It’s been more than a decade.
How many times has Alfred told himself this in the last few weeks? It has been more than a decade since searing heat carved a hole in his side; since he was left wounded, angry, and paralyzed in the wake of ash and debris. Yet the ache remains, underneath his ribs, a signal of a populace still damaged.
No matter how much he wants to, Alfred can neither go back nor forget.
Still, with the anniversary creeping ever closer, he can’t help but feel wary. On edge. No one would ever try a repeat of something like that on the exact same day, he knows, but that knowledge doesn’t seem like enough. So he’s eternally relieved when he calls up Matthew, asking with his heart in his throat,
Hey, uh, do you mind hanging out with me this weekend? It doesn’t even have to be the whole weekend, just, you know….
That his brother’s answer is a warm, unquestioning,
Of course, Alfred. I’ll be over tomorrow, alright?
“Thanks, Matty,” Alfred says into the receiver gratefully, scratching at his throat with his fingertips. He cracks a smile for the first time in days. “You’re the best, you know that?”
The laugh that comes across the line is instantly soothing, and Alfred can imagine the crinkled violet eyes and bouncing curl that comes along with it. The image makes a warm knot in his belly, replacing some of the tension simmering there.
You’re only saying that so I make pancakes when I get there.
“Maybe,” he replies, though truth be told, Alfred hadn’t been thinking about pancakes at all at the time. “Still true.”
Mmhmm, Matthew hums across the line, as though Alfred’s confirmed his suspicions. Let me go pack now. I’ll call you when I’m on my way, okay?
Alfred nods, then, realizing that Matthew couldn’t see it, makes a noise of affirmation.
He hangs up the phone moments later, feeling lighter than he has in days. The hurt is still there, flaring as his people remember and grieve, but Matthew’s coming over, just like he did the year before, and the year before that.
So he’ll make it through.