sephydark: (America England sleeping)
[personal profile] sephydark
Title: Alone in a Crowd
Character(s)/Pairing(s): America/England, France
Genre: Romance, Drama, AU
Rating: PG for swearing
Warnings: none
Summary: Arthur's new neighbor is an annoying American.
Author's Note: Wow, I got some pretty epic writer's block while making this. As in, it took me over three months to write about five or so paragraphs. Yeah.

Previous chapter is here if you want it.



"Fuck, where is that thing?" shouted Arthur in exasperation. He had searched his office and even backtracked to the restaurant where he had just eaten lunch, but there was no sign of his folder. He needed it soon, too, because it contained papers he needed for a presentation he would be giving that afternoon. He was now sitting in the restaurant, the same McDonald's Alfred had shown him up in just a couple of weeks previously. It seemed like recently that place had brought him nothing but trouble.

"Arthur, is that you? What's wrong?" said an all too familiar voice. "Is there something I can do to help?"

Arthur turned around to see Alfred's concerned face. He had tried to avoid or ignore the other man since the last time they had met in that McDonald's, but that day he was feeling somewhat desperate. "I lost a folder with a bunch of important papers in it," he said, wondering why he was telling Alfred this.

"Oh." Alfred looked somewhat worried. "Well... Want me to help you look for it?"

"That's all right. I'm sure I can manage on my own," Arthur replied.

"No. A hero would help you," Alfred said determinedly.

"What, so you want to be a hero now? Anyways, won't you get in trouble for being late?"

"I am a hero," said Alfred, puffing out his chest. "I'm sure they'll understand that I was helping someone in need."

"I really don't..." Arthur started to say, but Alfred cut him off with, "If I'm going to help you find it, I need to know where you last remember having it, and where you realized you had lost it."

"Well, I know I had it with me in here, and I discovered it was gone after I had gotten back to my office. I'm pretty sure it's not in there, though," said Arthur, resigned to letting Alfred help him. "I probably dropped it in the street somewhere. We'll never find it now," he added miserably.

"Couldn't you have left it in your car?" asked Alfred.

"I didn't take a car. I work close enough that it's easier to walk."

"Well, lets split up. I'll take this side of the room, and you can look near the door."

"God, I hope we find it." With this, Arthur and Alfred moved into their respective areas of the room and started to search.

They searched high and low for the missing folder, but to no avail. Eventually Arthur decided to call it off, saying that they seemed to have looked everywhere he could possibly have left it at least twice.

"If you're sure..." Alfred trailed off unhappily. At Arthur's nod, he added "All right. I have to use the toilet real quick, so wait for me, okay?"

Arthur began to wonder whether he should just leave Alfred and head off without him when he was interrupted by Alfred rushing back out. Something strange was obviously going on, because Alfred had only been gone for a few seconds, and he would have needed superhuman speed to finish that fast.

"Hah! I got it!" Alfred shouted, waving a dark blue folder above his head. "It was in the bathroom. Honestly, who leaves a folder in the bathroom?" He handed the folder to Arthur. It was slightly damp, but everything seemed to be there.

"What? Where did you find it?" asked Arthur, confused.

"It was sitting on the sink. You're so weird, Arthur. I can't believe you seriously left your papers on the sink."

"Shut up!" Arthur cried angrily. "I don't see why you should care where I lose my papers!"

"Well, If I'm going to have to find them for you..." Alfred began, but, finally noticing how upset Arthur was, added, "But they're here now, and that's what really counts."

"Ah. Thank you," Arthur said, realizing that he had forgotten to say so earlier.

"No problem," Alfred said, turning to leave. "Well, gotta fly. Hope you don't lose those again."

Arthur started to wonder if he had been a little quick to judge Alfred. Maybe Alfred wasn't really such a bad person after all. Sure, he was an idiot, but that wasn't a crime, and he had chosen to help Arthur at his own expense. Perhaps Arthur could stand to be a little nicer.

---

After Alfred had helped Arthur, the two of them found themselves spending more and more time together. At first, they simply chatted for a bit whenever they bumped into each other during the course of their normal routines, but it quickly progressed into arranging to have lunch together, and from there to taking weekend trips to wherever their mutual interest took them. Arthur found himself being introduced to Alfred's friends, with whom he did not get along as well as Alfred seemed to think (although that wasn't hard; Alfred seemed to expect them to all become best friends as soon as they laid eyes on each other), and being forced to introduce Alfred to Francis, with whom Alfred got along better than he had wished.

The two of them visited all of the places that Alfred had to see, and several others that Arthur thought Alfred would like. A few of these trips were taken with Alfred's friends, who Arthur noticed seemed perfectly happy to leave Alfred with Arthur and go off on their own. Somehow, during this time, Alfred took to dropping by Arthur's apartment even when there was nothing particularly interesting going on. On one of these visits Arthur learned the hard way not to watch scary movies with Alfred.

On this day it had been over a week since Arthur had seen Alfred last, and Arthur decided he needed to go check on Alfred. It was not because he was worried--there was no way in hell that he would be worried about someone like Alfred--but because Alfred had borrowed one of his movies and he wanted it back. He was not wondering what had happened to keep the American (who usually bothered Arthur almost every day) away. And he most certainly was not worrying about Alfred's well-being.

So Arthur found himself standing in front of Alfred's door, swallowing nervously. (But why was he nervous? Alfred had had that movie for ages; it would be perfectly normal for him to ask for it back.) He pushed back his nervousness and knocked at the door, half-hoping that Alfred would be out.

Alfred was in, though, as he proved when he opened the door moments later. Arthur took a good look at him, and his question about where Alfred had been died on his lips. What came out instead was, "What on earth happened to you? You look terrible!"

"Ugh, I feel terrible too," said Alfred. "I must have come down with something."

"Have you been taking care of yourself? It's important to eat right and get lots of rest when you're sick."

"I've been doing the best I can, but it's been hard. Hey, you want to come in? I would probably feel better if I could sit down."

"Of course," said Arthur, stepping through the door. He took another look at Alfred. Normally Arthur only tolerated the American's presence (or so he told himself), but today Alfred looked so miserable that it was hard not to feel bad for him.

"Look, ah, just take some aspirin and rest. I can bring you some soup later."

"Wow! You would make soup for me? I know I'm awesome and all, but I never thought you would do something like that."

"Shut up. I just happen to have some extra lying around the house. It would be a shame to let it go to waste, and you look like you could use some."

Of course, that was a lie, and as soon as he had gotten back to his own apartment Arthur was putting on his apron and rolling up his sleeves, preparing to cook.

At around dinner time he knocked on Alfred's door again, this time holding a bowl full of hot soup. Alfred answered it and took the soup happily, putting it on a table and explaining that he wanted to wait a little bit before eating it. He flopped back down on the couch, closing his eyes and sighing. Arthur couldn't get over how helpless Alfred looked, lying on the couch like that. Alfred also seemed to have mellowed out somewhat from being sick: he was no longer trying to get Arthur riled up or proclaiming his greatness every few seconds. Arthur found the overall effect somewhat endearing, and thought it was a pity Alfred couldn't be like this more often. He looked down at the couch and its occupant, a slight smile forming on his lips as he did so.

Alfred interrupted Arthur's train of thought by opening his eyes and declaring that he was hungry.

"Is that soup hot?" he asked.

"It was when I brought it, but it's probably cooled off by now," replied Arthur. "Look, if you tell me where your microwave is I'll heat it up for you."

"It's on the counter in the kitchen--but you really don't need to do anything," Alfred said, starting to rise.

"No, you stay here." Arthur grabbed the bowl of soup and left the room before Alfred could stop him.

Arthur quickly found the microwave and warmed the bowl of soup back up. When he brought it back to Alfred, the American smiled and said "Thank you very much," not even bothering to make a jibe about the way Arthur was taking care of him. But when he put the first spoonful in his mouth, Alfred spat it out almost immediately. "This is terrible," he said, looking at his bowl with disgust. "How do you even make food that bad?"

Arthur tried to disguise the hurt he felt at that comment, but his face betrayed him. "I worked really hard to make that, you know," he mumbled.

"So you did make it for me," said Alfred.

Arthur turned slightly pink. "What? Of course not. Why would I do something like that for you? It was--"

But Alfred interrupted with, "It's obvious you did. But you should know better than to serve something like that to a sick person. It's more likely to make me get worse than better."

Arthur half-shouted "You idiot!" and all but ran from the room, leaving Alfred to stare in confusion.

The next day, he brought canned soup from the store. Alfred liked it much better.

---

Arthur rapped sharply on Alfred's door. When the American opened it, Arthur said "Francis has two extra tickets for a play that he has offered to sell me for ridiculously cheap. I was wondering if you would like to come with me."

"No way, plays are boring. Only old people like them," replied Alfred.

Arthur chose to ignore Alfred's old people comment. "Francis said he won't sell them to me unless I bring you along."

"Take someone else then. I'm sure even you must have more friends than just me."

"Of course I have friends," Arthur said, irritated. "Francis said that it specifically had to be you." Alfred shot him a quizzical look, and in response he added, "I'm wondering about it too. When I asked Francis why he said something about us needing to 'get to know each other better' or something like that. Load of bollocks if you ask me. I have no idea what he was really after."

"That is really weird. But I'm still not going. I don't want to spend money on something like that."

"Look, I'll pay for yours if that's what it takes, so that way you have no reason to complain. It will still be cheaper than buying them at the normal price."

"I guess if it's free..." Alfred said, dubious.

"Great. I'll see you on Saturday next week," Arthur said cheerfully as he turned to leave.

The day came, and Arthur and Alfred strolled into the theater. "So, what is this play, anyway?" asked Alfred.

"Didn't you look it up?" Arthur was surprised. "Well, it's a musical about--" but Alfred interrupted him before he could get any further.

"Wait, you never said anything about it being a musical! If I'd known that I wouldn't have agreed to come, no matter who was paying."

"It's a little late to turn back now that you're here. Just go in and try to enjoy yourself; it might not be as bad as you think."

Alfred muttered "not likely," but at least he didn't argue with Arthur anymore.

Alfred seemed a bit distracted and unusually deep in thought during the intermission. When Arthur asked him what he thought of the play so far, he indicated vaguely that he was enjoying himself, but he was clearly not giving much of his attention to the question. It wasn't until the play had finished, in fact, that he did let out his opinion.

"That was awesome!" Alfred could barely contain his excitement as they left the theater. "I mean, did you see that ending? And those songs? That was almost as good as a Hollywood blockbuster!"

"So, does this mean you take back what you said earlier about plays being boring and for old people?" asked Arthur, trying to suppress laughter.

"Of course not. This one's just an exception," Alfred said. Arthur couldn't stop himself from snickering a bit at that.

---

"Arthur, I'm bored," whined Alfred. "Isn't there anything to do around here?"

"Nothing new since last time you asked," replied Arthur.

"But you must know something."

"I suppose that we could visit that place..." said Arthur, trailing off into thought.

"What place?" Alfred couldn't stop a look of excited curiosity from creeping onto his face.

"I'll show you when we get there. C'mon, let's go."

Arthur took them to a rural area a bit out of town. After driving through there for a bit he turned off onto a side road and drove along that for a while before finally stopping at one of the apparently unused fields along the side.

"Here we are," said Arthur, smiling.

"All right, but where's here?" Alfred asked, confused. To him this place looked like just another field, no different from several others they had passed.

"Ah, right. I haven't told you yet. Fairies live nearby. They like to come to this field to play." Arthur paused, expecting Alfred to say something. He got nothing but a funny look, though, so he continued, lowering his voice. "It's true you know. I saw one here."

"Yeah, right," Alfred replied. "You should know that fairies don't really exist."

"But I really saw it! It was right over there." Arthur pointed. "When it saw me it flew into that clump of trees, but I did get a good look at it. It was definitely a fairy."

"Oh, come on. It must have been your imagination. Anyways, let's go somewhere else; this place is boring."

Arthur harrumphed and tried to think of something he could do to get back at Alfred for laughing at him like that. He was at a bit of a loss until he realized... Yes, that was it. He knew exactly what he was going to do.

"There is still one other place in the area that's somewhat interesting. It would be a shame to waste the trip out here so we could try going there; I suspect it would be more your style."

"I guess, since we're already here," Alfred said somewhat dubiously as he headed back toward Arthur's car. They left the field and arrived in front of an old house a few minutes later.

"What are we doing here?" asked Alfred. "You know I'm not into historical stuff."

"Oh, don't worry. There's something about this house I'm sure you'll find interesting," Arthur replied.

"Can you tell me what it is?" Alfred looked at Arthur with a hopeful expression.

"I'll explain everything once we are inside," said Arthur, walking up to the gate. "Are you coming?" he asked, and Alfred hurried to go inside with him. The house was by no means the oldest in the area, and didn't look particularly remarkable for its age, although it was still a fairly nice house.

Alfred and Arthur wandered around a bit, stopping at various rooms to look around.

"So, can you tell me what you think is so interesting about this house now?" asked Alfred as they peered into one of the bedrooms.

"Oh, yes. This house is haunted. The last people who lived here were driven out by the ghosts." Arthur watched delightedly as Alfred turned pale.

"So there still ghosts here?"

"Yes. You wouldn't expect them to just leave when the last owners did, would you?" Alfred began to tremble slightly at this, and Arthur added, "Of course, if you're too scared to handle it, we could always leave."

Alfred pulled himself together slightly at the suggestion that he wouldn't be able to take it, as Arthur knew he would. "Of course I'm not scared, stupid!" he said, slightly too emphatically. He seized Arthur's hand and hurried off towards a different part of the house, dragging the smaller man with him.

Alfred finally stopped when he got to what must have been a living room, with several doors opening off of it. After looking around the room for a bit he headed towards the door to what seemed to be a dining room, which Arthur had been leaning next to as he watched Alfred explore. Arthur was getting ready to follow Alfred through it when a scream stopped him in his tracks.

"A ghost! There's a ghost in there!" he cried, pointing into the dining room.

"What?" Arthur poked his head around the door frame. "I don't see anything. You sure there's something in there?"

Alfred looked in again and let out a girlish squeal at whatever he saw. He edged up to Arthur and threw his arms around Arthur's neck, pulling the shorter man close to him, frightened. Arthur could feel the taller man's heart pounding against his arm. His own heart was pounding too, but not with fear. He reached over and patted Alfred's shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting way, somewhat surprised that, far from being angry at being grabbed like this, he was actually enjoying it.

"I think it's gone now," Alfred whispered, pulling away and breaking Arthur's train of thought.

Arthur glanced into the room where Alfred claimed to have seen the ghost and said, "I'm sure it is." Seeing Alfred terrified like this was beginning to make him feel bad about taking advantage of the other man's weakness. "If you want we can leave now."

"No way! A hero never backs down," Alfred said, trying (and failing) to look insulted that Arthur would even suggest such a thing.

"Of course it's not that. We've just seen pretty much everything that there is to see in here," replied Arthur, even though he knew full well that there was a whole other wing that they hadn't even looked into yet.

"Oh," said Alfred, looking somewhat relieved. "If there's nothing else to see then we'd better go."

They left as quickly as possible, with Alfred leading the way. Arthur had always tried not to think about how much Alfred had meant to him, but in the relative silence of the drive home he couldn't help but reflect on Alfred's hug. He remembered how go He told himself that it meant nothing, that when Alfred was afraid he instinctively grabbed at whatever was nearest, but some part of himself deep down inside hoped otherwise.
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