Alfred has a number of reasons for disliking winter; at least enough to count on his hand. Frigid temperatures chapping his lips—one; mushy, dirty snow seeping into his boots—two; the way it takes forever to get warmed up again—three. He could go on, but what Alfred finds the worst about winter is something he knows most people couldn’t care less about.
Weeks of dark, cloudy night skies. Weeks of being unable to properly unwind in front of his telescope, or under the stars in the yard, on soft, dewy grass. Even bundled in his thickest gear on the clearer nights, Alfred can’t stay out as long as he truly wants to.
Alfred sighs, moving his floor pillow closer to the (finally) crackling fireplace. He closes his eyes.
Al’s drowsy and the heat of the fireplace is just starting to seep into his bones when Matthew waltzes in from outdoors, bringing with him bitter winter wind and a flurry of snow.
“Hey,” Alfred greets from the floor, rolling over and upright. In his brother’s arms is a large, nondescript box, dampened on the edges by melted snow. Coughing to clear his throat, Alfred eyes it curiously. “What’s in the box?”
The box disappears from Alfred’s view as Matthew sets it aside. He has to wait until Matthew’s peeled everything off — hat, scarf, gloves, coat, and boots — before he gets an answer.
And all the blonde says, before hefting the box up and walking away, is, “It’s a surprise.”
Alfred grins, sudden excitement fluttering in his belly. Matthew had said it with one of those really crinkled smiles of his, like he was trying hard not to spill his own beans. So the debate with himself to sneak after Matthew isn’t really a debate; he can wait, even if his stomach is doing somersaults with anticipation.
Besides, he thinks, stretching back out in front of the fireplace. ‘S pretty nice here right now.
Alfred’s restless the entire time he waits for Matthew. But it’s a lethargic kind of restlessness — he wants to move but he doesn’t, warm and comfortable despite the fireplace dimming to embers. Despite his mind running wild with ideas as to what his brother brought in that box.
It could be absolutely anything, because even with all his routines sometimes—
Alfred groans, throwing an arm over his eyes, mildly vexed.
—sometimes, Matthew’s weird and unpredictable like that.
He usually likes it, but that’s not the point.
So caught up in his thoughts, Alfred actually manages to be startled when Matthew crouches down next to him, tickling the back of his hand with a slip of fabric. He nearly knocks heads with the blonde sitting up.
“Give a man some warning why don’t you,” Al says, exhaling dramatically. He grins afterward, though, because Matthew snorts in response, amused.
“I didn’t expect you to be so out of it.”
“I wasn’t ‘out of it’,” Alfred says back, air-quoting Matt’s words. “I was relaxed. Totally zen.”
“Mmhmm.” Matthew stands back upright, extending his hand for Alfred’s to take.
Matt holds out the strip of fabric from before — just a blue scarf, now that he’s really seeing it — and dangles it in front of him, smiling that crinkled smile again.
“Now put this on, eh? You want to see the surprise, don’t you?”
Maneuvering up a staircase blindfolded is tricky; Alfred finds there’s something about not having vision that makes everything just a little off. Good thing Matthew’s helping to guide him up, his hand resting gently, warmly against the small of Alfred’s back.
“Can I guess what it is?” Al asks, dragging his fingertips across the left wall as they reach the top of the stairs.
Matthew laughs. “You can try. We’re almost there, though.”
"Okay, gimme a hint, then."
There's a brief pause. Alfred feels Matt’s contemplation in the tap-tap-tap of his fingers on his back. "How about... it's in the bedroom."
Alfred can’t help the sly grin that takes over his face. He looks back over his shoulder where he thinks his brother can see. “So that’s why I’m blindfolded, huh? I knew you were gonna get kinky eventually.”
“Nope, wrong,” Matthew responds playfully, making the sound of a buzzer.
A few steps later Al’s stopped abruptly by Matthew’s hand moving to his arm. “One sec,” he hears Matt say, followed by the soft click of a door shutting.
Anticipation flutters in Alfred’s belly anew as he stands in complete darkness, waiting. He feels Matthew’s warmth when the blonde returns to stand behind him again. There’s another clicking sound and, this time with the click, comes dim white light that filters through Al’s blindfold.
“Ready?” Matthew says, poised at the ready to undo the blindfold’s knot.
I was born ready.
It’s the first thing that comes to mind and Alfred doesn’t resist the corny urge to say it aloud, earning another snort from Matthew.
But the blindfold comes off then.
Alfred has to blink a few times to focus — the light is much brighter without a barrier — and once he can, he blinks a couple times more to make sure he’s seeing right. The entire bedroom is speckled in white, lighting up the darkness in a mimicry of a deep starry sky.
Eyes wide, he turns around slowly, taking in the clusters of constellations that move slowly across the walls.
Orion. Aquarius. Cassiopeia. Vulpecula.
All of the stars he would see at different times of the year, all right here in front of him, right now. And even stars he wouldn’t see normally, usually obscured by the all-pervasive city light pollution. He could watch them swirl all night if he wanted to, unhindered by freezing temperatures and overcast nights.
“Do you like it?”
Matthew’s voice is soft now, but it draws Alfred’s attention nonetheless. He turns back to Matthew, unable to keep himself from beaming.
“Like it? Matty, come on,” he says, giving the room another happy glance-over. “I love it.”