"What about this?" Alfred lugged the large case records book off the floor and dropped it on his desk, causing Arthur's papers to fly everywhere. "Oops. I'll get those."
Arthur rolled his eyes, bending over the thin page and massaging the bridge of his nose. A migraine lurked in the wings, and he dreaded the moment it struck. With luck, it would be after he'd finished writing his closing argument for this next case. Alfred had been invited to "assist" him, but as of yet hadn't had much luck with the case records. Arthur enjoyed ribbing at him, but in truth the case records were always a hit and miss unless you had unlimited time on your hands.
"Which is it?" He asked as Alfred scrambled on the floor, scrounging up the scattered papers.
"Drudson v. State. An assault case."
"Mhmp." Arthur didn't answer, scanning the details over and comparing them with those of his current case. It could work. It might take a bit of bending, but the verdict could definitely be construed in his favor. "Try again," he said, but scrawled it down in the margins of his argument, along with a couple others of Alfred's rejected efforts.
"You're so hard to please," Alfred whined good-naturedly. Accepting the book back without a fight. Overall, he certainly wasn't as upset as last time. He settled down in the sun of Arthur's client couch, humming to himself.
"You're in a good mood," Arthur commented, because it was better than reliving the details of another assault case at the moment.
"It's the environs," Alfred said without looking up. "My social and my comfort are up."
"You know, like the Sims."
"Never mind." Alfred glanced up slyly. "Don't you have an argument to write, attorney Kirkland?"
"I will kick you out, Alfred."
Alfred pouted, but returned to his book. "Am I going to see this one in court?"
"Depends on your good behavior until then."
"I'm always good."
Arthur only grunted in response, which caused Alfred to laugh. They fell into a companionable silence, broken only by the rustle of Alfred's pages or the clack of Arthur's keyboard. He tried not to, but he found his eyes were often on Alfred, so out of place. Arthur was used to working alone, but working with Alfred in the room wasn't awful like he expected.
Although he didn't work as fast, splitting his time between conversation, looking at Alfred without him realizing, and actually writing. The distraction wasn't unwelcome. Alfred was decidedly nice to look at. Of course, he wouldn't attest to such a fact on his deathbed, sworn in on the Bible or otherwise. But in the privacy of his own thoughts, he admitted to himself that Alfred had very nice eyes and skin. The particular shade of blue was dark and lightened when he stepped outside. He used to be tanner, but hours indoors had stripped away most of the sun's influence. Even so, his skin was clear and soft-looking.
He was taller than Arthur and built thicker. The way Alfred ate, he probably should have been husky, but the only roundness Arthur could discern was a touch on his cheeks. Not that he had much opportunity to notice it elsewhere. The only skin he had to work with was that of Alfred's face and hands. Suits, in spite of all their attributes, could never be revealing.
Arthur found himself zoning out as he stared at his Word document. Imagining that he had the power to impact dress code decisions. Perhaps he'd changed the associate's wardrobe to something more... summer suitable.
It was embarrassing how long he stared at nothing, his fantasy growing vivid enough that it included dialogue and texture. He didn't even realize he was doing it until Alfred dropped one of the case record books with an almighty thud.
Arthur jumped so high that Alfred noticed it, glancing at him quizzically. "Really focused, huh?" He said, referring to Arthur's Word document.
"Yeah," Arthur said, referring to something entirely different. His voice was a pitch too high and he cleared his throat. This was getting out of hand.
Sternly, he drew up his keyboard and forced himself to type the next sentences. For the few moments he could manage it, he pretended that Alfred wasn't in the room.
"What about this?" Alfred interrupted him the minute he had got into a rhythm and he sighed through his nose.
Alfred brought the book up, setting it in front of him and leaning forward. "Perenabb v. State. I think that..."
But the rest of his words were unintelligible to Arthur who flinched reflexively backward as Alfred's shoulder pressed into his. Alfred didn't notice, kept talking, pointing out the passages in the book. When he was finished, he glanced up expectantly.
"I'm sorry," Arthur said, his head throbbing. "Could you say that again? I missed it."
Alfred raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Are you okay, Arthur? You look a little pale."
"Yes, yes," Arthur said faintly. "I'm alright. What were you saying?"
Alfred frowned, leaning back. "Are you sure? You don't look okay."
"It's just the weather changing. It gives me migraines sometimes." Arthur explained dismissively. It definitely wasn't just the weather, but it was an apt excuse.
Alfred's concern sent a thrill of... something through him. His heart skipping a beat, painfully.
"Do you ever not work 3 a.m. to 10 p.m., Arthur?"
"Ha ha," he said, waving impatiently at the book. "Explain what you were saying."
"I'm serious," Alfred said, meeting his gaze.
"I don't see how it's any of your business." Arthur responded coolly.
Flinching, Alfred backed down. "Okay, you're right. But that isn't going to stop me from being concerned."
"Why would you be concerned?" Arthur asked archly.
Alfred frowned. "Well, I don't want you to get hurt!"
"Alfred, I hardly think losing a few hours of sleep here and there is going to kill me. I've been doing it for years."
"Sleep studies show that damage is cumulative." Alfred shot back. "Getting less than seven hours of sleep every night is terrible for the body's natural-
"Very well. I did not expect you to start spitting research at me," Arthur conceded sourly. "You'll be an attorney yet."
Alfred looked unhappy with this response, crossing his arms. "You don't usually take lunch breaks either."
"Well, since all I do is sit around all day, I imagine it evens out."
"That's not how anatomy works."
"Do you really want to start an argument about this, Alfred?" Arthur snapped. "Because you will lose."
Alfred stuck his chin out stubbornly. "You don't live with anyone, do you?"
The question was so deeply personal and so out of left field that it caught Arthur completely off guard. "Excuse me?"
Realizing how his question could be taken, Alfred quickly tried to backtrack. "I meant that it's no wonder you're so off schedule because I have roommate and he's always helped keep me on sche-
"I believe you are done talking." Arthur interrupted him icily. "Good evening, Alfred. You are free to go."
Alfred's mouth hung open, before he scowled. "Fine. I'm sorry, sir." Curt and quick, he exited, closing the door a little too loudly behind him.
Arthur sat for a moment, expecting the fury to overwhelm him any second. Upon careful reflection, he realized that he was not as angry as he'd thought. Alfred had asked him a personal question and been incredibly intrusive about his daily habits, but Alfred didn't ask questions the way someone like Francis asked questions. He wasn't collecting answers for later use. He just... cared. For whatever bizarre misguided reason.
Arthur fiddled quietly with the end of his tie, already regretting the way he handled the situation. What if he had just answered the question? Would the universe have cracked? Would hell have broken loose? Would it really have been so terrible?
It was no wonder he didn't get close to people. He couldn't let them past the threshold.
There was a very strong line between Arthur's private life and Arthur's business life. Considering most of the people he came into contact with were on the business side, they stayed on the business side. If he was being honest, he didn't think there was much to say about his personal life. All his accomplishments had been on the business side of things. His personal life leased its own quiet corner in a building owned outright by his time-consuming and wildly successful career. Sometimes he simply forgot his personal life was there, huddled in the corner as it was. Playing with model ships and English tea brands, not a peep louder than the sound it took to glance over at the collection of models on his table. While other peoples' personal lives frequently got in the way of their jobs, Arthur's slept in the corner and faded in with the wallpaper. There wasn't much to say about it.
Despite this, Arthur did keep those few things sacred. Not many had reason to ask after his personal life, but most would find if they did, an answer as vague and undefined as territorial ocean borders. He never entertained guests or clients at his flat, though it was always tidy enough. He doubted anybody in the office knew his favorite brand of wine. And the past three years' Christmases, he'd spent here, hunched over his laptop into the wee hours of the morning. While his holiday hours perished to billable hours.
Work life balance was a gag phrase to him. Work was his life and had been for so long he couldn't imagine doing things another way. But Alfred came in Monday through Friday and at five o'clock he shed all his worries for whatever mysterious and unknowable private life he entertained. Arthur went to bed thinking about work and woke up thinking about work. What would he think about otherwise?
Yet he was having a very hard time concentrating on work these days.
Arthur massaged at his temples, before abruptly coming to a decision. He was going home for the day. He was exhausted. He had a headache. And he hadn't left the office early in ages.
He gathered up his things as one determined and flung open his office door to find Alfred still at his desk.
"Where are you going?" Alfred asked, dumbfounded.
"Why are you still here?" Arthur responded.
Alfred shrugged. "Waiting for you to cool off enough so that I could apologize... I'm sorry."
Alfred winced, "For saying things that were none of my business. I didn't mean to offend you."
"I'm not offended." Arthur brushed his apology aside, pleased to have it either way. An idea occurred to him that made his dead heart flip. A crazy idea, an impulsive idea. When was the last time he had been impulsive? "Alfred?"
"Yeah?" Maybe he was imagining Alfred's hopeful expression, wishful thinking.
"Would you like to join me for dinner tonight?"
A million rejections whistled through Arthur's mind so fast they made him dizzy. A million ways this could be taken wrongly. A million ways it could end in disaster.
Alfred beamed. "Of course. Are you going now?"
0 0 0
"I thought we could just pick something up and have it at my place," Arthur said, switching his briefcase to his other hand nervously. He and Alfred walked together down the sidewalk outside Thompson Lang. The sun was just setting, sparkling blindingly off the building sides.
"Chinese?" Alfred asked.
"If that's what you want."
"It is." Alfred grinned. "Will I get to see more of your ships?"
Arthur nodded hesitantly. "If that's what you want."
"It is." Alfred replied again.
They fell into silence, and Arthur worried that it was awkward. What was he doing? He was terrible in small talk situations. And this was vastly uncalled for. He tried to calm himself down, but the migraine wasn't helping. Everything was too bright and too raw. He had just done something incredibly stupid.
"Thanks for inviting me, Arthur," Alfred chimed in, his blue eyes serious.
"My pleasure," Arthur murmured.
"You're acting more formal than usual," Alfred commented to his horror. "Am I the first associate you've had to dinner?"
"No," Arthur lied and then exhaled. "To be honest, I think I need a drink."
Alfred grinned, "Well, that's no problem." He paused for barely a half second before moving onto a new topic, leaving Arthur's head pulsing. "Arthur, why did you come to America?"
"To practice law."
"No duh. But why not practice law in England? Not high enough dividends?" Alfred made a teasing face.
"Partially. I'm not entirely sure. I'd wanted to visit America for a very long time. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Don't you miss England?"
"I haven't thought about it in quite some time. There's only so much space in my head, and the majority of it is filled with casework." And recently you. Arthur added wryly to himself.
"Well, you're a law genius. I'm sorry for my, uh, lack of knowledge. I don't really pay attention to salary all that much. But you're young to, uh, to be-
"Doing so well," Arthur filled in dryly. "You wouldn't be wrong to make that inference."
"How old are you?" Alfred asked tactlessly.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "What significance could that information possibly have to you?"
"You know how old I am."
"Irrelevant. And I don't actually."
Alfred held the door of the Chinese restaurant open for him, trying to hide the fact that he was all but drooling. "It's on my papers."
"It may come as a shock to you, Alfred, but I don't spend all my free time casing my associates." Arthur scanned the menu overhead, while Alfred shifted antsy to his right. When Arthur looked over, Alfred tapped the cashew chicken with his fingertip and a hopeful smile. Arthur rolled his eyes. "When you're paying, you can pick." Nonetheless, he tacked it on to double his usual order. He didn't trust Alfred to save him any of his favorites, so better safe than sorry.
"I could be fourteen for all you know," Alfred said, continuing their conversation as they made their way to Arthur's flat.
Alfred scowled, "No, but I could be."
"Fine, Alfred." Arthur stopped outside the door of his flat, shoving Chinese food into Alfred's chest while he fished for the key. "Since you seem so anxious to tell me, how old are you?"
"I wouldn't say anxious," Alfred muttered, for once sounding embarrassed. "You know I can find your age on the internet if you won't tell me."
"You can find a lot on the internet," Arthur commented cheerfully. "But I'll bet you can't find that. I have been extraordinarily careful to leave no traces."
"It's like you were waiting for the day some nosy associate walked into your life." Alfred laughed, coming to an abrupt halt in Arthur's entryway. "Wow, your flat is so nice."
"What do you think I did with my money?"
Alfred turned back to grin at him, before bouncing happily along to set the takeaway bag on the kitchen counter. Although Arthur was trying hard not to show it, he found himself nervously watching Alfred as the man took everything in. Alfred couldn't possibly know he was the first guest in years.
His blue eyes flittered over the granite countertops and Arthur's never-used appliances. There weren't many decorations. The dark wood floors gleamed seamlessly as they stretched from room to room. He didn't have a dining table, but then he was rarely home for dinner. Alfred didn't mind at all, settling in Arthur's embarrassingly dusty living room. And Arthur was thanking his lucky stars he still paid for cable, because it gave them some buffer.
He didn't try to speak to Alfred, too focused on Alfred's reactions. Alfred's eyes stayed for a long time on his towering bookshelves. His reading chair was the only unsophisticated bit of furniture in the room, bought with comfort in mind. Arthur shifted on the couch, wondering why he hadn't considered comfort when purchasing it as well.
"Those aren't all law books," Alfred commented after a minute, spearing a cashew with delight.
Arthur shrugged. "There's quite a variety of subjects scattered about."
"What kinds of things do you like to read?"
"I don't see why you would care to know." He replied stiffly.
Alfred frowned, sighed, and glanced down. "Does there have to be a reason?"
"Does there have to be a reason every time I want to know something?"
"You're telling me there isn't a reason?" Arthur raised an eyebrow.
"Not one you would understand," Alfred grumbled, shoving a large piece of chicken into his cheek.
Arthur scowled, "What does that mean?"
Alfred laughed. "I want to know because I want to get to know you. You couldn't pick that up with your legendary lawyering prowess?"
"Why?" Arthur asked flatly. His migraine had receded, but he could feel it returning with a vengeance.
"Why do I want to get to know you?" Alfred asked in exasperation. "Is there an application for it? I just want to. That's the answer."
"That is not the answer," Arthur said in frustration. "It is not that simple. Associates want to get to know me for benefits. Attorneys want to get to know me for court tricks. Hell, I would reckon Marlene pays attention just so she knows what buttons to push and when. Answers are never that simple, Alfred."
Alfred actually looked hurt- hurt enough that he set his plate down. "Who do you think I am, Arthur? I didn't even expect to get hired at Thompson Lang. I don't have... grand plans or anything. I like getting to know people. I was hoping that you wanted to get to know me, too. But I guess that wouldn't make sense." His voice turned hard. "What could you possibly get out of making friends with your law school associate?"
Arthur's mouth nearly fell open. The tables were getting turned and he didn't like it one bit. "Stop being melodramatic," Arthur growled. "There are plenty of reasons."
"Oh yeah. Name a few."
"Okay," Arthur clutched his plate a little tighter, searching for good fake reasons. The real reason wasn't seeing the light of day for another ten eternities. "I have some stake in your future now that you've come to work at my firm. Whether you do well or not has some reflection on my abilities, and I'd prefer it was a good reflection. This way I can.. learn what motivates you better. The office dynamic will be... better."
"Oh my god." Alfred got to his feet abruptly. "You really do have reasons. I swear, you have reasons for everything. Shame on me for thinking we were talking just to talk. There's nothing to figure out, Arthur. The office dynamic already works. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Alfred." Arthur stood too, fiddling uncomfortably with the end of his tie. "Please, I didn't mean it like that. Of course... of course, I like talking to you. You really think I wouldn't after all this?"
"And why do you like talking to me, Arthur?" Alfred asked acidly. "What's the super special reason?"
"There isn't one. Not really." Arthur sighed. "I know what you mean. You just... You have to understand. People don't get to know me. I'm not like that. I'm not always so forthcoming."
"That's an understatement," Alfred said flatly, before taking pity on Arthur's discomfort, and smiling. "I'd like an apology, and then we might be able to talk about a settlement offer."
A million ways to circumvent the situation presented themselves in Arthur's mind, but for once he let them sit. "I'm sorry, Alfred. Why don't we continue this... getting to know me thing?"
Alfred grinned boyishly. "I agree." He jumped forward, grabbing Arthur by the shoulders and effectively giving him heart failure. Bless Alfred with an inch and he took a mile. "But let's do it over alcohol. I think it'll be more fun."
"That sounds unwise," Arthur said, having to look up quite a bit to meet Alfred's gaze. He could feel Alfred's breath on his face.
Alfred rolled his eyes, "Seriously? After you just said you needed a drink? And you've taken me to the bar before. I think we'll survive."
"Doubtful." Arthur replied with a weak smile.
Alfred grinned back. "And forthwith commences the history of Arthur Kirkland Part 1."
0 0 0
Arthur caved. All it took was a couple of Alfred's smiles and the feel of Alfred's arm brushing against him as he reached for the alcohol from the wine cooler. Alfred was interested. For the simple reason that he wanted to know. He wanted to know about Arthur.
They sat together at his kitchen bar, facing each other. Arthur's largest wine glasses being put to good use. Their knees were smashed together, but Arthur didn't care as he expounded on all the boring details of his years in England to Alfred's appreciative grin. His glass was never empty with Alfred in charge of the bottle. He would have suspected motive, but Alfred was drinking nearly as much. Alfred didn't even bother to bring up Arthur's law career. And it was refreshing pretending that it didn't exist for the moment.
Alfred even managed a miracle and wrangled his age out of him. He wasn't old, although he really wasn't young either. For the longest time, Arthur had kept it under wraps because clients got nervous hiring a younger lawyer no matter his successful track record. Now those days were gone, his status all but legendary in the criminal defense field. No one had any problem with his age, but his hourly rate, well, that was a different story.
"Thirty four," He admitted, and he knew he must be getting drunk because he smiled after he said it.
Alfred grinned too, or really he had never stopped grinning since the conversation started. And it was bloody difficult to resist answering under its force. "Do y'know, Arthur? There are people in law school with me that are that age. What you've accomplished is incredible."
"Are you going to make me guess? How old are you?" Even in this foggy state, he knew alcohol had been a bad idea. He would wake up tomorrow morning with a lawsuit for sexual harassment in all likelihood.
Alfred laughed, ducking his head so that his hair fell over his eyes. "I'm the dancing queen. Young and sweet. Only…" He snorted. "Twenty seven. When I say it like that, I guess it makes me sound old."
"No, it makes you sound like an idiot."
"Arthur, that means a lot coming from you. It isn't like you call just anybody an idiot." Alfred raised an eyebrow with his lips pursed and Arthur couldn't help but laugh.
"The creativity of my insults has certainly degraded over the years. I'm blaming it on the wear and tear of the legal justice system."
Alfred grinned. "Do you ever take vacations?"
"I can't even remember my last one. I must have a full year of vacation days stocked up by this point."
Alfred's expression grew a little more serious as he played with the wine cork. Arthur was astonished to find that between the two of them they'd cleared off the whole bottle. "Do I get any vacation days, Arthur?" His blue eyes glinted with some unreadable emotion.
Arthur snorted. "Not if I have any say." He blushed, realizing how that could sound. (That he wanted Alfred in the office with him, which was the truth, but.)
"I couldn't convince you otherwise?" Alfred asked lightly.
"You'd be very hard-pressed, but I won't discourage the attempt," Arthur reached for a new wine bottle. "What'll you do to convince me? Hmm? Pay for my bar tab? Shine my shoes? Pick up my dry-cleaning? Scones from the bakery?"
Alfred's serious expression faltered when he laughed, but the strange intensity was still in his eyes. "What would make you take a vacation day, Arthur?"
"Circumstances beyond my control." Arthur said wryly, handing Alfred another full glass. "You can't separate me from the office for long. It's like my daemon."
"Yes, daemon. The Golden Compass. Never mind." Yes, he was definitely getting drunk.
Alfred bit his lip. "I'm about to be in my last year of law school."
"I was aware."
"I'm not sure where I want to work yet. The city is really nice, though. Do you like it here?"
"Much more, recently," Arthur flinched after he said it, doing a rather credible impression of deer in the headlights.
Alfred smiled into his lap. "Me too."
Arthur took a long draught of his wine glass, because whatever the alcohol was doing to his hearing he didn't want it to stop.
"Arthur?" Alfred took a deep breath. His hand found its way onto Arthur's knee and he leaned forward.
Arthur raised the glass quickly again, leaning backwards. His fingers tapped a jarring rhythm on the counter. His heart sped up. Alfred was so close now, and it was becoming difficult to…
Gently, Alfred hooked a finger around the wine glass stem, his hand hot against Arthur's. Slowly, Alfred guided the glass back to the counter. When he had got it back down, Alfred reached up and grabbed near the top of Arthur's tie. Arthur froze as he realized what Alfred wanted. That Alfred wanted…
"Arthur?" Alfred met his gaze uncertainly, real fear flickering in the blue depths. "Is this—
But he didn't get the chance to say anything else. Arthur hooked a hand around Alfred's tie and tugged. Their lips crashed together rather inelegantly and Arthur half-slid to his feet, desperate for the pressure and the contact. It was something out of his wildest fantasies when Alfred dropped his hands, resting them gently at Arthur's waist, and kissed back.
Eventually, he had to pull away for air, meeting Alfred's eyes shyly. His mind raced to find all the possible mistakes he had committed in his lapse of judgment.
But then Alfred laughed, warm and rich and admittedly drunk, and said, "God, Arthur, could you do that again?"