Chapter 1: In The Beginning
Alfred was perfect. No surprise there- he was simply built that way. From the arch of his brows to tips of his toes, every inch of him sculpted to impress. And of course Matthew was very impressed. Alfred passed as human in every way: hair, skin, mouth, body leaving no hint of his android origins. Alfred’s model was the newest and first absolutely lifelike line yet. The line itself went as far as having different facial structures and body types for each unity sold. These androids could be custom built for any purpose and could serve your every need.
“Even sexual ones,” Francis had told Matthew when he’d given the android to him as a ‘birthday present.’
Matthew hardly believed that his well-meaning father had bought Alfred for him as a glorified sex toy. In all honesty, he knew that Francis had his heart in the right place with the extravagant gift. Francis worried overly much about him, and Matthew’s own tendency to maintain a relatively small group of friends had never made sense to his social-butterfly of a father.
Matthew’s lack of a love life certainly didn’t put his father at ease either. 'Though really,' Matthew thought when the gift was given to him, 'wasn’t getting an android companion almost… insulting? Buying a companion for me as if I can't find my own?'
Because of this, he was spiteful at the very idea of Alfred at first, having only turned him on purely to use him for housework.
Things were different now.
He had fallen in love.
- In the Beginning -
The crate sits in his living room unopened for a couple of days before Matthew even decides to open it. It was more of a coffin than a crate to be honest- a big human shaped metal affair. It was smooth and sleek, impressively cut- all to house a lifeless doll body. The more he thought about it the creepier it seemed. This sort of thing had become so normalized through the years, with people keeping these big crates to house their androids to recharge or store during low usage seasons of the year. Matthew would probably tuck this storage coffin, as it appeared, into one of his father's storage rooms since it would hardly fit in his apartment.
After edging around the coffin for a few days, Matthew knows that he'll have to relent and turn on the android. He'd hurt his dear father's feelings otherwise. Despite all the hype about this new android line, Matthew gasps when he opens the crate for the first time. With most androids, almost instantly all the ways they aren’t quite human are suddenly in focus. Their mouth isn't set quite right, or their joints are a little stiff-looking, or their body proportions are just a little off.
Not now, not with his new ‘companion’. The android looks merely asleep, as though he'd laid down for a nap and someone accidentally shoved him into an android shipping and storage container. Even worse he’s only wearing a thin pair of boxers, and Matthew can tell how real every part of him looks. The android is a bit stockier, but he's well muscled and toned for all of that. He has a handsome face and the kind of toned arms Matthew would expect to find on an action hero. In fact, the overall build and design of the android makes Matthew flush in embarrassment... and feel a stab of inferiority. To have a body like this he had to work for it, but this android would just wake up with it.
After he's gotten his fill of ogling the poor android, Matthew sits back onto his butt on the floor as he carefully reads over the setup instructions. All in all, the steps are relatively simple, and after he's certain of all that he needs to do, he reaches down to press the release that makes the final clear glass covering over the android slide open. For a moment, Matthew holds his breath as nothing much seems to happen before finally the android’s eyes blink open. The android slowly sits up, and he gives Matthew an expectant smile.
Matthew is struck by the lovely color of his eyes, the humanness of his smile, and he feels his cheeks go warm again. At last, though, he could see a difference- it was around his eyes. Lovely as they were, no expression touches them, and Matthew feels a little bit of tension ease. That distance in Alfred’s eyes looked like a hard counterpoint to the warmth in the curve of his lips- a perfect pearly white smile. The eyes had almost a flat empty look, and Matthew tries not to feel too glad for it. After all, if Alfred were too human putting him to work would be difficult, and that is all Matthew woke him up for.
When Matthew doesn’t say anything, the android finally says, “Am I functional then?”
Jolting from his thoughts, Matthew looks back down at his list. He really shouldn't let a damn android embarrass him. “Oh! Right! Sorry! Your locomotion tests and stuff.” He raises his hand in front of Alfred’s face. “Watch my finger so we can test your eyes first okay?”
Alfred does, following the finger this way and that. Blue eyes track his movements easily, and after that, Matthew makes him stand up and walk around the room. Matthew gives him short quick commands, prompting Alfred to move his arms and head and legs. The instructions tell Matthew what sort of things to be looking for, but as Alfred walks and turns and moves, everything seems to be in order. If perhaps, Matthew tests him longer than necessary- just to watch the smooth, easy, natural way of moving he had- then that was no one's business but his own.
Okay so, Francis is entirely too rich for his own good, but on the other hand, he had an excellent eye for quality.
“Alright,” Matthew said finally. “You’re good now. So, um, I have clothes for you.”
“Wait!” the android says, turning those strange eyes- beautiful but empty- back towards him. “You haven’t given me a name yet.”
Matthew blinks at him- he hadn’t even thought about that at all. The surprise stills his tongue for a moment as he thinks about it because of course, he couldn't just call him 'android' all the time. Unable to get his brain to work, Matthew starts to ramble. “Oh, well, um, you were really only supposed to be for working around the house. I haven’t thought- I mean you’re like a butler or whatever so um maybe Alfred.” There, that was fair enough, right?
It's a half-hearted way of naming at best, but still, the android’s smile grows. “Alfred. I like that name. Thank you.”
“Um, you’re welcome,” Matthew said. Oh jeez, everything about this moment was awkward. At least he could comfort himself that this was just an android. An attractive and well built android, surely, but still an android. Androids don't understand awkward. “Could you put some clothes on? My father left some for you over there.”
Alfred nods and goes to look, turning his back on the other for a moment to pick the clothes up.
“Your father?” he asks as he pulls the clothes on, all smooth, natural movement. "What's his name?”
“Francis,” Matthew supplies. “He bought you for my birthday gift.”
Alfred turns to smile at him as he pulls his pants up. “So we share a birthday! How lucky!”
Once again, Matthew is unsure. “No… not quite. My birthday was a few days ago. I just got around to opening you now.”
He has the appearance of being crestfallen by that news, and Matthew tries to puzzle out if it were normal for androids to refer to the day they were switched on as ‘birthdays.’ Matthew as been raised around androids all his life, and he's never heard one say such a thing.
“Well, close still.” He smiles once he’s finished pulling on the simple outfit- pants, sucks, and a button up shirt- that Francis had left him. “What is it that you need for me to do for you, sir?”
Matthew shakes his head instantly and holds out his hand, ever polite. “No calling me sir. My name is Matthew. You’re here for the housework and stuff so that I can have some free time to myself.”
Alfred nods to him and smiles, giving him a firm, warm hand shake. “Alright, then, Matthew. I’ll get to the chores. If you’d show me the house, and what I should do.”
So Matthew does, happy at least that this much too expensive gift would be put to good use. After a few days, Alfred finds a rhythm, knowing where everything is, knowing what all chores he needs to do, and how to accomplish them. Matthew gets used to having the android in his apartment, bustling around and getting things done. The strange distance in Alfred's eyes, the lack of whatever it is that make humans different from androids making it easy to use Alfred as a butler. This situation might work out better than expected...
The first time Matthew wakes to find Alfred hovering in his room is terrifying. He has never woken to his new ‘companion’ nearby so the hulking figure in his room scares him senseless. Fear seizes him, and he jerks roughly awake, hand instinctively grabbing for his hockey stick that he knows is somewhere to his left.
Alfred rushes forward, worry coming over his own expression. “Matthew what’s wrong?!”
Simply responding to his own horror, Matthew realizes, but it doesn't stop him from hitting him in the face with a pillow. “What the hell man?! You were watching me sleep!!”
He’s too sleepy and blindly confused to remember that this is an android, that he’s newly turned on, that he probably just doesn’t understand enough etiquette to know why this is unnerving. All Matthew can process is that someone was breaking a very reasonable social taboo against hovering over someone and watching them sleep.
Getting struck with the pillow clearly startles him, and Alfred freezes for just a moment. After a moment, a playful smile comes to his lips. “Pillow fight?” he says, and Matthew tries to get over the fact the smile doesn't touch his eyes at all.
“No! No!” Matthew says, pushing at his chest. “Just! It’s creepy as fuck to be watched while you sleep!”
Alfred tilts his head in confusion, his brows furrowing. “I was asleep in my container, and many many people saw me sleeping. I don’t understand why this is bad?” Of course he doesn't understand- oh, joy, having a conversation about the inherent differences between androids and humans first thing in the morning. Just what Matthew needs.
Though his heart is still beating way too fast for comfort, Matthew sits up and runs his fingers through his hair. After he rolls the question around in his head for a moment, he tries to explain. “But you’re not human. You’re different. I’m human, and humans don’t like that.”
“Different?” Alfred is moving closer now, expression turning into something more open, more thoughtful... more curious. “How is it different?”
Alfred communicates this curiosity not just with his face but with his eyes as well, a fact that gives Matthew pause. Curiosity? Is that part of the android's programming?
“Well,” he says slowly, trying to take his question seriously. “Your sleeping and my sleeping is different. Your sense of self and mine are different.” He takes a breath, seeing more questions in his eyes already. “What is it like for you to charge, Alfred?”
Alfred charges once a day, every day, for about an hour. It’s designed to look like human sleep, Alfred’s eyes closed and body relaxed.
“I’m off,” Alfred says back, curious still. “Everything is just black.”
Matthew nods and takes a breath. “For humans it’s different. Sometimes it’s black, but sometimes we dream. Sometimes we see things in our heads while we sleep, and we toss and turn. Sometimes we have nightmares or intense dreams that are all... well, super personal. Like our mind scripts a movie just for us. It’s not as easy as coming on and going off. It’s… intimate to watch a person sleep.”
Alfred is clearly processing this, though Matthew can't tell what he's thinking from his expression. "So you dream, and you see things? Any kind of images or thoughts put in your head?” He pauses. “It takes you a long time to fall asleep every night. I noticed. I wondered why.”
“Anything and everything,” Matthew agrees. “Usually it’s things we’re scared of, or things we like, or things we watched. Things we put in our head.” He can’t help but turn red at the next question, and he sighs. As nice as Alfred's work always is, the android's tendency to hover was a little overbearing. “Yes, and it’s harder to fall asleep when you linger around. It makes me self conscious that you’re so focused on me.”
Leaning closer, Alfred is studying Matthew’s face and his head as if he can see through to his brain. Matthew has never seen such an intense expression of concentration and interest on an android’s face as the one Alfred wears. Matthew turns red despite the fact that Alfred is supposed to be just a machine. He tries to lean away from him a little, the intensity almost too much for him.
“Self-conscious?” He frowns, and he says, "I know what the word means but not how it feels. It's like... theoretical knowledge. Tell me about it.”
“It’s like… I have a sense of self. A sense of ‘who I am.’ I know what I like and how I feel and what I like to do. So I have a sense of myself. It’s different for you, isn’t it?”
Alfred is listening, rolling this over and over in his head. “A sense of ‘who I am.’ I know who I am. I’m Model KX-FLM6614 named Alfred and I’ve been assigned to house work.”
Matthew shakes his head and smiles at him anyways. “That’s not the same. It’s like….” He moves to kneel in front of him on the bed, trying to get himself more even with Alfred who is still hovering over him. “I’m Matthew. I like to play hockey and I like to read. My favorite book is Anne of Green Gables, because my mother read it to me a lot as a child... it’s nostalgic. On Saturday mornings, I like eating pancakes and watching bad TV shows on the SyFy channel. I hate being stared at too much and I hate rudeness." His smile turns into a grin. "Oh, and being watched while I sleep is on the list of things that I don’t like, because... it's just weird I guess.”
There’s a long moment of silence, Alfred’s eyes moving. It’s strange- it looks as though he’s scanning a page of a newspaper, but there’s nothing in front of him. Matthew realizes he’s thinking very hard about this, trying to work this puzzle out.
“I…” he says finally. “I don’t know what I like. Working is my job, and having something to do is nice. But when I’m finished and you’re not here… I sit on the couch and wait for you. I don’t like anything…?” Even saying something that a human would find rather sad, Alfred simply seems... intrigued, still curious about this whole idea of a self identity.
Matthew takes in a sharp breath at this revelation. The image of Alfred sitting alone on the couch waiting in the silent house unnerves him and makes him feel a bit guilty. “You can watch TV while I’m gone, you know? That’s perfectly alright. And here, how about this: I’ll let you read some of my books and stuff. Maybe you’ll find something you like.”
Alfred’s answering smile is rather brilliant. “Oh! As long as you think it’s okay. I’ll finish my work, and then I’ll do things you like.”
Despite this being the most convincing smile yet, the whole statement has a weird, inhuman ring to it... The thought of deciding to spend you free time enjoying someone else's hobbies is a little strange, but it is a bit of progress in the right direction.
“And you won’t watch me sleep anymore because it makes me uncomfortable... right?”
With a nod, Alfred e says, “No watching you sleep, and staring makes you blush.”
Matthew blushes darker at this but nods. “Yes precisely. Now let me get ready for work.”
Chapter 2: Is this what family is like?
Matthew is standing at the door to his parents’ home, Alfred at his elbow. Francis had told him to bring the android once he had been turned on and was functioning, and Matthew's not entirely sure that the interest is in his investment or in whether or not Alfred is "as sexy as the adverts say" once he's been activated. Knowing his father, it very well could be either one of those things. It’s the first time Alfred had been brought outside since being switched on, and he’s curious about everything. Since they've left the apartment, Alfred has been peppering him with questions, and he's eager to catalog the answers that he's getting. Even now that they've arrived, Matthew can see Alfred straining his neck to look around and take in the world around him without moving from his place at Matthew’s side. He almost wants to tell Alfred just to go play and look around, but he still needs to show him to Francis.
When the door comes open, Matthew is surprised that it’s his father- normally the androids answered. "Why have an android butler if you don't make use of them," Francis had said on more than one occasion, but Matthew thinks that it probably has more to do with the fact that his father doesn't want to interact with certain people. Just get the android to send them off if he doesn't want to see them... an effective enough tactic. For Francis to have answered the door, he must have spied in him one of the security cameras.
“Bonjour, Mathieu~” he says, a glass of wine in one hand. “You came at the absolute perfect time. I put—.”
From somewhere in the house there’s a frustrated shriek of “FRANCIS!” that Matthew recognizes as his mother’s voice.
Francis’s grin is incredibly satisfied. “I put the android in French,” he continues, ushering the two into the house.
By the time Matthew has his shoes off, his tiny angry British mother is rounding the corner, her best war face already in place.
“You put Arthur in French again!”
Alice has a rather fierce angry voice for a woman so petite, but Francis is virtually unaffected by it. Years of practice has made him either immune to it or idiotically overconfident. Matthew would guess a mixture of the two.
“I did~” he says, looking rather proud of himself. “Although his French is stilted and spiritless, as expected, it’s much better than English.”
The android in question rounds the corner looking mostly bored. These kinds of squabbles aren't at all new for him, and Matthew waves at him, offering him a little smile in greeting. He would just avoid his parents' bickering. Arthur's bored expression lights up into a smile when he sees Matthew and moves to his side. He greets him in quiet French and takes his coat from him, smoothing his shirt down afterwards.
“It’s good to see you Arthur," Matthew says, letting the android fuss over him a little.
Arthur had been purchased six years prior to help take care of Matthew’s little sister Cecilia when the girl was around 6 years old. As such Arthur had a rather prim, protective personality, and he had proved to be an excellent nanny. Though he was already 18 when the android was purchased, as a ‘child’ of the family, Matthew got the same sort of careful overseeing that his young sister received. Every time he visits, Matthew gets a careful looking over by not only his mother and father but also by their taciturn and serious android nanny.
Arthur’s reply in French is cut off by Alice.
“Put him right, Francis,” she demands, yanking Francis by his ear and dragging him over to Arthur. Matthew tries not to smile, because he knows that she can’t speak enough French to change the setting back. “Right now.”
Francis almost looks as if he’s going to protest, but at his wife’s glare, he simply rolls his eyes. “Killjoy,” he says, not without some affection in his tone, before switching to French to give the verbal commands to put Arthur back into English.
Matthew hazards a glance at Alfred, who has gone oddly quiet since the whole exchange started. More than anything, he looks confused by all of the antics.
“Is this what family is always like?” Alfred asks him quietly.
Unable to stop himself from grinning, Matthew shrugs and replies uncertainly, “Probably?”
Then Alice is in front of him, smoothing his clothes and fixing his hair in much the same way that Arthur had a few moments prior. “You’re looking well Matthew. I’ve been worried you know, living alone in that big city. I suppose that’s history now though. Let’s have a look at your fancy new android, shall we?” Alice was a business woman through and through- and a rather good one at that. She drags Alfred from behind Matthew. “Now turn around so I can have a good look at you!”
Alfred doesn't hesitate to obey the command, and he turns himself around in a circle, smiling somewhat.
“Your mother is very beautiful, Matthew,” Alfred says with an almost polite expression as he looks down at Alice, who is still taking stock of him.
Matthew shakes his head as Alice blushes and makes a wry sort of expression. She gives a little hum of approval and turns to address Matthew again. “He’s a very good looking sort of android. Your father has always had good taste in men.”
“Very good taste, actually. I have to introduce you to Antonio soon~” Francis throws an arm over Matthew’s shoulder and hugs him against his side. “I have a new Spanish boyfriend, and it's had your mother in all sorts of little jealous fits.”
Matthew makes a face and starts to push his father off of him. “Papa, I don’t want to know about that!”
It was no secret to Matthew at his age- his parents have a rather open sort of relationship. They love each other a lot, and honestly, he'd have to be blind to miss how blatant their affection is. That love doesn't change the fact that they also drive each other to distraction. They had made their marriage work by giving each other relative freedom to do what - and who - they wanted. Matthew had met a few of his father’s boyfriends over the years, and most of them were rather entertaining. Francis always declared that he only dallied with other men out of respect for his wife ("As hard-hearted as she can be," he'd sigh dramatically, "She's really the only woman for me.") Alice would respond with one of her particularly gentle smiles when he said such things, and Matthew thinks it's somehow endearing despite how strange most people found the sentiment.
Of course, Matthew is also certain his mother had more than a few relationships outside of Francis over the years, but she was rather more secretive about it. This was something Matthew had always been rather thankful for- it also helps a lot that Alice is always quick to stop Francis from giving Matthew too much information. Knowing that his parents had an open relationship didn't faze him all that much, but he really really didn't want to know about the kind of stuff they got up to during their extramarital activities.
“Yes, Francis, we don’t speak about such things in front of the children. I’m not jealous of you and your little boy toy.” Alice's tone is clipped, huffy, and it riles Francis up immediately. So of course, Francis takes the bait, and Matthew watches as they descend into bickering. “
"Not jealous, mon ange? Perhaps not but I did see you with an interesting new friend- an android was it? A very pretty new thing, indeed. I shouldn't be surprised-- you always did like control~”
The way he says the word is insinuating enough for Matthew to get the general picture, and though Alice is already responding with something equally likely to give him horrifying mental images, he’s covering his ears and trying to talk over them. "Okay! Okay! Wait a second-"
For a moment it’s just a cacophony of bickering and voices talking over each other. Only when one voice, trying to be heard over the rest of the clamor, rises loud enough to be heard by everyone that the entryway fall silent.
“HEY MATTHEW,” Alfred says, tone completely innocent despite his insistent volume. “Do all older androids have big bushy eyebrows?”
Everyone freezes, all humans turning to where Arthur and Alfred stand at the edge of the room. Matthew recognizes Arthur’s expression: it’s that look he puts on when Cecilia has done something naughty, and he wishes to correct it. He heaves a long suffering sigh before he can respond to the newer android.
When he finally speaks, his tone is clipped and irritated- this is something people have said about Arthur numerous times already. “They are not bushy. They are just eyebrows."
Francis is the first to laugh, almost spilling his wine as he folds forward to guffaw in the least dignified way imaginable. Matthew actually smiles at this because it's very rare that his father is startled into humor enough to abandon his usual poise.
Finally, Francis goes over to clap Alfred on the back. “I’m glad I picked this one. He’s a keeper. Bushy Brows is the perfect name for Arthur.”
Matthew bites his lip to hold back a laugh, because Arthur’s angry nanny face is getting more and more pronounced by the moment. Alice rushes to his defense, striding forward to touch Arthur's elbow as she looks up at her husband.
“I think the eyebrows give him character! A more distinguished, unique face! Certainly more striking that many of those other androids that were being sold at the time.” Of course, Alice would say this as she was the one to pick him out in the store- much to Francis’s loud and very vocal dismay.
Matthew is smiling though, despite all of the ruckus. His parents are arguing good-naturedly again about 'unique faces' and whether or not they 'had character.' Arthur looks more long-suffering than ever, but Matthew just smiles a little wider. This is what family has always been to him: a loud chaotic mix of scolding and affection, teasing and warmth. Being home was a good feeling. It is made all the more complete when Cecilia peaks around the corner- no doubt drawn by the noise. When she sights Matthew, she lights up. Despite the fact that she’s still only twelve, she’s rather well behaved for her age. She likes to pretend to be royalty, and it has given her a certain bossy edge that reminds him of their mother and a certain fashionable flair that reminds him of their father. She's an adorable mix of things he loves about both his parents, wrapped up in a sweet little girl with bright eyes and a soft heart.
She tries not to rush over to give Matthew a hug but fails somewhat in her excitement, jogging across the room and giving a little happy cry of “Mathieu~!” as she throws her arms around his waist.
Her appearance gives him an idea, a way to break up the madness and noise a little bit. “Cecilia, it’s good to see you sweetie,” Matthew says, picking her up and giving her a tight hug. “I brought my new android by. You should be the lady of the house and give him a tour yeah?”
Cecilia gives him a not-so-pleased expression at being hauled off of the ground and squirms out of his grip with all the imperious distaste that a cat might display in a similar situation. His suggestion is a perfect one though, because her whole face has lit up in excitement.
“Of course! Mama told me everything I need to know to be a perfect host! I’ll show him.”
Matthew’s expression is affectionate and warm as he watches as Cecilia goes to give Alfred a little curtsy and take his hand. Alfred makes eye contact with Matthew as the little girl starts to pull him out. The expression of intense curiosity that is suddenly in his eyes makes Matthew’s heart speed up a little. He was rarely, if ever, looked at with such intensity, and to be honest, it was rather unnerving. Alfred has only looked at him like this a few times, but it always embarrasses him. Perhaps when Alfred is more settled and less 'new,' he'll stop sending him those probing glances.
Still, the expression only lasts a moment before Alfred disappears with Cecilia. Arthur follows close behind the two of them, looking not nearly as enthused with this plan as the little girl was.
Matthew sighs when it’s finally quiet and looks to his parents- the argument must've tapered off, because Alice is tucked under Francis's arm now. Francis has finished his wine and he abandons the glass on a shelf near the door. No doubt Arthur would be the one finding that and putting it away later.
“So uhm,” Matthew says as he turns to lead his parents toward one of the sitting rooms. “Alfred is a nice android. Thanks again for the gift- though really you spent way too much on me again.”
His parents follow behind him, sitting together on one of the love seats while Matthew claims his favorite old armchair. Alice settles next to Francis, and she reaches out to catch her husband's fingers. Francis responds by leaning down to press a light kiss to the top of her head. After so much bickering, they bounce back to the quiet sweet affectionate couple Matthew knows they can be.
“I told Francis it was too much. I bought you some nice button-down shirts, but he refuses to let me give them to you.” She pouts up at her husband. Matthew knows he’ll find those shirts have been snuck into his car by the time he leaves
“They weren’t very fashionable though, mon ange, and we can hardly have Matthew looking less than perfect how can we?”
The two share a moment of huffy staring- a stand-off of sorts- before Francis’s stern face cracks, and he leans down to peck Alice’s lips gently.
Matthew smiles and shakes his head, turning his eyes away: he preferred it when his parents weren’t arguing so much and were being sweet like that, but he also didn’t want to see their intimacy either.
“Alright alright, enough with the hanky-panky.”
He sits and talks with his parents for a while, looking out the window once to find Cecilia and Alfred on lawn. They appear to be playing some sort of game- Alfred pantomiming sword fights while Cecilia looks on being imperious and royal.
‘Princess and knight,’ Matthew thinks.
If the way that Alfred is threatening him with a pretend sword is any clue, Arthur has been appointed the position of wicked sorcerer. Arthur, of course, has a look of long-suffering irritation on his face, and between the three of them, they make an interesting picture. For a handful of heartbeats, Matthew's eyes linger on Alfred, on his expression as he tries to play pretend. He's a little stiff, not used to it perhaps, but he does truly look as though he's enjoying the game.
With a smile, Matthew turns his attention back to his parents. There was just something so wonderful about coming home.
In the car on the way back to the city, Alfred seems incredibly pleased. He'd seen and experienced so many things, and he wants to share all of it with Matthew. It was interesting to hear Alfred exultant about things that Matthew took for granted, and it made for a good conversation. For a while, Alfred is just reporting to him what happened, where he went, and what he did. There's an edge of excitement to all of the things that he's saying, but Matthew wonders if it’s just his programming trying to make human-like conversation.
Then Alfred says, "Your family is very nice. I liked playing with your sister. And your house! It’s cool! Growing up there must’ve been fun." Suddenly though, Alfred turns to stare at him, eyes going intense and curious for the second time that day.
“I saw the way you looked at your family too.” He tilts his head, words coming out slower now. More measured, as though he's thinking harder about how to phrase this. “It’s different than how you normally look. It was all warm and soft. You love them, don’t you?”
Matthew flusters. “Of course I do. They’re my family. Why?”
“It’s very different from how you look at me, is all. I just noticed. I thought it was interesting.”
They are both silent for a moment, and Matthew puzzles over this. Alfred wasn’t nearly what he expected. He had expected a personality like Arthur’s, a prim and proper obedient sort of android. Many androids he met were like that, a straightforward kind of personality. Perhaps Alfred was just programmed with a different personality type, and this strange intense curiosity comes hand in hand with this new programming...? As Matthew mulls this over, Alfred finally breaks the silence.
“I’m going to become good friends with you, Matthew. I want you to look at me that way too!”
Matthew’s answer is soft and noncommittal, because he isn’t sure Alfred even understands what his suggestion means. He doesn't press it, letting it drop as he focuses on the road in front of him.
Chapter 3: Want?
“Can I read when I finish my chores, Matthew?”
Every day before Matthew leaves for work, Alfred asks this same question. At first, Matthew thinks it’s a cute daily routine that they’re settling into and just goes along with it. It’s only after about two weeks in that he realizes that the other is actually asking for permission to do so. Which, okay, is still pretty cute, but it's also really depressing too. He honestly couldn’t imagine how it must feel to be programmed to listen to all the instructions someone gives you. Such a thought was a harsh and rather frustrating one, in Matthew's opinion, but he wasn't really sure how to make Alfred understand that it upset him. For an android, programming like that must seem normal as charging their batteries.
The whole 'morning permission ritual' doesn’t become annoying until the one morning he’s running late.
His alarm hadn't went off, and he had a bit of paperwork that he had planned to do over breakfast. Between the two of those things, Matthew finds himself running about the apartment haphazardly. Rushing his way through his paperwork and his morning routine, he knows he looks flustered and rumpled, but he'd straight himself up at work. He’s almost out the door when he feels a strong hand catch him.
Alfred himself looks strangely flustered as well, and he asks in a rush, “Can I read today when I’m finished with chores? I’ve got a few chapters left so…!”
Matthew, in a rush to get out of the apartment, jerks his arm away and says with exasperation, “Yes, Alfred, yes it’s fine. Do whatever you want.”
“Want?” Alfred parrots back at him, but Matthew escapes out the door and down the steps. He didn’t have time to deal with Alfred’s existential android problems right this moment. That can of worms was something future Matthew would have to deal with.
When Matthew comes home that night, he’s a little drunk. After his frantic morning, he figures he deserved it anyhow so when his odd German co-worker had asked him out for drinks, he jumped at the chance. To be honest, being only mildly inebriated is actually a step up from the usual after a night with his rambunctious friend. Gilbert enjoys getting “all-out shit-faced” and likes to have company when he does it. Having time for wild bar nights like that is partially why Francis gifted Alfred to him, after all. When questioned as to why he doesn’t ‘get out more’ Matthew has always said that he’s too busy, and Francis was anxious to be rid of that excuse. Well, it had worked for today at least, and he stumbles back to his door with a flush to his cheeks and an unsteady wobble in his walk.
Alfred is sitting on the couch with a book in hand when Matthew arrives.
Although he feels dizzy with alcohol, Matthew makes it to the couch without hurting himself or falling down- a great show of coordination as far as he's concerned. Alfred is quick to set his book aside as Matthew sits down next to him.
“Welcome back Matthew. Do you need me to make dinner?”
Laughing, Matthew just shakes his head and flops over across Alfred’s lap to rest his head on one arm rest. He stretches his legs out towards the opposite armrest and sighs contentedly. He looks up at Alfred and gives him an honest, open smile.
“No thanks. I ate. You don’t have to work all the time ya know.” Matthew is friendly, leisurely. The alcohol has him settled into a warm, easy mood.
Alfred seems to notice the difference. “Are you drunk? Did you have fun?”
Matthew sees an uncertainty in Alfred’s expression, as though he’s not quite sure what to do with someone draped over him like this. Or perhaps he’s just figuring out if there is work required for him to do and Matthew has trapped him on the couch. Either way, Alfred really should just relax... in whatever way androids relax. Matthew isn't even sure they can relax, but the alcohol stops him before he gets too deep into that line of thought.
“Yeah,” he says after a moment and yawns. “I enjoy going out to drink with Gil sometimes. As long as I don’t start puking, I consider it time well spent.”
Finally Alfred seems to come to a decision and starts to stroke Matthew’s hair. Sober Matthew would be horrified by how embarrassing that was- to have his android stroking his hair and babying him. Drunk Matthew leans into the touch and sighs a bit.
“I’ve never thrown up, of course,” Alfred says. “But all signs point to it not being very fun.”
Matthew nods and his eyes drift closed. Of course, Matthew falls quiet as he dozes a little on his lap. He’s very nearly asleep when Alfred’s voice drags him back awake.
“If you fall asleep should I carry you to bed and change you into your night clothes?”
“You’re asking permission, aren’t you?” Matthew says as he opens his eyes. He gives him a rather stern look that any other time he’d realize was actually pretty silly looking. “You know you don’t need permission all the dang time, alright? If moving me to bed feels natural, then move me. If you finish your chores, read whatever you want. Watch TV. Dance around in your boxer briefs. I don’t care. I trust you to make good decisions.”
He keeps his eyes on Alfred’s face, trying to find some flicker of understanding in his face. At first, Alfred's expression is blank, a confused smile in place but not a lot of presence. But when his words click in Alfred’s mind, Matthew sees- or at least he thinks he sees- warmth and comprehension.
“Oh, okay. I will then.” Alfred’s smile grows wider, taking on a teasing edge. “Is dancing in your boxers something you do often?”
Matthew shrugs and is at least aware enough to realize that this is something he should be embarrassed by. “Yeah sometimes. I can’t with you around though. It’s embarrassing.”
“You should do it anyways. I won’t laugh too much.”
Although he doubts he’ll ever allow that to happen, he doesn’t say more on the subject, head falling to the side as he starts to arrange himself for a nap again. Then he spots Alfred’s book and blinks. “You’re almost done aren’t you? Right near the end.” He smiles a little. “Still trying to finish up Anne of Green Gables?”
“Yes, I’m almost done. It’s very interesting. Thank you for telling me to read it.”
Matthew narrows at his eyes at this- as if reading it was an order- but he figures he has to take it a step at a time to get Alfred up to a level of natural human interaction. If he ever does, that is. Some androids he met seemed really human- like Arthur- and others always stayed relatively robotic. He really hoped that Alfred was the former, because the more distant, blank slate androids unnerved him. Much as Alfred did when he was first woken up, in fact.
“How about you read the end to me then, since you’re close to finishing? It’ll be like being a kid again. Good thing to fall asleep to.”
Matthew closes his eyes again and just enjoys the darkness behind his eyelids and the vague floating dizzy feeling still in his head.
“If you’re sure you don’t need me to do any other work… then sure I suppose I can do that.”
“Now is relaxing time, not working time Alfred. Get back to your book.”
With a shrug, Alfred gives in, picking up his book and reading aloud to him. It’s a bit stilted and strange, as expected. Alfred knows how to read, how the flow of the sentence should sound, but he doesn’t always put the emotions in the right place. He also seems to have problems vocalizing what those emotions sound like.
Still he tries and it’s not so strange that it keeps Matthew awake with the awkwardness of it. He falls asleep to the sound of Alfred’s voice and gentle fingers stroking his hair. He only wakes once, briefly as he’s carried to his room by strong warm arms. His glasses have been taken off, and he can’t see much besides the dark. Regardless he associates this feeling of being carried to bed with his father, and he pecks the other's cheek before he’s being laid down into the bed.
“Bonne nuit,” Matthew murmurs softly as he cuddles into his pillow and goes back to sleep.
When Matthew wakes up the next morning, his head is a little fuzzy, and he feels as though he’s bordering on headache. It’s better than the normal hang-over that he usually ends up with when he drinks with Gil, but it’s still unpleasant. Better just to stay in bed for a while, face buried in the cool side pillow, Matthew decides. He hears the door open and stiffens at first before realizing it’s probably just Alfred. He cracks an eye open and sees him coming in with a glass of water in one hand and what’s probably pills in the other. Once Alfred is even to the bed, Matthew finally greets him.
“Good morning,” he mumbles.
Even though it was quiet, Alfred jerks in surprise, almost spilling the water down his chest and stares down at the bed. His breathing even speeds up the way a human’s would. Androids, like anything else in the world, can startle, a thought that makes him smile. Kudos to the engineers too, for being able to make that reaction seem so natural.
“Oh jeezus Matthew…!” His surprise melts into a smiles, and he sets the cup down. “I didn’t realize you were awake.”
“Mhmm, ‘m up,” he responds, shifting to sit up on his elbows a bit and rub his eyes. “Is that ibuprofen for me?”
“Yeah! I mean I thought you’d want it!” Alfred’s smile wavers. “It’s okay right? That I brought it?”
Matthew looks up to see his earnest expression, the worry on his face that he’d overstepped bounds.
“Your first action as a willful android… is to bring me medicine.” He laughs and grins at him. “It’s fine. I told you, I’m not going to get mad at you if you take some initiative and do stuff you want to do.”
Alfred’s answering smile is so wide that Matthew wonders if he’s going to regret that. “I made you breakfast too, if you think you can eat.”
Matthew nods and starts to shift, putting both feet on the ground. After he's up in a sitting position, he takes a moment to orient himself, taking stock of the low intensity headache and how off kilter his no-doubt dehydrated body feels. Then he reaches for the glass and takes a drink of the water before grabbing the pills and washing them down as well, just as precaution. Only once he’s taken the medicine does he get up and nod.
“Alright, breakfast time. What’d ya make?”
“You like pancakes right? I made those!” He grins. “I’ve been watching Sci-fi all morning. I think I like it.”
Matthew sits and eats, chatting amicably with Alfred about what the other had spent the early morning watching as he does. He thinks this is comfortable and fun to sit and have a natural conversation like this.
Until it turns strange.
Matthew notices Alfred’s eyes on his lips as he licks a bit of maple syrup from the edge of his mouth.
“Your lips are very warm, Matthew,” Alfred says rather suddenly. “Much warmer than mine. Is that natural for humans? I know I run a few degrees cooler than humans, but I didn’t realize how different it was until yesterday.”
For a moment Matthew is floored and embarrassed. He stares at him in confusion, and there’s a prolonged pause as he tries to sort out what the other could possibly have done to make this discovery.
“You were… touching my mouth…?”
Alfred’s reaction is confusion. “Of course not. Don’t you remember?”
Matthew feels his face go red. “Remember what??”
“When I put you to bed last night,” he answers readily. “You cuddled my chest and kissed my cheek.”
Suddenly, he remembers the hazy impression of his father bringing him to bed, and he realizes now logically in the light of day that it had to be Alfred. Alfred had been the one to gently and carefully pick him up from the couch and carry him to bed. Matthew blushes bright, apologies on his lips, but it would seem Alfred is already distracted.
“So you don’t remember? Is it unclear? Because you were drunk and tired?” He is leaning toward him now, eyes bright and curious. Alfred always seemed more human when he was curious- sky blue eyes filled with wonder. “I can remember everything perfectly. Sometimes I may have to back up my memories or I may have to replace artificial parts here and there, but I can remember most things with relative ease unless I choose to delete it. Humans are different in that way, aren’t they? I know, logically, that you are, but it's hard to understand for me.”
Matthew is embarrassed enough to take the opportunity presented to change the subject.
“Oh yeah, umm, human memory is really fallible. Being too drunk or being too tired can make you lose things. Hitting your head too hard can make you lose your memories. So can being too young or too old.” Matthew smiles uncertainly at him, unsure if there is any easy way about talking about how memory- the construction and interpretation of it specifically- shapes a lot about perception in humans. “It can be really... complicated sometimes, when memory is so easily confused or overwritten.”
“I guess I’m pretty lucky then, to have a memory like this,” Alfred says, smiling back at him.
“Probably,” Matthew agrees aloud... but in his head he's disagreeing. The thought of having one solid, unchanging memory, specifically one that can't be reinterpreted or reevaluated, sounds maddening. Instead of arguing, though, he simply says, "Let’s go watch TV now huh? Some of the best B movies come on today.”
Chapter 4: The Other Side of the Coin
The way Alfred reads at first amuses Matthew rather a lot. He sits, ramrod straight, eyes scanning the page as if he’s doing some incredibly serious study. Every now and again, if he watches long enough, Matthew will catch when Alfred loses his place or has to reread a paragraph he wasn’t paying attention too. Despite how efficient androids' neural processors were, Matthew has seen this with the more complex androids before. Once a certain level of processing is reached, even machines can get distracted by the all that is going on in their heads. It's kinda cute to watch.
Honestly though, Matthew can’t figure out quite why he takes it so seriously, but every time Alfred lays a book aside, he tells Matthew that it was nice and that he likes it. It’s almost how a child would be while reading his friend’s favorite book. He doesn’t want to hurt any feelings by admitting the book wasn’t incredibly interesting, but it's clear he wasn't really all that impressed. Alfred was more interested in movies than books, so Matthew tries to make sure Alfred knew he was allowed to poke through his movie collection as well. Matthew wants Alfred to find things that he likes, even if it's different than Matthew's own interest in books.
Alfred suddenly finds that he just might enjoy some books when he stumbles upon Matthew’s set of Scott Pilgrim books.
When he walks in, Matthew expects to find Alfred in his rigid position on the couch. When he’d left that morning, Alfred had been struggling through an old dog-eared copy of The Phantom of the Opera, and Matthew rather wondered if the android would still be stuck trying to force himself through the ending. The android had no problem with the language- despite the dated language, Alfred understood that well enough. But he wasn't exactly the most enthused by the story.
So sight that greets Matthew is surprising.
Alfred is sprawled across the floor on his stomach, and he’s pulled the whole set of Scott Pilgrim books out. There’s a stack near his head to the right that Matthew assumes are the ones he hasn’t gotten too yet, and the first two are near his left elbow. He's halfway through the third book already, and he doesn't seem to even notice that Matthew was home. That, in and of itself, is unusual. Normally, he notices immediately, and he puts aside whatever it is that he's doing.
“Alfred…?” Matthew asked, his amusement and confusion clear in his voice. “What’re you doing?”
Alfred looks up at him, startled, and moves to sit up. “Oh! Sorry Matthew! I didn’t see you there!” His expression is one of excited distraction though. “I found these books on your shelf today! They’re pretty interesting! Do you have any more like this?”
It’s hard to not to get caught up in Alfred’s exuberance. His eyes are bright, and his smile is infectious. Never before has Matthew ever seen Alfred make an expression so vibrant and human, and he has to say Alfred looks much more handsome like this. With a grin, Matthew comes over and plops down on the floor next to him and picks up a book to flip through it.
“You mean, comics? Like, with pictures?” he asks, gesturing to the books. "I don't have a lot of comics. Do you like these?"
“Yeah! I mean, I think there are things- jokes and stuff- that I don’t always understand, but it’s very interesting to read.” He looks over at Matt again, eyes taking on an almost passionate gleam. “I want to read more things like this. It sounds more like... like the humans I know now. These classic books don't sound like any of the humans I know right now.”
Alfred focuses that enraptured expression on Matthew, and he leans into his space. That intense focus has Matthew blushing darkly, and he has to remind himself that even though Alfred is an attractive android he is still an android. “S-sure…” he says back, tucking his hair behind his ear and leaning back a little. “I have some of my favorites on the shelf, but I, um, can join places online too so you can read digital comics if you want.”
Suddenly Matthew is swept up in a tight bear hug- it’s almost too tight and more than a little surprising. For a dizzy moment, Matthew wonders where this urge came from, but he notices that Alfred has ducked down to press his face to Matthew's chest and wrap his arms around his middle the way that little Cecilia does. He must've learned this from watching Matthew with his family. After a moment of stunned stillness, Matthew returns the hug, patting his back and laughing.
“Thanks Matthew! You’re awesome!” Alfred says brightly.
When Alfred pulls away, Matthew is flushed red, but he’s also really happy. Finally, he found something that could get the android excited- warmer and more human than ever before.
“I’ve got the movie too, for this series of books. Do you wanna watch it with me?”
Alfred nods instantly, face still too close for Matthew to fight off the redness in his cheeks. “Of course, I do! Do you want me to make you popcorn?”
Matthew laughs at this and, partly to lower his own embarrassment, messes up Alfred’s hair with both hands. “Even now you’re trying to be a servant, aren’t you? I thought we were going to be friends, huh?”
Alfred’s eyebrows go up in response, and Matthew gasps when suddenly he returns fire. Both of Alfred’s hands are in his hair, messing it up and grinning playfully.
“I thought that was something friends do!" Alfred cries happily. "Make popcorn for each other!”
“Servants do that kind of thing too though!” Matthew responds, but the conversation is mostly being abandoned as messed up hair turns into a wrestling match on the living room floor. Matthew instigates it as revenge for his hair, and though Alfred takes a moment to understand the object of the game, soon they’re both on the floor, fighting for dominance. It’s natural, fun, all awkwardness that had been lingering between them since Matthew booted Alfred up utterly gone now.
Unfortunately for Matthew, though, it quickly becomes apparent to both of them that Matt has many more ticklish spots than Alfred did. Once that fact had been established, Matthew is tickled until he can't breathe any more for shrieks of laughter. When Matthew is fully subdued, Alfred sits on him.
“I liked that,” he declares after a moment. He’s a bit breathless himself, and he looks down at Matthew with a grin. “We should play that game more often.”
“Oh get off; you’re like an over-sized puppy dog,” Matthew replies between pants for breath. He pushes at him. Even still, he’s smiling. “Lemme go make popcorn. You put the movie in.”
Alfred smiles at him. “You’re a sore loser. It’s not my fault humans are more ticklish.”
Matthew finally sits up as Alfred slides off of him. “You’re ticklish too though. A bit surprising. I didn’t think you could actually, you know, feel all that well.”
He goes to the kitchen, putting the popcorn into the microwave. He hears Alfred poking through his movie shelf.
“While it’s true that androids’ senses are probably not as sharp as humans, I have feeling. Feeling is important. If I can’t feel things I can’t figure out when I’m in danger right? Pain, for example, is important, because it lets you know you’re hurting yourself and to take precautions. If I didn't have sensation, I wouldn't be able to care for myself.” It almost sounds like something that's been rehearsed or something in the manufacturer's handbook.
“I know,” Matthew responds after a minute of mulling this over. “It only makes good sense. I forget about stuff like that. I have to remember that you’re not exactly a robot like in all the movies, right?”
Matthew can hear the DVD starting up somewhere in the background, and Alfred appears in the door, nodding to his words. “Right! As a newer model, I'm more like humans than most androids!” That was definitely in one of the adverts for Alfred's line of android, and this makes Matthew smiles.
Matthew watches the popcorn turn in the microwave as the kernels start to pop. A thought strikes him.
“Do you know fear then? Pain is a mechanism to protect yourself, and fear is too. Do you feel fear?”
Alfred is standing close now, watching him as he thinks about it. “I don’t know…” he says slowly. “I’ve never been in a situation where fear is appropriate…” He shrugs and smiles. “If I do feel it, I’ll tell you.”
The popcorn is ready, and Matthew opens the door to pull it out.
“You do that. I’m curious how the world looks from your eyes.”
A look of surprise comes over Alfred’s face. His tone is edging on incredulous in fact. “You’re curious how the world is from my side? I’m more curious about what it’s like to be you, to be honest. I’m not human, and I wonder what the world feels like to you.” He reaches over to pluck the hot bag from Matthew’s hands to put the popcorn in a bowl.
“Still… you’re the other side of the coin for me. I want to know how you experience things. How you feel things.” Matthew shrugs a little, and he leans around Alfred to grab a handful of too hot popcorn from the bowl.
Alfred nods in understanding, and he says slowly, “Well... I do feel things, if that’s what you’re wondering. When I’m happy everything is all warm and bright. And when I’m alone too long, I feel like there’s a hole in my stomach. When I really want to do something, it’s like an itch that I can’t get rid of- That’s a new one. Reading these books makes me itchy for more. The world is really big and interesting, Matthew. I want to know everything about it.”
Matthew listens to him, processing his words.
“Lonely,” Matthew says finally, having honed in on that part- As for the rest of it, he already knew that Alfred was basically made out of curiosity, and it was rapidly becoming apparent that he was the fanboy sort too. These two things didn’t surprise him. But the lonely part… “You get lonely while you’re all cooped up in here.”
Alfred instantly backpedals when he hears the guilt in Matthew's voice. “Oh! No, no! It’s not that bad really. I mean, during the day I have work to do, so I have no time to be lonely.”
Even still, Matthew can’t shake the mental image of Alfred sitting ramrod straight on the couch and plowing through novels he’d probably never pick up if he had the choice. It makes him feel even guiltier- what had the other done before he had permission to read? Had he finished his chores and just sat down to his own thoughts? Maybe he simply stared at the wall or counted the ticks of the clock.
“If you need to go out for more than just groceries and supplies,” Matthew says after a moment as they both start heading back into the living room. “You’re allowed to go out. Or maybe we could get a pet huh? That’d be fun.”
Alfred plops down on the couch, putting the popcorn down for him. “You don’t have to worry about it, Matthew. I’ll be fine. Let’s start this movie! I’m super excited to see what they did with the story.”
Matthew smiles and lets it drop since Alfred was clearly already distracted by the screen now. Because Matthew has already watched the movie, he spends most of the time focused on cataloging how the other interacts with the film- it’s sweet really. Seeing Alfred all lit up and happy like this… it’s certainly a lot more fun than fresh-from-the-box “What can I do for your sir” Alfred. He’d seen glimpses of this in Alfred, of course, but it’s much more obvious now, much more real, now that he’d struck on something he liked on his own.
Alfred only notices Matthew’s attention straying to him near the middle of the movie, and he flashes a lovely smile at him. Alfred slips his arm around the back of the couch behind him, and though he’s not quite touching Matthew at all, it still feels almost intimate.
‘If not intimate... embarrassing, at least,’ Matthew thinks to himself. ‘Like, it’s almost a date but not quite.’
He berates himself for that line of thought and shakes his head. Alfred, he realizes, really doesn't understand much of how human interaction worked yet, and he can't be blamed for a little faux pas. It feels comfortable anyways, despite his embarrassment.
Being too physical with androids still carries a certain stigma to it, despite it being a fairly common practice. Accusations of all sorts (“He’s too gross to get a real girlfriend.” “She paid for a glorified dildo.” “Anyone who resorts to androids are pathetic.”) fly around about people who are too close with their android, and Matthew really wants to avoid that sort of harassment.
Still, they’re alone now.
‘No one has to know,” Matthew thinks as he scoots a little bit closer to Alfred and leans against him.
After the movie, Alfred deals out his verdict- a rather good one-, and they ramble happily to each other about it. Before bed, Matthew decides to set up Alfred an account for online comics. He goes to the computer, and Alfred pulls up a kitchen chair. It doesn’t take them that long to get him an account set up and paid for. When realizing it required payment, Alfred apologizes and double-checks that it’s quite alright a few more times.
Matthew waves him off. It’s not that expensive, and it makes him feel better about leaving Alfred alone so much. Besides that, when Alfred first lays eyes on Superman, any hesitation he might have had about spending the money is gone.
“Who’s that? Cool! He has a cape! Is he flying?? Does he have powers?!”
Really, it makes Matthew smile delightedly. He tells Alfred a bit about Superman, and he can already see the glint in his eyes. When Matthew goes to bed, Alfred is still on the computer, pouring over the comics archive service. Matthew has a feeling that he knows what the other is going to be up all night doing, and he can't wait to hear what kind of stories Alfred will be babbling about in the morning.
Chapter 5: A Little Taste of Fear
The first time Matthew comes home and finds Alfred wearing a blanket tied around his shoulders like a cape, it’s funny, endearing really. Alfred has enough understanding of human sensibilities to be embarrassed, cheeks red as he tries to pretend it hadn't happened. Matthew doesn’t forget it though, and he teases him for it for a while.
This day is also the first time that Alfred doesn’t get all his chores done before Matthew got home from work. Alfred is apologetic and upset, having never messed up like that. While Alfred tries to babble out excuses and apologies, Matthew is mostly just amused.
“I got distracted,” Alfred says. “It was a good story, and I couldn’t put it down. I’ll get the rest of the chores done now!”
Matthew is forgiving: he is mostly just glad that Alfred has finally found something to be passionate about. It makes him so much more human, and Matthew prefers that really. The more human Alfred seems- or is able to mimic?- the more comfortable Matthew becomes living with him. They don't have those confusing moments of Alfred hovering in Matthew's personal space and watching him unnervingly closely, and the whole arrangement feels more natural now despite the fact one of them is synthetic.
After Alfred apologizes and finishes up his chores, they settle in together to watch a movie- a habit they were falling into every few nights. The failure to finish chores is mostly forgotten in favor of cuddling on the couch and watching a ridiculous Syfy movie that really overdid the dramatic action. It is an easy sort of rhythm to fall into: Alfred sometimes forgets his chores or goofs off a bit too much, and Matthew just gives him a playful scolding but really doesn’t mind all that much. They tease and joke and share stories, and Matthew finds that he is starting to consider Alfred a friend rather than a butler or a servant.
When Matthew tells his parents about how they’ve settled into this sort of pattern, his mother isn’t as amused.
“Oh dear,” Alice says as she curls her fingers around her teacup. “I’ve never heard of an android getting so obsessed with comics that he forgets his work. Do you think he could broken, dear?”
Francis gives a nonchalant shrug, clearly uninterested in this line of thought as he scrolls through some sort of social media site on his phone. “Unless dear Mathieu thinks it’s a problem, I don’t really see how it should matter, mon ange.”
The android being discussed is off playing with Cecilia (being bossed around no doubt), and they are able to talk quite freely about him without feeling awkward. Matthew does, however, feel a little awkward talking about Alfred this way. It had been a long time since Matthew had stopped thinking of Alfred as simply 'the android.'
“I dunno, Mama… he seems fine to me. I just think it's kinda cute that he likes the comic books even if they're a little silly.” Matthew shifts uncomfortably, glancing over at his father and hoping for more back up.
Alice looks unconvinced, expression pinched and worried. “This isn’t a matter of his clearly poor taste in reading material. If your android has an obsessive personality, it could lead to some serious consequences. Matthew, obsession is bad enough in humans when it's severe, and AI don't feel empathy. ”
There’s a heavy silence for a moment.
“But I really don’t think…” Matthew starts, his voice soft and weak as he tries to defend his android. Before he can get far, he’s being talked over.
“I’m just saying a quick tune up might not hurt him," Alice says, waving her hand as though this is dismissively easy. "Simply wipe the comics out of his memories. Let him get interested in something else, or teach him how to focus on his work.”
“It’s not a problem…” Matthew tries again, voice still rather weak.
“If it makes your mother feel better,” Francis says with a sigh as he puts his phone down, "I don't see why that is too much- simple safety precaution?" But his father clearly doesn't care much about the topic and is really wanting to move on to more interesting conversation.
An unexpected voice cuts through the room. All eyes lock on the android standing at the door.
“I hate to intrude on your conversation, my lady,” Arthur says. “But it’s actually rather normal for AI, especially young AI just discovering the world, to have a distraction with one thing or the other.” He crosses the room with a plate of sweets to offer one to his mistress. “Don’t you remember how infatuated I was with Sherlock Holmes? I could hardly tear my interest away from them.”
Alice’s expression softens at Arthur- she had a soft spot for the old android that always made Matthew smile. Even more so now with Arthur coming to his defense... Matthew doesn't see the point in punishing Alfred for his interest in the world, and thankfully Arthur agrees.
“Oh, I remember that," she says, expression uncommonly gentle as she pats Arthur's arm. "You were so spellbound by those books. It was rather cute actually, your brows getting all scrunched up at the interesting bits.”
Arthur smiles back at her in an almost indulgent way as she eats her biscuit. Then he moves to pass her a handkerchief as well. “This is much the same-- although Alfred has perhaps bad taste in reading material, I think it’s a normal phase for an android to go through. In my opinion, Miss, he doesn’t need to be wiped.” Here Arthur makes a very pointed, stern expression at Matthew, as if he were the lead perpetrator of this plan.
A moment of consideration is all it takes for Alice to nod, and she gives Arthur a nod. "I do trust your judgement on these things Arthur. We'll just keep an eye on him shall we?"
Arthur then crosses the room with his tray to offer a sweet to Matthew. Standing over him, Arthur's stern nanny expression is even more effective. “Really Matthew,” he says with some gravity to his tone. “You’re handling him well. Encourage his curiosity. He’ll be better for it.”
Although Matthew doesn't know what to think of the fierce expression on Arthur’s face, he nods and agrees that everything is fine the way they are. "I-I'm doing my best with him Arthur," he murmurs back, confused but happy at least when Arthur gives him an approving nod.
Stranger still, when they’re ready to leave Arthur approaches Alfred directly. Matthew is pretty sure that Arthur didn’t like Alfred all that much, so he can't help his surprise as Arthur offers Alfred a hand to shake.
“God speed, sir,” Arthur says as he shakes his hand.
Alfred, who isn’t quite sure what’s going on either, returns his handshake and says back, “Yeah, you too man.”
Arthur gives him a long-suffering sort of look at the response, but he doesn’t scold him. Ever since Alfred has started reading so many popular modern stories, his speech pattern has become much more like a young man Matthew's age, and while Matthew likes this aspect of Alfred as well, Arthur doesn't seem quite so keen on it. Instead of making a fuss though, Arthur merely gives him a curt nod and disappears into the house again.
If Cecilia or his parents find anything strange about the moment, they don’t mention it, but Matthew feels it burning in the back of his mind all the way home.
“I want glasses!” Alfred announces one day. "Please," he hastily adds.
Matthew glances up from his book and arches a brow. “You want glasses…? Alfred, you’re an android. You don’t need glasses.”
Alfred pouts at him, and if Matthew didn’t know Alfred was an android, he wouldn’t believe it anymore. Over the months he’d been awake, Alfred has become more expressive, more emotive, more understanding of human interaction. Matthew has made friends with him, made memories with him, and all the memories they've had together add up into something very similar to human connection. Sometimes, he wonders how Alfred experiences this bond between him, or if this is all a case of Matthew anthropomorphizing Alfred.
Whatever it is that's fueling their bond, Alfred’s pout has a very powerful effect on Matthew now.
“But you wear glasses," Alfred points out, scooching over to sit closer to him.
“I’m human," Matthew replies in a dead pan. "And I need them to see. They aren't a toy."
“Clark Kent wears glasses, and he doesn’t need them to see." Alfred's voice is almost petulant now.
Matthew pauses, because well, he has a point there. “So you want glasses to look like Clark Kent?”
Alfred shakes his head. “I want glasses to look cool. You look cool in glasses, Clark looks cool in glasses, people look cool in glasses! I wanna look cool too.” He had on what Matthew affectionately calls his ‘all American boy’ smile-- just a flash of bright blue eyes and perfect white teeth.
It makes Matthew melt.
Even now, Matthew feels his cheeks get hot, and his heart speed up. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Alfred is an android, and he would have no understanding of Matthew's weird twisted up feelings. Matthew tries to swallow down these strange thoughts, and instead he says, “You think they look cool? They’re more… I dunno, nerdy, I thought?”
Alfred nods and moves into Matthew's space to squish both of his cheeks with his hands teasingly. “Of course I think they look cool. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want some of my own right??”
The teasing touch prompts Matthew to fluster and push Alfred's hands from his face. Huffing out a breath, Matthew rubs his cheek with his own palm as if it’ll make the heat go away. “Fine. I’ll pick you some up on the way home from work, yeah?”
Alfred tugs lightly at a lock of his hair and nods excitedly. “That sounds great Matthew. Thanks!”
Once again, Matthew huffs and pushes his fingers away. Lately Alfred had been so prone to touching him- his face, his hair, his shoulders-, and it always made his heart do weird things. He feels like he's going crazy, but he's afraid to mention it for fear that Alfred would stop.
“Oh!” Alfred says as Matthew starts toward the door to leave for work. “I’ve been thinking about leaving with you so I can go take a run. Sometimes I just have so much, ya know, energy, and I don’t have enough space in here to really work it off.”
Matthew grins, happy to see Alfred making his own decisions with no discomfort anymore. When the idea had first been brought up, Alfred hadn't even known where to start on such a thing, and back then he'd only left the house alone to go to one place- the grocery store just a few doors down. Recently, Alfred was much more interested in getting out and exploring their city- their world. It makes Matthew feel somehow really touched, and he can't quantify why.
“I can point you in the direction of the park on my way to the bus stop,” he offers.
Nodding, Alfred goes out with him, and when they’re closer to the bus top, Matthew points him in the right direction. “It’s down that way, a few blocks down. You’ll see signs for them once you start getting close. It’s a 15 minute walk but just follow those and you’ll find your way. They have a running track and stuff, so you can work out all that extra energy.”
Alfred smiles and pats Matthew on the back. “See you after work then!” he says, starting in that direction.
Matthew waves and says goodbye, vaguely wondering if his own expression was as star struck as he thinks it must be. Alfred's pouts might indeed be powerful, his smile wreaked even more havoc on Matthew's feelings.
“Hey Alfred, I have those glasses you wanted. Come check ‘em out!” Matthew says as he enters the apartment. His smile fades after he gets no response, and he looks for him around the apartment. It only takes a few minutes to realize that Alfred isn’t there.
“He’s probably at the grocery store,” Matthew says aloud.
An hour passes with no sign of him, and Matthew is starting to get worried. If he is at the grocery store, he might just need help to get the food home faster, and so Matthew puts his shoes back on to walk over to the store. A cursory glance down the aisles doesn’t show any trace of him though, and so he asks one of the regulars at the register.
“I’m sorry, but Alfred hasn’t been in at all today, so far as I’ve been here.”
Matthew feels a bit of rising panic now- What if he’d been stolen? What if he’d been wiped so he could be sold to someone else? What if he was already being harvested for parts? Alfred passed as human most of the time but what if he slipped up? What if he’d hurt himself? Or worse, what if he'd passed for human and had gotten snatched up by someone that preyed on attractive human men?
Clearly if Alfred hadn’t come home that must mean that something bad had happened, and Matthew is incredibly creative- the number of horrible things that can happen to someone in the city is running through his mind, each thought worse than the next. He rushes home to get Alfred's paperwork out of the drawer. The company could track androids so long as the person who stole them hadn’t taken the chip out of them. Still... if Alfred had never come back after his run, then there were many hours for whatever situation that he had gotten into to become worse.
As he calls the security company, tears prick at his eyes. Why didn’t he have some other way of contacting him? Did Alfred even know their phone number? It had never mattered before, because he so rarely left the apartment. Did he even know their address? Francis hadn't paid for any of the subscription 4G or geo services apps that some androids come standard with... it hadn't seemed necessary since Alfred was supposed to be home bound help.
A robotic voice tells him to choose what it is that he wishes to do, and he has to choke back tears to answer, being led through with a series of verbal cues.
The robotic voice asks him for Alfred’s serial number and address, and Matthew has to fumble through the pages of paperwork to tell him some of the specifics. It takes a moment- his vision blurry with tears.
The voice offers very little in the way of warmth. Once he recites the number, the little voice tells him Alfred’s location and says he’s been sent a map to both his email and his mobile device.
Finally the voice asks him, “Would you like to notify the authorities, sir?”
He thinks about this for a long moment. “N-No, not y-yet. This is a q-quick car trip and I’ll contact the police afterwards if I have to.”
“Alright sir, have a good day.”
Then the line is dead, and he’s alone to deal with this himself.
Matthew drives like mad- the location on the map said Alfred was a pretty good ways on the other side of town. He’s frantic sure, but he’s also focused: It wouldn’t do to hurt himself if Alfred was somewhere in need of help. Perhaps this was something simple, something he can handle. The thought of involving the police doesn't even really seem like an option- Matthew was going to get his friend back no matter what he finds at this little blip on his car's GPS. He slows when he’s close to the location marked on his map, looking around for buildings Alfred could be stashed in.
So when he sees Alfred sitting dejectedly at a bench in the fading daylight, he startles- and feels anger zing through him to see him sitting there so casually.
After slamming on the brakes, Matthew leaps out of the vehicle. The screech of the car coming to a stop gets Alfred’s attention. Alfred's head snaps up, and he looks surprised.
All that fear has turned to anger in Matthew's stomach. He was just wandering around the city then? Just taking the day off while Matthew panicked over him being missing? If he'd paused long enough to think, he might notice how unhappy Alfred had looked, how downtrodden. But worry and anger blind him to this.
Matthew’s language is uncharacteristically harsh in his anger. “Alfred what the fuck…? I was so worried… Do you even understand…? what’s going on in that head of yours what the hell—”
A sudden too-tight hug cuts him off. Alfred’s grip is rough, and he buries his face in Matthew’s hair. Almost too quiet to hear, Alfred says, “I was so scared.”
Only then does he realize that the hands pressed to his back are trembling a little, that the hitch in his breath isn’t from exercise. This close, Matthew can feel how ragged his breathing is, and his anger ebbs away almost as quickly as it had struck.
Matthew sighs softly, relief making forgiveness easier, and he finally returns the hug.
“What happened to you, eh?” he asks quietly, patting his back.
“It’s stupid,” Alfred mutters back at him, sounding embarrassed now as well. “You’ll laugh at me.”
“I won’t laugh, Alfred. I promise.”
Alfred pulls back enough to look at him: his expression is sheepish, and his cheeks are red. Matthew hates how adorable he finds it, even when Alfred is clearly distressed.
“Well I followed the signs to the park this morning right?” Alfred says slowly, looking toward Matthew's car still haphazardly parked on the side of the road.
“Yeah?” Matthew gets the feeling that he’s stalling for time, and he leans into Alfred's field of vision. "What about it?"
“Well…” He trails off, and Matthew is forced to stare at him until he starts again. “Well, ugh, you told me to follow the signs. And I did!!!” His voice had been rising in volume until that moment, and perhaps realizing this, he cut himself off with a huff. When Alfred speaks again, he's murmuring in a rush of breath, “But there were no signs saying how to get back to the house…”
Realization takes a moment to dawn.
“You… You got lost??!” Matthew says, voice incredulous and too loud. People nearby turn to look at them.
Alfred turns a deep shade of cherry red and shushes him. “D-don’t say that so loud!!”
Matthew can’t help it: after that amount of emotional stress, he does all he can do. He laughs, loud and hard, folding down toward his knees and clutching at his stomach. "you got lost?!"
The laughter has Alfred hurrying to explain himself. “Well! Everything looks the same in the city! I passed a McDonalds, and I thought there was one near the apartment, but then there was another, and I thought wow maybe that other one was the wrong one. Then after I saw another one I thought jeez that first one had to be it because like it was the closest to the house right like why didn’t I realize that?? So I tried to backtrack, but by then I got all turned around and I ended up here-- Stop laughing!!! I’ve been walking around all day. I've been miserable.”
Indeed, the more Alfred rambled, the harder Matthew laughed. He couldn’t help it! What kind of android got lost? Perhaps they should've paid the extra subscription fees after all...
“Why didn’t you just ask the police to help you?" Matthew says through tears of mirth. "Surely you saw some on your journey across the city! Hell, even a shopkeeper could’ve helped you.”
“I didn’t wanna!” he responds instantly, scowling at Matt for laughing. “How ridiculous is that? An android getting lost! They’d laugh at me or, or make jokes about it. Or, or, I dunno! I wanted to be able to do it by myself!!"
If Matthew had been less relieved that he was alright, less amused by the situation, he might’ve questioned how strange it was for an android to have an ego, how odd it was for Alfred to be self-conscious now when months ago the concept was foreign to him. As it were, however, Matthew is too busy trying to calm down enough to drive them home.
“Get in the car, Alfred. Let’s go home. You had a long day.”
Although he makes a grumpy face, Alfred nods and goes to climb in the passenger seat.
Matthew slides into the driver's seat, and after he starts the car, he feels fingers on his. He looks up at Alfred questioningly as the other grips his hand. There’s an earnest expression in his eyes, a certain feeling there that Matthew can’t quite place. He can’t look away from it.
“Thanks, Mattie. I was really freaked out there for a while," Alfred says, expression warm and relieved. "Seeing you leap out of the car like that to get me... it was just really awesome."
Matthew feels like his heart has stopped for a moment in the face of those words. Time stands still for a moment, and when it starts back, Matthew's heart is racing, pounding hard and fast against his rib cage.
Then, as he squeezes his fingers, Alfred gives him the most radiant smile, and Matthew feels himself fall.
“Oh…” Matthew says- it’s all he can manage to get out. “…oh.”
Chapter 6: The Nanny
Matthew teases Alfred by telling him that they can pay for the 4G and GPS services for him so that he can find his way around next time. This embarrasses Alfred more than Matthew expects, and the android turns bright pink, starting from his ears. That is something he has noticed as well- through whatever method Alfred blushes, it starts with his ears first and works its way down. Even though it is just teasing, Alfred is adamantly against the idea.
“I can just learn my way around like everyone else who lives in the city!” He cries with displeasure. "It's more fun that way!"
“Are you sure? You really could use a GPS if you get lost that easy," Matthew says with a slow, sly smile.
Alfred makes a choked sound of embarrassment and tackles Matthew down onto the carpet. So the battle begins- play fighting in the living room a habit they were getting into recently. Matthew laughs and shouts about GPS while Alfred tries to pin him down and cover his mouth. Matthew can’t really manage to keep himself on top of the wrestling match because of his own laughter and Alfred's inhuman strength. The adorable hilarity of Alfred’s bright red face and stern expression has him laughing harder, and he has really no chance at that point. The fighting ends with Alfred sitting on him and tickling him every time he starts to make another joke at him.
As huffy as Alfred is trying to be though, it’s clear he still really enjoys the sport of it.
When they go to visit Matthew’s parents, however, it’s a different story. Francis finds this story exceedingly amusing, and Alfred does not like Matthew's family laughing at him at all. When he finally stops laughing, Francis manages to say, “Maybe I should’ve paid the extra money- alas if only I’d known it would’ve been such an issue."
Alfred is bright red and protesting at every turn. Each protest, each little flustered exclamation, just makes Francis tease him more. Matthew feels a bit bad for Alfred- hard not to when the poor android is so red faced and embarrassed... but it is exactly what Matthew had hoped for. He uses the distraction to his advantage, because he needs to talk to Arthur.
Arthur has his own little room in the corner of the house, a quiet little space that is always neat and orderly. Alice had insisted on giving Arthur an area all to himself once she realized how much the android needed breaks from interacting with the people and doing his chores.
“We wear him out," she had insisted. "He works so hard for us everyday, and really he deserves his own space.”
So he had gotten it. Of course, it is a smaller room, but it’s well lived in and well managed. One wall of the room is taken up by a rather impressive bookshelf with a lamp and an arm chair that seems perfectly suited for reading. Arthur has a desk, and a few chairs and a little tea table as well. The most surprising thing, perhaps, is a small bed sitting in one corner.
So that’s where the conversation starts.
“You have a bed?” Matthew asks by way of greeting.
Arthur looks up from a roll top desk where he is currently writing something on a pad of paper.
“Matthew,” Arthur says, a smile coming instantly to his face. “It’s good to see you!”
He stands and comes to worry over him, checking his hair and inspecting him. Like every visit before, he submits to the ‘check-up’ and feels only a nostalgic warmth that Arthur always did this for him. Arthur is a worrier and the fact that he extended his efforts to Matthew was appreciated.
“Yes,” he says when he seems pleased that Matthew is in good health. He gestures for the other to sit at one of the chairs by the tea table. “I have a bed.”
“But,” Matthew says as he sits down. “You don’t really need it…”
Arthur hums in response and returns to his desk again. “I can sleep you know. I just don’t have to. But it’s a nice way I think, to relax after a long day of chasing Cecilia. Of course, these days, she doesn't need that much chasing. She's growing into a mature young lady.”
Though the praise for Cecilia brings another smile to his face, Matthew is rather more curious about the android sleeping habits part of his words. So he blinks at him, asking in a curious tone, “Really? Does that mean Alfred can too?”
“I suppose. He’s much newer than I am. A shorter charging time, I’m told. Likely, though, yes. He can sleep. Our bodies, Matthew,” he says patiently, “aren’t human per se, but we are made of synthetics that have been developed using human materials.” He gasps after a moment, and he rises to go over to small table in the corner of the room with an electric kettle and all the little accoutrements that come with a tea service. With a click, he turns it on, and he starts to prepare a mug of tea. "Sorry, sorry. Let me get you some tea."
Matthew mulls this over as he watches the Arthur bustle- that was another thing. Arthur had a tendency to bustle about too. A bustler and a worrier.
“You know,” Arthur says, almost conversationally. “Soon they’re going to start using the artificial organs in humans as well. Based on what’s being used for androids. They’re getting rather close enough for it to be an alternative to using only donated organs.”
Matthew hums. “But androids only really have certain organs I thought? I know Alfred has more newer complicated organ systems than you do.”
“True, but at this stage, as you said the progress of even the short years between my activation and Alfred's, technology has done wonders. They don’t have synthetic brains though- might never have replicate the human brain.” Arthur smiles and hands Matthew his fresh tea. Arthur taps Matthew's forehead gently. “Too complex to pin down easily, the human brain.”
Arthur sits again at the other seat at the tea table now, and he looks a bit more serious. “But you didn’t come here to talk about this, did you? You have something particular, I'd bet, to seek me out here.” Arthur doesn't seem annoyed by that idea, just curious and patient. His excellent nurturing nanny posture even helps soothe Matthew's nerves as he tries to formulate how to broach the topic.
Matthew turns a bit red. “Actually I do…” he mumbles, looking at his fingers. “I want to know how much you feel, how you experience things, how... how the world is to you- physically and emotionally.”
After the silence stretches on a beat too long, Matthew looks up from his hands to see Arthur with his brows almost disappearing into his hairline.
“W-well!” he pushes on as his face turns red. His words come out in a big rush. “I just… with Alfred. It’s hard for me to tell, ya know, like, how much of what he does has real meaningful feeling behind it or how much is just like programming or... or... well, I just don’t know, Arthur, it’s got me all confused.”
Arthur gives a smile that makes Matthew think he definitely said too much, but thankfully he isn’t the teasing type. It’s why Matthew brought his concerns and questions here- he trusts Arthur. Arthur stands after a moment, clasping his hands behind his back and he turns toward the window in his room. Matthew lets him have a moment, quietly watching Arthur walk to his window and stare out over the grounds. There’s a strange expression on Arthur's face now, as though he’s carefully going over what he should say.
“I do feel,” Arthur says finally, voice gentle and a little tired. “Not all androids do, really, as far as my personal experience tells me. Like a boy raised by wolves will never understand how to 'be human'" And here, Arthur raises his hands to make parenthesis in the air, "like you or your family, will never be able to truly master and use language as yo do- an android that isn’t ‘raised’ as though they are a sentient meaningful creature, they … won’t become that.” He sighs and takes a breath, finally turning to Matthew. “Your family cares for me, has always treated me like I was an intelligent creature. You encouraged me, talked with me, gave me time and energy.”
There's almost a guarded look about his face at first, but when Matthew simply smiles his encouragement, Arthur relaxes, his expression becoming soft.
“So you know feelings…” Matthew asks quietly, fingers twisting in the hem of his shirt. “Because we showed you feeling and encouraged your expression of them?”
“That’s what I think at least. Hundreds of androids are never even spoken to like humans, used only for work with little meaningful interaction. But I wasn’t brought up like that. When I was curious about literature, your mother gave me books. When I was confused about human interaction, little Cecilia would take my hand and explain anything and everything to me. Even when I didn't understand a joke, your incorrigible father would take it upon himself to educate me." His expression takes on a jokingly pinched look before he huffs out a laugh. "You as well, Matthew, always talking to me and confiding in me... I have had no lack of emotional and intellectual stimulation.”
Matthew's chest is impossibly warm from not only the words but also Arthur's demeanor. The depth of Arthur’s feeling is bold faced in this moment- in his voice, in his eyes, in his posture. Surely those emotions weren't something that could be easily faked.
“So my mom, Cecilia. Even Papa. They taught you feelings?” Matthew doesn't want to take much credit for any of that, as he had already moved out by the time Arthur was purchased... but he could definitely appreciate what Arthur was saying about his loving, chaotic family.
“Yes precisely how you’ve been teaching Alfred feelings, I suspect," Arthur replies with a smile.
Suddenly, Matthew’s face goes bright red. Was the strange tumultuous feelings that he is starting to harbor for his android really that obvious?
“Don’t blush like a schoolboy Matthew," Arthur scolds, swatting him gently on the knee. "I only mean that you’ve given him that push, encouraged him to feel and explore and interact with his world! Alfred is a sentient feeling creature, if I am any judge, and you need to respect him as such.”
Matthew nods and looks down as he twists his fingers into the hem of his shirt again. The other question he has... he's too embarrassed to ask while meeting Arthur's eyes. It's too personal, too difficult. Maybe Matthew is stepping over an invisible line in the sand by asking.
“If… if you’re a sentient feeling person… why don’t you leave here...?" he asks, voice a whisper. "Why don’t you go strike out on your own and find a job or something like that? Live... live like a human.”
Suddenly, fingers are stroking through his hair, and Matthew looks up in surprise to find Arthur in front of him now. The look in his eyes is gentle and the hand in his hair even more so.
“Because I’m a sentient feeling person. It’s precisely why I can’t leave.” Arthur leans down in front of him, like he does when he’s talking to Cecilia so that they are on the same level while they talk. He makes perfect eye contact with Matthew, expression firm. “You’re my family, Matthew. Cecilia is my family. Your infuriating father and your moody mother: they are my family as much as they are yours. I can’t leave that.” Only after Matthew nods to his stern words does Arthur drop his hands and sigh. Arthur looks older now, sadder than Matthew has ever seen him. Shaking his head, Arthur returns to the window, jaw tight as he tries to reign in his expression.
“W-what’s…" Matthew pauses to clear his throat. "What’s wrong then…?”
Arthur shakes his head again. “It’s…”
Matthew moves to his side, following his gaze out of the window. On the grass, Cecilia sits at a table with two of her friends having a tea party in the garden. It’s rather cute actually, his little sister acting as the small lady royalty that she always insists she is. A sweet picture indeed, but Matthew doesn't let himself get distracted.
“Tell me, Arthur," he insists softly. "You can talk to me about this.”
Arthur finally nods and turns is face away from the window pointedly, as if the sight of the children playing together hurts him somehow.
“I will outlive you all,” Arthur admits quietly, voice impossibly miserable.
Matthew feels a sudden sharp ache in his chest for the sadness in Arthur’s voice, but Arthur still has his face turned away.
Keeping his eyes on the opposite wall, Arthur continues, “Human lives are short compared to androids- even the less developed lower tech androids. To add to it, we’re so easy to fix. I know that baring some major catastrophe that I shall live to see everyone in my adopted family die.” His shoulders tremble and his breath comes out in a whoosh. “So yes, of course I have thought about what it might be like to live in society as a human, but I can't leave my little family right now. I intend to stay by their side and enjoy the short time that they have on this Earth.”
It’s a rather horrible thing to suddenly realize how heavy a burden that the sullen sophisticated ‘nanny’ of the family carries in his synthetic heart. A burden he surely carried alone until now... Matthew does the only thing that one can do in this situation-- he turns Arthur toward him by the shoulders and hugs him close, guiding the android's face to his neck.
“Oh god Arthur, how long have you been dealing with this??" Matthew asks, tears stinging his eyes. "All by yourself too!"
Arthur doesn’t respond at first- he just buries his face against Matthew’s neck and hides there as he tries to calm himself down. The calming breaths don’t seem to help much at first, and Matthew startles when he notices that Arthur is trembling hard.
That realization isn’t as surprising as the feeling of tears on his neck is.
“O-oh…oh Arthur…” Matthew hugs him tighter, wishing he could take it back at least part of the conversation... Maybe he really shouldn't have pushed Arthur to talk about sensitive things until the android himself was ready. “Shit Arthur, I didn’t mean… I mean I didn’t realize this would be so… I’m sorry I asked all this sensitive stuff.”
Arthur pulls back, expression clearly scolding despite the tears still wet on cheeks. He grabs one of Matthew’s hands and smack it gently. “No cursing, young man! You know better.” He turns away to get himself a handkerchief, and Matthew realizes he’s just scolding to have a reason to pull away and compose himself.
Shifting from foot to foot, Matthew isn’t quite sure what to do. What started as a curious bit of prying about android emotions had turned into something... bigger, something deeper, something a bit more than he had expected when he came to Arthur with questions.
“I’ve never…” Arthur says, voice quiet and back to Matthew. “I’ve never been able to talk about that before… I didn’t realize how overpowering the feelings would be finally admitting them aloud.” He laughs in a quiet strained way. “Learn something new every day, I suppose.”
“I suppose you do. If you ever need to talk, I’ll listen. I mean, I might not be able to understand it entirely, but I'll try.”
Arthur turns toward him again, his cheeks and eyes dry. His trembling has stopped as well, and he speaks in an even voice again. “Thank you Matthew. I’d appreciate if you kept this just between us as well. I don’t want to bother your parents.”
Matthew nods. These are Arthur’s feelings, and Matthew has no right to share them without permission.
“This visit was supposed to be about you,” Arthur says as he steps forward to pat Matthew’s shoulder. His smile is apologetic. “And here I’ve gotten us all off topic. Did you have any other questions about Alfred? You’re not having problems with him, are you?”
Matthew searches his face, and he wonders if he should come clean. The other has trusted him a lot that day, and Matthew knows that he trusts Arthur just as much. So he decides to let the rest of his strange worries poor out at Arthur's feet.
After he takes a deep breath, he says in a small embarrassed voice, “I think I’m in love with Alfred... or at least, I like him very much. And I… I came here to ask if there was any hope there. Like, do I try to convince myself it's all... it's all just in my head and move on? Or what? Am I being a hopeless stereotype?”
The smile that spreads across Arthur’s face is so sweet and genuine that Matthew can’t help but smile back at him.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned since I’ve been turned on, Matthew dear, is that there is always hope.” Arthur embraces him again. “I can't tell you what or how or if Alfred feels about you, but I know that your guidance has been instrumental in his development. Whatever happens, I will help you in whatever way I can. You know that, right? My support is yours."
“Thanks Arthur, I probably need it…” Matthew mumbles.
After all the heavier talks are out of the way, they begin having a lighter conversation, a clear attempt on both their parts to end the conversation on a high note. Only when he gets up to go see his parents does Arthur address Matthew in a more serious tone again.
“Remember Matthew. The realization I told you about today… Alfred will eventually have it as well.”
The thought makes Matthew's stomach twist. "I’ll keep that in mind…”
When they leave for home this time, Arthur goes to Alfred’s side with a very stern expression. Although Alfred looks confused, he responds to Arthur in the same open, friendly manner he always does.
Arthur merely grips the other android’s shoulder and says in a very firm voice, “You better take good care of Matthew .”
Alfred, not understanding how serious the mood is, beams at him. “Of course, Artie! No problem!”
Arthur looks a bit miffed by the nickname but seems pleased with this answer. When everyone has their goodbyes out of the way, Matthew hurries Alfred out to the car.
He has a lot to think about, and he wants to consider it in the privacy of his own apartment.
Chapter 7: Independence and Partnership
“Do you ever sleep Alfred?” Matthew asks, flopping back against the couch.
If it’s a weird question, Alfred doesn’t seem to think so. He just looks up and smiles at him. “I do sometimes. Little naps during the day usually when I’ve just finished reading something or gotten a not-so-fun chore done. I just drop off on the couch usually.”
“Oh, I see.” Matthew hesitates a moment, wondering if this would sound strange, before he adds, “I was gonna say that it was okay for you to take naps in my bed if you wanted. It’s more comfy than napping out here on the couch.” He shrugs a little and turns red. There isn't anything embarrassing about it really- just the most sensible option. Matthew doesn't have space for another bed in the apartment. Perhaps he could have offered to get a new couch with a pull out or a futon or something but this seemed easy enough.
Alfred blinks behind his new Clark Kent-style glasses before his face lights up with happiness. “Really? That’s okay with you? Wow thanks Mattie!”
The use of the nickname was relatively new, and it still fills him with little butterflies. “You’re welcome, Al," Matthew replies, turning his attention back to the screen. The subject was settled- easy and straightforward and not at all awkward, right?
Although the show is still running, Matthew’s not paying a lot of attention. He’s focused on Alfred again, watching how he reacts and his little casual expressions and movements. The longer Alfred is awake, the more natural all of his expressions and body movements come. Androids were designed to learn and adapt to cultural surroundings, and Alfred is high tech enough that once those body movements and expressions are integrated... Well, he's able to move exactly like a human. No stalling or stilted movements- just smooth, human reactions.
After the show ends, Matthew says he's tired, and he heads to bed. He doesn't sleep though, laying awake as he thinks about Alfred. The more time that he spends with him the harder it is to keep pretending that he’s not utterly infatuated with him. His mind lingers on Alfred's expressions, on the little idiosyncrasies that he's developing- the way he pushes up his unnecessary glasses, the way he fidgets with his hair, the way he chews his lip thoughtfully when he's concentrating.
Matthew's thoughts are interrupted by movement in his room, and he looks up just in time to see Alfred slide into bed with him. Only when Alfred has cuddled down against his other pillow does he realize that the other intends to sleep. The dark hides his surprise and his red cheeks. He hadn’t even considered that the other would take the invitation as one to come to bed with him at the same time, but he could hardly take the invitation back right now, could he? As Alfred’s warm weight settles against his back, he tries not to panic.
Matthew is in over his head.
Alfred is warm and heavy and so very close... Matthew doesn’t think he can sleep like this, hyper aware of the other body so close to his own. He feels like all his nerve endings are responding to the proximity of his current infatuation. His breath comes a bit faster, and he tries desperately not to move- neither closer or further away. This is normal, normal normal, and Matthew tries to keep still as though nothing at all is amiss.
‘But,’ his mind whispers. ‘He’s close and warm and…’
Matthew wants to shift closer, and he bites his own tongue, trying to distract himself.
Even though sleep is looking less and less likely, he doesn't have the heart to ask Alfred to leave- not when he both invited him and enjoys him being there. Sure, that enjoyment is tinged with guilt, because Alfred probably wouldn't welcome Matthew's feelings anyways. No, Matthew needed to deal with his own issues. It was just a matter of getting used to him being there.
Or at least, that’s what he tells himself.
After a long, sleepless while, Alfred seems to have settled down, and only then does Matthew roll over. Alfred has curled himself in Matthew’s direction, not quite in his space but close. His lips are parted, his hair a bit mussed as he sleeps. If Alfred looks overwhelmingly human he looks, peaceful and sweet. Matthew reaches out uncertainly in the dark, stroking a hand through his hair. The dirty blonde locks feel nice in his fingers, soft and organic. Instantly, Matthew feels guilty for touching him while he sleeps, and he yanks his hand back. He scoots toward him a bit more, letting their bodies just barely touch beneath the blankets.
It’s another hour before Matthew falls asleep.
Matthew wakes up alone- it doesn’t really surprise him. Even if Alfred had started sleeping in a more human way as Arthur says many androids do, they still don’t require as much rest as humans. After a shower- filled with attempts to push away memories of how warm and solid Alfred was in bed next to him- he dresses and follows the scent of food to find Alfred has made him breakfast.
“Morning Mattie! I made pancakes!” he says as he brings a plate piled high with pancakes to the table.
"Thanks, Al!" Matthew smiles and goes to sit down at the table. “You’re getting pretty good at making pancakes. They look awesome.”
Alfred grins and shrugs, though it's clear he appreciates the compliments. “It’s your favorite, so I want them to be perfect.”
“Well your practice is paying off,” Matthew replies, setting about making himself a plate with the perfect butter to syrup to pancake ratio. They sit in amiable silence while Matthew makes his plate and starts eating... but Alfred suddenly looks over at him, eyes impossibly soft.
“Y’know Mattie, you’re really cute when you sleep.” Alfred’s cheeks turn pink as he says it, his smile small but delighted. “Did you have a good dream? When I got up, you were cuddling my chest and smilin’ and stuff.”
Matthew would’ve been very interested in why the other’s cheeks were so pink if he wasn’t choking on his pancakes.
“W-wait what um, I mean.” His face is rather suddenly on fire, too self-conscious and embarrassed to formulate words. “T-that’s not cute… I mean, I’m sorry if I got into your personal space l-last night!”
He’s interrupted by the other’s laughter.
“It’s no problem, Mattie. I was actually thinking we should do it more often.”
“Yeah, cuddling. I think we should do it! It was really nice.”
“…oh…” Matthew rubs at his cheeks for a long time, trying to calm down. He ventures a glance at Alfred- he looks hopeful, cheeks pink and eyes warm. Matthew couldn’t have said no even if he wanted to. “I don’t mind cuddling, if you want to.”
The force of Alfred's answering smile makes Matthew squirm in his seat- he knew that if Alfred was so inclined, he could woo just about anyone with that smile. Matthew, already wooed, feels hot, and he itches to touch him. These thoughts and feelings are strange and uncomfortable, and Matthew distracts himself by shoving a bite of pancake in his mouth. Not that he's really tasting the pancakes now so much as using them as an excuse to be silent.
“Thanks Mattie,” Alfred says as he leans forward to tuck a stray curl behind Matthew’s ear. “Want me to go get your bag for work? You have to leave soon, yeah?” Without waiting for a response, he stands and goes to do so, humming tunelessly to himself.
All for the better, perhaps, that he didn't wait for a response. Matthew is still overheating from the feel of Alfred’s fingers sliding over the curve of his ear.
All day long, Matthew frets- he can’t help it. He’s in love with someone who is forced to stay with him regardless of what the other wants, someone who was programmed to be subservient. Sure, sure, Alfred is becoming more assertive, more independent, but the coding is still there right? Even in the best case scenario- that Alfred had feelings for him in return- how could Matthew be sure they were real? That the other didn’t just feel affection for him because he was the only human with whom he had everyday meaningful contact?
In the few times that Matthew had friends over, Alfred got along with them easily, smoothly, and okay Matthew had been a little jealous. Even an android is better at being social than he is. Remembering it now, however, just makes him even more worried. If Alfred got out more often, would he end up getting along better with other humans? Would he turn those gentle warm blue eyes on someone else? How easy would it be for Alfred to find someone that didn't come with the uncomfortable power dynamic that exists between them right now?
The idea makes Matthew ache. He isn’t sure how he would handle the loss of Alfred from his life. Still... if he pursues Alfred and believes the other is human enough to love, Matthew knows it must be done as equals. Giving Alfred the option to leave him is the only way to do that.
After spending all day thinking over what he should do, Matthew comes home drained. He picks up greasy but delicious take out on the way home to calm his nerves. He tries to avoid Alfred’s high energy attention, but that’s mostly impossible. Alfred, like a lonely puppy left home alone, clamors for his attention: talking, gesturing, and telling him about the newest episode of the show he’s been watching.
Halfway through a ramble about an episode of a zombie apocalypse show, Matthew interrupts him. “You can get a job, outside the apartment, if you want.”
Alfred freezes, eyes round and confused. “What do you mean? I have a job. I work for you.”
Matthew knows his own expression is uncertain, but he meets his eyes anyways. “I mean, you can get a job of your own- working outside of the house. There’s not a lot to keep you busy around here, and I know you get bored. I thought…” He shrugs, fingers twisting into the hem of his own shirt. “I thought that if you picked yourself a job then you could be happier. You’d have your own money too, since I don’t pay you.”
“Oh…!” Alfred cocks his head to the side as he think this over. “I don’t know what sort of job would be okay though… I guess I can think about it! Thanks Matt!” He pauses. “Although, if I get a job, what about chores around the apartment?”
“We’ll share them,” Matthew tells him. “When we’re off work we’ll just take turns and stuff. Like a normal set of roommates.” He takes a deep breath, trying desperately to keep his face from scrunching up the way his heart is. “Although…”
Alfred waits for him to go on, but Matthew can’t seem to form the words.
“Although what Mattie?” Alfred prompts, voice gentle.
This is the hardest part to say, the part that has the potential to break his heart. He takes another steadying breath and closes his eyes tight. “If you really wanted, after you get some income, you could get your own apartment... your own space…!”
Matthew's voice comes to stop, unable to force more words out, and they are left with a thick heavy silence. Matthew can't even look up from his feet, so afraid the other will jump at the chance for freedom and independence- things he knows Alfred would enjoy very much.
Suddenly hands latch onto his shoulders, hands with wide palms and strong, gripping fingers. Wild, poorly-timed thoughts leap into Matthew's mind-- Oh, the places he’d like to feel those hands…
Alfred’s voice cuts through his thoughts like a dagger before he can spin too far into his own head.
“Oh god, Mattie what’d I do wrong? Fuck you’re not gonna make me leave are you??”
The desperation in his voice surprises him, and Matthew's gaze snaps up to find himself almost nose to nose with Alfred. Alfred's eyes are wide and startled, his expression full of questioning and confusion and hurt.
“Seriously if I did anything wrong we can fix it…! I didn’t mean to upset you! Don’t make me leave, please! Don't make me leave!” Alfred’s voice catches, and he looks as though he might cry.
On reflex, Matthew reaches up to take Alfred’s face in his hands, shushing him. His heart is beating frantically, because he never imagined that this offer would hurt Alfred his way. “No no no, Alfred, no. Hush now, you didn’t do anything wrong. I just… I just thought you’d be happier with your own space. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He shakes his head furiously and he recenters himself, stroking his thumb over the curve of Alfred's cheek. “It's just... you like people, and you're so curious and, and... I want you to have friends and your own space and a job you like… and…” He trails off, closing his eyes again as he tries to steady his voice. "I was afraid you weren't getting that, being treated like a, a servant!"
There’s a moment of silence, both still standing close and simply looking at each other.
“You… You're offering this to me so I can do what I want. You just want me to be happy,” Alfred says slowly, as though he's working through to the heart of Matthew's message.
After a moment, Matthew takes a breath and nods, squeezing his eyes shut to keep back the tears threatening to fall. “I just want you to be happy, Alfred,” he breathes out.
After the quiet stretches on a moment too long, Matthew opens his eyes to find Alfred beaming at him. He only gets to enjoy that smile for a second before the Alfred jerks him into a tight hug.
“I’m happy here with you,” he says with feeling. “I want to stay here with you Mattie.”
Matthew relaxes in his arms, hugging him back just as tightly. “I want you to stay,” he admits quietly. “I just wanted to give you a choice. I don't... I don't want you to feel like a servant, or like I don't respect you.” He doesn’t say that making Alfred stay feels selfish, and he doesn’t voice all those feelings writhing in his heart that the other might only be his friend because it's all he knows. Hearing how happy Alfred is with him eases those feelings a bit, and anyways, he’d be a fool to not just enjoy the warm embrace he's being given.
Alfred pulls back after a moment, smile infectious and bright. “I get it now, I think. I wanna keep living with you, but I might take you up on that job thing. That could be fun. I could be a part of the community like that.”
Matthew nods. “Exactly- interact with the community. Make some more friends. Y'know, other than Gilbert.”
“I like Gil though. He’s fun to game with.”
Matthew smiles, the tension in his chest finally ebbing away completely. “Yeah. But I bet you’d like more friends.”
Alfred just shrugs and pulls away after a moment. “Yeah, that could be cool… Speaking of games, wanna come play one with me?”
Matthew nods and goes to play with him.
That night, Alfred slips into bed with him again, but this time, he scoots close and wraps his arm around Matthew’s waist. With a smile and a dark blush, Matthew presses close against him and settles down in his arms.
Alfred is definitely right about one thing- this feels amazing.
It only takes Alfred two weeks to find his dream job- a part time position at a comic book store. He loves it, and Matthew can tell. Alfred comes home from his job everyday eager to tell Matthew about all the people who came in, what he sold, and what new comics came into the store. It’s refreshing-- he’s glad to see Alfred so full of life.
The other great part is that Alfred has the money to buy himself things as well-- clothes, books, and toys all coming in on Alfred's salary. It turns out that Alfred enjoys putting together model planes and cars and trains- somehow this realization doesn’t really surprise him. Sometimes Matthew comes home to find Alfred hard at work over a plane, and he can’t help but stop to watch.
Alfred is so focused, wanting to get his little model just perfectly accurate. When he concentrates, he chews on his lip, and his whole attention is focused on his work. Every time he sees Alfred like this, Matthew feels love sick.
On the upside- or perhaps the down side given the circumstances- they’ve developed a daily ritual. Alfred will slip into bed with Matthew and cuddle in against him. They’ll fall asleep together, but Matthew always wakes up alone. Even though they share chores now, without fail, Alfred always makes him breakfast.
Matthew finds that he prefers sharing the chores actually. They take shifts on certain jobs, but others they do together. They stand close and fold clothes, joking as they do it. Matthew washes the dishes, and Alfred dries. Sometimes that leads to soap fights, throwing water at each other and smearing soap suds on each other’s skin. It’s fun, natural. They have a good rhythm with each other, and they’re both happy.
Or at least, Matthew thinks they’re both happy. He can’t speak for Alfred, of course, but he’s utterly blissful. The only times that give him pause are those nights when all he wants to do is kiss Alfred sweetly before he falls to sleep. He doesn’t have the courage to even admit he has feelings yet, though, so he labors with them for another two months before he finally becomes brave enough to hint at the conversation he really wants to have.
Alfred slips into bed, the same as every night. As he settles in beneath the blankets, Matthew addresses him in a quiet voice. “Alfred…” His quiet murmur sounds too loud in the dark, and he's glad to be hidden from sight. “Do you know what love feels like?”
The only sound for a moment is the rustling of the blankets as Alfred situates himself in bed. “Yeah,” he says after he's finally able to press his face down into the pillow. His voice is slightly muffled when he replies, “Of course, I do.”
Matthew takes a steadying breath, needing to hear the answer to the next question too. “What does it feel like to you?”
Alfred hums in thought, and finally, mimicking Matthew's volume as if being too loud would break the delicate mood, he says, “It feels like overcharging your battery, but you can’t quite stop working yourself up. You’ve got too much energy all sparkin' through you, and you can’t do anything about it and you get so warm. You can’t stop thinking it... It’s really overwhelming.”
“Oh,” Matthew says, mouth feeling dry. “I see. That sounds about right.” He knows his face is hot and once again is glad that the darkness hides him from view. He tries to drop the subject, too embarrassed to continue. “Goodnight Alfred.”
There’s another long stretch of quiet and finally Alfred wraps his arms around his waist. Matthew nestles back against him, not willing to roll over to face him lest the other realize how embarrassed he is. Alfred is the one to break the silence this time, not ready to drop the subject yet it would seem.
“Have you ever been in love Mattie?” Alfred nuzzles his face into Matthew’s hair, breath hot against his neck.
Matthew has to suppress a shiver at the feeling- Alfred has never done that before.
“Y-yeah… yeah I think I have,” he answers in a whisper, barely audible.
“Really,” he responds quietly.
Another stretch of silence follows, neither of them seems to know what to say.
“I see…” Alfred says finally, mouth still close enough to Matthew’s neck that he can feel the words on his skin as he speaks. “Goodnight then Matthew.”
Matthew hesitates and considers rolling over to steal that kiss he’s been aching for, but he doesn’t quite have the courage. If he did, he’d have seen that Alfred’s cheeks were just as flushed as his own were.
“I want to wake up with you in the morning this time,” Matthew admits quietly a few minutes later, unsure if Alfred is even still awake. The only response he gets is a nod, and he can almost feel Alfred’s smile when the other cuddles closer. Matthew smiles too, feeling a bit silly smiling so wide in the dark like that. Eventually Matthew falls asleep with Alfred’s face buried in his hair, nose barely brushing against his neck, and in the morning, the first thing he sees is Alfred’s smile.
Even though Matthew aches to confess his feelings, for now, this is more than enough for him.
Chapter 8: The Origin of Emotions
“Matthew, I have a question.”
Alfred is watching TV- a daily ridiculous soap opera of some sort. Though, perhaps it’s more accurate to say Alfred has the TV on for noise while he reads a comic book. A pretty typical practice but today something about this particular show is pulling him out of his reading.
“What is it Al?” Matthew walks over and plops down next to him.
“Well…” Alfred sets his comic aside, brows furrowing in distress. “You know before… When you asked me if I feel love…”
Matthew feels his stomach drop, but he nods. “Yeah, I remember.”
Alfred takes a deep breath, ears turning red and his expression strained. “They use androids, right, in movies most of the time to play androids. And why not? If you buy the androids, you don’t have to pay them…but…”
“Yeah, that's true…?” Matthew prompts after a moment of quiet- technically even the comic shop doesn't 'pay' Alfred. Alfred does the work, and the money is supposed to be Matthew's for 'renting out' his android. The question about paying androids doesn't seem to be the source of Alfred's distress though. Matthew has a feeling he knows where Alfred is going, and he’s already dreading it.
“The only time they don’t use androids to play androids are… are stories where androids fall in love and have feelings and stuff,” he finally says. “Why…?”
The look in Alfred’s eyes tells him that he has a good idea why, but he wants his fears confirmed.
“Oh Alfred… It’s not…” Matthew starts, but Alfred cuts him off.
“Just tell me the truth Matthew.”
Matthew sighs and turns to watch his face. “Well, a lot of people don’t believe androids can accurately imitate or, um, portray emotions.”
Alfred looks devastated, and his tone sounds defeated as he says, “Yeah. Yeah that’s what I thought it must be.”
“Listen, Alfred,” Matthew says hurriedly, trying to chase the pain away. Alfred wasn’t very subtle: he wore his feelings on his face, and right now, his stricken expression is making Matthew feel desperate to see him smile again. “I didn’t say they were right. It’s just what people think.” He gestures at the screen. “They think androids being sentient- especially when they fall in love- is just a sci-fi fantasy…”
Alfred sucks in a breath and frowns even more. Matthew grabs his hand and holds it tight-- Matthew can't believe that anymore, not when he knows Alfred, not when he's heard Arthur talk about family.
“So my feelings…” he says slowly and with some difficulty. “Might not be real at all. That’s what you’re saying to me. That me having feelings is a sci-fi fantasy that no one believes in.”
“No, no, that’s not… I mean, what I’m trying to say is Alfred, is that some people think it’s just a fantasy. I believe your feelings are real.” Matthew’s cheeks turn red at this admission. “No, I know your feelings are real. There are other androids with feelings, Al. You’re not alone.”
“How can you be sure though?” Alfred asks, anger and frustration on his face. It makes Matthew flinch, because Alfred is very rarely mad, much less to this degree. “How can you be sure that it’s not all a trick of my programming or something??” He stares down at his hands and takes a breath. Only once he's calm does he finally process the last of his sentence. “You know others… like me?”
“Arthur,” Matthew supplies, but he’s not concerned with that just now. He takes Alfred’s face into his hands, forcing him to make eye contact. “Listen, where do human feelings come from? I mean, a lot of emotions boil down to chemicals in the body, right? Your feelings just come from a different place, Alfred, that’s all. It doesn’t make them less real.”
Surprising himself, Matthew finds he’s being completely honest. This is the inevitable conclusion he was bound to reach after his time with Alfred. It’s not just something he’s saying to make himself or Alfred feel better, and the realization is a happy one. He leans up and pecks Alfred’s forehead.
Alfred blushes. “Oh…” he mumbles. “You really… you really think so?” A smile, uncertain but wide, spreads across his face. “I think I like the way you think better…” He hesitates. “Do you think Arthur… would he talk to me about it, d'ya think?”
Matthew nods and strokes a hand through his hair, glad that his gentle soothing seems to be working. “Yes, yes I think he would. You’re off tomorrow right? You can go stop by and see him while I’m at work.”
Alfred leans his face against Matthew’s hand for a moment before dragging him into a tight embrace. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah. I’ll do that.”
Arthur is not a babysitter.
Well, okay, he is, but he is a human babysitter. He doesn’t have the energy to babysit androids too.
Or, at least, it’s what he huffily tells Alfred before inviting the boy into his room for a chat. In all frankness, Alfred looks out of place in his sitting room- a bull in a china shop is the obvious metaphor. With Alfred, a more suitable analogy would be a puppy left in a room with nothing to play. Nothing to play with but quite a lot of things to destroy in the pursuit of fun. Arthur would have to keep him occupied.
Already Arthur has been forced to swat Alfred’s hands away from sliding up the cover of his roll top desk.
“I know we didn’t get off to a good start—” Alfred tries, looking more than a bit uncomfortable.
“You’re right we bloody well didn’t,” Arthur grumps. “Francis called me bushy brow butler for a month.”
Alfred snickers and has to bite his lip to hold back his smile. For the sake of appearances, Arthur acts offended, but Alfred’s youth and teasing amuses him.
“Well, okay not a great start, but I wanted to ask you about, well, feelings," he says then. "You're like, the only android I really know."
Arthur lets himself mollified by these words- Alfred is young and in search of understanding, and Arthur is happy to provide such thing. “I see. Alright, if you want, I’m willing to discuss this with you.”
“I dunno what I want to know though really,” Alfred admits. “I just don’t want to feel like the only android in the world who feels... things? I guess I just wanted to talk about it.”
It’s hard not to smile when someone is being so earnest and cute. Arthur softens and reaches over to pat his leg. “Alfred, feelings are a very personal thing. How you experience emotion and how I experience them is probably different.”
Alfred starts to interrupt, but Arthur holds a hand up to stop him.
“Listen to me, Alfred. Humans are the same in this case. Different people experience different levels of stress, anger, happiness, and sadness in their everyday life. Alice can lose something precious and become determined to find it, searching until she does. Cecilia, in the same situation, would be reduced to tears while other people look.”
“So you’re saying that even between the two of us, we experience things differently?” Alfred says with a frown. "Even though we're both androids?"
Arthur nods. “Yes, just because we’re both androids and are both capable of emotions doesn’t mean that we’re the same in how we experience them. For example, I rather enjoy quiet nights alone with a book and a bit of soft music. It is calming, fulfilling in way few other pursuits are. For you,” Arthur says, arching a brow at Alfred’s pained expression. “That would probably bore you practically to tears. If I understand correctly, you’re more interested in excitement and flashy pictures."
Alfred shrugs and smiles sheepishly. “Yeah I really like comics and stuff.” He goes to toss himself down onto Arthur's bed. “But if you and I are both different in how we feel then like… how do I know it’s actually real feelings and not… I dunno… faulty programming??”
Arthur moves to lean against the bed, almost sitting but not quite. His eyes follow the pattern on the wallpaper as he considers how to respond. Just when Alfred almost starts to prod him, Arthur finally asks, “Does it matter?”
“What?” Alfred blinks at him, eyes uncertain again.
“Does it matter?” he repeats. Arthur stares him down now, eyes locked on Alfred’s. He wants to impress upon him exactly how firm his beliefs are on this particular topic. Alfred isn’t sure if he’s supposed to answer- or even how to answer. Finally, Arthur elaborates, “Does it matter if they’re ‘real’ or ‘faulty programming? When you are sad do you hurt?”
“…yes… I do…” Alfred says, comprehension slowly dawning in his eyes.
“And when you’re happy, you smile and laugh?”
“Yeah, I do!” Alfred says, voice rising a little in volume.
“You get angry and scared and excited?”
This time, Alfred nods eagerly, his whole attention focused on Arthur.
Arthur leans close, giving the young android the sternest expression he can manage- which is actually quite stern indeed. He’s had a lot of practice. “Then Alfred, I don’t care why you have feelings or where they came from. They’re real to you, and that is plenty enough for anyone with good sense.”
The expression of comprehension and joyous hope on Alfred’s face warms Arthur’s heart. He is a nanny through and through, he admits to himself. He likes to see that he’s helped someone. Suddenly Alfred is standing and grabbing him, lifting him up off the floor in a tight embrace and swinging him about the room like a rag doll.
“Oh good heavens Alfred,” Arthur wails, shoving at his shoulders and sputtering with distress. “Put me down this instance!" Can’t even properly hug, this one, Arthur thinks to himself as he tries to get free. Honestly, Alfred is much too large and strong to act like such a puppy.
When he’s finally safely on the ground, Arthur straightens his clothes and rolls his eyes.
“You’re utterly ridiculous, Alfred,” he says reproachfully. “If you want a hug, do it properly!”
Alfred starts to respond but quite suddenly the door is thrown open.
Alice stands there, looking frantic. “Matthew!” she says, voice shrill with worry. “Matthew was in an accident, and he’s in the hospital. Arthur, you have to drive us there now!”
Of course, Arthur feels a brief stab of panic, but he's always quick on his feet and composed. He nods in understanding and is almost out of the room before he realizes that Alfred isn’t following. When he looks back, he finds that the other is still frozen with shock, a look of horror on his face.
“Alfred come on! Hurry!”
Alfred jerks into motion, fumbling to catch up. What follows is a few minutes of frenzy as the family prepares to leave before they’re all in the car, and Arthur has slid into the driver’s seat. He starts the car and glances Alfred in the passenger seat. For all that he looks stricken, he’s trying to remain calm. Good boy, Arthur thinks approvingly. Arthur starts the car, and he pulls out of the garage.
“What happened?” Arthur asks as they get onto the road. His hands are too tight on the steering wheel, but he’s determined to keep his composure so he can look after his little human family.
“He took a tumble down stairs,” Alice says. Her voice is thick with worry and her expression strained. Though she seems like she’s handling herself well, Arthur can tell from her voice that she’s barely keeping herself together. “He broke his leg, they said, and they’re worried that he might have some trauma to his head.”
Francis wraps his arm around Alice’s shoulders, dragging her close against his side. He had opted to sit in the back with his wife and daughter for that very reason after all. Like Arthur, Francis knows that while Alice is the most calm-headed of the family, she's also the most likely to put on a strong face despite her own feelings. She is currently twisting a handkerchief in her hands fretfully, and he gently tries to take it from her.
“Calm down, mon ange,” Francis says softly. “They said he’d likely be fine, didn’t they? He’s a strong boy, Alice, and we’ll be with him soon.”
Arthur slows to a stop for a red light and glances in the rear view mirror. He sees Francis dragging his little wife closer and stroking her hair, trying to calm her down. After a moment, Cecilia gently tugs at her father’s sleeve, and he puts his other arm around her as she hides her face against his chest. Francis smiles down at the other two even though Arthur can see the concern in his eyes as well.
Arthur gives a strained smile. His little family takes care of each other, and that, at least, is worth smiling over. He glances over at Alfred before the light changes-- taking in the firm set of his jaw, the tears sparkling in his eyes, the way his fingers tremble. All together, it stirs all Arthur's protective nanny feelings again. After he gets started again, Arthur reaches over to pat the other’s knee, the only support he can give the other at the moment.
Alfred’s hand darts out to grab Arthur’s fingers. Arthur blinks in surprise and holds the other android’s hand. Although Alfred doesn’t look up or acknowledge it, his trembling stops, and Arthur holds his hand all the way to the hospital.
Matthew sits up in the hospital bed, feeling not all that worse for wear. Sure, the leg being broken thing is pretty terrible, but he’d been unconscious for the worst of it- well at least he hopes that was the worst of it. He looks down at the cast a bit sadly though- that's going to be irritating to deal with. There is a limit, he’d found out, to the amount of books one can safely maneuver down a staircase.
Well, on the plus side, he won't be hauling books around for a while.
He rubs his head a little. His medication had kicked in, and his headache has been reduced to a dull sort of throb. So when his family bursts in, half frantic with worry, Matthew accepts their attention with a bemused sort of affection.
“I’m fine,” he has to tell them over and over as they shower him with attention and love. Matthew sees Arthur catch Alfred. They hang in the back of the room, doubtlessly trying to give Matthew’s family the chance to greet him and worry over him first. That makes Matthew a little sad-- he can see the obvious worry on both their faces but now isn't exactly the best time to try and have a conversation about android feelings with his family.
Instead he simply gives them both a weak little wave before he looks up at his parents. “They’re gonna do a CAT scan or whatever ‘cause I blacked out for a while after I fell.” He blushes, actually a little embarrassed. “I was just being clumsy, and I’ve got no one but myself to blame.”
His parents scold him and ask him questions- and Cecilia claims her right as the first to sign his cast- while Matthew simply allows it. All the fussing is really just them trying to work through their worry and their care for him. When he makes eye contact with Alfred again though, his breath catches. There’s tears- of relief, Matthew realizes- sliding down Alfred’s cheeks, and he smiles at him in a soft way, beckoning the other forward to give him a hug as well.
His family don't seem to find Arthur and Alfred's affection for Matthew strange, and they just tut at the two androids as they let them fuss over Matthew too. They all stay with him throughout the rest of the day. When the doctors are done running tests, Alfred and Matthew catch a cab back to Matthew’s apartment- with many promises from Alice and Francis to come by and visit soon.
When they’re alone and Alfred has helped Matthew settle down on the couch, that’s when the real crying starts. The tears at the hospital are nothing to the flood gates now. Matthew had wondered while he was sitting alone in the hospital if this would be the day Arthur warned him about- the day that Alfred realized that Matthew would die long before Alfred would. That is, if he ever 'died' at all.
Matthew had been right.
There isn't much he can do though. He simply holds Alfred close while the other cries against his shoulder. Sometimes Alfred would get enough breath to say half a thought - “I was worried that…” “If you weren’t around I’d…” “What would I do if you….”- before shaking his head and abandoning that train of thought.
Finally Alfred pulls back just a bit. He studies Matthew closely, as though still checking for injuries, and Matthew offers him an encouraging smile, stroking a hand through Al’s hair. There’s a look that passes through Alfred's eyes that Matthew doesn’t quite understand. Then suddenly, Alfred surges forward for a kiss.
It doesn't land properly, Alfred’s lips just barely brushing against the edge of Matthew's mouth. Alfred’s face and eyes are red when he pulls back, and he takes a moment to scrutinize Matthew’s reaction. Matthew knows his own face is just as red as Al’s, but the kiss, while surprising, isn't unwanted. So he simply smiles at him, stroking a hand through Alfred's hair again.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” is all Alfred says, voice a little croaky from crying. Then he pulls away as suddenly as he surged forward and almost dashes out of the room in embarrassment. Matthew hears the water come on, and he realizes Alfred is washing his face clean.
After a handful of seconds, Matthew takes a breath and licks his lips. He can taste Alfred’s tears on the edge of his mouth- more like ocean water than human tears. Brushing his fingertips over the place Alfred's lips touched his, Matthew lets out a soft quiet sigh. On the one hand, Matthew is disappointed because that wasn’t nearly the kind of kiss that he’d have preferred, but on the other hand, he’s a bit glad the other missed. He wants their first real kiss- their first good lip lock- to happen under happier circumstances.
Matthew is also sure that a first kiss that tastes like tears doesn’t bode well for a relationship.
Chapter 9: A Romance like the Movies
Alfred signs Matthew’s cast several times.
“It’s the first chance I’ve ever gotten,” he says as reasonably as he could while drawing stars around his name on Matthew’s cast.
Matthew thinks it’s cute. His cast is mostly covered with well wishes from family and friends at this point. A particularly big message across the front reads in all capitals “DON’T FALL DOWN STAIRS, LOVE GIL” which has served as a source of amusement at work and for Alfred. Despite his teasing, Gilbert has actually been helping him rather a lot at work in the wake of his fall, something that Matthew greatly appreciates.
Today, he’s just got home from work after Gilbert fussing over him all day to have Alfred fuss over him instead. This has become the basic framework of his life since he broke his leg a few weeks prior: get babied by Gilbert at work and come how to be babied by Alfred. It’s not a problem of course and really the gestures of support are super nice... but Matthew finds it just a bit irritating to be treated like a child all the time.
When he finishes his newest message surrounded by stars and a little doodle that’s supposed to be Superman, Alfred sits back and smiles at his handiwork. He strokes his hand over the cast very lightly in satisfaction and leans his face on Matthew’s good leg.
“There. better,” he says.
“Thanks,” Matthew replies wryly and reaches down to pat Alfred’s head.
Alfred watches him for a moment, and Matthew can’t quite place the expression that he’s making. Ever since his fall, Matthew will find himself on the receiving ends of looks like this all the time- unreadable scrutinizing expressions that make him squirm. Before Matthew can question him, Alfred suddenly breaks the silence himself.
“We should go on a date.”
Of all the things that Matthew expected to hear, this is not one of them. He stares down at him, cheeks turning red and hot. He glances around the room almost instinctively, s if there are answers written on the wall. “P-Pardon?” he finally manages, thinking that he must have heard wrong.
To his own relief, Alfred is pretty red as well. If they're both a little red, the whole scene is entirely less embarrassing for Matthew.
“That’s the proper order right? It’s in all the shows. I already messed up and did some of it out of order, but I want to get the rest of it right. It starts with a date right?” God, Alfred looks so damn earnest. Matthew never stood a chance.
Matthew swallows, mouth feeling incredibly dry. “What precisely…um, starts with a date…?” He has the feeling that Alfred is being presumptuous… although given their daily routine of sharing a bed and cuddling he understands were his assumptions are coming from. They have never talked about anything though, and Alfred really shouldn't just assume anything when it comes to relationship... things.
At his question, Alfred’s cheeks become darker red, and he pouts. “You know what I mean! Are you gonna go on a date with me or not?”
Almost laughing at the expression, Matthew nods. Despite how sudden this invitation feels, he can’t quite keep the smile off of his face. “Yeah, we can go on a date. Um, it’d be fun.”
Alfred turns his face, hiding his expression against his knee. “And you don’t think… you don’t think it’d be weird ‘cuz I’m an android?”
“No, not weird at all…” Matthew says back, fingers sliding through Alfred’s hair now. "Because it's you, y'know?" He has some reservations of course- how could he not? In their own apartment, they have a little world all their own for them to share, but out there, a lot of stigma and incredulity exists when it comes to intimate human-android interactions. Still, Matthew has long since decided that if he doesn't at least explore his feelings for Alfred he’d regret it later.
Sometimes Matthew errs on the shy side, but he handles someone asking him for a date rather well. In this case, he wasn’t nearly as awkward as Alfred looked. To be fair, unlike Alfred, he’d actually been in romantic situations before.
“Oh good,” Alfred murmurs, relief in his voice. Matthew thinks he might be smiling.
“You’ll have to help me get around though yeah? You’ll have to drive and everything," Matthew says, fingers still moving through Alfred's hair.
Alfred peeks up at him, and indeed he is smiling, albeit in a shy way. “That’s okay. I’ll take care of it!”
Matthew dresses up the best he can for their date- although it’s still a little informal given his leg prevents much else. When he comes out of his room with his steerable knee scooter, he finds Alfred standing in the nicest clothes he owns (though to be fair it’s just a suit jacket over the top of a comic book t-shirt with jeans). Alfred has his hands behind his back and is looking more than a little out of his depth. It makes Matthew smile.
“You ready?” Matthew says, cheeks pink. He knows that there are going to be little awkward moments on this date- like any date really but this is Alfred's first date ever. He intends to give Alfred leeway for that, and really, Matthew's just excited for it despite any mishaps.
“Y-yeah but uh first!” Alfred suddenly brings his hands around and thrusts a tiny bundle of flowers at him.
It takes Matthew a moment to realize what it is.
“You got me a boutonnière?”
“... a what?"
Matthew laughs softly. "A… a corsage pin."
“Oh…Yeah!” He lifts his head, setting his jaw in a firm line... as if he’s a little unsure and trying to act cool about it. “It’s in all the movies- putting on fancy clothes and flowers on your shirt and stuff.”
“That’s for prom though Alfred. This isn’t prom,” Matthew says, brow arched, but admires the flowers anyways.
“Well, I’ll never get to have a prom so you’re just gonna have to deal Mattie!” Alfred's brow scrunch up in a parody of Arthur's 'stern nanny face,' but Alfred doesn't quite have the same power behind it that Arthur always has.
“Alright, alright, pin it to my shirt for me,” he concedes with a laugh, shifting his knee on his scooter a little.
Alfred’s cheeks are red, but he looks incredibly pleased as he pins the flowers to his shirt, smoothing his hand over his chest afterwards. “There, now it’s perfect!” he tells him, hovering close for a moment to favor him with a sweet smile. "Absolutely perfect!" Then he pulls back and goes to open the door. In the most chivalrous voice he can manage, he says, “Your carriage waits!”
The restaurant that Alfred has chosen is a little place, but it's absurdly fancy.
“Really ritzy without that pesky full suit requirement,” Alfred brags to him as though this is some sort of accomplishment. For Alfred, perhaps it is though- finding the perfect price range and 'fanciness' level without having to buy a suit he'd hardly ever wear.
Matthew immediately realizes two things after they've sat down though. First, that this is the type of restaurant is too expensive for the tiny portion sizes. Second, that Alfred knows as much about the manners of fine dining as a puppy knows about parasailing.
Which is to say, he knows nothing at all.
Alfred struggles trying to figure out quite why he has so many forks and spoons, and he looks awkward and uncomfortable in the lavish surroundings. Matthew, for his part, was raised in a rich family, and all this wasn’t too unfamiliar to him. It isn’t particularly his style- hence why he was living in an apartment alone taking care of himself. He’s trying to entertain Alfred’s notions of what a good date should be like, but it would be easier if Alfred looked more comfortable.
“This is a nice place,” he says to Alfred as the other stares balefully down at the small bit of food arranged artistically on his plate.
Alfred nods and brightens up a little. “It’s what they always do in movies right? Go to places like this.”
“Yeah, or something like it, I guess. It’s expensive though…”
Alfred shakes his head quickly. “Don’t worry about that, Mattie. I been savin’ up since before I asked so I’ll pay for you okay??”
“Really? If it’s too expensive Alfred, I’ll—”
“I can do it!” Alfred would hear none of it. He’d seen the movies, and he was the one who asked- therefore he concluded, he should be the one to pay. Nothing Matthew said could change his mind. When they finish, Matthew already knows that he’ll be hungry for the rest of the night. At least, the next place on the list is the movie theater, so he decides to just get junk food there.
In keeping with Alfred’s general scheme for the night, he takes Matthew to an over-the-top romance movie. That isn’t to say Matthew doesn’t like romance movies. He does sometimes, especially comedic ones. This movie wasn’t comedic though- it was a disheartening tragic sort of romance that leaves both him and Alfred in a rather sullen mood afterwards.
That isn’t to say that it was all bad either though. Alfred shyly holding his hand in the dark was incredibly pleasant. Between the hunger and the bad movie though... Matthew isn’t having very much fun. He tries to hide it to make Alfred happy, but the other seems to be picking up on it.
As they walk back in the general direction of the parking structure they left the car in, Alfred’s frustration finally comes to a boiling point- Matthew is only glad that it happens in a quiet, abandoned area near the park.
“This date really sucked,” Alfred says as he stops to hover on the sidewalk uncertainly. His cheeks are red with embarrassment and quite possibly, given his expression, shame. “I’m sorry. I did everything that they do in the movies. But this isn’t very fun is it??”
Alfred looks up at him with eyes full of distress, and Matthew doesn’t have the heart to be honest.
“It wasn’t that bad! It was good to hang out with you, Alfred.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be ‘hanging out’ though! It was supposed to be a date! And I fucked it up.” He looks up at him, frustration on every line of his face. “I did everything I was supposed to! The dinner and the movie and the flowers… so why isn’t it very fun??”
Matthew can’t help but laugh at how serious he is, how earnest he is in his attempts to make this date a success. “Your problem is,” Matthew says slowly, shifting on his scooter ad turning so he can move closer to him, “that you’re relying too much on TV.”
Alfred pauses and gives him the most heartrendingly adorable expression of frustrated defeat that Matthew's ever seen. “TV is the only thing I have to go on though…! I’ve never been on a date before! I have no idea what I’m doing…I just wanted to have fun with you, but I can’t even walk and hold hands with you ‘cause of your lil broken leg scooter thingie.”
Matthew gives him a teasing expression and shakes his head. “I can’t help the scooter thingie, you know.” He leans forward to peck Alfred on the cheek.
This whole situation is a vivid reminder that even though Alfred woke up as an adult and has been living as one… he’s actually rather young. Alfred hasn’t had very many experiences yet, and somewhere along the line with him acting and living like an adult, Matthew had forgotten about that.
The kiss, at least, perks Alfred up just a tiny bit, though sulkiness about how the date failed to meet his expectations lingers in his expression.
“Dates don’t have to be like on TV, Al. They can be anything that you want them to be. As long as you’re having fun together, then it’s a date.”
“But we always have fun together,” Alfred says with a pout, and he looks even more flustered. “And like, it's super awesome, but I wanted today to be special. If any fun times together is a date, then everyday is a date for us." Trying to further make his point, he adds, "And you have fun with Gilbert all the time, and you’re not ‘dating’ him.” He pauses, looking uncertain, “…are you?”
Matthew laughs. “No, no, not dating Gilbert.” He thinks a moment longer and then he clarifies, “Okay so you have to have fun together and call it a date then. And do it because you like each other.”
Silence follows this statement- Alfred admiring a point just to the side of Matthew’s head. Doing so gives the impression that Alfred is looking at Matthew while at the same time desperately avoiding eye contact. Then his face starts to light up bright red. The cutest thing about Alfred’s blush is that it always starts with his ears first. His ears turn red, and then the color bleeds down into his cheeks and neck.
“And you like me,” Alfred says, swallowing down a smile while still avoiding Matthew's eyes.
Matthew huffs at him in surprise and rolls his eyes. “Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t have come out with you.”
Finally, Alfred makes eye contact with him and studies his face. He moves forward and lifts his hand to Matthew’s cheek. Almost hesitantly, Alfred cups his face and traces his thumb over his cheek bone.
“I like you too, Mattie,” he mumbles.
Alfred slips his hand around to slide his fingers into his hair, cradling the back of his head. Matthew’s breath catches in his throat, and his heart is suddenly beating much faster than before. He watches as Alfred slowly leans forward, watches the way he only breaks eye contact once to glance down at his mouth. Their faces are close together when Alfred finally stops, and Matthew sees the unasked question in his expression.
Unlike the first kiss Alfred inexpertly tried to steal, he was pausing now for invitation, hovering as he waits for permission. Matthew can’t help but smile a little despite his own embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” Matthew murmurs, voice barely above a whisper. “You’re allowed.”
Alfred surges forward, closing the distance between them and presses their lips together almost roughly in his hurry. After the initial force, though, he relaxes into the new experience, and his mouth becomes gentle.
As romantic as it is, the kiss is still quite inexperienced with Alfred leading. Alfred doesn't really understand how mouths mesh together the best way. Carefully, Matthew leans his weight forward on the scoot so he can bring his hand up to Alfred’s neck, mirroring him by slipping his fingers into his hair. When Matthew takes command of the kiss, it goes much more smoothly. He guides the other and deepens the kiss, parting Alfred’s lips with his tongue. For a moment they’re locked like that, standing on the street and kissing for all they’re worth. Alfred meets him with passion, and though he lets Matthew guide him, he’s clearly cataloging every reaction and every move.
Inexperienced, Matthew thinks as he feels himself melting a little. But with so much potential…!
Though, as it turns out, trying to melt against Alfred was not the best idea. It upset his delicate balance on the scooter that he wasn’t quite paying attention to anymore, and Matthew's knee slips off, jolting him badly. Luckily, Alfred has incredibly quick reflexes- and rather impressive strength- and he catches Matthew, pulling in into his arms as the scooter slides away toward the grass at the edge of the sidewalk.
“T-thanks…” Matthew says, voice breathless and soft.
“No problem…” Alfred says back, sounding just as breathless. “Lemme get that.”
There’s a moment of awkward maneuvering before Alfred is putting the scooter back underneath Matthew’s knee.
“There, all better!” Alfred declares.
“All better," Matthew agrees.
“Really am messin’ up though,” Alfred says, eyes bright and his smile wide. Teasing. “Can’t even kiss you without knocking you over.”
“Well, I don’t mind so long as you catch me,” Matthew replies as he gets settled again. “Now, how about we don’t end the date quite yet? I know an excellent burger place- cheap and greasy but some of the best diner food around. I think it makes a great date spot. They even have a jukebox, Alfred, for that classic date night vibe.”
Alfred’s smile somehow manages to get even brighter.
“Yeah Mattie, let’s go. I like the sound of that.”
Alfred enjoys dating once they finally get settled into a good routine, and for Matthew, who’s been pining for way too long, the change in the nature of their relationship is a welcome one. Despite their own personal satisfaction, Matthew resolves to keep it a secret at least until he gets his cast off in another four more weeks or so. This decision isn’t without some struggle and lengthy discussion.
“By then,” Matthew explains to Alfred. “We’ll know if we like it, if we want it to be long term.”
“I already know I like it. I want it to be long term!” Alfred insists. He wants to tell everyone, immediately if possible, because he’s incredibly happy. That's something that Matthew appreciates about Alfred- the android loves to share his interests, curiosities and happy moments with everyone. Even though Matthew loves Alfred's insistent words, he’s trying to be realistic about the whole thing.
This would cause scandal after all.
“Listen, Alfred, not everyone is going to be as happy as we are, okay? They’re going to find us being together… weird and perverted. They’re going to judge us.” Matthew reaches forward to brush Alfred's hair out of his face. "I don't agree with them, but that's what'll happen."
Alfred chews on his lip as he considers this. “But on TV…” The words die on his lips before he can finish the thought. While television certainly romanticizes android-human relationships, the ‘forbidden love’ scandal aspects are always present in the stories as well. “Do you… do you really think people would react badly…?”
“I dunno, Al,” Matthew says, hating to see the expression of hurt twisting his pretty features. Matthew takes his hand and holds it. “But we gotta be ready for people to react that way. I really hope they don’t but… it could happen. Some people probably won’t care- Like Gilbert. But others… well they’d…” He trails off and looks away. He doesn’t have the heart to say it.
“They’d what? Tell me Mattie!!”
Only after a prolonged moment of silence does Matthew manage to whisper. “They’d call you things- they’d say you were my ‘glorified sex toy.’”
Alfred’s fingers tighten around his hand. “They’d say that about me?”
“That, and probably a great deal meaner, Alfred…” Matthew looks back up, seeing the pain but also the defiance in Alfred’s eyes. “So I want to be certain first–!”
“Fuck them!” Alfred interrupts. “If they say things like that they’re bastards, Mattie, and we don’t have to have anything to do with them.” A waver in his voice betrays his underlying feeling though- betrays just how much rejection would hurt him.
Matthew takes his other hand, pressing his forehead to Alfred's. “I know, I know. I agree with you- we don't need assholes in our lives… but still I want to be sure first, before you have to be exposed to any remarks like that.”
“What about you then? What would they say about you?” Alfred asks then, nudging his nose to Matthew's gently.
“Well they’d treat me like a pervert probably,” Matthew says but he smiles, closing the distance to leave a sweet kiss Alfred’s lips. “But I really don’t care about what they say about me. I just don’t want to hear them say bad things about you, Alfred.”
Alfred is so innocent, friendly, and eager to please, and Matthew couldn't bear to see those things stomped out of him any time soon.
“You’re not ashamed of us though… right?”
“Of course not, Alfred, of course not.”
Finally, Alfred sees the honesty in Matthew’s eyes and concedes the point. “Fine. We’ll wait, but I won’t be happy about it.”
Weeks pass, and surprisingly, this secrecy is not something that occupies Alfred’s mind all that much. He simply enjoys being with Matthew. The leaves change colors and start to fall. Matthew and Alfred pass the days with each other happily, ultimately realizing that they both preferred low-key romance. They enjoy drinking apple cider together in the park while they feed the ducks in the pond. One of their favorite date spots is a little cupcake place a few blocks over. They stock glass bottle cokes, and the cupcakes are huge and flavorful. They also spend quite a bit of time watching movies together. They argue about which are better, and together they choose on a few ‘couple favorites’ with Indiana Jones films topping the list.
They go to the amusement park together sometimes as well, and Alfred always makes Matthew go on the roller coaster first. Matthew spends the rest of the day with his hair windblown and messy- just how Alfred likes it. They eat hot dogs and nachos for lunch with cotton candy and funnel cake for dessert. If they’re lucky, one of them will win a stuffed toy at a game booth. They always end these dates the same way- kissing at the top of the Ferris wheel. Alfred calls it ‘classically romantic.’
Alfred gets a telescope and a science book about the stars, so he and Matthew spend the first chilly winter nights curled up together under a blanket watching the stars together while Alfred happily rambles off his favorite facts about the universe. While Alfred finds a star he wants to share, Matthew surprises Al by telling him “I love you” for the first time. Alfred returns his confession, and they spend that cold November night naked beneath comforters on the balcony of their apartment trying to touch each other as much as they can.
Matthew ends up with a cold, but he doesn’t regret a moment of it.
The more Alfred lives like a human, the longer he sleeps, and the more he eats. It’s not something Matthew had anticipated, but it seems very much like Alfred’s internal clock is starting to get synced up with Matthew’s. The thought embarrasses him, but for some reason, it’s impossibly sweet. Matthew has not since stopped questioning the differences between them-- android or human, individuals are all unique, and Matthew delights in the singular being that is his dear boyfriend.
Finally with Alfred's sleep schedule becoming more distinctly human, Matthew manages to wake up earlier than Alfred, surprising him with breakfast in bed. Usually he makes breakfast burgers- a food that Alfred had called ‘divinely inspired.’
Wrapped up in each other, they forget about telling anyone until many weeks after Matthew has his cast off. They’re so happily distracted with their own lives, but eventually, they also know that their relationship is becoming too obvious to really put off telling people anymore. They decide to tell Gilbert first, knowing he'd support them no matter what.
“Really you guys?! Really?!” Gilbert tells them. “I was pretty sure you’d been fucking for months, and you just started dating recently???”
The resulting blush from the two of them tells Gilbert that his previous assumption had been right all along, and the way Gilbert cackles at them results in Alfred tackling him and instigating a wrestling match on the couch.
Once this confession officially out, most of Matthew’s office finds out through Gilbert instead- at Matthew’s bidding of course. That way Gilbert could report back to Matthew which of their co-workers reacted badly to the news and who handled it well. The couple themselves could avoid direct confrontation with the unpleasantness themselves, and they have an idea who they can be a bit more open with. (Matthew has reason to suspect, however, that Gilbert did more than just scold the people who had said rude things about the relationship. For some reason they all seem a bit anxious to make sure Matthew is happy with them.)
In short, though Gilbert could quite possibly be a really bad enemy, he is a great friend to have.
Alfred takes to calling him one of their allies- as if they’re some sort of super hero team fighting for love and justice. Their other major ally is Arthur, and Matthew couldn't be more grateful. Arthur's support helps calm Matthew’s nerves, because telling his parents is one of his greatest apprehensions. Imagine that after all- “Hey Papa, Mum, you know that android you bought me, the computer in a human body? Yeah, we’re dating now, thanks a bunch.”
In his head, he can imagine every single worst possibility that could result in telling them. It’s Arthur that coaxes Matthew down and convinces him to tell his parents.
“So, um, I’ve got something to tell you,” Matthew says, fidgeting under the combined weight of his parents gazes. Alfred pats his back to encourage him, and Matthew looks up to see Arthur giving him that patient look parents sometimes give shy children. ‘Go ahead,’ the look says. ‘It’s okay. Go on!’
His father has a smile that says he’s anticipating what this conversation is about, and his mother has the same serious expression she always has. Neither of these facts make him particularly calmer. His insides twist uncomfortably, and he looks down at his fingers, wringing his hands uncertainly. Matthew doesn’t really expect them to react badly enough to do anything that could hurt him, but unlike so many other people, he really honestly cares what they think about him. Other people's disgust he could handle, but he loves his family far too much to blow off their opinion. He’s hoping for the best, of course, but he is also dreading the worst.
Finally, Matthew takes a breath and looks up at them. “Me and…” A pause. “Alfred and I are dating, have been for a few months now and um. I just wanted to tell you.” Instantly he looks back down at his hands again, not wanting to see the reactions on his parent's faces. Alfred reaches over and takes hold of his fingers, and the gesture makes him smile.
“You really are a mix of your mother and I,” Francis says wistfully. Matthew’s head comes up, watching his father turn teasing eyes on his wife. “My penchant for devilishly attractive men, and your mother’s preference for androids~~ How terribly wicked of you, Alice, passing on your–”
Alice lays hands on a small candy tin, fingers closing around the stack of peppermints on top, and she throws the whole handful at Francis with frightening speed and accuracy. Brightly colored hard candies manage to hit Francis directly in the face before scattering around him on the drawing room floor. Francis sputters in outrage, but Alice cuts him off.
“This is serious Francis. It’s supposed to be about Matthew, not us, and here you’re turning it into a joke. Look at the poor boy: half sick with worry!”
Francis snatches up several of the candies himself, as if considering returning fire. “Woman!! At least I’m not throwing things! You’re the one being disruptive.”
They dissolve into bickering with each other, and it’s just so typical of the two of them to end up in an unrelated fight after Matthew tells them big news. As a child, this had been a source of great irritation, but now, this is perhaps the best reaction to alleviate all of Matthew's fears. And so, he begins to laugh, loud and long, and he covers his face with his hand as he tries to reign in his breath. The argument in the background tapers off, and he looks up to see both of his parents watching him quizzically. Their expressions make him laugh harder.
Both of them move over to him, patting his back even though he can’t stop giggling.
“Of course we’d never be mad about you making your own choices, Matthew,” he hears Francis say over the sound of his own laughter.
“I trust your judgment, Matthew. You’re such a smart young man, always have been,” Alice says.
“I can’t say I blame you, honestly. I did pick him for his good looks—”
“None of that now Francis. Matthew wouldn’t date just for something like—”
Matthew cuts off what is sure to turn into more nonsense bickering by standing and pulling them both into a tight happy hug. They both relax and hug him back. He can’t believe he’d stressed about this so much. Back in the corner of the room, Arthur smiles at him, and Matthew wonders if the other had already prepped them for this.
When he pulls back, Francis turns his attention to Alfred, face as stern as he could make it. It’s a rather comical expression on Francis’s face, and Alfred has to bite his lip to keep from smiling.
“Do you love him?” Francis asks, managing to be serious despite all the shenanigans that led up to this converation.
“I do, sir, very much.” Alfred glances over at Matthew, expression gentle and warm. “How could I not? He’s perfect!”
Francis definitely takes notice of his expression. “Good. Now give me a hug.”
Alfred hugs him tight instantly, and Francis makes sure to catch Matthew’s eyes before pointedly glancing down at Alfred’s backside. He shoots him an approving expression, and Matthew swats at him. Francis laughs delightedly as he pulls away from Alfred. Of course, Alfred doesn’t notice a thing.
Alice steps over to Alfred next- expression as stern as husband's had been before her. Unfortunately for Alfred, her stern face is much more effective. Matthew has been on the receiving end of that expression before, and he knows how small Alfred must feel right about now.
“If you hurt Matthew, I’ll see that you end up in a junk yard somewhere. Understand?”
Alfred gives a curt nod.
“And you must take good care of him too. He’s much too sweet for his own good," Alice adds, shaking a finger at him.
“Of course ma’am," Alfred replies instantly, nodding furiously.
Alice smiles in an almost huffy way, as though the whole bit of drama should be over and done with. “Now then. Give me a hug, and let’s have done with all this silly worrying. It’s about tea time, you know, and Arthur and I intend to watch Sherlock together.”
Alfred nods and hugs the small woman happily enough. Afterwards it seems all settled except one small thing.
“Has anyone told Cecilia??”
“Well…” Arthur’s face turns red. “She saw the two of you steal a kiss in the hallway when you didn’t realize she was there. I’ve had, ahhh, an interesting time of giving her a few talks about the whole thing.”
He’s red enough in the face that Matthew has a pretty good idea what sort of questions the little girl had and what sort of ‘talk’ it resulted in. Matthew thanks him and resolves to bring his favorite stuffy nanny android a gift next time they visit to make up for all the trouble he’s been put through.
After this part, I’m going to start having longer time jumps between chapters. These first parts have a gap of weeks or months but this’ll be gaps of years. This fic wasn’t intended to be ‘the young life of a man in love with an android’ but rather Matthew in the long run with Alfred at his side. It’ll span many years.
The original intention for the story was actually, to be honest, that it would be a series of interrelated drabbles taken from different points of Matt and Alfred’s lives together. But the problem was that I wanted to start with the “they’re falling in love” bit, but it wouldn’t come out right without how they fell in love and how they met. So the next few drabbles will be jumps forward in time dealing with various important parts of their lives. It’s no longer drabbles though of course, it’s full parts, just like the others. They’ll still be in chronological order.
Chapter 11: When I Say Forever
After getting Francis and Alice’s blessing, Matthew and Alfred settle into a happy routine as a couple. Everyone waits for Matthew to get bored with his android companion. "It's a phase," they say. "He'll find a human as soon as he gets this out of his system."
Or at least, they say it at first. Once they get to know Alfred really well, imagining Matthew with anyone else becomes difficult. Even though they knew that Alfred is an android, a lot of people find this difficult to believe. It seems impossible that such a vibrant, interesting man could be an android. This is a double edged sword though: for all the people that relax and understand the unusual relationship, many others of their acquaintance are incredibly uncomfortable with Alfred. An android, they said, should be an android, and the further they were from human the better.
Matthew thinks this might be guilt talking- androids are still used to work some of the most dangerous jobs and used without any pay or regard to the android’s well-being. If an android becomes to close to human, doesn't this imply they have basic human rights as well? The answer to this question is an understandable controversial one.
Fortunately, most people in their lives got used to Matthew’s unique relationship. Over time, it slowly eases from a source of controversy into more of a quirk. Matthew was with Alfred, and everyone who knew them accepted that it was a happy arrangement even if it was unconventional.
That isn’t to say it was happily ever after, but few stories have the right to end that way.
Years pass in this way, seasons bleeding into each other. For Matthew, time passes too quickly. He doesn’t feel like he has enough days to do even half of what he wants to get done. For Alfred, it’s the opposite: Time doesn’t pass fast enough. Eventually, Alfred gets promoted to manager of his little comic book shop. Despite how much he loves it, he can’t seem to wait until his next day off for a date, his next party, his next meal. He’s young, and Matthew wonders how long he’ll be like that.
Today is Alfred's fifth birthday after being woken up.
Matthew has just turned 29 as well, and instead of having two parties, the two have a joint party at their apartment. It’s a relatively small party- Matt’s parents, Cecilia, Arthur, Gilbert, and a few other friends. Cecilia brings her boyfriend, and even though she’s 16, soon to be 17, Matthew’s big brother instincts tell him to be protective of her. It’s hard to be too suspicious of him. Feliciano is an adorable young Italian boy- a year younger than Cecilia- and his air-headed sweetness makes it difficult for anyone to dislike him all that much.
Alfred is mostly excited about his cake- Francis had made the all the food, and Alfred knows it's all going to be delicious. The cake is just of particular note, because Alfred’s is decorated with Superman colors. The center has the basic shape of the Superman symbol, but the S has been substituted with a 5. Of course, it had taken Alfred forever to convince Francis to create something so gaudy. The man had been worn down, but he hadn't skimped at all despite how distasteful he found it. The cake had come out perfect, and to say that Alfred is delighted is an understatement.
“Five! What’s that stand for?” Feliciano asks, making quick friends with Alfred. That is also pretty cute, and Matthew thinks it makes a certain amount of sense. They are both incredibly bad at reading the atmosphere and are, therefore, brothers in arms.
“That’s how old I am!”
For a moment, Feliciano looks confused. “But…”
Cecilia comes over and reaches up to smooth out Feliciano’s errant curl. “He’s an android, remember?”
She’s patient with him, and Feliciano always loves how she fusses over him.
“Oh right! Yeah, I remember. We should hang out with him more often!” Feliciano’s smile is bright and infectious, and Matthew watches his sister’s cheeks turn pink.
Young love doesn’t always last, but he thinks if anyone could be happy with their high school sweetheart, these two are pretty high on the list.
“Okay guys! Let’s get this birthday party started! We’re going to sing first!” Alice announces with an unnecessary air of stateliness, herding all the guests over to the cake. She’s usually the leader of such family parties. She is terribly bad at cooking- a failing that embarrasses her as a ‘wife’ and a relatively old fashioned lady. To make up for that, she tends to take over the other aspects of planning parties.
It’s a fun night, full of laughing and love. Matthew gets to see that Alfred has been integrated into his family as a full-fledged person and not just an android. Arthur has as well and is no longer just a silent figure hanging faithfully in the background. His parents treat Arthur like family now and thankfully pay him for his work. That had been Matthew’s suggestion, but his parents (despite Francis’s insistence to the contrary) are both quite fond of Arthur. It had been an easy decision to make.
Matthew is happy with the party, but his eyes keep straying to Alfred and how he gets along so well with Feliciano and Cecilia…
Alfred falls asleep first- he had stuffed himself full of cake and had burned a lot of that energy off immediately being the social butterfly that he is. Matthew watches him for a while, pushing his hair out of his face. For now, they don’t look like they’re that different age wise, but this birthday reminds him that he’s growing and getting older while Alfred stays the same. So young and perfect and vibrant. Alfred will be like that as long as he’s alive. Sure, they’ll have to replace his insides now and then, but his outside… it’ll always stay the same. The thought of turning thirty next year make his ruminations all the more troubling.
Somehow turning thirty seems like the tilt from young into old, and the thought is more than troubling as he gazes down at Alfred.
The intense stare and the gentle touches has Alfred stirring, opening his lovely blue eyes to blink at him in sleepy confusion.
“Sleep with me,” the android murmurs as he pulls Matthew into his arms and cuddles him close.
Matthew doesn’t resist and settles in against him. The weight of his knowledge that someday he’ll be too old for a forever-young Alfred is heavy in his mind, and he hides his face against Alfred’s neck. “I love you Al,” he murmurs.
Alfred doesn’t sense anything amiss. “I love you too Mattie,” he says back as he strokes his hair. “Get some sleep. We partied hard today, and tomorrow we can hang out. A lil romantic hang out for just us two! That’ll be be fun.”
Matthew nods, and he holds on tighter. “Just… just hold me till I fall asleep okay?”
Matthew feels a kiss pressed to the side of his head and he smiles.
“Of course, Mattie.”
That’s how Matthew falls asleep.
Matthew tries very hard not to worry about it for the next week, but anxious thoughts hover in the back of his mind always waiting to push back into the forefront of his mind. Alfred hires a new worker at his shop that week- a young Korean man about 20 years old. Coincidentally, Matthew thinks bitterly, pretty close to how old Alfred looks. Great timing.
As a general rule, Matthew isn’t jealous when it comes to relationships. He is insecure and self-deprecating, perhaps, but rarely jealous. Even though he sometimes simply doesn’t understand why someone would want to date him, he trusted his partners quite a bit. He especially trusted Alfred who had been loyal to him since the moment he was ‘born.’
But somehow, coming home to see Alfred playing games with a younger man, it makes Matthew’s stomach drop a little. They look so well suited for each other. It stings especially badly because Matthew knows that’ll in a few short years strangers will leer at him for dating a man so much younger in appearance than himself. Right now, that crisis seems insurmountable.
Even so, Matthew is nothing if not polite.
“Hey Al. Who’s your new friend?”
Alfred glances up from his game long enough to smile and say, “This is Yong Soo. He’s the newest recruit at the shop. Really knows what he’s talking about.”
Yong Soo waves and smiles. “You’re Matthew, huh? Al’s told me lots of good things!”
Immediately the two are getting distracted with their game again, and Matthew slinks off towards his room. He throws out the excuse that he’s going to go read for a while. It isn’t so much that he was jealous that they are being friendly or that they're having fun together. The timing is just bad-- like the universe wants to deliver a sudden reminder that Alfred would eventually leave him for someone younger. And, right now at least, it seems to Matthew rather inevitable. What's worse is that Matthew wouldn't blame him either. He can't imagine dating someone so much older that they can't keep up with your exuberant love of life anymore.
Matthew sulks the rest of the night.
It isn't like Alfred hasn’t hung out with younger guys before. He does quite often, but now every time he hangs out with younger friends, it grates on Matthew’s mind. Which one is his type? What kind of person will Alfred end up with after Matthew becomes too old? If he would just stop scratching at it, perhaps the sore spot would heal, but Matthew keeps picking at it like a scab.
Matthew tries, he really does, to keep it in check, but after one afternoon of the boys from the comics shop playing some silly card game in his living room, well, his irritation is finally close enough to the surface that Alfred noticed.
As Alfred says goodbye to his friends, Matthew is attempting to rinse out his favorite mug. His fingers are shaking, and he struggles desperately to stomp the feelings back down. The mood isn’t one only borne of jealousy. He’s also angry at himself. A sick sense of guilt is settling down into his stomach as well from how selfish his feelings are. His fingers are shaking, and he drops his mug. He lunges to catch it, but it smashes down against the sink. The horrible sound of glass breaking jars him, and the handle of the mug completely snaps off. That might be fixable, but when he picks it up, he sees one long crack along the edge that goes straight to the bottom.
Just in case he thought it was salvageable, water leaks out of the mug through the crack. He throws it back down with more sounds of ceramic breaking and chipping, and he lets himself feel a self-satisfying little thrill as he breaks the ruined mug even further.
But frustration adds on to his overall bad mood. When he turns around, Alfred is standing in the doorway watching him in confusion. Matthew feels the rush of heat and shame to his face, and he takes a ragged breath to calm himself down.
“Matthew… Mattie…” Alfred approaches him slowly, concern in his expression and tone. “What’s wrong?”
“You’ll….!” Matthew starts before choking on his own words. He's ashamed to even be voicing such awful thoughts, such egregious mistrust in his partner. “You’ll end up leaving me Alfred. Not now, sure, but one day you will.”
Alfred tries to interrupt, grabbing him by the shoulders, but Matthew keeps going.
“I’ll get old and you’ll still be young and beautiful, and why would you want to be with an old man?" Once he's talking, he can't seem to stop, his words falling out one after another even as he struggles to stop. "When I’m sixty you’ll still be the same. I’m turning 30 next year, Alfred, 30. I’m making my way toward middle age and you… you… You're gonna want someone you're age, someone who can keep up with, someone... someone...”
The word 'better' is what finally brings him to a halt, the word clogging his throat.
Instead of replying, Alfred uses the grip on his shoulders to pull him into a too-tight hug. Matthew grips back just as tightly, his whole world reduced to the warm body against his own. It takes all of his self-control to keep from crying.
They don't speak at all for a while, and Matthew wonders if Alfred knows him well enough to give him the moment. Surely if Alfred spoke now, Matthew would turn into a mess of tears. Only when Matthew's trembling has stopped does Alfred pull back.
“I’m going to be with you forever, Mattie. I wanna grow old with you and all that jazz," he says simply, honesty and love radiating out of him.
“But Alfred, you’re not going to grow old. It’s why I’m rounding on 30 and you look barely a day over 21.” Matthew rubs at his eyes just in case, voice still catching in his throat. The tears aren't falling, but it's a near thing.
“Is being 30 a bad thing?” Alfred asks in confusion.
The question makes him pause- of course Alfred wouldn’t understand the concept of feeling too old and having not accomplished enough yet. Perhaps Alfred, built fully grown, could never understand. Matthew himself wasn’t quite to ‘mid-life’ yet, but thirty is an age he isn't ready to round the corner on yet.
“Yes,” Matthew says after a moment. “Well, yes and no. It’s just… I mean it’s another age, but I’m gonna start getting old, Al, I’m not getting any younger. I’ll be 30 then it’s only a hop, skip, and jump to 40 and then on to 50. By then, well, you’ll have no reason to stay with me.”
Alfred softens, expression impossibly gentle as he reaches up to cup his cheek. “Of course I’ll have a reason. You’ll still be Matthew, and I’ll still love you. So don’t worry so much! Even if you're so old you can't even walk, I'll be pushing you along in a wheelchair while we go on adventures together. What's the big deal huh? We both knew you’d age different from me.”
“It’s one thing to know…" Matthew murmurs, heat coming to his cheeks. "It’s another thing to start realizing it’s on the horizon soon.”
“Yeah,” Alfred says. “I suppose that’s true.”
Matthew stares at him, searching. He’s still not quite sure how true these impetuous but touching words will be, but he wants it to be alright, wants to believe him. Most of all, he doesn’t want to spoil what they have now. He takes both of Alfred’s hands in his to bring them to his lips, kissing his knuckles.
“I’ll be around as long as you want me,” Matthew says, a promise in his words.
Alfred leans in to gently kiss his lips. “That’s better. I’ll always be with you Matt.”
Matthew feels his stomach clench again, and the thought comes to his head which is much worse than the thought of any eventual break-up.
One day no matter how much Alfred loves him, Matthew will die and leave the android lonely. He tries to smile for Alfred though... if nothing else, Matthew would enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.
Alfred drags Matthew to the couch for cuddling, trying to distract him with the TV. After a while, Alfred asks, “Does everyone freak out about the idea of being 30 like that?”
By then, Matthew has recovered enough to respond, “Well… It’s normally closer to mid-life-- um, y'know like a mid-life crisis. But I guess seeing you with all those young people getting along, and me… getting older and nowhere near as young and cool as all of them are… I just got upset.” He shrugs. “I kept wondering which ones of them were your types.”
Alfred scrunches up his face as though in thought, and then he shrugs and laughs. “I’ve never thought about any of them that way. You’re the only type I have.”
Matthew smiles and kisses him soundly. They were going to be alright for a while longer after all.
Three days later, Matthew finds a brand new mug on his bedside table when he wakes up. A ring box and a note from Alfred is tucked into the bottom.
“Sorry, you looked so peaceful that I wanted to let you sleep. But I got this for you to remember that when I say forever, I mean forever. It’s a promise ring! Pretty cool right?? <3! Love you! –Al”
Indeed, when he opens the box, he finds a silver ring. On the top, there’s the twisting symbol for infinity. Matthew feels tears welling in his eyes as he slips it onto his finger. Even though it’s a bit corny and Gilbert calls him a hipster, Matthew can’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
Chapter 12: I'll Give You The Sky
When Matthew is 34, he can see the beginnings of crow’s feet next to his eyes. They mostly smooth out when he stops smiling, but he can see them there. Little thin white outlines that aren’t very deep and noticeable yet but are bound to get more obvious over time. Inevitable though it is, he feels a bit sensitive about them.
It’s especially frustrating to him since he does look significantly older than Alfred. To strangers who see them on dates, they see a man in his mid thirties dating a seemingly college-age boy in his twenties. It looks like a relationship with a 14 year age gap, and though people shoot him judgmental glances, it’s nothing compared to how they’d react if they knew Alfred was an android.
Alfred always tells him not to worry about it, but the ire is never directed at him. Matthew notices gradually, and even when people aren’t staring, he still thinks that maybe they’re judging him when he isn’t looking. On top of that, his little sister is getting married later this year, and he feels like he hasn’t gotten his life nearly as together as she does.
Whenever he feels too badly he touches the ring that Alfred gave him years ago, all of those feelings vanish in a haze of happy thoughts. He might be sensitive, but with Alfred so constant, he is easily placated.
Arthur sees Alfred relatively often now, and he’s come to view Alfred as his younger brother. Alfred pops in for tea and a biscuit, and they sit for a while. Sometimes they talk, and sometimes they have a nice companionable silence. It’s a welcome distraction. With Cecilia off and living with her fiancé, he mostly just tends the house now. The work can be tedious comparatively- he misses the days of taking care of a child. Cecilia was his first friend, after all, and sometimes the nostalgia in certain areas of the house makes him yearn to have his little girl back.
Alfred’s company is therefore welcome. Despite how much he grumbles, Arthur rather likes the other android’s company. Sure, Alfred is loud, and he breaks things sometimes, and he can’t read the atmosphere to save his own life. But at his core, he really is a rather good boy, and Arthur is glad for his friendship.
“How are Francis and Alice recently?”
The couple is getting on in their fifties now. They’d had Matthew when they were rather young, so they had never had their own house to themselves without a child in tow (Pregnancy came first, actually, and a hasty marriage came after). So they’ve been enjoying having their house to themselves more than Arthur thought was strictly proper. He's the one that has to put up with all the sounds coming from their bedroom now. And the kitchen. And the living room. And… well suffice it to say, they weren’t picky about location now that the children are all grown up.
“They’re as lively as ever for their age,” he says back.
“Francis is still bringing home dudes huh?” Alfred asks with a grin. He's long since become accustomed to Alice and Francis’s unique take on marriage.
The eye roll and the huffy response of “That’s indecent” speaks volumes about how right Alfred is.
“Well so long as they’re happy.” Alfred is quiet for a moment, staring moodily at his tea.
Arthur knows that the other is sorting through the thoughts that brought him here so early on a Saturday morning.
“I wish…” Alfred starts uncertainly before sighing and plunging through his thought. “Sometimes I wish I could grow old like that with Matthew. I wanna be happy just like they are.”
Arthur nods and sighs. “It’s not as romantic as it sounds- there’s a lot of health problems and creaking joints and so forth that makes being old unpleasant. You’re lucky, Alfred, that you get youth and love both at once.”
“I know,” Alfred says after a moment. “But sometimes Mattie seems so, I dunno, sad. People who don’t know us think that he’s taking advantage of me. ‘Sides, I think it makes him hyper-aware that he’s getting old when he stands next to me.”
“Ahhh, I see. The root of the problem is the judgment and him feeling old by comparison. Well, you can’t control how other people feel, and you can’t make Matthew understand that he’s wonderful despite his age. He has to get there himself.” He shrugs as though it's really that simple, but that doesn't really help Alfred all that much.
“Yeah,” Alfred says. “I thought you might say that. I really like it though. He’s starting to get these little happy marks- ‘round his eyes and mouth. I can just barely make ‘em out when he’s not smiling. Like a ghost of a smile always on his face.”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but his smile is affectionate. The fact that Alfred was still in a delighted “honeymoon phase” even after these years makes Arthur rather happy. “Have you told him that you like them?”
“Nawww, maybe I should though. I mean, the fact that he’s age conscious makes me not wanna bring it up, but I just really like them." He shrugs and hums. "I like to think I'm part of why he has 'em."
Arthur stands and goes to pour himself another cup of tea, hiding his smile. “I suppose that’s true. You could still try.”
Alfred mulls this over for a few moments. “Still, I wish I could grow old with him. He wouldn’t be so aware of aging if he was with a human.”
When he sits back down, Arthur sighs and says, “It’s not your fault. Many people feel that way, and Matthew is no different.” He couldn’t argue against the idea after all- he knows that Alfred’s eternal youth makes it more difficult for Matthew. But he also knows that Alfred shouldn’t blame himself. “It’ll work out. He’s at a weird spot where he doesn’t feel young, but he doesn’t quite feel old either. He’ll settle in, Alfred. Don’t worry over it too much.”
Alfred nods and smiles. “I’ll take good care of him no matter what.”
“Here’s an idea, lad,” Arthur says with a smile. “Take him out on a nice date, something that’ll make him feel like he’s twenty again.”
“Hmmmm… good idea. Something to feel young…” Alfred taps his lips as he thinks this over.
“See? You’ll work things out. Here, have another biscuit.”
When Matthew gets home, the apartment is empty and oddly quiet. It’s been that way the past three weeks. Every weekend, Alfred says he’s busy, and he hurries off to places unknown. Matthew is sure that the other isn’t having an affair, but he is worried if it’s finally happening- Alfred is getting bored with him. He figures it happened even with the most conventional couples, and he supposes it must eventually happen to them as well.
Matthew is never one to take things without a fight. The empty house gives him a new determination- He’s going to seduce his boyfriend. Honestly, he’s never been very good at anything like that. Even when Alfred had been new and fumbling around like a school boy in love for the first time, Matthew had just been lucky that he was easily impressed.
He buys flowers and groceries, unsure when the other was going to be back. He spreads out flowers first, and then he lights candles, lowering the lighting just perfectly. He knew that the best ‘romance’ to use on Alfred was the most clichéd. Even though the other doesn't like admitting it, Alfred rather likes the all out romance of the movies, and he’s definitely seen too many soap operas.
Matthew cooks them dinner, soft music playing in the background. Afterwards he dresses rather sharply and carefully fixes his hair.
Then he waits.
Recently on the weekends, it’s hard to tell when he’ll get back. Sometimes he’s back relatively early, and sometimes he’s gone until 10 or 11. Matthew is dozing on his book when he finally hears the door come open.
“Hey Mattie I’m… oh wow…”
Matthew feels a surge of pride at the hitch of breath in his voice. He’s waiting at the kitchen table for a candlelit dinner. There was a nice trail of flowers leading to him, and he knows Alfred will get the picture.
When Alfred rounds the corner finally, his hair is windblown, and his cheeks are red. Those bright baby blues are shining in the candlelight.
“Did you do this for me, Matthew?”
“I thought I’d surprise you.”
“If you wanted to get laid, all you had to do was ask.” Alfred’s smile is wide, and even though he’s trying to joke, Matthew can tell that he’s ready to swoon.
“C’mere, Alfred,” Matthew says as he rolls his eyes.
Instantly, Alfred is striding across the room to drag him into a hug and a passionate kiss.
If nothing else, Matthew always feels young when Alfred kisses him like that. They stand in the kitchen surrounded by the softly burning candles and make out like teenagers. Not quite what Matthew had in mind for the start of this dinner date, but he certainly isn’t complaining.
When they finally break to breathe, Alfred is grinning. “It’s funny cause I got a surprise for you too. Are you free tomorrow??”
Matthew nods and laughs. “A surprise huh? What sort of surprise?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
“Oh well, that’s no fun.” He sighs as though it’s the worst kind of secret to keep from him. “Well I made us dinner. How about we eat and have a hot bath together? Sound good?”
Alfred arches a brow. “Are we having sex before or after the bath?”
Matthew laughs and swats at him. “Let’s eat first. We’ll worry about the sex later.”
So they sit down to eat, and Alfred plays footsies with him the entire time.
The next morning, Alfred insists that Matthew wear a blindfold on the way to his ‘surprise.’ Matthew indulges him but he doesn't have even the faintest clue what Alfred could be up to. The drive is longer than he expects it to be. He’s even more confused when he starts hearing—
“Shhhh, we’re almost there.”
When they stop, Alfred reaches over to unhook his seatbelt. “You can get out of the car now.”
He’s just closed his door when he feels Alfred’s fingers curl into his. “Follow me,” he says, leading Matthew to their destination.
Matthew hears the sound of voices. Alfred moves around behind him to tug the blindfold free. After the initial sting of the bright sunlight, Matthew finds himself staring at a plane. A group of people stand around it, all getting ready for something- Some of them are pulling on harnesses and parachutes while others are double checking equipment. Matthew isn’t sure what’s going on.
“You still look confused," Alfred says with a grin.
“Yeah, I am, a little.”
“I’m taking you sky-diving!”
Matthew’s initial response is one of instinctual fear. “Sky diving…?” he asks, voice a bit of a squeak.
“Yeah! Originally I wanted to do a jump with you- like tandem style, where you’re hooked to me- but it takes like 3 years of experience and certification and yeah. So I scheduled us a tandem jump with the instructors instead. We’d still be going down at the same time, just hooked to different people.”
Matthew stares at the plane, and he swallows thickly. He reaches over and grabs Alfred’s hand even though he knows his own palms are already starting to sweat. “Is it… is it safe?”
Alfred grins. “Yeah! I’ve done it like 3 times now, tandem way twice and an AFF Level 1 jump once. It’s super safe- well I mean, there’s danger of course, but most parachuting deaths are people going solo trying to do tricks they can’t handle.”
Unease still churns in his gut, and Matthew knows he doesn't look quite convinced. “You enjoyed it…?”
“Yeah! These guys know what they’re doing. I wouldn’t bring you to anything that I thought might be too risky.”
After a moment, Matthew turns fully to look up at him. “Why bring me here at all though?”
Alfred hesitates, but finally he huffs out a breathe and says, “Well, you get so self conscious about your age. Artie said that I should bring you to something that makes you feel young again. I figured, wow parachuting is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and it takes a lot of guts. It’s an adventure and it’s a rush and I thought…” Alfred shrugs. “I thought it would make you realize you’re still awesome and can do amazing things.”
Matthew turns bright red at his words, and he fidgets as he finds a reply. “I’m not that self conscious about my age… am I?”
“You are sometimes. Arthur says you’ll pull out of the self-consciousness once you settle in, but well. I’m bad at waiting, and I want you to be comfy with yourself again.” Alfred’s eyes are amused and he leans forward, kissing the edge of his eye. “I, for one, hope these little happy laugh marks become more noticeable soon. I really like them. Means you've lived a happy life with me~"
Matthew huffs at him and pushes him off, but even though he’s blushing all the way down his neck, he’s also smiling rather widely. “You’re full of it Alfred. I’m plenty young enough to keep up with you.” He looks up at the plane then back at Alfred. “If I jump today, will you be jumping too?”
“Of course. We’ll go down together.” Alfred is grinning back at him now, tugging at his fingers.
Something in that phrase- ‘We’ll go down together’- makes Matthew hopeful and full of a strange sort of dread all at once.
He settles for the hopeful. “We’ll go down together then. Tell me what to do.”
Alfred pulls him in for another kiss. “They’ll give you directions. Let’s head over yeah?”
The time it takes to get to the proper altitude is the most nerve-wracking part. Matthew is nervous and excited and half sick with worry. Then it’s time, and he’s strapped to a man he barely knows. Alfred is strapped in as well, and he gives him a thumbs up. Then they’re waiting for the right moment, and he’s faced with the rush of wind and the sight of land far below his feet. He almost backs out, but he takes a deep breath and signals he’s ready.
For a moment everything is in slow motion as he’s suddenly no longer grounded and finds himself in a free fall. His breath is stolen from him at first, and he adjusts to the wind and the rush. If he’d been scared before, all of that was gone now in the excitement of the moment. Sensory overload is probably the only words for it, and he somehow as though he's floating... but the wind whipping past him told him otherwise. Already he understands how Alfred had done this three times and is still willing to go again.
The experience is exhilarating, mind in a whirl as he tries to take it all in. Suddenly, his instructor has released his parachute, and the free fall has settled into a slower descent down toward the ground. He can see the land unfolding underneath him, has an amazing bird’s eye view of the area. The breath-taking scenery adds to the experience as well, and he is desperately trying to imprint all of it into his memories. Sadly, the falling only lasts a minute or two more before Matthew is touching down on the ground. Alfred and his instructor follow after him a few moments later.
Alfred is grinning as he’s unhooked from his teacher. Matthew is still riding the adrenaline rush.
“That was amazing Alfred!” He grabs his boyfriend and pulls him into a fierce but short kiss. “Holy shit!! We should do stuff like that more often.”
“As long as it’s not base-jumping,” Alfred says, jokingly. “It’s 43 times more likely to be injured base jumping than it is parachuting. I know, I researched everything.”
Matthew laughs and kisses him again. The instructors turn away to give them a bit of privacy, although one is snickering to himself.
“Alright, no base jumping then. We can stick to parachuting.”
That night, when Alfred cuddles into bed with him, Matthew kisses his hair.
“Thanks, for today I mean. That was fun," Matthew murmurs.
Alfred smiles and hugs him closer. “No problem. I want you to feel cool and amazing, Mattie. ‘Cause you are.”
Matthew strokes Alfred’s hair gently, turning to nuzzle his face against Alfred's cheek. “I know I just…” He hesitates. “Cecilia and Feli getting engaged… I’m going to be 35 soon, and I don’t have my own house. I’m still unmarried with no family and I dunno… When I started dating you, Alfred, I took into account that if we stayed together I wouldn’t get to have a typical wedding and family but…” Matthew blushes. “I've always been the white-picket fence type.”
Alfred frowns a little, and he pulls back to look into his eyes. “And instead you ended up with an android in a cramped apartment…”
“No, no, there’s nothing wrong with that but… I’m…” He looks hesitant. “I guess I’m disappointed that we can’t get married. Get a house together and raise kids. You know, long term human stuff.” Silence follows this statement, and Matthew aches a little. He knows how this must make Alfred feel, admitting the restrictions in their relationship, but he'd known- they'd both known- that their life together wouldn't be conventional.
“Why can’t we do that stuff?” Alfred says after a while. “I don’t see why we can’t.”
“It’s illegal, first of all," Matthew replies, tugging at a lock of Alfred's hair. "Humans can’t marry androids. They’d say trying to marry an android is like…like… trying to marry a toaster.”
“Hey!” Alfred says, a look of fake offense on his face as he pushes Matthew's fingers away. “I’m much more attractive than a toaster, I’ll have you know.”
Matthew can’t help but smile at his easy going response. “Alright, alright, a very sexy toaster. But still, y'know, a toaster.”
“That’s better.” Alfred smiles and kisses his forehead. “Does it have to be legal though? We could just have a ceremony and do it all like a regular couple, just without the legal stuff. We could get your picket fence house, and we can get a dog.”
Matthew’s smile spreads across his face slowly. “Are you asking me to marry you, Alfred?”
After a moment of quiet thought, Alfred says, “Of course not, you’re asking me to marry you, obviously. You’re the one that’s always dreamt of being a bride~”
Matthew jumps him, and the serious conversation morphs into the two of them wrestling and tickling each other in the dark. However old he might feel, Matthew will never be too old to for this. He enjoys it too much.
When they’re both breathless, Alfred grins up at Matthew who’s now settled onto his chest.
“If you’re so insistent about this marriage thing, I’ll marry you," Alfred says with a sly teasing smile. Then in a slightly louder voice, he adds snottily, "But I’m keeping my own last name!”
Matthew makes a face at him and pinches his side. “Alfred, you don’t even have a last name.”
Alfred pauses at this, having just been teasing anyways. Still, he wasn’t going to get caught in a failed joke. “Sure I do! It’s… It’s… Jones.”
“Did you just steal Indy’s last name?” Matthew asks, almost incredulous but laughing anyways.
“Maaaybe,” Alfred says with infuriating smugness. “You’re allowed to call me Doctor Jones, if you want to~”
They kiss again, and they do, at least, agree that they should get the house with the picket fence before they get much too distracted for any more serious reflections.
Alfred takes Matthew parachuting a few more times after that, at least until Matthew feels comfortable and has enough skill to go down with his own parachute. Alfred was actually on track to become a sky-diving instructor at this point. He has decided it was something he wanted to do, and Matthew encourages him to stick with it.
It’s only two months after Matthew’s first jump that anything out of the ordinary happens. Even though he’s not as enthusiastic, Matthew still enjoys to go every now and again. After he deploys his parachute and settles in to watch the ground rise up closer, Matthew realizes the landing area is different than normal. Instead of a long stretch of green grass, there’s a wide patch of white.
As he gets closer and closer, he realizes that it’s a sheet staked to the ground with words painted on. It’s a bit too far away to be legible at first, but as he gets closer to the ground he realizes it says “MARRY ME?” in all capitals.
Alfred is grinning like he’s just won the lottery when he lands, and Matthew is teary-eyed before he even reaches the ground.
He says yes.
Chapter 13: Any God Worth Worshiping
This is the first of the major character deaths, dear readers. Prepare your heart for the angst.
Alfred has been awake for 16 years the first time that Matthew takes him to a funeral. Matthew himself is 40 years old, and he is not prepared at all to deal with this death. Alice would’ve been 60 the next year if it hadn’t been for the drunk driver.
The death being a surprise such as it is makes the wound cut that much deeper... at least in Matthew’s opinion. He’s always expected to lose his parents to age or sickness, both things he could’ve prepared his heart for. It would’ve still been painful, but he wouldn’t have to deal with shock on top of it.
No one is in shock worse than Francis though.
After the accident, Alfred and Matthew are the first to arrive at his side. The old man, 61-going-on-62, has already been crying for a while.
“She should’ve went quietly at home,” Francis tells them face in his hands. “She should’ve went after me. She used to joke, you know, when she was irritable or sassy with me, that she would live longer than me. Women usually outlive their husbands, right?”
Matthew rubs his father’s back, tears streaming down his own face as he tries to comfort him. “Sometimes life throws a curve ball, Papa.”
Francis’s eyes have a faraway look to them when he raises his head, and it’s clear he’s not really listening. “It was just a joke, you see, between an old couple, that I could be as taunting and monstrous as I liked, but she’d outlive me,” he pauses to sigh and push grey hair back behind his ears. “My greatest regret in life, I think, will be that she wasn’t right.”
Tears are streaming down his face now, and he can’t speak anymore. Matthew hugs his father close, and they cry together. Seeing his father in so much pain makes his own pain sting even more. Alfred hovers nearby, tears in his own eyes that haven’t quite overflowed yet. Matthew appreciates the attempt to be strong. He also suspects that Alfred is worried about Arthur- over the years that Alfred has been awake, it seems to Matthew that Arthur had come to serve as an adoptive father to Alfred. Whenever Alfred needs guidance and direction or just a kind ear about his android related issues, Arthur is the one that those troubles are brought to.
Arthur is living with Cecilia and her family these days though. She has two children, a little girl and a little boy. They are both young, and Arthur has taken over the job of nanny. They are on their way, and Matthew has no doubt that Alfred would attach himself to Arthur as soon as the other got there.
When they come in with the kids, Feliciano is holding their four year old girl’s hand, and Cecilia is carrying their 2 year old boy. Arthur has driven them, and he hovers behind them looking tired. His eyes are red rimmed, and he’s trying very hard to maintain composure. As expected, Alfred is instantly at Arthur’s side, and as soon as they hug, Matthew hears the tell-tale hitch of breath that means the floodgates have opened. Matthew closes his eyes and cries into his father’s hair.
Later in the afternoon, Francis hugs Alfred and Feliciano and tells them both, quietly, “I’m happy that she got to see her babies get married to such fine men before…before this.”
Matthew has never seen Alfred cry as hard as he did after that, and he hopes he never has to see it again.
The days in the funeral home seem to drag out to Matthew. The family ends up spending most of the next few days staying together at the sprawling country house that Francis will soon live in all alone. Arthur and Alfred end up being the lead force taking care of the whole family. The two of them don’t need sleep the same way, and they quietly go about making sure Cecilia’s children are fed. They also see to it that Matthew, Francis, Cecilia, and Feliciano all get to sleep at decent times.
Matthew can tell it’s a strain on them too though. Matthew wakes up from nightmares more than once to find that Arthur and Alfred are falling asleep as they lean against each other. One late night he wakes up to the sound of tears only to find Arthur is crying himself to sleep in Alfred’s arms.
At the time Matthew thinks that this will be a moment that sticks with him for the rest of his life- and he’s right.
The funeral itself is a quiet solemn affair. The only exception is Cecilia’s children- both Cecilia and Arthur are crying far too often to help with the children as much as they'd like to. Instead, Feliciano and his brother Lovino spend the ceremony trying to keep them quiet and in control- Matthew finds that neither of them are very good at it. The children climb on them and tug at their hair. The younger one blows spit bubbles.
The antics of the children actually serve as a reason to smile for Francis.
“The grandbabies made Alice so happy. She’d be glad to see them so energized,” Francis whispers to Matthew. Sure, the smile is small and brittle, but it’s a smile none the less. Matthew hasn't seen him smile in days.
Until the four year old girl asks her father loudly, “Why is Grams still in the box? She should wake up soon.”
Francis’s brittle smile breaks, and he’s in tears again, this time leaning against Arthur’s shoulder. Feliciano and Lovino take the children from the room after this, and the rest of the ceremony is an unhappy sort of quiet broken only by the hastily choked back crying.
The procession to the cemetery is just as somber, and Alfred holds Matthew’s hand the entire time. In that moment, watching the hearse lead them all to the burial spot, Matthew is too tired for tears.
The difference in Francis after Alice’s death is drastic, especially at first. He stops flirting with men- or anyone to be honest- and he no longer walks tall and proud the way he did before. He has always seemed so young even in his age, so spirited, that now with how he sags and shuffles around like he’d given up… well, the change is evident to everyone.
Arthur, worrying for his health and vitality, respectfully requests to return to his post in Francis’s house. Matthew and Cecilia both agree that this was the best course of action. Neither of them could stand the thought of Francis living alone, even if Arthur is amazing with Cecilia’s kids.
There had been whispers at the funeral, of course, vile sorts of things. All these remarks were from people who had come to Alice’s funeral out of a sense of formality rather than feeling. They gossiped about the two androids sitting with the family and mourning with them, and they judged. It was unseemly that any android give an emotional display period, but at the funeral of a woman rumored to dabble in affairs with robots…
All of those caught disapproving are promptly cut out of the family’s life. Arthur and Alfred are family now, just as much as Feliciano, and Francis wouldn’t hear a bad word spoken against them.
Unless he himself is saying them, but that's another thing entirely.
“I’m going to be like Francis one day,” Alfred says suddenly one afternoon a few weeks later.
Matthew looks up from his work and hums in confusion. Alice and Francis had helped the two of them not only pay for their wedding but also for their home. It's Matthew’s dream home, and they’ve both settled into it happily. Though they never adopted children, they have a golden retriever that they both adore.
“What do you mean, Alfred?” Matthew smiles at him, not all expecting a serious conversation so suddenly. He should’ve- this is how Alfred always tends to do it. He brings up random serious topics out of the blue for discussion whenever he finally works up the courage to talk about it. Matthew really should be used to it by now.
“I’m going to be like Francis,” Alfred repeats. He looks up at Matthew, and the pain in his eyes tugs at Matthew’s heart. “One day you’ll die, and I won’t know what to do. I’ll lose my spark, like Francis lost his.”
Matthew sighs. He’s been tired to the bone these days, and the leg that he’d once broken aches a bit whenever it’s cold. Even though he felt too tired to deal with this now, he wouldn’t let Alfred carry this alone.
“You won’t. Francis has people that love him. He’s in shock now, but he’ll pull through the pain because he loves us. You’ll do the same.” Matthew tries to stay gentle, because he figures this is probably the first time the thought had occurred to Alfred. Matthew, on the other hand, has worried about this for years.
Alfred stares up at him. “But all of you will die, Matthew, all of you. You’re human, and I’ll lose you one by one.”
“You’ll still have Arthur," Matthew insists softly. "He’d never let you be alone, Alfred, you know that.”
Alfred hums thoughtfully at that in agreement. A moment passes, and he says, “Arthur would forgive me.”
Matthew finally stands to make his way over to him, wanting to touch his husband, assure himself. This conversation is going in a strange direction. “Forgive you for what?”
“For turning myself off for good. When you die, I’m deactivating myself.” Alfred doesn’t look up, expression hard.
The words are jolting. Matthew freezes and stares at him, dread and anger clawing at his throat. When his muscles finally work again he grabs Alfred by the shoulders and leans down to stare into his eyes. His voice sounds desperate even to his own ears.
“Don’t, Alfred, don’t you dare! You can’t do that!” Matthew's voice breaks a little on his pleas, shoving away thoughts of a world without Alfred in it.
Alfred reluctantly meets his eyes. “I can’t… I can’t go through all of it without you. I’ll be lost, Matthew. I need your support to make it.” He’s got tears in his eyes, and Matthew is trying so damn hard to be sympathetic.
But all he can hear in his mind is those words over and over, that Alfred was going to shut himself off, and the fear tearing at him overrides anything else.
He scrambles, trying to find a reason that the other shouldn’t do it. Finally he says, “No, no listen, ya know some people think humans are re-incarnated right?”
Alfred’s reaction to his words doesn’t have the desired effect. He still looks forlorn and unresponsive. Matthew shakes him gently, a desperate attempt to force Alfred to focus on him.
“No seriously listen, people think… I think that reincarnation could be real. Listen to me Alfred. When I am reborn, we’ll find each other again, alright? We will. You can’t shut yourself off, because if I come back, you’ll be gone.”
Alfred finally does smile a little, looking up at him with curious eyes. “You really think you’ll be reborn…?” He pauses. “But if you’re reborn, I would be too anyways. Maybe next time I’m reborn, I’ll be a real human! Wouldn’t that be better?”
Matthew’s mind is clouded by desperation and hurt, and perhaps that’s why the next thing tumbles out of his mouth with no regard for Alfred’s feelings. “But Alfred… you’re not human… what if you can’t be reborn? What if you’re just.. gone?”
The change in Alfred is instant. He’s suddenly rigid, and his eyes are wide. His breathing has mostly stopped. “You’re…. you’re saying what if I have no soul? What if when I deactivate it’s the end of me?”
The full implication of his words hit Matthew suddenly in the stomach. “No, no, no, Alfred, no. That’s not what I mean. Just, well, you’re man-made. If God, or well gods, exist, would they treat you the same way as they treat humans??”
The words don’t calm Alfred down. He looks just as stricken as before. “So the gods may hate me?” he asks slowly, his whole demeanor changing as he considers Matthew's words.
Matthew is just digging himself deeper. “I don’t know Alfred, I have no idea. But what if I’m reborn one day, and you’re gone forever Alfred? I can’t deal with even thinking about that happening.”
Alfred looks up finally and makes eye contact. His gaze is tired and stricken, and guilt twists Matthew’s stomach in the most uncomfortable way.
“I won’t… I won’t deactivate, Matthew, if it scares you that much. But… but you have to come back to me, alright??”
Matthew nods, frantic. “I’ll come back. I’ll always come back to you. Just please, please don’t die.”
“Alright… I’d endure anything for you, Matthew.”
Their embrace is sudden and fierce. Matthew clings hard as he can, and he tries to fight back his own sickening self-hatred that he’d let the conversation go that way. He knows he’s hurt the other- and badly- but he can’t take his words back now. Not when he’s just gotten a promise that the other wouldn’t kill himself.
Self-hatred, Matthew could deal with, but the thought of Alfred’s death is unbearable.
When Arthur shows up at his door one afternoon later in the week, Matthew knows why. He isn’t naïve enough to think that Alfred hadn’t told Arthur about what happened, and he knows that Arthur is his major- well, only- android support system. Arthur’s visit is also perfectly timed to be right in the middle of Alfred’s shift at the comic shop, and Matthew expects to be scolded rather harshly.
Civilities come first though.
Arthur worries over him a moment, fussing like he always does. He even makes Matthew tea before he turns to face the subject that they both know is roiling around in their heads.
“How…" Arthur pauses, clears his throat, and starts again, "Matthew, how could you?” His words and voice are uncertain.
Matthew feels suddenly very sure that his words had hurt Arthur as well, when they’d been repeated to him. “I didn’t mean to Arthur, I really didn’t. He scared me, and I said the first thing in my head.” He's almost pleading with Arthur to understand why he just had to say those things.
“Then tell him that! Matthew, you should’ve seen him when he came to me. He looked hopeless and lost, and he thinks he’s… he’s fake somehow," Arthur says, his own hurt showing in his tone. "Christ, he’s never been upset that he was synthetic before- at least not to this degree. You’ve hurt him deeply, Matthew, and you have to fix it.”
Matthew looks into Arthur’s face, and he sees all the righteous anger there. His stomach feels like it’s falling out, but he can’t fix the situation. Not now. “I can’t,” he says quietly, voice breaking, and stares down at his shoes. “I can’t. If I… if I do, he might end up deactivating after I die, and I can’t let that happen. If this is the only way that he’ll hang on after I’m gone then…”
There’s a long uncomfortable pause.
“Do you even believe in reincarnation Matthew?” Arthur is quiet but his voice is hard as diamond. Matthew doesn’t respond for a few moments, and finally he simply shrugs.
This response is not good enough, and Arthur raises his voice, repeating his words louder and more harshly. “Matthew do you even believe in reincarnation?”
Matthew’s control snaps, and he desperately half shouts, “If it means that he’ll be alive and safe, I’ll believe anything.”
“Alive and safe isn’t the same thing as happy! You realize that I’m the one that has to deal with this mess when you’re gone, right?!” Arthur’s expression is so angry, so fierce, that Matthew has to look away again.
Matthew can’t handle the emotion in his eyes. He listens though, as the other continues.
“I’ll have to watch him pine endlessly for you, and if your sudden belief in reincarnation doesn’t bring you back, I’ll have to watch over him forever aching for someone that won’t, can’t, come back to him. Is that what you want??”
“Waiting forever is better than him being dead forever!!” Matthew says just as angrily back. He’s not thinking again, feelings boiling over in the tension of the moment. He continues after a pause for breath, eyes still locked on the ground and tears sliding down his cheeks. “If you loved him as much as I do, you’d agree with me.”
Matthew doesn’t see the slap coming. Arthur’s hand connects with his cheek abruptly- even though it’s no stronger than a human might hit him, it’s startling- the sound of the strike is loud and sharp. Later on, Matthew will realize that Arthur was ‘pulling his punches’ so to speak and that he was working very hard not to hurt Matthew in his anger.
For now though, Matthew can only stare at him in shock.
“Don’t you dare,” Arthur says between clenched teeth, “imply that my unwillingness to lie and let the boy believe he has no soul means I’m the one that doesn’t love him right. Matthew, I can’t make you take back your words, but I will call you out when you’re being a bastard.”
Matthew turns dark red with shame, and he looks down at the floor again. “I know… I know I’m being an bastard. I’m just scared.”
Arthur sighs and comes close, looking over the red mark on his cheek. After a brief inspection, Arthur pulls Matthew down to peck his forehead. “We’re all scared Matthew, of a lot of things. Just, treat Alfred right. He loves you more than anyone... and that means you’re the one that can hurt him the most, if you’re not careful.”
Slowly, Matthew looks up at his face again and nods. “You’re right, of course. I’ll… I’ll do my best Arthur.” He pulls the other into a hug, his hold too tight. “I’m sorry.”
Of course, Arthur accepts his apology. “I understood why you did and said it all,” Arthur says softly as he pulls back. “But I trust you to clean up your mess.”
"I will," Matthew says, hesitating a little before he timidly reaches for Arthur's hand. He gives it a squeeze, fighting back shame. "I'm... I'm sorry I hurt your feelings too, I just..." He takes a trembling breath, and he meets Arthur's eyes. "I know that you both have souls, you're both perfect amazing people. I, um, shouldn't have let my feelings shout over my good sense."
"I know you'd never hurt either of us on purpose, Matthew," Arthur says, and he relaxes a little. "I won't pretend it didn't sting to hear your words repeated, but I do understand with... With all that has been going on." He lifts their joined hands, patting the top of Matthew's knuckles. "I forgive you, lad. And I love you both, you know? Both you boys are family, and I take care of family."
After that the conversation is a bit friendlier, and they lapse into a more natural atmosphere. Although the strain is still there, Matthew finds it more bearable, and he knows the hurt feelings will ease with time. When Arthur leaves, Matthew can’t seem to get any work done and instead takes a nap while he waits for Alfred to get home.
Matthew apologizes to Alfred, and he takes back his words. Over and over, he assures Alfred that he has a soul and that any god worth worshiping would agree that he was plenty human enough to have life after death. Matthew can tell, though, that his words have taken root in Alfred’s head and that he might never really be able to take them back.
It’s a bitter realization, but at the same time, he’s also selfishly happy that Alfred won’t do anything drastic after his death.
Alfred kisses Matthew worshipfully that night and holds him close while he drifts to sleep. For now, this would have to be enough.
Chapter 14: Francis and Arthur's life together : A side story
After Alice is gone, Francis starts keeping the house dark. He closes the blinds and curtains as if trying to block out any and all light. When Arthur tells him that making the house dark doesn’t make him seem sadder, Francis scoffs.
“I’m not blocking out the sunshine, Arthur. I’m tired of seeing the passage of time outside my window.”
Francis isn’t like himself. That spark of humor and flirtation is dulled, and he's surly and perpetually tired. Even cuisine, something he’s always taken an active interest in, holds no spark of interest for him. Arthur starts out ordering the old retired widower the best food he can. Of course, Alice had tried to teach Arthur how to cook, but the attempt hadn’t been very fruitful. All of his culinary skills came from her.
Which is to say he had none.
So he can’t cook for Francis, but he orders only the best. Francis keeps to his drawing room or bedroom most of the time, drinking wine and playing sad music on the piano. It is rare to see him stirring much beyond those two places save occasional visits to the wine cellar. Today Arthur is forcing Francis to eat. He is in a particularly lackluster mood and is quite refusing any attempt at food.
“Well, have it your way, you old fool,” Arthur finally says, after all attempts to coax him to eat have failed. “I’ll feed you like a child.”
Arthur moves to sit in front of him, and he spears a piece of broccoli on his fork. Francis is still staring resolutely out the window, but Arthur will not be ignored. Sighing and rolling his eyes, he presses the vegetable to Francis’s lips. As he waits for the other to give in, Arthur examines his face. His face is wrinkled in such a way that it’s clear Francis lead a happy life- his laugh lines the deepest dips in his face. His skin is pale now from refusal to leave his home, but there’s still color in his cheeks. By now, his hair has gone completely white.
The strain from not eating and not sleeping is apparent though, dark bags beneath his watery blue eyes. He’s getting thinner and thinner.
Arthur intends to put a stop to that.
Finally, after several long moments, Francis finally tires of how undignified having broccoli pressed against his mouth is, and he takes the vegetable into his mouth. A stray tear falls down his cheek as he chews. Arthur is quick to wipe it away.
“I always did hate eating alone,” he muses after he swallows. He waves Arthur’s hand away as he starts to skewer another vegetable, and Francis begins to eat on his own. He is stubborn but he’s known Arthur long enough to realize that the android is much more stubborn than he is.
“You don’t have to. I’ll start taking your meals with you.” Arthur smiles as the other starts to behave, and he pats the old man’s hand. “You’re going to cut back on the wine too, Francis. You’re going to get alcohol poisoning at this rate.”
Francis sniffs and raises up in his chair. “Wine is one of the great pleasures of my life, and I have never let anyone tell me how much I could drink.”
Arthur tries not to smile- he knew that this was a conversation that always stirred Francis up. He knows that’s a terrible thing to do, but even riling him up like this was better than watching the other stare off into the distance.
He scowls the best he can. “Francis, you’re going to drink your cellar dry in a week at this rate, and then what? I’ll not buy you anymore.”
“You’d never be so harsh with me. You’d go buy me more if I asked.” Francis lifts his chin and tries to look imperious, but he knows as well as Arthur does that he could and would cut him off if the problem got worse.
“We’ll start cutting the amount down little by little?”
“No, I shan’t, and you can’t force me.” Francis shakes his head and keeps eating. His brows are knitted together, and he’s pouting.
Arthur scoffs, but he lets him have his say. “You’re a lush. Well, at any rate, I’ll be preparing your meals from now on. It’s too expensive to keep ordering out meals that you barely touch.”
Francis makes a face at him and leans forward, eyes narrowed and suspicious. “Did you ever learn to cook then?”
Arthur looks affronted, a little angry about the insinuation even though this is the exact reaction he wanted. “Of course I did. From Alice, you know that.”
“That’s what I thought.” After a moment of quiet, Francis says, “I’d think I’d rather not eat your food.”
Arthur smiles almost threateningly. “Then perhaps you should get back to the kitchen. It’s been fairly unused these days. You’ll have to, or you’ll be surviving on scones and black pudding.”
After another prolonged silence, Francis turns calculating eyes on him, and Arthur is sure that he’s trying to gauge whether or not this is an empty threat. Seeming to decide the threat is not empty at all, Francis sighs and capitulates. “Back to the kitchen it is, then. How cruel of you, Arthur, having me pick between starving and food poisoning.” There is no venom in Francis’s voice though, just tired resignation.
It’s not a lot, but even this much is progress. After the other eats, Arthur stands and gently brushes out his hair. Even though it's gray now, Francis still wears it long and takes the best care of it he can. Despite his vanity, he’s never dyed it because Alice had always told him the grey made him look distinguished.
Arthur expects that this would be the hairstyle Francis keeps for the rest of his life, and he's glad for it- he agrees with Alice's opinion. It suits him.
They slowly develop their daily routine. Arthur lets Francis shuffle around and do whatever he wants most of the day, but at meal times, Francis has to come prepare food. While he cooks, Arthur will sit off to the side with a novel, as it is a long established rule that neither Arthur nor Alice help cook.
It’s a little pitiful at first- Francis half-heartedly throwing things together. Afterwards, Arthur would take the stern route, berating him for a second class meal.
Of course, he feels a bit guilty, but Francis needs some tough love. Since Alice is no longer there to do the job, Arthur steps in to take the role. It’s for his own good. If the food isn't up to standard, Francis with his sophisticated palate simply rejects it. In turn, he wouldn’t eat much, and Arthur would be left fretting over his health again.
It takes quite a few well-placed barbs before Francis can’t stand it anymore, and his pride finally gets the better of him despite how determined he is to wallow. “As if you could do better you old robot. I’m the best cook that this city has ever seen.”
“Then prove it," Arthur replies as archly as he's able.
Francis rises to the challenge. He makes one of the best meals that he’s ever produced, and he presents it with flourish. Arthur is intensely impressed, but that emotion is overshadowed by how pleased he is that the other is happy. He hasn’t seen this much joy in Francis’s face since his wife had died- save for when his grandchildren visit. The grandchildren are his pride and joy, but whenever they leave, Arthur watches as Francis sags back into indifference.
Today though, looking over all the food he’d made by hand, Francis is positively glowing. With a great air of superiority, he says, “And I got every one of them positively perfect, before you look for reasons to critique them, you big bully. Now,” Francis pauses as he pours himself a glass of wine, “Let’s call Cecilia and Matthew and invite them over for a bite. This good food would be wasted on just the two of us.”
Though he knows that Matthew and Cecilia are busy, Arthur calls them. Once they hear about how high in spirits Francis is over the whole thing, they both hurry over to have a nice family dinner. They’ve all been worried over his low moods and depressive episodes... and to have chance to bring him up, well, they couldn’t say no to that.
Yes, Arthur thinks, my little family certainly does take care of each other.
Two days later, the routine changes.
“You heard me, Arthur. They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m going to try. Teaching you to cook will be my greatest culinary challenge.” Francis is wearing an apron as he says this, and he brandishes a wooden spoon at him. "Up, up, up!"
Arthur sets his book aside and approaches him… but he’s cautious. “I’m plenty young I’ll have you know.”
Francis jabs him in the chest with the wooden spoon. “Young in body, perhaps, but you’re an old soul. Always have been. We both know that.” Francis sets about getting the kitchen ready, and he tosses Arthur an apron. There’s nothing for it but to put it on and let himself be guided.
Even with Francis’s direction, Arthur isn’t very good. He’d had a lot of practice cooking with Alice, and unlearning all that is turning out to be more of a process than either of them expect. They keep trying though. Francis is retired for the most part these days, and anything that can take up so much time in his day is welcome as far as Arthur is concerned.
“You know,” Francis says, after a long afternoon of teaching Arthur how to make crêpes. “If I had to spend the rest of my life with any man, I’m sure that Alice would be glad it was you.”
Arthur blinks up at him and hums in disapproval. “If this is leading into a reason to flirt with me, Francis, you can stop now.” Although their joking tends to be more of the caustic, argumentative variety, Francis has flirted with him teasingly on plenty of occasions, and Arthur always huffily rebuffs him.
Francis shakes his head and makes a face at him. “Of course not. Who’d flirt with you, caterpillar brows? It’s simply that my darling Alice cared about you. She’d be glad that you are the one taking care of me now.”
The warmth of those words smooths Arthur’s ruffled feathers. “I hope she would be happy. She was one of my dearest friends.”
Francis considers him before he closes his eyes as though picturing her in his mind's eye. “You know, she really did love you. She…” He takes a deep breath before he can continue. “Truthfully, she owed you a lot. She thought of you as her best friend.”
The emotion in his voice makes Arthur smile. “I’m… I’m glad. She was always the one most critical of the idea that androids could be sentient.”
There’s a long moment of quiet as they reminisce. Francis finally says, “You stopped her, you know, from saying things she would’ve regretted the rest of her life.” Francis sighs out softly, clearly intending to continue. He fixes his eyes on Arthur's now. “Back when Matthew was waiting to tell us that he was dating Alfred, and you were buttering us up for it, well. I didn’t mind, you know." He waves his wrinkled old hand dismissively. "I’m a romantic- if Alfred and Matthew felt love there, then who am I to say that androids can’t love?”
Arthur knows the other must see confusion in his face when he meets his eyes. “Francis, I’m not sure what you mean... Alice handled all that very well, better than I thought she would in fact.”
Francis turns toward him, giving him a gentle smile. “After you told us, she waited until you were gone to work herself into a fit. She didn’t want to hurt your feelings- that should’ve been her first clue but… She was all riled up thinking she’d taught him wrong because of her relationship with androids…” He trails off, eyes distant for a moment.
Arthur lets him collect his thoughts, very curious about this line of conversation.
“She had affairs with androids because she thought that if they can’t feel emotions she won’t have to get attached. She wasn’t like me: I had affairs because I liked the rush of having a new relationship and a new lover.” He pauses here to lean in and murmur as though it’s a conspiracy. “Only men though, because I told my dear sweet Alice that she was the only woman for me.” His shoulders sag after he says this, like he's just opened an old wound, and the humor is gone. "...Honestly she was the only one for me. I loved those others in their own unique way, but I have loved none the way I love her. Steadfast, unwavering, intense- because she was my first, perhaps?” Here he stops completely, caught in his own memories of her. He looks as though he wants to laugh and cry at once.
Arthur, still curious, reaches over to take a hold of his wrinkled bony fingers. “Why did she have affairs then?”
Francis is called back to earth, and he smiles. “Oh Alice, that silly woman. She wanted soft hands and gentle smiles and someone who wouldn’t ask to call her in the morning. I was her first and only love, she said, and she didn’t want to hurt any feelings. It’s why she mostly pursued android companionship, because there’d be no hard feelings there, she thought.”
“And what does this have to do with Matthew…?” Arthur asks uncertainly.
“Well you see, if Matthew had found an android that loved him back, she had to re-evaluate all those relationships she’d had before right? Had she ever hurt any of them accidentally because she had thought they were emotionless…? Had she broken hearts? Had she treated them without respect because she didn't understand their humanity? It was easier to reject the idea of androids being sentient than to ask herself those questions at first.”
All of this is news to Arthur. It would only make sense that she wouldn’t have shared these things with him, because he’s an android. His heart aches a little anyways that she had never tried to talk to him about this. “How’d her mind get changed then?” Arthur is gripping a bit tightly at Francis’s hand at this point, needing the rest of what Francis could share.
Francis pats the back of his hand in a soothing way.
“Because of you. She cared about you and your feelings. She really truly believed that you had feelings. And when I pointed that out- I said, 'Alice, love, if androids don’t have feelings why’d you care about hurting Arthur??' In that moment, it all came into focus." Francis smiles in an almost devious way for the briefest moment. "She made that face, that little scrunched up face of distaste that perhaps she was losing to me in an argument." He laughs before he becomes serious again. "No, she worried over hurting you Arthur, and she realized that she knew you had feelings to hurt. So she softened her stance on Matthew and Alfred. She… might’ve said some really harsh things to Matthew, if it hadn’t been for your faithful friendship. She never forgave herself for thinking all those things, but she tried to make it up to you and Alfred.”
Arthur smiles even as he wipes the tears threatening to fall. “I would never have held it against her. She has a society backing up those preconceptions. I thought of her as my best friend to, you know, and I'd have forgiven her.”
“I told her that you were too reasonable to hold it against her…” Francis purses his lips. “Ultimately, she didn’t want you to think badly of her if she admitted it. Your opinion was one of the most highly valued to her.”
Arthur takes a deep breath, trying not to let his feelings for his lost friend tip him over into tears. As sweet as the sentiments are, as a general rule, Arthur doesn't like crying in front of humans, least of all the teasing kind like Francis. So he moves around to brush Francis’s hair. “It’s good to hear all of this," he admits quietly. "Why tell me now, after all this time?”
Francis shrugs, settling back in his chair while Arthur strokes the brush through his hair. “I wanted you to know. I wanted to be sure you understood how important you are to our family. You’ve been here through our highest and our lowest, and I’m thankful for it…” His voice drops: even in age, Francis has pride. “I care about you too, you old bushy brows. I wanted you to know.”
After a moment Arthur leans down and places a gentle kiss to the top of his head. His cheeks are blazing red, and he can feel happy tears in his eyes. He’s always wondered about what Francis thought, deep down. Francis never seems to take anything seriously, and Arthur had long been confused about what he really felt about their argumentative relationship. It was good to hear that Francis cares about him in much the same way that Arthur cares about him.
“You’re my family, Francis, always have been.”
Before Arthur can say anything more embarrassing than that, Francis clears his throat. He talks a bit too loud in his attempt to change the subject- just because they cared about each other didn’t mean that this conversation was a normal one for the two of them. They both prefer bickering. They knew where they stood with bickering.
“So! How’d it be if I put you in French again? For old times’ sake you know. We could have some nice chats,” Francis offers, flashing him a grin.
Arthur rolls his eyes and tugs gently at a lock of his hair in response.
“Alright alright. It wouldn’t be as fun without Alice to shout at me anyhow," he admits.
Arthur does give a moment of consideration and says, “I’d prefer to keep my settings as they are, but I can manually switch now, you know. If you ever wanted to have a conversation in French, I wouldn’t mind that.”
There’s a note of hopeful happiness in Francis's voice when he responds, clearly eager to have a partner to speak his native language with. “Really? You would indulge me?”
“I don’t mind too much.” Arthur makes his voice a bit stern for the next bit. “Only every now and again though, you know. English is a much more proper language.”
“If you say so,” Francis says in mock disgust. “But French flows much better and sounds so much sweeter.”
The two begin to bicker after that, finally settling back into something like normal. Their life together gets much happier after that, and Arthur stays with Francis until the day he dies.
Chapter 15: Revolution on the Horizon
As Matthew gets older, they stop holding hands in public. People assume that Matthew is Alfred’s old father when they see them together, or sometimes his uncle or grandfather. Matthew’s once-broken leg gets worse with age, and he’s using a cane to walk with by the time he’s 59. When he was young, he would’ve balked at the idea of needing one, but as an elder, he rather likes it. It makes for a good weapon (mostly for chasing strays from the yard and threatening to paddle his errant niece and nephew. "You might be grown," Matthew would say, "But I'll still swat ya if I have to!" Of course, Matthew never actually does, but they pretend to believe him anyways.)
When they go out, Alfred always takes him by the arm. No one immediately assumes Alfred is an android on first glance, simply seeing a handsome young man helping his elder get around. The couple is still blissfully happy.
They don’t go out on dates so much these days, and they don’t have sex very often either. Matthew doesn’t really have the stamina or the interest anymore. He apologizes to Alfred about it sometimes, but Alfred doesn’t care. When they do make love, Alfred is always impossibly gentle even if afterwards Matthew complains about it. When Alfred says he’s scared that he might break a hip, Matthew snarks back at him, “If you don’t break my hips you aren’t doin’ it hard enough.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that they flirt and hit on each other any less. Age has made Matthew less inhibited. Sometimes when people joke and call him ‘Alfred’s old uncle,’ Matthew laughs and gropes Alfred’s backside, remarking loudly, “Hear that Al, come sit on your old uncle’s lap!” When he can’t reach, he uses his cane to swat him on the bum. That’s perhaps one of his favorite things to do these days. Alfred never fails to get this wide eyed look of shock whenever he does it, gasping as if it’s the most startling thing Matthew could do.
Usually, Matthew feigns surprised as well and swats him with the cane again. Alfred always kisses him afterwards and tells him to behave, and Matthew just laughs at this. With age, his laugh has taken on a sort of crackle- Alfred calls it his “wizard laugh.”
At the same time, age has made Matthew ornery when he doesn’t get his way.
One week, after Matthew tries to have pancakes for dinner for the fourth night in a row, Alfred forces him to have ‘real food’ with a member of each food group on his plate. In retaliation, Matthew makes Alfred sleep on the couch.
That grumpiness is coming in handy today though.
Matthew is working out his will for what he thinks might be the last time. Cecilia and Arthur have come to witness, and Alfred sits to his right. The family lawyer is, once again, trying to convince Matthew that leaving his house to Alfred is a bad idea. “Matthew, be sensible. You see how bad the human-android tension is out there. They’d never let him keep it once they know what he is.”
The response is a ‘harumph,’ and a slam of the cane against the ground.
“If there are ladies out there that can will estates to cats, by God, I can will my own damn house to my own damn husband.”
Alfred smiles- he thinks it’s cute when Matthew is all worked up. Dutifully, he stays quiet and reaches over to hold Matthew’s hand.
Their family lawyer is frustrated, because they've been over this so many times. “Yes, but cats aren’t a hot button political topic these days either, and legally, he isn’t considered your husband. He’s considered property. Look, I know that it’s terribly unfair- that this house is most definitely Alfred’s as well as yours- but you have to be reasonable. No one in this quiet suburb is going to live alongside an android that both thinks he’s sentient and owns his own property.”
“Then get him papers,” Matthew says, sitting back and patting Alfred’s hand. “That’s actually why I asked Celia to bring Arthur. It’s getting dangerous out there, and I want them both to have papers. Human identification.”
Cecilia smiles, but both Alfred and Arthur look surprised... albeit not as surprised as the lawyer does.
“That’s… that’s illegal! You both know that!”
Here Cecilia breaks into the conversation. She is a stern tactician- she is in her forties now with two grown children and a company that is thriving despite political turmoil. Her hard smile has ensured that she gets her way more often than not. “We know plenty about the things of questionable legality you’ve gotten up to in the past, dear. I’ve let it go before, because all-in-all you helped some people that really deserved it. Now you’ll help us the same way.”
Their lawyer sighs softly and slumps. “But I have been helping you. I’ve been teaching old Arthur there how to be a proper lawyer for years and years now. I think that’s quite a bit of help.” He isn't actually against doing this for them, so it's easy to wear him down.
Arthur sits up a bit straighter, and Matthew can’t help but feel pleased at how proud he looks. Really, Arthur is an intelligent man, and he’d be a great lawyer if he were allowed to be. Problem is, even before the tensions between androids and humans had gotten so bad, androids weren’t allowed into law. It is the way of things now, but they have hope that with Arthur’s long life he’d eventually be able to get any career that he wants.
Finally the lawyer sighs, and he drops all pretense. “Well, frankly, I think the best idea is to get out of the suburb first. I think that Matthew and Alfred would be safer if they came and lived in the old family house with you and Arthur and Feliciano.”
Matthew starts to interrupt but doesn’t quite manage.
“I know that Francis left it to her and her family since he got you set up in your dream house, Matthew, but it’ll be safer for all of you," the man insists. "Android support groups are getting more vocal and the radicals on both sides are starting to get violent. Here in the middle of this suburb, well, everyone knows Alfred is an android. They also know that he’s living here as an equal. If you go and stay in the big house together, it’s a bit more secluded and a bit harder to, erm, infiltrate if it comes to that. Not a lot of nosy neighbors either.”
There’s a long moment of silence for Matthew to process what he's suggesting.
“What about my house?” Matthew asks in a defeated tone, looking impossibly tired.
“It’ll still belong to you. We could will it to Cecilia, and she could turn over ownership to Alfred after. No one can argue with a woman still living but they can talk over a man who’s dead. They’d say you weren’t right in the head and sell this place off.”
Matthew’s shoulders droop, and he grips Alfred's hand. “Can’t I will it to him and put Cecilia as a second just in case they don’t let him have it? I want to leave it to him in my own words.” He’s frustrated and too tired to do much else about it. This is something that meant a lot to him- Alfred cares too, but he's a little less fervent. As far as Alfred is concerned, the old house wouldn't be much of anything without Matthew, but he definitely wants to keep it. Matthew wishes there was some way to ensure that it could be Alfred's for good.
Cecilia looks more angry than frustrated. She knows it’s only right to give the house to Alfred, and she knows that, unless something changes, she’ll be in the same position with Arthur. She has no intention to leave either of them without support when her and Matthew are gone.
The lawyer finally sighs and nods. “I’ll see what I can do. But if you want me to get you some fake papers drawn up, you’re going to have to move in with them. These people around you Matthew… papers aren’t going to fool them. They’ve lived here too long for that.”
A heavy silence before, Matthew asks in a voice small, “Is that alright with you Celia, if we move in?”
Alfred looks as crestfallen as Matthew feels- this was their house and their picket fence and their charmed life. This is the house they’d spent most of their life together: where they buried their dog, where they’d spent their wedding night, where they spent most of their nights curled up together. They’d whispered their love to each other in the dark here so many times and had sweet memories in every room. Matthew is sad that he has to let that all go so late in his life. Grumpy as he is over it, he can't argue that the best thing for Alfred would be to leave this neighborhood where everyone knows him.
“Of course, you’re always welcome at my house- our house,” Cecilia answers. “Heaven knows, Feli and I don’t take up that much space, and Arthur takes up even less. We’d love to have you.”
Matthew nods and creaks to his feet. “Well then, it’s settled. Let’s get this stuff sorted out and get to moving or whatever happens now. Just get those papers.”
Alfred’s hands are at his elbow, and he kisses his cheek. “Are you sure, Mattie? This is your dream house and all, and I’d hate to see you leave it over me.”
Matthew looks up at him- his back didn’t quite straighten out all the way anymore and he always looks up at him now. Matthew sees uncertainty in his eyes-- which is fair because Matthew had told Alfred that he wanted to die in his perfect house with the man of his dreams at his side. But just as Alfred always says, the house wouldn't be much without the man he loves in it."
“If you’re worried I won’t live out the rest of my days happy,” Matthew murmurs back. “You’re worrying over nothing. It’s just a house and it’d mean nothing without you in it with me. Besides, when this whole revolution thing rolls over, we can move back here!”
Alfred relaxes at his words and leans down to peck his cheek. “As long as you’re sure. I’ll go pack for you, yeah? And then we’ll start getting moved in with Cecilia.”
While they pack, the news comes on with more reports of androids rising against their overseers in mines and factories. This is followed by reports of how many androids were ‘decommissioned’ and how many ‘managed to go rogue.’
Matthew turns the television off, but Alfred is already upset.
At least, all tracking equipment has already been removed from Alfred and Arthur before the tension had reached this frenzy...
“If you’re worried about people being curious around here,” Cecilia says, “don’t. We don’t keep company at the house anymore and we’ve got no close neighbors. Alfred and Arthur will be safe from any angry humans.”
Matthew hums softly and leans against Alfred as the other helps him up the stairs. “I’m not worried Celia. I know you keep a tight ship. The worst rumor that goes around about this house, I hear, is who wears the pants in your marriage.”
Cecilia blushes at this. “Did Feliciano tell you that I wear the pants??”
Feliciano appears at the top of the stairs and with a laugh and a wink. “Don’t be silly, cuore mio. I know who wears the pants.” Cecilia starts to swat at him when she reaches him, but he catches her fingers. “I do, of course, because you prefer skirts.”
After this declaration, Feliciano dips into a bow and kisses her knuckles. Cecilia blushes like a schoolgirl. Matthew gives a little cackle and leans against Alfred’s side at the top of stairs.
“I’m so glad she kept that one. He’s a charmer.”
Feliciano winks at Matthew in response, but he’s busy with his wife now, dragging her off toward the kitchen with talks of the wonderful dessert he’s made her.
When they’re out of sight, Alfred looks down at Matthew. “Are you sure you don’t want a downstairs room. It’ll be easier for you.”
“Oh, don’t you start this again! I can walk down the damn stairs.” There’s no venom in his words, just a mild irritation. He punctuates it with a long-suffering, huffy expression-- one of Alfred's professed favorite expressions.
Alfred arches a brow. “Is that so huh?” He moves, gently lifting Matthew into his arms bridal style. “Well, I walked you over the threshold to our house and our bedroom. I should walk you over this one too, yeah?” His eyes are sparkling teasingly- he knows that Matthew objects to be carried about.
This time though, Matthew makes an exception. He leans his head against Alfred’s shoulder. “That’d be wonderful, Al. Let’s do that.”
When tension becomes revolution, the family lays low. Matthew and Cecilia both agree that they should do something to help those fighting alongside the androids who are taking part in this social revolution. While Alfred and Arthur agree as well, they are hesitant to allow it. They don’t want to see their human family get hurt, and so for a bit, the family is at a standstill-- humans trying to figure out how to help and androids wanting to protect their fragile human family from the violence.
The whole family is therefore surprised when Feliciano ends up being the one that finally gets them involved. Even Cecilia is surprised- Feli has never been very interested in the politics and often actively avoids getting involved in talks about it. He is actually pretty frightened of the whole revolution going on around them that was tearing their city apart.
But he also has a friend that he cares rather a lot about. When he brings Ludwig in, Feliciano is a little shamefaced. “I know I should’ve asked first,” he says as a preamble then he barrels on immediately into explanation, “But he was hurt and he needed a place to hide and I thought, well we’ve already got other androids here—.”
Cecilia cuts him off as she drags Ludwig in to help patch him up. “Don’t apologize, Feli dear. He’s your friend and we’ll keep him safe.”
Matthew makes conversation with Ludwig while Cecilia fusses over him. “So how do you know Feliciano, huh?”
Ludwig is a well built android with large muscles and a shy sort of way about him. He is also very clearly involved in the revolution, and Matthew decides rather instantly that he likes the man.
“I helped build his house when he was only a little boy," Ludwig murmurs quietly. "I belonged to an architectural company. Hence," he pats his bicep, 'how muscled I am. I was made for heavy lifting. Feli..." imposing and intimidating as he is, Ludwig actually blushes a little at the admittance, "He was my first friend.”
Around this part of the story, Feliciano moves over to start fixing Ludwig’s flyaway hair into a swept back style. He chimes in delightedly, “Yeah! He was my big strong friend! I got picked on a little for being a crybaby when I was young, but Ludwig would listen to me when I was upset. He always made me feel better, and I guess, my family was pretty impressed with Ludwig. They bought him so he could work at our vineyards.”
“Spoiled rich boy,” Matthew says with affection in his voice. He admires how pink Ludwig is from being fussed over by Cecilia and Feliciano at once.
In fact, Ludwig looks a bit like a put-upon... like a dog made to wear a sweater. He doesn't protest, but he does let out a soft sigh. “I liked working for his family, but they started getting rid of androids when the political climate went sour. Feliciano helped me get out of resale or decommissioning, and he set me up living like a human for the past 2 years.”
Feliciano laughs at this. “He says that like I did something, but I didn’t really. I was just there playing a go between- like a human representative of sorts. Ludwig did all the important bits.”
Matthew arches a brow. “Is that true, Ludwig??”
Ludwig gives a shrug and a smile. “I was going to let Feliciano have the heroic spotlight, but he spoiled it somewhat, didn’t he?”
After Ludwig is patched up, he ends up staying with them, and their home becomes a central hub for androids and android supporters.
This is how Matthew and Alfred become involved in the android revolution.
Alfred and Arthur are lucky to have fake papers when the revolution is tending towards all out war. Arthur ends up working as a courier for the android sympathizers, and Alfred looks young enough that he dons a variety of take out outfits and delivers items from here to there. Sometimes he delivers information too- though not as often as Arthur. When he does though, he goes with Matthew on his arm.
They find it's an incredibly good disguise- a young man helping his grandfather get around. For the first three years, the city is held at a standstill. Skirmishes and fights break out almost daily, and people and androids turning up dead becomes a relatively common occurrence. The government and the corporations try desperately to contain the revolution, but when half of the people fighting are actually androids, normal tactics don’t work. Starving them doesn't work, and neither does trying to run them ragged or wait until they're out of money to live on.
All that they could do was struggle against the insurgence. The effort is ultimately wasted. At the end of the third year, revolution becomes war, and the country is plunged into battle.
Fighting is concentrated in the cities, of course, and they wrestle for control of governmental power. It becomes more dangerous for everyone then, with bombs dropping and assault rifles going off in now abandoned suburbs. People flee the cities in hordes if they can– and want to, of course.
Matthew stays with the androids as do Cecilia and Feliciano.
Matthew is arguing with Cecilia again.
“Matthew you’re 63. You need to get out of the city! Alfred will go with you. You’re much too old to—.”
“Don’t you go telling me what I’m too old to do, Celia, I’ve been alright so far and I’ll continue to be alright until I die. Which may,” he says, voice getting louder to talk over her as she opens her mouth to interject. “Be rather soon, war or no war. We’ve both been ignoring I’m sick- no use for it anyways. Care I need may not even work, and hospitals are filled with people with war injuries. Leave me be, Celia!”
Cecilia looks like she’s going to cry- Matthew doesn’t feel guilty for bringing up his sickness even in this situation. It is a simple truth to him, and he has accepted it. They had found out several months prior when he’d been chronically tired. That, he could've ignored, but he was also having more aches than usual, was always unable to eat much, and was losing rather a lot of weight.
Matthew has decided has come to terms that he's going to die soon anyways, and if that's the case, he might as well go as a revolutionary fighting for something he believes in. The idea of being in a hospital during such important times doesn't sit well with him--not to mention that Alfred wouldn’t be able to go there as an android and that was unacceptable.
Alfred is at Cecilia’s side now, trying to calm her down and break the fight up. Matthew has had this fight with Alfred before as well- but only once. At the end of it, Alfred had slumped his shoulders and said in defeat, “I only want you to be happy.” Matthew knows, though, what he meant was “I’ll put your happiness before mine because I’m definitely not happy with this setup.”
Still, it's Matthew’s decision, and no one would change his mind on the subject. He is in his 60s, and he doesn’t like the idea of spending his days in a hospital fighting a disease that will eventually take him regardless. It seems especially useless now that quality care is hard to get, and skilled doctors are all up to their ears with work. He’d rather be at home with his family (and the fellow revolutionaries) than anywhere else.
Cecilia finally begins to cry, unable to hold herself back, and Matthew takes his little sister into his arms and kisses her hair. He has always enjoyed ‘babying’ her, and he feels a warm sort of nostalgia doing it now. She is too old for too much coddling, really, but he figures that you never actually grow out of needing some babying from your older sibling.
Though he enjoys it, it comes with some measure of bitterness- that’s the way of things though. He wonders if this will be the last time babying his sister and holding her this way, and when there are thoughts like that constantly lurking in the shadows of the mind, it is hard to keep from being just a little bitter. He tries to enjoy it the best he can, burying his face in his sister's hair.
Matthew walks with Alfred through the quiet streets. People still shuffle from place to place getting groceries, buying supplies, and going about their work routine. The sad reality is that many of the civilians still left in the city are people without the money or position to get out. It’s tense: all eyes darting around for danger and ears pricked as they make their way through the streets.
As for Matthew himself though, he’s calm, and at Alfred’s side, it’s almost like a memory of long ago days. Taking walks with Alfred has always been one of his favorite things, and despite the hell that the city has gone to, he still enjoys it. He leans his head against Alfred’s arm as they go slowly along.
“Matthew,” Alfred says, voice soft and kind. “You look tired. Are you sure you don’t want to sit this one out?? Rest is good for you.”
It takes Matthew a moment to answer because all he can think about is how lovely Alfred looks today with his hair all neat and his eyes as bright as always.
“No,” he says back. “It’s a nice day out, Al. Now, give your old grandpa a kiss and be a good boy.”
The smile that Alfred gives him in response is a wry one, but he still leans down and kisses Matthew’s cheek. Matthew feels Alfred mouth the words ‘I love you’ against his skin before he pulls back.
They keep walking.
It’ll be a decision that Alfred regrets.
They’re out later than they intend- the subway that they intend to catch home had been shut down because of an explosive earlier in the evening. They’re forced to walk- getting a taxi these days is incredibly expensive. There’s a curfew now, though, for anyone who doesn’t want to risk getting into trouble with soldiers. Both sides of the war jealously guard their territory at night lest their opponent come to pick a fight. Innocent civilians die at the hands of both sides purely by the simple accident of being in the wrong place once it's too dark to see clearly.
Alfred is hurrying Matthew along the darkened streets. Usually Matthew was relatively calm about these things, but tonight even he’s on edge. He has a very strong suspicion that they are in a place that's always abandoned this time of night and that it's deserted for a reason.
The sound is sharp in the darkness, but the terror of the noise is nothing like the searing pain that Matthew feels in his shoulder as the bullet hits. He crumples to the ground. There is shouting, men wanting names and reasons for being there and on and on.
All Matthew can focus on, though, is Alfred who is instantly at his side with a steady stream of ‘no no no’ coming from his lips. Matthew can’t quite manage a smile, but he grimaces in a way that he hopes looks at least a bit amused.
“Just my shoulder, Al, just a lot of blood, ‘m okay.”
When the two soldiers who must surely be responsible run over, Matthew sees that at the other end of the gun that shot him is a boy who is barely old enough to be called a man. His face is pale and tense, and his expression gets worse when he finally gets a good look at the scene.
Alfred is trying to stay calm, though rage clear on his face as the other men come over.
“You shot him! He’s just an old man and you fuckers shot him.”
They argue, these two young boys and Alfred. They stutter and apologize, and it’s clear to Matthew that they’re just kids, scared of the dark. He can’t really focus very easily on the words being said though. His vision is swimming, and the pain is extreme- he’s pretty positive that his collar bone is shattered. All he can seem to manage is to press his scarf as tightly to the wound as he can to try and lessen the flow of blood.
It’s difficult because he’s old and his thin bony fingers shake even at the best of times. His grip isn’t very helpful.
Neither of the two soldiers seems old enough to handle the idea that they’d just shot an old man that needed a cane and chaperon to get around. The two of them are too horrified to even detain them for questioning, and they let Matthew and Alfred hurry on to get help.
Alfred picks him up as gently as he can, and Matthew can see the rage and anguish in his eyes for just a moment before he steps out of the light the soldiers had brought to the scene.
Matthew can tell he’s tensed as though he’s going to run him home, but Matthew cautions in a whisper, voice choked with pain, “Walk until they can’t see you. Otherwise they’ll know…”
Just because he’d been shot doesn’t mean they should stop being careful. Judging by their uniforms, those boys aren’t android sympathizers, and Matthew doesn’t want the situation to get any worse than it already is.
It only takes a few more minutes for him to pass out from blood loss and the pain- which is intensified by the jostling as Alfred hurries them home.
Arthur is the first to see them when they finally get back. Alfred has gone stone faced by then, knowing that it’s what needed to be done to get Matthew home and in the hands of the few field doctors they had for tending the wounded. They had three doctors there, all soldiers as well, all fighters. They tend to wounds in synthetic tissues as well as the do with human, and they are good at what they do.
When Alfred comes in, he makes for a rather ghoulish sight. Blood has stained his shirt, and Matthew looks thinner and paler than Arthur has ever seen him. There is a general uproar of noise as people trip over themselves trying to help. For a moment, Alfred looks a bit overwhelmed, but his stony expression gets harder. It frightens Arthur just a bit, but he realizes that Alfred is scared.
Over the noise, Alfred shouts in the fiercest voice he has, “I’m bringing him to the infirmary. Arthur get Celia and the doctor. Everyone out of my way now.”
The hush that follow his voice is almost palpable. The crowd parts for him and he carries Matthew to one of the sitting rooms- all of them had been converted to a sort of medical bay where repairs and emergency medical help went on, as many beds as possible all crammed as close together.
Arthur tears his eyes away from Alfred’s back and goes to send the doctor in that direction before searching for Cecilia.
When he comes back with Cecilia- she’s almost as stone-faced as Alfred-, he finds that the doctor is already hard at work getting the bullet out.
“He’ll need a blood transfusion.”
“Do we have any of his type???”
Cecilia sees the opportunity to make herself useful and goes to find out. Alfred, now that he has done as much as he can, is standing back and watching everything. He seems to know that trying to help will just end up with him in the way.
Arthur also knows there’s nothing he can do for Matthew at the moment, but he can help Alfred. He goes to Alfred’s side and studies his expression. Alfred’s face is still just as ashen and stony as before, tight and tense, and Arthur knows there are no words to help him right now. Instead he reaches out and gently takes his hand- Alfred lets out a low breath and relaxes just a fraction. It’s nostalgic, holding Alfred’s hand like this as they worry over Matthew. They both stand and watch as the doctors work on him.
Arthur wants to drag him out of the room, but he knows that Alfred would object. He worries though- androids have almost perfect memory, and he knows that Alfred is currently burning this one into his mind.
When Matthew wakes up, it’s almost 4 in the morning. He’s weak, and his mouth is dry. He turns his head to find he’s in his own room, Cecilia and Feli sleeping in a chair nearby. Alfred is at his side, gripping his hand.
“Mattie?” Alfred asks quietly, and Matthew looks up at him and smiles.
Alfred kisses his lips gently, so gently, as though he’s made of paper. Right now, he certainly feels as though he’s made of paper. He gives a quiet coughing old laugh.
“I’m dying aren’t I?” he says after a moment. “I wonder if this is what it feels like…?”
“No,” Alfred says, but the sound is choked. He’s fighting not to cry. “No, no they said, they said you could pull through, that you lost a lot of blood, but if you can pull through the night…it’s almost morning Mattie, almost there…!”
There’s desperation in his voice that breaks Matthew’s heart. Matthew feels rather certain that he’ll be breaking Alfred’s very soon- there are some things that people can feel in their bones, and Matthew is sure of how this night is bound to end.
Matthew is incredibly weak, but with some effort and Al’s help, he lifts Alfred’s hand to rest it against his old wrinkled cheek. He doesn’t have much energy, but he wants to feel those soft warm fingers that have caressed his face a thousand times before against his skin.
“You’re perfect,” Matthew says softly. “And I’ve always loved you, and I’ll love you after I die.” He stops here to smile in a wistful way. “At least I’m not losing to this disease. I didn’t want to die like that.”
Alfred is crying now, and Matthew thinks he should feel bad for it. He’s so tired though- he can’t really feel much of anything at the moment. He just frowns gently at him. “Let me see your smile, please, Alfred. I’ve always loved your smile.”
“It’s never been as nice as yours,” Alfred says as he does manage a small smile. “Your smile will be even nicer in the morning, huh? When you brag to the others about how you showed those soldiers how tough you are, yeah?”
There’s a note of hope in Alfred’s voice- Alfred has always been so incredibly hopeful. It makes Matthew’s tired old heart feel warm.
“What a good laugh we’ll have,” he says softly ,just to please him, but his vision is starting to get blurry. It’s hard to keep his eyes open. He has something he needs to say before he loses consciousness again. “I’ll come back to you, even if I have to fight gods to get sent back down here again.”
Alfred presses another kiss to his forehead, and Matthew vaguely registers the feeling of tears on his skin. “I’ll wait forever, Mattie. I love you alright, I love you more than anybody has ever loved another person.”
Matthew gives a small smile at how fierce his conviction is, and he turns his face to gently kiss Alfred’s knuckles. The feel of his knuckles on his lips is the last thing that Matthew is aware of before his mind goes blank.
By the time Arthur returns, Matthew is already gone. He has a pitcher of water in his hands-- he had taken a break from the sick room to check in on the other revolutionaries and retrieve more water just in case Matthew woke up. When he enters the room, he knows it’s over though, and Cecilia and Feli are woken by the sound of him dropping the water pitcher and shattering it on the hardwood floor.
There is suddenly noise and upset, shouting for the doctors, but before Matthew is moved Arthur can see that his lips are against Alfred’s fingers. Alfred hasn’t moved even the slightest since he’d re-entered the room.
Even after Alfred is hurried aside as the doctors try to revive Matthew, the android stays stone still in the corner and stands a self appointed vigil over Matthew’s room. He shakes with silent tears, and Arthur doesn’t know what to do. In the end, Alfred is inconsolable, and he is dragged along with Cecilia and Feliciano to make arrangements on what should be done now.
Art by the indomitable spacedrunk
Chapter 17: Brotherhood
There isn’t much of an option for burial during the war, and most funerals are quiet, small affairs. Few people have the money anymore for proper ceremonies. All of Cecilia’s money is currently tied up in the revolution. In the end, they have the ceremony at home, but it isn’t small- androids and human revolutionaries alike crowd around the coffin to pay their respects.
They bury Matthew on the grounds of the house, in the back corner of the yard near the start of the woods. Several of the androids who had rather taken a liking to the slightly grumpy but good-natured old Matthew had offered to use their technical skills to fashion him a headstone. Stone is probably inaccurate to describe the gleaming metal creation they’d come up with. It would rust, they admitted, but until they could get their hands on enough stone to make a proper one, well, it seemed rather appropriate to use something fashioned of metal.
For now, it would do well.
At the ceremony itself, Alfred is stone faced. He holds Cecilia while she weeps, but he remains resolute and stiff much of the time. The only exception is when they close the casket for the final time before lowering it into the earth. He does cry then, a quiet, almost self loathing sort of sobbing. Arthur holds him while Cecilia rubs his back.
After a long session of tears, Alfred pulls away, wipes his face, and sets his feature back into a mask of stony seriousness.
On the one hand, the incident makes Alfred more careful- he takes his job more seriously, and he toes the line closely. In the months after Matthew’s death, he becomes one of the most dedicated operatives working in Ludwig’s group. If a job needs doing, calling in Alfred is a sure fire way of getting it done.
It worries Arthur at first- he thinks this new dedication will lead to recklessness. It doesn’t though. Alfred always has a Plan B now to get to safety with his crew, and he is extremely careful not to get into more danger than he has to. Still, Arthur can tell that Alfred is throwing himself headlong into work to distract himself from Matthew’s death.
It takes Arthur a while to get him to finally open up about it.
Alfred has just returned from a mission. He comes back with his whole team intact, and though some are injured, no one is in mortal peril. Arthur finds him in Matthew’s old room, reading an old book- one of Matthew’s favorites. It is clear to Arthur that Alfred takes no pleasure in war. Neither of them do. The fight is one of necessity, and they both are doing their best under the circumstances.
“Alfred,” Arthur says softly to warn him of his entry. “We need to talk.”
The reaction is slow. Alfred has no desire to talk, hasn't since Matthew passed. Arthur is worried most about that. In his mind’s eye, he imagines a future in which Alfred has slowly numbed himself to the world until he is no more than an emotionless robot like those androids destroyed first when war broke out. (Those androids had went like lambs to the slaughter, because they had no instinct of self-preservation and had no reason to question being deactivated.)
The image of Alfred’s eyes losing their light and his face forever frozen in his newfound expression of stern seriousness- well, it scares Arthur. Alfred is the only one in his family that has the life span necessary to stay with him, and Arthur refuses to let him go so easily.
“About what, Arthur?”
Arthur sighs and makes his way across the room to sit next to him. “About Matthew, about what happened, about how… how numb you’ve gotten.” Arthur knows going straight to the point is the best option right now.
“Yeah? What about it?” He looks up at him finally, eyes weary. “He’s gone and it was my carelessness that did it. We had this conversation months ago. Why again now?”
“Alfred, it’s never been your fault!” he says back, the first bit of anger seeping into his tone. “We’ve all told you that a hundred times.”
Alfred smiles at him, but the expression doesn’t touch his eyes. “Yes, I know you have. But he would be alive if I just told him to turn back that day.”
“No, you can’t think that way. Even if… even if he hadn’t died that day Alfred, he was sick, and he was getting worse. You couldn’t have protected him forever.”
Instead of speaking, Alfred just shrugs his shoulders. Arthur starts to shout, getting angrier and angrier at his indifference and his determination to ignore the problem. “You’re not dealing with his death. You’re ignoring that it happened and you’re shutting everyone out. I barely ever see you, and Cecilia and Feli said they don’t see you at all. We’re worried! We don’t want to see you run yourself into the ground.”
The shouting gets Alfred’s attention, and he's roused to emotion by it. “I am dealing! I’m getting things done!” Alfred looks just as upset, and he shouts back. Anger and desperation are thick in his tone. “I’m sorry I don’t see you guys, but what I do is important! I have to do this okay?! When Matthew comes back, I want the world to be a better place for us!”
At his words, Arthur freezes. “When he comes back…?”
Alfred’s cheeks color at the expression on Arthur’s face. “Yes.” For a momen,t he looks utterly tragic. When he speaks, it sounds like an entreaty- as if he just wants Arthur to believe him. “He said he’d fight the gods to come back, if he had to, and I believe in him. I have to believe him. I just have to make the world better before he gets back.”
Realization dawns in Arthur’s mind now, why the other has been both more careful than before and more dedicated to his work. Of course that’s why. His heart aches, but he’s always been the more realistic of the two. He knows that if Alfred doesn’t change something, he’s going to let himself get numb and isolate himself.
“Alfred…You…you know that reincarnation might not even be real right…? I’m…” He tries to be calm now, like he's talking to a volatile and skittish animal. His voice is soft, and he chooses his words carefully. “I’m not even sure Matthew believed in it.”
Alfred looks down at his fingers for a long moment before he looks back up. “I’m not dumb, you know,” he starts. “I know when Matthew told me that the first time that he didn’t believe in it. But…but…” Here he can’t go on, tears in his eyes.
“But what Alfred?” Arthur cups his face, brushing tears from his cheeks as they fall.
“He didn’t believe that androids could be sentient until he met me, and knowing me made him see the truth.” He leans his face into Arthur’s gentle fingers. “I just think maybe this is the same. He didn’t believe in reincarnation until he realized he had someone he’d do anything to come back to.” Before Arthur can interject that the world doesn’t run on belief, Alfred smiles and presses a hand to his mouth. “I’d rather live believing that than face a reality where he’s gone forever. Maybe someday I’ll be strong enough to face that kind of reality, but for now… just let me believe in Matthew.”
Arthur sighs, and he thinks this over as he watches Alfred’s face. Finally, he nods. “If that’s what you want to think, what you believe...” he concedes. “But I imagine if Matthew did come back now, how much would he scold you for distancing yourself from your family?”
The thought clearly hadn’t occurred to him before. “Oh… well, I dunno…”
“Exactly. Make a deal with me: You’ll make sure you devote time away from your ‘good work’ to spend time with your family. It’s war, and I don’t want you to regret not spending more time with us, alright?”
Alfred nods slowly. “I’ll… yes. Yes, okay. I’ll start scheduling it in then.”
They embrace afterwards, and Alfred hugs him tighter than he has in a while. As always, Alfred keeps his promises, and he does start making time for his family. Slowly, very slowly, bit by bit, he starts to get back some of his spirit and his fire. It takes a while though, and the war stretches on. Years pass like this, living in a dangerous dystopian city, but they are all alive. They have all found their own sort of happiness with the world.
For now, Arthur’s family is as safe as they can be, and he’d have to be satisfied with that.
Six years of war devastates the city, but the androids are winning. In a last ditch effort to regain control, the first major bombings start. Oh, the android resistance has been bombed before, and they have done a fair bit of bombing as well. This is different. They’re pulling out weapons that can level a city block and leave no survivors.
This is where Arthur draws the line.
“You know it’s true Cecilia, we have to leave. I will not have you and Feli in the city when the next one drops, and I’m sure that the next one is coming soon.”
Cecilia has resisted all effort to uproot them from their home up until this point, but he can tell she’s worried now too. Most major cities are being bombed now, including theirs, and fleeing to the countryside is quickly becoming the only option to stay safe.
“Listen, you have done so much for these people and this mission but there’s nothing more for you to do. You’re human, Cecilia, and you have children. They are adults now, sure, but they don’t need to have their mother leaving them now.”
It doesn’t take much pushing for Cecilia to relent.
“Fine, fine, but you and Alfred are coming as well. I’m not leaving either of you here.”
Arthur had known that would be the price of getting her to leave, but he has already taken it up with Ludwig. Ludwig had admitted that losing any good and willing soldiers hurt, but he also agrees- Cecilia’s family has done a lot already, and they should get to safety soon.
Arthur intends to do just that. The one person that he worried about the most is Alfred though. He knows that the other doesn’t want to leave the city. Alfred has agreed though, that getting Cecilia and Feli out is the best course of action. Arthur watches Alfred and desperately hopes that the other will relent.
After a long moment of quiet, Alfred nods and sighs. “Alright, I’ll go with you.”
The relief on Cecilia’s face lifts Arthur’s spirits a bit.
“Now,” Arthur interjects as Cecilia moves to hug Alfred tight. “I need you to go pack your bags. I intend to have us out by the last train. Hurry. I’ll have our transport ready to get to the station.”
Trains are the most popular way out of the city now- buses aren’t always safe from guerrillas, and planes aren’t flying in and out of the city. As such, the trains are packed, and sometimes it can take hours before managing to squeeze on.
Most of the house is being used by the soldiers at this point, so packing is easier than it would be otherwise. A lot of Cecilia’s and Feliciano’s important possessions are in one room on the top floor. Alfred and Arthur are much the same. They had begun sharing a room a few years earlier out of necessity, which had also meant that Arthur could keep a better eye on Alfred than he could before. They both pack quickly, grabbing up clothes and sentimental items. When the four of them are done, the car is ready and waiting.
They aren’t the only ones with the idea- and the desperation- to escape the city. The train station is packed full of people trying to get out, and it’s not without some shoving that they get their tickets. While they wait at the platform in the crush of people, Alfred draws Arthur close. The noise of the crowd makes it hard to hear, so Alfred puts his mouth close to Arthur’s ear.
“I’ve always considered you my brother, Arthur.”
Arthur turns to smile at him. “And I think the same of you Alfred.”
“Seriously, Artie,” Alfred says, expression incredibly earnest. “Your friendship has been one of the most important of my life. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I love you, yeah? Like family.”
The train is pulling in now, noise at a fever pitch. Suddenly, Arthur is very suspicious, but Cecilia is grabbing his hand and urging him on towards the doors.
“Come one we have to hurry!” she shouts over the noise.
In Arthur’s other hand, he has his luggage, and as he’s being dragged through the crowd, he realizes that Alfred hasn’t moved. Arthur shouts his name, but he knows that the other won’t hear it over the sound of the crowd clamoring around him to get to the train. As the door closes, Alfred is still standing on the platform- he smiles, though the expression is a little sad, and waves.
Arthur shouts again, and in a moment of desperation, he pounds on the door and tries to get back off of the train. He can’t leave Alfred, not like this, not with this danger. There’s nothing to be done though- the train won’t stop for him now. Cecilia has to restrain him, and for the rest of the ride away from the city, Arthur cries tears of frustration. Once he’s out of the city, there’s no going back. He knows plenty well that Cecilia won’t risk letting Arthur go back without coming as well. Arthur won’t allow that. He can only wait until the war is over before he can go search for his wayward brother. By then, it may be too late to help him.
That moment when Arthur is being dragged away- with Alfred’s words still ringing in his ears and the sight of the other android on the platform smiling while the crowd surges around him- will haunt him for the rest of his days.
Chapter 18: Reconstruction and Renewal
As soon as the war is over, Arthur goes back to the city. Life in the countryside has been a great deal easier for him as an android, but the war raged on for 5 more years- long years of worrying. Arthur steps off the train in the city for the first time grim-faced. If Alfred hadn’t contacted him during any of that time, he has little hope of finding him well.
He takes a cab to the country house. He finds it derelict and falling down now- bombs had clearly been dropped on the grounds. Still, he goes in and searches the rubble. It’s all so much destruction now, charred and collapsing, and he has to pick his way through the building carefully. He searches the grounds for any troops remaining, but the androids had won their fight. They are off helping restructure the government and the laws of robotics.
After the house turns up no murmur of Alfred, no hint that might lead Arthur to him, he goes to the back of the house where Matthew’s grave is. Now there is a line of graves alongside it, other casualties of war, and Arthur approaches with a slow dread building in his stomach. Some of the names there are android, well known and important figures of the fight. Arthur is incredibly upset to see these graves, but to his own guilt, the relief is greater.
Alfred’s name is not on any of the grave markers.
The only other place that Arthur knows to look is Matthew’s old suburb. The scene he finds when he gets there is even more desolate. Instead of driving up to the suburb, the cabbie lets him out a block away.
“Too destroyed. Can’t get much closer. Sorry to tell ya, if one of those is yours.”
The walk is easy at first, but the neighborhood now is a husk. Soon he’s climbing over rubble as he makes his way towards where Matthew’s house once stood. Some buildings still have columns or are partially standing, but there are others have fallen down or are burnt out.
Matthew’s old home has completely collapsed onto itself.
Although Arthur climbs among the rubble of the home, there’s not much left that isn’t underneath wood and twisted bits of metal. He isn’t going to find Alfred here, and he doesn’t know where else to go. It’d been five years, and he has no ‘trail’ to follow to search for him. He isn’t going to give up, obviously, but he’s frightened. If the places that Alfred loved most look the way they do, well, it’s not that far of a jump to assume that something happened to him. He goes back to Cecilia’s old home, trying to set up a room for himself amongst all the collapse. Since he's going to be here for a while, he figures he’d need it.
The first person he contacts is Ludwig.
When he finds Ludwig’s new makeshift office in one of the city's government buildings, he’s impressed. The building is organized and well managed with Ludwig there, a nice change after the chaos of war. Arthur is invited in as an old friend. Ludwig looks awkward in his suit though, his jacket almost too small for his large frame. Arthur knows that the other is much more accustomed to work clothes and makeshift, war-stained uniforms. Despite that, he still radiates confidence and efficiency. He greets Arthur with a firm handshake.
“It’s good to see you well, Arthur,” he says, polite. “I had worried about your family. How is everyone then?”
Arthur knows the other is busy, and he gets straight to the point. “It’s kind of you to worry over us. We are well though… we hoped that you could help us. We’re looking for Alfred.”
There is surprise in Ludwig’s eyes. “Oh?”
“Yes, ever since he left us at the train station when we fled the city, well, we wondered if he was safe. You were in charge, and I felt you were the best to ask.”
“At the train station?” Ludwig looks even more confused. “Arthur, I thought he left with you. The last I saw of the man was when he got into the car with you to flee the city…”
They stare at each other now, both perplexed. Arthur feels overwhelmed. “But.. but…” He moves to rub his face with both hands. “I assumed when he left us at the train station it was to… return to help…” In frustration, he slams his fist down against the desk top, breathing hard and feeling more overwhelmed than before.
Ludwig comes around to rub his back, as awkward about physical affection as he's ever been. As always, he’s calm and reasonable. “We’ll file him as missing. Many families have been separated since access to the internet and the phone service has been impossible in the city. There are people organizing to reunite family members and list the dead. You can start there.” He hesitates as though he wishes to say more. After a moment, he decides to ask despite the risk of seeming insensitive to the other’s turmoil. “It’s a bad time, I realize, but I have one more point of business with you if that’s alright.”
Arthur takes a brief moment to compose himself before he nods and looks up at him. “Yes, yes. It’s quite alright Ludwig. Go on.”
“You told me during the war that beforehand you’d spent quite a bit of time training with your family lawyer. Is that true?”
He has a spark of comprehension, and he nods. “Yes, actually, I did. Of course, I have no practical experience, but I do have extensive training and book knowledge.”
Ludwig smiles. “We had hoped to employ an android lawyer along with the human legal team. We are happy for human help of course, but to have an android helping the law team? It would be a first.”
“The first android in law,” Arthur repeats with a laugh. “Sounds too good to be true, but I’d certainly love to do it.”
So, Arthur leaves with a job to do in the reconstruction of the city. It would take time for him to go from nominally a lawyer to fully certified, but that is nothing he couldn’t handle.
The group that Ludwig had directed Arthur to turns up no immediate information on Alfred. This is good news- it meant he hadn’t been confirmed dead- but it is also frustrating. Every avenue that he's gone down has been a dead end.
He has a job in the city now, though, and he has plenty of time in his off hours to continue looking. Cecilia and Feliciano come back to the city a month later, and though the house is still very much in disrepair, they find a nice apartment. They can all work and live together like a family again that way. Now though, Arthur has his own profession, and the couple no longer call themselves his owner.
They hold off on renovating the house- money is tight in the city and buildings are being restored and rebuilt. The process is slow going. Matthew’s suburb has lost enough residents to the war that it stands empty. Much to Arthur’s dismay, the area becomes a slum rather quickly, and homeless and the desperate use the old falling-down, abandoned homes to live in while they ‘get on their feet’ in the floundering city. Although the rebuilding generates jobs, only skilled humans are particularly in advantage. Androids must be hired now instead of bought, and those that were built for hard labor are often favored over their human counterparts. Androids are also paid significantly less than their human counterparts, but it’s a bit of progress.
War can change social structures, but it can’t change people’s minds.
Arthur keeps tabs on androids being hired on for labor jobs in and around the city, but Alfred never turns up.
Months pass. Cecilia and Feliciano keep looking, but they aren’t very hopeful. They don’t expect to find Alfred. It hurts Arthur’s own spirit, but he wants to believe that Alfred will find his way back to them somehow.
The rebuilding of the city takes many years. Some parts of the city go up faster than others, but even then, it’s an uphill battle. Over the years, Arthur becomes certified, and he is widely regarded as one of the best of his profession, not to mention the first certified android working law in America. He takes a lot of androids’ rights cases, and he’s good at them.
Cecilia and Feliciano urge him to give up on Alfred, but Arthur still looks, periodically making new attempts to locate him.
Time moves forward relentlessly. Matthew’s old suburb becomes a permanent slum even after the rebuilding of the rest of the city is mostly complete. Lost deeds and families too poor to do anything with the land leaves the place a pile of old burnt out ruins. The property value is so low even for the land, because the area has become undesirable. Although those living there have cleared out as much of the debris as possible, it’s still dilapidated and run down.
Over the years, Cecilia’s house has been restored and they move back into it. They leave the graves as they are, putting flowers on them often. Matthew’s grave is finally suited with a proper headstone, and one by one, the human and android heroes of the war next to him each receive their own as well. It’s a morbid sort of thing to have on one’s property, but Cecilia won’t have them moved anywhere else. All of the original now-somewhat rusty old metal grave markers are still kept in the house (though in storage), because no one has the heart to dismantle them.
Cecilia doesn’t write her will until after Feliciano dies. When she does, she makes Arthur the inheritor of the house. Neither of Cecilia’s children are upset by this. They are both well set up in their own homes in other places with little reason to move to the city. They also understand that Arthur had taken care of the house for many years before they were even born and had been one of the major assistants in its restoration.
Arthur has his own law office now, but the idea of owning the old house intimidates him somewhat.
“If you leave this house to me, I’ll turn it into a museum for the war,” he tells her. She doesn’t protest at the idea at all.
This is the same year Arthur hands over his memories of the war to universities for study. The Android Wars has become a hobby for many and a favorite topic of scientists and historians alike. Androids’ memories are easy to backup, view, and share. In exchange for a legal agreement that none of his memories be used against anyone of either side in the war, he gives them up for study. Since he’d been an information courier for the first six years of the war, his memory banks are highly valuable.
The story of Alfred and Matthew is partially illuminated by his memories, and it quickly becomes a favorite of the more romantically inclined. The topic becomes a popular one- a love story (alternatively described as ‘forbidden’ and 'doomed’ by the more dramatic) ending in war during which one dies and the other goes completely missing? Needless to say, it generates a bit of a buzz after the memories are released to the public.
Arthur is tight lipped with anyone pressing for more about Alfred and Matthew’s relationship than is present in his wartime memories. Despite that, Alfred’s disappearance becomes one of the wars many so-called “romantic” mysteries.
Even with a whole host of people eager to solve the mystery of his disappearance and the minor fame of his love story, Alfred never surfaces.
The changing of the times are exciting, but seventy years pass slowly to an android. Arthur feels and, indeed, often acts like an old man though he doesn’t look a day over 25.
Technology has developed further, and now fully synthetic humans are being created. Not a bit of metal in them, made only of wholly synthetically produced flesh. The lives of humans have been greatly lengthened by this new development now that all parts of the body can be replaced with long lasting synthetics.
Arthur meets a young synthetic by the name of Marianne. French-made, of the best quality parts as she always likes to brag. She’s one of many synthetic humans now populating the city. She works as his secretary, and he thinks he might be in love.
Of course, he'll never admit that. He is much too busy with his firm and the renovation of his old home into a historical museum. With the help of an android historical society (of which many of the members had spent time at the house during the war), he intends to convert it back to what it looked like all those years ago.
Many androids had deleted memories of those days, not wanting to relive the worst parts of it anymore. Arthur had come to terms with the war in rather a different way. He wants to preserve it and wants to remember those days exactly as they were. Even the memories that are the worst and most unhappy, he clings to them, because he feels as though they make him who he is. He wants to be sure that androids have a sense of their history, and so he makes his museum and keeps his history close.
At the old home now, there’s a memorial to Matthew and Cecilia’s family to recognize what they did for the cause back then.
There’s still no sign of Alfred, but Arthur isn’t sure he expects one anymore.
Seventy-five years after the last time he saw Alfred on the train platform, Arthur receives a phone call from Ludwig. Not an unusual occurrence, but this particular request is out of the blue. Ludwig’s construction firm had started a project to tear down the slums on the east side of town and rebuild it as a nice suburb like it had been before the war.
“We have located and bought the deeds to all the properties.” The tone of his voice suggests this had taken quite a while. “All but one. We think it’s in your possession.”
“Oh yes, the plot where Matthew’s old house stood,” he responds after a moment. “I had forgotten about it. It’s in Cecilia’s old papers, I think. Are you interested in it as well?”
In fact, the flippancy is fake. As if Arthur could ever forget. He has visited the place quite a few times, though the homeless that hung around the area always rather depressed him. He’s never had the heart to give it up, too sentimental. Honestly he’s always hoped that Alfred might come back demanding the deed some day out of the blue. A secret part of him also hopes that maybe Matthew in some new form would be with him. Holding onto unfulfilled dreams for several decades, it turns out, rather hurt.
“Yes. If I may speak honestly, it’s the last of the block, and if we have it too, we’ve got a good sized community then.” Ludwig knows Arthur wouldn’t cheat him on the price, and he’s telling him quite frankly that it is an asset.
After a long silence, Arthur relents. “I think the boys would’ve liked that, a new suburb being built there.”
Ludwig sounds relieved. “I’ll send an offer over now then. We’ve started work on tearing down some of the ruined houses in the area. Some of the cellars in the buildings have been found intact and undisturbed. Many of them had been sealed by the debris or people in the slums building make shift shelters over the top of the old floors.”
“Oh, that’s rather interesting,” Arthur says. He’s trying not to cry as he studies the old creased deed to the land.
“Yes, some of the cellars have artifacts of the old era still in good condition. I have a team here- anthropologists and historians mostly- sorting through anything left behind for historical value. Most of it will be passed on to museums, but if the cellar of Matthew’s home is intact, I’ll call you in to sort through it, alright?” Ludwig’s voice is kind. He has known Arthur long enough to understand how much the small bit of land really means to him—and even more, what giving it up means.
“Yes, yes, that sounds quite alright to me.”
When he’s off the phone, Arthur looks over the deed and takes a steadying breath as he tries not to cry. He knows that in some ways finally selling the land is giving up on seeing Alfred again- oh, how angry Alfred would be if he found out that the house had been sold. It’s what he’s always told himself and why he’d kept it so long. All these years he’s been secretly hoping that Alfred is just off trying to find his love somewhere in the world, and giving that land up means finally laying that hope to rest completely.
Giving this hope up is incredibly difficult for him.
Arthur wipes the beginnings of tears from his eyes. Marianne is in the other room waiting to have tea with him. As he goes to sits down, he tells her about selling the old property. Of all the people who know his personal history, Marianne is one of the few who know simply because Arthur had told her. She seems to feel the weight of the gesture without him admitting it, and she takes his hand. It’s one of the best things about her really- how she knows how to read him and anticipates what he needs even when he's too uncertain to reach for it.
“I think I’ll put a memorial for Alfred in the museum finally. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
Marianne smiles at him in an encouraging way and cuddles in against his side. “I think so, Arthur. It’d be good closure.”
As if she can sense the loneliness that is settling in Arthur’s heart, Marianne leans up and touches his face before gently pulling him down into a kiss.
Perhaps closure might be helpful after all.
It’s three months before Arthur gets another phone call from Ludwig. The timing is incredibly awkward, and he’s simultaneously pushing Marianne away and trying to pull up his trousers.
He grabs the phone without checking the caller ID, and when he answers, he’s understandably snappish. “What the bloody hell do you want?!!”
There’s a pause at the the anger in Arthur’s voice before Ludwig says quietly, “Arthur, we may have found Alfred.”
Hope wars with panic in his chest. For several moments, Arthur can’t seem to get his mouth to work. They’d found him? Where? When? In what condition? When he can finally move again, he bombards Ludwig with questions without waiting for answers. He’s too startled for anything else.
Finally, he pauses for breath, and Ludwig cuts in. “Wait, wait, listen, I don’t know. I just know that when they opened Matthew’s old cellar up, they found an android—”
“I don’t know, Arthur,” Ludwig says back. “They didn’t even tell me what condition he was in. They were trying to figure out what to do and called me. The historians seem to think it could be Alfred, and I knew the best thi—”
Arthur hangs up.
He had to get across town immediately, if not sooner. Already he’s pulling his coat and reaching for his keys. Halfway through the motion, Marianne reaches out and snatches them.
“They found Alfred?” she asks, as she heads out the door and down to the parking garage. Somehow it seems like not even a strand of her hair is out of place even though only a few moments before Arthur’s fingers had been tangled in her curls. She has the disconcerting ability to go from flustered to utter composure very quickly. It’s an ability he wishes he had.
Right now, Arthur is incredibly flustered, and he doubts that’ll change soon. Still, he follows after her, and he tries to grab the keys back. “Yeah, in the Matthew’s old cellar. Well, they think it’s him,” he says back, voice sounding too loud and too emotional in his own ears. “…You don’t have to come. He’s my issue. I need to do this. I can drive.”
Marianne holds the keys out away from him and shakes her head. “Your hands are trembling far too much to drive, mon lapin. I’ll do it. We are lovers, are we not? Lovers support each other-- let me support you!"
He tries to argue, but he’s hit with the realization that he isn’t sure what he’ll find. Having Marianne there as support would be a godsend. So he falls silent as he slides into the car. Only once they’re on the road does Marianne break the quiet.
“Did they tell you how he was found?” she asks. Her voice is soft, trying hard to keep calm so she can anchor him- his emotions can a bit uncontrollable sometimes, and he's especially sensitive when it comes to his family.
“No, no, Ludwig says that he was called, said an android was down there. They were calling before they decided what to do.” His voice and hands are shaking now, and he has tears in his eyes. “If he was down there that long… what if it’s a partial collapsed and he’s been…”
Marianne interrupts him. “Don’t speculate now. We’ll be there in a moment.”
He falls silent. Honestly though, if he’d been down there that long, then it stands to simple reason he was probably hurt and unable to reach out for help. If he’d just been pinned under there all those years…! Ceased functioning and no one was ever the wiser? There’s a stab of self loathing in his chest- that Alfred could’ve been under his feet all these years, and he didn’t even know. Worry for Alfred though, it wins over the self-loathing, and he stammers out. “Why… wouldn’t he have come out… if he wasn’t hurt, I mean??”
“Well,” Marianne says reasonably. “Think of it like this. He’s not fully synthetic. Even if he’d been injured, he could still be reconstructed if his main processor is intact.”
This thought calms him down somewhat but only minimally. He’s quiet for the rest of the drive, fretting over what precisely he will find there. They beat Ludwig to the scene. Arthur is thankful- he knows that Ludwig would force him to hang back while he assesses the situation. Honestly, that would only lead to a fight, because Arthur is quite ready to claw his way into that basement.
He doesn’t have to- the workers there realize who he is. Marianne follows him, and when they come to the open hole leading to the cellar, they have to be lowered down. The stairs had been rotted out, and they had cleared out the old wood already.
Lights have been set up in the cellar, and it’s larger than he thought. There are metal shelves in the center, cluttered, and along one wall a surprising lot of wine bottles. He can see the most light is filtering from behind the rows of shelves, and he knows that’s where they found the android. For a moment, he’s frozen on the spot, too frightened to move forward. All he can think- rather frantically- is ‘Well of course there’s wine down here-took after his father, that Matthew.’
Marianne finally takes his arm as if to lead him forward. He looks down at her and she favors him with an encouraging smile. After a quick intake of breath, Arthur nods and moves towards the lights. As he turns the corner around the shelves, the first thing he sees is a crowd of humans. At the sound of their footsteps, they turn to look at him. There are no faces that he knows, but he realizes that they’re the historical team.
One of them smiles at him, but he can’t quite smile back. The group parts for him, and there in the center of the ring is Alfred sitting on an old stasis pod. Alfred is blinking against the bright light in confusion, and he’s nude- he has someone’s jacket over his waist.
“…Alfred…?” Arthur asks slowly, disbelief clear in his voice.
Alfred looks up and the smile that he gives in response is beautiful. “Artie! Jeez, finally a familiar face. What are all these people doing in my house?”
It’s so utterly Alfred, so perfect and nonsensical and sweet, and a multitude of emotions slam into him hard- anger, happiness, relief, frustration…Arthur surges forward and grabs Alfred into a much too tight embrace. There are tears now, of relief and happiness, and he doesn’t care that people see them. He just grips him close and starts to scold him in a trembling voice, “What the bloody hell happened to you? You’ve had me worried sick, god, Alfred how could you!!”
The berating goes on, but Alfred just hugs him back. Arthur can feel the other’s fingers in his hair and his free hand patting his back. The other is laughing at him, and for some reason that makes him cry more.
“You little bastard, laughing at me when this is your fault!!!” His tone isn’t unkind though- relief and happiness are evident in his voice.
“Yeah,” Alfred says. “I knew you’d be pretty pissed about that leavin’-ya-on-the-train-platform thing. I’m sorry. But the war’s over now right…?” The confusion and the hope in his voice are what finally make him drawback to stare down at Alfred.
As the two study each other, Marianne moves close to give Arthur a tissue and peer with obvious curiosity at Alfred. He can’t quite blame her- she’s finally meeting in person a man she’s heard stories about for a long time.
“You don’t… you don’t know?” Arthur looks him over again, and suddenly the realization hits him. Alfred is sitting on a factory model stasis pod nude. Back in the old days, they’d been used to house and store androids with synthetic pieces to keep them in good condition until the bot could be sold. The pods could function autonomously, and owners could purchase them if they had androids that they used for seasonal labor to keep down the cost of repairs during the off-months. The androids were put into the pods nude which explained his lack of clothes.
Alfred’s voice pulls him out of his thoughts. “If I knew, I wouldn’t ask, Artie.”
“You’ve… you’ve been off all these years… Just sleeping down here.”
“Years?” Alfred says, face falling a bit. “I thought it must’ve been. The war went long then?”
“We have some catching up to do, Alfred, before anything else.” He turns to look at the others- they’d backed away to give them space, but he knows that they are listening intently. “Can we have some privacy please?”
Reluctantly, the team turns to leave the cellar. Marianne turns away from Alfred and steps up close to Arthur, gently squeezing his hand. “I’ll keep them at bay. Call if you need me.”
Arthur smiles back at her, but the mood is good enough now to tease him. She arches a brow and gives a flirtatious sort of smile as she gestures subtly back Alfred. After, she makes an expression that is clearly meant to say, ‘wow, what a hottie.’
With an exasperated huff, Arthur rolls his eyes and hurries her on. “Yeah yeah, just go make sure we have our privacy.”
Marianne’s laughter as she goes makes his cheeks turn pink in self-consciousness.
“Oh, uh, who’s that??”
‘Maybe Alfred won't notice,’ Arthur thinks as he tries to keep his blush down. ‘He’s always been a bit on the oblivious side.’ “She’s my secretary,” he answers stiffly.
The grin that he gets in response curls at the edges. “Oooooh, hot for secretary~”
Arthur smacks his leg in retaliation. “We have more serious things to talk about right now!!!” Only awake for 15 minutes and already teasing like this, the nerve of some people. “We need to catch you up to the present, at least a bit.”
“Alright…” Alfred seems to sober up a bit. “How long was I out?”
“Well…. It’s been 75 years since I last saw you, Alfred.”
Shocked silence follows this, and he knows that processing this will be difficult for him.
Finally, with a small shaky voice, Alfred says, “The war has been going for 75 years…?”
It’s Arthur’s turn to be shocked. “What? Heavens no! The war ending 69 or 70 years ago.”
They stare at each other blankly, Alfred’s mind still stuck 75 years in the past and Arthur with all those decades to labor over everything that happened.
“Just tell me Alfred, what you were expecting when you hid yourself in a cellar?”
Alfred gets a bit angry now. “I expected you to find me. I expected you to come back to my house and I was here. I mean, sure I sealed off the door before I hid, but I figured you’d search. If I was missing for the rest of the war and there’s a sealed door in my house, well, I thought where I was would be obvious…!”
“You don’t understand…” Arthur says softly, knowing that reality is going to be overwhelming for him. “Your home was destroyed during the bombings. I came back here to a collapsed building and thought you must be dead. The foundation of the house became part of the slums. They cleared the debris away, but no one even realized that there might be someone under the floor…We only found you because the construction company is building a new house on the lot.”
There’s a long silence now. “My house is gone…Yeah, yeah… I mean, I knew that it was a possibility…”
There’s so much to tell him, so much to catch him up on, but for now, Arthur needs answers too. When he asks the question that’s been on his mind since the moment Alfred left, his voice cracks, and tears well up in his eyes. “Why did you leave us? I thought… I thought you were dead. I looked for so long.”
Alfred embraces him again, though this time it’s gentle. His voice is small, tone a bit guilty, and he speaks right against Arthur’s hair. “I was scared. I couldn’t stop thinking that if Matthew managed to come back, he’d have to end up at this house- it was so important to us... and I was so scared he’d end up here, and we’d miss each other. But if I were here…” There’s a laugh- though it sounds bitter. “I had a stupid hope that maybe he’d even be the one that found me and woke me up. I just… I couldn’t leave this house, this city. It was so important to us. And…even if he didn’t, I thought when the war ended you’d come back here and wake me up and maybe at least the world would be a better place by then.”
Although he understands, it doesn’t make Arthur less upset. “Anything could’ve happened to you. Other cellars collapsed you know, if this had collapsed…” He can’t bring himself to continue, and his words hang in the air.
“I know,” Alfred says, pulling back. He gives Arthur a small smile. “I was wrong and I’m sorry I left you alone for so long but…” His expression falls again, the bitterness back. “After all that, I wake up to find that I’ve just been underneath a crumbling building this whole time. If Matthew was reincarnated and ever came here it’d look like so much rubble.” There’s a moment of silence before Alfred goes on, words upset. “I just thought, you know, if he believed in fate and gods and reincarnation enough to come back to me, if I waited long enough he’d find his way back to our place. Like…fate. Destiny… I really wanted destiny to work that way.”
“Yes, I know it’s hard,” Arthur says after a moment. He realizes that both need time to think and calm down. They’ve figured out what happened and for now, that would have to suffice. “It’s been a long day. Let’s get out of the dark cellar first and go back to my house.”
The words do perk him up a bit. “Your house? You own it?”
Arthur smiles. He could at least give him this good news. “Yes, I own it. The world is a better place for us now. Well then… do you have clothes?” He looks in the corner and finds the old luggage that Alfred had brought with him to the train station. When he opens it, he isn’t surprised to find it smells rather badly and isn’t in the best shape for wear.
They get a change of clothes for Alfred from one of the construction men, and he dresses in the dark of the cellar. After they’re pulled up, Arthur goes to coordinate with Ludwig the process of getting the things Alfred wants from the cellar- since the other had sealed the place himself, it was likely a lot of the contents are important to him. Alfred greets those he knows and introduces himself to Marianne rather warmly, but he’s looking forlorn and desolate. He gazes around the construction zone that was once his house and tries to keep calm.
Arthur would take care of him though. Everything would be okay.
Alfred feels sick to his stomach as he steps into the sun for the first time after being sealed beneath his home. He sighs gently and rubs his face. Fate, Destiny, whatever- it’s a tricky bastard. He had thought he was waiting for his love, but he had been locked in a tomb to awake as a relic from the past. That’s why the historians were there, right? Because he's become some sort of mysterious lost warrior.
Although a part of him sort of likes that idea- a lost hero, how much cooler can you get?- he still feels sad. He’d seen the hurt and betrayal on Arthur’s face, and the guilt of that wouldn’t go away any time soon. Serves him right- his brother had been hurting a long time.
Nothing of his home looks the same anymore, and the whole neighborhood is in various stages of construction and demolition. It makes him ache- he could remember perfectly what this area had been, what his home had been, what his life had been. Soon it would be time to leave this behind for Arthur’s house, and it wouldn’t be much longer after that the whole neighborhood would be transformed again into something else.
It hurt, but he could at least have a good look around before they put new houses in.
He smiles to the people who try to talk to him, and while he attempts to be polite, he can’t quite manage it. As he moves back towards where they’d buried their old dog, he finds a tent full of people eagerly working on computers. The anthropology tent, he realizes- Arthur had filled him in while he dressed.
As he starts to turn around, he happens to make eye contact with a boy working in the back. His short, chestnut brown hair is curly and a bit wild around his face and ears. His eyes are a deep blue, and he has a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. Even though he’s different, Alfred knows. He isn’t sure how he knows, but he does. A voice deep down in his synthetic bones tells him, and seeing him is like an electric shock. Judging by the surprise and confusion on the boy’s face, Alfred thinks that he must feel it too.
With a slowly widening smile, Alfred walks toward the other sitting behind the computer. Maybe he'd been right all along. Perhaps Destiny or Fate or whatever Gods Matthew had found could be incredibly kind sometimes, and with his heart in his throat, Alfred approaches the man who has returned to him after decades apart.
Luke is having a long, frustrating day. Being just an intern means that he didn’t get to go down into the cellar with the other members of the team. They’d found him! Or at least, that’s what they were saying. They think they found the lost Android Wars hero down there after seven decades of being missing. Of course, Luke knows about him, but he isn’t going to be allowed to meet him because he’s too low on the totem pole.
It's a shame- Alfred’s story is one that had always particularly interested him. He only knows as much as most people know- that he loved a human and lost him, and he became a war hero afterwards to make the world better for him and those like him. The rest of the crew could be making history down there right now, and he is stuck cataloging.
After a while, though, he gets lost in his work.
When he finds a stopping point, he looks up to check the time and makes eye contact with- well, it’s Alfred. He's seen pictures before, but when their eyes meet for the first time, he feels overwhelmed- a fierce ache starting deep in his heart at the sight of him. Then the android gives him a slow smile, and suddenly all that pressure is gone. Feelings- confusing, burning feelings that he doesn’t quite understand- are rising in his chest. The android is walking toward him, and he can feel blood rushing to his face. He’s pale, and when he turns red he stays red for much longer than he’d like.
Then the android is standing right in front of him and he thinks in a panic, ‘oh god, is it too personal to call him Alfred??’ In the end, he doesn’t say anything and just stares up at him with all those treacherous, strange feelings writhing in his chest.
“Hey,” he says, “I’m Alfred. Nice to meet you.” Alfred sticks his hand out, and after a moment of embarrassment, Luke takes his hand to shake. With an easy grin, Alfred pulls him to his feet.
“Uhm, yes, I know.” Luke flusters and isn’t sure where to look. Alfred is a head taller than him. “I was waiting--" the words feel electric, and he coughs before blushing darker, stammering out, "I mean, waiting to hear if you were okay.”
‘I was waiting.’ Something in those words rebound off the corners of his mind and resonate with him. Alfred’s expression changes, softens, and Luke thinks that he might feel it too.
“Well, I’m here now, and I’m doing well. Might have to replace some bits here and there soon but..." He shrugs, and he flashes a smile sweeter than any Luke has ever seen. "But hey, what’s your name?”
“Oh, to be expected. You were out for a while.” Luke is trying to calm his racing heart, and this line of conversation is easier at least, gives him a direction. He smiles, and he replies, “My name is Luke. It’s nice to meet you as well.”
“Luke...” Alfred says slowly, as though he’s rolling it over in his head. “Biblical right? ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.’”
Luke nods and recites, “'Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on.’” The suggestive arch of Alfred’s brow in response to this makes him stutter in embarrassment. “It’s an old rhyme, or, uh, prayer? I don't remember. But yep, biblical, Christian. An old name, you know, but it’s a classic. My parents are a sucker for the classics?” He gives a smile he hopes is charming, but he thinks it’s probably just flustered.
He can’t seem to get over his embarrassment or push down the strange feelings in his chest.
“Luke,” Alfred says again, and the tone he uses now sounds like a caress. “What are you doing here, Luke? You hardly look like a construction worker, and you weren’t with the anthropology-history team-thing when I woke up.”
“Oh, I’m on the team, but uh, I’m just an intern. An anthropology major at the local university. The internship here-" He waves his hand at the work around him- "sorting through old items sealed in these basements and stuff, is going to look good on my resume.” He curls his fingers in the hem of his shirt, and he looks down, feeling bashful. “It’s not very exciting. I just catalog everything that they find and do paperwork that no one else wants to do.”
A strong hand is at his chin and tipping his face back up- his heart beats hard against his ribs at the jolt of feeling that comes with that somehow intimate touch, at how breathless he feels as he makes eye contact with Alfred. Then the hand falls away from his face, and Luke can suddenly breathe again- though honestly he hadn’t noticed when he stopped.
"I'm not judging your work, Luke," he says softly. "It’s an interesting choice. A bit bookish, sure, but interesting. Why’d you pick it?”
“Well, it’s a bit silly actually…” He fidgets a little under Alfred’s gaze. Alfred’s face is so young, but he knows that this android has seen and lived through so much more than Luke has himself.
“Awww c’mon,” Alfred says, reaching up and running a hand through Luke’s hair. “Like I said, I’m not gonna judge ya.”
“O-oh,” Luke manages, feeling as though his heart might stop soon. At least, it's gratifying that Alfred seems to feel whatever this thing is too... or maybe Alfred is just touchy. Luke isn't sure, but he knows that he likes it. “But you can’t laugh!! It’s actually because I liked Indiana Jones so much growing up. They were my favorite movies and I wanted to do something like him I guess.” Alfred arches a brow at him, lips curling into another handsome, sunshine smile, and so Luke plows forward. “I mean I realize that the job’s not actually like the movies but I like the subject so…”
Alfred does laugh even though Luke told him not too, but the sound is lovely and warm. Luke is glad the other hadn’t listened. “I like those too. S’where I got my last name. Alfred Jones.”
Under the force of that mega-watt smile, Luke can’t help but smile back. “I guess we’re both a bit ridiculous then huh?”
“Maybe, but he’s cool so…” For a moment, they’re both quiet, unsure what to say. Or maybe there's just no words that can really expression the unexpected intensity of this meeting. “Say, Luke, if you’re one of the history dudes, do you think you could come down to the cellar and look over some things with me? Tell me how much you think some of it’s worth.”
Although he’s still feeling incredibly overwhelmed, Luke leaps at the chance. He isn’t quite sure why, but the thought of watching Alfred walk away right now makes him ache. “Sure! I mean, I’d love to do that, if you wanted me.”
Before Alfred can say anything else, Arthur approaches them. Luke has seen the man in his history books, but this is the first meeting in person. It's a sudden reminder that they're standing in full view of the whole world on an otherwise average Tuesday afternoon. Luke has been so absorbed that he'd utterly lost track of anything that wasn't Alfred and his soft lovely blue eyes. His blush starts spreading down his neck and chest as he suddenly remembers all the other interns around them, watching this strangely intimate moment.
“Alfred, I’ve worked everything out with Ludwig. They’ll leave the cellar alone without you and let you go through it later. Let’s go home yes?” Arthur inclines his head to Luke and gives him a friendly, polite sort of smile. Though he looks rather serious in all his pictures, at this moment, Arthur looks incredibly happy and relaxed. Luke finds the expression oddly comforting to him, and he gives him a shy smile in return.
“Naw, we can go in a bit. Luke here is going to poke around the cellar with me and see if any of it’s worth anything.”
A look of surprise crosses over Arthur’s face, and Luke suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of a very probing look. Although the other android seems confused, something in his gaze changes- considering and oddly hopeful and somehow a little tired too. Luke doesn’t really understand it, but Arthur gives a small uncertain smile and shrugs. “Yes, yes of course. Tell me when you’re ready, Alfred, and we’ll go.”
Alfred nods and reaches forward to take his hand. Luke blushes bright but doesn’t pull away. As he leads Luke toward the cellar, he asks conversationally, “Have you ever been sky-diving, Luke?”
“Um, no. Seems a bit scary though, doesn’t it?” Luke asks, not really understanding where this question comes from.
“I’m an instructor actually,” Alfred says with a smile. “I got my certificate down there in the boxes. We could go together sometime if you wanted.”
Somehow, with Alfred smiling at him, it doesn’t seem frightening at all. He thinks it over. “Yeah,” he says finally, giving a firm nod and tightening his grip on Alfred's hand. “That sounds wonderful, actually. I’d love to.”
and that's a wrap, darlings. as always comments and feels are much appreciated. thanks for reading until the end.