Hello guys!

Plugging through this story as always. Sorry for the laaaate updates. Someone told me I should do those "In last week's episode..." to remind you all what the hell is going on. But I'm not that nice. :)

And I have an excuse this time!

That's right ya boi's in England, mate. I'm doing a London study abroad this sem. My history nerd self is in heaven. Hit me up if you're in London and wanna talk gay countries. (hey buddy you in london :P)

much love, doze

Once Alfred has left, Arthur steels himself, dragging the blankets up around his middle in a fruitless effort to hide as much of himself as possible. He uses a bit of water from his cup on the bedside table to wet his hair down and to rub at the sheet marks on his face. The hospital gown gapes about his chest, so he pulls the collar of it up, wishing he had asked for Alfred's hoodie before he left.

The therapist appears in the doorway, her x-ray eyes scanning over him. "Are you ready?" She asks calmly.

"Ready as I'll ever be." He answers and marvels at how much he sounds like he's in a bad TV drama. Alfred would have definitely taken the opportunity to go, "But Captain, this mission is impossible. All before you have failed."

And he would say, "It's my lot in life, Alfred, to go where others cannot. Besides, no one will miss me."

And then Alfred would say with fake tears in his eyes. "But Arthur we were going to move in together, have a life together. I love-

"Arthur," The therapist draws him out of his thoughts with raised eyebrows. He's getting worse at this. Being in the hospital has left him horribly vulnerable to corny daydreams.


She shakes her head, smiling. "He's in my office. If you want him at anytime, use the call button. I'm sending them in now."

"Roger," he mutters after he's sure she's left. It's probably some kind of inane defense mechanism he's learned from Alfred. Acting goofy in the face of peril.

Just when he's starting to think that maybe they won't show up after all, they stand in his doorway. His family is dressed like they were planning on attending his funeral. He can't bother to flush the morbidity from his thoughts, not when his mother is in a nice little black number with pearl earrings and his father is wearing starched work clothes, stiff as an old-fashioned pew bench.

They can't even bother to look normal for once. Like they're a normal family. Like all the other normal visitors Arthur sees in the hallway, in their jeans and faded blouses and trainers. With flowers and get-well cards and cookies.

James skulks behind them with a strange expression on his face. He has their father's dark brown eyes coupled with some distant relative's long lost curly red hair. His freckles stand out starkly against his skin. For once, Arthur can't guess what he might be thinking. Dressed nice in a button up and khakis, no cleats or football jersey in sight.

"I'm sorry," Arthur says, feeling woefully unimpressive in his hospital gown. "I just woke up."

"Oh teddy bear," his mother's voice cracks and he doesn't have to see her face to know she's begun to cry. He stares hard at his blankets and his water-bloated belly, wishing he could sink into the next dimension. Hating her for making him feel guilty and hating himself for not caring about her pain.

"Well, y-you look like you've gained some weight somewhere at least," James says stupidly, trying to pacify their mother.

Arthur flinches, biting back a curse word. All at once, he feels like laying on his stomach again or maybe taking a chainsaw and cutting off the extra bits. He hates that Alfred convinced him to take those scones.

"Yes, I've gotten good and fat now. You shouldn't have to worry," he says bitterly. "I'll find a way to pay you back for this, father. I know you don't like wasting money on my stupidity."

His mother chokes on her sob, and his father growls, "That's enough, Arthur. We've come to have a civil conversation." He leads her to a chair, taking a seat. James stands behind them shifting from foot to foot.

His father's heavy brown eyes are like weights. Arthur can only hold them for so long before he looks away again.

"What did you want to talk about?" He asks, feeling his lip curl upwards in a sneer. "You never wanted to talk before."

"Arthur, what's wrong?" It's his mother that asks, looking perfectly miserable. Arthur can't imagine what she must see when she looks at him. He hasn't looked in a mirror in so long, but he doubts they would see the same thing even then.

"I can't imagine what you mean." It dawns on him slowly that he can't have a real conversation with them. Not like this.

"Arthur," his father says angrily.

"What?" He spits back. "What did you expect me to say? I don't want to be here. I didn't have a choice in the matter. So you ask me what's wrong. I haven't the foggiest. Ask the doctor."

James's brown eyes go huge, his pale face almost blue. "Artie, you've got anorexia. That's what they told us. You know that, right?"

Anorexia. Arthur grinds his teeth together. Even Alfred hasn't used the word. Sure, the therapist has said it, but she's realized quickly how much he hates it. He's not insane. He doesn't have a mental disorder. Sometimes he eats too little. By now, he's willing to admit that. But that's all.

"Yes, and you've got an IQ lower than thirty, James." Arthur growls. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't walk around throwing names at me for the hell of it. Names you know nothing about."

Rather than get angry, James looks horrified. He meets their father's eyes in confusion.

"If you just came here to shout at me, then I'll ask you to leave," Arthur continues, glaring. "Alfred is already helping me g-gai... helping me do what I need to do to get out of here. I'll do my best with the bill after I graduate. I won't be a burden much longer."

"Alfred?" His mother asks and Arthur's heart comes to a crashing halt.

"We agreed to his involvement when Arthur was unconscious, remember?" His father says barely audible. Arthur blinks. He had forgotten they'd agreed to it.

"Yes, but I thought that was only for the first few days. I didn't realize..."

His father looks at Arthur. "You realize why you're here."

It isn't a question. Arthur scowls and open his mouth.

"I'm not finished speaking," His father's eyes grow hard. "You need to gain weight, Arthur. It isn't healthy for you to be so thin. The reason your heart stopped was because you were unhealthy."

Arthur flinches violently, crossing his arms. "No, it was because I got drunk on the plane and took medication at the same time."

"Medication that wasn't prescribed to you."

Arthur blinks, feeling his mouth go dry. "I-It was anxiety medication. I've had it prescribed before. Just-

"It wasn't your prescription, and it only exacerbated your problem."

"If you thought I had a problem why didn't you say anything over Christmas?" Arthur snarls.

His father actually looks away. "We weren't planning on letting you return for the spring semester because we suspected something was going on. You'll have to forgive me that I didn't know what to say. As it is, I'm sorry the whole family was there like that. I meant to look by myself but the others were already down waiting to open presents. I realize that... was uncomfortable for you. I can't be angry at you for running away."

"Uncomfortable?" Arthur almost laughs, feeling redhot rage flow through his veins. "That's certainly one way to put it, isn't it? Showing off your scrawny son to all our relatives so that they can laugh too! It's a riot, father. It really is. I can't believe you thought you could make me miss the spring semester to stay in your godforsaken mansion. You think I ran away? I left. For good. I don't want anything to do with you."

"Arthur!" His mother and James say at the same time.

But he laughs. "Why so concerned all of a sudden? Was I not clear enough when I said I wanted to study in Washington? I don't belong. I never have. So leave me to get a degree I can never get a job with and leave me to have all the goddamn orgies I want to! Heaven only knows what you think I've been doing all these years."


"And don't pay for any of it! Leave me to debt! It'd be a fucking blessing. I don't want your money. Or your help."

"Why do you hate us?" His mother finally breaks through in a loud voice. Her eyes are still suspiciously watery, but her jaw is tight. "What have I ever done to make you think I don't love you?"

"Nothing," Arthur spits, feeling the fire go as quickly as it had come. "You never did anything."

Arthur tries to swallow, but he feels the lump in his throat. "Leave." He murmurs. He'd rather live through the whole plane incident again than let them see him cry now. But they aren't moving and he begins to doubt his powers as high king of the hospital room. His chest tightens with panic. The heart monitor speeds up. But he doesn't have it in him to be angry. Not anymore.

He fumbles for the call button, breathing raggedly.

They're silent before him, frozen. He's never given his father the pleasure of seeing him cry. As a young London delinquent, he'd rather have pulled out every single one of his toenails.

At first he fights to hold them back, clinging to his strong charade. His hands shake in his lap, resting against his rounded belly and the slight dent in the covers where the feeding tube can be connected.

"Hey, Art-" Alfred halts in his tracks, looking shocked to see Arthur's family still in the room.

He's nothing like them in that moment. Sesame Street hoodie, Underarmour basketball shorts, Nike hightops. A Texas Rangers ballcap on backwards. He holds a small container of Dip' n Dots from the vending machine down the hall. His family are sitting like they have boards glued to their backs. Even James is rigid.

But Alfred slouches familiarly in the doorway, spoon in his mouth. The pop of his blue eyes is almost like a photograph, like he accidentally walked into another universe, where someone as brightly colored and comical as him was never supposed to exist.

Alfred wrinkles his nose nervously. "Damn, I shouldnta run here. Too soon?"

He's such a dweeb. Arthur can't stop the tears anymore, and Alfred rushes forward anyway. His apologies trailing after him. "Aww, Arthur, I'm sorry. I said I wouldn't meet them. Look we won't talk at all. I didn't realize they hadn't left yet. I thought you wanted to see me."

He does want to see Alfred. Alfred's sticky cold icecream fingers brush back his hair. His warm sweet breath tickles against Arthur's cheeks. His tears seem silly, even to him.

"I'll pretend I don't see them," Alfred whispers loudly. "You think that'll work?"

"You're an i-idiot." Arthur rolls his eyes weakly.

"Oh, I can pretend I don't speak English." Alfred cocks his head to the side. "Uh, Watashi, watashi wa Alfred desu. Eigo wo hanashimasen."

"It's too late for that." Arthur clears his throat, wiping at his cheeks.

"Well, damn," Alfred tilts his head back. "I don't think I have any more ideas. Would you like me to jump out the window?"

"How about... how about you just stay in bed with me?" Arthur says and Alfred smiles.

"And this is why you're the brains of the operation." Before Arthur can stop him, he leans forward and pecks him on the lips. He expects to feel some embarrassment for Alfred's blatant affection, but all he feels is relief. His family may be the type to keep affection behind closed doors, but it's nice to know that Alfred doesn't care who sees.

Alfred sets the bowl of ice cream on Arthur's lap, wiping his hands on his shorts. "I'm Alfred." He holds out his hand to Arthur's father. "Nice to meet you."

For a horrifying second, his father doesn't move, but then he reaches forward and shakes Alfred's sticky hand. "Ralph Kirkland. This is my wife, Mary and my son, James. You already know Arthur."

"I do." Alfred beams easily, not bothered by their stiffness. Arthur can see his mother and James are just now working out who Alfred really is. "I've been looking forward to meeting you for awhile."

"Yes, Arthur has mentioned you."

Arthur flinches, but Alfred only laughs. "I'm sure you've heard only the worst parts. I'm a responsible kid, I swear. I go to the culinary school near the university. I plan to be a chef."

"A chef?" The irony certainly isn't lost on them, sitting in a hospital with their anorexic son who's in love with a chef.

"Yep," Alfred says, reclaiming his ice cream bowl. "Arthur complains a lot, but I know he likes my cooking."

Arthur scowls. "I like your cooking just about as much as I like the bed pan."

"Arthur!" His mother is horrified. She looks apologetically at Alfred, who laughs again.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Kirkland. Arthur likes the bed pan a lot. It's that or wet the sheets." Alfred raises an eyebrow at Arthur challengingly, as if to ask if he really wants to play this game.

Despite himself, Arthur starts to grin, that unabashed look he gets from spending too much time with Alfred. Then James chimes in and ruins it.

"Your Arthur's boyfriend?"

The words hang in the air and sink into nothing before Alfred replies. His brilliant blue eyes flicker over the lot of them, coming to rest on Arthur's father. "I am, yeah." He straightens up as if daring any of them to make an issue of it. "That's not important right now, though."

"It seems serious." Arthur's mother comments. "It must be important."

"Oh, it is important," Alfred says. "Just not right this minute. I'd like to talk with you about how I love your son sometime. Maybe over dinner? But for now, I think you want to know about Arthur." How Alfred seems to know their discussion had gone to shit, Arthur has no clue.

Getting comfortable, Alfred leans back and puts an arm around him. Stirring his ice cream around. "Do you have any questions?"
Ordinarily, Arthur would be angry that Alfred has officially taken over his family discussion. But with Alfred warm against his side, he only lays his head down and inspects Alfred's ice cream.

"Did you tell Arthur to come back to America?"

Arthur blinks in surprise at the vitriol in his father's voice. He opens his mouth angrily, but Alfred shushes him with a kiss to the head.

"No, I didn't." Alfred answers honestly. "I didn't try to dissuade him from coming back though. I wanted him here. I was sad that he couldn't spend Christmas with me. In fairness, I thought you were okay with it and I didn't know he was that sick."

"Was it your Xanax?"

Alfred stares at nothing for a long time, before nodding. "Yes, it was my prescription."

Arthur shifts to look at him in surprise. He had assumed it was Alfred's roommate's. "You have anxiety?"

Alfred wrinkles his nose like he does when he doesn't want to talk about something. "For awhile now."

"And you knew he took it?" Arthur's father continues.

"Of course, he didn't." Arthur snaps. "I stole it."

"I thought he might have." Alfred doesn't look at him, playing intently with the ice cream spoon.

"And you didn't say anything?" Arthur's father demands.

"No, I... I figured if he had taken it... well, it sounds fucking stupid now, but I thought he needed it more than I did. I could easily get another bottle." Alfred lowers his head. "I was wrong. I regret it."

"If he hadn't had the medicine, he wouldn't've..." James doesn't finish the sentence, but he doesn't need to.

Arthur tries to find the words, but his mind is utterly blank. Alfred knew that he took the medicine?

"Why didn't you say anything?" His father asks. He just asked this question, but Alfred hears a different meaning this time.

"I don't know." Alfred crosses and then uncrosses his fingers. "I knew there was something wrong. I didn't know what it was, and sometimes... I felt like I was imagining it. I guess I just hoped that if there was something wrong Arthur would tell me. That didn't work out very well." He forces a harsh chuckle, but his eyes are flat.

"How could you not know something was wrong?" James asks angrily. "I mean, don't you and he..."

Arthur scowls, finding his words abruptly. "Fuck? Is that what you mean to say? Why don't you fucking mind your own business, you nosy shithead?"

"Arthur!" His mother scowls fiercely at his language, but this time she doesn't look at his father. She looks at Alfred. Arthur is still trying to understand what to make of that when the conversation continues.

"I don't want to talk about that," Alfred says much more calmly than Arthur would ever expect. He takes a bite of his ice cream. "With all due respect, it's none of your business what Arthur and I do."

Arthur's father says nothing for awhile, his brown eyes unreadable. "How long will he be here?"

"That's up to him," Alfred says.

"What do you mean?"

"He needs to gain more weight to be released."

"Well, it looks like he's packed on nearly a stone! I can't see how much more they want from him. Though his arms still look like-"

"Ralph," His mother interrupts, probably seeing the look on Arthur's face. He hadn't been able to stop himself from flinching, crossing his arms over his middle. Alfred blinks slowly, realizing that he hasn't explained.

"That's not weight," Alfred says. "It's water. Arthur..." He sighs heavily. "Arthur's really sick, okay? He's a tough guy, but even he can only go so long without giving his body what it needs." Alfred seems to know how uncomfortable this topic is for him, as he gently rubs at Arthur's back. "Arthur's been eating regularly, and his body is using those nutrients to repair and replace all the old cells that it couldn't while he was... starving himself. One of the side effects is water retention, which is basically swelling like when you twist your ankle. It'll go away. In fact, it should very soon." He looks at Arthur directly, his blue eyes gentle.

"Well, I suppose that explains it," Arthur's father murmurs. "I had wondered why he hasn't got any weight on his arms and chest."

Arthur can't help but flinch again, but he can feel Alfred's sympathy. It keeps him from getting worked up.

"How much weight does he have to put on?"

This time Alfred doesn't answer the question, not immediately. "Arthur," he says calmly. "Is it okay if I talk about this? Or would you rather I didn't?"

Arthur's first reaction is to say no. His weight is such a private matter. He doesn't want his bloody parents and brother of all people prying. At the same time, somewhere in the back of his mind he feels like they have a right to know. They are still, no matter what, the ones footing his bills. He hates it, loathes it. But it's true. He ignores the small part of him that hopes they'll take pity on him. Maybe if they hear the numbers, they'll try to understand.

He swallows, looking uncertainly at Alfred. "You can talk about it," he says in barely more than a whisper. "Just don't... Just please be careful about it." He flinches at the tone of his voice. He sounds like such a wuss.

His family is already looking at him strangely and they haven't even heard the facts yet. Alfred presses a kiss to his head.

"Here's the thing." Alfred begins matter-o-factly. "Arthur only needs to gain twelve more pounds to be released from the hospital. He's gained some weight since he's been here and isn't in as critical condition. Although," Alfred bites his lip. "He's still severely underweight. They would never release him right now, but they're encouraged by his progress."

"How much does he weigh?" His father asks, looking sternly at Alfred. Strangely, Arthur reflects that it's his father's business face. He's taking in the facts, deciding what to do with them.

Alfred bites his lip, looking reluctant to say. "98." As soon as he says it, the atmosphere in the room changes. James and his mother always wear their emotions on their sleeves, but it's his father that looks the most caught off guard.

"98 pounds?" He asks softly. "Christ, I think Peter weighs that much."

Alfred says nothing, rubbing calming circles into Arthur's back. His ice cream is melting, but he doesn't seem to notice.

"And you said that's after he gained weight here? What did he weigh before?"

Alfred doesn't get upset. "Around 83."

The silence is deafening. Arthur shifts, searching for something to distract himself. It isn't as awful as he thought. It had been worse when he had to tell Alfred. Now Alfred is doing all the hard work. He's glad he called Alfred in.

"110 pounds?"

Alfred nods. "For him to be released. That's still very underweight, but they don't think he'll keel over." He butts Arthur's head with his own teasingly. "Ultimately, they want to get him up to 140. He's not very tall, so he doesn't need to weigh that much. 140 is our long term goal."

"He can't live by himself." His mother whispers.

Arthur scowls, causing Alfred to smile.

"Yeah, I know that, Mrs. Kirkland. I've... already coordinated with the therapist on this. She agrees. Arthur will move in with me."

Arthur flushes, looking down at his hands. He can't begin to say how happy those words make him. Living in a house with Alfred, sleeping in the same bed, finally being able to give Alfred a good relationship. He wants so badly to give back, just a little bit. All this time Alfred has been so wonderful to him, but he wants to make Alfred feel amazing too.

"Absolutely not." It takes Arthur's father a minute to find his voice. "The second he's released from this hospital, he's on a flight back to London. Traveling across the bloody globe has done him no good whatsoever. He's coming home."

In retrospect, Arthur isn't surprised. It doesn't stop him from getting angry. "I have school if you've forgotten, father. Just because you don't like the fact that I have a boyfriend doesn't mean you get to dictate where I stay. I have a student visa. I'm staying here."

"It'll be bloody summer by the time you're out of here, Arthur. Don't pretend." His father tells him coldly. "You will come home where you can be taken care of properly. I'm certain part of the reason you've developed this problem in the first place is spending so long on your own."

"I won't be on my own!" Arthur blows up.

"Yes, and I should be comforted by the fact you're staying with your boyfriend. Listen, here, I wouldn't be anymore comfortable with it if Henry had anorexia and tried to tell me he's staying with his girlfriend. You're coming home, Arthur. That's final."

Arthur laughs, sneering. "Perhaps it would be final if I were a minor. I'm staying. You can't make me leave."

His father's eyes are rock hard now, but Arthur feels untouchable. They can agree or not. It doesn't matter.

"May I butt in?" Alfred asks lightly, receiving glares from both. "I know you may not be comfortable with this, Mr. Kirkland. I understand that. You don't know me very well. But... Arthur is very important to me. I've memorized his calorie calendar." He pulls out a rumpled bit of paper and hands it to Arthur's mother. "I've taken the time to design him a meal plan from scratch since he doesn't like the hospital food. I'm working on one for after he gets out of the hospital that'll give him some flexibility, that way he can always eat what he wants to. I just want you to know that I'm taking this very seriously, and if... if Arthur and I ever have a falling out, I swear to you I won't let it influence the way I treat him. I'll be the first to call you and let you know. I just want the best for him. I love him."

"That's all good and fine, Alfred." Arthur's father says sounding exhausted. "But you're young and it's highly likely you'll stop loving him at some point. This isn't a way to start a normal or healthy relationship. For... whatever reason, Arthur seems very attached to you. It would be best to get this over with quickly, before you change your mind."

Alfred gapes, his perfect features thrown into disarray. He glances at Arthur, expecting some kind of response. But for once, his father's worries mirror his own. Of course, he would never leave Alfred in a million years, but his "sickness", his hospital stay... Sometimes it seems like only a matter of time before Alfred will crack.

"You're kidding, right?" Alfred says and Arthur hears the tension. He's about to get angry. "How can you say that to me? When I was the only one here for him for so long? Oh he seems attached to me, does he? Do you think that happened overnight? I love your son, Mr. Kirkland. You don't know the half of what's been going on here. I don't think you realize how serious this is. He could have died and he still could! Arthur's an amazing guy, who doesn't deserve this. And maybe I don't deserve him, but I'm going to do my best to make him happy again. Because he sure as hell wasn't happy when I met him."

"Ralph," Arthur's mother says quietly, interrupting him before he can respond. "Look at this." She holds out the calorie calendar that Alfred had given her.

It's covered in Alfred's cramped writing, every single box blossoming with ideas and ingredients. The margins are filled with doodles and question marks and addition problems. At the bottom, Alfred has scrawled a happy face with a thumbs-up with the ever-changing number of days that Arthur has managed to stay on schedule. It had been getting big, until today's argument.

"Back to zero then," He mutters and Alfred snorts.

"I'm willing to fudge the number. Since today was partially my fault."

"Partially?" Arthur challenges around a yawn, dropping his head to Alfred's chest. His father and mother are busy reading, but James watches them curiously.

Alfred smiles gently. "It's getting late. You're tired."

"I'm always tired." Arthur grouses, though he doesn't mind it so much with Alfred here.

"Sleep then. I'll take care of this."

Arthur blinks. "I don't want you to... be talked out of anything."

"Trust me, Arthur. That's not likely to happen," Alfred laughs. "Get some sleep. I'll wake you up before I leave."

"Do you have to leave?" Arthur says, no longer caring who hears him.

"Unfortunately, yes. All the more reason to get those last 12 points and be out of here, right? Think about it: a nice, big, warm bed. We can jack the heater up as high as you want. You'll never have to be cold. There's a TV with actual channels. The sheets are soft and you can wear pajama pants and hoodies all day long."

"Oh, Alfred, keep talking dirty to me." By now, he knows his parents must be listening. But they haven't interrupted.

Alfred snorts, rubbing at the hair near the nape of his neck, putting him to sleep. "There are doors that lock. Privacy is a plus. My tub is huge and the hot water works. There's a bookshelf that desperately needs filling. I'll need your help for that and uhh... there's me." He says childishly, but his voice is irrevocably warm.

"The best part of it all," Arthur mumbles, failing at sarcasm.