression seeming to have stiffened a bit.

"Well I'm glad you like it." said Francis with a big warming smile, putting his hands on the boys shoulders to comfort them, patting gently. "You don't have to worry about a thing, I'll be taking good care of the kitchen from now on and the two of you as well!" he cooed.

Alfred swallowed and turned back with a sly smirk. "Okay okay, listen dream, give me a hot tub with a treadmill at the bottom." he said, biting his lip and wiggling his nose. To his disappointment, he looked around and found that nothing had appeared. "Fine, I guess it isn't a dream after all, but dude! How come you're staying with us anyway? Did Pops lose custody of us or something?" he asked, almost hopeful.

"No no…" said Francis with a frown. He wanted to try explaining but decided to quickly change the subject instead. "Hey- once you're finished with your snack, would either of you like any help with homework?"

Matthew's eyes widened and he nodded eagerly. After a big swallow, he seemed meek again. "Um- if it wouldn't be a lot of work, maybe you could look over my French homework and well, not correct it but- ah.." he said, seeming almost flustered that he had dared to accept the help.

Alfred was too busy stuffing his face to quiz Francis more about what was going on, so Francis eagerly took the opportunity that Matthew gave him. "Of course! You can just come in and tell me whenever you need the help." he said, gently patting Matthew on the shoulder.

"Ah, thank you." said Matthew with a thin smile, shifting to reach for his polar bear water bottle out of his backpack. Francis watched Matthew carefully as the boy lifted the top to his lips and nursed gingerly.

"What's that?" asked Francis. Matthew's eyes widened again.

"It's. It's my water bottle." he said softly, looking to the side and tipping the bottle.

Francis took hold of Matthew's wrist and brought the bottle toward him. "I know, but I want to know what you have in it!" said Francis, feigning playfulness. He still had his haunting suspicions from earlier, despite Arthur's insistence that Matthew would never ever drink alcohol. It seemed pretty likely that Francis was merely being a little hyper cautious, what with everything he had seen up until now. For one thing, although Matthew seemed a little dizzy, he didn't reek of booze like Arthur did much of the time. Of course, perhaps Arthur's stench was so overpowering that it muted any other alcohol related aromas. It was difficult to tell.

Alfred shook Francis's other arm in excitement. "Dude! That sandwich was totally awesome!" he said. "Is there any more?" There were crumbs all over his mouth, which he brushed away with his sleeve. Francis was incredibly flattered.

"That was all I made right now, but if you want me to make you another one for dinner I can." said Francis, letting go of Matthew.

"Alfred, don't be so greedy." whined Matthew, clutching his bottle tightly to his chest and just getting started on nibbling his sandwich, staring down at the floor.

"What? Shut up, nerd." huffed Alfred, bumping his hips into Matthew. Matthew nearly lost his balance, stumbling back into the wall instead. Unharmed but irritated, he sucked his teeth to signify a pause in this brotherly battle that was to be continued later.

Francis frowned. "Be nice." he said firmly. "Dinner will be ready soon, just try to relax alright?" With a sigh and a shake of his head, Francis ducked back into the kitchen to attend to the stew, which was starting to expel quite the delicious smell.

With Francis' departure, Matthew looked up and wiped his mouth with his hand, still slowly eating his sandwich. "Do you think Dad is in really big trouble?

Alfred gave Matthew a shrug. "I dunno. Probably? Is he even here?"

There was the sound of heavy stomps coming from the hallway and before either of the boys could run away, Arthur showed himself, yawning. Noticing his son's, Arthur's eyes widened in surprise then crinkled in excitement as he rushed over to fuss. "Ohh! You're both home? Why didn't you let me know?" he gushed, ruffling Alfred's hair so hard his glasses slid to the end of his nose.

"We were talking to Francis." said Alfred, pushing his glasses back up and squinting up at Arthur with a grin. "How come you didn't tell us he was going to be staying here? Or is it like he's going to help you pay bills or something?"

Arthur snorted, covering his mouth. If only Alfred knew even half of what was going on. Financially, their family would never be in trouble. The last thing they needed was additional income, for it would just provide more opportunities for everyone to binge on their vices. "Certainly not. We would never come close to that kind of trouble, so don't worry about a thing." he said, patting Alfred's back. "No, instead, Francis is going to be...hmm. Sort of like a nanny, helping to clean and cook and-"

"Oh Thank GOOOOD." cheered Alfred, turning to Matthew with a cheeky smile. "You heard that right? Francis is cooking for us all the time now!" Matthew lifted his bottle in a meek toast, trying to hide his own happiness. He could already detect Arthur bristling with irritation at Alfred's over enthusiastic reaction.

"Well then." huffed Arthur, turning his head away and crossing his arms. "I didn't realize you were so ungrateful about the way I cooked." He scowled and dug deeper, wanting to make Alfred feel the same wound that he felt. "Besides, if you didn't like my food that much you wouldn't be the size you are now you little cretin." Alfred's playful smirk was wiped completely clean, dissolving into an unamused stare.

"See, why do you have to go so hard man, ugh. Geez." he groaned, rubbing the back of his neck and looking down. "Can't even take a joke. I'm taking a leak." he announced, shaking his head and storming to the bathroom. Just as Arthur was about to turn and follow Alfred, Matthew stuck his arm out to pull at his sleeve.

"Mm- Dad…" he said suddenly, trying to think of something to say. Arthur's eyes turned to look at him and Matthew faltered under that critical emerald gaze. He chewed on the top of his water bottle in an anxious stupor. "Well uh- I'm happy that Francis is going to stay here too. You have... I think you have a lot of stress?" he offered, trying to word it right. "And I just-"

Arthur beamed from Matthew's words. "Oh, I know what you're worried about. You don't have to say another think. Yes, I can admit that there are going to be some...difficulties ahead for me in court and-" Arthur shook his head. "It's nothing to concern you, all you have to worry about is to keep coming back with those excellent, excellent, grades in school and that's enough for me." he said, hugging Matthew.

Matthew froze up in the hug, stuffing his mouth with the rest of the sandwich so that he wouldn't have to respond and nodded hard. "That's a good boy,." said Arthur in complete satisfaction, giving him one last slap on the shoulder before walking into the kitchen. Matthew waited until Arthur was completely away before he started rushing his way back to their bedroom, covering his ears and panting hard as he passed the bathroom. He was so thirsty.

Arthur, who had wandered into the kitchen for a possible evening beer was disgruntled to find Francis was still in it. "How are you not a fat whale? Are you ever out of the kitchen?" he complain bitterly.

Francis gave an exaggerated gasp to feign feeling insulted, laying a hand on his chest while the other continued to stir the pot. "Oh no no Arthur, I appreciate food. I do not overindulge. Why do you think five star restaurants give you so little food?"

Francis's playful response calmed Arthur a bit. He smirked and crossed his arms. "Oh, so I suppose now you're comparing your talents to that of a five star?"

"And why not? Here, come taste this." said Francis, dipping another spoon into the stew and motioning urgently for Arthur to come. It did smell rather inviting. Arthur took the spoon from Francis's hands and brought it to his own lips. Well, Francis really did have a right to be smug.

"Mmm...that's perfect actually." said Arthur. He had completely forgotten about the beer he wanted now. "How did you learn to cook?"

"The same way you learned to I suppose." said Francis quickly.

"Well, that's not an answer." pressed Arthur. "I mean...after all you are…"

Francis sighed heavily and laughed, turning to Arthur. "Ah, since I'm homeless I must know a lot about stew and soup, is that it?"

"Whoa! I never said anything like that." insisted Arthur in surprise, feeling a little wary.

"Idiot." grumbled Francis, looking to the side and stirring the pot again. "I haven't made a career out of living on the street as you so affectionately implied. At least not in the way you're thinking. As you can see, I'm no drug fiend or sex addict."

"Ahem…I feel as though you may have gotten those last two terms mixed up." said Arthur weakly.

"Believe me." said Francis, nodding. "I definitely stand by the order I said that."

Arthur took a deep breath and bit his lip, thinking for a moment. "Okay, well Francis if you don't mind me asking-"

"I don't. Not too much. " said Francis, although he held the spoon stiffly, his hand going from a relaxed position into a fist, the stew being stirred faster. "After all, ahaa...I'm not homeless now anymore so it doesn't offend me." he said, shaking his head with a half smile.

"How exactly did you eat day to day?" asked Arthur. "And where did you spend your time? How did you afford that motel?"

"I worked on the streets."

"I thought you said you weren't a prostitute."

There was a sudden BANG when Francis's knee jerked, hitting the oven door. Hissing softly, Francis turned around and leaned on the other leg. "Do you pick up a lot of prostitutes, Arthur?" he snarled, waiting for the aching to go away.

Taken aback by Francis's violent reaction, Arthur stepped back a bit. The look on Arthur's face made Francis feel guilty that he couldn't admit that he actually didn't feel like talking about those times. Not yet anyway. Before Francis could apologize, Arthur sighed and leaned on the counter, arms crossed. "You're kidding, I've been abstinent for years."

Francis's pain faded away, and he gingerly stepped forward to put a hand on Arthur's back, turning the fire on the stove down a little bit. "How much do you miss her?" he asked in a voice just above a whisper.

Arthur exhaled and shook his head. "You...You can't even imagine." he said, pulling away from Francis and opening toward the fridge. "It's that, I'm just so absolutely angry at her." he said, going on a rant to intriguing that Francis didn't even try to stop him from taking the beer. "I'm livid, distraught, hurt, everything in between and beyond that. That's it." Arthur snapped the tab, opening the can with a hostile hiss. "And yet." he added. "I'm simply the most masochistic sort there is...because there is nothing I want more every single day...than to see her again."

Arthur tipped the beer can back, taking a long, slow and thoughtful drink. He trembled as he felt the warmth coursing through his body, feeling his mind melt in submission of the toxin he was willingly putting into his body. Francis felt sickened by what he saw. He wasn't disconcerted because of Arthur's lack of self control, but because he was able to completely understand the emotional turmoil. Arthur leaned against the countertop and gasped for breath. "I. I drink because." he panted hard. "I see her. I can see her and she comes back to me."

Francis stopped what he was doing and rushed over to grab Arthur as he slumped forward. Arthur was so heavy, groaning pitifully into Francis's apron. Francis tried his best to keep a good grip, holding him steady so that he wouldn't slam onto the floor. The poor bastard was feeling low enough already. "I'm sorry." whispered Francis, knowing that it wasn't enough for Arthur. Arthur wasn't in a state to graciously receive any kind of advice right now, even if the thoughts were buzzing in Francis's mind. "What does she tell you?"

"She says…" said Arthur, struggling to help right himself on his own. "She walks up to me, with those sad sad eyes and tries to tell me, she... she tries to tell me… 'Arthur, I love you' " he cooed, his voice getting soft and low. Then, the rage bubbled in his voice again as he reared up. "And I call her a liar! " Arthur closed his eyes, pausing, his voice lowering again. "Sometimes. Not all the time."

"Arthur, Please remember to stay with me." reminded Francis urgently, seeing Arthur's eyes glass over as the man went into his own dark world within his mind.

"But I need to hear it. No matter if it's the truth or a lie. I never hear it from anyone anymore." whispered Arthur, closing his eyes. "Nooobody...tell me anything. Nobody loves me. It's just what I've ended up deserving. Absolutely nothing."

Deep down, Arthur was just like everyone else in this world. Scared and soft underneath the bitter shell of adulthood. Francis shook his head. "Don't fall into that." said Francis firmly. "You'll never survive." He took the empty beer can from Arthur's hands, tossing it in the sink and stepping forward to wipe at Arthur's tears.

"Everything w-went to hell when she left." sniffed Arthur, looking away and wiping his face with his hands on his own, leaving his eyes red. "She left so hatefully, so violently." Arthur looked up with a gasp, eyes as wide as an animal facing its impending death. "So many nightmares. I see her...and...I see her. I see her." Arthur put his hands on Francis's shoulders. "Hana…"

Francis was mortified by how scattered and patchwork Arthur's mental stability seemed right now. Taking a deep breath, Francis straightened his position and squeezed him close. "You don't see anything, Arthur." he said weakly. "There isn't anyone here but you and me."

"I see…" insisted Arthur, his voice cracking. "It was your fish. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me for the fish."

Oh crap.

What was Arthur even talking about? Francis swallowed hard. "Arthur- It's...We're in the kitchen!"

Arthur stopped his mumbling and looked up. It seemed to be working, whatever Francis was doing. Francis closed his eyes and tried his best to fix this. "It's Autumn. Mid November in England."

"England…?" repeated Arthur, his grip on Francis loosening.

Francis nodded and smiled thinly. "It's 6 in the evening. You have two beautiful kids who love you very much. Alfred and Matthew Kiku Kirkland. You live on Princess Street in a wonderful house with them."

Arthur nodded weakly. "And...Hana." he added.

"No." said Francis. "With me."

"Who are you?"

"I'm Francis." said Francis softly, a gentle smile spreading on his face as Arthur calmed down. "Francis Bonnefoy, the prostitute that warned you not to get into the car."

Francis could feel that Arthur had stopped shaking. He pulled away and noticed that he himself had started panting as well, the situation taking an emotional toll from him as well. "From Canal Street." he finished, hoping he had succeeded in bringing Arthur back to reality.

Arthur looked at Francis, staring at him hard before finally sighing. "She's not here…" he realized. He shook his head mournfully, turning around and trudging out of the kitchen in sluggish shame.

Chapter Text

"Alfred! Matthew! Dinner's done!" called Francis from the kitchen.

There was the sound of scuffling in the hallway, followed by rapidly approaching footsteps and in popped Alfred and Matthew as eager as puppies, jaws agape.

"Holy crap!" said Alfred, seeing cup of stew already set up on the table. "It looks so good!" Matthew nodded in agreement, eyes wide.

"Ha! But how could you expect any less from me?" purred Francis. Just then, his sensitive nose tingled a bit and he covered his mouth. "My...you both-" he began, trying to find a delicate way to say it. "You two smell incredibly minty! Oh my goodness!" Francis fanned the air. As soon as he had commented on it, the aroma almost seemed to have intensified. "What IS that? "

"Oh, sorry." said Alfred, spitting into the trashcan and giving Francis a crooked grin.

"It's gum." said Matthew softly, turning away as he wrapped his own piece in foil and discreetly tossed in the garbage after Alfred. "Do you want some?"

"Ah, no I'm fine..." said Francis, turning his head away. That gum, the simple smell of it was making him feel a little dizzy, he could only imagine how much it would burn if he actually chewed it. But he supposed that today's generation was simply much more used to the powerful flavors. Still, at least they were able to appreciate his cooking nonetheless.

"I'm going to go take a bowl to Arthur." said Francis, his stomach too unsettled to eat right away with the two brothers.

Matthew perked up and smiled. "I think he'll really like it." hr said. "You should bring him a ton."

Francis beamed from the compliment and he ladled a serving of soup into Arthur's bowl. He knew the other two would be okay by themselves, they weren't children after all. In fact, they were perfectly capable of managing their own business even if they needed just a nudge of guidance now and then.

Francis steeled himself for the worst when he opened the door, half expecting to see Arthur face down on the floor, having drowned in a pool of his own vomit. He opened his eyes slowly and found Arthur lying on his side in bed, almost as though he were sleeping. Clearing his throat, Francis held the tray steady in both hands as he walked in. "Arthur?" he said softly when Arthur's body hadn't stirred. "Arthur...?"

After a long sigh, Arthur finally answered. "What is it."

"I brought you some dinner."

"Thank you.” said Arthur, groaning as he turned toward Francis. "I'm terribly sorry but honestly, I'm hungry right now. Thank you." he chattered in a low croak.

"You're going to eat." said Francis. Arthur's insistence was definitely compensating for something else, possibly his embarrassment from the way he had acted earlier. "It's warm and it's good for you." he said, placing the tray on the bedside table.

Arthur furrowed his brow and sat up. "Ugh! For goodness sakes! I'm not ungrateful, I just thought I had made it clear that I don’t wish to eat right now!" he exclaimed, clutching his stomach. Why couldn't Francis just take no for an answer and leave him alone.

His frown faltered. Leave him alone to what? To wallow in self pity? Arthur had spent so much time alone already and now that there was someone else -someone who had taken the time to cook a meal for him- Arthur was treating him like garbage. Francis said nothing, hands clasped in front of him upon his apron as he waited.

Perhaps Arthur felt as though he were betraying her. Arthur's stomach twisted as he thought of the last meal she had cooked. Their last family dinner before everything ended and she had left. When Hana's love for him had halted.

He stared at the spoon that Francis now extended to him as the extra nudge to get him to eat. Arthur could see his distorted reflection in the curved silver surface. Good god. He looked disgusting. His hair was greasy, sticking out in a scraggy unkempt manner. His eyes, swollen and puffy, with miles of bags upon bags underneath them. He looked scrubby and unshaven, lips chapped, face blotchy and flushed.

He looked homeless. And here was Francis, the one who was actually homeless, with his thick hair in tight curls, his eyes a shiny bright blue, his beard trimmed to an acceptable neat and clean level. Francis, of all people, giving Arthur soup. The irony was enough to make Arthur's brain throb in rebellion.

Despite what he had said about not being hungry , Arthur picked up the tray from the table and laid it across his lap, taking the spoon from Francis. "Thank you" he muttered. He moved slowly as he skimmed the soup, taking only the broth, and blew on it to cool it down. Francis smiled in encouragement. Arthur considered the taste for a moment then dipped his spoon down to get more, a cube of beef and potato making the bite all the more scrumptious. He meant to say something to Francis, either in apology for being difficult or to compliment his food, but he was so busy appreciating the splendor of flavor that he seemed to be too distracted.

Francis didn't mind. He could tell that Arthur really appreciated the food even if it hadn't officially been said. "You look like you haven't had a nice home cooked meal in a long time." said Francis.

"I cook plenty of times." said Arthur.

"I said a nice meal."

Arthur scowled, taking a bite of the loaf of bread. "Hmph...you don't even know what my food tastes like."

"Why of course I do!" said Francis brightly. "You're a native Englishman aren't you? Obviously it tastes like baked garbage." he giggled, then sighed. "Speaking of which, Alfred and Matthew act as though they just survived a famine with the way they devour my cooking. Oh the poor dears probably got used to it too."

"I try my best alright?" said Arthur, already having had enough of the teasing and starting to feel hurt. He tried his best to keep his tone level, but his bitter expression betrayed him. Francis blinked in surprise and frowned, biting his lip.

"I'm sorry." he said honestly, nodding. There was a short pause as Arthur continued to eat. "If you like, you could stay and watch while I'm in the kitchen." he offered. "Then you could learn, besides, I do need someone I can pass on my secrets to."

"Do you have any children?" asked Arthur suddenly, looking up. Francis's eyes widened and he looked away quickly, not meeting Arthur's eyes and certainly not liking that sparkle of hope that had shone in them.

"I...Well I think it's fairly obvious that I don't." he said in an annoyed growl.

"What I meant to say was, did you ever plan on having them?" said Arthur, clarifying his question. "It's never too late I mean, were you ever in love with a woman before?"

"How do you like the soup?"

Arthur pounded his fist on the tray, the spoon rattling loudly in the bowl and startling Francis. "Stop dodging my questions!" he barked. It seemed that every time Arthur tried to learn a little more about Francis, the other would change the subject. It wasn't even that serious in all honesty, but it was the principle of Francis acting so shifty that was eating Arthur up. "You practically know my life story by now while you're still a mystery to me and I really don't like it!"

Francis lowered his head, folding his arms and standing his ground. "I really don't see how it's any of your business." he said lowly.

"In that case, why are all my flaws your business then?" countered Arthur. He frowned and then shook his head, taking a deep breath. “Alright look…I’m not asking you to spill government secrets? It’s just not fair of you to expect me to spill my guts and to be open and trust you when you’re all locked up tighter than the queen’s jewels. You understand?”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m a child.” Snapped Francis. “Is that the only reason why you care? You think that just because I know things about you that you should know things about me?” he said, crossing his arms and scowling bitterly. “Ever since I met you, you’ve made up your own story of what my life has been like. You think I deserve the hand I’ve been dealt and you won’t even admit to yourself that the reason I’m even here is your fault!”

Arthur had already regretted his outburst and now that Francis was trying to remind him of his own responsibilities, he felt even more guilty. “I-…” He bit his lip, knowing that Francis was right. He didn’t want to admit it, but he didn’t have the energy to fight. He didn’t have the heart to lash out. “Just forget it. Come to think of it, you could always come out with a fake story. I’d rather not force anything out of you unless it was the complete and honest truth.” He said, starting to eat again, although a little less enthusiastically. He could feel the “I’m sorry” wanting to bubble forth from his lips, but he just couldn’t bring it up. Francis watched him carefully and his expression softened, arms unfolding.

“I think the reason I find you so damn irritating is because you’re so stubborn.” Said Francis. “Always wanting to go off and do your own thing. Trying to tell yourself that no matter what you do it was the right thing.” Francis looked away. “That’s the kind of person I used to be before I was homeless.”

Arthur flinched at the word. He continued to eat, trying to distract his mouth to absorb what Francis said rather than respond. It seemed that Francis preferred to reveal himself on his own terms, and only when he felt that it would truly helped Arthur. His resistance was only making the other close off even more.

This was what he would have to deal with if he wanted to get better. If Arthur wanted to get a better relationship with Alfred and Matthew, if Arthur was going to stop seeing Hana haunting his head, if Arthur wanted to stay out of jail, he had to listen to Francis. The worst thing that could happen would be that it all ended up being a lie and ended up with Francis robbing and murdering him in his sleep which would have been mildly inconvenient, but didn’t seem all that bad.

“Arthur…” said Francis, sitting down on the bed and looking down. “To be homeless…means not having a home. It doesn’t mean that you’re on the street because you were a drug addict or gambled all your money away. It only means…You have no home.” He said, hugging his arms. “And when you have no home, you have no shower, no bed, no kitchen, no washing machine. But when you beg for just enough money to have some bread, people sneer and say ‘Get a job!’ ”

Francis looked up with a sad smile. “And that’s all you’ve ever wanted was a job…But oddly enough, their attitudes change quickly when you offer to work at their company.”

Arthur was stunned by Francis’ passion and was glad that he had stayed quiet to listen. “That’s…truly astounding.” He said.

Francis looked up in surprise, not having expected that to come from Arthur. “But I can’t even be angry at you for your attitude!” he said suddenly. “There are plenty of those who were in my position who squandered their opportunities and unfortunately, they’re the loudest most obnoxious bunch.”

“Please, you don’t have to justify what I thought before.” Said Arthur gently. “I want to say that I think I may…understand. “That kind of vicious whirlpool, I’m…I’m glad that you were able to escape from it.”

Francis took a deep breath and gave a weak smile. “Now, all that’s left is for you to try to take the damn life preserver I’m throwing to you.”

Arthur smiled. “Thank you for the meal Francis.” He said, setting the tray aside on the table. “I really did enjoy it. I’m going to sleep.”

Francis took the tray from the table, the spoon rattling in the empty bowl. His smile grew stronger. “Good night Arthur.” He said kindly. “After I clean the dishes I’ll-”

“Alfred and Matthew will do it.” Said Arthur with a yawn, pulling the blanket over his shoulder and turning his pillow over to the dry, not drooled on, side. “Or leave it till the morning, just come to bed.”

Francis’ grip on the tray trembled in shock and he had to ground himself in reality to make sure everything didn’t smash onto the floor. “Come- As, in— in the bed with you?” And Arthur was the one who accused Francis of being a prostitute all the time.

“Well, I must admit I initially did plan on having you sleep on the couch. But it does get fairly cold this time of year and it’s not the least bit comfortable for longer than an hour.” Said Arthur, closing his eyes. He was sure that Francis had dealt with enough sleeping on hard uncomfortable surfaces for a lifetime.

“Thank you.” Said Francis softly. “I’m not too tired at the moment, but I’ll come to bed soon.”

“Not too late.” Mumbled Arthur. “Dont need cold feet brushing me awake at 3 in the morning.”

Francis chuckled softly as he took the tray. “That’s fine, I’ll keep that in mind.”

Chapter Text

“That poor bastard is gonna end up like barbecue. Just come back to bed Toni.”

“Not now Lovi…I have to at least try.”

Lovino Vargas was a spoiled Italian man who always managed to have his way. Whenever Antonio denied him what he wanted, there was sure for a temper tantrum to ensue until he got exactly what he wanted. Antonio could feel the pressure building hotter than oil sizzling in a frying pan. This was the fifth time that Lovino had asked him to stop his paperwork on Arthur’s case and come to bed and he could just smell the trouble ready to come if he didn’t finish up soon.

Growling slowly, Lovino scuttled forward and reached out with his leg, pressing his foot against the back of Antonio’s head. “I’m losing my patience man…” he groaned. “I’m giving you 5 minutes. Every minute after that is gonna be one day where you’re going to have to make love with your mano solo.” He said with a mischievous grin. “No VargASSfor you.”

Antonio weeped internally, trying to write as fast as he could with Lovino bouncing his leg on the back of his head. He really was masochistic to be in love with such a man but then again, he was masochistic to be friends with someone as self destructive as Arthur as well. Perhaps he found himself simply being attracted to stressful people and the drama they brought or, more likely, he was simply just a pendejo.

Just then, the house phone rang. Right when Antonio glanced at it in consideration, Lovino darted forward to snatch it right up. “No.” He said, his voice sounding almost like a warning. “I got this, you hurry the hell up.”

“Are you feeling lonely?” asked Antonio with a gentle smile.

Lovino scowled and laid back on the bed, ignoring Antonio to give him a taste of his own foul medicine. “Yo, Wassup? Whattaya want?” he barked into the phone.

"Oh! Hello Lovino! Aw you sound so cranky, how adorable! Don’t tell me Antonio isn’t spoiling you like he should?” purred the voice on the other end. Lovino’s eyes widened and he sat up straighter, grinning.

“Shit, Francis!” he exclaimed. “Oh damn, tell me about it, this evil bastard is letting me freeze to death on this bed all alone.” Antonio leaned back and reached for the phone and Lovino sprang back with a hiss, holding it close to his chest. “Antonio, mind your fucking business and get back to work.

“Lovino come on I-”

“No! Shut the hell up and go do your crap since it’s so important right?” said Lovino with a twisted, triumphant smirk.

Francis couldn’t help but chuckle at the commotion he heard going on on the other side of the phone. “Well, actually Lovino, after we’re done catching up it would be wonderful if I could talk to Antonio.”

“Sure, but he’s busy right now.” Said Lovino without missing a beat. Now he had to keep Antonio at bay by shoving his foot in the other’s face. “Ooh, now you wanna come here huh? Nnngh keep away!” he whined, gasping in effort. He pressed the phone to his ear again. “He’s doing paperwork for that jackass Arthur, but you can tell me whatever the hell is going on right now.”

Francis wanted to redirect that question right back to Lovino. He could only imagine how “busy” Antonio was right now, since he was struggling for a chance to talk to Francis right away. Francis felt almost guilty that he was taking time away from Arthur’s case just because he wanted to have a little chat with his long-time friend. The problem with Antonio was that he cared too much. The Spanish man’s passion was a gift and a curse.

Francis took a deep breath that sounded more like a forlorn sigh. “Well it’s…I’m not even sure where to begin…” Lovino considered Francis for a moment, clicking his tongue.

“Aaah….okay, here’s what I’m gonna- AAAAAh Are you licking me? Fuck! You nasty fucker! “ There was a thunk as the phone was dropped and all Francis could hear was mumbled incoherent yelling in Spanish and Italian.

Finally, Francis heard panting on the other end and an exasperated “Hola”. He smiled, he could only imagine how hard Antonio had to fight to gain control of the phone. “Hey Francis, Can you hear me? I put you on speaker.”

“Mmhm, I can hear you fine.” Said Francis softly.

“How you doing, Francis?” asked Antonio earnestly.

Francis smiled awkwardly, switching the phone from one ear to the other to get more comfortable. “Aah, well I’m-…” he stammered, not liking the uncertainty that was obvious in his voice.

Lovino snickered in the background. “It’s that bad ah?” he interjected.

“Ooh- no not bad it’s-”

“It’s so bad, it’s like hell unleashed up in that shit right?’

“Well-”

“And imagine, they’re probably still putting on a show to impress you or something, you probably haven’t seen any of the real fury yet.”

“Lovino-”

“Oh man, tell me, what’s worse? Living in the street or living with that-”

“CARAMBA Lovino!” snapped Antonio. “Are you going to let the man talk?”

Lovino snorted and rolled his eyes, granting that Antonio did have a point without giving him the credit. “Shiiiit fine. Okay Francis, start at the beginning, no no. What’s going on with you and Arthur? Did you give him a good bitch smack yet? I keep telling Toni he needs one.”

“That, I don’t argue with you.” Added Antonio.

Francis paused in case they were going to start rioting with each other again. He bit his lip, trying to think of a delicate way to put it without outright lying. “No…nothing like that but I can admit it’s rather hard for him to deal with.” Said Francis. “He did end up overdoing it again.”

Antonio pounded his fist against the wall and snarled in disgust, ruffling his hands into his hair. “Why do I bother!” he exclaimed with frustration.

“No no no no!” said Francis quickly. “Antonio I don’t think that he really got ah…wasted wasted. I think he only had about…one beer and a half? I think if I wasn’t here he would have downed a whole six pack, because I had to keep him out of the refrigerator so much. I just didn’t expect him to get drunk so quickly.”

“That bitch is lighter than cotton.” Said Lovino with a nod. “But nah that’s actually sorta better than how much he normally pushes it. I mean I barely get buzzed with two but whatever.”

Antonio shook his head. “You know, I just don’t understand…”

“That’s right, it’s not so simple Antonio.” Said Francis with a frown. “You’re too busy thinking in law again.”

“I have to.” Said Antonio. “If I don’t he’s doomed.” Antonio shook his head as well. “I don’t have time to be his friend and his lawyer at the same time.”

“Easy man…” said Lovino gently, rubbing Antonio’s arm. “Don’t stress out so much.”

“I’m sorry.” Said Francis weakly. “I didn’t mean anything by that.”

“It’s cool.” Said Lovino. “Listen, just let him finish Arthur’s papers okay? What you think about his kids? Alfred gave you a bunch of shit right?”

“Why does everyone keep acting like he’s some sort of daredevil? They both seem sweet.” Said Francis in confusion.

“Eh, those kids are both weird if you ask me.” Said Lovino. “Alfred really is a fat ass, but it’s kinda cute you know? One time Antonio brought some leftovers to their house and he called begging for me to make more.” Bragged Lovino, snickering.

“But you don’t think he’s…too big do you?” asked Francis nervously.

“I mean he’s definitely no model.” Snorted Lovino with a shrug. “Yeah he could do good with a summer without ice cream, know what I mean?”

“Well, what about Matthew? He seems to have a really strange attachment to that water bottle and half the time it’s almost as though he’s not on this planet.”

“Oh, well he’s the kinda kid to blend in with the wallpaper, so I dunno. But I heard he’s some kinda smart guy. Maybe he’s one of those artsy types.”

“Hmm?” Francis lit up a bit. “I never thought to ask either of them about that. I certainly hope so.”

“Ahh, okay I’m done.” Said Antonio at last a sigh escaping from him as he arranged the papers into a folder, making sure everything was in order before standing up. “Gimme the phone.” He said, shedding his shirt and throwing it to the floor, starting to take off his pants to get comfortable for bed. Lovino smirked at Antonio for a moment, his eyes scanning and going down, staring hungrily at that form but still keeping the phone to his pants. With a sigh, Antonio kicked off his pants and crawled forward, socks and underwear still on. “Lovi…come on…”

Lovino snickered and tried to roll away, but shrieked with laughter when Antonio hooked an arm around his waist and dragged him close. “Noooooo, you stupid bastard!” he whined gleefully as he was spooned against his lover’s chest. Antonio snatched the phone up from him while he was distracted, resting his head on Lovino’s shoulder.

“Okay, I’m here.” He said with a chuckle as Lovino squirmed against him, entangling their legs together. “So, How are you doing Francis?”

Francis smiled thinly. He could just feel the heaps of love and affection being shared on the other end, the soft coos from Lovino and the bubbly happiness in Antonio’s voice. Francis suddenly felt as though an icy shawl was being draped around him as his stomach sank lower and lower in desolate longing. He nodded gently. “I’m fine.” He said quietly. “I…really want to thank you for doing this for me.”

“Si.” Replied Antonio immediately. “Anything to get you back on your feet. But tell me what’s wrong?”

Francis was unable to keep this stone wall as absolute as it was with Arthur. He knew Antonio for far too long in that respect. Antonio had been the pole that Francis was able to grab onto when the winds of turmoil and suffering threatened to toss him into the nothingness. Antonio had been the life preserver that threw himself to Francis when he was in peril. For Francis to keep a secret from Antonio: feelings, dreams, desires, would be a crime that he would be unable to repent for no matter how many good deeds he did. Yet his voice wouldn’t bubble out from his throat, as though his lungs had refused to stop working at this very moment of truth. He didn’t know where to start.

“You’re not feeling alone anymore are you?” asked Antonio.

Francis was vaguely reminded of Arthur’s actions from earlier and how he had tried to play a guessing game to find out what was wrong with Francis. He felt his face heat up as he swallowed. “Ah, No…” he said softly.

“I know you can do this.” Said Antonio. “Especially there, Princess Street is such a good neighborhood, much better than Canal I was always so worried about you.”

“Ugh. I was fine.” Huffed Francis in annoyance. “Even if someone did try to share their love with me, my pencils are always nice and sharp.”

“Listen, at least you don’t have to worry about something like that anymore at all right?” said Antonio. “If anyone can help my friend, it’s you. I believe in you Francis. I think you can be the best thing to happen to Arthur. You know that right? You’re like a…a…what do you call it? Like a Saint. Saint Francis. A guardian angel.”

Francis couldn’t help but laugh weakly. “Really? An Angel on Princess Street? That sound’s like last minute title for some kid’s tearjerker novel.”

“Well, it’s the best story you’re writing.” Encouraged Antonio. “And I know it’s going to have a happy ending right? I want you to do whatever you can to get Arthur back to his senses. I think he’s gone loca without his love, but I think…”

“His wife left him, didn’t she?” asked Francis. “I mean…was he always like this?”

“Oh no no no no, nothing like this.” Said Antonio, shifting to get a better grip on hugging Lovino, who was dozing lightly in his arms. Antonio lowered his voice so as to not disturb the other. “Arthur was so much nicer. He was the best gentleman you could know. He was great with me, with his kids. And Hana, his wife. She was such a good woman.”

“It sounds like she meant the world to him.” Said Francis with a sigh.

“She was his whole universe.” Agreed Antonio. “He even bought a house in America so they could have their family together. They came back here….I think a year before Hana left. Then…everything just changed and everyone changed. Arthur still won’t tell me the details, just that she took off and left them. And all she left behind was a note. And he’s so angry, it’s scary. Like a witch’s wrath.”

Francis nodded. “He’s angry…but so sad.”

“Si.” Said Antonio. “Like you were.”

Francis was quiet for a moment, before he echoed. “Like I am.”

“But it’s going to change for both of you, I trust you.”

Francis took a deep breath. “I already feel so attached to Alfred and Matthew and…well, even if he is an idiot, I’m worried about Arthur.”

“You’re so kind.” Said Antonio in praise.

“I think…” said Francis. “I’m going to try my hardest to fix this mess.”

“I know how much this means to you.” Said Antonio.

“I can’t…let this happen again. I can let these poor kids end up like me.” Said Francis shakily.

“Sssshhh….” Cooed Antonio.” Go and make miracles, Angel.”

Chapter Text

America hates thirteen

Japan dislikes four

Unlucky numbers

they will bring

Misfortune on your door

But the worst number

you’ll agree

Is one

like me.

*****************

As soon as Francis had hung up the phone, the resulting silence in the air troubled him deeply. Slumping back against the couch, Francis could hear the rumble of rain right outside the window. Here he was, thanks to Antonio’s determination, in a shelter that left him dry, safe and with a full belly without having to give any money in return. Closing his eyes, Francis exhaled softly. He knew that above all else he should have been over the moon about his situation. At the same time, a dark and cold weight seemed to press harder and harder on his chest, threatening to pull his heart down into sinister depths.

He turned on his side. There was no way he could let these feelings happen again. After years of dealing with a hard-knock life that slammed terrible luck into him at every turn, Francis had tried his best to develop a mentality that took life day by day instead of fretting about the future. It had been essential for his survival. Whenever Francis had dwelled upon what his ultimate fate would be, there just wasn’t any hope left in him to think that he would acquire a stable life at all. Then, he would just be too depressed to even try to go on, not having the energy to work, rationing too little food for himself, and starting a cycle of self torment that his friends would have to smack him out of.

On top of everything, Francis was growing more and more stressed from this living situation with Arthur and his children. It was only his first night, but he could see the tension within everyone and how badly they were suffering. It reminded Francis of just how terrible family life for him had been in the months leading up to his homelessness. He just knew the horrors that would befall the Kirkland household if he allowed this chaos to go on. Even though Arthur was difficult and frustrating, Francis would do anything to keep this family from turning into a copy of his own.

Francis wasn’t particularly sleepy yet, especially not with how badly his mind was whirring tonight. In fact, he was positive that if he were to try to doze, horrible nightmares would invade his mind, bringing him back to remember the past. No. The past didn’t belong to him anymore. He reached for the wine glass and took a slow, calculated sip. He appreciated the cool sweetness and was grateful for that tingling burn it left behind. Francis could understand why Arthur chased down that feeling so feverishly. He could understand, but he couldn’t excuse it.

With one last gulp of his drink, Francis forced himself up off the couch and onto the floor, turning on the light so that he could sort through his luggage. He hadn’t brought back much from his hotel room, the building was so cheap they didn’t even provide their customers with soap, shampoo or even towels. Their usual clientele consisted of hookers and swingers, druggies and drunkards and of course the homeless. Since they had taken the term “complimentary” to the extreme, the hotel had been forced to only provide such toiletries to the rare naive and affluent customer, since they usually paid for the more expensive rooms anyway.

As Francis refolded some of his clothes more neatly, he thought about his time there. He wasn’t sure how he felt about knowing such much about that place, but there was a lot that he knew about many other places, far worse little hovels than that hotel. He squeezed a sweater tensely as the thought passed through his mind, taking a deep breath. He was here now and safe now. That was all that mattered.

Aside from his clothes and personal toiletries, Francis had only one other bag that was essential to his survival. A large black and battered fabric briefcase that he unzipped and opened it up. On top of everything in the suitcase was a sizable piece of thick cardboard, edges reinforced with tape. Francis smiled warmly as he reached for it and swept the stray pieces of lint away laying it onto his lap. Reaching into the suitcase again, he pulled out a small stack of paper to pile onto the cardboard and searched around blindly for a pencil on the bottom.

With the weight of his beloved tool back in his hands, Francis smiled. It had only been a day since he had used them last, but it had felt like forever. Still, the sight of his makeshift desk made him feel somewhat sad. He flipped through the papers, lingering on pages that had sketches of the passerby’s he had drawn while loitering on back on Canal Street. He blew lightly at the eraser shavings left behind on them and frowned, looking up again.

This clutter was only stressing him out more. After considering the pile of his clothes and his collection of art supplies, Francis resigned himself to the fact that they would have to be organized after asking Arthur for some spare storage space. Still, he needed to get his junk away from the doorway. He gathered everything back up and picked up his bags, still holding the cardboard, paper and pencil combo in one hand as he crept down the hallway quietly to Arthur’s room.

Arthur was sound asleep, his breathing as steady and sure as the raindrops on the glass. He was on his side underneath the covers, facing toward the window. Francis held his breath, not wanting to wake him up by causing too much noise. He’d just stuff his things temporarily underneath the bed and then head to sleep himself.

Francis got down on his knees, bending to see a good place to shove his things in. What surprised Francis was that, for a grown man, the underside Arthur’s bed was remarkably already filled with things. Francis spotted a couple of wooden hoops along fabric, a pile of scattered letters among photographs and several composition notebooks as well as a small padlock box.

He would have to clean under here eventually anyway… So it wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look at these things, if only to loosen up the dust a bit. It was weak reasoning, but it made enough sense to Francis, especially since it gave him permission to try to get a closer look at Arthur’s personal life without all the drama and whining. He reached forward and froze in horror, having touched something fuzzy in the darkness. Dear god did he hope that it wasn’t a mummified dead rat.

Carefully, Francis pulled the little treasure out and found himself faced with what appeared to be an old scrapbook. It was very well used, the light pink faux fur completely missing in a few patches on the front as well as a collection of loose line paper sticking out in awkward angles from between the pages. There was a white square in the middle of the cover that was supposed to have a title or at name of who this belonged to, but Francis couldn’t make out the scribbles on the line. They didn’t even resemble real letters. Was it…Japanese?

Francis had half a mind to put the book back where he had found it and pretend like he hadn’t seen anything but upon closer inspection he found that a couple of the scribbles weren't actually foreign letters at all, but small, doodles. They were amateurish and simple, but Francis could still…feel the emotion emanating from the sad silhouettes and desolate drawings. Gulping Francis cracked open the book, unable to deny his growing curiosity any longer.

As expected, he was only greeted with more text that he couldn’t read. He couldn’t even make a guess as to what it meant as there were no drawings on this page for context. If the whole book was just going to be undecipherable without outside help, he might as well put it away and forget about it, no matter how interesting it had seemed to be. Just as Francis was about to close it again, he stopped suddenly, his eyes widening when he detected English at the bottom, in the same handwriting.

I will soon escape

They wont hurt me anymore

I found a savior.

Francis could feel his heart pound in his chest, feeling as though her were on center camera in a horror film. He read the poem over again, and again. And again. He couldn’t believe how strongly 17 simple syllables were affecting him. Who in the world was this person? The only one Francis could think that might have written this was Arthur’s wife or ex wife, seeing as she wasn’t around anymore. Then again, that was pretty presumptuous of him. This book could have easily been written by a mother, or sister, or hell even an old boyfriend. Francis couldn’t help snorting at himself at the last crazy thought. Now he was just stretching things.

Francis flipped hastily through the book, engrossed by its mystery. As expected, there was mostly passages in Japanese that Francis could not figure out at all, but next to a few of them were scrawls in different handwriting completely, written in green ink. They were all beautiful poems, mostly haiku’s when he considered them, although some of the setups seemed to have broken the rules when translated into English.

He drank in the beautiful poetry, each one resonating withing him. Most seemed to have a tone of sadness and struggles although there were a few that seemed to express actual joy. He was inspired, frustrated that he couldn’t know what the rest of the words meant. Among the haiku’s were also longer passages both in the original and translated handwriting in English.

Just as Francis was about to read one, he heard Arthur groan and stir above him in the bed. In a panic, Francis pressed himself to the floor, holding his breath to keep the noise to a minimal. There was the sound of the bed frame creaking as Arthur rolled onto his other side, facing the doorway. Francis swallowed, nose deep into the book when he spotted another poem that he couldn't stop himself from reading.

When the suns rise

Scared little rabbits hide

Despite wolf’s demise

He almost felt insulted. With a sigh, Francis pulled away and quietly closed the book, pushing it back under the bed. How could an old book that had nothing to do with him resonate so deeply with his life? Francis tried to push it out of his mind as he carefully pulled himself back up with the help of a chair, having forgotten that his original goal was to shove his things underneath the bed in the first place.

Francis looked up at Arthur to see if there was any danger of him waking up soon. He blinked in surprise. For once, Arthur had such a peaceful expression on his face. Francis sat in the chair for a moment, simply staring at his features. The moonlight from behind was bright, but the marks of rain on the window casted an interesting texture and arrangement of shadows on Arthur’s face. Francis couldn’t describe this view as anything other than…riveting.

It had been so long since Francis had been truly inspired to draw something without the added stress of doing it for money or simply for the sake of building up his portfolio with better examples. He found himself automatically reaching for his pencil and cardboard, the weight in his hands driving a renewed energy in his heart. Maybe, just maybe, in capturing Arthur on the page, Francis would somehow be able to understand the puzzling man better.

Aside from the pattering of rain against the window, the night was still. Arthur didn’t move again. He didn’t shift or stir or snore, it was almost as if his body was encapsulating the behavior of the perfect model. It was perfect for Francis’ focus as he carved out the contours, perfected the proportions and slapped down shadows. Soon, Francis was satisfied enough to scribble his signature down in the corner and leaned back with a sigh to get a good look.

He could feel the sadness ebbing from the paper into his bones although he wasn’t sure if he had recorded what had seen or if it had been a reflection of his own emotions tainting his vision. Perhaps it was a combination of both, culminating into a picture that looked both tense and forlorn. Francis had honestly enjoyed the creation nonetheless. He smiled thinly as he ghosted his hand carefully over the drawing, appreciating how much he had improved recently.

A sense of euphoria and fatigue overcame Francis and he set the drawing on the bedside table, groaning weakly. He felt a lot better after making use of his craft but the day had still been extremely taxing on him both mentally and physically. Trying his best to stifle a yawn, Francis pushed the rest of his things under the bed with an outstretched leg and stood up. He tiptoed around to the other side of the bed, taking great pains to be discreet and quiet as he lifted up the blanket and barely sidled in, nearly balancing on the edge.

He hadn’t even bothered to shower or change clothes but neither had Arthur. Turning on his side to look out the window, Francis noticed that the rain had stopped. He didn’t even have to worry about it anymore, he was dry and safe for once. What comforted him even more as he closed his eyes was thinking of that mysterious book he had encountered. Even now, he could hear those poems echo in his brain, reminding him of his troubled past and, more importantly, how he wasn’t alone in his suffering.

Despite the fact that the book was obviously a treasure that Arthur wanted to keep secret, Francis was positive that he wasn’t able to resist. He could already imagine how he was setting up a trap for himself when Arthur eventually found out. Until then, Francis vowed to himself that no matter what happened, he would take the time to peek, even if it was only one tiny haiku, and try to use that book to help piece together the puzzled past and this perturbing present.

 

Chapter Text

The combination

To my hidden heart unlocked

From your honesty

*****************

The next morning came with the bright sun shining hard and hot on Francis’ face. He winced, covering his face as he felt the light burn his retinas from behind his eyelids. He felt so insanely soft and content right now, the bed so comfortable. Francis actually felt warm for once, greeted by the actual sunlight as opposed to waking up to the blare of a wakeup call in a hotel room with absolutely no windows. He turned over with a sigh, happy to be in covers that didn’t scratch him when he nudged his knee against something else warm and fleshy. A soft groan escaped into the air that wasn’t his own and Francis’ eyes flew open.

Unrelated and unfortunate memories came flooding back to Francis at that moment, reminding him of similar times he had been in this precarious situation. Luckily, he quickly realized that although this seemed familiar, it was in no way related to his previous hotel endeavors with strange people. It had been insane couple of days as of late and it was quickly taking a toll on his already wounded mental state. In fact, a small part of him was wishing he could reenact something much more romantic elsewhere to help take his mind off of this situation here.

Arthur was facing him in the bed, slowly bringing a hand up to his own face and rubbing at his eyes as well, slowly opening them up. Francis dropped his gaze from those emerald green eyes, biting his lip nervously, bracing himself for another shocked and judgmental outburst from Arthur.

“Morning…” said Arthur with a weak smile, seeming relatively docile about all this. Francis had a feeling that Arthur’s brain was fuddled by the early morning fog as well, for that smile unnerved him. He was pretty sure that smile wasn’t really for him, but he didn’t have the heart to say anything and break Arthur’s illusion. He could only feel the sadness lingering in the air, growing heavier as time went on. Francis’ history lesson on Arthur’s wife had given him a lot more insight into their relationship and their love.

The blast of reality seemed to finally hit Arthur when his eyes opened wider, staring quietly at the guilty look on Francis’s face. He turned away and pulled the covers off of him, rubbing his face harder. Francis sat up in concern as well, worried that there would perhaps be a quart of vodka hidden in the nightstand that Arthur would make a beeline for. Instead, Arthur looked back at Francis with a shrug. “How…did you sleep?” he asked, staring past Francis out of the window.

“Ah…Very well.” Answered Francis truthfully. He felt solemn, uncomfortable. Being around Arthur was like being in a vortex of confusion and complicated feelings. “It’s been a long time since I really had a good nights sleep. Thank you.” He said, running his fingers through his blonde curls and sighing. Even his hair hadn’t ended up as tangled and fluffy as it normally did overnight. “I didn’t disturb you at all last night, did I?’ he asked, sincerely hoping that he hadn’t made any “strange” movements after he had fallen asleep.

“I didn’t wake up at all until now, Don’t trouble yourself, It’s alright.” Said Arthur, ruffling his hair as well and turning back around to stretch. His hair was always shaggy and messy and he had simply grown to accept it rather than waste precious moments stressing over something so trivial. He yawned and stretched in the other direction, hearing the satisfying sound of bones popping and cracking. As his vision cleared, he spotted something strange on top of his drawer. “Mmm…What’s this?’ he said curiously.

Francis’ sleepy eyes shot open and he lunged forward with a sharp gasp. “Oh! No-Nothing for you to worry about! Let me get it.” He chattered, trying to get the drawing he had crated last night, lost in a heat of inspiration after looking over Hana’s journal and seeing Arthur’s peaceful face. Arthur dodged him and huffed, holding Francis back with an arm as he picked up the paper.

“Anything in my house is something for me to worry about.” He said, standing up and holding the paper in both hands, peering closely. Francis fretted miserably, putting his hands in his hair and squeezing nervously. How could he have been so incredibly stupid. Why in the world had he let something like that just be left lying around. He shook in the bed, palms sweating as he looked up, trying to gauge Arthur’s reaction. Arthur didn’t say a word, didn’t even move a muscle as he stared at it. Francis bit his lip harder.

‘Go ahead…rip it apart.” He thought in dismay. Francis was already saying his goodbyes to that picture, envisioning Arthur calling him a sick pervert, ripping up the paper and calling Antonio to bitch about creepy Francis was. To his great surprise, when Arthur looked up from the drawing into his eyes, there was a look of wonder on his face.

“Did…Did you do this?” he asked, moved. He stepped forward and sat down on the bed again, showing Francis the picture. He ghosted a hand over the lines, careful not to touch the paper and smudge the marks. Francis slowly lowered his shaking hands to his lap, relief creeping in. He swallowed and reached forward to grasp a corner of the paper, nodding.

“Yes Well…it’s only a sketch, let me just get it out of your way.”

“A sketch?” huffed Arthur, pulling away to admire it some more, away from Francis’ desperate grabby hands. “No No No… I think it’s amazing.” He said with a soft smile. “Everything- I mean…The light, my hair…the face. I didn’t know you were so talented. It may sound foolish but… but this looks more like me than I do!”

“Oh stop.” Said Francis, smiling as well, flattered by the praise. “Thank you Arthur, Ah, but don’t you-”

“Why did you do this?” asked Arthur suddenly, growing serious as he looked to Francis. Francis found himself flustered again from being put on the spot. He thought back to that lovely journal, wondering if there was a poem within those pages about someone having to hide their true intentions, both from themselves and someone else.

“Well…I’m an artist.” Said Francis with a shrug, getting out of bed so that he could stop feeling so vulnerable. “It was what I did to make money when I was on the streets. Portraits of people, mostly for tourists from America. I suppose I just couldn’t drop the habit.” He said weakly. “I honestly didn’t think you had an appreciation for the arts Arthur.” Francis looked away with a frown, touching his with a tinge of regret. Arthur rose as well, looking a bit more tense.

“I think it’s very impressive to be able to do something like this.” He said somewhat defensively, reading Francis’s modesty as something else entirely. He liked this picture a lot, and this strange attitude of Francis was making him feel almost guilty. “Of course I appreciate the arts, it takes a lot of work to be able to express yourself in such a way.”

Francis looked up, struggling to process all this praise. “I appreciate it.” He said. “I’ve also been able to draw from my imagination as well-” he added, instantly regretting spilling that tidbit the moment it left his lips. It sounded so childish. “Aha…so would you like some breakfast?” asked Francis, changing the subject.

Arthur smiled, carefully setting the picture down on the bedstand. “Ah yes, what did you make?” he asked. Francis paused for a second and felt a spear pierce through his heart in sudden realization.

“Oh my goodness…” he gasped, clutching his chest. He had been so busy snooping around last night that he had forgotten to prepare anything beforehand. Poor Alfred and Matthew must have had to gone to school without breakfast. How could he have been so irresponsible! Seeming to sense Francis’s feeling of doom, Arthur waved his hand.

“Hey…It’s alright if you didn’t do it yet.” He said with a smile. “Alfred and Matthew normally have cold or nuke their breakfast on the weekdays. Cereal, Toast and the like. I haven’t had a chance to make them something good in quite a while, certainly not pancakes.” Said Arthur, his smile faltering as he thought it over.

“I could make them! They’re very simple to do from scratch.” Offered Francis eagerly, wanting to shift attention off of him and start filling their stomachs, hopefully clearing away their muddled heads as well.

“Then let’s head to the kitchen then. You can tell me more about your art.” Said Arthur in genuine interest, leading the way out into the hallway.

“Oh no, it’s fine. I can handle it by myself.” Said Francis. He didn’t really want to continue that conversation. “Why don’t you just have a quick shower and breakfast should be ready by the time you’re out.”

“I’m not worried about the time.” Said Arthur with a shrug. “A shower feels best with a full stomach in any case.” He said.

That’s what Francis was chiefly concerned about. Arthur heading over to the refrigerator and getting a head start on maintaining his beer belly. He knew that with an reliance as ingrained as his, it was impossible to quit cold turkey, but Arthur could at the very least hold out until later.

“Hey, maybe I could help?” asked Arthur, opening the fridge.

Francis grabbed the door with a smile. “Oh yes! That would be wonderful! Why don’t you get the flour from the pantry?” he suggested, trying to get Arthur as far away from the intoxicating bottles as possible.

Arthur smiled naively. “Ah, of course.” He said, turning off course to retrieve it. Francis held in a sigh of relief, getting the other ingredients from the refrigerator and laying them out on the counter. “So.” Said Arthur, bringing the bag of flour and setting it aside with the other wet ingredients. “When did you start doing that? The drawings?” he asked.

Francis set to work pouring everything into the bowl, mixing it as he went along. “I started when I was a child, back in Roubaix. There’s plenty of art in France. I was inspired by it all I suppose.” He said with a shrug, stirring in a fervor.

“Why did you make your way here to England anyway?” asked Arthur with innocent curiosity, getting a pan out onto the stove to heat it up for the pancakes. “I haven’t been to Roubaix specifically, but I’ve visited the rest of the country on several occasions.”

“Ah…That’s a bit of a long story.” Said Francis. “France will always be my homeland, but on my wandering travels, England just seemed to call to me more than anywhere else I’ve been too. Especially here in Manchester. Once Antonio and Lovino announced their engagement, I wanted to stay close to them. After all of their kindness, I still feel as though I’m in debt to them.” Explained Francis, feeling a little calmer as he discussed it. Despite his reservations, he couldn’t blame Arthur for being so suspicious. Especially if Francis was still going to keep quiet about himself after he had jumped into the deep dark well of this man’s troubles by his own decision. He sighed and rubbed a stick of butter on the hot pan, the sizzling sound and sweet smell filling the air.

Arthur breathed it in with a sigh, getting the tea kettle and filling it with water to place on the burner as well. “I don’t know if I would describe Lovino as “kind.” Said Arthur. “But…they really are both very supportive.” He said, looking through the tea cabinet. “Earl Grey okay?” he asked, getting a bottle of loose tea leaves.

Francis looked up curiously. “Oh, yes that’s fine.” He said. He would have preferred coffee but had only found instant in the cabinet the day before. “Thank you.”

Arthur nodded wordlessly, preparing the teacups with a quick rinse. “When did you first meet those two?” asked Arthur. “Antonio and I were friends in college. I didn’t meet Lovino until the time they finally met in person. I think they met online or something.”

“Yes that’s right.” Said Francis with a nod. “Antonio and I were friends since Secondary School. After that I was going to an art school until…” He grew quiet, getting out the spatula to flip the pancake.

“What were the circumstances?” asked Arthur, trying his best to keep his tone neutral.

“Family.” Said Francis, without much elaboration. Arthur’s curiosity only intensified, but he was starting to sense Francis was becoming uneasy again. It was a delicate operation, probing each other about their pasts, especially when they both struggled so hard to keep their history under wraps from the cruel and judgmental outside world as well as from their own critical egos.

“Family…” echoed Arthur, looking forlornly around the house. He squeezed the dish towel tightly, wringing the water out and dutifully washing off the counter top. He considered talking about his own for a brief moment, opening his mouth but the breath caught in his throat. “Y..Yes…”

The kettle whistled with a loud hiss just as Francis scraped the pancake off onto a plate and poured a second one to cook. “They kicked me out.” He said, grip tensing on the spatula. He waited with fury for Arthur to dare ask what Francis do wrong that had prompted his family to “do the right thing” or “what was best.” Instead, Arthur snorted in disgust, pouring the tea into the cups.

“A family like that I would have run away first.” He said. Francis blinked, trying to reign in his defensiveness, especially since that phrase didn’t seem accusatory. Instead, he laughed.

“So would I! But Ha…I’d spent so many nights riding my bike until legs burned and my body ached. Ha! And it didn’t help that I used to smoke back then too, I could never get very far before I changed my mind and rolled back home. They never even noticed I was missing…” he said, trailing off as he scooped up the other pancake onto the plate.

“I wanted to do the same thing when I was young. Only did it a few times though. I guess there’s something about the desperation and the air outside that just…makes everything easier to process.” He said, blushing a bit from being so revealing. “Ah…I don’t know if you think I’m making any sense or not.”

“It makes perfect sense to me.” Said Francis, trying to comfort Arthur as he set the table and opened the refrigerator again. His heart felt so heavy after revealing so much. He pulled out a beer and showed it to Artur with a weak smile. “Nip?” he asked. Talking about smoking had reminded him about how bad withdrawal was. Sure he had gotten furious about Arthur drinking a beer early in the morning, But that was only because he hadn’t yet known just how bad of an alcoholic the mean really was. He really did need this and it would a take a while of dilution and rationing before he could be weaned off for good. Arthur stared with wide eyes at the can, quiet for a moment before he looked up, a weak smile spreading as he reached out to take it.

“You know…I had completely forgotten about that until you offered.”

Chapter Text

Sweet Sticky Syrup

Helps me hold the sadness back

And Lets me forget

*****************

Although Francis despised himself for giving Arthur alcohol, he had to deal with the fact that it was a necessary evil for now. He could only hope that the effects would only be just enough to satisfy Arthur’s physical need without affecting his mind too much. This hope however, quickly evaporated toward the end of breakfast, with Arthur already showing signs of distraction and lethargy.

“You could have let me help you with this you know…” he pouted, scraping pancake shreddings around his plate in a spiraling motion, clockwise and then reverse, counterclockwise, tearing it apart more and more with each rotation.

“You did help me.” Said Francis, lifting the teacup and keeping calm. “I don’t really care for tea too much, but this is actually very refreshing.” He said, sipping again so as to avoid having to respond to whatever bullshit Arthur was going to come out with.

“And what makes it even more refreshing for me was the added drink.” Said Arthur with a smirk, stirring his own tea. In addition to the beer, he had managed to get away with putting a shot of vodka in the tea, strange, but efficient. “You’re not so bad after all.

Francis set the teacup down on the saucer with a sigh. “The only reason I let you do that is because you could get sick cutting it out cold turkey. I’m not supporting this habit, I’m just keeping you alive.” He said. Arthur snorted and smirked.

“Support, Condemn. I don’t really care, I get it either way.” He said, draining his cup and getting up to place it in the sink. “Go ahead and tend to that won’t you? Thanks for the meal.” Arthur turned and left the kitchen, leaving Francis a little annoyed by his attitude. Still, with a gentle nod, Francis got up and patiently collected the dishes to wash them. It was his duty after all.

Arthur headed back to his room and over to his computer, booting it up to check on his email. As he waited, he saw Francis’ drawing on the bedside table again and smiled, leaning over to pick it up. He laughed softly, adjusting his hair as though the paper were a mirror. “It’s so nice…so nice.” He said, laying it carefully on the table again. “I need a frame, or maybe I could scan a copy.” He mused, staring at it still, curling a hair around his finger. “I really do want to keep this safe…”

Reluctantly, Arthur tore his gaze away from the picture and looked back to his computer. To his surprise, he discovered a reply from Feliciano again.

[RE: Hi!

[Perfecto! Yes I’m so so so excited to meet you tonight! My fiance doesn’t speak English, but trust me, he is very happy too. :) I just cant wait to have lots of good food and talk about a really pretty house so we can have a doggy or kitty and love each other forever! See you soon my new friend! Ciao! :D]

Arthur cringed with a smirk. God, what a fucking idiot. It was like emailing a 4 year old about getting him a playhouse. Still, as long as Arthur fulfilled this end of the bargain, Antonio would still help him. Arthur’s amusement stopped then as he thought about it hard. A dinner party. It seemed like forever since he had attended one, as host or guest. He had no doubt that he still could maintain the manners and the wardrobe, but the mindset suited for carefree chatter eluded him still. In fact, the more he thought about joining Loving, Antonio, Feliciano and the fiance together for a dinner made him feel sick. What was worse was that he was the odd one out. He looked away from his computer and towards the bed, finding himself wishing for his wife. Damn her…if she was still here, Arthur probably wouldn’t have needed to go to this damn dinner party and be forced to deal with a manchild, a bitchy lawyer and his bratty husband to be.

He eyed underneath the bed and then scanned up, feeling his head pound painfully. He could see the two of them there, together again. Hana on the side of the bed near the stand, a notebook spread open with one hand a pen in the other. Her brown eyes behind the reading glasses scanned the page, seeming intent on her work. Arthur peered over with a smile, pen in hand as well and looking over what she wrote.

“How do you feel about me translating this into flower?” he asked, pointing to the appropriate character on the page.

Hana smiled. “Yes, That’s fine.” She said in approval. “I don’t mind if they don’t transrate well. Some of mine don’t follow the rules already.” She said calmly.

Arthur nodded in understanding. “Of course dear.” He said. A gentle laugh escaped him then. “I would never do anything to change your original intentions. Your writing is so beautiful after all.” Arthur paused and looked away. “Just like you.”

Hana bit her lip, staying quiet as her cheeks tinged a light pink, quickly writing down what she had in mind, her characters looking elegant and full of life even as she scrawled furiously. “Here.” She said, passing the notebook to him and looking away with a shy smile.

“Huh? Already?” he asked, taking the book and reading it over, translating it automatically as he went, not bothering to have it rhyme or have it fit the rules of a traditional haiku.

“In Summer’s cold and Winter’s warmth,

The touch of the beloved’s breath,

Turns everything into delightful insanity.”

Hana looked patiently at Arthur as he took the pen and wrote underneath, translating it into a “correct” English version. He leaned close to the page, his stare focused and intense, speaking his translation as he wrote it down.

“As the seasons pass,

The feel of my lovers breath

Shall drive me wild.”

Arthur looked out of his trance and it suddenly clicked that this poem was meant for him. “Ahh…Darling.” Said Arthur softly, setting it down and looking over at Hana.

Hana looked pleased, nodding her head. “I approve, I think it’s wonderful.” She said.

“Darling…” said Arthur again, leaning over to kiss her cheek, running his fingers through her soft black hair. “You drive me crazy too…I love you so much. You and the kids. I’ll always be happy with our wonderful family.”

Hana bowed her head and leaned into Artie gently, reaching to hug him back. “Arti-” she whispered, the sound fading into the softest echo.

With the vision fading from his mind’s eye, Arthur tore his gaze away from the bed, gasping hard. His arm felt cold, his heart heavy, his tongue dry. It just hurt too much to think about it. Here he was, pathetic and unhappy, with two beautiful sons who were being torn apart just as badly as he was. And all he could think about was himself. Wiping his eyes, he found himself craving more tea with a kick so that he would be able to kick this bad mood as well.

Still, no matter how upset he was, there was just no way of getting out of this. He stood up shakily, heading back to the kitchen and peeking around the corner, watching Francis do the dishes. He was quiet as the Frenchman dried the dishes, carefully putting them back as he started to clean the rest of the kitchen.

A flash and Hana was there, wiping down the counters, her hair tied back, her simple embroidered apron spotless as she made the rest of the kitchen so. She moved gracefully, doing it not out of duty, but out of love. Arthur felt his palms sweat as he watched his wife, kneel, running a towel over the lower cupboards and look up to spot him looking at her.

“Oh? Are you still hungry? Asked Francis curiously, standing up. “Or is it something else?

Arthur held back his shock at how quickly she had gone and tightened his grip on the wall, jumping out into full view and pointing at Francis. “

“I have a favor to ask of you!” he exclaimed. Francis looked mildly amused.

“Ah…okay?” he said.

“I need you to take care of Alfred and Matthew tonight. I’m off to a dinner at Antonio’s to meet Lovino’s brother. They need me to find him a house in Canal.” He fumed quickly, folding his arms.

“Ooooh, Feliciano’s coming?!” gasped Francis eagerly, dropping everything, his eyes sparkling. “You mean, he’s finally moving to England? Oh my that’s just perfect! So adorable too!” he cooed, going off into his own world and leaving Arthur’s irritated body language unnoticed.

“I’ve never met him.” Said Arthur. “I’ve only talked to him through email and…well he seems a little off.”

“He’s Italian.” reasoned Francis with a smile.”But in all seriousness, he’s just excitable. “Ah! You have to invite them to dinner here sometime! I need to catch up with him.

Arthur tensed at that suggestion. It seemed like it would be a fair solution to his problem in the future. At least then he’d be in the safety of his own home. “Perhaps some other time…but it would take quite a bit of work before that can be done.” He said, shifting in discomfort.

“Ohoho…Trust me I can cook like the best of them.” Said Francis, waving the cleaning rag to make his point. “Tell me how dinner tonight goes then. When are you leaving?”

“I believe I have to take the underground there…”said Arthur, folding his arms. “I should push Alfred to take the drivers test.” He mused.

Francis’ cheerful mood dissipated as he shot daggers at Arthur. “Why, do you need a personal escort on top of a maid and cook, rich boy?”

Arthur sneered and stuck his nose in the air. “What’s your problem? A designated driver shows that I have some responsibility.” He said, annoyed at the dig.

“The fact that you still plan to have a designated driver, not to mention have your son drive your plastered behind home doesn’t show much improvement on your part.” Countered Francis, moving to block the refrigerator.”Now get out of the kitchen.”

“This is my house!”

“Shoo.” Said Francis. “You want water, take it from the tap, it’s cold enough.” He said with a knowing smile.

Arthur grumbled. Francis was really getting too good at knowing what he was all about. Just to show that he didn’t come here only for a beer, Arthur took an empty glass and trounced over to the sink, filling it up and sipping slowly, staring daggers at Francis. It was quite a shame that the other was onto him…but there was nothing else he could do but finish that drink of water and storm out of the kitchen to the shower. He would need all day to mentally prepare himself for the horror that was going be confronting both that damn dinner party and his own emotions.

Chapter Text

You commit a crime

To find a time

That I have been unlawful

On me you place the blame

But if ever I did the same

We would both be in hell.

*****************

The slam of the front door signified the arrival of Alfred and Matthew, home from their daily torture of learning at dealing with other teenagers at school. “We’re HOME” called Alfred, immediately dumping his bookbag on the floor and rushing to the kitchen for something to snack on. To his great surprise, he was greeted with sandwiches on the table, freshly made, with the crusts cut off. “Woaaah…” gasped Alfred, slowly sitting down to his plate, his jaw on the floor. “Dude, Franny is totally our savior…I mean, holy crap do you SEE THIS?”

Matthew looked up from the refrigerator, where he was filling his polar bear bottle with some orange juice from an unmarked jug. He nodded closing it up before he headed to the table. Alfred peeked inside, shuffling through the contents as though it were a file cabinet. “See? The works! Butter, ham, cheese lettuce and…jeez…he’s just great.” He said, taking a big bite and moaning in appreciation.

“I hope he didn’t waste the crust…” said Matthew, peering in the garbage and searching around his sandwich curiously.

“What? What are you worried about that for?” laughed Alfred. “I don’t care, you’re the only one who doesn’t eat them anyway!” he said, stuffing his face with another bite.”

Matthew sighed and looked up at Alfred, folding his arms. “They showed my class a presentation about landfills and stuff.” He explained. “There’s garbage a mile high into the sky and it’s killing the Earth and um…well with the way Dad cooks we probably have our fair share on that dump too.” Matthew frowned, chewing on his sleeve and staring down at his bear.

Alfred laughed it off, prompting Matthew to pout in irritation. “Seriously!” he exclaimed. “Dad, doesn’t even recycle his beer cans or drink bottles. A poor little turtle could get stuck inside and die just because we were lazy.”

“You never recycled before either. Stop preaching and just eat it man, don’t get all hippie on me.” Said Alfred, rolling his eyes and waving his hand to dismiss Matthew.

“I’m going to start to.” Said Matthew firmly, holding his bottle close. “Besides, I’ve already done a good part with my water bottle.”

Alfred was starting to get annoyed, almost finished with his sandwich while Matthew had yet to take a bite. “Yeah. Water.” He said, focusing on his food.

“You know what?” said Matthew, taking a sip of orange juice. “You’re just a selfish fat hoser, Alfred. You don’t ever care about the environment!”

“No, not when I’m eating you ditz brained loser!” countered Alfred, shoving the rest of the sandwich in his mouth chewing for a few moments and showing Matthew the mush in a jeer. “Blaugh!”

“Look at you.” Said Matthew with contempt, turning his gaze away. “You’re so gross!”

“Yeah, well you waste a lot more food than I do.” Said Alfred after a swallow. “You never clean your plate.”

“Exactly, I don’t even eat half as much as you do! That’s why Dad’s always yelling at you for wasting all the groceries!” said Matthew, eyes flashing as he stood up. “And it doesn’t matter anyway. You waste it too! You just eat to feel it in your mouth!”

Alfred stood up violently as well. “Shut up! You’re not any different than me! Dad yells at you for wasting stuff too, and you’re worse because you actually swallow! You’re already an idiot, so stop acting like you’re BETTER THAN ME!” roared Alfred, slamming his hands on the table.

“You had to bring it up.” Said Matthew, taking a slow sip with a hateful glare before setting the polar bear bottle down again, taking a satisfied breath in. “It’s not my fault you and Dad are so crazy I have to be the only one with ruh.. Reason.” He said, hiccuping.

Alfred stared for moment in disgust. “Okay…Okay fine.” He said, straightening up again and shaking his head. “I guess since you have reason, you don’t mind if I get rid of THIS YOU BABY!” With that, Alfred darted forward, snatching Matthew’s bottle away.

Matthew screamed, throwing himself over the table in distress and grabbing Alfred’s arm. “STOP!” he shrieked, getting into a furious tug of war with Alfred over the bottle. “Let go of it you jerk! AHH!”

“You’re sick!” snapped Alfred.

“You’re sickening!” countered Matthew.

“It’s your fault too!”

“I am rubber you are glue!”

“Just WHAT in the WORLD is going on in here!” came a third voice.

Alfred and Matthew stopped their bickering long enough to see an astonished Francis in the kitchen doorway. Even though it was far too late to pretend that everything was okay, they separated in dismay, panting. Alfred still had control of the bottle and held it tightly at his side. Their bodies were coursing with adrenaline. Neither would accuse the other first and merely glared at each other hatefully.

Francis looked between the two of them in shock and dismay. “What happened? Why are you two fighting like you’re in the jungle?”

They looked away from each other. “Nothing.” Said Alfred first. “It’s no big deal. It’s settled.”

“Give it back.” Said Matthew. Alfred sucked his teeth and placed the bottle on the table before backing away, crossing his arms and turning around.

To Francis, this really didn’t look like a settled situation. He could see the fury burning in both of these boys, but he just didn’t understand what. Still, he wanted to offer a solution that could help them cool down before they had a gladiator battle at dinner. Francis had thought for sure that an afterschool snack would soothe them a bit, but the wounds of this dysfunctional family seemed to grow deeper and deeper with every passing moment. “Why don’t you two go to your bedroom and do something relaxing?” he suggested.

“We have the same bedroom.” Said Matthew softly, hugging his bottle close to his chest and swaying from side to side.

“You go.” Snapped Alfred, putting a hand on his stomach. “Go ahead and “waste” some more.”

Matthew looked at Alfred’s tummy then up at his pained expression. “You’re going to do it too. I don’t care.” Bit Matthew back, eyes watering a bit. Francis was completely lost from their code but at least they were agreeing to cool down a bit.

“Okay…enough, Matthew, just go to your room…and Alfred, you just stay here a bit.” Said Francis.

Alfred stepped away, immediately picking up Matthew’s untouched sandwich and taking a slow bite, looking down so that he wouldn’t have to talk to Francis when Matthew left. He could feel that vibe in the air. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Are you feeling okay?’ ‘I know you love each other’ and other stupid adult things like that. Alfred didn’t want to entertain it

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Francis, touching Alfred’s shoulder and making him briefly jump in surprise before shying away, shaking his head before looking up with a twisted smirk.

“No way, seriously Franny, it’s fine.” Said Alfred, although the brightness normally in his voice had dimmed considerably.

“Alright…You can talk to me anytime. It will be between us, okay?” said Francis, wishing in his heart that he could do more. He knew what it was like to be in Alfred’s position, he just wished that he knew what was going through Alfred’s head so that Francis could really show that it was okay to talk about it. Still, he needed to learn more about them before he could really resolve their conflicts effectively. Although, that was pretty difficult when they almost always seemed to have explosive tempers at one thing or another. They weren’t as easy to irritate as Arthur, but he could see that their fuses were still quite short.

Francis collected the dishes left behind on the table and started to wash them as Alfred finished Matthew’s sandwich in silence and left the room without so much as a “See you later.” Once Francis started putting them away, Arthur appeared in the doorway, having put on his suit for the dinner party tonight.

He cleared his throat lightly and Francis looked up at him. Arthur looked quite good in a suit, but he seemed uncomfortable, skittish even. “Alfred and Matthew came home from school didn’t they?” mentioned Arthur, fiddling with his tie. “I wish they could have come and said hello to me…” he sighed.

Francis smiled thinly, drying his hands before walking over to Arthur. “You look great.” He said, changing the subject and patting the other’s shoulders, taking the tie and adjusting it perfectly. Arthur took a deep breath and looked relieved at this little praise, a soft and timid smile spreading on him. Francis brought his gaze up to Arthur’s eyes and his own smile grew wider as well. “Better?” he asked.

“Much.” Said Arthur. “I haven’t put this on in quite a bit, actually, it’s feeling rather tight.” He said gloomily.

“Trust me, you look better now than you have in the last few days.” Said Francis with a grin, wanting to rile up Arthur to get some of his spirit back.

“You’re one to talk, thinking you could star in some damn shampoo commercial.”

“Mmm…you said it not me.” Said Francis, flipping his hair and running his fingers through his long wavy blonde locks and giggling.

“Ah- I have to get going.” Said Arthur, looking at his watch. “The underground is so damn unpredictable. “ He grumbled, making sure he had exact fare in his pocket. “I’m off.”

“Just relax, and have fun!” encouraged Francis, pulling Arthur in a sudden hug, squeezing him with the same tight enthusiasm he had when he had first moved in yesterday morning. It brought Arthur into shock, overloading his emotional capacity and he shuddered, feeling warmth that he had thought was lost to him forever. Francis was just glad that some things seemed to be looking up, and seeing Arthur actually have a hope of sobering up and being a good guy, made him extremely happy.

“Ah- you…you’re going to wrinkle everything!” complained Arthur, patting Francis’s head before lingering in the hug anyway. He didn’t want to push out of this one. “Ah…but perhaps it’ll hide all the other flaws, thank you. I should be back before midnight, feel free to put your things away in the meantime, there’s some free space in the closet. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to tell our fashion apart.”

Francis finally pulled away from the hug with a moved sigh. “Than you…I appreciate it. Be safe on your way to Canal alright? Call the house when you get there, and let me know how Feliciano is doing. We haven’t talked in so long. “

Arthur nodded, hand on the doorknob with a hopeful smile and an uplifted heart. “Certainly…I shall see you soon my dear.”

Chapter Text

Friends Friends, for you I always seek

But when we meet I’ve forgotten how to speak.

I’m not sure whats coming out of my mouth

And then everything begins to go south.

Friends oh Friends I wish you could understand

My tears. as abundant as the beach upon sand

*****************

Arthur ventured out into the dark autumn night. It was so early, being only 7:30 in the evening but it was because of the season that made the sun vanish so quickly. The moon was out and a dark forbidding glow was cast over the streets of Manchester. Arthur huddled close to himself, feeling a little chilly but feeling too embarrassed to go back into the house and get himself a jacket. He was already out here and feared that if he went back home, he wouldn’t want to leave. It had been so long since he had attended any social gathering that didn’t involve smacking glass against wood among toasted strangers.

Making his way to the underground was easy enough, as was taking it to Canal Street. It was just the fact that he HAD to take it in the first place that disgruntled him as well. If he hadn’t wrecked the car, he probably could make it there in 10 minutes. Instead, he had to sit on the benches and wait amongst the cashiers and secretaries of the world for the train the come. Still…in his current state, putting him in charge of destruction on 4 wheels wouldn’t have been a wise choice for anyone involved, even if he wasn’t drunk.

His sullen and spoiled attitude didn’t brighten even as he walked from the station at Canal street down the avenue to where Lovino and Antonio lived. It was darker still, the street lamps barely providing much help but even after all this time Arthur had managed his way through the bleakness out of sheer muscle memory.

He could see the lights shining between the drawn blinds on the windows.It was an orange, mocking glow that made Arthur feel weak, scared and nervous. His knees felt as stiff as rocks as he made his way up the small steps to their door. He could hear mild chattering inside, but it sounded loud enough to be the noise of 10 people rather than 4, mostly because of the Italians in the house. Inwardly, he hoped that they wouldn’t be able to hear him pull the knocker back and bang on the door so that he would have an excuse to rush back to his couch and bottle. But their fussing quickly died down and he could hear footsteps coming closer to open the door. He winced as he was suddenly enveloped in bright light.

“Arthur!” Buenos Noches!” cheered Antonio, hugging him tightly, much to Arthur’s surprise. He hadn’t seen Antonio back to his normal jolly self ever since the accident. Although it was mildly shocking, it was quite a bit of relief that he wasn’t cranky anymore. “Francis called and told me how much better you were doing!” he said, pulling back and patting Arthur’s arm with a grin. “Come in man, take off your shoes and just relax tonight.”

Arthur offered a weak smile, taking the invitation and stepping inside, slipping his shoes off easily and picking them up to leave them next to two other pairs by the door. “Aha…of course.” He said, feeling a little guilty. “This so called rehab program of yours is going wonderfully.”

Antonio laughed in good nature, patting Arthur’s shoulder firmly. “Si Si, Soon they’ll be days where you wont have to drink at all.”

“Hey-Don’t be ridiculous.” Said Arthur, biting his lip and glaring to the side. “It still tastes good.”

“Si, but you don’t need it…” stressed Antonio. “I mean- not every single day, just maybe like… a weekly thing or just a little bit one night. Look, tonight, we’re gonna have a little bit for you.” He said, not knowing just how badly he had rattled Arthur’s brain with the possibilities just now. He looked up, eyes wide. How could Antonio berate him so badly about kicking alcohol completely and then practically have an open bar ready for the taking right here.

Antonio continued talking, not noticing Arthur’s dilemma. “Mira, you can have fun, but with other people like me or Francis. It’s not about finishing six packs by yourself and yelling at everyone. If you need it to survive, that’s the problem then.”

“Okay…so what kind of drinks do you have for me tonight then?” asked Arthur, changing the subject.

“GOOD SHIT”

Arthur looked up in shock at the sudden yelling and saw Lovino leaning casually in the kitchen doorway with a smile, the strap of an apron hanging off his shoulder. “Ciao, baby. Got a few bottles of pumpkin beer that isn’t shit, and some cocktail mix too. Lovino let his arm swing down and he sauntered over to Arthur, giving him a mix of something between a lowfive and a handshake. “Nice you’re here, I was sure you’d wimp out like a bitch.”

Lovino was as prickly as a cactus, as usual. Arthur sighed and shook the hand with a smile. “Thank you.” He said politely. “So…Feliciano, your brother right? Ahem, is he here?”

“Oh yeah yeah!” said Lovino, his eyes widening as he let go and hurried into the kitchen. “FELI!” he shouted. “GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE!”

“I’m cooooomiiing!”

Arthur struggled to hold back his filthy thoughts of that phrase meaning something else entirely as someone practically skipped out of the kitchen, smiling brightly and looking as though he really had just done what he had said. His life seemed happy, full of nothing but sparkles. Arthur hated him intensely almost instantly. He glowered at the sight of Feliciano, gritting his teeth. He seemed to know no hardship. Skirting through life blissful and happy every second. Feliciano didn’t hold any heavy weights on his shoulder, didn’t have to drag guilt around by the ankles.

Feliciano looked up at Arthur but squeaked, shivering and hiding behind Lovino. “Wuaah!? Is this him? He’s so scary!” whimpered Feliciano, staying close to his brother.

“Oh no, are you kidding me?” snapped Lovino, stepping aside and pushing Feliciano forward. He hadn’t noticed the dark glare Arthur had painted on and therefore didn’t understand why Feliciano was being a little bitch. Then again, that was his near default state anyway so seeing him acting like this wasn’t much cause for concern. “This is Arthur, yeah. Don’t worry about it, he’s just really really ugly.”

“Thanks Lovino.” Said Arthur with a grumble, turning his gaze on the other, who finally noticed.

“Eh!? Shit man…lightened up.” Complained Lovino, feeling a shiver run down his spine too.

“I’m sorry, I was just thinking about something else. It’s not you.” Lied Arthur, trying to comfort the Italians. He took a deep breath and forced a smile then, extending his hand to Feliciano. “Yes it’s me, Arthur. We talked over email?”

Approving of the friendly gesture, Feliciano calmed and took Arthur’s hand with both of his own. “Oh yes! I’m Feliciano! It’s so nice to meet you!” he said, pumping Arthur’s arm up and down like a playful child. “I know you’ll find me the prettiest most beautiful house here won’t you? Lovino told me how nice and good you were. Oh I can just tell we’re going to have so much fun aren’t we?”

‘It’ll be fun when I’m dead.’ Thought Arthur. “Yes…aha.” He said aloud, clearing his throat. “I certainly will do my best to find you a nice place. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“Come, come on! Sit next to me. There’s so much good food.” Said Feliciano, dragging Arthur into the dining room. “Oh! Perfecto, I want you to meet my fiance too. His name is Ludwig!”

Arthur looked up, seeing a blonde, stoic and terrifyingly hulky looking man with beer in hand sitting at the end of the table. Now Arthur knew how the other two felt a few moments ago. This guy almost seemed to be SEETHING with pent up rage and fury. When Ludwig looked up, Arthur thought he was going to melt into the floor from the terror that he felt, sure that he was going to die. “A-Ahem..It’s nice to meet you.” He stammered.

Ludwig jerked his head in an upnod of acknowledgment and started drinking again. Feliciano was quick to tug at Arthur to get his attention. “He’s German, he doesn’t speak English that good, only German and Italian. Ludwig!” said Feliciano, heading over to his fiance and leaning beside him. It looked as though even Ludwig was getting annoyed by Feliciano’s antics, glaring at him with a sideeye. This glare however, seemed to be one that Feliciano was completely immune to as he chattered in fluent Italian at the other, waving his hands back and forth. Ludwig talked back, speaking just as fast and twice as scary, Arthur was almost sure Feliciano was going to be punched across the room.

He fell silent, feeling a little ridiculous and awkward since he had no idea what they were saying or if indeed they were talking about him. Ludwig looked up then and Arthur stood up a little straighter. “Nice Meeting.” Said Ludwig gruffly. It almost sounded like a dismissal. Arthur supposed that it was perhaps an attempt to be more friendly, but it only ended up coming across as more intimidating than ever before. Feliciano seemed satisfied anyway and sat down at the corner end of the table, patting the place next to him.

“Sit Sit! I want to talk to you all night!” he chirped.

“Ahl…Well I’m not exactly a very chatty sort.” Said Arthur weakly, sitting down. Ludwig was staring at him now as he sat next Feliciano and it was making Arthur pretty nervous. Why did this guy have to be so damn friendly as to be borderline flirtatious?

“Oh that’s okay, why don’t you have a drink then?” offered Feliciano, presenting a cool frothy bottle of pumpkin beer to Arthur. He froze, staring at the voluptuous long necked beauty, feeling as though all eyes were upon him. Arthur almost expected Antonio to be waiting in the shadows, ready to crack his head open if Arthur took it. Sure, he had said to go ahead and be merry tonight, but did that mean one bottle was okay?

Luckily, Lovino scrambled to Feliciano, yelling in Italian. Feliciano looked surprised, holding the beer close to his chest and lowering his gaze, apologizing back weakly. Arthur caught the pitiful glance Feliciano peeked at him at felt even worse. Lovino scoffed and waved his hand in dismissal, running to the kitchen and coming back with a glass, plopping it on the table with a glare at his brother before returning to the kitchen. He might as well have returned with a sippy cup, that’s how childish Arthur felt at this moment.

“It’s really good…” said Feliciano with a soft smile, opening the bottle and pouring it into the glass for Arthur. “If you drink it slowly, you can savor the taste.”

Taste. As if Arthur had any of that. Taste and Class was exactly what Arthur lacked most. He took the glass without a word and took a sip. It had that sweet cool burn that he craved, with an acidic sweetness that was strange yet satisfying. It must have been the pumpkin. It was fall after all, the time where it was everywhere and in anything. So bright and…jolly.

“Okay! We’re bringing the food out!” said Antonio from the kitchen, returning with a casserole dish of pasta and pesto, steam billowing in the air and filling the room with a fresh scent of basil. Lovino followed suit with a serving tray held high, perfectly balancing a plate of porkchops and a plate of plantains in each hand, showing his delicate skill as a waiter.

“Alright fatasses, stuff your face and tell me how great my food is.” He said, placing them on the table and immediately sitting down to serve himself a plate.

“Caramba Lovino, do you talk like that to your customers at the restaurant?” scolded Antonio.

“When they don’t tip my pretty girls I do.” Countered Lovino. “I don’t hire the best looking bastards in town to work for me just so some jerkoff can give them 5%.”

“I’ll give you a tip tonight if you relax…” muttered Antonio, hiding his mouth movements with a sip of beer, rolling his eyes.

“Eat Eat! Before it freezes over!” urged Lovino, resisting the temptation to catapult a bottlecap at Antonio with a spoon by stuffing his face, not giving a single fuck that his guests barely had the chance to serve themselves.

Once everyone’s plates were full, a light chattering started among the two couples and Arthur found himself feeling isolated. Not only was he the only one without a partner, he didn’t even have the opportunity to pop into the conversation as they all were only speaking Spanish, German and Italian. He could understand they were feeling connected at the moment and they were all related, or soon to be related, in some way, but Arthur just couldn’t let that heavy feeling go.

He chewed his food, heart seeming hollow. Lovino was really a good cook. It made sense seeing as how he had been busting his butt opening his own restaurant ever since he first moved here with Antonio. But even the magnificent stark flavors of the food couldn’t distract Arthur from how useless and mediocre he was right now. He was bilingual like the others, but his Japanese, though fluent, was absolutely worthless in this situation. And it would continue to be so for the rest of his miserable life. All because of her. He looked to his right, shaking lightly, seeing the empty sixth chair at the end of the table. He lifted the beer to his lips again and saw a glimmer of Hana’s face through the foggy amber liquid, smiling gently at him. Quiet…quiet and mocking him for being such an absolutely pathetic man.

Chapter Text

Wearing a mask

Is a difficult task

Among those who can plainly see

One look in their eyes

And they see you cry

With nowhere for you to flee.

*****************

The dinner continued as Arthur picked at his food, feeling miserable. The happy chatter of the others only served to make him feel even worse by the second. It was just a bad idea to have come here in the first place. The only time he felt better was when he brought the cold glass of pumpkin beer to his lips and let the alcohol penetrate deep into his soul. That was the only time he felt right after all anyway. He sighed, drinking it in gulps. Thankfully, the rest of the group were so absorbed in each other that they hadn’t noticed him.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Lovino realized how Arthur was being left out. Especially considering how fervently he was lifting the bottle, how intense he looked while drinking it. Tapping Spain’s arm, he gestured his head toward Arthur, letting him know that they were accidentally pushing him out of the loop. Antonio’s eyes widened in concern and guilt and he cleared his throat. “So, Feliciano.” He said. “You haven’t gotten to know Arthur that well yet, have you? Why don’t you ask him more about the house?”

“Oh yes!” cheered Feliciano happily, turning his body to Arthur, completely shifting his chair so he could give him all his attention. Arthur had to try extremely hard to not roll his eyes when so many were on him. Even though Feliciano was going to be the most annoying client on the face of the universe and all universes in between the whole space time continuum, he was still a client. Arthur forced a smile.

“Yes, you said you’d really like one on Canal Street. Ah…I know of a few vacancies offhand I can look into but what is it do you want exactly?” asked Arthur, starting to eat a little more.

“Oh! Well okay.” Said Feliciano cheerfully, tilting his head to think. “Let’s see, I really want two bedrooms. That way if my brother and Antonio want to come over they can stay the night! I love sleepovers.”

“Like I would spend the night at your house, loser.” Snarled Lovino with a grin. “It’s bad enough that I gotta smell your garlic breath now.”

“Lovinooo.” Whined Feliciano in a pout. “Anyway, two bedrooms for sure and BIG kitchen so I can cook delicious meals like this!”

“So are you looking for something with space or a lot of built in appliances?” asked Arthur.

“Food tastes best the more you touch it with your hands.” Chirped Feliciano. “I want space for a lot of fresh vegetables and pasta, and a really good oven too!”

“That’s feasible.” Said Arthur, his smile turning genuine from Feliciano’s passion for cooking. “I’m actually not that great at cooking for myself actually.” He chuckled.

“Oh no!” gasped Feliciano, giggling and patting Arthur’s arm fondly. “You should get someone you love to cook for you then!” he squealed. “Food with love is always perfect!”

Arthur’s vision darkened as he glared off into space, Feliciano’s hands feeling like ice upon him, the freezing sensation creeping across his skin. Feliciano backed off and whimpered, feeling frightened. “Waah! You’re making the scary face again! Did I say something wrong?”

Lovino and Antonio both looked up, tense and struggling not to reveal anything. Just when it seemed as though Lovino was about to curse Feliciano out, Arthur gave a deep breath and looked up as well, picking up the glass of beer. “I’m sorry. My wife…isn’t with us any longer.” He said, pressing his lips against the glass and partaking of the poison.

Feliciano grew quiet, but the look on his face didn’t indicate pity to Arthur. “Oh.” He said, moving to rub Arthur’s arm again. “I’m sure you never stopped loving her.”

Arthur felt warmth return to his body again at Feliciano’s second touch. In the few months directly after Hana had left, Arthur had tried to be open about the separation, trying to confront it and be brave but the reactions he had gotten, aside from Antonio and Lovino, his only companions, proved to be less than encouraging. Arthur could see how he had embarrassed other people, see the regret in their eyes for bringing it up. He heard the awkward apology or the attempt to assault Hana’s character before they scurried back to their own lives so as to not deal with his pathetic problems. In that point, Arthur had chose to vent his troubles to the bottle. It was always there for him. Always there to listen.

He swallowed hard, feeling the lump bob in his throat. Good god he could feel his head swimming. It was probably the pumpkin beer, combined with yet another flash of emotions invading his body after his wife was brought up again. He wanted to say something, but only ended up hiccuping, leaning forward and gripping tightly on the glass for support. “Thank you…” choked out Arthur. He just wanted Feliciano to start chattering on about his house again. At least then maybe he could try to escape this damn pain faster and move on with his life. He straightened up for the sole purpose of lifting the glass to his lips again when Feliciano moved his hand up to Arthur’s shoulders. Arthur turned, surprised to see the young man staring so intensely at him now.

“Did you stop loving her?” he asked softly. Arthur was shocked that Feliciano was able to switch so easily from his annoying happy-go-lucky personality into such a serious mood. Arthur shook his head. Feliciano bowed his head. “As long as you love her, that’s all that’s important right now. That’s all.” He said, stressing the importance. Arthur bit his lip and nodded, struggling to keep tears from bubbling in his eyes.

“Yes…” he said. “I did love her. So…So much.”

Feliciano smiled, seeming satisfied. “Bueno! So long as you still have love in your heart, you can be happy. Love is all you need, even if you only have enough for yourself.” He said with a cheerful smile.

In all honesty, despite Arthur’s foul mood, he just couldn’t help but mimic Feliciano’s attitude, a genuine smile growing on his face. His reaction was just too honest and meaningful for Arthur to remain sour. He sniffled and turned to his head to try to hide his emotion. Perhaps he had been wrong about Feliciano. To see a boy he had initially discounted as an absolute idiot to actually be the one who understood him the most. Although it would still take a while before he could completely accept Feliciano’s giddy personality, Arthur tossed aside all his previous judgments, feeling bad for being so stubborn.

Feliciano grinned harder. “I think love is the most important thing in the world!” he chirped, shifting back to his old self. “That’s why Ludwig and I are coming down here so we can get married too, a double wedding! Isn’t it going to be fantastico? So I want a nice house to have lots of parties in, and I think I’m going to have a chocolate cake with butter cream frosting oh and there has to be a nice living room so beautiful women can come in and-”

“Wait…wh…are you serious?” said Arthur suddenly, shaking out of his daze. “Uh…for the women, I thought you were- well.”

“Oh no no, don’t worry!” laughed Feliciano. “I’m very committed, but I still can’t resist the charm of a pretty girl now and the-”

Ludwig, having noticed Feliciano getting a bit too lovey, slammed a hand on the young man’s shoulder and growled, squeezing tightly. “Feliciano.” He said, getting such a grip that Arthur was surprised he wasn’t hearing bones shatter. Feliciano squealed and laughed nervously.

“Ahahah…Ludwig, Ludwig! Don’t be so mean…Oww!” he whined, wiggling.

Arthur looked away with a smirk, pretending not to see. Yup, despite managing to be deep, this guy was still a dummy for a good 80% of his time on earth. He wasn’t even sure how the brothers had managed to grow up together and survive. They were clearly on complete opposite poles.

He rubbed his finger along the rim of the glass, thinking as he looked up at the ceiling fan, following the same pace. He wondered how the kids were doing and if Francis was taking good care of them. Then he wondered if Francis was doing fine on his own as well. Just then, Feliciano grabbed Arthur’s wrists again, chattering.

“You understand what I mean right?” he begged with a cheeky smile. “Besides, you don’t look all that uptight. Come on!”

Arthur blinked in surprise, completely befuddled by what Feliciano was talking about. “Uptight…?” he repeated. “In what context?”

“Well.” Said Feliciano, starting to elbow Arthur with a smile. “You have a lot of friends who like boys so…” Arthur bristled in frustration and closed his eyes, turning his head.

“And…? I don’t really care about meaningless things such as that. I don’t know what you’re trying to prod for, but I’m not saying anything.” He said.

“Antonio and I are just gonna tell him if you’re not gonna.” Said Lovino with a bemused smirk. Arthur sighed and shot him a glare.

“You have some nerve calling other people bastards with that attitude.” Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and rolled his eyes. “I’m bisexual and completely monogamous, so I have no clue what you mean when it comes to flirting with other people.” He said to Feliciano coldly.

Feliciano gave an unoffended giggle. “Aww I’m only kidding, I just appreciate pretty people is all. That’s so neato!”

As if to save him from this heinously awkward moment, Arthur’s cellphone rang and he sprang up quickly to check it. “Antonio, could you excuse me for a moment?” he asked. “It’s the kids.” He added when he saw the worried look on other’s face.

“Sure, dont worry about it.” Answered Lovino with a nod. Arthur ducked out of the room and made his way to the bathroom so that nobody could eavesdrop.

“Hello?” asked Arthur, his heart racing, relieved to have been rescued from the party for the time being.

“Arthur!” chirped Francis on the other end. “How are you? Do you like the dinner party so far? How is it going? Did you tell Feliciano I said hi-”

“Oi Oi…give me a moment to breath first.” Laughed Arthur softly, turning on the bathroom light and settling on the closed toilet. “How am I supposed to answer that barrage of questions all at once?” he asked, closing the door.

“Sorry.” Giggled Francis. “I’m just excited for you.” He gave a deep sigh and gentle silence lingered in the air for a moment. “Is everything okay?” he asked, summing up his primary concerns.

“Yes Yes, things are fine.” Answered Arthur.

“But what about you? Are you handling things well?” asked Francis

Arthur took a deep breath. “I…yes..not..not really I..no. Honestly.” He stammered, gripping tightly onto the phone, surprised that he had been so honest just then.

“Tell me what happened.” Said Francis patiently. Every bone in Arthur’s body screamed at him to keep it down and yet there was something in Francis’s voice that told him that the other would somehow manage to figure it out anyway.

“Nothing happened per say…everything is fine, it’s just..it’s all me. It’s just..the usual, not a big deal at all.” He said quickly.” It’ll happen…no matter what.” He sighed, slumping down. “And…I know he probably didn’t mean too, but Feliciano brought something up and I made everything awkward for everyone. It was just another case of people pitying me.”
“I don't think you made it awkward for them.” Said Francis gently. “If anything…we understand you more than anyone else…Damnit Arthur, why do you think French, Italian and Spanish are the languages of romance? We get it. We want to help. We don’t judge.”

Arthur swallowed hard, remembering how serious Feliciano had gotten on the subject of his wife. How…cathartic that moment had felt. Francis was right. Feliciano really did seem to understand what he was going through, even if he had the brain capacity of a walnut when it came to sensing the mood otherwise.

“Thank you…” said Arthur hoarsely before coughing and licking his lips with a nervous frown. “Are the boys still up? Can you put them on for me?”

“Of course.” Said Francis. “Alfred! Matthew!” he called. Arthur could hear shuffling over the phone as it was handed off and he heard Matthew’s voice first.

“Hi.” He said softly, moaning weakly, obviously tired. “Hi Dad…what are you…. Are you in jail again, Dad?”

Arthur was completely hit by left field from that. “I…what? “ He stammered. “What on earth would make you ask something like that?”

“Well…in that case, Why are you calling then..” Said Matthew.

“I just wanted to know how you both were doing” said Arthur, swallowing hard and frowning. He felt bad that this was the first thing Matthew’s mind had jumped too “But clearly it seems as though you’re totally sleep deprived…haha… must be a funny dream you’re having right now.” Chattered Arthur, desperately trying to fix his own insanely wounded ego from that menacing blow. “Why don’t you let me talk to Alfred.”

“Kay…” he said weakly. The sound of phone shuffling happened again and Arthur heard his elder more energetic son. “What’s up?” asked Alfred.

“Heey, I just wanted to make sure you boys were doing okay.” Said Arthur.

“Oh man…” huffed Alfred. “Sorry dude but you should call back later then! We’re totally being abducted by aliens right now and…oh god! Yeah they’re gonna probe Matthew!” he exclaimed, to which Arthur heard an aggravated “Don’t touch me” from the younger brother in the distance. He cracked a weak smile.

“Well, tell the aliens that I want you both in bed by the time I get home so set an alarm for whatever freaky experiments they plan on performing.”

“Awww gross man.” Complained Alfred, deciding the joke was over for now. “Yeah we’re doing whatever. Franny made dinner for us. Where the heck are you anyway?”

“I’m just at Antonio’s house for a little dinner party.” He said patiently

“Wow Dad, nice for you to start partying it up without us already. “

“Believe me…it’s not really a party, its you’re typical boring adults talk about work affair, you wouldn’t like it.”
“Ahhh…but Vino makes the best food though. I would have sat through Toni’s boring cases just for a plate, as long as I got to eat the plate too.”

“You glutton…Good night Alfred.” Said Arthur with a laugh. “I love you.”

“Love you too Dad. Bye.” Said Alfred, immediately hanging up the phone.

The line went dead and Arthur looked up into the mirror with a soft sniffle. He could only imagine what everyone thought of him, how they felt about the things he did and said. Because even now as he looked into the glass, staring with a flushed face and ruffled hair. He couldn't see anything of use at all.

 

Chapter Text

Bottles, bottles are locked away

To see the light another day

But they grow dust and soon decay

Until what is inside turns gray

Bottles, bottles newly opened

But what they held is now broken.

*****************

Francis took the phone from Alfred and gave him a smile. “Isn’t that nice…he wanted to see how you boys were doing.”

“I guess.” Said Alfred, shrugging. “I’m going to bed. You coming Mattie?” he asked.

Matthew shifted, moving from his position on the couch. He wasn’t all that sleepy yet, but he was getting there, eyes staring blearily. He nodded, walking with Alfred to their shared bedroom.

“Mind if I come along?” asked Francis with a smile. “Maybe talk with you two a little bit as you get settled in?” He wanted to get to know them better and possibly be able to understand this complicated family more. Arthur was already a tough cookie to crack but perhaps the kids would be able to give him another angle to work with.

“Sure, wanna read us a story too?” asked Alfred with a lopsided grin, ever the jokester.

Francis smiled back warmly. “If you like…I was thinking more along the lines of you telling me one.”

“Wow…” said Matthew in interest, tilting his head. “That’s a first…What kind of story, Franny?”

“Yeah, I got a couple good dinosaur ones in mind if you wanna hear them. Don’t really have an ending for them yet though.” Said Alfred, reaching into the nightstand and popping a piece of gum into his mouth, the overwhelming minty smell filling the room and making Francis’s eyes water yet again. Matthew smiled meekly and leaned over to borrow a piece as well. The smell intensified and Francis almost felt as though he was choking. He stayed in the door frame to avoid passing out.

“Ha…Well, if you don't mind, I was wondering if you’d like to tell me a story about your mother?” asked Francis, wondering why they were chewing gum right before bed in the first place.

Matthew and Alfred stopped chewing instantly, turning their faces away. Francis felt his heart ache after he had asked that question. It had been foolish to think so, but he had assumed that they were beyond being bitter about the absence of their mother or at least knew more behind her disappearance. Alfred looked up with a sudden laugh, ruffling the back of his hair. “Dude…why would you want to hear about something boring like that?” he asked.

Matthew looked at Alfred for a moment then at Francis, shaking his head slowly. “Mom was…amazing.”

Francis tore his gaze away from the boys, regretting having caused such a shift in the mood. “Ah…I’m sorry, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to- Its just. Arthur is always-”

“Yeah.” Said Alfred. “They were a pair.” He said with a nod. “Dad fell in love with her while he was on vacation in Japan and got married. After that, they made me and hitched a ride to America before mom got all fat and junk. “

“She would sing poems to us sometimes…do you remember Alfred?” asked Matthew. Alfred tightened his grip on the sheets below. He remembered all too well.

Their mother was a magnificent woman with words. She’d hug them with haiku's, scold them with sonnets, and tuck them in with perfect prose. Her passion was a quiet fire with every word that passed her sweet lips. Her gentle, loving caress accompanied with a subdued laugh. Her promise to keep them away from any kind of pain. Her smell, a faint aroma of fresh cut flowers. Her round face. Her soft hair. Her role. Mom.

“Yeah yeah!” laughed Alfred, shrugging. “Typical fairy tale mom junk.”

Matthew closed his eyes and sighed softly. “I think I…remember one of them. Something…about ducks or geese.” He said, sitting up and looking out the window, tapping his fingers steadily against his bottle to try to find the right rhythm.

“Yeah yeah…It was about swans.” Said Alfred, “Night Francis!” Alfred laid himself flat on the bed and pulled the covers up.

“Wait!…I think I…remember it.” Said Matthew, furrowing his brow. “Yes…It goes..I am the great swan…”

“Ooooohkay Mattie.” Said Alfred with a snicker, rolling his eyes. “We get it-”

Francis smiled gently leaned closer. “Tell me how it went Matthew.”

“Yeah…thats how it goes.” Said Matthew. “Then its…I am the great swan…will you dance with me?”

“Matthew- quit it!” said Alfred a little louder sitting up and reaching carefully underneath his bed for something.

“Never doubt your- HEY!”

Matthew held his arm with a whine as the baseball Alfred had thrown bounced off of his shoulder and rolled across the floor. Alfred looked pale, glaring Matthew down. His hands were sweaty and shaking. He had asked Matthew nicely to stop…but he had kept going. He had to shut him up. “I thought I told you to shut your mouth!” he huffed.

“Now now…” said Francis, turning around in surprise. “There’s no need for that-”

Matthew glared back at Alfred, shaking his head. “I was singing it for Francis…you didn’t have to listen.” Grumped Matthew. “If only you knew how to shut your mouth…then maybe you wouldn’t have such a fat ass.” He hissed.

“Matthew!” exclaimed Francis, “Oh come on- stop it…you’re just tired. Alfred, you don't have to worry about your waistline.” He said, trying to calm them both down. It only seemed to rile Alfred up even more.

“Why would I care about something dumb like that?” he laughed off, voice unnerved at bitter. “What am I, a chick trying to get ready for prom?”

“At least a girl would have a date…” said Matthew.

That was the last straw. “Dude…I said shut UP!” roared Alfred, pouncing to Matthews bed and whaling on his gut, earning a soft howl from the little brother.
“You have no class…!” sobbed Matthew, trying to shove Alfred off and kicking his legs up in frustration. “Jerk! You’re not the boss of me!”

“You take things too far ALL THE TIME you moron!” snarled Alfred, wrestling with Matthew. He was sick of it. Matthew’s jabs at his weight and intelligence. Seeing him get all the more positive attention. Alfred was just sick of Matthew playing the straight man when he was anything but behind the scenes. Alfred shook Matthew and tried to fight off the arms wrapping around his waist to pull him away. “You’re NOT better than me!”

“ENOUGH!” exclaimed Francis, dragging Alfred off of Matthew and hugging him tightly, gasping from the effort of having to tug the tenacious teenager away. Neither of them seemed sufficiently hurt, but Francis just didn’t have experience with something like this. Alfred was shaking hard in his grip, no doubt fueled with adrenaline. “Please…just stop this and go to bed…Promise me…Please….Shhh…It’s okay. I’m sorry.” He said, petting Alfred’s head. Alfred bit his lip, looked down and swallowed his gum. Francis held him still, brushing his fingers through Alfred’s hair, his voice getting softer, filled with pain and regret. “I didn’t mean for this to happened.” Said Francis.

“Yeah…its’…it’s fine..” Said Alfred, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it. We’re cool.”

“There was no need for any of that…” said Francis, exhausted. “How…How am I supposed to know you won’t kill each other in your sleep?”

“We wont…” said Matthew, turning over onto his side with a heavy sigh. Alfred and him didn’t draw blood from each other, but the wounds they had inflicted on each other’s psyche’s was deep. “We’re already dead.”

Francis felt his blood run cold and his grip go numb. Alfred slipped out of Francis’ grip and cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about it…seriously, its over…not your fault dude.” Said Alfred, walking to his own bed and sighing.

“Alright…” said Francis, frowning. “If you need me…I’ll be in the kitchen.” He turned off their light and closed the door, his hands trembling.

Alfred bit his lip and tried to pull the covers around him in a pathetic attempt to try to get some sleep, but something on his mind was eating away so badly that he couldn't even manage to close his eyes. Matthew. He heard Matthew in his bed, whimpering softly. Alfred tried to ignore it, huddling tightly under the covers. Matthew was so mean…Alfred didn’t care if he was upset right now, that kid deserved it for being so obnoxiously cruel to him. Still, Matthew cried louder, trying to muffle himself with the blanket, but his distress was clear as day.

Alfred turned around and saw Matthew hugging the polar bear bottle tightly against his chest, as though it were a soft teddy bear and not a hard lump of plastic. Deep down, Alfred knew that Matthew didn’t really mean the words he said, he was just like Dad. Matthew was just hurting in his own way, in fact, Matthew always got like this after being mean. No matter how hard the other was pushed, it simply wasn’t his true nature to hurt others. Slowly, he got up and leaned over to his bed. “You okay…?” he asked.

“I’m sorry.” Said Matthew, weakly, sniffling. “I’m sorry Alfred…”

Alfred leaned over to turn on the lamp again and gently grasped the polar bear bottle, slowly wiggling it out of Matthew’s embrace. “I…I asked you to stop- I’m sorry too.”

Matthew wiped the tears away from his eyes. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget…I don’t want to forget Mom.” He weeped, shaking. “Why did you have to hit me like that?” He looked up at Alfred, wanting an explanation.

“We’ll never forget Mom.” Said Alfred, sitting down on the bed and looking away. “You don’t have to worry about something like that, ya know?”

“But why?” said Matthew. “Why did you get so mad? I just wanted to feel like she was there again.”

Alfred turned his head back and held Matthew’s wrist tightly. “Because…” he said sternly, taking a deep breath. “You shouldn’t trick yourself like that okay? That’s exactly the kind of thing Dad says and you know that’s not helping him one bit.”

Matthew looked away. “I’m not like Dad.”

“Sometimes- its hard to tell.” Said Alfred bitterly, putting the water bottle on the bed stand, far away from Matthew. Matthew stared at it for a moment before focusing his sight on Alfred.

“It’s not like you’re taking everything with a smile on your face either…” he pointed out, pulling his hand away from Alfred’s grip. “You like to talk about me a lot but do you think I’m happy about what you do?” asked Matthew. “Just because you’re not as suspicious as I am doesn’t make it better.”

Alfred sighed and put his hands on his hips, looking away. “I…dude, don’t bring that up right now…”

“So when am I supposed to bring it up? In front of Franny?”

Alfred closed his eyes, shuddering at the thought.“Dude…don’t even joke about that.”

Matthew nodded. “I take it back…but stop taking it.” Said Matthew, pointing to the bottle. “Francis was this close to finding out today.”

“If it’s that bad, just stop carrying it around everywhere then.” Said Alfred. Matthew scoffed.
“Everyone needs to be hydrated…just like everyone has to go to the bathroom.” Said Matthew bitterly, folding his arms. Alfred rubbed the back of his head and sighed. This was hopeless.

“Look…we’re not going to change anytime soon, so the best thing to do is just lay low like we usually do and deal with everything our own way.” He suggested. “And make sure we can make it to tomorrow at least.” That really was all they could hope to accomplish. Alfred couldn’t fathom how many times he had tried to stop. How many time Matthew tried to stop. The cold truth was that it was just unbearable to continue life as they had used to, without vices that slowly ate away and their livelihood. It was a Catch 22. At least this path of inevitable destruction left them feeling better in the moment.

Matthew was quiet, then flopped back on the bed. Alfred tried to offer him a weak smile, lying down beside him. “Come on Mattie…” he said, trying to encourage him.

“Let’s talk about Mom.” said Matthew, touching Alfred’s hand. “Please, I don’t want to forget her.” He said again. “Why don’t you ever want to talk about her?”

Alfred squeezed Matthew’s hand gently.

“Alfred.” insisted Matthew. “I miss Mom…I want her back.” he begged, tears filling his eyes. “Why did she go? If she hadn’t left we wouldn’t be-”

“I don’t know Mattie!” cried out Alfred, unable to hold back his emotion too and hugging Matthew to his chest to hide his misty eyes as well. “She’s not here and that’s just that. Nothing’s gonna change that, okay?” he said.

Matthew whimpered into his shoulder softly. “Mom. Mom…” he blubbered, squeezing onto Alfred’s shoulders. In that moment, Alfred could feel his heart ache as months of repressed emotion surrounding his mother just bubbled forth. Every time he thought about his mother, he could feel the energy drain from him until it was a chore for him to even get up and go to the bathroom. Alfred felt every piece of his body tingle and scream for her touch and he had to sit there, knowing how impossible that was.

Alfred didn’t understand why Matthew was torturing himself like this, having brought up that old song, trying to think about everything they were missing now. All he wanted to do was distract himself, but now a haunting melody filled his ears. Alfred closed his eyes and heard that song again…in full. He heard a strangled groan of despair escape him.

Alfred could remember resting his head on his mother’s lap while she stroked his hair gently, singing:

I am the great swan. Will you dance with me? Never doubt yourself. Leave behind your fear. You are the great swan. My precious, my darling! Dear swan, my swan, come fly home with me.

Chapter Text

We spend eternity to forget
the reality of constant threat
Fake smiles and charming wiles
Maintain illusion of a brilliant lifestyle
but a potion of truth
and you recall your youth
It's no wonder why we all act uncouth.

*****************

Francis couldn’t stop wringing his hands after he left Alfred and Matthew’s room. Stupid. How stupid could he have been? Taking a deep breath, he shakily made his way to the kitchen to get a cup of water. He had to try to keep calm in this situation. This didn’t mean they hated him. It had nothing to do with him. Besides, the boys had had a fight earlier today too, just further evidence that it wasn’t his fault that things were chaotic.

Still, Francis couldn’t push this feeling out of his head as he brought the water to his lips. None of this drama was because of him, he had just got here. Still, Francis was so used to taking the blame for everything that it was hard not to take personally. Everything was starting to pile on top of him like a iron weight. It was getting easier to see why Arthur was the way he was and the water wasn’t helping one bit. A craving for cigarettes crept back at him like a case of necrosis rising from an broken limb.

Just then, Francis heard shuffling from the living room and the creak of the front door open. That must have been Arthur! Putting the glass down, Francis rushed out to go and greet him. “Hey…How are you doing?” he asked softly, holding the door open for the tired Brit as he trudged inside.

“Fine.” Said Arthur curtly, immediately loosening his tie and running his fingers through his hair, flopping face first into the couch and sighing heavily.

“You came back in one piece at least.” Said Francis with a meek smile. Arthur still smelled faintly of beer, but at least he hadn’t thrown up on the front step, punched Francis and passed out on the floor. It was progress. Francis locked the door as Arthur rolled over onto his back, rubbing his head.

“Tonio called a cab for me…he didn’t have to.” Explained Arthur. “I just tripped a little bit when I came back to the table and Feliciano started to panic about me stumbling onto the underground tracks and wouldn’t shut up about it. Then again, he was fairly soused by that point too.”

“Mmh, sounds like him on an average day.” Said Francis, going to the kitchen and dropping a few ice cubes into the glass, refilling it with cold water. Arthur had sounded quite hoarse when he came in. “That’s good…it’s nice of them to help keep you safe.” He shook the glass, rattling the ice cubes to get Arthur’s attention when he came back.

“Thank you..” Said Arthur, taking the glass and nursing it slowly, feeling the refreshing coolness help wash away some of the heaviness left behind in his body. “I suppose- I just…ah nevermind.” He said, taking another sip.

“What is it?” asked Francis, sitting down on the couch next to him.“You were about to say something weren’t you?”

“It’s nothing- just…shut up. “ Said Arthur softly, too weak to really argue. “I mean, I know nothing about you so-”

Francis closed his eyes and stood up quietly, going back to the kitchen. Arthur moved and started to sit up sleepily, frowning with the realization that Francis had left him. He really was too much to handle. Suddenly, he heard the clink of glass on the table and opened his eyes in surprise, seeing two wine glasses and a bottle being opened by Francis.

“Francis?” he said in surprise.

“You shut up.” Said Francis with a huff, wrenching the cork open and pouring a serving out for the two glasses. He just couldn’t take it anymore. The kids fighting, Arthur’s attitude. His own insecurities. He had to confess. He had to let Arthur know just how imperfect he really was.

“One glass, just one.” He said, pushing it towards Arthur. “I’m not supporting it- but at least wine and beer during the day is better than vodka and rum, isn’t it?”

Arthur frowned, picking up the wine glass. “For my intents and purposes…it’s like comparing aspirin to morphine.” He sighed.

“You’re not the only one who has known suffering, Arthur.” Said Francis with a weak smile, swirling around the wine in the glass, taking a deep breath of the aroma, feeling a tingling wave of memories crash over him like a tsunami. “You wanted to hear about my suffering- let’s just say that my family wasn’t…how you say- the best.”

“Your family…” said Arthur, trying to focus. “Is that how you ended up-”

“My mother was a witch, and my father was her broom.” Said Francis, taking a quick sip of the wine and cringing. He could remember all those people had encountered on his long journey, swimming through his mind. “ ‘Parents are the people who are always there for you.’ ‘Maybe if you had just behaved it wouldnt have had to end up like this.’ ‘You were lucky compared to other people.’ Excuses, Excuses that everyone made. Rich people…Snobs that looked down on everyone who made less than 6 figures a year…Ha…”

Arthur looked guilty, gripping his wine glass a little tighter and taking a quick sip, carefully watching Francis.By all accounts and standards, even if he wasnt decked out in golden crowns and silver tiaras, he and his family had always been quite comfortable.

“And imagine that. They had so much money, a beautiful house and they refused to pay for my college. They called it a waste, A waste. Imagine that Arthur?” said Francis with a smile, looking at Arthur. “A waste- when they had boats they only used 5 times in 20 years. All they did was let me stay there, but I had to try to do everything by myself..”

“College…I- don’t force yourself Francis.” Said Arthur, putting his hand on the other’s shoulder.

“No, it’s been too long. I have to do this again. Sometimes you have to force it out Arthur, or else you become emotionally constipated.” He sighed.

“This college, was it for the arts?” asked Arthur. He remembered the drawing that Francis had made, how…beautiful it had been, how full of talent it showed. Francis scoffed.

“Imagine it…visiting art galleries, buying paintings, commissioning portraits, and yet how dare your son become inspired to pursue such a “worthless” career. They wanted to make it more “realistic” for me. As if someone like Antonio, with such a “prestigious” job doesn’t struggle, doesn’t suffer.” Francis huffed in disdain. “And on top of everything… to actively get in my way.” He took another quick sip of the wine. “How can you pay for college when you’re alone…”

“Nearly impossible.” Said Arthur weakly. “Its not as though you can put a gun to your family’s head…I’m so sorry.”

Francis shook his head. “So…It’s your turn now.” He said. “I found out a little more about your wife. A lot of traveling you did. Meeting in Japan, making babies in America and then coming back here isn’t it?”

“Francis?” said Arthur, looking up weakly, his eyes great pools of sorrow and regret. “Tell me you didn’t-”

“They volunteered that information.” Said Francis, staring straight into Arthur’s pitiful face, his resolve unyielding. Arthur tore his gaze away, staring into the shaking surface of his drink and bringing the glass to his lips.

“Yeah- well, what about all the traveling?” said Arthur, swallowing a mouthful of wine.

“Little sips, Arthur.” Reminded Francis, leaning in. “Why?”

With shaky hands, Arthur lifted the glass to his lips again and took one last tiny lick, putting it back down.

“Yes.” He said at last.

“Yes what?” said Francis, nursing his own nectar.

“This house…was actually my childhood home, it was owned by my father. When he died, it was said in his will that he left the house to me, his only son. But- the memories I’ve had here, I just didn’t want to come back to them. It’s why I spent so much time away in other countries anyway.” He said, taking another short ship of wine. “Even though America had its own problems and mysteries- I had created my life there, from scratch. Call me stubborn but…I was reluctant to leave that behind, even for this.” Arthur was quiet for a moment, contemplating.

“What convinced you to come back?” asked Francis.

“The reason I changed my mind was because Hana told me that no matter where we were, as long as we were together we would always make our own…our own happy memories.” He said, choking up now, gritting his teeth and lowering his gaze. Francis, sensing danger put his hands on top of Arthur’s hand, seeing that the man wanted to chug it all down at once.

“Ssshh..” Said Francis softly. “It’s my turn now…” he said.
Arthur swallowed and glared at Francis, his eyes damp “I hate you…there is no way I’m going to be easy on you.”

Francis ran his fingertips over Arthur’s knuckles, smiling gently. “I know…maybe in some strange way, I want that.” He pulled his hands away and picked up his wine glass again, taking a very slow sip.

Arthur took one last nip before setting his glass down. “I know that you had trouble- but what led to you becoming homeless in the first place?” he asked.

Francis frowned darkly then chuckled, brushing his hair back. “Of course you would ask something as silly as that.” He said, draining his glass and setting it down with a growl. He licked his lips, savoring the taste and shaking his head. “Because…my family couldn’t accept me, or the friends I was making.” He said. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“So as a result, you ran away?” asked Arthur.

“Yes.” Said Francis. “I ran away for the very last time. After getting encouragement from my best friend and a boyfriend at the time. My parents weren’t very pleased about my “decision” and it became so dangerous there that I…I just had to run for my life and my sanity.” He said, rubbing his hands on his trousers, looking up to the ceiling.

“I- forgive me for saying this.” Said Arthur. “Why couldn’t you have stayed with your best friend or your old boyfriend?” he offered.

“Oh. Oh of course.” Said Francis rolling his eyes. “There was no possible way I could have thought of the simplest solution? Too bad their parents thought otherwise.” Francis put his elbows on his knees and sighed, rubbing his temples. “All I had was my bicycle and some of my belongings. Everyone I thought I could rely on turned their back on me and I had to deal with people like you.”

“Like- Like me?!” said Arthur in alarm.

“People who thought I was homeless because I was a criminal, a drug addict. People who didn't want to help me because all they thought was that I would harm them or rob them.”

“But- but I’m not like that anymore.” Said Arthur, touching Francis’ shoulder. “Please stop.”

Francis looked up with misty eyes before tearing his gaze away with a heavy sigh.
“I’m so sorry.” Said Arthur softly, squeezing Francis’ arm to assure him of his honesty. “You shouldn’t have paid any attention to the garbage coming out of my mouth. I didn’t know…I just, I- there’s no excuse. I was just a fool.”

“I was a fool too.” Said Francis. “I shouldn’t have said so many horrible things to you. You were just…augh. So frustrating. But I was the same way too I suppose. We really are alike in that way, aren’t we?”

Arthur snickered softly. “Well yes I suppose so.” He said, leaning on Francis with a sigh. “Can we stop sipping and sharing and just drink some more?

Francis chuckled softly, batting at Arthur’s hair with a smirk. “I don't think so.”
“And why not? We’ve already gone this far down the stinking rabbit hole, let’s just have another nip..” He goaded.

“Non. Let’s just go to bed.” Said Francis, getting up and helping Arthur up.

“Uuugh.” He whined like a child, standing up reluctantly. “Who the hell do you think you are Franny, my mother?”

“Let’s go to bed.” Said Francis calmly, pulling him along.

“Unhand me, let’s get more beer, just let me at a sip of rum. Just let me get to it. Francis pleaaase.” He begged, moving his arms and trying to fight weakly.

“Of course. We can sleep on it.” Said Francis with a smile and a laugh, dragging Arthur into the bedroom.

“And there goes that prostitute part of you again.” He sighed.

“Please, that joke is getting as old as you are.”

“I’m not an old man.” Complained Arthur. “Now you’re starting to sound as cheeky as Alfred aren’t you.. I suppose you think you're making a fine laugh. Well I don’t approve of your methods as all.”

Francis helped Arthur down into his side of the bed, pulling the covers back and tucking him in.

“Approve all you want, you’re in bed now aren’t you?” countered Francis with a tilt of his head and a smile before he walked around to take his place on the other side.

“Hmph take advantage of my laziness will you? How dare you…” grumbled Arthur, turning over to look at Francis as he helped himself into bed as well.

“Well sampling is the best way to enjoy life. Eat a whole cheesecake and you’ll feel sick.” Said Francis with a tired smiled, brushing Arthur’s hair out of his eyes and seeing those sad eyes.

“I want to feel siiick.” He whined one last time.

“You just want to stop feeling at all.” Said Francis, finding himself to be very tired, closing his eyes and adjusting his pillow, trying to be strong. “I understand.”

“You could never understand me.” said Arthur, growing numb once he realized there was no chance of him being able to drink anymore tonight.

“I want to try Arthur.” Said Francis reaching to touch Arthur’s shoulder again in bed. “Please, I want you to open your heart and let me help you”

Arthur shifted, gritting his teeth as he pulled the covers up and turned to the other side again, taking a deep, shuddery breath. “Sorry. But I’ve sewn up that part of my heart with the best needle and thread I could find.”

Chapter Text

My love, I know. You only want to help

My love, forgive me, when I always yelp

My dear, this fear, constantly consumes me

My dear, stay here, forgive this fragility.

I’m the one who is causing my pain.

But I hurt you more, when I can’t restrain.

*****************

Although the next morning should have felt awkward after their abrupt bonding over misfortune last night, it didn't. Whether it was because Arthur had forgotten all about it or simply chose to completely ignore it, Francis had no idea, but he was certainly appreciative that there was at least peace in the house. The next few days in the house were fairly uneventful. Francis continued to clean up the house and cook meals. Alfred and Matthew went to school and argued bitterly from time to time when they got home. Arthur sent off emails to clients when he had gotten enough energy to get out of his fetal position on the couch.

It was Friday morning and Alfred and Matthew were chattering over cereal.

“Tee Gee Aii Eff.” Enunciated Alfred, leaning back to drink the sweet milk left behind from his sugary marshmallow cereal.

“I’m so glad it’s finally the weekend.” Said Matthew, getting up to bring his bowl to the sink and toss the rest of the soggy loops out, rinsing it a little under the faucet so that Francis would have less work to do. “And we don’t even have that much homework right now.”

“Oh man, don’t get your hopes up.” Said Alfred, licking his lips. “Dude, how much you wanna bet that they’re just stockpiling it all so they can screw us during Thanksgiving?”

Matthew looked up, quirking an eyebrow in slight confusion. Then he nodded, finally understanding. “I mean- it’s the Harvest Festival, but you’re right. I hate those packets.”

“No way, I don’t care where I am- that week is Thanksgiving, plain and simple.” Said Alfred with a stubborn grin.

“We don’t have Thanksgiving in England, Alfred.” Said Matthew flatly, a little annoyed. “Just accept it already.” He picked up his polar bear water bottle, looking in the refrigerator to find something to fill it with. Alfred narrowed his eyes in displeasure at the attitude Matthew was giving him all of the sudden. It really ground on him the wrong way.

“Wow, Mom goes into labor in Vancouver and suddenly you think you’re not American-” said Alfred. “Come on! Where’s your sense of patriotism!”

Matthew gripped the edge of the fridge tightly at the mention of their mother and glared at Alfred, visibly straining to hold his temper, teeth clenched. “Look…I dont care where I’m from, this is where I am now, okay?” he said, taking out the jug of orange juice.

“Sounds like someone woke up on the-”

“Say it and I’ll make you smell like Florida.” Said Matthew, turning around with a gleam in his eyes, holding up the orange juice. Alfred frowned and slammed his hand on the table before standing up.

“God you’re an asshole. Fine- you win.” Scowled Alfred, stomping towards his brother. Matthew stepped back for a moment, almost fearing retaliation, but Alfred reached into the bottom shelf of the fridge. “I’m not going to deal with you like this all day.”

Matthew looked up, his hands tightening around the bottle and the jug. “Stop..Stop…” said Matthew, his voice growing soft and tired again. “It’s okay.”

Alfred looked up, not letting go of the bottle he had grabbed. “You sure?! Cause I already told you-”

“I’m sorry…” said Matthew, looking away.

Alfred frowned and stood up, slowly closing the refrigerator door. “I wasn’t really going to-”

“I know.” Said Matthew, looking down.

“I care about you bro…lighten up.” Said Alfred, hugging Matthew gently and rubbing his head. Matthew sighed and shook his head.

“Yeah…I love you too.” He said.

Just then, Francis walked into the kitchen and Alfred pulled away from the hug immediately, smirking up at Francis. “Hey Franny! So what are you planning to do this weekend?”

“Oh, nothing special really.” Said Francis with a thin smile, taking Alfred’s bowl from the table and bringing it to the sink. “ I can talk to Arthur and maybe we can think of an idea of something to do together when you get home, if you like?”

“We should go catch the underground soon.” Said Matthew, glancing at the clock and filling his bottle with juice before putting it back in the fridge, stealing a sharp glance at Francis and reaching into the bottom shelf before Alfred pulled him away by the sleeve.

“Yup! We’re gonna be late!” he said, lightly kicking the door closed again and ushering Matthew out of the kitchen, grabbing both of their knapsacks in one swoop.

“Alfred! Let go of me!” complained Matthew, taking a quick sip from his bottle and holding it close before he finally detangled himself from the other’s grip and started after him out the door.

“Be careful before you both trip!” called out Francis in worry, scurrying after them as they both darted down the stairs. He’d never seen Alfred so eager to go to school before, maybe he was just excited about the prospect of family activities that afternoon and wanted to get the drudgery of education over with as soon as possible. Francis smiled fondly and closed the front door, pondering the possibilities. It would do them all some good if they went outside and enjoyed the brisk fall before the weather got too cold. But what would be something they could all consider fun?

Francis made his way to Arthur’s bedroom. The other was a pretty deep sleeper, so he never stirred when Francis got up in the morning, even when the other man didn't take pains to be quiet. He was at least happy to know that it wasn't because of alcoholic blackouts. Francis only let Arthur have just enough to keep the worst feelings away, but inwardly he worried if this was the right decision. He still was just a man after all, knowing nothing about dosages. All he knew was that withdrawal was a bitch, he could deal with that part at least.

He touched Arthur’s shoulder gently, shaking to wake him up.

“Nnngh..” Groaned Arthur, nuzzling into the pillow. He had been doing fairly well this week on Francis’ regime, but it was taking an obvious toll. His cravings had become stronger, as did both the physical and psychological turmoil. Arthur’s solution was to merely sleep as long as possible to minimize how often he was aware of his own suffering. Francis nudged him again. Arthur always got a little better after some breakfast.

“What…Whaaat? What do you want?” huffed Arthur in irritation, blearily opening his eyes and shrugging Francis’ shoulders off. “I’ll get up when I want to, get off my back.”

“You crashed early last night, I figured you should get your lazy rump up early as well, now let’s move it!” chirped Francis, clapping his hands. Arthur jerked at that sharp sound, covering his eyes.

“Oooh I despise you.” He snarled, opening his eyes and thinking of how peaceful death would be. Francis pulled Arthur’s hands away and leaned over him with a coy expression.

“It’s Friday.”

“Yes, it is, whats your point?” asked Arthur. Francis only nodded and leaned in closer.

“It’s Friday.” He repeated.

“Yes- what about-..” Arthur paused, his eyes growing wide for a moment. “Friday…So-”

Francis nodded. “It’s been a week.” Arthur’s mood, although still generally ornery, had improved remarkably since that fateful day, which almost felt more like 2 years ago. Still, he couldn't believe that he had more or less managed not getting knock down drunk for so long. Sure, he couldn't exactly say he was sober but that thought brought fear deep into Arthur’s bones more than anything else. Arthur shook his head and pulled his hands away, sitting up.

“There are going to be many more weeks now. You can leave it all behind you now. We all will.” Said Francis.

“Piss off.” Said Arthur, flipping the covers off and standing up. “Leave what behind?…You act as though it’s some kind of accomplishment!” said Arthur, bringing a hand to his face. “One week…One week. One week of miserable nothingness again regardless, without even hard liquor to comfort me!” he exclaimed, turning around. Francis recoiled a bit at Arthur’s look, almost fearing being stricken. Arthur stomped closer, slowly. “Where did you put the rum?” he demanded.

“No!” said Francis, standing up and making Arthur stop in his advance. “Calm down Arthur, I’m not going to put up with this!”

“Heh…should have thought about that before you woke me up then!” said Arthur. “You come in here and act like some kind of…kind of saint but you’re not!”

“I never pretend to anything I’m not!” shouted Francis, his cheeks growing red. This was the thanks he got. For being so empathetic to the emotions of others, only to get kicked when he was down every single time. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nun, I’m not maid! What the hell do I have to do for you to stop being so cruel?”

“I’m the one who’s cruel?!” huffed Arthur., pointing his finger at Francis “You must be absolutely insane! You’re the one who’s in my house and-”

“And what Arthur?” said Francis, grabbing Arthur’s wrist. “You want to point the finger at me for all the oooh so BAD things I did?

“Let go of me!” screamed Arthur, lifting up his other hand to hit Francis, but Francis caught the other one too, restraining Arthur by pushing him against the wall. Arthur struggled and roared, too stunned by Francis’ boldness to have the strength to kick and flail.

Francis’ eyes were dilated, panting. He wanted so badly to just leave. His mind was racing, thoughts of his own suffering going through his mind. And Arthur continued treating him like dirt. Just because Arthur was going through his own emotional turmoils, it didn't give him the right to walk all over Francis. Arthur stopped struggling, looking away and calming down, although still panting. “Okay..I.. Let go..you can let go of me now.” Said Arthur.

“Yeah? I’m not so sure about that? Are you only saying that because you’re scared?” asked Francis. “Is the dangerous homeless dirty criminal going to mug you? Going to shank you and leave you for dead in an alley?”

“That’s not who you are-” said Arthur.

“THEN WHY WONT YOU STOP SEEING ME LIKE THAT!” shouted Francis, tightening his grip on Arthur’s wrists. Seeing Arthur wince made Francis’s heart skipped and he swallowed, taking a deep breath and letting go, keeping Arthur pinned to the wall by holding him by the shoulder. “Why- do…you never… appreciate the things I do-?” asked Francis.

Arthur shook his head, trying to touch Francis’ wrists and push them away. “I- I do, “ he said. “You are a good person, truly but- I …I never wanted any of this! I never wanted you in my life!”

Francis sucked his teeth, wounded by Arthur’s honesty. “You…little disgusting piglet.” He huffed. “How could you be so ungrateful?”

“BECAUSE!” shouted Arthur, looking up with tears in his eyes, his eyebrows knitted together in agony. “YOU’RE NOT HER!”

Francis took a step back at that eruption, the message a far harder blow to him than the volume. The lava was cooling now, as Arthur’s voice cracked and he slid down the wall, covering his eyes. “You do everything she did in this house…But…you’re…not…her.” He weeped pathetically.

“Arthur…” said Francis, kneeling down and taking a deep breath, watching the grown man sob into his knees. “I know…I know I’m not Hana-”

“Don’t!” warned Arthur, lifting his head up and gritting his teeth, big globs of tears snaking down his cheeks. “Shut up! SHUT UP! Don’t do this to me! Francis- stop…stop.”

“What do you want me to stop doing Arthur…please..” Begged Francis. “I’m tired of these outbursts- I can’t take it either.”

“It’s all my fault. “ Said Arthur, covering his face again. “I know I’m the one who caused all the pain…but stop…stop Francis, please.

“Stop what, Arthur?” asked Francis, touching Arthur’s knee. Arthur looked up and looked at Francis, touching his cheek and stroking it gently, his eyes soft and watery. He hiccuped softly and smiled weakly.

“Stop being Hana.”



Chapter Text

Sometimes when I close my eyes

Pictures there, make me cry

Vivid and clear

Down comes tears

Despite being from a long past year.

*****************

As quick as he could, Arthur locked himself away in the bathroom and melted down onto the tile flooring, holding his head in his hands. There was many a time where he would rush here after a long day of guzzling down rum and hug the toilet, pouring all of his anguish and sorrow into it. There had even been times where he had forgotten to close the door and Alfred would often stumble upon the image of his father heaving and sweating in between every ferocious wretch into the porcelain god. Even though Arthur had severely cut back on drinking these past few days, he felt his stomach flip and gurgle regardless.

He couldn’t believe that he had had the gall to tell Francis such a thing. ‘Stop being Hana.’ What did he even mean by that?

“Stop being Hana…” muttered Arthur again, as though saying it aloud would help him understand the feelings he had. Was he turning his rage onto Francis because he believed that he was trying to take her place? Or was he projecting that image onto him because Francis was so skillfully taking over all the domestic duties she used to have taken care off. Arthur grit his teeth, digging his nails into his face. The reason he drank in the first place was so he wouldn’t have to bother answering these questions that forced him to confront his inner turmoil.

Arthur forced himself to stand up and begin pulling his clothes off, catching the look of his naked body in the mirror. Arthur bit his lip, seeing his gut distended slightly, his skin seeming flabby, sad and a sickly pale. He tore his gaze away so as to not give into the urge he had to smash face first into the mirror and thus destroy the truth within the reflection. Stepping into the shower, he turned on the cold water and hugged himself underneath the almost painful barrage, not making a move to warm it up. As everything did, it reminded him of Hana. He recalled that cold December night that they had bathed together in this tub, just like they had in Japan after they had first fallen in love.

He gasped hard and opened his eyes, seeing her clear image before him in the tub, even hearing the gentle song that had drifted from his phone that they were using to “set the mood”. Arthur leaned forward to change the temperature. He couldnt allow his wife to freeze could he? With a sigh, he moved to sit down in the tub next to her, feeling the warm water rain down on both of them. Arthur put some shampoo in his palms and reached forward so that he could wash her beautiful hair, only for her image to start fading once more, her smile turning into a sad pout. The excess glob of shampoo dripped onto his leg.
“Why…” asked Arthur. As soon as he asked that question, Hana was in the tub again, not looking at him, running a brush through her hair. Arthur swallowed and shook his head. “You’re not real…Why do you taunt me like this?”

Hana turned around, putting her brush on the edge of the tub. “Arthur.” She said gently. Arthur’s eyes widened in shock. She had rarely spoken back to him like this. “I’m here because we’re the same.”

“The…The same?” he asked, seeing her eyes stare directly into his.

“Yes…Abandoned…Ignored.” She whispered,

“Don’t say that!” said Arthur, tearing his gaze. “Please…I..I love you but-”

“Thats why you loved me…” said Hana, shifting to touch Arthur’s cheeks. He felt them grow cold from an icy chill as his hallucination reached toward him, caressing him. “Because you understood.”

Arthur grit his teeth tightly. “You’re making me crave what I can’t have.” He gasped, tears falling from his eyes. “Please…go away.”

“This is to help you.” She said, kissing his cheeks sweetly.

“This was just a horrible mistake- I ended up being worse off.” He stammered, leaning forward and grasping the air where his wife seemed to be but was not.

“You were always like this.” She said. “Like me.” Hana cupped Arthur’s ear gently. “Like Francis.”
“NO!” he shouted in dismay, waving his arms in front of him to shoo the vision away. “I’m NORMAL!”

Just then, Francis burst into the bathroom panting heavily, a library card in his hand that he had used to jimmy the lock open. Arthur turned to him and grabbed the shower curtain, lifting it to cover his decency. He was so stunned he didn’t know what to say. His fingers gripped the shower curtain tightly and there was not a sound in the room except the running water and Francis struggling to catch his breath, gripping the sink. The way that Francis was staring at him…it was as though he thought Arthur was acting crazy.

“Arthur…haa…” huffed Francis at last, straightening up and clearing his throat. “No more…No more locked doors.” He said.

Arthur furrowed his brow and looked down. He looked at the water in the tub, filled with dead fish, overflowing, blood staining the grass.

“Arthur!” said Francis, darting forward and grabbing Arthur’s shoulders. He had swooned a little, almost as though he were going to face plant into the water.
“I’m…I’m fine. I’m fine..I’d never do something like what you’re thinking”

“God…you’re doing terribly.” Said Francis, turning off the water and touching Arthur’s forehead. He teared his head away.

“Francis…I…Just give me the dignity of letting me clothe myself.” He said weakly.

Francis swallowed. “Arthur…I dont know if you realized but…you were talking to yourself.”

“What?” asked Arthur, becoming more Alert and staring at Francis. He frowned, furrowing his brow and scoffing as though Francis were a silly child. “No I wasn’t I was talking to Hana.”
Francis paused and Arthur gingerly pushed him away. “I’m well aware she’s not here.” Said Arthur. “It’s my way of dealing with things. Haven’t you ever heard of exposure therapy?” he rambled, starting to feel a little like his normal avoidant grumpy self. At least this was his new normal now anyway.

Francis looked away and rubbed his arm gently. “Whatever you were doing Arthur…you were speaking her part as well.”

That was…new to him. Arthur didn’t know how to counteract that, but as soon as he had an idea, Francis incapacitated him again. “Why do you think you’re like me?”

Arthur cleared his throat and stood up, lifting the curtain to cover his decency. “Bring me some clothes please.”

Francis frowned tightly and handed Arthur a towel, leaving as the other dried himself off and tried to hum the annoying buzzy thoughts in his head away. Soon Francis returned with a shirt and pants , neatly folded on the side of the sink, but stood in the door frame with his arms crossed.

Arthur tried his best to ignore Francis. If the other expected him to talk about this issue so that he could get some privacy, he was certainly delusional. Still, Arthur couldn’t hide the blood tinging his cheeks as he stepped out of the tub and let the towel drop so that he could grab some boxers and put them on. He could see the shock appear on Francis’ face when Arthur showed he wasn’t going to be intimidated, but the amused smile that spread on Arthur’s face unnerved him a little bit.
“I swear.” He huffed, biting his lip and looking off to the side as he brought his underwear up and started stepping into his pants. “Are you sure you’re not a prostitute?” he said, managing a soft smile as well as he looked back at Francis.

“Even if I was, you couldn’t afford me.” Said Francis calmly, picking up the shirt to give it to Arthur.

“Hmph, I wonder what sort of degrading feats you preform that even I wouldn’t be able to compensate you for.” Said Arthur, a little relieved to return to their usual banter.

“Do I look like an Italian to you?” said Francis, the corner of his mouth twitching a little more into a grin. “My lips are sealed.” He said, offering his hand to Arthur, taking it gently and turning off the bathroom light as he led the other back into his bedroom. Arthur felt his heart race a little bit. He wasn’t sure what he was thinking about but, Francis’ hands felt so warm on his clammy skin. He felt a vibrant heat spread throughout his body from that point, radiating back to his core.

“I want to show you something on the computer.” Said Francis, turning on Arthur’s desktop and logging onto the internet. “Do you have headphones?”

Arthur took a look at the monitor to see what Francis had typed, taking a seat.

[Guided Meditation for Anxiety, Flashbacks and Nightmares]

He was shook and felt cold again.

“Ah…No..there may be a spare set in the boy’s room.” He said, feeling numb. Francis left to go retrieve them. Arthur stared at the mouse as though it were a button of self destruction. Francis probably thought that Arthur had some sort of mental illness and now he wanted to show him some silly feel good video on how life was precious? No, Arthur was positive that there was nothing wrong with him. To say otherwise would just be an excuse.

“I don’t want to hear another word about your nightmares!” snapped Arthur’s father. Arthur grit his teeth and hugged himself, recalling when he used to wake up exhausted every morning because of the terrors that had assaulted him in the evenings.

“But Father…” he had said, rubbing his eyes as he picked up his knapsack for school.

“No, seriously.” Said Arthur’s father. “I just find it so convenient that you happen to have these nightmares just around the time your grades drop. If you really think you need help, how about we put you in the special class with the boys who eat paste and set fires?”

“I…No I’m not like them but-”

“Butts are for the toilet.” Said his father with a roll of his eyes, getting back to his newspaper. “If you miss the bus, you’re walking to school, so better get a move on.” He said.

“Just…listen to me…you old tosser.”

“What’s wrong?” said…Francis?

Arthur blinked and laughed, rubbing his nose. “Nothing,” he said, lying again. He was covered in sweat. All of this returning to the past seemed to feel far more real ever since he had stopped drinking so heavily. Now he was here, outright responding to them in the real world, with words he hadnt had the gall to say in the actual moment. He leaned forward on the computer desk, closing his eyes. “Ha…Hahah, Good, don’t say a word. There’s nothing wrong with me.” He said, “Let’s just forget this all, alright?”

“Arthur…it’s okay.” Said Francis, putting the headphones into the jack of the computer and handing the earpieces to Arthur. “I just called Antonio.”

“W-Why would you go and do something like that?!”

“I invited your English Teacher over for dinner.” Said Arthur’s father. He gasped hard and smacked a palm to his forehead. Francis’ voice seemed like it was covered in mud, far off in the distance. “We’ll try to see if we can convince that grade to be raised since you just…ah…prove yourself to be a disappointment time and time again.”

“Arthur? Can you hear me?”

Arthur recalled being in a cold sweat, watching his father flirting with his teacher over dinner. The peas rolled off of his fork and onto the tablecloth as he stared.

“Arthur!”

“Wh…What are you doing.” Whispered Arthur. “That’s not my mother…”

“Antonio-…I…he’s really worse- he needs help, I need your help!”

He threw up on her dress when he had gotten up to take her plate to the sink for washing. She stands in horror and disgust. He’s shaking and his shoulder cracks as his arm is tugged and he is sharply shoved to the floor with a

BAM

“ARTHUR! Antonio…he just collapsed, Oh my god…Call an ambulance!” fretted Francis, kneeling down and trying to feel Arthur’s chest.

Hana used to touch him like that.

“I’m terrified-” said Francis, but it was Hana.

“It’ll be okay,” said Hana, but it was Francis

“I’m…here…said Arthur, and he was sure he was speaking this time, extending a hand. There were tears on Francis’s cheek. The poor man didn’t deserve to go through all of this. He was just as lost and vulnerable as Arthur, but the thing was he was much better at masking it.

“I’m so sorry Arthur…” said Francis, holding his head. “I…I don’t know what else to do.”

“Ssshh…shhh…” said Arthur, trying to comfort Francis. Francis closed his eyes and held the cellphone to his ear again.

“You’re on your way? And the ambulance too? Thank you Antonio….”

No…Arthur wasn’t crazy.

Francis helped him upright and he moaned softly, shifting through 3 stages of his life in an instant. Child, Young Adult, and Now. “Hahaha…” he said softly, holding a hand to his forehead as the world spun before him. “It suppose it can’t be helped my dear…Shoganai.”

Chapter Text

I tried to escape

Thoughts in my head, so great

But it was too late.

*****************

 

Wide eyes stared far into the distance as Arthur at in the waiting area of the hospital psych ward, feeling as though he were 3 seconds away from vomiting. He had returned to lucidity once they wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm in the ambulance, riding with Francis holding his hand by his side. Antonio had arrived as well, telling the technician about Arthur’s personal affairs.

Once they got him through the triage, after taking his vitals, Arthur had to give up his shoes, keys, wallet and everything else he carried in his pockets to be put away in a large manila envelope the staff kept behind the desk. They gave him ugly, gray socks to put on his feet, which were covered in dark, splotchy blue polka dots, textured in a way to make it downright impossible to slip on the cold, hard floors.

Arthur crossed his arms tighter, every movement he made making him feel more and more paranoid. This was nothing like the way it looked like in the movies or on T.V. The staff were kind, but not condescending. No one was shoving a straitjacket over his head. The lobby of the psych ward bustled with an almost casual feel, with one of the desk attendants talking to a security guard about how cute her new grandchild was.

He was at least thankful for Francis and Antonio by his side, engaged with the world when he faded out of reality, their gentle touches of his arm reminding him of the security they held. Antonio especially, had a steely look in his eye, but the ends of his sentences held the smallest of pitch changes that only happened when he was nervous. The lawyer was fiercely present to help his friend.

Arthur stared down at his ugly woolly socks in disgust. Despite his surroundings being no more threatening than the dentist’s office, they made him feel like a prisoner and it only added to his emotional discomfort.

“Mr.Kirkland?” called out a plump nurse, opening the door with a folder in hand, accompanied by a tall doctor by her side.

“That’s you, come on.” Said Antonio, nudging Arthur’s shoulder and they both stood. Arthur tore his gaze up and nervously brushed his bangs to the side in the hope of appearing presentable. Francis stood up as well, quiet but biting his lip as he rubbed his hands together.

The doctor stepped forward further into the lobby. Arthur exhaled sharply and looked at him. “How long will it take?” he said, his voice scratchy and dry.

“Not long at all.” Said the doctor confidently. “We just want to ask you some questions to see how you’re doing, observe you for a while and see what we can do to help.”

“We’ll be waiting for you, okay?” said Francis with a meek, if not stressed smile.

“Yes, just tell them everything, okay?” said Antonio, giving a pat on Arthur’s back before stepping to the side so he could go.

It wasn’t okay, not in a million years but Arthur opened his mouth to speak, sighing instead as words failed him.

“We have their contact information in the file.” Said the nurse. “So you can call them when we’re done as well.”

That seemed to have convinced Arthur at last. He forced out a smile, forced out an “Alright” and forced himself to walk alongside the medical duo deeper into the facility.

“So, Mr.Kirkland, my name is Doctor Ike, and I’d like for us to to work together and figure out what exactly brought on this episode of yours today?” he said, opening the door to the office and sitting in a chair by the computer. Across the desk was a large, plastic purple chair with rounded edges, almost as though someone had built a much bigger version of a kindergarten chair and sanded down every point. Arthur cautiously took a seat in it, noting the scabby texture all over.

“Ah…Episode?” said Arthur with a blink, vaguely uncomfortable in the chair as he wiggled around, trying not to get his skin in contact with it.

“So in medical terms, we use words like an episode to describe a length of time where your physical, emotional or psychological health makes a drastic shift.” Said Doctor Ike, moving his hands to show the concept visually. “For example, when an epileptic as a seizure, it’s described as an attack or an episode.”

Arthur felt his jaw unclench. “I see, well- I’m not entirely sure.” Stammered Arthur, staring at the door. He didn’t like looking at the doctor’s eyes, it made him feel like a child. “I suppose it might have something to do with me detoxing…perhaps?” he said with a shrug.

“Detoxing from what?” said the doctor quickly. “Drugs? Alcohol?”

Arthur grit his teeth again and closed his eyes. “I used to drink a lot more. Like, rum and vodka, but I’m not drinking as much now.”

“And are you in a rehabilitation program or-”

“No.” Said Arthur, a little harder than he had intended. He cleared his throat. “No.” He said again. “My ah…my house guest, limits my intake.” He said, furrowing his brow at how odd that sounded.

“So how many drinks do you have a week?”

Arthur felt his face grow hot in dismay. “Look.” He said sternly, glancing back at the doctor. “This has absolutely no bearing at all on what happened.

“As a matter of fact.” Said Doctor Ike just as sternly. “Alcohol withdrawal syndrome has a number of psychiatric symptoms so I’m afraid it really is very important, regardless of how willing you are to share the facts with me. Otherwise we can’t help you, and in that case, there’s no reason for you to be here if you’re going to lie.” He threw his hands up in a sort of shrug. “It’s up to you, Mr.Kirkland. Do you want to get to the bottom of this or not?”

Arthur was at a loss for words at the dramatic shift in attitude the doctor had made, and his face grew even redder. He dropped his gaze once again, heart pounding. He didn’t want to be here. He wished it hadn’t been such a big deal. He wished he hadn’t been so lost in his own thoughts as to worry Francis. The look on his face… He swallowed hard, covering his face with his hands and trying to rub the sweat away from his forehead, clenching his hands into fists and putting them between his knees. He took a deep breath and bit his lip, still frozen and not knowing if he could answer. He gave a nod.

“Ok.” He said at last, when the doctor showed no signs of continuing his questions after the nod.

“Alright then.” Said Doctor Ike and Arthur sincerely hoped that he would get a couple of paper cuts as he handled files later that day. “How many drinks do you have a week?”
“This week was…17. Beer and wine.” Said Arthur.

“And what was your average intake before this week?”

“I….” Arthur sighed. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Just take a guess for me.”

Arthur tried to do the math in his head, but it was hard to go that far back into the past in the first place. “I…” he started, so the doctor wouldn’t think he was avoiding the question. “Maybe…20…25?”

“Of beer?” asked the doctor.”

“No, rum and vodka.” Said Arthur quickly. He was deeply uncomfortable putting a number to his drinking. It never seemed like that much. In truth, it never seemed like enough.

“Alright, so I think what we could do is… said the doctor, pounding out the last few words into the computer. “We will provide a temporary dosage of benzos to see if the symptoms dissipate over time. “

“Alright, thank you.” Said Arthur out of habit, although he didn’t exactly feel more or less fulfilled by what the doctor said he was going to do, it seemed rude to not at least thank him for his time. The nurse nodded and opened the door, waving her arm in a polite gesture.

“Alright Mr.Kirkland, if you just step out here I’ll show you where you’ll be waiting.” She said.

Arthur nodded and stood up, feeling so awkward in his socks as he heard her sneakers squeak against the floor. He briefly remembered how he had always connected nurses with wearing heels, but that seemed to be more of a romantic thing seen in hospital dramas. It made very little sense, Arthur thought, looking at her shoes and their nonslip threads. Hospitals had tons of eerie fluids that would cause even the most sure footed medical professionals to break an ankle if they had to run to an emergency in glossy heels. Thinking of such fluids made him shudder. He wondered how many times people had vomited, peed or bled onto the hallway they were walking on.

“Here we are.” Said the nurse, interrupting his thoughts. “There’s a phone over there, you ask the someone at the desk and we’ll connect you to one of the numbers you provided with us previously. There’s a TV up there, a bookshelf over here and if you’d like to sleep, you can ask one of the staff members to open a room for you.”

Arthur looked around at everything the nurse had pointed out. In the middle was what looked to be a cafeteria table, with a bored looked staff member playing on his phone while a young lady pressed closely against him, looking over the game in interest. The TV was completely encased high up in a plastic bubble with scratches marring the surface. On the screen an episode of Countdown was starting. Around the walls were more of the purple plastic chairs he had seen in the office as well as two comfy looking brown couches that looked so sterile, they seemed suspicious. Down the hall were a series of doors with windows so one could partially see inside. Arthur was struck with the worry that they were locked in but as soon as that fear struck him, a boy -who appeared to be no older than 14- opened the door with a frown and walked straight to the bookshelf. He knelt down to press the book into an empty space on the shelf before retrieving another one and settling down on the couch.

“Yes…” said Arthur, feeling incredibly overstimulated in this place so far. He regretted everything. “Thank you.” He lowered himself onto the couch with a gentle nod. How low he had fallen this time. He peered over at the book the young man was reading and recognized the whimsical child like illustrations immediately. Normally, Arthur frowned upon the practice of reading over someone else’s shoulder but the familiar work of Shel Silverstein, an American poet he had often read to Alfred and Matthew when they were young, made him forget entirely about etiquette.

 

YEARS FROM NOW

Although I cannot see your face

As you flip these poems awhile,

Somewhere from some far-off place

I hear you laughing—and I smile.

 

Arthur heard it. Heard her voice again as his eyes raced over and over those lines, which he knew were just the words of another dead poet. Another dead poet that sang the verses his pained heart howled while never anticipating of his suffering, never had an inkling of who he was and yet spoke to him so deeply. He thought of the book the two of them had shared. The fluffy pink collection of poems and writings he had stuffed under the bed because it had pained him too much to look at it. The book filled with the scraps of her early cries for help, the silent screeching hidden in her ink that Arthur had translated to the best of his ability.

His dear wife had been through so much. Arthur regretted his deep anger at her disappearance. Yet the note she had left behind- the audacity of her prose turning into pins that pierced Arthur’s heart. The note that he had kept hidden in the Maneki Neko. The Lucky Cat Teapot. The note he had refused to share with his sons because the reality would destroy them. The note that made him hate himself and question what in the world he had done wrong.

The note that turned him into an alcoholic.

With a start, Arthur noticed that the young man with the book now had his face deeply shoved into it, shaking all over. For a moment, Arthur was confused, until he heard how ragged his breathing had become, felt the tension in his face and brow, noticed his grit teeth. He had been staring down this poor boy this whole time.
“Oh! Ah..Ahem.” Said Arthur carefully, trying to put on a friendly face and catch his breath. “I’m …I’m so sorry.” He said, awkwardly glancing to the side. “I didn’t mean to stare at you, young man, I got- ah, lost in thought.”

The young boy peered up from the top of his book to sneak a peek at Arthur nervously and he had the widest eyes Arthur had ever seen. “Oh…” he said, lowering the book and relaxing his shoulders, although still quivering all over quite a bite. “Thanking you.” He said with a sigh of relief.

Arthur coughed into his hand. Perhaps talking to someone who appeared to be in a similar position to his could help pass the time better, not to mention get his unsettled mind off of things that drove him deeper in the pit of despair. “I’m Arthur, What’s your name?” he said. For an introduction it sounded far too simple, childish even, but considering the circumstances, Arthur found that it would be inappropriate to ask anything else. He would hate to set this kid off the same way he had unintentionally set himself reeling.

“Oh- Hi. I’m Raivis.” Said Raivis, his eyes starting to clear and shrink now that the perceived danger had dissipated. “Have you been heres for a while?”

The question Arthur wanted to avoid so desperately was now being shoved back into his face. He wanted to ask Raivis the same question, especially intrigued by his accent and rather blunt manner of speaking. “Slightly, I suppose.” Said Arthur with a frown. “I just got here for…things, you know?” he said, bullshitting most of his response and yet Raivis gave an understanding nod. “How about you?”

Raivis looked up at the TV, his grip on the book becoming tighter. “They had a bad sitcom on when I came, so it must have been really earlies.” He said. “I know it was still dark outside, but I fell asleep right away.” He said, closing the book, but putting his thumb between the pages so he wouldnt lose his place. “Do you lives nearby?”

“Ah yes, I’m from Manchester.” Said Arthur with a nod.

“I’m from Rusholme, by the park with a heart shaped pond.” Said Raivis.

“Really?” said Arthur in interest, enjoying the casual chatter. “I don’t think I’ve been there. How old are you?” asked Arthur.

“I’m…16.” Said Raivis, looking rather embarrassed.

“16!?” exclaimed Arthur in astonishment. Raivis grew a little redder and that made Arthur bite back what was going to be a comment about how small the boy was. “I have a son your age, actually.”

“Oh?” said Raivis with a small, his eyebrows rising in an expression Arthur couldn’t quite pinpoint. It looked like a cross between relief and…hope?”

“Yes, yes.” Said Arthur, smiling as well. “Two boys, 16 and 14.” He said, instinctively reaching for his pocket to show Raivis a few pictures before he realized his wallet was gone. “Ah…” he said, patting his hip.

“Where are they now?” asked Raivis, tilting his head.

Arthur frowned and sighed, clasping his hands together in front of him, laying his chin on his fingers. “At school most likely…” he said, glancing up at the TV before peering at Raivis. “I hope…that I can make it home before they do.

Raivis’s smile faded and he opened his book again, glancing away from Arthur. “Um…I’m sorries but…that probably wont happen.” He said, turning the page.

“O-Oh.” Said Arthur, so shocked that his voice cracked. He wasn’t sure how to describe this feeling overtaking him now. It was a rapid, rolling numbness coursing through him. Now he was going to disappoint his children again. What were they going to say? To feel? Would it spread? Would the other students make fun of them?

“Mister Kirkland!” said the nurse, shaking Arthur out of his daze once more as she touched his shoulder and gave him a smile. “It’s time for us to do the blood work.”

With a nod, Arthur stood up. He was afraid at what kind of results would come up because at this moment, every ounce of blood in his body felt as cold as ice.

Chapter Text

Please try to find some time to kill

Me? I will never love you until

The day you stop bringing such pain

Wont there then be such joy to gain?

*****************

Antonio and Francis waited loyally outside for Arthur to return as soon as he had disappeared inside. Half an hour passed and they were both silent, Francis sitting stock straight with his hands one over the other on his lap and Antonio with his hand on his hip, glancing around every now and then, his finger tapping the outside of his pocket as his leg jostled up and down. Just then, a nurse in lavender scrubs approached Antonio. “Hey, You can go home now.” He said kindly. “Visiting hours will start tomorrow after lunch.”

“Visiting hours?” said Francis with a blink, looking up from his dazed expression, but Antonio was already on his feet, hands behind his back and eyes flashing.

“Miss, I’m sure you’re aware that it’s against the law to hold someone in a hospital overnight without their signed consent.” He said. “And knowing my friend, I’m sure he wouldn't have agreed to being held for so long.” Antonio’s voice was brisk and polite, but there was a subtle threatening tone about him. The nurse’s previously warm gaze deadened at Antonio’s legal sputter and she shrugged noncommittally.

“I’m sorry sir, but that can be overridden if we deem the patient as being unable to make a wise decision and prove themselves to be a danger to their well being.” She flicked her hair just as Antonio opened his mouth again, her locks hiding the nametag on her chest. “Excuse me.” Before Antonio could so much as ask for her supervisor, she turned tailed, grabbed a file from a desk, and headed inside the ward.

When Antonio looked at Francis, he was beside himself. “Oh my god.” He said, shakily standing up. “I basically put him in a jail cell.” He said, eyes wide and hands sweating. “Why…I thought that they would just- evaluate him quickly and…”

“I’m not going to let this happen.” Snarled Antonio, getting out his cell phone. “This is not how we wanted to do this- If we could have let him know he would stay longer, then maybe, but-”

“Sir, you can’t have your cell phone here.” Said a woman behind a desk, looking up and eyeing him warily. “You’re going to have to take it outside.”

Antonio paused for a moment, then slipped his phone back into his pocket, approaching the desk. “Yes, hi.” He said quickly. “So, a Mr.Kirkland is here and I’m both his legal representative and close friend. I’d really appreciate it if I could get a possible phone number I can call to discuss his release? We brought him in under the pretense of an emergency but I firmly believe that an overnight stay would actually be detrimental to his health, ironic as that may seem. We would definitely be willing to bring him back in if the doctor has any further concerns but as I said, an inpatient process is definitely not what we were looking for. “

The woman listened patiently to Antonio as he talked, her hands clasped together and nodding. “Ok.” She said with a last nod. “I understand where you’re coming from.” She said, getting out a pad of sticky notes and scribbling a number on it. “If the doctor has decided to keep him overnight we really prefer to stick to that for the sake of safety, but if you’re certain, you can make an appeal with the director of the program.” She said, handing the number off to Antonio. “He’s out to lunch right now, but should be back soon.”

“Thank you so much.” Said Antonio with a smile, taking the yellow piece of paper and sticking it carefully into his pocket. “Vamos Francis.”

Francis followed Antonio out, still shaken as they walked through the hospital halls and ended up outside. “Antonio.” He said weakly.

“I know.” Said Antonio, shaking his head and dialing on his cellphone. “You did the right thing Francis, don’t worry about it.”

“But-…But an overnight stay wasn’t anything that I wanted to-”

Antonio put up a finger apologetically as he held the phone to his ear. “Lovi.” He said. “Francis and I are at the hospital, can you pick us up?”

Francis tuned out Antonio’s conversation, staring out into the parking lot. His stomach felt queasy and his face was hot. He deeply regretted calling an ambulance now, but Arthur’s convulsions had made him sincerely panic. Francis gazed down onto the street with a gulp. Maybe it was different here in England, but he could recall the first time he had visited a hospital for an ailment of the mind.

‘No!’ thought Francis fiercely, trying to shove that memory deep down, picturing a spiky metal box he opened just a crack to stuff it away again. But as he pictured putting it away, an explosion of other bad memories erupted from that box, filling him with a heavy sludge of horrible experiences, terrible thoughts and other past perils he had endured. He felt rooted to the spot from overwhelming emotion, a wave of nausea swimming in his head.

He wouldn’t have noticed the car pulling up if Lovino hadn’t honked the horn upon coming into view. He flushed darkly, wondering if either of them had noticed his sulking demeanor, and rushed forward to clamber into the back seat. Lovino turned down the radio as he entered.

“Feliciano was begging to come along, especially since this is his and Ludwig’s car in the first place. “ Said Lovino. “I had to tell him that his enormous ass would make the car lose all the gas and leave us stranded before he gave up.” He said with a grin, giving Antonio a kiss on the lips as he got into the front.

“They’re trying to keep Arthur overnight.” Said Antonio. “I’m going to try and get him out.”

Lovino gave a slow nod as he started to drive off but then stopped and looked at Antonio incredulously. “Wait, why? It’s not like it’s jail or anything. Being in there will only help him, won’t it?” he said, making a turn to get out of the pickup zone.

“It’s not that simple.” Said Antonio with a sigh. “You know Arthur, he’ll go stir crazy. He might even come out worse than when he came in.

“If there’s any place that’s okay to go crazy in, isn’t it a psych place?” said Lovino dully, narrowing his eyes and tearing his gaze back to the road. “Look, why don’t you consider it a vacation, Francis! Obviously Arthur has some shit that you and Toni couldn’t deal with on your own, so let the hospital deal with it and find out what it is.”

Francis felt his stomach tighten even more, sinking into the chair and staring out the window. “No.” He said instantly. “It’s not right, He didn’t know he was going to be kept longer than a few hours. Maybe he does need to stay longer, but he deserves a warning first. “

Lovino was quiet for a few moments and laughed as he turned on to the highway. “Fine, you got a point. Arthur could have used a heads up.”

“Lovino.” Said Antonio, straightening up a little. “Take us to Arthur’s house.”

“This ain’t a fucking taxi, madicon.”

“Take us to Arthur’s house please.”

That’s better.” Said Lovino with a grin, taking a hand of the wheel to punch Antonio in the arm. Francis saw Antonio wince and rub his arm gingerly once Lovino looked away to watch for the next turn.

“And…” added Antonio carefully, his hands up to try to catch any more playful punches. “I need you to do another big favor for me and pick up Alfred and Matthew from school.”

Lovino glanced down at the clock and nodded. “Sure, Sure. You want me to take em back to our place?” A grin grew on his lips again. “Yeah, no problem. I don’t think they’ve met “Uncle Veni” yet.” He said. “They’ll probably keep each other busy all night.”

Soon, they were back on Princess Street and Lovino slowed to drop them off. Antonio gave him another kiss before he got out. “Thank you so much, I love you, okay?” he said, closing the door.

“Love you too, dumbass.” Said Lovino before turning around to face Francis, who looked startled and started unbuckling his seatbelt.

“Hey.” Said Lovino sharply. “Don’t stress out too much over this okay?”

Francis blinked and took a deep inhale through his nose, casting his gaze down before nodding, leaning forward to hug Lovino. “Take care of the kids for me, okay?” he said, squeezing around Lovino’s neck tightly before he pulled back and followed Antonio back to the house, retrieving the keys from his pocket.

They both entered the house and sat down onto the couch, Antonio immediately emptying his pockets and trying to find a pen and paper to write information down on while Francis remained silent. Finally, Antonio looked up and saw that Francis was staring straight ahead at the blank television, eyes filling with tears.

“Francis?” said Antonio in surprise, dropping everything onto the table and turning to his friend. “Francis, what’s wrong?”

Francis’ jaw dropped open slightly and he shook his head, the motions making the tears start to slide down the side of his face. “I’m not strong enough…” he whispered, sinking down into the couch and putting his head into his hands. “I…I’m just not strong enough for this.”

“Francis…” said Antonio, touching a hand to Francis’ shoulder. “Stop it, this isn’t your fault at all, I didn’t think it would turn out like this.”

“Ha.” Said Francis derisively with a shake of his head, rubbing his eye with the back of his hand and swallowing hard. “I’m…I’m just so tired of putting on a happy face all the time and giving advice. Who in their right mind would take advice from someone who’s hasn’t had a stable place to live for the past…what, 5 years, 6 even? Oh sure- I’ve got everything sorted out, they’d be a fool not to listen to me.” Francis pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose, whimpering softly. “I just try to make things up as I go along, but the truth is that I don’t know anything either. I’m supposed to parade around like I’m Mary goddamn Poppins and sing a song to make everything go away, but I CAN’T!”” he exclaimed, face flushed red and burning hotly.

Antonio’s eyebrows lowered and he looked grave for a moment, unable to think of anything to say that matched his own emotions. He clasped his hands over Francis’ holding it firmly. “Fransito…I never wanted you to feel like this when I made the deal to bring you here.” He croaked lowly, unable to meet Francis’ eyes. “It’s my fault too…” Tears started to swim in Antonio’s eyes as well as he grit his teeth. “I- I wasn’t a good enough friend. If I hadn’t defended Arthur and enabled his behavior…If I had just been more aware of what was happening sooner. I could have saved both of you so much pain.” Antonio brought Francis’ hand to his cheek and sniffed, looking defeated. “I was so selfish. If I…if I had just BEEN there more after Hana disappeared. If I had begged Arthur harder to let me see the note he had left behind, maybe I could have been a better friend. Maybe he never would have had to turn to alcohol in the first place.” He said. “And now…look at him. Stuck in the coconut closet.”

Francis snorted and brushed away Antonio’s tears with his fingers, clearing his throat. “Stop it Antonio.” He said weakly. “It’s as much your fault he got this way as it is your fault I become homeless.”

Antonio’s eyes looked even mistier as he nodded grimly. “Exactly.” He whispered.

“Stop it!” snapped Francis again, unnerved by Antonio’s uncharacteristic self pity. He had always depended on the man to either be full of joy or anger. Rarely had he seen Antonio’s tears unless he was helping chop onions for dinner. “What were you supposed to do Antonio? Toss aside your own needs for your friends? Everyone does have to focus on themselves sometimes and maybe that’s what it is that lets us help others in the future!” he said fiercely. “If you hadn’t focused on becoming a lawyer, Arthur would be stuck rotting in a prison somewhere, I’d have no place to go- and you never would have met Lovino!”

Antonio flushed briefly in embarrassment. “Stop it.” He said quickly, but a small smile was evident on his face from that memory.

Francis took a deep breath and looked down at the carpet. He was now mulling over his own words in disbelief, staring at his shaking hands. He had been so quick to defend Antonio, even when his own mind was swimming in bad emotions and thoughts. He was simply unable to stand allowing his friend to go into the same spiral of self pity and destruction. Antonio seemed to read his mind just then.

“You really are an angel, Francis.” He said. “Maybe…you should listen to your own words.”

Francis sat up straight and looked at Antonio, who was smiling wider now, though his eyes were still watery. “We can’t change what happened in the past, no matter what.” Said Antonio, pausing for a moment as though to let those words seep through his own body. Francis touched Antonio’s hand with his other and squeezed tightly, giving a nod.

“Francis, I don’t want you to think you should be on your toes here, or to act like someone you’re not.” Said Antonio. “I promise you. I swear, I will not let Arthur kick you out. “

Francis swallowed for a moment once more, thinking about his relationship with Arthur this past week. How they had gotten closer over the nightly wine talks. Their discussion of parents. How Arthur seemed to hold growing empathy for Francis’ situation. He squeezed his fist tightly. How Arthur seemed to be confusing Francis for Hana because of how he was acting. Being kicked out was not what Francis was worried about. No, in fact, he was more afraid about Arthur not being able to let him go.

Antonio seemed to take Francis’ silence for something else entirely. “I know you don’t like him, and I’m sorry- I can try to help you find another place soo-”

“I do like Arthur.” Said Francis.

Both of them were stunned for a moment and Francis looked into Antonio’s eyes, nodding. “Of course…he’s an asshole, and I want to strangle him until he suffocates sometimes but…I like him.”

In as little as a week, Francis had grown to care for Arthur’s family. He felt empathy for Arthur’s suffering and Francis knew, beneath that exterior of addiction and sorrow, that Arthur cared for Francis as well. Perhaps that was another reason he had grown so angry and why Francis was a lot more easily emotionally rattled. It had been a long time since either of them had been able to emotionally connect with a person in this way, after years of feeling isolated from the rest of the world.

Antonio recovered from his shock after a quick exhale. “Well, I’m glad.” He said, relieved. “I’m going to try and call the director and see what I can do about this.” He tore his gaze away and looked for his pen and paper once more.

“I can go make some tea.” Said Francis, standing up. “Your throat sounds sore.” Explained Francis when Antonio looked up in slight confusion. “And I think it could relax both of us.” He said, crossing over into the kitchen.

Once he was inside, Francis quickly picked up the large metal kettle but put it down after a moment’s thought. With only two people to make tea for, -both of whom preferred coffee anyway- it didn’t make much sense to boil quite so much water. Instead, Francis looked at the teapot beside it, a charming ceramic cat teapot, with one paw in the air, a figure he often saw in the front display of asian shops. “Lucky Cat” he believed was what they were called. Antonio could use all the luck he could get once he made that call and it was with this thought that Francis picked a couple of teabags, turned on the tap to get the hot water going and twisted off the head of the lucky cat teapot. Once he did that however, Francis stared in disbelief.

There seemed to be something already inside of the teapot. He reached in gingerly, pulling out a slghtly yellowed, folded piece of paper. Francis gaped at it in amazement, carefully putting the teapot down with trembling hands and unfolding the paper. He recognized the owner of this piece of paper instantly. He knew it from the book he had been sneaking glances at to try and comprehend the muddled past of this crazy family. There, written in dark black ink.

Was Hana’s handwriting.

Chapter Text

I love him so much, but I’m afraid to speak

And I know my silence only makes me weak

Still, I wonder if it is I that he does too seek

But I won’t find my courage for yet another week.

*****************

Arthur rubbed his arm wearily as he was returned back to the waiting room by a nurse. Raivis was still reading his book, although he looked close to the end of it now. Looking up at the TV, Arthur could see that he had been gone for a little more than an hour. His absence had felt more like a month. There were the questions of his medical history, the poking of needles in the search for a vein, poking and prodding all over his pasty body, and all the rest of the unpleasantness associated with doctors. Arthur felt somewhat woozy on his feet from all the blood they had taken from him, all but collapsing down into the chair next to Raivis, who looked up curiously, observing the band-aid on his crook of his elbow. He gave a gentle sigh.

“Lunch is comings soon.” Said Raivis assuredly. “And after that, they are having the groups.”

“Group?” repeated Arthur. Lifting his head felt as difficult as lifting fifty pounds. “What…as in group therapy? Oh no no…I’d rather not do that.” Said Arthur. Raivis made a grim expression and shook his head.

“Me neither.” He said, lowering his voice then, tilting his head toward the staff. “But they won’t care. I mean. They at least try to put people they think will understanding each other together.” Said Raivis, scoffing. He was starting to tremble a little bit again. “But it’s them who make it worse.”

“I’m sorry.” Said Arthur gently, wishing he could take his complaints back. Raivis just seemed so experienced in this situation and he could see that this fact was making the boy rather upset.

“Well, at least they’re not as bad as my dad.” Muttered Raivis, closing the book. Arthur felt a crash of shame rock his stomach sick. Luckily, as Raivis had predicted, a cart filled trays of food was rolled up, so the subject was changed as the other patients rose to retrieve a meal.

The food wasn’t fantastic but it was better than Arthur had expected. A small chicken breast on the bone, coupled with lightly seasoned white rice and blanched broccoli. It probably would have felt a bit tastier if it had been on a plate instead of a Styrofoam tray, a material that made irritating scratching sounds against Arthur’s plastic Spock as he scooped up his food. To his surprise, there was also a cup of coffee included in the meal, as well as a cartoon of milk, which he drank simply because it made him feel more like an adult and less like he was back in a high school cafeteria.

Raivis had returned to his book again after he ate, which was only after a few nibbles of chicken anyway. Arthur thought longingly of Alfred, who, if he had been in Arthur’s position, probably would have asked Raivis for his meal since he didn’t seem too interested in it. Though in all honesty, Arthur found himself wanting to ask for another coffee as well. It felt nowhere near as satisfying as drinking a beer, or better yet, rum, but the act of drinking a fluid at all was comforting.

Arthur thought longingly of his talks with Francis the past week, sharing their troubles over wine. They hadn’t shared anything as significant as their first night, but they had gotten to know little details about each other that were fun to know if not endearing. How Francis had once dreamed of working in an art gallery. How Arthur used to translate “doujinshi” -unofficial comics made by Japanese fans of cartoons- back in college. Things that made Arthur feel much closer to Francis.

He bit his lip, then started gnawing on the rim of the coffee cup. Why, Why Why did he act like such a complete asshole to Francis. There was no justifiable excuse, even if he was in here now. Whether he was mentally ill or not, it didn’t make his behavior toward Francis that morning any more acceptable. If only he had understood his own feelings better, if only he could recognize how to cope with toxic thoughts, how to think before he spoke. How to control the rage he felt over the absence of the one woman he thought would make his world glow and pulse forever.

And after all of that, Dear Francis, managed to continue to show concern, held back his own temper even though he could have rightfully punched Arthur, called for help when Arthur had collapsed. Francis could have easily dismissed it as attention seeking, could have simply left the room, or splashed water on him. Or scream at him Or punch him.

He could have done everything Arthur’s father had done. But he didn't.

Arthur wondered how long it would be before he could go back home, but he hadn’t been able to ask the question properly until the very end of his examination. Even then, the answer had been a meager “That’s up to the doctor to decide.” Yet Arthur hadn’t seen the doctor since their uncomfortable conversation when he was first admitted to the facility. His eyes wandered around the rest of the room, pausing on the phone hanging on the wall.

He needed to tell Francis how he really felt.

Getting up, Arthur strode over to the phone taking it off the handle and dialing. Once he finished punching in the number however, he found that even after trying it twice more, it wouldn’t go through. Arthur stared incredulously at the receiver, remembering how only a week ago, he had gone through this whole song and dance at the police station. But he was as sober as he could possibly be right now, and was absolutely sure that he had gotten it right.

“Um, hey.” Said Raivis at his side, who had appeared to be sympathetic to Arthur’s struggling. “You have to tell the people you’re making a call before it will work.” His doeful eyes only made Arthur feel more aggravated that he was being treated like a child. He sighed in irritation and nodded.

“Ah, Thank you, How could I have thought otherwise?” he said dully. “After all, if they hadn’t taken such precautions, this would have been the perfect opportunity for me to order a dozen pizzas. Looks like their quick wit foiled me.”

Raivis looked stunned at first, but his his smile behind a book as Arthur approached the front desk to request permission for a call and strode back over to dial the number one more time. At last, the call went through and he was connected. The voice on the other end, however, surprised Arthur completely.

“Antonio?” said Arthur, stunned. He pulled the receiver away from his ear to stare at it in disbelief for a moment. He was relatively pleased to have reached a friend nonetheless, but was curious as to why exactly Antonio was at his house.

“Ah! Arthur, it’s you!” exclaimed Antonio quickly, seeming flustered. “How are you doing?”

“Well- I’ve been better, but I’m fed at least.” Said Arthur, looking down at his stomach and patting it with a weak smile. “So you’re at my house then?”

“Ah, yes yes.” Said Antonio. “Francis and I headed back here to have some tea.” He spoke cautiously, as though waiting for Arthur to burst into rage. Arthur however, was much to exhausted to be angry.

“Ah, that’s alright then. I must have been here for quite a while anyhow- I’d want you two to be comfortable rather than stay in stiff chairs waiting for me, hmm? Feel free to use the good tea leaves if you like. You know, the loose kind.” He said, giving his blessing.

“Thanks Arthur.” Said Antonio. “But is everything okay?” He seemed really concerned about Arthur’s well being there in the hospital, a fact that made Arthur’s lips twitch into a stronger smile.

“I suppose.” He said, unable to give Antonio complete peace of mind and be honest at the same time. “It been quite uneventful, honestly.. Aside from tests like taking my pulse, drawing blood, that sort of thing.” Said Arthur with a sigh. “I hope I can come back home before the kids.”

A long and painful silence occurred, to the point where Arthur had thought the call actually dropped. “Hello?” he asked.

“Ye..yeah.” Said Antonio shakily Arthur was overwhelmed with deja vu.

“Antonio.” He said, his voice hollow and horrified. “Please tell me you didn’t-”

“Of course I didn’t!” snapped Antonio suddenly. “Actually, I’m busting my cojones to get you OUT of there as soon as possible. The staff told us to leave because they wanted to keep you overnight, a few days even!”

Arthur turned pale, his eyes widening, his hands trembling and growing sweaty. “But…But I couldn’t possibly…”

“I know!” exclaimed Antonio. “If you ask me, I think it would do more harm than good for you. Don’t worry about Alfred and Matthew. They’re going to be staying at my place tonight. We’re not saying a word.”

Arthur nodded quickly, then felt a curtain of despair drawn over him. “You…won’t have to. They’ll know. They always know the truth about me.” Said Arthur, sitting down into the nearby chair. “God- how could I have done this…I’m a horrible father. So selfish…and cruel.”

“No you’re not, Arthur!”

The hard “z” sound on the th in “Arthur sounded as sweet as a bonbon. He never thought he could have been this happy to hear his name being butchered. He was silent for a moment, letting the stillness in the air hang as heavy as an iron ball.

“Francis…” he said softly.

“There’s no point in beating yourself up like that.” Said Francis, riled up. “All you’ll do is make yourself feel worse!” he exclaimed.

Arthur’s smile grew wider. “Francis.” He said, a little more sternly. “I’m sorry.”

Francis stopped dead in his verbal assault, a soft gasp in his voice.

“I’m sorry.” Said Arthur again. “And thank you for putting up with me. You didn’t deserve it. Any of it. Sometimes, the only thing I can feel inside me is…just hate. And all I’ve done is project it outwards. All I’ve done is drive everyone away because- because I thought if I was alone, I could deal with everything better.”

“But…” he continued. “Today I- regardless of how I felt, you didn’t deserve for me to treat you like that.” Said Arthur. “I treated you like filth and I- I hope you can forgive me, but if you don’t I wouldn’t blame you.” Tears started to bud at the corner of Arthur’s eyes, which he wiped away quickly. “You’re a much more courageous man than I am, after all.”

Francis was stunned, positively speechless. “Arthur…I..ah..” He stammered out.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Said Arthur softly. “I’m sorry I’ve made your life even more difficult than it already was.” He said. “Someone like you…Someone like you deserves more than that.” Arthur knew he was repeating himself. Driving in the point that Francis “deserved” better. That the Frenchman had paid enough emotional debt to society that he should have been able to cash in much more pleasant circumstances. Yet Arthur still felt insignificant with just a single uttering of those words. He didn’t know how to express himself any deeply through the limitations of the telephone. Regardless, Francis seemed to understand.

“Thank you Arthur.” He said warmly. “I won’t hold it against you. Please Arthur…Please hang in there. It shouldn’t be too much longer- Antonio is working extra hard.”

“Francis- wait.” Said Arthur, tightening his grip on the phone. “Before…Before you go.” He said.

“Yes?” answered Francis back.

“Do…” Arthur swallowed. “Do you think I’m crazy?”

There was a pause and Francis gave a soft sigh. “I don’t think you’re “crazy” in the way you’re using the word. You just focus on getting through the day, alright?”

Arthur was slightly unsatisfied by that answer, but nodded. “Alright, I’ll do my best. Goodbye Francis.”

“Goodbye Arthur.”

Arthur almost hoped for a few fleeting moments that Francis would instead stay on the line and talk some more, but the unmistakable dial tone rang out from the phone shortly after they had bid their farewells. He closed his eyes and mounted the receiver back onto the hook. Just then, he felt a hand jostle his shoulder gently. He looked up to see Raivis, no longer holding his book and seeming a lot more childlike in the absence of it. He seemed to be very reluctant to have bothered Arthur.

“They’re wanting to do group.” He said. “They said you’re in mine-it’s maybe better if you don’t refuse- they’ll gang up on you otherwise.” Raivis muttered sadly, stepping back.

Arthur turned toward the phone for a few fleeting moments, clenching his fist. Eventually, he relaxed his hand and rose to follow Raivis past the cafeteria-like tables into a room with a circle of chairs placed in the middle of it. On a whiteboard in bold red letters spelled the words:

“Alcoholics Group Therapy.”

Chapter Text

Nobody understands

The cries written with this accursed hand

Who can see? Who will know?

My mystery is being my own worst foe

*****************

“Francis, drink your tea.”

Antonio’s voice brought Francis out of his trance. Bringing the cup to his lips, he sipped carefully, almost making no sound at all as he drank. Despite being a coffee person, he had to appreciate the quality of the loose tea that Arthur had given them permission to use. It had such a fragrant, earthy aroma to it, had a much more complex, richer taste than the cheap teabags that Francis was used to. He brought the cup down to the saucer again, and the rattling of the ceramics together showed that his hands were still trembling.

“Don’t worry about me.” Said Francis, looking down at his reflection in the bitter tea. In his distress, he had forgotten to add sugar, but reasoned that this was hardly the right time to have anything sweet anyway. Francis was thankful that Antonio didn’t mention anything about it.

“It’s my job to worry about you.” Said Antonio, patting Francis’ arm gently. “I’m your friend.”

Francis eliminated the need for a response by bringing his cup up again, closing his eyes, and drinking the tea. Nothing, not even the bitter tang, could wash away the fact that it wasn’t a cigarette. This wasn’t enough. Francis drank faster, the tea nearly scalding his throat as it rushed down. No, No that part of him was gone. He had long since done away with that old vice.

‘Or did you?’ whispered a nasty voice in his head. ‘You have so much empathy for Arthur and yet, despite everything. Despite all the turmoil you’ve been through, he still has a better life than you ever did.”

“Are you okay?” came Antonio’s worried voice, when Francis brought his shaky hand back down, the clatter of the teacup against the saucer almost deafening.

“Of course.” Said Francis quickly, standing up. “I’m going to aah…start cleaning up. I never got to make the bed.”

Before Antonio could say anything else, Francis side stepped away from the couch and started to make his way down the hall so as to not have to be interviewed by his caring companion.

“Yell if you need anything!” Antonio called, his voice still dripping with concern.

Francis opened the door to Arthur’s bedroom and stared at the bed, sheets sweaty and ruffled. Francis swallowed.

Hana had slept in that bed. Hana had written the note that was in his pocket. Hana had…no, Francis had reminded Arthur of Hana.

He could feel his heart race faster as he sat down in the desk chair, gingerly pulling out the note from his pocket and unfurling it.

 

Please Arthur, I can’t do this anymore. See, I can’t stand you. Through the years, I have actually hated you beyond measure. This life is so unbearable I just want to end it by. Lie across the London bridge and destroy it yet. My soul is too precious to waste on you. Father was right about having me marry Wang Yao. Kidnapped, thats what you did to. Me. Love is something I have never given you. Is the worst years of My Life. Forever is the time we will be apart.

 

Staring in horror, Francis’ dropped the note, the paper weakly fluttering to the ground and curling back up, like a pill bug hiding from danger.

“Arthur…” whispered Francis softly. “And…And after the children.”

Francis couldn’t understand any of it. That was, except for one thing. That it now made perfect sense, after seeing the gravity of hatred in this letter, how Arthur had shattered that day. After nearly 14 years of love and maintaining a family, for it to all have been abandoned and destroyed in the span of a paragraph.

How could Francis have thought that this family was better off than him. He wiped a tear from his eye. Because they had money, that was what it was. And yet, being born in a rich family hadn’t made him any less miserable. Francis picked up the note again. He wondered why Arthur had gone to the trouble of keeping it all these years. Francis’s thoughts wandered to the fuzzy pink scrapbook and felt another nasty pang to his heart when the answer came to him. The nasty voice seemed to almost scream in delight after it revealed the truth.

‘He still loves her.’

——

“My name’s Laura , I’m 32 years old, and I love to drink a LOT”

Arthur tried to keep himself from staring at the woman across from him, which was quite a challenge. Her eyes were sallow and baggy, but her grin seemed to be holding nothing back, legs crossed and knees bouncing, so that her long skirt swayed. Arthur was surprised that he didn't hear the click of heels when she switched legs, but then remembered that they all wore the same socks. The dull gray and fuzzy footwear made her smudged, faded red lipstick look even sadder.

“Well then Laura,” said the facilitator of the group, a nurse with eyes that looked so soft it looked as though she might fall asleep any minute. “Why don’t you tell us about some of the ways that alcohol makes you feel?”

Laura sighed and smiled, looking up and running a hand through her short brown hair, adjusting the air as though there were a headband there. Arthur assumed that she probably had other accessories that had been confiscated. “Well, I love vodka a lot. Especially the raspberry flavored spurted into my coffee, so delicious! Gives me energy for the whole day.”

The nurse nodded slowly, as though that fact had been the most obvious thing in the world. “And why don’t you tell us about why you’re here today.”

Laura looked a little surprised, her lips curling into a tense scowl. Her eyes however, still made it seem as though she was smiling, filled with a slightly manic tension. When the nurse didn’t seem to change her focus, Laura cleared her throat. “Well…” she said after a long pause, tilting her head and looking up at the ceiling as she swayed back and forth in the chair. “Aaah, sigh.” She said. “I guess my big brother thought it was scary when I- er, smashed an empty bottle against the wall and-” she paused. “He didn’t have to go so far and- tattle.” Laura muttered.

‘Did she just say the word sigh instead of actually sighing?’ thought Arthur to himself as the nurse nodded again.

“Well, that’s not the whole story Laura, but we’ll get back to your later.” Said the nurse.

The collection of members in the groups exchanged glances and Arthur felt a little nervous. While it may have been judgmental to assume that these people were “veterans” of this sort of thing, their reaction seemed to note that the nurse wasn’t quite behaving as one should in this setting. Arthur swallowed. Just his luck to be forced into this group when it wasn’t functioning as it was supposed to.

“Now then.” The nurse continued. “Raivis.”

Arthur couldn’t help being among the rest of the people who stared at the young man, but instantly regretted it when he saw how much he quivered under their gazes. Not only was he the youngest of the group, but he was also the physically smallest, sticking out like a sore thumb. He didn’t look up when his name was called, playing with his fingers.

“Raivis, come now, it’s time to introduce yourself.” Sang the nurse softly.

“Well, you already did.” Muttered Raivis lowly. There were smiles among some of the faces in the group, including Laura, who cast a sideways glare back at the nurse.

“The nurse nodded and closed her eyes for a moment before raising her feathery voice an octave higher. “Raivis is 16 years old and he’s here because he’s an alcoholic.”

At this, Arthur saw much of the smiles fade into grimaces, and saw Raivis clenching his hands together in his slouched position, shaking a little harder. He forced himself to avert his eyes then, suddenly finding himself greatly disliking the nurse for this torment.

Suddenly, Raivis raised his head. “Yes, I like to doing a lot of drinking. I think everyone knew that already since this is the AA.”

The nurse seemed unphased by the rebellion Raivis was exhibiting. “Why don’t you tell us some of the good things you feel when you drink.”

“Everyone is knowing why.” Said Raivis with a shrug. “We wouldn’t being here if it didn’t feel good.”

“Yes dear.” Crooned the nurse, her voice getting higher and slower, to the point where Arthur was sure the glasses on one of the patients would shatter. “Everyone is different, dear. We want to hear your experiences.”

“I won’t do it.” Said Raivis, so sternly that Arthur had to look back at him. He was surprised at how Raivis had managed to look then.

“Raivis. Please.” Said the nurse. “This is to help you.”

“I don’t have to say anything.” Said Raivis. “Let someone else go.”

The nurse gave a fluttery sigh and shook her head, clasping her hands. Silence once more fell upon the room, broken only by the steady creaking of the chair as Laura kept switching her legs and bouncing them. “Raivis.” She said at last. “Is here for attempting suicide”

It was a blow that hit Arthur far harder than is should have. Flashes of thoughts flickered through his mind, none in focus, like a radio dial constantly spinning. It took a moment for him to realize that he had forgotten to breathe. When he finally did open his mouth, the sharp intake of breath resulted in a conspicuous and very audible gasp. He clasped his hand over his mouth. Raivis had now slouched again the curve of his spine even tighter. Arthur could see how wide his eyes were, in disbelief, his jaw dropped open, but trying to hide this weak expression from the nurse.

Arthur looked up to see the reaction of the other group members and noticed that they all looked just as discomforted. Some looked in pity at Raivis, glancing hatefully at the nurse now and then, some just glowered the nurse down. Others, like Laura, seemed to look completely lost, staring off into space. The light in Laura’s eyes was completely gone and she bit her lip, squeezing the hem of her skirt. Whatever had just happened right now, wasn’t normal.

“Arthur.” Said the nurse, finally snapping Arthur’s attention to the present moment. “Why don’t you share next?” She either seemed to be completely oblivious to the atmosphere of the room or chose to willfully ignore it.

“I- I…” said Arthur, his nature initially making him want to protest but after seeing the embarrassment caused to Raivis, he thought better of it. “Well…My name is Arthur, I’m in my 40s and..and…” he shook his head. “I used to drink.”

“Um, used to dear?” said the nurse. “Well was the last time you had one yesterday?” she asked.

If Arthur hadn’t been a proper gentlemen, his thoughts would have jumped to throwing his chair at this…insufferable woman. Instead, he grew flustered. “No no!” said Arthur. “Really, I haven’t had one in a week.”

“Wow…” said the nurse with a slow smile. “You haven’t had any alcohol for a week?”

“U…uh…” Arthur stuttered. “Well, that is, I haven’t had…hard liquor in a week.”

“So you still drink.”

“Well yes.” Said Arthur, feeling utterly humiliated. “But it was only beer and wine, and only because I had to!”

“You had to drink?”

Arthur tried to counter, but his voice died in his throat. He only now realized what he had said. It seemed obvious to everyone else, but now he saw. He COULDN’T stop anytime he wanted. He would be in horrible pain every time. Both physically and mentally. The simple fact of it was that…he was addicted to it. He was…an alcoholic.

“Y…yes I.” Stammered Arthur. “If I didn’t drink at all I’d have…terrible thoughts, I’d get sick all the time, feel these pangs of agony and…because of that I- I kept drinking.”

After that, group therapy couldn’t have ended fast enough. Arthur filtered out what was going on around him as he tried to process everything now. How long had he been an addict? Did it only start when Hana left? And for once- Arthur thought of Hana and felt some lightness in his heart. He remembered how they met, that day in Japan, 17 years ago, in a bar with friends from school, seeing her.

Arthur, quite exhausted, asked to be let into one of the bedrooms so he could sleep. He didn’t even take the time to take account the almost jail like surrounding of the small room, instead just , as if hypnotized, removing his clothes to put on the pajamas they had given him, going under the thin covers and closing his eyes.

He was going to see her again.

Chapter Text

The Clatter of Plates

It feels like such a mistake

My forever fat-

“Hana-san! Don’t tell me you’re writing those damn haikus again?!”

The young woman writing her poem jumped in alarm, dropping her pen and notepad to the floor of the kitchen. The woman who had called her out on her slacking off bent over to pick it up, ripping the paper off the pad and crumbling it up in her fist.

“I already warned you about this before. Think about what would have happened if the manager had spotted you instead of me…”

“I’m sorry Nee-chan.” Said Hana meekly, lowering her gaze in shame. She watched carefully as the other woman tossed the paper into the wastebasket and sighed.

“Listen, a bunch of foreigners just came in, why don’t you wait on them and see if they want to buy you a drink.” Said the woman. “You know how much more men like to drink if they have a lady to do it with.”

Hana nodded quietly. “Yes Nee-chan.” She said, bowing her head as the other woman took her leave. Pausing for a moment to see if she would come back and finding that the coast was clear, Hana reached into the bin to retrieve her poem, uncrumbling the paper and writing out the last e before stuffing the paper into her apron pocket.

Sensing that there would be danger if she hung around in the kitchen any longer, Hana went out onto the restaurant floor, spotting the 5 foreigners by the door in an instant. They were all men of various physiques and sizes, all with different shades of blonde hair, some with shaggy styles and some with neat. She wondered to herself for a moment, if they were all related.

Hana approached, grabbing a few menus from the hostess table and giving them a demure bow. “Herro-” she said, feeling her cheeks tinge pink when she saw their grins. She was almost certain that they were smiling, not because of eagerness to drink at the izakaya, but because she had pronounced her l’s like r’s. “Come this way.” She added, omitting the “please” this time to avoid herself any more embarrassment.

Although she knew it was rude to eavesdrop on their conversation, one of the foreigners was chattering so loud that she simply couldn’t help herself.

“Man this trip to Japan was a great idea for our club.”

“We’re the only ones who actually came up with the money though, Simon.”

“Oh come on Lukas, it’s not as if anyone else really came to the LGBT club anyway.

“Wow Tino…say it louder.”

Three of the five men chattered on in that fashion, with the only ones not saying anything being a man with glasses and a solemn expression and a man with bushy eyebrows who was smiling coyly at the antics of the other. They took their seats without much fuss, with Tino next to Glasses, Simon next to Lucas and Bush Brow at the end.

“Alright everyone, I’m covering the first round of beer for everyone,” declared Simon. “Arthur’s gonna tip over after a teaspoon anyway,” he said, grinning at the one with the bushy brows.

He rolled his eyes and snorted derisively, running his fingers through his shaggy hair. “I don’t think so.” Said Arthur.

Hana wrote down the order of a round of beer on her notepad and gave a demure bow. “Thank you, I will get you your drinks right away.” She said, tucking the notepad into her apron and walking away.

Arthur watched their waitress as she walked away, ignoring the chatter of his friends. He was a mature young man, a university senior at 22 about to earn a degree in business. Arthur almost stank of privilege, but still managed to remain easygoing and humble despite his lot in life. A wandering soul at heart, his passport was littered with stamps from all over Europe. Arthur had even managed to rent a small apartment in America, where he went to spend his summers.

He daydreamed lightly about their waitress, a small woman who seemed to be in her 20s as well, with soft amber eyes and a cropped pure black haircut in a bob. She seemed as beautiful and as unique as a single flower poking up from the ground.

Soon, Hana returned with a large pitcher of beer in one hand and a platter of glasses in the other.

“Sit down, Simon. You’re embarrassing us.” Scolded Tino when he saw the look in Simon’s eyes and the way he sprang up eagerly. Pouting, Simon, went back in his seat and waited as Hana placed the platter on their table and distributed the glasses. She filled their glasses with beer, starting from Tino and going clockwise.

While Tino and Glasses waited patiently and both thanked her for filling their glasses, Simon tossed Japanese custom to the curb, bringing it to his lips as soon as Hana moved on to Lukas. Lukas snarled at him in discontent. “You animal…” he scowled, before relenting and starting to drink a little as well.

“Oh come now you guys, can’t you at least wait for a cheers first?” said Arthur as Hana filled his cup. Glasses nodded in agreement and Tino giggled softly.

“Arthur’s right, Alright everyone, uh- What do you say in Japan again?”

“It’s Kanpai.” Said Arthur. “Alright,” he said, picking up his glass as the others followed suit. “On three. One. Two. Three.”

KANPAI!”

After the cheer, everyone immediately took a swig of the beer, noisily slurping the bright amber drink and setting the cups down with a satisfied sigh. Hana smiled sweetly upon seeing them respect the Japanese tradition. They definitely weren’t obligated to as foreigners, but it warmed her heart to see them making an effort to indulge themselves in her culture. Arthur’s eyes drifted to her, catching that smile and finding that it brightened that already lovely face even more. He spoke up then.

“So, Kiku-san.” Said Arthur, reading the name tag pinned to her breast before looking up and locking eyes. “Would you mind joining us?”

Hana’s jaw dropped open in surprise and she shook her head shyly, shrinking back like a mouse about to scurry into a hole. “Oh- no…no I couldn’t” she declined politely, waving her hand

Arthur smiled, having a feeling that she was simply refusing the kindness for the sake of being humble. “Oh I’m sure you could.” He insisted. “Besides, you look as though you could use a little rest.” He said. “Please join us.” He added in Japanese.

Hana had opened her mouth to decline again, but paused when she heard her language coming from the foreigners lips. Enchanted by this stranger who seemed firmly engrossed in Japanese culture, she smoothed out her apron and looked shyly at the others before looking back at him, speaking in Japanese back. “But I have only brought you all five cups. Where would I drink from?” she asked.

“We can share mine.” Answered Arthur in English, lifting up his cup.

Hana blushed lightly as Arthur moved over in the booth and patted on the seat next to him. Hana looked around for a moment just to make sure that this was okay. It was close to the end of the shift, so other waitresses were relaxing and talking to some of the male patrons as well. Plus her coworker had already given her approval to start drinking with a group of guests…

Hana sat down daintily next to Arthur with a smile and he pushed the cup towards her gently, but not imposingly.

“I’m Arthur.” He said. “I’m fairly sure my last name won’t well with honorifics, so you don’t have to worry about formality.”

Hana found it very difficult trying to parse Arthur’s name correctly and so instead of answering, brought the cup to her lips, sipping gently as she thought. The burn of the alcohol helped calm her as it tickled down her throat. She let out a soft sigh as she put the cup down and pushed it towards him. “Thank you for inviting me, Arti-kun.”

Arthur smiled at the nickname, it sounded so cute and endearing in her soft voice. “May I call you Hana-chan?” he asked, deeply hoping that she would not be offended.

A tinge of pinkness swelled on Hana’s cheeks and she nodded gently. “Y-Yes.” She said, starting to feel a warmth within her that was completely separate from the alcohol.

“Hana-chan…” said Arthur, testing the name and loving the way it tasted in his mouth. He picked up the cup of beer and started to drink as well, tipping the glass further and further until the contents were drained. He took a harsh breath and panted when he set the cup back on the table. He could hear Simon laughing.

“See, I knew it! He barely started and he’s already gasping for breath and tipping over!”

Arthur scoffed. “For your information, it hasn’t even reached my bloodstream yet, so the joke you’re trying to make is highly illogical.”

“Say what you want, nerd.” Said Simon with a smirk, raising a half empty glass. “While you were busy talking with the waitress, we already got to our third wave.”

Suddenly driven by a fierce urge for competition, Arthur picked up the pitcher and hurriedly filled the cup, giving it to Hana. “Here you are my dear.” He muttered in Japanese. “You’re going to show these foreigners what for with my help won’t you?”

Hana smiled. “You’re a foreigner too.” She reminded him in Japanese before tipping the glass and allowing the drink to quickly disappear down her throat.

“Exactly.” Said Arthur with a smirk as she started to fill his glass in return. “I need you to show me as well. He said, quirking an eyebrow to drive the point home and eliciting another musical giggle from Hana. Inspired by her lyrical laugher, Arthur tipped the glass and started to chug the beer, feeling it rush like fire down his gullet. The buzz from the first round was also starting to kick in already.

As soon as he put the cup down, he started to fill Hana’s glass for the third wave. Everybody else seemed to have completely consumed with drinking, with the exception of Tino, who had the sense to flag down a free waitress and ask her for another pitcher, since their current one was almost empty.

“It seems we’re on the same level now.” Said Arthur, glancing over to see that Simon’s glass was empty was well. “We can beat you even with your headstart.” He challenged. Simon laughed happily.

“Bring it then!” he exclaimed, filling up Luka’s glass. Hana gave a sweet and small hiccup, but otherwise seemed perfectly fine to drink some more. Arthur was glad to see her smiling and feeling loosened up, but his gentlemanly instincts took over for a moment and he patted her on the shoulder. “I hope you’re not feeling too pressured right now, Hana-chan.” Said Arthur in a mumble. Hana picked up the glass and took a deep breath before giggling.

“Arti-kun…Are you already drunk?” she asked, prompting him to try his best to seem more controlled.

“O-Of course not!” he countered, starting to laugh in good nature. “Why would only two drunks suddenly make me drink. This is nothing, it’s easy peasy japanesy! Hahaha!”

“He’s already lost it!” cackled Simon, having emptied his own glass. Hana tipped her cup further to chug it down in order to fill Arthur’s cup as soon as possible with the last of the first pitcher.

“The only thing I’m losing is this drink inside my stomach!” said Arthur, bringing the cup up and missing his mouth a couple of times before finally making it to his lips, slurping the beer down noisily, his eyes watering as he gulped it down, determined to finish it off in one go. Despite his determination, it was pretty obvious that Arthur was falling apart fairly quickly.

After a few more rounds of beer drinking had passed, a waitressed approached, calmly placing the check down in the middle of the table. “Kiku-san, your shift’s up, you can go home now.” She said.

“Oh ye- yess…home.” Said Hana, holding onto the table with one hand while she reached behind with the other, deftly undoing the knot of her apron and letting it slip off. She sighed, catching her breath for a moment before she got up, starting to fold the apron.

“Hana-chan.” Said Arthur, holding up his hand to signal for her to wait for a moment. His head was slumped down against the table. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, exerting all of the strength he had at the moment to pick himself up, before crashing slightly and knocking the luckily empty cup over.

“Mmm-? Is something…wrong?” murmured Hana softly.

“Well….you’re of course a drunk bit.” Said Arthur slowly, narrowing his eyes as he attempted to pronounce the word deliberately. Hana squinted back at him before smiling.

“You’re worse than me.” She pointed out.

“I wouldn’t want…” said Arthur, as though he hadn’t heard Hana’s remark. “To be responsible for letting such a pretty young woman to go home alone all by herself.” He said, finally gaining his balance and taking her hand. Hana’s face flushed a little bit.

“It…It is dangerous late at night when it’s dark, but I’m more afraid for you Arti-kun.” She said, rocking a bit.

“Well, why don’t I escort you back to your home. At the very least I can pay for your cab fare.” He suggested with a smile. He took out his wallet and placed some cash on the table to cover his share of the drinking.

Hana stared for a moment, looking nervous. She gripped the apron in her hands tightly. “Arti-kun…Thank you but…my family wouldn’t be happy with me if I came home like this.” She muttered in Japanese. Hana’s eyes turned downcast, the shame rising within her.

Arthur was at her side instantly. “My dear…you don’t expect to sleep on the street do you?”

“No no.” Said Hana. “I can…I can…” She tried to think of something she could do, but couldn’t think of anything. She started to sniffle.

“Please, no tears.” Begged Arthur. “You can stay in my hotel room. It’s only a hop away, and then you can go home once you’ve sobered up in the morning. I’ll give you my bed and I can roll out a futon for myself, How does that sound?”

“Arti-kun…” said Hana, clinging to Arthur’s arm and closing her eyes, thinking about how nice it would be in a warm bed right now.

Arthur said his goodbyes to the rest of his friends, who seemed interested in doing something else since they weren’t as wasted as him, and he set off outside with Hana, unaware that in his chivalry, he had planted the seeds for the beginning of a wonderful life.

 

Chapter Text

Some may call it a mistake

Something that could lead to heartbreak.

But me, I prefer to call it fate.

The first of many, lovely dates.

*****************

Just as Arthur had promised, the hotel was only a short distance away. Luckily, despite both of them being drunk out of their minds, they managed to safely make their way to it without getting hit by oncoming cars in the street. Arthur put his card key in the door’s mechanism and opened it with a yawn. “Please, after you Hana-chan.” He insisted sleepily, rubbing his eye with a free hand. Hana smiled gingerly, bowed her head and sauntered inside.

“Thank you.” She said in Japanese, heading inside the room and pulling apart the screen door that separated the sitting room and the rest of the bedroom. The bed looked majestic and soft, but she wanted to get one thing over with before she fell into those sheets in exhaustion.

“Hana-chan.” Said Arthur softly, closing the door behind him as he entered.

Hana looked back, wanting to ask him something, but not wanting to be impolite. “Yes?”

“Do you want to take a bath?” asked Arthur.

Hana smiled. Arthur had completely read her mind. Baths were what she looked forward to most when she came home from work, but she didn’t think it would have been okay to just waltz right into the bathroom without his direct permission. She gave a gentle nod and went into the bathroom, wondering about Arthur. Despite being from The West, he was just so kind and considerate. She turned on the water for the bath and started to think about him some more. It occurred to her that he was charming, handsome, intelligent, and a great many other collection of qualities that she liked. He seemed to care about her needs before even his own.

As she dove into the warmth of the bathtub and turned off the water, Hana realized something. She liked Arthur a lot. Of course, she wondered for a fleeting moment if this was only the effect that the alcohol was having on the two of them. She wondered if the barriers would be back up by the next morning, with each one repressing their real desires once more.

Hana’s body felt sticky from the sweat that had built up that day from working so hard and was pleased to feel that most of the sticky gross feeling melted away as she soaked in the water, allowing her to feel nice and fresh. She took a washcloth from the side and dipped it in the water, along with some soap, so that she could scrub at her face, the warm water relaxing her even more.

Hana placed the wet washcloth on her head and laid back in the tub, taking a deep sigh as her mind wandered. She hadn’t felt this stress free in…ages. She really was drunk out of her mind. Her father would have flipped Mt.Fuji if he even had an inkling about what she was doing right now, in the hotel room bathroom of a foreign stranger.

She sighed as her previously carefree mind was clouded by thoughts of him. Despite the fact that she had not dishonored him by showing up at his doorstep drunk, he would likely still demand an explanation for her absence. Her stomach churned at the thought. Maybe it would be best to thank Arthur for his hospitality and do her best to sober up before she went home alone. But by this time, her father would start wondering why she had gotten home so late. She frowned and felt her forehead crease in worry, distressed that her wonderful soak had been interrupted by a reality check.

Sighing, Hana stood up in the bath and took a hotel towel to dry off her body, stepping out. The bathrobe provided was shorter than she would have liked, but it did provide her with ample enough privacy of her body. Her hair dripping a bit, she opened the door and found herself right in front of Arthur. She flushed hard and quickly averted her gaze downward. “S-Sorry! Were you waiting? I am so sorry, Arti-kun.”

“Huh- Oh no need.” Said Arthur. “I only just got up.” He said with a smile, moving so Hana could go past him. “Feel free to just relax.”

“H-Hai, Arti-kun.” She said with a bow, but found that Arthur had already closed the door. She stood there awkwardly for a moment before she realized with a start that she hadn’t drained the bathtub when she got out. How terribly rude of her- she should have gotten down on hands and knees and scrubbed it clean for him, Arthur deserved nothing less.

As she fretted, Hana ended up taking Arthur’s advice to relax and went over to the bed, despite her plans to sober up and take off. She sat on the edge, her heart hammering loudly as she waited for him with a blush. Now would have been a great time to drink some water and sober up but…her body simply felt so heavy. With a swoon, she leaned back and closed her eyes, laying against the soft mattress.

It was then that Hana realized that she hadn’t heard any water running in the bathroom. Was…Arthur cleaning himself in her old bathwater? She shuddered, eyes widening at the thought as she felt her whole body growing warm. Since the water had been against her own naked body and was now being soaked into his, it was almost as if he was pressing himself into her, wasn’t it? But perhaps the truth was more that Arthur was too drunk to realize that he was bathing in her old bathwater, yes that seemed accurate. Hana was just as hammered.

When Arthur finally came out of the bathroom, Hana felt as though everything was going in slow motion. She squinted blearily at the figure before her, who seemed to be bathed in a dazzling light. He was wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and Hana could see the shine of water droplets reflecting on his body. She stared almost hungrily at him in a daze. Beads of water dripped from his hair down his neck, and he brought a hand up to run fingers through his shaggy hair and making it look even more rogueishly disheveled.

Arthur stared at her for a moment and she stared back. Hana was getting tired of exchanging such polite formalities, especially when she couldn’t think of anything well mannered enough to say in this situation. In fact, according to her ethics and moral code as a lady, this situation should have been a nightmare, but in fact was just Hana’s idea of a perfect heaven.

Moving slowly and deliberately, as though she really were in a wet dream, Hana started to undo the knot on her bathrobe with shaking hands. She kept her eyes trained on Arthur the entire time and saw his eyes widen and a small gasp escape from him when she pulled the robe apart, revealing small, pale breasts. Arthur’s cheeks started to flush a magnificent magenta, and she smiled thinly, her cheeks a rosy tint as well.

“Hana-” said Arthur quietly, starting to approach, still keeping a tight hold on his towel, though Hana could see a tented bulge that had started to grow as soon as she had exposed herself.

“Arti-kun…” said Hana just as softly, swallowing hard.

Arthur reached out to touch Hana’s chest with a shaking hand. “May I?” he whispered.

Hana nodded and as soon as she had given him her blessing, Arthur cupped her soft right breast, rubbing her nipple between his thumb and index finger. The sweetest moan Arthur had ever heard escaped Hana, who leaned forwards into his touch, melting like putty in his very hands.

She was already so damp, not to mention sensitive. Despite the fact that alcohol was supposed to dull the senses, hers seemed almost heightened, as though she had never been embraced like this by another person before. Arthur slid his finger up along a wet slit and let it linger on her clit, applying light pressure and enjoying the feeling of her folds twitching against his fingertip. Hana arched up, certainly wanting more of what Arthur had to offer to her.

Arthur held his towel in place as he started to put his weight onto the bed, feeling it creak and sink beneath him. Hana opened her eyes, finding her prince lowering his head to take her lips for a kiss. A weak moan escaped her as she tried her best to return the deep, longing embrace Arthur gave her, finding her body getting more and more squirmy and needy with every moment that passed while their lips were locked.

When Arthur finally pulled back for a breath of air, Hana refused to let up, cupping Arthur’s face in her hands and tonguing him again. She wasn’t used to this feeling and so wanted to explore it more, experience the full intensity of the shudders that rattled through her as a result of these kisses. Arthur shifted, trying his best to keep up before he finally tore his face back with a gasp.Cooing, Hana closed her eyes and panted as well, giving both of them the opportunity to catch their breath, spreading her legs open a bit more in a silent invitation for Arthur to touch her more.

“Is this…okay?” he asked, pressing on her slick pearly button again, tapping it in a soft rhythm that made Hana bob her hips in need.

“Yes…” she said in a desperate moan, tossing her head back as Arthur pressed his whole hand against her, his hand becoming drenched in her stickiness. Her excitement was literally rubbing off onto him. The erotic display Hana was giving off brought up deep urges within Arthur, who soon found himself struggling to remove his towel in a haze of lust.

He let it fall away in a clump on the bed, his own anticipation clear as day with his erect length. Still, as painful as it was to ignore his own needs, Arthur could tell even through his drunken stupor that Hana wasn’t ready yet. She was a petite girl after all, most likely a vrigin.

Hana looked up at him, gasping as she felt the finger pressing down against her clit start to slip inside of her. She squealed at the intrusion, squeezing and relaxing her muscles over and over again, experimenting with how it felt, trying to get used to the feeling. More of her sticky desire spilled forth, coating Arthur’s finger. He was so happy to see that she needed this just as much as he did.

“More…Arti-kun.” Whispered Hana. Confident that she would be able to handle more since she had spoken up for it, Arthur pulled his first finger out, only to switch positions, sliding his ring and middle finger in horizontally to stretch her out more, his palm pressing against her clit.

Hana’s reaction was subdued but heavenly, her meekness only making it seem twice as erotic. A sharp sigh escaped her as she tossed her head back, hips shivering and small breasts bobbing from her movements. She brought her hand up so that she could nibble on the back of her wrist. The pleasure was so overwhelming her first instinct was to pull away, but she didn’t want to give the wrong idea that she wanted any of this to stop.

Smiling gently, Arthur lowered his head, kissing at a soft black bushel of hair she had on her pubic bone, earning an embarrassed squeal from Hana and another moan. “Aaahh…Arti-” she huffed, blushing furiously.

“You’re so beautiful…” said Arthur, moving up to kiss her chest and letting his free hand run through her hair, tousling it almost as much as his. Hana closed her eyes, shuddering in delight at how those words made her feel.

“Tell me more.” She said, addicted to the emotions that were welling up inside her.

“You’re so lovely…and charming.” Said Arthur, interjecting his adjectives with a gentle kiss on her body each time. “Wonderful, Glorious, Perfect.”

“Art…hur…” said Hana, trying to pronounce it properly.

Arthur leaned in close, brushing their lips together, bumping noses. “Yes, Hana?” he whispered, taking his fingers out of her, dripping in her essence.

“Take me…” she said, spreading her legs apart and touching Arthur’s cheeks with her hand, eyes sparkling. “Take me right now.”

“Are you sure?” asked Arthur, wanting to know if it was really alright. Hana swallowed hard and nodded fast, kissing him for a long time and giving him another nod.

“I know…I want you.” She assured him. Arthur grinned in delight, trying to get in position without actually leaning back. He lowered his head to see what he was doing as he pressed the tip of his length against her. Slipping and sliding up, Hana moaned. “Y-You’re teasing me…” she whined, trying to shift and help him.

“It’s…” said Arthur trying to get his booze soaked body to cooperate.

Finally, he felt himself start to slip into her hole and held on as he started to slowly fill her up. Hana whimpered at first, moving her arms to claw at Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur ground back at her, huffing and panting hard. Suddenly, almost as though the invisible barrier had vanished, Arthur started to slide the rest of the way inside.

Hana was speechless, gasping hard she felt herself being stretched. She was surprised that she didn’t feel any blood lost in their union, as it was her first time, but the thought quickly passed as she panted, spreading her legs a bit further as Arthur pushed the rest of the way inside.

“H-How am I doing- Arti-kun?” she asked with wide eyes. Arthur smiled and kissed her forehead.
“You’re doing amazing, and I wouldn’t waste your time with anything less than the truth.” He said, going in to pepper her face with even more kisses. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Said Hana with a smile, nodding up at him before sighing. “Please…show me.” She said, rocking her hips on his cock in an alluring manner, so that Arthur would not be able to resist obeying her commands. Slowly, he rocked his hips forward and pressed his body deep within her, earning both of them a slow and soft groan before he started to pull back out. She was such an exquisite woman to make love to. Constantly twitching around him, making sweet coos that stirred the fire in his loins to blaze ever hotter.

Arthur moved slowly and deliberately, the frame of the bed gently thudding against the wall from their steady rhythm and Hana found herself feeling this golden warmth coiled up from beneath her belly button start to unfurl like the rise of a sleeping dragon. She felt it penetrating every inch of her being, enlightening her. It was a hot fire that made he grind her hips up against the other, panting harder and wanting more every second, keeping up with Arthur as he felt the same excitement.

“Arti-kun.” She gasped, her hands sliding down to his hips and feeling his movements as he ground against her, earning hard groans from each of them in turn. “I feel…I-I feel…”

“I feel it too.” He gasped, gripping into the sheets and working harder. Hana screamed out in delight, digging her nails into Arthur’s back as her gasps came harder and faster. She could feel every inch of his warm cock inside of her. Her body seized and she felt that golden warmth rush down only to explode, an electricity surging through every part of her body at once.

For the first time in her life, Hana had experienced an orgasm, felt it surge through her body with intense magnitude, like a hurricane, earthquake and tornado all shaking within herself. She gasped hard as her body convulsed around Arthur in reaction to this wonderful feeling.

Hana clamping down upon him was too much for Arthur and he too felt a warmth spreading through his body. With an airy moan, he wrapped his arms around Hana, spilling his seed deep inside her, filling the young woman up with the literal essence of his pleasure.

Hana moaned once more, feeling the gush of hot liquid deep within sent more sparks flying, prolonging her pleasure. Her lower body trembled from the stimulation and she sought to release this pent up emotion by kissing Arthur, never having felt so satisfied.

He kissed her back, connected in an embrace that felt as though it could last forever.

Chapter Text

My fear and sadness

Used to be my constant status

Until suddenly, I met you

My heart didnt know what to do

But I knew then you were my chance.

For a real, and true, romance.

*****************

The morning after was, as usual for Arthur, without a doubt, absolutely dreadful. He had only woken up because the streams of light that had filtered in through the thin opening between the drapes were absolutely tearing at his eyes. He assumed that he had probably overdone it last night with the drinking. He rolled over in bed with a groan. Arthur needed more sleep, not more of this pounding headache that he had. Upon his turning however, he was surprised to discover another body in his bed.

With a soft sound, he felt the body he had disturbed starting to stir. So…he had had a drunken encounter. He flushed in embarrassment. He was getting a little old to be having such flings, wasn’t he? In any case, it had evidently been some very good sex, seeing as how they were still around.

“Where…am I?” said the woman in his bed, touching her forehead and turning around with a weak groan. “Why does…everything hurt so much?” she asked.

As soon as Arthur saw her face, everything rushed to Arthur’s mind in an instant. This was Hana Kiku, waitress at the diner, soft voice and sweet face. Arthur felt his heart beat a little faster at the sight of her. His dry mouth suddenly felt dryer. He wondered anxiously if she would remember him the way he remembered her.

Hana narrowed her eyes at Arthur in a squint, covering her mouth. “Arti-kun?” she said. Arthur felt his heart swell and flutter in relief and he couldn’t help but grin stupidly. She didn’t return the smile, only seeming stunned. Arthur’s own grin faltered a bit and he looked down, biting his lower lip gently.

“Ah…I’m assuming you don’t remember too much about it, do you?” he said, feeling a little wounded, which was foolish of him, he should have expected as much.

Hana quickly touched him on the shoulder. “I…” she said. “I am sorry- maybe I should leave- I’ve…I’ve shamed you, I’m so sorry- I’m.” She chattered, looking down.

Arthur looked up and tried to keep his pride out of the picture, shushing her. “Please, don’t fret, Just tell me what you want and I’ll do my best to provide it for you.”

Hana looked down. “I…I don’t want to leave.” She admitted, making Arthur smile a little. “I’m…I’m…”

“Just take a deep breath, it’s perfectly alright.” He said, steeling himself for the worst. “But-” he took a deep breath and sighed. “If you think last night was a mistake, then- it’s well within your rights to think that. Although…I personally am feeling that what we shared together was…brilliance.” Said Arthur, a little upset that he sounded a little more sore than he had intended to sound.

Hana swallowed hard and gripped the sheets close, her palms sweating. “I think…I think I made a mistake, but, Arti-kun, I also do not think it was one either.” She said, finding it difficult to explain herself. “I thought it was wonderful too but…” Her eyes looked lost, then glossed over as tears filled them and she started to cry.

Arthur felt shame heat up his face and he bowed his head to her. “I’m so sorry…” he muttered softly.

“No- It is my fault.” She said, turning away from him and curling up closer to herself. “I’m a whore, a dirty whore.”

Arthur immediately rushed to her defense. “Now, thats a terrible thing to call yourself.” Said Arthur, trying to soothe her and stop her from crying despite the fact that he wanted to join in on her tears. “You’re not a whore, there is no such thing. However little or many people you wish to sleep with is your business.”

With a sniff, Hana swallowed and paused before answering in a squeak. “It was…It was my first time.”

Arthur felt as though a wave had crashed down upon him. He hesitated for a moment, having had no idea what to say. He gingerly tried to put his arm around her and was grateful that her sobs seemed to subside upon his touch. He buried his face in the nape of her neck and she sighed.

“Not only that.” Continued Hana. “I’m supposed to be…married.”

Arthur hesitated again, but hugged Hana closer anyway, trying to wrack his brains through last night. “I don’t recall….seeing a ring on your finger.”

Hana squeezed the sheets tightly. Arthur was such a kind and intelligent man. No matter what stupid emotional obstacle she presented that was in her way, he had managed to make everything seem like it wasn’t quite as such a big deal as she was making it out to be. She was grateful for his company and appreciated how nice he was, even if much of it had to do with his naivety regarding her situation.

“Well, I’m not married yet, but I’m engaged to someone else. Wang Yao is his name.” She said with a sigh.

“Do you love him.?” asked Arthur.

Now it was Hana’s turn to hesitate.

“Do you love him?” asked Arthur again.

Hana shook her head gently, a nervous laugh escaping her. “No…of course not. How could I? I….I don’t want to marry him.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you find yourself in something as archaic as an arranged marriage?” asked Arthur, slightly astonished that such a thing still happened in Japan.

“My father…” said Hana, slowly speaking those words as though she were talking about a king, even bowing her head in deference to the man who was not even there. “He says that is time for me to marry someone who I can serve well.”

“Sounds more like an act of slavery than marriage.” Said Arthur in distaste.

“I really shouldn’t be here.” Said Hana, shaking. “Father will be furious that I did not come home last night, every second I stay here, it’s only sure to-”

“Furious?” repeated Arthur indignantly. “Not even worried,, simply furious?”

Hana wilted in shame.

“No…do not dishonor him in that manner.” She whispered reluctantly, as though she were being forced to say it.

“Oh please.” Scoffed Arthur. “Respect isn’t something you just have. It’s something you earn, and in my eyes, the way he treats his daughter like a piece of cattle to be auctioned off, he certainly deserves neither honor nor respect.” He said passionately.

While Hana felt her heart flutter from Arthur’s speech, there was a tightness around her throat and mind that threatened to squeeze the life out of her. “I shouldn’t have said anything.” She said, as though she were afraid her father or one of his friends were lurking somewhere in the room, ready to report back to her father to discuss how disloyal she had been.

“I’m sorry.” Said Arthur. “If I’m making you uncomfortable, I’ll stop.” He said, closing his eyes and kissing Hana’s shoulder softly. She smelled so sweet and lovely, even with the aroma of sex lingering from the night before. Her sadness was something he wanted to just suck away and toss into the abyss, so that she would know nothing but happiness.

Hana was quiet for a moment and, with a soft grunt of effort, she started to turn over in the bed to face Arthur. She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Arti-kun.” She said softly. Arthur smiled at the way she said his name.

“Hana-san.” He said softly, kissing her neck and earning a soft gasp from her. “I still think you’re beautiful.” He said, nuzzling her gently, with all the affection that he could muster up.

Hana giggled softly and sighed, putting her hands on his chest and moving closer. “How long are you going to stay in Japan?” she asked him.

“I just got here.” Said Arthur with a smile. “You don’t have to worry.”

“How long?” she insisted.

Arthur leaned in to kiss her. Hana put her hand up to cover his lips. Arthur opened his eyes and stared into hers, wide soupy pools filled with a glimpse of pain.

“A month.” He said at last.

Hana felt her heart pound. So long, and yet so little time that could bounce away before her. Arthur nodded with a smile. “I promise.” He said.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means.” Said Arthur, lifting up her chin. “I would like last night to turn into two nights, and three and four, for days, and weeks.”

“But I just…”

“You said you don’t love him.”

“I never said I loved you either.” Said Hana, looking down.

“You don’t have to.” Said Arthur, smiling gently. “And even if you don’t love me, I already know that I love you.”

“How can you?” said Hana, her voice practically a ghostly whisper.

“Who couldn’t love you?” said Arthur. “You’re such a gentle woman, so beautiful and majestic.”

Hana was quiet for a moment. Arthur continued. “But putting it in a list is only trivializing my feelings. I simply know that I do.” He said. “When can I see you again?” he asked.

Hana hesitated, her head spinning from the possibility of actually being perceived as something other than a failure. Something that wasn’t a mistake or a symbol of dishonor waiting to happen. She was someone who was an actually beautiful person on the same level as him.

“I…” said Hana, weakly, her mouth feeling dry.

Arthur took her hand gently. “Hana…I know it sounds absurd, but you must believe me. However…if you want to refuse, I will honor your wishes an accept it.” Said Arthur, getting teary eyed at the thought of possible rejection. “But please say there will…be a next time?” he asked.

Hana smiled, squeezing his hand as she leaned in closely to kiss his hand. “Arti-kun.” She said, gazing into his eyes. “There will be a next time.”

——

Raised voices outside woke Arthur up with a start. Feeling alarmed, he got up and opened the door and looked around, seeing the nurse who had been leader of the group therapy, along with Doctor Ike, the man who had done Arthur’s intake.

“I just want you to know that you’re being completely unprofessional right now, making these accusations in front of the patients like this.” Said the nurse indignantly to the Doctor.

“No Nurse Ashley, you’re the one proving yourself unprofessional. You want to know how many of my patients came to complain to me about your behavior in group today? What is the matter with you?” said the Doctor,

Nurse Ashley sniffed, rolling her eyes. “Of course they complained, they dont want to confront their problems.” She said.

“Group therapy is supposed to be THERAPEUTIC, Nurse Ashley. You can’t just go around harassing them for answers when they don’t want to talk and then reveal their personal information just because you think it’ll help them. That’s not how this works!”

Nurse Ashley scoffed. “You know what, I don’t have time for this.” She said, storming off.

Doctor Ike called after her. “Just so you know, I’m writing you up!”

“Likewise!” she snapped in the distance.

Arthur stared in surprise as Doctor Ike adjusted his cuffs, looking irritated. Upon seeing Arthur, Doctor Ike look startled, but relieved. “Oh, Good evening Arthur, sorry you had to see that, did you just wake up?”

Arthur nodded. “Yes.” He said, neglecting to mention that it had been their argument that woke him up in the first place. “When am I going to get to go home?”

“We’ll let you know soon.” Said Doctor Ike briskly. “Actually, I wanted to know how your medication has been working for you.”

“Medication?” repeated Arthur.

“The Benzos I prescribed,” said Doctor Ike, looking confused. “You should have gotten them after group therapy.”

“Oh….well, I went here to sleep immediately after, so perhaps they missed me.” Said Arthur. 

Doctor Ike sighed heavily. “I’ll check the records.” He said, shaking his head. “In the meantime, sit tight.” Said Doctor Ike, rubbing Arthur’s shoulder. “We’re gonna do our best to make you feel better.

Arthur stared for a moment, then nodded, smiling gingerly. “Yes…thank you.”

Chapter Text

 

Despite the drastic and rising cost

I continue to let myself be lost

The bread crumb trail has been devoured

I can’t go back, because I’m a coward.

*****************

Alfred and Matthew were just walking out of school when a car pulled up before them, its horn honking furiously. Matthew looked startled at first, taking a step back, while Alfred steeled himself, moving out in front of Matthew protectively, glaring at the car with contempt. The window lowered and the horn of the car was honked again. “Come on-, this ain’t no stranger danger, get in.”

“Lovino!” cried out Alfred in surprise, standing straight up again and running to the car. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “Where’d you get the sweet ride?”

Lovino smirked. “Just get your asses in here first and then we’ll talk.”

“I call shotgun!” said Alfred, opening the passenger seat and sliding inside quickly. Matthew hesitated for a moment before he opened the back door and took a seat himself, putting his bookbag between his legs.

“Did something bad happen?” asked Matthew.

“Nah, Nah, not really.” Said Lovino, looking back at Matthew to make sure he was buckled in before he started to pull the car back out onto the main road.

“Not really?” repeated Alfred, tilting his head. “So like, it’s kinda bad, kinda good?”

It wasn’t like Lovino to dodge questions like this. Normally he was brash and bold about what he had to say. Even if he was forced to lie, Lovino was always quick to come up with something ridiculous. Alfred was more than a little unnerved by this.

“So uh, where are you taking us?”

“Where am I taking you?” repeated Lovino, laughing. “Oh, just an abandoned warehouse so I can cut off all your limbs with a rusty saw and then eat them.”

Alfred sputtered for a moment, then snorted. “Holy shit, that’s fucked up. God you’re too funny Lovi.”

“Ay!” snapped Lovino with a grin. “Only Toni gets to call me that.” He said.

“Hey…where is Antonio?” asked Matthew.

“What is this, 20 questions?” said Lovino. “He’s at your house actually, with Francis.”

Alfred snapped his fingers. “Oh I get it, you’re taking us home, but how come? We never had a problem getting home before.” He said.

“No damnit.”Said Lovino. “I’m taking you to my place. It’s going to be a sleepover- or something.”

Alfred snorted again. “I mean…I guess?” he said, laughing awkwardly. “No Lovino, seriously, what’s going on, where’s Dad?”

For once, Lovino didn’t dodge the question at all, but he didn’t answer it either. He stayed quiet, focusing particularly hard on a relatively simple stop sign.

Matthew cleared his throat. “Lovino.” He asked. “What happened to Dad?”

Lovino sighed heavily. “Alright, fine.” He said. “Just promise me you won’t panic, okay? He’s in the hospital.”

“He’s WHAT?” exclaimed Alfred. Matthew turned completely pale in the face, his hands gripping his water bottle tightly.

“You’re panicking!” yelled Lovino. “Just take it easy, okay? He’s not dead or anything.”

Matthew put his head down, panting softly. “Why...Why is it always us.” He said.

Alfred stared, still trying to wrap his head around it all. “But like, why- what happened?”

Lovino groaned. “Apparently he had a major freakout in the head and now he’s in the psych ward.”

“What?” said Matthew, lifting his head up. “Like, with the straightjackets and electroshocks?”

“Jesus.” Said Lovino with a laugh. “No, he’s fine, they don’t do that shit anymore.” He said, parking the car. “Alright, we’re here.” He said, unlocking the doors and getting out of the car.

The house was warm and inviting, beckoning Alfred and Matthew to take a nap and sleep all their cares away. Despite the relaxing atmosphere however, Alfred and Matthew couldn’t have felt more on edge and out of place. They awkwardly stood in front of the door as Lovino moved around animatedly, picking up stray clothes and stacking papers together to clean up the house a bit. “Why are you guys standing around like a pair of stupid ass geese?” he said, motioning for them to come into the dining room. “You guys hungry?”

“Uh, I think we can wait until dinner.” Said Alfred, sitting down next to Matthew at the large table.

“Alright, Antonio should be home soon. I’m gonna call him and ask to bring some of your clothes over here.” Said Lovino, dumping out an entire box of pasta into a large pot, sprinkling in some oil and salt. He opened a lid off another pot that was simmering and the unmistakable scent of a delicious tomato sauce filled the room, prompting Alfred’s stomach to gurgle. “We’re having spaghetti and meatballs tonight. Homemade, not that garbage from a can.”

“Hehe…Sounds good.” Said Alfred weakly, For once, he didn’t feel very hungry at all. In fact, he felt sick to his stomach.

“When do you think he’ll be out of the kitchen?” asked Matthew in a whisper.

Alfred looked up in surprise at Matthew. “Uh, I dunno.” He said, glancing at Lovino. “You know he throws down pretty hard when it comes to cooking, why?”

Matthew’s face darkened and he pulled his polar bear water bottle close to himself, scratching at the spout with his fingernail. “No reason.” He said.

Alfred was dumbfounded, more than anything, he was furious. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he spat in a whisper. “God of all the places you could get caught…you wanna do it here?”

“No…of course not.” Said Matthew wearily. “Come on, you’ve got my back, right?” he asked.

“Fuck.” Said Alfred, seeing Lovino walk away. “Fine."

As if on cue, Lovino turned around. “Alright, I’m gonna take a quick shower, you guys gonna be okay?” he asked, a hand on the bathroom door.

Alfred and Matthew shot up a little straighter. “Oh yeah sure!” said Alfred. “Don’t worry about it, take your time.”

“Heh, I’ll be out soon, don’t worry, you’re not gonna hear me singing or nothing.” He said, heading inside and closing the door. A few seconds after they heard the click of the door locking, Matthew and Alfred sprang up from their seats, Matthew rushing over to the refrigerator and pulling the door open, Alfred positioning himself in the hallway.

“Go Go go.” Said Alfred, putting his back to Matthew and trying to keep an eye on both the hallway and the front door.

“Wow…they have so much stuff…” said Matthew, unscrewing the top of his polar bear water bottle and setting it down on the counter.

There was a much larger variety of food in this fridge than there was back home. They had apple and orange juice, premixed iced coffee. Bottles of pumpkin beer and a bit of cocktail mix. Packages of ground beef stacked up to defrost and fresh celery in the crisper.

“Holy crap, are you serious?” said Alfred, looking back at Matthew, seemingly frozen. “Just pick something and go.”

“Okay, Okay!” said Matthew, picking up a bottle of pumpkin beer. Alfred gasped.

“You moron!” he hissed. “How are you supposed to get rid of the bottle?”

“They only have the individual stuff!” whined Matthew, twisting off the cap and shakily pouring it into his water bottle. “If I took something else they’d notice it was missing!”

“Don’t spill it!” huffed Alfred. “God, I feel sick…I don’t even know why I’m helping you.” He said, turning back around to keep watch, feeling his stomach heave.

“Just shut up okay- What if someone hears you?” said Matthew, staying quiet for a moment before he gasped. “Uh oh…”

“Uh oh? Why uh Oh?” said Alfred, turning around again.

“The bottle’s full but there’s still a lot left.” Said Matthew.

Alfred shook his head in disbelief. “So pour it down the drain!” he said.

“N-No…” said Matthew. “They’ll smell it-” he said, taking a deep breath and turning the bottle upside down into his mouth, trying his best to chug a good 1/4 of the beer bottle.

Suddenly, there was the sound of one of the doors opening and Alfred whipped back around. At the end of the hall, coming out from the guest bedroom was a tall and very muscular blonde man with his hair slicked back, wearing only a tank top and boxers. He looked just as surprised to see Alfred as Alfred was to see him. Alfred gaped at him and they both stood still for a moment, staring.

Meanwhile, Matthew could feel his eyes watering as he chugged the beer. It burned so much, he was finding it difficult to breathe through his nose alone without panicking and spilling it everywhere. Tears streamed down his cheeks from the effort exerted and he felt the room spinning until finally he felt the last few droplets sink down his throat. He pulled the bottle away from his lips, panting softly.

“Who-Who are you?” Alfred asked the muscular blonde man, who tilted his head in confusion at Alfred. He looked back inside the room, saying something to someone inside in Italian. Alfred tried his best not to glance at Matthew and give his position away, that would ruin everything. Just then, someone who looked to be a mirror image of Lovino poked his head out and upon seeing Alfred, beamed brightly. “Oh, Hello!” he chirped. “You must be Arthur’s kid, you look just like him.” He said. “I’m Feliciano and this is Ludwig, my fiance. He doesn’t speak English-”

Matthew put the pumpkin beer at the bottom of the trash. Luckily, there were already a couple of bottles there, so they’d probably not notice another. Putting the cover back on his polar bear water bottle, he rushed back to his seat.

Alfred smiled wearily. “Uh, Nice to meet you guys.” He said, waving his hand in a weak greeting.

Feliciano walked out toward Alfred. “Oh, Lovi didn’t tell you? I’m his twin brother! We’re staying here while Arthur tries to find us a new home here.” He cooed, taking Alfred’s hand and shaking it eagerly.

“Oh- well I guess I know now- haha.” Said Alfred, his voice shaking from how fervently Feliciano was shaking his hand.

Feliciano headed to the kitchen, pulling out a pumpkin beer. “Ludwig just wanted one of these, I’m sorry if he scared you.” He said.

“Oh no, I wasn’t scared- just surprised, that’s it…Haha.” Said Alfred.

Feliciano grinned. “Okay- then I’ll see you at dinner.” He said, heading back to his room.

Alfred took a deep breath when the door closed, slumping down into the chair next to Matthew. “Fuck man…You have to be insane.” He told Matthew, glaring him down.

Matthew sighed sweetly, closing his eyes and resting his head onto the table. Alcohol made him think of nothing. It calmed his nerves, it soothed his spirits. It made him feel like a blissful idiot. When he was drunk, which was constantly these days, he just… was himself.

“Maybe I am insane Alfred.” He said, slinking back into his chair with a soft blush on his face. “But I know one thing for sure…”

“What’s that…” said Alfred with a frown,

Matthew shrugged, hugging his water bottle, looking out into the abyss. “I feel better now Alfred… and right now…that’s all that matters.”