Sergio Sebastiani came to slow consciousness to find himself strapped to a metal chair in a dark room, a single light bulb hanging over his head. He pulled at his arms and legs, rocking the chair and trying to scream for help only to be muffled by the duct tape over his mouth. A large hand clamped on the back of his neck, holding him in place. He froze, eyes wide and forced straight ahead by the hand.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” a light voice said from the dark in front of him. Shoes clacked on concrete, but the owner of the voice kept to the shadows. “I need to talk to you.”
He tried to shake his head and hands frantically, words muffle behind the tape. The voice sighed. “Ludwig, please.” Ludwig. Vargas’s underboss. Oh, Sergio was in deep shit now.
When the tape was ripped off his face by the man standing behind him, he immediately launched into babbling. “Please don’t-a hurt me, I dunno nuttin’, innocent as a tree frog, I swear-a!”
“Tree frog? That’s funny, since tree frogs are usually poisonous.” The voice paced a semicircle just out of the ring of light. Sergio started hyperventilating. “Don’t worry, Sergio, you’re not in trouble.” He stilled, blinking in surprise.
The voice laughed, much too innocent for the situation. “No. Well, not yet.” The voice paused. “We have a job for you, little thief.”
Sergio’s face slowly broke into a grin, his earlier anxiety gone at the mention of his work. “Oh really?”
“Ludwig, please.” The hand gripping his neck let go to slap his head hard, then went back to his neck. “I don’t need you cocky on this,” the voice continued. “This is important.” The feet stopped at Sergio’s left and turned back. The room fell silent for a few minutes as the feet paced and Sergio waited to be spoken to. He jumped as the voice laughed suddenly. “Look, Ludwig, he’s learning! Can we keep him now?”
“Veneziano,” a bass voice grumbled from above Sergio’s head, startling him as much as the laughter. The voice in the shadows sighed.
“Oh, all right, cut to the chase, get to the point, I understand.” The pacing stopped directly in front of him. “I need you to steal evidence from the police.”
A pause. “Is that-a all?” Another slap to the back of his head. “Ow!”
The voice just chuckled. “Now, now, Ludwig, we must be nice to our newest soldier,” he chided lightly. Sergio froze.
“Well, obviously we can’t let you go switching sides like you usually do,” the voice answered lightheartedly. “You’ll get the details when you wake up.”
The voice laughed again, ignoring his question. “Don’t worry, Sergio,” he said as Ludwig chopped down into the junction of his neck and shoulder, making his eyes roll back as he slumped forward in unconsciousness, only held up by his bindings. The owner of the voice finally stepped into the light, showing a slight man with floppy auburn hair smiling at the knocked out teenager in front of him.
“You’ll have plenty of work to do.”
The next day, Arthur woke up with a start on Susan’s couch, wearing the clothes he’d worn the night before and curled up in Alfred’s arms with his back against his slowly moving bare chest. Someone had put two blankets over them, and Arthur closed his eyes and smiled as he burrowed back into his bubble of warmth, resting his arms over Al’s under the blankets, stroking his linked fingers on his stomach. Behind him, Alfred sighed in his sleep and buried his face in Arthur’s neck, and Arthur let himself close his eyes and go back to sleep.
After drifting in and out of consciousness for a while, he woke fully to hear the sounds of breakfast coming from the kitchen. He blinked his eyes open, then squinted against the dim light as his head protested the new development. Alfred hadn’t moved other than to pull him closer and tangle their legs together, chin on his shoulder.
Arthur let himself fall into the warmth of Al’s embrace for a long moment, then carefully pulled himself free of his clinging, sitting on the edge of the couch and smiling fondly down at him, carding a hand through his hair down to rest it against his cheek, running his thumb along his lower lip. Alfred continued to sleep like a rock, clutching an armful of blanket instead of Arthur, snoring lightly through his partially open mouth.
Arthur stood and walked into the kitchen, tripping over the back cushions thrown off the couch to make room for two grown men while rubbing at his eyes. He found Susan frying a pan of bacon at her stove, a steaming cup of something in one hand and a fork in the other that she used to flip the bacon. She looked up at the sound of Arthur coming in and immediately turned to the coffeepot, pouring him a cup and serving it to him black.
“Have a nice time last night?” she asked quietly, smiling slyly. He grumbled and sat down at the table, glaring into his coffee. He took a gulp of it and nearly gagged, but managed to choke it down.
“Oh, bloody hell,” he gasped, making a myriad of faces as he set the mug down. “How do Americans like this stuff?”
Susan laughed, taking the last piece off the frying pan before turning off the eye and joining him at the table, setting the plate down between them. “It’s an acquired taste, I’ve heard,” she said, sipping at her own cup. “Besides, it usually doesn’t taste like this.”
Arthur snorted in disbelief, but didn’t say anything as he munched on her professionally-made bacon. They sat in comfortable silence as Arthur nursed his hangover and Susan hummed a nonsense tune that eventually dissolved into a Disney medley.
“So,” she said when the bacon was done, standing to fetch the coffeepot and refill their mugs. “You gonna tell me why I came upstairs this morning to find you and Alfred spooning on my sofa?”
Arthur blushed furiously and stared at his now full coffee cup. “I’ll clean your men’s room later today, if it makes it better,” he mumbled, weaving his fingers together nervously.
She blinked, then started laughing, startling Arthur. She took off her glasses to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Well, I say you two deserve a little happiness,” she said with a smile, adjusting her oval frames on her nose. “Just don’t do it in my diner again, okay?”
He nodded, face beet red. She knocked back a large gulp of coffee, then stood and rested her hand on his shoulder. He smiled up at her weakly, and her eyes softened in reply.
“Now, go wake up your loverboy while I fry up the rest of this pig,” she ordered, jerking her head in the direction of her living room. He laughed shakily and obeyed.
Alfred didn’t want to wake up and protested Arthur’s efforts to make him, rolling over and burying his face in the junction of couch frame and cushions. After five minutes of shaking, coaxing, and yelling, Arthur gave in and gathered his courage, then bent down and kissed the exposed back of Alfred’s neck.
That made Al shoot up like a bullet, eyes wide and startled and arms flailing under the blankets. Arthur sat back from his struggles and smirked even as his cheeks flushed. Al stopped flailing quickly enough, though, and sat up straight, staring at Arthur in slight horror.
“Last night happened, didn’t it?” he asked. Arthur nodded, and Al groaned, flopping back against the couch hard enough to bounce a little and clenched his eyes shut, tugging at his hair. “This is bad,” he moaned, dragging his hands down his face. Arthur frowned.
“What happened to ‘Fuck the Marshal code’?” Arthur asked, hating how weak he sounded and crossing his arms over his chest and scowling to make up for it. Al looked up at him, then rolled over and moaned into the cushions. Arthur huffed and scowled further.
Alfred pushed himself to his hands and knees, then sat back on his calves. “It’s too early for this,” he mumbled, crawling around Arthur to stand on the floor. He stretched with a loud yawn, almost hitting Arthur in the head, then tasted his mouth with a grimace. “Can we talk about this later?” he asked, looking down at Arthur, then at himself curiously. His lip twitched. “When I have a shirt on would be nice.”
Arthur stared him down from his position on the couch, but after several seconds of obliviously bleary grinning from Al, he sighed and stood to push him in the direction of the kitchen. “Fine, but only because I want to see your face when you taste Susan’s coffee,” he grumbled.
At that, Alfred tensed. “Shit, she made her hangover coffee, didn’t she?”
Arthur smirked, but was saved from answering by Susan herself greeting them too cheerily again with Alfred’s old mug with President Obama on it. “You bet your life she did,” she replied, handing it to him. He made a face at the black liquid and Arthur laughed a little harsher than necessary, pushing him further towards the kitchen table.
“Drink up, lad.” Al stuck his tongue out at him, but obeyed, his exaggerated gagging enough to make them all laugh and dispel the lingering awkwardness in the air.
They didn’t get a chance to talk until much later, after being conscripted by Susan to help her clean up the bar (both restrooms included). Finally, Alfred and Arthur got into Al’s car and pulled out of the parking lot, but instead of turning right to Matt’s at the crossroads, Al turned left towards civilization. Arthur gave him a pointed look to which Al shrugged in response.
“I thought, if we’re gonna be sleepin’ together, we might as well talk at my place,” he said airily, although he glanced nervously between Arthur and the road. Arthur flushed.
“Well, when you put it that way.” Al gave a little laugh, then they fell silent for the rest of the ride.
When they got to Alfred’s place – a small, two-story house on a dead-end road of small, two-story houses – he made them hot chocolate with milk heated up in the microwave before they sat down at the kitchen table to talk.
As Arthur expected, Alfred’s house was a pigsty, with papers, clothes, and dirty dishes on every surface. However, he could also tell it was the clutter of someone who never has time to clean rather than someone too lazy to clean from personal experience, so he let it slide without comment. He helped him push some of the bills piled on the majority of the kitchen table to the side enough for them to sit down together, carefully not touching, drinks in their hand and eyes on the wood stain of the tabletop.
An increasingly awkward silence fell as it really hit Arthur that he had slept with his Marshal last night.
“We shouldn’t take this too seriously,” he said quietly to his hot chocolate when the silence became too much to bear.
“If we – we can’t let this go too far, for both of our sakes,” he continued. “I don’t want you to lose your job over me. That’s just not right. So, can we just… keep it to occasional sex?” He barreled over Alfred’s intake of breath to speak, “I mean, it’s not that I don’t like you – bloody hell, Alfred, I like you – but it’s just-” Al clapped his hand over Arthur’s mouth, cutting him off before he could start babbling. Arthur glared at him.
Alfred smiled. “No need to get your panties in a wad, Arthur, I get it.” Arthur scowled further and stuck his tongue out to lick Al’s palm. Instead of the expected curse and retreat, though, Al just snorted. “Really, Artie? Tryin’ this trick after last night?” Arthur’s face burned and he shoved Alfred’s hand away with both of his, turning away from him and crossing his arms and legs with a huff. Behind him, he heard Al chuckle, then drain the last of his drink and stand up.
“Well, if friends with benefits is what ya want, that’s what we’ll try,” he said, stretching and yawning. Arthur looked over his shoulder at his smiling face, then sighed in defeat and stood as well just as Al stepped forward to pull him to his feet, resulting in an awkward invasion of personal bubbles and bumping elbows. Arthur stepped on his pants leg in his attempt to get away, and Al caught his upper arms automatically to keep him from falling. They blinked at each other for a long moment, breathless.
“Wanna watch a movie?” Alfred asked, grinning goofily.
Arthur shook his head of its blankness and snorted, but couldn’t keep himself from smiling. “Can I take a shower first?”
Arthur felt immeasurably better after a shower and brushing his teeth with the extra toothbrush in Al’s medicine cabinet. He let Alfred pick out an old action movie as he curled up in the afghan on the couch, choosing not to comment when he sat down a little too close to him with a bag of popcorn and flipped off the lights.
By the time they were halfway into the movie, Arthur had been pulled into Al’s side and was sharing his blanket with him, popcorn abandoned on the floor and attention focused wholly on the movie. The arm around his waist was heavy and warm, and the clothes he had borrowed from Al while what he’d worn last night was in the wash were slightly too big but comfortable. He closed his eyes and sighed, smiling and sinking further against Alfred.
If you wanna go to sleep, that’s fine,” Al murmured, carefully leaning his cheek on top of Arthur’s head. Arthur hummed in reply and pulled the arm further around him.
The moment was shattered by Al’s phone vibrating in the pocket under Arthur’s hip. He groaned, but sat up and away so Alfred could answer it, frowning at the interruption. Alfred smiled sheepishly and flipped it open.
“Yellow.” A deep, authoritarian voice growled indistinguishable words on the other end, and Al’s expression grew serious. “Okay, sir, I’m on my way.” He stood up with an exaggerated stretch, pausing the movie and turning off the TV before he stepped carefully across his den to the dining table where his shoulder gun holster and suit jacket were thrown onto a chair. “We got a lead on a murder fugitive from Mobile that made his way up here,” he explained while he threw his shoulder holster on, clipping it on with the quick ease of practice before slinging his jacket on over it. “Tie, tie, where’s a tie,” he muttered to himself, digging around the mess on the table.
Arthur threw off the blanket and fished out the tie he saw in the shadow of a potted cactus, looping it around Alfred’s neck and knotting it before he could protest. “What do you want me to do?” Arthur asked, patting down the knot and backing away awkwardly.
Alfred cursed as he jumped around on one foot, tying the shoe on the other. Arthur quickly reached out and held his shoulder to stabilize him. “Can you call Matt and ask him to come pick you up? I don’t really wanna leave ya here, but duty calls, y’know?” He managed to get both shoes on and tied well enough to walk without tripping, smiling feebly at Arthur.
Arthur gave him his best smile. “I know.” He reached up on his toes to kiss his cheek. “Don’t get yourself killed out there.”
Ignoring his red cheeks, Al laughed raucously and pinned his badge to his belt loop. “Takes more than an off his rocker killer to do me in, Mom.” He patted Arthur on the arm a few times stiffly, then ran through his house and out the front door.
Katyusha picked up Matt’s phone when he called a little while later (when he was back in his own, fresh-from-the-dryer clothes). After a brief episode where she fussed over him, his disappearing act, and his general well-being, she insisted on coming over right away and ‘don’t you move, young man, I’ll be right there’ – hanging up before he could protest that he was older than her by a good margin, thank you very much.
True to her word, she knocked at Alfred’s door not fifteen minutes later, halfway into one of the panic attacks Arthur had come to learn were part of her existence. They locked the house with the spare key hidden under the stone turtle by the front steps, and after Arthur checked to make sure he had everything he had arrived with, got in the car and drove back home.
By the time they were out of Alfred’s neighborhood, Katyusha had calmed down enough to start asking questions beyond rhetorical.
“So, young man,” she said, stopping at a stop sign briefly before turning left onto a more main road. “I believe the Americans say, ‘spill’.”
Arthur chuckled, deciding to let her new name for him slide for now. “What about?”
She raised her eyebrows in reply, which just made him chuckle harder. “Right, silly question.” He stared at his feet, sliding down a little in the passenger seat. “It’s just…” He trailed off again, fighting with his words. Katyusha waited patiently for him to get his thoughts in line. “Have you ever wanted something that you couldn’t have so much it burns?”
“Of course I have, everyone has,” she answered instantly. “What does this have to do with Alfred?” Arthur fell silent, and Katyusha understood. “Oh. I see.” They drove in silence for several minutes, Arthur staring into the space by his feet and Katyusha chewing softly on her lower lip. “Alfred is a sweet man, but he does not always think before he acts,” she said after a moment, jerking Arthur from his mind.
Her eyebrows furrowed slightly. “If you’re going to be doing anything of that nature with him, you must learn to have a thick skin, or both of you will be sad, lonely, and misunderstood.” She smiled at him, dimples in her cheeks showing. “Take it from his sister by law.”
He cocked his head to the side, perplexed. “But Alfred and Matthew aren’t related, are they?”
She shrugged. “Maybe not by blood, young man, but there are more ways to be brothers than by sharing a parent.” He let out a small ‘ah’ and nodded in understanding. “Do be careful, though. For both of your happiness.”
He pulled a leg up to his chest and sighed, resting his chin on his knee. “I’ll do my best.”